Friday, February 19, 2010

'O Jesu Christ, mein's Lebens Licht'

O Jesu Christ, mein's Lebens Licht
O Jesus Christ, light of my life,
Mein Hort, mein Trost, mein' Zuversicht,
my refuge, my comfort, my reassurance,
Auf Erden bin ich nur ein Gast
on earth I am only a guest
Und drückt mich sehr der Sünden Last.
And the burden of sin presses down heavily upon me.

This is a chorus (motet or 1st movement of a cantata, see below), which was performed at the grave-side ceremony for Count Friedrich von Flemming, October 11, 1740. Bach probably composed it about three years before this burial. Like BWV 50, it is a chorus in motet style but with only one four-part choir. It was performed a second time about ten years later using a different scoring.

In the opening bars Bach takes a decorated motif derived from the slow stepwise rise and fall of the chorale tune (heard, when the voices enter, in long notes in the sopranos) and extends it as a six-part counterpoint. This passage returns unaltered after the last line of the chorale, while 3 shorter sections treating the same material serve to separate the individual lines of the text. A repeat sign, at the point where the opening bars return, allows for further stanzas (not otherwise indicated in the score) to be included and activates a large-scale architectural symmetry.

The unusual instrumentation and the serious declamation of the choir produce a motif of deep solemnity, reminiscent of some of the choral writings of Heinrich Schütz in the 17th century. The movement has a straightforward simplicity befitting the ceremony for which it was intended. The upper voices begin to sing the melody of each line, which is then repeated by the lower voice. The instrumental accompaniment is so laid out that in spite of a great degree of independence it is able to support the choir whenever it enters. This is one of the most moving chorale settings that Bach ever composed. It has a melancholy beauty all its own.

[source: Arych Oron http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Guide/BWV118-Guide.htm}

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