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Christological, Joy-Sorrow Cycles

Christological, Joy-Sorrow Cycles

William Hoffman wrote (June 19, 2017):
[Discussion leader’s note: Part 4 of the Bach Cantata Mailing List [BCML] Discussion follows the post-third cantata cycle period using several tracks simultaneously within the framework of the church year: a Bach Christological Cycle that addresses the biblical/theological import of works for the significant feast days of Jesus Christ, with complementary, systematic studies of his related chorale settings and Latin Church music, as well as special, non-cyclic sacred music of joy and sorrow composed throughout most of his life that could constitute a fifth cycle of “well-regulated church music.)

In 1729, Bach ceased his presentation of church year compositions with thee extant cantata cycles and remnants from the Picander cycle involving Cantata 174 for Easter Monday and Cantata 149 for the Michaelfest. These two musical sermons presumably he presented with the Collegium musicum, whose direction he had assumed on March 20. Bach was free to pursue other compositions involving instrumental music as well as secular vocal commissions and select, sacred cantatas for special occasions such as weddings and funerals. The record shows that Bach until his death in 1750 continued annually to present only two types of sacred compositions: Passions for the Good Friday vesper service and town council cantatas in late August.

Meanwhile, Bach selectively began composing and revising special sacred cantatas for multiple purposes through parody or new-text underlay. Most notably was Cantata BWV 120 for the council installation c.1729, repurposed for a 1729 wedding and the 1730 Aubsburg Confession Bicentennial. Other works at this time1 serving dual purposes for the three-day centennial were 1727 Council lost cantata BWV Anh. 4 and 1724 New Year’s Cantata BWV 190. Only selectively beginning in 1730 did Bach present other sacred cantatas: BWV Anh. 3 (lost) for the Town Council on August 28, new Cantata 51 probably for the 15th Sunday after Trinity on September 17, and a reperformance of Reformationfest Cantata 79 on October 31. During 1731 the record shows that he selectively resumed reperforming church-year cantatas with BWV 16 for New Year’s Day and BWV 82 for the Purification Feast on February 2. Following the premier of the St. Mark Passion on Good Friday, Bach probably presented cantata revivals throughout 1731 Easter/Pentecost Season, including the three-day festivals of Easter and Pentecost as well as the Ascension and Trinity Sunday festivals. Following the premiere of Town Council Cantata BWV 29 on August 27, Bach on the last two Sundays of Trinity Time in 1731 revived Cantata 70 and premiered chorale Cantata 140, then introduced Cantata 36 for the 1st Sunday in Advent. In 1732 Bach reperformed the St. John Passion on Good Friday and composed pure-hymn Cantata 177 for the 4th Sunday after Trinity on 6 July to fill a gap in the chorale cantata cycle. On 1 February 1733, Saxon Elector Augustus, “The Strong,” died and Bach’s vocal music fortunes changed again significantly for the remainder of the decade and beyond.

Five Cycles of Vocal Music

|Only three church-year cantata cycles of Bach are extant. While scholars continue to seek the other two cycles of church pieces listed in his father’s Obituary, son Emmanuel’s 1790 Estate Catalogue listed all of his father’s music that he had inherited. This offers a template of his father’s mostly vocal works as simply categorized in the Obituary. At the end of this listing are the church-year cantatas, from Advent to late Trinity Time, found in the first and third Leipzig cycles, as well as the Easter and Ascension Oratorios. The catalogue listing begins with the six parts of the Christmas Oratorio and is then interspersed with other major works such as the St. John and the St. Matthew Passions, and the “Great Catholic Mass” in B Minor. Also listed in no particular order are other major works such as both versions of the Magnificat, the four Missa: Kyrie-Gloria (BWV 233-236), and the sacred memorial Motets BWV 225-227, as well as the incomplete Orgelbüchlein collection of chorale preludes and plain-chorale settings. Interspersed as well were non-cyclic cantatas for the town council (BWV 71, 29), sacred wedding cantatas (BWV 197, 97, and 195), and secular cantatas (BWV 206, 211, 204, 201, 207a, 212, 210, and 213-215), the last three including parodied music in the Christmas Oratorio.

The initial portion of this legacy listing involves mostly non-cyclic cantatas and other sacred compositions which also are appropriate for various church services. Besides the major works — primarily oratorios and Latin Church music for a Christological cycle for the main and vesper services — there is service music of joy (town council and wedding) as well as memorial motets which, collectively, could constitute part of a another cycle of miscellaneous sacred service works. Emmanuel had used all these sacred vocal music sources to compile and publish an extensive and exhaustive collection of 371 of his father’s plain chorales. The chorale, initially developed from the cantus firmus in Gregorian chant plain song, anchored Bach's vocal music and was essential to his pursuit and achievement of his calling as a musician. The chorale in the wordless elaborations of the organ prelude enabled Bach to achieve stylistic invention and musical transformation. The organ chorale, usually called a prelude, provided Bach with an initial musical framework or template for all the services of the church year. Bach also set plain chorales for weddings, funerals, and civic events, as well as special services of confession, dedication, thanksgiving and learning. All together this music constituted Sebastian’s legacy of a “well-regulated church music.”

“Well-Regulated Church Music”

A Bach Christological Cycle could comprises the major sacred works and collections of organ chorale music he pursued in his calling as a composer. This calling was stated in 1708 upon resigning his position as organist in Mühlhausen, to create “a well-regulated church music to the glory of God.”2 The music Bach created consistently and intentionally addressed interests found in today’s Christology studies3 and pursued such topics as Martin Luther's chorales and their underlying theological import, the “Christus Victor” concept in the St. John Passion, and Luther’s Theology of the Cross in the St. Matthew Passion, as the music is related to the larger mosaic of a Christological Cycle.

Bach’s pursuit of well-ordered church music began soon after Mühlhausen, with his move to Weimar and the beginning of systematic composition of organ chorale preludes for the liturgical church year, as well as cantatas, called “musical sermons.” For the some 60 annual services in Leipzig, Bach presented more than three cycles of church-year service cantatas for Sundays and feast days, as well as the Latin Magnificat, and four annual gospel Passion oratorios for Good Friday vespers services. In the 1730s, he fashioned oratorios for the major feast days of Christmas, Easter, Ascension and possibly Pentecost, as well as collections of free-standing plain chorales and other sacred songs, based on the liturgical church year. In the later 1730s, he created the Kyrie-Gloria Mass sections and the German Mass/Catechism Organ Chorales. A Bach Christological Cycle culminated in his “Great Mass in B Minor,” completed in the late 1740s.

Martin Luther’s central Doctrine of Justification and the general doctrine of vocation or calling (Beruf) impacted Bach in his life, music, and travels as he sought to fulfill both doctrines in his work and daily life. The doctrine of vocation as the theology of Christian life deals with the relationship between faith and works.4 While reformers and theologians sought to define these two ingredients and their relationship, Bach practiced them. Without works righteousness, he loved his calling, with the motto he penned to his music, “Soli Deo Gloria,” to “the glory of God alone.” This began with Bach himself in his responsibilities to serve his vocations, , and community as chronicled in Robert L. and Trait M Marshall’s Exploring the Worlds of J. S. Bach: A Traveler’s Guide.5 Bach engaged himself in the life of each community where he lived and raised his family while repeatedly traveling through much of Thuringia and Saxony, visiting family and colleagues, restoring organs and performing. He was an active member of Luther’s priesthood of believers while practicing and defending his music against authority and critics.

Christological Cycle, Major Works

The concept of a Bach “Christological cycle” was first articulated in Eric Chafe’s study, “J.S. Bach’s St. Matthew Passion.”6 The core music cited involved the three extant oratorios on the life, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ, presented in the mid-1730s, and the St. Matthew Passion definitive version of 1735 as well as the St. John Passion, new score (c.1735-42). Chafe suggests that Bach in 1725 may have begun to create the Matthew Passion and the first version of the Easter Oratorio, as part of a grand scheme involving a “Christological cycle” of oratorios, realized in the mid-1730s. In that decade, Bach’s composed oratorios for Christmas, BWV 248 (1734-35); completed the Easter Oratorio, BWV 249 (c.1735); and composed the Ascension Oratorio, BWV 11 (1735) as well as the John and Matthew Passions. To this cycle could be added a possible Pentecost Oratorio, 1735;7 the partially-lost, parodied St. Mark Passion (1731); and the Latin Magnificat BWV 243(a) and “Great Mass” in B-Minor, BWV 232, begun in 1733, as well as the four Kyrie-Gloria Missae, BWV 233 to BWV 236 (1735-38). Except for the Matthew and John Passion settings, all the other works are significant parodies or contrafactions involving the same music with new text underlay. Both extant Passion settings utilized borrowed material or forms of parody. The 1735 version of the Matthew Passion uses the chorale chorus, “O Mensch bewein dein Sünde groß,” from the 1725 version of the John Passion, which include material from the otherwise lost 1717 “Gotha/Weimar” Passion. The John Passion turbae choruses contain different Gospel texts sent to similar music that give the work structural, thematic and dramatic unity.

|The first significant study of Bach’s major vocal works, including their liturgical and dramatic underpinnings, is Marcus Rathey’s recent Bach’s Major Vocal Works: Music, Drama Liturgy.8 Rathey discusses each work within the chronology of Jesus Christ’s life as found in the order of the liturgical year and the order in which Bach composed them. The study begins with Jesus’ incarnate conception in the Latin and German Magnificat, the nativity and adoration in the omnibus Christmas Oratorio, the suffering and death in the John and Matthew Passions, the Ascension and Easter Oratorios, and finally the Mass in B-Minor, a “summary of the Christian faith” and “a culmination of Bach’s work” (Ibid.: Prelude: 5).

Luther’s Chorales

The foundation for Bach’s music was Luther’s creation of chorales for the liturgy. Luther translated three festal observances into German chorales: the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-56) as “Meine Seele erhebt den Herrn” (My soul doth magnify the Lord), the Nunc dimittis (Luke 2:22-32) as “Mit Fried’ und Freud’ ich fahr dahin” (With peace and joy I go out), and the full Gloria in excelsis Deo as “Allein Gott in der Höh' sei Ehr’” (To God alone on high be glory). Besides the Gloria setting in Luther’s 1526 “Deutsche Messe,” which Bach harmonized as BWV 260, Luther also set the "Kyrie Gott Vater in Ewigkeit" (Mercy, God Father in eternity), BWV 371; the Credo, ”Wir Glauben all an einem Gott" (We all believe in one God), BWV 437; the Sanctus, “Jessica den Propheten” (Isaiah the prophet), BWV 325; and the Agnus Dei as "O Lamm Gottes unschuldig" (O Lamb of God unstained), BWV 401. Luther also compose a nonliturgical, extended setting of the Dona nobis pacem, “Verleih’ uns Frieden gnädiglich” (Graciously grant us peace), BWV 126/6). In addition, Luther provided chorale settings of his Cathechism articles of the Christian faith, which Bach also set as organ chorale preludes in the 1739 Clavierübung III, BWV 679-689: the Ten Commandments, ‘Dies sind die heilgen zehn Gebot”; the Creed, “Wir glauben all an einen Gott”; the Lord’s Prayer, “Vater unser im Himmelreich”; Baptism,” Christ, unser Herr, zum Jordan kam”; Penitence, “Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir” (Psalm 130), and the Eucharist, “Jesus Christus, unser Heiland.” These Catechism hymns were sung during the Sunday afternoon main vesper service, in the portion called the Katechismusexamen.9

Besides the liturgical (worship) application of chorales, Luther and his followers also set other Latin plainsong as German chorales for church year services, as well as folk songs and original texts and melodies, complied in hymnbooks. Eventually these hymns were designated for particular services in both halves of the church year, de tempore (Proper Time), of the major Christological events in the life of Jesus Christ, and omnes tempore (Ordinary Time), of the life of the church. This portion begins with the liturgical and Catechism chorales and then deals poetically in stanzas with themes such as “Christian Life and Conduct.” This later group of chorales, while they included paraphrase settings of Psalms, penitential and joyous, rarely cites the service day’s Gospel or Epistle readings and are more didactic in nature, with increasingly literary and topical elements such as pietism.

Incarnation Annunciation, Canticles

Beginning with the Gospel writers, the central Christian principle in the Creed (Credo) of the conceptual, symbolic Trinity or Triune God embraces God the Father and Creator, Jesus Christ the Son and Redeemer, and the Holy Spirit as the Sanctifier. It involves inter-related theological relationships and concepts, particularly as found in John’s interpretive, non-synoptic Gospel. The Triune basic Apostles Creed describes Jesus Christ as “conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit” and in the interpretive Nicene Creed to say “was incarnate by the Holy Spirit” (incarnatus est de Spiritu sancti), meaning embodied in the flesh as human, which Bach set in the B-Minor Mass chorus, John’s Gospel begins with the initial reference to the coming of Jesus Christ as the Light (verses 6-7, KJV): “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John [the Baptist]. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe.” John’s Gospel goes on to say that the Light is also the Word which “was made flesh and dwelt among us” and that John the Baptist did “bare witness of him” and baptized Jesus “with the Holy Ghost.”

