Bach: The Cantatas

Bach Cantatas

-Sunday 27th March 2022 – J.S.Bach cantata BWV 119, ,Preise, Jerusalem, den Herrn’-

Mar 20, 2022

A splendid festive civic-election cantata, Ratswechsel, that just gets more and more splendid, as it progresses.

Leipzig, in the August of 1723 just did not realise, how lucky it was, to have such music, in its midst.

A large scale work, with 9 varied and interesting movements, requiring large forces, the standard orchestra, augmented with 3 x oboes, with oboe d’amore, as an option, 2 x recorders and, unusually, no less than 4 x trumpets, with timps.

The bass-line needs extra violone and bassoon support, as well as an organ and a conductor’s keyboard, to boost the continuo.

An occasion, indeed.

1/(choral french overture)

‘Praise The Lord, Jerusalem, praise your God, Zion. For He has strengthened, the bars of your gates and blessed your children. He makes peace, within your boarders.

This regal, but never solemn or pompous, dotted and chorus-less largamente, French, in style and form, owes much to the spirit of Handel, -or perhaps it is the other way around, (?) as it weaves its way, procession-like, with dignity and poise, so much reflecting and preparing us, for those yet to be heard, opening words, as well as, one hopes, the characters and characteristics, of this newly elected civic-council.

A fine representation, of and for, any governing body.

The trumpets are simply splendid, in tone and presence and must bask, like lions, in splendour, theirs and that of the music.

But please, players and conductor, at the ends of your phrases, hold and blow through, your minims, for a fulsome two beats, and even a little bit more, so we can hear, fully, the juxtaposition, onto the next harmony.

The legato is important here, as is the speed, which must be neither too slow, -and by implication, heavy, or fast, -and again, by implication, light-weight and light-headed.

Each note, in its time and not before, or after.

For all music, there is a natural speed, that is naturally, just right. (C f Toscanini)

All instruments, must be full-sounding and dovetail, between Bach’s, sometimes deliberately conflicting harmonies, for maximum effect, in this ‘all-to-short-an-opening’.

On this point, observe, and hear, -and I hope, with absolute astonishment, bars 72 through 73(!!) and again, 83, to the end, where the solo timp must act, on the second beat, bar 87, as an orchestral foot-break, tastefully bringing this tutti, sadly, to its inevitable and final end.

Listen for the outstanding bass line, bar 6 through 7 and the whole experience, 9 through 21, which requires careful listening, so as to follow the rise, fall, loss and gain, and with that oceanic and saving moment, at 15.

All of thi,s has all the potential, to sound, a little overpowering, and heavy.

No matter.

Bach must have his way here, as he knows this is music to our ears, in so many different ways, lifting players and peoples, to un-named, un-known and un-dreamed-of heights.

As the long anticipated chorus arrives, -Psalm 147- and joins in, there is, again, the possibility of more overpowering’s, a danger musical anarchy, a complete cacophony, as textures take on densities and energies.

Again, no matter, as praise is still, the name of the day.

But, as always and for the sake of good taste, it needs to be tempered.

The trumpets lead off, and the basses must make their vocal entry, with the strength of the strong and in absolute time, with not a shred of a drag on the whole, setting this rip-roaring gig, motet-like, off, on it long and enthusiastic journey.

Remember, this is an immense gigue and must be danced, as such. As much as it is might always seem a possibility, this large orchestra will not trip over its large feet and overpower the chorus, provided the voices, are consistently strong, in both their entries and the clearness and the clean-ness, of their consonants. A dragging chorus will most certainly dampen the spirit.

A large contingent of bass instruments, working and sweating away, will help to raise up that substantial bed of semiquavers, a much needed support, for the rest to relax onto and into. This bass line must be heard, even from within the, orchestral mix.

Bach knows this, writing an incessant and busy example, that rises and falls, in waves.

The same goes for the soprano entry, 46 and its bass compliment, 41.

Choral trills, must be clean and short and long held notes must be sung, fully and fulsome.

Talk of ‘…fastening bars and gates…’, 52, sees a thinning of textures, which allows the chorus, to lay-back, on itself, checking any driving ambitions.

