William Hoffman wrote (February 15, 2015):
Cantata BWV 126, 'Erhalt uns, Herr, bei deinem Wort': Intro.
Concluding the series of three pre-Lenten cantatas in the period of one week, Sexagesima chorale Cantata 126, “Erhalt uns, Herr, bei deinem Wort” (Preserve us, Lord, with your word), emphasizes brevity (just over a quarter of an hour) with a martial flavor including an opening virtuoso trumpet solo in the chorale fantasia with the typical balanced form of two alternating and striking arias and recitatives, and a closing chorale with two stanzas calling for peace and good governance.1 “The cantata calls on God to destroy his enemies and bring peace and salvation to his peoples,” observes the late Malcolm Boyd in his Cantata 126 essay in Oxford Composer Companions: J. S. Bach.2
While the chorale setting has no direct reference to the Septugesima Sunday Gospel, Luke 8: 4-15 (The parable of the sower), the seed of the sower in the parable represents the word of God and the temptation of evil as found in the hybrid Reformation chorale of Martin Luther, Johann Walther, Justus Jonas (1424-1546) in the face of the Papists and the Turks, points out scholar Klaus Hofmann in liner notes below. Various commentators have praised the opening chorus as one of Bach’s finest, as well as the two arias, the tenor free da-capo (mvt. 2) “Sende deine Macht von oben” (Send your might from above), and the bass da-capo (mvt. 4), “Stürze zu Boden, schwülstige Stolze!” (Throw to the ground, pompous pride!) in passepied dance style.
The first of the two recitatives (mvt. 3) is unique and “especially noteworthy in that it unites chorale melody and trope in a curious way,” says Alfred Dürr in The Cantatas of JSB.3 The alto and tenor alternate the poetic recitative while usually combing to sing the inserted chorale line: beginning Alto recit., “Der Menschen Gunst und Macht wird wenig nützen” (The good will and power of humanity would be of little use); Tenor Chorale, Gott Heilger Geist, du Tröster wert, God, the holy spirit, you precious comforter).
Among other unique features of Cantata 126 cited below are the opening and fitting Introit Psalm 1, the popular , Beatus vir qui non abiit (Blessed is the man who walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly), observed scholar Martin Petzoldy; the special use of the hybrid chorale, says Julian Mincham; and the interesting topics of theology, emblemata, and numerology, Peter Smaill describes, as well as the special reperformance of Cantata 126 in 1755 in Leipzig for the 200th anniversary of the Augsburg Confession, documented in Thomas Braatz’s recent Provenance BCW article. In addition, “The focal point of all three cantatas [for Septugesima, BWV 18, 181, and 126] is the overwhelming power of the Word,” says John Eliot Gardiner below.
Premiere, Readings, Chorale Sources
The first performance of Cantata 126 was on February 4, 1725, at early main service at St. Thomas Church, before the sermon of Pastor Christian Weise on the day’s Gospel, Luke 8:4-15 (Parable of the sower), says Martin Petzoldt in Bach Commentary, Vol. 2, Advent to Trinityfest.4 The Leipzig’ repeat performance, Sept. 29, 1755, celebrated the 200th Anniversary of the Augsburg Confession.
The Readings for Septugesima Sunday are: Epistle: 2 Corinthians 11:19-12: 9 (Paul’s Letter, Paul justifies himself); Gospel: Luke 8: 4-15 (The parable of the sower). 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/Sexagesima.htm.
Introit Psalm for Sexagesima Sunday in Psalm 1, Beatus vir qui non abiit (Blessed is the man who walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly), full English text KJV, http://www3.cpdl.org/wiki/index.php/Psalm_1#King_James_Version. Virtualy every major composer of the Late Renaissance and early Barique did motet settings of this popular psalm. They include:
Hans Leo Hassler, http://www.cpdl.org/wiki/index.php/Beatus_vir_qui_non_abiit_(Hans_Leo_Hassler);
Andrea Gabrielli, http://www.cpdl.org/wiki/index.php/Beatus_vir_qui_non_abiit_(Andrea_Gabrieli);
Tomás Luis de Victoria, http://www.allmusic.com/artist/tomás-luis-de-victoria-mn0002284592/compositions;
Francesco Durante, http://www.hbdirect.com/browse_classical.php?v_0=composer&composer=D&do=specific_composer&specific_composer=Durante,%20Francesco; as well as Orlando de Lassus, Palestrina, and Heinrich Schütz.
