(Lord God, we praise thee every one) for soprano, alto, tenor and bass, vocal ensemble, trumpets I–III, timpani, transverse flute, oboe I–III, strings and basso continuo
Experience the introductory workshop, concert and reflective lecture in full length.
«Lutzogram» for the introductory workshop
Rudolf Lutz’s manuscript for the workshop
Lia Andres, Stephanie Pfeffer, Susanne Seitter, Noëmi Tran-Rediger, Alexa Vogel, Ulla Westvik
Antonia Frey, Laura Kull, Alexandra Rawohl, Simon Savoy, Lisa Weiss
Clemens Flämig, Sören Richter, Nicolas Savoy, Walter Siegel
Fabrice Hayoz, Simón Millán, Julian Redlin, Peter Strömberg, Tobias Wicky
Renate Steinmann, Elisabeth Kohler, Aliza Vicente, Monika Baer, Patricia Do, Salome Zimmermann
Susanna Hefti, Claire Foltzer, Stella Mahrenholz
Martin Zeller, Bettina Messerschmidt
Philipp Wagner, Clara Espinosa Encinas, Laura Alvarado
Jaroslav Rouček, Karel Mnuk, Pavel Janeček
Musical director & conductor
Rudolf Lutz, Pfr. Niklaus Peter
Recording & editing
Trogen AR (Switzerland) // Evang. Kirche
GALLUS MEDIA AG, Schweiz
J.S. Bach-Stiftung, St. Gallen, Schweiz
About the work
29 September 1724, Leipzig
Paul Eber (movements 1, 6); unknown (movements 2–5)
Herr Gott, dich loben alle wir
und sollen billig danken dir
für dein Geschöpf der Engel schon,
die um dich schweb’n um deinen Thron.
2. Rezitativ — Alt
Ihr heller Glanz und hohe Weisheit zeigt,
wie Gott sich zu uns Menschen neigt,
der solche Helden, solche Waffen
vor uns geschaffen.
Sie ruhen ihm zu Ehren nicht;
ihr ganzer Fleiß ist nur dahin gericht’,
daß sie, Herr Christe, um dich sein
und um dein armes Häufelein:
Wie nötig ist doch diese Wacht
bei Satans Grimm und Macht?
3. Arie — Bass
Der alte Drache brennt vor Neid
und dichtet stets auf neues Leid,
daß er das kleine Häuflein trennet.
Er tilgte gern, was Gottes ist,
bald braucht er List,
weil er nicht Rast noch Ruhe kennet.
4. Rezitativ — Duett: Sopran und Tenor
Wohl aber uns, daß Tag und Nacht
die Schar der Engel wacht,
des Satans Anschlag zu zerstören!
Ein Daniel, so unter Löwen sitzt,
erfährt, wie ihn die Hand des Engels schützt.
Wenn dort die Glut
in Babels Ofen keinen Schaden tut,
so lassen Gläubige ein Danklied hören.
So stellt sich in Gefahr
noch itzt der Engel Hülfe dar.
5. Arie — Tenor
Laß, o Fürst der Cherubinen,
dieser Helden hohe Schar
deine Gläubigen bedienen,
daß sie auf Elias’ Wagen
sie zu dir gen Himmel tragen.
1. Darum wir billig loben dich
und danken dir, Gott, ewiglich,
wie auch der lieben Engel Schar
dich preisen heut und immerdar.
2. Und bitten dich, wollst allezeit
dieselben heißen sein bereit,
zu schützen deine kleine Herd,
so hält dein göttlichs Wort in Wert.
(1) It takes a while, dear listeners, for the fortissimo of the trumpets and the beats of the timpani to fade away and for what Bach wanted the listeners of his cantata to hear to take effect internally, for which he also used the playful delicacy of a transverse flute. Well, Bach had good reason to perform magnificently on St Michael’s Day 1724, if only because he had three trumpets, oboes and strings at his disposal and was able to compose the high jubilation of victory that we have just heard for his top trumpeter. He was able to entrust his vocalists with particularly difficult, expressive parts, such as the fierce bass aria or the dance-like tenor aria. With all this, Bach was also able to fulfil the expectations of his employer, the self-confident Leipzig Council: The day had to be prestigious, as the rich city was filled with the discerning merchants of the St Michael’s Fair.
