Bach: The Cantatas

Bach Cantatas

-Sunday 5th December 2021-2nd Sunday in Advent-J.S.Bach-NO CANTATA for THIS SUNDAY-cantata for an unspecified occasion-BWV 131-,Aus der Tiefen rufe ich, Herr zu dir’

Nov 22, 2021

This is one of Bach’s earliest surviving cantatas, perhaps penitential, written on the occasion, of a disaster, death, tragedy or some such occurrence.

A continuous stream, rather than a sequence of independents, a concept derivative of the motet, combined, very strongly, in this case, with sacred concerto, forms this very varied dynamic and rhythmic structure. Movements 1,3 and 5 are essentially choral and the connecting sections, are provided, by solo or duet linking passages. Continuity is almost totally complete.

The ‘soloist’ in this concerto, a lone oboe, is supported by strings, bassoon and continuo. 4 solo voices, or ensemble chorus, delivers the text, -a complete psalm 130, De Profundis, with verses two and five, from the chorale/hymn, Herr Jesu Christ, du höchstes Gut.‘ (Ringwaldt-1588) set into the second section.

1/Sinfonia with chorus:

‘Out of the depths I call to you, oh Lord. Hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive, to the voice of my supplications.

A prelude, or slow, concerto-introduction, a minor-ish, introduces 2 main ideas, -a descending violin 5th, with dotted drop and an ascending 4th with descending ornamented scale, structure this solemn orchestral and choral opening, whose cry, comes, unto The Lord, from the depths.

A feeling of a ‘round’, or passacaglia dovetailing, -3 bar sequence, or phrase, evident in the bass line, is interrupted by an F#, in the 1st viola, or a raised 6th, at 6.

A new fragment, bar 8, violin, seems to hasten to the end of the first moments, C major.

This proceeds, without change, until, at 16, C#, similarly and again, the flow, is interrupted, precipitating some suspended drops, in the oboe, supported by a nice string line, 18 through 24, bringing us right up to the choral entry.

The chorus ‘stacks-up’, at 26, and more-so, at 34.

The basses, lead off, on an extraordinary ‘crying climb, 39, through the voices, from C, up to an F#, in the soprano, which lingers, just long enough, for its presence to be noted, before sounding G and A.

-43 shows similar, between violin and oboe.

-and at 50, alto through tenor, rising scale, rising voice.

The ‘hearing of this voice’, is appropriated, by an increase, in tempo, to vivace. Homophonic choral blocking is interspersed, with voice-varied, vocal line, eventually, 69, flirting, with imitative and fugal colour, especially so, 72 through 85.

Note diminished dynamics as the voice of supplication, is portrayed, as most effective, in a whisper, Bach marking his score, with somewhat unusual markings.

2/Andante soprano/bass:

The 7 lines of the chorale/hymn, are set, sung by a soprano voice:

‘Have mercy on me, as I am in such torment. Take it, from my heart, because you have atoned, for it, with the pains of your death, on the cross, so that, with those same great pains, I do not, from greater woes, despair and perish, in my sins, for ever.’

Alongside these, the following text is weaved:

‘Lord, if you should take, into account, our iniquities, who would be able to stand? With you, there is forgiveness, so that you are respected.’

Bass, continuo and oboe weave, firstly, in foreboding mood, as the words of a powerful God, are anticipated, -pointing out our iniquities and in doing so, testing out, our standing.

The soprano line, -moving at the least, twice as slow, completes the foursome and a long and musically thoughtful threnody, seems to pass, march-like, slowly by.

At 35, the run-in to an understanding of forgiveness, the harmonic rhythm begins to move on and the oboe responds with a greater density of fast moving notes.

3/Adagio-Largo-Adagio (chorus):

‘I and my soul, wait for The Lord. I rest my hopes, on His word.’

Homophonic choral announcements, -with cadenzas, lead into a solid and convicted choral fugue, marked largo.

The oboe introduces a dancing idea, which is picked up by the violin. Violas are constantly throwing their quaver-crotchet rhythms, between their two parts.

The chorus sets off, -with its quick step quavers with drooping tail, in all manner of imitation and stretto.

This winged soul, despite its flapping antiphonal orchestration, and despite Bach’s wonderful innovation and imagination, -bars 33 through 39, nevertheless, seems unlikely, to leave the ground, destined only, to wait in hope, at the adagio, arrived at, again, in bar 40.

4/(adagio) alto/tenor:

Despite the 12/8 bounce, this soul, according to the text, seems determined to continue to wait, even more than any conscientious and self respecting night watchman could be bothered:

‘My soul waits for The Lord, -and even more-so, than those who watch for the morning.’

However, Bach is on hand, to save the day…or night, and wile it away, with an accompanied chorale, sung by a soprano voice, with tenor embellishment.

But it is all, still, very heavy going indeed and despite the efforts, of a continuo ‘cello, with its large musical leaps and exertions, any sign of similar, mirrored, musical leaps, tenor style, seem to be, very much, an impossibility.

Still, we soldier on, again, threnody-like, although this time the march is much more faltering.

The hymn-text, set to its choral tune, offers, little encouragement, towards any sort real enthusiasm:

‘Because, -in my mind, I have, ‘been-here-before‘, lamenting, I mean. I am also a troubled sinner, my conscience, gnawing away at me, all the time. In your blood, I would gladly, be washed, of all my sins, just like David and Manasseh.’

The weaving tenor lingers on his notes in much the same way that he lingers around, waiting for God. They repeat only seems to somewhat labour the point.

In ‘…waiting longer than those that wait for the morning,’ it is almost possible to feel and believe, that the line is moving along, at a slightly quicker pace.

Inevitably, though, we do arrive, after a long wait, at a long journey’s end, 82.

5/(adagio-un poc’allegro-allegro-adagio-allegro-adagio) (chorus)

‘Let Israel hope in The Lord. With Him, there is mercy, as well as a plenteous redemption. He shall redeem Israel, from all its iniquities.’

This is a complex movement with much rich and arresting material. And an opening adagio, -or prelude, a dramatic, block-chord-homophonic statement, on which to build.

This speeds-up, into the ‘…hoffe auf den Herren…’ section, block chords alternate with free polyphony, led by oboe/violin, concerto like in its antiphonal aspects.

Adagio, and ‘…mercy…’ homophonic chords with attractive, weaving oboe line, over sustained and inventive choral commentary.

Allegro, ‘…plenteous redemption…’. lively oboe and violin writing, antiphonal and inventive, with, again, sustained choral writing with imitative support and commentary.

Listen for some exciting bassoon writing and rising, chromatic tensions, -presumably those iniquities, from which Israel shall be redeemed? and an increasing, rhythmic intensity, -with semiquavers. This is perhaps the finest and certainly most exciting part of this cantata and all leading, towards, that final, albeit grinding adagio and a final, promised, redemption.

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