Among the church cantatas without a specific (church) date, there are - besides wedding cantatas, funeral cantatas and cantatas for the election of a new town council - also a small number of cantatas for minor services such as penance (when the whole community did penance, for example after a disaster such as a great fire), as well as cantatas of which the use is unknown or uncertain. We'll put them together in this post.
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[Kirche St. Marien, Mühlhausen,
whose minister commissioned BWV 131]
Nach dir, Herr, verlanget mich, BWV 150, 1707
(2) Nach dir, Herr, verlanget mich (Chorus)
(3) Doch bin und bleibe ich vergnügt (Aria soprano)
(4) Leite mich in deiner Wahrheit (Chorus)
(5) Zedern müssen von den Winden (Aria Alto, Tenor, Basso)
(6) Meine Augen sehen stets zu dem Herrn (Chorus)
(7) Meine Tage in dem Leide (Chorus)s
"For Thee, O Lord, I long"
Text & translation
This is an early work, which only exists in manuscript by another hand. Not surprisingly, there has been speculation that the cantata is not by Bach. The often heard argument that "only Bach could have written such an impressive work" is of course unconvincing, but a more reliable indication was found in 2010, when an acrostic was discovered in the concluding four movements. This acrostic contains the name Merkbach, one of Mühlhausen's councilors, who was a supporter of Bach. In that case, the cantata may have been written as an homage for his 70th birthday in April 1707, or else July 1707 when Merkbach was elected for another year as mayor. On this basis the cantata can be dated to the young Bach's time in Arnstadt.
This makes it the earliest cantata extant by Bach. It is only scored for two violins, bassoon, and continuo. In this early work there are no recitatives, no da capo arias and no chorale. But Bach makes extensive use of choral fugues and imitative polyphony, often shifting the tempo and character of the music within movements.
The text, by an unidentified author, is based on verses from Psalm 25
in movements 2, 4 and 6. In the remaining movements rhymed verse with
varied metrical structure expresses the theme that mankind faces many
hardships but salvation comes from trust in God.
The short (15 min) work opens with a melancholy string sinfonia which leads into a short opening chorus in the style of a motet; the text is from Psalm 25.
This is followed by an attractive soprano aria. The next chorus, also in motet style, starts with a bold ascending scale. Unusually, the following aria is a trio for alto, tenor and bass, one of only a handful of vocal trios found in Bach's oeuvre. Next again follows a chorus.
The cantata ends with a mighty choral chaconne. When
the volume of the Bach Gesellschaft containing this cantata was first
published, Brahms was working on his Fourth Symphony. He was
one of the few original subscribers to the Bach Gesellschaft edition and
was so impressed with this movement that he quoted the bass line in the finale of his
symphony. This is indeed the most beautiful part of the cantata.
Video: Netherlands Bach Society / Voces 8 / Kristian Commichau /
Aus der Tiefen rufe ich, Herr, zu dir, BWV 131, 1707
(3) Ich harre des Herrn, meine Seele harret (Chorus)
(5) Israel hoffe auf den Herrn; denn bei dem Herrn (Chorus)
"Out of the depths I call, Lord, to You"
Text & translation
Another early cantata by Bach, the earliest autograph of a complete major work by Bach, probably from his time in Mühlhausen. There is speculation that it was written for a penitential service in Mühlhausen shortly after a major fire had destroyed a large part of the town in 1707 (shortly before Bach took up his position in the town), but this occasion can not be proven.
However, a note on the autograph score of the cantata indicates that the work was commissioned by Georg Christian Eilmar, minister of the Marienkirche in Mühlhausen. This allows the work to be dated to 1707–08, which is the period when Bach was living in Mühlhausen. Bach was employed as organist at the city's other main church, Divi Blasii. He was also involved to some extent with performances at the Marienkirche, where civic ceremonies were held. One service there which Bach would have attended was that for the city council's inauguration in 1708 during which his cantata Gott ist mein Konig, BWV 71 had its premiere. He may have had a close personal relationship with Eilmar, who was godfather to his daughter Catharina Dorothea (born 1708).
