A large festive-orchestra, -3 x oboes + strings and organ continuo, 4 part choir/soloists+ 3 x trombe and timpani, is required for this festive St Michael’s day cantata.
1/ (chorus) Vivace:
‘Lord God, we praise you and justly thank you, for creating the angels, who hover around you and your throne.’
This splendid opening, -bright, light and tight, brings to mind and spirit, a brilliant and clear picture, of the angelic host, as it hovers, around and about the throne and the deity.
This music, is not only inspirational, in respect of translating fact and actuality, into sound, but energized, to the matter immediately at hand:that of war.
This is not imparted, war-like, as such, -aggressive and powerful, but as a restive-strength, secure and consistent in standing and resolve.
All this is achieved, with semiquaver energy of the strings and the brass and timps pointing the beats.
The choral-melody is imparted, clearly and strongly and those concertante semiquavers support the emerging wall of sound.
Listen for antiphonal questioning and answering, -bars 4, through 8, reflecting actualities, around that throne.
The excited texture, wraps itself around the whole, setting the scene for the whole.
Their (the angels) radiance and wisdom, shows how God inclines himself to us and makes for us, such hero’s and weapons. They do not stop praising Him and they strive, for one thing alone: that they, Lord Jesus, might, for ever surround you and your poor flock. How necessary, is this vigil, in the face of Satan’s rage and might.’
This narrative text, is delivered, secco.
The last line is important and importantly delivered, -especially, in the light, of what happens next.
‘The ancient dragon, Satan, burns, with envy and keeps thinking-up, new pains, in order, to destroy, the little flock. He would gladly destroy all that is God’s and will soon, resort to cunning, because he knows neither rest, or respite.’
As in the opening chorus, the music shows how the angels are and behave, in the face and shadow, of the reality and actions, of Satan. -and Bach does it in a unique way.
Who would have thought of using the trumpet-trio+ timpani with continuo alone?
But this is what Bach does.
And it is the voice, that tells us the actualities of the detail, of the actual state, intentions and words, of the devil.
Throughout the snarling and threatening the facts, about rest and respite, are shown, to be doubly disastrous, by the response, of this heavenly host.
It is an impressive movement, building on its own strengths, with ever increasing waves of sound, built on fanfares, -bars 1, through 2,- and then semiquavers, based on written-out rolls, for the timpani, which cascade, -3 onwards.
Each time the voice starts to sing, of some negative plan or utterance, it is put-down, by the brilliance of the sound, bars 11 through 12, an again, at 14, through 17, and all, to a stately almost regal gavotte, ridiculous in its context.
At the mention of ‘…the little flock…’ Satan muses, with a smile, on new ways, in which to inflict pain and destruction and these thoughts do become more destructive, 23/24, as the music seems stronger in its rejection and ultimate victory over such earnest destruction, 25, through 29.
At the mention, of ‘…all that is Gods…’ we hear the music recapitulate itself, almost a reinforcement, 34/35, of omnipotence and we feel, in our hearts as well as our ears, the lack of ‘…rest…’, 39 through 44, that this being experiences.
All this rhetoric, is no stuff and all nonsense and 44 shows it to be the case, as the original position is re-stated.
But again, through we all have to go, with the hearing of these empty threats.
Still, along the way, some beautiful music, bars 62, through 65, carries us through some unattractive words. If only life could be as simple as this? Maybe it is…
P.S -it seems that, for a subsequent revival, Bach, was so influenced by grumpy trumpeters, whining-on about the state of their lips, that he re-scored the whole movement for strings…without trumpets.
‘It is good for us, that, night and day, the angelic host, keeps watch, always ready, to destroy Satan’s plot. Daniel, sitting with the lions, learns how the angels hands, protect him. When Babel’s fiery furnace, causes no injury, the faithful, sing a hymn, of praise. Even in danger, the angels help, is still at hand.’
This highly contrasted, calming recit, goes about its busy, in a rather matter-of-fact way, except for the distinctive halo-ic strings, bringing to mind the presence of the Savior.
Along the way, we hear, the roar of Daniel’s lions, bar 6, we see the protecting hand, of the angel’s, we smell the furnace, of Babel, -that actually causes no injury, bars 8 through 10 and then, the hymn of praise, sung by the faithful, 10, through 11 and finally, an exulted revelation, that, even in danger, the angels help, is still at hand.’
‘Grant, -oh Prince of the Cherubim, that this high host, of hero’s, may, for evermore, look after your believers. Grant, that the angels, on Elijah’s chariot, may carry them, up to you, in heaven.’
A light and low-energy gavotte, -with flute and a bit of a skip, bars 2 and three and 7 onwards, introduces this sincere prayer for protection.
Listen for the celebration of the ‘…high host of hero’s…’ bars 30 and 41, with the ‘…tending of the believers…’, 46/47.
The almost independent middle section, deals with Elijah. Listen to the ‘…bearing to heaven.’, 61 through 65.
‘Therefore, we justly praise you and thank you, O God, eternally, just as your dear angelic host, praises you now and forever.
This is a fine and full chorale.
Listen for the rising and falling, of the first trumpet part and the bass line, both complimentary, to each other and forming what might be described, as a pair of wings, flapping and folding together, in harmony, with humanity and with, the throne, of life.