Since no music was performed during Lent in Bach’s church we are performing works written for the Sundays after Trinity, which occur in the summertime. The Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity combines an exhortation by Paul to the Romans to live better, more truthful lives with the story of Jesus’ cure of the paralyzed man and consequent rebuff from the church fathers for blasphemy. The bitter darkness of both of these readings permeates this astonishing, profound piece.
Bach opens his cantata, not with the First Testament quote as is normal for cantatas from his first Leipzig cycle, but rather with a line from Paul’s letter to the Romans. The hopelessness of the text set in a ritualized manner is juxtaposed to the chorale theme played in tight canon between the oboes and the trumpet. While Bach’s manner later in Leipzig was dominated by his desire to highlight and make clear the chorale, here the tune is hidden and operates almost purely on a subconscious level.
The alto recitative exhibits unbearable pain only relieved by the harmonization of the verse from the chorale “Ach Gott und Herr.” The extraordinary chromaticism of the first few lines move into a shocking turn at the words “so journey ahead.” This is the true turning point of the cantata. Both arias that follow, the lonely alto aria with oboe and the tenor aria with strings, represent a positive direction but nevertheless retain the defeated, sorrowful demeanor of the opening. This is a profoundly great cantata with virtually no contrast and no powerful denouement.