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Cantata BWV 31
Der Himmel lacht! Die Erde jubilieret
Discussions - Part 4

Continue from Part 3

Discussions in the Week of March 27, 2016 (4th round)

William Hoffman wrote (March 27, 2016):
Easter Sunday, Cantata 31, Intro.

Following the premiere of his new St. John Passion, BWV 245, on Good Friday, April 7, 1723, which was composed during the Lenten Season, Bach for the three-day Easter Festival, beginning on Easter Sunday, the day of the Lord’s resurrection, presented repeats or revisions of previously composed music. On Easter Sunday, the 1707 Mülhausen chorale Cantata BWV 4, Christ lag in Todesbanden (Christ lies in death’s bondage) and Weimar 1715 chorus Cantata BWV 31, “Der Himmel lacht! die Erde jubilieret” (The heavens laugh! The earth shouts with joy), were reperformed at the early main service at Nikolaikirche with Superintendent Salomon Deyling (1677-1755) preaching the sermon from the Gospel: Mark 16: 1-8, “Christ is risen,” says Martin Petzoldt in Bach Commentary, Vol. 2, Advent to Trinityfest.1

Bach also presented as part of his first Leipzig cantata service cycle Cantatas 4 and 31 at the St. Paul University Church, says Petzoldt, as required of him as Thomas cantor, on major feast days. The preacher is not identified, while at the main midday service at St. Thomas the sermon was preached by pastor Christian Weise (1671-1736). In Mark’s brief account, the two Marys encountering an open tomb and told by an angel that Jesus of Nazareth is arisen and “he goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see him.” The Easter Sunday Epistle in Bach’s time was 1 Corinthians 5:7-8, “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us.” The German text of Luther’s 1545 translation and the English Authorised (King James) Version 1611 is found at BCW,

The Easter Sunday Introit Psalm 110, Dixit Dominus, The Lord said unto my Lord (KJV), says Petzoldt, emphasizes that “man shall praise God” and was a popular polyphonic motet setting, also performed at Easter Sunday vespers. The full text (KJV) of Psalm 110 is found at

For the entire Easter Season of 14 services completing the first cycle, Bach recycled as much music as possible, revising festive Köthen serenades for the second and third days of the Easter Festival, Monday observing the Walk to Emaus, and Tuesday, Christ’ first appearance to the disciples, as well as the Pentecost Festival second and third days and the Trinity Sunday Festival. For the Motets and Chorales for the Easter Festival, see BCW For Pentecost Sunday, Bach was able to repeat Weimar Cantata 172, “Erschallet, ihr Lieder, erklinget, ihr Saiten!” (Ring out, you songs, resound, you strings!), and for Jubilate (4th Sunday after Easter), Weimar Cantata 12, “Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen” (Weeping, lamentation, / worry, apprehension). For the remaining fine Sundays after Easter and Ascension Day, Bach was required to compose new music and struggled to find appropriate texts.

While most of Bach’s previous double-bills in Cycle 1 involved one repeat and one new work, the Easter Sunday and Trinityfest were able to re-use two earlier works. Cantata 4, “Christ lag in Todesbanden,” which was appropriate for the Easter Festival (BCW Details,, is explored in depth in recent BCML Discussions, Part 5, Week of May 30, 2010,, and Part 6, March 1, 2015,

Festive Weimar Cantata 31

Easter Cantata 31, “Der Himmel lacht! die Erde jubilieret,” is one of Bach’s most ambitious early works, with nine movements and large orchestra. Others with trumpets and drums are: BWV 71, “Gott is mein König” (God is my King), Mühlhausen Town Council, 1708, and BWV 21, “Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis in meinem Herzen” (I had much affliction in my heart) for any time, c1712. Cantata 31 for Easter 1715 (Franck libretto), was the third large festive work composed in Weimar as part of his monthly obligation to the court. The other two were Cantata 63, “Christen, ätzet diesen Tag” (Christians, engrave this day) Christmas etc. 1714 (?Heineccius libretto); and 172, Pentecost, 1714 (probably Franck).

