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Wartburg castle in Eisenach, Germany, where Luther translated the Bible from Latin into German.

For a period of nine months, starting on June 11, 1724, Bach wrote a brand-new cantata for every Sunday and feast day. It became his “chorale cantata cycle,” the second cycle of cantatas he composed in Leipzig, for the 1724/1725 season. After Bach’s death in 1750, this collection of cantatas was considered the most important part of his cantata legacy, and there are several indications that he truly meant for this collection to survive him. For example, for the twelve Sundays or feast days that had not occurred in the 1724/1725 season, he would write a chorale cantata later in his life, in order to fill the gaps in the cycle. 

Cantata 14 Wär Gott nicht mit uns diese Zeit is the very last one of those added chorale cantatas, composed in 1735, exactly 10 years after the missed Sunday in 1725. Listen to it here in a live video recording from 2017 by Cantus Cölln. Soloists are Magdalene Harer, soprano; Elisabeth Popien, alto; Georg Poplutz, tenor; and Wolf-Matthias Friedrich, bass.  

Please find the text and translations here, and the score here.

When Bach uses one of Luther’s original hymns as the basis for a chorale cantata, he often writes the opening chorus in the form of a motet, using a composition style from the Renaissance, which was considered very old-fashioned in his time. See for example my blog posts about Cantata 2 Ach Gott, vom Himmel sieh darein here, and Cantata 38 Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir here. It is his way of paying his respects to Luther and his hymns, which were 200 years old at the time. So it is only fitting that the very last chorale cantata he ever wrote also opens with such a motet.

However, the soprano aria and the bass aria from Cantata 14 make it clear that Bach is not in 1525 or even 1725 anymore, but firmly in 1735, the year of his Christmas Oratorio and Ascension Oratorio.

Wieneke Gorter, January 29, 2022.