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Cantata BWV 112
Der Herr ist mein getreuer Hirt
Discussions - Part 4

Continue from Part 3

Discussions in the Week of April 19, 2015 (4th round)

William Hoffman wrote (April 19, 2015):
While Bach filled only two gaps in the Easter to Trinityfeast season of 13 chorale cantatas in the second cycle, BWV 112 and 129, one pure-hymn Cantata 112, “Der Herr ist mein getreuer Hirt” (The Lord is my faithful shepherd) setting of Psalm 23, reveals the various reasons Bach chose not to use seasonal hymns to complete the cycle. Instead, Bach turned to cantatas in various formats emphasizing the Gospel of John designated throughout most of the “The Great Fifty Days” plus seven. Most of the chorales of Bach’s Leipzig hymnbook, Das neu Leipziger Gesangbuch (NLGB)1 were for general use throughout this time, not for specific Sundays, particularly the Sundays after Easter Sunday.

The texts of these general Easter hymns had virtually no relationship to the Johanine Gospel lessons for the six Sundays after Easter as well as the feasts of Ascension, Pentecost (three-days) and the Trinity fest). The one exception was Misericordias Domini (“goodness/tender mercies), the 2nd Sunday after Easter, with the John Gospel 10:12-15, the Good Shepherd description Jesus provides to the skeptical Pharaisees, as well as the designated Introit Psalm 23.

For better selection, Bach or his librettist turned to other Leipzig and Dresden hymnals. For example, Cantata 12, “Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen,” text probably by Salomo Franck, for Jubilate (3rd Sunday after Easter) in 1714, repeated in Leipzig in 1724, closes with “Was Got tut, das ist wohlgetan” (What God does that is well-done), under the hymnal classification “Cross and Trial.,” says Günther Stiller in JSB and Liturgical Life in Leipzig.2 Thus Bach’s undesignated pure-hymn Cantata 100 with the same chorale, composed after 1732, could have been performed on Jubilate Sunday and will be the BCML discussion next week.

Further, the Easter Season hymns “are chosen in accordance with the Gospel” usually of John, and “Bach followed this direction too in his cantatas for the Easter season,” says Stiller (Ibid.: 240). A particular practice among Leipzig pastors of Bach’s time and previously was to present an annul cycle of emblematic sermons with Jesus as the model, as well as sermons based on chorales, observes Alfred Dürr in The Cantatas of JSB.3 “It is not known why Bach broke off the composition of chorale cantatas,” at Easter 1725,” says Dürr (Ibid.: 32f). “Did he lose his librettist? Or did the preacher alter his theme?” In a footnote, Dürr observes: “It might be significant that Christian Weiss the Elder began to preach again regularly at Easter 1724 [after an illness], so that a cycle of sermons came to an end at Easter 1725.”

Biblical Readings and Cantata Text

The Readings for Misericordias Domini [2nd Sunday after Easter] are: Epistle: 1 Peter 2:21-25 (You were as sheep gone astray); Gospel: John 10:12-16 (I am the good shepherd, Jesus); Complete biblical text is the Martin Luther German translation (1545), with the English translation Authorised (King James) Version [KJV] 1611; for complete texts, see BCW Readings,

The Introit Psalm for Misericordias Domini is Psalm 23, Dominus regit me (The Lord is my shepherd), says Martin Petzoldt in Bach Commentary, Vol. 2, Advent to Trinityfest.4

The 15 minute work in pure-hymn form (per omnes versus) is composed in typical palindrome symmetrical form: opening chorus and closing plain chorale, alto aria, arioso and recitative, duet for soprano and tenor.5

It is music with a decidedly pastoral character in its dance styles and use of pairs of horns and oboes. The first performance of Cantata 112 was on April 8, 1731, in the Nikolaikirche, before the sermon by Archdeacon Friedrich Wilhelm Schütz (1677-1739), sermon not extant, says Petzoldt (Ibid.: 804).

