BWV 137 "Lobe den Herren, den mächtigen König
of the many chorale cantatas by Bach, Cantata BWV 137 was written
in Leipzig in 1725 for the 12th Sunday after Trinity
Sunday. (Its premiere, therefore, occurred on August 19, 1725.)
The joyful text, however, which lacks clear ties to a particular
feast day, could have been used on many occasions throughout the
year, especially in the Easter season and Ordinary Time (the time
between Christmas and the start of Lent, and between Trinity Sunday
and the start of Advent). It is a 5-movement cantata, scored for
SATB choir, 3 trumpets, timpani, 3 oboes, violin 1, violin 2, viola,
and continuo. The first movement is the broadest in scope, including
the full orchestra and choir. The choir is silent for the middle
movement (alto aria, soprano/bass duet, tenor aria), then reappears
with oboes, strings, and continuo doubling the parts on a traditional
4-part chorale setting. The entire text of the cantata employs the
text of the chorale "Lobe den Herren," without any interpolations
of other texts or elaborations of the chorale text by Bach. This
was something he did periodically, though some tinkering with the
chorale text was more common. The work is also notable for its lack
of recitatives, something not commonly seen in Bachs chorale
cantatas; the lack of recitatives is likely directly related to
the lack of poetic interpolations in the chorale text.
chorale tune is well-known to both German and English-speaking congregations.
In English, this familiar hymn tune is known as "Praise to
1: Chorus. Verse 1.
stated previously, this is the broadest in scope of the movements,
employing the full complement of the orchestra. It is a chorale
fantasy, with three primary divisions to the ensemble occurring
simultaneously to create an intricate, polyphonic texture: a) the
sopranos of the choir present the chorale tune in a relatively straightforward
manner; b) the lower three voices of the choir perform very active,
imitative lines; and c) the perpetual motion of the orchestral strings,
which not only add another dimension to the imitative polyphony
of the choral parts but also serve as the constant element, whether
the choral parts are performing at the moment or not.
chorale fantasia can be analyzed as having ten distinct sections,
alternating instrumental and choir with instruments, usually marked
by strong cadences:
opening orchestral introduction is infused with an anapest
rhythm (two sixteenths, one eighth) which propel the music continuously
onward. [16 measures]
altos, tenors, and basses enter with the opening line of text
("Lobe den Herren") in an active, polyphonic texture.
Shortly thereafter, the soprano enter with the familiar hymn tune
in long notes; both the length of the notes and the range distinguish
the tune from the rest of the texture. [12 measures]
orchestral transition, based on the introductory material. [15
repeat of the first choral entrance, using the second phrase of
text. In the hymn, these first two phrases are likewise musically
identical. [12 measures]
transitional orchestral passage, again based on the introductory
material, though shorter and with the inflection of the minor
mode, previously unheard in this movement. [6 measures]
next phrase of the hymn is introduced. This time, the choral parts
are set homophonically, perhaps to amplify the more insistent
statement in the text:
zu Hauf, Come all in throngs,
und Harfen, wacht auf! Psaltry and lyre, wake up!
kind of textural change in the midst of a chorale fantasia
is striking and unusual to me. Though I cant claim to
know even half of Bachs chorale cantatas, I have not
seen another similar textural transformation mid-stream. [6
orchestral transition bridges the gap to the next choral entrance.
final choral statement. The alto, tenor, and bass parts are similar,
though not identical, to the first two. Though there are many
differences between this statement and the first two, the changes
are not so striking because of the return to the polyphonic choral
fantasia texture and the migration of melodic and rhythmic motives
from the first two choral statements.
reprise of the orchestral introduction, this time to bring closure
to the movement.
2: Aria for Alto. Verse 2.
maintains the triple meter setting of the chorale tune, though he
creates a more dance-like feel by transforming 3/4 into 9/8. The
"three-ness" is enhanced by the presence of only 3 distinct
members of the ensemble in this number, the solo alto voice, solo
violin, and continuo. This movement is in a sense another chorale
fantasia, with the chorale tune appearing in the solo alto voice
while a solo violin weaves a more complicated fabric throughout.
In my opinion, the solo alto part is almost incidental to this movement,
even with the addition of some ornaments to decorate the hymn tune.
This movement is entirely about the solo violin, which plays almost
continuous moving sixteenths with barely a break.
3: Aria (Duetto) for Soprano and Bass. Verse 3.
this movement, Bach transports the well-known tune into the minor
mode. The texture is more than just a simple vocal duet; in addition,
oboes play their own duetall parts, of course, are accompanied
by continuo throughout. Here, the hymn tune serves more as a general
structural framework for the movementthe opening repeated
quarters leaping up a fifth and 3/4 meter are the main ties to the
original tune. The leap of a fifth is frequently transformed into
a fourth; the phrases are extended through elaborations in the vocal
parts; and the parallel phrase structure of the hymn has disappeared
here. Thus, the hymn tune is barely recognizable, except in scattered
fragments. This duet does, however, set the tone for the subsequent
tenor aria, also in the minor mode (this time, a minor).
4: Aria for tenor. Verse 4.
the hymn tune does not appear in the vocal line, but rather in an
obbligato trumpet part. Each statement by the trumpet turns the
music to major, even though the movement is otherwise overwhelmingly
in the minor mode.
than singing the hymn tune or a variation thereof, the tenor is
used by Bach to emphasize certain words of importance in the text.
(blessed), with both a long held note and a long melisma;
(streams), marked again by a melisma, and
(showers), which together emphasize how God pours streams of love
down upon his people;
(think), stated five times in as many measures, to emphasize the
peoples need to think about Gods love and remember
his gifts to us;
(all mighty), with another lengthy melisma.
the previous movements in this cantata, this one, too, is marked
"dal segno" at the end, returning to use the opening instrumental
to close the movement.
5: Chorale. Verse 5.
quick glance, the final movement appears to be a typical 4-part
chorale setting to conclude the cantata. However, while Bach has
assigned the oboes and strings to double the voices, as is his norm
in this situation, he has written independent parts for the trumpets
and timpani, adding a welcome grand twist to this well-known tune;
more importantly, Bach demonstrates his innovation and talent in
using chorale tunes in many different guises, especially when we
consider his chorale cantatas collectively.
final movement was incorporated later by Bach in "Herr Gott,
Beherrscher aller Dinge," a wedding cantata. No doubt the simplicity
of the scoringeven with 7 partsand the overall festive
mood were part of its appeal.
test your knowledge with a few questions!
2002 Carol Traupman-Carr