Background Information
Performer Bios

Poet/Composer Bios

Additional Information

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

Cantata BWV 128
Auf Christi Himmelfahrt allein
Discussions - Part 5

Continue from Part 4

Discussions in the Week of May 14, 2017 (4th round)

William Hoffman wrote (May 14, 2017):
Ascension Feast Cantata 128: “Auf Christi Himmelfahrt allein”

After the somber, intimate first three solo cantatas set to texts of Mariane von Ziegler, Bach finally returns to the joy of Easter Sunday in chorus Cantata BWV 128 “Auf Christi Himmelfahrt allein” (On Christ’s Heaven-journey alone) for the one-day Ascension Festival of 1725. He employs an appropriate chorale setting lasting a third of the musical sermon’s 18 minutes, and bathes its all in a festive orchestra of pairs of oboes and hunting horns as well as oboe da caccia and strings. This is Bach’s only use of this chorale, text of Ernst Sonnenmann (1661) after Joshua Wegelin (1636), set to the Trinitarian melody “Allein Gott in der Höh’ sei Ehr” (To God alone on high be glory) by Nikolaus Decius, 1526, based on the Latin Gloria in excelsis Deo (Glory to God in the Highest).1

Cantata 128 is in the basic first cantata symmetrical form with opening chorus (here a chorale text instead of a biblical dictum), alternating pairs of recitatives and arias, with a closing plain second chorale. The central dal segno-style bass aria with blazing trumpet and stirring strings (No. 3), “Auf, auf, mit hellem Schall” (Up, up, with shrill sound), is followed by a contrasting, tender alto-tenor symbolic duet of Hope and Doubt in b minor, “Sein Allmacht zu ergründen” (To fathom his omnipotence) with oboe d-amore is in the dance style of a pastorale-giga. The sole, straightforward tenor recitative (no. 2), “Ich bin bereit, komm, hole mich!” (I am ready, come, gather me!), probe the liturgical meaning of Cantata 128 with various New Testament references. Into the bass aria, Bach provides a contrasting B section arioso with string accompaniment, “Wo mein Erlöser lebt” (where my redeemer lives), followed by a repeat of the opening trumpet ritornello. Cantata 128 closes with, No. 5, Matthäus Habermann (Avenarius) six-stanza 1673 “O Jesu, meine Lust (joy),” using Stanza 4, “Alsdenn so wirst du mich” (Then so will thou me), set to the Ahasverus Fritzsch 1679 melody “O Gott, du frommer Gott” (O God, Thou pious God).

Cantata 128 was premiered on Ascension Thursday, 10 May 1725, a the early man service of the Nikolaikirche before the sermon (not extant) on the day’s Gospel (Mark 16:14-20) by Deacon Friedrich Eerner (1659-1741), substituting for the indisposed Superintendent Salomon Deyling, says Martin Petzoldt in Bach Commentary, Vol. 2, Advent to Trinityfest.2 The opening main service polyphonic introit setting involved as many as one of three lesser-known and –set psalms, according to Petzoldt (Ibid.: 885): Psalm 32, Beati quorum, Blessed is her whose transgression is forgiven; Psalm 68, Exsurgat Deus, Let God arise; and Psalm 74, Ut quid, Deus?, O God, why hast thou cast us off forever? Their texts are found on-line at:,, and

Librettist Mariane von Ziegler uses the introductory chorale as the theme for the Christian’s allegiance to Jesus in Heaven, citing in No. 2, recitative, 1 Corinthians 13:12 (“face to face” with God) and Matthew 17.4 (Christ’s Transfiguration), and No. 4, bass trumpet aria, Acts 7:55 (Vision of Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit) and Matthew 25:33 (at God’s right hand), says Alfred Dürr in The Cantatas of J. S. Bach.3 Most notable, lasting one third of the 18-minute musical sermon, is the great chorale chorus, in the manner of previous, joyous hymn movements with brass, while having unusual features in its own right, particularly the opening ritornello constructed as a concertante fugue, observes Richard D. P. Jones.4 Having lavish concertante orchestral texture, this fantasia with the canto delivered in whole notes supported by imitative texture reveals “the thematic material of the instrumental parts,” especially the pairs of pastoral horns and oboes, “is derived more obviously than usual from the chorale melody,” says Dürr (Ibid.: 330).

