There are two essays concerning Cantata 105 in Robert Marshall's collection of essays The Music of Johann Sebastian Bach. The first The Autograph score of Herr, gehe nicht ins Gericht describes what we can deduce from the autograph about Bach's composing practice and the second The Genesis of an Aria Ritornello attempts to "get inside the composers head" while he's composing the first aria Wie zittern und wanken. They both make for fascinating reading. The most astonishing deduction is that of the speed with which Bach was able to compose this masterpiece. Marshall's analysis suggests that the score was completed within two or three days!
Masterpiece it is. This is one of those "perfect" cantatas where there is a wonderful text exactly allied with excellent music. The mood is contemplative and reflective, meditating on the meaning of Christian faith. The opening chorus is a prelude and fugue, taking as text the second verse of psalm 143. The first sentence is accompanied by a sighing, lamenting theme and the second sentence is a magnificent choral fugue. I would love to sing this one! The first aria, which follows a recitative, is beautifully balanced over a trembling viola/violin line: How tremble and waver the sinners' thoughts, while they accuse one another and again dare to excuse themselves. Following a lovely bass arioso, there is a change of mood in the driving, optimistic tenor aria If I can only make a friend of Jesus, Mammon is worth nothing to me. Even the closing chorale receives extra special attention from Bach. That's really the feeling that I'm left with, that Bach paid extra special attention when composing this cantata, inspired by an outstanding text.
Copyright © 1996 & 1998, Simon Crouch.