However, the theologically well-versed St Thomas’ cantor also had spiritual reasons for such a festive cantata. Committed to the Lutheran Formula of Concord, he had to musically present the sermon pericopes prescribed for the feast of St Michael the Archangel and all the angels. These were the introit from Psalm 103, which praises the angels as “strong heroes”, and the gospel from Matthew 28, according to which the guardian angels of even the least esteemed people always see the face of God in heaven (Mt. 18, 1-10). Even more important was the epistle from the Apocalypse of John (12:7-12). It presents the heavenly battle and the triumph of Michael’s angelic hosts over the “old dragon”, the deadly accuser, in a very vivid way, but it also says that Satan, who was thrown to earth, still threatens the saints now and seeks to seduce them into apostasy. The cantata focuses on this “now” in remembrance of Michael’s victory over the tormenting spirit; it is not only the now of the Leipzig congregation, but it is also our now.
For this message, Bach and his librettist drew on a hymn of thanksgiving for the creation and the work of the angels, which in turn interprets those biblical texts. It was the so-called “Song of the Day”, which was therefore widely used in Lutheran hymnals. Of course, it was not in Reformed hymnals; after all, its melody comes from the Geneva Psalter of 1551; we sang both versions of the melody earlier. Incidentally, the current Lutheran hymnal has discarded this old-fashioned song – ironically, it is included in the collection of new (!) songs called “Atmet auf” with 10 full verses. Ah, the angels are feeling better now …
As you already know, the poet Paul Eber adapted a Latin poem of thanksgiving for the angels written by his teacher Melanchthon into German. Melanchthon has the particular distinction of unabashedly distancing himself from the traditional doctrine of angels. This angelology had speculatively imagined the angels as pure spiritual beings who, in multiple hierarchies, fill the cosmos between the heaven of God above and the earth below, hovering together and thus guaranteeing the harmonies of the spheres. Well, they didn’t flutter or drink wine, as Niklaus Peter jokingly said, but Melanchthon already rejected the cosmic round dance of angels as speculative, and one enlightened theologian even spoke of “metaphysical bats”. The problem with this is that we enlightened people can no longer associate the starry sky not only with angels, but also with God, and perhaps not even with ourselves. Melanchthon, Paul Eber and the cantata only say about the angels what is written in the biblical texts: that they are commissioned to deliver God’s word to us humans and to protect the faithful. However, this has a prehistory in heaven, their victory over Satan and his angels, as strong heroes, indeed as God’s weapons. However, their leader Michael is not even mentioned by name; only the tenor aria addresses the “prince of the cherubs”, but not the “dragon slayer” or “guardian of souls”, as which he was iconographically omnipresent. Similarly, there is no mention of an end-time battle, rather the cantata is reminiscent of this battle. Its fortissimi are not the tumult of battle, as is often said, but the fanfares of victory that resound after the decisive battle.
(2) In the recitatives and arias between the opening and closing chorales, the cantata explicates the reason for the angelic thanksgiving. It is the preservation of the faithful on earth. Even after the battle in heaven has been fought, “Satan’s fury and power” can still be a threat to their lives, which he tries to bring about without “rest and quiet” and with “cunning”, as the bass aria quotes from Eber’s song. In the anthropocentric stylisation of the angels, the librettist goes so far as to say that God created the angels for the sake of mankind, “before us”, as the alto recitative puts it, as companions of Christ and protectors of his faithful, as Melanchthon had already formulated.
Because the angels are also not allowed to rest in the face of Satan’s machinations, “all their diligence” is focussed on preserving the faithful. The cantata simultaneously intones the victory achieved and the diligence still required by the angels: with trumpet fanfares that ascend in harmonic triads and with scurrying circles of semiquavers in the strings around descending quavers. The latter sounds almost like a beehive! The librettist makes no comment on this, instead turning his attention to the Christians protected by the angel’s diligence. In the alto recitative and bass aria, he quotes the old image of the small and persecuted “poor little hive” from Eber and Melanchthon’s text. For Melanchthon and Eber, who were writing before the Religious Peace of Augsburg in 1555, this image corresponded to the real situation, namely the deadly threat to Protestants posed by their military suppression and extermination by Emperor Charles V.
