Pamela Dellal, mezzo soprano


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Bach Cantata Notes

BWV 114

The Cantata BWV 114 is the second piece in the 2nd Jahrgang that uses the tune “Wo Gott, der Herr, nicht bei uns hällt” as a basis for a cantata. Here the parable of those who are bidden, ending with the great line “For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted” is the Gospel. The plea for humility is set forcefully, one might say aggressively, in the opening chorale chorus. The chorus is in 6/4 time. In his vocal music, whenever Bach uses a compound triple meter with quarter notes as the unit of measure, he wants a very fast tempo. Two other chorale choruses, the opening movements of BWV 115 and 62, are also very brisk, and the “Sei gegrüsset” chorus from the St. Matthew Passion has the same striding tempo. These compound triple meter pieces have an unusual variety of pulse available to them. One can hear them in the big dotted half note pulse, or quarter note pulse. What is then available to Bach is both eighths and sixteenths for the figuration. In the case here the little sixteenth eighth figure moves along very fast indeed.

The chorale is in bar form. We are used to the repeat of the Stollen being adjusted in texture and line to fit the declamation and meaning of the words. Here we have something more unusual. The large-scale harmonic motion is changed in that repetition. The solidly G minor statement of the first phrase is reharmonized in Bb in the repeat. Bach obviously feels that we do not need to hear the repeat of the Stollen as a major structural point. One must say however that this is an unusually clear chorale tune with a compact and readily discernable Abgesang. There is little danger of the listener getting lost.

The opening line of text of the tenor aria #2 “ Wo wird in diesem Jammerthale,” provides the color for the whole aria. The image of a lonely shepherd, whose pipe is echoing around the valley, is powerfully provided by the single flute with minimal continuo. The flute part is extravagant and mannered, one of the most expressive of any in all of Bach. It is hard to imagine anything more tortured than the opening line of text, but the penultimate statement takes us into realms that even Bach rarely goes. This aria is quite long, with an Allegro middle section and a full da capo. It clearly is the emotional center of the cantata.

The bass recitative paraphrases most of the important points of the Gospel and brings in the hardscrabble soprano chorale. The image of the seed falling on dry earth brings out a tough hard-as-nails texture, unforgiving and mean. The little continuo figure [#4 bar 1] rubs abrasively against the chorale.

After this, the alto aria, all warmth and forgiveness, is especially welcome. The spinning out of the opening theme is particularly welcome. There is a marvelous spot at the beginning of the B section. The music makes an abrupt change to G major from Bb and the continuo drops out until the cadence, at the mention of St. Simeon. After the secco tenor recitative, the four-voice chorale that ends the cantata is unusually rich and detailed.

©Craig Smith