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Christliche Kunst und Literatur


Petzoldt, Martin


Bachkommentar. Theologisch-Musikwissenschaftliche Kommentierung der geistlichen Vokalwerke Johann Sebastian Bachs. Stuttgart: Internationale Bachakademie; Kassel-Basel-London-New York-Prag: Bärenreiter. = Schrif­tenreihe der Internationalen Bachakademie Stuttgart, 14.1 u. 14.2.


Bd. 1: Die geistlichen Kantaten des 1. bis 27. Trinitatis-Sonntages. Musikwissenschaftliche Beratung: D. O. Franklin. 2004. 726 S. 4°. Geb. EUR 49,00. ISBN 3-7618-1741-X. Bd. 2: Die geistlichen Kantaten vom 1. Advent bis zum Trinitatisfest. Musikwissenschaftliche Beratung: N. Bolin. 2007. 1103 S. 4°. Geb. EUR 59,00. ISBN 978-3-7618-1742-1.


Robin A. Leaver

The incomparable music of Bach heard in his cantatas continues to impress and inspire modern hearers, who nevertheless feel they do not always understand Bach’s intentions in these works. This disconnect is largely due to the fact that the cantatas are usually heard within a concert setting, but even if they are heard in some kind of worship such modern experiences are considerably removed from the liturgical richness for which Bach’s cantatas were created and within which they were first heard. The biblical allusions, made both textually and musically, are often not recognized today because the hearers do not read the Bible as regularly and systematically as was commonly done in the eighteenth century. For example, Johann Mattheson, composer, music theorist and contemporary of Bach in Hamburg, like many of his contemporaries read several chapters each day, and reported towards the end of his life that he had read through the whole of the Bible approaching thirty times. Bach and his librettists could therefore rely on the members of the congregations who first heard these cantatas to recognize these concepts and connections. What was obvious to church people in the eighteenth century is frequently opaque to those who hear and study Bach’s vocal works today. In order to assist twenty-first century performers, hearers, and researchers Professor Martin Petzoldt has prepared these carefully researched and immensely useful volumes.
The two volumes reviewed here form the substantial part of a projected three-volume study of the »geistlichen« vocal works of Johann Sebastian Bach, issued as Band 14 of the Schriftenreihe der Internationalen Bachakademie Stuttgart, edited by Norbert Bolin. The two volumes cover the cantatas composed for the church year, from Advent through to the end of the Trinity season. They present an extensive and intensive examination of the details of the litur­gical significance, theological background, and biblical foundations of these works, thus demonstrating how these elements conditioned both the structure and form of the respective libretti, as well as illuminating the specific compositional decisions Bach made in individual movements. Such matters have been discussed in various earlier published studies but none has been as systematic or as comprehensive as is presented here.
Earlier works on Bach’s vocal oeuvre have concentrated primarily on musical matters, such as Werner Neumann’s basic Handbuch der Kantaten Bachs (Leipzig: Breitkopf und Härtel, 1947; 4th ed, 1977), Alfred Dürr’s extremely useful Die Kantaten von Johann Sebastian Bach (Kassel 1971; 8th ed. 2000), and Hans-Joachim Schulze’s more recent Die Bach-Kantaten: Einführungen zu sämtlichen Kantaten Johann Sebastian Bachs (Leipzig: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, 2006), which does address some of the wider contextual issues.
P. discusses the libretti according to the sequence of the Sundays, festivals and celebrations of the church year. This confirms the recent trend as found in the studies of Dürr and Schulze, among others. Earlier studies either attempted to discuss the cantatas ac­cording to the chronology of their composition (such as it was understood), or according to the numbers assigned to them by the editors of the old Bach Gesellschaft, which reflect only the sequence in which they were published. Since cantatas composed in different years for a particular day or celebration deal with the same primary themes, it makes sense to discuss them in close proximity to each other. This is P.’s approach, but he does deal chronologically with the cantatas for a particular occasion, beginning with the earliest and ending with the latest to be composed. Another feature not found in other studies is that all the known libretti of Bach’s vocal works are discussed and analyzed, even those for which the music has not survived.
The discussions are structured according to the Sundays, festivals and celebrations of the church year, each one being presented as a separate chapter. Under the heading of the day, such as »12. Sonntag nach Trinitatis«, references to the propers of that day are given, notably the epistle and gospel. Then follows a listing of the titles of the cantatas Bach composed for that occasion; a further list of the vocal and instrumental »Besetzung« for each of these cantatas; and then references to discussions of these cantatas that can be found in other sources. But before investigating each cantata in turn, there is a substantial quotation from relevant literature that Bach would have known.
