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Cantata BWV 2
Ach Gott, vom Himmel sieh darein
Discussions - Part 4

Continue from Part 3

Discussions in the Week of May 25, 2014 (4th round)

William Hofman wrote (May 25, 2014):
Cantata 2 Intro.

Bach’s chorale Cantata BWV 2, "Ach Gott vom Himmel sieh darein" (Ah God, look down from heaven) is based on Martin Luther’s early chorale setting of Psalm 12 for the 2nd Sunday after Trinity, June 18, 1724. Cantata 2 is in many respects a typical Bach chorale cantata with engaging music focusing on a familiar Lutheran hymn that has little to do directly with the day’s lectionary New Testament readings. But as an adaptation of Psalm 12, (Salvum me fac, Help, Lord), Cantata 2 “is in itself an adequate exegesis of the Sunday Gospel [Luke 14:16-24 parable] with its account of the absence of the guests invited to supper,” says Alfred Dürr in his The Cantatas of J. S. Bach.1

To that end, Psalm 12 “laments that mankind turns away from God and is led astray into godless living by heretical teachings.” Luther’s hymn version, in a second generation treatment as a unique Bach musical sermon, follows in its paraphrasing arias and recitatives accurately and reflectively on Luther’s original teachings and sentiments. It is buttressed with the familiar sacred song text and melody beginning with the first stanza presented as an archaic, austere yet mesmerizing motet and closing in similar fashion as an affirmative congregational hymn with the final, sixth stanza.

Like so many psalms and Bach cantatas, Luther’s hymn moves from dire warnings and negative descriptions to God’s mercy and compassion, especially for the oppressed poor, to mercy in the strength of the word, yet with a cautionary conclusion that evil is still everywhere. Bach uses all manner of musical and literary devices to gain and hold the listeners’ attention and interest.2 The opening is a studied polyphonic motet girded with a solemn brass quartet to support the voices singing Luther’s familiar melody and words. A sense of unity and simplicity bolster the pairs of teaching recitatives and reflective arias as familiar chorale phrases and melody are literally sounded in the paraphrased arias and recitatives by an unknown librettist who stayed close to Luther’s poetic paraphrase musical setting.3

"Ach Gott vom Himmel sieh darein" is one of the most often used Trinity Time hymns, according to the Neu Leipziger Gesangbuch of 1682, Bach’s personal hymnal. Like its Luther companion setting of Psalm 14, "Es spricht der Unweisen Mund wohl" (The unknown mouth speaks well), it was sung at omnes tempore services in Trinity Time and Epiphany Time. Bach used the chorale melody set to different texts in four sacred cantatas. Cantata 2 was first performed at the early main service in June 1724 at Bach’s St. Thomas Church, before the sermon of Pastor Christian Weise (1671-1736), says Martin Petzoldt in Bach Kommentar, Vol. 1, Sundays after Trinity 1-27.4 The sermon was based on the day’s Readings: Epistle: 1 John 3:13-18 (Christian brotherly love); Gospel: Luke 14:16-24 (Parable of the great supper); German Luther 1545, English Authorized King James Version (KJV), 1611, The Introit Psalm 72 (Deus judicam, Give the king thy judgments, O God; Psalm for Solomon), speaks of the prophecy of Christ and his kingdom); .

“The text of this choral cantata is based on Martin Luther's adaption of Psalm 12 (1524) says Francis Browne in his “Notes on the text” (Ibid.). As often in such cantatas the first and last verses are retained word for word (movements 1 and 6) but each of the inner verses is paraphrased to form a recitative or aria (movements two 2-5). Several lines from verses two and four, however are adopted literally or almost so, in the second and fourth movements. In general, the anonymous text editor follows Luther's hymn very accurately.”

Text Note: Discussions. Part 1 Notes. Aryeh Oron wrote (June 9, 2002): BWV 2 – Introduction, “According to some sources, Picander was probably the librettist.” “Luther’s hymn refers more to the Epistle, 1 John 3:13-18, concerning brotherly love, rather than to Gospel for the day, Luke 14:16-24.” 5

