The Cantatas of J.S. Bach – BWV 150 – Righteousness Prevails

Bach’s cantata 150, Nach dir, Herr, verlangen mich – to You, Lord, I yearn – often also translated as ‘in You I put my trust’ or ‘to You I lift up my soul,’ has no ecclesiastical occasion specified. Hence, there are no allusions to a particular reading from the Gospel. The text is largely from Psalm 25, verses, 1, 2, 5, and 15, with the balance from an anonymous source. Psalm 25 is an acrostic lament, with each verse beginning with the successional letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The cantata is likely to have been composed in 1708/09, likely at Weimar, and is probably Bach’s earliest known cantata.

Weimar 1708 (Courtesy: www.let.rug.nl)

Weimar 1708 (Courtesy: http://www.let.rug.nl)

The cantata has seven movements: sinfonia, chorus, aria for soprano, chorus, an aria that is a terzet for alto, tenor and bass, chorus, and final chorus. The orchestra is confined to violins, bassoon in a free-standing part, and basso continuo. The sinfonia serves as the opening to the first chorus, as they share the same material. Neither of the two arias, which are brief, is in da capo format. The choruses are reminiscent of the motet. The alternation throughout the work between quick and slow tempi is prevalent and telling.

The Cedars of Lebanon (Courtesy: the-end-time.blogspot.com)

The Cedars of Lebanon (Courtesy: the-end-time.blogspot.com)

It is a superb work. The sinfonia is exceedingly fine and chromatically intense. The succeeding chorus, also fine, is on the theme of the sinfonia, employs much imitative music, and alternates slow tempi with fast. It implores that one not be confounded by the triumph of one’s enemies. The soprano aria is almost a short chorale, and states that despite the assault by troubles, in the end righteousness will prevail. The second chorus is again on the theme of the sinfonia, again imitative, again alternative slow with fast. It deals with the wait for divine salvation. The terzet has a particularly agitated continuo. It places before us metaphorical cedars that despite the onslaught of tempest nonetheless through divine presence outlast the dangers. The third chorus has God rescuing one from the net that binds. And the concluding chaconne, which deals with the victory of the steadfastness of faith, and which is exceptional, is the theme used by Brahms in 1885 in the passacaglia finale of his fourth symphony.

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