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Commentaries: Main Page | Cantatas BWV 1-50 | Cantatas BWV 51-100 | Cantatas BWV 101-150 | Cantatas BWV 151-200 | Cantatas BWV 201-224 | Other Vocal Works BWV 225-524 | Sources

Cantata BWV 154
Mein liebster Jesus ist verloren

Thomas Braatz wrote (January 15, 2002):

The librettist took is cue from Jesus’ parents’ reactions when they discovered that Jesus was missing. He then transferred this concern to the desire that the individual soul feels in wanting to be with Christ after a separation has occurred. Bach was also moved by the picture of Mary (mater dolorosa) with a sword going through her heart (Luke 2, 35).

The choir sings only in the two chorales.

Expressing great pain and anguish, the tenor sings a typically Bachian figure in Mvt. 1. The manner in which Bach expresses fear by having the strings play repeated sixteenths on the same note is similar to the technique he used in setting almost the same text in BWV 20 and BWV 60.

Note the similarity between the figure (a drop of a sixth followed by a repeat of the lower note, then a note a whole tone lower) that appears in Mvt. 7 [In this mvt. it can be heard sung by the alto in ms. 14-16 and by the tenor in ms. 24-26] and BWV 32, mvt. 5, where it appears as the main motif in the soprano and bass duet. Regarding the interval of the sixth, Schweitzer indicates, “We can say with certainty…that skips of sixths are generally plentiful when he [Bach] has to express joy.” Where else can this same figure by found? In Fugue 13 in the 2nd part of the WTC, BWV 882 (Fuga a 3), ms. 23-32; 43-44; 55-64; 67-70; 73-76; and 79-82.

Also compare the motif found in the oboi d’amore parts ms. 5, 15, 42, in Mvt. 4 of this cantata with the 1st mvt. of the Violin & Harpsichord Sonata in A major (BWV 1015) ms. 8. Very interesting indeed! The main melody announced by the oboi d’amore at the beginning of the mvt. are characterized by tender, feminine grace while the stings are involved in a rocking motion. The combination of these two elements gives the piece a mild etheric shimmering quality.

To be continued…

Thomas Braatz wrote (January 15, 2002):
BWV 154 Finding the unifying element (by chance, randomness, or sheer curiosity)

I think this may all be due to the difference of opinion that Brad Lehman and I have regarding Bach’s use of dots. I have come to recognize Brad’s conclusion that dots above a note may imply a de-emphasis of that note unless a wedge is also indicated. I see Brad’s observation as a definite possibility when applied to keyboard music, but when it comes to the Bach cantatas, I see different interpretations possible, interpretations that may imply just the opposite of Brad’s contention. Why is such a wide divergence of interpretation possible? The range of possibilities is much broader in the cantatas, particularly because the string instruments need to be very concerned with phrasing and bowing among other things. Whatever interpretation of the music that Bach, as an excellent violinist himself, applied to the string instruments, usually the largest component of the orchestra, he would then extend this to the other instruments as well. Thus the manner of bowing was not always his main concern, when other instruments received the same articulation markings on their parts as the strings did. It is important to note here that, as a general matter of procedure, Bach would sometimes have these markings in the score, but more often than not under time constraints, Bach would mark only the parts, so that when we see the final product of the original score in the NBA, the articulation indicated derives from the parts and not the original score. One thing is certain here: It is possible to distinguish Bach’s personal handwriting in the markings of the individual parts, which were, in most instances, prepared by other copiers who assisted him. Most frequently Bach would mark the first few measures, assuming that the instrumentalist would continue to use the same articulation whenever similar passages occurred throughout the mvt. This is a procedure still generally followed today in the printing and performance of music.

In a number of cantatas discussed on the BCML in the past, I have noted, because my attention became focused on Bach’s use of dots, that there would be markings that did not fall into the usual categories or patterns. Schweitzer has listed examples of the common patterns and made some suggestions on how they should be played. What bothered me were the more unusual occurrences, often in the middle of the mvt. In the discussion of BWV 104, I discussed these dots in the wind instruments where they are indicated to seemingly call attentions to these notes. They anticipate and prepare a motif that will occur later in the vocal parts. In BWV 47, a series of dots wish to draw attention to and emphasize a downward motion which is critical to the interpretation of the key message in the text of the cantata. In BWV 137, a main fugal motif is marked staccato because it might otherwise be overwhelmed by the rest of the orchestra and choir. Bach seems to be saying, “Realize that what you are playing is an important motif. Do what you can to bring out this motif by playing staccato.” When I listen to the recordings where these indications are overlooked or downplayed (de-emphasized), I begin to wonder if these indications were intended as “Augenmusik” [“music for the eyes only.”] It could therefore be possible (in those instances when Bach also marked his scores accordingly) that a message is being sent to the conductor, “Do you realize that this is an important structural element in the music that you are performing?”

