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January 19, 2012

Bach Cantatas (5): 2nd Sunday after Epiphany (Jan 15)

Today we listen to the cantatas for the second Sunday after Epiphany, the 15th of January in 2012, which will bring us up to date.

The cantatas for the second Sunday after Epiphany again stress the pain of separation of the soul from Jesus. They are among the saddest music Bach has written.

Readings:
Romans 12:6–16, we have several gifts
John 2:1–11, the Marriage at Cana

Cantatas:
  1. Mein Gott, wie lang, ach lange? BWV 155, 19 January 1716 (BCW, CN, JN, LSG, WP, Text)

    Recitativo (Sopran, Streicher): Mein Gott, wie lang, ach lange?
    Aria (Alt, Tenor, Fagott): Du mußt glauben, du mußt hoffen
    Recitativo (Bass): So sei, o Seele, sei zufrieden
    Aria (Sopran): Wirf, mein Herze, wirf dich noch
    Choral: Ob sich's anließ, als wollt er nicht


    Solo cantata in chamber style. The wedding at Cana, the gospel reading for this day, symbolically represents the marriage of Christ and the soul. It is also about transformation: water into wine, doubt into trust. The theme of the cantata therefore is grief about the separation from God, gradually transformed into the joy of coming together.  Images are all about water, wine and tears. The cantata opens with an operatic soprano aria, followed by a very original duet that exhorts to trust and hope. It is accompanied by a weeping bassoon that takes the part of the troubled soul. The bass recitative speaks in the voice of God about the wine of comfort. The sonata is concluded by a joyous soprano aria in a dancing rhythm and a chorale. (***)

  2. Ach Gott, wie manches Herzeleid, BWV 3, 14 January 1725 (BCW, CN, EVHJN, LSG, WP, Text)

    Chorus: Ach Gott, wie manches Herzeleid
    Recitative and Choral: Wie schwerlich lässt sich Fleisch und Blut
    Aria for Bass: Empfind ich Höllenangst und Pein
    Recitative for Tenor: Es mag mir Leib und Geist verschmachten
    Duet for Soprano and Alto: Wenn Sorgen auf mich dringen
    Choral: Erhalt mein Herz im Glauben rein


    All three cantatas for this day are concerned with Jesus answering his mother's plea for help. They also associate this day with the beginning of Christ's difficult journey, and therefore with the journey of the soul. This elaborate choral cantata opens - after a beautiful orchestral ritornello -  with a very chromatic and complex-sounding chorus. The choral tune is given to the basses doubled by a trombone. The stepwise fall through four notes (descending tetrachord) is a Baroque symbol for "grief." The following very effective recitative is sung by the chorus. Then comes a bass aria full of writhing chromatism with the violoncello expressing the "fear of Hell." The second aria is a fine and joyful duet for soprano and alto, a celebration of how Jesus carries our cross. The cantata again concludes with a plainly harmonized chorale. (****)

  3. Meine Seufzer, meine Tränen, BWV 13, 20 January 1726 (BCW, CN, JN, LSG, WP, Text)

    Aria (Tenor): Meine Seufzer, meine Tränen
    Recitative (Alt): Mein liebster Gott läßt mich annoch
    Chorale (Alt): Der Gott, der mir hat versprochen
    Recitative (Sopran): Mein Kummer nimmet zu
    Aria (Bass): Ächzen und erbärmlich Weinen
    Choral: So sei nun, Seele, deine


    Intimate chamber cantata without chorus that opens with a lament by the tenor, as a vivid picture of the struggle of the sinner. Beautiful is the accompaniment by two recorders and the dark tones of the oboe da caccia. On the words "way to death" the music sinks lower and lower. The chorale is interestingly not sung by a small chorus, but by the alto. Mercy is not yet in sight ("My dear God lets me call in vain"). In the ensuing bass aria "Moaning and most piteous weeping" accompaniment is by the first violin in unison with the recorder playing one octave higher, leading to a very particular sounds-cape. The music also sighs and weeps. Only the chorale ("O Welt Ich muss dich lassen") brings some consolation, but that is short indeed compared to what went before. This is perhaps the most desolate cantata Bach ever wrote. (***)