‘An unvarnished spirit…. makes us fine before God -and man. The whole course of (our) life should be on this footing.’
An ‘examination-text’, where we are invited to examine our own heart and spirit. A ‘breathing-space, where, as the church year -and Bach, flows ever onwards, this week, we seem to have an opportunity, to take time to listen to how Bach has set this text, and in ear-shot of that, to perhaps re-evaluate our first impressions.
Two oboe d’amore and strings + continuo are supplemented by a lone Clarino.. or trumpet, in movements 3 and 6.
‘An unvarnished, unstained mind and spirit.’
Repeated opening string notes, -steady and consistent, are followed by twitching figurations, -unstable and inconsistent. But they are consistent in their inconsistency, the 2-bar phrase being repeated twice and then allowed, eventually, their own ‘heart’ of semiquavers -and an extra bar…with a naughty B natural, thrown in!
The bass line to all this, after an opening octave leap, immediately veers downwards, two increments and then leaps up an octave, this repeated twice, -like the violin twitch, only then dropping down, again and this followed by leaps of 4ths, 3rds and octaves, before settling, as the voice joins, into the opening violin routine.
The voice, when it does arrive, attempts to inject calm and stability, with its long sustained progression.
Unfortunately, it too succumbs to twitchiness, -is this Bach’s excellent three part writing, or his deep awareness that, ‘what makes us fine before God and man’, is actually very difficult to sustain? -after all, it too is subjected to that extra awkward bar, at the end of the phrase, (23).
At 43, ,Handel‘, (christian) trade’ (or business) is given a profitable outing, -as is ,Fusse stehn‘, ‘solid feet’ or ‘footing’.
The return is marked by a false start of 3 bars.
One wonders if this is an example of making a wrong into a right, i.e., to make a ‘whole’ of 4 bars. a solution to that persistent extra bar…? -and this before the real re-start, still with its naughty B natural, reminding us that,
‘what makes us fine’ is not always sustainable.
By the way, the opening words
‘what makes us fine before God and man’
is, according to the text, actually referring to an unstained mind, of
‘German truth and goodness.’
A long appraisal of the heart, with some solutions to its woes and wants.
If, we are told, you want God as your friend, then, do not make an enemy of your neighbour.
(Effective use of flattened leading note..Ab..in F maj at ,So macht dir den Nächsten nich zum Feinde.‘)
A Christian should strive for the nature of the dove- and make such a good job of it, that your neighbour will want to be exactly the same as you.
All this textual information is carefully written into and reflected in the setting, both in music and words. A look into the score will confirm Bach’s absolute determination to illustrate the words, in both their superficial meaning.. and their actual meaning.. and all this into the rise and fall of the line- and its harmony.
A few examples:
,So wenig Menschen haben‘ ‘So few people have it.’
B natural on ,wenig’ ‘few (people’) and up to Eb via G, on ,haben’, ‘have (it)’ leading to, Das macht’, the reason’…
,Denn von Natur…‘, ‘
‘For by nature, our hearts imaginings are given over to nothing but evil.’
,…mit lauder Bösem ümb‘
where mit lauder leaps from F# up to Eb..diminished 7th.
‘Should its path be directed towards something good, then God must govern it through His spirit…and lead it to virtue.’ At this, the voice rising to top F.
…and so-on and so-on.
An ‘arioso’ section becomes a peaceful prayer, as we are encouraged again to ‘make of ourselves such figure, that our neighbours will want to be like us.’
Listen for the simple and unexpected beauty of:
Question: ‘How do you want people to treat you? Answer: ‘Treat them in that same way.’
First: An allegro-moderato section, which then moves into, Second: A vivace e allegro, a slight tempo increase, with the same words, bringing urgency and energy to those choices that must be made.
It seems that Bach may have had a French Horn, pitched in F, in mind for this part. The key of this tutti is not one normally associated with trumpets. The writing in movement 6 contains lots of low F’s… so this seems to make sense.
Whatever instrument is used, this Clarion part contains a mixture of its own material as well as that, doubled from the reinforcing of upper parts.
The movement starts with full band, in an imitation of the chorus, three times -and at the fourth time, the meter shifts into a 2 time at ,Alles nun’, ‘everything now’, as Bach ramps up the pressures, on us, to make these life-changing choices.
At the second half of bar 7, our Clarion executes written out ornamentation, energising the message further.
In this first section, from bar 5 onward, there is ambiguity in the three-time. Implications of two time are heard.
