The Cantatas of J.S. Bach – BWV 82, at the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary – Acceptance of the End of Life

Rembrandt: The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple. 1631. (Courtesy: www.abcgallery.com)

Rembrandt: The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple. 1631. (Courtesy: http://www.abcgallery.com)

Cantata 82, composed in 1727, is for the feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, or Candlemas, the feast that concludes the forty days, as required by the Mosaic law, that a woman remains outside consecration after having given birth to a son.

This work is written for solo bass and orchestra, with particular use of the oboes, and is in five parts, arranged as three arias separated by two recitatives.

The text is anonymous. The Gospel is Luke 2: 22-32: … now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace … For mine eyes have seen thy salvation … prepared before the face of all people.

The cantata is a profound meditation on the acceptance of, and the preparation for, death. The opening aria (I have enough, and can depart this life), which incorporates one of those remarkable oboe solos that are characteristic of Bach, is deeply felt, deeply moving and beautiful, and glows with an inner radiance, peace, and conviction. It plays principally on the opening words Ich habe genug (I have enough), which are based on the Nunc dimittis, Simeon’s prayer, which occurs in the Gospel for the day, and which in itself is also a heart-rending passage. This movement is one of Bach’s extraordinary masterpieces, and has the same spaciousness and poignancy as the Erbarme dich (Peter’s plea for mercy after having denied Christ) in Matthäus-Passion.

Nunc dimittis. Les très riches heures du Duc de Berry (Courtesy: Wikipedia)

Nunc dimittis. Les très riches heures du Duc de Berry (Courtesy: Wikipedia)

The transitional recitative (in peace I now can depart) leads to the second aria (let me rest), which is scored for strings and oboe da caccia, exhibits beautiful part-writing, and is deeply felt, immensely calming, wonderfully judged. The second recitative (farewell) lead to the concluding aria (death takes me from this world), for strings with the oboe (of the first aria), and which expresses one of those paradoxes or antitheses that Bach often exploits wherein, though the music is very fine and joyous, it remains nonetheless a welcoming of death.

And so the paradox of death inherent in life here completes itself.

This is one of Bach’s finest cantatas and like much of Bach’s music it makes substantial demands on the performers. The bass solo line in particular is unrelenting, and only a good singer is able to place the weight of the cantata in the middle aria, whose almost too long da capo structure makes this a challenge. The organ continuo is remarkable throughout, and the oboe solos in the framing arias require high musicianship to bring out the plangent aspects of the piece.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s