J.S. Bach, Cantata 55, at Trinity XXII – Judgment and Flight

Matthias Scheit : The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant (17th century). The forgiven servant, foreground; the unmerciful servant, background.

Matthias Scheit : The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant (17th century). The forgiven servant, foreground; the unmerciful servant, background.

The opening aria is refinement itself, and holds a remarkable array of felicities, both eloquent and apt, in all the lines—flute, oboe, strings, and voice—the latter with several instances of expressions of abasement that are superb, tellingly chromatic, irrefutable solos accompanied solely by continuo. The subject, once more, derives from the gospel for the day, the parable of the unmerciful servant.

The subsequent recitative makes clear that fleeing from this judgment is impossible—not upon the oceans, nor in the depths of Hell, not anywhere upon the earth. There is some nice imagery here, along with the employment of alliteration: soll ich der Morgenröte Flügel / Zu meiner Flucht erkiesen? (shall I choose the wing of the reddening dawn for my flight?). The concept is derived from Psalm 139, which, however, is not quite as eloquent.

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