This has been one of my favorite Bach pieces since I discovered it in my late teens, an aria about death and total trust in God.
This might be funeral music, but of a kind that fills the heart and soul with incredible serenity and comfort. It is anything but sad.
You don’t have to be religious to feel the unmistakable power of the message: Bach truly is the fifth Evangelist, and he speaks to us with more fervor and directness that any preacher I’ve ever heard.
Here is the translation of the text:
The soul rests in Jesus’ hands
When earth covers this body.
Ah, call me soon, you death-knell,
I am unafraid of death,
Because my Jesus will awaken me again.
Yes, this is a very dark text which seems hardly fit to lift our spirits.
However, listen to the music.
The constant repeated notes from the recorders sound like a clock ticking inexorably. Admire how the vocal line develops with interval drops that keep augmenting (fourth, fifth, sixth, etc.), expressing progressive abandon and confidence. A long note on the word ruht (rests) paints literally the stillness of rest. Note how the pizzicato strings come in at the death-knell moment, mimicking funeral bells. And of course, there is this unbelievable oboe line, like the meandering of the soul searching for eternal light – broken only once at a stunning moment when everything is suspended, like standing on the edge of a cliff.
Johann Sebastian Bach
Aria Die Seele ruht in Jesu Hände from cantata Herr Jesu Christ, wahr' Mensch und Gott, BWV 127