Cantata 126 Text sources are Martin Luther (Mvts. 1, 3, 6 unaltered), and anonymous librettist (Mvts. 2, 4, 5 paraphrased); German text and Francis Browne English translation, BCW http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Texts/BWV126-Eng3.htm. It is possible that Bach utilized four different librettists for the final four chorale cantatas composed for Cycle 2, with their texts published in a typical church libretto (text-book). According to the Harald Streck 1971 dissertation,< Die Verskunst in den poetischen Texten zu den Kantaten JSB> (ref. Arthur Hirsch, "JSB's Cantatas in Chronological Order," BACH, 1980: 18-27), the cantatas, their 1725 dates and librettists are: Purification (February 2), BWV 125, 3rd cantata group librettist; Sexagesima (February 4), BWV 126, no librettist identity; Estomihi (February 11), Cantata 127, 4th group librettist); and March 25 (Annunciation), BWV 1, 1st group librettist.
The chorale, Erhalt uns, Herr, bei deinem Wort,” particularly its origins, development, and later uses, is discussed at BCW, “Chorale Melodies used in Bach's Vocal Works: Erhalt uns, Herr, bei deinem Wort,” Prepared by William Hoffman & Aryeh Oron (May 2014 - July 2014), http://www.bach-cantatas.com/CM/Erhalt-uns-Herr.htm. The German text and Francis Browne’s English translation are found at http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Texts/Chorale142-Eng3.htm. Commentators Gardiner and Hofmann also describe the chorale sources at length below.
Cantata 126 Movement, Scoring, Texts, Key, Meter, are:5
1. Chorale chorus fantasia (Stanza 1 unaltered) two part with ritornelli [S, A, T, B; Tromba, Oboe I/II, Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo]: A. “Erhalt uns, Herr, bei deinem Wort”(Preserve us, Lord, with your word); B. “Stürzen wollen von seinem Thron” (who would want to cast down [your son] from his throne); a minor, 4/4.
2. Aria free da-capo (Stanza 2 paraphrsed) [Tenor; Oboe I/II, Continuo]: A. “Sende deine Macht von oben” (Send your might from above); B. “Deine Kirche zu erfreuen” (to give joy to your church); e minor, 4/4.
3. Recitative secco (Stanza 3 paraphrased) [Alto & tenor alternating & together] & Chorale arioso (Stanza 3 unaltered & troped [Tenor and Alto alternating and together; Continuo]: Alto recit. , “Der Menschen Gunst und Macht wird wenig nützen” (The good will and power of humanity would be of little use); Tenor Chorale, Gott Heilger Geist, du Tröster wert, God, the holy spirit, you precious comforter); Tenor recit.: “Du weißt, dass die verfolgte Gottesstadt / Den ärgsten Feind nur in sich selber hat” (You know that the persecuted city of God / has within itself the most evil enemy); Ensemble : “Gib dein'm Volk einerlei Sinn auf Erd” (Give to your people unity of purpose on earth); Alto recit.: “Dass wir, an Christi Leibe Glieder, / Im Glauben eins, im Leben einig sei'n” (so that we, members of Christ's body / may be one in faith, united in life): Ensemble chorale: “Steh bei uns in der letzten Not!” (Stand by us in our last agony!); Tenor recit.: “Es bricht alsdann der letzte Feind herein” (Then the last enemy breaks in on us); Both chorale: “G'leit uns ins Leben aus dem Tod!” (Lead us out of death into life!); a minor to e minor; 4/4.
4. Aria da-capo (Stanza 4 paraphrased) with ritornelli [Bass, Continuo]: A. “Stürze zu Boden, schwülstige Stolze!” (Throw to the ground, pompous pride!); B. “Laß sie den Abgrund plötzlich verschlingen” (Let the abyss suddenly swallow them up); C major, 3/8 meter passepied style.
