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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 61
Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland
Discussions - Part 2

Continue from Part 1

Discussions in the Week of March 27, 2005

Thomas Shepherd wrote (March 26, 2005):
BWV 61: Introduction

The cantata for discussion this week (March 27-April 2) is:

Cantata BWV 61
Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland

Event in the Lutheran church calendar: Chorale Cantata for the 1st Sunday in Advent

Composed: Weimar, 1714 | 1st performance: December 2, 1714 - Weimar; 2nd performance: November 28, 1723 - Leipzig

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Link to texts, commentary, vocal score, music examples, and list of known recordings: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV61.htm

Link to previous discussions: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV61-D.htm

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There were few comments about this cantata in the last round of discussions.
Streamed over the internet, it is possible to hear two versions.
1. Leusink: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Stream/BWV61-Leusink.ram

2. Kahlhofer [3]: I have made a copy of the Kahlhofer vinyl recording of the mid 60s at: http://www.zen20101.zen.co.uk/Stuff/BWV%2061/
There is some thoughtful and very accurate playing and singing in this performance, not least from the two men soloists, Theo Altmeyer and Eduard Wollitz. I'm not so sure about the Soprano, Ingeborg Reichelt.

For interest the Ambrosian hymn melody is at: http://www.zen20101.zen.co.uk/Stuff/BWV%2061/Veni%20Redemptor%20genitum.mp3

and Bach's harmonisation of Luther's adaptation of the plainchant: http://www.zen20101.zen.co.uk/Stuff/BWV%2061/Nun%20komm,%20der%20Heiden%20Heiland.mp3

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I hope to see many of you joining in the discussion.

Neil Halliday wrote (March 27, 2005):
BWV 61: Introduction (Opening chorus)

An amazing aspect of the impressive opening chorus is its ability to survive sharply different performance styles.

Consider the following recordings (chronological order):

Werner (3.48) [1], Kahlhöfer (c. 3.40) [3], Richter (3.58) [4], Rilling (4.42) [5], Harnoncourt (3.42) [6], Suzuki (2.44) [16], Leusink (3.00) [18].

Werner [1], Richter [4] and Rilling [5] present the score as written. Kahlhöfer [3], surprisingly, uses an aspect of style employed for French overtures by HIP conductors, ie, the 1/16th note runs (as notated) are often changed into 1/32nd notes, resulting in a characteristically rhythmically sharp articulation. However, he does maintain a tenuto articulation for the dotted notes; all the HIP examples have many of the dotted notes as staccato, in addition to the the feature noted above.

Thus Kahlhöfer [3] might be seen as presenting a style between the HIP and non-HIP examples. His tempo is almost identical to Harnoncourt [6], but the effect of the latter is of course very different, with its staccato approach, in comparison to Kahlhofer's legato.

Werner and Richter [4] are similar in effect (legato, with score as written), while Rilling's performance [5], at a much slower tempo, relies on a sombre majesty for its impact, rather than displaying the rhythmic vitality that appears in the faster recordings.

Interestingly, at the other extreme of speed, Suzuki (2.44) [16] still manages to capture interest in the score, and so too does Leusink [18], who displays lots of vitality.

Normally I do not like the HIP style in Bach's French overture movements, but in the case of BWV 61's opening movement, I can enjoy listening to all the recordings.

Harnoncourt [6] might have been better if he had contrasted the sharp rhythmic vitality of his strings with a more legato presentation of the choral lines; Rilling's orchestra seems to have been recorded at too low a volume, robbing the strings of some 'gusto' and drive, but even so the counterpoint in the violas is well captured at the slower speed; Suzuki's fast tempo does seem to rob the music of some drama; but as I said at the beginning, this chorus always seems to be fascinating.

Robert Sherman wrote (March 27, 2005):
Double-dotting

[To Neil Halliday] Neil refers to double-dotting (that is, playing a dotted-eighth and sixteenth note patter as if it were a double-dotted eighth and a thirty-second note) as employed by "HIP conductors." True, but we frequently hear it done by non-HIP conductors (e.g. Marriner's Messiah).

