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Cantata BWV 34
O ewiges Feuer, o Ursprung der Liebe [I]
Cantata BWV 34a
O ewiges Feuer, o Ursprung der Liebe [II]
Discussions - Part 6

Continue from Part 5

Discussions in the Week of October 2, 2017 (4th round)

William Hoffman wrote (October 24, 2017):
Wedding Cantata 34a, “O ewiges Feuer, o Ursprung der Liebe”

Bach’s occasional music of joy and thanksgiving was part of to a well-regulated church music, along with other, undesignated cantatas of sorrow for memorial services. Foremost is music of praise and affirmation in a special cycle of church pieces composed from the first decade of the 18th century through 1749. This festive music, often with trumpets and drums, centered on weddings and other special services such as the annual installation of the town council, as well as special events of thanksgiving and allegiance in Leipzig. Because these cantatas were composed for unique occasions beyond the traditional church year cycle of Sundays and festivals, these celebratory sacred works often were parodied through new-text underlay using appropriate materials for other, similar special occasions, and on certain occasions, in church-year services.

Bach’s earliest-composed church pieces were undesignated proto-cantatas, usually called sacred vocal concertos or motets, incorporating biblical and chorale texts in Baroque through-composed settings with distinctive chorus and solo passages in the through-composed “old style,” unsuitable for borrowing. These works preceded the development of the so-called sacred cantata in the Italian operatic style with poetic madrigalian texts set as recitatives, ariosi, and da-capo arias, c. 1704. Because virtually no original, source-critical material exists, little exact dating is possible. Meanwhile, Bach scholarship has been able to determine dating and purpose or occasion by examining compositional and stylistic characteristics as well as historically-related, collateral evidence. Bach’s earliest music of joy were Cantata 71 for the Mühlhausen Town Council, and Cantata 196, possibly for a wedding.

In Leipzig, Bach resumed occasional music of joy with annual Town Council installation cantatas, followed by sacred wedding cantatas in two parts for full wedding Masses. These were composed in the second half of the 1720s and often were the source of further occasional, celebratory works through parody or new text underlay. The first partially extant Leipzig sacred wedding cantata is BWV 34a, “O ewiges Feuer, o Ursprung der Liebe” (O eternal fire, o source of love), dating to c1727, at which time its parody with the same incipit and similar text was presented on Pentecost Sunday, June 1.1 Cantata BWV 34, which was reperformed on the same festival in 1746 or 1747 for eldest son Friedemann’s tenure beginning in Halle. Both Cantatas 34 and 34a were conceived by Bach for sacred services while possibly, simultaneously envisioned, as were other parodies such as BWV 120a (wedding and town council), and perhaps even secular-sacred works BWV 213-215 and the Christmas Oratorio and BWV 193a-193 (August Nameday-town council).

While the actual ceremony has not been determined the surviving parts of BWV 34a include the full text of a two-part cantata for a wedding Mass, and a parody relationship with the model Pentecost Cantata BWV 34 through the c.1746 reperformance score in the autograph of Sebastian. The original model BWV 34 score and BWV 34a parts set, presumably in the possession of Friedemann, are lost. No autograph score survives for Cantata 34a while, only 7 original parts survive for SATB, violin, viola, and continuo.

As the first parody model for an occasional, celebratory sacred work, Cantata 34a, contains parody movements shared with Cantata 34: BWV 34a/1=34/1, BWV 34a/4=34/5, 34a/5=34/3. Cantata 34a was the first of four such sacred, two-part wedding cantatas originally composed in the later 1720s with further parodies: Cantata BWV 120a, "Herr Gott, Beherrscher aller Dinger" (Lord God, ruler of all things), about Easter 1729, with two further parodies, BWV 120 and 120b, "Gott, man lobet dich in der Stille" (God, one praises Thee in the stillness), the former for the annual Town Council Installation, 29 August 1729, and the latter for the special three-day Augsburg Confession Festival Monday, June 26, 1730 (; Cantata BWV 195, “Dem Gerechten muß das Licht immer wieder aufgehen” (For the righteous person the light must always rise again, Psalm 97:11), 1727-32, original title unknown, apparently a comic tribute to a Leipzig couple, then a wedding cantata performed in 1736, c.1742, and 1748-49 (; and Cantata BWV 197, “Gott ist unsre Zuversicht” (God is our confidence); for a wedding,1736-37, two-movement parody of Christmas Cantata BWV 197a, “Ehre sei Gott in der Höhe” (Glory to God in the highest, Luke 2:14), 25 December 1728 or 1729, reperformance 1736-37. In the 1750 estate division of the wedding cantatas, Emmanuel may have received the BWV 34a (parts), and BWV 195, and Friedemann BWV 120a, and BWV 197a ?fragments.