Cantata 31 was Bach’s most ambitious and impressive (festive) modern cantata, to the text of a well-known poet, Salomo Franck.2 It “is the most lavishly scored of Bach’s pre-Leipzig vocal works (including a five-part choir),” observes Ton Koopman in the notes to his Erato CD.3 The instruments are three trumpets and timpani, three oboes and taille, bassoon, strings and continuo. “Bach was clearly very fond of this work since he gave several revivals in Leipzig between 1724 and 1731.” The Koopman recording can be heard at

Lasting almost a half hour with various da-capo-type repeats, its nine movements involve three each arias and recitatives with opening chorus, closing plain chorale, and beginning sinfonia. Of particular distinction are an extended sinfonia in 6/8 dance style, a four-part intricate chorus, bass Vox Christi recitative arioso, and appealing soprano aria in dance style (no. 8) with chorale melody in the strings repeating and harmonized in the closing chorale.4

The closing congregational hymn is Nikolaus Hermann’s 1562 4-stanza, 7 line “Wenn mein Stündlein vorhanden ist” (If the hour of my death is at hand), stanza 5, “So fahr ich hin zu Jesu Christ” (In this way I shall journey towards Jesus Christ). It is found in Das neu Leipzig Gesangbuch of 1682 as No. 329, “Death and Dying.” Anonymous Stanza 5 was added in 1575, as well as four others. Reformer Hermann (c1480-1561) BCW Brief Biography is found at German text and Francis Browne English translation are found at BCW, Text and melody information are found at BCW, Most often sung at the Easter Festival, Bach set this hymn melody as plain chorales in Cantata 95/7 (S.4), for Trinity 16 1723, and plain chorales BWV 428-430 in G and A Major, one of which is set to Andreas Kritzelmann’s 1672 “Betrübtes Herz, sei wohlgemut” (O troubled heart, be courageous).

Cantata 31 was premiered on Easter Sunday, April 21, 1715 at the Schloßkirche before the sermon of Superintendent Johann Georg Layritz (1647-1716 and possible repeat on April 12, 1716, says Petzoldt (Ibid.: 680). Leipzig repeats were April 9, 1724 (Cycle 1), and March 25, 1731, following the St. Mark Passion, with possible repeat April 10, 1735 during Christological Cycle, following the St. Luke Passion, BWV 246.

Cantata 31 movements, scoring, incipit; key, meter:5

1. Sonata Bar Form (AABa) [Tromba I-III, Timpani, Oboe I-III, Taille, Fagotto, Violino I/II, Viola I/II, Viloncello I/II, Continuo]; C Major; 6/8 gigue-passepied style.
2. Chorus in four parts [SSATB; Tromba I-III, Timpani, Oboe I-III, Taille, Fagotto, Violino I/II, Viola I/II, Violoncello I/II, Continuo): A, Allegro, 2 fugues, “Der Himmel lacht! die Erde jubilieret” (The heavens laugh! The earth shouts with joy); B, Adagio “Der sich das Grab zur Ruh erlesen” (He who has chosen the grave for rest); C. Allegro 5-part cann, “Der Heiligste kann nicht verwesen.” (the Holiest, cannot decay.); A’, instrumental fugue; C Major; 4/4.
3. Recitative secco with arioso Vox Christi [Bass; Violoncello II, Continuo]: “Erwünschter Tag!” (Longed for day!); arioso, “sei, Seele, wieder froh!” (Be joyful again, soul!); “Das A und O . . . / Den unsre schwere Schuld in Todeskerker setzte, / Ist nun gerissen aus der Not!” (The alpha and omega . . . / whom our heavy guilt put in death's prison, / is now torn away from misery!); arioso, “lebt unser Haupt, so leben auch die Glieder” (If our head lives, the limbs live also); “Der Herr hat in der Hand” / Des Todes und der Hölle Schlüssel!” (The Lord has in his hand / the keys of death and hell!); arioso, “mit Schmuck und Ehren kleiden.” (to be clothed with adornment and honour.); C Major to e minor; 4/4.
4. Aria free da-capo ostinato [Bass; Violoncello II, Continuo]: A. “Fürst des Lebens, starker Streiter” (Prince of life, mighty champion); B. “Hebet dich des Kreuzes Leiter / Auf den höchsten Ehrenthron?” (Does the ladder of the cross raise you / to the highest throne of honour?); C Major; 4/4.
5. Recitative secco [Tenor; Violoncello II, Continuo]: “So stehe dann, du gottergebne Seele, / Mit Christo geistlich auf!” (So now, you soul devoted to God, / rise up with Christ in your spirit!); a minor to G Major; 4/4.
6. Aria two-part with ritornelli [Tenor; Violino I/II, Viola I/II, Viloncello I/II, Continuo]: A. Adam muß in uns verwesen / Soll der neue Mensch genesen,” (Adam must in us decay, / the new man should grow stronger.); B. Du “mußt geistlich auferstehen” (You must arise in spirit); G Major; 4/4.
7. Recitative secco [Soprano; Violoncello II, Continuo]: . . . “So kann mich nichts von Jesu scheiden” (nothing then can separate me from Jesus.); e minor to C Major; 4/4.
8. Aria in 3 parts (and Chorale melody, “Wenn mein Stündlein,” violins) [Soprano; Oboe, Violino I/II all' unisono, Viola I/II all' unisono, Violoncello II, Continuo]: A. “Letzte Stunde, brich herein” (Last hour, break now upon me); B. “Laß mich Jesu Freudenschein” (Let me gaze on the joyous radiance of Jesus); C. “Laß mich Engeln ähnlich sein!” (Let me be like the angels!); C Major; ¾ generic dance.
9. Chorale plain [SSATB; Tromba I, Oboe I-III, Taille, Fagotto, Violino I/II, Viola I/II, Viloncello I/II, Continuo]: “So fahr ich hin zu Jesu Christ” (In this way I shall journey towards Jesus Christ); C Major 4/4.

