Life, Death, and Meaning: Deciphering Themes in J.S. Bach’s Cantata No. 4 (BWV 4)

           J.S. Bach is one of the most studied and most performed composers in western music. The deluge of work lionizing Bach and his music over the last century and a half has almost managed to hide the fact scholars and historians have yet to explain the power and appeal of Bach’s work. For example, in John Eliot Gardiner’s recent best-selling tome on the composer he opens with the line, “Bach the musician is an unfathomable genius…” [i] This is hardly a risky way to open a discussion on Bach, yet obscures the question: Why is Bach so highly regarded. Music histories, biographies of Bach and traditional musicological narratives often beg the question why the Bach’s music is held in such high regard.  Despite Bach’s high praise among critics, there is a bizarre lack of discussion why Bach’s music is so great.
            Too often analysis is offered means of answering this question. In offering a discussion of meaning, writers will often resort to various analyses as if categorization of technique equated meaning. This sort of academic bait-and-switch remains in the forefront of modern discourse. According to David Yearsly, the procedures of counterpoint tie music to meaning.[ii] Annabel Cohen identifies Bach’s contributions to tonality as his reigning achievement.[iii] Gregory Butler argues that Bach’s compositions transcend genre by synthesizing elements the composer absorbed from other genres of the period.[iv] While all of these observations astutely describe Bach’s Music they do not reconcile the universal acclaim that Bach’s music generates.
            Hermeneutical analysis comes closer to explaining what resonates with audiences in Bach’s music. These studies identify themes found in Bach’s music that provide meaning beyond the analysis of musical objects. In Bettina Varwig’s recent study the author argues that the meaning of Bach’s music changes when the theme is put in proper context. Varwig paints a picture of eighteenth century Europe permeated by death a culture fixated on death and its consequences. [v] This can perhaps be viewed as a toned down version of Richard Taruskin’s sentiment that Bach’s music reveals, “…that the world is filth and horror, that humans are helpless, that life is pain, that reason is a snare.”[vi] This view, that Bach’s music is describing or revealing hidden truths begins to address the question of integrity of Bach’s music. As an anti-enlightenment perspective, it is easy to see why this narrative towards Bach’s music has been slow to catch on. 
            If we accept Turuskin’s view then we can begin to see that Bach’s music is not about the music itself, but a way of revealing the truth. The themes then as identified by a hermenutical analysis become much more significant. Thematic constructs such as death become much more than an issue of text or liturgy. The universality of the material elevates eighteenth century church music to a signification of the human condition. Both Varwig and Taruskin establish this perspective. They offer insight into how an archaeological understanding of seventeenth century psychology and theology might help us better understand the subjective nature of Bach’s music. What they leave unsaid is how changing viewpoints on Bach’s themes over the centuries have changed but in no way lessened the meaning and importance of Bach’s music.
            This study will endeavor to answer three key questions in regard’s to Bach’s use of death as a theme. (1) In what ways does Bach’s treatment of the theme reflect an eighteenth century relationship with the material? (2) How does compositional technique support the text and the theme of the piece? (3) How does a modern interpretation of both text and music change the meaning of the piece? This discussion will be conducted through the lens of Cantata No. 4, Christ lag in todesbanden (BWV 4).