The extent of the parody process varied among all four occasional wedding cantata models and the dating and circumstances of the weddings remain unknown for Cantata BWV 34a, 120a, and 197. Three other sacred wedding cantatas dated to this period survive only in their texts (music lost): BWV Anh. 14, Sein Segen fließt daher wie ein Strom (His blessing flows like a stream), 12 February 1725 (couple unknown); BWV Anh. 211, “Der Herr ist freundlich dem, der auf ihn harret" (The Lord is good to them that wait for him, Lamentations 3:25-26); Johann Friedrich Höckner and Jacobina Agnetha Bartholomaï, 18 January 1729); and BWV Anh 212, “Vergnügende Flammen, verdoppelt die Macht" (Contented flames, double the power), Christoph Georg Winckler and Caroline Wilhelmine Jöcher, 26 July 1729) — the last two recently discovered through texts of Picander (details,

The exact dating of wedding Cantata BWV 34a is still being determined while Pentecost Cantata 34 was recently dated to 1 June 1727 by Tatiana Shablina.2 Her study of the origin history of both cantatas is based on the BWV 34 text booklet and detailed analysis of the surviving manuscript sources for both works. Says Shabalina (Ibid.: “Activities Around,” Footnote 8: 13): “‘1726/7’ seems more reliable for its composition (see the more detailed discussion of the dating of [BWV 34a parts] St 73 in: Shabalina, ‘Neue Erkenntnisse zur Entstehungsgeschichte’, 105–7). As for other questions of correlation of BWV 34 and 34a (including relationship between the text and music, declamation in both pieces, connection of the text ‘Friede über Israel’ with BWV 34a/3 and its lack in BWV 34 etc.) they will be discussed in a separate article, which is being prepared for publication,” says Shabalina.

The previously-documented initial performance of Cantata BWV 34, "O ewiges Feuer, o Ursprung der Liebe," according to Shabalina, is now dated to the reperformance on Pentecost Monday, May 21, 1747, or May 29, 1746 in Halle, where Sebastian is believed to have revived the work for his oldest son Fridemann's debut as music director. Friedemann, who was required to present original major works on the first feast day of high festivals (Christmas, Easter, Pentecost), also may have repeated BWV 34a in 1756 on a double bill with his own Pentecost Cantata, "Wer mich liebet," Fk 72 (, nos. 14-17).

Cantata 34 Redating, Cantata 34a Comparison

The re-dating of Pentecost Cantata 34 and the conditions of the composition of it and its parody are examined in the 2010 liner notes of Klaus Hofmann in the Masaaki Suzuki BIS complete cantata recordings.3 << O ewiges Feuer, o Ursprung der Liebe, BWV 34 O Eternal Fire, O Source of Love. Bach’s was heard for the first time on Whit Sunday, 1st June 1727, in the main church service at St Nikolai’s Church in Leipzig. Proof of this was found only recently at the Russian National Library in St Petersburg. This takes the form of a printed text of the sort that was handed out to the congregation at Bach’s time so they could read along, and it contains the words of the cantatas for the three Whitsun feast days and Trinity Sunday of 1727. Until then it had been assumed that the work was of later origin because the only extant source, a fair copy score by Bach, contained clear indications of having been produced in the 1740s. Apparently, though, Bach wrote out this new score for a repeat performance, and probably revised the piece at the same time. The revision can have affected only the music, however; the words remained untouched, as is shown by a comparison with the printed text from 1727. Today it is impossible to determine the nature of Bach’s musical revisions.

Even the original version of 1727 was by no means a newly composed work. The three principal movements – the two outer movements and the one solo aria – can be traced back to a wedding cantata from 1725–26 with the same opening words (BWV 34a); in 1727, therefore, the two recitatives were the only new additions. The idea of transforming this occasional piece into a Whitsun cantata must have appealed to Bach. Whitsun is the feast with which Christians celebrate the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, as recounted in the Whit Sunday epistle, Acts 2:1–3; and the wedding cantata begins with an appeal to the Holy Spirit and allusions to the Whitsun miracle of the flames: ‘O ewiges Feuer, o Ursprung der Liebe, / entzünde der Herzen geweihten Altar! / Lass himmlische Flammen durchdringen und wallen, / ach lass doch auf dieses vereinigte Paar / die Funken der edelsten Regungen fallen!’ (‘O eternal fire, O source of love, / Set aflame the sacred altar of their hearts! / May heavenly flames penetrate and flow within us, / Oh, may there fall upon this united couple / The sparks of the most noble impulse.’ )

We do not know who reworked the text for Bach, but the librettist accomplished his task with considerable skill and remarkable pragmatism, and understood how to place the three ‘reclaimed’ movements in a new thematic context with just a few basic adjustments. In the first movement he confined himself to essential retouchings – omitting, for instance, references to the ‘vereinigtes Paar’ (‘united couple’). By introducing the formulation ‘Wir wünschen, o Höch- ster, dein Tempel zu sein’ (‘O most high, we wish to be your temple’) he also established a link with the gospel passage for Whit Sunday – John 14:23–31 – with Jesus’ words ‘If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him’. The idea of God making his abode in our hearts is developed further in the following movements. The final chorus – with the motto from the wedding cantata ‘Friede über Israel’ (‘peace upon Israel’ – Psalm 128:6) alludes to a further saying by Jesus from the gospel passage for that day: ‘Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you’.>>
© Klaus Hofmann 2010

“Production Notes. O ewiges Feuer, o Ursprung der Liebe, BWV 34. On the basis of the handwriting in the sole remaining autograph of the full score of this work (National Library, Berlin, Am.B.39), this cantata was until recently thought to have been composed during the 1740s. Its text, however, is included in an anthology of cantata texts performed in Leipzig which was only recently discovered in St Petersburg by the Russian musicologist Tatiana Shabalina. From this it is clear that the cantata received its first performance in 1727, and we have therefore chosen to include this work in the present volume.”
© Masaaki Suzuki 2010

