Bach: The Cantatas

Bach Cantatas

– Purification of the blessed virgin Mary – Thursday 2nd February 2023 – J.S.Bach cantata BWV 125 – ,Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin, –

Jan 30, 2023

A string orchestra, viola, with two violins parts and 4-part chorus/soloists + continuo, is coloured by one of each, oboe, flute and oboe d’amore, A single corno appears in the first and last numbers, as reinforcement to the chorale tune.

Extra instrumental bass support may required in this cantata, ultimately to be decided in situ.


‘In peace and in joy I will now go,
according to the will of God.
I am established in my heart and my mind,
-calm and quiet,
because, as God has promised me,
death has become to me, my sleep.’

This 1725 cantata opening chorus, bears an uncanny resemblance to a much grander opening movement, of a much bigger choral work by Bach, that of the St Matthew passion, of 1727.
As in that latter, here in this former, Bach shows himself, to be at the height of his powers.

Dense writing, where energy within the string parts, seems to generate, via antiphony between both violin parts, bar 3 and innovative colouring,
-winds pitted against strings pitted against continuo-, sets up a walking journey, one that is undertaken by an established heart and mind and one that is taken, in a spirit, of calmness and quietness.
All this is surely in the quill and on the mind of the composer, as he establishes all of this, slow gait, calm heart, quiet mind, right up to bar 7.
At this point and as the continuo, underneath a time-stoppage, caused by the already re-occurring sustained flute figure, now, 7, through most of 8, seems to slip away, almost out of grasp, unable, through some strange affliction, to hold-on, dropping quickly and yet inevitably.

We are living a dream, one where death is and has, become sleep.

In life, we are in death.

Inner vocal parts, are modelled according to the opening flute figuration, where the opening chorale leap of a 5th, can easily be traced. These work in contrary motion, energizing the support to the long soprano lines.

Do not miss out on the joy of the establishment of ‘…heart and mind…’, bar 34, third beat, where the second violins + altos, nicely clash with the soprano ‘B’, in a tiny but significant acknowledgement of this important moment.
This prepares for a significant moment of ‘…calm and quiet…’ where the preparing ritornello gives us unison strings and dynamic markings, p, in the score and an extraordinary section, 47 through, 52, where we experience ecstasy, -49 and low-down-, that is soon darkly coloured, a sustained low  ‘D’ by the sopranos, squeezing and squashing, with a passing oboe ‘C’, it all darkening, towards the flat side and ending on a
‘C’ foundation-diminished-moment, at which some conductors hold-up the proceedings entirely,
-and entirely understandable, that is.

With fortitude, -dynamics f all-round-, and as with all ecstasies, eventually, everyone pulls themselves together and heads off to the next entry, ‘…God has promised me…’, where the lower chorus reinforces the soprano affirmation, although the end of the phrase seems less convinced than the beginning,
-and ending on an open dominant.

As we may predict, the approach towards the final extraordinary line of text, might be a little murky,
-and so it is, from 61, right through to 74.
No one can fall to appreciate the shifting harmonic sands at ‘…worden…’, where Dr Bach, psychologist, realises that sleep and death are, as bedfellows, not really so strange at all.


‘Even with my poor eyesight,
I will look at you, my faithful Saviour.
Even though my body is falling apart,
my heart and my hope are not failing me.
My Jesus cares for me, by dying and He keeps me safe.’

Feeble eyes go hand in hand with the craft of musical composition. Bach is not alone among composers in this.

What makes this long concertante aria sound slightly ‘creepy-feely’, but seriously un-huggee, during the opening, is, as well as the pitch distance between the top and bottom instruments, this very legato bass line, specifically so marked and without harmonies, bare, isolated and static. The constantly repeated dotted wind duet, gives music to a stoicism, that is unfailing,
-and especially over the constancy of the, albeit, uneasy bass line.

Highlights surrounding ‘…Augen…’,  15, goes to show, that this aria is all about vision, and a vision that must be full of foresight and future.

The faithful Saviour is given a head turning addition, 30, in the short flute embellishment and indeed, the whole passage, up to 36, sinks back, into an assured spiritual and easy rest, to be ruffled, as reminder’s of impaired vision, again haunt the musical atmosphere.

On arriving, at 55, the oboe steps in, seemingly scooping and supporting the voice, with a new and inspiring ‘hook’, as this moment of falling apart…or the collapse of the frame, arrives,
– low ‘D’, in the voice, followed by a lift, of an octave.
Yet, hope is sustained, 60, through 61, the failing heart, as well, caught-up in this and carried through, albeit, only sustained by the long and faltering bass line, 68, through 72.