Cantata 128 movements, scoring, texts, key, meter (German text and Francis Browne English translation, BCW

1 Chorale Chorus fantasia (pastorale concertante instruments) two-part with ritornelli complex, opening ritornello dal segno [SATB; Corno I/II, Oboe I/II, Oboe da caccia, Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo]: A. “Auf Christi Himmelfahrt allein / Ich meine Nachfahrt gründe” (On Christ's ascension [journey to heaven] alone / I base my own later journey/ascension); B. “Und allen Zweifel, Angst und Pein / Hiermit stets überwinde; / Denn weil das Haupt im Himmel ist, / Wird seine Glieder Jesus Christ / Zu rechter Zeit nachholen.” (and all doubt, anguish and pain / by this overcome forever; / for since the head is in heaven, / Jesus Christ later at the right time / will gather his members.); G Major; 4/4.
2. Recitative secco [Tenor; Continuo]: “Ich bin bereit, komm, hole mich! / Hier in der Welt / Ist Jammer, Angst und Pein; / Hingegen dort, in Salems Zelt, / Werd ich verkläret sein. / Da seh ich Gott von Angesicht zu Angesicht, / Wie mir sein heilig Wort verspricht.” (I am ready, come, gather me! / Here in the world / is misery, anxiety and pain; / there however, in Salem's tent, / I shall be transfigured. / There I see God face to face, / as his holy word promises me.); e to b minor; 4/4.
3. Aria two-part and Recitative with opening ritornello dal segno [Bass; Tromba, Violino I/II, Continuo]: A. Aria (Allegro moderato, Tempo 1; D Major, 3/4): “Auf, auf, mit hellem Schall / Verkündigt überall: / Mein Jesus sitzt zur Rechten!” ((Up, up, with shrill sound / proclaim everywhere: / my Jesus sits on the right!); B. “Wer sucht mich anzufechten? / Ist er von mir genommen, / Ich werd einst dahin kommen” / Who seeks to challenge me? / [Although] he is taken from me, / I shall one day come there); Recitative (Arioso) Accompagnato (Strings, Continuo, f-sharp to b minor, 4/4): “Wo mein Erlöser lebt / Mein Augen werden ihn in größter Klarheit schauen. / O könnt ich im voraus mir eine Hütte bauen! / Wohin? Vergebner Wunsch! / Er wohnet nicht auf Berg und Tal, / Sein Allmacht zeigt sich überall; / So schweig, verwegner Mund, / Und suche nicht dieselbe zu ergründen!” (where my redeemer lives, / My eyes will look in him in perfect clarity. / If only I could build a shelter for myself before that time! / For what purpose? Vain wish! / He does not dwell on a mountain or in a valley / His omnipotence shows itself everywhere; / so be silent, rash mouth, / and do not seek to fathom yourself!).
4. Aria (Duet in canon) da capo [Alto, Tenor; Oboe d'amore I, Continuo]: A. “Sein Allmacht zu ergründen, / Wird sich kein Mensche finden, / Mein Mund verstummt und schweigt. / (To fathom his omnipotence / no man will be able. / My mouth becomes dull and is silent.); B. “Ich sehe durch die Sterne, / Dass er sich schon von ferne / Zur Rechten Gottes zeigt.” (I see through the stars / that already from this distance / he shows himself at God's right hand.); b minor; 6/8 pastorale-giga.
5. Chorale plain with elaborated accompaniment, horn obbligato [SATB; Corno I/II, Oboe I e Violino I col Soprano, Oboe II e Violino II coll'Alto, Oboe da caccia e Viola col Tenore, Continuo]: “Alsdenn so wirst du mich / Zu deiner Rechten stellen / Und mir als deinem Kind / Ein gnädig Urteil fällen, / Mich bringen zu der Lust, / Wo deine Herrlichkeit / Ich werde schauen an / In alle Ewigkeit.” (Since then you will place me / on your right side / and to me as your child / a gracious judgement is given, / bring me to that pleasure / where on your majesty / I shall gaze / for aleternity.); G Major; 4/4.

Text Notes

Opening Chorale Fantasia. “Auf Christi Himmelfahrt allein” (On Christ’s Heaven-journey alone) is a three-stanza, seven-line (ABABCCD) appointed Ascension hymn found in Leipzig and Dresden hymnbooks of Bach’s day, says Günther Stiller.F5 The Ernst Sonnemann 1661 adaptation of Josua Wegelin’s 1636 text and Francis Browne’s English translation are found at BCW Wegelin’s hymn was first published in his Andachtige Versohnung mit Gott (Nürnberg, 1636), with a first stanza beginning, “Allein auf Christi Himmelfahrt,” and to the tune “Allein Gott,” says Charles S. Terry.6 The hymn was reconstructed and published as “Auf Christi Himmelfahrt allein” in the Lüneburg Vollständiges Gesang-Buch (Lüneburg, 1661). The Sonnemann (1630-1670) BCW Short Biography is found at The text is set to the associated Trinitarian melody, “Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr” (To God alone on high be glory), the German 1525 vernacular setting of the Latin Gloria in excelsis Deo by Nikolaus Decius and Martin Luther. Information on the text and melody (Zahn 4457), as well as the various alternate texts and Bach’s uses, is found at BCW,

