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Cantata BWV 57
Selig ist der Mann
Discussions - Part 4

Continue from Part 3

Discussions in the Week of April 20, 2014 (4th round)

William Hoffman wrote (April 20, 2014):
Cantata 57: Selig ist der Mann: Intro. & Chorale

In December 1725, the three-day Christmas Festival of December 25-27 fell exactly in the middle of the week, on a Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday respectively, far from the Leipzig Sunday main services that required, after the Christmas festivities, a full-scale cantata before the service sermon. Serendipitously, Bach found the 1711 church year text of Georg Christian Lehms fit the bill with mostly less challenging, shorter, one-part and more intimate texts. After the expected Christmas Day festivities of Cantata BWV 110, “Unser Mund sei voll Lachens” (May our mouth be filled with laughter) to a basic morning service text, the others Bach had at hand were shorter texts designed for vesper services for the feast days the Second and Third Days of Christmas and the feasts of New Years Day (Circumcision) and Epiphany, as well as the Sunday after Christmas and the first two Sundays after Epiphany on January 6, 1726.

Particularly appealing were the Lehms non-festive texts for the Second and Third Days of Christmas, using the alternate New Testament Readings for the Feast of St. Stephen (December 26), the first Christian martyr, and St. John, the Evangelist (December 27). This enabled Bach, after presenting two full-blown church-year cycles without a break, to explore other facets of a well-ordered church music to the glory of God. In his final, extant church-year cycle Bach often utilized simpler, more intimate and older poetic cantata texts from Rudolstadt (1704), and those of Lehms and Erdmann Neumeister first published 1711.

Bach’s first in a series of four third cycle Soul-Jesus soprano-bass dialogue cantatas, BWV 57, “Selig ist der Mann, der die Anfechtung erduldet” (Blessed is the man who endures temptation; James 1:12a) was presented on Wednesday. December 26, 1725. A repeat performance is possible at an undetermined date based upon some autograph indications added by Bach to the brass parts.1

This solo cantata, entitled by Bach as Concerto in Dialogo (for Soprano [Anima] & Bass [Jesus]) for 2nd Day of Christmas [St. Stefanus Day] has the following Readings: Epistle, Acts 6:8-15, 7: 55-60 (Martyrdom of Stephen) Gospel, Matthew 23:35-39 (Jerusalem kills the prophets), BCW The Introit Psalm is Psalm 98, Cantata Domino, “O Sing unto the Lord a new song” On December 26, 1725, at the morning main service the sermon at the Thomas Church on the Gospel was preached by Deacon Gottfried Sieber (1669-1741) and the afternoon vesper service on the Epistle at the Nikolaus Church was preached by Friedrich Werner (1659-1741), according to Martin Petzoldt.2

Cantata 57 contains many features found in his intimate solo cantatas concentrated in the third cycle. In Italian opera style, it uses a series of alternating narrative recitatives and commentary arias as sacred drama. Its instrumental accompaniment includes two plaintive oboes and the darker taille (tenor oboe) with strings. The opening “densely polyphonic five-part texture . . . anticipates the opening movement of the ‘Kreutzstab’ Cantata BWV 56 [BCML Discussion March 9], performed in the following autumn,” observes Richard D. P. Jones in his recent The Creative Development of Johann Sebastian Bach, Volume II: 1717-1750.

All four extended arias, with different instrumentation, are in triple time, the first three in ¾ sarabande-menuett style, and the last in 3/8 gigue-passepied with solo violin. Lasting almost a half an hour, Cantata 57 features in two of eight movements (Nos. 4 and 7) distinctive questions that are answered in the succeeding movements (Nos. 5 and 8). It is a technique Lehms selectively used in his intimate, reflective cantata texts. This personal dramatic device is reminiscent of the motto thematic musical-textual expression sounded in one movement and repeated in another in six Bach 1726+ solo cantatas (BWV 169, BWV 56, BWV 49, BWV 55, BWV 82, and BWV 158) to an anonymous poet, possibly Picander.

Interestingly, the work opens with the bass aria as the Vox domini followed by the soprano soul in an operatic recitative-aria pairing. Then are the first of two(!) extended, descriptive dialogue recitatives of fidelity and union with a affirmative, consoling Jesus aria in between. The collective soul of the congregation sings an affirmative closing chorale chosen by Bach and differing from Lehms’ original. Surprisingly there is no central, show-stopping duet aria for soprano and bass in Lehms’ poetic scheme.

