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Bach Cantata Listener's Guide

Mein Herze schwimmt in Blut (My heart swims in blood)

Cantata 199

  • Eleventh Sunday after Trinity
  • Epistle: 1 Corinthians xv. 1-10 (Of Christ's resurrection)
  • Gospel: Luke xviii. 9-14 (Parable of the Pharisee and the Innkeeper)
  • Rating: 1

My heart swims in blood since in God's holy eyes, the multitude of my sins makes me a monster. How can one possibly resist a cantata with a title like this? Bach himself seemed to like this one, since he revised the cantata on a number of occasions with the result that there are now three existing versions of the score. The theme of this cantata for solo soprano is a common one in the cantatas, that of the sinner bewailing the failings of their humanity but eventually finding relief in God's redemption.

The cantata opens with an introductory recitative in which the sinner traces her misfortune back to the fall of Adam and Eve. After this, we're into the first of the three fine arias. This one is introduced by an oboe figure of intensely beautiful grief which expresses the feelings that the words alone cannot: Silent sighing, soundless grieving, Speak the pain my heart, perceiving, Cannot by my lips express. After the next recitative, which introduces a note of hope, the following aria is a tour-de-force in which the repentant sinner approaches God for forgiveness. The orchestral introduction strides forward with melodious optimism. This is one of my favourite moments in Bach. After a recitative, there's a chorale setting with a rare appearance for obbligato viola (see BWV 5 for another one) and following the final recitative, happiness and sunshine breaks out all over in the final aria, the only quick movement in the cantata.

Copyright © 1996 & 1998, Simon Crouch.