Cantata BWV 131
Aus der Tiefen rufe ich, Herr, zu dir
Discussions - Part 7
Continue from Part 6
Discussions in the Week of March 6, 2016 (4th round)
William Hoffman wrote (March 7, 2016):
BCML Discussion Cantata 131
One of Bach’s earliest and most popular sacred works is his c.1708 penitential Cantata BWV 131, “Aus der Tiefen rufe ich, Herr, zu dir” (Out of the depths I cry, Lord, to you). It is based on the eight-verse penitential, Psalm 130 (De profundis), particularly appropriate for Lenten Season. The full text of Psalm 130 (KJV) is found at http://www.kingjamesbibleonline.org/Psalms-Chapter-130/
. Written in perfect symmetrical form of five movements lasting about 24 minutes, it has three prelude and permutation fugues for tutti ensemble (nos. 1, 3, and 5), with two duets in between using bass and tenor ariosi/arias with alto singing two stanzas of Bartholomäus Ringwaldt’s 1588 penitential hymn, “Herr Jesu Christ, du höchstes Gut” (Lord Jesus Christ, you highest good).1
It was composed in Mühlhausen by June 1708 probably, for a memorial or penitential service, given its penitential psalm text and chorale, according to a Bach inscription on the original, surviving score. Bach scholars have debated the actual service and date. Most likely it was a mourning service at the Mariankirche, pastor and score dedicatee Georg Christian Eilmar, a Bach friend, for victims of a fire. Others (see below) have suggested the 11th Sunday after Trinity with its introit Psalm 130, or other dates or have simply refused to accept the purpose. Still, it is one of Bach’s most treasured works and has glimpses in the choruses and chorale duet adaptations found in the two great Matthew and John oratorio Passions as well as mature Leipzig cantatas and motets, many of the latter music of mourning and consolation.
The 8-stanza, 7 line BAR form chorale text and Francis Browne’s BCW English translation “Notes on the text” and Bach’s uses are found at, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Texts/Chorale008-Eng3.htm. Information on text and melody and BCW, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/CM/Herr-Jesu-Christ-du-hochstes.htm.
In Cantata 131, the second movement duet with chorale with oboe and continuo, has the bass arioso singing Psalm 130, verse three, “So du willst, Herr, Sünde zurechnen, Herr, wer wird bestehen?” (If you want to count up sin, Lord, who will withstand you?). The soprano sings the canto of Bartholomäus Ringwaldt’s 1588 “Herr Jesu Christ, du höchstes Gut” (Lord Jesus Christ, you highest good), the second stanza, “Erbarm dich mein in solcher Last” (Have mercy on me with such a burden). A similar chorale arrangement, the fourth movement, has Psalm 130, verses 5-6 in the tenor aria, “Meine Seele wartet auf den Herrn” (My soul waits for the Lord,” and alto canto, “Und weil ich denn in meinem Sinn, . . . / Auch ein betrübter Sünder bin” (Especially since I in my mind . . . / am also a troubled sinner); and alto canto Stanza 4, : “Und weil ich denn in meinem Sinn, . . . / Auch ein betrübter Sünder bin” (Especially since I in my mind . . . / am also a troubled sinner).
Cantatas 106, 131: Common Musical Language
Of particular distinction is the “common musical language” of Cantatas 106 and 131, as analyzed in Richard D. P. Jones’ The Creative Development of Johann Sebastian Bach, Vol. 1, 1695-1717.2 During his early years Bach emphasized “short phrases and frequent cadencing, it reliance on stock figures and on certain mannerisms” such as the “anticipatory note figure, the echo effects, and diminuendo endings.” Using psalms and chorales as texts, both BWV 106 and 131 “are symmetrical in overall structure, alternating choruses and solos (or duets), and grouping them around a central axis.
In particular, Jones singles out the chorus-writing in both Cantatas 131 and 106, especially the prelude and fugue. The last chorus of Cantata 131 (verse 8), “Israel hoffe auf den Herrn” (Israel, hope in the Lord), and the opening sonatina and chorus “exhibit a mosaic form” already found in Cantata 150. The central fugues of the two are based on similar themes, derived from earlier movements. Both cantatas feature chorale-arias in which the long-note cantus firmus in one voice is offset by the florid solo in the other.”
