Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland

BWV 061 // For the First Sunday in Advent

(Now come, the gentiles’ Savior) for soprano, tenor and bass, vocal ensemble, bassoon, strings and continuo

With its charm and youthful freshness, Cantata BWV 61 (“Now come, the gentiles’ Saviour”), numbers among Bach’s best-known sacred compositions. The work was written for the “Schlosskirche” in Weimar on the occasion of the First Sunday in Advent in 1714, and its vibrant melodies and daring ideas exude the experimental spirit of this inspiring genre.

J.S. Bach-Stiftung Kantate BWV 61

Video

Experience the introductory workshop, concert and reflective lecture in full length.

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Workshop
Reflective lecture

«Lutzogram» for the introductory workshop

Rudolf Lutz’s manuscript for the workshop
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Audio

The sound recording of this work is available on several streaming and download platforms.

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Performers

Soloists

Soprano
Maria Cristina Kiehr

Tenor
Gerd Türk

Bass
Manuel Walser

Choir

Soprano
Susanne Frei, Guro Hjemli, Jennifer Rudin, Noëmi Sohn Nad

Alto
Antonia Frey, Alexandra Rawohl, Francisca Näf, Simon Savoy

Tenor
Clemens Flämig, Nicolas Savoy, Walter Siegel

Bass
Valentin Parli, Manuel Walser, William Wood

Orchestra

Conductor
Rudolf Lutz

Violin
Renate Steinmann, Monika Baer, Martin Korrodi

Viola
Susanna Hefti, Martina Bischof

Violoncello
Maya Amrein

Violone
Iris Finkbeiner

Bassoon
Susann Landert

Organ
Norbert Zeilberger

Musical director & conductor

Rudolf Lutz

Workshop

Participants
Karl Graf, Rudolf Lutz

Reflective lecture

Speaker

Noldi Alder

Recording & editing

Recording date
12/09/2011

Recording location
Trogen

Sound engineer
Stefan Ritzenthaler

Director
Meinrad Keel

Production manager
Johannes Widmer

Production
GALLUS MEDIA AG, Switzerland

Producer
J.S. Bach Foundation of St. Gallen, Switzerland

About the work

Librettist

Text No. 1
Martin Luther, 1524

Text No. 2, 3, 5
Erdmann Neumeister, 1714

Text No. 4
Quote from Revelation 3:20

Text No. 6
Philipp Nicolai, 1599

First performance
First Sunday in Advent,
2 December 1714

In-depth analysis

The introductory chorus presents Bach’s first attempt at melding the form of an instrumental overture with a chorale chorus. This combination not only lent a touch of courtly elegance to the new church year and the entrance of the heavenly king, but also linked his new duties as Concertmaster with his responsibility to compose monthly cantatas for the “Weg zur Himmelsburg” chapel, which was destroyed by fire in 1774. The French influence on the setting comes clearly to the fore in the fugal middle section (assigned to the third line of the chorale), as is clear to see in the marking of “gai” and the old-fashioned scoring of two viola parts and unisono violins. The resulting solemn yet celebratory aura also lends the chorale – reminiscent of a Gregorian chant – precisely the archaic tone that Bach favoured in his organ arrangements of the same early-reformation hymn. The ambitious combination of overture and chorale certainly reflected the revolutionary spirit of Neumeister, the cantata’s librettist, but at the same time, the style also confirmed all the prejudices levelled at modern “sacred cantatas”. Nevertheless, by emphasising secularisation, Bach proved in his stirring overturechorus that new approaches and devout music were not mutually exclusive endeavours.
The tenor recitative gives a brief outline of the Advent story before melding into an arioso setting that appears to observe the “approaching light” of the Saviour through the beatific eyes of a child. The tenor aria then turns to address the fact that Advent signifies the start of a new church year. With the words “Advance thy name in rank and honour, Uphold thou every wholesome doctrine, The pulpit and the altar bless!”, Neumeister, an experienced court preacher and superintendent, seeks God’s blessing for the upcoming period of office. That this requires unity in faith and the will to heed the example of Christ is illustrated by the unison scoring of the strings and the use of 9⁄ 8 time, a metre reminiscent of the Trinity.

