Music for the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost — July 11, 2021

Kommst du nun, Jesu, vom Himmel herunter (BWV 650) – J. S. Bach (1685-1750)

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From the Netherlands Bach Society web site:

In the story of the six Schübler Chorales, this closing chorale stands for Advent. In order to achieve this structure, Bach (or the anonymous arranger) had to perform a trick with the text, as the cantata from which he took this aria – and particularly the chorale he used, Lobe den Herren – have nothing to do with the birth of Jesus. The words of BWV 137 [the source cantata] are jubilant in a more general way and were sung, moreover, in the middle of the ecclesiastical year. The Christmas accent is added by sticking an alternative chorale text onto the music, even if we have to imagine it ourselves in this purely instrumental setting.

The arrangement follows the original alto aria practically to the letter, with the high-flying violin solo in the right hand. When transposed to the organ, the solo loses something of its bravura, which suits the ‘new’ chorale well. Unlike the cantata, which speaks of comfort and protection, it urgently begs for salvation through the coming of Christ. There is doubt about how to play the other parts. Either the chorale goes to the left hand and the continuo to the pedal, or the other way around with the chorale played by the feet. If the player opts for the latter, as organist Bart Jacobs does here, then it is the only ornamented cantus firmus within Bach’s known oeuvre.


Cantata: Lobe den Herren (BWV 137) – Text: Joachim Neander (1650-1680) / Music: Ernewerten Gesangbuch, Stralsund, 1655; arr. J. S. Bach

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Bach set clear limits for himself in Lobe den Herren, den mächtigen König der Ehren, performed by the Netherlands Bach Society for All of Bach. He used the complete unaltered text of a well-known hymn by Joachim Neander. The original hymn has five verses, and the cantata has the same number of movements. There are no recitatives. Such a piece is also referred to as a chorale cantata. The alto aria which forms the second movement is the source material for the “Schübler” organ transcription BWV 650, the first of today’s selections. It is only at the end that we hear the familiar version of the hymn Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, in a four-part setting with the melody sung by the sopranos.

One of the most popular Christian hymns, Lobe den Herren was written by Joachim Neander, based on Psalm 103:1-6 and Psalm 150. As a young man, Neander came under the influence of two ardent pietists: Jakob Spener, and the minister of St Martin’s Church in Bremen, Germany. Stirred by their faith, he began to conduct meetings in Düsseldorf and to preach, meeting with violent opposition. For some months he lived in a cave near Mettman on the Rhine, now known as Neander’s Cave; he fell ill with consumption and died at the age of 30. He was a man of deep personal and religious convictions, a scholar with a keen interest in poetry and a great deal of skill in music.

Neander adapted Lobe den Herren from an anonymous melody that appeared first in Ernewerten Gesangbuch 1655. The tune is one of the finest German chorales and is known far beyond the borders of Germany and has appeared in every important hymnal of the past 150 years. This hymn and tune are found in Common Praiseat 384 and in The New English Hymnal at 440. In both cases the English translation, somewhat loosely based on the German original, is by Catherine Winkworth; two of the stanzas in modern hymn books are the work of an unknown hand.

Lobe den Herren, den mächtigen König der Ehren,
Meine geliebete Seele, das ist mein Begehren.
Kommet zu Hauf,
Psalter und Harfen, wacht auf!
Lasset die Musicam hören. 

Lobe den Herren, der alles so herrlich regieret,
Der dich auf Adelers Fittichen sicher geführet,
Der dich erhält,
Wie es dir selber gefällt;
Hast du nicht dieses verspüret? 

Lobe den Herren, der künstlich und fein dich bereitet,
Der die Gesundheit verliehen, dich freundlich geleitet;
In wieviel Not
Hat nicht der gnädige Gott
Über die Flügel gebreitet! 

Lobe den Herren, der deinen Stand sichtbar gesegnet,
Der aus dem Himmel mit Strömen der Liebe geregnet;
Denke dran,
Was der Allmächtige kann,
Der die mit Liebe begegnet. 

Lobe den Herren, was in mir ist, lobe den Namen!
Alles, was Odem hat, lobe mit Abrahams Samen!
Er ist dein Licht,
Seele, vergiß es ja nicht;
Lobende, schließe mit Amen!


Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation.
O my soul, praise him, for he is thy health and salvation:
All ye who hear,
brothers and sisters draw near,
praise him in glad adoration.

Praise to the Lord, who o’er all things so wondrously reigneth
shelters thee under his wings, yea, so gently sustaineth:
hast thou not see
how thy entreaties have been
granted in what he ordaineth?

Praise to the Lord, who doth prosper thy work and defend thee;
surely his goodness and mercy here daily attend thee:
ponder anew
what the Almighty can do,
if with his love he befriend thee.

Praise to the Lord, who, when tempests their warfare are waging,
who, when the elements madly around thee are raging,
biddeth them cease,
turneth their fury to peace,
whirlwinds and waters assuaging.

Praise to the Lord, who when darkness of sin is abounding,
who when the godless do triumph, all virtue confounding,
sheddeth his light,
chaseth the horrors of night,
saints with his mercy surrounding.

Praise to the Lord! O let all that is in me adore him!
All that hath life and breath come now with praises before him!
Let the Amen
sound from his people again:
gladly for aye we adore him.

Gerald Harder