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Cantata BWV 161
Komm, du süße Todesstunde
Discussions - Part 4

Continue from Part 3

Discussions in the Week of September 11, 2016 (4th round)

William Hoffman wrote (September 13, 2016):
Cantata 161, “Komm, du süße Todesstunde” & Trinity 16

Bach’s Weimar solo Cantata BWV 161, “Komm, du süße Todesstunde” (Come thou, sweet hour of death) for the emblematic 16th Sunday after Trinity holds several major distinctions. The first of Bach’s intimate solo cantatas set to the 1715 published text of court poet and Bach friend and mentor, Salomo Franck (1659-1725), it utilizes recorders with strings as death-bell sounds also found in two of Bach’s three other cantatas for this Sunday (BWV 95 and 8, not in BWV 27), all musical sermons on Jesus’ Miracle of the raising of the son of the widow of Nain (Luke 7:11-17). The popular Passion hymn, “O sacred head, now wounded,” sounds throughout this 18-minute piece, from the opening aria with chorale melody to the closing plain chorale, with a plethora of similar hymns of mourning and consolation in Bach’s four consecutive cantatas composed yearly for this Sunday in Leipzig from 1723 to 1726.

Cantata 161 contains contemporary operatic elements also found in Bach’s other cantatas for this Sunday, including illusions and word-painting. It begins with a poignant alto chorale slumber aria and closes with a communal lamentation embellished with two recorders.1 The opening aria refers to the death-hour, “Da mein Geist / Honig speist / Aus des Löwen Munde” (when my spirit / feeds on honey / from the lion's mouth), see below, “Cantata 161 Notes on Text. Particularly noteworthy are the generic dance-style internal movements: the plaintiff plea 3/4 tenor aria with strings (no. 3), “Mein Verlangen / Ist, den Heiland zu umfangen (My longing / is to embrace the saviour), and the 3/8 gigue-like prayerful chorus (no. 5): A. “Wenn es meines Gottes Wille, / Wünsch ich, dass des Leibes Last / Heute noch die Erde fülle” (If it is the will of my God / I wish that the burden of my body / may this day fill the earth). In the tenor da-capo aria, the “sighing” appoggiatura figure in the first movement is repeated on the word “Verlangen” (longing). The great diversity of treatment in all four Trinity 16 chorales, particularly with the death knell-sounding bells, is pointed out in John Eliot Gardiner’s Bach Cantata Pilgrimage commentary (see below, ‘Bach’s Special Musical Treatment”).

The two recitatives in Cantata 161 also have great distinction. Replete with images, the tenor recitative (no. 2), A. “Welt, deine Lust ist Last” (World, your pleasure is a burden), begins showing “the world is portrayed as a place of deception,” observes Stephen A Christ in his Cantata 161 essay in Oxford Composer Companions: J. S. Bach.2 “Soon thereafter the mood becomes more cheerful and ultimately dissolves into a gentle arioso.” The alto recitative (no. 4) with tutti ensemble, “Der Schluss ist schon gemacht, / Welt, gute Nacht!” (The decision is already made, / World, goodnight!), has contrasting, effective word painting. It alternates between recitative secco and tutti arioso with lullaby (mm 7-11) on “Er ist mein sanfter Schlaf.” (He is my sweet sleep), followed by the vigorous quivering on ‘auferwecken” (awakens). The repeated phrases in the final eight bars “portray the tolling of the bell that signifies the end of time,” “letzter Stundenschlag! (stroke of the last hour), “and the passage through death to eternity,” ending with staccato chords.

Cantata BWV 161, “Komm, du süße Todesstunde” (Come thou, sweet hour of death) is believed to have received its first performance on Sept. 27, 1716, at the Schloßkapelle in Weimar, says Martin Petzoldt in Bach Commentary, Vol. 1, Trinity Sundays.3 It probably was composed for Trinity 16 the year prior (Oct. 6, 1715) but set aside as that date coincided with a three-month period of state mourning in Weimar, that began on August 1, for Prince Johann Ernst, excluding Bach cantatas for Trinity 8, 12, 16 and 20). Instead of repeating Cantata 161 in Leipzig during the first cycle in 1723, Bach delayed the reperformance until the 16th Sunday after Trinity, September 16, 1725, according to recent scholarship of Christine Blanken in “A Cantata-Text Cycle of 1728 from Nuremberg. 4

Passion Chorale Throughout Cantata 161

Cantata BWV 161 uses throughout the Hans Leo Hassler Passion chorale melody, “Herzlich tut mich verlangen/Befiehl du deine Wege” (Heartily do I long/Commend you your ways) in the opening alto slumber song in the basso continuo cantus firmus with obbligato organ, and in the closing four-part chorale (Movement No. 6) with recorders obbligato, set to the Christoph Knoll 1605 associated text, Stanza 4, “Der Lieb zwar in der Erden” (The body indeed in the earth). The 14-stanza, 8-line BAR form hymn is found in Bach’s Das neu Leipziger Gesangbuch (NLGB)5 of 1682 as No. 329 under the omnes tempore category Death & Dying). The Passion hymn melody, known in English as “Oh sacred head now wounded” and used in his music more often than any other, also is quoted in the tenor aria (no. 3) and alluded to in the soprano aria (no. 5), observes Alfred Dürr in the Cantatas of J. S. Bach.6 The sequence of alternating arias and recitatives leading to the chorus (no. 5), originally designated as “aria,” become “further removed from the original form of the chorale melody in the manner of variations, but it is then heard unaltered in the sixth and last movement” as a plain chorale, says Dürr (Ibid.). For information on the melody of “Befiehl du deine Wege,” and Bach’s many uses, see BCW

Cantata BWV 161 is one of Bach's earliest uses of the Passion Chorale that also was sung at the Prince's memorial service, April 2, 1716, in Bach's lost funeral cantata "Was ist, das wir Leben nennen?" (What is it that we call life?; text only survives), Bach Compendium BC B-19, that probably also was set to a Salomo Franck libretto, suggesting a close collaboration between him and Bach (see below, “1725 Franck-Texted Cantatas.”

