Johann Sebastian Bach

Cantata No. 80, "Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott," BWV 80 (BC A183)

    Description by Brian Robins

    The Reformation Festival is one of the major annual events in the Lutheran calendar; it is celebrated on October 31, the day on which Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the castle church at Wittenburg in 1517. BWV 80 ("A mighty fortress is our God"), one of Bach's most famous cantatas, is one of two that Bach composed for the Festival. Unlike BWV 79, its companion, BWV 80 has a highly complex history. It appears to have started life as a Lenten cantata (BWV 80a) composed during Bach's period in Weimar, probably in 1715; in 1723, his first year in Leipzig, Bach expanded the work for use at the Festival that year, in the process dropping the great chorus based on Luther's famous hymn in favor of a simple four-part harmonization. At some later date Bach again revised the cantata, replacing the opening chorale with a chorus in the old polyphonic style. Confusion over the instrumentation of BWV 80 is exacerbated by the loss of Bach's original score and parts; the version known today comes from a copy made by Bach's pupil and son-in-law, Johann Christoph Altnickol. Further confusion resulted when trumpet and timpani parts composed by Bach's eldest son, Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, found their way into the first printing of the work; although spurious, they are still included in many of the performances heard today.

    Luther's well-known hymn dominates the work; aside from its prominence in choral movements, it serves as a cantus firmus in a duet for soprano and bass (No. 2). A second soprano aria with only continuo accompaniment follows the succeeding bass recitative; its small scale and reflective character provide relief from the prevailing grandeur of the work. The other solo number is a duet for alto and tenor (No. 7) with an obbligato part for oboe da caccia (an oboe in the original Weimar version). The concluding chorale returns to Luther's hymn, setting the final strophe as a simple four-part harmonization.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Ein' feste Burg ist unser Gott
    2. Alles, was von Gott geboren
    3. Mit unser Macht ist ichts getan
    4. Erwäge doch, Kind Gottes, die so grosse Liebe
    5. Komm in mein Herzens Haus
    6. Und wenn die Welt voll Teufel wär'
    7. So stehe denn bei Chrsit blutgefärbter Fahne
    8. Wie selig sind doch die, die Gott im Munde tragen
    9. Das Wort sie sollen lassen stahn

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2018 ATMA Classique ACD 22407
    2018 J.S. Bach-Stiftung B 617CD
    2018 Phi LPH 030
    2018 Affetto AF 1810
    2017 Carus CV 83282
    2017 Harmonia Mundi HMM 902265
    2016 Warner Classics 0190295975135
    2016 BIS BIS 9055
    2016 Sony Classical 88985320832
    2016 Warner Classics 0190295929718
    2015 Deutsche Harmonia Mundi / DHM Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 88875170122
    2014 Brilliant Classics 94947BR
    2013 Teldec 671905
    2012 EtCetera Records ETC 1442
    2012 Rondeau ROP 4031
    2011 Warner Classics
    2010 Deutsche Grammophon
    2010 Brilliant Classics 94050
    2010 Decca
    2010 Philips / Philips 4224902
    2008 Corona Classic Collection 0001142CCC
    2008 Brilliant Classics 93668
    2008 Teldec 69943-7
    2008 Berlin Classics 018421
    2008 Brilliant 93160
    2007 Teldec Classics 8573811855
    2007 Warner Classics
    2006 Brilliant Classics 99697
    2006 Brilliant Classics 93102
    2006 EMI Music Distribution 76936
    2006 Challenge Records 72222
    2006 Berlin Classics 8394
    2005 Soli Deo Gloria 110
    2005 EMI Classics
    2005 BIS 1421
    2005 Harmonia Mundi 901326
    2004 Haenssler 98838
    2004 Brilliant Classics 92391
    2003 Harmonia Mundi 2908135/39
    2003 Harmonia Mundi 3001326
    2002 Haenssler 94028
    2001 Haenssler 92562
    2001 Harmonia Mundi 2908110/12
    1999 Teldec 25704
    1999 Archiv Produktion 427130
    1999 Haenssler 92026
    1999 Teldec 3984-25707-2
    1999 Harmonia Mundi 2951326
    1997 L'Oiseau-Lyre 455706
    1997 Harmonia Mundi 2901326
    1996 Koch 7234
    1994 Archiv Produktion 439 368-2AX26
    1994 Archiv Produktion 439 394-2AX5
    1994 Teldec 4509-91759-2
    1994 Teldec 4509-91765-2
    1994 Naxos 550642
    1993 Teldec 4509-92627-2
    Brilliant Classics 99703
    Brilliant Classics 93102-VOL3
    Bach Guild 2539
    Brilliant 93102/47
    Brilliant Classics 93668/34
    Brilliant 93160/10
    Brilliant 99703/1
    Brilliant 92391/34
    Vanguard 105
    London 414045
    Bach Guild 2543
    Polygram 01366
    Archiv Produktion 413646
    Haenssler
    Unison 82882
    American Bach Soloists
    Haenssler 98819