Orchestra Seattle | Seattle Chamber Singers
George Shangrow, music director
PO Box 15825
Seattle, WA 98115


Ich liebe den Höchsten von ganzem Gemüte, BWV 174

Bach was born in Eisenach, Germany, on March 21, 1685, and died in Leipzig on July 28, 1750. His cantata BWV 174 was composed in 1729 and first performed on June 6 of that year in Leipzig, under the direction of the composer. In addition to three vocal soloists and chorus, the work is scored for two oboes, English horn, bassoon and two hunting horns in G; a concertino group of three violins, three violas and three cellos; and string orchestra and harpsichord.

In 1723 Bach was offered a job as Cantor and Director of Music at St. Thomas' Church and Choir School in Leipzig, a position he would hold until his death in 1750. As part of his duties Bach was to provide music for each Sunday's church service, as well various feast days. Bach thus set about composing a five-year cycle of cantatas, amounting to 60 cantatas a year, for a total of 300 works of an average duration of 25 minutes. While some of his contemporaries composed an equal or greater number of cantatas, what makes Bach's feat so remarkable is that he accomplished it in five years, producing on average more than one cantata a week during that period (on top of all of his other duties as a performer, teacher and choir director) — not to mention that the works are of such uniformly high quality.

With so much music to produce, it is understandable that Bach occasionally resorted to reusing an older composition for all or part of a cantata. For the sinfonia of the cantata Gott soll allein mein Herze haben, BWV 169, Bach recasts the opening movement of his E-major harpsichord concerto, BWV 1053, as an organ concerto — and even uses the slow movement of the keyboard concerto as the basis of an alto aria later in the cantata. The sinfonia of Geist und Seele wird verwirret, BWV 35, is believed to be a reworking of a harpsichord concerto, BWV 1059, of which only the first nine bars survive in the original form. The amazing sinfonia of Am Abend aber desselbigen Sabbats, BWV 42, is likely the opening movement of a lost concerto grosso for two oboes, bassoon and string orchestra — possibly a "seventh Brandenburg."

Such is the case with the sinfonia of BWV 174, for which Bach used the opening movement of the Brandenburg Concerto No. 3, BWV 1048. Yet Bach was not content simply to "cut and paste" the earlier music into the cantata. The original concerto was scored for nine solo string instruments (three each of violins, violas and cellos) plus continuo. For the cantata Bach added ripieno orchestral parts for two oboes and English horn that are doubled by orchestral violins and violas — and on top of that he composed two new independent parts for a pair of hunting horns (played this afternoon by two flugelhorns).

The addition of these new voices and textures raise several interesting questions regarding musical interpretation. In its original guise this music is usually played very quickly, but with a larger ensemble the same tempo is not as manageable. Likewise, certain notes are elongated for emphasis in many performances of BWV 1048 but this is impossible in the BWV 174 version because the new parts add steady sixteenth notes to the longer note that is usually "stretched" in the original incarnation. Does this indicate that Bach had in mind a slower tempo for the Brandenburg and that he would not have taken the rhythmic liberties that are common today? Or did he perform this sinfonia differently in the cantata than he did in its original form? Listeners who heard Orchestra Seattle perform the third Brandenburg last season may note some interpretive differences between that reading and this afternoon's performance of BWV 174.

The sinfonia is followed by a gorgeous alto aria, accompanied by two oboes and continuo. A tenor recitative then leads to an exciting bass aria that features virtuoso accompaniment from the entire string section. All of the instruments save the horns return for the concluding chorale, which Bach employed in a different setting as the final chorale of the St. John Passion, BWV 245.

© 2003 Jeff Eldridge

Last performance:

Other works
on this program:

Francis Poulenc
Henry Purcell
U. W. Wassenaer

Other Bach works:
Cantata No. 79
Cantata No. 140
Cantata No. 196
Flute sonatas
Suite No. 1
Suite No. 2

BWV 174 links:
German text
English translation
Cantatas guide

Bach links:
Performance Today
BBC profile

Good CDs:

Helmuth Rilling leads very fine performances of BWVs 172-175


Good books:

Klaus Eidam's entertainingly opinionated revisionist biography of Bach


The third edition of Malcolm Boyd's wonderfully accessible biography of Bach