Bach: The Cantatas

Bach Cantatas

-Sunday 7th November-23rd Sunday after Trinity-J.S.Bach cantata BWV 139-,Wohl dem, der sich auf seinen Gott’

Oct 18, 2021

6 movements, choral cantata, opening chorus with choral melody, an incomplete orchestration of a tenor aria, and another incomplete aria, this time for bass, with a violin part prepared for a revival, a recit linking these two and a final chorale.

In addition to the usual instrumentation, we have two oboe d’amore.

1/(opening chorus with chorale)

‘Happy is he who, just like a child, can trust his God. Through sin, the world and death, -and all the time, the devils hating him- he, nonetheless, if he makes God,his friend, remains at peace.’

This happy, beautiful and childlike music, in the rare key of E major, is mature and secure enough to perhaps lack, or even not-need, at all, any sophistication, at all, leading us to se, e -and hear, why Bach decided he did not need to make his point, any more directly with the use, even of a soft toned Corno, let alone a hard headed Corno di tirarsi, in setting out the choral line, sopranos, within this subtle, concertante weave.

Happiness is definitely a violin line by Bach, which shows us all, -bars 1-4 and beyond, how a happy soul is a walking soul, taken to the heights of happiness, via a series of lofty journeys.

And this soul, as it walks, stops, -crochet, rests and 5 quaver steps forward- to admire each one of those loftiness’s, in all its lofty detail.

And happiness must be noted and we can note, and hear, that there are two passing reflections, followed by a whole stream of happy moments which droop down, happily, down to a song.

Enter sopranos, just after an alto pick-me-up, -as if one was needed.

But happiness, once we get it, it gets us and picks us up, along a now stomping road.

With a song in the heart, this pilgrim doesn’t need any more reflection in loftiness, and just proceeds, along a pilgrim road, in a pilgrim way.

Nevertheless, reflection is in the sweet air, that we inhale as we breath and sing and even the identification of sin, world and death does not stifle this song in our heart, but it does strangely nourish our appetite, and those A #s now seem to energise our forward motion, even as we chuckle, too ourselves, about the latest devil-hate-crime.

As we whistle, a difficult whistle, -bar 49 oboe, devilish semiquavers, repeated in extended version, on violins, we do realise these devils, do seem to have clout and bar 50 seems somewhat disquieting.

A pick-me-up needed, -two bars of alto this time, with tenor, -and what a pick-up it is.

Off we go, again on the pilgrim route, with a nice long downward arch, leading to refreshing B major, -the peace? this, all the way, harmonised, with the flavour of the woodland and countryside, that we are still passing through.

At 61, a thinning of texture and a change in musical direction, -in fact, the most emotionally challenging section in this opening, perhaps reminds our walking soul that it is not so easy to make and maintain God as your friend, even in the most satisfying of circumstances. A long note ends our song and the underlying vocal warning can cast no cloud over this rather perfect pastoral idyll.


‘God is my peace. What possible damage, can all those raging devils do, as hatred and envy, they do not upset me, at all.

Indeed, continue to speak your half-truths and lies, -what do I care? You mockers are harmless to me.’

A reconstruction of, most probably a second violin part is, in this case, essential.

That being the case, it is now possible to hear an enemy raging, -and all this in a major key, with a Vivaldian flavour.

Our singer gives panicky vent to this in the second half of bar 28, -the ‘romp’, of the enemy, but he manages to calm himself, 41-57, in this panic-attack, by using a standard tool, reiterating a basic home-truth, that of course, for him, God is his friend.

This works as the first violin muses, a little, and the turmoil seems to settle itself down…for a time.

He eventually decides, a little smugly, that envy and hatred really do not make any difference.

Therefore at 75, with a defiant ,Ja’, he assumes the moral high ground, and fights rather impressively, batting aside these half-truths as inconsequential, mocking the mockers, with descending semi-quavers, with which he seems very pleased indeed.

Good for him!

The da-capo means, that he has to do it all over again, and that he does, and no-less impressively, ending with absolutely no upset at all.


‘The Saviour sends His own people, into the very midst of raging wolves. This evil rabble, -with malice and mockery, have cunningly surrounded him. But, since He utters such words of wisdom, He protects me, even from them.’

No surprises in the rise and fall of the line, of this connecting recit, that leads straight on to the next aria.


‘Misfortune overwhelms me, on every side, -with heavy chains. Yet suddenly, a helping hand appears; ‘Comforts light, shines for me, from afar.’ Only then, do I realise, that God alone must be man’s best friend.’

This long aria, contains music, that identifies 3 textual ideas. These might be labelled and characterised as:

– <Misfortune>, 4 time, dotted rhythm. [M]

– <the Helping Hand>, 2 time, nonchalant, lilting 6/8 rhythm. [H]

-<the Light of Comfort>, 1 time, in reality, ‘2-quavers in-a-bar’, arioso. [L]

All in all, 10 sections, -the last 4 forming a da-capo, of sorts, are evident and ordered:

M, H, M, L, M, L, M, H, M, H, and M.

M has a striking dotted bass, with the oboe snatching alternate down and up, angular leaps, moving towards the vocal entry, with a string figuration on the oboe.

The voice picks up the dotted agitation, framed with that leaping uncertainty.

At H, rising arpeggios, imitative between oboe and bass, are filled in, with violin-like figurations. A lilting dotted beat, with an even, component rhythm, gives way, to an ethereal, pastoral moment, which gives, the sense, of a reaching hand, coming to the aide of a soul, weighed down with exhaustion. Coloratura emphasises the ‘helping’ aspect of this hand.

M returns, briefly, with a little less menace, leading quickly into L, where a touch of arioso, with a shorter beat, lightens misfortune, although we are left in no doubt, that, this light, is definitely shinning, from afar. The news that ‘God alone, is man’s best friend’, is sobering rather than triumphant.

More Misfortune is followed by comfort, and on it goes.

The da-capo is somewhat foreshortened, and, surprisingly, (-or maybe not?) without the ‘light of comfort’.


‘Although I bear within me, the greatest foe, -that of the heavy weight of sin, my Saviour lets me fond rest. I give to God, what is His, -my innermost soul. If He will accept it, then, the guilt of sin will vanish and Satan’s cunning, will be confounded.’

Listen for the beautiful peace, that The Saviour permits,

,Mein Heiland last mich Ruhe finden.‘

and the innermost soul,

‚Das Innerste der Seelen.‘

where the voice drops, right down to low C# and the last lin,e where the confounding of Satan’s cunning, is in line with the collapsing, of the musical line.


‘Therefore, defy the host of hell. Defy too, the jaws of death, as well! Defy the world. No longer can its stresses dismay me. God is my shield, my help and my counsel. Happy is he, who has God, as his friend.’

Any doubts, of Aria 4, in relation to God, as a friend, are now swept aside, as this beautifully harmonised chorale demonstrates, in assuming, -via its beefy, absolute ‘feel-good-part-movement’ and writing, the triumphant, victorious -and happy, aspects, of faith, as friend.

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