A Christological Cycle also can embrace Bach’s chorale-based compositions as well as cyclic sacred cantatas for feast days. In particularly are the unique incarnation/conception observances of the Marian feasts and the feast of John the Baptist, involving the four annunciations (announcements) and canticles beginning in Luke’s Gospel. In many instances, these are derived from Old Testament teachings and traditions which Luther adapted. These Lukan passages are: 1. Gabriel's announcement (Fear not) of the conception of John the Baptist (September 24) to his father, the priest Zacharias (1:11-21); 2. Gabriel's announcement (Hail, highly favored . . . fear not) six months later (March 25) to Mary of the conception of Jesus (Marian Annunciation, 1:28-38); 3. Mary's immediate visit to her ?aunt Elizabeth, wife of Zacharias, and her Magnificat anima mea (My soul magnifies) canticle of praise (Marian Visitation, 1:46-56); 4. Zechariah's blessing canticle (Benedictus) and prophecy at the birth of John the Baptist (feast June 24, 1:67-79). Then there are the two birth/presentation canticles in Luke: The angel's announcement (Fear not) ) to the shepherds of the birth of Jesus and their Greater Doxology (Gloria in excelsis Deo) (Christmas, December 25, 2:8-14), as well as Jesus' Presentation at age 12 in the Temple (Marian Visitation, February 2, with Simeon's Cant, Nunc dimitiis (Let thy servant depart in peace, 2:22-32).

Three of the six observances involve the angel’s directive, “Fear not” (Furchte rich nicht). Early Lutheran theologians said that this statement also meant, “be comforted and remain steadfast in your faith and belief,” as cited in Dr. Jan Smelik, “Be not afraid” (Isaiah 41:10), FN It is the dictum for Bach’s Weimar memorial motet, BWV 228 (ürchte_dich_nicht,_BWV_228) and will be part of the BCML Discussion on incarnation music, week of July 2.

Four Incarnation Texts

The texts of the initial four incarnation observances are: Gabriel’s annunciation to Zacharias: <<Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”>>

Gabriel’s Annunciation to Mary: <<The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month.>>

Mary’s Visitation Magnificat: <<And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord, And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name.And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation. He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree. He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away. He hath helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy; As he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever. And Mary abode with her about three months, and returned to her own house.>>

Zacharias’ blessing and prophecy at John the Baptist’s birth: << And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Ghost, and prophesied, saying, Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for he hath visited and redeemed his people, And hath raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David; As he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets, which have been since the world began: That we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us; To perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant; The oath which he sware to our father Abraham, That he would grant unto us, that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve him without fear, In holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life. And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways; To give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins, Through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us, To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.>>

Holy Spirit Significance

The Holy Spirit/Ghost is directly referred to in three of the above four passages (highlighted in bold), with Mary’s Magnificat referring to her personal “my soul doth magnify the Lord” and her “spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.” Thus the Holy Spirit is embedded in all four incarnation/conception events as a part of Luke’s Gospel. The Holy Spirit and John the Baptist are intrinsically, essentially and inseparably a part of the Lucan incarnation narrative. John the Baptist functions as a prophet and the initiator of the unfolding of the divine, Trinitarian plan which begins with the incarnation and birth and culminates in the Trinitarian Baptism at the River Jordan in which the Holy Spirit affirms Jesus’ divinity. Meanwhile, in the synoptic (seen-together) Jesus narratives, God the Father calls Jesus the ‘beloved son in whom I am well pleased,” completing the Triune. Toward the end of the Gospels, Jesus ascends to the Father and ten days later his presence is substituted by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

The Johannine farewell discourses of Jesus to his disciples was exclusively found in the Easter/Pentecost Season in Bach’s time in the Sundays from the Third after Easter to the three-day Pentecost Festival, ending atTrinity Sunday. Jesus through John’s Gospel prepares the apostles for his departure from the world when the Holy Spirit will replace him. Where Jesus at his birth became the incarnate Son of God, the Holy Spirit represents the second incarnation through love and the rebirth of the spirit of the Son of God/Man. Thus the whole Narrative of the Son on Earth comes full circle in John’s Gospel.11


A Bach Christological Cycle, possibly conceived in the mid 1720s and pursued in the 1730s, follows the de tempore theological and biblical milestones of Jesus Christ’s incarnation, birth, death, resurrection, ascension, and symbolic reincarnation. Bach’s oratorios and cantatas for these milestone events are affirmed and reinforced through his settings of the Magnificat and the Mass Ordinary in the B-Minor Mass with its central Trinitarian Credo, as well as through interpretive Lutheran chorales Bach set for voices and organ. Early in the omnes tempore second half of the church year, the two essential incarnation representations were celebrated in Bach’s time with important, fixed-date festivals. The Feast of John the Baptist on June 24 celebrates John’s birth and Jesus’ baptism near the summer solstice of June 21, a solar mirror of Jesus birth on December 25 near the winter solstice of December 21 — the longest and shortest days of the year. The Feast of the Visitation of Mary and her Magnificat occurs nine days after John the Baptist on July 2. When either feast fell on a Sunday in Bach’s Leipzig, it supplanted the usual Sunday lectionary reading.

Thus, in the final two decades of his life, Bach selectively composed sacred music -- often borrowing from earlier compositions -- that fulfilled his calling of a “well-regulated church music to the glory of God.” While continuing to compose occasional cantatas for special events and church year festivals, Bach focused on a Christological Cycle of oratorios for the major events in the life of Jesus Christ, systematically from his birth to ascension. Most notable are the six “cantatas” for the 12-day Christmas Festival and the definitive versions of three original Passions for Christ’s sacrificial death on Good Friday, as well as major Latin church music involving the Magnificat for vesper services and the Mass Ordinary for the main moservices. The Magnificat represents Mary’s canticle of praise at the conception and incarnation of Jesus, while the Mass Ordinary is a summation of that life and Christian teachings. In addition, Bach complied his major organ collection for the German Mass and Catechism, with Lutheran chorale preludes that form the foundation of his church compositions and the liturgical year.


1 The performance dates are confirmed in Part IV, Chronology; Chapter 20, “Life and Works 1685-1750,” in The Routledge Research Companion to Johann Sebastian Bach, ed. Robin A. Leaver (Abingdon GB: Routledge, 2017, 517-21).
2 Resignation letter to the Mühlhausen Town Council (June 25, 1708), Bach Dokumente BD I, No. 1, English translation in The New Bach Reader, ed. Hans T. David & Arthur Mendel; rev. & enlarged Christoph Wolff (New York: W. W.Norton & Company: 56f).
3 “Christology is the field of study within Christian theology which is primarily concerned with the nature and person of Jesus as recorded in the canonical Gospels and the epistles of the New Testament,” says Wikipedia,
4 See Gene Edward Veith, “Our Calling and God’s Glory” (2007),
5 Robert L. and Traute M. Marshall (University of Illinois Press, 2016: 99f), published in cooperation of American Bach Society.
6 See Eric Chafe, “J.S. Bach’s St. Matthew Passion: Aspects of Planning, Structure, and Chronology,” Journal of the American Musicological Society 35 (1982): 112 footnote. The article is summarized at the Bach Cantata Website (BCW) Article, Matthäus-Passion BWV 244, “Early History (A Selective, Annotated Bibliography, No. 17),” Prepared by William Hoffman (April 2009),
7 A possibility suggested by Alfred Dürr, Cantatas of J. S. Bach, revised and translated by Richard D. P. Jones (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005: 44).
8 Marcus Rathey, Bach’s Major Vocal Works: Music, Drama Liturgy (New Haven CT: Yale University Press, 2016).
9 See Robin A. Leaver, “Luther and Bach: The “Deutsche Messe and the Music of Worship,” Lutheran Quarterly, Vol. XV (2001: 326).
10 Bach in Context (
11 Eric Chafe, J. S. Bach’s Johannine Theology: The St. John Passion and the Cantatas for Spring 1725 (Oxford University Press, 2014).

William Hoffman wrote (July 9, 2017):
Christological Cycle, Part 2: Liturgical Year, Organ Chorales

A full Christological cycle of “well-regulated (ordered) church music” could embrace all Bach’s sacred music, both vocal and instrumental, for performance at any service in his time in Leipzig. The core music could involve major works for the 15 feast day services, particularly the oratorio music for Christmas, Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost, as well as the three Marian feasts and the saints days for John the Baptist and Michael. The vesper services had the Good Friday Passion oratorios and the Latin setting of the Magnificat on these feast days which also included settings of the Latin Missae: Kyrie-Gloria and Sanctus. Virtually all of this music included German chorales or quotations from the Latin chants which Bach planned/assembled into orderly instrumental and vocal groupings or collections.

The Lutheran chorale played a central role in Bach's creativity. Its melody or canto, often based on ancient chant or popular folk song, established character and affect, as well as ample opportunity for text expression. The chorale or hymn associated text teaches, informs and uplifts. It enabled Bach, through imaginative and sound basso continuo, to produce appropriate four-part harmony for the most effective word-setting or painting, as well as to portray the larger tonal context or framework, based on the meaning of the text. Bach used the chorale with associated melody in plain, four-part settings as well as chorale fantasias and the canto in arias and recitatives. Instrumentally, Bach used the melody in organ chorale preludes, preludes and fugues, and variation settings.

Chorales, Liturgical Year

The overall, orderly template for denoting the liturgical usage of Bach's chorales is found in the Lutheran hymn books, with their established sequence of the chorales listed in church year order, still utilized in today's hymnbooks. This ordering is found in collections containing Bach’s earliest organ chorale work collections, the pre-Weimar Neumeister and Weimar Orgelbüchlein (Little Organ Book). The development of Lutheran religious practice and the integral music of Bach is documented in the “Liturgy and Music in Leipzig’s Main Chuches” by Martin Petzoldt, German theologian and Bach authority.1 Petzoldt’s article describes the ingredients, scope, and emphasis of the public services in the Leipzig churches, beginning in 1539 with the community’s acceptance of the Protestant Reformation.

The Lutheran liturgical year, as found in both the Neumeister and Orgelbüchlein chorale collections has two sections: 1. de tempore (Advent to Trinity, the life of Christ), the first half of the church year, and 2. omnes tempore (Ordinary Time) Lutheran themes, usually during Epiphany Time and the Trinity Time second half-year.2 The de tempore (Proper Time) include the seasons or festivals of Advent, Christmas, New Year, Purification, Passiontide, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost, Trinity Sunday, John the Baptist, Visitation, Michael, and Reformation. The omnes tempore themes are Catechism (Commandments, Creed, Lord's Prayer, Baptism, Confession, Penitence & Justification, and Communion [Lord's Supper]), Christian Life and Conduct, Psalm Hymns, Word of God & Christian Church, Death & Dying, Morning, Evening, After Meals, and For Good Weather. The Orgelbüchlein also has an appendix of eight chorales for General Usage.

The best comprehensive understanding of Bach's organ chorales is Peter Williams’ The Organ Music of J. S. Bach.3 Williams systematically discusses all the organ chorales, including many un-cataloged, alternate, or questionable pieces. He has the most detailed listing of all settings of a particular chorale (text and music), including vocal music settings. In addition, Williams presents differing scholarly opinions and, in the organ chorale collections, shows the liturgical purposes as they represent Bach's "well-appointed church music."

Church Music Development

The "compositional craftsmanship" involving Bach's earliest organ chorale settings and earliest sacred cantatas with chorale melodies is initially most obvious in the Mühlhausen 1707 memorial service actus tragicus work, Cantata BWV 106, "Gottes Zeit is die allerbeste Zeit." The three Bach chorale motets found in the "Great 18" chorales and dating to Mühlhausen are very similar in style to church cantatas composed by Bach during his year in Mühlhausen. Most of the complex "Great 18" preludes are now thought to have been composed in Weimar, as were the simpler Orgelbüchlein settings earlier in Weimar. Thus, Bach's early years in Weimar, 1708-1712, were spent focusing on composing increasingly complex and mature organ chorale settings for the orthodox ducal court church, instead of sacred cantatas, as the beginnings of a well-regulated church music.

With the composition of the secular, seminal Cantata BWV 208 in 1713, Bach utilized both the new style of Italian cantata music (recitative, da capo aria and chorus) and the Erdmann Neumeister so-called modern church libretto. To begin his initial cycle of monthly church cantatas in 1714, Bach only had to add the closing four-part chorale setting, first possibly sets as “Durch Adams Fall” in Cantata BWV 18, “Gleichwie der Regen und Schnee vom Himmel fällt” (Just as the rain and snow fall from heaven, Isaiah 55:10), for Sexagesimae Sunday before Lent, as early as 1713. Thcongregational hymn completed his template for the sacred cantata form (with choruses, arias, and recitatives) that he would perfect in Leipzig with three annual church-year cantata cycles.

Peter Williams systematic study of the liturgical purposes of organ chorale collections shows the complimentary relationship between the Orgelbüchlein and the "Great 18” ( In the latter, Bach deliberately chose to provide more complex settings of chorales for the omnes tempore second half of the church year, greatly lacking in the “Little Organ Book.” Although there is no "church year, liturgy, or hymnological agenda," says Williams (Ibid: 338), the series of "Great 18" chorales focuses on Pentecost, Communion, and Trinity themes and musically utilizes three popular sarabande dances and three academic trio-sonata settings prevalent in Bach's later compositions. Williams says that Bach in Weimar mastered the organ chorale form, with the "sheer length and intricate melodic paraphrase" as well as "musical variety and technical scope" of the "Great 18 (actually 15) Chorales" (Ibid.: 340).

At this point in Weimar in Bach's creative career and calling, he set aside further extensive composition of organ works in favor of sacred vocal music. Instead, he thoroughly explored all manner of vocal chorale compositional technique, including four-part (cantional) chorale settings and cantus firmus settings with elaborative support. This culminated in the Leipzig chorale cantata cycle of 1724-25 and the extensive chorale settings in his Christological cycle of Passions and Oratorios (1724-25, 1729, and 1734-35).

