BWV 213 Laßt uns sorgen, laßt uns wachen

Herkules auf dem Scheidewege (Drama per Musica)

Eleventh Birthday of Friedrich Christian, Prince Elector of

Saxony (5 September 1733).

Christian Friedrich Henrici (Picander), Ernst-Schertzhaffte und Satyrische Gedichte, Teil IV (1737); Facs: Neumann T, p. 353.

5 September 1733, Leipzig; Parody: 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13 → BWV 248IV/1, 248II/10, 248IV/4, 6, 248I/4, 248III/6, 184/6.

BG 34; NBA I/36.

Hercules at the Crossroads(1)

A Drama in Music

Vice (S), Hercules (A), Virtue (T), Mercury (B)

1. Chorus (S, A, T, B) The Decree of the Gods

Let us tend him, let us watch him,
This our charge, the gods' own son.

    For our throne
    Will, though earthly,
    Be transformed with light and glory,
    For our throne
    Will a thing of wonder make him.

2. Recit. (A) Hercules

And where?  Where is the proper road
On which the planted impetus,
Of virtue, glory, fame and honor fond,
To its true purpose I may lead?
Good sense, good wit and light
To hunt for all of this are eager.
Ye slender crossways,(2) could ye not
Advice or guidance offer?

3. Aria (S) Vice

Slumber, my darling, and tend to thy rest,
Follow the call of thy thoughts' ardent pleasure.

    Passion now taste
    Of thy wanton breast
    And pay homage without measure.

4. Recit. (S, T) Vice, Virtue

Come! Follow this my road,
Where I thee free of weight and force
With gentle footsteps shall be guiding.
Already charm doth take the lead
And roses in thy path is spreading.
Do not delay! This is the easy course,
A pleasure for thy choosing!

Where to, my Hercules, where bent?
Thou wilt the proper path be losing!
Through virtue, work and toil
Exalted is a fine intent.

Who would prefer sweat’s moil
Who in soft easiness
And frolicsome contentedness
Could gain himself his true salvation?

That is, corrupt his true salvation!

5. Aria (A) Hercules

Faithful Echo of these places,
Shall I through words' false caresses
From sweet guidance go astray?
Give to me thine answer: Nay!(3)


Or would this stern exhortation,
Which to so much toil doth press,
Better lay my path's formation?
Ah, then answer rather: Yes!


6. Recit. (T) Virtue

My hero, full of hope,
To whom, indeed, I’m kin,
I dwell inborn in him,
Come here and take me by the hand
And hear my faithful exhortation,
Which makes thy fathers’ reputation
A mirror in thy vision’s scope.
I’ll hold thee close and feel anon
The willing youth devoted to my service.
Thou art in truth my son,
I, Virtue, am thy source and mistress.

7. Aria (T) Virtue

Upon my wings shalt thou be soaring,
Upon my pinions thou shalt rise,
An eagle to the starry skies.

    And through me
    Shall thy light and radiance beam
    To perfection's state of glory.

8. Recit. (T) Virtue

Soft Vice’s call indeed is strong;
But still,
Who knows not the great wrong
Which realm and heroes smite;
O temptress, who is unaware
That thou erewhile and ev'rywhere,
As long as time shall deem it right,
From this our gods’ great throng
Must always in rejection dwell?

9. Aria (A) Hercules

I will never heed thee, nor take thine instruction,
O decadent Vice, I share not your vision!

    For the serpents
    Those gainst me in my cradle sent,
    I long ago ripped apart with derision.(4)

10. Recit. (A, T) Hercules, Virtue

Belovéd Virtue, thou for me
Shalt my one leader be
Where thou dost bid, there will I be,
This rule of life I shall have chosen

And I will unto thee
So firm and so steadfast have union,
That lacking thee with me
No one shall recognize my nature.

Who would so strong a union sever?

11. Aria (A, T) Hercules, Virtue

I am thine now,

Thou art mine now,

Kiss me then,
I’ll kiss thee then.
As two lovers selves are binding,
Like the joy which they are finding,
True and soft and full of zeal,
This I feel.

12. Recit. (B) Mercury

Gods, witness, here the likeness is
Of Saxony’s Prince Friedrich’s youthtide!
Of his bright years the course
Awakes amazement even now perforce.
Where’er he walks, his virtues bide.
Mark how the faithful land so full of gladness is,
When it the flight of this young eagle sees,
When it the rue's bright jewel sees.
And when its Prince, of hope,
Doth bloom in universal bliss.
Mark also though the Muses’ glad procession
And listen to their song’s elation:

13. Chorus (S, A, T, B) Choir of Muses and Arioso (B) Mercury

(Choir of Muses)
Joy of thy folk, joy of nations,
Flourish, gracious Friederich!

    Thine own virtue's worthiness
    Is for glory now steadfast;
    And thy time
    Is so wants to make appearance,
    Hasten, my Friedrich, it waiteth for thee!

1. This plot is based upon a parable of Prodicus of Ceos, a Sophist contemporary of Socrates. While Prodicus' story The Choice of Heracles, is lost, Xenophon has Socrates relate a paraphrase of it in Memorabilia II. 1. 21ff. For a dramatic setting of this kind of contest or agon compare the debate between Just and Unjust Reason in Aristophanes' Clouds (which may, in fact, itself have been inspired by Prodicus' tale). Such contests provide the dramatic plot of most of Bach's secular cantatas.

2. Vice and Virtue represent the two roads which Hercules meets at their crossing. In Prodicus' tale Virtue offered Heracles a steep and stony road to glory and Vice, a smooth and easy road.

3. Where the underlay requires, read "Give me answer: Nay!"

4. Hercules strangled serpents that either Juno or Amphitryon had placed in his cradle.

© Copyright  Z. Philip Ambrose

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