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O ewiges Feuer, o Ursprung der Liebe, BWV 34

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O ewiges Feuer, o Ursprung der Liebe
BWV 34
Church cantata by J. S. Bach
Eichstätt-Spitalkirche (2).JPG
Pfingstwunder (Pentecost miracle), the topic of the cantata, 1701
Related based on BWV 34a
Occasion Pentecost Sunday
Performed 1 June 1727 (1727-06-01): Leipzig
Movements 5
Vocal
  • SATB choir
  • alto, tenor and bass soloists
Instrumental
  • 3 trumpets
  • timpani
  • 2 oboes
  • strings
  • continuo

O ewiges Feuer, o Ursprung der Liebe (O eternal fire, o source of love),[1] BWV 34,[a] is a church cantata by Johann Sebastian Bach. He composed it in Leipzig in for Pentecost Sunday, based on an earlier wedding cantata, BWV 34a, beginning with the same line. Bach led the first performance on 1 June 1727.

An unknown librettist adapted the text of three movements from the wedding cantata and added two recitatives. A central contemplative aria for alto, accompanied by two flutes and muted strings, is framed by recitatives, while the two outer movements are performed by the chorus and a festive Baroque instrumental ensemble of three trumpets, timpani, two oboes, strings and continuo. The last movement quotes the conclusion of Psalm 128, "Friede über Israel" (Peace upon Israel). The themes of eternal fire, love, dwelling together and peace suit both occasions, wedding and Pentecost.

History and text[edit]

Bach adapted three movements of an earlier wedding cantata, O ewiges Feuer, o Ursprung der Liebe, BWV 34a, as movements 1, 3 and 5 of a cantata for Pentecost Sunday, adding two recitatives.[2][3] The prescribed readings for the day are taken from the Acts of the Apostles, on the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1–13), and from the Gospel of John, in which Jesus announces the Spirit who will teach, in his Farewell Discourse (John 14:23–31).[4] The workload of the composer and his musicians was high for Christmas, Easter and Pentecost, because in Leipzig they were all celebrated for three days.[5]

The texts are of unknown authorship.[6][7] The beginning of the text of the wedding cantata could be kept unchanged, because the image of the flames and the spirit of love suit the Pentecostal events as well as a wedding: the author had only to replace the reference to "vereinigtes Paar" (united couple) with a reference to the gospel.[3] Movement 5 quotes the conclusion of Psalm 128, "Friede über Israel" (Peace upon Israel, Psalms 128:6).[1] This quote was already part of movement 4 of the wedding cantata, which quotes in movement 3 verses 4–6a from the same psalm.[8]

Nikolaikirche in Leipzig, where the cantata was first performed

Bach led the first performance on 1 June 1727 in the Nikolaikirche.[3] The Bach scholar Klaus Hofmann notes that a printed libretto for the congregation was recently found in the Russian National Library in St. Petersburg, containing the texts for the three feast days of Pentecost and Trinity of 1727.[3] Until then the work had been dated much later, such as 1746 when a revival took place for which performance material exists.[5] As the music of the 1727 version is lost, the timing of Bach's revisions to the wedding cantata is not known. It is likely that he revised it further in the 1740s because he wrote a new score.[3]

Structure and scoring[edit]

Bach structured the cantata in five movements, with two choral movements framing a sequence of recitative–aria–recitative. Bach scored the work for three vocal soloists (alto, tenor, bass), a four-part choir and a Baroque instrumental ensemble of three trumpets (Tr), timpani (Ti), two flauti traversi (Ft), two oboes (Ob), two violins (Vl), viola (Va) and basso continuo.[9] The Bach scholar Christoph Wolff describes the "large-scale instrumental scoring" as "suited to the festive occasion".[2]

In the following table of the movements, the scoring follows the Neue Bach-Ausgabe.[9] The continuo, playing throughout, is not shown.

Movements of O ewiges Feuer, o Ursprung der Liebe, BWV 34
No. Title Text Type Vocal Winds Strings Key Time
1 O ewiges Feuer, o Ursprung der Liebe anon. Chorus SATB 3Tr Ti 2Ob 2Vl Va D major 3/4
2 Herr, unsre Herzen halten dir anon. Recitative T common time
3 Wohl euch, ihr auserwählten Seelen anon. Aria A 2Ft 2Vl Va A major common time
4 Erwählt sich Gott die heilgen Hütten anon. Recitative B common time
5 Friede über Israel
  • Psalm 128:6
  • anon.
Chorus SATB 3Tr Ti 2Ob 2Vl Va D major common time

Music[edit]

1[edit]

The opening chorus, "O ewiges Feuer, o Ursprung der Liebe" (O eternal fire, o source of love),[1] illustrates two contrasting subjects, "ewig" (eternal) and "Feuer" (fire). While "ewig" appears as long notes, held for more than one measure, the flames (or tongues) of the fire are set in "lively figuration from the strings and agile coloraturas from the voices".[3] The instrumental ritornello comprises a sustained trumpet entry, active strings, and "flickering" oboes, drums, and trumpets. Unlike in most da capo movements, this ritornello appears only at the beginning and end.[10] The basses enter first, "holding a top D for most of five bars to symbolise the 'eternal', the other three parts aglitter with 'fiery' embellishments", as John Eliot Gardiner notes.[5] The middle section develops these themes in minor keys,[10] in "dance-like vocal pairings",[5] before the ritornello returns one more time to reprise the first section.[10]

