I’ve been listening to Rusbam’s Naxos recording of BWV 767, which is a set of 8 variations on the tune of a hymn by Martin Luther called O Gott, du frommer Gott. I love the performance.
The poem has 8 verses which are a sequence of requests to God to provide: health; action-orientation and dutifulness; good communication skills; courage; peace and friends and no ill-gotten gains; a happy old age; a good death; transformation after physical resurrection.
Obviously I found it irresistible to try to associate each variation to each verse in the poem. And that proved to be a very enlightening thing to do in the case of Rusbam’s Naxos performance, especially in the second half of the piece.
In my opinion, Rusbam’s performance in Vars 6-8 is the most wonderful representation in music of the meaning of the final three verses of the poem: endurance in old age, the challenge of death and the transformative effects of God’s voice
If in this world I have to
live my life longer,
through many a bitter step
press on to old age,
then give me patience. From sin
and shame protect me,
so that I may bear
with honour my grey hair.
At my end let me
depart relying on Christ's death,
take my soul to you
to your joys in heaven,
bestow a little space on my body,
a grave by my parents,
so that it may have peace
by their side.
On that day
when you will awaken the dead,
then stretch out your hand
to my grave,
let me hear your voice,
and awaken my body
and lead it beautiful and transformed
to the multitude of your chosen people!
I listened to a few others of course – Leonhardt and Foccroulle. I really enjoyed them all – especially the intimate recording by Foccroulle. But it was when I heard the way Rubsam plays the 6th variation that I really sat up and listened.