Bach: The Cantatas

Bach Cantatas

– First Sunday after Epiphany- 8th January 2023 – J.S.Bach cantata BWV 154- ,Mein Liebster Jesus ist verloren’ –

Jan 14, 2023


‘My dearest Jesus is lost.
These are words that bring me into despair,
piercing my soul,
and bringing thunder, into my ears.’

This tenor aria sets off at a pedestrian speed, with chaconne-like-rhythm and in lack-lustre mood, complete with ostinato-bass.

A spiky dot and an angular vocal line, reveals a spiky character, one who, as well as despairing, is also dislocating, these two bed-fellows, so often together, in league. All is ‘woe and me’, the outlook, for the moment, at least, not only despairing and dislocating, but also unchanging, a resulting, falling chromatic bass line, stimulating a naturally home-grown and full blown, expressive violin lament.

At bar 18, this lament, starts to become attuned to this troubled soul, twisting and turning, around and about its pitch centre, becoming, at 19, really problematic and attention-seeking, holding up the flow with extended bar-lengths, of self-indulgence and self aggrandisement, right up to 25.

At 35, those troubled self-centeredness’s, assume a more rational and natural attitude and we begin to see and hear, that the ‘whither’ of the soul has become the weather of the moment.
A short, sharp, thunderstorm, Vivaldi-like, has rained down upon us, aptly, as the text turns to this ‘Donnerwort’, this ‘thunderous word’, which has brought so much despair, dislocation,
– and it rumbles on, 51 through 52.


‘Where shall I find him?
Who will show me where the desire of my soul has gone?
Nothing can be worse than loosing Him.’

The lamentable opening phrase, captures the mood of a now rational soul, as he asks a simple question, in a simple musical way.

Matters becomes a little more musically anxious,
-the leap of the 9th, bar 3, as ardent soulic desires are, in the second phrase, addressed.

The last phrase, of ‘…bad-luck and misfortune…’ is so shaped, as to show maximum pathos of emotion and surety of faith.


‘Jesus, refuge and redeemer,
my confidence, serpent-crusher,
-the light of my life.
How my heart longs and aches for you.
Come, I await you, dearest little Jesus.’

This text, a corporate-narrative, is set with minimum of fuss and bother, the melody staying within a 6th and the harmony straying, not really very far at all,
-despite Bach’s hand being forced to make a leap of a third in his bass line, bar 15.The resulting economy, is a stroke of genius, prayerfully creating placement and peace, at this, the half way point of this cantata..


‘Let me find you
and do not let my sins,
be a thick screen of clouds,
-and to my scary horror,
you might hide from me.
Reveal yourself soon.’

There is no bass line, instead a lower line, a so-called ‘basset’ line, is played, by violas and ‘continuo’. A lack of support is surely the product of this soul’s lack of certainty. A singular, prayer, of longing, where it might be, that the tiny twist, on the strings, A/G sharp/A, might be a stain of sin, on the otherwise blameless and serene d’amore parts?

At 13, a similar stain occurs on the, bar 13 and up to now, similarly pristine vocal part, as this cloud strange and worrying shows itself, bar 16,
-with oboe disturbance, reflecting vocal disturbance, at 13, and the ‘scare’, at 21, where, strangely, the vocal part is the only one to remain, at peace, faith finally ruling over the surrounding turmoil.

An uneasy return, in f sharp minor, 26, followed by this request, to ‘reveal and appear’, 32, is finally quelled, 34, despite an oboe tremor, 34, although there is a sense, that the mood never again find’s its opening tranquillity.

It seems that faith can be found and maintained, perhaps more easily, in separation and trouble.


‘Do you not know that I will be doing my Father’s work?’

This difficult vox christe aria, is declaimed and with a work ethic,
-stoic, determined and darting, first here, then there, then everywhere, as it get’s on, business-like and with humility, with the work, in this case, that of the Father.


‘The voice of my friend.
Praise and thank God.
Jesus, faithful refuge,
through your helpful word, announce yourself.
I was sick with upset, right down, into my bones.
Now, as my faith grows stronger, I am joyful,
and my soul is in rapture.
My Saviour, the sun,
-who after His night of trouble,
now makes me radiant.
Soul, rise up and be ready,
and go to him, in the temple, his father’s house.
There, He can be seen, through His word.
I will be refreshed.
But, if I want to consume, His flesh and blood,
-the sacrament,
I must kiss Him, in repentance and faith.’

The ‘announcement’, bar 4, seems stark and almost un-expected, as we find ourselves on sub-dominant major harmony.

Surprisingly, sickness, right down to the bones, passes off, without much musical fuss, although understandable doldrums do bring on sinking feelings, of the harmonic sort.
This is more than just half-heartedly dispelled, bar 10, with the activation of those two tried and tested remedies, faith and its partner, joy, with exultant ecstasy, bar 11, although this does seem and sound, only a second grade experience.

The night-of-the-son, a right low down ‘D’ affair, is counterbalanced with a soaring upward phrase of triumph, 14, through 15.

However, overall, this soul seems to struggle in this recitative with a total release, as temple business seems to be a chore and refreshment perhaps is disappointing. Maybe it is all too much, as key moments of a life lived,
-the sacrament, the kiss, repentance and faith, seem troubled.


‘Happy am I. He is found and I am no longer sad.
He, whom my soul loves, at this joyful time, appears to me.
I will never again leave you and will constantly hold to you, in the faith.’

The individual joy, shown in this lively dance, leaves me feeling a little unconvinced. A mask of unreality may cover these proceedings, as Bach has allowed his dancers to start a beat too late, so the whole thing sets off, on-the–wrong-foot. The last beat, bar 2 and the first beat, bar 3, are repeated not twice but three times. Doubt, the greatest enemy of faith and devotion, has crept into this prayer of devotion and devotion.

Be that, as it may, this is a splendid duet and one that needs to be performed, even, dare I say it, as a separate ‘bleeding-chunk’ entity, in its own right. Listen out for sustained blessedness, bars12 and 22.

My hunch is confirmed, 33, where soulic love seems troubled. The 3/8 singalong-canon, 51, is fine music and Bach is in his full swing.
Sadly, it is short lived, as the stubborn return, to the main event, 90, is a reminder of a state of mind that is stick’s, in the musical memory.


‘I will not let go of my Jesus,
I shall always walk by His side.
He will always lead me, to the springs, of life.
Happy are those who who never leave Him.’

Bach brings off this prayer of corporate decision, in his usual manner. The fluid and flowing bass line, walks along in step and in line with the Saviour and the other individual parts come beautifully into line as well, despite allowing themselves the pleasure, of taking advantage of any passing opportunities,
-bar 1, third beat, bar 6, first and third beat and the subtle and cheeky anticipation, in the bass line, of the tenor G, bar 9, that nicely clashes with the tenor A,
to show their character, one of taste, humility and all this, in keeping with their high calling.

The breath-taking b minor start, moving to A major, at 11 is surprising, in more ways than just one, and surely highlights the extraordinary undertaking, of those who contemplate living out the reality, of the last line of this challenging text.

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