Cantata 34a Details

Both cantatas are presumably scored for three trumpets in D and timpani; two flutes and two oboes; and strings with continuo, while the BWV 34a BGA complete reconstruction (see below,”Provenance) is a score only for strings and continuo (see BWV 34 score for orchestration,,; In the overall design of the two cantatas, the Pentecost work is in one part, while the wedding piece is longer, in two parts. Both texts were written by unknown librettists although Picander is a possibility, with his parodist skills. The three parodied movements have virtually the same music except for text adjustments. At the same time, it is possible that Bach set the Pentecost text and then relied on his parts main copyists, Christian Gottlob Meißner and Johann Heinrich Bach, both with experience in adapting a handwritten text to the existing music (Shabalina, Ibid.: Foonote 6:10). The parody texts also were quite similar in biblical allusions and rhyme-scheme and line-length, and only occasionally did new words have to be fitted to existing melodies, especially in the virtual-parody of the da-capo opening chorus to the same incipit.

The score in a complete reconstruction is found at BGA (Vergl. Jahrgang VII, BG XLI (Alfred Dörffel, 1894:117-148); sources: from parts (Mvts. 1 (no trumpets) to 7). A vocal-piano edition of BWV 34a by Bernhardt Todt was published by Breitfkopf & Härtel, according to Werner Neumann's Handbuch der Kantaten Joh Seb. Bach, 5th edition (Wiesbaden: Breitkopf & Härtel, 1984: 60), out of print. Here is the BWV 34a wedding text with English translation (Pamela Dellal) with new, different words in italics (

