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Music of Praise, Thanksgiving: Special Services

Music of Praise, Thanksgiving: Special Services

William Hoffman wrote (August 31, 2017):
It is possible that a fourth cycle of “well-regulated” church pieces of Bach involved sacred cantatas and motets which, although not part of the church year, were presented at special sacred services of joy and sorrow, specifically for the annual inauguration of the town councils in Mühlhausen (1708-10) and Leipzig (1723-1749), as well as weddings, particularly bridal masses, and the separate category of memorial services as music of sorrow. These works, while not part of the 1750 estate division of three cycles of cantatas for the church year, nonetheless they also were parceled out primarily to Bach’s two oldest sons, Friedemann and Emmanuel. In addition is the category of sacred Leipzig special services of allegiance and thanksgiving to the Saxon Court as well as special observances of the bicentennial of the Reformation, most notably the Augsburg Confession in 1730, and Leipzig’s acceptance of the Reformation in 1739. In the last category are some identifiable works and other of speculation while this occasional music of joy and sorrow often involved parody or new text underlay, including contrafaction or substitution of German for the original Mass Ordinary Latin text.

It also is possible to consider occasional works for secular celebrations of joy and thanksgiving in Mühlhausen, Weimar, Cöthen, and Leipzig, including weddings, as works in this nominal cycle, since Bach saw little if any distinction between human interests and concerns, both profane and sacred. Notably beginning in Cöthen (1717-23), Bach systematically composed celebratory secular serenades, forerunners of Leipzig drammi per musica, five of which through parody became cantatas for the feasts of Easter, Pentecost, and Trinity in Leipzig. These Cöthen pieces are the subject of Marcus Rathey’s “The ‘Theology”’ of Bach’s Cöthen Cantatas: Rethinking the Dichotomy of Sacred versus Secular.”1 Bach probably provided two secular serenades annually for Prince Leopold’s birthday, December 12, and New Year’s Day. Eight works are identified in the Bach Compendium (BC) as G4 to G 11 (BWV 66a, 134a, Anh. 6, Anh. 7, 184a, 173a, Anh. 8, and 194a). These works emphasized dance-style music portraying allegorical dialogues between Fame and Fortune (BWV 66a), changed to Fear and Hope in Leipzig in the sacred Easter Tuesday Cantata BWV 66, and Divine Providence and Time (BWV 134a), and a pastorale dialogue (BWV Anh. 7) involving Shepherdess, Huntsman, and Shepherd (BWV 134a).

Bach’s first significant Leipzig encounter with a special municipal observance was a possible sacred-profane double bill for the Augustus II birthday visit on Monday, 12 May 1727. The evening’s festivities on the town square involved Cantata BWV Anh. 9, “Entfernet euch, ihr heitern Sterne” (Disperse yourselves, ye stars serenely, Z. Phillip Ambrose, Earlier that day during the Leipzig spring fair, a Service of Allegiance possibly was held at the Nikolaus Church, and may have begun with Bach’s joyous eight-voice motet, “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. As many as three movements in the Missa: Kyrie-Gloria, BWV 232a, of the B-Minor Mass may have originated in or been influential by the evening cantata: “Et resurrexit” as the opening chorus (, the Christe eleison alto tenor duet as the Philyris-Apollo love duet (, and the alto aria “Qui sedes” as the Harmony aria (

A similar event was held three months later during the royal revisit for the monarch’s Nameday, August 3, with another serenade, BWV 193a, "Ihr Häuser des Himmels, ihr scheinenden Lichter" (Ye houses of heaven, ye radiant torches). The Fame-Fortune love duet could have become the “Domine Deus” in the BMM ( Five years later, Augustus the Strong made what was to be his final visit to Leipzig and Bach’s homage cantata BWV Anh. 11, “Es lebe der König, der Vater im Lande” (Long life to the King now, the nation's true father), was presented on 3 August 1732. The opening chorus eventually came the “Osanna" in the BMM in the late 1740s (, after also serving as the opening chorus of the serenade Cantata BWV 215, “Preise deine Glücke, gesegnetes Sachsen” (Praise now thy blessings, O fortunate Saxon), for the visit of his son and heir, August III, on October 5, 1734, Leipzig University commission, celebrating the new King’s election day. Although there is no record of any associated services of allegiance preceding the performances of BWV 193a in 1727 or BWV Anh. 11 in 1732, Bach in mid 1733 composed the BMM Kyrie-Gloria and submitted it to Augustus III. Bach presented drammi per musica for the annual Name Day as well as related observances and visits and also eventually received the honorary title of Court Composer in 1736. He continued to present drammi per musica for court visits, often parodied, until 1742. These works are found in the Bach Compendium as for the Saxon Court, BC G 14 to G 27 (BWV Anh.9, 293a, Anh. 11 & 12, 213, 214, 205a, 215, 207a, 206, Anh. 13, Vor. 11/4, 206, 208a) and for Leipzig University-Related Events, BC G 33 to G 38 (BWV Anh. 20, 198, 36c, 205, 207, and 36b).

