Friday, November 03, 2006

Bach chorale cantatas based on tunes we still sing

BWV 80 - Ein’ feste Burg (“A mighty fortress is our God”)

Excepting maybe the “Ehre sei dir, Gott” of the Christmas Oratorio, I’m not sure there’s any Bach more fun than mvts. 1 and 5 of this one. Herreweghe does a romp on this one. (And I like those trumpets and timpani - which Bach didn’t write, but they’re cool anyway, so why not?)

BWV 140 - Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme (“Wake, O Wake”)

You probably got it in your undergrad music history sequence, but if you were like me, you were so overloaded with Gabrieli, Schüta, Buxtehude, et al that there wasn’t room to savor Bach. This one only gradually grew on me, and I still am so-so on the solo movements. I still haven’t found a recording of this one I really think does the trick.

BWV 137 - Lobe den Herren (“Praise to the Lord”)

The last one is lesser-known, but it’d be a great piece to put together for a summer concert or some such. Pretty standard chorale cantata: big opening chorus with the chorale in the soprano as a cantus firmus, some solo movements, then a straight-up harmonization of the chorale.

Interesting how the tune is different - I wonder why the discrepancy between what Bach used and what I’ve always otherwise seen and sung.

BWV 192 - Nun danket alle Gott (“Now thank we all our God”)

Again, lesser-known, and actually incomplete. But, we do have the opening chorus, a duet, and a closing chorus. The opening is pretty demanding on the singers and has some interesting “extra” padding - first and last vocal entrances are unrelated to the chorale. The 2nd chorus reminds one “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” with the constant triplet motion in the violins, but here the singers get in on the fun, too. :)

Any that I missed? Of course, there are other great chorale cantatas, but I am specifically interested in ones based on chorales we still sing, esp. in Catholic churches. (I believe some churches do still sing “Mit Fried’ und Freud’” and “Werde munter, mein Gemüthe”, e.g. “Jesu Joy” - but these seem less prevalent?)


At Saturday, November 04, 2006 11:21:00 AM, Blogger Gavin said...

"I wonder why the discrepancy between what Bach used and what I’ve always otherwise seen and sung."

Neither Bach nor we use the actual chorales. Bach wrote metric adaptations of the original chorales. If you get a chance, go to a LCMS church with a decent music program. The hymns are still sung by them in the original tunes. The original tunes use what can best be described as "16th century dance rhythms", or what we might call mixed meter.

My congregation I'M SURE doesn't (and would scream for my head if I tried) sing "A Mighty Fortress"; and my boss, before I was there, tried to have them sing Wachet auf, to no avail at all. I'm going to have my choir sing the tenor solo from that one, actually.

AH, and there's Erhalt Uns, Herr, bei deinem Wort! Of course, most Catholics don't sing the original text ("Lord, keep us in Thy Word and work; restrain the murd'rous Pope and Turk...") but it is known by the text "Again We Keep this Solemn Fast" and a few others. I suppose if no one knows German in your church... it is a nice cantata either way.

Why the insistence on Cantatas that your congregation knows the tune for? The congregation probably won't listen and think "Ah! There's Wachet Auf!" Besides, there's many good Lutheran tunes that Catholics, for obvious reasons, have no clue about.

Get yourself a copy of The Lutheran Hymnal (from the 40's) or the new Lutheran Service Book. Both of those are good hymnals from the LCMS, and they'll allow you to get aquainted with the original tunes. As for me, I'm planning on my choir singing "Aus tiefer Not" sometime in November. I have to mess with the text a lot to get rid of the Lutheranism, but it's still a good tune.

At Saturday, November 04, 2006 1:54:00 PM, Blogger Cantor said...

Hrm? I am fairly sure that the metrical versions of the chorales date from before Bach....otherwise, why all the wrangling among Bach scholars over whether congregations sang along?

I have seen EIN FESTE BURG in isometric form, but never the others.

Curiously, when I was at Solesmes, I met a Dutch priest who, when I told him, was floored that American Catholics sing “A mighty fortress” - after all, in the Netherlands the Calvinists still do big Reformation Day festive stuff, out in the community - it sounded kinda like a Eucharistic procession, just for Calvinists.

I confess I don’t know the tune ERHALT. My interest in chorale cantatas based on still-familiar chorales is pure audience interest - I’ll bet a congregation that knows WACHET AUF well would be able, with a bit of help, to hear the familiar tune.

If I had the forces (i.e. voices that sustain), I would do mvt. 3 from BWV131, “Aus der Tiefe ruf’ ich, Herr, zu dir.” Modest length, and other than the characteristically high tenor part, quite accessible for Bach.


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