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Cantata BWV 14
Wär' Gott nicht mit uns diese Zeit
Discussions - Part 2

Continue from Part 1

Discussions in the Week of October 19, 2008

Thérèse Hanquet wrote (October 18, 2008):
Introduction to BWV 14: «Wär Gott nicht mit uns diese Zeit»

Cantata BWV 14: «Wär Gott nicht mit uns diese Zeit»

Cantata for the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

Readings: Epistle: Romans 13: 8-10; Gospel: Matthew 8: 23-27

Choral: Wär Gott nicht mit uns diese Zeit, text of Martin Luther paraphrasing Psalm 124, music of Johann Walter (1524)

Before presenting for the first time the cantata of the week on the Bach Cantatas discussion list, a few words about me.

I am a Belgian grandmother, engineer-architect, born in Liège and living in Brussels. As a kid, I first learned to read music and play oboe at the Conservatoire de Liège. I had to stop a few years later, as the University - and afterwards the job and the children - took too much of my time. But I discovered for the first time some of Bach cantatas when I was around 20, and it was a turn in my musical experience. Six years ago, I realized an old dream: taking singing lessons (we are fortunate here in Belgium to have very good opportunities of musical education for adults). I fell in love with the baroque vocal repertoire. Two years ago, I passed the audition to enter the "Chapelle des Minimes", which performs each month two cantatas (or other vocal works) of J-S. Bach in the Minimes Church in Brussels, since more than 25 years (for more details: http://en.minimes.net/home.php or www.minimes.be and choose English). I was happy to be accepted as an alto in the choir, and since then I discover with great enthusiasm the treasures of Bach's vocal music.

As I am neither a music expert nor a native English speaker, I asked for some help to members or friends of the Minimes. I would like to thank here Julius Stenzel, our artistic director who accepted to check whether my English is understandable, Benoit Jacquemin, one of our conductors who is also an organist and musicologist and who suggested useful readings, William Hekkers, who writes our concert notes, whose book and notes helped me to prepare the work, and Julia Leigh, an alto colleague, who lent me her notes and scores from previous concerts.

We only know two cantatas of J.-S. Bach for the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany: the other one is BWV 81 «Jesus schläft, was soll ich hoffen?», first performed in Leipzig on 30 January 1724.

The following year, Bach did not need to write another cantata, for a simple reason: there was no Fourth Sunday after Epiphany, as Easter fell very early that particular year. Ten years passed by until Bach wrote a second and last cantata for that Sunday, and it was BWV 14 «Wär Gott nicht mit uns diese Zeit», which was first performed on the exact same day as BWV 81 - January 30 - but in 1735, i.e. a few weeks after the first performance of the
Christmas Oratorio (BWV 248).

BWV 14 is one of the last cantatas written by Bach and the last original church cantata he wrote. Martin Geck ("Johann-Sebastian Bach - Life and Work", page 179) indicates that BWV14 is one of the five cantatas composed and added retroactively to the second Leipzig cycle ("filling the gaps"), together with BWV 9, BWV 112, BWV 129 and BWV 140.

Gilles Cantagrel ("Le moulin et la rivière", page 448) presents 1735 as the beginning of a difficult period for Bach. In 1735, he turns 50, and his two sons from his first wedding, Wilhelm Friedmann and Carl Philip Emmanuel, have recently left the family home to start a career on their own. A third son, Johann Gottfried Bernhardt will soon do the same. In 1735, the Clavier Übung II will be published, but after this and for more than 3 years Bach will not produce any original work of importance. Maybe a mid-life crisis, according to Cantagrel, which will be capital in his mental and artistic itinerary. In addition, in the years 1736 - 1738, there will be the quarrels with rector Ernesti, then aesthetic polemics with his previous pupil Johann Adolf Scheibe.

I tend to feel that the mood of BWV 14 prefigures somehow this feeling of crisis. Of course the text of Luther, used in the first and last movements (see the translation by Francis Browne:
http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Texts/BWV14-Eng3.htm) sets the tune. According to Gardiner [4], this hymn "apparently had been sung on this Sunday in Leipzig from time immemorial". But for BWV 81, on basis of the readings of the day, and especially the gospel (Matthew 8: 23-27) - Jesus calming down the storm - , Bach had pictured spectacular seascapes of storm, then calmness, with Jesus being very present in the text. Here, for BWV 14, Bach chooses to base the cantata on Luther's hymn for the outer movements, and for the inner movements, the anonymous librettist paraphrases the text of the hymn. No mention of Jesus, few references to the storm (only in the recitative and second aria), but many references to foes, which sound truly frightening.

Thinking about this, I have a question that might help feed the discussions of the coming week: what do we know of the relationship between Bach and war? We know that unlike men of the previous generations, he was not directly confronted with war. He did not either lose a son at war, as Schütz did for example. But references to war or army are present in some cantatas, emphasized by vigorous (although not chaotic) music. If you have examples of war in Bach cantatas, and of the way he deals with that theme, maybe this could help to deepen this question.

