Cantata BWV 73Herr, wie du willt, so schick's mit mir
Discussions - Part 4
Continue from Part 3
Discussions in the Week of January 24, 2016 (4th round)
William Hoffman wrote (January 25, 2016):
Cantata 73: 'Herr, wie du wilt' Intro. (Epiphany 3)
Chorale chorus Cantata 73, “Herr, wie du willt, so schick's mit mir” (Lord, as you will, deal with me), for the Third Sunday in Epiphany, also has various distinctions as do Bach’s other intimate Epiphany Time cantatas in the first Leipzig cycle, January 1724. Another symmetrical musical sermon in five movements (opening chorus, two arias, a central recitative, and closing plain chorale), it is unique in various respects. The chorus is Bach’s first use of the chorale fantasia format (a trademark of the chorale cantata Cycle No. 2), it has two dramatic scenas (chorus and No. 4, bass aria, [Herr, so du willt, (Lord , as you will)], the bass aria uses bell imagery and the work suggests intricate textual insight and collaboration.
Other features of Cantata 73, lasting about 17 minutes, include Bach’s exclusive use of two early Reformation omnes tempore texts, Kaspar Bienemann’s (1582), “Herr, wie du willst, so schick's mit mir” (Lord, as you will, deal with me) in the chorale fantasia, and Ludwig Helmbold (1563) “Von Gott will ich nicht lassen” (If the Lord God does not stay with us). The work also includes a charming tenor aria (no. 2), “Ach senke doch den Geist der Freuden” (Ah plant then the spirit of joy), and involves the other male voice in a dramatic secco recitative pairing, (no. 3) “Ach, unser Wille bleibt verkehrt” (Alas, our will remains corrupted) that leads directly to the bass scena.1
The scoring is particularly distinctive with Bach’s use of the horn in the canto for both chorales (he later substituted an organ in the early1730s), and the prominent use of a pair of oboes sounding the opening motto and continuing through the three accompanied recitative tropes for tenor, bass and soprano, giving the sense of a chorale fantasia. Bach also uses the pair of energetic oboes prominently in the chorale cantata cycle opening fantasia (see Cantata 100) and a single oboe in many arias, as he does in Cantata 73 tenor aria following the opening chorus.
Cantata 73 was premiered on January 23, 1724 in the early main service of the Nikolaikirche before the sermon of Superintendent Salmon Deyling (1677-17755) on the gospel, Matthew 8:1-13, The cleansing of the leper, Jesus’ second miracle and first healing, says Martin Petzoldt in Bach Commemtary, Vol. 2, Advent to Trinityfest.2 The anonymous librettist text does not deal with the actual gospel miracle, as do not the other three Bach Epiphany 3 cantatas (see Bach performance calendar below) and most of his other Epiphany Time cantatas. Instead, Cantata 73 but focuses on an omnes tempore theme, “the trusting submission of the Christian to God's will,” says scholar Klaus Hofmann in his liner notes to the Masaaki Suzuki cantata recordings (see below, ‘Opening Chorus Motto, Prayer’). The gospel and Epistle, Romans 12:17-21 Overcome evil with good, are found at BCW http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Read/Epiphany3.htm (German text of Luther’s translation published in 1545 and the English in the Authorised (King James) Version 1611).
Introit Psalm for the 3rd Sunday after Epiphany in Bach’s time was Psalm 13, Usquequo, Domine oblisvisceris (How long wilt thou forget me> (To the chief Musician, a Psalm of David), says Petzoldt (Ibid.: 461), which he calls “Gebet in Traurigkeit und Herzenangst (Prayer of mourning and heartfelt angst). For the full text of Psalm 13, see http://www.kingjamesbibleonline.org/Psalms-Chapter-13/. There are several motet entries, including Josquin Des Prez, http://www.classicalarchives.com/composer/2420.html, Adrian Willaert, http://www.adriaenwillaert.be/ned/330_399_oeuvre/340_oeuvre_genre.html, Francisco Guerrero, Benedito Marcello, Antoine Brumel, Claudio Monteverdi, Philippe de Monte, as well as Palestrina, di Lasso, and Heinrich Schütz.
