Bach: The Cantatas

Bach Cantatas

– 6th Sunday after Trinity – 24th July 2022 – J.S.Bach -cantata BWV 170 – ,Vernügte Rhu, beliebe Seelenlust‘ –

Jul 11, 2022

This 5-movement solo cantata masterpiece, is scored for small forces: one oboe d’amore, strings and continuo, alto voice and a quite substantial, obbligato organ part.

There is no chorale basis, or closing chorale.


‘Contented rest! Beloved pleasure, of an inner joy, of the soul. You can never be found, if there is any, hint, or connection, with hell’s sins, but only in the concord and harmony, of a heavenly reality. This alone, can strengthen, the weak breast, so therefore, nothing but this virtues gifts, shall dwell in my heart.’

This is a true masterpiece.

Contented rest’, -a sense, of timeless sensation, is established, with a slow, measured, harmonic rhythm, one, whose moving parts, are going nowhere fast and pedals and suspensions enhance this depiction, of a Hölderin-like, pastorale Elysium.

The string tone, is coloured, -rather than tainted, by the unison with the d’amore, giving a rich and penetrative softness of eider, into which we sink, as if eternally.

Bach excels himself in his and our transportation.

This is an example of a strange and wonderful alchemy, where music, becomes much more, than the sum, of its parts.

The angle of the line sinks in and paints a picture of timelessness and a metaphysical state of rapture, as it explores this body of rapture, -contours up, and contours down and these ups and downs are extreme and well rounded, -as this text is.

The state of ,Höllendensünden‘ or hells-sins is acknowladged, 6, through 8 and again, by the voice, 17, -after, of course, the experience, of that ‘beloved inner joy’, ,beliebte Seelenlist’.


‘The world, -that house of sin, sings only the songs of hell, as it wants, -through hate and envy, to impress, upon its self, only Satan’s image. Its mouth is filled, with the poison of an asp, -which often, murders the innocent, and speaks, only nonsense and falsity. Righteous God, in truth, how much, are we alienated from you? You love, and yet, we speak curses and enmity and put down our friends and neighbours. This guilt, is hard to be rid of.’

This not unusual secco recit, can be followed along, as it reflects the sentiments, of the text, ending in some prayerful reflection.


‘I pity and grieve for, those perverted hearts, who have, so offended you. In truth, I tremble and feel a thousand torments and pains, as they rejoice, in revenge and hurt. Righteous God, what do you think, when they boldly and totally reject, your strict commands, with their satanic scheming? I think your thoughts, will be ones of grief and pity.’

The immediate impact of this plodding and lamenting aria, is in the scoring, which is very unusual.

Here, the organ makes its appearance and a two manuel is required, so that individual parts can be assigned and heard.

There is no continuo part, the ‘bass-line’ or lowest line, bassett, is taken by unison violins and violas.

In removing the actual bass line, is Bach commenting on the vulnerable and perilous state, of this singing soul?

The long, 9 bar introduction, sounds as though it may be beginning, to use a ground-bass, and then there are signs of a fugal approach. The lack of a bass support, makes it difficult to pin down exactly what may be going on. Dissonance and suspension, and angular vocal line and leaps are heard.

The quaver, semiquaver motion continues, until 17, ‘…Schmerzen…’ and at 20, through 27, ‘…Rach und Hass’, it is possible to hear the joy, that these people, these ‘perverted hearts’, take in their offence’s and offending.

Those rejected punishments are lamented, 34 through 36 and then satanic scheming rules, runs and dissonance, 37, really through 44.

From 44, to the end, we really do feel the pain of the grief felt, because of these offenders. The texture thins, the speed of movement slows and the voice takes on a wail, becoming more and more lamentable, towards the fermata, and its end, and on, towards the inevitable end.


‘Therefore, who would ever wish to live here, when love is so upset, with hate and hardship? Yet, since I am to love my foe, -as well as my closest friend, according to God’s commandment, my heart will reject anger and resentment and seek, to live with God, -who is, Himself, called love. Peace loving spirit, when will you bring, His heavenly Zion?’

Forces resume, -minus organ, and a halo of sound surrounds the vocalist, signifying a presence, that of this peace-loving spirit.

A ‘fleeing from anger and resentment,’ 8, is followed, by a celebration, of He, who is called Love, 11/12.

The last line consolidates, firstly, this peace-loving spirit, 13, notice the rising 6th, at ‘…Geist…’ and finally, this heavenly Zion.


‘I hate living on and on. Therefore, now take me, Lord Jesus. I shudder at my sins. Let me find the place, where I may have rest and peace.’

This is an upbeat and stoic resolution, -with its plodding continuo, in the face of the human condition, and a genuine desire, to slough off the bad, and live. (note the dotted rhythm, on Leben)

However, there are two stark although somewhat hidden-in-the- music-plain- sight caveats.

Firstly, the opening leap of a tritone is, to an unsuspecting ear, not a problem. But what does G# have to do with a G major mentality, except perhaps with a view to slide to an A major mentality? -which eventually does happen, 14 through 21. And the tritone is, at best, undesirable and un-singable, at worst, forbidden.

The organ repeats, rather ominously, the third, fourth and fifth phrases, creating insertions (sometimes embellished) and extending the length, of the whole.

What, if anything, is Bach trying to suggest, in these two features?

The tritone, is enough to hi-light, ‘sickening, loathing and horror’, at living on, in anticipation, of Christ.

But what of the echoing organ? Lingering guilt, that keeps coming back?

Any triteness of tone here must chime with our own consciousness, as it would have, with Bach’s own.

I wonder if ambiguity is, again the order of the day, as bold statements, on a Sunday, so often, -as we all know, can become cold statements, -organic repetitions, on a Monday.

The middle section shudders (organ) and in horror, 54, in the face of those old, lingering-in-the-mind-sins, but finds, eventually, that so longed-for rest, in a twist, as horror and turmoil, change into peace and tranquility, 57 through 60 and time slows, to a place where thought life is controlled.

Bach eventually revised this cantata, and this movement, replacing organ, by flute, a further twist, -maybe allowing the Holy Spirit, to emphasise the redeeming facets, of this music, as triumph, over the mentality of the world.

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