Back to the music, as BWV 14 is mostly known for its opening chorus (Mvt. 1) as a masterpiece of counterpoint. Here is what Gardiner writes in the sleeve notes of his recording [4] of the cantata: "It [the opening chorus] is a defiant, awe-inspiring riposte to the earlier "Jesus schläft" [presented by JEG as "vividly theatrical or indeed operatic"], one which presents a clear image of God's indispensable protection to the beleaguered community of believers - 'We who are such a tiny band' - by means of the dense web of supporting counterpoint."

I will quote here William Hekkers (translated by Julius Stenzel): "The chorus's form is not what we usually find (instrumental ritornello, then chorale exposed by the choir). Rather, the syntactic motet writing dear to the contrapuntalists of the 16th and 17th centuries is at work here. Each chorale phrase is exposed by the voices in imitations. In this case, the Cantor has used contra-fugue technique. Each theme's entry is the inverse of the preceding one; rising intervals of the first become falling intervals of the next. This technique is found in the famous organ chorale "Vor deinen Thron" BWV 668". William has an interesting idea regarding this form: it expresses the two opposite ideas "If God were not with us" and "but actually God was with us". Another originality of the chorus (Mvt. 1) is that after the exposition, the chorale melody is given to the winds (oboes and horns), which makes a polyphony of five real parts.

Note that William Hekkers is in the process of writing a new book about Bach cantatas, but this is taken from its notes for theperformance by the Chapelle des Minimes on 30 January 2005 (exactly 270 years after the first performance!).

I have two recordings of BWV 14, by Leusink [5] and Gardiner [4]. In both, I find the opening chorus (Mvt. 1) quite impressive, but especially with Gardiner who uses a quicker tempo which in my opinion makes the piece livelier. As in BWV 80, the choir starts right away without any instrumental introduction (just a "tuning" note), and the low voices immediately capture the attention while conveying an impression of depth and seriousness. The way the voices interweave while keeping a regular pace and a constant "depth" indeed recalls some sections of J.-S. Bach motets.

The second section (the soprano aria (Mvt. 2)) has a very nice horn ("corno da caccia") part which enhances the soprano part. The musical character of this piece seems to emphasize the positive message of the text (the Lord is with us), in opposition to the reference to the foes, their tyranny, and our weakness. The latter is expressed (as I feel it) by the low notes that the soprano has each time on the word "schwach" (weak). As an alto, I have observed that sopranos generally do not like too much singing such low notes (while we alti generally take pleasure in singing them...). As in many vocal works of Bach, the word "Leben" is underlined by a long melisma.

The short tenor recitative that follows (Mvt. 3), on the same theme, is quite expressive. Quoting again William Hekkers: "Although the style is secco, the continuo does more than merely hold notes; scale rises and falls through the recitative. Rising, they symbolize life, descending, the plunge towards death; in combination, they evoke "the torrent of foaming waters"."

With the bass aria (Mvt. 4), hope takes more prominence. The bass which is traditionally used as the "Vox Christi", speaks here directly to God, while the previous movements referred to God without addressing him as an interlocutor. According to the text, we are freed from the enemies even though they furiously confront us like wild waves (a reminder of the gospel of the day). The melody of the oboes dialoguing with the bass indeed gives
this feeling of comfort and serenity.

The last movement - the final chorale (Mvt. 5) - borrows from Luther another image, that of the bird escaping the fowler's snare. We thus move from the world of water to the world of air. This is not obvious when hearing the harmonized four parts chorale, which remains a bit "heavy" in both recordings I have listened to. But I am aware of the difficulty of making such movements expressive...

You will find as usual a wealth of information, including previous discussions, on the pages devoted to BWV 14 on the Bach Cantatas web site: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV14.htm. Thanks once more to Aryeh for providing such wonderful resources.

Please do not hesitate to correct / refine / complement this presentation as part of the discussions about this cantata.And thank you in advance for your participation!

Jean Laaninen wrote (October 19, 2008):
Thérèse Hanquet wrote:
< Thinking about this, I have a question that might help feed the discussions of the coming week: what do we know of the relationship between Bach and war? emphasized by vigorous (although not chaotic) music. If you have examples...
... and of the way he deals with that theme, maybe this could help to deepen this question.
....though they furiously confront us like wild waves (a reminder of the gospel of the day). The melody of the oboes dialoguing with the bass indeed gives this feeling of comfort and serenity.
___I find the oboes not comforting at all, but the confidence of the bass voice like comfort in a storm. >
Thanks Thérèse, for your interesting introduction. When I think about war and instruments associated with war, the horns (in Mvt. 1) certainly in this cantata herald the idea of a battlefront, and the oboe usage (Mvt. 4) (paired motifs and with separation) seems exceptional in terms of emotionally interpreting the struggle of war and life. The continuo line in this aria seems to have a quality resembling marching (a possible war feature). I like this rather abstract presentation.