The eight movements, scoring, text incipits, key, and time signature are:4

1. Aria [arioso] two-part (Bass; Oboe I e Violino I all' unisono, Oboe II e Violino II all' unisono, Taille e Viola all' unisono, Organo, Continuo): A. “Selig ist der Mann, der die Anfechtung erduldet” (Blessed is the man who endures temptation); B. “denn, nachdem er bewähret ist” (for after he has proved himself); g minor, ¾ time.

2. Recitative (Soprano; Organo obligato e Continuo): “Ach! dieser süße Trost” (Ah, this sweet consolation) . . .

So müßte Mut und Herze brechen / Und voller Trauren sprechen:” (then my heart and courage would have to break /and full of sadness say); E-Flat Major to c minor, 4/4 time.

3. Aria free da-capo (Soprano; Violino I/II, Viola e Continuo): A. “Ich wünschte mir den Tod, den Tod” (I would wish for myself death, death); B. “Ja wenn du mich annoch betrübtest” (Indeed, if you were still causing me distress); c minor, ¾ time.

4. Recitative (Dialogue) (Bass, Soprano; Continuo): Bass: “Ich reiche dir die Hand” (I reached out my hand to you); Soprano: “Ach! süßes Liebespfand” Ah! sweet pledge of love); g minor to B-Flat Major, 4/4 time.

5. Aria da-capo (Bass; Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo): A. “Ja, ja, ich kann die Feinde schlagen” (Yes indeed, I can strike the enemies); B. “Bedrängter Geist, hör auf zu weinen” (spirit in distress, cease to weep); B-Flat Major, ¾ time.

6. Recitative (Dialogue ) [Bass, Soprano; Continuo] Bass: “In meiner Schoß liegt Ruh und Leben” (In my bosom there lie rest and life); Soprano: “Ach! Jesu, wär ich schon bei dir” (Ah! Jesus, I wish that I were already with you); E-Flat Major to d minor.

7. Aria two-part (Soprano; Violino solo, Continuo): A. “Ich ende behände mein irdisches Leben” (I end quickly my life on earth); B. “Mein Heiland, ich sterbe mit höchster Begier” (My Saviour, I die with the greatest eagerness) . . . “Hier hast du die Seele, was schenkest du mir?” (Here you have my soul, what will you bestow on me?); g minor to B-Flat Major, 3/8 time gigue.

8. Chorale AAB (SATB; Oboe I e Violino I col Soprano, Oboe II e Violino II coll'Alto, Taille e Viola col Tenore, Continuo: “Richte dich, Liebste, nach meinem Gefallen und gläube” (Govern yourself, my beloved, according to my pleasure and believe); B-Flat Major, ¾ time.

Cantata 57 Introduction

Music of the “highest order” and meaning is found in Julian Mincham’s introduction to Cantata 57.5 <<At first glance this might seem an odd work to perform as part of the Christmas cel. There are no ebullient choruses; in fact the choir makes its only appearance in the closing chorale. There are no festive trumpets and drums---or even horns, and the darker timbre of the oboes doubles the strings in the outer movements. Three of the four arias are in minor keys and two of these, the first and second, are particularly dark and gloomy.

Having said this, the quality of the music is of the highest order. Though it might be suggested that Bach began this cycle with some cantatas of slightly lesser quality and invention (e.g. Cs BWV 168 and BWV 164), there is no doubting the excellence of the festive C BWV 79 or C BWV 137, the first chorale/fantasia cantata since the second cycle. Moving a stage further, we find Bach at his most personal and intense in C 57, profound, meaningful music such as we recall from the slow movement of the Dm keyboard concerto.

