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June 3, 2012

Bach Cantatas (31): Trinity Sunday

Trinity Sunday is the first Sunday after Pentecost and celebrates the Christian dogma of the Trinity, the three Persons of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It was not a feast of the early church but developed gradually and was established on the present Sunday by Pope John XXII (1316–1334). All Sundays until Advent are numbered from this day. There are three cantatas for this day - a fourth one (BWV 194) was originally written for the dedication of a new organ and has already been discussed.

Readings:
Romans 11:33–36, "depth of wisdom"
John 3:1–15, "the meeting of Jesus and Nicodemus"

References:
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Cantatas:
  • O heilges Geist- und Wasserbad, BWV 165, 16 June 1715

    Arie S: O heilges Geist- und Wasserbad
    Recitativ B: Die sündige Geburt verdammter Adamserben
    Arie A: Jesu, der aus großer Liebe
    Recitativ B: Ich habe ja, mein Seelenbräutigam
    Arie T: Jesu, meines Todes Tod
    Choral: Sein Wort, sein Tauf, sein Nachtmahl


    ("O holy bath of spirit and water") Intimate scale like other Weimar cantatas. Based on the text "Except a man be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God" - in other words, the purification of the human spirit by baptism. Starts with a fugal soprano aria which uses the image of bath water as purifier of the soul. The first of two bass recitatives refers to the radiance of being clothed in the “white silk of Christ’s innocence.” After a slow but steady alto aria, follows the second bass recitative which is very expressive. It contains an image of the “blood-red serpent" which does not refer to Satan, but to the medieval portrayal of Christ in Limbo as a snake on the cross. And indeed, the ensuing tenor aria literally "snakes" along. It is a prayer for insight that the death of Jesus has brought salvation. The cantata concludes with a straightforward choral setting. It is interesting to see how in this cantata Bach manages to translates the difficult ideology into music. (***)

  • Es ist ein trotzig, und verzagt Ding, BWV 176, 27 May 1725

    Chor: Es ist ein trotzig and verzagt Ding um aller Menschen Herze
    Rezitativ A: Ich meine, recht verzagt
    Arie S: Dein sonst hell beliebter Schein
    Rezitativ B: So wundre dich, O Meister, nicht
    Arie A: Ermuntert euch, furchtsam und schüchterne Sinne
    Choral: Auf daß wir also allzugleich


    ("The heart is deceitful above all things") Again a short cantata. The fugal opening chorus brings the words of the title as a stern message. The alto recitative refers to the meeting of Jesus with Nicodemus, the reading for this day. The soprano aria is an attractive gavotte. Textually, it is a lament that "her sun is surrounded by clouds." After another recitative follows the alto aria which brings encouragement, but is all the same accompanied by dark tones. The cantata ends with a straightforward chorale harmonization. (**)

  • Gelobet sei der Herr, mein Gott, BWV 129, 16 June 1726

    Coro: Gelobet sei der Herr, mein Gott
    Aria (bass): Gelobet sei der Herr, mein Gott, mein Heil
    Aria (soprano): Gelobet sei der Herr, mein Gott, mein Trost
    Aria (alto): Gelobet sei der Herr, mein Gott, der ewig lebet
    Chorale: Dem wir das Heilig jetzt


    ("Praised be the Lord, my God") Lovely little chorale cantata, a general praise of the Trinity, without reference to a specific gospel reading. Bach left the chorale text unchanged and did not add any other text. Grand opening movement has trumpets and drums and wonderful motoric rhythm. The text is a praise of God the Creator. After that follow three arias in a row, for bass (with continuo), soprano (with flute and violin) and alto (with oboe d'amore), all elegantly crafted. The alto aria is a pastoral dance and the highlight of the cantata. The closing chorale is again joyful though somewhat pompous. Overall rather uncomplicated music. (***)