Bach: The Cantatas

Bach Cantatas

-Third Sunday after Epiphany-Sunday 23rd January 2022-J.S.Bach-cantata-BWV 73 ,Herr, wie du wilt, so schick’s mit mir’.

Jan 18, 2022

A 5 movement cantata, with a striking and individual opening, chorus-recit. A Tenor aria is then followed, by a Bass recit, which is continuous with its aria. A chorale, as usual, closes the whole.

Strings and chorus, are supported, by a pair of Oboes and the choral line, is supported, by a lone corno. (see below).

The continuo support, contains a written out concertanto part for the first movement.


‘Lord, deal with me, but as you would like to.


‘How much, your will, lets me suffer. My life, is misfortunes goal. Distress and dismay, torture me alive. Even in death, they will not leave me.’

‘My desire is for you alone. Do not let me perish.’


‘You are my helper, comfort and refuge, who counts the tears, of the distressed. Their confidence, -that weak and fragile reed, never quite breaks. As you have chosen me, how about, a word of comfort and joy?

‘Keep me, in your favour and let your wil,l grant me favour, because your will and way, is always best.’


‘Your will, is a sealed book, where human wisdom, understands nothing. Blessings, often, to us, seem like cursing’s, instructions and anger. And the sleep and peace, which you have prepared for us, as an entry, into hell.

But, your Spirit, saves us from this attitude and teaches us, that your will can heal us.’

‘Lord, as you will.’

This opening chorus is a cleaver, coherent and memorable weave, of ritornello, choral and recitativo, pervaded by a single, almost ‘fate’ motif, -three quavers and a first-beat quaver.

The implication, of the changeableness of the text, -the, ‘…as you will.’, if you like, is suggested and implied, by the changeableness of the music, not so much in thematic material, which remains, in presentation, of notes and their values, much the same, but in tonality, firstly in a somewhat ambiguous g minor, them Bb major, then Eb and then in tumbling and turning harmonies with cleaver and daring imitative writing, back to g minor, in readiness for the first choral entry, which is pure in its soprano adherence to the line, and free within its parts.

The ‘fate’ motif is first heard in the first notes of the text,

,Herr, wie du wilt,

and choral line, and punctuates almost continually throughout.

Unusually, Bach takes advantage of the lone horn, to reinforce not only his soprano choral line, but also, this motif, which appears, almost throughout.

Bach makes his point steely point, getting it acros,s to us, -both in text and timing, and we get a hold of it, both musically and morally.

The written out organ part contains instructions, advising the player, to constantly change, between Rückpositiv and Brustpositiv.

Oboes that immitate like these organ sounds, continually interchange, together, setting up antiphonal response and showing us, the the ever changing will, of God.

The quasi-recit moments become picture or grottos, moving tableaus, within that ever-changing and moving journey, of a seeking soul.

They dovetail, neatly into the flow, but seek to distract us, momentarily, into, firstly, the distresses and distractions of self-pity and unbelief and secondly, in the last two interjections, a self-justified philosophical appraisal, of truths.

Thankfully, Bach’s forward flow and thrust and motion, ensures that we are not allowed, to linger long, in these grottos and are propelled onwards, by that flow and thrust.

Nevertheless, during each one of those moving pictures, we are left, again in absolutely no doubt, of the seriousness of these interludes, the key textual words of which, Bach makes sure we hear of and take note of.

-And he makes sure we understand the main idea of this opening, that of God’s will, which he repeats, three times, 63/65/73, using his ‘effective and by now, memorable ‘fate’ theme.


‘Plant the spirit of joy, into my heart. My spiritual sickness, often makes joy and hop,e waver, in my heart.’

After the changeableness of the opening, this happy little number, -a sort if trio-sonata, with Oboe, is simple and uncomplicated, in its approach. The spirit of joy is evident, sinking down into the soul, from the very start.

A happy piper, plays and dances, his way along, to an uncomplicated dance in two time, although there is no two-timing, as far as he is concerned, the music reflecting not so much the text, but his heart, innocent perhaps, but in that, certainly, sincere.

True, we do hear evidence of his ‘sick spirit’ and the slide and waver, of some chromatic faltering, but it is short lived and after pausing for a long, but final, faltering breath, 36, all is again well.


‘Oh dear. Our will remains perverse, -sometimes obstinate, sometimes despondent, but never willing to consider death.

Only a Christian, taught by God’s Spirit, can ever immerse himself in God’s Spirit, and say:

This short but musically interesting recit, leads straight into its following Aria.

Notice the accompanying harmony, at 2, where the perverse or haughty will, appears in almost a distortion. And this approach carries on, as all the words are set in harmonies, that are not necessarily as you may expect to hear them, especially the final and ambiguous setting, or immersion, of God’s will.


‘Lord, if you will, -and if my prayers are are approved, banish those fears of death, those sighs, of my heart.

Lord, if you will, lay down my limbs, in dust and ashes, -always the best picture of sin.

Lord, if you will, strike your funeral bells, my distress will be stilled and I shall follow you, fearlessly.

Lord, if you will.’

This movement, is the ‘heart and soul’, of this cantata.

As a prayer, this slowed down and hobbled funeral dance, seems to ask, for increasingly, -and startlingly, challenging changes and solutions.

Bach uses another ‘motto’ or ‘fate theme, heard, right at the beginning, as three rising notes, with a drop, on the fourth, complete, with a dotted note, in the middle.

The opening ritornello, contains highly charged elements of death-pains and sighs and 4 times, Bach reminds us of God’s will, in all this, and we hear the subtleties of the text, reflected in this questioning music, which, itself, is centred, in and around, an unusual soundscape:

-the banishment of sin, 13 and the pangs of death, 14/15,

-the sighs of the heart, 16 and the questioning, of a valid prayer life,

-the limbs and the dust…and the ashes, 32 through 34 and the corrupted image, of sin, 37/37.

38 sees a build-up of these sighs and sins. We hear the escalation of fear, building in this soul, -and all ending up, in a brief, major tonality, as if the mention of a funeral brings hope.

And so, we do indeed arrive at this funeral procession.

And what a moment it is.

Bar 47, is the stroke of a genius.

Funeral bells, themselves, sounded, by the very hand of The Almighty.

This deathly moment is preceded, 46, by a total silent orchestra, focusing the ear and the mind, creating a most pregnant moment.

But listen on.

These bells are distant, their clappers have been muffled, tolling away, but spine-tinglingly hushed, to mirror and match, the faint and forlorn footsteps, of a fearlessly, unperturbed faithful.

A sort of peace eschews, one that passes, perhaps, all misunderstandings, established, at 54, through 56.

Even so, the muffled and shuffled procession, continues on, at least, to 61.


‘That is the will, of The Father, who has created us. His Son, has acquired for us, the fullness, of goodness and grace. God the Holy Spirit, governs us, in faith, and leads us, to the Kingdom of heaven. To Him, be glory, honour and the praise.’

There is no such thing as a straightforward or plain Bach chorale setting.

And this one is no exception, -as, the majority, of the musical setting, appearing, to our ears, at any rate, to be of a standard, familiar setting and sound, a shrewd and thoughtful appraisal of the, by now familiar words of the first line and those of the seventh, may, in the reflective midst, of Bach’s setting, convince us, that none of this, is as simple, as we perhaps might like it to be.

View more Cantata articles