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Cantata BWV 9
Es ist das Heil uns kommen her
Commentary

Johann Nicolaus Forkel | Philipp Spitta | Albert Schweitzer | Friedrich Smend | Alfred Dürr 1 | Eric Chafe 1 | Eric Chafe 2 | Alfred Dürr 2

 

Thomas Braatz wrote (July 26, 2001):
Because this cantata is not only musically important, but historically as well, I have decided to include in some greater detail the results of musicological scholarship that normally do not interest a listener. In this instance, however, this cantata has had a rather checkered history with many interesting twists and turns that may illustrate what the Bach experts have to contend with. It also gives us some insight into the reasoning involved in arriving at certain conclusions regarding the composer's final intentions. (As we know, these cantatas were 'works in progress,' but sometimes it helps us, when we can see how Bach changed things each time the cantata was performed.)

See: Cantata BWV 9 - Provenance

Insightful Commentary by the Experts/Scholars

Forkel's keen sense led him to select this cantata and one other from all those contained in the 2nd yearly cantata cycle.

Spitta marveled at the masterful form of this cantata and compared it with another cantata composed the same year, BWV 140 ("Wachet auf,"). Was Spitta thinking 1724 or did he already sense that the connection between these two cantatas is the later date of composition? He calls the canonic duet (Mvt. 5) "astonishing."

Schweitzer considers this cantata easy to perform and of a more popular character. By using a complicated representation of motion, Bach is able to suggest motion more realistically. Bach depicts not only the Fall of Man, but also his repeated efforts to rise again (in the tenor aria, mvt.5 "Wir waren schon zu tief gesunken.")

Friedrich Smend (1950) makes some very interesting discoveries that are overlooked by other commentators. Since he could not be aware of the results of the research uncovered as indicated above, it is remarkable that he could sense that "BWV 9 foreshadows the later chorale cantatas," a fact that we can now appreciate because cantatas like BWV 140 ("Wachet auf") have their dates of composition in the early and middle 1730's. For Smend, BWV 9 is one of Bach's most profound compositions. Others have commented on the difficult task of setting the 'dry' cantata text to music. To this Smend responds: "A modern composer would hardly think it possible to express in music such a theologic-dogmatic content, but Bach, within whom these ideas literally come alive, is able to set these words to music." Regarding the referential, connective ability of Bach to 'hint' at other melodies that the listeners would be aware of, Smend indicates what he terms 'symbolic' connections between the motivic material and the main textual theme in Mvt. 1.

Alfred Dürr (1971) still laments the lack of connection between the chorale melody (cantus firmus in the soprano part) and the other vocal parts (the instrumental parts as well.) In most other comparable chorale cantatas, the opening mvt. contains fragments of chorale melody foreshadowing and introducing the melody before the cantus firmus finally sings it in longer note values. Dürr calls this "the preparatory announcing' of the line of the chorale to be sung in the cantus firmus. What did Smend find? The melodic material is derived from other chorales that would be sung during the same period of the church year. [I will need to post examples of this, since Bach's manner of elaboration of a melody might seem very remotely connected with the simple theme at first, but under closer scrutiny, all is revealed. As we all know, Bach was a master at elaboration and variation of a theme.] Bach derives the flute part from the chorale, "Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ" ("I call to you, Lord Jesus Christ.") The basso continuo adds yet another chorale to this musical chorale-picture in measures 6-9: The Christmas chorale, "Vom Himmel hoch" ("From heaven above,") which occurs 3 times in short succession as the cantus firmus is singing the last line of the chorale. Altogether this Christmas reference occurs 10 times (reminding us of another important Luther chorale, "Dies sind die heiligen Zehn Gebot"{"These are the sacred ten commandments."}) What all this means is that by reminding the listener 10 times of the arrival of Christ, the fulfillment of the Law (Old Testament) has been achieved. In the tenor aria (Mvt. 3) the solo violin motif (did you remember that this is the one Bach noted on a single line at the bottom of the page before actually composing the next mvt.?) symbolically depicts man's sinking into the depths. The duet (Mvt. 5) in the 2nd half of the cantata emphasizes 'Belief.' The obediently following Christian is pictured in the continual formation of canons in the instrumental as well as the vocal parts. There are 24 complete canons, 9 of which are in the vocal parts. Each voice sings the word, "Glaube" ("Belief") a total of 27 times: 12 in the main part, 3 in the middle, and 12 in the reprise. The main theme of the duet is derived from the chorale, "Komm, Heiliger Geist" ("Come Holy Spirit.") Luther states that only through the enlightenment by the Holy Spirit can we achieve the belief in Christ. That is why this chorale is cited here. The Holy Spirit not only wants to come to those who believe, it also wants to assemble in the church all of Christianity on earth. For this reason this chorale melody appears 12 times in this mvt.

