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Cantata BWV 9
Es ist das Heil uns kommen her

Thomas Braatz wrote (July 26, 2001):
Because this cantata is not only musically important, but historically as well, I have decided to include in some greater detail the results of musicological scholarship that normally do not interest a listener. In this instance, however, this cantata has had a rather checkered history with many interesting twists and turns that may illustrate what the Bach experts have to contend with. It also gives us some insight into the reasoning involved in arriving at certain conclusions regarding the composer's final intentions. (As we know, these cantatas were 'works in progress,' but sometimes it helps us, when we can see how Bach changed things each time the cantata was performed.)

The Geneology

The odd history behind this cantata began with the fact that Bach and Anna Magdalena, his wife, were not physically present in Leipzig on July 16, 1724, the 6th Sunday after Trinity on the Lutheran Church calendar. [According to research by F. Smend and quoted by Dürr and others, Bach had traveled to Köthen, where Bach went "so sich hören lassen" ("to let himself be heard.") Proof of his presence there was established by a payment made to him in Köthen on the 18th of July, 1724 without anything more about the circumstances being specified.] If this had been any other year in Bach's life, things might not have been quite so serious as in this instance, for Bach was in the midst of his 2nd yearly cantata cycle, the cycle deemed by experts to be the best and most complete cantata cycle produced by Bach. It is the cycle that contains almost all of the truly important chorale cantatas. Bach must also have recognized the importance of this cantata cycle, since he decided c. 8 to 12 years later to fill in the missing cantatas by reverting for the most part back to the chorale cantata type to maintain some sort of consistency. In the case of this cantata, we even know that he had kept the text, which he had not set to music on that 'fateful' day (July 16, 1724) with the full intention to complete it at another time. This type of text, based very closely upon the original chorale text, must have had a certain appeal for Bach, since many of his best cantatas were set to music on this type of libretto. Unfortunately the librettist, thought by experts to be one of the pastors at one of the Leipzig churches, died around Easter 1725, before this cycle could be completed, and after which time Bach used another unidentified librettist for a few Sundays, before changing to Mariane von Ziegler, with whose texts he was able to complete the cantata cycle, but not in the stricter chorale cantata style that he had been using before Easter 1725.

Because of the intervening 8 to 10 years, we can now observe instances where Bach matured, differed, and improved compared to the style he had been using earlier, but more about that later. This cantata now finds itself in the same company as BWV 140 ("Wachet auf") 1731, BWV 14 ("Wär Gott nicht bei uns") 1735, and BWV 177 ("Ich ruf zu dir") 1732, etc. These cantatas were likewise composed later to fill out the gaps in Bach's best cantata year. This procedure is not without precedent: Examine another work that Bach left incomplete, but had intended to complete, not 'as the spirit moved him' to produce a work for eternity, but rather as the need arose during the church year and a certain chorale was required. This work is the Orgelbüchlein BWV 599-644. Most of the pages of the autograph manuscript are left blank except for the title of the chorale which is named. His intention was to write, as the need for them arose, 164 chorales, of which he completed only 46 during his lifetime. Many of the chorales are ordered according to their use during the church year, the same way that the cantatas were.

What follows now is a summary, some of which is given in great detail, of the physical autograph manuscript and parts that are discussed in the KB of NBA I, 7.2. In the division of Bach's estate, it was Wilhelm Friedemann Bach who inherited the scores for all of the cantatas of the 2nd yearly cycle - the 'Chorale Cantata Year.' At the same time, Anna Magdalena Bach received 44 sets of parts (among which were those for BWV 9) and then presented these to the St. Thomas School, where they have remained until the present day (actually in the Leipzig City Archive). Whew! That was a simple history, but what ever happened to the original score (entirely in Bach's hand) that W.F. Bach inherited? Therein lies a tale. Since W.F.Bach was hard pressed for money (when was this not the case!), he attempted to sell the manuscript. He wrote on the manuscript (the experts know this is his handwriting): di J.S.Bach | propria manu script., thus making quite clear the origin of the score. It was at at some point in time after Bach's death that W.F. Bach offered the entire 2nd cycle of chorale cantatas (the scores only) to Johann Nikolaus Forkel, who was to become an important Bach scholar and biographer, particularly because of his direct contacts with the Bach family. Here was the deal/offer: Forkel could buy the entire cycle for 20 Louis d'or [the value here is equivalent to the value assigned to Bach's personal harpsichord + a small model harpsichord as well,] or he could sneak a peek at the cycle for a few days for price of 2 Louis d'or [the equivalent value of a fine Jakobus Stainer violin + another more ordinary violin; or another equivalent would be the value of Bach's violoncello + his viola da gamba with a piccolo violin thrown in for good measure.] . Since Forkel could not 'cough up' the more substantial sum, he settled for simply a 'peek at the goodies.' [Just think of what Forkel could have done with a copy mashine!] This allowed Forkel just enough time to make his own copies of the originals of two cantatas, this one and the other was BWV 178 "Wo Gott der Herr nicht bei uns hält," both of which Forkel considered as being the 'vorzüglichsten" ("the most excellent") of all of the cantatas contained therein. It is conjectured that all of this happened after 1770.

