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


Gott der Herr ist Sonn und Schild, BWV 79

Bach was born in Eisenach, Germany, on March 21, 1685, and died in Leipzig on July 28, 1750. His cantata BWV 79 was composed in 1725 and first performed on October 31 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, bassoon, two horns, timpani, strings and continuo.

Bach wrote this cantata for Reformation Sunday and later reused three of its movements for his Mass in G major, BWV 236.

The opening movement is based on verse 11 of the very comforting and pastoral Psalm 84, but Bach makes it one of the most dazzlingly martial and energetic of all his works, one that conjures up a vision of numberless hosts fighting for the Right. It opens with a fanfare over insistent timpani against which the strings and winds present a grand march that leads to a lengthy three-voice fugue. After some five statements of the fugal theme, the brass and timpani return to introduce the grand, declamatory entrance of the chorus. By the time the chorus actually begins its fugal treatment of the theme, the tune has appeared so often that Bach immediately introduces it in the various voices in quick succession (a fugal technique called "stretto,") both at one-measure and half-measure intervals, thus heightening the musical tension and excitement. Listen for the reappearance of the horns above this rich sonic tapestry as the movement draws to a close.

Next comes a lovely, simple, pastoral alto aria that is decorated by an oboe obbligato. Its opening line of text is almost the same as that of the previous chorus, demonstrating Bach's ability to view a single text from two widely differing perspectives.

In the magnificent second chorale arrangement (the fourth movement), which is actually a three-part chorale concerto, the hymn tune sung by tenors is interwoven line by line with a (now famous) melody played by unison strings that is of a sweetness found rarely in Bach's cantatas; it may depict the graceful procession of the maidens going out to meet Jesus, the heavenly bridegroom.

The cantata's third movement is unique among Bach's works. He uses the opening chorus' fanfares to accompany a harmonization of the chorale "Nun danket alle Gott" using only horns, timpani and continuo. This movement's relative transparency provides a pause for the giving of thanks following a tumultuous battle.

A bass recitative is followed by a duet for bass and soprano with obbligato violins. The duet is unusual in that the vocalists almost never sing in counterpoint, giving the impression that two small figures stand alone against the forces of evil.

A simple chorale setting of the melody, "Wach auf, mein Herz, und singe," concludes the cantata.

2003 Lorelette Knowles

Last performance:

Other works
on this program:

BWV 140
BWV 1066

Other Bach works:
Cantata No. 174
Cantata No. 196
Flute sonatas
Suite No. 2

BWV 79 links:
German text
English translation
Emmanuel Music
Cantatas guide

Bach links:
BBC profile
ClassicalNet page

Good books:

Klaus Eidam's entertainingly opinionated revisionist biography of Bach


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