Cantata 131 continuous movements, scoring, incipits, keys, meter.3
1. Chorus two-parts with opening sinfonia [SATB; Oboe, Fagotto, Violino, Viola I/II, Continuo]: A. Adagio ¾ with imitation: “Aus der Tiefen rufe ich, Herr, zu dir” (Out of the depths I cry, Lord, to you, Verse 1); B. Vivace 4/4 choral fugue: “Herr, höre meine Stimme, / laß deine Ohren merken auf / die Stimme meines Flehens!” (Lord, hear my voice / let your ears notice / the voice of my pleading, Verse 2); g minor; 4/4.
2. Chorale arrangement, Arioso [Bass; Oboe, Continuo and Chorale-Soprano, Stanza 2]: Bass: “So du willst, Herr, Sünde zurechnen, Herr, wer wird bestehen ?” (If you want to count up sin, Lord, who will withstand you?, Verse 3a); Soprano canto: “Erbarm dich mein in solcher Last” (Have mercy on me with such a burden); Bass: “Denn bei dir ist die Vergebung, daß man dich fürchte.” (For with you is forgiveness, so that we may fear you, Verse 3b); Soprano canto: “Auf daß ich nicht mit großem Weh / In meinen Sünden untergeh” (So that I may not with great sorrow / drown in my sins); g minor; 4/4.
3. Chorus two parts (Verse 4) prelude & fugue [SATB; Oboe, Fagotto, Violino, Viola I/II, Continuo]: A. Adagio prelude, “Ich harre des Herrn” (I wait for the Lord); B. Largo fugue, “meine Seele harret, und ich hoffe auf sein Wort” (my soul waits, and I hope in his word.); E-Flat Major to d minor; 4/4.
4. Chorale arrangement, Aria [Tenor; continuo] and Chorus [Alto-canto, Stanza 4]: Tenor: “Meine Seele wartet auf den Herrn” (My soul waits for the Lord,” Verses 5-6); Alto: “Und weil ich denn in meinem Sinn, . . . / Auch ein betrübter Sünder bin” (Especially since I in my mind . . . / am also a troubled sinner); c minor; 12/8.
5. Chorus [SATB; Oboe, Fagotto, Violino, Viola I/II, Continuo]: “Israel hoffe auf den Herrn; / denn bei dem Herrn ist die Gnade / und viel Erlösung bei ihm.” (Israel, hope in the Lord / for with the Lord is grace / and much redemption with him, Verse 7); “Und er wird Israel erlösen aus allen seinen Sünden.” (and he shall redeem Israel from all his sins; Verse 8); g minor 4/4.
<<Note on the text
On the original score Bach added a note stating that this work was commissioned by Georg Christian Eilmar [1665-1715], pastor of the Marienkirche, Mülhausen, and it must therefore date from 1707-8. The occasion of the work is not stated but the text suggests a penitential service. This might be connected with a serious fire which occurred shortly before Bach took up his position in the town. A great part of the inner city was destroyed and many families left homeless.
Like many mid-German sacred concertos from the 17th century, the cantata draws on two textual sources simultaneously. One is the whole of Psalm 130. This is one of the seven penitential psalms, but is still more a psalm of hope. It takes a prominent place in Christian liturgy for the dead, not as a lament but as an expression of trust in God the Redeemer. Every movement of the cantata takes as its text one or two verses of this psalm, so that at the end of one movement the text of the next is already anticipated.
The second textual source used by Bach is the chorale “Herr Jesu Christ, du höchstes Gut” by Bartholomäus Ringwaldt (1588). In the bass aria the second strophe of the chorale is juxtaposed with the psalm; in the tenor aria the fifth strophe is used in a similar way. Thus not only the psalm but also the chorale serves to advance the meaning of the cantata. (information based on Dürr, Die Kantaten and the Oxford Composer Companion)4.>>
The hymn is classified a Catechism penitential song or Buß Lied (Repent Song), found in the Neu Leipziger Gesangbuch of 1682 (NLGB)5 as No. 181 (general omnes tempore Catechism penitential Lenten hymn). For Ringwalt (1530-1599) BCW Short Biography, see http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Lib/Ringwaldt.htm. The text was first published in Ringaldt’s Christliche Warnung des Trewen Eckarts (Frankfort a. Oder, 1588). NLGB,
The Penitential sources for Cantata 131 were questioned to scholars Robin Leaver, and Marcus Rahey, David D. Jones wrote (June 17, 2013), Cantata 131, BCML Discussions Part 6, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV131-D6.htm.
