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Cantata BWV 79
Gott der Herr ist Sonn und Schild
Commentary

C. Krautscheid | A. Dürr | P. Spitta | W. Voigt | A. Schweitzer | F. Smend | G. & J. Csiba

 

Aryeh Oron wrote (April 15, 2003):
BWV 79 - Introduction [Christiane Krautscheid]

The commentary below, quoted from the liner notes to recording of this cantata by Hans-Joachim Rotzsch (on Leipzig Classics) [7], was written by Christiane Krautscheid.

Bach wrote two, or possibly three, cantatas as music for the celebration of the Reformation Festival, observed annually, to recall 31 October 1517 when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the palace chapel at Wittenberg. In Leipzig, the stronghold of Lutheran orthodoxy, the cantor of St. Thomas was expected to provide a particularly sumptuous setting for divine services on such occasions. With his cantatas BWV 79, BWV 80 and BWV 192, Bach satisfied these requirements in every respect. The festive nature of Cantata BWV 79 can be gauged immediately from its scoring for four soloists, four-part chorus, horns, timpani, oboes (with flutes added in later performances), strings and continuo. Its curious title “Gott der Herr ist Sonn und Schild” (God the Lord is sun and shield) can be explained in this way: The sun stands for the clarity, of faith and the shield for Christ, protecting the true believers from temptation. The cantata begins with fanfare-like motive on the horns, the opening chorus proclaiming the unwavering belief of the faithful in ultimate victory. Bach uses a highly complex contrapuntal method of combining two themes for this section whereas the aria for alto that comes next is more intimate and introspective. The following chorale, which takes up the horn motive of the opening chorus, is meant as an expression of thanks and praise on behalf of the congregation. Without any instrumental interlude, a duet for soprano and bass ensues. In this episode, vigorous outbursts in the strings symbolising the attacks of the archfiend become interwoven with the confident singing of true believer. A chorale of striking simplicity brings the cantata to a close. As for Cantata BWV 80 (already discussed in the BCML two and a half years ago), the listener is left in no doubt that the Reformation Festival is mainly a celebration of the Church Militant whose members must resist all the temptations besetting them.

Thomas Braatz wrote (April 16, 2003):
Commentary by Dürr:

There is no direct connection of this cantata text with either the Gospel or Epistle for the special festival of Reformation, but rather it is connected to Psalm 84:12 “For the LORD God is our light and protector,” where God is praised for the protection that He gives his own (Mvt. 2); gives thanks to Him by using the words of the 1st verse of Martin Rinckart's famous chorale (1636) and thanking Him for His deeds (Mvt. 3.) The librettist then praises Jesus for having shown us “den rechten Weg zur Seligkeit” [“the correct pass to blessedness”] and asks Him at the same time to have mercy upon those who have not yet recognized this path, but rather “an fremdem Joch aus Blindheit ziehen müssen” [“must be pulled by a yoke out of blindness”] (Mvt. 4.) With a request for future protection, cloaked in madrigal-like poetry (Mvt. 5), and then with the words taken from the final verse of Ludwig Helmbold’s chorale “Nun laßt uns Gott dem Herren” (1575), the cantata reaches its conclusion.

For the 1st performance on October 31, 1725, Bach used 2 horns, timpani, 2 oboes, strings and continuo. For another performance 5 years later, Bach added 2 flutes which duplicated the oboe parts in the tutti mvts. 1, 3, and 6, while in Mvt. 2, the 1st flute replaced the 1st oboe as the obbligato instrument. The use of flutes in a present-day performance is not obligatory.

The most impressive mvt. of this cantata is the powerful introductory choral mvt. in which the ritornello (45 ms. long) is much longer than that in comparable mvts. This expansion corresponds with its significance for the overall structure of this mvt. Here there is the exposition of both major themes, which attain a decisive importance in the later development of this mvt. Of specific note is the celebratory theme introduced by the horns in the beginning (it returns once again in Mvt. 3): [Dürr gives as an example the 1st 4 ms. of Mvt. 1 in the horn parts] and following directly upon this (ms. 13 ff.) there is a fugal theme built upon the repetition of notes.

