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Cantata BWV 110
Unser Mund sei voll Lachens
Discussions - Part 4

Continue from Part 3

Discussions in the Week of December 11, 2016 (4th round)

William Hoffman wrote (December 14, 2016):
Cantata 110, "Unser Mund sei voll Lachens": Intro.

At the beginning of Bach’s third complete cantata cycle in 1725, the festive Christmas Day chorus Cantata BWV 110, “Unser Mund sei voll Lachens” (May our mouth be filled with laughter), looked backward and forward, using borrowed music while providing new music that anticipated his Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248, composed a decade later. Lasting 24 minutes, the musical sermon features a French Overture, with chorus overlay, which opened the earlier Orchestral Suite No. 4 in D Major, BWV 1069, and a new text setting of a Christmas interpolation in the Magnificat in D, BWV 243, presented two years before in Bach’s first year in Leipzig as cantor. That setting uses the new text of the Angels’ Gloria canticle (Luke 2:14), later set as a turba chorus in the 1734-35 Christmas season sacred drama, as well as a striking bass aria with trumpet, also found in BWV 248.1

This near symmetrical seven-movement work features the following: an extended prelude and fugue opening chorus to the text of Psalm 126:2-3; two other biblical text settings, the bass accompagnato (no. 3), “Dir, Herr, ist niemand gleich” (No one is like you, Lord, Jeremiah 9:6), and the dance-style soprano-tenor duet (no. 5), “Ehre sei Gott in der Höhe” (Glory to God on high, Luke 2:14); the central alto aria (no. 4), “Ach Herr, was ist ein Menschenkind” (Ah, Lord, what is a child of man); tenor aria (no. 2), “Ihr Gedanken und ihr Sinnen” (You thoughts and you senses), and bass aria (no. 6), “Wacht auf, ihr Adern und ihr Glieder” (Awaken, you veins and limbs); and closing plain chorale (no. 7) uses Stanza 5, “Alleluia: Gelobet sei Gott” (Allelujah! Praise be to God), of Kaspar Füger’s 1592 Christmas hymn, “Wir Christenleut haben jetzund Freud” (We Christian people have joy now) (see below, Chorale “Wir Christenleut”

With festive trumpets and drums (plus oboes and strings), this setting of the Nativity story (Gospel, Luke 2:1-14) was introduced at the Christmas Day early main service of the Nikolaikirche before the sermon (not extant) by Superintendent Salmon Deyling and repeated at the Thomaskirche afternoon vesper service before the sermon (not extant) on the day’s alternate Epistle, Isaiah 9:2-7, “A child is born to us,” by Archdeacon Johann Gottlob Carpzov (1679-1767, noted theologian), says Martin Petzoldt in Bach Commentary, Vol. 2, Advent to Trinityfest.2 The Lutheran Church year readings in German (Martin Luther 1545) and English (KJV 1611) are found at BCW, The Introit Psalm is Psalm 92, Bonum est confiteri (It is a good thing to give thanks unto the Lord, KJV), says Petzoldt (Ibid.: 83), full text, Cantata 110 was repeated about 1728-31.

Bach probably chose the Lehms text for Cantata 110 for Christmas in part because it uses biblical words, says Alfred Dürr in the Cantatas of J. S. Bach,3 notably in the opening, which is a characteristic of many of his first cycle cantatas that begin with a dictum, often from the Psalms. Dürr provided a summary of the movements and their biblical citations: The opening chorus (Psalm 126:2-3) expresses the hope of captive Zion’s deliverance; the tenor aria (no. 2), the birth brings joy; the bass recitative (no. 3, Jeremiah 10:6) praises the Lord’s greatness; the alto aria (no. 4), contrasts mankind’s baseness (Psalm 8:4); the soprano-tenor duet (no. 5) is the Angel’s canticle of praise (Luke 2:14); the bass aria (no. 6) “encourages the Christian congregation, too, to sing songs of joy; and the congregation responds in the closing plain chorale (no. 7).

Cantata 110 has many of the earmarks of Bach’s third cycle, which took two years to complete while Bach composed his monumental St. Matthew Passion, BWV 244. This cycle was a leisurely yet methodical endeavor that harkened back to his homogeneous first cycle with its distinctive, varied forms and texts sometimes set in mini-cycles reflective of the season. Now, Bach focused on using published texts, possibly to avoid scrutiny from his employer, the Town Council. He began with the 1711 text of Darmstadst court librarian and poet Georg Christian Lehms (1684-1717), Gottgefälliges Kirchen-Opffer (Devotional Church Sacrifices) which mix orthodox, descriptive Lutheran poetry with familiar biblical texts and chorales. Bach set 11 cantatas to Lehms texts, all but BWV 110, as solo works, with nine set in the third cycle (see below, “Georg Christian Lehms”).

