Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott, BWV 80

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Stained glass of Bach receiving inspiration from Luther (right pane)
Portal inscription Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott at the Georgenkirche in Eisenach, where Bach was baptised
Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott
BWV 80
Chorale cantata by J. S. Bach
Occasion Reformation Day
Movements 8
Cantata text Salomon Franck
Chorale "Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott"
by Martin Luther
Vocal SATB choir and solo
  • 3 oboes
  • 2 oboes d'amore
  • oboe da caccia
  • strings
  • continuo

Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott (Our God is a secure fortress),[1] BWV 80,[a] is a church cantata by Johann Sebastian Bach. He composed the chorale cantata in Leipzig for Reformation Day, 31 October; an early version (BWV 80b) of the work may have been written as early as 1723, and a later version with an extended chorale fantasia as the opening movement was possibly written in 1735. The cantata is based on Martin Luther's hymn "Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott".

Bach reused for Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott a cantata in six movements on a text by Salomon Franck which he had composed in Weimar for Oculi, the third Sunday in Lent: he could not use this cantata for the same occasion in Leipzig because no cantatas were performed there during Lent, but it matched the celebration of the Reformation well as two movements already contained Luther's hymn. In Leipzig, with an additional opening movement and another inserted chorale setting, he presented the text of all four stanzas of the hymn unchanged.

Bach scored the cantata for four vocal soloists, a four-part choir and a Baroque chamber ensemble of up to three oboes of different kinds, strings and continuo. His son Wilhelm Friedemann Bach arranged the first and fifth movements after his father's death, adopting a new text and adding trumpets and timpani.

History and words[edit]

Bach wrote the cantata in Leipzig for Reformation Day.[2] The prescribed readings for the feast day were from the Second Epistle to the Thessalonians, "be steadfast against adversaries" (2 Thessalonians 2:3–8), and from the Book of Revelation, instructing believers to fear God and honour him (Revelation 14:6–8).[3]

In composing this work, Bach was able to reuse the earlier cantata Alles, was von Gott geboren, BWV 80a, written in Weimar for the third Sunday in Lent and based on a text published in 1715 by Salomon Franck.[4][3] Bach could not use the earlier work in Leipzig because cantata music was prohibited during Lent.[3] The Weimar cantata contained two stanzas from Luther's hymn.

It is not certain when Bach wrote the Leipzig versions of the cantata. Two fragments were found on paper with 1723 watermarks, leading musicologists like Christoph Wolff to conclude that Bach may have written a version of Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott as early as in his first cantata cycle.[5] This version, which surprisingly began with a simple chorale setting of the hymn as the opening movement, is now termed the early Leipzig version (BWV 80b).[5][3][6] Wolff points out that this version may have already contained all four stanzas of "Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott".[7] The first stanza appears in the new movement 1, the second is a cantus firmus of the first movement of the Weimar cantata, now used as movement 2, and the other two possibly movements 5 and the final movement 8, both as chorale settings as in the later Leipzig version.[7][8] Wolff writes that Bach thus "may have anticipated the composition of the later series of chorale cantatas".[7]

It is not known when Bach composed the elaborate opening movement of the final version. 1735 has been suggested because Bach wrote Wär Gott nicht mit uns diese Zeit, BWV 14 then, with an opening chorus of a comparable structure and also on a hymn by Luther.[3] The final version includes all stanzas of the hymn,[8] but is nonetheless not a chorale cantata in the format of Bach's second cantata cycle begun in 1724; in that cycle, each cantata relies exclusively on one Lutheran hymn.


Structure and scoring[edit]

In the later Leipzig version, Bach structured the cantata in eight movements. He scored it for four vocal soloists (soprano (S), alto (A), tenor (T) and bass (B)), a four-part choir and a Baroque chamber ensemble of three oboes (Ob), two oboes d'amore (Oa), oboes da caccia or taille (Ta), two violins (Vl), viola (Va), violoncello (Vc) and basso continuo (Bc).[9][10] The duration is given as 30 minutes by Dürr.[2] Bach's son Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, who inherited the scores, later adapted the first and fifth movement, adding parts for three trumpets and timpani;[2] these two movements were performed with a new Latin text in 1763 in celebration of the end of the Seven Years' War.[11]

In the following table of the movements, the first column shows the movement number in BWV 80, with the corresponding number of BWV 80a in brackets. The scoring and keys are given for the late Leipzig version. The keys and time signatures are taken from Dürr, using the symbol for common time (4/4).[9][12] The instruments are shown separately for winds and strings, while the continuo, playing throughout, is not shown.

Movements of Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott, BWV 80
No. Title Text Type Vocal Winds Strings Key Time
1 Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott Luther Chorale fantasia A 3Ob (unis.) 2Vl Va Vc D major common time
2 (1) Alles, was von Gott geboren
Mit unser Macht ist nichts getan
Aria e chorale B S Ob 2Vl Va (unis.) D major common time
3 (2) Erwäge doch, Kind Gottes Franck Recitative B common time
4 (3) Komm in mein Herzenshaus Franck Aria S B minor 12/8
5 Und wenn die Welt voll Teufel wär Luther Chorale SATB 2Oa Ta 2Vl Va D major common time
6 (4) So stehe denn bei Christi blutgefärbten Fahne Franck Recitative T common time
7 (5) Wie selig sind doch die, die Gott im Munde tragen Franck Aria Duetto A T Ta Vl G major 6/8
8 (6) Das Wort sie sollen lassen stahn Luther Chorale SATB (unknown) (unknown) D major common time


