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Church-Year Cantatas

Bach’s Church-Year Cantatas: An Historical-Contemporary Perspective

William Hoffman wrote (January 15, 2017):
Bach’s Cantata Cycles, perhaps his greatest, most diverse achievement, represent a great mystery with an amazing cast of characters and their motives, methods, opportunities, and connections. The five “annual cycles of church pieces, for all the Sundays and holidays,” leads the list of his unpublished works in his “Obituary” of 1750 by son Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach and Johann Friedrich Agricola, Bach son-in-law (BD III, no. 666), in The New Bach Reader (NBR).1 The list continues with “Many oratorios, Masses, Magnificats; several Sanctus, secular cantatas, serenades, music for birthdays, names days and funerals, wedding cantatas; and also several comic vocal pieces” [BWV 211, 212].

The third group are “Five Passions, of which one is for double chorus” [BWV 244]. A similar outline is found in Emmanuel’s Hamburg 1790 estate catalogue in which the church pieces are listed by church year service, Advent through Trinity Time, preceded by the other two categories, “Many Oratorios, etc.” and “Passions.” Together, these constitute Bach’s vocal works as distributed to his family heirs. In addition, the Obituary listed “Some double-chorus motets” [BWV 225, 226, 228, 229] which remained at the Thomas School while copies were distributed. The list continues with instrumental music for organ, keyboard, unaccompanied violin and cello sonatas, various concertos for one to four harpsichords, and “a mass of other instrumental pieces of all sorts and for all kinds of instruments.”

The vocal music had precedence since Bach was the Leipzig cantor and director of church music. The next accounting was found in Bach first biographer, Johann Nikolaus Forkkel’s 1802 On Johann Sebastian Bach’s Life, Genius and Works. Again heading the list of Vocal Compositions are “Five complete sets of Church Music for all the Sundays and Holidays of the Year,” followed by the “Five Passions,” then “Many Oratorios,” etc. and “Many Motets for one and two choruses.”

“Most of these works are now dispersed,” continues Forkkel. “The annual sets were divided after the author’s death between the elder sons [Friedemann and Emmanuel] and in such a manner that Friedemann had the largest share because, in the place which he then filled in Halle, he could make the most use of them.” Eventually, says Forkkel, “circumstances obliged him to part, be degrees,” with what he had obtained. Forkkel was in direct correspondence with both Bach sons but his primary interest was keyboard music. By 1802, Emmanuel’s catalogued estate had been sold and Forkkel only was able to account for some vocal music, mostly copies of Emmanuel’s inheritance, found in the collection of Princess Amalia of Prussia: 21 church cantatas, the St. Matthew Passion; the B-Minor Mass, and Motets BWV 225-229. At the Berlin court, Johann Philipp Kirnberger, built the Amalien library copying Emanuel’s manuscripts before the latter succeeded Telemann in Hamburg as music director.

About 1802 the Carl Friedrich Zelter and the Berlin Singakademie began performing various vocal works of Bach, culminating in the 1829 performance of the St. Matthew Passion, conducted by Felix Mendelssohn. Meanwhile, occasional cantatas were presented and the Leipzig publisher Breitkopf began printing the motets and Latin Church Music (Missae: Kyrie-Gloria, BWV 233-236, and Sanctus). The Berlin collection expanded as manuscripts were acquired. In 1850, Carl Ludwig Hilgenfeldt2 complied the first detailed accounting of Bach’s vocal music, with sources from the Emmanuel Bach circle in Hamburg. Hilgenfeld identified the five passions as the four of the evangelists, BWV 244-247, and the lost 1717 Weimar Passion. Emmanuel also inherited his father’s Altbachisches Archiv of music of the Bach Family, and 17 cantatas of Johann Ludwig Bach, and published almost all of his father’s some 400 four-part chorale settings.

Five-Cantata Cycle Accounting

The actual accounting of Emmanuel Bach and Agricola is reinforced by their involvement in copying Sebastian’s music, Emmanuel from 1725 to 1734 and through the compilation of the chorales from his father’s manuscripts, and Agricola as a Bach student, 1738-41. Their list of Bach’s vocal music in the 1750 “Obituary” accounts for five cantata cycles and five Passsions. Hilgenfeldt enumerated the five Passions while the five cycles appear to have been Sebastian’s compositions almost entirely from 1723 to 1729 when Bach ceased to perform cantatas on a regular basis except possibly for a revival of the chorale cantata cycle in the early 1730s. Bach also performed one and possibly two two-part cantata cycles of Gottfried Heinrich Stölzel in the mid-1730s, according to recent research.

Bach may have projected a plan for a five-year cycle, influenced by the Erdmann Neumeister publication of five cycles of cantata libretti, suggests Robin A. Leaver in “The Libretto of Bach’s ‘Cantata No. 79’: A Conjecture” in BACH (Bera OH:, Journal of Riemenschneider Bach Institute, Vol. 6, No. 1 [January 1975: 5]). “It seems quite likely that Bach’s plan to assemble a five-year collection of cantatas was inspired directly by the five-year cycle of Neumeister’s libretti,” says Leaver. Neumeister’s collection, Fünffache Kirchen-Andachten, published in Leipzig in 1716, also has four earlier cycles published in 1700, 1708, 1711, and 1714, many cantatas set by Georg Philipp Telemann.

The key to Bach’s vocal music and the essential annual cantata cycles (quite popular among Bach’s colleagues) was Bach’s calling in his 1708 resignation letter to the Mühlhausen Town Council, of “a well-regulated church music, to the Gory of God” (NBR, BD 1, no. 1), reaffirmed in his 1730 memorandum to the Leipzig Town Council, “Short But Most Necessary Draft for a Well-Appointed Church Music . . .” (NBR, BD 1, no. 22). Bach in the latter describes the need for quality chorus members and instrumentalists to perform church music. Bach’s first goal in Leipzig was the systematic creation of service cantatas as “musical sermons” for the 62 Sundays and feast days, which he accomplished in three cycles until 1727. In his final two decades Bach primarily composed Latin Church Music, oratorios, and revised settings of three Passions and two Pasticcio Passions (many of these works involving parody or contrafaction), as well as chorale collections of harmonized hymns and organ preludes.