I consider myself anti-HIP as the term is frequently used, but in baroque music I double-dot more often than not, because it seems to fit the music better.

Frequently the most effective, IMO, is to begin such passages by zero-dotting the first time, and double-todding after that. For example, in Messiah's "Behold the lamb of God), the initial "Be" should be a full eighth note, while "the" and "of" are thirty-second notes. The text seems to support such an approach, in that "Be" is obviously more important than "the" or "of". But this practice works well on instrumental pieces too.

Continue of this part of the discussion, see: Double-Dotting [General Topics]

Peter Smaill wrote (March 27, 2005):
The focus in the prior discussions of this fine Cantata has been the discography so as before my thoughts dwell on the imagery.

Both Robertson and Whittaker, indeed many contributors too, are particularly struck by the movement whose form is least analysed in the cantatas-the recitative; in this case BWV61/4, "Siehe, siehe, ich stehe vor der Tur und klopfe an".

The image of Christ knocking on the door, symbolising His call to the the individual soul, is from Revelations 3/20, and as so often when Bach depicts a mystical theme the result is highly affecting. But is there, to the musicologist, any particular quality in Bach's general use of pizzicato which distinguishes his use of the technique? My sources are silent on the point even though these two examples alone are of high musical quality.

In this instance the pizzicato depicts the striking act; whereas the pizzicato in BWV 95/ 5, uses pizzicato in the context of death, "Only call soon (thou most beloved of holy bells)" the musical language is in both cases indicative of a striking action. The graphical analogy for BWV 61/4 must be Holman Hunt's famous Pre-Raphaelite painting, "The Light of the World" (1851), in Keble College, Oxford; which explicitly illustrates exactly the same passage in Revelations.

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 28, 2005):
Peter Smaill wrote:
>>But is there, to the musicologist, any particular quality in Bach's general use of pizzicato which distinguishes his use of the technique?<<
Bach used pizzicato for the upper strings in the following instances:

BWV 8/1 (Todesglocken)
BWV 30a/5 (Pleasure with syncopated rhythm)
BWV 30/5 (Come the savior calls to sinners - parody)
BWV 33/3 (fearful steps of a sinner)
BWV 61/4 (knocking on door: the present cantata)
BWV 73/4 (funeral bells)
BWV 92/8 (sins dripping into the 'cup of the cross' of human suffering)
BWV 95/4 (let the funeral bells ring out soon for me - mentioned by Peter)
BWV 127/3 (let the funeral bells call me to my death)
BWV 161/4 (ring out the last hour signaling my death)
BWV 182/1 (instrumental (knocking on the door?) before we welcome the King of Heaven?)
BWV 198/4 (funeral bells)
BWV 209/1 (instrumental introduction)
BWV 212/14 (drops of an alcoholic drink?}
BWV 1044/1-3 (instrumental)
BWV 1056/1-3 (instrumental)
BWV 1060/2 (instrumental)

Except in such cases where the music is entirely instrumental (no reference to any text whatsoever), we get the following results:

Todesglocken 5 instances
Clock or bell ringing out the final hour of life 1 instance
Dripping of blood or alcohol 2 instances
Christ knocking on the door possibly 2 instances
Fearful steps of a sinner 1 instance
Pleasure with a skipping, syncopating rhythm 1 instance

It is clear that Bach's most common application of pizzicato is to have it represent death as related to funeral bells. Some of the most beautiful and sublime arias that Bach ever wrote are included in the group listed above. A steady (unsyncopated) regularly repeated musical figure played pizzicato sometimes begins to sound like the ticking of the clock or a human heart which could be construed as the time in one's life ticking away with approaching death being imminent. Perhaps these images (funeral bells, clock ticking, and heart beating) are combined as one symbol in Bach's musical language?