At 80, the voice turns around its entry, substituting an upward ‘hook’, for the normal downward droop, as talk turns, towards The Saviour.
Even though we end up on another low and this time, deathly ‘D’, ‘…Sterben…’, followed by the even more-so ‘C’,
-and, unbelievably, ‘B’, 90, where some conductors make a pause in the proceedings, we arrive, 99, after a prolonged,
-and low-ish ‘G’, at an uneasy realization, 99, of safety.

The somewhat changed reprise of voice against wind reveals some haunting beauties of sound.
This is a noteworthy aria and one that needs to sung more often, even, for that end, detaching it from its context

3/Recitative and Chorale:

(R) ‘Wonder, that a heart is not horrified,
both before the flesh’s hated end
and the pain of death.

(C) This is down to Christ, the true son of God and faithful Saviour.

(R) and who, when on its death-bed, delight’s the spirit, with heavenly sweetness?

(C) Who you, Lord, have revealed, for me to see.

(R) In the fullness of time, the arm of faith, will grasp hold, of the Lord’s salvation

(C) and made known, to me,

(R) given from this exulted and sublime God, the creator of everything,

(C) that He is salvation and life,

(R) the comfort and portion, of all, their  saviour, form certain destruction,

(C) in death and dying.’

The textual content of this movement, is best understood, by reading the text in two different ways, from the point of continuous recit and continuous chorale.

Constant alternation, between recit and chorale tune, is accompanied and interspersed, on strings, with short embellishments, three repeated notes, of which the second is ornamented.
This remarkable ‘motif’, whose interjections, can be seen as perhaps, catching a facial expression, one of credulity, at the textual content, the inflections and expressions, of which do rise and fall in accordance with the mood,
-sweetness, confusion and at the end, this motif is discarded in favour of a highly chromatic contrapuntal support, bar 24, to the textual content, ‘…death and dying.’

4/Aria Duetto:

A strange light fills the whole earth.
And a much desired word of promise,
sound’s loudly and continuously.
Whoever believes, shall be blessed and saved.’

This strange light is reflected with a basic three part joyful, even flippant, texture where opening imitation, between the two fiddles is supported by similar from the bass continuo. This changes, at bar 14, where voices, bass first, enter, in imitative style and the continuo following suite. This first 4 bars, accompanied only by bass continuo, strings silent, is the ‘…strange light, filling the entire circle of the earth.’ The violins continue as they have become accustomed, from the beginning, namely, semiquaver upward motion with ornamented start, -sometimes sequential-, quavers and dotted semiquaver rhythm.

This much desired and powerfully sounding ‘…word of promise…’, begins to herald its arrival, antiphonally, loud and clear, 50, through 54 and ‘…highly desired it is..’, 54, through 56, with the repeated semitone drop,  repeatedly telling us that this a fact, the tiny adagio cadenza, hi-lighting this promise, that whoever believes, shall be blessed and saved.


Unexhausted stores of goodness,
have been opened up, for us and for the world,
which has invited upon its self, curses and danger.
A throne of mercy and a sign of victory is now set up and ready.
Every believing person, is invited, into His kingdom, of grace’

In following the musical text, with written words, it seems easy to grasp how Bach has allowed words to influence music, although, sometimes, he seems to be setting these, in a rather different way, to how we might imagine.

Immediately, there seems to be a note of caution, bars 1, through 3, at this this storehouse of goodness, that has been opened. The curse, is clear enough, 4 although this seat of grace and mercy, with victory, seems, again, cautious. Caution seems the order of this short interlude, heralding the way, for the end game choral, ‘He is the salvation and blessed light.’


‘He is the salvation and blessed light for the gentiles,
to enlighten those who not know you,
to nurture and shepherd them.
He is the praise, honour, joy and gladness,
of your people Israel.’

This chorale setting is complex, interesting, unsettling and brilliant, yet exhibits an ambiguous thread running all the way through.
The tonality is shifting, taking us by surprise,
-bar 4 and spectacularly, in the last and the phrase lengths are ever changing.

The opening rising bass line, rises spiritually, or indescribably, its C sharp, or step of a tone, rather than the expected semitone, causing ‘salvation’, to become somewhat highly charged.
This is continued by the alto voice, as ‘light’, is similarly energized and enhanced and the ‘major’ chord, at 4 gives an unexpected boost, to the gentiles.
The next phrase, places far more emphasis on the ‘…those who do not know…’, than ever it does on the ‘…enlightenment…’. We really do get a sense of what it feel like to be one of those do-not-knows.
The final phrase, is perhaps the most daring and telling of all, as praise, honour and joy, seem to be normalised, but ‘…Wonner…’ is coloured by a daring ‘D sharp’ alto, close-shaving, to both tenor and bass,
-albeit at different moments in the bar and the whole ending, on a ‘major’ tonality.
Bach exhibits extreme sensitivity in his reading of text and response in music, tantalisingly shifting and unsettling, redirecting and reshaping, the musical colour and substance.

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