Bach: The Cantatas

Bach Cantatas

– Psalm Sunday 10th April 2022 – Osteroratorium BWV 249’ –

Mar 29, 2022

The complex revisions, musical-evolution and the history, of the formation, of this cantata-oratorio, are not under discussion here.

What we have and can see before us, set out, in 11 sections, for Easter Sunday, but here presented, as a suitable fill-in for Psalm Sunday, is not a tale, narrated by an evangelist, but a story, or plot, sung by familiar players:

Peter/tenor, John/bass, Mary-mother of James/soprano and Mary Magdalene/alto.

The orchestra, a large one, is standard, in its core, but supplemented, with oboe d’amore, flute, recorders and three trumpets with drums. A bassoon, is suggested, for addition continuo, as possibly might be a violone.


Two concerto-like orchestral movements, form an instrumental curtain-raiser, -presumably movements utilized, by Bach, from other, previous ‘project(s)’.

As the wider text of this cantata, concerns a frantic rush, on foot, towards a very much now empty tomb and the fraught discussions, within that that now empty tomb, as to what is exactly going on, is it perhaps, not too trite, to recognise, that these, running semiquaver passages, during these opening bars, reflect something of those frantic running feet?

Bach awfully, but joyfully, eeks-out his C major arpeggios, with nice canons, really to make an opening phrase, of at least 16 bars, I feel.

It is a long way.

-but it was a long way to this tomb, and our runners must rest, 17-21, -with out-of-breathy-wind-instruments, and even though earnest strings, 18, attempt to goad them forward, it is left, to the trumpets, enthusiastically coming in, far too early, to get them moving again, -and off they all go, again.

What lot of running feet there are and this time, they all really have to run the distance, all 17 bars of it, without breath, or break.

When they get there, there’s no tune to greet them, oboes, just more semiquavers, this time on a fiddling fiddle.

In one sense, I do wonder if they’ve really got there at all, as the rather annoying fiddle, just fiddles away, on and on, and on. and the trumpets reappear, this time, in the right place, -and round we go again.

To make matters worse, a very irritating bassoon leaves his lowly station and joins in, with more running motif, 84, while oboes get their act together with some imitative action.

This is a long movement, exhausting and exhaustive, in its perpetual-moto and an aural ‘recapitulation’, 121, does nothing to stem its enthusiasm.

This section, 137, onwards, runs on and on and with an extensive fiddling around and about.

listen out for the intresting trumpet F#, 151.

A well constructed movement with ideas of interest, pitting some faff against much fiddle.

Finally, a real ‘recap’, 213, lets us know that, at last, the real finishing line is really in sight.


What a relief.


But is it?

I have to say, that despite all this energy and activity, there must be, for all concerned, a feeling of emptiness…t

And this, is confirmed, as this adagio sets off, in the most lonely and disappointing way.

An oboe steals in, as the full emptiness of the situation, dawns upon all.

And the dawn of the day, does indeed bring more questions than answers.

This music is profound, an exploration of and a confrontation with, disappointment.

It is, a study, towards the possibility, of the integration, of doubt and unbelief, within that atmosphere, of disappointment.

The dotted and doubting accompaniment, sets itself up, as both supportive of and suspicious of, a true devils advocate, the questioning, whining and fretting oboe.

The beautiful and almost quasi-Italianate textures, twists and turns, transport us to, the best, of the music of Vivaldi or Handel, to the land, where the lemons bloom.

24 and through to the end, rises and falls on its own wistfulness. Something and nothing, strongly pervade our space and we think we catch glimpses, of the one…and we know we catch the same, of the other.


‘Hasten and run, fugitive feet. Run for that cave, the one that hides Jesus. Laughter and banter, fill our hearts, because the Saviour, has been raised up.’

This spritely movement, started its life, as a duetto for tenor and bass with orchestral accompaniment. Bach undertook a revision of this, now, for full chorus with accompaniment.

In the Carus study score, I follow this revision, Anhang 1, page 70, which incorporates, the original middle section, for tenor and bass, page 24, bars 120 through 160, of the original version.

This text reflects my own unwritten words, with regard to the first 2 movements.

