Bach: The Cantatas

Bach Cantatas

– Visitation of The Blessed Virgin Mary – Tuesday 31st May 2022 – J.S.Bach, cantata BWV 147 – ,Hertz und Mund und Tat und Leben’-

May 28, 2022

This substantial, 2-part cantata, is scored for strings and continuo + bassoon and 4-part chorus, with 4 soloists.

It requires additionally,1 tromba or trumpet and there are parts, for all three oboe types: oboe itself, oboe da caccia and oboe d’amore, which can all be handled, by 2 players.


‘Heart, mouth, deed and life, must bear witness of Christ, -and this, without fear and hypocrisy, that He is, both God and Saviour.’

This is a festival and must be treated as such and so, Bach writes a more than just a common-place trumpet part, one that is colourful, but not memorable.

And of course, there is only one, and not three.

And, where are those drums?

And please bare in mind, that this opening is in a 6/4 time, or a 2-in-a-bar, where Bach is setting up a dual attitude, not a triple one, x 2.

Does all this assume that he regarded this feast as any less feast-y, than any other?

Certainly not.

We must look beyond the outward attire and into the heart of the matter, to find a feast-of-festivity, that we might otherwise miss and the festive-feast-i-ness, in this opener, is to be found, within the choral writing, itself.

The seated presence, of a lone bassoon player, should alert us, to the weighty-ness of the writing, In that to come and so this is the case. In fact, this bassoon part is exclusively continuo bass-ed, except when Bach reduces that presence and colour, by silencing this instrument.

The soprano entry, ‘Heart and mouth and deed and life’, is taken from the ‘shape’ of the opening trumpet fanfare, bar 1, 2nd beat onwards, up to the first note of bar 2.

This is treated fugally, the semiquavers energy, being drawn from the trumpet flourish.

The entry, at 16, is not carried forward, except, by the trumpet, with its shape, and instead, at 18, the chorus divides, S + A and T + B, in antiphonal response.

So far, all fine and no surprises.

But then, at 23 and 26, come two strange, a cappella passages:

‘without fear and hypocrisy’ and

‘that He is both God and Saviour.’

The orchestra shuts down, and the choir is fully articulate.

Stark and reducing dynamic markings appear first, at 6/7 and thereafter, throughout, 22/22, 25, 33/33, 54/55, 63/64.

Is this connected to a mute and active witness? And not just an open or closed mouth, but an open or close witness, i.e, an active proclamation, of the life and works of Christ?

27 through 33, -with an ominous trumpet fanfare-rhythm, 28, and reiterated, 32/33, sotto voce, continues as we have experienced, so far and then this.

An extraordinary passage, 34 through 42, that really, in a sense defies analysis.

A cappella, the chorus, with the same text, ‘without fear and hypocrisy’, for 7 bars and ‘He is both God and Saviour ’, for 2 bars.

Is Bach, here showing is what denial really is, what it is to go through it, and how it effects, musically and metaphysically?

Suffice it to say, at 43, the bassoon takes the lead in picking up the imitative thread and with increased semiquaver flow, the music presses forward, through dynamic reduction, 54 and a final a cappella choral proclamation of the savior, 56/57, followed by a concertante coda.

2/Recitativo accompagnato:

‘Blessed mouth! Mary shows her deepest feelings, with praise. She begins her own story, with His miracles, that he has performed, for her. Mortal race, slaves to Satan and sin, you are free, through Christ, from burden and bondage. Yet, voice and spirit, conceal and deny such things. But know this: serious judgement shall come to you.

The halo of strings, that accompany these words, sets a serious attitude and it is the attitude, of the blessed voice, whether that of Christ, or that of a speaking, witnessing believer, is left to see.

The sustaining strings, envelop us and these words, tending to continue them, beyond their annunciation.

As the atmosphere unfolds, we are faced with a scene of beauty and profundity, the innermost feelings, 3, the miracles, the the Savior jas brought to her, 6/7.

The mortal race, 9, slaves of satan and sin, 10, freedom, through Christ’s soothing coming, 11, -with the semiquaver feet of Christ, walking about, in the violin and viola parts.

The mood changes, seriousness gives way to stubbornness, concealment and denial, 13 through 16, and the climax, judgement, according to the word, 17, comes, with terrifying effect, 17 through 19.


‘Soul, do not be afraid, to acknowledge Him, if He, before His Fathers face, calls you, one-of-His-own. He who is not afraid, to deny Him, here on earth, shall be denied, by Him, when He comes, again, in glory.’

A lone, but mellow oboe d’amore, heads up this feeling of shame.

To a slow and limp minuet, this lament, -and one, not without character, seeks to empathize with, and reconstitute, this shameful and fearful soul.

The 3/4 time is ambiguous, the tie, end of bar 2, implying two bars of 3/2, all grist to the mill of wavering between two options.

