Bach: The Cantatas

Bach Cantatas

– Sexagesima – Sunday 12th February 2023 – J.S.Bach cantata BVW 181 – ,Leichtgesinnte Flattergeister’ –

Feb 11, 2023

An oboe orchestra, with 4-part choir/soloists, are joined by 1 x flute and trumpet, although the woodwind parts are, most probably, additions from a much later revival.
The whole, only appear tutti, in the last chorus.
The key to understanding the nature of the text, is the gospel for this Sunday, the parable of the sower.
There are no chorale settings in this cantata.


‘Frivolous flutter-by-nights,
they rob themselves of the power of the word.
The Devil,
-along with his brood,
seeks also to prevent it from being of any use.’

This music is as ‘Leichtgesinnte’ as the ‘Flattergeister’ are themselves and the Devil is the winner, bar 36, through 38.

The frivolous nature of these ‘good-for-nothings’, is characterised with angular leaps, bar 1 and a rest-semiquaver-figure, end of bar 1, that is then extended. The vocal entry, 8, picks up on this, although mostly without the sequential semiquaver figure and ‘…Kraft…’, is sustained to remind of of the power of the word, albeit, under attack.

The ‘Flutter-by-nights’, the ‘/flattergeister’, receives its ultimate portrait, bars 19, through 21 and he devil has his moment, 27 through 29 repetitions and the sustained ‘B’, 32, hi-lightening the unfortunate affects, of his robbery.

The whole is littered with dynamic changes, from piano to forte and back, underlining the underlining fickleness of these frivolous-flutter-by’s.


‘Oh dear!
The wretched and unhappy state,
of these perverted and perverse souls,
who stand around,
telling of Satan’s cunning.
When he steals the word from their hearts,
-which, being blind in judgement, do not see or believe it,
their hearts of stone,
-which spitefully and maliciously resist,
forfeit their salvation and go to their doom.
Christ’s last words caused even the rocks to shatter,
-the angel’s hand moved the gravestone,
and the rod of Moses to be able to bring water out of the mountain.
Are your hearts harder still than this?

This recit has, as its theme, the sorry state and eventual end, of these perverted and perverse souls, as they stand around and about telling their tales,
-and the music tells it as it is, firstly in recit, then in arioso, bar 9, the ‘…hearts of stone who spitefully and maliciously resist…’, forfeiting their salvation, in doom, and finally, a faster andante-moment, 16, the ‘…angels hand…’ with its dotted, stridently crumbling bass line.


‘An endless number of harmful thorns,
and the concerns of pleasure,
to increase its own riches and treasures,
-these shall feed the fires of hellish torment, for ever.’

This aria comes down to us today in an incomplete form, lacking an obbligato instrumental part. It is usually performed with a reconstructed violin part, although, as the vocal part and the bass part, are, in many ways restrained, any reconstruction, can only be quite academic.

This bass part, specifically marked piano and staccato, sets up a spiky and thorny backdrop.

Is pleasure a thorny topic?
-and what does feed this hellish torment, thorns, pleasures, or both?

The increase of pleasures, bars 51, through 53 and fire, 56, through 62 are certainly drawn to our attention, as is the forever-ness, of a hellish torment, sustained over a rather long 4 bars, 65, through 69.

Bars 106 through 114 seems to me to be important shapes to consider, in any reconstituted balancing solo part



‘By this, the power of the word will be chocked,
and the Precious seed will be unfruitful.
If we do not live according to the spirit,
-preparing our hearts in good ground and in season,
we will not taste the sweetness that the word can reveal
and discloses to us,
-the power and vigour, of this life and the next.’

This short moment, covers the emotional palate of the text concisely and with musical and psychological skill, painting the individual textual moments with highly appropriate shape and harmony.

Talking of the choking aspect, the attitude of the previous Aria, the opening phrase, dips down, as chocking brings the head and voice down and the next brings us to a profound disappointment, that precious seed lies useless and, by implication, unfruitful.

Despite the fact, that ‘…whoever, is not living according to the spirit…’, will not taster, etc etc, the voice rejoices in the mention anyway, end of bar 3, into 4.

Leaving aside, the low ‘F’ sharp, 5, the vocal line seems a little barren, along with good-ground, even in season, 4, through 5

‘…sweetness…’, 6 and more-so, revelation, 7 make their presence certainly more felt than known and the last phrase falls neatly into two parts, the now,
-somewhat tentative, cautious and almost unwilling,
and the then,
-an arc and arch of joy and fulfilment.


‘Give to us, oh Lord, at all times and in every season,
our heart’s comfort, your Holy word.
Only you,
-through your almighty hand,
can prepare that good and fruitful ground and soil,
in our hearts.’

For me, this is the hi-light moment in this cantata, where life as a muddle of double-mindedness, turns into a certainty of comfort and fruitfulness.
This is a splendid music that should be heard and received as comfort, praise and faith-building certainty and is the only point, in this cantata, when the entire ensemble combines.

The welcome trumpet contribution immediately makes its effect known and along with the strings, brings sparkle, fluidity and dance, to the mix,
-and what a mix it turns out to be, the strings mostly joining its rising/falling semiquavers and the new and independent chorus parts are then taken up, by the orchestra, bar 17, as each part begins to explore aspects of this ‘semiquaver-shape’.

The opening choral entry, bar 9, is a pseudo-accompanied entry, the alto line creating that scenario, which disappears, under the overwhelming energy, of the emerging tenors.

Imitative and quasi-fugal entries, mostly surprising us as well as taking us by surprise, on all beats of the bar, litter the soundscape, from bar 9 and onwards, especially 14/15 and 20-21,
-where there is a triple imitation moment, in the three top voices,
the tenor line explores a long semiquaver event, 17, through 19.

Each part, at some time or other. will enjoy some, or all, of every other part, this single fact creating coherence and a unity of the whole, allowing us, the listeners, an opportunity to experience the aural, emotional and psychological impact, of good, proper and inspirational counterpoint.

At 44, ‘…through your almighty hand…’, the mix is reduced to just an imaginative continuo bounce, with a 2-x-top-line-duet-colour, where long phrases draw our attention, to the long vision and the long game, of the long arm on which the almighty’s hand is attached, this reduction of contrapuntal clutter lightening the load and giving us the space to consider this fact, as well as allowing us to look forward to and appreciate, all the more, the inevitable da capo and a return to what is a fine and concise example of Bach sounding at his best, as well as being at his best.


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