Bach Cantata 80 Analysis Essay

The genesis in Leipzig of BWV 80 as a chorale cantata is explored in Klaus Hofmann’s 2005 liner notes to the Masaaki Suzuki Complete Cantata recordings on BIS.6<< Bach’s chorale cantata for the Reformation Festival (celebrated each year on 31st October) has a complicated history that remains somewhat unclear to this day. Unlike the majority of the chorale cantatas, it was not composed during Bach’s second year of service in Leipzig, 1724/25, but is a later work. A fragmentary score by Bach, which breaks off in the second movement and – to judge by the paper used – comes from the period 1728-1731, contains an early version of the cantata (BWV 80b) in which, in place of the great introductory chorus of the later version, there is a simple four-part chorale setting. As far as we can tell, however, this early version was in itself not a new work but was largely based on a cantata for the third Sunday in Lent (Oculi) that started with the words “Alles, was von Gott geboren” (All that which of God is fathered, BWV 80a); Bach wrote this in 1715 to a text by Salomo Franck (1659- 1725), the Weimar court poet, for a church service at the palace chapel there. Unfortunately this ‘original’ is lost; all that has survived is its text. By way of the early version, however, this Weimar composition was incorporated – probably with only minor alterations – into the final version of the cantata, “Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott,” recorded here. All of the arias and recitatives of the Reformation cantata come from the Weimar piece.

The Leipzig additions are the monumental opening chorus, a setting of the first verse of what is certainly the most famous hymn by the poet and composer Martin Luther (1483-1546), and the chorus using its third verse, ‘Und wenn die Welt voll Teufel wär’ (‘And if the world were full of devils’). Moreover, Bach retrospectively included the second strophe of the hymn in the aria ‘Alles, was von Gott geboren’ (‘Everything that is born of God’). This was possible because this aria – even in the Weimar version – used the melody of Luther’s hymn as an instrumental cantus firmus, played by the oboe. This could easily be adapted into an additional soprano part for the presentation of the second verse of the hymn. This second verse, ‘Mit unsrer Macht ist nichts getan’ (‘By our own strength nothing can be achieved’), originally served as the conclusion of the Weimar cantata, in a simple four-part setting. In its place Bach now took the fourth verse, ‘Das Wort sie sollen lassen stahn’ (‘They shall leave His word behind’); he seems also to have taken the opportunity to rework the music of this final chorus extensively.

As a result, therefore, all four strophes of the hymn were linked with sections of the Weimar composition. As for the time at which the cantata attained its final form, we can only say that this cannot have been before the composition of the early Leipzig version, i.e. not before 1728, and cannot have been later than the mid-1740s, because the oldest source for the final version – a copy in the hand of Bach’s pupil and son-in-law Johann Christoph Altnickol (1719-1759) – dates from that period.

The opening chorus in this cantata is one of the finest in all of Bach’s cantatas. The movement is cast as a motet without instrumental prelude or interludes, and thus clearly alludes stylistically to the vocal polyphony of the sixteenth century. All of the lines of the hymn are presented one after another, in strict imitation. The themes are derived with varying degrees of freedom from the hymn melody. The highlight of the contrapuntal structure, however, is a cantus firmus canon that is given not to the voices but to three oboes in unison in the high register and to the basso continuo with organ and violone (double bass) in the low register.

As their texts suggest, the two arias that follow – ‘Alles, was von Gott geboren’ (‘Everything that is born of God’) and ‘Komm in mein Herzenshaus’ (‘Come into my heart’s dwelling’) – offer an effective contrast between musical depictions of the turmoil of battle and of simple emotional sensitivity. In the chorale movement [no. 5] ‘Und wenn die Welt voll Teufel wär’ (‘And if the world were full of devils’) Bach takes the defiant, challenging text of the third verse of the hymn, presented by the chorus in powerful unison, as his cue to unleash the martial din of battle in the orchestra. A further emotional contrast is formed by the duet [no. 7], ‘Wie selig sind doch die, die Gott im Munde tragen’ (‘How blessed are they who bear God in their mouths’), a beautiful, expressive movement with exquisite instrumental writing which, with its constant imitative use of the oboe da caccia and solo violin, contains elements of subtle chamber music. In the vocal parts, however, especially at the introduction of the lines ‘Wie selig sind doch die’ (‘How blessed are they’) and ‘doch selger ist das Herz’ (‘But happier still is the heart’) in parallel thirds and sixths, the music is characterized by fervour and emotional warmth.