2[edit]

A tenor recitative, "Herr, unsre Herzen halten dir dein Wort der Wahrheit für" (Lord, our hearts keep Your word of truth fast),[1] adopts an authoritative tone, is in minor mode, and begins with a bass pedal.[10] It expands the concept of God abiding with his people, as outlined in the gospel.[1]

3[edit]

An alto aria, "Wohl euch, ihr auserwählten Seelen, die Gott zur Wohnung ausersehn" (It is well for you, you chosen souls, whom God has designated for his dwelling),[1] conveys images of contentment by incorporating a lilting berceuse-like rhythm, with an obbligato melody played by muted violins and flutes in octaves and tenths. It is accompanied by a tonic pedal in the continuo. The aria is in adapted ternary form.[10] The pastoral character suited the original text, "Wohl euch, ihr auserwählten Schafe" (It is well for you, you chosen sheep), which alludes to the bridegroom, a pastor or "shepherd of souls".[3] Gardiner notes "the tender sensuousness of the pastoral writing, the pairings of thirds and sixths, the blending of flutes and muted strings and the satisfying textures and calm enchantment disturbed only momentarily by modulation", and considers that the piece had possibly some "deeper personal significance".[5]

4[edit]

The bass recitative, "Erwählt sich Gott die heilgen Hütten, die er mit Heil bewohnt" (If God chooses the holy dwellings that He inhabits with salvation),[1] is quite similar in character to the tenor recitative. The last two measures form an introduction to the closing movement.[10]

5[edit]

The closing chorus, "Friede über Israel" (Peace upon Israel),[1] opens with a solemn rendering of the psalm text, marked Adagio.[3] The violins and oboes first play an ascending figure.[10] Gardiner notes that the section is "reminiscent of and equivalent in grandeur to the opening exordium to the B minor Mass".[5] The slow music on the psalm text is contrasted by a "spirited and very secular-sounding march,[3] setting "Dankt den höchsten Wunderhänden" (Thank the exalted wondrous hands).[1] Both sections appear first as instrumental and are then repeated by the chorus.[10] Hofmann notes that this music is reminiscent of Bach's works for the Köthen court, composed for Leopold, Prince of Anhalt-Köthen.[3] Gardiner concludes:

There is an extended stretch of thrilling orchestra writing before the choir returns to the ‘Peace upon Israel’ theme, this time within the Allegro pulse, with a final shout of joy from the sopranos on a top B bringing this irresistible Whit Sunday cantata to a glorious conclusion.[5]

Selected recordings[edit]

The selection is taken from the listing on the Bach-Cantatas website.[11]

Notes[edit]

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

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Dellal, Pamela. "BWV 34 – O ewiges Feuer, o Ursprung der Liebe". Emmanuel Music. Retrieved 2 May 2016. 
  2. ^ a b Wolff, Christoph (2001). "The late church cantatas from Leipzig" (PDF). Bach-Cantatas. pp. 21–23. Retrieved 2 May 2016. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Hofmann, Klaus (2010). "O ewiges Feuer, o Ursprung der Liebe, BWV 34 / O Eternal Fire, O Source of Love" (PDF). Bach-Cantatas. pp. 5–6. Retrieved 2 May 2016. 
  4. ^ "Lutheran Church Year / Readings for the Feast of Pentecost (Whitsunday)". Bach-Cantatas. Retrieved 2 May 2016. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Gardiner, John Eliot (2006). "Cantatas for Whit Sunday / Holy Trinity, Long Melford" (PDF). Bach-Cantatas. pp. 2–4. Retrieved 1 May 2016. 
  6. ^ Christoph Wolff (Eds.): Die Welt der Bach-Kantaten, Metzler/Bärenreiter, Stuttgart und Kassel, 3 Bände Sonderausgabe 2006 ISBN 3-476-02127-0
  7. ^ Terry, C; Litti, D (1917). "Bach's Cantata Libretti". Journal of the Royal Musical Association. 44 (1): 71–125. doi:10.1093/jrma/44.1.71. 
  8. ^ Dellal, Pamela. "BWV 34a – O ewiges Feuer, o Ursprung der Liebe". Emmanuel Music. Retrieved 3 May 2016. 
  9. ^ a b Bischof, Walter F. "BWV 34 O ewiges Feuer, o Ursprung der Liebe". University of Alberta. Retrieved 2 May 2016. 
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h Mincham, Julian (2010). "Chapter 51 BWV 34 O ewiges Feuer, o Ursprung der Liebe / Oh fire eternal, Oh spring of Love". jsbachcantatas. Retrieved 2 May 2016. 
  11. ^ Oron, Aryeh. "Cantata BWV 34 O ewiges Feuer, o Ursprung der Liebe". Bach-Cantatas. Retrieved 2 May 2016. 

External links[edit]