1. Chorus da capo, imitation & free polyphony; choral insertion soli, tutti [SATB, 3 trumpets, 2 oboes, strings, basso continuo]: A. “O ewiges Feuer, o Ursprung der Liebe, / Entzünde die Herzen und weihe sie in geweihten Altar. B. Laß himmlische Flammen durchdringen und wallen, / Wir wünschen, o Höchster, dein Tempel zu sein, / Ach, laß dir die Seelen im Glauben gefallen Ach laß doch auf dieses vereinigte Paar / Ach, laß dir die Seelen im Glauben gefallen Die Funken der edelsten Regungen fallen.” (A. O eternal fire, o source of love, / ignite our hearts and consecrate them ignite the sacred altar of their hearts. B. Let heavenly flames penetrate and surge over us, / we wish, o Highest, to be Your temple / Ah, may our souls be pleasing to you in faith! Ah, may upon this united pair / Ah, may our souls be pleasing to you in faith! the sparks of noblest impulse fall!); D Major; 3/4 ?menuett style (BWV 34a/1,
No. 2 Recitative secco [bass, continuo]:”Wie, daß der Liebe hohe Kraft / In derer Menschen Seelen / Ein Himmelreich auf Erden schafft? / Was ziehet dich, o höchstes Wesen! / Der Liebe Wirkung zu erwählen? Ein Herz zur Wohnung auszulesen?” (How is it, that the high power of love): in the souls of these people creates a heavenly kingdom on earth? / What lures You, o Highest Being! / To choose the operations of love? / To select a heart for a dwelling-place?); G Major to b minor; 4/4.
There is one extant recording of the new material (Helmut Rilling) reconstructed from the extant recitative parts with continuo of wedding Cantata BWV 34a: 2. Recitative secco (Bass), “Wie, daß der Liebe hohe Kraft”; 3. Aria (Tenor) and Recitative (Alto), “Siehe, also wird gesegnet der Mann”; and 6. Recitative (Soprano), “Das ist vor dich, o ehrenwürdger Mann” (Download, (Disc 2, nos. 3),BNCW Recording details,
No. 3 Aria [alto, tenor, continuo, (Psalm 128:4-6), recitative accompagnato interspersed (alto with strings)]: Siehe, also wird gesegnet der Mann, der den Herren fürchtet. – Wo dringt der Geist mit Glaubensaugen hin? / Wo suchet er des Segens Quellen, / Die treuer Seelen Ehestand / Als ein gesegnetes, gelobtes Land / Vermögen darzustellen? – Der Herr wird dich segnen aus Zion, / – Was aber hat dein Gott dir zugedacht, / Dir, dessen Fleiß in Gottes Hause wacht? / Was wird der Dienst der heilgen Hütten / Auf dich vor Segen schütten? – Daß du sehest das Glück Jerusalem dein Leben lang, – Weil Zion Wohl zuerst dein Herze rührt, / Wird sich auch irdisches Vergnügen / Nach deines Herzens Wunsche fügen, / Da Gott ein auserwähltes Kind dir zugeführt, / Daß du in ungezählten Jahren / Verneutest Wohlsein mögst erfahren. – Und sehest deiner Kinder Kinder. – So rufen wir zur Segensstunde / Von Herzen mit vereintem Munde” (Behold, thus shall the man be blessed who fears the Lord. – Where is the spirit driven with eyes of faith? / Where does it seek the source of blessing, / the betrothal of faithful souls / to be able to reveal / as a blessed, praiseworthy land? – The Lord will bless you out of Zion, – What, however, has Your God consider for you, / you, whose industry stirs in God's house? / What will your service of the holy temple / shake down upon you as blessing? – So that You shall behold the blessing of Jerusalem all your life long. Since Sion's good first stirred your heart, / also an earthly pleasure / will come about after your heart's desire, / for God has brought you a chosen child, / so that for uncounted years / you might experience renewed happiness. – And you will behold your children's children. – Thus we call at this blessed hour / with united voices from our hearts); b minor to D Major; 4/4.
No. 4, da-capo chorus that closes Part 1 is a parody of the Pentecost Cantata closing chorus of BWV 34/5 The incipit and the closing two lines are the same in both cantatas, based on Psalm 128:6 [SATB strings, Bc]: A. 4/4 “Friede über Israel! / 2/2 Eilt zu denen heilgen Stufen, / Eilt, der Höchste neigt sein Ohr, // Unser Wünschen dringt hervor, / B. Friede über Israel, / Friede über euch zu senden.” (Peace upon Israel. / Hurry to those holy seats, / hurry, the Highest bends His ear, // our wishes reach up to Him, / to send peace upon Israel, / peace upon you.”; D Major,
Part 2, No. 5, the free da-capo aria opening Part 2 of the wedding cantata, BWV 34a/5, is a parody of Cantata BWV 34/3 (alto; Flauto traverso I/II, Violino I/II con sordino, Viola con sordino, Continuo): “Wohl euch, ihr auserwählten Seelen, / Die ein getreuer Jacob liebt. // Sein Lohn wird dort am größten werden, / Den ihm der Herr bereits auf Erden / Durch seiner Rahel Anmut gibt.” (It is well for you, you chosen souls, / whom a faithful Jacob loves. // His reward will be greatest there, / for to him the Lord already on earth / through his Rachel gives devotion.); A Major
No. 6, recitative secco [soprano, continuo]: “Das ist vor dich, o ehrenwürdiger Mann, / Die edelste Belohnung, / So dich vergnügen kann. / Gott, der von Ewigkeit die Liebe selber hieß / Und durch ein tugenhaftes Kind dein Herze rühren ließ, / Erfülle nun mit Segen deine Wohnung, / Daß sie wie Obed Edoms sei, / Und lege Kraft dem Segensworte bei.” (That is for you, o honor-worthy man, / the noblest reward / that could give you pleasure. / God, who forever Himself is called Love / and through a virtuous child stirs your heart, / now fills your house with blessing, / so that it will be like Obed Edom’s, / and lends power to these words of blessing.); f-sharp minor to D Major; 4/4.
No. 7 chorus, free polyphony imitation, unison chorus (Der Herr segne dich, apostolic blessing, Numbers 6:24-26) [SB (AT missing), Violino I, Viola, continuo (Violino II missing); ?orchestra: 3 trumpets, timpani, 2 oboes, strings): Gib, höchster Gott, auch hier dem Worte Kraft, / Das so /sonst/ viel Heil bei deinem Volke schafft: / Der Herr segne dich und behüte dich. / Es müsse ja auf den zurücke fallen, / Der solches läßt an heilger Stätte schallen: / Ein Danklied soll zu deinem Throne dringen / Und ihm davor ein freudig Opfer bringen: / Der Herr erleuchte sein Angesicht über dich und sei dir gnädig, / Sein Dienst, so stets am Heiligtume baut, / Macht, daß der Herr mit Gnaden auf ihn schaut. / Er zeichnet dich in seine Vaterhand, / Die die soviel vom Segen zugewandt. / Der Herr erhebe sein Angesicht über dich und gebe dir Friede. / Der Herr, von dem die keuschen Flammen kamen, / Erhalte sie und spreche kräftig amen. / /Es stammt dein Heil aus Gottes Herz und Namen, / So sei beglückt durch sein gesegnet Amen.” (Give, great God, power to your words also here, / that thus they will create great blessing among Your people: / May the Lord bless you and keep you. / Let it indeed befall him / who sounds forth this in holy places: / /A song of thanks shall rise before Your throne / and bring a joyful offering before Him: / May the Lord make His countenance shine upon you and be gracious unto you. / His service, which constantly builds a sanctuary, / causes the Lord to look upon him with grace. / He seals you in His Fatherly hands, / that have provided them with so much blessing. / May the Lord raise His countenance over you and give you peace. / May the Lord, from whom these chaste flames came, / uphold them and speak a powerful Amen. / Blessing stems from God's heart and name, / then be contented through His blessed Amen.); D Major; 4/4.

Qualities, Model, Commonalities, Intentions

Important insight into spiritual and musical qualities, the related model BWV 34 and their three common movements, and Bach’s intentions in the surviving wedding music of BWV 34a are found in Julian Mincham’s Commentary,

<<CHAPTER 76 BWV 34a O ewiges Feuer, o Ursprung der Liebe(Oh fire eternal, Oh spring of Love.
PART 1, Chorus–recit (bass)–aria /recit (tenor/alto)–chorus. PART 2, Aria (alto)–recit (sop)–chorus. A wedding cantata (incomplete).

