Bach: The Cantatas

Bach Cantatas

-Monday-second day after Christmas-27th December 2021-J.S.Bach-cantata BWV 57-,Selig ist der Mann, der die Anfechtung erduldet’

Dec 25, 2021

An 8 movement cantata, -oboe x 2 + taille, strings and continuo, the chorus only appearing in its fulness, during the final choral. Alto and tenor remain silent throughout all the previous movements. Bass/Jesus and Soprano/Anima, -or the soul, maintain a dramatic dialogue where the recits, as in opera, advance and develop the plot.

A sense of theatrical drama is prevent throughout this cantata.



‘Blessed is the person who endures temptation. When they are rested, they shall receive, the crown if life’.

A quotation from the letter of James, 1:12, forms the text, in this long, opening movement, sung by a newly born Messiah.

A combination of imitative layering and long sustained notes, creates an impression of ongoing and increasing temptations, which appear un-abating and unending.

The mood is sober and austere

The entry of the voice turns this upon its head, where ,selig’ is sustained, suggesting that blessing is extended, through these temptations.

,bewähret‘ or ‘proven’, receives a similar extension, 48 and after and of course the ‘crown’ and life, 70.

Nice sequence, 85 followed by a long ,Krone’ with embellishment.

The contrasts, between temptations and blessings, the ‘proving’s and the crown, are skilfully, set out by Bach, for all to hear, -and all the more penetrating, as from the mouth of Christ.

A feeling of stickiness, or a lack of forward impetuous, to the music, is deliberate, aa Dürr says, this music is ‘…somewhere between Aria and arioso.’


Anima or soul/Soprano:

‘This sweet comfort, refreshes my heart, which normally finds only, endless grief and suffering, writhing in its own blood, like a worm.

I have to live, like a sheep, among a thousand, savage wolves. I am a truly forsaken lamb and must surrender, to their rage and cruelty.

What happened to Abel, draws from me too, this flood, of tears.

If I did not know, that you, Jesus, would comfort me, then, my courage, and my heart, would break and I would say:’

The first appearance and utterance, of this female soul, is one of concurrence, with that inter-relation, between those concepts and opposites, stated in the opening words of Christ. She confesses to finding comfort, in them, even though, she is living, under threat.

The figure of Abel, the first Old-Testament martyr is linked with that of Stephen, the first new testament martyr, -coincidently todays date being, the feast of St Stephen and the imagery of the sheep and the wolves, coming from the gospel of Matthew 10:16.

A very secco rendition, ‘lamentation’ and ‘worm’, are, understandably hi-lighted.

At the mention of those sheep and wolves, the mood becomes desperate and more-so, with the name, of Abel.

A lingering calm is reached with a thoughts of The Savior, and this narrative ends, unusually, with a direct link, into the following Aria:


Anima or soul/Soprano

‘I wish for myself, death. If you, my Jesus, did not love me, -indeed, if you still rejected me, I would suffer more, than even, those pains of hell.’

This lamentable minuet, has little, of the dance about it. Cheer is in short supply, as this soul succumbs, to her emotions, rather than to her faith.

Life and Death seem to stand before her.

A preponderance, of lilting dissonances, -a grave-yard of appoggiaturas, listened to, through our romantically beguiled ears, sends us, into, a Tristanesque ecstasy, of emotion languor.

Vivaldian in simplicity, but a Venice, in winter.

A lagoon of languor.

The rising sequence at 9 through 13 is masterly, Handeled with taste, despite the use of those, last minute, subdominant minor chords.

The vocal line, -infested with lilting harmonies and convolute, as it is, is designed to give this soul, plenty of ‘me-time’, to explain to us, just exactly how she feels about herself, and why she wants, despite everything, just to end it all.

Bach understands this, and wallows along with her.

And wallow along he and it do, for nearly five pages, in excruciating, musical pain, as she wishes away, her life.

At the midpoint, the bass line, seemingly runs out of patience and following its quaver, pick-me-up, at 69, is not going, to that impetus drop.

