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Cantata BWV 152
Tritt auf die Glaubensbahn
Discussions - Part 5

Continue from Part 4

Discussions in the Week of May 11, 2014 (4th round)

William Hoffman wrote (May 12, 2014):
Cantata 152 Tritt auf die Glaubensbahn: Intro.

In several respects, Bach’s dialogue Cantata BWV 152 “Tritt auf die Glaubensbahn” (Step forward on the way faith), was a major step in his development as a composer. A solo cantata for soprano and bass with chamber orchestra, it was his first venture into the Italianate dialogue cantata where the soprano represents the Soul or Believer, and the bass represents Jesus Christ in a mystic tradition based on the union of lovers in the biblical Song of Songs. For the crucial text, Bach collaborated with Weimar Court poet Salomo Franck as part of a new church year cycle to set an accessible text with strong metaphors and biblical references.

To provide unity, Franck used the images of the biblical precious stone and corner stone and Bach responded with word-paintings using an exquisite chamber ensemble blending old and new instruments as individual voices. In addition, to introduce the dialogue cantata in the manner of an Italian opera, Bach composed his first substantial introductory sinfonia, in the style of a slow-fast prelude-and fugue. Based on the model of the Weimar “Prelude and Fugue in A Major,” BWV 536, the fugue has syncopated figures that suggest the initial pulling of the believer/lover along the highway of belief. The instrumental scoring is for recorder, oboe, viola d’amore, viola da gamba, continuo);

Cantata 152 was composed for the Sunday after Christmas, December 30, 1714, a service during the extended 12-day Christmas Festival that anticipates the coming Passion. Here the appointed Gospel, Luke 2:33-40, prophesizes in the words of Simeon and Anna to Mary in the temple that Jesus birth leads to the redemption of Israel.1 As to the intention and meaning of the Sunday after Christmas, it is midway between Christmas and New Years. In old Lutheran service books it was known as the "Sunday within the Octave of Christmas," or the eight days of celebration. The Gospel theme is submission to the law, and the Sunday’s Epistle theme (Galatians 4: 1-7) is redemption under the law in the "fullness of the time," says Alfred Dürr’s The Cantatas of J.S. Bach.2

Franck’s libretto (Evangelisches Andachts-Opffer, 1715), addresses the Gospel sermon advocating fidelity through faith, in the face of a choice between embracing or rejecting sacred teachings which are both a sanctuary and a vexation to all peoples.

In addition to the Gospel and Epistle readings,3 the Introit Psalm is Psalm 117, Laudate Dominum (O praise the Lord, all ye nations, KJV, says Martin Petzoldt in his Bach Commentar, Vol. 2, Advent to Trinity Sunday.4 The sermon that Sunday in the Weimar Court chapel was preached by Johann Georg Layritz (1547-1716), general superintendent and main preacher, says Petzoldt (Ibid.: 255).

Franck produces to Bach’s specifications an allegorical dialogue cantata as shown in the closing soprano (Soul) and bass (Jesus) dal segno duet (Mvt. 6) with separate texts. Lasting about 19 minutes, the six-movements work is in near-pallindrome (mirror) symmetrical form, alternating arias and recitatives following an introductory orchestral sinfonia. None of Bach’s three aria settings has da-capo repeat form, suggesting there is no return along the path of faith. The scoring is soprano and bass with an orchestra of recorder, oboe, viola d’amore, viola da gamba, continuo, including viola da gamba.

Liturgical Emphasis, Duality

The liturgical emphasis and human duality are at the core of this spiritual and musical journey, says John Eliot Gardiner’s 2005 liner notes to the 2000 Bach Cantata Pilgrimage.5 <<The Lutheran liturgy for the Sunday after Christmas distances itself from the mood of the incarnation and anticipates Christ’s coming Passion, crucifixion and death. Salomo Franck’s libretto is based on the contrast of opposites: it focuses on the image of the stone, the cornerstone of faith set by God in Jesus’ incarnation, but also the stumbling block to human inclination. Bach’s setting makes much play of this duality, humanity’s initial fall and the need for spiritual abasement on the one hand, the triumph of faith and the soul’s attainment of the crown as the terminus of the ‘Glaubensbahn’ on the other.”

