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Cantata BWV 136
Erforsche mich, Gott, und erfahre mein Herz
Discussions - Part 4

Continue from Part 3

Discussions in the Week of July 26, 2015 (4th round)

William Hoffman wrote (July 27, 2015):
Cantata BWV 136, 'Erforsche mich, Gott' Intro. & Trinity 8

The BCML weekly discussion now focuses on chorus Cantata 136, “Erforsche mich, Gott, und erfahre mein Herz” (Search me, God, and know my heart, Psalm 139:23), for the Eighth Sunday After Trinity in the first Leipzig cycle of music for the church year. It has several distinctions. Premiered at the main service on July 18, 1723 in the St. Thomas Church, it is the first of a series of seven standard-form cantatas, opening with a typical biblical chorus, alternating pairs of recitatives and arias, and closing with a plain chorale. These followed an initial group of extended, mostly two-part and one double-cantata performance, each service performance lasting 40 minutes, during early Trinity Time.

Cantata 136 is the first work to utilize older, borrowed materials with new texts, with only the middle section of the alto free da-capo aria (no. 3) and the closing plain chorale definitely new music. Cantata 136 is the first of the group to be parodied again as Lutheran Kyrie-Gloria Masses. One striking feature is the opening chorus in the style of a prelude-and-fugue, probably Bach’s favorite form for a cantata opening chorus, along with the chorale fantasia opening the chorale cantatas of the second cycle, with more emphasis on polyphony. An added feature is the dance style of no. 1, pastorale-giga, Meanwhile, Bach had mastered the principal of tonal allegory giving the work harmonic direction, emphasis, and portrayal, as well as utilizing important biblical texts interpretations and theological teachings.

The series of seven new cantatas, from the Eighth to the 14th Sundays after Trinity are: BWV 136, 105, 46, 179, 69a, 77 and 25. Known as group 1 or A in six movements, it totals 10 in the first cycle of 60 mostly chorus-opening cantatas, with the other three being for the 21st to 22nd Sunday after Trinity (BWV 109 and 89) and the second Sunday after Easter (BWV 184). Three groupings of new works, possibly by different librettists, usually have the most typical basic form of the Leipzig church cantatas, particularly with a biblical text opening, four alternating recitatives and arias, and a closing chorale. Some of the 20 Weimar and five Köthen works repeated in the first cycle have a similar form while the solo cantatas (repeats or new works) usually have no opening chorus. The two variant forms of the other new cantatas, with biblical text opening chorus and closing chorale, have a second, usually plain chorale as the third movement, in between an initial (Form 2 or B) recitative or aria (Form 3 or C) alternation for a total of six to seven movements.

The initial series of seven first-group new single-part cantatas in early-middle Trinity Time have texts that “exhibit thematic, literary, and theological parallels and have sometimes been taken (along with a few other cantatas from points in the cycle) as the work of a single librettist,” says Eric Chafe in “Bach and Hypocrisy: Truth and Appearance in Cantatas 136 and 179.”1 Cantata 179, “Siehe zu, dass deine Gottesfurcht nicht Heuchelei sei” (See that your fear of God is not hypocrisy, Ecclesiasticus 1:23) was composed for the 11th Sunday after Trinity (BCML Discussion. The most likely librettist may be Christian Weiss Sr. Thomas Church pastor and Bach friend and champion.

“In addition, these two cantatas contain movements that were reused more than a decade later, in parodied versions, within two of Bach’s Missa Breves,” says Chafe.” The first movement [chorus] of Cantata 136 and the fifth movement [soprano aria] of Cantata 179 were parodied, respectively as the ‘In Gloria Dei Patris’ and “Qui tollis” of the Missa Brevis in A (BWV 234.”

In Cantata 136, running 15-20 minutes, the adapted text focuses on the Sunday’s Gospel teaching of Matthew 7:15-23, the Sermon on the Mount. It involves Jesus’ early caution to “beware of false prophets,” [15] Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. [16] Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles.” The Epistle teaching of Paul, Romans 8:12-17, has the theme, “We are joint heirs with Christ,” specifically quoting, "For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God" (8:14, KJV), [12] Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh.

To achieve this Bach uses a festive horn in the dance-style opening chorus two-part prelude and fugue, a cautionary alto aria with oboe d’amore and an affirmative tenor-bass duet with obbligato violin, and two plain, straightforward recitatives with brief closing ariosi for tenor and bass.2 Like many of his cantatas in the first and second cycles, the mood and message begin in the negative with sacrifice and move toward the positive, and finally triumph, from the stern caution of the law and human weakness to strength and the celebration of the sacraments.