I don't ordinarily think about oboes in conjunction with the idea of war, but so often with the concepts of life and death. But in the case of the bass aria (Mvt. 4) they are used to create an optimized sense of discomfort. Even the tenor recitative (Mvt. 3), sans the winds, has a deep restlessness. I find the oboes not comforting at all, but the confidence of the bass voice like comfort in a storm. (Mvt. 4)

The concepts you mention in terms of water and air also intrigued me. In Christian symbolism water is related to baptism and air to Spirit in many cases, presenting part of the Trinity perhaps a bit mystically here. I would be interested in what Peter has to say regarding this imagery.

Thérèse Hanquet wrote (October 19, 2008):
[To Jean Laaninen] Thanks for your comments Jean.

It is interesting to see how differently some musical features may be experienced. I must say that I really love the oboe's sound, so close to the human voice, and I rarely feel it as expressing discomfort. But Bach has often so many layers of meanings in a single piece that it always remains features to explore, and it is one of the interest of this discussion lists to compare our feelings. Which recording did you listen to?

As for water and air, I thought of your comment just a few hours ago, as we were performing BWV 27 and BWV 93 for our monthly concert. In the soprano recitative (Mvt 4) of BWV 27, the soprano sings twice "Flügel her!" ("Fly away!"), and right after each occurrence there is a quick ascending melody in the strings that made me think of a bird taking flight. The main theme of the cantata is the perspective of death ("Wer weiss, wie nahe mir mein Ende", i.e. "Who knows when my last hour will be coming"), and the recitative expresses how eager is the soul to fly to heaven.

Julian Mincham wrote (October 19, 2008):
BWV 14: the chorale fantasia

The focussed intensity of the opening fantasia (Mvt. 1) makes it probably one of th most challenging for the general listener to come to terms with. The harmonic language is much more abstract , very like a number of works from Bach's last decade e.g. the Musical Offering, Art of Fugue, Canonic Variations.

Bach's traditional procedure in such motet-like choruses was to have the voices not carrying the cantus firmus melody to precede, herald and introduce each chorale phrase with an imitative discussion of it. (see BWV 2 and BWV 38 from the second cycle)

This is precisely what Bach does here, but with an added complication. He has noticed that, with a little tweaking, each of the seven phrases will work in canon, but with the following part inverted or upside down. This is most clearly heard from the very first bar where the rising tenor line is immediately followed by the bass’s falling version of the same theme. Six bars later the upper voices do the same thing: altos leading (with the original tenor theme) and sopranos following.

This takes us to the first full phrase of the chorale melody played by horn and oboes (bar 13). This in itself is unusual as the cantus firmus is usually taken by a vocal line, most commonly the sopranos (although there are six exception to this within the second cycle sequence of 42 cantatas commencing with a chorale fantasia)

Repeated listening to the first twenty bars thus equips us follow the architecture of the20music to the end because the principle has now been clearly established i.e. each chorale phrase is introduced by two canonic pairs of voices, the following part being an inversion of that which led. Each of these discussions leads naturally into the horn and oboe statements of the chorale.

It now becomes clear why Bach did not allot the chorale to any of the vocal lines. For one thing, the instrumental statements give it a tone quality and cutting edge that allows it to stand out from the richness of the choral texture. But more importantly, the four vocal lines remain free to be employed throughout in canonic pairs. Thus what seems at first to be an impenetrable tapestry of intense chromatic counterpoint resolves itself into a clearly transparent, if emotionally intense, texture.

For the listeners who do not read scores fluently but who wish to follow Bach’s strategy through the entire movement, the orders of the canonic choral entries are given below.

Preceding chorale phrase 1 ten---bass alto---sop
Preceding chorale phrase 2 ten---bass alto---sop
Preceding chorale phrase 3 alto---ten bass---sop
Preceding chorale phrase 4 sop---alto bass---ten
Preceding chorale phrase 5 alto---bass sop---ten
Preceding chorale phrase 6 bass---alto sop---ten
Preceding chorale phrase 7 sop---alto bass---ten

The movement ends with repetition of the last line of text----[the enemies] who set upon us. Bach sets these words as a musical discussion making much use of the final chorale phrase.

This is one of the last and perhaps, with the possible exception of Cantata BWV 80, the very last chorale fantasia that Bach composed. Stylistically it remains something of an enigma, having features which look both backward and forward in time. It can be usefully compared with its approximate contemporary BWV 80 because they are, in many ways, complementary works even though one is relentlessly minor, the other insistently major. Both begin with huge fantasias constructed on the principle of the motet, displaying awesome contrapuntal virtuosity. Both relegate the chorale cantus firmus to instruments.Taken together they seem to sum up everything Bach had to say in his sequence of just over 50 chorale fantasias---a unique canon in church music.

Thérèse Hanquet wrote (October 19, 2008):
BWV 14 - Bach and war

[To Jean Laaninen] One example of Bach referring to war came back to my mind, which echoes to your comments about the oboe.

In BWV 4Christ lag in Todesbanden»), the chorus sings the versus 4 of the chorale which reads:
"Es war ein wunderlicher Krieg,
Da Tod und Leben rungen,
Das Leben behielt den Sieg,
Es hat den Tod verschlungen
."
which is translated by Francis Browne as:
"It was a strange battle,
where death and life struggled.
Life won the victory,
it has swallowed up death."