The up-beat passpied dance, that frames this movement, is a fast and furious one, in three and with a downward ‘running‘ start, with its ending, ‘laughing-tag’, announced firstly, by strings and oboes, the trumpets + their drummer, simply dot and cross, the first and third beats. It is a representation, of the energy and breathlessness, of these first two lines, of text.

Notice the extra bars, 60 through 62, where the strings pass the upward running motif, between themselves and in doing so, allow much needed breathing space, for the chorus. This further hi-lights the frantic mood of the protagonists.

The middle section, for 2 singers, tenor/bass, are normally taken by soloists, although this may not necessarily be always so.

We need to remember, that our male singers are representative of our 2 male protagonists, respectively, the apostles, Peter and John.

The laughter and banter, that fills their hearts, is representational more of laughter, then banter. They just seem to laugh their heads off from their start to their end, all of it, foot-running stuff, unison, in the main, with some imitation, their jointly hi-lighted ,…Heil…’, reminding us all, of the focus, of their un-doubted faith.


Alto: ‘You men, you are so cold hearted. Where has all the love gone, that you owe, to The Saviour?’

Soprano: ‘Why do weak woman shame you?’

Tenor: ‘Our distressed grieving…’

Bass: ‘…and anxious sorrow…’

Tenor/Bass: ‘…and these, with our salty tears and melancholy yearning, are intended, to anoint Him, here,’

Alto/Soprano: ‘But, for you, like us, it has all, been in-vain.’

This mis-en-scene, is self explanatory, the characters, speaking their frustrations, disappointments, and observations, of their fellows, all as if, in a theatrical setting. When they sing, within their pairs, 8, to the end, Bach is allowing them, to become more emphatic and in doing so, allows us, the viewers and spectators, to see and understand, their deep and real frustrations.


‘Soul, your spices, can not, any more, be myrrh. Only with fine laurel wreaths, can you anxieties, be calmed.’

In the Carus edition, I follow Anhang 11, page 83, where you will find, a revised vocal underlay, that Bach undertook.

This music is a moment of desolation, the epitome of loneliness and the heart, of sorrow.

For a soul and one who realises, that spices brought, with such fervour and energy, are useless for anointing, simply because, no body, is to be seen or found, to anoint, the only option left, is to take up, a lonely and broken flute.

A melancholy tune, with a half hearted first-beat-skip, -and played to a skeletal, almost non-existent, although somewhat grief- stabbing accompaniment, is all that is left, to do, as laurel wreathes, are not an option.

This tune, is very free, in its melancholy, both in ‘word’, -notes seem just, to emerge, improvised and energised, almost randomly, and ‘deed’, -rhythms materialise, out of nowhere, free, spontaneous, changeable, note triplets, 14, through 15.

Note the long, long sigh, 9 through 13.

The soprano voice takes up the text, -and remember that this is Mary, the mother of James, the apostle.

It is a beautiful and singing sort-of song, even though despair cannot be comforted, 24 through 28, breathy flute triplets, adding atmosphere to wailing grief.

There is a lot of disappointed grief, as well, -or grieving disappointment, depending how you approach it, -and this is along aria.

The middle section, 79 explores, with much reflection, on those non-existent laurel wreathes, beautiful passages of musical line, 79 through 93.


Tenor: ‘Here is the tomb…’

Bass: ‘…and here is the stone, which covered it. But where, is my Saviour gone?’

Alto: ‘He is risen, from the dead. An angel told me.’

Tenor: ‘Now, I feel better, because I can see, the unwound shroud.’

This narrative, crying out for staging and scenery, fills in the story, so far.

It is interesting that the joy and delight, of Peter, at the unwound shroud, seems not, to be reflected, in the music.

Prophetic, perhaps?


‘My final agony, shall be so gentle, -just a slumber, really, and all because, of your empty shroud. It will refresh and comfort me and wipe away the tears, of my pain, from my cheeks.’

This tenor aria, sung by Peter, imagines a world, -without his crisis of faith, in which, he sees his own salvation, as a sort of bed of roses, where slumber, is all it is and not the bed of nails, that we are told, for him, it quickly, becomes.

Comforting recorders join in now with the orchestral throng and a droning, musette-bagpipe, is surely imagined, -and definitely heard within the orchestral sonority, a comforting reality, in a world of unreality.

