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Cantata BWV 127
Herr Jesu Christ, wahr' Mensch und Gott
Discussions - Part 5

Continue from Part 4

Discussions in the Week of February 22, 2015 (4th round)

William Hoffman wrote (February 22, 2015):
Cantata BWV 127, 'Herr Jesu Christ, wahr' Mensch und Gott,': Intro.

By tradition in Bach’s Leipzig the Sunday before Lent, also known as Quinquagesima Estomihi, was a special Sunday marking the beginning of the period of penitence and sacrifice. Bach in his cantatas for this day made a special effort to use chorales that relate to Jesus’ coming Passion and death on Good Friday as well as “musical highlights of the church year,” says Peter Wollny in his liner notes to Philippe Herreweghe’s recording of these works.1

Cantata 127, “Herr Jesu Christ, wahr' Mensch und Gott” (Lord Jesus Christ, true God and man), “was accordingly the final opportunity Leipzigers had of hearing music in church before the statutory tempus clausum that lasted until Vespers on Good Friday, and Bach seemed determined to leave them with music – four cantatas – that they wouldn’t easily forget [BWV 22, 23, 127, 159], says John Eliot Gardiner in his liner notes (see below). “This is particularly true of Chorale Cantata 127, which focuses on Paul Ebert’s popular 1562 funeral hymn” as well as two other hymns of mourning and consolation (“Christe, du Lamm Gottes” and “Herzlich tut mich verlangen”).

For Cantata 127, Bach provides 20 minutes of music in five movements, featuring an expansive opening chorale fantasia, the central soprano da-capo aria followed by a dramatic bass scena, and closing with the affirmative final congregational chorale.2 Echoing Alfred Dürr’s view (see below) that Bach put special emphasis on the composition of the Leipzig Estomihi cantatas, John Eliot Gardiner (see below), sees “a succession of works, each characterised by a colossally fertile musical brain and a prodigious musical imagination and capacity for invention, all held in check by an unparalleled technical mastery of the component parts; yet containing at the same time music that could appeal to the senses and nourish the spirit.”

The first performance of Cantata 127 was on February 11, 1725, at the early main service at the Nikolaikirche before the sermon of Superintendent Salomo Deyling (1677-1755) on the Gospel of Luke 18:31-43 (to Jerusalem 31-34, healing of blind man (35-43), says Martin Petzoldt in Bach Commentary, Vol. 2, Advent to Trintyfest.3

Readings, Texts, Chorale

Readings for Quinquagesima Estomihi are: Epistle: 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 (Paul’s Letter, “In praise of charity”); Gospel: Luke 18: 31-43 (Jesus, “We go up to Jerusalem,” Miracle, “The blind man receives sight”). The Quinquagesima Estomihi Sunday Gospel (Luke 18:31-43) has two distinct episodes, of Jesus telling the disciples of going to Jerusalem and his coming Passion as well as the miracle of sight restored to a blind man begging near Jericho. 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/Estomihi.htm.

|Introit Psalm for Quinquagesima Estomihi Sunday is Psalm 31, In te, Domine, speravi (In thee, O Lord, do I put my trust, KJV), says Petzoldt (Ibid.: 599). It also is known in German as “In dich hab' ich gehoffet Herr.” Polyphonic motet settings are found in
Jan Peter Sweelinck, http://www3.cpdl.org/wiki/index.php/In_te,_Domine,_speravi_(Jan_Pieterszoon_Sweelinck)
Heinrich Schütz, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_compositions_by_Heinrich_Schütz;
Josquin des Pres, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Josquin_des_Prez;
Nicolas Gombert, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aa4hXfDMPTA;
Orlando de Lassus, http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2013/Apr13/Rex_orbis_MEW1267.htm;
Hans Leo Hassler, http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2013/Apr13/Rex_orbis_MEW1267.htm;
Jean-Baptiste Lully, http://books.wwnorton.com/books/detail-contents.aspx?ID=13401; as well as Palestrina.

An explanation of this last pre-Lenten Sunday is found in the “Lutheran Church Year,” BCW http://www.bach-cantatas.com/LCY/Estomihi.htm: “Quinquagesima is the name for the Sunday before Ash Wednesday. It was also called Quinquagesima Sunday or Esto Mihi (Estomihi). The name originates from Latin quinquagesimus (fiftieth), referring to the 50 days before Easter Day using inclusive counting which counts both Sundays (normal counting would count only one of these). Since the 40 days of the Lenten fast included only weekdays, the first day of Lent, Ash Wednesday, succeeds Quinquagesima Sunday by only three days. The earliest Quinquagesima Sunday can occur is February 1 and the latest is March 7. The reforms of the Second Vatican Council included the elimination of this term for this Sunday (and the two immediately before it - Sexagesima and Septuagesima Sundays), and these Sundays are part of Ordinary Time. The contemporary service books of many Anglican provinces do not use the term but it remains in the Book of Common Prayer. According to the reformed Roman Rite Roman Catholic calendar, this Sunday is now known by its number within Ordinary Time - 4th through 9th, depending upon the date of Easter - or the 4th through the 9th Sunday after Epiphany in the contemporary Anglican calendars, and that of various Protestant polities. The extraordinary form of the Roman rite continues to refer to the Sunday prior to Ash Wednesday as Quinquagesima Sunday, and the two Sundays immediately preceding it as Sexagesima and Septuagesima Sundays.”