And, in passing, we might pause to notice the similarity of the motive that begins and underpins the slow movement of that piece and the soprano aria in this work!>>

Bachs’s Musical Language

To Lehms’ carefully chosen words, Bach provides a highly personal and sensitive musical response, says John Eliott Gardiner in liner 2006 notes to his 2000 Soli Deo Gloria cantata recordings.6 <<Lehms also had a hand as author of BWV 57 Selig ist der Mann, first heard on Boxing Day 1725. The concept of a spiritual dialogue between Jesus and the Soul seems to make some commentators uncomfortable, particularly at this time of year. But that may be to misunderstand Bach’s intentions, which are to draw attention to the fact that the second day of Christmas is also the Feast of St Stephen the Martyr. Bach’s response to Lehms’ words is highly personal. It is sparing - not in expressive force, but in the modest deployment of its forces: just the two solo voices, except for the final four-part chorale, and the fusion of strings and reeds (three oboes doubling violins one, two and viola) we have already encountered in the early summer cantatas for the same year (BWV 175 and BWV 176). All four of its arias are in triple time, three in minor keys. The first, really more an extended arioso than an aria, is for the bass as Vox domini, a flowing G minor sarabande to the words ‘Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life’ (James 1:12).

It begins with a weaving quaver motif after a silent beat which is passed between the top three instrumental lines and then appears in inverted form to the continuo, one detached quaver then the next four under a slur suggesting a second beat emphasis. It recurs in one voice or another in almost every bar, often in association with a heart-wrenching falling chromatic figure strongly suggestive of the physical affliction of the martyr over a pedal point representing his unflinching faith in God’s support. At one point Bach silences his instruments to reveal the martyr pursuing his solitary course in a measured rising scale, despite his persecutors and on the way to receiving the ‘crown of life’. Now we are offered another chance to savour Bach, with never an opera to his name, as the best writer of dramatic declamation (recitative in other words) since Monteverdi. The soul (soprano)

responds [No. 2] to Jesus’ words via extravagant harmonic progressions and with mixed emotion: relief at the comfort He offers, then identification with the martyr (‘endless suffering in pain... [my heart] writhes like a worm in its blood’) giving way to vulnerability, pathos and trepidation (‘I must live like a sheep among a thousand savage wolves’). She introduces her own aria [No.3], but allows the string ensemble to convey her thoughts: a plea for death sooner than the withdrawal of Jesus’ love. It is cast as a dance in C minor, even slower and more sarabande-like than the preceding bass aria, and is one of those tragic triple-time dances at which Bach excelled (one has only to think of the closing choruses of both Passions). So closely woven are the clusters of expressive motifs shared between the upper three parts that it is sometimes quite hard to identify the individual lines. These are the gestures of genuinely tragic utterance and show a passing affinity to Handel’s writing in the same vein. Behind Lehms’ words is the implied polarity between life (Jesus love) and death (rejection), but Bach concentrates exclusively on the latter, holding back the soul’s acceptance of Jesus’ ‘pledge of love’ (‘Liebespfand’) until the short duet-recitative (Mvt. 4). It must have come as a relief to the Leipzig burghers, intent on celebrating Christmas, to hear the music change mood so drastically in the following bass aria (No. 5). If still not exactly festive, it is a show-stopping battle cry, reminiscent of the fifth Brandenburg Concerto (first movement) in the way the first violins’ repeated semiquavers propel the action forwards purposefully. These pass to the continuo as Jesus refers to the soul’s enemies ‘who always accuse you before me’, and Bach finds magnificent swordslashing gestures for the upper strings to make: downward-chopping sixths and sevenths in the violins, upward-cutting diminished chords in the bass line.

The rapturous aria (Mvt. 7) which ends this fine cantata calls for a singer with considerable acrobatic agility. It is an allegro movement in 3/8 in G minor with a fiery gypsy air for the violin obbligato, celebrating the soul’s yearning to leave earthly life by means of wild gestures of abandonment – three-fold octave drops, syncopations and profligate melodic invention. The aria ends abruptly with no forewarning, no da capo and no closing ritornello, just a plain question ending with a rise of a sixth, the soul asking Jesus, ‘What dost Thou give me?’. It is like a child demanding to know ‘Where is my Christmas present?’ – yet without petulance. Jesus’ response is given indirectly by the chorus in a plain harmonisation of the bracing tune known to Anglicans as ‘Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of Creation’, with hemiolas bestriding silent beats. It is also in triple time – was Bach perhaps overdoing the Trinitarian symbolism in this cantata?>> © John Eliot Gardiner 2006 / From a journal written in the course of the Bach Cantata Pilgrimage

