Chapter 44 BWV 22 Jesu nahm zu sich die Zwölfe
Jesus took the twelve to Him.
Aria/chorus (tenor/bass)--aria (alto)--recit (bass)--aria (tenor)--chorale.
The forty-third cantata of the cycle for Estomihi.
C 22 was one of two cantatas submitted by Bach for his audition as Cantor at St Thomas’s Church and is declared as such on an existing copy of the score. It is paired with C 23, thought also to have been used in Bach’s audition and a part of the practice of presenting one cantata (or the first part of a longer one) before the sermon and a second one after it (see Dürr pp 242-247).
One might, therefore, look at this work from a number of different perspectives. Bach was applying for a prestigious position and naturally would have wished to impress his prospective employers and this raises a number of questions. How much might the audition scenario have been a factor in the compositional decisions he made? If he had wanted to create the optimum impression, might he not have started with an imposing chorus and large orchestra? Of course trumpets and drums were usually only called upon for particular events of festivity and may not have been deemed appropriate in these circumstances. That being so, Bach seized the opportunity of demonstrating just how ebulliently show-stopping he could be without them.
Might he, as suggested in essays at the beginning of this volume, have been trying to demonstrate that he could produce the maximum range of expressive effect from the minimum of resources, something that is always appreciated by penny pinching authorities? In the light of future developments that seems somewhat unlikely. Or, and from what we know of the man’s character and integrity this seems highly probable, was he simply setting out to demonstrate his view of what ‘well regulated’ church music could and would be like under his guidance and direction?
Much of Bach’s output was, indeed, presented in order to demonstrate ideal concepts, forms and techniques. The Art of Fugue, Musical Offering, Bm Mass and a great deal of the keyboard music can all be seen in this light. A surprisingly large proportion of his output was designed and used for teaching purposes. It would be unsurprising, therefore, if one of Bach’s aims in presenting his audition cantatas was pedagogical. It was not just a simple matter of ‘this is what I am capable of doing’. It might equally have been a statement such as ‘this is a fair example of the range of music which is suitable for worship and from which others might learn’. Viewed in this way, the sheer variety of forms and musical expression in these two cantatas is explained and justified.
C 22 seems to begin as an aria but transforms into a choral fugue. Two arias of vastly contrasting character and different instrumental forces are then separated by a fully accompanied recitative. The work concludes not with a plain four-part chorale but with one uplifted and supported by a surging and virtually unbroken semiquaver obbligato line in the upper parts, similarly with quavers in the continuo.
Its sister work, C23, commences with a duet of great emotional intensity followed by an accompanied recitative and a somewhat more conventional chorus. It concludes with a setting of not one but three verses of a chorale, each supported by completely contrasting instrumental textures. Apart from the inclusion of a sinfonia or a chorus using trumpets (or horns) and drums, it is difficult to see what more Bach might have offered in order to demonstrate the sheer range and variety of the music he was capable of providing
The structure of the opening movement of C 22 is wholly determined by three pieces of text. The first is sung by the tenor (as narrator)----Jesus took the disciples to Him saying to them----. The solo bass then assumes the role of Christ and states, twice, perhaps in an attempt to prevent misunderstandings----Behold, we go to Jerusalem where all that has been prophesied about the Son of Man shall come about. But the choir then informs the congregation that the disciples had understood nothing of that which had been said or written. Musically, the movement divides neatly into an accompanied arioso (42 bars long—was Bach signing his signature?) followed by a motet-like four-part chorus, two bars longer and at a faster tempo.
The key to a full understanding of the first half of the movement lies with the instrumental support to the tenor and bass voices. The modest forces (strings, one oboe and continuo) set a mood of wistful and reflective melancholy from the opening bar. There is a strong sense of purpose and forward movement in this music as befits the depiction of a journey. But this is a trip made with the disciples ignorant of what would happen to Christ, a story with which, however, those hearing Bach’s setting would be very familiar. This apparent disparity takes us to the core of the work which is one of loyalty, faith and commitment, even from those who have no full understanding of the events or their consequences. A little sighing figure passes between oboe and first violins (from bar 3) establishing a character of lamentation or foreboding whilst the descending scales in the bass suggests movement towards that of which we know not.
Opening bars, oboe and violin above continuo.
Continuous repetition and development of this material frames and colours Christ’s vocal inflections which themselves give emphasis to such expressions as Behold!----the journey to Jerusalem----the written prophecies----the Son of Man.
The choral section abandons the established instrumental themes and figurations, initially only making use of the continuo. The upper instruments begin to enter from bar 58 although only in a doubling capacity. The form is fugal but not strictly so; although the four voices enter with the same theme in the order S, A, T and B, the traditional alternating of tonic and dominant entries does not occur. Perhaps, as a rather abstruse indication of the lack of clarity and expectation amongst the disciples, Bach is hinting at this in musical terms by having each voice enter on a different note, b flat, f, c and g and briefly touching upon various related keys. The music is, as always, lucid and focussed but the departure from traditional fugal procedure sends a fleeting message to those who appreciate the subtleties of the musical processes. One of the many charms of this short chorus is the off-beat chords on----was----and das----what and this---- suggestive of the words which were spoken to the disciples.
In fact the music gets up such a head of steam that the energy cannot be completely dispelled with the final choral cadence; it demands a further eight instrumental bars of coda. It is not, of course, an established returning ‘ritornello’. It does, however provide Bach with the opportunity of suggesting an Italian concerto influence by grafting it on to the essentially motet structure.