BACH’S THEMES
            Death is an essential theme in late seventeenth and early eighteenth century art. As Jaroslav Pelikan writes, how historical periods interpret death is the greatest key to unlocking the “true spirit” of the era.[vii] A discussion of modern interpretations of death will be saved for later, but it is fair to say that death in the twenty first century is viewed as tragic, even cruel or obscene. Death in the time of Bach was viewed drastically different. Mortality in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries was extraordinarily high. The average life expectancy during this period was 33.5 years. In 1752—two years after Bach’s death—it is estimated that only roughly thirty six percent of children born would reach their fifteenth birthday.[viii] In the century preceding Bach, the thirty years war depopulated much of Europe, including over half of the Holy Roman Empire. Some regions of Germany such as Bavaria were estimated as losing up to ninety percent of its population during this conflict.[ix] Simply put, this was a society permeated by death and the dying. It should come as no surprise that these pressures crafted a culture fixated on death.
This fixation resulted in a boom of literature on death. Christians across Europe produced manuals on how to manage one’s time on earth in preparation for death and the afterlife. Texts such as “The Pilgrim’s Progress” and the Rule and Exercise of Holy Living” and later “The Rule and Exercise of Holy Dying” all helped to shape the geistzeit in regards to death. In Germany, texts such as the Christliche Sterbekunst or “The Christian Art of Death”, offered a perspective of death as a reward for a devout life lived fulfilling the word of God. Death was simply a means of receiving the reward promised to the devout in scripture and was therefore viewed as welcome rest after the pains and tribulations of life. Texts such as the Christliche Sterbekunst advocated a return to the conservative Christian values of piety and devotion at the same time as the Lutheran church was turning away from orthodox polemical theology towards a purely biblical theological model.[x] This movement—Pietism—was centered in Halle, less than thirty miles west of Liepzig. Pietism therefore, was a strong influence on Bach’s work.
            Pietist views towards death show a departure from the ideas of Martin Luther. Luther viewed sin and death as tied together. Death was the final punishment for sin. In Luther’s view only faith could forge a path to salvation. By the dawn of the eighteenth century Lutheran Pietists had taken a different view: devout action was the only path towards salvation.[xi] Therefore a person’s life and actions must be arranged to ensure salvation. This view has replaced the grace so key to Luther’s theology with a greater responsibility of the individual. Pietist texts stress world-weariness and a desire for death to quickly come. The theological differences can be readily seen when comparing Luther’s Mitten Wir im Leben Sind with the Phillip Nicolai hymn Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme.
 
 
Wir im Leben Sind
In the midst of earthly life
Snares of death surround us;
Where, then, flee we in the strife,
Lest our foes confound us?
To Thee, alone, our Savior!
We mourn our grievous sin, which hath
Stirred the fire of Thy fierce wrath:
Holy and righteous God!
Holy and mighty God!
Holy and all-merciful Savior!
Everliving God!
Save us, Lord, from sinking
In death's deep and bitter flood!
Have mercy, O Lord!


Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme
Awake, calls the voice to us
of the watchmen high up in the tower;
awake, you city of Jerusalem.
Midnight the hour is named;
they call to us with bright voices;
where are you, wise virgins?
Indeed, the Bridegroom comes;
rise up and take your lamps,
Alleluia!
Make yourselves ready
for the wedding;
you must go to meet Him.

 
 
            Luther’s text preaches salvation through grace. The passage “Where then flee we in the strife lest our foes confound us? To Thee, alone, our Savior” sends the clear message that faith, not works is the path to salvation. By contrast Nicolai’s Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme[xii] lays out the pietist longing for salvation through the use of the Bridegroom metephore. The passage “Make yourselves ready for the wedding; you must go to meet Him.” Clearly would mean to Pietists to prepare one’s self in living for death and the wedding of the soul to Christ.[xiii]
            Many of Bach’s works are in line with Pietist thinking. Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme was the text to Cantata No. 140. Bach’s freedom with Pietist themes is born out in Bach’s treatment of death. For example: BWV 8, “Liebster Gott, wann werd ich sterben? [Dearest God, when will my death be?]” BWV 161, “Komm, du susse Todesstunde [Come, O death, thou sweetest hour]”, BWV 198 “Laß, Fürstin, laß noch einen Strahl [Let, Princess, let yet a Beam]” all offer the pietist view of death as a reward for a devout life. The image of the soul as bride and Christ the bridegroom as seen in Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme and cantata No. 140 has been well documented as a Pietist theological trope, and is one that permeates virtually all Bach’s sacred works.[xiv]
            But to say that Bach was a Pietist would be a drastic oversimplification. Indeed, Bach cannot truly be claimed by Pietists, Orthodox Lutherans, or Rationalists. As these were the three sects of theological thought in Bach’s time, his work falls somewhere between the three, clearly influenced by all but not belonging to any one in particular. This can be seen in Bach’s use of musical elements. Pure Pietists disliked aria and recitative as part of the worship service, yet these elements are abundant in Bach’s work.[xv] Similarly, Rationalists sought to do away with chorale tunes in favor of simpler styles, but these too were among Bach’s favorite devices. Orthodox claims to Bach evaporate when considering his use of Pietist imagery—namely that of the comparison between the soul and Christ as Bridegroom and Bride throughout his cantatas (For example: BWV 140, BWV 409, and BWV 21.).[xvi]
            Regardless of Bach’s theological leanings, it seems likely that in regards to the theme of death Bach identified strongest with Pietism. Bach treats death in two ways, offering in essence a carrot and a stick. Comforting texts such as BWV 82 Ich habe genung (I have enough) seem to trumpet the world-weary tropes of the Lutheran Art of Dying. Through prayer, reflection, meditation and revelation, the sinner comes to know god and in so doing retires from the world weary from the tribulations of piety and devotion. Bach’s other treatment of death is more akin to the Puritan preacher Johnathan Edwards hermanutical approach. This sinners-in-the-hands-of-an-angry-god motif is perhaps most evident in the fifth movement of BWV 20, O Ewigkeit du Donnerwort (O eternity, you word of thunder). This aria is essentially a sophisticated way of shouting repent on a village green.