Bach overlaid the biblical text to highly effective music in the opening chorus, which forms the work’s center of gravity, observes David L Humphreys in Oxford Composer Companions: J. S. Bach (see his commentary, below).4 Bach then used reverse contrafaction to set the dance-style soprano-tenor duet (no. 5) to the German Angel’s canticle (Luke 2:14), “Glory to God in the Highest,” from the Latin setting, “Virga Jesse floruit” (Jesse's maid then fruit did bear, Isaiah 11:1), a Christmas interpolation in the Magnificat, BWV 243, in E-Flat, presented at Christmas Day vespers 1723. Beginning in 1725, Bach integrated borrowed instrumental music, primarily suites and concerto movements, into his third cycle. These particularly were recycled for his new settings of intimate solo and dialogue cantatas rarely found in the first cycle. At the same time, Bach selectively revived old vocal music and began to parody secular congratulatory cantatas in his last extant church year cycle. Bach chose often simple, direct, descriptive texts used with various baroque rhetorical devices (see below, “Notes on Music, Text”).

Cantata 110 movements, scoring, incipits, key, meter.5

1. Chorus, French Overture prelude & fugue [SATB; Tromba I-III, Tamburi, Flauto traverso I/II col Oboe I-III, Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo]: A, Grave 2/2 alle breve instrumental sinfonia; B1 (m.24), fugue, choral insertion, 9/8(3/4) (con ripieni [tutti]), “Unser Mund sei voll Lachens und unsre Zunge voll Rühmens.” (May our mouth be filled with laughter and our tongue full of praise, Psalm 126:2); B2 (m.48), senza ripinei (soli SAT), “Denn der Herr hat Großes an uns getan.” (for the Lord has done great things for us, Psalm 126:3); B3 (m.67), repeat of B1 and B2, con ripieni (SATB); C, Grave (m.169), instrumental; D Major.
2. Aria bi-partite with ritornelli [Tenor; Flauto traverso I/II, Fagotto, Continuo]: A. “Ihr Gedanken und ihr Sinnen, / Schwinget euch anitzt von hinnen, / Steiget schleunig himmelan / Und bedenkt, was Gott getan!” (You thoughts and you senses, / leap up from here, / climb quickly to heaven / and consider what God has done!); B. (m.37), Er wird Mensch, und dies allein, / Dass wir Himmels Kinder sein” (He has become man, and this only so that we may become children of heaven); b minor; 4/4.
3. Recitative accampagnato (motive character) [Bass, Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo]: “Dir, Herr, ist niemand gleich. / Du bist groß und dein Name ist groß / und kannst's mit der Tat beweisen.” (No one is like you, Lord,

you are great and your name is great / and you can show this by your deeds, Jeremiah 10:6); f-sharp minor to A Major; 4/4.
4. Aria bipartite with ritorenlli [Alto; Oboe d'amore solo, Continuo]: A. “Ach Herr, was ist ein Menschenkind, / Dass du sein Heil so schmerzlich suchest? / Ein Wurm, den du verfluchest, / Wenn Höll und Satan um ihn sind;” (Ah, Lord, what is a child of man / that you should seek his salvation with so much pain? / A worm whom you curse / when hell and Satan are around him;); B. (m.49), “Doch auch dein Sohn, den Seel und Geist / Aus Liebe seinen Eheißt.” (but also your son, whom soul and spirit / Through love call their inheritance.); f-sharp minor; ¾.
5. Aria (?or Chorus) (Duet) tri-partite with ritornelli, ostinato form, in canon [Soprano, Tenor; Continuo]: A. “Ehre sei Gott in der Höhe” (Glory to God on high). B. (m.24), “und Friede auf Erden” (and peace on the earth); C. (m.36), “und den Menschen ein Wohlgefallen!” (and goodwill to men, Luke 2:14); A Major, 12/8 pastorale-giga style.
6. Aria free da-capo [Bass; Tromba, Oboe I/II, Oboe da caccia, Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo]: A. “Wacht auf, ihr Adern und ihr Glieder, / Und singt dergleichen Freudenlieder” (Awaken, you veins and limbs, / and sing such songs of joy / that are pleasing to our God); B. (m.31), “Und ihr, ihr andachtsvollen Saiten, / Sollt ihm ein solches Lob bereiten, / Dabei sich Herz und Geist erfreun.” (and you, you devoted strings, / should prepare for him such praise / As delights heart and spirit.); D Major, 4/4
7. Chorale plain [SATB; Tromba e Oboe I e Flauto traverso I/II col Soprano, Oboe II e Violino II coll'Alto, Oboe da caccia e Viola col Tenore, Continuo]: “Alleluja! Gelobt sei Gott, / Singen wir all aus unsers Herzens Grunde. / Denn Gott hat heut gemacht solch Freud, / Die wir vergessen solln zu keiner Stunde.” (Alléluia ! God be praised, / We all sing from the bottom of our hearts. / God has made such joy today / that we can never forget.); b minor; 4/4.

