One of the holidays celebrated with music yearly in Leipzig was the birthday of John the Baptist. The prediction of the coming of John is very like the message of Advent, and the readings for St. John’s day are identical with readings for Advent; thus the piece fits perfectly in December. The cantata opens with a joyful, dancing aria for tenor and strings. The following alto recitative turns into a profound and speculative comparison of the coming of John with the coming of Jesus. The mention of “lost sinners” sets the tone for the intense supplication and sorrow of the outstanding movement of the cantata: a moving and detailed duet for soprano and alto with English horn obbligato. The melancholy character of the opening at first seems strangely inappropriate, but the increasing intensity and in the middle section the heavenly floating quality of the piece makes it clear that Bach wants to emphasize the relationship of the story to the fall of Adam and Eve. A bass recitative sets the tone for an extended choral fantasy on the chorale “Nun lob, mein Seel, den Herren.”

©Craig Smith

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