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March 4, 2012

Bach Cantatas (13): The inauguration of the town council (Mar 4)

This, too, is a Sunday without a cantata, so we look again at the cantatas that were not linked to the Church Year. Today's topic is the inauguration of the town council. It may seem strange to find religious cantatas about a matter which for us is solidly secular, but in Bach's time - before the Enlightenment - there was no division between the religious and the secular and the authorities governing on earth were considered as the representatives of God (Rom. 13).

We have six cantatas about this topic, Gott ist mein König, BWV 71 for the  inauguration of Mühlhausen town council in 1708;  Preise, Jerusalem, den Herrn, BWV 119 for the inauguration of the Leipzig town council in 1723; and 4 more Leipzig cantatas, BWV 193, 120, 29 and 69.


  • Gott ist mein König, BWV 71, 4 February 1708 (inauguration of Mühlhausen town council)

    Chor: Gott ist mein König von altersher
    Aria Tenor und Choral Soprano: Ich bin nun achtzig Jahr
    Chor: Dein Alter sei wie deine Jugend
    Arioso Bass: Tag und Nacht ist dein
    Arie Alto: Durch mächtige Kraft
    Chor: Du wollest dem Feinde

    This is one of Bach earliest cantatas and thanks to the occasion, the first and only piece of Bach's music to be published during his lifetime. The new town council must have liked this festive work. The work starts with a rousing opening chorus, accompanied by trumpets ("God is my King from long ago"). In the aria for tenor and soprano we meet the mayor of  Mühlhausen, Mr Strecker, who is already 83 but still is getting a new term! Apparently, he had a lot of experience. "May your old age be like your youth," sings the chorus next in a fugue which starts a capella. The attractive bass aria shows the proper attitude towards God's governance: "You set borders to every land." The alto aria takes this up with "Through powerful strength you maintain our borders." It is a lively piece with interjections from trumpets and drums. The cantata closes with two choral movements, the first one simple, the second one including a vocal fugue. The chorus asks a blessing for the new town council. (***)

  • Preise, Jerusalem, den Herrn, BWV 119, 30 August 1723 (inauguration of Leipzig town council)

    Chorus: Preise, Jerusalem, den Herrn
    Rezitativ Tenor: Gesegnet Land
    Arie Tenor: Wohl dir, du Volk der Linden
    Rezitativ Bass: So herrlich stehst du, liebe Stadt!
    Arie Alto: Die Obrigkeit ist Gottes Gabe
    Rezitativ Soprano: Nun! Wir ekennen es und bringen dir
    Chorus: Der Herr hat Guts an uns getan
    Rezitativ Alto: Zuletzt! Da du uns, Herr, zu deinem Volk gesetzt
    Choral: Hilf deinem Volk, Herr Jesu Christ

    This cantata was written for the inauguration of the town council of Leipzig in the first year that Bach was working there. He clearly wanted to impress and provides spectacular music for the festivities. The magnificent opening chorus is based on a French overture, and is accompanied by the full orchestra of four trumpets, tympani, three oboes, two recorders, and strings. The first aria with two English horns and tenor praises Leipzig as a great town, the chosen place of God ("blessed land, fortunate city"). Indeed, Leipzig was then a flourishing city of 27,000 inhabitants. The gentle tenor aria with accompaniment by a pair of oboes da caccia mentions the linden trees that line the streets of Leipzig. To shake up the congregation, the next bass recitative is grandly accompanied by all the wind and brass instruments. Then follows another gentle piece, now for alto with two recorders, music of great refinement, but with an ideological text ("Authority is God's gift"). After a soprano recitative follows again a monumental chorus. But this is not the end: the cantata's finale is a simple and humble choral setting. (***)
  • Ihr Pforten zu Zion, BWV 193, 25 August 1727

    Chor: Ihr Pforten zu Zion
    Rezitativ Soprano: Der Hüter Israels entschläft noch schlummert nicht
    Arie Sorpano: Gott, wir danken deiner Güte
    Rezitativ Alto: O Leipziger Jerusalem< Arie Alto: Sende, Herr, den Segen ein Chor: Ihr Pforten zu Zion

    Much of the music of this cantata for the inauguration of Leipzig's town council in 1727 was lost, so what we hear today is a reconstruction. The opening chorus is very festive and has a motive that will stick in your mind for a long time. The soprano aria is accompanied by a beautiful oboe and also the alto aria is a fine piece. The melody of the opening chorus is repeated at the end of the cantata. (**)

  • Gott, man lobet dich in der Stille, BWV 120, 29 August 1729

    Alto solo: Gott, man lobet dich in der Stille
    Coro: Jauchzet, ihr erfreuten Stimmen
    Recitativo (bass): Auf, du geliebte Lindenstadt
    Aria (soprano): Heil und Segen
    Recitativo (tenor): Nun, Herr, so weihe selbst das Regiment
    Chorale: Nun hilf uns, Herr, den Dienern dein

