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Cantata BWV 13
Meinen Seufzer, meine Tränen
Discussions - Part 5

Continue from Part 4

Discussions in the Week of January 22, 2017 (4th round)

William Hoffman wrote (January 22, 2017):
Epiphany Time: Cantata 13, Meine Seufzer, Intro.

Following the festive Christmas season, Bach in his cantata cycles at Epiphany (Ordinary Time) turned to more intimate, dialectic, somber but ultimately uplifting musical sermons that address the humanity of Jesus revealed in the beginnings of his ministry that would lead to the pre-Lenten “gesima” Sundays and his sacrificial, eschatological time of death on the cross. The Gospels for these “illuminating” Sundays cover Jesus’ baptism by John in the Jordan river (observed in Bach’s day on the Feast of John the Baptist, June 24), the first miracle of the turning water into wine at the Wedding in Cana, and the selection of his disciples. Bach’s cantatas address not the day’s Gospel directly but examine general thematic (theological) concerns. This is noteworthy in the third cycle and beyond, particularly the four cantatas in the BCML Discussions this week and next: BWV 13, “Meine Seufzer, meine Tränen” (My sighs, my tears, Psalm 56:9b), for Epiphany 2, BWV 72, “Alles nur nach Gottes Willen” (Everything according to God's will, 1 John 2:16a, 17b), and 156, “Ich steh mit einem Fuß im Grabe” (I stand with one foot in the grave, Psalm 31:9b, Song of Salomon 1c), for Epiphany 3, and Johann Ludwig Bach’s Cantata JLB 1, “Gott is unsre Zuversicht und Stärke” (God is our refuge and strength, Psalm 46:1), for Epiphany 4. The Lutheran dialectic of the Old Testament Law and New Testament Gospel, from sorrow to joy, from doubt to certainty is particularly expressed the Penitential Psalms as well as the cry of the prophets (Isaiah chapters 22 Forsaken and 53 Suffering Servant).

Cantata 13, “Meine Seufzer”

Bach’s SATB solo Cantata BWV 13, “Meine Seufzer, meine Tränen” (My sighs, my tears, Psalm 56:9b) is a unified, symmetrical musical sermon in his third cycle that summarizes the pietistic dialectic with two da-capo laments, the opening tenor aria and penultimate bass aria (no. 5), Ächzen und erbärmlich Weinen / Hilft der Sorgen Krankheit nicht” (Groaning and pitiful weeping / are no help to the sickness of care). The contrasting two affirmative chorales with associated, popular melodies close each half: the alto aria (no. 3), “Der Gott, der mir hat versprochen / Seinen Beistand jederzeit” (God who has promised me / his support at all times), and the final, four-part setting (no. 6), So sei nun, Seele, deine / Und traue dem alleine” (Then be now, my soul, true to yourself / and trust alone in him). The Gospel’s hermeneutic message, in which the cantata theme is emphasized, is found in the crucial soprano recitative (no. 4): “Gott kann den Wermutsaft gar leicht in Freudenwein verkehren / Und dir alsdenn viel tausend Lust gewähren.” (God can turn the taste of wormwood / very easily into the wine of joy). The 20-minute plus piece, set to a text of pietist poet Georg Christian Lehms at the Gotha Court (1711), has a notable accompaniment of somber woodwinds (two recorders and two oboes da-caccia), beginning in pastorale dance style. These are added to the customary strings, set by Bach with the customary tutti movement not in the opening 12/8 lament but in the first chorale (no. 3) where the strings play a joyous melody and the winds support the hymn.1

The first chorale (no. 3) is the second stanza of Johann Heermann’s 1636 “Zion klagt mit Angst und Schmerzen” (Zion mourns with anxiety and pain), set to the melody, “Freu dich sehr, o meine Seele” (Rejoice greatly, O my Soul, Psalm 42) anonymous (c1510), and Louis Bourgeois (1551). The closing chorale (no. 6), which Bach added to the Lehms text that ended with the second lament (no. 5), is the ninth and final stanza of Paul Fleming’s 1641 “In allen meinen Taten /laß ich den Höchsten raten” (In all that I do / I am led by God’s counsel), set to the well-known Passion melody, “O Welt, ich muß dich lassen” (O World, I must leave you), of Heinrich Isaac (1500).

Cantata 13 was premiered on 20 January 1726 at the early main service of the St. Thomas Church, before the sermon of Pastor Christian Weise Sr., on the Gospel, John 2:1-11, and the Epistle, Romans 12:7-16, says Martin Petzoldt in Bach Commentary, Vol. 2, Advent to Trinityfest.2 The readings in Bach’s time were: Epistle, Romans 12:6-16 (Paul’s Letter: Love and other duties are required of us), and Gospel, John 2: 1-11 (Wedding Feast at Cana: Jesus’ first miracle, turning water into wine). Complete 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 in Bach’s time for the 2nd Sunday after Epiphany was popular Psalm 127, Nisi Dominus (Except the Lord build the house, KJV), says Petzoldt (Ibid.: 433), which he describes as “Gesegnete Haushaltung und Regierung” (Blessing of the household and reign). For the full text of Psalm 127, see