5. Recitative secco (Stanza 5 paraphrased) [Tenor, Continuo]: “So wird dein Wort und Wahrheit offenbar”
6. Choral four part (Stanzas 6-7 unaltered) [SATB; Tromba e Oboe I/II e Violino I col Soprano, Violino II coll'Alto, Viola col Tenore, Continuo]: “Verleih uns Frieden gnädiglich” (Grant us peace, in your mercy); “Gib unsern Fürst'n und aller Obrigkeit / Fried und gut Regiment” (Grant to our Princess and all those in authority / peace and good government; a minor, 4/4.
Cantata 126 Pre-Lenten Context
Julian Mincham’s introductory commentary places chorale Cantata 126 and its hymn in the context of pre-Lenten time as well as Good Friday and Easter Sunday in “Chapter 39 BWV 126 Erhalt uns, Herr, bei deinem Wort,” http://www.jsbachcantatas.com/documents/chapter-39-bwv-126.htm.6 <<Yet another of Bach's tempestuous A minor opening movements, this time given greater impact by the addition of a solo trumpet to the strings and oboes. Bach’s practice was to use the trumpet either as an individual solo instrument or in a group of three with timpani. Rarely does he use them in groups of four and even less in pairs. Linked together in this cycle by key and, to an extent, mood and character are the fantasias from Cs 126, 178, 33 and 26 (chapters 9, 13 and 25). Listeners may find it illuminative to compare them.
Chorale. If the reader first becomes familiar with the chorale before turning his/her attention to the fantasia (a recommended procedure) s/he will encounter a particular problem. Bach's normal practice, with which we should now be quite familiar, is to take each of the chorale phrases, inserting them into an orchestral framework, frequently separated by ritornello episodes. Thus six chorale phrases would generate six choral interpolations.
So it comes as something of a surprise to find that this chorale, one of the longest with twelve phrases, generates one of the shortest fantasias with a mere four choral segments. We know that Bach usually maintains the same number of phrases and the general structure of the chorale in the fantasias although he frequently alters the time signatures. Nowhere else have we come across an example where Bach deviates so much from the given configuration. Why does he do it?
One clue may lie in the timing of this cantata. The placing of C 125 (for the Purification of the Virgin) on February 2nd meant that C 126 would need to be performed just two days later. It is inconceivable that Bach could have composed and rehearsed this work in one day, so he must have been working on it concurrently with C 125, itself a work of considerable proportions and taking the best part of half an hour to perform. C 126 is not much more than half this length, with no greatly extended movements and a very concise fantasia.
Additionally, the busy period of Easter was only a few weeks away. Bach would be presenting the Easter Oratorio, the Saint John Passion and Cs 4 and 6 in barely a seven day period (Wolff p 277). It may well be that pressure of deadlines forced Bach to think within a shorter time scale as he had done in the run-up to the Christmas celebrations of 1723. As usual, there is no diminution of quality or inventiveness.
So to sum up: an abbreviated, four-phrase chorale is used in the fantasia (and two further movements) of C 126, and a complete version of it closes the work. In any case, the chorale melody seems to have had a chequered history; Boyd (p158) identifies it as an unusual hybrid, Luther providing the first section upon which the cantata is predicated and Walther the remainder.>>
Cantata 126: Theology, Emblemata, Numerology,
Various topics involving Cantata 126, including theology, emblemata, and numerology, with various bibliographical sources, are cited in Peter Smaill’s Introduction to Cantata 126 in the BCML previous discussion, Part 3 (March 28, 2010), http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV126-D3.htm. <<Background. “Even among the jewels of Bach’s second cycle, the opening chorus of No.126 shines brightly”. Thus Malcolm Boyd rates the vigorous and monumental BWV 126/1, with its insistent demands on the trumpeter to illustrate the warlike text. The opening and closing texts derive directly from Luther; in 1541/2, when the text “Erhalt uns, Herr” was composed (the closing “Verleih und Frieden” was published 1545), the Ottoman army had occupied Buda and Pest. Pope Paul III instituted the Roman Inquisition on 21 July 1542. In Bach’s own time the Turkish siege of Vienna in 1683 was not so distant; and the echoes of the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) had scarcely died down.
