Tag Archives: J. S. Bach

1st Sunday of Advent – 1 Dec 13

Philipp Nicolai

Philipp Nicolai

Opening Voluntary: Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme (BWV 645) – J. S. Bach (1685-1750)

Choral Introit: “Unto thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul” – H. Alexander Matthews (1879-1973)

Today’s organ voluntary is based on the great German hymn, Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, which we sing in English translation as our entrance hymn today (“Sleepers wake! A voice astounds us,” # 61, The Hymnal 1982). This classic hymn, sometimes known as “King of Chorales,” was both written and composed by 16th century Lutheran pastor, Philipp Nicolai (1556-1608). The hymn was written during the time of a deadly epidemic that raged in his town of Unna, Westphalia from July of 1597 to January of 1598.  Claiming some 1300 victims in total, the pestilence resulted in as many as 30 burials per day, most of which Nicolai could observe from his home that overlooked the churchyard. In such dark times, it was not surprising that Nicolai’s thoughts turned to death and the contemplation of the “last things.”  Nicolai reported that he was, at this time, most concerned with “the contemplation of the noble, sublime, doctrine of Eternal Life, obtained through the Blood of Christ. This I allowed to dwell in my heart day and night, and searched the Scriptures for what they revealed on this matter.” It is hardly surprising that the full German original is, thus, filled with scriptural illusions (from Isaiah, Ezekiel, The Revelation to John, 1st Corinthians and the Gospel of Matthew). It is most obviously related to the parable of the wise virgins from the Gospel of Matthew as evidenced by Nicolai’s subtitle “Of the Voice at Midnight, and the Wise Virgins who meet their Heavenly Bridegroom.” The text and tune were first published in an appendix to his meditations in the year 1599.  It first appeared in English in the Lyra Davidica of 1708, a hymnal published in London of translations from German and Latin.  It was made popular to English listeners as part of Felix Mendelssohn’s (1809-1847) “St. Paul” oratorio which premiered in English translation in Liverpool in the year 1836.  Although most often sung to the translation by the famous Catherine Winkworth (1827-1878), the editors of The Hymnal 1982, commissioned a new translation by Carl Daw which they felt conveyed more of the vigor of the German original.

Our opening voluntary is the famous “Schübler” chorale version (BWV 645) of Wachet auf, Bach’s own transcription of his setting from his Cantata 140, composed originally for the 27th Sunday after Trinity. The name “Schübler” is that of the engraver and publisher of the 1748 collection of organ transcriptions. Originally for solo voice and orchestral accompaniment, Bach sets the chorale tune in the solo tenor line accompanied by the main orchestral motive in the soprano line and a correlating base in the pedal.  Our entrance hymn, #61,“Sleepers wake! A voice astounds us,” is the chorale harmonization from the same cantata, an isorhythmic ( in even rhythm) form of the original unevenly rhythmic composition (found as #62 in The Hymna 1982) by Nicolai.

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12th Sunday after Pentecost – 11 Aug 13

Johann Crüger

Johann Crüger

Opening Voluntary:  Chorale Prelude on  Jesu meine Freude – J. S. Bach (1685-1750)

Today’s opening voluntary is based on the tune for the hymn, “Jesus, all my gladness” (Jesu meine freude) sung as our final hymn today (The Hymnal, 1982 #701).  The text and tune appeared together from the first in Johan Crüger’s Praxis Pietatis Melica, published in Berlin in 1653The tune is Crüger’s own and was paired with the text written by  his personal friend, Johann Franck.  This text, in German original, was six stanzas long and apparently modeled on a love song, popular at the time, by the title “Flora, meine freude,” which appeared more than 10 years earlier in 1641. Franck was born in Guben, Brandenburg in the year 1618.  His father, of the same name, died when he was only 2 years of age, and he was adopted by his uncle, who was the town judge.  In 1638, he became a student of the law at the University of Königsberg, the only German university that was left undisturbed by the 30 years’ war. He returned home only 2 years later at the request of his mother in Guben who wished him near her during the turmoils of war during which Guben was occupied by both Swedish and Saxon troops.  He began his practice of law in 1645 and was successively burgess and councillor, burgomaster and, finally, deputy from Guben to the diet of Lower Lusatia.  Although he published a number of secular poems, he also wrote some 110 hymns, most of which were published by his friends who included Johann Crüger, publisher of  his  Jesu meine Freude. 

