Magnificat (Bach)

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Johann Sebastian Bach's Magnificat is a musical setting of the biblical canticle Magnificat. It is scored for five vocal parts (two sopranos, alto, tenor and bass), and a Baroque orchestra including trumpets and timpani. It is the first major liturgical composition on a Latin text by Bach.

In 1723, after taking up his post as Thomaskantor in Leipzig, Bach set the text of the Magnificat in a twelve movement composition in the key of E-flat major. For a performance at Christmas he inserted four hymns (laudes) related to that feast. This version, including the Christmas interpolations, was given the number BWV 243a in the catalogue of Bach's works.

For the feast of Visitation of 1733, Bach produced a new version of his Latin Magnificat, without the Christmas hymns: instrumentation of some movements was altered or expanded, and the key changed from E-flat major to D major, for performance reasons of the trumpet parts. This version of Bach's Magnificat is known as BWV 243.

After publication of both versions in the 19th century, the second became the standard for performance. It is one of Bach's most popular vocal works.


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)[1] and on the three Marian feasts Annunciation, Visitation and Purification.[2][3]

Traditional setting of the German Magnificat[edit]

Traditional D minor setting of Luther's German Magnificat, which is a particular German version of the ninth tone or tonus peregrinus[4]

The traditional setting of Luther's German translation of the Magnificat ("Meine Seele erhebt den Herren") is a German variant of the tonus peregrinus, a rather exceptional psalm tone in Gregorian chant.[4] The tonus peregrinus (or ninth tone) is associated with the ninth mode or Aeolian mode.[5] For the traditional setting of Luther's German Magnificat that is the minor mode for which the last note of the melodic formula is the tonic, a fifth below its opening note.

The tonus peregrinus variant that is associated with Luther's German Magnificat appears in compositions by, among others, Johann Schein, Heinrich Schütz, Johann Pachelbel and Dietrich Buxtehude. Bach uses the melodic formula as an instrumental cantus firmus in movement 10 (Suscepit Israel) of his Latin Magnificat. He uses it again in his "German Magnificat", i.e. the cantata Meine Seel erhebt den Herren BWV 10 composed for Visitation of 1724, in the chorale harmonisations BWV 323 and 324, and in the fourth Schübler Chorale BWV 648.[6][7] Also in BWV 733, Fuga sopra il Magnificat, the melodic formula is used as a theme: this chorale prelude may however be the work of Bach pupil Johann Ludwig Krebs.[8][9]

Extended settings of the Magnificat[edit]

Christian traditions include the Magnificat in vespers, evensong or matins.[10][11] While it was often sung, it was set to music by various composers. Extended settings of the Magnificat, that is in several movements with chorus, orchestra and vocal soloists, and a non-linear treatment of the text (parts of the text repeated multiple times by the singers), go back to the old Italian school of music.[12] Such an example can be found in Claudio Monteverdi's Magnificat a 7 voci, one of two alternative Magnificat settings included in his Vespro della Beata Vergine. In a Lutheran tradition there is for example Schütz' Latin Magnificat, SWV 468. Magnificat composers like Johann Levini, Antonio Lotti and Francesco Durante are cited as possible inspirations for Bach.[13][14] Around Bach's time there are also examples by Heinichen and by Vivaldi.

In many of these settings a single verse of the Magnificat can be sung by one or more soloists alternating with choral singing, as Bach does in his treatment of the third Magnificat verse: the soprano sings the first words of the verse, while the chorus concludes it. This particular split of the third verse, leaving only the last two words (omnes generationes) to the chorus, had been practiced before by Ruggiero Fedeli, and in a Magnificat in G minor from 1720 which Bach probably knew (that Magnificat in G minor used to be attributed to Tomaso Albinoni).[1][14][15][16]

Another characteristic of Bach's Magnificat is that it is set for a five-part chorus. Music for five-part chorus had been published in Leipzig before Bach's time, for example Johann Rosenmüller's setting of "Welt, ade! ich bin dein müde" in 1679, a chorale Bach would incorporate in his cantata Wer weiß, wie nahe mir mein Ende? BWV 27 in 1726. In the legacy Bach's predecessor in Leipzig, Johann Kuhnau, had left there was a motet in a five-part choral setting: Tristis est anima mea.[17] In Dresden, where Kuhnau's five-part choral manuscript may have originated, such compositions were more common.[18] Extending a standard SATB choir with more voice parts was also no novelty for Magnificat compositions: for example Johann Pachelbel, the teacher of Johann Sebastian's eldest brother, had composed half a dozen Magnificats for SSTAB choir, and one for soli, SSTAB double choir and orchestra.

