Chapter 33 BWV 190 Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied
Sing with new song to the Lord.
Chorus--recit/chorale (bass/tenor/alto)--aria (alto)--recit (bass)--duet (tenor/bass)--recit (tenor)--chorale.
The thirty-second cantata of the cycle for New Year’s Day.
It is greatly to be regretted that Bach’s first New Year’s Day cantata at Leipzig has not survived intact; only the voice and violin parts exist from the first movement and the vocal lines from the second. However, this is sufficient to permit a reconstruction which allows us to hear the work probably very much as Bach intended. The incomplete nature of the score makes it difficult to make detailed comparisons between it and other cantatas written for this day although readers may find a few comments in the essay on C 16 (vol 3, chapter 10).
There is no doubt that the celebratory nature of this event would have ensured the full use of available resources and indeed, the closing chorale of C 190 is emblazoned with three trumpets, oboes strings and continuo. So too are are the chorales ending Cs 41 and 171 (vol 2, chapter 32 and vol 3, chapter 39) also written for this day, as is C 16, the most modest work of the group. Listeners should, without difficulty, manage to find recordings which reconstruct the missing parts.
Although the opening chorus is neither as long or magnificent as that of C 41 for the following year, it is still a remarkably inventive and invigorating piece. The first and second violins appear to have a concertante role and the tacet bars in their parts suggest a degree of antiphonal writing between trumpets, oboes and strings. Certainly the ascending harmonic progressions implied in what survives of the ritornello theme are explicit, easily reconstructed and appropriate to the optimistic theme of the day.
The text is much longer than that of most Bach choruses and is a conventional song of praise to the Lord. It specifically invokes the sounds of percussion, strings and organs to accompany both singing and dancing. There are two moments where the choir intones lines of the German Te Deum (beginning bars 79 and 123)----Lord God we give You praise (and later thanks).
These words are sung in unison, a texture very rarely used by Bach and here serving a double purpose; firstly ensuring their dramatic effect and secondly signalling key moments in the movement’s structure. The first and last choral sections are marked by strongly accented homophonic writing which is ringing and emphatic in both its praise of the Lord and its assertion of the final Alleluias. The middle section, set between the Te Deum lines, is fugally constructed about the words----let everything that has breath praise the Lord. There are, in fact, two fugal expositions based upon the same theme whose insistent repeated crotchets metamorphose into embellished lines of eulogy. The fugal entries are initially in the order of B, T, A, S (from bar 87)and latterly S, A, T B (from bar 108), a clear expression of universal acclamation.
The second movement is easier to reconstruct for a number of reasons. It is, in fact, one of Bach’s early experiments with hybrid forms which later appeared regularly in the second cycle. Here Bach combines chorale with recitative but with the choir now singing the opening of the Te Deum in four-part harmony. Again, this is a technique Bach used sparingly e.g. such insertions of chorale statements into recitatives occur just four times in the fifty-three second cycle works. In C 190 the bass, tenor and alto contribute the recitative sections; there is, in fact no solo role for the soprano in any movement of this cantata.
Returning to the problems of reconstruction, we should note that there are nearly fifty lines of recitative to be set in this work. They are divided between three movements and Bach seems to have sought additional variety by producing quite contrasted settings. The first, as we have seen, is for three solo voices and choir, the second is a secco recitative for bass and the third provides the tenor with a sustained string accompaniment. One cannot be certain, of course, but it is reasonable to infer that the missing support for the singers in the first of these movements would have been provided by continuo only, whereby the arranger would need only to determine the appropriate harmonies.
Bach’s strategy in setting such texts is usually for the lines of chorale to make some form of statement or avowal and for the solo singers to expand, explain and enlarge upon it. In this case the choir announces----Lord, we praise You----and the bass, rather opportunistically, asks for happiness and blessing in the coming year. The tenor is more explicit in his requests for freedom from famine and war, and the alto returns to the theme of praise----Your goodness is renewed daily and we, in humility, give gratitude and tribute.
