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

J.S. Bach-Stiftung Kantate BWV 102

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Workshop
Reflective lecture

«Lutzogram» for the introductory workshop

Rudolf Lutz’s manuscript for the workshop
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Audio

The sound recording of this work is available on several streaming and download platforms.

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Performers

Soloists

Soprano
Ulrike Hofbauer

Alto
Margot Oitzinger

Tenor
Raphael Höhn

Bass
Matthias Helm

Orchestra

Conductor & Harpsichord
Rudolf Lutz

Violin
Renate Steinmann, Monika Baer

Viola
Susanna Hefti

Violoncello
Martin Zeller

Violone
Markus Bernhard

Transverse flute
Tomoko Mukoyama

Oboe
Andreas Helm, Ingo Müller

Bassoon
Susann Landert

Organ
Nicola Cumer

Musical director & conductor

Rudolf Lutz

Workshop

Participants
Rudolf Lutz, Pfr. Niklaus Peter

Reflective lecture

Speaker
Peter Gülke

Recording & editing

Recording date
23/08/2019

Recording location
St. Gallen // Kirche St. Mangen

Sound engineer
Stefan Ritzenthaler, Nikolaus Matthes

Director
Meinrad Keel

Production manager
Johannes Widmer

Production
GALLUS MEDIA AG, Switzerland

Producer
J.S. Bach Foundation of St. Gallen, Switzerland

About the work

Librettist

First performance
25 August 1726, Leipzig

Text
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)

In-depth analysis

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.

Libretto

1. Chor

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,
störrig rennt,
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
Gerichts Gottes.

5. Arie — Tenor

Erschrecke doch,
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
schwerer sei.

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!

7. Choral

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.

Bibliographical references

All libretti sourced from Neue Bach-Ausgabe. Johann Sebastian Bach. Neue Ausgabe sämtlicher Werke, published by the Johann-Sebastian-Bach-Institut Göttingen and the Bach-Archiv Leipzig, Series I (Cantatas), vol. 1–41, Kassel and Leipzig, 1954–2000.
All in-depth analyses by Anselm Hartinger (English translations/editing by Alice Noger-Gradon/Mary Carozza) based on the following sources:  Hans-Joachim Schulze, Die Bach-Kantaten. Einführungen zu sämtlichen Kantaten Johann Sebastian Bachs, Leipzig, 2nd edition, 2007; Alfred Dürr, Johann Sebastian Bach. Die Kantaten, Kassel, 9th edition, 2009, and Martin Petzoldt, Bach-Kommentar. Die geistlichen Kantaten, Stuttgart, vol. 1, 2nd edition, 2005 and vol. 2, 1st edition, 2007.

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