Cantata 161 apparently was reperformed for the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary (“Mariae Reinigung,” Candelmas), on Feb. 2, c.1735, because of its "appropriate textual content," says Dürr, Ibid: 666). Besides Cantata 161, Dürr cites Cantata 157, and the older version of BWV 158. As many as 10 cantatas have been associated with Bach’s 16 performances for Purification with various appropriate textual allusions (see BCW Musical Context of Bach Cantatas: Motets & Chorales for Feast of Purification of Mary, Besides Cantata 161, several other Bach cantatas performed on the Feast of the Purification did double duty: BWV 157 as a funeral work, BWV 158 for Easter Tuesday Feast, and BWV Anh. 157, Telemann music to a Neumeister text also for Trinity 16.
The Cantata 161 original score and parts set are lost, perhaps through Friedemann, but a copy of the score and parts set, alternate designation for Purification, survive from an unknown copyist at the Berlin Singakademie at the end of then 18th Century. The provenance of the music is unknown. These materials reveal two versions, the Weimar with typical recorders and instrumental canto, and the Leipzig substituting flutes and violins and the canto sung. See Masaaki Suzuki’s “Edition Problems in Cantatas BWV 18 and 161.”

Trinity 16 Biblical Readings

The readings for the 16th Sunday after Trinity are: Epistle: Ephesians 3:13-21 (Paul prays that the Ephesians may perceive the loof God), and the Gospel: Luke 7: 11-17 (Miracle of The raising of the son of the widow of Nain). The full German text is that of Luther’s translation published in 1545, the English is the Authorised (King James) Version 1611. The full texts are found at BCW, The Introit Psalm is Psalm 90, Domine, refugium (Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place), according to Petzoldt (Ibid.: 447). Psalm 90 also is known as the “manly life before maturity,” and “A Prayer of Moses the man of God” (KJV, full text at It originated as a Gregorian chant.

Bach also had available polyphonic motets on for the 16th Sunday after Trinity from his motet collection Florilegium Portense,7 says Douglas Cowling in BCW Musical Context (Ibid.). “The text of the motet which appears in both Lenten and Funeral sources shows a strong thematic link with the cantatas for this Sunday. The chorale “Mitten Wir” (Media vita, In the midst of life) is a German paraphrase of the Latin motets for Introit, Before Sermon at mass and vespers for Choir II, and During Communion: ‘Media Vita’ (8 voices) ­ Jakob Handl (Gallus, 1550-91), Text: Liturgical responsory: “In the midst of life we are in death / of whom may we seek for succour, but of thee, O Lord, who for our sins art justly displeased? O Lord God most holy, O Lord most mighty, O holy and most merciful Saviour, deliver us not into the bitter pains of eternal death.”

Trinity 16 Biblical References

The gospel and Bach's treatment through chorales and poetic text in the cantata as a musical sermon shows that the 16th Sunday after Trinity is part of the third Trinity Time mini-cycle of New Testament teachings on the "Works of Faith and Love," that is, the meaning of being a Christian, says Paul Zeller Strodach in The Church Year.8 During this time from the 12th to the 18th Sunday after Trinity, the lectionary presents affirmative teachings of parables and miracles, and the Lutheran hymnbook prescribes thematic omnes tempore timely hymns on Sundays that occur primarily between mid August and late September.

The Middle Trinity Time Gospel lessons emphasize "Thematic Patterns of Paired Parables or Teachings & Miracles," according to Douglas Cowling in the Bach Cantata Website (BCW). The current pairs are: * Trinity 15: Matthew 6:23-34 Gospel Teaching, Sermon on the Mount: “Avoid worldly cares if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!” * Trinity 16: Luke 7:11-17 Miracle of the raising of the son of the widow of Nain, “And he came and touched the bier: and they that bare him stood still. And he said, Young man, I say unto thee, Arise!”

Bach’s Special Musical Treatment

The 16th Sunday after Trinity was a particularly fruitful time for Bach in Leipzig. It enabled him to craft service cantatas that embraced a wide array of popular Lutheran chorales -- both traditional and contemporary -- on the subject of “Death and Dying,” creatively utilized in musical forms that feature poetic free-verse and rhymed commentary with accessible melodies in a quartet of cantatas as musical sermons (BWV 95, 8, 27, and 161) emphasizing key Christian teachings in these meditations on death. Bach presented the four cantatas in consecutive years, beginning in 1723:

1723-09-12 So - Cantata BWV 95 Christus, der ist mein Leben (1st performance, Leipzig)
1724-09-24 So - Cantata BWV 8 Liebster Gott, wenn werd ich sterben? (1st performance, Leipzig)
|1725-09-16 So - Cantata BWV 161 Komm, du süße Todesstunde (2nd performance, Leipzig)
1726-10-06 So - Cantata BWV 27 Wer weiß, wie nahe mir mein Ende? (1st performance, Leipzig)

As John Eliot Gardiner, observed in his 2004 notes to his Bach 2000 Cantata Pilgrimage:9 “The four cantatas for Trinity 16 draw their inspiration from the Gospel story of the raising of the widow of Nain’s son. All four – BWV 161, 27, 8 and 95 – articulate the Lutheran yearning for death, and all but one [BWV 27] feature the ‘Leichen-Glocken’, the tolling of funerary bells” [two recorders in BWV 161/1 chorale chorus, plucked strings in 95/5 tenor aria “Ach schlage doch” (Ah, strike thee), and woodwinds with strings in 8/1 chorale chorus].

