Magnificat in D major, BWV 243

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The Magnificat in D major, BWV 243, is a setting of the Magnificat text by Johann Sebastian Bach for five soloists (SSATB), a five-part choir (also SSATB), and orchestra. BWV 243 is a reworking of an E-flat major setting of the Magnificat Bach had composed in 1723 (BWV 243a). There were some changes in instrumentation, and the key changed from E-flat major to D major, for performance reasons of the trumpet parts.

Bach had the D major version of his Magnificat performed at the feast of Visitation (2 July) in 1733. It was this final version of Bach's Magnificat that became a standard for perfomance.


Bach had composed the E-flat major version of the Magnificat in 1723, his first year as Thomaskantor in Leipzig, for the Marian feast of Visitation, which was celebrated on 2 July in Bach's time. Later that year he used that E-flat major version again for the Christmas Vespers, with additional interpolated texts related to Christmas.[1]

Around 1730 Bach reworked this Magnificat to a version in D major without the Christmas additions.[2] This final version had its premiere at the Thomaskirche on Visitation 1733, which coincided with the fourth Sunday after Trinity Sunday that year. The feast ended the period of mourning the death of the elector Augustus the Strong. The key of D major was better suited to the trumpets.[3]

Scoring and structure[edit]

The Tudor Consort performs Gloria Patri part of BWV 243, 2006

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The Magnificat is scored for five soloists, soprano I/II, alto, tenor, bass, a five-part choir, three trumpets (in D), timpani (in D and A), two traversos, two oboes (oboe d'amore for movements three and four), two violins, viola, and basso continuo.[4][5][6]

It is one of few works which Bach set for a five-part choir, along with the motet Jesu, meine Freude, BWV 227, and the 1733 Missa BWV 232a, consisting of a Kyrie and Gloria that quarter of a century later were included in the Mass in B minor.[1]


The work is divided into twelve movements. Its performance lasts approximately twenty-five to thirty minutes.

The following table shows the title, Tempo marking, voices, time, key and text sources for the twelve movements for Visitation and the inserted movements for Christmas. Also the orchestration is indicated:

  • In the winds & Ti column: trumpets (Tr), timpani (Ti), traversos (Fl) and oboes (Ob) / oboes d'amore (ObA)
  • In the strings & Bc column: violins (Vl), viola (Va) and organ/basso continuo (Bc)
Movements of Bach's Magnificat BWV 243
No. Title Voices Winds & Ti Strings & Bc Key Time Tempo Autograph p. Text source
1 Magnificat anima mea SSATB 3Tr Ti 2Fl 2Ob 2Vl Va Bc D major 3/4 1-15 Luke 1:46
2 Et exultavit spiritus meus SII 2Vl Va Bc D major 3/8 16-18 Luke 1:47
3 Quia respexit humiltatem SI ObAI Bc B minor common time Adagio 18-19 Luke 1:48 beginning
4 Omnes generationes SSATB 2Fl 2ObA 2Vl Va Bc common time Luke 1:48 end
5 Quia fecit mihi magna B common time Luke 1:49
6 Et misericordia A T 2Vl Va 12/8 Luke 1:50
7 Fecit potentiam SSATB 3Tr Ti 2Ob 2Vl Va common time Luke 1:51
8 Deposuit potentes T Vl 3/4 Luke 1:52
9 Esurientes A 2Fl common time Luke 1:53
10 Suscepit Israel SSA Tr common time Luke 1:54
11 Sicut locutus est SSATB common time Luke 1:55
12 Gloria Patri
Sicut erat in principio
SSATB 3Tr Ti 2Ob 2Vl Va common time

The description of the movements refers to both the E-flat major version (BWV 232a) and the D-major version (BWV 232), unless otherwise indicated.


The opening movement Magnificat anima mea is performed by all forces, except, in the E-flat major version, the recorders.[5] In the D major version, BWV 243, two traversos are included in the orchestra and play in the opening movement.[7] An instrumental ritornello presents the material with almost continuous runs in the upper parts, octaves and broken triads in the bass. The sopranos enter first, in third parallels: they sing the first word Magnificat anima mea (literally: makes great) with a melisma on the first syllable, ending in a figure like a trill, then a stressed dotted note on the the stressed syllable "gni", and relaxing on "ficat". The motif is abbreviated to a fanfare of just four notes, a low upbeat followed by three same notes, with the first one dotted. The sopranos sing it twice, reaching first E-flat, then G. The interplay of the fanfare and the melismas shapes the movement. One measure after the sopranos, alto and tenor begin to imitate the sopranos, another measure later, the bass adds the short motif as an octave up. The text remains Magnificat for most of the movement, the conclusion "anima mea" (my soul) is heard by the alto for the first time, in measure 67, embedded in the other voices' Magnificat. All parts sing "Dominum" (the Lord) only once, soprano II beginning with a long note continued by a melisma in measure 73, the others in 74. The closing ritorello is a shorter version of the beginning.


