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Cantata BWV 109
Ich glaube, lieber Herr, hilf meinem Unglauben!
Discussions - Part 4

Continue from Part 3

Discussions in the Week of October 18, 2015 (4th round)

William Hoffman wrote (October 22, 2015):
Cantata BWV 109: “Ich glaube, lieber Herr" Intro., Trinity 21 Chorales

The believer’s struggle between doubt and faith, fear and hope, dominates the final cantatas of Bach’s Cycle 1 in late Trinity Time as the church year approaches its cyclic end with the approach of winter and the shortest days of light. Meanwhile, the final Trinity Time Sundays summarize chorales central to the omne tempore church half-year Christian teachings of the eschatological “Last Things” in the “Completion of the Kingdom of Righteousness.” At the same time, the Sunday lectionary enfolds the paired teachings and parables/miracles of Trinity Time into elaborate teachings and actions.

During this period Bach had the opportunity to use both recycled works from Weimar and create new compositions. For the wavering and struggling 21st and 22nd Sundays after Trinity, October 17 and 24, Bach turned to a still-unknown librettist for two musical sermons in the basic Cycle 1 symmetrical form of opening chorus or concerted aria followed by pairs of alternating recitatives and arias and closing with a four-part chorale.1

Chorus Cantata 109, “Ich glaube, lieber Herr, hilf meinen Unglauben!” (I believe, dear Lord, help my unbelief!, Mark 9:24), was premiered on October 17, 1723, at the early main service of the Thomas Church, before the sermon (not extant) of Pastor Christian Weise (1671-1736), says Martin Petzoldt in Bach Commentary, Vol. 1, Trinity Time.2

Several distinct features stand out in Cantata 109, “Ich glaube, lieber Herr, hilf meinen Unglauben!” (I believe, dear Lord, help my unbelief!, Mark 9:24). This dialogue between polar opposites runs 25 minutes, given extended opening chorus and elaborated closing chorale, and two da capo arias. Cantata 109 closes with Lazarus Spengler, 1524 seven-stanza hymn, “Durch Adams Fall” (Through Adam’s Fall), “one of the earliest and most famous hymns of the Lutheran Reformation,” says Stephen A. Crist in his Cantata 109 essay in the OCC: JSB.3 Stanza 7 is “Wer hofft in Gott und dem vertraut,/ Der wird nimmer zuschanden;” (Whoever hopes in God and trusts in him/ will never be put to shame). The chorale text and Francis Browne’s English translation are found at BCW Information on the anonymous melody and Spengler text is found at BCW

Familiar features in Cantata 109 include the use of standard orchestra of two oboes, strings and continuo, with the high slide trumpet, usually known as Tromba da tirarsi or its equivalent, as well as Bach’s recent penchant for using only two soloists, tenor and alto, to present the two pairs of recitatives and arias, perhaps to emphasize the duality of spiritual themes. As with Cantata 162 for the previous Trinity 20 Sunday, Bach later added a high trumpet part to reinforce the melodies in the opening and closing movements.

The conflict between fear and hope is demonstrated in the two lectionary readings for the 21st Sunday after Trinity in the Lutheran Church in Bach’s time. The Gospel lesson, John 4: 46-54, is the Miracle of the nobleman’s son healed. This Sunday’s Epistle: Ephesians 6:10-17, Put on the whole armour of God, is Paul’s call for the believer to strengthen his faith and defense against doubt. The complete texts are found at BCW, The German text is that of Luther’s translation published in 1545, the English is the Authorised (King James) Version 1611. The Introit Psalm is Psalm 39, Dixit, Custodiam (I said, I will take heed to my ways), says Petzoldt (Ibid.: 587). Petzoldt describes Psalm 39 as a “Prayer for the Right Death” and the Psalm 39 full text is found at

To focus on the theme of belief and unbelief, the opening chorus cites the parallel healing of another man’s son with convulsions, Mark 9:23-24, in which Jesus tells the man, “All things are possible to him that believeth,” and the man responds, “Lord, I believe, help thou my unbelief.”

