Bach Cantata: ‘Dearest Jesus, my desire’ BWV 32

On Sunday 8 October at our 11am service, the Adelaide Cantata Band will be presenting Bach’s cantata ‘Liebster Jesu, mein Verlangen’ (‘Dearest Jesus, my desire’) BWV 32. 

This cantata is one of Bach’s 12 ‘dialogue’ cantatas, and one of seven which represent a dialogue between the soul and Jesus.  

It was composed for the first Sunday after Epiphany, and reflects on the reading in which Jesus as a child becomes lost, and his parents search for him, finding him in the temple (Luke 2). Musicologist Elizabeth Linnartz provides the following precis of the cantata: 

‘In the opening aria, the Soul is seeking for Jesus and cannot find him. Jesus is surprised that the Soul would look for him anywhere besides God’s house. In an aria, Jesus tells the Soul always to look for him in God’s abode. They converse in a dialogue recitative, and the Soul receives comfort, joy and love. They rejoice in a duet over their eternal union. The congregation responds in a chorale as participants in this union.’ 

According to Linnartz the mystical union of the soul with Christ is a common theme in the dialogue cantatas, and even for an orthodox Lutheran like Bach this union was not merely a dispassionate, intellectual state, but had an ecstatic, even sensual aspect (‘Let me taste your sweetness’), reminiscent of the love between bride and groom depicted in the Song of Songs. In describing the longed-for union, the cantata’s final duet ‘All torments, all woe and pain now disappear’ paraphrases Revelation 21: ‘Behold the dwelling of God is with men … he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more’. 

Though written for another Sunday, the cantata aligns with the epistle reading for October 8th, which contains the passage ‘I press on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus’ from Philippians 3. 

The photo depicts the Christ window in St Thomas’ Leipzig, where Bach was cantor for 27 years. 

Source: Elizabeth Linnartz (2004), The soul and Jesus dialogue cantatas of Johann Sebastian Bach, doctoral thesis, University of North Carolina. 

Photo: Andreas Praefcke, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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