Et exultavit spiritus meus is an aria sung by soprano II, accompanied by the strings which introduce the motifs in eight measures. Et exultavit (And exults) begins with a broken upward triad and is followed by a rest, spiritus meus (my spirit) is a sequence of 16th notes, two for every syllable. Longer melismas illustrate salutari (salvation).


Quia respexit humiltatem (Because he respected the humility) is an aria sung by soprano I with an obbligato oboe. It is the only movement that Bach marked for a tempo at the beginning: Adagio.


Omnes generationes (all generations) is given to the chorus in the middle of the sentence, expressing the fullness of the praise. It is a complex fugue, with four voices starting together. The theme, beginning with five repeated notes, appears first in the bass, a measure later in SI on the same note, followed every half by entrances a fifth higher in SII, alto, tenor and bass, half a measure later in the alto. Beginning in measure 10, the voices enter, again half a measure apart, with the bass beginning. From measure 15, every entrance is one note higher, covering an octave as a symbol of completeness (omnes), again in the fast succession of half a measure: A, SII, SI, T, B, SII, SI, A. In a final sequence beginning in measure 21, the voices enter from bottom to top on the same note, only one beat apart and doubling the word "omnes". The movement concludes repeating the theme in homophony.


Quia fecit mihi magna (Because he did great things for me) is an aria sung by the bass, accompanied only by the continuo. The motif, again beginning with repeated notes, is introduced by four measures of the continuo, then repeated by the voice. Elements are a downward leap of a sixth and a downward scale of an octave, which appears in the voice on the word "sanctum" (holy).


Et misericordia (And mercy) begins in great contrast softly with undulating movement in 12/8 time, played by violins con sordino. It is a duet of alto and tenor, beginning in parallels of sixths and staying in homophony for most of the movement.


Fecit potentiam (He shows strength) shares key and scoring with the first movement. Based on a continuo line of octaves and repeated 16th, strength is expressed by irregular coloraturas in one voice and homophonic simultaneous calls of the other voices. The tenor begins the coloraturas of four measures, followed by alto, SII, bass and SI, leading to the climax of the movement, two homophonic calls. The new text, dispersit, appears in various voices as broken triads, juxtaposed to material from the first section, but then isolated, in a sequence from the highest voice to the lowest and in downward triads. The conclusion, mente cordis sui, is marked Adagio and illustrates the text in pompous long chords, with accents in the trumpets.


Deposuit potentes (He hath put down the mighty) is an aria for tenor, accompanied by only the violins united in powerful unison. The instrumental ritornello of 14 measures presents the material. The first motif, later sung on Deposuit, begins with a short upbeat and a long note, followed by a straight downward scale and a final leap up, while the continuo presents a broken triad, straight upward one octave. The second motif, later sung on potentes, begins with an upbeat of three 16th, followed by a rhythmic pattern which expands both the lowest as the highest note, while the continuo moves in steady steps down. For the third motif, sung on de sede (from the seat), the continuo picks up the rhythm of the second motiv, while the violins play a more ornamented downward motion in sixteen continuous 16th. A fourth motif is a sequence of three measures, each a sequence of a figure of a figure of four 16th which is slowly moving upwards. When the singer takes over, the violins accent the end of each motif one to three by a broken downward triad.

The second thought of the verse, et exaltavit humiles (exalted them of low degree), is sung without introduction as a melisma of four measures, which includes downward runs but in a steadily rising sequence and ending similarly to the sequence of motif four, on exaltavit, but a modest downward line on humiles (the humble). After a shorter ritornello, the tenor sings the complete text again, the first part in a slightly modified version, but the exaltation considerably expanded. Nonetheless, the ritornello in full length is repeated at the end.


Esurientes (The hungry) is sung by the alto, accompanied by two recorders which may symbolise the need of the hungry. Bach used recorders also in his later cantata Brich dem Hungrigen dein Brot, BWV 39. They often play in parallels of sixths and thirds. The ritornello of eight measures introduces a motiv moving up, on a continuo of steady quarter note, for four measures, later sung on Esurientes implevit bonis (He hath filled the hungry with good things), while downward lines and a continuo moving in eighth notes later go with et divites dimisit (and the rich he hath sent away). In Latin, the last word is inanes (empty), which Bach sometimes separates by rests.