The text of Cantata 127 involves the Paul Eber chorale (Mvts. 1, 5 unaltered), and anonymous librettist (Mvts. 2-4 paraphrased), possibly Christian Friedrich Henricci (Picander). 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 German text and Francis Browne English translation are found at BCW http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Texts/BWV127-Eng3.htm

The Eber Chorale Text (8 stanzas, 6 lines), “Herr Jesu Christ, wahr Mensch und Gott” is found in Das Neu Leipziger Gesangbuch (NLGB) as No. 338 under the heading “Death and Dying” (Zahn melody No. 2570). A separate category of Lenten Passion chorales is found on the NLGB under the heading “Suffering and Death of Jesus Christ,” Nos. 61-85. The Eber text and Francis Browne English translation are found at BCW http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Texts/Chorale133-Eng3.htm. The Eber (1511-1569 BCW Short Biography is at http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Lib/Eber.htm. In Cantata 127 Bach uses Chorale Melody 1, “Befiehl du deine Wege” (I), Composer: Hans Leo Hassler (1601). Detailed information on these related Pamelodies and their texts is found at BCW, Chorale Melody, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/CM/Befiehl-du-deine-Wege.htm. A detailed account of the possible origins is found in Thomas Braatz’s “BCW article, Cantata BWV 127, Herr Jesu Christ, wahr' Mensch und Gott; Examples from the Score, Mvt. 1 - The Chorale Melody and Text” (November 19-20, 2004), http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Scores/BWV127-M1-Chorale.htm.

The NLGB lists the prescribed chorales for Estomihi Sunday, with “Durch Adams Fall ich ganz verderbt,” as the Hymn of the Day, a Justification Trinity Time chorale, as well as “O wir Armen Sünder,” a Passion chorale for sermon and communion and as two Michael Weise Passion chorales Bach did not set, “Die Propheten han geprophezeit” and “Sündiger Mensch schau wer du bist.”

Cantata 127 Movements, Scoring, Texts, Key and Meter are:4

1. Chorus fantasia (Stanza 1 unaltered) in three parts with ritornelli [SATB; Flauto I/II, Oboe I/II, Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo]: A. “Herr Jesu Christ, wahr' Mensch und Gott” . . . / Für mich am Kreuz auch endlich starbst” (Lord Jesus Christ, true God and man) . . . / who finally died for me on the cross); B. “Und mir deins Vaters Huld erwarbst” (and gained for me grace from your father); C. “Du wollst mir Sünder gnädig sein.” (May it be your will to be merciful to me a sinner.); F major, 4/4.
2. Recitative secco (Stanzas 2-3 paraphrased) [Tenor, Continuo): “Wenn alles sich zur letzten Zeit entsetzet, . . . / Genug, dass da der Glaube weiß, / Dass Jesus bei mir steht” (when everybody is terrified of the last time . . . / it is enough, that then faith knows / that Jesus stands by me); B-flat major to F major; 4/4.
3. Aria da-capo ((Stanza 4), winds with strings in B section [Soprano; Flauto I/II, Oboe I, Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo: “Die Seele ruht in Jesu Händen” (My soul rests in the hands of Jesus); B. “Ach ruft mich bald, ihr Sterbeglocken” (Ah, call me soon, you funeral bells); c minor, 4/4.
4. Scena: Recitative and Aria (Stanzas 5-7 paraphrased) [Bass; Tromba, Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo]: Recit., “Wenn einstens die Posaunen schallen” (When one day the trumpets sound); aria, “Er wird nicht kommen ins Gericht” (he will not come to judgement); 6/8 “Ich breche mit starker und helfender Hand” (I break with strong and helping hand); recit. repeat, “Fürwahr, fürwahr, euch sage ich: / Wenn Himmel und Erde im Feuer vergehen, / So soll doch ein Gläubiger ewig bestehen.” (truly truly I say to you: / even if heaven and earth perish in fire / He who believes shall endure forever); C major, mostly 4/4.
5. Chorale four-part (Stanza 8 unaltered) [S, A, T, B; Flauto I/II in octava e Oboe I/II e Violino I col Soprano, Violino II coll'Alto, Viola col Tenore, Continuo]: “Ach, Herr, vergib all unsre Schuld” (Lord, pardon all our guilt); F major, 4/4.

Cantatas 22-23, Chorale Cantata Cycle Ends

A comparison with Cantatas 22 and 23 and the end of Bach’s chorale cantata cycle are discussed in Julian Mincham’s introductory Commentary, “Chapter 40 BWV 127 Herr Jesu Christ, wahr' Mensch und Gott,” http://www.jsbachcantatas.com/documents/chapter-40-bwv-127.htm. 5 << We have now arrived at the penultimate work before Bach abandoned, at least for the time being, his composition of chorale fantasias. It is for the Sunday before Lent, during which time music was generally absent from services. Between this and the Easter celebrations, only C 1 (chapter 41) would be performed. That work, for the Annunciation, was the last of a solid block of forty chorale fantasia cantatas that had begun with C 20, over nine months previously.

C 127 may be compared with Cs 22 and 23 (vol 1, chapters 44 & 45), both written for the same Sunday and surviving as a part of the first Leipzig cycle. Their full history is beyond the scope of this chapter, but it is generally believed that they were also performed as part of Bach's audition for his Leipzig post. There is no equivalent work from the third cycle but C 159 (vol 3, chapter 41), also composed for this day, is one of less than a dozen surviving from the fourth. It is, however, a much more intimate work with the choir making its appearance only in the closing chorale.