Bach shapes his cantata as a spiritual and musical journey. First, we are urged by the bass soloist to step onto the path of faith (No.2); then along the way, either side of the soprano’s aria which venerates the stone of faith (No.4), we are given stern admonitions, a warning of the fate of the ‘wicked world’ as it ‘stumbles over it into hell’ (No.3), and a denunciation of worldly wisdom (No.5). In the face of faith, reason has no persuasive power or strength. The heart needs to turn towards holy unity, symbolised by Bach in the convergence of his four chosen instruments as a foil to the dialogue between Jesus and the Soul.>>

The movements, scoring, initial text, key, and time signature are:6

1. Sinfonia (Flauto, Oboe, Viola d'amore, Viola da gamba, Continuo); slow-fast French overture form; e minor, 3/8 time.
2. Aria trio quasi da-capo with ritornelli (Bass; Oboe, Continuo): “Tritt auf die Glaubensbahn” (Step forward on the way of faith); g minor, ¾.
3. Recitative (Bass, Continuo): “Der Heiland ist gesetzt / In Israel zum Fall und Auferstehen (The saviour is appointed / in Israel for its fall and resurrection); g minor to Bb Major; 4/4.
4. Aria two-part with ritornelli (Soprano; Flauto, Viola d'amore, Continuo) “Stein, der über alle Schätze, / Hilf” (Stone, which surpasses all treasures, / Help); Bb Major, 4/4.
5. Recitative (Bass, Continuo) “Es ärgre sich die kluge Welt” (Let the clever world be angry); g minor to Bb Major, 4/4.
6. Aria dal-segno with ritornelli (Duetto) (Soprano, Bass; Violino I/II, gli stromenti all'unisono [flauto, oboe, viola d'amore, viola da gamba], Continuo), Soul (Soprano), Jesus (Bass): Soprano: “Wie soll ich dich, Liebster der Seelen, umfassen?” (How should I embrace you, most beloved of souls?) Bass: “Du mußt dich verleugnen und alles verlassen! You must deny yourself and forsake everything!); g minor, 6/4 loure dance style.

Gospel Sources, Readings

Luke’s gospel account, says Dürr (Ibid.: 135f) harks back to Isaiah 8:14-15, “14 And he shall be for a sanctuary; but for a stone of stumbling and for a rock of offence to both the houses of Israel, for a gin and for a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. 15 And many among them shall stumble, and fall, and be broken, and be snared, and be taken” (KJV) and Psalm 118:22: “The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner.” 7

“Other biblical passages relevant in this context, says Dürr (Ibid.: FN24: 136), are Matt. 21:42 (“Jesus saith unto them, Did ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord's doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes?”); Rom. 9:33 (“As it is written, Behold, I lay in Sion a stumblingstone and rock of offence: and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed”), and 1 Peter 2:6-8 (“Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded. 7 Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner, 8 And a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed”).

Citing the passage in Matthew 21:42 on the buildingstone, Peter Smaill observes: 8 “1 Corinthians 3 also expresses the sentiment of Christ, the sure foundation stone; and leads to the expression ( i Cor i.19), also in this text: "For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God." Bach weaves into the concept of the path of faith the walking bass which is to recur frequently throughout the cantatas wherever confidence in salvation, the pilgrimage thereto, is to be depicted. The sostenuto soprano note on "stein" in the aria, "Stein der ueber alle Schatze" illustrates the immovability of the headstone against the other oscillating instrumental parts. Whittaker [96f] points out the obbligati instruments moving in sixths in strangely exotic harmonies, " a manifestly Oriental touch, achieved by the simplest means" (cf BWV 64, Sie werden aus Saba alle kommen).”

Stone Images

The unifying stone images are found in the first three vocal movements, the bass framing aria and explanatory recitative pairing followed by the soprano aria response. Bach, notes Dürr (Ibid.), alludes to the stone in the opening bass aria (Mvt. 2), between Neumeister’s incipit:

Gott hat den Stein geleget,
God has laid the stone
Der Zion hält und träget,
that bears and supports Zion.
Mensch, stoße dich nicht dran!
Man, do not stumble against it!

