William Hoffman wrote (January 5, 2016):
Cantata 153, 'Schau, lieber Gott' Intro.
Cantata 153, “Schau, lieber Gott, wie meine Feind” (Behold, dear God, how my enemies), for the Sunday after New Years. While Cantata 153 is classified as a multi-hymn cantata it has several unique features in its 15-minute intimacy with symmetrical structure of nine movements: three segments totaling three each chorales, recitatives and arias. The chorales are strategically placed at the beginning, middle and end of the work. The scoring reflects the austere tone: alto, tenor, bass solo with strings. The mood consistently remains dour until the alto aria (no. 8), “Soll ich meinen Lebenslauf / Unter Kreuz und Trübsal führen, / Hört es doch im Himmel auf” (If I have to lead my life / beneath cross and affliction, / yet that will cease in heaven).1
All three vocal solos reflect progressive music in this closet opera with congregational hymns as choral commentary. The alto aria is a menuett in ¾ time that probably derives from an earlier instrumental movement. The initial bass aria (no. 3), “Fürchte dich nicht, ich bin mit dir” (Do not fear, I am with you); is actually a continuo vox Dei arioso cast as a 3/8 passapied. The central tenor number (6) is a classic “rage” aria, “Stürmt nur, stürmt, ihr Trübsalswetter / Wallt, ihr Fluten, auf mich los!” (Storm on, storm, you weather of affliction, / surge, you waves, over me!). Another such aria is the opening of Cantata 154, “Mein liebster Jesus ist verloren” (My dearest Jesus is lost), BCML Discussion next week.
Cantata 153 was first performed on January 2, 1724, in the main service of the Nikolaikirche before the sermon of Superintendent Salomon Deyling (1766-1755), says Martin Petzoldt in Bach Commentary, Vol. 2, Advent to Trinityfest.2
While Deyling’s sermon is not extant, it is quite possible that he choose to preach on the Gospel, Matthew 2:13-23 The Holy Family’s flight into Egypt and Bach responded accordingly. “The unknown author of the libretto has used the gospel reading about the flight to Egypt and Herod's slaughter of the innocents to talk in general about the enemies of Christians,” says Francis Browne in his BCW Note on the text (see below, following the movement synopsis, as well as ‘Dürr Commentary: Grim Gospel’ below). “This also echoes the thought of the epistle,”1 Peter 4: 12-19 (the sufferings of Christians), says Browne. The German text is that of Luther’s translation published in 1545, the English is the Authorised (King James) Version 1611.
Chorales used in this cantata
Bach used three chorale melodies in this cantata:
+Mvt. 1, “Ach Gott, vom Himmel sieh darein” (Ah God, look down from heaven) melody with the alternative text "Schau, lieber Gott, wie meine Feind": see CT, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Texts/Chorale027-Eng3.htm, and CM, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/CM/Ach-Gott-vom-Himmel.htm.
+Mvt. 5, Stanza 2, “Und ob gleich alle Teufel / Dir wollten widerstehn” (And even if all the devils / wanted to stand against you,” of “Herr Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht II” (Lord Jesus Christ, my life’s light) with the alternative text, “Ach Gott, wie manches Herzeleid” (Ah God, how many a heartache), see, CT, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Texts/Chorale065-Eng3.htm, CM, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/CM/Herr-Jesu-Christ-meins-Lebens-Licht.htm.
+Mvt. 9. “Befiehl du deine Wege “(I, Entrust your way, Passion chorale), with the text of Paul Gerhardt (1653): see, CT: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Texts/Chorale066-Eng3.htm, CM: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/CM/Befiehl-du-deine-Wege.htm.
Cantata 153 Movements, Scoring, Incipits, Key, Meter:3
1. Chorale plain [SATB; Violino I col Soprano, Violino II coll'Alto, Viola col Tenore, Continuo]: “Schau, lieber Gott, wie meine Feind, / Damit ich stets muß kämpfen” (Behold, dear God, how my enemies, /with whom I must continually struggle”; a minor to e minor; 4/4.
2. Recitative secco [Alto, Continuo]: “Mein liebster Gott, ach laß dichs doch erbarmen / Ach hilf doch, hilf mir Armen!” (My dearest God, ah be moved with pity then / ah help, help me in my poverty!); a minor to b minor; 4/4.
