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Cantata BWV 28
Gottlob! nun geht das Jahr zu Ende

Alfred Dürr | Spitta | Schweitzer | Voigt | Little & Jenne | Chafe


Aryeh Oron wrote (December 31, 2002):
BWV 28 - Commentaries:

Alfred Dürr

The commentary below, quoted from the liner notes to the CD reissue of Erato recording, was written by Alfred Dürr:

BWV 28 is one of the only existing cantata which Bach had still composed during his Leipzig period, based on a text by Erdmann Neumeister, creator of the "modern" cantata form It is part of Bach's III Leipzig cantata vintage and was composed for 30th December, 1725. In his text setting Neumeister renounces any closer connection with the sermons for the Sunday after Christmas, and similarly the obtrusive school-masterly trait which makes so many a Neumeister text appear strange to us, gives way here to thanks and praise for God's goodness in the past year and the prayer for future blessings. This corresponding division into retrospective and prospective is based on construction of the poetry, with a section each of thanksgiving and worship.

Bach's composition of the opening aria is entirely attuned to joyful gratitude. Clarity of structure dominates in the choric treatment of the woodwind and string group, as in the dance-like period formation with fore and rear set and various kinds of motivated alternating play - encouraged by the injunction in the text to strike up "a joyful song of thanks".

The choir now sings the thanksgiving song on behalf of the congregation. Bach chose for this the motet-like movement, which seems rather archaic, (with wind and string augmentation) in which every song line is prepared by the three bottom parts in an imitative movement before it rings out in the soprano in long note values. According to more recent research (Robert L. Marshall, The Compositional Process of J S Bach, Princeton, 1972), Bach might possibly have re-used here an already existing movement (of his own composition)>

The three succeeding movements are marked by contrasting minor part elements which, as so often with Bach, are at the same time characterised by a strong, individualised expressive melody. The bible phrase Arioso is composed as a continuo theme, the recitative as an accompagnato featuring strings, and the following aria as a continuo-accompanied duet in the polyphonic style on the Italian pattern.

Thomas Braatz wrote (January 2, 2003):

Spitta refers to Mvt. 2 as the grandest use of a choir for any of the Neumeister cantata text settings. The main choral mvt. is placed in a second position, but it makes such a very forceful entrance that the preceding soprano aria with its mature beauty is hardly able to stand up to it and the mvts. that follow it (Mvt. 2 – Choral) can be considered quite ineffective in comparison to this high point in the cantata. Bach had composed this 2nd mvt. earlier than any of the others or, at least, he had sketched it out in advance before composing this cantata because there are so few corrections in the score here when compared with the rest of the cantata. Bach must have been proud of his accomplishment with this mvt. for he counted the measures and placed the number of measures (174) at the end of the mvt. This mvt. is based upon the chorale, “Nun lob mein Seel den Herren,” and is written in a motet style at least considers the fact that the instruments (strings, 3 oboes, cornet and 3 trombones) all play colla parte with only a few deviations from the bass part in the bc. The form that Bach follows is that typical of a Pachelbel chorale prelude with individual lines of the chorale treated contrapuntally but also expressively so as to bring out the ‘sin that cries out for forgiveness’ through painfully chromatic passages, the ‘comfort of God’ as it streams down and flows over poor humanity, and the ‘being uplifted as if by an eagle.’ All other compositions (mvt. 2) of this type are unable to surpass this one.


The fine text of the cantata for the Sunday after Christmas, ‘Gottlob, nun geht das Jahr zu Ende’ is by Neumeister. The music shows that Bach worked at the text with pleasure. He accompanies the words that speak of the departure of the old year and the “glorious approach” of the new with a merry ballet in the minor (Schweitzer quotes the opening theme of mvt. 1 in the 1st oboe.) Then comes a simple motet-chorus on “Nun lob’ meine Seel’ den Herren,” in which the instruments merely reinforce the voices. At the end of this mvt. Bach has written “174 bars”!

