Bach: The Cantatas

Bach Cantatas

– 11th Sunday after Trinity – 28th August 2022 – J.S.Bach cantata BWV 179 -, Siehe zu, dass deine Gottesfurcht nicht Heuchelei sei.‘ –

Aug 17, 2022

Standard orchestra, choir and continuo with oboe and oboe da caccia options.


‘See to it, that your fear of God, is not one of hypocrisy and do not serve God, with a double heart.’

This motet-fugue, -where instruments double voices and the continuo is independent, has its voices entries, follow each other, -bass, tenor, soprano and alto, where each new voice, is an inversion, of the previous.

There is a brief canon, bar 100, ‘…uns diene Gott…’.

However, Bach I think seizes on this ‘double-heart’ aspect of the text which he sets in a highly chromatic vein.

The result of this, is disorientating and un-nerving, for, although there is enough musical stability, to provide a certain sense of musical security, there is little or none, to provide any real sense, of an emotional or spiritual certainty, of faith.

The situation, at the end of this beginning, is summed up, at the beginning, of the first recitativo.


‘Christianity today, is in a sorry state. Most Christians are Laodiceans, -or puffed-up Pharisees, who, outwardly, appear pious and like reeds, bow their heads, while their hearts conceal vanity. They go into God’s house, performing their superficial duties, but does this, make them a Christian? No. Anybody, -especially hypocrites, can do that.’

This ‘down-to-earth’ secco recitativo, presents the facts as they are.

See how high, Bach rises-up, his tenor voice, at ‘…aufgeblasne…’, bar 5.


‘An image, of false hypocrites, might be compared, to ‘the apples of Sodom’, which, -on the surface, although glistening brightly, are filled, with decay. Hypocrites, although beautiful, -on the outside, cannot stand, before God.

The strong first and third beats, of this 2-in-a-bar, ‘off-beat’ movement, -with its accented passing notes, slides, slashes and turns, disassembles the hypocrite, giving away the real underlying character of such people, -forever insecure and ducking-&-diving, from reality.

At 23, the ‘outwardly-fair’, who ‘cannot stand…’, bar 25 through 6, are explored as, outwardly fair, with a much more easily-relatable-to rhythm, one that is easy, followable and resting.


‘Those who are inwardly, -and outwardly, the same, can be called Christian, like the humble temple tax-collector, who did not think himself, to be a saint. Let him be the example for your own lives, and even though, you are not thief, adulterer or slanderer, do not think, you are angels. If you humbly confess your sins, you shall receive help and mercy.

Bach alternates his setting, between arioso and secco:

-1 through 3, arioso, the true christian.

-8 through 9, arioso, Matthew, as the example for your lives.

-17, through to the end, arioso, the receiving, of help and mercy, where the ending sinks down, into the depths of a faithful certainty.


‘Dear God, have mercy. Grant solace and grace. My sins afflict, -like decay in my bones. Help me, Jesus, lamb of God, as I am sinking, deep, into the mire.’

This aria, has about it, the smell of genius, -and is, again, worthy of, ‘passion-status’, even though the text, has about it, the smell of corruption.

The music seeps and suppurates, -albeit beautifully, out-of and in-to, much as the ‘…Eiter…’ does, out from, the bone, into the body.

This ‘celebration of the beauty of death’, -so characteristic of Christian art and writing and so much misunderstood by our mis-placed world, continues, into the middle section, 39, where the source of corruption, is approached and viewed, so much as if, in an ecstasy.

At 62, the music sinks, down into this mire, -notice harmonies, 68/69, and the real mire and its real depths, are reached, 71 onwards, pianissimo.

The rather feeble cries of ‘Help’ seems lost in a state that is already unsolvable, in this world.


‘I, poor and a sinner, stand here, before the face, of God. Treat me gently and do not judge me. Have mercy, my God, of mercy.’

A serious prayer of mercy, is serious, in its setting, leading us, to believe, that the composer, has thought long and hard about the ways and means to set such serious stuff.

Inner part undulation, -gently and suggesting a quivering heart, along with an extreme colour, one of harmonic surprise, -all of which disappears, in the second and fourth lines, suggesting that the penitent, has found courage in his or her own convictions.

The fifth line onwards is just simply, about simple mercy. The quivering of inner parts returns, only again, to be dismissed, in the final three bars, as this simple mercy, -albeit just a tiny bit uncertain, last bar, first-second beat, alto voice, establishes itself, only certainly, to the absolutely certain.

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