Bach: The Cantatas

Bach Cantatas

– 11th Sunday after Trinity – 27th August 2023 – J.S.Bach cantata BWV 199 – ‘Mein Herze schwimmt im Blut’ –

Aug 26, 2023

This cantata dates from August1713-14, with several revivals following.

The complete edition contains much material,
-2 versions, with 2 x appendices in the complete edition,
the main difference between them being aspects of orchestration,
with alternative parts for viola da gamba, ‘cello or violincello piccolo,
all of these alternatives most probably dictated by local circumstances.

The basic orchestral mix is a simple one, strings,
-except movement 2 and 6 and a single oboe supporting a single soprano voice.
There is no chorus or other soloists.

This is a solo voice cantata.

The continuo seems, at times, on paper, surprisingly heavy and Bach is pedantic with regard to what is used when,
requiring organ, cello, violone and bassoon mostly throughout, but in the 4th movement, aria, dropping the bassoon out at various points.
This written into the score.
All of this can be solved at a local level, and as always, the ear is the final judge.


‘My heart swims in blood for the multitude of my sins,
-and in God’s holy eyes, this turns me into a monster.
My conscience feels the pains,
because my sins are nothing but hell’s executioner.
O hated night of sin!
You and you alone have caused me such distress and misery,
and you,
– you wicked seed of Adam,
you rob my soul of all repose and peace, shutting me off from heaven.
Ah! Unheard-of pain and anguish.
No comfort shall ever again moisten my withered and dried-up heart.
– and I must hide myself from Him,
from whom even the everlasting angels, cover their faces.’

Because of the reduced circumstances, the strings are required to work over-time, hard-worked in every movement except, surprisingly, movement 6, the chorale,
– and no less so here in this opening.

The text is, to say the least, bleak and the setting, on first hearing, may not seem to reflect this.

On a closer listening, we understand that the sustaining energy of the string accompaniment does
succeed in sustaining a sense of personal horror, even panic,
– see the colouring of ‘…pain and anguish…’, bar 15/16 and the descending bass line, really from 18, to the end,
as this ever more timid soul realises its difficult position,
– and in the face of these everlasting angels.


‘Silent sighs and quiet laments,
speak and express my sorrows and agonies,
because my mouth is closed,
and you,
– watery fountain of tears,
provide a certainty, of my sinful heart’s remorse,
and repentance.

My heart is now a well of tears,
and my eyes are hot springs.
Ah God! Who then will ever be able to satisfy you?’

A long and musically ‘painful’ oboe line, expressive of hopelessness, really does dominate this slow and expansive ritornello,
– and indeed the whole aria, reflecting the opening words, which,  with a wonder and a subtly, speak of these ‘Silent sighs and quiet laments,’,

A ‘second-section’, bar 29, is a startling moment, where Bach, at the ‘…watery fountain of tears…’ introduces some shocking dissonance,
firstly on a second inversion f minor, + Db, and then, more-so, halfway through the same bar, where the same Db clashes nicely with an Ab root chord.

The stark and lonely self-observations, spoken in the last two lines of text, are sensitively set as recit, giving, for a first time in this cantata, space for some questioning reflection.

The text leads straight on into…


‘Yet, God must be gracious and merciful to me,
because I bathe my head in ashes,
and my face in tears.
I batter my heard with remorse and pain,
and with real sadness, I say:
God have mercy on me, a sinner!
Yes, His heart breaks,
and my souls says:

Grace and mercy do indeed here abound and even a little head battering seems not to much to disturb the flow.

The central point of all, is the cry for mercy, bar 8.

The last two bars do given sufficient time for us to actually hear this breaking of His heart.


‘Deeply bowed and filled with remorse,
I lie before you, dearest God.
I acknowledge my guilt.
But please, I beg you, have patience with me.’

Somewhat Handelian in feel, with broad and ‘full’ string accompaniment and a sense of an almost pastoral rest and repose,
– see bars 18, through 22, this aria, with is long opening ritornello settles into the reality of remorse,
– note the Db, bar 44.

And not in any way obsequiously.

The middle section, an acknowledgement and confession of guilt, sees a reduction in orchestral strength and as the writing becomes rhythmically more varied,
-and hence more personal, the atmosphere takes on intensity, as the gravity of this acknowledgement becomes a reality, within the soul.

A pre-da capo adagio, further pins down the cost of this personal; intensity and reality.

Throughout, the bassoon part drops in and out, this so carefully noted in the score.


‘After this painful remorse, come to me with these words of comfort:

The natural rise and fall of words, is fussily reflected in music, natural in every way, simply providing short, pivotal connection and linkage.


‘I, your affected and distressed child,
cast all my sins,
– as many as there are in me and also those, which so severely frighten and terrify me,
into your deep wounds,
where I always have,
and always will,
find salvation.’

This is an all continuo affair, with the added pleasure of a viola obbligata,
– or a violincello piccolo, or even a viola da gamba, depending on local circumstances.

A trio texture, where the soprano voice, simply and beautifully states the choral melody, accompanied by a supportive and comely bass line, summarily stated,
and where also, the chosen solo instrument,
– sometimes quoting opening vocal leaps, both imitatively and in counterpoint, see bar 13 and at a lively double speed,
as an affected and distressed child, weaves and wanders a way through those deep wounds, alternately casting sins and finding salvation.

And all the time, the semiquaver countermelody trudges and surges on, almost as a moto-perpetuo, but without any real lasting trace of any of that severe fear or terror that is more than hinted at, in the text.


‘I will lay myself down into these wounds,
as though upon a rock.
They shall be my resting place,
and in them, I will fly in faith,
contented and joyful,
and singing:

This rock-solid and string accompanied recitativo, begins as such, but at ‘…flying in faith…’, bar 6, the voice starts to take upon itself, the character of arioso,
and a particularly joyful outburst, bar 8, then joined by the first violin, establishes this welcome change, and right on, to the end of this movement.


‘How joyful is my heart,
as God is reconciled with me,
and because of my suffering and repentance,
He is no-longer excluding me,
from His eternal blessedness,
or His heart.’

A simple 4-in-a-bar gigue sets the pace for this reflection on a joyful recollection, another pastoral musical moment and where, before a short da capo, a continuo moment,
– bars 26 through 29, where Bach gives us, and for the second time in this cantata, some space, this time, for a final consideration of the values of His blessedness,,
– and His heart.

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