Chapter 20 BWV 148 Bringet dem Herrn Ehre seines Namens
Give the Lord the glory of His name.
Chorus--aria (tenor)--recit (alto)--aria (alto)--recit (tenor)--chorale.
The nineteenth cantata of the cycle for the seventeenth Sunday after Trinity.
Dürr (p 558) raises the intriguing possibility that this cantata may have originated later than 1723 but current Bach research places it within the first cycle. The bipartite structure of the opening chorus certainly suggests that it sits comfortably alongside the raft of works Bach presented in his first year at Leipzig.
After two highly original works in which Bach was clearly experimenting with various types of structural innovation, he returns to the tried and tested format of alternating arias and recitatives set between opening chorus and closing chorale; but only for one week. This first Leipzig cycle demonstrates clearly two important facets of his personality. One was the restless urge to push back barriers and to innovate with every musical element; structural amalgamations are particularly common but there are also developments of rhythm, melody, harmony and tonal colour. But he was also a great searcher-out and collector of other people’s music and one of the first great composers to appreciate the significance of composition as a central European heritage. It is not, therefore, surprising that his constant innovation was interspersed with revisitings of traditional forms and techniques.
Thus C 148 accords with Cs 69a, 77 and 25, all examples of concise formats using established combinations of free-standing chorus, aria and recitative.
The opening chorus is scored for solo trumpet strings and continuo. Although no oboes are designated it is almost certain that they would have been used to double the strings; they certainly were available as the alto aria and concluding chorus later reveal. Their role would have been simply to strengthen and colour the upper string lines.
But it is the trumpet that dominates this music from the very first chord.
In the extended ritornello/sinfonia theme it carries the main melodic interest for all but three of the thirty-four bars. As a purely instrumental section this statement is not repeated at the end of the movement; see, however, below. Two ten-bar sections of it are heard in the course of the movement, separating the three blocks of chorus.
The text is but one line, albeit expressing two ideas which Bach seizes upon for his musical architecture----Give the Lord the glory of His name----worship the Lord in holy adornment. The first four trumpet bars are a rhythmically bold and largely unadorned ‘head’ statement designed initially to catch the ear and subsequently to carry the first part of the message on the choir’s entry. It then dissolves into typical Bachian, continuous-quaver melody, seemingly not wanting to end, joyously caught up in its own exuberance. The passages of rolling quavers are dictated by the register, volume and colour of the trumpet but enjoyed in all parts. On its first entry the choir adopts the opening phrase, extends it and, in a mere eight bars has announced the complete text! Ten bars of the ritornello theme then take us to the second choral entry, bar 51, where it might seem that the main substance of the movement gets under way.
This second choral block begins identically to the first but is now extended to over twenty bars, limiting itself to the first line of text only and placing great stress upon the word Namens----His name. A re-statement of the ‘head’ theme on the trumpet brings this section to a close at bar 73.
The second sections of Bach’s bipartite choruses are frequently fugal and this is no exception. The voices enter in the order T, A, S and B, beginning bar 73) concentrating upon the expression of worship of the Lord, taking us to Bm and leading to the second instrumental episode.
The final return of the choir (bar 110) reprises the ‘head’ theme, taken up four bars later by the trumpet. Keen ears will note that from this point to the end the trumpet repeats exactly its original thirty-four bar 'sinfonia' but now it rings out above choir and orchestra alike. It is still a ritornello theme the only difference being that the chorus amalgamates with its final statement. The symbolism is not difficult to fathom; individual expression of worship and eulogy naturally expands and multiplies until it becomes a universal declamation extending throughout the very universe.
If Bach had any pedagogical intention in writing this cantata it might well have been to demonstrate the technique of composing long effortless melodic lines and he could not have demonstrated this better than in the first two movements. That of the chorus, as explained above, does not behave quite as a conventional ritornello but that of the tenor aria does. The 26 bar violin obbligato is so perfectly written for the instrument that it is difficult to imagine it played on any other. Its shape and lines are derived directly from the text and its quasi-binary form structure is so flawlessly balanced that it seems almost as if it could exist as a complete movement within itself. Some of the keyboard movements are scarcely any longer; the gavotte from the fifth French suite is, indeed, two bars shorter.
The initial flowing semiquavers suggest ‘hastening to listen', the opening line of the verse. The rising harmonic progressions (bars 3-5) might intimate the seeking of God’s Holy House, and the long held note, the midway point in a binary form structure, a pause to enjoy the ‘beautiful music’. The last dozen bars of the melody skip along giving an impression of enthusiastic, childlike endeavour.
Violin theme, opening bars.
