Chapter 42 BWV 4 & BWV 42, each commencing with a sinfonia.
The forty-first and forty-third cantatas of the cycle.
These cantatas are grouped together because they are the only two of the cycle to begin with an instrumental sinfonia. This is, however, somewhat misleading because the two movements are vastly different in scale and function. That of C4 is a mere fourteen bars long, and is not comparable with the large-scale instrumental movement from C 42. The latter is very probably an arrangement of a previously composed concerto movement as, for example, are several of the sinfonias introducing later cantatas. The sinfonias from Cs 49 and 146, for example, are known arrangements of existing harpsichord concerti, themselves almost certainly adaptations from lost violin concerti.
Bach could, of course, have omitted the sinfonia thus conforming to his established practice of commencing with a large-scale chorus which, in the case of C4 but not C 42, forms the second movement. In his early twenties, Bach had experimented with short preludes used for structural or functional purposes. Examples may be found in the keyboard toccatas, although the function there may have been less structural and more to display keyboard virtuosity whilst acting as a call to attention. The prelude to C 4 has structural purpose in that it stresses both the significance of the first chorale phrase and the constantly recurring two-note motive derived from it. The melody just seems to evolve out of the cosmos from which it is formed. It is possible that Bach, the ultimate musical architect, may have felt loathe to tamper with the overall design of the work simply in order to conform pedantically to the established second-cycle pattern. If so, this is a good example of his ensuring that structural integrity prevailed over pattern and precedent.
One must not assume, however, that Bach broke his pattern lightly. He made few changes to the score for the 1725 performance (with the exception of a re-harmonisation of the final chorale) which may indicate that it was hastily revived at a moment of some crisis.
The circumstances of Bach's interrupting his pattern of chorale fantasia cantatas has been discussed in chapters 1 and 41. The first of the cantatas to break the mould, C 4, is an early work that Bach had already resurrected for the first cycle and was later to re-use yet again, with added brass. It may have been the audition piece that he wrote for his application as organist at Muhlhausen in 1707 (C.Wolff, booklet 1 of Ton Koopman's recordings of the cantatas, p 37).
It is unsurprising that Bach, if indeed he had lost a collaborator without warning, should have selected this particular work to place within the second cycle. It is solidly based upon the chorale tune to the extent that every movement either presents it in one form or another or is derived directly from it. It is also one of those relatively rare examples of a cantata with each verse setting one of the chorale's stanzas without paraphrasing or interpolations; see also C 107, chapter 8 which, although placed earlier in this cycle, was obviously composed some years after C 4. Interestingly, the concentration on the unmodified chorale verses resulted in little or no recitative settings in either work; only one in C 107 and none in C 4.
(NB a list of the cantatas which Bach set in this manner may be found at the end of the essay on C 97: vol 2 chapter 59).
BWV 4 Christ lag in Todesbanden
Christ lay in the chains of death.Sinfonia--chorus--duet (sop/alto)--aria (tenor)--chorus--aria (bass)--duet (sop/tenor)--chorale.
The forty-first cantata of the cycle for Easter Sunday.
Bach sets six of the verses of the chorale in a carefully balanced sequence of choruses (two), duets (two) and arias (two) sandwiched between the opening sinfonia and the closing chorale.
But whilst C 4 sits well in the second cycle, closer analysis reveals a number of characteristics, in addition to the sinfonia, which set it apart. One is the lack of any recitatives within a lengthy work of eight movements. Another is the overt, even obvious manner in which each movement quarries the chorale melody. The variety of ideas and range of inventiveness is wide, but they never disguise the presence of the chorale. Its relentless repetition, particularly of the first phrase would, in less capable hands, threaten to become wearisome, particularly as it demands and accentuates the repeated use of the same key and mode, E minor, for each of the eight movements. There is simply not the light and shade of contrasting major and minor keys which, for Bach, had now become the norm.
But when we remind ourselves that Bach was only in his early twenties when he wrote it, and if he intended it as an audition piece, the picture becomes clearer. Would not an ambitious young man wish to demonstrate how skilled and imaginative he was? Would not youth take great pride in the sheer brilliance of its powers of invention and contrive to display them as extrovertly and obviously as possible? At Mühlhausen he may well have expected a more unsophisticated and less well-educated audience than he was later to service at Leipzig. So it makes sense that he would choose to parade his work with explicit uses of the chorale theme and, to similar purpose, some very obvious painting of textual images.