“Yet for all their unity of theme, there is immense diversity of texture, structure and mood, and together they make a satisfying and deeply moving quartet – music that is both healing and uplifting.” Besides the funeral bells providing an air of consolation to the theme of death and dying, Gardiner notes the lilting dance qualities found in three of the four cantatas for Trinity 16: “With two of its movements in triple time (Nos. 3 and 5), BWV 161 seems to be setting a pattern for Bach’s later cantatas dealing with the call of death – or is this quite by chance? Could this be a deliberate device to lull and soothe the grieving heart? Three of the four main movements in BWV 95 are in triple metre [nos. 1, 3, 5]. So too is the magical opening chorus of BWV 27 Wer weiß, wie nahe mir mein Ende, an elegiac lament.”

“It was a delight to be able to revive BWV 161, ‘Komm, du süße Todesstunde,’ that astonishing cantata from Bach’s Weimar years, barely two and a half months after we had given it in Iona Abbey on Bach’s death-day (28 July). Whereas there it had been the pastoral textures that had made the strongest impression, no doubt because of the way they fitted so perfectly with the island landscape, here it was the heart-tugging beauty of the tenor aria ‘Mein Verlangen’ (No.3), with its sensual string textures, which was most moving, especially as sung by Mark Padmore.”

As a post-script, Gardiner suggests “the vivid memory of a recent death in the family” particularly impacted Bach during his composition of the four cantatas for the 16th Sunday after Trinity. In particular, Gardiner suggests Bach’s “inner preparation for the likely death of a frail child that inspired in him this secession of compositions based on faith and trust, so child-like in their simplicity. His daughter Christiane Sophia (b.1723) was indeed weakly and was to die on 29 June 1726, just a few months before he sat down to compose BWV 27.”

In all four cantatas, “the subject is death as such, not only its unforeseen-ability but its conquest by the resurrection, and hence the longing for a better world beyond the grave,” says Walter Blankenburg in his liner notes to Karl Richter’s recording.10 “It is not the tragic aspect of the gospel story, the death of a widow’s only son, that is emphasized, but his raising from the dead by Jesus, as a sign of his divine omnipotence. It is therefore a central article of the Christian faith rather than the chief feature of the human story that is the subject of each of these cantatas.” The theme of heavenly joy “himmlische Freude) is the subject of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 in G Major, and Bach’s emphasis on bells also is found throughout Mahler’s symphonies.11

Cantata 161 movements, scoring, incipits, key, meter:12

1. Aria in two parts, dal segno of opening sinfonia (7 mm), Passion chorale C.f. (B.c.) [Alto; Flauto traverso I/II, Continuo]: “Komm, du süße Todesstunde” (Come, sweet hour of death), etc.; B. “Mache meinen Abschied süße . . . / Dass ich meinen Heiland küsse.” (make my departure sweet, . . . / so that I may kiss my saviour.); C Major 4/4.
2. Recitative secco, embellished text [Tenor, Continuo]: A. “Welt, deine Lust ist Last . . . / Dein Freudenlicht / Ist mein Komete” (World, your pleasure is a . . . / your joyful light / is my star of ill omen), etc.; Und wo man deine Rosen bricht, / Sind Dornen ohne Zahl / Zu meiner Seelen Qual.” (and where your roses are gathered / there are thorns beyond counting / to cause my soul anguish.); B. “Der blasse Tod ist meine Morgenröte, / Mit solcher geht mir auf die Sonne / Der Herrlichkeit und Himmelswonne.” (Pale death is for me the glow of dawn, / with which arises for me the sun / of glory and heavenly delight.); C. “Drum seufz ich recht von Herzensgrunde / Nur nach der letzten Todesstunde.” (Therefore I truly sigh from the bottom of my heart / only for the final hour of death.); D. “Ich habe Lust, bei Christo bald zu weiden, / Ich habe Lust, von dieser Welt zu scheiden.” (I desire to pasture soon by Christ, / I desire to depart from this world.); a minor to C Major; 4/4.
3. Aria da capo with ritornelli [tenor; Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo]: A. “Mein Verlangen / Ist, den Heiland zu umfangen / Und bei Christo bald zu sein.” (My longing / is to embrace the saviour / and soon to be with Christ.)
B. “Ob ich sterblich' Asch und Erde / Durch den Tod zermalmet werde, / Wird der Seele reiner Schein / Dennoch gleich den Engeln prangen.” (although as mortal ashes and earth / I may be crushed by death, / the pure light of my soul will / Then be resplendent like the angels.); a minor; ¾ pastorale.
4. Recitative, arioso-like with tutti accompaniment, rests (R) [Alto; Flauto traverso I/II, Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo]: “Der Schluss ist schon gemacht, / Welt, gute Nacht!”R (The decision is already made, / World, goodnight!); “Und kann ich nur den Trost erwerben, / In Jesu Armen bald zu sterben: / Er ist mein sanfter Schlaf.”R (and if I can only gain consolation / by dying soon in Jesus's arms, / He is my sweet sleep.); “Das kühle Grab wird mich mit Rosen decken, / Bis Jesus mich wird auferwecken” (The cool tomb will cover me with roses / until Jesus awakens me), etc; “So brich herein, du froher Todestag, / So schlage doch, du letzter Stundenschlag!” (Therefore dawn, sweet day of death, / therefore sound, stroke of the last hour!); C Major; 4/4.
5. Chorus with ritornelli [SATB; Flauto traverso I/II, Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo]: A. “Wenn es meines Gottes Wille, / Wünsch ich, dass des Leibes Last / Heute noch die Erde fülle” (If it is the will of my God / I wish that the burden of my body / may this day fill the earth); Und der Geist, des Leibes Gast, / Mit Unsterblichkeit sich kleide / In der süßen Himmelsfreude.” (and that my spirit, the body's guest, / may be clothed in immortality / in the sweet joy in heaven.); “Jesu, komm und nimm mich fort! / Dieses sei mein letztes Wort.” (Jesus, come take me from here! / May this be my last word.); C Major, 3/8 gigue-style.
6. Chorale plain, BAR Form [SATB; Flauto traverso I/II, Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo]: A. “Der Leib zwar in der Erden / Von Würmen wird verzehrt” (The body indeed in the earth / will be eaten by worms); A’ Doch auferweckt soll werden, / Durch Christum schön verklärt” (but it will be awakened, / transfigured in beauty through Christ); B. “Wird leuchten als die Sonne / Und leben ohne Not / In himml'scher Freud und Wonne. / Was schadt mir denn der Tod?” (it will shine like the sun / and live without anguish / in the joy and delight of heaven. / What harm then can death do me?); Phrygian; 4/4.