God is just in His works:
For the brief sins of this world
He has decreed such lengthy punishment;
Ah, if only the world would heed this!
Time is short, death is swift,
Consider this, o humankind!

            Essentially this passage is a call for a return to piety and devotion. The listener is forced to come to grips with his or her own sin and take responsibility for their actions. Rather than the reformation doctrine of grace as seen in the text by Luther, this text clearly connects sin with damnation. The unspoken corollary in this passage is that devotion and righteous—the opposite of sin—will lead to the heavenly reward contained in Bach’s more pastoral cantatas.


BWV 4 Chist Lag in Todesbanden[xvii]

Verse 1
Christ lay in death's bonds
given over for our sins,
He has risen again
and brought us life;
therefore we should be joyful,
praise God and be thankful to Him
and sing Hallelujah,
Hallelujah!


Verse 2
No one could defeat death
among all humanity,
this was all because of our sins,
no innocence was to be found.
Therefore death came so soon
and took power over us,
held us captive in his kingdom.
Hallelujah!


Verse 3
Jesus Christ, God's son,
has come in our place,
and has done away with sin,
thereby taking from death
all his rights and power,
nothing remains but death's form;
he has lost his sting.
Hallelujah!


Verse 4
It was a strange battle,
that death and life waged,
life claimed the victory,
it devoured death.
The scripture had prophesied this,
how one death gobbled up the other,
a mockery has been made out of death.
Hallelujah!


Verse 5
Here is the true Easter-lamb,
offered up by God,
which was, high on the cross' stalk
roasted in hot love,
the blood marks our door,
faith holds it against death,
the strangler can no longer harm us.
Hallelujah!



Verse 6
So we celebrate the high festival
with joy of heart and delight,
which the Lord radiates upon us,
He himself is the sun,
that through the splendor of his grace
illuminates our hearts completely,
the night of sin has disappeared.
Hallelujah!



Verse 7
We eat and live well
on the true Easter bread,
the old leaven shall not
exist next to the word of grace,
Christ will be our food
and nourish the soul alone,
faith will live in no other way.
Hallelujah!
 
            Yet to label Bach a strict Pietist based on these texts would be an oversimplification. While texts such as that found in BWV 20 and BWV 82 send the Pietist message that of death as a reward for a devout life, and that the listener should plan his life accordingly, there are other texts that take a decidedly more orthodox view towards death, particularly in the view of the crucifixion and resurrection. For example Bach’s willingness to set Luther’s text in BWV 4 Christ lag in Todesbanden indicates that he was not wholly won over by Pietist theology. There is no imagery of death as a reward for a devout life, or of the world-weary gently retiring to Christ. Indeed, Luther’s text offers a view of death wholly different from the Pietists. In this text, death and sin are inextricably linked. Passages such as “Jesus Christ, God’s son, has come in our place and has done away with sin, thereby taking from death all his rights and power…”[xviii] send the massage of salvation through grace not piety.
            Bach’s use of pietist texts implies that perspective of Death as a release from the rigours of life. However, when examining the Art of Dying, namely preparing the soul for death by living a devout life, Bach falls out of the Pietist doctrine. Texts such as that used in BWV 4 imply that Bach, as Martin Luther, viewed grace as central to salvation rather than through any kind of devout preparation for dying.
           