Whether or not Bach knew at this stage that he was coming to the end of his cycle of chorale fantasias is a matter of conjecture (see further discussion on this point in Chapters 1 and 42). What is unarguable, however, is that he displays no lack of commitment in these final works. He is certainly not running out of steam because the final two fantasias (Cs 127 and 1) are magnificent pieces, combining the highest degree of technical skill with incomparable artistry and invention. These are amongst the very best cantatas in what, by any standards, must be judged to be an outstanding and unique canon of work.>>

Commentaries on Cantata 127

Commentaries on Cantata 127 by leading scholars are found in Thomas Braatz’s BCW article (November 27-28, 2004), http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Guide/BWV127-Guide.htm. They are: hilipp Spitta: "Johann Sebastian Bach"; Albert Schweitzer: "J. S. Bach"; Woldemar Voigt: "Die Kirchenkantaten Joh. Seb. Bach’s"; Friedrich Smend: "J. S. Bach: Kirchen-Kantaten"; W. Gillies Whittaker: "The Cantatas of Johann Sebastian Bach"; Alfred Dürr: "Johann Sebastian Bach: Die Kantaten"; Alec Robertson: "The Church Cantatas of J. S. Bach"; Ludwig Finscher: Commentary to Harnoncourt/Leonhardt Complete Cantata Series on Teldex; Eric Chafe: Section on the SMP in “Tonal Allegory in the Vocal Music of J. S. Bach”; Eric Chafe: “Analyzing Bach Cantatas”; and Christoph Wolff: Liner Notes to Koopman Cantata Series.

Here is Peter Smaill’s brief Commentary, Peter Smaill wrote (March 17, 2007, BCML Discusssions Part 3, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV127-D3.htm): <<If in any difficulty in identifying the German chorale incipit of the Agnus Dei, "Christe du Lamm Gottes", in BWV 127/1, the solution is to listen to John Eliot Gardiner's 2000 Pilgrimage recording (Vol 21., released last year on SDG label).

JEG takes the radical step of actually singing the chorale using the choristers of Clare and Trinity Colleges to belt it out as it were as a cantus firmus. He adapts the introductory ritornello such that the supplementary choirs immediately introduce the Agnus Dei, which they seem to then sings antiphonally as the main Monteverdi choir sings the incipit, "Herr Jesu Christ, Wahr' Mensch und Gott".

The more conventional treatment is included as an appendix. The justification given for the new treatment in the main body of the CD is the unfamiliarity of modern listeners with the Chorales. You certainly cannot miss the unique combination in this version of the Cantata of two whole chorales interspersed (often there is, as I argued last week, a snippet of one but not AFAIK anything else like BWV 127).

JEG points out the stylistic similarity of much of the writing of BWV 127/4 with the SMP and even dares speculate that the SMP was already being written, on stylistic grounds, at the same time. The unique orchestration of BWV 127/3 could also be used as a parallel with the amazing orchestral effects also found there, and the use of a chorale as a descant has parallels with the treatment of "Christe, du Lamm Gottes", just discussed.

All Bach's settings for this Quinquagesima Sunday are of exceptional quality and this last Sunday before Lent confirms the theological importance of the Incarnation and Atonement doctrines for Bach in the context of the choosing of the disciples since he rises to the occasion with some of the most exquisite music of the Cantatas - BWV 22-5; BWV 23-4; BWV 127-1 127-3; and BWV 159- 4 and 5 come to mind.>>

Wollny’s Commentary

Here is my Commentary (BCML Discussions, Part 4, William Hoffman wrote (May 2, 2010, BCML Discussion Part 4, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV127-D4.htm): <<Cantata 127: Estomihi & Fugitive Notes: The most recent recording of Bach’s cantatas for Quinquagesima Sunday (Estomihi) (the last Sunday before Lent), is “Jesu, deine Passion,” Philippe Herreweghe, Collegium Vocale Gent, Harmonia Mundi France 901998. The informative notes on Cantatas BWV 22, BWV 23, BWV 127 and BWV 159 are written by Peter Wollny. He is director of Bach-Archivs Leipzig, the editor of the <Bach Jahrbuch> and has an article in the current 2009 edition, “Observations on the Autograph of Bach’s Mass in B Minor,” (BWV 232) as well as a paper to be delivered next weekend at the American Bach Society Biennial meeting, “Bach’s Cantata Performances in the 1730s – New Findings, New Perspectives.”

Citing the “special place” of Estomihi Sunday in Leipzig, Wollny says Bach “quite deliberately designed his cantatas intended for this day as musical highlights of the church year.” The sister probe pieces, Cantatas BWV 22 and BWV 23, showed his “full technical capacities” and his “artistic program.”

Chorale Cantata BWV 127 of 1725 is “at once the highpoint and the conclusion” of the abbreviated chorale cantata cycle, says Wollny. Calling the opening fantasia chorus “monumental” (a term usually reserved for Bach’s opening Passion choruses), Wollny notes that BWV 127/1 “once again recapitulates all the ingenious compositional devices of chorale arrangement.” He calls the soprano aria, “Die Seele ruht in Jesu Händed” (The soul will rest in Jesus’ hands) “a particular gem.” The next movement, between bass recitative and aria, “Wenn einstens die Posaunen schallen” (When one day the trumpets sound), is a “dramatic depiction of the Day of Judgement.” I would add that, like Handel’s setting of 1 Corinthians 15:52, Bach uses a bass and trumpet, 15 years before “Messiah.” It also could be Bach’s “Dies ire” without the chant. Also, note the reference to trombones (Posaunen), which also is found in Brahms “A German Requiem.”

Picander’s contribution to Estomihi, BWV 159 of 1729, “Seht, wir gehn hinauf gen Jeusalem” (Behold, we go up to Jerusalem), is one of only ten surviving cantatas from his full 70-work cycle. Wollny points out its connection to the sound-world of the concurrent St. Matthew Passion (BWV 244), particularly in the chorale strophe, “Ich will hier bei dir stehen,” inserted into the alto aria “Ich folge dir nacht,” the bass aria “Es ist vollbracht,” and the concluding chorale, “Jesu, deine Passion.” Wollny calls Cantata BWV 159 an “impressive work, which may be seen as one of the peaks of Bach’s cantata output.”

