Bach: The Cantatas

Bach Cantatas

– The Nativity of St John the Baptist – Saturday 24th June 2023 – J.S.Bach cantata BWV 167 – ,Ihr Menschen, ruhmet Gottes Liebe’ –

Jun 22, 2023

This 5-movement cantata features, an oboe orchestra,
-with a da caccia option during the 3rd movement aria and the addition of a clarion,
-slide trumpet, (or ‘natural’ trumpet?),
to reinforce the chorale melody during the last chorale movement, in fact the only movement, in which combined voices appear.


‘You people, celebrate God’s love,
Praise His goodness,
-and with a pure heart,
because, at the appointed time,
He has given to us, the horn of salvation,
-the path to life,
through Jesus, His son.’

The birth of John the Baptist is here heralded, with charming and relaxed pastoral simplicity, both instrumentally,
-strings only,
and stylistically, with a restrained and circumspect, almost ‘gigue-like’, dance.

‘…Love…’, bar 6 and ‘…praise…’, bar 21 and 56, are easy hi-lights to hear and identify.
The orchestration is sparse, with a solo fiddle, bars17 and 52, often-times accompanying the voice, this and the generally thin and harmonic, as opposed to contrapuntal strings, again reinforcing this simplistic approach, that Bach, on this occasion, has decided upon.


‘Praised be The lord God of Israel,
who has turned to us,
-through grace,
sending His Son, from the heights of Heaven, to save the world.
Firstly, John appeared, preparing a path and highway for The saviour.
Then, Jesus himself appeared,
encouraging us poor creatures and lost sinners,
with grace and love and leading and guiding us,
-through true repentance,
into the kingdom of heaven.’

This ‘…grace…’, is serious stuff, sending us a son, from an equally serious heavenly height.

Listen for the ‘…gladdening of us poor creatures…’, bar 11, through 13.

The hi-light of this connecting movement, is the arioso rendering, 13 to the end, of the guiding into paradise,
-and in true repentance, through grace, love.
The shaped ostinato continuo line, allows the vocal part to weave a beautiful cloth-like covering, not one of an outward beauty, but of an inner, heartfelt conflict and truth.


‘The word of God does not mislead.
What he promises will happen.
What was promised in Paradise, to our fathers, so long ago,
We have, praise God, experienced.’

This vocal duet is conceived, again, in musically plain terms, homophonic, as opposed, to polyphonic writing.

The austere opening, ‘…does not mislead…’, in three time,
-suggesting that this thwarted deception, is noteworthy stuff and must be taken as such, is followed by brisker middle section, in four time, bar 58, ‘…what was promised in paradise…’, which needs to move forward, ‘con-moto’.

This one and only appearance here and in this cantata, of the oboe da caccia, brings not only melancholic sentiment, but melancholic sentiment, with a serious edge.
Bach is making his point about a negative, wrongly formed view, of the written word.

Some limited, imitative writing, bar 15, livens us up to the ‘promise’ and mention of a deception, or a mis-leading, is barbed, bars 20/21.

At 52, a drooping oboe wail, leads, thankfully, into some imitative dancing, in four-time, bar 58.

We are, for sure, in paradise and this, by now, overwhelming experience, completely overshadows a sudden and unforeseen return to three-time, bar 70, which goes un-noticed, right up until bar 93, where the persistently melancholic oboe, forces a somewhat reluctant return to the reality of the word.


‘The seed of woman,
-when the time was write,
did come and the blessing that God promised Abraham,
-the hero of our faith,
shone down on us, like a beam of sunlight.
Our sorrow, is silent.
-struck dumb,
praises God, with full voice,
for the great act He has done, for His people.
Christians, consider what god has done for you
and sing to Him, a song of praise.’

The silence-of-sorrow, is punctuated, with a single and unharmonized continuo bass note, bar 8.

Sustained continuo adds a cautionary note to the warning, bar 12, for all Christians to ‘…consider…’, and an A Tempo arioso section, the song of praise,14, through 17, brilliantly and triumphantly anticipates the ‘Bless and praise…’, of the final choral movement, to come.


‘Bless and praise,
-with honour,
God the father, son and Holy spirit.
May He increase in us, what He has promised,
-and through grace,
so that we may fully trust Him,
and rely on Him, with all of our hearts,
that our heart, mind and will, may firmly cling to him.
For this, let us sing.
We shall do it, if we believe, with our whole heart.’

Unhappily, our oboe da caccia is not invited to participate here, a musical sadness, but hardly a practical one, as only one player might be needed to cover both reed parts in this cantata..
The regal and somewhat pompous introduction, should unreservedly sweep all of us, right off our untrusting feet and onto the firm ground, through grace, of promise.

This is a long and impressive setting. A strong and emphatic three-in-a-bar,
-helped along with a strong ostinato continuo, is needed in establishing this firm ground for the anticipated choral entry, bar 7, which is joined, by this reinforcing clarion.
Bach’s interesting and inspired inner parts, encouraged and bolstered by the energetic oboe/violin semiquavers, are truly rich, yet prone to being lost in the fray, unless due care and attention is taken towards the  balance between the parts, hence the composers due diligence, in giving ample support, to the melody itself.

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