Gott ist mein König, BWV 71

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Gott ist mein König
BWV 71
Church cantata by J. S. Bach
BWV 71 - Autograph Title Page.png
Autograph title page of the early cantata
Occasion Ratswechsel, the inauguration of a new town council
Performed first performed at the Marienkirche, Mühlhausen, on 14 February 1708 (1708-02-14)
Vocal SATB choir and solo
  • 3 trumpets
  • timpani
  • 2 recorders
  • 2 oboes
  • bassoon
  • organ
  • 2 violins
  • viola
  • viola da gamba
  • continuo

Gott ist mein König (God is my king), BWV 71,[a] is a cantata by Johann Sebastian Bach. He composed it in Mühlhausen for an annual church service that was held to celebrate the inauguration of the new city council on 4 February 1708. It is one of the six earliest cantatas Bach composed (along with BWV 150, 131, 106, 196 and 4) that are still extant. Like these other works, the text of BWV 71 is of a pre-Neumeister character, in other words it does not feature the combination of recitative and arias found in later cantatas.[1]

History and words[edit]

From 1707 to 1708, Bach was the organist of one of Mühlhausen's principal churches, Divi Blasii church (dedicated to St Blaise also called Blaise the Divine), where he composed some of his earliest surviving cantatas. (One or two cantatas, for example Nach dir, Herr, verlanget mich, BWV 150, may have been written at Arnstadt, his previous residence, for performance at Mühlhausen.) Gott ist mein König, along with another cantata (now lost) composed the following year, was written for the annual service that took place on February 4, the day after the city held elections to install a new city council.

The service was held in the Marienkirche, the city's largest church, where, the score indicates, Bach deployed his musicians in different locations in the building. While the librettist is unknown, it has been speculated that it was written by Georg Christian Eilmar, minister of Marienkirche, who had earlier prompted the composition of Bach's cantata BWV 131.[1] It has also been thought that Bach himself may have assembled the text, although the suggestion is unlikely since Bach's musical setting of the final part of the text departs from its bi-strophic form.[2] There is no evidence either way to indicate the authorship of the cantata's text.


The text centres on Psalm 74, with additional material drawn from the 2 Samuel, Genesis, and Deuteronomy with free text that makes reference to the "new regiment" of office bearers and the Holy Roman Emperor and King of Germany, Joseph I (1705–1711), as Mühlhausen was an Imperial free city, and thus subject immediately to the emperor. Despite the seeming straightforward referential aspects of the text, several suggestions have been made to explain certain curiosities about the text. There are three quotations from Psalm 74:

  • Verse 12: "Gott ist mein König von Alters her, der alle Hülffe thut, so auf Erden geschicht." (God is my Sovereign since ancient days, who all salvation brings which on earth may be found.) (ASV: Yet God is my King of old, Working salvation in the midst of the earth.)
  • Verses 16-17: "Tag und Nacht ist dein. Du machest, daß beyde Sonn und Gestirn ihren gewissen Lauf haben. Du setzest einem jeglichen Lande seine Gräntze." (Day and night are Yours. You have seen to it that both sun and planets have their certain courses. You set borders to every land.) (ASV: The day is thine, the night also is thine: Thou hast prepared the light and the sun. Thou hast set all the borders of the earth.)
  • Verse 19: "Du wollest dem Feinde nicht geben die Seele deiner Turteltauben." (You would not give the soul of Your turtledove to the enemy.) (ASV: Oh deliver not the soul of thy turtle-dove unto the wild beast.)

These have been seen as representing distinct themes woven into the cantata.[3][4] It has been suggested that these themes include a number of distinct allusions of relevance to the inhabitants of Mühlhausen. First, the reference to Psalm 74 in general, and the inclusion of verse 19 in the cantata may be making an oblique reference, accessible to contemporary audiences, to the fire of May 1707 which had destroyed parts of the city.[5] The importance of "borders" may be an allusion to Charles XII's invasion of Saxony in 1706, and who, in 1708, represented a threat to Mühlhausen. The three texts that come between the first and second psalmic quotation (the second movement, beginning "Ich bin nun achtzig Jahr") all make reference to old age. An older view suggested this was likely a reference to the septuagenarian Conrad Meckbach, a member of the city council who was connected to Bach.[6] Instead of Meckbach, however, this likely refers to Adolf Strecker, the former mayor who had just left office aged 83 years, since "details of his public and private life match extremely well with the texts chosen for the cantata, and it seems likely that hearers would have recognized Strecker in them."[5]

