Identity and Understanding of the Other – J.S. Bach, Cantata 170, at Trinity VI

Baptism of St. Paul. Capela Palatina, Palermo.

Baptism of St. Paul. Capela Palatina, Palermo.

From J.S. Bach, Cantatas for Trinity I through VII:

The theme of righteousness, embodied in the epistle from Paul (Romans 6:3-11), is specifically elaborated through the Gospel reading (Matthew 5:20-26), which is the Sermon on the Mount’s asseveration of the supremacy of justice over the law, in this instance represented by the law of the Pharisees, the Pharisaic beliefs fundamental to Rabbinical Judaism.

The middle aria, Wie jammern mich doch die verkerhen Herzen (how sad I am for those of perverted heart), is also superb, and full of the strife of recognition of this exemplification of the human condition. As in the opening aria, the opening ritornello is repeated for the conclusion; but this aria is dualistic, not only because of the two keyboards, but because the organ and the voice express different lines of the music. The organ’s obbligato part is exceedingly expressive, and the strings’ part marvellously spare, for it functions as the continuo, and does not participate in the dialogue.

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