Lobet Gott in seinen Reichen, BWV 11
|Oratorio by J. S. Bach|
|Original||Oratorium In Festo Ascensionis|
|Performed||19 May 1735Leipzig –|
|Movements||11 in two parts (6 + 5)|
Lobet Gott in seinen Reichen (Laud to God in all his kingdoms), BWV 11, known as the Ascension Oratorio (Himmelfahrtsoratorium), is an oratorio by Johann Sebastian Bach, marked by him as Oratorium In Festo Ascensionis Xsti (Oratorio for the feast of the Ascension of Christ), probably composed in 1735 for the service for Ascension and first performed on 19 May 1735.
Bach had composed his Christmas Oratorio, based on the gospels of Luke and Matthew, in 1734. He had composed an Easter Oratorio already in 1725. The text for the Ascension Oratorio, a compilation of several biblical sources, free poetry and chorales, was presumably written by Picander who had worked on the libretto for the Christmas Oratorio. It follows the story of the Ascension as told in Luke, Mark and the Acts of the Apostles. The oratorio is structured in eleven movements in two parts, taking about half an hour to perform. It is framed by extended choral movements, Part I is concluded by the fourth stanza of Johann Rist's hymn "Du Lebensfürst, Herr Jesu Christ" in a four part setting. The closing chorale on the seventh stanza of Gottfried Wilhelm Sacer's "Gott fähret auf gen Himmel" is set as a chorale fantasia. The work is richly scored for the feast day, exactly like the Christmas Oratorio for four vocal parts, three trumpets, timpani, two flauti traversi, two oboes, strings and continuo. While the recitatives and the first chorale were new compositions, Bach based the other choral movements and the two arias on parts of earlier cantatas. He used the model for the alto aria again much later for the Agnus Dei of his Mass in B minor.
Bach had composed his Christmas Oratorio, based on the gospels of Luke and Matthew, in 1734, a work in six parts to be performed on six occasions during Christmas tide. He had composed an Easter Oratorio already in 1725. The Ascension Oratorio appeared thus in the same liturgical year as the Christmas Oratorio. The text for the Ascension Oratorio, a compilation of several biblical sources, free poetry and chorales, was presumably written by Picander who had written the libretti for the St Matthew Passion and the Christmas Oratorio, among others. It follows the story of the Ascension as told in Luke, Mark and the Acts of the Apostles.
The bible narration is compiled from multiple sources: the first recitative of the Evangelist (movement 2) is from Luke 24:50–51, the second (5) from Acts 1:9 and Mark 16:19, the third (7) from Acts 1:10–11, the last (9) from Luke 24:52a, Acts 1:12 and Luke 24:52b. The biblical words are narrated by the tenor as the Evangelist. In his third recitative two men are quoted, for this quotation tenor and bass both sing in an Arioso.
Part I, which tells of the Ascension, is concluded by the fourth stanza of Johann Rist's hymn "Du Lebensfürst, Herr Jesu Christ" in a four part setting. Part II reflects the reaction of the disciples. The closing chorale on the seventh stanza of Gottfried Wilhelm Sacer's "Gott fähret auf gen Himmel" is set as a chorale fantasia. While the music for the narration and the first chorale were new compositions in 1735, Bach based the framing choral movements and the two arias on earlier compositions. He used the model for the alto aria again much later for the Agnus Dei of his Mass in B minor.
In the first complete edition of Bach's works, the Bach-Ausgabe of the Bach Gesellschaft, the work was included under the cantatas (hence its low BWV number), and in the Bach Compendium it is numbered BC D 9 and included under oratorios.
Scoring and structure
The oratorio spans eleven movements in two parts to be performed before and after the sermon, 1–6 before the sermon and 7–11 after the sermon. It takes about half an hour to perform. The title on the first page of the autograph reads:
"J.J. Oratorium Festo Ascensionis Xsti. à 4 Voci. 3 Trombe Tamburi
2 Travers. 2 Hautb. 2 Violini, Viola e Cont. di
"J.J." is short for "Jesu juva" (Jesus, help), a formula which Bach and others often wrote at the beginning of a sacred piece. The title in Latin translates to "Oratorio for the feast of the Ascension of Christ", and the scoring in a mixture of French and Italian names the parts and instruments as four vocal parts, three trumpets (Tr), timpani, two flauti traversi (Ft), two oboes (Ob), two violins (Vn), viola (Va) and basso continuo (Bc) by Bach. The voices are soprano, alto, tenor and bass, forming a four-part choir (SATB). The work is festively scored, exactly like the Christmas Oratorio.
The structure shows symmetry around the central chorale. Expansive chorale movements using the complete orchestra frame the work. Both parts contain besides the bible narration (rec.) a reflective accompagnato recitative (acc.) and an aria with obbligato instruments. In the following table of the movements, the scoring is taken the Neue Bach-Ausgabe. The keys and time signatures are taken from Alfred Dürr, using the symbol for common time (4/4). The timpani always play with the trumpets and are not mentioned.
