2017-18 Bach Cantatas Vespers season celebrates Lutheran chorales
It was 500 years ago that the Protestant Reformationbegan in Wittenberg, Germany. In addition to his work as a theologian, Martin Luther gave the church many of its most beloved chorales. During this anniversary year of the Reformation, many of the cantatas offered at Grace center around the chorales of Martin Luther, giving thanks for his legacy and giving praise to God for gift of salvation in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Erhalt uns, Herr, bei deinem Wort, BWV 126
Uphold us, Lord, by your word
Martin Luther wrote Erhalt uns, Herr, bei deinem Wort as a hymn for children, a Kinderlied. Nearly 200 years later, Bach used this chorale as the centerpiece of his cantata. We begin our the 2017–2018 season with this prayer from Luther: “Uphold us, Lord, by your word.”
Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott, BWV 80
A mighty fortress is our God
The best known of Luther’s chorales is Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott. Centuries later, Christians of nearly every demonination sing Luther’s chorale as a hymn of strength and assurance that God’s promises are true and remain forever.
Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, BWV 140
Awake, the voice calls to us
Known as the King of Lutheran Chorales, Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme holds a special place in Lutheran hymnody. Best known in English as “Wake, awake, for night is flying,” this chorale was written by Philipp Nicolai, German Lutheran pastor, poet, and composer.
Meine Seel erhebt den Herren, BWV 10
My soul magnifies the Lord
Part of Martin Luther’s work as a hymn writer was bringing ancient hymns of faith into the vernacular. His translation of Mary’s Magnificat is a prime example of how Luther expanded the worship life of people in the 16th century. Meine Seele erhebt den Herren is usually sung to a Gregorian psalm tone, tonus peregrinus. Starting with this simple psalm tone, Bach composed a rich setting of Luther’s translation of the Magnificat, an appropriate song of praise for the Advent season. (Sung as part of the Grace Church Christmas concert, beginning at 4 p.m.)
Jesu, meine Freude, BWV 227
Jesu, my joy
Bach’s motet Jesu, meine Freude is based on another chorale beloved by Lutherans. Best known in English as “Jesus, priceless treasure,” this chorale was written closer to Bach’s time, around 1650. Johann Franck wrote the text while Johann Crüger wrote the haunting tune. In the motet, stanzas of the hymn alternate with passages from Romans 8, expressing the believer’s faith and longing for Jesus.
Gott soll allein mein Herze haben, BWV 227
God alone shall have my heart
Bach composed this cantata for an alto soloist in 1726. The cantata stays close to our theme for the year, however, as it utilizes stanza three of Martin Luther’s chorale, Nun bitten wir den Heiligen Geist (Now we implore the Holy Ghost).
Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern, BWV 1
How lovely shines the morning star
Known as the Queen of Lutheran Chorales, Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern is another of the best-known hymns in the Lutheran tradition. Like the chorale that served as the centerpiece for the November cantata, this chorale was also written by Philipp Nicolai, German Lutheran pastor, poet, and composer. Bach wrote this cantata in 1725 for the Feast of the Annunciation, which that year fell on Palm Sunday, as it does in 2018.
Der Herr ist mein getreuer Hirt, BWV 112
The Lord is my faithful shepherd
The paraphrase of Psalm 23 used in the first and last movements of this cantata was written by Reformed theologian Wolfgang Meuslin. The chorale tune is by Nikolaus Decius, who also worked with Martin Luther on chorale melodies. This cantata is joyful in its praise to Christ, who is our Good Shepherd.
Also hat Gott die Welt geliebt, BWV 68
For God so loved the world
Poet Christiana Mariana von Ziegler wrote the text for this cantata, the only female librettist known to have contributed to Bach’s cantata output. The opening movement is based on a chorale by Salomo Liscow. The cantata was composed for Pentecost Monday in 1725.