IN DEATH’S BONDS
            As we have discussed, death and its implications were a huge theological tentpole in the Lutheran church during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. How parishoners viewed and dealt with death in their day to day lives was of utmost importance to the church, and so various courses of instruction were developed to help the flock down the right hand path.[xix] By many pastors, scholars, and theologians in Bach’s time, music was the prime means that biblical teaching was communicated to the congregation. Martin Luther used a quaint term, “Frau Musica” to describe the relationship between scripture and musical settings of sacred text as that of husband and wife.[xx] To that end there is no small glut of compositions on death by Lutheran composers from this period. As a member of a community of German composers, Bach was undoubtedly aware of these compositions and the techniques used to express specific ideas.[xxi]
             Among one of the strongest tools at Bach’s disposal for representing death is that of counterpoint. According to David Yearsly, the use of strict counterpoint to represent death was a tradition among north German composers such as Dietrich Buxthehude, Chritian Flor, Johann Gottfried.[xxii] Works such as Buxtehude’s Mit Fried und Frud ich fahr dahin (BuxWV 76) use elaborate contrapuntal and harmonic techniques to set imagery of death. It is hard to imagine that Bach would have been unaware of this tradition, particularly since he had a personal relationship with all three of these composers.
            Bach’s counterpoint relies heavily on chromaticism to provide movement throughout the piece.  Like Buxthehudes’s Mit Fried und Frud (also a Martin Luther text) Bach’s setting of Christ lag in Todesbanden in BWV 4 invokes images of funerary services, in this case as part of the Easter liturgy. In Bach’s setting of the first verse, his choice of mode defines the harmonic texture of the rest of the movement. Bach’s primary tool to develop counterpoint is the B melodic minor scale. In this movement if functions as a vehicle to move away from his tonic key of E minor. This scale plays an integral role in the harmony, harmonic rhythm, and counterpoint of the movement. Indeed, it is the framework on which the setting is built.
            Bach’s use of the B melodic minor scale would be challenging to rectify in the hands of a less experienced composer. When superimposed over an E minor key center, this scale has intrinsic chromatic demands that cannot be justified inside the key center—namely the leading tone of A#. To accommodate this pitch Bach moves away from the key early in m. 3 reconciling the A# in the soprano with the V/V chord.
            Bach did not choose this scale by accident. He uses this scale to create harmonic color that would be otherwise lacking in his treatment of the text and melody. Bach introduces this early in mm3 by accommodating the A# in the soprano with the V/V chord, and in mm 5 he tackles the C# with the V/ii chord. These kinds of sequences incorporate sonorities outside of the key and when they resolve create a stronger bond to the tonic and a more colorful line than their diatonic counterparts.
            Another problem posed by the pitches in the melodic minor scale that exist outside of E minor is that in order to use secondary dominant sequences to harmonize these pitches, the duration of the harmonic rhythm in most places must be reduced from half notes to quarter notes. The reason being that many notes in the melody such as the C# in mm.5 require more than one chord to resolve dissonances back to a chord diatonic to E minor. This has a direct effect on the continuo part, because even though the harmonic rhythm only needs to be reduced to quarter notes in these places, in order to maintain a walking bass and the voice leading associated with it, the bass line must move in eighth notes. The result is figures like the one in mm. 5 where the V/ii chord on beat 3 is outlined using by implying a V6/ii to V/ii to ii. (Later figures such as the one in mm. 9 utilize passing chords in the bass and continuo to facilitate full chromatic movement of the line.)