The history of this work is as complicated as any of the several secular cantatas for which Bach reused the music, sometimes on several occasions. Dürr, as always the fount of knowledge when it comes to the dating of works, suggests that it originated in the first half of 1726 (p 744). Some of its movements certainly resurfaced for the late religious cantata C 34, which may have been compiled in the last three or four years of Bach’s life. This is particularly fortunate, since C 34a has survived incomplete, the score and several of the instrumental parts having been lost. One can, therefore, only gain a full picture of this work by drawing upon its later counterpart C 34 (vol 3, chapter 51). It will be noted that the two works enjoyed different structures, C 34a being in the two parts for performing before and after the wedding ceremony.

PART 1. Chorus. The three common movements which can be easily extracted from C 34 and performed as part of a reconstruction of C 34a are the two choruses that frame the later work and the alto aria. They are discussed only minimally in this essay; further detailed comments may be found in volume 3. The music is virtually unchanged in each case, and alterations to the verse texts are mostly of minor significance.

Clearly it was the image of the eternal fires that inspired Bach in the opening chorus, the virtually continuous violin semiquavers suggesting equally the flames of Divinity and those of carnal passion. The ideas which lie at the root of this cantata are the rewards of earthly love and passion as justified by the will of the Lord. Throughout the text there are carefulplaced lines which make the point without labouring it e.g.

—-let sparks of the most noble passion descend upon the united couple (first movement)
—-why choose the human heart as the dwelling place of love enfolding? (second movement)
—-earthly pleasure may be fulfilled as you desire it (third movement)
—-God, called Love from endless times, bestows upon you this reward (sixth movement).
This cantata was, therefore, conceived as an ardent piece celebrating the enjoyment of earthly passions albeit within God’s laws and the framework of Christian marriage. (A more detailed analysis of the opening chorus may be found in vol 3, chapter 51).

Bass recitative. A short, secco bass recitative, needing no reconstruction for performance, follows. Quasi-philosophical in tone, it asks two questions which the remainder of the text seeks to answer—-why is it that the power of love creates such a powerful kingdom in these souls on earth?—-and —-why choose the human heart as its domain? It ends on an imperfect cadence in Bm, the key of the following movement. Thus both musically and textually a question has been put which seeks a response.

Alto/tenor aria/recitative. Unfortunately, the fine third movement cannot be performed without some reconstruction and guesswork. Clearly the opening continuo line requires upper string parts to carry the musical momentum along; true, it begins like many openings of continuo arias which is what, indeed, it initially suggests. But by bar five the impetus is lacking and the ear demands more; indeed the commanding opening bars of the tenor line would fit very well on violins above the bass in bars 1 and 2, a useful clue in any reconstruction exercise. It is possible, of course, that Bach intended the harpsichord to ‘fill in’ the harmonies in the aria sections (a view reinforced by the fact that minimal violin and viola parts survive for the later recitative insertions). But it would require an imaginative and experienced musician to make it work. Of course, that person may have been Bach himself!

The structure of the movement is unusual, a series of eight alternating sections of aria and recitative. The former are sung by the bass and supported by the muscular continuo theme with which the movement begins. He is the reassuring voice of the pastor, informing us that those who fear God and their progeny shall be blessed. The latter are sung by a tenor, supported by simple three-part harmony (violins and continuo) and he looks for such assurances as—-from whence do the souls seek blessing?

Chorus. The fourth and final recitative section ends with the enjoinders—-with united voice we cry—-and what we cry out is:—-. The appeal is for Peace upon Israel, the opening words of the immediately ensuing chorus. This movement was used to conclude C 34 but in the wedding cantata it ends part 1 only. Once again, the missing wind and timpani parts can be retrieved from the later version, structural peculiarities of which are described in chapter 51.

PART 2. The alto aria is the third and final movement that may be retrieved in full from the C 34. The chosen sheep, beloved of Jacob, become souls selected by God in the later version but the essential theme, happiness in the great rewards of God’s blessings, remains the same. So, indeed, does the music with its haunting sound of flutes doubling the muted violins an octave higher. Whether heard in the context of the secular or religious cantata, this is an aria that no Bach lover would wish to be without!

The allusion to sheep is made in order to introduce the biblical reference to Jacob’s love of Rachel. This particular example has, however, a sting in the tail as biblical scholars will be aware. In the end Jacob did not get what he wanted or expected! One can only suspect a moment of cynical and slightly scurrilous humour on the part of the lyricist (albeit disguised for the cognoscenti) towards the divinely bestowed gift of marriage extolled in the rest of the cantata! This was an age of hidden meanings concealed within canons and other musical puzzles. It should not surprise us to find something similar within the texts.

Soprano recitative. The last recitative is for soprano and, like the first, needs no reconstruction. It is a summation of the cantata’s theme—-this is the most noble of rewards to give man pleasure—-let the God of eternal Love fill your house with blessing. There is a reference to Obed Edom who guarded the God’s Arc of Covenance and, as with the mention of Jacob, there may be secondary meanings implied. Certainly, the piety with which he tended the Arc is a metaphor illuminating the notion of the devotion given to God’s love which we have secured within our hearts.

But Edom was also a Gittite, one of those who formed David’s bodyguard and a ‘guest’ in Israel. Consequently, this metaphor may have a number of different layers of meaning to which the biblical scholar would be attuned, further evidence suggesting that the groom might have been a man of the church. Could there even be a concealed challenge to orthodoxy, if not quite amounting to heresy, in the notion that even those who are not of the faith may cherish and enjoy the bestowal of God’s gift of Love?