Cantata 161 Notes on Text

“Franck’s poem is a deeply felt, personal confession of longing for Jesus, furnishing evidence of the arousal of piety – in the wake of Pietism – even in those who did not consider themselves out-and-out Pietists,” says Dürr in Cantatas of JSB (Ibid.: 544). While the basic theme of “fervent longing for death” in Franck’s libretto for Cantata 161 may see seem strange or esoteric today, Bach’s music often deals with this subject. Dürr addresses this theme and a “particular parade of learning’ found in Franck’s writing, “regardless of its high poetic quality,” as found in Cantata 161.

The focus in the opening alto aria is the image of the spirit “feeding on honey from out of the lion’s mouth.” This references to Judges 14:8c, when Samson finds the carcass of a lion he killed, now with a swarm of bees whose honey he eats, an analogy of sweet nourishment from a dead lion. Thus, “Franck wants to say, so in truth my death will turn out to be sweet and life-giving,” says Dürr.

Here is the “Personal Viewpoint” commentary on this passage from Aryeh Oron, BCW founder, webmaster and moderator (BCML Discussion, Part 1; October 8, 2000, : <<“Samson and the lion:” "Come, O sweet hour of death, / When my spirit / Feeds on honey / From the lion's mouth;" The words of the aria allude to the episode of Samson finding a swarm of bees and honey in the body of the lion he had torn apart 'as one tears a kid'. Hence the familiar line, 'Out of the lion came forth sweetness' (Judges, 14: 8). In the original Hebrew text the short phrases through which this story is being told, sound like music to me. The soul finds this sweetness in the jaws of death and in the middle section prays, "Make my departure sweet, / Do not delay, / O my last light, / The moment when I shall kiss my Saviour". It is very tempting for the performers, especially the alto singer, but also the flutes (or recorders) players, to emphasis the sweetness of the music. But I believe that the sorrow of the situation should also found ways to be expressed. Indeed the lion is dead, but the Death itself is very much alive and waiting in patience until 'my last light' arrives.>>

Bach also deals extensively with the lion image, as shown in Thomas Braatz’s BCW Article “On “Der Held/Lowe aus Juda’.” While Franck uses this symbol only once, in Cantata 161, here is Braatz’s summary and citation of its use in Bach’s vocal works: “1. The Lion as the Symbol of Christ” in BWV 63/4, 249/11, 161/1; “2. The Negative Image of the Lion – A Metaphor for Satan” in BWV 153/2, 101/5, 178/5, 248/54; “Hero (Christus Victor)” in 178/5, 245/30, 92/3, 90/4, 184/3, 43/5, 62/3,4 (see BCW,

Braatz cites the phrase that is the dicta of the alto recitative (no. 4): “Welt, gute Nacht! ("Good night, world!), see BCML Cantata 161 Discussions Part 2, “Lucia Haselböck, in her Bach: Textlexikon [Bärenreiter, 2004], calls this one of the most beloved of all Baroque metaphors used in German sacred lyrics of that period. It embodies the essence of ‘Todessehnsucht’ (longing for death") expressed frequently in Baroque poetry. According to Haselböck, 'night' stands for 'darkness and death' that come as a result of Adam's primal sin and are viewed particularly from the perspective of the night preceding Easter.” “Haselböck gives the following biblical reference for consideration.” Romans 13:12 (NLT), “The night is almost gone; the day of salvation will soon be here. So don't live in darkness. Get rid of your evil deeds. Shed them like dirty clothes. Clothe yourselves with the armor of right living, as those who live in the light.” Braatz provides a translation of soprano solo Cantata 199/1, “Mein Herze schwimmt im Blut” (My heart is swimming in its own blood) to a 1714 Lehms text, showing the “connection between Adam's original sin and the 'night of sin'.” He also furnishes his translation of various arias and recitatives of the theme of night as death. The acceptance of death is also found in the Canticle of Simeon, Luke 2:29-32, which is the Gospel for the Feast of the Purification and makes Cantata 161 appropriate for this service.

Various effective images are found in Franck’s Cantata 161 libretto, as Dürr points out. Packed with images, the tenor recitative begins with a play on words, “Welt, deine Lust ist Last” (World, your pleasure is a burden). This is followed with another phrase, “Dein Zucker ist mir als ein Gift verhasst,” (I hate your sweetness as if it were poison). The end of this tenor recitative (no. 2), is: “Ich habe Lust, von dieser Welt zu scheiden” (I desire to depart fromthis world.), a reference to Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians 1:23, “For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better” (KJV). It is a sentiment that the tenor repeats in his succeding aria (no. 3). The peniultimate line in the tenor recitative is a telling pastoral image, “Ich habe Lust, bei Christo bald zu weiden” (I desire to pasture soon by Christ). Franck delighted in antithetical images: “Dein Freudenlicht / Ist mein Komete” (your joyful light / is my star of ill omen), following the first two phrases of the tenor recitative. A biographical note is provided for this line: “Franck (1659-1725) might have seen the ominous comet Halley in the beginning of the 1680's. BTW astronomer Halley himself lived from 1656 to 1742, says Marie Jensen in the BCML Part 1 commentary (Ibid.).