            At this point Bach’s contrapuntal layering becomes apparent. While the vocal lines move in eighth notes and quarter notes (all except the soprano, which is significantly slower) and the continuo moves almost exclusively in eight notes after mm. 8, Bach adds another layer of rhythmic complexity in the upper strings. The sixteenth note passages in the first and second violin function to outline the quarter note harmonic movement established in the continuo, repeating a pattern of three sixteenth notes and a quarter note for the first thirty five bars. This pattern is entirely dependent on the reduced harmonic rhythm that Bach utilizes to accommodate his scale choice in the choral melody.
            All this may not at first seem germane to the discussion of Bach’s treatment of death in the text. However, if we view Bach’s contrapuntal acrobatics as representing the theme of death, then these devices become less about flexing musical muscles and more about expressing the meaning of the text. Salvation through the death of Christ is represented by counterpoint. Bach used chromaticism found in the B harmonic minor scale to create that counterpoint.
            Bach’s strategy is reinforced when viewing the Pachelbel setting of the same text. Pachelbel was the teacher of Johann Christoph Bach, JS Bach’s oldest brother and sometime teacher. The relationship between Pachelbel and the Bach family has been well established by Peter Williams[xxiii], Crawford Thoburn,[xxiv] and Elmyra Pardue[xxv]. In his discussion of compositional treatments of death in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, David Yearsly identifies Pachelbel as belonging outside the north German tradition of using florid counterpoint to symbolize death,[xxvi] yet even in Pachelbel’s setting it opens with imitative counterpoint in the vocal parts. While this is by no means as extensive or florid as that used by Bach, it also implies that both Pachelbel and Bach are working inside of a well-established system for textual representation of this specific theme.
            Pachelbel’s treatment of Luther’s text utilizes a much more consonant mode than that of Bach’s. Like Bach, Pachelbel sets the choral melody on the fifth scale degree of the piece, but rather than using harmonic minor he uses the hypodorian mode of D dorian (or A natural minor), which as a scale does not have a strong mechanism to establish a key—namely the leading tone seen in the Bach setting. This is not a problem because the soprano is merely a descant part, and the consonance the scale provides lends itself easily to diatonic harmony. In addition, this scale choice introduces no accidentals to the melody not found in D minor, thereby avoiding chromatic harmony.
            Without having to cycle through chords to accommodate pitches outside of the key, Pachelbel’s setting introduces few secondary dominant chords, and chromaticism in general is done on a much smaller scale. He does introduce non-harmonic pitches, for instance in mm. 16 he uses a VII+ to move between a tonic chord and a iii chord, (VII+ being a suitable substitute for V, in the deceptive cadence.) but the G# is buried in the parts and is not as overt as the devil-may-care chromaticism seen in the Bach setting. Pachelbel creates a leaner setting, both in terms of harmony and counterpoint. With no angular harmonic passages, Pachelbel eschews the florid counterpoint and harmonization that Bach so readily embraces.
            It is difficult to say how much counterpoint would be required to symbolize death in this instance. Pachelbel’s imitative counterpoint at the beginning of the movement is far from homophonic, yet it seems equally distant to Bach’s setting—something that could be described as ten pounds of material in a five-pound bag. Much of this discussion has been based on David Yearsly’s claim that like Buxtehude, Bach is using florid counterpoint to symbolize funerary rites. [xxvii] Where Yearsly is lacking in his text is in providing a mechanism for differentiating between counterpoint that represents death and dying and other forms of counterpoint that do not take on such solemn imagery.
  