Like many German sacred works from the 17th century, the cantata draws on two textual sources simultaneously. One is Psalm 130, one of the seven penitential psalms, which takes a prominent place in the liturgy for the dead, not as a lament but as an expression of trust in God. Every movement of the cantata takes as its text one or two verses of this psalm. The second textual source is the chorale "Herr Jesu Christ, du höchstes Gut" by Bartholomäus Ringwaldt (1588). In the bass aria the second strophe of the chorale is juxtaposed with the psalm, and in the tenor aria the fifth strophe is used in a similar way. The symmetrical work exhibits the same general features as above noted for BWV 150. Bach structured the cantata in five movements, three choral movements interspersed by an arioso and an aria.
In the beginning was human suffering - at least, that is what the slow sinfonia with plaintive oboe seems to imply. It leads straight into the first choral movement in which the voices literally dive into the deepest depths. This in its turn goes straight into the bass aria in which the chorus sings a chorale as backdrop. The excellent tenor aria has the same form with the chorus again providing accompaniment and the last movement is for chorus alone. The Fugue in G minor, BWV 131a is a transcription for organ of the fugue of this closing movement, but it is not certain that the arranger was Bach.
Video: Netherlands Bach Society / Bach-Stiftung / Koopman
Lob und Ehr dem höchsten Gut, BWV 117, c. 1728–1731
(2) Recitative (bass): Es danken dir die Himmelsheer
(3) Aria (tenor): Was unser Gott geschaffen hat
(4) Chorale: Ich rief dem Herrn in meiner Not
(5) Recitative (alto): Der Herr ist noch und nimmer nicht
(6) Aria (bass): Wenn Trost und Hülf ermangeln muss
(7) Aria (alto): Ich will dich all mein Leben lang
(8) Recitative (tenor): Ihr, die ihr Christi Namen nennt
(9) Chorale: So kommet vor sein Angesicht
Text & translation
This cantata, based on a hymn by the poet Johann Jacob Schütz, was written somewhere between 1728 and 1731 for an unknown occasion. There are two possibilities: it could be an "all-purpose" cantata that could be used for almost any occasion with minimal changes, or it could have been written for a wedding ceremony.
The cantata has been infused with the spirit of dance - triple time is omnipresent. It is only 20 min long, but counts nine movements. The opening chorus, composed as a chorale fantasy, starts with a long ritornello. The bass recitative is about thanksgiving to encourage the listener to show glory to God. The tenor aria adopts the minor mode, although the text is still optimistic. It is accompanied by two oboe d’amores.
The main choir adopts the text from the original hymn, in a simple setting of the chorale melody (it is rare for Bach to have this in the middle of the cantata and not at the end). The alto recitative is very similar to the foregoing bass recitative, and the bass aria mirrors the earlier tenor aria, although now with violin accompaniment.
In the alto aria the singer takes a personal view of devotion. The accompaniment consists of triplets of the flute which have been compared to "the pounding of an excited heartbeat." This aria surely is the gem of the cantata!
The tenor recitative takes on the voice of a pastor preaching to his followers. Unusually for Bach, the final chorus repeats the music of the first movement with a text that invites the listener to sing and dance.
Video: Eastman School Bach Cantata Series
Nun danket alle Gott, BWV 192, 1730 (June or September)
"Now thank ye all our God"
Text & translation
The original score and tenor part of this chorale cantata are lost. With three movements, this is one of Bach's shortest cantatas; however, the large-scale melodic phrases lead to a length that has a balancing effect. The cantata is based on Martin Rinckart's hymn of thanksgiving "Nun danket alle Gott". Scholars are divided on the matter of the occasion for this cantata: some think it was written for Trinity, others for an unknown wedding, and still others ascribe it to Reformation Day.
In the imposing first movement, which is in three-four time, the ritornello is not immediately followed by the chorale melody, but by an imitative preparation, after which the first phrase of the chorale melody appears in the soprano over further imitation in the lower voices and by staccato chords in the accompaniment.
The second movement, a complex duet aria, has a dance-like effect. The two soloists are now and then interrupted by the orchestra's ritornelles.
The third movement, again a choral fantasy, is characterized by a rollicking gigue melody. As in verse 1, the chorale melody is in the soprano and the lower voices sing imitative lines.
