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Cantata BWV 159
Sehet! wir gehn hinauf gen Jerusalem

A. Robertson | P. Spitta | A. Schweitzer | W. Voigt | F. Smend


Aryeh Oron wrote (February 14, 2002):
BWV 159 - Background [Alec Robertson]

The background below is taken completely from Alec Robertson’s book ‘The Church Cantatas of J.S. Bach (1972). His description is so poetic, touching, and straight to the point that I would not like to touch it:

“Pascal wrote in an unforgettable phrase ‘Jesu Christ will be in agony until the end of the world’, suffering with man in his trials, and from man’s sins. Alto, tenor, and bass soloists, in the four numbers of this beautiful cantata all give expression, in varying ways, to this poignant saying, from the setting out of the Saviour to His death on the Cross. They represent the Christian soul.

Mvt. 1 Recitative for Alto and Arioso for Bass
’Sehet, wir gehen hinauf gen Jerusalem’
(Come, let us go up to Jerusalem)
2 Violin I, Viola, Continuo
The bass utters the first word ‘Sehet!’ (come) to a long-drawn phrase (arioso) after which the alto sings the recitative ‘Komm, schaue doch, mein Sinn, / Wo geht dein Jesus hin?’ (Come, then my heart, behold whither goes Thy Jesus). The second arioso covers the succeeding words ‘Wir gehn hinauf’ (Let us go up), with the alto again breaking in, and the sentence is then completed in the third arioso ‘Gen Jerusalem’ (to Jerusalem) followed by the repetition of the whole of it.
The voices, therefore, move on two planes, the past and the present, with the soul living the journey to imagination, picturing the road as steep, rough, and thorny to the feet. Jesus passes out of sight and in the concluding recitative the soul is haunted by the sight of the instruments of the Passion and cries ‘Ah! Do not go, yet if Thou goest now, and I with Thee, then hell will be my lot.’ The music continually modulates from key to key in this vivid declamation.

Mvt. 2 Aria for Alto and Chorale for Soprano
’Ich folge dir nach / Durch Speichel und Schmach; / Am Kreuz will ich dich noch umfangen’
(I follow after Thee through spittle and shame: on the cross I will Thee yet embrace)
Oboe with Soprano, 2 bassoons with Continuo
After the dire prediction at the end of the recitative above, the soul recovers faith and courage to follow in the Saviour’s footsteps. With his usual perception, Bach leaves the alto’s first phrase unaccompanied. The melody has the expected ‘walking’ rhythm and above it the soprano (or better, the choral sopranos) softly sing the sixth verse of Paul Gebhardt’s hymn ‘O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden’: ‘I will here with Thee stand, despise me then not! From Thee I will not go, even till Thy heart breaks. When Thy head becomes pale, in the last death stroke, then will I Thee hold in my arm and bosom.’ The remaining words for the alto paraphrase those of the chorale. Bach achieves a perfect union between the melodies of the two parts in this most lovely movement.

Mvt. 3 Recitative for Tenor
’Nun will ich mich, / Mein Jesu, über dich / In meinem Winkel grämen;’
Now will I, myself, my Jesu, over Thee in my hiding place grieve)
The soul looks forward, through tears, to the joy of the Resurrection.

Mvt. 4 Aria for Bass
‘Es ist vollbracht, / Das Leid ist alle’
(It is fulfilled, the sorrow is over)
Oboe, 2 violins, Viola, Continuo
This aria will at once call to mind the Alto aria with the same opening words in the St John Passion (BWV 245). It moves on the same high plane of inspiration.
There are three motifs:
(1) The oboe melody, with its answering phrase at once inverted;
(2) The florid phrases in the middle section expressing ‘Nun will ich eilen / Und meinem Jesu Dank erteilen’ (Now will I hasten to give Jesus my thanks’ followed by
(3) ‘Welt, gute Nacht!’ (World, goodnight [farewell]), a phrase falling from C above the stave to the octave below.
’Es ist vollbracht!’ (It is finished, it is finished) is sung to the opening melody, the oboe, then bringing this most poignant movement to a close.

Mvt. 5 Chorale (SATB)
’Jesu, deine Passion / Ist mir lauter Freude’
Jesus, Thy Passion is for me pure joy)
As Mvt. 4, Instruments with voices
This is verse 33 of Paul Stockmann’s ‘Jesu Leiden, Pein und Tod’ (1633) set to Melchior Volpius’ melody (1699), praying that, little though we deserve to share in His suffering ‘Meine Seel auf Rosen geht, / Wenn ich dran gedenke, / In dem Himmel eine Stätt / Mir deswegen schenke.’ (My soul on roses walks as I think that you prepare on abode for us in Heaven’.

Thomas Braatz wrote (February 15, 2002):
BWV 159 - Commentaries:

Spitta seems to be the first to notice throughout the cantata the similarities to the SMP (BWV 244): “It (BWV 159) is entirely suffused with the atmosphere of the SMP (BWV 244). [Mvt. 1:] The bass arioso is very expressive and has an unusual walking bc. motif that lends a special character to this mvt. The alto voice develops the thoughts suggested by Christ’s words. [Mvt. 2:] This chorale trio [sic – he must be including the bc] features a beautiful, gently flowing musical line to accompany the 6th verse of Paul Gerhardt’s O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden.” [Mvt. 4:] The bass aria is indescribably devout with a great depth of feeling.”

Schweitzer states, “Bach never lets slip words that express running or walking. In the opening arioso of (BWV 159) he seems to paint Jesus going before the disciples, then turning round to them, and standing still to repeat once more the sorrowful words they can not comprehend. The interruption after the interval of the seventh is very impressive: Jesus pauses in His walk, turns to his disciples, and tells them of His approaching death. In the interludes for the alto, the reflective Soul accompanies the Savior on the way to the cross. A splendid bass aria ends the work, which has a finely conceived text.”

Voigt comments: “This is an excellent work, restricted in scope (mainly vocal solos) of great beauty and depth. The arioso (Mvt. 1) is unusual in its form. The bass aria (Mvt. 4), the high point of the cantata, has no ‘adagio’ designation, but certainly should be performed that way. The introductory ritornello establishes a very sacred atmosphere, while the middle section should be taken with a freer tempo to increase the effect, and the final part should sound expressive and transfigured.

Smend states: “Bach ‘framed’ the Lenten period (1729) with this work (BWV 159) on one side and the SMP (BWV 244), the 1st performance of which took place on Good Friday of the same year on the other end. The same chorale verse “Ich will hier bei dir stehen” occurs in the same key: Eb major (however, it should be noted that this choral was not included in the 1729 version of the SMP (BWV 244), but rather inserted into the later (after 1740) performance. There are also connections to the SJP (BWV 245): the 1st aria “Ich folge dir nach…. Dich laß ich nicht aus meiner Brust” reminds one of the passion aria: “Ich folge dir gleichfalls…und lasse dich nicht.” The 2nd bass aria, „Es ist vollbracht“ can be compared with the aria with the same name in the SJP (BWV 245) and also „Mein teurer Heiland (3rd line of text). The final chorale is one of the leading chorales used in the SJP (BWV 245). More stepping upwards is found in the 1st aria (alto) in the triplet figures. Motu contrario also in the chorale: 3 steps down. “O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden is also in the SJP (BWV 245).


Cantata BWV 159: Details & 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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