While there is no evidence yet that Bach repeated Cantatas BWV 127 and BWV 159, the sister Cantatas BWV 22 and BWV 23 may have been presented in some form in 1724, 1727, and 1730. There is no record for Estomihi 1728 but Bach did present another work on March 3, 1726 -- Johann Ludwig Bach’s Cantata JLB 5, “Ja mir du arbeit gemacht” (Yes, now hast thou labor made). It is a full 20-minute, two-part piece with eight movements and there is a recording, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Performers/Max.htm, P-2, Hermann Max, Carus CD. Scored for SATB solos, chorus and strings, it has the usual Old Testament dictum from Isaiah in the opening bass aria and Gospel quotation from Luke in the bass recitative ending Part 1. The second part has a soprano aria and recitative in Rudolstadt penitential Passion mood and closes with two stanzas of Johann Heermann’s “Herzliebster Jesu, was hast du verbrochen.”>>

Gardiner’s Commentary

The “succession of works” cited above “is a case in point (for) an elegiac chorale fantasia opening Cantata 127, comments John Gardiner in his 2006 liner notes for the 2000 Bach Cantata Pilgrimage on Soli Deo Gloria Deo recordings.6 <<The opening movement of BWV 127 Herr Jesu Christ, wahr’ Mensch und Gott is a case in point, an elegiac chorale fantasia in which Bach combines Paul Eber’s hymn of 1562 with a text-less presentation of the Lutheran Agnus Dei and, in case that were not enough, several references in the basso continuo to the Passion chorale ‘Herzlich tut mich verlangen’. There is nothing remotely bombastic or confused in Bach’s composition of this movement; nor academic, smart-arsed or tendentious. It is arresting in its musical presentation of the dualism of God and man and the relationship of theindividual believer to Christ’s cross and Passion. I took the radical step of asking the Clare and Trinity choirs to join in by adding the appropriate German words to the Agnus Dei strophes, since that reference would be lost on a contemporary non-Lutheran audience. With undergraduate sopranos and altos on opposite wings of the centrally arrayed Monteverdi Choir, the whole movement acquired the proportions of a choral triptych (or a mini ‘Three Choirs Festival’); it sounded vibrant and stirring, and gave an inkling of how the St Matthew Passion might have sounded in the 1730s, its double chorus augmented by a third choir singing from the ‘swallow’s nest’ gallery in St Thomas’s. (For those who prefer their Bach untampered with, we have included the original version as an additional track, recorded at our final rehearsal.)

The following recitative for tenor links the individual’s thoughts on death to the path prepared by Jesus’ own patient journey towards his crucifixion and acts as a bridge from the F major chorus to the extended C minor ‘sleep aria’ (No.3). This is for soprano with oboe obbligato – plus staccato quaver reiterations by two recorders and a pizzicato bass line, the second occasion this year in which we have encountered Bach’s use of pizzicato strings to represent funeral bells. Then just in case anyone happened to have nodded off in this mesmeric and ravishing aria, Bach calls for a trumpet to add to the full string band in a grand, tableau-like evocation of the Last Judgement (No.4), replete with triple occurrences of a wild 6/8 section when all hell is let loose in true Monteverdian concitato (‘excited’) manner. Theologically and musically this is highly complex, sophisticated and innovative. It is also against the run of play of Bach’s second Leipzig cycle, where several factors combine to limit the available opportunities of experimentation with new forms: (a) the more uniform character of his libretti compared with the Biblical compilations of his earlier cantatas; (b) the self-imposed task of composing new church music each week and maintaining that rhythm well into the second year; (c) the standardisation of cantata form caused by the popularity of the Neumeister type (chorus – recitative – aria – chorus); and (d) the frequent lack of imagination shown by several of his librettists. Later on, of course he did experiment, or, as Gillies Whittaker puts it [p.448], ‘we find examples where he seems to be reaching out to those plastic and connected groups of movements with which Mozart achieved such miracles in his operatic finales.’

The seven sub-sections of BWV 127 No.4 are a good example: in essence this pairing of accompanied recitative and aria is made up of three alternating sections. First, there is an opening restless accompagnato with no discernible tonal centre, for trumpet and strings, painting the Day of Judgment. Next, an arioso in G minor (‘Fürwahr, fürwahr’) quoting the choral melody on which the cantata is founded, and finally the 6/8 section with scurrying strings and trumpet fanfares to illustrate man’s rescue from the violent bonds of death. It is in this last section that Bach quotes – or pre-echoes – the spectacular double chorus ‘Sind Blitze, sind Donner’ from the St Matthew Passion. Now, if the chorus predates the bass aria, that has fascinating implications for re-dating the St Matthew, which until 1975 was thought to have been composed for Good Friday 1729, but since then has been brought forward by two years. Was Bach already composing the St Matthew in 1724/1725, during the time he was engaged in composing his second Jahrgang of chorale cantatas? If so, it raises the possibility that he conceived the St Matthew as a kind of ‘chorale Passion’, and certainly he makes rather more extensive use of four-part chorales in the St Matthew than in the St John, as well aswriting extensive chorale movements to open and close Part I. But regardless of when precisely he began the St Matthew, it looks as if Bach’s initial intentions at Leipzig were even more grandiose than scholars have hitherto supposed, and that at his appointment he set himself the task of presenting his own music, mostly newly-composed, some of it re-cast from his Weimar years, for at least the first two Jahrgänge, each cycle culminating with a Passion setting: highly controversial in the case of the St John in 1724, and in the case of the St Matthew, ground-breaking and far more time-consuming than he had expected, and needing therefore to be deferred for a further two years.>>
© John Eliot Gardiner 2006, From a journal written in the course of the Bach Cantata Pilgrimage.

