J.S. Bach: Chorale: Es woll uns Gott genädig sein (BWV 76, #7)

11 parts10 pages02:413 years ago609 views
Trumpet, Violin(2), Viola, Cello, Voice(4), Contrabass
A gnarly Phrygian chorale set with exotic orchestral accompaniment; a study in both.

This chorale ends both halves of the wonderful early Leipzig cantata, BWV 76, "Die Himmel erzählen die Ehre Gottes". The text (here and translated by Pam Dellal: http://www.emmanuelmusic.org/notes_translations/translations_cantata/t_bwv076.htm) is a fairly gentle prayer for God's grace and blessing (although it does end with a call to "convert the heathens"), vexingly at odds with the very dark tone of this setting.

The movement creates a 5-voiced web of chorale-like voices in strings and trumpet, the latter intoning the chorale and pieces of the chorale between actual lines of the former. The first violin is given to a strange, jumpy, eighth-note syncopated "discant" above the other four participants; its "jumpiness" is a solution of sorts to the problem of keeping it independent of the other voices. The continuo line, on the other hand, is built of little sequences of three little upbeat upgoing notes leading to each main tone, which always drops down a seventh (but occasionally an octave or a ninth), and in this parallel way, as it were, avoids duplicate motions with the cantus and other parts, again at the price of a seemingly deliberate pattern of discontinuity (I say "seemingly" because no rhetorical/figurative motivation seems obvious).

The chorus actually sings the chorale in four voices, doubling the trumpet, second violin, and viola, with a "real bass" without the jumps of the continuo, only semi-independent of the latter, as Bach sometimes does. All the voices other than the soprano cantus, though, do retain some of the "jumpy" quality of the eighth notes of the second violin and viola.

The total harmonic picture, though, is cast by the Phrygian mode of the chorale, and Bach's unmatched technique of fitting colorful tonal harmonies to modal chorales, occasionally producing striking cross-relations (e.g., m. 6, third beat, continuo/alto), oddly-handled 6-4-2 chords (m. 8) and other oddities that lend an "unsettled" feeling to the setting.

There are parallel 5ths in m. 15 (marked, vn1 & Tr.).

Well, I guess there is continuo figuring in the NBA (only the first occurrence of 2) but not the BG. I guess all that basketball earns them points :) -- I added it, and realized it. There seem to be minor errors (e.g., 6 4 2 instead of 7 4 2 for obscure bass -en-passant- notation) in that figuring.

J. S. Bach: Wir müssen durch viel Trübsal in das Reich Gottes eingehen (BWV 146, #2)

11 parts30 pages06:314 years ago920 views
Strings(5), Voice(4), Organ(2)
Bach's remarkable Baroque Lamento adapted by him from his D minor Harpsichord Concerto (BWV 1052).

This stunning movement is half of Bach's adaptation of the first two movements of his (surviving) D Minor Harpsichord concerto, BWV 1052, as the first two of the cantata we now call BWV 146, a mediation and elaboration upon Acts 14:22, "We must through great tribulation enter the kingdom of God". The first movement is a furious, intense, roiling barrage of D-minor counterpoint, easy to eisegetize as a musical expression of the scriptural citation (John Eliot Gardiner's opinion to the contrary notwithstanding). In both movements, the solo harpsichord has been swapped out for the organ; there is no real continuo (realization) role available.

The present chorus is his adaptation of the second movement of the concerto, again, the organ replacing the harpsichord, the latter's solo being given to the right hand of the organ. In an feat of awesome technical agility, Bach has added not a viola nor a flute, but a four-part chorus, repeating those German words, built largely out of the string parts (which are still present) of the concerto movement, often with interpolated eighth-note passing tones, but largely devoid of motivic material. Perhaps uniquely in the corpus of Bach cantatas, the chorus has been subordinated to the instrumental solo on center stage: with the chorus and strings serving up a harmonic background for the organ solo, the functions of chorus and continuo have effectively been swapped!

The basis of the present movement, as well as the concerto Adagio whence it derives, is a twelve-measure ostinato bass pattern, doubled in all instruments at the outset and conclusion, and reiterated in the bass for the length of the movement. This exquisite line is a "typical" "grave, tragic Baroque repeating bass-line", but is the matchless touchstone for all contenders in this category (another superb example is that of the slow movement of the E major violin concerto, BWV 1042, http://musescore.com/user/1831606/scores/864526 ). The very epitome of a "compound line", it alternates between two dramas in its low and high registers via harsh, difficult leaps (forbidden in correctly-written non-"compound lines"), constantly outlining its grim landscape of diminished-seventh and augmented (the repeated Bb-F# in the higher register) harmonies. The bass-line alone seems already to plumb the depths of the heart of tragedy.

The organ solo, on the other hand, in its insistent wailing, rhythmic and chromatic freedom, lightning runs and burning, snarling finish in 128th notes (m. 74) seems to comport with the diction of a rock/blues guitar solo (yes, I know that Bach was not familiar with the same!). The organ sounds and works like a virtuosic lead guitar solo in front of the chorus lamenting about the Great Tribulation (MuseScore notation people should note that in m. 72 there are both a C# and Db in the same measure, not an enharmonic exchange, in the organ right-hand!). The resultant -affekt- is not unlike a sad, slow blues.

Also of interest is the harmonic complexity begotten of multiple suspensions over the diminished seventh chords of the ostinato, creating grinding dissonances contributing to the feeling of great tragedy (in the concerto as well), e.g., the A-Bb-C-Eb cluster (a flat ninth of Bb upon the A-C-Eb-(G) ii7 chord) at the start of m.3.