By the time Bach came to Leipzig in 1723, where he would serve until his death in 1750, he was fully prepared to create a well-regulated church music, including required service cantatas and annual Passions on Good Friday. In the next five years Bach would compose three annual cycles of church service cantatas involving some 60 pieces for most Sundays and many feast days. Meanwhile, he would begin to take up more slowly and deliberately the composition of major vocal works – three oratorio Passions on the suffering and death of Jesus, according to John, Matthew, and Mark; oratorios for the major de tempore feasts of Christmas, Easter, and Ascension, and in 1733 the Kyrie-Gloria of his Great Mass in B Minor.

Organ Chorales

Bach compiled many of his 203 organ chorale preludes into groupings or collections for the church year. The chorale prelude settings constitute the second largest group of music, after cantatas, which Bach composed. The following are the groupings of Bach's organ chorale settings, as found in his works catalog: Orgelbüchlein for the church year (45), BWV 599-644; Six Schübler Chorales (cantata transcriptions) (6), BWV 645-650; Eighteen “Great Leipzig” Chorales (18), BWV 651-668; Clavierübung III: Mass & Catechism Chorales (21), BWV 669-689; so-called Kirnberger Collection Chorales (24); BWV 690-713; Miscellaneous Chorales (52), BWV 714-765; Chorale Variations (6), BWV 766-771; the Neumeister Collection (31), BWV 1090-1120; and various Miscellaneous Chorales (NBA IV/10, Emans).

During his Weimar years (1708-1718), Bach composed the bulk of his organ works, including the Orgelbüchlein unfinished set, much of the Kirnberger Collection, and the first 15 chorales in the Eighteen “Great Leipzig” Chorales. Late in his Leipzig tenure Bach produced the omnibus Clavierübung III published keyboard study (1739) and the Six Schübler Chorales (1746), published transcriptions from cantatas. The Chorale Variations represent very early pre-Weimar Bach work involving elaborate chorale partitas with variations while the very late Canonic Variations on “Von Himmel hoch were published in 1747. The Miscellaneous Chorales and the 24 pieces in the Kirnberger Collection, compiled in Leipzig after Bach's death, involve various preludes of varying lengths, dating from Bach’s earliest to last years. The recently discovered Neumeister Collection (1985), also ordered through the church year, contains 82 preludes, 38 attributed to the young Bach, cousin Johann Michael Bach, and contemporaries.

Organ Chorale Prelude

The organ chorale prelude played a central role in all Lutheran services. Depending on its type and length, it introduced the congregational hymn or a section of the service, provided elaborated accompaniment or interludes to the hymn stanzas, and introduced concerted works, especially the cantata or canticle such as the Magnificat. Bach also used the extended organ chorale for special purposes such as improvisation before the composer Johann Adam Reinchen in the chorale “An Wasserflüssen Babylon” in Hamburg (1720), in variations during recitals, for publications and in teaching.

The types of organ chorale preludes, depending on purpose or usage, involve the basic motet chorale, often four-part, its free-form called the chorale fantasia, its briefer form called chorale fughetta, and the more elaborate free chorale fugue. The second main family is the more elaborate chorale variation, the chorale partitas, and the late canonic variations. The Clavierübung III, Catechism Organ Mass collection (1739) contains the most varied examples of organ chorale types and usages.

Organ Chorale Collections

Bach's incomplete Orgelbüchlein manuscript contains music for 46 organ chorales, of a total of 164 incipits for the church year listed by Bach. The Orgelbüchlein collection is the first systematic example of Bach's “well-regulated church music.” Interestingly, it has settings for 26 of the first 27 chorales, Advent to Passiontide, omits 13 of the next 26 (Nos. 27 to 51), Easter through Pentecost, but has none of the nine succeeding Trinity Time and festival designated chorales. In the omnes tempore section, Nos. 61-164, only 10 chorales are set (designated BWV 635-644) (seeüchlein, It also should be noted that of the 38 Neumeister Bach chorale settings, 22 were listed but not set in the later Orgelbüchlein, and they include several which do not appear elsewhere among Bach's chorale-based works.

The recently discovered Neumeister Collection ( was assembled at the end of the 18th Century from organ chorale prelude books of 100 years previous involving mostly members of the Bach Family (c. 1700). It contains 82 preludes, including 38 attributed to Sebastian Bach (with two from his Orgelbüchlein: BWV 601, 639). Bach's Neumeister Chorales represent only a portion of his early organ chorale settings (also found in the Kirnberger, Miscellaneous, and uncataloged collections), says Christoph Wolff, who discovered the manuscript in 1985.4 Bach's original, early portfolio was both a typical organist's collection of service chorale settings as well as a learning document on the "art of preluding and to consolidating his compositional craftsmanship," says Wolff. These early preludes in their church year sequence are a prototype of those found in the Orgelbüchlein, he observes.


In the final two decades of his life, Bach selectively composed music -- often borrowing from earlier compositions -- that fulfilled his calling of a “well-regulated church music to the glory of God.” While continuing to compose occasional cantatas for special events and church year festivals, Bach focused on the Christological Cycle of oratorios for the major events in the life of Jesus Christ, systematically from his birth to ascension. Most notable are the six “cantatas” for the 12-day Christmas Festival and the definitive versions of three original Passions for Christ’s sacrificial death on Good Friday, as well as the major Latin church music involving the Magnificat for vesper services and the Mass Orfor the main morning services. The Magnificat represents Mary’s canticle of praise at the conception and incarnation of Jesus, while the Mass Ordinary is a summation of that life and Christian teachings. In addition, Bach complied his major organ collection for the German Mass and Catechism, with Lutheran chorale preludes that form the foundation of his church compositions and the liturgical year.


1 Martin Petzoldt, “Liturgy and Music in Leipzig’s Main Churches,” in Volume 3, Christoph Wolf’s The World of the Bach Cantata: JSB’s Leipzig Church Cantatas, Part 1, The Composer and his World (Metzler/Bärenreiter, Stuttgart/Weimar, Kassel, 1999) pp. 68-93. The Petzoldt article in Volume 3, published only in German, is translated by Thomas Braatz (October 2013) and found at the BCW “Index to Articles on J.S. Bach & his Music,” The work of Petzoldt and the study of Bach’s theology in his music is found at BCW “Theology,” William Hoffman (April 2014),[Hoffman].htm
2 The liturgical year is outlined in the Petzoldt article (Ibid.) on pages 5-6, while the feast days and feasting periods are outlined on pages 11-12.
3 Peter Williams, The Organ Music of J. S. Bach, 2nd ed. (Cambridge University Press, 2003)
4 Christoph Wolf, “The Neumeister Collection of Chorales from the Bach Circle,” in Bach: Essays on His Life and Music (Cambridge MS: Harvard University Press, 1991: 120).


To Come: Clavierübung III, German Organ Mass/Catechism Chorales, BWV 669-689


Christological Cycle: Penitential/Communion Chorales

William Hoffman wrote (July 25, 2017):
Luther’s Catechism chorales, especially those for Confession and Communion, found great expression and sustenance for the two hundred years that brought Bach’s tenure to Leipzig, particularly in the aftermath of the 30 years war and the pestilence that followed in Saxony. Bach came during a great outpouring of faith that witnessed both the prosperity of the commercial center and the phenomenal growth of the Lutheran church. Bach’s first celebration there as cantor and music director was the 1724 Bicentenary of the printing of the first church hymnbooks, responding with a unique chorale cantata cycle. While the earliest catechism chorales had formed the backbone of congregational participation in the services, these Lutheran settings also provided liturgical, theological, didactic, and spiritual nourishment.

Eventually, Bach produced a plethora of almost 500 sacred song settings for almost all his vocal works, as well as for liturgical and devotional practices. In the Lutheran hymnbooks in Bach’s day, the penitential and communion hymns generally followed the initial Trinity Time (omne tempore) liturgical and catechism settings. They were Christological

themes derived from the psalms of penitence and ritual-sacrificial expression in festal repast, born of the peoples’ breaking the covenants and seeking restoration, as well in psalms of praise and thanksgiving. Luther’s Deutsche Messe also designated specific psalm chants in the Mass, Psalm 34 Benedicam Dominum for the opening Introit, and Psalm 111, Confitebor tibi, for Communion. For the opening Introit in Leipzig, Bach used the Erhard Bodenschatz Florilegium Portense collection of composers’ Psalm settings as polyphonic motets, notably Heinrich Schütz, who set all the psalms in Latin and German. Another category of Reformation hymns were psalms of various types increasingly popular in the category “The Church Militant,” especially in hymnbooks in pietist communities such as Halle and Gotha: Psalms 6, 12, 14, 23, 46, 67, 86, 121, 124, 127, 136, 150.

The earliest Lutheran hymns centered on liturgical catechism and Mass topics, 13 of Luther’s 43 hymns. Penitence and communion also were important, and eventually produced Geistreiche alt und Neue Gesänge, Welche bey Der Beicht und Communion . . . (Nuremberg 1724) and Bach’s Schemelli-Gesangbuch of 1736, observes Robin A. Leaver.1 Meanwhile, between the Epistle and Gospel came reform Gradual (Sequence) Songs focusing on church year topics with the Hymn of the Day (de tempore) for the Christological feasts during then life of Christ and Ordinary time (omne tempore) themes on the life of the church. Eventually, for each of the the year’s Sunday and feast day services, hymnbooks would designated the Hymn of the Day and hymns for the pulpit (sermon) and communion. Most of the catechism hymns were also sung as Graduallieder assigned for specific days in the church calendar,” says Leaver (Ibid.: 167).

Beginning with the hymns of Luther, the focus was based on the catechism teachings of penitence and communion, bound together as the sustaining, essential observances of the faithful. Confession came during the first half of the Deutsche Messe, when the people sang the hymns affirming the word through the day’s Gospel and Epistle leading to the sermon and followed by corporate confession and absolution. Communion came during the second half of the main service when the sacrament was celebrated and the entire congregation came forward to receive the eucharist, all the while chorales were sung and concerted music performed. The hymnbooks listed and prescribed the hymn of the day and the designated special pulpit and communion hymns, as well as standard communion and liturgical hymns for both the main morning and afternoon vesper services. On feast days in Leipzig, special concerted music was added, the Latin Kyrie-Gloria, BWV 233a-236, and Sanctus, BWV 237-241, at the main and vesper services, and Latin or German settings of the Magnificat at the vesper service, BWV 243 and BWV 10, respectively.

One of Luther’s first hymns in 1523 was his “Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir” (From deep affliction I cry out to you), his German paraphrase of most penitential Psalm 130, De profundis clamavi (Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, KJV,, Rejecting the Catholic liturgical Confiteor but accepting public and private confession, Luther instead turned to the Old Testament penitential psalms. He suggested setting Psalm 6, Domine, ne in furore; Psalm 143, Domine, exaudi; and Psalm 32, Beats quorum; or Psalm 51, Miserere mei, In 1524, which Erhart Hegenwalt set as “Erbarm dich mein, O Here Gott” (Have mercy on me, O God) to a Johann Walther melody “that was later closely associated with Luther’s Psalm 130 setting. The other penitential psalms are Nos. 38, and 102. Meanwhile Lazarus Spengler also in set Psalm 130, “1524 wrote “Durch Adams Fall ist Ganz verderbt, (Through Adam’s fall is completely corrupted).

Penitence-Communion Connections

Luther believed that penitence was essential to all believers. “Such confession was simultaneously a realization of the sacrament of baptism, and a preparation for the sacrament of the altar,” observes Leaver (Ibid.: 149). For its was Luther who said famously, we are “Simul Justus et Peccator,” “simultaneously saints and sinners.” Confession, which Luther called there “Office of the Keys,” rather than a sacrament, is in two parts: confessing sins and receiving absolution, that is forgiveness. Luther rejected the Catholic Canon, the long observance of the institution of communion in the Mass Ordinary in favor of the Verba testament, Christ’s words of institution in all three synoptic Gospels at the Last Supper with his disciples before his Passion. It is “Christ’s testament, that is, a promise of the remission of sins which was sealed by Christ’s death, and it is at the same time the distribution and partaking of the body and blood,” says Leaver (Ibid.: 189).

Also in 1523 when the first chorales were written byLuther and his circle, three Lord’s Supper hymns were established. Luther’s Catechism: Communion hymn is “Jesus Christus, unser Heiland, der von uns den Gotteszorn wandt” (Christ Jesus, our Redeemer born, / Who from us did God's anger turn). The Luther/Walther “Gott set gelobet und gedenedeit” (Let God be blessed, praised, and thanked) is another Catechism: Communion hymn. The Communion setting of Psalm 111, Confitebor tibi, is the anonymous “I will praise the Lord with my whole heart” in chant and response, printed with English translation in Ulrich Leupold's “The Communio.”2

In Lutheran theology and practice, confession/repentance and communion were inextricably lined, although more rigidly and dogmatically in Catholicism. Penitential (Confession) and Communion chorales soon became the spiritual backbone of the omnes tempore (Ordinary Time) section of the Lutheran hymnal, following the Catechism hymns.

The ten stanzas of “Jesus Christus, unser Heiland,”explain the foundation, essence, and use of the sacrament, followed by the closing summary of the consequences for the believer. The hymn is rooted in the Christological principles of the Theology of the Cross as atonement and the Justification of Christ’s “actual” presence in the Supper and his sharing to all believers — concepts that continue to be debated today. Luther also explains that communion leads “to the response of praise and thanksgiving,” that it is partaken in “faith and then to express the fruits of faith in love to others,” says Leaver (Ibid.: 159).

