Chapter 56 BWV 44 Sie werden euch in den Bann tun

They will expel you from the synagogues.


Duet (tenor/bass)--chorus--aria (alto)--chorale (tenor)--recit (bass)--aria (sop)--chorale.

The fifty-sixth cantata of the cycle for the Sunday after Ascension.

Readers familiar with the canon may be aware that Bach also set the quotation forming the text of the first two movements of this cantata as the opening movement of C 183. There, somewhat surprisingly, he presented it quite minimally as an accompanied recitative. Students will wish to compare the versions (vol 2, chapter 47).

The theme of this cantata is principally one of heresy, false teaching and the combating of these abominable doctrines. In John 16, Jesus prophesies the persecution of his disciples by those who know not God or Himself. The prediction comes in two parts, making it suitable for its division in this cantata into the opening duet and the chorus----they shall ban you from the synagogues (duet) and----the time will come when whoever kills you shall believe that he is serving God (chorus).

Before looking further at this work, it is worth pausing for a few contextual comments. After C 12 Bach composed four new cantatas (166, 86, 37 and 44). It is, incidentally, astonishing how many times we find cantatas bound together by common elements in groups of fours. The last six works of the cycle, however, are all transcriptions of earlier works from Cöthen or Weimar (172, 59, 173, 184, 194 and 165). It is the case that Bach must have been hard pressed since seven works were required in the single month of May 1724 and he could hardly be criticised for resuscitating earlier compositions. But two other factors should be taken into consideration. Firstly, he was clearly running short of suitable pre-composed works because after the end of this cycle he very seldom called upon his established repertoire of pre-Leipzig cantatas. Secondly, a point which is not always taken on board, he was only a few weeks away from launching his cycle of chorale cantatas from the First Sunday after Trinity 1724 (volume 2 deals with these important and substantial works in detail). It is inconceivable that Bach had not been planning it for some time and it it highly likely that he was involved in the process of plotting out the first works some weeks in advance. That in itself would explain the group of six transcriptions after C 44.

All of which puts C44 in a rather special situation being the last original work Bach composed before the group of Cs 20, 2, 7 and 135 which were to set entirely new standards of ‘well regulated’ church music.

In terms of sheer musical quality C 44 cannot be faulted and in some ways it looks ahead to the glories yet to come. At least four of its seven movements are as good as anything Bach ever wrote and one, the central chorale, is so forward looking that it seems almost to pre-empt the atonal harmonies of the twentieth century. It is to be regretted that this cantata is not performed more often, one possible reason being that in the twenty-first century some people are put off by the title.

Tenor/bass aria.

In turning our attention to the opening duet, we pause only to remind ourselves of the text----they will ban you from the synagogues. This terse, authoritative statement is declaimed by means of a group of six crotchets introduced, in imitation, by the two oboes.



It is not long before this powerfully assertive idea dissolves into streams of quavers. These had been pre-empted by the continuo line from the second bar and create a possible allusion to the dispersal of those ejected. The ritornello theme is long and confident with echoes of unease. The bass and tenor enter, also in imitation, with the same strongly marked crotchet theme.

The writing throughout is similar for voices and instruments which, in combination, produces a concentrated but lucid five-part texture. It has several well marked and easily recognisable characteristics. The first is the group of marked crotchets that so clearly and forcefully articulates the one line of text. Another is the accentuation of long, sustained notes, frequently generating dissonant suspensions and emotions of pain and anguish. The dispersive streams of quavers evoke images of bustling activity and finally the upward leap of a 6th, first heard in the second oboe (bar 6) and later on voices, suggests an edgy and taut articulation of what will be seen as a prophecy of considerable import.

Built upon a simple ritornello principle, there are three vocal blocks, each introduced by the crotchet-driven stark warning announced imitatively by the two voices (from bars 23, 42 and 57). The movement ends with a condensed version of the original instrumental ritornello.

Chorus.

The chorus follows without a break, indeed the last bar of the one movement is the first bar of the next, and it is similarly uncompromising in tone----the time will come when your murderer will believe that he has done a service to God. The character is determined principally by the bass line which alternates between ominously rumbling semi-quaver passages and equally foreboding repeated quavers. The shape of the first of these figures in augmentation (longer notes) becomes the woodwind passage which separates the early choral interjections (see bars 2 and 4).

  Continuo motive followed by the woodwind idea developed from it.


The initial statements of the chorus are largely homophonic with repeated rhetorical calls of----the time will come----followed by -----whosoever murders you. For this latter thought Bach creates a menacing chromatic texture of sustained notes underpinned by unexpected harmonies (from bars 6, 18 and 27). Again, with a minimalistic text, Bach creates a chorus of focussed intensity, the vigorous calls noting the inevitability of the approaching calamity set against sinister predictions of misguided assassination.

Alto aria.

