Raphael: St. Michael Vanquishing Satan (1518). Louvre.

Of Good and Evil – J.S. Bach, Cantata 50, at Michaelmas

Cantata 50 is an expostulatory force. Its text is Revelation 12:10. The English Biblical version does not suffice. Language is individualistic and characteristic, and translation is an approximation of meaning and fails to duplicate the impact of sounds and stresses. These latter two are essential to the weight, strength, and power of this music. The…

Raphael: St. Michael and the Dragon (1503-05). Louvre.

Of Good and Evil – J.S. Bach, Cantata 149, at Michaelmas

The opening chorus, whose text is appropriated from Psalms 118:15-16, and not from the gospel of the day, celebrates the victorious right hand of God. The bass aria that follows is with continuo only, which is predominantly the bassoon, whose part is not only largely independent but also vigorous, in keeping with the honourable military…

Frans Francken II: Meeting of Esau and Jacob (1620s). Courtesy: State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg.

Of Good and Evil – J.S. Bach, Cantata 19, at Michaelmas

Although the tenor aria, Bleibt, ihr Engel, bleibt bei mir! (Stay, thou angels, stay with me), is generally, and justly, considered the high point of this cantata, the aria that is the most penetrative psychologically is the earlier aria for boy soprano, Gott schickt uns Mahanaim zu (God sends us to Mahanaim). The aria is additionally scored for two oboes…