William Hoffman wrote (February 23, 2016):
Cantata BWV 23, 'Du wahrer Gott und David's Sohn' Intro.
Two-part Cantatas BWV 22, “Jesus nahm zu sich die Zwölfe und sprach” (Jesus took the twelve to himself and spoke, Gospel, Luke 18:31, We go to Jerusalem), and BWV 23, “Du wahrer Gott und Davids Sohn” You true God and son of David), were premiered as test pieces on Quinquagesima Etomihi Sunday, February 7, 1723, and repeated as part of the first cycle a year later on September 20, 1724. Both last about 20 minutes each.
Cantata 23 has both an unusual four-movement form but an intrinsic symmetry as only Bach could do: opening soprano-alto duet, tenor recitative with instrumental chorale, chorus with tenor-bass duet, and elaborate four-part chorale fantasia chorus with brass support (trumpet, three trombones) and extended interludes. Balance is achieved through Bach’s use of two duets: the opening aria for soprano-alto and the (no. 3) chorus with internal tenor-bass duet, both supported by oboes weaving poignant melodies. Contrast is provided between the soli and full repegno forces in the middle two novements. At the same time, Bach uses the melodic motto of the German Agnus Dei (Christe, du Lamm Gottes) as a tutti instrumental hymn in the tenor recitative (no. 2) and the closing full hymn with text and added brass support. The first and final movements provide the substance and weight, lasting about half the total time of 20 minutes.
Instead of beginning with a tutti chorus, Bach builds incrementally with his forces: opening soprano-alto free da-capo duet with two oboes and continuo; tenor recitative (no. 2), “Ach! gehe nicht vorüber; / Du, aller Menschen Heil” (Ah! do not pass by, / you, the salvation of all mankind), with four-part instrumental chorale “Christe du Lamm Gottes” with tutti orchestra; full rondeau chorus added (no. 3), “Aller Augen warten, Herr, / Du allmächtger Gott, auf dich” (All eyes wait, Lord, / Almighty God, upon you), internal with tenor-bass duet,
“Und die meinen sonderlich. / Gib denselben Kraft und Licht, / Laß sie nicht / Immerdar in Finsternissen!” (and my eyes especially. / Give them strength and light, / do not leave them / for ever in darkness!); and closing chorale fantasia with trumpet and three trombones supporting voices.1
Estomihi, Holy Week, Chorale
Insight into Bach’s extensive treatment of the Estomhi Sunday when the two-part gospel, Luke 18: 31-43 (to Jerusalem, blind man healed) predicts the events of events of Holy Week and Easter, as well as the significance of the uses of the German Agnus Dei and its “Have mercy” litany are found Robin A. Leaver’s essay, “Bach and the German Agnus Dei.”2 Each of these topics is cited at length:
“In Lutheran tradition at the time of Bach the link between Estomihi and Good Friday was understood,” says Leaver (Ibid.: 170). On the Sunday before Lent, also considered the “Passion Sunday before Lent,” the Gospel
Luke 18: 31-43 (Jesus, “We go up to Jerusalem”; Miracle, “The blind man receives sight”). The Estomihi gospel predicts the Passion on Good Friday of Holy Week. In between, the Lenten season (the period of self-examination and preparation for Holy Week) had fasting, simple music, and penitential prayers, both psalms and Luther’s Litany with its emphasis on the three-fold appeal, “Have mercy on us” (Kyrie eleison, Erbarm dich) found both at the beginning of the Mass Kyrie and closing Agnus Dei).
The Quinquagesima Estomihi Sunday Gospel (Luke 18:31-43) has two distinct episodes, of Jesus telling the disciples of going to Jerusalem and his coming Passion as well as the miracle of sight restored to a blind man begging near Jericho. Complete text is the Martin Luther German translation (1545), with the English translation Authorised (King James) Version [KJV] 1611; for complete texts, see BCW Readings, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Read/Estomihi.htm.