So here we find together, life, death and war!

Thérèse Hanquet wrote (October 19, 2008):
[To Julian Minchasm, regarding chorale fantasia] Thanks for your interesting analysis, Julian.

Henry Boyer in («Les mélodies de chorals dans les cantates de Jean-Sébastien Bach») considers that the ascending pentacord at the beginning of the choral melody allowed Bach to elaborate a symbolic work where the ascending and descending figures illustrate the nets (of sin) that imprison the soul (my free translation from French). This is yet another interpretation, that fits well with the dense "fabric" of this movement...

I will keep the links with BWV 80 in mind, as it will be discussed in early November.

Julian Mincham wrote (October 19, 2008):
Thérèse Hanquet wrote [chorale fantasia]:
< Henry Boyer in («Les mélodies de chorals dans les cantates de Jean-Sébastien Bach») considers that the ascending pentacord at the beginning of the choral melody allowed Bach to elaborate a symbolic work where the ascending and descending figures illustrate the nets (of sin) that imprison the soul >
Yes very likely. Many of the themes of Bach's arias and choruses can be seen to have been developed directly from ideas embedded within the texts, very much so in these later works, an area I have been researching for some time.

Regarding Boyer I don't know anything of his work. Would you happen to know if it has been translated into English? Ta

Jean Laaninen wrote (October 19, 2008):
[To Thérèse Hanquet, regarding Introduction] I listened to Gardiner [4] and to Rilling [2]. I liked both.

Jean Laaninen wrote (October 19, 2008):
[To Thérèse Hanquet, regarding Bach and war] Good example.

Jean Laaninen wrote (October 19, 2008):
[To Julian Mincham, regarding chorale fantasia] Thanks for also mentioning the abstract nature of the fantasia. Of all the cantatas I have listened to, to date, I found this one the most abstract. However, Mvt. 2 in some ways musically did not seem as abstract as the rest, but my perception of the difference was the textual choices.

Thérèse Hanquet wrote (October 19, 2008):
[To Julian Mincham, regarding chorale fantasia] Sorry, I misspelled his first name, it is Henri Boyer.

I borrowed his books in the University's library but I am not aware of any translation into English.
Here is the link to the book on chorals melodies on Amazon: Amazon.fr
He also wrote a book about JSB's sacred cantatas.

Julian Mincham wrote (October 19, 2008):
[To Thérèse Hanquet & Jean Laaninen, regarding Bach and war] Two thoughts immediately spring to mind on this subject. Firstly BWV 116 from the second cycle. Schweitzer (vol 2 p 378) picks up on the mention in both recitatives on their preoccupation with 'the bitter hardships of war'. He mistakenly, but perhaps with the limited knowledge available at the time,concludes that this can only refer to the Prussian invasion of 1744 and consequently he dates the cantata from Bach's last five years. Of course we now know that it was first heard in 1724 where, in fact it ended the church year cycle.

The other interesting work in this particular context is 101 also from the second cycle. The text of the first movement is a prayer to be removed from war, famine, plague, fire etc. It is a truly mighty movement, sometimes the dissonances sounding extremely modern. I feel that if Bach ever set out to depict a barren war-torn landscape then this is it! Well worth revisiting if you haven't heard it for a while.

Julian Mincham wrote (October 19, 2008):
[To Thérèse Hanquet, regarding chorale fantasia] Many thanks

Peter Smaill wrote (October 20, 2008):
BWV 14: Purpose ?

[To Thérèse Hanquet, rgarding chorale fantasia] Thank you for a very stimulating introduction to this "avis rare", a late Cantata seemingly part of Bach's tendency towards the end of his life to make or complete collections.

Epiphany 4 must have occurred several times by 1735 ( there is even an Epiphany 5 in 1729) and as Julian points out there would only have been BWV 81 on hand for this date in the Church calendar.

Odd indeed that there is no mention of Jesus, the text depending on Psalm 124 - the theme being God's protection - as set by Luther. Though Spitta and others have tried to link this Cantata with the war of the Polish Succession, there is no evidence other than the text to this effect (Boyd/OCC p. 503) . The surviving Mss. (the frontispiece of which has I recall been reproduced in the (?) later edition of Boyd's " Bach") quite clearly states the date for which the work was intended.

Henri Boyer's take on the ascending and descending runs of the Chorale is interesting, but the melody is the usual one associated with the Luther text so it is not primarily Bach who creates any word-painting. Bearing in mind however the anbasis:catabasis principle at work in the BMM (BWV 232), where the "Gratias" offerred by humanity is reciprocated with "Pacem" conferred at the end by God, so it is in BWV 14 for the "spruch" or purpose of the Chorale. Thanks are given to God in exchange for deliverance.

