Cantata BWV 124Meinen Jesum laß ich nicht
Discussions - Part 6
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Discussions in the Week of January 11, 2015 (4th round)
William Hoffman wrote (January 15, 2015):
124, 'Meinen Jesum lass ist nicht': Intro.
Coming one day after its twin in form, the chorale Cantata 124 for the celebratory Feast of Epiphany, the content of Chorale Cantata BWV 124, “Meinen Jesum lass ich nicht” (I shall not let my Jesus go), is much more naïve, subdued, intimate and introspective. Thus, like most of Bach’s other cantatas for the omnes tempore general time of Epiphany it emphasizes the personal Jesus hymns and the related pietistic interest in Jesus’ coming sacrifice. This is in marked contrast to the Gospel teachings of the four to six Epiphany Sundays that deal with Jesus presented in the temple (see below), the wedding at Canan, and the first miracles before Jesus begins his ministry with the calling of his disciples. Thus, the chorales Bach chose for his Epiphany Time cantatas generally involve either Jesus Hymns or pre-Lenten themes.
Cantata 124 “is not a pessimistic work, however, since it develops the idea of a positive and enduring relationship with Jesus,” observes commentator Julian Mincham (below). To achieve this, Bach creates simple, direct musical movements readily accessible to the listener while the text is based on Christian Keymann’s progressive (1658) hymn on “Death and Dying.” The dictum “I will not let my Jesus go,” is sounded or implied at the beginning and ending of each stanza, initially in the opening chorale fantasia in the character of a minuet in ¾ time.
Subsequently, the listeners’ thoughts, as outlined by Alfred Dürr in The Cantatas of JSB,1 are turned to “future life on earth (verse 2), “Soll Jesus nur allein / Mein Leben und mein alles sein” (Jesus alone will be my life and my all); to death (verse 3) with affirmation, “Doch tröstet sich die Zuversicht” (nevertheless my confidence finds consolation); to reunification with Jesus after death (verse 4), “Dich, Jesu, ewig soll umfangen” (I shall embrace you, Jesus, in eternity); and to the futility of the world (verse 5), “Entziehe dich eilends, mein Herze, der Welt” (Withdraw yourself, my heart, in haste from the world). Correspondingly, the music involves a tenor recitative on the personal Jesus (mvt. 2), a tenor aria in three-part structure with full instrumental accompaniment in ¾ time (Mvt. 3), a bass recitative that turns to faith and hope (Mvt. 4), and a soprano-alto da-capo duet in gigue-passapied style (Mvt. 5), before the affirmative closing congregational chorale (Mvt. 6), “Jesum lass ich nicht von mir, / Geh ihm ewig an der Seiten” (I shall not let my Jesus go, / I shall walk always by his side).2
The first performance of Cantata 124 took place on January 7, 1725, in Leipzig, at the early main service of the Nikolaikirche before the sermon on the Gospel by Superintendent Salomon Deyling (1677-1755), says Martin Petzoldt in Bach Commentary, Vol. 2, Advent to Trinity Sunday.3
Readings for 1st Sunday after Epiphany are: Epistle: Romans 12:1-6 (Paul’s letter: We are all one in Christ); Gospel: Luke 2: 41-52 (Jesus in the temple); Complete text is the Martin Luther German translation (1545), with the English translation Authorised (King James) Version [KJV] 1611; for complete texts, see BCW Readings, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Read/Epiphany1.htm
The Introit Psalm for the 1st Sunday after Epiphany is Psalm 121, Levavi oculos (I will life up me eyes, KJV), says Martin Petzoldt (Ibid.: 407), Orlando di Lasso http://www3.cpdl.org/wiki/index.php/Levavi_oculos_meos_(Orlando_di_Lasso), Palestrina (http://www2.cpdl.org/wiki/index.php/Ad_te_levavi_oculos_meos_(Giovanni_Pierluigi_da_Palestrina), and Schütz. Bach’s Passions-Pasticcio, BWV 1088 (1743-48) includes the Bach bass arioso, “So heb ich denn mein Auge sehnlich auf” (I lift my longing eye to Heav'n above) beginning with the dictum of Psalm 121, Levavi oculos (I will life up my eyes). It is the first of series of 15 instructional Psalms called "A Song of degrees." It may be a radical parody of the alto arioso, ”O Schmerz,” from the St. Matthew Passion.
