Bach Herr, deine Augen sehen nach dem Glauben, BWV 102, intended for the 10th Sunday after Trinity, was first performed on the 25th of August 1726 during Bach’s third year in Leipzig. The author of the text of this two-part cantata comes from of a series of works that Bach based on librettos written some twenty years earlier and attributed to Duke Ernst Ludwig of Saxe Meiningen. BWV 102 is one of six cantatas published early in the 19th century, long before the complete Bach Edition, as examples of the then rather unknown composer's art. Certainly this cantata is a brilliant example of Bach at his brilliant and austere best.

The opening chorus is like granite yet holds incredible structural fascination. Bach prefaces the grim text from Jeremiah with a genial orchestral ritornello that gives no hint at what is to come. Both the rigorous opening vocal statement and the two highly individual fugues are brilliantly incorporated into the austere texture. This is Bach at his most unforgiving andLutheran with a focus on Christian’s stagnation and unwillingness to repent.  

The alto aria with obbligato oboe is on a more personal, almost theatrical note. The bass aria with strings has extraordinarily high energy. The text from St Paul’s Epistle to the Romans (Romans 2:4–5), unusual for a Bible quotation in this context, leaves us with a stunning and unique end on a question mark. The spiky tenor aria with flute obbligato (later recast with violin obbligato in 1731) is an exhortation to repent. Its depiction of terror makes an especially vivid impression, with its flickering melodic line, broken up by pauses, at the beginning of the vocal part recalling the nastiness and dislocatedvocal line of the opening chorus. An extended alto recitative with two oboes illustrates‘a moment that parts time and eternity’, (‘den Augenblick, der Zeit und Ewigkeit scheidet’). Our cantata concludes with us into the brilliant harmonization of "Vater unser im Himmelreich.”

Bach himself must have regarded this cantata particularly highly. More than a decade later, he used a free reworking of its opening chorus as the Kyrie of his Mass in G minor, BWV 235, and the two arias (the alto and bass arias) in the Gloria of his Mass in F major, BWV 233. His son, Carl Phillip Emanuel, revived it several times in Hamburg during the1770s and 80s.

©Craig Smith, with edits and additions by Ryan Turner

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