The actual choral section is tripartite. It begins with 4 quite expansive, partially chordal, partially freely polyphonic subsections (a b a b) (based upon the fugal theme announced in the instruments) between which the horn theme appears as an intermezzo element that separates these choral subsection. In the 2nd part [“Er wird kein Gutes mangeln lassen den Frommen”] Bach develops a choral fugue from the material already introduced earlier by the instruments, after which a homophonic complex [the outer sections of which are Choreinbau into the beginning and ending ritornelli, while the middle section is a repeat of section b from the 1st part] follows as the 3rd part.

After the alto aria which can be played either with an obbligato oboe (1st version) or flute (2nd version), Bach introduces the charming idea of including once again the opening theme of the horns from Mvt. 1 in Mvt. 3. This expanded choral mvt. based on “Nun danket alle Gott” helps to unite the 1st 3 mvts. into a single complex. Although there is no definite proof that this cantata was performed in 2 parts, it seems conceivable that that Mvt. 4 followed the sermon, because the opening words of this recitative “Gottlob, wir wissen den rechten Weg zur Seligkeit” relate less to the Aria-duet which follows it than to the possible interpretation emanating from the sermon which had just been concluded. The homophonic duet which follows this plain secco recitative has a very songlike, catchy melody. Unusual here is the fact that the violins begin their ritornello only after the motto-like statement by both voices and that this 8-ms. ritornello is repeated so often that it almost has the effect of an ostinato. The main characteristic of this mvt. is rather more a stringing together of elements than a cyclic form.

The concluding chorale has a simple 4-pt. harmonization that has been expanded to 6 pts [actually 7, if the timpani are included] by means of the obbligato horn parts.

Thomas Braatz wrote (April 19, 2003):
BWV 79 - Commentaries:

Spitta:

The introductory mvt. has a defiantly thumping/pounding hot-tempered character about it. In drafting the choral sections, Bach allowed himself to be guided by the concerto principle by having two strongly contrasting ideas compete with each other and exchange places from time to time. The most remarkable aspect of this is how the choral sections crystallize themselves around the instrumental material [later Dürr and others defined this technique as ‘Choreinbau.’] When the chorus enters for the 1st time, it is with very expansive chordal structure over an agitated, repeated-note theme in the strings, thus symbolizing very understandably that the battle is being fought in the name of God. Later the musical texture of this main theme is intensified into a fugal theme. It is impossible trace in greater depth the many profound connections that exist, going into details all the way down to the manner in which the timpani are used. The poetical significance of Mvt. 1, however, becomes clear in Mvt. 3 where the choir sings, with the accompaniment of material from Mvt. 1, a magnificent, yet simple harmonization of “Nun danket alle Gott.”

In BWV 79/5 (Aria-duet) the obbligato, unison violins are not occupied with providing a contrapuntal accompaniment to the voice, in Bach’s usual manner. Here they want to express a very special idea of their own as if pounding the ground the way impatient warrior horses might before engaging in battle. They even insist on interrupting frequently the melodies presented by the voices. There is a similarity here between this motif and the one used in the 2nd mvt. of BWV 80, another Reformation cantata.

Voigt:

For a long time this cantata has lived in the shadow of the famous „Feste Burg“ cantata (BWV 80) with which it can not compete in regard to unity, but more recently it (BWV 79) has gained in popularity and recognition.

The 1st chorus is one of Bach’s most powerful and original creations. In the grandeur of its conception it has no equal and its prevailing mood is one of Lutheran enthusiasm for doing battle and expressing the jubilation of victory. The opening ritornello presents both main themes: the triumphant song of the horns and then the magnificent, forward-pressing fugal motif, at first presented individually but then in combination with the others. Now the choir enters with 2 X 2 short section consisting of new thematic material with which the fugal theme is combined in a powerful unison of the strings or winds. The horns insert their melody into the ritornelli. Now, for the first time, the choir takes over the fugal subject and develops it into a splendid intensification with even an attempt at a kind of inversion. On top of the final fugato in E minor, the horns very surprisingly enter with their G major motif which they combine with great effect for the 1st time with material in the choir. The conclusion brings a somewhat changed return of the ritornello.