Cantata 124 Text involves Christian Keymann hymn “Meinen Jesum lass ich nicht” (Mvts. 1, 6, unaltered), and anonymous librettist (Mvts. 2-5, paraphrased). The 1-minute work in typical chorale cantata symmetrical form of opening choral fantasia and closing four-part hymn, two recitatives (Mvts. 2 tenor and 4 bass), and two arias (Mvts. 3 and 5, tenor and soprano-alto duet). The Keymann (1607-1662) BCWv Short Biography is found at http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Lib/Keymann.htm.
The Chorale Text: Meinen Jesum laß' ich nicht (1658) is listed in Bach’s hymnbook, Das Neu Leipziger Gesangbuch (NLGB) of 1682 as No. 346 under the omnes tempore category of “Death and Dying,” involving three original very long stanzas. The Keymann six-stanza text and Francis Browne English translation are found at BCW http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Texts/Chorale054-Eng3.htm. The original text had an SATB setting with melody (Zahn 3449) of Andreas Hammerschmidt (1658), Hammerschmidt (1611/12-1675) BCW short biography, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Lib/Hammerschmidt.htm. Bach also used the hymn in Cantata 70, 154, and 157, as outlined in Julian Mincham’s commentary below. In addition Bach set stanza 6 of the hymn to close the original 1727 version of the St. Matthew Passion, BWV 244/29 (244b) and composed a four-part setting, BWV 380.
The hymn “first appeared in ‘Fest-, Buß- und Danklieder’ for 5 voices and 5 instruments (ad lib) and bc. This collection is dedicated to the Electress Magdalena Sibylla of Saxony and the printing was dated October 29, 1658 and published in Zittau where Keymann was the Rector. Detailed information on the melody, as well as the NLGB and the oboe d’amore, is found at BCW, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/CM/Meinen-Jesum-lass-ich-nicht.htm.
The NLGB does not list the Jesus Hymns for Epiphany but does list the hymn of the day and the communion and sermon hymns for each of the six Sundays in Epiphany. For the first Sunday after Epiphany, the hymn of the day remains the Christmas hymn “Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ.” The two other designated hymns are two early omnes tempore Trinity Time early Reformation chorales. Luther’s “Dies sind die heilige zehn Gebot” (These are the holy ten commandments), NLGB 170, the Holy Catechsim (omnes tempore), is also a designated chorale for the 4th, 6th, and 18th Sundays after Trinity. Elizabeth Kreutziger’s 1525 “Herr Christ, der ein’ge Gottes Sohn (Lord Jesus Christ, the only Son of God), NLGB 231, Justification, is the designated chorale for the 18th and 21st Sundays after Epiphany. Thus, the NLGB designates Trinity Time hymns for the six Sundays in Epiphany Time which Bach avoids these in favor of Jesus Hymns and later in the pre-Lenten three “gesimae” Sundays Passion hymns. These are found in the other Leipzig hymn books as well as Dresden hymn bpoks.
Christmas hymns are allowed through the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin Mary, on February 2, observes Günther Stiller in JSB and Liturgical Life in Leipzig.4 The hymn “Meinen Jesum lass ich nicht,” “which is the basis for Cantata BWV 124 for the First Sunday after Epiphany and besides is also used in Cantata BWV 154 for the same Sunday , is found in the hymn schedules of both the Leipzig and Dresden hymnbooks for this Sunday.” The hymn books have a topical, "omnes tempore" collection of some 28 chorales under the heading "Jesus Hymns." These include Jesus hymns used by Bach in four cantatas for Epiphany (BWV 81, BWV 123, BWV 124, BWV 154): "Liebster Immanual, Herzog des Frommen," Meine Jesum lass ich nicht," Jesu, meiner Seelen wonne," and "Jesu, meine Freude," says Stiller (Ibid.: 249).