Cantata 136 closes with Johann Hermann’s 1630 hymn, “Wo sol lich fliehen hin?” (Where should I flee from here), to the Jacob Regnart often-preferred 1574 melody, “Auf meinen lieben Gott” (In my beloved God), with the ninth of 11 stanzas, “Dein Blut, der edle Saft, / hat solche Stärk und Kraft” (Your blood, the noble liquid, / has such strength and might), related to Jesus’ communion sacrifice. “Auf meinen lieben Gott” Bach used again in 1724 as the melodic base for his chorale cantata, “Wo soll ich fliehen hin,” BWV 5, for 19th Sunday after Trinity [Chorale Text and Francis Browne English translation, BCW; Chorale Melody, BCW]

Beyond Bach’s selection of chorales for the specific service, those he used in his three cantatas for the Eighth Sunday After Trinity show considerable application. His Cycle 1 Johann Hermann chorale, “Wo soll ich fliehen hin?” (Where should I fly from here), BWV 136/6 was used in six other cantatas (with two associated melodies), and two organ chorale preludes. The Cycle 2 Justus Jonas hymn in Chorale Cantata BWV 178, “Wo Gott der Herr nicht bei uns halt”, has a popular melody set to four different texts in seven <omne tempore> cantatas, and three plain chorales, two of which were used in the St. Mark Passion, BWV 247, and in a recently-discovered organ chorale prelude, BWV 1128. By contrast Bach set the Heermann chorale, “O Gott, du frommer Gott,” to four different melodies found in seven cantatas, in five different text settings, and an organ chorale prelude.

Cantata 136 Progression of Ideas

“The overall progression of ideas in Cantata 136 centers at first on opposition between the omniscience and glory of God (‘Erforsche mich, Gott, und erfahre mein Herz’) and its ‘opposite’: sinful humanity, which tends towards hypocrisy in an attempt to disguise the fact (No. 2: recitative), says Chafe (Ibid.: 126f). Such false behavior prompts God’s judgment (No. 3: aria). After that, however, there is a turning point in No. 4 (second recitative. This movement gives the solution to the sinner’s dilemma: his uniting himself with Jesus through faith enables Jesus’ blood to purify him in readiness for God’s judgment. The believer is still diseased with sin and his lack of works, but he knows through hus faith that he will undergo no hard judgment. Original sin remains (No. 5: second aria), but Jesus blood purifies, freeing the sinner from the devil’s wrath (No. 6: chorale).” [Cantata 136 text and Francis Browne English translation, BCW]

Tonal Allegory, Theological Themes

With Cantata BWV 136, Bach began the technique of utilizing and transforming prexisting music as well exploiting two other principles: tonal allegory in his portrayal of the internal drama and musical cohesion of each individual work, as found in the writings of Eric Chafe, particularly focusing on the middle Trinity Time cantatas (cited in John Eliot Gardiner’s Bach Pilgrimage notes below) as well as the Passions of Matthew and John (in the “Cross Psalm” No. 139), and the theological themes of “Death, Deliverance, and Discipleship in the Music of Bach,” found in these and the other Bach vocal works as well as the scared chorale preludes as discussed in Calvin R. Stapert’s <My Only Comfort> (Eerdmans Publishing, 2000).

Bach continued to rely on previously-composed music as the foundation of his early Leipzig sacred cantata, says Julian Mincham in The Cantatas of Johann Sebastian Bach: A listener and student guide, Revised 2014; Home Page, <<C 136 marks a change of direction in the structuring of Bach′s weekly cantatas. Over the previous seven weeks only one work C 167, composed for St John′s Day which lay outside of the normal Sunday services, had not been presented in two parts (this is assuming that the pairing of Cs 24 and 185 served the same purpose). But beginning with C136 Bach embarks upon a series of cantatas of lesser proportions, typically with six movements. Furthermore, the pattern of beginning with a chorus, ending with a simple four-part chorale and with alternating recitatives and arias between, now takes shape. Various theories about why Bach should have operated in this way have been rehearsed in the earlier chapters of this volume and need not be repeated here. Suffice it to say that much of the repertoire that Bach presented in the earlier weeks, including C 136, had been wholly or partially composed before he took up his Leipzig appointment. Eventually he would be creating an increasing number of new works on a regular basis and, indeed, it can be argued that this was just what he had always planned to do.

But whatever the nature of the cantata shape that he chose as the framework for his ideas, the quality of musical invention, attention to the textual images and the sheer expressive intensity of his creative work never diminished.

Dürr provides us with what is known of the background to this cantata (p 454-5) which is relatively little. However, if we compare it to C105, the cantata for the following week, a number of revealing differences may be noted. These can be partially explained by the gap of several years between their composition. The imagery in C 136 is painted more overtly and obviously as Bach was wont to do in his earlier works. In C 105 it is inextricably entwined within the musical texturing. The fugal writing in 136/1 is ebullient and energetic but less tight than it was later to become. And C 105 conveys that inexplicable sense of ′touching the soul,′ an indescribable profundity that illuminates aspects of the human condition and which is so often characteristic of Bach′s fully mature works.

