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Cantata BWV 165
O heilges Geist und Wasserbad
Discussions - Part 4

Continue from Part 3

Discussions in the Week of May 22, 2016 (4th round)

William Hoffman wrote (May 27, 2016):
Trinity Sunday Cantata 165 “O heilges Geist- und Wasserbad” Intro.

The last of some two dozen cantatas-as-musical-sermons composed in Weimar (1714-16) and recycled in Leipzig for the first service cycle, Cantata 165 “O heilges Geist- und Wasserbad” (O sacred bath of water and the Spirit) is one of Bach’s shortest, simplest symmetrical works. Lasting 13 minutes for SATB and strings, it is in the most common cycle 1 form of opening based on biblical passages, three arias interspersed with two bass recitatives, and closing plain chorale. Cantata 165 to a sermon-like text of Weimar Court poet Salomo Franck, was first performed on June 16, 1715, and possibly repeated on June 17, 1716.1

In Leipzig, Cantata 165 was reperformed on June 4, 1724, as part of a double bill with Cantata 194, “Höchsterwünschtes Freudenfest” (Much Longed-For Joyous Feast), at the early main service of the Thomas Church, Pastor Christian Weise Sr. presenting the sermon on John’s Gospel 3:1-15, Jesus’ dialogue with Nicodemus on Baptism of the Holy Spirit. The Epistle and Gospel text in German 1545 Martin Luther translation and the English text Authorized (King James) Version of 1611 are found at BCW

There is no record that Cantata 165 was performed again. If the entire 40-minute two-part Cantata 194 was performed, after and after the sermon, then Cantata 165 probably was performed during Holy Communion and was appropriate since it refers to God’s “Holy Supper” in the closing chorale, Ludwig Helmbold’s 1575 “Nun laßt uns Gott, dem Herrn” (Now let us to God, the Lord), Catechism Communion Hymn NLGB No. 222.

Franck chose Stanza 5 of the hymn, “Sein Wort, sein Tauf, sein Nachtmahl / Dient wider allen Unfall” (His word, his baptism, his supper / serve us against all misfortune), set to the Nikolaus Selnecker 1587 melody (Zahn 159), of the same name. The full 8-stanza, 4-line text and Francis Browne’s English translation are found at BCW, Information on the text and melody are found at BCW, Helmbold’s BCW Short Biography is found at: For further information on “Musical Context of Bach Cantatas: Motets & Chorales for Trinity Sunday,” see BCW

Cantata 165 Movements, Scoring, Text Incipits, Key, Meter2

1. Aria (concerto) in fugal style [Soprano; Violino I/II, Viola, Fagotto, Continuo]: “O heilges Geist- und Wasserbad” (O sacred bath of water and the Spirit); g minor; 4/4.
2. Recitative secco [Bass, Continuo]: “Die sündige Geburt verdammter Adamserben / Gebieret Gottes Zorn, den Tod und das Verderben” (The sinful birth of the damned seed of Adam / brings forth God’s anger, death and destruction); e to a minor; 4/4.|
3. Aria two-parts with ritornelli [Alto, Continuo]: A. Jesu, der aus großer Liebe / In der Taufe mir verschriebe / Leben, Heil und Seligkeit” (Jesus, who by your great love / in baptism has written me down for / life, salvation and blessedness); B. “Hilf, dass ich mich dessen freue” (help me to rejoice in this); e minor; 12/8 pastorale-giga style.
4. Recitative-arioso [Bass; Violino I/II, Viola, Fagotto, Continuo]: recit., “Ich habe ja, mein Seelenbräutigam” . . . / Dir ewig treu zu sein geschworen” ((I have indeed, my soul’s bridegroom . . . / sworn to be faithful to you for ever); adagio arioso, “Hochheilges Gotteslamm” (most holy lamb of God); recit., “Erbarme, Jesu, dich aus Gnaden über mich! (In your mercy have pity on me!);
5. Aria in 4 parts (AA’BB’) with ritornelli [Tenor; Violino I/II all' unisono, Continuo]: A. “Jesu, meines Todes Tod, / Laß in meinem Leben” (Jesus, death of my death / in my life); A’. “Und in meiner letzten Not / Mir für Augen schweben,” (and in my last agony / let me keep this thought in view:); B. “Dass du mein Heilschlänglein seist / Vor das Gift der Sünde.” (that for me you are the beloved serpent who brings salvation / from the poison of sin); B’, Heile, Jesu, Seel und Geist, / Dass ich Leben finde!” (Save, Jesus, my soul and spirit / so that I may find life.); G Major; 4/4.
6. Plain Chorale [SATB; Violino I col Soprano, Violino II coll'Alto, Viola col Tenore, Fagotto col Basso, Continuo); “Sein Wort, sein Tauf, sein Nachtmahl / Dient wider allen Unfall, / Der Heilge Geist im Glauben / Lehrt uns darauf vertrauen.” (His word, his baptism, his supper / serve us against all misfortune / The Holy Spirit in faith / teaches us to trust in these things.); G Major; 4/4.

