Chapter 74 Bwv 195 S

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Chapter 74 BWV 195 Dem Gerechten muss das Licht

 For the righteous, light is ever present.


Chorus–recit (bass)–aria (bass)–recit (sop)–chorus–chorale.

A wedding cantata.

Yet again a work with a history that is complex and incomplete, and the two main reasons for this should be familiar. The first is Bach’s practice of reusing his cantatas and producing several versions, in this case at least three (Dürr p 755) tailored specifically for later events. The second is the incomplete transmission of the scores. The version of this work performed today is of particular interest since it is thought to have been compiled some time in the last 3-4 years of Bach’s life. It follows the movement pattern as set out above, with the bulk of the cantata performed before the wedding ceremony, and the chorale succeeding it.

Following the thread of the textual themes of the wedding cantatas, it will be seen that C 202 was based principally around the renewal of the seasons and the emergence of the happy spring season, whilst C 210 makes a number of allusions to the art of music and the important role of the worthy patron. C 195 has many more religious references centred principally on praise for, and goodness of, the Almighty and, putting aside the specific allusions to marriage, it would seem to have more in common with the religious cantatas. It is also the only one of these three cantatas to include a chorale. Might the bridegroom have been a Pastor? Or an ostentatiously religious individual? Dürr (p 756) suggests a lawyer but the evidence is slight.

We will revisit this subject in the following chapter where C 197 also has a manifestly religious theme and includes not one, but two chorales.

Another fact uniting Cs 195 and 197 and separating them from Cs 202 and 210 is their use of commanding choruses. This certainly implies a union of people of wealth, status and resource; perhaps the suggestion of a lawyer has been too lightly dismissed! Furthermore, the choruses are scored for particularly large ceremonial orchestras of the sort usually reserved for the cantatas for the Easter and Christmas festivals or those paying homage to individuals of high status. These are full-blooded celebratory compositions, not chamber works.


The opening chorus of C 195 is scored for a trio of trumpets with drums, a pair each of flutes and oboes, strings and continuo. A casual glance at the score would seem to indicate that Bach also demanded a second chorus but this is misleading. Bach almost never used such resources, quite possibly because of the limitations of expense in employing additional singers. In the religious cantatas there are only three examples of his expanding the four-part choir. He adds an additional soprano part in the choruses of C 191 (vol 3, chapter 54) but we have no information as to the function of this work, taking as it does, three movements also found in the Bm Mass and sung in Latin; it is certain that it would have found no place in a Lutheran service. C 31 (chapter 47) similarly requires an additional soprano line.The single movement comprising C 50 (vol 3, chapter ) is scored for double choir but again its origins and functions are unknown, and recently doubt has been cast on its authenticity. So the use of a double chorus would be a most unusual and interesting event; but it turns out not to be the case.

It is known that Bach often employed two ‘ranks’ of singers in the cantatas, the concertante group who sang continuously and the ripieno which joined in at certain times to expand the sound. Usually they would have sung from the same parts, thus reducing the onerous requirement for additional copying but here, for some reason, their parts appear to have been copied separately. Close examination shows that the second choir has only the briefest moments of independence (see for example the soprano lines in bar 34); for the most part it supports the first choir in tutti sections and for marked effect. The fact that the lines were copied separately could indicate:    a) that a much larger choir than usual was available for a particular performance or    b) that the doubling requirements were complex and best served by the provision of independent parts. It could also be that it served a pedagogical purpose, demonstrating clearly to students the contrasting but complementary roles of the two sets of voices: Bach, the ever active teacher/composer.

The text is a direct biblical quotation in two sections—-Light is ever present for the righteous and joy for devout hearts—-and—-rejoice in the Lord righteous people, remember and praise His Holiness. The division of text so as to make, firstly, a general statement which is then applied directly to the members of the wedding party, clearly dictates the bipartite structure of the chorus. The lyricist also applies same principle in later movements.

It would be difficult to find a greater contrast in movements united in function than those which exist between the opening chorus of C 195 and the gentle wafting of strings in the first aria of C 202; or, indeed, the recitative heralding C 210. Presumably there are a number of contributing factors, the first of which is the text which here proudly and boldly extols the Lord’s holiness (although it may be noted that there are many examples in the religious cantatas where Bach conveys this quite effectively with lessened forces). The second must surely have been the wealth of Bach’s patrons, willing and able to provide the expense for large numbers of professional musicians. The third, already alluded to above, relates to the high status and importance of the couple whose union is celebrated.

