BWV 159a "Ich lasse dich nicht"
attributed to the Eisenach composer Johann Christoph Bach (1642-1703),
this work was later re-ascribed to Johann Sebastian Bach, though
from an earlier period in his career than his other motets. This
is Bach's earliest known motet, written not later than 1712, and
it may be his most unusual (leading scholars to be suspicious about
it's truly being from the hand of J.S. Bach). The double choirs
are used most often antiphonally, with Chorus II echoing Chorus
I almost exclusively throughout the first 65 measures or so; at
that point, the choral entrances come closer together, overlapping
continuously until they reach rhythmic and textual unity in m. 77.
Shortly thereafter (m. 84), the music changes dramatically:
Homophonic and antiphonal
83 measures (1-83)
32 measures (84-116)
fantasia"? I'm sure you're wondering what this is all about;
after all, isn't this a motet? Why in the world would I say "genre"
for parts I and II. It's quite simple actually. The first part is
remarkably like a rondo, a genre we normally associate with the
Classical era, rather than the works of Bach, although its predecessor,
would have been known to Bach, who studied the French harpsichord
music of François Couperin (1668-1733), his contemporary.
why is this rondo-like? Look at the first phrase, which is sung
by Choir I. A piano reduction is also shown:
image "ich-rondo.gif". File is corrupt.
bracketed phrase, always sung to the text "du segnest mich
denn," is repeated numerous times throughout the first portion
of the piece--
exactly as it appears above (ms. 4-5, 8-9, 39-40, 44-45)
with one pitch changed (ms. 56-57),
keeping the same rhythm and overall shape but set on altogether
different pitches (ms. 20-21, 24-25, 83-84), and
ornamented and on different pitches (ms. 30-31, 34-35).
resulting effect, then, is that there is indeed a refrain -- at
the very least, a textual refrain, but given that the rhythm is
unaltered, this little phrase feels like a musical refrain as well.
Did Bach intentionally try to create a rondo? Well, no, probably
not, if by that question we mean was he attempting to follow a particular
form. But by constantly repeating this rhythm and these words, Bach
makes all the stronger the point of the text: I will not let you
go, Lord, until I am blest. No matter how long, how strongly, how
tenaciously I must do so, I will not let go until...when? When I
back to the opening above, you can see that Bach here puts three
flats in the key signature, but looking at the cadence, you can
see this is clearly in f minor. This is an example of a partial
signature, which was fairly common in Bach's day for works in
the minor mode. But what I find so unusual is how strongly tonal
and chordal this work is. It strikes me as so un-Bach,
which may be one reason why scholars long attributed the work to
another Bach, and to this day still count this motet as "spurious"
or "apocryphal." I think those who attend a performance
of this work by the Bach Choir will be surprised at how distinctive
this work is.
about the chorale fantasia. This is more obvious. At m. 84, as you
can see above, the entire character of the work changes to what
we would consider "more typical Bach." The lower three
voices weave a more complicated imitative fabric, above which the
sopranos sing a chorale tune in long notes. This is something we've
seen before in Bach, including in Cantata 140 "Wachet auf,"
2003 Carol Traupman-Carr