Closing Plain Chorale. The words of the concluding chorale are the fourth stanza of Matthaus Avenarius’ 1673 hymn, “O Jesu, meine Lust” (joy) first published (to no specified melody) in Heinrich Ammersbach’s Vermehrtes Gesang-Buchlein (Halberstadt, 1673), says Terry (Ibid.). The six-stanza, eight line (ABCBDEFG) is a Death and Heaven Song and Bach’s source may have been the 1716 edition of the Halberstädter Gesangbuch, says Petzldt (Ibid.: 900). Its applied melody dates from 1677 and appears to have been little used. Avenarius’ text is set to a variant of Ahasverus Fritsch’s 1679 melody “O Gott, du frommer Gott” (O God, Thou pious God), published in Wagner’s Darnstadt Gesangbuch (1697). Melody No. 3 (Zahn 6206b, EKG 461), is Bach most used, found in six cantatas and two other settings, Neumeister organ chorale prelude, BWV 1125, and plain chorale, BWV 398=197a/7. For detailed information on the text and melody variants, as well as Bach’s uses, see BCW “O Gott, du frommer Gott” is found in Das neu Leipziger Gesangbuch of 1672 as No. 202 under Cathechism daily devotional songs.

Ziegler Chorales, Texts, Forms

The opening movement of Cantata 128 is one of only two non-chorale Ziegler-texted cantatas for the1725 Easter Season to begin with a chorale chorus. For Pentecost Tuesday, the Ziegler text also began Cantata 68, “Also hat Gott die Welt geliebt” (So has God the world loved), with a chorale chorus. Because both Cantata 128 and 68 begin with chorale incipits on the original scores, they were put into Bach’s Chorale Cantata Cycle 2 at the heirs’ estate division in 1750 (see “Provenance,” below). It also is possible that Bach chose these two chorale fantasia settings for projected chorale cantatas in the second cycle but retained only this material when commissioning Ziegler to compile the texts without chorale text paraphrases found in the previous chorale cantatas. These are the only two Ziegler texts (for feast days) Bach used that begin with a chorale, the other seven start with biblical dictum set as chorus overlay, observes Petzoldt in his comparative template of the Ziegler cantatas (Ibid.: 901).

Cantata 128 is the first of three Ziegler-texted cantatas to have only five movements, the others being Exaudi Cantata 183, and Pentecost Tuesday Cantata 68: opening chorale chorus (BWV 128, 68) or biblical dictum (BWV 185 recitative), closing chorale (BWV 128, 183) or chorus (BWV 68), and alternating recitatives and arias. Cantata 128 technically is a six-movement work since Bach combine an aria followed by recitative, with opening orchestral ritornello repeated in dal segno form. Three of the nine Ziegler-texted cantatas have six movements (Jubilate BWV 103, Cantate BWV 108, and Trinity BWV 176) in similar format. Two have seven movements (Rogate BWV 87 and Pentecost Tuesday BWV 175) and one, BWV 74 is eight movements with similar form and the addition of the biblical dictum (Gospel) bass aria (No. 4).

Free of the constraints of chorale cantata internal madrgalian arias and recitatives as well as strophic closing plain chorales, Bach in addition composed a scena involving dictum recitative and arioso into Cantata 175, and added internal biblical dicta in Cantatas 108 and 87, and a third dictum in Cantata 74. Bach’s uses of dicta as chorus, aria, and recitative strengthened the Johannine theology in lieu of the chorale-cantata driven-texts that almost always had no reference to the day’s Gospel liturgy. This further suggests that Bach unilaterally ceased chorale cantata composition for the Easter season 1725, leaving an incomplete cycle, returning to the overall form of Cantata Cycle 1 while working with a new librettist to emphasize the theological and liturgical importance of the poetic text. Free of the demanding chorale fantasia chorus, Bach could focus on intimate solo cantatas, usually for three voices (alto, tenor, bass), except for the feast days of Ascension, Pentecost, and Trinity Sunday 1725. Thus Bach’s third and most heterogeneous cycle technically and chronologically begins at the end the chorale cycle at Easter 1725. Further, into this mix, Bach also introduced variants into the overall organic structure while utilizing special, symbolic instruments (violoncello piccolo and solo cello, and the pastoral oboe da caccia and hunting horn) as well as occasional, earlier chorus and aria parodies in reserve but not appropriate for use in the chorale cantata cycle, another feature of self-borrowings also found in the third and presumably last cantata cycle.

Bach’s sensitivity to new poetic and spiritual text and it impact on his musical setting is best exemplified in his unusual and distinct treatment of the central, two-part, conventional trumpet aria (arrangement, Then Bach inserts the succeeding recitative as a contrasting B Section arioso in different tonality and tempo, from glorious D Major in 4/4 to somber, relative b minor in ¾, of Ziegler’s speech and silence, of the proclamation of God’s greatness while not presuming “to fully understand God’s omnipotence,” observes Mark A. Peters in his study, “The Composer’s Voice: Bach’s Compositional Procedures in the Ziegler Cantatas.”7 This contrast is replicated in the contrasting, succeeding alto-tenor da-capo duet, also in b minor set as a 6/8 dance, says Peters. “Bach directly juxtaposed the ritornellos” of the bass aria, which is repeated after the arioso, and the ritornello of the succeeding duet, “in doing so, highlighted the textual contrast between the theme of proclamation in BWV 128/3 and that if silence in BWV 128/4. The affect is one that Bach “often employed for texts related to the believer pondering heaven and Jesus sitting at God’s right hand (most notably in the “Qui sedes” of the Mass in B Minor” “Bach clearly recognized Ziegler’s focus on the themes of vocal expression, that is proclamation and silence, in BWV 128 are created a unique movement structure to highlight these themes,” says Peters (Ibid.: 122).

