Cantata BWV 178Wo Gott derr Herr nicht bei uns hält
Discussions - Part 4
Continue from Part 3
Discussions in the Week of July 20, 2014 (4th round)
William Hoffman wrote (July 20, 2014):
Cantata 178, "Wo Gott der Herr," Intro.
Bach’s chorale Cantata BWV 178, “Wo Gott derr Herr nicht bei uns halt” (If the Lord God does not stay with us), is one of his most striking, accessible, and unique musical sermons. Composed for the 8th Sunday after Trinity, July 30, 1724, at St. Nikolaus Church in Leipzig, it is a graphic portrait of that day’s Gospel, “Beware of false prophets (Matt. 7:15), based on Justus Jonas’ early Reformation setting of Psalm 124, “O Lord, rebuke me not in then anger.” It begins with an ideal, powerful chorale fantasia that sets a “mood of dire warning” and “defiance” (John Eliot Gardiner). Cantata 178 continues with a topical rather than symmetrical structure that extensively utilizes the chorale poetry and melody in a pair of chorale tropes interspersed with paraphrasing recitative sermon-style commentary for all four solo voices, two graphic arias for bass and tenor that paraphrase stanzas as well as a literal chorale tenor aria. The 20-minute work concludes with a plain chorale setting of the final two affirmative stanzas.1
The Readings for the 8th Sunday after Trinity are the Epistle, Romans 8:12-17 (We are joint heirs with Christ);, and the Gospel teaching, Matthew 7:15-23 Beware of false prophets. The Gospel is part of the Trinity Time "Gospel Thematic Pattern of Paired Miracle (Tr.+7, Mark 8:1-9, Miracle of feeding of the four thousand Teaching) and (Tr.+ 8) Paired Teaching”: Beware of false prophets (Matthew 7:15-23) “ Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.  Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles.”2
The Introit Psalm is Psalm 6, Domine, ne in fin fuore (O Lord, rebuke me not in then anger (KJ, full text, https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalm+6&version=KJV), says Martin Petzoldt, Bach Kommentar, Vol. 1, Trinity Sundays.3 The sermon on the Gospel (Matt. 7:15-23) was preached on July 30, 1724, at the late service by Superintendent Salomon Deyling (1677-1755), says Petzoldt (Ibid.: 180).
The text is based on the Justus Jonas hymn “Wo Gott der Herr nicht bei uns hält (after Psalm 124). It is in traditional Bar Form (Stollen 1=Lines 1-2, Stollen 2=Lines 3-4, Abgesang=Lines 5-7). The anonymous librettist(s) set unaltered Stanzas 1 (Mvt. 1, chorale fantasia), 4 (Mvt. 4, T.aria), and 7-8 (Mvt. 7, plain chorale); and paraphrased Stanzas 2 (Mvt. 2, chorale & A.recit., 3 (Mvt. 3, B.aria, 5 (Mvt. 5 chorale & ATB recit.), and 6 (Mvt. 6, T. aria).4
The original Jonas text 1524 is found at Neu Leipziger Gesangbuch (NGB), No. 267 in the category Christian “Life and Conduct: David Psalms)5 The Francis Browne English translation is found at BCW, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Texts/Chorale086-Eng3.htm. The chorale melody, “Wo Gott der Herr nicht bei uns halt” (Zahn melody No. 4441a), is by an anonymous composer from the Wittenberg Reformation Circle, 1529. Information on the chorale melody is found at BCW, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/CM/Wo-Gott-der-Herr.htm.
