Lobe den Herrn, meine Seele, BWV 143
|Lobe den Herrn, meine Seele|
|Church cantata by J. S. Bach|
|Occasion||New Year's Day|
|Bible text||Psalms 146:1,5,10|
|Chorale||"Du Friedefürst, Herr Jesu Christ"
by Jakob Ebert
Lobe den Herrn, meine Seele (Praise the Lord, my soul), BWV 143,[a] is an early cantata by Johann Sebastian Bach. It is not known if he composed the cantata for New Year's Day in Mühlhausen or Weimar, as the date of composition is unclear.
An unknown librettist drew mainly from Psalm 146 and from Jakob Ebert's hymn "Du Friedefürst, Herr Jesu Christ" to develop seven movements, supplying only two of the movements himself. The text assembly is similar to Bach's early cantatas. Bach's authorship is doubted because the cantata has several features unusual for Bach's later cantatas: it is the only Bach cantata to combine three corni da caccia with timpani. The cantata is in seven movements which combine the three major text sources: psalm, hymn and contemporary poetry. The opening chorus is based on a psalm verse, followed by the first hymn stanza and another psalm verse as a recitative. An aria on poetry is followed by a third psalm verse as an aria. It is followed by another aria on poetry, which simultaneously quotes the hymn tune instrumentally. The last movement combines elements of a chorale fantasia on the third stanza of the hymn, with vivid counterpoint of "Hallelujah" which closes the psalm.
History and text
Bach wrote the cantata for New Year's Day, which is also the Feast of the Circumcision of Christ. The prescribed readings for the day were from the Epistle to the Galatians, "by faith we inherit" (Galatians 3:23–29), and from the Gospel of Luke, the circumcision and naming of Jesus eight days after his birth. However, most of the text for the cantata was taken by the unknown librettist from Psalms 146, and from Jakob Ebert's hymn "Du Friedefürst, Herr Jesu Christ", written in 1601.
The text is compiled from psalm verses (verse 1 for movement 1, verse 5 for movement 3, and verse 10 for movement 5), and two stanzas from the hymn, the first as movement 2, the third as the final movement. Only movements 4 and 6 are free poetry, with the hymn tune sounding again instrumentally during movement 6. Due to its text structure, the Bach scholar Christoph Wolff dates the work to around 1710.
The oldest (and also the only) manuscript was written in 1762, after Bach's death. The provenance of the cantata is disputed: some suggest that it may not be a Bach work because of its "unpretentious" nature and the lack of authoritative original music, or perhaps it was a transposition of an earlier work. Alternatively, part of the cantata may have been written by Bach, while other parts (likely the choruses and the bass aria) were added or amended by other composers. John Eliot Gardiner, who conducted the Bach Cantata Pilgrimage in 2000, remarks on the stylistic similarity of the text structure to Bach's early cantatas written in Mühlhausen. He also sees similar musical expression to the cantata for the inauguration of a new town council there, Gott ist mein König, BWV 71, written in 1708. While some musicologists assume that it may have been composed for the same occasion one year later, Gardiner proposes that it could either be a still earlier work, or that it "was, at least in part, an apprentice piece written in Weimar under Bach's direct tutelage.
Bach's biographer Philipp Spitta had written that the cantata was first performed on New Year's Day of 1735. However, according to more recent research, it was not performed at all that day, but rather Part IV of the Christmas Oratorio.
Scoring and structure
The cantata is scored festively for three vocal soloists (soprano (S), tenor (T), and bass (B)), a four-part choir, and a Baroque instrumental ensemble of three corni da caccia (Co), timpani (Ti, listed with the winds), bassoon (Fg), two violins (Vl), viola (Va) and basso continuo. It is the only Bach cantata to combine three corni da caccia with timpani.
The cantata is structured in seven movements. It begins with a chorus on a verse from the psalm, followed by the first stanza from the hymn, sung by the soprano. Another psalm verse is rendered as a tenor recitative, followed by a tenor aria on free poetry. A third psalm verse is set as a bass aria, answered by another tenor aria on free poetry with an instrumental quotation of the hymn tune. The cantata is closed by a hybrid movement which combines like a chorale fantasia the third stanza of the hymn as cantus firmus with a vivid counterpoint of "Hallelujah" closing the psalm.
In the following table of the movements, the scoring follows the Neue Bach-Ausgabe. The keys and time signatures are taken from Alfred Dürr, using the symbol for common time (4/4). The continuo, playing throughout, is not shown.
|1||Lobe den Herrn, meine Seele||Ps. 146:1||Chorus||SATB||3Co Ti Fg||2Vl Va||B-flat major||3/4|
|2||Du Friedefürst, Herr Jesu Christ||Ebert||Chorale||S||Vl||B-flat major|
|3||Wohl dem, des Hülfe der Gott Jakob ist||Ps. 146:5||Recitative||T|
|4||Tausendfaches Unglück, Schrecken||anon.||Aria||T||Fg||2Vl Va||C minor|
|5||Der Herr ist König ewiglich||Ps. 146:10||Aria||B||3Co Ti Fg||B-flat major||3/4|
|6||Jesu, Retter deiner Herde||anon.||Aria + chorale (instrumental)||T||3Co Ti Fg||2Vl Va||G minor|
||Chorale fantasia||SATB||3Co Ti Fg||2Vl Va||B-flat major||6/8|
The opening chorus on the first verse of the psalm, "Lobe den Herrn, meine Seele" (Praise the Lord, my soul.), is quite short, using imitative fanfare figures without much harmonic development. It employs a ritornello theme on the tonic and dominant chords, incorporating a descending-third sequence. The voices sing mostly in homophony.
The soprano chorale, "Du Friedefürst, Herr Jesu Christ" (O Prince of peace, Lord Jesus Christ), is accompanied by a violin obbligato. Although the vocal line is mostly undecorated, it is accompanied by a rhythmically active violin counterpoint following the circle of fifths. The obbligato line reaches a double cadence before the soprano entrance.
The tenor recitative on another verse from the psalm, "Wohl dem, des Hülfe der Gott Jakob ist" (It is fortunate for him, whose help the God of Jacob is), is quite short and is considered unremarkable.
The fourth movement is a tenor aria in free verse, "Tausendfaches Unglück, Schrecken" (Thousand-fold misfortune, terror). The vocal line is "convoluted and angular", reflecting the themes of misfortune, fear and death. The musicologist Julian Mincham suggests that these themes suggest that Salomon Franck may be the poet, as these were recurrent images in his texts, but also notes a lack of integration atypical of Franck's oeuvre.
The bass aria on the tenth verse from the psalm, "Der Herr ist König ewiglich" (The Lord is King eternally), employs a triadic motif similar to that of Gott ist mein König, BWV 71. It is short and has a limited range of tonal development or chromatic variation. The voice is accompanied by the horns and timpani, vithout strings, illustrating God's power.
The sixth movement is another tenor aria on free poetry, "Jesu, Retter deiner Herde" (Jesus, saver of Your flock), characterized by the layered scale figuration in the instrumental accompaniment. The voice, bassoon and continuo perform as a trio, while the chorale tune is heard in the violins and organ with the Vox humana stop.
The closing chorus employs the third stanza of the chorale, "Gedenk, Herr, jetzund an dein Amt" (Think, Lord, at this time on Your office), as a cantus firmus in the soprano. It is not composed as the typical four-part setting, but the lower voices sing lively contrasting Alleluia, derived from the psalm.
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