The Chorale "Ach Gott vom Himmel sieh darein" (Ah God, look down from heaven) is a “Prayer for Help” with its hymnal theme of “Christian Life and Conduct” (NLGB No. 250, in Bar form, D minor Phrygian key. It is listed as a prescribed hymn for four Trinity Time omnes tempore Sundays in Leipzig: a pulpit hymn for Trinity +2, a communion hymn for Trinity +1, and the hymn of the day in Tr.+8 and Tr. 20. It also is the hymn of the day in the omnes tempore Fifth Sunday after Epiphany. It was published first in Johann Walter’s “Erfurter Enchiridion” in 1524; with the text of Martin Luther, interpreting Psalm 12 in six stanzas. The melody derives from an anonymous secular song, c.1410, (Zahn 4431). Luther’s German and Francis Browne English translation is found at BCW: “Chorale Melodies used in Bach's Vocal Works,” BCW,

The origin of "Ach Gott vom Himmel sieh darein," sung in English as “O Lord, Look Down From Heaven,” began with “that impressively creative and productive period during the fall, winter and spring of 1523-24 in which Luther and his colleagues were putting the Word of God into song,” observes Robin A. Leaver in Luther’s Liturgical Music: Principals and Implications.6 Some, like Nun freut euch and Es ist das Heil (by Paul Speratus), broadly summarized Scripture, while others were versifications of specific passages in scripture, such as Luther’s metrical psalms,” Ach Gott vom Himmel sieh darein (Psalm 12, also known as a community lament), Es spricht der unweisen Mund wohl (Psalm 14);7 and Aus tiefer Not (de profundis, Psalm 130).

The early versions of these psalm setting were assigned a pre-existing tune, Es ist das Heil, says Leaver (Ibid.: 147. When these setting were published in the “Erfurter Enchiridion” in 1524, they were part of the Liturgical and Topical Index, divided into sections: The Service, The Church Year (Advent to St. Michael and all Angels), The Catechism, and The Gospel of the Reformation. The last section listed Ein neues Lied wir heben an, Nun freut euch, Ach Gott vom Himmel, siehe darein,8 “Ein feste Burg, and Erhalt uns, Herr, bei deinem Wort, says Luther’s Works, Vol. 53: Liturgy and Hymns.9

Each had its own melody in the hymnbook, often derived from pre-Reformation folk songs or a new tune composed by Johann Walther, the church’s first cantor. The melody of Ach Gott vom Himmel, siehe darein, in Hypo-phyrgian mode, “can be traced back to a secular song “Begierlich in dem Herzen mein” [“The lustful desires in my heart”] from about 1410,” says the BCW (Chorale Melodies, Ibid.). Meanwhile, Walther set Luther’s Psalm 12 text to a new melody in the Dorian mode. “One or both of these [melodies] could be by the Reformer [Luther], says Luther’s Works (Ibid.: 225). Later, “W.A. Mozart found the Hypo-phrygian melody in a textbook on counterpoint by the Bach pupil, J. P. Kirnberger, and used it in his Magic Flute for the song of the “Two Men in Armor” (Second Act, Finale), says Luther’s Works (Ibid.: 226).

Other Chorale Text Settings

Same associated melody with David Denicke 1646 text 2, "Schau, lieber Gott, wie mein Feind (Behold, dear God, how my enemies) is used as the opening plain chorale in Cantata BWV 153, S.1, for the Sunday after New Year 1724). The same melody with suggested text (NBA KB I/21), is Denicke’s “Herr, durch den Glauben wohn in mir,” S. 8 of “O Gottes Sohn, Herr Jesu Christ” is found as a closing plain chorale in Cantata BWV 77/6, Trinity +13). The melody only is developed in the Miscellaneous organ choprelude, BWV 741 (1700-1717). The melody also was used as an organ chorale prelude or a vocal setting with text by Johann Steffens (1560-1616), Johann Hermann Schein (1586-1630), Heinrich Schütz (1585-1672), Johann Heinrich Scheidemann (1595-1663), and Johann Pachelbel (1653-1706).

In Cantata 2, the opening chorale fantasia motet choruds, the cantus firmus enters in the alto voice of measure 16 in Cantata 2, found only in one other cantata, BWV 96, “Herr Christ, der einge Gottes Sohn,” for the 18th Sunday after Trinity 1724, notes Alberto Basso in the Oxford Composer Companions: J. S. Bach.10 Cantata 2 “contrasts sharply with the opening movements of cantatas, Nos. 20 and 7, and the contrast in underlined by the presence, as a kind of ostinato, of the passus duriusculus (a chromatic descent through the interval of a 4th) -- a feature also of the earlier Cantata 12/2 [chorus “Weinen, Klagen Sorgen Zagen,” Jubilate (Easter +2)] and the later Cantata 78/1 [chorale fantasia, “Jesu, der du meine Seele,” Trinity +24, 1724].”

