10 July 2019

Finished up Christoph Wolff’s J. S. Bach Today

And a fascinating listen it truly was. I was particularly intrigued by what the Master was meditating on there at the end. The hymn Vor Gottes Thron Tret Ich was not one I had been familiar with (though, of course, the tune employed, Wenn in Höchsten Not is well known). I tried to render the sense of the stanzas literally, and this is what I came up with:

Before your throne I come, O God
and humbly ask of you not to turn away 
your gracious face from me, the poor sinner. 

You have made me in your own image, God the Father,  
woven and hovering and living in you, 
and without you I must surely cease to be.

God the Son, through your blood,  
you have freed me from hell's fire, 
and fulfilled the hard law, by which the Father's wrath is stilled.

God the Holy Spirit, you are the highest strength.
Grace is the cause of anything good in my life 
and so the good is really your work.  

And so I thank you with heart and mouth, O God, 
in this morning hour, for all the good, faithfulness and grace 
which my soul has ever received. 

And I ask that your gracious hand may remain 
spread over me this day. 
I commend to your protection my office, goods, honor, friends, body and soul. 

Grant me to be genuinely pious in heart with your entire Christendom, 
to be sincere and honest and not just 
in mere appearance and hypocrisy,

So that I stand fast in troubles 
and not sink in tribulation, 
that I may find comfort in my heart and at last overcome with joy.

Remit to me the guilt of my sin 
and have patience with your servant. 
Kindle in me faith and love and give me the hope of life.

Grant to me a blessed end 
and at the Last Day awaken me, Lord, 
that I may gaze upon you forever. Amen, amen. Hear me.

What a beautiful text to be praying as death approaches. Apparently as he was meditating on this text his still nimble mind in his rapidly failing body thought of how to express the musical theme one more time. This was dictated by the dying man to his son-in-law, and apparently represents the very last musical notes from his heart, if not his hand. It is Bach’s musical final prayer. You can hear the entire fugue right here:  

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