Robin Leaver: <<Thank you for your email. I do not have time to answer in detail but at least I can give you some information. The Lutheran churches in Saxony, and elsewhere, regularly called for "Buss Tagen." It is important to distinguish "Busse" and "Beichte." The ELCA "service of corporate confession and forgiveness" is a modern version of "Beichte," which in Bach's time was individual confession at Saturday Vespers before taking Communion the following day. "Buss-Tagen" were a regular occurrence but were also called on special occasions, such as in response to fire, flood, pestilence, war, or some other disaster. They were church services of prayer and preaching, apparently no set order. For example, the *Gothaisches Kirchen-Buch* [2nd ed.] (Gotha, 1724) simply gives a long prayer for such occasions - 7 pages long! - "Gebet an solnnen Buss-Tagen."
Hope this is helpful. –RAL
Markus Rathey answered my questions thus: <<BWV 131 is indeed a fascinating-and also difficult piece. Difficult because we do not know for what occasion it was originally written. The assumption that is was written for a "penitential service" is unfounded. It is based on an a-historical chain of arguments: As you probably know, parts of the city of Mühlhausen were destroyed in a fire in 1707. Charles Sanford Terry assumed in his Bach-biography that the city must have commemorated this event in a penitential service at the day of the anniversary of the fire on May 30, 1708, during which BWV 131 might have been performed. Alfred Dürr, in his book on Bach's cantatas, refutes this assumption and argues that the style of BWV 131 rather points to 1707 than to a later date in 1708.
I have shown a few years ago in an article in Bach-Jahrbuch (2006) that we can rule out the hypothesis of a penitential service in 1708 entirely. In my article, I have published a list that was printed in 1708 and that contains all the penitential services for the year: Good Friday, July 10, Sept. 11, and Nov 30. There is no sign of a penitential service in commemoration of the fire from 1707.
As for Dürr's thesis, there is no evidence for a special service in 1707 either. We have detailed records from the archives in Mühlhausen (I have done extensive research there myself) and if there had been a special penitential service, there would have been some kind of paper trail. To make a long story short, we don't know for what occasion Bach composed BWV 131. The remark on the title page make unequivocally clear that it was "commissioned" (whatever that means in this context) by Eilmar; everything else is conjecture.
As for the penitential services in general, they were an integral part of the liturgical calendar in the Lutheran church year. The purpose was to remind the congregation of their sins and to ask God for forgiveness. In fact, until a few years ago, a "Day of Repentance and Prayer" (Buss- und Bettag) was still an official holyday in Germany! The liturgy of these days of repentance revolved around prayers and scripture readings. We don't know exactly what such a service would have looked like in 1707/1708 but we have a general outline from a Mühlhausen source that describes a penitential service in 1641. . . . >>
Douglas Cowling wrote (June 17, 2013): It's worth outlining this service, for it shows that is a normal Lutheran Mass such as would be celebrated in the "closed' penitential season of Lent:
Introit: Komm, Hel'ger Geist
Litany [replaces Kyrie and Gloria in Advent and Lent]
Collect: chanted Prayer of the Day
Epistle: Psalm 51 [German "Miserere Mei" - penitential psalm] is sung
instead of a New Testament reading
Hymn of the Day [Gradual] Erbarme Dich - with two other options
Gospel: Luke 13
Hymn before the Sermon: Allein Zu dir
Chancel Offertory Hymn: Nimm Von Uns
[Preface and Sanctus
[Words of Institution]
Hymn during Communion: Jesus Christus Unser Heiland]
This mass could have been celebrated on any day of the week that was designated as a Buss-Tag. A cantata such as BWV 131 could easily have been performed after the Gospel. Note that the Psalm 51 was sung (in chant?) instead of the Epistle reading. "Miserere Mei" was one of the Seven Penitential Psalms. BWV 131 is a German adaptation of "De Profundis", another psalm from the set.
