Cantata BWV 22Jesus nahm zu sich die Zwölfe


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German TextEnglish Text
German TextEnglish Text


“Quinquagesima” comes from the Latin meaning “50th”: it’s the Sunday before Ash Wednesday and (given that Lent is 40 days long) is, close enough, 50 days before Easter. So its theme is all about preparation for Lent and Easter -and takes as its cue Jesus’ announcement of his and his disciples’ departure for Jerusalem (where we all know what will happen!)

The disciples didn’t get what Jesus was on about; but the voice of the cantata knows precisely what he was talking about, and that in Jerusalem, and the suffering of the Passion, is to be found comfort and peace. Sure: it would rather deal with the triumphs of the Transfiguration (on Mount Tabor), and prefers to look away from the horrors of Golgotha, because flesh is weak; but the voice knows that renunciation of the flesh and its pleasures is the source of salvation, peace and joy.

It’s a good cantata, though perhaps a little unspectacular. (Interestingly, it’s one of the audition pieces Bach wrote for his job application as Cantor at Leipzig’s Thomaskircher: maybe Bach was unsure what resources he’d have available to him, so kept it relatively unspectacular to show what he could do with limited means?) Anyway, it has some very subtle touches that nicely pick up on the disciples’ inability to understand, contrasted with our knowledge of what happened.

For example, in the first movement: Jesus (as ever sung by the bass) boldly declaims the need to go to Jerusalem in the first part, over a plodding, footstep-like continuo. After that, the movement descends into metaphorical chaos, with the chorus (i.e., the clueless disciples) singing an allegro fugue, with their overlapping themes punctuated by repeated, off-beat “was, das” phrases giving a good impression of a crowd of people turning to each other in confusion asking, “What? What? What does he mean?”

The second movement opens with a charming-sounding oboe solo and the alto is equally pleasant… to start with. Listen, though, as the tone darkens noticeably as he sings “zu deinem Leiden gehn” -i.e., ‘to your Passion’. The alto knows what’s coming in Jerusalem; so do we, just by listening. It’s a nice touch.

The bass recitative sounds lovely, with its long string major chords; the mood has cheered, and you get the sense that Bach just couldn’t help himself at the mention of ‘building a mighty fortress on Mount Tabor’, though! ‘Eine feste Berg’ being one of Martin Luther’s most famous hymns, Bach probably felt he had no choice but to almost quote its theme. 🙂

The cheering mood improves even more, such that the tenor aria (movement 4) sounds like quite dance-like and light-hearted, which is fair enough given the text, I suppose: remember, we’re going to Jerusalem joyfully and are happy to be renouncing the pleasures of the flesh. When the singer sustains long notes on ‘ewiges’ (‘eternal’), the strings go particularly bonkers weaving their complicated demi-semi-quavers around him. Again, a good effect.

The closing Chorale is rather lovely: a constant, plodding continuo (suggesting foot-falls on the path to Jerusalem?) is accompanied by a wonderful continuous weave of quavers in the oboe and violin parts through which the chorus punch out their simple hymn. It reminds me a bit of way Bach did ‘Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring’ (see Cantata BWV 147); the same sort of textures, and the same sense of ‘moto perpetuo’, forward motion and calm energy.

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