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Gott der Herr ist Sonn und Schild, BWV 79

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Gott der Herr ist Sonn und Schild, BWV 79


Gott der Herr ist Sonn und Schild (God the Lord is sun and shield), BWV 79, is a church cantata by Johann Sebastian Bach. He composed it in Leipzig in 1725 for Reformation Day and first performed it on 31 October 1725.

History and words

Bach composed the cantata for the Reformation Day. The prescribed readings for the feast day were from the Second Epistle to the Thessalonians, "be steadfast against adversaries" (2 Thessalonians 2:3–8), and from the Book of Revelation, fear God and honour him (Revelation 14:6–8).[1] An unknown poet was not concerned about the readings, but did justice to the festive occasion, beginning with a quotation from Psalm 84 (Psalms 84:11), and including the first stanza from Martin Rinckart's hymn "Nun danket alle Gott" and as the closing chorale the final stanza of Ludwig Helmbold's "Nun lasst uns Gott dem Herren".[2][3]

Bach first performed the cantata on 31 October 1725. He performed it again, probably in 1730, when he re-orchestrated it, doubling the oboes by flutes and assigning a flute as the obbligato instrument in the alto aria. He used the music of the opening chorus and the duet again in his Missa in G major, BWV 236, and the music of the alto aria in his Missa in A major, BWV 234.[3]

Scoring and structure

The cantata is scored for three soloists—soprano, alto and bass—a four-part choir, two horns, timpani, two flauto traverso, two oboes, two violins, viola and basso continuo.[1]

  1. Coro: Gott, der Herr, ist Sonn und Schild
  2. Aria (alto): Gott ist unser Sonn und Schild
  3. Chorale: Nun danket alle Gott
  4. Recitativo (bass): Gottlob! Wir wissen den rechten Weg zur Seligkeit
  5. Duetto (soprano, bass): Gott, ach Gott, verlaß die Deinen nimmermehr
  6. Chorale: Erhalt uns in der Wahrheit

Music

John Eliot Gardiner, who conducted the cantatas for Reformation at the Schloßkirche, Wittenberg where the Reformation began, describes the opening chorus as a ceremonial procession, and hears the "insistent drum beat" going along with the "fanfares of the high horns" as a "the hammering of Luther’s theses to the oak door at the back of the church".[4] The instrumental ritornello introduces two themes: "a festive, march-like theme for the horns and timpani, and a more lively counter-theme that develops from a note that is heard seven times. The following aria expresses similar ideas in a personal way, "tranquil and individual".[5] In movement 3, the first chorale, Bach uses the first theme of the opening again, simultaneously with the chorale tune.[3] Helmuth Rilling notes the unity of topic, praise and thanks to God, for the first three movements.[6] Gardiner assumes that the sermon may have followed the chorale.

The only recitative, sung by the bass, mentions the reason for thanks on this occasion. "Du hast uns durch dein Wort gewiesen" (You have instructed us through your word), addresses "the basic issues of the Reformation", as Rilling points out.[6] Gardiner hears in the "innocent" duet of the second part "a pre-echo ... of Papageno and Papagena, a Mozartian impression, reinforced by the hint of Eine kleine Nachtmusik in the violin ritornelli".[4] The cantata ends with a four-part setting of the second chorale,[7] asking for the gifts of truth and freedom.[5][6]

Selected recordings

References

Sources

The first source is the score.

General sources are found for the Bach cantatas. Several databases provide additional information on each single cantata:

  • Cantata BWV 79 Gott der Herr ist Sonn und Schild history, scoring, sources for text and music, translations to various languages, discography, discussion, bach-cantatas website
  • Emmanuel Music
  • Gott der Herr ist Sonn und Schild history, scoring, Bach website (German)
  • University of Vermont
  • University of Alberta
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