William Hoffman wrote (June 17, 2013): [To David Jones] Bach's penitential chorale settings: Penitence and Amendment (Confession, Penitence& Justification)
67. "Aus tiefer Noth schrei ich zu dir" (Zahn 4438); CC BWV 38, BWV 686-7(OBIII), BWV 1099(NC)*
68. "Erbarm' dich mein, O Herre Gott" (Psalm 51); BWV 305(PC), 721(MC)*
69. "Jesu, der du meine Seele"; BWV 352-4(PC), BWV 752(MC)-D; Krebs, Krebs-WV 53*
70. "Allein zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ"; CC BWV 33, BWV 261(PC), BWV 1100 (NC)*
71. "Ach Gott und Herr"; BWV 255(PC), BWV 692-3(KC, J.G. Walther); BWV 714* (MC in NC)
72. "Herr Jesu Christ, du höchstes Gut"; CC BWV 113, BWV 334(PC); ?BWV1114(NC); Zachow, LV 11*
73. "Ach Herr, mich armen Sünder," melody "Herzlich tut, mich verlangen"; CC BWV 127, BWV 270-71(PC), BWV 742(MC, NC)*
74. "Wo soll ich fliehen hin"; CC BWV 5, BWV646(SC)=188/6, 694(KC)* cf."Auf meinen lieben Gott," OB136
75. "Wir haben schwerlich" (Zahn 2099) (no NLGB);
76. BWV 637 - Durch Adams Fall ist ganz verderbt; BWV 705(KC); 1101(NC), alt. mel. "Ich ruf zu dir, H.J.C." (OB91, BWV 639
77. BWV 638 - Es ist das Heil uns kommen her; CC BWV 9(Tr.6)
*Muziekwetenschap - De cantus firmi in de Noord- en Midden-Duitse koraalbewerkingen
“De cantus firmi in de Noord- en Midden-Duitse koraalbewerkingen voor orgel van 1625 tot 1750”
door drs. J.A. van Pelt
Saturday Penitential Vespers: Vesper Penitential Psalms, 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, and 143
-- "Ach, was soll ich Sünder machen"; BWV 256(PC); BWV 770(CP-spurious)
-- "Christe, du Beistand deiner Kreuzgemeine"; BWV 275(PC)
-- "Eins ist not! ach Herr, dies eine"; BWV 304(PC), BWV 453(SG)
-- "Erwürgtes Lamm, das die verwahrtwn Siegel"; BWV 455(SG)
-- "Herr, ich habe Mißgehandelt"; BWV 247/32=?BWV 330-31(PC)
"-- "Herr, nicht schicke deine Rache"; BWV 463(SG)
-- "Mache dich, mein Geist bereit" (mel.), "Straf mich nicht in deinem Zorn" (Psalm 6); CC BWV 115
-- "Mein Jesu, dem die Seraphinen"; BWV 486(SG)
-- "Wo ist mein Schäflein, das ich liebe"; BWV 507(SG)
-- "Tilge, Höchester, meine Sunden" (Psalm 51, motet; Pergolesi Stabat mater, Vesper hymn, BWV 1083
AMB - Anna Magdalena Buch
AS = Alternate setting
CC = Chorale Cantata
CP = Chorale Partitas, BWV 765-771
Cü III = Clavierübung III (Mass & Catechism Chorales), BWV 669-689
D = Doubutful work of JSB
KC = Kirnberger Chorales, BWV 690-713
MC = Miscellaneous Chorale Preludes, 714-64, etc.
NC = Neumeister Chorale Collection, BWV 1090-1120
OB = Orgelbüchlein Collection, BWV 599-644
PC = Plain Chorale, BWV 250-438, etc., c.1730
SBCB = Sebastian Bach's Chorale Buch c.1740
SC = Schubler Chorales, 645-50 1746
SG = Schmelli Gesangbuch 1735
18 = Great 18 (Leipzig) Organ Chorale Collection, BWV 651-668
CH = Communion (& vespers) hymn
GH - Gradual Hymn (between Epistle & Gospel), Hymn de tempore
PH = Pulpit Hymn before sermon
CC = Chorale Cantata, (CC) = Chorale Chorus
EC == Elaborated Chorale setting
Emans = NBA KB IV/10 (2007)
NLGB = Das Neu LeGesangbuch> 1682 (Gottfried Vopelius)
Z = Johannes Zahn Melody Catalogue
Peter Smaill wrote (January 9, 2005), BCML Cantata 131 Discussion Part 3, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV131-D3.htm. <<"Aus der Tiefe" brings us to solid ground, in that Bach's mss. survives (illustrated, and the Cantata extensively discussed, in Wolff). Much musicological discussion precedes this interchange including the previous contributions of the website's members.
