Cantata BWV 43Gott fähret auf mit Jauchzen
Alfred Dürr | Konrad Küster | Woldemar Voigt | Albert Schweitzer | Peter Wollny
Thomas Braatz wrote (May 29, 2003):
This cantata stands out as being unusual in its formal structure as based upon its text/libretto. The greater portion of it consists of a poem of 6 verses (mvt. 5 – 10.) The reason for this was discovered by the Bach specialist, William H. Scheide. Already it was common knowledge that Bach, in 1726, had performed several cantatas by his cousin, Johann Ludwig Bach. Scheide was then able to prove that there was a similarity between Bach’s cantata texts of this year and those of his cousin from Meiningen. The text for this cantata, BWV 43, also follows a scheme similar to that of his cousin: Bible quote (Old Testament) – Recitative – Aria – Bible quote (New Testament) – a verse poem – final chorale.
The quote from the Old Testament, Psalm 47:6-7, is interpreted according to an old Christian tradition to point toward the Ascension of Jesus. Both of the following madrigalesque mvts. celebrate Jesus’ victory with references to Psalm 68:19 and its quotation in Ephesians 4:8 (“Du bist in die Höhe gefahren und hast das Gefängnis gefangen”) as well as Psalm 68:18 (“Der Wagen Gottes sind vieltausendmal tausdend.”) The Bible text from the New Testament, Mark 16:19, has been taken from the Gospel for Ascension Day, and the verse poem praises the completion of the salvation and the conquering of Satan. This leads to the hope that the Savior will prepare for me a place in heaven. Again, there are numerous references to Bible passages as, for instance, a reference at the beginning of mvt. 7 to Isaiah 63:3 (“Ich trete die Kelter allein”) and in mvt. 9 a reference to St. Stephan’s vision (Acts 7:55) “Ich sehe den Himmel offen und des Menschen Sohn zur Rechten Gottes stehen” appears here as “Ich sehe schon im Geist, wie er zu Gottes Rechten auf seine Feinde schmeißt” similar to a reference made in BWV 128. The concluding text (chorale) is taken from vs. 1 & 13 of a chorale by Johann Rist (1641.)
The cantata was composed for its 1st performance on May 30, 1726. With its festive instrumentation (3 trumpets, timpani, 2 oboes, strings and continuo) for this celebratory event (Ascension), it is surpassed only slightly by the Ascension Oratorio (BWV 11). The dominant mvt. of this cantata is the grand introductory choral mvt. It begins with a 6-measure, ‘Adagio’ introduction with strings supported by oboes. After this there is an ‘alla breve’ fugue, which begins with just 2 instrumental, fugal entries, but then the fugal subject is picked up by the choir, not as usual with separate entries by each voice, but rather with the statement in one voice covered by homophonic, blocks of chords (ms. 21.) The crowning entrance of the 1st trumpet (ms. 49) brings this initial development of the fugal subject to an end. At this point (ms. 55), a further development occurs, which touches upon the parallel minor keys and cadences to the dominant G major. Now the 2nd text section begins with “Lobsinget” (ms. 84), at first with a homophonic treatment reminiscent of the 1st choral section, but then (ms. 102) a 3rd development of the fugal subject with the new text, ending with a homophonic coda. A structural view of this mvt. is as follows:
Introduction (adagio) – 2 fugal entries (alla breve)
1. Fugal development (“Gott fähret auf…”) 1st trumpet has the crowning fugal entry
2. Fugal development (“Gott fähret auf…”)
Homophonic Section (“Lobsinget…”) instrumental intermezzo
3. Fugal development (“Lobsinget…”)
After a secco recitative where each syllable is rendered with a separate note, a tenor aria follows (mvt. 3) in which the strings are joined together to create a powerful obbligato part. The entire text is presented in 3 separate vocal sections, each one being different from the other.
In contrast to the extensive breadth of the introductory chorus, the 2nd quotation, also from the Bible, is set to music simply as a very short, plain secco recitative, this time not delivered by the usual ‘Evangelist’ voice of the tenor, but by a soprano voice.
At this point the series of verses taken from a single poem are presented as a charming soprano aria which has strings supported by oboes. While the 1st (A) section of the aria concentrates upon declaiming the text for the most part syllabically, the 2nd (B) section is dominated by the contrasting melismatic treatment of the text, where “Er schließt der Erde Lauf” (on “Lauf” there is an ascending coloratura) and its repetition (now descending) have a particular charm.
Mvt. 6 stands at the beginning of Part 2 which most likely was performed after the sermon. Here the opening recitative is an accompagnato with strings giving the needed support and sense of movement. There is a changing back and forth between loud triadic fanfares and a tremulation on repeated notes marked ‘piano.’
