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Recordings & Discussions of Cantatas: Cantatas BWV 1-50 | Cantatas BWV 51-100 | Cantatas BWV 101-150 | Cantatas BWV 151-200 | Cantatas BWV 201-224 | Cantatas BWV Anh | Order of Discussion

Cantata BWV 20
O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort [I]
Discussions - Part 3

Continue from Part 2

BWV 20 (Trinity 1)

Ed Myskowski wrote (May 25, 2008):
For those following the liturgical year, today May 25, 2008 CE, is the 1st Sunday after Trinity, the beginning of the second half of the Lutheran church calendar, that <vast desert of Sundays> (blame Whittaker, not me). especially in a year like this one when they will stretch all the way to Trinity 27.

Brian McCreath chose BWV 20, in the Craig Smith/Emmanuel Music recording, for his weekly 8 AM broadcast over WGBH (89.7 FM, www.wgbh.org). This was especially appropriate for many reasons, including:

(1) BWV 20 begins the second Leipzig cycle (Jahrgang II), the Chorale Cantatas. The text is appropriate to life as a struggle (traversal of a desert?), without relief, let alone redemption, in sight until the closng chorale.

(2) This weekend is Memorial Day in USA, the first since we lost Craig Smith late last year.

(3) The closing chorale emphasizes the communal nature of belief and redemption. Brian continues a thirty plus year tradition of just such communal experience, listening to a Bach cantata together via radio, originally in Boston only, but now available worldwide via webcast. Emmanuel Music continues the weekly tradition begun by Craig, almost as long in duration, of live cantata performance. I hope other BCML readers join the Boston radio and music community in sharing the tradition, and remembering Craig Smith on his first Memorial Day. The music lives on. Thanks, Craig!

Douglas Cowling wrote (May 25, 2008):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
< For those following the liturgical year, today May 25, 2008 CE, is the 1st Sunday after Trinity, the beginning of the second half of the Lutheran church calendar, that <vast desert of Sundays> (blame Whittaker, not me). especially in a year like this one when they will stretch all the way to Trinity 27. >
But at the end is the Sunday of "Wachet Auf!"

Ed Myskowski wrote (May 26, 2008):
Doug Cowling wrote, in response to my post:
>But at the end is the Sunday of "Wachet Auf!"<
I have wondered why Bach composed such a special work, for a rarely recurring church date, but perhaps it is perfectly appropriate to conclude the longest trek?

An interesting set of cantatas for comparison would be those which were composed for first performance on the last (23 to 27) Sunday after Trinity, the Sunday before Advent, and the conclusion of the liturgical year.

Douglas Cowling wrote (May 26, 2008):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
< I have wondered why Bach composed such a special work, for a rarely recurring church date, but perhaps it is perfectly appropriate to conclude the longest trek? >
The same dilemma holds for the Christmas Oratorio whose performance would be restricted to years when Christmas Day fell in a year when there was a Sunday on Jan 2,3, 4 or 5.

William Hoffman wrote (May 26, 2008):
BWV 20 (Trinity 1) Season

I think the Trinity Season, half a church year, is often overlooked by many Bach music lovers and writers. It follows a half year of momentous Principal Festivals and accompanying music: Nativity, Epiphany, Baptism Transfiguration, Ash Wednesday, Sunday of the Passion, Holy Week, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Resurrection, Ascension and Pentecost. What's left? Just two, the beginning and the end of the Trinity Season: Trinity Festival and Christ the King Sunday, which falls, simply on the Last Sunday of Trinity. Perhaps that explains in part why Bach so late wrote such a wonderful chorale cantata, BWV 140, which summarizes Trinity and especially ushers in Advent and the New Church Year.

So, what do we have at Trinity? There's a string of seemingly forgotten Sundays when we rarely have more than three cantatas for each event. In the Orgelbüchlein, Bach completed most of the first 51 "de tempore" church year chorale settings, ending with Pentecost. But of the remaining 113 Trinity and "omne tempore" projected chorales, I count only 7, BWV 635-641. Further, there are only four lesser festivals with Bach cantatas: John the Baptist, Visitation, St. Michael, and Reformation.

It is a time when the emphasis shifts from Christ to the whole Christian Trinity, and in terms of the chorales, a long season of personal reflection. Instead of the great hymns of the Principal Festivals -- fill in the space with your favorite chorale, joyous or penitential -- there are generic themes for all these Sundays -- Cathechism themes, Christian Life & Conduct, Psalms, the Word and the Church, and the devotional themes of Death and Dying (the largest number, 16), Morning, Evening, and Meals.