The string of original works to begin the third cycle with Lehms texts, beginning on Christmas Day, ended with Cantata 13 as the cycle the Gotha Court poet wrote for the church year 2011-12 has no further Sunday in Epiphany, Cantata 13 being the last Sunday of two Sundays after Epiphany (see Epiphany 2 church year in Bach’s time, BCW Bach would selectively use Lehms texts for two other alto solo cantatas later in the third cycle, BWV 170 (Trinity 6) and BWV 35 (Trinity 12). Bach’s other two extant cantatas for the 2nd Sunday Epiphany are BWV 155, “Mein Gott, wie lang, ach lange?” My God, how long, ah how long?, Psalm 6:4), composed in Weimar in 1716 to a Salomo Franck text, and reperfromed in Leipzig in 1724, and BWV 3, “Ach Gott, wie manches Herzeleid” (Ah God, how many a heartache, Genesis 42:4c), chorale cantata premiered in 1725. There is no evidence that the three works were repeated later although Cantata 3 was presented in 1756 (see below, Cantata 13 Provenance).

Other works Bach performed are speculation or of another composer. A printed libretto by Bach student Christoph Birkmann is extant, “Ihr Sorgen, lasst mich zufrieden” (Ye worries, let me be free), a solo cantata, possibly for 19 January 1727, suggests Christine Blanken.3 The Picander cycle published text only for 16 January 1729, P13, "Ich hab in mir ein fröhlich Herz" (I have in myself a happy heart), is extant while, musically, the closing chorale, “Wer nur den lieben Gott lässt walten” (Whoever lets only the dear God reign), Stanza 4, “Er kennt die rechten Freudenstunden” (He knows the right hours of joy), could have been set to the plain chorale, BWV 434. On 15 January 1736, Bach probably performed Gottfried Heinrich Stölzel’s cantata, “Wir sahen seine Herrlichkeit” (We beheld his glory, John 1:14 KJV), which is not extant.

The meaning of the wedding at Cantata and the importance of tears and wine are the themes of Eric Chafe’s new book, Tears into Wine: J. S. Bach’s Cantata 21 in its Musical and Theological Contexts (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015). “Many of the expressions August Pfeiffer and others use to describe the meaning of the wedding at Cana appear in both Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis (Cantata 21) and in Bach’s three surviving cantatas for the second Sunday after Epiphany (BWV 155, 3, 13); and there is often an affinity in the musical devices Bach utilizes to project them,” says Chafe later in the introductory section, “Bach’s Cantatas for the Second Sunday after Epiphany” (Ibid.: 85). “A major difference, however, is that none of these three cantatas comes close to depicting the turning of sorrow intjoy, tears into wine, as does Cantata 21. Instead, they all dwell extensively on tears and tribulation, God’s hiddenness, and above all, the necessity of waiting and hoping patiently for God’s revelation – his hour – whether of aid to the believer in the present or in the glory of the afterlife. The alternation of himmlische Freude [heavenly joy] and göttliche Traugkeit [Godly sadness] . . . is an important into major as does Cantata 21. Two of the cantatas [BWV 13 and 155] begin in minor and all three end in major; but at the end they all emphasize future hopes in a manner that stops short of introducing the eschatological implications of the Gospel for the day, And none of them ends with transformation of the initial key,” says Chafe (for further discussion, see below, “Sorrow& Joy: Biblical Commentary.”

The Weinen/Wein (tears/wine) pun in German theological treatises of Bach’s time, found in John’s Gospel for the 2nd Sunday after Epiphany, “depends on the widespread association of water with tears and wine with eschatological fulfillment in scripture,” says Chafe (Ibid.: 64). Theologian and poet Pfeiffer (1640-1698; BCW biography,, whose writing was found in Bach’s library, cited hymn writer Paul Gerhardt’s poem, “Ach treuer Gott, barmherziges Herz” (Ah trusting God, merciful heart, 1653), “as the culmination of his discussion of the wedding at Cana,” points out Chafe (Ibid.: 64). The tears/wine association in the Cantata 21/10 aria, “Erfreue dich, Seele, erfreue dich, Herze” (Rejoice, my soul, rejoice, my heart), with the phrase “Verwandle dich, Weinen, in lauteren Wein” (Change, weeping and whining, into pure wine), makes Part 2 of Cantata 21 also appropriate for the 2nd Sunday after Epiphany, says Chafe, citing Ulrich Meyer, Biblical Quotation and Allusion in the Cantata Libretti of JSB (Manham MD: Scarecrow Press, 1997: 84).

The wedding at Cana, “widely interpreted within the Lutheran tradition,” says Chafe (Ibid.: 65), “involved a thematic succession” of sorrow by the lack of wine, awaiting God’s time (Jesus, “My hour has not yet come”), fullness of tribulation (filling wine jars with water), transformation of sorrow into joy (water into wine), and its eschatological interpretation (the best wine had been saved for the last).

Epiphany 2 Cantatas BWV 13, 155, 3

The bass lament (no. 6) in Cantata 13 is emblematic of the three cantatas Bach composed for the 2nd Sunday after Epiphany, observes Julian Mincham’s introductory Commentary, BCW <<From time to time one comes across a cantata that is dominated by the intensity, quality or sheer originality of just one of its movements. The opening aria of C 168 (chapter 2) is one such example. Another aria, also for bass, stands out alone from C 13. The rest of the work is lacking in neither invention nor musical interest but it is the portrayal of the combination of sorrow, pitiful tribulation and yet hope, which ensures that this great aria remains in the memory.

