J.  S.  BACH  –  CANTATA BWV 78

Jesu, der du meine Seele

For the 14th Sunday after Trinity, 10 September, 1724

To his normal cantata orchestra, a pair of oboes with strings and continuo Bach adds a horn and a flute, both used to support the trebles.   The whole of the text is based on Johann Rist’s 1641 hymn, set to its associated melody in the first and last movements, and paraphrased anonymously between.   The cantata opens with a magnificent contrapuntal movement:   above a descending chromatic bass line, perhaps reminiscent of Purcell, Dido or Crucifixus the orchestra starts a passacaglia; over unison strings the chromatic line is taken over by the first oboe.  After twenty bars the hymn is introduced by the trebles, supported by horn, and flute up an octave.  Between lines of the hymn the voices, sometimes in rising chromatic lines, develop the music with gradually increasing speed.

If Bach wanted to provide a contrast to this tremendous opening, nothing could have been more extreme than the naïve duet for soprano and alto which follows, above rapid quavers on organ and pizzicato on double-bass; commonly described – see Alec Robertson (The Church Cantatas of J. S. Bach, 1972) as enchanting or similar, though (consciously in a minority) I think that it could be described as silly.    This is followed by a miserable recitative for tenor, and a more cheerful aria, accompanied by solo flute and pizzicato bass.   Now the bass reflects on the humiliations which mankind visited on the Saviour.  After sustained string chords the accompanying chords become vivace telling of the judgement which will come to the damned.  A return to adagio is succeeded by an arioso marked andante.  A bass aria, accompanied by concertante oboe and strings, follows; Alec Robertson (op cit) is a little dismissive of this movement – “an aria of no great consequence and possibly an adaptation from some other source”.  The cantata ends with a final simple reappearance of Rist’s hymn, in which, as in the opening movement, the trebles are doubled by the horn, and the flute an octave higher.

© David Houston

1.  Chorus

Jesu, der du meine Seele                                                  Jesus, you who has my soul,

hast durch deinen bittern Tod                                        through your bitter death,

aus des Teufels finstrer Höhle                                        from the Devil’s dark abyss

und der schweren Seelennot                                           and heavy mental anguish

kräftiglich herausgerissen,                                               powerfully snatched,

und mich Solches lassen wissen,                                    and has let me know this

durch dein angenehmes Wort                                         through your pleasing word,

sei doch jetzt, o Gott, mein Hort!                                    be now, O God, my shield.

 

 

2.  Duet (Soprano  &  Alto)

Wir eilen mit schwachen, doch emsigen Schritten,            We hasten with feeble but eager steps,

o Jesu, o Meister, zu helfen zu dir!                                        O Jesus, O Master, to help you!

Du suchest die Kranken und Irrenden treulich.                  You faithfully search out the sick and the wayward.

Ach! höre, wie wir die Stimme                                                O hear us raising our voices

Erheben, um Hilfe zu bitten!                                                    to ask for help!

Es sei uns dein gnädiges Antlitz erfreulich!                         May your gracious countenance be a joy to us!

 

 

3.  Recitative (Tenor)

Ach!, ich bin ein Kind der Sünden,                                 Alas!  I am a child of sin.

ach! ich irre weit und breit.                                              Alas!  I wander far and wide.

Der Sünden Aussatz, so an mir zu finden,                     The leprosy of sin which is within me

verläßt mich nicht in dieser Sterblichkeit.                       does not leave me in this mortal life.

Mein Wille trachtet nur nach Bösem.                             My will strives towards evil.

Der Geist zwar spricht: ach! wer wird mich erlösen?     My spirit says: “Who, alas, will deliver me?”

Aber, Fleisch und Blut zu zwingen                                  But to tame flesh and blood

und das Gute zu vollbringen,                                            and to achieve good

ist über alle meine Kraft.                                                     is beyond all my powers.

Will ich den Schaden nicht verhehlen,                           Even if I do not try to hide my wrongdoing,

so kann ich nicht, wie oft ich fehle, zählen.                    I cannot count how often I am at fault.

Drum nehm’ ich nun der Sünde Schmerz und Pein       So I take on the pain and agony of sin

und meiner Sorgen Bürde,                                                and the burden of my sorrows,

so mir sonst unerträglich würde,                                     which would otherwise be intolerable to me,

und liefre sie dir, Jesu, sufzend ein.                                 and with a sigh I deliver them up to you, Jesu.

Rechne nicht die Missetat,                                               Do not count up the misdeeds

die dich, Herr, erzürnet hat!                                              which have angered you, O Lord!

 

 

4.  Aria (Tenor)

Dein Blut, so meine Schuld durchstreicht,                    Your blood, which blots out my guilt,

macht mir das Herze wieder leicht                                   makes my heart feel light again

und spricht mich frei.                                                        and absolves me.

Ruft mich der Höllen Herr zum Streite,                           When the lord of Hell challenges me to fight

so steht Jesus mir zur Seite,                                             Jesus stands at my side,

daß ich beherzt und sieghaft sei.                                    to make me valiant and victorious.

 

 

5.  Recitativo accompagnato  -  Bass

Die Wunden, Nägel, Kron’ and Grab,                             The wounds, the nails, the crown and the grave,

die Schläge, so man dort dem Heiland gab,                   and the blows which rained down on my saviour

sind ihm nunmehro Siegeszeichen                                 are now his trophies

und können mir erneute Kräfte reichen.                        and can give me renewed strength.

Wenn ein erschreckliches Gericht                                  When a terrible court

den Fluch für die Verdammten spricht:                          pronounces its curse on the damned,

so kehrst du ihn in Segen.                                               you turn it into a blessing.

Mich kann kein Schmerz und keine Pein bewegen,      No pain or torture can move me

weil sie mein Heuiland kennt,                                           because my saviour knows them,

und da dein Herz für mich in Liebe brennt,                     and since your heart burns with love for me

so lege ich hinwieder                                                          I lay mine down once more

das meine vor dir nieder.                                                    before you.

Dies, mein Herz, mit Leid vermenget,                               My heart, which is infused with grief,

so dein teures Blut besprenget,                                      and sprinkled with your dear blood,

so am Kreuz vergossen ist,                                             which was shed on the cross,

geb’ ich dir, Herr Jesus Christ.                                        I give to you, Lord Jesus Christ.

 

 

6.  Aria (Bass)

Nun du wirst mein Gewissen stillen,                              Now you will calm my conscience

so wider mich um Rache schreit,                                   which screams for vengeance against me;

ja, deine Treue wird’s erfüllen,                                      your faithfulness will bring this to pass,

weil mir dein Wort die Hoffnung beut.                         because your word gives me hope.

Wenn Christen an dich glauben,                                   If Christians believe in you,

wird  sie kein Feind in Ewigkeit                                      no foe shall snatch thee for ever

aus deinen Händen rauben.                                           from your hands.

 

 

7.  Chorale

Herr, ich glaube, hilf mir Schwachen,                             Lord, I believe, help me in my weakness;

laß mich ja verzagen nicht;                                               let me not be despondent.

Du, du kannst mich stärker machen,                              you can make me stronger

wenn mich Sünd’ und Tod anficht.                                when sin and death assail me.

Deiner Güte will ich trauen,                                              I want to put my trust in your loving kindness

bis ich fröhlich werde schauen                                       until I happily look upon

dich, Herr Jesu, nach dem Streit                                      you, Lord Jesu, after life’s struggle

in der süßen Ewigkeit.                                                      in blissful eternity.

 

Translated by Christopher Ray

 

October 1962 (P Steinitz); October 1989, May 1991 (C Brown); February 2019 (C. Brown).

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