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July 20, 2014

Bach Cantatas (51): Trinity XVIII

The Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity. The readings if this Sunday concern the dual birthright of Jesus as the son of David and of God. The lines from Matthew also contain the "Great Commandment:" "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind," and also the second commandment, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself."

There are two cantatas for this Sunday.

1 Corinthians 1:4–8, Paul's thanks for grace of God in Ephesus
Matthew 22:34–46, the Great Commandment


  • Herr Christ, der einge Gottessohn, BWV 96, 8 October 1724

    Chorale: Herr Christ, der einge Gottessohn
    Recitative (alto): O Wunderkraft der Liebe
    Aria (tenor, flute): Ach, ziehe die Seele mit Seilen der Liebe
    Recitative (soprano): Ach, führe mich, o Gott, zum rechten Wege
    Aria (bass, oboes, strings): Bald zur Rechten, bald zur Linken
    Chorale: Ertöt uns durch dein Güte

    ("Lord Christ, the only son of God") This chorale cantata starts with a sparkling opening chorus in a lilting meter based on the hymn "Herr Christ, der einig Gotts Sohn" from 1524 by Elisabeth Kreutziger. Although originally an Epiphany hymn praising Christ as the Morning Star (as in Cantata BWV 1), it also has a traditional association with the 18th Sunday after Trinity since the readings of that day deal with Christ's discussion with the Pharisees about the meaning of phrase "Son of David." An unusual element is the flauto piccolo accompaniment twinkling above the musical texture - of course, this symbolizes the morning star which appeared to the Magi above a pastoral landscape. The alto sings the cantus firmus, and not the soprano, to better set off the flauto piccolo. The light and charming da capo aria for tenor which follows after a short recitative is accompanied by a transverse flute (probably the same player as the flauto piccolo in Bach's time - he must have had an excellent flute player for these performances). The flute's ritornello melody provides most of the musical material for this aria. In the pompous, opera-style bass aria we have some musical painting: the words "Soon to the right, soon to the left my erring steps lean" (these are the lurching steps of the misguided soul) are illustrated by using jagged motifs and sudden switches between strings and the oboe choir. The closing chorale is a fine four-part harmonization.

  • Gott soll allein mein Herze haben, BWV 169, 20 October 1726

    Arioso: Gott soll allein mein Herze haben
    Aria: Gott soll allein mein Herze haben
    Recitative: Was ist die Liebe Gottes
    Aria: Stirb in mir, Welt, und alle deine Liebe
    Recitative: Doch meint es auch dabei
    Chorale: Du süße Liebe, schenk uns deine Gunst

    ("God alone shall have my heart") Alto cantata, concluded by a chorale. The text sings about the love of God in the first five movements, the commandment to also love one's neighbor is expressed in a short recitative, leading to the chorale, which asks for assistance from the Holy Spirit. The cantata starts with a sinfonia based on the first two movements of Bach's E Major Clavier Concerto BWV 1053 (itself a reworking of a lost oboe concerto) - the keyboard part is here played by the organ (in Bach's own performance this would have been ably played by his son Carl Philip Emanuel). After an extended arioso, we have a gentle and beautiful alto aria "Gott soll allein mein Herze haben" accompanied by the organ and a simple continuo. The second alto aria "Stirb in mir, Welt, und alle deine Liebe" follows after a simple secco recitative. Here we find again a marvelous adaptation from the above mentioned concerto, with the voice attractively woven into the solo organ and the strings. Like the first alto aria, this is truly great music - it has been called a farewell to worldly life, but also a mystic contemplation of heavenly love. A straightforward chorale harmonization on the famous tune "Nun bitten wir den heiligen Geist" brings in the chorus for the first time to close the cantata. Perhaps the most beautiful among Bach's four alto cantatas.
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