BWV 16, from Bach’s third season in Leipzig, contains many lacunae. It is not known whether the missing works are lost or works of other composers were performed. The pieces that are there are in many ways more experimental than the works of the first two seasons. Our cantata, BWV 16, begins with a chorale fantasia somewhat in the manner of the works from the 2nd year cycle. The beginning gesture is, however, unique in all of the cantatas. Traditionally these big fantasias begin with a large orchestral introduction. Here a mysterious and nervous continuo figure begins the work. The chorus gradually enters and then the orchestra, almost like a gathering mob. The soprano ringing out the German Te Deum is like a military charge. The work ends as abruptly as it began and gives the impression of a chaotic assault. A bass recitative follows. The next movement is an aria for bass with chorus. Here the trumpet fanfares seem much more organized. The middle section is an ornamental almost courtly declaration of faith.With the alto recitative the cantata begins a radical change of course. The sweet-natured tenor aria with English horn is expansive and as placid as the opening was nervous and jittery. It is as if Bach had here reached a plateau and was willing to explore the most inward aspects of faith. The very beautiful and profound harmonization of "Helft mir Gotts Güte preisen" continues the inwardness and brings the cantata to a surprisingly quiet close.

©Craig Smith

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