The Text author is Wolfgang Meuslin (1497-1565), chorale 1530, after Psalm 23; Chorale Text: Der Herr ist mein getreuer Hirt, BCW Francis Browne English translation, Das Neu Leipziger Gesangbuch (NLGB), No. 251, Christian Life & Conduct, David Psalms, BAR form (5 stanzas, 7 lines [ABABCCB]. The Chorale Melody “Allein Gott in der Höh sei Her” (To God alone on high be glory) is a 1539 adaptation of the Easter plainsong “Gloria in excelsis,” Composer: Nikolaus Decius (1522), BCW (Zahn: 4457, EKG: 131 [1480-1529]).

The hymn was first published in the Augsburg Gesangbuch of 1530 or 1531, and again in the edition of 1533. The text also was published in the Leipziger Kirchenmusik in 1731,6 suggesting this was the date for the first performance although Bach scholars suggest it may have been composed in 1729.

Meuslin’s BCW biography is found at “Meusel was born at Dieuze, in Lorraine, in 1497. In 1512 he entered the Benedictine monastery at [352] Lixheim, near Saarburg. He embraced Lutheranism, and in 1537 became chief pastor of the Cathedral Church of Augsburg. In 1549 he settled at Bern as Professor of Theology, and died there in 1563.”7

Shepherd Chorale Usages

Bach’s two other cantatas for Misercordias Domini, BWV 104, “Du Hirte Israel, höre” (You shepherd of Israel, listen; Ps. 80:2), April 23, 1724, and BWV 85, “Ich bin ein guter Hirt” (I am the good shepherd, John 10:11), April 15, 1725, use a similar paraphrase of setting of Psalm 23, with the same incipit and BAR form, by Cornelius Becker (1598) to the same melody, “Allein Gott in der Höh sei Her.” The first verse is set as a plain chorale closing (No. 6) Cantata 104, and as a soprano aria (No. 3) in Cantata 85.

The Decius melody “Allein Gott in der Höh sei Her,” is set to his 1525 and Luther’s text in Bach’s plain chorale, BWV 260 in BAR form, 4 stanzas, 7 lines. It is part of Luther’s authorized Deutsche Messe as set in chorales by Bach: “Kyrie, Gott Vater in Ewigkeit,” BWV 371; Wir glauben all an einem Gott. BWV 437; Sanctus (Heilig), BWV 325; and “O Lamm Gottes unschudig, BWV 401, as well as the Dona nobis pacem (BWV 232).

In 1725 for Ascension Day, Bach had Christiane Mariane von Ziegler set the first stanza of Josua Wegelin’s (1636) “Auf Christi Himmelfahrt allein” feast day hymn to the melody “Allein Gott in der Höh sei Herr” as an opening chorale chorus in Cantata 128.

In 1729, Bach performed the Johann Ludwig Bach “Missa sopra cantilena” (Kyrie-Gloria) in E minor (using German "Gloria" chorale melody "Allein Gott in der Höh sei Her." For further details and notes, see BCW,, scroll down to “J.L. Bach Missa, BWV Anh. 166.”

The Decius melody is set, untexted, in various Bach organ chorales: BWV 662: Chorale Prelude for Organ [BWV 651-BWV 668 Weimar with revision in Leipzig 1739-1750 NBA IV/2, “The Great Eighteen Chorales“]; BWV 663 Chorale Prelude for Organ (with melody highlighted), BWV 664 Chorale Prelude (Trio) for Organ; BWV 675 & 676 Chorale Preludes from Part 3 of the ClavierÜbung, 1739, NBA IV/4; BWV 711 Chorale Preludes for Organ, 1700/17 (formerly “Kirnberger Collection”), NBA IV/3; BWV 715 & 717 (Miscellaneous), BWV 716 (not accepted by the NBA).