Nevertheless, this cantata should not be dismissed as a negligible work; it is full of delights simply waiting to be discovered by the keen listener.>>

Biblical-Text Choruses

“The great biblical-text choruses that open many of the cantatas from Cycle 1 are one of its defining features,” says Richard D. P. Jones in The Creative Development of JSB, Vol. 2, Köthen& Leipzig.4 The Word of God launched the cantata as a musical sermon. “Bach clearly considered fugue, with its palpable order, strictness, and relative antiquity, to be the most appropriate method of setting these biblical texts, Jones observes. “Bach often attempted to integrate prelude and fugue into a single, compound entity.” “A rather more complex amalgamation of ritornello and fugue occurs in the opening movement of Cantata 136,” he continues: “ritornello – prelude – fugal exposition I – ritornello – fugal exposition II – ritornello. The bold horn theme that opens the ritornello is not only sung by the soprano in the prelude but forms the subject of the two fugal expositions so that the whole movement is thematically united.”

Two contributions on Cantata 136 are found in Thomas Braatz’s BCW Provenance and Francis Browne’s BCW annotations on the biblical references in the text set to music as exemplary studies of important topics in Bach’s sacred church pieces. As Bach entered the middle Trinity Time period in his compositions of each cycle, he had the confidence of having at hand sound texts for his musical sermons appropriate to the particular service as well as engaging musical structures and a variety of musical styles to convey the meaning(s) of each work.

The origins of the music in Cantata 136 are documented in Thomas Braatz’ Provenance page contributed for the ongoing discussion (see: Braatz’ exemplary documentation (with extensive, crucial sources, September 1, 2011), shows that Bach the Borrower-Transformer used older materials, as he did throughout Cantata Cycle 1. In the case of BWV 136, the results are intriguing. It is the first of Bach’s sacred cantatas using the mostly six-movement traditional text structure of opening biblical dictum followed by alternating arias and recitatives with a closing chorale, in one of three variant formats, possibly using the same, still-unknown author, says Alfred Dürr in the Cantatas of JSB.5 Also of distinction, Cantata BWV 136 is at the same time the first Bach Leipzig cantata to adapt borrowed material(s) of earlier origin, set to new texts, a technique-practice Bach would use increasingly in the remainder of his Leipzig service.

“There are various indications in the sources, however, that Bach might have made use of music composed at an earlier date,” Braatz quotes Dürr (Ibid.: 454). “Only the 12/8 section of the third movement and the final chorale are incontestably ad hoc compositions. It is tempting to imagine that the remainder might have originated in a secular work, or possibly in a church cantata for another occasion (and hence with a different concluding chorale). As yet, however, it has not proved possible to establish any further particulars.”

Braatz says another key argument is: (Hans-Joachim Schulze, Die Bach-Kantaten, (Leipzig, 2006: 348): “The fact that the final chorale has five parts instead of four by adding a high violin part in counterpoint opens additional questions about its origin. This type of treatment would point more toward Bach’s Weimar rather than his Leipzig cantata style.”

There are several possible secular works that Bach composed in Weimar and Köthen but with virtually no documented existence. In Weimar, Bach also may have set Salomo Franck texts to two court cantatas, for the wedding of Duke Ernst August, January 24, 1716, titled “Diana, Amor, Apollo, Ilmene,” and a birthday cantata for his new Duchess Eleonore from Köthen, on May 18, 1716, titled “Amor, die Treue und die Beständigkeit,” (cited by Wolff and Smend). No music survives. Bach may have presented music or participated in other performances elsewhere during his Köthen period (1717-1723): a homage cantata for Friedrich II of Saxe-Gotha, August 2, 1721; a church performance at the Schleiz Court of Heinrich XI Count von Reuss, around August 10, 1721; and a birthday cantata, “O vergnügte Stunden,” BWV Anh. 194, for Prince Johann August of Anhalt-Zerbst, July 29, 1722, or August 8, 1722.

It is more likely that Bach used materials from a previously-composed sacred work, given that the Cantata BWV 136 opening biblical dictum (Psalm 139:23) would have been a most serendipitous parody or new-text underlay from a sacred cantata. Since Bach’s sacred cantatas in Weimar were set almost entirely to published texts of Frank, beginning in 1714, such a work more likely would have been composed in Köthen. According to stylistic studies of W. Gillies Whittaker (Cantatas of JSB, 2 vols.) and Friedrich Smend (Bach in Köthen, 1985) some Leipzig sacred cantata movements were compooriginally in Köthen, possibly for annual sacred royal performances in the St. Agnes Calvinist Church on December 10 or January 1. They include surviving movements of Cantata BWV 32, 97/1, 145/3,5, and 193. In addition, supplemental performing parts from Weimar Cantatas BWV 21, 172, and 199, were written out on manuscript paper with Köthen watermarks (Stephen Daw, Editor’s Notes from NBA KB editions, Smend <Ibid.>, pp. 217-220). Festive Cantatas BWV 21 or 172 are suggested as possible probe pieces for Bach’s 1720 Hamburg audition. Unfortunately, Smend makes no reference to Cantata 136 in his book.

