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Cantata BWV 16
Herr Gott, dich loben wir

Ruth Tarlow | Philipp Spitta | Albert Schweitzer | Woldamar Voigt | Alfred Dürr | Robin Leaver


Aryeh Oron wrote (February 10, 2003):
BWV 16 – Background [Ruth Tarlow]

The commentary below, quoted from the liner notes to Gardiner’s recording [3] of the cantatas, was written by Ruth Tarlow (2000):

Although the New Year’s fair had officially opened, it was forbidden to trade on a Sunday or festival day, and so on 1 January 1726 the church congregation were swelled to capacity with foreigners. Commercial gain was their prime motive for visiting Leipzig, but many merchants would return home bearing something of more eternal value. Having found in a published collection the text by Georg Christian Lehms for the day's cantata, BWV 16, Bach decided to add a verse of the New Year hymn "Helft mir Gotts Güte preisen" for the final movement. The exultant opening C major chorus, "Herr Gott, dich loben wir", resounded through the church after the unusually short Gospel reading (Luke 2: 21). Any early morning lapse of congregational concentration would have been remedied by the whooping and trilling corno da caccia. This is cast as a dialogue for solo bass and chorus, reminiscent of the cantor and people in the Temple, the scene of Jesus' circumcision. After the alto blessing on every sphere of life, we come to the heart of the cantata, the tenor aria "Geliebter Jesu, nur du allein". Alternating between the corporate "our" and the personal "my", the tenor focuses the hitherto global praises onto the person of Jesus alone, with a love-song accompanied by the warm tones of oboe and violetta. The final chorale is a prayer: "gib uns ein friedlich Jahre, / vor allem Leid bewahre / und nähr uns mildiglich [give us a peaceful year, shield us from sorrow and feed us lovingly].

Thomas Braatz wrote (February 12, 2003):
BWV 16 - Commentaries:


Among all the known compositions of Bach, this is the one where Bach seems closest to the type of cantatas composed by Telemann. To be sure, this does not occur in the 1st mvt. which is a splendid introductory chorale mvt. based on the 1st 4 lines of the Ambrosian Song of Praise: in such forms as this Bach was unable to incorporate Telemann-like features, and Telemann would have had difficulty even attempting to imitate what Bach accomplished here. The 2nd chorus (Mvt. 3 Aria tutti) is a very different story because a another type of spirit prevails here: there is a lively exchange between the bass soloist and the choir, the melodies are pleasing to the ear, the manner of expression is rather drastic, and the way the choir is handled – all these bear great similarity with the choral mvts. by Telemann. Of course, behind all of this, Bach’s spirit is always present. Bach’s connection with Telemann was close not only in his personal relationship with this composer, but he also respected and admired Telemann very much. He even copied the score of Telemann’s cantata “Machet die Thore weit” and used it in an Advent service in Leipzig. In the tenor aria (Mvt. 5,) one can easily recognize the solo singing style of Keiser and Telemann in their solo songs. Anyone who will compare this tenor aria with the tenor aria of the Estomihi cantata BWV 22/4 will sense a kinship in the manner of expression in both.


The motif of joyous agitation is the bass line that opens this cantata. Schweitzer claims that there are over 200 such joy motifs in Bach’s cantatas.


The 1st mvt. opens with a splendid, festive, figured chorale that treats the 1st 4 lines of the Tedeum. A horn or trumpet supports the c.f. in the soprano voice, while the 2nd violin and viola play colla parte with the alto and tenor voice. The 1st violin swings upwards over the choir in very lively, imitative passages. After an expansive, particularly beautiful bass recitative, the bass aria with a freely treated chorus follows and has in the middle a bass arioso. Bach composed this mvt. in a popular manner (to appeal to the masses) by having the horn play very high. It could be replaced by a trumpet which will play an important role; specifically, it will be enchanting in the final ritornello. The alto recitative corresponds in quality to the beauty of the bass recitative. The tenor aria, with its sickly-sentimental style, does not approach the level of the other mvts. and should be drastically shortened. The final chorale expresses a pious kindness.


