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Cantata BWV 155
Mein Gott, wie lang, ach lange?
Discussions - Part 4

Continue from Part 3

Discussions in the Week of January 17, 2016 (4th round)

William Hoffman wrote (January 17, 2016):
Cantata 155: "Mein Gott, wie Lange, ach Lange': Intro.

For the 2nd Sunday after Epiphany 1724, Bach’s Cantata 155 “Mein Gott, wie lang, ach lange?” (My God, how long, ah how long?, Psalm 6:4) is representative of his solo, concise intimate style, first established in Weimar, with a symmetrical form and integral Salomo Franck text with rich religious and musical-theological symbolism, moving from desolation to affirmation. Scored for SATB and strings alone, the 13-minute, five-movement work offers two recitatives, two arias and a closing plain chorale.

Its features include an unusual opening soprano recitative with string accompaniment, a subdued da-capo alto-tenor duet with bassoon obbligato, a bass vox-Christi style recitative-arioso, and a charming soprano aria in giga dance style. Cantata 155 closes with the popular, general Paul Speratus Reformation chorale, “Es ist das Heil uns kommen her,” (Salvation has come to us), with the 13th and traditional, final stanza, “Ob sichs anließ, als wollt er nicht, / Laß dich es nicht erschrecken” (Although it may seem as if he is not willing, / do not be alarmed).1

Cantata 155 was premiered at the main service of the Weimar Shloßkirche on January 19, 1716, before the sermon of General Superintendent Johann Georg Layritz (1647-1716) on the days’ gospel, John 2:1-11, Wedding Feast at Cana, Jesus’ first miracle changing water into wine, says Martin Petzoldt in Bach Commentary, Vol.2, Advent to Trinityfest.2 In a second version with changes in instrumentation, Cantata 155 was reperformed on January 16, 1724 at the early main service of the Thomas Church before the sermon of associate Urban Gottfried Sieber (1669-1741) who substituted for the Pastor Christian Weise Sr. (1671-1736), who temporarily lost his voice sporadically during that period.

The 14-stanza chorale text, “Es ist das Heil uns kommen her,” of Speratus was published in Nuremberg 1523 in the “Achtliederbuch “Etlich Christlich lider. The chorale text (EKG 242) and Francis Browne’s English translation, are at BCW The chorale is found in Neu Leipziger Gesangbuch (NLGB) 1682, as No. 230 under (“Justification, Confession & Penitence”), with 14 stanzas (Bar Form: A=2 lines, A1=2 lines, B=3 lines). The last two verses are usually omitted, No. 13, “Give laud and praise” (Doxology), and No. 14, “His Kingdom come” (adaptation of “Our Father.” Speratus (1489-1551), BCW Short Biography is found on-line at Details of the Chorale Melody (anonymous, Zahn 4430): “Es ist das Heil uns kommen her,” are found at BCW,; source, 15th century Easter song or chorale, “Freu dich, du werte Christenheit.” Musical Context of Bach Cantatas: Motets & Chorales for Epiphany Time, see BCW,

The Introit Psalm for the 2nd Sunday after Epiphany was 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 Motet settings of the chant include Monteverdi in the 1610 Vespers of the Virgin Mary, Ludwig Senfl (a 5 voices, 1530, for Luther,, Palestrina, di Lasso, and Schütz. The best-known and recorded are Vivaldi, RV 608 (, and Handel’s, HWV 238 SSATB (>>

Cantata 155 Contrasts

The contrast of Cantata 155 with other works in Cycle 1, is explained in Julian Mincham’s introductory 3remarks, <<After six consecutive cantatas each of which was based around either two or three chorales, Bach returns to a more compact, chamber structure, possibly directly related to the decision to adapt another of his early Weimar cantatas (Dürr p 193). Many of these were concise and lightly scored, in this case for four singers, strings, continuo and the single obbligato woodwind instrument. Assuming one player to each string part, this requires just a dozen musicians and in none of the five movements are they all required. There is no chorus, just two paired groups of a recitative and aria, rounded off by a four-part chorale.

Were the Leipzig congregations surprised when they were presented with very different types of devotional music from that to which they had become accustomed? There is no documentary evidence but it may be safe to assume that by this time, probably not. In fact Bach may well have deliberately set out to present as wide a range of styles and structures as possible so that his audiences would become tolerant of, and accustomed to, his endless need to experiment and innovate. He had, including C 155, presented Leipzig with three dozen cantatas in eight months, no two of which are the same. Some have massive choruses, others none. There are works in one or two parts, others with multiple chorales, there is one solo cantata and a clutch of sinfonias. The number of movements range from five to fourteen wherein he makes use of various dance forms and secular styles (such as the French Overture, the Italian concerto and Italian opera) communicated through a range of instrumentation and timbres that was quite remarkable considering the limitations of his resources.

And even in this modest work he introduces an element not previously heard at Leipzig, the bassoon as an obbligato instrument. In fact this cantata has so many original and imaginative features that it is worthy of detailed scrutiny.>>

