Cantata BWV 140Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme
Discussions - Part 6
Continue from Part 5
Discussions in the Week of August 17, 2008
Stephen Benson wrote (August 17, 2008):
Introduction to BWV 140 Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme
How does one begin to introduce an iconic work of art that has been scrutinized, analyzed, bowdlerized, dissected, mimicked, transformed, and performed by countless numbers of musicologists, performing musicians, and music lovers? The answer perhaps lies in the question, in the recognition and acknowledgment that "Wachet auf" has achieved iconic status, that the chorale melody that constitutes the cantus firmus is instantly recognizable, and that in its various guises it has appeared, and continues to appear, in a multiplicity of contexts.
Wherein lies its appeal? In its deceptive simplicity? The elegance of its line? Its "hummability"? Its grounding in the human experience? The unequivocally positive trajectory of its message? Probably, "all of the above".
Three choral movements, one at either end and one directly in the center -- Mvt. 1, Mvt. 4, and Mvt. 7 -- provide a solid framework and elevate the rhetoric of the text, a 1599 hymn by Philipp Nicolai, to the universal. The intervening recitatives and arias represent, between the supporting pillars of the choruses, at one level the natural dialogue between a prospective wedding couple, and at another level the communion between Jesus and the Soul of the Believer, together encompassing the entire range of experience between earthly passion and heavenly love (or earthly love and heavenly passion -- take your pick). The author of the text for these recitatives and intimate, but powerfully seductive duets is unknown, but we do know much about their sources. Rather than reinvent the wheel, I highly recommend reading, from Part II of the BCW discussions of BWV 140, Dick Wursten's 2002 enlightening analysis of the connections between the text of these arias and their origins in the Song of Songs. http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV140-D2.htm
Dick also confronts the issue of historical relativism, always a point of contention with Bach, but even more so than usual with such a potentially volatile text: "The so called 'modern' and 'enlightened' Christian feels 'ashamed' of the direct, highly emotional and very concrete language and imagery which Nicolai uses as a poet in 1599 (and which is the power of his poetry)." Literal interpretations of these verses can be implicitly, even explicitly, erotic, while the allegorical connotations of such a human but heavenly union generate an almost tactile immediacy for the believer, enabling him to more effectively grasp his perceived connection to the Deity.
Gender distinctions abound in BWV 140 from beginning to end. Earlier this summer, the suggestion that "flirtatious" and "seductive" characteristics could be attributed to the soprano/bass duet in BWV 192 was dismissed because of the stricture against female singers in a church setting. Given the sources, the subtext, and the metaphorical context for BWV 140, however, it would be difficult to deny the presence of females in the soprano roles, regardless of whether they were sung by a female or a boy soprano. Not only do we have an implicit progression at the literal level of courtship through wedding consummation in the recitatives and soprano/bass duets, but the text for Nicolai's hymn is based on the Parable of the Ten Virgins (Matthew 25: 1-13). According to Ruth Tatlow: "Luther’s bodily interpretation of biblical images led to some startlingly explicit sexual allusions in Lutheran cantata texts about Jesus and the Soul. Although these may strike a modern audience as irreverent, to the original hearers they were simply a beautiful depiction of the mystic union." And, with respect to the first duet, Alfred Dürr writes: "Musically, the movement belongs among the most beautiful love duets in the musical literature of the world."
The barest outline of a plot might read as follows: the initial midnight cry of the watchmen for the virgins to be prepared (Mvt. 1), the urgency and anticipation of the bride at the approach of the bridegroom (Mvt. 2 and Mvt. 3), his arrival (Mvt. 4), the wedding and consummation (Mvt. 5 and Mvt. 6), and the subsequent rejoicing (Mvt. 7).
In the opening chorus, "Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme" (Mvt. 1), the rhythmic ritornello introduction gives the sense of a processional. The cantus firmus chorale melody in the soprano is doubled by the horn, with exhortations to get oneself ready expressed in the other voices beneath the cantus firmus. The melody emerges with its ascending triad from a background of rhythmic block chords being exchanged in dialogue between strings and oboes. Exchanges of phrases continue until the strings and oboes unite at the end of the ritornello. (Is the later dialogue between the bride and groom of the duets foreshadowed by this initial dialogue between strings and oboes?) The implacable regularity and forward propulsion of this first rhythmic motif persists throughout the movement, the movement even ending with a repetition of the opening ritornello. The only real change in texture that occurs is the melismatic "Alleluja" appearing at measure 135.
