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Bach Cantata Listener's Guide

Selig ist der Mann, der die Anfechtung erduldet (Blessed is the man who endureth temptation)

Cantata 57

  • Christmas Monday
  • Epistle: Acts vi. 8-15; vii. 55-60 (Martyrdom of St. Stephen)
  • Gospel: Matthew xxiii. 34-39 (Woe to Jerusalem) or
     Luke ii. 15-20 (The shepherds at the manger)
  • Rating: 2

This may seem a rather serious cantata for a Christmas Monday but the explanation lies in the coincidence with the Feast of St. Stephen (as recounted in the Epistle). The theme, celebrating Stephen's sacrifice, is a common one in the cantatas and is told by a common device, that of the dialogue. Jesus recounts the parable, the soul bemoans earthly suffering, Jesus opens His arms to the soul, the soul realises paradise through release from this Earth. The end. The cantata therefore breaks into two parts, before and after redemption and Bach represents this in the music. Before the central recitative duet which provides the pivot point, the arias are slow and serious and after they are much more up beat. Of these, the opening bass aria is perhaps the best. The following soprano aria has an attractive orchestral introduction and the voice part moves along in a style reminiscent of the Agnus Dei from the b-minor Mass. After the turn, the bass aria is a lively affair and the final soprano aria equally so with a florid violin accompaniment. The cantata closes with a straightforward setting of a chorale melody that you will almost certainly recognise!

Copyright © 1996 & 1998, Simon Crouch.