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Cantata BWV 29
Wir danken dir, Gott, wir danken dir
Commentary

W. Neumann | P. Spitta | A. Schwieitzer | A. Dürr | W.G. Whittaker | Little & Jenne | D.R. Melamed | G.B. Stauffer | C. Wolff | M. Marissen | D. Schulenberg

 

Aryeh Oron wrote (February 17, 2003):
Background [Werner Neumann]

The commentary below, quoted from the liner notes to MHS LP reissue of Gönnenwein’s recording on Cantate label [2], was written by Werner Neumann (English translation by Virginia R. Woods):

One of the obligatory and unalterable duties of the St. Thomas cantor was the performance of a festival cantata for the occasion of the changing of the council, celebrated each year during the last week in August. Bach should have produced twenty-seven such cantatas for this purpose throughout his years at Leipzig. Only nine works (six as compositions and three according to the text, indicating any such connection) seem to confirm that Bach did not have to compose a new cantata each year, but referred to his earlier works. It is possible that a few have been damaged.

Wir danken dir, Gott, wir danken dir” (We thank thee, oh Lord, we thank thee) has been preserved as the festival music of 1731. The score contains an autobiographical entry of the year, which removes all difficulties in dating for us; and we are exactly informed about the repeat performances of the cantata in 1739 and 1749 by the printing of the text.

A large orchestral score suits the occasion; three trumpets with kettle drums and two oboes enrich the string orchestra. The most original part of the whole eighty-measure cantata is the introductory Sinfonia (D Major), an extensive concert movement for organ and orchestra. The listener who knows Bach will recognize at once the sparkling organ figurations also in the Prelude of the E Major Suite for solo violin and may wonder about the seemingly indifference with which Bach transplants his secular chamber music into the church. The right hand of the organist plays the solo while the left hand completes the newly-composed bass continuo. The richly ornamented orchestra serves only an accompanying and accentuating one - not an articulate one; the solo part in accordance with its origin runs on without pause, thereby leaving no possibility for concertizing between solo and tutti. The same transcription but with a simpler orchestral accompaniment is found in the opening movement of the second part of the wedding cantata “Herr Gott, Beherrscher aller Dinge” (Lord God, Ruler of all Things) BWV 120a.

The second movement is just a clean chorale without any orchestral prelude, and the orchestra merely provides a foundation for the chorus. Only twice do the high trumpets pierce through with the theme. Although the structure seems to be a fugue, it is in reality a complex canon form, in which two different thematic sections alternate with each other. Worthy of note is the fact that Bach has used this movement again in two different places with different texts (Gratias and Dona Nobis) in the B Minor Mass, thus offering us important insights into one of his well-known strokes of creative genius - that of using the same theme in different works.

In the following chain of solos the first and last arias, which join the first and last choruses, are both in trio form and are alike for the most part in text and theme. That is, Bach grasps the right place in the libretto of the main part of the first aria, which he then transposes into a higher key form A to D major; therefore, the tenor exchanges with the alto and the solo violin obbligato, with the organ part. The middle aria da Capo is in B minor accompanied by strings and oboes in Sicilian style, and one may readily recognize the instrumental origin in the dramatic nature of the soprano.

The four-part chorale builds a brilliant ending “Sei Lob und Preis mit Ehren” (All glory, laud, and honour) with the obbligato trumpet chorus providing the tonal climax in the final lines of the chorale.

Thomas Braatz wrote (February 23, 2003):
Spitta:

Mvt. 1 Sinfonia:
Despite the fact that only one instrument (solo violin partita in E major, BWV 1006) instrument is being used, which, in contrast to the greater freedom of expansion allowed on an organ or keyboard instrument and that everything is kept within the narrowest bounds, these sonatas and partitas (BWV 1001-1006), nevertheless, have something very powerful about them. By using considerable double-stopping and through the clever use of open strings, an almost unbelievable fullness of sound is achieved. Through intense rhythmic figures that are made necessary by the polyphonic structure, sometimes even leading to an almost violent development of an idea, and through the fiery enthusiasm and momentum which Bach establishes, these compositions break through the traditional limits that had previously been established for this instrument. Spitta marvels at the manner in which the music which had been condensed or distilled to fit the violin, now begins to unravel and unfold into a work of even greater majesty and power as the sinfonia to BWV 29. This sinfonia is celebratory, but also full of joyful mvt. and as such is very appropriate as an introduction to a cantata, which contains arias of jubilation as well as majestic choral sections that express feelings of gratitude to God, thus going way beyond the officially stated purpose for this occasion