In a brief discussion recently at Bethleham PA with Robin Leaver, I wondered if -- after all his revealing theologically-related articles and essays -- perhaps he still had a Bach book to write on one theme or area of study. He thinks there are some significant ideas to explore and bring forth about the impact of Lutheran Devotional Books which every Lutheran -- Pietist, Orthodox, Reform, Whatever -- carried with them, from awakening to sleep, sort of like reflections or vespers.

As for chorale Cantata BWV 20, "O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort," it most fittingly inaugurates the Trinity Season proper. Those 10 verses are deeply moving and reflective, especially of our mortality, our brief sojourn on this earth, looking for meaning. Meanwhile, Cantata BWV 60, same incipit, is for the 24th Sunday of Trinity. Incidentally, that chorale is found in Bach's last Passion, BWV 247, that concise, devotional, chorale-enfused work (16), with only six contemplative arias, occuring near the beginning of the Garden scene, with the admonition, "Wake-up, O man, from sinful-sleep" (echoes of BWV 140). Incidentally, Norton Critical Commentary has Gerhard Herz' wonderful study of that cantata, as well as BWV 4.

Peter Smaill wrote (May 26, 2008):
[To William Hoffman] BWV 20 is central to Bach's sub theme of Time which is shot through many of the Cantatas.

However there is a puzzle which as yet I have never seen analysed by the scholars. It is the sentiment at the end of the Chorale verse by Johann Rist which closes the first part:

Denn wird sich enden diesen Pein
Wenn Gott nicht mehr wird ewig sein
.

("For this pain will only cease
When God is no longer eternal")

The idea that God is in any circumstance not eternal strikes me as very odd, possibly an allusion to the Second Coming from the doctrine of the Parousia embedded in Revelation. Has anyone a better explanation of this unusual theological emphasis?

Douglas Cowling wrote (May 26, 2008):
Peter Smaill wrote:
< Denn wird sich enden diesen Pein
Wenn Gott nicht mehr wird ewig sein.
("For this pain will only cease
When God is no longer eternal") >
My German is always dodgey, but I suspect 'wenn' should be translated as "if". The German seems to carry the sense that there would be no end to the pain of human life if God was not eternal -- thereby an affirmation of final salvation.

Peter Smaill wrote (May 26, 2008):
[To Douglas Cowling] Thanks for the thesis than in this context "Wenn" = "if", as it can in modern German. My recollection, however, is that "Wenn" is the antique Saxon form for "Wann"; (e.g., the famous "Wenn wir in hoechsten Noeten sind") and is in all the translations I can find, rendered as, "When"!

The sense would still be problematic; "This pain will only cease/If God is no longer eternal" (??).

Anyone else have a view on the Rist text?

Julian Mincham wrote (May 26, 2008):
[To Peter Smaill] The correspondence about BWV 20 interests me. Bach wrote 3 cantatas for the 1st Sunday after Trinity--BWV 75, BWV 20 and BWV 39 and they are all big impressive works. Why? certainly the first is explaiby the fact that Bach was starting his tenure at Leipzig and would certainly have wanted to make an immediate impression. 20 is the start of the second of Bach's (not the church's ) cycle and is even more impressiv. But who apart from Bach would be celebrating the fact that this was the signal start of his second year? It seems unlikely that this would have been on any significance to anyone else. BWV 39 is a vast work too with a magnificent opening chorus----might it actually have been intended as the first of a depleted 4th cycle (although this is not as the later cycles are set out by Wolff)? There is no cantata for this day for 1725--might it have been lost?

A lot of questions then about the significance of this day for Bach, to which Peter has recently added the additional unexplained theological point. Why such a significant day? Was it personal (for Bach) or were there theological reasons? Has this day any special religious significance?

Answers on a postcard please.

Ed Myskowski wrote (May 26, 2008):
Julian Mincham wrote:
>Has this day any special religious significance?<
Well (a deep subject)!

Rather analogous to the yin/yang of Asian philosophy (as I interpret it):

Trinity 1 to Trinity last (23 to 27, depending on the date of the moveable feast, Easter) - the interior, churchy, yin aspects.

Advent to Trinity - the exterior, worldly, yang aspects

For those of us who relate everything to the even deeper concept of <Earth Cycles> (EC, as opposed to CE), this corresponds roughly to Summer/Winter (northern hemisphere).

Which might seem to provide an easy point of entry for human cultures seeking to reconcile their differences. As if that has ever been a human objective.

Longish postcard, best I could do.

