BWV 71 "Gott ist mein König"
the text of this work is clearly sacred, the work was composed for
annual civic celebrations in Mühlhausen. The work holds a special
place among Bachs total oeuvre for several reasons,
including the following:
is one of the few works by Bach composed on commission, rather
than those composed as part of his regular duties.
was published in Bachs own lifetime, the only cantata by
Bach to be so honored. (The city council, not the composer, paid
for the publication of the work.)
is one of a small handful of Bachs early works to survive
in his own hand. (Another cantata being performed this May, BWV
131, is among this select group as well.)
is the first work by Bach in which he employs a full festival
orchestra. We see he is more than up to this task!
himself referred to the work as a "Gratulatory Motetto."
This is probably not an indication of anything unusual in this work;
rather, in the late 17th century and earliest years of
the 18th century, the term "cantata" was generally
reserved for solo secular vocal pieces in Italian. Sometimes, the
terminology was as deliberately vague as "Music" (music)
or Kirchenmüsik (church music), never mind the interchangeability
of terms such as cantata, motetto, actus, and concerto (modern audiences
and musicologists would be intolerant of such lack of clarity!).
work was written in 1708, and first performed on February 4 of that
year. The text combines large portions of Psalm 74 with some hymn
text and poetry. The largest portion, however, comes from the biblical
source, and this is essentially the foundation for the entire work.
According to Martin Petzoldt:
from Psalm 74 used in stanzas 1, 4, and 6 form the essential backbone
for the overall text of BWV 71, moving along at three levels:
rules from ages past (movement 1: chorus):
old (both in age and in terms of office) mayor has the limits
of his power laid down for him (movement 4: bass);
protection of the people is in Gods hand alone (movement
three levels are presented with a sense of doubt and consolidation
(movements 2 and 3), acknowledgment of Gods power (movement
5), and good wishes (movement 7), which must have stirred the
oldand at the same time new [NOTE: the incumbent candidate
was re-elected for a fifth term]mayor in connection with
his renewed assumption of office.
"Liturgical and Theological Aspects," in The World
of the Bach Cantatas: Johann Sebastian Bachs Early Sacred
Cantatas, ed. Christoph Wolff [New York: W.W. Norton and Co.,
first movement is a sort of smorgasbord of late Baroque style. In
its mere 37 measures, Bach employs full a full orchestra of 3 trumpets,
timpani, 2 flutes, cello, 2 oboes, bassoon, 2 violins, viola, violone,
and organ, along with SATB choir and SATB soloists. This large orchestra,
especially with the trumpets and drums, allows a festive, brilliant
mood to be set from the very start, but Bach never really allows
the full orchestra and voices to sound together for too long, nor
does either the texture or timbre remain a constant for any stretch.
The choral parts are almost exclusively homophonic and accompanied
by the full orchestra, with active sixteenth-note passages providing
transitions between choral outbursts; meanwhile, the solo voices
are polyphonic and accompanied by strings and continuo. The music
is set primarily in C major, but quick side trips to a minor and
d minor provide a modicum of tonal variety.
1708, when the work was written, Bachs primary job was as
the organist at St. Blasiuss church in Mühlhausen. It
is therefore no surprise 1) that Bach did not write many compositions
in this time, and 2) that when he did, the organ is given a more
important role than was typical of that time. A good example of
his special treatment of the organ occurs in the second movement,
"Ich bin nun achtzig Jahr," of Cantata BWV 71, an aria
for soprano and tenor with organ alonethere are no other supporting
instruments. Initially, the organ "merely" provides continuo-type
support, but by the seventh measure, the organ takes on an independent
role, echoing the vocal lines; Bach indicates that these echoing
passages are to be played in the "Positiv," where the
pipes were normally physically separated from the other divisions
of the organ, enhancing the echo effect through distance.
you see in the score excerpt below are the following items:
green, a sample of the more traditional
continuo-style writing for the organ; in this case, the continuo
writing extends beyond the green marked in the score. The baseline
throughout is a walking
bass line, typical of the high Baroque era.
orange, note Bachs instruction
"Positiv," indicating that this brief passage should
be played on the Positiv (or Rückpositiv) of the organ
pink, Bachs instruction "Originalstimme,"
or original voice, meaning the organist should switch to whatever
he/she had used as the original voicing in this movement
red, the echoing passages between
the organ and voices.
