Thomas Braatz wrote (October 17, 2001):
BWV 96 - Some specific things to listen for
Although older commentators (early 20th century) hear the Flauto piccolo adding a special element to this mvt., their comments are restricted to statements of this sort: Schweitzer: The whole mvt. "receives an individual physiognomy" as he hears both the Flauto piccolo and Violino piccolo as part of the ensemble. Voigt: "Die Piccoloflöte streut leichte Girlanden" ("The sopranino is strewing light garlands about.") More recent commentators sense the connection with the key word "Morgenstern" ("the morning star") and use such descriptive adjectives as "twinkling, sparkling, scintillating." Dürr calls it "das glänzende Flimmern des Morgensterns" ("the brilliant flickering/shimmering of the morning star.") This seems to be part of Bach's musical picture language, a point that Schweitzer missed because he was distracted by the unusual combination of instruments that he thought existed. The connections in musical motifs used by the sopranos, tenors and basses reveals that they are at times closely borrowed from the instrumental parts, at other times however quite distant. My own observation: ms. 86-92 ("Er ist der Morgensterne") ["He is the Morning Star"] contains some memorable musical moments (sorry about the alliteration, I just could not resist): ms 86 begins with the normal F major pastorale key that predominates throughout the mvt, particularly in the vocal parts; ms. 87 the tenors have an upward-moving scale; ms. 88 the sopranos have an upward-moving scale with the tenors near the top of their range; ms. 89 the beginning of a major shift in key from G minor to D minor which remains until the last eighth note at the end of the measure; ms. 90 Now, suddenly you are lifted from D minor to E major (can you feel yourself lifted up here and being drawn toward the morning star? Also, there is something quite sacred and spiritual about the key of E major [Eric Chafe has commented on this phenomenon] In this same measure the sopranos have another upward-moving scale passage and the tenors are at the highest part of their range; ms. 91 the sopranos hit their high 'a' which is also the highest note that they sing in this cantata, and the basses hit their high 'e', which is their highest note in this cantata (it is also reached in Mvt. 5 when the bass reaches the highest part of the phrase that has him ascending to the pearly gates.
Schweitzer: "The uncertain steps represent vacillating faith. 'Bald zu Rechten, bald zu Linken lenkt sich mein verirrter Schritt' ("My wandering steps go now to the right , now to the left.")" Voigt: "Note how fearful uncertainty, as expressed by the text, is reflected in the torn-off phrases that the winds and strings exchange with each other." Dürr: "In the middle section, with the words, "Gehe doch, mein Heiland, mit" ("Go along with me, guide me, lead me, my Savior") the type of motif used is radically changed from the staggering, tottering steps to simple, soft, regular steps. The final section brings about a synthesis of these opposing motifs. Observe also Bach's musical picture language as he interprets the words, "laß mich in Gefahr nicht sinken" ("do not let me sink into danger") and "bis zur Himmelspforte" ("all the way to heaven's gates.")