J.S. Bach, Cantata 38, at Trinity XXI – Earthly Anguish

Luther's hymn in a 1524 print

Luther’s hymn in a 1524 print

Cantata 38 is from the second Leipzig cycle of 1724. The text derives from Martin Luther’s 1524 hymn, from the first Lutheran hymnal, the Achtliederbuch (book of eight songs). It is a paraphrase of Psalm 130.

The long tenor aria eventually leads to a recitative for soprano, over Luther’s chorale in the continuo. The chorale announces the abandonment of distrust in the goodness and worth of the word of Christ. The effect is all the greater because the words of Luther’s hymn are not sung and only the chorale is played. The impact upon the congregation would have been immediate.

Whether this led to improvement of behaviour personally or socially cannot be said, of course; but the modern application is that, once the true value of an awareness is suddenly recognized and understood, and its acuity and profundity so immediately revealed, then more than acquiescent acknowledgement of it is necessary; it is only action that will bring about betterment.

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