The two Luther chorales had thus become well established at Leipzig and it is correspondingly dangerous to attribute any political stance by Bach himself contra the “Pope and Turks”. It may be the case, however, that the sentiments of the text and vigour of the music shone out to the Leipzigers; for, according to H-J Schulze, this work was reperformed on 29 September 1755 for the 200th anniversary of the peace of Augsburg under which the German states reached a concordat between Protestant and Catholic by assigning to each state the religion of the Prince. The work was apparently reperformed in the vacancy after the death in July 1755 of Bach’s successor Gottlob Harrer.
If so, then BWV 126 can be added to the select list of Cantatas known to have continued to be performed after Bach’s death (these are predominantly Jahrgang II works, since Anna Magdalena gave 44 sets of parts from he inheritance to the Thomaskirche). The others (Wolff pps. 463,509) are BWV 8, BWV 41, BWV 94, BWV 112, BWV 125, and BWV 133.
Theology. The Word is the central emphasis in BWV 126, whose Lutheran texts (plus dramatic madrigalian arias and other chorale insertions) travel from a plea to be upheld in battle, to the realisation of peace in the final Chorale.
At the end a keyword of Lutheranism, “Obrigkeit”, is to be found; “servility to order” is perhaps an appropriate translation. It indicates the tendency to insist on unquestioning obedience to superiors, an authoritarian interpretation of St Paul and with particular significance given the fusion of State and Church; for example, Prince John of Saxony assumed the title “summus episcopus” (over Bishop or Superintendent).
So BWV 126 has two concepts: dependence on the Word, and obedience to superiors. On this basis the enemies of the Church will be seen off and peace and good government will reign.
Emblemata. Not surprisingly the emblemata books of Protestant Germany do not give a flattering account of the Papacy. The dominant mode of reproduction, however, is in books dealing with the moral of universal mortality, rather than dealing with conflict. A good example is: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Emb/BWV126-1-Emb.htm
So far the Turks as an allegorical figure has yet to appear but as many of the extant 5500 emblem books have yet to be catalogued there may yet be an image of them of coupling the pair of targets. However, in all scenarios it is Luther that is the identifiable source for the imagery of BWV 126.
Numerology. Hirsch has an interesting observation; the first movement BWV 126/1 (Mvt. 1) extends to 62 bars. Bach notes in autograph against the orgpart (apparently here specified), “Fine S. D. G. “. This is very odd in that the Cantata has five further movements. However that ending inscription (“Schlussvermerk”) has a numerological score of 62:it may be a deliberate reference.
Music. Dürr notes the especial challenge of the trumpet part, in taking a leading part in a movement in a minor due to the range of notes being restricted in the natural overtone series. That observation leads back to a feature noted before, the ability of Bach to cast a work in a minor key yet creating the affekt of a major.
Tonality issues return with the Chorale. Dürr says the sliced Luther/Walter text is “in a plain four-part setting”. He says this too of the Chorale BWV 159/5, “Jesu, deine Passion”, with its wonderfully chromatic key changes. Whittaker, neglected because of the erroneous dates, is much more sensitive in this area. In the case of BWV 126/6 (Mvt. 6) he observes the throbbing pedal point at the words “Ein geruhig und stilles Leben” (“A restful and quiet life”). At the end “the basses in the antepenultimate line have a lovely progression, ending surprisingly on the chord of F; the next chord, D is not expected; and then the rolling Amen settles in A major”.
It is another illustration of the Werckmeister doctrine, “in fine videbitur cuius toni”, “Only in the end can you determine the key”. However, this doctrine appears to have been gleaned from Luther himself. Tom Braatz (following the lead of Eric Chafe) has translated a passage from the Tischreden (“table-talk”) which uses this expression as a general principle. Robin Leaver identifies a passage in which Luther talks in explicit musical terms of the b flat and b natural as allegorical of the Laws and the Gospel. Leaver explains that in Luther’s time no accidentals were marked, and the singers has to use judgement as to whether to lighten a cadence by modulating to the major.
That Bach does just exactly that at the end of his predominantly Luther chorale is a notable feature of BWV 126. It is an exceptionally beautiful setting because of the extended Amen which brings the key to the unexpected A major.
Conclusion. I have so far rather mirrored Dürr’s unusual neglect by skipping over the two excellent arias, the first with its extravagant word-painting is as he says “an aria of genuinely baroque dramatic force”. Then there is the unusual AT setting of the recitative with chorale. Taken overall, interest and contrast never flags and the virtuosos trumpet and tenor parts convey an impression of physical vigour, resolving at the end into a Chorale of extended length, powerfully conveying the assurance that the strife results in peace, and that the prayer which Luther translated, Da nobis pacem, is answered.