1725 Franck-Texted Cantatas

The Cantata 161 repeat in 1725 came during the omnes tempore Trinity Time period when Bach selectively premiered two other cantatas, BWV 168, “Tue Rechnung! Donnerwort” (Give an account of yourself! [Luke 16:2] Word of thunder, BCML, for the 9th Sunday after Trinity, and BWV 164, “Ihr, die ihr euch von Christo nennet” (You, who take your name from Christ, BCML These two cantatas were an addendum to a fruitful collaboration with Weimar Court poet Salomo Franck that produced two years of service cantatas, 1715-16, totaling 13 mostly intimate solo works presented monthly and published in the 1715 annual cycle text, Evangelisches Andachts-Opfer (Evangelical Devotional Offerings).13

Bach may have chosen these libretti as a tribute to his Weimar friend, who died on June 14 (or July 11), 1725. In addition, this recent scholarship of Blanken (Ibid.) also has found that Bach in Leipzig probably revived dialogue Cantata 152, “Tritt auf die Glaubensbahn” (Step forward on the way of faith), for the Sunday after Christmas, December 29, 1726. This first Bach-Weimar collaboration to the 1715 text, premiered on December 30, 1714, is the last of some 24 Bach cantatas composed in Weimar to be confirmed as having been utilized in Leipzig church services, except for Cantata 132. 14

Cantatas 161, 152 Comparison/Contrast

A comparison/contrast of Cantatas 161 and 152 is found in Julian Mincham’s commentary introduction to Cantata 162, BCW <<Like C 152, this cantata stands out as one of the most charming, perfect and original works of Bach′s early output. Furthermore they are completely different in character and temperament with no possibility of any movements from the one being swapped between them. Referring back to the introductory chapter of these volumes (see About the Project from the homepage) Bach, like Beethoven, was capable of producing a huge number of works in the same genre, every one of which retains the composer′s powerful, creative personality whilst remaining quite distinctive, even unique, in character. C 161 has less of the skittishness of the first and last movements of C 152 but it retains its own sense of matchless, solemn inevitability.

The nature and disposition of both works is partially defined by the instrumentation, a group of chamber instruments in C 152 and two recorders added to the string ensemble of C 161. The movement structure could not, however, be more different, the former starting with a sinfonia but lacking a chorus and chorale, both of which are to be found in the latter. Additionally, C152 uses just the two voices while C 161 requires all four.

The significance of the Easter [Passion] hymn in this work should prompt us to look at C 135 (vol 2, chapter 5), one of the impressive second cycle chorale/fantasia cantatas. There it is sung by the basses as the cantus firmus of the opening chorus and, in a plain four-part setting, it closes the cantata. (Further contextual comments may also be found in that chapter). Here it is also to be discovered in the first and final movements, with echoes appearing elsewhere. Once again, these two cantatas, even with such connections, could not be more different in character.

Another comparison may be made with the later chorale/fantasia work, C 8 (vol 2, chapter 16). Both cantatas are concerned with fundamental themes about death but whilst C 161 is an expression of the longing for it, the later cantata is principally concerned with the question of when we might die. There are also, as we shall see, some similarities of orchestration.>>

Operatic-Style in Bach’s Solo Cantatas

Beyond a tribute to Franck in 1725, a further motivation for Bach utilizing the Salomo Franck intimate solo cantata libretti in the third cycle is Bach’s interested in operatic-style music at this time, particularly dialogue cantatas with the symbolic characters of the soprano as the Bride, Soul or Believer and the bass as the Bridegroom, Jesus. Increasingly, love duets became an important feature in Bach’s vocal music, not only in the service cantatas and secular cantatas of the 1730s but also in the Christological Cycle of major works of the Passions of John and Matthew, as well as the festival oratorios for Christmas, Easter, and Ascension Day, music mostly recycled from drammi per musica. Selectively in the third cycle, in contrast to the seven two-part chorus cantatas Bach set to Rudolstad texts, are the solo cantatas to texts of Georg Christian Lehms, particularly the dialogue Cantatas BWV 57, “Selig ist der Mann (Blessed is the man), for the Second Day of Christmas (Feast of St. Stephen) and BWV 32, “Liebster Jesu, mein Verlangen,” (Dearest Jesus, my longing), for the 2nd Sunday after Epiphany, as well as the Trinity Time cantatas, particularly set to the possible Brinkmann text, BWV 49, “Ich geh und suche mit Verlangen” (I go and seek with longing), for the 20th Sunday after Trinity 1726, and the “?Brinkmann-texted Cantata BWV 58, “Ach Gott, wie manches Herzeleid II” (Ah God, how many a heartache), for the Sunday after New Year 1727. In addition, Blanken has suggested (Ibid.: 24) that Bach may have set two Brinkmann dialogue texts for 1727 cantatas (no music extant), “Versmähe nicht das schlechte Lied” for the Epiphany feast, and “Ich bin betrübt; Ach wenn ich dich” for the 1st Sunday after Epiphany.