 BACH IN THE MODERN WORLD
            If florid counterpoint was representative of themes of death in the eighteenth century, that tradition is lost today. More importantly, the twenty first century view of death has changed so drastically that the meaning of Bach’s pieces would be lost on most contemporary listeners. To optimistic futurists such as Raymond Kurzwiel who patiently awaits the scientific salvation from death,[xxviii] the second verse of BWV 4 would seem more of a challenge than an affirmation of faith. And even among Christian audiences death is no longer viewed as a peaceful departure from this world, but as the final act of humility before god. Yet despite the transmigration of the text from Bach’s day to the present, these Cantatas remain among the most popular sacred works in western music. While partial credit must go to the likes of Felix Mendelson and the innumerable Bach revivalists in the past one hundred years, no piece of art would suffer the attention that Bach’s music has unless it contained some form of cultural Truth.
            To complicate matters, the philosophical/theological/psychological perspective on death has exploded in the last century and a half. Where once there were one or two perspectives located relatively close to one another in metaphysical space, now there seemingly hundreds of different perspectives on the subject. While virtually all of these perspectives would like to claim western music for their own hegemonic ends, for the purposes of this discussion we will remain within the sphere of Christian perspectives, dismissing for the moment other valid point of view to examine the modern incarnation of the tradition in which Bach worked.[xxix]
            To understand how mainline protestant theology (The Lutherans) applies to Bach, first we need to discuss Kierkegaard’s (Anti Climacus’s) work of Christian existentialism “Sickness Unto Death”.  In this text Kierkegaard describes the human condition as a dual existence: finite and infinite knowledge. This is an important text in relation to the Christian view of death because it challenges traditional Christian models of death—namely that used in the eighteenth century—and a more modern conception of death that people in the twenty first century might be more accustomed to.[xxx]
            Kierkegaard paints a portrait of death not as a punishment for sin or as a reward for a life of piety. From this perspective, physical death is the means by which man comes to understand the nature—the despair—of God. Having to undergo physical death according to Kierkegaard is the price of what Martin Luther would call Grace. From this point of view we come to see death not as a reward, not as a punishment, but as the gateway through which we come to know God.[xxxi][xxxii]
            This forms the basis for much modern day main-line theology. Kierkegaard’s work has been carried on by such theologians as Moltman, Hartshorn, Thilike, and Bonhoffer.[xxxiii] These authors form the backbone of much of modern protestant thought in both America and in throughout the world. In search of a modern interpretation of Bach, it is not a stretch then to apply these views towards his sacred works.
            In BWV 4, the first verse begins with “Christ lay in death’s bonds, given over for our sins….”[xxxiv] So far we have described this passage from the perspective of Lutheran Orthidoxy—Christ sacrificed his body for the sins of mankind. A modern interpretation of this text according to Kierkegaard would be different. According to Kierkeggaard the crucifiction is a symbolic sacrifice for the sins of man, but more importantly the crucifiction shows the path for salvation for all people. 
            Curiously both Kierkegaardian and Pietist perspectives would be remarkably similar in this regard. Pietists would view death as a reward for the devout. Modern Theologians would view death as the final hurdle in a taxing spiritual curriculum. Both perspectives advocate an active spiritual life in preparation for death. (The two perspectives on what that life is would presumably differ greatly.)
            When we look at Bach’s music from a modern point of view, our interpretation falls somewhere adjacent to that of the theologians of his day. The meaning has changed, but only in its details. No longer are we praying for the hour of our death as the Pietists did, but we are offering ourselves for the final act of supplication before we know universal Truth. Kierkegaard’s death is to know the sorrow of God, that of a loving creator who watches in sorrow as we choose poorly in life. For Kierkegaard, death is the portal through that sorrow.
            This is where we as a culture need to have a chicken-and-the-egg conversation. Can a piece of art take on a new meaning after all of its components are in place? Conservative attitudes run towards preserving the composer’s intentions.  Unfortunately, even if we could preserve the intentions of Bach, that in itself would rob the music of cultural relevancy. The music would then become nothing more than a museum piece under glass.
            Recent stagings of operas, cantatas and oratorios worldwide provide a different perspective. In 2001 a staging of at Lincoln Center in New York, BWV 82 was used as a lens to examine euthanasia in the twenty first century.[xxxv] In a day and age when repertory performances are being called into question as commercially viable, the controversy of this performance proved the commercial viability of repertoire when performed under the right circumstances.
           
