It is a fact, that, week after week, -and day after day, it seems, that Bach managed to continue to produce works, -and not just church cantatas, of outstanding musical and metaphysical merit.
And BWV 67 is no different.
A standard orchestra, choir and organ continuo, -with only oboe d’amore colouring, is joined, by two guests, one flute and one Corno di tirarsi, -or slide trumpet.
‘Remember, that Jesus Christ, was raised, from the dead.’
This finely crafted and brilliant piece of magnificence, is a reminder, to us, of Bach’s ability, to be able to, quickly, seize, upon words, of the now, or the moment and transform them, into, the music of the future, any future, where those words, actually become, that music, and for any time. And how much more, in these times, is that relevant.
I suppose, that this tightly constructed and turned out fugato, might easily, -and by any self respecting, under-graduate, be deconstructed, into its thematic materials, and imitative and fugal strategies, but none of that can begin, in any way at all, to account for what raises this exercise, from the first class level, into the cosmic sphere.
Perhaps I can account, in some very small ways, for that transmogrification.
Very quickly, Bach manages, -and certainly, by bar 4 and maybe even from the off, to establish an ecstasy, in sound.
What does this mean?
Inspired, by the simple, concise text, taken at face value, – and without, yet, any reference, to the predilections, of a disillusioned or challenged soul, two ‘thematic concepts’, seems to quickly start to work together, and from which, all else, quickly emerges.
The d’amore oboes’s crochet descents, bar 1, soon, and naturally, elongate into quavers, and then running quavers. This sets up the rightful development of all other quaver passages, throughout.
Meanwhile, the aptly appointed, slide-trumpet, sets out other idea-seeds, which are evident, bar 1, through, 6.
In this, three things, seem vital, to the textual form, that this music, will take:
-a long, sustained sound, bars 1/2, is followed by -a leaping moment, bar 3, and -the idea, of an energy, in that leaping moment, because of the tie.
This ‘tied-energy’ is very evident, in strings and viola, 3 through really, right up to the choral entry, at 17.
All of this shapes all of which the music, will become, throughout and all of this ‘fuels’, the energies which drives the ecstacies, as they quickly emerge, up to 17. The bass continuo, by its very name and nature, grounds the whole. in the earth of humanity, whilst the higher instruments raises the heights.
It is of note, that Bach’s orchestration is careful not to raise the roof, too high, because, as I have touched on, above, there is an element of doubt in this, and the whole text, or at best, a balance, between keeping in mind the resurrection, and/or, not.
The strings, and not this slide trumpet, chosen, for its less brilliant characteristic tone, add brilliance, but it is a dullish brilliance, a sheen, that Bach wants to prevail. A more brilliant trumpet tone, would destroy that colour.
Bye-the-way, first violins, at 12, please do not pitch a flat F#, as the flute will find you out.
A wall, of ecstatic sound, 17, with a sustained chorus + trumpet, sound wall, is set up and takes on ecstasy, or is ecstatic, because the whole, makes up the one experience, and all, at the same time.
How can you forget, after an opening, like this?
‘My Jesus has risen. -but, what is it then, that is still frightening me? My faith knows The Saviour’s victory and yet, my heart still feels war and fighting. So then, my Saviour, I beg you, appear.’
This aria seems, at once, one of the most, – frighteningly -, difficult arias, in German, that I know.
The collision of consonants, coupled with the necessarily tight rhythmic patter, -with its large proportion, of semi-staccato-like declamation, and with those important and vital rests, is, of course, on Bach’s part, deliberate, as the text, dominated, on one level, with the uneasiness, of the practicalities, of war and fighting, on a daily basis, and, on another, by the uneasiness, of the soul, in the underlining effects on the body of these, irregularity, of heart-beat and uncertainty, of life-style.
Despite stoic and up-beat optimism, at the start, there is, a strong sense of faltering, bar 2, as the sub-text seeps out, through the musical pores, an underlying fear, -really, faithlessness, that begins, to pull this soul down.
This is heard, bar 3, where the phrase repetition, f# minor, tone higher, -and without a quick resolution, in the psychological sense, please note 4, through 6, injects this strong, -and necessary, for his text, element, of doubt.
The faltering aspect, eg bar 11, is, as well, fleeting and light-weight, reflecting the state, of this struggling soul.