Peter Smaill wrote (March 28, 2005):
[To Thomas Braatz] Thomas Braatz very kindly has explored Bach's use of pizzicato for us and concludes :
"It is clear that Bach's most common application of pizzicato is to have it represent death as related to funeral bells. Some of the most beautiful and sublime arias that Bach ever wrote are included in the group listed above. A steady (unsyncopated) regularly repeated musical figure played pizzicato sometimes begins to sound like the ticking of the clock or a human heart which could be construed as the time in one's life ticking away with approaching death being imminent. Perhaps these images (funeral bells, clock ticking, and heart beating) are combined as one symbol in Bach's musical language? "
Thomas is onto an interesting theme, the potential conflation of these images in Bach.

Christ's knocking at the door can be seen as both appeal to the soul (the reciprocal response to this image can be found in in the famous aria, "Komm in mein herzens Haus"; and as the appeal of conquering death by "dying in Christ". In this latter sense the image also resonates with the imagery of the Passover; but in the Christian scheme it is Jesus' blood which which effaces death, rather than the ritual blood of an actual lamb at the door as in the Judaic tradition.

The pizzicato themes also lead us to another theme in Bach, that of Time. We have alreay found it in BWV 106, "Gottes Zeit ist der allerbeste Zeit", and it is present emphatically in BWV 20, "O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort". Eric Chafe examines the theme in depth in his essay "Anfang und Ende", which focuses on BWV 41, "Jesu, nun sei gepreiset", one of four Cantatas in whih Jesus is referred to as the "A" and "O"; also a quotation from Revelations.

So the figure of Jesus is linked in sentiment to ideas of beginning and end (i.e., time). Remembering the Gardiner discussions of the pizzicato effects in "Ach, schlage doch bald" in BWV 95, the clock idea in relation to Bach's use of pizzicato is an appealing explanation for a musical effect which conveys the passing of time and hence the transience of life.Thus it can be seen that all the religious images alluded to by the use of pizzicato are interrelated.

John Pike wrote (March 31, 2005):
BWV 61 "Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland"

Cantata for 1st Sunday of Advent, Weimar 1714.

There is much enjoyable music in this week's short cantata. I particularly enjoyed the opening Overture, the 2 arias "Komm, Jesu, komm zu deiner Kirche" and "Oeffne dich, mein ganzes Herze" and the final very short "Amen".

I have listened to Gardiner [11], Herreweghe [15], Harnoncourt [6] and Rilling [5]. Gardiner [11] and Herreweghe [15] both give spirited accounts of the opening overture. The two arias are nicely phrased and with well chosen tempi. Herreweghe is slightly faster than Gardiner in the first aria and both, especially Herreweghe, bring out a pleasant dance-like quality.

Much of Harnoncourt's recording [6] is also very enjoyable, especially the overture, but, once again, I was put off by the soprano soloist from the Tölzer Knabenchor. I found his reading rather uneven; parts of it were beautiful but he seemed to have difficulty with the top notes and with the first melody.

Rilling [5] is just too slow for my liking. Perhaps, after listening to other 3, my conceptions about how "it should go" were already coloured. Unlike the others, the overture is much slower, and he does not double-dot the dotted rhythm. When the choir comes in, the pace is so slow that the cantus firmus line seems to have lost the melody. Throughout the recording, the speed is noticeably slower than the other 3, and I think much of the shape is missing as a result. Apart from my usual reservation about obtrusive soprano vibrato, the singers and instrumentalists make a pleasing sound, and there are some well observed dynamic changes, but I found much less of interest in the phrasing than in the other recordings.

Francis Browne wrote (March 31, 2005):
BWV 61: Mvt. 4

There is much to give delight in all the movements of Nun komm. der Heiden Heiland BWV 61, but as I have got to know the work better it is one movement, the ten bars of the bass recitative that most stay in the mind. Though I have enjoyed a number of different recordings there is also one performance of this recitative that seems outstanding to me.