3. Arioso three-part, ostinato-based with ritornelli [Bass, Continuo]: A. “Fürchte dich nicht, ich bin mit dir” (Do not fear, I am with you); B. “Weiche nicht, ich bin dein Gott” (Do not give way, I am your God); C. “ich stärke dich” (I strengthen you); e minor; 3/8 passepied.
4. Recitative secco with ariosi [Tenor, Continuo]: secco “Du sprichst zwar, lieber Gott, zu meiner Seelen Ruh” (You truly speak, dear God, peace to my soul); arioso, “Ich soll von ihren Händen sterben” (I am about to die at their hands); closing arioso, “Hilf, Helfer, hilf! errette meine Seele!” (help, my helper, help! rescue my soul!); G Major to d minor; 4/4.
5. Chorale plain [SATB; Violino I col Soprano, Violino II coll'Alto, Viola col Tenore, Continuo]: Und ob gleich alle Teufel / Dir wollten widerstehn, / So wird doch ohne Zweifel / Gott nicht zurücke gehn” (And even if all the devils / wanted to stand against you, / there is still no doubt that / God will not give way); Phrygian; 4/4.
6. Aria (rage) two-part with ritornelli [Tenor; Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo]: A. “Stürmt nur, stürmt, ihr Trübsalswetter / Wallt, ihr Fluten, auf mich los!” (Storm on, storm, you weather of affliction, / surge, you waves, over me!); B. “Schlagt, ihr Unglücksflammen, / Über mich zusammen” (You flames of misfortune / engulf me); a minor; 4/4.
7. Recitative secco [Bass, Continuo]: “Getrost! mein Herz, / Laß dich dein Kreuz nicht unterdrücken!” (Take comfort! my heart, / do not be crushed by your cross!); F Major to C Major; 4/4.
8. Aria as instrumental-vocal dance in two parts [Alto; Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo]: A. “Soll ich meinen Lebenslauf / Unter Kreuz und Trübsal führen, / Hört es doch im Himmel auf” (If I have to lead my life / beneath cross and affliction, / yet that will cease in heaven); B. “Da ist lauter Jubilieren” (There is nothing but rejoicing); G Major; ¾ menuett.
9. Chorale plain in three stanzas [SATB; Violino I col Soprano, Violino II coll'Alto, Viola col Tenore, Continuo]: 1. “Drum will ich, weil ich lebe noch, / Das Kreuz dir fröhlich tragen nach” (Therefore I want, while I still live, to bear the cross joyfully after you); 2. “Hilf mir mein Sach recht greifen an” (Help me to deal with my situation); 3. “Erhalt mein Herz im Glauben rein” (Keep my heart pure in faith); C Major; 4/4/.
Note on the text
This cantata was performed on the 2nd January 1724, the Sunday after the New Year. The Epistle for the day was 1 Peter 4: 12-19 (the sufferings of Christians) and the Gospel was Matthew 2: 13-23 (the flight to Egypt). The unknown author of the libretto has used the gospel reading about the flight to Egypt and Herod's slaughter of the innocents to talk in general about the enemies of Christians. This also echoes the thought of the epistle.
Movement 1 is the first strophe of David Denicke's hymn 'Schau, lieber Gott, wie meine Feind' (1646). The third movement is a quotation from Isaiah 41:10. Movement 5 is the fifth strophe from Befiehl du deine Wege by Paul Gerhardt (1653) .The concluding chorale arranges as three verses strophes 11 and 12 of Ach Gott, wie manches Herzelied of Martin Moller (1587).
The use and placement of chorales, the cantata theme, and special qualities of Cantata 153 are discussed in Julian Mincham’s introduction, http://www.jsbachcantatas.com/documents/chapter-34-bwv-153.htm.4 <<This is the third cantata that Bach produced over the Christmas and New Year period to contain three chorales, the others being C 40 and 64. It is, however, the only one to place them at the beginning, end and exact centre of the work. There are no additional choruses, something which may be explained by the sheer quantity of music that the Christmas/New Year season demanded.
