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December 24, 2015

Bach Cantatas (58): Trinity XXV-XXVII

The twenty-fifth to twenty-seventh Sunday after Trinity. As the Twenty-fifth Sunday has only two cantatas, and the Twenty-sixth and Twenty-seventh each only one (these Trinity days only occurred in rare years when Easter fell very early), we treat them together in one post.

Written for the end of the Trinity season, like those for the previous Sunday, these cantatas have a strong eschatological flavor, treating of the Last Judgement, Armageddon and the promised "abomination of desolation."


Readings for Trinity XXV:
1 Thessalonians 4:13–18, the coming of the Lord (a vision of paradise that comes to the blessed)
Matthew 24:25–28, the Tribulation (a period full of calamities at the end of time)

Readings for Trinity XXVI:
2 Peter 3:3–13, look for new heavens and a new earth
Matthew 25:31–46, the Second Coming of Christ

Readings for Trinity XXVII:
1 Thessalonians 5:1–11, be prepared for the day of the Lord
Matthew 25:1–13, parable of the Ten Virgins

References:
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Cantatas for Trinity XXV:
  • Es reißet euch ein schrecklich Ende, BWV 90, 14 November 1723
    Aria (tenor): Es reißet euch ein schrecklich Ende
    Recitative (alto): Des Höchsten Güte wird von Tag zu Tage neu
    Aria (bass): So löschet im Eifer der rächende Richter
    Recitative (tenor): Doch Gottes Auge sieht auf uns
    Chorale: Leit uns mit deiner rechten Hand


    ("A horrible end will carry you off") A short cantata consisting of two arias (separated by recitatives) topped off with a chorale. The text concentrates on the terrifying aspects of the second coming of Christ, painting a rather dismal picture to make the faithful tremble in their benches. The horror of the Last Judgement was after all a favorite theme among Baroque artists, something which fired the imagination of also Bach. With its running scales and hammering blows in the strings, the first aria for tenor is truly ferocious, emphasizing what a horrible end awaits sinners. The bass aria with virtuoso trumpet (the trumpet of the Last Judgement as mentioned in the epistle reading) spells more wrath and destruction, as God in furious anger will take vengeance on those who have thwarted him. A setting of "Vater unser im Himmelreich" concludes this cantata (with some venom in its chromatic tail). 

  • Du Friedefürst, Herr Jesu Christ, BWV 116, 26 November 1724
    Du Friedefürst, Herr Jesu Christ (Chorale fantasia)
    Ach, unaussprechlich ist die Not (Alto aria)
    Gedenke doch, o Jesu (Tenor recitative)
    Ach, wir bekennen unsre Schuld (Terzetto by Soprano, Tenor, Bass)
    Ach, laß uns durch die scharfen Ruten (Alto recitative)
    Erleucht auch unser Sinn und Herz (Chorale)


    ("You Prince of Peace, Lord Jesus Christ") Chorale cantata based on one of the readings for this "eschatological Sunday," Paul's letter to the Thessalonians, which contains a vision of paradise that comes to the blessed. This vision is expressed through the confident and optimistic chorale melodies in the first and last movements, while in between the mood is quite different, reflecting on the horrors of the Last Judgment and punishment of sinners. The opening movement is an elaborate chorale fantasia, beginning with an instrumental ritornello. The alto aria with its tortuous oboe d’amore obbligato expresses the soul's "unspeakable" terror imagining the final judgement. After the recitative, we get a trio (something rare in Bach) rich in harmonic and contrapuntal interest in which the three voices confess their guilt and ask for forgiveness. The recitative for alto, a prayer for lasting peace, is then followed by the final chorale, "Erleucht auch unser Sinn und Herz."

Cantata for Trinity XXVI:
  • Wachet! betet! betet! wachet! BWV 70, 21 November 1723
    Part I
    Chorus: Wachet! betet! betet! wachet!
    Recitative (bass): Erschrecket, ihr verstockten Sünder
    Aria (alto): 'Wenn kömmt der Tag, an dem wir ziehen 
    Recitative (tenor): Auch bei dem himmlischen Verlangen
    Aria (soprano): Laßt der Spötter Zungen schmähen 
    Recitative (tenor): Jedoch bei dem unartigen Geschlechte
    Chorale: Freu dich sehr, o meine Seele
    Part II
    Aria (tenor): Hebt euer Haupt empor 
    Recitative (bass): Ach, soll nicht dieser große Tag
    Aria (bass): Seligster Erquickungstag 
    Chorale: Nicht nach Welt, nach Himmel nicht 

    ("Watch! Pray! Pray! Watch!") Again a cantata about Christ's second coming and the Last Judgement, based on a now lost cantata originally composed in Bach's Weimar period. The cantata starts with a striking trumpet theme in fanfare style (repeated many times in the course of the movement), after which the unaccompanied chorus enters to give a rousing warning about the Last Judgement. The choir contrasts short calls "Wachet!" and long chords "betet!" The next bass recitative is accompanied by all instruments, illustrating the fright of the sinners and the fear of the ones called to be judged. The alto aria with its mournful cello obbligato is rather laid back, but the soprano aria with its catchy violin accompaniment again possesses more spirit. The first part of the cantata ends with the chorale "Freu dich sehr." The second half opens with a friendly tenor aria, as if the tide has turned, but the following ferocious bass recitative is again meant to shock with its eschatological chorale "Es ist gewisslich an der Zeit," played by the trumpet, returning us to the last judgment. This chorale had been used as kind of a Dies irae during the devastating Thirty Years' War. The following bass aria starts and ends with a gentle melody, but is interrupted by more last judgment music. A simple chorale setting rounds off the cantata.

Cantata for Trinity XXVII:
  • Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, BWV 140, 25 November 1731
    Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme (Chorale fantasia)
    Er kommt (Tenor recitative)
    Wann kommst du, mein Heil? (Duet for Soprano and Bass)
    Zion hört die Wächter singen (Chorale Tenor)
    So geh herein zu mir Bass recitative)
    Mein Freund ist mein! (Duet for Soprano and Bass)
    Gloria sei dir gesungen (Chorale)


    ("Awake, calls the voice to us") This is one of the most beautiful of all Bach's cantatas, written for a Sunday that only occurs once in eleven years. It is based on the reading for the day, the well-known parable of the wise virgins, portraying the second coming of Christ as if he were a bridegroom who has arrived to claim his bride, the soul. The cantata is based on the Lutheran hymn "Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme" by Philipp Nicolai (1599), which appears unchanged in movements 1, 4 and 7. As love poetry, the other movements of the cantata were based on the Song of Songs - both the arias are dialogues, the soprano and bass soloists representing the bride and bridegroom respectively. In the opening chorale fantasia movement, the cantus firmus is placed in the soprano. The first duet is accompanied by an embellished siciliana line in the violin, perhaps inspired by the "flickering oil lamps" of the text. The two vocalists sing their own text here, but in the second duet they join in parallel lines, symbolizing their union, a technique common in contemporary operatic love duets. The second strophe of the chorale, at the center of the cantata, is sung by the tenor against a ritornello theme in the strings, which supposedly reflects the nightwatchmen's joy. Bach used this popular tune for his organ chorale BWV 645. Cantata BWV 140 is deservedly recognized as one of Bach's best known and loved pieces and surely stands among the greatest of his works. It was one of the first Bach cantatas to be printed in the 19th century.