Some of the commentators share my enthusiasm for this briefest of movements. Writing in 1905 Schweitzer recommended "for the sake of this recitative the cantata should be one of the first to be performed with the object of making Bach popular". Dürr regards it as the real high point of the work and comments on the masterly way in which highly expressive declamation based on the text is transformed in only ten bars into a construction of convincing musical logic.

W.G. Whittaker is typically more expansive :

The gem of the cantata, indeed one of the most priceless treasure`s in them all, is the ten-bar bass recitative. Violins (divisi), violas, and continuo maintain a steady progression of pizzicato chords, the gentle knocking of the Christ beginning with a strong yet soft dissonance, and the voice, in a miracle of declamatory appositeness, speaks gently. One can never think of the words with-out their association with the music. The picturesque treatment of klopfe' is infinitely daring, a succession of staccato notes, yet it is a reverent and perfect limning of the Saviour. No Italian masterpiece of painting brings Jesus so clearly before our eyes as these few bars of simple music.

However the recording by which I came to know this cantata conveys little of what these critics found. Bas Ramselaar [18] is generally one of the great assets of the Leusink cycle. He impresses me as an intelligent singer always to give of his best. But at the tempo chosen he has no chance to show his ability. At 46 seconds it is by some way the quickest performance. It could be argued that the pizzicato strings are meant to convey an urgent sense of time passing, but the rapid delivery forced upon the singer give the impression that this is a busy, anxious saviour in a great hurry, that unless you jump up and open the door very smartly he will already be half way down the street - and I cannot believe that this is what Bach (or the author of Revelations) intended.

Two other performances I found also disappointing. The (misnamed) Naxos CD of Christmas Cantatas by the Aradia Ensemble [19] contains much that is worthwhile but here the bass singer seems inadequate- uncertain in tone and missing the expressive qualities of the text. More curiously the bass in Rilling's recording [5], Wolfgang Schöne sings well enough but has to contend with what is for me a distractingly jangling continuo.

The other recordings I have heard all have much that is valuable to offer. Klaus Mertens, with Ton Koopman [13], has a fast tempo (53 seconds) with the pizzicato strings giving an insistent but not overwhelming sense of precious time passing. Mertens sings well, conveying the basic meaning of the text clearly but - in comparison with others - passing over its expressive possibilities. Peter Kooy with Suzuki [16] (58 seconds) seems to me more successsful, conveying well the staccato effect at 'klopfte', the solemnity that infuses the music at 'So jemand' and the tenderness of the last phrase 'er mit mir'. Suzuki's accompaniment is nicely judged, sharply articulated pizzicato at the beginning modulating to something more gentle at the end. In Ruud van der Meer's performance with Harnoncourt [6] (64 seconds) I value particularly how a sense of longing in Jesus' words is interestingly conveyed. Eduard Wollitz's performance with Karlhöfer [3] (which I heard online thanks to the kindness of Thomas Shepherd) impresses me as conveying well the dignity of Christ and the solemnity of his words - but perhaps it misses something of the gentle tenderness that is also present in the text and music. At the other extreme in this respect is Olaf Bar with John Eliot Gardiner [11]. Here with muted pizzicato, a slow tempo (68 seconds) and a hushed intimate delivery of the words an impression of gentle tenderness is certainly conveyed - but perhaps thereby it misses something of the majestic dignity that is also present in text and music.

Is it possible to convey both tenderness and majesty in ten bars ? Erich Wenk with Werner [1] goes far to achieving this. A slow tempo (74secs) gives a sense of deliberate dignity and expressive singing alert to the meaning and articulation of the words brings out much of the emotion implicit in the text. But this fine performance is surpassed by the outstanding accomplishment of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau with Richter [4]. The slowest timing of all (77 seconds) allows Fischer-Dieskau to use his incomparable ability to illuminate each word of the text, to suggest with a passing intonation fine nuances of meaning not expressed so well or missed by others: the tender but urgent appeal of 'Siehe, siehe', the solemnity of the soul's acceptance of salvation implied in 'So jemand meine Stimme hören', the crescendo built up by the ascendng tricolon of the last three phrases -zu dem werde ich eingehen- und das Abendmahl mit ihm halten - und er mit mir- culminating in the infinite tenderness of divine love conveyed by the last phrase.