This is a work which must surely have made a great impact for these reasons and, once we consider the circumstances of the text, is along with BWV 80, "Ein Feste Burg" one of the richest in historic reference to the conflict-world of the early Reformation.>>
Augsburg Confession Anniversary
The Cantata 126 Augsburg Confession 200th anniversary performance is documented in Thomas Braatz’s recently-compiled Cantata 126 BCW “Provenance,” with the exception of the specific parts, copyists, is found at http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Ref/BWV126-Ref.pdf. <<BWV 126 Erhalt uns, Herr, bei deinem Wort, Provenance [based upon NBA KB I/7 pp. 135ff. (Bärenreiter, 1957) report by Werner Neumann]
1. The Missing Autograph Score. The history of this score seems to be quite similar to that of BWV 125. [See the provenance of that cantata for further background.] The commentary here will complement the remarks made regarding that autograph score. Much revolves around the activities of Christian Friedrich Penzel (1737-1801) whose manuscript collection was inherited by his nephew Cantor Johann Gottlob Schuster (1765-1839) and later acquired in 1833 by Franz Hauser (1794-1870), a manuscript collector, who then sold what was left to the BB [Staatsbibliothek Berlin] in 1904 where it has the shelf number: Mus. ms. Bach P 1038.
After the set of original parts treated below, Penzel’s copy of the score is considered to be one of the most important sources for this cantata. The date of this copy can be placed into Penzel’s student days as a Thomaner in Leipzig. Even before July 9, 1755, the death of J. Gottlob Harrer (1703-1755), J. S. Bach’s successor as Thomaskantor, Penzel, as a choir prefect, assumed the direction of church music at the Thomaskirche on an interim basis during the time of Harrer’s long illness and absence in the spa at Carlsbad and until the installation of a new Thomaskantor, Johann Friedrich Doles (1715-1797), on January 30, 1756. The earliest date recorded on one of the Bach cantata score copies by Penzel is July 23, 1755. Penzel’s copies of Bach’s cantatas continued with Doles’ permission. These copies are dated and include the following years: 1756, 1759, 1761, 1767, 1768 and 1770. When some of the latest were copied, Penzel was already in charge of the cantorship for the city of Merseburg and no longer in Leipzig. Penzel performed BWV 126 on September 29, 1755. In addition to having the original parts at his disposal, he had later also prepared a personal copy of the score dated May 10, 1756, one which appears to reflect the same type of space-efficient arrangement that Bach himself would use (a good indication that Penzel was working from the original score which was still available to him in Leipzig). [Again, see the provenance of BWV 125 which appears to eliminate Wilhelm Friedemann Bach as the owner of this and other scores from this cantata cycle during the years following directly his father’s death.]
2. The Original Set of Parts. There are 13 original parts which most likely came into the possession of the Thomasschule in Leipzig through Anna Magdalena Bach, who gave them to the school after her husband’s demise. They are currently located temporarily in the Stadtarchiv Leipzig [no shelf number].
The folder that contains the original parts has the following title:
Dominica Sexagesimae | Erhalt uns Herr bey deinem Wort | a. 4 Voc: | 1 Tromba | 2 Hautbois | 2 Violini | Viola | col | Continuo | d. Sig. Joh. S. Bach
The copyists involved are:
+Johann Andreas Kuhnau (1703- after 1745), nephew of the Thomaskantor Johann Kuhnau for whom he also served as copyist beginning in 1718, stayed in Leipzig and later did copywork for Carl Gotthelf
Gerlach (1704-1761), organist at the Neukirche in Leipzig. For J. S. Bach he was the most prolific, main copyist from February 7, 1723 until December 30, 1727, thereafter only occasionally circa 1727.
+Christian Gottlob Meißner (1707-1760) a Thomaner from 1719-1729; attended Leipzig University beginning in 1729 while also serving as copyist for Carl Gotthelf Gerlach (1704-1761), organist at the Neukirche in Leipzig, then Cantor in Geithain (1731-1760). Very active as J. S. Bach’s copyist from February 7, 1723-December 30, 1728; then only occasionally during 1727-1731.
