Johann Sebastian Bach: Cantata 34

Master of Jean Rollin II, Pentecost, Koninklijke Bibliotheek, The Hague, c.1455

O ewiges Feuer, O Ursprung der Liebe
O eternal fire, O source of love
Cantata 34
BWV 34

Event: Whit Sunday [1st Day of Pentecost]
1st performance: 1746-47, Leipzig
Readings: Epistle: Acts 2: 1-13; Gospel: John 14: 23-31
Text: Anon.

Click to read brief commentaries by Simon Crouch for Classical Net, Brian Robbins for All Music, Carol Traupman-Carr for the Bach Choir of Bethlehem and Craig Smith for Emmanuel Music.

Performance of Cantata 34 by Alto:
Nathalie Stutzmann; Counter-tenor: Derek Lee Ragin; Tenor: Christoph Genz; Bass: Panajotis Iconomou; Monteverdi Choir / English Baroque Soloists; John Eliot Gardiner conducting. 2nd recording of Cantata BWV 34 by J.E. Gardiner. Live recording from the Bach Cantata Pilgrimage, at Holy Trinity Church, Long Melford, England.

To listen, click on underlined movements.

1) Chorus [S, A, T, B] Tromba I-III, Timpani, Oboe I/II, Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo

O ewiges Feuer, o Ursprung der Liebe,
O eternal fire, o source of love,
Entzünde die Herzen und weihe sie ein.
enkindle our hearts and coonsecrate them.
Laß himmlische Flammen durchdringen und wallen,
Make heavenly flames penetrate and flow through us,
Wir wünschen, o Höchster, dein Tempel zu sein,
We wish, o most high Lord, to be your temple,
Ach, laß dir die Seelen im Glauben gefallen.
Ah, make our souls pleasing to you in faith.

2) Recitative [Tenor] Continuo

Herr, unsre Herzen haltendir
Lord, our hearts hold
Dein Wort der Wahrheit für:
your word to be the truth:
Du willst bei Menschen gerne sein,
You want willingly to be among men;
Drum sei das Herze dein;
therefore let my heart be yours;
Herr, ziehe gnädig ein.
Lord, may you graciously enter in.
Ein solch erwähltes Heiligtum
Such a sanctuary chosen by you
Hat selbst den größten Ruhm.
has itself the greatest glory.

3) Aria [alto] Flauto traverse I/II, Violino I/II con sordino, Viola con sordino, continuo
Wohl euch, ihr auserwählten Seelen,
Happy are you, you chosen souls,
Die Gott zur Wohnung ausersehn.
whom God has picked for his dwelling.
Wer kann ein größer Heil erwählen?
Who can choose a greater salvation?
Wer kann des Segens Menge zählen?
Who can count the abundance of blessings?
Und dieses ist vom Herrn geschehn.
And this is the work of God.

4) Recitative [Bass] Continuo

Erwählt sich Gott die heilgen Hütten,
If God chooses the sacred dwellings
Die er mit Heil bewohnt,
that he inhabits with salvation,
So muß er auch den Segen auf sie schütten,
then he must also pour his blessing on them,
So wird der Sitz des Heiligtums belohnt.
then the seat of his sanctuary is rewarded.
Der Herr ruft über sein geweihtes Haus
The Lord proclaims over his consecrated house
Das Wort des Segens aus:
the word of his blessing:

5) Chorus [S, A, T, B] Tromba I-III, Timpani, Oboe I/II, Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo

Friede über Israel.
Peace on Israel.
Dankt den höchsten Wunderhänden,
Give thanks, for the hands of the Most High that work miracles,
Dankt, Gott hat an euch gedacht.
Give thanks, that God has thought of you
Ja, sein Segen wirkt mit Macht,
Yes, his blessing works with power,
Friede über Israel,
to send peace on Israel
Friede über euch zu senden.
to send peace on you.

Note on the text

This cantata for Whit Sunday dates from the 1740s but is based on a wedding cantata with the same title (BWV 34a) written in 1726, probably for the marriage of a Leipzig clergyman. The text of this earlier cantata survives, but very little of the music.
Bach was probably inspired to make the adaption by the reference to ' himmlische Flammen' (heavenly flames) in the opening chorus of the wedding cantata : the Epistle for Whit Sunday (Acts 2: 1-13) tells of 'tongues of flame' that appeared to the apostles.

But the text of BWV 34 refers more to the Gospel reading ( John 14: 23-31) , particularly Jesus' words: 'If a man loves me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him and we shall come to him, and make our abode with him' and 'I leave you peace, my peace I give to you'.

The anonymous librettist wrote two new recitatives and had to make only minor changes to the wedding cantata text to adapt three concerted numbers that were reused. So that comparisons may be easily made, I translate the relevant movements below.

1) Chorus [S, A, T, B]

O ewiges Feuer, o Ursprung der Liebe,
O eternal fire, o source of love,
Entzünde der Herzen geweihten Altar.
kindle the altar of these consecrated hearts.
Laß himmlische Flammen durchdringen und wallen
Make heavenly flames penetrate and flow through them,
Ach laß doch auf dieses vereinigte Paar
Ah, grant that on this united couple
Die Funken der edelsten Regungen fallen.
sparks of the noblest emotions may fall.

5) Aria [Alto]

Wohl euch, ihr auserwählten Schafe,
Happy are you, you chosen sheep,
Die ein getreuer Jacob liebt.
that a faithful Jacob loves.
Sein Lohn wird dort am größten werden,
His reward will there be very great,
Den ihm der Herr bereits auf Erden
the reward which already on earth the Lord gives to him
Durch seiner Rahel Anmut gibt.
through the charm of his Rachel.

4) Chorus [S, A, T, B]

Friede über Israel!
Peace upon Israel!
Eilt zu denen heilgen Stufen,
Hurry to the holy steps,
Eilt, der Höchste neigt sein Ohr.
Hurry, the Most High inclines his ear.
Unser Wünschen dringt hervor,
Our desire presses forward
Friede über Israel,
to shout peace upon Israel,
Friede über euch zu rufen.
peace upon you.

The German Text: The English Translation and accompanying comments are by Francis Browne: Both used by permission.