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Cantata BWV 194
Höchsterwünschtes Freudenfest


Aryeh Oron wrote (May 30, 2002):
BWV 194 - Background [Alfred Dürr]

The background below is taken from Alfred Dürr’s book on the Bach Cantatas. Francis Browne was very kind to send me his translation to English.

In the form, in which the work has been handed down to us, it serves first of all after the construction and testing of the organ in Störmthal near Leipzig as a cantata for the dedication of an organ in the context of a church service on 2nd November 1723. But the content of the text, which is generally applicable, made possible the later repeat performance of the work in the context of the Church Year as a cantata for Trinity Sunday. This happened at once in the following year on 4th June 1724, later in a shortened version (the movements partly rearranged) with organ obbligato probably on 16th June 1726 and finally for a third time on 20th May 1731. For this last performance there survives a printed text, which only contains the first part (movements 1 to 6); but the sources also give evidence for a performance of the second part, which took place after the sermon but was not included in the printed text. Of course it is possible, indeed probable that Bach arranged repeat performances of his cantatas far more frequently than we can trace today.

But the performance in 1723 was still not the very first, for the cantata derives from a secular celebratory work, which differs from the present version in its lack of the chorale movements 6 and 12, in its differing recitatives and through a dance-like concluding movement, which was excluded by the revision of the work as a cantata for the dedication of an organ. Unfortunately this secular version has come down to us in only a few parts; and with the vocal parts the text is also lost to us. But it may be considered certain that we are dealing with a work from Bach's time in Cöthen.

In the present version the text is more concerned with the dedication of a church than an organ, since along with the construction of an organ in Störmthal a renovation of the interior of the church also took place. The text therefore nowhere explicitly mentions the organ, but rather celebrates the "erbaute Heiligtum" (the sanctuary that has been built- first movement) thanks God and asks "Laß dir dies Haus gefällig sein" (may this house be pleasing to you 2nd movement). It proclaims later that the dwelling of the almighty God is full of splendour and will be veiled by no night (3rd movement). The fourth movement warns of human vanity and asks, since human strength achieves nothing, with Solomon's words from 1 Kings 8: 29 (may your eyes watch over this house) and in allusion to Hosea 14: 3 for the Church. Movement 5 also - in allusion to Isaiah 6: 6 - asks that they may succeed in singing the Lord's praises. The conclusion of the First Part is based on verses 6 and 7 of the song Faithful God, I must lament to you by Johann Hermann (1630). The Second Part brings no essentially new thoughts, but praises the Holy Trinity (movement 7), whose presence alone brings blessedness. Most striking is the dialogue of movement 9. This perhaps is derived from a similar dialogue of an original secular model, since it is comparable in its change from doubt (bass) and assurance (soprano) with dialogues such as that between fear and hope from Cantata BWV 66 - this equally derives from a secular model/prototype. The remaining movements are concerned with the praise of God - Psalm 34: 9 may be compared with movement 10 - and in the conclusion are used verses 9 and 10 of the hymn of Paul Gerhart Wake up, my heart, and sing (1647/53).

Bach's composition is unusual because within its creation a consistent attempt is made to translate the form of the orchestral suite into the cantata. Certainly Bach did not attempt to keep in the cantata also to the basic unity of keys for all movements - that would have led to insuperable uniformity; and so also the supposition of some researchers that our cantata is derived from a vocal setting of an existing instrumental suite, is highly unbelievable.

The first movement has the from of a French overture, where the slow outer framing parts are for the orchestra alone (with the exception of a short choral conclusion) while the fugal middle section presents a choral movement with partly independent instrumentation. Perhaps this - something that is always conceivable- developed from the insertion of choral music into a previously existing instrumental movement. Of the arias the third movement has the characteristics of a pastorale, the fifth movement is a gavotte, the eighth movement a gigue and movement 10 a minuet. The original material of this suite-like conception is of course to be found in the secular model of the cantata, which concluded with a movement having the characteristics of a passepied .The secular prototype also gave rise to the extremely high range of the vocal parts, which induced Bach to revise the work for Trinity Sunday 1724 with a deep concert pitch and with the Bass recitatives transposed lower.

The recitatives - we do not know whether they were newly composed or taken from the secular model - are throughout composed as continually accompanied secco; only the duet recitative of the ninth movement ends as arioso.

Both chorales are simply set for four voices; only the third oboe has a wide-ranging independent part/voice - the instrument lies too high for a doubling of the tenor part.


Cantatas BWV 194 & BWV 194a: Details & Complete Recordings of BWV 194 | Recordings of Individual Movements from BWV 194 | Details of BWV 194a | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Commentaries: Main Page | Cantatas BWV 1-50 | Cantatas BWV 51-100 | Cantatas BWV 101-150 | Cantatas BWV 151-200 | Cantatas BWV 201-224 | Other Vocal Works BWV 225-524 | Sources


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