Die Himmel erzählen die Ehre Gottes, BWV 76
Die Himmel erzählen die Ehre Gottes (The heavens are telling the glory of God), BWV 76, is a church cantata by Johann Sebastian Bach. Bach composed the cantata in Leipzig for the second Sunday after Trinity and first performed it on 6 June 1723. It is the second of his first annual cycle of cantatas, matching the first, Die Elenden sollen essen, BWV 75, in an unusual layout of 14 movements in two symmetrical parts.
History and words
Bach composed the cantata for the Second Sunday after Trinity and first performed it in a service in the Thomaskirche, Leipzig, on 6 June 1723, a week after he took up his position as cantor in Leipzig with Die Elenden sollen essen, BWV 75. The cantata is similar in many respects to the work performed a week before, but may have been composed in Leipzig, according to a manuscript with many corrections. Bach had started a project of composing one cantata for each Sunday and holiday of the liturgical year, termed by Christoph Wolff "an artistic undertaking on the largest scale".
The prescribed readings for the Sunday were from the First Epistle of John, 1 John 3:13–18, "Whoever doesn't love, remains in Death", and from the Gospel of Luke, Luke 14:16–24, the parable of the great banquet. The unknown poet was likely the same as for the first cantata for Leipzig, also in 14 movements, also arranged in two symmetrical parts to be performed before and after the sermon. Again the cantata begins with words from a Psalm, Psalms 19:1,3 (verses 2 and 4 in the Luther Bible), "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows His handiwork. There is no speech or language, where their voice is not heard", connecting the gospel to the Old Testament. The poet first expands in movements 2 and 3 the thought of the Universe praising God's creation. In the following two movements he deplores, following the Gospel, that nonetheless people did not follow the invitation of God, therefore he had to invite "von allen Straßen" (from all streets) and bless those, as movement 6 says. Part I closes with the first stanza of Martin Luther's chorale Es woll uns Gott genädig sein, a paraphrase of Psalm 67. Part I was to be performed before the sermon, Part II after the sermon and during communion. Part II talks about the duties of those who follow God's invitation, to pass the love of Christ in order to achieve heaven on earth, a thought also expressed in the Epistle reading. The third stanza of Luther's chorale closes the work.
Scoring and structure
- Part I
- 1. Coro: Die Himmel erzählen die Ehre Gottes
- 2. Recitativo (tenor): So lässt sich Gott nicht unbezeuget!
- 3. Aria (soprano): Hört, ihr Völker, Gottes Stimme
- 4. Recitativo (bass): Wer aber hört, da sich der größte Haufen
- 5. Aria (bass): Fahr hin, abgöttische Zunft!
- 6. Recitativo (alto): Du hast uns, Herr, von allen Straßen
- 7. Chorale: Es woll uns Gott genädig sein
- Part II
- 8. Sinfonia
- 9. Recitativo (bass): Gott segne noch die treue Schar
- 10. Aria (tenor): Hasse nur, hasse mich recht
- 11. Recitativo (alto): Ich fühle schon im Geist
- 12. Aria (alto): Liebt, ihr Christen, in der Tat!
- 13. Recitativo (tenor): So soll die Christenheit
- 14. Chorale: Es danke, Gott, und lobe dich
John Eliot Gardiner sees the cantata in the context of the previous one:
Similar to the opening chorus of BWV 75, Bach sets the psalm in two sections, comparable to prelude and fugue on a large scale. An instrumental concerto unites the complete "prelude", the trumpet "calls" to tell the glory of God. The fugue is a permutation fugue, which develops the subject twice, starting with the voices, up to a triumphal entrance of the trumpet, similar to the first chorus of Wir danken dir, Gott, wir danken dir, BWV 29, composed much later and used twice in the Mass in B minor.
In the first recitative the strings accompany the voice, most keenly in motifs in the middle section, in the words of one critic "evoking the spirit of God moving upon the face of the waters". Trumpet and bass voice are used to convey the call "to banish the tribe of idolaters", while the strings possibly illustrate "the hordes of infidels". The last recitative leads in an arioso to the chorale. In the chorale, Bach has the violin play an obbligato part to the four-part setting of the voices and separates the lines by interludes, with the trumpet anticipating the line to follow. The continuo plays ostinato a motif which is derived from the first line of the chorale.
Whereas Part I begins with a trumpet announcing ("erzählen") God's glory, Part II starts on an intimate chamber music scale with oboe d'amore and viola da gamba, concentrating on "brotherly devotion" (brüderliche Treue). A Sinfonia for the two instruments is reminiscent both of Bach's compositions for the court in Köthen and a French overture, marked "adagio", then "vivace". Bach used this movement later in his organ trio, BWV 528. Gardiner calls the movement: "in effect a sonata da chiesa. The tenor aria illustrates the "masochistic" "Hate me, then, hate me with all your might, o hostile race!" by a first dissonant entry on a ostinato bass line full of chromatic, leaps and interrupting rests. Oboe d'amore and viola da gamba return to accompany the last aria, and "the sombre qualities of both voice and instruments create a feeling of peace and introspection". The music of the closing chorale is identical to that of Part I.
- Cantatas, BWV 71-80: Free scores at the International Music Score Library Project.
- Cantata BWV 76 Die Himmel erzählen die Ehre Gottes on the bach cantatas website
- German text and English translation, Emmanuel Music
- Die Himmel erzählen die Ehre Gottes on the Bach website (German)
- BWV 76 Die Himmel erzählen die Ehre Gottes text, structure, instrumentation, University of Alberta
- BWV 76 Die Himmel erzählen die Ehre Gottes English text, University of Vermont
- Cantata No. 76, "Die Himmel erzählen die Ehre Gottes," BWV 76 Allmusic
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