Following the wake-up call of the first movement, the tenor announces the approach of the bridegroom -- "Er kommt, er kommt, der Braut'gam kommt!" -- comparing him to a young, leaping stag. The ensuing duet -- "Wann kommst du, mein Heil?" -- introduces the solo violino piccolo, tuned a minor third above the regular violin, which lends a brightness and urgency to the bride's preparations. Against the melisma of the violin and a rock-steady continuo, the soprano urges on her intended. In the words of Alfred Dürr: "The yearning, sensuous character of the vocal dialogue, developed thematically out of the opening of the ritornello, arouses mystical impressions, for heavenly and earthly love are here blended into a unity."
The fourth movement chorale that follows -- "Zion hort die Wachter singen" -- is the movement in this cantata most often singled out for attention. Unusually set as a trio, the tenor carries the chorale melody, with the other two voices being the continuo and the unison violins and violas. The melody of the strings is itself independent and graciously charming and displays, according to Little and Jenne in "Dance and the Music of J. S. Bach", the qualities of yet another dance movement, in this instance the bouree. The tenor cantus firmus is sometimes performed by a tenor soloist and sometimes by the tenors in the choir, assuming, of course, that the performance is not OVPP! (Personally, I prefer multiple tenors for their sonority, balance, and because the text refers to watchMEN!) Bach himself clearly had an affinity for this movement, later transcribing it for organ as the first of the Schubler Chorales BWV 645. This chorale trio at the heart of BWV 140 is one of the great Bach moments, uniting, in the words of Christiane Krautscheid, "straightforward melody and masterful polyphony."
The significance of the ensuing bass recitative -- "So geh' herein zu mir", the "wedding" -- is reinforced by the string harmonic accompaniment provided in addition to the continuo. Dürr makes note of the "…unusual harmonic sequences on the words 'And delight your troubled eye'." "Mein Freund ist mein", the second of the soprano/bass duets, is also cited by Little and Jenne as an example of a "bouree-like" dance movement, and no wonder. It is an expression of pure joy. (A definitcomes to mind from, I think, an episode of M*A*S*H: "Dance is the vertical expression of a horizontal intention.") Soprano and bass exchange separate declarations of love until they arrive at the phrase "Die Liebe soll nichts scheiden!" (Our love can ne’er be severed!) which is appropriately sung together. Once again the playful oboe comes to the fore, and in the movement’s pastoral rusticity, all anxiety and unease are banished. Dürr succinctly summarizes: "Here again, earthly happiness in love and heavenly bliss are blended into a unity."
Perhaps maintaining the consistency of the antique sources for the text, and in anticipation of some of the "stile antico" writing for the BMM, the closing chorale -- "Gloria sei dir gesungen" -- is written in antiquated minim notation. The basses sing the continuo line, and the gaps between phrases allow one to reflect, at least momentarily, upon the contents of each phrase. The colle parte participation of the instruments lends an air of authority to the proceedings, with the octave doubling of the violino piccolo suggesting heavenly delights for wedding participants in the literal sense, and the Christian faithful in the metaphorical. As the final verse tells us:
"Kein Aug hat je gespurt,
Kein Ohr hat je gehort
("No eye has ever perceived,
No ear has ever heard
As usual, the BCW proves to be a wonderful source for background information.
With all the available recordings, and guessing that everyone on the BCML is at least somewhat familiar with this cantata, I hope many of you will contribute to this week’s discussion.
Jean Laaninen wrote (August 17, 2008):
Stephen Benson wrote:
< According to Ruth Tatlow: "Luther's bodily interpretation of biblical images led to some startlingly explicit sexual allusions in Lutheran cantata texts about Jesus and the Soul. Although these may strike a modern audience as irreverent, to the original hearers they were simply a beautiful depiction of the mystic union." And, with respect to the first duet, Alfred Dürr writes: "Musically, the movement belongs among the most beautiful love duets in the musical literature of the world." >
Thanks for a great introduction, Steve. I have now listened to this cantata four or five times as I started early. The duets, as they were less familiar to me particularly caught my attention. The rhythmic differences between the two, and the technical and instrumental differences between the two are to my mind significant. There is also a key change. But most of all, I think the contrast in emotion is so striking. There is a great longing and yearning achieved by rhythmic intensity for one factor in the first duet, and a great sense of joy and completion somehow with fewer notes in the measures in the second. Perhaps the contrasting qualities are so complimentary as to really enhance the remainder of the work in a manner that takes a little serious listening since we are accustomed in the church to hear the chorus themes with some frequency, and recognition takes place there first.