Suscepit Israel (He hath holpen his servant Israel) is scored for an unusual combination of the three highest voices and two oboes in unison. The text continuoes recordatus misericordiae suae (in remembrance of his mercy) Bach "remembers" the Gregorian chant of the Magnificat, called tonus peregrinus, which the oboes play as a cantus firmus, on a continuo line changing only every measure, moving one step down or up. The voices imitate each other, also in gentle movement, the first a fifth up in a long upbeat, the second a fifth down oe measure later, the third up again, another measure later. Almost the only leaps in the whole measure occur on the word recordatus, with a downward quart on each syllable, a figure which Bach repeated in the Et incarnatus est of his Mass in B minor. The figure that has been interpreted as a symbol of the cross, because a line drawn from the fist to the forth note crosses one from the second to the third.


Sicut locutus est (As he spake [to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever]), the last line of the Magnificat, is written in stile antico, the old style of the musical "fathers", as a strict fugue, one voice following the other as one generation follows the other. The theme has four distinctly different measures: the first repeated notes, the second flowing eighth notes, the third quarter notes in leaps, the fourth half notes leaping up a sixth. The countersubject has leaps down and up an octave in the second measure, the flowing eighth notes in the third measure. When the theme is developed the first time, four voices enter from bottom to top. In the second development, soprano I begins, followed by alto, tenor and bass. The movements ends with a more homophonic section in which the bass has the theme once more, while soprano I sings long suspended notes covering almost an octave down.


The work is concluded by the doxology, Gloria Patri (Glory to the father), performed by the complete ensemble. Gloria is first presented as the major chord repeated three times, with a dotted note on the first syllable. In the second Gloria, leading to Patri, the voices sing the first syllable as an extended melisma beginning in upward moving lines, for three measures in the basses, half a measure less for each following voice. In the third Gloria, leading to Filio (to the Son), in a similar pattern soprano I begins, followed by alto, soprano II, tenor and bass. In the fourth Gloria, leading to et Spiritui sancto (and to the Holy Spirit), in again similar pattern the voices follow each other from top to bottom, ending in a long cadenza. The second part of the text, Sicut erat in principio (as it was in the beginning) repeats material from the beginning of the work but shortened, as a frame.

The hymns from the Christmas 1723 E-flat major version[edit]

The first time the Christmas hymns of the E-flat major version of Bach's Magnificat were printed in the same volume as the D major version of the Magnificat was in the 1862 Bach Gesellschaft XI/1 publication, which presented the hymns in an annex. In that publication the hymns were however not transposed to fit in the D major setting of the Magnificat. More recently publishers offer such transposed (and completed) versions of the hymns, so that they can be performed as part of the D major version of the Magnificat, for instance Novello in 2000 (Neil Jenkins) and Bärenreiter in 2014.

Reception history - publications of the score - performances[edit]

The autograph of the D major version of the Magnificat can be dated around 1732-1753. It has been published as an on-line resource.[8]

The D major version of Bach's Magnificat didn't appear in print before the Bach-revival that followed Felix Mendelssohn's 1829 performance of the St Matthew Passion. There had been a 1811 print of the E-flat major version, but without much success in sales.

In the 1840s a piano reduction of the D major version by Robert Franz appeared. In 1862 the orchestral and vocal score was published in Volume 11/1 of the Bach-Gesellschaft edition.[9] Soon an orchestration more in line with 19th century performance practice followed, e.g. the "organ and continuo" single stave with annotated bass from the autograph and the Bach-edition was expanded in several staves for organ, bassoon, celli by Robert Franz.

Novello printed an Octavo edition in 1874, using a translation to English which John Troutbeck based on the text in The Book of Common Prayer.[10] In 1924 Arnold Schering edited the full orchestral score for publication by Ernst Eulenburg and Edition Peters.[11]

The Neue Bach Ausgabe published Bach's Magnificat in 1955, edited by Alfred Dürr.[12] This Urtext score was reused in several ensuing publications by Bärenreiter, among which several with English translations, well into the 21st century. Novello published both the E-flat major and the D major version of the Magnificat in a single publication in 2000, edited by Neil Jenkins.[3]

Selected recordings[edit]


  1. ^ a b Jones 2013
  2. ^ Schweitzer 1911 (volume 2), p. 166
  3. ^ a b Jenkins.
  4. ^ Dellal.
  5. ^ a b Jenkins 2000, Introduction p. 5
  6. ^ Autograph (D major version), frontispiece
  7. ^ Autograph (D major version), pp. 1-15
  8. ^ Autograph (D major version)
  9. ^ Breitkopf & Härtel 1862
  10. ^ Novello 1874
  11. ^ Schering 1924
  12. ^ Digital.


External links[edit]