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Musical Context of Bach Cantatas
Motets & Chorales for 24th Sunday after Trinity


Readings: Epistle: Colossians 1: 9-14; Gospel: Matthew 9: 18-26

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

Motets and Chorales for the 24th Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 24)


Introduction to BWV 60 -- Trinity 24 Chorales

William Hoffman wrote (September 9, 2012):
With the 24th Sunday after Trinity, the schedule of extended Sundays in late Trinity Time is observed in the flexible church year calendar. The emphasis in the hymn schedules is on <omne tempore> chorales for "Jüngsten Tage" or the "Last Days". These hymns are part of the final topical section in <Das Neu Leipziger Gesangbuch> of 1682 (NLGB), Bach's favored hymnbook during his final, Leipzig tenure. Under this category also are sacred songs for the "Resurrection of the Dead, and Eternal Life."

In the church year calendar, the final Sunday in Trinity Time falls between the 23rd and the 27th Sunday after Trinity Sunday. This depends on how long the earlier, other flexible <omne tempore> period of Epiphany Sundays lasted involving three to six Sundays after the Feast of the Epiphany, on January 6. Bach's church year calendar observed 70 main services for Sundays and holidays while Leipzig practice allowed music only for 61 services, omitting the three final Sundays in Advent, the four Sundays in Lent, Passion (Judika) Sunday and Palm Sunday.

Thus, Bach had fewer natural opportunities to compose cantatas for the extended Sundays of late Trinity Time. During Bach's active cantata-producing period in Leizig from 1723 to 1726, there occurred 26 Trinity Time Sundays in 1723, 25 Sundays in 1724, 26 Sundays in 1725 when he composed almost no cantatas, and only 23 Sundays in 1726. For these final Trinity Time Sundays Bach's six Cantatas -- BWV 60, 26, 90, 116, 70, and 140 - more than fill the bill, or need, in terms of appropriate texts and chorales. At the same time, these cantatas also address the concerns and themes of late Trinity Time: the NLGB "Last Days, Resurrection of the Dead and Eternal Life" as well as in the Leipzig and Dresden hymn schedule themes of "Death and Dying," and Lament and Comfort," says Günther Stiller's <JSB and Liturgical Life in Leipzig> (p. 246)

Late Trinity Time Chorales, Themes

At the same time in the extended, three closing Trinity Time Sundays of November 1723, Bach was able to utilize appropriate, popular chorales and fashion cantatas with special forms despite the pressing need to create numerous new works for the approaching Christmas season. For Cantatas BWV 60 and 90 Bach chose the simple but highly effective palindrome form of five movements in mirror form: opening dictum solo aria, closing four-part plain congregational chorale, and two teaching rectatives flanking the central (third) movement dramatic yet expressive aria. Forn the final Trinity Time 26th Sunday, Bach serendipitously and shrewdly salvaged Weimar Advent Cantata BWV 70, expanding it to the two-part form with which he began his first cycle six months earlier at the beginnng of Trinity Time.

In addition, in the contemporary lectionary of service readings for the final Sundays in Trinity Time (now called Sundays after Pentecost), other Bach <omne tempore> cantatas are particularly relevant in these eschatological Last Days, Omega, or End Times. The Appendix to the <Evagelisches Kirchen Gesangbuch> (EKG) lists the following as appropriate for the Second to Last Sunday in the Church Year: Cantatas 105 (Trinity 9), 114 (Trinity 17), 115 (Trinity 22), and 127 (Septuagesima); Next to the Last Sunday, BWV 70 (Trinity 26), 94 (Trinity 9), 105 (Trinity 9), and 168 (Trinity 9); and the Last Sunday, BWV 140 (Trinity 27).

The New Testament readings in Bach's one-year lectionary are particularly appropriate for the 24th Sunday after Trinity: Paul's Epistle to the Colossians 1:9-14 "Prayer for the increase of grace"; and the Gospel of Matthew 9:18-26, the miracle of Jesus' "Raising of Jairus's daughter" (full texts, BCW

Two Trinity 24 Cantatas: BWV 60, 26

For the 24th Sunday after Trinity, Bach's surviving cantatas BWV 60 and 26 and the prescribed <NLGB chorales> for this Sunday are particular relevant for the final Trinity Time services. Cantata BWV 60, "O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort" (O Eternity, thou word of thunder), is a solo "dialogue" cantata framed by two well-known chorales of Bach's time: the opening dictum "Final Days" Hymn (NLGB 394), sung by an alto representing Fear, and the closing plain "Death & Dying" chorale, "Es ist genug, so nimm, Herr, meinen Geist" (It is enough! Therefore, Lord, take my spirit, NLGB 386). Chorale Cantata BWV 26 "Ach, wie flüchtig, ach wie nichtig is der Menschen Leben!" (Ah, how fleeting, how trivial is man's life!), is a paraphrase of Michael's Franck's 13-verse 1652 hymn of "Death and Dying."