There is an outstanding puzzle: was Epiphany 4 of special interest to Leipzigers? There appear to have been an amazingly high number of communicants, despite the January weather. Gunther Stiller records 340 at the Nikolaikirche in 1743, whereas the traditional high point Palm Sunday shows 296 and the average throughout the year is around 150. The Thomaskirche 191 is also at the high end statistically (averages nearer 125), and 1729 (the other year measured) is also a marked uptick from the preceding Sundays since Advent in both churches.

The other puzzle is that Bach does create a Chorale Cantata for every Sunday outside Lent except Trinity 26. There is no sign that he ever made a setting in this form for that date, leaving BWV 70, "Wachet! Betet!" to be the sole representative for that date, unlike the case for Epiphany 4. And Bach does not seem ever to have set Epiphany 5.

Thérèse Hanquet wrote (October 20, 2008):
[To Peter Smaill, regarding Purpose ?] Thanks Peter for this interesting remarks and questions.

Your first enigm is indeed puzzling!

All the more as the two Sundays you mention did not fall on the same day. If I calculate correctly, in 1729 Epiphany 4 fell on the same day as in 1735 (January 30), while in 1743 it must have been February 3rd (the day after Purification). Was there a special event in Leipzig in this period of the year which would have brought more visitors? As it is not a Catholic context, it is difficult to reckon on a Saint's feast... (although we have the example of the Leipzig fair corresponding to Saint Michael's feast in September).

Douglas Cowling wrote (October 20, 2008):
BWV 14: Missing Cantatas for Epiphany 5 & 6?

Peter Smaill wrote [Purpose ?]]:
< Epiphany 4 must have occurred several times by 1735 ( there is even an Epiphany 5 in 1729) and as Julian points out there would only have been BWV 81 on hand for this date in the Church calendar. >
This is an interesting pattern. From the existing cantatas, it appears that Bach never wrote a cantata for either Epiphany 5 or 6, each of which appear roughy once a decade, both when the date of Easter is late.

Three possibilities:

1) The cantatas for these Sundays are all lost

2) Bach always performed an existing cantata by someone else

3) Bach was not required to perform a cantata on these Sundays in Leipzig

Do Dürr or Stiller address this gap?

Thomas Braatz wrote (October 20, 2008):
BWV 14

A quick summary of pertinent information derived from p. 128 of Hans-Joachim Schulze's Die Bach-Kantaten (Leipzig, 2006):

BWV 14

This is the last addition Bach made to his chorale-cantata cycle that had been begun a decade earlier. There are a number of reasons that hindered Bach in filling this gap for the 4th Sunday after Epiphany :

1. The cantata was for a liturgical date, a Sunday that only occurred when Easter fell on an April 8 date or thereafter. In January, 1725, during the chorale-cantata-cycle year, this date did not occur. Septuagesimae Sunday followed directly a week after the 3rd Sunday after Epiphany. A similar situation pertained in 1728, 1731, and 1733.

2. In 1726 Bach had an opportunity to compose a cantata for the 4th Sunday after Epiphany, but he had already assembled a different cantata cycle and presented a cantata by his cousin, Johann Ludwig Bach, on this Sunday.

3. A year later, in 1727, the 4th Sunday after Epiphany fell on Candlemas, the Feast of Mary's Purification (always on February 2) and thus it was dropped in favor of the latter.

4. In 1729 and also in 1730, Bach was working on a different cantata cycle, most of which has been lost. It appears to have been based on texts by Christian Friedrich Henrici (Picander). A chorale cantata in the midst of such a continuing cycle would have appeared completely out of place in such a context.

5. In 1732, the opportunity to compose the missing chorale cantata for the 4th Sunday after Epiphany presented itself, but this time Bach was not in Leipzig on this Sunday because he had been enlisted for an organ inspection elsewhere.

6. In 1734, the rather extraordinary circumstance of having Easter fall on the latest possible date, April 25 (there were even six Sundays after Epiphany that year) finally arrived. Bach would have had a hard time as he scrambled to accommodate such an unusual situation in the liturgical year. Thus nothing came of his plan to complete his chorale-cantata cycle in 1734.

7. On January 30, 1735, just a few weeks after the first performances the six sections of the Christmas Oratorio (BWV 248), Bach completed and uncharacteristically placed a date at the end of his manuscript score as follows:

Fine | SDGl. | 1735.

The fateful circumstances surrounding Bach's decade-long effort to fill the gap in his chorale-cantata cycle for a rather inconspicuous (unauffällig) liturgical Sunday can give you a sense of varied demands and vicissitudes that were part of Bach's professional workload.

Douglas Cowling wrote (October 20, 2008):
BWV 14 Bach's Calendar

Thomas Braatz wrote:
< This is the last addition Bach made to his chorale-cantata cycle that had been begun a decade earlier. There are a number of reasons that hindered Bach in filling this gap for the 4th Sunday after Epiphany : >
This is fascinating information and I wish that we had a complete chronology on this site which gave us a day-by-day outline of Bach' life and works. These facts also show how closely Bach's compositional method was controlled by both the liturgical and civic calendars. I can't think of another composer whose working life was so closely circumscribed by these complex calendrical calculations. However, I still don't believe that Bach "scrambled" to come up with a cantata for the Sixth Sunday after Epiphany. He knew that year was coming as surely as he knew that that Trinity 27 Sunday needed "Wachet Auf" or the odd arrangement of Sundays would dictate the shape of the Christmas Oratorio BWV 248).