Let us be quite clear about this; we cannot claim with absolute certainty that Bach had these specific images in mind from which he fashioned the musical shapes. On the other hand, we find so many examples in his output where the organisational structure of the music seems to have a direct relationship with some physical action or mental image within the text. From a practical point of view this also makes sense. Bach was under pressure to compose at great speed and could not allow himself the luxury of waiting for inspiration. The seeking of and drawing out of ideas from the texts that could be translated into particular musical shapes, rhythms, harmonies or tone colours must have been a highly effective way of a) stimulating his imagination and b) creating new and appropriate musical ideas.
The tenor’s initial two entries stress the word----eile----to hasten or rush---- in flowing musical terms. Each is followed by a pause, presumably to allow one to listen to the ‘joyous music’. The first main ritornello entry (from bar 49) takes us to the middle section and the representation of the ‘music resounding’ is most effectively captured in the sustained descending notes from bar 73.
A truncated version of the original A section returns to complete this perfectly balanced movement.
The alto recitative makes use of the upper strings to sustain the harmonies and proffer moments of emphasis----like the deer crying out for water so do I to God, for only He can give me total peace---- amongst the righteous, I praise Your might at Your sacred Sabbath----would that the sinful might contemplate such loveliness. The verse is gently set as behoves a sincere, if somewhat self-satisfied personal prayer. There is little overt imagery, although the cry to God is clearly audible (bar 2), the exclamation appropriately declamatory (bar 11) and the final affirmation of the beauty of the Lord within our breasts touchingly expressive (bars 13-15).
Mouth and heart are open to You, immerse yourself within them----I in You and You in me---- thus shall my bed of repose be made on love, hope, trust and endurance----such is the text of the final aria, sung by the alto articulating the words of the fulfilled soul. The family of three oboes supports the voice above the continuo, a combination not often heard with this voice; three oboes are more likely to be found buttressing the bass. The sound of these instruments is compelling if a trifle quaint to the modern ear.
It seems that Bach was struck by two images, the opening of mouth and heart and the mutual immersion of soul with the divine entity. The ritornello theme is four-square almost to the point of appearing stolid but, in typically Bachian manner, it has two clearly defined facets. Each of the opening four-bar phrases begins with a rising scale, the musical representation of ‘opening.’ Thence they disperse into a faster semi-quaver idea, predominantly falling.
Musically it is a perfectly conceived balance of melodic contouring, textually it may well be Bach’s idea of the unlocking of heart and mouth followed by the immersing of the Holy Spirit within them. When the alto enters, the strategy is the same but this time the offering of heart and mouth is matched by a response on the oboes, a clear indication that Bach attached different significances to these contrasting but conjoined ideas.
A repeat of the unchanged ritornello theme takes us to the middle section (from bar 35).The text now revolves around the mutuality of divine and earthly spirits and the qualities that create the foundation for the ‘bed of rest.’ The imagery is explicit, falling semi-quaver oboe scales occurring on three occasions, suggestive of the conjoining of Lord and soul. Soothing quaver scales (oboes) appear just twice, significantly over a long, held note firstly in the continuo (bars 41-4) and later above the voice (55-6). There can be little doubt that Bach intended this as a musical depiction of the bed of rest.
A da capo reprises the whole first section of a movement which, although initially seeming a little bland and lacking in personality, reveals its secrets and pleasures with a little coaxing.
The penultimate movement, a secco recitative for tenor, is of the type that one supposes Bach could concoct in a matter of minutes; just a dozen or so chords supporting an expressive melody of which he was a supreme deviser. There are no striking images and nor should there be in a simple avowal of faith and commitment----remain with and govern me, oh God that I might lead a good life and thus spend an eternal restful Sabbath with You. Bach is right, as always, in that an unsophisticated and trusting simplicity lies at the heart of this declaration. It needs no sustained string chords or empathetic woodwind iridescence; a beautifully moulded melodic line with just sufficient harmonies enabling it to navigate its path is all that is required.
The final chorale is equally stripped of baroque complexities. Strings and woodwind merely double the voices, with no added obbligato or any instrumental interludes. The harmonies are direct and lacking in chromatic colour and the movement of the lower parts is minimal. The serene gravity of the basic message is, however, given weight by the minor mode and the dark key of F#m.
The message is that of an hourly ‘Amen’ offered honestly with a prayer for Christ to lead us at all times. In return we shall praise His Name forever. The cantata which began with such extrovert communal rejoicing ends, perhaps, not with a whimper but certainly with a prayer, sincere and genuine, private and personal.
Copyright: J Mincham 2010. Revised 2012.