Easter Cantatas 4, 31: Contrasts

Bach’s early Easter Cantatas 4 ad 31 are quite a contrast between Luther’s chorale, “Christ Lag in Todesbanden”,” and festive Cantata 31, says Tadashi Isoyama's 1997 liner notes for vol 6 of Suzuki's Cantata cycle on BIS records.6 <<With the exception of the Easter Oratorio, only two of Bach's cantatas for Easter Day are still in existence: BWV 4 and BWV 31. Both of these works are relatively early but offer a wide range of contrasts, and were often reperformed in Leipzig.

Unlike BWV 4, which looks back on the Passion through a Lutheran chorale text, BWW 31, which uses a libretto by Salomo Franck, is a true festival piece, requiring three trumpets, timpani, three oboes and an oboe da caccia, which captures the great rejoicing of Jesus's resurrection. This rejoicing is transformed into fervent hope of participation in the resurrection of Christ, at last leading to a great chorale singing of death and eternity. The cantata was first performed on 21st April 1715, when Bach had just turned 30. It was heard again the very next year…

The cantata opens with a movement entitled Sonata, which is a concerto-like instrumental overture. Dancing 6/8 metre here is evocative of the Brandenburg Concertos. As this movement ends, the chorus introduces the shouts of 'The heavens laugh! The earth rejoices!' The Allegro C major chorus uses short blocks and fugue-sections in alternation to present very lively images of 'laugh' and 'rejoice'. After an Adagio section in A minor, which refers to the grave and rest, and an Allegro section, which praises the Most High, the opening idea returns to close the movement.

Next the bass announces Christ's resurrection (Recitative, number 3). Bach's meticulous use of tempo changes, perfectly suited to the words they accompany, creates an ideal musical rendition of the Bible verse. The bass continues in the fourth movement to an aria in C major with basso continuo, marked Molto adagio. Images from the text, painting the Lord as 'Prince of life, strong Champion,' are powerfully declaimed. Schweitzer called this 'rhythm of solemnity'; a sharply demarcated rhythm is brought out here.

With the tenor's bright exhortation to the soul to look to the new life in spirit, the perspective changes in the fifth movement to portray the path of the believer. Here follows a sprightly G major aria for full strings (number 6), in which the believer becomes 'der neue Mensch' ('the new man'), free from the grip of sin.

From this point on, the cantata becomes more spiritual in focus; the narration is from the viewpoint of the soul in the first person (number 7, soprano recitative). The conviction of participation in the resurrection of Christ and in the attainment of everlasting life is here emphatically presented. The soprano aria in the eighth movement (C major) is filled with a mysterious brightness. The oboe obbligato with its echo effect blends with the solo soprano voice, and in the background the violins and violas accompany her with the melody of the closing chorale ('Wenn mein Stündlein vorhanden ist' [When my last hour is at hand]).

The last movement of the cantata, the above mentioned chorale, contains a remnant of the exuberance of the opening movement. In an exquisite emphasis on the attainment of eternal heavenly life as the true joy of the Resurrection, the first trumpet and first violin soar above the chorus, shimmering like the halo for which the soul waits.">>

Selected Cantata 31 excerpts from previous BCW discussions:

Revelation A&O, Balancing Imagery

The conept of Alpha and Omega from Revelation, as well as the balanced sacrificial imagery are explored in Peter Smail’s commentary (April 24, 2005):7 <<The progression from the riotous laughter of heaven and earth to the intimate and affecting close provides a varying and dramatic scheme of arresting significance and human interest, and Bach's magical touch has endowed every phase of it with immortal art' (Whittaker on BWV 31.) However, scholarship has moved on since Whittaker, and more points of interest emerge - if it were possible adding to the significance of this work which, contains one the greatest choruses (BWV 31/2), most beautiful arias (BWV 31/8), and noblest chorales (BWV 31/9).