The other extant cantatas written for this day are C 155, “Mein Gott, wie lang, ach lange?” from the first cycle (although composed some years earlier, 1726, Salomo Franck text), and C 3 from the second, “Ach Gott, wie manches Herzeleid” (Ah God, how many a heartache, Genesis 42:4c). The first of these begins with a heart-rending soprano recitative espousing the never-ending misery of separation from the Saviour. It contains a duet [no. 2] which has one of the most captivating bassoon solos in the canon and it culminates in a joyously dancelike soprano aria dispelling all previous doubts. A sense of a fully completed emotional journey is thus graphically portrayed. C3 follows a similar theme but is generally more quietly contemplative, especially in the opening fantasia and the soprano and alto duet [no. 5]. C 13 also deals with these issues but, as we shall see, does so rather more overtly. It uses the chorus only for the closing chorale and employs a restrained and delicate instrumentation, two recorders and oboe da caccia supporting the strings and continuo.

A further point of interest is the significance which Bach and his librettists may have attributed to those liturgical days which are simply numbered following a significant event e.g. the first, second, third (etc.) Sundays after Epiphany (or, indeed, Trinity). In the case of the two Sundays immediately following Epiphany, there was a particular concern with the passage of the Soul from a state of sorrow to the bliss of the heavenly state of salvation. However, in the second of these days the emphasis seems to be libretti that have been more upon the miseries, tears and pain of separation than upon the actual journey itself. And, even bearing in mind the unrelenting torment of some of Bach′s earliest essays in this form, there is probably no more angst-ridden cantata in the repertoire than C 13. Bach, the consummate musical architect does, as we shall see, achieve a considerable degree of artistic contrast (the third movement has an important role in addressing the emotional balance) but the main theme of human misery is never really lost sight of.>>

The librettists of the three Epiphany 2 cantatas (BWV 155, 3, and 13), “that pass from mourning to consolation and joy,” may have viewed the Sunday’s Gospel, John 2:1-11, water changed to wine, “as symbolic of that change, through the power of Christ, of earthly conditions into divine,” observes W. Gillies Whittaker in The Cantatas of Johann Sebastian Bach (London: Oxford University Press 1958: 345). “They are all cantatas of sorrow, applying Christ’s answer to his mother, ‘mine hour is not yet come’ [John 2:4b, BWV 13/4], to the suffering believer.” Cantata 13 (Ibid.: 145) “falls into two halves, (1) an aria of despair, a recitative of pleading, a chorale of comfort, answered by (2) a recitative partly of despairing and partly of resolution, an aria on which dark skies begin to melt into the blue infinity of hope, a chorale of confidence.”

The Cantata 13 movements, scoring, incipits, key, and meter (Lehms German text and Francis Browne English translation, BCW are:

1. Aria da capo with ritornelli [Tenor; Flauto dolce I/II, Oboe da caccia, Continuo]: A. “Meine Seufzer, meine Tränen / Können nicht zu zählen sein.” (My sighs, my tears / cannot be counted.); B. “ Wenn sich täglich Wehmut findet / Und der Jammer nicht verschwindet, / Ach! so muss uns diese Pein / Schon den Weg zum Tode bahnen.” (If sorrow is found everyday / and lamentation never disappears, / ah! then this pain must / already be leading us on the way to death.); d minor; 12/8 pastorale style.
2. Recitative secco in two parts and closing arioso [Alto, Continuo]: A. “Mein liebster Gott lässt mich annoch / Vergebens rufen und mir in meinem Weinen / Noch keinen Trost erscheinen.” (My dearest God still leaves me / to cry in vain and for me in my weeping / still no comfort appears.); B. “Die Stunde lässet sich / Zwar wohl von ferne sehen. / Allein ich muss doch noch vergebens flehen.” (The hour may / indeed be seen far away in the distance, / but I must still beg for help in vain.); B-flat Major to F Major; 4/4.
3. Chorale aria in BAR Form with ritornelli [Alto; Flauto dolce I/II e Oboe da caccia coll'Alto, Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo]. A. “Der Gott, der mir hat versprochen / Seinen Beistand jederzeit,” (God who has promised me / his support at all times); A’ Der lässt sich vergebens suchen / Jetzt in meiner Traurigkeit.” (let himself be sought in vain / now in my sadness.”); B. Ach! Will er denn für und für / Grausam zürnen über mir, / Kann und will er sich der Armen / Itzt nicht wie vorhin erbarmen?” (Ah! will he then forever / be grimly angry witme, / on those who are poor can he and will he not / feel compassion now as before?); F Major; 4/4.
4. Recitative secco in three parts [Soprano, Continuo]: A. “Mein Kummer nimmet zu / Und raubt mir alle Ruh, / Mein Jammerkrug ist ganz mit Tränen angefüllet, / Und diese Not wird nicht gestillet, / So mich ganz unempfindlich macht.” (My sorrow increases / and robs me of all peace, / my cup of misery is completely filled with tears, / and this distress will not be soothed / That makes me so insensitive.); B. “Der Sorgen Kummernacht / Drückt mein beklemmtes Herz darnieder, / Drum sing ich lauter Jammerlieder.” (The night of care and sorrow / presses and weighs down on my heart, / and so I sing only songs of sorrow.); C. “Doch, Seele, nein, / Sei nur getrost in deiner Pein: / Gott kann den Wermutsaft gar leicht in Freudenwein verkehren / Und dir alsdenn viel tausend Lust gewähren.” (But now my soul / be consoled in your pain: / God can turn the taste of wormwood / very easily into the wine of joy / And grant you then many thousand joys.); B-flat Major; 4/4.
5. Aria free da capo with ritornelli [Bass; Violino solo, Flauto dolce I/II all' unisono, Continuo]: A. Ächzen und erbärmlich Weinen / Hilft der Sorgen Krankheit nicht” (Groaning and pitiful weeping / are no help to the sickness of care)’ B. “Aber wer gen Himmel siehet / Und sich da um Trost bemühet, / In der Trauerbrust erscheinen.” (but whoever looks towards heaven / and strives to find comfort there / for that person easily can a light of joy / appear in his grieving breast.); g minor; 4/4.
6. Chorale plain [SATB; Flauto dolce I/II e Oboe e Violino I col Soprano, Violino II coll'Alto, Viola col Tenore, Continuo]: “So sei nun, Seele, deine / Und traue dem alleine, / Der dich erschaffen hat; / Es gehe, wie es gehe, / Dein Vater in der Höhe, / Der weiß zu allen Sachen Rat.” (Then be now, my soul, true to yourself / and trust alone in him / who has created you / no matter what may happen / your father on high / knows what to counsel in all circumstances.); B-flat Major; 4/4.