The cantata′s theme is a perennial one at this time of the year, contrasting that misery of a life which is spearheaded by the attacks of our enemies with the longed-for peace of heaven. Embedded within this are the reiterated prayers for God′s protection and guidance. Once again the chorales form the backbone of the work.
Three chorales: Chorale 1, first movement: See God, how my cunning enemies manipulate me, such that I may be lost without Your assistance. Chorale 2, fifth movement: Even against the unity of all devils, God will not retreat----whatsoever He has resolved shall be accomplished according to His purpose. Chorale 3, last movement: I shall follow You while I live but prepare me for it----help me to lead a pure life so that I may forever be with You. The sequence of thought is clear and the direction of the cantata assured.
It is a matter of fact that several of the chorales that Bach used in cantatas at this time he later returned to in order to form the basis of chorale/fantasias in the second cycle. That is true of all three in this work; the first formed the basis of C 2, the second that of C 135. The third, transcribed into 4/4 time, forms the basis of C 3 where it repeats one of the three verses that closed C 153 (see vol 2, chapters 3, 5 and 35).
Finally, we might note that the first two chorales are in the minor mode as is most of the first part of the cantata. The transition from fear and trepidation to a sense of purpose and assurance is reflected in the major modes of the final three movements.
Nowhere else does Bach construct the opening of a cantata thus: chorale, secco recitative, arioso, secco recitative, chorale. Although clearly planned in advance, the composition of these five movements may have only engaged him for a single evening. It is not until the tenor aria that we come across a substantial movement of exceptional passion and originality.>>
Dürr Commentary: Grim Gospel
Alfred Dürr’s Commentary (as summarized by Thomas Braatz (July 7, 2003) is found at Cantata 153 Commentary, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Guide/BWV153-Guide.htm. <<Thomas Braatz wrote Alfred Dürr’s Commentary: The unknown librettist, whose text Bach set to music for a performance on January 2, 1724, uses as a pretext for speaking about enemies of a Christian in a more general sense, the Gospel reading for this Sunday about the flight to Egypt and Herod’s mass murder of children. In so doing he also finds a connection with the Epistle as well. Moreover, in mvt. 7, he makes the following reference: If God’s own Son must already suffer ‘even at a tender age,’ then Christians can confidently hope that their suffering will also find an end and the heavenly kingdom will be open to them. Because this libretto has in common with some other cantata texts of the same period (BWV 40 & BWV 64) an unusually large number chorale texts, there is a good possibility that the same librettist is responsible for all of them.
Bach’s composition does not begin in the usual manner with an imposing introductory choral mvt., but rather with a simple 4-pt. setting of a chorale, the 1st vs. of a chorale by David Denicke (1646.) The reason for this can probably be easily ascribed to some easily explained circumstances: Since the Sunday after New Year in 1724 fell on a date as early as January 2nd, one day after the Thomanerchor had just sung BWV 190 and in the short period of time during which boys had to sing almost continuously on 3 other days of Christmas: BWV 63, BWV 40, BWV 64, BWV 243a (the extended Eb version of the Magnificat with all the additional Christmas sections not included in the later D-major version), BWV 238 (‘Sanctus’) – all of these compositions which made great demands upon vocalist and listener alike as Bach demonstrated an imposing wealth of music as well as the capabilities of his musical forces which were being stretched to the limit. Bach realized what they had accomplished and decided to go easy on his usual demands, particularly since he intended in just 4 days to perform on Epiphany BWV 65 with its impressive opening chorus.
For this reason, the choir, in the current cantata (BWV 153), sings only simple 4-pt. chorales and everything else given to the 3 soloists and the string orchestra. The recitatives are all accompanied by only the continuo and the only variety that is achieved comes by means of the ‘Arioso’ sections (at the end of the 4th and 7th mvts.)
Mvt. 3 is also termed an ‘Arioso’ and belongs to the typical type of bass solos based upon Bible texts (here Isaiah 41:10.) These are very much like an aria, but only rarely are designated as such. The instrumental part is restricted only to the continuo just as in the recitatives, but the mvt. begins with a short 8-ms. ritornello which is used not only to ‘frame’ the mvt. (it appears once again without the voice at the end), but also appears in repeated form during the vocal section, and this in various keys (the cadences of these repetitions end in the following keys: e minor, e minor, b minor, D major, e minor, e minor.)