Notes on Music, Text

In his third cycle, Bach employed and refined, rhetorical musical devices to great effect, beginning with Cantata 110. To reinforce the pastoral character of the Nativity story, Bach added two flutes to the instrumental ensemble, which he also would do in the Christmas chorus Cantata BWV 197a, “Ehre sei Gott in der Höhe,” about 1728, and throughout the Christmas Oratorio in 1734-35. In Cantata 110, Bach also uses both flutes in the initial tenor aria (no. 2) and to reinforce the melody in the closing chorale. Bach designated a bassoon in the continuo of this aria as well as the succeeding bass recitative. Bach uses the oboe da caccia or hunting oboe in the bass trumpet aria (no. 5) to reinforce the two plain oboes with bassoon, as well as in the closing chorale.

Bach’s reverse contrafaction (German from Latin) in the Angel’s canticle duet, BWV 110/5, “Glory to God on high,” from the Magnificat, BWV 243a/13, and the English translation have similar line length and affect: Ehre sei Gott in der Höhe / und Friede auf Erden / und den Menschen ein Wohlgefallen! (Glory to God on high / and peace on the earth / and goodwill to men.) Virga Jesse floruit, / Emmanuel noster apparuit; / Induit carnem hominis, / Fit puer delectabilis; / Alleluja. Jesse's maid then fruit did bear, / Emanuel our Lord appeared to us; Himself in mortal flesh he put, / A child most pleasing he became; Alleluia. English translation Z. Philipp Ambrose; recording,

The Angel’s canticle, “Glory to God on high,” is found a third time, with two flutes, two oboes d’amore, and two oboes da caccia, in the Christmas Oratorio chorus, BWV 248/22. Bach’s setting in Christmas Cantata BWV 197a, is lost but with Picander’s published text surviving. Given its proximity to BWV 110 and other associations, it is quite possible that Bach set this text as an overlay to the similar festive French Overture that opens the Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D Major, BWV 1068. A reconstruction (out of print) was done by Gustav Adolph Theil for Forberg Verlag, Bonn, 1981. The surviving torso, lacking the first three movements, uses two flutes. Cantata BWV 197a will be discussed next year at this time.

Previously, Bach in his first cycle overlaid two settings of French Overtures, a dance style, music also originating in Cöthen, are: Cantata 119, “Preise, Jerusalem, den Herrn” (Praise, Jerusalem, the Lord, Psalm 147:12; recording,, for the Town Council Installation in 1723, and Cantata BWV 194, “Höchsterwünschtes Freudenfest” (Most greatly longed for feast of joy; recording,, for the 1st Sunday in Trinity 1724. The Cantata 110 setting “must count as one of Bach’s most remarkable adaptations, for it would be hard to imagine a more successful musical portrayal of the words,” says Richard D. P. Jones, The Creative Development of Johann Sebastian Bach, Volume II: 1717-1750.6

In Cantata 110, the central alto aria (no. 4), “Ach Herr, was ist ein Menschenkind” (Ah, Lord, what is a child of man), uses oboe d’amore (score& recording,, with the closing lines reference to love, “Doch auch dein Sohn, den Seel und Geist / Aus Liebe seinen Erben heißt.” (but also your son, whom soul and spirit / Through love call their inheritance.). While Handel has numerous triumphal arias with solo trumpet, Bach has four, all for bass on feast days: Cantata 110/6, “Wacht auf, ihr Adern und ihr Glieder” (Awaken, you veins and limbs,; Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248/8, “Großer Herr, o starker König” (Great Lord, O mighty king,; and “Er ists, der ganz allein” (He is the one who by himself,; (no. 7) from 1726 Ascensionfest Cantata 43, “Gott fähret auf mit Jauchzen” (God ascends with shouts of joy, Psalm 47:6); and “Ich will von Jesu Wundern singen” (I will of Jesus’ wounds sing), from the 1723 Visitationfest Cantata BWV 147, “Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben” (Heart and Mouth and deed and Life) (

