Magnificat in E-flat major, BWV 243a

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BWV 243a
by J. S. Bach
Heimsuchung, Unionskirche.jpg
Heimsuchung, occasion of the song of praise, Rubens school, Unionskirche, Idstein
Key E-flat major
Related base for Magnificat in D major, BWV 243
  • 2 July 1723 (1723-07-02) – Leipzig
  • 25 December 1723 (1723-12-25) – Leipzig
Movements 12 (+4)
Bible text Luke 1:46–55
Vocal SSATB choir and solo
  • 3 trumpets
  • timpani
  • 2 recorders
  • 2 oboes
  • 2 violins
  • viola
  • continuo

The Magnificat in E-flat major, BWV 243a, by Johann Sebastian Bach is a musical setting of the biblical canticle Magnificat as an extended composition for voices and orchestra in twelve movements. Bach composed the piece in E-flat major, formally a cantata, in 1723, his first year as Thomaskantor in Leipzig, for the feast of the Visitation, and first performed it on the feast day, 2 July. For Christmas the same year, he performed it again with four inserted laudes, songs of praise related to the occasion. The sacred choral work on the Latin text is scored for five vocal parts (two sopranos, alto, tenor and bass), and a Baroque orchestra of three trumpets, timpani, two recorders, two oboes, two violins, viola and basso continuo. In 1733, Bach transposed it to D major and reworked it to the Magnificat in D major, BWV 243, again for Visitation.

While the canticle Magnificat was often set to music, being a regular part of Catholic vespers and Anglican evensong, Bach's work is one of few extended settings, along with his son's Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach Magnificat and the 1990 work by John Rutter. It is the first work which Bach scored for five vocal parts, followed by only a few unusual works such as the funeral motet Jesu, meine Freude and the Missa of 1733.


In Leipzig, the Magnificat was regularly part of Sunday services, sung in German on ordinary Sundays but more elaborately and in Latin on the high holidays (Christmas, Easter and Pentecost) and on the three Marian feasts Annunciation, Visitation and Purification.[1][2]

Bach composed the work in 1723, his first year as Thomaskantor in Leipzig, for the feast of the Visitation.[3] A few weeks after he had taken up his post on the first Sunday after Trinity,[4] he presented an unusual extended composition and introduced five-part choral setting to Leipzig church music. Otherwise, he used five voices only in the funeral motet Jesu, meine Freude (1723), the Missa in B minor (1733) with the derived cantata Gloria in excelsis Deo, BWV 191, and in the Mass in B minor. Musicologist Richard D. P. Jones notes: "Without exception these works lie outside the normal routine of Bach's sacred vocal works".[1]

Bach first performed the Magnificat on the feast day, 2 July.[3] For Christmas the same year, he performed it again with four inserted laudes, songs of praise partly in German, partly in Latin.[1][3] Bach used as a cantus firmus in movement 10 the Gregorian chant tonus peregrinus. A year later Bach composed for the feast of the Visitation the chorale cantata Meine Seel erhebt den Herren, BWV 10, on a paraphrase of the Magnificat as the text and the same tonus peregrinus as the base for the music.[4]

For Visitation of 1733, he transposed his Magnificat composition to D major and reworked it to BWV 243, the version better known today. 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.[5]

While the canticle Magnificat was often set to music, being a regular part of Catholic vespers and Anglican evensong, Bach's work is one of few extended settings. His son Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach and John Rutter followed his example.

Scoring and structure[edit]

Bach structured the work in twelve movements,

Bach scored the work festively for five vocal soloists (two sopranos (SI, SII), alto (A), tenor (T) and bass (B)) and a SSATB five-part choir. The Baroque orchestra consists of three trumpets (Tr), timpani (Ti), two recorders (Fl), two oboes (Ob), two violins (Vl), viola (Va) and basso continuo (Bc).[6] The full orchestra plays in the first and last movements and the choral movements 4 and 7, Fecit potentiam. As in other cantatas, the movements for soloists are accompanied by an obbligato instrument, only strings or even only continuo.

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. The source for the details is the vocal score,[7] unless otherwise noted.

