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Bach Cantata Listener's Guide

Ich geh und suche mit Verlangen (I go and seek with longing)

Cantata 49

  • Twentieth Sunday After Trinity
  • Epistle: Ephesians v. 15-21 (Avoid bad company)
  • Gospel: Matthew xxii. 1-14 (Parable of the marriage of the King's son)
  • Rating: 1+

As an accompaniment to listening to this cantata, you may wish to briefly peruse the Song of Songs or perhaps some of the writings of St. John of the Cross as well as the texts set for the day to remind yourself of one of the very early expressions of the relationship between Christ, the Church and the Soul. (Metaphors appropriated, of course, by the early church in the case of the Song of Songs).

It's rare to find the openly erotic amongst the surviving works of Bach (who fathered twenty children) but here we have an example. Christ is identified as the bridegroom, and the Soul as the bride of Christ. They seem to be in quite a hurry to get married.

This is a cantata for solo soprano and bass (without a chorus) and opens with a sinfonia featuring obbligato organ. This delightful piece was probably adapted from an earlier C¨othen concerto movement (lost to us, alas) and survives as the third movement of the Keyboard Concerto BWV 1053. (The first two movements appear in cantata BWV 169, which Bach wrote two weeks earlier than cantata 49). It is also presumed that Bach used this virtuoso piece as his eldest son, Wilhelm Friedemann, was now old enough to do his duty in church! The first bass aria sees Christ yearning for his prettiest dove the soul and He is answered in the following recitative duet. The steamy stuff continues through a soprano aria I am wonderful, I am pretty and a final recitative. (Oh, by the way, while all this is going on, the music is pretty good as well).

The crowning glory of this cantata comes in the final aria/chorale. The soprano sings the seventh verse How happy I am deep down in my heart…He will take me for the price He demands, to Paradise of the wonderful hymn Wie schon leuchtet der Morgenstern by Philipp Nicolai, whilst the bass sings words from Jeremiah and from Revelations I have loved you now and for ever….I am awaiting you with longing. The organ weaves a magical spell around both of them!

Copyright © 1996 & 1998, Simon Crouch.