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Bach Cantata Listener's Guide

Vergnugte Rüh', beliebte Seelenlust (Pleasant rest, beloved soul's desire)

Cantata 170

  • Sixth Sunday after Trinity
  • Epistle: Romans vi. 3-11 (We may not live in sin)
  • Gospel: Matthew v. 20-26 (Agree with your adversary)
  • Rating: 1+

The text of this solo cantata for alto may make one think that we're in for twenty minutes of unremitting chest beating but fortunately for the listener, most of the depressing stuff is contained in the relatively compact middle recitatives and aria. The outer movements provide the rays of hope and some very beautiful music too! The cantata opens with lovely aria to a text based on the Epistle. This is certainly one of those pieces that deserves to be much better known and you may very well feel that it could quite easily stand on its own as a concert piece - give it to a great alto (male or female), ask them to tone the scale of their voice down and the result should be wonderful. The aria that follows the first recitative may strike one initially as being "interesting" rather than "attractive". Repeated listening reveals the skill with which Bach matches tortured chromaticisms to the desolation of the text. Skillfully played and sung, this becomes a very effective and moving piece. The next recitative is followed by a much more upbeat aria with a corresponding return to optimism right at the end of the text. The organ (or flute) twirls away in accompaniment to provide a buoyant finish to the cantata.

Copyright © 1997 & 1998, Simon Crouch.

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