Aryeh Oron wrote (October 20, 2008):
Douglas Cowling wrote [Bach's Calendar]:
"I wish that we had a complete chronology on this site which gave us a day-by-day outline of Bach' life and works."
There is already such a calendar on the BCW:

Performance Dates of Bach's Vocal Works: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Date.htm

Life History of J.S. Bach: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Tour/Life.htm

I do not know if there is enough reliable info to make it more complete than it is now presented.

Julian Mincham wrote (October 20, 2008):
[To Aryeh Oron, rewgarding Bach's Calendar] Thanks for this link--I had not discovered it before.

I wanted to ask a question about whether BWV 59 is correctly listed. Dürr is doubful about it's origins. There was apparently an early autograph score with the performing parts coming later. Would such a slight work really have been preformed in Leipzig by Bach eager to open his account with rather more of a sense of importance? Also Wolff gives the first performance as in May the following year and adheres to the general agreement that Bach began his cycles (certainly 1 and 2 and I think there is a good case for 39 to have been the first of a later cycle in 17) on the 1st Sunday after Trinity.So I would question the placement of this particular cantata on a number of grounds.

Also to say that Thomas's chronology of events for BWV 14. I also found very helpful and informative.

Ed Myskowski wrote (October 21, 2008):
Douglas Cowling wrote [Bach's Calendar]:
< I still don't believe that Bach "scrambled" to come up with a cantata for the Sixth Sunday after Epiphany. He knew that year was coming as surely as he knew that that Trinity 27 Sunday needed "Wachet Auf" or the odd arrangement of Sundays would dictate the shape of the Christmas Oratorio (BWV 248). >
Ed Myskowski responds:

This looks to be an appropriate moment to jump back into the fray. I have been absent (lurking) for technical reasons, rather than spiritual. Did anyone notice the differences (active/lurking, technical/spiritual)? Rhetorical question (no need to answer), unless you feel compelled.

In the interest of Brevity (the 11th Commandment?) I agree with Doug, and I hope, implicitly, also with William Hoffmans suggestion of <Bach the Contented Composer>. <Working to deadline> is not the same thing as <scrambling>, and is not inconsistent (note the positive denotation of the double-negative) with long-range planning. i.e., Bach worked within a large-scale framework of planning, but tinkered (or more) until the last minute, and was always able to respond to the last-minute (not necessarily routine) exigencies of craft for cash. Same as it always was.

Thanks to Will, for the fine introductions, and to others for associated comments. Sorry that I was not able to participate with responses, but I was humming Kumbaya and/or We Shall Overcome! Next, a warm welcome to Therese.

It is always impressive to see how much work folks put into writing for the BCW archives, not to mention attempts to stimulate the weekly casual (or better) discussion.

Halloween (All Hallows Eve) greetings from New England (North America, not Australia). The Salem MA (USA) motto: Stop by for a Spell. I abstain from that, but I am always happy to chat about the history of the people (11 ka) or the rocks 4.56 ba). Stop by.

William Hoffman wrote (October 21, 2008):
BWV 14 - Bach's calendar: Epiphany Season

Just some quick fugitive dates and thoughts

Fourth Sunday After Epiphany: Feb. 3, 1726; J.L. Bach Cantata JLB 1, "Gott ist unsre Zuversicht und Staerke"; January 30, 1729; Picander Cycle No. 15, "Wie bist du doch in mir" (closing chorale: "Herr Jesu Christ, ich weiss gar wohl," S.3, ?BWV 382).

Fifth Sunday After Epiphany: Feb. 10, 1726, J.L. Bach Cantata JLB 2, "Der Gott Lossen Arbeit wird fehlen"; Feb. 6, 1729, Picander Cycle No. 17, "Erwache, du verschlafnes Herze" (closing chorale: "Es wohl uns Gott genaedig sein," S.3 ?BWV 311-12).

Thus the calculating Bach in his quest for a well-regulated church music for the church year sought out the J.L. Bach cantatas in part to fill gaps, especially those rare ones with his cousin's works in 1726 and then was tempted in 1728-29 to compose his own cantatas in a complete homogeneous Picander cycle, including the selection and composition of at least the chorales, and possibly with the assistance of Pastor Christian Weiss, Sr. Unfortunately, like the Orgelbüchlein, were he selected the some 160 chorales for the church year, he finished only one-third, almost entirely in Weimar and certainly had the opportunity in Leipzig to finish them.