+Wilhelm Friedemann Bach (1710-1784) an external Thomaner from 1723-1729, enrolled at the University of Leipzig beginning in 1729, organist at the Sophienkirche in Dresden beginning in 1733, then organist at the Liebfrauenkirche in Halle 1746-1764 where he stayed until 1770, then in Braunschweig 1771-1773 and after that in Berlin from 1774-1784. Acted as copyist for his father from circa 1720-1733.
+Johann Heinrich Bach (1707-1738), a Thomaner from 1724 until probably 1728; Musician and Cantor in Öhringen (Hohenlohe) beginning in 1735. One of J. S. Bach’s copyists beginning December 26, 1724 until August 31, 1727, then his main copyist beginning January 1, 1726; another example of his work is from circa 1727.>>
Power of the Word
“The focal point of all three cantatas [for Septugesima, BWV 18, 181, and 126] is the overwhelming power of the Word,” says John Eliot Gardiner in his 2009 liner notes to the 2000 Bach Cantata Pilgrimage recordings on Soli Deo Gloria.7 “This week we had the challenge of tackling three of Bach’s most original and startlingly different pre-Lenten [for Sexagesima Sunday]. Despite their varied provenance, this trilogy might even have been performed in Leipzig within a twelve-month of one another: BWV 18 revived on 13 February 1724, perhaps before the sermon in the Nikolaikirche, and the newly-minted BWV 181 immediately after it, with BWV 126 following on 4 February less than a year later. The focal point of all three cantatas is the overwhelming power of the Word (qua spiritual manna from heaven) in the process of faith, the Gospel theme of the day (Luke 8:4-15), expressed, in the first two, through the parable of the sower. Even by his standards, Bach faces up to this challenge with exceptional intensity and ingenuity. Each of these cantatas is characterised by his vivid pictorial imagination, an arresting sense of drama, and by music of freshness and power that lodges in the memory.”
<<There is no discernible trace of the parable in BWV 126, “Erhalt uns, Herr, bei deinem Wort,” but the common thread is the emphasis on God’s Word. This is a stunning, combative work, a chorale cantata written in 1725 and based on a compilation of four strophes by Luther (Nos 1, 2, 3 and the first half of No.6), two by Justus Jonas (Nos 4 and 5) and one by Johann Walter (the second half of No.6), calling on God to destroy His enemies and bring peace and salvation to His people. Luther wrote his hymn for children to sing ‘against the two arch-enemies of Christ and His Holy Church’ – the Pope and the Turks. However politically incorrect, when viewed from the standpoint of Wittenberg in 1542 and with the Eastern war genuinely threatening the stability of Europe, this rousing battle hymn had some topical force: both the Turks and the Papacy were considered enemies of state and a threat to international law. It was this residual fear of Ottoman aggression that led mLuther to believe initially that the Turks were God’s agents, poised to strike at the heart of the Christian world on account of its sins. In fact the Ottoman invasions were, paradoxically, the distraction that prevented the Protestant revolt from being crushed early on, stoking the fears of imminent catastrophic change which led many to listen to Luther’s challenge to the church. The fact that Heinrich Schuütz sets the final double-decker chorale strophe ‘Verleih uns Frieden’ (Luther) and ‘Gib unsern Fürst’n’ (Walter) in 1648 at the end of the Thirty Years War is also understandable given that the Turks were never very far away from the Austrian border – and actually succeeded in besieging Vienna in 1683, around the time that Buxtehude set his ‘Erhalt uns/Verleih
uns/Gib unsern Fürst’n’ triptych.
Why Bach should have felt the need, or why he was compelled, to write such a bellicose cantata in 1725, when hostilities with the Turks had abated, and indeed at this point in the church year and not, say, on St Michael’s Day or the Reformation Day, is not entirely clear. Yet what a scintillating piece it is! The opening chorus is full of martial defiance and vigorous anapaestic rhythms. It is scored for trumpet, two oboes and strings. Bach tugs on his choir in the same way that he would pull out organ stops: on this occasion to convey a cumulative plea to sustain or uphold God’s Word against those murderous Papists and Turks. The frequent return of the opening four-note trumpet signal, itself a pre-echo of the chorale melody, and the long-held notes for the trumpet and voices, ensures that the words ‘Erhalt uns, Herr’ (‘Uphold us, Lord’) are always kept in the foreground, a technique he also uses for the final word ‘Thron’, prolonged over three whole bars to testify that God’s throne cannot be budged.