Cantata 155 Movements, Scoring, Incipits, Key, Meter:3

1. Recitative secco with ending arioso [Soprano; Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo]: recit., “Mein Gott, wie lang, ach lange?” (My God, how long, ah how long?); arioso, “Der Freuden Wein gebricht: / Mir sinkt fast alle Zuversicht.” (but I have no wine of joy /Almost all my reassurance sinks.); d minor to a minor; 4/4.
2. Aria da capo in canon, dal segno (Duetto) [Alto, tenor; Fagotto, Continuo]: A. Du musst glauben, du musst hoffen, / Du musst gottgelassen sein! (You must believe, you must hope / You must be calm before God!); B. “Wenn die trübe Zeit verschwunden, / Steht sein ganzes Herz dir offen.’ (when the troubled times have vanished / His [Jesus’] whole heart will be open to you;) a minor; 4/4.
3. Recitative secco with internal and ending arioso [Bass; Continuo]: recit., “So sei, o Seele, sei zufrieden!” (Then be, O soul, be at peace!); “Damit sein Gnadenlicht” (so the light of his grace); arioso “Dir desto lieblicher erscheine” (may shine on you more dearl); recit. “Er hat, was dich ergötzt, / Zuletzt / Zu deinem Trost dir vorbehalten; / Drum lass ihn nur, o He, [arioso] in allem walten!” (what delights you he has / for the end / kept back for your consolation. Therefore, o heart, let him rule [arioso] in all things!); C Major to F Major; 4/4.
4. Aria two-part with ritornelli [Soprano; Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo]: A. “Wirf, mein Herze, wirf dich noch / In des Höchsten Liebesarme” (Throw yourself, my heart, just throw yourself / into the loving arms of the Almighty); B. “Lege deiner Sorgen Joch, / Und was dich bisher beladen, / Auf die Achseln seiner Gnaden” (Place the yoke of your cares / and what has burdened you up till now / on the shoulders of his grace); F Major; 4/4 giga-dance style.
5. Chorale Plain [SATB; Violino I col Soprano, Violino II coll'Alto, Viola col Tenore, Continuo]: “Ob sichs anließ, als wollt er nicht, / Laß dich es nicht erschrecken” (Although it may seem as if he is not willing, / do not be alarmed); F Major; 4/4.

Cantata 155 Background

Background is provided by Aryeh Oron (January 24, 2002, BCW, <<The background below is based on several sources (Albert Schweitzer, W. Gilles Whittaker, Alec Robertson, W. Murray Young, Christoph Wolff, Hans Christoph Worbs, Nicholas Anderson, etc.) and something of my own. The English translations are taken from Richard Stokes' book.

This rather brief, four-part (SATB) solo cantata for the 2nd Sunday after Epiphany was composed on Frank's poem. The Gospel for the day is John 2: 1-11 - Christ turns water into wine at the wedding of Cana - but Frank's libretto seems to have only slight reference to it in the alto-tenor duet. Instead, Franks develops the general idea that we should turn to God in time of tribulation. God knows the right time to deliver us from trouble.

All four voices type have solo duties to perform, although the distinction of the parts reveals a dialogue principle at work, with Bach treating the voices in a traditional allegorical manner, even though Frank makes no such provisions. The soprano is the voice of the Soul (vox animae) and the bass the voice of the Redeemer (vox Christi), while the alto and tenor represents Faith and Hope respectively.

Mvt. 1 Recitative for Soprano, “Mein Gott, wie lang, ach lange?” (My God, how long, ah! How long!). It is typical that the libretto should speak not of sorrow at what is to befall Christ, but of the Soul's own sorrow. The Soul's is dejected over her daily lot of sorrow, which seems to never end. She asks God how long she must endure it. The continuo has a pedal bass, groups of four quavers, throbbing throughout most of the length of the recitative with frequent dissonant chords above. She concludes the last two lines in coloratura arioso. Bach graphically illustrates the 'Der Freuden Wein gebricht' (The wine of joy is lacking) in both voice and strings, as also the despairing conclusion, 'Mir sinkt fast alle Zuversicht' (My confidence has all but gone). The sombre mood of this recitative reminds very much the opening recitative of the solo cantata for soprano BWV 199 'Mein Herze schwimmt im Blut'.

Mvt. 2 Aria (Duet) for Alto and Tenor “Du mußt glauben, du mußt hoffen” (You must believe, you must hope). The text reflects not only the Gospel here but also the Epistle, 'Du mußt glauben, du mußt hoffen, / Du mußt gottgelassen sein!' (You must believe, you must hope, / You must have trust in God). These consolatory words are expressed in a gentle melody in sixths and thirds. The singers play the part of comforters to the Soul in despair. They have long runs on 'gelassen' (resigned), 'efreun' (gladden) and 'offen' (open). A solo bassoon provides the ritornellos and also plays in canon with the voices except at the start and before the middle section. It is, as Whittaker says, one of the finest bassoon obbligati Bach ever wrote (I:101), exploiting a wide reach of its encompass. This is indeed a gently soothing and consoling movement, which reminds some passages from other early Bach Cantatas.

Mvt. 3 Recitative for Bass, “So sei, o Seele, sei zufrieden!” (So be, O soul, content!). In this secco recitative in the role of Jesus, who speaks to the Soul, the bass tells her that He (her dearest friend) has not forsaken her. Her sorrows will not last, as He will turn her bitter tears from wormwood into the virgin honey of joy. He is only testing her love for Him through her suffering. The dryness of this rather long recitative is relieved by some illustrative passages for continuo.

Mvt. 4 Aria for Soprano, “Wirf, mein Herze, wirf dich noch” (Through yourself, my heart, through yourself). The Soul expresses her change to happiness in a joy-motif, which graphically illustrates her idea of throwing into Jesus' arms. The sensual melody of the aria vividly reproduces, on the violins, the gesture of abandonment in the opening words, and, two bars before the voice comes in, its loving reception. Dotted rhythms and wide intervals in both the strings accompaniment and the vocal line lend a sprightly character to this aria. The raging rhythm becomes suddenly a long chord. But this chord has no serenity but shiver and thrill, symbolising the transformation of the Soul's feelings from despair (and fear of abandonment) into hope. The idea of placing our worries on His mercy is neatly personified in the last three lines.

Mvt. 5 Chorale “Ob sichs anließ, als wollt er nicht” (Though it may at first seem He is not willing). The confidence is fully restored in the concluding chorale, stanza 12 of Paul Speratus' hymn 'Es ist das Heil uns kommen her' (Our Salvation has Come to us) (1524), set to its original melody. This hymn seems to confirm the whole thought expressed in the preceding movements: although we may think that God is sometimes not present, He is always near us in word and in spirit.