Bach had already composed for a SSTAB choir in Weimar (Der Himmel lacht! Die Erde jubilieret, BWV 31, an Easter cantata from 1715). He did the same in the year his Magnificat premiered, in his funeral motet Jesu, meine Freude. Ten years later, around the time when the D major version of the Magnificat originated, he composed for the same extended chorus in his Mass for the Dresden court. Other extended choral settings by Bach include his Sanctus for six vocal parts (SSSATB) for Christmas 1724, and compositions for double choir like the St Matthew Passion (1727) and the secular cantata Preise dein Glücke, gesegnetes Sachsen, BWV 215 (1734). Such compositions with an extended choir are however outside Bach's usual routine for liturgical music.[19]

The Visitation version(s)[edit]

17th century painting of the Visitation

In the Gospel of Luke the words of the Magnificat are spoken by Mary when she visits her cousin Elizabeth, both being pregnant, Mary of Jesus and Elisabeth of John the Baptist. In Christianity, the feast commemorating that visit is called Visitation. It is a chosen opportunity to give more than ordinary attention to the Magnificat canticle in liturgy, while the feast celebrates the event tied to its origin. In Bach's time the feast day of Visitation fell on 2 July. The D major version of Bach's Magnificat (BWV 243) was first performed on 2 July 1733, as part of the church service in the St. Thomas Church (Thomaskirche) in Leipzig. That year, Visitation fell on a Sunday (fourth Sunday after Trinity) and ended the period of mourning the death of the elector Augustus the Strong.

In 2003 Bach scholar Andreas Glöckner argued that the very first version of Bach's Magnificat, in E-flat major and containing only the same twelve movements as the later D major version, was first performed on 2 July 1723.[20][21][22] That would have been exactly ten years before the transposed version, and composed for the same Marian feast. Bach had taken up his post as Thomaskantor in Leipzig on 30 May, the first Sunday after Trinity in 1723. Visitation was the first feast day of his tenure, which called for exceptionally festive music.[23]

The Christmas interpolations[edit]

Before Glöckners 2003 article on the origin of the Magnificat, and for some authors still after that, it was generally assumed that Bach had composed his Magnificat in the quiet time of Advent 1723 for a first performance at the Christmas vespers.[2] For that performance Bach composed four laudes, songs of praise partly in German, partly in Latin to be inserted at certain points in the E-flat major version of the Magnificat.[2][21] The E-flat major version of the Magnificat including these interpolations is known as BWV 243a.

The text of these laudes had been used in Leipzig in a Christmas cantata by Bach's predecessor Kuhnau.[24] They illustrate what the Gospels describe as the circumstances around Christ's birth.[25] Spitta says the following about the customs around such hymns, like the one from which the text of Bach's fourth laudes is taken:[25]

The Latin-German Christmas hymn (…) is, in part at least, a lullaby sung at the cradle of Christ, and, since it was included by the Leipzig Cantor, Vopelius, in his Leipzig hymn book, it must have been in ordinary use there. It was an old Christian custom to place a manger in the church, and to perform the events of Christmas night as a drama or mystery. Boys represented the angels and proclaimed the birth of the Saviour, and then priests entered as the shepherds and drew near to the manger; others asked what they had seen there (…); they gave answer and sung a lullaby at the manger. Mary and Joseph were also represented: Mary asks Joseph to help her to rock the Child; he declares himself ready, and the shepherds sing a song. This custom of Kindleinwiegen (rocking of the cradle), as it was called, (…), was in full force in the beginning of the (18th) century in Leipzig. It was one of the customs which the Council wished to abolish in the year 1702. (…) their proposal met with but little favour (…). This particular custom of Kindleinwiegen actually survived to Bach's day, for we find a lullaby in his Christmas Oratorio. (…) the words put together by Kuhnau for a Christmas cantata and adopted by Bach reflect the simple old custom, still popular at that time in Leipzig, of representing dramatically in church the angelic message and the adoration of the shepherds; but in a more ideal way, being, as it were, its poetic and musical counterpart.

As these laudes were to be performed with a very limited accompaniment of instruments, they were supposedly performed from the smaller organ loft in the "high choir" which in the Thomaskirche was opposite to the larger organ loft where the other movements of the Magnificat were performed.[25] The autograph of the E-flat major version of the Magnificat (BWV 243a) suggests that Bach intended to perform the first version of his Magnificat also without the laudes, depending on circumstances, for example on other feasts than Christmas.[25]

Other Magnificats by Bach?[edit]

Bach's necrolog, written by Johann Friedrich Agricola and his son Carl Philipp Emanuel, mentions that he would have composed several Magnificats.[26] Apart from the extant copies of BWV 243/243a, of the German Magnificat BWV 10 and of the chorale harmonisation BWV 324, a Magnificat for soprano solo was considered lost in the 19th century.[27] The score of that so-called "little" Magnificat (Kleine Magnificat) being retrieved in the 20th century, and listed as Anh. 21 in the BWV catalogue, its authenticity was doubted.[28] In 1982 Melchior Hoffmann was indicated as the composer of this German Magnificat Meine Seel erhebt den Herren.[29] A similar cantata on a German paraphrase of the Magnificat, Meine Seele rühmt und preist, BWV 189 for tenor solo and composed for Visitation, has also been attributed to Hoffmann.