Interestingly, only one of these three once-popular chorales melodies survived into the 20th century, sung in English. "Es ist genug, so nimm, Herr, meinen Geist" (It is enough! Therefore, Lord, take my spirit) is found in <The Lutheran Hymnal> of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (Concordia, St. Louid MO, 1941), in three places: Easter, No. 196, "I am content, my Jesus liveth still" (text, "Ich habe genug"); Missions, No. 509, "There still is room" (text, "Es ist noch Raum"); and No. 599, "My course is run" (text, "Es ist vollbracht")

Dialogue Cantata 60

First perfromed on November 7, 1723, Cantata BWV 60, "O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort," is dialogue between the alto (solo or chorus) representing Fear and the tenor representing Hope with the bass representing the consoling Jesus Christ. In the the opening chorale adaptation, the alto sings the first stanza of Johann Rist's 1642 original 12-stanza hymn, O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort," set to the Johann Schoop 1642 melody. Fittingly, Bach set the same hymn as the paraphrased Chorale Cantata BWV 20 to open the second Leipzig Cycle, beginning Trinity Time, on the Alpha First Sunday after Trinity, June 11, 1724. For the BCW cover page for Cantata BWV 60, see BCW Francis Browne's English translation of the entire Cantata 60 text is found at BCW,

There is an important theological connection between Cantata BWV 60 and the four Cantatas, BWV 165, 95, 8, and 27 for the 16th Sunday after Trinity with is Gospel lesson of the miracle of the raising of the dead son of the widow of Nain, says Alfred Dürr in <<The Cantatas of JSB> (p. 631). The concept of the coming resurrection finds the individual struggling with doubt and hope, with despair and confidence as a theme found in Late Trinity Time and in Bach's musical treatment of the poetic texts and chorales.

Cantata BWV 60 is Bach's first effort in true dramatic dialogue form, beyond mere duets. Bach mines, combines, and transforms four key components:
1, The symbolic duo of Fear and Hope, first found in Georg Christian Lehms' 1711 cantata texts using Jesus and the Soul, the latter also referred to as the Believer or the Christian Church;
2, The <Vox Christi> bass voice of Jesus;
3. The arioso form of melodic recitative used in the opening movement and the two recitatives (Nos, 2 and 4), first introduced in Weimar Cantata BWV 61, bass solo, "Siehe, ich stehe vor der Tür" (See, I stand before the door, Revelation 3:20; and
4. The rhetorical repetition of text in the "hybrid" dialogue recitative arioso movement, BWV 60/4, the bass Jesus singing "Selig sind die Toten, die in dem Herren sterben, von nun an" (Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord, from now on), Revelation 14:13, also found in the two German Requiems of Heinrich Schütz and Johannes Brahms.

Julian Mincham in his BCW monograph of Cantata BWV 60 speaks at length of Ba's amazing musical technique ( It should also be noted that Bach's dramatic dialogue is exploited further a few months later in the St. John Passion of 1724 and achieves fruition in the St. Matthew Passion of 1727/29.

Chorale Melody, `O Ewigkeit du Donnerwort"

Johann Schoop set the original melody (Zahn 5819) of "O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort" as a sacred song, "Wach auf, mein Geist, erhebe dich, Lasset uns den Herren preisen" (Wake up, my soul, rise up, let us praise the Lord), in the 1642 early version (not in the <NLGB>). Johann Crüger adapted and slightly modified the melody (Zahn 5820), set to the Rist text, "O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort," published in 1653. Information on the text and melody is found in BCW, The chorale is not cited in Günther Stiller's <JSB and Liturgical Life in Leipzig>.

