BWV 131 "Aus der Tiefen"
is considerable belief among musicologists that this may be Bachs
earliest cantata. It is not, however, the earliest composition by
Bach to survive in autograph (some instrumental works predate even
this one). But this is the earliest major work by Bach to survive
in manuscript. There are numerous clues to its early origin:
postscript on the final page of the manuscript indicates it was
written while Bach was organist at St. Blasiuss church in
Mühlhausen. Interestingly enough, however, the postscript
indicates that the work was commissioned by the pastor at Marienkirche,
also in Mühlhausen, but not the church with which Bach was
text indicates that it may have been performed for an event of
mourninga major fire in Mühlhausen in May 1707 reportedly
destroyed about a quarter of the town, and this work could have
been intended for a memorial service commemorating the fire and
those lost. The memorial service was held at Marienkirche.
examples from Bachs early works indicate a smaller more
delicate hand than found in works of Weimar or later.
sets the score using "double tonality," meaning that
some instrumental parts are written in different keys, something
not seen in his Leipzig works (here, the oboe and bassoon are
written in a minor, while the strings, voices, and continuo are
marked in g minor).
also employs a more conservative, older fashion of canceling out
sharps with flats, rather than with natural signs.
cantata draws its text from two different sources, one of which
is the entirety of Psalm 130. Two other movements use text from
the chorale "Herr Jesu Christ, du höchstes Gut."
Only in one movement (the bass aria) do the two texts come together.
cantata is scored for oboe, violin, viola, bassoon, SATB choir,
SATB soloists, and continuo.
individual movements can be difficult to distinguish in this cantata,
as the resolution of one cadence is at the same time the start of
the next movement, or at least the next distinct section. Despite
the difficulty in discerning individual movements, Stephen Daw [The
Music of Johann Sebastian Bach: The Choral Works (Madison, NJ:
Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1981)] demonstrates that this
work is symmetrical in form:
in two sections:
vivace choral fugue
aria set against soprano chorale line; continuo accompaniment
again in two sections:
fugal Largo: significant instrumental work
aria, set against alto chorale line
in two sections:
in rhetorical motet style
Allegro in fugal style, with some essential use of the instruments
Cantata 71 (discussed above), this was written in Mühlhausen
while Bach served as organist at St. Blasiuss church. Unlike
in that cantata, however, Bach rarely uses the organ in any role
other than as part of the continuo group here.
as a reflection of the first line of text, the vocal lines lie rather
low in the opening movement. The altos really get to sound like
contraltos rather than mezzo sopranosbetter still, one of
the bass notes actually goes down to the C two octaves below middle
C. (Few basses today can hit this pitch, which is fortunately carried
in the continuo.) Is this opening a choral version of a French overture?
It is written in two clear sections:
der Tiefe ruf ich, Herr, zu dir." (Out of the depths
I cry, Lord, to you.)
höre meine Stimme, lass deine Ohren merken auf die Stimme
meines Flehens." (Lord, O hear my calling, incline your
ear unto my voice and hear my prayers.)
use of dotted eighth-sixteenth rhythms, trills at cadences
continuous eighths, no additional ornamentation; fugal in
range in general, though definitely higher that the first
minor key, the tempo and motion lend a more hopeful mood
sets the text of the second section in a mostly syllabic fashion,
except for the word "Flehens" (prayers). The two syllables
of this word are separated at a minimum by a short rest, followed
by a large leap (often a dissonant diminished seventh interval);
in the opposite extreme, the first syllable sounds over an extended,
twisting run of eighths (sometimes with trills or other ornaments).
This gives the word a special place in this section. Clearly the
prayers to God are the focus of this section; the stumbling effect
created by the inserted rest, the twisting lines, and the dissonant
leaps are an indication that God has not yet responded to the prayersindeed,
the text and tone indicate that the singers are still pleading to
God to listen.
second movement is a bass aria, in which the soloist addresses the
Lord while the sopranos of the choir join with the chorale melody
"Herr Jesus Christ, du höchstes Gut". The calm, slowly
moving chorale line, limited in range, with even, clearly delineated
phrases, provides a stark contrast with the pleading, anxious bass
line, wide in range, with a variety of rhythms, and numerous ornaments.