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Bach’s cantatas are grouped according to their libretti and fall into the following categories:

  1. Wholly biblical texts
  2. A single hymn stanza
  3. Original material and hymn stanzas
  4. Original material, plus biblical or apocryphal quotations
  5. Complete and unaltered hymns without extraneous material
  6. Complete (or almost complete) hymns, original or paraphrased, with additions
  7. Complete (or almost complete) hymns, with some verses paraphrased and, in some cases, with additions

Cantata 48 falls into the fourth category, using an original text with additions. The librettist is anonymous. It follows a typical format, alternating movements for choir and orchestra with recitatives and arias. The recitatives provide examples of the two common forms, recitativo accompagnato, (no. 2) in which strings provide a continuous bed of sound as support for the voice, and recitativo secco, in which single chords from the continuo (organ or harpsichord and cello) provide the accompaniment (later notes will show how these are used).

In this instance, there are seven movements, which consist of

  1. Coro – Choir and orchestra
  2. Recitativo – Alto solo with strings
  3. Choral – Choir and orchestra
  4. Aria – Solo oboe, alto solo and continuo
  5. Recitativo – Tenor and continuo
  6. Aria – Tenor, strings and continuo
  7. Choral – Choir and orchestra

Movement 1 – Coro
At first glance, the textural quotation (Romans vii/24) is so short that it might seem inadequate for a lengthy chorus. Bach’s scheme, however, conceals this brevity. The opening ritornello is for strings and continuo with the first violin providing an anguished melodic line. Ever present is the chord of the diminished seventh: at first it is restricted to the continuo alone, but, by bar 5, has crept into the violin line. The introduction comes to a pitch peak in bar 7 (its mid-point), with a diminished chord of C-sharp, before the whole top line curves down, returning the music to a full close in g minor before the entry of the vocal parts. Note how the accompanying strings and continuo change during these 12 bars – for the first 8 we have a predominantly upbeat figure which is dispensed with for the second half, the strings moving in regular crotchets whilst the first violin part twists its way down. Throughout this section the first violin confines itself wholly to the theme, which never occurs elsewhere, although the lower strings do sometimes depart from their time pattern to double the voices (e.g. bar 41.3-44.1). Except where the descending violin passage is heard in the one 8-bar passage, the bass incessantly keeps up its upbeat time rhythmic pattern.

Interludes divide the remainder of the movement into four sections:

1. 15 bars – BTSA
2. 10 bars – TB
3. 24 bars – ASTB, then SATB followed by two ornamental versions of the opening bars, SA then TB
4. 26 bars – S with A in counterpoint, TB one bar after instead of two, TBSA (note that the order of entries is never the same) followed by a free portion, mostly in long notes.

The lament of the chorus is also accompanied by a canon at a fourth, played on the trumpet and two unison oboes, based on the chorale Herr Jesu Christ, ich schrei zu dir. Where the librettist has only asked an anguished question, Bach seems to be telling the listeners where to look. The canon of the final line, at a bar’s distance, coincides with the alto entry to form a most effective and fitting climax.

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