Cantata 73 Movements, Scoring, Incipits, Key, Meter.3
1. Scena: Chorus (Chorale, S.1) and troped Recitatives accompanied [Tenor, Bass, Soprano] with instrumental motto (“Herr, wie du willt) and ritornelli [Organo obbligato (or horn, canto), Oboe I/II, Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo]: Chorus: “Herr, wie du willt, so schick's mit mir / Im Leben und im Sterben!” (Lord, as you will, deal with me / in living and dying!); Tenor: “Ach! aber ach! Wieviel / Läßt mich dein Wille leiden!” (But alas, alas! How often / does your will allow me to suffer!”; Chorus: “Allein zu dir steht mein Begier” (My longing is for you alone); Bass: “Du bist mein Helfer, Trost und Hort” (You are my shelter, comfort and refuge); Chorus: “Erhalt mich nur in deiner Huld” (Preserve me only in your grace); Soprano: “Dein Wille zwar ist ein versiegelt Buch” (Your will is truly a sealed book); Chorus: “Herr, wie du willt!” (Lord, as you will!); g minor; 4/4.
2. Aria da-capo [Tenor; Oboe I, Continuo]: A. “Ach senke doch den Geist der Freuden” (Ah plant then the spirit of joy); B. “Es will oft bei mir geistlich Kranken / Die Freudigkeit und Hoffnung wanken” (Through my spiritual weakness / joy and hope are often shaken); E-flat Major; 4/4.
3. Recitative secco [Bass, Continuo] “Ach, unser Wille bleibt verkehrt” (Alas, our will remains corrupted); “ Allein ein Christ, in Gottes Geist gelehrt, / Lernt sich in Gottes Willen senken / Und sagt:” (Only a Christian, taught by God's spirit, / learns how to sink himself in God's will / and say [attaca]: c minor; 4/4.
4. Aria free-stanza structure with motto [Herr, so du willt, (Lord , as you will)] in three parts [Bass; Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo]: A . . . “So preßt, ihr Todesschmerzen, / Die Seufzer aus dem Herzen” (your pains of death, squeeze out / sighs from my heart); A’ . . . “So lege meine Glieder / In Staub und Asche nieder” (lay my limbs / down in dust and ashes); A’’ . . . “So schlagt, ihr Leichenglocken / Ich folge unerschrocken, / Mein Jammer ist nunmehr gestillt.” (So sound, your funeral bells, / I follow undismayed, my lamentation is forever stilled.); c minor; ¾.
5. Chorale plain [SATB; Corno e Oboe I e Violino I col Soprano, Oboe II e Violino II coll'Alto, Viola col Tenore, Continuo]: “Das ist des Vaters Wille” (This is the Father's will); c minor; 4/4.
Opening Chorus Motto, Prayer
The opening chorus “takes up the decisive words of the leper from the Bible story,” "Lord, if thou wilt," and with the chorale becomes a prayer, says Hofmann in the 2001 Suzuki liner notes cited in the Short Commentary of John Pike (January 10, 2006), Introduction to Cantata 73 BCML Discussion Part 2, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV73-D2.htm.4 << Bach's music for the service on the 3rd Sunday after Epiphany in 1724 (23rd January) takes its theological theme from the Sunday Gospel reading, Matthew 8, 1-13, from the first few verses to be exact, with the story of the healing of a leper. The sick man's words provide a point of reference: "Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean". The theme of this "musical sermon" by Bach and the unknown poet is the trusting submission of the Christian to God's will. The introductory choral strophe of the cantata text takes up the decisive words of the leper from the Bible story, "Lord, if thou wilt"; the words of the hymn (Kaspar Bienemann, 1582) raises them up and generalises them, in the form of a prayer, making them into a life and death motto for the Christian; the text author also adds two topical, subjective voices: first a surprising, anguished addition between the chorale lines, "Ach!Aber Ach! wieviel laesst mich dein Wille leiden!" ("Alas! But Alas! How much will you let me suffer!"; in bach's setting this is a tenor recitative); and later, more confidently: "Du bist mein Helfer, Trost und Hort" ("You are my helper, comforter and refuge"; bass recitative). The text must have moved and inspired the composer. The opening chorus is a perfect work of art without precedent; Bach combines the tradition of chorale arrangements with the thematically tied concertante movement, integrating the two recitative sections into the thematic structures (here the instruments further develop the themes of the movement). The result is a sort of "Leitmotiv" technique that unites everything, even the most distant elements, as a "spiritual bond". This "Leitmotiv", presented by the horn, comprises just four notes, a motif of a third, initially B flat' - B flat' - G' - B flat' (later transposed). It is the beginning of the chorale melody, and the motif should be understood in conjunction with its text, "Herr, wie du willt" ("Lord, as you will"). To some extent these four notes encompass the entire teaching of Bach's musical sermon, and they must have resonated for a long time among those members of the Leipzig congregation who had ears to hear.