This comforting, slumbering nature, is heard, all the way through, the solo voice part, from the vocal entry, 13, where the voice and the bass, drop, at 15, to a low, sustained D, and the same, at 22, a low E, all a seemingly comforting representation of slumber, as escape and repose, -and not only for the next world.

At 24, this begins to change, as a countenance, of a different nature, taking shape, on the face of the line and the nature, of the vocal direction, the slumber, itself dropping down, to the low and tricky depths, of C#.

This death-agony, gentle and slumbering, has connotations of a sort of masochism, the music transcendental, first recorder, hooking in, via its sustained ‘D’, a vocally ecstatic peace, 31, through 34, reflected, in the same, by the orchestra, 34, through 39.

This central section, through to 54, is all about the pain.

Vocal triplets, 45, are tempered, with uncharacteristically spiky and staccato recorder quavers.

Does all this reflect, the ability, of this shroud, to soak up those tears, refreshingly… and are these recorder quavers really, dripping tears, or agonies, of pains?

A rising scale, 29, is certainly the central point, of possible agonies.

A returning da-capo, -via a beautiful bass line, 64, takes us away from agonies and back to slumbers, perhaps even on and into, a total and deep sleep.


‘So, in the meanwhile, we sigh and with a desperate desire. If only, it could all happen soon and we might see the Saviour, himself.’

This duetto-recit-arioso, is sung, by the soprano and alto voice, Mary the mother of James and Mary Magdalene, respectively.

The first 2 bars, show us, the two of them, sighing, with burning desire, homophonically, mainly a third apart.

The arioso section, is imitative, in its impatience, to see and unison, in its gasps, of frustration.


‘Tell me, tell me quickly, where I might find Jesus, whom I love, with all my soul. Come and embrace me, because, without you, my heart is orphaned and saddened.’

This very fine, low mezzo….or high alto aria, is the beating heart and the central climax, of this cantata.

More running, I’m afraid and this time, very definitely, light-footed ‘stocking-feet’, impetuous and eager, in their desire, although measured, in their dashing.

…but not that measured, as, at bar 3 and half way through, there is an extra bar-and-a-half, of exhaustion.

The running oboe, doubled by first fiddle, during the ritornellos, must not be too fast, as every semiquaver, surely’ is a footstep?

The emphasis is on ,…Saget…’ and any information, as to where.

23 through 30 and the ecstatic love, for the Saviour, 33 through 36.

The desired embrace, as a remedy, for an orphaned and distressed heart, is the theme of the central section where oboe gives way to violin and the vocal writing is somewhat four-square.

The lowish F#, ,…betrübt…’ ‘…saddened…’ leads into a b minor ritornello, which, in turn, generates ‘where-is-He’ dialogue, between voice and violin, -soul and saviour, which naturally, slows down, 67/69 towards the fermata, 69 and 4 bars of a ‘Largo’ tempo, where she lays upon all of us, audience, composer and Saviour, the extent of her present orphaned and distressed state.


‘We are overjoyed, that Jesus lives again and that our heart, which used to drift, with such sadness, now, forgets its pain and sings songs, of joy. Our Saviour, lives.’

Our joyful, but reflective singer, bass voice, the apostle John, convincingly sings this short recit, that leads, immediately, into, the final number.


‘Lord, let the glory and the thanks, remain. They are, your songs, of praise. Hell and the devil, have been overcome and their gates, have been destroyed. Rejoice, redeemed voices, that you all, maybe heard, in heaven. Heaven, spread open, your glorious and splendid arches, that the lion of Judah, may enter, and in triumph.’

This trumpeting-gavotte, with its 3-4 triplety upbeats, is reflecting, the rejoicing of these redeemed voices, thankfully glorifying God, because of the overcoming, 32, -and with a hint, of b minor, of the devil and the destruction, of hells gates.

It is left, to a 3/8 time change, at 50, -where 2 crochets, of the old time, equal, almost, 3 quavers, of the new, to indicate, to us, those glorious and splendid arches.

Is it perhaps too much to believe, that the semiquavers, from 51 onwards, might just be, the roar, of that lion of Judah?

Whatever it is, Bach, has deliberately put a strong beat, on the final note, thereby showing us, within the full context, of the final sentence, that this Lion has well and truly arrived, and victoriously pulled, at that!

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