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Cantata BWV 90
Es reißet euch ein schrecklich Ende

Mahling | Voigt | Schweitzer | Dürr | Finscher | Chafe | Hofmann | Anderson


Aryeh Oron wrote (November 17, 2002):
BWV 90 - Background [Christoph Hellmut Mahling]

The background below, quoted from the liner notes to the Telerfunken recording by Schröder, was written by Christoph Hellmut Mahling:

The cantata "Es reißet euch ein schrecklich Ende" (A terrible end is ripening for you) was not, as assumed hitherto, first written around 1740, but again belongs to the yearly cycle from Estomihi 1723 to Epiphany 1724, and was first performed on the 14th November 1723. It can be regarded as one of Bach's most impressive works, even if not speaking generally, at least among those of similar dimensions. Yet the resources used here are by no means lavish. String orchestra, organ and solo trumpet are the instruments employed; these could only be accurately established on the basis of a catalogue of publications of Breitkopf's dating from 1761, no details being provided in this respect in the autograph. The author of the text is unknown. The first aria, allotted to the tenor, is very agitated (continuous semiquaver figures), charged with energy (including rising demisemiquaver figures in the violins) and extensive (186 bars without "da capo"). In it, the "sinful disdainers" who live without care and without thinking of God's judgement are reminded of the "terrible end" that will one day be theirs. The majesty and power of the "avenging judge" are represented by the fanfare motif maintained almost throughout this bass aria (broken triads and a striking, rhythmically taut figure of a quaver and two semiquavers), the use of the trumpet and the character of the entire movement. Lively runs, mostly descending (in semiquaver values), underline the extinguishing of the candle "in passion". But since God has elected mankind for Himself, He indeed thinks of punishment, but not of destruction, and will thus continue to halt "the rush of the enemy" (tenor recitative). This impressive and moving work closes with the prayer expressed in the final chorale that God may also hold His protecting hand over mankind in the future.

Thomas Braatz wrote (November 23, 2002):
BWV 90 - Commentaries:


This is one of Bach’s cantata compositions where he adopts the tone of a fanatical ‘tent’-preacher, a tone that is almost of a completely wild nature. The 1st aria for tenor is among those that would have to be considered as being to a certain degree dramatic in as far as it conjures up a picture of a preacher in the wilderness.

The extremely lively, yet grand expression contained in the 2nd aria is less expansive with shorter ritornelli and more concise sections. From the standpoint of form, the free reprise sections which begin with a parallel minor key are of interest. A certain degree of difficulty is presented in the portrayal of a rather monotonous rhythm. The text of the middle sections seems to be unclear. It might have been better perhaps to use the following text: “Ihr lasset, o Sünder, durch euer Vergehen selbst Greuel an heiliger Stätte entstehen.”


Schweitzer points to the manner in which Bach, in mvt. 1, declaims the word “schrecklich” [“dreadful”] several times breaking the word into short fragments with very short rests in between them. In the passionate aria [bass aria] confused demisemiquaver passages fly up and down in the various instruments like a flame struggling against the storm-wind. Even Spitta frankly admits Bach’s pictorial intention here. It is one of the most powerful symphonic accompaniments to be found in all Bach’s works.


Mvt. 1 Tenor Aria:
This introductory mvt. is a passionate tenor aria containing many coloratura passages. The lively figures and rapid scale passages played by the 1st violin express the threatening punishment that awaits sinners. The middle section, in contrast, is dominated by the continuo group with the strings only entering in the ritornelli or interjecting short phrases from time to time.

Mvts. 2 & 4 Recitatives:

Both recitatives are of the secco type.

Mvt. 3 Bass Aria:
In addition to the full complement of strings, Bach adds a trumpet(?) part, which contains not only the usual imitation of trumpet calls based on the triad, but also has fast-moving passages that emulate the figures played by the strings with which it engages in a concertante dialog. In its passionate nature, this mvt. compares favorably with the 1st mvt. with the exception of one distinctive characteristic: the voice also takes up the ‘bugle-call’ motif (based on the triad) announced in the trumpet part. Similar to the structure of mvt. 1 with its reduced role of the treble instruments in the middle section and the emphasis upon the continuo group, however, the more freely formed da capo section includes also a coda-type continuo section before the actual instrumental ritornello at the conclusion begins.

