Composed in 1723 for the 1st Day of Pentecost, BWV 59, Wer mich liebet, may have actually been originally written for a university service before Bach began his tenure at the St. Thomas Kirche in Leipzig. It seems as though it may have been assembled by Bach, drawing on some earlier material, before he left Cöthen. If so, this might explain the reuse of two of its movements exactly a year later in BWV 74, as well as the extremely rare use of a pair of trumpets; one or three being the norm.

The opening movement is a delight in its synthesis of Italian chamber duet and festive instrumentation, yet tactfully restrained. Four times the biblical motto from the Gospel John 14:23 is given in canon for the two singers, then a fifth and last time homophonically in parallel sixths, which leads to exuberant instrumental postlude.

The string accompanied recitative for soprano is more stylistically akin to that of Bach’s Weimar years, as it culminates with a tender arioso. The bass line takes on an equal part with the soprano, a metaphor of conjoined Humankind and God.The placement of a chorale at this point is a little odd, yet as an appeal to the Holy Spirit for grace, utterly appropriate. In Luther’s Pentecostal hymn of 1524 Bach provides independent parts for the viola and second violin, rather than the traditional convention of simply doubling the choral altos and tenors, resulting in a more opulent texture supportive of the dignified text. Also interesting to note is the variety of phrase lengths, something which surely would have appealed to Bach and lends itself to an unforced, flowing melodic line.

The closing aria for bass with violin obbligato again focuses on the dwelling of God in the human heart through love and the Holy Spirit. The crux of the aria is simplicity; it is an earnest, personal statement of faith. In BWV 74 this aria is transposed a fourth higher for soprano and oboe da caccia and adapted to a new text. Following the aria, in Bach’s manuscript, lies the inscription ‘Chorale segue.’ However, this leaves us without any clear directive as to what Bach intended, especially since it is not clear if the inscription is in Bach’s hand! Our solution is a repeat of the previous chorale underlaid with the third stanza of Luther’s hymn.

©Ryan Turner

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