The dramatic effects of this mvt. carry over into the following bass aria with an obbligato trumpet. Because of the extreme difficulty of the trumpet part, Bach may have been forced to drop this part at a later performance in favor of a solo violin because he was unable to find a trumpet player capable of playing this part properly. The musical figures of the continuo part are very likely inspired by the stomping on the grapes to press out the juice in a wine vat. This is also the typical figure used in the pedal parts of organ compositions. With more intense harmony and slower movement of the musical figures, the words “voll Schmerzen, Qual und Pein” are appropriately highlighted.
Mvt. 8 is another short secco recitative, which has an ascending coloratura on the word “schau” that points the listener to look upward toward heaven.
Comparing the text of mvt. 9 (alto aria) [“Ich sehe schon im Geist, wie er…auf seine Feinde schmeißt”] with the 2 preceding mvts., Bach’s musical treatment here is strikingly undramatic and his use of two oboes makes it sound almost tranquil, if not a bit dance-like. Perhaps Bach was enticed by St. John’s vision that the victory over the enemies had already been achieved and it was only a matter of making this obvious or clear to everyone. Otherwise, how could one understand Bach’s emphasis on the joy perceived by an already accomplished victory that permeates this mvt. despite the expressive chromaticism on the words, “Jammer, Not und Schmach?”
The last verse of the poem is rendered as a secco recitative (mvt. 10) after which two verses of the final chorale are sung using the chorale melody “Ermuntre dich, mein schwacher Geist.”
The impression left by this cantata is that there is something contradictory/conflicting in it: the ‘fullness’/richness of the text may be the reason why there is a certain terseness, even sparseness in Bach’s musical implementation of this text: short arias and not less than 4 very simple secco recitatives. Only the introductory choral mvt. is an exception to this general characteristic. Even the invention of thematic material seems to occur in a clichéd manner as it prefers triadic and scalar melodies. Certainly this cantata is a genuine, unmistakable creation of Bach’s, but is it possible that he consciously followed the example of a work composed by his cousin Johann Ludwig?
Konrad Küster (in the Oxford Composer Companions: J.S.Bach [Boyd]):
Cantata for Ascension Day, 1st performed on 30 May 1725. From Purification (2 February) onwards that year Bach did not perform his own compositions in the main serviat Leipzig, but used cantatas by his Meiningen cousin Johann Ludweig Bach. For Ascension, however, he decided for the 1st time to compose one of these Meiningen texts himself. The reason might be that for the main ecclesiastical feasts (Christmas, Easter, Ascension, Whitsun, and the Reformation Festival) the Meiningen texts consisted of many sections, and this led Johann Ludwieg to write quite short mvts. which were not very attractive (as in “Denn du wirst meine Seele, once thought to be J. S. Bach’s earliest cantat, BWV 15.) Bach might have wished to avoid any short-windedness in a cantata for such an important feast as Ascension.
The characteristic feature of this longer form is that the number of mvts. in the ‘standard’ Meiningen cantata (see ‘Brich dem Hungrigen dein Brot’) is increased by the addition of recitatives and arias after the New Testament passage. In “Gott fähret auf mit Jauzchzen” Bach was faced with a poem of 6 strophes, which he ‘modernized’ by introducing an alternation of arias and recitatives from mvt. 5 to mvt. 10. Furthermore, the division of the text into 2 parts is here independent of the fact that the 1st and 4th mvts. are based on biblical texts, one from the Old Testament and one from the New; the 1st part now ends with the aria “Mein Jesus hat nunmehr” (mvt. 5), the 1st section of the added strophic poem. Thus the ‘traditional’ shape of the text is replaced by a general pairing of recitative and aria throughout the cantata.
After the opening chorus (based on Psalm 47:5-6, which can be understood as an allusion to Christ’s Ascension) Bach casts the 1st recitative-aria pair for tenor. It is important for him to integrate the New Testament passage into this chain of paired mvts., and the soprano recitative “Und der Herr, nachdem er mit ihnen geredet hatte” (Mark 16:19) is therefore directly linked to the E minor aria “Mein Jesus hat nunmehr” (also for soprano, with strings and two oboes.)
High voices (soprano and tenor) sing the recitatives and arias of Part 1; consequently the next 4 mvts. are an accompanied recitative and an aria, “Er ists, der ganz allein” (with solo trumpet), for bass and a simple recitative and an aria, “Ich sehe schon im Geist” (with 2 oboes,) for alto. The scoring of the arias in Part 2 is thus dominated by the winds (in Part 1 by the strings); and the keys of the arias in the 1st part (G major and E minor) are a 5th higher than those in the 2nd part (C major and A minor.) As if to compensate for this, the final chorale, “Du Lebensfürst, Herr Jesu Christ,” is in a key (G major) a 5th higher than that of the opening chorus. Thus Bach gave the strict structure of the original libretto a totally different, but equally plausible, shape.