‘Blessed children..’, 59, must be sustained, yet, swiftly, left behind, at the last third of the first dotted crochet, at 60, even though a breath is not possible, until the last dotted crochet.

‘Peace within your boarders’, 64, allows us, to swing our arms and check that we have not lost sight of that gigue-attitude, before a return of Jerusalem and Zion, and without any anarchy.

A very slight timp foot-break must be applied, really, at bar 70, final one-and-a-half quavers, to ensure a smooth, safe and natural slipping into the largamente return.

As noted above, all is not as it was, and Bach just cant help himself, from developing possibilities. And what possibilities there are, as we a dragged hither and thither.

But, as usual, he is constricted, by the clock and his and our, humanity.

A pedal G, 83 is an automatic ‘times-up‘, desperately trying to forbid any more notes.

It doesn’t really work, and we end up with a tonic-dominant sandwich, 84.

Nevertheless, all good things must come to an end and after 88 bars, this staggeringly good movement, does.


‘Blessed land, happy town, where even The Lord, has His hearth and home. How can God show greater favour, than by allowing His honour, to dwell, in such a place. How better, can He bless a town, than by allowing goodness and faithfulness, to meet together, righteousness and peace, to kiss, without weariness and by not only announcing that they are all precious, but also, by fulfilling, His promise. Blessed town. Happy town.’

These beautiful, but flattering words, are not only, full of praise for God, but for a God, that might choose, by implication, this town.

They are set, by Bach as a straight forward secco recitative.

The opening fanfare, on and around ‘city/town’ is repeated, in reverse, or retrograde, at the end, 15/16.

‘Honour’, 5, is set, in an unusual and startling way. We listeners, are, at this point, left in no doubt, as to the importance of this, chosen status. This is reinforced, in the next two ideas, of ‘how, to bless’.

Righteousness and peace’, are oceanic and the kiss, is almost Goethe-like.

That this is serious stuff, is portrayed, 11 through, 13, with, of course, only a happy conclusion.


‘How happy and fortunate, are you, the people, of the linden trees and how well-off you are. How much you owe, to God’s overflowing and exceeding abundance and you can find all this, within yourselves.’

These linden trees dominate the very substance and soul of this music.

The very woodiness, of the two, wonderfully cast and executed, pair of low-down, oboe da caccia, were made for this text.

As those linden trees, sway, in that gentle breeze, of the spirit, so these instruments, breath and exhale, rather as an Aeolian harp alternates, between breezy vibration and pregnant silence.

How hard it is to decide exactly how this dotted rhythm is going to be and harder still, to maintain it.

However, maintained it must be, as all of a sudden, we realise that a third ‘voice’ has joined in, stealing in, unbeknown to all, and two, miraculously, becomes three.

The opening ‘Happy’, has its own fanfare, as does ‘…linden…’, bar 16 and now it is up to the continuo, to keep and maintain that dot, steady and correctly length-wise.

Bach introduces, horror-of-horrors, a written out triplet, 25 et al, this wind, making these trees blow hither and thither, -but still, the dot must dot-on.

35 is a reset-point, for any dot, but watch out for the d’amore flourish, 37. More wind in the willows…. and there is much worse, to come.

The tenor decides to show off his quavers and semiquavers, 39/40, ‘God’s overflowing’ and flourishes, 42, ‘blessing and favour’.

-and still, that dot must have its way.

And then, enough is enough and everyone loosens their rhythms and their belts, 44 through 48, at the realisation of how fortunate they really all are.


‘How gloriously you stand, dear town and people, whom God has chosen, for His inheritance. Good things happen to those who will take this to heart and truly recognise, through whom, the Lord is going to cause, His blessing, to grow. Not much is needed, as the evidence, is at hand. Our heart and conscience, convinces us, that the goodness we see, is due, firstly, to God and then, to prudent authority and wise government. Be prepared, now, to give true thanks, as not even you town walls, can keep quiet about, these things.’

More fine and stirring, -though flattering words, with very firm timp + continuo chords…and trumpet fanfares, to match.

At 6, reflective humility is in order, as we are reminded of ‘…taking to heart…’ and ‘…true recognition…’. Flutes and da caccia help us nicely, as their sustained and overlapping chords, guide us through this text, warm and glowing words of good cheer for all hearts.