Vocally, it needs to be, if musical, -as well as spiritual shipwreck, is to be avoided. And this faltering lifestyle continues, twice in succession, 14, through 16.
-and added stoicism, 17 through 22 only produces more of the same, even if it is somewhat upside down.
Notice the affirmation of, -or the desperation for, an appearance by, The Saviour, 26/27 and the ‘bits’ of flute/oboe stoicism, 29/30/31.
Wide and uncontrolled desperation, really does take over, during the final and desperately difficult vocalisations, 35 through 44.
We are left uneasy.
‘My Jesus, you have been called horrible things, like, the poison of death and the plague of hell. And, oh dear, thoughts of danger and terror, are still affecting me. What we need, is that song of praise, the one we used to sing:’
This setting moves from a definite depression, into an optimistic buoyancy, and leads straight, into that song, of praise:
‘The glorious day has arrived, one on which, rejoicing, has no end. Christ, our Lord, triumphs, today, leading all His enemies, captive. Alleluia.
In the second line, of the musical setting, I hear uncertainties, -and, again, in the forth. These reflect uncertainties, in the singing souls.
Is Bach faithful, or realistic?
‘It almost seems, to me, that my remaining foes, -whom I find, far too many and far too terrible, just will not leave me in peace and let me be calm. But now that you have gained, the victory, for me, please fight, at my side and with your own child. In faith, we all know, that you, Prince of peace, will fulfil, your word and work, in us.’
The initial outburst, leads, on to, the next moment, the terrible foes, 2/3, with reference, to an unreachable peace, 4.
Now, 5, the victory gained, and the fighting child, 6/7, raises, our impetus, to an appreciation, of the Prince of peace, 8 and the fulfilment of the work, and The Word, in us.
In Christ’s world, the bridge, between confidence and not, is not actions, but words, His words of comfort, ‘Peace be with you.’
Looking at these two states, from an un-Christ-like angle, hi-lights reveals insurmountable incongruence.
But looking at them again, from a Christ-like-angle, reveals congruous harmony.
In this Aria, three ‘states’, Fight, Peace and Succession, -sung by soprano, alto, tenor, are contrasted, with these words, of peace, -sung by bass:
‘B: Peace be with you.
S/A/T: How happy we are. Jesus helps us to fight and subdue, the fury of our enemy. Satan, be gone.
S/A/T: Jesus calls us, to peace and refreshes our weary selves, body and spirit.
S/A/T: Lord, help us, in our succession, from death, into, your glorious kingdom.
The vigorous and tumultuous opening ritornello, is suddenly and without warning, upon us, With its flashes of energy, it is not so much a sound picture, of a terrifying enemy, as a metaphysical image, of the wisdom, of this world, as it attempts, in its own way, to cross a bridge, between doubt, and faith.
Alas, at bar 10, it, predictably fizzles, rather suddenly and tragically, settling into a new place and time, 3/4.
A new dispensation, of peace, is immediately established, one where flute and oboes reign and one where a long noted ,Friede…’, Vox Christi can settled down with His eternal words, of comfort, but more importantly, solution, to our current predicament.
This world of non-aggression and timelessness, continues, for 15 bars, before the trio of fighting visionaries justifiers and prayer warriors, commence their first entry, one of vision.
This pattern repeats three times, each time, followed, by the words, of The Saviour.
Listen, in the second repetition, 53, for the exclamation, on ‘…spirit…’, 64, as peace, refreshes, the weary self, and in the third repetiton, the Vox Christi, leads the final outburst, of prayer. This 6th section ends, with the final words, of Christ’s solution, ‘Peace be with you.’
‘You, Prince of peace, Lord Jesus Christ, true man and true God, and a good help, in times, of trouble, -in life as well, as death. Therefore, only in your name, do we cry, to your father.’
Perhaps, a classic, harmonic and musical ‘working-out’ and setting, one, where we immediately recognise, all those good old academic manoeuvres and writings, among four parts, as well as the overriding and unmistakable presence, of this Prince of Peace, -and one, where our trumpet, joins in whole-heartedly, with the soprano tune, -albeit, a tune, which, to our modern ears, seems as one, cut short, -or perhaps, better described, as one foreshortened, by an ending that comes, almost too soon.