The subject matter is the awakening of the dead; that is to say, their resurrection.
Cantata 161 dates from 1716 and was written for Weimar. Its third movement, an aria for tenor and strings, is superb. (The translation is courtesy of Emmanuel Music.)
Ist, den Heiland zu umfangen
Und bei Christo bald zu sein.
Ob ich sterblich’ Asch und Erde
Durch den Tod zermalmet werde,
Wird der Seele reiner Schein
Dennoch gleich den Engeln prangen.
is, to embrace my Savior
and to be with Christ soon.
Although to mortal ash and earth
I shall be ground through death,
the pure radiance of my soul
will then blaze like the angels.
Cantatas 95, 8, and 27 were written for Leipzig.
Cantata 95 (1723), a fine work, is infused with great intensity of the longing for death and the repudiation of mortality. Its fifth movement, an aria for tenor, is of exqusite and astonishing beauty, and certainly one of Bach’s masterpieces: Ach, slage doch bald, selge Stunde, den allerletzen Glockenschlag! (Ah, strike quickly, blessed hour, the very last bell-stroke!) The whole is accompanied by oboes d’amore and a pizzicato string part of considerable difficulty and effect.
Cantata 8 (1724) includes a meditative alto recitative that is heart-breaking.
Cantata 27 (1726), a very great work, opens with the words Wer weiß, wie nahe mir mein Ende? Who knows how near is my last hour? It is innovatively and to great effect structured as a choric presentation of the chorale with interpolations from three different soloists. Johannes Brahms took his inspiration for the second movement of his Ein deutsches Requiem from the chorale melody that is used so powerfully in the opening chorus of cantata 27. After the sarabande opening, Brahms’s choir, to the words Denn alles Fleisch es ist wie Gras (For all flesh is as grass), intones with power the same notes, in almost similar pattern and also in 3/4 time.