Published Commentaries

Published commentaries of various scholars – Philipp Spitta, Woldemar Voigt (1911), Albert Schweitzer, Alfred Dürr, and Eric Chafe – are found in Thomas Braatz’s summary of commentary (January 25, 2002), as well as Braatz’s own “Personal Commentary” on Chafe’s views. Spitta emphasizes the day’s gospel theme that God will help when really needed. Voight summarizes the “Stimmung” [“feeling/atmosphere”] that develops in the course of the cantata, by movements. Schweitzes cites the salient quotes that create the moods in each movement. Dürr describes important features in each movement. “Chafe compares this cantata to BWV 21 which describes a process analogous to the believer’s increasing experience of faith, what we might call the faith ‘dynamic’ of the entire work,” says Braatz summarizing Chafe.

<< Spitta: From the gospel reading on the Wedding at Cana, the only thought that was included in the cantata text was that God will finally help when you really need him, even if it appears that he takes his time in doing so. This already outlines the simple psychological and dramatic scheme that connects the mvts. of the cantata. Mvt. 1: While the bass using eighth notes at the same pitch (d) incessantly hammers away at the same note, the soprano laments in recitative style that she sees no end to her misery, and she ends this lament on two melismas, one twisting upward on “Freudenwein” [“the wine of joy”], but then on “mir sinkt fast alle Zuversicht” [“I practically give up all my hope”] sinking exhausted back again among the violins that have been imitating her musical figures. Mvt. 2: This alto/tenor duet attempts to put the believer back on his feet again with “Du mußt glauben, du mußt hoffen” [“You must believe, you must hope”] and interweaves a bassoon part with broken, widely diverging harmonies. These passages are sometimes independent of the voice parts, at other times they imitate them. Another step in calming the believer occurs in the bass recitative (mvt. 3) “So sei, o Seele , sei zufrieden!” [“Then, o Soul, be satisfied with what you have!”], after which follows a splendid soprano aria, “Wirf mein Herze...” [“Throw myself, your heart.”] This is one of those Bach mvts., that one can listen to over and over again, since ihas a strong rhythmic factor, along with steadily forward-driving 7th chord harmonies that underline the feeling of victory expressed by the vocal line. Here we see again the reversed pedal points [the long held notes in the vocal part], those large, arching phrases that fly by us as we listen to what the hand of the master can create with such certainty. Very effective and almost impossible to describe is the wonderful sudden shift from major to minor that occurs in the middle section of the aria. This is very reminiscent of the same daring device that has been more closely identified with Schubert, in whose music it is frequently used.

Voigt: Voigt calls this “ein kleines Werkchen von intimen Charakter” (“a little work of an intimate nature.”) He points out the development of “Stimmung” [“feeling/atmosphere”] in this cantata: Mvt. 1: “Gefühl der Gottesverlassenheit” [“The feeling of having been abandoned by God”]; Mvt. 2: “Mahnung zum Vertrauen” [“A warning is given to maintain one’s trust in God”]; Mvt. 3: “Eröffnung der Hoffnung” [“Opening oneself to the possibility of hope”]; Mvt. 4: “Leidenschaftliche Hingabe der Seele” [“The soul turns passionately toward God”]; and Mvt. 5: “Wiedergewonnene feste Zuversicht” [“Confident hope has been restored”].

Every mvt. is replete with the deepest musical feeling, and as such, when considering the framework just outlined, this work can be considered to have attained perfection. Mvt. 1: The pedal point, the long, monotonous beating thereof, represents the torture caused by worries that restlessly gnaw away at one’s soul. Mvt. 2: This mvt. is at the same time of an extremely popular nature, but also very deeply expressive. The bassoon part that can easily create the effect of restlessness demands as a counterpart that the upper strings be treated in a calmer fashion with less agitation. Mvt. 3: The bass recitative displays a maturity in the formation of the melodic line, a maturity on a level found only in Bach’s best works of a later period.

Mvt. 4: In the soprano aria there is evident passionate devotion which is underlined by the sudden shift from major to minor that occurs at the end of each vocal section.

Schweitzer: This is a cantata without an opening chorus. Mvt. 1 begins with a twelve-bar repetition of the same note in quavers, creating an effect of anxiety (in other cantatas this might represent a trembling or shuddering.) “My God, how long, oh, how long? Too great is my distress. No end do I see to sorrow and care.” To which the alto and tenor say consolingly, “Thou must believe, thou must hope,” while the bassoon and cello maintain uninterruptedly one of those curiously extended figures with which Bach symbolizes steadfast faith. A motive in the demisemiquavers, that forms the middle part of the theme, then enters at the words, “Jesus knows the right hour at which to gladden thee with his help,” and its meaning becomes apparent. The theme with wide jumps symbolizes the combination of firm faith and joyful hope. The soprano aria (mvt. 4) “Throw thyself, my heart, into the loving arms of the Most High” breathes a quite sensuous passion. The wild rhythm of the strings merges sharply into a long chord, which however, does not express rest, but trembling and shuddering while the bass now takes over the passionate theme. This procedure is repeated five times. The picture given in the text could not be represented more realistically in music. In mvt. 4, the upper voices pause suddenly on a chord while the bass of the theme continues. “Cast thyself, oh my heart, into the loving arms of God,” in which passionate mvt. it depicts the heart at rest in God’s arms.