Structure and movements[edit]

Bach's Magnificat consists of eleven movements for the text of Luke 1:46–55, concluded by a twelfth doxology movement. Each verse of the canticle is assigned to one movement, except verse 48 (the third verse of the Magnificat) which begins with a soprano solo in the third movement and is concluded by the chorus in the fourth movement.

The four Christmas interpolations are placed after the second, the fifth, the seventh and the ninth movement on the Magnificat text. These four laudes movements are usually indicated by the letters A to D.

A performance of the Magnificat lasts approximately twenty-five to thirty minutes, the Christmas hymns take approximately an additional ten minutes. The duration of the version without Christmas hymns is comparable with that of an average Bach cantata. However there are many differences: the Magnificat contains about twice as many movements as an average cantata, keeping it short by avoiding da capos in the arias, and altogether no recitatives. Also the text is in Latin (not the usual language for a Bach cantata), the architecture of the movements is fairly complex, as opposed to the fairly simple structure of an average cantata, and the choral writing is in five parts, "outside the normal routine of Bach's sacred vocal works".[19]

Scoring and key signature[edit]

The movements 1 (Magnificat), 7 (Fecit potentiam) and 12 (Gloria patri) are the cornerstones of the composition: they are in the tonic key (E major for BWV 243a, D major for BWV 243), and are the only movements that feature as well a five-part chorus as a tutti orchestra. The chorus also sings in movement 4 (Omnes generationes), accompanied by an orchestra without trumpets and timpani. Each of these four choral movements are, in the version without the Christmas hymns, followed by two movements for a vocal soloist, the second one often with richer scoring.[21] In the movements for vocal soloists the instrumentation is as usual in Bach's cantata's: the soloists are accompanied by an obbligato instrument, only strings and/or continuo. Movement A (Vom Himmel hoch) is the only a cappella movement.

As in Saxony trumpets were usually tuned in D major,[30] this is given as a reason why Bach transposed the initial E-flat major version to D major.[31]


Bach set the Magnificat for SSATB five-part choir. Five vocal soloists are required: two sopranos (sI, sII), alto (s), tenor (t) and bass (b). In movement 10 (Suscepit Israel) both sopranos sing together with the bass.


The Baroque orchestra for BWV 243a consists of "due violini, due oboe, tre trombi, tamburi, basson, viola e basso continuo",[32] i.e. two violins, two oboes (Ob), three trumpets (Tr, tonic), timpani (Ti, tonic and dominant), bassoon, viola (Va) and basso continuo (Bc). Two recorders (flauto dolce, Fl) are required for aria No. 9 Esurientes, but are not part of the tutti.[33]

For the 1733 version, Bach used a somewhat more extended orchestra: the recorders are replaced by traversos (Fl) and they get separate parts in all four choral movements.[34] In movements three and four the oboes are replaced by oboes d'amore (Oa). In the 10th movement (Suscepit Israel) the oboes replace the trumpet for the obbligato instrumental part.[35][33]

The continuo part is played by organ, bassoon, cello and violone in most movements. In the 1723 version movement 10 (Suscepit Israel) has a bassett (Ba) part played exclusively by violins and viola in unisono.[36][37] In the 1733 version this continuo line is given to a continuo that includes cello, but not bassoon and violone.

Symmetrical structure[edit]

Bach's Magnificat is built symmetrically around the 7th movement (Fecit potentiam): Between the first and the 7th movement there are four verses of the Magnificat, between the 7th and the last there are also four. First, seventh and last movement are in the tonic key, with full orchestra and choir. The second and 11th movement are in the same major key, the third and the 10th movement are in the relative minor key. The movement preceding, and the one following, the central 7th movement are also in a minor key. The fifth an the ninth are in a major key, different from the tonic. The Christmas additions are separated by two Magnificat verses, the first addition being after the second verse. The Christmas hymns are always in the same key as the preceding movement. By verse, this is how the harmonic structure looks like:[38]

  • Verse 1 and 2 (movements 1 and 2, followed by movement A in the Christmas version): tonic key (major)
    • Verse 3: starts in relative minor key (movement 3), moving to another minor key (movement 4)
      • Verse 4 (movement 5, followed by movement B in the Christmas version): major key different from tonic
        • Verse 5 (movement 6): minor key
          • Verse 6 (movement 7, followed by movement C in the Christmas version): tonic key
        • Verse 7 (movement 8): minor key
      • Verse 8 (movement 9, followed by movement D in the Christmas version): major key different from tonic
    • Verse 9 (movement 10): relative minor key
  • Verse 10 and doxology (movements 11 and 12): tonic key