Certain solo cantatas in the third cycle also show influences of opera. In particular on February 2, 1727, near the end of the third cycle, for the Feast of the Purification on the double service with the 4th and final Sunday after Epiphany, Bach presented a double bill: a repeat of solo Cantata BWV 83, “Erfreute Zeit im neuen Bunde” (Joyful time in the new covenant), from 1724, and the new solo bass (later soprano) Cantata BWV 82, “Ich habe genung”

(I have enough), with the Anna Magdalena song (no. 3), “Schlummert ein, ihr matten Augen” (Rest in sleep, you weary eyes), which Bach repeated at least four times: 1731, 1735, 1746-47, 1747-48. The librettist may be Birkmann, who may have begun collaborating with Bach at Christmas 1724 with chorale Cantata 91, “Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ,” (Praised be you, Jesus Christ), says Blanken (Ibid.: 20, 18).

Bach’s encounters with conflicting writers suggesting operatic influences is explored in Robin A. Leaver’s “Oper in der Kirche.”15 Besdies Cantata 82, other Bach works cited in Leaver’s study include c.1726 solo soprano Cantata BWV 204, “Ich bin in mir vergnügt” (I am content in myself) to a Christian Friedrich Hunold (Menantes) text, and third-cycle 1727 Trinity 16 chorus Cantata 27 “Wer weiß, wie nahe mir mein Ende?” (Who knows how near my end is to me?); chorus Cantata 19, “Es erhub sich ein Streit” (There arose a strife), to a Picander text (BCML Discussion, Weekof September 25, 2016); and alto solo Cantata 55, “Ich armer Mensch, ich Sündenknecht” (I, wretched man , I, slave of sin), Trinity 22 (BCML Discussion Part 4; March 2, 2014;

These operatic elements began vocally with Bach’s first collaboration with Salomo Franck, perhaps as early as 1713, with the soprano-bass dialogue recitative and aria, “Komm, mein Jesu, und erquicke” (Come, my Jesus, and restore), “Ja, ich komme und erquicke” (Yes, I come and restore), in the Two-part chorus Cantata BWV 21, “Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis in meinem Herzen” (I had much affliction in my heart, Psalm 94:19).

Trinity 16 Chorales

For the 16th Sunday after Trinity, Bach had the rare distinction of presenting four consecutive, varied Cantatas BWV BWV 95, 8, 161, and 27, with seven different chorales.

In 1723 in his first cycle, Bach premiered Cantata BWV 95, Christus, der ist meins Leben" (Christ, you are my life)," a hybrid chorale cantata that has the distinction of citing more chorales than any other cantata - four. The opening chorale chorus is set to the Melchior Vulpius' prayer for the dying with the 1609 melody "Christus, der ist mein Leben." It is followed by an interpolated tenor arioso-recitative, "Mit Freuden, ja mit Herzelust" (With joy, yea with heart's desire), and the movement concludes with another chorale chorus singing Martin Luther's "Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin" (With peace and joy I now depart). The words are based on the Nunc dimmitis, Simeon's Canticle, "Lord, let your servant depart in peace" (Luke 2:29-32). No. 3. The soprano canto trio aria sings the opening stanza of Valerius Herberger's 1613 five-stanza text, "Valet will ich dir geben" (Farewell I shall bid to you), to the Melchior Teschner melody. Thelosing plain chorale (no. 7), Nikolaus Herman's 1650 "Wenn mein Stündlein vorhanden ist" (When my little hour is at hand), Stanza 4, "Weil du vom Tod erstanden bist" (While from death you stand), is found in the NLGB as No. 330 "Death and Dying," and also is listed as pulpit/communion hymn for Trinity 16 and 17.

Chorale cantata Cycle 2 of 1725 involved BWV 8, of the contemporary hymn, "Liebster Gott, wann werd ich sterben" (Loving God, when will I die?). The hymn is based on Caspar Neumann's 1690 text in five stanzas, to the four-part, by-1695 funeral setting of Leipzig St. Nicholas organist Daniel Vetter. In Cantata Cycle 3 in 1726, Bach presented his chorus Cantata BWV 27, "Wer wiss, wie nah mir mein Ende?" (Who knows how near is my end?), set to a hybrid libretto. It opens with a chorale chorus setting of the first verse of a 1695 12-stanza contemporary funeral hymn of Princess Ämilie Juliane von Schwarzburg-Rudolstdadt 1695, using the associated, popular Georg Neumark 1640 melody, "Wer nur den lieben Gott lässt walten" (We only the loving God lets govern), NLGB No. 303, "Cross, Persecution and Tribulation."

The 16th Sunday after Trinity offered Bach a rare, serendipitous situation in his choice of subject matter. Bach’s Leipzig hymnbook, Das Neu Leipziger Gesangbuch (NLGB)FN of 1682 of Gottfried Vopelius, allowed the choice of chorales from the latter omnes tempore section under major headings, specifically the category “Death and Dying,” followed by “The 10 Commandments” and “Christian Life and Hope” for the succeeding two Sundays. Previously, the NLGB had focused on Trinity Time well-known hymns involving liturgy, the Lutheran Catechism, and popular Psalms with important Christian themes for the second half of the church year dealing with the teachings of the Christian Church instead of the major events in the life of Jesus Christ. The one previous exception was Trinity 12 with chorales emphasizing “Cross, Persecution, and Tribulation,” another Bach favorite category.

Thematic chorales played a major role as Bach shaped his three Leipzig cycles of “well-regulated church music.” This is most evident in his setting of six chorales with the themes of “Death and Dying” (“Christus, der ist meins Leben,” “Valet will ich dir geben,” “Wenn mein Stündlein vorhanden ist,” “Liebster Gott, wann werd ich sterben,” “Wer wiss, wie nah mir mein Ende?,” “Welt, ade! Ich bin deine müde”) two in the related “Cross, Persecution and Tribulation” (“Wenn wir in höchsten Nöten sein,” “Wer nur den lieben Gott lässt walten”), and Passion chorales like “O sacred head now wounded.”

