Geist und Seele wird verwirret: Cantata BWV 35

by Johann Sebastian Bach

Johann Sebastian Bach: Geist und Seele wird verwirret (Spirit and Soul become confused), BWV 35.

   Bach's output as a whole seems unparalleled in its character, and embraces practically every musical genre of his time except opera.  He opened up new dimensions in virtually every department of creative work, in format, density and musical quality, and also in technical demands.  An essential component of Bach's style can be seen in his combination of solid compositional craftsmanship with instrumental and vocal virtuosity. (1)

Geist und Seele wird verwirret

   Bach's sacred and secular cantatas form a cycle by itself, where various compositional techniques are used.  Musically they are marked by their varied sequence of sections representing different kinds of compositions:  concert, motet, strophic aria and chorale, thus attaining a particularly high degree of independence and correspondence between text and music in line with the Lutheran ideal of "proclamation of the word." (2)   A common characteristic of the cantatas as a whole is the framework and some innovations in the instrumental material used.  From No. 75 onwards the brass (mainly trumpets and horns) are more strongly employed, the flute is brought into play increasingly after 1724, and the oboe d'amore (from No. 75) and the oboe da caccia, in Bach's time called taille (from No. 167) are introduced as new instruments.  Instrumental virtuosity is heightened, and melismatic quality of the vocal writing is further developed.

Geist und Seele wird verwirret: Structure of the Arias

   To Bach, as to his contemporaries, "cantata" suggested a secular composition for solo voices with continuo and, possibly, other instruments. (3)  Accordingly, we do not find the term "cantata" in any of Bach's regular choral works for the church service, and it seems that Bach himself did not use the term for any of the sacred solo works either, except for isolated works (Copulations Cantata, No. 195 and Trauungs-Cantata, No. 197).   Bach, in his note concerning the order of worship at Leipzig, referred to the chief composition to be performed as "Haupt Music." (4)   In his scores, he generally avoided the use of a technical term.  His titles regularly specify the occasion within the church year for which the work was written, the performing forces, the opening words of the text, and the composer's name.  When a technical classification is given, we find mostly "concerto" or "concerto da chiesa."  A specific group is formed by the works called "dialogi" or "concerto di dialogo," in which two allegorical figures are introduced such as Fear and Hope, or the Saviour and the Christian Soul.  Twice we find the term "motetto."  The term motet is applied by Bach to works for voice without instrumental parts.  Bach's secular works for voices and instruments are the only true cantatas.  Bach himself made the distinction between "drama per musica," which suggested a choral work, and "cantatas," which suggested performance by soloists. (5)

   In the third cycle, from 1725 to 1727, the forms include solo and dialogue cantatas and large-scale works in two parts.  The third cycle, and also the fourth, make extensive use of preexisting concerto material, perhaps from the Koethen period.  From late 1726, obligato organ parts appear (Nos. 35, 146, 169, 49, 88).

Geist und Seele wird verwirret: Cantata BWV 35

   For the 12th Sunday after Trinity Bach wrote four cantatas, all in Leipzig:

   BWV 69a, "Lobe den Herrn meine Seele" written for the 15th of August 1723;

   BWV 137, "Lobe den Herren, den maechtigen Koenig" for the 19th of August 1725;

   BWV 35, "Geist und Seele wird verwirret" written for the 8th of September 1726; and

   BWV 69, "Lobe den Herrn, meine 'Seele' " written between 1742 and 1748 used later for the change of town council.

Geist und Seele wird verwirret

This paper will discuss the text of the Cantata No. 35 and the dating of it, but also the Italian influences on Bach's music such as: the madrigal poetry, the stile concitato, and the Affections.  Lastly, the discussion will refer to the use of Hebrew letters and to the number symbolism used by Bach.  The cantata is written in two parts, the framework of it appearing on the above inserted page.

In the practice of the Leipzig Lutheran Liturgy, the first part of a two-part cantata would follow immediately the reading from the Gospel, preceding the Creed and the Sermon.  The second part of it would follow the Sermon, "subcommunione." (6)  The Latin terms for it were "exordium" (introduction) and "peroratio" (concluding part).

