Bach: The Cantatas

Bach Cantatas

-Sunday 31st October 2021-22nd Sunday after Trinity-J.S.Bach cantata BWV 89-,Was soll ich aus dir machen, Ephraim,’-

Oct 12, 2021

A 6 movement cantata, -aria, recit, aria, recit aria, choral, every voice except tenor being assigned an aria or recit, or in the case of the alto voice, both an aria and recit.

Chorus, continuo and strings, are joined by 2 x oboes and in the first and last movements, by 1 x Corno da caccia, or corne du chase…hunting horn.


An understanding, of the text, to this opening aria, requires an understanding of the biblical text, Hosea 11:8, of which, it is, a direct quote.

Ephraim is one of the original,12 tribes of Israel, named after Jacob’s sons and grandsons. Except for Judah and Benjamin, they all disappeared, including Ephraim,after the exile, curtesy, the King of Assyria, BC 721.

When the bible and refers to Ephraim, it is sometimes, as a metaphor, for Israel, -or more correctly, the northern kingdom.

This is certainly so, in the book of Hosea.

Admah and Zeboim were two, of five cities, in the vale of Siddim, two others of which were called, Sodom and Gomorrah.

‘How am I going to forget you, Ephraim? How shall I protect you, Israel? Or shall I, simply, just make an Admah out of you and treat you like a Zeboim?

But my heart is turned within me, as my mercy, is just, far too passionate.’

This is short bass aria, vox christi, is concisely structured.

The horn and bass line lead three opening, strong, one-bar phrases, and bar 4 contains the essence of impassioned-compassion, so well expressed in the last line of text, and so well captured, by Bach. In fact bar 4 marks the start of a long, 6 bar phrase, that takes us up to the vocal entry.

That impassioned zeal, for his own, -on the part of God The Father, is very apparent and real, in this stark text, reflected, we know, in the stoic bass line, evident from the start, which, working with those repeated quavers, in the horn part, is further reinforced, by upwardly strong, string arpeggios.

Three fermata punctuate the whole, which has spawned a long-standing debate, as to whether this is an aria or an arioso:

The first, at 15, ,Ephraim‘, or Israel,

The second, at 22, ,schutzen’, or protection,

And finally, at 29, ,prepare’, or,‘treat-you-like-…’ Admah and Zeboim.

From there onwards, towards the end, we are told of, the heart, of God, as it shows itself, ‘otherwise inclined’ -or ‘turned, within itself, towards a different sense’.

The last 10 bars of vocals, are devoted to an impassioned display, of the turnings, or repenting, of God, a compassion that is kindled and declared, towards the focus, of that compassion, Ephraim, or Israel.


‘Of course, God must utter words of judgement and take vengeance on those, who mock His name. The sum of your sins, is endless. Even though God has had forbearance, your hostile soul rejects the offers from His kindness and shifts the blame, onto others. This is why vengeance, must be carried out.’

Bach draws our attention, at

An seinen Feinden rächen‘, or on His enemies,’


,Sünden‘, or ‘sins’,

and ‘shifting the blame’,

and of course, the last, punch-line, where vengeance must be energised and carried out.


‘A judgement, -and that, without mercy, shall surely be pronounced, upon you.

Vengeance shall begin, with those who have shown absolutely no mercy. It shall reduce them, -like Sodom, to a total and absolute, nothingness.’

This Aria seems possibly strange, without its dancing obbligato partner, -indeed, it might run, rather well, with only its pure bass line and voice. But the figuring helps us to realise, the sort of sounds, that Bach is after. And after all, it is the counterpoint itself, on which the music is hung, which is the marvel, in this movement, with sadly no dancing….yet.

It opens, musically, with a four-bar introduction, -those four bars, really, containing two minim beats each, are arranged in a 1 x 1 x 2 bar phrase structure. Cadential endings throughout are imaginative

Bach, like Haydn, was a master at augmenting the phrase.

Psychologically, there is a ‘trip-up’, at the beginning of the second minim beat, -or the third crochet beat, -Mazurka like?- in bars 1 and three. The second bar runs free and the final ‘codetta’ is ‘trip-up’ free.

Is this nervous hiccup, almost a gulp, as we consider, that this judgement is without mercy?

Words, such as ‘judgement’ and ‘ ergehn’, ‘…rising above you…’ bar 14, sound ominous, -vengeance’, even more so, with its triplet disturbance and uneasiness, albeit, sung, with mirth.

And, of course, Sodom gets a major grilling, rather more on the flat side than might be expected, of d minor.


‘So, now my heart will lay aside, anger, wrangling and discord. -and I am prepared to forgive. My sinful life appals and terrifies me and I must stand before God, in guilt. Jesus’s blood makes good, if I turn, to Him, the law’s foundation, in faith.

Listen for beautiful music, as faith is appreciated as the key to everything, being, ‘made-good’.


‘Just God, do you really judge?

Then, I shall, -for my own soul’s redemption, count the drops of Jesus’s blood.

Credit the sum, to my account. Since no one can fathom them, they will cover my guilt and sins.’

This aria and the previous recit, -with its arioso conclusion, are sung by a lone soprano, and they follow on nicely, together.

This exquisite Haydn-esq minuet presents plenty of opportunity for this relieved lady to dance, circumspectly and with her straightforward and unsophisticated oboe piper, the metre is happily free of any ‘trip-ups’, that might trip either, up.

Of course, Bach is more daring than Haydn, and as time goes on, and as much as our piper, is a gentleman, he…and Bach, find it more and more difficult, to remain totally innocent, circumspect and unsophisticated, both in the music, the playing and his ability, to keep on turning a blind eye… and a musical ear, towards the possibility, that his dancing partner, may have uncovered a little more, than just her debts and sins, bars 37/38.

Still, he pipes on supportively, and after a few awkward key-moments and bars, 40-45, all is, again, well.


‘Although I am lacking, all that I need, has already been achieved, through your blood, so that I can overcome death, devil, hell and sin.’

This plain setting is stoic, especially in the last line, where certainty is not overshadowed, by complacency.

Two features:

Apart from two moments, this choral melody, moves, by step and the bass line, -at the last moment, death, devil, hell and sin, drop down to a bottom C, ending of course on G.

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