An Oboe d’amore orchestra, with continuo and 4 part chorus and soprano, tenor and bass arias and recitativos and a reinforcing corno, un the opening number and final chorale.
In fact, exceptionally, Bach uses 4 chorale tunes in this cantata, the first verse of three if them and the 4th verse of one of them, the last, in the closing movement.
1/Chorus (chorale) and recitative:
(c) Christ is my life. To die, is my reward. I shall surrender to Him and with gladness, depart.
(t) With gladness and a joyful heart, I shall depart. If today, I was told, I must return, to my wasted and dying body, I would. My dying words are on my lips and I wish I could sing them today.
(c) In peace and joy I now depart, according to God’s will. I am consoled in heart and mind, calm and quiet, as He has promised me these things. Death, has become, my sleep.’
The joyful, strong and rhythmic drive, of the opening material, an off-beat, up-beat waltz, is stated, not just in the first bar, but over 2 bars, with 2 rests, by the wind and repeated, antiphonally, by the strings, continually, in that manner, -actually, until bar 6, where it is taken over, totally by the wind, the strings generating new semiquaver swirling and scale-like material, demonstrates, that this forthcoming text, is serious.
And so it is.
As the chorus sets off, bar 13, -reinforced and accompanied, by a lone corno, all it well and as we might expect it to be.
But, by 21, ‘Sterben’, sustained, over 6 bars and with grinding dissonance, -albeit, prepared, followed by a prepared pause, Bach makes his stark, yet profound point, one that death, is for the poet, the composer and dare-we-wonder-about-it, the congregation, reward.
Without fuss, the orchestra continues, -off-beat rhythmic figuration, accompanied by scalic activity.
‘With gladness and a joyful heart,’ sees an exuberant tenor break out from the ranks, expressing the sentiment, of the text in no uncertain terms.
At 74, a series of 6 recitative passages, each alle breve, interrupt the flow:
‘…If today, I was told…’
‘…I wish I could sing them, today.’
These musings are no aloud to hold up the flow and at 89, Allegro, Bach introduces the second chorale, led by the corno and followed by the wind, with an fugato-ish fore imitation of the melody.
‘In peace and joy I now depart…’
Listen for the busy and driving continuo bass line, that drives the impetus forward.
But Bach is aware of his text and he brings a natural and timely hiatus to the proceedings:
‘…calm and quiet…’
the music slowing to breath in this calmness and quietness, before it launches forward, at 122 and led by the corno, on and into the closing 20 bars, the ‘Tod Schlaf’, the death-sleep.
This natural and normal secco recit, a rejection of the world is dramatically intoned:
‘False world, I want nothing more to do with you. My house is in order and I am at peace. I say No! No! to your Babel water’, -with its ‘salt-of-lust’ and your pleasure gardens, -with their Sodom-apples. Now I say this, and with a calm spirit:
leads naturally and normally, straight into the third…
‘I take my leave of you, false and wicked world, your sinful and evil existence, displeases me. It is good, to live in heaven and that is where I desire to be. There, God will will always reward those who served Him here.’
This all-to-short arrangement, with slightly angular bass, -off-set, by an equally slightly angular d’amore, derived, possibly, from the opening number, creates beautiful -and eternal, musical sounds, shapes and colours, contrasting a wicked world, with a rewarding God.
The fact, that the unison d’amore, will inevitably never be absolutely and completely in tune, is of course, foreseen, by Bach, who uses this sonority, to inflame the constant 7th chords, formed by the rising, last 3 notes, of the repeated 5 note d’amore phrases.
These underpin some timeless soprano words, with some extremely timeless music, albeit, giving a rough rhymic ride, to an ideal, that can only be realized, through some tough and timeless faith.
‘Can it be soon, that I may see death, -the end of all distress, for this body? I will choose death, as my reward and count every moment, until it arrives.’
Thus thoughtful, secco recit, before the next Aria, is devoid of much accompaniment, save some well placed chords, giving the silences space to make their point.
‘Come soon, blessed hour, with that last bell stroke, the death knell. Come, come, come. I reach out my hands to you, to bring an end to my distress, you, the long-looked-for, day of death.’
Bach turns this rather, these days, uneasy and certainly unpalatable text, absolutely, on its head.
We hear a beautiful pastorale serenade, in the french manner, long, where lyrical oboes, feast on lush scenery and surroundings. Underneath, is a ravishing support, of pizzicato strings, muffled funeral bells, that Bach has turned into mandolins and guitars.
This is hi-lighted, by the pizz bass, on the first two beats only.
Notice the echo, bars 4 and 8.
Also, the phrasing, 2 beats, then 1, is indicative of expectant breathing, so we have a death experience, presented as a sung serenade.
The singer, when he joins in, presents a 3/2 flow of time, where 2 bars become 1 and the sound of the words is an important part of this whole serenaded experience.
‘I know and believe, that from my grave, I have access, to my father. My death is a sleep, through which my body, -weakened by sorrow, comes to rest. If a shepherd can find his lost sheep, why cannot Jesus, find me? He is my head and I am His limbs. I can now, -and with a happy spirit, build and on my Saviour, my blessed resurrection.’
Another secco recit, on the other side of the previous aria.
Talk of death, sees the bass voice, drop low, 5/6 but talk of a ‘…happy spirit..’ sees a brief dalliance in arioso, as thoughts of that ‘…blessed ressurectio…’ almost instigate a few dancing steps, 13, to the end.
‘Since you have risen from the dead, I shall not remain in the grave. Your final word, is my ascension, as you can banish, the fear of death. Where you are, there will I go, so that, with you, I will always live and be. Therefore, I depart, in joy.’
This straightforward and beautiful chorale, is made more-so, with Bach’s addition, of a fifth-part violin descant, transforming it, from meat and potatoes, into vodka and caviar.
Despite this, we should not ignore Bach’s daring’s, -bar 4, 7th between tenor and bass, the interesting goings-on’s, bar 7 and the beautiful progressions, -9, through 10, the low alto, at 11, with nice figuration, at 12 and the ‘…departure, with joy.’, -12, through to the end, with those rather nice undulating tenor ornamentations, in the penultimate bar.