"Art makes life, makes interest, makes importance"

August 18, 2012

Bach Cantatas (44): Trinity XI

The eleventh Sunday after Trinity treats the theme of hypocrisy and "falseness of heart" and rejects pomposity and self-righteousness.

There are three cantatas for this Sunday.

1 Corinthians 15:1–10, on the gospel of Christ and Paul's duty as an apostle
Luke 18:9–14, parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector


  • Mein Herze schwimmt im Blut, BWV 199, 12 August 1714

    Recitative: "Mein Herze schwimmt im Blut"
    Soprano aria: "Stumme Seufzer, stille Klagen"
    recitative: "Doch Gott muss mir genädig sein"
    Aria: "Tief gebückt und voller Reue"
    Recitative: "Auf diese Schmerzensreu"
    Chorale: "Ich, dein betrübtes Kind"
    Recitative: "Ich lege mich in diese Wunden"
    Aria: "Wie freudig ist mein Herz"

    ("My heart swims in blood") Solo cantata for soprano, a lament about existential pain and suffering. The introductory recitative ("My heart swims in blood, since the offspring of my sins in the holy eyes of God make me a monster") sets the mood, after which an intensely grieving oboe leads into a beautiful aria. The subject is still the same: "Mute sighs, silent cries, you may tell my sorrows, for my mouth is shut." Well, that is what music is for. The next recitative introduces a note of hope, and in the ensuing aria God's forgiveness is implored. There is a rich string sound in the orchestra perhaps signifying a note of optimism. After a short recitative follows a chorale setting with obbligato viola in lively figuration. The last recitative introduces a different mood, with a long coloratura on "fröhlich" (joyful), after which the final aria brings the long awaited sunshine. It is the only fast movement of the cantata, a cheerful gigue. (****)

  • Siehe zu, daß deine Gottesfurcht nicht Heuchelei sei, BWV 179, 8 August 1723

    Chorus: Siehe zu, daß deine Gottesfurcht nicht Heuchelei sei
    Recitativo (tenor): Das heutge Christentum ist leider schlecht bestellt
    Aria (tenor, oboes, violin): Falscher Heuchler Ebenbild
    Recitativo (bass): Wer so von innen wie von außen ist
    Aria (soprano, oboes): Liebster Gott, erbarme dich
    Chorale: Ich armer Mensch, ich armer Sünder

    ("See to it, that your fear of God be not hypocrisy") The text of this sombre cantata stays close to the readings for this day, stressing that one should not serve God with a false heart (like the Pharisee in the parable), but pray humbly. The cantata starts with a strictly fugal chorus, almost like a motet, in which the chromatically descending melody symbolizes the "false heart." In the first recitative and agitated tenor aria, hypocrites are castigated in a heavy Lutheran way. After more warnings ("though you are no thief or adulterer, do not imagine that you are angelically pure"), the bass recitative gives the positive example of the tax collector from the parable. The next soprano aria accompanied by two supplicating oboes da caccia constitutes a deeply felt prayer for mercy. There is grandeur in "my sins afflict me" and contrition via an inexorable downward motion in "I drown in deep mire." This is the most direct piece of music of the cantata. Then follows the closure in the form of an effective chorale. Bach would reuse the opening chorus and arias in some of his masses. (***)

  • Herr Jesu Christ, du höchstes Gut, BWV 113, 20 August 1724

    Chorale: Herr Jesu Christ, du höchstes Gut
    Chorale (alto): Erbarm dich mein in solcher Last,
    Aria (bass): Fürwahr, wenn mir das kömmet ein
    Recitativo e chorale (bass) Jedoch dein heilsam Wort, das macht
    Aria (tenor): Jesus nimmt die Sünder an
    Recitativo (tenor): Der Heiland nimmt die Sünder an
    Aria (soprano, alto): Ach Herr, mein Gott, vergib mirs doch
    Chorale: Stärk mich mit deinem Freudengeist

    ("Lord Jesus Christ, you highest good") Chorale cantata based on the eight stanzas of Bartholomäus Ringwaldt's hymn "Herr, sei mir armem Sünder gnädig" (1588), a song of penitence related to the tax collector's prayer from the readings. The opening chorus is a superb chorale fantasia with orchestral accompaniment based on the hymn tune. After a string introduction, the next verse of the hymn is sung by solo alto. The ambiguous bass aria is accompanied by oboes d'amore and combines a jolly tune with "trembling, fear, and pain." Next follows a chorale with tropes. The most attractive movement is the lighthearted tenor aria accompanied by virtuoso flute. There is also a rich string cadence on the text "sweet word full of comfort and life." The next recitative is followed by a duet for soprano and alto with such long double melismas that it is almost impossible to perform, after which a straightforward setting of the hymn tune rings out the cantata. (***)

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