Dürr: Dürr mentions the connection to the Gospel reading (Wedding at Cana). Jesus remains hidden since his hour has not yet come, but the soul may hope, that He will appear when needed to give comfort. The word, “Freudenwein” [“the wine of joy,”] in mvts. 1 & 3 also helps to make the connection to the Gospel reading. The obbligato bassoon part in mvt. 2 is one, when compared to all the other similar parts in all of the Bach cantatas, that expects the greatest amount of virtuosity from the player. Dürr surmises that the choir in mvt. 5 may have consisted only of the 4 soloists [Suzuki follows through on this suggestion.] Mvt. 1: The 11 ½ ms of the hammering pedal point on ‘d’ captures the attention of the listener, and it expresses a feeling of waiting for something longingly as indicated in the text. There is a sudden spiraling upward mvt. on “den Freudenwein gebricht” [“the wine of joy is lacking,”] only to fall back in exhaustion on the words, “mir sinkt fast alle Zuversicht” [“almost all of my confident hope is sinking away.”] Mvt. 2 is one of the most original duets that Bach ever wrote. While the bc ‘daubs’ its chords, the obbligato bassoon at the beginning of the mvt. measures off an interval jump of a 13th and continues with wide leaps throughout the mvt., sometimes interrupted by very fast running figures. The voices continue mainly in a homophonic, sometimes imitative style. The bass recitative (mvt. 3) gives comfort to the soul. It is not by chance that Bach chooses to use the ‘vox Christi’ for this mvt. Although there are rather static lines in the bc, the mvt. tends almost to become an arioso, particularly where the words, “damit sein Gnadenlicht dir desto lieblicher erscheine” [“so that the light of His grace may shine upon you even more pleasantly.”] Mvt. 4 has lively, dotted rhythms both in the instruments and the voice part, and even the bc joins in while the others have gentle mvt. in the strings.

Chafe: Chafe compares this cantata to BWV 21 which describes a process analogous to the believer’s increasing experience of faith, what we might call the faith ‘dynamic’ of the entire work. The juxtaposition of “Weinen/Wein” [“crying/wine”] was a widespread metaphor for the antithesis of worldly tribulation and the hope of eternal life that derived from the Gospel story of the changing of water into wine at the wedding at Cana (John 2:1-11), Jesus’ first miracle and the occasion on which, as the Gospel tells us, He first “manifested forth His glory.” We find this and related metaphors in Bach’s cantatas for the 2nd Sunday in Epiphany, for which the story of the wedding at Cana was the Gospel reading. Cantata 155, for example, sets up antitheses between the believer’s “Tränenmaß” [“a measure of tears”] and “bittere Zähren” [“bitter tears,”] on the one hand, and God’s “Trost- und Freudenwein” [“the wine of comfort and joy”] on the other. Tears constitute the primary symbol of worldly tribulation, and their increasing in quantity through time (corresponding to the filling of the wine jars in the Gospel narrative) reflects the believer’s increasing torment throughout the long period of waiting for God’s intervention….The narrative of the wedding at Cana is the first appearance of that expression in John’s Gospel. Jesus’ remark to Mary that His “hour” had not yet come – and the final verse seems to confirm this association between Jesus’ “hour” and His glorification. Bach’s two most characteristic cantatas for the 2nd Sunday in Epiphany, “Mein Gott, wie lang’, ach lange” (BWV 155) and “Meine Seufzer, meine Tränen,” (BWV 13) both interpret Jesus’ “hour” in terms of the believer’s hopes for “Trost” [“comfort”] from God. According to this view, Jesus’ waiting until the wine jars were full of water represented God’s knowing the proper time (i.e., “hour”) at which to make Himself known, the time at which the believer’s long period of waiting in doubt and tribulation would finally end.

Although the tears-wine metaphor is shared by BWV 21, BWV 155, and BWV 13, the aria, “Erfreue dich, Seele” [“Be joyful, Soul”] (BWV 21) renders the sense of “Verwandlung”, or transformation all the greater in that it juxtaposes words that are identical or very close in sound, whereas their meanings are opposite: “Weinen/Wein” [“crying/wine”] and “Ächzen/Jauchzen” [“groaning, to shout for joy.”]>>

Braatz’s Personal Commentary:

I think Chafe has uncovered the very type of thing that Bach enjoyed working with and reveals another level of Bach’s gen. In this case, homonyms, or near homonyms, serve as the basis of an antithesis that provides for tension and dramatic development that will help to propel the cantata forward through the sequence of mvts. The antithesis becomes a unifying factor. Is this oxymoronic, or what?>>

Chafe’s Recent Thoughts

“God’s processes, demanding faith, also demand waiting, as mvt. 21/6 proclaims; and that waiting is often protracted, as the texts of many Bach cantatas lament – Cantata 155, Mein Gott, wie lang, ach lange? – for example,” says Chafe in the Introduction to his new book, Tears into Wine: J. S. Bach’s Cantata 21 in its Musical and Theological Contexts (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015: 20).

“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 into joy, 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.

Chafe does point out that two themes in the first two movements of Cantata 155, composed in Weimar at least a year after Cantata 21, are related to themes in the latter: the opening soprano recitative “centers on God’s withholding his Trost (trust) from the believer” and the alto/tenor duet urges waiting and hoping for for Jesus’s Stunde (hour)” but the “’Hour’ refers only to God’s Trost in the present (Ibid.: 81f).

The next movement (no. 3), a bass recitative, echoes Psalm 116:7 (‘Return unto thy rest, O my soul; for the LORD hath dealt bountifully with thee’) as in Cantata 21/9 chorus, and ends with the arioso, “Drum lass ihn nur, o Herz, in allem walten!” (Therefore, o heart, let him rule in all things!), “which relates to the verses of ‘Wer nur den lieben Gott lässt walten’ in the same movement.” “The sequence of ideas (in the bass recitative) resembles that of Cantata 21 not only in its urging of Zufriedenheit (contentment) and the necessity of awaiting the turning of tears into wine but also in its promise of a short waiting time . . . .”

