Bach: The Cantatas

Bach Cantatas

– 22nd Sunday after Trinity – 13th November 2022 – J.S.Bach cantata BWV 115 -,Mache dich, mein Geist, bereit’ –

Nov 5, 2022

A string orchestra, -violin x 2 and viola + continuo and with 4-part choir- is joined by one each, of oboe d’amore and flute.

A violincello-piccolo, makes a welcome, although slightly different contribution, to 4th Aria movement and a corno appears in its familiar supporting role, during only, the opening chorus and the closing choral.

1/ (chorus)

‘My soul, prepare yourself. Watch, ask/beseech and pray, in case the evil day, -and so unexpectedly, comes, upon you. Because, Satan’s cunning, has lead many devout souls, into some sort of temptation.’

A busy and well shaped tune, -leap-tie-quaver run- sets us off, on this rather serious journey of preparation. The semiquavers give added impetuous, as this text sees itself as practical ‘working-out’, rather than passive comment.

A duet with the continuo bass.

Suddenly, solo instruments, -flute and oboe, join in, making a quartet of counterpoint, reminding us that others are involved, in this process, of preparation.

These new instruments, give the music a concertante feel.

The six-four-time, gives a strong 2-in-a-bar, which must be, from the very beginning, born in mind and this is reinforced, by the choral entry, bar 12, the soprano singing the chorale, itself, reinforced, with the lone corno.

Chorus parts are certainly independent, although reminiscent, of that octave leap.

Extreme chromaticism, 17/18, seems to be a backdrop, to watching, asking, beseeching and praying.

Notice the extra bar, at 19…

At 39, enjoy the nice imitative counterpoint, between viola and continuo, a preparation for the devils cunning, 47, through 50.

From there on, of course, the viola part remains agitated, a sure sign of the sure fact, of being led, right into and remaining in, the devils cunning.

-but, were we, ourselves, not throughly seduced, back in bar 39?


‘Sleepwalking soul: Are you dozing? Rouse yourself, as punishment -or damnation, may suddenly waken you, and if you are not alert and watchful, overwhelm you, with the sleep of eternal death.’

Is this what you were expecting?

I bet not, as Bach decides to illustrate sleepiness, rather than slothfulness and a very sleepy siciliano enfolds us, made all the more so, with an unnecessary and avoidable up-beat, placed there to, to alert and elongate, to us, the walking aspect of sleep, -or somnambulism, sleep-walking, where each step is one more removed from a state of alertness.

The ornamentation, bars 5 and 17, seem only, to drag and drain an already slowing slouch.

Through what seems an interminable introduction, notice the nasty leaps, first, the diminished 5th, 26 and the even worse tritone, 28.

Nasty leaps, nasty times.

The nastiness continues, as the voice seems trapped in its low register, ‘How?’, 44, being the question that we are all asking.

Nasty intervals, awkward leaps and trying tessitura continue , as any idea, let alone form, of rousing, is out of the question.

Again, the ritornello, drags and drags, albeit painfully, on and on.

Damnation does definitely arrive, 110, but it is a weedy affaire, more a trot than a tribulation, although, talk of a watchful attitude, does generate some reasonable coloratura.

But is certainly doesn’t last and sooner than later, the sleepwalking gait resumes, slow, slower, -with yawning, 139, and, at 145, through 150, standstill, -and that, in a gravel voice.

And, of course, after this, the da capo must be heard.

By now, surely the congregation and the orchestra would, by, beyond sleep?


‘God, who watches over your soul, detests your night of sin. He sends you the light of His grace and desires, in return, for these gifts, -which He promises you in abundance, the openness, of your spirit. Satan’s cleverness, in tricking sinners, knows no end. If you, now, break, the covenant of grace, you will never see salvation. The whole world and its peoples, are simply, just false. But you and your flesh and blood, seem to seek nothing, but their flattery.’

