This spiritual cantata, has its beginnings, in one, of a secular nature.
Strings, continuo and 4-part choir/soloists, are joined by 2 flutes.
‘Longed-for light of joy, dawning, with the new covenant, through Jesus, our shepherd. We, who wandered in death-valley, now understand, God has sent, that looked-for shepherd, who feed’s us, through word and spirit, along the right path. We are aware of His might and His hand, strengthening us, in our hearts. He loves us and we receive, His love and support. He draws us away from vanity, to look and rely, upon Him. This shepherd gives of Himself and loves us, until death. His arm nullifies the foe and His caring nurtures, and when it is time to walk into death, His staff shall help and comfort. Then, we shall follow, happily, to the grave. So, stand transfigured, before Him.’
This beautiful and evocative movement, is dominated by a duet-flute figuration, repeated, for 30 bars, right up until the short arioso section takes over, at 31.
This figure is clever, in that, the 4 crochet beat bar, is imagined, or reinvented, as 4 triplet beats and then doubled up, to 6.
The effect is enchanting and one that is initially, difficult to grasp, to find one’s musical and rhythmic values.
A dreamy scene, is set, a pastorale one, where, in the midst of this longed-for-dawning-light, a shepherds pipe, is heard, not just one, but two. They seem so synchronized, -and to such a degree, that oneness appears, all around us.
We are transfixed.
This following narrative, is one of an awakening and a perception, of this long-awaited shepherd and we are all captivated and enraptured, the rise and fall, with really a lone ‘cello support with minimal chordal input, narrating the long history of waiting, recognising and receiving, this shepherd.
At 31, this train of though and thread of music suddenly ceases to be dreamy narrative and becomes active response, in reality, the flutes disappearing, for a time and the voice regaining a more familiar footing, as the ‘gladness of the grave’, seems a possibility and with that, and in response, pipes are again heard, as we realise that we really are, in reality, transfigured.
‘Fortunate Christians, you happy flock, draw yourselves, towards Jesus, with gratitude. Forget the vanities, of a flattering world, so that, your pleasures, may certainly be made complete.’
Having received enlightenment and to the sound of shepherds and their pipes, we have now become blessed and so have the time and inclination, to dance away some time, to a shepherd’s minuet.
This is dominated by a dotted feature, with semiquavers following, standard stuff really.
What is unusual, is the cascading rush, of demisemiquavers, flutes and first, -9 through 12, sometimes with differing dynamic levels, -26 through 28, that seems to interrupt the simplicity and innocence, of this dance, of thanksgiving.
Could this be the ‘…lure of the flattering earth,’? and is the blessedness, of the Christian, 89, sustained, despite that lure, with its subsequent encouragement,106 through 7, to draw near, to Jesus?
This ‘lure’, is explored, in a mostly 3-part texture, with the continuo support and the demisemiquaver interrupting feature, imitatively, imaginatively and in almost, every other way, from 143 onwards, -now with muted violin and divisi flutes, and this continues, onwards-and- upwards, to 210 and the da-capo.
‘Rejoice, chosen souls. Your joy comes from Jesus. No mortal can describe this Joy and it reaches down, to those below, in sin, as this hero of Judah, burst’s, onto the scene. As this David stands by us, His Hero’s arm, freeing us and God, shielding us, the flock, by hurling His wrath and not avoiding, that bitter cross, then, no further pain, can strike us and we shall live gladly, in God. We will taste noble pastures and the perfect joy if heaven.’
Bach contrasts ‘comfort’, or refreshment, 4 and ‘joy’, 6, and hi-lights the cross and the possibility, of shirking it, 16/17, but the real interest here, is in the brief, but beautiful, arioso, 23, ‘the perfect joy of heaven’.
‘Fortune and joy are ready to crown the dedicated believers, as Jesus brings a golden age, to those who want to get to know Him’.
This seemingly straightforward text, is not viewed so, by Bach, simply because of the way he it;an opening solo violin ritornello, of 2 phrases, one of 4 bars and the other of 6 with a mood of stoic determination and resolution.
The soloist, commences with 2 bar phrases, until, after a touch of imitation, 33/34, at 36, krönen, we are treated to a 5 bar phrase, through to 41.
At the arrival, of ‘…the golden age,’, 51, all is plain sailing.
Then, at 55, the last two lines of text run together, for 4 bars, nothing unusual, about that, except, the slightly awkward changeover, mid-bar, 56 and again, 67.
This underlying uneasinesses, must say something of Bach’s reading of these words. Maybe the last line throw-up more uncertainties, than a first reading or listening, might suggest?
‘Lord, I hope, that you will not leave, in distress, those faithful servants, who in heart and faith, have embraced your word. Give to them, salvation and let them not be ruined. I pray, that, through you, I will die, joyfully and willingly.
To a certain extent, this is a prayer, with an element of the pleading, about its manner. But nothing of that can be heard in this simple and extremely beautiful setting, some of whose beauties, might be drawn attention to:
Listen, for the repeated ‘G’, alto part, 4th beat, -interacting with the ‘A’, doubled by bass and soprano, first full bar and the alto/bass lead, bar 3, second beat, followed by the same, alto/tenor, same bar, 3rd beat, which sets the scooping-up and gathering in, of the last two bars, of the first line setting: ‘…in keiner Not verlassen.’ and similarly, ‘…Im Herzen und Glauben fassen.’
The rising bass, 12, with the same in the soprano part and the descending bass, 13, setting up for the classic sound, 14, first beat, and following cadence, ‘…let them not be ruined.’
The rising G#, ‘Lord’, is lowered, ‘through you please’ maybe, because of humility, or uncertainty, in prayer and ‘cheerfully’, gets an embellishment, as this ‘glad death’, is set, within the beauty of the long and perfect, last phrase.
‘Good shepherd and the comfort of your people, we want only, your holy word. Let your gracious countenance, shine brightly and remain our God and refuge, through whose almighty hands, our steps to life, shall be guided.’
This ‘feel-good’, praise-prayer, is an operatic postlude, and as a suitably ambiguous end, it is, a gavotte, with its third-beat start.
The choral writing, largely homophonic and in the chorale style, is fine, but the middle, duet-section, from ‘gracious countenance’, although delightful, is not really adventurous.
Still, the whole is the right and proper finish, to this song-like-feast-of-all -things-shepherd.