Ludwig Finscher (notes for Teldec series) [4]:

“The anonymous text concentrates on the visions of horror of the final period before the Last Judgment; the hope of the “chosen people” is not uttered until the second recitative and the chorale. The deadly earnestness of this text is matched by the almost gloomy composition, which with uncustomary persistence circles around D minor (the principal key) and G minor, and which in the two chief arias dominating the work depict the text’s emotions in a highly drastic fashion: the “snatching,” terrible end and the sinfulness of man in vehement coloraturas, chromatic runs, torn-off phrases and catapulted declamatory motifs in the highest range for tenor; the vision of the zealous judge of the world in grandiose war music, completely built up on signal motifs, with concertante trumpet, the symbolic instrument of warfare. The two secco recitatives are brief and unadorned, but worked out down to last text detail, declamatory and harmonically. In particular the first, which contrasts God’s goodness and the world’s ingratitude displays an abundance and power of musical depiction of the text which were not customary even for Bach. The closing chorus is a songlike setting which begins in simple fashion and then increases in harmonic splendor, culminating in one of Bach’s most astounding harmonic applications (inserted D flat major on the word “Stündelein”) and eventually fading out on the sustained D major of “ewig bei dir sein” (and life eternal there with thee.)


“On the following week, “Es reiffet euch ein schrecklich Ende” (A terrifying end is prepared for you: BWV 90) centers on the opposition between warnings of God’s judgment, graphically represented in the two arias, and Gods’ protection of the elect, which comes to the fore in the final recitative and chorale. Thus, the “schrecklich Ende” that is prepared for the sinner stands in opposition to the proclamation that God’s blessings are renewed from day to day – “Des Höchsten Güte wird von Tag zu Tag neu”—which sounds like a comforting response to the fearful “Anfang sonder Ende” of Cantata BWV 60.”

Klaus Hofmann (for Suzuki’s notes) [7]:

“The cantata’s two arias paint a dismal picture, visualizing the threat of a ‘dreadful end’ towards which sinners, in their obstinacy, are proceeding. Both refer to the divine judge, while the second aria also interprets the terrors and temptations of the end of time as the punishment of God. Bach has given these two relatively similar texts very different musical characters. The first aria, for tenor, is expressively highly intense and very virtuosically written for the soloist, while the string writing is no less fervent (with a vivid illustration of the keyword ‘reißet’ by means of frenetic violin runs.) The second, in the manner of a vengeance aria as commonfound in Baroque opera, is set as a clattering bass solo in which the operatic model appears in skillfully layered form with a lively brass part of almost breathtaking difficulty. The manuscript does not reveal whether Bach intended this part for a horn or a trumpet. The instrument symbolizes the ‘trump of God’ of the last judgment (as mentioned in the epistle for the same Sunday: 1 Thessalonians 4: 13-18.
The two recitatives bring a lighter note to the threatening darkness. They speak of goodness and of the concern that God has for his chosen ones. The simple concluding chorale, ‘Leit uns mit deiner rechten Hand’ (“lead us with your right hand’: Martin Moller, 1584,) prays for safe conduct and for God’s protection.

Nicholas Anderson:

The unidentified author of the powerful text took as his basis the appointed Epistle and Gospel, which speak of Christ’s second coming. The attendant horror of the Last Judgment was a favored theme among Baroque artists, and one which, as we can see in several other instances in the cantatas, evoked colorful responses in Bach’s imagination.
The cantata begins with one of two da capo arias which, since there is no opening chorus, are its dominant features. It is scored for tenor with strings and continuo and is virtuoso in its writing both for first violins and for the voice. This is the stern aria whose textual warnings are conveyed by Bach in bold passages of chromaticism, wild, upward-swirling demisemiquaver runs in the first violin, vocal coloratura, and almost ferocious declamation.
An alto recitative vividly contrasts God’s goodness with worldly ingratitude before we are confronted by the second aria. The robust, supple writing of the previous aria is comfortably matched in this bass aria, whose resonant virtuoso trumpet obbligato provides an additional brilliant dash of color. Virtuosity penetrates almost every strand of the texture, with cascades of demisemiquavers, menacing passages of repeated semiquavers in the continuo, and, dominating all, the trumpet sounding warrior-like, threatening, and doom-laden calls. In short, Bach has conjured up a scene of dreadful horror, an unforgettable vision of God’s anger.
A short tenor recitative anticipates heavenly victory over Satan’s brood, and the cantata ends with a verse of Martin Moller’s hymn “Nimm von uns, Herr, du treuer Gott” (1584.) The melody, affectingly harmonized by Bach, is that which is associated with Luther’s vernacular version of the Lord’s Prayer, “Vater unser im Himmelreich” (1539.)


Cantata BWV 90: 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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