About Cantata 158, "Der Friede sei mit dir", interesting questions abound. Since it is so brief, and requires a small and unusual ensemble, is it complete? Is it meant for the third Sunday of Easter, Jesus’ appearance, after his resurrection, “Peace be with you;” or for the Feast of the Purification of Mary, the presentation of the baby Jesus in the Temple, and the Blessed Simeon’s response, “Now lettest thy servant depart in peace”? Is the beautiful violin obbligato, since it lies so high, never using the violin’s lowest string, actually meant for a flute? When was it written, and who wrote the text?

Some answers, pure guesswork. It is complete, judging by melodies and motives exchanged between movements, and by the very satisfying affect it makes. The violin solo is originally for violino piccolo, the instrument Bach had often preferred for violin solos. The music was written early, in Weimar, with a text perhaps by Bach’s best collaborator Salomo Franck, the final chorale, a real dose of Luther, may have been added later. It is another of Bach’s very tender and touching meditations on our necessary, hard-won readiness to leave the world.

©John Harbison

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