Cantata 165 Forces, Mood, Baptism Emphasis, Structure

The Cantata 156 modest forces, mood, emphasis on the spirit of baptism, and structural complexity are found in Peter Smaill’s brief, insightful commentary in Cantata 165 BCML Discussion Part 2 (April 30, 2005), <<The mystery of BWV 165 is surely the very modest forces required for a great feast of the Church- contrast the string quartet plus doubling bassoon in "O Heilges Geist und wasser bad" with the triple trumpets, double oboe, flute, strings and timpani for the magnificent Trinity Cantata, BWV 129, "Gelobet sei der Herr"; granted, BWV 194 and BWV 176, also for Trinity Sunday, have forces in between these extremes.

We reviewed [Easter Sunday Cantata] BWV 31, text by Salomo Franck, performed on 21 April 1715; BWV 165 comes on 16 June 1715. Franck seems to be in a mood for repetition, because he uses in his poetic palette red and purple again, and white; as mentioned the incidence of colour being rare in Holy Writ.

In stressing the Sacrament of Baptism, the text is prefiguring (1724 Ascension Cantata] BWV 37, "Wer da glaubet und getauft wird", in which baptism is strange allied to another great feast day, in that case, Ascension. In one case, BWV 165, water/baptism and the Spirit are the preconditions of salvation/blessedness; in the other, water/baptism and Belief. The implications in both are that baptism, although theologically linked to the work of the Holy Spirit, is not of itself complete ("ex opere operatu").

Malcolm Boyd's discussion of this cantata reveals the structural complexity underlying its seemingly modest pretensions - yet again, the young Bach is experimenting with form, (BWV 165/1 (inversion, variation, recapitulation) symbol, (BWV 165/5, serpent motif) devices (missing chord, (BWV 165/5), key shifting (BWV 165/1)). It deserves to be better known.>>

Notes on the Text.

Weimar Court poet Salomo Franck’s libretto Bach’s Cantata 165 is a gospel-driven, some times pietistic in tone, and utilitarian sermon set to music. The first three movements focus on the Trinity Sunday gospel, John 3: 1-15, the Jesus-Nicodemus dialogue on the Holy Spirit’s water baptism in the incipit cantata’s, “O heilges Geist- und Wasserbad” (O sacred bath of water and the Spirit). The final verse (15) is well known: [15] That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.” This is followed by the most famous Johananine verse 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” This is the gospel lesson for the 2nd Day (Monday) of Pentecost, the preceding week’s three-day festival.

