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Bach Cantata Listener's Guide

Ach Gott, vom Himmel sieh darein (Oh God, look down from Heaven)

Cantata 2

  • Second Sunday after Trinity
  • Epistle: 1 John iii. 13-18 (Of Christian brotherly love)
  • Gospel: Luke xiv. 16-24 (Parable of the great supper)
  • Rating: 2

When Bach had to set a severe subject, as he has to here in this chorale cantata based on Luther's paraphrase of psalm xii., he often reached for musical procedures that were considered archaic even in his own time. In the opening chorus here, he uses a style of choral motet that is associated with Pachelbel, where the accompaniment simply takes the form of a continuo. The result is austere beauty, the altos hold the cantus firmus in long notes while the other parts sing a fugue about them. The recitative that follows has more than just a feel of arioso about it (as indeed does the later one) and this leads into the alto aria which is a condemnation of heresy (Destroy, Oh God, the doctrines that pervert Thy Word!). Despite the athletic violin accompaniment, Bach never really works up the appropriate level of energy to suit these words. The final tenor aria is pleasant without being particularly memorable. A shame, since the orchestral introduction seems to promise more. The cantata ends with a straightforward chorale setting.

Copyright © 1996 & 1998, Simon Crouch.