Bach: The Cantatas

Bach Cantatas

-Sexagesima Sunday 20th February 2023-J.S.Bach-cantata BWV 126-,Erhalt uns, Herr bei deinem Wort.’-

Feb 15, 2022

A six movement cantata:

Opening chorus with chorale melody, Tenor Aria with 2 Oboes, Recitative with choral insertions, the Tenor voice joined by the Alto, Bass Aria with continuo accompaniment only, secco recit for Tenor and a closing tutti chorale.

The standard orchestra of two oboes and strings, is joined by a ‘D’ trumpet, which, for a movement in the sphere, of a minor, proves something of a problem. Organ is specified as part of the continuo.


‘Hold us up Lord, by your word. Keep away the murderous, who would topple Jesus, right off His throne.’

Despite a minor tonality and a static opening harmony, -lasting up to the beginning of the 4th bar, there is a military and combative feel, to this opening, the trumpet setting this off, using the first three notes of the choral melody.

Those trumpet, semiquaver-embellishments, are picked up, firstly by Oboes and then by the strings.

The voices enter, bass first, in ‘step-ups’, derived from those first 4 trumpet notes, which, in turn are the first chorale notes.

The sopranos sing the choral line, which itself, is under-pinned, by the underlying yet unrelated imitative, polyphonic supporting texture.

Bach picks out textual words of importance:

‘Wort’, ‘’word’, bars 16 through 18

‘Mord’ ‘murder’, bars 25 through 27

‘Sohn’, ‘throne’, bars 36 through 37.

In each and every case, these are hi-lighted with long sustained notes and in the second, ‘murder’ is prepared, with busy and intense semiquavers, throughout the chorus, except, of course, the sopranos.

The augmentation of the basses, at 32, focus us, towards the strong chorale entry, in that bar and prepare for the important ‘Son’, or ‘Sohn’, at 36 and at 45, the ‘toppling’, or ‘stürzen‘, remarkably indicated, in both the continuo and bass voice semiquaver semitone-tottering, preparing, of course, for the long and penetrating tonic, A, ‘Thron’, or throne.


‘Send down your might from Heaven, Lord of Lords and mighty God. Fill your church, with gladness and instantly scatter, any bitter enemy mockery.’

From the start, this heavenly ‘Might’, drops down, firstly, as a single, downward line, from the continuo and then, in the form of a two-fold line, from 2 oboes that are twisted and twirled together, forming a strong metaphorical line, or strong chord, as in rope, rather than music.

This three part texture, -perhaps a bassoon added, amongst the continuo bass line, joining those two oboes, is supplemented by the tenor, mainly with variants of the first oboe, second bar material.

Notice the ‘piano’ and ‘forte’, written into Bach’s score.

At 33, ‘Fill your church with gladness…’ the tenor part launches into exuberant demi-semiquavers on ‘gladness’ and again at 39, the ‘scattering’ of that enemy mockery.


Between the chorale verses and sung alternately, by both alto and tenor, are inserted added text, or trope, sung, as secco recit, by each voice, the active voice continuing and dovetailing, on and into the next recit, that added voice, always singing the choral melody. The alto voice leads off.

I give a precis of each-

chorale text:

‘Holy ghost, comforter, give your people one mind, stand with us, in our agony, lead us, out of death, into life’.

added text:

alto: Favour and might is of little use, if you will not protect us,

tenor: You know this persecuted, City of God, has within it, the false brethren, a wicked enemy,

alto: Yet, we, the members of Christ, may be united in faith,

tenor: When the enemy enters and robs our hearts, of comfort, reveal yourself.

Each ‘choral’ section, with ‘duet’ partner, is an example, in itself, of how to really compose, good two-part writing and worthy of study, as each, except the last, is never more than 2 bars long and of course,. individually tailored to the text, at the time.

Listen out also, for the stunning A sharp, in the tenor part, bar 20 and the following melismatic accompiament to the alto long note on ‘Tod’.


‘Pride, fall down, to the ground. Destroy all her pretences. Let a sudden abyss devour her. Repulse raging might. Let their desires be destroyed.’

This dramatic movement, is a unique and surely humorous moment, supported only by a continual continuo, the opening crash, lasting a whole 8 bars, is rather like the entry of the circus clowns, -a sort of Joycean, humpty-dumpty fall, heard, by one and all.

It is, of course, the falling over, of the proud.

And what a long way they seem to have, or need, to fall, a whole two octaves, and that, despite trying to climb back up again, bars 3 through 6.

Bach, again, adds ‘piano’ and ‘forte’ into his score.

The drama increase, as the text becomes more and more incensed, culminating in ‘…raging might…’


‘Your word and truth, will be known, revealing itself, in its highest brilliance, showing how you watch over and bless your church, bringing you word, to fruition. Turn to us, as helper and bless us abundantly, with peace.’

A secco movement which rises, -bar 3, ‘highest brilliance’, and falls, -bar 10, ‘the abundant blessing’, according to its text.


‘Graciously grant us peace, Lord God and in our times. For there is no other, who can fight for us, except you, our God.

Give to our princes and all authority, good government and peace, that we, under their rule, may lead a quiet and peaceful life, in all Godliness and honesty. Amen.’

This is a long, subtle and beautiful setting, -complete with trumpet in the tutti orchestra and an extended Amen, of a text, that perhaps seems more relevant our society, today, than Bach or his librettist might have cared to imagine.

The somewhat commonplace opening bars, are complimented, by a beautiful arrival, and in an E major tonality, at 4, ‘Zeiten’ or ‘…times…’.

Very déjà-vu.

All continues, as before, prehaps,undistinguished, until we arrive, at ,…streiten…’, or ‘…fight’, where the alto and tenor move, nicely, in sixths.

In moving onto, ‘…except you, our God…’ there is a subtle and colourful F major, in bar 9, that challenges the F#, G# run into a dominant E major, towards that a minor close, at the end of the verse.

The sort-of, B major-y feel, at 11, levers us, towards an E major, which settles the direction of flow, via a minor, G major, into a definite C major, at 13, a new and firm harmony to reflect ‘Authority’, and that ‘peace’, and ‘good government’, further marked, with the minim, at ‘Fried(en)’, ‘Peace’.

The next 5 bars, seem to me almost Schubertian, as the text,

‘…that we, under them, may lead a good and peaceful life…’

is set to repeated music, 18, to half-way in 19, that suspends the time and place, of these very words.

This is followed by four-ish more bars of stillness and timeless time,

‘…in all goodness and honesty…’,

Notice the interesting part-movement and their resultant clashe, the Bach gets himself in-to and out-of, at bar 23, ,…Ehrbarkeit…’, ‘…honesty…’

The final Amen, approaches a final A major tonality, from an F tonality, -and that, without a Bb, that is superimposed, upon an E tonality pedal.

Again, notice and listen out for, a false relation, C#, C natural, in the tenor part, bar 26, that fails dismally, to un-settle, the final question, that of belonging.

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