The instrumental introduction (it cannot be called a ritornello theme because, although it provides most of the musical material, it is never again heard without the voices, a fairly common practice in the later cantatas) is energetic and ebullient. Flutes and oboes carry the main melodic theme against brass interjections and a string arpeggio idea ranging over a full two octaves (bars 1 and 10-11 and latterly pitted against the tutti choral sections). Clearly, the imagery of the penetrating Divine Light engages with the joy that it engenders in the hearts of the righteous.

When the choir enters, Bach uses an unusual structural principle that he had applied in the first movement of Brandenburg 2: following the ritornello theme, one or two bars of tutti herald the introduction of each of the four solo instrumentalists. Here the vocal soloists enter in the order S, A, T and B, using a theme derived directly from the original woodwind idea and first heard in the opening bars.

In fact this structural thinking partially explains the necessity for the additional ripieno choir, since the entire concept of this opening section is based on the concerto principle of soloists pitted against tutti sections, possibly a musical representation of brilliant and commanding shafts of Divine Light.

The second part of this commanding chorus is in 6/8 time, thus introducing a more dance-like lilt; it should be recalled that the first section represented the actions of the Divine, Almighty and Everlasting, whilst the second is addressed to members of the human race. The tenors introduce a new fugal subject, taken in turn by the altos, sopranos and basses.

This is immediately followed by a second exposition of the same theme in the original order of S, A, T and B, now reinforced by the ripieno choir with wind and strings sounding below a resounding trumpet theme. Perhaps Bach was seeking to encapsulate within this musical structuring a sense of the universality of the joy of those who are able to rejoice in the Lord’s Light, a process that begins slowly and spreads eventually to all.

Whatever his intention this section, like the first, ends with a blaze of instruments and voices proclaiming the confidence and ecstasy that emanates from the Light of the Lord.

Bass recitative.

Both the recitatives have particular points of interest and serve to remind us that even late in his career Bach avoided repeating himself, continuing to experiment with new and different forms of expression. The first is secco but the continuo makes a powerful contribution in the form of a solo cello, emitting streams of triplets.

The bass recitative and aria (unusually, there is only the one aria in this cantata) are placed so that the former flows directly into the latter. Furthermore, they follow the lead of the chorus in that the first parts of each text have universal connotations and the latter lines focus more upon the blessed couple and their union. The text of the recitative revolves around the numbers of people joining the ranks of the devout and sharing the divine Light. In this case, they are destined to enjoy wealth and prosperity too, although the linking of faith and fortune is not always to be assumed, at least not in several of the religious cantatas! Nevertheless, it must have been comforting and, indeed, politic that the happy couple be assured that they may enjoy both the benefits of redemptive faith and worldly comforts!

The cello continuo line swirls around in masses of triplets, possibly expressing the couple’s happiness or perhaps even the energy and redemptive power of the Divine Light. But in the final bars Bach turns from the frenetic triplets to the regular, and possibly more mundane, worldly semiquavers as the final two lines of text focus upon the human participants in this celebration—-Oh happy union in which this couple may find their joy in each other. It is a small point of detail easily missed, but we may be sure that Bach would have had good reason for this unexpected alteration of the rhythmic structure.

   Triplet figuration, latterly becoming semi-quavers.

Bass aria.

The text of the aria is similarly structured, the first three lines dealing with the duty to praise God’s charity and fidelity, the last three again focussing upon the happy couple—-today’s union presents you with nothing but bliss and the renewal of Light and joy! This would seem to cry out for a traditional da capo structure and Bach does, indeed, use ternary form, slightly rewriting the reprise instead of repeating it exactly. The reason for this had emerged from his later cantata structures when he had frequently modulated to a new key by the end of the first section, in this case the dominant. This precludes the exact repetition of the A section because it would end in the ‘wrong’ key. Bach’s setting out towards, and reaching, the dominant key before the B section is a venturing towards the symphonic sonata-form structure of the later eighteenth century.