The development of interest on the textual front is the alignment by Eric Chafe of this cantata with the New Year piece, BWV 41 ("Jesu nun sei gepreiset"), and also less directly with BWV 1 ("Wie schoen leuchtet) BWV 140, BWV 49 and BWV 61. The idea expressed by Chafe [?Tonal Allegory] as the key, is the "Angfang und Ende": the "beginning and end "; that Jesus is made, the "Alpha and Omega", "A und O."

This allusion to Jesus derives from the quasi-apocryphal Book of Revelation and finds expression particularly in BWV 31 and BWV 41. One is for Easter Day; the other New Year. BWV 1 is set for the the Annunciation; BWV 61, the first Sunday in Advent. Only BWV 49 ("My treasure is the A and O"), for the twentieth Sunday after Trinity, is not a major date in the calendar. As we discussed, BWV 140 is for end of a very prolonged Trinity. Chafe detects in the alignment of the "A and O" ideas, alternately the "Morningstar "concept, a deliberate marking out in Bach's libretto of the order of salvation implied by "Anfang und Ende" each time it is found on a significant and related date in the liturgical year.

In BWV 31, the A und O idea comes immediately after the dialogue of heavenly trumpets and earthly choir in the Chorus 31/2. Imagine the effect in the high gallery of the Himmelsburg in Weimar on Easter Day!

The allusions to "Death's prison" resonate with [the aria] "Durch deine gefaengnis" [Through Your Impirisionment] in the SJP (BWV 245). Bach accommodates the theologically competing emphases regarding the Resurrection; both the idea of "Christus Victor" (breaking out of prison, breaking the bonds of sin, taking the keys of hell, mighty warrior); and that of Atonement/sacrifice (emphasising the efficacy of the wounds of Jesus, suffering with Christ, the unlocking of the door of Heaven), are found together, or rather, in sequence as the narrative progresses.

A fuller discussion of these tensions can be found in Jaroslav Pelikan's book "Bach among the Theologians", where he contrasts the emphasis in the SJP (BWV 245) and SMP (BWV 244) and notes that the 'Christmas Oratorio' (BWV 248) in its final chorale conflates triumphalist text/ trumpets with the sacrificial theology of the chorale which includes "O haupt von Blut und Wunden." But it also appears to me that Bach is also, in this early collaboration with Salomo Franck, also balancing sacrificial and triumphalist imagery.

Unusually this libretto has two references to colours; the red-sprinkled robe (from Isaiah, OT), and the purple wounds; perhaps derived from the "purple cloak" in Mark, NT). I read once that colour /color is absent from the Gospels (except for white and purple); and thus rare too in the cantata texts, despite the references to extra-biblical mystical imagery.

The contemplation of death in the midst of Easter joy suprises some commentators, bringing forth from Bach the lovely "Letze Stunde, brich herein" (BWV 31/8). As with other sterbenlied, pizzicato is used, when a repeated monotone in the bass, suggests the ticking of clocks and the passage of time. The theme of renewal, the "neue Mensch" appears, as in the schlusschoral of BWV 22, the probe cantata :

"Ertodt uns durch dein Gute
erweck Uns durch dein Gnad ;
Deb alte menschen kranke,
Dass der neu leben mag
wohl hier aug dieser Erden.
("Mortify us through thy Goodness
Awake us through thy Grace
Chasten in us the old man
That the new life may live well here on earth...")

Thus it is that this cantata provides us not just with a musical feast, but a theological one in which libretto and setting illustrate the antitheses of old man and new life, beginning and end, victor and victim, sinner and saved, living and dying, today and eternity, sleeping and waking, heaven and hell.>>

Five-Voice Chorus, Provenance

|Thomas Braatz wrote (April 24, 2005): <<Doug Cowling wrote: This cantata is one of those rare instances of Bach writing for five voice choir (SSATB). The most notable other examples are in the Magnificat and the Mass in B Minor. Is there any significance to Bach's choice of scoring?>> <<In keeping with its editorial policy ('aus letzter Hand'= the last version available represents the composer's final intention) of ascertaining and printing the latest version (often they do print earlier versions as well as later versions), the NBA, in this instance presents BWV 31/2 as SSATB. As David Schulenberg (OCC: JSB, 136f) determined, it is 'the only such mvt. in Bach's regular Sunday cantatas' [actually, Easter is anything but a 'regular' Sunday!] A glance at the BWV (Alfred Dürr, et al, 1998) will inform the reader that this cantata is for SATB as far as the choral forces are concerned. Interesting! To find out what has really happened here, it is necessary to consult the NBA KB I/9 pp. 34ff for Bach's original intentions on April 21, 1715. Even here the editor (Alfred Dürr in 1986) came to the conclusion (a 'wild' guess without any evidence to back it up other than that Bach once performed this mvt. in 1731 with a second soprano part) that among the missing vocal parts there must have been two soprano parts [p. 44). Fortunately, on p. 35, the NBA KB gives the necessary evidence in the form of an autograph [!!!] title page from 1715 which states quite clearly: Feria 1 | Pashatos. | Der Himmel lacht, die Erde jubilieret | a | 4 Voci. | 3 Trombe | Tamburi | 2 Hautbois. | 2 Violini | 2 Viole | 3 | Continuo | di | Joh. Seb. Bach. Based upon this, we can assuredly assume that the 1st performance of this work had only a single soprano part.>>

