The Adelaide Cantata Band will be presenting J.S. Bach’s Advent cantata ‘Nun komm der Heiden Heiland’ (BWV 62) within our regular Choral Eucharist service at Pilgrim next Sunday.
This cantata is based on Martin Luther’s famous Advent hymn, ‘Nun komm’ der Heiden Heiland’ (literally translated as ‘Now come, the heathens’ Saviour’). Luther’s hymn, published in 1524, was itself a translation of the ancient Latin hymn ‘Veni redemptor gentium’ by Ambrose of Milan (c. 339 – c. 397), to which a doxology had been added, and a first verse, ‘Intende, qui regis Israel’, dropped. Luther’s hymn tune was also based on the plainchant which has been associated with Ambrose’s words since at least the 12th century.
In Bach’s BWV 62 setting of this hymn, the first and last verses of Luther’s translation are given unchanged to the chorus in the opening and concluding movements. The intervening 6 verses are paraphrased into 4 movements for soloists by an unknown poet.
The roots of this cantata therefore reach all the way back to a feisty 4th century bishop, who was present when Christianity became the state religion of the Roman Empire – and was not afraid to stand up to successive Emperors. It was then reworked by the great reformer Martin Luther (himself no stranger to confrontation with authority!) before its masterful transformation into cantata form by arguably the greatest composer who ever lived.
Come and be inspired by music, text, and ideas that have been inspiring epoch-making thinkers for centuries!
The photos are of the Wartburg castle, where Luther translated the New Testament whilst in hiding from the agents of the Holy Roman Emperor under the protection of the Elector of Saxony. The Wartburg overlooks the town of Eisenach, where Bach was born.
Photo credit: Peter Kelsall