A 7 movement cantata, with opening choral fantasia, a central choral, with soprano and a closing ‘full’ chorale, 2 x recitativos, -bass and tenor, and 2 x arias, alto and tenor. 1 x Corno features, in a supporting role, a transverse flute, in one tenor aria, movement 2 and one, of two oboes, in one alto arias, movement 5.
1/Opening choral-fantasia, marked vicace.
It must be remembered, that, this opening movement, despite its lively marking and busy opening, second violin and continuo, semiquaver-figuration ‘motif’, -itself derived from a reduction of the opening, chorale tune, is, in-fact, in a slow 2-in-a-bar.
This becomes clear, when the choral tune, -sung by the soprano, with corno support, is heard, at 11 and we realize how slow-moving, it actually is:
‘Ah-ha! dear Christians, be comforted. How in-despair, you all are. Since The Lord afflicts us, we can say -and that, from out hearts, we have deserved it. Everyone must acknowledge this and no-one may exclude himself.’
The opening question is, does the repeated and agitated, rhythmic figuration, -almost an ostinato, fit the despair, -which, the bible, calls a crime, or does it fit, the punishment, which the bible says, is just?
There’s no doubt, that, in this case, any punishment, will fit this crime, but is the rhythmic world, that Bach is, from the start, fitting up, -and that, one, for these words, actually, setting up, or painting, a scene of a punishment, or of a crime?
Bearing in mind, that, the relatively slow, 2-dotted minims-in-a-bar pulse, of this opening, is the surrounding skin, of a body of sound, which is, in itself, made up of many parts, -some of which, have localized, rhythmic, agitations, it might be a crime, to suggest, that this, in itself, may be the punishment?
Crime and punishment, were certainly on Bach’s mind, as he put his quill to paper. And beginning from the peace and the serenity, of a slow, two minim pulse, he soon found, that, he needed to fit, into that body of sound, a disturbed and agitated soul.
And this is the result.
From the first chord, g minor, this, rhythmic obsession, is tossed and thrown, trilled and thrilled around, in and across Bach’s orchestra, within the context, of this slow, two-time dance. It doubles up and overlaps, at 7, before turning, into, a slightly brisker, three-in-a-bar, at the cadence.
The entry of chorus, and specifically, the soprano, pulls on a hand break, and we are pulled, right up, and sharply so.
We suddenly realize that, the pulse is not really angular, agitated and vengeful, but broad, ordered and just.
The seat belt of Bach’s genius, holds us, safely, informing us that, any crime, within us, is tempered, by a broad and ordered justice.
The chorus, -of course, with bass line continuo support, is independent, and as time and pulse proceed, becomes more and more daring, in its portrayals, of crimes within.
There are false relations, at 17/18 and 21.
This is our despondency and despair, where some serious crimes, -and sins, are passionate, in their practice. For some individual and special moments, we seem to loose the ability to distinguish, between anything at all, whether it be crime, sin, passion, or punishment.
The mirror wobbles!
At the third line, a surprising brightness unfolds:
‘…The Lord afflicts, or punishes us.’ although, we find ourselves being driven, harmonically, towards an uneasy sincerity, at ,…sagen…’
‘…We have deserved the punishment,’
there is a cascade of agitation, passing throughout the orchestra and the strings seems to take strong control.
‘Everyone must confess and no one be excepted.’
An initial serge of parts, is soon followed, by an uneasy chromatic slide.
This is surely, evidence of difficulty of compliance?
‘Where, within this vale of sorrow, will my spirit find refuge? To Jesus’s fatherly hands alone, shall I turn in my weakness. I have no other place to turn.’
A lone flute, with a discreet continuo accompaniment, sets a scene or a picture.
And what a picture it is, the vale of tears, in german ,Jammertale’, or the ‘wailing-valley, the valley of suffering, the sorrows that are seen, felt, and feared, in and through, this life.
The music, -creeping, eerie, improvisatory and ‘ploddy’, steps and picks, itself, anxiously and in a strange, hazy and hostile environment, as it moves, slowly across an alien landscape.
It is all an anxiously posed question, -where?
Where will the essence of me, find any sort of rest, and this, in the hear-and-now.