Chorale fantasia[edit]

Luther's hymn

The cantata opens with a chorale fantasia "with contrapuntal devices of awe-inspiring complexity".[13] The movement in D major and common time elaborates on the first stanza of the hymn, "Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott" (Our God is a secure fortress).[1] It adopts a motet technique of having the instrumental and vocal lines follow each other closely. The Bach scholar Klaus Hofmann notes that the style relates to the "vocal polyphony of the sixteenth century" when the hymn was written.[14] 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.[13]

Aria e chorale[edit]

The second movement combines an aria and chorale: the bass sings free poetry, "Alles, was von Gott geboren" (Everything that is born of God),[1] while the oboe and soprano perform the second stanza of the hymn, "Mit unser Macht ist nichts getan" (Nothing can be done through our strength),[1] in an embellished version of the chorale melody.[15] Like the first movement, the duet is in D major and common time.[16] The musicologist Richard D. P. Jones interprets the theme of the ritornello, played in unison by the strings, as a motto of victory, corresponding to the two mentions of victory in the text. Already in the Weimar version the instrumental quotation of the tune of the same hymn used as the closing chorale provided a structural unity to the cantata. Jones compares the "extremely florid"[15] rendition of the tune, given to the soprano in the Leipzig version, to the similar approach in the chorale played by the oboe d'amore in movement 5 of the Weimar cantata for Pentecost, Erschallet, ihr Lieder, BWV 172.[15]

Bass recitative[edit]

The bass next sings "Erwäge doch, Kind Gottes" (Only consider, child of God)[1] as a secco recitative ending in an arioso, the typical style of recitatives during the Weimar period.[17] It adopts canonic imitation between the voice and continuo parts.[18] The interaction illustrates the unity of the Christian with Jesus that the text reflects: "dass Christi Geist mit dir sich fest verbinde" (that the spirit of Christ may be firmly united with you).[17] The mystical element of the unity, which is also exemplified in the following aria and the later duet, contrasts with the "combative" character of the outer movements where the hymn tune prevails.[17]

Soprano aria[edit]

The fourth movement, "Komm in mein Herzenshaus" (Come into my heart's house)[1] is a soprano aria with a continuo ritornello. It is characterized by extensive melismas and a "floating and ethereal" melody.[13][18] The continuo melody is taken also by the voice.[17]

Central chorale[edit]

The central chorale presents the third stanza of the hymn "Und wenn die Welt voll Teufel wär" (And if the world were full of devils).[14] The chorale melody is sung 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.[13]

Tenor recitative[edit]

The tenor recitative, "So stehe dann bei Christi blutgefärbten Fahne" (Then stand with Christ's bloodstained flag)[1] is secco; like the earlier bass recitative, it concludes with an arioso.[13] The movement includes "occasional furious melismas".[16]

Aria duetto[edit]

An alto and tenor duet, "Wie selig sind doch die, die Gott im Munde tragen" (How happy are they, who bear God in their mouths)[1] 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.[13]

Closing chorale[edit]

The final movement is a four-part setting of the last stanza of the hymn, "Das Wort sie sollen lassen stahn" (That word they must allow to stand).[13][19]


Musicologists agree that the chorale fantasia is an outstanding composition. Craig Smith suggests that "in a genre in which Bach was the absolute master, this is probably the greatest motet chorus".[18] Wolff writes: "An immense chorale motet of 228 measures, it is one of Bach's most elaborate choral compositions and of the most impressive high points in the history of the chorale cantata."[20]

Manuscripts and publication[edit]

The oldest extant manuscript of Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott, BWV 80, is by Bach's student and son-in-law Johann Christoph Altnikol, with the opening movement marked Choro Alla Capella.[21]

The cantata was edited by Wilhelm Rust for the Bach Gesellschaft Ausgabe, the first complete edition of Bach's works, in volume 18 published in 1870 and printed by Breitkopf & Härtel. This edition included the added parts for trumpets and timpani by Bach's son.[20] The New Bach Edition (Neue Bach-Ausgabe, NBA) published the score of the Leipzig version in 1987, edited by Frieder Rempp, with the critical commentary following in 1988.[10]



  1. ^ "BWV" is Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis, a thematic catalogue of Bach's works.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Dellal 2012.
  2. ^ a b c Dürr 2006, p. 707.
  3. ^ a b c d e Dürr 2006, p. 709.
  4. ^ Bach digital 2 2016.
  5. ^ a b Wolff 1991, p. 155.
  6. ^ Bach digital 3 2016.
  7. ^ a b c Wolff 1991, p. 157.
  8. ^ a b Dürr 2006, pp. 709–710.
  9. ^ a b Bischof 2010.
  10. ^ a b Bach digital 1 2016.
  11. ^ Schulenberg 2010, p. 237.
  12. ^ Dürr 2006, pp. 707–709.
  13. ^ a b c d e f g Mincham 2010.
  14. ^ a b Hofmann 2005.
  15. ^ a b c Jones 2007, p. 275.
  16. ^ a b Traupman-Carr 2013.
  17. ^ a b c d Jones 2007, p. 725.
  18. ^ a b c Smith 2013.
  19. ^ Ambrose.
  20. ^ a b Wolff 1991, pp. 157–158.
  21. ^ Wolff 1991, p. 158.
  22. ^ Oron 2015.



Online sources

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