Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit, BWV 106

Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit (God's time is the very best time),[1] BWV 106,[lower-alpha 1] also known as Actus tragicus, is an early sacred cantata composed by Johann Sebastian Bach in Mühlhausen, intended for a funeral.

Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit
BWV 106
Church cantata by J. S. Bach
Organ of the church Divi Blasii, Mühlhausen
Other nameActus tragicus
OccasionFuneral
Bible text
Chorale
  • "Ich hab mein Sach Gott heimgestellt"
    by Johann Leon
  • "Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin"
    by Martin Luther
  • "In dich hab ich gehoffet, Herr"
    by Adam Reusner
Composed1707/08: Mühlhausen
Movements4
VocalSATB solo and choir
Instrumental
  • 2 recorders
  • violas da gamba
  • continuo

The earliest source for the composition is a copied manuscript dated 1768, therefore the date of the composition is not certain. Research leads to a funeral of a former mayor of Mühlhausen on 16 September 1708. The text is a carefully compiled juxtaposition of biblical texts, three quotations from the Old Testament and four from the New Testament, combined with funeral hymns, of which two are sung and one is quoted instrumentally, and some additions by an anonymous author. Bach scored the work for four vocal parts and a small ensemble of Baroque instruments, two recorders, two violas da gamba and continuo. The work is opened by an instrumental Sonatina, followed by through-composed sections which have been assigned to four movements. The structure is symmetrical around a turning point, when the lower voices, who contemplate the Old Covenant, are overcome by a soprano calling for Jesus.

History

Although Bach's manuscript is lost, the work is agreed to be one of the earliest Bach cantatas, probably composed during the year he spent in Mühlhausen 1707/1708 as organist of the Divi Blasii church, at the age of 22. Various funerals known to have taken place at this time have been proposed as the occasion for the composition, for example that of his uncle Tobias Lämmerhirt from his mother's family, who died in Erfurt on 10 August 1707,[2] and that of Adolph Strecker, a former mayor of Mühlhausen, whose funeral was 16 September 1708.[3]

The earliest surviving manuscript, in the hand of Christian Friedrich Penzel, was copied in 1768 after Bach's death. It introduced the title Actus tragicus.[2] The cantata was published in 1876 as part of the first complete edition of Bach's works: the Bach-Gesellschaft-Ausgabe, edited by Wilhelm Rust.[4]

Theme

The text consists of different Bible passages from the Old and New Testament, as well as individual verses of hymns by Martin Luther and Adam Reusner,[5] which all together refer to finitude, preparation for death and dying. There are two distinct parts to the cantata: the view of the Old Testament on death shown in the first part is confronted by that of the New Testament in the second part, leading to a symmetrical structure.[5][6] The juxtaposition of texts from the Old and New Testament appeared before in the Christliche Betschule (Christian school of prayer) by Johann Olearius.[2] Markus Rathey, professor at the Yale Institute of Sacred Music, has argued that the sermon given at the funeral of Strecker is similar in ideas to the themes of the cantatas. This may be an indication that Bach composed the work for this occasion.[3]

Music

Structure and scoring

Bach scored the cantata for four vocal parts (soprano (S), alto (A), tenor (T), and bass (B)) and a chamber ensemble of Baroque instruments: two alto recorders (Fl), two violas da gamba (Vg), basso continuo.[5][7] The duration is given as 23 minutes.[8]

The sections comprising the cantata are traditionally grouped into four movements. The musicologist Carol Traupman-Carr notes: "Although movements are marked by tempo changes, occasionally key changes, meter changes, and double bar lines, Cantata 106 appears to be a continuous work. Bach helps create a more seamless effect by occasionally resolving the cadence of one section at the downbeat of another, thus blurring the beginnings and endings of traditional movements."[9] The keys and tempo markings are taken from the first publication. The keys in the Neue Bach-Ausgabe and other more recent publications start in F major.[6][8][9]

Movements of Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit
Mvmt No. Title Text Type Voices Instr. Key Time Tempo
1 Sonatina2Fl 2VgE majorMolto adagio
2 2aGottes Zeit ist die allerbeste ZeitChorusSATB2Fl 2Vg
  • E major
  • C minor
  • 3
    4
  • Allegro
  • Adagio assai
2bAch, Herr, lehre uns bedenkenPsalms 90:12AriosoT2Fl 2VgC minorLento
2cBestelle dein HausIsaiah 38:1AriaB2Fl 2VgC minor3
8
Vivace
2dEs ist der alte Bund
Ja, komm, Herr Jesu, komm!
Ich hab mein Sach Gott heimgestellt (instrumental)
Jesus Sirach 14:17
Revelation 22:20
Johann Leon
Chorus & SoloATB S2Fl 2VgF minorAndante
3 3aIn deine Hände befehl ich meinen Geist
du hast mich erlöset, Herr, du getreuer Gott.
Luke 23:46
Psalms 31:5
AriaA2VgB minor
3bHeute wirst du mit mir im Paradies sein
Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin
Luke 23:43
Martin Luther after Nunc dimittis
Arioso & choraleB A2VgC minor
4 Glorie, Lob, Ehr und HerrlichkeitAdam ReusnerChorusSATB2Fl 2VgE major
  • Allegro

