Bach’s Cantata No. 1, Part 3. T. Herbert Dimmock discusses the final aria. BDP #285.

<music: J. S. Bach, Brandenburg Concerto No. 1>

Let’s conclude our look together at Cantata 1 with an examination of the fifth movement, the final aria of the cantata. The aria’s text is celebratory. It is a piece that has to do with thankfulness. The text translated into English is: “harps and lutes and voices raising, we adore ever more, ever more, ever more and offer thanks for Thy goodness, praising.” Beyond a doubt, the focus of this aria is gratitude.

Let’s think together as to what is the kind of gesture or posture is typically found in churches, synagogues, and houses of worship when the focus is on gratitude to God Almighty. Typically, it is a humble gesture. The physical manifestation of this gesture is quite often bowing humbly before an almighty being.

Bach must have visualized worshipers bowing when he wrote this final aria. The music begins with the violins playing in unison [music] with little running figures. Almost right away the music metamorphoses into little bowing gestures. [music] The bowing figures increase, painting a picture in sound of mankind perpetually bowing in gratitude before the Lord Almighty.

The tenor now sings the second portion of the text in this aria: “hearts and souls with love ascending, all lifelong, hear our songs.” Lo and behold here we find a treasure chest of fascinating examples both of word painting and the Doctrine of Affections. They appear in abundance, simultaneously. Recall that that the Doctrine of Affections is the use rhythmic devices, were meant to compel a change how you felt (what folks in the Baroque called your “affect.”). Composers believed that these compositional figures would compel you to feel the emotion that they sought at that point in their music:  joyfulness or sadness or …. The joy motive is perhaps the most widely used of the Affects in Bach’s music. It is a simple, repetitive rhythmic pattern: [sings].

At this spot in the aria, our tenor soloist sings the text “hearts and souls with love ascending.” The line goes upward on the word ascending – an obvious example of word painting. (Word painting is music that sounds like what the word means) “All lifelong hear our songs.” For the text ‘joyful songs’ Bach utilizes the joy motive. Bach believed that singing to God would reward the singer by making him or her feel joyful.  

The text concludes by describing to whom the joyful songs are directed: “To the King Almighty.” Bach again reaches into his musical tool bag to depict the essence of the praise as he understood it. The praise is perpetual, ‘all lifelong.’ The praise is directed to an almighty, everlasting king. The word ‘king’ in German is König. This king lives eternally. This king deserves our eternal praise. Thus Bach sets the word König to music that lasts five measures, a musical equivalent of eternity. Once again, it is a classic example of word painting in Bach’s music.

In conclusion at this spot in the aria we have music which paints vivid pictures in sound. Along with these sound pictures, Bach has utilized the rhythmic device known as the Doctrine of Affections to veritably force the reaction in Bach listeners that he sought. Together these two compositional tools eloquently describe each and every word or phrase of the text. [music] ..the ascending…[music] ‘all lifelong’ [music] ‘our song’ joyfully set with the Affect known as the joy motive [music] to the‘all mighty king’ [music]

Cantata number 1 is numbered first only because of the happenstance of when it was published – it was the first of Bach’s cantatas to be published when the complete works of Bach were assembled. As we perform it today, surely it is number one in our hearts. It is a truly wonderful piece.

Our performance of this cantata will be paired with the First Brandenburg Concerto. Both works make imaginative use of the French horns within the orchestra. We hope you will join us for the live performances of those two gems.

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<music: J. S. Bach, Brandenburg Concerto No. 1>