   The two sinfonias and the two arias of the Cantata BWV 35 are adapted from instrumental material, the two recitativi secchi being the only original parts.

   In the Schmieder Bach Werke Verzeichnis, (7) a fragment of nine bars of a cembalo concerto (BWV 1059) in D minor is given.  It is for strings  and, what is unusual for concertos, an oboe doubling violin I. 

   Apart from some small alterations, this opens the first Sinfonia of No. 35.  In the cantata, there is a second oboe added to the first and a taille (oboe da caccia).   The cembalo solo is assigned to organo obligato (one manual and pedals)This is not unsual for Bach as there are seven cantatas with organo obligato that utilize borrowed material.   Those are cantatas Nos. 27, 29, 35, 49, 169, 170 and 188. (8)  From those seven, the cantatas Nos. 170, 35, and 169 fall into a group by themselves.  They are all for alto solo, implying the presence of some singer in whom Bach might have been particularly interested. (9)   The first aria was possibly the slow movement of this concerto, in siciliano.  The many long, continuous decorative passages for the organ manual may have been derived from an earlier violin form dating back to Koethen. (10)

Geist und Seele wird verwirret:  Dating of the Cantata. Spitta's method.

   In the Bach Journal of 1970, (11) Gerhard Herz discusses the problems of the Spitta's dating method as follows:

   Spitta was generations ahead of his time by declaring the watermarks in the paper of the original   manuscript. . .(12)  And that in the 1870's when a total survey of Bach's work was not yet possible. . . Spitta proves to be right whenever the dates assigned to a watermark are based on at least one composition that is either dated or otherwise unquestionably datable.  When, on the other hand, no dated manuscript for a certain paper exists, or when a watermark has one or several variants with which it could be confused, then two areas of possible error become apparent.  These dual possibilities of error, in fact, show precisely where and why Spitta made his crucial mistake in dating the works of Bach's Leipzig period.

In 1972, Bach's cantata No. 140, "Wachet auf, uns rufft die Stimme," appears in the Norton scores. (13)  The editor, Herz, documents the dates of the cantatas.  According to this documentation, cantata BWV 35 was written in Leipzig in 1726 with the watermarks as they had appeared in Spitta's survey.  The date of Spitta ("not earlier than 1730") (14) proved to be wrong. 

Geist und Seele wird verwirret: Text and Biblical References

   The Gospel of the 12th Sunday after trinity refers to the Epistel:  2 Corinthians 3, 4-11 (the written law kills, but the Spirit gives life) and to Mark's Evangelium (Mark:  7, 31-37, the incident of the curing of the deaf).  Cantata BWV 69a, "Lobe den Herrn meine Seele," refers to the Epistel, to the Evangelium, and to David's psalm 103, 2:  Bless the Lord, oh my soul, and forget not all his benefits.

   Cantata BWV 137, "Lobe den Herrn, den maechtigen Koenig der Ehren," refers to the Psalm 103 while using as text the five strophes of a song by Joachim Neander, written in 1680.

   Cantata BWV 35, "Geist und Seele wird verwirret," refers to Mark's Evangelium and to Lamentations (Jeremiah 3, 22-23):

   22:  The favours of the Lord are not exhausted, his mercies are not spent;

   23:  They are renewed each morning, so great is his faithfulness.

What all of these cantatas have in common is the praise of God's wonders.  Two of them (69a and 137) are based mainly on David's Psalm 103, 2 and begin with the Praise "Lobe den Herrn."  In two of them the  words "Gott hat alles wohlgemaht" (God has doen everything well) are derived from Mark's Evangelium.

   The Gospel of the day (Mark:  7, 31-37) reads:

   31:  He then left Tyrian territory and returned, by way of Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, into the district of the Ten Cities.

   32:  Some people brought him a deaf man who had a speech impediment and begged him to lay his hands on him.

   33:  Jesus took him off by himself away from the crowd.  He put his fingers into the man's ears and, spitting, touched his tongue;

   34:  then he looked up to heaven and emitted a groan.  He said to him "Ephphatha" (that is, "Be opened").

   35:  At once, the man's ears were opened; he was freed from the impediment, and began to speak plainly.  Then he enjoined them strictly not to tell anyone; more they proclaimed it.