Bach: The Cantatas

Bach Cantatas

– Sunday 3rd April 2022 – J.S.Bach cantata BWV 120 – ,Gott, man lobet dich in der Stille’ –

Mar 29, 2022

In this, 6-movement, festival cantata, containing some re-cycled material, the orchestra, -with an oboe d’amore option and chorus, are joined, by a concertanteor solo violin. Three trumpets and timps, are included, but only in the second, strictly choral movement.


‘They praise you, O God, in the stillness of Zion and, in that, they pay their vows, to you.’

The key to this music, is stillness.

A very difficult and ‘busy’ alto part, must not, in its execution, draw attention to itself, either intentionally or by accident.

This is a challenge.

The orchestra can help, by keeping the string pizzicato and the sometimes overlooked wind staccatos, especially at the ends of phrases, light and clear and the repeated, bass-line footsteps, those of the inhabitants of Zion, going about their vow-paying ways, must be atmospheric, rather than actual.

And, again, a rushed speed can give only a rough idea.

If every note is in its time, we, the listener will find the time, to be still.

The singer must pluck-up a total legato, with no pitch spikes or bumps. Time and space must be given, really where there is none, -technique is the key here, if this movement is to fulfil itself, as one of Bach’s greatest.

The oboes compliment the bass in more multiple and increasing footsteps, 7, as we approach the centre of stillness, rather than the eye, of a storm.

There is welcome respite, for any singer, at 19, but it must not sound like it. The voice, for example, 27, must take on, the action and feel, of a warm and calming, totally legato enclosing and covering blanket.

Think of this music, as 1 beat, per bar, rather than 2, -or, worse still, 6.

There are moments of transcendental stillness and worship in this music. It can be a shame, when those moments, are drowned-out, or overlooked.

A race run too fast, can be run off its track.


‘Sing for joy, glad voices. Climb and soar, right-up, to heaven. Praise God, in His sanctuary and exalt His glory. His kindness and His mercy, they shall never cease.’

Enter trumpets and their trappings.

This trumpety and sinfonia-like music, contains trumpet-like, rising arpeggios. These are first quoted, by oboes and strings. When our trumpets finally get hold of them, they are slowed down, the 3/4 becoming, 3/2.

This happens again, naturally, -and with joy, just before the choral arrival, at 9.

On they go, rejoicing-it-up, all the way, up to 23, where step-ward rising semiquavers, Hanon-like, just keep going and going, climbing and soaring, just right-on up, to heaven.

On the way, some voices do get stuck, but, generally, all make it, up to, ‘on-high’, 29.

This process repeats, in adjusted pitch, and we arrive, after an orchestral ritornello, at 65.

Praise, is now, homophonic, for 2 bars, and then, at 67, pairs of voices, just pair off, as we hear about, and enjoy, glory, kindness and mercy.

Da-capo, is, as it mostly always is, the order of the day.


‘Arise, town of Linden trees and kneel down, before Him. In all your splendid clothes, remember how He supports, protects and guards you, steadfastly and just like a father. Perform the vows you must pledge to Him and sing these songs, of thanks and humility. Pray that He will endlessly, rejuvenate this town and land, adorning this honoured government, -which renews itself, today, with abundant blessings.’

Familiar linden tress, sway, in the background, of this secco recit. Listen out, bar 11, for those songs, of thanks and humility.


‘Health and blessing, shall, -and must, and at all times, attend this government, and these, -in such a desired abundance, that both justice and faith, are visible, as friends, that kiss each other.’

This aria, which proceeds, graciously and gloriously, as if the above was already in place, part, heart and place, is the heart of both this matter and this cantata.

It introduces a solo fiddle, which fly’s high, soaring up and down, between heaven and earth, binding both, one, to the other and brining confidence and a sense of right.

Wise glue indeed.

At 15, (and 25) it dots, like an enormous flying quill, the ‘i’s’ and the ‘t’, of political government, harmonising nicely at 18.

In all these so-called election cantatas, Bach seems to set-out, a sort of musical ‘pamphlet’, which might be entitled, ‘notes for government’.

Leaving aside Die Meistersingers, is this musical-politics, perhaps unique, in musical history?

‘In desired abundance’…or ‘wishful’ or ‘wished-for profusion‘, 27 through 30, is a moment of transcendental idealism, reflecting the attitude of all governments, I suppose, that things will really just simply, turn out right?

Listen to the way Bach explores, 43 through 61, the ideas of justice and faith and how they might be joined together.

Bars 65 through 78, are a sort of truncated, or diminished, setting of the text, the ‘wished-for profusion’, 69/70 and then, that all important ‘…Küssen…‘ 74, with a final, preparatory breath, 73, and the final metaphysical exploration, half-way through 75 and up to the end of 78.


Now-then, Lord, please consecrate this government and with your very own blessing, that all wickedness, may be gone and righteousness flourish and that your father’s pure seed and your blessed name, may be glorified, among us.’

The very seriousness, of this heart-felt prayer, is, in this short but important and impassioned secco recit, given added and divine, heavenly status and intensity, with a halo of strings, the accompaniment, of a holy visitation, come among us.

This, sets the tone, for the final choral.


Now Lord, save and help us, your servants, those you have redeemed, with your blood. Let us partake, of heaven and with the saints, in our eternal salvation. Save your people, Lord Jesus Christ and bless your inheritance. Tend and nurse them always raising them up high and into, eternity.’

Any D major/b minor tonality that we, in our own insecurities, may look for, are beautifully and wonderfully banished, with the descending bass line, A natural, and an equally un-nerving e minor sound, middle of bar 2.

This textual extract, from the German-te deum, is certainly without a shred of tedium, as Bach shakes and rattles, any stubborn normalities we may wish to project on to him, or ourselves. The opposite is in fact the case, as Bach, at ,…Dienern dein…’ wants to project the responsibilities of servant-hood and servant-ship, onto us.

All proceeds in order, line-upon-line, word-upon-word,etc, etc…until, the un lightly and unsightly C natural, ,…im evgen Heil’ or ‘…eternal salvation…’ heralds and hi-lights the, surely, -heaven forbid, un-lightly and very unsightly possibility, of a, lightly ‘non’ salvation?

On, tentatively, we trot, until, at 14, I detect, a continuation of a biting musical irony, ,…aller Zeit…’ where I reckon Bach is telling us, that at every hour, we really do and will need, tending and nursing.

This fascinating progression, of harmonies, ends with an uneasy resolution, but a resolution nevertheless.

Yet, it is one, that is left, surely, fairly and squarely, resting on our hearts and ringing, in, our ears.

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