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January 20, 2013

Bach Cantatas (46): Trinity XIII

The thirteenth Sunday after Trinity treats the well-known parable of the Good Samaritan.

There are three cantatas for this Sunday.

Galatians 3:15–22, law and promise
Luke 10:23–37, parable of the Good Samaritan


  • Du sollt Gott, deinen Herren, lieben, BWV 77, 22 August 1723

    Coro: Du sollt Gott, deinen Herren, lieben
    Recitativo (bass): So muss es sein!
    Aria (soprano): Mein Gott, ich liebe dich von Herzen
    Recitativo (tenor): Gib mir dabei, mein Gott! ein Samariterherz
    Aria (alto): Ach, es bleibt in meiner Liebe
    Chorale: Herr, durch den Glauben wohn in mir

    ("You shall love God, your Lord") Cantata based on the parable of the good Samaritan. The opening chorus is rich in religious and musical symbolism, an expression of the theological foundations of both the Old and New Testaments. Trumpet and continuo play a choral tune by Luther (“Dies sind die heilgen zehn Gebot”), representing the Ten Commandments of the Old Testament. The choral is played in a canon and “canon” not coincidentally also means “law.” In the canon, the trumpet playing in its highest register is twice as fast as the bass part and there are a symbolical ten entries of the instrument. Against this background, the chorus sings the New Testamental theological addition of the dualism of love of God and brotherly love, “You shall love God, your Lord, with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” The melody to which the chorus sings this is cleverly derived from the canon – the vocal parts are diminutions of the chorale theme turned upside down and backwards, something which has been compared to “a giant oriental carpet in which the front side is the choral music and the back side is the Old Testament underpinning.” After a short secco recitative, the cantata continues with a soprano aria (“My God, I love You from my heart, my entire life depends on You”), accompanied by two obbligato oboes playing in tender third parallels. This simple aria forms a lovely contrast to the contrapuntal fireworks of the opening chorus. The alto aria (“Ah, in my love there is still nothing but imperfection”), which follows after a second recitative, features as its obbligato a haunting trumpet, the only instance in Bach's cantatas where this instrument is used in a quiet soulful manner rather than a military way. The aria has the form of a Sarabande and Bach conveys the imperfection of the human attempt to live by the law of love, by composing "awkward intervals" for the valveless instrument. An austere setting of the Luther Chorale "Ach Gott vom Himmel sieh darein" ends the cantata.

  • Allein zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ, BWV 33, 3 September 1724

    Coro: Allein zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ
    Recitativo (bass): Mein Gott und Richter
    Aria (alto): Wie furchtsam wankten meine Schritte
    Recitativo (tenor): Mein Gott, verwirf mich nicht
    Aria (tenor, bass): Gott, der du die Liebe heißt
    Chorale: Ehr sei Gott in dem höchsten Thron

    ("Towards you alone, Lord Jesus Christ") Chorale cantata with the original chorale melody by Konrad Hubert (1540) appearing in the first and last movements – and only an indirect reflection of the readings for this Sunday. In the opening chorus (“Only upon You, Lord Jesus Christ, does my hope rest on earth”) the cantus firmus is sung by the soprano, but what attracts our attention first and for all, are the expansive ritornellos by oboes and strings, with an energetic forward propulsion through upward rushing scales, that almost eclipse the hymn. It is like a small concerto. The alto aria (“How fearfully my steps wander, yet Jesus listens to my pleas and shows me to His Father”) is in contrast quietly accompanied by muted first violins and pizzicato in the other strings, while the fearful, shaky steps appear in syncopated lines – this all in a typical “stepping” rhythm. After a recitative follows a duet (“God, You who are called Love, ignite my spirit,”) for tenor and bass accompanied by two oboes that are playing a duet themselves. It depicts God's love in consonant parallel sixths and thirds, forming a symbolical image of unity. The cantata is concluded by a rich, melismatic harmonisation of the choral tune.

  • Ihr, die ihr euch von Christo nennet, BWV 164, 26 August 1725

    Aria (tenor, strings): Ihr, die ihr euch von Christo nennet
    Recitativo (bass): Wir hören zwar, was selbst die Liebe spricht
    Aria (alto, flutes): Nur durch Lieb und durch Erbarmen
    Recitativo (tenor, strings): Ach, schmelze doch durch deinen Liebesstrahl
    Aria (soprano, bass, flutes, oboes, strings): Händen, die sich nicht verschließen
    Chorale: Ertöt uns durch dein Güte

    ("You, who call yourselves of Christ") A more personal reaction to the parabel of the Good Samaritan, dating from Bach's Weimar period and essentially chamber music. The cantata starts with a tenor aria (“You, who call yourselves of Christ, where is your mercy”) in gently flowing 9/8 rhythm, a contrast with the text scolding the professed Christian for his stony heart. Rather than anger, it expresses Christ's sadness at the hypocrisy of his followers. The following bass recitative is tougher in tone. This is followed by a gentle alto aria (“Only through love and through mercy will we become like God himself”), accompanied by two gorgeous flutes, depicting the consolation brought by the Good Samaritan. A second recitative is followed by a pleasant duet for soprano and bass which is introduced by an orchestral accompaniment. Forgiveness is expressed by music in the treble instruments, in canon with the bass instruments. This has been compared to two open hands moving together, expressing the text “To hands that do not close will heaven be opened.” The cantata closes with a straightforward setting of a beautiful chorale melody.

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