Schweitzer lists the cantatas with motet-like choruses: BWV 2, BWV 8, BWV 12, BWV 28, BWV 37, BWV 38, BWV 64, BWV 116, BWV 118, BWV 121, BWV 144, BWV 150, BWV 179.


The heart piece of this entire cantata is the powerful, figured chorale, “Nun lob’ mein’ Seel’ den Herren,” the most splendid setting of all those that Bach has set in this particular style. Each of the contrapuntal voices moves with complete freedom, despite the fact that it is severely restricted by the form and the chorale melody itself. How much expression there is in each individual line! Worth pointing out are the following passages: the heartfelt “vergiß es nicht, o Herze mein,” the typically Bach Leitmotif-like use of chromaticism where ‘sin’ is mentioned, the caressing movements on “und heilt deine Schwachheit groß,” and the mystical solemnity of “nimmt dich in seinen Schoß.” The sudden reaching for a B natural (ms. 114, after the immediately preceding D minor) is very much like being led out of the dusk into the light. With a slight hint at word-painting Bach describes the fullness of God’s ‘Trost’ [“comfort”] and he does likewise by using powerful “Engführung” [a technical term used in counterpoint-something like 'leading the lines close to each other'] as well as the wonderful upward motion of the bass voice (ms. 138-140) to describe the youthful ascent of the eagle. Finally there are the very proud, heavy half-notes that picture “Der König schafft Recht” and the opening up to 5 pts. (in ms. 153-156 and continuing over a pedal point until ms. 168.) One must be very careful not to diminish the majestic flow inherent in this mvt. (as some performers are prone to do) by introducing breaks that arise from an attempt to allow the end each line to decay into a ‘piano.’ Sincere and heartfelt is the expression at the beginning of the mvt. The 1st 4 lines are to be conceived of as a whole. After that, lines 5 until 8 comprise another such grouping and lead into the depths where He “nimmt dich in seinen Schoß.” From that point there should be a slow but steady crescendo all the way to the very enthusiastic conclusion. There is hardly another piece such as this that will get a choir to be carried away in this fashion.

The solo sections do not attain the same high level that is established by mvt. 2 and yet the latter does not achieve this without the benefit of the surrounding mvts. The 1st soprano aria has in its main section a very nice, serious manner that is contrasted effectively by the content of the middle section. If you want to shorten this aria, you can leave out the intermezzo (p. 254) and the last line (p. 256.) The bass arioso (mvt. 3) with only organ accompaniment is very grand and solemn. The duet (mvt. 5) is a happy, naïve piece which is well suited to form a counterpart to the deeply moving 2nd mvt. The gentle final chorale concludes with an extremely effective, beautiful ending.

Little & Jenne (Dance in Bach’s Music)

Mvt. 5 Aria Duetto for alto and tenor is a Giga II-like piece. Structurally, it has three sections, each with distinctly dpoints of imitation, but set as a trio sonata, not a motet. Interestingly, the A solo continuo section begins each section and ends the piece. The unbalanced phrases and imitative texture contain only implicit jigging rhythms, but the joyful affect seems to signal a giga, with a hearty prayer for continued blessings in the new year.

The Giga II is a more problematic category than Giga I, with foundations that are cloudy at best. Here is a checklist of Giga II characteristics:

1, 2, or 4 ternary beats per measure in 3/8, 6/8, 12/8 with duple subdivision of the ternary figures, usually with an upbeat
Affect joyful and intense
Jigging rhythms, usually explicit, or else implicit by harmonic changes
Long phrases with few caesuras
Dance-like lilt or character


A number of cantatas of the ascent/descent type (e.g., BWV 28, BWV 68, BWV 111, BWV 176) clearly associate upward modulation with God’s glory, so that in a sense the upward/downward curve is an image comparable to that of the triadic theme of “Gott ist mein König.” In Cantata 28, “Gottlob! Nun geht das Jahr zu Ende” (written for the Sunday after Christmas, 1725,) the rising sequence praises and thanks God for his past gifts and hopes for continuing blessings. From its initial A minor it ascends through C major (Mvt. 2, chorus), and E minor (mvt. 3, arioso) to G and D major at the start of the 4th mvt. (Recitative: “Gott ist ein Quell, wo lauter Güte fleußt; Gott ist ein Licht, wo lauter Gnade scheinet“) before returning through C major (mvt. 4, aria) to A minor (mvt. 6, chorale.)