Cantata 22 deals with the gospel going to Jesus and the disciples going to Jerusalem and the prediction of the Passion. After the sermon and during communion distribution, Cantata 23 “expounds the prayer pf the blind man “who hears the noise of the crowd around Jesus passing by on its way from to Jerusalem via Jericho, calls for mercy (“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me”), and receives his sight,” Leaver observes (Ibid.: 164).
The German Agnus Dei (Christe, du Lamm Gottes; Christ thou lamb of God), observes Leaver, who also did the OCC: JSB Cantata 123 essay (see Francis Browne ‘Note on Text’ below), “echoes the cry of the blind man and articulates for the attending congregation a subtle prayer, ‘Christ, thou lamb of God that takest away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.”
The subject of Leaver’s essay is Bach’s “intricate interlacing of [related] musical themes, but also an overlapping of textual associations (Ibid.: 164). Leaver begins with Bach’s triple use of three chorales in the 1725 Estomihi chorale Cantata 127, “Herr Jesu Christ, wahr' Mensch und Gott” (Lord Jesus Christ, true God and man), Paul Eber’s 1562 catechism justification hymn with two Passion chorales, “Christe du Lamm Gottes” in the orchestra and “O sacred head now wounded” in the bass and basso continuo. Leaver goes on two show the melodic and textual connections between “Christe du Lamm Gottes” and “The Kyrie” from Luther’s German Litany (1529) in the opening of the Mass in F, BWV 233a that quotes both German and Latin and probably was composed in Weimar. Leaver also shows that Psalm Tone 1 is the basis from the “Kyrie” in Luther’s Deutsche Messe (1526), as variants of the Zahn melody 8607b.
“In the concluding Choral Bach uses the melody and words of the Antiphon, ‘Christe, du Lamm Gottes.’ Words and melody appear together in the Pfalz-Neuburg Kirchenordnung (Nürnberg, 1557), and obviously have a pre-Reformation association,” says Charles S. Terry in Bach’s Chorals, Part 2, Cantatas & Motets.3 The words of the Choral are a prose translation of the “Agnus Dei,” and are found in Low German in the Brunswick Kirchenordnung of 1528, and in High German in the Saxon Kirchenordnung of 1540. The dorian melody may derive from a Gregorian tone (e.g. Liber usualis, Mass IV) and was set as an Orgelbüchlein chorale, BWV 619, in Weimar, says Peter William in The Organ Music of J. S. Bach.4
Cantata 23, Enigma, Gospel
The characteristics of Cantata 23, the enigma of the final German Agnus Dei chorale, and the gospel parable of the blind man are discussed in Julian Mincham’s introduction to Cantata 23, http://www.jsbachcantatas.com/documents/chapter-45-bwv-23.htm. << The circumstances surrounding the composition of this work as part of Bach′s audition for the Leipzig appointment are broadly outlined in the previous chapter. Suffice it to say that the work was largely composed in Cöthen but transposed and the final chorale added after Bach′s arrival in Leipzig (Dürr p 142). Cs 22 and 23 should, by rights, be viewed as parts of the same conception, one to be performed before and the other after the sermon, a practice which Bach maintained for the first few cantatas following his appointment but subsequently largely abandoned.
Although it is comprised of a mere four movements, the range of structural innovation contained within them is, as we will discover, quite astonishing. Bach draws upon and brings together ritornello and concerto principles but he reconstitutes them in ways that seem to create entirely original musical designs. As always, the only purpose of such structural development and experimentation is to create an ever widening range of musical character and expression by which most effectively to convey the meaning and images embodied within the texts.
There is one mystery about the work which stems Dürr′s observation that the chorale was added after the completion of the first three movements. If this was the case, what do we make of the fact that Bach incorporated the chorale melody into the recitative? Did he always have the intention of adding the final arrangement, thereby justifying its inclusion in the earlier movement? Or did he elect to combine the chorale with the recitative and later see the former's possibilities as a conclusion? On the face of it this seems improbable since the likelihood of his always planning to end with some sort of chorale arrangement is strong. But clearly we cannot here draw the sorts of inferences about the simultaneous layering of textural ideas such as we can with C 2 from the second cycle (vol 2, chapter 3). And whatever the circumstances of the composition of these movements, it cannot be denied that the words of the chorale form a prayer ideally suited to the entreaties of the blind man, as poignantly expressed in the recitative.