Cantata Catalogues, Recordings

The 200 numbered church cantatas form the bulwark of Bach interests and studies, beginning with the Bach Gesellschaft publication in 1850 with the most accessible works, the chorale cantatas in the Thomas School. The initial numbering was used in the 1950 publication of the first Bach Werke Verzeichnis (BWV,, the so-called Schmieder Catalogue of Bach’s works. Beginning with these cantatas and their variants, the catalogue, with a new edition forthcoming, added the secular and apocryphal cantatas, then the other categories of vocal music outlined in the 1750 Obiturary: motets, Latin church music (masses, Sanctus), and Passion and feast day oratorios. Where the BWV used the arbitrary numbering of the cantatas, two catalogues were published in the 1980s and are cited: the Bach Compendium (BC,, Analytisch-bibliographisch Repertorium der Werke Johann Sebastian Bach, ed. Hans-Joachim Schultze and Christoph Wolff, has published 4 volumes (1985-89) of all Bach’s vocal music (A-H), categorized with the cantatas (A) numbered by church year use, beginning with the Sundays in Advent. The organ works J (free) and K (chorale) will be published says Wolff (personal correspondence; see BCW Complete Organ, The Zwang Catalog of cantatas lists them as composed chronologically [Philippe (and Gérard) Zwang. Guide pratique des cantates de Bach (Paris, 1982; 2nd ed. 2006;; ‘K’ stands for the Sacred Cantatas and ‘W’ for the Secular Cantatas)].

The celebration of the Bach Tri-centennial of his birth in 1985 also produced two “complete” series of cantata recordings, Helmut Rilling on Hänssler, and Nicholas Harnoncourt/Gustav Leonhardt on Teldec. Previously, the Musical Heritage Society in the 1970s systematically released European Erato recordings of the cantatas, primarily by conductors Rilling and Fritz Werner. Leading to the 250th anniversary of Bach death in 2000, two complete projects began in 1995: Ton Koopman on Erato, in conjunction with Christoph Wolff’s liner notes and the accompanying three-volumes of “The World of the Bach Cantatas,” scholarly essays, and Masaaki Suzuki on BIS, which still is releasing his recordings of the secular cantatas. The 2000 observance yielded “complete” vocal music recordings from Rilling and Harnoncourt/Leonhardt with others, while Brilliant Classics released a budget set of cantatas from Jan Peter Leusinck as well as the vocal music. John Eliot Gardiner launched his epic Bach Cantata Pilgrimage 2000 tour with recordings of most of the cantatas on Soli Deo Gloria. For the recording sets see BCW, “Table of Cantata Recordings by Major Conductors according to BWV Number,” Meanwhile, two other ambitious projects have emerged recently: All of Bach: a project by the Netherlands Bach Society (, and Cantata Series by J.S. Bach-Stiftung St. Gallen ( These two seem arbitrary while the previous anthologies had specific classifications: Rilling mostly observed the church year, from Advent, as did Gardiner; Harnoncourt/Leonhardt by BWV number; and Koopman and Suzuki from the earliest composed cantatas (like the Zahn catalogue).

“Well-Ordered Church Music”

Two types of publications available to Bach delineated the Lutheran church year with its specific services of the de tempore (fixed time of Jesus Christ), and the omnes tempore (ordinary time) with its liturgy, catechism, and thematic teachings. In Leipzig, for the chorales assigned to both halves of the church year, Bach primarily followed, Das Neu Leipziger Gesangbuch of 1682 by Gottfried Vopelius. The Leipzig Church Book (1718) and Agenda (1712), dating to 1539 when the city accepted Lutheran teachings, establishes the sequence of events in the church year, the contents of the services, and the responsibilities of church officials, including the use of music through hymnbooks (details, see BCW Article, “Liturgy and Music in Leipzig’s Main Churches” by Martin Petzoldt, Thomas Braatz trans.,

Only by documented actual experience is it possible to determine Bach’s “well-regulated,” “well-appointed” church music, also described as a “well-ordered” church music. The outline in the 1750 “Obituary” provides for the cycles of “church pieces” (Bach rarely used the word “cantate”), as well as oratorios (BWV 11, 248, 249), Masses (BWV 233-236), Magnificats (Latin & German, BWV 243(a); 10, 198, Anh. 21), oratorio Passions (BWV 244-247), and Motets (BWV 225-231). While a few works accounted for in Forkkel’s 1802 Bach biography include apocryphal pieces, the categories of vocal music listed conform to those subsequently found in manuscript, that is, no forms have not been found nor have any forms found not been listed previously. Thus, Bach composed a veritable, integral legacy of well-ordered types of church music, including incidental sacred music for weddings (often on Mondays), memorial services, and special occasions such as the annual Town Council installations. The typical services included the Sunday main morning services and afternoon vesper services, feast day services, and possibly Saturday afternoon confessional and catechism services with the Clavierübung III German Organ Mass and Catechism chorales.

Bach’s creativity involved deliberate, intentional, systematic use and re-use of much of the music he composed. A well-ordering provided for music for the various sacred regular and special services in observance of the services and liturgy presented, including the Mass Ordinary and Propers, for the de tempore and omnes tempore halves of the church year -- all having designated thematic and liturgical hymns for each service. Foremost in frequency and variety of presentation were the annual cycles of church music. Bach eschewed cycles of prepared libretti in favor of inclusion of previously composed music set to various texts, altered where necessary to fit the occasion.

Cantata Cycles Established

Beginning with the first cycle in 1723, certain musical and thematic patterns are found in the cantatas Bach chose while filling the gaps with new music. Of the 22 service cantatas Bach had composed almost monthly in Weimar between 1714 and 1716, only one, BWV 132, “Bereitet die Wege, bereitet die Bahn!”

(Prepare the ways, prepare the path!), for the 4th Sunday in Advent 1715, went unperformed in Leipzig since it was inappropriate for that service (see Thomas Braatz, BCW article, Bach’s Weimar Cantatas,” Bach adapted four Weimar cantatas (BWV 80a, 70a, 186a, and 147a, for new, appropriate services in Leipzig with new recitatives and additional plain chorale settings.

As Weimar concertmaster, Bach used the published cyclic texts of court poet Salomo Franck for most of his cantatas, in the manner of Telemann with Neumeister in Eisenach/Frankfurt, Christoph Graupner with Georg Christian Lehms in Darmstadt, Ludwig Bach with Rudolstadt (?Prince Ernst Ludwig) in Meinengen, and Stölzel with Benjamin Schmolck in Gotha. Interestingly, Bach had the opportunity to use two annual cycles in Leipzig: Picander’s Cantaten auf die Sonn- und Fest-Tage durch das Gantze Jahr (1728), from which only nine Bach cantatas are extant (BWV 197a, 171, 156, 84, 159, 145, 174, 149, and 188), and Christiane Mariane von Ziegler’s Versuch in Gebundener Schreib-Art I (1728), with nine cantatas (BWV 68, 74, 87, 103, 108, 128, 175, 176, and 183). In addition, Bach presented 18 Ludwig Bach cantatas from Rudolstadt texts in 1726 and set eight in his own cantatas (BWV 17, 25, 39, 43, 45, 88, 102, 187). Lehms in 1711 published two sets of libretti for morning main and afternoon vesper services, Gottgefälliges Kirchen-Andachten (Darmstadt) for court composer Christoph Graupner, from which Bach set mostly third-cycle Cantatas BWV 13, 16, 32, 35, 54, 57, 110, 151, 170, and 199. In Frankfurt, Telemann in 1715 had set the Lehms cycle, in addition to the Concertante, French, and solo cantata annual church cycles.

