Program Notes for J.S.Bach, Missa Brevis in A Major and Cantata 198

Ich lasse dich nicht

Ich lasse dich nicht (BWV Anh. 159) was attributed in the 19th century to both Johann Sebastian Bach and Johann Christoph Bach, his father’s cousin. Fritz Wüllner, the editor of the second complete edition of the music of J.S. Bach, described the piece as “one of the most beautiful works of German church music,” but not “authentic,” and identified Johann Christoph Bach as the composer. When Wolfgang Schmieder created the Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis (BWV) catalog in 1950, he followed Wüllner and placed the motet in the appendix as “presumably by Johann Christoph Bach.” But recent scholarship has settled on Johann Sebastian Bach as the composer. 

Ich lasse dich nicht was found, written partly in Bach’s hand, in the Altbachisches Archiv, a collection of music of the Bach family that the Bach scholar Christoph Wolff rediscovered in Kiev in 1999. Bach scholars now assume that J. S. Bach composed the first movement, possibly during his Weimar period around 1712. The chorale is a transcription of one of his organ pieces and was possibly added in the 19th century. John Eliot Gardiner, who recorded the Bach motets, including this one, in 2011, comments on the authorship:

“Was Bach copying or composing here? We cannot be totally sure, but from the evidence of the way the score is presented it suggests this was indeed composed by Bach, in which case it is the earliest surviving motet of his. . . . In terms of style it gives the impression of occupying a midway point between that of Johann Christoph Bach and, say, Fürchte dich nicht. Indeed it feels almost like a tribute from Bach to his elder cousin, whom he dubbed ‘the profound composer.‘ “

Missa in A Major (BWV 234)

This mass is one of four “Missae breves” or “Lutheran Masses” that Bach composed. It has a Kyrie and Gloria, but no Credo, Sanctus, Benedictus, and Agnus. 

In his last decade, Bach suddenly turned to the composition and performance of the concerted mass to complement the older motet-style contrapuntal settings. The obvious reason is that Bach wanted to introduce more concerted, cantata-style settings of the Mass to keep Leipzig up to date with modern church music. 

Bach frequently recycled previous compositions. In this Mass he made use of existing movements from his sacred cantatas for four of the six movement sections. He adapted the chorus of Cantata 67 for the “Gloria.” Cantata 179 provided the material for the soprano aria “Qui tollis” and Cantata 79 for the alto aria “Quoniam.” And the great concluding fugue was taken from Cantata 136.

As Ed Myskowski wrote on the Bach Cantatas Website: “That the four Masses are ignored by scholars and performers alike as poor cousins is a scandal.” 

O Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht

O Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht (BWV 118) is known to have been performed at a funeral and was possibly a generic work intended for funerals. When the work was first published in the nineteenth century, it was called a cantata, perhaps because it has an instrumental accompaniment. 

Written around 1736 or 1737, the first known performance was at the graveside ceremony in 1740 for Count Joachim Friedrich von Flemming, governor of Leipzig. 

O Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Lichtis a motet version of the chorale “Ach Gott, wie manches Herzeleid.” The lower voices of the choir sing counterpoint to the chorale melody line in the soprano. The piece is scored for four-part choir. It is structured as a chorus with verses separated by instrumental interludes. The number of verses sung would likely correspond to the length of the procession for which the work was used. There are a total of fifteen verses, of which only two are performed in this concert.

Lass, Fürstin, lass noch einen Strahl

This secular cantata, BWV 198, is the mourning ode for Saxon Electoress and Polish Queen Christiane Eberhardine. The text by Johann Christoph Gottsched follows learned conventions rooted in classical rhetoric, lamenting and emphasizing the extent of the loss, praising and memorializing the electoress, and consoling her loyal subjects. Bach carved the text somewhat arbitrarily into the alternating recitatives and arias with framing choruses characteristic of the cantata form. However, he honors the many striking images in the poem by giving the recitatives graphic orchestral accompaniment, rather than continuo alone, and by setting the music for an unusually diverse and colorful instrumental ensemble, including flutes, oboes, oboes d’amore, violins, violas, violas da gamba, two lutes, and continuo.

The memorial highlighted the religious conflict in Saxony. The electoress was revered by her Lutheran subjects for not concurring with her husband’s conversion to Catholicism; hence she is referred to as “protector of the faith” in this cantata. Under the law, the elector had the right to force his subjects to convert to his faith of choice. Just a few years later, Bach proved he had carefully navigated these tensions, seeking and receiving an official position as court composer at the Catholic Saxon court.

–Patricia Jennerjohn