Bach: The Cantatas

Bach Cantatas

– 7th Sunday after Trinity – 31st July 2022 – J.SBach cantata BWV 185 ,Ärgre dich, O Seele, nicht‘ –

Jul 18, 2022

This long, 2-part cantata, is scored, for a quite large orchestra: a trio of oboes, -including Taille and an obligato caccia, a bassoon, full string orchestra with continuo and a 4-part chorus and soloists.


‘Do not, O soul, be offended, that all-surpassing light, from the Most High, -God’s brightness and image, disguises itself (Himself), in the form, of a servant.’

This pleasing and arresting, rondo-ish opening, immediately exposes, layers of duality, revealed within the text, -God’s brightness and His image, and that of the ‘reality’ and a ‘disguise’, reflected in the duality and imitation, of the two oboes, and a slower rhythmic experience, -or the rhythmic-rhythm, as the chorus enters, at 9, creating a contrast of speeds within the feeling of slowing down.

The bassoon appears, reinforcing, everywhere, except in choir-only moment, adding a really bass sound to the tenor taille and two, top heavy oboes.

The mention of this ‘all-surpassing light’, 22, and again, at 39, initiates, a homophonic approach, as the reality of integration is apprehended.


Forced servanthood, affliction and want, do not affect Christians alone. The head itself seeks humility. Wealth and excess, are two of Satan’s hooks and we must carefully avoid these. If these conditions are too much, -and when poverty, hunger and despair threaten, why do you not think of Jesus, your salvation? You are impatient, like the world. You sigh and complain: Lord, how long will you forget me?‘

This secco recit, is noteworthy for its treatment of Salvation, 13/14 and the sigh, 16, followed by the long, sighing and complaining extended arioso, 17 through 20.


‘If you are to bring me help, will you hurry up about it? My heart and mind are full of doubt. Maybe you are rejecting my pleas? Soul, do not doubt. Do not let reason ensnare you, because you can see, your Helper, -Jacob’s light, in the scriptures.’

This first aria is continuo-accompanied, sparse but tightly constructed, according to its textual directness.

The opening 4-bar introduction, has an air, of almost aggressiveness about it, speaking, as it does, in haste and impatience, dots and triplets, in turn, angular and smooth.

Confessions of doubt are smoothly spoken, -although contorted, 24, through 26 and the breaks are applied, -36, through 51, where the soul is encouraged not to doubt, -reason, 42 through 48, being ‘flagged-up’, as a danger in this, and, at 54, to remember the Helper, Jacob’s light, found, in the scriptures.


‘Why is it, that Christians, should make so much fuss, over their bodies? What, after all, are they? Dust, that will return, to dust, a garment, merely lent? They could, of course, choose that best part, which would never betray, that hope, -the salvation-of-the-soul, which lies, in Jesus. How blessed is that person, who sees, -in the scriptures, Him and how, though His teaching, He sends, to all who hear Him, His Holy manna, and provision. So, even through biting sorrow and heart-ache, taste and see how friendly Jesus really is.’

The profundity, of dust-to-dust, 3/4, is not lost on the poet, or the composer, as this scathing text unfolds. The ‘blessed’, 11, as well as receiving Holy manna, receives a holy-flourish, which develops into another, -this time, a full-blown-andante-arioso, 16 onwards, where, once those sorrows and heart aches, have finished, their gnawing, 20/21, tasting and seeing, 22/22, can, at last reveal, the friendship, of Jesus.


‘My Saviour reveals Himself, in works, of mercy. As He proves Himself, good at teaching those weaker spirits and building-up those more tired and feeble bodies, people become whole.’

These works mercy, are stated, in the first 16 oboe/violin notes and where they are restated, before the first are finished, in the continuo.

The mood is less plodding, more stoic and prayer-full, in its long term vision and that vision, of The Saviour, is revealed, in revelations, ones of sparkling pralltrillers, -3 through 5, 19 through 22, 29 through 33 and 39, to the end.

The vocal entry, simply states the facts, 6 through 17.

At 24 onwards, instruction, or teaching, accompanies revelations and at 34, the long instrumental tie, hi-lights nourishment and satisfaction, further enhanced by Bach’s humanitarian cry, of life, bar 36.


‘Although, at first, it may seem, He is not willing, do not let this, put you off. For when He is closest to you, He tends not to show it. Be certain of His word, and although your heart may be filled with doubt, do not be filled, with fear.’

The alternating wind and string figurations are antagonistic in their attitudes, setting out the background to this text, one where reality is challenged by illusion.

