Bach: The Cantatas

Bach Cantatas

-Sunday 22nd August-12th Sunday after Trinity-J.S.Bach cantata BWV 35-,Geist und Seele wird verwirret’-

Aug 16, 2021

A 2-part cantata, 4+3, the second part, coming, as usual, after the sermon.

Bach dispenses with chorus, assigns two recits and three arias, to a single alto voice and provides an introductory, voiceless Concerto, to part 1 and an introductory voiceless Sinfonia, to part 2.

Did he have an exceptional alto singer available …or indeed, a keen organist? as the alto part is challenging and the obbligato organ part, is generous, exposed, pedal-less, -as is usual the case and exceptionally visible …and hearable.

Although it is not so difficult, it is dextrous and requires a flexible keyboard technique that is able, ‘to-get-around-the-keyboard.’

It takes the place, -indeed forbids, any use, at all, of any other solo instruments, claiming the entirety, for its own.

The orchestra, -wind, 2 x oboes + taille, with usual strings and continuo- keeps itself to itself and as a result, seems more striking, prominent and full, giving Bach the flexibility, to play, groups of instruments, off against one other.

This cantata may be a reconstruction, -with changes and additions, of an earlier concerto, that Bach might have written, for the oboe, or perhaps the fragment of Harpsichord concerto, BWV 1059.

In any case, first movement of this cantata, Concerto, may have been, the first movement of that lost composition, the second movement, Aria, the second, and the opening Sinfonia, of the second part, the last movement.


‘Spirit and soul are bewildered and confused.’

Thus goes the first line of the text, and the ‘title’ of this cantata.

The question is, why are Spirit and soul so confused and bewildered?

Because, as the text for ‘Aria’, the second movement, informs us, when we consider the miracles of God, our Spirits and souls, are dumb with bewilderment.

There is an agitation in the air, coloured by the minor feel and the Italian style, presented here, brings strongly to mind, Bach’s Italian concerto, for solo keyboard and that not just in style, but also thematic shape and harmonic stricture.

Is it too much to suggest that the opening rhythm, -quaver, quaver, semiquaver x 2, quaver, quaver…followed by quaver, quaver, in effect a three-beat ‘theme’, or unit-, might reflect something of that bewilderment? or that the double-bowed semiquavers, following, might do similar?

The chorus is replaced by two choir of instruments, one windy-winds and the other, stringy-strings.

In the ritornelli they join and fuse, and in the episodes, they take different roles, -sustained, 56 through 59, wind, and similar, string-style, -chordal, 103/104, with repeated notes, in the same two bars, wind.

Scale passage-work, first seen, in the keyboard writing, 13, migrates into the orchestra, 70-71.

The strong finish, Tierce-di-Picardie style, -or major ending, sets the scene, for words and song, from the alto singer, in the Aria,that is to follow.


‘Spirit and soul, are bewildered, when they consider you, my God. For the miracles they know and which the peoples tell, with joy, have made them deaf and dumb.’

A long Aria, complete with its own da capo, whose Sicilian rhythm, helps to marks out this movement, as a possible concerto slow movement, and, along with the highly florid, decorative and expressive line, or melody, in the opening organ part, perhaps pictures, for us, not only the slow movement, from the already mentioned Italian concerto, but perhaps also, something of God’s miracles, told, albeit, with a solemn joy, -those pauses, between phrases, striking us, as dumb.

Nevertheless, the opening harmonies, do not alleviate that confusion, but heighten it -and that, with uncertainty and those opening organ runs, many notes, -or thoughts-running in all directions, do nothing to calm hearts.

Ambiguity is in the air.

The voice begins with variants on the opening orchestral figurations, these failing themselves, to calm, our deepest confusions, as the words are set, with leaps and scale passages, all, in themselves, unsettling.

So many notes in the organ part, reflecting, I suppose, so many questions, in the heart and

,verwireet‘ or confused,

receives more than its fair share of notes, complete with awkward leaps and bounds.

At 53, thoughts and words, turn to miracles.

A hint of some major tonality, is clouded, when those miracles are first voiced,

the ‘people tell with joy…’

More confusion.

And yet, at

,Jauchzen nennt’ or literally, ‘Calls shouting’,

and for a second time, our alto voice begins rejoicing, -almost yodelling, shouting’, this text.

Despite these almost subconscious and spontaneous outbursts, this text just seems destined, to remain, just in the subconscious, both of singer, the performer and us, the listener, locked-in to something, that is unreal or unreliable, that jagged, sung line, returning, followed by increasingly mumbled and dumb-like confusions, almost disappearing into the distance, as the music, literally, just closes down.


After a somewhat dumb finish to the previous, this Recit seems wordy, syllabically and unimaginatively conceived, almost originating, from a naïf world of unreality.

‘I marvel, for everything one sees, must fill us with amazement. If I look on thee, (Christ), both reason and sense, take flight. These are words of wonder and their power, cannot be expressed, even by a choir of angels.’