Movements

Portrait of the young Bach (disputed)[10]

1

In the opening sonatina, marked Molto adagio, two obbligato alto recorders mournfully echo each other over a sonorous background of viola da gambas and continuo.[11]

2

The first vocal movement combines several aspects of getting ready to die, based mostly on texts from the Old Testament. Bach expresses their ideas in a variety of musical form and scoring. The movement opens (2a) on a text in free poetry, "Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit" (God's time is the best of all times).[1] The chorus has no initial tempo marking, but has a fugal section marked Allegro, and the end is Adagio assai.[2]

The thought from Psalm 90 (2b), "Ach, Herr, lehre uns bedenken, daß wir sterben müssen" (Ah, Lord, teach us to consider that we must die)[1] is rendered as an arioso of the tenor, marked Lento. The melodic line is broken by rests of reflection.[2]

The warning to be prepared for death (2c) from Isaiah, "Bestelle dein Haus; denn du wirst sterben" (Put your house in order; for you will die),[1] is performed as an aria by the bass, marked Vivace. Arpeggios of the recorder accompany the voice which has been described as "evocative of the command of God".[2]

Marked Andante, the movement concludes (2d) with the central piece in the symmetrical composition.[2] It presents a contrast: while the lower choral voices recall the Old Covenant, "Es ist der alte Bund: Mensch, du mußt sterben!" (It is the ancient law: human, you must die!),[1] based on Jesus Sirach, the solo soprano turns to accepting death as a union with Jesus, singing three times "Ja, komm, Herr Jesu, komm!" (Yes, come, Lord Jesus!).[1] The personal decision is supported by the instrumental quotation in the recorders of Johann Leon's hymn "Ich hab mein Sach Gott heimgestellt" (I have brought my affairs home to God).[1][2] The final call to Jesus closes the movement, leading to a long rest.[2] The musicologist Wendy Heller writes:

Bach allows the confident soprano the final word, one that even silences the continuo; the passage concludes with an ornamented cadential passage in semiquaver triplets that arrives with tentative optimism and a distinct lack of completion ...[6]

3

The second vocal movement is a similar combination of ideas, now mostly from the New Testament. It quotes twice what Jesus said on the cross according to the Gospel of Luke. The first quotation (3a), "In deine Hände befehl ich meinen Geist" (Into Your hands I commit my spirit),[1] with an added explanation "du hast mich erlöset, Herr, du getreuer Gott" (You have redeemed me, Lord, faithful God),[1] from Psalm 31, is rendered as an alto aria.[2]

The second quotation (3b), "Heute wirst du mit mir im Paradies sein" (Today you will be with Me in Paradise),[1] is a bass arioso, supported by Martin Luther's hymn "Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin" (With peace and joy I depart),[1] after the Nunc dimittis (also following Luke), sung by the alto as a cantus firmus.[2]

4

The work concludes with the closing seventh stanza of Adam Reusner's hymn "In dich hab ich gehoffet, Herr", "Glorie, Lob, Ehr und Herrlichkeit" (Glory, praise, honor, and majesty),[1] as a choral movement, but not a simple four-part setting. Introduced by an instrumental passage recalling motifs from the Sonatina, the first lines of the hymn are set for four parts.[11] The movement ends in a double fugue on Amen marked Allegro.[2] The musicologist Julian notes that the fugal section became the "major focus of the piece".[11]

Evaluation

The cantata ranks among Bach's most important works.[12] The Bach scholar Alfred Dürr called the cantata "a work of genius such as even great masters seldom achieve... The Actus tragicus belongs to the great musical literature of the world".[13]

Recordings

The cantata can be performed with only four singers, as in the recording by Joshua Rifkin, while other recordings feature a choir with multiple voices to a part. The following entries are taken from the listing on the Bach Cantatas Website.[14] Choirs with one voice per part (OVPP) and instrumental groups playing period instruments in historically informed performances are marked by green background.