In BWV 154, the current cantata under discussion, my attention and curiosity, only after listening to the recordings and following the score, were directed to the wonderful ‘joy-motif’ pointed out very clearly by Spitta and Schweitzer. This motif appears at the beginning of Mvt. 4 (alto aria) ms. 4 in the oboe d’amore part where this figure begins with a downward leap of a sixth when it drops from an F# to an A, or just before that from an E to a G# with an intervening A (a 16th note that is almost a grace-note.) However, after each of these figures, Bach marks the 3 successive 8th notes which happen to be at the same pitch, with dots (staccato.) This happens in ms. 4, 10, and 41, and each time Bach specifically marks them the same way. Either Bach has some very musically insensitive oboe players (beginners or slow-learners), or he is sending some kind of message (Morse code?) to alert the players to be careful when playing these notes, “You may not know why I am telling you to do this, but there may be others who hear this and will be able to notice the significance of this ‘fragment’ and how it fits in with everything else.”

Now the search begins for the significance of these ‘triplet’-like figure consisting of three successive notes having the same pitch. Looking about in the same mvt. (4), I soon discovered a similar pattern (without ‘dots’) in the bc/strings. There are 4 instances of an extended pattern, beginning with the 2 ms. that follow ms. 4, and after that in ms. 13-17, 23-24, and 42-43, the final ms. of the mvt.

With a cursory glance over the other mvts., it appeared that this pattern could be deliberate. The 1st mvt. revealed the answer that I was looking for: the connection between a key concept in the text and this musical figure. There it was, directly before my eyes: the very opening musical figure appearing first in the Violino 1 part after an unaccented upbeat. Now this 3-note figure on the same note or pitch is the dotted-eighth note followed by a 16th-note and then a final quarter note. The entrance of the tenor voice reiterates this figure which occurs a total of 12 times in this mvt., distributed unevenly between the voice (4 times) and violins (8 times). The significant connection between words and music occurs when this pattern is heard sung by the ton the words, “Donnerwort.” Here Bach follows the natural accentuation of the word in German, thus resulting in the use of a dotted eighth-note instead of notes of equal value.

Now let’s see what Bach does with the other mvts. We seem to be ‘on a roll’ here.

The 1st ms. of Mvt. 2 (tenor recitative) has the tenor sing this pattern on “meinen Je(sum)” where, very cleverly, the syllable, “sum” returns to the same note as the beginning of the this pattern. In ms. 3, the tenor sings 3 sixteenth-notes on “brünstiges.”

Mvt. 3 (chorale) has a very significant application of the pattern in the tenor part on the word “Erreter” (“Savior”) while singing 3 high E’s in a row. Other occurrences of the pattern do not seem quite as significant: alto/tenor ms. 9-10; 11-12; and perhaps also in 15-16 on the words, “liebstes Je(su)”.

Mvt. 5 (bass arioso) On the words, “Wisset ihr (nicht)” Jesus sings the fugal pattern that permeates the entire mvt. with its repetitions: bass voice – ms. 1, 4, 11, 16 = 4 instances; bc – ms. 2, 5, 10, 12, 17 = 5 instances.

Mvt. 6 (tenor recitative) has 3 important instances on the words, “Jammer woll(te)” ms. 6; “betrübter Trau(ernacht)” ms 13; and “würdiglich (genießen)” ms. 22-23.

Mvt. 7 (alto, tenor aria) has the pattern in the viola in ms. 2, 11, 28, 50 (leading into the next section). In the 3/8 section the voices sing the pattern as the subject of the canon on the words, “(ich) will dich, mein (Jesu)” 4 times in ms. 52, 53, 67, 68.

Mvt. 8 (final chorale) tenor ms. 1 “Meinen Je(sum)”; alto/tenor ms. 3 “geh ihm e(wig)”; tenor ms. 5 “Christus läßt”; alto ms. 8 “Lebensbäch(lein)”; and alto ms. 10 “selig wer”

It appears to me that Bach made a deliberate effort to unify all mvts. of this cantata, perhaps with the intention that the listeners would continue to hear the echoing effects of the ‘thunder’ established in the 1st mvt. It is the thunder and what it represents throughout the mvts. that the listeners may experience without really being entirely conscious of manner in which Bach achieves his musical goal, one aspect of which would be to unify the disparate elements (mvts.) of the cantata.

Aryeh Oron wrote (January 15, 2002):

The background below is based on several sources (Albert Schweitzer, Alec Robertson, W. Murray Young, Hans Christoph Worbs, etc.) and something of my own. The English translations are taken from Richard Stokes’ book.

Cantata BWV 154 was written and composed for the first Sunday after Epiphany. It was performed on January 9, 1724 and later at least once more in Leipzig after 1735. Some of the commentators think that the cantata may even stem from Bach’s time in Weimar, but conceivably the individual movements date from different periods. After several listenings to this cantata, I have to admit that I do not hear any justification to this assumption. In Alfred Dürr’s view the hypothesis that this is a parody is given the lie by the first aria’s obvious relevance to the unknown author’s text. The Gospel was taken from Luke 2: 41-52, concerning the twelve-year old Jesus, whom his parents lost after the Passover in Jerusalem, and then found again discussing with doctors in the Temple. The text adheres to this Gospel story, but changes the worry of the parents over the lost child to concern of the Christians over losing their Lord. This appears in the recitatives and arias.

