"Art makes life, makes interest, makes importance"

May 18, 2012

Bach Cantatas (26): Ascension Day

Ascension Day celebrates Jesus' ascension to heaven (Ascensio Iesu). It is the 40th day after Easter (or 39 days after Easter Sunday) and one of most important feasts of the Christian year, dating back to the late fourth century.

According to the Christian teaching found in the New Testament, 40 days after the resurrection Jesus was taken up to heaven in his resurrected body, in the presence of eleven of his apostles.

There are three cantatas and an oratorio for this day.

Acts 1:1–11, "Farewell and Ascension"
Mark 16:14–20, "Ascension"


  • Wer da gläubet und getauft wird, BWV 37, 18 May 1724

    (Coro): "Wer da gläubet und getauft wird"
     Aria: "Der Glaube ist das Pfand der Liebe"
     Chorale (Duetto): "Herr Gott Vater, mein starker Held!"
     Recitativo: "Ihr Sterblichen, verlanget ihr"
     Aria: "Der Glaube schafft der Seele Flügel"
     Chorale: "Den Glauben mir verleihe"

    ("He that believeth and is baptized") Rather than a musical representation of the Ascension story, this cantata is a dogmatic treatise on the power of the Christian faith. Starts with a dancing chorus, followed by a genial tenor aria singing that belief is a sort of guarantee of Jesus' love. Next soprano and alto sing the chorale "Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern," reviving the dancing character of the beginning. The bass recitative and aria are more dark in tone. They remind us that even although one should do good works, justification and salvation result from faith alone. The work ends with an austere choral harmonization. (***)

  • Auf Christi Himmelfahrt allein, BWV 128, 10 May 1725

    Coro (horns, oboes, strings): Auf Christi Himmelfahrt allein
     Recitativo (tenor): Ich bin bereit, komm, hole mich
     Aria e recitativo (bass, trumpet): Auf, auf, mit hellem Schall
     Aria (alto, tenor, oboe d'amore): Sein Allmacht zu ergründen
     Chorale: Alsdenn so wirst du mich

    ("On Christ"s Ascencion Alone!") Choral cantata with full orchestra, including horns and trumpet. Textually it is based on the opening words "On Christ's ascension into heaven alone I base my own ensuing journey," outlining the theological significance of the Ascension and expressing confidence that the righteous will join Christ in Heaven. Starts with an attractive and lively choral fantasia with prominent horns. The bass aria "Up, up, with clarion ring proclaim everywhere: my Jesus sits at the right hand!" is in heroic style and accompanied by a virtuoso trumpet. It is a vision of the disciples seeing Jesus in Heaven. A duet for alto and tenor in da capo aria form has a characteristic rhetorical drop on the "Ergrunden," "Fathom." The final four-part harmonized choral again uses the horns to great effect. (***)

  • Gott fähret auf mit Jauchzen, BWV 43, 30 May 1726

    (Coro): Gott fähret auf mit Jauchzen
     Recitativo: Es will der Höchste sich ein Siegsgepräng bereiten
     Aria: Ja tausend mal tausend begleiten den Wagen
     Recitativo: Und der Herr, nachdem er mit ihnen geredet hatte
     Aria: Mein Jesus hat nunmehr
     Recitativo: Es kommt der Helden Held
     Aria: Er ists, der ganz allein
     Recitativo: Der Vater hat ihm ja
     Aria: Ich sehe schon im Geist
     Recitativo: Er will mir neben sich
     Chorale: Du Lebensfürst, Herr Jesu Christ

    ("God is gone up with a merry noise") Magnificent opening chorus with trumpet and drums, expression the joy about the Ascension, but it passes all too quickly, and the same is true of the other eleven short and condensed movements of this cantata. Among the ensuing arias the most beautiful is the one for tenor with string accompaniment, with the emphasis on "thousands upon thousands." The soprano aria has the necessary sweetness to fit its childlike text. Like in the previous cantata, the bass aria again boasts a solo trumpet. The alto aria is a melancholy meditation on the sad side of the Ascension story. The cantata closes with two choral verses instead of one. (***)

  • Lobet Gott in seinen Reichen, BWV 11, 19 May 1735 - Ascension Oratorio

     Chorus Lobet Gott in seinen Reichen
     Evangelist (tenor) Der Herr Jesus hub seine Hände auf
     Recitative (bass) Ach, Jesu, ist dein Abschied schon so nah?
     Aria (alto) Ach, bleibe doch, mein liebstes Leben
     Evangelist Und ward aufgehoben zusehends
     Chorale Nun lieget alles unter dir
     Evangelists (tenor and bass) Und da sie ihm nachsahen gen Himmel fahren
     Recitative (soprano) Ach ja! so komme bald zurück
     Evangelist Sie aber beteten ihn an
     Aria (soprano) Jesu, deine Gnadenblicke
     Chorale Wenn soll es doch geschehen

    ("Praise God in His Riches") The baffling thing about this beautiful work is that it is relatively unknown - perhaps its neglect is due to the fact that its major parts are all based on (now lost) secular cantata movements? The text of the cantata is a dramatization of the Ascension story, with the tenor as Evangelist. The cantata starts with a brilliant chorus, propelled along by the virtuoso trumpets. Simple and artless in appearance, it is very effective. After that, the atmosphere of the oratorio is mainly melancholic. The alto aria "Ich bleibe doch" is a good example, with its almost begging violins. The middle of the work is a choral setting, “Ermuntre dich, mein schwacher Geist,” with a low-pitched melody, symbolizing how those who remain behind are literally at Jesus feet. The soprano aria "Jesu deine Gnadenblicke" has a mysterious character that closely matches the text - Jesus' bodily departure from earth is suggested by the absence of a continuo part, while the hovering spirit is reflected in the accompaniment for upper strings. The final choral again is accompanied by the whole orchestra blazing away, an amazing tour de force. (***)

(1) New Year's Day (2) New Year I (3) Epiphany (4) Epiphany I (5) Epiphany II (6) Epiphany III (7) Epiphany IV (8) Feast of Purification of Mary (9) Septuagesima (10) Sexagesima (11) Quinquagesima (Estomihi) (12) The Consecration of a New Organ (13) The Inauguration of the Town Council (14) Oculi (15) Wedding Cantatas (16) Feast of Annunciation (17) Palm Sunday (18) Easter Sunday (19) Easter Monday (20) Easter Tuesday (21) Easter I (Quasimodogeniti) (22) Easter II (23) Easter III (24) Easter IV (25) Easter V (26) Ascension Day (27) Ascension I (28) Pentecost Sunday (29) Pentecost Monday (30) Pentecost Tuesday (31) Trinity Sunday (32) Trinity I (33) Trinity II (34) Trinity III (35) St. John's Day (36) Trinity IV (37) Visitation (38) Trinity V (39) Trinity VI (40) Trinity VII (41) Trinity VIII (42) Trinity IX (43) Trinity X (44) Trinity XI (45) Trinity XII (46) Trinity XIII (47) Trinity XIV (48) Trinity XV (49) Trinity XVI (50) Trinity XVII (51) Trinity XVIII (52) Trinity XIX (53) Trinity XX (54) Trinity XXI (55) Trinity XXII (56) Trinity XXIII (57) Trinity XXIV (58) Trinity XXV-XXVII (59) Advent I-IV (60) Christmas Day (61) Second Day of Christmas (62) Third Day of Christmas (63) Sunday after Christmas