Nevertheless, those hearts and consciences are twanged…bars 12/23, but all is, really, well, and trumpets and their drums confidently close this little moment of self-adoration.


‘Authority, is the gift, of God, the very image, of God. He, who does not realise its might, must forget God, completely. How else, would His word, be fulfilled.’

High-up recorders, à deux, sing-off, and set off, this rather serious song, two-in-a-bar gigue, or Double. It is a serious song and serious stuff, for serious people. A trio sonata, for 5 players!

The opening recorder material, -in diminishing time values, crochet/quaver/semiquaver, gives ample food, for developmental thought.

The opportunity for rhythmic ambiguity, also appears, bars 2, 10 and 11.

Bach gets going with some nice counterpoint and some alto coloratura, -Gabe’ and ‘Ebenbild’, 20, through 26,

The possibility of having to, ‘forget God, utterly,’ is signalled, by an Ab, bar 42, this reflected, I think, in the laughing texture, repeated ‘C’s, and ‘F’s, bars 48 and 50, all derived, from, 6 and 8.

This aria passes of, ad-lib really.


‘We do acknowledge, all of this and bring, to you, an offering, of our thanks. Especially since, this very day, -a day that you have made, for us, has delivered you, of a burden that brought, to you, sleepless hours of worry, in the face, of these, new elections. So it is, that, now, your loyal subjects, sigh, (praise) with heart and mouth, alike:’

A straightforward secco recit, with all the expected musical highlighting of the text, leading into next choral section, without a break.


‘The Lord has done good things, for us. We are glad. May He look at and see our dear fathers and keep them, for many long years, in government. So now, we will praise Him.’

This is, again, a splendid, ceremonial, if somewhat self-congratulatory movement, interpreting and illuminating, these words, as an affirmation, of authority, to rule.

A continuo + timp crash sets us off.

The harmonic rhythm is slowly articulated and within that framework, the dotted rhythms, remind us, of those breezy linden trees of no 4.

The recorders, are, seemingly, grouped together, in the trumpet choir, where they bravely take on their brass foes, gallantly, deputising for them, in their absence, -5 through 10 and stubbornly, holding their own, against all odds,13 through 17.

The fugal choral middle section, 17, builds up in texture, maturing fully, at the trumpet entry, 31.

Note strong and startling recorders entry, 24 and the vocal, trumpet imitation, 33.

An orchestral ritornello takes us up to 52, the da-capo ending, where the choral writing, ‘…May he see, our dear fathers…’ becomes less energized and more homophonic.

Throughout this section, keep and ear and an eye on the recorder writing, especially the ‘trumpet’ writing, 54 through 50 and 63/64 and the independent part, with semiquaver rhythm, bar 68 through 71.


‘And lastly, as you, Lord, appoint your people, allow, from us, your devoted, just one more prayer, to come into your ears. Hear it, and grant it, as our mouths, hearts and souls pray it.’

These are heartfelt words, spoken from the heart and through the heart.

‘ja erhöre‘ for instance, is so off-key as to be thought, perhaps, unlikely, and this continues, to the end of this section.

This is a change of hear, as surely the prayer, spoken of, is the one, that is now sung, in this final chorale, that immediately follows.


‘Save your people, Lord Jesus Christ and bless, what is, in any case, your inheritance. Look after and care, for them, at all times and raise them up, highly, into eternity. Amen.

This prayer leaves aside ceremonial selfishness and takes on personal humility.

This is some confusion, as to the orchestration, for this section, as no parts have survived. The new-Bach-edition, cites a part orchestra, with oboe da caccia, as opposed to oboes, and with no trumpets or timps and less reinforcing bass instruments.

An interpretation based in a ‘humbler’ reading, of this text, might choose a thinned-down texture.

A more robust interpretation, may choose to add trumpet parts, perhaps based on the opening flourishes, if only to balance-out, this movement, with the opening one.

The extreme chromaticism, of the harmony, in this setting, perhaps reflecting, that change of heart, is apparent, as is an extremely beautiful and heartfelt Amen, 18 through 20, that ends it.

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