Charles S. Terry provides notes on the Jonas chorale:6 “A Choral Cantata , on Justus Jonas’ version of Psalm cxxiv, “Wo Gott der Herr nicht bei uns halt,” first published in Eyn Enchiridion oder Handbuchlein (Erfurt, 1524). It occurs also in Eyn gesang Buchleyn (Zwickau, 1525), but to another melody, and in Joseph Klug’s Geistliche Lieder (Wittenberg, 1535 [1529 lost]), to the tune which Bach uses here (see Cantata 114). Jonas, the son of Jonas Koch, was born at Nordhausen in 1493. He was educated at Wittenberg and Erfurt and became (1519) Rector of the latter University. As Professor of Church Law at Wittenberg (1521) he was the friend and colleague of Luther and Melanchthon. After Luther’s death he became pastor at Eisfeld on the Werra, and died there in 1555.” The Jonas BCW Short Biography is found at http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Lib/Jonas-Justus.htm.
The melody was set by Bach to four different texts: Text 1 of Jonas (EKG 193, Cantata BWV 178 and Plain Chorale BWV 258). The anonymous melody also is set to Text 2 of “Ach, lieben Christen, seid getrost” (no EKG) of David Spaiser (Verse 1, 1521) and Johann Gigas (Verses 2-6, 1561), that Bach identifies following Kaspar Cruger (1709) as “Wo Gott der Herr,” that Bach set to chorale Cantata BWV 114 for the 17th Sunday after Trinity 1724) and plain chorale BWV 256. The melody also is set to Text 3, Martin Luther’s “Wär Gott nicht mit uns diese Zeit (EKG: 192), Wittenberg 1524, anther version of Psalm 114 that Bach also set as a plain chorale, BWV 257. The melody also us set to Text 4, “Herr, wie du willst, so schick's mit mir” (EKG: 285) of Kaspar Bienemann (1582) that Bach set (Stanza 1), as a chorale chorus with recitative opening Cantata BWV 73 for the 3rd Sunday after Epiphany 1724.
Cantata 178 movements, scoring, initial text, key, and time signature are:7
1. Chorus dal segno, thematically independent orchestra, voice texture part chordal/free polyphony (SATB; Oboe I/II, Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo): Stollen 1, “Wo Gott der Herr nicht bei uns halt,” Psalm 124:1 (If the Lord God does not stay with us), Stollen 2, “Und er unser Sach nicht zufällt” (and if he does not support our cause); Abgesang, “Wo er Israel Schutz nicht ist” (if he is not Israel's protection); last line, “So ist's mit uns verloren.” (then all is lost with us.); a minor; 4/4.
2. Chorale trope (Stanza 2, arioso presto) and Recitative secco paraphrase (Alto, Continuo): Stollen 1”Was Menschenkraft und -witz anfäht, / Soll uns billig nicht schrecken” (What human power and intelligence contrive / should not easily terrify us); Recit., “Denn Gott der Höchste steht uns bei” . . . (for God the highest stands by us); Stollen 2, “Er sitzet an der höchsten Stätt” . . . (He sits in the highest place); Recit., “Die Gott im Glauben fest umfassen, / Will er niemals versäumen noch verlassen” (Those who embrace God firmly in faith / he will never abandon nor forsake); Abgesang 5, “Wenn sie's aufs klügste greifen an” . . . (When they attack with the greatest cunning), Recit., “Auf Schlangenlist und falsche Ränke sinnen” . . . (plotting with a serpent's cunning and false intrigues); 6. “So geht doch Gott ein ander Bahn” (then God goes another way); Recit. “Er führt die Seinigen mit starker Hand” . . . (he leads those who are his own people with a mighty hand); 7. “Es steht in seinen Händen.” (It is in his hands); C Major to e minor; 4/4.3. Aria (Stanza 3 paraphrase) A B B’ with ritornelli (Bass; Violino I/II all' unisono, Continuo): A. “Gleichwie die wilden Meereswellen” . . . Psalm 124:4-5 (“Just as the wild waves of the sea”; B. “Sie wollen Satans Reich erweitern”. . . (They want to make Satan's kingdom greater); G Major, 9/8 giga style.4. Chorale Aria (Stanza 4) (Tenor; Oboe d'amore I/II [chorale motive], Continuo): “Sie stellen uns wie Ketzern nach” (They persecute us as heretics); b minor, 4/4.
