Bach: The Cantatas

Bach Cantatas

– 14th Sunday after Trinity – 18th September 2022 – J.S.Bach cantata BWV 78 – ,Jesu, der du meine Seele’-

Sep 17, 2022

An oboe orchestra, -with four part voices and continuo, is supplemented, by a Corno, -opening movement and closing choral, a flute, -Aria, movement 4 and closing choral and a Violine, an instrument difficult to identify, being described, as anything, from a fretted bass viol, to a modern double bass, -Aria movement 4 and possibly the closing choral, although it is not written into the score.


‘Jesus, -who has forcibly wrested my soul, from the devil’s dark cave, through His most bitter death, has informed me of this, through His most pleasant word. Be now, O God, my refuge.’

A feel of passacaglia, French overture and a second-beat-start lament characterizes this text, a statement of thanks, at being ‘wrested’, or pulled-from-the-grasp of devil darkness.

Chromaticism, led from the bass line, is giving, a sense of drooping, of melting away, of power, presumably devil power. Ritornello material, 9, gives an opposite lead, that of a rising-up, of life over death.

The choral melody, is sounded out, by soprano and corno and ritornellos proper, prepare each line of text, by sifting and reflection, on what has come and what is to come.

The force of this wresting, is surely colored, by the semiquaver figure, first appearing, at 17 and is then applied directly, to the text, at 73.

Notice the major-surprise, the Picardy third, or tierce picardi, in the final bar, certain reality of salvation.


‘We hasten, with weak, yet diligent steps, to you, Jesus, master. You seek to help the ailing and the erring.’

The violone has a separately written out part, certainly, these ‘weak yet diligent steps’, that accompanies, on and on and on, this dual text, a statement of Godly intent, firstly, to seek the ailing poor and secondly, to respond, with gracious countenance, to the begging cries, of those ailing poor.

The duetto voice-pair, soprano and alto, are similar enough, in color and type, to work together, in the successful statement, of this text, both imitatively and antiphonally, when in tune, and movingly, in thirds and sixths, when in harmony.

Bar 50, sees the text directly address this ailing and erring group. The texture is thinned, with longer phrases and sustained harmony,

Poignant ‘Ach’s’ 64 through 66, show the degree, to which this prayer is ernest and raised, 71 through 73, followed, of course, by the smile, of that gracious countenance, 84, through 98.


(c) Ah! I am a child of sin. I err, all over the place. (r) Leporus sin, is found on me, clinging, to my mortality. My will aspires to evil only, although, my soul says, ‘Who will save me?’. (c) But to force flesh and blood, to accomplish good, (r) is beyond my strength, although, I would not conceal, my error. I cannot count, how often, I have sinned and so, I now take my sinful grief and pain and the burden, of my sorrow, which, otherwise, I could not endure and give them, to you, Jesus, with a sigh. (c) Do not count the sinful deeds, which have, Lord, angered you.’

This dramatic, theatrical, secco recitativo, is predictable, in that it rises and falls, -musically and dramatically, according to the text.

Expressively operatic -and largely-lept, in nature, we are left, at almost every turn of phrase, -both musically and dramatically, in exactly no doubt, as to the feelings, of this ‘…child of sin…’.

The choral text is treated in exactly the same way as the textual insertions, save the last two choral lines, where a heart-felt, ‘arioso’ episode, pleads that, particularly, sinful deeds, that have angered The Lord, are not counted.


‘The blood, which covers and erases my guilt, makes my heart again feel light and sets me free. Though all hell should want, to fight me, Jesus will stand beside me, so that I can take heart and win the day.’

This aria, marks the return, in this cantata, of a light heart.

Although there is dancing, -a slow and subdued dance, maybe 2 x 3 beats, the mood is reflective rather than decisive.

The choice of flute, is definitely lighter than corno or oboe and the color, breathy and thin, allowing the spirit, of this music, to float and flow around the somewhat military text, hi-lighting a rather different outcome, than a first reading, might suggest.

There is, if you read between the lines, in this flute part, this lightening and leaping heart, -staccato and a cancellation of sin, -running scales, all beautifully and wonderfully illustrated, 8, through, 12.


(r) Wounds, nails, crown and grave, -all blows, that were dealt the Saviour, are now, signs of triumph, that give me strength. When a judge lays a curse upon the dammed, you do not change it into a blessing. No grief or pain can affect me, since my Saviour knows, about all of them. And since your heart burns, with love for me, ,I in turn, lay down mine, before you. (c) This, my heart, marked with the grief, which your precious blood, did scatter, and which was shed, upon the cross, I give to you, Lord Jesus Christ.’

This recit, is ‘beefed-up’, -passion-like, with Christ-like, vox-christi, strings, as these instrumental details, of torture and death, are immediately, at the beginning, outlined. Notice that ‘crown’, is high and ‘grave’, is decidedly low.

The opera house returns, with almost Don Giovannian terror, marked Vivace, as this terrible judge, deals out terrible curses, upon the dammed.

The returning Adagio, 10, brings the knowing Savior, nicely evoked, 12/13, followed by those mutually burning hearts, dropping, in humility, 16.

An Andante, set the pace for the last four lines, of choral text where rich and imaginative writing, for strings characterizes a grief stricken heart, Bach again rather uncannily, evoking Mozart.


‘Now, you can, -and will, quieten my conscience, which demands vengeance, against me. Your faithfulness, will fulfil it, because your word, offers me hope. If Christians believe in you, no foe can ever steal them out of your hands.’

This crying conscience is clearly heard in the opening ritornello, twice, on a solo oboe, as vengeance twists and turns around on itself, convolute, in its seething and penetrative action.

Punctuation, by a repeated and soon-to-be familiar, dotted cadential figuration, acts as the quietening agent and appears almost anywhere, and without warning, as phrase lengths change, all as vengeance leads.

A triumphant moment, 32, announced by a continuo moment, ‘If Christians believe in you,’ is still not able to break away, from this wining and incessant vengeance ‘motif’, even when the bass soloist, straining away, up to top Db and C, announces that no foe will ever be able, to steal away, ‘out of your hands.


‘Lord, I believe, help my weakness and let me not despair. You can make me strong, when sin and death oppress me. I shall trust your goodness, until I shall see, -with gladness and after the fight, you, Lord Jesus, in sweet eternity.’

The nearly full band, is again summoned, all except the well worked and used Violone. Bach doesn’t specify, but the feel is that it could be squeezed in, without tipping, or favoring the bass line, in favor of the choral melody, always a big consideration in chorale balance.

The flute has a dedicated line of its own, written an octave higher than its soprano, corno, oboe and first violin line.

The warmth, of line 5, contrasts starkly, with a feeling of faithlessness, prevalent in lines 1, through 4 and this is followed, by a fine rendering, of ‘…until I shall see, with gladness..’ and the final line, ‘…sweet eternity…’, reminiscent of the opening, but softened, by the major, tierce picarde third cadence, to finish.

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