In Leipzig in 1724, however, Lutheran Christians were members of an established state church. Perhaps the cantata wanted to veiledly draw attention to the fact that this church, which was still stable in terms of canon law, was by no means unchallenged, but was gradually eroding. This was due, for example, to the conversion of the sovereign, who was actually responsible for the cura religionis, to Catholicism, and even more so to the religious irritation caused by successful pietism and diffuse Enlightenment endeavours. Bach himself experienced this negatively in his collaboration with his authorised superiors, but also turned it around productively in his vocal compositional work, which integrated Lutheran-Orthodox, Pietist and early Enlightenment concerns. The anniversary of the Augsburg Confession in 1730 was soon to demonstrate how unstable the Saxon church was.
The bass aria addresses the real situation of this church with the key word of separation, even with the phonetic separation in “tre—e—e—net”. But while Melanchthon used two or even three verses on the threat, Bach simultaneously reminds us with the victory trumpets that the situation no longer needs to be objectively frightening, thus leading us to the core message of the cantata: “But well for us, that day and night / the host of angels watches to destroy Satan’s attack!” The soprano and tenor repeated this simultaneously and offset, so to speak, continuously. The indisputable biblical examples of angelic vigilance from the Book of Daniel, the den of lions and the fiery furnace, substantiate the final assertion of the recitative: “So in danger / still now the angels’ help presents itself.” Listen more closely to how the linking of two voices with the juxtaposition of diminished seventh chords and pure triads emphasises the superiority of preservation over threat in this Now!
Here we should take another look at the fierce bass aria. Its position between the alto recitative and the duet recitative makes it impossible to regard it as the centrepiece of the cantata and even to perform it separately. From the libretto, it is certainly not to be expected that it was orchestrated with timpani and trumpets like the chorale, but without the strings. But in this way it evokes the battle won in heaven in the face of the still threatening situation. This is no theatrical thunder, but rather, if I may say so, builds a dam of sound against depressive despondency and trumpets the already certain end of evil. But perhaps Bach was also able to see this, because ten years later he replaced the trumpets with strings. His later two St Michael’s cantatas and those of his sons Johann Christoph and Carl Philipp Emanuel can also be heard as a response to this ambiguity.
(3) The focus of our cantata on the guardian angels reaches its goal in the tenor aria, in my opinion quite decisively. Its text has no model in Paul Eber or Melanchthon, but is poetry by the librettist, who perhaps documents with the separately emphasised “immerdar” that he is quite familiar with Melanchthon’s stylistically very complicated “sapphic” poem. The accompaniment of the voice rising to the “high flock” – sursum corda – by the delicately moving transverse flute and the fine pizzicato of the continuo lead a prayer in the calm pace of a gavotte. This gives courage to the in itself audacious suggestion that the angels should “serve” the faithful forever and ultimately carry them to the heaven of God and the angels in the prophet Elijah’s chariot of fire. And it protects the “well but us” from self-assurance. Both the energy of victory and the need for protection are emphasised in the two verses of the final chorale, now in ¾ time. They also distinguish between thanks and petition. Ruedi Lutz has expressed this wonderfully by clearly toning down the forte of the thanksgiving in the transition to the petition and emphasising the modesty of prayer. He has rightly allowed this quiet hesitation to flow into the certainty of faith of those who “hold the divine word in high esteem” by allowing themselves to be assured of Christ’s victory over the old dragon.
Allow me to mention something else that you and I cannot hear. The cantata, whose autograph score is kept in Nuremberg, comprises 354 bars. If you divide it into 6 x 59 bars and convert the number 59 into letters (Bach often did this the other way round), you get the word “Gloria” (7+11+14+17+9+1). Make your own rhyme with this interpretation key … My personal rhyme – and please don’t think that a Lutheran has it easier than a Reformed – my rhyme boils down to gratitude for every angel that I encounter. Be it as an unexpected guest in the house or as my little granddaughter, whose cheerful play of life is allowed to contradict the toughest evil, or be it the unexpectedly good word, whose speaker doesn’t even know that it has brightened my soul. Post-metaphysical bats or esoteric kitsch – I stick to the stereoscopic view that not only children have. Artists have it too, artists of language, images and sounds. I hope you, too, will listen to the cantata again as a sounding ladder to heaven, where you can exercise your religious imagination when it comes to angels and experience something surprising. So, a sounding ladder to heaven!