Bach: The Cantatas

Bach Cantatas

– 9th Sunday after Trinity – 13th August 2023 – J.S.Bach cantata BWV 168 – ‘Tue Rechnung! Donnerwort’ –

Aug 12, 2023

This cantata uses its X 2 oboe d’amore orchestra, albeit sparingly, the strings appearing only in the first aria, all the other arias and recits accompanied only by oboes or continuo and the full voiced chorus featuring only in the closing tutti choral.


‘Open up and give an account of yourself, words of thunder,
words that split rocks into two,
words that make my blood run cold.
Give an account of yourself!
Soul, go forward.
Ah!. Give back to God His possessions,
His body and His life.
Open up and give an account of yourself, words of thunder.’

The short opening ritornello, accompanied by strings and continuo only, reveals two features:
a rolling triplet continuo bass line,
and a dotted chordal feature in the rest of the string orchestra,
-the words of thunder and the rock splitting.

A bar of orchestral unison triplets, leads us straight into the bass solo, where both thematic aspects of the ritornello are combined, always according to the text.

The dramatic opening impression, leads on into a freer middle section, bar 27, through 32,’…give back to God his possessions…’ where the strings drop out completely and a slightly less intense continuo, supports the somewhat reduced vocal weight.


‘It is only borrowed things, in this life, that I think I own,
-Spirit, Life, Courage and Blood.
Job and status are gifts from God as well, for me to faithfully administer and manage,
entrusted to me, from high-up hands.
Ah! Oh dear.
I am afraid when I look into and inspect my conscience,
seeing that my account is so poor!
Day and Night, the good things that God has lent me, I seem to just have thrown them away.
How can I escape from you, righteous God?
I seriously cry out:
mountains, fall on me, hills, cover me from the wrathful judgements of God,
and the flashing lightening of His face.’

Bach gives this long second section some musical space, allowing the text full reign, in colour and expression, to speak, the two oboes d’amore providing a sustained, reflective and thoughtful background, really almost throughout.

Only somewhat relenting,
-from bar 14 onwards, as the text turns to the realization of squandered-goods,
-these appearing as synchronized oboe drops, of musical thirds, of various musical colours,
and as talk turns to firstly the falling mountains and then the falling hills, these becomes synchronized falling arpeggios, from a combination of oboes and continuo, rising spectacularly again, as lightening,
-bar 21 and then bringing this section to a sober close.


‘Capital and interest,
My debts,
-both large and small,
must one day be reckoned up.
All which I still owe, is written up, in God’s book,
just like steel and diamonds.’

This and the next two numbers, are reflective on problems connected with money.
Here, this reflective music ‘chews-over’ the realization, that a reckoning must one day arrive.

A lamenting and wailing three part texture, unison oboes with continuo support a tenor voice,
-reduced during the ritornello, is really bleak enough and at bar 65, ‘…Alles, was ich schuldig blieben…’, turns into a wail of painful worry over what is still owed, made worse, bar 79/80, where this is compared to not only diamonds, but steel.


‘Even still, terrified heart, live and do not despair.
Move joyfully to your judgement,
-and if your conscience moves you, you will here become silent.
Look and see your guarantor, who cancels all your debts.
All that you owed, O man, is repaid, wiped clean.
The blood of the lamb,
– O great and mighty love,
has cancelled out your debt and settled you with God,
– it is paid and you are acquitted.
In the meantime,
– since you know that you are a steward,
take some trouble and do not forget to use money wisely,
and do some good for the poor.
Then, when your time and life are at an end,
you will rest securely, in the heavenly house.’

This secco recit tells this narrative without fuss or bother.
Listen out for some ‘C’ naturals, bar 18, that add gloss to some painted narrative, reference the wise use of of money.


‘O heart, break the bondage of money,
O hands, scatter and disperse good things.
Make my death-bed soft,
and build for me a secure and solid house,
that will forever remain in heaven,
– even when all earthly goods, are scattered, to dust.’

A quasi-ostinato bass line,
-with an almost glissando length, dotted chains, clearly representing this chain of bondage.

But is it being broken or simply just elongated?

This excellent aria,
-also notable for it being a soprano/alto duet, is reminiscent of a wailing Jacob Marley, bars 11, through 14.

But is this bed one of soft roses, or of hard nails?

-And is this house really so solid and secure?


‘Strengthen me with the joy of your Spirit,
and heal me with your wounds.
Wash me with the sweat of your death,
in my final hours, and take me,
when it pleases you,
in true faith, from this world,
to your chosen people.’

Strength, healing and washing.

But the beauties of this setting,
-notice the semi-chromatic bass line, bars 8, through 9, do not quite seem to bring much certainty,
although mention of the ‘…chosen people…’, always gives Bach an excuse to fully indulge himself, in some long lines of musical craftsmanship and excellence.

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