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Bach Cantata Listener's Guide

Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen (Weeping, lamenting, worrying, hesitating)

Cantata 12

  • Third Sunday after Easter (Jubilate)
  • Epistle: 1 Peter ii. 11-20 (Suffer Patiently)
  • Gospel: John xvi. 16-23 (You will weep and mourn but the world will be glad)
  • Rating: 1+

I'm suprised that the opening sinfonia of cantata BWV 12 hasn't been adapted as a theme tune for some TV spectacular. Similarly, the oboe part in the first aria. Their wistful tunes would suit something like "Brideshead Revisited". Maybe I'd better shut up before someone takes me seriously and does it. These are gloriously beautiful tunes!

The text of this cantata describes the sorrow to be felt after the crucifixion, with only faith in God's purpose to alleviate the pain. In the Gospel, Jesus is telling the disciples that he must take his leave of them but that soon he shall return. The sinfonia is followed by a chorus whose music was later adapted for the Crucifixus of the b-minor Mass. You don't need me to tell you that this is absolutely glorious! Maybe Bach improved the music in his parody but still, it works marvellously here. After a recitative, there follow three arias before the closing chorale. The first, for alto, has a not particularly interesting vocal line but the oboe accompaniment provides an amazing hook. The bass aria which follows is vocally more promising with an attractive divided violin accompaniment. The final aria, for tenor, is probably the best of the three: Contemplative in mood and accompanied by a trumpet wistfully playing the chorale melody Jesu, meine Freude above the vocal line. The cantata closes with a fine chorale setting with the descant trumpet's counter melody soaring above.

This is a cantata of two halves, where the second half, comprising the final three arias, is simply not as deep as the opening half promises. Bach could, perhaps, have made this one of the truly great cantatas by investing more inspiration in these arias. Despite this, we still have a very fine work.

Copyright © 1995 & 1998, Simon Crouch.