Bach: The Cantatas

Bach Cantatas

-Sunday after circumcision-2nd January 2022-J.S.Bach-cantata BWV 153-,Schau, lieber Gott, wie meine Feind’

Jan 1, 2022

Despite this being a 9 movement cantata, the chorus is, unusually, restricted to only three numbers, theses being, again unusually, chorales.

An opening, short, plain chorale, is followed by recit/alto, arioso/bass, Recitativo/tenor, chorale/tutti, aria/tenor, Recitativo/bass, Aria/alto and closing choral/tutti.

The forces are modest: strings/continuo and 4-part chorus, with no soprano solo.

The reasons for this economy, are, -after a moment of thought, surely obvious. With the very busy schedule of Christmas, only just over, a new-year, now upon us and Epiphany, soon to be, not only the chorus, but all the musicians and participants, -including congregation, are now, it can safely be assumed, totally exhausted, -and perhaps more importantly, suffering from musical overload.

Bach is aware of this and in BWV 153, he is seeking, hopefully, to address this.


‘See how my enemies, -with whom I must constantly fight, are cunning and powerful. With ease, they overcome me. If your grace does not hold me up, the devil, the flesh and the world, will plunge me into misery.’

This opening, plain, choral setting, ends up, on a well, textually driven, prepared dominant, where misery and misfortune, may be, a real possibility.


‘Have mercy on me and help me. I live among lions and dragons, who wish to kill me.’

The Alto voice quickens the pace, at the mention of lions and dragons, with their grim ferocity and apparent determination, to destroy, without delay.


‘Fear not. I am with you. Do not give-up. I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will help you, with the right hand, of my righteousness.’

This bass voice of Christ, Vox Christi, appears angular and aggressive, its bass-line, appearing, in different keys, almost, throughout.

But at, ,Weiche nicht, ‘do not give up’ there is a softness, within the spirit, of the music.

The relegation, to arioso, is simply due, to the minimal continuo forces involved.


‘You speak, for the peace of my soul, comfort, in my suffering. But, my torment increases, my enemies are many and the destruction, of my life, is their goal.

Their bows are bent against me, for that destruction. I shall die.

My distress is known, to you. The whole world, is a torture chamber.

O helper, deliver my soul.’

During this long secco recit, listen out for the ‘bending-of-their-bows‘ and the final, -marked andante, beautiful deliverance, of the soul.


‘Even though, all the devils fight, God will not retreat. What He has undertaken and what He desires, must finally be accomplished, according to His purpose and goal.’

The slimy and slithery demonic activity, in the first line, is reflected in the creeping, opening chromaticism.

All this is resolved, in the subsequent lines, althoug

h ‘…His intent and goal.’ contains a few surprises of its own, as reflected, in the final two bars.


‘Rage and continue to rage, whirlpools of affliction.

Sweep down over me, waterspouts. Strike me, flames of misfortune.

Disturb me, enemies, of my peace.

For God comforts me, saying: I am your refuge and your redeemer.’

French in style and overture in stature, this turbulent and troubled ritornello paints, in music, a picture of those rages that seem to oppress the faithful, whirlpools, waterspouts and of course, flames, and all of them, in abundance.

Notice, the pause on ,ruh’. and the melissma, on ,Erretter’, Redeemer.

They texture, although orchestral in design, might work well for a string quartet, as the writing has the character of the quartet.


‘My heart, fear not. Endure your pain. and do not let your afflictions crush you. God will refresh you, in His time.

His young tender-aged son, suffered, -with much greater afflictions, when Herod threatened him, with death and when He came down to earth, He had to flee, as if, a fugitive.

So, take comfort, with Jesus and believe, that everyone, who suffers, with Him, shall receive, The Kingdom. ‘

Listen out, for the ‘threatening’s of Herod’, Christ, as the fugitive, and the last two sublime lines, marked andante

: ‘To those who suffer, here with Christ, He will grant, to them, The Kingdom of Heaven.’


‘Should I live my life, full of these afflictions and sorrows, as, it will, in due course, cease, as I understand it, in heaven.

Then, there, will be nothing, but jubilation and Jesus, will exchange my sufferings, for blessed rapture and eternal joy.’

This minuet, danced stoically, is nevertheless honest and genuine, in its simple belief and faith.

At 71, allegro, she picks up the tempo, in anticipation of these blessed raptures, and particularly, those eternal joys.


Because I still live, happily, I shall bear afflictions and follow you. Prepare me, as the cross, is always the best way.

Help me to get about my task, so that I can quickly complete my life, help me conquer flesh and blood, and protect me, from sin and shame.

Keep my heart in faith, then I shall live, -and die, in you. Hear my pleadings, to be, with you.’

This is a straightforward and lively and strophic setting, of a 3 verse prayer, of faithful intent.

It is in keeping, with the brevity, of this event and the seriousness, of the occasion.

(Notice the single consecutives, -second bar, between, alto and tenor…. and, more importantly, for me, the false relation, -C/C#, in bar 10, soprano/alto, which immediately drew the attention, of my ear….)

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