The Rist chorale text is found in the NLGB in the shortened version, 12 of 16 stanzas printed, omitting the original Stanzas 4, 7, 8, 12. Frances Browne's full English translation of all 16 verses is found in BCW,

In Cantata BWV 20, there are three chorale uses in F Major: No. 1 chorale fantasia (S.1); No. 7 (S.11[8]) "Solang ein Gott im Himmel lebt" (As long as God lives in heaven); and No. 11 (S.16[12]) "O Schwert, das durch die Seele bohrt (O sword that pierces through the soul). The closing plain chorales of both parts are the same setting with different texts.

The melody is found in plain chorale BWV 397 in F Major (S. 13 [9], "Wach auf, o Mensch, vom Sündenschlaf" (Wake up, O Man, from the sleep of sin), which probably is used in the <St. Mark Passion>, BWV 247/30, where the apostles sleep in the Garden of Gethsemane. The hymn was a popular sacred song in the Bach household, found in Anna Magdalena's 1725 Notebook, BWV 513, No. 42 (last item, p. 121) in F Major for soprano and basso continuo in Anna Magdalena's early handwriting. There also is an organ chorale prelude setting, BWV <deest>, Emans No. 146 (NBA KB [Criticial Commentary] IV/11), of doubtful authenticity and therefore not published in the Neue Bach Ausgabe.

Chorale Interest Slight

Bach's predecessors seemed to have shown little interest in "O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort." The BCW article cited above lists the following chorale settings:

Tobias Zeutschner (1621-1675): Setting of the Chorale O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort in P. Sohr(e), in Musicalischer Vorschmack (Ratzeburg, 1683);

Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767): Church Cantata: O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort (Neumeister text), 1:1189 (1723);

Johann Gottfried Walther (Bach Weimar cousin, 1684-1748): O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort, Chorale Prelude for Organ; and

Johann Tobias Krebs (Bach student, 1690-1762): O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort, Chorale Prelude for Organ, T 83.

Cantata 60 & Artist Kokoschka

Bach's Cantata 60 and Viennese artist Oskar Kokoschka are found in BCW Bach in Arts - Hommage a Bach - Oskar Kokoschka,

Details: About the portfolio: Heather Hess, German Expressionist Digital Archive Project, German Expressionism: Works from the Collection. 2011.

"Through these eleven illustrations of Johann Sebastian Bach's cantata no. 60, "O Eternity, Thou Word of Thunder," Oskar Kokoschka attempted to exorcise the pain from his tormented relationship with Alma Mahler, his lover for nearly two tumultuous years. Kokoschka remained infatuated with her, even after she rebuffed his marriage proposal and aborted his child. The pianist Leo Kestenberg, a friend of Kokoschka's, first played the cantata for him, but Kokoschka insisted it was the libretto, not Bach's music, that prompted him to make the prints.

"Bach's cantata presents a dialogue between Fear and Hope. In these prints, Kokoschka casts himself in the role of Hope, while Mahler plays Fear. Guided by Fear, Hope sets down a road that leads to his death (although the cantata itself sounds a positive note of divine salvation). Throughout, Kokoschka cites earlier works and weaves in biographical allusions to his relationship with Mahler. The imagery in Drachen über einer Flamme (Dragons over a flame) recalls his attempts to protect the pregnant Mahler from seeing frightening reptiles, while the final print reprises imagery from the poster for his earlier play Mörderer, Hoffnung der Frauen (Murderer, hope of woman). In the penultimate print, Kokoschka depicts himself standing in a grave, an acknowledgement of guilt for the failed relationship. As he later stated, "I am in the grave, slain by own my jealousy."

Chorale "It is Enough"

Befittingly, Cantata BWV 60 closes with the fifth verse of the hymn "Es ist genug, so nimm, Herr, meinen Geist" (It is enough! Therefore, Lord, take my spirit, NLGB 386), in the closing plain chorale (Movement 5), the only movement that does not contain dialogue between two voices. The text is: Es ist genug;/ Herr, wenn es dir gefällt, (It is enough;/ Lord, when it pleases you). The five-stanza text of Franz Joachim Burmeister (1662) was set to the melody (Zahm 7173) of the same name by Johann Rudolf Ahle in 1662). It is a hymn of Death and Dying in the <NLGB>, No. 386. As with the chorale, "Ach, wie flüchtig, ach wie nichtig," "Es ist genug" repeats the dictum to introduce all five stanzas. Francis Browne's English translation is found at BCW,

"The text was inspired by and considered to be an extension of Elijah's prayer as found in 1 Kings 19:4," says BCW, This article cites Bach's use of whole tones, in Eric Chafe "Tonal Allegory in the Vocal Music of J.S. Bach", California University Press, 1991, pp. 194-5, as well as Alban Berg's use of Bach's version of the chorale melody. There is no other documented use of this sacred song which is not written in the style of a hymn.