Bach’s treatment of the chorale text and melody is quite simple and straightforward in Cantata 2, following the complexity of its predecessor, Cantata 20, in the opening fantasia and four of the internal arias and recitatives. In the opening Cantata 2 motet setting, “It is interesting that the phrase structure remains quite clear and one could almost say simple,” observes Craig Smith in Emmanuel Music Cantata 2 notes.11 “When we think of the elaborate phrase overlaps in the treatment of the previous week's chorale tune, O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort, these phrases seem very direct. One senses that the very complexity of harmony is enough for Bach here. Also there is an extraordinary economy of motive.”

In one paraphrased recitative and aria in Cantata 2, Bach sparingly quotes the text and melody in the opening of the recitative (Mvt. No. 2) and the melody in the alto aria (Mvt. 3). As Smith observes: “A line of the chorale sung by the solo tenor with continuo sets off the following recitative [“Sie lehren eitel falsche List” (They teach vain, false cunning).” “There is a marvelous moment [in the alto aria with solo violin, Mvt. 3] when the suave continuity comes to a stuttering halt at the words Trotz dem. A fragment of the chorale tune enters like a beacon bringing us back to the seriousness of the subject.” The last line is,” Trotz dem, der uns will meistern!” (they defy him, who wants to be our master!).

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

1. Coro [SATB]; Violino I e Trombone I col Soprano, Violino II e Oboe I/II e Trombone II coll'Alto, Viola e Trombone III col Tenore, Trombone IV col Basso, Continuo: “Ach Gott, vom Himmel sieh darein” (Ah God, look down from heaven); d minor hypo-phyrgian; 2/2 alle breve.
2. Recitativo (Tenor, Continuo): “Sie lehren eitel falsche List” (They teach vain, false cunning): arioso S.2/1; c minor to d minor, ends D Major; 4/4.
3. Aria trio free da-capo, galant (Alto; Violino solo, Continuo): A. “ Tilg, o Gott, die Lehren, / So dein Wort verkehren!” (Wipe out, o God, all the teachings / that pervert your word in this way); B. “Trotz dem, der uns will meistern!” (they defy him, who wants to be our master!); Bb Major; ¾.
4. Recitative (Bass; Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo) “Die Armen sind verstört” (The poor are bewildered, S. 4/1); “Ich hab ihr Flehn erhört” (I have heard their [Klag'] entreaty, S.4/4); concluding arioso, “Mein heilsam Wort soll sein die Kraft der Armen” (my holy word shall be strength for the poor, S.4/8); Eb Major to g minor; 4/4.
5. Aria da-capo, Italianate (Tenor; Oboe I/II, Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo: A. “Durchs Feuer wird das Silber rein” (Silver becomes pure through fire); B. “Drum soll ein Christ zu allen Stunden / Im Kreuz und Not geduldig sein” (Therefore a Christian at all hours / should be patient in his cross and distress; g minor 4/4.
6. Chorale [SATB; Violino I e Oboe I/II e Trombone I col Soprano, Violino II e Trombone II coll'Alto, Viola e Trombone III col Tenore, Trombone IV col Basso, Continuo): “Das wollst du, Gott, bewahren rein” (May you , God, keep pure that [Word]; d minor hypo-phyrgian, ends in D Major; 4/4.

The varied forms of the opening chorale fantasias are the subject of Julian Mincham’s Commentary introduction.12 <<This cantata is a full ten minutes shorter [20 minutes] than that which preceded it, C 20. Its theme is the barrenness of life on earth when separated from the word, trust and love of God in the midst of false prophets. Noteworthy is Bach's return to the older Germanic motet form for the first movement. It contrasts strongly with both C 76 (volume 1 chapter 3, written for this day one year earlier) and with C 20 which had begun with a choral French Overture. If there was any danger that conservative elements at Leipzig might have considered this rather too frivolous a form for serious religious purposes, C 2 may have acted as a defense against criticism by reasserting traditional values.

But the resurgence of the traditional is to be short lived. C 7, the third work of the cycle, will begin with an almost symphonic representation of the waters of the river Jordan, constructed around a ‘modern’ Italianate ritornello concerto structure. C 135 follows with a wholly original, delicate tone poem.

