Four Bach Cantatas
Cantata 4. I call to thee, Lord Jesus Christ
(‘Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ’)
By Ash Warren
After reading, the author invites you to listen to Wilhelm Kempff (above)
He felt the gun first, jabbed hard into his ribs.
There were three of them, four, he couldn’t tell. Hands propelled him roughly into a dark cul-de-sac behind the hotel where he had just left Elizabet.
Things happened quickly now.
Pushed up against the brick wall. A flashlight in his face, blinding him. A voice speaking French with a soft German accent.
He reached inside his jacket and held out the travel documents. The light left his face. Standing in front of him was a small man in a long black leather trenchcoat who had the whitest skin he had ever seen. Marais thought he looked dead.
The man gave the papers a cursory look and handed them back.
‘What’s in the briefcase?’ he asked in a soft, almost musical voice.
And that was the moment Marais knew that they had been betrayed.
‘I don’t think I am going to live so much longer.’ she said.
She was standing at the window wearing just her long white blouse, gazing out over the rooftops of the Quartier Latin and the Sorbonne, smoky and shadow-strewn, hazy in the late afternoon light.
‘Why do you say that?’
‘I don’t know… it’s just a feeling.’
Elizabet turned to him.
‘What would you do if I were no longer here?’
Marais rolled over and looked at the ceiling. It was white, and a relief from the pink striped paper that covered the walls of their cheap little hotel room.
He lit a cigarette, and watched the smoke curling upwards. From below, the sounds of Paris rose broken from the cobbled street. Children’s voices, people walking. Life going on, and all this despite the fact that they were now an occupied country.
Everything was the same. Everything was different.
‘I don’t want to think about that.’ he said at last. ‘And I don’t think I could live without you…’
She was sitting on the bed, gazing down at him and smiling. Her long hair hung like a bright curtain behind her and her outline, lit by the dying light, seemed to flare incandescently. He was strangely reminded of the gardens near her house where they used to walk, and the long branches of the willows there and the way they trailed over the little ornamental lake.
‘Is that a confession, Pierre?’ she asked.
‘Yes. I suppose it is. Are you granting absolutions this afternoon?’
‘That depends on how good you are to me.’ she said playfully, and reaching out she touched his cheek.
1. Qui Vivra Verra
‘A couple travelling together is less suspicious.’ he said as he handed him the necessary papers. ‘So take Elizabet. Then go alone to the rendezvous and give them this notebook. It contains the names and addresses of all the Resistance in Marseilles. Needless to say, you must be… careful….’
Marais nodded and put the book in his briefcase.
They were in his bright, book-lined little study with its old Bosendorfer piano where he taught all his students. Marais had been his pupil for just over a year now, and lived with the family.
Elizabet’s father stood at the piano and played a few soft chords.
‘Did you know Bach was arrested once?’ he said, without looking up.
The older man smiled.
‘He tried to leave his post without permission. The Duke he worked for…. it didn’t go down well…. He was locked up for some weeks….’
He turned, put both his hands on Marais shoulders and looked hard into his eyes.
‘It’s your job to not get arrested, do you understand?’ he said quietly.
Marais opened the door and turned to look at his teacher one last time.
‘I’ll see you in a few days. Don’t worry.’
Her father turned and looked out over the garden.
‘Qui vivra verra.’* he said.
The maid saw him to the door and after she had closed it behind him, she made a telephone call, collect, to a number in Paris.
A man with a soft German accent answered, holding the receiver delicately in his unusually white hands.
*‘He who lives, shall see’.