Bach in a more festive mode, now with a wedding cantata, BWV 197, written in 1737. This is the opening chorus in D major. It begins with a rousing introduction for the orchestra with three trumpets, oboes, strings and timpani. A choral fugue follows with altos in the lead. A more lyrical middle section starts in the relative minor key. The piece ends with a repeat of the jubilant first section.
|Gott ist unsre Zuversicht,|
Wir vertrauen seinen Händen.
Wie er unsre Wege führt,
Wie er unser Herz regiert,
Da ist Segen aller Enden.
|God is our confidence,|
we trust in His hands.
How He leads our ways,
how He directs our hearts,
that is the ultimate blessing.
A large number of Bach’s compositions are choral works, most of them centered on the liturgy and church services. They include over 200 sacred cantatas; secular cantatas; monumental works like the B Minor Mass, Christmas and Easter Oratorios, and St. Matthew Passion; and chorales, masses and motets. The motets fall into a special category of smaller-scale works which were often written for special occasions, such as weddings or funerals.
Bach composed this motet in 1736-7, when he was serving as the Cantor at St. Thomas Church in Leipzig. It was most likely written for a funeral. The original instrumentation calls for six brass instruments: 2 “litui” (horn-like instruments), a cornetto, and 3 trombones. The scoring for such portable instruments makes it likely that this introspective motet was used outdoors, either in a procession or a graveside service (Bach later re-orchestrated it for more conventional winds and strings for indoor church use).
The text of BWV 118 is taken from an early 17th-century hymn written by Martin Behm, which contains some 15 stanzas. Bach’s score indicates that multiple stanzas can be used, and for today’s performance we are using 2 of them (1 and 12). The music and text evoke the hope of redemption in death and entry into heaven.
|O Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht,|
Mein Hort, mein Trost, mein Zuversicht,
Auf Erden bin ich nur ein Gast,
Und drückt mich sehr der Sünden Last.
Auf deinen Abschied, Herr, ich trau,
Darauf mein letzte Heimfahrt bau;
Tu mir die Himmelstür weit auf,
Wenn ich beschliess meins Lebens Lauf.
|Oh Jesus Christ, my life’s light,|
my refuge, my comfort, my confidence,
on earth I am only a guest
and by sin’s burden sore oppressed.
In your departure, Lord, I place my trust—
on it I rely for my last journey home.
Open wide heaven’s gate for me,
when I complete my life’s course.
This is one of Bach’s best-known solo cantatas, and one of the relatively few non-religious cantatas composed by the master. It is scored for solo soprano, three solo instruments (oboe, violin, bassoon), strings and continuo.
It begins with an introspective opening adagio (“Weichet nur, betrübte Schatten”–“Depart melancholy shadows”), with a sinuous duet between the solo oboe and soprano against a background of rising chords in the strings. The following movements describe the sensations, pleasures and fulfillment of love in a series of descriptives recitatives and arias.
Some of the images evoked include the world reborn, and the sun god Phoebus Apollo racing above and inspired to be a lover himself (“Phöbus eilt”); love wafting through the air like spring breezes in a flowery meadow (“Wenn die Frühlingslüfte”); the joy of love, and how to practice it (“Sich üben im Lieben”).
The Cantata ends in a lilting Gavotte, with the hope of a fruitful and contented married future (“Sehet in Zufriedenheit”).
Bach composed this cantata in Leipzig in 1724 “for the 14th Sunday after Trinity.”
The cantata is in seven parts. It opens with a majestic chorus based upon a chromatic descending bass line. The choral passages are an interplay between the alto, tenor and bass lines, with the sopranos joining in with the choral melody. The initial orchestral motif is in turn taken up by the chorus; other themes that Bach first gives to the chorus are then taken up by the strings and winds. T
he following movement is a soprano-alto aria (sung today by the women’s chorus), the text beseeching help from above and the music charming in its dance-like motifs. Tenor and bass recitatives and arias follow, with initial forebodings ending in religious affirmations. The closing chorale ends this work on a note of hope.