Herr Christ, der einge Gottessohn

BWV 096 // For the Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity

(Lord Christ, the only Son of God) for soprano, alto, tenor and bass, vocal ensemble, trombone, flauto piccolo, transverse flute, oboe I+II, bassoon, strings and continuo

Cantata 96 on Elisabeth Cruciger’s hymn “Herr Christ, der einge Gottessohn” (Lord Christ, the only son of God) opens with an introductory chorus in a style reminiscent of Christmas music; the charming pastoral scene is set in a lively 9/8 metre that is propelled forward by the light, yet accented gestures of the string, oboe and continuo lines. Although Bach used this earnest hymn several times as the closing chorale in his cantatas, here it is lent an emphatically joyful character that is highlighted by the soaring obbligato line of the piccolo flute.

J.S. Bach-Stiftung Kantate BWV 96

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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

Choir

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

Alto
Jan Börner, Olivia Fündeling, Katharina Jud, Alexandra Rawohl, Lea Scherer

Tenor
Marcel Fässler, Clemens Flämig, Raphael Höhn

Bass
Fabrice Hayoz, Philippe Rayot, William Wood

Orchestra

Conductor
Rudolf Lutz

Violin
Renate Steinmann, Martin Korrodi, Monika Altdorfer, Christine Baumann, Alessia Menin, Olivia Schenkel

Viola
Susanna Hefti, Martina Bischof, Emmanuel Carron

Violoncello
Maya Amrein, Martin Zeller

Violone
Iris Finkbeiner

Oboe
Luisa Baumgartl, Ingo Müller

Bassoon
Susann Landert

Trombone
Ulrich Eichenberger

Transverse flute
Claire Genewein

Flauto piccolo
Maurice Steger (special Guest)

Organ
Norbert Zeilberger

Harpsichord
Nicola Cumer

Musical director & conductor

Rudolf Lutz

Workshop

Participants
Karl Graf, Rudolf Lutz

Reflective lecture

Speaker

Iso Camartin

Recording & editing

Recording date
10/21/2011

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
Chorale cantata by an unknown librettist, based on a hymn by Elisabeth Cruciger (Creutziger)

First performance
Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity,
8 October 1724

In-depth analysis

Cantata 96 on Elisabeth Cruciger’s hymn “Herr Christ, der einge Gottessohn” (Lord Christ, the only son of God) opens with an introductory chorus in a style reminiscent of Christmas music; the charming pastoral scene is set in a lively 9/8 metre that is propelled forward by the light, yet accented gestures of the string, oboe and continuo lines. Although Bach used this earnest hymn several times as the closing chorale in his cantatas, here it is lent an emphatically joyful character that is highlighted by the soaring obbligato line of the piccolo flute. The high and clear timbre of this instrument, although seldom used by Bach, bestows on the score a sweetness that calls to mind the amorous call of a courting songbird (perhaps more blackbird than the proverbial dove of the New Covenant) or the radiant twinkle of the morning star in the heavens. Within this airy structure, the choir parts are inserted in a style typical of Bach’s chorale cantata cycle: while the soprano, tenor and bass parts imitate the swinging orchestral rhythms, the cantus firmus is presented in the alto voice – a scoring that in this movement also reflects the reference to God’s “heart descended”. The corno da tirarsi, a type of horn built with a slide to increase the range of available notes, doubles the alto melody; in a later version, this part was rescored for alto trombone.
The following recitative is assigned to the alto, who sings in a stately and hymnal tone of the “wondrous power” of God’s love for the world as represented through the birth of Jesus Christ, a theme that both librettist and composer render in glorious sounds and images.
In the tenor aria, the piccolo flute is replaced by the transverse flute – a switch that underscores the versatility of Bach’s ensemble of town musicians, casual players and students. Indeed, although these players did not avail of the specialised skills of a virtuoso Hofkapelle, they were certainly competent in a variety of roles. The music here is typical of transverse flute parts – more a light-hearted gig than a leisurely pastorale – and in a style so strongly reminiscent of cantata BWV 180 “Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele” that it appears almost formulaic. Both pieces can be interpreted as an invitation to communion – which indeed is nothing other than the sacramental expression of the love revealed by the life of Jesus. Here, the “drawing close” of the “bonds of affection” is effectively evoked by sighing gestures and long, weaving figures; these intensify in the emphatic middle section to reflect the text “Grant that it with holiest passion grow ardent”. As with the introductory movement, the solo instrumental part of this aria was reassigned in a later version, this time to the violino piccolo.
The soprano recitative presents a humble plea for enlightenment and guidance on the path of life – a theme that is then explored in the bass aria, which is fittingly given a through-composed (rather than da-capo) form. In this movement, Bach literally interprets the text of “To the right side, to the left side, Wend their way my wayward steps” through alternating blocks of strings and oboes that increasingly unsettle the vocalist. This precarious game of juggling with failure – cleverly evoked by a minuet suggestive of the slippery world of the court – gives way at the words “Walk with me, my Saviour, still” to an intensified style that accompanies the cantabile plea with pressing orchestral chords. At the closing line “Let me not in peril falter”, however, the “left-right” motive of the opening bars is resumed: danger and confusion remain ever-present, and despite all godly protection, the path to the gates of heaven remains arduous.
After this contemplative aria in D minor, the earthy F tonality of the closing chorale represents a marked change of tack. In this setting, the early Reformation hymn unfurls the magic of might and ancient days, which is highlighted with celestial ease by the doubling of piccolo flute in the upper octave and thus attains an effect that is gentle and consoling.

Libretto

1. Chor


Herr Christ, der einge Gottessohn
Vaters in Ewigkeit,
aus seinem Herzn entsprossen,
gleichwie geschrieben steht,
er ist der Morgensterne,
sein’ Glanz streckt er so ferne
vor andern Sternen klar.

2. Rezitativ

O Wunderkraft der Liebe,
wenn Gott an sein Geschöpfe denket,
wenn sich die Herrlichkeit
im letzten Teil der Zeit
zur Erde senket.
O unbegreifliche, geheime Macht!
Es trägt ein auserwählter Leib
den großen Gottessohn,
den David schon
im Geist als seinen Herrn verehrte,
da dies gebenedeite Weib
in unverletzter Keuschheit bliebe.
O reiche Segenskraft! So sich auf uns ergossen,
da er den Himmel auf-, die Hölle zugeschlossen.

3. Arie

Ach ziehe die Seele mit Seilen der Liebe,
o Jesu, ach zeige dich kräftig in ihr.
Erleuchte sie, daß sie dich gläubig erkenne,
gib, daß sie mit heiligen Flammen entbrenne,
ach würke ein gläubiges Dürsten nach dir.

4. Rezitativ

Ach führe mich, o Gott, zum rechten Wege,
mich, der ich unerleuchtet bin,
der ich nach meines Fleisches Sinn
so oft zu irren pflege,
jedoch gehst du nur mir zur Seiten,
willst du mich nur mit deinen Augen leiten,
so gehet meine Bahn
gewiß zum Himmel an.

5. Arie

Bald zur Rechten, bald zur Linken
lenkt sich mein verirrter Schritt,
gehe doch, mein Heiland, mit,
laß mich in Gefahr nicht sinken,
laß mich ja dein weises Führen
bis zur Himmelspforte spüren.

6. Choral

Ertöt uns durch dein Güte,
erweck uns durch dein Gnad;
den alten Menschen kränke,
daß er neu Leben hab
wohl hier auf dieser Erden,
den Sinn und all Begierden
und Gdanken habn zu dir.

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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