The following tenor aria and the subsequent bass recitative touch upon the difficulty of submitting to the will of God. The beautiful oboe aria asks that, despite all the "vacillation" (which is also depicted in the music), the "spirit of joy" might descend from heaven into the heart of the faithful; it portrays this descent with a gently falling melodic line. Both textually and musically, however, the bass aria is an embodiment of stoical religious understanding, and professes submission to the will of God, come what may. Here, it would appear, Bach allows us a glimpse deep within his heart.
A simple concluding chorale (Ludwig Helmbold, 1563) tells in a concentrated yet doxological fashion of the will of God the creator, of the mercy that Christ won for us, and of words of praise.
Masaaki Suzuki adds, regarding the instrumentation of the first movement: "This work was first performed in 1724 and was performed again between 1732 and 1735, as is indicated by the organ part. The basis for this assumption is that, for some reason or other, a new part was created so that the horn part used at the first performance could be played by the organ on the occasion of the second performance. It seems possible that the work was performed again shortly before Bach's death, but there is no definite proof of this.">>
Cantata 73 Chorales:
Movement 1, Kaspar Bienemann (1582), “Herr, wie du willst, so schick's mit mir” (Lord, as you will, deal with me, EKG 285). The three-stanza text first published in Bienemann’s Betbuchlein (Leipzig) and is found in Das neu Leipziger Gesangbuch (NLGB) as No. 898 under “Death and Dying,” German Text and Francis Browne English translation, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Texts/Chorale084-Eng3.htm, Bienemann BCW Short Biography, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Lib/Bienemann.htm. This is Bach’s sole use of this chorale text, which is alternative Text No. 2 to the anonymous 1529 melody “Wo Gott der Herr nicht bei uns halt” (If the Lord God does not stay with us, Psalm 124; Joseph Klug Song Book, Wittenberg), BCW melody and text information, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/CM/Wo-Gott-der-Herr.htm.
Movement 5, Ludwig Helmbold (1563) “Das ist des Vaters Wille” (This is the Father's will), Stanza 9, “Von Gott will ich nicht lassen” (If the Lord God does not stay with us), with an anonymous melody (1557, Zahn 6264b). The chorale is “founded on Psalm lxxiii. 23 (“Nevertheless I am continually with thee, Quam bonus Israel, Truly God is good to Israel [KJV]), says Charles S. Terry in Bach’s Chorals, Part I.5 “The Hymn, written during a pestilence at Erfurt in 1563, was first published as a broadsheet in 1563-64 and later in Hundert Christenliche Haussgesang (Nürnberg, 1569).” The nine-stanza, eight-line hymn is No. 310 in the NLGB under the category Word of God & Christian Church, near the end of the omnes tempore section.
“Von Gott will ich nicht lassen” German text and Francis Browne English translation is found at BCW http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Texts/Chorale079-Eng3.htm. Browne omits Stanza 9 but it is found at Cantata 73 translation, BCW, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Texts/BWV73-Eng3.htm. Also omitted is Stanza 7. Like “Herr, wie du willst, so schick's mit mir,” this is Bach’s sole use of the text. Helmbold BCW Short Biography, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Lib/Helmbold.htm, melody and text information at BCW http://www.bach-cantatas.com/CM/Von-Gott-will-ich-nicht-lassen.htm. See also, BCW “Motets and Chorales for Epiphany Time,” http://www.bach-cantatas.com/LCY/M&C-Epiphany-Time.htm.
Theology, Service Libretto Books
The theological import and libretto book are discussed in Peter Smail’s commentary in BCML Discussions Part 2 (Ibid.), (January 11, 2006): <<BWV 73, "Lord, as You will, so dispose things for me [in living and dying]", sets us a puzzle. What is the hermeneutic purpose of its original i.e. unique structure? Is it simply a reflection on Christian abandonment to the will of God? The text relates indeed to the Gospel theme of Matthew 8: 1-13, two stories which run on in quick succession; that of the leper who asks that Jesus will make him clean; and at the words, "I will; be thou clean," the leprosy was healed.