It would thus appear that, in making these wide ranging stylistic and structural choices for these four works performed in just over a fortnight, Bach is pre-empting his critics. He is, in effect, saying to his congregations and authorities, ‘you will be hearing music of all styles and nations; operatic, modern, traditional, experimental. All that matters is that the music is good and fit for purpose;' or indeed, 'well regulated' as he himself had described it some years before. If this is what he meant, is a statement of supreme confidence, even arrogance; but we may consider ourselves fortunate that his judgments were so sound! The fact that these four cantatas were all performed so closely together would, in itself, have highlighted the range and variety of styles, structures and modes of expression that Bach intended to present in the great Leipzig churches. In this respect his ambition was limitless.

Motet Settings, Cantata 2 Details

Bach’s strict motet settings of Luther’s chorales in his cantatas, the tonality and affects especially in Cantata 2, the tenor aria Cantata 2/5, and the loose relationship of the text to the day’s readings in the chorale cantatas are the topics in Peter Smaill’s commentary in BCML Discussions Part 2 (June 4, 2006):13 << BWV 2 could not be more different in its first movement from its predecessor BWV 20; in place of a contemporary Frenchified, secular-mocking, overture, we have a stern antique Motet. Bach seems to be aiming at "unity by diversity"; the first movements of the second cycle's Cantatas for the first three Sundays in Trinity are highly diverse.

In the case of BWV 2 the cause is Luther, Daniel Melamed, in his survey "Bach and the German Motet", notes that Chorales whose texts are by Luther are especially chosen for motet-style treatment: these are:

*BWV 4/5 [SATB & continuo chorale chorus, S. 4, “Es war ein wunderlicher Krieg” (It was a strange battle), Luther’s Christ lag in Todesbanden (Christ lies in the death’s bondage), Easter Festival 1707, 1724-25];
*BWV 182/7 [chorale chorus with orchestra, Paul Stockmann’s “Jesu, deine Pasion,” “Jesu Leiden, Pein undTod,”, Palm Sunday, 1714, 1724 and 1728]
*BWV 38/1 [chorale fantasia “Aus tiefer not schrei ich zu dir,” Trinity +21, 1724],
*BWV 121/1 [chorale fantasia, “Christum wir sollen loben schon,” Christmas 2, 1724];
*BWV 28/2 [motet “Nun lob mein Seel), Sunday after Christmas 1725];
*BWV 14/1 [[chorale fantasia, “Wär Gott nicht mit uns diese Zeit,” 4th Dunday after Trinity 1735] and
*BWV 80/1 [chorale fantasia, “Ein fests Burg ist unser Gott,” Reformation c.1730]. Either there is a text by Luther, or a "dictum" specially suited to the objective, didactic workings of a strict motet form.

With the brass parts "colla parte", the effect is particularly archaic and of severe beauty. The effect is due also to tmodalism of the Chorus, and also the final Chorale, “a plain choral setting" (Dürr, Ibid.).

Is it? Modulating into A Minor from G minor and resolving unexpectedly to D major at the end, in a similar fashion to the tonally-mysterious BWV 46, "Schauet doch", heard on the 10th Sunday after Trinity 1723?

Chafe, in "Analysing Bach's Cantatas", devotes many pages to BWV 2 and repeats the Werckmeister analysis of the peculiar tonality of the first and last movements as Hypophyrigian. The impact is that the only relief (apart from one aria) to the gloomy texts (and key settings) are the D major resolutions of the austere opening Motet and the final Chorale, both effects highly satisfying therefore (Chafe finds the Chorale ending ambiguous nevertheless).

Otherwise the greatest interest is the tenor aria, BWV 2/5. Here the contrary movement of the (rising) vocal line and (descending) lower parts seem to indicate both the distillation of silver from base metals and the extraction by of the Cross of the Christian from abandonment to the heretics and Godless. "Kreuz" is given exquisite chromatic melismas and (per Timothy A Smith) Circulatio ornamentation, making it the key-word of the Cantata.

