"Art makes life, makes interest, makes importance"

March 11, 2012

Bach Cantatas (14): Oculi (Mar. 11)

In Leipzig, where Bach wrote most of his cantatas, "quiet time" without music was observed during Lent, that is on the Sundays between Ash Wednesday and Easter. The only exception was the Feast of Annunciation on the fixed date of March 25. This means that there are no cantatas for the 1st Sunday in Lent (in 2012, Feb. 26), the 2nd Sunday in Lent (in 2012, Mar. 4), and the 4th and 5th Sundays in Lent (March 18 and 25). But that last date is in 2012 also the day for the Feast of Annunciation, so for this day we do have cantatas.

In Weimar, however, ecclesiastical customs were different and Bach wrote a few cantatas for this period. Only one has come down to us (from a second one [BWV 80a], the text has been preserved, but the music has been lost). The one preserved cantata, BWV 54 "Widerstehe doch der Sünde," was written for the third Sunday in Lent, called Oculi. In 2012, this Sunday falls on March 11.

Ephesians 5:1–9, Exhortation to lead a pure life
Luke 11:14–28, How does Jesus drive out devils?


  • Widerstehe doch der Sünde, BWV 54, 4 March 1714 (or for Trinity VII)

    Aria for Alto: Widerstehe doch der Sünde
    Recitative for Alto: Die Art verruchter Sünden
    Aria for Alto: Wer Sünde tut, der ist vom Teufel

    Short cantata in only three movements for alto. The text concerns the importance of avoiding sin and the temptations of Satan. The opening aria starts with a long obstinate and dissonant bass as an illustration of "resisting sin." The alto voice, on the other hand, is rich and gorgeous, as if Bach at the same time wants us to feel the temptation of sin. He works with dominant sevenths over the rhythmic tonic pedal. This wonderful aria takes up two-thirds of the whole cantata. After a lengthy recitative follows another chromatic alto aria, this time in four part fugal style. 

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