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Bach Cantata Listener's Guide

Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir (From the depths of woe I cry to Thee)

Cantata 38

  • Twenty-First Sunday after Trinity
  • Epistle: Ephesians vi. 10-17 (Put on the armour of God)
  • Gospel: John iv. 46-54 (The healing of the officer's son)
  • Rating: 2+

The chorale upon which this chorale cantata is based was written by Martin Luther (his version of psalm cxxx) and was sung at his funeral. You will probably agree, upon first hearing the melody of this chorale, that it sounds just like the theme of a fugue. Indeed, Bach immediately takes the melody and constructs a magnificent, austere choral fugue as the opening movement of the cantata. The opening movement holds the major interest in this relatively short cantata (the form is chorus, recitative, aria, recitative, trio, chorale). The first tenor aria is somewhat over long for it's simple but pleasing melody and the trio, constructed along similar lines to the opening movement, doesn't have the weight of the latter to impress quite so much. Perhaps it's best put that, if you like fugue, you'll like this trio! An interesting feature of the second recitative is that the continuo plays the chorale melody throughout underneath the vocal line. The cantata ends with a setting of the chorale melody that begins on a delicious discord.

Copyright © 1996 & 1998, Simon Crouch.