Finally, this work relates a narrative rather more obviously than many later cantatas. It paints Christ dying for our sins and then tells how death overpowers us, a situation brought about by our sinfulness. Christ, however, has since removed death's sting and in the battle between life and death, the former has triumphed. Christ's blood on the cross marks our pathway to peace and contentment and now, with the grace of the Saviour, our souls may partake of the true bread of Christ. Second-cycle cantatas have a tendency to be somewhat less preoccupied with strict narrative, concentrating more upon the essence or substance of a particular thesis, moral, ideal or religious theme.
It is, however, interesting to observe that with all this narrative to play with, Bach had chosen not to employ the obvious device of recitative. Perhaps he thought, at the time, that it may have been considered too modern a device for a conservative, parochial audition panel!
Much of this becomes understandable if we think of the Young Turk flexing his musical muscles and making efforts to ensure that his human audience both noticed and appreciated his potential. The more mature Bach of later years had no need to flaunt his learning. Increasingly, his tone painting and musical expression became both less obvious and reliant upon the striking individual image; more attuned perhaps, to the subtler ears of the Almighty than to those of mankind.
Since the chorale melody dominates every movement, it is as well to become thoroughly familiar with it as, indeed, it is assumed Bach's congregations must have been.
The sinfonia immediately announces the first two notes of the chorale melody, a drooping motive of a falling second and it requires no musical training or knowledge to recognise it. This figure, supported by the unrelenting minor mode of this and all subsequent movements, places immediate emphasis upon the sadness of the crucifixion, a direct contrast to those cantatas which place emphasis upon the more joyous aspects of mankind's redemption arising from Christ's sacrifice. (Points of comparison between this and the similar sinfonia for another early cantata, C 150, may be found in vol 1, chapter 63).
But the artistic dilemma of this work (and many other contemproary religious compositions) is, how does one convincingly reconcile the two contrasting moods (i.e. Christ's pain and misery and the exuberant joy of salvation) within each movement whilst maintaining appropriate stylistic unity? Indeed, the bringing together and expression of opposing views, ideas and emotions within a single movement was a challenge that appears to have stimulated Bach througout his entire career; and produced many of his most supreme moments.
Bach was sought to solve the problem by mitigating the expression of tragedy with rounds of Hallelujahs at the end of most movements. It is very probable that he conceived of each one as a transformation of feeling within itself; progressing from the sadness of the sacrifice to a mood of joyous redemption. If so, he set himself an artistic challenge of huge proportions, something he continued to do throughout his composing life.
The second movement is the chorus that 1724-5 Leipzig audiences might have expected to hear first. Except for the Hallelujahs at the end, it takes the form of a chorale fantasia, combined with certain elements of the traditional motet. In line with Bach's early practices, the violas are divided into two sections, one of which doubles the altos and the other the tenors. With the further addition of cornet and trombones, all vocal parts were reinforced, helpful to the singers with little time to learn demanding parts.
The violins retain their independence however, and their flickering semi-quaver motives introduce a more Italianate concerto-like feel to the motet vocal style. Even at this early stage in his career Bach was experimenting with the combination of diverse stylistic elements.
In retrospect, this movement might even be seen as a 'trial run' for the chorale fantasias, which were to become such a feature of the second cycle. Around the soprano cantus firmus, the lower voices develop their entries with material derived from the chorale melody. However, the last phrase---and sing Hallelujah--- is given, in notes of normal value, to each of the four voices overlapping in the order T, B, A, S. This marks the beginning of the alla breve coda, which is triumphant in every sense; nearly thirty bars of swirling hallelujahs at double speed and punctuated, at the end, by jabbing violin octaves! Bach has, within the movement, made the journey from Christ in the throes of death, to the expression of human joy and gratitude which these circumstances ultimately brought about.
Thus Bach boldly creates, within this chorus, a transformation of mood wholly central to the conception of the entire cantata.
Next we hear a powerfully expressive duet, the first of two. Schweitzer considers that the reiterated octaves of the bass line express ideas of ‘power and force’ (vol 2, p 161). The text is about Death being overpowered and rendered impotent and certainly, the relentlessness of the bass conveys the impression of a powerful trampling. In passing, though, it is interesting to note how Bach can employ a bass line, descending by step with octave leaps, to very differing expressive purposes.
The Air from the Third Orchestral Suite and the Gavotte from the French Suite in G though in major modes, are but two of a number of examples.