Julian Mincham wrote (August 18, 2008):
It is daunting to write about a work as well known and loved as this one. But when I came to write notes on it some time ago I discovered all sorts of details about compositional structure and their relationship to the text that were new, at least to me.
For what it is worth here is an extract from those notes, relating mainly to the first and fourth movements.
The opening fantasia is surely one of Bach's happiest creations in this form. Set in the key of Eb major, one very seldom used for such movements, it takes a well-known chorale and transforms it into gold. The chorale melody (sopranos, doubled by horn) is long and complex consisting of twelve phrases of differing lengths, varying between two and five bars long. In a sense this structuring might be seen to be irrelevant since the common time of the chorale (four beats to a bar) is changed into three for the fantasia. But one can be sure that the irregularity attracted Bach’s interest.
The ritornello opens virtually without melody, a persistent dotted rhythm echoed between the strings and the three oboes. This idea later becomes an important accompaniment figure and doubtless suggests the passing of time or even the midnight chimes. But the main melodic idea grows organically out of it with rising scales; at first tentative, latterly more confident, their shape clearly derived from the chorale melody. The dotted rhythms and quavers in the continuo bass line possibly denote the movement or gathering to which the text refers. Thus, even before the first note is sung, we have a masterly evocation of the text and a dignified introduction to the work proper. The suggestion that the dotted rhythms imply the grandeur of a French Overture is misguided since there are no other characteristics of this courtly form. However the character of the individual chorale phrases are, in part, determined by the activities of the continuo line i.e. dotted rhythms, flowing quavers or staccato reinforcements of the three main beats in each bar.
One of the most fascinating aspects of Bach's craft is his ability to adapt the textures and contours of his vocal lines to suit the demands of the text. Nowhere is this more apparent than in this fantasia. The first three phrases of the melody (repeated, thus making six in total) find the three lower voices entering with different motives, although the principle of imitation is common. Nevertheless the predominant direction of these entries is always upwards, suggestive of the anticipation and optimism of the impeding happy event. The flowing semi-quavers (from bar 135) used for the setting of the one word, 'Hallelujah’ (9th phrase) strongly suggest a fugato except that the voices do not enter at the expected traditional intervals. They come in on a G (altos) Bb (tenors) and Eb (basses)----the notes of the chord of Eb major which also form the opening motive of the chorale.
An interesting point of detail is the repeating of the words of phrase ten (beginning bar 161) to underpin the following phrase---- ‘macht euch bereit’---be prepared (for the wedding feast). This urgent plea from the multitude continues to resound as the sopranos move on to their penultimate phrase.
The character and vocal writing of the two duets indicate an initially somewhat tentative encounter in the first, and a joyous binding together for eternity in the second. Did Bach remind himself of the four dialogue cantatas from the third cycle when composing this one? The writing for the two voices in the first duet stresses their individuality. They sing together relatively seldom, the effect being more of a civilized conversation than a loving union. But it is tender and affectionate and the two souls are bound together by the flowing violin obligato possibly suggestive of the Lord’s all-encompassing benefice. The soprano enquires ‘when, my Saviour, are you coming; I await with burning oil?’ The bass affirms that he is indeed approaching.
The second duet, for the same two voices, has a joyously enticing oboe obligato. It appears from the initial vocal phrases that the two characters still maintain a degree of separation. But this is an illusion. For the majority of this aria they are bound together in a paean of seemingly endless bliss. Bride and groom, Saviour and Soul are united and we are all permitted to participate in the ecstasy of the occasion. Bach even returns to the conventional da capo structure, one he had frequently abandoned during the later years, perhaps to underline the formality of this traditional ceremony of union.
The centerpiece or keystone of the cantata, the fourth of the nine movements, is the chorale for tenor. The tenor retains his principal role of standing aside from the main character and narrating the story, background or circumstances. He describes Zion’s joy whilst observing the unfolding events. This is the musical bringing together of the earthly ceremony of conjoining briand groom with its spiritual counterpart, the union of Jesus the Saviour with the Spirit of Grace. The chorale melody is sung with a minimum of embellishment whilst all the upper strings unite to declaim the obligato melody. The combination of violas and the violins produces a timbre of great richness.
One of the wonders of this movement is the manner in which the chorale and obligato melodies appear to have virtually no connection with each other and yet fit together perfectly. It is possible that Bach saw this movement as a symbol of the earthly and the spiritual, seemingly apart, dissimilar and diverse and yet, by reason of the Ordained natural order, ultimately fitting together and perfectly complementing each other. Thus we might consider the chorale as representing all things spiritual and the foursquare, the almost stolid string melody as the earthly life and environment. Each may be depicted perfectly well independently but the fundamental message is that they have been conceived, by the Almighty, as two parts of the same reality.
