The Cantatas of J.S. Bach – BWV 12, at Jubilate Sunday – Joy Through Suffering

Cantata 12, composed in 1714, is for Jubilate Sunday, the third Sunday after Easter, and so called because Psalm 66, which begins with the word Jubilate, is the introit for that day. Make a joyful noise unto God, all ye lands … I will go into thy house with burnt offerings …. The work is scored for alto, tenor, and bass soloists, choir, and an orchestra of strings with oboe and tromba da tirarsi (a slide trumpet).

Jubilate Deo Introit

Jubilate Deo Introit

The text is an adaptation by Bach’s frequent librettist, Salomo Franck, of the Gospel reading for that Sunday (John 16:16-23): A little while, and ye shall not see me … ye shall weep and lament, but the world will rejoice … for joy that a man is born into the world.

The greatness of the work is in its examination of the inescapable difficulties that life presents and must be contended with, and their lightening by the acceptance of the essential beauty of the world.

The opening sinfonia is particularly expressive, with the solo oboe singing sadly over the concerns and commiserations of the violins. Upon this follows a chorus, a tripartite slow-fast-slow structure. It begins mournfully, in slow 3/2 time over a chromatically descending and unaltering bass in even half-notes, namely, a chaconne; comes to an allegro (quick) middle section; and then repeats the slow opening in full. A chaconne consists of continuous variations based on a short theme (not a tune) that is essentially a succession of harmonies in slow triple meter. The effect is one of accumulating intensity. The emotional and devotional aspects of the piece are set by the opening words of the text, namely, Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen, which can be translated as weeping, lamenting, sorrowing, fearing. The opening and closing lento (slow) sections, particularly the parts for the voices, are clearly prefigured by the sinfonia; and the groundbass is similar to that in the opening chorus of Cantata 78 and the Crucifixus of the b-minor Mass.

Psalm 66 (Courtesy: www.pastorgraphics.com)

Psalm 66 (Courtesy: http://www.pastorgraphics.com)

An alto recitative (through tribulation we gain release) follows. It is immensely expressive, through chromatic, that is, with minor, adjustments in the vocal line, the effect being an adumbration of melancholy and reflection. This recitative introduces an alto aria with oboe obbligato (obligatory): a movement of great beauty, with an exceptional melody in the oboe, complemented remarkably by the voice, whose line is equally ornate, the both over an equally exceptional counterpoint (two or more melodic lines sounding simultaneously) in the bassoon, which often plays very low in its register. Kreuz und Krone sind verbunden: Cross and crown are joined together.

Unusually, there is a succession of three arias, each for a different voice. The second of these (loyalty to one’s convictions) is a bass aria with the strings, with purposeful movement. The remarkable harmonic density and polyphonic (that is, each part having melodic significance) interplay in the violins give the sense of the faithful following their Redeemer into Eternity.

Tromba da tirarsi (Courtesy:  www.mathewparkertrumpets.com)

Tromba da tirarsi (Courtesy: http://www.mathewparkertrumpets.com)

The third and last aria is for tenor with tromba da tirarsi obbligato, over an arpeggiated bass that moves steadily, sorrowfully, and acceptingly—as if having coming to terms with an irreducible understanding. This is a movement of intense concentration of expressiveness, and one of Bach’s greatest achievements. The contrast of the trumpet intoning the chorale melody Jesu, meine Freude (Jesus, my joy—the congregation, of course, being well acquainted with the melody and its meaning) against the melismatic cantilena of the tenor on the words Sei getreu, alle Pein / Wird doch nur ein Kleines sein (Be faithful, all suffering / Will be but a trifle) is so infused with emotion and conviction that it cannot fail to bring hope to the heart. The climax occurs when, in the first part of the aria, the trumpet ascends to high B-flat as the tenor weaves notes on the word Kleines (trifles). The section is repeated, and then, in the concluding section, this spiritual tension is relieved, quite wonderfully, by a contemplative peroration on the words Nach dem Regen blüht der Segen, alles Wetter geht vorbei (After the rains bloom new blessings, all storms pass by). The three arias follow one another with great success; and the whole is concluded by the chorale, the fine Was Gott tut, das ist wohl getan (What God does, that has well been done), with an independent part for the orchestra.

The work moves from oppression of the soul to its victory in the context of the acceptance of the concurrent existence of the beauty of things.

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3 thoughts on “The Cantatas of J.S. Bach – BWV 12, at Jubilate Sunday – Joy Through Suffering

  1. Pingback: Great Compositions/Performances: Choral from Cantata No.147 (Jesu bleibet meine Freunde) by Johann Sebastian Bach. Conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt. | euzicasa

  2. Pingback: Great compositions/Performances: Bach: Cantata, BWV 147, Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring | euzicasa

  3. Pingback: Music – 52 Works Recently Studied | CulturalRites

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