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Bach Cantata Listener's Guide

Du Friedefurst, Herr Jesu Christ (Thou Prince of Peace, Lord Jesus Christ)

Cantata 116

  • Twenty-fifth Sunday after Trinity
  • Epistle: 1 Thess. iv. 13-18 (Christ's second coming)
  • Gospel: Matthew xxiv. 15-28 (Christ's prediction of his second coming)
  • Rating: 1

There's a marked contrast in this work between the outer and inner movements. The cantata starts with a confident, optimistic flourish in a lovely orchestral setting of Gesius's melody to Jakob Ebert's hymn and ends with a "straightforward" chorale harmonisation of the same melody. If this latter doesn't bring tears to your eyes then all I can suggest is that you take a long holiday away from it all and give your soul a rest. In between these two pillars of beauty the mood is quite different, reflecting on the dreadful aspects of the judgement that will occur upon the second coming of Christ and the guilt of the sinners about to be judged. Immediately in the alto aria that follows the opening chorus the writing is chromatic and anguished. The singer is accompanied by an oboe d'amore line of completely different character to that so often allocated by Bach to this lovely instrument. After a recitative is a movement that you must hear. It's a trio for soprano, tenor and bass accompanied only by continuo instruments, and will probably strike you as dry and spare on first listening. Give it a chance, the writing is elaborately contrapuntal and is a masterful example of Bach's skill. It will grow on you!

Copyright © 1996 & 1998, Simon Crouch.