Georg Christian Lehms

Cantata 110 librettist Georg Christian Lehms originally wrote his text-cycle to be set to music by Christoph Graupner (1683-1760, the Darmstadt capellmeister (, says Konrad Küster in his biographical essay on Lehms in the Oxford Composer Companions: J. S. Bach (Ibid.: 263). Lehms published two sets of texts, for the morning service based on the day’s Gospel with larger texts including choruses, and for the afternoon vespers based on the day’s Epistle, with more intimate texts in arias and recitatives. In Weimar in 1714, Bach set two Cantatas, alto solo BWV 54, “Widerstehe doch der Sünde” (Stand firm against sin), for Oculi Sunday (3rd in Lent), and soprano solo Cantata 199, “Mein Herze schwimmt im Blut” (My heart swims in blood), for thee 11th Sunday after Trinity.

Cantata 110 is the only work from the morning texts, followed in the third cycle by afternoon solo cantatas: dialogue Cantata 57 (Christmas 2), SATB Cantata 151 (Christmas 3, next week’s BCML discussion); Cantata 16 (New Year’s, coming BCML discussion December 31), dialogue Cantata 32 (Epiphany 1), SATB Cantata 13 (coming BCML Discussion January 15; and three Trinity Time cantatas, BWV 170 (Trinity 6), Anh. 205 (Trinity 7; music lost, text only), and 35 (Trinity 12). Solo and Dialogue Cantatas 57, 32, 170, and 35 were part of the BCML Discussion in 2014,

Commentary: Dürr, Rilling, Humphreys, Etc.

A summary of the qualities of the Cantata 100 movements is found in Dürr’s Cantatas of J. S. Bach (Ibid.: 99): In the opening chorus, Bach emphasizes the antiphonal effects with the uses of contrasting solo and tutti singers and contrasting winds and strings in this “display of splendour”; the intimate tenor aria with two flutes (no. 2) is a quiet contrast; the brief bass aria with strings (no. 3) “is a jewel”; the alto ariwith oboe d’amore (no. 4) with its textual antithesis “between mankind’s cursed and mankind redeemed”; the soprano-tenor Angels’ canticle duet (no. 5), adapted from the Magnificat in E-flat, BWV 243a, retains its “essentially lyrical character”; the bass aria with trumpet (no. 6), with its nuanced dynamics, joyous entries and triadic figures in the trumpet and bass voice, is the counterpart to the festive opening.

Effective musical commentary with examples are provided in Helmut Rilling’s Cantata 110 Lecture Concert commentary (audio,; details, choral orchestral contrasts of splendour and reflection abound in the opening chorus at the majestic words “May our mouth be filled with laughter” and the hymn, “and our tongue full of praise,” giving “additional intensity and luster”; the tenor aria (no. 3) contemplates God’s deeds while the Christus Paradox of Christ as God and man is shown in the contrasting voice and bassoon; the bass recitative (no. 3) expresses affirmation in God’s majesty, with the strings reinforcing this; the alto aria with oboe d-amore (no. 4) turns earthward with the questioning of mankind from Psalm 8:4 7 and the response through the way of the cross; the soprano-tenor Angels’ canticle is the first reference to the Gospel (Luke 2:1-14) in the three-fold expression of glory, peace, and good-will with contrasting music; the bass aria with trumpet (no. 6) is a literal wake-up call to mankind is a joy-song with just a hint of b minor at the “andachtsvollen Saiten” (devoted strings) alone, followed by the concluding, collective earthly “Hallelujah.”

Textual description and other techniques are pointed out in David L. Humphreys’ commentary (Ibid.: 487, see Footnote. In the tenor aria (no. 2), Lehms’ “invitation to his thoughts and feelings to eave earthly concerns and rise to contemplation of heavenly things is depicted by the rising flute figures which dominate much of the ritornello (recording, Imitation and close canon in the ritornello dominate the soprano-tenor duet (no. 5), in contrast to the better, known, four-voice chorus with the same text, “Glory to God in the highest,” in the Christmas Oratorio. The heroic bass aria with trumpet (no. 6), also reminiscent of the a similar one of the Christmas Oratorio.

