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Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland, BWV 61

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Subject: Overture, Widerstehe doch der Sünde, BWV 54, 1714 in music, List of Bach cantatas by liturgical function, Monteverdi Choir, Bach cantata, Erdmann Neumeister, Schwingt freudig euch empor, BWV 36, Paulinerkirche, Leipzig
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Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland, BWV 61

For Bach's 1724 chorale cantata of this name, see Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland, BWV 62. For Bach's Chorale Preludes of this name, see Great Eighteen Chorale Preludes.

Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland (Now come, Savior of the heathens), BWV 61, is a church cantata by Johann Sebastian Bach. He composed it in Weimar for the first Sunday in Advent and first performed it on 2 December 1714.

History and words

On 2 March 1714 Bach was appointed concertmaster of the Weimar court capelle of the co-reigning dukes Wilhelm Ernst and Ernst August of Saxe-Weimar. As concertmaster, he assumed the principal responsibility for composing new works, specifically cantatas for the Schloßkirche (palace church), on a monthly schedule.[1]

The exact chronological order of Bach's Weimar cantatas remains uncertain. Only four bear autograph dates. BWV 61 is dated 1714 and bears the liturgical designation "am ersten Advent", the First Sunday of Advent.[2] The prescribed readings for the Sunday were from the Epistle to the Romans, "now is our salvation nearer" (Romans 13:11–14), and from the Gospel of Matthew, the Entry into Jerusalem (Matthew 21:1–9). The cantata text was provided by Erdmann Neumeister, who included the first stanza of Martin Luther's chorale "Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland" in the first movement, the end of the last verse of Philipp Nicolai's "Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern" as the closing chorale, and text from the Book of Revelation (Revelation 3:20) in the fourth movement ("Siehe, ich stehe vor der Tür und klopfe an. So jemand meine Stimme hören wird und die Tür auftun, zu dem werde ich eingehen und das Abendmahl mit ihm halten und er mit mir." – "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. Anyone that hears My voice and opens the door, to him I will enter and keep the evening meal with him and he with me."). The poet combined the ideas of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem and his promise to return with an invitation to enter the heart of the individual Christian.

Because of Bach's liturgical designation, the performance can be precisely dated to 2 December 1714. However, the opening movement relates to an earlier undatable version of the work. As Director of Music of the main churches of Leipzig, Bach performed the cantata again on 28 November 1723.[3]

Scoring and structure

Like other cantatas written in Weimar, the cantata is scored for a small ensemble, soprano, tenor, and bass soloists, a four-part choir, two violins, two violas, and basso continuo.[3]

  1. Ouverture (chorale): "Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland"
  2. Recitativo (tenor): "Der Heiland ist gekommen"
  3. Aria (tenor): "Komm, Jesu, komm zu deiner Kirche"
  4. Recitativo (bass): "Siehe, ich stehe vor der Tür"
  5. Aria (soprano): "Öffne dich, mein ganzes Herze"
  6. Chorale: "Amen, Amen, komm du schöne Freudenkrone"

Music

The first Sunday of Advent begins the liturgical year. Bach marked it by creating the opening chorus as a chorale fantasia in the style of a French overture, which follows the sequence slow – fast (fugue) – slow.[2][4] In a French opera performance, the King of France would have entered during the Ouverture; Bach greets a different King. Two of the four lines of the chorale melody[5] are combined in the first slow section, line three is treated in the fast section, and line four in the final slow section. The melody of line 1 is first presented in the continuo, then sung by all four voices one after another, accompanied by a solemn dotted rhythm in the orchestra. Line 2 is sung by all voices together, accompanied by the orchestra. Line 3 is a fast fugato, with the instruments playing colla parte. Line 4 is set as line 2.

The recitative begins secco but continues as an arioso, with tenor and continuo imitating one another. (This more lyrical style of recitative derives from early Italian operas and cantatas, where it was known as mezz'aria – half aria.[6]) The tenor aria is accompanied by the violins and violas in unison. It is written in the rhythm of a gigue, and the combination of voice, unison strings and continuo gives it the texture of a trio sonata. Richard Taruskin comments: "This hybridization of operatic and instrumental styles is ... standard operating procedure in Bach's cantatas."[6] Movement 4, the quote from Revelation, is given to the bass as the Vox Christi, and the knocking on the door is expressed by pizzicato chords in the strings. The response is the individual prayer of the soprano, accompanied only by the continuo, with an adagio middle section. In the closing chorale the violins add a jubilant fifth part to the four vocal parts.[3]

Recordings

References

Sources

The first source is the score:

Several databases provide additional information on each cantata:

  • Cantata BWV 61 Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland history, scoring, sources for text and music, translations to various languages, discography, discussion, bach-cantatas website
  • Emmanuel Music
  • Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland history, scoring, Bach website (German)
  • University of Vermont
  • University of Alberta
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