This is a ‘large-scale’ and large sounding, 6 movement cantata, for full orchestra, 3 x trumpets with drums, 3 x oboes, strings, continuo, soloists and chorus. The Violincello piccolo makes a singular, but important and welcome addition, to the instrumental colour, in the tenor aria, movement 4.
The opening chorus, is followed, swiftly on, by, a solo aria, with soprano, a short recit for alto, a tenor aria, -with that substantial, violincello-piccolo part, another recit, -this time, for the bass voice, with a violent, short, full choral, interjection, and finally a substantial setting, of the cantata choral.
The text, for this chorale-cantata, is based on the, at the time, well known hymn tune, for the new year, by Johannes Herman (1593). The words are based, on its 33 verse text.
‘Jesus, now be praised at this new-year, for your goodness has shown, to us, -and that, in all our destress and danger, that we have and are experiencing, a new and joyful age, which now, hovers, over us, full of grace, eternal salvation and bliss.
We, in prosperous peace, -or ‘goodly-stillness’, have successfully now, completed, this old year, -or age.
Therefore, we want to give ourselves, to you, now and for evermore.
Protect our body, soul and life, throughout the whole, of this new time.’
This is an massive, brilliant and impressive, opening chorus, to this new-year day cantata, enormous in concept and text, joyful, optimistic and full of hope, for this new year, ahead.
This short appraisal, can raise and reflect on, only a few, of the very many noteworthy and fascinating musical and textual ‘goings-on’, that can be identified, within the notes, and text, of this rather important musical structure and composition.
Falling into 4 sections, it opens, with a degree of Bachian familiarity, color and feel, that has, perhaps, been, lacking in recent cantatas.
Those who have missed this sort of ‘Bach sound’, will immediately feel, their ‘spring-saps’, beginning to rise.
However and despite all of this, it -and its sister movement, no 6, seem and remain, stubbornly, -musically speaking, difficult to grasp.
A crochet length, second note, in the first/second trumpet part, -in effect, a pause, a musical caesura, seems to have the effect, -by accident, or design, of holding up, literally, the proceedings, with a start.
This is then followed, by three, quick notes, bringing the very short phrase, to an end.
This strikes me as a noteworthy point of observation.
This unit or byte of sound, is a feature and a constant occurrence, both, in this movement, as well as, movement no 6.
It seems to holds-up, or stop, the flow, introducing a restraining factor, almost ‘checking’ the freedom, to praise, and experience the ‘new gladsome time,’ or ‘joyful age.’
A correcting factor perhaps.
But to what or who?
Occurring twice, in the first two bars, it is, each time, followed by a fanfare-like-figure, which shows itself to be a constant, in the strings, up to bar 3.
At bar 3, the trumpets introduce a convolute figuration, that twists itself, around, incorporating a Bb.
This has already shown itself, again, in those upper and middle, string parts.
(The trumpets continue to use and employ, combinations, of their two figurations, up to and beyond, the chorus entry at 13.)
Any imagined, or inclined move, towards the subdominant, is immediately quashed, by an ambiguous downward scale, in the bass-continuo.
Our ear is left in limbo as much as body and limbs are in a quandary, especially, in bar 6.
These downward bass-lines, -and there are many of them, are disorientating, in their ambiguities, and we soon realise, at 4 and 6, that they are not pure and their harmony, the spirit, of their harmony, is moving us, in a downwards direction, sometime by a semitone, sometimes a tone, ambiguously, towards an F, but not at all, to a clear subdominant.
At 8, in the second half of this bar, our bearings are reset, as a customary and familiar 6/4 chord, sets itself up, for a choral entry, at 12.
But is this a relief, in any way at all?
But wait, there is more.
Our chorus enters on the second minim beat, of the bar, immediately giving a potentially false first beat.
So…, there are three main points of interest:
-a stuck’ thematic figuration, -an ambiguity of harmony -and an unusual phrase structure.
The accompanying string and wind parts use material introduced, in the opening ritornello and an adagio section, at 103, where the old crochet speed, can, easily and nicely, equal the new, sets out, in short, but bleakly, desolate and cold music, this ‘…goodly stillness,’ or ‘prosperous peace’, which, apparently, is the ‘mood-music’, to which, this old year, has to be completed.
Is it not significant, that the ‘timing’, of this short, second section, -its three-in-a-bar-ness, may throw some light, on the phrase lengths and structure of the first?
Note the long sustained profundity, of the basses on ‘…stille…’ at 110 through 115, where they drop down, and off, to G.
At 119, with crochet equal to minim, a straightforward fugato, takes over. The three lower parts involve themselves with this, -the orchestra colla parte, while the sopranos, stick, defiantly, to their choral tune.
This proceeds for 64 bars, where opening material, again, takes over, in preparation, for closure and the final line of the text.
Could it be, that Bach, in reading these opening words, to this new-year hymn, identified, in his own thoughts, with the distresses and dangers, inherent with change, rather than with the goodness itself?
