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Quodlibet BWV 524
General Discussions


Alberto Larzabal wrote (November 23, 1999):
Only a question: What is a "quodlibet"?? I have seen it written in some Bach's works and am intrigued...

Philip B. Walsh wrote (November 23, 1999):
(To Alberto Larzabal) The quodlibet is a free-form musical work, usually of a fairly light character. The word itself means something like "What you will".

The only example of this I can remember in Bach is the last of the Goldberg Variations. This consists of a couple of popular German tunes running against the basic Goldberg bass line. The first tune, as I recall, is "I've Been Away for Such a Long Time" (the first section of the variation), and the second is "Cabbages and Peas Have Driven Me Away" (the second section). (I have no idea what the title of the second tune means.)

The only other Quodlibet I know is an early orchestral work by Kurt Weill.

I hope this helps.

Philip B. Walsh wrote (November 24, 1999):
<< I said: The only other Quodlibet I know is an early orchestral work by Kurt Weill. >>
< Stephen said: What about the Brahms Academic Festival Overture? What about it? >
1. I don't recall ever seeing it called a quodlibet... which, of course, means nothing.
2. I hope I didn't suggest that I was going to list every quodlibet. If I did, I can't understand omitting the one I wrote about 1959. ;)

Henriette Hoppe (John Bach Thygesen) wrote (November 24, 2000):
(To Alberto Larzabal) A quodlibet contains two or more tunes, often in some way related, played or sung simultanously, or mixed in some clever way great fun for the performer(s) and sometimes to the listners too.


Hill on Hänssler

Jim Morrison wrote (July 31, 2001):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< Berkshire ( appears to be disposing of most of the Hänssler cantatas series (Rilling) for $2.99 per disc. >
Hey, that's great. I was just listening to one of their novelty discs today.

Bach, Cantata BWV 205; Quodlibet BWV 524. (Rubens, Naef, Danz, Genz, Ullman, Schmidt w.Stuttgart's Gachinger Kantorei & Bach-Collegium/ Rilling) CD 92.063

There's your chance to get very inexpensively a rarely recorded Bach item, the only other quodlibet he wrote besides the last variation of the Goldbergs. Sounds hardly anything like Bach, though it is a lot of fun. I imagine some people are still contesting the fact that he wrote it. It lasts about 10 minutes, in case you're wondering, and doesn't remind me of the last variation at all.

Anyone know if there's been a recording of the songs that Bach used in the last Goldberg variation, which is, by the way, one of my very favorites pieces of music ever.

Kirk McElhearn wrote (July 31, 2001):
[To Jim Morrison] For info, since the question of the chorals came up on the list, the above quodlibet is included in the Teldec set of Motets, Chorales and Songs.


BWV 524

Farhad Saheli wrote (November 20, 2003):
A long time ago, I had a 2CD recordings of the secular cantatas by Reinhard Goebel. The last track of the second CD was a recording of BWV 524, Quodlibet, which is a wonderful work and extremely funny (even better if you understand German!).

Through tragic circumstances I do not have that CD anymore, so today when I finally got my Brilliant Classics Bach Edition set, I started going through the booklet frantically looking for 524, but alas! It's just impossible to find anything in this.

Does any of you people who own this set now where it is hidden? Was it recorded at all?

Aryeh Oron wrote (November 20, 2003):
[To Farhad Saheli] The Quodlibet BWV 524 is not included in the Brilliant Classics Bach Edition.

A list of recordings of this work can be found at the page:

The work is planned for discussion in the BCML on the week of December 19, 2004.

Roy Johanssen wrote (November 20, 2003):
[To Farhad Saheli] I think you're right; it doesn't look like the Quodlibet was recorded for the Brilliant set. You can find it on both the Hänssler and Teldec sets (on Hänssler it's coupled with "Der zufriedengestellte Aeolus", and the disc is available singly). It's also on volume 2 of Koopman's cantata series.

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (November 21, 2003):
[To Farhad Saheli] I don't have that specific edition, but I know that BWV 524 is also in the "Bach 2000" (Telarc/Das Alte Werk) and "Edition Bachakademie (Hänssler) editions. I would probably recommend the former than the latter, largely because the set is performed by "more established", big name performers (such as Peter Schreier, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Gustav Leonhardt, Ton Koopman, and the Kuijkens), whereas Rilling (I find), with some exceptions, takes more liberties with his interpretations.



Thomas Braatz wrote (December 9, 2004):
The Quodlibet

Bach had composed two quodlibets that have come down to us. They are BWV 524 "Was seind das für große Schlösser" for 4 voices (SATB) and continuo (a fragment-this composition will be up for discussion during the week of December 19) and the more famous 30th variation of the Goldberg Variations BWV 988/30. The latter alludes successively or simultaneously to a number of popular melodies. As Peter Williams in his "The Goldberg Variations" [Cambridge University Press, 2001] puts it: "In any case, as with tunes of this kind popular far and wide, phrases probably migrated from one song to another, and it could well be part of the fun for No. 30 (as for the 'Peasant Cantata') to have the player search for them. Once again, the idea is not so very different from something found elsewhere in mature Bach: the 'Search and ye shall find' canons in the 'Musical Offering." (p. 90)

Here we have evidence for

1. Bach's intention to make the player and/or listener search for and attempt to recognize all the tunes that Bach was able to compose into this variation, a variation which he simply entitled "Quodlibet" without divulging any of the allusions.

