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Wer weiß, wie nahe mir mein Ende? BWV 27

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Wer weiß, wie nahe mir mein Ende? BWV 27

Wer weiß, wie nahe mir mein Ende? ("Who knows how near to me my end?"), BWV 27, is a church cantata by Johann Sebastian Bach. He composed it in Leipzig for the 16th Sunday after Trinity and first performed it on 6 October 1726.

History and words

Bach composed the cantata in his fourth year in Leipzig for the sixteenth Sunday after Trinity. The prescribed readings for the day were from the Epistle to the Ephesians (Ephesians 3:13–21), and from the Gospel of Luke (Luke 7:11–17).[1]

An unknown poet included in movement 1 the first stanza of the chorale by Ämilie Juliane von Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt and closed it with the first stanza of the hymn "Welt ade! ich bin dein müde" by Johann Georg Albinus.[2]

The chorale theme Wer nur den lieben Gott läßt walten (Zahn 2778) was first documented by Georg Neumark in Jena, but the melody can be likely traced back to Kiel, 1641.

The five-part (SSATB) harmonization of the concluding chorale Welt, ade! ich bin dein müde is not by Bach but by Johann Rosenmüller (published for the first time in Johann Quirsfeld's Geistliche Harffen-Klang, Leipzig, 1679).

Bach first performed the cantata in a service on 6 October 1726.[1]

Scoring and structure

The cantata is scored for four soloists—soprano, alto, tenor and bass—a four- or five-part choir, horn, three oboes, oboe da caccia, organ, two violins, viola, and basso continuo.[1]

  1. Chorus and recitative (soprano, alto, tenor): Wer weiß, wie nahe mir mein Ende?Das weiß der liebe Gott allein
  2. Recitative (tenor): Mein Leben hat kein ander Ziel
  3. Aria (alto): Willkommen! will ich sagen
  4. Recitative (soprano): Ach, wer doch schon im Himmel wär
  5. Aria (bass): Gute Nacht, du Weltgetümmel
  6. Chorale: Welt, ade! ich bin dein müde

Music

The first movement of this cantata is "about as tragic as it gets": it is in a minor key and quickly sounds a strong dissonance between the oboe phrase and the continuo. Descending arpeggiated strings underline the "wails of the damned" represented by the oboes. After the opening ritornello, the vocal lines alternate between choir and solo presentations of the phrases of the chorale, with each voice (except the bass) having an arioso line.[3]

A tenor recitative leads into a "shadowy" alto aria accompanied by an oboe da caccia. Chromaticism contributes to the "fleeting shadows" of the welcoming of death. The accompanying keyboard part has historically been played by either harpsichord or organ. The obbligato oboe conveys a number of different ideas: dancing, sighing, and "quasi-tragic" descent.[3]

The soprano recitative uses word painting and sustained chordal harmonies to urge the listener into heaven. The bass aria then combines two contrasting sentiments: adieu and agitation. The repeated pairing of the "farewell theme – tumult theme" holds through both the opening ritornello and the vocal line, breaking only with the closing on the farewell theme alone.[3]

The closing chorale includes two soprano parts and is stylistically reminiscent of the English madrigal.[3]

Recordings

References

Sources

The first source is the score.

Several databases provide additional information on each cantata:

  • Cantata BWV 27 Wer weiß, wie nahe mir mein Ende? history, scoring, sources for text and music, translations to various languages, discography, discussion, bach-cantatas website
  • Emmanuel Music
  • Wer weiß, wie nahe mir mein Ende? history, scoring, Bach website (German)
  • University of Vermont
  • University of Alberta
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