Both arias reflect most clearly the contrast between earthly suffering and heavenly comfort. The 1st aria, mvt. 6 for tenor, presents the imaginative idea representing the enemies attacking from all sides. This is done by means of the swift violin passages, the jerky unison passages, the taut, dotted rhythms and also the daring harmonies that Bach employs. The 2nd aria (mvt. 8 for alto) is an undisguised minuet. It may even be a vocalized form of a mvt. taken from an instrumental suite or perhaps even a parody of a secular cantata. Here, however, it is used to express and describe the eternal joys which a soul will experience in heaven. The structural form consists of, as befitting a minuet, a 2-pt. mvt. with reprise: each section is at first presented instrumentally, then, into the slightly expanded reprise, Bach composes the vocal part [Vokaleinbau.] Only at the end of the 2nd reprise at the words: “Daselbsten verwechselt mein Jesus das Leiden / Mit seliger Wonne, mit ewigen Freuden” (Jesus himself transforms my suffering / with blessed delight, with everlasting joys).
A new theme begins at a faster tempo marked ‚allegro.’ With this the vocal part of this aria concludes in a very spirited fashion. At this point the instruments take up again the reprise which had been interrupted and conclude the mvt. with it.>>
A strong understanding of Bach’s themes in Cantata 153, as well as Lutheran theology and other spiritual metaphors, is found in Braatz’s extended commentary summary of Eric Chafe’s writing on this work (from Analyzing Bach Cantatas, pp. 111-126), particularly its harmonic and tonal resource and expressions:
<<Even though the 1st Sunday in the new year occurred generally before rather than after Epiphany, its Gospel story, of the flight of the holy family to Egypt (Matt 2:13-23), belongs chronologically later in the liturgical sequence. Among Bach’s works for those 2 occasions, only the ‘Christmas Oratorio,’ (BWV 248) since it is a cycle, preserves the correct chronology. But since the flight of the holy family was traditionally interpreted as a reenactment of the Old Testament narrative of the captivity of Israel in Egypt, as well as a prefiguring of the contemporary believer’s longing for eternity as a release from worldly persecution and tribulation, it is appropriate that it come as early as possible in the new year. Its theme, that is, articulates the metaphor of the old year as the time of Israel, the new as the time of Christ and the church, thereby encouraging the believer to draw parallels betthe turning of the year, the changing eras of salvation history, and his own faith experience.
The typical character, or “dynamic,” of that faith experience was, of course, that of Luther’s “analogy of faith” – that is, destruction followed by restoration. Countless Bible stories – the flood, Daniel in the lions’ den, the 3 men in the fiery furnace, the destruction of Jerusalem and of Sodom and Gomorrah, Israel in Egypt and others – exhibited this dynamic, and a considerable number of Bach’s cantata texts cited such stories in order to draw analogies to the believer’s situation. In fact, as we have seen in Bach’s 1723-24 cycle, the cantata for the final Sunday of the liturgical year (Cantata BWV 70, “Wachet! betet! betet! wachet!” for the 26th Sunday after Trinity) had used the metaphor of the world as Egypt in order to aid in developing the theme of destruction and restoration, interpreting the ending of the liturgical year as the “letzte Zeit” before the end of the world and the beginning of the new as the “Anfang wahrer Freude” of God’s restoration of the faithful to the “himmlische Eden.”
Cantata BWV 153 articulates the metaphoric layers just described by means of a 3-stage design, each stage involving 3 mvts.: an aria, a recitative, and a chorale.>>
Sources & Fugitive Notes
At the expense of being repetitive and lacking time to edit my writing, here is my Introduction to Cantata153, BCML Part 3 (September 13, 2009, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV153-D3.htm):<< Midway through his first church year cantata cycle in Leipzig, during the rich festive Christmas season, Bach turned to intimate solo cantatas on only one occasion, the First Sunday of the New Year, Jan. 2, 1724. While some Bach commentators have suggested that Bach decided to give his choir a break after exacting celebratory music, Bach's practice for the Sunday observed between the feasts of New Year's Day and Epiphany was to present music of reflection with an element of the suffering side of the newborn Son of God and of his Christian followers.
