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Bach Cantata Listener's Guide

Du sollst Gott, deinen Herren, lieben (Thou shalt love God, thy Lord)

Cantata 77

  • Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity
  • Epistle: Gal iii. 15-22 (The promises made to Abraham)
  • Gospel: Luke x. 23-37 (The parable of the Good Samaritan)
  • Rating: 1+

The text for the day concerns the parable of the Good Samaritan and the theme of this early Leipzig cantata is a meditation upon the ten commandments. Immediately, Bach plunges us into symbolism, the opening chorus is absolutely stuffed full of it! For example, there's immediately a canon, canon=law (a pun, but a common one of the day). The trumpet intones Luther's chorale These are the holy Ten Commandments above the chorus and orchestra. The bass performs the melody in enlarged note values (Thou shalt love the Lord your God is the fundamental commandment) and the trumpet has ten entries, corresponding to the ten commandments. Despite (or perhaps because of, knowing Bach's skill in these matters) all this extra-musical baggage, the chorus is quite superb. After this, the rest of the cantata might have become an anticlimax but it's not so. Following a recitative, there's a superb, optimistic, soprano aria introduced and accompanied by the most meltingly gorgeous oboe duet. The alto aria, that follows the final recitative, is more reflective (Lord, my love is unworthy, Ever prone to fault and guilt) and is accompanied by a haunting trumpet line. The cantata ends with a simple chorale setting. There is some ambiguity here since the movement has come down to us without a text and authorities differ as to which hymn verse should fit.

This short cantata is a most beautiful and profound and yet, at the same time, intimate work.

Copyright © 1996 & 1998, Simon Crouch.