Bach: The Cantatas

Bach Cantatas

– Quinquagesima Sunday – 11th February 2024 – J.S.Bach cantata BWV 127 – ‘Herr Jesu Christ, wahr’ Mensch und Gott’ –

Feb 15, 2024

An oboe orchestra,
+ continuo and 4-part chorus, is supplemented, in this cantata, with 2 x recorders and a tromba,
resulting, in the aria movement, no 3, an orchestration not heard anywhere else in Bach.


‘Lord Jesus Christ,
-true man and true God.
Who suffered torment, fear and mockery,
finally to die for me on the cross
and win, for me, The Father’s grace.
I pray, through your bitter passion,
that you will have mercy on me, a sinner.’

The first line of the closing choral provides part of the inner and under fabric of the opening ‘theme’,
heard first, in rhythmically diminished form, played on the oboes, bar 1 and then sung by the tenors,
bar 17, as the first vocal entry,

This is ‘theme’ is seen to be constantly moving between and interchanging with, different instrumental groups,
recorders, oboes, strings and chorus.

The melody, ‘Christe, du amm Gottes’,
-the German ‘Agnus Dei’, forms the long note chorale-melody, first heard in the opening 5 bars
and again at the first soprano entry,
-reinforced with the tromba, at bars 18, through 21.

The textual attitude of the text, one of a pleading and slightly sub-servient, beseeching nature,
comes across, mainly because of Bach’s rhythmically persistent and faltering recorders.


‘When terror strikes,
-at the final hour,
and when the cold sweat of death,
moistens my stiff numb limbs,
and when my tongue speaks nothing except sighs,
and this heart breaks,
It is enough that faith knows
that Jesus stands by me.
He, who with patience, goes to His passion,
leads me also along this difficult path,
preparing for me my resting place.’

This dramatic secco is as expected,
but listen for;

the patient Passion, bars 10 – 11 and
the prepared ‘repose’, bars 12, to the end.


‘My soul is at rest in the hands of Jesus,
when earth shall cover this body.
Ah! Death bells, call me soon.
I am not afraid of dying,
as my Jesus shall soon wake me again.’

This aria is more than just the hi-light or this cantata,
It is one of the most profound, hauntingly beautiful and memorable arias in the whole of Bach.

The orchestration is unique and striking.

A lone and extremely plaintiff oboe, accompanied by continuo only,
-and one with a pizzicato bass, underwriting a pair of recorders, also staccato,
intertwines with and intercesses for, a desperately traumatized soprano voice.

The recorders and the bass need to be absolutely synchronized,
so as to create a sub-text effect of eternal and un relenting time and its ticking,
on and on and on.

But is this sub-text only in relation to time spent waiting in sleep,
-that, by faith, The Saviour will initiate and also terminate,
or is it an actual aural picture, of the coldness, vastness and dankness, of an eternal eternity,
that The Saviour may only initiate?

Waiting in the belfry, tantalizingly, are a plucky peal of bells, in the shape of a trio of strings,
which, at the ‘Ah!’ of the impact of these death bells, chime in,
-incredibly almost unnoticed, creeping eerily into the textural colour and blackening an already deathly landscape, as they do
and raising, higher and higher, all and any spine-chilling stakes available,
as they call and call and call.

The exquisite harmony, yet muddled tonality, bars 13, through 16, paints a very real picture, that horrifyingly, seems to reflect on a real present danger,
that of really being covered by this grave earth and the Vivaldi-like bells, when they do begin to chime,
-bar 31, through 35, swing, in a slow 2-in-a-bar, backwards and forwards, as the singer swings and sings of not being afraid of dying,
until cruelly cut off, in a deafening silence, left alone to be wakened, in faith.

Conductors, beware of any accelerando throughout this passage, as Bach has already written, into the fabric, rhythmic augmentation.

And all through and above all, hangs the rest of repose.

We know not how Bach achieves this,
but achieve this, he does.

4/Recitativo(and aria):

‘When, one day, the trumpets shall sound,
and the structure of the world,
-along with that of the heavens, collapse,
then, remember me, my God,
-and in the best possible way.
When, one day, your servant is standing, before the court,
where even thoughts accuse me,
then would you alone, be my advocate?
saying to my soul:

‘Truly I say to you.’

‘…when heaven and earth pass away in fire,
a believer shall survive for ever…’

‘They shall not be judged and suffer eternal death.’

‘…cling, my child, to me,
I shall break,
-with strong and helping hands,
the powerful bond of death…’

The trumpet now takes on solo and independent ‘judgement’ status,
although finds itself mostly working within and above the string choir.

The opening accompanied recitativo seems stiff and in-flexible,
as it delivers its clear narrative and plea.

This leads, straight on, into the aria, ‘Truly. truly I say to you…’, a tempo giusto, bar 13,
but it never seems to really settle itself down,
as a constant alternation between tutti,
-thick arpeggio-like string and trumpet, fanfare-like textures,
and thinly accompanied continuo passages, seem to disturb.

There are three such moments:
bars 21, through 32, ‘…When heaven and earth pass away, in fire…’
bars 43, through 54, ‘…I shall break, with strong and helping hands…’
and 59, to the end, a reprise of the first.


‘Lord, forgive us all our debts
and help us to wait, with patience,
until our hour of death shall arrive.
And may our faith be ever bolder,
so as to trust firmly in your word,
until we fall asleep, blessed.’

The full tutti of the colourful and imaginative orchestration, gives this choral a special flavour.

At the end of the fourth phrase, ‘…may our faith be ever bolder’,
Bach impresses theses words, right into some excellent contrary-motion tenor, bass and continuo writing,
bar 8.

Bar 9 is a marvel, as the composer highlights ‘word’ and ‘trust’, with a prepared dissonance in the alto,
-first beat and a near excursion, into the supertonic minor,
-2nd,3rd and fourth beat.

The last two bars are audacious.

We are boldly remined of that sleep of the first aria.


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