Chapter 48 Bwv 66

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Chapter 48 BWV 66 Erfreut euch, ihr Herzen

All hearts rejoice.

Chorus–recit (bass)–aria (bass)–recit/arioso (tenor/alto)–duet (alto/tenor)–chorale.

The forty-eighth cantata of the cycle for Easter Monday.

NB: note that the essay on C 4, the forty-seventh cantata, is to be found in volume 2.

The remaining two cantatas presented for the 1724 Easter celebrations were, again, transcriptions of earlier secular compositions, originally seeing the light of day in Cöthen (see Dürr pp 277 and 284 for details of the reworkings and transmission of these works). Clearly this means that the texts would have  been altered and Bach′s methods of devising musical motives from the textual images cannot be assumed. Nevertheless, it is always instructive to see how he adapted non sacred music to spiritual purpose.

Indeed the ′discourse′ nature of these texts should alert us to their secular genesis. This approach may have been less common in the conservative Leipzig churches than in secular congratulatory or wedding pieces, perhaps because of their operatic implications. Bach did compose dialogue cantatas for Christ and the Soul at a later stage but they were not common in the first cycle and completely absent from the second.

But whatever the background to it may have been, one is grateful not to have lost C 66, a work bubbling with energy and invention. Like C 31 it is a predominantly major-mode work, proclaiming the elation of the Easter resurrection and the implications it has for mankind. Additionally, it takes the basic shape of the cantata which Bach was later to utilise for some time, particularly in the second cycle i.e. opening chorus and closing four-part chorale separated by a group of recitatives and arias, one of the latter frequently being a duet.


The chorus must surely count as one of the longest and most exhilarating of Bach′s early works. It shares characteristics with the opening movement of the first cantata of the Christmas Oratorio, the da capo structure, the same key and time signature as well as repeated note figurations and great swirling scale passages on the strings and wind. One wonders if Bach had the one in mind when he composed the other. The cantata movement is, incredibly, even longer than that from the Oratorio by about twenty five percent!

The sheer momentum of the instrumental ritornello takes one′s breath away. The orchestra is large but not as big as that which Bach had employed for C 31 on the previous day: two oboes and bassoon, strings and continuo and one trumpet (added later by Bach) whose function is mainly the doubling of other instruments, although one misses it greatly in its absence. The text falls neatly into two sections, clearly appropriate for the two parts of a da capo structure

   a) Rejoice hearts and depart sorrows, the Saviour lives and reigns.

   b) Dispel grief, fear and anxiety for He revives the realm of the Spirit.

Once the listener grasps the fact that the first (and third) sections of the da capo structure deal with the former line and the predominantly minor-mode middle section the latter, s/he is well on the way to understanding how the movement works. What we cannot know, of course, is whether Bach chose the movement and then demanded a neatly divided couplet to fit it or if he was handed the verse and chose this chorus because it matched the pattern. We can, however, appreciate that whilst many details of congruence between words and music may not be apparent in the circumstances of fitting music with a text for which it was not originally conceived, nevertheless Bach must have given much thought to the importance of structural matching.

The first section becomes easy to follow when we appreciate that the opening twenty-four bar instrumental ritornello is the backbone. It occurs three times in full, from bars 1, 51 and 133. Between these statements lie two choral sections of eulogy and in each case the entries of the full chorus are preceded by some vocal two-part writing. The wind and strings are virtually never silent, providing an inexorable momentum of power and vigour.

The middle section (from bar 156) is marked by lighter orchestration and vocal writing, a predominance of minor modes and the continual use of the original violin repeated-note idea (from the opening four bars) in the continuo.

Its lower pitch gives it a different character which fits well with the notions of ′tearing and trembling′ expressed in the text. There is a minimum of tutti choir work with the majority of the section a duet between alto and bass. Their lines appear more tragic than the passing reference to dispelled fears would seem to justify, a series of poignant descending chromatic passages and suspensions. It is powerful music, perhaps too expressive for the ideas it is conveying, a possible consequence of the adaptation.

But it matters little. The first section returns to remind us of the pomp, ecstasy and heraldry associated with the living Lord, and good Christians surely cannot have too much of that!

Bass recitative.

There is a marked contrast between the two recitatives. The first is plain and undemanding and it is the only one of the cantata′s movements to begin in the minor. The singer’s opening phrase is set very high in the register declaiming the rupturing of the grave and along with it, our misery—-the mouth now proclaims the living Lord and, whatever the circumstances, those who are faithful will thrive. As if to mark the satisfaction of this last thought, the upper strings give a little arpeggio flourish. The tonal movement from minor to major is in itself symbolic of the transition in thought from grave to redemption.

Alto/tenor, recitative/arioso.

Before considering the bass aria, let us look at the second recitative. It is a much more complicated structure, a duet for alto and tenor but accompanied only by continuo. It is a discourse between two allegorical figures Hope and Fear set in three parts:

1) recitative (Hope)     2) arioso (duet)     3) recitative (duet, Fear predominating).

Hope begins with what amounts to a lengthy sermon—-to look on the Saviour and rejoice in Him is the obligation of Christians—-but even here my soul seeks happiness as His voice reminds me how His death brings life and comfort—-but, alas, my song of thanks is too little. An extended arioso duet follows in which Fear expresses doubts with Hope asserting certainty about Christ′s resurrection (the merging together of these opposing views may well have given Bach the strategy for the unusual structuring of the following duet.) In fact, since the continuo bass line takes a full and active part, this section becomes a trio of equals which seems a little at odds with the message. Perhaps it is a legacy from the earlier version, a piece of music which Bach thought worth retaining, despite its minimal allegiance to the text.