Johann Crüger was born in 1598 at Gross-Bresse, Brandenburg, not far from the town of Guben where his friend Franck was born and lived. After his schooling, he settled in Berlin where, except for a short stay in 1620 at the University of Wittenberg, he remained for the rest of his life.  In 1622 he was appointed cantor of St. Nicholas’ Church in Berlin. Crüger was considered one of the best musicians of his day and composed a number of hymn tunes, although he himself is not known to have written any hymn texts.  Of his many tunes, about 20 remain in common use today, perhaps the most famous of which is that for the hymn, Nun danket alle Gott, usually known in English translation as “Now thank we all our God” (#396, The Hymnal 1982).

Crüger’s tune for Jesu meine Freude was a particular favorite of J. S. Bach (1685-1750) who used it in 4 cantatas, a 5-part motet and as the basis for several organ works.  The version played today as our opening voluntary is from his Orgebüchlein, a collection of some 46 pieces on chorale tunes arranged for the liturgical year.  Most of them were composed during the years 1708-1717 when he was organist of the ducal court in Weimar.


10th Sunday after Pentecost – 28 Jul 13

 

georg-neumark

Georg Neumark

Opening Voluntary: Chorale Prelude on Wer nur den lieben Gott – Anton Wilhelm Leupold (1868-1940)

Both the text and the tune of our final hymn (#635, Hymnal 1982), Wer nur den lieben Gott, were written and composed by the same individual, Georg Neumark (1621-1681). Created during the period in Europe of The Thirty Years War, it comes from a time, not unlike our own, when social and economic upheavals had produced deplorable conditions in many places. Neumark was traveling from Magdeburg to Konigsberg to study at the university there in 1641 when he was attacked and robbed of nearly all his possessions except his prayerbook and a small amount of money sewn into his clothing.  He spent much of the next two years looking unsuccessfully for employment until he found a position as a tutor in Kiel where he was eventually able to save enough money to attend university. He studied in Konigsberg for 5 years before once again losing all that he had in a fire.  It was just after finding work as a tutor in Kiel that he composed this hymn. Neumark later wrote, “This good fortune, which came so suddenly and, as it were, from heaven, so rejoiced my heart that I wrote my hymn, Wer nur den lieben Gott, to the glory of my God on that first day.” He gave this hymn a special subtitle reading, “a hymn of consolation, that God will preserve his own in his own time; after the saying, ‘Cast thy burden upon the Lord and he shall sustain thee.’ Psalm 55:24” In spite of a life filled with many tragedies, Neumark went on to write many more hymns expressing his absolute trust in God.

Wer nur den lieben Gott became especially popular through the Baroque era, and J. S. Bach (1685-1750) included it in no fewer than eight cantatas and also wrote several chorale preludes based on it. Catherine Winkworth (1827-1878) published an initial English translation of the hymn in her Lyra Germanica in 1855.  This first attempt, however, was in a different meter than the original and was, thus, unsingable with Neumark’s melody.  She later radically revised her work in a new translation and published it a second time in The Chorale Book for England (1863) where it was reunited with Neumark’s original tune. This version has had extensive use, especially in American Lutheranism, from the last quarter of the 19th century. The Hymnal 1982 employs, slightly revised, the first and last stanzas of the original, seven-stanza hymn.

The chorale prelude played today as our opening voluntary is the work of Anton Wilhelm Leupold (1868-1940). A native of Austria, Leupold became the organist of St. Peter’s Church, Berlin in 1899, a position he would hold for the next forty years.  Although he composed many types of church music, the bulk of his works were in the genre of the chorale prelude, of which he left some 200 examples.


