Herr, deine Augen sehen nach dem Glauben
BWV 102 // For the Tenth Sunday after Trinity
(Lord, thine eyes look after true believing) for soprano, alto, tenor and bass, oboe I+II, transverse flute, strings and basso continuo
Experience the introductory workshop, concert and reflective lecture in full length.
Would you like to enjoy our videos ad-free? Subscribe to YouTube Premium now...
«Lutzogram» for the introductory workshop
Rudolf Lutz’s manuscript for the workshop
The sound recording of this work is available on several streaming and download platforms.
Conductor & Harpsichord
Renate Steinmann, Monika Baer
Andreas Helm, Ingo Müller
Musical director & conductor
Rudolf Lutz, Pfr. Niklaus Peter
Recording & editing
St. Gallen // Kirche St. Mangen
Stefan Ritzenthaler, Nikolaus Matthes
GALLUS MEDIA AG, Switzerland
J.S. Bach Foundation of St. Gallen, Switzerland
Matching publications in our shop
About the work
25 August 1726, Leipzig
Jeremiah 5:3 (movement 1); Romans 2:4–5 (movement 4); Johann Heermann (movement 7); anonymous (movements 2, 3, 5, 6; Herzog Ernst-Ludwig von Sachsen-Meiningen)
BWV 102 belongs to the cantata cycle of 1726 that employs poetry by the Meiningen duke Ernst Ludwig and that also includes various compositions by Bach’s relative Johann Ludwig Bach, who lived in Meiningen. A common feature of these cantatas is their basis in two Bible dictums, one each from the Old and New Testament; in the case of BWV 102 – composed for the Tenth Sunday after Trinity – the gospel on the destruction of Jerusalem (Luke 19:41–48) made for a particularly grim setting. The fact that Bach later reused three movements of this cantata in his masses in F major and G minor (BWV 233/235) suggests that he was quite partial to this work. Moreover, Bach’s son in Hamburg, Carl Philipp Emanuel, also wrote an arrangement of the cantata. Indeed, it was this latter version that formed the basis of the work’s first publication in 1830 by Adolf Bernhard Marx and thus represents the myriad problems surrounding original Bach sources in the 19th century.
The orchestral prelude of the introductory chorus, with its alternating string and oboe figures, combines an elegiac undertone with light, compositional rigour. Culminating in circling, repetitive phrases, the prelude leads directly to a tutti invocation of the word “Herr” (Lord), from which the alto part emerges in a powerful continuation of the line, “Deine Augen sehen nach dem Glauben” (thine eyes look after true believing). After a modified repeat of this passage, the next phrases of the text – the abrupt call of “Du schlägest sie” (Thou smitest them) and the bass response of “Aber sie fühlen es nicht” (but they do not feel it) – are woven into the driving, concertante music. A ritornello passage then flows into what appears be the presentation of a new theme, but is actually a further development of the previous “Du schlägest sie” motif that is now expanded into a vocal fugue of arched thematic phrases accompanied by staccato oboe beats. Following a transitional section featuring vocal pairings on the theme of the A section (“Herr deine Augen”) in which the decelerating effect of the pedal point suggests a false sense of conclusion, Bach then commences a new fugue on the remaining line of the text (“Sie haben ein härter Angesicht” – Their countenance is more obstinate); the well-planned counterpoint and text-based stringency provides a textbook example of fugal composition. Here, the harmonic severity of the theme marches mercilessly through the voices to realise music of most painful affect ere the orchestra announces what is this time a genuine reprise of the A section. The effect of this thoroughly sophisticated cantata chorus, especially when performed by an ensemble of soloists, is extraordinarily dazzling and compelling; in light of the struggles to save the errant children of this world, the sudden major cadence on the word “Glauben” (believing) has the effect of an illusory epiphany.
After this colossal opening movement, the bass recitative in Bflat major is more subdued, although the soul-searching libretto on the conceited human’s loss of godliness retains its merciless tone. The ensuing aria then presents itself as a lamento in F minor that, in a static adagio setting for oboe, alto and continuo, expresses sorrow and grief over the unrepentant soul. From the very first entry, the upper voices strike a dissonant tone; the continuo, for its part, is composed primarily of sighing figures. The middle section of the aria opens on a slightly more energetic note “und die Straf auf sich zu laden” (And pain itself inviting), yet the fragmented melodic figures and painfully augmented leaps give such “störrig” (headstrong) voice to the notion of being separated from God that no few churchgoers must have doubted the hearing and sanity of their cantor – particularly when we consider the different tuning of the organ, in high choir pitch, that would have required the chordal accompaniment to be transposed to the almost unbearable key of Eflat minor.