As often in the Chorale cantatas there is only an approximate relationship to the readings for the day (It is a paraphrase of Psalm XII) - the Gospel of the absent supper-guests is ignored - and we have thus only a generalised reflection on the waywardness of mankind. But in what intense form!>>

Gardiner’s Musical Analysis

A detailed musical analysis is found in John Elliot Gardiner 2010 liner notes to the Soli Deo Gloria 2000 recordings.14 <<Martin Luther’s German hymn adaptation of Psalm 12 deplores how easily man is led astray by heresy. It provides the frame for Bach’s cantata BWV 2 Ach Gott, vom Himmel sieh darein, its inner strophes paraphrased as recitative/aria pairings. In sharp contrast to the run of instrumentally elaborate chorale fantasia openings of his second Leipzig cycle (1724/5), and no doubt prompted by the grim vignette of isolated huddles of the faithful in a heathen world of persecution, Bach chooses to set Luther’s opening verse as an archaic chorale motet. Within this austere, vocally dominant texture the cantus firmus stands out sung in long notes by the altos, doubled by a pair of oboes which add extra edge and glint to the chorale tune. Each line of the text is anticipated by successive fugal entries in the other voices doubled by cornetto, three trombones and strings. The progressive increase in the number of vocal-and-instrumental lines leading up to each new entry of the cantus firmus lends ‘a special structurally conditioned dynamic’ to this movement (Alfred Dürr: 404). Like other cantatas in the archaic motet style, such as BWV 121 Christum wir sollen loben schon, it has the engrossing quality of ritualised worship, the musical equivalent of those earnest, gaunt faces one comes across in fifteenth-century Flemish religious painting. Bach’s way of mitigating the severity of the extended fugue in D minor, with its chromatic descent through a fourth (passus duriusculus), is to insert its opposite, a chromatic ascent in the continuo line.

Like a preacher extrapolating his theme from the previous congregational hymn, the tenor {No. 2] fulminates against the idolatrous gang – ‘Sie lehren eitel falsche List’ (‘They teach vain and false deceit’). As one would expect, this is Luther again, and to the same anonymous chorale tune that Bach now sets in slow canon with the continuo. The target here is the ‘törichte Vernunft’ (foolish reason) that men use as their ‘compass’, and it leads to a savage denunciation of man’s futile attempts to base his salvation on his own puny efforts: ‘they are like the graves of the dead which, though fine from the outside, contain only rottenness and stench and display nothing but filth’.

The abrupt switch to the up-to-date concertante style for the alto aria [No. 3] with violin obbligato comes as a shock, though the sustained jeremiad against heretics and plotters is still present, audible in the combative chains of tripletised semiquavers in the violin part, the defiant staccato delivery of the continuo and the way the chorale melody resurfaces in the aria’s ‘B’ section (bars 56-9). Eventually the piteous appeal to God by the afflicted sinner is answered at the point where the second recitative (No.4) turns into arioso. We are told how God responds: ‘Ich muss ihr Helfer sein! Ich hab ihr Flehn erhört... Ich will mich ihrer Not erbarmen’ (‘I must be their Helper! I have heard their imploring... I shall take pity on their plight’), in a series of rising scalar phrases which counteract the overall descending tonal shape of this short cantata. The powerful tenor aria (No.5) perpetuates this recurring pattern of ascending lines in the upper strings and oboes against a series of counter-rotating figures in the continuo. Bach latches onto the analogy of ‘silver... purified through fire’ to signify the (re-) conversion of the Christian purified by the Cross. The allusion, and the way Bach suggests liquid movement or the flow of molten metal, is a reminder not just of his interest in precious metals and coins but of the contemporary search for the philosopher’s stone by successive apothecaries and alchemists working underground in Dresden for Augustus the Strong, intent on turning base metal into gold and discovering the secret (Arcanum) of porcelain instead.>> © John Eliot Gardiner 2010, From a journal written in the course of the Bach Cantata Pilgrimage

Luther's Chorale, Cantata 2 Musical Styles

The Lutheran hymn, theme of man turning away from God, and text uses are explored in Klaus Hofmann’s 2005 liner notes to the Masaaki Suzuki BIS cantata recordings.15 <<The cantata Ach Gott, vom Himmel sieh darein, written for the second Sunday after Trinity (l8th June 1724), is the second work in the chorale cantata year. The chorale on which it is based is indeed, as Carpzov would have said, a 'good, beautiful, old, evangelical and Lutheran hymn': both the text and the melody by Martin Luther himself (1524). The text is based on Psalm 12, a lament about mankind's shunning of God. The fine Phrygian melody - still used for this hymn in the Evangelical church - also found a very different application in Mozart's Magic Flute as the 'Song of the Armoured Men' ('Whoever walks along this path so full of troubles') and will thus strike many listeners as familiar.