There follows one of Bach’s more technically testing tenor arias, initially genial and easy-going, then erupting in staccato semiquavers and demisemiquaver roulades to suggest first ‘gladness’ and then the scattering of the enemies’ ‘bitter mockery’. A secco recitative for alto and tenor (No.3) is punctuated by four slow restatements of the chorale tune, a prayer to ‘God, Holy Ghost, dear comforter’, now delivered as a soft and touching duet.
Drama returns with the bass aria (‘Stürze zu Boden’) with a virtuosic cello accompaniment. According to W. G. Whittaker, Bach’s ‘righteous indignation at the enemies of his faith was never expressed more fiercely than in this aria’.8 Visible on the drip mouldings of the windows above the entrance porch to Southwell Minster are ‘grotesques’, one of them depicting Judas being swallowed by Satan – an apposite parallel. In the secco recitative (No.5) the tenor changes the mood in preparation for the chorale setting of Luther’s prayer for peace (1531), a German vernacular translation of ‘Da pacem, Domine’, and its unmetrical sequel by Johann Walter. There is nothing perfunctory about Bach’s setting, with its stirring pleas for ‘Fried und gut Regiment’ (‘peace and good government’) and tender hopes for ‘a quiet and peaceful life’. In fact the most memorable phrase is reserved for the final three-bar ‘Amen’, a miraculous fusion of Tudor polyphony and Bachian counterpoint, which under the wooden barrel-vaulted roof of Southwell Minster acquired a transcendental beauty. © John Eliot Gardiner 2009; From a journal written in the course of the Bach Cantata Pilgrimage
Parable Seed: Word & Evil
The seed in the Parable of the Sower (Luke 8:4-15), representing the word of God, and the temptation of the faithful by the devil form “the points of association for the hymn that forms the basis of” Cantata 126, says
Klaus Hofmann in his liner notes to the Masaaki Suzuki BIS complete sacred cantata recordings.9 <<Bach’s cantata “Erhalt uns, Herr, bei deinem Wort” was heard for the first time in the main church service [of the Thomas Church] on Sexagesima Sunday, which that year fell on 4th February. The subject of the gospel reading for that day, Luke 8, verses 4-15, is Jesus’ parable of the Parable of the Sower, some of whose seed falls by the wayside, some upon a rock, some among thorns where their growth is choked. Some, however, falls on good ground and bears fruit a hundredfold. The seed represents the Word of God, and the negative examples in the parable describe the temptation of the faithful by the devil. This is the point of association for the hymn that forms the basis of the cantata, Erhalt uns, Herr, bei deinem Wort. Its text is a product of the Reformation’s combative mood of departure, and leaves little to be desired in terms of graphic imagery.
The hymn, which is still sung in the Evangelical Church today (with a less drastic text: ‘Erhalt uns, Herr, bei deinem Wort und steure deiner Feinde Mord’ [‘Preserve us, Lord, by Your word, and deflect the murderous intent of Your enemies’]), has a complicated history. The first three strophes were written by Martin Luther (1483-1546), to a melody based on a mediæval original. Luther’s poem was soon extended by two strophes by his fellow Reformer Justus Jonas (1493-1555). After that, however, the hymn was combined with two additional strophes, of different origin and melodically independent, and in this form it was commonly sung during Bach’s time in Leipzig. In addition to the verses by Jonas, Luther’s “Verleih uns Frieden gnädiglich” (Grant us peace mercifully) was added – based on the mediæval antiphon Da pacem Domine with a new melody. This hymn, however, was expanded both textually and musically by the inclusion of an additional strophe by Luther’s musical adviser Johann Walter (1496-1570), ‘Gib unsern Fürsten und aller Obrigkeit Fried und gut Regi ment’ (‘Give to our princes and all the authorities peace and good judgement’, after 1 Timothy 2, verse 2). The history of the hymn may from today’s perspective appear to have been dictated by coincidence and arbitrariness. In fact, however, people during the Reformation – and even in the eighteenth century – were well aware how greatly the ‘pure doctrine’ was dependent upon political circumstances.