Cantata 124 Movements, Scoring, Text, Key, and Meter are:5
1. Chorale fantasia (Stanza 1, unaltered) in two parts, homophonic, with ritornelli, mostly in imitation [SATB; Corno col Soprano, Oboe d'amore concertante, Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo: A. “Meinen Jesum lass ich nicht” (I shall not let my Jesus go); B. “Klettenweis an ihm zu kleben” (That I should cling like a bur to him); E Major ¾ time.
2. Recitative secco (Stanza 2, paraphrased) [Tenor, Continuo]: “Solange sich ein Tropfen Blut / In Herz und Adern reget / Soll Jesus nur allein / Mein Leben und mein alles sein.” (As long as a drop of blood / moves in my heart and veins / Jesus alone will be / my life and my all); A major to c-sharp minor; 4/4.
3. Aria tri-partite (Stanza 3, paraphrased) with ritornelli [Tenor; Oboe d'amore, Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo]: “Und wenn der harte Todesschlag / Die Sinnen schwächt, die Glieder rühret” (And when the hard deathblow /weakens my senses and disturbs my limbs); A1, “Wenn der dem Fleisch verhasste Tag / Nur Furcht und Schrecken mit sich führet” (when the day hated by the flesh / brings with it only fear and terror); A2, “Doch tröstet sich die Zuversicht” (nevertheless my confidence finds consolation); A3, “Ich lasse meinen Jesum nicht.” (I shall not let my Jesus go.); f-sharp minor, ¾.
4. Recitative secco (Stanza 4, paraphrased) [Bass, Continuo]: “Doch ach! / Welch schweres Ungemach / Empfindet noch allhier die Seele?: (But oh! / what great trouble / The soul must still feel here?); A major, 4/4.
5. Aria da capo (Stanza 5, paraphrased) in canon with ritornelli (Duetto) [Soprano, Alto; Continuo]: A. “Entziehe dich eilends, mein Herze, der Welt” (Withdraw yourself, my heart, in haste from the world); B. “Wenn künftig dein Auge den Heiland erblickt” (when in the future your eyes behold your saviour); A Major, 3/8 gigue/passepied style.
6. Chorale four-part (Stanza 6 unaltered) [S, A, T, B; Corno e Oboe d'amore e Violino I col Soprano, Violino II coll'Alto, Viola col Tenore, Continuo); “Jesum lass ich nicht von mir” (I shall not let my Jesus go); E Major 4/4
Other Cantata Uses of ‘Meinen Jesum lass ich nicht’
Bach’s other uses of the chorale “Meinen Jesum lass ich nicht” in Cantatas 70, 154, and 157 is explored in Julian Mincham’s Commentary introduction to chorale Cantata BWV 124 Chapter 34, http://www.jsbachcantatas.com/documents/chapter-34-bwv-124.htm.6 <<The first point of focus must be the chorale melody, originally composed by Andreas Hammerschmidt (Boyd, p 289). It clearly appealed to Bach since he used it three times in the first two Leipzig cycles.
In the key of C it closed Part 2 of C 70, a large-scale work which, in November 1723, completed the church year [Trinity +26]. It also concluded C 154 [Epiphany +1 1724], raised a tone to the key of D, and it is yet again to be found, in the same key in the 1727 cantata C 157 [Putification, funeral]. Cs 154 and 124 were both written for this same event, the first Sunday after Epiphany. In C 124 it appears in E, the highest pitch of all; possibly the choir needed keeping on their toes! Otherwise the harmonisations for all versions differ only in detail.
C 124, however, is the only one of these three works for which Bach composed a chorale fantasia based upon the melody so perhaps he considered that this excused the repetition. That apart, the chorale melody is not inserted into other movements such as we find in many works of this cycle, as indeed was also the case with C 122, performed just a few days previously.