Opening Chorus: Text-Music Incongruity

Early in his first volume of Cantatas of JSB,6 Whittaker in Part 2, “Church Cantatas Middle Period,” takes up “Interlude I: Bach’s Borrowings,” with borrowed vocal material from sacred sources, and critically suggests that the Cantata 136 opening biblical dictum “Search me God, and know my heart” (Psalm 139:23) as a “tender prayer” “is not akin to the confident chorus.” It’s recycling as the “Cum Sancto Spiritu in Gloria Dei Patris” in the Short Mass in A “does less violence” and actually “sound very much finer in the Latin version.” Whittaker also finds musical-textual incongruities in the alto aria and the tenor bass duet.

This musical-textual incongruity also is commented on at length by John Eliot Gardiner in his 2008 liner notes to his 2000 Bach Cantata Pilgrimage on Soli Deo Gloria recordings.7 “ . . . only eight weeks into his Leipzig Cantorate, Bach came up with BWV 136 “Erforsche mich, Gott, und erfahre mein Herz.” There is something a little suspect about the version of this cantata that has come down to us. Take, for example, the extensive opening choral fugue. Set in the bright key of A major it is part festive – witness the horn call which heralds the main theme – and part pastoral, with its genial semiquaver figuration in 12/8 time. But what does that have to do with the earnest, penitential tone of the verse from Psalm 139, ‘Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts’? Even the beautifully crafted pleas of ‘Prüfe mich’ (‘Try me’) and the stretches of a more stirring polyphony are barely enough to disturb the gentle rotations of this prayer wheel and to propel its music into orbit, let alone to ‘paint a picture of an all-powerful but merciful God concerned with the individual being’ (Chafe). What is the function of the isolated, advanced statement of the vocal head motif, followed by a bar and-a-half of extra instrumental music before the fugue gets under way? Does the fact that the fugue subject is assigned more often to the outer than to the middle voices suggest a (lost) earlier original version, one for fewer voice parts, and (more speculatively) to a different and probably secular text, perhaps in another key and even with a slightly different orchestration? When scoring for just a pair of oboes it is atypical of Bach to label one ‘d’amore’ and the other a normal oboe, even though its music takes it up into the stratosphere and down off the end of its natural compass. And yet he clearly thought well enough of this opening movement to rework it later as the ‘Cum Sancto Spirito’ for his short A major Mass (BWV 234). Then again it could be that he took his prompt from the seasonal context of harvest, just as in last week’s alto aria from BWV 157 [Purification Feast, 1727], wresting the metaphor of good fruit struggling to ripen through the ‘thorns of sin’ and ‘thistles of iniquity’ – every wine-grower’s nightmare.

The alto now predicts a day of reckoning for hypocrites in an aria with oboe d’amore obbligato and a presto middle section in 12/8 describing their furious bringing to book. Adam’s fall, which led to the stain of sin, is evoked in the B minor tenor/bass duet with unison violins in 12/8: this can be cleansed or purified as a result of ‘that merciful stream of [Jesus’s] blood’, referred to again in the final chorale as ‘that noble sap’ (‘der edle Saft’), with a high-flying violin faux bourdon. This got me thinking about the many references in both the St John and St Matthew Passions to the blood of the Saviour as a stream of grace and mercy emanating from above, and their origin in the medieval legends of the Holy Grail. As Goethe later observes, ‘Blut ist ein ganz besonderer Saft’, though this refers to the point when Mephistopheles forces Faust to sign their pact with a drop of his own blood, thus freeing him from the stricture of religion and morality.>> c John Eliot Gardiner 2008; from a journal written in the course of the Bach Cantata Pilgrimage

Note on the Cantata 136 Text

Francis Browne’s new annotation to his BCW August 27 translation of Cantata WV 136 text,, has marginal citations to biblical illusions which are discussed in his <<Note on the text. The author of this text is unknown. Starting from the readings for the day it considers the ideas of sincerity and hypocrisy, true and false prophets and reaches the conclusion that we should depend on Christ's blood, a symbol of God's merciful love.

The words of the opening movement and so the title of the cantata come from Psalm 139. In Robert Alter's view this “is one of the most remarkably introspective psalms in the canonic collection.... essentially a meditation on God's searching knowledge of man's innermost thoughts, on the limitations of human knowledge, and on God's inescapable presence throughout the created world”. It is surprising therefore that Bach should set this earnest penitential Psalm to bright cheerful music and commentators have suggested that he may have used music from an earlier secular cantata.

The recitative in the second movement refers to the curse placed by God on the earth after the sin of Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:17) and the question asked by Christ in the section of the Sermon on the Mount used for the gospel this Sunday : “Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?”. The curse on the earth has affected also the hearts of men so that they produce thorns and thistles of sin. Truth may be difficult to discern because the wicked may present themselves as virtuous (angels of light, in sheep’s clothing) and we also may delude ourselves into thinking we can do right with our corrupted nature (gather grapes from thorns). Hence the you plural form (ihr Heuchler) is used at the end of this recitative.

But God’s truth will in the end prevail –either at death or the last judgement – and hypocrisy will be revealed for what it is. This idea is presented at the end of the second movement and in the third movement by the common biblical imagery of the day of the Lord, some future decisive action by God.