Fantasias, Free Form

Opening chorale fantasias choruses return to Bach’s second cycle in the closing Easter/Pentecost season in Cantatas 128 and 68 in the last nine cwith texts of Ziegler while Bach eschews any further uses of chorale-text paraphrases, free instead to follow a more topical form, observes Julian Mincham in his Commentary introduction to Cantata 128 ( <<Cs 128 and 68 (chapter 49) were performed within a fortnight of each other in May 1725 and share the distinction of being the only two cantatas of the last quarter of the cycle to begin with a chorale/fantasia. However, neither work precisely follows the format of the first forty. Nevertheless, and doubtless because of the inclusion of the fantasias, Bach retained these two works as a part of his second cycle whilst later transferring the others with texts by von Ziegler to the third (Dürr p 329).

It has been argued elsewhere that after C 4 Bach may have welcomed the freedom of producing a series of works without the constrictions imposed by the chorale, and that it may always have been his intention to proceed thus from the time of the Easter celebrations. The lack of self-imposed constraints may manifest themselves in a number of different ways. It allows for much more freedom in the choice of structural design and tonal planning of opening choruses (which one could, and Bach did on occasions, dispense with altogether). And even if he chose to retain the fantasia, he was perfectly free to adapt the overall movement design in other ways. For example, C 68 is the only one of the series not to end with a four-part harmonization of a chorale, it having been replaced with a somewhat enigmatic fugue. C 128 is alone in using one chorale for the fantasia and another to conclude. These may seem relatively insignificant points, but they are indicative of Bach’s continuing practice of changing, adapting and moving away from the format established with the ‘first forty’.

C 128 was composed for Ascension Day, a highly significant event in Christian history. As befits its importance, the instrumental forces are relatively large and impressive; two horns, oboes of every kind, strings and continuo and latterly one trumpet. In fact, one finds here a greater variety of orchestral forces than Bach has been known to employ even for some festive celebrations for the days of Christmas!

The chorale upon which the fantasia is based was clearly one that Bach liked and was very familiar with. In the key of A major it closes C 104 from the first cycle and Bach was also to use it in a later work, C 112 of 1731, returning it to the key of G. There he employs it exactly as in the first forty works of the second cycle; it not only closes the cantata but a choral/fantasia based upon it forms the opening movement.

Thus we have a rare point of comparison, two fantasias based on the same chorale, in the same key but written six years apart. Detailed study of them is revealing about Bach’s compositional development. The later work uses the lower voices more economically with fewer semi-quaver figurations. However, constant imitative entries are a characteristic of both movements, as are an attractively busy pair of horns. There is, however, no obvious reason for choosing a different chorale to close C 128.

A glance at the overall movement layout indicates that the recitative which might have been expected between the aria and duet does not eventuate as a separate movement but is incorporated into the bass aria. This is another example of the kind of structural experimentation which became increasingly common as Bach′s experience and expertise in cantata production developed.

The main textual themes revolve around the joy of Christ’s ascent in order to take his proper place in Heaven and the implications for us, of this momentous event. As usual, Bach underlines some of the fundamental aspects of the Lutheran concept of the human situation.>>

Ascension Works; BWV 128 Bring Joy

While only a one-day festival, Ascension produced four works of Bach and Cantata 128 returns to the joy of Easter Day in G and D Major with horns and trumpet, observes John Eliot Gardiner in his 2010 liner notes to the Soli Deo Gloria recording from the 2000 Bach Cantata Pilgrimage.8<< In the galaxy of high feasts in the church year Ascension is eclipsed by Christmas, Easter and Whitsun, perhaps in part because its celebration is not spread over three days. The Christian church celebrates Ascension Day as a solemn feast forty days after Easter and three of Bach’s church cantatas [BWV 37, 43, 128] for this feast have come down to us, together with one of his three surviving oratorios [BWV 11].>>