If the origins of Bach’s Reformation cantata were far from straightforward, the same goes for its later history. During the time he spent as an organist in Halle (1746-1764) Wilhelm Friedemann Bach (1710-1784), the eldest son of the Thomaskantor, arranged the two great choral movements in the cantata – the introductory chorus and the fifth movement – for a performance of his own as ‘Reformation music’ and, to this end, he added parts for trumpets and timpani [as well as the cloplain chorale -- additions still performed today]. This extremely effective addition was regarded as authentic when the first complete Bach edition (1870) was prepared in the 19th century, and so the cantata was then published with printed trumpet and timpani parts, which were duly used for performances thereafter. Evidently it was thought improbable that Bach would have done without the splendour of these ‘regal’ instruments, especially at the Reformation Festival. But that is exactly what had happened – and there was a specific political reason for this: in 1697 the Elector of Saxony, Augustus the Strong, had converted from Lutheranism to the Roman Catholic faith in order to compete for the Polish throne, and after that a certain degree of restraint was called for – also musically – in celebrating the Reformation Festival in the Evangelical churches of the region. Of course Halle was under Brandenburg-Prussian rule at the time, and here it was fully expected that the triumph of the Lutheran teachings would be celebrated with drums and trumpets – as was the case in the arrangement by Bach’s son.
© Klaus Hofmann 2005

Cantata 80 Sources, Versions

The various sources and versions of Bach’s Cantata 80 are outlined in Masaaki Suzuki’s “Production Notes” to his BIS recording. << A mighty fortress is our God. We do not know for sure how this cantata came into being. As indicated in the commentary by Klaus Hofmann, it is based on the cantata BWV 80a, which was written in 1715 during Bach’s Weimar period for Oculi, the fourth Sunday before Easter in the Lutheran church calendar. Bach is known to have revised the work during his Leipzig period, and it is this revision that is now known when BWV 80b was first performed. The extant materials relating to this work are the following: 1) BWV 80a, Vocal text only; 2) BWV 80b, Bach’s own score is extant in the form of one page only (the first page) divided into three parts, which are housed in the collections of the Musée Adam Mickiewicz in Paris, the Saltikov Museum in St. Petersburg and of William Scheide of Princeton in the United States. It comprises the first movement (four-part chorale) and the second movement (aria for soprano and bass) up to the twentieth [?] bar. The second page onwards and all the original parts have been lost.7 3) BWV 80: Bach’s own score and the original parts have been lost. The earliest extant material is the manuscript of the full score in the hand of J.S. Bach’s son-in-law Johann Christoph Altnickol.

Christoph Wolff originally took the view8 that BWV 80b, the version that Bach revised in Leipzig, received its first performance at Reformationfest 1723. Meanwhile the Bach Compendium [Vol. II Reformationfest, BC A 183b (Frankfurt: C. F. Peters, 1985; Hans-Joachim Schulze, Christoph Wolff] indicates the possibility that it was performed in a version that no longer exists, assuming that it was actually performed among the chorale cantatas in 1724. Considering the watermark on the fragment of Bach’s own manuscript of BWV 80b in St. Petersburg, Frieder Rempp states in the editorial notes to the score contained in the New Bach Edition [NBA KB I/31 (Reformation, Frieder Rempp, Kassel: Bärenreiter, 1988: 50)] that the work was first performed in 1727, 1728 or 1731, an opinion which accords with that of Klaus Hofmann [above].

