In the first version of this post, I argued that cantata 148 Bringet dem Herrn Ehre seines Namens for the 17th Sunday after Trinity was written in 1723, dismissing the statements of several scholars it was probably written in 1725. I agreed with them that this cantata is a bit “out of place” between the somber but extremely beautiful and compelling cantatas of Trinity 16 and Trinity 19, and that the text looks very similar to a poem by Picander, the librettist with whom Bach did not collaborate before 1725. However, I was not convinced by their third argument that Bach’s writing in the opening chorus would be too “new” for 1723, and at first I didn’t see how Bach could have practically written the cantata in 1725.
I suggested that Bach was too busy in 1725, coming back from a trip to Dresden right before this cantata had to be performed on September 23 of that year. But when I discussed this idea with Eduard van Hengel, he reminded me that Bach would have had plenty of time to compose a cantata well ahead of his trip to Dresden, since–as far as we know–he had not written a new cantata since August 26. So that was argument number 4 for placing this cantata in 1725 instead of 1723.
Argument number 5 presented itself to me while I did my research for cantata 83, reading Pieter Dirksen’s article on Bach’s writing for violin in his first Leipzig cycle of cantatas. Dirksen points out that Bach’s new compositions from 1723 don’t feature virtuoso parts for violin at all. He suggests the reason for this is that Bach’s orchestra in Leipzig (including Bach himself*) was missing a violinist who could play technically challenging music.
After reading Dirksen’s article on Bach’s connection with the Dresden violinist Johann Georg Pisendel,** and knowing that soon after Trinity 17 it would be Michaelmas, I got excited: the cantata 148 story was coming full circle! I was now no longer seeing Bach juggling ink and parchment on the coach back from Dresden to Leipzig on Saturday September 22, 1725, but instead I was imagining a friend in that coach with him: Johann Georg Pisendel.
If it is true that Pisendel visited Leipzig for the Purification of Mary holiday in 1724, as Dirksen suggests, it is not far-fetched to assume he would do so again for the feast of Michaelmas in 1725 (on September 29, so only six days after Trinity 17 in 1725). St. Michael’s Fair was a huge event in Leipzig, drawing visitors from as far as England and Poland, increasing the city’s population to 30,000, and thus also increasing the “audiences” for Bach’s music in the churches.
For this cantata, I prefer the recording by Bach Collegium Japan, with soloists Robin Blaze (countertenor), Gerd Türk (tenor), Toshio Shimada (trumpet), and Natsumi Wakamatsu (violin). Listen to this recording on Spotify or support the artists and purchase the album on Amazon.com, Amazon.de, or Amazon.fr.
Find the German texts with English translations here, and the score here.
The text of cantata 148 Bringet dem Herrn Ehre seines Namens talks about the importance of coming to church on Sunday, and listening to the music in the church (tenor recitative and aria), but it also talks about taking a day of rest (alto aria).
While the opening chorus is exceptional, it doesn’t sound very polished or “finished.” Gardiner, while otherwise excited about it, is not satisfied with the ending, and suggests that “perhaps Anna Magdalena called from the kitchen that dinner was on the table and the soup was getting cold.” What can I say? Only a male writer would say this!
The virtuoso violin part shows up in the tenor aria. On this recording of Bach Collegium Japan, played by Natsumi Wakamatsu, it moves me to tears. The tenor aria on the Gardiner recording is good too, with tenor Mark Padmore, and violinist Maya Homburger. You can find that one here. Whoever played this violin part in 1725, this person was not resting on Sunday …
*In his article Dirksen explains in detail how Bach went through the trouble of making the violin solo of cantata 76 relatively easy to play for an intermediate violinist, and suggests Bach was a good violinist, but perhaps not such a virtuoso as many believe him to be. Dirksen’s article appears on pages 135-156 of Bachs 1. Leipziger Kantantenjahrgang: Bericht über das 3. Dortmunder Bach-Symposion 2000 — Dortmund: Klangfarben Musikverlag, 2002.
**Pisendel had been friends with Bach since 1709 and several scholars think that it was for this Italian-trained virtuoso that Bach wrote his most complicated violin music. It is assumed that Bach had Pisendel in mind when writing the violin part of the “Laudamus te” of his Mass in B Minor.
To fully appreciate today’s cantata, I encourage you to first listen to Luther’s hymn, Dies sind die heil’gen Zehn Gebot (These are the holy Ten Commandments). I was not familiar with this tune, and had to do some research to understand what the slide trumpet was playing in the opening chorus. It was a very well-known hymn in Bach’s time. The Leipzig congregations sang it many times a year, and also sang it during the church services on Sunday August 22, 1723, the 13th Sunday after Trinity (probably preceded by an organ prelude in the style of BWV 635, see below). It was an important hymn for Bach. You can listen to his own chorale setting of it here.
It is also worthwhile to listen how Bach used this melody in three very different organ works: BWV 635, BWV 678, and BWV 679. He wrote BWV 635 as part of the Orgelbüchlein, in Weimar, the other two in the mid 1730s as part of the Clavier-Übung III.
The cantata for this Sunday, cantata 77 Du sollt Gott, deinen Herren, lieben features this chorale-tune in the opening chorus, but only in the tromba da tirarsi (slide trumpet) part and the continuo part. In the continuo it appears in long notes, and is not as clearly audible as in the trumpet part. There are exactly ten entrances for the trumpet within that opening chorus, the last time featuring the entire chorale tune, of course pointing to the tencommandments.
Bach Collegium Japan’s recording showcases this feature the best of all recordings I listened to, superbly played by Toshio Shimada, on a real tromba da tirarsi. I also like his playing the best in the alto aria. Listen to this recording on Spotify.
