Thomas Braatz wrote (February 7, 2003):
This cantata is replete with many unanswered questions. A number of theories have been advanced.
Not a single note (or even the usual corrections and additions by Bach) of this cantata is in form that comes from either the autograph or original set of parts. For the harmonization of the final chorale a comparison had to be made with C.P.E. Bach’s reduction of the 4-pt. chorales.
The copy of the score and the set of parts were prepared sometime between 1755 and 1770 by Christian Friedrich Penzel (all now located in the BB). Franz Hauser had purchased it from his nephew, G. Schuster, in May of 1833 along with quite a few other manuscripts prepared by Penzel.
The librettist is unknown and no contemporary printing of the text could be located. Spitta suspected that Salomon Franck might have been the author of mvts. 2 & 3 and would see this composition as belonging to the Weimar period. For stylistic reasons, Dürr does not find this dating very convincing. And if this is true, then, according to Dürr, Franck’s authorship might be taken out of consideration, yet the possibility still exists. The chorale text of mvt. 2 is the 1st vs. of the chorale, “Welt, ade, ich bin dein müde” by Johann Georg Albinus (1649.) The chorale melody is by Johann Rosenmüller. The final chorale is the 5th vs. of Martin Luther’s hymn, “Christ lag in Todesbanden” (1524.)
The 2nd mvt. with its remarkable change of meter begins to sound much like the chorale, “Eins ist not, ach Herr, dies eine” [“One thing, o Lord, is necessary, this one thing;”] however, the last 4 lines (the repetition of melody in the Abgesang) are missing. This makes Dürr suspect that this is not an original cantata text, but rather a chorale text which Bach set to music.
Spitta, early on, had some thoughts on whether the text presented a unified whole: “The 1st section, a bass recitative and the final chorale, “Hier ist das rechte Osterlamm” [“Here is the true Easter Lamb”] point to Easter, specifically the Gospel designated for the 3rd day of Easter. The aria, however, and the recitative which follows it, focus on the sentiments connected with the Gospel for Feast for the Purification of Mary (das Marienfest: Mariae Reinigung.) Since the aria is the only mvt. of the cantata that has a fixed form, it must be the case that it was originally designated for the latter feast day and then later reused for the 3rd day of Easter. It is simply impossible to believe that this cantata, in the form that it has come down to us, is a complete cantata. There are many riddles here…”
Wustmann had the opinion that it could have been used as is for the Tuesday after Easter.
A closer examination, Dürr contends, seems to confirm Spitta’s suppositions: The very 1st words of the cantata can be connected with a part of the Gospel for the Tuesday after Easter (Luke 24:36-47.) In Luke 24:36 Jesus says, “Friede sei mit euch” [“Peace be with you”], but we also find a part of the text for (Feast of the Purification of Mary) Luke 2:22-32 in the words, “Herr, nun lässest du deinen Diener in Frieden fahren” (vs. 29) [“Lord, now you let your servant depart in peace.”] It is the similarity in thoughts that allows for the possibility that the cantata can be used for both occasions. But when we find the words at the end of the recitative, “Er selber spricht zu mir: Der Friede sei mit dir” [“He himself says to me: Peace be with you,”] this allows a connection only with the Tuesday after Easter, because here Jesus himself speaks. A similar conclusion can be reached regarding the reference to “des Lammes” [“the Lamb”] whose blood has cleansed us of our sins as indicated in the 1st and 4th mvts. This reference makes no sense for the Feast of the Purification of Mary, but for Easter it is very common.
There is no reasonable way to reconstruct in this instance the original form that this cantata must have had. There are, however, many probabilities that have arisen, some of which are worth mentioning:
The instrumentation given on the title page does not fit what is contained in the score and parts: bass solo, oboe, strings and bc. This instrumentation exists in Bach’s oeuvre in only one other instance (also for the Feast of the Purification of Mary): BWV 82 “Ich habe genug.” Perhaps there was confusion between the two on the part of the copyist. Less likely is the possibility that an older title for this cantata (BWV 158) existed, which was later removed because it no longer fit the occasion for which it had been intended. Assuming this rather utopian notion, some of the riddles posed by this cantata could be solved: why did Bach have an oboe part only to play colla parte the soprano part in the both the 2nd mvt. and the final chorale? The violin used in mvt. 2 in a solo capacity could also have served to play colla parte in the final chorale. There are a number of instances where Bach had an instrument play the chorale citation and later this was changed to a choral part/voice (examples: the 1st chorus of the SMP) and BWV 80a/BWV 80 and BWV 161.) If we can assume that there originally was such a larger original version of this cantata, then the following explanation can be offered: there was no soprano part in mvt. 2. Instead that part was played by the oboe. Then there would have been at least another mvt., probably another aria, in which the strings and oboe would play an important part. The oboe would have been used in another mvt. such as an introductory sinfonia. In such a full solo cantata for bass there would not have been a final 4-pt. chorale. This would explain, perhaps, why all 4 pts. of the chorale appear in the bass part and all the other vocal parts would be missing.
There is also a parallel connection to BWV 56 (The ‘Kreuzstabkantate’) in which Bach also repeats in a later recitative the same words and music of an earlier aria, “Da bleib ich, da hab ich Vergnügen zu wohnen” [“There I shall stay, there I delight to live.”] This, in itself, may point the time of composition occurring at the beginning of the 1730’s.
The reason that Bach may have had for reworking this cantata might have had something to do with his organizing the cantatas for his 5th yearly cantata cycle. We have more than 5 cantatas that were either composed specifically for the Feast of the Purification of Mary or were reworked in order to be used then. It is no longer possible to determine whether the cantata then had more mvts. and if its current state is only fragment thereof, or whether it really existed at some later point in this abbreviated form.
The strange range of the violin (the G string is not used at all throughout the entire cantata!) points to another instrument or a transposition. Was the original instrument a flute?
Dürr’s final comments on this cantata:
Despite all the unanswered questions that have been raised and despite the limited breadth of scope (it is too short, some additional mvts. seem to be necessary), this is a cantata of very high quality, one which makes considerable demands upon both the vocalists and instrumentalists. We should be thankful, that we are able to hear and appreciate it in the form in which it has come down to us.