Thomas Braatz wrote (May 30, 2003):
BWV 43 - More Commentaries:
The text for this cantata is rather complicated in structure. In each of its 2 parts there is a juxtaposition of an event in heaven with one on earth. Angels greet the ascending Savior while humankind looks upward to follow this ascent with melancholy and longing. [The references to “Ihr Kräfte” “Ihr Thronen” [Powers, Thrones] in the bass recitative and aria (mvts. 6 & 7) are from the old/early Christian church tradition where the hierarchy of angels included (from top down): Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones, Kyriotetes, Dynamis (Powers), Exusiai, Archai, Archangeloi, Angeloi.]
The introductory choral mvt. is developed upon a splendid theme and is divided into two main sections, each one of which builds to a powerful climax. Special attention should be given to the infrequent (rare for Bach) but very effective timpani ‘roll’ [beginning with ms. 80 until 84, and also ms. 124-129, Bach has a long, 6-ms. trill on the low note of the timpani.]
In Part 1, the tenor aria covers the heavenly and the soprano aria the earthly events. A similar juxtaposition occurs in Part 2 with the bass aria displaying great power and energy (the accompanying trumpet part is very difficult) – additional strings are recommended for the bc part. The alto aria is quite unique. There is a wonderful and profoundly poetic passage on the words “ich stehe hier am Weg und schau’ ihm sehnend nach” which is very remarkable for a church festival of joy.
All the arias stand out because of their rather free treatment and concise/short form.
In the verse from the Psalms, “God goeth up with a merry noise, and the Lord with the sound of a trumpet,” Bach, of course, represents the “going up” by means of bold upward-striving lines; the chief figure in the violins covers 2 octaves in 4 bars. The soprano enters with this phrase (ms. 21 -25) to which the 3 trumpets add their fanfares. The concise form of the chorus makes the strength of the music all the more effective.
In the tenor aria (mvt. 3,) the violins have a theme in unison that rises and falls time after time in a manner suggestive of the peculiar melodic line of the aria “Gerne will ich mich bequemen,” in the SMP. Here, as there, the fluctuations of the melody have their meaning. They are meant to symbolize the movement of earth and heaven, which, according to the text, “bend” beneath the chariot of the Lord.
The soprano aria (mvt. 5) resembles in its march-form the introductory arioso of the cantata BWV 108. In the course of the text, mention is made of the “return” of the Son to the Father. Perhaps this explains the step-like rhythm that runs through the whole movement.
In the bass aria (mvt. 7), which is accompanied only by a trumpet, Christ’s victory is described under the Old Testament image of the treader of the winepress. Bach of course does not let pass the opportunity to represent this proud/haughty stamping in his music, and he does not hesitate to write such progressions as these in the bass: ms. 12-15.
Bass recitative (mvt. 6, ms. 1): Bach’s consistency in the representation of movement may be seen in this recitative where he renders the word “zerstreuen” [“scatter”] in exactly the same way as in the accompaniment to Jesus’ words in the SMP (BWV 244), “Ich werde den Hirten schlagen und die Schafe werden sich zerstreuen” [“I will smite the shepherds, and the sheep shall be scattered.”]
The alto aria (mvt. 9) is at the first glance surprising. It looks as if the fervent music did not agree with the words (“Now I see in spirit how He sits on the right hand of God and smites His enemies”.) The almost melancholy tone of the mvt. is explained by the final words of the text (“I stand here by the way and look towards Him with longing.”) There is a kind of divine home-sickness in the dialogue of the two oboes. The mvt. is typical of the freer form of aria that Bach was employing at this time.
Bach’s only series of performances of works by another composer is the one in 1726 where he uses 18 cantatas composed by his cousin from Meiningen, Johann Ludwig, and abandons temporarily composing his own cantatas. It is of interest that these works belong to relatively early stage of cantata development: the madrigalesque type, the origin of the texts of which can be traced back to the years 1704-05, whereas the actual compositions of Johann Ludwig Bach probably can be dated no later than 1714-15. These works are characterized by a style of composition that is at the same time obstinate/stubborn, yet of a courtly church style, all the while preserving the appropriate devotion and dignity. They have assimilated dance-like characteristics as well as certain features of the French orchestral style. Due to the dated (already ‘old-fashioned’) nature of these cantatas at thtime of their performance in Leipzig in 1726, it is not astonishing that Bach hardly derived much in the way of musical inspiration from his cousin’s cantatas, but he did use the same libretto source for the following cantatas: BWV 17, BWV 39, BWV 43, BWV 45, BWV 88, BWV 102, and BWV 187. It is likely that the libretti for these cantatas were made available to him through his cousin.
Cantata BWV 43: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4