At the same time, “Nun freut euch lieben Christen gmein" (Dear Christians one and all rejoice) initially was written as a Gradual hymn with its catechetical emphasis on justification and communion. In the style of a Meistersinger Bar form song, it is a confession of faith involving Luther’s doctrine of justification and his distinction between Law and Gospel. “It is a hymnic expression of Pauline theology,” a commentary on the first eight chapters of Paul’s Letter to the Romans, says Leaver (Ibid.: 163). Many of its principles are embodied in Philipp Melanchthon’s Augsburg Confession of Lutheran belief in 1530, which Leipzig and Bach celebrated in the Bicentenary with three days of services, 25-27 June 1730. It is listed in the Orgelbüchlein as No 85 for Communion but set as a plain chorale, BWV 388, and as an organ prelude, BWV 734. In Bach’s Das Neu Leipziger Gesangbuch (NLGB) of 1682, it is a Catechism Justification hymn, No. 232 (Zahn 4429a), appropriate for the 17th Sunday after Trinity.

Leipzig Confession-Communion

In Bach’s Leipzig, the practice of confession and communion had grown steadily with more confessors and communion attendance greatly expanded, says Günther Stiller,3 until it took two hours in the Sunday and feast day main services, ample opportunity for Bach to present a second cantata. Public confession took place just after the sermon and just before the service of communion. Meanwhile, because communion always was preceded by confession, personal confession was held all day on Saturdays and Tuesday afternoons at Leipzig leading churches, St. Niklaus and St. Thomas (Stiller, Ibid.: 44f. Penitential vesper services were held on Friday afternoons, with special liturgy, biblical readings, a sermon, and penitential chorales.

“This well-known growing regard of Bach’s for the Sacrament of the Altar is further underlined by the fact that Bach also pointed to Holy Communion by means of his large selection of hymns that speak of sin and repentance, for “the justification of the sinner on which the sacrament sets its seal,” “always “presupposes knowledge and acknowledgement of sin,” so that “the warning and searching of conscience . . . is an indispensable prerequisite of the offer of the sacrament,” says Stiller (Ibid.: 140). At St. Thomas, Bach had a designated father confessor, first Pastor Christian Weisse Sr. until his death in 1736, followed by Subdeacon Romanus Teller (1738-40), Johann Paul Ram (1740-41 and then Archdeacon Christoph Wolle in 1741 until Bach’s death,” says Stiller (Ibid.: 203f).

Bach’s setting of penitential chorales is found throughout his cantatas, plain chorale liturgical settings and organ chorale preludes in his NLGB of 1682, and sacred songs in his Schmelli Gesangbuch (SG) of 1736. In his Orgelbüchlein III chorale preludes collection (OB) Bach designated but set only two of 12 penitential hymns (Nos. 76-77) but later composed free-standing plain chorales (PC*), possibly for liturgical purposes, organ chorale preludes (Neumeister Collection NC, MC Miscellaneous Chorales, KC Kirnberger Collection), and other settings such as chorale cantatas (CC), listed in the following:

Penitence and amendment (Confession, Penitence & Justification) see also Lent (Passiontide)

67. “Aus tiefer Noth schrei ich zu dir”[Psalm 130]; CC BWV 38 (Tr.21), BWV 686-7 (OBIII), BWV 1099(NC); NLGB No. 270 Christian Life: Psalm setting); NLGB Trinity 11and 19, 21, 22
68. “Erbarm’ dich mein, O Herre Gott” (Psalm 51); BWV 305(PC*), 721(MC); NLGB 256: Psalm; NLGB Tr. 3, 1114, 22;
69. “Jesu, der du meine Seele”; BWV 352-4(PC*), BWV 752(MC); No NLGB
70. “Allein zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ”; CC BWV 33 (Tr.13), BWV 261(PC*), BWV 1100 (NC); NLGB 178 Catechism: Confession
71. “Ach Gott und Herr, wie groß un. schwer”; BWV 48/3, 255(PC), BWV 692-3(KC, J. G. Walther); BWV 714 (MC/NC) ( NLGB No. 180 Catechism: Confession
72. “Herr Jesu Christ, du höchstes Gut”; CC BWV 113 (Tr.11), BWV 334(PC*); ?BWV1114(NC); NLGB 181
73. “Ach Herr, mich armen Sünder,” melody “Passion Chorale”; [Psalm 6] CC BWV 135 (Tr.3), BWV 270-71(PC*), BWV 742(MC/NC); NLGB 246 Christian Life: Psalm setting; Trinity 3 in Dresden hymn books.
74. “Wo soll ich fliehen hin”; CC BWV 5 (Tr.19), BWV646(SC)=188/6, 694(KC); cf.”Auf meinen lieben Gott,” OB136; NLGB 182 Catechism: Confession; NLGB Trinity 3;
75. “Wir haben schwerlich” (no NLGB); Gotha version (1715,, from 5-part setting in Gotha (1648), Zahn 2099;
76. BWV 637 — Durch Adams Fall ist ganz verderbt; BWV 705(KC); 1101(NC), alt. mel. “Ich ruf zu dir, H.J.C.” (see OB 91, Christian Life, BWV 639; NLGB 229 Catechism: Justification; NLGB Trinity 9, 12, and 18.
77. BWV 638 — Es ist das Heil uns kommen her; CC BWV 9 (Tr.6), also Communion OB; NLGB 230 Catechism Justification; NLGB Trinity 6, 11, 13, and 18.

Penitential chorales were most appropriate in the church year for the omnes tempore Sundays after Trinity (now Sundays after Pentecost), particularly for the middle and late Sundays as found in then NLGB, although Bach was somewhat flexible in his choices. Meanwhile, these chorales could serve for penitential and confessions services in the Lutheran church. Besides Luther’s Psalm 130 paraphrase, “Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir,” as a Catechism: Confession chorale,
Bach set Luther’s biblical translation, “Aus der Tieffen(r) rufe ich” (Out of the depth I cry) as a vocal concerto, Cantata BWV 131, probably for a Mühlhausen penitential service by 25 June 1708.4 Cantata 131 is interspersed with the soprano melody of two verses from Bartholomäus Ringwaldt’s 1588 “Herr Jesu Christ, du Höchstes Gut” (Lord Jesus Christ, thou highest good), Catechism: Penitential Chorale (see above OB No. 72). Bach also set the melody as a plain chorale, BWV 334 Chorale “Aus der Tiefe rufe ich” is found in the NLGB as No. 366 (Death & Dying) but not set and an eight-stanza penitential hymn of Georg Christoph Schwämlein under the rubric “On repentance” in the Vermehrtes Gesangbüchlein (Halberstadt 1673, Fischer Tümpel V:322), the basis of the apocryphal organ chorale prelude, BWV 745, with its jaunty galant allemande, now attributed to son Emmanuel (

Besides being sung during Trinity Time, penitential chorales were appropriate for Lent and the NLGB lists “Erbarm dich mein, O Here Gott,” for Reminiscere and Occuli Sundays, and “Ein feste Burg its unser Gott,” Luther’s Psalm 46 paraphrase, for the latter Sunday. Meanwhile Penitential Service was held on Fridays in Leipzig as a preaching service of the word, says Stiller (Ibid.: 114). The weekly service began with the opening hymn, Gregorian antiphon “Aufer a nobis Domine,” or the German vernacular “Nimm von uns, Herr Gott” (Take from us, Lord God), NLGB No. 177, Catechism: Confession (Zahn 8599). The response occurs in the Latin Mass Ordinary after the Confiteor and before the Kyrie eleison and the translation is: “Take away from us our iniquities, we implore Thee, Lord, that with pure minds we may worthily enter into the holy of holies: through Christ our Lord. Amen.” The opening was followed by chanting Luther’s German Litany, Kyrie eleison (NLGB No. 307, followed by penitential hymns interspersed with the Lord Prayer and other prayers and biblical readings, the sermon, Collect, and Benediction. During Lenten days of penitence and prayer only preaching services were held in the forenoon with the opening hymns “Nimm von uns Herr du Treuer Gott” (NLGB 316, Word of God) and “Ach Gott thu dich erbarmen” (NLGB 396, liturgy), with “Allein zu dir Herr Jesu Christ after the Collect chanted at the altar, and “Du Friedefürst Herr Jesu Christ” (NLGB 832, Word of God) after the readings, and then the sermon.

Penitential Songs, Psalms

A category of mostly pietist penitential songs and psalms, none found in the NLGB or listed in the Orgelbüchlein but many in the 1736 Schemelli Gesangbuch (SG), was set by Bach as plain chorales and Freylinghausen pietist-style sacred song settings; once as a chorale cantata, BWV 115, “Mache dich, mein Geist bereit”; as a plain chorale, “Herr, ich habe Mißgehandelt,” in the St. Mark Passion; and as a German paraphrase of Psalm 51, “Tilge, Höchester, meine Sunden,” a 1740s contradiction of Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater.
+ “Ach, was soll ich Sünder machen?” (Ah, what shall I poor sinner do?), Johann Flittner (1661); NLGB 389 (“Death & Dying”), BWV 259(PC); BWV 770 (Chorale partita; also SG No. 66 (tuneless);
+ “Christe, du Beistand deiner Kreuzgemeine” (Christ, defender of your congregation) Matthäus Appelles von Löwenstein (Justification & Penance, no NLGB), BWV 275(PC);
+ “Eins ist not! ach Herr, dies eine” (One thing I lack, O lord) text Johann Heinrich Schröder, melody Freylinghausen (Halle), 1704; BWV 304(PC) (Zahn 7127), BWV 453 (SG No. 112)
+ “Erwürgtes Lamm, das die verwahrten Siegel” (Slain lamb, who broke the kept seals), text U.B. v. Bonin (1704), melody Freylinghausen (Halle) 1704; BWV 455(SG Bußlieder);
+ “Herr, ich habe Mißgehandelt” (Lord, I have done wrong), text Johann Franck (1674), moody Johann Crüger (Berlin 1649); BWV 330-31(PC)=?BWV 247/32
+ “Herr, nicht schicke deine Rache” (Psalm 6, Domine, ne in furore, Lord, rebuke me not in thine anger, NLGB 245); BWV 463(SG, Bußlieder);
+ “Mache dich, mein Geist bereit” (Make yourself ready, my spirit), text Johann Burchard Freystein 1697), melody Johann Georg Albinius “Straf mich nicht in deinem Zorn” (Psalm 6); CC BWV 115 (Tr.+22);
+ “Mein Jesu, dem die Seraphinen”; BWV 486(SG);
+ “Wo ist mein Schäflein, das ich liebe”; BWV 507(SG); and
+ “Tilge, Höchester, meine Sunden” (Psalm 51), motet contrafaction; Pergolesi Stabat mater, Vesper hymn, BWV 1083.

Throughout his career, Bach composed various settings for memorial services, including early sacred concertos (BWV 106, 131), for royalty (BC B-12, BWV 244a, BWV 197), and BWV 157, as well as motets (BWV 226-230, 118). While no order is found for these services, except for BWV 244a in Cöthen, these services of the word often were held in Leipzig at Sunday vespers and resembled Good Friday vespers with hymns, music before and after the sermon on a biblical reading, often a penitential psalm. Luther had eschewed the Latin setting of the Missa pro defunctis, the Requiem, but accepted chorales at church services and graveside.


Luther’s rejection of the Latin Mass Eucharistic Prayer in favor of the verba testamenti, Christ’s words of institution at the Last Supper, emphasized his “understanding of the sacrament — not an offering to God but rather an offering from God who, in the proclamation of the Gospel, offers forgiveness and grace,” says Leaver (Ibid.: 179). Luther saw the Lord’s Supper in his catechism hymn, “Jesus Christus, unser Heiland” (,_unser_Heiland,_der_von_uns_den_Gotteszorn_wandt), as the “surety of God’s grace in forgiveness: the Supper is grounded in the Passion of Christ (st. 1-2, 4, 6); it is to be received by faith (st. 3, 5); and Christ’s invitation to participate is expressed in scriptural paraphrase, which simultaneously warns against justification by works (st. 7, 8),” Leaver observes (Ibid.: 156).

Seven communion hymns established the repertory of congregational chorales sung in Leipzig during Sunday communion, says Stiller (Ibid.: 128): the three Lutheran core hymns, “Jesus Christus, unser Heiland” (NLGB No. 194), “Gott set gelobet und gedenedeit” (Let God be blessed, praised, and thanked, NLGB No. 185); and “Nun freut euch lieben Christen gmein;” “Wo soll ich fliehen hin” (Where shall I flee hence?), a Catechism: Penitence hymn (NLGB No. 232, Catechism: Justification); the Luther-Matthias Greiter 1524 setting of Psalm 67, “Es wolle Gott Es woll' uns Gott genädig sein (May God be gracious to us), a community song of thanksgiving (NLGB 258, Christian Life); “Nun lob, mein' Seel', den Herren” (Now praise, my soul, the Lord), Psalm 103 hymn of thanksgiving paraphrase (NLGB No. 261, Christian Life); and “Der Herr is mine getreuer Hirt” (The Lord is my true shepherd), paraphrase of Psalm 23 hymn of trust (NLGB No. 251, Christian Life.

“Gott set gelobet und gedenedeit” (Let God be blessed, praised, and thanked) listed in the Orgelbüchlein as No. 70 for Communion but not set while he did set it as a plain chorale, BWV 322 (,, It is found in the NLGB as No. 185, as a Catechism Communion chorale.

The last three standard communion hymns are found in the NLGB under the rubric “Christian Life & Conduct,” where psalms of praise and thanksgiving are set as chorale paraphrases, following the last Catechism category of Justification.”