Lehms’ Biblical References

Bach’s special handling of Lehms’ biblical references, symbols and allusions is described in Klaus Hofmann’s 2008 liner notes to Masaaki Sazuki’s BIS recording.7 << According to the ancient church tradition, the second day of Christmas is also the day commemorating St Stephen the Martyr, and this is how it was celebrated in Leipzig on 26th December 1725, the day for which Bach wrote this canata. The epistle reading was the story of the death of the first Christian martyrs from Acts 6 and 7, and the gospel passage was Jesus’ prophecy of the persecution of his disciples, culminating in the lamenting cry: ‘O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee’, Matthew 23:34–39. Lehms’ cantata text takes the form of a dialogue between Jesus (bass) and the faithful soul (soprano) – a configuration that was popular at the time and appears on numerous occasions in Bach’s cantatas. To some extent the text places the listener in the situation of Stephen, oppressed by his enemies and persecuted, and combines this with the soul’s words about the love of Jesus and a longing for the hereafter. Jesus, however, promises the beleaguered soul consolation, liberation and eternal life.

At the beginning of the cantata there are words from the Epiof James (1:12), although the librettist places them in Jesus’ mouth. Bach used these words as the basis for an atmospherically charged, dignified arioso. In the instrumental introduction he introduces two musical motifs that later, together with the words of the vocal part, will take on particular significance. Firstly there is a brief motif describing a semi-circle; towards the end, this appears in the vocal line four times in succession, serving as a musical depiction of the ‘Krone’ (‘crown’) mentioned in the text. The second is a surprisingly long note that occurs numerous times in the introduction and, in the vocal part, proves to be a symbol of patience; it was evidently conceived to suit the words ‘erduldet’ (‘endureth’) and ‘be währet’ (‘tried’), but also appears on the words ‘selig’ (‘blessed’), ‘Krone’ (‘crown’) and ‘empfahen’ (‘receive’). As a result, the declamation is far removed from natural speech rhythm, and acquires a sublimity that is wholly appropriate for the words of Jesus.

Each of the cantata’s three [remaining] arias has its own distinct character. In the soprano aria [No. 2] ‘Ich wünschte mir den Tod’ (‘I would wish for death’) Bach strikes a note of deepest sorrow; sighing motifs above heavy repeated bass notes emphasize the desire for death, but the image is constantly lightened by the simple, song-like reference ‘wenn du, mein Jesu, mich nicht liebtest’ (‘if you, my Jesus, did not love me’). Heroic sonorities, fanfare motifs and string tremoli dominate the bass aria [No. 4] ‘Ja, ja, ich kann die Feinde schlagen’ (‘Yes, yes, I can smite the enemies’). By contrast, the soprano’s final aria [No. 7], ‘Ich ende be hände mein irdisches Leben’ (‘I rapidly put an end to my earthly life’) is dance-like and playful, a fashionable passepied – admittedly in the minor key but nonetheless characterized by joyful coloratura writing. Bach introduces an unexpected touch of drama with the movement’s abrupt ending, when the soprano asks: ‘Hier hast du die Seele, was schenkest du mir?’ (‘Here you have my soul; what will you give me?’). The answer, surprisingly, is not given by the bass but rather by the chorus with a strophe placed in Jesus’ mouth by the author of the words, Ahasverus Fritsch (1668): a prophecy of eternal union and of the ascent to heaven after life on earth. © Klaus Hofmann 2008

In many respects, the second dialogue recitative (Mvt. 6) is the highpoint of Cantata 57. As Julian Mincham (Ibid.) observes: “The third recitative reunites the two parties in further dialogue and here the tonal planning is of some interest. Jesus begins by repeating His offers of that peace and fulfilment which lie within His breast. The chords accompanying his statement are reassuringly major, warm and encompassing. The Soul responds by immediately plunging us into the minor----would that I were prepared for You----show me my resting place, my grave, for blessed are those there who would hope to hear the sounds of Angels. The Soul’s uncertainties have not been fully resolved and the movement remains in the minor mode throughout and into the next aria. And it is there that we note the originality of Bach’s tonal planning and, indeed, his ability to break free from convention when the imagination demands it.>>

The Soul’s virtuoso concluding aria of affirmation ends with the rhetorical question: “Here you have my soul, what will you bestow on me?” Bach rejected Lehms chosen hymn stanza, “Kurz ist mein irdisch Leben” (Short is your earthly life), Stanza 2 of the hymn Gott lob, die Stund ist kommen by Johann Heermann (1632; full text, see

Kurz ist mein irdisch Leben;
ein bessers wird mir geben
Gott in der Ewigkeit.
Da werd ich nicht mehr sterben,
in keiner Not verderben;
mein Leben wird sein lauter Freud.]