The Movements of Cantata 112, Scoring, Text, Key, and Meter are:8

Scoring, Soloists: Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass; 4-part Chorus; Orchestra: 2 horns, 2 oboes d’amore, 2 violins, viola, continuo
1. Chorus fantasia (Stanza 1) with ritornelli [SATB; Corno I/II, Oboe d'amore I/II, Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo]: “Der Herr ist mein getreuer Hirt” (The Lord is my faithful shepherd); G major, 2/2.
2. Aria (Stanza 2) bi-partite [Alto, Oboe d'amore solo, Continuo]: A. “Zum reinWasser er mich weist” (He leads me to pure water); B. (abgesang), “Er führet mich auf rechter Straß” (He guides me on the right road); e minor, 6/8 pastorale style.
3. Arioso-Recitative-Arioso (Stanza 3) [Bass; Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo]: Arioso, “Und ob ich wandelt im finstern Tal, / Fürcht ich kein Ungelücke” (And though I wander in the dark valley / I fear no misfortune); Recit. Adagio, “In Verfolgung, Leiden, Trübsal . . . Denn du bist bei mir stetiglich” (in persecution, suffering, sorrow . . . for you are with me constantly; arioso, “Auf dein Wort ich mich lasse.” (I rely on your word.); C to G major; 4/4.
4. Aria (Stanza 4) in AABA form BAR with reprise (Duet) [Soprano, Tenor, Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo]: A. “Du bereitest für mir einen Tisch” (You prepare for me a table); A. “Machst mein Herze unverzagt und Frisch” (you make my heart undismayed and fresh): B. “Mein Haupt tust du mir salben” (you anoint my head for me); A. “Und schenkest voll ein meiner Seel / Deiner geistlichen Freuden.” (and you pour out fully in my soul / your spiritual joy); D Major; 2 (4/4/) bouree style.
5. Chorale (Stanza 5) plain [SATB; Oboe d'amore I e Violino I col Soprano, Oboe d'amore II e Violino II coll'Alto, Viola col Tenore, Corno I/II, Continuo): “Gutes und die Barmherzigkeit / Folgen mir nach im Leben” (Goodness and mercy / follow me through my life); G major, 4/4.

Chorale Relationships in Choruses

A fascinating study of the relationship among related chorales and a summary of the opening Cantata 112 fantasia is found in Julian Mincham’s Introduction, “Chapter 54 BWV 112 Der Herr ist mein getreuer Hirt,” 9 <<This is a particularly interesting late chorale/fantasia cantata, the date of which has been firmly fixed. Both Boyd (p 136) and Wolff (p 280) give the first performance as Easter April 8th 1931. Bach had provided a cantata for this day in the first cycle (C 104: vol 1, chapter 51) a work that opens with a pastoral chorus in 9/8 time and ends with a slightly adapted version of the chorale used again for this work.

Returning to the assumption that his grand plan of chorale cantatas may have been interrupted during the preparation of the Easter music for 1725, it makes sense to determine whether he had already produced a work for this day as a part of the second cycle. Indeed he did; C 85 (chapter 44), also an appropriately pastoral work and similarly based upon the theme of the true Shepherd.

But C 85 was not a chorale/fantasia cantata. It began (as did Cs 108 and 87, also from the latter part of the second cycle) with a bass aria declaiming the words of the Lord. It ended with a minor-mode chorale very different in character from that which closes 112. It may be, therefore, that Bach intended C 112 to replace C 85 in the second cycle simply because it fitted the established pattern, although why he waited six years to do it remains a mystery.

However, there is another cantata with a direct relationship with C 112 and that is C 128 (chapter 46), also from late in the second cycle. This was one of only two chorale/fantasias that Bach composed between C 1 (chapter 41) and the end of the cycle, the other being C 68 (chapter 49). The fantasias composed for both Cs 112 and 128 are based upon the same chorale melody. This is a relatively unusual event and, furthermore, it would also be difficult to find two more different movements in character and feeling arising from an identical genesis. (For further examples of fantasias constructed from the same chorale see the essay on C 192, chapter 53).

The final general point to be noted about this work is that each stanza set is a verse from the chorale i.e. there are no inserted lines. This may explain the minimum use of recitative.

(NB a list of the nine cantatas which Bach set in this manner may be found at the end of the essay on C 97: vol 2 chapter 59).


