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Cantata BWV 62
Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland [II]

A. Dürr | G.&J. Csiba | F. Smend


Thomas Braatz wrote (December 4, 2002):
BWV 62 - Commentaries:

Dürr [slightly modified/amplified by my own thoughts and observations]:

The most splendid mvt. of this cantata is the introductory 1st mvt. which features a concertato instrumental section consisting of strings and two oboes. In the ritornelli (except after the 2nd line of the chorale) Bach introduces the main theme of the chorale which in the 1st and last line are both the same. As in numerous other chorale cantatas, Bach gives the cantus firmus to the sopranos who are joined by the horn which plays colla parte here and in the final chorale. The remaining voices sometimes engage in introductory imitative entries (like tiny fugues) before the soprano enters with long note values. At other times the sopranos enter directly together with the other voices which illustrate the text musically. More specifically, the preparatory entrances of the other voices which precede the entrance of the cantus firmus are technically in a mode called ‘Vorimitation’ = ‘pre-imitation’ which is a typical feature of many chorale preludes for organ in the 17th and 18th centuries. In shorter, faster note values, the chorale melody is announced with a stretto-like effect with one voice quickly following on top of another. This happens twice in lines 1 and 4 of the chorale. Line 2 is quite different in that the other voices do not precede the soprano voice but follow it quickly using what is called an ‘Umkehrungsmotiv’[the English technical term is 'Inversion,' see Contrapunctus 5 of the AoF] = ‘turned-around (actually upside-down) motif’ which takes the melody of the 2nd line and turns it upside-down – the soprano moves up a 3rd and then an additional whole note, so Bach has the other voices enter in staggered form by dropping a 3rd and then dropping down another whole note. In the preceding 2 lines Bach has the lower voices enter from the top down in this order: A, T, B. For the 3rd line Bach changes the order of fughetta-like entries to T, A, B. Also, he now derives his thematic material from the instrumental ritornelli and introduces into the singing the repeated 8th-note and florid 16th-note passages, the sheer multitude of notes signifying all the people of the world who marvel at this miracle. The structure of this mvt. can be visualized as follows:

Instrumental Ritornello

The main motif from the chorale (lines 1 and 4 which are the same) appear near the beginning (ms. 2) in the bc and at the end (ms. 15) in the oboes just before the entrance of the voices. These are presented in longer note values.

Line 1 of the chorale with ‘Vorimitation’[pre-imitation] of the lower voices preparing the entrance of the c. f. All of this is combined with the orchestra which still presents the same motifs as in the ritornello. The soprano voice and the horn present the c. f. in unison.

The instruments present a shortened version of the ritornello with the oboes presenting the same motif from the chorale in longer note values just before the choir reenters.

Line 2 of the chorale with ‘Umkehrungsmotivik’ (upside-down motif - inversion) presented by the lower voices after the soprano enters first.

Another shortened version of the ritornello, this time without any announcement of the main motif from the chorale, is played by the instruments.

Line 3 of the chorale with ‘Ritornellmotivik’ (vocal material in the lower voices derived from the instrumental ritornelli and presented as a fughetta entering simultaneously with the soprano c. f.)

Another shortened version of the ritornello, but with both the bc and the oboes announcing the main chorale motif in long note values as at the beginning of the mvt.

Line 4 is an expanded repetition of Line 1 combined again with the instrumental ritornello material played by the orchestra.

The 1st ritornello (the expanded long form) is once again repeated entirely.

Bach has juxtaposed two blocks of opposing musical materials: the contemplative seriousness with which the chorale (text and music) expresses the miracle of Christ’s incarnation and the rather joyous attitude contained in the splendor of the instrumental themes or motifs (other than the citation of the chorale melody.) Bach chooses 6/4 time to which the chorale melody must be adapted in dotted half notes. Not only was Bach thinking about the contents of the Luther hymn, he must also have considered Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem which was referred to in the Gospel reading for this Sunday.