“Instead Bach uses words of the sixth verse of the hymn ‘Hast du denn, Jesu, dein Angesicht gänzlich verborgen’ - described as a `Seelengespräch mit Christo', a `Conversation of the Soul with Christ' - by Ahasverus Fritsch, observes Francis Browne in his Cantata 57 Introduction to BCW Discussion 3.8 “The believer is promised eternal life in heaven after the pains of martyrdom).” “I think this alteration of the text indicates clearly that Bach conceived the cantata as a whole and carefully planned the emotional progression of the music from beginning to end.

“It is idle speculation and of course we would not want to be without the works Bach did produce but a cantata such as this leaves me wondering what Bach might have produced had circumstances been different and he had the opportunity to compose operas. The whole history of the genre might have been quite different.” Here is Browne’s English Translation of the Fritsch hymn text:

Chorale for BWV 57/8

1. Hast du denn, Jesu Liebster, dein Angesicht gänzlich verborgen,
daß ich die Stunden der Nächte muss warten bis morgen?
Wie hast du doch, Süßester, mögen annoch bringen die traurigen Sorgen?

Have you then, my dearest Jesus, hidden your face completely,
so that I must wait the hours of night until morning?
Why has it pleased you, my greatest delight ,still to cause these sorrowful cares?

2. Mußt du denn, Liebste, dich also von Herzen betrüben,
daß ich ein wenig zu lange bin außen geblieben?
Weißt du denn nicht, wie sich mein Herze verpflicht, dich stets und ewig zu lieben.
Why must you, my dearest, make yourself so sick at heart.
because I have stayed away a little too long?
Do you not know that my heart is committed to love you continually and always?

3. Meine betrübete Geister, die weinen im Herzen,
weil nun die Flammen und Funken der brennenden Kerzen
in Liebesglut, leider, dein Zürnen austut,soll ich denn dieses verschmerzen?
When my troubled spirit weeps from my heart because your anger unhappily puts out
the flames and sparks of the burning candles, should I then get over this?

4. Ach, du bekümmerte Seele, sei fröhlich im Herzen,
stille die traurigen Sorgen und quälenden Schmerzen,
keine Sindflut tilget die feurige Glut meiner liebbrennenden Kerzen.
Ah, you troubled soul, be joyful in your heart,
Calm your sorrowful cares and the pains that torture you,
no deluge will wash away the fiery blaze of my candles that burn through love.

5. Willst du mich lassen in Nöten, o Jesu, verderben,
ei nun, so lasse mich, Süßer, doch seliglich sterben,
auf daß ich kann dorten die himmlische Bahn endlich aus Gnaden ererben.
If you want to let me perish in my troubles, O Jesus,
well then, let me, my darling, die a blissful death,
so that I can inherit forever by your grace the path that leads from here to heaven.

6. Richte dich, Liebste, nach meinem Gefallen und gläube,
daß ich dein Seelenhirt immer und ewig verbleibe,
der dich ergetzt, und in den Himmel versetztnaus dem gemarterten Leibe.
Comply with my will, my dearest, and believe,
so that forever and forever I may remain as the shepherd of your soul.
who takes delight in you and transfers you from your tortured body into heaven.

7. Muß ich in diesem betrübten und zeitlichen Leben
gleich in des Todes gefährlichen Schranken stets schweben:
So wird mir dort, Jesus am seligen Ort himmlische Freiheit doch geben.
If in this troubled and transient life I must continually hover between the dangerous bounds of death, then Jesus will give me heavenly freedom there in the place of blessedness.

8. Traue nur sicher und bleibe beständig im Glauben.
Ob gleich Tod, Teufel und Hölle sich brüsten und schnauben,
sollen sie doch nicht in ihr höllisches Joch dich aus den Händen mir rauben.
Only believe confidently and remain constant in your belief.
Even though death, the devil and hell strut and snort around you,
they will not in their hellish yoke snatch you from my hands.