Cantata 109 movements, scoring, incipit, key, and meter are:

1. Chorus [S, A, T, B; Corno da caccia, Oboe I/II, Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo]: “Ich glaube, lieber Herr, hilf meinem Unglauben!” (I believe, dear Lord, help my unbelief!); d minor, 4/4.
2. Recitative secco with arioso [Tenor, Continuo]: “Des Herren Hand ist ja noch nicht verkürzt” (The hand of the Lord has certainly not grow short); closing arioso, “Ach Herr, wie lange?” (Ah Lord, how long?, Psalm 6:3); Bb Major to e minor; 4/4.
3. Aria da capo [Tenor; Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo]: A. “Wie zweifelhaftig ist mein Hoffen” (How filled with doubt is my hope); B. “Des Glaubens Docht glimmt kaum hervor” (The wick of my faith barely glimmers forth); C major to d minor; 4/4.
4. Recitative secco [Alto, Continuo]: “O fasse dich, du zweifelhafter Mut” (O get a grip on yourself, you spirit filled with doubt); C Major to d minor, 4/4.
5. Aria da capo [Alto, Oboe I/II, Continuo]: A. “Der Heiland kennet ja die Seinen” (The saviour knows those who belong to him); B. “Wenn Fleisch und Geist in ihnen streiten, / So steht er ihnen selbst zur Seiten, / Damit zuletzt der Glaube siegt.” (when the flesh and spirit strive within them, / then he himself stands at their side /so that in the end faith triumphs.); F Major; ¾ pastoral menuet.
6. Chorale elaborated [S, A, T, B; Corno da caccia, Oboe I/II, Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo]: “Wer hofft in Gott und dem vertraut, / Der wird nimmer zuschanden” (Whoever hopes in God and trusts in him / will never be put to shame); d minor to a minor; 4/4.

Cantata 109 Individual Movements

The most prominent special trait found in Cantata 109 is the complex opening chorus, lasting seven-eight minutes but with the shortest of texts, lasting only seven Gospel words. To accomplish this Bach extended free polyphony and imitation in three through-composed complexes. “Musical contrasts, emblematic of the polarity between belief and unbelief, are woven into the texture of the entire cantata,” observes Crist (Ibid. 229). In the opening chorus they are manifested in the frequent juxtaposition of smaller and larger groups of instruments in the manner of the concerto grosso.” First oboe and first violin sound the initial motif, answered by the entire ensemble. “Opposition between a portion of the group and the entire ensemble is also seen in the choral writing, which thins to a single part much more frequently than usual.”

“The music is dominated by the timid entries of individual vocal lines which join forces with others but normally soon fall silent again, waiting for their turn,” observes Bach scholar Hans-Joachim Schulze’s 2000 liner notes to the Masaki Suzuki BIS complete sacred cantata recordings.4 The recording can be heard online at “It is instead the orchestral writing,” says Schulze, “that links everything together with its characteristics motifs dominated by a yearning leap of a sixth.”

The remaining movements, Schulze describes as follows: <<The first recitative describes an appeal for help, starting with a phrase from Numbers (11:23): ‘Is the Lord’s hand waxed short’, and ending with a reference to the thanksgiving song of the convalescent King Hezekiah in Isaiah (38: 17): ‘Behold, for peace I had great bitterness’. The recitative text insistently formulates nagging doubts; the threefold ‘Ach nein’ (‘Oh no’) lends it the form of an inner dialogue. The aria that follows enriches this thought process with a verse about the Messiah from Isaiah, (42: 3): ‘A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench: he shall bring forth judgement unto truth’. In the text of the aria, admittedly, this promise has an almost opposite effect. Not until the following pair of movements (recitative and aria) does the initially weak faith that is apostrophized here clearly gain the upper hand, primarily by paying attention to the wondrous act of healing described in the relevant Sunday’s Gospel text. A strophe from Lazarus Spengler’s song Durch Adams Fall ist ganz verderbt (1524), formerly published as ‘Ein geistlich Lied vom Fall und Erlosung des menschlichen Geschlechts’ (‘a sacred song concerning the fall and redemption of the human race’) summarizes what has been said, in the manner of a catechism.