After this gloomy scene, the Eflat major arioso for bass, strings and continuo embodies a certain lightness with its dance-like 3⁄8-metre, despite the motivic density of the movement and Bach’s decision to retain the accusatory tone, skilfully depicted as a series of questions: “Verachtest du den Reichtum seiner Gnade, Geduld und Langmütigkeit?” (Despisest thou the richness of his mercy, his patience and forbearance?). Akin to a dialogue with various roles, the errant souls are extended a benevolent invitation to repent; here the motif for the words “zur Busse locket” (to repentance calleth) is suspiciously similar to the “Du schlägest sie” theme of the opening chorus. After a further rhetorical pause, the extended lifeline seems irredeemably revoked, yet the return to the opening section grants the sinner one final grace period – a notion that the preacher of the day no doubt expounded upon at length in the ensuing sermon. Indeed, when listening to this rather exaggerated arioso, the idea that Bach was proposing a caricature of a rather self-righteous pulpiteer cannot be entirely dismissed.
The second part of the cantata opens with another aria, this time in G minor, whose pathos is somewhat tempered by the flowing flute cantilena over a bass line that calls for a delicate interpretation in view of the score indication of “piano sempre e staccato”. Nonetheless, with the entry of the tenor voice at the latest, a frightful threat crashes down upon the “allzu sichre Seele” (all too trusting soul); here, the words “Erschrecke doch” (Be frightened yet) are interpreted in abrupt, vivid phrases, while the gesture of the flute part becomes increasingly rigid in its intervallic leaps. The cryptic passage “Denk, was dich würdig zähle der Sünden Joch” (Think what it once will cost thee) appears to intimate the active repentance required to be worthy in God’s eyes – the disturbing poetic image that God’s patience proceeds with a “Fuss von Blei” (foot of lead) “damit der Zorn hernach dir desto schwerer sei” (So that his wrath at last on thee much graver be) evokes – long before the momentum can be slowed – the terrifying potential of an unleashed celestial bulldozer.
Set in the equally solemn key of C minor, recitative no. 6 offers scant refuge: set to a tolling funeralbell figure in the oboe parts, the alto soloist recounts how quickly the time for repentance can give way to the unforeseen hour of death. And the danse-macabre imagery of the exquisitely harmonised closing chorale, too, sustains this sense of urgency (“Heute noch” – even this day); even the reference to Jesus in the second verse as a worthy reason for all penance only slightly brightens the scene. If the aim of early modern theology was to completely break the spirit of the already fearful human soul, it seems to have achieved its purpose here. Indeed, the entire libretto of the cantata “Herr, deine Augen” (Lord, thine eyes) comes across as a brutal interrogation by no less than three omniscient criminal investigators. That even the greatest Bach admirers of the 19th century considered the libretti of this glorious music to be “appalling German church texts” (Zelter) can hardly be held against them.
Herr, deine Augen sehen nach dem Glauben!
Du schlägest sie, aber sie fühlens nicht;
du plagest sie, aber sie bessern sich nicht.
Sie haben ein härter Angesicht denn ein
Fels und wollen sich nicht bekehren.
2. Rezitativ — Bass
Wo ist das Ebenbild, das Gott uns eingepräget, wenn der verkehrte Will sich ihm zuwider leget? Wo ist die Kraft von seinem Wort, wenn alle Besserung weicht aus dem Herzen fort? Der Höchste suchet uns durch Sanftmut zwar zu zähmen, ob der verirrte Geist sich wollte noch bequemen; doch, fährt er fort in dem verstockten Sinn, so gibt er ihn ins Herzens Dünkel hin.
3. Arie — Alt
Weh der Seele, die den Schaden
nicht mehr kennt
und, die Straf auf sich zu laden,
ja von ihres Gottes Gnaden
Selbst sich trennt.
4. Arioso — Bass
Verachtest du den Reichtum seiner Gnade,
Geduld und Langmütigkeit?
Weißest du nicht, daß dich Gottes
Güte zur Buße locket?
Du aber nach deinem verstockten
und unbußfertigen Herzen häufest dir
selbst den Zorn auf den Tag des Zorns
und der Offenbarung des gerechten
5. Arie — Tenor
du allzu sichre Seele!
Denk, was dich würdig zähle
der Sünden Joch.
Die Gottes Langmut geht auf einem
Fuß von Blei,
damit der Zorn hernach dir desto
6. Rezitativ — Alt
Bei Warten ist Gefahr;
willt du die Zeit verlieren?