9th Sunday after Pentecost – 21 Jul 13

Liebster Jesu

Opening Voluntary: Chorale Prelude on Liebster Jesu, wir sind hier (BWV 731) – J. S. Bach (1685-1750)

Today’s opening voluntary is a chorale prelude on the hymn tune, Liebster Jesu, sung today as our offertory hymn, “Blessed Jesus, at thy word” (#440, Hymnal 1982). The original version of the tune was a composition of Johann Rudolph Ahle (1625-1673) and first appeared in 1664 paired with the text of an advent hymn.  Ahle was born in Mülhausen, Thuringia and studied theology at the University of Erfurt from 1645-1649.  He became the cantor of The Church of St. Andrew in Erfurt in 1646 and was later appointed organist of the Church of St. Blasius in Mülhausen in 1654.  Ahle’s  original tune, a somewhat florid and soloistic work, was later altered to a form more appropriate for congregational singing and was paired with the present text of Tobias Clausnitzer (1619-1684), Liebster Jesu, wir sind hier. It was republished in that revised form in 1687 with Clausnitzer’s previously-published text of 1663.  It entered into English hymnody in the 19th century through the translations of Catherine Winkworth (1827-1878) and was first published in her work, Lyra Germanica of 1861. It was later included in The Chorale Book for England in 1863 along with its associated melody.

Clausnitzer’s German text was originally subtitled “before the sermon” and contains references to and quotes from other portions of the liturgy.  The Sursum Corda is eluded to in the first stanza, “dass die Herzen von der Erden/ Ganz zu dir gezogen werden,” freely translated into English as “that our hearts from the earth are wholly drawn to thee.” This is lost, however, in the poetical translation of Winkworth that we use today.  There is a more direct quote in stanza three, “Light of Light, from God proceeding” from the Nicene Creed.  The text and tune were later parodied by baroque period composer, Benjamin Schmolk (1672-1737), who retained only the first line of Clausnitzer’s hymn, and created the rest of a new text on a baptismal theme.  One stanza of this later work appeared in The Hymnal of 1940, but it was not retained in our present Hymnal 1982.

In the baroque period, composers, particularly in the Germanic Lutheran countries, began to set chorale melodies for the organ.  The original purpose of these “chorale preludes,” as they are known, is not absolutely clear.  Some of them may have been used as introductions to congregational singing, while others were more likely to have been intended to function as free-standing compositions.  Musicologists today describe at least eight different types of treatment of the chorale in these works.  Today’s version of Liebster Jesu by J. S. Bach (1685-1750) is of the “ornamented cantus firmus” type in which the chorale melody (cantus firmus), usually (and in this setting) in the top voice, is presented in a highly ornamented  form supported by a relatively simpler harmonic accompaniment.


5th Sunday in Lent – 17 Mar 13

Johann Crüger

Johann Crüger

Opening Voluntary: Chorale Prelude on Jesu meine Freude – J. G. Walther (1684-1748)

Offertory: “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” – C. S. Lang (1891-1971)

Closing Voluntary: Chorale Prelude on  Jesu meine Freude – J. S. Bach (1685-1750)

Today’s opening and closing voluntaries are both based on the tune for the hymn, “Jesus, all my gladness” (Jesu meine freude) sung as our final hymn today (The Hymnal, 1982 #701).  The text and tune appeared together from the first in Johan Crüger’s Praxis Pietatis Melica, published in Berlin in 1653The tune is Crüger’s own and was paired with the text written by  his personal friend, Johann Franck.  This text, in German original, was six stanzas long and apparently modeled on a love song, popular at the time, by the title “Flora, meine freude,” which appeared more than 10 years earlier in 1641. Franck was born in Guben, Brandenburg in the year 1618.  His father, of the same name, died when he was only 2 years of age, and he was adopted by his uncle, who was the town judge.  In 1638, he became a student of the law at the University of Königsberg, the only German university that was left undisturbed by the 30 years’ war. He returned home only 2 years later at the request of his mother in Guben who wished him near her during the turmoils of war during which Guben was occupied by both Swedish and Saxon troops.  He began his practice of law in 1645 and was successively burgess and councillor, burgomaster and, finally, deputy from Guben to the diet of Lower Lusatia.  Although he published a number of secular poems, he also wrote some 110 hymns, most of whom were published by his friends, who included Johann Crüger, publisher of  his Jesu meine Freude. 

