Bach: The Cantatas

Bach Cantatas

– Purification of The Blessed Virgin Mary – Friday 2nd February 2024 – J.S.Bach cantata BWV 157 – ‘Ich Lasse dich nicht, du segnest mich denn’ –

Feb 2, 2024

This cantata may have its compositional roots in music written for a previous funeral event.
A chamber-like oboe d’amore orchestra, is supplemented with a single flute,
-themselves starkly contrasting orchestral colouration and textual content,
the four voices joining completely together, only for the concluding choral.


‘I will not let you go, unless you bless me.’

This long, complex and beautiful vocal duet,
does not seem to draw any conscious inspiration,
from its Genesis 32:26 text,
-this is hardly wrestling music!

The dirge-like character of this opening Duetto, is offset with elaborate and almost exotic flute/oboe textures,
although these are not immediately picked up by the two voices, their short imitative leaps, not leading to any serious canonic extension.

The unfolding contrapuntal mix, creates a sustained and consistent atmosphere, that centre’s us listeners,
more towards ‘holding’ onto Him, Christ, as opposed to ‘wrestling’, with Him.

The opening words of the next section confirm this.


‘I shall keep a firm hold on my dear Jesus,
and I will never let go of Him,
-now or ever.
He alone is my sure abode.
Therefore, my faith is fastened, steadfastly,
on His richly blessed countenance and because,
for his comfort and consolation,
there is no equal.
I shall keep a firm hold on my dear Jesus.’

The opening ritornello perhaps explores many aspects of this unfolding text,
-sustained notes, perhaps this ‘holding-onto’ and fastened,
and steadfast faith, perhaps those scurrying demisemiquavers of bars 28/29.

The open-sounding d’amore suggests a richness and security, associated with that grasp of Christ.

The vocal line, as always, is surrounded and all-encompassed by the ever attentive oboe line,
which provides not only commentary and exegesis, but also that hidden and un-explainable something,
that that only music can provide,
and Bach, as The provider, in this sense and on this occasion, far more than adequately acquits himself.

Listen out for ‘…my faith is fastened, steadfastly…’,
-bars 113, through 120 and similar, bars, 153, through, 160.


‘My dear Jesus,
when I am vexed and afflicted,
-then you are my joy,
when I am in unrest,
-then you are my rest,
and when I am in fear,
-you are my bed of comfort.
This false world is not at all faithful,
and heaven must grow old.
The delights and pleasures of this world,
are scattered like chaff.
If I did not have you, my Jesus,
who else would I cling to?
Therefore, I shall never let you go.
Let your blessing remain with me.’

A highly sustained, rising and falling ‘Haloic’ string only accompaniment,
-marked in the complete edition as featuring a Violetta, instead of a Viola…
creates a stark and arresting change, in both colour and texture,
bringing to mind word settings of Christ, in the passions.

The ‘blessing’, bars 13, through 14, is stolen from the voice,
via the last bar-and-a-half, of string writing.

4/Aria – Recitativo – Arioso – (adagio) –  Recitativo – Arioso:

‘Yes, I shall keep a firm hold of my Jesus,
and so, I shall enter into heaven,
where God and the guests of The Lamb,
are attending the wedding,
dressed in crowns.
There, my saviour, I shall not part from you.
and here too, your blessing shall remain with me.
Ah, what delight my death-bed gives me,
because Jesus will lie in my arms.
Then my spirit can rest joyfully.
Yes, I shall keep a firm hold of my Jesus,
and so, I shall enter into heaven,
Oh that beautiful place!
Come, gentle death and lead me forward,
to where God and the guests of The Lamb,
are attending the wedding, dressed in crowns.
I am glad, this day, to lay aside the suffering of this time,
because Jesus waits for me,
and with His blessing.
There my saviour, I shall not part from you,
and here too, your blessing shall remain with me.’

A 5-part sectional plan, + an adagio moment,
-as indicated in the text above,
form’s an expanding and developing, yet balanced structure, for this section to rest and progress in,
-lively aria/arioso and calmer recit.

The three part flute-violin texture/trio sonata is joined by the bass voice
and a vital sense of continuity is provided in the much repeated bass ‘tag’,
-bars 19-20-21, first heard via the solo fiddle, at the opening of the ritornello.

The long opening aria section,
all 73 busy and elaborate bars of it, sets off, with a phrase structure that, certainly initially, takes on a 2/2 feel,
which soon, at bar 4 collapses into a straight 4-in-a-bar.
This ambiguity immediately challenges and throws into doubt, this ‘firm grip’,
and any ability to keep hold of it, on The Saviour, that is so virulently and enthusiastically talked of, throughout the text of this whole cantata.

Even so, the jaunty bounce aptly,
-even if, at times, a touch irreverently, sets the pace for this wedding,
where we are told, God, The Lamb,
-and the guests, are aptly dressed in crowns.

The first Recit, bar 74,
-‘cantata-interruptus’, interferes and disrupts quite startlingly,
and with a rather morbid and unexpected delight in the death bed,
-but not for long, as the jaunty trot continues,
almost as if the interruption was just simply an unreal dream.

At bar 82, Bach slows the pace,
‘…Oh, that beautiful place! Come gentle death and lead me forward.’,
this almost as if the jaunty driving idea has lost its sense of reality, and a deeper sense of death is indeed required.

Does Bach want this adagio-moment to continuo onto the second half of bar 89,
or does he want the bounce to commence again, bar 85,
where talk of  God, Lamb, guests and crowns again picks up?

It is an interesting point that will reflect your own reading of the text.

In any case, the second Recit is upon us, this time reporting delight,
-notice the vocal ecstasy, bar 90,
at a putting-off-of-misery, even though the actual day that this is to be done,
-in point of fact today, seems uneasy,
and this despite the prospect, of a waiting Jesus, with His waiting blessing.

The closing Arioso seems wonderfully assured in an expectation of a final and full ‘non-parting’ from a blessing Saviour,
-and all this still with that nagging rhythmic ambiguity written into the bounce.

Is reality really all that it seems?


‘I will not let go of my Jesus,
I shall walk forever, by His side.
Christ will forever guide me,
by the springs of life.
Blessed is he, who can say, with me:
I will not let go of my Jesus.’

It seems so and Bach here has dotted his ‘I’,
-although not at this moment, crossed his ‘T’,
by adding, in his final bar, just a little more musical,
-and spiritual blessing, via a dotted orchestral note ‘E’,
and in so doing, hi-lighting, in his dotting,
the fact that ‘nicht’ means not.

All is well and the holding grip is a success.

Elsewhere in this ending choral, the sense of grip is now proven to be,
-and heard to be, not as one of tension and tightness, but of smoothness and sustenance,
where the mainly step-like-simplicity of the melody, is supported on a bed of,
what is perfectly perfect and appropriate harmonic movement and voice leading.

It is perhaps in this aspect, that Bach unconsciously does dot his ‘T’,
-although, as always with him, the technique of harmony,
is never ever a part, of the music of harmony.

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