Chapter 36 BWV 82 Ich habe genug
I have sufficient.
A cantata for solo bass voice.
For the Purification.
One approaches a cantata such as this with a degree of trepidation. It is, arguably, one of the three or four best known of the ecclesiastical cantatas, often performed and written about. Indeed, the archives show it to be the most frequently recorded of all the Bach cantatas over a period of more than sixty years (see the link to Aryeh Oron’s Bach cantata website, listing the recordings, at the bottom of this page). Is it possible to bring any new perspective to such a work?
Indeed, it seems to have been highly regarded by Bach himself and well liked in its own day since he reused it on a number of occasions, certainly in a later arrangement for soprano and possibly also for alto (Dürr p 663). Boyd (p 230) gives a succinct outline of what is known of the history of this work. But whatever its pedigree and transformations, it is in its version for solo bass presented near the end of the third cycle that it is best known today.
Once again it is the last of three extant works known to be written for this particular day, the others being Cs 83 (vol 1, chapter 40) and 125 (vol 2, chapter 38). Dürr, however (p 666) points out that at least three others, Cs 161, 157 and 161, were also used for the Purification. (Further contextual comment may be found in vol 2, chapter 38). C 83 originated in the first cycle and C 125 is a chorale/fantasia from the second. All have the same basic theme: the joyful anticipation of death as a release from the trials of this world, permitting entrance into the next.
Even the most cursory examination of the opening movements of these three works reveals Bach′s awe-inspiring ability to view the same basic scenario from different perspectives, thence to create equally impressive, but quite distinctive, musical edifices. The first movement of C 83 is an aria for alto in which the text speaks of the joy of the final hour when the grave becomes our place of rest. Without reading the text it would be impossible to deduce that ′death′ had any part to play in this joyous movement. The key is major, the scoring full and festive and the whole movement is suggestive of an ancestry of a lost concerto. The emphasis is fully upon the bliss of entering Paradise, unencumbered by the tribulations we leave behind.
The opening movement of C 125 is a chorale fantasia set in a minor mode, a tone poem of great beauty and inventiveness. The text again tells of the joy and peace with which the individual encompasses a death that is no more than a form of sleep. There is, despite the resignation and acceptance of personal demise which pervades this chorus, a sense of movement and continual upward striving. The perspective is one of a journey which, though welcomed, is still to be accomplished. The very first line makes this clear—-in peace I go to that place. The weary steps to Paradise have not been completed; they are still taking place.
The first movement of C 82 encapsulates the ultimate feeling of resignation as death looms. Here there is no sense of activity, struggle or journey. This is almost, though not quite, the moment of death but it is assuredly that instant when body and soul come to rest and are resigned and in complete harmony. Bach encapsulates this experience of peace and acquiescent submission beyond anything that mere words can convey.
The first line of the text encapsulates the mood of resignation concisely and precisely. It is repeated twice more in this movement and again at the beginning and end of the next—-it is enough. Furthermore, the departing soul claims to have seen and embraced the Saviour hoping, on this very day, to depart from this world. There are no fears and no regrets. This is the certainty of age and maturity, not the doubting or headstrong apprehension of youth.
Oboe and strings are perfectly juxtaposed, the latter commencing with a gently caressing figure, gradually evolving into a flowing counterpoint against the magnificent oboe melody. This begins with a five note rhetorical figure, A, stated twice and latterly taken up by the bass on his entry following the spacious and unhurried ritornello.
Dürr (p 664) demonstrates Bach′s consummate skill in the use of various transformations of motive A as a part of the compositional processes that generate the focussed intensity of the movement. Students are advised to acquaint themselves with his examples and apply them to further study of the music. It is also worth noting that this figure is directly derived from the first phrase of the chorale which Bach had used for the previous two cantatas for this day, Cs 83 and 125, thus providing strong evidence that he had looked back over these works. The skill and, indeed, artistry with which Bach develops this tiny musical seed into intertwining melodies of stunning beauty and spaciousness is awesome.
The aria follows a relatively conventional format, the first vocal section enclosed by the measured ritornello. The middle section (beginning bar 108) begins with the same motive A, but now the melodic lines are set predominantly within a major-mode context, suggestive of the warmth of seeing Jesus and taking Him into our hearts as we wait contentedly for the moment of death. A shortened version of the ritornello (bars 135-149) leads us to the third section which contains elements of the previous two. Note the two melismas on Freuden—-joy—-which appear near the end of the latter two sections. Here, and only here, does the singer emulate the flowing oboe arabesques, a clear indication that their expressive function is to proclaim the Christian′s personal bliss, an inextricable element of this important experience of life.
The first recitative begins and ends in major mode, preparing us for the great central aria which follows. It is framed by the repeated—-Ich habe genung—-at the beginning, clearly using the original motto phrase from the previous movement but now so altered as to be only recognisable subliminally.
The text tells of the joy of being, like Simeon, with Jesus and it ends with a further prayer that the long wished-for departure should rapidly ensue. Two pieces of unambiguous imagery are the setting of the words—-let us go with this Man—-where treading quavers in the continuo line suggest the action of walking or moving and, yet again, the melisma on Freuden which further accentuates the joy of this moment, albeit so naturally feared by Mankind.