The alto aria has a simple, powerful style that corresponds quite well to the text. The earthy, somewhat coarse words of the middle section should not be changed, as sometimes happens. They are a welcome relief as they provide a contrast to the rampant weakness/softness of the texts. The obbligato oboe is more in character for this aria than the flute would be.

The chorale “Nun danket alle Gott” is a magnificent piece. How delightfully the theme of the horns from Mvt. 1 fits together with this chorale melody which gives it a certain poetic meaning/significance.

The text of the subsequent bass recitative simply does not let itself be properly combined with that of the following duet to which it ought to provide a transition. [Voigt recommends a completely changed text for this recitative.]

The duet also has a simple but powerful character which is pleasantly moving. The 2nd part heightens the effect considerably and the conclusion is dignified and serious. This duet can use additional instruments that duplicate the existing parts. If you give the non-essential bass recitative to an alto, then this entire cantata can be performed with a single soloist.

The final chorale is really worth performing with its overlay of the horns over the voices and timpani part that is treated as a motif.

Schweitzer:

The ‘tumult’ motif:

Bach employs a particular group among these “stamping” motifs wherever the music has to represent the tumult of combat as if he desired to suggest to the hearer the hoof-beats of the horses and the rumbling of the marching columns….In BWV 79/5 (Aria duet) [the example given is ms. 4-11 of the obbligato violin parts] the ‘tumult’ motif accompanies the supplication of the believer, “Gott, ach Gott, verlaß die Deinen nimmermehr….obgleich sehr wider uns die Feinde toben” (“God, oh God, forsake not Thine own….though the enemy rage against us.”)

As the text of the Reformation cantata BWV 79 also speaks of the miseries of war and salvation from them, it likewise seems to relate to the special events of 1735. [This association with 1735 first indicated by Spitta is not borne out by recent research and must be discounted.] In the 1st chorus the largely-planned symphonic accompaniment is built up out of two themes. The first, beginning as a fanfare in the horns, is apparently a solemn hymn of triumph [the example given here is the 1st horn part, ms. 1-4.] Afterwards it is used as the accompaniment to the chorale “Nun danket alle Gott.” The 2nd theme is overpowering in its exultation [Ex. ms. 13-15 of the 1st flute and 1st violin parts.] The chorus goes its own way at the beginning and the end, tranquilly and majestically. In the middle section, however, the voices are caught up in the stream of exultation of the 2nd theme. (Spitta thinks he sees “elaborate combinations of instruments” in this chorus, “down to the rhythm of the drums.”) The chorus is one of the most impressive ever written by Bach. A positively blinding radiance gleams from it; it is as if we were looking at a victorious battle in the rays of morning.

In the cry sent up in the midst of the battle, “Gott, ach Gott, verlaß die Deinen nimmermehr” [see above,] the raging conflict is depicted by the means of the “tumult” motif. The musical picture strongly reminds us, as Spitta observed, of that in the aria with chorus “Mit unserer Macht ist nichts getan” in the cantata “Ein’ feste BurgBWV 80.

Smend:

The introductory mvt. announces the defiance and the comfort that issues from a reformed belief [a belief formed by the Reformation.]

Gisela & Joszef Csiba:

2/3 of all mvts. using horn (Corno) in Bach’s oeuvre are for a single horn, and 1/3 are for 2 horns (Corni.) In 70% of the parts written for horn (Corno), it fulfills the purpose of playing colla parte with the c. f. For this usually only one horn is used.

The 2nd horn part in Mvt. 1 of BWV 79 in ms. 6 [a facsimile is included of both horn parts for Corno in G] has a c2 instead of a c#2 (the lowered natural 9th tone of the natural horn series) because Bach was aware of the problem that the horn would have with this note. Yet, there is no excuse for period instrument reconstructions of these horns to sound out-of-tune or to engage in blaring. The Csibas maintain that on horns of this type correct intonation of the other natural tones on these instruments is reasonably easy to attain with “Treibtechnik” [“press technique” – (‘pushing’ the note into the correct position with the lips?).] There is no excuse for some of the horn sounds produced by some period instrument ensembles on the recordings.

 

Cantata BWV 79: 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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Last update: ýSeptember 29, 2011 ý19:06:06