<<Composed as part of Bach’s second Leipzig cantata cycle, BWV 128, “Auf Christi Himmelfahrt allein,” is something of an anomaly. It was first performed on 10 May 1725 and the presence of a pair of high horns in the key of G major in the festive opening and closing movements celebrating Christ’s majesty reveals this to be Bach’s first cantata in a major key since Easter Day. There is no initial quotation from John’s Gospel and the impression one gets from the opening chorale fantasia is that Bach is reverting to a type we associate with his second cycle, basing his work on a single chorale, that was discontinued after Easter in 1725. But that is not how his librettist Christiane Mariane von Ziegler saw things. Her text roams far and wide, with references to Matthew (17:4 and 25:33) and Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (13:12), ending with a chorale unrelated to the first. Bach appears to play fast and loose with Ziegler’s text. Towards the end of an aria for bass (No.3), in which he has changed his singer’s partner from majestic horn to regal trumpet to signal that Christ has entered into his kingdom and is sitting at God’s right hand, Bach arranges for the trumpet to drop out as the singer asks, ‘Who seeks to challenge me?’ This is followed by the line ‘Though He is taken from me, I shall one day come...’, given unaccompanied and leading to an arioso section where one would expect a da capo. Bach is poaching on his librettist’s terrain: he welds together her intended pairing of aria and recitative to form a single, highly unusual structure: ritornello – vocal ‘A’ – vocal ‘B’ – arioso – ritornello. He then interpolates a connecting line of his own ‘... wo mein Erlöser lebt’ (‘... to where my Redeemer lives’) to act as a bridge to the arioso section, and adds a couple more lines for good measure at the conclusion: ‘So schweig’, verweg’ner Mund, und suche nicht dieselbe zu ergründen!’ – ‘Close, then, audacious lips, and seek not to fathom the Almighty’s power!’. His use of the word ‘ergründen’ (fathom) provides a link to the alto-tenor duet that follows (‘No mortal can be found to fathom the Almighty’). The absence of these three rhyme-less lines in Ziegler’s printed edition of 1728 points to the likelihood of Bach’s authorship, occasioned by his determination to bind these middle movements tightly together and fuse their message in the listener’s mind. After some extreme harmonic excursions during the arioso section the bright trumpet music returns in D major, but now without the voice, as though to emphasise a fundamental human failure to grasp the full extent of God’s glory.

The duet for alto and tenor with oboe d’amore obbligato [No. 4] is constructed as a graceful dance in 6/8 with phrase fragments arching up and down spanning two octaves. It seems to depict the believer scanning the distant heavens for Christ’s vanished presence, but pulled back down to earth trying to ‘fathom’ the mystery of His omnipotence. Meanwhile the two voices seem to be the allegorical personification of Hope and Doubt that we find in duet cantatas such as BWV 60. The closing chorale postulates the believer’s own ascent to eventual proximity to the Lord. With the first horn at the top of its range adding a descant that rises to three high Ds, the listener is buoyed up by tvision – the burnished splendour of Christ in majesty seated on his heavenly throne.>>
John Eliot Gardiner, 2013

BWV 128 Great Opening

The great opening chorale of Cantata 128 serves as a programme for the entire work, says Klaus Hofmann’s 2007 liner notes to the Masaaki Suzuki BIS complete cantata recordings.9 <<Auf Christi Himmelfahrt allein, BWV 128 (On Christ’s Ascension Alone). The cantata that was heard at the Leipzig church service on the Feast of the Ascension in 1725, with its great introductory chorus based on a well- known hymn strophe, must have reminded many listeners of the chorale cantatas that had until recently been regularly produced. As in many of those cantatas, the chorus presents a four-part hymn setting in which the cantus firmus – here with the melody of “Allein Gott in der Höh sei Her” (All glory be to God on high) – appears in long note values in the soprano while the alto, tenor and bass have free polyphonic writing using motifs associated with the hymn melody. A framework for the choral sections is created by a lively orchestral passage with two concertante horns. The orchestral part is connected with the cantus firmus in an unusual way: the rapid motif heard in the first bar from the first violin and, in close imitation, the two horns, is nothing other than a rhythmically compressed variant of the first four notes of the hymn tune. The motif thus produced runs through the entire instrumental part and is constantly taken up in the three lower choral lines. The epistle and gospel reading for that day (Acts 1, 1-11, Mark 16, 14 -20) tell of Christ’s ascension and his place at the right hand of God. The cantata text alludes to this with its introductory hymn strophe (Ernst Sonnemann, 1661), which almost serves as a programme for the entire cantata. It describes Christ’s succession in terms of the believers following him along a route past all the ‘doubt, anguish and pain’ here on earth and leading ultimately to heaven. To the hymn strophe the poetess appends not only thoughts of longing for death, but also triumphant certainty and feverish visions, culminating in a paean to God’s omnipotence.

The two arias, for bass (third movement) and an alto/ tenor duet (fourth movement) stand in the greatest possible contrast to each other. As though imitating a herald’s trumpet, the bass aria announces the majesty of Christ in heaven. Both the bravura clarino part – in which Bach twice requires the player to execute a genuinely breathtaking semiquaver coloratura lasting a full eight bars – and also the abrupt transition from the aria to a recitative must have astonished Bach’s listeners. In this recitative the text and the music strike a wholly different, visionary tone, until finally the movement returns to the ‘bright sound’ of the trumpet ritornello. The duet, on the other hand, is dominated by a quieter mood, suggested by words about humbly falling silent before the unfathomable omnipotence of God. Bach has added an oboe d’amore to the two voices; with its attractive, reticent sound this instrument makes a major contribution to the emotional impact of the movement. Finally, the two horns once again lend festive splendour to the concluding chorale (Matthäus Avenarius, 1673).>>
© Klaus Hofmann 2007

