Chapter 87 Bwv 193

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Chapter 87 BWV 193 Ihr Tore zu Zion

Ye gates of Zion.

Chorus–recit (sop)–aria (sop)–recit (alto)–aria (alto)–chorus.

A cantata for council elections (incomplete).

Researchers are limited in what they can say about this cantata because of its tragically incomplete transmission. The nature of the text, however, allows us to be certain that it was another council election cantata and Dürr suggests it was performed in 1727, although the extent to which it may have drawn upon earlier works is unknown. The text of the first five movements survives, as do some of the performing parts. There is no continuo part i.e. the crucial bass line, for any of the movements.

The parts of the opening chorus that have survived are for the upper strings and two oboes, with alto and soprano voices. It seems probable that a cantata of this type would have included either three or four trumpets and drums and possibly a pair of flutes. Any reconstruction would need to include these, plus composed parts for tenor, bass and the entire continuo.

In summary:

* The soprano secco recitative retains the vocal line with the continuo (bass and chords) needing to be added.

*All that is missing of the soprano aria is the continuo line; the vocal and oboe parts along with the upper strings are complete.

*The alto recitative, like that for soprano, requires the recreation of the continuo.

*The alto aria retains the vocal and oboe obbligato lines and requires the addition of the continuo.

*The final recitative and chorus are entirely missing but in the case of the latter, the simplest solution is to repeat the opening movement, a practice for which there is precedence elsewhere in the canon.

Frankly, it is a tragedy that this fine work has been so mutilated and if ever a cantata deserves an intelligent reconstruction it is C 193; Ton Koopman has provided one that may be found in the 19th box of his complete recordings of the cantatas. He supplies the missing parts outlined above, repeats the opening chorus at the end and inserts before it, presumably for balance, an additional bass recitative. In this he is probably following the lead from Dürr (p 731) who states that a recitative is ‘not extant’ and he  also suggests the reprise of the first movement.

Listeners who have access to this or another reconstruction may find the following brief comments helpful.


The text of the opening chorus is a traditional homage to God—-gates of Zion rejoice, we are the people of His pastures and eternal realm.

There are numerous clues to be found in the various Leipzig election cantatas that may stimulate the imagination of the assiduous restorer. For example, the early bars of rests (3-4) may well imply the sudden entrance of trumpets and drums (as in C 119/1). The overlapping oboe figures (from bar 9) are reminiscent of the flute in C 119/7 (from bar 5). It is not that Bach repeats himself or makes use of lazy clichés but he does reapply various techniques in different contexts, and a knowledge of the canon as a whole may suggest a number of solutions for the arranger. Even so, there are many creative decisions to be made that can only be arrived at by a combination of intelligent guesswork and sound musicianship.

One important challenge is how to write for the choir. A study of Bach’s choruses, in particular the chorale/fantasias from the second cycle, demonstrates the almost infinite textures and techniques he draws upon in his choral writing. It would seem from the existing two parts that much of the writing in this movement was homophonic rather than polyphonic and this makes the task a little easier. Nevertheless, one still has to solve such problems as to where and how the lower two voices are to enter imitatively, as surely they would have done, in such places as bars 55-6.

The long ritornello theme is a joy, a particularly fine moment being the touches of chromaticism in bars 11-12. The overall form is ritornello/ternary and, although Bach repeats the melody in full in the middle of the movement he declines, somewhat surprisingly, to reprise it at the end.

Soprano recitative.

The soprano recitative requires the addition of appropriate chords which is not as daunting a job as it may first appear. The melodic line spells out clearly the tonal movement from Bm to Em, Am and G major before the imperfect cadence at the end which poses the question—-who can sufficiently exalt You Oh Lord? This follows a statement of awareness of the Lord’s eternal vigilance and our consequent abundant harvest. This election would seem to have followed a fruitful year for German farmers!

Soprano aria.

As already noted, the soprano aria is complete but for the continuo line, which again should not pose too much of a problem for a good musician to solve since the upper parts spell out most of the harmony. Whether one produces anything precisely like that which Bach had written is unlikely; a study of the canon demonstrates how difficult it is ever to second-guess the man! But it is possible to produce an effective and convincing bass which at least allows us to enjoy a movement that we should not like to be without.

It is a da capo aria, the A section thanking God for His goodness and paternal nature with the B section listing some of His qualities—-You forgive our sins and You listen to our prayers—-and so all flesh will come to You. It is a minuet, made slightly ponderous  (perhaps the intention was rather to create an atmosphere of solemnity and seriousness) by the use of minor modes.

It is lightened, however, by the delightfully imaginative interplay of oboe and upper strings. They begin in unison but from bar 5 the oboe just points the top notes of the chords. It is a strangely Handelian effect which serves to remind us how seldom Bach actually sounds like his great contemporary (and vice versa). After a few further bars of doubling, the oboe emerges with its own melody, supported by the strings. It is a long ritornello theme, a full 32 bars and a complete binary-form movement in itself, modulating centrally to G major before returning to the tonic Em. Bach constructed a number of his aria ritornello themes in this manner after the second Leipzig cycle as he composed increasingly lengthy, yet still perfectly balanced and integrated, movements.

The complete ritornello theme closes the A section whereupon the texture is immediately lightened and much is made of the image of the ‘flesh’ that must eventually return to the Maker.

Alto recitative.

The addition of the chords for the alto recitative is, like that for soprano, a relatively straightforward task as the tonal scheme is clearly defined: Bm, F#m, D major and G major. It is a call for Leipzig to remain content since it currently enjoys peace, justice and righteousness all of which, we pray, will continue forever.

Alto aria.

The alto aria would seem to have been composed for just the three parts, voice and oboe d’amore (both parts of which survive) and the continuo (which does not). The text asks for the Lord to send His blessing and maintain those who uphold the law and protect the needy. The complex baroque ornamentation of the oboe line doubtless depicts God’s manifest blessings with which, judging by the parallel movement of voice and instrument (from bar 13), Mankind is completely in tune.

Towards the end, the alto adopts the ornate figurations of the oboe with a long and complicated melisma on erhalten—-the receiving and sustaining of His blessing (from bar 32). The aria is a gem and one is grateful for the opportunity to hear and enjoy it, hopefully much as the composer conceived it.

Koopman completes his recording with an inserted bass recitative requesting the Lord’s consecration of the government, followed by a reprise of the first chorus.

Some scepticism has been expressed in these essays about the advisability of restoring and performing certain of Bach’s incomplete cantatas, especially when other more complete versions are available. But such alternatives do not exist in the case of C 193. Consequently, we must be grateful for the opportunity of hearing it in a reconstructed format, hopefully akin to that which was originally composed.


Copyright: J Mincham 2010.   Revised 2012, 2014, 2017, 2020.