Chorus. But if the essence of this cantata is essentially religious, would it not have been traditional, and indeed politic to end with a chorale? Neither this work nor its non-secular adaptation does so; Bach chooses to conclude both with choruses. Unfortunately, that for C 34a has parts missing and requires reconstruction, an important point of debate being what to do with the choir.

Only the soprano and bass parts survive, but rather oddly they seem, for the most part, complete in themselves i.e. they create satisfactory two-part harmony. This raises the question of whether Bach intended the altos to double the sopranos and the tenors the basses occasionally, where the ranges are stretched, an octave apart. There is no precedence for such an arrangement; but then there is also very little for the four-octave passages in which the voices join to intone the prayer—-the Lord bless and keep you (from bar 31)—-may the Lord’s face shine with grace upon you (from bar 45)—-may the Lord lift his countenance upon you and grant you peace (from bar 61) and the final ‘amens’ (from bar 89). The rest of the text is built around these pillars of avowal and substantiates further the notion that the groom was a clergyman—-the Lord looks with mercy upon the man whose office promotes the sanctuary.

It is a commanding chorus with a number of musical points that relate directly to the third movement. Where the notion of dialogue was there implied by the alternation of aria and recitative, here it is achieved by the juxtaposition of choral harmony and octave declamations. The continuo bass lines of the two movements also have much in common; both are built around a skirl of four semiquavers and a striding quaver figuration. Interestingly, in the third movement the semi-quaver pattern is almost always descending as the premises of faith are yet to be explained and accepted. In the last movement they are predominantly rising, a possible indication of regained optimistic faith and enlightenment.[example]

It would be a pity if this work, albeit in a modified and reconstructed form, were not to find a place in the secular cantata repertoire. Despite sharing three of the most significant movements with C 34, C 34a has its own purpose, character, structure and appeal. Much intelligent guesswork is required, but it is well within the grasp of a good Bach scholar/composer.

This is a work of much subtlety and charm and it is to be regretted that it comes to us with so many gaps and questions. LINK:;
Copyright: J Mincham 2010. Revised 2012, 2014, 2017.>>

More Biblical Allusions, Qualities

Another commentary that further describes the biblical allusions and musical qualities of Cantata 34a is found in the 1999 liner notes of Dr. Theodore Glaser (Commentary,;BCW Recording details, <<The extensive commentary below is quoted from the liner notes to Beringer’s recording of Cantata BWV 34 on Rondeau label. It was written by Dr. Theodor Glaser (2000), Member of the High Consistory (retired). The author used to be suffragan to the Lutheran Bishop of Bavaria. In his clerical capacity, Glaser is in particular demand in the leading sung services, above all in performance of J.S. Bach’s cantatas.

“O ewiges Feuer, o Ursprung der Liebe” ("O fire everlasting, O fountain of loving") - thus begins the cantata which Johann Sebastian Bach initially composed during the first half of 1726 for the wedding of a friend who was a Protestant pastor. The cantor of St Thomas' Church later took this festive wedding music and used it for a Whitsunday cantata at some time between 1740 and 1746. The exact year is unknown. Bach made use of the "parody technique", a popular conceit of the period; copying from himself, he took music already composed and performed by him and combined it with new words to suit the occasion. This may be seen to demonstrate the fluidity which existed between "sacred" and "secular" music at the time. In addition, such practice alleviated some of the pressures of work. Bach lifted the opening and closing choruses, as well as the aria, straight from the now missing wedding cantata. The recitatives he composed anew.

Turning the wedding cantata into one suitable for Whitsun was not difficult. The account of Pentecost (Acts of the Apostles 2, 5: 1-13) relates how tongues of fire appeared to settle on the heads of the men in the temple. Along with the wind and the dove, fire is a symbol of the Holy Spirit. Fire and passionate love are also undeniably linked. As lovers are ignited with passion for each other, to be consumed by flames of love, so God burns with love for humanity, desiring that we love Him and all His works in return, so that humanity too burns with love. It is likely Bach knew the words written by Martin Luther, "God is Love Incarnate. Were I to paint Him, I would do it thus, that the heart of His divine nature might seem purest fire and immense heat- His love for His people".

Bach paints fire and love with his music. The intentionally huge opening chorus for a large orchestra chronologically encompasses almost half of his cantatas. Musical fireworks go off as timpani and trumpets, stringed instruments, oboes and continuo make their entries. One sees and hears the crackling and licking of the flames. One feels the fiery breath of the Holy Spirit and the glow of love. Though Prometheus, who stole fire from the gods, believed that he himself had brought everything to completion with his divinely-glowing heart, it was God's Holy Spirit that succeeded in setting men's hearts on fire.

In the Whitsunday gospel reading we read, "If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him." (John 14: 23). "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give unto you." (John 14: 27). The recitatives, aria and the closing chorus take these texts as their theme. The hearts of men are compared to a house, as the "temple of the Holy Ghost" (1st Book of Corinthians 6: 19). Text and music combine to produce a mystical atmosphere, particularly in the aria, which "numbers one of Bach's most felicitous inspirations" (Alfred Dürr) and is one of the most beautiful pieces Bach ever composed (Alec Robertson).

Muted violins and pastoral flutes echo and compliment the alto line an octave higher, soaring and caressing the mystical love song of the soul to her bridegroom. Albert Schweitzer wrote, "Bach is one of the greatest mystics, for he also knew the world." Yehudi Menuhin added, "A unity existed between him and the Divine."