Indeed, this whole cantata is based around the parable of the blind man, linking it definitively with C 22, since both texts are from the same source [Estomihi gospel] Luke 18.42. On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was accosted by a sightless beggar who sought pity. Jesus restores his vision with the words, ′your faith has been your salvation′. This cantata is, then, concerned with faith and the rewards that may be obtained from it, principally those of succour, comfort and redemption. In a sense, it may be summarised as ′I have faith, therefore I pray that You will reward and have mercy upon me′. In another sense, it proceeds from the miscomprehension of the disciples as described in C 22 and transforms it into a productive relationship between Soul and Christ.
But despite the optimism of the theme, this cantata has an ongoing and underlying sense of sadness and poignancy, since the torments of Christ on the cross underpin the entire doctrine. It is interesting that the text only tells part of the biblical story, concentrating upon the pleas of the blind beggar rather than the restoration of his sight. Presumably Bach and his lyricist assumed that the parable would have been so well known that it didn′t need spelling out. The crux of the work does not, therefore, focus upon Christ′s powers or miracles. It centres on the supplications of the poor and needy who, in recognising Him, pray for His support. The fact that Jesus restores his sight with the words ′your faith has saved you′ forms no part of this text.>>
Cantata 23 Movements, Scoring, Incipits, Key, Meter.5
1. Aria free da-capo swith canon imitation (Duet) [Soprano, Alto; Oboe I/II, Continuo]: “Du wahrer Gott und Davids Sohn” (You true God and son of David); c minor; 4/4.
2. Recitative secco with instrumental chorale [Tenor; Oboe I/II e Violino I all' unisono, Violino II, Continuo]: “Ach! gehe nicht vorüber; / Du, aller Menschen Heil” (Ah! do not pass by, / you, the salvation of all mankind); A-flat to E-Flat Major; 4/4.
3. Chorus rondo (ABACADAEA) with ritornelli and internal tenor-bass canonic duet [S, A, T, B; Oboe I/II, Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo]: A. chorus “Aller Augen warten, Herr, / Du allmächtger Gott, auf dich” (All eyes wait, Lord, / Almighty God, upon you); B. duet “Und die meinen sonderlich. / Gib denselben Kraft und Licht, / Laß sie nicht / Immerdar in Finsternissen!” (and my eyes especially. / Give them strength and light, / do not leave them / for ever in darkness!); E-flat Major; ¾.
4. Chorale chorus [SATB; Cornetto col Soprano, Trombone I coll'Alto, Trombone II col Tenore, Trombone III col Basso, Oboe I/II, Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo]: A. repeat litany Christe, du Lamm Gottes, / Der du trägst die Sünd der Welt, / Erbarm dich unser! Christ, you lamb of God, Erbarm dich unser! (Christ, you lamb of God, / you who take away the sins of the world, / have mercy on us!); B. “Gib uns dein' Frieden. Amen.” (grant us your peace. Amen.); c minor/dorisch; 4/4.
Note on Text
This is one of two cantatas performed at the Hauptgottesdienst in the Thomaskirche, Leipzig, on 7 February 1723 as Bach's audition pieces for the post of Thomaskantor. Earlier in the service Cantata BWV 22 was heard, Cantata BWV 23 being performed during the distribution of communion. In Lutheran worship the Agnus Dei, in either Latin or German, was customarily sung at Communion, and Cantata BWV 23 therefore makes appropriate and significant use of the German Agnus Dei, Christe, du Lamm Gottes.
Movement 1 is linked both to the blind man's cry for mercy in the Gospel for the day (Luke 18: 31-42) and to the liturgical prayer for mercy, the Agnus Dei. In the following recitative the connection is emphasized in a profound conjunction of parallel ideas, one verbal and the other non-verbal. The text is based on the words of wrestling Jacob in Genesis 32: 26: `I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.' Here the tenor expresses the request to the Saviour not to leave without imparting a blessing. The non-verbal parallel thought is expressed by the unison oboes and first violins, who together play, in augmentation, the first melodic line of the Agnus Dei, `Christe, du Lamm Gottes, der trägst die Sünd der Welt, erbarm dich unser' [Christ, you lamb of God, you who take away the sins of the world]. With this textless use of the German Agnus Dei Bach particularizes the desire for health and salvation expressed in the recitative.