Of the two arias, the former - scored for tenor and strings - is characterized by fragmented rhythms and by harmonic twists that seem to be searching in vain for a firm anchoring point. Fear and pain, anguish and doubt —the fundamental concepts of the text - dominate the entire movement and grant the musical development no pause for breath. The second aria, on the other hand, radiates peace and certainty. In terms of tone colour, too (it is for alto and two oboes), it acts as a counterweight to the earlier movement. The constant crotchets of the basso continuo emphasize the minuet-like character and allow the three upper lines great developmental freedom. An element of liveliness is provided by the syncopated effects of the so-called ‘Lombardic rhythm’, occurring at relatively regular intervals in the music; at times even the basso continuo must fall into line with these.

The work concludes not with the usual four-part chorale setting but with a relatively large-scale chorale arrangement. With its independent, motivically unified instrumental writing and with a cantus firmus presented line by line in long note values by the soprano, harmonically supported by the other vocal parts, this anticipates the cantatas from 1724.>>

Trinity 21 Cantatas 109, 38, 98, 1885

For the 21st Sunday after Trinity in Leipzig, Bach composed four works (BWV 109, 38, 98, 188) for the first time since the 16th Sunday after Trinity when he also created a rare fourth cantata with another Picander 1728 published text. This is the final Sunday in Trinity Time when four Bach original musical sermons survive. This significance may be due to the New Testament theme of belief triumphing over doubt, found in all four works that are unique and distinctive examples of Bach’s penchant for achieving unity of theme through diversity of music.

The increasingly optimistic works and first performances of the four cantatas are:

+Cycle 1, chorus Cantata BWV 109, “Ich glaube, lieber Herr, hilf meinem Unglauben!” (I believe, dear Lord, help my unbelief), October 29, 1723;
+Cycle 2, chorale Cantata BWV 38, “Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir” (Out of deep need cry I to Thee), October 29, 1724, with no record of a repeat performance on October 17, 1725;
+Cycle 3 chorus Cantata BWV 98 with the popular dictum, “Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan” (What God does, that is done well), November 10, 1726; and
+Picander Cycle SATB solo Cantata BWV 188, “Ich habe meine Zuversicht” (I have my confidence), probably October 17, 1728.

For the 21st Sunday after Trinity, “Bach came up with no less than four outstanding works all based on the Gospel account of the healing of the nobleman’s son (John 4:46-54), marvelously contrasted and subtly differentiated by mood and instrumentation,” says John Eliot Gardiner in the program notes for the Bach Cantata Pilgrimage 2000 Soli Deo Gloria recordings (BCW[sdg168_gb].pdf). The supportive Epistle is Ephesians 6:10-17, “Put on the whole armour of God.” Among the musical devices Bach uses, beginning with the initial Cantata BWV 109, are contrasting, conflicting instrumental and vocal forces; dialogues between voices representing faith and doubt; and tonal allegory of harmonic exploration and direction as illustrated by author Eric Chaffe.

Among unique cantata movements Gardiner cites are the affirmative pastoral dance moods in BWV 109/5, the alto aria with two oboes, “The Saviour knows yea his own,” and the opening tenor aria, “I have my confidence,” in Cantata BWV 188. The opening sinfonia of Cantata 188 was adapted from the third movement of the Clavier Concerto in D Minor, BWV 1052.

The basic theme of belief and doubt is found in all four cantatas, says Gardiner. These involve the dialogue and inner struggle in Cantata 109; the hidden granting of faith and the words of comfort and wonder in Cantata 38; the intimate, genial confidence amid human vascillation between doubt and trust in God in Cantata 98; and basic affirmation of belief in Cantata 188.

Cantata 38: De profundis

Familiar chorales assume a major role in the 21st Sunday after Trinity, particularly in chorale Cantata BWV 38, “Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir” (Out of deep need cry I to Thee). The four designated chorales for this Sunday in Bach’s favorite hymnbook, used extensively throughout omne tempore Epiphany and Trinity Times, also are given important places in Bach’s cantatas. Most significant is Martin Luther’s 1524 austere, penitential paraphrase of Psalm 130, <De profundis>, “Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir” found in the Neu Leipziger Gesangbuch (NLGB) of 1682 as No. 270 with five stanzas (see Francis Browne BCW English translation,

Bach’s only vocal setting of “Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir” is chorale Cantata 38, using an opening motet chorus for Stanza 1 and in Movement No. 6, a closing four-part plain chorale harmonization of Stanza 5, “Ob bei uns ist der Sünden viel,/ Bei Gott ist viel mehr Gnade;” (Although there is much sin among us, /with God there is much more mercy).