John Eliot Gardiner suggests that Bach made a theological statement by presenting his first two Trinity cantatas in Leipzig, 75 for Trinity 1 (focusing on the love of God/how to be before God) and 76 for Trinity 2 (focusing on brotherly love/how to love one’s neighbor) in close relation to each other, and that all through this 1723 Trinity season he has tried to reinforce the idea that those themes are connected, and how the believers should apply the laws from the Bible to themselves and to their own daily lives. He further argues that with this opening chorus he comes full circle back to that connection, by using a double fugue, by reminding the listeners of the “law” by way of the chorale in the trumpet part, and by setting the text of the Gospel immediately preceding the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10):
27. Er antwortete und sprach: Du sollst GOtt, deinen HErrn, lieben von ganzem Herzen, von ganzer Seele, von allen Kräften und von ganzem Gemüt und deinen Nächsten als dich selbst.
 And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.
After the bass recitative and soprano aria further elaborating on the “Love for God”-theme, and the tenor aria on the “Good Samaritan / Love your neighbor”-theme, we are treated to the most amazing tromba da tirarsi playing of all Bach cantatas written for this instrument, in this very unusual and humble alto aria, beautifully sung by mezzo-soprano Kirsten Sollek, and expertly played on the slide trumpet by Toshio Shimada.
This is an incredibly difficult part for the tromba da tirarsi, and almost impossible to play well on a “regular” Baroque trumpet. Was this Bach’s way of illustrating the “Unvolkommenheit” in the text? Would even Reiche not have been able to play this perfectly, with only a few days rehearsal time? And/or did Bach want people in the church to pay attention, so that this would be a true moment of reflection in the service?
In the region where Bach lived and worked, the trumpeters were very good, and Bach knew them and their world well, especially since he had married into a trumpet family in 1721. All the men in Anna Magdalena Wilcke’s family that we know of (father, brother, and husbands of all three sisters) were well-regarded trumpeters at the Anhalt-Zerbst court, about 17 miles (28 km) directly north of Köthen, and the Saxe-Weissenfels court, about 22 miles (35 km) south-west of Leipzig. The trumpeters in Leipzig were all Stadtpfeifer, employed by the city, and thus not always available to him.
Wieneke Gorter, August 20, 2016, updated September 5, 2020.
Excerpt from the title page of the manuscript, Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, Preußischer Kulturbesitz
Previously on Weekly Cantata: Beginning on May 30, 1723 (the first Sunday after Trinity) Bach presented a long cantata of 10 to 14 movements each to the Leipzig congregations every Sunday, including cantatas for the special occasions of St. John (Johannis) on June 24 and the Visitation of Mary (Mariä Heimsuchung) on July 2.
However, only a few of these were newly written in Leipzig. The first two cantatas (75 for Trinity 1 and 76 for Trinity 2) were new, but he had probably already prepared them in Köthen, before moving to Leipzig.* For several weeks after that, he wrote almost no new works, but “recycled” creations from his Weimar period, adding recitatives and sometimes changing aria texts to make them better suited for the specific Gospel readings in Leipzig, and adding chorales to make them longer. The only two new works he wrote in Leipzig in those first months were the “additional” cantata 24 for Trinity 4 and the modest cantata 167 for St. John.
With the exception of cantata 167, all cantatas in the first seven weeks after Trinity were 10 to 14 movements long, divided over two parts, one before the sermon, one after.
What changed for this 8th Sunday after Trinity in 1723 (July 18, 1723) was not that Bach stopped recycling older works—scholars think that this cantata 136 Erforsche mich, Gott, und erfahre mein Herz most probably was an assembly of several different unknown compositions from Köthen**–– but that the cantatas became significantly shorter in length: starting with this one for Trinity 8, cantatas will generally be only around six movements long. We don’t know the reason for this: an order or request from the Leipzig Council, Bach’s own decision that it would be too much work to write such a long work every week, or Bach’s experience that the notable members of the congregation would not actually arrive in the church until right before the sermon?
For this cantata 136 Erforsche mich, Gott, und erfahre mein Herz, I prefer the recording by Bach Collegium Japan, because of their interpretation of the opening chorus, alto aria (with one of my favorite countertenors, Kai Wessel), bass recitative (excellent job by Peter Kooij), and tenor/bass duet (the voices of Makoto Sukurada and Peter Kooij are a wonderful match here). Listen to this recording on Spotify.
Read the German text with English translation of this cantata here. Find the score here.
About ten years later, Bach reworked the glorious music of the opening chorus of this cantata into the In Gloria Dei Patris, Amen of his short Mass in A Major (BWV 234). This entire opening chorus is terrific, already from the very beginning: before the fugue even starts, its theme already sounds in the horn part, and then in the soprano part.
The alto aria elaborates on the Doomsday which was already announced three times in the tenor recitative. To make the vocal part of this aria sound a bit more threatening, Bach composed a new, fast middle part for the Leipzig performance. I enjoy listening to Kai Wessel’s voice, which is deep and clear at the same time, and this aria truly showcases his talent and skills.
At first, the closing chorale seems like a normal, “simple” setting, the way it will be in most cantatas after this, but when you pay a bit more attention, you’ll hear that the first violins play a beautiful ornamental part which floats over the vocal lines.
Wieneke Gorter, July 16, 2016, updated August 1, 2020.
*The paper of the manuscripts has been declared “non-Leipzig” paper by the researchers, and the compositions have many similarities and cross-references. Read more about this in the posts about cantata 75 and cantata 76.
**The manuscript is written very neatly, as if existing work was being copied, the opening chorus doesn’t really match the rest of the work in style or key, and the tenor-bass duet is very similar in style to the secular cantatas Bach wrote for the Köthen court.