Bach also used unidentified poets later attributed to Franck, Neumeister, and Picander, as well as hybrid texts and texts that paraphrase poets such as Johann Knauer, whose 1720 cycle, Gott-Geheiligtes Singen und Spielen was used in the first cycle chorus Cantatas BWV 60a, 77, and 64, and set by Stölzel, says Dürr in The Cantatas of J. S. Bach, revised and translated by Richard D. P. Jones (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005: 28).

Since the late 1950s exact scientific dating of Bach’s Leipzig cantatas by Dürr and Georg von Dadelsen, on the basis of manuscript watermarks and handwriting, Bach scholars have pursued the presumed missing some 100 missing Bach cantatas presumably from the last two cycles, or have sought to clarify the situation. From the Picander fourth cycle text, beyond the nine extant cantatas, only numerous designated plain choralare found in the free-standing hymns, BWV 253-435, while no further, parodied movements from previously-composed works with new-text underlay or lost cantatas have surfaced. Meanwhile, further studies of the chorale sources continue, as well as Bach’s interactions with Picander and his texts. Bach may have used the Picander cycle to aid his students to compose cantatas as two were used by Emmanuel and Johann Friedrich Doles in the early 1730s. To teach composition, Bach emphasized harmony with his four-part chorales and theory with polyphonic motet settings.

Fifth Cycle: Enigma or Phantom?

The fifth cantata cycle is an enigma or a phantom. Scholars Dürr, William Scheibe, and Christoph Wolff have speculated on the basis of existing cantatas. Dürr (Ibid.: 24ff) suggests that Bach may have been content with less than five cycles. The cantatas composed mostly in the last two decades were for special purposes, he observes. A few filled gaps. Six chorale cantatas were composed as follows: Cantata 129, Trinity Sunday (1726); Cantata 177, Trinity 4 (1732); Cantata 9, Trinity 6 (1732-35); 137, Trinity 12 (1725); Cantata 112, Easter 4 (1731); and Cantata 80, Reformationfest (by 1740). Only Cantatas 9 and 80 are not per omnes versus (pure-hymn) cantatas while Bach also four three undesignated pure-hymn Cantatas BWV 117 (1728-31), 192 (1730), 97 (1734), and 100 (1734-35), which were suitable for weddings or to fill gaps in the Easter season. Five of the six designated chorale cantatas were part of the second cycle distribution, Friedemann getting the scores, and Anna Magdalena the parts sets, excepting BWV 80 where Friedemann presumably getting the score and parts.

Another late cantata category were parodied works, Dürr points out: BWV 157 (1727) for a funeral and the Feast of the Purification; BWV 36 for the 1st Sunday in Advent (1725/1731); BWV 30 (c.1738) for the Feast of John the Baptist), and Latin Christmas Cantata 191 (1743). Other works for special, mostly festive sacred occasions such as the annual Town Council installation, often were parodies or adaptations. The estate division of these last cantatas, as well as the major vocal music composed in the final two decades, shows distribution primarily to Emmanuel, with Friedemann probably receiving mostly cantatas and earlier versions of major works such as the Passions and Easter Oratorio.

Two specific theories about the fifth cycle appear arbitrary. Christoph Wolff suggested that Bach’s fifth cycle may have involved two-part and double-bill cantatas presented in the first cycle before and after the sermons. Scheide suggested the Weimar cantatas may have represented a separate cycle; however virtually all 22 were reperformed in Leipzig for appropriate services in the first cycle, except for Cantata 132, but it was inherited by Emmanuel. Other possibilities for the illusive five cycles include “a significant loss of cantata sources from after 1729, or a misprint in the obituary,” says Mark A. Peters in “Vocal Music,” Routledge Research Companion to Johann Sebastian Bach, ed. Robin A. Leaver (London, New York: Routledge, 2017: 273).

First Annual Cantata Cycle

Bach’s first cycle in Leipzig, beginning with the omnes tempore 1st Sunday after Trinity, 30 May 1723, with Cantata 75, is a heterogeneous cycle in many respects. With some 20 cantatas from Weimar recycled and four Cöthen parodies, the remaining 36 are new works often beginning with biblical-text choruses, often based on the day’s Gospel, from unknown librettists, observes Dürr (Ibid.: 24). The new cantatas can be classified by types and can constitute mini-cycles. All have symmetrical forms of opening chorus and closing plain chorale, with internal, alternating recitatives and arias, the variants being the insertion of a central plain chorale and the numbers of recitatives and arias.

The mini-series involved 22 cantatas for mid and late Trinity Time (BWV 136, 105, 46, 179, 69a, 77, 25, 109, 89, 104), Christmas to Epiphany (BWV 48, 40, 64, 153, 65, 67), and Septuagesima/Purification and the later part of the Easter Season (BWV 144, Anh. 199, 166, 86, 37, 44). In addition, to begin the cycle, Bach composed two-part Cantatas (BWV 75, 76, 21, 147, 186) and closed Trinity Time with BWV 70, only the first two original, the others expansions from Weimar – all shaped as two cantatas with closing chorales in both parts. Bach also composed a two-part probe Cantata BWV 22-23 for Estomihi Sunday 1723 while in Cöthen and parodied five serenades used at the festivals of Easter, Pentecost and Trinity Sunday, respectively, BWV 66, 134, 173, 184, and two-part BWV 194.

Another innovation in the first cycle was the double-bill presentation of mostly intimate (nine) solo pieces (except on feastdays), usually one revived from Weimar and one newly composed: Trinity 4, BWV 185 and 24 (Neumeister text); Trinity 11, BWV 199 and 179; Trinity 16, BWV 161 and 95 (opening chorale chorus); Reformationfest/Trinity 23, BWV ?80b and 163 (solo) (both Weimar); New Year’s, BWV ?143 and 190 (both chorus); Sexagesima, BWV 18 and 181; Purification, BWV 182 (choruses) and Anh. 199; Easter Tuesday, BWV 158 (?S. Franck) and 134 (closing chorus); Pentecost, BWV 172 and 59 (both choruses); and Trinity Sunday, BWV 165 (solo) and BWV 194.

Cantata Texts, Librettists

More studies of Bach’s vocal music have focused on the cantatas and their texts. Notably are the English translations beginning with Henry S. Drinker. and more recently Z. Philipp Ambrose, Melvin P. Unger, and Richard Stokes.3 For further text translation information see BCW, Studies of the librettists, particularly Picander, is lacking while two new studies involving Ziegler are found in English: Mark A. Peters’ A Woman’s Voice in Baroque Music: Mariane von Ziegler and J. S. Bach Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008), and Eric Chafe’s J. S. Bach’s Johannine Theology: The St. John Passion and the Cantatas for Spring 1725 (Oxford University Press, 2014).

