Bach: The Cantatas

Bach Cantatas

– 23rd Sunday after Trinity – 20th November 2022 – J.S.Bach cantata BWV 163 – ,Nur jedem das Seine’ –

Nov 14, 2022

2 cellos are required for the third movement – aria and 4 soloists are required, for 5 vocal movements, -3 arias and 2 recits. The only choral movement is the final choral and the orchestra, is simply strings and continuo.


To each, his own, is due. If the authorities must have duties, taxes and gratuities, let no one refuse their due obligation. Yet, the heart remains bound, only to the Highest.’

This opening ritornello seems rather nauseatingly dutiful and subservient, -obsequious really, and to a high degree.

The imitation suggests an attitude, doubly-so and the tenor voice picks right up, on this dutiful, or legalist approach, that of doing and being seen to do…imitatively…the right thing, ,…das Seinen…’.

At the second half, of 23, the metre changes, destabilising, -3-4 time, up to and crossing the written bar line, bar 24, then a bar of 2-2, then a bar of 3-2 up to the first beat, of 27, then 2 x bars of 4-4 and 2 x bars of 2, surely showing us that, perhaps, a heart attitude, that is bound to God, surely, goes against the grain.


‘You are my God, the giver of all gifts. Whatever we have, is alone, from your hand. You have given us spirit, soul, body and life, wealth, goods, honour and rank. What can we pay back to you, in gratitude, when it all belongs to you anyway and not, at all, to us? But the one thing that pleases you, is that our hearts should be the true and real payment. But has even this become worthless, Satan, having damaged the image, of you. Even this counterfeit, has now lost all of its value.’

Listen out for ‘…spirit, soul, body, etc…’ and the change of direction, ref the payment.

The ‘heart’s tribute money..’ or true and real payment, is accompanied but a little walking bass, bar 16, signifying an actual act of, perhaps, pious-like giving.

It all ends in horror, at the realization, of satanic counterfeit.


‘Let my heart be the coin, that I, my Jesus, pay you. If it is not completely pure, then come and renew it, with a lovely shine. Come work it, refine it and stamp it, so that, your image, in me, will shine, renewed.’

Unusually, two ‘cellos, with an accompaniment, of only continuo, combine in this tenacious and toiling aria, where the other, follows the one, in this slightly mechanized production, minting away the coinage of the day.

The low down tessitura, is further depressed, by the bass voice. Everything is bottom-heavy, in what seems to be, a sub-terrain cavern where metal is worked and sweat is produced.

Everyone follows everyone else, but the voice cuts a different mould, copying, the mostly step-wise movement, with minimal semiquaver activity.

There is Schubertian joy, -albeit forged, in a rather Wagnerian way, in the heart, at 17, as the heart is recognized as that payment and the lovely shine is triply-admired, Gollum-like, 34, through 35.

The forging really picks ip steam, 35, through 40. Bach seems to have forgotten, to include an off-beat anvil, in his orchestration.

The forgers keep forging, bellows keep pumping, but at 41, the coin is held up and admired, not so much for its likeness, but for its gleam.


‘I would gladly give you, Lord, my heart. I have the will to, but flesh and blood are always warring and resisting. Since the world hold’s my heart captive, it will release nothing at all. I must hate the world, if I am, to love you. Fill my heart, with your grace and blessing, and drain and empty it, of the world, making me, a true Christian.’

This is a prelude, to the duet, movement 5, that follows.

Warring flesh and blood, reflect the compositional choice of a duet, with accompaniment, but these two protagonist’s, do not seem to be at war.

The very high soprano part, is reaching very high, in this, a prayer, into the highest heavenly heights.

It seems, the earnest text is not reflected in the traction of the music, as almost-arioso, nearly reaches such momentum as to pull itself into arioso, 14, through 19, where, paradoxically, the gravitational pull of the heart, prevents the rocket of the release, from getting into orbit and this launch, is aborted, 19, and as the stark reality of hate, as thrust, is confronted, 19.

Stalling again, this limping arioso drags itself on, -although highly-charged, until, at 22, ‘grace and blessing’, does seem, to provide good rocket fuel and even arioso is abandoned, for a fully fledged aria, ‘Fill my heart with your blessing and grace.’

This does the trick and the words, of the prayer, becomes a reality, the full strength power, launches the Christian into orbit, and they begin, to scurry, continuo semiquavers, 32, and scurry, right off the stage, 38, through 40, on and through, wings, of prayer.

5/Aria(duet, with instrumental chorale)

‘Take me from myself, and give me, to you. Take me, from myself, and my will, that your will, can be accomplished. Give yourself to me, with your goodness, that my heart and my spirit, will abide, in you, forever. Take me from myself, and give me, to you.’

Bach, with all his practical experience and in-built taste, introduces, at 16, a choral tune, so that the two-voiced-trio, becomes a quartet, this broad, step-wise, choral tune, on neutral fiddles and violas, do not cut into the serenity, but remind us, that short sentences of prayer must be absorbed, into longer phrases, simple in step and long in phrase, but like these vocal parts, aimed high.

This beautiful and heart rending text, -preceded, by the equally beautiful recitativo, is explicit, in its desires. The child-like and high reaching voices, noble in substance and desire, match similar, reflected, in the words of this very honest, genuine and child-like prayer, and especially, in its simple and child-like codetta, 88, through 92.


‘Lead my heart and mind, there, -and through your spirit, that I may avoid everything, that can separate me, from you. Of your body, may I remain a member, forever.’

All of this choral is lost, save the bass line, notated, in Bach’s hand, into the only surviving score.

The melody, from cantata BWV 199, is harmonized, and sung by the only opportunity for a chorus to sing, in this cantata, in a realization that could satisfactorily be worked, by any self respecting student of Bach-harmony.

The tantalizing fact, though remains…

If only Bach had quickly filled-in and jotted his harmonies, as briskly and as easily, as he scratched in the superb bass line.

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