Bach's library contained works by mediaeval mystics who commented, "There in our deepest innermost selves is where God desires to be. God desires to dwell within your heart, as you yourself dwell within in your house. From out of the very depths of your soul, he will revive and inspire you with his divine presence. Thus is the soul imbued with clarity, truth and kindness, and so is made oblivious to all tribulations. Through time and space it grows until at last it stands in the outer courtyard of eternal salvation." The closing Chorus takes the listener there. Majestic, triumphant, jubilant fanfares by the trumpets proclaim a chorale of thanksgiving, worshipping the power of God's love. An intercession for "Peace [to] be over Israel" is included peace for a new Israel and anew Church, but also in our own century, for the actual country and people of Israel in Palestine. The effect is truly celestial, as if the music has been sent down by the angels, a prelude to vita aeterna, a foretaste of everlasting life and peace.>>

Wedding Conditions, Allusions

Further insight into the wedding conditions and biblical allusions in provided in. Peter Bloemendaal’s commentary (June 12, 2003, BCML Discussion, Part 1,): <<The original cantata, BWV 34a, was written and performed in 1726 as a wedding cantata for an apparently important Leipzig clergyman. More than just a perk for the Thomascantor, if it gained him 50 Reichsthaler ($3,600), the usual honorarium for composing a congratulatory cantata in 1736, and another Thaler ($72), being the cantor's fee for weddings and funerals, according to the 1723 Regulation for St. Thomas-school, Leipzig. [Source: Chr. Wolff - Bach, the Learned Musician, p. 540, appendix 3] As already pointed out here, Bach parodied the original work into the cantata for Whitsunday some 20 years later. Although 34a was not a church cantata according to Bach's cantata cycles for the Lutheran church year, we know from the text, which has survived, that it was certainly a deeply religious work. Like many other so-called secular cantatas, it is full of references to Biblical texts. Human love is depicted as a reflection of divine love and marriage as an institution by God, needing his blessing so that it will be heaven on earth. I read that the only recording is by Rilling.

Unfortunately, I have never heard it and I wonder whether Rilling made a musical reconstruction based on the later church cantata. For a lot of the parts have not been preserved. So we do not know if instrumental scores of the opening chorus "O ewiges Feuer, o Ursprung der Liebe", the alto aria "Wohl euch, ihr auserwählten Seelen" and the Tutti "Friede über Israel" - the three movements both versions have in common - were as rich and elaborate in the original as in the parody. If so, this Lutheran clergyman and his bride must have had the most impressive wedding service ever, the most magnificent music on the most memorable day of their lives.

In addition to that what has been remarked about flames, fire and love, we should realize that Bach and his contemporaries were quite aware that there was an opposing aspect to the eternal fire. In Exodus chapters 3:2, 14:24 and 19:18, God reveals and hides himself in fire (the burning bush, the clouded pillar of fire, and the holy presentation of the ten commandments on smoking mount Sinai). The statement "Our God is (like) a consuming fire" is often heard in the Old Testament and repeated in the New Testament in Hebrews 12:29. In Matthew 18:8, Jesus warns his disciples for the eternal,"l fire as a punishment for their sins, and in Matthew chapter 25 and Revelation chapters 19 and 21, the pit of fire is a fearful image of eternal damnation. So, when the bridal couple and all the wedding guests heard the crackling sparks and flames of the eternal fire through the semi quavers they knew that God was not only the origin of love, but also a consuming fire. When the tenor and alto sing of God's merciful blessings there is this serious undertone, a warning that God wishes our devotion in return. Therefore, already in the first movement, the choir sing out their pledge: "Wir wünschen, o Höc, dein Tempel zu sein."

For me, this cantata is not only one of my favourites because of the music, which is so extremely magnificent that words are failing, but also because "Friede über Israel" was the very last movement we (Holland Boys Choir) recorded as the conclusion of our 16 months' Bach cantatas project. It was an emotional moment with mixed feelings of joy, pride and melancholy. Immediately after, when the machines stopped, we performed the cantata for only a handful of people in St Nicholas church, the venue where it had all happened, the smallest audience we've ever had, but a concert I will never forget.>>

Note: Further source materials are found in Claude Role’s BCW online commentary of Cantata 34(a),, particularly the possible dating of the BWV 34a

wedding, and selective commentary of various scholars listed in the bibliography. The closing Annex of Carl de Nys records the 8 November 1728 wedding at St. Nicholas of theologian and Naumberg pastor Friedrich Schutze to Johanna Elisabeth Weiss, daughter of Christian Weiss, St. Thomas pastor. Other weddings dated to as early as1726 have been suggested.