In the superb dialogue between the soloist recitatives and chorale of BWV 73/1, the text achieves a duality - the singer speaks for himself, i.e., the individual Christian; but also stands dramatically in the place of the Gospel figure; e.g.: "Und weil du mich erwaehlet, / So sprich ein Trost-und Freudenwort" (And since you have chosen me / Say a word of comfort and joy").
In this passage, it is the Christian as leper; whereas the general impulse of the text refers to the final passage of the Gospel, the story of the centurion, the avatar (if one can use a Hindu term here!) of the man of faith, which most commentators on this libretto downplay: (Matthew 8: 13) "Go thy way; and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee."
Thus the Cantata is a reflection on the role of faith - "Only a Christian, immersed in God's spirit, learns to immerse himself in God's will" is the linking exegesis. The Christian secures restoration to health/salvation through belief in Jesus and thus trust in God; or, more clearly, through the Holy Trinity, since the concluding chorale makes the interactivity of Father, Son and Holy Ghost explicit.
All agree on the importance of structure to BWV 73; but is it the Trinitarian impulse which causes the three-voices recitative passages of BWV 73/1 and the tripartite Bass aria, BWV 73/4?
One other unresolved speculation on the inspiration for BWV 73/4, "remarkable in that it is unusually outspoken emotionally for a bass aria" (Stephen Daw). The variety of mood and orchestral colour Bach introduces to a repetitive pietistic text is a marvel. As Daw observes, "one wonders if Bach realised that his telling opening vocal phrase was identical to that of Stoelzel's "Bist du bei mir" "(which Anna Magdalena entered into her second album). The original secular text of the love song translates as "When you are by me I flourish happily".
A final reflection triggered by BWV 73 is the fact that it is the first purely Leipzig Cantata for which there is a surviving libretto booklet, that covering Cantatas from the second Sunday after Epiphany to Annunciation 1724. As Wolff observes, the production of twelve booklets annually implies a high degree of organisation, as he says "apparently printed at the Cantor's expense and then, with the help of the students or his own children, distributed to subscribers and other interested or more affluent citizens." It thus appears that the librettists, whoever they were, would be subject to Bach's influence; for example, Bach must have been able to insist on the preceding Cantata and its text, BWV 155, "Mein Got, we lang, ach Lang," originally a Weimar work, being included when the publication was made, presumably a few days before 9 January 1724.
Apart from the additional labour that Bach would have in achieving the typesetting process and checking of the texts, the question arises, were these booklets in use from the very first at Leipzig? This seems to me unlikely. How could Bach have arrived with his family at the Thomana on 22 May 1723 and produced BWV 75, "Die Elenden sollen Essen," with printed and circulated libretti for this long work, given on 30 May 1730, and also the texts for the following four or five Sundays, the usual contents of a booklet?
It may thus be that the libretti were not circulated or printed till Bach had been in Leipzig for some considerable time and indeed the only firm evidence is that the texts begin to be printed at this point viz. January 1724.>>
Chafe: Cantata 73 Tonal Plan
Eric Chafe’s commentary on Cantata 73 is cited in Scott Sperling comment. <<Chafe Commentary (Cantata 73 BCML Discussions Part 1 (January 27, 2001), http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV73-D.htm <<Bach's first cantata for the third Sunday in Epiphany, "Herr, wie du willt, so schicks mit mir" BWV 73, 1724), is built on a descent from G minor through E-flat major to three successive movements in C minor. The image of descent is clearly expressed in the E flat aria, "Ach senke doch den Geist der Freuden dem Herzen ein," in the recitative that modulates to C minor, ending "Allein ein Christ, in Gottes Geist gelehrt, lernt sich in Gottes Willen senken," in the images of the pain of death pressing the sighs out of the heart and lying down in the dust and ashes that dominate the first section of the C minor aria, and in the line "auch Gott, der heil'ge Geist, im Glauben uns regieret," from the C minor chorale. At issue here is the relinquishing of the self-determining will to God's will, made manifest in the Holy Spirit. God's will, as the opening chorus states, is a "sealed book" to man, its blessings appearing as a curse, and often demanding a life of suffering. The descent plan of "Herr, wie du willt" mirrors man's submission.>> (Tonal Allegory in the Vocal Music of J. S. Bach, 1991, pg. 203)
Bach Libretto Collaboration
The questions of how much and how Bach was involved in the shaping of his cantata libretti is discussed at length in Julian Mincham in his introduction to Cantata 73 BCW Commentary, http://www.jsbachcantatas.com/documents/chapter-38-bwv-73.htm << It can scarcely be denied that C 73 is one of the most original cantatas from this period of Bach′s output. Whoever the librettist was, and history does not record his name, the structure of this work is unique, raising yet again the question of how much contribution Bach himself made to the texts he set. Two of the features particularly worth noting revolve around the opening movement, which has an almost unprecedented twenty-nine lines of text, and the second aria which is structured around three self-contained stanzas.
