Pamela Dellal, mezzo soprano

 

uncommon intelligence, imagination and textual awareness...
PDme

 

 

Bach Cantata Notes

BWV 57

Bach Selig ist der Mann, BWV 57, is an unusual work.  Written in his third year in Leipzig, the work is nominally for the second day of Christmas, however it has virtually nothing of either the Christmas story or spirit about it. It is more suited to the sobriety of Lent or All Saints: a prophecy of eternal union and of the ascent to heaven after life on earth.

According to the ancient church tradition, the second day of Christmas is also the day commemorating St. Stephen the Martyr, and this is how it was celebrated in Leipzig in 1725. Lehms’ cantata text takes the form of a dialogue between Jesus (bass) and the faithful soul (soprano) – a configuration that was popular at the time and appears on numerous occasions in Bach’s cantatas. To some extent the text places the listener in the situation of Stephen, oppressed by his enemies and persecuted, and combines this with the soul’s words about the love of Jesus and a longing for the hereafter. Jesus, however, promises the beleaguered soul consolation, liberation and eternal life.

The opening, dense aria for strings and winds presents Christ at his most imposing and, in a way, forbidding. The long phrases are sinuous and, in some ways, tortured. The soul answers in a pathetic recitative followed by a stupendous guilt-ridden aria of extraordinary chromatic intensity scored for string orchestra. Christ returns as military commander with a dazzling aria full of bravura string writing and long and difficult vocal melismas. The soul’s final answer is a bouncy aria with solo violin that projects not only relief but a genuine religious fervor. This superb cantata ends with a harmonization of “Lobe den Herrn,” perhaps the only unequivocally happy thing in the cantata. 

© Craig Smith, with introduction by Ryan Turner  



Bach Cantata BWV 57 is an unusual work. Written in his third year in Leipzig, the work is nominally for the second day of Christmas. It has virtually nothing of either the Christmas story or spirit about it. It is much more suited to the sobriety of the Lenten period. The work is one of several that are in the form of dialogue between Christ and the Soul. In this work the anxious soul is given comfort by Christ who is here more military and spiritual leader.

The opening, dense aria for strings and winds presents Christ at his most imposing and, in a way, forbidding. The long phrases are sinuous and in some ways tortured. The soul answers in a pathetic recitative followed by a stupendous guilt-ridden aria of extraordinary chromatic intensity scored for string orchestra. Christ returns as military commander with a dazzling aria full of bravura string writing and long and difficult vocal melismas. The soul’s final answer is a bouncy aria with solo violin that projects not only relief but a genuine religious fervor. This superb cantata ends with a harmonization of “Lobe den Herrn,” perhaps the only unequivocally happy thing in the cantata.

©Craig Smith