Try to see.. .or hear this…if you can? Counting the bars and listening to the stresses may reveal some inconsistencies.
Is not Bach using this to give us insights into our own conflicts of interest?
A speed increase instigates a good solid fugato. -but with an ‘accompaniment’ of interjections… das tut, das tut!
Listen out for them.
Bach does not miss any opportunity, not only to be a great composer of music, of course and a great composer of song, but also a great setter-of-words, as he tunes not only into the settings of those words, but also the challenge of how to get their true meanings, into our spirits, musical and otherwise.
Is this a conscious choice in his part?
We have no choice but to hear, loud and clear.
Rhythmic ambiguity steps up with some semiquaver involvement.
Energy is generated, as this wonderful and timely exercise in examination and prognosis comes to an end, and we are left with the only course of action that we can take…. the remedy..? -and that to enjoy the unexpected B natural of G major.
This text, as always, reminds us of our task, that of making neighbours envious…and to do-as-we-would-be-done-by.
Das Heuchelie: Hypocrisy
‘Hypocrisy is a brood concocted by Belial’
Belial, a Hebrew word, used to characterise the wicked or worthless. It evolved into the devil of the Bible.
Bach sets off in horror:
‘What? Do the christians covet such things as well?
Surely this must be sung emphatically?
‘Oh dear, honesty (or reality) is difficult to achieve.’
Listen for the hint and tint of F# major. -very dodgy ground, in a key containing only one flat.
‘..they turn their wolfskin in.. and their sheepskin out..’
Bach scrawls a stroke of genius: by leaving out the orchestra altogether, he allows us to actually hear those two different garments, rustling, as if a very quick back-stage costume change is hurriedly…and just in the nick-of-time, taking place.
-In-fact, we are in the theatre, right up until the end of this section.
At 17, andante, the singer knowingly and painfully tells us ‘it is the same wherever and which ever.’
An arioso section again becomes a prayer of salvation, yet not a relaxed sort of salvation, from God, away from all sin, but, in this case and this moment, a desperate salvation, only found in God and away from all this hypocrisy.
Notice that Bach lets the continuo lag behind the voice, so as the singer comes to an end, with his prayer answered, the ‘hypocrisy’ lags, rather sadly behind, finishing, right out of time.
‘Let constancy and truth be the base of all your thoughts.
Looking into the score, we see 2 oboe d’amore that are very correctly carrying on, with each other and imitating each other, and the continuo continue the same, according to good part writing, -albeit now only a quaver late at their entry. (Sin, it seems, is never too far behind those who really want to do good)
All of this is setting a very good example of correctness to those continuo players, who comply, with nicely shaped bass-lines, -this is the ‘faithful and true foundation,’ complimenting our two swooning-away oboes.
‘….in and out of your (our) thoughts, like word and mouth, from without.’
They are the epitome of ‘faithfulness and truth.’
If you count 5 minim beats, -i.e., two-and-a-half actual bars, as one long bar, the natural stresses move away from the bar lines to a more natural reflection of the phrasing.
-try it and see what it says to you?
Of course the stresses of the words change as well.
Is it that Bach is saying, ‘strength and constancy should be the base of all your thoughts, but this is, in reality, never going to be an easy solution! Maybe 5 beat bars reflect the un-naturalness of any solution?
At the return, 38, in a 5 beat world, the entries are stressed differently -and all three instruments are now a quaver late.
Bach is a realist and even though it all comes to an end, just about right, with a 4x minim bar and a crochet beat, is this ‘almost correctness’ sufficient enough, for Bach to warn us as to the extent of the task that is ahead of us?
‘God, the good God, You fountain-head of all gifts, Without whom, nothing that is, is. From whom we have everything. Give my body health, and in this body, Let there remain an intact soul and a clear pure conscience.’
This chorale is best thought of as long phrases of 2 bars each, -or 8 beats.
With this in mind, ‘Without whom’, becomes a long up-beat to ‘nothing’, and ‘from whom we’, becomes an upbeat to ‘everything’,
-and in the last phrase, ‘Gewissen bleib’ or a ‘clear pure conscience’, comes right on the beat at the start of the bar.
As before, try counting these bars and beats and see how the emphasis of words and music begin to change, revealing a different ‘feel’ to the whole.
The orchestral ‘answers’ in between, -semiquaver violins and oboes are surely the well-spring, or-fountainhead, ,Du Brunnquell’, -the ‘water without whom, nothing that is, is.’
Bach is meticulous to always get these sort of things right. -not only a great composer, but also a great manager… and that, not only of music, but also of words.