The opening of the fourth movement recalls a passage from the Book of Job emphasising the greatness of God and the imperfection of man. But this seeming impasse leads in fact to the turning point where reliance upon the blood of Christ rather than our own merits makes salvation possible. The same idea of salvation through Christ is taken up in the second aria and the concluding chorale. Christ as often is seen as the new Adam who undoes and makes good the damage done by his predecessor.

The concluding chorale is taken from the ninth stanza of Wo soll ich fliehen hin written in 1630 by Johannes Heermann. Like the opening movement it echoes Psalm 139. Many people may find bizarre the references to blood in this cantata. But blood sacrifice was common in the ancient world and it is an important image in the bible (mentioned 400 times in the Old Testament, and 100 in the New) and so in subsequent Christian tradition. Perhaps it may be understood as an assertion of both God’s existence and his love and power.>>

Compare the conclusion of Geofffeey Hill's poem Genesis :

By blood we live, the hot, the cold,
To ravage and redeem the world:
There is no bloodless myth will hold.
And by Christ's blood are men made free
Though in close shrouds their bodies lie
Under the rough pelt of the sea.

In the chorale Rachen is sometimestranslated by wrath or anger or vengeance. In German der Rachen (jaws, throat) and die Rache ( vengeance) are easily confused and both meanings give good sense but Rachen cannot here be the dative of Rache.

Discussion leader’s note: I take the liberty of citing Browne’s original introduction to these notes: “As I revise my translations of the cantata texts, I thought it might be useful to add some explanatory notes – nothing very original, mostly a compilation of information from such standard sources as The Oxford Companion, Dürr, Cantagrel and in particular (Michael) Schanze, who often discusses the text and is not available in English.”

Themes: Hypocrisy, Faith, Acknowledge Sin

“Cantatas 136 and 179 both center of the theme of hypocrisy, which serves as a springboard to the more fundamental and positive themes of faith and acknowledgment of sin,” says Chafe (Ibid.: 123). “The latter themes run throughout Bach’s work and are especially prominent in six of the seven cantatas to which Cantatas 136 and 179 belong.” Only Cantata 69a, “Lobe den Herrn, meine Seele” (Praise the Lord, my Soul, Psalm 103:2) for Trinity 12 (BCML Discussion, August 23) “centers on praise and thanks to God and its musical setting, which is highly festive,” says Jones. The work may have been composed to serve double duty as a Town Council inauguration Cantata on a late Monday celebrating St. Bartholomew in August, while serving for the adjacent 12th Sunday after Trinity. A similar situation existed when chorale Cantata 137, “Lobe den Herren, den mächtigen König der Ehren” (Praise the Lord, the mighty king of honour).

“The sequence as a whole is embedded in the larger framework of the Trinity season, in which the theme that theologian Walter von Lowenich (Luther’s Theology of the Cross, 1976) calls ‘faith in opposition to experience’,” says Chafe. “This theme involves a very pejorative view of the world,” observes Chafe. The possible single librettist of these seven early-middle Trinity Time cantatas, in the final cantata of the sequence (Trinity 14, BCML Discussion, Week of September 6), “Es ist nichts Gesundes an meinem Leibe” (There is nothing healthy in my body, Psalm 38:3), “Die ganze Welt ist nur ein Hospital” (The whole world is nothing but a hospital, tenor recitative, no. 2).

Jones characterizes the previous cantata (186) and the six of faith and acknowledgement of sin in the following manner: “In these and many other cantatas for the Trinity season, the believer is concerned with God’s judgment, which can be escaped by clinging to God’s word (186), faith and purification through Jesus’ blood (136), by Jesus’ mediation (105, 46), acknowledgment of sin (179), love of one’s neighbor (77) and Jesus’ mercy (25).”

“As the gospel for the eighth Sunday after Trinity explains (Matthew 7:15-23), false prophets can be recognized by their fruits, a metaphor that appears in both Cantatas 136 and 179,” says Chafe (Ibid.: 126). The answer is Luther’s theological principle: “The believer is justified by faith through grace alone” in the Word.

Biblical Sources: Paired Miracle-Teaching (Douglas Cowling). Turning to the biblical sources, the paired themes (*) are found in Douglas Cowling’s BCW on the Trinity Time “Gospel Thematic Patterns, Paired Miracle and Teachings (Part 2, Trinity +5 to +8).

* Trinity 7: Mark 8: 1-9, Miracle of feeding of the four thousand. [6] And he commanded the people to sit down on the ground: and he took the seven loaves, and gave thanks, and brake, and gave to his disciples to set before them; and they did set them before the people. This Gospel reading emphasizes two themes for the Christian (the believer). The first theme is that the disciples at Jesus’ instruction furnished the “seven loaves” and “small fishes”; the people responded by provisioning (enabling) themselves the physical sustenance, after gaining spiritual sustenance from Jesus’ earlier preaching.