Why this specific hymn was chosen for this cantata is uncertain. The gospel reading for the day is the parable of the Great Supper (Luke 14, 16-27). The decisive conceptual link is probably that both the hymn and the gospel tell of mankind turning away from God - in the parable, the guests make various excuses to stay away. Bach's librettist, following the pattern for these cantatas, left the first and last strophes textually unaltered, whilst the inner strophes were reworked as arias and recitatives. Here and there he left individual lines unchanged (second movement: 'Sie lehren eitel falsche List' ['They teach vain, spurious duplicity'; fourth movement: 'Die Amen sind verstdrt' ['The poor arc perplexed'], 'Ich hab ihr Flehn erhtft' ['I have heard their solicitation'] and 'Soll sein die Kraft der Armen' ['shall be the strength of the poor']), and no doubt the Leipzig audience, familiar with the hymn book. would have recognized these passages as quotations.

The opening chorus is emphatically archaic; history is, so to speak, 'composed in' in the form of a glimpse back to the Reformation and to the 'prehistory' of the Old Testament text that underlies Luther's hymn. The form and style of the movement archaic: it is a cantus firmus motet, which implies technical associations with the contrapuntally strict 'old style' ('stylus antiquus') of classical vocal polyphony. The cantus firmus is in the alto in this chorale, presented line-by line in long note values, each line with an anticipation from the other three vocal lines. In the old motet style, the instruments follow the voices; only the continuo part is largely independent. An especially old-fashioned tonacolour comes from the trombone quartet with which the vocal lines are combined. The entire movement is distinguished by a lamenting mood that is characteristic of the hymn tune. At the words 'erbarmen' ('show mercy') and 'wir Armen' ('we poor folk') Bach further emphasizes the lament character by - in a departure from the original - using a chromatic form of the hymn melody.

With the following movements, however, Bach returns completely to the musical style of his own time. In the tenor recitative (second movement) he combines the opening line 'Sie lehren eitel falsche List' ('They teach vain, spurious duplicity' - taken verbatim from Luther's original) with the original melody moreover, writes the continuo part in canon, thereby rendering the quotation unmistakable. The alto aria (third movement), in which the voice and solo violin perform as a richly unfolding duet, is largely dominated by an omipresent three note cambiata motif held at the outset from the continuo and solo violin and associated in the vocal line, with the words 'Tilg, o Gott' ('Erase, O God'). Towards the end of the middle section, Bach unexpectedly introduces the chorale melody for four bars to the words Trotz dem, der uns will meistem' ('Defy him, who wishes to subjugate us'). In the following accompanied bass recitative, Bach emphasizes God's words 'Ich muss ihr Helfer sein! Ich hab ihr Flehn erhitrt' ('I must be their helper! I have held their solicitation') with arioso writing. The tenor's da capo aria repeats individual motifs (e.g. quaver figures in the instrumental lines, rising or falling stepwise) and individual rhythmic patters with surprising persistence. The four-part concluding chorale is simple, as usual; only at the words 'für diesem arg'n Geschlechte' ('from this evil race') does the harmony depart from convention; it becomes unruly and rebellious and thereby characterizes the godless people of whom the text speaks.>> © Klaus Hofmann 2005


1 Dürr, Cantatas of J. S. Bach, revised and translated by Richard D. P. Jones (Oxford University Press, New York, 2005: 403f).
2 Cantata 2 Details & Discography,
Scoring: Soloists, Alto, Tenor, Bass; 4-part Chorus; Orchestra: 4 trombones, 2 violins, 2 oboes, viola, continuo; Score Vocal & Piano [1.46 MB],; Score BGA [1.73 MB],; References, BGA: I (Cantatas 1-10, Moritz Hauptmann ed. 1851), NBA KB I/16 (Cantatas 2nd Sunday after Trinity, George S. Bozarth 1981), Bach Compendium BC: A 98, Zwang: K 75.
3 Cantata 2 Text: Martin Luther (Mvts. 1, 6 - after Psalm 12 (Salvum me fac, Help, Lord, (; Anon (Mvts. 2-5); Luther/anonymous German text and Francis Browne English translation and “Notes on the Text,” BCW,
4 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).
5 Cantata 2, BCML Discussions Part 1,
6 Leaver, Luther’s Liturgical Music, Lutheran Quarterly Books (Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing” Grand Rapids MI: 117f).
7 Luther’s companion setting of Psalm 14, "Es spricht der Unweisen Mund wohl" (The unknown mouth speaks well), is the Hymn of the Day for the First Sunday after Trinity and a Communion Hymn for the Second and Ninth Sundays after Trinity, and the Pulpit Hymn for the 20th Sunday and the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany in the NLGB.
8 Ach Gott vom Himmel, siehe darein is listed as No. 205, “O Lord, Look Down From Heaven, Behold,” for Reformation, in The Lutheran Hymnal, Missouri Synod (Concordia Publishing: St. Louis, 1941).
9 Luther’s Works, Fortress Press: Philadelphia PA, 1965: 209f).
10 OCC: J. S. Bach, edited Malcolm Boyd, Malcolm (Oxford University Press: New York, 1999: 2).
11 Emmanuel Music Cantata 2 notes,
12 Mincham, The Cantatas of Johann Sebastian Bach: A listener and student guide, Revised 2014;
13 Cantata 2, BCML Discussions Part 2,
14[sdg165_gb].pdf; Recording details,
15 Hofmann notes,[BIS-SACD1461].pdf; BCW Recording details,