Musically it is worth spending a few moments to become familiar with the unique and intentionally fragmented structure of the ritornello designed specifically to make this point. It begins with a direct straightforward two bar theme (‘A’) which is repeated. Then (bars 5-6) follows a new more flowing idea (‘B’) also two bars long as is ‘C’ (7-8) built upon a climbing syncopated motive. Finally we come to a four-bar codetta ‘D’, (bars 9-12) completing the ritornello theme.
Thus, before the voice enters, the musical structure may be represented as A, A, B, C, D, twelve bars in all. You don’t really need a score—the four sections are aurally very clear.
Those who wish to can follow the pattern from the vocal entry will find the following order: A, A, C, B, A, A, B, C, D. This takes us to bar 32 and the beginning of the tenor’s fourth phrase.
The point is that the structuring is very like that of a jigsaw puzzle, the two and four bar segments designed to come in almost any order as they interlock with the unfolding chorale. One of the two ways in which Bach creates the impression of ‘unrelatedness’ of the two melodies is this unpredictability of just which section of the ritornello theme will be heard next. The other is the fact that the two themes are not designed to begin and end together. For example, the first tenor phrase begins in the middle of A and ends in the middle of A repeated. The second vocal phrase begins with C but extends beyond it, and the third enters in the middle of B.
If this seems confusing to the less technically minded it doesn’t matter. If you get to know the chorale and ritornello melodies well, the apparently effortless ways in which they inter-relate will become obvious. The important point is that they may seem not to fit; but they do. And that, I suggest, is Bach’s point; a conventional spiritual concept is fully articulated within and encapsulated within the fabric of the musical structure.
Douglas Cowling wrote (August 18, 2008):
Julian Mincham wrote:
< The ritornello opens virtually without melody, a persistent dotted rhythm echoed between the strings and the three oboes. This idea later becomes an important accompaniment figure and doubtless suggests the passing of time or even the midnight chimes. >
The addition of the third oboe and the antiphonal dialogue between the winds and strings suggests that Bach may be drawing out the allusion to the Song of Songs where the bride and her companions (strings) are going out to meet the groom and his party (winds). At the risk of sounding too Wagnerian, that symbolism may even be extended to the duets which have violin and oboe obligatos which symbolize the longing soul and the triumphant bridegroom respectively.
I'm curious about the opening rhythm. If the anitphonal orchestral scoring is meant to suggest two processions, does that dotted rhythm have any dance connection, perhaps a march? In my own aural visualization of the movement, I have always thought that the characters broke into a run when the rhythm shifts from the dotted figure to even eighths.
It's worth noting that "Zion Hört die Wächter" is perhaps the second most frequently performed work by church choirs after "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring". There is very little Bach which choirs program on a regular basis.
The movement in its organ prelude guise is regularly -- and incorrectly -- programmed during Advent in the weeks before Christmas. In the organ version, the three lines (chorale, string melody and continuo) appear without any of the harmonic realization indicated by the figures in the cantata score. Given that both hands and both feet are otherwise engaged in the three separate lines, it is intriguing that Bach clearly thought that an unrealized performance on organ was just fine.
2008 is one of those rare years when the 27th Sunday after Trinity appears in the calendar on Nov 23 (because of the early date of Easter in 2007). There have only been four such occcurrences in the last 50 years. Trinity 27 only occurred once while Bach was in Leipzig and it is a little bizarre to contemplate that he knew he was writing a work which he could never use again.
Julian Mincham wrote (August 18, 2008):
Doug Cowling wrote
< I'm curious about the opening rhythm. If the anitphonal orchestral scoring is meant to suggest two processions, does that dotted rhythm have any dance connection, perhaps a march? In my own aural visualization of the movement, I have always thought that the characters broke into a run when the rhythm shifts from the dotted figure to even eighths.
2008 is one of those rare years when the 27th Sunday after Trinity appears in the calendar on Nov 23 (because of the early date of Easter in 2007). There have only been four such occcurrences in the last 50 years. Trinity 27 only occurred once while Bach was in Leipzig and it is a little bizarre to contemplate that he knew he was writing a work which he could never use >
On the first point above, if Bach was thinking in terms of a dance rhythm, might that be a reason why he changed the time sig of the chorale from 4/4 to 3/4 for the chorale fantasia? It was not unusual for him to do this in the fantasias of the 2nd cycle although I think that he usually had good reason for making the change.
