Serafim Smigelskiy, the cellist in the Tesla Quartet, playing alone in Prospect Park in Brooklyn. Photo by Benjamin Norman for The New York Times

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Johann Sebastian Bach: Cantata BWV 29, “Wir danken dir, Gott, wir danken dir” – Maria Keohane, Damien Guillon, Valerio Contaldo, Lionel Meunier, Netherlands Bach Society, Jos van Veldhoven (HD 1080p)

Under Jos van Veldhoven's baton, the Netherlands Bach Society, the oldest ensemble for Baroque music in the Netherlands, and possibly in the world, and the soloists Maria Keohane (soprano), Damien Guillon (alto), Valerio Contaldo (tenor) and Lionel Meunier (bass) perform the church cantata of Johann Sebastian Bach "Wir danken dir, Gott, wir danken dir", BWV 29. Recorded for the project All of Bach, at the St Martin's Church, Groningen, Netherlands, on March 15, 2014.

BWV 29 ("We thank thee, O God, we thank thee") is one of a number of cantatas J.S. Bach composed for the ceremonies attending the installation of new members of the Leipzig city council (other examples are cantatas Nos. 119 and 120). An important part of these ceremonies, which traditionally took place at the end of August, was the church service held at St Nicholas'.

The present work was composed for the event in 1731, the service taking place on August 27 that year. In keeping with the festive and ceremonial pomp of the occasion, Bach's cantata is lavishly scored for an orchestra including three trumpets, timpani, two oboes, strings, and continuo bass, and vocal forces including the usual four-part chorus, and soprano, alto, tenor, and bass soloists. An unknown librettist provided the text glorifying the power of God and extolling him to protect "town and palaces".

This cantata opens with a sinfonia in the form of a remarkable arrangement of the Prelude from the Violin Partita in E major, BWV 1006. The violin part is given to obbligato organ, the material largely imitated in the orchestral parts to produce a concerto-like structure. Many listeners will recognize the fugal opening chorus, since it is a reworking of what would eventually become the "Gratias agimus tibi" and "Dona nobis pacem" sections of the monumental Mass in B minor, BWV 232. The text is drawn from Psalm 75:1. Three arias interspersed by recitatives follow. The first aria, for tenor, has a violin obbligato, and Bach returns to its A section, a setting of the words "Hallelujah, strength and might", for the alto aria that forms the penultimate number. In between comes a soprano aria in gentle siciliano rhythm with an obbligato part for oboe. The final number is a four-part setting of the fifth stanza of Johann Gramann's hymn "Nun lob, mein Seel, den Herren" (1549), the trumpets and drums adding their magnificence and splendor to this jubilant work.

Source: Brian Robins (

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)

♪ Cantata BWV 29, "Wir danken dir, Gott, wir danken dir" (1731, Leipzig)

i. Sinfonia [00:06]*
ii. Chorus: Wir danken dir, Gott, wir danken dir [04:00]
iii. Aria (tenor): Hallelja, Stärk und Macht [07:06]
iv. Recitativo (bass): Gottlob! es geht uns wohl! [13:17]
v. Aria (soprano): Gedenk an uns mit deiner Liebe [14:32]
vi. Recitativo (alto, chorus): Vergiß es ferner nicht [20:25]
vii. Aria (alto): Hallelja, Stärk und Macht [20:53]
viii. Chorale: Sei Lob und Preis mit Ehren [22:42]

Maria Keohane, soprano
Damien Guillon, alto
Valerio Contaldo, tenor
Lionel Meunier, bass

Leo van Doeselaar, organ

Netherlands Bach Society
Conductor: Jos van Veldhoven

Film directors: Lucas van Woerkum, Joost Honselaar

St Martin's Church, Groningen, Netherlands, March 15, 2014

(HD 1080p)

* Start time of each movement

Around a quarter of cantata BWV 29 consists of notes Bach had written earlier. The festive sinfonia comes from a wedding cantata presumed to have been written in 1729. The organ "tune", nowadays better known as the "Nokia tune", is much older. Bach composed this melody in Köthen in 1720, as a piece for solo violin.

The opening chorus "Wir danken dir, Gott" is also better known in another guise, namely as the "Gratias" and the "Dona nobis pacem" from the Mass in B minor. The version in this cantata is older, and because the melody does not really seem to be designed for the words of psalm 75, it is thought there was an even earlier version with different text. However, the old-style setting does make a perfect match for the message of the psalm text. More and more people lend their support, and the gratitude swells. At the end, three trumpets and drums join in with four choir voices, creating a seven-voice whole – the number of fullness.

There is a big contrast between the "Wir danken dir, Gott" in old style and the baroque, concertante opening piece. Yet Bach creates a strong unity with the parts he added. Around the soprano aria "Gedenk an uns in deiner Liebe" in the middle of the cantata, he put two recitatives and two arias. The arias have the same text, "Halleluja, Stärk und Macht", and the second one for alto is a sort of concentrated version of the first one for tenor. The cantata then ends with a solemn chorale setting that – partly through the trumpets and drums – links up again with the "Wir danken dir, Gott". 


Jos van Veldhoven

Maria Keohane

Damien Guillon

Valerio Contaldo

Lionel Meunier

Leo van Doeselaar

More photos

See also

Johann Sebastian Bach: Cantata BWV 78, “Jesu, der du meine Seele” – Maria Keohane, Tim Mead, Daniel Johannsen, Matthew Brook, Netherlands Bach Society, Jos van Veldhoven (HD 1080p)

Johann Sebastian Bach: St Matthew Passion, BWV 244 – Benjamin Hulett, Griet De Geyter, Lore Binon, Tim Mead, Alex Potter, Thomas Hobbs, Charles Daniels, Andreas Wolf, Sebastian Noack – Kampen Boys Choir, Netherlands Bach Society, Jos van Veldhoven

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