Scoring and structure[edit]

With its lack of recitatives, its arias and the short movements that flow into each other, it shows typical characteristics of traditional 17th-century cantatas. Bach uses a chorale melody in the second movement.[7]

  1. (Choir): Gott ist mein König
  2. Aria: Ich bin nun achtzig Jahr
  3. Fuga: Dein Alter sei wie deine Jugend
  4. Arioso: Tag und Nacht ist dein
  5. Aria: Durch mächtige Kraft
  6. (Choir): Du wollest dem Feinde nicht geben
  7. (Choir): Das neue Regiment auf jeglichen Wegen

The cantata is scored for four soloists: soprano, alto, tenor and bass. The choral writing is in four parts, and the work can be sung with just four singers, although some performances deploy more singers in the choral sections. The use of a larger choir is partly a question of balance with the instrumental forces,[8] but there is also supporting evidence in the score, where a marking implies that Bach envisaged the option of a vocal ensemble that is separate from the four soloists.[9]

This was Bach's first cantata for festive orchestra, including trumpets and timpani. The instruments are divided into four spatially separated "choirs", placing the work in the polychoral tradition associated with composers such as Heinrich Schütz. The instruments required are three trumpets, timpani, two recorders, two oboes, bassoon, organ obbligato, two violins, viola, viola da gamba and basso continuo.


Title page of first edition

Gott ist mein König is a significant early work of Bach. It differs from the other extant cantatas from Bach's time in Mühlhausen by its elaborate instrumentation. Bach went on to compose other cantatas for the ratswechsel for the town council at Leipzig, which also had a "festive" scoring, but Gott ist mein König differs from them too: very few of the formal characteristics of Bach's Leipzig cantatas (still some fifteen years in the future) are found in this early work.

It was so positively received that it was the first of Bach's works to be printed (paid for by the city council); it is the only cantata to have been printed in his lifetime, at least in a version which has survived to this day. The printing is all the more remarkable as Gott ist mein König appears to have been intended for not more than one repeat performance, and a new piece was commissioned the following year.(Bach was commissioned to compose another cantata for the following year's council inauguration; there is evidence that the piece was composed and even printed, but no copies are known to survive).[10]



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


  1. ^ a b Alfred Dürr (2006). The Cantatas of J. S. Bach: With Their Librettos in German-English Parallel Text. Oxford University Press. pp. 11–13 & 271–273. ISBN 978-0-19-929776-4. 
  2. ^ Wustmann, R., & Neumann, W. (1967). Johann Sebastian Bach: Sämtliche Kantatentexte. Leipzig: Breitkopf und Härtel.
  3. ^ Martin Petzoldt, "Liturgische und theologische Aspekte zu den Texten der frühesten Kantaten," in Christoph Wolff, ed., Die Welt der Bach Kantaten , vol. 1 (Stuttgart and Kassell: Bärenreiter, 1996), 119–34.
  4. ^ Richner, Matthias (1980). "Der musikalisch-rhetorische Grundriß der Ratswahlkantate J. S. Bachs 'Gott ist mein König', BWV 71". Musik und Gottesdienst 34: 91–96. 
  5. ^ a b Melamed, Daniel R. (2001). "The Text of "Gott ist mein König" BWV 71". Bach (Riemenschneider Bach Institute) 32 (1): 1–16. Retrieved 22 August 2013.  (accessed via JSTOR, suscription required)
  6. ^ Konrad Küster (1996). Der junge Bach. Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt. pp. 177–178. ISBN 978-3-421-05052-6. 
  7. ^ Chapter 82 BWV 71 Gott ist mein König
  8. ^ Johnstone, Andrew (2006). "Reviews". The Irish Times accessed via HighBeam Research. (subscription required). Retrieved October 11, 2012. 
  9. ^ The marking in question is "ripieno", implying that there was also a "tutti" section.
  10. ^ Mincham, Julian. "BWV 71". Retrieved 18 May 2015. 

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