Bars 10 through 15 seem to try to raise the spirit. Is the outburst, 16, one of frustration, or acknowledgement?

The voice, takes up elements of the oboe’s lament and it all becomes a fine and beautiful three-fold texture, the continuo players, joining-in, certainly with the crochet and quaver texture and even the voice managing a smile and a lift, at the mention of the ‘…Father’s countenance.’, 38/37.

Note, the experience of fear, 52-54, and the ornamental wail, at ‘…denial…’, mirrored, by, the attempted joy, at the coming-in-glory, 64.

The real heart-of-the-matter, is reached, with wailing pain, 86 through 92, where the full horror, of any denial, is revealed, to them, the performers and us, the listeners.


‘Stubbornness will blind, the mighty, until God’s arm, shakes them up. This arm exalts, -even though the planet quakes, the suffering peoples, those, whom He will save. Highly favoured Christians, arise and prepare yourselves. Now is the time. Now is the day of grace. The Saviour asks you, to prepare yourselves, body and soul, with belief. Arise and respond, to Him, with enthusiasm, that you might receive Him, in an attitude, of faith.’

This dramatic-narrative and recitation, of this dramatic text, is a fast moving picture, a tableaux, full of movement, action and colour:

-God’s arm, shaking and hurling 4, and God’s arm, exalting, 6,

-the quaking earth, 7 and the suffering peoples, to be saved, 9/10,

-the highly favoured christians, 11,

-the good-times, 12 through 14,

-the day of grace, 14,

-the Saviour’s bidding, 15/16,

-the gifts of belief, 17,

-and the call to fervour and faith, 20.


‘Jesus, prepare the way. Choose my believing soul and gaze, upon me, with your eyes, of grace.’

The walking bass, -and it is a long walk, is certainly ‘The-Way’, and a long way it is, as prepared, by The Saviour, its route and direction, dominates this sincere prayer.

The believing soul seems to become more fervent in its believing, as the violin outlines first semiquavers, them some demisemiquavers, finally settling into prolonged triplets.

There is a degree of trudge involved, and the triplets do ease this. The pace toughens and slows down at the end of 6, loosening a little, from 8 onwards.

It is a long march, the voice, setting off, determined and with a degree of metal, sings with joy and clout, of its believing soul, 15 through 16 and the resulting, eyes of grave, gazing down, upon it, 17.

Initially, preparation, of this way, or road, is greeted, with expectation, 18 through 20, but 20 through 22, seems to show some resolve, in the face of difficulty.

At 35/26, these eyes of grace, see and are seen, in a different and challenging light. The mood of song and singing is changing, fear and terror are behind the tension that is creeping slowly but noticeably, into the fabric and feel of the whole and a degree of pleading, almost desperation, takes over, 31 through 36, which seems to continuo, onto the vocal end, 39. The repeated pedal notes, 33 and particularly 37/38, heighten these emotions.


‘I am blest to have Jesus, how firmly I hold onto Him, so that He can refresh, my heart. When I am ill and sad, I will have Jesus, who loves me and is giving Himself, to me. That is why I can not leave Him, even though, my heart, might break.’

The continually flowing quavers, flowing throughout these interludes, perfectly and exquisitely, capture these blessings, that refresh. T

hey are given subtle impetus, via the second violin dots, rhythmically agitated, but without any emotional distraction from the heart of the text.

The chorus writing is inevitable, but fresh, giving life to those already enlivened violin ripples, these, themselves, mirrored in spirit, a 1/3 speed, in the bass voice.

The middle section prepares us, musically, for a worst that cannot happen.

The hardly noticeable, but enlightening viola tie, 19/34/54 and 66, needs drawing to attention, not just because it is there, but because it is memorable, especially 54, where it is pivotal, to the direction, of text and music.

Parte seconda/Nach der Predigt


‘Jesus, help me to acknowledge you, on bad days, as well as good and in pain, as well as in joy, so that I can call you, my Saviour, in reality and in peace. Then my heart, will always be burning, with your love.’

This time, low down instruments, set the pace, for this prayer. The short four-note opening figure, suggests a down-to-business approach to a thorny and low-down topic, that of how to remain faithful, in the face of adversity.

The opening 4-note figure, is followed, by 4 bars and a beat, -or 1 long complete phrase, an extended development, of itself, accompanied by a flurry of triplets. This unit, of 2 combined ideas, creates the form, of the aria, as it progresses and develops, the tenor voice, taking up the quaver, semiquaver and triplet ideas, as reflected, in the text.

What is the significance, of these triplets, which so strongly dominate?

Are they, simply, these bad days and this pain, or is it the general turmoil, of prayer, in the midst, of adversity, the background noise, in the midst of which, prayer must take place?