Therefore I'd like again to go outside the work itself, and dwell on the wider significance of the chorale and text of "Aus der tiefe", the "De Profundis " of Psalm 130. It is of special significance to Lutherans, having been sung at Luther's funeral and was the last chorale to be sung, we are told, in Strasburg cathedral before it was overrun by the French in 1681.
There are grounds for thinking that the chorale was especially inspiring to Bach. The obvious reference point is [chorale Cantata] BWV 38, the [Martin Luther 1524) paraphrased “Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir." cantata for October 27, 1724 [Trinity 21]. The magnificent Pachelbel-style canonic opening chorus by this date is archaic; while the unusual minim introduction to the schlusschoral is innovative, and harmonically adventurous, the use of the Phyrigian mode in the cadences produces overall a mystical, pietistic effect. To this can be added the Clavierubung BWV 686 and BWV 687, again looking backwards sylistically but to magnificent effect.
The apocryphal St Luke Passion (BWV 246), partly transcribed and first performed by Bach c. 1731, features in relation to this chorale. "Aus der Tiefe" concludes the first part, a significant placing. The curiosity here is that a second version of the setting of the chorale, for a second performance in 1745, became detached and was discovered in Japan; and is featured in the Bach-Jahrbuch of 1971. Quite how did it get to the Far East?
The predominant common thread in Bach's deployment of "Aus der Tiefe" is archaism, which trait recurs throughout his career. One of the pleasures of an interest in Bach is that discoveries do occur in our lifetimes. The Arnstadt / Lowell Mason 38 Chorale preludes and the Kiev Archiv being cases in point. In that instance according to Wolff we have rediscovered Bach's arrangement of his father's cousin Johann Christoph Bach's "Lieber Herr Gott, Wecke uns auf", composed just before Bach's death in 1750, the very last manuscript to bear JSB's handwriting.
That he should have adopted a piece written in 1672, possibly for his own funeral, confirms a reverent attitude to the relationship between older musical forms and illustrious antecedents, the same reason to treat "Aus der tiefe" in a conservative fashion in honour of Luther himself.>>
A video commentary of Cantata 131 with Ton Koopman in English lasting almost four minutes is found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_JY2RsBYSEM. The complete video performance (24 minutes) is found at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vqqFQGV-H54
Cantata 131 Details and revised and updated Discography, BCW http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV131.htm.
2 Jones, The Creative Development of JSB, Vol. 1, 1695-1717, “Music to Delight the Spirit “ (Oxford University Press: New York, 2007: 103).
3 German text and Francis Browne Notes on the text and English translation, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Texts/BWV131-Eng3.htm.
4 Dürr, Alfred. Cantatas of J. S. Bach, revised and translated by Richard D. P. Jones (Oxford University Press, New York, 2005: 776ff. Konrad Küster essay, Oxford Composer Companions: J. S. Bach, ed. Boyd, Malcolm (Oxford University Press: New York, 1999: 27f).
5 BACH'S HYMN BOOK: Jürgen Grimm, "Das neu [?] Leipziger Gesangbuch des Gottfried Vopelius (Leipzig 1682)", Berlin: Merseburger, 1969. ML 3168 G75 (Douglas Cowling).
To Come: Special sources on Cantata 131: John Eliot Gardiner, BACH: Music in the Castle of Heaven 2013; Gerhard Herz, “BWV 131, Bach’s First Cantata,” Essays on J. S. Bach (Ann Arbor, MI: UMI Research Press, 1985: 126-43, reprint Yo Tomita, Bach Essays: 272-291.
William Hoffman wrote (March 10, 2016):
Cantata 131: Aus der Tiefen: Fugitive Notes
Bach’s early (1707-08) memorial service chorus Cantata BWV 131, “Aus der Tiefen rufe ich, Herr, zu dir” (Out of the depths I cry, Lord, to you, De profundis), is a milestone work. It shows the strong influences of Mülhausen orthodox pastor Georg Christian Eilmar, Penitential Psalm 130 and Psalm 51, and the textual, theological, and musical influences of Martin Luther, Johann Gottfried Olearius, and Heinrich Schütz.