With occasional exceptions where notes have survived showing that Bach made changes to libretti, it is not known how much input he had into their length, form or content. Indeed, in most cases we do not even know who the librettist was. It is thought that the verses were vetted to ensure that they were suitable, containing no questionable or heretic content. It is known that they would have been prepared some weeks in advance of the performance dates since booklets of the texts had to be prepared and printed. Only a few of these publications have survived but they do indicate that congregation members, if they so wished, had the opportunity to study the words and themes of the cantatas in advance of their performance. This may well have enhanced their appreciation of the subtleties of Bach′s settings, bearing in mind that they would only have heard them once or, if the Obituary statement is correct and Bach had prepared five annual cycles of cantatas, possibly twice in every decade.
Did Bach work closely with his librettists and play an equal part in the presentation of the texts? Did he advise as to what sort of verses were appropriate for the construction of arias, choruses or recitatives? Did he look for verses that would provide sufficient musical variety within individual movements? Or did he, although from what we know of his character it seems unlikely, simply accept what he was given, treating any deviation from the norm as a stimulus to his imagination?
We do not know the answers to any of these questions and the internal evidence is ambiguous. If, for example, we look at the text of the first movement of C 73, we find that the eight lines of the chorale have been divided into four sections. Between them are interspersed twenty-one inserted lines which comment upon and develop the chorale entreaties. Clearly no coherent aria or chorus could be constructed around such a massive slab of text, but even set as a recitative, twenty-nine lines produce real challenges of coherence and variety.
In the second cycle Bach was to set a number of texts of this length and occasionally even longer, devising ways of maintaining interest through ingenious combinations of chorale, recitative and arioso inserted within the recitative textures. Clearly this was a challenge that interested him but whether because he demanded, requested or was simply presented with such texts we can only suppose.>>
Bach’s Leipzig performance calendar for the Third Sunday after Epiphany:
1724-01-23 So - Cantata BWV 73 Herr, wie du willt, so schicks mit mir (1st performance, Leipzig)
1725-01-21 So (Letzter So.n.Epiph.) - Cantata BWV 111 Was mein Gott will, das g'scheh allzeit (1st performance, Leipzig)
1726-01-27 So - Cantata BWV 72 Alles nur nach Gottes Willen (1st performance, Leipzig)
1727-01-26 So - Ich will, so, mein liebster Gott (solo cantata text only, Christoph Birkmann)
1728-01-18 So 2.So.n.Epiph./Last Sunday after Epiphany (no performance recorded)
1729-01-23 So - Cantata BWV 156 Ich steh mit einem Fuß im Grabe (1st performance, Leipzig (?)
?1732-35 - Cantata BWV 73 Herr, wie du willt, so schicks mit mir (reperformed, organ part replaced horn)
1736-01-22 So 3.So.n.Epiph./Letzter So.n.Epiph, no G.H. Stölzel cantata cycle performance recorded
1748-01-21 So - Cantata BWV 73 Herr, wie du willt, so schicks mit mir (2nd performance, Leipzig) (or 1749)
1749-01-26 So Letzter So.n.Epiph.
1 Cantata 73 Details and revised and updated Discography, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV73.htm. Score Vocal & Piano [1.04 MB], http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Scores/BWV073-V&P.pdf, Score BGA [1.79 MB], http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BGA/BWV073-BGA.pdf. References: BGA XVIII (Cantatas 71-80, Wilhelm Rust, 1870), NBA KB I/6 (Epiph4 cantatas, Peter Wollny 1996), Bach Compendium BC A 35, Zwang: K 59.
2 Petzoldt, Bach Kommentar: Theologisch Musikwissenschaftlicke Kommentierung der Geistlichen Vokalwerke Johann Sebastan Bachs; Vol. 2, Die Geistlichen Kantaten vom 1. Advent bis zum Trinitatisfest; Internationale Bachakademie Stuttgart (Kassel: Bärenreiter, 2007: 466).
