Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott, BWV 80
Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott (A mighty fortress is our God), BWV 80, is a church cantata by Johann Sebastian Bach. He composed the chorale cantata in Leipzig for Reformation Day, 31 October, first performed between 1727 and 1731. It is based on Martin Luther's chorale "Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott".
History and words
Bach wrote the cantata in Leipzig for Reformation Day. The cantata's inception is largely unknown. It was probably composed in 1723 or between 1728 and 1731. It is a simplified version of Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott, BWV 80b. It is based on the earlier Alles, was von Gott geboren, BWV 80a – all the music for BWV 80a is lost, but it is known that it was based on a text by Salomo Franck (1659–1725) and produced in Weimar in 1715 or 1716. BWV 80 includes all four stanzas of Luther's chorale.
Scoring and structure
The work has eight movements:
- Chorus: Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott
- Aria and duet (bass and soprano): Alles, was von Gott geboren
- Recitative and arioso (bass): Erwäge doch, Kind Gottes
- Aria (soprano): Komm in mein Herzenshaus
- Chorale: Und wenn die Welt voll Teufel wär
- Recitative and arioso (tenor): So stehe denn bei Christi blutgefärbten Fahne
- Duetto (alto, tenor): Wie selig sind doch die, die Gott im Munde tragen
- Chorale: Das Wort sie sollen lassen stahn
The cantata opens with a choral fantasia "with contrapuntal devices of awe-inspiring complexity". It adopts the motet technique of having the instrument and vocal lines follow each other closely. Structurally, the movement repeats the first two phrases, adds four new shorter phrases, then concludes with another iteration of the second phrase, all performed on oboe. All four voices "discuss each phrase imitatively as a prelude to its instrumental entry", using fugal devices. Craig Smith suggests that "in a genre in which Bach was the absolute master, this is probably the greatest motet chorus". Wilhelm Friedemann Bach later added trumpet parts to this movement.
In the second movement, the oboe and soprano perform an embellished version of the chorale while the bass sings an aria. The accompanying string ritornello is agitated and "relentless", in a form reminiscent of a concerto grosso. Simon Crouch compares it to a machine gun. Like the first movement, the duet is in D major and common time.
The central chorale presents the chorale theme in unison voices, an unusual practice for Bach. The melody is unadorned and in 6/8 time. The orchestral accompaniment becomes more agitated and complex as the movement progresses.
The alto and tenor duet is accompanied by continuo and obbligato violin with oboe da caccia. The movement is "submissive" in character with a texture that becomes more complex as the duet progresses, at one point including five simultaneous melodic lines. Bach uses a juxtaposition of "flowing, largely semi-quaver" instrumental parts with the vocal "crotchet/quaver rhythms" to depict the shield of the faithful.
The final movement is a four-part setting of the chorale.
- Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra & Choir, Ton Koopman. J.S. Bach: Complete Cantatas Vol. 22. Antoine Marchand.
- Heinrich-Schütz-Chor Heilbronn / Pforzheim Chamber Orchestra, Fritz Werner. Les Grandes Cantates de J.S. Bach Vol. 5. Erato 1959 (reissued)
- Dürr, Alfred (1971). Die Kantaten von Johann Sebastian Bach (in German) 1. Bärenreiter-Verlag. OCLC 523584.
- "BWV 80". University of Alberta. Retrieved 4 June 2013.
- Mincham, Julian. "Chapter 60 BWV 80". jsbachcantatas. Retrieved 31 May 2013.
- Smith, Craig. "BWV 80". Emmanuel Music. Retrieved 31 May 2013.
- Crouch, Simon (1997). "Cantata 80". Classical Net. Retrieved 31 May 2013.
- "Cantata BWV 80". Bach Choir of Bethlehem. Retrieved 31 May 2013.
- Fritz Werner & Heinrich-Schütz-Chor Heilbronn & Pforzheim Chamber Orchestra Bach Cantatas & Other Vocal Works
The first source is the score.
Several databases provide additional information on each cantata:
- Cantata BWV 80 Ein' feste Burg ist unser Gott: history, scoring, sources for text and music, translations to various languages, discography, discussion, bach-cantatas website
- Eine feste Burg ist unser Gott: history, scoring, Bach website (German)
- BWV 80 Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott: English translation, University of Vermont