C 112 is one of the shortest and most concise of just over fifty surviving chorale/fantasia cantatas, typically lasting barely twelve minutes. Its opening chorus seems to be a subtle combination of the festive and pastoral. Although lacking trumpets, the forces are impressive, aided by the addition of two horns to the usual complement of two oboes d ‘amore, strings and continuo. The sounds of the four wind instruments predominate throughout, having been boldly launched with an unaccompanied pair of horns extrovertly announcing the first theme. The first horn has a version of the first chorale phrase and the second supports it with a rising fanfare figure.>>

“The fantasia is one of the most miraculously things Bach ever wrote,” says Whittaker (Ibid. LL:437), “its beatific peace, the fascinating texture produced by the calm, scale-wise movement of the voices, the decorative figure and the reiterated calls of the corno II, the picture of the Good Shepherd moving serenely at the head of His contented flock, hold one spellbound as if by a vision.

Chorale Cantatas at Easter10

<<The occasion Misericordias Domini or the Second Sunday After Easter means the "Goodness (literally "tender mercies") of the Lord." It comes from the incipit of Psalm 89/88, "Your love, O Lord, for ever will I sing." This Sunday is also called "Good Shepherd Sunday." There are three extant Bach cantatas for this service: BWV 104 in 1724, a new composition for the First Cantata Cycle and not a revision of a Weimar cantata, text possibly by Christian Weiss, Sr.; Cantata BWV 85, composed in 1725 during the Second Cantata Cycle, text possibly by Weiss, but part of Bach's Third Cycle; and Cantata BWV 112, a chorale cantata using the five stanzas unaltered of the Meuslin chorale paraphrase of Psalm 23, "Der Herr ist mein getreuer Hirt" (The Lord is my true shepherd), and, belatedly part of his Chorale Cantata Cycle of 1724-25

In 1725, for the 12 services between Easter Monday and Pentecost Tuesday, Bach composed no chorale cantatas, thus leaving his chorale cantata cycle incomplete. First performed on Misericordias Domini, April 8, 1731, Cantata BWV 112 is the only extant chorale cantata Bach composed subsequent to 1725 for the 12-service gap in the cycle. Of the other 10 chorale cantatas Bach composed after 1725, six were composed to fill occasions he omitted or which did not take place in 1724-25, from Trinity Sunday to the Marian Feast of Annunciation. These are Cantatas BWV 129, BWV 177, BWV 9, BWV 137, BWV 140, and BWV 14, for (respectively): Trinity and the Fourth, Sixth, 12th and 27th Sundays after Trinity, and the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany. Four chorale cantatas without designated church year services are based on chorales also found in wedding cantatas: BWV 97, BWV 100, BWV 117, and BWV 192. It is possible, nominally at least, to place them in the following services, respectively: Exaudi (Sunday after Ascension), 15th Sunday after Trinity or Jubilate (Third Sunday after Easter), Rogate (Fifth Sunday after Easter) and Reformation Day. This designation is based on the particularly chorale usage during the church year. For example, the chorale "Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan" (Cantata BWV 100) could have been sung during Epiphany, Easter, or Trinity season.

Possible Genesis: Bach compositional process scholar Robert L. Marshall believes that the opening chorale fantasia (Mvt. 1) of Cantata BWV 112 may have been composed earlier, possible for the 1725 service, since it is a fair or clean copy. Gerhard Herz (Bach Sources, 28, 67) agrees. Marshall surmises (Process 27f) that Bach could have proceeded during Lent with its composition, since the opening movement (Mvt. 1) uses, unaltered, the first verse of the chorale, but laid it aside when the subsequent paraphrased verses were not forthcoming. Dürr disagrees, suggesting that it may date earlier only to 1729 (Chronology, 2d. ed., 167). In addition, there are other chorale cantata movements or fragments composed around 1725 which Bach originally may have planned to use in chorale cantatas during the Easter season gap: Cantata movements BWV 6/3, Easter Mo; BWV 85/3, Misericordias Domini; BWV 128/1, Ascension; BWV 68/1, Pentecost Monday; and fragments in Neumann Handbuch N32, Quasimodogeniti ("lost Emmaus cantata"), and N33, Exaudi.