3 Cantata 73 German text and Francis Browne English translation, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Texts/BWV73-Eng3.htm.
4 Hofmann BCW liner notes, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Pic-Rec-BIG/Suzuki-C17c[BIS-CD1221].pdf; BCW Recording notes, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Performers/Suzuki.htm#C17.
5 Terry, Bach’s Chorals. Part I: 2 The Hymns and Hymn Melodies of the Cantatas and Motetts (Cambridge University Press, 1915-1921: 282), on-line, January 23, 2016. http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/2056.
To come: Cantata 73 notes on the text, textual collaboration, possible librettist and libretto booklets; and chorale cantata compositional technique, bell imagery (no. 4 bass aria), and chorale “Von Gott will ich nicht lassen.”
William Hoffman wrote (January 26, 2016):
Cantata 73: Commentary and Fugitive Notes
With several distinctions, Bach’s Chorale chorus Cantata 73, “Herr, wie du willt, so schick's mit mir” (Lord, as you will, deal with me), for the Third Sunday in Epiphany, attracts special praise from certain scholars, particularly for its unusual text that stirs important questions about textual collaboration, possible librettist and libretto booklets. An understanding of its chorale cantata compositional technique and bell imagery (no. 4 bass aria) fosters greater understanding and appreciation.
Leading the list of commentators, as he often does, is Alfred Dürr with his comprehensive and definitive Cantatas of J. S. Bach.1 It is a musical sermon of the “most striking individuality,” he says. In particular, Dürr observes the opening chorale fantasia chorus with its troped recitatives for tenor, bass and soprano. The movement uses the “Leitmotiv” technique or motto of “Herr, wie du wilt” (Lord, as you will, Gospel, Matthew 8.2, the leper’s plea for Jesus’ healing) initially sounded in the oboes’ introductory sinfonia and continued through the tropes.
This theme “gives powerful cohesion to the work,” observes Nicholas Anderson in his Cantata 73 essay in the Oxford Composer Companions: J. S. Bach.2 The work “contrasts states of human frailty, on the one hand, and God’s will on the other, which are central to the text, derived from the leper’s plea.”
“Following this subtly constructed and highly original movement is a da capo tenor aria [no. 2] accompanied by oboe and continuo,” says Anderson. “Once again, a strong contrasting element exists between the joyful confidence expressed in the first section and da capo [“Ach senke doch den Geist der Freuden” (Ah plant then the spirit of joy)], and the faltering belief of frail humanity contained in the poignant chromaticisms of the second section, [“Es will oft bei mir geistlich Kranken / Die Freudigkeit und Hoffnung wanken” (Through my spiritual weakness / joy and hope are often shaken)].
“The simple recitative [no. 3, “Ach, unser Wille bleibt verkehrt” (Alas, our will remains corrupted)] and the aria for bass which follow are both musically and textually linked,” says Anderson (Ibid.). Both focus unremittingly on the horror of death, reflecting at the same time on the strength of God’s will and the need of the Soul fearless to place his trust in him.”
Bass Scena and Death Bells
The motto is resounded in the bass scena (no. 4) with strings, “Herr, so du wilt” (Lord, if you will”), with its closing, striking bell imagery of the toiling of the death knell in the third stanza, followed by six vocal repetitions of the phrase. “It is “one of Bach’s greatest inspirations,” says Dürr (Ibid.: 204), that “forms the impression of a spacious arioso. It provides an example of how weighty Bach’s creations often become when conceived within a fixed formal scheme.” “It is characteristic of the exegesis of the time . . . that the thoughts of the librettist on this basis do a vividly pictorial episode, have their central focus Jesus’s healing of the sick, but are instead directed towards death, praying for the joyful resignation of the ‘spiritually sick’ to the Will of God, even when the hour of death strikes,” Dürr comments.
“The aria, scored for strings and continuo, is darkly coloured and profound in its aginizing intersity of expression. It reaches a climax in a vividly pictorial episode [“So lege meine Glieder / In Staub und Asche nieder” (lay my limbs / down in dust and ashes). At the string pizzicato in the bass aria and “indeed, throughout the profoundly expressive aria, Bach treats the vocal line with wonderful freedom.” Examples of Bach’s use of bell references are found in the following arias and ariosi: BWV 27/3,5, 73/4, 83/1, 105/4, 114/5, 127/3, 133/4, and 198/4, as well as (literally) in the apocryphal Cantata 53/1, “Schlage doch, gewünschte Stunde” (Strike then, longed for hour), by Georg Melchior Hoffmann.