The celebration of God through dance is not specifically mentioned in the alto aria, but it was in the chorus. Nevertheless, it would seem that this is where the physical manifestations of glorification become most evident and appropriate. The rhythm is an infectious minuet-like three beats in a bar and the phrasing is neatly symmetrical and suggestive of elegant movement.
Furthermore the long ritornello theme, repeated at the end as well as providing short episodes, ensures that well over half of the movement is wholly instrumental. And for most of the time that the alto is engaged, the first violins continuo to dance around his line. This movement hardly needs words and, in any case, they are wholly conventional and add nothing to the development of the cantata’s theme----Zion, praise your God, and tell of the fame of He who Shepherds you in green pastures.
Despite the fact that some of the textures are in five-part counterpoint, the scoring is completely lucid and the impression is one of simplicity. There is no middle section of note; in fact had Bach required a longer piece the whole of this aria could have acted as the first part of a da capo movement. Nor is there much in the way of word painting, the sustained note on Ruhm----the Lord’s fame----being a notable but discrete exception.
The minor mode of this recitative comes as a surprise in a work that has been relentlessly major. But the movement contrives to end on the warmth of an A major chord which also leads us into the duet. The recitative rejects worldly pleasures and acclaims Jesus as a joy, shepherd and salvation who will embrace us eternally. There is almost nothing in the way of digressions through the painting of individual images or pictures; the function of the movement is purely to express acquiescence through uncluttered narrative. A simple, repeated continuo figure provides supportive assurance beneath the final expression of commitment----guide me well and I shall embark upon this New Year with Jesus.
The only uncertainty about the tenor and bass duet is the choice of obbligato instrument. Most conductors will choose a violin or oboe
d’ amore because of the range. Either is effective although the odds are slightly in favour of the latter. As with the recitatives, Bach also would have sought variety within the two arias and the first being accompanied by strings might suggest a wind instrument for the other. The oboe also helps imbue the texture with a sense of resonant sonority conjured up by the continuing statements of complete commitment----Jesus shall be everything to me, my beginning, my joyous light and, though His blood, my ending.
The ritornello theme illustrates a compositional procedure which Bach used frequently. The first statement (two bars) simply declaims the rhythm of the opening words----Jesus shall be my all. Then comes an idea directly related to the imagery, rising wisps of semi-quaver figures suggesting the light of Jesus and/or the benefice He disposes. Below this the continuo treads an assuring and positive quaver bass, the epitome of that certainty which the spirit has now acquired. Even before the voices have entered, the atmosphere of calm, reverent, mature belief has been fully established.
The ritornello theme of the soprano aria from C 64 displays precisely the same approach to musical invention.
AS in the alto aria, there is no clearly defined middle section, nor a reprise. The structure may best be viewed as in two sections, almost equal in length and framed by the ritornello theme, the first taking us to bar 28 and the second completing the movement. On each entry the voices are in imitation, a sign of the unity of thought relating to the commitments to Christ.
Like that for bass, the tenor recitative begins in the minor but ends in the major, another unobtrusive suggestion of the journey from worldly sensuality to divine purity. Now the strings provide a background of sustained chords, self-effacing yet encompassing. The text is a simple plea for Christ’s blessings at this time and in the year to come. And in case there might be any doubt as to who might best benefit from them, a number of institutions are specifically listed----church, school, court, house, town and council.
The closing chorale is a celebration rather than a reflection. D major is the baroque key of festivity and salutation, and the cantata both begins and ends in it. The text centres a little more upon what we might do for ourselves in the coming year praise of God, unsurprisingly, coming at the head of the list. But we are also committed to preserving Christianity and our fatherland as He furnishes peace and destroys the hypocrites.
The choral lines are doubled, as usual, by the strings and oboes but the trumpets are given their own ceremonial role. They ring out above all else to reinforce the ending of every phrase, an idea that Bach was to use in C 41 for the same day of the following year and in an extended version of the same chorale. There the brass figurations are clearly borrowed from the main theme of the opening chorus.
If Bach was using the same technique in C 190, its chorale setting would provide an excellent indication of the motives used by the missing instruments in the opening chorus, a valuable clue for the assiduous reconstructor.
Copyright: J Mincham 2010. Revised 2012 and 2014.