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I’m deeply thrilled about our choice of worship music today. We present three movements from, perhaps, J.S. Bach’s greatest cantata: BWV 21, “Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis” (My heart was deeply troubled).
Craig Smith describes this magnificent work and gives its background:
Several years into his tenure as music director to the court of Weimar, Johann Sebastian Bach was instructed to write one cantata a month for the chapel services. Near the beginning of this series Bach wrote what was to be his largest sacred Cantata, “Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis,” BWV 21. Not only was this work written to go with the readings for the third Sunday after Trinity, but it served as a farewell to the gravely ill Prince Johann Ernst of Sachsen-Weimar. The young prince, who had been one of Bach’s favorite and most talented pupils, was on his way to a spa in Swabia where he later died. Bach uses the main tune from a movement of Vivaldi’s D Minor Concerto, Opus 3 #11, as the theme for the opening chorus. The concerto had been a favorite of the prince and with its moving text describing a grave illness, the whole movement should be seen as an homage to the young prince.
The work itself covers many different styles. The second and last choruses probably date from very early in Bach’s career. The opening and the great chorale prelude “Sei nun wieder zufrieden,” were written in 1714. Many of the movements were extensively revised for Bach’s first Leipzig Cantata cycle in 1723. Certainly the work has a refinement and finish to it unknown in his early Weimar years.
I have chosen three pieces from this long, complex, two-part cantata that I think fit well together and provide a message that moves from the troubled soul to transcendent praise. May it move us all this Lord’s Day!
First, the final chorus from part one, which takes its text from Psalm 42, urging the troubled soul to wait upon God:
Why do you trouble yourself, my soul,
and are so restless in me?
Wait for God; for I will yet thank Him,
since He is the help of my countenance and my God.
Second, a sprightly tenor aria in which the believer encourages his soul to rejoice in the God who has come to him in Jesus “with heavenly delight.”
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Rejoice, soul, rejoice, heart,
fade now, troubles, disappear, pains!
Change, weeping, into pure wine,
my aching now becomes a celebration for me!
Burning and flaming is the purest candle
of love and of comfort in my soul and breast,
since Jesus comforts me with heavenly delight.
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Finally, an awe-inspiring chorale that lifts us into the heavenly realms of “praise and honor and glory and power.”
The Lamb, that was slain,
is worthy to receive power, and riches,
and wisdom and strength,
and honor and glory and praise.
Praise and honor
and glory and power
be to our God for ever and ever.
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Photo by Paul Gorbould at Flickr. Creative Commons License