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Musical Context of Bach Cantatas
Motets & Chorales for Feast of Reformation


Readings: Epistle: 2 Thessalonians 2: 3-8; Gospel: Revelations 14: 6-8

Dates in the lifetime of J.S. Bach, including works composed for the event

Motets and Chorales for the Feast of Reformation


Cantata 80: Intro & Reformationfest Cantatas, Chorales

William Hoffman wrote (March 14, 2013):
The various Bach works catalogs list only two cantatas - BWV 80, "Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott," and BWV 79, "Gott der Herr ist Sonn und Schild" -- as main sacred service musical sermons Sebastian composed for and presented at the annual Reformation Fest, October 31 in Leipzig. The iconic half-hour chorale cantata, BWV 80, that evolved for two decades in at least four versions, and the joyous, dancing quarter-hour cantata, BWV 79, represent a fraction of the praise and thanksgiving works Bach actually presented or were appropriate for the popular festival.

For the current discussion of Cantata 80, "A Mighty Fortress is our God, Details, BCW includes Francis Browne's English translation, Julian Mincham's Commentary, previous discussions, and Recordings, featuring John Elliot Gardiner's liner notes, No. 22.

The additional cantatas are: BWV 129 "Gelobet sei der Herr, mein Gott, and BWV BWV 192 "Nun danket alle Gott," both pure-hymn works also appropriate for sacred weddings; two partial cantatas, BWV 76II(a)/8-14, "Gott, segne nich die treue Schar" (presented four times on Reformationfest at the Leipzig Univesity St. Paul church), and BWV 194(b), "Sprich Ja zu meinen Taten," both drawn from two-part early Trinity (1 and Festival) cantatas for a double-bill; and two cantatas in single performances, the Christmas Day BWV 63, "Christen, ätzet diesen Tag" in a partial parody for the bicentennial Reformationfest jubilee in Halle in 1717, and Trinity Festival BWV 163, "Nur Jedem das Seine!," in 1723.

In addition Bach presented at least one work by another composer, Johann Friedrich Fasch's "Welt und Teufel, tobt ihr noch?" in 1734. Two other works have possible Reformationfest connections: Telemann Easter motet, "Der Herr ist König" (The Lord is King); TVWV 8:6, and son-in-law Johann Christiph Altnikol's 1748 Motet, Nun denket alle Gott," BWV Anh 164.

Finally, for the three-day 1730 bicentennial of the Augsburg Confession, June 25-27, Bach parodied three festive cantatas: BWV 190a, "Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied"; BWV 120b, "Gott, man lobet dich in die Stille"; and BWV Anh. 4a, "Wünschet Jeusalem Glück."

Reformation Feast Service & Vespers

The Feast of the Reformation main service was observed in Leipzig on October 31. The date of October 31 for was first established in 1617 at the Jubilee Year Centennial Celebration of the Reformation. In electoral Saxony the date was established in 1667, on the 150th anniversary of Luther's posting of the 95 Theses. The "Reformation anniversary was never considered fully equal to the other festivals of the church year, despite its increasing significance in the 18th century," says Günther Stiller in "JSB and Liturgical Life in Leipzig" (St. Louis MO: Concordia Publishing, 1984, 85). This is reflected in Bach's hymn book, "Das Neu Leipziger Gesangbuch" (NKGB) of 1682, where there is no separate listing of hymns to be sung at the Reformationfest, also known as "Luther Festival." Meanwhile the recognized Reformation chorales are found in the appropriate NLGB thematic sections of Trinity Time such as "Psalm Hymns" ("Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott," No. 255) and "Christian Life and Conduct" ("Nun danket alle Gott," No. 238).

Meanwhile, the "omission of music for the Sacrament [Communion hymns] in the Reformation anniversary, however, is evidently to be traced to the feast that in the main service of that festival there was not only the usual cantata, but after the pulpit service of the preacher" [sermon] "the Te Deum laudamus [NLGB 166, chant HDEKM I,1) was performed with trumpets and drums" with the Latin Kyrie (NLGB 143) at the beginning of the service "in addition to the usual Introit motet." The Te Deum laudamus also was performed on the Feast of Michael and All Angels.

One Introit motet that Bach probably knew is the cantata "Alles, was ihr tut" (Whatsoever Ye Do, Col. 3:17), BuxWV 4a (c.1668), of Dieterich Buxtehude (1637-1707).
Recording: Youtube,
Text & translation:,_was_ihr_tut_(Dietrich_Buxtehude)
Music download,, pdf file: main file.