Trinity Time Hymns in Cantatas 109, 98, 188

Bach used other popular Trinity Time <omne tempore> hymns for his other three Cantatas BWV 109, 98, and 188:

Cycle 1 Cantata BWV 109, “Ich glaube, lieber Herr, hilf meinem Unglauben!,” closes with the Spengler, seven-stanza hymn, “Durch Adams Fall” (Through Adam’s Fall), Stanza 7, “Wer hofft in Gott und dem vertraut,/ Der wird nimmer zuschanden;” (Whoever hopes in God and trusts in him/ will never be put to shame;). For details and Bach’s uses of the hymn of Christian Life and Belief, see BCW Chorales Trinity 6,, designated (<NLGB>) for Quinquagesima and Trinity Sundays 6, 9, 12, 14. Cantata 109 uses Dürr’s Cycle 1 first group six-movement form: dictum, two recitatives and arias, and closing chorale, that was used in middle Trinity Time, and is found in the next Cantata BWV 89, for the 22nd Sunday after Trinity. No text author has been suggested and given its form and use of mostly Old Testament biblical quotations (Isaiah, Psalms), it is not attributed to Bach’s St. Thomas Church pastor, Christian Weiss Sr.

Cycle 3 chorus Cantata BWV 98 begins with the popular dictum, “Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan” (What God does, that is done well), Stanza 1. One of Bach’s favorite hymn tunes returns as an opening chorus following the chorale Cantata BWV 99 for the 15th Sunday after Trinity in 1724, and preceeding the 1732-34 undesignated pure-hymn Cantata BWV 100, BWV 100, that reuses the opening of Cantata 99 for the 15th Sunday after Trinity, also the Sunday appropriate for undesignated Cantata BWV 100. Cantata 98 has no designated closing chorale but it is possible to repeat the opening chorus set to the final Stanza 6. The unknown librettist may be Picander. For details of Samuel Rodigast’s newer hymn of trust and guidance (not in the <NLGB>), see BCW, Trinity 15 Chorales, Trinity 15B,, and Cantata 100 Disc2, In lieu of a closing chorale in Cantata 98, the final extant movement, the alto da-capo aria, uses the opening line dictum sung to the varied melody of the popular general chorale by Christian Keymann (1658), “Meinen Jesum, laßt ich nicht” (My Jesus, I will not let go).

Picander Cycle SATB solo Cantata BWV 188, “Ich habe meine Zuversicht” (I have my confidence), was probably introduced on October 17, 1728. It closes with the anonymous text, “Auf meinen lieben Gott” (Of my loving God) appearing in Lübeck before 1603, set to the Jacob Regnart 1574 secular song melody, “Venus, du und dein Kind” (Venus, you and your child [Cupid]). It is found in the <NLGB> as No. 299 under the heading “Persecution, Tribulation and Challenge.” It also is listed in the <Leiziger Kirchen-Andahten> of 1694 as the hymn the day for this Sunday and was still listed in the Dresden hymn schedules for this Sunday in 1750, says Stiller (<Ibid.> 246). The Dresden hymn schedules also suggest general “Hymns of Lament and Comfort” for this Sunday, including “Auf meinen lieben Gott” and “Was Gott tut.”

Trinity 21 Designated Hymns

The other three designated hymns in the <NLGB> for the 21st Sunday after Trinity are:
*“Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ” (I call to Thee, Lord Jesus Christ); also for Trinity 2, 5, 6, 8, 19, 22 and Epiphany 3, 5. For details, see BCW, Trinity 2 Chorales, Hymn of the Day,
*“Herr Christ, der einge Gottes Sohn” (Lord Jesus Christ, God’s Only Son); also for Trinity 18 and Epiphany 1 and 6; see BCW Trinity 18 Chorales,
*“Allein zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ” (Alone with Thee, Lord Jesus Christ); also for Trinity 3, 11, 22, 24; Epiphany 3. For details, see BCW, Trinity 11,

Other Bach Trinity 21 opportunities:

+On October 26, 1727, there was no performance during the mourning period of Sept. 7, 1727, to Jan. 8, 1728, for deceased Saxon Queen Christiane Eberhardine.
+ On November 17, 1734, chorale Cantata BWV 38, may have been reperfromed, possibly as part of performance of the entire second cycle.
+On Trinity, November 6, 1735, Bach probably performed a Stözel two-part cantata, now work identified, as part of the cycle “Saitenspiele testeddes Hertzens” (Music Playing of the Heart), text by Benjamin Schmolck, with two chorale settings not identified.
+About October 28, 1736, Bach may have performed Stözel’s two-part cantata, “Die Schläge des Liebhabers meinen es recht gut” from the cantata cycle “Das Namenbuch Christi,” (Book of Names of Christ), Schmolck text, No. 63. No musical source with the presumed chorales is extant.

Trinity 21 Repeats, Provenance

There is no evidence that any of Bach’s four cantatas for the 21st Sunday after Trinity – BWV 109, 38, 98, and 188 -- were reperformed in his lifetime. One, chorale Cantata BWV 38, “Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir,” was presented in 1770 by Christoph Friedrich Penzel, cantor and one of Bach’s last students. As St. Thomas prefect in 1755, he had copied and performed 10 mostly middle Trinity Time chorale Cantatas (BWV178, 94, 101, 113, 137, 33, 99, 114, 129, and 140). Penzel’s manuscript source in 1770, when he selectively presented some eight cantatas (BWV 97, 157, 159, 106, 158, 112, 25, 38), was primarily Friedemann Bach, who charged to have copies made of the chorale cantata scores he possessed, while Penzel continued to access Leipzig publisher Breitkopf for copies of the other cantata manuscripts.

Thomas Braatz’s BCW Provenance Article is found at the BCML Part 2 Introduction,


1 Cantata 109 Details and Revised and Updated Discography, Score Vocal & Piano [2.01 MB],, Score BGA [2.84 MB], References: BGA XXIII (Cantata 101-110, Rust 1876), NBA KB I/25 (Trinity 21 cantatas, Ulrich Bartels 1997, Bach Compendium BC A 151, Zwang: K 47.
2 Petzoldt, Bach Kommentar: Die geistlichen Kantaten des 1. Bis 27. Trinitas-Sontagges, Vol. 1; Theologisch Musikwissenschaftlicke Kommentierung der Geistlichen Vokalwerke Johann Sebastan Bachs, Internationale Bachakademie Stuttgart (Kassel: Bärenreiter, 2004: 590).
3 Crist Cantata 109 essay, Oxford Composer Companions: J. S. Bach, ed. Boyd, Malcolm (Oxford University Press: New York, 1999: 229f).
4 Schulze notes,[BIS-CD1081].pdf; BCW Recording details,
5 Original source, BCW, “Musical Context: Chorales and Motets for the 21st Sunday after Trinity,

Aryeh Oron wrote (October 22, 2015):
Cantata BWV 109 - Revised & updated Discography

The discography pages of the Solo Cantata BWV 109 "Ich glaube, lieber Herr, hilf meinem Unglauben!" (I believe, dear Lord, help my unbelief!) for the 21st Sunday after Trinity on the BCW have been revised and updated.
The cantata is scored for alto & tenor soloists; 4-part chorus; and orchestra of corno da caccia, 2 oboes, 2 violins, viola & continuo. See:
Complete Recordings (16):
Recordings of Individual Movements (6):
The revised discography includes many listening/watching options to recordings directly from the discography pages, just below the recording details.

I also put at the BCW Home Page:
2 audios and 2 videos of the cantata. A short description below the audio/video image is linked to the full details at the discography pages.

I believe this is the most comprehensive discography of this solo cantata. If you are aware of a recording of BWV 109 missing from these pages, or want to correct/add details of a recording already presented on the BCW, please do not hesitate to inform me.

You can also read on the BCW the recent discussion of the cantata in the BCML (4th round):


Cantata BWV 109: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

Recordings & Discussions of Cantatas: Main Page | Cantatas BWV 1-50 | Cantatas BWV 51-100 | Cantatas BWV 101-150 | Cantatas BWV 151-200 | Cantatas BWV 201-224 | Cantatas BWV Anh | Order of Discussion
Discussions of General Topics: Cantatas & Other Vocal Works | Performance Practice | Radio, Concerts, Festivals, Recordings


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