If one attempts thus coldly and clumsily to articulate what is implied by such singing it inevitably seems exaggerated and pompous.But the singers and musicians are servants of the music. Of course all good musicians add something from the innermost selves to music but what they add is based on what the composer created. My impression here is that what Bach imagined the singer and musicians have realised in this performance.

A few weeks ago I was very critical of Richter's version of BWV106 and I am glad to be more positive. But of course I am aware that many with far greater knowledge of the cantatas might regard DFD's performance as romanticised, sentimental indulgence which betrays rather than realises Bach's intentions. I shall be delighted if anyone is moved to point out the error of my ways. If ever the day comes that we all agree, it will be time to close down the list.

For information: text and translations of Luther's chorale used in this cantata and the Latin hymn on which it is based are available at:
http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Texts/BWV61-Eng3.htm (Saint Ambrose)
http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Texts/Chorale016-Eng3.htm (Luther)

The readings for the first Sunday of Advent can be found at:
http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Read/Advent1.htm

Peter Smaill wrote (April 10, 2005):
BWV 61 "Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland"

It may be of interest to note that Prince Charles, heir to the throne of Great Britain, chose, as in effect the anthem for his marriage yesterday, BWV 61/1, "Nun Komm der Heiden Heiland". A suprising choice perhaps in view as the Advent sentiments.

Nevertheless it represents an interesting shift (and improvement) in taste since the marriage of the Prince of Wales in (?) 1736 in Salisbury Cathedral when Händel was commissioned to write the (now almost forgotten but deliciously ostentatious) anthem "Sing unto God" !

 

BWV 61 - only a week late

Tom Dent wrote (December 9, 2007):
I'm off to sing the bass part in Nun komm der Heiden Heiland. One rehearsal this afternoon and the performance in, I guess, about 15 minutes (Heiliggeistkirche Heidelberg). Wish me luck...

Jean Laaninen wrote (December 9, 2007):
[To Tom Dent] Hope it went well.

Terejia wrote (December 10, 2007):
[To Tom Dent] BWV 61 is a beautiful masterpiece. I ENVY you!!!! Good luck.

Tom Dent wrote (December 10, 2007):
[To Terejia] Thanks... Despite the almost complete lack of rehearsal (first meeting at 2.30pm, concert at 5) it went quite well I think - 14 in the choir, 7 in the orchestra. The biggest problem was getting the orchestra's overdotting sufficiently together in the French Overture. The gamba, violine and keyboard need a certain amount of psychic communication. ... The programme also contained two Buxtehude cantatas for solo soprano to end the anniversary year.

 

Nun Komm den Heiland Heiland

Peter Smaill wrote (December 24, 2008):
William Hoffman wrote:
< Bach and Stölzel -- Christmas Oratorios
In my quest to find other Christmas Oratorios -- or other feast day oratorios for that matter, I bought the recording of Stölzel's Christmas Oratorio, Part 2 (Cantatas 6-10), CPO 999735. They're wonderful -- varied, concise, engaging. Unfortunately, they're found in his church year cantata cycles -- no biblical narrative. The same is true of Telemann's "Christmas Oratorio," another CD label designation. As for Mattheson's Christmas Oratorio, it's one of his quasi-secular serenades, only he could have concocted! I can find only one other German Christmas Oratorio. It's Schütz's History of the Birth of Jesus Christ -- and of course I commend to you the Paul McCreesh CD assembledge, "Schütz Christmas Vespers," one of a series of marvelous renditions. >
Christmas good wishes to evwho keeps the BCW rolling along; Bach's personal take on the meaning of the feast is I think in the Advent Cantata BWV 61:

Open up, my whole heart
Jesus comes and enters in.
Though I be but dust and earth
He shall not despise me
But takes delight
To see that I become his dwelling,
Oh how blessed shall I be!