Depending on when Christmas fell during the week, the Sunday observed in the church year was either the one following Christmas Day or New Year's Day. Both Sundays had different appointed readings but the same psalmic Introit and Gradual (Psalm 45, "My heart is stirring with a noble song," and Psalm 93, "The Lord is King") and the instructional Collect: "Almighty and everlasting God, direct our actions, according to Thy good pleasure, that in the Name of the beloved Son, we may be made to abound in good works . . . ."
The Sunday after New Year's was first observed by the Church of the Reformation in the early part of the 17th Century. The day's position in the church year and its proximity to Epiphany led to the selection of the only remaining Gospel of the Infancy not otherwise appointed. This Gospel, Matthew 2: 13-23, is the account of the Flight into Egypt and the so-called Martyrdom of the Innocents, slain by Herod. While the Roman Catholic Holy Innocents Day was excluded from the Lutheran church year, Luther says this Gospel reading is important because of its teaching and its comfort. The teaching involves the battle between the forces of evil against the new Kingdom of God. The comfort is that Christ, his Word, and his Church shall defeat evil and possess the battlefield. The symbolic struggle, which occupied Bach in other teachings, most notably the angelic victory at the Feast of St. Michael, here on this Sunday is portrayed not as a celebratory victory but as a reflection on passion as suffering in both lessons: the suffering of the children of Bethlehem and the ultimate passion of the Child who was initially saved, and the ensuing suffering legacy of Christians. (My source for these two paragraphs is Paul Zeller Strodach's: <The Church Year: Studies in the Introits, Collects, Epistles and Gospels> (United Lutheran Church, 1924).
The other dominant characteristic in Bach's three extant church pieces for this Sunday after New Year's is the central role of the chorale: three in four-parts for Cantata BWV 153, two in the fifth part of the Christmas Oratorio, and the duet Jesus-Soul chorale fantasias opening and closing Cantata BWV 58. In keeping with the emphasis on suffering, the chosen chorales are vested with the theme of Christian suffering and Christ's Passion. It is quite possible that the libretto for all three extant works involved not a single poet but the collaboration of the composer Bach, the preacher of the day's sermon, Christian Weiss, and possibly the poet Picander, who also may have been involved in the New Year's Day cantata performed the previous day, BWV 190. It is also quite possible that all three collaborated in the text of the St. Matthew and St. Mark Passions, as well, to achieve a more perfect well-regulated church music.
The specific chorales in Bach's three works were well-suited for the Sunday after New Year, says Günter Stiller in <JSB and Liturgical Life in Leipzig> (p. 237) as well as the ensuing transitional Epiphany season leading to Lent. He points out that the hymn "Ach Gott, wie manches Herzeleid" is used in both Cantatas BWV 153 and 58, and is often listed in contemporary hymn books under the heading of "Cross, Persecution, Tribulation." "Also well suited, for the settings of the Sunday after New Year's," he says, is the Gerhardt Passion hymn "Befiel du deine Wege."
SUNDAY AFTER NEW YEAR (NBA KB I/4, Neumann 1964)Gospel, Matthew 2: 13-15 (Flight Into Egypt), or Matthew 2:1-7 (Magi)*, Epistle, I Peter 4:12 (Christian Suffering)
Date(Cy.)BWV Title Type
1/2/24(1) BWV 153 Schau, lieber Gott, wie meine Feind ATB Solo
1725 (no church year date, instead Sunday after Christmas, 12/31/24)
1726 (no church year date, instead Sunday after Christmas, 12/30/25)
1/5/27(2) BWV 58 Ach Gott, wie manches Herzeleid II SB Solo1/2/29(4) deest (P10) Steh auf, mein Herz text only 1/2/35 BWV 248V Ehre sei dir Gott, gesungen* Chorus, parody
SUNDAY AFTER NEW YEAR: BWV 153, Schau, lieber Gott, wie meine Feind [ATB Solo]1/2/24 (Cycle 1); composite text, opens with chorale, has 3 (with separate melodies).
