After the stunningly beautiful music of cantata 94 from last week, it is a bit hard for me to go back to a “regular” chorale cantata: cantata 101: Nimm von uns Herr, du treuer Gott. But then again, maybe the beauty and lightness of last week’s cantata is the key to understanding this week’s …
I was not familiar with this cantata, because for this Sunday in the liturgical year, the 10th after Trinity, my mother would probably have played the more impressive 46 (written in 1723, its opening chorus later used for the Qui Tollis of the Mass in B minor – see my discussion of it here) or 102 (written in 1726, its opening chorus later used for the Kyrie of the Missa Brevis in g minor – see a short discussion at the end of this post).
There is a nice live recording of cantata 101: Nimm von uns Herr, du treuer Gott on YouTube by the Gesualdo Consort, part of a well-constructed program of Bach works based on the Vater Unser melody (Luther’s German version of the Lord’s Prayer). However, this performance doesn’t include trombones doubling the vocal parts in the opening chorus. If you would like to hear that important feature of this cantata, you can listen to Bach Collegium Japan’s recording of the opening chorus here.
Why does Bach take a starker approach for this Sunday in 1724 than in those other two years? One reason might be that in 1724, he is more strongly bound to his commitment of using a chorale tune as basis for the cantata than he is to the Gospel text for this Sunday (Jesus predicting the destruction of Jerusalem and him driving the merchants from the Temple). And the chorale for this Sunday is terror-inspiring: written during a time of the plague in 1584, on the melody of Luther’s Vater Unser.
If we go back to last week’s cantata, we should realize how frivolous it was of Bach to compose such a lighthearted cantata, featuring the flute, an ultra-secular, and French instrument! And this only to show off a University student, who didn’t even attend the St. Thomas School! It might very well have upset his employers, and afterwards they might have urged him to write something more appropriate next time, something inspiring devotion in the members of the Leipzig congregations, instead of treating them to the stuff he used to write at the court in Köthen. We will never know, but we can imagine.
So, while not directly quoting the Gospel of Jesus banishing the merchants from the Temple, but perhaps inspired by that story nonetheless, Bach goes back to the basics, the core of the Lutheran faith. And we know that whenever the hymn is based on a melody written by Luther himself, Bach shows the utmost respect for that, and often uses references in his music to remind the congregations of the timeless character of the music and of the dogma.
To reinforce the timeless character, he uses the “old” ensemble of cornetto and trombones to double the vocal parts in the opening chorus — the same way he did this for cantata 2 and cantata 25. Bach pushes the doctrine down everyone’s throat even more, or as Gardiner says, he “subjects his listeners to a twin-barrelled doctrinal salvo” when he not only presents the 1584 chorale melody in all but one movement of the cantata, including in the recitatives, but also quotes Luther’s hymn Dies sind die heil’gen zehn Gebot (These are the holy Ten Commandments) in the instrumental opening of the first movement.*
To further rub in the need for penitence, Bach presents strong dissonances on the words “schwere Straf und grosse Not” (grave punishment and great distress). Also, in the terrific Bass aria**, Bach instills horror in his audience when he makes an abrupt move from E minor to C minor on the word “Warum” of the sentence “Warum willst du so zornig sein” (Why wilt thou be so angry). Gardiner calls this a “Mahlerian swerve” and says “Not even Purcell, with his penchant for a calculated spotlit dissonance, was capable of matching this when setting the same words in his anthem “Lord, how long wilt thou be angry.”
In 1726 Bach wrote cantata 102 Herr, deine Augen sehen nach dem Glauben! for this same Sunday, the 10th Sunday after Trinity. It is a terrific composition. Bach was proud of it too, because he later re-used it in the Missa Brevis in F Major (BWV 233) and the Missa Brevis in g minor (BWV 235). Listen to Il Gardellino’s recording of it here on YouTube, with Damien Guillon, countertenor; Marcus Ullman, tenor; and Lieven Termont, bass. Especially the aria Aria Weh der Seele, die den Schaden (perhaps better known today as the soprano aria Qui Tollis from BWV 233) by countertenor Damien Guillon and oboist Marcel Ponseele is to die for.
Wieneke Gorter, August 18, 2017.
* It is not the first time he quotes this hymn in an opening chorus either, see my post about cantata 77 here.
** This bass aria is the best movement of the piece in my opinion, and probably also the reason why the leader of the Gesualdo Consort, Harry van der Kamp, himself the bass soloist, programmed this cantata in the first place.