5. Chorale (SATB) trope (Stanza 5) and Recitative secco paraphrase (BTA, Continuo): Chorus [Stollen 1]: “Auf sperren sie den Rachen weit” (They open wide their jaws); Bass Recit.: “Nach Löwenart mit brüllendem Getöne” . . . (like a lion, with sounds of roaring); Chorus: “Und wollen uns verschlingen” Psalm 124:3 ( And would swallow us down); Tenor Recit.: “Jedoch” (And yet); Chorus (Stollen 2): “Lob und Dank sei Gott allezeit” (Praise and thanks to God always”; Tenor Recit.: “Der Held aus Juda schützt uns noch” (the hero from Judah still protects us); Chorus: “Es wird ihn' nicht gelingen” (They will not succeed); Alto (Recit.): “Sie werden wie die Spreu vergehn” . . . (they will perish like chaff); Chorus (Abgesang): “Er wird Strick zerreißen gar” . . . (he will break asunder their traps); Bass Recit.: “Gott wird die törichten Propheten” . . . 1 Kings 18:20 (God will kill the foolish prophets) Chorus (Line 7): “Sie werden's Gott nicht wehren” (They will have no defence against God.); b minor; 4/4.6. Aria free da-capo (Stanza 6 paraphrase) (Tenor; Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo): A. “Schweig, schweig nur, taumelnde Vernunft!” (Be silent, be silent, reeling reason!); B. “Sprich nicht: Die Frommen sind verlorn” (do not say: the devout are lost); A; e minor; 4/4.7. Plain chorale (SATB; Corno e Oboe I/II e Violino I col Soprano, Violino II coll'Alto, Viola col Tenore, Continuo): Stanza 7, Stollen 1, “Die Feind sind all in deiner Hand” . . . (Our enemies are all in your hand); Stollen 2, “Ihr Anschläg sind dir, Herr, bekannt” . . . (what they attempt is known to you, Lord) Abgesang, “Vernunft wider den Glauben ficht . . . (If reason fights against faith). Stanza 8, Stollen 1, “Den Himmel und auch die Erden / Hast du, Herr Gott, gegründet” . . . (the heaven and also the Earth / have been founded, Lord God, by you); a minor, 4/4.Cantata 178 Mood & Details
The mood of Cantata 178 and graphic details are described in John Eliot Gardiner’s 2008 liner notes to the Bach Cantata Pilgrimage.8 << A mood of dire warning against hypocrites and false prophets, one that derives from the Gospel reading (Matthew 7:15-23), permeates BWV 178 Wo Gott der Herr nicht bei uns hält, first performed in Leipzig on 30th July 1724. Basing his cantata on a hymn by Justus Jonas from 1524, a free translation of Psalm 124, Bach constructs an opening chorus of immense power, sustained energy and astonishing compositional prowess with which to box his listeners’ ears. Of its 115 bars only two complete bars and thirteen beats stand outside the continuous stream of semiquavers trafficking to and fro from instrument to instrument and voice to voice, against a backdrop of pounding dotted rhythms and bellicose syllabic punctuation – quite astonishing! Perhaps it was this chorus that led Bach’s first biographer Johann Nikolaus Forkel to choose Wo Gott der Herr as one of only two cantatas [and BWV 107] he himself copied out from the (lost) autograph score he borrowed from Bach’s eldest son, Wilhelm Friedemann.The defiant mood of sibyl-like warnings continues in the second movement, marked presto, in which the altos proclaim the chorale tune while ‘troped’ solo interjections in secco recitative remind us of God’s ability to expose artful plots and to lead His people ‘across the sea of suffering to the promised land’. This is the cue for a tone poem describing a gale-lashing and sea-beating worthy of comparison with the tenor aria from BWV 81 Jesus schläft, was soll ich hoffen? (see SDG Vol.19) [4th Sunday after Epiphany 1724], a magnificent aria for bass with unison violins which conjures up not simply the storm but the enemy’s fury as it seeks to capsize ‘Christ’s frail boat’. One wonders when Bach, a landlocked Thuringian, might have witnessed a maritime storm. It could only have been on the Baltic during his brief stay in Lübeck in 1705, if ever. But somehow he has