Eber Chorale Melody Source

The original source of the melody in Eber’s hymn is cited in Klaus Hofmann 2006 liner notes to the Masaaki Suzuki BIS recording of the complete sacred cantatas.7 <<Bach composed the cantata “Herr Jesu Christ, wahr’ Mensch und Gott” for the so-called Estomihi Sunday in 1725, and it was performed at the Leipzig service on 11th February of that year, a week after “Erhalt uns, Herr, bei deinem Wort” [Cantata 126]. This Sunday, which takes its name from the first words of the Latin antiphon sung on that day (‘Be a firm rock for me’), is the last Sunday before Passiontide, with which it is already associated. The gospel passage for this day, Luke 18, verses 31-43, has a twofold message: it tells how Jesus announces his suffering to the disciples, and it relates the healing of a blind beggar who, as Jesus and his disciples pass by, calls to him with the words: ‘Jesus, thou Son of David, have mercy on me’ and refuses to be silenced by the multitude around Jesus until the latter heals him with the words: ‘Receive thy sight: thy faith hath saved thee’. The hymn on which the cantata is based, Herr Jesu Christ, wahr’ Mensch und Gott, can be traced back to the Melancthon pupil Paul Eber (1511-1569) from the Wittenberg circle of reformers; the melody is from the Genevan psalter of Loys Bourgeois (c. 1510-after 1560). It is in fact a song of death, which directs our gaze from the suffering ‘man and God’ Jesus Christ, dying on the cross, to our own death and thence to resurrection and judgement, ending with a plea for the forgiveness of sins and for the consolidation of our faith.

The orchestra for the introductory chorus calls for strings and oboes and also for a pair of recorders, which lend mildness and softness to the sonority, as befits a meditative anticipation of the Passion of Christ. In its basic structure the movement corresponds to the type predominantly found in the chorale cantatas; what is unusual, though, is the way this convention is applied. The most important theme of the instrumental introduction - heard first from the oboes, followed by the recorders, the continuo and finally the violins and violas – is derived from the beginning of the hymn melody, but the note values are reduced by half, from crotchets to quavers. As soon as the choir enters, it is also heard in the vocal lines. The unusual feature is that it is heard incessantly, sometimes in modified form, in every (or at least every other) bar, unmistakable with its pounding repeated notes at the beginning: in short, it is omnipresent.

Another feature is unusual: within the course of the music, as an additional cantus firmus, Bach quotes the Passion chorale Christe, du Lamm Gottes, der du trägst die Sünd der Welt, erbarm dich unser (O Christ, Thou Lamb of God, that takest away the sin of the world, have mercy upon us). From Bach’s point of view this may have served as a kind of announcement. After Estomihi Sunday, music other than congregational hymns was by tradition not heard in Leipzig for the duration of Passiontide (with the exception of the Feast of the Annunciation on 25th March); music returned at Vespers on Good Friday. On Good Friday in 1725, however, Bach’s St. John Passion was performed in a version that ended with the chorale “Christe, du Lamm Gottes.”

Certainty of belief and a longing for death are combined in the soprano aria with the words ‘Die Seele ruht in Jesu Händen, wenn Erde diesen Leib bedeckt’ (‘The soul will rest in Jesus’ hands, when earth covers this body’) and ‘Ach, ruft mich bald, ihr Sterbeglocken!’ (‘Oh, call me soon, ye knells of death’). For this text Bach wrote one of his most beautiful and individual cantata arias. From the distinctive background of a chordal accompaniment played staccato by the recorders and pizzicato by the continuo, an expressive oboe cantilena emerges and is combined with the vocal line in a duet of almost heavenly peace and rapture. In the middle part of the aria, however, a minor musical miracle occurs: at the word ‘Sterbe glocken’ (‘knells of death’) the strings enter unexpectedly; it is almost as if we hear the sound of the knell itself.

The bass solo ‘Wenn einstens die Posaunen schallen’ (‘When one day the trumpets sound’) forms the greatest possible contrast. It describes the Last Judgement; both textually and musically, a dramatic scenario unfolds. With a signal – familiar at the time – of sovereignty (which recurs in the Christmas Oratorio), the trumpet announces the approach of the world’s ruler, and orchestral tremoli illustrate the collapse of the universe. The opening recitative leads straight into an aria, the beginning of which (‘Fürwahr, fürwahr, euch sage ich’ [‘Verily, verily I say unto you’]) is taken directly from the hymn and also alludes to the beginning of the hymn melody. This section, too, is full of dramatic contrasts: arioso-like passages declaimed with relative calm, ac companied only by the continuo, alternate with tumultuous tutti outbursts.

The simple four-part final chorale concludes with an exquisite sequence of harmonies that lends a dreamlike quality to the words ‘bis wir ein schlafen seliglich’ (‘until we slumber blessedly’).>> © Klaus Hofmann 2006

Bach’s Quinquagesima Estomihi Leipzig performance calendar:

1723-02-07 So – Probe: Cantata BWV 22 Jesus nahm zu sich die Zwölfe (1st performance, Leipzig) + Cantata BWV 23 Du wahrer Gott und Davids Sohn (1st performance, Leipzig)
1724-02-20 So - Cantata BWV 22 Jesus nahm zu sich die Zwölfe (2nd performance, Leipzig) + Cantata BWV 23 Du wahrer Gott und Davids Sohn (2nd performance, Leipzig)
1725-02-11 So - Cantata BWV 127 Herr Jesu Christ, wahr' Mensch und Gott (1st performance, Leipzig)
1726-03-03 So - J.L. Bach: Cantata Ja, mir hast du Arbeit gemacht, JLB-5 (1st performance, Leipzig)
1727-02-23 So – no record
1728-02-08 So – no record
1729-02-27 So - Cantata BWV 159 Sehet! wir gehn hinauf gen Jerusalem (1st performance, Leipzig)
1735-02-20 So – no record
1736-02-12 So Estomihi - G.H. Stölzel: Siehe, das ist Gottes Lamm, welches der Welt Sünde trägt [Not extant]

The Provenance of Thomas Braatz, February 9, 2015 (BWV127HerrJesuChristProvenance.pdf) talks at length about the possibility that Friedemann did not inherit all the scores of the chorale cantatas, including BWV 127. <<BWV 127 Herr Jesu Christ, wahr’ Mensch und Gott [Information based on NBA KB 8.1-2 pp. 60-75 (Bärenreiter, 1998) report by Christoph Wolff/Karla Neschke]

Provenance The Sources: A. The Autograph Score

Location: BB [Staatsbibliothek Berlin, shelf #: Mus. ms. Bach P 872.]