Movement 3 is in a kind of rondo form, in which words from Psalm 145: 15, 'The eyes of all wait upon thee, 0 Lord', sung by the whole chorus in four parts, alternate with episodes for tenor and bass only. The whole psalm verse, which continues `and thou givest them their meat in due season', was frequently expounded as a eucharistic reference in homiletic and devotional literature: God feeds the faithful with the body and blood of Jesus Christ. (Information from: Oxford Composer Companion: J.S. Bach>> Robin A. Leaver; ed. Boyd, Malcolm (Oxford University Press: New York, 1999: 145).
Opening Movement Examined
The substantial and remarkable first movement free da-capo soprano-alto duet is examined in Aryeh Oron’s Introduction to BCML Cantata 23 Discussion Part 1 (March 5, 2000, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV23-D.htm), citing authors Alec Robertson, Alfred Dürr, Tadashi Isoyama, and Simon Crouch.
Mvt. 1. Duet for Soprano and Alto, 2 oboes, continuo):
Regarding this slow Duet (Mvt. 1), I would like to quote from Robertson, Dürr, Isoyama and Crouch.
Robertson wrote (in his book on Bach Cantatas):
"This libretto, taken from St. Matthew xx.30-34, is the account of two blind men, thereby giving Bach the chance of writing a Duet. The text and the choice of voices show that Bach is treating the healing of blind men as related to the healing of the Christian soul."
Alfred Dürr wrote (in the linear notes to Teldec Cycle):
"Cantata 23 appears to be a work of deep personal commitment and unusual expressive power. Its text links up with the blind man’s prayer for mercy and applies it to the present time and the assembled congregation: not only the eyes of the blind man, but ‘the eyes of all’ wait upon the Lord. In the opening movement Bach combines the instrumental trio of two oboes and continuo and the vocal Duet into skilful quintet of deeply moving intensity."
Tadashi Isoyama wrote (in the linear notes to Suzuki’s recording):
"The movement is in B minor MOLTO ADAGIO. 2 Oboes playing in triplets interweave in sincerity, and the Alto and Soprano go back and forth, now one leading and now the other, in their appeal for pity. The main structure in this piece is a modification of the EXCLAMATIO figure Bach liked so much"
Simon Crouch wrote (in his Cantata Pages):
"I think that I would have given Bach the job as soon as I'd heard the first few bars of the opening movement! There's a superb "double Duet". The two oboes weave an incredible hook (I defy you on hearing this for the first time not to go away humming or whistling this figure, it's totally addictive!) whilst the Soprano and Alto sing a Duetof incredible sadness."
Personal Viewpoint: And I would like to add something personal: The music of this sublime movement is so descriptive, that you can almost paint a picture according to the music, even with very little understanding of the words. The two blind men sitting at the wayside, waiting for the priest to come, entreating for him, hoping that he is really coming. Is it an early version of ‘Waiting for Godo’ by Samuel Becket? The oboes add to the melancholy and anticipating feeling. The Continuo adds a rhythm of a walking march. A though the waiting blind men hear from distance the voices of the coming convey. I was tempted to hear the various performances of this cantata like different paintings, which was drawn on the same subject.>>
German Agnus Dei
The nature and significance of the imposing, closing setting (no. 4) of the German Agnus Dei (Christe, du Lamm Gottes) is the focus of Peter Smaill’s commentary and its origin and later application are thoroughly and scholarly analyzed in Thomas Braatz’ study that cites various scholars over the past half century. Peter Smaill wrote (June 30, 2005): http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV23-D2.htm. << BWV 23 reveals Bach's musical response to a theological idea, namely, the dual nature of Christ as God and man (David's Son is the expression used; the same dual nature is addressed by the incipit of BWV 127 of 1725, "Herr Jesu Christ, wah'r Mensch und Gott."