<< Production Notes. Auf Christi Himmelfahrt allein, BWV 128 BWV 128 has been handed down principally in the form of Bach’s own manuscript of the full score (in the possession of a private Swiss collector) and the original parts (Berlin State Library, Mus. ms. Bach St 158). The obbligato part in the fourth movement is likely to have been intended for the oboe d’amore, since it frequently departs from the range of the standard oboe despite being notated at sounding pitch. The indication ‘Tromba’ above the third movement in the part used by the first horn player who appears in the first movement makes it absolutely clear that he was expected to swap his instrument for a trumpet in this third movement. (The first movement is of necessity notated in G, while the third is notated in D.) Although there is no indication of change of instrument in the part for the final chorale, the notation returns to G, indicating that the player was expected to return to the horn for this last movement.>>
© Masaaki Suzuki 2007


1 Cantata 128 BCW Details & Discography,; Score Vocal & Piano,; Score BGA, References, BGA XXVI (Cantata 121-130, Alfred Dörffel, 1878), NBA KB I/12 (Ascension, Dürr 1960: 158), Bach Compendium BC A 76, Zwang K 122.
2 Martin 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: 900).
3Alfred Dürr, Cantatas of J. S. Bach, revised and translated by Richard D. P. Jones (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005: )
4 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: 164f).
5 Günther Stiller, Johann Sebastian Bach and Liturgical Life in Leipzig, ed. Robin A. Leaver (St. Lpouis MO: Concordia Publishing: 1985: 241).
6 Charles S. Terry, Bach’s Chorals. Part I: 2 The Hymns and Hymn Melodies of the Cantatas and Motetts, (Cambridge University Press, 2017),
7 Mark A. Peters, Chapter 4, A Woman’s Voice in Baroque Music: Mariane von Ziegler and J. S. Bach (Aldershot GB, Burlington VT: Ashgate Publishing, 2008); 210ff).
8 Cantata 128 Gardiner notes, BCW[SDG-CD].pdf; BCW Recording details,
9Cantata 128 notes, Hofmann/Suzuki, BCW[BIS-SACD1571].pdf; Recording details, BCW


To Come, Cantata 128, Part 2: Johannine Theology, Provenance; Ascension Feast and Lessons, Chorale Usages.

William Hoffman wrote (May 16, 2017):
Cantata 128: Johannine Theology, Provenance, etc.

In keeping with the single feast day of Ascension Thursday, Bach in 1725 Cantata BWV 128, “Auf Christi Himmelfahrt allein” (On Christ’s Heaven-journey alone) departs from most of the usual character of the intimate Johannine cantatas set to newly-composed text of Mariane von Ziegler. The triumph of Easter Sunday is asserted with the use of major keys of G and D, a full-blown chorus in the manner of a chorale fantasia with soaring horns, and a central bass trumpet aria. Bach would use brass and a chorus only once more during the nine Easter/Pentecost season mini cycle, to open Cantata 74 with a convenient repeat of the festive opening chorus of Cantata 59 with trumpets and drums, probably initially composed for Pentecost Sunday 1723 at the University Church. It was Bach’s rare borrowing of a previously-composed sacred movement with biblical dictum. At the same time, Cantata 128 “caps a progression throughout the first four Ziegler cantatas that increasingly articulates the positive message of overcoming the world” as a “virtually unqualified assertion of Jesus’ majesty,” says Eric Chafe in “The Cantatas from Spring 1725: Jubilate to Ascension Day.”1

“The opening chorus names Jesus’s ascension as the sole ‘foundation’ of the believer’s hopes for his/her own ascent” in “the first cantata wholly in a major key since Easter Day,” “anchored in the tonic key [G Major] of the framing chorea fantasia and final [different] four-part chorale setting (both with a pair of obbligato horns). To reinforce the theological and musical import of this work, Bach set the preferred melody, the Trinitarian chorale “Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr” (To God alone on high be glory), based on the Latin Gloria in excelsis Deo (Glory to God in the Highest). Bach’s setting with its rising major triad “bases much of the motivic material on this element.” For the closing chorale, Bach uses the popular Ahasverus Fritsch’s 1679 melody, “O Gott, du frommer Gott” (O God, Thou pious God), a Catechism devotional song that he often set with brass instruments.

In between, Bach introduced the Christus Victor theme in the bass trumpet aria, “Auf, auf, mit hellem Schall / Verkündigt überall: / Mein Jesus sitzt zur Rechten!” (Up, up, with shrill sound / proclaim everywhere: / my Jesus sits on the right!). Bach creates one other “strikingly hortatory” movement with trumpet and bass in the da-capo aria, “Öffnet euch, ihr beiden Ohren” (Open, both of you ears), in Pentecost Tuesday Cantata BWV 175, “Er rufet seinen Schafen mit Namen” (He calls his own sheep by name, John 10:3), the second and final of the two Good Shepherd Easter/Pentecost cantatas, following BWV 85, “Ich bin ein guter Hirt” (I am the good shepherd, John 10:12), for Misericridia Domini (2d Sunday after Easter).