The soprano giga style “aria that follows brings out the theme of casting ones cares on God . . . . Now we hear conspicuous elements of the dotted rhythm character of the baroque majestic style; . . . the return of the ritornello . . . provides a palpable sense of God’s Regierung (government), as well as his mercy and grace toward the believes in tribulation.”

Bach’s performance calendar for the 2nd Sunday after Epiphany

1716-01-19 So - Cantata BWV 155 Mein Gott, wie lang, ach lange? (1st performance, Weimar)
1724-01-16 So - Cantata BWV 155 Mein Gott, wie lang, ach lange? (2nd performance, Leipzig)
1725-01-14 So - Cantata BWV 3 Ach Gott, wie manches Herzeleid (1st performance, Leipzig)
1726-01-20 So - Cantata BWV 13 Meine Seufzer, meine Tränen (1st performance, Leipzig)
1727-01-19 So – Birkmann text only, “Ihr Sorgen, lasset mich zufrieden”
1728-01-18 So - no performance found
1729-01-16 So - Picander text only, P13, "Ich hab in mir ein frohehlich Herz"; chorale, “Wer nur den lieben Gott lässt walten” (4), omnes tempore, BWV 434
1736-01-15 So - G.H. Stölzel: Wir sahen seine Herrlichkeit [Not extant]

Gardiner’s Take on Cantata 155

The common theme of life’s woes dominates Bach’s cantatas for the 2nd Sunday after Epiphany, in which the first, Cantata 155 “traces the progress of the individual soul from isolation and wretchedness . . . (No.1), and comfort in the word of God (No.3) to a secure and delighted trust in Christ,” says John Eliot Gardiner in his 2006 liner notes from the 2000 Bach Cantata Pilgrimage on Soli Deo Gloria recordings.4 <<Old Royal Naval College Chapel, Greenwich: 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.

We gave the first of the cantatas for this Sunday, BWV 155 Mein Gott, wie lang, ach lange? (composed in Weimar in 1716), in its revised, Leipzig version (1724). It traces the progress of the individual soul from isolation and wretchedness (No.1), by means of encouragement and exhortation from fellow believers (No.2) and comfort in the word of God (No.3) to a secure and delighted trust in Christ (No.4). An initial D minor lunge of despair in the upper strings over a pulsating bass line launches the soprano into her heart-stopping arioso. An antithesis is soon established between her ‘cup of tears’ which is ‘ever replenished’ and the ‘wine of joy’ which has run out. This turned out to be a common thread in all three cantatas – the ‘Weinen/Wein’ (weeping/wine) metaphor serving to show that tribulation is unavoidable if faith is to grow. By assigning the first and fourth movements of Salomo Franck’s text to a soprano, Bach may have been buttressing the Lutheran scaled-down view of Mary: honoured as the mother of Jesus, yet an intensely human figure. He first presents her wringing her hands as the ‘wine of joy’ runs out at the Cana marriage feast, her confidence ‘all but gone’; yet she speaks for all believers in progressing from intense anxiety (No.1) to a joyful acceptance of Christ’s word at his chosen time (No.4).

Some time around his fiftieth birthday Bach was presented with a splendid crystal goblet – perhaps by two ex-pupils, the brothers Krebs – decorated with grapes and vine leaves. It bears an inscription partly in verse, partly in segments of a descending chromatic scale, a sure way of getting the master’s attention. Was it perhaps a coded ploy by the donors, their way of shaking him out of his disaffection with composing new music for the church, of rekindling his zest by expressing ‘hopes for life... that only you [Bach] can give them’? (The Krebs brothers – the name means ‘crab’ – can be read in the backward or crab-wise motion of the second seg.) One can picture Bach quaffing the wine from his goblet, fully alert to its engraved Lutheran admonishment – that to survive life’s ordeals one needs to have faith and hopes for fulfilment in an afterlife – and recalling the felicitous way he had found of expressing this very thought some twenty years earlier, the soprano swirling up to a top G with the words ‘the wine of joy’ as the upper strings descend in parallel motion.

Traces of that bucolic mood survive in the wide-ranging, chuntering bassoon which acts as a genial decoration to the consoling message of the alto/tenor duet. Did this start life as music for one of those celebrated Bach family reunions? It persists in the bass’s mention of ‘the wine of comfort and joy’ which lies in wait for those who have passed God’s test of love and faith (No.3). I find the dancing exuberance of the last aria utterly irresistible – the way in which the soprano throws caution to the wind, herself into the loving embrace of the Highest and the text into all kinds of angular, but jaunty, contortions. The final chorale reveals that confidence has been restored: when God is most present he is often invisible to the human eye.>>

Boyd, Isoyama/Suzuki Commentaries

Two commentaries are summarized on Peter Bright’s (May 30, 2005) Introduction to Cantata 155, Discussion Parts 2 ( 1) Boyd, M. (1999) Oxford Composer Companions: J.S. Bach, pp.290-291. Oxford University Press: 1999 2) Isoyama, T. (1997). CD notes: Bach Cantatas Volume 5, Suzuki/Bach Collegium Japan, BIS [4], BCW[BIS-CD841].pdf, Recording details,

1) [BWV155] like most of Bach's Weimar cantatas the work is on a small scale, consisting only of two recitatives, a duet, an aria, and a finale chorale. The instrumentation is correspondingly modest, calling only for a bassoon in addition to the normal strings and continuo. The libretto, like that of Cantata BWV 13 for the same Sunday, makes little reference to the Gospel reading for the day (John 2: 1-11), except to dwell on Jesus's statement that 'mine hour is not yet come'. This gives rise to painful feelings that are expressed by the soprano in the opening recitative, accompanied by strings and continuo. Beginning over the repeated quavers of a twelve-bar tonic (D minor) pedal, it ends with elaborate melismatic word-painting for 'Freudenwein' ('wine of joy') and 'sinkt' ('sinks'), as the singer's confidence in God falters.