Besides a choice of chorales of “Death and Dying,” the NLGB for Trinity 16 in Leipzig specifically lists two chorales to be sung at service: “Wenn wir in höchsten Nöten sein” (When we are in utmost need), as No. 277, “Cross, Persecution and Tribulation,” and Martin Luther’s three-stanza teaching hymn, “Mitten wir im Leben sind” (We are in the middle of life), found with the four-part setting of J. H. Schein in the NLGB, No. 344, “Death and Dying” but not set by Bach.

Cantata 166 Weimar Dating, Synopsis

The Weimar dating, the Gospel influences, and a summary of the movements are found in Todashi Isoyama’s 1997 liner notes to the Masaaki Susuki complete BIS Bach cantata recordings.17<< Long known for its impressive title, this cantata was most likely first performed on 27th September 1716 (the sixteenth Sunday after Trinity), late in the Weimar period. (It was performed again in Leipzig in about 1735). It was thought to have been premiéred on 6th October 1716, but because of the period of mourning surrounding the death of Weimar’s Duke Johann Emst that year, it is now thought that the first performance of the new cantata was delayed by a year. With a libretto by Salomo Franck, it has a flavour of intimacy in common with the other four cantatas on this recording [Weimar Cantatas BWV BWV 18, 143, 152, 155].

The text of the lesson for the Sunday corresponding to this cantata is the story of the raising of the son of the widow of Nain. Franck, the librettist, makes a connection between the young man of Nain and mankind on its deathbed, and thus likens the story of the raising of the young man to our feelings of hope that we will attain the life of the next world. Bach has enhanced the text with deeply symbolic music, using two recorders to represent the sound of funeral bells. The music is based on a Hassler chorale melody which is best known from its inclusion in the St. Matthew Passion. Here it is not only used in the first and last movements, but is also the source of the themes of each of the other movements.

The alto begins, taking the peaceful melody from the recorders to sing of the anticipation of death (C major aria). From time to time the organ sesquialtera (a mixture stop with Quint and Terz) plays the chorale melody. (In the Leipzig performance of the cantata, the first verse of the chorale text itself was sung by a soprano.) In the next movement (number 2, Recitative), the tenor sings in a severe tone, abjuring the pleasures of the world, and turning his thoughts toward the bliss of heaven. Continuing, the tenor sings of his anticipation of death (Number 3, aria in A major) above a flowing accompaniment. The effect is to deepen the sense of sincere longing. A powerful recitative for alto follows (Number 4), using all the instruments. In this movement the anticipation of death appears to be fulfilled, and the alto’s declamation, welcoming death and the ringing of the funeral bells, is filled with a pathos amounting almost to obsession.

As the echo of the funeral bells dies away, the music takes on a feeling of innocence which it might not be incorrect to deem extreme. The C major chorus which falls here (Number 5) conveys the sweet joys of heaven with a high ritomello in 3 and vsimply-written vocal parts.

The chorale which has made recurring appearances throughout the piece shows itself in its full form for the first time in the final movement (Number 6, A minor). Bach gives the recorders a soaring descant above the four-part chorus, creating the image of the flesh transfigured. © Todashi Isoyama 1997>>

<< Edition Problems in Cantatas BWV 18 and 161

At the time when Bach was performing his cantatas regularly, there was often a need to revise the original orchestration of a piece. Changes in the instrumentation of both BWV 18 and 161 were made for the Leipzig performances of these cantatas. BWV 18 was first performed with the unique orchestration of four Violas and continua, but for its reperformance the entire work was reorganized for one or two violas with recorder, which served to clarify the musical outline. The circumstances of BWV 161’s revision are somewhat more complicated. The surviving material consists of a full score by an unknown copyist, dating from about 1735, and late 18th-century copies of the parts for the Leipzig reperformance; the original materials have all been lost. It is possible that for the reperformance the obbligato for double recorder throughout was transferred to flute, and a violin was added to this part for the opening alto aria. Further, the organ Chorale was sung by a soprano. For this recording, however, we have stayed with the original Weimar instrumentation. According to the above-mentioned copy of the full score, the recorder parts in the first movement are written in E major, while the rest of the instruments are written in C major, pointing to a characteristic convention of the Weimar court: the recorders are tuned to the lower Kammerton (a=392 Hz), while the other instruments are based on Chorton (a=465 Hz). © Massaki Suzuki 1997>>

Cantata 95 Provenance, Estate Division. The 1750 estate division of the three cantatas for the 16th Sunday after Trinity shows that Emmanuel received the surviving parts set of Cantata 95 while the original score is lost (Friedemann?); chorale Cantata 8 parts were given to Anna Magdalena while Friedemann probably received the score which is lost; and chorus Cantata 27 was divided with Emmanuel receiving the score and Friedemann the parts, both surviving. Cantata 161 score and parts are lost and a copy from the late 18th century survives with twin designation for Trinity 16 and the Feast of the Purification. Its provenance is unknown.