grasped the queasy, disorienting experience of being at sea in a gale, and conveys the moods of the storm through the multiple subdivisions of this 9/8 maelstrom of semiquavers, grouped now in sixes, now one-and-five, now paired, now articulated as separate individual ‘breakers’. Technically it is merciless for the singer and exhilarating for the string players, while as a listener you do indeed by the end feel appropriately buffeted and chastised.The grim mood of foreboding is maintained in the chorale statement for tenor (No.4): ‘They lie in wait for us, as though we were heretics, they thirst after our blood’, and again in the chorale strophe which follows: ‘They open wide their jaws and would devour us’ – ‘as roaring lions do; they bare their murderous fangs’, comments the bass in recitative (No.5) over an incessant rhythmic ostinato figure in the continuo. There is something in this reminiscent of Gospel music – a chilling antiphony between chorus and the three commenting soloists: you feel the chorus should precede each of their entrances with shouts of ‘Yea, Lord’ and a roll of drums! And still there is no let-up in the tension. The tenor aria (No.6) now has ‘reeling reason’ as its target, the weasel words of rationalists who would bring down the whole Lutheran theological edifice. Bach here restricts himself to the string band and comes up with as gritty a piece of counterpoint as he ever penned. Again, there is huge rhythmic vigour, this time stemming from the broken rhythmic exchanges between the four instrumental voices, as well as bold harmonic gestures to underpin the tenor’s injunction to silence, ‘Schweig, schweig’ – another fascinating parallel here with the equivalent aria for bass in BWV 81. Only the closing two-verse chorale in a rather dull tessitura, A minor, eases up on the brimstone, as Bach is content to supply a more conventional prayer for guidance and strengthened faith.>> © John Eliot Gardiner 2008; From a journal written in the course of the Bach Cantata Pilgrimage.The Klaus Hofmann informative liner notes to the Masaaki Suzuki BIS complete cantata recording could not be transcribed but is found at http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Pic-Rec-BIG/Suzuki-C23c[BIS-CD1331].pdf, BCW Recording details, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Performers/Suzuki-Rec2.htm#C23.
1Cantata 178 BCML Details and Discography, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV178.htm. For complete YouTube recordings, including Koopman, Richter, and Harnoncourt, see: http://search.earthlink.net/search?q=Cantata+178+YouTube&channel=webmail&area=earthlink-ws .
2 The full text of the Epistle and Gospel in Martin Luther’s German translation of 1545 and the English translation in the Authorised (King James) Version [KJV] 1611, is found at BCW, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Read/Trinity8.htm.
3 Petzoldt, Martin. Bach Kommentar: Die geistlichen Kantaten des 1. Bis 27. Trinitas-Sontagges, Vol. 1; Theologisch Musikwissenschaftlicke Kommentierung der Geistlichen Vokalwerke Johann Sebastan Bachs, Internationale Bachakademie Stuttgart (Kassel: Bärenreiter, 2004: Trinity 8 Commentary 171-173; Cantata 178 text 176-180, Commentary, 180-85).
4 The Cantata 178 German text and the Francis Browne English Translation with “Notes on the text” is at BCW, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Texts/BWV178-Eng3.htm.
5 NLGB: BACH'S HYMN BOOK: Jürgen Grimm, "Das neu [?] Leipziger Gesangbuch des Gottfried Vopelius (Leipzig 1682)", Berlin: Merseburger, 1969. ML 3168 G75 (Douglas Cowling).
6Terry, Charles Sanford. The Hymns and Hymn Melodies of the Cantatas and Motetts (Cambridge University Press, 1915-1921). 3 vols. Vol. 2; http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/bach-bachs-chorals-vol-2-the-hymns-and-hymn-melodies-of-the-cantatas-and-motetts, scroll down to Cantata CLXXVIII.
