"Art makes life, makes interest, makes importance"

April 22, 2012

Bach Cantatas (22): Second Sunday after Easter

The 2nd Sunday after Easter is also known as "Misericordia Sunday" or "Misericordias Domini" after the incipit of the Introit for the church's worship of this Sunday: "Misericordia Domini plena est terra" ("The land is filled with the mercy of the Lord"). There are three cantatas for this Sunday, all about Jesus as the Good Shepherd, an image that must have appealed to Bach for he wrote wonderful music on this theme. It was also an excuse to write arcadic, nostalgic music, a vein popular in the Baroque Age.


1 Peter 2:21–25, Christ as a model
John 10:12–16, the Good Shepherd

  • Du Hirte Israel, höre, BWV 104, 23 April 1724

    Coro: Du Hirte Israel, höre
    Recitativo (tenor): Der höchste Hirte sorget vor mich
    Aria (tenor): Verbirgt mein Hirte sich zu lange
    Recitativo (bass): Ja, dieses Wort ist meiner Seelen Speise
    Aria (bass): Beglückte Herde, Jesu Schafe
    Chorale: Der Herr ist mein getreuer Hirt

    Pastoral, Arcadian music is an important genre in the Baroque and the story of Jesus as the Good Shepherd gives Bach an excellent excuse to write gorgeous bucolic music. The cantata starts with a wonderful chorus ("You Shepherd of Israel"), a simple fugue in the rhythm of a lilting gigue. The tenor aria also continues in a pastoral vein, although darker in tone ("Though my Shepherd may remain hidden"). The bass aria in a gigue rhythm is again first class bucolic music ("Happy flock, sheep of Jesus"), although the aria also gives the faithful a glimpse of the heavenly kingdom after "a gentle sleep of death." The cantata ends as usual with a richly harmonized choral ("The Lord is my faithful Shepherd"). One of Bach's most beautiful cantatas. (*****)

  • Ich bin ein guter Hirt, BWV 85, 15 April 1725

    Arie B: Ich bin ein guter Hirt
    Arie A: Jesus ist ein guter Hirt
    Choral S: Der Herr ist mein getreuer Hirt
    Rezitativ T: Wenn die Mietlinge schlafen
    Arie T: Seht, was die Liebe tut
    Choral: Ist Gott mein Schutz und treuer Hirt

    BWV 85 is set in a more doleful tone than either BWV 104 or 112. It starts with a bass aria as Vox Christi ("I am a good Shepherd"), emphasizing that a Good Shepherd gives his life for his sheep. The same sentiment is expressed in the acrobatic alto aria (with violoncello piccolo), but now from the point of view of an observer. With the ensuing choral, "The Lord is my Shepherd," we finally are in pastoral territory again. The tenor recitative has a subtle accompaniment, that brings out the various images. The artistic and emotional highlight of the cantata is the pastoral tenor aria with flowing accompaniment "Behold what love does" which doesn't forget to remind the faithful of the fact that Jesus has "poured out his blood on the trunk of the cross." The choral sums it all up: Jesus as protector and faithful shepherd. (****)

  • Der Herr ist mein getreuer Hirt, BWV 112, 8 April 1731

    Chor: Der Herr ist mein getreuer Hirt
    Arie A: Zum reinen Wasser er mich weist
    Rezitativ B: Und ob ich wandelt im finstern Tal
    Arie (Duett) S T: Du bereitest für mir einen Tisch
    Choral: Gutes und die Barmherzigkeit

    The beautiful opening chorus ("The Lord is my faithful Shepherd") is accompanied by two horns, adding a sort of heroic character to the pastoral atmosphere. The ensuing alto aria "He reveals pure water to me" is accompanied by a spinning cantabile in the oboe d'amore and has a gloriously flowing melody that seems almost without end. The bass recitative gets serious in singing about the "shadow of the valley of death," but surprising is the duet between soprano and tenor, which is a whiff of church militarism on the words "you prepare a table for me in the presence of my enemies." The music marches away with the soloists singing in very high voices. The final chorale again features the horns from the start. (****)

(1) New Year's Day (2) New Year I (3) Epiphany (4) Epiphany I (5) Epiphany II (6) Epiphany III (7) Epiphany IV (8) Feast of Purification of Mary (9) Septuagesima (10) Sexagesima (11) Quinquagesima (Estomihi) (12) The Consecration of a New Organ (13) The Inauguration of the Town Council (14) Oculi (15) Wedding Cantatas (16) Feast of Annunciation (17) Palm Sunday (18) Easter Sunday (19) Easter Monday (20) Easter Tuesday (21) Easter I (Quasimodogeniti) (22) Easter II (23) Easter III (24) Easter IV (25) Easter V (26) Ascension Day (27) Ascension I (28) Pentecost Sunday (29) Pentecost Monday (30) Pentecost Tuesday (31) Trinity Sunday (32) Trinity I (33) Trinity II (34) Trinity III (35) St. John's Day (36) Trinity IV (37) Visitation (38) Trinity V (39) Trinity VI (40) Trinity VII (41) Trinity VIII (42) Trinity IX (43) Trinity X (44) Trinity XI (45) Trinity XII (46) Trinity XIII (47) Trinity XIV (48) Trinity XV (49) Trinity XVI (50) Trinity XVII (51) Trinity XVIII (52) Trinity XIX (53) Trinity XX (54) Trinity XXI (55) Trinity XXII (56) Trinity XXIII (57) Trinity XXIV (58) Trinity XXV-XXVII (59) Advent I-IV (60) Christmas Day (61) Second Day of Christmas (62) Third Day of Christmas (63) Sunday after Christmas