From the start, up to 16, it seems as if it is enough to just get to acknowledge Christ, in the face of incessant whining.

From 10, to 31, bad, good (days), pain and joy, get well aired in this prayer time.

At last, a break-through, 34, where praise, to The Savior, becomes personal, with coloratura, until 40, where, as a result, of both of these, peace and tranquility, become a reality.

At 49, heart and love, burn, together, as the weal-ing and woe-ing tumulic triplets, negative, become the burning heart of love, positive, the voice taking these up, transforming itself, with this re-orientated, inner power.

Notice the defiant last words, ‘Help me Jesus,’, the opening words, transformed, from trauma, to triumph.


‘The wonderful hand of God’s goodness, is working, in the hidden parts, of the earth. John (the Baptist), who will become filled, with the spirit, as the bond of love, is already, in his mothers womb, being drawing, by him, so that, he will eventually, come to know, the Saviour. Even though he is not yet talking to Him, he is leaping and jumping about, as his mother, Elizabeth, is recounting, to him, the miracles, that Mary, is proclaiming, from her lips.

If you, believers, are noticing the weakness of your flesh, alongside your heart, that is burning with love and yet your mouth, seems unable, to acknowledge the Saviour, it is God, who will give you, that great strength, to rouse in you, the spirit’s power, so that your tongue will speak, words, of thanks and praise.’

This long, historical and theological meditation, is accompanied, by Bach, with intermittent commentary, from a pair, of Oboe da Caccia,

They punctuate and aerate the text and the voice, giving time, to mull, consolidate, prepare… and breath.

Space is guaranteed.

Are they, as a pair and a force, representative, of a dual action, of the tongue, as yet to be fully realized and understood?

The leaping of John the baptist, at his mothers tell-tales, is acknowlaged, in staccato oboes, and arpeggio bass, 11/12.

At 14, the oboes become an integral part, of the words and thoughts, themselves and this increases in enthusiasm and power.

At 23, a mystery is perhaps unmasked: the tongue, is requisitioned, for thanks and praise, a dual aspect, of work, roused and required, by the Saviour, Himself.

The short and memorable, 3 bar ending, seems to settle any and all questions, with an inevitability, that is acceptable, to all.


‘I shall sing, of the miracles, of Jesus, and bring, to Him, the offering, of my lips. He shall, through the power, of His love, conquer weak flesh and mortal lips, and also, through the power, of holy fire.’

Titti orchestra returns, to do two things: to sing, (of miracles) and to bring, (of offerings).

Handel is in this airy, air-like aria.

Notice, the extra bar, at the end of the opening ritornello, bar 10, just before the vocal entry, and the hilarious ‘written-in-wrong’ trumpet entry, 17, and, to balance that, a right entry, which sounds wrong, at 40.

‘Offering’ gets a long stint, 15, through 17 and, at 24/25, weak flesh and mortal lips are strung-up, coming in for a real battering, before any holy fire, 28 onwards, can really be kindled.

This short and concise piece of writing, is an excellent example of how to musically integrate thematic material, whilst still creating originality, interest and humour, evenly and across all choirs of instruments, and within that process, still end up with a masterpiece, and one that neither short-changes us, nor overstays its own, or our welcome.

N.B all student composers…. and all those who call themselves musicians.


‘Jesus remains my joy, the comfort and sap, of my heart. Jesus wards off, all suffering, He is the strength, of my life, the joy and the sun, of my eyes, the treasure and bliss, of my soul. Therefore, shall I not let Him, out of my heart, or my sight.’

This is a repetition, albeit, with new and different words, of the choral, No 6, from this cantata and of course, is now one of the best known pieces of Bach, but not, unfortunately, within its context.

Individual pieces, acquiring celebrity status, is one thing, but extracting, pieces, movements, or chunks, ‘bleeding- chunks’, as they are known, large or small, from within much larger structures, is a completely different, dentist-like practice, of extraction.

In this, Bach has much in common with his later and illustrious, musical descendent, Richard Wagner, who suffered similar ravagings.

This choral setting, extracted from the Bach Gesamtausgabe and transcribed for the piano, by the pianist, Myra Hess, was duly made famous by her and thereafter, known and played by pianists, ever since.

It is extremely difficult to learn and pull off, but is highly effective, in performance.

As an exercise, in extraction, I suppose, this has brought, to the attention of a music-listening-public, an attractive piece of music, that, had she not done as she did, would have lain dormant and unknown, for a lot longer than it did.

This sort of repertoire, has seen a revival, in recent years, which seems to have redeemed, its rather murky although understandable history.

The habit of cutting out our favourite bits and making a musical scrap-book, to turn to at leisure, is largely extinct these days.

Taking slices of music, out of and away, from its original context, especially where words are involved, might be as damaging, to the integrity, of the structure, of the whole, as removing a supporting structural- beam, from a building.

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