Deeply moving, and of great structural significance is the deployment of the falling two-note figure, derived from the chorale and here echoing the opening bars of the Sinfonia. Combined with the octaves, it is also consistently heard in the bass line. Above it, the soprano and alto almost vie with each other to see who can make it sound the more expressive and, having repeated it twice, the soprano stretches the motive into her version of the chorale's first phrase, almost as if to remind us of its proper shape. The weeping idea, groaning suspensions and the relentless minor mode all combine to ensure that the feelings of death and sadness predominate and the artistic problem of transmutation of mood is at its most acute. Consequently the hallelujahs, again moulded from the last chorale phrase but now in notes of double value, are a rather muted affair, largely staying in character with the tragic temper of the movement.
These are, perhaps, the efforts of the unredeemed dead to look beyond their condition towards some beacon of hope. But whilst still lying in death and crushed by sin, it is an attempt doomed to failure and undeserving of blatant celebration.
The tenor aria is, perhaps, the most immediately attractive and ebullient of all the movements. The bustling and virtually continuous violin semi-quavers represent the joy that comes from Christ’s casting aside of Death’s sting, leaving behind nothing but his silhouette. In the battle between them, Jesus has conquered and this is obviously now grounds for celebration.
It is an uncomplicated 'chorale prelude', with the tenor singing the phrases virtually unembellished whilst the violins enjoy a jovial life, seemingly of their own. The movement demonstrates a point that is characteristic of the younger Bach, a distinct interruption of the musical flow in order to paint a particular image. The violins double-stop extrovertly on a phrase, which calls forth Death's name while the musical energy continues, unabated, as the basses take on, for the only time in the movement, the incessant semi-quavers (bars 24-26). But the next phrase grinds virtually to a halt on the words----nothing remains of Death but his shadow. For a moment time stands still, there is no relentless motion and we have a glimpse of the void where Death once reigned. The dramatic depiction of the moment takes momentary precedence over the music's established progression.
Violin, tenor and continuo.
Tods ............................................................................. Ge stalt
The point is not that this doesn't work or may be inferior to Bach's later more subtle approach. It is, however, more obvious and of the immediate moment. He achieves a marvelous instant of drama, the temporary hiatus of the music’s drive made all the more powerful because of the constant activity preceding and following it. The image is forthright and egalitarian, contrasting with expressions of a private and personal faith often to be found in later works.
The tenor's final Hallelujahs are very different from those of the previous movement. They, by contrast, convey a convincing celebration of the victory over death. For the first time in the aria the tenor takes up the joyous semi-quavers which propel him inevitably to his final cadence.
The fifth movement reverts to the form of a traditional motet, without instrumental doubling of the upper lines. This time the alto has the phrases of the chorale (an untypical event but see also the fantasia of C 2, chapter 3) and the other three voices weave around it sometimes, as in the opening bars, imitating each other with clear statements of the chorale melody in diminution. The sheer bustling energy conveys the idea of the war between life and death, inevitably won by the former. This stanza completes the story begun by the tenor of the vanquishing of the devil; in this great battle Life has literally devoured Death.
But perhaps the most notable feature is the ending. The text refers to the 'mockery' that has been made of death and somehow the music conveys this feeling. The final hallelujahs resound to a marvelous soprano phrase transforming the now sequenced two-note figure into a gradually settling arc of scornful victory.
The opening continuo line in the bass aria provides a further example of the overt underlining of a single image. It is a descending chromatic scale, tonic to dominant.
Bach used this as a harmonic generator on many occasions (e.g. the keyboard Fantasia in C minor, fugue 6 from Book 2 of the Well Tempered Clavier, the Double Violin Concerto and frequently in the Musical Offering). However, it is also true that Bach associates this idea with death in general (he was not alone in this; see Purcell's Dido's Lament) and the crucifixion in particular. Furthermore, the much later Crucifixus from the B Minor Mass uses the same idea, also in triple time and in the same key, surely not a coincidence.
But in C 4 Bach does not employ the figure as an organic structural device. It only comes twice and it is most unusual to find a Bach opening theme so little used and undeveloped. It is placed there as a reminder of the cross and Christ's blood upon it.
One wonders whether Bach's idea of using this phrase, albeit so sparingly, even determined his decision to select E minor as the pervading key of the entire work!
The bass intersperses chorale phrases with extended melodic lines which are less constrained, telling the story of both the blood that ensures our passage to heaven and the vanquishment of Death. Bach's interest in underlining dramatic moments is particularly apparent in two instances. The lowest note (e#) is extended on the word Tode---Death----It is followed by a high d and a burst of angry semi-quavers on the strings for der Würger----the murderer or, literally, one who chokes (bars 65-74).
