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Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott, BWV 80

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Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott, BWV 80


Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott ("A mighty fortress is our God"), BWV 80, is a church cantata by Johann Sebastian Bach. He composed the chorale cantata in Leipzig for Reformation Day, 31 October, first performed between 1727 and 1731. It is based on Martin Luther's chorale Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott.

History and words

Bach wrote the cantata in Leipzig for Reformation Day.[1] The cantata's inception is largely unknown. It was probably composed in 1723 or between 1728 and 1731. It is a simplified version of Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott, BWV 80b. It is based on the earlier Alles, was von Gott geboren, BWV 80a – all the music for BWV 80a is lost, but it is known that it was based on a text by Salomo Franck (1659–1725) and produced in Weimar in 1715 or 1716. BWV 80 includes all four stanzas of Luther's chorale.

Scoring and structure

The cantata is scored for four vocal soloists (soprano, alto, tenor, and bass), a four-part choir, two oboes, two oboe d'amore, oboe da caccia, two violins, viola, violoncello and basso continuo.[2]

The work has eight movements:

  1. Chorus: Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott
  2. Aria and duet (bass and soprano): Alles, was von Gott geboren
  3. Recitative and arioso (bass): Erwäge doch, Kind Gottes
  4. Aria (soprano): Komm in mein Herzenshaus
  5. Chorale: Und wenn die Welt voll Teufel wär
  6. Recitative and arioso (tenor): So stehe denn bei Christi blutgefärbten Fahne
  7. Duetto (alto, tenor): Wie selig sind doch die, die Gott im Munde tragen
  8. Chorale: Das Wort sie sollen lassen stahn

Music


The cantata opens with a choral fantasia "with contrapuntal devices of awe-inspiring complexity". It adopts the motet technique of having the instrument and vocal lines follow each other closely. Structurally, the movement repeats the first two phrases, adds four new shorter phrases, then concludes with another iteration of the second phrase, all performed on oboe. All four voices "discuss each phrase imitatively as a prelude to its instrumental entry", using fugal devices.[3] Craig Smith suggests that "in a genre in which Bach was the absolute master, this is probably the greatest motet chorus".[4] Wilhelm Friedemann Bach later added trumpet parts to this movement.[4]

In the second movement, the oboe and soprano perform an embellished version of the chorale while the bass sings an aria. The accompanying string ritornello is agitated and "relentless", in a form reminiscent of a concerto grosso.[3][4] Simon Crouch compares it to a machine gun.[5] Like the first movement, the duet is in D major and common time.[6]

The bass next sings a secco recitative and arioso, the only components of the cantata in a minor key.[3] It adopts canonic imitation between the voice and continuo parts.[4]

The fourth movement is a soprano aria with a continuo ritornello. It is characterized by extensive melismas and a "floating and ethereal" melody.[3][4]

The central chorale presents the chorale theme in unison voices, an unusual practice for Bach. The melody is unadorned and in 6/8 time. The orchestral accompaniment becomes more agitated and complex as the movement progresses.[3]

The tenor recitative is secco; like the earlier bass, it concludes with an arioso.[3] The movement includes "occasional furious melismas".[6]

The alto and tenor duet is accompanied by continuo and obbligato violin with oboe da caccia. The movement is "submissive" in character with a texture that becomes more complex as the duet progresses, at one point including five simultaneous melodic lines. Bach uses a juxtaposition of "flowing, largely semi-quaver" instrumental parts with the vocal "crotchet/quaver rhythms" to depict the shield of the faithful.[3]

The final movement is a four-part setting of the chorale.[3]

Recordings

References

Sources

The first source is the score.

Several databases provide additional information on each cantata:

  • Cantata BWV 80 Ein' feste Burg ist unser Gott: history, scoring, sources for text and music, translations to various languages, discography, discussion, bach-cantatas website
  • Eine feste Burg ist unser Gott: history, scoring, Bach website (German)
  • University of Vermont
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