The most delightful movement is the alto aria 12/8 pastorale-gigue (no. 3). God’s Son, Jesus Christ takes the stage in the next movement, the second bass recitative (no. 4), in quasi vox Domini style, addresses Jesus as the Bridegroom of the Soul. The cross theme of sacrifice is never far from the scene in any Trinity Time Sunday. It reaches fulfillment in the very pleasing tenor aria (no.5), “Jesu, meines Todes Tod, / Laß in meinem Leben” (Jesus, death of my death / in my life). Interestingly in Salomo Franck’s pietist-tinged libretto, the only appearance of God the Father is in the first bass recitative (no. 2: “Die sündige Geburt verdammter Adamserben / Gebieret Gottes Zorn, den Tod und das Verderben” (The sinful birth of the damned seed of Adam / brings forth God’s anger, death and destruction). |

Finally, the emblematic Holy Spirit appears again in the closing chorale, which cites the three Lutheran principles of “Sein Wort, sein Tauf, sein Nachtmahl / Dient wider allen Unfall,” (His word, his baptism, his supper / serve us against all misfortune).

Cantata 165: True ‘Sermon in Music”

The Salomo Franck text of Cantata 165 is a “true sermon-in-music” of John’s Gospel 3:1-15 account of the meeting with Nicodemus and the importance of baptism with the water emphasis, observes John Eliot Gardiner in his Bach 2008 liner notes to the 2000 Cantata Pilgrimage Soli Deo Gloria recording.3 <<His first cantata for Trinity Sunday, BWV 165 O heil’ges Geist- und Wasserbad, was composed in 1715 in Weimar, to a text by Salomo Franck. It is a true sermon-in-music, based on the Gospel account of Jesus’ night-time conversation with Nicodemus on the subject of ‘new life’, emphasising the spiritual importance of baptism. The plentiful references to water in this cantata seemed wonderfully apt to our geographical situation – ‘except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God’. Even on the briefest visit to Orkney you cannot escape the sense of layered history in this sea-dominated archipelago – Neolithic, Pictish and Norse - clear to the few of us who had made a rushed visit, sandwich in hand, to the Ring of Brodgar. The thing that struck me most about the opening aria for soprano entitled ‘Concerto’ was the ‘impossibility’ of some of its harmonies: there is a passage in the fugal play-out which, if you play it below a certain speed, sounds plain wrong - like Stravinsky in neo-baroque style, or even Webern. Those incongruities simply disappear when played at the ‘correct’ faster tempo, flowing by like stream water across and around rocks.

Another striking feature is the dramatic fade-out at the end of the long, impressive bass accompagnato (No.4), in which two types of serpent are contrasted: the ‘ancient’ serpent of sin, and the ‘fiery’ or bloodred serpent raised on a pole by Moses and later ‘exalted on the cross’. For the words ‘wenn alle Kraft vergehet’ (‘when all my strength has faded’) Bach weaves contrary-motion lines in the upper strings played pianissimo, soft to the point of extinction, leaving the final G to the bassoon and bass line ‘senza accomp.’ – bleak and alone. Bach’s imagination, stirred here by the dual image of the serpent, prompts shock tactics, forcing his listeners into a realisation that they daily break the pledge made on their behalf at baptism and therefore constantly need renewed forgiveness. To clinch the argument he follows this with an aria for tenor in which Christ is again referred to as the serpent. As Whittaker describes it, ‘the whole of the obbligato for violins in unison is constructed out of the image of the bending, writhing, twisting reptile, usually a symbol of horror, but in Bach’s musical speech a thing of pellucid beauty’. The closing chorale is a setting of Ludwig Helmbold’s ‘Nun lasst uns Gott, dem Herren’.>>

Cantata 165: ‘Conciseness, Clarity’

Cantata 165 is a chamber musical sermon with “conciseness and clarity,” says Tadashi Isoyama in his 1996 liner notes to the Masaaki Suzuki BIS recording of the complete cantatas.4 <<This cantata is believed to have been first performed on Trinity Sunday (16th June) in 1715. It does not include wind instruments, and the chorus’s participation is limited to the final chorale; the work ranks among the chamber cantatas. The libretto is by Salomo Franck (1715). Bach has set the text, which is based on the Gospel reading for the day (John 3: 1-15), with conciseness and clarity; it exemplifies the cantata’s function of ‘a sermon in music’. The subject is the emphasis upon the spiritual importance of baptism. The reading from St. John relates the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus the Pharisee on the subject of new life. Jesus tells Nicodemus, who has only a concrete understanding of the words ‘life’ and ‘death’, that ‘Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God’.