Douglas Cowling wrote (May 26, 2008):
Julian Mincham wrote:
< The correspondence about BWV 20 interests me. Bach wrote 3 cantatas for the 1st Sunday after Trinity--BWV 75, BWV 20 and BWV 39 and they are all big impressive works.Why? certainly the first? is explained by the fact that Bach was starting his tenure at Leipzig and would certainly have wanted to make an immediate impression. 20 is the start of the second of Bach's (not the church's ) cycle and is even more impressiv. But who apart from Bach would be celebrating the fact that this was the signal start of his second year? >
Has any social historian done any work on how the secular civic calendar in Leipzig interacted with the church calendar? Occasions like the inauguration of the town council are obvious, but I continue to wonder why St. Michael's Day (Sept 29) and New Year's Day (Jan 1) are such big deals in Bach's compositional calendar.

Neither are particularly important days in the church calendar yet Bach always wrote large-scale works which places those days on a par with Easter, Christmas and Pentecost, the three first-rank feasts. It would be interesting to identify any patterns in the use of "festive" orchestration with brass and timpani on particular Sundays. Leipzig fairs? Beginning of the school year? Anniversary of the sovereign's accession?

William Hoffman wrote (May 27, 2008):
[To Julian Mincham] William Hoffman replies: Re. the significance of Trinity Sunday and the existence of only three cantatas. The Principal Feast of Trinity was also the most significant observance during the Trinity Season. Why no Trinity Sunday cantata for June 6, 1725? Bach had just finished two years of cycles and the Thomas School session had just ended. He took a well-deserved break and went to Cöthen, leaving his designated perfect in charge. In fact for the entire 1725 Trinity season, Bach composed virtually no new cantatas, beginning the hodge-podge (two years to compose) Cycle 3 on December 2, with the start of the church year (Advent 1) possibly with an early version of BWV 36. So what did Bach do for what could be called Cycle 2.5? Possibly shorted repeats of BWV 75 and BWV 76 (no other cantata repeats are documented) and four Neumeister-texted cantatas of Telemann through Trinity 6 and then nothing except chorale Cantata (per omnes versus) BWV 137 for Ratswahl and BWV 39 for Reformation. Why no more? Bach was looking for a librettist, did not continue with von Ziegler and eventually relied mostly on printed or manuscript texts from Rudolstadt, plus Lehms, Neumeister and Franck. Also, it has been suggested that the Leipzig Cantor (Teacher) Faction finally prevailed and denied Bach the cantata performing resources after the 1725 Easter Sunday extravaganza of Oratorio BWV 249. Meanwhile, as Wolff observes, Bach turned to the great SMP (BWV 244) (JSB:TLM 281).

Ed Myskowski wrote (May 27, 2008):
William Hoffman wrote:
> Re. the significance of Trinity Sunday and the existence of only three cantatas. The Principal Feast of Trinity was also the most significant observance during the Trinity Season.<
Is there some confusion over the exact language, or the liturgical year?

As I get it, Trinity Sunday is in fact the end, the last Sunday of the first <half> of the liturgical year, which begins with Advent.

The <Trinity Season> would then consist of the <vast desert> of the Sundays after Trinity from first to twenty-third/twenty seventh, depending ... See the lengthy discussion of how to calculate Easter, for details of the <depending>.

We have been discussing, a bit, recent broadcast and performance of BWV 75 and BWV 20, both for 1st Sunday after Trinity, not for Trinity Sunday.

Confusing? You betcha. Thats how the honchos stay in charge of the little folk.

Julian Mincham wrote (May 27, 2008):
[To William Hoffman] As Ed has pointed out it was the apparent significance to Bach of the 1st Sunday after Trinity that I was discussing, not the Sunday of Trinity itself.

Douglas Cowling wrote (May 27, 2008):
William Hoffman wrote:
< I think the Trinity Season, half a church year, is often overlooked by many Bach music lovers and writers. It follows a half year of momentous Principal Festivals and accompanying music: Nativity, Epiphany, Baptism Transfiguration, Ash Wednesday, Sunday of the Passion, Holy Week, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Resurrection, Ascension and Pentecost. What's left? Just two, the beginning and the end of the Trinity Season: Trinity Festival and Christ the King Sunday, which falls, simply on the Last Sunday of Trinity. Perhaps that explains in part why Bach so late wrote such a wonderful chorale cantata, BWV 140, which summarizes Trinity and especially ushers in Advent and the New Church Year. >
We should probably be a bit more precise about the calendar which Back used and not project back contemporary usage. Bach's calendar was essentially the pre-Reformation calendar observed by German catholics. Luther retained the Sunday titles and readings, but Lutherans did not accept the changes made in the late 16th century by the Council of Trent for the new Tridentine mass. From that point on, the two calendars had many differences. For this list, our primary interest is in the occasions for which Bach had to provide a cantata: those tell us what were the principal days in his year. We also should note that Lutheran practice was not uniform. Weimar had cantatas on all of the four Sundays of Advent; Leipzig only on the first.