Let's now follow only the original score, since including W.F. Bach's doublets (these are copies of a single part needed for, let's say, the violins, who play in unison, so that each has its own part to play from) and W. F. Bach's copies of the other parts for his own use, suddenly causes much confusion to arise in following the historical peregrinations of these parts.

Through close examination of the marks/stamps (not postage stamps, which were hardly in existence at the time, but rather a stamping done in ink) on the cover of the score, it becomes rather evident that the score was owned by someone in France around the middle of the 19th century. This may be the reason why the BGA could not access the score for its 1st printing of this cantata (December 1851), but had to rely instead entirely on the parts available at the St. Thomas School in Leipzig. Thereafter (no date available) an English stamp on the cover makes it very likely that the next stop for the score was England. According to the not verifiable indications provided by an antiquarian bookseller, Leo Liepmannssohn (Berlin), the owner of the manuscript score was A.George Kurtz of Liverpool, whose extensive collection was put up for sale in 1895. Just who purchased it then, is unknown, but somehow Leo Liepmannssohn acquired the valuable autograph score in 1921. Soon thereafter it was auctioned off to Werner Wolffheim. After the death of the latter, a pianist, Ossip Gabrilowitsch offered the score (for sale of course) in the name of Wolffheim's widow to the Library of Congress (Washington, D.C.) which acquired it officially on June 11, 1931. This is where it remains today. This score contains the final revision of the final recitative (Mvt. 6). Here is one of the rare opportunities to look into Bach's workshop and marvel at the master at work. You would probably think: "What is the easiest part of the cantata to compose?" The final chorale? Perhaps the recitatives? Well, here we have three[!] versions of the same recitative. The second version was changed so much that Bach could not read his own corrected version very well, so he revised it yet one more time and placed this clean copy of the recitative in an open area that had not been used. Also, on the sheet containing Mvt. 2, there is a single, unused line (staff) at the bottom, where Bach 'doodles' the key motif that will appear as the opening violin passage in the next aria. Obviously he knew that the space at the bottom of the recitative would not suffice for composing all the parts of the aria. What we have here is a personal note to himself, perhaps like the famous notebooks that Beethoven carried around with him, a note of something that he did not want to forget, or perhaps he simply wanted to see "what the motif would look like on the page" before actually proceeding with the actual task of composition reserved for the next clean sheet of paper. The watermark MA (or AM) [it depends on which side of the paper you are viewing it from] helps to identify the early 1730's as the time of composition. For Mvt. 2 (recitative,) originally conceived and written out for alto voice, Bach makes a note to himself: "This needs to be transposed to the bass voice." The latter is the final version as we know it today. The title of Mvt. 3 is "Aria" but there is also an original designation: "Violino solo," which was later corrected to read "Violini unisoni." This, in addition to a transposed, newly written out (Bach's own handwriting) basso continuo part with characteristics of Bach's handwriting during a later period (Kobayashi is the expert who determined the period) have led experts to agree that this cantata was performed once more under Bach's direction in the years 1740-1747.

Remember Forkel's expensive copy of the score? Well, he made a second copy of his first copy. [For all that money spent, wouldn't you do this too, maybe even as insurance, if one copy got lost or destroyed in a fire.] Both copies were auctioned off in 1819 and acquired by Georg Poelchau (a famous collector of Bach's manuscripts) and eventually by the 2nd half of the 19th century both copies were acquired by the Berlin Library (Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin.)

The original set of parts, as discussed above resides in the City Archive of Leipzig, but the doublets that W.F.Bach inherited (in addition to a second set of copies that he made of these) have a very complicated history. I will mention only where they are today: The doublets, "Violino 2 and Bassus" are in the Pierpont Morgan Library (The Mary Flagler Cary Music Collection), New York; the "Title-Page and Violino 1 Doublet" in the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Wien (Vienna); and the "Travers (Doublet?)" is in private ownership, New York.

The Text

The librettist was faced with the formidable task of taking a famous chorale by Paul Speratus (1523), one of the main chorales suitable for this Sunday in the church year, and reducing the 14 verses to a more manageable number (7) of cantata mvts. It should be noted that the chorale text is an alphabetical acrostic, the beginning of each verse beginning with the letters of the alphabet in sequence (skipping 'j' of course,) and embracing the Alpha and Omega since the first verse begins with 'A' and the last with 'O.' The librettist skipped the last two verses (a rhymed version of the Lord's Prayer,) kept the content of the remaining verses, put verses 2-4 in the 1st recitative (Mvt. 2,) put verses 5-7 in the 2nd recitative (Mvt. 4,) put 9-11 in the 3rd recitative (Mvt. 6,) and made an aria of verse 8 (Mvt. 5.) Mvt. 3 is not taken specifically from any verses, but rather repeats the final thoughts contained in the previous recitative (Mvt. 2 - verse 4 in the 1st half.)


Cantata BWV 9: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

References: Main Page | Cantatas BWV 1-50 | Cantatas BWV 51-100 | Cantatas BWV 101-150 | Cantatas BWV 151-200 | Cantatas BWV 201-224 | Other Vocal BWV 225-249 | Chorales BWV 250-300 | Chorales BWV 301-350 | Chorales BWV 351-400 | Chorales BWV 401-438 | Geistliche Lieder BWV 439-507 | AMN BWV 508-524 | Vocal Works BWV Anh
BGA | NBA | BC: A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | Sources
Discussions of BWV Numbering System: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3


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