Mvt. 2:
Bach develops two themes fugally in sequence without, however, combining them into a double fugue. He rather prefers to use artistic “Engführungen” [“narrow leading” of the theme/subject – this is a technique used in polyphonic writing, particularly in a fugue, where a theme/subject is introduced by 2 or more voices in such a way that this theme, repeated by the following voices, is begun before the prior voice has had a chance to finish completely its full statement of the theme/subject] as the choral responses in a manner very similar to the treatment he used in BWV 65/1 “Sie werden aus Saba alle kommen” The 1st of these two themes has been developed from an old chorale, which Handel used on numerous occasions [Spitta gives Chrysander, “Händel I, p. 395 ff. as the source for this. I have no way to check this contention, nor do I know specifically what he is referring to here.]

Schweitzer:

Mvt. 1 Sinfonia:
The mvts. of the sonatas for the solo violin that exist also fort he piano or organ are arrangements of violin originals. It is doubtful whether they are all effective in this form. They show, however, how completely the violin method of phrasing ranked with Bach as the universal method, to which the keyed instruments had to try to conform. When we read the prelude of the 3rd partita we find it impossible to believe that Bach could have entertained the idea of asking the organ to perform these repeated semiquavers, the proper articulation of which is possible only on a bowed instrument – yet this is what he actually does in the instrumental prelude to the ‘Rathswahl” cantata “Wir danken dir, Gott, wir danken dirBWV 29. He could only venture to do so because he himself played the part on the ‘Rückpositiv’ on the organ at St. Thomas’s. [Current thinking believes that the Rathswahl cantatas were performed in the St. Nicolai church and that very likely C.P.E. Bach may have performed the obbligato organ part.]

Schweitzer also lists the other cantatas with an obbligato organ: BWV 27, BWV 35, BWV 169, BWV 170, BWV 172, and BWV 188.

The disappointing effect of these cantatas comes, however, from the way in which Bach has introduced the organ. It plays in two parts only. As the lower part is identical with the orchestral bass, it has really only one obbligato part, which runs from beginning to end with hardly an interruption. This quite uninteresting employment of the organ is not what we expect from Bach. There is no dramatic alternation between organ and orchestra, or any use of the effect to be derived from the opposition of the two so characteristic timbres. We ask ourselves how the master who, in his preludes and fugues, has revealed the special polyphony of the organ in all its richness, could here allot it so subordinate a task; and we are astounded that he did not think of making use, if only occasionally, of the effects derivable from the combination of organ and orchestra.

This does not imply that the works cannot be made effective. The preludes to BWV 169 and BWV 29 (the present cantata), for example, sound extremely well on the organ with a clear registration, with some silvery mixtures. In the accompaniment to the arias, however, the organ is less satisfactory, since it really only replaces a flute, and that not very profitably. Even the uncritical hearer feels, after a few bars, the inexpressiveness of this accompaniment.

Besides the “concertizing” organ there was of course the great organ, which accompanied and played the figured bass. Thus the cantatas for obbligato organ really require two organs. Where only one is available, the “concertizing” one must also play the figured basses. In this case it will be best to give the bass part to the pedal, and play the chords with the left hand and the obbligato part with the right. When Bach gave these cantatas at St. Nicholas’s, would have to be played on one instrument. We know positively that this was the case with the ‘Ratswahl’ cantata, BWV 29. We have a text-book for a later performance of the work at St. Nicholas’s, in 1749. The 1st chorus is one of those in which he writes in a simple style resembling that of Handel. Whether the aria “Gedenk an uns” (Mvt. 5 of BWV 29) is or is not derived from the Siciliano of some instrumental concerto cannot now be settled.

Mvt. 3 Tenor Aria:
In the violin solo, ms. 13-15, the intervals which interrupt the natural succession of the notes are to be detached from the tie and played ‘staccato’, whether they begin or close the period.

