How to grieve without words

Coming up on Sunday Cantata next week: BWV 12, Weinen, klagen, sorgen, zagen.

I have often said—and in this I am far from alone—that no one does joy quite as well as Bach does. When it comes to melancholy, Mozart gives J.S. a run for his money. But then there is music like the opening sinfonia of Weinen, klagen, and the question becomes settled.

A solitary oboe singing a heart-aching lament, accompanied by ‘sighing’ strings. By the time the choir enters with the words of lament—the opening words mean rougly “Weeping, lamentation, worry, apprehension”—the listeners’ hearts have been prepared for them without a word being uttered.

This is a good example of the right use of music as an affective tool  in worship: to give expression to what the words are saying in such a way as to assist the congregation in better assimilating them. All the best hymns do that, and no one did it better than Bach.

Here’s the music, from Vol. 3 of Bach Collegium Japan‘s complete set. Listen to the whole work on Lutheran Radio UK next Sunday.

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