It is possible that Cantata 60 was repeated on November 4, 1731, possibly as part of Bach's first annual cantata cycle repeat in 1731 when he systematically reperformed cantatas from his first and third cycle during the entire Easter Season (see BCW, It is documented that Cantata BWV 70, "Wachet, betet" (Watch, pray), was repeated two weeks later on November 18, on the 26th Sunday after Trinity, and that <per omnes versus> Chorale Cantata BWV 140, "Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme Der Wächter" (Wake up, cries to us the voice of the watchmen) was premiered on November 25 for the final, 27th Sunday after Trinity, a rare occasion. For the 25th Sunday after Trinity on November 11 it is possible that Bach repeated either solo Cantata BWV 90, Es reißet euch ein schrechliche Ende" (There ripens for you a dreadful ending), or Chorale Cantata BWV 116, "Du Friedefürst, Herr Jesu Christ" (Thou Prince of Peace, Lord Jesus Christ).

Chorale Cantata BWV 26

For his penultimate setting of a chorale cantata in Trinity Time of his second cycle, Bach in Cantata BWV 26 premiered on November 19, 1724, paraphrased the hymn "Ach, wie flüchtig, ach wie nichtig ist der Menschen Leben!" (Ah, how fleeting, how trivial is man's life!). Michael's Franck's chorale of "Death and Dying" begins each of its 13 stanzas of each lines each with the same two-line dictum, often in later settings with the words "flüchtig" (fleeting) and "nichtig" (trivial) in either order in the title. The theme is maintained tthe chorale text with the three responsory lines in each of the 13 stanzas. The associated melody of the same title was composer by Franck (1652) and adapted by Johann Crüger (1661).

Bach kept the text of the first stanza in his traditional opening chorale fantasia chorus:
Ach wie flüchtig, ach wie nichtig
(Ah how fleeting, ah how insubstantial)
Ist der Menschen Leben!
(is man's life!)
Wie ein Nebel bald entstehet
(As a mist soon arises)
Und auch wieder bald vergehet,
(and soon also vanishes again,)
So ist unser Leben, sehet!
(so is our life, see!)

Bach in his own handriting uses the reverse title, "Ach wie nichtig, ach wie flüchtig," in his Chorale Prelude for Organ, <Orgelbüchlein>, BWV 644, the last (No. 45) setting in the incomplete collection and the only one set (No. 159) in the "Justification" category that lists six other titles:
The life eternal
157 (Riemenschneider or Zahn 4797) Jesu, meines Herzens Freud'
158 (Riemenschneider) Ach, was soll ich Sunder machen
160 (Zahn 1208) Ach, was ist doch unser Leben
161 (Zahn 1338b) Allenthalben, wo ich gehe
162 (Riemenschneider) Hast du denn, Jesu, dein Angesicht
163 (Riemenschneider) Sei gegrusset, Jesu gutig
164 (Riemenschneider) Schmücke dich, O liebe Seele

Chorales & Gradual Songs

Sung between the lessons of the Epistle and the Gospel, the Gradual Song plays an important part in Bach chorales, particularly in organ prelude settings and the chorale cantatas, says Bach theologian Robin A. Leaver in <Luther's Liturgical Music> (Lutheran Quarterly Books, 2007, p. 302:
"The Primary examles of these Graduallieder, many of them written by Luther, figure prominently in Bach's compositions for the church. A major part of the <Orgelbüchlein> (BWV 599-644) is primarily a collection of chorale preludes on the principal Graduallieder of the church year. Similarly, many of the chorale cantatas of his second Jahrgang in Leipzig (1724-25) are based on such Graduallieder. . . ."