7 Soloists: Alto, Tenor, Bass; 4-part Chorus; Orchestra: 2 oboes, 2 oboes d’amore, viola, C.f. horn in the soprano, continuo). Score Vocal & Piano [2.35 MB], http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Scores/BWV178-V&P.pdf; Score BGA [3.22 MB], http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BGA/BWV178-BGA.pdf. References: BGA XXXV (Church cantatas 171-180, Alfred Dörffel, 1888), NBA KB I/18 (Cantatas for Trinity+8, Alfred Dürr 1967), Bach Compendium BC A 112, Zwang: K 81.
8 Gardiner notes, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Pic-Rec-BIG/Gardiner-P05c[sdg147_gb].pdf; BCW Recording details, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Performers/Gardiner-Rec2.htm#P5 .
To come: More Cantata 178 discussion, including Francis Browne’s “Notes on the text” and Gardiner’s liner notes on Bach’s motives and opportunities, Bach’s performance schedule for the 8th Sunday after Trinity, “Chorales for the 8th Sunday After Trinity,” and Provenance notes.
Aryeh Oron wrote (July 21, 2014):
Cantata BWV 178 - Revised & updated Discography
The discography pages of the Chorale Cantata BWV 178 “Wo Gott derr Herr nicht bei uns hält” for the 8th Sunday after Trinity on the BCW has been revised and updated.
The cantata is scored for alto, tenor & bass soloists; 4-part Chorus; and orchestra of 2 oboes, 2 oboes d’amore, viola, horn in the soprano continuo. See:
Complete Recordings (10): http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV178.htm
Recordings of Individual Movements (4): http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV178-2.htm
The revised discography includes many listening/watching options to recordings directly from the discography pages, just below the recording details.
I believe this is the most comprehensive discography of this chorale cantata. If you are aware of a recording of BWV 178 missing from these pages, or want to correct/add details of a recording already presented on the BCW, please do not hesitate to inform me.
William Hoffman wrote (July 24, 2014):
Cantata 178: Text Notes, Gardiner, Trinity+8 Chorales
BCML Cantata 178 Discussions Part 4 continues with three previous, extended commentaries on particular elements of Bach’s chorale cantata for the 8th Sunday after Trinity: First is BCW translator Francis Browne’s extensive notes on the anonymous librettist’s paraphrases of Justus Jonas’ setting of Psalm 124, “O Lord, rebuke me not in then anger.” Beyond a detailed examination of the text and many elements found in it, Browne says that it “is dissipated by the paraphrase of Justus Jonas” but suggests that this treatment is based on the need to make the writing relevant to his own times. Some of the images and words are particularly relevant to the early Reformation and Jonas’ perspective. The historical-biographical context of Jonas’ and Bach’s time also are important to understand. BCML readers have the added advantages of reading this commentary or the actual Cantata 178 text with Browne’s translation, BCW http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Texts/BWV178-Eng3.htm, while listening to one of 10 Complete Recordings at Aryeh Oron's just-updated posting at BCW, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV178.htm. It can be a remarkable experience and individuals may wish to add comments to this discussion.
Francis Browne: Notes on the text:1
BWV 178 is a chorale cantata from Bach's second Leipzig cycle. It was written for the eighth Sunday after Trinity and first performed on 30 July 1724. The text is based on a hymn by Justus Jonas which in turn is based on Psalm 124. Both chorale and cantata text echo the warnings in the Gospel reading about hypocrisy and the enemies of Christ. The unknown author of Bach’s text has retained six out of the eight strophes of the hymn and the movements which do not quote the hymn directly still refer to it. To understand this cantata text it is therefore necessary to consider both the Psalm and the hymn. Both texts are available with translation at: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Texts/Chorale086-Eng3.htm
The short Psalm has a forceful brevity. It is a national celebration of some unspecified deliverance from danger in the past. In a world of more powerful nations the continued existence of Israel was often precarious. Looking back the Psalmist sees that without God’s help Israel would have met with disaster. He uses varied imagery to convey the magnitude and intensity of the danger yet the description is too general to make clear the particular occasion.
