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Bach Cantata Listener's Guide

Jesus schläft, was soll ich hoffen? (Jesus sleeps, what hope is there for me?)

Cantata 81

  • Fourth Sunday after Epiphany
  • Epistle: Romans xiii. 8-10 (Love is the fulfilling of the law)
  • Gospel: Matthew viii. 23-27 (Christ stills the tempest)
  • Rating: 1+

What would Bach's new employers have made of this highly dramatic cantata, especially after their entreaty not to be over-theatrical in his church compositions when appointing him! Luckily for us, he ignored them. The theme is taken directly from the Gospel. Jesus quiets a raging storm when the disciples lose faith and become frightened. In Neumeister's libretto, the analogy of the fearful soul approaching death is brought out more explicitly. In the opening aria, Jesus sleeps to a gently lilting accompaniment but the texture and the minor key herald the approaching storm. The following recitative expresses the fears of the disciples for their safety. Then the storm starts crashing about in the next aria! A short arioso (,i>Ye of little faith, why are you so fearful?) leads into a stunning aria, with a lovely oboe d'amore line, where Jesus calms the raging waves. A slightly quirky feature here is the use of the da capo aria form, where at the nominal end of the aria the opening bars are repeated, which means that the storm, having been calmed, promptly starts again! Never mind, it sounds wonderful. A recitative leads into a familiar chorale (the second verse of Jesu, meine Freude) that is a superbly effective ending for the cantata.

Copyright © 1996 & 1998, Simon Crouch.