* Trinity 8: Matthew 7: 15-23, Teaching: Beware of false prophets. [15] Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. [16] Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do

men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles. The teaching, found in the Gospel for the succeeding Eighth Sunday After Trinity, cautions the Christian against “false prophets” whose fruits corrupt the people but people will accept the true prophet by following the will of Jesus’ Father and entering His Kingdom without having to prophesy, cast out devils and do works (full Gospel, King James Version, Matthew Chapter 7: 15 Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. 16 Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? 17 Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. 19 Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. 20 Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. 21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? 23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

[The current lectionary Gospel for this Sunday, July 26, 2015, also known as the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost, is John’s version of the Feeding of the 5,000 (6:1-14).

Chorale “Wo soll ich fliehen hin?”

Cantata BWV 136, uses Johann Heermann’s 1630 penitential 11-stanza hymn, “Wo soll ich fliehen hin?” (Where should I fly from here). The chorale is listed in the <NLGB> as No 523 (for Communion, Trinity 3). It was a general communion hymn and appropriate for Sundays after Trinity in Leipzig (Stiller, <JSB & Liturgical Life in Leipzig>, 1984 Concordia: 128, 246).

Other Bach uses of the <omnes tempore> chorale are found in three cantatas for Trinity Time: *Chorale Cantata BWV 5 (Trinity 19, 1724); *Cantata BWV 89/6 (S.7, "Mir mangelt zwar sehr viel" [I do indeed lack many things] Trinity 22, 1723); and *Cantata BWV 199/6 (S. aria, S.3, "Ich, dein betrübtes Kind, / werf alle meine Sünd" [I, your troubled child,/cast all my sins], Trinity 11, 1714, repeated 1723.

Cantata BWV 136 begins with the opening chorus in A Major (later BWV 234 <Missa> contrafaction, <In Gloria Dei patris>) and closes with the plain chorale, No. 6, in B-Minor (S. 9, "Dein Blut, der edle Saft, / hat solche Stärk und Kraft" [your blood, the noble liquid, /has such strength and might].

The associated J. H. Schein 1627 melody is found in organ chorale preludes BWV 646 in E-Minor (<Six Schubler Chorales?, c1746), and the related earlier Miscellaneous Chorale BWV 694. It is listed in the <Orgelbüchlein> (<Ob>) <omne tempore> Catechism (No. 74, Confession) but not set [BCW:].

“A common view is that (Schubler Chorale) BWV 646 comes from a lost cantata (NBA [KB I/18, Dürr 1966]: 158f): it is not known from any earlier MS of organ music, and one can easily imagine a cantata scoring of basso continuo or bassoon for the left hand, violin(s) or oboe da caccia for the right, and tenor for the<cantus>,” says Peter Williams, <Organ Music of JSB>, 2nd ed., 2003: 326f.

While the cantata trio-aria origins of the other five Schubler chorales (BWV 645, 647-50) have been found, the source of BWV 646 is not extant. This late Bach E-Minor aria adaptation is one of the few Bach pieces to be traced through source-critical and collateral evidence to a lost Bach cantata.

The Schein melody was originally associated with the text "Auf meinen lieben Gott" (In my beloved God) before 1603. It is found in the <NLGB> as No. 776 as well as in the < OB> No. 136, “Death and Dying,” unset. The melody also was used for various verses in Chorale Cantata BWV (Trinity 19, 1724), plain chorale BWV 89/6 (Trinity 22, 1723), plain chorale BWV 163/6 (Trinity 23, 1715, repeated ?1723), and soprano trio aria BWV 199/6 (Trinity 11, 1714, repeated 1723).

While Bach failed to set both chorales, “Wo soll ich fliehen hin?” and "Auf meinen lieben Gott," in the <Orgelbüchelin> early in his career (1710-14), as was the case with most other planned omnes tempore> Trinity Time <Ob> settings, he utilized them extensively in Leipzig in cantatas, plain chorale settings, and major organ chorale preludes. Thus, the planned 164 settings in the <Orgelbüchlein> were Bach’s template for a “well-ordered church music,” finally achieved in his last 27 years in Leipzig


NOTES: * The Marenzio motet is an exceptional example of late Mannerist Renaissance

style. The madrigalian influences are especially strong. 1) MOTETS for Introit, Before Sermon at mass and vespers for Choir II, and During Communion: i) "Iniquos Odio Habui" (8 voices) - L. Maurentius (Luca Marenzio) Livestreaming:; Biography:
Text: Psalm 119: 113-117: I hate the double-minded, but I love your law. You are my hiding-place and my shield; I hope in your word. Go away from me, you evildoers, that I may keep the commandments of my God. Uphold me according to your promise, that I may live, and let me not be put to shame in my hope. Hold me up, that I may be safe and have regard for your statutes continually. You spurn all who go astray from your statutes; for their cunning is in vain. All the wicked of the earth you count as dross; therefore I love your decrees. My flesh trembles for fear of you, and I am afraid of your judgements.

