This cantata, has come down to us, in two versions.
I will present the version, revised by Bach, where he added, what he calls, the corno da tirasi, -an instrument, only ever mentioned by Bach, and never anybody else, anywhere- for use, in his cantatas and most probably, an instrument, very similar to, or indeed, the same as, the tromba da tirasi, or the slide trumpet.
There was also a raise, in tonality, from‘a’ minor, to ‘b’ minor, as a result of a required pitch change, between Chorton, -choir pitch and Kammerton, -chamber pitch, the complexities, intrigues and questions, of which, shall remain, for the moment, well, outside the confines, of this appraisal.
The manuscript(s) is/are lost and the surviving parts are not totally complete, -and this is reflected, in the size of the orchestra, without any wind, solo or otherwise.
6 movements: Aria/bass, Recitativo/tenor, Aria/soprano, Recitativo/alto, Aria Duetto/alto+tenor and final Choral, with an orchestra, consisting of strings only, with corno da tirarsi, -or slide trumpet.
As I walk towards this marriage, I see nothing, but weal and woe, -happiness and misery.
Poison of the soul and the bread of life, Heaven, hell, life, death. The brightness of heaven and the flames of hell, -they just mingle.
Jesus, help me to survive all this.’
These words, are urgently presented, -and in soliloquy, actively, firstly, in the mind and secondly and silently, by the lips.
The singer, in effect, sings his own musings, dumbfoundedness, -or silence.
And as he does so, we are aware, that he is, on the move, a slow, (reluctant ?) trudge, onwards and towards, this wedding feast.
At various moments, the instruments tie-over, or hold on, -4 and 11-15, including the voice, places where, perhaps this walking journeying soul, thinking and considering, what he is thinking and recounting -and singing those considerations, is enjoying moments of contemplation, whilst still, of course, trudging and stomping and singing himself, away.
The slow moving and somewhat heavy handed slide-trumpet, -mostly following the same ‘rest-3 quaver-notes-pattern’, present an ‘in-out’, sort of regular breathing pattern, one, as used by, obsessional walkers- is ideally suited, to this heavy-footed, stomping, stuff.
At 6, it rushes forward, -perhaps on a downward inclement?- with those rough-and-tumble semiquavers, only to disappear, (from exhaustion?) as the singer articulates, inward thoughts, to deep to muse on.
After extended and sustained orchestral ‘inner ruminations,’ our singer, pipes up again, this time though, the orchestra thins out, although the continuo bass, plods on.
Perhaps deeper-still reflections?
At 30, the trumpet, fills its lungs and gives us, all the benefit, of its ‘proud-full’ thoughts, and for a whole 4.25 beats, before launching ahead, again, with a nervous rush.
At 34, further, fighting considerations:
‘Poison of the soul’
spars for first position, with:
‘the bread of life’
and this prompts a change, of orchestral bearing, from plod to prance, as Bach resets the rhymical feel.
Maybe constant walking, -with rumination, can lead, to a contempt?
-and the singing is warbling now as the vocal explorations reflect the cerebral ones, perhaps all becoming now, rather futile?
A breather, -in the form of a ‘continuo-only’, cry for help, to the Saviour, for survival, is required, before any new, concrete-philosophies, can materialise, and this they do, in the shape, of a Recitativo, movement 2, which considers the great and enormous opportunity, now presented to all human-kind.
‘O great marriage feast, to which, The King of Heaven, has summoned, all human-kind.
Is not the wretched bride, -because of human nature- far too poor and far too worthless, for The Son of God, to marry?
O great marriage feast, how is it, that our humanity, has come to such an honour, that The Son of God, has accepted it, for evermore?
The Heaven is His throne and the earth, His footstool. Yet, He would kiss this world, as His bride and beloved.
The marriage feast, is prepared and the fatted calf, is slaughtered.
How grandly, everything, is prepared. How happy is he, whom faith has led, to this place, -and how cursed, is he, who makes light, of this meal.’
Words, -and food, both of wisdom and thought, with no surprises, from Bach, although the profundity, that The Son of God has accepted it, -or us, for evermore, is set and stretched, long and languishes, lament-like, in Bach’s setting of these powerful and moving words.
The last line, -a warning, is suitably chilled.
‘Jesus, fountain of all mercy, refresh and energise me, your downtrodden guest.
For you have called me, -despite the fact that, I am faint, weak and oppressed. Invigorate, my soul!
How I really, do hunger, for you.
I have chosen the bread of life. Please unite yourself, with me.’
The refreshing, Bread of Life, but, within the music that has come down, to us, an obbligato part, -and its instrument, is missing.
Reconstruction is definitely possible, and certainly, not difficult, as there is much bass figuring and vocal line material, at hand and any competent musician, who knows his or her Bach , and has reads and understood, sympathetically, the words of this Aria, should be able to come up with, something, more than serviceable. And you will hear this, skill-fully and imaginatively attempted, in both live and recorded, performance.
