Pamela Dellal, mezzo soprano

 

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Bach Cantata Notes

BWV 183


The cantata "Sie werden euch in den Bann tun II," BWV 183, was written in May of 1725 during of flurry of creative output for Bach--in a three-week period, he wrote five cantatas. Although it is of modest length and without an opening chorus, this cantata calls for a large number of musicians, which is quite unusual in this context: four soloists, chorus, and an instrumental ensemble of strings and basso continuo enriched with two oboes d'amore, two oboes da caccia and a violoncello piccolo. Bach must have had at that time a variety of fine instrumental possibilities at his disposal in Leipzig, which enabled him to give voice to very distinct sound colors.
In the gospel reading upon which the cantata is based, John announces the coming of the Spirit of truth, which will be sent to Christians as Comforter for the persecutions they are to endure. The author of the libretto, Christiane Mariane von Ziegler, uses as an epigraph Christ's words reported by St John, "They shall put you under banishment...", and goes on to express the Christian's acceptance of sacrifice and death, through his faith and trust in the Holy Spirit.

The cantata opens with this direct gospel quote by the bass soloist, as the voice of Jesus. Severely orchestrated for four oboes and continuo, including bassoon, the resulting sonority is rather dense, severe and tense. The da capo aria marked molto adagio for anguished tenor that follows, with violoncello piccolo (here played by cello), is an emotionally expressive declaration that "I do not fear the horrors of death". The B section of the aria briefly takes on a tone of consolation ("Jesus will shield me with his protective arm”) escorted by the constant rocking of the cello solo while the continuo marks out the regular pulsation of passing time.
However, hanging over this quiet confidence is tormented chromaticism and doubt of the believer. The short alto recitative that follows is a small masterpiece. Amidst a cushion of chords played by the strings, the oboes, in pairs, volley a short, obsessive figure of four notes -- the same figure sung by the alto on the text "lch bin bereit" (I am ready).
At last prepared by this spiritual realization, the flashy soprano aria is a florid prayer of confidence accompanied by two oboes da caccia in unison and strings. The final chorale borrows the fifth strophe of a hymn by Paul Gerhardt, the chorus singing, "You are a Spirit which teaches how to pray as one should", to the melody of "Helft mir Gotts Güte preisen" ("Help me to praise God's loving-kindness").

©Ryan Turner