Those who seek him will praise the Lord!
Let your heart live forever!
- Psalm 22:26 (NKJV)
The anonymous text of Cantata 75 develops several themes from the Gospel for Trinity 1, the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (St. Luke 16:19–31), with chorale stanzas by Samuel Rodigast concluding Part 1 and Part 2. As you survey the text below, be sure to keep the governing parable in the Gospel lesson in mind. “The Early Music Show” on BBC 3 Radio, for instance, interprets the royal music (think of coronation music) in the opening movement as Bach—who often signed even his secular compositions “Glory to God alone”—self-heralding his arrival in Leipzig. A glance at the Gospel Lesson, however, easily solves the apparent riddle. The royal music in the orchestra depicts the rich man in Luke 15, “clothed in purple and fine linen” (v. 19). This is juxtaposed against the plaintive cry of the choir from Psalm 22 that the “poor [in this life] shall eat and be satisfied” with the fatness of God’s house. Movements 2–6 continue the theological and musical progression of this Great Reversal, that is, God casting down the mighty and lifting up the lowly. The chorale (Movement 7) is especially striking. Stephen Crist writes:
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The vocal parts of the chorale [Movements 7 & 14] that concludes both halves of the cantata are similar to a normal four-part harmonization. What is novel, though, is the brief, catchy ritornello heard at the beginning and end, and between phrases. Played by the oboe, strings, and continuo no fewer than seven times (all but once in the same key!), it gives the setting an unmistakably joyous quality. – Oxford Composers Companion: J. S. Bach, p. 139
0:07 - Choir: The poor shall eat and be satisfied
The poor shall eat and be satisfied;
Those who seek him shall praise the Lord!
Let your heart live forever! Psalm 22:26 (NKJV)
4:16 - Bass Recitative: Of what use is majesty’s purple robe?
Of what use is majesty’s purple robe since it passes away?
Of what use is vast accumulation, for everything that we see
must pass away?
Of what use are the fancies of an idle mind
for our bodies themselves will expire?
Oh, how quickly it does occur that riches,
lusts and pomp send our spirits to hell!
5:17 - Tenor Aria: My Jesus shall be my all
My Jesus shall be my all!
His purple [robe] is His costly blood,
he himself my most precious possession,
and the burning ember of his Spirit’s love
my sweetest wine of joy.
9:58 - Tenor Recitative: God overthrows and raises up
God overthrows and raises up
in time and eternity.
Whoever seeks heaven here on earth
will there be cursed.
Who, however, resists hell
will there be gladdened.
10:36 - Soprano Aira: I accept my affliction with joy
I accept my affliction with joy.
Whoever can patiently endure
the misery of Lazarus
will be received by the angels.
15:32 - Soprano Recitative: Meanwhile God imparts a good conscience
Meanwhile God imparts a good conscience
whereby a Christian can
enjoy modest possessions with great pleasure.
Yes, though he be led
through long adversity toward death,
it is still well done at the last.
16:13 - Chorale: What God ordains is always good
What God ordains is always good: His will is just and holy.
As He directs my life for me, I follow meek and lowly.
My God indeed / In ev’ry need / Knows well how He will shield me;
To Him, then, I will yield me. – LSB 760.1 (public domain)
20:12 - Alto Recitative: Only one thing afflicts the Christian soul
Only one thing afflicts the Christian soul:
when it considers its spiritual poverty.
It believes of course in God’s godliness
which makes all things new;
yet it lacks strength to the spiritual life
to make the spiritual life produce growth and fruit.
20:58 - Alto Aria: Jesus makes me spiritually rich
Jesus makes me spiritually rich.
If I can receive his Spirit
I will require nothing more;
for thereby my life grows.
Jesus makes me spiritually rich.
23:11 - Bass Recitative: Whoever abides in Jesus
Whoever abides in Jesus,
that he might faithfully practice God’s love,
has, when the temporal has passed away,
found himself and God.
23:41 - Bass Aria: My heart believes
My heart believes and loves.
For Jesus’ sweet flames,
from which mine spring,
consume me altogether,
for He devotes himself to me.
27:26 - Tenor Recitative: O poverty, which no wealth can fill
O poverty, which no wealth can fill!
When the entire world
withdraws from the heart
and Jesus alone therein reigns,
thus a Christian is led to God.
Grant, God, that we do not squander this!
28:03 Chorale: What God ordains is always good
What God ordains is always good: This truth remains unshaken.
Though sorrow, need, or death be mine, I shall not be forsaken.
I fear no harm, for with His arm, He shall embrace and shield me;
So to my God I yield me. – LSB 760.6 (public domain)
On the Monday or Tuesday after Trinity 1 (there is a discrepancy in the primary source material), Bach was formally introduced at the St. Thomas School by the chairman of the school board. On this occasion Bach was admonished “to discharge the duties of his office, show the authorities his respect and willingness, cultivate good relations and friendship with his colleagues, conscientiously instruct the youth in the fear of God and other useful studies, and thus keep the School in good repute” (Christoph Wolff, Johann Sebastian Bach: The Learned Musician, p. 245).
To say that Bach fulfilled his charge in Leipzig is an understatement. Over the next twenty-seven years, Bach produced a few hundred cantatas, a handful of passions and oratorios, numerous organ works, and much, much more. Somehow it seems fitting (albeit coincidental) that his first Leipzig cantata dealt with God’s promise from Psalm 22 that the poor shall eat and be satisfied. On that same Sunday, the following words were heard in the Introit: “I will sing unto the Lord for He hath dealt bountifully with me.” Taken together, these two texts preach the good news that those who are poor in spirit are given to sing of Christ. In and through the sacred music of J. S. Bach, the faithful continue to sing the gospel and to be satisfied with the word of Jesus’ cross and resurrection, to the greater glory of God.
Christoph Wolff, Johann Sebastian Bach: The Learned Musician (Norton, 2000), pp. 243–245.