Imagery of being swallowed up by enemies may recall primaeval monsters (Jer 51:34) or even Sheol (dwelling place of the dead -Proverbs 1:12). The torrents of water should be thought of as the rush of water in a wadi after a sudden storm rather than a sea or a flooded river. The description recalls mythological language of storms which describe God’s combat against the primaeval waters. The image of the escaped bird changes the emphasis from danger deliverance and leads naturally to the formulaic but effective concluding mention of God's help and his power. The psalm moves swiftly and effectively from the arresting opening statement of danger escaped to the conclusion that dependence on God is essential.
Reading through the two later texts it is difficult not to feel that much of the Psalm’s force is dissipated by the paraphrase of Justus Jonas and then further weakened by the verbose expansions of the cantata text. But a closer examination shows that Jonas has purposefully adapted the ancient poem to make it relevant to his own times [1524, early Reformation, Wittenberg circle].
This is clear from the first strophe. The psalm looks back at danger in the past from which the nation of Israel with God's help has definitively escaped, but the present tenses of the chorale present the danger as threatening now and continuing -therefore God's help is also needed both now and in the future. What the danger is becomes clear from the terms in which the enemy are described: such words as List (cunning), Witz (intelligence) and Rat (plans ) make clear that the threat is intellectual and in the fourth strophe it becomes clear that the enemy to whom the striking imagery of the Psalm is being applied are Christians who hold different views.
Justus Jonas, as his colourful and interesting biography makes clear, was passionately involved throughout his life in promoting Luther's reforms. This hymn dates from 1524 and so in the midst of years of struggle for the reformed religion. From the perspective of our pluralist society where many people have no religious belief and others are, in Matthew Arnold's phrase, “light half believers of our casual creeds” it can seem difficult to understand the passionate certainty and commitment that made people ready to die for their faith and -human nature being what it is -also to kill others for their faith. But for Jonas and those who first sang his hymn what was at stake was more than a matter of life and death - it was a question of eternal salvation or everlasting damnation. In such circumstances it would have seemed natural to apply to their opponents the words of the life and death struggle depicted in the psalm. Seen from this perspective the differences between the psalm and the chorale can be understood.
Two centuries later, when the author of the cantata text adapted the chorale, Luther's reforms had become established and were no longer threatened in the same way. But a different threat was perceived in the rise of rationalism in the 17th century, which gave supremacy to reason instead of accepting revealed religion and led ultimately to the Enlightenment( Aufklärung). Already in the chorale Jonas sees an opposition between reason and faith. Bach’s [anonymous] librettist takes this notion further in the additional comments he adds to the chorale in movements 2 and 5, and the two arias – (3, for bass: Christ’s little ship the church, is threatened; 6 for tenor : reason is told to be silent).
These contexts of a small nation struggling to survive in a world of great powers, of religious reformers fighting for their view of truth, of established religion uneasy at the rise of rationalism help us to understand the texts. What remains inexplicable is the music Bach produced. In John Eliot Gardiner's words: “what on earth was Bach on when he sat down to compose this astonishing cantata.... What can have spurred Bach to invent music of such density, vehemencand highly charged originality?”
In the 5th movement the hero from Judah is of course Christ and the phrase is familiar from its startling appearance in the Es ist vollbracht aria from the Saint John Passion (BWV 245). References to chaff and trees recall Psalm 1. Foolish prophets etc recalls Elijah’s conflict with the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18:20).