Regarding voices and orchestration the four Magnificat verses between the first and the seventh movement, and those between the seventh and the last, have a less symmetrical build-up: here the idea is rather that after a tutti movement there are two or three aria's building up to the next choral movement:[39]

  • movements two and three, both for solo soprano, build up to the Omnes generationes choral movement No. 4
  • movements five (solo) and six (duet), build up to the 7th tutti movement
  • movements eight and nine (both solo movements), followed by an aria for vocal trio, build up to the final two choral movements

The last aria in each of these sets of arias is first a solo, than a duet, than a terzet (trio).[39] When inserting the Christmas hymns, building up to the seventh movement alternates arias with choral movements, while in the second half of the composition the choral movements at the outer ends are separated by a set of four arias: solo → solo → duet → trio.[38] In such sixteen-movement performance there is however another symmetry: the third section (movement A), and the third counting down from the last (movement 10) both use a Lutheran chorale melody as cantus firmus: soprano voices in the first case ("Vom Himmel hoch, da komm ich her"), instrumental in the second ("Meine Seele erhebt den Herren"). The symmetry of the Christmas version can be pictured as follows:

"Vom Himmel hoch da komm' ich her", the melody of the cantus firmus of the "A" Christmas interpolation
  • Two movements (1, 2) in tonic key → "cantus firmus" movement (A)
    • Verse in minor key (mvt. 3, 4) → two movements in the same major key (5, B)
      • Verse in minor key (mvt. 6) → two movements in tonic key (7, C)
    • Verse in minor key (mvt. 8) → two movements in the same major key (9, D)
  • Two movements in tonic key (11, 12) ← "cantus firmus" movement (10)

This is also 5 times two verses of the Magnificat followed by a movement with a text that comes from elsewhere, the only bible quote of these other texts (movement C, also a doxology like the last movement) being coupled with the central 7th movement.

Magnificat by Johann Sebastian Bach BWV 243a
Christmas 1723 version
BWV 243
Visitation 1733 version
No. and title Text source Time Voices Instruments Key Autogr.
Tempo Instruments Key Autogr.
1. Magnificat Luke 1:46 3/4 SSATB tutti E 1-9 tutti D 1-15
2. Et exultavit Luke 1:47 3/8 sII 2Vl Va Bc E 3-7 2Vl Va Bc D 16-18
   A. Vom Himmel hoch Hymn by Martin Luther cut time SATB E 23, 25-27 [D]
3. Quia respexit Luke 1:48 beginning common time sI Ob Bc c 8-9 Adagio OaI Bc b 18-19
4. Omnes generationes Luke 1:48 end common time SSATB 2Ob 2Vl Va Bc g 10-12 2Fl 2Oa 2Vl Va Bc f 20-25
5. Quia fecit Luke 1:49 common time b Bc B 12-13 Bc A 20-23
   B. Freut euch und jubiliert Verse by Sethus Calvisius common time SSAT Bc B 28-30 [A]
6. Et misericordia Luke 1:50 12/8 a t 2Vl Va Bc f 13-15 2Fl 2Vl Va Bc e 24-28
7. Fecit potentiam Luke 1:51 common time SSATB tutti E 15-19 tutti D 28-34
   C. Gloria in excelsis Luke 2:14 common time SSATB Vl Bc E 30-31 [D]
8. Deposuit potentes Luke 1:52 3/4 t 2Vl Va Bc g 17-20 2Vl Bc f 34-36
9. Esurientes Luke 1:53 common time a 2Fl Bc F 20-21 2Fl Bc E 36-38
   D. Virga Jesse floruit Fragment of a Christmas hymn 12/8 sI b Bc F 32 [E]
10. Suscepit Israel Luke 1:54 common time sI sII a TrI Ba c 22 Ob Bc b 38-40
11. Sicut locutus est Luke 1:55 common time SSATB Bc E 23-24 Bc D 40-42

12. Gloria Patri

   Sicut erat in principio


common time


SSATB tutti E



tutti D



The twelve movements of the Magnificat canticle[edit]

1. Magnificat[edit]

Magnificat anima mea Dominum ("My spirit gives great praise to the Lord," Luke 1:46) is the text used for the opening chorus. The movement consists of 6 blocks of 15 measures, totalling 90 bars of music, exactly half of them with choral singing:

  • Measure 1–30: the orchestra presents itself with what looks like a ritornello,[1] but is in fact rather a concerto tutti.[27] The movement has the form of an Italian aria, modelled after the concerto style Bach had developed in Köthen: in that style the material is presented in an instrumental tutti.[27]
    • Measure 1-15: the motive played by oboe I in the first measure sets the jubilant tone of the tutti.[27] It is the first of two main motives.[14]
    • Measure 16-30: in measure 16, almost imperceptible in the whirling movement of other instruments, violin I presents a new motive: it is the second main motive.[14] The last measures before the entrance of the choir that motive is repeated by multiple instruments.
  • Measure 31–75: accompanied by the continuo, the chorus enters as a concerto soloist, imitating the opening material.[27]
    • Measure 31–45: The sopranos enter first, with the first main motive, and from measure 32 alto and tenor imitate the same.[40] The basses enter from measure 33 while the full orchestra plays a short intervention for two measures. In measures 35-36 the chorus sings the second main motive from the opening tutti. After that the orchestra dominates again, with the chorus following or giving contrasting melodies. From the end of measure 37 voices one after another start singing "anima mea", until in the last three measures of this block all singers take the text Dominum (the Lord) once, all of them with the last syllable of that word on the first beat of the 45th measure, after which the orchestra, apart from the continuo, is silent till the beginning of measure 47: the singers bridge the central barline between measures 45 and 46 with the first main motive sung by altos, sopranos I and sopranos II consecutively.
    • Measure 46-60: after the sopranos recapitulate the start of the movement with their voices, and a brief intervention by the orchestra in measures 47-48, the second main motive is sung again, first by the highest voices in measure 49, followed by the lower voices in measure 50. In this block the chorus takes a leading role, limited groups of instruments accompanying with short ideas taken from the opening tutti, until in the last two measures all instruments join, ending with the second main motive played by trumpet I in measure 60. In this second of three blocks for the singers, the only text they sing is a repetition of the word "magnificat".
    • Measure 61–75: in the first measure of this block the altos sing the first main motive while all instruments halt for at least a few beats. The singers keep the leading role, while groups of instruments play additional motives. Later the orchestal writing thickens, returning from the subdominant to the tonic.[27] The text remains magnificat for most of this block, the conclusion "anima mea" (my soul) is heard by the alto for the first time, in measure 67, embedded in the other voices' Magnificat.[40] All parts sing "Dominum" once again, soprano II beginning with a long note continued by a melisma in measure 73, the others in 74.[40]
  • Measure 76–90: after 45 measures of choral singing follow fifteen measures of instrumental postlude, with material condensed from the opening tutti.[27][1]

2. Et exultavit[edit]

Et exultavit spiritus meus is an aria sung by soprano II, accompanied by the strings.[1] The aria continues the feelings of joy from the first movement, but in a less extrovert way.[27] In the Christmas 1723 version, this movement is followed by the first interpolation, the hymn "Vom Himmel hoch da komm ich her".[1][27]

3. Quia respexit[edit]

First measures of Quia respexit (D major version)

Quia respexit humiltatem (Because he respected the humility) is an aria sung by soprano I with an obbligato oboe (oboe d' amore in the D major version).[40] It is the only movement for which Bach marked the tempo at the beginning: Adagio (only D major version).[40] Steinberg notes that voice and instrument first share the material in a "cotemplative duet", but on ecce enim ex hoc beatam (from henceforth shall call me blessed) the voice changes to a "simpler, more declamatory style".[1] Spitta notes: "Scarcely ever has the idea of virgin purity, simplicity, and humble happiness found more perfect expression than in this German picture of the Madonna, translated, as it were, into musical language."[27]

4. Omnes generationes[edit]

The continuation of the verse and completion of the sentence, Omnes generationes (all generations), is given to the chorus.[40] The setting has been likened to a turba chorus as used by Bach in his Passions.[41] Some commentators see an atmosphere close to aggression,[42] others rather an evocation of multitude.[27] The sound in the E-flat major version is somewhat harsher than in the D major version, for example the bass line in measure three, and in measure 24 where the first version has a dissonant dominant ninth which was levelled out in the later vesion.[27][43]

5. Quia fecit[edit]

Quia fecit mihi magna (Because he did great things for me) is an aria sung by the bass, accompanied only by the continuo.[40] The motif, again beginning with repeated notes, is introduced by four measures of the continuo, then repeated by the voice.[40]

6. Et misericordia[edit]

Et misericordia (And mercy), a duet for alto and tenor, begins with an undulating movement in 12/8 time, played by violins and violas.[40] In the D major version these strings play con sordino, flutes doubling the violins.[26]

7. Fecit potentiam[edit]

Fecit potentiam (He shows strength) shares key and scoring with the first movement.[40] The tenor is the first voice to enter, followed by alto, SII, bass and SI, leading to two calls without melismas near the middle of the movement.[40] Dispersit appears in various voices, but then isolated, in a sequence from the highest voice to the lowest.[40] The conclusion, mente cordis sui, is marked Adagio and illustrates the text in long chords, with accents by the trumpets.[40]

8. Deposuit[edit]

Deposuit potentes (He hath put down the mighty) is an aria for tenor, accompanied only by unisono violins presenting material in a 14 measure ritornello.[40] The second thought of the verse, beginning with et exaltavit humiles (and exalted the humble), is sung without introduction.[40] After a shorter ritornello, the tenor sings the complete text again, the first part in a slightly modified version, but the exaltation considerably expanded after which the ritornello in full length is repeated at the end.[40]

9. Esurientes[edit]

Esurientes (The hungry) is sung by the alto, accompanied by two flutes.[40] 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-handed).