Bach then uniquely follows these sentiments with just half of the Chorale "Wie schon leuchtet..."

Amen! Amen!
Come thou joyous crown, come quickly!
I await thee with great longing.

The half-chorale occupies exactly 14 bars; thus Bach signs off numerologically to the personal sentiments of the preceding aria; and after nearly 300 years we are still able to enjoy his Christmas message as did the Weimar congregation in 1714.

Terejia wrote (December 25, 2008):
Peter Smaill wrote: http://launch.groups.yahoo.com/group/BachCantatas/message/29613
< Christmas good wishes to everyone who keeps the BCW rolling along; Bach's personal take on the meaning of the feast is I think in the Advent Cantata BWV 61: >
I like French-style overture chorus in the opening.

> Bach then uniquely follows these sentiments with just half of the Chorale "Wie schon leuchtet..."
Amen! Amen!
Come thou joyous crown, come quickly!
I await thee with great longing.
The half-chorale occupies exactly 14 bars; thus Bach signs off numerologically to the personal sentiments of the preceding aria;<
Interesing. Thank you. Whatever the significance of the final chorale might be, what impresses me about the final joyous chorale is Bach's utilization of diatonic ascending line to a quite noticeable degree.

> and after nearly 300 years we are still able to enjoy his Christmas message as did the Weimar congregation in 1714. <
Indeed. Personally speaking, for me, these messages will reach to our mind when it permeates as does the candle lights to the darkness. I am highly skeptical of if imposing any messages, however beautiful it might be, would reach to anyone's mind. Suppose someone throw Christmas candle at another, what we would reasonably expect in the next moment is that the other person is burned (instead of getting the Christmas message ) and the person who threw the candle arrested on the charge of bodily injury, which would be a poor PR of Christ...

Bach's music is penetrating, instead of imposing.

May the same message that Bach's music is permeating above space and time be with you, too.

Peter Smaill wrote (December 25, 2008):
[To Terejia] hello Terejia, and happy Christmas again,

Thank you indeed for the observation regarding the tremendous closing ascent to BWV 61. This is I think indicative of the Lutheran idea that Christmas does not just represent God descending to Man, but also Man's ascension to God, the divine exchange or "wechseln". Anglicans miss this somewhat becasue soupy hymns like Dante Gabriel Rosetti's "Love came down at Christmas" only go in one direction.

In the Christmas (Day 2) Cantata BWV 40, "Dazu ist Erscheinet", Bach chooses one of the few chorales which ascend to the final cadence, on the word "Genadensonne", Sun of Grace, to illustrate the same doctrine. As often with Bach, it is all so subtle that , for example, the excellent Dürr only observes "a plain Chorale ends the work".

Bach's aim of a well-regulated church music , often from sources many decades and centuries before his time, does not rule out that his aspirations were to communicate to generations to come; just as , in gathering together his ancestors compositions , he participated in a timescale well beyond early eighteenth century Leipzig. The timelessness of his musical settings is a wonder set against the transitory affect of other composers.

Terejia wrote (December 26, 2008):
Peter Smaill wrote: http://launch.groups.yahoo.com/group/BachCantatas/message/29640
< hello Terejia, and happy Christmas again,
Thank you indeed for the observation regarding the tremendous closing ascent to BWV 61. This is I think indicative of the Lutheran idea that Christmas does not just represent God descending to Man, but also
Man's ascension to God, the divine exchange or "wechseln". >
(..)
Thank you for this data. I find the information both insightful and inspiring.

