Chapter 42 BWV 145 Ich lebe, mein Herze
Rise up, my heart.
Duet (sop/alto)--recit (tenor)--aria (bass)--recit (sop)--chorale.
For Easter Tuesday.
As it stands, this is quite possibly the shortest cantata in the canon but it is doubtful whether it has been transmitted intact. There is a history of insertions during the nineteenth century which readers may look up in Dürr (pp 286-288). One of these additions was a chorus by Telemann, the text of which Dürr quotes (p 285) but there is no precedent to indicate that it would have formed part of the work’s original conception. Dürr is not alone in surmising that there may have originally been a sinfonia by Bach attached as a prelude but there is no firm evidence to indicate what it might have been or, indeed, if it even existed.
There are two other extant cantatas for this day. C 134 (vol 1, chapter 49) is to be found in the first cycle although its secular origins are earlier. Its construction is somewhat unusual, beginning with a short recitative for two voices (alto and tenor) and ending with an ebullient chorus. The four-movement C 158 (vol 1, chapter 70) has an even more chequered history; it is probably incomplete and its date of composition is unknown (Dürr pp 289-90). It is the case, therefore, that not much of interest can be gleaned from a comparative study of these three works so we can do little more than focus our attention directly upon the five existing movements of C 145 as they have come down to us.
The first is a duet. It is not unique but is unusual for Bach to begin thus and therefore indicates that something probably preceded it in the original conception. Soprano and tenor are supported by the continuo and a solo violin obbligato, in what is structurally a straightforward ritornello-cum-ternary movement. But it contains a number of stylistic features which raise some interesting questions. Further speculation may lead us to suggest that it might have been a very early work or even a piece by some lesser composer, latterly reconstructed by Bach.
Firstly, although it is clear that the tenor and soprano here represent Christ and the Soul, it was not Bach’s practice to signify Christ by any other than the bass voice. This is certainly true of the four dialogue cantatas from the third cycle. It is the case that he occasionally represented the Soul through the alto voice (e.g. C 159 chapter 41) but the tenor was not the choice of voice for the declaiming of the words of God or Jesus.
Secondly, the adherence to a single chord over a period of several bars, whilst again not unique, is certainly unusual for Bach (bars 6-10, 38-41). His relentless, treading and sure-footed harmonic progressions are very much a part of his musical style and personality. Extending one chord in this way is usually for dramatic or rhetorical effect, neither of which appears to apply here.
Thirdly, the aria has a particularly rococo ‘feel’ to it, from the concentration upon the melody as the primary musical element (bars 1-2)
to the Alberti-like broken-chord figurations (bars 24-6 and 91-3).
On the other hand, the powerful interrupted cadence (bars 13-14 and elsewhere) is strongly Bachian and the structure, eschewing the exact da capo repeat because the initial A section sets out towards the dominant key and requires subsequent revision, is very much a feature of Bach’s later cantata arias.
The conclusion that Bach may have revised a movement by one of his sons or another composer with leanings towards the emerging ‘early classical’ styles is necessarily tentative, but still supported by several points of internal evidence.
Dürr (p 287) notes astutely that the generalist nature of the duet libretto hints strongly that a secular setting may have formed the original movement from which this one is parodied. Certainly the text lacks focus or originality; some may even go so far as to say that it lacks any real point at all! Jesus and the Soul exchange pleasantries, the former expressing encouragement for the latter who duly responds with appropriate and entirely conventional expressions of gratitude.
The middle section (from bar 49) leads us through two related minor keys (B and F#) as one would expect and the text declares any indictments to be null and void, thus preparing the way for sinners to enter the gates of Heaven. The minimally revised first section is reprised from bar 84, Christ again leading the Soul in the original short episode of quasi-canonic imitation. Again, Bach typically would have reversed the process and had the soprano lead at this point in the movement.
The duet is pleasantly diverting but with little emotional depth. Its obviously rococo style and ‘affect’ tends to militate against the argument, often advanced, that the original model for this later paraphrase had been composed by Bach himself, sometime in the pre-Leipzig years.
The text of the tenor recitative is declamatory, initially challenging Moses to impose the law as he wills, but reminding him that we, through the blood of Christ, have been granted our release from the strictures that may have prevented our redemption. It is a workmanlike and competent piece of writing but it also raises questions. Some of the images which Bach would almost certainly have musically underlined in his early years (e.g. Christ’s blood and His wounding) are passed over. But the less significant word Kläger----the plaintiff ----is given particular emphasis, set to a high f and harmonised with a relatively dramatic diminished 7th chord.