“Zion Klagt” Chorale Text, Melody

Johann Heerman’s later Reformation chorale text, “Zion klagt mit Angst und Schmerzen” (Zion mourns with anxiety and pain), is in six stanzas, eight-line BAR Form (ABABCCDD) and is found in Das neu Leipziger Gesangbuch (NLGB) as No. 294 under the omnes tempore heading “Cross, Persecution and Tribulation.” The text was first published in Heermann’s Devoti Musica Cordis (Leipzig, 1636), set to the Louis Bourgeois’ melody. The Heermann (1585-1647) BCW biography is found at (1585-1647. The Heerman text and Francis Browne’s English translation is found at BCW Chorale BWV 13/6 is Bach’s sole use of the text. Bach also set the Heermann hymns “O Gott, du frommer Gott,” “So wahr ich lebe, spricht dein Gott,” “Treuer Gott, ich muß dir klagen,” “Was willst du dich betrüben,” and “Wo soll ich fliehen hin” in 14 Cantatas: BWV 5, BWV 13, BWV 24, BWV 25, BWV 45, BWV 71, BWV 89, BWV 102, BWV 107, BWV 136, BWV 148, BWV 163, BWV 194, and BWV 199.

The associated melody of “Zion klagt” is “Freu dich sehr, meine Seele” (Rejoice greatly, O My Soul, Psalm 42) used in six different texts, originally as a “Death & Dying” hymn in the NLGB, No. 358. Louis Bourgeois, in creating his chorale/Psalm melody (Zahn 6543) for the Geneva Psalm 42 “Ainsi que la biche rée” in his collection of Psalms in “Pseaumes octante trios de David” [Geneva, 1551] took a secular song “Ne l’oseray je dire” contained in “Manuscrit de Bayeux” (circa 1510) and transformed it into a sacred chorale/Psalm melody. Bach’s usages and melody information are found at BCW, Bach set the melody to five different texts in the closing plain chorales of seven Cantatas: BWV 19, 30, 32, 39, 25, 70, 194.

Cantata 13: Mourning to Consolation

A path from mourning to consolation is explored in John Eliot Gardiner’s 2006 liner notes to the 2000 Bach Cantata Pilgrimage on Soli Deo Gloria recordings ( 4 <<

This was the first cantata programme in this pilgrimage to take place on what was for many of us home soil. After three of the most intense weeks of music-making beginning at Christmas in Weimar, continuing in Berlin over New Year and in Leipzig and Hamburg at Epiphany, some of the group were concerned that the special atmosphere might have evaporated, and with it the extraordinary quality of listening that German audiences bring to this music. With the Royal Naval College at Greenwich packed to the rafters on two consecutive evenings we need not have worried.

At first glance one might have thought it a little odd that, for a Sunday in which the Collect is ‘Unto us a child is born. Hallelujah!’, Bach left us three cantatas with the titles ‘My God, how long, ah! how long?’ (BWV 155), ‘Ah God, what deep affliction’ (BWV 3) and ‘My sighs, my tears’ (BWV 13). Was this just a case of the Lutheran clergy making a fetish of the hair-shirt approach to life’s woes? The texts of the cantatas inscribe a path from mourning to consolation – one illuminated by Bach’s music – and, by varying degrees of emphasis on the Gospel for the day (the miracle of the turning of water into wine), they employ this as a symbol of the transformation of earthly troubles into heavenly bliss. They also point to the ‘proper’ time (‘Mine hour is not yet come’, Jesus said to his mother) at which the believers’ long vigil of tribulation and doubt will finally end.