9. Hiermit so will ich gesegnen die irdischen Freuden.
Hiermit so will ich vom zeitlichen Leben abscheiden,
ewige Lust wird mir bald wbewusst,wenn mich der Himmel wird weiden.
in this way I want to consecrate earthly joys.
In this where I want to depart from transient life,
everlasting pleasure will soon be known to me, when heaven will pasture me.

10. Herzlich verlangende Seele nach himmlischen Freuden,
ei nun, so schicke dich, selig von hinnen zu scheiden,
tröste dich mein, daß ich dein Hirte will sein und dich erquicken und weiden.
Soul, who are longing from your heart for heavenly joys,
come now, get yourself ready in blessedness to depart from here,
console yourself with me, so that I will be your Shepherd and revive and feed you.

11. Ade, o Erde, du schönes, doch schnödes Gebäude.
Ade, du Wollust, du süße doch zeitliche Freude.
Ade, o Welt, mir es nicht länger gefällt.Darum zu Jesu ich scheide.
Farewell, O Earth, you beautiful but despicable building.
Farewell, lust, you pleasant but transient joy.
Farewell, I world, you, please may no longer. Therefore I depart towards Jesus.

12. Ach nun willkommen, mein Erbteil, vom Vater gegeben,
erbe die Schätze des Himmels und ewiges Leben.
Da du mit mir für dies Weltleiden allhier ewig in Freuden sollst schweben
Ah, welcome, my inheritance, given by my father,
inherit the treasures of heaven and everlasting life.
There in place of worldly sorrow you will soar aloft in joy for ever and ever.

Source of text :,%20den%20maechtigen%20Koenig.htm
English Translation by Francis Browne (April 2014)

Contributed by Francis Browne (April 2014)

Text & Melody Source Details:

Details of the text and melody source: Stanza 6, Ahasverus Fritsch (1629-1701), “Hast du denn, Liebster, dein Angesicht gänzlich verborgen” (12 stanzas), from the Saubert Gesangbuch Nürnberg 1676. Melody is from Stralsunder Gesangbuch 1665, a dialogue between the Christian Soul and Jesus; in Joachim Neander’s Glaub- und Liebes-Uebung: auffgemuntert durch einfältige Bundeslieder und Dank-Psalmen. “Without direct quotation it seems based on Psalm 103 [Benedic, anima mea; Bless the Lord, o my Soul: and all that is within me;] and the psalms of praise that conclude the Psalter (145-150). The hymn and its associated melody are familiar in English as “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of Creation.” Bach used all five Neander stanzas unchanged (per omnes verdsus) in Cantata BWV 137, “Lobe den Herren, den mächtigen König der Ehren” (Praise the Lord, the mighty king of honour), for the 12th Sunday after Trinity 1725 (Neander’s German text and Francis Browne’s English translation and Notes on the Text, see BCW, Fritsch text and melody found in Fischer & Tümpel V. 569: 515, as Zahn, Nr. 1912a (

Bach’s other use of the hymn: listed as No. 162 in the Orgelbüchlein (Little Organ Book), in the Appendix as “Hast du denn, Liebster, dein Angesicht gänzlich verborgen” or “Soll ich den, Jesu, mein Leben in Trauern beschliessden” (alternate title) under the omnes tempore heading “The life eternal” (Justification, Catechism), but not set.

The hymn and melody are described in Charles S. Terry’s Johann Sebastian Bach, Bach’s Chorals, vol. 2.9 Says Terry: “There is early eighteenth century authority for Bach’s treatment of the second part of the tune.” [248] The melody occurs also in Cantata BWV 137 and in the unfinished Cantata [BWV 120a,] “Herr Gott, Beherrscher aller Dinge,” as well as Organ Works, [BWV 650, Schübler Chorales] “Kommst du nun, Jesu, vom Himmel herunter” [Are you coming now, Jesu, from Heaven”; setting of BWV 137/2 alto trio aria]. “Bach’s treatment of bars 1 and 2 after the middle double-bar is not uniform. In the two following bars (3 and 4) his melody is invariable and is found in 1708” [?Weimar or Gotha Song Book].