Video: CM Bednarska Polen
Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan, BWV 100, c. 1732–1735
(2) Aria (Duett Alt, Tenor): Er wird mich nicht betrügen
(3) Aria (Sopran): Er wird mich wohl bedenken
(4) Aria (Bass): Er ist mein Licht, mein Leben.
(5) Aria (Alt): Muß ich den Kelch gleich schmecken
(6) Choral (Chor): Darbei will ich verbleiben
"What God Does Is Well Done"
Text & translation
Bach composed this choral cantata between 1732 and 1735 in Leipzig for an unknown occasion. The work is considered to be one of the last surviving church cantatas by Bach. The text is based on the chorale "Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan" (1674) by Samuel Rodigast, which Bach had also used for BWV 99 some ten years earlier. He made the cantata extra festive by adding a second horn and timpani.
In dividing the cantata into movements, Bach followed the stanza division of the chorale. As usual with his chorale cantatas, he framed the solo movements between an initial chorale fantasy and a final chorale. There are no recitatives: four arias, one of which is a duet for alto and tenor, rejoice without interruption about God's goodness. This time no the pain or suffering, but encouragement and consolation are central.
The opening chorale fantasy essentially corresponds to the opening movement of BWV 99, but Bach adds horns and timpani, making the instrumentation more solemn. The movement begins with two instrumental themes that are repeated when the soprano kicks in with the chorale melody. Compared to the vocal part, the instrumental lines are complex.
The alto tenor duet resembles an Italian chamber duet in terms of the motet-like arrangement of the text and the interwoven imitation of the voices. There is a lovely walking bass.
The soprano aria is accompanied by a technically extremely challenging flute obbligato. The jaunty bass aria is notable for the closing descending motif. The alto aria, set in 12⁄8 time, is accompanied by plaintive oboe d’amore and continuo.
The final chorale resembles the chorale that occurs twice in BWV 75, Bach's first cantata as Thomaskantor. For BWV 100, Bach also added horns and timpani, which makes the movement appear more solemn and creates symmetry with the first movement.
Bach performed the cantata again in 1737 and 1742.
Video: Netherlands Bach Society
In allen meinen Taten, BWV 97, 25 July 1734 (5th Sunday after Trinity)
(2) Aria (bass): Nichts ist es spat und frühe
(3) Recitative (tenor): Es kann mir nichts geschehen
(4) Aria (tenor): Ich traue seiner Gnaden
(5) Recitative (alto): Er wolle meiner Sünden
(6) Aria (alto): Leg ich mich späte nieder
(7) Duet aria (soprano, bass): Hat er es denn beschlossen
(8) Aria (soprano): Ich hab mich ihm ergeben
(9) Chorale: So sei nun, Seele, deine
"In all my undertakings"
Text & translation
Bach wrote this chorale cantata in 1734, about a decade after his annual cycle of cantatas, in the same year as his Christmas Oratorio. He dated the manuscript himself, but the occasion is unspecified. The work may have originally been composed for a wedding, because the score shows on top of movement 7 the crossed-out words "nach der Trauung" (after the wedding). A later copy mentions however the fifth Sunday after Trinity.
The author of the chorale is Paul Fleming (1609-1640), who already turned out to be a gifted poet as a medical student in Leipzig. Before his departure on a risky journey to Moscow and Persia, he wrote a song of fifteen stanzas in which he confessed his confidence in God's providence. After Fleming died from the rigors of his journey shortly after returning home, nine verses of more general scope found their way into general songbooks.
The opening chorus is an overture in the French style with heavily dotted rhythms and an attractive vivace fugue and the closing chorale harmonization is of Isaac's exceptionally beautiful tune O Welt ich muss dich lassen. In between we find five arias and two recitatives - a bit hampered by the monotony caused by nine identically structured stanzas, without any striking imagery.
Supported purely by a sober continuo accompaniment, the bass in the first aria puts his fate in God's hand. Trust in God's unfailing love and protection defines the warm and carefree atmosphere of tenor aria. The predominant affect of the alto aria is a resigned acceptance of one's destiny, trusting in God. The soprano shows herself willing to die when God wills. She forms a lovely quartet with the continuo and two oboes, that expresses her quiet acceptance of her fate.