The penultimate movement is a second duet, this time for soprano and tenor. The voices sing each chorale phrase, increasingly overlapping and taking turns to lead. Note the virtually continuous dotted rhythm in the continuo which Schweitzer calls the ‘rhythm of solemnity’ (vol 2, p 161). But the allusion may be a little more complex.
The text refers to the feast of celebration where the Lord is metaphorically alluded to as a Sun lighting our hearts. The dotted rhythms may suggest the French Overture which has connotations of stately grandeur and celebration. This is the kind of image which Bach liked to set with a large orchestra including trumpets and drums; but here he has no such forces and, in any case, to introduce them in the middle of a cantata would be unprecedented.
Consequently this celebration, the feast and recognition of the light of the Lord, is a rather muted affair. But the signs are still there, subtle though they might be. The restrained dignity of the bass line is important; but a more telling point is the way in which each vocal phrase transforms itself from the bare crotchets of the hymn melody into streams of flowing triplets. These are the symbols of joyousness and radiance and they dominate the movement, culminating in a cascade of rolling hallelujahs. Celebration and joy are to be found here albeit within the context of restrained, civilised festivity.
The transformation from depiction of the pain of Christ's sacrifice to the joyous fact of our redemption which Bach had hitherto conveyed over complete movements, now takes place within single, distinct melodic phrases!
But it is still a relatively unpretentious affair, without the need for the blazing of trumpets and drums in order to make its point. The emphasis surely is upon personal rather than communal redemption and celebration. Readers should note the similarities between this and the duet from C 91 (chapter 28) which shares many of its characteristics.
The final chorale, now so familiar to the congregation, employs within its dignified setting the metaphors of the healthy meal and Jesus feeding the soul. Christ's public agony has been fully transformed into our private deliverance. All available instruments, including the brass recalled from the first chorus, double the vocal lines. The cantata ends on a final, sighing Alleluia.
This is a fascinating work not, perhaps, entirely above criticism. But as an example of Bach's early brilliance and a guide to his artistic development, it is invaluable. It also allows us a glimpse of both the genesis of the chorale/fantasia proper and the vaulting ambition of the man seeking to create a 'well regulated' body of religious music.
BWV 42 Am Abend aber desselbigen Sabbats
In the evening of that same Sabbath.
Sinfonia--recit (tenor)--aria (alto)--duet (sop/tenor)--recit (bass)--aria (bass)--chorale.
The forty-third cantata of the cycle for the first Sunday after Easter.
Although grouped with C 4 because they both commence with sinfonias, this is a very different piece. Whilst C 4 is an early cantata, possibly hurriedly resurrected, C 42 appears to be a new composition; at least, to a degree. It is still possible that parts of it may have been put together in something of a hurry with movements adapted from earlier lost works.
Whatever its genesis though, it stands alone as being the only cantata in this cycle to begin with a large-scale orchestral sinfonia. Inevitably one asks, why?
Schweitzer (vol 2, pp 339-440) offers an extraordinary interpretation of this movement. Firstly he states, mistakenly, that it ends in a minor key. The opening ritornello section is in the jubilant D major key and the score terminates with a cadence in F#m. Were Bach to have intended ending there, it would have been a unique moment in his output. Nowhere else does he end a concerto-like allegro of this type in a key other than the tonic. True, there is an exception to his normal practice to be found in the final chorus of C 68 (chapter 49) and he sometimes concludes a slow movement of a concerto on the dominant chord of the following (final) allegro (e.g. keyboard concerto in Fm). But the former is for imagic reasons and the latter relates to the placing of slow, middle movements. He does not do it in movements of this kind
The answer is that Bach would have assumed a da capo direction at the F#m cadence, requiring a return to the beginning and a conclusion at the perfect cadence in the tonic key over bars 52-53. Was the 'da capo' indication missing from Schweitzer's score? Even so, it seems an extraordinary error to have made.
Further internal evidence comes from the style of the piece. Dürr (p 296) suggests that this movement originated as an introduction to a lost serenata , C 66a, from the Cöthen period. But it is highly reminiscent of the opening movements of concerti that Bach had been writing at that time, particularly those for violin (and later keyboard) in the key of E (BWV 1042 & 1053. Not only do all three first movements have a similar feel, they also have an identical structure. They are all combinations of ternary (A-B-A) and ritornello forms. They all pause on a massive central cadence in a related minor key and then reprise the first section. Bach had been experimenting with 'mixed form' principles since his late twenties and various combinations of such structures are to be found in the Brandenburg Concerti and elsewhere. The last movement of number 4 is a combination of fugue and ritornello, that of 5 is fugue, ritornello and ternary and that of 6, ternary, rondo and ritornello. The last two are also ‘da capo' movements, repeating the entire first sections.