Mvt. 5 Soprano Aria:
Bach expresses a warmer tinge of peaceful joy by a motive in the rhythm (the pattern shown is the same as used throughout the aria), usually in 12/8 and 9/8, but occasionally also in 6/8 (as it is in BWV 29) and ¾ time. Rhythms of this kind are not often met with in other composers. Bach, however, is very fond of them, forming out of them the loveliest and most flexible of his great phrases. The affinity of these themes with the angel motives is obvious. Both are meant to represent graceful motion of an almost super terrestrial kind, by means of which Bach wishes to express the transfigured joy that has vanquished grief. [After mentioning first the aria “Ich will leiden, ich will schweigen (“I will suffer, I will be silent”) from BWV 87Bisher habt ihr nichts gebeten”, Schweitzer uses this soprano aria (from BWV 29) as a further example.]

Dürr:

Mvt. 1 Sinfonia:
This is a splendid instrumentation of the “Preludio” from the Partita in E major for solo violin BWV 1006. The violin part is performed by the organ obbligato and the other orchestral parts have been added. Using a simpler instrumentation, Bach had already similarly used this same music in cantata BWV 120a. One can easily recognize the restless figures of the original violin part, for there is no tutti-ritornello with independent, but related thematic material such as Bach normally would provide in a setting such as this. This is a remarkable, unique situation within Bach’s oeuvre.

Mvt. 2 Chorus
There is a magnificent simplicity in the theme which governs this mvt, in which strong canonic structures predominate. Actually, there are two themes which control the structure of the mvt. These correspond to the split in the text between “Wir danken dir” and “und verkündigen deine Wunder.” The strings and winds play colla parte with the vocal parts and together they weave a fairly thick polyphonic structure which intensifies until (at ms. 52 ff. [this is a very late and almost unexpected entrance by the brass instruments]) the 1st trumpet enters together with the sopranos. Up until ms. 62 (we are 2/3’s of the way through the mvt.,) all the instruments have been playing colla parte. It is the entrance of the 2nd trumpet that is surprising: the soprano announces once again the main them at ms. 60, but instead of having the other vocal parts answer with the same theme as they had previously, the 2nd and 1st trumpets independently answer with “Engführung” and no duplication in the vocal parts. Thus the number of parts has suddenly expanded to more than simply four, for now Bach is working with 6 parts. Finally there is even unthematic entrance of the 3rd trumpet which expands the number of voices to 7 (possibly even 8 parts.)

Mvt. 3:
After an archaic-style choral mvt., the following tenor aria returns to a more modern sounding concertante mvt. with the solo violin providing the obbligato part. Together with the voice, this becomes a trio sonata with a very lively, quite unified character because the thematic material for the voice is derived from the introductory instrumental ritornello. The violin part maintains the thematic material of the ritornello even in the middle section. This is a da capo aria.

Mvt. 5 Soprano Aria:
After a simple secco recitative, there is a charming, siciliano-type aria accompanied by and oboe and strings. This aria radiates with a persuasive warmth and inwardness, both qualities supported and amplified by the instrumentation. When the voice enters, the continuo is discontinued and only the organ is permitted to play ‘tasto solo’ which means that no ‘fill-in’ chords are allowed. In essence, the organ is simply duplicating the viola part at this point. Is this a ‘bassettchen?

Mvt. 6 (Alto Recitative) & Mvt. 7 (Alto Arioso):
The setup of these 2 mvts. is highly unusual, if not unique: The alto secco recitative leads directly into a unison (in octaves), choral statement on the word, “Amen,” after which the alto arioso begins without any preparation (no ritornello) a repetition of part of Mvt. 3, but this time transposed from A to D major with the organ obbligato replacing the original violin part. In doing this, Bach achieves an extremely tight framework structure within a series of mvts. of this cantata.

Mvt. 8 (Final Chorale):
In the final chorale, the full orchestra is once again heard supporting the simple harmonization of the chorale, the strings and winds playing colla parte while the brass and timpani provide the crowning glory with their obbligato entrances.