The cantata begins with rather short c.f. chorale fantasia mvt. which treats the liturgical melody of the Tedeum. The chorale melody is presented by the soprano voice (+ Horn), while the contrast is provided by the lower voices (alto, tenor, and bass,) which are then combined with the instruments that offer interesting counterpoint. The task of the instruments is not restricted to colla parte playing. The continuo begins with an 8-measure introduction that is maintained independently throughout the mvt. Equally independent and contrapuntally interesting is the combination of the 1st oboe and 1st violin, which leaves to the horn the task of supporting the soprano voice. If this part (1st violin + 1st oboe) were not so high and more within the range of the voice, this part easily could have been transformed into a 5th vocal part.

A secco recitative (Mvt. 2 for bass) describes the cause of the jubilation: there is peace (“Dein Zion sieht vollkommne Ruh”) and in the churches people are singing God’s praises (“der Tempel schallt von Psaltern und von Harfen.”) The conclusion (“O sollte darum nicht ein neues Lied erklingen und wir in heißer Liebe singen?“) leads directly (there is no introductory ritornello here) into the next mvt. (3. Aria tutti) with an invitation to shout for joy („Laßt uns jauchzen.“) This mvt. has a very unusual structure or form in that it combines the characteristics of both an aria as well as a choral mvt. It is set up as a free da capo form. The main section is a choral mvt. out of which the bass occasionally arises. The middle section which has two parts belongs to the bass solo which is interrupted in the middle by a choral section. It is easier to see the structure in the following scheme:

A – Choral introductory section (a) (“Laßt uns jauchzen… ») which is followed by an orchestral ritornello (b); then a choral fugue on (a) follows with a Choreinbau in (b)
Orchestral interlude (b)

B – Bass solo (c) (“Krönt und signet seine Hand”); a short interrupting choral section (a)
Bass solo (c’)

A’—Choral section with a following orchestral ritornello (b’); choral fugue on (a) but changed; Choreinbau in (b)
Orchestral ritornello (b) (conclusion)

The 2nd recitative (Mvt. 4 alto), another secco recitative, presents the requests for future blessings. The tenor aria (Mvt. 5) which had as an obbligato instrument an oboe da caccia in 1726, was changed in a later performance (perhaps 1731) to a ‘violetta,’ a term which according to Johann Gottfried Walther can mean either a viola or an alto viol. This would provide the appropriate sound of a string instrument that would suit the intimate sound of this aria very well.

The final choral is in a simple 4-pt. harmonization.

Robin Leaver:

The 1st mvt. is effectively a choral motet, with the melody in the soprano, doubled by a horn, and close imitation in the lower parts. Rather unusually, it begins with the continuo and is somewhat short, just 34 bars in length.

A brief bass recitative leads into a mvt. (3) which is remarkable in a number of respects. It takes the form of a modified da capo aria (A-B-A’) in which the outer (A) sections are choral, and in part fugal, without the usual orchestral introduction. The angular ftheme is an example of word-painting expressive of “jauchzen” (“shout for joy”), although what one hears is more like “lachen” (“laugh”), so exuberant is the celebration of the new year. Counter-motifs of joy are introduced by first violins and then woven throughout the independent orchestral accompaniment. The central (B) section, for solo bass with a single choral interjection, continues the theme of rejoicing, with pictorialism on “krönt” (“crowns”), a musical figure that resembles a crown in the score. It is an extraordinary mvt., almost without parallel in Bach’s sacred cantatas.

Mvt. 4 is an alto recitative that calls for the protection of church and school, the overlapping spheres of Bach’s activity in Leipzig and the interconnected institutions necessary for the continuance of the Lutheran tradition of church music. In the only solo aria of the cantata (Mvt. 5) for tenor in da capo form, the mood changes from extrovert rejoicing to introverted prayer. It is a reflective trio for tenor, continuo, and (in 1726) oboe da caccia; for a later performance the obbligato instrument was changed to “violetta” (viola). With either instrument Bach wanted the darker colors to contrast with the earlier mvts. and to convey the meditative nature of the text.

In the final chorale, the instruments play colla parte, with the horn again doubling the soprano, as in the 1st mvt.


Cantata BWV 16: Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Commentaries: Main Page | Cantatas BWV 1-50 | Cantatas BWV 51-100 | Cantatas BWV 101-150 | Cantatas BWV 151-200 | Cantatas BWV 201-224 | Other Vocal Works BWV 225-524 | Sources


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