The 14 Holy Communion Psalms are: 8, 15, 20, 23, 30, 42, 67, 84, 92, 103, 111, 117, 121, and 146. In Bach’s NLGB the communion hymns are found in the omne tempore section, under the rubric of Catechism hymns as well as “Christian Life and Conduct.” In Bach’s Orgelbüchlein they are designated together as chorales for the Lord’s Supper, following hymns for “Confession, Penitence and Justification” beginning the omne tempore Catechism section. In Weimar, Bach had set most of the chorale in the de tempore section but almost none in the Ordinary Time section, for example none of the nine Communion hymns (Nos. 78-86, see following) in the Orgelbüchlein (Ob.).

78. “Jesus Christus, unser Heiland, der von uns” (Liturgy); BWV 363(PC), BWV 665-66, 666a (Great 18), 688-9(CU), BWV deest (Emans NBA IV/10:209, ? BWV 429);
79. “Gott sei gelobet und gebenedeiet”; BWV 322;
80. “Der Herr ist mein getreuer Hirt” (“…dem ich” Becker, Psalm 23, NLGB 252, Zahn 4432a) BWV PC104/6; “…halt mir,” PC 112/5); melody, “Allein Gott in der Höh' sei Ehr'” (NLGB 145, Z4457 See OB 53 (Trinity);

81. “Jetzt (Ich) komm ich als ein armer Gast” (melody “Herr Jesu Christ, du höchstes Gut,” Zahn 4646; OB 72 Penitential, see above, )
82. “O Jesu, du edle Gabe”/“Sei gegrüßet Jesu gütig” (Zahn 3892b); BWV 768(CP), See OB 163 Appendix (Eternal Life).
83. “Wir danken dir, Herr Jesu Christ, dass du das Lämmlein worden bist” (Zahn 47 9/480); ?BWV1096(NC) (see OB 26, Passiontide)
84. “Ich weiss ein Blumlein hubsch und fein”; melody “Ich hab mein Sach Gott (NLGB 339, Death & Dying, Zahn 1679), BWV 1113 (NC);
85. “Nun freut euch, lieben Christen, g’mein”; BWV 388(PC); 734(MC), 755*(MC); and melody BWV 307(PC) also uses title “Es is gewißlich an der Zeit”)
86. “Nun lob’, mein’ Seel’, den Herren” (Psalm 103); BWV 17/7 (CC), BWV 29/8(CC), BWV 389-90(PC), Anh. 60 (Walther); also used in motet BWV 225 and BWV Anh. 160=BWV231), “Jauchzet den Herrn.”

There was a divergence in the church-year order and contents between the NLGB of 1682 and contemporary, increasingly pietist hymnbooks in Bach’s time. The NLGB was an orthodox, theological hymnbook showing the influence of both the Leipzig clergy and University teaching, where some taught as professors, including Superintendent Salomon Deyling, Bach confessor Romans Teller, and family pastor Johann Gottlob Carpzov (Leaver 2017, Ibid.: 174f, 177f), and possibly confessing Pastor Christian Weisse Sr. About 1730, having completed his three complete cycles of church cantatas, Bach turned to chorales with an increasingly pietist or liturgical emphasis. This culminated in the Schemelli song book of 1736, the omnibus collection replete with devotional settings as well as complete texts of established chorales, and the Clavierübung III omne tempore Mass-Catechism settings in 1739. At the same time, Bach in his free-standing plain chorale harmonizations, focused on the omne tempore portion of the hymnbooks with numerous settings, previously thought to be remnants from the putative two lost cantata cycles.

Chorale Cantatas, Sermons

While celebrating the Bicentenary of the establishment of Lutheran hymnals in 1524, Bach in 1724-25 composed a partial chorale cantata cycle from Advent through the Feast of Annunciation, omitting hymns from Easter Monday to the Pentecost festival, turning instead to Johannine-driven cantatas distributed in 1750 as part of his third cycle. Bach also had precedence for this type of cantata cycle, which his predecessor Johann Schelle had presented in 1690-91. There was a collaboration between Schelle and learned pastor Johann Benedict Carpzov, who had “preached a cycle of hymn-sermons, expounding on one hymn in each of his sermons between Advent I 1688 and the last Sunday after Trinity 1689,” says Marcus Rathey.5 “During this cycle the idea was born that Schelle could set these hymns to music for the following year. Carpzov would then repeat the main ideas from his hymn-sermons from the previous year briefly in the introductions for his sermons, immediately following the settings by Schelle.”

It may be more than coincidence that Bach may have collaborated with his St. Thomas Pastor Weisse to produce a similar cycle of so-called Liederpredigten (chorale-sermons). The cyclic sermon tradition was established by Luther supporter Johann Spangenberg (1484-1550), whose Zwöllff Christliche und Liessen (Wittenberg: Rhau, 1545) was “the first of what was to become a distinctive Lutheran tradition of published collections of Liederpredigten, expository sermons on a number of different hymns,” says Leaver (2008: Ibid.: 214). Weisse, who had lost his voice from 1718 to 1723, “was able to preach again”. . . “regularly, from Easter 1724 onwards,” says Alfred Dürr.6 Unfortunately no such published chorale-sermon cycle has been found nor have any printed church cantata text books for this period.

Afterword: After catechism-based chorales, the next section of the NLGB has the rubric “Christian Life and Conduct,” NLGB Not. 234 to 274, beginning with generic chorales and followed by psalm paraphrase settings of 27 various types of Psalms: Nos. 1, 2, 6, 8, 12-14, 23, 31, 41, 46, 51, 67, 90, 91, 103, 117, 121, 124, 127, 128, 130, 138, 142, 143, 147, and 150. Then, there is the NLGB related rubric of “Cross, Persecution, and Tribulation,” setting Nos. 275-304, and “Word of God and Christian Church, NLGB Nos. 305-323. Meanwhile, Bach’s Orgelbüchlein (Ob.) incipit church year template has the general rubric of “Christian Life and Conduct,” Ob. Listings Nos. 87-126, including seven Psalm Hymns (Ob. Nos. 114-119 on Psalms 12, 14, 46, 67, and 124), followed by the heading “Word of God & Christian Church,” Ob. Nos. 120-126. In addition to settings found in the NLGB and listed in the Orgelbüchlein are many other Bach plain chorale settings from hymnbooks published after 1730, as well as the some 84, melody-continuo settings of Bach found in the Schemelli songbook, most published as BWV 439-505 with 19 melodies attributed to Bach.7


1 Robin A. Leaver, Part IV, Chapter 15, “Sequences and Responses,” Luther’s Liturgical Music: Principles and Implications (Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmanns Publishing, 2007, 151f).
2 Ulrich S. Leupold, Luther’s Works, Vol. 53, Liturgy and Hymns, trans. George MacDonald (Philadelphia PA: Fortress Press, 1967: 182f).
3 Günther Stiller, Johann Sebastian Bach and Liturgical Life in Leipzig, ed. Robin A. Leaver (St. Louis MO: Concordia Publishing, 1985: 44).
4 Cited in Robin A. Leaver, Part VI, Chronology, Chapter 20, “Life and Works 1685-1750,” in The Routledge Research Companion to Johann Sebastian Bach, ed. Leaver (London UK, New York: Routledge, 2017: 491).
5 Marcus Rathey, “Preaching and the Power of Music: A Dialogue between the Pulpit and Choir Loft in 1689,” Yale Journal of Music & Religion, 1/2, Music and Preaching, guest ed. Rathey (New Haven CN: Yale University Press, 2015: 36).
6 Alfred Dürr, The Cantatas of J. S. Bach, rev. & trans. Rochard D. P. Jones (Oxford University Press, 2005: 29).
7 The so-called called “free-standing,” “unattached,” or “orphan chorales,” catalogued in 1950 as BWV 253-438, usually were considered remnants of lost cantatas in the fourth and fifth cycles but now may be independent liturgical settings. They “were popular during the years 1730-1750 and were admitted into the Leipzig-Hymn-book in that period,” and “were written for the Leipzig churches,” observes Charles S. Terry in his “Preface (ix), The Four-Part Chorals of J. S. Bach, Edited with an historical Introduction, Notes, and critical Appendices (London: Oxford University Press, 1929, reprint 1964), the only collection of Bach chorales not found on-line (

Next: Chorales, Sacred Songs of “Christian Life & Experience” and “Word of God & Christian Church"


Christological Cycle: B-Minor Mass, Genesis, Contrafactions

William Hoffman wrote (September 3, 2017):
[Note: The following article appeared in the BCML, Order of Discussion in the Bach Cantatas Mailing List (BCML) Part 18: Year 2016; Continue of the 4th Cycle of Cantata Discussions,” week of November 13, as the “B-Minor Mass Contrafactions From Lost Music (text only): 1725-27,” November 16, 2016,” It is reprinted here with additional material for the BCW “Articles on J. S. Bach and His Music.” Also, it is the first in a series of studies of Bach’s borrowings in conjunction with the American Bach Society upcoming meeting, to be held at Yale University and the Yale Institute of Sacred Music, April 26–28, 2018. The meeting’s theme will be “Bach Reworked – Parody, Transcription, Adaptation.”]

Bach’s pursuit of a Christological cycle of vocal works as part of a “well-regulated church music to the glory of God,” included Latin Church Music as a distinct and important genre often involving contrafaction, that is new text underlay, usually in phrases from poetic German to the fixed Latin Mass Ordinary. From 1710 to the end of his life, Bach pursued in distinct stages the stile antico and modern styles of Italianate works primarily composed for the Saxon Court in Dresden. Initially, Bach studied and perforsingle-movement settings of the Kyrie and Gloria in Weimar and added the Sanctus polychoral settings in Leipzig. This culminated in the Missa: Kyrie-Gloria,” BWV 232a, in 1733, followed by similar cantata borrowings for the four Missae: Kyrie-Gloria, BWV 233-236, in the later 1730s, the penitential Psalm 51 setting of Pergolesi’s popular Stabat Mater, “Tilge, Höchster, meine Sünden,” BWV 1083, about 1746/47, and ultimately, Bach’s “Great” Missa tota,” Mass in B Minor, BWV 232.

The Mass in B Minor today stands as a unique masterpiece, the profound product of twenty five years of genesis and the final expression of his Christological music. It was the product of a life’s work, a summary through using borrowings in a tradition dating to the Renaissance of his finest music in varied styles, particularly polyphonic form in stile antico, in the manner of the Renaissance masters, as well as progressive music in the style of love duets and dances favored in Bach’s Saxony. Bach’s process of transformation may have begun between 1725 and 1727 when he composed a series of secular congratulatory serenades whose music is lost but the poetic texts survive, according to recent research Composed for Leipzig civic officials with connections to the Saxon Court, these musical celebrations have certain arias and choruses that appear to have similar Affekt in phrasing and progressive musical styles favored by the court.

Spiritually and musically, the B-Minor Mass was the central expression of Bach’s extended Christological Cycle of major works related to the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. This great musical mosaic began in 1725 with the Easter Oratorio as Bach presented his second cycle of church-year cantatas, based on Lutheran hymns. This concept continued with three Oratorio Passions set to the Gospels of John, Matthew and Mark, as well as the Christmas and Ascension Oratorios in the mid-1730s, and a possibly-lost Pentecost Oratorio. Following were collections of organ chorale preludes on Lutheran teachings and the church year, most notably the Clavierübung III, German Organ Mass, and the so-called “Great 18 (Leipzig) Chorale Preludes.” Meanwhile, in 1733, Bach composed his liturgical litany and Greater Doxology setting, Missa: Kyrie-Gloria, BWV 232a, and added four more settings, BWV 233-36 in the late 1730s. Finally, in the late 1740s, Bach completed the Mass Ordinary setting with the central Christian Credo, the Sanctus-Benedictus-Osanna in Excelsis and the Agnus Dei. The “Latin Mass as music transcending confessional and national boundaries offered Bach the unique opportunity of reaching a broader audience,” observes Christoph Wolff in “Past, present and future perspectives on Bach’s B-Minor Mass.”1

The great Bach works, the B-Minor Mass and the St. Matthew Passion, “would not exist without Luther’s appreciation of liturgical music,” observes Marcus Rathey in “Reinterpreting Luther: Lutheran Chorales in Bach’s Chorales Cantatas and Organ Works.” 2 Probably referring to his favorite composer, Josquin des Prez, Luther affirmed: “But when (musical) learning is added to all this and artistic music which corrects, develops and refines the natural music, then at last it is possible to taste with wonder (yet not to comprehend) God’s absolute and perfect wisdom in his wondrous work of music. Here it is most remarkable that one single voice continues to sing the tenor [Luther was a tenor], while at the same time many other voices play around it, exulting and adorning it in exuberant strains and, as it were, leading forth in a divine roundelay, so that those who are the least bit moved know nothing more amazing in this world.”

Bach’s B-Minor Mass was part of his emergence as a great composer in the early 19th century in Germany when his studied chorales, Latin church music, and motets were first published and performed. “Carl Friedrich Zelter -- a key figure in the 19th-century Bach revival -- led the Berlin Singakademie in read-throughs of the "Great Mass" in 1811, covering the Kyrie; in 1813 he led read-throughs of the entire work” (see The first public performance in the century -- of just the Credo section -- took place in Frankfurt in March, 1828.”

In the second half of the 19th century, when Bach’s works were published by the Bach Gesellschaft, it became apparent that many of the movements, particularly the choruses, were derived as contrafactions from earlier, mostly sacred cantatas. Despite the Romantic era’s prejudice against self-plagiarism while championing originality, the spell of the music already had been cast. Bach scholars realized that certain movements were derived from celebratory works for Town Council Installation and New Year’s as well as mid-Trinity Time cantatas and weddings in addition to two works of soorow fit for the Passion “Crucifixus" in the Gloria section and the closing Agnus Dei (Lamb of God) litany plea.

