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July 22, 2012

Bach Cantatas (40): Trinity VII

The seventh Sunday after Trinity treats the theme that God can satisfy the hunger of all living creatures; but also that earthly deprivation is a necessary step towards heavenly rewards.

There are three cantatas for this Sunday. A fourth possible one, Widerstehe doch der Sünde, BWV 54, has been discussed for Oculi.

Romans 6:19–23, "The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life"
Mark 8:1–9, "The Feeding of the 4000"


  • BWV 186 Ärgre dich, o Seele, nicht (Leipzig, 1723)

    1. Chorus: Ärgre dich, o Seele, nicht
    2. Recitativo (bass): Die Knechtsgestalt, die Not, der Mangel
    3. Aria (bass): Bist du, der mir helfen soll
    4. Recitativo (tenor): Ach, daß ein Christ so sehr
    5. Aria (tenor, oboe and violins): Mein Heiland läßt sich merken
    6. Chorale: Ob sichs anließ, als wollt er nicht
    after the sermon:
    7. Recitativo (tenor): Es ist die Welt die große Wüstenei
    8. Aria (soprano, violins): Die Armen will der Herr umarmen
    9. Recitativo (alto): Nun mag die Welt mit ihrer Lust vergehen
    10. Aria (soprano, alto, violins, oboes and taille): Laß, Seele, kein Leiden
    11. Chorale: Die Hoffnung wart' der rechten Zeit

    ("Do not be vexed, O soul") Reworking and expansion of a (now lost) Advent cantata written in Weimar. The text alludes to Jesus' feeding of the four thousand, and dwells on the theme of hunger as a symbol of acceptance of earthly deprivation in the hope of heavenly rewards. The somber opening chorus centers on the word “Ärgre,” “to vex.” The bass has an energetic aria, the tenor aria which follows is accompanied by violin and oboe. The sixth movement is an upbeat chorale, “Es is das Heil.” In the second part, after a long accompanied recitative for the bass, there is a beautiful aria for soprano, with a chromatic and tortured harmony. The duet for soprano and alto is sophisticated and skips energetically along - it certainly is the musical highlight of this somewhat "mixed bag" cantata. The work closes with the same chorale that concluded part one. (**)

  • BWV 107 Was willst du dich betrüben (Leipzig, 1724)

    Coro: Was willst du dich betrüben
    Recitativo (bass): Denn Gott verlässet keinen
    Aria (bass): Auf ihn magst du es wagen
    Aria (tenor): Wenn auch gleich aus der Höllen
    Aria (soprano): Er richts zu seinen Ehren
    Aria (tenor): Drum ich mich ihm ergebe
    Chorale: Herr, gib, daß ich dein Ehre

    ("Why do you want to distress yourself") Chorale cantata set "per omnes versus" on "Was willst du dich betrüben, o meine liebe Seel" by Johann Heermann (1630). The use of the choral text for all musical numbers in the cantata was old-fashioned - Bach used it only in four cantatas. The text does not literally refer to the reading, but has certain themes in common, such as trust in God, even when facing adversaries including the devil. In the ephemeral opening chorus the instrumental accompaniment is emphasized rather than the voices; after a recitative by bass, there are four arias in a row: for bass, tenor, soprano and again tenor. The bass aria (with strings) depicts a "hunting scene," playing on the double meaning of the German word "erjagen" ("to achieve," but also "to hunt for"). The first tenor aria is accompanied by a snaking bass line that clearly symbolizes Satan slithering out of the depths. The mellifluous soprano aria has a lovely oboe d'amore accompaniment and the last one for tenor a lighthearted unisono flute accompaniment. The cantata closes with a beautiful siciliano setting of the chorale. (***)

  • BWV 187 Es wartet alles auf dich (Leipzig, 1726)

    Part I
    1. Chorus: Es wartet alles auf dich
    2. Recitativo (bass): Was Kreaturen hält, das große Rund der Welt
    3. Aria (alto, oboe): Du, Herr, du krönst allein das Jahr
    Part II
    4. Aria (bass, violins): Darum sollt ihr nicht sorgen
    5. Aria (soprano, oboe): Gott versorget alles Leben
    6. Recitativo (soprano, strings): Halt ich nur fest an ihm
    7. Chorale: Gott hat die Erde zugericht

    ("Everything waits for You") The text of this cantata focuses on the power of the Lord to appease the hunger of all creatures. The expansive and complex opening chorus is based on Psalm 104:27–28, directly related to the reading. The alto aria praises God as the sustainer of life; it is accompanied by the full orchestra in a dance-like rhythm. Part two is opened by a striding bass aria as Vox Christi - with an obbligato of all of the violins - on Matthew 6:31–32 from the Sermon on the Mount. The ensuing soprano aria is the musical highlight of the cantata, with a falling octave that pictures God's forgiveness. The interplay of the voice with the accompanying oboe is very interesting. The cantata is closed by verses 4 and 6 of Hans Vogel's chorale "Singen wir aus Herzensgrund" (1563). Bach parodied the music of this cantata in his g minor Mass BWV 235. (****)

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