Bach thence returns to a simple secco recitative format for the final interchange between the two figures, now a linear discourse as in conventional conversation. Hope reassures Fear that the grave could not, indeed, constrain the Saviour and Fear, partly convinced, calls upon God for the strength to commit fully. This will be given in the following movement and confirmed in the closing chorale.

Bass aria.

Bach certainly had no intention of having the arias of this cantata eclipsed by the magnificent opening chorus. The first, for bass, lies between the two recitatives and is strongly scored for two oboes, strings and continuo (including bassoon). As in the chorus, the ritornello theme is fully developed, a complete binary-form movement in itself. Heard in full four times, it also forms the backbone of a da capo structure accounting for over one third of the complete aria, a proportion which Bach is want to employ when the instrumental themes convey a particularly dance-like sense of jubilation. The time signature of 3/8 is also that of the opening chorus and, incidentally, of the three main movements of C 134 to be performed the following day. The connections of dance with the images of celebration and festivity associated with the Easter message could hardly be more explicit.

For the technically minded, the ritornello theme moves to the dominant key (bar 16) and then returns home for the vocalist′s entry. It is dominated by a syncopated hornpipe-type rhythm (from bar 8) which, coincidentally, also forms a feature of C 134/6 discussed in the next chapter.
    Passage from C66/3 followed by that from C 134/6.

The first section is a continuous, joyful interaction of voice and instruments fully encapsulating and declaiming the text—- Raise a song to the Highest in thanks for His mercy and fidelity. When Bach is given a text about songs of praise and devotion, he frequently provides us with a perfect paradigm.

The middle section voyages through musically contrasting minor keys and takes on a slightly more serious tone. It is based around three ideas—-Jesus comes—-He gives us peace—-He summons us and daily renews His compassion. It begins with an oratorical ′Jesus comes′ followed by a shivering of strings and wind, presumably proclaiming His entrance.
   Upper strings.

The key words which are given emphasis through extended melismas are Friede—-peace—-and leben—-in the sense of living with Him. The general energy and dance-like vigour is unabated throughout as the instruments, always extending material originally presented in the ritornello theme, assume a more active role than is often the case in these da capo middle sections.

The final line asserting the daily renewal of His goodness is, as has been mentioned elsewhere in these essays, often to be found carved into traditional German sideboards and other furniture and would certainly have struck a familiar domestic note with members of the congregation.

Alto/tenor aria.

The following recit/arioso has been dealt with above, so we can now turn our attention to the last substantive movement before the chorale. The alto and tenor pairing continues in another dialogue movement but this time with a difference. The traditional setting of such pieces is for one voice to follow the other in points of argument, disagreement or persuasion as in normal conversation. In this case Bach takes advantage of the fact that music can present different, even opposing statements simultaneously, a technique more lightly touched upon in the previous movement.

The aria begins with another joyous, major-mode theme, the solo violin moving rapidly, and somewhat unusually for Bach, into Vivaldi-like idiomatic figurations, another example of the rhythmically pervasive ′sewing machine,′ a not altogether laudatory term that is sometimes applied to insistent baroque music. Bach makes it work because such lines form only a part of a more complex texture and in any case, the drive of the harmonic rhythms and progressions constantly propels the music forward. Here the violin′s infectiousness is such that even the continuo is unable to prevent itself from joining in just prior to the entry of the voices.

The violin continues to adorn the singers with its driving semiquaver patterns throughout the movement.

The voices enter together but with markedly contrasting melodic characteristics. The alto (Fear) has sustained notes and appears to be dragging his/her feet—-I feared the gloom of the grave. At the same time the tenor (Hope), his vocal line taken directly from the violin′s opening bar, is assertive and contradictory—-I will triumph and fear it not! The same conflict of view is also subsequently expressed about the certainty of salvation. Musical accord seems to come quickly, however, for as early as bar 14 the alto line takes on the same character as that of the tenor and mutual agreement appears to have been reached. The whole process is repeated before a return of the violin ritornello theme completes the first section.

The middle section is a confirmation that all is well and that no matter what the wrath of my enemies may be, I shall triumph in God. The notion of the victory of Hope over Fear is the central one, marked by one of the longest double melismas in the canon (from bar 56). A particular point of interest is the use of the sustained, repeated notes, first heard in the alto, now in the tenor line (bars 51-4). It seems very likely that Bach had a chorale melody in mind that he was quoting, here set to the words—-my heart is full of comfort. Many German chorales make a feature of repeated notes and one cannot be certain which one he was thinking of. A good contender might be Keinen hat Gott verlassen—-God has forsaken no-one. The text is obviously appropriate and the tenor line (51-2) is an almost exact repetition of its first phrase.


The closing chorale is one of the shortest and simplest, little more than an extended musical ′amen′. It begins with thee Alleluias and ends with a Kyrie eleis. In between lies the simple statement—-we will be glad that Christ is our comfort.

All good Christian hearts will surely rejoice at this!


Copyright: J Mincham 2010.   Revised 2012, 2014, 2017, 2020.