The first documented owner of this score is a cantor from Oelsnitz, Johann Georg Nacke (1718-1804), who, probably as early as 1760, had presumably obtained from Wilhelm Friedemann Bach this score along with other autograph manuscripts. Nacke’s manuscripts were later inherited by his successor as cantor, Johann Gottlob Schuster (1765-1839) in whose manuscript catalogue it appears as #19 on p. 123. Franz Hauser (1794-1870), an important manuscript collector who already owned many Bach manuscripts, purchased the entire Schuster collection in 1833. In 1904 the BB [Staatsbibliothek Berlin] acquired Hauser’s very extensive collection of Bach manuscripts.

[Note: the NBA KB on pp. 60 and 66 has used a number of words like ‘wohl’, ‘wahrscheinlich’ to indicate a possible uncertainty about W. F. Bach havinherited this score + doublets. This could very likely apply to many other autograph scores and doublets which he had been conjectured to have inherited. {See Yoshitake Kobayashi, Zur Teilung des Bachschen Erbes, in: Acht kleine Präludien und Studien über BACH, Festschrift für Georg von Dadelsen zum 70. Geburtstag, (Wiesbaden, 1992) p. 69. On p. 28 of the NBA KB I/28.1, Uwe Wolf summarizes from this as follows: “Until recently it has been assumed that the scores and doublets for the chorale cantatas had been promised to W. F. Bach and that Christian Friedrich Penzel (1737-1801) had obtained them directly from him. Yoshitake Kobayashi has opened the dialogue to include the possibility that one of J. S. Bach’s daughters, Elisabeth Juliana Friederica Altnickol, née Bach, (1726-1781) inherited them as an inheritance trustee for Gottfried Heinrich Bach until he would achieve legal adulthood. This might explain how her husband, Johann Christoph Altnickol (1719-1759), was able to continue to make his own copies from the J. S. Bach autograph scores as was the case with BWV 125.”}]

On the title page J. S. Bach wrote the following:

Dominica Esto mihi | Herr Jesu Christ, wahr Mensch u. Gott | á | 4 Voci | 1 Tromba | 2 Flauti | 2 Hautbois | 2 Violini | Viola | e | Continuo | di | J: S: Bach.
[The 1 Tromba part which was to be used for the obbligato part in mvt. 4 is missing and nothing is known about what might have happened to it.]

On top of the first page of the actual score Bach wrote:
J. J. Dô[min]ica Esto mihi Herr Jesu Christ wahr Mensch und Gott.

Charles Francis wrote (February 22, 2015):
There’s plenty of online performances of this lovely cantata. Three videos that caught my attention are linked below:

From Germany: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CbI5d-HbM9A
From France: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=coofJpQPEJc
Collaboration of the late Gustav Leonhardt, Philippe Herreweghe, Heinz Hennig etc.: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XBPYmcr14eU

Stephen Clarke wrote (February 23, 2015):
[To Charles Francis] Thank you for this, Charles. "Soli YouTube Gloria", one might say.

One slight note: Altho an excellent video/audio production by the Berlin group, I must say I found their "perky" performance (of the opening Coro) utterly unsuited to the profound sentiments of the text - the suffering, scorn and death of Christ on the Cross. Bach himself may have chosen to emphasize the grace and mercy that resulted - still an aspect full of gravitas - but from the affect of the performance alone, I would be hard pressed to infer that anything terribly significant was going on. Is this an artifact of a secular culture or am I missing some larger musical point?

Charles Francis wrote (February 23, 2015):
[To Stephen Clarke] It’s a paradigm that’s been around for a while. Indeed, some 15 years ago I made a similar point elsewhere:

‘Based on the latest Historically Informed Performance, Herreweghe offers a radical interpretation of the Christian drama. Gone is the agony and grief suggested by "Come ye daughters, share my mourning ... he himself his cross is bearing" and in its place a jaunty opening chorus reflecting the joy of the liberating crucifixion. Jesus will, after all, rise again in three days bringing victory - and in the meantime the demons are happy.’

Even Rilling got on board with a SMP remake, his CD notes suggesting pity was not an appropriate emotion for God’s plan (I paraphrase).

Stephen Clarke wrote (February 24, 2015):
[To Charles Francis] Hmmm . . . well said. But strange; I have not yet heard Herreweghe's BWV 127 but I would have thought he'd be one of the last ones to climb on board that paradigm. Did you have a particular performance/recording in mind?

SMP . . . ?

Paul Beckman wrote (February 24, 2015):
Funny that Rilling would make that kind of statement, given that, in his Discovery Lecture on the St. Matthew Passion (summer of 2012: http://oregonbachfestival.com/digital-bach-project/discovery/discovery-st-matthew-passion), he regularly offers what I believe to be a much more complex, and appropriate, reading and rendering of text and music, which holds in tension the profound dialectic of sorrow (our sin, the sacrifice, the violence, the suffering) and joy (God's pleasure, our redemption, Jesus' obedience, etc.).