10. Suscepit Israel[edit]

Suscepit Israel (He hath holpen his servant Israel) is scored for an unusual combination of the three highest voices and two oboes in unison (a single trumpet in the E-flat major version).[16][40] The wind instrument(s) cite the tonus peregrinus as a cantus firmus, on a continuo line that most of the time only changes every measure, moving one step down or up.[23][40] The voices imitate each other, in gentle movement.[40] Almost the only leaps in the whole measure occur on the word recordatus, with a downward quart on each syllable.[40]

11. Sicut locutus est[edit]

Sicut locutus est (As he spake [to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever]), the last line of the Magnificat has a theme in four distinct measures: the first repeated notes, the second flowing eighth notes, the third quarter notes in leaps, the fourth half notes leaping up a sixth.[40] When the theme is developed the first time, four voices enter from bottom to top.[40] In the second development, soprano I begins, followed by alto, tenor and bass.[40] 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.[40]

12. Gloria patri[edit]

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

Problems playing this file? See media help.

The work is concluded by the doxology, Gloria Patri (Glory to the father), performed by the complete ensemble.[40] The first part of the text ends in a long cadenza. After changing the time signature from common time to triple metre, the second part of the text, Sicut erat in principio (as it was in the beginning), repeats material from the beginning of the work.[40]

The hymns added in the Christmas 1723 version[edit]

The first time the Christmas hymns of the E-flat major version of Bach's Magnificat were printed was in the same volume as the D major version of the Magnificat, 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.

A. Vom Himmel hoch[edit]

Vom Himmel hoch, Luther's hymn in a 1541 songbook

The text is the first stanza of a hymn by Martin Luther, "Vom Himmel hoch da komm ich her," a paraphrase of the Annunciation to the shepherds, intended for a nativity play. Bach sets it a cappella in four parts, and, like the two preceding movements, in the tonic key. The form is a chorale fantasia, with all sopranos singing the chorale melody as a cantus firmus, while the lower voices make the counterpoint by imitating sections of the melody line in diminished time.[1][27] Where the Latin of the preceding movements may have been largely incomprehensible for the congregation in Bach's time, here is a first movement that was not only recognizable for the words, but also for the melody: the Vom Himmel hoch chorale would have been sung by the congregation the preceding evening during the Christmas Eve service.[27]

Quarter of a century later Bach returned to the chorale melody of "Vom Himmel hoch da komm' ich her", writing a set of five canonic variations on that theme (BWV 769), one of a few compositions printed during the composer's lifetime. Bach also included three settings of the chorale melody in his Christmas Oratorio. Chorale preludes based on the theme: BWV 606 (Orgelbüchlein), 700, 701, 738 and 738a.

B. Freut euch und jubiliert[edit]

The text of this movement is "Freut euch und jubilirt, Zu Bethlehem gefunden wird Das herzeliebe Jesulein, Das soll euer Freud und Wonne sein" (Rejoice with pious mind, To Bethlehem go now and find The fair and holy new-born Boy, Who is your comfort peace, and joy), a verse by Sethus Calvisius.[24][25]

For SSAT, B-flat major, common time.

C. Gloria in excelsis[edit]

The text, "Gloria in excelsis Deo et in terra pax homínibus bona voluntas", is a variant of the opening verse of the Gloria. The better known version from the Vulgate, ending on "... bonae voluntatis," is an incorrect rendering of the original Greek version of Luke 2:14, there said by angels in the Christmas night. The Vulgate version translates as "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of good will," while the end of the Greek version is rendered more correctly as "Peace on earth, and good will towards men," as it was understood by Luther ("Friede auf Erden und den Menschen ein Wohlgefallen"). Lutheran theologians thus rejected the Vulgate version (they would have the verse end on "... bonae voluntes" in Latin), while composers were attached to the classic formula for its melodious rhythm. This Magnificat interpolation is the only place where Bach uses a version of the Gloria text that differs from the Vulgate, more or less catching the spirit of the theologian-approved version.[25]

For SSATB and violins, E-flat major, common time. Text:.

