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Komm, du süße Todesstunde, BWV 161

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Komm, du süße Todesstunde, BWV 161

Komm, du süße Todesstunde (Come, o sweet hour of death), BWV 161, is a church cantata by Johann Sebastian Bach. He composed it in Weimar for the 16th Sunday after Trinity and first performed it on 6 October 1715.

History and words

On 2 March 1714 Bach was appointed concertmaster of the Weimar court capelle of the co-reigning dukes Wilhelm Ernst and Ernst August of Saxe-Weimar. As concertmaster, he assumed the principal responsibility for composing new works, specifically cantatas for the Schloßkirche (palace church), on a monthly schedule, aiming at a complete annual cycle within four years.[1] Bach wrote the cantata in 1715 for the 16th Sunday after Trinity. According to the musicologist Alfred Dürr and other sources it was first performed on 6 October 1715. The text for this and other cantatas of 1715 was written by Salomon Franck, published in Evangelisches Andachts-Opffer in 1715. The prescribed readings for the Sunday were from the Epistle to the Ephesians, praying for the strengthening of faith in the congregation of Ephesus (Ephesians 3:13–21), and from the Gospel of Luke, the raising from the dead of the Young man from Nain (Luke 7:11–17). In Bach's time the story pointed immediately at the resurrection of the dead, expressed in words of desire to die soon. The closing chorale is the fourth verse of Christoph Knoll's "Herzlich tut mich verlangen" (1611).[2]

The first performance is dated as likely to have been 27 September 1716 by the publisher Carus-Verlag[3] and others. The cantata was performed again in Leipzig, also for the feast of the Purification of Mary on 2 February.[4]

Scoring and structure

The cantata is intimately scored for alto and tenor soloists, a four-part choir, two recorders, two violins, viola, and basso continuo.[5] The setting with recorders is reminiscent of the Actus tragicus, BWV 106. Similarly to the cantatas Alles, was von Gott geboren, BWV 80a, and Barmherziges Herze der ewigen Liebe, BWV 185, composed during the same period, a structural element is the melody of the closing chorale as a cantus firmus in the first movement, an aria. Bach used the juxtaposition of a chorale cantus firmus against vocal music later on a grand scale in his St Matthew Passion. In a performance of the cantata in Leipzig, instead of the instrumental quote in the first aria, the first verse of the chorale seems to have been sung by a soprano. Also the cantata was transposed from C to E-flat, and possibly the recorders were replaced by transverse flutes.[2]

  1. Aria (alto, recorders, strings): Komm, du süße Todesstunde
  2. Recitativo (tenor): Welt, deine Lust ist Last
  3. Aria (tenor, strings): Mein Verlangen ist, den Heiland zu umfangen
  4. Recitativo (alto, recorders, strings): Der Schluß ist schon gemacht
  5. Chor (choir, recorders, strings): Wenn es meines Gottes Wille
  6. Choral (recorders): Der Leib zwar in der Erden

Music

The Phrygian chorale melody is the musical theme of the cantata, appearing in movement 1 both in its original form and also in the alto line derived from it. The themes of both other arias (3 and 5) are also derived from the same melody, uniting the music of the cantata. The melody appears five times in chorales of Bach's St Matthew Passion.

The tenor recitative (2) ends in an arioso when the words paraphrase a Bible line of Phil 1:23, "Ich habe Lust abzuscheiden und bei Christo zu sein" (I desire to pasture soon with Christ. I desire to depart from this world). The alto recitative (4) is accompanied by all instruments, creating the images of sleep (in a downward movement, ending in long notes), the waking up (in fast movement upwards), and funeral bells in the recorders and pizzicato of the strings.[5] Movement 5, marked aria by Franck, is set for four parts by Bach, using homophony and like a song. The first part is not repeated da capo, according to the last words "Dieses sei mein letztes Wort" (May this be my last word). The closing chorale is illuminated by a fifth part of the two recorders playing in unison a lively counterpoint.[2]

Recordings

References

Sources

The first source is the score.

Several data bases provide additional information on each cantata:

  • Cantata BWV 161 Komm, du süße Todesstunde history, scoring, sources for text and music, translations to various languages, discography, discussion, bach-cantatas website
  • Emmanuel Music
  • Komm, du süße Todesstunde history, scoring, Bach website (German)
  • University of Vermont
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