W. Gillies Whittaker:

On August 27 of this year, only 15 days after BWV 35 was produced, a cantata was necessary for the Election of the Town Council. With the fever of transcription upon him, Bach compiled a bulky work by scissors-and-paste methods: “Wir danken dir, Gott, wir danken dir.” The text of the 1st chorus (Mvt. 2) is Psalm 75:1. The remainder of the words are ‘und verkündigen deineWunder. Possibly every number except the two short recitatives with continuo (mvts. 4 & 6) is derived from earlier material, although only in the case of the Sinfonia (Mvt. 1) do we possess the 1st form. That number is an extraordinary expansion, the 1st mvt. of the violin solo suite in E, No. 6, transposed to D and transformed from a single line to a concerto-like mvt. for ‘organo obligato’ of 2 manuals, 3 trumpets, timpani, 2 oboes (which mostly double the violins,) and strings. The high-pitched detached trumpet chords add to the brilliance of the passage-work of the solo instrument. The hurry of providing the cantata did not deter Bach from writing out this 10-staved score of 138 bars. One can not help imagining how majestic would have been the result had he ever orchestrated the violin solo chaconne. Perhaps he did and it is lost to us! At a later date this Sinfonia was inserted into the incomplete and unnumbered wedding cantata, “Herr Gott, Beherrscher aller Dinge” (BWV 120a.)

Mvt. 2
While no earlier version is known of Mvt. 2, once can not help feeling that its archaic style and severity are so unlike what is usually met with in the church cantatas that it must be borrowed from some other work. The trumpets are used with the utmost reticence, the first not entering until bar 30, and another 15 bars of rest intervening between its 1st delivery of the subject and its 2nd. Trumpets and drums are heard for 17 bars only. Possibly brass and percussion were additions to the original score on account of the splendor of the municipal festival. Its powerful and dignified character fits it well to become the ‘Gratias agimus’ and ‘Dona nobis pacem’ of the B minor Mass, although its architecture is somewhat Gothicized in the process. A comparison of the 2 versions shows interesting features of Bach’s methods of transcription, which rarely allowed a work to be reproduced unaltered.

Mvt. 3
Mvt. 3 is a bright tenor aria with violin solo obbligato. Evidently Bach had not much opinion of the literary acumen of the solid Burgomasters and concluded that in this adaptation (for it is certainly not an original aria, possibly it is derived from a mvt. of a sonata for violin and clavier) there would be things which they would never notice! One wonders why he did not rectify them when the cantata was repeated in 1739 and 1749, seeing that he was such an inveterate reviser of this own compositions, and seeing that he was himself the librettist. The flying figures and the strong bass make it attractive. A clear indication of arrangement is the fact that the opening violin part is altered considerably when the beginning of the text is announced: “Halleluja, Stärk” und Macht sei des Allerhöchsten Namen!” disappears entirely in Part II, which, instrumentally is based wholly upon the three ideas of the 2nd section of the introduction, quaver runs, a delightful figure (ms. 13-15) and a leaping motive (ms. 16-18.) Most of Part I is also devoted to these. Lively runs decorate the Hallelujahs, but the vocal line of Part II: “Zion ist noch seine Stadt….” moves largely in crotchets, though the latter part grows more ornate.

Mvt. 5:
The soprano aria is evidently a siciliano from some last violin composition (ms. 1-3) thus making 3 adapted mvts. of this type in adjacent cantatas, a curious obsession of these months. The arrangement is peculiar. The 1st 7 sections alternate tutti (oboe and strings) with voice plus this combination minus continuo, being marked ‘tasto solo’. In “Gedenk an uns mit deiner Liebe, schleuß uns in dein Erbarmen ein” the passage on ‘Erbarmen’ is appropriate, but that on ‘deiner’ (ms. 11 vocal part) is quite nonsensical, charming though it be instrumentally. 11 bars before the Da Capo the voice is heard for the 1st time with the continuo –“Segne die ….” – this time with oboe alone, the upper strings not entering until the last 4 bars. The association of the pompous burgomasters with a siciliano is quite humorous.

Mvt. 6 & Mvt. 7:
A short alto recitative concludes with an “Amen’ for all voices, and then without a break the 1st aria is reintroduced, or, rather, the 1st part of it without the ritornello. It is transposed from A to D, the vocal line is transferred to the alto, and, a most singular thing, the violin solo now becomes organ obbligato, the only changes being transposition and addition of mordents at various points. As the new obbligato is well within the compass of the violin one can not see why the transference was made. The cold, unyielding line of the organ stop comes as ungratefully after the warm, living tone of the violin, as does the repetition of the melody at the beginning of Beethoven’s violin and pianoforte sonata in F. Perhaps again it may be reasoned that Council cantatas, like the Short Masses, did not matter. But if so, why did he take the trouble to write the splendid Sinfonia when more important cantatas were denied one?