Considering, therefore, that our series is concerned with the chorale cantatas dating from 1724 and 1725, this cantata should by rights have been performed at a later stage. Bearing in mind that the year of the first performance is unclear and also that there is no other chorale cantata dating from 1724 which could have been performed on the Reformation Festival, which would have invariably have been celebrated every year, however, we have decided to emphasize the character of BWV 80 as a chorale cantata, to take our cue from the Bach Compendium, and thus to perform the work as one of the chorale cantatas. © Masaaki Suzuki 2005

Notes on the Music & Text

Technically, Cantata 80 in its final version is a hybrid chorale cantata citing all four hymn stanzas but with additional texts of Weimar poet Salomo Frank. It has an opening chorale fantasia chorus and closing plain chorale using the entire first and last stanzas, respectively, of Martin Luther’s hymn. However, the internal two arias and recitatives-ariosi are not paraphrases of the internal Stanzas 2 and 3 but utilize, virtually unchanged, the music and text of Bach’s Weimar solo (SATB) Cantata BWV 80a, “Alles, was von Gott geboren.” Instead, Bach in Leipzig composed an internal chorale chorus with the canto of Stanza 3, “Und wenn die Welt voll Teufel wär” (And if the world were full of devils), as the fifth movement.

The final version of Cantata 80 with its chorale chorus is probably dated to about 1735 when Bach in his last chorale cantata compositions composed a sister work with no opening chorus instrumental introduction and a special overall form, BWV 14, “Wär Gott nicht mit uns diese Zeit” (If God were not with us at this time), for the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany. Based on Luther’s three-stanza setting of Psalm 124, nisi quia Dominus, it begins with a motet-like chorus, its internal two arias and recitative are based on paraphrases of its second verse, and it closes with a plain chorale. This special form also is found in Bach’s Cantata BWV 140, “Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme” (Wake up, the voice calls us), for the 27th or last Sunday in Trinity Time, 1731, based on Philipp Niccolai’s three-stanza setting found in the opening chorus, the middle (no. 4) tenor chorale aria, now known as “Sleepers awake,” and the closing plain hymn. In between, as with Cantata 80, Bach has inserted pairs of recitatives and arias, this time set to newly-composed free-verse of an unknown poet, possibly Picander.

In addition in the opening motet chorus of Cantata 14 for 1735, “the presence of the chorale cantus firmus at the top and bottom of the texture surely symbolizes the almighty power of God, reflecting the first line of the text” in Cantata 80, “A mighty fortress is our God,” observes Richard D. P. Jones in The Creative Development of Johann Sebastian Bach, Volume II: 1717-1750.10

The opening chorale choruses of Cantata 14 and 80 both lack an instrumental introduction. This also is found in other motet-like cantata beginnings: BWV 71, “Gott ist mein König,” for the Mühlhausen Town Council in 1708; Cantata BWV 179, “Siehe zu, dass deine Gottesfurcht nicht Heuchelei sei” (See that your fear of God is not hypocrisy, Ecclesiastes 1:28), for the 11th Sunday after Trinity 1723, which became the Kyrie eleison (Lord have mercy) in the Missa: Kyrie-Gloria in G Major, BWV 236; and Cantata 29, “Wir danken dir, Gott, wir danken dir” (We thank you, God, we thank you, Psalm 75:1), for the Town Council 1731, which became the Gratias agimus tibi (we give you thanks) and the Dona nobis pacem (Grant us peace) in the “Great” B-Minor Mass, BWV 233. Coincidentally, Cantatas 14, 71, and 29 all have their dated performances inscribed in their titles by Bach on the top of the score.

