Aryeh Oron wrote (April 25, 2002):
BWV 103 - Background
The background below is based on several sources (mostly Robertson and Young) and something of my own. The English translations are by Francis Browne, a member of the BCML.
Mvt. 1 Chorus and Bass Arioso
Ihr werdet weinen und heulen, aber die Welt wird sich freuen
(You will weep and howl, but the world will rejoice)
Flauto piccolo, Oboe d'amore I/II, Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo
Christ’s prophecy to His disciples of their coming affliction in the world and how it will be changed into joy is well interpreted by Bach’s fugal setting of the Scriptural text. Christians will weep and grieve, while the world mocks them in malicious glee. Bach paints a fresco of these two emotions in the first sentence until the basses (or the bass) solo, representing Christ, enter to sing His message of hope in the last two sentences. The last sentence is repeated in another fugue with ritornello by the chorus. This is a very powerful movement, showing how Bach’s skilful artistry can combine two themes in one.
Mvt. 2 Recitative for Tenor
Wer sollte nicht in Klagen untergehn
(Who would not sink down in mourning)
This secco recitative is very short, resuming the lamentation over the Lord’s departure. He asks who should not sink in mourning when their Beloved is torn away from them. The Salvation of their souls and heats will not now be present to heal their pains.
Mvt. 3 Aria for Alto
Kein Arzt ist außer dir zu finden
(No physician except you is to be found)
Violino concertante o Flauto traverso, Continuo
The text of this aria begins with a paraphrase of Jeremiah 8: 22, continuing the lamentation of the tenor. The remainder of the aria implores the Saviour’s pity to save her from the death, which His absence will cause her. Her grieving tone is well depicted by the transverse flute, but it seems that her declamation is more like a recitative than an aria. The continuo part, marked at the start staccato and piano, is expressive of the anxious search for the healer of sins, without whom the soul will die.
Mvt. 4 Recitative for Alto
Du wirst mich nach der Angst auch wiederum erquicken
(After my anguish you will again revive me)
Bach shortened Mariane von Ziegler’s text for this movement to make it balance with the previous tenor recitative. Here, however, the theme changes from lamentation to joy. She says that the Lord will turn her anguish and sorrow into happiness just as He promised. She will therefore prepare herself for His return, which she anticipates with a bright run on ‘Freude’ (joy).
Mvt. 5 Aria for Tenor
Erholet euch, betrübte Sinnen,
(Recover yourselves, my troubled senses)
Tromba, Oboe d'amore I/II, Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo
The aria is like a burst of sunshine after dismal weather. Trumpets, oboe and strings accompany the singer’s telling of his joy at seeing Jesus again. All the clouds of sadness have disappeared, the sky is clear, and the ailing Christian has found his heath again from the balm provided by his Saviour. A dancing melody gives a joy-rhythm both in the vocal and in the instrumental accompaniment. At ‘Mein Jesus läßt sich wieder sehen’ (My Jesus allows himself to be seen again) Bach expands the two-bar florid phrases at ‘O Freude’ (O joy) to one of five ecstatic bars, showing how intensely he had lived through the fine libretto.
Mvt. 6 Chorale
Ich hab dich einen Augenblick
(I have for a moment)
Tromba e Flauto traverso e Oboe d'amore I/II e Violino I col Soprano, Violino II coll'Alto, Viola col Tenore, Continuo
The 9th stanza of Paul Gerhardt’s hymn ‘Barmherzger Vater, höchster Gott’ (Merciful Father, Highest God) (1653), set to the melody ‘Was mein Gott will’ (1571), performed by all voices and instruments, brings this cantata to a happy confident close and refer to the Biblical text of the opening chorus.