Johann Crüger was born in 1598 at Gross-Bresse, Brandenburg, not far from the town of Guben where his friend Franck was born and lived. After his schooling, he settled in Berlin where, except for a short stay in 1620 at the University of Wittenberg, he remained for the rest of his life.  In 1622 he was appointed cantor of St. Nicholas’ Church in Berlin. Crüger was considered one of the best musicians of his day and composed a number of hymn tunes, although he himself is not known to have written any hymn texts.  Of his many tunes, about 20 remain in common use today, perhaps the most famous of which is that for the hymn, Nun danket alle Gott, usually known in English translation as “Now thank we all our God” (#396, The Hymnal 1982).

Crüger’s tune for Jesu meine Freude was a particular favorite of J. S. Bach (1685-1750) who used it in 4 cantatas, a 5-part motet and as the basis for several organ works.  The version played today as our closing voluntary is from his Orgebüchlein, a collection of some 46 pieces on chorale tunes arranged for the liturgical year.  Most of them were composed during the years 1708-1717 when he was organist of the ducal court in Weimar.  Our opening voluntary today is a chorale prelude on this same tune by Bach’s contemporary, Johann Gottfried Walther (1685-1748)


Feast of the Presentation – (Observed) 3 Feb 13

Simeon

Opening Voluntary: Mit Fried’ und Freud’ ich fahr’ dahin – J. S. Bach (1685-1750)

 At Communion: Mit Fried’ und Freud’ – Johann Christoph Bach (1671-1721)

 Closing Voluntary: Mit Fried’ und Freud’ (Prelude and Chorale)- Marcel Dupré (1886-1971) / J. S. Bach (1685-1750)

Today’s incidental organ music is based on the German chorale, Mit Fried’ und Freud’, ich fahr’ dahin. The text is a metrical version of the Nunc dimittis and was written by Martin Luther (1483-1546) and published in J. Klug’s Geistliches Gesangbüchlein in the year 1524 in Wittenberg, Germany.  For obvious reasons, it was a hymn that was typically associated with the Feast of the Presentation which we observe today as we dedicate the new image of Our Lady of Walsingham. In origin, the Nunc dimittis or Song of Simeon comes down to us from the introductory birth and infancy narratives from the writer of the Gospel according to Luke.  This opening section of the gospel, although drawing heavily for its model on the stories of the births of Samson and Samuel from the Hebrew Bible, is yet quite unlike anything else in New Testament writing and has been likened in modern terms to a “musical.”  In it, dramatic scenes and dialogues are punctuated and interpreted by “musical numbers” that have survived and live on, not only in text but also musically, in  Christian liturgy to this day. The Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55) concludes Mary’s visitation to Elizabeth.  The Benedictus (Luke 1:68-79) follows as John the Baptizer’s father, Zechariah, is released from his divinely-imposed mutism.  The Gloria in excelsis (Luke 2:14) functions as a great “chorus number” and the centerpiece of the angelic proclamation to the sheepherders in the Bethlehem countryside. Last, but not least, the Nunc dimittis (Luke 2:29-32), enshrines the words of Simeon as he beholds the infant Jesus on his way to presentation in the temple,  miraculously revealed to him by the Holy Spirit as “Israel’s consolation.”

The Nunc dimitis was imported into the daily office of the Church in the West as the principle song for the monastic hour of Compline  where it continued through the middle ages.  In the English reformation, it was transferred into the composite office of Evensong/Evening Prayer where it would become, along with the Magnificat, the subject of numerous choral compositions. In Lutheran-dominated countries, where the office was less commonly observed, the text continued in Luther’s hymn paraphrase which was used not only for the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus (The Purification of Mary), but also became popular as a song for funerals.

In peace and joy I now depart

At God’s disposing.

For full of comfort is my heart;

Soft reposing.

So the Lord as promised me,

And death is but a slumber.

Martin Luther (1483-1546)


Music for Additional Listening – Bach Cantata 140 – “Wachet auf”

If you would like to hear the Bach cantata 140 in its entirety, this is a nice online version on YouTube.  The movement that was transcribed as the Schübler chorale is the Fourth Section: Chorale – Zion hört die Wächter singen (Zion hears the watchmen singing) at 14:39 in this recording


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