The cantor-librettist assures the masters of Leipzig, in the bass recitative (Mvt. 4) that their citizens are fortunate. This is lip-service which Bach can not possibly have felt in his heart.

A curious point in key-planning suggests that the succeeding aria (Mvt. 5) was dragged in by the hair of its head, for the recitative ends with a half-close on a B major chord, and the siciliano is in B minor.

Mvt. 8:
A chorale setting closes the cantata, the complete orchestra reappearing, oboes and strings doubling the voices, trumpets and drums reserved for clenching the cadences of the 1st 2 (repeated) and the last 2 lines, tromba I, and sometimes the others, being independent.

Little & Jenne („Dance and the Music of J. S. Bach”):

Both the tenor aria (Mvt. 3) and the alto arioso (Mvt. 7) belong to the bourée category, but as the authors put it: ‘there is no bourée effect here, but these mvts. use the bourée phrase structure to some extent.”

Daniel R. Melamed (“Die Welt der Bach Kantaten” Vol 3 – article on „Chorsätze“):

In the choral sections Bach has expanded the motet-like mvt. structure to include the trumpets and timpani. By doing this united very different vocal and instrumental styles of composition.

George B. Stauffer (“Die Welt der Bach Kantaten” Vol 3 – article on “Die Sinfonien”):

It has long been suspected that Bach’s sinfonias originated in either oboe or violin concerti. The adaptation and reworking of an oboe concerto for use as a sinfonia in a church cantata was a relatively easy matter. The solo passages of the original instrument with a relatively restricted range (c’ to c’’’ in Chorton) and the lack of idiomatic string passages for the right hand on the organ point to the oboe concerto as the possible source. This happens in the sinfonias for the cantatas, BWV 35 and BWV 156. With the violin concerti, Bach saw himself confronted with typical string figures that are not as easy to translate to the organ. The models for the sinfonias to the cantatas, BWV 146 and BWV 188 are based on violin concerto. This can be seen by virtue of the fact that the organ has a greater range and a generally higher register, as well as the double stops and bariolage-effect (the quick change between an open string and a string stopped by a finger all playing the same tone) that the organ has to imitate. This observation is supported by the sinfonia to BWV 29, which has as its original source, the Preludio to the Partita in E major (BWV 1006.) There one will also find a series of bariolage-like passages which are not idiomatic tothe organ and therefore more difficult to execute on that instrument.

Christoph Wolff (Die Welt der Bach Kantaten” Vol 3 – „Bachs Leipziger Kirchenkantaten: Repertoire und Kontext):

After the summer of 1726, Bach initiates a series of concerto-like mvts. that give the church compositions after that time an entirely new and unknown instrumental dimension. These begin with a number of mvts. featuring an obbligato organ (BWV 146, BWV 35, BWV 169, BWV 169 and BWV 49 – to this group were added somewhat later BWV 188 and BWV 29, the present cantata.)

Bach received a special payment for the creation and performance of a special-occasion cantata such as this. In the records of the city clerk (“Stadtschreiber”) we find: “Den 22. August 1729, Habe bey dem Herrn Superintendenten D. Deyling die Predigt zur Aufführung eines Neuen Raths, auf nechstkünftigen Montag, wie auch der Thürknecht die Music bey dem Herrn Cantor bestellet.“ (Date: August 22, 1729. I have ordered the sermon for the occasion of presenting the new council to be given by Superintendent D. Deyling, and the music to be performed by the cantor – the doorman (or someone with the name “Thürknecht” was sent to Bach to make the formal request.)

The cantata that was ordered on this date (this is not the date of composition of BWV 29!) was perhaps an earlier version of BWV 120, a cantata that had to be completed within 8 days. This means that Bach had to perform (or compose for the Sunday that immediately preceded the Rathswahl another cantata as well (it is not known which cantata this was, but it probably belonged to the 5th yearly cycle which is lost.) Wolff surmises that the Rathswahl cantata, BWV 29, was performed after the sermon.