2. Bach deliberately hides musical materials in his compositions, leaving it up to the performer/listener to decipher/recognize which melodies are being alluded to.

3. Bach provides musical puzzles in which information in the form of recognizable melodies can be obtained only by solving the puzzle, i. e., listening carefully, even studying the score, in order to locate the hidden musical solution.

4. Bach addresses the performers/listeners on many levels simultaneously. Obviously the composition will sound like good music, even if the hidden aspects have not been uncovered, but there is a definite enhancement in playing/listening pleasure upon making the discovery personally without having the composer spell it out in all of its details. [Peter Williams indicates another level of possible allusions besides the usual "Kraut und Rüben" folk song which he compares with Frescobaldi's 'Bergamasca' in his 'Fiori musicali' of 1635 (with which Bach was acquainted and which Williams claims has a comparable "handling of imitation, different themes, beautiful harmonic turns, natural melodiousness, contrapuntal combination and changes of metre" (p. 91) to that of the Goldberg Variations in general and the 30th variation in particular.]


Quodlibet BWV 524

Bradley Lehman wrote (December 22, 2004):
According to the BWV 524 quodlibet is this week's feature for discussion.

It's a piece put together in Bach's early 20s for a wedding in the family. At least two of the present guests and a local brand of beer are mentioned in the text. So is the wedding time of 2:00 p.m., and the wedding location of the Golden Crown, where "Johannes" is summoned to attend on account of a young maiden. There's mention that it was a year that had two solar eclipses in it. The text is a stitched-together bunch of absurdities and free-associations in both German and Latin. The long section cataloguing fivedozen big things is pretty funny. So's the part near the end where an old woman gives birth to a piglet.

It's the wedding of JSB's sister Salome to Johann Andreas Wiegand, isn't it?

The piece might or might not be by JSB. The surviving fragment (missing both the beginning and end of the piece) is in Bach's hand, but that's not necessarily proof that the music is original to him. Anybody in the family, all or several, might have contributed bits to this hodgepodge. That's the point of a quodlibet to begin with: a bunch of disparate stuff all schlocked together, and half the fun being the incongruency of the results.

I haven't spent a lot of time listening closely, haven't done any treasure-hunting in the score (as if there would be dozens of tune-quotes in there that are inaudible but "findable", by leaving out unwanted notes?)....but there's at least one musical parody that is obvious to me in the listening. The opening section sounds like a flippant take-off of Joachim Neander's 1680 tune "Meine Hoffnung":

Also, the section right before the big list of big things reminds me briefly of the tune and harmony of the Bergamasca. (Same things alluded to in variation 30 of the Goldbergs, years later.) Not exactly, but more like an outline. The whole piece reminds me some of Biber's "Country church-going" piece, too, the way silly stuff pops up in passing.

I have the Musica Antiqua Köln recording and find it very enjoyable. That's in the Archiv set of cantatas BWV 207, BWV 206, BWV 201, BWV 36c. January 1997 recording. Eleven and a half minutes of weird fun.


BWV 524 - Wedding Quodlibet

Thomas Braatz wrote (December 31, 2004):
Aryeh has kindly taken the time to set up my article on BWV 524 (Hochzeitsquodlibet) on his Bach Cantatas Website at the following address:[Braatz].htm

This composition, almost certainly by J. S. Bach, is unique in many ways. It is a relatively early vocal work that has no parallels in Bach’s oeuvre. It is a quodlibet rather unlike the only other of Bach’s quodlibets (BWV 988/30), the 30th variation of the Goldberg Variations.

I hope that some readers will find my historical summary and classification of the various types of quodlibets of interest. I have included original sources of important materials in the original language with a translation wherever possible, but I also included the commentaries from some modern sources as well. Certainly a short description of this musical form as given in shorter music dictionaries does not do justice to the explanation of how these quodlibets came about, nor can it make clear the diversity of types of quodlibets that do exist. For a better understanding of quodlibets, I made use of the articles in the MGG and the Grove Music Online. Even the two examples by J. S. Bach are of widely divergent types and fall into different categories.

Philological research, primarily with the aid of the DWB [“Deutsches Wörterbuch” von Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, this is equivalent to the OED full edition in the English language], allowed me to ascertain with some degree of certainty some of the otherwise elusive, enigmatic allusions contained in the text of BWV 524.