As so often, Bach must have surprised the musical connoisseurs: the instrumental element of the introductory chorus is dominated by a trumpet whose part, contrary to all expectation, is in the minor key [a minor] and atthe same time articulates a militant attitude in what is, overall, a dramatic situation. Its signal motif, formed by using the notes of a triad, is omni present. As in most of the opening choruses of the chorale cantatas, the cantus firmus appears in long note values in the soprano; the three lower parts are either imitative or move in free polyphony – mostly without thematic connection, although at times they vividly emphasize important words of the text.
The tenor aria ‘Sende deine Macht von oben’ (‘Send Your power from on high’), with an exquisite accompaniment from two oboes, is an insistent prayer, in which Bach uses musical rhetoric to provide emphasis: the word ‘oben’ (‘on high’) is set to a high note, and the words ‘erfreuen’ (‘bring joy’) and ‘zerstreuen (‘dissipate’) are illustrated with virtuoso coloraturas.
The following recitative for alto and tenor is a most unusual artistic creation. From a textual point of view it is a trope, an expansion of the four-line original strophe by means of commentaries that precede or separate the lines; these commentaries interpret the hymn verse in a particular way. Bach has cast the entire movement in the form of a dialogue between two solo voices, thereby creating a fusion of recitative, arioso and chorale that is without equal in its era.
The bass aria ‘Sturze zu Boden, schwulstige Stolze’ (‘Fall to earth, bombastic pride’) – which, with its exhortation that God should destroy those who are arrogant, is reminiscent of the Magnificat and the words ‘He has put down the mighty from their thrones’ – is full of drama. This manifests itself not only in the lively, descriptive continuo part but also in the vocal line with its pathos-laden declamation, its laconic rhythms, its large intervals and its rhetorical pauses.
The melismatic treatment of the word ‘Amen’ lends a visionary quality to the simple four-part chorale setting which, as usual, concludes the cantata. © Klaus Hofmann 2006
1724-02-13 So - Cantata BWV 181 Leichtgesinnte Flattergeister (1st performance, Leipzig) + Cantata BWV 18 Gleichwie der Regen und Schnee vom Himmel fällt (2nd performance, Leipzig)
1725-02-04 So - Cantata BWV 126 Erhalt uns Herr, bei deinem Wort (1st performance, Leipzig)
1726-02-24 So - J.L. Bach: Cantata Darum sät euch Gerechtigkeit, JLB-4 (1st performance, Leipzig)
Vocal works with no definite date
(1743-1746) - Cantata BWV 181 Leichtgesinnte Flattergeister (2nd performance, Leipzig)
1 Cantata 126, BCW Details & Discography, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV126.htm.
2 OCC: JSB, ed. Malcolm Boyd (Oxford University Press: New York, 1999: 157).
3 Dürr, Cantatas of J. S. Bach, revised and translated by Richard D. P. Jones (Oxford University Press, New York, 2005: 240).
4 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: Sexagesima commentary, 571-573; Cantata 126, chorale text and Cantata 126 text with biblical references, 586-589; Cantata 126 commentary, 590-597).
5 Scoring, Soloists: Alto, Tenor, Bass; 4-part Chorus; Orchestra: trumpet, 2 oboes, 2 violins, viola, continuo. Score Vocal & Piano [2.01 MB], http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Scores/BWV126-V&P.pdf; Score BGA [1.98 MB], http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BGA/BWV126-BGA.pdf. References: BGA XXVI (Cantatas 120-129, Alfred Dörffel 1878), NBA KB I/7 (Sexagesima cantatas, Werner Neumann 1957), Bach Compendium BC A 46, Zwang K 112.
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 notes, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Pic-Rec-BIG/Gardiner-P20c[sdg153_gb].pdf; BCW Recording details, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Performers/Gardiner-Rec3.htm#P20.
8 Whittaker, The Cantatas of Johann Sebastian Bach (Oxford University Press: London, 1958: II: 447).
9 Hofmann liner notes, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Pic-Rec-BIG/Suzuki-C34c[BIS-SACD1551].pdf; BCW Recording notes, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Performers/Suzuki-Rec2.htm#C34