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Bach Cantata Listener's Guide

Ach Gott, wie manches Herzeleid (Ah God, how many a heart-pang)

Cantata 58

  • Sunday after the Circumcision
  • Epistle: Titus ii. 11-14 (Salvation hath appeared to all men) or
     Titus iii. 4-7 (Justified by grace, we are heirs of eternal life)
  • Gospel: Matthew ii. 13-15 (The flight into Egypt) or
     Matthew iii. 13-17 (Jesus baptized by John)
  • Rating: 1+

This little gem is a perfect introduction to the dialogue form of cantata. One voice is full of the sadness of this world, the other full of the message of the consolation of Jesus' sacrifice for us. Each voice represents an aspect of a single soul. Over the course of the cantata the voice of consolation wins over the voice of sadness to joyful resignation and anticipation of the world to come. In the opening duet, the soprano sings the opening verse of a hymn by Martin Moller (Ach Gott, wie manches herzeleid) whilst the bass sings consolation, paraphrasing the (second) Epistle. The short string introduction to the opening duet demonstrates the sheer power of Bach to write music that defines a highly charged emotional atmosphere. The following recitative is an outstanding narration of the Gospel story of the flight into Egypt. In the solo soprano aria, accompanied by a flowing violin figure, the soul starts to come to terms with its fate and after another recitative, the cantata is ended with a duet (with a form similar to that of the first verse) of outstanding joy and energy.

All of this in a span of less than fifteen minutes!

Copyright © 1996 & 1998, Simon Crouch.