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Bach Cantata Listener's Guide

Sehet, welch eine Liebe (See now what love)

Cantata 64

  • Christmas Tuesday
  • Epistle: Heb. i. 1-14 (Christ is above the angels) or
    Eccles. xv. 1-8 (Wisdom embraces those that fear the Lord)
  • Gospel: John i. 1-14 (In the beginning was the word) or
    John xxi. 15-24 (Jesus commands Peter to feed his lambs)
  • Rating: 1

Although it's perhaps not fair to ascribe to the good burghers of Leipzig the sort of orgiastic frenzy of consumption that accompanies Christmas these days, one may assume that they at least had the pleasure of a modest material and spiritual celebration. If so, then this cantata may have been designed to bring them back down to earth with a bump! The theme of this severe piece is most decidedly the worthlessness of earthly things. The excellent opening chorus is in motet style with the opening fugal theme reminding these ears of the opening theme of cantata BWV 61, Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland. The next three movements (chorale, recitative, chorale) establish the message of earthly worthlessness and spiritual redemption. There's a lovely touch in the second of the chorales with the continuo given a walking bass line. This section leads into the musical heart of the cantata. The first (soprano) aria is accompanied by a fast, attractive theme on the violins that is woven intricately into the fabric of the movement and after a recitative, the alto aria is introduced by a delicious theme from the oboe d'amore. Perhaps this movement outstays it's welcome a little bit but it is still very attractive. The cantata closes with a setting of the first verse of Johann Frank's Jesu, meine Freude.

Copyright © 1996 & 1998, Simon Crouch.