The ambiguity of the bar structures, the halting thematic material, and a bleak, middle section, suggesting, -indeed, forcing us, to acknowledge and appreciate, this ‘goodly-seriousness’, leads me to consider, that this maybe the case.
‘Let us, highest God, complete the year, that its end, may be, as it was in the beginning.
May your hand protect us, that, at the years end -and in the future, we may, -amidst an abundance of blessings, sing an alleluia.’
This rustic pastorale-like song and dance, immediately nods, again, to an ambiguity, with an opening three bar phrase, followed by 2 x 2 bars and then multiples of 2, as you feel it.
There appears to be no dancing partner, the village-reeds, content, to just fit in.
As a deep thinker, she muses, dancing on her own, and considering those opening words, whose end, that ‘…its end may be as its beginning.’, leads her, distracted as she is, to tag that extra bar, onto her phrase, -perhaps by design, perhaps by mistake?
The middle section, ‘…may your hand protect…’, stabilises itself, into a 6/8 lilt, with charming alleluias, each time they are sung, becoming longer and more sincere.
‘Oh! Your hand.
Your blessing, is the A(lpha) and O(mega), the beginning and the end.
Our lives, you carry, in your hand and our days are numbered, by you.
Your eye looks upon city and country. You count our prosperity and know our misfortunes.
Grant us, of both, according to your wisdom and as your mercy impels you.’
Secco in style, at ‘misfortunes’ and on, through, to the end, there is a heartfelt connection with the words.
‘Provided that you have granted, a noble peace, for our body and state (soul), grant us your saving word.
When we encounter this cure (salvation), we are blessed, here on earth and, as the chosen ones, there, in heaven.’
In this aria, or song, the Violincello-piccolo, actually becomes, the ‘…saving word…’ and we must imagine, in our minds eye, of course, that our tenor singer, takes up, this rather, cumbersome instrument, and slings it, like King David, -and guitar style, over his neck.
He is supported, in his efforts, by a discreet continuo player(s), who, as if by divine providence, appeasr, primed and appointed, to be, nothing more, nothing less, than intuitively tuned, in both pitch and personality, to further, this important moment.
Despite the many difficulties encountered in this feat, -bowing, strumming, singing, and all at the same time, like all good rhapsodes, he becomes ‘one’, with that Word, and in the same way, that he does, infact, become ‘one’, with his instrument.
In doing so, the curing properties, of that Word, combined, with that song, brings fourth, a blessing.
All this is very evident from the start.
With 9 bars of slow, expansive and well paced and thought-through, limbering up processes, with finger exercises, and nice big leaps and a touch of virtuoso passagework, -all characteristic of the instrument and the faith of this player/singer, he prepares himself to sing, albeit with a little touch of self congratulatory, but nevertheless, tasteful self indulgence, bars 8 to 9.
A noble peace indeed, is now established.
His song is expansive, but again, even with his strong up-beat, he strays into a third bar, (extra?) before he breathes.
His next phrase is even longer.
During his middle section, he lingers long, nicely hi-lighting ‘cure’, (salvation), ‘blessed’ and ‘chosen-one’ (elect).
All through this aria, from the opening ‘prelude-exercise’, right up, to the thoughtful, middle section and the return, our singing rhapsode, cradles his instrument, as he sings, allowing its own music, to play itself and in doing so, enfold both itself, the singer and us, the congregation.
This is surely the function of the ‘beneficent word’ or ‘cure’, that is so wished for, by the soul, and so willingly, granted, by God.
‘Since the foe, -by day and night, watches out, to do us harm and destroy our peace, then, Lord God, listen to us, when we, -and in that Holy congregation, will pray to you:
MAY SATAN be TRODDEN DOWN, UNDER OUR FEET?
Then, we shall, forever, -and to your renown, belong to you, as your chosen property, The Elect, and shall, -after suffering, cross and sorrow, depart, from here, to a much greater glory.’
This secco-recitative, is interrupted, with a 4 bar, tempo-allegro, full chorus, -a hopeful intervention, perhaps, of the crowd, and a plea for action, from those who suffer harm and are fed-up, with loosing their peace.
‘Yours alone, is the honour and glory, yours alone, is the praise and renown.
Teach us to bear our afflictions and govern, please, our deeds, until we depart, in rapture and in joy, like the saints.
In-the-meantime, deal with us all, according to your pleasure.
This is sung, today, -and in all seriousness, without at all joking, by that host, that is faithful, to Christ, and wishing, with mouth and heart, for a blessed, new year.’
This splendid and innovative chorale, -with its powerful text, superb harmony and moments of sublimity, including a three-time, lilting and dance-like, new year wish and salutation, is all too similar, to that, seemingly now, far-off, opening chorus, where many of the same observations and comments, may equally apply.
It features not only a return of those trumpets, but also, a return of their halting thematic material, which itself, provides a splendid, 2 ba,r final flourish, a satisfactory, although perhaps quizzical, end, to this musical masterpiece.
For Bach and his congregation, it is not only an end, but of course, also a start, to yet another year, of spiritually enriching and upstanding music.