Chapter 45 BWV 188 Ich habe meine Zuversicht
I have put my trust.
Sinfonia--aria (tenor)--recit (bass)--aria (alto)--recit (sop)--chorale.
For the twenty-first Sunday after Trinity.
This is the fourth and last of the extant cantatas composed for this day, one existing from each of the four cycles. Contextual comments may be found in the essay on that from the third, C 98, chapter 31.
This cantata has been transmitted in the most fragmented form but fortunately most of it is redeemable. It is consequently performable, in a structure that probably closely approximates to the original. The score was dismembered and distributed in fragments in the nineteenth century, the greatest casualty being the opening sinfonia of which just over 70 bars have survived. Nevertheless, this is sufficient to show that it was a reworking of the last movement of the keyboard concerto in D minor BWV 1052, itself thought to be an arrangement of a lost violin concerto. Bach had already incorporated the first and second movements of this concerto into C 146 (chapter 14) the former of which, with three added oboe parts and organ playing the solo role, became the opening sinfonia.
All this gives us sufficient information to reconstruct the movement, particularly since Bach generally retained the macro-structure of such paraphrased works unaltered. Directors do still perform the cantata without the sinfonia but this is unfortunate. Ton Koopman has effectively reconstructed it and it may be heard on box 19 of his recordings of the complete cantatas.
Whilst we may not be able to say much about the restored movement per se, we can, at least, seek to understand why Bach chose it as the prelude for this particular cantata. Certainly the original concerto, of which he made at least three versions, must have been one that he thought highly of, and with good reason. Its three movements, all unusually in minor modes, form one of the most intensely dramatic and original musical statements from the Baroque era. From beginning to end it is a passionate and concentrated outpouring of emotion and ferocious relentlessness.
It is clear that Bach had become more ambitious with respect to the presentation of demanding sinfonias throughout the third Leipzig cycle where lengthy movements from the Brandenburg and other earlier concerti were resurrected with some regularity. The question, then, is not why use a sinfonia, but why this particular one. Had he already planned the passionate alto aria with organ obbligato and sought an equally intense work, also featuring the organ, to balance it as well as setting the scene? Were the textural ideas of perishable earthly entities set against the enduring might of the Lord so powerful as to provoke these almost violently passionate responses in Bach? Did Bach intend the inexorable energy and force of the concerto movement to depict the immutable and unstoppable power of the Lord?
Some such notions must have motivated him in the choosing of this piece over the many others of his previously composed works that would have been available.
Whether or not a conductor elects to use a reconstructed version of the sinfonia or not is bound to influence decisions about the interpretation of the tenor aria. It is a boldly assertive text----all my confidence is, and will forever remain, placed in God----when all else fails, His grace remains. Dürr (p 609) and others have noted the obvious similarities of the main theme with that of the Polonaise from the French Suite in E. A more telling comparison, despite the difference in mode, would be with the Sarabande from the fifth English Suite where both rhythm and shape accord strongly.
Opening two bars followed by the similar transposed themes from the French and English suites.
These keyboard pieces suggest a moderate tempo and a restrained performance which also seems fitting for an aria placed, as was intended, after the intensity of the sinfonia. Nevertheless, some conductors take it very quickly with that bounce and brightness which is frequently associated with major-mode opening movements. This may, to a degree, be a response to the middle section which does actually imply a quickening of the tempo.
A solo oboe doubles the violins in the ritornello but it establishes its independence from the point of the vocal entry. Thence violin and oboe are counterpointed against each other in order to underline particular points of text (e.g. from bar 47). The proportions of the aria are unusual but by no means unique, the middle section of what is a conventional da capo movement being much shorter than expected.
The extended A section is divided into two long vocal blocks (bars 15-35 and 43-68). Most listeners would expect the B section to begin at bar 43 but it doesn’t, as the return to the ritornello in the tonic key of F confirms (bars 68-84). The 19 bar B section is characterised by falling arpeggios on the oboe, broken vocal phrases and an insistent Alberti-type figuration in the upper strings.
Oboe, violins and voice from bar 83.
All musical elements here combine to express the intensity of everything failing around one, the civilised order fragmenting and fracturing.
But the fundamental point of the aria, and indeed the cantata, is not the focus upon a failure of the world but rather upon God’s consistency in these and, indeed, in all other circumstances. Our faith in this Divine Rock is the real issue, the breakdown of everything else being offered merely as context. Over 160 bars of music underline the significance of God’s steadfastness; less than twenty are concerned with the dramatic, but doctrinally less significant, depiction of chaos.