Motet settings of Psalm 46, "God is our refuge," include: "Gott ist unser Zuversicht (Psalm 46 by Johann Pachelbel (1653-1706) and "Deus noster refugium" by Michel-Richard Delelande (1657-1726)

Pachelbel Werke Verzeichnis (PWV) 1105, "Gott ist unser Zuversicht"
Motette für SATB, SATB, B.c.
Quelle: D-B 16475/20
Text: Psalm 46, 2-8 und Kirchenliedstrophe "Preis, Ehr und Lob dem höchsten Gott"
Eggebrecht 17, Welter 384, Perreault 175 (Pachelbel cataloging)

Gott ist unsre Zuversicht und Stärke, eine Hilfe in den großen Nöten, die uns troffen haben.
Darum fürchten wir uns nicht, wenngleich die Welt unterginge und die Berge mitten ins Meer sinken,
wenngleich das Meer wütet und wallet und von seinem Ungestüm die Berge einfielen, Sela, Sela.
Darum soll die Stadt Gottes fein lustig bleiben mit ihren Brünnlein, da die heiligen Wohnungen des Höchsten sind.
Gott ist bei ihr drinnen, darum wird sie wohl bleiben; Gott hilft ihr früh.
Die Heiden müssen verzagen und die Königreiche fallen, das Erdreich muß vergehen, wenn er sich hören läßt.
Der Herr Zebaoth ist mit uns, der Gott Jakob ist unser Schutz. Amen. [Luther translation]

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea;
Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof. Selah.
There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the most High.
God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved: God shall help her, and that right early.
The heathen raged, the kingdoms were moved: he uttered his voice, the earth melted.
The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah. [King James Version]

Chorale (tune "Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott):

Preis, Ehr und Lob dem Höchsten Gott,
dem Vater aller Gnaden,
der uns aus Lieb gegeben hat
sein Sohn für unsern Schaden,
den Tröster, heiligen Geist,
von Sünd er uns reißt,
zum Reich er uns heißt,
den Weg zum Himmel weist,
der hilft uns fröhlich. Amen.

[5. Strophe von "Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott", Mitte 16. Jahrhundert an das Kirchenlied als
Doxologie angefügt, zuerst bei Christoph Gutknecht (printer), Nürnberg, 1546, vgl. Jenö Sólyom, Das Reich
muss uns doch bleiben, Jahrbuch für Liturgik und Hymnologie 20 (1976), S. 166-171.
Recording: Youtube,

Cantata 197, "Gott ist unsre Zuversicht" God is our confidence,) uses only the dictum from Psalm 46 (poet unknown) and was composed for a Leipzig wedding, 1736-37.

Reformation Vespers

Reformation Festive Vespers were held in Leipzig on the eve of the festival. The music may have included the organ Prelude, "Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott," BWV 720; Psalm 46 setting, "Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott" (NLGB No. 255); German Magnificat, "Meine Seele erhebt den Herr" (NLGB No. 153); Cantata BWV 80; Versicles; Nunc dimittis, Canticum Simeonis (NLGB No. 55); Collects; Benediction; Recessional Hymn, "Nun danket alle Gott" (NLGB No. 238); and organ chorale postlude, "Nun danket alle Gott," BWV 657.
[Based on Recording information: Frederick Grimes & Holy Trinity Bach Choir & Orchestra
Bach Cantatas & Other Vocal Works; BCW,]

Possibly Reformation Cantatas

1717 (Halle) - Cantata BWV 63(a) Christen, ätzet diesen Tag (Christians, engrave this day); no chorales
Details, BCW; BWV 63: Genesis". It appears that an altered-text version of Cantata BWV 63 by Gottfried Kirchoff (1685-1746), Halle organist, was presented during the bicentennial Jubilee Festival of the Reformation in Halle's Liebfrauen Kirche, October 31, 1717. Its text is found in a printed collection of festival sermons and commentaries, compiled in 1718 by Johann Michael Heineccius (1674-1722), church pastor, to whom the text is attributed. Heineccius officiated at Bach's probe on Dec. 13, 1713, to succeed Friedrich Wilhem Zachow, Handel's teacher. At that time it is believed that Bach could have presented a version of Cantata 63 that omitted the recitatives that later were revised for the Reformation. This festive Christmas Day cantata was first presented in Weimar in 1713 and/or 1714. [Source, Cantata 63, BCW Discussion 3,, "William Hoffman wrote (February 9, 2009.]