< In the Christmas (Day 2) Cantata BWV 40, "Dazu ist Erscheinet", Bach chooses one of the few chorales which ascend to the final cadence, on the word "Genadensonne", Sun of Grace, to illustrate the same doctrine. As often with Bach, it is all so subtle that , for example, the excellent Dürr only observes "a plain Chorale ends the work". >
Speaking about myself, I feel uplifted when I hear ascending diatonic line. It does have a feeling/flavour of "going to somewhere from here". That somewhere may well be Sun of Grace, Heaven, Gottes Gnade Throne, etc...maybe even going toward crucifix as in bass line in the chorale "Christus der uns selig macht" in St. Johannnes Passion BWV 245 might feel like.

(personal sidenote : I personally find it very interesting that J.S. Bach used ascending diatonic scale in Bass line in SJP. I omit the details for lack of time. Anybody who should share the same feeling with me would like to volunteer to speak up here? )

(..)
< The timelessness of his musical settings is a wonder set against the transitory affect of other composers. >

Toward Bach and from Bach, timeless beauty of music is continuing to flow.

Thank you for beautiful writing.

Jean Laaninen wrote (December 28, 2008):
[To Peter Smaill] Lutheran's in my cross USA experience also use the hymn "Love Came Down at Christmas."

Bruce Simonson wrote (December 29, 2008):
[To Jean Laaninen] The first concert I conducted featured BWV 1 (Wie schoen leuchtet der Morgenstern) and BWV 61 (Nun kommt der Heiden Heiland), conducted on the first sunday of Advent years ago. The conclusion of BWV 61 is indeed the abgesang of the hymn "wie schoen leuchtet ... ". IMHO, the correspondence is not accidental (is anything in Bach accidental?). The annunciation (March 25) for BWV 1 leads naturally to Advent (and Christmas, 9 months later (do the math)), so it's not surprising that Bach uses the same hymn in both.

Have we started discussion on BWV 61? I have a few memories of this work from 20 years ago, especially of its structure (this is from memory, so bear with me if I get some of the text wrong ... :)). The work begins with a "French Overture" (announcing the entrance of the King to the "world"); and subsequently speaks of Christ's entrance into increasingly intimate venues: there is a lovely tenor recit, followed by an aria in which the tenor asks Jesus to come into His church and "segne Kanzel und Altar" (bless the chancel and alter, (i.e., the church and its "world"), then, a famous "knocking arioso" for bass, "see, I stand at the door and knock" ... the text referring to Christian responsibility in the world (e.g., to feed the hungry), as well as Christ knocking at the "door of the Christian's heart", to enter that "world", and finally, the wonderful soprano aria, asking to "oeffne dich, mein ganzes Herze" (open my (entire) heart) and "let Jesus in". The cantata concludes with the abgesang of "Wie schoen ...", a fitting conclusion to the notion that in Advent, Christ comes to the world, the church, and the believer; following a divine event commemorated in the Annunciation. This structure to BWV 61 has stuck with me over the years, and being aware of it has helped me as I try to understand Bach's ideas in his cantatas and his major choral works.

I recall that the motif in the opening movement is based on a venerable Latin chant, but would have to look that up.

Peter Smaill wrote (December 30, 2008):
Nun Komm den Heiland Heiland BWV 61

[To Bruce Simonson] This is indeed a gem of a Cantata and Bach's entire output based on the Chorale is fascinating. It is set in a delightful essay by the late Anne Leahy, "Bach's Setting of the Hymn Tune, "Nun komm den Heiden Heiland" in His Cantatas and Organ Works ", covering BWV 61, BWV 62, BWV 36 (Cantatas) and BWV 699, 599, 659, 660 and 661 (organ works). All this is to be found in "Music and Theology", Essays in Honor of Robin A. Leaver", edited Daniel Zager , Scarecrow Press 2007.

Previously noted on BCW:

BWV 62 Chorale has 14 sharps (BWV 61, 14 bars)
WTC Book 1 No 4 Fugue in C Sharp Minor: Theme may be derived from "Nun Komm", and both the theme and key notataion describe a recumbent cross (see Leahy, p.75; four sharps the key also of "Durch din gefaegnis" in the SJP (BWV 245).)