While many recent Bach authorities question the date and place of the initial performance of Cantata 131, there was a solid relationship between Bach and Georg Christian Eilmar (1665-1715), Marienkirche orthodox pastor in Mülhausen, while Bach was organist in 1707-08 at the nearby St. Blasius Church of pietist pastor Johann Adolph Frohne, according to Gerhard Herz, “BWV 131, Bach’s First Cantata.”1 Bach’s first Mülhausen Town Council Cantata BWV 71, “Gott is mein König (God in my King, Psalm 74:12) was presented at the Marienkirche in a special service on Saturday, February 4, 1708. It was his first and only printed cantata. Another Ratswhal Cantata BWV Anh. 192, title unknown, was presented there on February 7, 1709, and possibly another again in 1710.
The postscript at the end of Bach’s autography score of Cantata 131, “shows Eilmar, about 20 year’s Bach’s senior, as instigator [“at the request of”] of this cantata,” says Herz (Ibid.:275). “Pastor Eilmar must have looked with profound satisfaction at the election of J. S. Bach, a member of the renowned orthodox Lutheran family of the Bachs, as new organist of his rival’s church.” It is quite possible that Eilmar complied the actual text of Cantata 131, and may have chosen the two stanzas (2 and 4) of Bartholomäus Ringwaldt’s 1588 penitential hymn, “Herr Jesu Christ, du höchstes Gut” (Lord Jesus Christ, you highest good). In addition, their friendship also involved Eilmar as Godfather at the birth of the Bach’s first child, Catherina Dorothea, christened on December 29, 1708, in Weimar.
Herz also makes other important observations about Cantata 131: its symmetrical form in types of music and keys, the sinfonia in the style of Corelli’s trio sonatas, the initial use (nos. 2 and 4) of cantus firmus superimposed over a chorus, in the manner of the St. Matthew Passion, and the three predominantly homophonic prelude and permutation fugal choruses (nos. 1, 3, and 5).
Penitential Psalm 130 and Psalm 51 Influences
Bach’s early memorial service chorus Cantata BWV 131, “Aus der Tiefen rufe ich, Herr, zu dir” (Out of the depths I cry, Lord, to you, De profundis), and the penitential Psalm 51 setting, "Tilge, Höchester, meine Sünden" (Blot out, Highest, My Sins), BWV 1083, are appropriate for the 11th Sunday after Trinity, says Martin Petzoldt in his BACH Commentary, Vol. 1, Trinity Sundays.2 This is because the Introit Psalm for the 11th Sunday after Trinity is penitential Psalm 130, according to Petzoldt (Ibid.: 249). He calls Psalm 130 the “Prayer for the Forgiveness of Sins.” Bach set Psalm 130 as Cantata 131, “Aus der Tiefen rufe ich, Herr, zu dir,” for a Mühlhaüsen memorial service in 1707 and it includes the Ringwaldt chorale, “Herr Jesu Christ, du höchstes Gut.” Bach also composed chorale Cantata BWV 38, “Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir” (Out of the Delths I Cry to You, Luther’s De profundis setting) for the 21st Sunday after Trinity 1724. Besides the Bach adaptation of Pergolesi’s Stabat mater, BWV 1058, Bach quoted lines in his cantatas and harmonized chorales based on Psalm 51, Miserere mei, Deus (Have mercy upon me, O God, KJV).
The ELCA [Evangelical Lutheran Church in Amercia, ELW service and hymnal) "service of corporate conand forgiveness"3 is a modern version of "Beichte" (confession), which in Bach's time was individual confession at Saturday Vespers before taking Communion the following day, observes Robin Leaver in this week’s BCML Discussion of Cantata 131. “Aus tiefer Not schrei” is found in the ELW as No. 600 under “Confession, Forgiveness.”
Luther, Olearius, Schütz Influences
“Bach chose to set the complete text of Psalm 130, a prayer for forgiveness of sins, in Luther’s translation,” observes John Eliot Gardiner in his recent Bach musical biography, BACH: Music in the Castle of Heaven. 4
Like Bach’s early Cantatas BWV 4, “Christ lag in Todesbanden” (Christ lies in death’s bondage) and BWV 106, “Gottes Zeit isn die allerbeste Zeit” (God’s time is the best time), Cantata 131 is another example of “the lnked approaches to the mechanics of faith and how they operated in Bach’s musically active mind in his early twenties.” “Here the psalm text demanded a more complex meshing of words and music, pointing to sharper contrasts of style, form and fluidity of expression.”