Bach’s first initiatives towards a “well-ordered church music,” stated in his resignation letter to the Mülhausen Town Council, 25 June 1708 (Bach Dokumente BD 1), began soon after when he became the court organist and a chamber musician at the ducal court in Weimar. Responsible for performing appropriate music at all services, Bach began “the systematic building of a repertory of church music,” observes Peter Wollny in the Preface to the publication of Marco Gioseppe Perada’s concerted Kyrie in C from his Missa.3 Bach in Weimar began collecting and presenting Latin church music, particularly liturgical settings of the Missa: Kyrie Gloria, as well as the beginnings of Orgelbüchlein (Little Organ Book) collection of chorale preludes for the church year (BWV 599-644). Gradually, Bach was building the pillars of his grand design.

From Johann Gottfried Walther, a Bach cousin and organist at the Stadtkirchke in Weimar, Sebastian acquired a copy of a performing parts set of Peranda’s Kyrie in C for five voices (SATTB), strings and continuo, copied about 1709. Peranda (1625-1675), court kapellmeister of Saxony, was still held in high esteem and his music circulated widely, including the courts at Weimar, Weißenfels, and Zeitz. In particular, Johann Philipp Krieger, Kapellmeister at Weißenfels (1680-1725) and another Bach colleague, performed Peranda’s works, notably the Missa: Kyrie-Gloria in C Major, as well as the Missa in A Minor (6 voices , 6 instruments), also in Bach’s possession. Bach probably had access to the extensive Weißenfels court library in 1713 when he presented his first significant “modern” cantata BWV 208, “Was mir behagt ist nur die muntre Jagd!” What pleases me / is above all the lively hunt!” for the birthday of Duke Christian of Sachsen-Weißenfels.

During his Weimar period, Bach "had need of compositions with Latin words, as shown by the Masses of other composers (Baal, Peranda, Pez) he had copied," says Dr. Andreas Bomba.4 Bach in his later Weimar period between 1713 and 1717 performed the Johann Baal Missa in A Major, Peranda's Missa à 6 in A Minor, and Johann Christoph Pez's Missa San Lamberti in A minor, with Kyrie arranged by J.S. Bach, BWV Anh 24/1, as well as the anonymous Missa (Kyrie, Christe, Gloria) in C minor, BWV Anh 29 [see BCW, "Works of Other Composers performed by J.S. Bach,"]. At this time, Bach was primarily interested in studying the Kyrie form in Baal, Pez, and Peranda, says Christoph Wolff in Der stile antico in der Musik Johann Sebastian Bachs (Wiesbaden: Steiner, 1968: 165).

Motet Kyrie eleison, BWV 233a

Bach at this time began his first effort at setting Latin church music as part of the Lutheran service, with the innovative, bilingual Kyrie eleison in F Major, BWV 233a, in old-fashion, stile antico 2/2 alle breve style as a concise tri-partite, through-composed motet fugue (score, BCW; recording, A chant parahrase of the Latin “Kyrie eleison” (Lord, have mercy) begins in the four voices while the first soprano fifth voice enters at measure 8 with the cantus firmus bi-lingual trope of the German Agnus Dei (Lamb of God), “Christus, du Lamm Gottes” (Christ, Thou Lamb of God), Luther’s setting of the Latin Mass-closing “Lamb of God.” It has the tri-partite plea, “Der du trägst die Sünd der Welt, / Erbarm dich unser!” (you, who take away the sins of the world / have mercy on us!). The third and final Kyrie eleison litany refrain is replaced by “Gib uns dein' Frieden. Amen” (grant us your peace. Amen), the Mass closing refrain, Dona nobis pacem. The last line of the bass, which quotes a two-fold Amen from Luther’s German Litany, is reworded to the repeat Kyrie eleison.

Besides representing the beginning of the Mass Ordinary, Bach’s unique setting fittingly embraces both the Christian litany plea, Kyrie eleison, and the concluding litany of the Agnus Dei. Bach’s motive for composing the Kyrie eleison setting, BWV 233a, is unknown but it was appropriate to open the main service in Bach’s time and in the late 1730s he used it as the first movement of his Missa: Kyrie-Gloria, BWV 233, in F Major. Historically, this setting of the first two sections of the Mass Ordinary was used liturgically in the Lutheran main service on feast days. In this later version, BWV 233, the chorale melody or cantus firmus is sounded by the horns instead of a trope sung by the first soprano, a technique Bach explored in various chorale settings in his vocal music such as his chorale cantatas and Oratorio Passions.

Further, Bach in the B-Minor Mass uses diverse treatment of the old chant (cantus): paraphrased in the “Kyrie,” straightforward in the “Credo”, and both straightforward and canonic in the “Confiteor,” observes Peter Williams in his new Bach: A Musical Biography.5 “Significantly, all three of the ‘unborrowed’ examples use or allude to plainchant phrases, and the last, one of the most complex pieces of five-part counterpoint, seems to be more than a passing allusion to some of Palestrina’s settings, such as his Missae ad cenam agni,” observes Williams (Ibid.: 447). The three original movements, all expansive choruses, are the opening “Kyrie,” except for the opening four bars (paraphrasing Luther’s Deutesche Messe 1526); the “Credo” first movement (No. 10) in 2/2 alla breve, “integrating into three distinct musical ideas: a chant (medieval), a fugue (in stile entico), and a walking bass (baroque)” (Williams: Ibid.: 451); and the complex “Confiteor” (No. 17a), also alla breve. The “Et incarnatus est” may have rhythmic and melodic correspondences in “O clemens” from Pergolesi’s Salve Regina (

Sanctus in D: Christmas 1724

After Bach in 1723 began his tenure in Leipzig as music director and church cantor, initiating his first cycle of church year cantatas as part of his duties and his calling, he made his second liturgical use of a musical setting of the Mass Ordinary with a performance of the six-voice (SSAATB) Sanctus in D Major, BWV 232III, at Christmas 1724. This early version “was apparently a repertory piece receiving repeat performances,” says Wolff (Ibid.: 6) [music,; Recording, “It was customary to perform a polyphonic Sanctus at the principal churches on high holy days.”

Soon after, Bach sent his Sanctus parts set to Franz Anton Count von Sporck in Bohemia, who apparently had heard the work on his visit to Leipzig. Sporck, a progressive Catholic with ties to the Saxon Court in Dresden, also may have encouraged Bach to compose the four settings of the Missa: Kyrie Gloria, BWV 233-36 (see When Bach presented the Sanctus again, probably at Easter 1727, he had a full set of parts copied, and a continuo part survives from a late performance, c. 1742-48, says Uwe Wolf in Early Versions of the Mass in B Minor.7

Lent 1725, Parodies, Secular Music

The initial impetus for the creation of the B-Minor Mass may have begun in early 1725 when Bach began a major shift in his compositional interests while beginning to make connections to the Saxon Court. Bach could have met Count Sporck during his visit to Leipzig in the Christmas holidays and the Winter Fair beginning on the Feast of Epiphany, January 6, and through local Leipzig officials, particularly Count Joachim Friedrich von Flemming, the Saxon Court military Governor in Leipzig.8 This dramatic shift in Bach’s compositional activities, related to his positions as Cantor at the Thomas School/Church and director of music in Leipzig, came at Lenten Time 1725 when Bach was nearing the end of his second consecutive church year cantata cycle of musical sermons, involving his unique chorale cantatas. During the Lenten six-week hiatus which began on Ash Wednesday, February 14, when Bach could not compose cantatas every Sunday and usually turned to composing a required annual Passion oratorio for Good Friday vespers. Bach instead scheduled a reperformance of the 1724 St. John Passion, BWV 245, with additional chorale-laden movements.

Bach during Lent focused his creativity for the first time since coming to Leipzig in May 1723 to the secular realm, more in keeping with the Leipzig music director’s post. He produced three unique, remarkable celebratory works which contained all the earmarks of music for special events that could be transformed through parody or new-text underlay into major sacred works as part of a “well-ordered church music to the glory of God.” At that time, Bach began to be a prodigious borrower of his own music, both instrumental and vocal, sometimes involving both forms and multiple recycling of the same music, whether called adaptations, transcriptions, or transfers.

Bach produced his first sacred wedding Cantata BWV Anh. 14, “Sein Segen fließt daher wie ein Strom” (His blessing flows like a stream, Ecclesiasticus/Sirach 39:22), 12 February 1725, which possibly involved four arias as contrafactions for the Mass in B Minor, BWV 232; the extended Shepherds Cantata, “Entflieht, verschwindet, entweichet, ihr Sorgen” (O flee now and vanish, O yield now, ye sorrows), BWV 249a, 23 February 1725, parodied as a cantata on Easter Sunday, 1 April 1725, and later as an oratorio c.1736; and the sprightly congratulatory for a teacher, Johann Mathias Gesner, BWV 36c, “Schwingt freudig euch empor” (Soar in your joy), 5 April 1725, which became a cantata for the First Sunday in Advent, probably opening the third cycle liturgical year, 2 December 1725 (see BCML Discussion Part 4, November 27). The composition of the Shepherds Cantata was Bach’s first active collaboration with the poet Picander (Christian Friedrich Henrici, 1700-64), who also provided the text for Cantata BWV 36c.

BWV Anh. 14 Sacred Wedding, B-Minor Mass

Bach's first Leipzig wedding cantata was BWV Anh. 14, “Sein Segen fließt daher wie ein Storm,” presented on Monday, February 12, church location unknown, possibly the Nikolaikirche where prominent Leipzig families had boxes. The groom, Friedrich Christoph “Lösner had by appointment of the King [Saxon Prince Augustus] oversight over the flow of the rivers through Leipzig and the transport of lumber upon them,” says Z. Philip Ambrose.9 The four arias in the cantata are based, “upon Biblical [Old Testament] passages which deal with waters and timber,” with text by an unknown librettist.

Recent findings of Bach scholar William Scheide,10 suggest that as many as all four arias from the lost sacred wedding Cantata BWV Anh. 14 of Feb. 12, 1725, may survive, adapted in the Great Mass in B Minor, BWV 232. They are opening aria, "His blessings flow" (Ecclesiasticus/Sirach 39:22), as No. 5, "Laudamus te" for soprano and violin (; BWV Anh. 14/3, aria "Happy are you" (Ezekiel 47:1,4), as No. 10, "Quoniam," for bass and horn (; Arioso No. 4, "Bitterness withdraws from you" (Exodus 18:25) as No. 22, Benedictus qui venit," for tenor and flute (; and Aria No. 6, "So step into paradise" (Genesis 2:11), as No. 18, "Et in Spiritum Sanctum" for bass and oboe d’amore

While all the original music of BWV Anh. 14 is lost, Bach set the text directly from the Bible, as he had done often in his cantatas from the beginning, particularly in choruses. The four suggested arias as found in the B Minor Mass all have progressive associations with the Saxon Court through dance rhythm: “Laudamus te” in 4/4 common time has Lombard short-long, syncopated notes, “Quoniam” in ¾ time is a polonaise, popular at the Saxon Court since Augustus also was King of Poland, “Benedictus qui venit” in ¾ time has generic dance elements, and “Et in Spiritu Sanctum ” in 6/8 time is a pastorale profane love song.

Saxon Court Count Flemming Connection

Wedding Cantata BWV 14 was Bach’s first composition for a Leipzig civic official with direct connections to the Saxon Court. Soon after Bach would make the acquaintance of Count Joachim Friedrich von Flemming, the Saxon Court-appointed Governor of Leipzig, for whom Bach composed at least three congratulatory birthday serenades, beginning on 25 August 1726 with BWV 249b, “Die Feyer des Genius: Verjaget, zerstreuet, zerrüttet, ihr Sterne” (The Festival of Genius: Dispel them, disperse them, destroy them, ye heavens), also a Picander parody text.

Recent, evolving scholarship suggests that Picander took the initiative when Fleming came to Leipzig on 7 May 1724, the week after the beginning of the Spring Fair, as the ruling Governor and took residence at the Pleissenburg Castle not far from the Thomaskirchke. On July 31 a dramma per musica was presented at his official installation ceremonies, the first of three works for Flemming set to Picander published texts (composer unknown), followed by a birthday ode (August 25), and a traditional New Year’s Abendmusik on 1 January 1725, says Szymon Paczkowski.11

This 1725 New Year’s evening serenade was a dramatic monlogue suggesting a solo piece, including an “Aria di Tempo Polonaise,” popular at the Saxon Court. There “is a growing belief in Bach’s authorship” of the music, says Paczkowski (Ibid. 70, 68). Although it was attributed to Johann Gottlieb Görner, organist at the progressive St. Paul University Church, Bach scholars have developed a still-unsubstantiated hypothesis that Bach was the composer.

As to a connection with the B-Minor Mass, the “characteristic polonaise rhythms” are found in the bass aria with horn, “Quoniam to solus sanctus” (no 11 in the Gloria, and the chorus “Et resurrexit” (no. 14 in the Credo, observes Paczkowski.12 A comparison of the B-Minor Mass with selected Dresden masses from the first half of 18th century, particularly capellmeisters Johann David Heinichen and Jan Dismas Zalenka, says Paczkowski, shows Bach’s use of the polonaise “was one of Bach’s ways of alluding to the Dresden model of Mass composition” (which dominates Bach’s Mass), and helps gain a better understanding of his “intentions and aims” in his Mass.