`A Mighty Fortress is our God'

1723/1724 -- Cantata BWV 80b "Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott" (A Mighty Fortress is our God; 1st version, Leipzig); plain chorale only (see BCW BWV 80b,
Details, BCW; Text and Francis Browne English translation (includes chorale 4 stanzas in purple), BCW The chorale is found in <Das Neu Leipziger Gesangbuch> of 1682 (NLGB), No. 255, psalm chorales, Martin Luther 4-stanza text paraphrase of Psalm 46 and Luther melody (Zahn 7477a+b), published in 1529. Details of the chorale are found on-line, Wikipedia: While the original "rhythmic tune" (non-isometric) in F Major is attributed to Luther, some sources believe that Luther derived the melody from plainchant or a meistersinger, although no source ever has been found.

Bach's uses include the four plain chorales in D Major: BWV 303, original version of Stanza 2 in Cantata BWV 80a/6 of 1715; BWV 80b, plain chorale setting of Stanza 1 of 1723/24; BWV 80/8 of 1728-30 with Stanza 4, "Das Wort sie sollen lassen stahn" (They shall pay no heed to God's word); and BWV 302, Stanza 4 in the St. Mark Passion, BWV 247/112/38. Bach set the chorale ornamented melody in the bass aria, "Alles was von Gott geboren," BWV 80a/1, initially for the oboe and later with soprano singing stanza 2, "Mit unsrer macht ist nichts getan" (By our own power nothing is accomplished) in Cantata BWV 80, 1728-30. At that time in Cantata 80, Bach composed a chorale chorus (No. 5), with the tutti orchestra accompanying the chorus in unison singing stanza 3, "Und wend die Welt voll Teufel wär" (And if the world were full of devils).

Bach also set the melody as the miscellaneous organ chorale prelude, BWV 720 in D Major, c.1710 in Weimar. It was originally listed in Bach's c.1714 "Orgelbüchlein" (Little Organ Book) chorale preludes as No. 116 for Reformationfest but not set. A 44-measure, two-stave organ chorale prelude in C Major, BWV Anh. 49, has been attributed to Bach but is "doubtful," currently listed as Emans 60 and published in the Neue-Bach Ausgabe IV/10 (Kassel: Bärenreiter, 2008: 49). Currently, "nothing in the music points clearly to authorship," says Peter Williams in <The Organ Music of J. S. Bach>, 2nd edition (Cambridge University Press, 2003: 577).

Bach's initial use of the Reformation battle-cry, "Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott" in Cantata 80a, "Alles was von Gott geborn," is based on Weimar Court poet Salomo Franck's text that closes with the second stanza. This reflects the chorale's origins as a Lenten Psalm hymn that Franck set for for Oculi Sunday, the third in Lent, on March 24, 1715. The hymn "A mighty fortress is our God" is Luther's paraphrase of Psalm 46, beginning, "God is our refuge and strength." Bach's use of the second stanza to close BWV 80a in 1715 emphasizes Christ's identity as humanity's defender, leading the forces in battle against Satan. Thus Bach over a 16-year period was able to use "Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott" for three liturgical services: Lent, Reformation, and Passiontide.

Special Music

?1724 - Cantata BWV 76II(a)/8-14, "Gott, segne nich die treue Schar" (God, bless still the faithful host) is an arrangement of Reformation anniversary performances of Cantata 76 (" Der Himmel erzählen" (The heavens proclaim) Part II at Leipzig University St. Paul Church: 1724, 1729, 1740, 1745 (Giles Cantegral, <Les cantates de J. S. Bach>, Fayard, 2010, p. 1201. See Cantata 76 Details, BCW

Cantata 76 closes with Luther's 1524 3-stanza chorale, "Es wohl uns Gott genädig sein" (May God be gracious to us), Stanza. 3, "Es danke, Gott, und lobe dich" (Thank you, God and praise you), is a paraphrase of Psalm 67, Deus Misereatur (God be merciful unto us). It is found in the NLGB (No. 258) as a Psalm Choral with the Matthias Greiter (1524) Zahn melody 7247 (EKG 182).
Text and Francis Browne English translation, BCW
Melody and text, BCW

Bach's uses of "Es wohl uns Gott genädig sein" involve three plain chorale settings in festive Cantatas BWV 76/7, 14 (Trinity 1, S.1 & 3; =BWV 312 in Phrygian mode), Cantata BWV 69/6, Lobe den Herrn, meine Seele (Praise the Lord, my soul; Council & Trinity 12, S. 3) in D Major with trumpets, and plain chorale, BWV 311 in F-sharp Major. This last chorale, BWV 311, probably was composed in 1730 to close Cantata BWV 190a/7, "Singet dem Herren ein neues Lied! (Sing to the Lord a new song), again with Stanza 3, for the special three-day celebration of the bicentennial of the Augsburg Confession, beginning on June 25. Chorale BWV 311 and 312 are found in the Hänssler Bach 2000 complete recordings, Chorale Book, Vol. 82, as Psalm chorales.