As to the question about why large church attendance in the later Epiphany season, followed by the three Sundays ("gesimas" or "Lord's Day") before Lent. I can only conjecture, based upon some possible historical threads and an old Lutheran Book, <The Church Year,> by Paul Zeller Strodach (United Lutheran Pub., 1943). The author contrasts the curtailed late Epiphany season of naming and manifestation with the preparation for the introspective Lent Season. Specifically, the Fourth Sunday After Epiphany could be considered for the Lord of Nature; the Fifth for the Lord of Teaching or the Word.

As to possible historical threads. The period before Lent, especially in Catholic areas is Mardi Gras, Fasching, Carnival, but usually around Ash Wednesday. Another celebration in Leipzig was the annual Winter Fair, or Neujahrs. Like the other two fairs, it lasted three weeks and then the week after the fair (Zahlwoche -- Accounting'), merchants who obtained proper permission were allowed to continue to sell goods while taxes were being assessed" (George B. Stauffer, "Leipzig: a Cosmopolitan Trade Centre," Music and Society: Late Baroque Era, p. 257). So the fair could last until January 28 in the fixed Epiphany season, beginning January 6, with the Fourth Sunday After Epiphany falling as early as January 28. We know from the church records that attendance went up during the fairs, especially the Spring or Easter starting at Jubilate Sunday (3rd after Easter), and the Autumn, St. Michael's, Sept. 29, beginning Oktoberfest. Perhaps the Leipzig Protestants in January were getting a leg up on their Catholic brethren in Dresden and especially Munich!

I'm still researching issues about Psalm 124 (also Justus Jonas' setting "Wo Gott der Her, nicht bein us haelt" BWV 178), the wars' (Polish Secession and Silesians) impact as well as biblical references (Corinthians and Revelation), and other political considerations, 1735 and later.

Douglas Cowling wrote (October 21, 2008):
William Hoffman wrote [Bach's Calendar: Epiphany Season]:
< So the fair could last until January 28 in the fixed Epiphany season, beginning January 6, with the Fourth Sunday After Epiphany falling as early as January 28. We know from the church records that attendance went up during the fairs, especially the Spring or Easter starting at Jubilate Sunday (3rd after Easter), and the Autumn, St. Michael's, Sept. 29, beginning Oktoberfest. Perhaps the Leipzig Protestants in January were getting a leg up on their Catholic brethren in Dresden and especially Munich! >
It would be fascinating to combine this kind of lateral evidence with the actual Bach documents and the music chrononlogy Areyh posted to see if a day-to-day calendar could be created. I suspect that a close scrutiny of Bach's professional submission to such a closely-regulated calendar would tell us much about the well-regulated composer.

William Hoffman wrote (October 21, 2008):
Julian Mincham wrote [Bach's Calendar]:
< I wanted to ask a question about whether BWV 59 is correctly listed. So I would question the placement of this particular cantata on a number of grounds.
Also to say that Thomas's chronology of events for BWV 14. I also found very helpful and informative. >

William Hoffman replies: Historical context. Bach arrived earlier in May 1723 and, led by Pastor Christian Weiss, met civic and church officials, took his theology and Latin exams and signed his contract. The Thomas School year (and Bach's appointment) didn't officially begin until the First Sunday After Trinity. Meanwhile, perhaps following Telemann's lead, Bach began his relationship with the University Church and the Collegium musicum with Cantata BWV 59 on Pentecost Sunday, May 16, on short notice, with no Koethen parodies, with two trumpet parts, the first of a series of Leipzig church feast day celebratory cantatas and oratorios with trumpets and drums. Also possibly at the May 16 service was a performances of the Sanctus in C, BWV 237, with three trumpets and drums. Cantata BWV 59 was not part of the systematiestate division of the cantata cycles' 1 and 3 scores and parts between W.F. and C.P.E. The score and parts went to W.F. in the manner of other occasional or early non-cycle sacred works.

As to the beginning of the church year, Bach adhered to his annual appointment in the first two cycles, then took a break in the last half of 1725. It appears that he began church year observances with cantata performances at Advent in 1725, 1730 and 1734. As to the so-called Picander cycle, although the printed texts are listed
beginnng in Advent, the cycle acutally began on the Fourth Sunday After Trinity 1728, following Picander's publication.

William Rowland (Ludwig) wrote (October 21, 2008):
[To Ed Myskowski, regarding Bach's Calendar] Not sure what you mean by 'Scrambled up" but if you mean that Bach borrowed from himself that is very true. I you will closely study the B minor mass--you will find that it is the basis of most of his works a resume sort of from which he borrows and elaborates on frequently.

Julian Mincham wrote (October 21, 2008):
William Hoffman wrote [Bach's Calendar]:
< Historical context. Bach arrived earlier in May 1723 and, led by Pastor Christian Weiss, met civic and church officials, took his theology and Latin exams and signed his contract. The Thomas School year (and Bach's appointment) didn't officially begin until the First Sunday After Trinity. Meanwhile, perhaps following Telemann's lead, Bach began his relationship with the University Church and the Collegium musicum with Cantata BWV 59 on Pentecost Sunday, May 16, on short notice, with no Koethen parodies, with two trumpet parts, the first of a series of Leipzig church feast day celebratory cantatas and oratorios with trumpets and drums. Also possibly at the May 16 service was a performances of the Sanctus in C, BWV 237, with three trumpets and drums. Cantata BWV 59 was not part of the systematic estate division of the cantata cycles' 1 and 3 scores and parts between W.F. and C.P.E. The score and parts went to W.F. in the manner of other occasional or early non-cycle sacred works. >
This is helful although some questions remain. BWV 59 did become part of the ecclesiastical cycle since, along with around 30 or so other earlier cantatas it was pressed into service as the cantata for Whitsunday in 1724.

