BWV 80, Episode 44
Bach’s cantata Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott is a reformation piece that features a text full of a positive, affirmative sentiment that Bach capitalizes upon in his setting. For a review of the text in English, see here.
In this podcast, I compare the modern approach towards Bach’s composition to another piece in the Bach catalog, the Fantasia in C minor, BWV 921. See score here. What I call modernity in the keyboard piece are rather rich, almost exotic harmonies and rhythmic variation and vitality. The agitated, almost “concitato” style is present too in the cantata.
I mention in the podcast Bach’s typical musical structures for cantatas, not unique to Bach from the period: chorale settings, arias, recitatives, and to some degree, instrumental sinfonias or introductions. Many of Bach’s works employ a very old technique at establishing a theme to a work, through the use of a cantus firmus; I call this more colloquially as the “hymn tune.” Outside of Bach’s vocal music, he uses the same techniques in organ works. Luther’s Ein feste Burg… is set by Bach for organ as well, being a rather important piece to the Lutheran tradition.
More unusual in this work is the opening “chorale fantasia.” It’s an elaborate setting using all voices, including the orchestra, setting the chorale theme as a fugue. The Wikipedia article rightly calls this a motet technique.
The whole piece is worth exploration, and the article cited above speaks to it’s origins in Weimar, pre-Leipzig. The music reveals to me a creative, daring musician working with and even against established formal structures from his time. But several elements I point out in the podcast show off Bach’s genius, I believe, and that is most obviously manifest in a rather overwhelming emotional reaction this piece can have on the modern listener.
I feature two performances on this podcast and recommend both.