Alfred Dürr once wrote that Bach’s setting of Georg Christian Lehms’ text “Meine Seufzer, meine Tränen” (BWV 13) ‘illustrates how the imagination of the Baroque musician is particularly fired by texts dealing with sighing and pain’ (Cantatas of JSB: 199). True; but the effect of Bach’s music is hardly typical: read Lehms’ text and you sense a self-indulgent, wallowing quality; listen to Bach’s music and it is transforming, every sound pointing beyond itself to a state of heightened awareness.

Take the opening movement, a slow 12/8 lament for tenor, two recorders, oboe da caccia and continuo. Remove the oboe da caccia and the music, complete in itself, is unremitting lamentation. The effect of an added counter-melody, with decorative arabesques in the oboe da caccia, is to penetrate the anguished texture: to refine and soften the pain of the dissonances and overall despondency. Eventually the oboe da caccia takes over the foreground, its influence extending to the recorders, who with the voice entry abandon their mournful dialogue and play in unison. Then in the chorale (No.3), the imploring conclusion to the alto’s prayer for comfort (No.2), Bach assigns confident diatonic harmonies to the strings’ decorative surround to the plain chorale tune, the alto doubled by the three wind instruments from the opening aria. He thus ensures that an optimistic, wordless answer is implied (and understood by the listener) to the singer’s rendering of a text full of uncertainty and questioning.

The fifth movement is surely one of the bleakest of all Bach’s arias. I remember it from my childhood – from faltering attempts to accompany my mother’s singing on the violin – but the ‘halo’ of two recorders playing above the violin was new to me. There is a hypnotic quality in the combination of violin obbligato doubled at the octave by the white, sepulchral sound of the recorders. Bach seems determined to rub the listener’s nose in the full misery and wretchedness of life here below, the idea he adumbrated in the first of these three cantatas but here raises to a different level of meditational intensity. Having up to this point taken the edge off Lehms’ doleful words, he is now in a position to do the opposite: where the text postulates a ‘beam of joy’ as the culmination of all the ‘groaning and piteous weeping [which] cannot ease sorrow’ssickness’ Bach, in his modified ABA da capo form, virtually ignores this step by step advance from gloom to confidence. He lifts the shroud of dissonant and angular harmony only in temporary and inconclusive imitation of the ‘heavenward glance’ (bars 51-52). This is but a prelude to a full-scale recapitulation of the first section in the sub-dominant, the music plunged again into darkness as though intent on exploring new agonies of mind and soul. With your pulse and mind slowed down, your senses sharpened, you becomes alert to each tiny detail. The aria is hugely demanding of the performers in its exceptional length, intensity of expression and degree of exposure (we were incredibly lucky that Gerry Finley was willing to step in at the last moment). It is even more harrowing than that other Epiphany aria for bass ‘Lass, o Welt, mich aus Verachtung in betrübter Einsamkeit’ (BWV 123/5), which we gave in Leipzig two weeks ago. Only the consoling beauty of Heinrich Isaak’s tune to ‘Innsbruck, ich muss dich lassen’ – used so poignantly in the St Matthew Passion – could follow this in Bach’s consummate harmonisation.

What a setting for Bach’s music Nicholas Hawksmoor’s design for the great chapel at Greenwich might have provided! Conceived in a fit of wild baroque experimentation around 1699 as the centrepiece of the grandest group of buildings to be built in early eighteenth-century England (to which he, Wren and Vanbrugh all contributed), the chapel project then went to sleep for three decades. It was eventually remodelled on a much more modest scale by James (‘Athenian’) Stuart in the 1780s. With its shallow vaults and facing galleries, it has the cool neo-classical elegance of a later generation – which by and large turned its back on the likes of Hawksmoor and Bach.>>
© John Eliot Gardiner 2006 / From a journal written in the course of the Bach Cantata Pilgrimage

Cycle 3 Cantata BWV 13

Bach’s fragmented third cycle, the four cantatas composed during Epiphany Time, and Cantata 13 are discussed in Bach scholar Klaus Hofmann’s 2008 liner notes to the Masaaki Suzuki complete cantata recordings on BIS.5

<<The four cantatas recorded here (BWV 16, 32, 13, 72) come from Bach’s third year of service in Leipzig, specifically from January 1726. Whereas from the previous two years cantatas have survived for virtually every Sunday and feast day, with effect from the beginning of the third year the situation changes fundamentally: for many Sundays and feast days no cantata can be traced. Sometimes Bach performed works by other composers, including many by Johann Ludwig Bach (1677–1731), a relative of his from Meiningen. Of course we cannot rule out the possibility that for some reason an unusually large proportion of his own works from this time has been lost. It is more probable, however, that Bach did not devote himself to the writing of cantatas as regularly as previously. The only spell of regular cantata writing seems to have taken place around the Christmas festivities of 1725–26, resulting in a series of eight cantatas for the period from Christmas until the third Sunday after Epiphany. These four works belong to this group. Three of them, “Herr Gott, dich loben wir,” “Liebster Jesu, mein Verlangen” and “Meine Seufzer, meine Tränen,” have texts from the same source, a cycle of cantata libretti published in Darmstadt in 1711 by the Darmstadt court poet Georg Christian Lehms (1684–1717) with the title Gottgefälliges Kirchen-Opffer. Bach took the text for the fourth, “Alles nur nach Gottes Willen” [BCML Discussion Week of January 22] from a series of texts by the Weimar court poet Salomon Franck (1659–1725) covering the entire year, named Evangelisches Andachts-Opffer (1715) from which he had already set a number of cantata texts during his Weimar period.