It seems decidely odd that Bach would have opened his account, as it were, with the Collegium Musicum with such a slight work. All the evidence points at Bach's desire, perhaps motivated by his sensitivity to his lack of formal qualifications and perhaps because he knew he was not the first choice for the position of Cantor, to make a splash and be noticed immediately following his taking up his appointment. The short notice may have been a factor---but then Bach had a large number of substantial pre-Leipzig cantatas he could, and did later,?draw upon equally often it would seem at short notice. He has a dab hand at the rapid, quite possibly overnight re-arrangement technique.

Might the answer lie more in the fact that he was given to believe that the musical forces available to him were not of a high standard and he adapted accordingly? There is no chorus apart from the chorale and the instrumental parts are not very demanding.

John Pike wrote (October 20, 2008):
Ed Myskowski responds [Bach's Calendar]:
< In the interest of Brevity (the 11th Commandment?) >
I thought the 11th commandment was (unofficially) "Thou shalt not get caught".

Douglas Cowling wrote (October 21, 2008):
Julian Mincham wrote [Bach's Calendar]:
< Might the answer lie more in the fact that he was given to believe that the musical forces available to him were not of a high standard and he adapted accordingly? There is no chorus apart from the chorale and the instrumental parts are not very demanding. >
Händel erred on the side of caution for the premiere of "Messiah". He didn't know what standard of performers he would encounter in Dublin, so he did not use any obligato winds except for the trumpet, and that virtuoso part has "particular artist" written all over it. Most interestingly, he often wrote "ripieno" over the opening bars of difficulty movement, intending the more proficient first chairs to establish the style and tempo of the music before the "tutti" players entered. Given the paucity of documentary evidence, it would be hard to establish that Bach's choice of instrumentation was influenced by the calibre and/or availability of players, although it almost certainly was.

John Pike wrote (October 21, 2008):
[To Aryeh Oron, regarding Bach's Calendar] Many thanks, Aryeh, for pointing out this superb resource on the BCW. I had a look down both lists this afternoon and the thing that struck me most was the regular tragic death of young children. Although I was already familiar, of course, with this aspect of his life in general terms, it was a sobering reminder to go down the list and read the roll call of those offspring "called back" (to use Emily Dickinson's phrase) so terribly young. Even many members of Bach's family who survived him nevertheless died at an age which today we would regard as very young. I never ceased to be deeply moved by this terrible catalogue of tragedy.

Jean Laaninen wrote (October 21, 2008):
Ed Myskowski responds[Bach's Calendar]:
< This looks to be an appropriate moment to jump back into the fray. I have been absent (lurking) for technical reasons, rather than spiritual. Did anyone notice the differences (active/lurking, technical/spiritual)? Rhetorical question (no need to answer), unless you feel compelled. >
I also do not believe Bach scrambled. More than likely he kept if only mentally a file of musical ideas, motifs, fragments and so on...and it seems to me that even on a subconscious level his mind must have worked to experiment with these ideas sleeping or waking. That is, as many know, the way artistic people tend to function. And, I think for someone who held positions in churches that related to the calendar year he would have always been aware of what might come, and if you've ever been part of a church setting you know that not only do you have your own responsibilities, but that there will be others around to remind you of what is coming and various discussions related to such matters whether or not you do most of your work on your own. What I do imagine, and there is no historical evidence to support it, is that a person like Bach might have gotten up in the middle of the night to jot down some of those ideas in his own brief way, and that they were like money in the bank...you could draw on those things when you needed to do so. But in some way I find the matter of this controversy a little bit boring. People no matter what their role in life have busy times, and times that are less busy, and the music itself is a testament to what it sets out to convey. The time table is speculative, IMO.

 

BWV 14 (Epiphany 4, Feb. 1, 2009)

Ed Myskowski wrote (February 1, 2009):
Today is the fourth Sunday after Epiphany, Brain McCreath chose the Rilling version of BWV 14 for the weekly WGBH-FM Boston cantata series, available worldwide at www.wgbh.org. Although the first broadcast (8 AM EST) is past, I believe there is a repeat (web only) at noon EST (1700 UT).

Tomorrow (Mon., Feb. 2) is Candlemas. I expect to post some thought in the coming days on BWV 14 recordings, Candlemas, and related topics. OTOH, I expect to do many things that do not quite materialize. I think, therefore I am; but the devil is in the details of execution. With generosity of spirit, spurt, and even a touch the sprite (Puck?),

 

Continue on Part 3

Cantata BWV 14: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

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