D. Virga Jesse floruit[edit]

The text is "Virga Jesse floruit, Emanuel noster apparuit, Induit carnem Hominis, Fit puer delectabilis. Alleluja." (The stem of Jesse hath flourished, Our Emanuel hath appeared, And hath put on human flesh, And become a lovely child, Alleluja!) and is a fragment of a longer Christmas hymn.[25]

For S B, F major, 12/8.

Reception history[edit]

After the composer's death the autographs of both the E-flat major and the D major version of the Magnificat were owned by his son Carl Philipp Emanuel.[40] Publication followed in the 19th century, including the Christmas hymns of the E-flat major version, and a variety of vocal and instrumental scores adapted to contemporary performance practice for the D major version.[44] By the end of that century "The Magnificat in D (was) considered one of the grandest illustrations of Bach's genius."[45] Generally it was also the D major version without the Christmas hymns that was chosen for performance.[45]

A new critical edition of both BWV 243 and 243a was published in 1955 as Series 2, Volume 3 of the New Bach Edition.[46] Although the D major version remained the standard for life performance and studio recordings, half a century later also the E-flat major version had been published in new editions adapted to performance,[47] it had been recorded several times, and its composition history had been further unraveled.[20]

18th century[edit]

In 1749, a year before his father's death, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach's Magnificat in D major had been performed in Leipzig, like his father's an extended setting. When Johann Sebastian had died, Carl Philipp Emanuel owned the autograph of both versions of his father's Magnificat, and staged the composition in Hamburg in 1786.[43]

19th century[edit]

The score of the E-flat major version of Bach's Magnificat was first published by Simrock in 1811, edited by Georg Pölchau, however with printing errors,[48] and without the Christmas hymns.[49][50] It was the first composition of Bach for vocal soloists, chorus an orchestra that was printed in orchestral score,[51] but at the time this publication had little success in sales.

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. 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. The same edition printed the Christmas interpolations for the first time.[52] A year later Robert Franz complained the composition had still received too little attention from music critics and so remained virtually unknown to the general public.[53] A year later he published the D major version of the Magnificat with an orchestral score in line with 19th century performance practice, for example expanding the "organ and continuo" single stave with annotated bass from the autograph and the Bach-edition into several separate staves for organ, bassoon and celli.[54]

Novello printed an Octavo edition of the D major Magnificat in 1874, using a translation to English which John Troutbeck based on the text in The Book of Common Prayer.[55] In 1880, when Bach's autographs of the composition were already kept in the Royal Library (later State Library) of Berlin, Philipp Spitta devoted many pages to the Magnificat in his Bach-biography, considering it recognized as one of the greatest achievements of the composer's genius.[25]

20th century[edit]

In 1924 Arnold Schering edited the full orchestral score of the D major version of Bach's Magnificat for publication by Ernst Eulenburg and Edition Peters.[56] Performances of the Magnificat by, among others, Serge Koussevitzky and the Boston Symphony Orchestra were recorded in the 1940s and appeared on 78 rpm records.[57] LP recordings of the early 1950s included live performances of the Magnificat directed by Otto Klemperer and by Herbert von Karajan, the last one with Elisabeth Schwarzkopf as soprano.

The Neue Bach Ausgabe published Bach's Magnificat (both BWV 243a and BWV 243) in 1955, edited by Alfred Dürr.[21] This Urtext score was reused in several ensuing publications by Bärenreiter, among which several with English translations. More recordings of the Magnificat became available, for instance directed by Kurt Redel, Leonard Bernstein, Karl Richter and Karl Ristenpart. The second half of the 1960s saw the first recordings of the Christmas version of the Magnificat BWV 243a including the laudes, and new recordings of the D major version by von Karajan, Karl Münchinger and Daniel Barenboim. The first recording on period instruments of Bach's Magnificat, with the four choral Christmas interpolations (BWV 243a), was released by Simon Preston and the Academy of Ancient Music in 1978 (L'Oiseau Lyre / Decca), coupled with Vivaldi's Gloria. Nicolaus Harnoncourt's first recording of the D major version followed in 1984. Also Helmuth Rilling and John Eliot Gardiner had by then recorded the D major version of the Magnificat.

20th century Magnificat composers often refer to Bach's composition in their new setting: Vaughan-Williams (1932) and Rutter (1990) include hymns and songs outside the liturgical text in their extended settings, like Bach's Christmas version; Penderecki's extended setting (1973–74) makes musical associations to Bach's D major setting; Pärt (1989) uses a SSATB choir in his a cappella setting.[58]

Before the end of the century CD recordings of the D major version of Bach's Magnificat by Sigiswald Kuijken, Robert Shaw, Andrew Parrott, Philippe Herreweghe, Neville Marriner, Peter Schreier, Harry Christophers, Ton Koopman, and by the Bach Collegium Japan had been published. Philip Pickett's 1995 recording of the E-flat major version appeared on L'Oiseau Lyre. 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.[31] This edition also offered a transposed version of the Christmas 1723 hymns so that they could be fitted in performances of the D major version of the Magnificat.

