The opening of Cantata BWV 88 immediately evokes the feeling of gently flowing water and gentle lapping waves of a great body of water. Being a person who lives by and loves the water, during this introduction it’s easy to envision Jesus sending out men to catch many fish to feed the masses. Partway during this opening number, we hear horns and a much jauntier rhythm which pictorializes the hills and crevices that the hunters that Jesus then sends out must traverse. Although I imagine the intention of catching fish and hunting game is a metaphor for bringing people back to the fold, the image of fishermen and hunters brings this down to an earthly level. My husband and I own a house on an island where many who live there year-round still do depend on the sea and the woods to provide for their families (fishing in the summertime and hunting in the winter). Though we don’t hunt, we do a lot of fishing, clamming, and lobstering which brings us very close to nature and a connects us directly with the sea and the earth. One other moment that really spoke to me is in the soprano/alto duet. There is a wonderful repeated three-note phrase the soprano and alto sing together three times that seems to urge a sending out and then always resolves in a cadence that feels like a bringing back, whether it refer to fish or game or people. I find this to be a very earthly cantata that concludes with a chorale that brings utter comfort. For such a complex composer, Bach has, to me, always brought out the simplicity of humanity in his creations.

Jayne West