For this reason, the work abounds with displays of canonic writing of the highest order, from the echoing Alto response to the Soprano's plea to Jesus, via the imitative passages of "Aller augen warten," and to the final rendering of the Agnus Dei, "Christe, du Lamm Gottes." Despite its late addition to the piece, the thread of the chorale and the peremptory end to BWV 23/3 make it disturbing that Leusink  omits the last movement.
The import of the threefold Agnus Dei is not I think minatory to sinners, no matter how much growl is put into the passacaglia-like bass line, but a progression from a funeral march to peace and salvation. Most important, it is the fragment of a lost Weimar Passion and poses one of the most difficult questions in Bach: how to end the St John Passion (BWV 245)? The original "Christe, du Lamm Gottes?" from BWV 23/Weimar Passion; or the exquisite later adopted chorale, "Ach Herr, lass dein leib' Engelein?, a stanza of "Herzlich lieb, hab Ich, O Herr."
Here is the matter according to Paul Steinitz: "Christe, du Lamm Gottes is a rare and sublime masterpiece, with its opening Adagio funeral march for section 1 of the three-section text, and its lilting Andante, becoming increasingly hopeful and finally triumphant in mood over the last two sections. Certainly the closing Chorale (Mvt. 4) in the original version contrasts the body lying dead in the grave with its final resurrection in a telling and greatly comforting manner. But one could say that it is unliturgical to contemplate thoughts relating to Easter on Good Friday. Apart from following the long No.67 ("Rueht Wohl..."), perhaps this Agnus Dei setting is therefore the ideal ending, with its wonderful change to major tonality nine bars from the end on "peace" and "Grant us thy Peace", and the strong Tierce de Picardy in the final bar".
Bach's replacement of the "Lamm Gottes" with "Ach Herr, lass dein leib Engelein" is a radical change to the musical language, from elaborated plainsong, with canonic imitations, syncopation, augmentation, imitation abounding; to a superb but essentially simple Chorale (Mvt. 4). it is also a major change in theological emphasis.
Out went the conclusion linking the Passion to the text of the Mass, a Christ-centred adoration, thanksgiving for salvation from sin and collective prayer for peace; in comes the personal prayer of the sinner. "Ich" replaces "uns" - from "grant us peace" to "hear my Prayer".
Why did Bach make the change in 1730? An interesting coincidence is noted by Christoph Wolff. Bach remained on very friendly terms with Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen, remaining as courtly Capellmeister (non-resident) until the Prince's death in March 1729. One of the hymns set for the funeral was "Herzlich hab Ich, o Herr".
Could Bach have first used his beautiful chorale setting in his now-lost funeral music for the Prince ? And did he then decide to end the St John with the personal prayer of a Christian rather than the theological statement of the Church?>>
1 Cantata 23 BCW Details and revised and updated Discography, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV23.htm.
http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Scores/BWV023-V&P.pdf. Score Vocal & Piano [1.65 MB], http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Scores/BWV023-V&P.pdf, Score BGA [2.81 MB], http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BGA/BWV023-BGA.pdf. References: BGA VI (Cantatas 21-30, Wilhelm Rust, 1855), NBA: I/8.1 (Quinquagesima, Christoph Wolff 1998), Bach Compendium BC A 47, Zwang: K 26; Provenance, BWV 22 & BWV 23 Details http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Ref/BWV22&23-Ref.htm.
2 Leaver, “Bach and the German Agnus Dei,” A Bach Tribute: Essays in Honor of William H. Scheide (Kassel/Chapel Hill NC: Bärenreiter/Hinshaw, 1993: 163-171).
3 Johann Sebastian Bach, Bach’s Chorals. Part I: 2 The Hymns and Hymn Melodies of the Cantatas and Motetts, by Charles Sanford Terry (Cambridge University Press, 1915-1921). 3 vols. Vol. 2. February 21, 2016. http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/2056.
4 Williams, The Organ Music of J. S. Bach, 2nd ed. (Cambridge University Press, 2003: 273f).
5German text and Francis Browne English translation and Note on Text, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Texts/BWV23-Eng3.htm.