College of Music Program Book 2011-2012: Ensemble & Other Performances, Volume 1 Page: 19
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"Hitherto you have asked nothing in my name," reproaching mankind for failing to ask
forgiveness through prayer. Alto recitative and aria movements respond with a plea for
forgiveness and intercession, while the subsequent tenor recitative ("Wenn unsre
Schuld") acknowledges the need to be completely open before God and to pray for com-
fort. The bass again interjects the words of Jesus: "In the world you will have tribula-
tion; but be of good cheer: I have overcome the world," enabling the faithful soul (tenor)
to accept life's trials and tribulations in the sure knowledge of Jesus's comfort ("Ich will
leiden, ich will schweigen"). This slow, gentle siciliano, with long pedal points and soar-
ing expressive melodies, captures perfectly the sense of amelioration of the world's pain
by Christ's consoling presence.
Cantata 55, Ich armer Mensch, ich Shindenknecht, is the only one of Bach's solo cantatas
written exclusively for the tenor voice. It originated in 1726, along with a number of
other solo cantatas, though only the first two movements were composed at that time,
the remaining movements being adapted from a now lost earlier work. For the 22n"d Sun-
day after Trimty, the anonymous libretto adheres closely to the Gospel theme of the par-
able of the unfaithful servant. The contrast of righteousness versus sinfulness ("Er ist
gerecht, ich ungerecht") pervades the text, with the latter at the forefront through most
of the cantata. Only at the very end of the last recitative is there a sense that God's work
of redemption might be taking hold. It is illuminating to observe the contrast of this
cantata with the previous aria of BWV 87: the agonies of this world, dnven primarily by
man's sinful state, are treated from wholly different perspectives in these two works,
with utterly contrasting musical means, and with astoundingly contrasting emotional
Christ unser Herr zum Jordan kam (BWV 7) belongs to one of the major events in the
Leipzig calendar, the feast of St. John the Baptist, on June 24. Martin Luther's baptismal
hymn lies at the foundation of the anonymous libretto, which retains the first and last
stanzas of the hymn for the opening chorus and concluding chorale, and paraphrases
the inner stanzas to form the recitatives and arias of the inner movements. The gigue-
like tenor aria, describing the significance of the baptismal act, features "two solo violins
In an irmtative texture playing] around the voice as it illustrates the individual phrases
of the text: 'purchased us with His Blood' is represented by a falling chromatic line,
'baptized' by a triadic figure tumbling into the depths; and at the words 'So that we
should believe without doubt', that very doubt is, in true baroque fashion, represented
by bold harmonic sequences and at one point by rhythmic complications." *
' Alfred Durr, The Cantatas ofJ. S. Bach, revised and translated by Richard D. Jones, Oxford Univ.
Press, 2005, pp. 687-8. These notes are deeply indebted to the observations and insights contained
in this remarkable study.
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University of North Texas. College of Music. College of Music Program Book 2011-2012: Ensemble & Other Performances, Volume 1, book, 2012; Denton, Texas. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc114723/m1/20/: accessed March 22, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Music Library.