Widerstehe doch der Suende

Widerstehe doch der Sünde

Widerstehe doch der Sünde (Stand steadfast against transgression), BWV 54, is a cantata by Johann Sebastian Bach. The texts are drawn from Georg Christian Lehms' Gottgefälliges Kirchen-Opffer (1711) and concern the importance of avoiding sin.

The cantata was one of Bach's very first, written in Weimar probably in 1714 to be performed on the third Sunday in Lent. It is one of only three by Bach to be written for an alto soloist and no other voices (the others being Geist und Seele wird verwirret, BWV 35 and Vergnügte Ruh, beliebte Seelenlust, BWV 170, both of which also have texts by Lehms). The accompanying orchestra is made up of violins, violas and basso continuo.

With a typical performance lasting around twelve minutes, the cantata is unusually short, and is in just three movements:

  1. "Widerstehe doch der Sünde" ("Stand steadfast against transgression") - a da capo aria in E flat major, easily the longest movement at around seven minutes. Instead of immediately establishing the key by beginning with a simple tonic chord, the music begins with a series of dominant sevenths (see chord) over a bassline of repeated quavers.
  2. "Die Art verruchter Sünden" ("The way of vile transgression") - a recitative accompanied by the continuo, which moves from C minor to A flat major.
  3. "Wer Sünde tut, der ist vom Teufel" ("He who sins is of the devil") - another da capo aria in E flat major. This movement is fugal.

It is not clear who would have sung the alto part in Bach's time, although a countertenor is generally thought to be most likely. In modern performances, a woman sometimes takes the part.

The opening aria of this cantata was reused by Bach as the basis for an aria in his St Mark Passion.

This cantata is notable in being the only Bach cantata recorded under the direction of the famed Canadian pianist, conductor and Bach specialist Glenn Gould (1932-1982), who recorded the piece with countertenor Russell Oberlin in the 1960s. Gould himself played the continuo part on a "harpsipiano", a grand piano modified to sound more like a harpsichord.

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