Mvt. 1 Aria for Tenor
Mein liebster Jesus ist verloren
(My dearest Jesus is lost)
This wonderful aria, with impassioned tenor solo, expresses the same anguish that Mary must have felt when she perceived that her Son was lost. In this grief-motif, the tenor’s lament represents his despair over losing Christ’s. It is built on a chromatic, falling ostinato continuo. The aria reaches a dramatic climax at ‘O Schwert, das durch die Seele dringt’ (O sword that pierces my soul). This simile is derived from Johann Rist’s hymn ‘O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort’ (O Eternity, Thou Word of Thunder) (1642). Bach will later compose two cantatas with this title – BWV 20 and BWV 60 (1732, already discussed in the BCML), on this hymn based on Luke 2: 35. Bach paraphrased it in the third and fourth lines of this aria. The rapid string chords, marked piano, at the words ‘O Donnerwort in meinen Ohren’ (O thunderous word in my ears) depict the symbolical thunder. This aria was likened by Albert Schweitzer to the tenor aria ‘Ach mein sinn’ from the St John Passion BWV 245.

Mvt. 2 Recitative for Tenor
Wo treu ich meinen Jesum an
(When shall I find my Jesus)
The tenor asks where he can find Jesus. No misfortune can touch him so much as the loss of his Saviour.

Mvt. 3 Chorale
Jesu, mein Hort und Erretter
(Jesus, my refuge and Redeemer)
This chorale was introduced by the previous tenor recitative. The choir sings of the same sense of loss as the tenor, as though they represent him, praising Jesus in terms of endearment (e.g. ‘Jesulein’ [= little Jesus]). This is a straightforward harmonization of stanza two of Martin Jahn’s hymn ‘Jesu meiner Seelen Wonne’ (Jesus, Bliss of my Soul) (1661) set to Johann Schop’s ‘Werde munter, mein Gemüte’ (1642).

Mvt. 4 Aria for Alto
Jesu, laß dich finden
(Jesus, let Thyself be found)
This aria is very moving in her plea to let her find Jesus. He repeats the opening words ‘Jesu, laß dich finden’ (Jesus, let Thyself be found), at the beginning of each clause. These repeats are very effective, as are the second and third lines, which evoke the imagery of her sins being thick clouds hiding Jesus from her. Much colour is added to this aria by the oboes d’amore and the strings. Bach did not provide parts for bass strings in this aria but specified the harpsichord (or organ) doubling the upper string parts an octave below.

Mvt. 5 Arioso for Bass
Wisset ihr nicht, daß ich sein muß in dem, das meines Vaters ist?
(Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?)
This is a very fine declamation, in which the bass gives Jesus’ reply to His mother, Luke 2: 49. Although the bass portrays Jesus, his voice represents the man rather than the child. Would it be too pedantic to have expected Bach to give these words, spoken by a child of twelve, to a soprano? I wonder. Because if that were the case than there would have been no doubt that this arioso had to be sung by a boy soprano rather than a mature woman. Anyhow, in this case He is speaking to the searching Christians. The setting, with a good deal of repetition of the text, conveys the authority with which Jesus spoke to the teachers in the Temple.

Mvt. 6 Recitative for Tenor
Dies ist die Stimme meines Freundes
(This is the voice of my friend)
Rejoices that he has heard Jesus’ voice and thus has found Him in His Father’s house (the church). He will join Him there by taking the sacrament. This is a lengthy text, which ends with a reference to the Real Presence of Jesus in the Sacrament of the Bread and Wine.

Mvt. 7 Aria (Duet) for Alto and Tenor
Wohl mir, Jesus ist gefunden
(Happy am I, Jesus is found)
An entrancing, dance-like rhythm of all the instruments accompanies the vocalists in a joy-motif proclaiming their bliss. This movement is one of the most memorable duets in any of Bach’s cantatas. It is even more delightful even than the later one in Mvt. 5 of Cantata BWV 32, which has a similar text. A very interesting point is that Bach uses precisely the same phrases in the first part of the duet as in the later Mvt. 5, where they become the main motif. After the first fourlines the tempo becomes slower for the last two lines (before returning to the allegro of the da-capo). This transformation of tempo is rare in a Bach aria.

Mvt. 8 Chorale
Meinen Jesum laß ich nicht
(I shall not leave my Jesus)
The text is stanza six of Christian Keimann’s ‘Meinen Jesum lass ich nicht’ (My Jesus I Do Not Leave) (1685), which is the first and the last line of this stanza also. The chorus sings that, if ‘I’ go always by the ride of Jesus. He will guide me through my life.


Cantata BWV 154: Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Commentaries: Main Page | Cantatas BWV 1-50 | Cantatas BWV 51-100 | Cantatas BWV 101-150 | Cantatas BWV 151-200 | Cantatas BWV 201-224 | Other Vocal Works BWV 225-524 | Sources


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