A short, 6 movement cantata, with opening adagio/allegro choral movement, alto recit, soprano aria, orchestral bass recit, tenor aria and closing orchestral choral.
A standard oboe orchestra, chorus and continuo, is joined, -only for the first and the last numbers, by a Corno da tirasi…or slide-trumpet.
‘Enter not, into judgement, with your servant, o Lord. For in your sight, shall no living person be justified.’
A pensive and uncertain first 4 bars leads on, into some sort of certainty, but it is tentative and brings not much security, especially when the tenors seems to come in, at 9, three beats too soon.
This judgement is upon us, it seems, sooner than we might have thought.
Wailing and pleading away, these voices seems desperate.
It is a depressing reality, and Bach seems to have set the unimaginable moment when we may not be sure of our own salvation….
Those of you with the score should sing along to the excellent, but aurally mostly hidden, viola part.
At 47, allegro, the move from 4 time, to 2 time heralds the shocking truth of a possibility, of un-justification. The fugal treatment, gives and brings, stability and security, -but, of course, the possibility still remains.
Please note, in passing, the strong and audible subject entry, at 72.
‘My God, do not cast me away, as I bow down, before you, in humility. From your countenance, I can see how great is your fury, -and my transgression, and also, that you are a swift witness and a righteous judge. I freely acknowledge my guilt before you and I will not fall into the trap, of denying or concealing, the errors, of my soul.’
Notice the opening, theatrical bow, that has to be imagined, as the musical phrase drops, at 3 and the countenance, shaped by the chromatic line, at 3/4.
The ‘…errors of the soul…’, 11 are painful and continue to be so, until the conclusion.
‘How the thoughts of sinners, tremble and quiver, as they accuse and then excuse, each other. So is an anguished conscience, torn to pieces, by its own torture.’
Bach paints a musical picture, of an anguished conscience, -a lonely conscience, with a lack of continuo and semiquaver strings, that has, or is, being excused, by its own self, or somebody else.
As the trembling and quivering, in the background, trembles and quivers, the oboe, in the foreground, paints, on and against, this background canvas, a sweet song, one of denial and excuse.
On and on it goes, for nearly 17 bars. The emerging soprano, is as sweet and sickly as the oboe still is and together, they paint and pine on.
It is all, hauntingly beautiful and Bach adds in gorgeous passing notes to entice to swallow their seductions.
At ‘verklagen’, to ‘take action against’, 31 through 34, coloratura takes over and again, and for longer, 36, through 39, at ‘wegan’ and the daring.
The second-time-around, is even more audacious, than the first and Bach really does excel in this sham.
But, alas, the guilty conscience does catch-up, 83ish and the torturer, ‘Folzer’ does the deed, 92, -albeit, with a (sickly) smiling face.
‘Fortunate is the person, who knows the guarantor, -the one who redeems, all debts, because, any written ordinances, will then, just be blotted out. If Jesus sprinkles them, with His blood, it means, He has nailed them, to the cross. He will then, -on your death, Himself, hand to The Father, the record, of your goods, body and life. And though, your body, will be carried, to the grave, -and covered, with sand and dust, your Saviour, will open, for you, the everlasting mansions.’
This recitativo, -in common time and marked, strangely, ‘a-tempo’, is a relief from previous 3-time monotony.
But a monotony of a different sort now sets itself up, that of the imagined death knell, the bell, swinging, slowly, twice to a bar.
At 10, the death knell is actual heard, that bell, swinging, now, in earnest, 4 times to a bar and as sand and dust, fly around and about, the proceedings are hushed, the bell, seeming, distant and foreboding.
But light appears as the knell turns into key, opening a door, to those mansions.
‘I only have to make Jesus my friend, and money means nothing. I shall find no pleasure here, -amid an empty world of earthly objects.’
This ‘almost-gavotte‘, -if the third note, is the start, on the third beat and thereafter- introduces again our slide-trumpet player, who presides, and slides, over a really good gavotte-y tune.
But, in this number, underneath, is where the real interest is and it is not the everlasting arms, -or even alms, but a constant, rich, excessively generous torrent, of swishing and swashing coinage, showered, down over us.
I doubt it, as although the text says that it is easy to release that grip, that money demands, by embracing the friendship of the Savior, the music says otherwise.
Bach knew what it was like to have empty coffers and so did many of his fellows, down the ages.
But, of course, it is easy to release yourself, from the grip of money, if you haven’t got any, in the first place.
The irony is clear, and here is Bach at his most bitingingly so.
The middle section, is indeed, a place of no pleasure at all, and the music switches off, with just vague memories of those tinkling tokens.
Look out for the fermata, and the pain of it all, showered of course, in gold nuggets.
Sadly, at the return, that dreadfully drab bullion-bounce, -albeit a cracking gavotte, is re-established, and round we go again, bound into the monotony, of that system, an empty world, of earthly objects.
‘Now I know, you will quieten down, my tormenting conscience. Your good faith, will carryout, exactly what you have said, namely, that throughout this wide world, no single person, shall be lost, but shall, instead, enjoy eternal life, -provided, of course, that they be faithful.’
The slide trumpet is back on hand, to add power to the soprano melody and in Bach’s setting, a good and strong bass line is needed to support the rich harmonies and bold part writing and movement, -e.g. the opening phrase, that he requires.
So far and so good.
But there is much more going on here, as the high and middle strings, carry out a representation, of the faithful, first line utterance, of this text and at each new line, a slowing, or a quietening down, of that conscience, is mirrored, by a slowing, or quietening down, of the subdivisions, of the beat, -4 semiquavers, to 3 quavers, (12/8), to quavers, (4), to quavers, to tied triplet quavers and finally, to crochets…and minims….and…..then……to nothing………………………………………………………….