Cantata BWV 54
2010, September 8
JS Bach Cantata BWV 54: Widerstehe doch der Sünde
(Hold thou firm against all evil)
Third Sunday in Lent March 24 1715
Scoring: Violin I,II, viola I,II, Continuo
Alto or countertenor
Bärenreiter vol 7; p 161
Reading: Epistle Ephesians 5:1-9
Reading: Gospel Luke 11:14-28
Words: Georg Christian Lehms
Sacred Cantatas for Alto
Conductor: Helmut Müller-Brühl
Alto: Marianne Beate Kielland
Orchestra/Ensemble: Cologne Chamber Orchestra, Cologne Chamber Choir
Review and sound samples here
Don Satz' review here
Dürr p 253-55
Whittaker vol 1 p 367
Simon Heighes in Boyd's Oxford Companion p 524
Green p 137
This is one of only twelve solo cantatas that has survived, and only one of nine without an SATB ensemble. Green says the cantata would work well with solo strings. S. Heighes states: The first aria...has long been admired for its harmonic richness, particularly the startling unprepared dissonances of the opening bars (dominant 7th chords reiterated over a tonic pedal) and the arresting deceptive cadences at bars 45 and 51. Dürr describes these deceptive cadences as "harmonic audacities."
All sources agree that this cantata has a very low reach for the alto voice, probably the lowest of all the cantatas, and thus works well with a countertenor.
1 Widerstehe doch der Sünde: Alto aria
The opening chord in "Bach's harmonic arsenal":
Play chord sound file
1: E flat tonic pedal
5: B flat (only in the figured bass, not in the upper instruments)
4: A flat
Footnote from wiki article: J.S. Bach, for example, was particularly fond of the sound produced by the dominant seventh harmony played over, i.e., suspended against, the tonic pedal tone.[For example, near the beginning of the Toccata of BWV 565. Bach's Cantata BWV 54 also uses this suspension as the opening chord in E-flat Major.]
Dürr, p 255, states that this chord is also used at the beginning of BWV 61.4, the bass recitative, and here again it represents an awakening out of security and indifference.
Herreweghe brings out the sound of the deceptive cadences in the instruments, but I really admire Russell Oberlin's more dramatic reading, especially at the change of character of the aria in measure 42 at the beginning of the middle section between the da capo repeats. The perfect recording would require time travel, Russell Oberlin with Philippe Herreweghe.
2 Die Art verruchter Sünden: Alto recitative
3 Wer Sünde tut, der ist vom Teufel: Alto aria
The second aria and last piece, with elements of fugue, is a quartet structure for violins, violas, singer and continuo.
bass viol (2), cello (4), piano
violin I (6), violin II (4), viola I (2), viola II (2)
Russell Oberlin interview segment 1
Russell Oberlin interview segment 2
Russell Oberlin interview segment 3
Russell Oberlin interview segment 4
Another interview on YouTube from the past
Interview on Soundcheck WNYC
Russell Oberlin sings Handel arias at Presto
Instruments and voices for each part
|1||Alto aria, violin I,II, viola I,II, violoncello or bassoon and continuo|
|2||Alto recitative, continuo|
|3||Alto aria, violin I,II, viola I,II, and continuo|
Biblical references for each part
References for the text: Luther's German Bible and King James Bible
|2||Matthew 23:27||Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness.|
|2||Matthew 23:27||Wehe euch, Schriftgelehrte und Pharisäer, ihr Heuchler, die ihr gleich seid wie die übertünchten Gräber, welche auswendig hübsch scheinen, aber inwendig sind sie voller Totenbeine und alles Unflats.|
|3||I John 3:8||He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.|
|3||I John 3:8||Wer Sünde tut, der ist vom Teufel; denn der Teufel sündiget von Anfang. Dazu ist erschienen der Sohn Gottes, daß er die Werke des Teufels zerstöre.|
Emmanuel Notes BWV 54.
Emmanuel Translation BWV 150.
Discussion from Bach Cantatas Website.
Recordingsfrom Bach Cantatas Website.
John Eliot Gardiner Cantatas, PDF index.
John Eliot Gardiner Cantatas Recording.
Classical.net discussion, Simon Crouch.
London Bach Society Database entry BWV 54