Other Cantata 110 commentaries: a detailed musical description as well as a “Musical Sequence for Christmas Day,” in Douglas Cowling BCML Cantata 100 Discussion Part 3 (2009),; W. Gillies Whittaker’s somewhat pioneering, informed but dated The Cantatas of Johann Sebastian Bach (London Oxford University Press, 1958: II:66-73); and Julian Mincham’s current and always informative Bach Cantatas website,

Chorale “Wir Christenleut”

Füger’s 1592 Christmas hymn, “Wir Christenleut” is set in 5 stanzas, 6 lines (ABCDDC) to the associated, anonymous 1599 melody (Zahn 2072). The hymn “generally held a firm position in the liturgical life of the Christmas Days” in Saxony in Bach’s time, observes Günther Stiller in Johann Sebastian Bach and Liturgical Life in Leipzig.8 Found in Das neu Leipziger Gesangbuch of 1682 as No. 30, it is assigned variously to the three-day Christmas festival in hymnbooks also known to Bach from Weißenfels, Dresden, and Leipzig, Stiller notes. The German text and Francis Browne’s English translation are found at BCW The text and melody information, including the melody set to other texts and used by Bach and other composers, is found at BCW The Christmas chorales and Musical Sequence are discussed at BCW, “Motets & Chorales for Christmas,

Bach also set the hymn and associated tune as the closing chorale in chorus Cantata BWV 40, Darzu ist erschienen der Sohn Gottes” (For this reason the Son of God appeared, 1:John 3:8), for the Christmas Festvial Second Day, 26 December 1723), as an internal plain chorale, using Stanza 3, “Die Sünd macht Leid” (Sin causes sorrow). The closing Stanza 5 also is found in settings of the anonymous Cantata BWV 142, “Uns ist ein Kind geboren” (Unto us a child is born), as well as the Christmas settings of Leipzig cantors’ Sebastian Knüpfer’s “Vom Himmel hoch, da komm ich her” and Johann Schelle’s c1683 Actus musicus:

The melody was set to another text in the Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248/35, Christoph Runge’s 1653 “Laßt Furcht und Pein” (Let fear and pain), Stanza 4, “Seid froh dieweil” (Meanwhile be joyful), that closes Part 3, Shepherds Adoration. Other Bach uses of the Christmas melody are found in the organ chorale settings BWV 719 (Kirnberger Collection), BWV 1030 (Neumeister Collection) and BWV deest (Emans), as well as Sebastian Bach Choralbook 22.

Gardiner: Cantata 110 Description, Opinion

Description and opinion (OVPP in the opening chorus) as usual highlight John Eliot Gardiner’s 2005 liner notes to his 2000 Bach Cantata Pilgrimage concert in New York City.9 <<Cantatas for the For Christmas Day / For the Second Day of Christmas; St Bartholomew’s, New York. We had saved the most festive and brilliant of these four cantatas, BWV 110 Unser Mund sei voll Lachens, till last. Its opening movement is identical to that of the overture to the fourth Suite, BWV 1069, with the addition of a pair of flutes to the first oboe line and a chorus joining in the 12/8 allegro section. Instrumentalists need to rethink familiar lines and phrasing now that they are suddenly doubled by voices singing of laughter; singers need to adjust to well-established instrumental conventions. The piece sounds new-minted, alive with unexpected sonorities and a marvellous rendition of laughter-in music so different from the stiff, earnest way it is sometimes played as orchestral music. Bach’s specifications for senza ripieni and con ripieni may well originate with one of the cantata’s revivals between 1728 and 1731, and are relevant testimony in countering the noisy claims for de rigueur one-to-a-part performance of his sacred vocal music. The whole piece has irresistible swagger, but is saved from degenerating into a Breughel-like peasant stomp by its innate elegance and lightness of touch – more Kentucky Running Set than Morpeth Rant.

The arias are good, too: one for tenor with two flutes (No.2), which describes the believers’ thanks and meditation soaring heavenwards, and a brainteaser of an alto aria (No.4), with 9/8 and 3/4 dotted rhythms embedded in a text that could have sprung from one of the English seventeenth-century metaphysical poets: ‘Lord, what is man, that Thou, through such pain, would redeem him?’ – but a long way in musical style from Pelham Humfrey or Henry Purcell. There is an exquisite duet for soprano and tenor (No.5) singing the angels’ words to the shepherds from St Luke – ‘Glory to God in the highest’ – and based on the Virga Jesse floruit antiphon Bach inserted into the Magnificat BWV 243a. It ends with an almost frivolous pastoral-style setting of the words ‘goodwill towards men’ with the voices chirruping in tenths. The aria for bass with trumpets, strings and oboes is in heroic style, almost a prototype of ‘Großer Herr’ from the Christmas Oratorio. It is assertive, festive and brilliant, the oboes tactfully dropping out in the ‘B’ section where the singer addresses ‘you strings of deep devotion’. A pithy chorale – the fifth verse of Kaspar Füger’s ‘Wir Christenleut’ (1592) – concludes this stirring work.