It is interesting to conjecture if Bach looked back on the score of C 154 when setting out to compose 124. It is believed that before settling to his composing desk he would frequently go to the harpsichord and play through a piece of his own or some other composer's as a way of stimulating his creative processes. Perhaps he found the perusal of cantatas written in previous years for the same events equally stimulating.
This could explain the extraordinary similarities between the two tenor arias, no 1 from C 154 and no 3 from C 124. Both are in minor keys and in 3/4 time. Both are highly chromatic, utilizing similar 'weeping' melodic shapes and accompaniment patterns. The one is not a copy or a reworking of the other, but they have a similar stark, bleak and austere feeling of alienation from Jesus, a textual theme which also unites them.
C 124 is not a pessimistic work, however, since it develops the idea of a positive and enduring relationship with Jesus. This thought pervades every verse with three of them (first, third and sixth) ending with the statement 'I will not leave my Jesus'. But only one movement, the tenor aria, really plumbs the depths of deep misery which alienation engenders.>>
Cantata 124 Sequel to Cantata 123
In form, Cantata 124 “seems the natural sequel to chorale Cantata BWV123, “Liebster Immanuel,” composed the day before, Saturday, January 6, 1725, for the Feast of Epiphany, observes John Eliot Gardier in his 2010 liner notes to the 2000 Bach Cantata Pilgrimage in Soli Deo Gloria recordings.7<< The variety and the degrees of dramatic expression are so great in Bach’s cantatas that one gets the impression of things uniquely expressed, things which could in fact be expressed in no other terms. Take the case of BWV 124, “Meinen Jesum lass ich nicht,” from his second Leipzig cycle. Outwardly this seems the natural sequel to BWV 123 Liebster Immanuel we gave last Sunday in Leipzig: the same overall structure, an opening chorale fantasia, a libretto in six movements, of which the first and last verses are preserved intact (melody included), the middle movements anonymously paraphrased, and recitatives of exceptional beauty. But there the similarities end. Setting Christian Keymann’s hymn (1658), Bach opts for a gentle, almost naïve tone of voice to reflect the submissive character of the text. Only in the middle movement, an aria for tenor with oboe d’amore and strings (No.3), does he open his locker to unleash a torrent of dramatic effects to portray the ‘fear and terror’ that accompanies ‘the cruel stroke of death’: a pulsating staccato bass line, a persistent fournote drumming in the upper strings, a strongly dotted rhythmic outline to the vocal part, and in total contrast, a wide-arching melody for the oboe d’amore, an avowal that, come what may, the believer ‘shall not forsake my Jesus’. The cantata’s opening chorale fantasia is in E major in the style of a minuet but arranged in an unusual Ai - Aii - Aiii sequence, with orchestral ritornellos at the beginning, middle and end. Bach gives a prominent and highly virtuosic concertante role to an oboe d’amore. The way its rapid semiquaver figures seem to curl in on themselves suggests an attempt to convey what every country walker knows, the extraordinary snag-like persistence of burrs (the text tells of the Christian’s duty to ‘cling to Him like a burr’) – that and the way the three lower voices hang on to a unison B for three bars on the word ‘kleben’ (‘to cling’).