On the second point Dürr (p650) differs slightly in that he gives two dates when the 27th Sunday after Trinity appears during Bach's tenure at Leipzig---in 1731 and 1742. He suggests that Bach composed the cantata for the first of these and probably reused it for the second. He goes on to say that (apart from Bach's childhood years) the only other time that this occurred was in 1704 when he was organist at Arnstadt where (Dürr quotes) Bach had been reproached for hitherto performing no concerted music.
Some intriguing lines of speculation here, perhaps? Was Bach attempting to make up for his previous decision not to provide music for this day, with a particularly special effort nearly 30 years later? Was 140 intended to belong to the 2nd cycle of chorale cantatas even if it was known to be required so seldomly?
Stephen Benson wrote (August 18, 2008):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< Trinity 27 only occurred once while Bach was in Leipzig and it is a little bizarre to contemplate that he knew he was writing a work which he could never use again. >
I do believe that it occurred twice -- in 1731 and 1742.
Ed Myskowski wrote (August 18, 2008):
Doug Cowling wrote:
>2008 is one of those rare years when the 27th Sunday after Trinity appears in the calendar on Nov 23 (because of the early date of Easter in 2007).<
We had a lengthy and sometimes confusing discussiore calculating the date of Easter, so I think it is worth noting and correcting the minor typographic error here. It is the early date of Easter in 2008 (not 2007, as written), which determines the occurrence of Trinity in 2008, also early by fixed relation to Easter, and hence the subsequent lengthy season of Sundays after Trinity, which stretch from the moveable season of Easter-Trinity to the fixed calendar dates of Advent-Christmas.
Douglas Cowling wrote (August 18, 2008):
BWV 140 - 78 & SMP?
Ed Myskowski wrote:
< We had a lengthy and sometimes confusing discussion re calculating the date of Easter, so I think it is worth noting and correcting the minor typographic error here. It is the early date of Easter in 2008 (not 2007, as written), which determines the occurrence of Trinity in 2008 >
Thanks both for catching that typo and to those who brought me up to speed on the two occurrences of Trininty 27 during Bach's tenure in Leipzig. I feel MUCH better now knowing that Bach heard what may be his greatest cantata at least twice!
Does the opening of 'Wachet Auf" remind anyone else of the opening chorus of "Jesu Der Du Meine Seele" and "O Mensch bewein" in the SMP by I'm thinking here of the dynamic contrapuntal material in the lower voices: close fugal writing as well as effective homophonic interjections. The linking of lines of the chorale is another feature. The opening of this cantata is a tough sing for the lower voices, especially the syncopated "Hallelujah".
William Hoffman wrote (August 19, 2008):
BWV 140 -- Fugitive Thoughts
1. Three-verse chorales. Cantata BWV 140 is one of only a trio of three-verse chorale cantatas. The other two are: BWV 192, "Nun danket alle Gott," composed in 1730 for a sacred wedding or Reformation Sunday, and BWV 14, "War Gott nicht mit uns diese Zeit," composed in that nebulous period of 1732-35, to fill a gap in the original chorale cantata cycle, the Fourth Sunday After Epiphany, which did not occur in 1725. So how does Bach treat the challenge of setting these three three-stanza chorales?
In Cantata BWV 140 he composes a seven-movement symmetrical work, allocating the opening and closing stanzas to the same respective positions, and making Stanza 2 the centerpiece chorale adaptation trio. In between he uses highly original yet derivative free-poetry, non-chorale paraphrases in two striking soprano-bass duets (dialogues), as well as two proclaiming (no lyrical ariosi interludes) male recitatives.
In Cantata BWV 192, he simply assembles a straightforward per omnes versus setting, one verse for each movement, providing the essence of a chorale cantata: chorale fantasia, duet aria, and concluding four-part chorale.
In Cantata BWV 19, he places the opening and closing stanzas in the traditional places and expands the middle Stanza 2 into a balanced three-movement paraphrase (poet unknown) woven into a soprano aria, tenor recitative and bass aria - the whole also symmetrical in virtual, succinct palindrome. Well-ordered and regulated!