[The Introit Psalm is Psalm 6, Domine, ne in fin fuore (O Lord, rebuke me not in then anger (KJ, full text,, says Martin Petzoldt, Bach Commentary, Vol. 1, Trinity Sundays.9

2) HYMN OF DAY (de tempore) "Ach Gott Von Himmel,"; 3) CHORALES for Pulpit and Communion Hymns: "Ich ruf zu dir Herr Jesu Christ," Live streaming:; "O Herre Gott dein göttliches Wort,"

Bach’s Trinity 8 Performance Calendar

There are extant three Cantatas for 8th Sunday after Trinity: BWV 136, Erforsche mich, Gott, und erfahre mein Herz (1723); BWV 178, Wo Gott derr Herr nicht bei uns halt (If God does not abide in us) (1724); and BWV 45, Es ist dir gesagt, Mensch, was gut ist (It is told to you, O man, what is good) (1726). There are no documented Bach reperformances of the three extant cantatas for the 8th Sunday After Trinity (BWV 136, 178, 45).

During the post-Cycle 2 Trinity Time of 1725, for the 8th Sunday After Trinity, July 22, Bach may have repeated Cantata BWV 178 without the opening chorale fantasia, substituting instead the opening stanza as harmonized in the closing plain choral, Movement No. 6 (Stanzas 7 and 8). There is collateral evidence that Bach, perhaps two months earlier, presented his extant, abridged versions of the two-part Cantatas BWV 75 and 76 without opening choruses. There also is documentation that during this 1725 Trinity Time, Bach may have given his boys’ chorus a break when only feast days and Town Council cantatas required choruses and well as additional brass and timpani. Bach continued this practice in Cycle 3.

The printed text for the Picander Cycle (4) shows that Cantata P51, Herr, stärke mein Schwacken (Lord, strengthen my weakness), shows no plain chorale.

Trinity +8 Chorales and Contexts10

As Bach proceeded into the middle Trinity Sundays in his three extant cantata cycles in Leipzig in the middle 1720s, chorales played a central role in his settings. They provided him with important Psalm and Communion texts as well as teachings on essential themes of the Reform Church’s half year of biblical readings. Bach responded with a varied plethora of settings for the heterogeneous first cycle, used entire chorale texts as the basis for the first three-fourths of his second cycle, and turned back to established, familiar chorales in older texts in his third cycle.

As part of his manifesto and calling for a “well-ordered church music to the glory of God,” Bach systematically and intentionally explored and utilized the established Lutheran chorales, adhered often to the general pattern of prescribed hymn-book service chorale usages in Saxony and Thuringia, and sought out newer hymns and applications in his sacred cantatas. Many Bach commentators and scholars often have criticized the quality of the cantata’s poetic texts, including the chorale stanza paraphrases in Cycle 2.

An in-depth examination of Bach’s chorale choices and accompanying madrigalian aria and free-verse recitative texts shows a profound understanding, utilization, and synthesis of materials conveyed in these harmonious musical sermons with their growing sense of internal integrity, external engagement, and dramatic appeal – particularly in Bach’s hybrid mixture of chorale with recitative, aria, arioso, or chorus.

Besides blending varied texts into a consistency of both complex unity and diversity of textual and musical expression, Bach was able in the chorale cantata cycle, beginning with BWV 178 for the Eighth Sunday After Trinity, to achieve a sense of drama, texture and cohesion through the use of two creative, hybrid chorale/chorus flanking a central tenor chorale quartet aria, further buttressed by a striking opening chorale fantasia with the canto in the traditional soprano, and closing with a reflective plain chorale. While composing this original, chorale-based cycle in later 1724, Bach was able to perfect the ingredients for the dramatic dialogues of collective and individual expression, established in three poetic movements of the St. John Passion of the earlier Good Friday that would achieve fruition in the dramatic scena and tableau of the St. Matthew Passion in 1729.

In addition, Bach was able to express sustained thoughts in these mature and seasoned cantatas. The metaphors and images generated in the sacred texts of biblical praise, wisdom and prophetic literature, coupled with the Gospel and Epistle activities and teachings creates, a vivid and compelling musical mosaic of the entire cantata, beyond the traditional naturalistic references such as storms and blood. Just one example is the significance in Cantata 178 of the central, complex Lion/Hero of Judah, found in other Bach works such as the St. John Passion. This could be a comparison of the Old Testament warrior or stalwart such as Judah Maccabee, David and Samson with the New Testament Prince of Peace, mercy, and grace.

