Cantatas over Coffee: "Lord God, We All to Thee Give Praise": Cantata for St. Michael and All Angels (1724) by J. S. Bach
Let Thy holy angel be with me, that the evil foe may have no power over me.
—Martin Luther’s Daily Prayer
Among the principal feasts of Christ in the church year, few are more beloved in the Lutheran tradition than St. Michael’s and All Angels (hereafter “Michaelmas”), with the possible exceptions of Reformation and All Saints. Two competing (or are they complementary?) theories might explain the choice of September 29th for this festival: the dedication of a church by the same name in ancient Europe, and/or the passing of the fall equinox, resulting in shorter days and longer nights, an allegory of the end-times battle between good and evil. The Scripture lessons were Revelation 12:7-12 (Michael’s end-times battle with the ancient dragon) and St. Matthew 18:1-11 (angels behold the face of God as part of their care for God’s children). In Bach’s Leipzig, St. Michael’s Day was also one of the quarterly occasions on which “rents were levied and agreed in northern Europe, the start of the new agricultural year for many people and, in Leipzig, the day of one of its three annual trade fairs” (John Eliot Gardiner, Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven, p. 457). Theologically, the day called for what Jonathan Green describes as “a flashy and brilliant cantata” (A Conductor’s Guide to the Choral-Orchestral Works of J. S. Bach, p. 289), but the other commitments of the day might explain why Cantata 130, while unmistakably festive, is also one of Bach’s shortest cantatas.
Thy statutes have been my songs in the house of my pilgrimage.
— Psalm 119:54
The August 2020 issue of “Lifted Voice” is the 50th installment of this online column on sacred music. Almost every one of these issues has been edited by Dr. Jane Schatkin Hettrick, Professor Emeritus in Music at Rider University, and best known to many of us as Director of Parish Music at Redeemer Lutheran Church, Bayside, NY.
Pr Brian Hamer
Brian J. Hamer is Chaplain to Destroyer Squadron 23, Naval Base San Diego, via the LCMS Board for International Mission Services.