An opening chorale chorus introduces an augmented orchestra, a trio of oboes, -2 x oboe + taille, with string, continuo and 4-part chorus, reinforced with a trio of trombones, to reinforce the lower chorus and a cornetto and transverse flute, to boost the soprano, ‘choral’ line.
This is followed, by: an aria, -tenor with obligato violin, a recit, -soprano, an aria, -trio of oboes + bass, a recit, -tenor, an aria, -oboe da caccia, flute and vocal duet, soprano + alto, and a final closing chorale, where every instrument, except oboe da caccia, takes up its appropriate place.
(c) ‘Take from us, -Lord and faithful God, the grave’ great punishment and distress, that we, -with our countless sins, have altogether deserved. Protect and preserve us, from war, famine, epidemics, fire, pain and harm.’
With a text like that, we must expect the worst and should not shy away from that certainty and we are not disappointed.
Fear seems almost transcended by deep and total blackness, devoid of light.
The dark opening, continues, darkly, the quartet of brass instruments not brightened one bit, by the presence, of their higher pitched cornetto partner, nor the whole, in any way.
-a new normal, of unease and trepidation.
(C.F. bar 56 clash Ab/G and general harmonic drift, from the beginning, up to 64.)
This ‘grave-punishment’, meted out from 64 through 83, seems angular, unremitting, pock-ey and shocking.
(C.F. final passage before the benediction, ‘ride to the abyss’ Berlioz Damnation du Faust.)
The orchestral writing seems, intentionally dead and there is a complete lack of any concertante colour.
‘Countless-sins’, 101, heralds a legato line, that only seems to illustrate how long the list them, placed end to end, might be.
The passage, 120 through 135, is nothing less, than truly damming.
And so follows ‘…have truly deserved…’ which is no less shattering. The metre and intensity, is undaunted and unending.
Notice the soprano ‘shape’, 144, with the ‘G’ uncertainties.
At 172, Berlioz-like demons ‘quack quack’ at us, as pathetic and tragic ‘protecting-pleas’ begin to creep and groan, at 178 and followed, relentlessly, by more dam damnation, 195 through 212.
Then follows a list of judgements, some familiar, some not so, but all to be experienced.
They all seem to slash us down, hard.
This masterpiece of a movement, probably needs a moment of piece, -then recovery’ -repose, if it has been fully appraised.
‘Do not condemn us sinners, according to Law. Give the sword, of the enemy, a rest. Hear our pleading, that we may not, -through sin, perish, like Jerusalem.’
This violin playing, is Mephistophelian, -staccato and ‘sharp’, cutting and grazing, tearing and cleaving- teasing us’ in our souls, spiking our conscience, tormenting our bodies and minds, with ‘stick-y’ arpeggios, devilish runs, and tormenting trills.
-and it is unremitting.
Even though the text is prayer-ful and serious, in redemption ‘from’, the reality is really’ the opposite: we are not ‘redeemed-from’, we are ‘in’.
The earnest singing, is earnestly ineffectual, cutting no ice, in the face of this fiddling and deep cutting sword.
There is no peace. (bar 41)
3/Recitative and chorale:
(c) ‘Lord God, through your faithfulness, (r) shall our land abide, in peace and quiet. When storms threaten, we shall call, in those times, to to you. (c) Appear to us, with comfort and deliverance. (r) You can repel the destruction of the enemy, with your help and might. (c) Show us your grace, -do not punish us, if you catch us out, (r) when we are faltering and weak, (c) attend to us, with goodness (r)and help is to strive only for goodness, so that, here on earth, -and in the here-after, (c)your anger, will be far from us.’
This is a serious and formal, troped recit, with textual additions, to the chorale text, in effect, arioso alternating with secco recit.
These can be clearly heard, -as also, they can be clearly heard, alternating, between two and three time.
The chorale melody is embellished, and even the (ostinato) accompaniment, in the arioso, is dotted and chorale-derived.
(c) Why would you be so angry? The flames, of your fury, are already engulfing, our heads. Stop this punishment and as a parent, work patiently with our weak flesh.’
Masterfully, Bach continues to set lines of the chorale, with lines of troped text and the score, bearing witness to this, with the same words being set, to different music and tempos, -and phrase lengths, the whole, coherent and held together, by both his extreme sense of the dramatic and the sacred.
A trio of oboes plunge us straight into these flames of fury, leaping and dancing around us, as we are forced to contemplate not just our own mortality, but our own destiny.
A profound ‘Warum,’, marked adagio, is followed by an excursion, into the major, further hi-lighting, ironically, the seriousness of our predicament as these flames cover even our heads, bar 34.
38, ‘Andante’, begins a period, of prayerful suggestion, with the pain of remembered punishments, 45/46, relived as they are rejected and the realisation, of forbearance, with grace, 48, is foreseen, if not received.
Mention and remembrance, of weak and feeble flesh, precipitates a return to the opening vivace tempo and the resurgence, of the fury-of-the-flames, on an extended ‘flesh’.
Most probably, a slackening of tempo, for the final forbearance of grace leads to the closing bars, a final stoking of those, by now, familiar, fires of fury.
(c) ‘Sin, has greatly changed us, (r) even the most sensitive, must realise, -and with tears. (c) The devil plagues us more and more. (r) This evil spirit, -from the beginning, a murderer, wants to steal our salvation and like a lion, destroy us. (c) The world and our flesh and blood, constantly, lead us’ astray. (r) We encounter, on this narrow path, so much that is against good. (c) Such misery, Lord, is know, only by you. (r) Help us, the weak ones. You can make us strong. (c) Let us be commended, to you.’
A constant shift, between (almost) arioso and secco recitative.
The regularity, of the arioso accompaniment, breaks down at 15, ‘…the world and our flesh and blood…’ and the misery of Christ, is we alluded to, in bizarre continuo harmonies, of 25.
(r) ‘Think on Jesus’s bitter death. Father, please take, the sorrow and pain, of your son, to your heart. (c) In truth, they are, -and for, all the world, a payment and a ransom. (r) And show, to me, forever, mercy, as, in my distress, I am always sighing. Think on Jesus’s bitter death.’
This is an aria, of pathos and one, worthy of inclusion in a passion.
The long and painful introduction, orchestrated, by Bach, with, -using the darkly coloured caccia against the brighter flute, exactly this, in mind, sets a vivid scene, one of Jesus’s bitter death, his soul’s anguish and the pain, of wounds, mental, as well as physical.
This siciliano duet, -actually a trio, turns, miraculously, at 13, into a quartet, with alto and then, again, at 16, a quintet, with soprano.
Anguish of anguishes is evident, 19 through 23 and the chorale verse, ‘…in truth, they are, for all the world, a payment and a ransom…’ is alternately stated, by each voice, 27, through 35.
The request for mercy begins at 35 and continues, through 44 and distressed sighing, through to 49, shows continuous dotted rhythm, a sort of slight increase of the rhythmic rhythm.
The final ‘…bitter death…’ is, in many ways, the bitterest and the longest, of the lot and note particularly, bars 53, through 55.
‘Lead us, with your right hand and bless our town and country. Always give us your holy word and protect us, from the devil’s cunning and murder, and give to us, a blessed-hour, of death, so that we may, be with you, for ever.’
Tutti orchestra, with added oboe and taille parts, gives extra strengths to the part writing.
Bach orchestrates the sense of the text and we are lead through this prayer of faith, one, in that, ‘…your holy word…’ leads us towards ‘…a blessed hour…’, for all eternity.