This secco recit, paints it textual picture and immediately, this night of sin is upon us, followed, equally immediately, by the lightness, of the light of grace and the openness, of spirit, 6, through, 7.

Satan, is easy to spot, 7/8, followed, by the seriousness, of grace, 9/10 and an equally serious salvation, 10/11.

The final lines, the whole world, the falseness and the flesh and blood are equally austere.

Listen for the final flattery, ‘…Schmeichelei…’, which, with its written in A#, if ornamented, with an additional repeat of the B, becomes doubly barbed.


‘Pray then, even during your waking watch. In your guilt, ask your judge, for forbearance, if He is to free you from your sin and purify you.’

There is a clear tempo mark, at the head, Molto adagio and certainly, this aria seems as interminable, as prayer should be.

But, is the real point here, that the interminability of the waking hours, is as a result of a lack of prayer?

Whatever the sub-text, two lone instruments, immediately strike-up the dialogue, over a supportive but spiky bass line.

Forlorn they both are, the flute being naturally, as Mozart thought, lamentable, but surely not our resident ‘fool’, the Violin-cello?

On this occasion, yes, and what a good job it does in this most unnatural role.

The lament really shows itself, starting, at the vocal entry, 11 and this in long long minims and crochets. And long they seem.

It also seems that now, the function, of the V-C, is revealed, that of setting the real pulse of the rhythm, that of semiquavers, as both voice and flute have their fair share, but our bowing maestro takes….as usual…takes more than the others.

With a careful nod to the smallest time value, the long long phrases can be energized, and as in prayer, the exercise will seem not as long as it truly is. Without this, total stoppage maybe a musical and spiritual fact, even though, not an aural one.

This, the semiquaver pulse, becomes apparent, 16, as these 3 (+ 1 continuo) seem to beguile each other and us, into a state of rapture and we are seemingly, caught up, where the word ‘pray’, passes on, from, passivity, to activity, to ecstasy.

The nub of the matter is addressed, 25, through 39.

Forbearance seems here, to be the key and was there ever a more musical or perfect rendition of this, anywhere in music?


‘He yearns, for our cry, of woe, inclining His listening ear, towards it. When our fose rejoice, at our destress, we are victorious, because of His strength. His Son, through whom we pray, gives courage and strength, coming to our aid, with help.’

The musical line paints the spoken inflection.

Opening ‘woes’ are inclined to, by The gracious ear and even though ‘foes rejoice’, victory through His strength, is a fact, musical and otherwise, bar 5.

‘His son…’ is quizzical, along with ‘courage and strength’.

Unbelief seems endemic.

Wonderfully, the heart does melt, ‘..coming to our aid, with help’, -a little arioso appears, out of nowhere, to end with, and so-much-so, that the enthusiasm of faith, sees our singer, skipping ahead, leaving the continuo, three beats out, by bar 10.

Like all good musicians, they carry on, without the slightest worry.


‘Let us, therefore -and forever more, watch, ask and pray. Fear, distress and danger, are getting nearer, because, the day, is near, when God shall judge us and destroy the world.’

Bach keeps the range, the spread, of the parts, compact and moving, in pleasing, visual and aural, contrary motions.

The beautiful, active and energized bass-line, reminds us that prayer, is also, active and energized.

The Bachian clichés, -bar 2, second beat and also bar 8, are not that at all. They are supremely musical spontaneities, that we just must pigeon-hole, thereby reducing them, from champagne to larger.

The day of doom, seems to be raised up, becoming an optimistic event, -bar 10, both musically and spiritual and the day of judgement, something of an extreme beauty-event, -bar 11, note the prepared dissonance, in the alto, ‘A’, then sounded with the ‘B’ in the soprano, with, simultaneously, the tied ‘F#’ and a newly naturalised ‘G#’, (incorporated into a fine rising bass) from the previous bar 10.

Following this, is the destruction, of this world, bars 13, through 14.

What better way to go.

View more Cantata articles