The Chorale tune and its connotations evidently meant a great deal to Bach.

Bruce Simonson wrote (December 30, 2008):
[To Peter Smaill] Thank you for referring "Music and Theology", it looks like a winner. I had just started reading a chapter of Leaver's book "Luther's Liturgical Music" online, and decided to purchase it. Now it looks like I have another purchase to make as well. Thanks for the references to previous discussion on the BCW too, I'll be looking into those.

(What a list! Thanks to All of You for your enthusiasm and passion for the music of Bach, and your generous sharing of ideas and resources. I consider it a great privelege to hover over these pages. And thanks, Aryeh, for making it possible. Happy New Year, All!)

Bruce Simonson wrote (December 31, 2008):
Nun Komm den Heiland Heiland BWV 61 - Veni redemptor gentium

[To Peter Smaill] If you can get to this link, you should be able to read part of Robin Leaver's recent text "Luthers Liturgical Music: Principles and Implications" online.
Robin Leaver: "Luthers Liturgical Music: Principles and Implications"

On pages 199-205 Leaver has a very interesting exposition on four different hymns that Luther wrote for "Congregational Hymnody", based on the music of the Ambrosian chant Veni redemptor gentium.

These Lutheran hymns are:

Nun kommt der Heiden Heiland
Verleih uns Frieden gnaediglich
Erhalt uns, Herr, bei deinem Wort
Gib unsern Fuersten und aller Obrigkeit

One of the things I take home from Leaver's writing is that each of these hymns by Luther seems to have its own set of purposes, both from religious and political perspectives. (I find even just this much of Leaver's book to be fascinating, and am really looking forward to getting the full text.)

BTW, if I'm not mistaken, Cantata BWV 126 uses three of these Luther hymns in spades, but that's another topic. But Cantata BWV 126 is also ringing the bell for Cantata BWV 18 ... sigh, we live in a hyperlinked world, huh?

I leave it to each of us individually to decide how much of Luther's points of view Bach embraced, while composing his cantatas that use these particular hymns. (What do I think, personally? To be honest, I'm really not sure ...). In every case, his music is unbeatable, and I believe including Luther's texts in his cantatas is not a weak-kneed thing to do. And I do smile at Peter's genial understatement, "the Chorale tune and its connotations evidently meant a great deal to Bach." Indeed.

I expect that Peter's suggestion (Anne Leahy's essay in "Music and Theology", Essays in Honor of Robin A. Leaver") will be an additional helpful resource, so I reckon I'll be ordering that text as well.

I do have a couple of quick questions, perhaps easily answered:

Did Bach know that these hymns of Luther are based on Veni redemptor gentium? Did Bach know of this Ambrosian chant, outside of Luther's hymns?

Bruce Simonson wrote (December 31, 2008):
Here's a simpler link to Leaver's text: http://tinyurl.com/leaver-veni

Douglas Cowling wrote (December 31, 2008):
Bruce Simonson wrote:
< Did Bach know that these hymns of Luther are based on Veni redemptor gentium? Did Bach know of this Ambrosian chant, outside of Luther's hymns? >
Bach certainly would have had access to the old Latin office and mass books in the St. Thomas library and would know that a chorale such as "Christ Lag in Todesbanden" was based on the Latin "Victimae Paschali Laudes". It would be interesting to know the ordo of Latin chants which Bach's choirboys sang in the daily Matins and Vespers. Although Bach delegated the conducting and presumably the teaching of the music to his prefects, he would have known the repertoire intimately from his own schoolboy days. Visits to Dresden would have reenforced his knowledge of Latin chant. Whether he had a historical overview of the relationships of Ambrosian chant to Roman chant is unlikely. Musicology was in its infancy at the time.

 

Continue on Part 3

Cantata BWV 61: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

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