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Cantata BWV 5
Wo soll ich fliehen hin?

Thomas Braatz wrote (October 24, 2001):
BWV 5 - Provenance:

The autograph score went to W.F. Bach at the time of the distribution of the estate. The original set of parts went to Bach's wife who gave them to the Thomaner School. The parts stayed in Leipzig and are now part of the City Archive of Leipzig. W.F. Bach sold it to an unknown individual from whom the Postal Inspector Carl Philipp Heinrich Pistor (1778-1847) acquired it in 1827. It was passed on to his grandson Ernst Friedrich Karl Rudorff (1840-1916) who gave it to Joseph Joachim in 1888. It was then sold to the manuscript collector Heyer in Cologne. It was auctioned off in 1927 and purchased by Stefan Zweig. After Zweig's suicide (1942) it went to his daughter Eva D. Albermann who, in 1956, put it on continual loan in the Department of Manuscripts of the British Library, London. In 1986 it was given as an outright present to the same organization where it is located today.

The chorale melody upon which the cantata is based:

It seems almost obvious that Bach was primarily inspired by the upward-moving scale figure in Johann Heermann's "Wo soll ich fliehen hin" ("Where should I flee to") which already anticipates the answer, "To Christ"; and the next line/phrase "Weil ich beschweret bin" ("because I am heavily laden {with my sins]" which represents through its downward motion on the notes of the scale the weight of the sinner becoming heavier and heavier. These two musical figures are central to Bach's development of the musical pictures he wishes to present. And yet there is a surprise awaiting anyone who delves more deeply into the origin of the chorale melody. Some reference books refer to another chorale melody, "Auf meinen lieben Gott" with the melody composed by Jakob Regnart. This would simply mean that Heermann used another well-known chorale melody for his hymn text. Further research, however, uncovers the true source of this melody which has a secular origin, very similar to "Greensleeves" which is sung at Christmas as "What Child is This?" with most members of the congregation oblivious to that fact that the original melody referred to the prostitutes who followed roving bands of actors or soldiers about wherever they went. In a case such as this, the Chirstmas carol is a 'contrafactum' of the original secular melody. This was frequently done in Protestant Germany with popular folk songs that were widely known and sung. In this instance the contrafaction took place as follows:

Jakob Regnart (born in South Netherlands between 1540-1545, but spent most of his life as a singer, composer, kapellmeister in the royal courts in Vienna, Prague, and Innsbruck) composed wonderful sets (3-part) of Villanellas (Street Songs in the Italian style) with German texts. It is in one of these collections, "Kurtzweilige teutsche Lieder" ("Entertaining German Songs"), Nürnberg, 1574, that the original chorale melody can be found: "Venus, du und dein Kind seid alle beide blind." ("Venus, you and your child [Amor-Cupid] are both blind").

Here is the original text:

Venus, du und dein kind/seit alle beide blind/vnd pflegt euch zu verblenden/wer sich zu auch thut wenden/ wie ich wol hab erfaren/inn meinen jungen jaren.

Amor du Kindlein bloss/Wem dein vergifftes Gschoss/Das hertz ein mal berüret/Der wirdt alsbald verfüret/Wie ich wol hab erfaren/Inn meinen jungen jaren.

Für nur ein freud allein/Gibst du vil tausend pein/Für nur ein freundlichs schertzen/Gibst du vil tausend schmertzen/Wie ich wol hab erfaren/Inn meinen jungen jaren.

Drumb rath ich jedermann/Von lieb bald abzustahn/Dann nichts ist zu erjagen/In lieb dann wehe und klagen/Das hab ich als erfahren/In meinen jungen jaren.

(Venus, both you and your child are completely blind and you tend to blind those who turn to you. This I have learned while I was still young.

Cupid, you little child, it doesn't matter whose heart you touch with your poisoned arrow, that individual will succumb to temptation. This I have experienced in my young years.

In return for only this single instance of pleasure, you give many instances of suffering, for just a friendly flirt you give thousands of instances of pain, as I have personally experienced when I was still young.

For this reason I advise all people to distance themselves from love. What do you expect to gain from all this chasing about for love? Nothing but grief and sorrow. All this I learned while I was still young.)

Since there is no way to show you the melodies of both side by side, I will use letter notation where B is assumed to be Bb and E to be Eb.