St Bart’s was full to bursting, the audience including the mayor of New York City, Rudy Giuliani, who confounded his bodyguards by making his way backstage at the end to express his appreciation. Afterwards he went on air in his radio programme to enthuse about the pilgrimage and promised to return to the second and third of our concerts.
>> © John Eliot Gardiner 2005, From a journal written in the course of the Bach Cantata Pilgrimage.

Hoffmann, Suzuki Commentary

The Lehms libretto source for the 1725 Christmasfest cantatas and an extensive summary of Cantata 110 are found in scholar Klaus Hofmann’s 2008 liner notes to the Masaaki Suzuki BIS complete cantata recordings, as well as Suzuki’s Production Notes.10 << The three cantatas recorded here – BWV 110, 57 and 151 – take us back to the Christmas period of 1725 and thus come from Bach’s third year of service in Leipzig. They belong to a group of eight Christmas-related cantatas that were composed in rapid succession around the turn of the year 1725–26. In these works Bach shows a predilection for texts by the Darmstadt court poet Georg Christian Lehms (1684–1717): the texts for six out of the eight works come from Lehms’ Gott gefälliges Kirchen-Opffer. This collection, published in 1711, was intended to be set to music by the Darmstadt court Kapellmeisters Christoph Graupner and Gottfried Grünewald, and Bach had already used isolated texts from it in his Weimar period (in works such as BWV 54 and BWV 199). The Christmas cantatas on this disc are thus related not just as regards their origins and first performances but also in literary terms.

<<Unser Mund sei voll Lachens, BWV 110, Then Was our Mouth Filled with Laughter. The cantata that was performed in the Nikolaikirche in Leipzig at the early service on Christmas Day 1725 – and at St Thomae that afternoon – celebrates the Messiah’s birth with music of festive splendour. A French overture, the sort of piece that used to accompany the arrival of the French king, serves as a symbolic greeting for the King of Heaven upon his entry into the world. The gospel passage for that day – Luke 2:1-14, the story of the birth of Jesus and the annunciation to the shepherds – initially plays no role in the cantata text; only later does the text take up its final words with the heavenly host’s song of praise ‘Ehre sei Gott in der Höhe…’ (‘Glory to God in the highest…’, fifth movement). The librettist’s starting point is a paraphrase of verses 2–3 of Psalm 126, which he uses immediately to establish the theme of the cantata: the joy of mankind and the praise of God, who ‘hath done great things for us’. As the following two arias make clear, however, God’s truly great deed is his assumption of human form in the person of his son – so that, even though we are surrounded by ‘Höll und Satan’ (‘hell and Satan’ – fourth movement), he can save us and make us into ‘Himmels Kindern’ (‘the children of heaven’ – second movement). To the meditation in the two arias upon this mystery is added the praise of God, in the words of the Old Testament ‘Dir, Herr, ist niemand gleich…’ (‘There is none like unto thee, O Lord…’ – Jeremiah 10:6; third movement) and the song of the angels, ‘Ehre sei Gott in der Höhe’ (‘Glory to God in the highest’, fifth movement). Then, in the last aria, we are encouraged to sing ‘Freudenlieder’ (‘songs of joy’), with the concluding chorale strophe coming like a fulfilling by all the singers of this bidding.

The introductory chorus – a piece in overture form in the style of Lully, with its characteristic ceremonial outer sections in dotted rhythm and a fugal Allegro as its middle section – is not a new composition: Bach turned instead to an orchestral suite from the latter part of his Weimar period or from his early time in Köthen. This work, an early version of the Fourth Orchestral Suite, BWV1069, did not include parts for flute, trumpet and timpani. Bach only added those parts for this Christmas cantata, also incorporating, in the fugal middle section, the vocal parts to the opening words of the cantata – in itself a remarkable compositional achievement, especially because the result is so well unified: one could hardly imagine a more appropriate musical setting for these words and emotions. The portrayal of laughter, which Bach has distilled from the instrumental work, must have echoed for a long time in the ears of the Leipzig congregation.