?1724 - Cantata BWV 194(b), "Sprich Ja zu meinen Taten" (Say yes to my deeds) opens with S. 9 of "Wach auf, mein Herz, und singe" (Awake my heart and sing), followed with the closing Stanza 10, "Mit Segen mich beschütte" (Protect me with your blessing." Bach student Johann Christian Köpping about 1724 made a copy of Cantata BWV 194, "Höchsterwünschtes Freudenfest" (Most greatly longed for feast of joy), Trinity Sunday, 1724, using only Movements Nos. 12, 2-5, and 10.
Details, BCW

Chorale "Wach auf, mein Herz, und singe"; Paul Gerhardt (1647/1653) 10-stanzas;
Text and Francis Browne English translation at BCW
Chorale Melody: "Nun laßt uns Gott dem Herren" (Now let us to God, the Lord), composer Nikolaus Selnecker (1587); Zahn melody 159, EKG 348 (Morning Song). Melody and associated texts, see BCW, (Text No. 2)

Possibilities for 1723:

1. Cantata BWV 80b, SATB plain chorale in D Major (doubled with oboe, violin, viola, continuo) only, presumably set to Stanza 1, "Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott," possibly followed by Cantata 80a, "Alles was von Gott Geboren" (All that was born of God), score and parts set lost, Salomo Franck text only survives and music in BWV 80) with oboe playing chorale melody in opening bass aria (BWV 80a/1). In BWV 80/2, oboe melody sung by soprano with stanza 2, "Mit unsrer macht" as a duet. Cantata BWV 80a (for Lent 2, Occuli Sunday), probably closed with the plain chorale setting of Stanza 2, surviving as BWV 303. NBA I/31: 67

2. Cantata 80b chorale may have introduced Cantata BWV 163, "Nur Jedem das Seine!" (Only to each his due!), originally composed to a Salomo Franck text for the 23rd Sunday after Trinity (November 24, 1715) in Weimar and probably repeated on the 23rd Sunday after Trinity in Leipzig that fell, serendipitously, on Reformation Day, Sunday, October 31. Cantata BWV 163 also serendipitously opens with a tenor aria in B minor and closes with a chorale aria duet and plain chorale in D Major.

3. John Elliot Gardiner in his Bach Cantata 2000 Pilgrimage recording liner notes says that Cantata BWV 79 "dates from 1723. Bach had missed the opportunity six years earlier to compose something spectacular for the
bicentennial celebrations at Weimar - either he was not asked or, more likely, he declined (he was sulking because of the Duke's refusal to let him take up a new post at Cöthen). This time he was determined to put his best foot forward, and there is evidence that, contrary to his usual practice, he began composing BWV 79 six months ahead of its scheduled performance." [Source: BCW Recordings,, No. 22 ([sdg110_gb].pdf.] No other source can be found dating Cantata 79 to 1723.

Possibilities for 1724:

1. Double bill (before and after sermon) of Cantata BWV 76II(a)/8-14, "Gott, segne nich die treue Schar" and Cantata BWV 194(b), "Sprich Ja zu meinen Taten" (Say yes to my deeds).

2. Repeat of 1723, Nos. 1 (BWV 80b and 80a) or 2 (BWV 80b and 163).


Next week's BCW Discussion, March 24, is Cantata 79, "Gott der Herr ist Sonn und Schild," as well as two pure-hymn chorale cantatas, BWV 129, "Gelobet sei der Herr, mein Gott," and BWV 192 "Nun danket alle Gott." In addition will be information on the cantata estate division of the various cycles to Bach's sons and Telemann's Reformationfest cantatas.


Musical Context of Bach Cantatas: Table of Motets & Chorales for Events in the Lutheran Church Year

Lutheran Church Year: Main Page and Explanation | LCY - Event Table | LCY 2000-2005 | LCY 2006-2010 | LCY 2011-2015 | LCY 2016-2020
Sundays & Holidays in the Lifetime of J.S. Bach | Performance Dates of Bach’s Vocal Works
Readings from the Epistles and the Gospels for each Event | Motets & Chorales for Events in the LCY
Discussions: Events in the Lutheran Church Year: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Readings from the Bible


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Last update: Wednesday, May 31, 2017 01:39