Luther abolished all of the ceremonies of Holy Week so Maundy Thursday and Holy Saturday were not special feast d-- even Palm Sunday lost its procession of palms. Bach had extraordinary responsibilites on Palm Sunday, Good Friday and Easter Day. The other days of Holy Week were treated as weekdays.

Nearly all of the saints' days were reduced except for a handful of "gospel" feast days which were celebrated like Sundays with a cantata: Purification (Feb 2), Annunciation (mar 25), John the Baptist (June 24), Visitation (July 10) and St. Michael (Sept 29). To this was added the new observation of the Reformation on Oct 31. Feasts like Transfiguration (Aug 6) were not observed. Bach had six non-Sundays which required cantatas.

In the 1970's, the Catholic church began a reform of the church calendar which addressed some of historical errors which had crept in and basically adopted a calendar which goes back to the late patristic period. This calendar was widely adopted by other churches including the Lutherans, Anglican and many protestant churches. The new calendar emphasized ancient feasts like the Baptism of Christ (Sunday after Epiphany) which had no special significance for Bach. It also added feasts like Christ the King which was only invented in 1922. Bach wrote "Wachet Auf" for Trinity 27 not the "Sunday before Advent" or "Christ the King". The extraordinary thing is that Bach wrote what is arguably his greatest cantata for a day which would never occur again in his lifetime.

We need a lot more information about how the civic and social years connected with the church year before we can speculate about people's expectations. For instance, St. Michael's Day on Sept 29 was a big blowout in church and clearly a holiday of import for the citizens of Leipzig. Why? Jan 1 was the day of gift-giving in the 18th century not Christmas and the festive cantatas show its significance in the popular mind.

One final note: these distinctions are offered as part of recreating the historical matrix of Bach's music and are not a call to conversion as at least one member of the list mistakes them.

William Hoffman wrote (May 28, 2008):
Fugitive afterthoughts:

Sorry for my confusion about the designation of Sundays in Trinity. The festival of Trinity Sunday begins the Trinity season. What complicates matters is that the Lutheran Church now calls the whole Trinity Season simply the Sundays after Pentecost, with Trinity Sunday now called the First Sunday After Pentecost. Maybe they too were confused.

What I tried to stress is the importance of the whole season (half the church year) with the "omne tempore" emphasis on the Christian message and the essential concept of the Trinity, which is still a theological conundrum for most of us so-called lay people ("priesthood of all believers," said Luther). The importance of the Trinitarian concept, I think, is found in the Deutsche Messe and Bach's Great Mass, with the Credo rightfully at the center. The theme of praise is essential, especially involving the Doxology, the Te Deum laudaumus, and the Town Council Cantatas during Bach's time, which also include canticles of thanksgiving from the Psalms.

As for St. Michael's Day, the book Bach's Changing World describes the famous Leipzig fall fair taking place at that time, with numerous visitors going to the main church services and hearing Bach's cantatas, then going forth and enjoying the fair, with all the sellers' stalls (especially books) and entertainment. Too bad Leipzig lacked an opera house! And for the local folk Bach still had Reformation Sunday, with that other great chorale Cantata BWV 80.

Ed Myskowski wrote (May 28, 2008):
William Hoffman wrote:
>Fugitive afterthoughts:<
I am so nearly an Old Dude, that all my thoughts are fugitive. If I do not record them quickly, they have fled. Thanks for keeping the Whittaker reference alive, perhaps he thanks you as well?

WH:
>Sorry for my confusion about the designation of Sundays in Trinity. The festival of Trinity Sunday begins the Trinity season. What complicates matters is that the Lutheran Church now calls the whole Trinity Season simply the Sundays after Pentecost, with Trinity Sunday now called the First Sunday After Pentecost. Maybe they too were confused.<
EM:
For BCML, what is important is not what the Lutheran Church chooses to do now, but what were the standards for Bach. Doug recently reemphasized this point. I do agree with your underlyng thought, that Trinity Sunday represents a hinge point, the transition from winter to summer, from yin to yang, from worldly to churchy. My personal opinion is that the Christian ethos has this exactly out of phase, but save that for another time. Stick to Bach.

I learned the Christian calendar, a bit, as a youth in the Roman Catholic tradition, where we counted Sundays from Pentecost. As you suggest, Trinity is in fact, the first Sunday after Pentecost. You can imagine my confusion, after many years away from any specific theology, to join BCML, to listen to the music, with the expectation that I would simply reactivate youthful memories of the church calendar.