After the splendour of the opening movement, the meditative tenor aria turns its attention inwards with its ‘quiet’ instrumentation and densely interwoven flute motifs. And after a brief bass accompagnato that reminds us of the sublime greatness of God, the alto aria resumes the previous direction with a humble, questioning prayer: God, why do you do all this for us? The answer, almost hidden in the text, is: ‘aus Liebe’ (‘through love’). This may have been what prompted Bach to choose as a solo instrument the oboe d’amore, the attractive, slightly veiled tone of which characterizes the sound of the movement.

It is somewhat surprising that Bach does not return to the trumpets and drums in the following movement, ‘Ehre sei Gott in der Höhe’ (‘Glory to God in the highest,’), favouring once again a chamber instrumentation, a duet in which the accompaniment is confined to the basso continuo. Admittedly he had recourse here to an earlier composition that had been heard in Leipzig two years earlier during Vespers on Christmas Eve as an additional number in his Magnificat (BWV 243a) with the text ‘Virga Jesse floruit’. When adapting it to the cantata text, however, Bach revised the piece so extensively that one could easily take this jubilant display piece for an original composition.

After so much ‘chamber music’, the trumpet’s wake-up call at the beginning of the bass aria (sixth movement) emerges all the more strikingly. The entire movement is characterized by this signal-like triad motif – taken up by the solo bass on the words ‘Wacht auf,’ (‘Wake up’) – together with the lively, joyful coloraturas of the voice, trumpet and strings. The movement is also reminiscent of the aria ‘Großer Herr, o starker König’ (‘Mighty Lord and Great King’) that was to be included four years later in the Christmas Oratorio. The following chorale strophe (by Kaspar Füger, 1592) concludes the cantata very much in the spirit of its opening words, with joyful praise of God.

© Klaus Hofmann 2008

<<Production Notes, Unser Mund sei voll Lachens, BWV 110.

The main materials for BWV 110 are Bach’s own manuscript of the score (P153) and the original parts (St 92) in the Berlin State Library. As is well known, the first movement of this cantata is a parody of the Orchestral Suite No. 4, BWV 1069, and the duet that constitutes the fifth movement makes use of the Latin duet for Christmas (Virga Jesse) inserted into the Magnificat in E flat major, BWV 243a.

It is very interesting to observe how the French overture that forms the opening of BWV 1069 was adapted for use in BWV 110. There is no space here to go into this matter in detail, but it is worth noting that not only is the instrumentation different, but in order to ensure that the music of the middle section fits the tessitura of the choir, Bach has also changed the entry order of the voices between bars 24 and 28. These five bars reappear at a later point in the cantata movement (at bars 147 to 152), an insertion which results in a full recapitulation that was not a feature of the origiwork.

The articulation marks on the triplets that make up most of the middle section of this movement are as usual written in detail, not in the score but in the parts. Although not entirely consistent, the most common procedure is for five quavers to be linked by a slur between the first and second beats of the second bar of the theme. This is interesting, as it is possible that this articulation was added during the making of the parody. As there is no extant original material for Suite No. 4, however, it is impossible to say for certain.
© Masaaki Suzuki 2009

Cantata 110 Recordings

There is a veritable plethora of recordings of Cantata 110, including three from the Leipzig Thomanerchor with their directors, as well as three from Helmut Rilling following the score and parts designations, various “authentic” performances, including OVPP, and recent live recordings (BCW Details & Recordings,
From the Leipzig front are Günther Ramin’s 1947 complete version, running 28:10 (recording,; details; Hans-Joachim Rotzsch 1981 (music,; details,; and Georg Christoph Biller’s 2014 version (,
The Rilling versions are 1974 (music, (25:13), details,, the 1974 Oregon Summer Festival (details,; and the 1997 lecture (see above, “Commentary: Dürr, Rilling . . .”). “
Authentic” performances include Nicholas Harnoncourt’s 1979 recording (music,; details,; Philipp Herreweghe’s 1995 OVPP (music,; details,; and Philippe Pierlot’s 2012 version (music,; details,
Recent performances include Diego Fasolis’s I Barocchisti 2015 (music,