           
 
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[i] Gardiner, Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven, xxv.
[ii] Yearsly, Bach and the Meanings of Counterpoint, 15.
[iii] Cohen, “Tonality and perception: Musical scales primed by the excerpts from The Well-Tempered Clavier of J.S. Bach”, 306.
[iv] Butler,”The Question of Genre in J.S. Bach’s Fourth Brandenburg Concerto”, 27.
[v] Varwig, “Death and Lfe in J.S. Bach’s Cantata Ich habe genung (BWV82)”, 308-309.
[vi] Taruskin, Text and Act: Essays on Music and Performance, 310.
[vii] Pelikan, Bach Among the Theologians, 68.
[viii] Antonovsky, “Social Class, Life Expectancy and Overall Mortality” The Milbank Memorial Fund Quarterly 45, No. 2: 1,  32.
[ix] Wedgwood, The Thirty Years War, 376.
[x] Stoeffler, German Pietism During the Eighteenth Century. 51.
[xi] Milner, “Süß Todesstunde or Mit Fried und Freud: Reformation Theology and the Lutheran “Art of Dying” in Two Bach Cantatas” Bach 31 (1) 41-42.
[xii] Dürr, The Cantatas of J.S. Bach: with their librettos in German-English Parallel Text, 648
[xiii] Milner, “Süß Todesstunde or Mit Fried und Freud: Reformation Theology and the Lutheran “Art of Dying” in Two Bach Cantatas” Bach 31 (1) 38.
[xiv] Pelikan, Bach Among the Theologians, 65.
[xv] As Christopher Gehrz, William Carlson and Eric Holst have recently pointed out, Pietist views towards music were generally scattered ranging from the ultra conservative to the liberal. According to these authors there was no single opinion of the movement toward music. Gerz, Carlson, and Holst. The Pietist Impulse in Christianity. 236.
[xvi] Schrade, Bach: The Conflict Between the Sacred and the Secular”. Journal of the History of Ideas, 166.
[xvii] Dürr, The Cantatas of J.S. Bach: with their librettos in German-English Parallel Text, 262.
[xviii] Dürr, The Cantatas of J.S. Bach: with their librettos in German-English Parallel Text, 262.
[xix] Pelikan, Bach Among the Theologians, 64.
[xx] Leaver, Luther’s Liturgical Music: Principles and Implications, 93.
[xxi] Yearsly, Bach and the Meanings of Counterpoint, 19.
[xxii] Yearsly, Bach and the Meanings of Counterpoint, 12.
[xxiii] Willams, J.S. Bach: A Life in Music, 22.
[xxiv] Thoburn"Pachelbel ‘Christ lag in Todesbanden’ Possible influence on Bach Work.” American Choral Review 19, No. 1 1977 3-16.
[xxv] Pardue, "Cantatas on" Christ Lag in Todesbanden" by Johann Pachelbel and Johann Sebastian Bach: A Comparative Study."
[xxvi] Yearsly, Bach and the Meanings of Counterpoint, 12.
[xxvii] Yearsly, Bach and the Meanings of Counterpoint, 12.
[xxviii] Kurzweil, The Singularity is Near, 145.
[xxix] Hegel describes the religion of the modern times as “the death of God”. To include this perspective would go beyond the bounds of this discussion.
[xxx] Shelly Kagan outlines this view of death as simply switching off a machine. Kagan Death, 363.
[xxxi] Kierkegaard makes a distinction between physical death and spiritual death. Physical death is the death of the body that occurs at the end of life, physical death cannot separate man from God. Spiritual death is the death of the spirit and may occur at any time. Spiritual death is what separates man from God, this is Kierkegaard’s perspective on Hell.  Barrett, “Paul Tillich: An Ambivalent Appropriation.” Kierkegaard’s Influence on Theology:German Protestant Theology, 245.
[xxxii] Barrett, “Paul Tillich: An Ambivalent Appropriation.” Kierkegaard’s Influence on Theology:German Protestant Theology, 245.
[xxxiii] Barrett, “Paul Tillich: An Ambivalent Appropriation.” Kierkegaard’s Influence on Theology:German Protestant Theology.
[xxxiv] Dürr, Alfred, Richard D. Jones. The Cantatas of J.S. Bach: with their librettos in German-English parallel text, 262.
[xxxv] Varwig, “Death and Lfe in J.S. Bach’s Cantata Ich habe genung (BWV82)”, 317.

