A substantial and varied cantata. Nine movements, beginning with a large-scale, opening chorus with choral melody, followed by the second movement, a recitativo, again with choral tune, then a Tenor aria, with strings, a choral sung by Alto with oboes, a Bass aria, with continuo accompaniment only, recitativo with choral, a Soprano Aria and followed finally, by the closing choral.
Strings are supplemented with two Oboe d’amore and the usual continuo and chorus.
1/(chorus with chorale melody)
‘I have surrendered, to God’s heart and mind, my own heart and mind. That which seems evil, is to my gain. Death, itself is life, to me. I am the son of Him, who has been raised up, to the throne of heaven. Even though he punishes, His heart remains kind and well-disposed.’
There is a certain undercurrent of unease, in this opening chorus, as Oboes and strings, lay down, their opening material.
This content, brings a questioning attitude, -via an extended note, bar 2, which is filled-up, by strings, with an imitative answer, that, by the very nature of its imitation, gets us no nearer to any particular answer, at all.
The statement that is behind this unease is this: ‘HAVE I really surrendered, to God’s heart and mind…’
At 3, rising Oboes begin to quicken this possibility and at the midpoint of 4, the appearance, of a D major chord, in its first position, i.e, F# in the bass, secures a faith move.
Because of this, doubts and concerns, 6 through 17, can be born, in that spirit of faith.
In due course, bar 17, the Soprano voice sets-off with this cantata’s chorales choral tune, a provoking harmony, one that is caught, between the ambiguities of both major and minor worlds.
Orchestra and choir continue throughou,t with their independent material, the Sopranos sticking stubbornly, to their melody throughout, all of it underpinned with that bouncing and exploratory bass line.
This is a long and illustrative hybrid, a chorale elaboration with textual insertion, set into the fabric of a secco recitative, a true polymorph.
I will give a shortened outline of the text and in doig so, will separate the chorale from the insertions. It is easy to identify the chorale moments:
‘I can no-longer lack anything, as my Father surely loves me. Even if he does cast me into the sea, it would only be, because, He is testing me and accustoming, my spirit, -through His goodness, to stand firm. If I stand firm He will continually raise me up.’
‘…It must be soon, -as my Saviour cannot lie, that those mountains and hills, will fall with such awful noise… But my protection, is written, in Jesus’ hand and in His own blood… The Lord lives in mighty waters, but, despite this, he has given me life, where waters cannot drown me, even though waves rush and seize me, for their abyss… With my mind, will I be a Jonah or will I be a Peter, strong in faith?… This is always wavering…despite His constancy…. My foot shall be on that rock, until my end… Then, He can, at all times, raise me up.’
The form of the Bass continuo line, remains much the same, with some interesting exceptions, as the Bass soloist moves, seamlessly and effortlessly, between an ornamented chorale line and a secco recit, that nevertheless and in-itself, moves towards an arioso feel.
Those interesting exceptions, to that stable bass line, do occur, firstly, at 6 through 8, where a terrific rush, on continuo ‘cello, reflects the thunder claps and the fierce lightening crackles, of those collapsing hills and mountains and secondly, at 17, where we find out what it is like, to live in faith, albeit, within those rushing and seizing waves, constant and repeated semiquaver figurations, threatening that life, of faith.
And as the rock of faith is mentioned, 39, the leaps of a striving faith, become larger and perhaps, a little more desperate?
‘Look and see, how everything, that is not held, in God’s strong arm, is tearing, snapping, breaking and falling.
But, see the firm and unending glory, of everything that our great hero, hold’s, in His power.
Let satan rage, rave and storm. With our God, we are invincible.’
This is a fine piece of music, difficult and testing for any Tenor…and orchestra.
It is perhaps one of the finest examples of an Aria, by Bach, that is unknown.
From the start, we are all in tumult. There seems to be an uncanny sense of a march, being marched or perhaps really, a walk being walked, slow, but steady.
As the glory begins to shine, bar 19, and with a ‘piano‘ nuance, the pace broadens out, into 2, instead of 4.
And a similar volume is evoked at 36, surprisingly at the mention of satan, a sort of, under-the-breath satanic melismatic rant, although the orchestration remains suitably robust.
That continuo ‘rush’ in the previous recit, bar 6, becomes a unit of sound, a rasping one, that appears, in nearly every bar of this Aria, underpinned, with interlocking and stoic semiquavers, lower strings and bass line, yet tearing and collapsing at almost every turn of phrase.
The vocal part, perfectly captures that tearing, breaking and falling, as our singer is encouraged, himself, to become those self same attributes, and there lies the skill, to sing, within the bounds of good technique and good taste, but nevertheless, set the pace, that of an anarchy.