Der Gott, der ehmals gnädig war,
kann leichtlich dich vor seinen Richtstuhl
führen. Wo bleibt sodann die Buß? Es ist
ein Augenblick, der Zeit und Ewigkeit, der
Leib und Seele scheidet; verblendter Sinn,
ach kehre doch zurück, daß dich dieselbe
Stund nicht finde unbereitet!
Heut lebst du, heut bekehre dich!
Eh morgen kömmt, kanns ändern sich;
wer heut ist frisch, gesund und rot,
ist morgen krank, ja wohl gar tot.
So du nun stirbest ohne Buß,
dein Leib und Seel dort brennen muß.
Hilf, o Herr Jesu, hilf du mir,
daß ich noch heute komm zu dir
und Buße tu den Augenblick,
eh mich der schnelle Tod hinrück,
auf daß ich heut und jederzeit
zu meiner Heimfahrt sei bereit.
On 25 August 1726, the tenth Sunday after Trinity, things were quite Old Testament in the Thomaskirche in Leipzig – not only because Bach quotes Jeremiah and the Apostle Paul in the cantata BWV 102 with a passage from the Epistle to the Romans, a massively emphatic “ Tut Busse, denn das Himmelreich ist nahe“, in which the old, wrathfully threatening God speaks more clearly than the dear God of the later evangelists, but also because the music reflects it.
If proof were needed that Bach knew what statements and contexts he was dealing with, only the aria “Weh der Seele, die den Schaden nicht mehr kennt…“, one of his boldly expansive inventions, would provide it – musical prose, a mesh of two chromatically sinuous voices (alto and solo oboe) bristling with dissonances, cadences, cross-stops, whose leadership strings together old lament formulas as closely as possible. Significantly, he included the aria ten years later, little changed, as “Qui tollis” in the F major Mass BWV 233, thus giving the liturgical text a subjectively sharpened urgency that one rarely encounters in “Qui tollis” settings. Apparently, the aria was intended to clarify what a previously wrathful God and the Augustinian “Logik des Schreckens” (Kurt Flasch) impose on the believer, only lightened in the recitatives by vague references to the loving, forgiving God. Within the cantatas between Trinity Sunday 1726 and Good Friday 1727, which after all include “Ich will den Kreuzstab gern tragen” and “Ich habe genung”, BWV 102 stands as the darkest, most scrupulous cantata. As if the composers – in addition to Bach, a text writer based in Meiningen, whose name is not known – wanted to make it clear that one must make things difficult for oneself with matters of faith, that true, deep faith also includes a background of doubt. In the case of the “Weh” aria, one may think of Kierkegaard’s “Furcht und Zittern”.
If we understand the following aria (the most unwieldy text apart from the introduction) correctly – the highly competent Alfred Dürr was at a loss – Bach risks even more in it: if he had previously interwoven sounds and words in an enigmatic and sensual way, here he keeps them far apart, seems to be aiming for constant conflict, for not fitting together, for the impression that the music mocks the words, that it speaks of those who do not want to hear Paul’s lecture: To this (Romans II, 4-5) a lively3/8 -Vivace! Bach also plays confusing games by shifting the four- or six-bar periods that are part of the character of the supposedly simple music. And, as if this was not enough, he emphasises “wrong” (“Verachtest”, “Geduld”), which is particularly striking thanks to rapid tempi; when he penetratingly repeats small phrases in “locket” or “deinem verstockten und unbussfertigen Herzen“, one does not know whether this is to be understood as a mockery of words or not. How much is this, unsuspected in Bach, “negative music”? We have known it in opera for a long time, for example in the boomingly positive triumphant performances of rulers whom we do not wish to see triumphant. Here, however, even more happens – words and music stand against each other, seem to deny each other.
How much do the hardened hearts speak against the rage of the text, in the music? – The notes cannot answer this question on their own; so, we can only think about it as a possibility – and yet we must think about it as a possibility in view of the theological sensitivity that can be felt everywhere in Bach’s work. Did he even want to directly contrast the two kinds of fear that Pascal speaks of? – Great thinkers not only “invent”, but detect or answer what was felt, thought or discussed at the time! “Superstition et concupiscence. Scrupules, désirs mauvais. Crainte mauvaise: crainte, non celle qui vient de ce qu’on croit Dieu, mais celle de ce qu’on doute s’il est ou non. La bonne crainte vient de la foi, la fausse crainte vient du doute. La bonne crainte, jointe à l’espérance, parce qu’elle nâit de la foi, et qu’on espère au Dieu que l’on croit: la mauvaise, jointe au désespoir, parce qu’on craint le Dieu auquel on n’a pont de foi. Les uns craignent de le perdre, les autres craignent de le trouver.”
