Bach: The Cantatas

Bach Cantatas

– Sunday 20th March 2022 – J.S.Bach, civic celebration cantata BWV 71 – ,Gott ist mein König‘

Mar 14, 2022

An early, 7 movement cantata, from 1708 and one of two, second now lost, written by Bach. The occasion, the installation of a civic-council.

A large orchestra is required, the normal combination of oboes, strings, continuo and chorus, being joined by, 2 x recorders, 3 x trumpets with their usual timps combination, violone and bassoon, to support the bass line and a ‘cello, with an important part in movement 6. An organ, with some of its part, being written out, is also requested.

1/(Tutti e animoso)

‘God is my king, from old. He is working all salvation, on earth.’

I am struck how Mozartian this opening is.

This continues, strikingly, at moments, through-out this cantata.

Bach arranges his orchestra, in groups, or choirs, and this trend, is evident, in the first three bars of this impressive opening.

Trumpets are answered by strings…are answered by flutes. A sort-of diminution, of sound.

Bars 4, through 7, seems almost the work, of a young Mozart.

The change of mood, 8, reminds us that salvation is working, for us and has to be worked at, by us, hence the long and sustained soprano line.

This idea continues, at 16, with a beautifully graded, rise in pitch, via alternate entries, by the voices, first tenor, then bass, then alto and finally soprano, and then, in pairs, alto-tenor, then single bass, followed by tenor-soprano and finally, alto-bass.

The soprano line reaches high ‘A’.

The passage, 26 through 29 seems unique in Bachinan sound, with pairs of voices answering each other, 26/27 and a four-fold repeat, ,…auf Erden…’ 27 through 29.

A resumé of tempo, back to animoso, is surely implied, in the last three quavers of 29.

Notice the diminution of sound, 36, to the end.


‘I am now 80 years old. Why should your servant still complain? I will be back, so that I may die, in my very own city.

‘If I should, in this world, extend my life, -through bitter steps, into old age, then grant me patience, protect me from sin and disgrace, so that I may wear my grey hair, with honour.’

A partly written-out-obbligato, partly improvised-continuo, organ part, ground-bass, in style, accompanies this sad and ‘inevitability-like’, soprano/tenor duet.

The two texts, combined and not, -the first, tenor and factual and the other, soprano and creative, are as equally un-matched, in content, as they are matched, in timbre and ‘fach’.

The long tenor introduction, almost concerto-like, gives way, eventually, to a slightly disconnected, soprano entry, more sustained, but sadly bitter, -bar 22, with chromaticism’s and conscious of old age, -bar 24, with coloratura.

The tenor ‘dies’, bar 31 and then announces, that this will happen, in his, ‘…own city…’, with a chromatic droop, not just once, but twice, so that we realise, that important detail.

At this point, the organ part becomes more embellished and elaborate, with excessive triplet pralltrillers, instead of just, at best, fulfilling an imitative function, which is in-fact, mostly, an absent attitude, in this music.

The whole experience is beginning to seem and sound, far too much, as at 35, where we all get the distinct impression, that the wearing of grey hair, is not really an honour at all, perhaps even preventing that ascent, to an F sharp, bar 35.


‘May your old age, be like your youth and God will be with you, in all, that you do.’

This is a fugue, -in fact, a permutation fugue, one with fugal and canon elements, modest and for 4 voices, with a non-independent, continuo accompaniment.

Starting out, with a dominant subject, it is well balanced and nicely uncongested, even with its progressive use of diminishing time values, and with the colourful ‘turn’, towards an ‘F’ major feel, bar 33, a major…as opposed to minor, subdominant, in a C major influenced minor tonality.

Note the finish, on the Major tonic.

Any young and the younger the better, studen,t should make a detailed study of this piece and if they can do half as well as Bach, they will be doing rather better, than they think!


‘The day is yours. The night also. You have prepared the light and the sun. You have set in place, all the boarders, of the earth.’

This 3-part, ternary bass aria, with its sarabande-like opening and emphasis on the second beat, is pastoral in character, the pair of recorders and with a single ‘cello, here provide just the right colour and atmosphere.