Obviously, one can take the opening chorus so slowly that it becomes a dirge (Richter's ten minute version), but something "jaunty" hardly seems to catch Bach's subtlety.

I must say, however, that Herreweghe's 1999 version isn't so quick that it runs through the grace without getting wet.

Charles Francis wrote (February 24, 2015):
Paul Beckman wrote:
‘...Obviously, one can take the opening chorus so slowly that it becomes a dirge (Richter's ten minute version)...’
So you’re suggesting it isn’t a dirge? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dirge

Paul Beckman wrote (February 24, 2015):
[To Chaeles Francis] Yes, I am suggesting that it is meant to capture something between funereal (the dirge) and "jaunty" (quoted in the original post); perhaps something like a mournful ecstasy that blends the beauty of Jesus' sacrifice, the glory of his obedience and the coming reward, and the tragedy of our sin being behind that sacrifice. To my ear, Suzuki is about right, although I think Gardiner and Herreweghe do OK, despite their "haste."

Probably just one of those de gustibus non est disputandum kinds of things.

Stephen Clarke wrote (February 24, 2015):
[To Paul Beckman] I shall suss Suzuki on this, prob. via CD (SACD!/?) but is there a YouTube also for a quick check? I am listening to Gardiner and find he does not lack in devotion or overall impact.The absolutely top-notch recording quality (acoustics, miking, production technology, etc.) of the SDG releases is no small contributing factor, either.

"Dirge": this could be a different discussion if it goes anywhere; I will start another thread if so - but I am thinking long these lines: the sense of tragedy of the crucifixion described in the 1st. mov. is only compounded if one considers that the standard christian doctrine of Jesus' sacrificial suffering falters at a crucial point (this is implied or left open for consideration in certain variants of christian gnosis - pagan (i.e.: indigenous), Rosicrucian and kabbalistic outliers, etc.). The gist is that although Jesus did need to carry the Christ through death, the element of tragedy was optional on the part of the accusers. He could have been honored and passed through as the fully incarnated carrier of the Rite of the Sacrificial King, according to longstanding and widespread Goddess-worship traditions, even up to and including that of the Mesoamerican of the time (sic).

Thus the real tragedy is that the humiliation of the god instead of the honoring; the complete failure of the human race at that point in time to rise to the occasion and that, against the opposing forces, it was such a narrowly-run thing - it really was at risk of failure, for unimaginable consequences. If you take the mythos seriously, as I do.

The relevant point for me is that, even with all this in mind, Bach's music still can carry the weight. Did Bach know or even suspect any of this? Probably not; there's no place for this in the Lutheran catechism and he would have been run of of town on rails if anyone had suspected him of suspecting any of this so the likelihood of any documentation of it if so is nil. Sheer professional skill alone is hardly adequate to account for the integrity of the cantata as a whole. But his religious intuition and artistic sensibility, arising from convicted belief was acute enough to be able to sustain such an intuition. This is one big reason why I love the guy.

I invite anyone on board here to respond as they see fit. If not, enough said

Aryeh Oron wrote (February 27, 2015):
CBWV 127 - Revised & updated Discography

The discography pages of the Chorale Cantata BWV 127 "Herr Jesu Christ, wahr' Mensch und Gott" for for Quinquagesima Sunday [Estomihi] on the BCW have been revised and updated.
The cantata is scored for soprano, tenor & bass soloists; 4-part chorus; and orchestra of trumpet, oboe, 2 flutes, 2 violins, viola& continuo. See:
Complete Recordings (17): http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV127.htm
Recordings of Individual Movements (33): http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV127-2.htm
The revised discography includes many listening/watching options to recordings directly from the discography pages, just below the recording details.

I also put at the BCW Home Page: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/
2 audios and 2 videos of 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 and detailed discography of this chorale cantata. If you are aware of a recording of BWV 127 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/BWV127-D5.htm

Stephen Clarke wrote (February 28, 2015):
Cantata BWV 127 - finale?

[To Aryeh Oron] Good Morning BCML members:
It is with regret that this week's discussion on #127 is passing with so little remark. At least compared to the previous years' discussions, which I have read through with great interest. Now, as for others, one of my favorites; a particularly unified effort on the part of JSB. The general integration of the cantata (cycle!) with the liturgical year is, of course obvious, but I had not considered it in detail with respect to this cantata, but I have since found it deeply significant, esp. for one who tries to live the mythos.

I have been becoming more and more familiar with JSB's cantata works over the last several years, with increasing admiration and affection but it was not until I joined the group in the discussion for #126 that I have had my most recent shift in perception. Something new within my mind and heart opened up for the intention and inspiration behind or within them - these two in particular. I could go on if there was a conversation possible but I will err on the side of caution lest I provoke into panic the kind of list member who cannot stand a little heresy - I mean the kind of heresy against the prevailing secular consensus as well as the standard religious superstitions. I speak from the standpoint of the Old Wig himself, of course, but I will keep my further opinions to myself.
Many thanks to the persons responsible and contributing to such a worthy project as the Bach Cantata group! I look forward to many more episodes!

Julian Mincham wrote (February 28, 2015):
[To Stephen Clarke] Stephen I sympathise with your view. I think the reason that so little discussion develops nowadays is that a number of the old hands have been on the list for 15 years or more and feel that they have said everything they want to say about these wonderful works---in more than one discussion round. That seems to be the case with me and I simply refer people to my essays on the website and to the comprehensive discussions which a number of people have contributed to in the past on this website.

Maybe a new influx of cantata fans is needed (like yourself) to promte further rounds of comment and debate.

Peter Smaill wrote (February 28, 2015):
With the decline in recent dialogue there may be many who concur with Julian's analysis: but the appeal of the Cantatas is never a closed shop!