The evidence is not definitive but it is convincing. It seems very possible that Bach resurrected this movement from a lost Cöthen violin concerto; it is not difficult to see how a solo line could be reformed for the two oboes. And, perhaps even more daringly, might the bass aria be a version, possibly omitting a middle section, of the last movement of the same work?
Of course this is pure speculation but it is not outside the bounds of possibility. There is precedence for Bach recycling two movements from a previously written concerto within the one cantata; the reuse of the first two movements from the harpsichord Concerto in D minor in the later C 146 (vol 3, chapter 14) serves as an obvious example.
If we accept these arguments about the opening sinfonia, it makes a nonsense of Schweitzer's interpretation (vol 2, pp 339/340). He must have thought of it as a much slower tempo than we now believe it to be because he compares the mood to that of the opening chorus of C 6. The strings, he suggests, paint a picture of ‘the hovering shades of evening' which 'melt into each other and become darker and darker'. The first oboe 'sings a hymn of longing that dies away in the light'. Schweitzer was, of course, not fully aware of the extent of Bach's recycling which modern scholarship has revealed although, ironically, he is sometimes quick to condemn a movement when it is assumed to have been retrieved from another (presumably inferior?) work if he dislikes it (see C 38, chapter 22).
Nevertheless, all this does demonstrate the dangers of ‘over-interpretation'--an accusation which, doubtless, some may also level at this author!
Two interesting questions remain: why did Bach dispense with the established fantasia and why limit the use of the choir to the final chorale only? The answers are possibly linked.
As to the first, the closing Lutheran chorale of this work has a number of features that would have made it ideal for the basis of a large-scale chorus. It has almost unprecedented tonal variety, set in the (unusual) key of F#m and passing through various related keys. Even more stimulating for Bach, one would think, would have been the variety of phrase lengths. So why did he not seize the opportunity to exploit its potential?
One reason may be that he had already used this chorale as the basis of a fantasia in C 126 just two months previously (chapter 39), although this was not necessarily a barrier to reuse, even in works presented in consecutive weeks (see Cs 111 and 92, chapters 36 and 37). His adaptation of this chorale in the fantasia of C 126 was rather odd, however, as he truncated it, making use of only the first four phrases. Might he have discovered something about this particular chorale that made it fundamentally unsuitable as the basis of an extended fantasia?
Perhaps the answer lies in the timing of the first performance. It is the third cantata to appear after Bach either lost his librettist or deliberately changed direction. When this work was presented on the 8th of April 1725 (Wolff, p 277) Bach's choir had performed C 1 (with a massive opening chorus) the St John Passion, the Easter Oratorio and Cs 4 & 6 (both of which made large demands on the singers) all within ten days! This was a mammoth undertaking, particularly when one remembers that a number of the boys were young (14-18 years) and not full professionals. They must have been hard pressed, as indeed must Bach himself, despite his almost superhuman energy. It is not, therefore, surprising that he asked the choir to do the absolute minimum in this and some of the following cantatas (e.g. Cs 85, 87 &108).
The first movement with text is the tenor recitative. It describes the gathering of the disciples in the evening, Jesus amongst them, and shutting the doors for fear of the Jews. The repeated notes in the bass suggest the coming together of the disciples with just an echo of apprehension about their enemies. The ominous effect of the repetitive semi-quavers above the sustained bass notes is unexpected and almost unprecedented.
The alto aria is remarkable for both its structure and its length; in performance it will run to around ten minutes, indicating that while Bach may have considered the demands upon his choir, he certainly did not spare himself or his soloists. It is richly orchestrated, using a full band of strings and continuo pitted against a woodwind group of two oboes and bassoon. It is a long da capo aria in which the A section (to bar 52) describes Jesus coming amongst the assembled disciples and the B section the deliverance of His Amen.
Bach goes to considerable lengths to make this differentiation. The first part is very slow and in 4/4 time whilst the second is slightly faster and in 12/8, giving it a pastoral feel such as is to be found (in the same key) in the Christmas Oratorio. The two oboes weave a filigree of sound around the vocal line, the strings doing little more than supplying the harmonies.