Movements of Bach's Magnificat
No. Title Voices Winds Strings Key Time Tempo Text source
1 Magnificat anima mea SSATB 3Tr Ti 2Ob 2Vl Va E-flat major 3/4 Luke 1:46
2 Et exultavit spiritus meus SII 2Vl Va E-flat major 3/8 Luke 1:47
[A] Vom Himmel hoch SSATB E-flat major cut time Hymn by Martin Luther
3 Quia respexit humiltatem SI Ob C minor common time Adagio Luke 1:48 beginning
4 Omnes generationes SSATB 2Ob 2Vl Va G minor common time Luke 1:48 end
5 Quia fecit mihi magna B E-flat major common time Luke 1:49
[B] Freut euch und jubilieret SSAT B-flat major common time Verse by Sethus Calvisius[8]
6 Et misericordia A T 2Vl Va F minor 12/8 Luke 1:50
7 Fecit potentiam SSATB 3Tr Ti 2Ob 2Vl Va E-flat major common time Luke 1:51
[C] Gloria in excelsis Deo SSATB Vl E-flat major common time Luke 2:14
8 Deposuit potentes T Vl G minor 3/4 Luke 1:52
9 Esurientes A 2Fl F major common time Luke 1:53
[D] Virga Jesse floruit S B F major 12/8 fragment of a longer Christmas hymn[9]
10 Suscepit Israel SSA Tr C minor common time Luke 1:54
11 Sicut locutus est SSATB E-flat major common time Luke 1:55
12 Gloria Patri
Sicut erat in principio
SSATB 3Tr Ti 2Ob 2Vl Va E-flat major common time


The earliest sources are autographs for the performances on 2 July and 25 December 1723, kept in Berlin.[1] Manuscript scores of the added Christmas parts are kept by the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin.[3] 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. The work was not included in the edition of the Bach-Gesellschaft, but it appeared in the Neue Bach Ausgabe in 1955, edited by Alfred Dürr.[3] Novello published an edition in 2000, edited by Neil Jenkins.[5] Bärenreiter published a critical edition based on it again in 2014/15.[10]


The first version of Bach's Magnificat in the Christmas version was recorded in 2002 by the Collegium Vocale Gent, conducted by Philippe Herreweghe, with soloists Carolyn Sampson, Ingeborg Danz, Mark Padmore and Sebastian Noack. A reviewer noted "bracing but not rushed tempos, infectiously energetic and technically solid contributions from the chorus, and an intelligently paced flow from movement to movement.[11]


  1. ^ a b c d Jones, Richard D. P. (2013). The Creative Development of Johann Sebastian Bach, Volume II: 1717-1750: Music to Delight the Spirit. Oxford University Press. pp. 131–136. ISBN 0-19-969628-4. 
  2. ^ Schröder, Dorothea (2012). Johann Sebastian Bach. C.H. Beck. ISBN 0-19-969628-4. 
  3. ^ a b c d e "Magnificat in E flat major (first version) BWV 243a; BC E 13 / Mass". Leipzig University. Retrieved 23 September 2014. 
  4. ^ a b Rizzuti, Alberto. "One Verse, Two Settings, and Three Strange Youths" (PDF). p. 1. Retrieved 23 September 2014. 
  5. ^ a b Jenkins, Neil. "Bach Magnificat in D & E flat BWV 243 & 243a / (Novello edition ed. N. Jenkins)" (PDF). pp. 1–6. Retrieved 23 September 2014. 
  6. ^ Dellal, Pamela. "Bach Cantata Translations / BWV 243a - "Magnificat" (E-flat Major)". Emmanuel Music. Retrieved 22 September 2014. 
  7. ^ Magnificat / BWV 243a. Bärenreiter. 
  8. ^ Cantagrel, Gilles (2011). J.-S. Bach : Passions, messes, motets (in French). Fayard. p. 260. ISBN 2-21-366547-8. 
  9. ^ Spitta, Philipp (1899). Johann Sebastian Bach: his work and influence on the music of Germany, 1685-1750 2. Novello. pp. 369–371. 
  10. ^ "Magnificat Es-Dur" (PDF) (in German). Bärenreiter. 2014. p. 3. Retrieved 22 September 2014. 
  11. ^ Vernier, David. "J.S. Bach: Leipzig Christmas cantatas; Magnificat/Herreweghe". Retrieved 23 September 2014.