First Performance: Beginning on Good Friday, March 23, 1731, with the parodied chorale Passion, St. Mark, BWV 247, Bach resumed presenting his church works weekly. This was the first time in four years, since the second half of 1726, when Bach composed cantatas for the entire Trinity season to complete his third cycle. Cantata BWV 112 was the only new work presented at this time in 1731. The remainder were reperformances from his previous cycles, primarily the first. This is documented through two surviving church libretto books for the period Easter Sunday to Misericordias Domini (BWV 112) and Pentecost to Trinity Sunday. The book for the five services from Jubilate to Exaudi is not extant. Thereafter, the record, without libretto books, is spotty.

Bach had hit a low point of cantata presentations in 1730 with only two new works, BWV 51 and BWV 192, and three repeats. I think Bach in 1731 was buoyed by having the Collegium musicum and the full support of Thomas School Director Gessner. Perhaps, also he was responding defiantly to the Town Council's complaint that he didn't do much work. Some Bach authorities believe that Bach may have presented his entire chorale cantata cycle between 1732 and 1735, on the basis of fragmentary documentation of reperformances and his continuing to compose chorale cantatas to fill the Trinity to Easter gap. Also, 41 chorale cantata parts sets from the cycle were given by Anna Magdalena to the Thomas School in 1750 and many were transcribed into performing scores by copyist Penzel in 1755-56.

Form: The concise five-movement Cantata BWV 112, like Bach's first church service cantata, BWV 4, is a chorale-based work, per omnes versus, in symmetrical form: Chorale chorus, aria, recitative, aria, chorale. It is a basic palindrome, also called "chiastic" or cross-like form, most prominent in sections of the St. John Passion (BWV 245). The music, possibly written in Mühlhausen, was repeated in 1724 or 1725 and is part of Bach's chorale cantata cycle.

Those wonderful horns. The Rilling 1985 recording [3] notes by Marianne Helms point out that that the style and method of composition and the use of high horns "fits well with the compositions of the year 1725," especially BWV 128 opening chorale chorus for Ascension Day, using the same melody. Cuckold symbols aside, there are three chorale cantatas composed during this time with pairs of horns: BWV 192 (Koopman realization), BWV 112, and BWV 100 as well as single horn in the three-stanza works BWV 14 and BWV 140. They are most effective in obbligato embellishment of the chorale melody. I also like the interplay of horns with oboes, the latter often doubling the violins, giving a soft trumpet effect.

While the chorale cantatas do not lend themselves to parody, dance is surprisingly prominent in 35 of some 50 chorale cantatas, primarily in the arias. In Cantata BWV 112, the first aria (No. 2) is in pastorale style and the second is a bouree (No. 4). The latter has a “kinetic recurrence, a feature of concerto style taken up by galant composers,” says Richard D. P. Jones in The Creative Development of JSB, Vol. II: 1717-1750.FN

Jones, The Creative Development of Johann Sebastian Bach, Volume II: 1717-1750. “Music to Delight the Spirit” (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013: 322).

In Leipzig, Bach composed five sacred "Shepherd Cantatas" with pastoral music Bach for two Easter season services: the Second Sunday after Easter (Misericordias) and Pentecost Tuesday (Pentecost Festival Third Day).

For the Second Sunday after Easter (Misericordias Domini), the three Shepherd Cantatas are based upon the Gospel of John 10: 12-16, "I am the Good Shepherd," and the Epistle Lesson, 1 Peter 2: 21-25, the biblical illusions to one sheep led astray, as well as the Collect, the deliverance from peril. The three cantatas are BWV 104, "Du Hirte Israel, höre" (You Shepherd of Israel, Give Ear), composed in 1724 with an opening pastorale chorus and a siciliana bass aria; Cantata BWV 85, "Ich bin ein gutter Hirt" (I am a Good Shepherd), composed in 1725, with a pastorale tenor aria; and Chorale Cantata BWV 112, "Der Herr ist mein getreuer Hirt," with a pastorale alto aria and a bouree soprano-tenor duet. Cantatas BWV 104 and BWV 85 have the same cycle 1 form with the opening biblical dictum and internal chorale setting, and presumably the same librettist.