This is a secco recitative for bass, beginning and ending in the major mode. It speaks of God’s love and our trust in Him, no matter what He might do. The shaping of the melodic line, unencumbered by instruments other than the continuo, subtly adapts its expression to the sense and feeling of the text.
The fourth line melts appealingly as it tells of God revealing His love secretly, and again similarly with line 7, the commitment we give to Him even in the most extreme circumstances whereby He might wish to kill us.
Later the contours intensify as the Lord ‘hardens and becomes wrathful’, the final thought being expressed four times as a gentle arioso----I shall not release Him until I have His blessing. The time changes to 6/8, the mood becomes pastoral, the continuo line flowing and supportive and the final melisma on segne----the blessing or consecration----affirms the positivity of duly rewarded faith.
The alto aria, the fourth of six movements, does not hold the precise central place in the cantata but it seems as if it should. This dark and dramatic piece, accompanied by the organ with a cello doubling the bass line is, like the tempestuous sinfonia and the reflective chorale, set in the minor mode, in this case Em which Bach often uses for texts referring to the crucifixion.
But the cross and pain referred to here are not those of Christ but personal ones of a kind that we individual humans cannot escape. By implication there is of an analogy between the pain of Christ and that of Mankind, but the full intricacies of this situation cannot be explained because the Lord’s way is inscrutable and incomprehensible. The moral, if not the Divine concept, is clear: it is ultimately for the best that we, like Christ, should suffer but we are incapable of fathoming God’s reasons as to why this should be so. Our only possible response is to resign ourselves to inevitability and to praise the Lord in Whom we trust.
The images of pain and inscrutability seem to be the two that particularly stimulated Bach’s imagination. The initial organ obbligato line is not impenetrable but it is intricate and profound, and it increases in complexity bar by bar. A quaver and a crotchet are soon followed by semi-quavers, thence demi-semi-quaver skirls and finally runs of triplets.
The rhythmic complexities of the melody continue as the organ unfolds its obbligato against the almost equally intricate vocal line. Bach has set himself the seemingly impossible challenge of depicting the unfathomable by means of the perfectly comprehensible; a complex and ever-changing kaleidoscope of richly entwined rhythms and melodies.
We are now very familiar with the form of the aria, much used by Bach at this time, a ternary (A B A) structure in which the A section is rewritten principally in order for it to return to, and therefore end in, the tonic key. Section A ends at bar 27 and a shortened version of the ritornello theme, concentrating principally upon the triplet figuration, leads to the B or middle section (beginning bar 31). The text now emphasises the pain we suffer from the crosses we bear and the vocal line leans on these words with clear implications of sighing and moaning. There is very little of the major mode in this aria, although the middle section does contrive to end in G major, perhaps an indication of the light the Lord brings to us despite our lack of understanding of His purpose.
The minimally altered reprise of the A section begins in bar 48 and takes us through to the last ritornello statement, shortened and revised in order to maintain the intensity. This aria, once heard, is not quickly forgotten.
The brevity of the second recitative conceals its significance. The themes of the first aria are revisited, but more abruptly and in a different order. The singer, reinforced by the repeated string chords, announces the demise of the world since one cannot build firmly upon the false foundations of rank and position. But the third line reminds us that God will always endure and we are blessed if we but trust in Him (from bar 4). The strings immediately abandon their aggression and the vocal line becomes more mellifluous and gentle.
The warning to the unwary, first articulated in the tenor aria, has been restated. But as before, the relative significances of the world’s demise and the certainty of God’s timeless benefice are counterpointed against each other. This dramatic contrast simply serves to stress, once again, the significance to mortals of the latter contention.
The closing chorale recalls the three oboes from the sinfonia, along with the strings, to double the vocal lines. It is the final unflinching expression of faith in the God who can deliver us from all fears and misfortunes. The six two-bar phrases are serene and tranquil, a quiet and undramatic expression of faith, entirely lacking in any form of scepticism.
But Bach has one more tiny trick. The resolution of those tensions that may have existed between our fears of disasters and our unquestioning trust in the Lord is complete. Nevertheless, in one chromatic note of a flat in the continuo line (bar 7) Bach reminds us that Angst and Nöten----dread and distress----have not actually disappeared. With God’s help, we may well eventually overcome them, but they still remain to test and try us!
This one solitary note is surely a measure of Bach’s great attention to detail. It is a final and fleeting allusion to the theme of the day which sends a momentary shiver down the spine, a brief and tactful allusion to reality perhaps, but too subtle to threaten or challenge true conviction.
Copyright: J Mincham 2010. Revised 2012 and 2014.