21st century[edit]

Facsimiles of Bach's autographs of both versions of the Magnificat became available on-line.[34][59] Philippe Herreweghe recorded the Christmas version of the Magnificat (BWV 243a) for Harmonia Mundi in 2002. In 2009 Philippe Pierlot performed the D major version of the Magnificat with the Ricercar Consort, with five vocal soloists without choir. Bärenreiter published a critical edition of all score versions, based on Dürr's 1955 edition, again in 2014/15.[60]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Steinberg 2005, p. 32.
  2. ^ a b c Jones 2013.
  3. ^ Schröder 2012.
  4. ^ a b Lundberg 2012, pp. 10-11.
  5. ^ Lundberg 2012, p. 45.
  6. ^ Rizzuti 2013, pp. 2-4.
  7. ^ Spitta 1884, pp. 283 ff.
  8. ^ Choralbearbeitung Meine Seele erhebt den Herren (Fuge) BWV 733 at
  9. ^ Meine Seele erhebet den Herren, BWV 733: Free scores at the International Music Score Library Project
  10. ^ W.K. Lowther Clarke. Evensong Explained, with Notes on Matins and the Litany London: SPCK, 1922
  11. ^ Taft 1986.
  12. ^ Franz 1863, p. 6
  13. ^ Bach/Schering 1924 (introduction)
  14. ^ a b c d Hermann Kretzschmar. Führer durch den Konzertsaal, Part II, Volume 1: Kirchliche Werke, p. 394 ff. Breitkopf & Härtel, 5th edition, 1921
  15. ^ Marshall 1989, pp. 12-13
  16. ^ a b Jenkins 2000, p. 1.
  17. ^ Spitta 1884, p. 333
  18. ^ Stockigt 2013, p. 47.
  19. ^ a b Jones 2013, p. 133.
  20. ^ a b Glöckner 2003
  21. ^ a b c d Digital.
  22. ^ Butler 2008, p. 53
  23. ^ a b Rizzuti 2013.
  24. ^ a b Cantagrel 2011.
  25. ^ a b c d e f g h Spitta 1884, p. 369 ff.
  26. ^ a b Jenkins 2000, p. 5.
  27. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Spitta 1884, p. 374 ff.
  28. ^ Frederick Hudson and Alfred Dürr. "An Investigation into the Authenticity of Bach's ‘Kleine Magnificat’" in Music and Letters XXXVI (3), 1955 – pp. 233-236
  29. ^ Andreas Glöckner. "Die Leipziger Neukirchenmusik und das 'Kleine Magnificat' BWV Anh. 21" in Bach-Jahrbuch 1982, pp. 97-102
  30. ^ Stockigt 2013, p. 46.
  31. ^ a b Jenkins 2000.
  32. ^ Simrock 1811.
  33. ^ a b Jenkins 2000, Introduction p. 5.
  34. ^ a b Bach 1733 (autograph of D major version)
  35. ^ Dellal.
  36. ^ Jones 2013, p. 135.
  37. ^ Rizzuti 2013, p. 4.
  38. ^ a b Marshall 1989, p. 15
  39. ^ a b Marshall 1989, p. 11
  40. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad Autograph at
  41. ^ JS Bach; Vivaldi at
  42. ^ Franz 1863
  43. ^ a b Jenkins 2000, p. 3.
  44. ^ Bach 1811, 1841, 1862, 1864, 1874, 1895
  45. ^ a b Upton 1886
  46. ^ Bach 1955
  47. ^ Bach 2000
  48. ^ Spitta 1884, footnote 373 p.376
  49. ^ Schweitzer 1911 (volume 2), p. 166
  50. ^ Zenck 1986.
  51. ^ Johann Sebastian Bach: His Life, Art and Work. Translated from the German of Johann Nikolaus Forkel. With notes and appendices by Charles Sanford Terry, Litt.D. Cantab. Harcourt, Brace and Howe, New York, 1920: Introduction (Terry), p. xvii
  52. ^ Bach/Rust 1862.
  53. ^ Franz 1863, p. 3-5
  54. ^ Bach/Franz 1864
  55. ^ Novello 1874
  56. ^ Schering 1924
  57. ^ Magnificat in D major BWV 243, Complete Recordings 1900–1949
  58. ^ David G. Dover. Pärt and Penderecki: Divergent Voices and Common Bonds. University of Georgia, 1997
  59. ^ Bach 1723 (autograph of E-flat major version)
  60. ^ Bärenreiter.


External links[edit]