Regarding special services, Bach had presented works for various sacred observances of the Lutheran church and the Saxon Court:

1. The three-day festival for Observance of the 200th Anniversary of the Augsburg Confession was conducted in three services on June 25-27, 1730, with parodies of Bach festive Town-Council cantatas, respectively BWV 190 (?Anh. 5 parody), 120, and Anh. 4, including music that would be recycled in the Missa “Gloria,” BWV 232a, in 1733, the services alternating at St. Nicholas and St. Thomas churches.2

2. The Fealty Service of Allegiance to August III was held on April 21, 1733, at the Thomas Church, possibly with the Missa (Kyrie-Gloria).3 It also is possible that the Missa was presented instead later, on July 27, 1733 to the Saxon Court in Dresden at the Sophiekirche (

3. A Thanksgiving Service for the War of Polish Succession, July 6, 1734, was given at the Nikolas Church,4 possibly including a festive cantata later used as Part 6, of the Christmas Oratorio, for the Feast of Epiphany, January 6, 1735 ( This celebratory music and occasion is reminiscent of Handel's "Dettingen Te Deum" of 1743 in London, marking the defeat of the French troops by English forces on the continent in Dettingen, Germany.

4. Major observances took place in Leipzig in 1739, commemorating the Bicentenary of the community’s acceptance of the Reformation, including an appearance from Martin Luther on Pentecost Sunday, 25 May, at the St. Thomas Church and in an evening vesper service at the Pleissenburg Castle on the Leipzig square, where Luther preached on the day’s Epistle, John 14:23, “He who loves me will follow my word.” In 1739, Pentecost Sunday occurred on May 17. Previously in 1519, Luther, had conducted a theological disputation in Leipzig at the beginning of the Reformation. On August 12, Leipzig University adopted Reformation theology and practice,5 and on October 31, 1739, began a special three-day Reformation festival. The Pentecost Sunday celcould have included Bach’s lost Pentecost Oratorio, which could have been repeated in the vesper service. The Leipzig University event in 1739 on August 25, observed the event at the Uiversity Paulinerkircke with a speech by Professor Friedrich Christian Börner and a Latin ode by Johann Gottlieb Görner. It is possible that Bach could have presented a work such as the motet BWV 226, “Der Geist hilft unsrer Schwachheit auf,” premiered by Bach on 21 October 1729, at the same church for Johann Ernesti, Thomas School rector and Liezig Univertsity Professor. The Reformation celebration could have included Bach’s final version of Cantata 80, “Ein feste burg ist unser Gott” (, as well as Reformation Cantatas BWV 79, 192, or 76.

5. Greater Latin Doxology Cantata 191, “Gloria in excelsis Deo,” Bach's so-called "Missa Cantata” is listed as Latin Music for the first Christmas Festival (Christ's Nativity) and its composition is dated 1743-46 ( The work may have been presented on Christmas Day 1745, along with the “Sanctus in D Major, BWV 232 (, to celebrate the Peace of Dresden at the conclusion of the 2nd Silesian War (during which Leipzig had been occupied by the Prussian troops of Leopold of Anhalt-Dessau). The special academic thanksgiving service was held in the Leipzig University Paulinerkirche and this music may have instituted the completion of the B-Minor Mass.6 Two weeks later a community service of thanksgiving was held on Sunday, January 9, the First Sunday after Epiphany, in the Nikolai Church.


1 Rathey in Journal of Musicological Research, vol. 35 (2016 Issue 4, Yale Univ. Press, New Haven CN: 275-298) “Abstract: The court in Köthen, where Johann Sebastian Bach worked between 1717 and 1723, is frequently viewed as an “almost exclusively secular environment” (John Elliot Gardiner). Even though Bach did not compose religious works for the liturgy at Köthen, it would be wrong to view the Calvinist court as secular, since the rejection of liturgical music does not automatically constitute a secular environment. Indeed, the court in Köthen was not more or less religious than the Lutheran court in Weimar, where Bach had served previously. Although Calvin had not permitted concerted music in the liturgy, musical activities outside the service were not only encouraged but were part of a proper Christian life. This is demonstrated by the cantata texts Bach set for the Köthen court: While Bach’s secular cantatas for Leipzig rarely mention the Christian God, the Köthen cantatas frequently invoke both God and Christ, conforming to the Calvinist ideal of proper music for the domestic sphere” ( Also see “Royal Court at Köthen: Serenades,” in William Hoffman, Bach’s Dramatic Music: Serenades, Drammi per Musica, Oratorios (August 2008: Bach Cantata Website, Index to Articles on J. S. Bach,
2 Günther Stiller, Johann Sebastian Bach and Liturgical Life in Leipzig, Ed. Robin A. Leaver (St. Louis MO: Concordia Publishing, 1985: 80f).
3 George B. Stauffer, The Mass in B-Minor: The Great Catholic Mass (New Haven CT: Yale University Press, 2003: 34).
4 Klaus Häfner, "Zum Problem der Entstehungsgeschichte von BWV 248a" (The Problem of the Origin History of BWV 248a), Die Musikforschung 30 (1977): 305f. There is no record of the festive music presented. Häfner considers less likely as the original occasion a wedding service or a Town Council service. Häfner cites Arnold Schering, “Die Hohe Messe in h-moll. Eine Huldigungsmusik und Krönungsmesse für Friedrich Augustus II,” Bach Jahrbuch 33 (1936): 10.
5 The Routledge Research Companion to Johann Sebastian Bach, ed. Robin A. Leaver (London, New York: Routledge, 2017: 530).
6 See Gregory G. Butler, “Johann Sebastian Bachs Gloria in excelsis Deo BWV 191, Musik für ein Leipziger Dankfest, Bach Jahrbuch 78 (1992): 65-71.


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