Soprano Aria Emlemata

“Most reviewers of this great Reformation cantata note the profound contrast created by the inward and devotional Soprano aria, No.4, ‘Komm in mein Herzens Haus,” says Peter Smaill in “BWV 80 – Emblemata” (March 25, 2013; Cantata 80. BCML Discussions Part 6,<< It is, as often in Bach, a mystical image to which he responds with a wonderfully expressive ritornello and the rapt sense of "Jesu, mein Verlangen!" [Jesus, my longing] is well expressed: "the vocal melody unfolds freely and expressively over the continuo ritornello theme, which is repeated many times and in varied modforms" (Dürr, Ibid.: 1711) This mystical image of Jesus coming into the heart is well represented in emblemata - one I recall has a Jesus-figure with a broom cleaning the heart- shaped dwelling! But of interest is that Bach himself had an image of the heart as emblem in the frontispiece to his copy of Mueller's "Himmlischer Liebes-Flamme"....only , in this representation, the heart-dwelling is occupied by an organist with attendant consort, and with a heavenly choir above. The idea is worship in Earth and Heaven; and if this image inspired the librettist, then the heart to which Jesus enters is a musical one….>> (see Thomas Braatz essay, “Cantata BWV 80,‘Ein' feste Burg ist unser Gott’ Emblemata, BCW,

The interim version, Cantata BWV 80b, raises this question and commentary from Wolff (Ibid.: 155): “Why, for instance, did Bach write a new score rather than merely inserting a new chorale into the score of the Weimar version [BWV 80a, now lost]? The design of a new score [BWV 80b] suggests that Bach was faced with a certain requirement. Presumably the revision of movements contained in the Weimar version (of which only the verbatim text remains) was more thorough than has been guessed so far.” An examination of the composite facsimile of the surviving first page of BWV 80b (Ibid, 153), shows the plain chorale setting followed by the first three measures of the succeeding aria (see Thomas Braatz’s discussion of this page, below, “Cantata 80b Earlier Version Provenance”). On the five staves at the bottom of the page, Bach designates, from the top, the following: 1) the oboe (to play the canto), 2) the violins and violas in unison playing the opening ritornello, 3) the Aria for soprano [to sing the canto of Stanza 2, “Mit unsrer Macht ist nichts getan” (By our own power nothing is accomplished)], 4) the bass [to sing Cantata 80a incipit, “Alles, was von Gott geboren” (All that is born of God)], and 5) the basso continuo part. Thus Bach has written out the new chorale arrangement with the additional part of the Aria for soprano. Wolff assumes that this interim version contained the chorale aria (no. 5) with Stanza 3, “Und wenn die Welt voll Teufel wär” (And if the world were full of devils) “probably with the accompaniment of strings only,” with no oboes as in the final version (Ibid.: 157).

It is quite possible that this interim version was performed at the Reformationfest, 1730 (Tuesday October 31), the year of the 200th anniversary of the signing of the Augsburg Confession. While the performance dates are not exact, it also is possible that Reformationfest Cantata BWV 79, “Gott der Herr ist Sonn und Schild (God the Lord is sun and shield, Psalm 84:12), was reperformed, perhaps on a double bill with Cantata 80. Undesignated pure-hymn chorale Cantata BWV 192, “Nun danket alle Gott” (Now thank we all out God), is dated to this period. In addition, it is possible that a version of chorus Cantata BWV 194, “Höchsterwünschtes Freudenfest” (Most greatly longed-for feast of joy), was reperformed about 1730. Originally composed for an organ dedication in November 1723 and reperformed for Trinityfest 1724, Cantata 194 was abridged with Movements 12, 2-5, and 10 as a work appropriate for Reformationfest, as Cantata BWV 194(b), “Sprich Ja zu meinen Taten” (Say yes to my deeds), and dated to 1726. “Further performances at Trinity are documented respectively as occasions of unknown determination,” says Frieder Rempp in the Forward to the Neue Bach Ausgabe Critical Commentary, NBA KB 31 (Reformationfest and Organ Dedication), 1988).