Our singing soul views her text, a little differently and in a different light, -or THE light, ceasing to alight continually, on every available dissonance.

For the time being, the consonance seems to be her natural expression, although, an inevitable relapse begins to creep in, 80ish. The bass line knows this and reluctantly, gives up, that ghost.

The written out da-capo covers the old ground, and the old, old story.

Depressingly, we come to an end, although, not the end.



Anima, or soul/Soprano:

Christ: ‘I give to you my hand, and with it, my heart.’

Soul: ‘This is a very sweet pledge, of love. You can overthrow my enemies and diminish their anger.’

The lift in the text and thus the received message with its change in mood, is a relief to all.



‘I can strike down your enemies, who are always standing before you, accusing you. So have no fear, troubled soul and stop your weeping.

The sun, -which now, is sending, clouds of sorrow, will soon be shining.’

With The Christ, in buoyant mood, with unstoppable command, Bach is able to unleash, if you like, the powers of hell.

This resultant aria, is a basso, tour de force, with enough coloratura to loosen up any stiff, stodgy and stuffy, old bass singer.

The radiant Handelian strings, rise, fall and surge, -repeated semiquavers, balanced by the release of some pent-up bass, depth-plunging and charging and with a cunning mixture, of short and elongated, unforeseen phrase lengths, all in an ‘all-powerful way,’ striking down enemies and eradicating weeping, and al, l as far as the eye can see and the ear can hear, -and all before our singer, can catch his breath.

At 80, the orchestra becomes an exact copy of the weeping itself, and the phrasing stretches, initially, screeching and screaming, over two bars, -each of a dotted minim and then a longer one, over three bars, each of a dotted minim and then 4 straight bars, -each of three crochet beats, of shining sun.

Then the clouds appear, layering imitation building thickly, and quickly, throughout, the entire orchestra, including the bass line, blocking out that sun-light.

The intense and vibrant energy, released in this movement, -the heart of this cantata, places Christ, as the undisputed victor, over all His enemies.



Anima or Soul: Soprano

Christ: ‘In my soul, lies peace and life, which, one day, I shall give you, forever.

Soul: I wish I was already with you. If the wind was already, blowing over my tomb, I would be able, to overcome, every affliction. How lucky are those who already, are in their coffin, hearing the sounds of the angels.

Jesus, make the heavens open, for me, as they did for Stephen?

My heart is prepared to fly, aloft, up, to you.

Come, blessed hour and show me tomb, grave and my blessed Jesus.’

With only some sweet and genuine vocalisations, from the soul, of the name of Jesus, drawing our attention, means that this very secco setting is in danger of passing us by, without us noticing the mention of Stephen, that all important first New-Testament martyr.


Anima or soul/Soprano:

‘I swiftly end my earthly life and I long to depart, with joy.

My Saviour, I die with great eagerness and longing.

Here is my soul.

What will you give, to me?‘

Energetic determination, is apparent, in this opening ritornello, the violin, in the opening four bars, dropping down, symbolically, falling into the arms of the saviour, only to be lifted up, in his arms.

As the singing commences, we realise, we are caught up, in a whirlwind, dance of death, -a moto perpetuo, albeit, with a joyful, longing heart.

The fiddle drives the voice on and both egg each other on and on, until, at 151, talk turns, eventually to ‘what’ is on offer, in return.

,Was’, she shouts, as she continually presents her soul and all the time, the orchestra presents the same old material.

As there is no da-capo, there is no where to reassess the existing situation, and so, the whirlwind unexpectedly ends, suddenly, both fiddle and voice, evaporating, into nothing, as the key sense settles down, again suddenly, into Bb major, the major relation, of that turbulent, g minor.

The question, though, of course, still remains…


‘Direct yourself, my beloved, with my wishes and believe that, I will remain, always and forever, your souls friend, who delights in you and transfers you, into heaven, from your tortured body.’

The full band, with full chorus, unite together with this 3-time choral.

Listen out for the imaginative tenor part and the nod, to the tortured body, in the last line, as the tonality flirts, with that, lurking, g minor.

The question, is now, answered.

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