While the librettists of Cycle No. 1 remain a mystery, the most likely candidate continues to be Christian Weiss (or Weise) Sr., St. Thomas pastor and Bach’s confessing pastor. Singling out the six Easter Season cantatas, Dürr cites scholarship (Ibid.: 27f) that shows Weise’s theological learning and close connections to the Bach family, as well as Weise’s resumption of regular preaching at later Easter Season 1724 after several years of voice problems. In addition, the chorus cantata form texts for the early part of Easter Season (Easter Monday to the 2nd Sunday after Easter), was delayed a year to 1725, possibly in deference to Weise, involving BWV 6, 42, and 85, with Cantata 79 performed later at Reformationfest 1725.

In addition to Weise, other learned Lutheran theologians whom Bach knew well and could have qualified as libretto writers (and who probably would not have run afoul of the overseeing Leipzig Town Council), are described in Robin A. Leaver’s chapter on “Churches” in the Routledge Research Companion to JSB (Ibid.: 174-179). “Only precise style-critical methods, based on linguistic and theological studies, could aid further clarification, and no such study has yet been made,” says Dürr (Ibid.: 27). The most comprehensive study from a linguistic perspective, was Harald Streck’s Die Verskunst in den poetischen Texten zu den Kantaten J. S. Bachs (Dissertation: University Hamburg 1971). Since then, librettists mostly in the third cycle have been identified, namely in the published texts of Rudolstadt (Meiningen Prince Ernst Ludwig), Lehms, Ziegler and possibly Christoph Birkmann in the solo cantatas found in a later-published libretto, Sabbaths-Zehnden (Sabbath Tithes). Specialized libretto studies involving theology include Ulrich Meyer’s Biblical quotation and allusion in the cantata libretti of Johann Sebastian Bach (Latham Md.: Scarecrow Press, 1997; further information, BCW, followed by Martin Petzodt’s omnibus, multi-volume Bach Kommentar, the final volumes on the vocal music due this year. Also of interest is Johan S. Setterlund’s Bach Throughout the Year: The Church Music of Johann Sebastian Bach and the Revised Common Lectionary (Minneapolis MN: Lutheran University Press, 2013).

Anatomy of Bach’s Cantatas

When Bach began his systematic first annual cycle, following a false start at Advent in December 1717 when he expected to become the capellmeister with Cantatas BWV 70a, 186a, and 147a, his competitors for the Leipzig positions of cantor and church music director already had produced several cantata cycles. Best known and similar in circumstances, and breadth and depth of work, was Telemann, now in similar posts in Hamburg with 12 cycles such as Harmonischer Gottes-Dienst (1725) and Musicalisches Lob Gottes (1744), as well as annual Passions and civic cantatas, serenades, and oratorios (see BCW biography, Double cycles are most notable with Stölzel, possibly two of which Bach performed in the mid-1730s, which begin with popular chorale melodies set to new texts of poet Schmolck and close with similar plain chorales.

Various facets of Bach’s cantatas, both scholarly and popular, are pursued in recent publications. In particular is Richard D. P. Jones.4 Among his first cycle observations are the following: The first four cantatas (BWV 22, 23, 75, 76) may be the texts of Leipzig Burgomaster Gottfried Lange while “Bach might have collaborated with at least four librettists, whose identity perhaps is perhaps to be sought among the local clergy” (Ibid.: 119f). While the Weimar cantatas use biblical quotations mostly in the recitatives, Bach emphasized these in the texts of the Leipzig cantatas, particularly in the opening choruses. While his vocal music uses chorale melodies and texts from the beginning, with plain chorales closing almost all the Weimar cantatas, in the first cycle, Bach began experimenting with two forms: chorale tropes and the chorale chorus fantasias, which would be a mainstay of his second cycle of chorale cantatas. Bach’s achievement in the first cycle is astounding, particularly his balancing of ecclesiastical elements such as the vox Christi and progressive operatic elements such as dance-style da-capo arias, already explored in Weimar, and the blending of the two in the Soul-Jesus dialogues. Stylistically, Bach pursued the old prelude-fugue and motet forms with distinct choral insertions as well as multiple chorales in cantatas as well as the Passions. To the da-capo forms of the arias Bach employs the popular concerto-form, with special emphasis on the dance-styles of pastorale and menuet. Other arias utilize the operatic style scena with a mixture of recitative or chorus.

Despite -- or because of -- all the previous efforts to explore and interpret Bach’s sacred works, the opportunity for further research continues to grow, according to Mark Peter’s “Vocal Music” sub-chapter, “Approaches to the Study of Bach’s Vocal Music” (Ibid.: 278). Previously, research centered primarily on the cantatas from the perspectives of chronology, musical style, meaning, compositional history, performance history and reception. Now, Peters finds ample opportunity for new source studies of autographs, texts, and unknown works; musical analysis beyond the basic compositional process to involve topics such as dance styles, tonal language and its relationship to theology; performance practice spurred by Joshua Rifikin’s still-debated theory of OVPP (one voice per part); theological sources and new meanings in Bach’s music, as well as the import of the major vocal music; textual considerations such as the poetic qualities and the influence of Leipzig culture; and most of all, the librettists, yielding “biographical, poetic and contextual insights,” Peters suggests (Ibid.: 292). Still to be published is the late William Scheide’s monumental study, “Bach Achieves His Goal: His First Year of Regular Church Music Following the Leipzig Lutheran Calendar,” manuscript housed in the Scheide Collection at Princeton University, says Terri-Noel Towe (personal correspondence).

As to broader inter-disciplinary contextual studies beyond theology and poetry, Peters cites recent, significant advances in English-language scholarship. Essays on Bach’s Changing World: Voices in the Community, ed. Carol K. Baron (University of Rochester Press, 2006), examines Bach’s Leipzig with a special interest in the state of church music, from progressive influences and parody from secular to sacred, and secular music opportunities, to the acceptance of cantatas in church services, the social settings for the Coffee Cantata, BWV 212, and Johann Kuhnau (Bach’s predecessor) views on liturgical settings in cantatas. Tanya Kevorian’s Baroque Piety: Religion, Society, and Music in Leipzig (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007) is a study of piety and its influence on Bach’s music and the Leipzig environment, leading to other explorations of pietism and influences on the Bach Family.