Not least of Bach’s skills revealed in the church cantatas is as a composer of recitatives that are often far more dramatic than those in the operas of his contemporaries. In the bass recitative (No.4) Bach forms a chain of seven successive notes of the chromatic scale in the continuo line to emphasise the question, ‘Will not my sore-offended breast become a wilderness and den of suffering for the cruellest loss of Jesus?’. In sharp contrast, the ensuing A major duet for soprano and alto with continuo is constructed as a gigue with a joyful abandon (all those leaps of a tenth in the continuo) that celebrates release from all things worldly (‘Withdraw swiftly from the world, O heart’). The closing chorale harmonisation of a melody by Andreas Hammerschmidt (1658) has a recurrent turning figure in the continuo to underpin the significant words ‘Jesum’,’Christus’ and ‘selig’.>> © John Eliot Gardiner 2010, From a journal written in the course of the Bach Cantata Pilgrimage
General Theme of Love of Jesus
The general theme of the love of Jesus, even in earthly hardship and death, is the emphasis in Cantata 124, observes Klaus Hofmann in his 2006 liner notes to the Masaaki Suzuki Bach sacred cantatas on BIS recordings.8 <<Bach’s cantata “Meinen Jesum lass ich nicht” – for the first Sunday after Epiphany, which in 1725 fell on 7th January – received its first performance in Leipzig just one day after [Cantata 123] “Liebster Immanuel, Herzog der Frommen.” The gospel reading for that Sunday, Luke 2, 41-52, likewise deals with a very well-known episode: when the twelve-year-old Jesus, left behind and anxiously sought by his parents, is finally found at the temple, deep in theological dispute with the doctors. Here too, however, the cantata text does not examine the gospel reading in greater detail. The real theme, as with the cantata heard the previous day, is love for Jesus, being steadfast to him even in hardship and death, along with renunciation of the world and confidence in the life to come. Its basis is the hymn “Meinen Jesum lass ich nicht,” still popular today, by the Zittau headmaster Christian Keimann (1607- 1662) with a melody by the Wittenberg cantor Johann Ulich (1634-1712).
This time, in the opening movement, the very simple choral part forms a contrast with a decidedly concertante orchestral part, thematically independent of the hymn tune. From its striking ritornello motifs, an oboe d’amore soon emerges as a solo instrument with richly flowing figurations. One poetic image from the text plainly held much appeal for Bach: the idea that the believer holds fast to Jesus like a burr.
In the tenor aria, the text of which looks forward to death, the oboe d’amore and vocal line perform an expressive duet of upper voices, filled with deep sincerity and mournful tones. The aria does, however, contain one strongly dramatic element: the addition of the string orchestra, which integrates a motif of repeated notes in stiff rhythm. The motif represents the trembling of mankind, the ‘Furcht und Schrecken’ (‘fear and horror’) of ‘der harte Todesschlag’ (‘the harsh stroke of death’).
In the soprano and alto duet [Mvt. 5], which preaches renunciation of the world and directs its gaze at the next life, Bach uses very down-to-earth means to present the genuinely baroque text: a popular dance form. The movement is written entirely in the style of a passepied, a dance in rapid 3/8-time. The cheerful underlying mood of the duet is not determined by thoughts of renunciation of the world but by the prophecy: ‘du findest im Himmel dein wahres Vergnügen’ (‘In heaven you will find your true happiness’). The beautiful final choral is distinguished by the basses’ regular quavers, the characteristic motion of which may be inspired by the words ‘geh ihm ewig an der Seiten’ (‘I shall always accompany Him’).>> © Klaus Hofmann 2006
In all, Bach seemes content to compose only three cantatas – albeit substantial works -- for the 1st Sunday after Epiphany: BWV 154, “Mein liebster Jesus ist verloren” (My loving Jesus is lost, Leipzig, 1724); BWV 124, “Meinem Jesum, lass ich nicht” (I shall not let my Jesus go, Leipzig, 1725); and BWV 32, “Liebster Jesu, mein Verlangen” (Loving Jesus, my longing, Leipzig, 1726).
Bach’s 1st Sunday after Epiphany Leipzig performance schedule (BCW: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/LCY/1.So.n.Epiph..htm
1724-01-09 So - Cantata BWV 154 Mein liebster Jesus ist verloren (1st performance, Leipzig)
1725-01-07 So - Cantata BWV 124 Meinen Jesum laß ich nicht (1st performance, Leipzig)
1726-01-13 So - Cantata BWV 32 Liebster Jesu, mein Verlangen (1st performance, Leipzig)*
1727-01-12 So – no record
1728-01-11 So – no record
1729-01-09 So - Picander text P12, “Ich bin betrübt,” chorale “Meinem Jesum, lass ich nicht” (S.6), possibly set as plain chorale BWV 380
1735-01-09 So – no record
1736-01-08 So 1.So.n.Epiph. - G.H. Stölzel: Siehe, Gott ist zu hoch in seiner Kraft [Not extant]
Vocal works with no definite date
(1736-1737) - Cantata BWV 154 Mein liebster Jesus ist verloren (2nd performance, Leipzig)
*Cantata 32: see BCML Discussion Part 4 (April 6, 2014), http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV32-D4.htm.