Chorale Cantata, Libretto Book
Richard D. P. Jones, who translated Dürr’s work into English, contributes a strong understanding of Bach’s compositional technique in the vocal works with his recent two-volume study, The Creative Development of Johann Sebastian Bach. The Cantata 73 extended fantasia, he suggests, “comes closest in design” “to the first movements of the Cycle II chorale cantatas.3 The chorus and the bass aria texts outline “the obstacles to acceptance of the divine will, then gradually remove them” (Ibid.: 132). “The bass recitative no. 3 (“Ach, unser Wille bleibt verkehrt” [Alas, our will remains corrupted]), “is still concerned with human will, which ‘remains perverse’,” but leads directly to the bass aria. “By the chorale-finale no. 5, however, all that matters if ‘the will of the father.’
The questions of how much and how Bach was involved in the shaping of his cantata libretti is discussed at length in Julian Mincham’s introduction to Cantata 73, which he calls “one of the most original cantatas from this period of Bach′s output” (see BCW http://www.jsbachcantatas.com/documents/chapter-38-bwv-73.htm.).
Much of the evidence (actual, circumstantial, and collateral), especially in newer studies, suggests Bach’s deliberate intentionality and collaboration, particularly in the face of Leipzig practices and requirements as well as Bach’s genius, given consideration of Bach’s motives, methods, and opportunities. Bach’s compositional techniques and processes, his selection and utilization of specific chorales, the production of service libretti booklets of cantata texts, and his goal of a “well-ordered church music to the glory of God,” particularly with the cycles of sacred service cantatas as musical sermons -- all suggest a “well-ordered” process as well as musical content.
While Anderson (Ibid.) says the identified author may suggest Salomo Franck, especially its pietist content but not its actual form, a more likely candidate remains Bach’s St. Thomas pastor, Christian Weisse Sr. The gospel of the healing of the leper (Matthew 8:1-13) for the Third Sunday after Epiphany, offers a striking opportunity for an expressive, pictorial libretto, as the last of the three Sundays in omnes tempore (ordinary time) Epiphany Time observed in Leipzig in Bach’s Time. The previous two Sundays, as they continue to do in today’s revised lectionary, focus on the young Jesus in the temple, and the miracle of the wedding feast at Cana, distinct events in the first half of the church year, de tempore of the seasons from Advent to Trinityfeast on the important events in Jesus Christ’s existence on earth found in both lect.
The Third Sunday after Epiphany also was the initial opportunity for Bach in Leipzig to begin to explore the theme of death as the pre-Lenten period takes over with the so-called "gesima" Sundays before Lent and the Passion on Good Friday. Next week's BCML Discussion is Cantata 81, "Jesus schläft, was soll ich hoffen?" (Jesus sleeps, what should be my hope?), for the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany, with its use of two recorders, also representing death.
The two-month process of producing and printing cantata libretto service books averaging five cantatas per book in Leipzig posed stringent requirements on Bach, who was responsible for having the texts printed and distributed in advance to the congregations. The “production of twelve booklets annually implies a high degree of organization,” observes Peter Smail in the previous Cantata 73 discussion.
Epiphany 3 Chorales
While even contemporary sensibilities and sensitivities still blush at the texts in Bach’s musical sermons, Bach’s musical treatment of the text and their inherent musical qualities and remain unchallenged and rewarding. Bach’s use of chorales -- themselves musical sermons, teachings, and interpretations -- shows great deliberation and intention. For the Third Sunday after Epiphany, Bach essentially relied on two early Reformation hymns on the theme of “Death and Dying” for his four cantatas (BWV 73, 111, 72, and 156): Kaspar Bienemann’s (1582) “Herr, wie du willst, so schick's mit mir” (Lord, as you will, deal with me), Cantatas 73 and 156, and Markgraf Albrecht von Brandenburg’s 1547/55 “Was mein Gott will, das g'scheh allzeit” (What my God wants, may it always happen). Cantata 73 (1724, Cycle 1) is a proto chorale cantata while Cantata 156, “Ich steh mit eniem Fuß” (I stand with one foot in the grave; Picander Cycle 4, 1729) is a solo cantata with the Bienemann hymn set as a plain closing chorale; Cantata 111 is a chorale cantata (1725, Cycle 2), and Cantata 72, “Alles nur nach Gottes Willen” (Everything according to God's will), is a chorus cantata to a Salomo Franck text (1726, Cycle 3), with the von Brandenburg hymn set as the closing plain chorale.