Other Bach Trinity 16 Opportunities

Following the performances of all four Cantatas (95, 8, 161, and 27) during his first three cycles, the following were opportunities for Bach in succeeding years for the 16th Sunday after Trinity:

A. On Sept. 28, 1727, there was no performance during the mourning period of Sept. 7, 1727, to Jan. 8, 1728, for deceased Saxon Queen Christiane Eberhardine.
B. On Sept. 12, 1728, in the published Picander so-called Cycle 4, the Cantata text P-59, “Schließet euch, Ihr müden Augen (Close you, your tired eyes), has no chorale listed.
C. On Oct. 10, 1734 (Trinity 16), Chorale Cantata 8 may have been reperformed as part of a possible repeat of the chorale cantata cycle with oratorios for the major feast days, ending at Trinity Time 1735, when Bach introduced the first of two annual cycles of Gottfried Heinrich Stölzel’s sacred cantatas.
D. On Sept. 18, 1735, Bach performed Stölzel’s two-part cantata “Mein Jesu, deine Vater-Hand”; as part of the cycle “Saitenspiele des Hertzens” (Music Playing of the Heart), text by Benjamin Schmolck, with two more contemporary chorale settings not in the NLGB: No. 4, plain chorale, “Die Thronen-Freude dieser Welt” (This world is the throne of joy) Stanza 2, Johann Jacob Schültz 1673 “Was mich auf dieser Welt betrübt” (What the world concerns for me). No. 8, plain chorale, “Gottes Kinder säen zwar traurig und mit Thränen (God’s children sow most mournfully with tears), from Paul Gerhardt’s 1653 “Schwingt dich auf zu deinem Gott” (Swing thee up to thy God).
E. About Sept. 16, 1736; Bach may have performed Stölzel’s two-part cantata “So bist du doch. Gott, allein meines Herzens Trist und mein Teil,” from the cantata cycle “Das Namenbuch Christi,” (Book of Names of Christ), Schmolck text, No. 58. No chorales are listed in the sources.


1Cantata 161 BCW Details& Discography, Score Vocal & Piano [1.32 MB],, Score BGA [2.12 MB], References: BGA: XXXIII (Cantatas 161-170, Franz Wüllner, 1887), NBA KB I/23 (Trinity 16 cantatas, Helmut Osthoff, 1984), Bach Compendium BC: A 135, Zwang K 21.
2 Stephen A Christ in Oxford Composer Companions: J. S. Bach, ed. Malcolm Boyd, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999: 256f).
3 Martin Petzoldt, Bach Kommentar: Die geistlichen Kantaten des 1. Bis 27. Trinitas-Sontagges, Vol. 1; Theologisch Musikwissenschaftlicke Kommentierung der Geistlichen Vokalwerke Johann Sebastan Bachs, Internationale Bachakademie Stuttgart (Kassel: Bärenreiter, 2004: 452).
4 Christine Blanken, “A Cantata-Text Cycle of 1728 from Nuremberg: a Preliminary Report on a Discovery relating to J. S. Bach’s so-called ‘Third Annual Cycle’” (Understanding Bach 10, Bach UK Network 2015: 20,, and also published as “Christoph Birkmann’s Cantata Cycle GOtt-geheiligte Sabbaths-Zehnden of 1728 and the Leipzig Church Music Under J. S. Bach in the Years 1724-1727,” Bach-Jahrbuch 101, 2015,
BACH'S HYMN BOOK: Jürgen Grimm, "Das neu [?] Leipziger Gesangbuch des Gottfried Vopelius (Leipzig 1682)", Berlin: Merseburger, 1969.
6Alfred Dürr, Cantatas of J. S. Bach, revised and translated by Richard D. P. Jones (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005: 545).
7BACH'S MOTET COLLECTION: Otto Riemer, "Erhard Bodenschatz und sein," Schünigen: Kaminsky,1927 ML 410 B67R4; Partial Index of Motets in Florilegium Portense with links to online scores and biographies: and; Dissertation on Bodenschatz Collection (downloadable):
8 Strodach, The Church Year: Studies in the Introits, Collects, Epistles and Gospels (United Lutheran Publication House, Philadelphia PA, 1924: 216).
9 Gardner notes,[sdg104_gb].pdf; BCW Recording details,
10 Walter Blankenburg (Martin Cooper translation), in Karl Richter “Bach Cantatas Vol. 4 - Sundays after Trinity I” (Deutsche Grammophon Archiv CD set; Recording details, see BCW ).
11 See BCW Article, “Bach and Mahler,, especially see “Mahler’s Final Years,” paragraph beginning “Found throughout his works.”
12 Salomo Franck text and Francis Browne English translation, BCW
13 See Salomo Franck biography,Wikipedia Franck.
14 Bach’s Weimar cantata output is the subject of Thomas Braatz’s BCW Article, “Bach’s Weimar Cantatas” (February 22, 2005),
15Robin A. Leaver’s “Oper in der Kirche: Bach und der Kantatenstreit im frühen 18. Jahrhundert” (Bach-Jahrbuch, Leipzig, Vol. 99 (2013): 171-203).
17 Cantata 166 Tadashi Isoyama notes,[BIS-CD841].pdf,
BCW Recording details,


To Come: Trinity 16 Cantata 27, "Wer wiss, wie nah mir mein Ende?" (Who knows how near is my end?).

Aryeh Oron wrote (September 17, 2016):
Cantata BWV 161 - Revised & updated Discography

Cantata BWV 161 "Komm, du süße Todesstunde" (Come, sweet hour of death) was composed by J.S. Bach in Weimar for the 16th Sunday after Trinity of 1716. It was performed again in Leipzig on the Feast of Purification of Mary, but the year is not known. The cantata is scored for alto & tenor soloists; 4-part Chorus; and orchestra of 2 recorders, 2 violins, viola & continuo.

The discography pages of BWV 161 on the BCW have been revised and updated. See:
Complete Recordings (37):
Recordings of Individual Movements (11):
The revised discography includes many listening/watching options to recordings directly from the discography pages, just below the recording details.

I also put at the BCW Home Page:
2 audios & 2 videos of the cantata. A short description below the audio/video image is linked to the full details at the discography pages.

I believe this are the most comprehensive discography of the cantata. If you are aware of a recording of BWV 161 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 current discussion of the cantata in the BCML (4th round):



Cantata BWV 161: 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
Discussions of General Topics: Cantatas & Other Vocal Works | Performance Practice | Radio, Concerts, Festivals, Recordings


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Last update: Monday, September 11, 2017 15:21