Cantata No.147

Johann Sebastian Bach

Cantata No.147

BWV147 • “Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben”

Recommended recording

Curated by Mary Elizabeth Kelly, Primephonic Curator

About this work

Johann Sebastian Bach's sacred Cantata No. 147 "Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben" (BWV 147) (Heart and Mouth, Deeds and Life), was written for the feast of the Visitation of the Virgin Mary and first performed in its final definitive form in Leipzig to mark the feast day, July 2, 1723. Much of the work originated during the composer's tenure as Konzertmeister in Weimar, where upon his appointment in 1714 he also assumed responsibility for the provision of a new cantata each month for services held in the Duke's chapel. In its earliest form (BWV 147a), this cantata was intended to be given on the fourth Sunday of Advent, 1716. This version contained four main arias and an opening chorus, but no recitative sections, three of which were added later, along with the great chorale, which brings each of the main sections to its close. The autograph of the Leipzig version survives intact, but all except the opening movement of the first version has perished. Interestingly, the composer's original design for the Advent feasts at Weimar would have been considered entirely unsuitable by the church authorities in Leipzig, who had forbidden the performance of all concert music during this period of the liturgical year. Bach managed to overcome this restriction by incorporating references to the "Magnificat" (Luke 1: 39-56) into the score, thus tailoring the cantata specifically to the Feast of the Visitation.

The final version begins with an elaborate chorus in C major, in which the celebratory tone is established by the fanfare-like opening section for orchestra. The vocal parts are in fugal form, with the entries staggered from the upper register to the lowest in succession, and later this ordering is skillfully reversed when the bass voices are heard first of all at reprise. A tenor recitative accompanied by strings alone is followed by an alto aria in the key of B minor, in which the oboe d'amore has a prominent obbligato role. The major aria of Part I is given to the solo soprano. As Nicolas Anderson has written, "Bereite dir, Jesu, in D minor with violin obbligato constitutes a lyrically expressive high point in the work. There is a beguiling innocence about the vocal line, while that of the violin, predominately in triplets, provides an ecstatic accompaniment." Part I concludes with the famous chorale known in English as "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring." The second part of this cantata begins with a muscular and powerful aria in F major for the tenor soloist, accompanied by the continuo group consisting of cello, violone, and organ. There follows an accompanied recitative section for alto, in which the texture is punctuated by interjections from a pair of oboes da caccia in a manner reminiscent of similar sections in the Passions. The final solo aria for the bass is again in the triumphant key of C major, with important parts for trumpet, oboes, and supporting strings. According to Anderson, "this resonant piece, with passages of vocal coloratura, proclaims Christ's wonders. The melodic contours of the vocal line at times seem to foreshadow the middle section of the alto aria 'Es is vollbracht' in the St. John Passion." This cantata concludes with a further setting of material from the hymn text by Martin Jahn, which had brought the first section of the work to its close in a virtually identical orchestral setting.

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