Another stone metaphor initially is found in the bass recitatve (Mvt. 3), says W. Gillies Whittaker in The Cantatas of Johann Sebastian Bach: 9

Der edle Stein ist sonder Schuld,
The precious stone is without blame
Wenn sich die böse Welt
if the evil world
So hart an ihm verletzt,
injures itself on it,
Ja, über ihn zur Höllen fällt,
even falls over it to hell,

Especially prominent is the “corner stone” metaphor beginning in the bass arioso-like ending to his recitative (Mvt. 3):

Der seinen Glaubensgrund auf diesen Eckstein leget,
who places the foundation of his faith on this cornerstone
Weil er dadurch Heil und Erlösung findet.
since by this he finds salvation and redemption.

Finally, in the soprano aria (Mvt. 4) Jesus, says Dürr (Ibid.), “is implored not to become a stumbling block to the faithful Christian.” “The symbol of the corner stone, or Rock of Ages, is taken up in the soprano aria [Mvt. 4] “Stein der über alle Schätze” (Stone above all treasures),” says Richard D. P. Jones in The Creative Development of JSB, Vol. 1, 1695-1717.10 “The reference here is to Christ as the cornerstone of faith, the ‘noble stone’ upon which the wicked world wounds itself.” To elaborate instrumental accompaniment, “the word ‘Stein’ (‘stone’) occurs three times, and each time Bach sets it to a single, long-held note to suggest unwavering firmness,” says Malcolm Boyd in “Tritt auf die Glaubensebahm,” Oxford Composer Companions: J. S. Bach (483).11

Besides stones, Bach’s vivid word-painting of Franck’s text relating includes (Boyd, Ibid.) the emphasis on man’s fall and resurrection (Auferstehen) in the bass recitative (Mvt. 3) that opens with the only clear reference in Cantata 152 to the appointed Gospel reading (Luke 2:34), Simeon’s blessing: “Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel.” The other word-painting is in the bass second recitative (Mvt. 5): Reason is like “Die blinde Leiterin verführt die geistlich Blinden” (she is the blind leader who misleads the spiritually blind).

Images and Sources

Beginning with the initial pulling of the believer/lover in the opening instrumental Sinfonia fugue, the biblical Song of Songs source of the Soul-Jesus dialogue, its images and words is described in Thomas Braatz’ BCML commentary.12 <<I have been trying to make some sense out of the faster, fugal section of BWV 152/1, with its syncopated figures possibly relating somehow symbolically to the central themes which Bach chooses to illustrate musically based on Franck's text. I think I may have found a possible connection with the help of Lucia Haselböck's Bach text reference book "Bach: Textlexikon" [Bärenreiter, 2004.] Haselböck presents a copper-engraving illustration from a book that was published a decade after Bach's death ["Pia desideria" by Antonius Nicolaus Rhem {Bamberg, 1760}] with the caption "Zeüch mich dir nach, so laufen wir im Geruch deiner Salben. Hohelied Sol.1." ["Pull me after you, for then we will be running bathed in the aroma of your salves/ointment." [Vulgate Version: "trahe me post te"] [New Living Testament: Song of Solomon 1:1 "This is Solomon's song of songs, more wonderful than any other. Young Woman: "Kiss me again and again, for your love is sweeter than wine. How fragrant your cologne, and how pleasing your name! No wonder all the young women love you! Take me with you. Come, let's run! Bring me into your bedroom, O my king."]

The illustration depicts an angelic figure (with wings and halo) running while holding a large flaming torch in its left hand and a rope in its right. Behind this figure is a smaller figure holding onto the other end of the rope, half being dragged on its knees but possibly attempting to stand up to catch the aroma which appears as smoke coming from the torch. Imagine yourself being dragged while holding onto a rope, but somehow you have trouble running fast enough - this causes an irregular rhythm with one of your feet being dragged (some notes hold unexpectedly for two beats instead of the regular one beat causing syncopation.) It is almost like operating a scooter with one foot placed on the scooter while the other does the pushing off, except that in this instance one foot is being dragged on the ground because you are being pulled too fast or you resist the pulling in the first place.)

Haselböck adds to the caption already provided by the illustrator a quote from BWV 152/6 where the soul states: "Ach, ziehe mich, Liebster, so folg ich dir nach." Haselböck explains that this 'pulling' is a symbol for the Christian followers. Sulamith, in the Song of Solomon, praises her friend's love and she pleads with him that he should 'drag'/'pull' her along with him and in this manner run until they both reach his (bed)room(s). This love of a bride for her beloved is transformed accordingly to request of a believer to Christ: "Pull/Drag/Draw me after you." In Bach's cantata texts this can be formulated as a symbol: "das Seil der Liebe" ["the rope of love."]