The choral line is never fully, homophonically harmonised, as it perhaps migbt be, the free accompaniment at first chordal becomes more and more imitative, in practice.

Movements 6 and 11 are, with different words, set to identical music.


Nacht der Predigt



‘The earth is a wilderness. Heaven turns, to metal and earth, to iron. When Christians prove, -through faith, that Christ’s word, is their greatest treasure, their nourishment, seems to vanish. Constant want becomes, their cry and they, -more and more, withdraw, from that world, around them. Only then, does The Saviours world, -their greatest treasure, find a real place, in their hearts. His compassion, on people there, means that, His heart is breaking here and he speaks His blessing, on them.’

Bach’s halo of strings, brings added authority to the words and the final 3 bars, reach a higher place, that of the ‘halfway-house’, the half-aria, evolving, into an arioso, as His blessing is uttered, from His mouth.


‘The Lord will embrace the poor, -here and there, with mercy. He gives them, -out of His compassion, His grace, and the highest treasure, the word of life.’

The string texture, now heavier, is carried forward in this narrative text, soprano aria, where arpeggio continuo sets the pace for antiphonal interlocking of the same, between bass, (cello) continuo and unison high strings.

Chromatic excess, here and there, -bar 5, through 8, seems to balance mercy, here and there, as this word of life is dished out, here and there, as the supreme offshoot of compassion.

The somewhat angular delivery of the sung text, matched by a heavy feeling continuo, -initially, 9, through 11, and then14 through 18, implies difficulty of delivery, not of the compassion, but of the embracement, by the poor.

Fixation, on, ‘…The Word of life.’, loosens the texture, into a simpler rhythmic banter and this settles, 29 through 32, although, ‘…compassion…‘, 34/35 is uneasy.

Difficulties, of appropriation, of what, according to this text, may be on offer here, seem unresolved, throughout this aria.


‘Though the world, -with all its lusts, may vanish, and death will be felt. Even so, the soul can be joyful. If the path, through the vale of tears, seems too much, salvation and blessing, can still be found, in Jesus’s word. It is lamp to the feet and a light to the path. Whosoever journeys, -and faithfully, through this wilderness, this word will feed food and quench thirst. The Saviour Himself, will, according to this word, one day, open the gates of paradise. And when their course is run, He shall crown, the faithful.’

Dark pleasures too, seem to vanish quickly and all seems light and airy, by the time this soul has pulled itself together, at bar 3.

But, all too soon, tears are flowing again and this recit slips into 4 bars of philosophical-brokenness, -adagio, bar 6, as solace is sort in the speaking, of the truth, 6, through 10.

The two ‘W’s’, wilderness (with woe), follow on, 10, through 11 followed by by two more ‘W’s’, Word and water, 12.

Excitement mounts, 13/14, at the gates of paradise, -and their opening and a beautiful musical coronation, of the faithful, is heard, 16, through 18, in expectation, of the actual one, still to come.


‘Soul, let no suffering, ever divide you from Jesus. Be true. You shall, -because of mercy, be awarded the crown, and then will be free of chains.’

A vocal duet in the style of a gigue.

The short second (and 5th) beats, allows us to slip-n-slide, quickly, over those particular beats and in so doing, is it that, Bach is showing us that a sung gigue, to a text about chains and sufferings, literally shows us how to skip over our concerns?

Think about it.

Mind you, its not easy, as Bach varies the phrase lengths, -10/11, 39/40, 48 through 50, etc, so it becomes difficult, for even the most adept shufflers, to know when they are clear.

Things get complicated at 56, as partners loose their grip on one another.

-and so it goes on.

And we must not forget, that all this is going, subservient to the musical content, which is always good and sometimes a cut above even that, 102, onwards?

And a constant cry, or plea, for the soul, to be true, 120.

The musical content seems better and better, and as the dancing becomes more rhythmically knotted and certainly ends, better than it began, turning into the musical hi-light, of this Sunday morning.

Was Bach uninspired, when he started and got inspired, as he went along?

Not a bit of it.

Like the text, he just wanted to test our perseverance, so allowed himself, to warm us up, as he releases his already formulated, long term plan, for this aria, and our enjoyment.


‘Hope does await, an appropriate time, as God’s word, has promised. When this will happen, -and to our joy, God has set no actual day. He well knows, when it will be best and He will not tease us about this. Therefore, we should trust Him.’

The musical text follows exactly no 6, even if the written text, does not.

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