Pamela Dellal, mezzo soprano

 

uncommon intelligence, imagination and textual awareness...
PDme

 

 

Bach Cantata Notes

BWV 148

BWV 148, Bringet dem Herrn Ehre seines Namens, was composed for the seventeenth Sunday after Trinity. The readings for that Sunday in Bach’s 18th century Lutheran lectionary included the beautiful exhortation of Paul to the Ephesians 4: 1-6 for generosity and selflessness combined with the parable from Luke 14:1-11 of the man invited to the rich man’s dinner. Both readings emphasize humility and modesty. The resultant text is unusually sunny, without any of the dark shadows that permeate most of Bach’s cantata texts.

The communal nature of many Psalms of praise often inspire Bach to compose large-scale fugues; the opening movement of this cantata is an excellent example of Bach’s choral fugue style.  Bach sets a quote from Psalm 29; the appointed psalm of the day our Revised Common Lectionary, as a brilliant and densely fugal work for trumpet, oboe, and strings. The opening statement in the orchestra is basically a canon between trumpet and 1st violin; this is followed by a homophonic presentation of the same material in the chorus, followed by an initial presentation of the first fugal phrase with countersubjects already sounding. Not until the second large phrase, beginning “Betet an den Herrn,” does Bach let the texture thin out to present each fugal voice sequentially against a thematically related continuo line. With each presentation of the fugue Bach adds a fifth voice in the instruments, but this fifth entrance is not always the final one! The final return of the choir once reprises the ‘head’ theme, taken up four bars later by the trumpet. From this point to the end the trumpet repeats exactly its original ritornello but now it rings out above choir and orchestra alike.  The vibrant, dense energy of this movement is reminiscent of the celebratory movements in the B-minor Mass and the later secular cantatas. Clearly Bach wants to give the effect of an enormous crowd singing these ringing words.

The tenor aria is a virtuoso affair both for the solo violin as well as for the high-flying tenor part. Taking off from the key word ‘eilet’, Bach composes a slippery, flowing line in 6/8 meter, with perpetual motion in the virtuoso violin obbligato and urgency provided by the figuration in the continuo. The range of the tenor solo is unusually high, touching a written B natural at one spot. The elegant trill figure becomes justified later in the text where the beautiful sound calling the devout to worship is referenced.

The full strings accompany the alto recitative, which continues the Old Testament theme with a striking reference to Psalm 42. Despite the profound sentiments in this movement, it not only begins and ends in the same key, G, but also introduces an aria that is also in G. This harmonic stability is in itself unusual for Bach. This sense of groundedness is enhanced by the choir of reeds that accompanies the aria, in which the main theme elegantly and symmetrically rises and descends to depict the receptiveness of the soul to God’s presence. The balance continues in the B section, where pedal tones express the peacefulness of the “Ruhebette” (bed of rest). The penultimate movement, a secco recitative for tenor, is an unsophisticated and simple declaration of trust.  

No text survives for the final chorale movement, although the melody is generally associated with the chorale “Auf meinen lieben Gott.” The message is that of an hourly ‘Amen’ offered honestly with a prayer for Christ to lead us at all times. Our cantata, which began with such extrovert communal rejoicing, concludes with a sincere and genuine, private and personal prayer. This cantata is a wonderful example of Bach’s ability to take ideas that don’t seem to have much contrast and build a convincing and moving structure of faith.

© Craig Smith and Pamela Dellal, and Ryan Turner



Our cantata today was written for the seventeenth Sunday after Trinity. The beautiful exhortation of Paul to the Ephesians for generosity and selflessness is combined with the parable of the man invited to the rich man’s dinner. Both readings emphasize humility and modesty. The resultant text is unusually sunny, without any of the dark shadows that permeate most of Bach’s cantata texts.
The opening chorus, a quote from Psalm 29, is a brilliant and densely fugal work for trumpet, oboe, and strings. It is something of a curiosity that Bach, in a very unusual move, sets the whole text at the outset and then divides it up into sections for the various fugues that make up the rest of the piece. The texture, while joyous, is unremittingly dense. Clearly Bach wants to give the effect of an enormous crowd singing these ringing words. The tenor aria is a virtuoso affair both for the solo violin as well as for the high-flying tenor part. The alto goes much deeper. The recitative starts with a famous quote from Psalm 42 and then goes into the main message of the parable, that good works can be done on the Sabbath as well as the rest of the week. The beautiful aria with three oboes has a calm and warmth that brings to a wonderful close the ringing affirmation of the opening chorus. This cantata is a wonderful example of Bach’s ability to take ideas that don’t seem to have much contrast and build a convincing and moving structure of faith. The work ends with a rich and warm harmonization of the chorale “Auf meinem lieben Gott.”

©Craig Smith