Johann Sebastian Bach is arguably the finest composer of the Baroque era. Bach's greatest accomplishment in vocal music are his more than 200 liturgical cantatas and his four settings of the Passion of Christ. As part of his responsibilities as kapellmeister, or leader of church music, at the various Lutheran churches where he worked, Bach was responsible for rehearsing the choir, providing music for all the services as well as composing a new cantata practically every week.
Lutheranism is an offshoot of Catholicism founded by Martin Luther in 1511. Its main distinction from Catholicism is its belief in "justification by faith", the idea that an individual's faith alone is necessary for salvation, not priestly intercession or the sacraments of the Roman Catholic church. A major innovation in this new church was the concept of congregational singing. (Congregational singing in the current Catholic litrugy dates only as far back a the Second Vatican Council of the 1960s.) For music, Luther used chorales, strophic hymns set to simple melodies that reflect, paraphrase or explain scripture. Many of these hymns were originaly popular tunes or fragments of Catholic chant, others were composed by Luther himself; the same melody could have several texts associated with it. In the Lutheran tradition chorales were treated in one of three ways, either they were harmonized (for instance Bach's harmonization of the chorale melody Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin "With peace and joy I depart") or set as part of polyphonic compositions, either for organ (for instance Bach's Chorale Prelude based on the same Chorale tune, Mit Fried und Freud) or larger ensemble. The same chorale tune is sung by the alto in section 3b of the cantata. While the chorales formed the core of the musical experience of a Lutheran service, there were also larger-scale musical works. The cantata was this larger-scale work, a particularly Lutheran genre of music that functioned as a poetic elaboration or compact summary of the subject of the Sunday Sermon; indeed the cantata was usually heard after the Gospel reading and before the homily. Their text was a pastiche of Biblical quotations, chorale verses and free poetry. Generally, cantatas are in multiple sections and intersperse movements for choir with movements for soloists. They are sometimes unified by a particular chorale melody.
Things to Note
Cantata 106 is an example of a through-composed cantata and is believed to have been written on the death of one of the young J.S. Bach's uncles in 1707. Bach's early cantatas have been characterised as mystical owing to their dense rhetoric and symbolism as well as their trenchant Biblical interpretation.
Bach was a devout Lutheran and, as the notations in the margins of his Bible indicate, spent a good deal of time studing the Bible. This scholarship is particularly pronouced in his cantatas. For instance in this work, Bach uses different musical styles to illustrate the difference between the "Old Law" - the Old Testament - which says that man must die and the "New Law" - the New Testament - which says that he who dies will have a eternal life.
From a musical standpoint try to be aware of the way Bach uses chorale melodies throughout and the ways in which each section has a distinct musical profile.
Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit. In ihm leben, weben und sind wir, solange er will. In ihm sterben wir zur rechten Zeit, wenn er will.
2b. Arioso Tenor
Ach, Herr, lehre uns bedenken, dass wir sterben müssen, auf dass wir klug werden.
2c. Arie Bass
Bestelle dein Haus; denn du wirst sterben und nicht lebendig bleiben!
2d. Chor und Arioso Soprano
Es ist der alte Bund: Mensch, du musst sterben!
Ja, komm, Herr Jesu!
( Revelations 22:20)
(Instrumental Chorale (not sung, text implied):
Ich hab mein Sach' Gott heimgestellt
Er mach's mit mir wie's ihm gefallt
Soll ich all hier noch länger lebn
Nicht wider strebn
Seim Willn tu ich mich ganz ergebn.)
3a. Arie Alto
In deine Hände befehl ich meinen Geist; du hast mich erlöset, Herr, du getreuer Gott.
3b. Arioso und Choral Bass, Alto
Heute wirst du mit mir im Paradies sein.
Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin In Gottes Willen, Getrost ist mir mein Herz und Sinn, Sanft und stille. Wie Gott mir verheissen hat: Der Tod ist mein Schlaf worden.
("Mit Fried und Freud," verse 1)
Glorie, Lob, Ehr und Herrlichkeit
Sei dir, Gott Vater und Sohn bereit',
Dem Heilgen Geist mit Namen!
Die göttlich KraftMach uns sieghaft
Durch Jesum Christum, Amen.
("In dich hab ich gehoffet, Herr," verse 7)
God's time is the best of all times. In Him we live, move and are, as long as He wills. In Him we die at the appointed time, when He wills.
2b. Arioso Tenor
Ah, Lord, teach us to consider that we must die, so that we might become wise.
2c. Aria Bass
Put your house in order; for you will die and not remain alive!
2d. Chorus and Arioso Soprano
It is the ancient law: human, you must die!
Yes, come, Lord Jesus!
(Instrumental Chorale (Not sung, text is implied)
I have brought my affairs home to God,
He does with me as it pleases Him,
if I should live yet longer here,
I shall not struggle against it;
rather I do His will with total devotion).
3a. Aria Alto
Into Your hands I commit my spirit, You have redeemed me, Lord, faithful God.
3b. Arioso and Chorale Bass, Alto
Today you will be with Me in Paradise.
With peace and joy I depart in God's will, My heart and mind are comforted, calm, and quiet. As God had promised me: death has become my sleep.
Glory, praise, honor, and majesty
be prepared for You, God the Father and the Son,
for the Holy Spirit by name!
The divine power
makes us victorious
through Jesus Christ, Amen.