Recordings of Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit, BWV 106
Title Conductor / Choir / Orchestra Soloists Label Year Choir typeInstr.
Cantata BWV 106 Günther Ramin
Thomanerchor
Gewandhausorchester
  • soloists of the Thomanerchor
  • Hans-Joachim Rotzsch
  • Johannes Oettel
Fidelio 1953 (1953)
J. S. Bach: Kantaten 106 · 182 Jürgen Jürgens
Monteverdi-Chor
Leonhardt-Consort
  • Julia Falk
  • Bert van t'Hoff
  • Jacques Villisech
Telefunken 1963 (1963)
Les Grandes Cantates de J.S. Bach Vol. 19 Fritz Werner
Heinrich-Schütz-Chor Heilbronn
Pforzheim Chamber Orchestra
  • Edith Selig
  • Claudia Hellmann
  • Georg Jelden
  • Jakob Stämpfli
Erato 1964 (1964)
Johann Sebastian Bach: Kantaten "Actus Tragicus", BWV 106 Karl Richter
Münchener Bach-Chor
Münchener Bach-Orchester
  • Hertha Töpper
  • Ernst Haefliger
  • Theo Adam
Archiv Production 1966 (1966) Chamber
Die Bach Kantate Vol. 68 Helmuth Rilling
Gächinger Kantorei
Bach-Collegium Stuttgart
  • Eva Csapó
  • Hanna Schwarz
  • Adalbert Kraus
  • Wolfgang Schöne
Hänssler 1975 (1975)
J. S. Bach: Das Kantatenwerk • Complete Cantatas • Les Cantates, Folge / Vol. 26 Gustav Leonhardt
  • Knabenchor Hannover
  • Collegium Vocale
Leonhardt-Consort
  • Soloists of Knabenchor Hannover
  • Marius van Altena
  • Max van Egmond
Teldec 1980 (1980) Period
Bach: Actus Tragicus – Cantatas 106, 131, 99, 56, 82 & 158 Joshua Rifkin
The Bach Ensemble
  • Steven Rickards
  • Ann Monoyios
  • Jan Opalach
  • Edmund Brownless
Decca 1985 (1985) OVPP Period
Bach: Funeral Cantatas John Eliot Gardiner
Monteverdi Choir
English Baroque Soloists
  • Nancy Argenta
  • Michael Chance
  • Anthony Rolfe-Johnson
  • Stephen Varcoe
Archiv Produktion 1989 (1989) Period
J. S. Bach: Cantatas Vol. 2 Masaaki Suzuki
Bach Collegium Japan
  • Aki Yanagisawa
  • Yoshikazu Mera
  • Gerd Türk
  • Peter Kooy
BIS 1995 (1995) Period
Bach Edition Vol. 8 – Cantatas Vol. 3 Pieter Jan Leusink
Holland Boys Choir
Netherlands Bach Collegium
  • Marjon Strijk
  • Sytse Buwalda
  • Knut Schoch
  • Bas Ramselaar
Brilliant Classics 1999 (1999) Period
Bach: Actus Tragicus – Cantatas BWV 4, 12, 106 & 196 Konrad Junghänel
Cantus Cölln
  • Johanna Koslowsky
  • Elisabeth Popien
  • Gerd Türk
  • Wilfried Jochens
  • Stephan Schreckenberger
Harmonia Mundi France 2000 (2000) OVPP Period

Notes

  1. "BWV" is Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis, a thematic catalogue of Bach's works.

References

  1. Dellal, Pamela. "BWV 106 – Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit (Actus Tragicus)". Emmanuel Music. Retrieved 13 February 2016.
  2. Isoyama, Tadashi (1995). "Cantata No.106: Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit (BWV 106)" (PDF). Bach Cantatas Website. pp. 5, 7–8. Retrieved 13 February 2016.
  3. Rathey, Markus (2006). "Bach, a Funeral and the Lamb of God: Notes on recent research" (PDF). Prism. Yale Institute of Sacred Music. 15 (3). Retrieved 25 February 2016.
  4. Joh. Seb. Bach's Kirchencantaten ; Bd. 11 / No. 101 – 110. Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg. 1876. Retrieved 8 April 2013.
  5. Dürr, Alfred (1981). Die Kantaten von Johann Sebastian Bach (in German). 1 (4 ed.). Deutscher Taschenbuchverlag. pp. 447–450. ISBN 3-423-04080-7.
  6. Wendy, Heller (2015). ""Aus eigener Erfahrung redet": Bach, Luther, and Mary's Voice in the Magnificat, BWV 243" (PDF). bachnetwork.co.uk. Retrieved 13 February 2016.
  7. Bischof, Walter F. "BWV 106 Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit / Actus tragicus". University of Alberta. Retrieved 13 February 2016.
  8. "God's own time is the time appointed / Actus tragicus. Trauermusik / BWV 106, 1707/1708". Carus-Verlag. Retrieved 25 February 2016.
  9. Traupman-Carr, Carol (2006). "Cantata BWV 106 Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit". The Bach Choir of Bethlehem. Retrieved 24 February 2016.
  10. Towe, Teri Noel. "The Portrait in Erfurt Alleged to Depict Bach, the Weimar Concertmeister". The Face Of Bach. Archived from the original on 16 July 2011. Retrieved 28 April 2014.
  11. Mincham, Julian (2010). "Chapter 79 BWV 106 Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit / God's time is the best time. (Actus tragicus)". jsbachcantatas.com. Retrieved 13 February 2016.
  12. Wolff, Christoph (1995). "Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit, BWV 106" (PDF). Bach Cantatas Website. pp. 11–14. Retrieved 13 February 2016.
  13. Dürr, Alfred (2006). The Cantatas of J. S. Bach: With Their Librettos in German-English Parallel Text. Translated by Richard D. P. Jones. Oxford University Press. pp. 758–760. ISBN 978-0-19-929776-4.
  14. Oron, Aryeh. "Cantata BWV 106 Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit (Actus Tragicus)". Bach Cantatas Website. Retrieved 13 February 2016.
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