[Cantata 13.] The libretto of Bach’s cantata for the second Sunday after Epiphany, which in 1726 fell on 20th January, alludes to just a single detail of the gospel passage for that Sunday, John 2:1–11. The subject of this passage is the Wedding at Cana, and the popular episode of the wine miracle: when the hosts run out of wine, Mary turns to Jesus for help. Jesus turns water into wine, but first he defends himself against her suggestion with the words: ‘mine hour is not yet come’. This is the point of departure for the cantata: it is about abandonment, hopelessness, but later also about confidence that the hour will come. The epistle for that day alludes to Romans 12: 12: ‘rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation’.

The libretto provides Bach with all the keywords that a baroque composer would need to compose a colourful, expressive and multifaceted piece of music. For example we have the introductory tenor lament with its exquisitely scored accompaniment of two recorders and oboe da caccia, a movement full of musical wistfulness. Then we have the heart felt prayer at the end of the alto recitative (second movement), and the second aria’s ‘Ächzen und erbärmlich Weinen’ (‘Groaning and pitiable weeping’) in chromatic, diminished and augmented intervals, full of tense dissonance. Finally we have a release of all the former tension, in the final strophe of Paul Fleming’s “In allen meinen Taten” (In all my deeds, 1633) with the traditional melody by Heinrich Isaac from around 1500.
>> © Klaus Hofmann 2008

Notes on Text and Music

The chiastic (cross-like, symmetrical) form of the original Lehms text its Quietism theological emphasis is described in Peter Smaill’s BCML Cantata 13 Discussion Part 2 (September 16, 2007):<< Of the ten cantatas set to texts by Georg Christian Lehms, BWV 13 is perhaps the gloomiest of all; and most are sombre in tone. The illustration which very weakly (if at all!) links to the Gospel, the story of the wedding at Cana, illustrates Lehms' temperament well: whereas the Gospel tells of turning water into wine, with Lehms it is the astringent wormwood that turns to wine. The point is I think that wormwood (and gall/myrrh) are OT - Lamentations- images for bitterness.

As to the poetic structure, the key is the fact that the last chorale is added (perhaps by Bach himself) to Lehms' text. Otherwise it is constructed in chiastic form: Aria, Recitative, Chorale, Recitative, Aria. Lehms' text has line lengths 7 7 8 14 6, totaling 42; unusual, and mathematically producing three groups of 14. The odd numbered sections are forced to have non-rhyming odd lines accordingly.

Theologically the work inclines IMO to Quietist emphases on resignation to divine will. Quietism had been condemned within Roman Catholicism not long before Lehms was writing, in 1687 and the tendency is often attacked as deist; in this Cantata, for example, there is no direct mention of Jesus and it is God, not Jesus, who turns the wormwood into wine. The "light of gladness" is achieved not by faith, or grace or sacraments; simply by looking to heaven for comfort.>>

Peter Smaill wrote (December 20, 2009): [To Neil Halliday] This is indeed as Neil points out an exceptionally bleak libretto, as all observe relieved by Bach's beautiful (and unusual) scoring. Dürr relates the whole to a passage ("The hour may indeed be far off") in BWV 13/2, comparing it to John 2.4, "My hour is not yet come", in the Gospel for the day. However, a much more extensive textual parallel is here a Psalm, namely the famous Psalm 22, which prefigures the Passion: "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?.... O my God, I cry in the daytime but Thou hearest me not, and in the night season, and am not silent . . . . But be not Thou far from me, O Lord: O my strength, haste Thee to help me" This parallel tension between despair at the immediate divine response with faith in its ultimate appearance is evident in both Psalm and Cantata text. In addition Hirsch calculated that the vocal theme of BWV 13/1 has 22 notes, and BWV 13/5 has two main sections of 22 bars. The natural-order reading of the incipit of BW13 has a score of 256, exactly the number of notes in total that the tenor sings. It has to be noted that Psalm 22 is only one of many textual sources detected in Melvin Unger's concordance texts [Handbook To Bach's Sacred Cantata, Scarecrow 1996] since many penitential psalms have similar sentiments; nevertheless the dominant source in both the Hirsch and Unger analyses is the Psalter. Bach only once sets a Cantata entirely to a Psalm, namely BWV 196 of 1707, using Psalm 115 [BWV 131 using Psalm 130 as well as chorale paraphrase settings of psalms].

Sorrow & Joy: Biblical Commentary

The dualistic, apparent disconnect between sorrow and joy is explored in Linda Gingrich’s summary of the biblical commentary in the previous BCML Discussion 4th Round (March 15, 2015): <<Once more we have a cantata of weeping for the weekly discussion, BWV 13, Meine Seufzer, meine Tränen (My sighs, my tears). And again it is a cantata of dualisms, perhaps even more so than last week’s BWV 12, Weinen, Klagen. It also is a cantata that seems to puzzle many. It was first performed in Leipzig on January 20, 1726, the second Sunday after Epiphany, as part of Bach’s third cantata cycle (see for more details), and the scriptures for the day were John 2:1-11, and Romans 12:6-16. Some see a disconnect between the Gospel passage’s description of the turning of the water into wine at the wedding in Cana—after all, weddings are joyful! — and the doleful nature of the cantata. The libretto refers to the “wine of joy” [Freudenwein] in the soprano recitative, but that’s the only direct reference to the Gospel. In fact, Julian Mincham points out in his analysis that the two major arias, tenor & bass, which are full of pain, take up more than two-thirds of the performance time! ( Most of the cantata seems sunk in almost inconsolable grief.