2. So, who is the librettist of Mvt. 2, Mvt. 3, Mvt. 5, and Mvt. 6? Could it be a poet-scholar, someone with considerable literary knowledge such as Leipzig University philosophy and law professor August Müller (BWV 205, Picander libretto) or Thomas School rector (1730-34) and classical scholar Johann Matthias Gesner (BWV 209, Anh. 210). Remember Gesner's Quintilian descrtiption of Bach directing a large choral work (BD No. 432). Or, could it be Picander? He probably was the librettist of Cantata BWV 36, "Schwingt freudig euch empor," which has two choral arrangements, a duet and an aria, for Advent Sunday in 1731, one week after BWV 140. Cantata BWV 36 and BWV 140 are among only four documented Bach cantatas first presented in 1731; the others are chorale Cantatas BWV 112 and possibly BWV 117.
Idle Thought: Could this last Trinity Sunday cantata be a special work in a theological sense, perhaps dealing with the "last things," or escatology, relating to Christ's death? On the other hand, there are at least two "secular" elements in this cantata: two bouree-like dances and the textual references in two dialogues. Maybe both at the same time as Bach treads the boundaries of sacred and secular, chorale and dance, literary and biblical, capellmeister and cantor, stile antico and moderno.
Neil Mason wrote (August 19, 2008):
What has always struck me as remarkable in the opening movement of BWV 140 is the modulation from E-flat major to C minor for the word Hallelujah.
Although this is the complete reverse of what one might expect, it is an absolutely stunning moment.
Peter Smaill wrote (August 19, 2008):
[To William Hoffman, regarding Fugitive Thoughts] Certainly BWV 140 deals with "Last Things", for the Epistle for the day from 1 Thessalonians 5: 1-11 is about being prepared for the Last Day. So, although the main literary impulse is from the Parable of the Ten Virgins, there is in its mystical language a distinct ontological gaze to the City of God. As previously remarked, the image of Jerusalem grows ever stronger in the few late choral works of Bach, here and in the Ratswahl Canattas, culminating in the B Minor Mass where the 4 of the source Cantatas talk of Jerusalem.
This is the word, "Jerusalem" with which Dürr fortuitously finishes his review of the Cantatas of the Church Year.
But there are other reasons for considering that Bach did not just view "Wachet auf" as the infill in a long season of Trinity Sundays, but as a glorious cadence to all his Cantatas. There is the unusual writing of the Chorale in minims. The chorale text, as mentioned before, if centre aligned, forms the written image of a chalice.
A further delightful coincidence lies in the mystical language. For while Bach's Cantatas begin with BWV 150, which talks of "Christians on the thorny paths", this closure to the church year transforms the rosebush image to "You shall feed with Me among heaven's roses/ There shall be the fullness of joy and gladness."
If Bach does indeed use an emphatic triad to depict the Trinity on the 27th Sunday, then there it is in the opening intonation of the chorale in BWV 140/1; and if the unity of Father and Son is expressed by an ostentatious octave, then consider the "high pitch of the chorale melody in the soprano, and its octave doubling in the violino piccolo, this setting uses earthly means in an inimitable manner to give symbolic shape once more to the bliss anticipated by the Christian in the heavenly Jerusalem" (Dürr).
Douglas Cowling wrote (August 19, 2008):
BWV 140 Jerusalem
Peter Smaill wrote:
< Certainly BWV 140 deals with "Last Things", for the Epistle for the day from 1 Thessalonians 5: 1-11 is about being prepared for the Last Day. So, although the main literary impulse is from the Parable of the Ten Virgins, there is in its mystical language a distinct ontological gaze to the City of God. As previously remarked, the image of Jerusalem grows ever stronger in the few late choral works of Bach, here and in the Ratswahl Canattas, culminating in the B Minor Mass where the 4 of the source Cantatas talk of Jerusalem. >
I asked Frank Senn, the Lutheran historian, about Bach's lectionary on another list. His response is pasted below. Peter will be interested to note that the Gospel for the following Sunday, Advent 1, is Christ' Entry into Jerusalem.
Frank C. Senn:
Luther chose the following Gospels for the last three Sundays of the church year:
25th Sunday: 25:15-28
26th Sunday: Matthew 25:31-46
27th Sunday: Matthew 25: 1-12 (remembrance of faithful departed transferred from Nov. 2 All Souls, which was abolished because of associations with purgatory and votive masses).
However, by the end of the 16th century, a number of church orders assigned Matthew 25: 1-12 for the last Sunday of the church year. So it was in the Common Service of 1888, which was based on the purest Lutheran church orders of the 16th century.
The chorale of Philipp Nicolai, on which Bach's cantata is based, gained in popularity throughout the 17th century and was usually the Hymn of the Day (Hauptlied) for the Last Sunday after Trinity.