You can also imagine my confusion trying to understand that Whitsun equals Pentecost, but that Bach counted his second season Sundays not from that day, but from the following Sunday. After I struggled, and finally succeeded to get that straight, I believe you are saying that the Lutheran Church has now decided <Never mind, we will disregard the five hundred years of silly disagreement, and count the same as the Roman Church>?

I suggest we:

(1) Get clear agreement as to the Lutheran Church calendar, for Bach.

(2) Limit our discussion to that specific calendar, as the one which is relevant to the music.

I am sticking to my opinion that the second part of the church year, for Bach, started with the 1st Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 1). That would be the second Sunday after Pentecost, I suppose.

I am also sticking with my spontaneous exclamation, but now accumulating a certain charm of its own in my mind:

Confusing? You betcha! Thats how the honchos maintain control over the little folk.

Kim Patrick Clow wrote (May 28, 2008):
William Hoffman wrote:
< As for St. Michael's Day, the book Bach's Changing World describes the famous Leipzig fall fair taking place at that time, with numerous visitors going to the main church services and hearing Bach's cantatas, then going forth and enjoying the fair, with all the sellers' stalls (especially books) and entertainment. >
St. Michael's day was a big celebration for all German baroque composers, as was Trinity Sunday, there are lavishly scored cantatas by Telemann, Fasch, Stolzel, Graupner, and others. This isn't unique for Leipzig or Bach.

< Too bad Leipzig lacked an opera house! And for the local folk Bach still had Reformation Sunday, with that other great chorale Cantata BWV 80. >
But it did! Telemann wrote operas there as a student in Leipzig, and was supplied operas for performance even after he had left the area.

Douglas Cowling wrote (May 28, 2008):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
< You can also imagine my confusion trying to understand that Whitsun equals Pentecost, but that Bach counted his second season Sundays not from that day, but from the following Sunday. After I struggled, and finally succeeded to get that straight, I believe you are saying that the Lutheran Church has now decided <Never mind, we will disregard the five hundred years of silly disagreement, and count the same as the Roman Church>? >
Grin. It's even more complicated than that. Before the imposition of theuniform Tridentine rite in the late 16th century, various Catholic diocesesnumbered the Sundays after Pentecost in different ways.

In Italy and Spain, Sundays were numbered as "Sundays after Pentecost". However, for centuries before the Ref, dioceses in England and Germany numbered them as "Sundays after Trinity".

After the Reformation, both the Anglican and Lutheran churches continued the numbering system which was traditional to those regions of the Catholic church. Bach's calendar is substantially that observed by the pre-Reformation church north of the Alps.

Ed Myskowski wrote (May 28, 2008):
Doug cowling wrote:
>After the Reformation, both the Anglican and Lutheran churches continued the numbering system which was traditional to those regions of the Catholic church. Bach's calendar is substantially that observed by the
pre-Reformation church north of the Alps.<
Thanks for the clarification. It does not exactly remove the confusion, but it relieves Luther and/or other Reformers or any responsibility for unnecessarily adding confusion.

Jean Laaninen wrote (May 28, 2008):
[To Douglas Cowling] You're provided some interesting detail here, and I think most of it seems quite correct to me. However, from my early childhood on, which dates in awareness from the late 1940s, Swedish Lutherans retained Maundy Thursday, and the neglect of attendance at such services was considered in those days to be a pretty bad thing. So I was always under the impression that Luther had supported that particular event. In a genial manner I'd be interested in knowing your source for Luther's position on Maundy Thursday. This also brings to bear, even though I have not had time yet to pursue it, why I find I have some interest in the structure of the church year in Bach's day. I can see now why you have a preference toward the Sunday's.

The day of giving, January 1st, might also have coincided with the civic tax structure of the time...this is basically a guess since I don't know anything about the filing of taxes in Bach's day - just something that might make sense here if anyone is informed on such matters.

St. Michaels Day falls about the time of year churches still celebrate the beginning of a new Christian education season, and I am also led to wonder about the possible connection between the history of St. Michael defeating
evil through his battle with the devil, and the protection of children in a new season of learning. This of course falls into the area of speculation, but might provide some basis for consideration. One might find some clues in
the literature used to provide Bach with compositional elements.

 

Continue on Part 4

Cantata BWV 20: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements
Discussions:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

Recordings & Discussions of Cantatas: Cantatas BWV 1-50 | Cantatas BWV 51-100 | Cantatas BWV 101-150 | Cantatas BWV 151-200 | Cantatas BWV 201-224 | Cantatas BWV Anh | Order of Discussion

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