It is concentrated and concise, and its effect is visceral and, once heard, hard to forget. Wie bist du denn is a more wide-ranging piece in many ways. For all its free-ranging invention in the detail there is an impressive structure to the work: fourteen rhyming couplets are to be set and the first seven are all allotted more or less eight bars of music each, mostly with clear changes of texture and motifs. Motets were often written for and sung at burial services and Der Gerechte sets words which offer mourners, in the case of an untimely death, both consolation and the bracing reassurance that the deceased cannot now be misled or troubled by the falseness and wickedness of life.
But as the cadence in the home key is reached something quite breathtaking happens.
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There is a fifth soprano voice in waiting and somebody Bach himself? Bach partly deconstructs the chorale tune and its words, lending them a heart-stoppingly halting and uncertain character. Both are scored for a full string band as well as SATB soloists, with virtuoso writing for two violins in the former and for one in the latter. In church dialogues it was understood this not being theatre that a single character, whether a person or an allegorical figure, could be represented either by a solo voice or by a group of voices shades here of the origins of Greek tragic drama.
In Herr, wende dich the three higher voices are assigned the everyman role of the penitent, their words accompanied only by the organ continuo taken from passages in the Psalms and the Book of Job. The bass soloist answers them with words of comfort and is accompanied by the string band. He does not speak the scriptural words of Christ himself, but he is clearly some kind of vox Dei. Bring them down to Kishon's brook, and there let them be slain. The People Take all the prophets of Baal and let not one of them escape us: bring all and slay them!
Es ist genug! Formal structures? The tune is presented first in the soprano of choir 1 in duet with the soprano of choir 2, accompanied by the lower voices of both choirs. Es wird lebendig! I guess this demonstrates the dangers of relying on memory for quotations.
Elijah Is not His word like a fire, and like a hammer that breaketh the rock into pieces! For God is angry with the wicked every day. And if the wicked turn not, the Lord will whet His sword; and He hath bent His bow, and made it ready. Alto Woe unto them that forsake Him!
Destruction shall fall upon them, for they have transgressed against Him. Though they are by Him redeemed, yet they have spoken falsely against Him. Obadjah Hilf deinem Volk, du Mann Gottes! Elias Oh Herr, du hast nun Feinde verworfen und zerschlagen! So schaue nun vom Himmel herab, und wende die Not deines Volkes.
Hilf deinem Knecht, o du, mein Gott!
Elias Rauscht es nicht, als wollte es regnen! Siehest du noch nichts vom Meere her?
Herr, du mein Gott! Wenn ich rufe zu dir, Herr mein Hort, so schweige nicht! Gedenke Herr an deine Barmherzigkeit!
Obadiah O man of God, help thy people! Among the idols of the Gentiles, are there any that can command the rain, or cause the heavens to give their showers! The Lord our God alone can do these things. Elijah O Lord, Thou hast overthrown Thine enemies and destroyed them. Look down on us from heaven, o Lord; regard the distress of Thy people. Open the heavens and send us relief. Help, help Thy servant now, o God! The People Open the heavens and send us relief.
Elijah Go up now, child, and look toward the sea. Hath my prayer been heard by the Lord! The Child There is nothing. The heavens are as brass, they are as brass above me. Elijah When the heavens are closed up because they have sinned against Thee: yet if they pray and confess Thy name, and turn away from their sins when Thou dost afflict them: then hear from heaven, and forgive the sin. Help, send Thy servant help, o God!
The People Then hear from heaven, and forgive the sin. Elijah Hearest thou no sound of rain! Seest thou nothing arise from the deep! Elijah Have respect to the prayer of Thy servant, o Lord, my God! Unto Thee will I cry, Lord, my rock, be not silent to me!
And Thy great mercies remember, Lord. The Child Behold, a little cloud ariseth now from the waters; it is like a man's hand! The heavens are black with cloud and with wind; the storm rusheth louder and louder! Elijah Thanks be to God! For He is gracious; and His mercy endureth for evermore! The People Thanks be to God! He quencheth the thirsty land.
The waters gather, they rush along, they are lifting their voices. The stormy billows are high, their fury is mighty. But the Lord is above them and almighty. Aber wer glaubt unsrer Predigt, und wem wird der Arm des Herrn geoffenbart? Ob tausend fallen zu deiner Seite und zehentausend zu deiner Rechten, so wird es doch dich nicht treffen.
Soprano Hear ye, Israel, hear what the Lord speaketh:'Oh, hadst thou heeded my commandments'Who hath believed our report! To whom is the arm of the Lord revealed! Aria I am He that comforteth. Be not afraid, for I am thy God! I will strengthen thee! Say, who art thou, that thou art afraid of a man that shall die; and forgettest the Lord thy Maker, who hath stretched forth the heavens, and laid the earth's foundations? Say, who art thou!
Chorus Be not afraid,' saith God the Lord,'be not afraid, thy help is near! Warum darf er weissagen im Namen des Herrn? Dieser ist des Todes schuldig! Der Herr, dein Gott wird selber mit dir wandeln, er wird die Hand nicht abtun, noch dich verlasen. Ziehe hin und segne uns auch!
Elias Sie wollen sich nicht bekehren! Bleibe hier, du Knabe, der Herr sei mit euch! Elias Es ist genug! So nimm nun, Herr, meine Seele! Ich begehre nicht mehr zu leben, denn meine Tage sind vergeblich gewesen. Es ist genug! Deine Hilfe kommt vom Herrn, der Himmel und Erde gemacht hat. Wenn du mitten in Angst wandelst, so erquickt er dich. Befiel ihm deine Wege und hoffe auf ihn.
Elijah The Lord hath exalted thee from among the people: and over his people Israel hath made thee king.