    This inaugurational cantata starts surprisingly with an elegant aria for alto, which probably had its origins in a lost violin concerto. But it is a gorgeous setting of the Psalm's words "God, You are praised in the stillness of Zion, and vows to You shall be fulfilled." The chorus stands in second position and must sound familiar to Bach lovers, as it was later also used in the more famous B Minor Mass. It is a brilliant setting with trumpets and drums. The soprano aria has an interesting violin accompaniment, perhaps something from a lost sonata. The cantata ends with a four-voice setting of a verse of the German Te Deum.

  • Wir danken dir, Gott, wir danken dir, BWV 29, 27 August 1731

    Coro: Wir danken dir, Gott, wir danken dir
    Aria (tenor, violin): Halleluja, Stärk und Macht
    Recitativo (bass): Gottlob! es geht uns wohl!
    Aria (soprano, oboe, strings):Gedenk an uns mit deiner Liebe
    Recitativo (alto, choir): Vergiß es ferner nicht, mit deiner Hand
    Aria (alto): Halleluja, Stärk und Macht
    Chorale: Sei Lob und Preis mit Ehren

    Central in this festive cantata is gratefulness for blessings received in the past. The elaborate sinfonia for organ and strings at the beginning is based on the E Major partita for solo violin (BWV 1006). It has been arranged like an organ concerto. This is followed by a sublime chorus which was later included as the Gratias in the b-minor Mass. After that, we have three pleasant arias: for tenor with obbligato violin, in which Leipzig is compared to Sion (Jeruzalem); then a quiet sicilliano for soprano (" Bless those who rule us, who lead, protect and guide us "); and finally for alto accompanied by the organ, praising the power and might of the Most High. The final chorale is again accompanied by trumpets and drums. (***)
  • Lobe den Herrn, meine Seele, BWV 69, 1742–48 (adapted from BWV 69a)

    Chorus: Lobe den Herrn, meine Seele
    Recitativo (soprano): Wie groß ist Gottes Güte doch
    Aria (tenor): Meine Seele, auf, erzähle,
    Recitativo (alto): Der Herr hat große Ding an uns getan
    Aria (bass): Mein Erlöser und Erhalter
    Chorale: Es danke, Gott, und lobe dich

    Bach wrote this cantata in his last years. He did little new work for it, but "recycled" BWV 69a which was written for the twelfth Sunday after Trinity of 1723. The recitatives and the chorale were changed for the occasion, as were other details but it is basically the same cantata. The grand opening chorus (preceeded by orchestral ritornello) is followed by two arias, one for tenor, the other for bass. Bach reflected the duality of the words of the psalm in the opening chorus ("Praise the Lord, my soul, and do not forget the good He has done for you!") by creating a double fugue. The first aria is a pastoral movement, the tenor is accompanied by oboe da caccia, recorder and bassoon. In the second aria the contrast between suffering and joy is expressed by chromatic "up and down" figures and vivid coloraturas. The closing chorale is accompanied by festive trumpets and drums. (***)

(1) New Year's Day (2) New Year I (3) Epiphany (4) Epiphany I (5) Epiphany II (6) Epiphany III (7) Epiphany IV (8) Feast of Purification of Mary (9) Septuagesima (10) Sexagesima (11) Quinquagesima (Estomihi) (12) The Consecration of a New Organ (13) The Inauguration of the Town Council (14) Oculi (15) Wedding Cantatas (16) Feast of Annunciation (17) Palm Sunday (18) Easter Sunday (19) Easter Monday (20) Easter Tuesday (21) Easter I (Quasimodogeniti) (22) Easter II (23) Easter III (24) Easter IV (25) Easter V (26) Ascension Day (27) Ascension I (28) Pentecost Sunday (29) Pentecost Monday (30) Pentecost Tuesday (31) Trinity Sunday (32) Trinity I (33) Trinity II (34) Trinity III (35) St. John's Day (36) Trinity IV (37) Visitation (38) Trinity V (39) Trinity VI (40) Trinity VII (41) Trinity VIII (42) Trinity IX (43) Trinity X (44) Trinity XI (45) Trinity XII (46) Trinity XIII (47) Trinity XIV (48) Trinity XV (49) Trinity XVI (50) Trinity XVII (51) Trinity XVIII (52) Trinity XIX (53) Trinity XX (54) Trinity XXI (55) Trinity XXII (56) Trinity XXIII (57) Trinity XXIV (58) Trinity XXV-XXVII (59) Advent I-IV (60) Christmas Day (61) Second Day of Christmas (62) Third Day of Christmas (63) Sunday after Christmas