Bach: The Cantatas

Bach Cantatas

– the 10th Sunday after Trinity – 20th August 2023 – J.S.Bach cantata BWV 102 – ‘Herr, deine Augen sehen nach dem Glauben’ –

Aug 19, 2023

This is a 2-part cantata, four numbers making the first part and three,
-a curious arrangement, the second, Part 2d, as it says in the complete edition.

The orchestra is almost a standard, 2 x oboes + continuo, strings and 4 voice solo/choir.
-But, a flute is required for the opening number of part 2, for which Bach provides an alternative Violino-piccolo transcription.


‘Lord, are not your eyes looking for faith and truth?
You strike them, but they do not seem sensitive to that,
-or to anything.
and you torment them, but they refuse to receive any correction.
They make their faces harder than rock,
and refuse to return and convert.’

One of Bach’s finest opening movements, this long choral fugue is familiar from a re-working to be found in the Missa in g minor, BWV 235.
The two arias, no 3 and 5 in this cantata, are found in the Missa in F, BWV 233.

A short introduction,
-or ‘sinfonia’, lays out the main thematic building blocks and chorus and orchestra then spar in musical opposition, a varied, yet tight and well trained combat.
It seems to me that the first violin counterpoint is a worthy partner to the rhythmically static oboe duet, which itself does diversify, at bar 7, then becoming much more evenly balanced affaire, helped along by a much more adventurous second violin part.

Listen for the textual colouring at ‘…you torment them…’, bar 44 onwards and through to 59, where a spiky, staccato and antiphonal section is worthy of the torment that it so cleverly describes.

At bar 71, ‘…Sie haben…’, longer phrase lengths illustrate and emphasize the hardness encountered in a refusal to return and convert.
Listen for stubborn first oboe/first violin entry at bar 84.


‘Where will the image that God has imprinted upon us be,
if a perverse will opposes Him?
Where will the power of His word be,
if all these improvements desert the heart?
Almighty God wants to tame us through His gentleness.
But if the misguided spirit still submits,
-through its obstinate mind and way,
then He will abandon it, to the darkness of the heart.’

This secco recitativo is arresting, dramatic and engaging, in its portrayal of this narrative,
-one of a horrified concern, with reference to the damaging influence upon God’s plan, of a perverse and misguided spirit.


‘Woe to any soul that no longer recognises its vulnerable position.
Burdening itself with punishment,
it rushes off, pursuing a stubborn and wilful course,
cutting itself away from God’s grace.’

The long and convolute oboe introduction sets the tone of this aria, one of the cutting away from God’s grace.

This opening solo line leaps and turns and twists and falls and drops and soars, through a myriad of musical-appoggiatura shapes and false relations that flag-up and emphasise both the ‘Woe’ and the ‘Cutting’, both so prevalent, in this text.

A flattened supertonic vocal entry,
-Db, bar 10, brings not only an unexpected and unforeseen Neapolitan aspect and colour to an already colourful palate but a telling timbre to the opening word, foreseen and fore-heard of course, in the opening note of the oboe.

The whole unfolds and continues mellsimatically.

There is room for reform at 25, where the burden of punishment,
– perhaps self inflicted, seems to give hope for stability, harmonically as well as spiritually.

Pathetic sounding ‘…trennt…’, bars 31, through 32, seem to banish that hope.


‘Do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance and longsuffering?
Do you not know that God’s goodness brings you to repentance?
But because of your obstinate and impertinent heart,
you bring upon yourself anger,
– and on the day of wrath and the revelation of the righteous judgement of God.’

The musical and textual contrasts in this first-part-closing-number could not not be more so,
– lively triple time and major harmony, but why does Bach give the label the arioso?
Is it simply because of a foreshortened da capo, or is there a sense of wanting to wind up first half proceedings quickly and in a spirit of sweetness and light?

A lightly strung, almost Handelian bounce, quasi moto-perpetuo, shapes this New Testament themed teaching text.
Notice the long Bb on ‘…Langmutigkeit…’, bar 30, through 34,
– and the fermata, at bar 52/53, the longsuffering of Christ, as opposed to the ‘Woe’ of us, at the memorable opening of the previous number.

The ‘obstinate and impertinent heart’,
– a constant repetition depicting this obstinate stubbornness, gets a thorough kicking, moto-perpetuo style at 79, almost right on through, until bar 101, where the revelations of God’s judgement,
along with a L’istesso tempo shift, where one bar, becomes one beat and three bars become one, until 120, lead us to believe, that all is not as bad as it might have been.


Parte 2da



‘Be frightened, you over confident soul.
Think of everything that makes your deserve the title of Sinner.
The forbearance of God walks upon feet of lead,
-and that is why His wrath will be all the heavier against you.’

This is a ‘wake-up’ call for over-confident souls.

The opening solo melody falls into two parts: a rising arpeggio figure, with disintegration and, beginning at bar 5, a series of short, 2-note slurs, that rise and fall, indiscriminately, perhaps those things that do indeed identify us as a sinner.

The vocal part divides into five sections, each characterised differently.

An opening vocal melody, bars 13, through 32, is certainly disturbing enough to unsettle any confident soul, short snatched, dotted and angular and uneven phrases abounding.

Things change at bar 40, as thoughts are turned to the contemplation of the sinner,
-and sin, notice the long notes, at bars 45/47, ‘…yoke of sin…’, and bar 51, ‘…think…’

At 58, ‘ the (divine) forbearance of God…’, exhibits longer ‘leaden-foot-phrasing’, but at 67, spiky-quaver-wrath commences and at 73, ‘…schwerer…’, heavier foot-fall in the shape of wide and unconnected leaps and phrasing becomes evident, this settling down into longer note lengths, perhaps becoming a normality.


‘In waiting, there is danger.
Is is your wish to loose the chance?
God, who was once so merciful,
can easily lead you, to His seat of  judgement.
Where will be your repentance then?
It is just a moment, that divides time and eternity,
and body and soul.
O blinded sense of mind, turn again,
so that this hour does not find you unprepared.’

Accompaniment here is reduced to a pair of off-beat oboes and the occasional plonk from a very restrained continuo.
The beautiful, lightly sung, low alto commentary, gives much space for this soul to contemplate and respond to this urgency invitation, to repentance and the major ending may suggest that this time has proved valuable and fruitful.


‘Today you live, so repent today,
-and before the dawn of the morning,
when things may change.
Whoever is healthy, ruddy and fresh today,
may tomorrow be sick,
– or even dead.
If you die now,
– and without repentance,
your body and soul must burn.’

‘Help Lord Jesus and save me,
so that today, I can come to you,
and in an instant repent,
before death catches up with me,
and that today, for all time,
I can be ready, for my homecoming.’

During this two-verse setting, it is immediately apparent,
– and from the start, that rich and dark harmonies are evident, almost at every twist and turn of the stark text. Each part is noteworthy in its varied variety and interest of progression and line.

This is a serious setting in every sense of the word and the almost musically unsettling first verse seems to becomes somewhat more musically secure in the second, despite the simple truth, that both these verses are set to and accompanied by, the same music.



View more Cantata articles