Bach has one other connection with "Ach wie flüchtig, ach wie nichtig." He presented his now-lost, three-part Funeral Cantata, "Was ist, das wir Leben nennen" (What is it that we call life) on April 2, 1716, for his beloved Weimar Prince Johann Ernst. The third movement is the first of four chorales, "Ach wie flüchtig, ach wie nichtig." The possible source is found in the Gotha Hymnal of 1715, one of Bach's favorites at the time, and with the melody cited in BCW,

Composer-Lyricist Collaboration

For Chorale Cantata BWV 26, Bach's anonymous librettist ingeniously adapted the 13-stanza hymn with the 11 internal stanzas condensed into the usual chorale cantata form of four internal movements of pairs of alternating arias and recitatives. Perhaps with Bach's movement outline in hand, the poetic paraphraser maintained only the natural and character images and descriptions. Francis Browne's new English translation comparison of the original text and the cantata paraphrasing is particular intriguing: BCW, In addition are Paul Farseth's 2001 BCW literal and "polished" English translations,

Julian Mincham in his BCW commentary on Cantata BWV 26 looks at the collaborative process of composer Bach and the anonymous lyricist yielding Bach's powerful interpretation:

As for the nature of the collaboration, Harald Streck's 1971 dissertation on the verse art in the poetic texts of Bach's cantatas suggests that by Middle Trinity Time, Bach had found two paraphrase collaborators for the chorale cantatas. The one in question for Cantata BWV 26 is identified as the lyricist of Group 1 cantatas, actually beginning previously with the text for Cantata BWV 181 at Septuagesima (February 13) 1724 late in the first cycle. Streck suggests that this poet began the chorale cantata paraphrases with BWV 78, "Jesu, der du meine Selle," for the 14th Sunday after Trinity, September 10, 1724. It appears that the writer began alternating the production of individual cantata texts with the lyricist of group 3, who had begn a week earlier with Cantata BWV 33, "Allein zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ," for the 13th Sunday after Trinity, September 3, 1724. Their putative alternate production continued until the end of Trinity Time 1724. Beginning at Christmas through the Lenten season, when Bach abandoned weekly composing of chorale cantatas, Group 3 lyricist took over, producing 10 libretti while Group 3 lyricist wrote only BWV 124 fr the First Sunday after Epiphany and Bach's final chorale cantata, BWV 1, for Annunciation/Palm Sunday, March 1, 1725.

There is the possibility of a repeat of Cantata BWV 26 in the first half of the 1730s when Bach composed several <per omnes versus> chorale cantatas to fill gaps and may have presented a revival of the entiren Chorale Cantata second cycle. The best possible dates on the 24th Sunday after Trinity are November 23, 1732, which was the final Trinity Sunday that year, or on November 15, 1733, one week before Trinity 25, when the last Trinity Time Chorale Cantata, BWV 116, could have been performed.

Bach's Other Trinity 24 Opportunities:

+It seems likely that Bach composed no cantatas at Trinity Time 1725, instead searching for published texts (Lehms, Rudolstadt) for the new and final third cycle, which began at the traditional start of the church year, the First Sunday in Advent, December 2, 1725.

+The Picander published annual cycle of 70 Cantatas for 1728-29, lists a libretto for the 24th Sunday after Trinity (November 7, 1728), P-68, "Küsse, mein Herz, mit Freuden" (Kiss, my heart, with joy), but with no closing chorale listed.

+On Trinity, November 20, 1735, Bach probably performed a Stözel two-part cantata, "Dazu ist Christus gestorben und auferstanden" [not extant], as part of the cycle "Saitenspiele testeddes Hertzens" (Music Playing of the Heart), text by Benjamin Schmolck, with two chorale settings not identified.

+About November 11, 1736, Bach may have performed a Stözel two-part cantata, from the cantata cycle "Das Namenbuch Christi," (Book of Names of Christ), Schmolck text, No. 65. No musical source with the presumed chorales is extant.

NLGB Chorales

The four chorales appointed to be sung for the 24th Sunday after Trinity involve a simple Luther teaching on death, a popular contemporary hymn with strong Passion undercurrents, a poignant personal Trinity Time sacred song, and a little-known setting of a favored text:

+"Mitten wir im Leben sind" (We are in the middle of Life), not set by Bach; Martin Luther's three-stanza teaching hymn, found with the four-part setting of J. H. Schein in the NLGB, No. 344, "Death and Dying";

+Herr Jesus Christ wahr Mensch und Gott (NLGB 338, Death & Dying; cf. chorale Cantata BWV 127,
Estomihi 1725); BWV 336

+Allein zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ, (Trinity 3, 11, 22);

+Ich weiß, das mein Erlöse lebt, ob ich schon (I know that my Redeemer lives, Hebrews 19, trust in death), NLGB Death & Dying No. 354; Prince Johann Wilhelm of Weimar 1573, 3 stanzas (Zahn 7539); not set by Bach.


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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