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Bach Cantata Listener's Guide

Was soll ich aus dir machen, Ephraim? (What shall I make of thee, Ephraim?)

Cantata 89

  • Twenty-second Sunday after Trinity
  • Epistle: Phil. i.3-11 (Paul's love for the Philipppians)
  • Gospel: Matthew xviii. 23-35 (Parable of the unmerciful servant)
  • Rating: 2

Bach sets a suitably gloomy scene in this very short cantata, which is a meditation on the fate of those who turn away from God. The opening bass aria (the vocal part is perhaps closer to arioso than to aria) immediately sets the mood with minor key orchestration and a tolling theme from the horn. The fate of Ephraim and his followers, who worshipped false gods is coldly examined. Recitative is followed by an alto aria accompanied solely by continuo. This time the unmerciful servant from the Gospel is being judged. The final recitative leads into the soprano aria where the clouds part, the sun shines through and the mercy of God is unveiled! The melody is rightly cheerful and upbeat. The cantata closes with a straightforward chorale setting.

Copyright © 1996 & 1998, Simon Crouch.