Bach demonstrated both tactical flexibility and strategic consistency in his choice of chorales, particularly in Trinity Time. Günther Stiller devotes a full paragraph in his book on Bach and Liturgical Life in Leipzig11 to explaining Bach’s choice of chorales for the Eighth Sunday After Trinity in lieu of the suggested chorales found in the 1682 <Neu Leipziger Gesangbuch> (<NLGB>). Relying on both previous practices and general suggestions in various Lutheran hymn books, Bach choose the Later Trinity Time Psalm 124 paraphrase< Wo Gott der Herr nicht bei uns halt> (If God does not abide in us) for his Chorale Cantata BWV 178 in 1724. Bach already had chosen a similar themed chorale on the “Word of God and the Christian Church,” Luther’s setting of Psalm 12 plea for help, "Ach Gott Von Himmel siehe darein" (Ah God, look down from heaven), six weeks prior for the Second Sunday After Trinity Chorale Cantata BWV 2. For his third cycle cantata in 1726 Bach relieon an old libretto text with the chorale “O Gott, du frommer Gott” (O God, Thou Righteous God) found in Dresden and Weißenfels hymnals for the Ninth Sunday After Trinity.

Bach also had other uses for the <NLGB>-listed chorales for the Eighth Sunday After Trinity. Two of the chorales are also listed for the Second Sunday After Trinity and were used previously: "Ach Gott Von Himmel siehe darein” and "Ich ruf zu dir Herr Jesu Christ" (I call to you, Lord Jesus Christ), assigned as the Hymn of the Day for the Second, 19th and 21st Sundays after Trinity and as a communion hymn on the Sundays after Trinity +5, +6, +8, and +22.

Bach previously used the designated pulpit hymn, Anarg von Wildenfels 1526 8-stanza "O Herre Gott dein göttliches Wort/ Ist lang verdunkelt blieben” (O Lord God, your divine word was for a long time obscured), as a plain chorale to close Cantata BWV 184 for Pentecost Tuesday 1724. Bach used the melody from a pre-Reformation folk song alone in the Neumeister chorale prelude, BWV 1110, before 1710. The other miscellaneous organ chorale setting, BWV 757: 1700-1717, is not accepted by the NBA or BG, although the <Bach Compendium (BC)> K126 & BWV Verzeichnis (catalogue) still list it. The chorale also is found in the NLGB as No. 802 and also designated for Septuagesima Sunday. Francis Browne’s notes and translation are found in BCW:

Thus, it appears that Bach in his choice of chorale texts to use in his cantatas -- particularly for the chorale cantata cycle -- was primarily governed by basic expedience and general usage. He also was motivated as well in his creative desire to set the text to particular musical (sermon) treatment as well as to complement the possible emblematic cycle of actual service sermons of the St. Thomas pastor Christian Weiß Sr., who probably was involved in Bach’s cantata texts and the choice of chorales.


1 Chafe, in The Century of Bach and Mozart: Perspectives in Historiography, Composition, Theory and Performance, Ed. Sean Gallagher & Thomas Forrest Kelly (essays for Christoph Wolff festschrift; Cambridge MA: Harvard Univ. Press: 2008: 121).
2 Cantata 136, BCW Details and Discography, Score Vocal & Piano [2.23 MB],; Score BGA [2.44 MB], Sources: BGA: XXVIII (Cantatas 131-140, Wilhelm Rust, 1881), NBA KB I/18 (Trinity 8, Dürr 1966), Bach Compendium BC A 111, Zwang: K 35.
3 Mincham, The Cantatas of Johann Sebastian Bach: A listener and student guide, Revised 2014; Home Page,
4Jones, The Creative Development of Johann Sebastian Bach, Volume II: 1717-1750. “Music to Delight the Spirit” (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013: 123).
5 Dürr, Cantatas of J. S. Bach, revised and translated by Richard D. P. Jones (Oxford University Press, New York, 2005: 26-28).
6Whittaker, The Cantatas of Johann Sebastian Bach (Oxford University Press: London, 1958: 349f).
7 Gardiner notes,[sdg147_gb].pdf; BCW Recording details,
8 Sources: * BACH'S HYMN BOOK: Jürgen Grimm, "Das neu [?] Leipziger Gesangbuch des Gottfried Vopelius (Leipzig 1682)", Berlin: Merseburger, 1969, ML 3168 G75. * BACH'S MOTET COLLECTION: Otto Riemer, "Erhard Bodenschatz und sein Florilegium Portense," Schünigen: Kaminsky, 1927, ML 410 B67R4. Dissertation on Bodenschatz Collection
9 Petzoldt, Martin. 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: Trinity 8 Commentary 171-173.
10 Source, BCW “Musical Context of Bach Cantatas: Motets & Chorales for 8th Sunday after Trinity,”
11 Stiller, Johann Sebastian Bach and Liturgical Life in Leipzig, Ed. Robin A. Leaver (Concordia Publishing: St. Louis, 1985: 243).

Aryeh Oron wrote (July 29, 2015):
Cantata BWV 136 - Revised & updated Discography

The discography pages of Cantata BWV 186 “Erforsche mich, Gott, und erfahre mein Herz” for the 8th Sunday after Trinity on the BCW have been revised and updated.
The cantata is scored for alto, tenor & bass soloists; 4-part chorus; and orchestra of horn, oboe, oboe d’amore, 2 violins, viola & continuo. See:
Complete Recordings (9):
Recordings of Individual Movements (4):
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 & 1 video 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 136 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 136: 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 09:13