Patterico's Pontifications

9/23/2018

Sunday Music: Bach Cantata BWV 166

Filed under: Bach Cantatas,General,Music — Patterico @ 12:01 am

It is the eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost. The title of today’s Bach cantata is “Wo gehest du hin?” (Where are you going?).

Today’s Gospel reading is Mark 9:30-37:

Jesus Predicts His Death a Second Time

They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, because he was teaching his disciples. He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it.

They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.

Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”

The text of today’s piece is available here. It contains these words, which are a stark reminder of the eternal importance of Christ to those who, like the disciples on the road, are becoming preoccupied with worldly concerns and worldly greatness, which can all end in an instant:

I beseech You, Lord Jesus Christ,
keep me in Your thoughts
and do not let me ever, at any time,
waver from this purpose,
rather to adhere closely to this,
until my soul, out of its nest,
arrives in heaven.

Just as rainwater quickly runs off
and easily washes out many colors,
so also does joy in the world
of which so many people hold so many pieces;
for although one sometimes sees
his wished-for fortune blossom,
yet even in the best days,
completely unexpected, the last hour tolls.

Take care and be wary
when good fortune smiles.
For so easily on earth
things can change before evening,
which in the morning was never considered.

The title of the cantata (“Where are you going?”)* refers to a passage at the beginning of chapter 16 of the book of John:

I have told you this, so that when their time comes you will remember that I warned you about them. I did not tell you this from the beginning because I was with you, but now I am going to him who sent me. None of you asks me, “Where are you going?”

But the words of the cantata ask this question of the followers of Christ:

1. Aria B
Where are you going?

2. Arie T
I will think about heaven
and not give my heart to the world.
For whether I go or stay,
this question remains in my mind:
humanity, ah humanity, where are you going?

At the end of the cantata there appear these words:

Who knows how near my end is?
Time runs out, death approaches,
Ah, how quickly and swiftly
can my death-struggle come upon me!
My God, I beseech through Christ’s blood,
make my end good!

Astute followers of this series will recall the words “Who knows how near my end is?” (in German: “Wer weiß, wie nahe mir mein Ende?”) from BWV 27, which we heard last month on the thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost. Take a few short moments to compare the different ways in which Bach sets that line to music in the two cantatas. The basic melody is the same, but the setting of the words is quite different. (The four musical examples which follow are only a few seconds each, so it’s well worth your time to play each.)

Here is the line from BWV 27, which we heard in August:

And here is the line from today’s cantata, BWV 166:

This second version is a bit faster and less elaborate, and the emotional effect is strikingly different. Although the rest of the passage is not completely identical in the two cantatas, the verses both end with these words: “My God, I beseech through Christ’s blood, make my end good!” (in German: “Mein Gott, ich bitt durch Christi Blut, Mach’s nur mit meinem Ende gut!”). Let’s hear the two different settings of these words, beginning with BWV 27 from August:

The slow pace, canon-like entry to the voices, and elaborations of the musical line in BWV 27 provide a very different effect from the simplicity of the end of today’s cantata, BWV 166, which sets the same words to the same melody, but in a simpler and more direct fashion:

I hope this little comparison has enriched your understanding of both cantatas and of Bach’s art, and provides a nice musical companion to today’s Gospel lesson.

Happy listening!

*Many sources translate “Wo gehest du hin?” as “Where are you heading?” but in this post I translate it throughout as “Where are you going” to match the language of this passage from John.

[Cross-posted at The Jury Talks Back.]

5 Responses to “Sunday Music: Bach Cantata BWV 166”

  1. Thank you, Patterico.

    Simon Jester (fa301d)

  2. Excellent,

    I ask again did they not remember isiah?

    Narciso (b80f14)

  3. Our sermon today was on the importance of not getting discouraged, which I think fits with the more upbeat simplicity of the second version.

    DRJ (15874d)

  4. This was a fun post to put together. I hope people enjoyed it.

    Patterico (fd4fe5)

  5. I do, although I would describe it as I learned from it. My musical knowledge and abilities are very basic.

    DRJ (15874d)

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