Still entrenched within the gloom of minor modes, the alto presents the third movement, an aria for voice, continuo and obbligato oboe. The text falls neatly into two sections, each of which is developed within the two parts of a traditional da capo structure----earthly Christians must be Christ’s faithful disciples-----until they are blessed they must suffer torment, exile and misery. There is, as yet, just the barest hint of something better in the words----until blest----but otherwise we are still residing in the caverns of that eighteenth century Lutheran acceptance of suffering and hardship as an inevitable component of the Christian’s route to heaven. Great though the music of this cantata undoubtedly is, the attentive listener must be wondering when, and speaking aesthetically how, the gloom will be lifted! In fact, as we shall see, we still have quite some way to go.

But this glimmer of hope, tiny though it may be is not lost on Bach. Both the oboe ritornello and the alto melodies move quickly into the major mode of Eb within moments, although they do not tarry there! Nevertheless, there is an instant and welcome brightness and lightening of the mood before the music returns to, and substantially remains in, the minor.

The initial theme begins with a two-bar statement of some rhetorical power.


Somewhat surprisingly, the alto does not take it up until the middle section, a musical encapsulation of the imperative----Christians on earth must! It then dissolves into streams of triplets with which the singer also becomes ultimately preoccupied. We cannot be sure what they symbolise, very possibly the communities of mortal Christians, a nation of disciples spreading the Word.

But in noting that there is surprisingly little direct imitation between oboe and voice in this otherwise complex trio, might we assume that one takes on the role of Christ and the other that of the true Christian? Although the ultimate objective is to become as one, they have different roles on earth as Christ commands and offers salvation whilst Man praises, has faith and spreads the Word. Total conjecture, of course, but not entirely without purpose. Close inspection of scores enables us to be sure that Bach‘s inspiration was derived from particular, sometimes quite specific abstruse imagery. Furthermore, some listeners may prefer to enter the spirit of the music by creating their own mental pictures of what its shapes suggest.

The sustained oboe note at the very bottom of its register (bars 32-34) is a foretaste of what is to come in the second section where the alto similarly emphasises, and indeed draws out, images of torment, exile and misery.

Tenor  chorale.

The chorale setting within the next movement borders upon the bizarre. It will surprise some to note that it is actually in Eb major although the sinewy, snake-like writhings of the continuo bass disguise it. In fact so chromatic is this line that it sometimes appears to be almost atonal, despite the fact that it migrates through a number of related keys. The tenor has four short lines of text which pursue the established themes of hardship and pain----Ah God, how much anguish befalls me on that narrow pathway of torment to heaven. There seems little doubt that the byzantine bass line represents the difficult road and the human effort needed to travel and surmount it. But even so the good Christian will persevere and ultimately triumph; tortuously chromatic though the bass line is, it reaches brief havens of musical repose in the major keys of Bb and Eb.



Bass recitative.

The problem of effectively changing direction in this cantata has been alluded to and we now discover that is it the single recitative that becomes the turning point. It begins with a summary of the situation----the Antichrist misguidedly seeks to persecute the followers of Christ. It ends, however, with the affirmation that Christians simply rise above it----like palm trees, their heavy loads merely stimulate higher growth. It is surprising that Bach did not make use of the device of moving from minor to major mode in preparation for the exultant soprano aria, a process he often employed elsewhere. Nevertheless, the emphasis is now upon the individual Christian who, with encouragement, shall bear his load and prevail.

Soprano aria.

The soprano aria encapsulates the emerging of the triumphant spirit from the caverns of desolation and despair. Accompanied by strings, a doubling oboe giving bite to the first violin line, the mood created is one of jolly skips formed from figures that Schweitzer would have classified as ‘motives of joy’.



The outer sections of this conventional da capo movement express the view that the Christian’s comfort comes from his certain knowledge that God watches over His Church and this is confirmed by the long melismas on wacht----to observe. The middle section is carefully crafted to convey not only the impression of threatening metaphoric storms of misfortune, but also that of the God-given sunshine that follows them. In truth, Bach’s storms here are hardly intimidating and more graphic portrayals may be found elsewhere in the cantatas. Nevertheless, the rising build up of the strings (bars 36-39) creates an impression of gathering clouds



and there are two florid melismas on türmen----the piling up {of the elements} which alert us to potential dangers. But even against these, Bach contrives to counterpoint the joyous string skips from the first section (bars 35 and 40), a clear indication that we should not be overly disturbed. Besides, the final emphasis before the da capo repeat is on gelach---- joy and happiness associated with the returning sun.

Chorale.

Major modes having been established, they remain until the end. The chorale is well known, versions of it appearing in both the Saint John and St Matthew Passions and ending C 13, another cantata of great emotional intensity. The setting for C 44 is one of the least ornate or passionate perhaps because Bach felt that we had had enough stimulation already in this cantata! The text is personal, summative and fatalistic----Thus, Soul, be true to yourself and trust in your Creator----whatever happens, He counsels you well in all things.

It might have been something of a relief had we been told this earlier. On the other hand, we would not have been given the opportunity of enjoying such great music. And in any case, it seems that individual Christians must experience and attempt to surmount challenge before they may receive the palliative. In that sense this cantata becomes another of those which we might view as an instructional as well as an emotional experience!

LINK: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV44.htm

Copyright: J Mincham 2010.    Revised 2012.
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