Aryeh Oron wrote (May 18, 2002):
BWV 183 - Background
The background below is taken completely from the liner notes to the CD ‘Cantatas BWV 85, 183, 199, 175’ with Christophe Coin - Violoncello Piccolo & Direction.
The cantata "Sie werden euch in den Bann tun" ("They shall anathematise you") BWV 183 was written for Exaudi Sunday, the sixth Sunday after Easter which precedes Pentecost, and it was first performed on 13 May 1725. The previous year, for the same Sunday of the liturgy, the music began with the same quotation from the day's gospel lesson, For that reason, the two scores (BWV 44 and BWV 183) today bear the same ride, but that does not necessarily mean that there is a family bond between the two, either in the music or the text. Although it is of modest proportions (a succession of two recitatives and arias, and a final chorale), this work nevertheless calls for a large number of musicians, which is quite unusual in this context: four soloists, chorus, and an instrumental ensemble of strings and basso continuo enriched with two oboes d'amore, two oboes da caccia and a violoncello piccolo It appears that at that blessed time the musician had a variety of fine instrumental possibilities at his disposal in Leipzig, which enabled him to give priority to very particular sound colours; he obviously used them here in composing his spiritual commentary on the texts.
For four successive Sundays, from the third to the sixth after Easter, the Church uses the long text from the Gospel according to St John, in which the latter tells how, after the Last Supper and before his Passion; Christ solemnly addresses his disciples for the last time, in a sort of spiritual testament. In the passage chosen for this particular day (John 15: 26 - 16: 4), he announces the coming of the Spirit of truth, which will be sent to Christians as Comforter for the persecutions they are to endure. The author of the libretto, Christiane Mariane von Ziegler, uses as an epigraph Christ's words reported by St John, "They shall anathematise you...", and goes on to express the Christian's acceptance of sacrifice and death, through his faith and trust in the Holy Spirit.
The cantata opens with the recitative-arioso sung by the bass soloist; this is answered, as a conclusion, by the collective singing of the chorale to the liturgical text. Between these two poles, the spiritual and musical commentary is organised into a balanced whole, aria-recitative-aria, of great intensity. At the beginning of the cantata, it is thus Jesus who speaks. As in BWV 85 the previous month, Bach uses the bass voice, the vox Christi, in a short, solemn, syllabic recitative, nimbused by the harmony of dense, majestic chords from the chorus of four oboes on the continuo.
In an admirable da capo aria, Bach then launches into his commentary. The text declares that "I do not fear the horrors of death". And, indeed, from the ritornello, the violoncello piccolo uncoils its tender spirals of consolation; in E minor, and in a tempo marked molt' adagio, the constant rocking of the semiquavers (looser in the middle section, "Jesus will shield me with his protective arm") seems to be there to bring comfort and quiet confidence in the coming of the Holy Spirit, while the continuo, in quavers, marks out the regular pulsation of passing time. The Christian, however, represented by the voice of the tenor solo, shows he is still beset by the dreaded pangs of a tragic death: theđmelodic line is tormented, with great changes in register, and many rhythmic figures showing great inner agitation. This contrast certainly did not escape those who listened to the work in the Thomaskirche, who were so familiar with the musical figuralism and understood its symbolical and significant implication. "I am ready to sacrifice my blood and my poor life for you, O my Saviour".
The short alto recitative that follows is on its own a small masterpiece of catechesis in music. On a backdrop of chords played by the strings which appear here, the oboes in pairs keep trotting out a short, obsessive figure of four notes, which they toss back and forth: it is the same figure, perfectly identifiable, as the one to which the soloist sings "lch bin bereit" (I am ready).
At the end of this spiritual progression, the soprano aria can at last offer up a prayer full of confidence in the Divine Spirit, which is exalted by the long garland played by the two oboes da caccia in unison, momentarily in the sunny key of C major, and a spirited, saltatory movement in 3/8 with a regular bounce from a small group of demisemiquavers (violin I or soprano solo).
The final chorale borrows the fifth strophe of a hymn by Paul Gerhardt, the chorus singing "You are a Spirit which teaches how to pray as one should.[...]", to the tune of "Helft mir Gotts Güte preisen" ("Help me to praise God's loving-kindness").