In the duet (no. 2), for alto and tenor with a remarkably agile bassoon obbligato, the singers answer this despair with a call to trust in Jesus, who will know when the time is right to extend help and comfort, and these sentiments are carried over into the carefully composed bass recitative that follows. Dotted rhythms and wide intervals in both the string accompaniment and the vocal line lend a sprightly character to the soprano aria 'Wirf, mein Herze, wirf dich noch', and confidence is fully restored in the final chorale, a setting in four parts, with instrumental doubling, of the 12th strophe of the hymn Es ist das Heil uns kommen her by Paul Speratus (1524).

2) [...] As with BWV 152, the libretto for this work is by Salomo Franck. The libretto is an interpretation of the Gospel text appointed for the day, the story of the Marriage at Cana (where Jesus turned water into wine), from a Lutheran perspective. At the heart of this interpretation is the message that one must have faith even in hardship. It is one of the simpler cantatas, beginning with a recitative and using chorus only for the chorale, but Bach's masterfully composed music does much to enhance the meaning of its message. Notable is its instrumentation: it is scored for strings and continue with solo oboe.

Lost in fruitless sufferings, the Christian speaks in Mvt. 1 (soprano Recitative). The mood is supported by dissonances in the harmony and a relentless motion in the continuo. A remarkable image appears close to the end of the movement in 'der Freuden Wein' - "the wine of joy". The second movement is a duet for alto and tenor (A minor). Against a technically challenging oboe background (it is certain that Bach had an excellent oboist at this period), the alto and tenor call to the first singer, giving the imperative ‘must' - 'müssen' - to the concepts of having faith and having hope. At the end of this aria, the bass comes in with a firm declamation (Number 3. Recitative): 'Soul, be content. Your suffering is a test from God, and it will be exchanged for joy'. The continuo answers the bass's expressive pronouncements with occasional but remarkable illustrative passages. The heart responds to these arguments, throwing itself on God wholly in the next movement (Number 4). In this soprano aria in F major, the abandonment demonstrated in the music of the opening phrase, 'Wirf ('Throw') [thyself into God's arms], supplies the impetus for the entire movement. Finally, an F major harmonization of a chorale by Paul Speratus singing of faith in God closes the work. ------------

Although a modest cantata (consisting of two recitatives, two arias and a choral), this is one of my favourite works – containing one of the Bach’s most sublime movements: the duet for alto and tenor (mv. 2), in which the bassoon weaves a beautiful dance around a plea for faith.>>

It is possible to hear two versions of the complete cantata on the internet (Harnoncourt from 1985 [2], and Leusink, from 1999 [5]). See:

Rich Religious Symbolism

<<Thomas Braatz wrote (May 31, 2005): At the bottom of a previous set of commentaries by Bach scholars is one by Eric Chafe: As an extension to this, based upon Lucia Haselböck's "Bach Lexikon" I offer the following: A few years ago as part of the discussion of BWV 155, I shared an observation by Eric Chafe that "Wein" ["wine"] and "Weinen" ["to cry or shed tears"] are used metaphorically as a pun by Salomo Franck in Bach's libretto for "Mein Gott, wie lang, ach lange." Now with the help of Lucia Haselböck's book, Bach: Textlexikon [Ein Wörterbuch der religiösen Sprachbilder im Vokalwerk von Johann Sebastian Bach, Bärenreiter, 2004], we are able to gain a fuller picture of the rich religious symbolism with which Bach's congregations/listeners were acquainted. I will select from various passages/entries and present what I consider important without giving the original German because typing out the latter and ensuring that I have typed it correctly takes a lot of extra time; however, if any reader would like to see the original German for any specific, small portion of what I present, I will gladly find and share it with the BCML. Assume that what follows is based entirely on Haselböck's research as presented in her book.

1. "Weinen" ["to shed tears"] and its related terms "Tränen" and "Zähren" (both of the latter mean 'tears') appears in BWV 155 in Mvt. 1: "das Tränenmaß" ["the measure of tears"]; in Mvt. 3: "bittre Zähren" ["bitter tears"] and "daß dein Herz weine" ["that your heart will cry/shed tears"]
2. "Wein" ["wine"] occurs only as part of a compound noun "Freudenwein" ["the wine of many joys" or "the wine that brings joy"] in mvts. 1 and 3 (in the latter it occurs also as a compound noun with "Trost" in "Trostwein" ["the wine of comfort, the wine that brings comfort."]) Related to "Wein" is the word "Wermut" ["vermouth"] which is contrasted with "Honigseim" ["honey."] Please allow for a digression here on "Wermut" which is described in an old German text as "artemisia absinthium: von der wermuot. absinthihaizet wermuot. daz ist gar ain pitter kraut" ["this absinth, an herb, is called vermouth. that is a really bitter herb."] This leads to a philological investigation that reveals that during and before Bach's time, "Wermut" was not the equivalent to "vermouth," an alcoholic drink containing the extract of 'wormwood'/'absinth.' It was not considered a special wine ('vermouth') in Germany until 1820, although there is ample evidence going back to the 16th century of a "Wermutbier" which was a very bitter beer containing a few drops of absinth. [It was not only used as a healing herb, but was also applied as an effective pesticide: "Where chamber is sweeped and wormwood is strowne, no flea for his life dare abide to be knowne." (1573)]

While we are 'off on a tangent' here, let's find out what Haselböck has to say about "Wermut": It is a metaphor for 1) 'life's bitterness' and 2) 'Christ's suffering':

1) Due to this herb's very sharp and bitter taste, the Hebrews, as documented in the OT [Deuteronomy 29:18; Jeremiah 9:15 and 23:15 with the Hebrew word "la'anah" = 'wormwood'] considered it to be bitter and repulsive. The text of BWV 155/3 establishes the antithesis between sweet honey of a caring comforter, God, who does not leave us, and the bitter 'vermouth' of illness and suffering: "Herz, glaube fest, / es wird ein kleines sein, / da er für bittre Zähren / den Trost- und Freudenwein / und Honigseim für Wermut will gewähren." ["Dear heart, believe it firmly that he will soon (in only a short while) grant you the wine of comfort and joy to replace your bitter tears and also grant you sweet honey to replace the drops of bitter wormwood."]
2) In the bass arioso "Betrachte meine Seele" of the SJP/19 (BWV 245), the listener/reader is challenged to look steadily at Christ's suffering on the cross: "Du kannst viel süße Frucht von seiner Wermut brechen, / drum sieh ohn Unterlaß auf ihn" ["You can obtain much sweet fruit by picking it from His wormwood plant (=the cross?), for this reason look upon him uninterruptedly."]

