Barmherziges Herze der ewigen Liebe, BWV 185, was composed in Weimar in 1715 to a text by Salomo Franck and revived by Bach in Leipzig in 1723 and again in 1746/7. Today’s cantata incorporates most of the last revisions. The Gospel for this day is the passage which follows after Jesus's famous teaching of 'love thine enemy' and Bach finds convincing ways to mirror Franck’s paraphrase of the Gospel injunction to ‘be merciful, as your Father also is merciful’. Cast as a siciliano for soprano and tenor with cello continuo, there is a warm glow to this opening duet. Both voices move in canon, symbolizing that God’ s mercy is reflected in human pity. Then the oboe joins in with the melody of the last chorale, suggesting the name of Jesus, the owner of the heart of love, hidden in the text.

An elaborately set accompanied recitative for alto extolling the virtues of charity and the need for forgiveness, almost comes to grief with the words "lay up for yourselves some capital, that one day yonder God will repay with rich interest." This typical Salomo Franck monetary metaphor (he was the director of the mint in Weimar) is further elaborated in the opulent instrumental textures of the central aria for alto, oboe and strings, wherein Bach expresses the joy of the 'plentiful harvest promised to the compassionate.’

A tone of rigid warning is prominent in the bass recitative. The ensuing aria speaks of the Christian's art, which Bach ingeniously portrays by employing a canon at a beat’s distance between voice and strings, while at the same time emphasizing the weightiness of the words with all the strings playing the same motive at the octave in a Handelian manner. The concluding chorale, a call to Christ of Christians who have made the decision to follow the path of righteousness, is adorned with a descant-like solo line for the first violin.

©Ryan Turner

Bach Cantata BWV 185 was originally written in Weimar. A later version from performances in Leipzig exists as well. It opens with a detailed and expressive duet for soprano and tenor with a oboe playing the chorale tune “Ich ruf zu dir.” After an accompanied recitative, the alto sings a warm and friendly aria with oboe d’amore and strings. The following bass recitative and aria with continuo is surprisingly lively and almost sly in tone. The work ends with a four-part harmonization of “Ich ruf zu dir” with a descant fifth voice in the first violins.nan

©Craig Smith

Back to Bach Notes & Translations