|No.||Type||Text (source)||Vocal||Brass and winds||Strings||Bass||Key||Time|
|1||chorus||Lobet Gott in seinen Reichen (Picander)||SATB||3Tr 2Ft 2Ob||2Vl Va||Bc||D major||2/4|
|2||rec.||Der Herr Jesus hub seine Hände auf (Bible)||T||Bc|
|3||acc.||Ach, Jesu, ist dein Abschied (Picander)||B||2Ft||Bc|
|4||aria||Ach, bleibe doch, mein liebstes Leben (Picander)||A||Vl (unis.)||Bc||A minor|
|5||rec.||Und ward aufgehoben zusehends (Bible)||T||Bc|
|6||chorale||Nun lieget alles unter dir (Rist)||SATB||2Ft 2Ob||2Vl Va||Bc||D major||3/4|
|7||rec.||Und da sie ihm nachsahen (Bible)||T B||Bc|
|8||acc.||Ach ja! so komme bald zurück (Picander)||A||2Ft||Bc|
|9||rec.||Sie aber beteten ihn an (Bible)||T||Bc|
|10||aria||Jesu, deine Gnadenblicke (Bible)||S||2Ft Ob||unison||G major||3/8|
|11||chorale||Wenn soll es doch geschehen (Sacer)||SATB||3Tr 2Ft 2Ob||2Vl Va||Bc||D major||6/4|
The Bach scholar Richard D. P. Jones compares the Christmas Oratorio and the Ascension Oratorio and arrives at similarities:
the festive opening chorus with trumpets and drums, the Evangelist's secco recitatives, the intermediate four-part chorale, the meditative accompagnati, the semi-dramatic treatment of biblical characters (here the "two men in white") and the elaborate chorale-finale.
The festive opening chorus, Lobet Gott in seinen Reichen, is based on a movement from the cantata Froher Tag, verlangte Stunden, BWV Anh 18. The secular model has no fugue, but dance-like elements and Lombard rhythm.
Bach marks the first recitative of bible narration "Recit. nach dem ersten Chor" (Recitative after the first chorus). It is sung by the Evangelista (Evangelist), which Bach assigns to the tenor singing secco recitative. The action begins, Der Herr Jesus hub seine Hände auf (The Lord Jesus lifted up His hands), with Jesus blessing the disciples and leaving them.
A reflecting recitative for bass, Ach, Jesu, ist dein Abschied (Ah, Jesus, is Your departure), shows the situation of the disciples afraid that Jesus will leave them soon. Marked "Rec: col accomp." (Recitative: with accomp[animent]), it is accompanied by the flutes and continuo as a recitativo accompagnato.
Deeper reflection is expressed in an aria, marked "Aria Violini unisoni e Alto" (Aria Violins in unison and Alto). The singer requests Jesus to stay: Ach, bleibe doch, mein liebstes Leben (Ah, just stay, my dearest Life). The music is based on a movement from the lost wedding cantata Auf, süß entzückende Gewalt, Anh 1 196, written in 1725 on a libretto by Johann Christoph Gottsched.
The first chorale, closing part 1, is the fourth stanza of "Du Lebensfürst, Herr Jesu Christ", written in 1641 by Johann Rist. The text Nun lieget alles unter dir (Now everything is subject to You) imagines Jesus in heaven, with the angels and elements serving him.
Nun lieget alles unter dir,
Dich selbst nur ausgenommen;
Die Engel müssen für und für
Dir aufzuwarten kommen.
Dir Fürsten stehn auch auf der Bahn
Und sind dir willig untertan;
Luft, Wasser, Feuer, Erden
Muß dir zu Dienste werden.
It is composed as a four part setting, with the instruments playing colla parte: oboes and violin I enforce the chorale tune, the flutes an octave higher, violin II plays with the alto, viola with the tenor, and the continuo with the bass.
The evangelist begins Part II, Und da sie ihm nachsahen (And as they watched), telling of two men in white gowns addressing the disciples. The two men are represented by tenor and bass in a duet.
A reflecting recitative for alto, Ach ja! so komme bald zurück (Ah yes! Then come back soon;), requests the return of Jesus. Parallel to the bass recitative in Part I, it is also accompanied by the flutes and continuo.
The soprano aria, Jesu, deine Gnadenblicke (Jesus, Your merciful gaze), is also based on the wedding cantata Auf, süß entzückende Gewalt. It is one of the rare pieces in Bach's music without basso continuo, with the two unison flutes, the oboe and the unison strings playing a trio, augmented to a quartet by the singer. The original words in the wedding cantata mentioned "Unschuld" (innocence). Brian Robins notes "the lightly translucent texture reflecting the text's allusion to Christ leaving his body to ascend to Heaven". Jones thinks that the setting without an earthly continuo represents the Gnadenblicke (glances of Grace) of the text.
The closing chorale, "Wenn soll es doch geschehen" (When shall it happen"), is the seventh stanza of "Gott fähret auf gen Himmel", written in 1697 by Gottfried Wilhelm Sacer. Set in the first person, it expresses the desire of the speaker for the "liebe Zeit" (dear time) when he sees the Saviour in his glory. Continuing saying "wir" (we), he imagines to greet him and kiss him.
Wenn soll es doch geschehen,
wenn kömmt die liebe Zeit,
daß ich ihn werde sehn
in seiner Herrlichkeit?
Du Tag, wenn wirst du sein,
daß wir den Heiland grüßen,
daß wir den Heiland küssen?
Komm, stelle dich doch ein!
It is set as a chorale fantasia. The soprano sings the cantus firmus in long notes, on the melody of "Von Gott will ich nicht lassen". Similar to the final chorale Nun seid ihr wohl gerochen of the Christmas Oratorio, the chorale tune in a church mode appears in the triumphant context of a different major key. The text expresses longing for the day of being united with Jesus in Heaven. The musicologist Julian Mincham interprets the mode of the tune as "the human state of waiting and hoping", while the concerto represents the fulfillment. Mincham compares the writing to the opening chorale fantasias of the second cantata cycle of chorale cantatas, finding the composition for the lower voices "endlessly inventive, frequently related to the textual images" pointing out "the passionate and clinging representation of kissing the Saviour beneath the caressing flutes, in the penultimate phrase".
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- Cantata BWV 11 / Lobet Gott in seinen Reichen / (Himmelfahrts-Oratorium) history, scoring, sources for text and music, translations to various languages, discography, discussion, Bach Cantatas Website
- Himmelfahrts-Oratorium history, scoring, Bach website (German)