After this sedate pastor’s idyll, the recitative “See now, I stand before the door” has the effect of a healing shock: God’s kingdom is neither distant nor abstract. Accompanied by the unusual musical gesture of pizzicato chords, Jesus Christ himself knocks at the door and, in all his penury and glory, requests entry. With this bold shift in tone, Bach transforms Neumeister’s deliberate use of Jesus’ words to an unsettling compositional climax: a sermon from on high in well-turned phrases is one thing, but when Christ himself arrives and speaks, the effect is quite another – and more direct and fundamental than all theology put together. In good Lutheran style, Jesus’ appearance here is not interpreted spiritually, but expressed by reference to the sacrament of communion, thus revealing in the briefest of spaces the actual presence of the living Christ.

After such a compelling Advent message, no further ado is required, but simply the childlike belief of the faithful soul, in keeping with the mystic roots of Lutheran doctrine. This is expressed in a da-capo aria “Open wide, my heart and spirit”, scored for soprano and continuo. Despite its apparent simplicity, the inspired setting reveals in its industrious continuo line a wealth of emotion and joyous anticipation that is essentially peerless even within Bach’s own extensive oeuvre. Indeed, the picture of contentment and beatitude that emerges in just 52 bars is one of extraordinary artistry and grace.

Libretto

1. Ouverture

Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland,
der Jungfrauen Kind erkannt,
des sich wundert alle Welt,
Gott solch Geburt ihm bestellt.

2. Rezitativ (Tenor)

Der Heiland ist gekommen,
hat unser armes Fleisch und Blut
an sich genommen
und nimmet uns zu Blutsverwandten an.
O allerhöchstes Gut,
was hast du nicht an uns getan?
Was tust du nicht
noch täglich an den Deinen?
Du kömmst und läßt dein Licht
mit vollem Segen scheinen.

3. Arie (Tenor)

Komm, Jesu, komm zu deiner Kirche
und gib ein selig neues Jahr!
Befördre deines Namens Ehre,
erhalte die gesunde Lehre
und segne Kanzel und Altar!

4. Rezitativ (Bass)

Siehe, ich stehe vor der Tür

und klopfe an. So jemand meine
Stimme hören wird und die Tür auftun,
zu dem werde ich eingehen
und das Abendmahl mit ihm halten,
und er mit mir.

5. Arie (Sopran)

Öffne dich, mein ganzes Herze,
Jesus kömmt und ziehet ein.
Bin ich gleich nur Staub und Erde,
will er mich doch nicht verschmähn,
seine Lust an mir zu sehn,
daß ich seine Wohnung werde.

O wie selig werd’ ich sein!

6. Choral

Amen, amen!
Komm, du schöne Freudenkrone,
bleib nicht lange!
Deiner wart’ ich mit Verlangen.

Bibliographical references

All libretti sourced from Neue Bach-Ausgabe. Johann Sebastian Bach. Neue Ausgabe sämtlicher Werke, published by the Johann-Sebastian-Bach-Institut Göttingen and the Bach-Archiv Leipzig, Series I (Cantatas), vol. 1–41, Kassel and Leipzig, 1954–2000.
All in-depth analyses by Anselm Hartinger (English translations/editing by Alice Noger-Gradon/Mary Carozza) based on the following sources:  Hans-Joachim Schulze, Die Bach-Kantaten. Einführungen zu sämtlichen Kantaten Johann Sebastian Bachs, Leipzig, 2nd edition, 2007; Alfred Dürr, Johann Sebastian Bach. Die Kantaten, Kassel, 9th edition, 2009, and Martin Petzoldt, Bach-Kommentar. Die geistlichen Kantaten, Stuttgart, vol. 1, 2nd edition, 2005 and vol. 2, 1st edition, 2007.

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