Rempp also considered in her NBA KB 31 Forward two other works appropriate for Reformationfest. Another cantata presented in an abridged version suitable for the Reformationfest, possibly in 1724, is Part 2 of Cantata BWV 76, movements 8-14, “Gott, segne nich die treue Schar” (God, bless still the faithful host), for the Reformationfest, using Cantata 76, “Der Himmel erzählen” (The heavens proclaim), originally composed for the 1723 Trinityfest. The venue for BWV 76II may have been the Leipzig University St. Paul Church in 1724, with repeats in 1729, 1740, and 1745. This version was found in the Leipzig Breitkopf Catalogue of 1761 but “it gave no supporting evidence that a revision or expansion of liturgical purpose is traced back to Bach himself,” says Rempp (Ibid.). Cantata 192 also is not considered, says Rempp, since there also is no proof of a Reformationfest performance (Ibid.).

Cantata 80 was not part of the 1750 estate division of the chorale cantata cycle which Friedemann probably found in the manuscripts in his father’s work cabinet. Normally, he kept the autograph score and doublets and Anna Magdalena received the parts set. In this case he apparently kept both the score and parts set, as he did with Cantatas BWV 111 (Epiphany 3), 135 (Trinity 3), 113 (Trinity 11), 130 (Michaelfest), and 115 (Trinity 22). Further, it appears that Fredemann also inherited the 1728-31 interim score version of Cantata 80b. Another work Friedemann inherited also was cut up, the score of Cantata 188, “Ich habe meine Zuversicht” (I have placed my confidence). That provenance was studied in Thomas Braatz’s BCW article, “It is reasonable to assume that, upon Bach’s death in 1750, his son, Wilhelm Friedemann inherited the [Cantata 188] score,” he says. “In 1774, the latter was forced to auction off this manuscript along with others which he had in his possession at the time.” Subsequent owners cut up the score and sold off parts to other collectors.

Meanwhile, Friedemann allowed others such as Nikolaus Forkel, Bach’s first official biographer, to copy chorale cantata scores. Friedemann also probably was the source of the Breitkopf Catalog listings of Bach’s music available for copying through the Leipzig printer, for a price. In addition to Cantata BWV 76II, the manuscript of Cantata 80a, “Alles was von Gott geboren,” also was listed in the same Breitkopf Catalogue of 1761.

Cantata 80b Earlier Version Provenance

Thomas Braatz explores the provenance of Cantata 80b earlier version in Cantata 80 BCML Discussions Part 4,, based on the NBA KB 31 1988 critical commentary of Frieder Rempp and the Schmieder (BWV) Catalogues of 1990 and 1998. <<BWV 80b (the older, original version of "Ein feste Burg" as a Leipzig cantata), Mvt. 1 = simple 4-pt. setting of "Ein feste Burg" and the beginning of Mvt. 2 (aria). The Watermark on the page is a "MA" or "AM" (depending upon which side of the paper is being viewed) which was produced or available to Bach (this is verified by the existence of other documents using the same type of paper from this specific paper mill) from October 17, 1727 [Cantata 198] until February 2, 1731 [Cantata 82] by Adam Michael in the (Doubrava) ('Grün'='Green') paper mill in Asch/Böhmen (Bohemia). […]

The page containing mvt. 1 and part of mvt. 2 is separated into 3 parts/fragments and obviously not all of these parts of a single page will display the watermark which appears only once on a page. All three fragments do not have manuscript signatures assigned to them as usually happens with manuscripts kept in larger libraries.

