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Apparently, this time of year is a season in which apocalyptic themes take hold. With this year’s solar eclipse, our minds are focused on these themes as well, and Bach gives us music by which to meditate on the upheavals that shake our universe and cause us to turn our eyes heavenward.
Today’s cantata, BWV 46, “Schauet doch und sehet, ob irgendein Schmerz sei,” (Behold and see, if there be any sorrow), like all those J.S. Bach wrote for the tenth Sunday after Trinity, responds to the Gospel text from Luke 19 about the impending destruction of Jerusalem:
As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.” (Luke 19:41-44)
Craig Smith talks about one of the most striking movements in this work, the bass aria that describes the coming storm of judgment.
The stunning, stormy bass aria with trumpet and strings is one of the most dramatic things in all of Bach. Trumpet fanfares vie and play in canon with the bass voice and the repeated notes of the strings. The igniting of the lightning of vengeance is palpable in the roaring of the orchestral texture. The cracks of lightning can be heard in the precipitous stops and starts in the rhythmic continuity.
The storm you have deserved comes on you from afar,
and now its flash bursts upon you
and it must be unendurable for you
since the overflowing heap of your sins
kindles lightning in revenge
and brings about your downfall