Die Himmel erzählen die Ehre Gottes, BWV 76
|Die Himmel erzählen die Ehre Gottes|
|Church cantata by J.S. Bach|
|Occasion||Second Sunday after Trinity|
|Performed||6 June 1723Leipzig –|
|Movements||14 in two parts (7 + 7)|
|Bible text||Psalms 19:1,3|
|Chorale||by Martin Luther|
|Vocal||SATB choir and solo|
Die Himmel erzählen die Ehre Gottes (English: The heavens are telling the glory of God), BWV 76, is a cantata by Johann Sebastian Bach. He composed the church cantata in Leipzig for the second Sunday after Trinity within the liturgical year and first performed it on 6 June 1723.
Bach composed the cantata at a decisive turning point in his career. Moving from posts in the service of churches and courts to the town of Leipzig on the first Sunday after Trinity, 30 May 1723, he began the project of composing a new cantata for every occasion of the liturgical year. He began his first annual cycle of cantatas ambitiously with Die Elenden sollen essen, BWV 75, in an unusual layout of 14 movements in two symmetrical parts, to be performed before and after the sermon. Die Himmel erzählen die Ehre Gottes has the same structure.
The unknown poet begins his text with a quotation from Psalm 19 and refers to both prescribed readings from the New Testament, the parable of the great banquet as the Gospel, and the First Epistle of John. Bach scored Part I with a trumpet as a symbol of God's Glory. In Part II, performed after the sermon and during communion, he wrote chamber music with oboe d'amore and viola da gamba, dealing with "brotherly devotion". Both parts are closed with a stanza of Martin Luther's hymn Es woll uns Gott genädig sein (1524).
Johann Sebastian Bach had served in several churches as Kantor and organist, and at the courts of Weimar and Köthen, when he applied for the post of Thomaskantor in Leipzig. He was 38 years old and had a reputation as an organist and organ expert. He had composed church cantatas, notably the funeral cantata Actus tragicus around 1708. In Weimar, he had begun a project to cover all occasions of the liturgical year by providing one cantata a month for four years, including works such as Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen, BWV 12, and Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland, BWV 61.
History and words
Bach composed the cantata for the Second Sunday after Trinity and first performed it in a service in the Thomaskirche, Leipzig, on 6 June 1723, a week after he took up position as cantor in Leipzig with Die Elenden sollen essen. The cantata is similar in many respects to the earlier work. While BWV 75 was probably begun in Köthen, this cantata may have been composed in Leipzig, according to a manuscript with many corrections. The two cantatas mark the beginning of Bach's first "annual cycle": he started to compose one cantata for each Sunday and holiday of the liturgical year, a project described by Christoph Wolff as "an artistic undertaking on the largest scale".
The prescribed readings for the Sunday were from the First Epistle of John, "Whoever doesn't love, remains in Death" (1 John 3:13–18), and from the Gospel of Luke, the parable of the great banquet (Luke 14:16–24). The unknown poet was likely the same as for the first cantata for Leipzig, also in 14 movements, also arranged in two symmetrical parts to be performed before and after the sermon. Again the cantata begins with words from a Psalm, Psalms 19:1,3 (verses 2 and 4 in the Luther Bible), "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows His handiwork. There is no speech or language, where their voice is not heard", connecting the Gospel to the Old Testament. The poet first expands in movements 2 and 3 the thought of the Universe praising God's creation. In the following two movements he deplores, following the Gospel, that nonetheless people did not follow the invitation of God, therefore he had to invite "von allen Straßen" (from all streets) and bless those, as movement 6 says. Part I closes with the first stanza of Martin Luther's chorale Es woll uns Gott genädig sein (1524), a paraphrase of Psalm 67. Part I was to be performed before the sermon, Part II after the sermon and during communion. Part II talks about the duties of those who follow God's invitation, to pass the love of Christ in order to achieve heaven on earth, a thought also expressed in the Epistle reading. The third stanza of Luther's chorale closes the work.
this cantata is clearly more than just a sequel to the previous Sunday's Die Elenden sollen essen... together they form a diptych revealing a thematic continuity extended over two weeks, with plentiful cross-referencing between the two set Gospels and Epistles beyond the obvious parallels between the injunction to give charitably to the hungry (BWV 75) and of brotherly love manifested in action (BWV 76).