After Dürr, Robertson, Schulze and Whittaker have been exhausted there are however the delights of the Francophone take, and here the amazing 1658 page work on the Cantatas by Gilles Cantagrel offer a challenge .

Quoting the great French scholar Andre Pirro, he says (I translate):

"Pirro specially analyses at length this Cantata; in a long paragraph one notably observes:

"If you seek the grounds for the vehement descriptive character of the work, and of the disorderly hurricane of imagery, look to the sermons of Martin Luther; then understand the haranguing of Bach! The prose is agitated, emphatic, and full of battle cries. Go see which is most expressive, and you conclude that it is Luther with his verbal dexterity (onomatopoeia) that is the musician; and Bach, with his word-painting and order, that is the orator....""

High flown? Or the heart of the matter?

Stephen Clarke wrote (March 1, 2015):
[To Peter Smaill:] "High flown? Or the heart of the matter?": I m totally unfamiliar with any of the Bach material from France but Pirro's remark is so brilliant that it is easy to agree. Also have noted the debate about Bach the 'Fifth Evangelist'; I think one could make a good case for that but Bach was certainly Luther's evangelist! As a result of contemplating the union of music and text for BWV 126 & BWV 127, even tho I would not be prone to relive the christianity of my youth, I think I might start investigating the Lutheranism of the 17th C. Those guys really walked their talk. The purple prose of the cantata librettists is no longer in fashion but their devotion is plain. That's worth something, and Bach took simple pious devotion to a whole new level. In Bach, devotion becomes knowledge, free from print or letter, almost back to the plastic living quality of oral tradition (here I am thinking of the oral traditions of those who have never had their traditions fixed into the little of what is possible in literacy).

Just some thoughts.

Thomas Savary wrote (March 1, 2015):
[To Stephen Clarke & Julian Mincham] Hello Stephen, and everyone!

I feel very sorry myself for not contributing to this discussion. BWV 127 is one of my favourite cantatas. It almost saved my life!

I was about 19 years old and had just committed a suicide attempt. I knew very few cantatas at this time. And then I discovered this one, directed by Gustav Leonhardt, with Sebastian Hennig, Kurt Equiluz, Max van Egmond and Leonhardt’s usual choir and musicians.

I was so deeply moved, especially by the soprano aria. Since this cantata was recorded about ten years before at the time, this boy voice was gone. It was — so to speak — dead: “Ach! ruft mich bald, ihr Sterbeglocken! Ich bin zum Sterben unerschrocken, weil mich mein Jesus wieder weckt.” Such a text, such music, such a gifted boy soprano! And besides a “dead” one, singing these words, to me who had just tried to kill myself, a few days before! And then the comforting bass aria, the wonderful warmth of Max Van Egmond’s voice!

A very similar experience indeed to the one depicted in Eugène Green’s film, “le Pont des Arts”, where a young man decides to kill himself but stops thanks to a recording of Monteverdi’s Lamento della Ninfa, sung by a woman who comitted suicide herself, a few weeks or months before. The young man doesn’t know it, still. And he decides to live to meet this wonderful singer whose voice has just saved him. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PGBR3G58xuw

I had the opportunity to meet Gustav Leonhardt in 2005, so that I could thank him for helping me to find the strength to go on living.

I wish I could write more here. Unfortunately, I work about 80 hours a week, I am involved in other activities and I simply don’t have time to write, especially in English. Sorry for my mistakes in English. I don’ t have time to re-read myself.

Julian Mincham wrote (March 1, 2015):
[To Thomas Savary] A fascinating testimony to the redeeming power of music!

Mention of the Monteverdi madrigal from the 8th book serves to remind me what a wonderful piece this is. There can be few (if any) more effective portrayals of the condition of lo, grief and isolation of the inner human being.

Stephen Clarke wrote (March 1, 2015):
[To Thomas Savary] Thank you for your intimate account, Thomas. I, also, can bear witness, still alive, to the fact that the music of JSB was crucial in my own encounter with death. For sure, there is more in each of our accounts that will remain a private reserve.

It may bear remarking that in BWV 127 JSB combines the individual's encounter with death with what is referred to in christian doctrine as The Last Judgement. What is thus presented is a relation of the personal in context to the transpersonal. This can be no accident, for it aligns perfectly with the stages of initiation as mapped out on the kabbalistic Tree of Life. In this, one proceeds to align one'sself to progressively deeper/broader ranges of relationship to the multidimensional thing we call "reality." In the process, divestment of inflexible and inappropriate life patterns becomes necessary: "death", in other words, which takes on different aspects depending on where you are in the journey. Thus there is physical death, there is psychological death, there is spiritual death, but also for each, there is resurrection. In the christian tradition, Jesus is the heirophant. Bach obviously believed this, in his own way, as we each are required to do if we do at all, and was inspired by him and lived it - as we have by his own testimony in music which, in its own way, is a higher form of speech.

But the process is not, in essence, religious, although religion does attempt, more or less (in general, I would say less) to lead individuals to consider such things as actual and possible. I like to think it was potent in Liepzig during Bach's tenure . . . .

I thank you for the references in film and music which you supply. I am unfamiliar with both of them, but not for long! And I admit to envy for your encounter with G. Leonhardt, a true eminence grise' in his field.

Your English needs no apologies. Please write more when you get the chance!

 

Cantata BWV 127: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements
Discussions:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Passion Chorale


Recordings & Discussions of Cantatas: Main Page | Cantatas BWV 1-50 | Cantatas BWV 51-100 | Cantatas BWV 101-150 | Cantatas BWV 151-200 | Cantatas BWV 201-224 | Cantatas BWV Anh | Order of Discussion
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