J.S. Bach, Cantata 109, at Trinity XXI – Unbelief and Belief

Joseph-Marie Vien : The Healing of the Official's Son (1742)

Joseph-Marie Vien : The Healing of the Official’s Son (1742)

The entire cantata is concerned with the wavering between unbelief and belief, and the spiritual trek from the one to the other.

The concern and the contradictions held within recurrent manifestations of spiritual dissent are evident in the text, but they are even more evident in the music: a persistent, obsessive use of appoggiatura, the sliding from one note up or down to another, with the recurrent and attendant dissonances, sudden and momentary, evincing the dissonance in the internal struggle of the human being; the highly juxtaposed and separated lines of the choir, including solo utterances as well as passages where the singing is without orchestra and hence fully exposed; the inclusion in figurations of notes outside the tonic chordal harmony, the provision of harmonic ambiguity, and unpredictable passages of tormented chordal progress; the use of the slide trumpet to reduce the smoothness of the musical material by its jarring, effectually painful, interpolation of contrary counterpoint after initial doublings; the recurrence of episodic matter and fragmentation, even the splintering, of the musical line.

The theology of the work settles on the worth and truth of belief, but, I offer, it is the struggle that is revelatory; whether one, these days, achieves a similarity, in either of the two, or many, directions.

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