For Pentecost Tuesday, the two Shepherd Cantatas, BWV 184, "Erwünschtes Freudenlicht" (Desired Light of Joy) and BWV 175, "Er rufet seinen Schafen mit Namen" (He Calls His Sheep by Name), are based on the Gospel of John 10: 1-11, Jesus as the true Shepherd. Cantata BWV 184 preserves the three Köthen dance-forms: minuet, polonaise, and gavotte. Cantata BWV 175 of 1725 has two pastorales, a newly-written aria, and a parodied aria from Köthen Cantata BWV 173a/7.>>

Good Shepherd

The Miserericordias Gospel (John 10:12-16), “portraying the good shepherd ready to lay down his life fore his sheep – a potent symbol in Jewish as well as Christian culture, says Alberto Basso in his essay, Der Herr ist mein getreuer Hirt, in Oxford Composer Companions: JSB.11 “The shepherd was recognized as a figure of authority, but also one of protection, dedication, love, and brotherhood – qualities associated with strength of both body and spirit. It is fitting that it was the shepherds who first adored the Christ-child and that Jesus’s disciples were known as the ‘little flock’.”

Cantata BWV 85, "Ich bin ein gutter Hirt" (I am the Good Shepherd), David Jones in the recent BCW Discussion cites John Eliot Gardiner recording notes: "Bach approaches the same pastoral field by a different route in 1725. BWV 85 Ich bin ein guter Hirt is the third of three cantatas on 12 consecutive feast days (the others are BWV 6 and BWV 42) that form a coherent sequence, each a fresh response to the increasing anxiety of the disciples, then and now, at life in the world without Jesus' physical presence. All three feature Johannine themes in contemporary texts, possibly by a single author, compiled the year before and intended by Bach for his first Leipzig <Jahrgang> of 1723/4. This had to be put on hold, perhaps as a result of the colossal effort which went into the completion of the <St John Passion> (BWV 245) for Good Friday 1724, obliging him to turn to pre-existing material for some of the cantatas in that post-Resurrection season."

Gardiner on Cantata 11212

Bach had something quite different in mind when he composed the third cantata for this Sunday, BWV 112 Der Herr ist mein getreuer Hirt, in 1731. A late addition to his chorale-cantata cycle of 1724/5, it features all five strophes of a metrical paraphrase of Psalm 23 this time by Wolfgang Meuslin, but to the same hymn-tune by Nikolaus Decius (‘Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr’) used in the two earlier works. It gives a fresh twist to the stock-in-trade of German pastoral music adapted for church use: characteristically soothing and peaceful in mood, as with the two earlier cantatas – manifestations of solace, or gestures that transform death into a welcome release from the pains of living. The opening chorale fantasy is a masterpiece of compression. The presence of two horns, both crooked in G, one stratospherically high (and given no moment to breathe), the other given arresting reiterated three-note calls, reveals a much more regal portrait of the good shepherd than we have previously met. What Bach has done here is to combine several quasi-independent elements into one astonishing, polychromatic whole. To the calm ascent of the soprano hymn-tune he has added a burnished sheen (the first horn), serenity fused with majesty, as it were. The counter-subject (first violins and first oboes d’amore) is vigorous and mouvementé, representing gambolling lambs headed pasture-wards, or a busy crowd on the move, or perhaps both.

Apart from this arresting contrast (and there are several others including those between the successive, imvoice entries underpinning the soprano/horn melody), is the irregular structural mosaic of prelude, strophes, intermezzo etc. in the following pattern of bars:
11 : 5 : 1 : 5 : 9 : 5 : 1 : 5 : 1 : 5 : 2 : 5 : 3 : 5 : 10 = 73
Was he reproducing some arcane numerological template here – and if so, what does it signify?

Verse 2 is an exquisite and outwardly pastoral aria for alto with oboe d’amore obbligato, replete with complex cross-rhythms against which the voice tries to insist on the ‘proper path’. Verse 3 begins with an arioso, the imposing basso continuo in its lower register preceding the bass voice as he bravely enters ‘the valley of darkness’. The upper strings arriving late give expressive chromatic force to the words inserted within the psalm text, a mere eight bars which evoke the horrors attendant on life’s journey via a modulatory descent of A flat – g – f and then, as ‘Thy rod and Thy staff comfort me’, to the serenity of E major, finally coming to rest in G major.