Bach’s cantatas, like the sermons that were preached in the liturgy when they were first heard, explore the theological themes of the biblical pericopes of the day or celebration, especially the appointed gospels, which conditioned the thinking of the librettist as well as the compositional choices made by Bach. Again, like a preacher, Bach would have consulted biblical commentaries in order to understand each pericope. In addition to the individual biblical commentaries of Luther, included in the volumes of the collected works that Bach had in his personal library, he also owned two multi-volume commentaries on the whole of Scripture (see Robin A. Leaver, Bachs theologische Bibliothek: Eine kritische Biblio­graphie. Beiträge zur theologischen Bachforschung, 1. Stuttgart: Hänss­ler-Verlag, 1983). One of these contains marginalia and un­derlinings made by the composer: the Deutsche Bibel, by Abraham Calov (Witttenberg, 1681-82), the only surviving volumes from Bach’s library now in Concordia Seminary library, St. Louis, MO, USA. Bach not only personally inscribed his monogram on the title pages of these Calov volumes but also included the year »1733.« This implies that Bach took possession of these volumes at some time after the greater proportion of his vocal music had been composed, and therefore could not have influenced their composition. The presumption is that the other Bible commentary, Biblische Erklärung, by Johann Olearius (Leipzig, 1678-1681), entered Bach’s possession at a significantly earlier time, and therefore was accessible to him when composing these sacred works. This appears to be confirmed by the significant connections between the Olearius commentary and the libretti of Bach’s cantatas. Thus after presenting basic information regarding the cantatas Bach composed for a particular occasion, P. gives a generous quotation – in modern orthography – from Olearius’s commentary, usually the gospel for the day. This is extremely valuable, since the Olearius volumes are fairly rare, only generally accessible in specialist libraries. Here is revea­led in detail how Bach would have understood Scripture and how it was expounded at that time. This is the first time that a substantial resource in Bach’s personal library has been examined in such detail. One might criticize the use of this one primary source almost to the exclusion of others, since many of the volumes of sermons and other devotional works in Bach’s personal library includ­ed an index of where discussions of the epistles and gospels of the church year could be found – passages relevant to the cantatas Bach composed. But to do so would have greatly expanded this already expansive work. P. was therefore wise, in this pioneering study, to concentrate on the Olearius commentary.
Having laid the exegetical and theological foundations P. then turns to a consideration of each cantata for the day or celebration. First, the text of each cantata is given as it appears in the Bach sources. If it is based on an earlier model, then the two (or more) texts are given in parallel so that the modifications of the later text can be clearly seen. Marginal references record the principal bi­blical passages that are either quoted or alluded to in the libretto. Others have explored such connections (see Melvin P. Unger, Handbook to Bach's Sacred Cantata Texts: an Interlinear Translation with Reference Guide to Biblical Quotations and Al­lusions (Lanham: Scarecrow Press, 1996); and Ulrich Meyer, Biblical Quotation and Allusion in the Cantata Libretti of Johann Sebastian Bach (Lanham: Scarecrow Press, 1997) but P. tends to find more and different sources, and there­by exposes the deep layers of biblical connection that are to be found in these libretti. Of course, in Bach’s day, the librettist and composer did not have to point out these connections, because they would have been obvious to the original biblically-literate congregations, but today this information would probably not be recognized without such listings.
Then follows a detailed discussion of each movement, often with further reference to the Olearius commentary or other pertinent literature contemporary with Bach. Also included are reveal­ing charts of the inter-relationships between the movements and their connected logic.
The scholarship displayed in these volumes is most impressive, the attention to detail extremely illuminating, and the contri­bution to the understanding of these works as a whole is far-reach­ing. For Bach scholars, enthusiasts and performers these volumes are invaluable and indispensable, and anyone concerned to understand the liturgy, devotional literature, or the biblical hermeneutics of the period will find much information here that is not rea­dily accessible elsewhere. We eagerly await the third and final volume!