The bass is supported by strings, flutes and continuo with two oboes having a minimal role, doubling the upper strings in the tutti sections. Two features of the opening ritornello theme are worthy of attention. The first is the opening five-bar phrase which has the effect of temporarily elongating the musical thinking. The second is the inverted rhythm of the ‘scotch snap’ or ‘Lombard rhythm’, first heard in bar 2 but making its presence felt throughout the upper melodic lines.

This rhythm was seldom used by Bach and has connotations of the later galante style. John Butt notes in his excellent booklet on the Mass in B minor that Bach adapted the instrumental parts of the Domine Deum from the Bm Mass to include it, presumably to appear more fashionable (p 10). This is, indeed, another indication that C 195 is a later work. The snap suggests a folk song or dance and has the effect of enervating the music and adding a sense of carefree jauntiness to its character. In fact, the listener could be forgiven for thinking that the opening ritornello theme was more akin to the style of JC rather than JS Bach.

The use of minor keys in the middle section (from bar 59) conveys a more personal feeling and the long and complex melismas on Freude—-joy—-need no elucidation. This is a restrained but effective song of praise to God, combined with a celebration of the nuptials. The tiny coda added to the final ritornello statement is a further indication of Bach’s advanced structural thinking

Soprano recitative.

The second and final recitative is for soprano and continuo with a pair each of oboes and flutes, all with independent parts. It is a musical portrayal of the central part of the marriage ceremony when the vows having been exchanged, the priest blesses the union as the hand of God ties the bonds of love, thus completing the process. The oboes sustain the harmonies and mark the cadences in an act of well-rooted certainty and commitment of faith. The flutes embellish the central act with a series of scalic passages, beginning separately but always coming together in a symbolic act of the ritual ceremony. The soundscape is like no other in Bach, a perfect union of earthly commitment and Divine benefice. The rising scale passages pre-empt those with which the second, and final, chorus begins.


It is unusual for Bach to include two massive choruses in a wedding cantata, another indication of the importance of the event. The second one is more traditional in structure, a frequently used combination of ritornello and da capo form. Here the ripieno choir is still required, indeed it would surely have been a waste of resources not to have included it in both of the choruses. But now its interventions are more obvious and less complex than in the first movement, so simple indications of solo and tutti suffice on the one copied part for each voice.

The text again falls into two parts, the first a call to come together in order to praise the God of limitless mightiness. This lies at the heart of the setting of the outer sections, dominated by the imitated rising scales heard from the first bar (and latterly in all parts).

The chorus resounds with more scales, a probable image of all people gathering collectively, punctuated by brass chords; an obvious symbol of God’s might and power. Throughout, too, may be found Schweitzer’s ‘figure of joy’ a quaver followed by two semi-quavers, first heard in bar 7. The massive melismas on preisen—-praise—-make their point and require no comment (from bars 40, 71 and 84).

The middle section contrasts markedly with the outer ones. Although the melodic direction is still principally rising, the choral writing is essentially homophonic (chordal). The text is rather more quasi-philosophical than the opening lines, which do no more than recognise and praise God’s might, and this might explain the chromatic nature of the harmony—-the very beginning of all things comes from Your hands and Your overwhelming command ensures blessed fulfilment. Mankind, now assembled, speaks with one voice to express this fundamental religious truth and the music becomes more personal and distinctive.

But God’s might, and our praising of it, is all consuming as the da capo reprise reminds us.


The closing chorale is a simple offering of thanks and praise from mortal souls to the One Whom the angel choir extols in heaven. Its main interest lies in the added instruments. The flute and one horn double the chorale melody (in the case of the former, an octave higher), timpani accentuate the few tonic/dominant notes to which they are tuned and the second horn is given an independent part. This would seem to indicate that the movement survives from an earlier version of the cantata in which horns replaced the trumpets. It calls to mind the closing movement of C 1 (vol 2, chapter 41) in which the first horn also doubled the chorale and the second had its own melody. But that was a much more flamboyant gesture; here the second instrument is modest and draws little attention to itself.

Close analysis of these cantatas reveals much of the people and events which impinged upon Bach’s life when he produced commissions of this kind. They are miniature windows through which we may glimpse certain aspects of the culture of German eighteenth century lifestyles.


Copyright: J Mincham 2010.  Revised 2012 and 2014.