Haselböck's entry "Wein" = "wine" reveals, as one might expect, a plethora of references in the OT and NT. It can point to the "Meal of Heavenly Life" where it brings joy to human beings; the 'grape-vine' can point to the promised messianic deliverance. In early Christian times, the 'grape', iconographically is linked to eternal life and in the Middle Ages with a special accent upon the Eucharist. Later the metaphor was extended to include 'the mystical grape of Christ' and "Christ the Wine-Stamper (inside the Wine-Press)" and 'God's Vineyard.' From the connection with the Last Supper as a sacrament established through Jesus' words (Matthew 26:29), Christian prayers up to the Middle Ages contain images of 'the Blood of Christ,' 'the Water of Life' 'the Restorative Powers of Wine, the 'Grape-Vine' = 'Christ's Cross' (John 15:1. The depictions of the "Ecce Homo" with the five bleeding wounds of the savior seen as the source of all healing are equated with pictures of Christ in a cowering position imprisoned within the wine-press (Haselböck gives a wonderful medieval illustration of this image) and stamping the grapes. The church fathers made a connection between the cluster [Hebrew: 'eshkol' in Numbers 13:24] of grapes/grapevine brought back from the Promised Land on a pole and the symbol of 'Christ hanging on the Cross.' The theology and art of the Middle Ages then picked up on these images and illustrated them more fully.

1) the Grape-vine as the Tree-of-Life-Cross. In the Easter cantata, BWV 31/5 "Der Himmel lacht, die Erde jubilieret," ["The heavens laugh and the earth rejoices"] the grape-vine is viewed as the tree of life; however, the green, ripening grapes as the truly living, resurrected Christ: "Der Weinstock, der itzt blüht, / trägt keine toten Reben" ["The grape-vine that blossoms now, bears no dead grapes."]
2) the Joy-Wine, (the wine that brings all the joys in life). In BWV 138/2, Bach's libretto gives us a picture of 'joie de vivre' associated with wine in contrast to actual bitter reality: "Man schenkt mir vor den Wein der Freuden /den bittern Kelch der Tränen ein" ["Instead of pouring out for me the wine of joy, they give me the goblet of bitter tears to drink."]
In the 2nd part of the cantata BWV 21/8 "Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis" ["I was filled with great anxiety - I was heavily laden with personal problems"], the soprano-bass aria contains the well-known antithesis between "'bitter passion' vs. 'sweet results/consequences'" as well as "'death' vs. 'life'" in the middle of which the saddened soul ["ich muß stets in Kummer schweben" = "Continually I am forced to be suspended in the midst of all my worries"] "erlangt Heil durch den Saft der Reben" ["obtains its salvation by means of the juice of the grapes = wine."]
3. the 'gratia infusa' (the grace or blessing which has been poured in)
This term, 'gratia infusa' is a term used in mysticism, a term primarily inspired by the Song of Solomon where the blood becomes the 'wine of love' which satisfies the thirst of the soul and creates as it flows a 'pleasant melting away or dissolving into nothingness.' Accordingly, when Heinrich Seuse, a mystic, speaks of God's love, he points to the Song of Solomon 2:4 where the bride is led by her friend into a wine tavern where she exclaims: "Your love is sweeter than wine." Likewise, the Baroque poet, Angelus Silesius, sees the ultimate union between God and humans in the special mystic form of love contained, among other things, in "God's wine:"

"Derohalben die Seele welche zwar kalt war / ist jetzt brennend / die vor Finster war / ist jetzt leuchtend: Die vor harte war / ist jetzt weich; Gantz und gar Gottfarbig: weil ihr Wesen mit Gottes Wein durchgossen ist: Gantz mit dem Feuer der Göttlichen Liebe verbrennet / und gantz verschmeltzen in Gott übergangen" [Angelus Silesius, "Cherubinischer Wandersmann" {Glatz, 1675, Foreword}] ["For this reason the soul, which, to be sure, was cold, now burns forth, which before was darkness, now shines forth: which before was hard, is now soft; completely filled with the colors of God because its being has been drenched (by pouring all the way through it) with God's wine: completely consumed (burned up) with the fire of God's love and completely fused (melted together with God) has been transformed into God."

Based upon this mixture of speculative and sensually erotic imaginations, Bach's cantata texts have captured linguistically some of the highest/noblest religious experiences found in these earlier works. Sometimes human beings wait in vain for God to work (to have an effect, to stimulate something) within them: "die Liebeshand zieht sich, ach, ganz zurück,..der Freudenwein gebricht" [BWV 155/1] "the loving hand of God has been retracted, seemingly pulled back completely from me..the 'Wine of Joy' is lacking/missing;" but usually he/she is filled with God's "Freudenwein": as in BWV 13/4 and BWV 155/3: "[der Erlöser] will nach allem Leid für bittre Zähren / den Trost- und Freudenwein gewähren. Gott kann den Wermutsaft / gar leicht in Freudenwein verkehren" ["{the Savior} will grant/allow {you to enjoy} the 'Wine of Comfort and Joy' in place of all the bitter tears that have come from all the suffering {you have endured.}"] "Freudenwein" ["the Wine of Joy"] and "Freudengeist" ["the Spirit of Joy"] are identical in that both are capable of healing the soul (see BWV 75/3.) In the cantata BWV 21/10 ["Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis"] "Weinen" ["crying, shedding tears"] is transformed "in lauteren Wein" ["into pure wine"] {an allusion to the Wedding in Cana} and Jesus comforts "mit himmlischer Lust" ["with heavenly joy."]