Sources: manuscript Cycle 1 estate division: (1) score (lost, probably WFB); parts set (copyists JSB etc., to CPEB, now Krakow St. 14).


1 Petzoldt, Bach Kommentar: Theologisch Musikwissenschaftlicke Kommentierung der Geistlichen Vokalwerke Johann Sebastan Bachs; Vol. 2, Die Geistlichen Kantaten vom 1. Advent bis zum Trinitatisfest; Internationale Bachakademie Stuttgart (Kassel: Bärenreiter, 2007: 672f, 680).
2 Materials from Cantata 31, BCML Discussion Part 3 (June 5, 2010),
3 Koopman liner notes,[AM-3CD].pdf|
BCW Recording details,
4 Cantata 31 BCW details, Score Vocal & Piano [2.16 MB], Score BGA [4.44 MB], References: BGA VII (Cantatas 31-40, Wilhelm Rust, 1857), NBA KB I/9 (Easter, Dürr 1986)), Bach Compendium BC A 55, Zwang K 18. Literature: min. score Eulenberg (Schering 1929), Whittaker I:121-5, Robertson 104ff, Daw 58ff, Young 13f, Dürr 285ff.
5 Cantata 31 German text and Francis Browne English translation, BCW
6 Isoyama notes[BIS-CD851].pdf; BCW Recording details
7 Smail commentary, Cantata 31, BCML Discussion Part 2,

To Come Easter Festival Monday and Tuesday: Cantatas 66, "Erfreuet euch, ihr Herzen" Rejoice, ye hearts), and 134, "Ein Herz, das seinen Jesum lebend weiss" (A heart that its Jesus living knows).

Peter Smaill wrote (March 27, 2016):
A sideline related to this wonderful cantata is the fact that the manuscript is not in Leipzig or even Berlin, but in the Jagiellonian Library in Cracow, Poland.

It was part of the so-called "Berlin Collection" which included BWV 99 , one of the cantata settings of "Was Gott tut, das ist Wohlgetan". that appear to have originated in the Sing-Akademie collection made over to the Prussian state collection in 1854, and towards the end of WW2 were stored at the monastery of Gruessau, near Breslau in Silesia. Silesia was overrun at the end of the war and now is part of Poland.

Part of the collection also included Mozart's "Cosi fan Tutte" and "Zauberflote" as well as Beethoven' 8th and 9th symphonies.

Unlike the Altbachischer Archiv, which was recovered from Kiev, there seems to be no current moto repatriate the Bach works in Cracow to Germany; in the digital age it perhaps matters much less than once it did. Since Bach was Court composer to the King of Poland it is also perhaps appropriate that at least some of compositions are looked after there; the body of Elector of Saxony and King of Poland (Frederick) Augustus (II/III) lies in the cathedral at Cracow, although his heart was taken to a monastery in Dresden....

Aryeh Oron wrote (April 2, 2016):
Cantata BWV 31 - Revised & updated Discography

The discography pages of Cantata BWV 31 "Der Himmel lacht! Die Erde jubilieret" (The heavens laugh! The earth shouts with joy) for Easter Sunday on the BCW have been revised and updated.
The cantata is scored for soprano, tenor & bass soloists; 5-part chorus; and orchestra of 3 trumpets, timpani, 3 oboes, taille, 2 violins, 2 violas, 2 violoncellos, bassoon & continuo. See:
Complete Recordings (20):
Recordings of Individual Movements (22):
The revised discography includes many listening/watching options to recordings directly from the discography pages, just below the recording details.

I also put at the BCW Home Page:
2 audios and 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 is the most comprehensive discography of this cantata. If you are aware of a recording of BWV 31 missing from these pages, or want to correct/add details of a recording already presented on the BCW, please do not hesitate to inform me.

You can also read on the BCW the recent discussion of the cantata in the BCML (4th round):



Cantata BWV 31: 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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