1 Dürr, Cantatas of J. S. Bach, revised and translated by Richard D. P. Jones (Oxford University Press, New York, 2005: 187f)
2 Cantata 124, BCW Details & Discography, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV124.htm.
3 Petzoldt, Bach Kommentar: Theologisch Musikwissenschaftlicke Kommentierung der Geistlichen Vokalwerke Johann Sebastan Bachs; Vol. 2, Die Geistlichen Kantaten vom 1. Advent bis zum Trinitatisfest; Internationale Bachakademie Stuttgart (Kassel: Bärenreiter, 2007: 1st Sunday after Epihany, Commentary, 407-410; Cantata 124 text and Keymann chorale text, 418-421; Cantata 124 Commentary, 420-425).
4 Stiller, Johann Sebastian Bach and Liturgical Life in Leipzig, Ed. Robin A. Leaver (Concordia Publishing: St. Louis, 1985: 237f).
5 Scoring, Soloists: Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass; 4-part Chorus; Orchestra: horn, concertante oboe d’amore, 2 violins, viola, continuo with organ & strings. Score Vocal & Piano [1.36 MB], http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Scores/BWV124-V&P.pdf, Score BGA [1.78 MB], http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BGA/BWV124-BGA.pdf. References: BGA XXVI (Cantatas 120-129, Alfred Dörfferl 1878), NBA KB I/5 (1st Sunday after Epiphany, Marianne Helms 2000), Bach Compendium BC A 30, Zwang K 107. Provenance (score, parts set, possible scenario of composition, January 6, 1725, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Ref/BWV124-Ref.htm.
6 Mincham, The Cantatas of Johann Sebastian Bach: A listener and student guide, Revised 2014; Home Page, http://www.jsbachcantatas.com/index.htm.
7 Gardiner Cantata 124 notes, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Pic-Rec-BIG/Gardiner-P18c[sdg174_gb].pdf; BCW Recording details, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Performers/Gardiner-Rec3.htm#P18.
8 Hofmann Cantata 124 notes, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Pic-Rec-BIG/Suzuki-C32c[BIS-SACD1501].pdf; BCW Recording details, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Performers/Suzuki-Rec2.htm#C32.
Aryeh Oron wrote (January 17, 2015):
Cantata BWV 124 - Revised & updated Discography
The discography pages of the Chorale Cantata BWV 124 “Meinen Jesum laß ich nicht” for 1st Sunday after Epiphany on the BCW have been revised and updated.
The cantata is scored for soprano, alto, tenor & bass soloists; 4-part chorus; and orchestra of horn, concertante oboe d’amore, 2 violins, viola, continuo with organ & strings. See:
Complete Recordings (13): http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV124.htm
Recordings of Individual Movements (3): http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV124-2.htm
The revised discography includes many listening/watching options to recordings directly from the discography pages, just below the recording details.
I have also added to the movement pages of this cantata an option to move back and forth between the movements and to each movement page the text and relevant portion of the BGA score. See: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/INS/BWV124-01.htm
I also put at the BCW Home Page: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/
2 audiosof the cantata. A short description below the audio/video image is linked to the full details at the discography pages.
I believe this is the most comprehensive discography of this chorale cantata. If you are aware of a recording of BWV 124 missing from these pages, or want to correct/add details of a recording already presented on the BCW, please do not hesitate to inform me.
You can also read on the BCW William Hoffman's detailed introduction to this week's discussion of the cantata in the BCML (4th round): http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV124-D6.htm
Cantata BWV 124: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements
Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6