Cantata No.170

Johann Sebastian Bach

Cantata No.170

BWV170 • “Vergnügte Ruh', beliebte Seelenlust”

About this work

During his years as Kapellmeister at Cöthen (1717-1722), J.S. Bach was given a respite from the task, central to any Lutheran church musician, of composing sacred cantatas; but when he was appointed Cantor in the city of Leipzig in 1723, he immediately set about composing cantatas at an astonishing rate. The job demanded that he produce a cantata for every Sunday and for each important feast day in the liturgical year. Bach didn't always find time to write completely new cantatas, but still, the ink spent between 1723 and 1729 on cantatas would fill several vats. One of the highlights of the third "cycle" of Leipzig cantatas, which Bach worked on between 1725 and 1727, is the chamber cantata Vergnügte Ruh, beliebte Seelenlust, BWV 170, a setting of texts by G.C. Lehms (a Lutheran poet who was born one year before Bach and died at the age of 33, nine years before Bach wrote BWV 170) scored for just a single contralto soloist and small orchestra.

Vergnügte Ruh, beliebte Seelenlust, which translates as Pleasant Rest, Beloved Soul's Joy and was composed for use on the sixth Sunday after Trinity, is essentially three large arias for contralto, between which are placed two "Rezitativs." The first aria, "Vergnügte Ruh, beliebte Seelenlust," is in da capo form, and tells, by way of rich music that throbs with inner passion (just listen to the string rhythms, which resemble those used at the start of Jean Sibelius' warm Symphony No. 2), that "pleasant rest" can be attained only through union with Heaven.

The second aria, "Wie jammern mich doch die verkehrten Herzen" (How I Lament for Those Whose Hearts Have Gone Wrong), inhabits a world utterly different from that of the first; it is thinly textured and full of pointed, sharp articulations -- and, most importantly, there is no real bass line, this absence indicating, according to some, the lack of a guiding force in the lives of the poor lost souls spoken of in the text.

In "Mir ekelt mehr zu leben" (Life Disgusts Me), the third and final aria (again a da capo aria), the contralto asks to be released from the bonds of life so that she might know everlasting life at "the dwelling-house in which can find peace."