But, there is a lot to be said for leaving, ‘as-is’, if only to hear and enjoy, Bach’s inspired, counterpoints.
The fountain of all mercy and grace, immediately, springs upwards, with a rising, bass line.
But, instead of gushing, uncontrollably, this particular fountain, is steady and measured, in the rise and fall, of its pressure, as reflected in, the rise and fall, of its line. This is the same, with the vocal line.
After the initial entry, -a drop of a 4th, on Je-sus, followed by, a rise and a drop, high up, in the tessitura, at the second entry, -a drop, of a 5th, on Je-sus, another controlled initial rise, in a lower tessitura, is tempered, with another ‘musical-drop’, followed by similar, albeit, slightly higher.
Bach understands that, grace is measured, -and that, accordingly.
As well, rising tonality, ‘quickens’, -refreshes and energises, not only the music, itself, but us, as well.
A nice, rising sequence, at 20, leads to, the ‘summoning’, at 24.
Major tonality, prepares us, -via faintness, weakness and oppression, for invigoration, followed, of course, by hunger, nach dir’, ‘after you’ and at 34, the high point, emotionally, as well as, vocally, the high point, of ‘hunger’.
The last two lines, -from ‘Lebensbrot’, ‘bread-of-life’, is impassioned, as the soul, pleads, for the spiritual marriage, empowered by increasing outpourings, of mercy and grace, via the upward gushing’s, now, from the bass line continuo.
‘Jesus, do not let me go to the feast, un-dressed, as judgement, will fall upon me.
With horror, I have seen, how you have chastised, ‘taken-to-task’, condemned and cast-out, a naughty guest, who, ‘turned-up’, not properly ‘turned-out’.
I know of my own unworthiness, but please, give to me a ‘wedding-dress-of faith’ and let your merit, serve, as my adornment. Grant me, as a marriage suit, Salvations-Cloak, the white silk, of innocence.
Let your blood, -that noble purple, cover up, that old cloak, of Adam, with its blemishes of vice. Then I shall be fair and pure, -and welcome.
I shall worthily taste, the supper, of the lamb.’
An alto voice is required and I have yet to mention, the large bass-line contingent of the continuo, -with bassoon and violone/double-bass and keyboard, that Bach has requested, throughout.
This urgency, that judgement, should not fall, as it has to others, in-appropriately-dressed-invites, is evident, through an agitated line and quickened musical line.
A sense of unworthiness, covers our ears, with a musical drop, at the textual, ‘place of unworthiness’, and relief, at the adornment-of-merit.
Joy at the wedding garment and seriousness, at the sight of the blood, leads on, into peace, at the thought and knowledge, of participation, in this great supper.
‘I rejoice, in my God. The power of His love, has moved Him, to cloth me, in this time, of grace, -and that, through His sheer benevolence and favour.
In these garments of righteousness, I know, that when this life is over, the white robe of honour, will He, -and all this in heaven,bestow on me.’
A two-in-a-bar-dance-, for a two-of-a-kind pair, -very happy.
One of the muses and her dancing partner, perhaps even Bach himself, dancing together, though the Elysian fields, for a whole eternity.
But as well as dancing together, these two, -alto and tenor, swoon together, one-in-a-bar, in each others arms, swinging around, each others waists, in unison and canon, all in ‘gay’ and Italianate abandon, with not a care, in this world or the next, or in-fact, any world at all, old or new.
As they get going, listen out for their fancy footwork, -with big leaps, and a sudden bass-line, ‘clicking-of-the-heels-snap’, as we really can visualise Bach himself, with his chosen muse, dancing through those ‘champs-Elysées’, to the music of many guitars and other strumed instruments.
And all of this, underpinned, with long and hearty laughter.
A real joy, for the Sunday-morning-faithful, who, for what seems like, weeks now, have, weathered the textual storms, and the other Sunday-morning-faithful, the continuo players, who must have, found it impossible, not to join in with the dance and foot-tapping.
Enthusiasm for all, knows no bounds, as is shown, by those accidental, early, or understandably, false entries, e.g, at bar 97, justified by the wonderful modulation that Bach has prepared.
Even the very first vocal entry of all, tenor, sounds a bar early to me?
The entirety of musicians, laity and lay, have now been changed, as, if even within themselves, they remained stoney cold, so far, after the shenanigans of this number, all will find themselves energised with new heart to, at the least, sing with gusto, the next line of text:
‘I have already witnessed, this great glory. Now, I shall be adorned, in the white robe of heaven. In the golden crown of glory, I stand before the throne of God, and gaze, at such joy, that can, never end.’
Listen for beautiful soprano line, -along with that not forgotten, slide- trumpet, and alto rising parts, which lift spirit.. and soul, to the end, where a prepared A# lasts long enough to clash nicely, daringly, -and spectacularly, with the sopranos, prepared, and sounded twice, last note, B.