Bach: The Cantatas

Bach Cantatas

– 4th Sunday after Trinity – 10th July 2022 – J.S.Bach cantata BWV 177 – ,Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ’-

Jul 2, 2022

This 5 verse, 5 movement cantata, in addition to its 2 x oboe orchestra and 4-part chorus/soloists has important parts for violino concertante and bassoon.

1/Chorus-verse one:

‘I call upon you, Lord Jesus Christ and I pray and beg you, to hear my wailing. Give me your mercy and help me not to despair. Give me your true faith, so that I can live for you and help my neighbour, -in-fact, do everything in my life, according to your word.’

The closing chorale, is delivered, line by line, by the choir, with intervening ritornellos, the orchestra endlessly re-inventing, its own freely conceived material.

A concertante violin, repeats, endlessly, a ‘turn’-like figure, itself taken-up, by the orchestral first fiddle. This score, is peppered, with signposts, soli, tutti, occasional fortes and pianos and some continuo instructions, ref the use, of organ.

This twisting figure, lends, to what is, in fact, a slow, stately 3-in-a-bar, an agitated edge, perhaps even the very wailing itself, of this wailing soul.

After the initial ‘call’, we get successively, the ‘begging,’ 58, the ‘granting, of grace, or mercy’, 105, the ‘release, from despair’, 129, the request, for, ‘true faith’, 154 through, 206, the request, to ‘help and serve, my neighbour’, 223 and the final plea, to, ‘uphold, the word’, 239.

2/Aria-verse two:

…and I ask something more, oh Lord, which I am sure, you can grant: that, never again, will I be ridiculed. Grant also, the hope, that, when I leave this earth, I can trust in you and not rely, just on my own deeds, otherwise, I will regret it (all), for ever.’

This first aria, of three, is bare and sparsely orchestrated, although the next two, do become progressively more dense.

A prayer, simply, for no more personal ridicule and a greater sense of trust, over works and bleak it is, especially as this is simply, a voice-over a bare bass and continuo line.

The continuo introduction, is similarly constructed, to the opening movement concertante motif, three opening notes followed, by a feature, in that case, a turn, in this case, an accented appoggiatura. But a quick -notes-slow notes-rest, does not set this music on fire, and neither should it, as this prayer, is from one, recovering from a personal trauma. The scorning is built into the heart and feel of the music.

The choral melody, is still identifiable, e.g, 8 through 10 and the mood seems disjointed, like the phrases and the gap between this alto soul and its God, seems, as in 3, through 4, to be ever increasing.

Beautiful, as all this is, especially in its rumination’s, on leaving and parting from, this earth, for instance, 42/43, like all nostalgia, -and particularly, this example, one flavoured with the alto voice, pathos will always, win-over, the day.

3/Aria-verse three:

‘Help me to forgive, from my heart, my enemies and also, at this time, forgive me as well, giving, to me, a new life and making your word, always to be the food and nourishment, that will defend me, when any misfortune approaches, that might just turn me away, from you.’

The soprano voice, raises the pathos level, from hurt, to optimistic, as does the dance, two-in-a-bar and, on this occasion, is joined, by a reasonably jaunty dance partner, of course, an improvement on just a bare bass.

But the instrumental tambre is still dark, as the forgiving on ones enemies, is an up-hill battle and as imitative and as encouraging, as this caccia is, it is still a little heavy going.

-and caution is in the air, as the occasional pianos and fortes testify.

But, the desire for forgiveness seems genuine and by the time we arrive, at 37, new life does seem a possibility.

The seriousness, of the word though, is another matter, and 45 is a serious moment and the emphasis, on defence, 52, through really, right up to 69, is telling and culminates, in the eerie silence, in the middle, of 66.

67, through 68, seems, after all, to be, just mere words.

Nourishment, at 76/77 seems more desperate and the ties at 87 give am impression of being caught up, or swept away, by something or forces, beyond control…but, again, 96 through 97, restores secure reality, to fearful fantasy.

4/Aria-verse four:

‘Let neither joy nor fear, turn me, -in this world, away from you. Make me strong, to the end. You alone can do this. Whoever receives your gifts, receives them for free. Nobody can inherit, or acquire, -through works, the grace that delivers, from death.’

The concertante violin is back and joined, unusually and rarely, by a very perky and jaunty bassoon.

The sort of strengths, that this soul is requesting, -those that will prevent, a turning away, are not just the sort of joys, that might, superficially prevent a seduction, but a real sense of humour, that firstly casts aside perceived problems and then, secondly, refocuses, onto realities.

This comic duo certainly goes some way, to doing this and in the process, transforms, this fourth verse, in reality, into a quartet, -2 instrument bass + violin and bassoon.

Bassoon leaps, 11/12, reminiscent of a void, between soul and God, no-longer seem threatening and although, the vocal line, is somewhat angular, in shape, by the time we arrive, at 45, steadfastness in rhythm is matching steadfastness, in text.

The seriousness, if the text, 64, through 73, is seriously appreciated and sung, angularity, replaced, by musicality, -except, understandably, I suppose, when His works of mercy, save us, from death, 69, through 73, and particularly, at and before, the fermata, 88.

What a long way we have come from the rather cold approach, found in verse two.

5/Chorale-verse 5:

‘I live, in strife and conflict. Help my weakness. I cling, to your mercy, because, you can make me strong. If temptation does come, prevent it, from casting me down. You can gauge it, so that it will not bring danger. This, I know.’

Bach has ‘toughened-up’, the texture of this chorale, with passing notes and ornaments, laterally enhancing both the strength and the power, of the words.

The cadence, at 12, starkly, leaves us wondering if, the unthinkable might happen, only to cast those thoughts aside, mercifully and wonderfully, at 13 and the idea, that danger, cannot endanger, 14/15, is heroic, so-much-so, that the masterful-mess, of 16/17, is not really necessary, -but nevertheless, nice to have….and to hear.

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