The believer who is prepared to follow Christ is 'pulled'/'dragged'/'drawn' along "die rechte Bahn" ["the correct path"]= 'die Glaubensbahn' which leads to eternal life. The first condition for the 'pulling' power of Christ lies in disdaining the way of all flesh. In BWV 22/2 we find "Mein, Jesu, ziehe mich, so werd ich laufen" ["My Jesus, pull me, then I will walk/run."] The duet between Jesus and the soul also touches upon renouncing worldly things and carrying the cross (troubles and humiliation) upon which the crown of joy will be granted: BWV 152/6 "Seele: "Komm, lehre mich, Heiland, die Erde verschmähen," / Jesus: "Komm, Seele, durch Leiden zur Freude zu gehen." / Seele: "Ach, ziehe mich, Liebster, so folg ich dir nach" / Jesus: "Dir schenk ich die Krone nach Trübsal und Schmach." ["Come, teach me, savior, to disdain the earth" "Come, soul, go through suffering to joy" "O, pull me, dearest, then I will follow after you" "I will give you the crown after trouble and humiliation." ]

In BWV 49/6 a similar image is presented: "Dich hab ich je und je geliebet/ und darum zieh ich dich zu mir. / Ich komme bald, / ich stehe vor der Tür, / mach auf, mein Aufenthalt" ["I have loved you from time immemorial / and for that reason I pull you after me. / I will come soon, / I am standing in front of the door, / open up, my comfort and joy!"]

There is a real problem that presents itself here to a translator of the text which Bach set to music: many of the stronger associations of this key German word "nachziehen/nachzeuchen" are lost when, for instance, Pamela Dellal, in one of the translations listed on Aryeh's site, translates "Ach, ziehe mich, Liebster, so folg ich dir nach!" as "Ah, lead me, beloved, I will follow You!" In a case such as this, the Baroque image has been 'watered down' and gives only a bland representation of the original text which inspired Bach. What is lost here is the partial unwillingness or incapability of the one being drawn to keep up with the leader at all times.

Position, Significance of Sunday after Christmas

The position and significance of the Sunday after Christmas in the church year and Bach’s response, as well as the liturgical ties to hymnbooks in Bach’s time are found in BCML Discussion Part 4.13 <<LDecember is the half-year point of greatest darkness, in contrast to mid-June and the Feast John the Baptist, or the half-year of greatest light. While the theme of the emerging light, both solar and in Christ, has been around for a couple millennia, the emphasis on the theme of emerging darkness probably less. Bach continually conflated these two dualistic principles at key times of the year: the Advent and birth of a living and dying Jesus and the suffering and death of a re-living Christ. Then there are the final Sundays of Trinity, emphasizing both apocalypse and eternity, judgment and banquet, as Eric Chafe points out in "Aspects of the Liturgical Year, ”Analyzing Bach Cantatas.14

Whether or not one chooses to buy into the theology or even the process of interpretation of the theology (hermeneutics) as portrayed by Chafe, the author produces an engaging template, key or map to understanding some of Bach's basic motives, especially as they relate to his realization of his concept of a well-ordered church music, in particular Bach's use of specific chorales and texts, as well as his choice of performing forces and musical styles such as dance rhythms reflecting the rhythms of the church and solar years.

On a more mundane and historical level is Günther Stiller’s description of pivotal times, such as the Sunday after Christmas, in his JSB and Liturgical Life in Leipzig.15 Here there are strong liturgical ties to the hymn books of the time - although, admittedly, Cantata BWV 152 contains in its score no typical closing four-part chorale. Christmas hymns could be sung the Christmas and Epiphany seasons until the Feast of Purification (February 2) or the earliest possible date for the beginning of the penitential Lent season. At the same time, Bach was able to interchange various post-Christmas Festival chorales (and related service readings) for the Sundays after Christmas and New Years as well as the festival of New Year's Day.

Missing Chorale; Cantata s 122 & 58

Interestingly, Bach’s Italianate dialogue cantata BWV 152 has no closing chorale, to reinforce this form, while the original Franck libretto has a chorale that Bach deliberately omitted. It is (Mvt. 7), “Ertöt uns durch deine Gute” (Kill us with your goodness), closing Stanza 5 from “Herr Christ, der einig Gottes Sohn” (Lord Jesus Christ, the only Son of God). It is a Catechism Justification chorale (NLGB No. 231 (Zahn melody 4297a).

