Bach: The Cantatas

Bach Cantatas

-The feast of the Epiphany-Thursday January 6th 2022-J.S.Bach cantata BWV 123, Liebster Immanuel, Herzog der Frommen’

Jan 4, 2022


-the appearance, of The Deity, the revelation, of God, incarnate, as Jesus Christ.

A six movement cantata, with a large and long, opening chorus, 2 x Recit, -Alto and Bass, 2 x Aria, -Tenor and Bass, this last one, with flute obbligato, and closing Choral.


‘Beloved Emmanuel, The Lord of righteousness and The Prince of the devout, you, The Saviour, of my soul, come quickly.

You, the highest treasure, have won my heart, which now is burning and throbbing, for you.

Nothing on earth, can be dearer, to me, that that I keep you, forever.’

This burning and throbbing heart, -itself, well captured by Bach, in his opening material, is, nevertheless, ambiguous, about its three groups of quavers, per bar, where the musical line’ just loves, to rest and relax, on the last of these groups of three.

Coupled-up, with a B minor tonality, -and, within this, a drooping sag, during the first 4 bars, of ritornello, this opening is determined, in its worship of and reality in, this Prince, but stoic, about the execution, of that adoration.

The hold-up, on the final beat, of each bar, -this ‘hemiolic- stop’, seems to be off-set, by the flute and oboe colouration, -with also a lack of continuo, at 9, as they dispense and cast aside, this caution, in anticipation, of the same, in the choral material, evident, at 21, at the entry, of the chorus.

In fact, instrumental groups constantly exchange and interchange those choral motif(s).

The choir presents the hymn tune, in an uncomplicated way, with some minimal embellishment, in its parts.

This stately dance continues unabated , until, at 41,

, komm komm nur bald’

the emphasis of the sopranos, changes the attitude, to one of increasing urgency.

The text, at 82,

‘(my heart), which quite burns and throbs, (with love for you)’

is pointed, with a sustained and long F#, for the sopranos, in preparation, for the spiritual hub of this movement, at 96,

,Nichts kann auf Erden’,

‘nothing on earth’ can be dearer to me.’

where any quaver movement, within the chorus, -and only for these 4 bars, is rejected, in favour, of plain and un-ambiguous beats, that are on the beat.

115, through 123, sees Bach, at perhaps his most cleaver, weaving his parts, to best reflect these closing words, where worship of the heart, is both profoundly mysterious and yet, deeply sincere and personal, best summed up, in the D natural of the viola and the two, oboe d’amore.


‘Heavenly sweetness, -the delight of the chosen ones, already on earth, fills me.

When I call on Jesus, I know his manna, as dew that refreshes dryness.

My heart, -in danger and in pain, is joyful, through Him. The hardness, of the cross and bitter tears, do no frighten me.

When storms rage, He sends salvation and light.’

Listen, for the dew, refreshing the land, 6-7 and the peril and pain, 8.


‘The cross’s cruel journey and bitter tears, they do not frighten me.

When those tempests rage, Jesus just sends me salvation and light, from heaven.’

This Aria is full of musical and textual interest, a ‘mis-en-scene’, or a short concise, staged event, something that might be comfortable, in both theatre and church.

After a plonk, in F# minor, from the continuo, our first Oboe begins to outline, quite literally, in shape and form, the nature and form, this ‘cruel cross’.

During this outline, both ‘D’ and ‘E’ and their alternatives, ‘D#’ and ‘E#’, are thoroughly explored and textured. The constant, dropping of semitones, enhances this experience, of personally finding new and different aspects.

This example is then followed, by the second Oboe, this time, hand in hand, with the guidance of the first.

A well briefed Tenor, is now ready, to commence his journey and like the other two, a journey of discovery, and with that same, by now, well outlined, route map, although he naturally ornaments, at the revelation of the hardness of that cross and journey, and compresses his final notes.

During his second entry, the Oboes lengthen their notes, giving the sense of lingering over this exploration.

Listen for, ‘fright’, schreckt’, at 11 and at 15, the nourishment, of those bitter tears.

At 19, the continuo, takes up, the exploration, whilst Oboes, allow us, to linger.

Then, at 23 and ,toben’, to ‘romp and rage’, the voice, after the first words, of the sentence, lets out, a cry of desperate anguish, which is really one long, ‘three-and -a-half-bar-phrase’, and all at the agitated speed, of, un poco allegro.

After this outburst, all is calm and Lente, again, as he and we, realize, that, throughout, all of this, Jesus is sending us two things, salvation and light, to which Oboes and singer, allude to, in their closing remarks.


‘No devil, can swallow me. My screaming conscience is silent.

Why should the enemy throng around me?

Death has no power. Victory, has already been intended, for me.

For my Savior has appeared to me.’

This short secco, begins in hell and ends, with the Savior appearing, all indicated, within the music.


‘Leave me, scornful world, -and in, my distressed solitude. Jesus, who has come in the flesh and accepted my sacrifice, shall stay with me, for all my days.’

For this Aria, we have one obligato flute.

The rather obsessive emphasis on the first and third beat, starts this setting off, as one of the best examples, in Bach, of a lonely, self-pitying individual, in this case, our Bass singer.

The top and bottom of the full pitch range, are represented and, in one sense, they make musical mis-sense and mis-match.

The trudging and increasingly faltering continuo line, again, with those obsessive repetitive ‘bytes’, in the flute part, bars 5 through 9, prepare us, for the arrival of a peevish complainer, -or perhaps a ‘moaning-minnie’ sort, and, sure enough, that is what happens.

His vocal appearance relies, for support, completely, upon his continuo, the flute part, having dropped right out, for three-and-a-half-bars.

He sets up a 3/2 rhythm, with his pitying, until his flute, partner in crime, can pick up again.

Note the very low ‘A’, at 12, possible reflecting, his lowly-state, or maybe, drawing attention, to himself, -something all self pity-iers do, seemingly naturally, or maybe, just both?

In any case, on grind, the voice and flute, managing to cobble-up, some sort of imitation, their ‘wining-on’, so infectiou, ass to affect, even the stoic continuo part, culminating, at 24,

‘…in distressed solitude,’

and complete with a mournful and self-indulgent, cadenza.

Round they all go again, this time with an even lower note, ‘G’, 35 and an even more wallowing cadenza, that Bach marks into the score, adagio, 38.

He lingers on and around, the fact that, his offering has been accepted, but seems to get vocally stuck, 49 through 50, about it, and again, at 56/57, lingering and remaining, long and low, over ,…bleibet’, 59 and ,…allezeit’, 60/61, and in an increasingly, squeaky voice, 62, to the end.


‘Depart, for ever, vanities. Jesus, you are mine, and I, yours.

I will abandon this world, to come before you. You shall be in my heart and mouth.

May my whole life, be given, to you, until, at last, I am laid, in the grave.’

From the start of this 3/2 Choral, ‘vanities’ and ‘World’, receive, the dominant minor treatment and the first half,

‘…you are mine and I am your, and ‘…heart and mouth’

both close on uncertainty.

But, the final section, repeated piano, ends, in bright certainty.

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