Of the two Cantatas BWV 34 and 34a, only the autograph score of BWV 34 survives, and seven parts from BWV 34a with a separate cover (much later provenance), S. W. Dehn wrote: “O ewiges Feuer, o Ursprung der Liebe” / Cantate von Joh. Seb. Bach / Trauungscantate” says Thomas Braatz in BCW Provenance (14 June 2003, Siegfried Dehn (1799-1858,, a Bach scholar, editor, and manuscript collector, and “head of the music department of the Royal Library in Berlin, was an active worker in the copying of Bach manuscripts for the early volumes of the BGS,” says W. Gillies Whittaker in his Bach cantata study.5

The c.1746 reperformance score of BWV 34, D-B Am.B 39, is found at; Provenance: J. S. Bach - W. F. Bach - J. P. Kirnberger? - Berlin, Amalien-Bibliothek - Joachimsthalsches Gymnasium (1788) - BB (now Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Musikabteilung), Amalienbibliothek (1914). The surviving parts (7) BWV 34a (SATB,Violin I, Viola, basso continuo), are found at; Provenance: J. S. Bach - ?Emmanuel - G. Poelchau - BB (now Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, Preußischer Kulturbesitz) (1841).


1 Cantata 34a, BWV Details & Discography, References BGA XLI (reconstruction, (Alfred Dörffel, 1894), NBA KB I/33 (Frederick Hudson, 1958: 37), Bach Comopendium BC: B 13, Zwang: K 169.
2 Tatiana Shabalina, "Recent Discoveries in St Petersburg and Their Meaning for the Understanding of Bach's Cantatas," Understanding Bach, 4, 77-99, © Bach Network UK 2009 (; “Neue Erkenntnisse zur Etestehungsgeschichte der Kantaten BWV 34 and 34a,” Bach Jahrbuch 96 (2010: 95-109); and “Activities Around the Composer's Desk: The Roles of Bach and His Copyists in Parody Production,” Understanding Bach, 11, 9–38 © Bach Network UK 2016,
3 Hofmann, Suzuki notes,; BCML Recording details, Other recording commentary on line is the liners notes of John Eliot Gardiner,, and the Rudolf Lutz workshop video with English subtitles,
4 Further summary commentary of Philipp Spitta, Albert Schweitzer, Woldamar Voigt, and Friedrich Smend is found at BCW,
5 W. Gillies Whittaker, The Cantatas of Johann Sebastian Bach: Sacred & Secular (London: Oxford University Press, 1959: I: 22f). Whittaker’s analysis of BWV 34a parts and BWV 34 score (BGA) is found at II: 125-30).


To Come: Wedding Cantatas 195 and 197.

Nicholas Johnson wrote (October 25, 2017):
Off topic

Does anyone know of a bassoon transcription of the b minor flute sonata BWV 1030 ? There is an Australian who plays it in e minor on the web. Of course it would be child’s play to transcribe it but the first movement alone runs to some 120 bars measures. There is a brilliant Italian who plays the E major harpsichord concerto in a version in C major for bassoon , which I enclose.

Peter Smaill wrote (October 25, 2017):
[To William Hoffman] Thanks indeed are due for the review of this magnificent Cantata in the wider context of wedding practices at Leipzig. Can you let us know exactly which volume supplied the mystical quotation, which resonates with such arias as “ Komm in mein Herzens Haus”, (BWV31), and the mystical tradition of viewing marriage as analogous to the divine Union; the word “Brautigam”, bridegroom, for example occurs three times in the Weihnachtsoratorium.

On the relationship to BWV 34 the situation has I think radically changed following Tatiana Shabalina’s discovery of new sources in St Petersburg. BWV 34 was composed shortly before the marriage Cantata BWV 34a, in 1726/7, possibly from a common root which has not survived.

It’s all written up in Understanding Bach 11, which is on the Bach Network website and her name as keyword should bring it up as part of a wider article on changes to the dating of several parodies causes by the discovery of text booklets.

Since the St Petersburg collections are unindexed we all live in hope that Tatiana will find more!

William Hoffman wrote (October 25, 2017):
[To Peter Smaill] Thank you for your observations on BWV 34 and unio mystica. I just got Isabella van Elferen 's Mystical Love in the German Baroque (Contextual Bach Studies). I also am looking at Luther's perspectives, especially now at the half-millenium of the Reformation. Also, Cantata 34 uses tropes of Psalm 128:4-6 (no. 3) and the Benediction (Numbers 6:24-26, no 7) in lieu of plain chorales, while motet BWV 225 does the same in the aria (no. 2), dating to 1727 for New Year's, Augustus' Jubilate Fair visit, and Reformation Day (ref. Szymon Paczkowski's Polish Style in the Music of JSB (Contextual Bach Studies), Chapter 4. Meanwhile, I am working on wedding Cantatas 195 and 197 so I can move on to Bach and the Reformation for next week's anniversary. BTW, I hope Shabalina in St.Petersburg welcome across the text book of the lost 1735 Pentecost Oratorio -- that would be an incredible find!

Peter Smaill wrote (October 27, 2017):
Thanks Peter

Donald is slightly coy on dates until the New Deutsch is complete, an update on the 1954. (!) comprehensive source volume on Handel.

He is planning to come to Edinburgh afterwards due to the Handel collection here gathered/purchased by Arthur Balfour, Prime Minister in 1900 and enthusiastic Handelian.

When he comes I’ll fix dinner or whatever with him and you and Alfonso, and John if he can come.


Cantata BWV 34: O ewiges Feuer, o Ursprung der Liebe [I] for Whit Sunday (1727)
Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements
Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6

Cantata BWV 34a: O ewiges Feuer, o Ursprung der Liebe [II] for Wedding (1726)
Details & Recordings
Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6

Recordings & Discussions of Cantatas: Main Page | 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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Last update: Monday, November 20, 2017 06:41