That discreet continuo-accompaniment, tip-tows-out chords as carefully as the lost soul picks out footings and at 9, a passage similarly portrayed elsewhere, you can actually hear, those steps, being picked and placed, as if in a cloudy haze, down, onto, an uncertain footing.
The ‘melody’ is as creepy, in atmosphere, as the creeping bass line, is particular, -slow, deliberate, uncertain and hostile.
Leaps of 5ths/6ths and 7ths, seem increasingly creepy and sometimes those leaps are ornamented, with ghastly and ghostly turnarounds.
At 55, it seems the mist disperses and a landscape is revealed:
‘In my weakness, to Jesus’s paternal hands, shall I turn.’
A gentle-gig is arranged as the flute’s leaping, with turnarounds, seems to keep going over old ground, I suppose a reference to the necessity of ‘keeping turning, to Jesus’s hands,’ as there is:
‘…no other place to turn.’
But, inevitably, it seems the daily dose, of the fog, of this vale, must again be visited, in the inevitable, cold, da-capo.
‘Sinner, endure, -and with patience, that which you have brought, upon yourself. Drinking injustice, like water, will lead to, ruin and death. Pride ate, long-ago, from the fruit, to become God’s equal. How often do you exalt, with pomposity? You must be humbled. Prepare your heart, so it will not doge death or the grave. By a blessed death, you shall pass through, into innocence and majesty.’
A secco recitative that evolves into an andante arioso, the opening phrase, plunging the singer and sinner into the depths of gloom. At talk about ‘…pride…’ hope seems to spring and an uneasy and quirky chromatic melody develops itself, which all too quickly, is disperses at ‘…go now, prepare your heart.’
Hearts having mow been prepared, the soprano(s) sing this choral melody:
‘The grain of wheat, will bear no fruit, unless it falls into the earth and dies. So must our earthly body, before it attains majesty, which the Lord Jesus, has made for us.’
-all, so far, good.
But what about this bass line, ostinato, -aggressive, tough and obsessional, going on and on, throughout every bar, -except ‘zu Staub’/‘turn to dust and ashes’ and ‘Durch deinen’/‘through the path to the father’ where it seems, that changes may bring some relief.
Remember the same sort if aggressive bass line, in the opening number?
The flesh, no matter what the reward, seems an unstoppable and untamable force.
‘No longer, Death, can you make me anxious, if only, I can, through you, gain my freedom. After all, one day, I must indeed die. With Simeon, I shall journey -and in peace and my Saviour shall preserve me, in my tomb and one day, call me, at last, transfigured and pure.’
The only movement in the major, -although overshadowed and threatened, by the minor, this music laughs at Death, the first oboe at 3-4 mocking the great enemy of life.
When the voice appears, death is mocked in the face of freedom, an upward ornament, a triumphant gesture towards ,..Freuheit…’ and the gaining of it.
A downward nod, to death, ensures that the alto voice, touches bottom, only to be, thankfully, raised again.
This downward death-nod, reoccurs and always with a ‘nod’, to that minor colour.
The ending, at 25 is characterized, as ambivalent and the reference to Simeon, is taken from the passage, in Luke’s gospel, known as the Nunc dimittis, the ‘…departing in peace.’
The ambiguities continue and at 38, there is much time for contemplation, of that grave, as a long long note is held on, by the soloist.
This German word,
has a number of meanings.
Here, the transformation, is clearly meant and clearly heard, as Bach shows us, through our ears, exactly how he sees…and hears, that.
‘Be mindful of your soul and place it, in your Saviour’s care. Give body and limbs, back to God, who gave them. He cares and keeps watch. The might of His love, shall be made manifest, in death, as well as, in life.’
Listen out for some thoughtfulness, at 5,
‘…He cares and keeps watch.’
‘Whether we are awake or sleeping, we are children of God and baptised, in Christ, who wards off the devil. Death comes through Adam, but Christ frees us. For this, we praise The Lord.’
The confidence, in Christ, that this chorale, is generating, is somewhat under-minded, in the flavour, of the last line, -perhaps Bach allowing his human head, to override, his genius heart?