Music Monday: Bach and the Church Year


Music Monday: Bach and the Church Year

For years now, one of my favorite sites on the internet has been the Bach Cantatas Website.

This comprehensive site covers all of J.S. Bach’s cantatas and vocal works, and many of the instrumental works as well. Here you will find: detailed discussions, texts and translations, scores, commentaries, references, music examples, and discographies. You’ll also find information about performers of Bach’s works, their biographies and discographies. You can find out about poets and composers associated with Bach, and other resources such as calendars tracking the Lutheran church year and associated cantatas and works, chorale texts and melodies, books and movies about Bach, concerts, Bach festivals and tours, etc.

Before I came to write for Internet Monk, one of the blogs I had for awhile was a site called Baching through the Church Year, in which I began the process of exploring various cantatas written by Bach for the Sundays on the annual liturgical calendar. Because of other responsibilities, I had to quit before even making it through the first annual cycle, but I hope to incorporate a weekly cantata post here on Internet Monk in 2017, as we commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation’s beginning.

Yesterday was the 18th Sunday after Trinity on the Lutheran Church Calendar, a Sunday for which Bach wrote two cantatas:

  • BWV 96: Herr Christ, der einige Gottessohn (“Lord Christ, the only Son of God,” words by Richard Stokes)
  • BWV 169: Gott soll allein mein Herze haben (“God Alone Shall Have My Heart,” words by Richard Stokes)

I’d like to focus on the second of these cantatas today.

At the site of the Bethlehem Bach Choir, we read this summary of Gott soll allein mein Herze haben: “Cantata 169 was written in 1726 for the 18th Sunday after Trinity. It is one of only two known cantatas written by Bach for that feast day. This is one of four cantatas written by Bach for solo alto, and, according to Schulenberg, it is the last and best of the four.”

An overview of BWV 169: Gott soll allein mein Herze haben

The cantata begins with a lively Sinfonia, which is one of Bach’s best known and most delightful.

An alto Arioso and Aria then expresses how she finds in God her “highest good.”

We do indeed see
here and there on the earth
a small stream of contentment
that flows from the goodness of the Highest;
but God is the source, overflowing with rivers,
from this source I derive what for eternity
can refresh me truly and sufficiently:
God alone should possess my heart.

Recitative prepares for by the next Aria by meditating on the question, “What is the love of God?” The aria which follows, having considered God’s love, cries out that other loves may die so that she may live fully in that love.

Die in me,
you world and all your loves
so that my heart 
on earth for ever and ever
may practise God’s way of love;
Die in me,
arrogance, wealth and greedy lust of the eyes,
you abject promptings of the flesh.

The next Recitative reminds us of an important aspect of what it means for God to have our hearts.

But keep in mind also
to be sincere with your neighbour! 
For it is written in the scriptures:
you should love God and your neighbour.

The cantata then concludes with the choral Chorale:

You sweet love, grant us your favour,
let us feel the ardour of love
so that we may love one another from our hearts
and remain with one mind in peace.
Lord, have mercy.

• • •

Here is the version to which I will be listening this week. It is from John Eliot Gardiner’s outstanding Bach Cantata Pilgrimage series, and features alto Nathalie Stutzmann.

Soli deo gloria!

29 thoughts on “Music Monday: Bach and the Church Year

  1. I love classical, but the older I get the more I appreciate Bluegrass and the down to earth honesty in it.
    For something that’s a pleasant mixture of both, try “Wings of The Dawn” by Sierra Hull. It is based on
    a portion of Psalm 139.


  2. Yes, indeedy, there’s a sucker born every minute. When you ain’t got nothin’, you got nothin’ to lose….you’re invisible now, you got no secrets to conceal….how does it feel?


  3. love Bono

    and yes, there seems a great desire among half of our people for a nihilism that will mirror some kind of destructive apocalypse . . . . . . this, in a land of ‘plenty’, where among these same people ‘caring for our poor’ is condemned as ‘socialist thinking’ ???? Ah, soon we ALL may be poor in the way of the third world, after the ‘nuke’ toys are played with by Great Leader Who Has A Good Mind and doesn’t need to consult the generals.

    well, we shall rise or fall on the outcome of this election and the voice of the people will be heard in our land, at least for a time until the conclusion of our nuclear winter ….. then there will be a great silence in the land, yes

    good ‘ole Bono


  4. Since it is #musicmonday and there’s a debate tonight, I’m glad at least one prophetic voice can speak up and bluntly say that we stand to lose everything this election.


  5. Just recently played Pachelbel and Telemann’s settings of “Vater Unser” for a service prelude. I love being able to explore these kinds of things as a part of my vocation. Our choir is learning Bach settings of chorales to sing in alternation with stanzas done by the congregation. I’m currently reading a book on the worship culture of Leipzig at the time of Bach, and it is truly amazing. It is definitely one of the aesthetic pinnacles of the church’s history, if not the highest one. There is so much our religious culture today needs to learn from that time.


  6. When it comes to sacred, Romantic and Renaissance for choral, Baroque for instrumental, I say.

    But what you have shared is well beyond the reach of the majority of church choirs. This and similar are more often done in academic settings than churches these days, anyways.

    Bach, on the other hand, is attainable by nearly any congregation that so desires. This is a part of his genius.


  7. All Bach all the time is all very well and good. If I had to choose the complete works of any one composer to listen to on my desert island, it would undoubtedly be Bach. That being said, while his batting average was remarkably high, there still is an awful lot of Back that was written in a hurry, and it shows. In the meantime, there is some terrific stuff written by those other guys. Sure, their batting averages are lower, but that doesn’t mean they don’t sometimes hit one out of the park. Here is a partial list:

    Vivaldi. Yes, I know. You have heard The Four Seasons approximately fifteen gazillion times and don’t need to hear it again. But the fault here lies with modern classical radio, not with Vivaldi. Remember he is the guy that Bach consciously imitated. Since we are aiming at liturgical music, check out his Dixit Dominus and his Magnificat.

    Pachelbel. Yes, I know. His Canon in D makes playing Vivaldi’s Four Seasons look like a refreshing programming decision. But he wrote a whole lot more than that. His organ works are particularly fine. Toss in “organ” in your YouTube search to cut through the fifty thousand versions of the Canon. (There is a YouTube video of nothing but the canon on an hours-long loop. Seriously.)

    Buxtehude. He is more than a funny name. He was a generation older than Bach, who as a young man walked 250 miles to study with him. His music heavily influence Bach, so if you like the one, you will probably like the other.

    Zelenka. This is the least known of the names I have thrown out, but his music deserves wider hearing. He was a Czech composer contemporary with Bach, who praised him and had him as a house guest in Leipzig. Check out his MIssa Votiva on YouTube.

    Next topic: good Elizabethan and Jacobean plays by guys not named “Shakespeare”…


  8. Get Bach…. get Bach…. get Bach to where you once belonged…

    Also, what is the REAL definition of “Contemporary Christian Music”? Bach on modern instruments. 😉


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