JS Bach: G G A B C D/ D D C C A/A B C D D C D / D B C D D C B/
Regnart: G D D C D/ D D C B A/A B C D E C D / A B C D E C D/

JS Bach: D F D D D C C / C D C B C A G
Regnart: D F E D D C C / D D C B C A G

This song became so popular that another composer Francesco Rovigo based his "Magnificat" (1583) upon this melody. In 1603 an editor of sacred music, Bartholomäus Gesius [Frankfurt an der Oder] published his "Enchiridion" which contained a contrafactum of this melody with the incipit, "Auf meinen lieben Gott." Gesius is also responsible for publishing for the first time the texts and melodies for the following hymns that are still included in the hymnal of the German Evangelical Lutheran Church: "Freut euch, ihr lieben Christen all"; "Heut triumphieret Gottes Sohn"; "Christe, du bist der helle Tag"; "Mein Seel, o Herr, muß loben dich"; "Befiehl du deine Wege"; and "Du Friedefürst, Herr Jesu Christ."

And the third contrafactum (after the "Magnificat" and Gesius' "Auf meinen lieben Gott") is Johann Heermann's "Wo soll ich fliehen hin" which he must have written with this melody very much in mind, because it fits the movement of the notes so well as if it were an original inspiration of both words and music.

The text upon which the cantata is based:

The Gospel reading for the 19th Sunday after Trinity is Matthew 9: 1-8 (NLT):
Jesus climbed into a boat and went back across the lake to his own town. Some people brought to him a paralyzed man on a mat. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, "Take heart, son! Your sins are forgiven." "Blasphemy! This man talks like he is God!" some of the teachers of religious law said among themselves. Jesus knew what they were thinking, so he asked them, "Why are you thinking such evil thoughts? Is it easier to say, 'Your sins are forgiven' or 'Get up and walk'? I will prove that I, the Son of Man, have the authority on earth to forgive sins." Then Jesus turned to the paralyzed man and said, "Stand up, take your mat, and go on home, because you are healed!" And the man jumped up and went home! Fear swept through the crowd as they saw this happen right before their eyes. They praised God for sending a man with such great authority.

Of the 11 verses of Johann Heermann's (1630) chorale text, the 1st and the 11th were retained unchanged. The unknown librettist gave a free, poetic treatment to the other verses as follows:
2 - 3 = Mvt. 2
4 = Mvt. 3
5 - 7 = Mvt. 4
8 = Mvt. 5
9-10 = Mvt. 6

The Jesus' statement, "Your sins are forgiven" awakens one's own consciousness of the sin within oneself, and eventually leads to the hope that Christ Jesus, through his sacrificial death, has taken away the sin, not only of the paralyzed man, of all mankind. Mvts. 1 to 3 gradually direct the sinner's situation away from hopelessness to Jesus' sacrificial death. The actual turnaround to a more hopeful attitude comes in Mvt. 4, so that the sinner can find the power to take a stand against Satan (Mvt. 5), and ask God that Christ's death might bring him to the salvation he has longed for. The unknown librettist seems to have put forth special effort in extracting for the middle verses of the chorale a 'strong picture' which could offer Bach what he needed for his 'inventio' and so that both arias would have sufficiently contrasting images. The librettist chose the image of blood to wash away sins, an image that is exaggerated in a typically baroque fashion. Another similar image chosen was that of the "Höllenheer" ("all the forces of hell") whose noise suddenly subsides when the Christian believer holds out the blood of Jesus. Mvt. 4 becomes the pivotal point of the entire cantata. Bach emphasizes this by having the oboe intone the chorale melody because in this mvt. the decisive change from despair to hope takes place. Around this mvt. are grouped symmetrically in sequence toward the conclusion : Aria, Recitative, Chorale, and looking toward the beginning also Aria, Recitative, Chorale.


Cantata BWV 5: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

References: Main Page | Cantatas BWV 1-50 | Cantatas BWV 51-100 | Cantatas BWV 101-150 | Cantatas BWV 151-200 | Cantatas BWV 201-224 | Other Vocal BWV 225-249 | Chorales BWV 250-300 | Chorales BWV 301-350 | Chorales BWV 351-400 | Chorales BWV 401-438 | Geistliche Lieder BWV 439-507 | AMN BWV 508-524 | Vocal Works BWV Anh
BGA | NBA | BC: A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | Sources
Discussions of BWV Numbering System: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3


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