Bach: The Cantatas

Bach Cantatas

-Sunday 29th August-13 Sunday after Trinity-J.S.Bach cantata BWV 77-,Du sollt Gott, deinen Herren, lieben,‘

Aug 23, 2021

A 6 movement cantata, 2 x oboes, strings, four vocal soloists, chorus, continuo, -on this occasion, including Bassoon- and Tromba da tirarsi, or slide trumpet.

1/(Chorus with chorale melody, in canon)

‘Then, I arose and went fourth into the plain: and, behold, the glory of The Lord stood there, like the glory, which I saw, by the river of Chebar: -and I fell on my face.’

Ezekiel: 3:23

‘…He (R)ichard Wagner) talks about his longing, one day, to find, in music, something that expresses Christ’s transcendence, something, in which, the creative impulse, -an emotion which speaks to the emotions- can be seen.’

Saturday, August 8th, 1874, Cosima Wagner, Diaries, vol 1, 1869-1877, p 780.


It is possible, to experience this cantata, or in-fact, any piece of music, from a position of indifference, or even distraction.

But it is surely obvious, that, in order to really begin to understand these cantatas, one must begin, from a starting point, that is within the frame-work, of Christianity.

And, after all, any music, that is worthy of our attention, must be, -and from a starting point, of silence- actively listened to, and that, in anticipation, of a redemption, or that sense, of being taken, from a place of uncertainty, goodness, badness, or even indifference, towards and into, a place, of transcendence, overcoming and change, -to put it another-way, a place, beyond our wildest imaginations and dreams.

In this quest, we might adopt, not so much, the action, of a Shakespearean tiger, but that of a prophetic Ezekiel: Wake ourselves up, go out, into the ‘plain’, -the commonplace and the deadly-dull, lets be honest, most of what surrounds us, on a daily basis- and look-out for, that glory of The Lord, which is unmistakable, when we honestly remember our dreams.

When we do, idle chat and banter, comment and rhetoric, speculation and gossip, really do, thankfully, disappear.

We collapse, face first.

Now that’s something you don’t see, very often, these days!

I would suggest to you, that, this is the spirit, in which, we must approach the task in hand, this Sunday morning and particularly, in this opening, looking-out -and listening out, for dreams of redemption, and in doing so, preparing ourselves, to fall, face forward.

All this, is, without question, the composers over-riding motivation and goal, -as we shall see.

Wagner, had he stumbled, across this opening chorus, may have himself unusually fallen, flat on his own face, finding within, much of that ‘Christly Transcendence’, or ‘emotion that speaks, to emotion’, -that ‘creative impulse’, that he himself so longed to see, lamenting, so often, that, it was ‘not seen’, in so much ‘so-called’ creative work.

Even the barest account, of this opening movement, will clearly demonstrate, that, all of these attributes, appear, -and with astonishing and breath-taking presence, from the beginning, providing, of course, as in any vocal music, that we have, more than just a grasp of the text.

This text sung by full chorus, takes its words from within the full text of the day, -Luke 10:23-37- the parable of The Good Samaritan:

‘You shall love God, your Lord, with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength and with all your mind, -and your neighbour, as yourself.’

Matthew 22, tells us, that this is the ‘Great-commandant’, on which hangs, ‘…all the law and the prophets.’ and Bach, very cleverly, connects these two ideas, by introducing a Lutheran melody, from the chorale, Dies sind die heilgen Zehn Gebot’, or, ‘These are the Holy Ten Commandments’ played both as the top-line, -slide trumpet, and the bottom line, -continuo bass line, of the whole.

In order to musically and literally show, and first of all, those ten commandments, and secondly, the all encompassing character, of the law and the prophets, he fashions the highest treble, -slide trumpet, and the lowest bass, -continuo, in strict canon, the most rigid of musical structures, reflecting that law, this time, at the interval of the 5th, but with a difference: The bass is set, in augmentation, with notes of twice the value. This allows the trumpet to make precisely, 10 entries.

As if this was not enough, the chorus, joining in, -using opening, short ‘scale-like runs’, first heard on flute and violin- proceeds to ‘work-out’ musically and philosophically, -cosmically, really, and that, with much fine dialogue and intricate debate- these amazing and ground-breaking, New-Testament pronouncements.

They are reflections of the freedoms of grace, in the spirit of Christ, musically, and initially, in imitative repetitions, that absorb those rhythmic semiquaver features, first heard in the opening, 6 bars of introduction, and philosophically and subsequently, in that we are encouraged to focus, on love of God and of neighbour, and then, in the light of both these, become aware of 4 key words, -heart, soul, strength, mind, and, like our chorus, ‘work’ these words, in, out and through, or the duration of the whole.

-and while all of that is going on, the Law is an ever present, all encompassing, cantus-firmus, above us and below us.

