Widerstehe doch der Sünde (Just resist sin), BWV 54, is
a church cantata by Johann Sebastian Bach. He composed
the solo cantata for alto in Weimar, probably for the
seventh Sunday after Trinity and first performed it on
15 July 1714. It is his first extant church cantata for
a solo voice.
The prescribed readings for the Sunday are from the
Epistle to the Romans, "the wages of sin is death; but
the gift of God is eternal life" (Romans 6:19--23), and
from the Gospel of Mark, the feeding of the 4000 (Mark
The text was written by Georg Christian Lehms for
Oculi, the third Sunday in Lent, and published in 1711
in Gottgefälliges Kirchen-Opffer. It concentrates on
avoiding sin. The first line of movement 3 quotes 1
Alfred Dürr suggested that Bach composed the cantata in
Weimar for the Seventh Sunday after Trinity of 1714. On
2 March 1714 Bach was appointed concertmaster of the
Weimar court capelle of the co-reigning dukes Wilhelm
Ernst and Ernst August of Saxe-Weimar. As
concertmaster, he assumed the principal responsibility
for composing new works, specifically cantatas for the
Schlosskirche (palace church), on a monthly schedule.
The cantata text relates to the epistle of both
Sundays, but shows no connection to either Gospel.
According to Dürr, Bach probably first performed the
cantata on 15 July 1714. Other scholars arrive at
different dates. It is his first extant church cantata
for a solo voice, followed a few weeks later by Mein
Herze schwimmt im Blut, BWV 199, for soprano.
The cantata is the first of four written for a single
alto soloist, the others, all written in 1726, being
Geist und Seele wird verwirret, BWV 35, Vergnügte Ruh,
beliebte Seelenlust, BWV 170 and Gott soll allein mein
Herze haben, BWV 169, two of which also have texts by
Lehms. In Leipzig at Bach's time, a boy soloist
performed the difficult part which is now sung by
contraltos and countertenors.
The first aria, Widerstehe doch der Sünde, is a da capo
aria, which opens with a surprising dissonance and
leaves its key of E-flat major open until a cadence in
measure 8. Dürr describes it as a call to resistance
and compares it to the beginning of the recitative
"Siehe, ich stehe vor der Tür", a call to be ready, in
the cantata for Advent Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland,
BWV 61, also composed in 1714.
The recitative Die Art verruchter Sünden (The way of
vile sins) is secco, accompanied by the continuo. The
words "So zeigt sich nur ein leerer Schatten und
übertünchtes Grab" (It shows itself as only an empty
shadow and a whitewashed grave) are expressed in "pale"
harmonies. The final lines are arioso and illustrate in
"Sie ist als wie ein scharfes Schwert, das uns durch
Leib und Seele fährt" (It is like a sharp sword, that
pierces through body and soul) the movement of the
sword by fast runs in the continuo.
The final aria Wer Sünde tut, der ist vom Teufel (He
who sins is of the devil) is again a da capo aria, but
shows elements of a four-part fugue for the voice, the
violins in unison, the violas in unison and the
Bach used the first aria again in his St Mark
Although the cantata was originally scored as chamber
music for alto, two oboes, two violins, two violas, and
basso continuo, I created this arramgement for Woodwind
Quartet (Flute, Oboe, Bb Clarinet & Bassoon).