Today’s cantata, BWV 70a, was composed in Weimar in 1716. For subsequent Leipzig performances in 1723 and 1731, Bach added four recitatives and a chorale, thus making it appropriate for the Sunday before Advent. BWV 70a concerns the Day of Last Judgement as depicted today’s gospel of Luke. The cantata opens with a rousing chorus warning of the last judgment with a prominent "last trumpet" obbligato. After the rhythmic surge of this opening chorus that never really abates, the veiled quality of the alto aria with its mournful cello obbligato is an enormous contrast. The overall texture, imposed upon a ritornello pattern in the cello, is ternary in which the alto asks a question, delivers stern warnings, and then combines them.

The nearly Handelian soprano aria with strings has surprising vehemence and real spite. Note the sweeping violin scales, sometimes rising sometimes falling. They may very well suggest the figure of Jesus amongst the clouds or, indeed the acts of defiance against those who deride us. The friendly tenor aria opens with a long ritornello that might mislead the listener to think is the beginning of a sinfonia. However, this joyous melody is taken over by the tenor echoing the positivity of the opening chorus, making it seem as if the tide has turned.

The bass aria is an island of quiet, interrupted by last judgment music. The bass’s declamatory, crushing phrases are matched only by the sawing strings and trumpet urgings and the hair-raising melisma on "Trümmern" – the wreckage of the very universe. The violence subsides on an unfinished dominant chord, leading us to a reprise of the original vocal material. The quiet close to the aria brings us to the heavenly seven-voice harmonization of the chorale "Meinem Jesum lass ich nicht." Through the addition of independent string parts, Bach creates a halo of sound around the voices, oboe and trumpet, reinforcing the hymn tune.

© Craig Smith, adapted and edited by Ryan Turner

Back to Bach Notes & Translations