In case you got lost in Lutheran theology and Bach's esotericism, let's try 'catabasis and anabasis.'

Eric Chafe (1991), as you probably know from my earlier commentaries, watches carefully the movement of tonality in Bach's vocal works and attempts to relate this to Lutheran theology, since we know that Bach was a Lutheran. Chafe sees in this cantata a strong statement on the Lutheran dogma concerning salvation - Luther's doctrine of justification by faith in the form of a theological discussion. First there is the chorale fantasia (Mvt. 1,) then chronologically referring to the granting of the Law to man, then mankind's sin and inability to fulfill the Laws (Mvt. 2 & Mvt. 3.) Christ's fulfillment of the Law on our behalf (Mvt. 4,) the message of justification by faith alone rather than works (Mvt. 5,) the replacing of the Law by the Gospel (Mvt. 6,) and our ultimate trust in God (Mvt. 7.) Chafe then refers to Whittaker's comment that the frequent use of the bass voice is like a preacher elaborating on his theories. The use of canon (Mvt. 5) is associated with basic doctrine. Chafe then demonstrates how this cantata is of the basic 'catabasis-anabasis' (descent-ascent) type: The prologue is in E major and announces salvation through Christ. Immediately thereafter comes the historical narrative (the 1st recitative Mvt. 2 sinks to B minor as an analogue of our sinful, fallen nature under the Law.) The 1st aria in E minor underscores the meaning of the sudden catabasis. From here the music moves 'sharpward:' B minor to A major (2nd recitative) to parallel Jesus' fulfillment of the Law for mankind. In the A-major duet (Mvt. 5,) the benefit of Jesus' atonement is confirmed ithe message of justification by faith alone. The next recitative leads to E major and summarizes the meaning of the Law and Gospel and their role in faith. Here there is a turning to the Gospel and trust in God. E major is also the key of the final chorale. Comparing the two recitatives: the 1st presents the historical period (Law) and the 2nd the time of Christ. Then Chafe compares this movement in tonality with the SMP: both move to E minor (Pt. 1 of SMP) for references to the abyss ("Abgrund") that opens to swallow the sinner. Like the SMP ("O Mensch, bewein"), BWV 9 also moves eventually to the key of E major.

Chafe (2000) once again refers to the catabasis-anabasis/descent-ascent tonal plan and its connection with Lutheran doctrine. It was the underlying antithesis of God and Humankind (1st verse of the chorale) that stimulated Bach in this creation of this cantata. The 14 verses of the chorale are reduced to 7 (Jesus is associated with the number 7 in the Book of Revelation.) This cantata is the sharpest tonal region that Bach ever uses and there is something special about his choice of this key (cf. SMP where E-major is also the sharpest key for any mvt.) "E-major has positive associations that accrue to it from Bach's aligning it with pivotal points in the salvific or soteriological message of the passion." [If you were a musicologist, you could also write sentences like that for posterity!]

Alfred Dürr (1971) gives us a more detailed analysis of Mvt. 5 (Duet). He calls this mvt. a charming quintet consisting of the voices engaging in a duet (challenging each other in form of the duet) to which the transverse flute, oboe d'amore and the basso continuo also lend their 'voices.' With the latter mainly providing support for the quartet above, the two obligato instruments begin the ritornello with a canon on the lower fifth, first the flute, then the oboe. In the 2nd half of the ritornello the entries are reversed but on the upper fourth. At this point the voices take over the theme which they adapt in a simpler form more suitable for the voices. After 8 measures the obligato instrumental parts also enter, creating thereby a double canon between the instrumentalists and the vocalists. The 2nd part of this main section is treated similarly. After a repeat of the ritornello, the middle section begins. Here also canons abound, except now the instrumentalists play along with the vocal parts rather than having an independent part to play. The vocal parts indulge in additional figuration and elaboration as an embellishment. A da capo and repeat of the 1st section completes this artistically conceived mvt. The playful melodicism hides the strict adherence to the rules of counterpoint in a canon, so that a listener is unaware of the true complexity of this mvt.

 

Cantata BWV 9: Details & 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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Last update: żOctober 1, 2011 ż18:47:30