Scholarly, Personal Cantata Studies

The scholarly studies and publications of Bach’s cantatas for the past 150 years have laid the groundwork for multi-disciplinary studies and more personal, popular experiential accounts, often involving the cantatas. Most significant is Christoph Wolff’s scholarly essays in The World of the Bach Cantatas, 3 vols. (Stuttgart: Metzler, 1996-1999), only Vol. 1, “Early Sacred Cantatas,” in English (New York: Norton, 1995); Vol. 2, secular cantatas, Vol. 3, sacred, in German. The last volume essays deal with the Leipzig repertory, cantata creation, the Thomascantors tradition before Bach, liturgical music, cantor and church music director activities, and the works’ theology, performance process, sinfonias, choruses, arias and recitatives, chorales, musical text interpretation, and Bach’s chorus and orchestra. Other general studies often use extensive graphic art, photographs, and documentation. They include: scholarly essays in The Worlds of Johann Sebastian Bach, ed. Raymond Erickson (New York: Amadeus Press, 2009); Otto L. Bettemann’s topical Johann Sebastian Bach as His World Knew Him (New York: Carol Publishing Group, 1995); Hans Conrad Fischer’s Johann Sebastian Bach: His Life in Pictures and Documents (Holzgerlingen: Hänssler Verlag, 2000); and J. S. Bach: Life, Times Influence (Kassel: Bärenreiter, 1977). A new, specialized study is Robert L. and Traute M. Marshall’s Exploring the World of J. S. Bach, American Bach Society (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2016), with the communities Bach lived in and visited.

John Eliot Gardiner’s Bach: Music in the Castle of Bach’s creations (their motives, methods and opportunities) and encounters with secular and sacred authority are discussed in John Eliot Gardiner’s musical biography, Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven Heaven (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2013), see Chapter 8, Cantata or Coffee” (pp. 243-283). Famous for his landmark Bach Cantata 2000 Pilgrimage of most of the works performed in one year on tour in Europe and America, Gardiner explores fascinating recesses of the cantatas in Chapter 9, “Cycles and Seasons,” and their metaphors and symmetries. Among Gardiner’s first-cycle observations are the following: The 22 Weimar cantatas are “immensely varied,” sparing and resourceful in their use of musical materials, exuberant and sometimes dramatic in their response to their texts.” While Bach focuses on glorifying God, “he was building up a rich store of secular works, admirable in themselves, and that had all the potential for recycling and transformation on a higher level in years to come.” Meanwhile, with shear energy, focus, calculation and creativity, Bach fashioned a veritable world of three cantata cycles, mind-full of the cycles of church year and profane seasons full of mood swings and experiences as well as the experiences and hazards of life. Following the celebrations of the Christmas season, Bach turned, particularly through the of chorales, to the pending sacrifice of the Passion suffering and death of Christ. The final cycle, the “Great Fifty Days” of Easter Season observe the final feasts of Resurrection and the descent of the Holy Spirit.

A brief, perhaps fugitive, note is sounded for Peter Williams’ parting gift, Bach: A Musical Biography (Cambridge University Press, 2016). Running to 704 pages, it is a personal, inimitable series of reflections, thoughts, anecdotes, insight and wisdom on Bach’s musical genius, loosely organized but full of chestnuts and diamonds in the rough. While exploring the keyboard music in depth, organist Williams greatest strength is his insight into the interplay of Bach’s life and his music. The sub-headings under Chapter 5, “Leipzig, the first years,” begin with the first cycle cantatas, focusing on the first two, BWV 75 and 76, as well as the enormous Christmas load. Williams has a penchant for selecting the unusual, special or enigmatic, for example, the funeral, wedding and Town Council cantatas; the Johann Ludwig Bach 18 cantatas Bach performed in the third cycle; and the themes of hypocrisy in first-cycle Cantatas 179 and 24.


Bach’s second cycle of homogeneous-form chorales, in varied styles and settings, is serendipitous blend of motive, method and opportunity. Bach’s involvement in the chorale hymn was the heart of his interest in church music, from his earliest organ preludes and old-style vocal concertos. The unique method involved a unique form he developed in his first cycle: opening chorale fantasia, chorale tropes in the internal movements blending strophic text with interpretive poetry in the recitatives and arias paraphrasing the internal stanzas, and a traditional, closing plain chorale. While this strict regiment restricted Bach’s compositional technique, he explored all manner of devices to shape the chorale cantata as a musical sermon.

An overview of the cycle’s context and form is found in Gardiner’s recent book (Ibid.: 313ff). “There is an unmistakable shift in his approach but not the slightest diminution of quality. Although not as popular, played, or known collectively as the first cycle, it is even more boldly experimental in the diversity of musical forms, varied instrumentation, and performance challenges. “There also will be fewer concessions to his listeners scruples.” The first, Cantata BWV 20, “O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort” (O eternity, you word of thunder), “is an astonishing pieces,” that “sets the tone for the whole cycle and sums up so many of the original features we will encounter – a new range of expression, the use of operatic technique to enliven the doctrinal message and wild contrasts of mood.” Bach places more emphasis on subtext or “meta-text,” particularly in this cycle that rarely quotes the day’s Gospel, but musically portrays its mood and meaning. Bach’s treatment of Johann Rist’s chorale, “faith propelled anticipation of eternity” in the previous year’s Cantata 60, now is driven with “fear, rather than comfort,” as the subtext.

Chorale Cantata Cycle Composition

Historically, Bach closely followed a Lutheran tradition of vocal settings in German style and also was motivated by the 200th anniversary of Luther’s publication of the first three Reformation chorale books, also in German style, that established the basic vernacular hymns of the church year. Considerable analysis on-line describes and accounts for the 40 chorale works Bach composed weekly from the 1st Sunday in Trinity 1724 to the fixed Feast of the Annunciation, 25 March 1725, the last such cantata Bach composed that year, leaving the cycle incomplete.5 While Bach composed another 13 pieces, mostly using all stanza verbatim, the Easter/Pentecost Season portion had virtually no such works. Bach’s motives are explored below.

The chorale cantata dates to the early Reformation and Ludwig Senfl’s pure-hymn (per omnes versus) settings, observes Alfred Dürr (Ibid.: 29). Subsequently, chorales were set as vocal motets and concertos, most notably Bach’s Cantata 4, Christ lag in Todes Banden, one of his earliest, in the pure-hymn form with concerted choruses, arias, duets, and a plain chorale, opening with an instrumental sinfonia – all the ingredients of his chorale cantatas. A chorale chorus and troped chorale arias also appear in the early Mühlhausen Cantatas BWV 106 and 131. Bach adds plain closing chorales to most of his Weimar cantatas while using only the chorale melody elsewhere.