I became quite intrigued by this apparent disconnect, and just for the fun of it did a bit of reading in a commentary on this miracle to see if it could shed any light. I didn’t read in depth—the commentary devotes 14 pages to this one passage!—but I picked up a few things. There is general agreement among ancient and modern scholars that Jesus’ statement, “My hour is not yet come” agrees with other uses of the word “hour” in John’s gospel as references to his passion, death, resurrection and ascension. This implies a melding of pain and joy. Many also see messianic allusions in this miracle: for example, Old and New Testament images of weddings as symbols of messianic fulfillment, and the abundance of wine as an Old Testament emblem of the happiness of the final days. Perhaps suffering and joy are more apparent in the passage than is evident at first glance. I also noticed that some of the verses in the Romans passage echo these ideas: rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep, be patient in tribulation, constant in prayer. Since Bach’s library was well stocked with theological books, he may have been aware of these theological connections.

The cantata’s antitheses might play into this. For example, I was caught by the possible allegorical implications of the tenor aria’s 12/8 time signature. Triple meters can have Trinitarian implications in Bach’s works (numerous writers have discussed this). Chafe also points out that instrumentation can be allegorically significant and is sometimes associated with certain subjects: reason, the world, love; oboes of all types were especially important in connection with love (Tonal Allegory, pp 243-244, p 89n). Could Bach be sending a message that the tenor’s sighs and tears and unending misery are in reality enfolded in God’s never-ending presence and love, represented by the triple meter and the oboe da caccia?

Dürr writes that the bass aria employs contrasting affects of weeping and joy (Cantatas, p. 199). The singer certainly supplies the weeping with his intensely chromatic and jaggedly anguished lines, while the joy is provided by the skipping sixteenth and thirty-second notes of the recorder and violin ritornello. And the ascending 16th and 32nd note passages that first appear in measure five seem to reflect the admonition to look toward heaven for sure comfort. There are clearly two affects conveyed which seem to support the real message of the text: moaning and weeping do not help (the bass weeps), look to heaven for true comfort (violin and recorder dance!).

I have indulged in some speculation here, but as this list is a vehicle for discussion I hope some of you will weigh in. Any thoughts on the above, or other interesting aspects of Meine Seufzer?

Chafe’s Take on Cantata 13 and Sorrow/Joy

Like Cantata 155, Cantata 13 “prolongs expressions of the believer’s torment through the first three of its six movements, before effecting a turnaround in the second recitative (no. 4),” says Chafe in Tears Into Wine (Ibid.: 87). It begins with the tenor lament describing the believer’s tears as Wehmut (sorrow), to become bitter Wermutsaft (wormword) in the second recitative, and his Jammer (misery) and Pein (pain) as leading the way to death. The first recitative (no. 2) shows the believer “who weeps in vain, perceiving the hour of release as too distant to help” and similar in character to Part 1 of Cantata 21. The chorale aria (no. 3) “laments that God, who has promised his support at all times, has now left the believer in sorrow, to seek in vain,” says Chafe (Ibid.: 88). The positive answer is in the aria tonality of F Major and in the violins’ continuous melody, “surely an allegory of God’s supportive presence.”

The central second recitative (no. 4) with its graphic text referring to teachings from the wedding at Cana, renews the sense of torment. “Mein Jammerkrug ist ganz mit Tränen angefüllet” (my cup of misery is completely filled with tears), represents Jesus’ symbolic cup that he petitions his father thrice to let pass from him during his suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane in the synoptic Gospels, as well as the cup of bitter vinegar with gall offered him on the cross. The next line suggests hope: “Gott kann den Wermutsaft gar leicht in Freudenwein verkehren” (God can turn the taste of wormwood very easily into the wine of joy). The bass aria that follows (no. 5), “while urging the same abandonment of cares as the chorale verse,” centers on Ächzen (groaning) and wine. “The aria is predominately a sustained expression of torment that is hardly alleviated by the change that occurs in the middle section,” says Chafe (Ibid.: 89), looking toward heaven for the light of joy.

The closing chorale has the message of trusting in God, Chafe says simply. Paul Fleming’s later Reformation text, “In allen meinen Taten” (In all that I do), is a nine-stanza, six line (AABCCB) chorale of “Christian Life and Conduct,” NLGB No. 239. Bach chose the ninth and final stanza, “In allen meinen Taten /laß ich den Höchsten raten” (In all that I do / I am led by God’s counsel). He also chose to set the text to the associated, well-known Passion melody, “O Welt, ich muß dich lassen” (O World, I must leave you), of Heinrich Isaac (1500), under “Death & Dying,” NLGB No. 340. The Fleming biography is found at BCW, and the Isaac (C.1445-1517) biography at BCW The Fleming text is found in Francis Browne’s BCW English translation, Details of the melody "O Welt, ich muss dich lassen" (Zahn 2293b), are found at BCW Bach set the Fleming text to tIsaac melody in pure-hymn general chorale Cantata BWV 97 in 1734. Bach set the melody to the Paul Gerhardt Passion text, “O Welt, sieh hier dein Leben” (O World, see here thy life), as plain chorales in the St. Matthew Passion (Nos. 10 and 37), in the St. John Passion (no. 11) and as free-standing plain chorales BWV 393-395.