Bach also omitted setting this same stanza to close Advent 4 Cantata BWV 132, “Bereitet die Wege, bereitet die Bahn” (prepare the ways, prepare the path), also set to a Franck text for the same cycle. These two works, Cantata 152 and 132, are Bach’s only Weimar cantatas not to be performed in Leipzig but preserved in Bach’s estate division to Friedemann and Emmanuel. Bach also harmonized this stanza in Leipzig to close three other Cantatas, BWV 22/5 (Estomihi 1724), 164/6 (Trinity 13, 1725), and chorale Cantata 96, Herr Christ, der einig Gottes Sohn” (Trinity 18, 1724).

Bach’s two other extant cantatas for the Sunday after Christmas, also reflect this flexibility of application while not directly addressing the Gospel theme. Chorale Cantata BWV 122, "The New-Born Child," "nowhere takes account of the readings of the day" but instead "follows an old tradition in (its Schneegaß hymn) celebrating Christmas and New Year at the same time" (p. 139). Celebratory Cantata BWV 58, "Praise God, the Year Comes to an End," to a Neumeister text, eschews the appointed readings to emphasize general seasonal thanksgiving and praise as well as a petition that the blessing will continue in the New Year (Stiller, Ibid.: 142).


1 See Paul Zeller Strodach, The Church Year: Studies in the Introits, Collects, Epistles and Gospels (United Lutheran Publication House: Philadelphia PA, 1924 48f).
2 Dürr, revised and translated by Richard D. P. Jones (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005: 133-36).
3 Sunday after Christmas Readings, see BCW, (German, Martin Luther 1545; English, Authorised King James) Version [KJV] 1611).
4 See Petzoldt, Bach-Kommentar: Theologisch Musikwissenschaftlicke K ommentierung der Geistlichen Vokalwerke Johann Sebastan Bachs; Vol. 2, Die Geistlichen Kantaten vom 1.Advent bis zum Trinitatisfest; Internationale Bachakademie Stuttgart (Kassel: Bärenreiter, 2007: 251; Cantata 152 text & commentary, 254ff).
Two-verse text at
5 Gardiner notes,[sdg137_gb].pdf); BCW Recording details,
6 Sources: Cantata BWV152, BCW Details and Discography, Franck German text and Francis Browne English translation, BCW Score Vocal & Piano [1.44 MB],; Score BGA [1.67 MB], References: BGA XXXII (Cantatas 151-60, Ernst Naumann, 1986), NBA KB I/3.2 (Cantatas for Sunday Christmas, Klaus Hofmann), Bach Compendium BC: A 18, Zwang K 17.
7 All biblical quotations, see
8 BCML Cantata 152 Discussions Part 2, (April 5, 2005), BCW
9 Whittaker (Oxford University Press: London, 1959: 96ff)
10 Jones, “Music to Delight the Spirit, “ “The Early Cantatas,” Part 1: The Formative Years (c.1695-c.1709) (Oxford University Press: New York: 269).
11 Boyd (Oxford University Press: New York, 1999: 483).
12 Cantata 152, Discussion Part 2 (April 9, 2005), see BCW

13BCML Discussions Part 4. Bach's Seasons (June 26, 2009), BCW
14 Chafe (Oxford University Press: New York, 2000: 14).
15 Stiller (Concordia Publishing: St. Louis, 1985: 237).

Aryeh Oron wrote (May 12, 2014):
Cantata BWV 152 - Revised & Updated Discography

The discography pages of Cantata BWV 152 “Tritt auf die Glaubensbahn” for solo soprano & bass, recorder, oboe, viola d’amore, viola da gamba & continuo on the BCW has been revised and updated. See:
Complete Recordings (23):
Recordings of Individual Movements (6):
The revised discography includes many listening/watching options to recordings directly from the discography pages, just below the recording details.

Interesting point: Marcel Ponseele is the oboist in 3 recordings: Jérôme Lejeune/Ricercar Consort (1989), Ton Koopman/ABO (1995), Masaaki Suzuki/BCJ (1997).

I believe this is the most comprehensive discography of this solo cantata. If you are aware of a recording of BWV 152 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.


Cantata BWV 152: 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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