Some of Bach’s most expressively memorable oboe obbligato melodies were written before his Leipzig appointment and the next movement is one of them. The main attention now moves away from Christ’s disciples to focus upon the Christian congregations contemporary to Bach ----draw me to You, dear Jesus for I am ready and prepared to go to Jerusalem for Your Passion----I am content if I can understand its significance. The metaphor of the loyal but unenlightened disciples remains, but now the message is designed to appeal to all who wish to serve and follow Him in the knowledge that this is the proper course for their own salvation. The musical character of the aria is one of deep involvement and pensive commitment. We know what Jesus suffered and what it means to serve Him in a way that the disciples did not.
The oboe ritornello theme creates an aura of suffering and a sense of struggling and reaching upwards in search of something indefinable in a way that only music can suggest. Words become inadequate for the conveying of this kind of complex emotional nuance.
Even so, Bach invests key words with additional significance through their treatment in the musical texture e.g. Mein Jesu cuts through the texture with sustained notes on the alto’s second entry. The movement towards His Passion, and the inevitable torment associated with that event is suggested by a settling on a long and unexpected g flat (bars 31-2) and later with a tortuous melisma which forms the singer’s final phrase.
There is some emotional relief at the expression of the personal contentment to be gained from the Christian story and this sentiment generates the middle section of the movement. It begins in bar 35 and students should mark the example of compositional skill which the master craftsman displays as the voice begins this segment (on the word---- wohl mir---I am content) before the completion of the cadence that marks the end of section 1. It is by means such as this that Bach maintains a sense of inevitable musical flow by disallowing the essential architectural divisions to draw undue attention to themselves.
A few bars of the ritornello theme lead us back to a rewritten version of the first vocal section and, in its complete form, it draws the movement to its conclusion.
The bass recitative begins and ends in major modes, the first movement to do so. The final two movements are also essentially major, a fact that draws attention to the shifting away from the pain of Jesus to focus more upon the positivity of salvation. The bass is not now the voice of Christ but that of Mankind, declaring loyalty whilst still admitting bewilderment and uncertainty. Nevertheless, the sustained string chords suggest an environment which nourishes and fortifies the soul in its initial state of confusion.
The text continues to retain the metaphor of the disciples whilst speaking to the congregation----My Jesus, I will come even though flesh and blood are incapable of understanding----in such circumstances men huddle together and build a fort where You were transfigured and avert their eyes from Your place of crucifixion----crucify within me the forbidden pleasures of this world and I will understand You and follow You joyfully to Jerusalem. Bach is keen to paint the most obvious images for the attention of his potential employers; note the rapid runs on laufen----the act of coming to Jesus (bar 2) and the unexpected c# denoting the cross at the place of crucifixion (bar 13). The movement ends with a joyful arioso in which the strings join, expressing the bliss associated with both the comprehension of events and the commitment to travel with Him.
And it is this sense of ecstasy that is encapsulated in the following tenor aria. The 3/8 time signature, symmetrical phrasing and rapid string skirls combine to create a sense of a dance of abandonment.
It is, perhaps, not one of a wholly Bacchanalian nature although Bach’s expression of the joy of union with Christ can often seem quite worldly and uninhibited. Bach enjoyed the earthy pleasures of mortal life and seems to have had little time for prissiness in the expression of spiritual experience. As far as we know he seems to have enjoyed tobacco, alcohol, food and sexual intimacy and it should not surprise us to discover very little distinction between his depictions of spiritual and earthly pleasures.
The text builds neatly upon the sentiments expressed at the end of the recitative, a combination of prayer preceded by an affirmation----[Jesus] my everything, my eternal treasure, uplift and transform me and strike down all that goes against a denunciation of the flesh----when my spirit is abased, draw me to You in peace. Bach takes a moment to depict the striking down of that which is unwanted in a brief melisma (bar 33-34) and there is just a touch of minor mode mortification suggestive of low spirits (bars 53-6). But there is little else to obstruct the sense of uplift which the soul receives from its union with Jesus. Spiritual joy does, however, equate with peace and contentment both of which are evoked briefly as everything pauses on an unresolved 7th chord (bar 64). The tenor is finally seduced by the merry violin skirls and, albeit somewhat belatedly, takes them up in his final phrase, thus affirming the ultimate joy of union with Jesus.
The progression of this cantata has been one of evolution of thought, faith and feeling, moving from a state of uncertainty to one of unquestioned faith. Bach could have left his congregation with a contemplative chorale, musing upon such matters, before the commencement of the sermon. Instead he chose to maintain the established mood of buoyancy and optimism with a chorale arrangement of almost unparalleled energy and gaiety. The several phrases are harmonised traditionally in four parts but they are separated and enclosed between a ‘moto perpetuo’ obbligato (first violin and oboe) and a continuous quaver bass line.
The form is that of a mini-chorale/fantasia and the effect is one of breathless excitement. This may well be a prayer but it is not a prayer emanating from the old or middle aged; it is one of childlike, innocent and vigorous enthusiasm----mortify us with Your grace and awaken us through Your own great qualities, replace the old thinking with the new so that here on earth our thoughts and cravings are directed only towards You.
It would seem that Bach had not yet reached a conclusion, if indeed he ever did, as to the most appropriate way of utilising the chorales in his cantatas. Certainly the quiet, closing moments of reflection and introspection became the norm, particularly in the second cycle. But the chorale could, as here, act as a focus of bounding energy and positivity.
Perhaps there was no single ideal way to end a cantata. To have created one might have resulted in pedantic repetition and mindless replication, form and convention for its own sake. Bach was simply not a composer who approached his art in that way.
Copyright: J Mincham 2010. Revised 2012 and 2014.