The theme of “Sorrow Turned to Joy” is found in the Gospel of John (16:16-22, specifically 20b), only in his so-called Farewell Discourses. Chapters 14-17 of the Gospel of John are known as the Farewell Discourses given by Jesus to eleven of his disciples immediately after the conclusion of the Last Supper in Jerusalem, the night before his crucifixion ( Near the end of the Third Discourse, Jesus says: “16 A little while, and ye shall not see me: and again, a little while, and ye shall see me, because I go to the Father. 17 Then said some of his disciples among themselves, What is this that he saith unto us, A little while, and ye shall not see me: and again, a little while, and ye shall see me: and, Because I go to the Father? 18 They said therefore, What is this that he saith, A little while? we cannot tell what he saith. 19 Now Jesus knew that they were desirous to ask him, and said unto them, Do ye enquire among yourselves of that I said, A little while, and ye shall not see me: and again, a little while, and ye shall see me? 20 Verily, verily, I say unto you, That ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice: and ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy. 21 A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come: but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world. 22 And ye now therefore have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you” (

Cantata 13 Provenance

Provenance: The manuscript score in Bach’s hand (D-B Mus. ms. Bach P 45), went to Carl Philipp Emmanuel and is found in his Estate Catalogue 1790 (p. 75), then to Georg Poelchau (1805), then to Berlin Bibliothek (BB, now Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin Preußischer Kulturbesitz [DSB]) (1841). The parts set (D-B Mus. ms. Bach St 69) was copied by a team of scribes Bachs: Johann Sebastian, Johann Heinrich, Anna Magdalena, Wilhelm Friedemann, and Emmanuel. The provenance: to Emmanuel, then von Radowitz, Voß-Buch, BB (now DSB) (1851). The estate division for the other two cantatas for the 2nd Sunday after Epiphany are: BWV 155, Emmanuel score, parts set Friedemann lost; BWV 3, Friedemann score and Anna Magdalena parts to Thomas School. Between 1755 and 1770, former Bach student and Thomas School prefect Christian Friedrich Penzel copied the chorale Cantata 3 parts set into a score (St. 157 M), presumably for a performance in Ölsnitz or Merseberg where he was the cantor.


1Cantata, BCW Details and Discography Score Vocal & Piano,; Score BGA,; score with music,; digital manuscript score,; digital manuscript parts set, References BGA II (Cantata 11-20, Maurice Hauptmann 1852), NBA KB I/5 (Epiphany 2 cantatas, NBA, I/5 (Marianne Helms, 1976: 197), Bach Compendium BC A 34, Zwang K 138.
2Martin Petzoldt Bach Kommentar: Die geistlichen Kantaten des 1. Bis 27. Trinitas-Sontagges, Vol. 1; Theologisch Musikwissenschaftlicke Kommentierung der Geistlichen Vokalwerke Johann Sebastan Bachs, Internationale Bachakademie Stuttgart (Kassel: Bärenreiter, 2004: 455).
3 Blanken, “A Cantata-Text Cycle of 1728 from Nuremberg: A preliminary report on a discovery relating to J. S. Bach’s so-called ‘Third Annual Cycle’,” Understanding Bach 2015, Vol. 10: 24 (Back Network UK,, German version due in Bach Jahrbuch 2016.
4 Gardiner notes, BCW[sdg115_gb].pdf; Recording details,
5Hofmann notes, BCW[BIS-SACD1711].pdf; Recording details,
6 This passage, John 16:16:22, was the Gospel in Bach’s time for the Third Sunday after Easter (Jubilate), and the beginning of the annual Leipzig spring fair. In the 20th century, it was the same reading prior to the adoption of the three-year lectionary by the Vatican II and progressive Protestant churches. The importance of John’s Farewell Discourses and Bach’s 1725 Jubilate Cantata 103, “Ihr werdet weinen und heulen, aber die Welt wird sich freuen” (You will weep and howl, but the world will rejoice, John 16:20), will be the BCML Discussion fr the week of April 16, with special emphasis on Eric Chafe’s other recent book, J. S. Bach’s Johannine Theology: The St. John Passion and the Cantatas for Spring 1725 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014).


To Come: Cantata 72, “Alles nur nach Gottes Willen” (Everything according to God’s will).

Aryeh Oron wrote (January 23, 2017):
Cantata BWV 13 - Revised & updated Discography

Cantata BWV 13 "Meine Seufzer, meine Tränen" (My sighs, my tears) was composed by J.S. Bach in Leipzig for the 2nd Sunday after Epiphany of 1726. The cantata is scored for soprano, alto, tenor & bass soloists; 4-part Chorus; and orchestra of 2 recorders, oboe da caccia, 2 violins, viola & continuo.

The discography pages of BWV 13 on the BCW have been revised and updated. See:
Complete Recordings (12):
Recordings of Individual Movements (11):
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 is the most comprehensive discography of this cantata. If you are aware of a recording of BWV 13 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 13: 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


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Last update: Monday, September 11, 2017 15:23