Verse 4 is a soprano/tenor duet in the form of an irrepressible bourrée for strings, and considerably easier for the two singers to dance than to sing! All five verses of this superb cantata are tailored to the expression of the text, the music imaginatively and cunningly conceived, an example of Bach drawing on his experience and skill to articulate his religious convictions and to exhort, stimulate and charm his listeners. But did he succeed?

Just when ‘we are beginning to understand the shape and content of the music’, as our principal oboe Marcel Ponseele put it, ‘we have to stop’ – and proceed to the next week’s instalment.>>
© John Eliot Gardiner 2007

Hofmann on Cantata 11213

<<Misericordia Sunday (‘the mercy of the Lord’), for which Bach’s cantata was composed, is the second Sunday after Easter. The day is traditionally asso - ciated with an allegorical image: of Jesus as the good shepherd. That is the subject of the Gospel passage for the day in question (John 10:12–16); the Epistle alludes to it too (1 Peter 2:21–25), and so does the beginning of Psalm 23: ‘The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want’. Bach’s cantata follows suit: its text is an adaptation of Psalm 23 in the form of a five-verse hymn from around 1530 that is still sung in the Evan - gelical church today.

Bach’s cantata was composed for the main Leipzig church service in St Nicolai’s Church on 8th April 1731. The text chosen by Bach points back to the choral cantata year that he had left unfinished – apparently for extra-musical reasons – in the spring of 1725: this work is a supplement to that cycle of cantatas. Unlike in the chorale cantatas from 1724–25, in which the inner strophes of hymns are transformed into recitative and aria texts, this cantata uses the hymn text unaltered. The melody is a tune by Nikolaus Decius (1523) that today remains associated with the Gloria hymn Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr (To God Alone on High be Glory).

The Leipzig congregation probably expected pastoral colours corresponding to the ‘shepherd’ theme of the Sunday in question, and must have been very surprised by the fanfare from the two horns with which Bach precedes his opening chorus. Only after the first horn has presented the first melodic germ cell in slightly decorated form does the full orchestra enter.

The unexpected choice of brass instruments may have a specific explanation: the appearance of the autograph score suggests that Bach did not compose this move ment from scratch in 1731, but instead took it from an earlier work: thus, possibly, this instrumentation, with horns, might have resulted from the requirements of another text – something like the abovementioned ‘Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr’.

The orchestral writing in the opening chorus is thematically independent; in terms of sonority, it is characterized by the dominance of the first horn and the agile first violin part. As with most introductory choruses in the chorale cantatas, the hymn tune is in the soprano and is presented line-by-line, integrated into the orchestral writing. The alto, tenor and bass combine to form an imitatory web of voices, their thematic material wholly formed from the rising melodic line heard at the start of the hymn.

In the alto aria ‘Zum reinen Wasser er mich weist’ (‘He shows me the way to pure water’) we do at last find hints of pastoral elements, with the obbligato oboe d’amore and the rocking 6/8-metre. The sweeping oboe coloraturas are evidently inspired by the idea of flowing spring water.

In the following bass recitative, Bach flexibly depicts walking ‘im finstern Tal’ (‘in the dark valley’) by means of the deep, descending basso ostinato. With exquisite dissonances and string accompaniment he gives musical expression to the emotive words ‘Verfol gung, Leiden, Trübsal’ (‘persecution, suffering, distress’).