Ketzer, Ketzerei (Heretic, heresy) are not common in modern German and have an interesting history. The words come from the Cathars, a Christian religious sect with dualistic and gnostic elements that appeared in the Languedoc region of France and other parts of Europe in the 11th century and flourished in the 12th and 13th centuries. They were brutally suppressed by the church. The name is derived from katharos –“pure” in Greek - but according to the Grimm brothers’ DWB this origin was soon forgotten and the name was derived from Katze, since cats were supposed to be the devil's creatures. A 12th cetury writer said : catari dicuntur a cato, quia osculantur posteriora cati, in cujus specie ut dicunt apparet eis Lucifer. Alanus ab insulis (s. myth. 1019)[They are called Catars from cat,because they kiss the bottom of the cat in the likeness of which –so they say – Lucifer appears to them]. Not surprisingly most of the later examples cited are perjorative . ('Lahr' is an alternative form of Lehre.)>>
Gardiner on Bach’s Motivation, Personality
Gardiner’s comments on the historical-biographical context of Cantata 178, particularly Bach’s motivations and Gardiner’s extensive comments on Bach’s character in his new musical biography, Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven, make for fascinating reading, particularly along with listening the Gardiner’s recording on-line, at a download price.
Here are Gardiner 2008 liner notes in his commentary on Cantata 178:2 <<What on earth was Bach on when he sat down to compose this astonishing cantata? At the end of the Rendsburg [Bach Pilgrimage 20000] concert the continuo players came up to tell me that they found it more technically demanding and draining than playing an entire St Matthew Passion!
What then can have spurred Bach to invent music of such density, vehemence and highly charged originality? It’s the kind of question that has exercised Bach scholars from the very beginning, and one that has occurred to me every week as I am confronted by a set of new and challenging cantatas to prepare. Was it genuine religious fervour and the kind of single-minded dedication he exhibits on his title pages and in signing off each cantata with ‘S.D.G.’, or merely a capacity for brilliant mimicry, coupled with an innate sense of drama and an imagination instantly fired by strong verbal imagery? You feel you know the answer, then along come the advocates of an encoded theological message embedded in the cantatas, and close on their heels the sceptics who recommend that we forget all about religion when we interpret Bach. But even if we assume that Bach’s I for one believe), does that automatically turn him into a theologian, as some insist, or set the value of these cantatas in predominantly theological terms? Surely not: theology is expressed primarily through words, while Bach’s natural form of expression and his musical procedures have their own logic, one that overrides word-driven considerations. They even show themselves to be quite anti-literary at times. We should not allow theologically motivated commentators to treat the cantatas as doctrinal dissertations as opposed to discrete musical compositions. In the final analysis nothing can gainsay or diminish the overwhelming poetic transformative force of Bach’s music, the very quality that makes his cantatas so appealing to non-Christian listeners as well.
A cantata of such sustained defiance as BWV 178 also leads one to ask whether Bach’s ongoing conflict with the Leipzig Consistory might suddenly have reached boiling point, or whether there had perhaps been a more personal falling-out with one of the resident clerics. There is a fascinating passage in his personal copy of Calov’s Bible commentary, one that he underlined and flagged up with a marginal ‘NB’, dealing with the subject of anger and score-settling. ‘It is true’, Calov says, ‘that anger must exist, but take care that it occur as is proper and in your command, and that you express anger not for your own sake but for the sake of your office and for God’s sake; and that you do not confuse the two, your own cause with that of your office. For yourself, you must show no anger no matter how severe the offence has been. However, where it concerns your office you must show anger, even if you yourself have not been wronged.’ At all stages in his career Bach was quick to leap to the defence of his professional rights. How much more satisfying, though, to channel all that frustration and vituperative energy into his music, and then to watch as it rained down from the choir loft onto his chosen targets below  with their stark juxtapositions of hellfire and salvation, of anger and tenderness. But my neighbour was having none of that, perhaps echoing what the Jesuits feared most about Luther: the dynamite of his hymns with their sturdy tunes, which ‘killed more souls than all his works and sermons together’.>>
Chorales for the 8th Sunday after Trinity
See: Motets & Chorales for 8th Sunday after Trinity
William Hoffman wrote (July 24, 2014):
Cantata 178: Trinity+8 Performance Calendar
Bach’s performance calendar for the 8th Sunday after Trinity reflects his particular interest in the teaching Gospel “Beware of false prophets (Matt. 7:15), based on Justus Jonas’ early Reformation setting of Psalm 124, “O Lord, rebuke me not in then anger,” the chorale “Wo Gott derr Herr nicht bei uns halt” (If the Lord God does not stay with us).
