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June 24, 2012

Bach Cantatas (34): Trinity III

The church year from Trinity until Advent is simply counted in figures as Trinity I, Trinity II, etc. This is the third Sunday after Trinity.

There are no major church feasts in this second part of the church year. Instead, issues of faith and doctrine are explored. On this Sunday, the theme of the tormented sinner, who can only be saved by Gods' grace, is explored.

Readings:
1 Peter 5:6–11, "Cast thy burden upon the Lord"
Luke 15:1–10, Parable of the Lost Sheep

References:
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Cantatas:
  • Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis, BWV 21, 17 June 1714

    Sinfonia
    Coro: Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis in meinem Herzen
    Aria (soprano): Seufzer, Tränen, Kummer, Not
    Recitativo (tenor): Wie hast du dich, mein Gott
    Aria (tenor): Bäche von gesalznen Zähren
    Coro: Was betrübst du dich
    Recitativo (Dialogus soprano, bass): Ach Jesu, meine Ruh
    Aria (soprano, bass): Komm, mein Jesu, und erquicke/Ja, ich komme und erquicke
    Coro: Sei nun wieder zufrieden, meine Seele
    Aria (tenor): Erfreue dich, Seele, erfreue dich, Herze
    Coro: Das Lamm, das erwürget ist


    ("I had much affliction") Long cantata written in Weimar but later revised. Thematically it describes the pain felt by the lost sheep and its eventual reunification with God. The cantata introduces themes of pain and suffering and there is a mood of desolation that never quite lifts. The work was meant as a musical farewell to the critically ill Weimar prince Johann Ernst who had been Bach's pupil - Bach uses a Vivaldi melody in the first chorus that was a favorite of the prince. A sighing motif characterizes the music in the opening sinfonia with violin and oboe. The fugal opening chorus is followed by a beautiful soprano aria with sighing motifs and that in its turn by the tenor aria "Streams of salty tears" where the flood of tears is suggested by the upwelling music. A hopeless feeling of loneliness speaks from this aria, but a chorus that introduces a spark of hope concludes the first part. The uplifting second part starts with a dialogue between the soul and Jesus that introduces the material from the gospel reading - a favorite didactic device of Lutheran theology. It has a tripartite rhythm and a cute melody almost like Mozart's "La ci darem la mano." By trusting in the grace of God, the mood transforms into joy and praise. This is anchored by a great chorus, "Be at peace again, my soul", where the soloists weave their voices around the main melody. After a sprightly tenor aria follows the concluding chorus, now a forceful one with trumpets and drums (it must have been studied by Handel as there are echoes of it in The Messiah). This long work is often regarded as one of Bach's best cantatas. (****)

  • Ach Herr, mich armen Sünder, BWV 135, 25 June 1724

    Coro: Ach Herr, mich armen Sünder
    Recitativo (tenor): Ach heile mich, du Arzt der Seelen
    Aria (tenor): Tröste mir, Jesu, meine Gemüte
    Recitativo (alto): Ich bin von Seufzen müde
    Aria (bass): Weicht, all ihr Übeltäter
    Chorale: Ehr sei ins Himmels Throne


    ("Ah Lord, me a poor sinner") About the joy of a repenting sinner, which links to the gospel reading for this Sunday. Starts with an impressive harmonization of Hassler's hymn "Herzlich tut mich verlangen," the melody sung slowly by the basses to symbolize the "humbling" under the hand of God. This establishes a feeling of desolation right at the beginning. In the first recitative by tenor the tears running down the faces of sinners are illustrated by demi-semiquaver runs. The easy-going tenor aria "Comfort Jesus my spirit" with two oboes chasing each other offers some relief from the tension. The second aria is for bass and it is a rousing, militaristic affair that would have fit in an opera by Handel. The final choral is a more conventional harmonization than the opening of the cantata. (***)