To Come: Motets and Chorales for the Second Sunday after Trinity and early Trinity Time chorales with the theme “Christian Life and Conduct.”

Luke Dahn wrote (May 25, 2014):
As mentioned in William Hoffman's notes, Bach composed three settings of the "Ach Gott, vom Himmel sieh darein" for plain 4-voice chorale, all three receiving their first performance within the span of 10 months.

BWV 77.6 -- 22 August 1723, 13th Sunday after Trinity
BWV 153.1 -- 2 January 1724, Sunday after New Year
BWV 2.6 -- 18 June 1724, 2nd Sunday after Trinity

The document linked below contains all three settings one by one in their original keys, following by all three settings in alignment and put into the same key for easy comparison. Included with these aligned chorales is the setting of the hymn as it appears in the Neu Leipziger Gesangbuch.

A comparison of BWV 2.6 with the other settings yields a few noteworthy observations.

1) It appears that Bach had chorales 77.6 and 153.1 at hand when composing 2.6. Of the 40 beats corresponding to the 40 notes in this melody, 12 are identical (or virtually identical) to 77.6 and 16 are identical to 153.1. A total of 21 beats (over half the melody) are identical to either 77.6 or 153.1. Phrase 1, for example, can be divided in half: the first four beats are identical to 153.1, the second four beats are identical to 77.6. Divergences in 2.6 are most striking in phrases 2 and 4, and in the final cadence.

2) This is the only Bach 4-part chorale that I am aware of that features a true Neapolitan chord. It comes at the pickup into phrase 2 (Ab major chord). This highly chromatic phrase colorfully depicts the text here ("für diesem arg'n Geschlechte" and "dass sich's in uns nicht flechte").

An allusion to the Neapolitan is also heard at the beginning of the penultimate phrase. The cadence just prior establishes D minor, so the Eb major chord appearing on the first downbeat of the penultimate phrase is D minor's Neapolitan, though its affect and function as Neapolitan is attenuated by the ensuing modulation to G minor, as well as by its less common root position structure. Again, the chromatic saturation in this phrase helps paint the text ("lose Leute").

3) The unique final cadence of this chorale is particularly beautiful, in my opinion, with A major chord (V of ) being given agogic emphasis.

William Hofman wrote (May 30, 2014):
Cantata 2, Trinity +2 Chorales

See: Motets & Chorales for 2nd Sunday after Trinity

Aryeh Oron wrote (May 31, 2014):
Cantata BWV 2 - Revised & Updated Discography

The discography pages of Cantata BWV 2 “Ach Gott, vom Himmel sieh darein” for alto, tenor, bass & 4-part chorus; 4 trombones, 2 violins, 2 oboes, viola & continuo on the BCW has been revised and updated. See:
Complete Recordings (13):
Recordings of Individual Movements (3):
The revised discography includes many listening/watching options to recordings directly from the discography pages, just below the recording details.

You may have noticed that in the recent revisions of Cantata Discographies, I have started adding the complete personnel of participants in the recordings: not only conductor, vocal & instrumental ensembles and vocal soloists, but also instrumental soloists, members of the ensembles, producers and recording engineers.

I believe this is the most comprehensive discography of this choral cantata. If you are aware of a recording of BWV 2 missing from these pages, or want to correct/add details of a recording already presented on the BCW, please do not hesitate to inform me.


Cantata BWV 2: Ach Gott, vom Himmel sieh darein for 2nd Sunday after Trinity
Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements
Discussions: 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: Wednesday, September 27, 2017 00:01