Bach took the original eight Psalm 130 stanzas and spread them over five symmetrical movements and leavened with two pieces of troped commentary chorales: “Erbarm dich mein in solcher Last” (Have mercy on me with such a burden, S.2) and “Und weil ich denn in meinem Sinn, . . . / Auch ein betrübter Sünder bin” (Especially since I in my mind . . . / am also a troubled sinner, S.4). These insertions “closely mirror instructions for confession and repentance by a theologian, Johann Gottfried Olearius (1611-84), author of the five-volume Biblische Erklärung [Biblical Explanation] (1678-81), a copy of which Bach was later to own,” says Gardiner.5
Bach also utilizes what has been called “Luther’s penitential exaltation,” says Gardiner (Ibid.: 141f), a “thread running through many psalm settings of German composers” who lived through or experienced the aftermath of the Thirty Years War (1619-49), particularly Heinrich Schütz (1585-1672), who systematically set in German and Latin the Davidian psalms. Gardiner also notes that Bach in his Cantata 131 prelude and fugue choruses has this “penitential exaltation” and “harmonic syntax” of mid 17th century composers such as Grandi, Carissimi, Schütz, and Matthias Weckmann.
“An original feature” of Cantata 131 “is not so much Bach’s utter faithfulness to the words, as the way he consistently adjusts his themes to the shapes of the sung words, their inflection and punctuation: changes of metre, tempo, and texture enable him to characterize each verbal phrase and to change the Affekt almost instantly,” says Gardiner. In the “impressive chorus” that closes the work (no. 5), beginning, “Israel hoffe auf den Herrn (Israel, hope in the Lord, Verse 7), particularly in the final, extended fugue, “Und er wird Israel erlösen aus allen seinen Sünden.” (and he shall redeem Israel from all his sins, Verse 8), “Bach finally distances himself from the earlier motet-like structure of his forebears’ music” and uses “contemporary Italian practice transplanted by north German composers such as Johann Theile (1646-1724), Georg Osterreich (1664-1735) and Georg Caspar Schürmann (c.1672-1751),” says Gardiner, the last also having had strong influence on Bach’s cousin Johann Ludwig (1677-1731)at the Meiningen Court.
Finally, by musical treatment that combines familiar chorales and scripture, Bach’s early vocal works “signal a robust new approach to positioning the traditional Gospel message within the context of traditional Lutheran
Worship and illuminating it in the manner of a musical sermon,” says Gardiner (Ibid.: 144). “Such powerfully effective music was underpinned” by “sophisticated fugal writing,” “an extended development of sequential harmony and the pronounced uses of ostinato basses.”
1Herz, “BWV 131, Bach’s First Cantata,” Essays on J. S. Bach (Ann Arbor, MI: UMI Research Press, 1985: 126-43; cited, reprint Yo Tomita, Bach Essays: 272-291).
2Petzoldt, Bach Kommentar: Die geistlichen Kantaten des 1. Bis 27. Trinitas-Sontagges, Vol. 1; Theologisch Musikwissenschaftlicke Kommentierung der Geistlichen Vokalwerke Johann Sebastan Bachs, Internationale Bachakademie Stuttgart (Kassel: Bärenreiter, 2004: Trinity 11 Commentary 249-55).
3 Evangelical Lutheran Worship (ELW) (Minneapolis MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2007: 238-42).
4 Gardiner, BACH: Music in the Castle of Heaven (New York: Alfred A, Knopf, 2013:140ff).
5 Olearius’ work is the primary source of Petzoldt’s biblical-theological Bach Kommentar, Vol. 1; and Die Geistlichen Kantaten vom 1. Advent bis zum Trinitatisfest, Vol. 2; Internationale Bachakademie Stuttgart (Kassel: Bärenreiter, 2004, 2007). His last work will be published in two volumes, Volume 3, miscellaneous cantatas, motets, passions, and oratorios; and Volume 4, Latin Music: Missae and Magnificat.
Cantata BWV 131: Details
Recordings: Complete: 1900-1949 | 1950-1959 | 1960-1969 | 1970-1979 | 1980-1989 | 1990-1999 | 2000-2009 | 2010-2019 | Individual Movements
Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7