The two chorales “were sung in Leipzig from time immemorial,” observes Günther Stiller in Johann Sebastian Bach and Liturgical Life in Leipzig.4 Both are assigned to the Third Sunday after Epiphany in the Dresden hymn books, says Stiller.
Text Movement Summary
A summary of the movements of the text is provided by Scott Sperling (January 13, 2006) in the BCML Cantata 73 Part 2 Discussion, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV73-D2.htm. <<The 1st Mvt of the Cantata contains three Solos (Tenor, Bass and Soprano), punctuated by the Chorus singing "Herr, wie du willt!" ("Lord, as You will"). The text in each of the solos focuses on one aspect of suffering for the Christian. The Tenor solo focuses on the frequency of suffering: "Ach! aber ach! Wieviel Lasst mich dein Wille leiden!" ("Alas! but alas! How often does Your will let me suffer!"). The text in the Bass solo deals with God's presence during and sovereignty over our suffering: "Du bist mein Helfer, Trost und Hort" ("You are my helper, comforter, and refuge"); and (quoting from Isaiah 42:3), "Das schwache Rohr, nicht gar zerbricht" ("A bruised reed, You shall not break"). The text in the Soprano solo deals with our misunderstanding (as we are experiencing it) the extent and the purpose of our suffering: "Der Segen scheint uns oft ein Fluch; die Zuchtigung ergrimmte Strafe" ("The blessing often seems a curse; discipline seems as harsh punishment"). The Soprano solo also foreshadows the important 4th Mvt Bass aria, which will deal with death: "Die Ruhe, so du in dem Todesschlafe uns einst bestimmt, ein Eingang zu der Holle" ("The rest, which death's sleep is intended to be, seems an entrance into hell").
How perfectly does the text from this Soprano solo get right to the truth of the matter! Have we all not met brothers and sisters who have endured great suffering, and yet, looking back, regret it not? When they experienced the suffering, indeed they cursed it; yet, when they are able to look back on it, they can see the benefits that resulted from the suffering.
The 2nd Mvt Tenor Aria is a prayer by the suffering Christian, that he be able to endure with joy: "Ach senke doch den Geist der Freuden dem Herzen ein!" ("Ah, plant then the spirit of joy within my heart!"). This movement is concerned with the proper attitude when one is living through suffering.
The 3rd and 4th Mvts go beyond this. They deal with the Christian being able to immerse himself in God's will, such that he remain steadfast, even to the death. The 3rd Mvt Bass Recitative begins by expressing the attitude of the natural man: "Ach, unser Wille bleibt verkehrt, bald trotzig, bald verzagt. Des sterbens will er nie gedenken" ("Alas, our will stays fickle, now defiant, now disheartened. Unwilling to consider death"). The Christian must rise above the attitude of the natural man, and strive for the attitude of the leper in Matthew 8. The Recitative continues: "Allein ein Christ, in Gottes Geist gelehrt, lernt sich in Gottes Willen senken, und sagt, 'Herr, so du willt'" ("Only a Christian, guided by God's Spirit, learns how to immerse himself in God's will, and say, 'Lord, as You will'").
This leads into the amazing 4th Mvt Bass Aria, which depicts the death of a Christian, enduring the suffering, because he knows that rest is on the other side: "So schlagt, ihr Leichenglocken, Ich folge unerschrocken, mein Jammer ist nunmehr gestillt" ("So sound, you funeral bells, I follow without fear; my misery is forever calmed").
The 5th Mvt Chorale summarizes: "Das ist des Vaters Wille, der uns erschaffen hat" ("This is the Father's will, who has created us").>>
1 Dürr, Cantatas of J. S. Bach, revised and translated by Richard D. P. Jones (Oxford University Press, New York, 2005: 202).
2Anderson in Oxford Composer Companions: J. S. Bach, ed. Boyd, Malcolm (Oxford University Press: New York, 1999: 219).
3 Jones, The Creative Development of Johann Sebastian Bach, Volume II: 1717-1750. “Music to Delight the Spirit” (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013: 128).
4 Stiller, Johann Sebastian Bach and Liturgical Life in Leipzig, ed. Robin A. Leaver (Concordia Publishing: St. Louis, 1985: 238).
Cantata BWV 73: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements
Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4