Classical Lutheranism seems to have associated the theme of eschatological judgment with the end of the church year more than with Advent. Judging from hymn texts the preferred Gospel for the First Sunday of Advent was the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. Then John the Baptist preparing the way. Then the annunciation. So Advent leaned toward prophecy fulfillment in the incarnation of "King David's greater Son."
Bruce Simonson wrote (August 20, 2008):
[To Douglas Cowling, regarding Jerusalem] Speaking of end-of-church-year cantatas, BWV 60 (O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort) is also important. No accident that this cantata, which is about "eternity" with a capital E, is also a high-number post-trinity cantata.
Peter Smaill wrote (August 22, 2008):
[To Douglas Cowling, regarding BWV 140 Jerusalem] Thank you very much indeed for the contribution from Frank Senn.
Certainly this arrangement of the Church Year helps confirm the influence of theology on the Cantatas and particularly BWV 140 which I know now not only concludes the long Trinity season but also looks forward to the Jerusalem theme of the first Sunday in Advent. In this Lutheranism again seems to be stressing the linkage between the birth of Christ and the inevitability of the Passion, something which Anglicanism tends to separate or compartmentalise?in my experience.
The phenomenon of a concluding Chorale whose layout if centre-justified resembles a chalice belongs I recall to one other Chorale, namely "Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern", for the Annunciation. Bach breaks off the Chorale Cantata sequence at this point, leading to the theory (rather demolished by Tom Braatz) that the librettist was Andreas Stuebel who died immediately after the completion of the text booklets containg BWV 1. However, if the chalice-chorale is a sort of emblem of closure, then Bach may both in BWV 1 and BWV 140 be signalling a theological juncture. In both cases the circularity of thought in Lutheranism is therefore on this reading conjoining the conception/birth of Christ to his Passion.
I put this forward tentatively but there may be others who can construct from their knowledge of Scripture a more developed case for seeing meaning behind what may just be a curious coincidence.
Douglas Cowling wrote (August 22, 2008):
Peter Smaill wrote [BWV 140 Jerusalem]:
< In this Lutheranism again seems to be stressing the linkage between the birth of Christ and the inevitability of the Passion, something which Anglicanism tends to separate or compartmentalise?in my experience >
This isn't the forum to compare Lutheranism and Anglicanism, the two liturgical traditions which retained much of the Catholic tradition, but the similarity of the two post-Reformation lectionaries provided somewhat similar musical traditions. The Entry into Jerusalem was also the Anglican Gospel for the First Sunday in Advent. Thomas Weelkes and Orlando Gibbons' stunning settings of "Hosanna to the Son of David" were composed for that day, not Palm Sunday as is often incorrectly stated.
Handel's later fusion of the Lutheran cantata with the great anthems of Henry Purcell for the "Chandos Anthems" makes a fascinating study, moreso because Lutheran music was prohibited in Anglican churches until well after the Bach Revival had begun in the late 19th century.
Stephen Benson wrote (August 22, 2008):
BWV 140 recordings
For the most part, I've tried to avoid making recommendations about specific recordings. There are so many wonderfully legitimate performances out there, and, in trashing some of them for relatively insignificant idiosyncracies, I really think we often lose sight of the forest for the trees. We come to these recordings, each with different backgrounds, different priorities, different expectations, and different ideas about how something should be performed. We respond positively to those recordings that meet our own criteria or that strike some other indefinable chord in our musical psyches.
Practices that one finds objectionable are often just those traits upon which another listener thrives. Given that caveat, I do have a few odd comments about a few of the many available BWV 140 recordings.
(1) The strings in the Kurt Thomas recording  of the "Zion hort die Wachter singen" movement are a little too syrupy for my taste, but I find his tenor choir absolutely fulfilling.
(2) The DVD performance of Ton Koopman , if perhaps a little too careful, is in many respects quite enjoyable. What I don't understand, and perhaps it is standard performance practice, but when two singers are standing next to each other on stage and engaging in dialogue, why can't they establish eye contact once in a while? Lisa Larsson and Klaus Mertens sing passionately to each other with nary a glance. They might have been standing at opposite ends of the earth. At first I thought that Mertens was looking over at Larsson periodically, but then I realized he was looking past her to Ton Koopman at the keyboard.
(3) When we were discussing BWV 192 a few weeks ago, I acquired the Thomas Folan recording , a disc which also includes BWV 140. I found the entire disc to be an absolutely first-class production. The choral singing and the instrumental playing are clean and impeccable; the soloists are all excellent, especially Max van Egmond and soprano Anne Harley, a name with which I was totally unfamiliar; the recorded music seems to generate evenly from across a broad but well-defined sound stage; and the Brad Lehman Bach tuning gives us a chance to evaluate its effectiveness for ourselves (I'm sold!).