1 comment

  • Jochen Barthelmess

    Jochen Barthelmess 70186 Stuttgart Bardiliweg 25

    It is verry interesting to discuss Bach's work, especially in relationship to death. In text and music of several cantatas we find a conspicuous longing to death: it seams that he was yearning for death as something hopeful and a happy event. Some examples for such joyful music in expectancy of death may be given: BWV 56/3 Arie (Bass): Endlich, endlich wird mein Joch wieder von mir weichen müssen ... o gescheh es heute noch BWV 56/5 Choral: Komm, o Tod, du Schlafes Bruder ... du kannst mich vielmehr erfreuen BWV 161/1 Arie (Alt): Komm, du süße Todesstunde ... mache meinen Abschied süße BWV 161/2 Rezitativ (Tenor): ... drum seufz ich recht von Herzens Grunde nur nach der letzten Todesstunde, ich habe Lust, bei Christo bald zu weiden, ich habe Lust, von dieser Welt zu scheiden. BWV 161/4 Rezitativ (Alt): ...so brich herein, du froher Todestag, so schlage doch, du letzter Stundenschlag. BWV 161/5 Chor: Wenn es meines Gottes Wille, wünsch ich, daß des Leibes Last heute noch die Erde fülle und der Geist, des Leibes Gast, mit Unsterblichkeit sich kleide in der süßen Himmelsfreude, Jesu, komm und nimm mich fort, dieses sei mein letztes Wort. BWV 27/3 Arie (Alt): Willkommen, will ich sagen, wenn der Tod ans Bette tritt. Fröhlich will ich folgen, wenn er ruft BWV 27/4 Rezitativ (Sopran): Ach, wer doch schon im Himmel wär, ich habe Lust zu scheiden BWV 27/5 Arie (Bass): Gute Nacht, du Weltgetümmel. Itzt mach ich mit dir Beschluss BWV 27/6 Chor: Welt ade, ich bin dein müde, ich will nach dem Himmel zu BWV 82/1 Arie (Bass): Ich habe genug ...nun wünsch ich, noch heute mit Freuden von hinnen zu scheiden BWV 82/3 Arie (Bass): Schlummert ein, ihr matten Augen, fallet sanft und selig zu, Welt, ich bleibe nicht mehr hier, hab ich doch kein Teil an dir, das der Seele könnte taugen BWV 82/5 Arie (Bass): Ich freue mich auf meinen Tod, ach, hätt er sich schon eingefunden.

    It is verry interesting to discuss Bach's work, especially in relationship to death. In text and music of several cantatas we find a conspicuous longing to death: it seams that he was yearning for death as something hopeful and a happy event. Some examples for such joyful music in expectancy of death may be given:
    BWV 56/3 Arie (Bass): Endlich, endlich wird mein Joch wieder von mir weichen müssen ... o gescheh es heute noch
    BWV 56/5 Choral: Komm, o Tod, du Schlafes Bruder ... du kannst mich vielmehr erfreuen
    BWV 161/1 Arie (Alt): Komm, du süße Todesstunde ... mache meinen Abschied süße
    BWV 161/2 Rezitativ (Tenor): ... drum seufz ich recht von Herzens Grunde nur nach der letzten Todesstunde,
    ich habe Lust, bei Christo bald zu weiden, ich habe Lust, von dieser Welt zu scheiden.
    BWV 161/4 Rezitativ (Alt): ...so brich herein, du froher Todestag, so schlage doch, du letzter Stundenschlag.
    BWV 161/5 Chor: Wenn es meines Gottes Wille, wünsch ich, daß des Leibes Last
    heute noch die Erde fülle und der Geist, des Leibes Gast,
    mit Unsterblichkeit sich kleide in der süßen Himmelsfreude,
    Jesu, komm und nimm mich fort, dieses sei mein letztes Wort.
    BWV 27/3 Arie (Alt): Willkommen, will ich sagen, wenn der Tod ans Bette tritt. Fröhlich will ich folgen, wenn er ruft
    BWV 27/4 Rezitativ (Sopran): Ach, wer doch schon im Himmel wär, ich habe Lust zu scheiden
    BWV 27/5 Arie (Bass): Gute Nacht, du Weltgetümmel. Itzt mach ich mit dir Beschluss
    BWV 27/6 Chor: Welt ade, ich bin dein müde, ich will nach dem Himmel zu
    BWV 82/1 Arie (Bass): Ich habe genug ...nun wünsch ich, noch heute mit Freuden von hinnen zu scheiden
    BWV 82/3 Arie (Bass): Schlummert ein, ihr matten Augen, fallet sanft und selig zu,
    Welt, ich bleibe nicht mehr hier, hab ich doch kein Teil an dir, das der Seele könnte taugen
    BWV 82/5 Arie (Bass): Ich freue mich auf meinen Tod, ach, hätt er sich schon eingefunden.

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