1. The top part (one third) of the page is located in Paris in the Musée Adam Mickiewicz. It once belonged to the Polish concert pianist, Maria Szymanowska (1789-1831). It has an incomplete title at the top of the fragment in Bach's handwriting: "J.J. Festo Reformationis. Concerto. Ein feste Burg ist unser Go | à 4 Voci. 1 Hautb. 2 Violini Vio | di Bach."
2. The middle (fragment) of the first page is located in St. Petersburg at the Saltykow-Stschedrin Library. This may have originallbeen owned by Aloys Fuchs. It later came into the possession of a Russian musician and music publisher, Pjotr Iwanowitsch Jürgenson (1836-1904) and through his stepson it finally came to the St. Petersburg Library. It was first mentioned in 1938 and later 'rediscovered' by Wolf Hobohm of Magdeburg. There is a note attached in which Aloys Fuchs attests that this document is genuine, dated February 3, 1853. This fragment has the watermark with the letters "MA" or "AM". This type of watermark is listed as number 122 in the catalog of watermarks published by the NBA. It can be documented among all other Bach manuscripts as being used by Bach as manuscript paper only from October 17, 1727 to December 2, 1731.
3. The bottom third of the page (the 3rd fragment) belonged for a long time to an English singer and church musician, William Hayman Cummings (1831-1915). It, along with other items from the Cummings Collection was auctioned off at Sotheby's in London on May 17, 1917 and purchased by someone with the name Rathbone. In 1924 and 1926 two attempts were made to place it up for auction. From this point onward, the trail goes cold and this fragment was assumed to have been lost. It was later acquired (date not given) by William H. Scheide of Princeton, NJ. Additional information on this fragment includes the orchestration for mvt. 2, for which only "Hautb." Had appeared on the middle fragment. The rest reads: "Violini é Viola in unisono | Soprano | Basso | Cont." By means of radiography, parts of the two dashed lines of the watermark were made visible.

Yoshitake Kobayashi, the world's foremost expert on Bach's handwriting, examined the entire page (now pieced together from the three sources) and has made a reasonable conjecture based only upon certain features of Bach's notation and script: 1728-1731? [sic] but Kobayashi is not entirely certain about this. Given the above evidence, even with some question marks attached, it would appear that 1723 or 1724 or even 1725 would not seem reasonably possible dates for the first performance of BWV 80b/1 & 2.

In lieu of new evidence, such as the discovery of a cantata text booklet covering the late portion of the liturgical year, as for instance in particular, 1724, it will be very difficult to justify undoing what experts have determined thus far through a very close examination of the existing evidence.>>

Psalm 46, Oculi Reasings

The use of the Luther hymn “Ein feste Burg” in the original version of the Reformationfest Cantata BWV 80 is explored in the “BWV 80a – Oculi Sunday Sources,” BCML Cantata 80 Discussions Part 5, <<Bach's librettist, court poet Salomo Franck, wrote the text for Cantata BWV 80a, "Alles was von Gott geboren" (All that is born of God). It was performed at Weimar for Oculi Sunday, the third in Lent, on 24 March 24 1715. Cantata 80a was part of Bach's court responsibility as concert master to furnish a new cantata every four weeks for service performance. The collaborative series began on March 24, 1714, on Pentecost Sunday with Cantata BWV 182, the libretto probably by Franck. With a few exceptions (texts by Lehms and Neumeister, and a three-month hiatus in late 1714), Franck produced as many as 23 librettos for Bach Weimar cantatas through 1716.

Cantata BWV 80a begins with a bass aria with oboe obbligato providing the ornamented melody of Martin Luther's chorale, "Ein' feste Burg is unser Gott" (A Mighty Fortress is our God). The melody was played by oboe alone but in subsequent versions is sung by soprano to the text of the second stanza of Luther's chorale. The bass introduces Franck's verse, "Alles, was von Gott geboren” (All that is born of God, Francis Browne translation). The soprano in the later versions sings the second verse, beginning "Mit unsrer Macht ist nichts getan” (By our own power nothing is accomplished.) The original Weimar version, BWV 80a/6, with the second stanza, probably survives as plain four-part chorale, BWV 303.

