Bach: The Cantatas

Bach Cantatas

– 13th Sunday after Trinity – 11th September 2022 – J.S.Bach cantata BWV 164 -‘Ihr, die ihr euch von Christo’-

Sep 4, 2022

A 6 movement cantata with a standard orchestra, -2 oboes, strings and continuo, but with two flutes required, only in movement 3 and not in the chorale and the two oboes required, only in movement 5 and 6, the final chorale, where all the voices come together, for the first and last time.


‘You, who bear, the name, of Christ, (Christian), where is your sense of mercy, through which, one normally recognizes Christians? Mercy is all too far from you. Your hearts should be affectionate, yet, they seems to be harder than stone.’

This brooding string opening, broods not, on the nature of mercy, but on the difficulty of exhibiting it, the constant drooping fifths, reflecting the supposed, easy-option, in demonstrating this difficult attribute.

The ‘…recognizes Christians…’, 24 through 28, is sung with coloratura, re-emphasizing, that it is the ‘members of Christ’, to whom this should be first nature.

Bar 50, sees the interval inverted, as textual matters turn to reasons why mercy may be far away, perhaps unaffectionate hearts, -or even, beginning at 61, stoniness of the heart.


‘We hear what love says: Those who are merciful, shall, during the judgement, receive mercy. But we are not merciful, even when we should be. Our hearts are not opened, when we hear pain and tears and we are not moved to love. The priest and the Levite, -those who pass by, are the image of lifelessness. They act as though, they are unaware of suffering and pour neither oil, nor wine, into the wounds.’

This secco recit, for a few bars, -3 through 6, evolves into arioso, ‘… those, who are merciful towards others, shall, during the judgement, receive mercy…’, a beautiful phrase, where ‘receiving mercy’, is sung as if it is actually being received.


‘Only through love and compassion, shall we become like God. Samaritan-like-hearts, feel the pain, of others and are rich in compassion.’

Bach pits a flute against itself and two flutes, -love and compassion, explore this text together, sighing and sifting through these words, in endless ways and ingenious and revealing they are.

The long opening ritornello, sets a plodding, slow and contemplative attitude, as the voice settles in, with an ornamented vocal rise.

Love and them compassion, are both identified, as God-like attributes and the first ‘Ernarmen’ drops, bar 13, in contrast to the rising of ‘Love, 9.

The texture, is varied, -three part, two part and four part throughout and this gives Bach every opportunity, to completely cover the ground here, in a movement that is memorable, for just that.

As an example of textual and musical co-operation, the samaritan heart, 21, is quickly followed, by the pain-of-others, 22.


‘Melt, my saviour, through your radiant heart, my cold heart of steel, that daily, I may practice, true Christian love. That my neighbours misery, -whoever that may be, friend, foe, heathen or Christian, may effect my heart, as much as my own suffering. May my heart be rich in love and gentle and mild. Then, in me, will your likeness, be revealed.’

Now, a cold heart, -this time, of steel, is melted, by sustained strings and continuo.

‘Friend, foe, heathen or Christian’, is heard, 7 through 9, clearly, although deliberately declaimed, with the following ‘…my affect my heart…’ memorably and unexpectedly set by Bach, balancing musically and creatively the middle of this setting and this continues, culminating in the rising, ‘revealed likeness’.


‘To hands, that do not close, heaven is open. Eyes, that flow, with pity’s tears, shall find favour, in the Saviour’s eyes and hearts, those that strive for love, shall be given, by God, His own heart.’

The opening ‘theme’, bears a strong and uncanny resemblance, to the opening number, -a linking, of the mercy of God as contrasted to a human understanding of mercy.

This rhythmically imitative movement, is long, complicated and elaborate. Bach orchestrates the opening top line for unison oboes, flutes and violins, presumably, to differentiate, between itself and the soprano voice and to create a good balance, to the bass voice and continuo. The four ‘voices’ formed allow Bach to colour, blend, reduce and redistribute, in many manner of ways, which he does.

The music trips along, in a rather legalistic way, even though sprightly, lacking that spontaneity of idea, rather, an inevitable sort of, ‘If you do this, I will do that’ arrangement.

‘Pity’s tears…’, 44, shows a two-feel, as opposed to the four-feel already jogging along and The Saviors eyes, 53 through 63, show a strange but certain unease, in this transaction and the ‘…striving for love…’ is played out between these voices, 70, through 82 and onwards, to the end.


‘Mortify us, through your goodness, awaken us, through your grace. Chasten, in us, the old attitudes, so that the new ones, may live, here on earth, turning our minds, desires, and thoughts, to you.’

The interrupted cadence, -middle of bar 2, that Bach obviously must have picked up, from the Associated Board, gives an ambiguity, to the availability, of God’s grace and at the repeat, brings into question, the possibility, of those old attitudes, melting away.

‘Here on earth…’, as it rises up, majestically, has so much of that Victorian pride that Bach, -via Prout, Stanford, Parry et al, seemed so good at suggesting. Eventually, the music sorts itself out, -via the thorny problems, of, the turning of the minds and the thoughts and arrives, -albeit without a leading note rise in the mix, the tenor spectacularly drooping, at the last minute, firmly and surely, with minds, desires, thoughts, et al, on Him.

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