At the beginning of his first Leipzig cycle in 1723, Bach sets repeat chorale choruses to close both parts of BWV 75, 76, 147, and 186, preceded by his Estomihi probe Cantatas BWV 22 and 23 that close with chorale choruses as does undated New Year’s Cantata 143. Bach opens mid-Trinity Time Cantatas 25, 48, and 60 with chorale choruses. Cantata 138 (Trinity 15) begins Bach’s pursuit of the chorale cantata with settings of two chorale choruses with recitative tropes and a closing chorale chorus. Cantata 95 (Trinity 16) opens with a complex chorale chorus of two hymns separated by recitative and introduces Bach first chorale aria, introduced with a recitative. A chorus with chorale trope also appears in Cantata 190 while Cantata 73 opens with a chorale chorus and three recitative tropes. Bach used chorale tropes in the John and Matthew Passions but sparingly in the chorale cantata cycle

The 40 chorale cantata original pieces (the original parts sets now housed in the Thomasschule), show “a coordinated musical-liturgical plan matching the cantata cycles of Telemann and colleagues in other important churches elsewhere, through those of Bach are individually on the grander scale,” with “a strikingly high level of inspiration,” says Peter Williams (Ibid.: 287) and variety of form, content, and appeal. From the opening choruses setting the mood to the closing plain chorales with “a curious and unrivalled sense of finality,” the works in varied form, content, and appeal used chorales suitable for each occasion, most often from Luther and contemporary pietists, and usually familiar. Each is a “sophisticated variations of a strophic hymn” in a “suite—like secession of movements” (Ibid.: 288). Bach follows “the organist’s traditional chorale variations on a higher plain” “to convey the day’s teaching.” A “distinct genre not imitated or attempted by other composers,” it was influenced by the practices of Bach’s Leipzig predecessor, Johann Schelle’s [1690-91] chorale concerto cycle.” Other composers who wrote so-called chorale concertos include other Bach predecessors Johann Hermann Schein, Sebastian Knüpfer, and Johann Kuhnau, as well as Buxtehude, J. P. Krieger, Zachow, and Pachelbel, reports David D. P. Jones (Ibid.: 144).

Leipzig Chorale Cantata Tradition

The tradition of interpretive chorale cantatas as a distinct form began with Schelle’s collaboration with Johann Benedict Carzov II (1639-1699), St. Thomas Pastor and leader of the theology faculty at Leipzig University. Various significant influences of the liturgical underpinning of the chorale and its specific service would lead to Bach’s perfection of the internal, paraphrased hymn-stanzas as the exordium, the doctrinal foundation of the cantata as the musical sermon for the particular service, says Markus Rathey in “The chorale cantata in Leipzig: the collaboration between Schelle and Carpzov in 1689-1690 and Bach's chorale cantata cycle, ” Bach Vol. 43 (Berea, OH, 2012: 46ff). Among the precedents and practices found in their annual cycle, observes Rathey (passim), knowledge in advance of the well-known hymn interpretation and specific biblical texts to be cited as well as the basic theme (“trajectory”) of the Carpzov service itself. In advance Carzov prepared printed summaries of his sermons to the congregation members for the edification at home (Ibid. 57). This seems to have been a possible forerunner of the printed libretti developed in conjunction with the Neumeister style of printed libretti starting about 1711 with Telemann in Erfurt and observed by Bach in Leipzig.

Musical practices included the selective use of internal movement biblical texts, as well aoccasional free poetry, usually in vocal concerto symmetrical form as to type of movement, chorus or aria, sometimes preceded with opening instrumental sinfonia. Schelle would highlight his musical treatment of the selected texts and the theme or metatext of the occasion with specific word-painting and instrumental support. An interesting facet of the sermon and chorale concerto cycle was the setting of the German Te Deum, Herr Gott, dich loben wir, for a special occasion in 1691 following Michaelmas, for the 18th Sunday after Trinity with Carpzov delivering the sermon. The use of trumpets and drums for a late Trinity Time service, suggests “a large-scale composition for some festive occasion rather than a regular piece for the chorale cantata cycle,” says Rathey (Ibid.: 63). Given the time and occasion, this suggests a regal visit of Augustus “The Strong,” for whom Bach began composing secular serenades in the mid-1720s for visits during the Leipzig Fall Fair.

A special collaboration between Carzov and Schelle that Rathey singles out, for December 26, the Second Day of Christmas, which also observes the Feast of St. Stephen the first Christian martyr, is the special interpretation of the texts of Luther’s hymn Vom Himmel kam der Engle Schar, normally a festive Christmas chorale. Carzov made biographical references to Luther concern in 1543 about the forces of the Papists and Turks threatening the country, as well as biblical references to Stephen’s sacrifice. “This hymn was thus ideal to be used in a sermon about martyrdom and persecution,” observes Rathey (Ibid.: 69). Schelle adds trumpets and drums in certain interludes to emphasize the war-like nature in “dialectic juxtaposition” that “correlates with Carpzov’s [sermon] exegis” (Ibid.: 74). While this Schelle cycle “was exceptional, and in all likelihood, did not serve as a model for Bach” Rathey concludes (Ibid.: 78), a consequence was that the libretti of the chorale cantatas of Bach as deliberate musical sermons also are to have been “bridging the gulf between the hymn and the readings for the Sunday,” “combining the elements of hymn and interpretation.”

Anatomy of Chorale Cantata

Bach began the cycle setting the chorale fantasias in four distinct forms: BWV 20 as a French Overture, BWV 2 as an old-style German motet, BWV 7 as a modern Italianate concerto, and BWV 135 as an organ-chorale. Various other stylistic features that interpret the text are found in these choruses, says Richard D. P. Jones (Ibid.: 150ff). These include Bach’s extended development of the orchestral ritornelli (interludes), often chorale-based and with contrasting original countermelodies; intricate structures that emphasize certain hymn’s two-part Stollen and Abgesang structures; as well as “vivid text illustration” that include the combination of themes, the variant settings of the melody (cantus firmus), and the selective use of individual instruments. Near the end of the cycle, Bach composes his most elaborate fantasia chorus, BWV 127 for pre-Lenten Estomihi Sunday, adding two more chorale melodies. During the cycle Bach composed only one pure-hymn cantata, BWV 107, for the 7th Sunday after Trinity, 23 July 1724, possibly because he and Anna Magdalena had performed in Cöthen on Tuesday, 18 July, and a work needed to be composed more in advance without paraphrased internal stanzas from the librettist. Also, Bach performed no work on Trinity 6 1724 (July 26), because he and his wife were in Cöthen, but he filled this gap later (see below)

In the chorale cantatas the mostly da-capo arias have sharp contrasts between A and B sections, with significant use of dance styles, observes Jones. While “rarely does Bach unite aria and chorale arrangement,” as he does in the Passions, he does use original and chorale melodies together and aria themes derived from the chorale melody. Accompanied recitatives include anticipation of motivic form. Bach reinforces vivid imagery with use of special instruments such as flute and violoncello piccolo.