Even outside such backgrounds, meaning and word clarifications are found everywhere, ranging from symbolism to the superficially declamatory. The fact that the title phrase «Herr, deine Augen sehen nach dem Glauben» is repeated six times in different constellations after a 20-bar, splendidly concertante introduction, before the text continues with the rhetorically clarified «Du schlägest sie, du plagest sie», seems programmatic with regard to the eye of God, to which nothing remains hidden. When Bach turns “Du schlägest… “he multiplies the beating gesture, as if the contrapuntal procedure should not thrust themselves in front of those; similarly in the second fugato («Sie haben ein härter Angesicht als ein Fels und wollen sich nicht bekehren»), where the upward tritone (“diabolus in musica”) stands out every time “Fels” is used as the sign of obduracy. The cry for des, on which the oboe and soloist begin in Aria No. 3, draws its affective emphasis essentially from the fact that it seems to fall abruptly, as if from outside, into the music, to which c would also fit more comfortably. “Langmüthigkeit” in the arioso No. 4 appears as a long drawn-out final note; at the beginning of the second part (No. 5), the singer must “startle” five times in jagged figures before he is allowed to continue – how much emphasis qua contrast does this give to the long notes in focal words: “Joch”, “denk”, “Langmuth”, “geht”, “Blei”, “schwerer”! In Recitativo accompagnato No. 6, the threat that there is no time to lose (“Beim Warten ist Gefahr”) is accompanied by the figure of the oboes, which reoccurs 26 times. With “Heut lebst du, heut bekehre dich, / eh morgen kommt, kann’s ändern sich” the final chorale follows on directly from the text.
Since the contexts of the biblical words were clear to Bach, his librettist and the believers, a hinge, a semantic curve was needed. Paul’s admonitions, flanked by Jeremiah, had originally presupposed the imminence of the Parousia, Christ’s return together with the Last Judgement (“… das Himmelreich ist nah“), and from here derived their “demagogic” urgency. However Paul’s letters were sacred in the meantime, “ein Donner, ein universaler Donner, der durch die ganze Welt hallt” (John Donne) – since the parousia had meanwhile been 17 centuries in coming, the threat seemed only historical. Although included in the cantata’s texts, the former background is nowhere addressed; however, it shines through in the invocation of the older, wrathful God – only the second chorale stanza addresses Jesus directly – and the admonition that there is no time to lose. But this – mors certa, hora incerta – can also refer to dying, and the cantata unmistakably turns to this in Accompagnato No. 6 with “Es bleibt ein Augenblick, / der Zeit und Ewigkeit, der Leib und Seele scheidet“. With the words of stanzas 6 and 7 of the chorale “So wahr ich lebe spricht dein Gott“, the final chorale finally arrives here.
Previously, however, this had already happened musically with the closing G major of No. 6, logical especially since the G minor of the introductory chorus was taken up again in the “Erschrecke dich” aria opening the second part, with it, by the way, rather in the background of the movement, the Schleifer figure beginning in alternating tones.
In addition to the opening chorus and the “Weh” aria no. 3, Bach also later used the “Erschrecke dich” aria no. 5 elsewhere – a sign of how much he valued the pieces, which is also why he wanted them to be independent of a context that tied them to a single, at best recurring date every year. The jagged “Erschrecke dich” figure, however, appeared to him to be all too strongly influenced by the literal sense; without intervening in the movement, he rewrote the theme as “Quoniam“. When he adopted the introductory chorus as the Kyrie of the G minor Mass BWV 235, more time pressure may have played a role; despite minor alterations, it is hard to forget the original imprint of the words in both fugue themes, the “beating” behind “Christe eleison”, the “rock” fixed on the tritone in the final syllable in the second “Kyrie eleison“.
Grosso modo, the outline of the cantatas of that period resembles those of Bach’s cousin Johann Ludwig, 18 of which he included in the performances due every Sunday. Here, in addition to the incomprehensible workload, the prospect of the St. Matthew Passion due the next Good Friday (1727) may also have played a role. How well one can imagine that this also applies to Bach’s experiences in the cantata BWV 102 with the interweaving of theological and dramaturgical aspects, including the changes of position of the music!
This text has been translated with DeepL (www.deepl.com).