Douglas Cowling wrote (August 22, 2008):
BWV 140 Cross-dressing
Stephen Benson wrote:
< What I don't understand, and perhaps it is standard performance practice, but when two singers are standing next to each other on stage and engaging in dialogue, why can't they establish eye contact once in a while? >
Perhaps this is why Bach's performers were invisible, far away from the congregation's view. The sight of a 12 yr old schoolboy making "eye contact" with a mature university student during a "love duet" might have been disturbing.
Or perhaps not in an age when a castrato could be an icon of heroic masculinity.
William Hoffman wrote (August 24, 2008):
[To Douglas Cowling & Peter Smaill, regarding BWV 140 Jerusalem] Thank you, Doug and Peter, for your insights on the various connections involving the Escatology (last things) of the Last Sunday of Trinity and the the First Sunday in Advent, the only one of the four Advent Sundays in Leipzig allowing concerted music -- and some amazing music cited. Are these two services sort of an Omega and an Alpha come 'round?
Another amazing work is an Advent Oratorio pastiche, "Good Tydings," by Richard Gore, published by Concordia, which assembles music (arias, recits, choruses, chorales) from the relevant cantatas, such as BWV 61, BWV 62, BWV 36, BWV 70, BWV 147, and BWV 140. I can't seem to find my copy to ga better perspective. Gore also published(Chantry Press) an English version realization of Bach's "lost" St. Mark Passion (BWV 247).
I also wonder at that period of 12 services in 1725 between Easter and Trinity when Bach chose not to compose chorale cantatas (except, belatedly BWV 112 in 1731 on Misericordias Domini Sunday) -- for whatever reasons -- when we have the dramatic "events" of Resurrection, Ascension and Descent of the Holy Spirit -- these profound, and I would suggest, "last things."
I also note that the only documented subsequent times when Bach presented weekly church cantatas were during that 12-service period in 1731 and again, perhaps, in 1735. In 1731, the revival was preceeded by the chorale-vested, parodied St. Mark Passion, BWV 247,and in 1735, may have been a repeat of a/the St. Mark Passion (BWV 247) in nearby Delitsch. And, remember, Mark's Gospel, the first to survive, is the Passion Gospel, which, from the third chapter on leads directly to the Passion. Also, in the chapter before the Passion, 13:4, four disciples (Peter, James, John, Andrew) ask Jesus about a sign of the last things, of the coming of the messianic age. Jesus foretells the destruction of the Temple, which the disciples interpret as a sign of the last things.
I don't believe that these events are merely coincidences involving this calculating, well-regulated composer.
BWV 140 recorders
Ed Myskowski wrote (October 3, 2008):
Steve Benson wrote (with his series of introductions, a few weeks ago):
>Textually, we're on familiar ground. The issue this week, as it was last, is justification by faith alone. The "No one can inherit/Or acquire/Through deeds Your grace" of last week's BWV 177 becomes the "Good deeds no longer help us/They cannot protect us" and the "Lord, rather than at good deeds, You look/At the heart's strength of faith/ Only faith is acceptable to You/Only faith justifies us" of this week’s BWV 9. Works are meaningless. Only faith counts.
Musically and structurally, however, we enter another universe.<
I enjoyed Steve/s introductions very much. For technical reasons (or perhaps moral reasons, my lassitude to upgrade?) I found it inconvenient to respond interactively. I did extract a few of Steve/s words, for reference, intending a brief (and timely) word of thanks.
Timely is long since past, but brevity and gratitude remain as possibilities. Not that any objective toward good works (let alone intentions) matters a whit in some world views. I think Steve subtly made this point; sorry to hit it again with a hammer. A favorite (only?) tool for a stone carver.
I add my agreement to the recommendation for the Publick Musick CD , which Steve noted with respect to BWV 140. Brad Lehman originally brought this CD to our attention last year, on its release, and I added some positive reactions also, at that time. Duly archived on BCW, but it will be a nice project for the ongoing discussions to update opinions of recent recordings, and ensure that they are adequately cross-referenced with individaul BWV numbers. Not everyone/s favorite topic of discussion, I realize, but some of us have a habit of accumulating, enjoying, and discussing recordings in all media (vinyl LPs especially welcome).
Recorders (including vinyl)? Never mind.
Continue on Part 7
Cantata BWV 140: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7