The soprano and tenor duet – concerning an unflinching heart and all kinds of joy – exudes happiness and relaxation. All through, also in the vocal parts, we hear the jaunty syncopated theme with which the first violin begins the movement, an idea that one would have expected to find in a secular rather than a sacred cantata. With its simple but harmonically rich writing, however, the final strophe takes us back to the measured earnestness of the church service.
>>© Klaus Hofmann 2012

Bach’s performance calendar in Leipzig for the 2nd Sunday after Easter:

1724-04-23 So - Cantata BWV 104 Du Hirte Israel, höre (1st performance, Leipzig)
1725-04-15 So - Cantata BWV 85 Ich bin ein guter Hirt (1st performance, Leipzig)
1726-05-05 So - J.L. Bach: Cantata Und ich will ihnen einen Hirten (And I will set up one shepherd over them, Hesekiel 34:23, JLB-12 (1st performance, Leipzig)
1729-05-01 So - Picander text only, P32/5=?BWV 358, Franck "Jesu meine Freude" (S.1)
1731-04-08 So - Cantata BWV 112 Der Herr ist mein getreuer Hirt (1st performance, Leipzig)
1736-04-15 So Misericordias Dom. - G.H. Stölzel: Er wird seine Herde weiden, Mus. A 15:163


1 NLGB, BACH'S HYMN BOOK: Jürgen Grimm, "Das neu [?] Leipziger Gesangbuch des Gottfried Vopelius (Leipzig 1682),"Berlin: Merseburger, 1969. ML 3168 G75.
2 Stiller, Johann Sebastian Bach and Liturgical Life in Leipzig, Ed. Robin A. Leaver (Concordia Publishing: St. Louis, 1985: 241).
3 Dürr, Cantatas of J. S. Bach, revised and translated by Richard D. P. Jones (Oxford University Press, New York, 2005: 30)
4 Petzoldt, 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: Misericordias Domini, Commentary,787; Cantata 112, Text Psalm 23 and chorale text, 802-04; Cantata 112 Commentary, 804-809).
5 Cantata 112, BCW Details and Discography,
6 Whittaker, W. Gillies. The Cantatas of Johann Sebastian Bach (Oxford University Press: London, 1958, I: 436).
7 Johann Sebastian Bach, Bach’s Chorals. Part I: 2 The Hymns and Hymn Melodies of the Cantatas and Motetts, by Charles Sanford Terry (Cambridge University Press, 1915-1921). 3 vols. Vol. 2. April 18, 2015., scroll down to Cantata CXII.
8 References: Score Vocal & Piano [1.69 MB],; Score BGA [1.78 MB], BGA, XXIV Cantatas 110-119, ed. Alfred Dörffel 1876), NBA KB I/11.1 (Cantata for 2nd Sunday after Easter, Reinmar Emans, 1989), Bach Compendium BC A 67, Zwang K 182. Provenance, Thomas Braatz (April 22, 2002), BCW, especially Friedemann’s ownership of the score.
9 Mincham, The Cantatas of Johann Sebastian Bach: A listener and student guide, Revised 2014; Home Page,
10 Source: Cantata 112, BCML Discussions Part 2,, scroll down to: William Hoffmann wrote (August 4, 2008).
11 Oxford Composer Companions: J. S. Bach, ed. Boyd, Malcolm (Oxford University Press: New York, 1999: 136).
12 Gardiner liner notes,[sdg131_gb].pdf; BCW Recording details,
13 Hofmann liner notes,[BIS-SACD-1981-booklet].pdf; BCW Recording notes,

Aryeh Oron wrote (April 24, 2015):
Cantata BWV 112 - Revised & updated Discography

The discography pages of the Chorale Cantata BWV 112 “Der Herr ist mein getreuer Hirt” for Misericordias Domini [2nd Sunday after Easter] on the BCW have been revised and updated.
The cantata is scored for soprano, alto, tenor & bass soloists; 4-part chorus; and orchestra of 2 horns, 2 oboes d’amore, 2 violins, viola & continuo. See:
Complete Recordings (13):
Recordings of Individual Movements (7):
The revised discography includes many listening/watching options to recordings directly from the discography pages, just below the recording details.

I have also added to the movement pages of this cantata an option to move back and forth between the movements and to each movement page the text and relevant portion of the BGA score. See:

I also put at the BCW Home Page:
2 audios 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 chorale cantata. If you are aware of a recording of BWV 112 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 William Hoffman's detailed introduction to this week's discussion of the cantata in the BCML (4th round):


Cantata BWV 112: 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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Last update: Sunday, May 28, 2017 05:24