There is some interest at:

‘…no wonder on earth resembles thee…’

but musically, this interlude seems rather bland, evidently, still suffering as a result of that deaf and dumb confusion.


If I am not mistaken, Bach is writing music for this organ part, -right hand only- that he should really be writing, for his old standby the violincello piccolo, or perhaps even, the violincello de spalla, that sort-of bowed guitar, ‘cello-shaped and slung, over the neck, nonchalantly played sideways?

In any case, we are, thankfully and at last, delivered, from the dooms -and glooms, of deafness and dumbness and spirited, into a world, of slap and tickle, -almost a sea-shanty, tom-foolery-like-romp- as the continuo slaps and the organ tickles and Bach gets us, clinking and clanking our pewter tankards, full of his finest, down at the ol’ bull and bush.

Things cannot really drop to these sort of ‘lows’, as Bach never leaves his taste behind, even if, on this occasion, he may have dropped his inhibitions and the atmosphere does not degenerate, any further than genuinely felt high-spirits.

In any case, what sort of text has precipitated all these high-spirits?

‘God has done all things well! His love, His faithfulness, are renewed every day.

When fear and grief oppress us, he has sent us sumptuous comfort, for he watches over us daily.

God has done all things well.’

-and indeed, he has.

But this still is, a superb piece of romping, as well as a thought-through and a through-out, piece of serious music, really a sort of trio, -voice, instrument and bass, where the bass, literally, just does not stop, slapping itself, on the one-side and of course, beating the beat, on the other side.

Despite the common touch, Bach cannot help his compulsive, creative mind.

-For instance, notes 3 – 6, of the singers opening, are a retrograde, of the first semiquaver-run rhythm, of the organ, bar 3.

-I can see, at least 4 units, or motifs, in the organ part, that interchange between it and the voice.

-and there is more to say and to see, especially in the interactions, within the polyphony, that is, sadly, beyond the needs of these notes.

I also hear the unmistakable sounds of the Schubert, of the Lied, 23-24.

This is a miniature masterpiece and a lesson, not only in, how to get music slapping, –with perhaps just some nominal tickling, as well, but also, how to write light-weight music, that is nevertheless skilfully written and constricted… with a serious message.

Again, one wonders what the faithful would have made of it?


Assuming that the sermon was long enough for all to drain their glasses, wipe the beer from their land get back into their seats, the second half should start up with a brisk Sinfonia, almost a moto perpetetuum.

Without any introduction, off it goes, set on its driven way with a downward figure, in the organ, and answered by an upward figure, that is shared, between first violin and oboe.

Being focused, in its three-in-a-bar dialogue, it certainly is a possible concerto, third movement, and even though, in the minor, it aptly captures the state-of-play, that of God having done all things well, and sealed by a customary major ending.


‘Mighty God, let me always consider this: that I can contentedly, sink you, into my soul.’

‘Let your sweet words, ‘be-opened’, -a reference, to Christ’s words, commanding the opening, of the deaf ear- soften my hardened heart. Put your finger of grace, into my ears, or else, I shall be quickly lost.’

Touch too, my tongue, with your mighty hand, that I may praise, these wondrous signs, in sacred devotion and prove myself your heir and your child.’

A passionate prayer, declaimed, -as in the third number- syllabically and rather unimaginatively, although, successfully, moving the action onward and upwards, towards, the final, fervent prayer, of the last number.


‘I only wish to live with God, -I wish it was already happening! So that I can raise a joyous ‘Alleluia, with all the angels!

‘My dearest Jesus, loosen the yoke of pain, -so rich in woes- and let me soon and in Your hands, end my torment-filled life.’

This movement, -a minuet, dances along, with the sort of measured joy, that comes, only from a decision, that has been, both made and taken, in this case, a wish, to live with God alone.

The opening melody, slips naturally and almost unnoticed, into ecstatic triplets, soon to be associated, with the very difficult to sing, but nevertheless, brilliant and joyful ‘alleluia’, of praise.

The music darkens, as the weight of this sorrow-laden, yoke of pain, is felt, lying squarely, -but perhaps, rather un-fairly, across this singers shoulders, and the:

‘life so full of torment’

raises more than an eyebrow as the vocal line, leaping and bounding around, really unreasonably and in an almost, Neapolitan way, flirting, with Db tonalities, stretching vocal chords, every-way-which-but-loose!

‘…and let me soon be in your arms…’

is punctuated, by pert organ chords, underlining the words of faith, that are proceeding, from our singer’s mouth, -these, spontaneously cascading, into triplets, which are then, immediately, taken up, on the organ.

At ‘…let me soon be in Your hands…’

a long-sung and sustained G, of faithful praise, is underlined with those triplets of a triumphant ‘alleluia’, -the organ, ornamenting its corresponding held note- and after a brief and final flirtation, with F major, this concise, solid and joyful movement comes to a certain, -if somewhat sudden, end.

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