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BWV 45 ‘Es ist dir gesagt, Mensch, was gut ist’

Sun 2 Aug, 10.00am

J.S. Bach - BWV 45, Full cantata stream, Online

For this edition of ‘Cantata of the Week’ we are streaming BWV 45 ‘Es ist dir gesagt, Mensch, was gut ist’ (‘He hath showed thee, O man, what is good’) composed by Bach in 1726 for the eighth Sunday after Trinity. This is introduced by Jane Rogers, who was principal viola of the English Baroque Soloists for many concerts across our Bach Cantata Pilgrimage in 2000.

Click here to download the vocal score of the cantata.

Monteverdi Choir
English Baroque Soloists
John Eliot Gardiner - conductor

Robin Tyson alto
Christoph Genz tenor
Brindley Sherratt bass

This live recording is from the MCO’s Bach Cantata Pilgrimage, recorded at the Christkirche, Rendsburg in August 2000. It features on Vol. 5 of our Complete Bach Cantata series, which is available to purchase from the MCO shop by clicking here.

English translation by Richard Stokes from ‘J. S. Bach: The Complete Cantatas’ (1999, Scarecrow Press)

Commentary on BWV 45 by John Eliot Gardiner

BWV 45 ‘Es ist dir gesagt, Mensch, was gut ist’ opens with an elaborate choral movement in E major with strings, two flutes and two oboes (here again, despite the rubric, one needs to be a d’amore and one a normal oboe, even though it, too, goes outside and above its range.) The true path of life for the Christian is clear, we are told in the most direct fashion: God has shown us ‘what is good’. What strikes me here, as on other occasions, is Bach’s happy fusion of fugal technique and a madrigalian approach to word setting. After pairing his voices and even instruments and thereby determining to some extent the dynamics (none is specified), especially in the initial ‘Es ist dir gesagt’ phrases, he reserves the full tutti for the weighty injunction ‘to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God’. The torment and scorn threatening transgressors is spelled out in the first tenor aria in C sharp minor (No.3), with a telling phrase for the sharp reckoning (‘scharfe Rechnung’) and at the mention of ‘Qual und Hohn’ a screwing up of the tension in successive phrases that rise by an augmented second against an otherwise placid backcloth – cue for a forest of sharp accidentals, including E sharp and F double sharp.

The second part of the cantata opens with a movement for bass and strings marked arioso – deceptively so (it is Bach’s way of flagging up utterances by Christ in person as distinct from passages of indirect speech), as in truth this is a full blown, highly virtuosic aria, half Vivaldian concerto, half operatic scena. We are back where we started, with the false prophets. Bach conveys with perfect clarity what lies in wait for these lip-servants and contrasts it, in ensuing aria for alto with flute obbligato, with the destiny of those who acknowledge God from the depths of their hearts. Here the concluding chorale, ‘Gib, dass ich tu mit Fleiß’, a setting of Johann Heermann, is perfectly apt and conclusive: God accomplishes His work through me, therefore ‘Thy will be done’, at the appropriate time and ‘according to my station’ – neat and clear.