Explaining further, Jesus adds the phrase ‘Except a man be born of water and the Spirit’. Baptism, which is ‘washing with water and the Spirit’, is the beginning of the path leading man to the kingdom of God — ‘the wearing of Christ’ (second movement). Baptism is not a simple ceremony, but should be renewed for ‘the entire duration of life’ (third movement). This is made possible through God’s grace, as made manifest in Christ’s crucifixion (fourth movement). Thus the cantata prays to Jesus, ‘death’s death’ (fifth movement), for forgiveness and salvation, and ends with praise for the sacrament of baptism. This cantata was revised for reperformance on Trinity Sunday of 1724 in Leipzig. The cantata survives in a copy of the full score dating from this performance. The opening soprano aria (G major) has a ritornello in fugal form, and generally keeps to a polyphonic structure. It suggests the character of the ‘pledge’ of baptism. The fertile strength of this writing illustrates the image of the ‘new life-giving flood’. The second movement is a bass recitative. It compares mankind’s sin and the joy of those who are Christians through baptism. The alto aria in E minor (third movement) which follows is a prayer to Jesus in baptism. The piece is an aria on the concept of ‘love’, structurally unified by its foundation on a smooth continuo theme. Beginning with the fourth movement (bass recitative), with its image of ‘the soul’s bridegroom’, Franck’s libretto moves toward the mystical, turning a reflective eye toward the Passion and mankind’s redemption. The concept of ‘The Lamb of God’ is given emphasis by an Adagio melismatic phrase, and the double meaning of the image of the ‘serpent’ is illustrated in an arioso for interweaving violins. This double meaning is, first, the ‘old serpent’ which symbolises sin, and second, the ‘fiery serpent’ (Numbers 21: 6-9) which Moses made and raised on a pole to take away sin. This second meaning is also seen as a symbol of Christ’s crucifixion, referring back to the Gospel reading for Trinity Sunday. The tenor aria in, the fifth movement (G major) sings to the ‘salvation snakelet’, ‘death’s death’, Jesus Christ. The movement of the ‘snakelet’

appears in a writhing ritomello melody, and the mood feels suitable to a prayer text. After this, the fifth verse of Ludwig Helmbold’s 1575 chorale “Nun laflt uns Gort dem Herren” is sung in a simple and powerful harmonisation (sixth movement, G major); encompassing the ideas of life and death, the libretto thus returns to the theme of baptism at the end. © Tadashi Isoyama, 1996


1 Cantata 165 BCW Details, Score Vocal & Piano [0.95 MB],, Score BGA [1.19 MB], References. BGA XXXIII (Cantatas 161-170, Fritz Wüllner, 1887), NBA KB I/15 (Trinity Sunday, Alfred Dürr 19678), Bach Compendium BC A 90, Zwang K 19.
2 Cantata 165 German text and Francis Browne English translation,
3 Gardiner Cantata 165 liner notes, BCW[sdg138_gb].pdf, BCW Recording details
4 Isoyama Cantata 165 notes,[BIS-CD801].pdf; Recording details Masaaki Suzuki - Bach Cantatas & Other Vocal Works - Recordings - Part 1

Aryeh Oron wrote (June 6, 2016):
Cantata BWV 165 - Revised & updated Discography

Cantata BWV 165 "O heilges Geist und Wasserbad" (O sacred bath of water and the Spirit) was composed in Weimar for Trinity Sunday of 1715. Bach performed this cantata at least 1 more time in Leipzig (probably 1724). The cantata is scored for soprano, alto, tenor & bass soloists; 4-part Chorus; and orchestra of 2 violins, viola, continuo (+ bassoon & cello).

The discography pages of BWV 165 on the BCW have been revised and updated. See:
Complete Recordings (9):
Recordings of Individual Movements (4):
The revised discography includes many listening/watching options to recordings directly from the discography pages, just below the recording details.

I also put at the BCW Home Page:
2 audios 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 165 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 165: 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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