Bach’s cantatas often bring out cyclic elements within the seasons of the liturgical year, mirroring its parallels and antitheses in a variety of ways that may differ from work to work and year to year, but that will usually be clearly discernible in their texts, mvt. layouts, key sequences, and the like. Cantatas BWV 70, BWV 61, and BWV 63 were all written in Weimar, but in different years and order from their grouping in the Leipzig cycle of 1723-24. Whether or not Bach might have planned to form a cycle from his Weimar cantatas even while he was composing them is unknown, but such a plan would be in character. Certainly, in putting together his first Leipzig cycle Bach drew many of his Weimar cantatas into coherent sequences that, as we have seen with the above-mentioned cantatas aid in articulating large-scale cyclic elements in the liturgical year as a whole.

Thus, one of the most common themes of the late-Trinity, Advent, and Christmas seasons was the metaphoric interpretation of the turning of the liturgical, geophysical, and civil years in terms of the turning point of history and of faith that came with the incarnation of Jesus. Any one of several feast days – the 26th Sunday after Trinity, Advent Sunday, the 3 days of Christmas, the Sunday after Christmas, New Year’s Day, the Sunday after New Year’s Day, and Epiphany Sunday – might take up this theme, modifying it according to the more particular character of the feast day in question. In general, the idea of “time” is very prominent in the cantata texts written for those feasts, where it is often expressed in terms of the eras of salvation history and the internalizing of that history in the faith experience of the believer. And in turn, Bach’s cantatas for those feast days often derive their overall designs from the underlying metaphor of the old year as the time of Israel and the new as the time of Christ, utilizing in some cases chorales that change their mode or time signature, juxtaposing archaic and modern styles, and the like. Cantata BWV 61 undoubtedly provides the clearest, most patterned instance of how the four senses of scripture can be aligned with past, present, and future times as well as with the inner dynamic of faith, a process in which the coming of Jesus to the world, the church, and the believer takes place at several levels. But, in fact, we find similar sets of ideas underlying many other cantatas as well. Thus, while “Christen ätzet diesen Tag” utilizes its symmetrical design to emphasize the meaning of Christmas Day as the turning of the ages, Cantata BWV 121, “Christum wir wollen loben schon,” for the 2nd day of Christmas on the following, draws an implied analogy between the unfathomable mystery of the incarnation and the turning of the sun at the sinter solstice, and Cantata BWV 64, “Sehet, welche eine Liebe,” for the 3rd day of Christmas, 1723, emphasizes instead something closer to the division into worlds “above” and “below” rather than present and future, a theme that is more in keeping with its Johannine Gospel reading. Cantata BWV 28, “Gottlob! Nun geht das Jahr zu Ende,” for the Sunday after Christmas, 1725, juxtaposes modern and archaic styles in order to project the idea of looking backward to God’s past blessings and forward to the hope of their renewal simultaneously. Most of Bach’s cantatas for New Year’s Day tend to express the idea of beginning/ending equivalence in association with the name Jesus, whereas those for the 1st Sunday in the new year associate the New Testament narrative of the flight of the holy family to Egypt with the Old Testament story of the captivity of Israel in Egypt in order to underscore the central theme of the believer’s longing for release from the world. All these works are very carefully designed so as to mirror the temporal levels of their text in musical terms.


Cantata BWV 28: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | 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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