Bach's initial vocal treatment of Luther's famous Reformation hymn in 1715 reflects its origins in 1526-28 as a Lenten Psalm hymn, Das neu Leizgier Gesanguch (NLGB), No. 255, Psalm chorale, its first line and title equated with Psalm 46:1, Deus noster refugiam (God is our refuge and strength, full text, Later the sentiments in the hymn's four verses became a Reformation battle cry in which the enemy (the devils) was identified with the anti-Reformationists. The Lenten or Passiontide Season emphasizes repentance and preparation for Easter.

Luther's hymn also is listed under Passion hymns in the Leipziger Kirchen-Andachten (Leipzig Church Devotion of 1694) and is explained in Friedrich's Smend's study, "Bachs Markus-Passion," (Bach Jahrbuch, 1940-48: 1-35, cited p.6). Smend explains Bach's use of the fourth stanza of Luther's popular hymn just after the beginning of the crucifixion in the St. Mark Passion, BWV 247. Beyond the Passiontide connections in Stanza 4, "Das Wort sie sollen lassen stahn" (They shall pay no heed to God's word), Bach's use of the second stanza to close BWV 80a in 1715 emphasizes Christ's identity as humanity's defender, leading the forces in battle against Satan, analogous to the defeat of Satan by St. Michael and the angels in the book of the Revelation of St. John the closes the New Testament.

The Oculi Sunday readings in Bach’s time show his close attention to Luther's original sentiments in “Ein feste Burg.” 9 "Oculi" means "look" and it is alluded to in the initial Introit, "Mine eyes are ever toward the Lord.” The succeeding Collect asks God to "look upon the hearty desires of the humble servants, and . . . be our defence against our enemies." The Epistle, "Living in the Light," Ephesians 5:1-9, warns in verse 6: "Let no man deceive you with vain words." The Gradual affirms that "When mine enemies are turned back: they shall fall and perish at Thy presence." The Gospel, "Jesus and Beelzebub," Luke 11:14-28 (KJV), is Christ's explanation of casting out devils. The most salient Gospel verses are 20-22: "But if I with the finger (Word) of God cast out devils, no doubt the Kingdom of God is come upon you. When a strong man armed keepeth his palace, his good are in peace: but when a stronger than he shall come upon him, he taketh from him all his armour wherein he trusted, and divideth his spoils."

Bach was most fortunate in Weimar to be able to compose cantatas for all Sundays of the church year, including those in Lent and Advent. He managed to compose some 30 church year pieces in less than three years. Bach was able to compose possibly another Oculi Sunday cantata, BWV 54, in 1714; and began a full cycle in Advent, December 1716, with the original versions of Cantatas BWV 70a, 186a, and 147a for the Second through the Fourth Sundays in Advent, respectively. A well-appointed church year indeed!>>

Beyond Bach’s original use of Stanza 2 in Franck’s text closing the original Cantata BWV 80a, Bach had little to change from the original text, observes Alfred Dürr in the Cantatas of J. S. Bach (Ibid.: 710).The incipit of the original duet (no. 5) for soprano and tenor was, “Wie selig is der Leib/ der / Jesu, dich getragen?” (How blessed os the body / that / Jesus, you bore, Luke 11:27b, was changed in the Leipzig version, to “Wie selig sind doch die, die Gott im Munde tragen” (How blessed are those who bear God in their mouths). The original “madrigalian text, which refers to the expulsion of the Devil recorded in the Lenten Gospel [Luke 11:14-28, Jesus casts out devils], could be retained without difficulty, especially in light of Luther’s third verse,” “Und wenn die Welt voll Teufel wär” (And if the wwere full of devils), and his second verse, which celebrates Christ as the victor who must hold the field. The first line of Franck’s text, which now opens the second movement, is a paraphrase of 1 John 5:4, “Whatsoever is born of God overcomes the world’.”


