The tune for the cantata for the Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity, “Wo soll ich fliehen hin,” was equally well known with a different set of words, “Auf meinem lieben Gott.” At times in his settings both for voices and for organ he had both texts in mind, particularly the fourth section of today’s cantata.

Both the opening chorus and the two extent chorale preludes for organ clearly illustrate the paranoid and agitated first stanza of “Wo soll ich fliehen hin.” The chorale prelude in the Kirnberger collection and the Schübler chorale both have the same whirling, getting-nowhere motion as the opening motive of the cantata.The Gospel reading from the 9th chapter of Matthew finds Christ in an angry mood. He cures the man with palsy almost begrudgingly to prove his qualification for forgiveness of sins. This anger is picked up on by Bach. He often chooses the key of G minor for a key of agitation and the G minor choruses in the cantatas are, almost without exception, among his most aggressive. The harmony has an unusual static quality, which then veers off into precipitous and jagged diminished chords that lead us into unexpected territories. Seldom is Bach’s harmony so erratic, clearly calculatedly so.

While all of the texts for the 2nd Jahrgang are anonymous and presumably arranged by Bach, much of this one resembles the work of an earlier librettist, Georg Christian Lehms. Most of Lehms’ texts were set by Bach in his early Weimar years. Particularly the cantatas BWV 13 and 199 have a predilection for blood and gore characteristic of this text. We find much of that same quality in the Brockes St. John Passion text, although Bach for the most part eliminated those sections in his St. John Passion. The metaphor of being washed in Christ’s blood, mentioned in the bass recitative #2, unleashes torrents of blood in the extravagant tenor aria with viola obbligato. Because the viola part never goes below the violin open g there is conjecture that it is actually a violin obbligato. The range is low, however and the viola has more red corpuscles in this register than the violin. It is surely a remarkable aria, with the brilliant string figuration piling upon the tenor melismas in a dazzling way. There is a particular richness that results when Bach chooses an obbligato instrument in exactly the same range as the solo voice.

In the Recitative #4 the oboe plays the chorale theme on top of the desperate alto lines. Clearly here Bach wants the listener to remember the other set of words “In my beloved God, I trust in fear and need” rather than “Where shall I flee.” In this cantata the devil plays the trumpet, something that doesn’t happen very often, although we heard it several weeks ago in Cantata BWV 130. Bach usually employs either the C or D trumpet in brazen works like this. Here the slide trumpet plays elaborate figurations in Bb above the emphatic bass voice line. Both arias in this cantata are quite extended da capos. Clearly the ideas of Christ’s redeeming blood and the vanquishing of the devil were one that Bach wanted to dominate this work. As is so often the case, Bach brings in the child’s voice to end the cantata, here offering a sense of innocence and hope. The eleventh verse of “Wo soll ich fliehen hin” ends the cantata.

©Craig Smith

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