Bach: The Cantatas

Bach Cantatas

– 8th Sunday after Trinity – 7th August 2022 – J.S.Bach cantata BWV 136 – ,Erforsche mich, Gott, und erfahre mein Herz’ –

Sep 17, 2022

6 sections:

opening chorus, 2 x recitativo, 2 x aria and closing choral,

with standard strings and continuo, 2 x oboe player -with 1 oboe d’amore option and a four part chorus, -with only 3 soloists, no soprano aria or recit. and 1 x Corno. (More of this, later.)


‘Search me, oh God and know my heart; try me and know my thoughts.’

A fugue, with the theme stated first, in the sopranos, 7, through 8, and then starting proper, at 10. Dürr comments on a sense of purposelessness, and this seems to be the case, the metre and phrasing, seemingly without much direction. The framing ritornellos are of unrelated material and the oboes double the violins, throughout.

The most interesting point of this movement, is the instrument that calls itself Corno.

The fugal theme appears first on this instrument, halfway through the first bar, but thereafter, there seems to be seems to me, to be not much ‘Corno’ about this instrument at all.

The writing is trumpety, although I can see that it might be played by a highly skilled corno player.

Checking with well known authorities, on film and video, I see it is performed on a slide trumpet, -or even a slide-horn, there is enough pipe work to extend down to ‘A’, below treble clef and up to ‘A’, above treble clef top line.

Quite what it is I know not, but the score suggest Corno.

‘Search me, oh God…’, whatever it is, it disappears from this cantata, never to be seen again, -and that includes, the closing choral, where a possible, but too high part, is taken, strangely, by a violin, where trumpety colour, would otherwise be much better to bring out a very good descant.


‘Oh the curse that strikes the earth, also strikes humanity. Who can hope for good, when this, penetrates the soul, bringing thorns of sin and thistles of vice. Yet, people of hell, disguise themselves, as angels of light. and with this corrupted nature, they gather grapes from thorns, as a wolf, might hide in wool. Yet, a day will come, hypocrites, that will terrify you and be totally unendurable.’

This dramatic seeco, makes it dramatic point, -especially at 10, where the hellish-ness, of these children of hell, -C natural, disguise themselves, as angels of light.


‘A day is coming, where sentence, will be passed, on what is secret. Hypocrites, will tremble. The wrath, of His jealousy, will annihilate, that which hypocrisy and cunning, have contrived.’

A soft, pleading oboe d’amore, softens, literally, the blow, on this prophetic text.

Passing sentence, on hypocrisy, is a thee-part procedure:

Firstly, the charge is brought, -1, through 5, Secondly, sentence carried out, -6, through 7, and then any additional, qualifying and final words, are brought forward, -8, through 11.

The ominous warning, is repeated, over and over, with a repeated-over-rhythm, -dotted quaver + 5 x semiquavers, 11, through, 28, with chromatic and melismatic contortion, 18, through 20.

At 29, presto indicates a tempo increase, where a 12/8 dance, -the ‘dance-of-the-day-of-fury’, is unleashed, -and with its up-beat anger, on the second dotted crochet beat, of every other bar, 29, through, 32, and cunning and hypocrisy, are given, vocal voice, 33, through, 37.

Throughout all of this, the soft, pleading, oboe d’amore, is nowhere, to be seen.

38 sees a return to a slower, prophetic pace, but one, where hypocrisy, is seen, -and felt to tremble, rising up, in pitch, 44 and wailing, literally away, right through to the vocal end, at 50.


‘The heavens themselves, are not clean. How much less then, mortals? But those cleansed, through the blood, of Jesus, and united with Him, through faith, they know, that they cannot be harshly judged. If they are still worried, about their sins and their failings, they have, -in Christ, no less righteousness, and strength.’

This reflective text, starts out with a very secco feel, but ends up, at 10, turning increasingly arioso, as the singer realises that, nevertheless, righteousness and strength, will win through. This turn of heart, was fore-heard and thus, foreseen, in a telling little movement of the bass line continuo, in bar 3.


‘Although we are tainted, with the sin, that Adam’s fall, has brought, if we have found refuge, in Christ’s wounds, -in that merciful stream of blood, we shall be purified, as new.’

A stoic text, made more so, with tutti violin obbligato orchestration.

The imitative vocal writing, gives way, to a homophonic texture, at 16 and then returns, 19. at lamentations, on the consequences, of Adam’s fall.

The ‘merciful stream of blood’ 42/43/44, seems never-ending and with the emphasis, on ‘purity’, 46, -and with a repeat, Bach makes his point and this good and rather unique combination duet, is at its stoic close and confident, ‘…purified anew…’ ending.


‘Your blood, -that noble sap, has such force and strength, that even the smallest drop, can purify us all, setting us free, from the devils jaws.’

There is nothing, at all, about this Choral, that is of anything more than commonplace.

But life in the world of Bach, is never that simple.

Two things stand out, over and above genius:

firstly, that very genius, which makes the commonplace, exceptional, and, as if that wasn’t enough, secondly, the counter-melody, or descant part, appearing in the independent tutti violin 1 part, transforms 4-part, instantly, into 5-parts, raising this blood, almost, to the level, of an heroic-romantic personality.

Why was not our trumpety-thingy blowing friend not brought back from his coffee break, to be this heroic hero and and end us and send us, on a high?

For that very reason, that it is not anything or the sort.

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