1 Cantata 110, BCW Details& Discography, Score Vocal & Piano,; Score BGA, Autograph Score (Facsimile), D B Mus. ms. Bach P 153,; Parts Bach St 92, (principal copyists, Kuhnau, Johann Andreas Kuhnau, Christian Gottlob Meißner, Bach). Provenance: J. S. Bach - C. P. E. Bach - C. F. Zelter / Sing-Akademie zu Berlin - BB (jetzt Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin Preußischer Kulturbesitz) (1855).
References: BGA XXIII (Cantatas 101-110, Wilhelm Rust, 1876), NBA KB I/2 (Christmas Day cantatas, Alfred Dürr, 1957), Bach Compendium BC A 10, Zwang K 132.
2 Petzoldt, Martin. Bach Kommentar: Theologisch Musikwissenschaftlicke Kommentierung der Geistlichen Vokalwerke Johann Sebastan Bachs; Vol. 2, Die Geistlichen Kantaten vom 1. Advent bis zum Trinitatisfest; Internationale Bachakademie Stuttgart (Kassel: Bärenreiter, 2007: 109). Gospel & Epistle (Martin Luther 1545 German text and KJV 1611 English translation) are found at BCW
3 Alfred Dürr, Cantatas of J. S. Bach, revised and translated by Richard D. P. Jones (Oxford University Press, New York, 2005: 98f).
4 David L. Humphreys, Cantata 110 essay, Oxford Composer Companions: J. S. Bach, ed. Malcolm Boyd (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999: 487).
5 Lehms German text and Francis Browne English translation BCW
6 Richard D. P. Jones, The Creative Development of Johann Sebastian Bach, Volume II: 1717-1750. “Music to Delight the Spirit” (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013: 174).
7 So effectively expressed in Thomas Wolfe’s “This is Man,” from Look Homeward, Angel, as found in A Stone, a Leaf, a Door: Poems by Thomas Wolfe (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1945 by Maxwell Perkins: 47ff).
8 Günther Stiller in Johann Sebastian Bach and Liturgical Life in Leipzig, ed. Robin A. Leaver (St. Louis MO: Concordia Publishing, 1985: 234).
9 Gardiner notes, BCML[sdg113_gb].pdf; BCW Recording details,
10 Hoffman/Suzuki notes, BCW[BIS-SACD1761].pdf; BCW Recording details,

Aryeh Oron wrote (December 29, 2016):
Cantata BWV 110 - Revised & updated Discography

Cantata BWV 110 "Unser Mund sei voll Lachens" (May our mouth be filled with laughter) was composed by J.S. Bach in Leipzig for Christmas Day of 1725. The cantata is scored for soprano, alto, tenor & bass soloists; 4-part Chorus; and orchestra of 3 trumpets, timpani, 2 transverse flutes, 3 oboes, oboe d'more, oboe da caccia, bassoon, 2 violins, viola & continuo.

The discography pages of BWV 110 on the BCW have been revised and updated. See:
Complete Recordings (25): Cantata BWV 110 - Details & Discography Part 1: Complete Recordings
Recordings of Individual Movements (13):
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 & 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 are the most comprehensive discography of the cantata. If you are aware of a recording of BWV 110 missing from these page, 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):

Happy New Year,

Charles Francis wrote (December 31, 2016):
Comparing performances of this cantata, I ran into the one by the Ricercar Consort directed by Philippe Pierlot, featuring four soloists: Maria Keohane, Carlos Mena, Julian Prégardien and Stephan MacLeod. With regard to Bach’s reworking of the Overture of the fourth Orchestral Suite as the opening chorus of BWV 110, Pierlot’s use of a soloist for each voice in the fugue preserves, for me, the lightness and musical sense of the original, while, by contrast, multiple singers per part can, on occasion, sound somewhat ungainly, ponderous, and contrived.

The relevant rendition can be heard online at Bach Cantata BWV 110 Unser Mund sei voll Lachens Pierlot

Happy New Year to all,

Julian Mincham wrote (December 31, 2016):
[To Charles Francis] Having now heard many of Bach's choral works with one or two voices per part I have come to the conclusion that it is by far the best way to perform them all not just 110. This demanded quite a switch of attitude on my part since I grew up with performances of them with massive choirs and orchestras and tediously slow tempi. How many people can recall the interminable performances of these works in the 50s and 60s, readings which seemed to lose completely the sense of dance which we now recognise as permeating so much of Bach's music--when the tempi, articulation and the smaller groups allow?

William Hoffman wrote (December 31, 2016):
WADR, please look at the original parts set listed in the Discussion. There are separate chorus parts for ripieni and concertists. This also is shown in the Haenssler vocal-piano edition 1983, marked "con ripieni (tutti)" (measure 24) and "senza ripieni" (measure 48), etc, alternating throughout the chorus. Further, Bach made substantial adjustments in the orchestral parts in the opening chorus because that's what he wanted with chorus added. Meanwhile, I really like John Butt's new Linn XO, OVPP with double voices in the trumpet cantatas Parts 1, 3, and 6.

Best wishes for a New Year.


Cantata BWV 110: 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
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Last update: Monday, September 11, 2017 15:27