So how does the music sound, bearing in mind the strict rules regarding top and bottom, that Bach has imposed upon himself and what exactly, is it all about, even assuming we have read, understood and assimilated, the text?

Most-times, this music exceeds, -and that, least of all in sound, the sum, of its own parts, and thus its own possibilities, -if that were at all possible?

You must make up your own mind.


This short, well managed recit, is musically, of little interest, although deliberately affords a little, much- needed breathing-space, to all assembled.

However, the words are surprisingly revealing, in that, they give us, an understanding, as to what has, so far, been played and sung, -perhaps even an answer to the above question- and for that reason, worth quoting, in full:

‘So must it be! God would posses our hearts, for Himself.

We must elect The Lord, with all our spirit, -and as He requires.

Never be content, except when He kindles our soul, through His Spirit, for only then, are we truly sure, of His grace and kindness.’


‘My God, I love you, with all my heart, my whole life follows hard after you.’

This active prayer, again, works out lessons learned, in the previous recitative and is set within, a beguiling Brahmsian intermezzo, those two plaintiff-oboes, emphasizing that, this prayerful request, is difficult.

Notice the way they try, to heavily, elongate the last two beats of bars, indeed, sometimes unsuccessfully, other times, not only successfully but beautifully, -and, N.B, that they find, in the soprano voice, a willing accomplice, who at,

‚Mein ganzes Leben hangt dir an,‘


‘My whole life follows, hard after you.’

not only bears down with weighty coloratura, and astonishing harmonies, but also, under their guidance, elongates bars into elongated phrases.

There is an underlying feeling that the ideals of this text, can never be realised, in reality and the fact that, this movement lasts a long time, maybe reflecting the reality, that, this singer needs more time, to get it together and that, that time, despite all their best and most creative efforts, is, in fact, slowly, but surely, running out.


‘Grant me… the heart of a Samaritan, that I may love my neighbour and in his pain, be so distressed by him, that I do not pass him by, leaving him, in his need. Grant me, one day, a life of joy, that I may hate self love, according to my wish, -and all this, out of your grace.’

A turbulent and dramatic halo of strings recalls Christ’s voice, as these words are spelt out.

At the end, as grace abounds, so too do semiquavers, those from the first movement, now elongated, from two-at-a-time, to four.

5/ Aria:

In many ways, this instrument, the slide trumpet, is a good for nothing, loud, slow, heavy, cumbersome and with suspect tuning, so different from its bright and flexible cornetto brother.

It sounds cornety, and flugel horn-like, although without those instruments finesse.

Except when it is asked to double and reinforce, it seems unusable, unstable and sometimes, certainly, unwantable, not the sort of partner, for any self-respecting singer and definitely no-good for solo aria support.

Yet, here we are, in this number, with it in full view, centre stage. Bach has chosen to use it, along side his, probably, by now, po-faced singer.


Back to the text and we can see that this singer is certainly very po-faced indeed, negative and full of self pity.

-possibly our ugly sister/brother slide-trumpet might-be, maybe unfairly, characterised, in the same way?

She even starts with a sigh,

‘Ahhhhh! There remains, in my love, nothing but imperfection. Though the will is present, in me, I lack the ability. ‘

-and so, albeit naturally, does the slide trumpet.

Bach has chosen it precisely because it represents so well, this text.

Off they go, this ungainly pair, wobbling and swaying, like two drunks. Awkward intervals, within an equally awkward tune, quivering quavers, plodding along, surveying a complete lack of confidence.

And yet, this instrument acquits itself, quite magnificently, as an unworthy partner, to such a defeatist. S

He has got what she doesn’t really deserve. Success.

Even so, her lamentable character seems transformed by this strange sliding sound, itself also, seemingly transformed, as the music unfolds.

A nobler character is revealed, as Bach polishes this instrument’s metal. In his hands, it is resurrected and redeemed and almost reconstituted, being prodigal enough, to be welcomed back, into its own family.

Of course, in the first number, we must remember that the trumpet was employed to represent the Law. Something of this lawful…or lawless character remains here. Is it that the tragic qualities of this instrument, remind us of our own tragic position, as we try to live in law, rather than grace.

The moral of this little tale: there really is, a sliver lining, to every slide-trumpet. Just give it its chance.


Chorale tune ,Ach, Gott vom Himmel sieh darein.‘

This is strange.

There is no text written into the manuscript.

Two texts have been traditionally added, in the original BGA, we have:

‘You, Lord Jesus, stand, as a model of your love,‘

and in the NBA, we have:

‘Lord, dwell in me, through faith,’

The tradition of the first text may have been handed down, from the composers fifth son, J C F Bach, -the so-called ‚Büxkeburg‘ Bach.

In any case, this chorale is noteworthy, for its risqué, accented-passing-note-start and equally startling dominant-chord ending. There are enough Bachian bells and whistles to be heard here, to make this chorale, one of my favourite.

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