1 Cantata 80 BCW Details & Discography, Score Vocal & Piano [2.89 MB],, Score BGA [5.04 MB],, Score BGA Anh [0.84 MB] (Friedemann Latin contrafaction Mvts. 2, 5), Autograph Score (Facsimile): D-B Mus. ms. Bach P 72,; D-B Mus. ms. Bach P 177 [Bach Digital], References (BWV 80), BGA XVIII (Cantatas 71-80, Wilhelm Rust 1870), NBA KB I/31(Reformationfest, Frieder Rempp, 1988), Bach Compendium BC A 183b, Zwang K 95; References (BWV 80b), Bach Compendium BC A 183a.Claude Role Bibliography and Discography,
2 Alfred Dürr, Cantatas of J. S. Bach, revised and translated by Richard D. P. Jones (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005).
3 Robin A Leaver Cantata 80 essay, in Oxford Composer Companions: J. S. Bach, ed. Malcolm Boyd (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999: 149).
4 German text and Francis Browne English translation, BCW
5 Gardiner Cantata 80 notes, BCW[sdg110_gb].pdf; BCW Recording Details,
6 Klaus Hofmann Cantata 80 notes, BCW[BIS-CD1421].pdf; BCW Recording details,
7 The 1998 concise summary edition of the so-called “Schmieder Catalog,” lists the first, early version of “Ein feste Burg,” cataloged as “BWV 80b” and dates it to about 1728-31 (Page 85). (BWV2a) Alfred Dürr, Yoshitake Kobayashi (eds.), Kirsten Beißwenger. Bach Werke Verzeichnis: Kleine Ausgabe, nach der von Wolfgang Schmieder vorgelegten 2. Ausgabe. Preface in English and German. Wiesbaden: Breitkopf & Härtel, 1998.
8 Christoph Wolff, “The Reformation Cantata ‘Ein feste Burg’,” Bach: Essays on his Life and Music (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1991: 155). Bach scholars, including Wolff, today generally accept the date of 1728-31 for the performance of the earlier version of Cantata BWV 80b, and 1735-40 for the final version with the opening chorale fantasia, BWV 80. Wolff in Johann Sebastian Bach: The Learned Musician (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2013 updated edition: 280), lists the date of the earlier version BWV 80b as 1728-31, and the date of the later version BWV 80 as 1740.
9 Source, Common Service Book with Hymnal (Philadelphia PA: United Lutheran Church in America, 1917: 73-74).
10 Richard D. P. Jones, The Creative Development of Johann Sebastian Bach, Volume II: 1717-1750. “Music to Delight the Spirit” (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013: 284).

  • Reformation Festival
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Straight down to business with an enormous chorale fantasia on Luther's hymn Ein' feste Burg. This is one of Bach's pieces that I initially found very daunting: Great, yes; To admire, of course; But to love? Well, these days I not infrequently find myself humming one of the fugal voices, whistling another and trying to hold the rest going in my head. Anyone observing this act must think that I'm bonkers. But what the heck, it is a very beautiful edifice.

Two wonderful arias follow, separated by a recitative. The first motors along to a machine-gun accompaniment on the strings, the seconds swings beautifully in triple time. The chorale that follows does both. Next is a tenor/alto duet with accompanying oboe da caccia and finally an excellent four part harmonisation of the chorale melody. Do try to hear this cantata in both "modern" and "original" performances: The former to get more of the grandeur of the piece, the latter to hear it in the original instrumentation (especially the oboe da caccia. Why did this wonderful beast die out? Well, OK, it was probably a pig to play and keep in tune but it does make a lovely noise!)

There is a very interesting essay about the genesis and publication history of BWV 80 in Christolph Wolff's excellent collection Bach - Essays on His Life and Music. If you're used to hearing this cantata with trumpets and drums, then you may be surprised to learn that their inclusion (in the Bach-Gesellschaft edition) is probably derived from a parody of this cantata that Wilhelm Friedemann Bach devised for his own purposes. J.S.B probably had nothing to do with them at all!

Copyright © 1995 & 1997, Simon Crouch.

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