<<An accounting of the actual performances of the chorale cantatas shows that from the period of the First Sunday after Trinity with Cantata BWV 20 (11 June 1724), Bach composed 40 chorale cantatas until the Feast of the Annunciation (25 March 1725) with Cantata BWV 1, “Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern.” During that nine-month period, Bach systematically produced chorale cantatas for virtually every Sunday and all the feasts days. At that time he did not compose and present three chorale cantatas for the following services: the 4th Sunday after Trinity since it coincided with the Feast of John the Baptist (24 June 1724, BWV 7); the 6th Sunday after Trinity (16 July 1724), when no work was presented but a chorale cantata text completed and later set as BWV 9; the 12th Sunday after Trinity 27 August 1724), when no work was presented. Interestingly, Bach subsequently filled these three gaps with chorale cantatas composed individually and added to the cycle until 1735: Cantata BWV 177 for Trinity +4 in 1731, Cantata BWV 9 for Trinity +6 in 1735, and Cantata BWV 137 for Trinity +12 in 1725). In addition, for the period of Trinity Time through the Feast of the Annunciation during Lent, Bach composed two additional chorale cantatas on Sundays that did not occur in 1724-25: Cantata BWV 140 was composed in 1731 for the last Sunday in Trinity Time (+27), and Cantata BWV 14 for the 4th Sunday after Epiphany that did not occur in 1725. During the Easter-Pentecost Season of 1725, Bach composed no chorale cantatas for the 12 services, ending with the Trinity Sunday Festival. Bach did repeat chorale Cantata BWV 4 for Easter Sunday (1 April 1725) and between 1735-40 completed Cantata BWV 80 for the Reformation Festival. For the three-month Easter-Pentecost period, Bach did compose Cantata BWV 129 in 1726-27 for the Trinity Sunday Festival and Cantata BWV 112 for Misericordias Domini (2nd Sunday after Easter), c.1731. Thus Bach added seven chorale cantatas to the cycle and included Cantata 4 and Cantata 80 in this cycle for a total of 49. In addition, between 1730 and 1735 Bach composed four undesignated, pure-hymn chorale cantatas that are appropriate for weddings or for anytime: BWV 97, 100, 117, and 192 – for a grand total of 53. Virtually all the chorale cantatas composed from 1725 onwards are set to original, pure-hymn texts, also known as per omnes versus.>> (Source,

Leipzig in Bach’s time had developed a tradition of so-called Liederpredigten (chorale sermons), which expanded on the day’s lectionary to emphasize interpretive themes in emblematic cycles with symbols of Jesus in various poetic synonyms. Although it remains to be determined if Bach in 1724-25 engaged in an active collaboration with the sermon preacher, says Dürr, as well as the musical-sermon’s text author, “no doubt, sermons of the time” brought this observance and it import to the congregation’s attention,” says Williams (Ibid.: 288). Other systematic observances included the bicentennial of the Reformation’s beginning in 1717, and most notably in the Augsburg Confession three-day celebration in 1730 to which Bach presented parodied cantatas, and the 1739 observance of Leipzig’s acceptance of Luther, who preached there twice in 1539 on Pentecost Sunday.

Chorale Cantata Cycle

As to Bach’s abrupt decision to end the chorale cantata cycle, Williams suggests the following (Ibid.: 289): “It is certainly possible to imagine, that, as with the never-completed Orgelbüchlein [Weimar Little Organ Book chorale preludes], there was a certain “wish to move on’ not foreseen when he entered upon such a major project and had already produced so any examples. One could argue that the were Passions in a sense ‘Chorale Cantatas’ writ large, tracing the Gospel narrative step by step rather than a Lutheran chorale verse by verse.” In the John and Matthew Passions, Bach set opening and closing chorale choruses, chorale tropes to arias and choruses and a dozen plain chorales; in Mark only 16 probable plain chorales.

Thesecond cycle, which eldest son Friedemann inherited and knew extensively, is incomplete, lacking the final one-fifth of 12 works for the Easter/Pentecost season. The reason remains an enigma which Bach scholars have pursued since the chorale cantatas were published as the first in the printed series of 1850. Two explanation (or both) are prevalent: That Bach and his choir were exhausted with the challenges of presenting this music or that the librettist simply was unavailable, perhaps dead. “Or did the preacher alter his theme,” asks Dürr, who notes that Christian Weise Sr. concluded his annual cycle of sermons at Easter 1724 (Ibid.: 33). Historical facts show that Bach never composed another similarly-styled work with internal, poetic paraphrases, relying solely on pure-hymn verbatim texts, and that Bach rarely again composed musically-challenging weekly sacred cantatas.

So who is the great mystery librettist or librettists? Four possible authors or groups were involved in mostly mini-series, suggests Harald Streck’s Die Verskunst in den poetischen Texten zu den Kantaten J. S. Bachs. Bach’s pastors who alternated preaching the sermons after the cantata presentations, Christian Weise Sr. and Salomon Deyling may have alternated writing some of the chorale cantatas, suggests Dürr “Zur Textvorlage der Choralkantaten J. S. Bachs,” Kerygma und Melos (Kassel: Bärenreiter 1970: 222f).5 The leading contender around 2000 was Andreas Strübel (1653-1725), retired Leipzig pastor who died on 31 January 1725, as advocated by Christoph Wolff and Klaus Hofmann. “The Rise and Fall of the Stübel Theory” is recounted in Thomas Braatz’s 2007 Bach Cantata Website Article ( It “is rather unlikely that he [Stübel, forced to retired in 1699 on theological grounds] wrote libretti for Bach,” says Rathey (Ibid.: 46f). Beyond the apparent lack of libretti for the Easter Season, “it is likely that Bach’s decision in 1724 (to begin the cycle), was motivated by external reasons as well” as compositional challenges.


1 NBR: Hans T. David and Arthur Mendel, The New Bach Reader: A Life if Johann Sebastian Bach in Letters and Documents, revised and enlarged by Christoph Wolff (New York: Norton, 1998); first published 1945; cites BD (Bach-Dokumente), 8 volumes, supplement to the Neue Bach Ausgabe (NBA), 1954-2007.
2 Carl Ludwig Hilgenfeldt in Johann Sebastian Bach’s Leben, Wirken und Werke: Ein Beitrag zur Kunstgeschichte des achtzehnten Jahrhunderts (Leipzig: Hofmeister). Cited in William Hoffman, “Nurturing Bach’s Vocal Music Legacy: 1750-1800,” submitted to Gerhard Herz, 1994, monograph in manuscript which shows some 100 of Bach’s vocal works were performed, copied, or cited. The Hilgenfeldt Passion accounting cited in W. Hoffman, Narrative Parody In Bach's St. Mark Passion (MM thesis, May 2000, rev. Mar 2012: 8), Bach Cantata Website,
3 Texts of the choral works of Johann Sebastian Bach in English translation, by Henry S. Drinker, 1942
ML54.B118 D78 (Sibley Library); also Z. Philipp Ambrose (, Melvin P. Unger (BCW ), and Richard Stokes (BCW[Stokes].htm).
4 Richard D. P. Jones, The Creative Development of Johann Sebastian Bach, Volume II: 1717-1750, “Music to Delight the Spirit” (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), see Chapter 4, “Sacred and secular: the vocal works,” pp. 106-220).
5 Source: William Hoffman, “Bach’s Chorale Cantata Cycle: Genesis, Provenance, Gaps, Poets” 1994 research paper, submitted to Robert L. Marshall, Brandeis University.


