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February 15, 2013

Bach Cantatas (47): Trinity XIV

The fourteenth Sunday after Trinity introduces the theme of spiritual sickness and healing, via the story of the cleansing of the ten lepers.
    There are three cantatas for this Sunday.

    Galatians 5:16–24, works of the flesh, fruit of the Spirit
    Luke 17:11–19, Cleansing ten lepers


    • Es ist nichts Gesundes an meinem Leibe, BWV 25, 29 August 1723

      Coro: Es ist nichts Gesundes an meinem Leibe
      Recitativo (tenor): Die ganze Welt ist nur ein Hospital
      Aria (bass): Ach, wo hol ich Armer Rat?
      Recitativo (soprano): O Jesu, lieber Meister.
      Aria (soprano): Öffne meinen schlechten Liedern
      Chorale: Ich will alle meine Tage

      ("There is no soundness in my body") The Lutheran fondness for sin, decay, and "rotting of bones" infuses the somber opening chorus with off-beat violin. But the trombones and recorders playing a dirge-like chorale melody and the fugal chorus add enough elements of greatness to make this a superb chorale fantasia - a double fugue which incorporates a chorale tune and features a large instrumental ensemble. A tour de force in which Bach conveys a vivid sense of spiritual and physical sickness, the subjects of this cantata. In contrast, the following three movements are consciously bare, only accompanied by the continuo. In the tenor recitative the disease is likened to human weaknesses as lust, pride and greed. The bass aria asks where help can be found and then gives the obvious answer: Jesus, the Physician of Souls. The ensuing soprano recitative is a plea for mercy and spiritual healing and this is followed by an aria, again for soprano, which forms a thanksgiving for answering the previous prayers. It is quite delightful, a sort of dancing concerto for strings and oboes, echoed by the recorders, as if the soul is already joining in the chorus of angels. The cantata is closed by a four-part version of the final stanza of Johann Heermann's chorale Treuer Gott, ich muss dir klagen (1630).

    • Jesu, der du meine Seele, BWV 78, 10 September 1724

      Chorus: Jesu, der du meine Seele
      Aria (soprano, alto): Wir eilen mit schwachen, doch emsigen Schritten
      Recitativo (tenor): Ach! ich bin ein Kind der Sünden
      Aria (tenor, flute): Das Blut, so meine Schuld durchstreicht
      Recitativo (bass, strings): Die Wunden, Nägel, Kron und Grab
      Aria (bass, oboe): Nur du wirst mein Gewissen stillen
      Chorale: Herr, ich glaube, hilf mir Schwachen

      ("Jesus, Thou who [has rent] my soul") Chorale cantata based on a chorale of Johann Rist (1641), only generally related to the readings for this day, as it deals with redemption and the Passion of Jesus, which cleanses the believer. The opening chorus is a chorale fantasia in the form of a passacaglia, a lament full of meditative profundity. The soprano has the cantus firmus, together with slide trumpet and transverse flute, and the melancholy theme is repeated 27 times. A noble and tender movement. The expressive duet for soprano and alto imitates the rushing steps of the text in a joyful way - the eager disciple following in the footsteps of Jesus. This is accompanied by an energetic basso continuo of organ, cello and violone. The tenor recitative contains an intense prayer for forgiveness and the tenor aria with obbligato flute is concerned with cleansing through faith. There is interesting word painting on "makes my heart light again," where the music suddenly turns into the major key, suffusing the image with a quiet radiance. The bass first reflects on the agony on the cross and then, in his vivid aria with oboe obbligato, holds a plea for a quiet conscience. The closing chorale sets the original tune in four parts.

    • Wer Dank opfert, der preiset mich, BWV 17, 22 September 1726

      Part I
      1. Coro: Wer Dank opfert, der preiset mich
      2. Recitativo (alto): Es muss die ganze Welt ein stummer Zeuge werden
      3. Aria (soprano): Herr, deine Güte reicht so weit
      Part II
      4. Recitativo (tenor): Einer aber unter ihnen, da er sahe
      5. Aria (tenor): Welch Übermaß der Güte schenkst du mir
      6. Recitativo (bass): Sieh meinen Willen an
      7. Chorale: Wie sich ein Vatr erbarmet

      ("He who offers me thanks, honors me") Shaped by two corresponding passages from the Bible, one from the Old Testament (Psalm 50) and one from the New Testament (the story from Luke about the Samaritan, who among the ten lepers cured by Jesus, alone returned to give thanks). The main subject of the cantata is therefore gratitude. The opening chorus, a single large choral fugue, is preceded by an instrumental sinfonia. All recitatives in this short cantata are secco. The first aria, for soprano and two obbligato violins is an illustration of the soaring clouds from the text, which is based not on original poetry, but on quotations from the Bible ("Thy righteousness standeth like the strong mountains"). The aria is shaped like a Baroque concerto movement. The second part of the cantata starts with a simple recitative, a plain biblical narrative. The ensuing tenor aria can be seen as setting the words of the grateful Samaritan to music and has an interesting violin phrase. The closing chorale, the third stanza of "Nun lob, mein Seel, den Herren" (1525) by Johann Graumann, does some word painting on "wind" and "fallen leaves."

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