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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 33
Allein zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ

Albert Schweitzer | Friedrich Smend | Alfred Dürr | Daniel R. Meladmed


Thomas Braatz wrote (September 1, 2002):
BWV 33 - Commentaries:


“In the 1st chorus of the cantata, “Allein zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ”…a sunny confidence is expressed by means of a “joy” motive in uninterrupted semiquavers [the running 16th notes.] The energetic “step” motives in the accompaniment probably symbolize steadfast faith; perhaps they are specially prompted by the passage “Allein zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ, mein’ Hoffnung steht auf Erden” [“My hope on earth, Lord Jesus Christ, is fixed on Thee alone”.] The most sharply characteristic of these motives runs thus [example quoted from the 1st violin part of mvt. 1 ms. 5-7] [comment: Schweitzer fails to mention, or should I say that further proof of the veracity of his observation can be found in mvt. 3, the alto aria where the voice sings these ‘energetic steps’ or leaps when the words, “Doch hilft mir Jesu Trostwort wieder, daß er für mich genung getan” {“And yet Jesus’ comforting words help me up again, words that indicate that he has done more than enough for me,”} in ms. 47-50 and 59-63 are sung.] In the aria, “Wie furchtsam wankten meine Schritte” [“How fearful and uncertain were my steps,”] the violins give it out in an uncertain and feeble form [example quoted from the opening bars of the 1st violin part] the other strings adding their pizzicato in a march-rhythm. In the themes we should of course accent the syncopated quavers, not the strong beats of the bars, if we are not to destroy the pictorial suggestion of the motion. The final duet should be sung by several voices.”


Smend sees references to Job 9:3 (1st Recitative); Psalms 51:13 and Galatians 5:6 (2nd Recitative), but at the same time the unknown librettist provides for an interpretation of the specific epistle and gospel readings for the given Sunday: Romans 3:21-28 and Luke 10:23-37. The question is raised as to what someone must do to attain eternal life. St. Paul states in Romans 3 that this can only be done through faith, but Jesus (in Luke 10) tells the scribe, who already knows about the ‘double’ commandment of love and still needs to ask who is this ‘nearest’ person, the parable of the good Samaritan. Before anyone can do anything to improve his personal state of blessedness, God has already shown his mercy to this person: “Allein zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ, mein Hoffnung steht auf Erden.” We have to call to him in order to receive the gift of a true Christian faith and a genuine love of God, from whom alone “die guten Früchte” grow, which are visible in the love for one’s ‘nearest’ or neighbor. Without connecting these basic thoughts in the cantata text with the Sunday’s readings, this cantata will not be properly understood.

The “Herbheit” (“austerity”) that characterizes this cantata corresponds with the seriousness of the biblical texts as well as the ‘strenge Zucht in der Satzweise” (“the strict regimen of line by line treatment”) of Bach’s mature style from his late period [see above.] In addition to the organ there is only a sparse use of instruments (strings and oboes.) They only appear together in the 1st and last mvts. In the 1st mvt. The 4-pt. chorale is embedded in an instrumental section that includes fast passages of 16th notes. The choral part consists (not the soprano cantus firmus) of canonic imitation or parallel musical lines. After the 1st recitative (bass + organ) there is an alto aria that is highly enchanting in its ability to conjure up a picture of the words being sung. The 1st violin, muted, leads the instrumental ensemble while the other strings play pizzicato. Here one can truly hear, “furchtsam wanken die Schritte.” In the duet that follows the 2nd recitative (tenor, organ) both the tenor and bass voices are accompanied by both oboes and the organ. By using the parallel sixths between both voices, the generally ‘herb’ (‘austere’) quality of the entire piece is given some of the sweetness of God’s love. The final chorale is among best of the masterful 4-pt. settings of Bach’s late works. [Again, see above! I have included these, now-revised, assessments so that we can see how difficult it is to discern Bach’s musical development in his Leipzig period.]


The 1st mvt. is an example of the most common type of introductory chorale-based with the sopranos supported by the other voices in a fashion that is at times rather simple, with chordal structure, but at other times with imitation and even rhythmic accents (“Ich ruf dich an” – “I call to you.”) The choral passages are embedded in a thematically independent, concertante orchestral mvt. which has a loose connection with the chorale sections by means of the rhythmic 16th-note figures in the bc.

The secco recitative, mvt. 2, ends with an arioso section that has a lively coloratura on “mich wiederum erfreuen” [“will make me glad once again”] that sets it apart from the previous plainly declaimed text.

Especially attractive is the instrumentation of the following alto aria consisting of stringed instruments, whereby the 1st violin plays the leading melody with a mute while the 2nd violin, viola and bc accompany with a pizzicato. Quite obviously memorable is the unusual form of the 1st violin melody which vacillates up and down with its oblique chromaticism and syncopated rhythms, a musical description of the terribly wavering steps that are mentioned in the text. In a significant change, this melodic pattern, which dominates the mvt. almost entirely, is abandoned completely when the words, “doch hilft mir Jesu Trostwort wieder, daß er für mich genung getan.” [see Schweitzer above!]

The 4th mvt. is another plain secco recitative that contains word painting on the word, “halten” [“hold”], which is held out on a long note. Bach makes no attempt, as in other cantatas, to quote the original chorale when the cantata text does.

The duet (5th mvt.) seems to have been inspired by a soprano aria (mvt. 3 of BWV 77) which Bach had composed the previous year. Likewise the subject is centered on one’s love of God and, once again, the obbligato instruments are two oboes as well as the parallel 6ths and 3rds are featured prominently, but this time, not only do the oboes have these parallel passages, but the two voices do as well. Although the polyphonic development is taken much more seriously here, there still remains the impression of a tender inwardness which might lead one to assume that the listener’s in Bach’s day associated with this instrument a more soulful singing quality than we do today, since we prefer to think of this instrument as having a more coquettish, pert character. Also interesting in this mvt. is the fact that the oboes become more like voices so that it is easy to conceive of this rather as a vocal quartet with the oboes supplying the missing soprano and alto parts.

Daniel R. Meladmed (in an article on the choral mvts.):

The function of the lower voices in the opening mvt. of a chorale cantata varies from cantata to cantata. Sometimes these voices move in almost the same rhythm as the soprano (cantus firmus) as one would find in a simple 4-pt chorale at the end of the cantata. The only difference is that the individual lines with the lower voices showing a slightly greater independence are extracted and placed into a concerto mvt. (see BWV 113/1 and BWV 33/1….The treatment of the lower voices can be at times homophonic and at other times contrapuntal; usually Bach varies the treatment of each line as he composes the mvt. line by line.


Cantata BWV 33: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

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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Last update: Friday, September 01, 2017 13:32