The imitation continues for many measures, until a sudden and dramatic change occurs with a change of text. At "ohne Furcht und Heuchelei" (without fear or hypocrisy), the music turns suddenly introspective and almost fearfuldespite the statement without fear. All instruments in the ensemble drop out except for the continuo, which doubles the bass voice but nothing more. The mode changes to minor, and with the turn to minor the music becomes more chromatic and unstable. The imitative texture is replaced with a highly ornamented chorale-style setting reminiscent of a late Renaissance motet.
The minor mode continues for a while, ending with a longer passage in this stile antico style, before breaking back into the joyful C major. Another set of imitative entrances brings back this more blissful music, with the voices entering in a mirror image of the beginning (BTAS).
For the next aria (movement 3, following a recitative), Bach introduces the oboe damore. Ulrich Prince, who wrote his dissertation on instrumentation on Bachs instrumentation, states that Bach introduced this instrument for the first time in Cantata No. 23, written in 1723 in Leipzig. (J.S. Bach [Oxford Composer Companions], ed. Malcolm Boyd [New York: Oxford University Press, 1999]). Although Cantata 23 doesnt appear in the Jahrgang I until February 20, 1724, it was one of Bachs audition cantatas a full year earlier.
The warm sound of the oboe damore contributes to the intimate feel of this aria, as does the lower, warmer timbre of the alto soloist. The a minor tonality (the relative minor of the C major which opens the cantata) also enhances the introspective, contemplative feel of the aria. Bach makes some minor use (no pun intended) of word painting in this movement, most notably by adding a melisma on "Herrlichkeit" (glory) near the end of the text, and shortly before the instruments return to the opening passage to close the movement.
The recitative which follows, meanwhile, is surprisingly enlivened by abundant imagery in both the text and accompanying continuo. Consider the many examples:
Beyond this imagery, it is useful to note that much of the text of this recitative is an elaboration of Marys Magnificat. Note the connections between this text and the Biblical one from Luke 1:
The next movement (no. 5), a soprano aria, sets perhaps the most famous message of Advent: prepare the way of the Lord. The moderate-tempo walking bassline gives a strong sense of movement, perhaps of Christ walking on his path of life. The movement can be viewed as a trio sonata, with two independent melody parts in the solo violin and solo soprano. The two melody lines are simultaneously both complementary and completely independent of each other, more even than one would normally see in a trio sonata. Is this Christ and mankind walking together?
The first part of the cantata ends with one of two similar chorale settings (the other comes at the end of part II of the cantata). Bach produces one of his most famous creations here by drawing on sources not originally his. The text is a verse of Martin Jahns hymn "Jesu, meiner Seelen Wonne" (1661), using a melody by Johann Schop (which set a completely different chorale text). This is the tune known in English-speaking lands as "Jesu, Joy of Mans Desiring." Listeners accustomed to hearing this at weddings may be surprised at the effect in a quicker tempo, which Bach almost certainly intended. (He did not indicate tempo, but performance practice would dictate a quicker tempo.) It becomes dance-like, in the very least reflecting the joy of the text, which is clear. It is indeed not a sentimental one, which is how most modern performances generally come across:
Happy I am that I have Jesus;
O how firmly I shall hold him,
The he may refresh my heart
When I am ill and grieving.
I have Jesus, who loves me
And entrusts himself to me;
Ah, thus I shall not leave Jesus,
Even if my heart should break.
The second part begins with a declamatory aria for tenor with an active continuo line which continues the joy set forth in the previous chorale. The lively continuo part is the highlight here. Bach ensures that the bassline comes through by not over-ornamenting the tenor solo. Bach specifies violoncello and violone on the continuo; organ is also indicated by the presence of figured bass notation. The violone was specified in only about 50 of Bachs continuo parts. This is the lowest-sounding string in Bachs ensemble, and originated in the viol family.
The accompanied recitative which follows extends Marys story by turning to her visit to her cousin, Elizabeth. Elizabeth greets her younger cousin with the famous text "Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you, blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb." Elizabeth reveals that her own unborn child (who will be known as John the Baptist) leapt in her womb at Marys presence.
In the recitative, Elizabeth, John, and Mary are all mentioned by name, but the emphasis is on the wonder of the Lords work. Accompanying are two oboes da caccia, the tenor member of the oboe family. The two oboes almost always play in parallel thirds or sixths, tying them togetherperhaps this is Elizabeth and John (who, as an unborn child, is completely dependent upon his mother, and moves where she does).
The cantata ends with a chorale setting which is musically identical to movement 6, though sets a different verse of the chorale text.
©2003 Carol Traupman-Carr
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