Back to number 1: "Weinen" ('to cry, to shed tears') and how it might or might not be connected with "Wein" ('wine, grapes, etc.):

There are various types of tears, which Haselböck documents in Bach's libretti, tears which have nothing to do with the above: tears of remorsand repentance or tears of compassion. There are tears which parallel the bleeding of one's heart as illustrated in the libretti of the SMP (BWV 244) and particularly BWV 199 "Mein Herze schwimmt im Blut." But the tears equated with wine occur when the situation desfocuses upon the general life situation of humans on earth. Acts 14:22 must have made a very special impression on Bach and his librettist since he returned a second time to set these words to music: "Wir müssen durch viel Trübsal in das Reich Gottes eingehen" ["We must enter the Kingdom of God through many tribulations"] [BWV 12/3 and BWV 146/2.] In BWV 138/2, the text reads: "Man schenkt mir vor den Wein der Freuden / den bittern Kelch der Tränen ein" ["Instead of pouring me the 'Wine of Joy', they are giving me a goblet full of tears."] And then there is again BWV 155/1: "Das Tränenmaß wird stets voll eingeschenket,/ der Freudenwein gebricht" ["They always pour out for me a full measure/glass of tears, but the Wine of Joy is always lacking/there is never enough of it."]

In heaven the tears will be wiped away [Revelations 21:4] and pure, unadulterated wine will be poured out for you [BWV 10/10]: "Verwandle dich, Weinen, in lauteren Wein!" ["Let my crying/my tears be transformed into a pure wine!" = 'pure wine' = 'the wine of eternal bliss and joy.']>>

Cantata 155 Provenance

Provenance information is provided by Thomas Braatz (January 25, 2002, BCW << BWV 155 - Provenance: The autograph score is in the BB (Deutsche Staatsbibliothek Berlin). Not listed in the CPE Bach estate inventory, it is nevertheless probable that he took possession of it after his father’s death. The next owner was the Berliner Singakadamie and from there it came to the BB. The original parts were soon lost after Bach’s death. According to Dürr the parts never belonged to CPE Bach but went instead to another unknown heir. [Note: They probably went to Friedemann in the estate division of Cycle 1. From the First Sunday in Advent to early Trinity Time, there is a clear pattern, based on Emmanual’s 1790 estate catalogue, that the two oldest sons alternated sharing parts and scores for almost every successive service. While virtually all of Emmanuel’s legacy of 46 survive of 60, Friedemann apparently, randomly sold off parts sets or score for 25 services. Fortunately, in the cases where he inherited both (Sunday after New Years, John the Baptist Festival, and Trinity 8, 10, 12, 16, and 19-26), Friedemann kept either.]

Title of score at the top of page 1 of the score [the cover title is not in Bach’s handwriting]: “Concerto â 5 strom. 4 Voci. è Cont.”

Text: The text is from Salomon Franck’s yearly cantata text cycle, “Evangelisches Andachtsopfer,” Weimar, 1715. Bach used the text almost as is. Bach changed the text of the 1st recitative from [“Des Jammers] wird zuviel” to “ist zuviel.” In mvt. 2 there is a very minor change: “Gottgelassen” is changed to “Gott gelassen.” The final chorale (mvt. 5) is the 12th verse of Paul Speratus (1524) “Es ist das Heil uns kommen her.”

1st Performance: January 19, 1716 (Dürr) with another performance (revised version) that took place on January 16, 1724, Leipzig.>>



1Cantata 155 Details and revised and updated Discography, Score Vocal & Piano [0.80 MB],, Score BGA [0.99 MB], References: BGA: XXXII (Cantatas 151-60, Ernst Naumann, 1886). NBA KB I/5 (Epiphany 2 Cantatas, Marianne Helms 1976), Bach Compendium BC A 32, Zwang: K 25.
2 Petzoldt, Bach Kommentar: Theologisch Musikwissenschaftlicke Kommentierung der Geistlichen Vokalwerke Johann Sebastan Bachs; Vol. 2, Die Geistlichen Kantaten vom 1. Advent bis zum Trinitatisfest; Internationale Bachakademie Stuttgart (Kassel: Bärenreiter, 2007).
3Cantata 155 Franck Text and Francis Browne English translation:
4 Gardiner notes, BCW[sdg115_gb].pdf; Recording details, BCW; recording,

Aryeh Oron wrote (January 22, 2016):
Cantata BWV 155 - Revised & updated Discography

The discography pages of the Solo Cantata BWV 155 "Mein Gott, wie lang, ach lange?" (My God, how long, ah how long?) for the 2nd Sunday after Epiphany on the BCW have been revised and updated.
The cantata is scored for soprano, alto, tenor & bass soloists; 4-part chorus; and orchestra of 2 violins, viola, bassoon & continuo. See:
Complete Recordings (9):
Recordings of Individual Movements (9):
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 and 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 solo cantata. If you are aware of a recording of BWV 155 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 155: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

Recordings & Discussions of Cantatas: Main Page | Cantatas BWV 1-50 | Cantatas BWV 51-100 | Cantatas BWV 101-150 | Cantatas BWV 151-200 | Cantatas BWV 201-224 | Cantatas BWV Anh | Order of Discussion
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