The significance of the first and third arias is indicated by the fact that in performance their combined length is likely to be over fifteen minutes, more than three quarters of the entire work. Furthermore, the second aria holds the central keystone position. It is every bit as expansive and unhurried as its predecessor, its measured beauty having ensured its place as one of Bach′s most popular movements. Warm, rich, low strings embrace the voice ardently.
Viewed in the most superficial of manners, this aria could be said to be a simple lullaby. The tired eyes are enjoined to close and sleep for they no longer have any purpose; the Lutheran maxim ‘death has become my sleep’ is now the all-emcompassing image. The welcome escape from worldly misery, the repeated theme of this cantata, is briefly alluded to in the sixth line of text; it is not the main thrust of the meaning but is significant enough to cause Bach to design the structure of the aria so as to encompass it.
It is not often noted that the opening motive is derived from the same musical shape as that which initiated the cantata, one rising interval (here a second, previously a sixth) followed by stepwise falling tones.
The repeated d flats in the melodic lines veer towards the subdominant side (Ab) rather than the dominant (Bb). Thus the feeling is not one of ′setting out′ towards a given point but rather of remaining peacefully in one place. Even the moving quaver bass line, often a depiction of walking or pacing, does not disturb the illusion of remaining at rest and lingering peacefully. The frequent pauses, where everything temporarily comes to a standstill, are suggestive of that peaceful closing of life where there is no activity; disorder is now a thing of the past.
The aria appears to unfold as a conventional da capo as the first vocal block is enfolded by the ritornello statements. A middle section emerges from bar 65, marked by the lighter texture (voice and continuo only) and a subtle change of mood—-I can remain in this world no longer.
However as the upper strings return, so does the text and music of the first section reprise itself (from bar 49). The unwary might well assume that this is the da capo repeat but it is not. Three lines of text remain, as yet unsung, encapsulating the apposition which lies at the heart of the cantata′s theme—-here I must tolerate distress—-there I shall have peace and rest (bars 68-85).
Only at this point do we get the da capo repeat of the entire first section.
In summary the structure may be represented as:
Some critics describe this as a ′rondo′ form but surely nothing less like the mood and spirit of the conventional rondo exists in the repertoire!
The second recitative is the more concise and it begins almost with a note of impatience—-My God, when will that blessed command ′now′ arrive? But at the end the farewells have been said, the world has been bidden ′goodnight′ and the descending continuo scale depicts graphically the double actions of taking one′s leave and being lowered into the welcoming grave.
This short movement also leads us away from the major keys which are the mainstay of the three central movements and back to the minor of the outer two arias.
Considering the theme of the work and the structure and dimensions of the first two arias, this final movement may have set Bach some problems. It had to be of appropriate proportion as well as providing an aesthetically satisfactory conclusion to a cantata which already boasted two extended slow-tempo arias. Beautiful as they both are, their texts demanded an approach which did not allow for that infectious drive and energy which characterise so many late baroque movements.
Perhaps this is the reason why Bach dispensed with the chorale. Clearly he sought a movement which was not too ′low key′ in mood and which left the congregation feeling satisfied and uplifted, albeit about the traditionally less than cheerful subject of death.
Bach clearly planned the first and last movements so as to relate to each other, thus bringing about an overall sense of structural unity. The oboe returns (mostly to double the violins) as do both the key and the triple time of the opening aria. But the rhythm, faster tempo (marked ′vivace′) and symmetrical phrasing now combine to imbue the music with a grotesque sense of the dance. This aria has the quality of a wake, a bizarre waltz of death, shaded in tone but nevertheless a celebration of the event itself and its Christian significance. The vocal entry on the long and almost persistently aggressive melisma on freue—-to be joyful—-is, in itself, an echo of the acceptance of that glad event, first heard in the opening aria.
The text falls neatly into two sections, the first emphasising the joy of anticipation of death and the desire for it to happen imminently. The second stresses yet again the conviction that death will release us from the misery of the world to which we have been chained. Bach uses the first idea as the basis for his A section, the second for the middle part which commences, with appropriately more convoluted melodic structures, at bar 86.
The overall structural principle is that of ritornello. The instrumental theme occurs five times (commencing bars 1, 26, 68, 128 and 170), the initial statement expanded by two bars on each subsequent repetition. Consequently, it acts as a series of supporting columns around which the vocal part is effortlessly woven.
Dürr (p 665) suggests that the final movement is of a lesser standard than that of the previous two arias and he laments the omission of a chorale. Perhaps. But one has to ask whether, in this context, a reflective chorale might have left the congregation feeling more melancholy than was appropriate. The stillness and dignity of death has been captured and most beautifully conveyed in the initial movements but, for the committed Christian, there must remain an allied sense of optimism, even joy. This cannot be ignored and it must be experienced.
It remains the final important message of this work and the probable reason for the omission of the chorale.
Copyright: J Mincham 2010. Revised 2012, 2014, 2017.