The textual subjects, -day, night and light, sun, earth, are set very differently, the first section dealing with the opposing states, of a single day and the highly agitated and coloratura-laden middle section, in 4-time, strongly contrasted, to this, with a supportive but fast moving continuo part.

The settled and peaceful state, of a 24 hour period, seems so different, to the actual busyness, and exhaustion, involved in creation, the actual process, of creating a sun, light and the setting out, of earthly boarders.


‘Through your enormous power, you maintain our boarders. Here and within, peace must radiate, even though murder and the storms of war, seem to arise, everywhere else. Though crown and sceptre, are shaking, you have brought salvation, through your enormous power.’

‘Enormous power’ in this cantata, can only mean one thing and after two short plonks, vivace, from the continuo players, and a few powerful words form the alto soloist, the three trumpets and their drumming friend, interrupt the proceedings, with their familiar three-fold flourish.

After this outburst, a reflective few moments and bars, -and this in an andante mode, allows a passing chromatic vocal reference, to murder and those storms of war, before another instant trumpet impertinence, again vivace, attempts to hi-jack the singer.

She is having none of it and singing on, continues the andante mode, and mood.

Excitement seems to be lacking, at ‘crown and sceptre’, but ‘…salvation…’ spawns some ornamented vocals, before the trumpets have their way…and this time, it is final, right u, to the end, of this movement.

6/Affettuoso e larghetto:

‘We ask, that you do not allow us, to give, to the enemy of our soul, your turtle-doves.’

This tender and affectionate slow march, is so captivating, if not even unique, that it might, -except for its undulating and prominent ‘cello part, in another life, find itself amongst the movements, of Mozart’s requiem.

These turtle-doves, psalm 74, verse 19, are evident, from the start, in the sheer sound, of this music and Bach has, like Messiaen, excelled himself, in his ability to re-create bird-song.

We find ourselves in a world of antiphonal cooing and calling, as oboes and recorders, -and that undulating, breathing ‘cello’, lead us into a sort of loft, or comforting cote.

It all gets so much more more Mozartian, the longer it all, goes on.

Bach really is, a birdman.

listen out, for the extra bar, -with a momentary thinning of texture, curtesy of solo vocals, and the, again, thoroughly Mozartian ending, with an augmented, crochet chorus, under florid orchestra, followed by a pedal chorus, under a florid orchestra.


‘Crown our new government, in every way with blessing. Peace, quiet and prosperity must always be, in attendance.’

Happiness, wellbeing and great victory must each day continue to please you, O Joseph, that in every place and land, happiness, wellbeing and great victory, should always be present.’

[Kaiser Joseph 1 was the direct ruler of Mühlhausen, the city where Bach was employed, 1707-8]

This gavotte opening, ‘This new council…’ quickly gives way, to an allegro three-time,

‘…crown in every way, with blessing’,

with its energised bass line and string, oboe and finally recorder, answering phrases.

This, in turn, relaxes into 33 bars of andante, -where the previous minim equals the new quaver tempo,

’…peace, quiet and prosperity…on our new government’,

again, with similarly constructed answering phrases and at 30, a written out organ part.

This leads straight into a vivace section with trumpets and energized continuo,

‘…Happiness, wellbeing and great victory’,

finishing with a two note statement, as at the end of the opening chorus, first trumpets, then strings, oboes and finally, recorders.

There follows, 44 bars, of fugue-like texture, in the manner of the previous allegro-section, and the third movement Fuga, of this cantata, along the permutation principle, a fugal-canon.

After having announced the 4 voices, in the usual way, Bach then drops one, or two out, so only two or three are active, at any one time, and these, mostly in augmented fashion, with crochet runs throughout.

During this, the orchestra may contribute fugal and canonic material, e.g, violins, bar 56, and this doubled with trumpets.

At 76, all return and 80 sees trumpets proper, re-join, spectacularly, with the ‘subject’, to complete the ensemble.

At 88, we revisit the andante section, bars through 33, with the difference that the tenor voice holds through, on ‘…beständig…‘.

At 96, the tempo stiffens and the reprise of the vivace drives is to a quick and conclusive ending, – albeit with that strange and haunting, two-note sign-off.

View more Cantata articles