The Great 40 Days of Easter and Jesus’ final ministry on earth concludes at Ascension and the remaining 10 days to Pentecost and the appearance of the Holy Spirit signifies that now Jesus “presence must be understood entirely as taking place through the Holy Spirit,” says Chafe (Ibid.: 508). The next Cantata 183, the cautionary “Sie werden euch in den Bann tun” (They will put you under a ban, John 16:2) from Jesus’ Farewell Discourse, “expresses the equivalence of Jesus’s return and the coming of the Holy Spirit.”


The distribution pattern for Bach’s second cycle suggests that both the autograph score and parts set were inherited by Friedemann, says Thomas Braatz’s BCW Provenance article (May 14, 2002), material based on source: NBA I/12: 158 ff, << By analogy to other similar autograph cantata scores and due to the lack of firm evidence regarding the ownership of this score, it can only be assumed that this autograph score came into W.F. Bach’s hands after his father’s death. Only in the 1st half of the 19th century does it turn up on the possession of Carl Pistor, a privy councilor to the postal service in Prussia, who had acquired it at an auction early in the 19th century. Zelter, who purchased many scores for the Berliner Singverein, understandably wanted immediately to purchase it for the same price that Pistor had paid for it, but Pistor refused this offer. After that it passed through inheritance directlgrandson, Adolf Rudorff, a professor in Berlin. Eventually, in 1854, the latter presented it as a gift to his friend, the Berlin Court Conductor, Robert Radecke, at one of the occasions when they played music together. At the time when this NBA report was completed, it was still [in private ownership] in the possession of the Radecke family, specifically, another conductor, Ewald Radecke who resided in Winterthur, Switzerland.

The abbreviated title in Bach’s hand reads: “J.J. Auff Christi Himelfahrt allein etc.” where the ‘m’ in ‘Himelfahrt’ has a line over it to indicated intended duplication of the consonant, and where ‘Christi’ had been written over a crossed-out “Dei” which probably stands for “Deine.” Mvt. 2 is marked “Recit.” Mvt. 4 (duet) has “Aria. Organo” at the top, possibly indicating that the organ was originally intended to take the part later assigned to the oboe (‘d’amore.’). Mvt. 5 has “Choral” at the top and in the lower right corner: “Fine DSG.”

The original set of parts [St. 158] are in the BB. (Staatsbibliothek Berlin.) Between W. F. Bach’s likely acquisition of these parts as part of his inheritance (1750) and 1833, there is no record. [Back Digital assumes that Anna Magdalena received the part set in 1750, which then went to the Leipzig Thomasschule but already in 1823 not detectable, In May, 1833, Franz Hauser acquired the set from Cantor G. Schuster, a nephew of Chr. Fr. Penzel (a famous collector of Bach manuscripts.) In 1903, along with other Bach manuscripts that he had acquired, Hauser sold the set to the BB.>> The copyists were Kuhnau, Johann Andreas (1703–after1745) = Main copyist; Meißner, Christian Gottlob (1707–1760); Bach, Wilhelm Friedemann (1710–1784); Sebastian; and Anon. Ip, Anon. IIe, and Anon. IIf. The doublets, which should have been with Sebastian’s score copy, are lost.

Ascension Feast Music, Lessons2

Bach’s four extant cantatas for the Feast of the Ascension – BWV 37, 128, 43, and 11 -- exemplify the central liturgical theme of joy, in keeping with Christianity’s three great celebratory Feasts of our Lord’s Godhead – Nativity, Easter (Resurrection), and Ascension [ref. ancient Greek hymn writer Ephrem the Syrian, 4th Century]. The Ascension Feast, known in German as “Himmelfahrt,” on the 40th day after Easter Sunday in Bach’s time also experienced a departure from Jesus’ Farewell Discourses in the gospel readings of John, Chapters 14-16, for the four final Sundays after Easter and Pentecost Sunday.

This time in the late Easter Season marked the transition from established, fixed Easter chorales to omnes tempore and special Ascension and Pentecost chorales, preparing for the close of the de tempore half of the church year, observing the major events in ministry of Jesus Christ on earth, to the final feasts of the three-day Pentecost Festival and closing Trinity Sunday Festival. Thus Bach in his four Ascension Day cantatas used two chorales each in a variety reflecting joy and celebration.