To Come: Bach’s subsequent, special use of chorales in his organ work collections and the provenance and reception of the chorale cantatas after 1750.


Bach’s Church-Year Cantatas: Chorale-Cantata Reception

William Hoffman wrote (January 17, 2017):
Bach’s chorale cantata cycle strengthened the Leipzig tradition of collaboration between composer and sermon preacher, and possibly included the annual installation of the City Council, found in the earlier chorale-texted concertos of Bach predecessor Johann Schelle. These Bach cantatas reaffirmed his reputation and nurtured that tradition when the entire cycle was housed and many cantatas were performed at the Thomas School Church following Bach’s death in 1750.

The tradition of the annual town council installation sacred cantatas in German municipalities probably dates to the middle Baroque period and has special import in Leipzig where two Johann Schelle chorale-texted cantatas were set to the civic celebratory Luther hymn Du Friedefürst, Herr Jesu Christ (Thou Prince of Peace, Lord Jesus Christ), reports Markus Rathey in “The chorale cantata in Leipzig: the collaboration between Schelle and Carpzov in 1689-1690 and Bach's chorale cantata cycle, ” Bach Vol. 43 (Berea, OH, 2012: ). One of the two, set with a mixed text of the hymn and biblical quotation composed for 27 unspecified parts, is dated possibly to 1683, there specifically for the election of the City Council and probably was performed, as in Bach’s time, at a special St. Thomas installation service after the sermon to the text from Timothy 1:2, Paul’s latter warning the church and its officers of false teachings. Bach’s Cantata BWV 137, “Lobe den Herren, den mächtigen König der Ehren” (Praise the Lord, the mighty king of honour, set to the Joachim Neander 1680 hymn, was Bach’s first pure-hymn setting and his first chorale cantata composed after the 1724-25 cycle, presented on 19 August 1725. Cantata 137 filled the gap in the 12th Sunday after Trinity but it also could have done double duty with its trumpets and drums as a cantata for the Town Council Installation cantata which occurred on the last Monday in August, 27 August 1725.

In the 1730s, Bach may have repeated the chorale cantata cycle about 1732-33 while filling the gaps and composing four pure-hymn undesignated cantatas (BWV 97, 100, 117, 192, which were not part of the cyclic cantata estate division. Bach diminished his overall presentation of service cantatas, following the presumed two cycles of Gottfried Heinrich Stölzel in the mid-1730s, with selective reperformances and a few new works only for special occasions, the exceptions being the annual presentations of the town council installation and the Good Friday vesper service Passion oratorio.

Following the publication of the four Clavierübung keyboard collection, Bach added an undesignated fifth with the Sechs Chorale von verschiedener Art ('Six Chorales of Various Kinds') for organ (BWV 645–650), preludes in the form of trio-sonatas based on chorale arias from cantatas and named for their publisher Johann Georg Schübler, issued around 1748. The sources of five of the six were identified as literal-musical adaptations of incipit-text arias: “Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme” (Wake, Awake for Night is Passing), BWV 140/4 with tenor for the 27th Sunday after Trinity 1730 ; “Wo soll ich fliehen hin” (Whither shall I flee?), probably from a lost cantata; “Wer nur den lieben Gott lässt walten” ("Who allows God alone to rule him"), BWV 93/4 with soprano and alto for the 5th Sunday after Trinity 1724 and repeated about 1732; “Meine Seele erhebt den Herren” (My soul doth magnify the Lord), from BWV 10/5 with alto and tenor for the Visitation Feast in 1724 and repeated about 1740-47; and “Ach bleib bei uns, Herr Jesu Christ” (Lord Jesus Christ, with us abide), from BWV 6/3 with soprano for Easter Monday 1725 and repeated 1736-40. Cantata 137 produced the alto aria with violin solo (no. 3), “Kommst du nun, Jesu, vom Himmel herunter auf Erden” (Come th, Jesu, from heaven to earth), Stanza 2 of the Neander hymn. The source of chorale prelude, BWV 646, is unknown, possibly from a lost chorale cantata for the Easter Season, composed in 1725, as was BWV 6/3? The 1630 hymn of Johann Heermann is set to the melody, “Auf meinen lieben Gott,” a hymn of repentance and communion.

At the 1750 division of Bach’s estate, Friedemann received the chorale cantata cycle parts sets and Anna Magdalena the scores which she gave to the Thomas School in order to remain in the cantor’s family quarters until the end of the year. In 1755, In 1755, Christian Friedrich Penzel, one of Bach’s last students and the prefect took charge at the death of Gottfried Harrer, Bach’s successor, who died unexpectedly. Penzel copied parts sets from the scores and performed the designated works for Trinity 8-17 from July to September, that is BWV 178, 94, 101, 113, 137, 33, 99, and 114, and later for special occasions BWV 126, 129, 140, 133, and 41 until the hiring of Johann Friedrich Doles as cantor. Penzel copied and presumably performed chorale cantatas BWV 125, 177, and 62, and as cantor in Merseburg BWV 97, 112, 38, 3, and 123, as well as cantatas BWV 150, 142, 149, 236, 157, 159, 106, 158, and 25, some the only surviving sources, for a total of 21 chorale cantatas and nine other vocal works. Thus, the Thomas School had music for Bach cantatas and motets, as well as the St. Matthew Passion.

Following the Bach Gesellschaft publication of the Bach cantatas in 1850, beginning with the chorale cantata scores at the Thomas School, the cantatas were selectively performed with the most popular being chorale cantatas BWV 80 and 140. The early 20th century cantata commentators Arnold Schering and Friedrich Smend systematically studied the cantatas with Smend doing introductions to print editions of all the cantatas in miniature, study scores), says Werner Neumann in Handbich der Kantaten Joh. Sebastians Bachs (Wiesbaden: Breitkopf & Haertel, 1984, 4th ed.: 22ff). These were followed by scholarly commentaries of all the cantatas in recording liner notes by Alfred Dürr in Erato-licensed recordings, Christoph Wolff in Ton Koopman on Erato, and Klaus Hofmann in the Masaaki Suzuki on BIS.


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