Bach: The Cantatas

Bach Cantatas

– Whit Monday – 29th May 2023 – J.S.Bach cantata BWV 174 -‘Ich liebe den Hochsten von ganzem Gemute’ –

May 29, 2023

An overbalanced cantata, in the sense that the enormous first movement,
-complete with 2 x horns, which never reappear and a concertante/ripieno arrangement of the strings and wind, + chorus and continuo, as usual, completely dominates the feel, texture and experience, of the whole,
-a case in point here of The Almighty, winning the heart over.

For the record, the chorus does not sing until the closing choral and there is no solo aria or recit, for the soprano.


This is taken straight out of the Brandenburg concerto no 3, first movement, although the substance of the orchestration and counterpoint, has been enriched.
The nine original solo instruments, here, are enlarged, with the addition of 2 x horns, and a ‘ripieno’ group, comprising a trio of oboes, 1st/2nd + taille along with violins and violas and those nine original stings, continue in their ‘concertante’ role.
These changes set up, an opposition, between groups of instruments, that is not present in the original. the additional parts, largely of new material, reinforce the original.

The effect is memorable and engaging, but, does indeed upset the balance, not so much of the cantata perhaps, but of the occasion and the matter in hand.


‘I love the almighty, with all my heart and mind.
He also loves me,
-to the highest degree.
God alone shall be the treasure of souls.
There, shall I have, the eternal source of goodness.’

This pastoral siciliana is imitative in structure, where two parts,
-heart and mind, intertwine, with almighty love.
The middle section takes on some added seriousness, as the eternal source of goodness becomes a focus of contemplation.


‘Love beyond compare.
Priceless ransom.
The father has delivered his child’s life up to death,
-for the sake of sinners,
and has chosen all those, to be blessed, who have forfeited, or lost, the kingdom of heaven.
God so loved the world.
My heart, remember this and be strengthened by these words:
Before this mighty banner, even hell’s gates tremble.’

This recit shows a smooth running narrative, smoothly delivered, thanks to steady, sustained and unemotional strings.
But do listen out for a depiction, starkly distinguished repeated semiquaver, of ‘…hell’s gates…’, during the last two bars.


‘Stretch out your hand and seize it!
Grasp your salvation, you hands of faith.
Jesus gives His heavenly kingdom, demanding only this of you:
Maintain your faith, until the end.

This stoic and lively texture and text,
-initially, active and eventually narrational, featuring strings and continuo,
is energized, initially, with quavers runs,
-bar 1, through 4, evolving into semiquavers passages, bars 5.

A tying-over of a last quaver, first heard bar 2, in the string part, becomes more evident during the central section, from bar 53 onwards, as the maintaining of faith, is revealed, not only as a requirement, of salvation, but, more importantly, as a demand.


‘I love you O Lord, with all my heart.
I beg you, do not stray too far from me,
thereby stopping your grace, mercy and help.
The whole world gives me no joy at all,
but I do not ask heaven and earth, If I can have and keep you.
Even if my hearts should break, you are still my trust,
my salvation and the comfort, of my heart,
you who have redeemed me, through your blood.
Lord Jesus Christ, my God and Lord, do not abandon me, to shame.’

This harmonization,
-orchestrated, without horns, but with some extra instrumental notes, bar 2, 15 and 16, is tightly worked, yet spectacularly normal, in quality and freshness.
Listen out for the dissonant alto ‘A’, bar 24,
– openly and cheekily prepared, in bar 23. This nicely punctuates this heartfelt plea, one, not to abandon.



View more Cantata articles