The two New Testament lessons for Ascension Day narrate the fulfillment of Jesus Christ’s redemptive odyssey and the final swing of the great spiritual parabola, beginning with the descent through human birth and kenosis (emptying) on Good Friday, and the reversal beginning with the Resurrection: Gospel: Mark 16:14-20; Disciples’ commission to baptize, Christ’s Ascension; and Epistle: Luke’s Acts 1:1-11; Easter Prologue, Jesus’ last promise (baptism by Holy Spirit), Ascension. The German text of Luther’s 1545 translation published and the English Authorised (King James) Version 1611is found at BCW,

Bach in Leipzig on Ascension Thursday, pulled out all the stops to celebrate holy joy in his musical sermons, using prominent brass instruments in the last three cantatas (BWV 128, 43, and 11), affirmative quotations from Psalms, appropriate double chorales with borrowed, familiar melodies, and four favorite text poets emblematic of his cantata cycles in form and style. The biblical teachings are revealed in both the poetic texts and the chorales. In a period of just over a decade, 1724-35, Bach composed increasingly festive works, with the final two, Cantata 43 and Ascension Oratorio BWV11, having 11 movements each.

The biblical texts and the specific chorale texts guide the four libretti that Bach set. The first Ascension Cantata 37 has no reference to the Ascension and its two chosen chorales reflect the general, timeless mood of thanks and joy that would continue in the three later Ascension works. The other Ascension Cantatas 183, 43, and 11 use Ascension biblical narrative rand four specific Ascension hymns not used elsewhere in Bach’s music. In addition, the three works utilize timeless chorales as well as well-known timeless chorale melodies such as “Allein Gott in der Höh’ sei Ehr” (To God alone on high be glory), “O Gott, du frommer Gott” (O God, Thou pious God), “Ermuntre dich, mein schwacher Geist” (He revives thee, my weak spirit), and “Von Gott will ich nich lassen” (From God will I not depart). Thus Bach at the Ascension Feast was better able to engage his congregation in his musical sermons with special, timeless hymn texts set to familiar tunes.

Ascension Chorale Usages

Bach’s Leipzig Easter Season, Musical Context of motets and chorale settings (BCW, Douglas Cowling) shows the following for Ascension Thursday (Himmelfahrt), 40th Day after Easter): Introit: “Viri Galilaei” (“Ye men of Galilee,” LU 846), Acts 1:11a/b (Epistle), chant; Motet (Psalm): “Omnes Gentes” (Psalm 47, “O clap your hands, all ye people); Hymn de Tempore: “Nun freut euch, Gottes Kinder all” (plain chorale BWV 387); Pulpit Hymn: “Christ fuhr gen Himmel (not set by Bach); Hymns for Chancel, Communion & Closing; “Heut triumphiret Gottes Sohn” (Easter Season); “Du Lebensfürst, Herr Christ” (BWV 43/11, 11/6); “Aus Christi Himmelfahrt Allein” (BWV 128/1); and “Gott fahret auf gen Himmel” (not set by Bach).

Insight into Bach’s use of chorales for the nine-day period called “Ascensiontide” -- from Ascension Thursday through the Sunday after Ascension (Exaudi), the sixth Sunday after Easter, to the Pentecost eve -- is found in Cowling’s commentary to Cantata 37, BCML Discussions Part 3 (November 14, 2010,<< After forty days of singing "Christ Lag in Todesbanden" as the daily Hymn of the Season, the next nine days used "Nun freut euch" before the Gospel and cantata performance with [“Christ ist Erstanden” replaced by] "Christ fuhr gen Himmel" as the Pulpit Hymn after the cantata.>> However, Bach did not followed the NLGB with the designated de tempore and Pulpit hymns for Ascensiontide in his cantatas composed for the two services, BWV 37, 128, 43, and 11 for Ascension and BWV 44 and 183 for Exaudi Sunday. Bach used the seasonal hymn, the Johann Rist/Johann Schop 1641 “Du Lebensfürst, Herr Jesu Christ” (You prince of life, Lord Jesus Christ), as a plain chorale to close Cantatas 43 and 11 on Ascension Day and Paul Gerhardt’s 1653 “Helft mir Gotts Güte preisen” (Help me praise God’s good) to close Cantata 183, “Sie werden euch in den Bann tun” (They will put you under a ban, Gospel John 15:26) for Exaudi Sunday.


1 Eric Chafe, J. S. Bach’s Johannine Theology: The St. John Passion and the Cantatas for Spring 1725, (Oxford University Press, 2014: 392).
2 Source material, Cantata 37 BCML Discussion Part 4 (May 5, 2015),

Aryeh Oron wrote (May 23, 2017):
Cantata BWV 128 - Revised & updated Discography

Cantata BWV 128 "Auf Christi Himmelfahrt allein" (On Christ's ascension [journey to heaven] alone) was composed by J.S. Bach in Leipzig for Ascension Day of 1725. The cantata is scored for alto, tenor & bass soloists; 4-part Chorus; and orchestra of trumpet, 2 horns, 2 oboes, oboe da caccia, 2 violins, viola & continuo.

The discography pages of BWV 128 on the BCW have been revised and updated. See:
Complete Recordings (10):
Recordings of Individual Movements (3):
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 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 cantata. If you are aware of a recording of BWV 128 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 128: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

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


Back to the Top

Last update: Sunday, May 28, 2017 05:34