Upon closer examination of the text of BWV 524, I was able to discover some unifying threads/themes/ideas that help to cement together what might otherwise simply be a ridiculous, random hodge-podge of musical and textual fragments. It seems clear to me that Bach was very much involved in structuring the text which was derived from numerous sources: folksong, and student song fragments, street cries (including a town crier delivering the news,) imitations of liturgy with a secular Latin text, parlor word games, references by name to some who might have been present or who were being taken to task, sexual allusions, punning, musical imitations of the chaconne and fugue, deliberate mixing up of lines/parts, and quite a bit of word painting.

I certainly welcome any constructive comments, additional insights, or corrections wherever they may be needed so that this article can be improved.

I plan to add a thorough explanation of BWV 988/30 at some point in the future.


Further Recommendations - 524 quodlibet

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 10, 2006):
< If you wish to experience the "un-mathematical" Bach, listen to the Quodlibet BWV 524. The only recording of it, which I heard, is Koopman's. (...) I was able to enjoy the performance and would, therefore, recommend it. >
The only recording I've heard of that piece is the one by Musica Antiqua Köln; very enjoyable, and humorous.


Discussions in the Week of July 11, 2010

Douglas Cowling wrote (July 10, 2010):
Week of July 11: Quodlibet, BWV 524

Quodlibet, ³Was sind das für grosse Schlösser², BWV 524

Fragment for Wedding, 1707

BCML page:

Text & Translation:


Live Stream Recording:

Background and Analysis:
The best online commentary is Thomas Braatz¹s essay posted at:

Other Links:
Quodlibet of ³Goldberg Variations²

A modern setting of an 18th century quodlibet text:


The Quodlibet as Musical Theatre?

This remarkable work is generally ignored because it is so unlike anything else in Bach¹s oeuvre. In fact, if we didn¹t have the so-called ³Peasant² (BWV 212) and ³Coffee² (BWV 211) cantatas to show a little context, it would be hard to imagine The Great Composer indulging in such such light-hearted, ephemeral music that often brushes the line of good taste. The closest examples are the many satirical off-colour canons and songs that Mozart wrote throughout his career. I suspect that both Bach and Mozart would be astonished that this flotsam and jetsam survived to be solemnly discussed by us.

Most commentators have focused on the quodlibet form and attempted to identify the various melodies in the work: most dismiss it in a footnote to the more famous quodlibet in the ³Goldberg Variations.² (BWV 988) I was struck by the theatricality of the piece and was reminded of the ensemble finales in several Mozart operas. The ³vaudeville² that closes ³The Abduction from the Seraglio² and the buffo elements in the Act 1 finale of ³The Marriage of Figaro² came to mind (The patter of Figaro and Alfonso and the running thirds of the Countess and Susanna are all prefigured here.)

Although there is no dramatic narrative, the piece is full of dramatic gesture and rhetoric. The text may be nonsense, but the ³characters² engage in dialogue, agreeing and disagreeing, expressing individual ³opinions² and joining forces in argument. On the opening page, the soprano asks a question and the other voices debate the answer, moving with quicksilver ease from solo to duet to quartet. None of it makes any sense,but it feels like characters in a drama. Nowhere else did Bach attempt such fluidity of ensemble writing.

A couple of other moments are positively operatic. At ³O ihr Gedanken,² the tenor begins an expressive adagio that is constantly interrupted by the other singers¹ impatient interjections of ³Back trog!², as if they are poking a character on stage. In the allegro section, which follows, the musical lines fly from solos, to duets, to trios to quartets. As before, it has the feel of finale although it lacks any coherent narrative.

The least interesting section is the long list of silly items at ³Grosse Hochzeit,² but there is real humour at the cry of ³Punctum!² (Full stop!) followed by a parody of ecclesiastical chant at ³Dominus Johannes.² Alas, the work is unfinished so we will never know how the ³finale² ended.

As a corrective (or perhaps further proof!) to this suggestion that Bach is writing his equivalent of a Breitweg show, it should be noted that the technical demands of the music are very modest: the lines are primarily syllabic with very little passage work, the soprano rarely approaches the top of the staff, and the music hardly strays from F major. The latter feature could be a strong argument against Bach¹s authorship.

Yet Mozart wrote the role of Papageno for an actor who basically faked his songs. I wonder what a performance Bach¹s ³Quodlibet² in a cheeky new translation with Bernadette Peters, Elaine Strich, Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane would sound like.

There would have to be an exclamation mark on the theatre marquee:

Opening Tonight


Quodlibet BWV 524: Recordings | General Discussions
BWV 524 Quodlibet (Fragment) “Was seind das vor grosse Schlösser" [by Thomas Braatz]

Recordings & Discussions of Other Vocal Works: Main Page | Motets BWV 225-231 | Mass in B minor BWV 232 | Missae Breves & Sanctus BWV 233-242 | Magnificat BWV 243 | Matthäus-Passion BWV 244 | Johannes-Passion BWV 245 | Lukas-Passion BWV 246 | Markus-Passion BWV 247 | Weihnachts-Oratorium BWV 248 | Oster-Oratorium BWV 249 | Chorales BWV 250-438 | Geistliche Lieder BWV 439-507 | AMN BWV 508-523 | Quodlibet BWV 524 | Aria BWV 1127


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