He described the works as featuring "a characteristically Lutheran interpretation" of the First Epistle of John. He also noted the depth of metaphorical uses of "eating and drinking", highlighting "the rich man's table, from which Lazarus tried to gather fallen crumbs (BWV 75), standing in opposition to the "great supper" and God's invitation through Christ to the banquet of eternal life (BWV 76)". Summarising both pieces, Gardiner wrote:
evidently a lot of thought and pre-planning had gone on while Bach was still in Köthen, as well as discussions with his unknown librettist and possibly with representatives of the Leipzig clergy, before he could set the style, tone and narrative shaping of these two impressive works.
Scoring and structure
The cantata is scored for four vocal soloists—soprano, alto, tenor and bass—a four-part choir, trumpet, two oboes, oboe d'amore, two violins, viola, viola da gamba and continuo. The two parts of seven movements each are composed as the same arrangement of alternating recitatives and arias with a concluding chorale, only Part II is opened by a sinfonia instead of a chorus.
- Part I
- Chorus: Die Himmel erzählen die Ehre Gottes
- Recitative (tenor): So lässt sich Gott nicht unbezeuget!
- Aria (soprano): Wer aber hört, da sich der größte Haufen
- Recitative (bass): Die Himmel erzählen die Ehre Gottes
- Aria (bass): Fahr hin, abgöttische Zunft!
- Recitative (alto): Du hast uns, Herr, von allen Straßen
- Chorale: Es woll uns Gott genädig sein
- Part II
- Recitative (bass): Gott segne noch die treue Schar
- Aria (tenor): Hasse nur, hasse mich recht
- Recitative (alto): Ich fühle schon im Geist
- Aria (alto): Liebt, ihr Christen, in der Tat!
- Recitative (tenor): So soll die Christenheit
- Chorale: Es danke, Gott, und lobe dich
Similar to the opening chorus of BWV 75, Bach sets the psalm in two sections, comparable to a prelude and fugue on a large scale. An instrumental concerto unites the complete "prelude", the trumpet "calls" to tell the glory of God. The fugue in C major is a permutation fugue, which develops the subject twice, starting with the voices, up to a triumphal entrance of the trumpet, similar in development to the first chorus of Wir danken dir, Gott, wir danken dir, BWV 29, composed much later and used twice in the Mass in B minor. Joseph Haydn later set the same words, also in C major, in his oratorio The Creation.
In the first recitative the strings accompany the voice, most keenly in motifs in the arioso middle section, in Gardiner's words "to evoke the spirit of God moving upon the face of the waters". Trumpet and bass voice are used to convey the call "to banish the tribe of idolaters", while the strings possibly illustrate "the hordes of infidels". The last recitative leads in an arioso to the chorale. In the chorale, Bach has the violin play an obbligato part to the four-part setting of the voices and separates the lines by interludes, with the trumpet anticipating the line to follow. The continuo plays ostinato a motif which is derived from the first line of the chorale.
Whereas Part I begins with a trumpet announcing ("erzählen") God's glory, Part II starts on an intimate chamber music scale with oboe d'amore and viola da gamba, concentrating on "brotherly devotion" (brüderliche Treue). A sinfonia in E minor for these two instruments is reminiscent both of Bach's compositions for the court in Köthen and of a French overture, marked "adagio", then "vivace". Bach used the music of this movement later in his organ trio, BWV 528. Gardiner calls the movement "in effect a sonata da chiesa". The tenor aria illustrates the "masochistic" "Hate me, then, hate me with all your might, o hostile race!" by a first dissonant entry on an ostinato bass line full of chromatic, leaps and interrupting rests. Oboe d'amore and viola da gamba return to accompany the last aria, and "the sombre qualities of both voice and instruments create a feeling of peace and introspection". The music of the closing chorale is identical to that of Part I.
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