Bach: The Cantatas

Bach Cantatas

– Whitsunday – 5th June 2022 – J.S.Bach cantata BWV 59 – ,Wer mich liebet, der wird mein Wort halten’ –

May 26, 2022

Despite the orchestration, -strings, continuo and 2 soloists + 4 part chorus, with only 2 trumpets and drums, with no woodwind required at all, and the reasonably weighty, textual subject matter, this cantata remains light fingered, perhaps, in part, due to the lack of a third trumpet, in strength and colour. Indeed, forces, dissipate, as the work proceeds.


‘Whoever loves me, will keep my word and my Father, will love him and we will come to him and make our home, with him.’

This Sunday morning, 2 trumpets and drums, make their one and only appearance, in this opening duetto.

Although, when we see trumpets in Bach’s orchestra, even just two, we do expect to hear, a certain amount of ceremonial pomp and circumstance.

But here, we might be disappointed.

The familiar text, John 14:23, does not, on first appraisal, seems to warrant that sort of approach.

Bach sets up this duetto, -between high voice. and low voice, soprano and bass, imitatively, as if to emphasize, twice over, the textual heart, of the matter.

The opening, imitative, vocal ‘subject’, is derived from the opening violin phrase.

Trumpets + drums, comment on this, their first group of semiquavers, providing material, for the string concertante, to follow.

The first trumpet comments, solo, at various points, and the second only contributes, with timps, in the combined brass ‘choir’.

The trumpet commentary serves to repeat, emphasize and comment on, this important text.

Despite these contributions, the moment remains subdued and restrained.

The text is repeated, over, becoming less imitative and more homophonic, 42 and onwards and on, to the end.


‘What are the glories, that Jesus leads us to? He values us so highly, that He promises, -together with the Father and the Holy Spirit, to live, in our hearts. What are these honours? We are dust, prone, to vanity, products of work and sorrow, all of this, the end of us. But, what will happen next? He will make His home in our soul. Is there anything that God’s love, will not do? Everybody should love Him, as is his wish.’

This piece of musically haloic and narrative drama, featuring full-on strings, operatic in tone and design, follows, musically, precisely, the sentiment and spirit, of the text.

Hi-lights, include dust, vanity, work and sorrow, 9 through 11.

That which wonders what God’s love, cannot do, 17, is beautifully fashioned, as a question and the arioso, 19 through 23, becomes a celebration, of the only real requirement, in all this, to love Him.


‘Come Holy Spirit, Lord God, fill, with the goodness of your grace, the heart, will and mind, of your believers. Kindle, within them, your burning and ardent love. Through the radiance of your light, you have assembled, in the faith, all peoples. For this, we sing your praises. Alleluia.’

This is a substantial setting, masterful, really and a prayer, for love and an opportunity, for praise and preparation, for the coming, of the Holy Spirit.

An important feature of this harmonisation, is the independent second violin and viola parts, which thickens the texture and colours the palate over and above a straight 4-part texture, without moving into real 6 part writing.

This is evident, from the second chord, ‘..Holy spirit…’, -and notable, with its absence, bar 4, ‘…and fill…’ where the added sixth chord, including ‘A’, in the second fiddle, raises the stakes, upwards and onwards.

‘Kindle, within them, your burning and ardent love,’ is a stunning stretch of ingenuity, starting with a darkening of the b minor chord, 4th beat of 9, by the 2nd fiddle and viola drop down quavers, particularly the C natural, returning, quickly, to C#, and then, the whole moving, quickly, onto the tied moment, first fiddle, soprano and alto, last beat of 10, the bass, then loosing its F#, and the tenor line, spectacularly dropping, a whole octave, via G#, right down to D#, bouncing on it, and resting on F#.

Towards, the ‘…radiance of light,’ the viola/alto G#G natural prepares for and hi-lights, this moment, where, along with the C#, 14, drags us all, towards D major light.

The ‘assembly, of all peoples, passes off smoothly, but look out for splendid 4-part choral writing, 17 through 20, where Bach writes supremely for each voice.

NB all students.

The vocal sweep, 21 through 24, in line, body and shape, perfectly fits the text it portrays, right up, to its ambiguous Bb/B natural uncertainty, over a chromatic-bass, bass.

The Alleluia is simple, but full bloodied and bodied, the alto tie, just prolonging the energies, long enough for the surprising and satisfying B major, 6/4, to seem a most subtle and humble way, for us, to end our praise.


‘The world, with all its kingdoms and the world, with all its glories, cannot compare, with this glory, with which our God delights us: sitting, enthroned, within, our hearts and dwelling, as in heaven. How blessed we all are and how blessed, shall we all yet become, when, after this time, upon earth, we shall dwell, with you, in heaven.’

This is a musing tune for a musing text, the sort of thing you might just find yourself whistling, to yourself, walking home, for that long awaited and looked forward-to, Sunday roast. In fact, it is so much of a whistling tune, that, as with all whistleable tunes, the singer gets the tune wrong, bar 9, from the start.

No matter, as, at 20, all the performers, come to a synchronized end, after a long vocalization, on the wonder and glory, of God’s enthronement, in our hearts.

So caught up with that thought and the joy of whistling, our soloist comes in again, 23, at completely the wrong point, 4 bars early.

Again, no matter, as he waxes-lyrical, about his, and our, blessed state, 26/27, adding into his whistling and singing, a Bb, 27,29/30, which has the effect, of drawing us to the subdominant, as it does and telling us that this whistling journey home, is now drawing to a close, the home-key clearly visible, with affirmation, in the final line, of final and mutual dwelling, in heaven.

There is no evidence, that the order of these last two musical numbers, are in any way wrong.

Of course, another chorale might be added on, to finish with, -but which one?

Whatever it might be, balancing it, with the enormity and profundity, of movement 3, is a vital structural and musical consideration.

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