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Bach Cantata Listener's Guide

Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele (Deck yourself, my soul, with gladness)

Cantata 180

  • Twentieth Sunday after Trinity
  • Epistle: Ephesians v. 15-21 (Avoid bad company)
  • Gospel: Matthew xxii. 1-14 (Many are called, few are chosen)
  • Rating: 1*

If anyone doubts the influence of the dance on Bach's sacred music, let them listen to this cantata. It is hard not to picture the congregation of St. Thomas' skipping down the aisle during the opening chorus! This cantata mixes the stories of the Epistle (avoid bad company, bad habits, etc etc) and the Gospel (the parable of the marriage of the King's son, in which invitations are sent out but largely ignored). The opening chorus illustrates the Epistle, the first aria the Gospel and from then on, things are mixed about.

A summary listen to the following tenor aria strongly supports Robert Marshall's thesis that Bach must have had a formidably good transverse flute player available whilst this cantata was written. It mixes stunning virtuosity with great beauty. It's also interesting to note an unusual feature in this cantata: Both transverse flutes and recorders are used. The cantata continues with a recitative that develops into a beautiful arioso, then a recitative followed by an air. This latter always makes me giggle a bit, since it bustles along in a very no nonsense way. I always imagine it being sung by a very prim soprano wearing a hat. After the final recitative, there is a very delicate, very beautiful chorale (Jesu, wahres Brot des Lebes).

Copyright © 1996 & 1998, Simon Crouch.