This basic attitude of joyful liveliness continues into the 2nd mvt. (tenor aria) albeit with a more intimate instrumentation [but only slightly less.] This is most noticeable through the use of the subdominant D major key and the Siciliano-type rhythm which characterizes the ritornello.

After a short secco recitative (mvt. 3), a 2nd aria for bass follows. This is in stark contrast to the 1st aria. The librettist was certainly working toward the creation of effective contrasts by basing these two arias upon the great contrasts already presented in the Luther chorale text: the miracle of the immaculate conception vs. the Savior’s “Sieg im Fleisch” (‘victory over/in the flesh.’) Bach underlines this contrast through the difference in his choice of instrumentation: mvt. 2 – strings that are joined by the oboes only in the tutti sections; mvt. 4 – a continuo only mvt. There is also a change in rhythm, but most importantly, in the ‘affect’ with mvt. 2 having a tenderly moving theme that is replaced in mvt. 4 by a tumultuous, single-line continuo theme that is played in octaves with the violins and violas joining in on the higher octave, a rather seldom-heard effect that was not entirely unknown in Bach’s time.

There now follows a very tender, heartfelt duet-recitative which expresses the gratitude of Christianity and is somewhat reminiscent of the 1st aria.

The final chorale, simply set, presents the final verse of the Luther hymn.

The Csibas (Gisela and Jozsef Csiba):

The Csibas, after analyzing the actual notes to be played in mvts. 1 & 6 and similar cantata parts for ‘Corno,’ have concluded that that the instrument used was a Corno in C (16 ft. length – all coiled up, of course.) The notation is with the notes actually sounding as written on the score/part.


Smend, in discussing BWV 12, makes the following comments:

‘The sign of Jesus’ is the cross, symbolized in the Greek letter ‘X’ (chi) [the appearance in the music which Smend explains.] This ‘X’ signifies not only Christ, but also the cross….In the score, Bach himself writes the word, ‘Christen’ [‘Christians’] as ‘Xsten’; they already ‘carry the cross’ in the word that designates them.

From a different context:

Finally, one should consider a peculiarity that has been observed in music of earlier centuries, Bach’s compositions included, because this is something that is difficult for us to understand today: the creation of parodies. Not all works by Bach are composed for texts with which they are connected today. Numerous cantatas were actually created for other texts, even of a secular variety. It was only later that he transformed them for use in the church by adapting the music to the sacred texts as we know them today. Although it is very possible that an economical work ethic may have played an important role here, this is not the only explanation that can be proffered. Often the 2nd or 3rd text changes, along with musical transformations that automatically occur, are able to bring the seeds already in the compositions to full fruition. Taking secular music and modifying it to become sacred was not considered as unusual or shocking as it does seem to us today, because the style of the Baroque provided a bridge which created a unity between both secular and sacred music. On the other hand, it should be strongly emphasized that there was a comprehensive unity between Bach as a person and his entire oeuvre. He made the words of St. Paul (Col. 3:17) inthis own truth: to do everything in the name of Jesus. This was not a formula devoid of content, even when he placed ‘J.J.’ at the top of some of his secular cantatas as he was about to commence composing, thus calling upon the name of the highest with ‘Jesu Juva,’ (‘Help, Lord Jesus!’) In a sense, this name stands above all of his works. Even when he was changing the music from a secular purpose to a sacred one, he still, in the end, dedicated his activity to the Lord of Lords. This demonstration of honor and respect to a higher religious authority extends to the performances of his music as well. It is then no surprise that he concludes his compositions with the letters S.D.G.: Soli Deo Gloria.

Another interesting point: J. S. B. and S. D. G. are exchangeable with each other since they have the same numerical value (sum = 29) based on gematria: J.S.B.= 9 +18 +2 = 29; and S.D.G. = 18 + 4 +7 = 29. This interchangeability had great significance for Bach.


Cantata BWV 62: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6

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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