A da-capo, leads to a repetition of the opening ritornello, but no more, the voice, perhaps, having judged itself, to, thankfully, have made the textual point, as well as its own.
‘Supreme wisdom and reason are found in Him. He knows time, place and hour, in which to act, or not. He knows when joy and grief profit and what He does, is always good, however sad it may seem.’
Stoic continuo players, support these two beautiful Oboe d’amore, -wisdom and reason, perfect partners, beyond measure, as they intertwine and interact, in perfect, imitative counterpoint.
The Alto voice declaims an almost straightforward account of the melody.
The orchestra leans towards the text, C natural, 31 and at the ‘griefs’ and the ‘sadness’, last line, 48, where a chromatic drop is heard in Oboe 1.
‘Now, we are no-longer troubled or fearful and almost, without our fleshly bodies, because, we are in God’s care.
I think of Jesus and how He did not fear, taking it all, as a joy.
You, Christian, listen. Your fears, torments and pains, shall be salvation, for His sake.
Trust in God’s favour and be patient.’
A secco recit, that rises and falls, according to its own self advisory and stoic content.
The understanding of patience, or ,Geduld’, as the key, to faith, spawns a last two bars of Arioso.
‘The raging and storming, of these cruel winds, allows us, to find a rich harvest. The turmoil of the cross, brings good fruit, for us Christians.
So, let us surrender our lives, to this wise ruler, kiss the hand of His son and honour true discipline.’
Good fruit grows out of turmoil. Cruel winds, lead to a rich harvest.
Bach seizes on these truths, from the start, where another furious continuo bass line ‘cello, is worked hard throughout the whole of this section, rising and falling in vicious semiquavers, reflecting those cruel winds and that salvation turmoil.
The Bass soloist picks his key-words carefully and with extended melisma, rants and raves, over ‘raging’ and ‘storming’.
At 56, and ‘…the turmoil of the cross,’ he becomes a little more thoughtful, especially at 64. Then, the consideration, of a ‘wise ruler’, -and the kissing, of the hand, 84, sets the metre, into 2 time, instead of 3.
‘My God, I come to you, comforted and into your hands. Take me and guide me, until my final moment. As you well know, this will benefit, my soul and your honour, will be exalted.’
‘There speaks the voice, of the faithful soul, one who trusts, in the love and loyalty, of The Saviour.
‘I certainly know that I am blessed, when You end, my grief and trouble.’
‘On this earth, to the enormous frustrations of Satan, your heavenly realm, must be seen, in me.’
‘So, my heart can, -according to your will, find great peace and I can, -even with these muted strings, sing to you, The Prince of peace, this new song.’
The insertions are secco in character.
The chorale changes its starting place, within the bar, an up-beat start, on the first line, 2nd beat, third and fifth line, and again, an up-beat again, line seven.
The second, fourth, sixth and eighth line,s are delayed, in the soprano, as the bass takes the lead, delaying the top line and allowing Bach added polyphony throughout.
‘To my Shepherd, I shall remain loyal, and even though, he fills me with pain, I shall rest in His will.
He stands by me, in my suffering. After weeping, His sun, will shine again. Then, I shall live for Him and He shall rule me.
Heart, be glad, that you will die, because Jesus has done enough. Amen. Father, receive me.’
This beautiful movement, takes its character, from the ‘muted strings’ idea, as sung, by the Soprano voice, from the last insertion, in the previous recit, where the heart, in peace, finds strength to sing, in the company, of such strings.
Bach’s strings attain this muted aspect, in the exclusive pizzicato that he chooses through-out this Aria, one with Oboe obbligato and where only plucked continuo, and that, without organ sustenance.
The delicate, dance-stepped and pastorale atmosphere, of peaceful D major serenity, is maintained, with more than a nod to the aspects of suffering, -bar 30, C natural, that this singing soul has resigned herself to. The ‘shining sun’, 45 through 56, is noticeably radiant.
At 77, the delicately picked-out dance steps, are interrupted, as the words turn to submission and death.
The sustained and prayerful Amen, even with its F natural, falling at the crux of faith, the looked-forward-to and final reception of this soul, brings this penultimate section, to a graceful close.
‘I travel on deathly paths and shadowy roads. It is no-matter really. I except it, whatever.
You are my Shepherd and will turn all, to that end.
One day and within your world, I will honour you, forever.’
The diminished chord, first bar and uncertain tonality, 10 through 11, sets the pace, for an underlying uncertainty, that nevertheless, seems to dispel, with the ending, one of, an eternal honour.