After the extraordinary concentration and consistency of effort in Bach’s first two years in Leipzig, his output becomes spottier. There are, after the first two years in Leipzig, no more complete yearly cycles. The pieces that are from the third and fourth years, however, are in no way inferior to the dazzling works from the first years. Our cantata is from the fourth year of Bach’s Leipzig tenure. It is in some ways quite experimental. Stylistically the chorus is a curious combination of Bach’s first tentative forays into the gallant style. At the same time, for all of the sighing grid of the strings and the ornamental, very detailed oboe parts, the affect is similar to the most serious of the earlier pieces. The chorale tune is sung block style by the chorus with trope commentaries by the various soloists. While this technique will be familiar to cantata listeners from interior movements in earlier cantatas, this method first appears here in an opening chorus.
After a tenor recitative, the alto sings a compelling aria with accompaniment of English horn and organ. By this time in Bach’s Leipzig tenure, the composer had become discouraged with the level of instrumental playing available to him. More and more he writes obbligati and prominent parts for organ, the instrument that he was most confident would be well played because his son Carl Philip Emmanuel was by this time old enough to participate in the cantatas. The sparkling organ texture surrounding the melancholy English horn and the expressive alto voice makes for a marvelous and unique texture. The soprano recitative that follows is operatic in character with the strings illustrating the birds’ wings. The bass aria with strings is very much in the mode of the most serious arias of the contemporaneous St. Matthew Passion. Two characters, a lyrical sighing line tinged with regret, and an agitated militaristic string figure, illustrate the conflict between heaven and the tumultuous world. The chorale, a five-voice setting, is the only chorale harmonization in all of the cantatas not by Bach. Here he takes over a 1682 harmonization by Johannes Rosenmüller. The slightly archaic harmony and the touching movement to triple meter when talking of Heaven is a perfect close to this really remarkable masterpiece.