Meanwhile, during his Trinity Time half-year hiatus of 1725, Bach took a composers holiday as cantor, intentionally and selectively composing music for church services. Bach composed Cantata BWV Anh. 4, “Wünschet Jeusalem Glück” (Wished-for Jerusalem Fortune, Psalm 122:6-7), for the Town Council, August, 28 and Cantata 79 for the Reformationfest, October 31, and honored his recently-deceased Weimar colleague, Salomo Franck, with two solo Cantatas BWV 168 on the Ninth Sunday after Trinity (July 29) and BWV 164 on the 13th Sunday after Trinity (August 26), as well as a reperformance of solo Cantata BWV 161 on the 16th Sunday after Trinity (September 16).

Trinity Time 1725; Wedding Serenade

At the same time, Bach began composing secular congratulatory cantatas, initially for Leipzig University officials, such as BWV 205 (August 3), that could be parodied, and instrumental music, particularly keyboard Partitas as the beginning of his published Clavierübung (keyboard studies) and first found in the new Anna Magdalena Notebook, a family affair with shared arias and keyboard pieces. In the fall of 1725, Bach visited Dresden and performed on the new Silbermann organ in the Liebfrauenkirche, and probably studied Latin church music, particularly Mass settings of Zalenka and Heinichen.

On Tuesday, November 27, Bach produced his first secular serenade for Leipzig notables, BWV Anh. 196, “Auf! süß-entzückende Gewalt” (Up! Sweet charming authority) was composed for the wedding of Peter Hohmann and Christian Sibylla Mencke. Hohmann in 1736 was raised to the nobility under the name von Hohenthal by the Saxon Court. The 14-movement work with allegorical characters was Bach’s first collaboration with noted Leipzig poet and teacher, Johann Christoph Gottsched. the original bass Nature aria, No. 3, “Entfernet euch, ihr kalten Hertzen” (Remove yourselves, ye frigid spirits, was parodied in the Ascension Oratorio, “Lobet Gott in seinen Reichen” Praise God in his kingdoms), BWV 11 in 1735 as the alto aria, Ach, bleibe doch, mein liebstes Leben, Ah, stay yet, my dearest life). eventually was adapted by Bach in the late 1740s as the three-fold alto litany aria with unison strings and continuo, Agnus Dei, qui tollois pecca mundi, Miserere nobis (Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us). Although the original music is lost, it has the same “poetic structure, the rhyme scheme, and the general Affekt,” says George B. Strauffer in Bach: The Mass in B Minor.13 The other two Gottsched collaborations are the 1727 Funeral Ode, Cantata BWV 198, and Cantata BWV Anh. 13, Willkommen! Ihr herrschenden Götter der Erden! (Welcome, you ruling royalty of earth) for the Saxon Elector August III visit and betrothal of Princes Amalia on April 27, 1738 (only the text survives).

“Not long before the wedding, Gottsched had arrived in Leipzig and meet with a warm welcome and encouragement from the highly reputed father of the bride [Johann Burkhardt Mencke]; and he may have welcomed the opportunity to show both his gratitude and his skill as a poet,” says Alfred Dürr in the Cantatas of J. S. Bach.14 Mencke (1674-1732), an established University of Leipzig professor and poet, Saxon Court Historian, and Gottsched mentor, “was no doubt soon introduced to (Marianne von) Ziegler’s salon,” says Katherine R. Goodman in “From Salon to Kaffeekranz: Gender Wars and the Coffee Cantata in Bach’s Leipzig.” 15

1727: Bach’s Great Compositional Shift16

Several major events in 1727 caused Bach to shift permanently and reduce his creative emphasis as Leipzig cantor from sacred service cantatas after three cycles to composing special music involving both his Christological cycle of major works as well as music composed for the Saxon Court as Leipzig Director Musices or Director Chori Musici. This would reach fruition with his secular drammi per musica in the 1730s as nominal Leipzig Kapellmeister and an official Saxon Court Composer, and culminate in his “Great Catholic Mass” in B Minor, BWV 232, for the court in Dresden near the end of his life in 1750. Major findings in Bach scholarship in the past decade, particularly the Bach Jahrbuch annual essays and the new English-language Bach Network UK (, sometimes with joint publications, have revived and revived and redirected interest to new source-critical materials, libretto text books, previously unexplored repertory, as well as historic-biographical links offering considerable collateral and circumstantial evidence.

The first event was the premier of his St. Matthew Pas, BWV 244, with text by Picander on Good Friday, April 11, 1727, taking two years to complete, as well as his third and probably last substantial annual church service cantata cycle, which also took two years to compile. On Easter Sunday, Bach revived his 1724 Sanctus, BWV 232III (1724 version, Recording, festive music that eventually would become part of his B Minor Mass. Bach’s interest in Latin liturgical music coincided with a rare opportunity in new directions that would involve special secular celebratory music to be recycled as parody or contrafaction into special sacred music, as well as civic occasions involving sacred music of praise and thanksgiving. All this through the technique of borrowing and transcription eventually would produce Bach’s B-Minor Mass.

Homage Cantata BWV Anh. 9

Three weeks later, Augustus II, “the Strong,” King of Poland and Prince of Saxony, visited Leipzig at the beginning of the Easter Fair, on Jubilate Sunday, May 4, 1727, to celebrate his 57th birthday. As Town Music Director, Sebastian turned to create special music for the Dresden Court in lieu of church music. Students at another major Leipzig institution, the University, commissioned Bach to compose the first of a series of evening serenade music. “Bach had the opportunity to impress King Augustus II who visited Leipzig and listened to a performance from the window of [merchant Dietrich] Apel's house [official Saxony residence] on the Marktplatz of a cantata composed and directed by Bach in celebration of the King's birthday on May 12th 1727.” 17 “The king was presented with a copy of the libretto, 'Entfernet euch, ihr heitern Sterne' [Disperse yourselves, ye stars serenely] by [the librettist] C[hristian] F[riederich] Haupt, the music is unfortunately lost, or associated with another text.” The work is Cantata BWV Anh. 9, a dramma per musica, and only the librettos survives. It was Bach’s first recognized work for the Dresden Court the four mythological characters are Philuris, Apollo, Mars, and Harmonia.18

The impetus for the King’s visit and Bach’s music probably came from Count Flemming, the court-appointed Leipzig governor and a leader of the progressive, Saxon-Court allied Town Council faction that has chosen Bach in 1723. In 1727, the Leipzig spring fair began on May 4, the Third Sunday after Easter (Jubilate), and the festivities were held on Monday, May 12. Special note was made in the Christian Friedrich Haupt libretto of Cantata BWV Anh. 9/5, citing Flemming as the court’s “most trusted” who had been present at this “mighty feast one year ago” in 1726. Flemming would serve as his host to festivities that would engage Bach to provide appropriate music. In 1726 the Elector’s birthday had fallen exactly on Jubilate, May 12, when Bach probably had presented festive church Cantata BWV 146 with its opening two movements a sinfonia and chorus, ostensibly borrowed from the Clavier Concerto No. 1 in D Minor, BWV 1052.

In 1727, it was possible that Cantata BWV Anh. 9 was part of a sacred-profane double bill for the Augustus II visit. Before the evening’s festivities, a Service of Allegiance possibly was held at the Nikolaus Church, and may have began with the introit psalm Bach’s joyous eight-voice motet BWV 225, “Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied” (Sing unto the Lord a new song, Psalm 149:1), which originally may have been presented on New Year’s Day, 1727 (coming BCML Discussion, November 20). Cantata BWV Anh. 9 (music lost, text survives) may have provided the impetus for as many as three movements in the Missa: Kyrie Gloria, BWV 2332a, composed mostly through contrafaction from German to Italian in 1733 for the Saxon Court.

Chorus, Duet, Aria: Possible Missa Contrafaction

The ambitious Cantata BWV Anh. 9 has 14 movements,19 seven that are recitatives/arioso usually unsuitable for parody, with opening and closing choruses, four arias and a duet. Bach scholar Klaus Häfner has done source-critical study of Bach secular homage music that may survive as contrafaction in the Mass in B Minor.20 Using the Christian Friedrich Haupt text, he has done a construction of Cantata BWV Anh. 9 from what he thinks may have been the original version of the chorus “Et Resurrexit,” the “Christe eleison” love duet, and the alto aria, “Qui sedes.” The three original movements and the Latin texts movements are:

1. Cantata BWV Anh. 9/1. [Chorus] da capo: Disperse yourselves, ye stars, serenely! / The nation's sun doth rise for us, / The flames of heaven's purest ardor, / Which from Augustus' eyes are springing, / Now darken you and slow you in your course.” Missa, BWV 232/17 Latin text: “ Et resurrexit tertia die / secundum scripturas, / et ascendit in coelum, / sedet ad dextram Dei Patris, / et iterum venturus est / cum gloria judicare vivos et mortuos, / cuius regni non erit finis.” (Recording,

The Credo section chorus in the B-Minor Mass, BWV 232/17, “Et resurrexit,” may be traced to the opening chorus of Cantata BWV Anh. 9, “Entfernet euch, ihr heitern Sterne!” (Disperse yourselves, ye stars, serenely!). As Paczkowski observes (above, “Saxon Court Count Flemming Connection”), the music is a ¾ time polonaise favored by the court. “The unambiguous da capo form of the movement,” says Stauffer (Ibid.: 128), “points more strongly to vocal music and a cantata model,” citing Klaus Häfner, “Über die Herkunft.”21 “Häfner ‘s main arguments are convincing,” says George Stauffer (Ibid.: 81). In the first phrase, the triplet figure of “Et resurrexit” “reflects the imagery of the word ‘Stern’ (star).” The “rising melodic figures of the music reflect the rise of August described metaphorically in the cantata”: “Entfernet euch, ihr heitern Sterne! / Des Landes Sonne geht uns auf,” (Disperse yourselves, ye stars, serenely! / The nation's sun doth rise for us). The English translation of the “Et resurrexit” contrafaction is, “And the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures.”

The “Et resurrexit” “in its key [D Major], scoring [winds, trumpets and drums], complex upbeat, rhythms, reiterated quavers and Affekt has much in common with the rejouissance (festive dance) of an orchestral suite” like the opening of No. 3 in D Major, BWV 1069,” observes Peter Williams (Ibid.: 451). “The rejoicing is palpable, complete with breath-saving orchestral episodes, as if it were a writ-large version of such movements found in some earlier ceremonial cantatas” in this movement that is the centerpiece of the long Credo section.

2. Cantata BWV Anh. 9/8, Duetto da capo (Philyris, Apollo): “ For a thousand times be welcome, / Fairest hours, with our kiss, / For Aurora’s purple light / Must to you cede all advantage / And, if this doth not occur, / At the last grow pale before you!” The B-Minor Mass soprano-alto duet with winds and strings in 4/4, Christe eleison (Christ have mercy upon us), is a Neopolitan opera style love duet with ritornelli. Various scholars have suggested its origins as a lost aria but disagree on the actual source. One possibility is the Apollo-Philuris duet, “Seyd zu tausend mahl willkommen, /Schönste Stunden! Seyd geküßt” (For a thousand times be welcome, / Fairest hours, with our kiss), says Häfner in Aspekte des Parodieverfahrens (Ibid.: 245f). The secular “text begins as a dialogue, with the voices entering separately” and the da-capo form “would have required considerable reworking to produce the ‘Christe’,” observes Stauffer (Ibid.: 61). (Recording,

3. Cantata BWV Ang. 9/12, Aria (Harmony): “If the land's good luck shall increase, / Must its king within it be. / Ah, then were achieved in Sax'ny / Our most fervent hope and plea!” The alto aria with oboe d’amore and strings, “Qui sedes,” in the Gloria of B-Minor Mass may have its origins in the Harmony aria (no. 12) of Cantata BWV Anh. 9, “Soll des Landes Seegen wachsen” (If the land's good lushall increase), says Häfner in Aspekte des Parodieverfahrens (Ibid.: 282). In contemporary ritornello 6/8 gigue style, the “Qui sedes” Latin and English text is: Qui sedes ad dextram Patris, miserere nobis (Thou that sittest at the right hand of the Father, have mercy upon us).

While the general character and form of this aria resembles the proposed secular model, and the last line, “Our most fervent hope and plea!,” is similar in mood or affect, the cantata poetry does not line up with the ‘Qui sedes’ music as well as it might, and it offers no reason for the echo effects” in the oboe d’amore, says Stauffer (Ibid.: 88f). Recording, The repetition of phrases in this aria, also found in the first “resurrexit” repetition, suggest that these “less-than convincing settings of certain phrases,” especially the extensive repetition of the words “Qui sedes” and the long run at measures 75-78 in the adagio, following the “misereri nobis” litany plea, like the succeeding “Quoniam tu solus sanctus,” betray its “rewordings of earlier arias,” says Peter Williams in Bach: A Musical Biography (Ibid.: 447).

Homage Cantata BWV 193a

Three months later, Cantata BWV 193a, "Ihr Häuser des Himmels, ihr scheinenden Lichter" (Ye houses of heaven, ye radiant torches) was presented as a serenade for the name day of August II, on August 3, 1727, text probably by Picander. It was Bach’s second music for the Saxon Court and showed a complex compositional history through the process of parody or new-text underlay involving Picander. The core music of Cantata 193a probably involved parody of the opening chorus, the duet, and the soprano and alto arias, based on celebratory music composed for the Cöthen Court. The Fame-Fortune love duet (no. 5) could have yielded two additional uses, as the soprano-tenor aria, Domine Deus, Rex coelestis (Lord, God, Heavenly King), in the Gloria of the Mass in B Minor in 1733, with notated, progressive Lombard rhythm, and a year later in a tribute to the departing Thomas School Rector, “Wo sind meine Wunderwerke?,” BWV Anh. 210.