Sources: (1) score (lost, ?WFB); (2) parts set (SPK St.79, ?WFB); (3) score copy (SPK AmB 44,9), provenance: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Ref/BWV153-Ref.htm. Literature: Breit. 1761; BG XXXII (Naumann 1886); NBA KB I/4 (Neumann 1964); Whittaker I:401-7; Robertson 41-3; Young 47 f, Dürr 148-51. Text: #1, Denicke cle. (S. 1), mel. "Ach Gott, vom Himmel sieh darein" ("Ah God, From Heaven see therein"); #2-4, 6-8,?C. Weiss, Bach; #5, Gerhardt cle."Befiehl du deine Wege" ("Commend Thy Ways") (S. 5), mel. "Herzlich tut mich verlangen" ("Heartily Do I Long"); #9, Moller cle. "Ach Gott, wie manches Herzeleid" ("O God, How Much Sorrow") (S. 11), mel. "O Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht" ("O Jesus Christ, My Life's Light").>>
I take the liberty of quoting Chafe's thesis (Ibid.) at the beginning of his chapter focusing on BWV 153, "Five, Bach's Reflection on the Past: Modal Chorales in Cantata Designs"(p.101): Bach not only derives "highly individual harmonic qualities from the traditional chorale melodies but also of extendinthe tonal qualities of the melodies to the movement sequences of entire cantatas. The latter quality almost always involves his perceiving a link between the tonal characteristics of a given melody and the theological intent of its text and then elaborating that link in terms of the musico-allegorical design on the work as a whole."
A rudimentary examination of the movement layout or template shows symmetrical ordering and systematic repetition within a double three-fold or trinitarian frame work: (1) A. Chorale, (2) B. Recitative, (3) C. Arioso; (4) D. Recitative (5) E. Chorale, (6) F. ; (7) G. Recitative, (8) H. Aria, (9) I. Chorale.
Schematically, the three plain chorales form the beginning, exact middle and end of the cantata. Each chorale is part of the three clusters of three movements. The three recitatives form the middle of the first cluster and introduce the middle and final clusters. The arioso and two arias constitute the recitative mirror of ending the first and middle clusters and being the middle of the last (third) cluster.
So, the chorales perform their traditional cantata function of diving the work in two and closing it, as well as substituting for the traditional opening chorus or tutti aria. The arias and recitatives invest the work by existing internally within it, in sequence (providing contrast of recitative-aria(oso) in the outer clusters and flanking to the central chorale.
Thus, we have a near palindrome or mirror (chiastic or cross-like) structure, displaying profound, perhaps unconscious rhetoric infusing Bach's musical design. From Rhetoric 101 Class I find the two basic elements of the rhetorical device: symmetry and repetition, to which I would respectfully and humbly add contrast and variation. This cantata establishes the pattern, the structural model, which Bach would most effectively utilize and realize in the two great Passions and Great Mass.
Those who wish to play the numerology-theology game are most welcome to designate each movement type: Perhaps chorale represents the Trinitarian Creator or theme, recitative could be redeemer or proclamation, aria as sanctifier or blessing. Possibly, instead, there is a biblical representation, based on Chafe: chorale as prayer, recitative as plea, and aria as affirmation.
I leave you to Chafe's extensive observations and scrutiny and Bach' revelatory music with one observation: Each movement speaks profoundly for itself while securing and enhancing the totality.
While my opening summary of the liturgical basis for the Sunday after New Year is based on traditional Lutheran hermeneutical teaching, Chafe presents a more extensive interpretation of the overall biblical context and meaning of Cantata BWV 153, with its unique form to fit its unique in-between time, in his initial remarks (p. 111) and BCW listing above.>>
1 Cantata 153 BCW Details and revised and updated Discography, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV153.htm.
2 Petzoldt, Bach Kommentar: Theologisch Musikwissenschaftlicke Kommentierung der Geistlichen Vokalwerke Johann Sebastan Bachs; Vol. 2, Die Geistlichen Kantaten vom 1. Advent bis zum Trinitatisfest; Internationale Bachakademie Stuttgart (Kassel: Bärenreiter, 2007: 338).
3Cantata 153 text and Francis Browne English translation and Note on the text, BCW http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Texts/BWV153-Eng3.htm.
4 Mincham, Julian, The Cantatas of Johann Sebastian Bach: A listener and student guide, Revised 2014; Home Page, http://www.jsbachcantatas.com/index.htm.