Johann Sebastian Bach: Cantata no. 21, “Ich hatte veil Bekümmernis,” BWV 21
Choir/Orchestra: Concentus musicus Wien | Wiener Sängerknaben | Chorus Viennensis
Conductor: Nikolaus Harnoncourt
Soloists: Soprano: Anonymous Boy from Vienna Boys' Choir | Tenor: Kurt Equiluz | Bass: Walker Wyatt
CD Label/#: TELDEC 2564 69943-7
On Friday night (7.19.2013) I was scheduled to work Inspirational Classics on WSMC. The previous Friday we had gotten a box set of the complete sacred cantatas by Johann Sebastian Bach, and I wanted to be sure to use them in Sabbath programming. They're wonderful music, and have a great message to them! I've been on a journey listening to the complete cantatas by Johann Sebastian Bach, but am only on 21 (of approximately 200). I listen to them while studying the score, complete with translation.
This cantata was written to go with the readings from the third Sunday after Trinity 1713, but it wasn't performed until 17 June 1714. This cantata was for that week, but it was also written as a farewell to one of Bach's students, Prince Johann Ernst of Sachsen-Weimar. The Prince was sick, and going to a spa where he later died. It's based on a favorite Vivaldi concerto of the Prince, and the text is very comforting.
The cantata is in two parts, and the first of them is, frankly, very dreary! It starts off with the choir singing from Psalm 94:19. "I had much trouble in my heart..." They do finish the verse ("but your consolations revive my soul."), but the rest of that half almost accuses God:
"What? [H]ave You therefore, my God, in my trouble, in my fear and despair, turned completely away from me? Ah! [D]o you not know Your child? ... Once You were my delight and now have become grim towards me; I seek You in all places... yet my woe and ah! appears now, as though completely unknown to you.
In the tenor aria in the first part, Bach's librettist uses the metaphor of a boat on the ocean and compares it to how the character believes to have been abandoned by God.
That half of the cantata ends with a chorale movement with text taken from Psalm 42:12.
"Why do you trouble yourself, my soul, and are so restless in me? Wait for God; for I will yet thank Him, since He is the help of my countenance and my God."
The second part of the cantata opens with a dialogue (in both a Recitative and Aria) between Jesus and the soul of the singer:
Soul: Ah, Jesus, my peace, my light, where are you?
Jesus: O soul behold! I am with you.
Soul: With me? Here is only darkest night.
Jesus: I am Your faithful Friend, that also watches in the darkness, that might harbor dire mischief.
Soul: Dawn then with Your radiance and light of comfort.
Jesus: The hour approaches already, when your crown of battle will become a sweet refreshment.
Soul: Come, my Jesus, and revive,
Jesus: Yes, I come and revive
Soul: And delight with Your glance.
Jesus: You with my glance of grace.
Then they really get into a dialogue, and almost even an argument. These two lines parts are beings sung together, as a sort of call and response:
Soul: This soul, shall die and not live and in its pit of unhappiness completely perish? I must constantly over in anguish.
Jesus: Your soul, shall live, and not die here out of this cave of injury you shall inherit Salvation! Through this juice of the vine.
Soul: Yes, ah yes, I am lost! No, ah no, You hate me! Ah, Jesus, thoroughly sweeten my soul and heart!
Jesus: No, ah no, you are chosen! Yes, ah yes, I love you! Fade, you troubles, disappear, you pains!
There is a tenor aria (movement 10), and it shows the absolute joy experienced by a person after they experience salvation through Jesus Christ:
Rejoice, soul! Rejoice, heart!
Fade now, troubles! Disappear, pains!
Change, weeping, into pure wine,
my aching now becomes a celebration for me!
Burning and flaming is the purest candle of love and of comfort in my soul and breast,
since Jesus comforts me with heavenly delight.
The final chorus is exuberant! That's the best word I have for it. The choir and orchestra are joined by the trumpet singing words from Revelation 5: 12-13:
The Lamb, that was slain, is worthy to receive power, and riches, and wisdom and strength, and honor and glory and praise. Praise and honor and glory and power be to our God for ever and ever. Amen, Alleluia!
I'm a Classical musician, a growing Christian, and a world traveler. I'm learning, exploring, and trying to understand this wonderful world I live in.