"While the text only of the work [BWV 193a] survives, the words of the duet match both the structure and the character of the `Domine Deus' very closely," says Stauffer (Ibid.: 81). He cites Bach scholar Klaus Häfner, “Über die Herkunft” (Ibid.). A comparison of the texts of BWV 193a/3 (Picander) and 232/8 shows: BWV 193a/3. Aria (Providence), “Call, then, this thine August god! / Boast, then, Rome, in games and feasting, / Saxon August is the greatest, / For this his own laurels bloom; / Saxon August is unequaled, / For kindness and love have immortalized him”;22 translation of the Latin in the Missa BWV 232/8, 4/4 duet in G Major, Domine Deus, Rex coelestis: “O Lord God, heavenly King, / God the Father Almighty, / O Lord, the only-begotten Son, / Jesus Christ, the Most High, / O Lord God, / Lamb of God, Son of the Father” (music,

“Domine Deus,” as “a kind of ecstatic love-duet familiar in the court’s operas or homage cantatas, is elevated, one might say ‘purified,’ to express the partnership of God the Father and God the Son,” says Williams (Ibid.: 452). This is achieved “in a most delicate, exquisite scoring, and with a consciously beautiful Affekt" (two voices, muted strings, flute, pizzacato bass). This duet with flute obbligato could have originated in Cöthen where Bach often composed duets with mythological characters for his serenades. When music from Cantata 193a was performed three weeks later on 25 August 1727 for the Town Council installation as BWV 193, “Ihr Pforten/Tore zu Zion” (You gates/doors to Zion), the duet was omitted, which is customary practice in Bach’s Town Council sacred cantatas (BWV 119, 120, 29, 69 and Anh. 4 and Anh. 193). It should be noted that the choruses in Cantata 120 and 29 later were used as contrafactions in the B-Minor Mass, respectively, as “Et expecto” in the Credo and the “Gratias agmius tibi” in the Gloria and the closing Dona nobis pacem. Further, Cantata 120, originally composed in 1728 or 1729 for the Town Council, was multiple-parodied for a sacred wedding about 1729, and the Ausburg Confession special services in 1730.

B-Minor Mass Love Duets

The Lutheran theology of love is portrayed in Bach’s vocal music, particularly the model symbolic duets of the Bride and Bridegroom, the Soul or Believer and Jesus Christ. These are found in his cantatas as well as in his secular congratulatory homage cantatas, and as parody or contrafaction in his Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248, and the B-Minor Mass. A pioneering musical-theological exploration of these love duets is found in Marcus Rathey’s new Bach’s Major Vocal Works: Music, Drama, Liturgy.23

As the center of Italian opera with its focus on love in Germany in Bach’s time, the Catholic Saxon Court in Dresden observed the Mass Ordinary as the central expression of Christianity, as did the Lutheran Church, Rathey observes. Neopolitan love songs were selectively found in both opera and Mass settings. As the bridal imagery of the biblical Song of Songs, the “unio mystica was a major influence in the texts Bach set, from the early Magnificat [1723, “Et misericordia” soprano-bass duet], and to the oratorios of the 1730s, says Rathey (Ibid.: 172f). 24 The Mass in B Minor “features no fewer than three love duets,” he points out (Ibid.: 4). “Bach never composed an opera but he did now how to set an effective love scene to music?”

Two of the three love duets are found in the first two parts of the Mass, the soprano-alto “Christe eleison” in the Kyrie and the soprano-tenor “Domine Deus” in the Gloria, which Bach composed for the Dresden court in 1733, while the other, the soprano-alto “Et in unum Dominum,” is found in the Credo, the confession of faith. All refer to Jesus Christ and occur in the Mass Ordinary after reference to God the Father. The soprano-alto duet, Christe eleison (Christ have mercy upon us), is “understood within the emotional Jesus piety” in various major Bach works that fuse love with mercy, Rathey observes (Ibid.: 173). Using Christological text, this soprano-alto duet is not, however, a dramatic personification Jesus and the Soul but represents “the idea of love in general.” This intimate duet is the central contrast in the opening Kyrie to the communal pleas for mercy, “in the same spirit imploring God’s compassion de profundis” (Psalm 130, Out of the depths), says Stauffer (Ibid.: 53).

The soprano-tenor duet, Domine Deus, is a typical love duet, “maybe from the now-lost cantata, "Ihr Häuser des Himmels,” says Rathey (Ibid.: 183ff), citing Häfner, “Über die Herkunft” (Ibid.). Scored for solo flute and strings in concerto-like dialogue, it is similar to Qui sedes with alto and oboe in 6/8 gavotte-style, also probably a contrafaction, and separated by the chorus Qui tollis peccata mundi (that takes away the sins of the world). The instrumentation of Domine Deus “is theologically intriguing,” says Rathey, expecting the text beginning to be set as a chorus with trumpets and timpani, similar to the preceding Gratias agimus tibi (We give thanks to thee). The text closes with the reference to the sacrificial litany, Agnus Dei (Lamb of God), and “Bach’s compositional decision is probably influenced by Luther’s theologia crucis (Theology of the Cross), citing Luther’s 1518 Heidelberg Disputation. The “use of the love duet was motivated by recent Passion theology “as an expression of divine affection,” says Rathey (Ibid.: 185), the structural centerpiece of Bach’s Gloria.” (Recording,

In the Mass central Credo, Christian affirmation of faith, is the soprano-alto duet with two oboes d’amore and strings, [Credo] Et in unum Dominum Jesum Christum (And [I believe] in one Lord Jesus Christ). The “topic of the text is devotion (and that meant, in contemporary theology, love) to Christ, and it is expin a style that is close to a love duet,” says Rathey (Ibid.: 192). It is a Neopolitan aria in extended, modified, repetitive da-capo style ( Its origins are probably complex and obscured. As Stauffer comments: “Sometimes glimpses of Bach’s creative process can be as unsettling as they are insightful.” The genesis and scholarly opposing perspectives of this movement are discussed in detail.25 Possible influences include Cantata 213/11 “Ich bin deine” (Court 9/5/33, AT violas 3/8 Lombard,; and Anh. 195/14, added Orpheus-Euridice aria, “You feeling garden of hearts,” secular wedding 1725 (text only).

Observation: While the connections between Bach secular and sacred cantatas for members of the Saxon Court and the B-Minor Mass continue to be pursued, Bach’s actual use of previous music are complex. The earliest Bach scholars found the sources of chorus movements in Bach’s extant cantatas, such as BWV 29/2, “Wir danken Gott” in the “Gratias agimus tibi” and “Dona nobis pacem,” to an adaptation of BWV 120/2 “Jauckzet ihr erfreuten Stimmen” as the “Et expecto”; to the more complex versions of the alto aria “Agnus Dei,” from BWV 11/4 and Anh.196/3; to the textual contrafaction studies of Klaus Häfner in BWV Anh. 9 and elsewhere as well as William Scheide in BWV Anh. 15; to the influences of other composers such as Wilderer in the Kyrie found in Christoph Wolff and the Pergolesi in the “Et incarnatus est” found in Yoshitake Kobayashi (Footnote 6).


1 Christoph Wolff, “Exploring Bach’s B-Minor Mass,” eds. Yo Tomita, Robin A. Leaver, Jan Smaczny (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013: 7), essays from the 2007 International Symposium: Understanding Bach’s B-Minor Mass; Table of Contents, See Wikipedia on-line reference, Bach's church music in Latin,, especially 1.3 Separate movements, copies, and arrangements; with discography.
2 Marcus Rathey in CrossAccent, Journal of the Association of Lutheran Church Musicians (Volume 24, No 2, Summer 2016: 7); source: Martin Luther, Preface to Georg Rhau’s Symphoniae incundae of 1538, from Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, American Edition, vol. 53, Liturgy and Hymns, ed. Ulrich S. Leupold (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1965: 324).
3 Peter Wollny, Peranda Kyrie in C Major, score Forward, CV 35.306 (Stuttgart: Carus-Verlag, 2000).
4 Dr. Andreas Bomba liner notes to "Kyrie eleison - - Christe, du Lamm Gottes, BWV 233a, "Sacred Latin Music 1, Hänssler, Rilling, Bachakademie, Vol.71 (1999; English translation Dr. Miguel Carazo & Associates),, No. 22.
5 Peter Williams, Bach: A Musical Biography (Cambridge University Press, 2016, 451).
6 See Yoshitake Kobayashi, “Bach und der Pergolesi-Stile in weiteres Beispeil der Entlehnung?” Bach und der Stile: Bericht über das 2. Dortmunder Bach-Symposion 1998, ed. Martin Geck (Dortmund: Klangfarben, 1999), 147-160); cited in The Routledge Research Companion to Johann Sebastian Bach, ed. Robin A. Leaver (London, New York: 2017, 258/Footnote 72).
7 Uwe Wolf, Preface, trans. Howard Weiner, in “Early Versions of the Mass in B Minor: [. . .] Sanctus BWV 232III (Version 1724),” NBA KB II/1a (Kassel: Bärenreiter, 2006).
8 See Szymon Pazkowski, “The Story of an ‘Aria tempo di Polonaise’ for Joachim Friedrich von Flemming,” Polish Style in the Music of Johann Sebastian Bach; Contextual Bach Studies 6, ed. Robin A. Leaver (Lanham MD: Roman & Littlefield, 2017, 219ff).
“Secular to Sacred Parody, Contrafaction (1725-27),”
9 Z. Philip Ambrose translation with footnotes, BCW,
The sacred work is in two parts, before and after the vows, with no chorales listed, Details, BCW
10 William Scheide, "Sein Segen fließt daher wie ein Strom, BWV Anh. I 14: A Source for Parodied Arias in the B-Minior Mass?," About Bach, eds. Gregory G. Butler, George B. Stauffer, Mary Dalton Greer; Christoph Wolff festschrift, American Bach Society (Urbana & Chicago, Univ. of Illinois Press, 2008: 69-77).
11 Szymon Paczkowski, “Bach and the Story of an ‘Aria Tempo di Polonaise’ for Joachim Friedrich von Flemming,” BACH, Journal of the Riemenschneider Bach Institute, Vol. 38 (2007), Berea OH: 67f (see Footnote 8).
12 Paczkowski, Abstract for 2007 International Symposium: Understanding Bach’s B-Minor Mass; see “The role and significance of the polonaise in the 'Quoniam' of the B-minor Mass,” Exploring Bach’s B-Minor Mass (Ibid.: 54-83).
13 George B. Stauffer, Bach: The Mass in B Minor, (New Haven CN: Yale Univ. Press 2003: 164).
14Alfred Dürr, Cantatas of J. S. Bach, revised and translated by Richard D. P. Jones (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005: 895).
15 Katherine R. Goodman, in Bach’s Changing World: Voices in the Community, ed. Karol K. Baron (University of Rochester [NY] Press, 2006: 192).
16 Source material, Cantata BWV Anh. 9 Part 1 and B-Minor Mass Sources (September 11, 2016), BCML
17 David Charlton, “Johann Sebastian Bach, “Music of the Augustan Age: Outside Composers” (1996-2000) The official source of civic events in Leipzig was chronicler Christoph Ernst Sicul, Annales Lipsienses.
18 Cantata BWV Anh. 9, Details & Discography,,,_ihr_heitern_Sterne,_BWV_Anh._9. Cantata BWV Anh. 9 German text, Christian Friedrich Haupt, Das frohlockende Leipzig (Leipzig, 1727), BCW; English text Z. Philip Ambrose,, Texts for Lost Works, Lost and Fragmentary Works (according to the listing of Neumann T). References: BG 34 Forward (secular cantatas, Paul Graft Waldersee, 1887); NBA I/36 (Dresden nobility, Werner Neumann 1962), Bach Compendium BC G 14 (For Members of Princely Courts, Saxony-Poland).
19 See Leipziger Universitätschor Festmusiken,, 20 works with Z. Philipp Ambrose English text translations commissioned by the University and presented by Bach, honoring the Saxon court and Leipzig residents with connections to the court.
20 Klaus Häfner, Aspekte des Parodieverfahrens bei Johann Sebastian Bach: Beiträge zur Wiederentdeckung verschollener Vokalwerke (Laaber: Laaber-Verlag, 1987 [Hochschulschrift, Neue Heidelberger Studien zur Musikwissenschaft; 12). original edition 1977; reconstruction recording, BCW
21 Klaus Häfner, “Über die Herkunft von zwei Sätzen der h-Moll-Messe,”Bach-Jahrbuch (Leipzig) Verlag-Anst., Vol. 63 (1977): S. 65-74).
22 German text and Z, Philip Ambrose English translation,
23 Marcus Rathey, Bach’s Major Vocal Works: Music, Drama, Liturgy (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016: 171ff).
24 For an in-depth study of unio mystica, see Isabella van Elferen, “Mystical Love in Seventeenth- and Eighteenth Century Lutheran Poetry and Theology,” Chapter 5, Mystical Love in the German Baroque, Contextual Bach Studies 5, ed. Robin A. Leaver (Lanham Md. Scarecrow Press, 2009).
25 In “Et incarnatus”: An Afterthought? Against the “Revisionist” View of Bach’s B-Minor Mass,” by Eduard van Hengel and Kees van Houten (Journal of Musicological Research 23: 81-112, 2004).

To Come: Missa: Kyrie-Gloria, BWV 233-236, Music of Sorrow and Joy for feast day services.


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