Bach: The Cantatas

Bach Cantatas

-Sunday 28th November 2021-First Sunday in Advent-J.S.Bach cantata BWV 61-,Num komm, der Heiden Heiland’-

Nov 16, 2021

An opening chorus -a cleaver combination of French Overture with chorale arrangement, is followed, after a tenor recitativo, by a tenor aria. another Recitativo, -this time for bass, a soprano aria and a closing amen and prayer.

Strings, with two viola parts, -along with bassoon, is supported by an organ continuo. No independent wind parts.


‘Come, now, Saviour of the gentiles and recognised and known, as the Virgin’s child. All the world marvels, that God, has ordained for Him, such a birth.’

This ouverture, -with slow introduction, evokes the Saviour of the gentiles, in dotted Handelian pomp.

The first two lines of text, are assigned to this slow intro, 4-time, and a line each to the two following sections, fast, 3-time and slow reprise, 4-time.

The opening choral tune, with its leap of the diminished 4th, is quoted in the bass part, this leap hi-lighted, with the fast slide of semiquavers.

The choral line is embedded, within an independent, instrumental texture and in the fast fugal section, the instruments, double the voices, complete with double time cadential moments.

At 28, the violins doubly reinforce the recognition, of the Virgins child, something that is repeated, in the final triumphant line, 88, where a once-in-any-time, final ordained birth, is reinforced, by doubly, florid violins and ‘cellos.


‘The Saviour has come and has taken on, our poor flesh and blood, accepting us as kinsman, of His blood.

O supreme good, what have you not done, for us? What do you not still do, on a daily basis, for your people?

You come and let your light shine, with a full blessing.’

This starts out, with good intentions of remaining a secco, or declaimed line, accompanied by chords.

But at the:

‘…coming, with light and blessing,’

arioso structure begins to take shape, out of the darkness and imitations appear, out from the shadows, between tenor and bass line.

17-18 continues the semiquaver imitation into a flowing steam of consciousness, where light is cast onto our murky understandings.


‘Come Jesus, come to your church and grant us a blessed new year. Promote the honour, of your name, maintain sound doctrine and bless the pulpit and the alter.’

Handel reigns supreme, over this delightful ‘bless-up’, full of end-of-year-fare and we are all bounced, into the blessed new year, with all its goodness.

If there are rumbles and tumbles ahead, for now, they seem only to be, in that bumbling bass line, that fumbles about, in any unlit murk, that might still be left. All is sweetness and hopefully, lightness and all this is reinforced, in the feel-good repeat of 14 through 16, preceded by emphatic F, B, G, 11, 12, 13, in the score, maybe to steady the nervous disposition, of the expectant vocalist.

Our well lit tenore is in fine fettle as well and he shows this, with his ecstatic comings -and goings, leaping about, all at sixes and sevens, and all over every heavens.

As he vocally gesticulates, a nice little trio develops, as Bach use him to pit great counterpoint, against the fiddling strings, so much so, that we all begin to believe it, that next year could be even better than this one, despite his muddle over whether he should have sung a B, or a Bb, 34.

Clouds gather, eventually, over all and any new-years-resolutions, and no-less, here, at 51.

This is serious, and requires earnest and even perhaps, some pompous prayer, especially where the alter and pulpit are concerned, 54. This is shown by the continual markings in the score of ‘piano’, in strings and voice, almost as if, it so pompous, as needs to be whispered, to avoid any embarrassment.


‘I stand before the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice, I will go into them and have supper, with them and they, with me.’ (Revelation 3:20)

Knock knock, who’s there?

Vivaldi and Purcell, are here, filtered, through the lens of Schubert in what surely must be, one of the most extraordinary moments, in all of music.

In what is almost a transfiguration, the voice of Christ, -Vox Christi, bass, accompanied by slow, plucked strings, tells us that, after His standing, in front of, the door and His initial knocking, on that door, if anyone hears that, a now, opening door, leads those hearers, into the presence, or a wonderful supper.

What strikes us, is the gentleness of this knock, or ,Klopfe’.

The change of harmony, from cold and outside e min pedal harmony, -with D# and F#, towards warm and inside D major, gives the signal, for that door to begin to swing, bar 5.

At 7, G major, where D is held through, this is the moment where Christ, is at one with the hearer, resulting in a Schubertian moment, bar 9, where the full extent of the supper, is revealed.


‘Open up, my whole heart, Jesus comes and enters in. Although I am only dust and earth, He does not despise me, but takes delight, to see that, I become His dwelling. How blessed shall I be.’

The opening rest, and quaver rest, following in that second bar, give an impression, of the difficulty, in opening up the heart. Bach’s opening, continuo-only-bass-line, is a series, of leaps and bounds, towards that difficult end.

27 through 37 give us some hope that those difficulties may have been surpassed and the heart opened.

An addition of ‘adagio’ here, in the score, leads us to consider that, our soprano is pondering, carefully, the text.

The agitated, seeking bass, settles, into a peaceful, crochet accompaniment, and the voice feels free to explore a semiquaver enlightenment of line and soul, ‘…takes delight, to see, that I become, His dwelling…’.

The semiquavers, are transformed, into he vehicle, for the blessing, -transformed bass line, 47 through 53, that is so eagerly evoked and so equally, thankfully, received.


‘Amen. Come, fair crown of joy. Do not delay. I await you, with longing.’

After three bars of ‘amen’, the hymn tune commences at 4, energised, with imitation and rhymical invention in the choir.

Listen out, for the concertante violin part, that makes its triumphant way, all the way up, to a top G. it is equally, as impressive, as the soprano part, that makes its way, from G, to G, downwards, one whole octave.

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