blue, the marking "Grundmelodie:
O Gott, du frommer Gott. This is an indication that
Bach is employing a chorale melody here. The movement is marked
"Aria con Corale in Canto." Indeed, the chorale melody
is inserted into the solo soprano line, but it is heavily ornamentedwere
it not for the occasional quarter notes (which stand out as
very long in this andante movement) and Bachs score
indications, listeners might miss the chorale tune altogether.
the organs role in this movement evolves even further
into an elaborate featured solo passage to close the movement.
movement three we find the first of two fugues
in this cantata. Here, the "coro senza ripieni" (chorus
without tutti) presents a four-voice fugue. It is set in a minor,
relative minor to the primary key of the first movement, and
one position away on the circle of fifths from the preceding
movement, set in e minor. One might think that with the C major
e minor a minor key arrangement of the first three
movements, a return to C is in the works for movement 4. Such
is not the case. In fact, Bach moves to "the flat side"
for the bass arioso
which follows. The depth of the bass voice is offset by the
higher and lighter sounds of 2 oboes and 2 flutes. Konrad Küster,
professor of musicology at Freiburg University, writes that
this movement is not a da
capo aria, but rather a series of short refrains
in an A-B-A arrangement. It is,
indeed, composed of two contrasting sections. The two sections
are outlined below:
major, g minor, B-flat major, d minor, F major
tempo marking, but much more rhythmic activity
half notes and quarters throughout the texture
sixteenths are predominant
und Nacht is dein." (Day and night are yours.)
machest, dass beide, Sonn und Gestirn, ihren gewissen
Lauf haben. Du setzest einem jeglichen Lande seine Granze."
(You make the sun, the moon and the stars, as you bid
them, to run duly. For every country here on the earth,
you have set the borders.)
flutes, 2 oboes, cello, bassoon, organ
second section is not entirely self-contained, as the cadence
from V to I in F major provides the bridge back to the music
of the opening. Despite Küsters claim that this is
not a da capo aria, I doubt modern audiences would perceive
it any other way.
last note on this movement: I find Bachs limited word
painting amusing here. Each time the bass soloist sings
the word "Nacht" (night), the vocal line makes a large
leap downward, sometimes as little as a fifth, but often spanning
a much wider gap. In this way, night remains distinct from day,
with the day (Tag) always being higher and brighter and the
night always falling.
the final movement, Bach employs a "permutation fugue."
The permutation fugue was a common feature in keyboard works
of the day. It is "so named because the voices enter in
canon-like fashion, with two or three countersubjects appearing
after the main theme, as beads on a string, in each voice. After
the initial exposition, the order of entries can be altered,
and the entire structure can be transposed to another key, in
order to produce different permutations of the original material."
(George B. Stauffer, "Bach the Organist," 90, in The
World of the Bach Cantatas, ed. Christoph Wolff [New York:
W.W. Norton and Co., 1995]). Many of Bachs earlier works
were indeed for keyboard, and we already know that he was a
master of fugal writing. It is no surprise that, given his limited
experience in writing choral works at this time in his career,
Bach would turn to the more comfortable world of keyboard music
to find some inspiration. The fugue only lasts 45 measures (followed
by a three-measure closing by the orchestra alone, as a transition
to the final section of this movement).
fugue is marked "senza ripieni," meaning the orchestra
drops out, except, of course, for the continuo line. "Ripieni"
is an alternate term for "tutti", meaning all or everyone.
The term is most common in works of the concerto
grosso genre, of which this piece is not an example. However,
the underlying principle driving the concerto grosso is the
juxtaposition of two ensembles, one larger (ripieno) and one
smaller (concertino). This combination of different ensembles
allows a variety of textural, dynamic, and timbral possibilities.
Bach creates such variety here by omitting the ripieno (=orchestra)
and allowing a primarily vocal sound to dominate the opening
of the fugue. Gradually, after each of the voices in the choir
(in SATB order) has entered with the fugue subject,
the same subject spreads into the orchestra. The orchestra
follows the order established by the voices in having the subject
introduced first by instruments in the highest register, then
the alto, tenor, and bass registers respectively. Once the fugue
has built to include all instruments but trumpets and drums,
they, too, enter to bring the fugue to a climax, providing affirming
punctuations before a cadence brings the fugue to a close. The
movement does not yet end, however, until an additional choral
section, featuring primarily chordal entrances and a flurry
of descending scale passages in the orchestra conclude the movement
with an insistent shout of "Glück, Heil, Glück,
Heil und grosser Sieg!" to both God and the new mayor.
work made such a good impression that the council asked Bach
to write another festival work for the following year; by the
time a year had passed, however, Bach had moved on to Weimar.
test your knowledge with some review
2002 Carol Traupman-Carr