There are extant three Cantatas for 8th Sunday after Trinity
BWV 136, Erforsche mich, Gott, und erfahre mein Herz (Search me, God, and know my heart) (July 18, 1723)
BWV 178, Wo Gott derr Herr nicht bei uns halt (If God does not abide in us) (July 30, 1724)
BWV 45, Es ist dir gesagt, Mensch, was gut ist (It is told to you, O man, what is good) (August 11, 1726)
There are no documented Bach reperformances of the three extant cantatas for the 8th Sunday after Trinity (BWV 136, BWV 178, BWV 45).
During the post-Cycle 2 Trinity Time of 1725, for the 8th Sunday after Trinity, July 22, Bach may have repeated Cantata BWV 178 without the opening chorale fantasia, substituting instead the opening stanza as harmonized in the closing plain choral, Movement No. 6 (Stanzas 7 and 8). There is collateral evidence that Bach, perhaps two months earlier, presented his extant, abridged versions of the two-part Cantatas BWV 75 and BWV 76 without opening choruses. There also is documentation that during this 1725 Trinity Time, Bach may have given his boys' chorus a break when only feast days and Town Council cantatas required choruses and well as additional brass and timpani. Bach continued this practice in Cycle 3.
The printed text for the Picander Cycle (4), shows that Cantata P51, Herr, stärke mein Schwacken (Lord, strengthen my weakness), for the 8th Sunday after Trinity, July 18, 1728, shows no plain chorale and there is no evidence that Bach used any of this material.
It is possible that Bach repeated chorale Cantata BWV 178 on the 8th Sunday after Trinity, August 3, 1732, as part of a possible reperformance of the chorale cantata cycle.
On July 31, 1735, G.H. Stölzel double chorale cantata cycle, “String Music,” presented “Ich will dich unterweisen, und dir den Weg zeigen,” Mus A 15:263, and after the sermon “ So sehet nun zu, wie ihr fürsichtiglich wandelt,” Mus A 15:264.
At least a year later and possibly even later, another Stölzel double chorale cantata set to text of Gotha court poet Benjamin Schmolk, called “The Names of Christ” cycle, may have been presented on July 22, 1736.
Bach was scheduled to present a cantata to Salomo Franck text in Weimar on the 8th Sunday after Trinity, August 2, 1716, entitled “Laß, Seele, dich Irrlichter,” says Klaus Hofmann in “Neue Übelegungen (New Con) zu Bachs’ Weimar Kantaten Kaledar” (Bach Jahrbuch 79 1993: 9-29). However, Bach presented no cantatas on a monthly basis as he was supposed to do, through most of 1716 when he was at odds with the court over not being promoted to kapellmeister. Some of the cantatas to the Franck 1715 published annual cycle were composed then, others may have been begun at Trinity Time 1716. All 12 were performed during the first Leipzig cycle of 1723: Cantatas 161 (Tr.+16), 162 (Tr.+20), 163 (Tr.+23), 164 (Tr.+13), 165 (Tr.), and 168 (Tr.+9).
Chorale Cantata BWV 178
Friedemann Bach performance of Cantata 178 probably dates to the fall 1759 in Halle, possibly Sept. 28 (Feast of St. Michael), says Peter Wollny, “Wilhelm Friedemann Bach’s Halle performance of cantatas by his father,” Bach Studies 2, ed. Daniel R. Melamed (Cambridge Univ. Press, 1995: 211). See also Cantata 178, Provenance, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Ref/BWV178-Ref.htm
Cantata BWV 178: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements
Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4