Of interest is the four-note motive with which the oboes imitate each other in the opening bars.
Mention has been made of this recurring motive in the discussion on C 3 (chapter 35). Bach seems to associate it with doubt and possibly misgiving; in this aria it may suggests uncertainties felt by the disciples. Bach's use of shapes of this kind (and a similar one may be found in the minor mode, in C109 from the first cycle) is different from, say, those of the constantly recurring walking or treading motives. These figures also permeate melodies and textures, becoming the main building blocks of complete movements. But the oboe motive that begins this aria is a holistic, almost metaphysical idea, not the representation of an action. It conjures up, almost subliminally, a particular emotion or frame of mind. It is a signal across the cantatas from which one might elicit echoes of moments of similar import.
Once again, how many of Bach's congregation members might have made these connections is a matter of conjecture. Nevertheless, they are there. And if they are, they are there for a purpose. Even if the chord they may have struck with the listeners was entirely subconscious then, no matter, the composer’s purpose would still have been served. In any case, God would have noticed!
The text of the soprano and tenor duet comes not from the closing chorale but from another by Jacob Fabricius (Boyd p 12). Although its melody forms the basis of the vocal lines it is so embellished and distorted as to be almost unrecognizable. However, the persistently repeated note for the words----Es wird nicht lange wãhren----it will not last long (from bar 54), is clearly linked to the final phrase as, indeed, it is to the opening three notes of the closing chorale. Fabricius’s hymn was used again in this cycle in more readily recognizable forms in Cs 108 and 74, which may suggest a common librettist for all three works.
The duet is principally an admonition, firstly to the disciples-----do not fear or dread the enemy's attempts to destroy you, they will not last long. The message is, of course, directly applicable to the congregation who, doubtless, will hear it repeated later in the sermon. This is, arguably, the most searingly beautiful movement of the cantata. The two voices imitate each other in lines of great expressiveness about a persistently striding and sinewy chromatic bass line played by bassoon and cello. Bach himself added the phrasing to this line (Schweitzer p 341) creating a most unsettling effect as it constantly suggests a tension between 3/4 and 6/8 rhythms.
This is an excellent example of Bach's setting out two ideas or positions concurrently. The voices encapsulate a soothing, almost appeasing quality while in the bass we hear the persistent voices of the enemy attempting to unsettle us. Notable are the melismas, which give emphasis to the words Versage----despair-----and verstören----destroy.
The bass recitative underlines the moral of the previous movements, offering a historic example of Christ’s protection of the disciples. It is not without some further intimations of the persistent dangers; note the continuo agitating around the final phrase, suggesting the fury of the enemy. The last aria, however, dismisses all doubt.
Now the expected Bachian optimism takes over----Jesus will protect his people----and the sun shall shine upon them whatever their persecution may be. The bass voice conveys the authority of Jesus from his opening phrase which, structured as it is like a brass fanfare and ranging over an octave and a half, conveys a sense of force and confidence. The violins proclaim the 'joy' motive as early as bar two although it is the bass line, previously used to suggest the dangers of the enemy, which adopts it from bar 9. Both swirling semi-quavers and the overall mood link it directly to the opening sinfonia.
Bars 1-2 violins followed by bars 9-11, continuo.
Note the details of the three settings of the word Verfolgung----persecution (bars 25-26, 61-3 and 65-71). Each is based upon successively longer melismas accompanied by striking quaver or semi-quaver string figures. Bach has taken care to give significance to the notion that despite Christ’s comforting shield, persecution continues unabated in the world around us. It is a stark warning of the perils which may still engage us, were that protection to be lost.
The long, closing chorale is a plea for God to provide the means for peace and good government to our leaders and through them, to us. It is in the minor mode, and thus, rarely for this cycle, ends the cantata in a mode different from that in which it began (see also Cs 108 and 74, chapters 44 and 48). Not only that but it takes us to the remote and unusual key of F#m. It would seem that doubts, fear and the threats of our enemies have still not been wholly dismissed.
Nor, perhaps, has a satisfactory peace for the multitude been fully established by those in power.
Is it any doubt, after the miseries which much of Germany had suffered throughout the previous century that Bach and the more astute members of his congregation may not have felt totally reassured by the abilities of their earthly leaders to achieve ideals of peace and harmony? And do we not share similar reservations today?
Upon this note of recognition we come to the end of an interesting cantata which, on closer observation, reveals much more than it initially seems to promise.
Copyright: J Mincham 2010. Revised 2012 and 2014.