The last line of tender arioso----my heart, remember all of this----is more recognisably Bachian in style, even containing the detail of a carefully placed interrupted cadence, echoing those recalled from the preceding duet.
The following bass aria also places a strong emphasis upon melodic line rather than contrapuntal interweaving, again suggesting a rococo model. In the opening bars trumpet, flute, two oboes, violins and continuo all combine to punch out the single melody in unison and octaves, joined, from bar 5, by the simplest of independent bass lines.
The writing from the cadence in bar 12 is similarly naive, little more than ornamented scales in thirds. When the bass enters in bar 29 we do get a temporary bubbling from the flute, but this is not developed throughout the movement and may well have been a later addition. The structure is also unsophisticated, a 28 bar ritornello beginning and ending the movement, shortened sections of it recurring before and after the middle section (from bars 76-122).The vocal line, whilst largely independent of that for the supporting continuo, nevertheless sometimes oddly parallels it (e.g. bars 59-66).
Whether this movement is a parody of a very early work by Bach himself or a reworking of one by a different rococo composer cannot be established with certainty. What we may state with a degree of confidence however, is that the internal technical and stylistic evidence is strong enough to make it virtually certain that Bach did not initially compose or conceive it at this stage of his career in the late 1720s.
Bach’s arias for bass are often relatively heavily scored and this is no exception. His soloists would have been young men with well trained voices and several years of experience of singing soprano and/or alto parts in the church services, consequently well practised and able to hold their own against relatively large forces. Very frequently the lyrics are positive and commanding, carrying the words of Christ, God or a Pastor.
The A section of this aria states----always mark this, my heart, whatever else is forgotten, remember that your Saviour lives. The declamatory nature of the words, ‘mark this, heart’ is captured in the fanfare-like opening phrase, heard first in the ritornello thence followed by the voice. Wind and strings busily proclaim the joy which is naturally associated with this proclamation. The middle section preaches the doctrine of Faith standing firm and secure upon the acknowledgement of the living Christ and the long held notes on besteht----standing firm, persisting----drives this notion solidly home. Both message and music are ingenuous and uncomplicated, the Pastor simply and directly addressing his flock.
Tenor and soprano voices were heard in the opening duet and each of them is latterly allotted a recitative. To a degree, the significance of the central aria is marked by the fact that it is the only appearance of the bass, the alto having no solo role at all in this cantata. The second recitative precedes the closing chorale.
It begins in a similar manner to that for tenor, a short declamatory phrase uttered on the dominant chord of what transpires to be a minor key. Here the opening words are----My Jesus lives----indeed, the central premise of the cantata from which all else follows. The soprano then proceeds to outline the consequences of this salient fact----I will die without grief and furthermore, I have trust that, through the shadows of the grave, I will ascend to the glory of heaven. The movement ends, in the key of the following chorale, asserting----I am ready, this very day, to rise and join my Redeemer. The touches of word painting are obvious and unsubtle; the lowest notes of the vocal range depict the darkness of the grave and the following rising phrase is suggestive of the ascent to heaven.
Whatever the chequered history of the early movements may have been there seems little doubt that the harmonisation of the closing chorale is Bach’s work. Apart from the recitatives, it is the only one of the surviving movements in a minor key, slightly surprising when we consider the affirmative declarations in the text----we are appropriately cheerful and sing our Alleluia----Jesus we praise You, arisen for us----Alleluia! Not only is this in a minor key but it is the dark one of F#m! Surely a more appropriate chorale melody could have been chosen?
It is only when we come to examine the details of the immensely subtle harmonisation that we note things that bear the imprint of Bach’s true musical personality. There are five phrases and he contrives to end each of them with a cadence in a different key----B, C#, E, A, finally returning to F#. Furthermore, his design ensures that each of these five cadences ends on a major chord. The effect is one of continuously emerging from shadows into the sunlight, of seeking, and finding the light of the Lord. We look upwards, with delight, towards the illuminated face of the living Saviour.
That surely is the metaphor which Bach has so cunningly and subtly encapsulated within the harmonic framework of this otherwise unpretentious little chorale melody.
Copyright: J Mincham 2010. Revised 2012.