J.S. Bach, Cantata 139, at Trinity XXIII – Assertions of Protection

Pauline Post

Pauline Post

The cantata is woven around Johann Christoph Rube’s 1692 five-stanza hymn Wohl dem, der sich auf seinen Gott (Well is one, who on one’s God), Recht kindlich kann verlassen! (can place one’s childlike reliance. It embodies those peculiarly arid and unrealistic assertions common to religions that faith is an absolute form of imperishably perfect and unconquerable defiance against perdition, death, and the outrage perpetrated by aller Welt, all the world. Rube was a Thuringian lawyer, which would explain his lack of grasp of actuality. He had clearly read his Philippians, and it is the Pauline epistle of the day that this cantata works its way through.

The opening chorus is very beautiful, not only because of the gentleness of tone but also because of the architectural reliance upon the cantus firmus, which is sung in long notes by the sopranos, but integrated in shorter notes in the other voices of the choir and in the orchestra, in which is found the main articulation of the argument; which is, the innocent serenity that is to be found in the friendship of God. It is remarkably alluring in that it is remarkably convincing.

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