The text of Bach’s cantata BWV 93 mentions the image of a house built upon a foundation of sand. This biblical metaphor is intended to convince the reader of the importance of cultivating a strong relationship with God – but I resonate with a more secular interpretation, in which everything we do can be considered a “house” that we construct through our thoughts, habits, and actions. But rather than investing the time and care needed to build a strong foundation, too many of us spend our days on autopilot. We multitask and mindlessly rush to get things done, essentially building houses on foundations of sand. I know I’m certainly guilty of this. And as a consequence of not fully engaging in the present moment, regardless of what I’m doing I feel a constant undercurrent of worries and distractions simmering just below the surface.
When I listen to Bach’s cantata BWV 93, I can’t help but feel that the music is infused with this metaphor throughout. The chorale phrases of the first movement are harmonized as homophonic block chords, creating an impression of solidarity and permanence. All the while, the flickering ritornello in the oboes and strings dances around them – perhaps representing the shifting sands that threaten to destabilize this foundation. Over the course of the cantata, these voices are slowly quieted and the melodies consequently take on a pleasantly unrushed feeling. The tenor aria in the 3rd movement inserts a contemplative pause after every phrase, almost as though it is imploring the listener to slow down and take a moment to reflect. By the 4th movement, the instrumental ritornello has disappeared, and the duet between the soprano and alto is simple and without complication. The cantata then culminates in a surprisingly short and straightforward restatement of the chorale in the final movement, which stands in stark contrast to the ostentatious ornamentations of the previous movements – a solid foundation, indeed.
To me, listening to Bach’s BWV 93 thus serves as a reminder to approach life mindfully and purposely – to appreciate where I am, what I’m doing, and who is with me. These are the building materials that make up a strong foundation, and which will enable me to face whatever challenges I may encounter in the future — whether they be crises, or simply the stressors of daily life.