On the occasion of a repeat performance for the same event, now on August 31, 1739, there is even a rare report from a Leipzig newspaper or periodical regarding the proceedings: “Den 31. Aug. ward die so genannte Raths-Wahl-Predigt in der Kirche zu St. Nicolai, von Herrn M. Christian Gottlob Eichlern, über 1. Reg. VIII, 57. sq. gehalten, und darauf machte der Königl. und Churfürstl. Hof-Compositeur und Capellmeister, Herr Joh. Sebast. Bach, eine so künstlich als angenehme Music; worzu der Text dieser war: CHORVS. Wir dancken, dir, Gott, wir dancken dir.“ [In addition to documenting the sermon, Bach’s opening chorus is singled out as sounding ‚so künstlich als angenehme’ = very artistic as well as pleasant sounding.]

Michael Marissen (“The Social and Religious Designs of J. S. Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos”):

Marissen, in his discussion of the 1st mvt. of the 1st Brandenburg Concerto, has a fleeting reference to BWV 29:

“When the horns do become contrapuntally and formally essential, in m. 20, they no longer dissociate themselves from the rest of the ensemble but instead participate in the refined alternation of group gestures familiar from the second ‘Fortspinnung’ segment of the ritornello (Fb1, mm. 6-8). This gradually approached assimilation with the material shared by the rest of the ensemble is then maintained in episodes 2 and 3 (mm. 24-27 and 33-36), where treble pairing of horns, oboes, and violins alternate with the same episode material. Their return of episode 3 in m. 53 carries this instrumental assimilation even farther by pairing the treble instruments from different choirs. The process borders on caricature in episode 4 (mm. 36-43): proceeding at first in dissonant fourth-species counterpoint – a style of writing entirely foreign to 18th-century brass instruments – the horns for the 1st time assume unambiguously the principal voice throughout an entire episode. As in the ritornello, they are strikingly differentiated from the ensemble, but, unlike in the ritornello, they are now contrapuntally indispensable.

Marissen’s footnote to “a style of writing entirely foreign to 18th–century brass instruments” reads:

To my knowledge, the only (somewhat) similar example from roughly contemporary brass parts occurs in the trumpet parts to the 1st chorus of Bach’s cantata, “Wir danken dir, Gott, wir danken dir, BWV 29 (more familiar from Bach’s later versions as the “Gratias” and “Dona nobis pacem” in the B-minor Mass, BWV 232; note, however, that this entire chorus is in ‘stile antico’.) Later examples include the opening period of Mozart’s Piano Concerto in Eb major, K. 482.

David Schulenberg (article in the “Oxford Composer Companions: J.S. Bach” [Boyd]:

Mvt. 1:
The author of the text is unknown. The Sinfonia constitutes an independent section of Bach’s score and might have been added to the work as an afterthought: it was derived from that of the wedding cantata (BWV 120a) probably from 1729. Only the brass and timpani parts were newly composed. Bach later arranged the entire violin Partita for keyboard or lute as BWV 1006a.

Mvt. 2:
The 1st chorus, also in D major, is for the full ensemble, the two clauses of the text (Psalm 75:1) corresponding with the 2 subjects of a double fugue in ‘stile antico.’

Mvt. 3:
A tenor aria with solo violin follows; the entire A section of this da capo form returns as the penultimate mvt. of the cantata.

Mvt. 4 & Mvt. 5:
A recitative for bass leads to a soprano aria (with oboe and strings) that gives every indication of being derived from a pre-existing slow mvt. or dance (siciliano;) the A section of this da capo structure is in binary form, the voice entering in ‘Vokaleinbau’ for the repetition of each half.

Mvt. 6 & Mvt. 7:
The succeeding alto recitative ends with a brief entry for all 8 singers on the word ‘Amen;’ this is followed by the reprise of the tenor aria, with alto substituting for tenor and obbligato organ for violin.

Mvt. 8:
The cantata closes with a 4-pt. setting, with brass obbligato, of the 5th stanza (published in 1549) of Johann Gramann’s chorale text “Nun lob, mein Seel, den Herren.”

 

Cantata BWV 29: Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2

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Last update: ýAugust 22, 2008 ý14:38:36