Systematic Discussions of Bach’s Other Vocal Works
Missa Brevis in G major BWV 236
Discussions in the Week of May 9, 2004John Reese wrote (May 21, 2004):
I was looking over the score to the G Major mass and had a couple of interesting thoughts. Although "interesting" is a relative term.
Fact: BWV 236 borrows two movements from BWV 79, the opening chorus and a duet.
Fact: BWV 79 contained a few "martial" elements, such as an unusually obstinate drum-beat in the opening chorus and a "stamping" theme in the duet. These were commented on by Schweitzer.
Fact: Schweitzer believed the cantata was written in 1735, and no doubt thought it was influenced by the War of Polish Succession, which ended that year. (He referred to "the special events of 1735" as a possible inspiration.)
Fact: Newer sources put the composition of the cantata at 1725, making its militaristic elements somewhat puzzling. (Although some of the text refers to "arrows" and "foes", there is not an overriding warlike theme to the libretto.)
Could it be that Schweitzer misinterpreted the cantata and the significance of its musical imagery?
Here comes the interesting part (I swear; don't go away yet!): The parodies used in the mass are close to the original, except they dispense with the martial elements. The tympani and horns are missing (the choir substitutes for the horns!), and the "stamping" theme is smoothed over in the duet.
Interesting? I think so. Significant? Maybe not. Maybe so.
Neil Halliday wrote (May 21, 2004):
John Reese asks (of the 1st movement of BWV 79 "Gott, der Herr, ist Sonn und Schild", parodied in the 'Gloria' of BWV 236):
"Could it be that Schweitzer misinterpreted the cantata and the significance of its musical imagery?"
Robertson, in his book 'The Church Cantatas of J.S Bach', writes (of the perhaps mistaken association of BWV 79 with the 1735 war):
"the Reformation Festival (for which the cantata was written) was, as Whittaker says, 'the celebration of earthly victories in the cause of national religion' and so there is no need, in any case, to look further than this to account for this stupendous battle scene."
Therefore, I think a reasonable case, on textual grounds, can be made for the reduction in the martial character of the music which is shown in the 'Gloria' of BWV 236 (which is minus the horns and timpani), the text of which has nothing to do with spiritual or earthly battles.
BTW, you can check out various recordings of the the 1st movement of BWV 79 at: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Mus/BWV79-Mus.htm
Nanraella wrote (May 21, 2004):
Although I haven't heard the actual cantata, I've just gone to the site and looked the lyrics up, and I would agree with Neil as to the origin of the military attitude of the music. Seeing that it is on Reformation Sunday that the cantata was supposed to be sung, and the lyrics are taken from Psalm 84:12 (a Psalm about the church and the psalmist's love for it), I would think that Bach meant to illustrate the stance of the church as militant, on earth, as it certainly was for everyone to see during Martin Luther's time.
However, the events surrounding the composition of the cantata could well be influential on the piece. The glory of it is that the music is relevant to ANY period of time, since Bach wrote it from the Bible, which is the infallible word of eternal God, and itself relevant to any time. So Bach could write for the Reformation, the war of 1735, and even, unwittingly, for the church today, since the battle we fight with the world, the flesh, and the devil, is constant. The Lord is always sun and shield, even outside of 1735. Praise him.
Continue of this part of the discussion, see: Cantatas for Reformation [General Topics]
Missae Breves & Sanctus BWV 233-242: Details
Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | General Discussions
Systematic Discussions: BWV 233 | BWV 234 | BWV 235 | BWV 236 | BWV 233-236 | BWV 237-242