“The title of BWV 650 – which does not appear in Cantata BWV 137 or anywhere else in BWV – was perhaps chosen to conform to some overall Advent plan (see p. 319 above), by the composer or someone else,” says Peter Williams in The Organ Music of J. S. Bach,10 “The text of C. F. Nachtenhöfer’s hymn was published in 1667; Pietist hymnbooks associated it with the Nativity and Incarnation (Freylinghausen 1741).”

Lehms Intimate Texts and Bach’s Uses

Lehms was a Bach favorite when he first began composing service cantatas to varied recitative, aria, and arioso madrigalian texts in the Italian style. In Weimar in 1714, or even earlier, Bach had used his first two Lehms texts for soprano solo, Mein Herze schwimmt im Blut, BWV 199 (Trinity +11, BCML Discussion January 26), and alto solo, Widerstehe doch der Sünde BWV 54 (Occuli, Trinity +7; BCML Discussion February 9). Bach also had begun to set intimate solo cantatas in Weimar to texts of Neumeister and Salomo Franck. The latter provided Bach with the text for his first Soul-Jesus dialogue cantata, Tritt auf die Glaubensbahn, BWV 152, on the Sunday after Christmas, December 30, 1714 (BCML Discussion Week of May 11), which Bach apparently never reperformed in Leipzig but went to second son Emmanuel in the estate division of 1750.

During 1726, while Bach worked with Picander to fashion his St. Matthew oratorio Passion, a sort of composers holiday enabled the Leipzig cantor to use some 18 less demanding church year works of his cousin Johann Ludwig from the Third Sunday after Epiphany through middle Trinity Time, while in particular selectively setting three additional dialogue Cantatas BWV 32 (Lehms text, Sunday after Epiphany, BCML Discussion, April 6), Cantata BWV 49 (20th Sunday after Trinity, BCML Discussion April 13), and Cantata BWV 58 (Sunday after New Year’s 1727, since there was no Sunday after New Years, 1726.

For the record, Bach’s other Christmas/Epiphany cantatas of the third cycle are: December 27, Feast of St. John the Evangelist, BWV 151, Süßer Trost, mein Jesus kömmt (Lehms text, SATB solo); December 30, Sunday after Christmas, BWV 28, “Gottlob! Nun geht das Jahr zu Ende” (Neumeister, SATB solo with inserted motet); January 1, New Year’s Day, Cantata BWV 16, “Herr Gott, dich loben wir” (Lehms text with Luther German Te Deum opening chorale chorus); Sunday, January 6, Feast of the Epiphany, with Telemann setting of Lehms text, “Ich freue mich in Herrern,” TVWV 1:1826, or “Hier ist mein Herz,” TVWV 1:795; January 13, Sunday after Epiphany, dialogue Cantata BWV 32; and January 20, Second Sunday after Epiphany, Cantata BWV 13, “Mein Seufzer, mein Tränen (Lehms text, SATB solo).

Having accounted for eight cantatas set to Lehms texts (BWV 13, BWV 16, BWV 32,BWV 54, BWV 57, BWV 110, BWV 151, and BWV 199), Bach also set two other Lehms texts: alto solo Cantata BWV 35, “Geist und Seele wird verwirret” (12th Sunday after Trinity 1726; BCML Discussion Week of February 2) and alto solo Cantata BWV 170, “Vergnügte Ruh', beliebte Seelenlust” (6th Sunday after Trinity, 1726, BCML Discussion February 23). Bach probably also set the Lehms text for the 7th Sunday after Trinity, BWV Anh. 209, Liebster Gott, vergißt du mich (Loving God, forget me not), 1714 or 1725,


1 Cantata 57, BCW Details & Discography, Text: James I: 12 (Mvt. 1); Ahasverus Fritsch (Mvt. 8; Chorale Text: “Hast du denn, Jesu, dein Angesicht”); Georg Christian Lehms (Mvts. 2-7). Scoring: Soloists Soprano, Bass; 4-part Chorus. Orchestra: 2 oboes, taille (tenor oboe), 2 violins, viola, organ, continuo. Score Vocal & Piano [1.55 MB],; Score BGA [2.44 MB], References: BGA: XII/2 (Church Cantata BWV 51-60, Wilhelm Rust, 1863); NBA: I/3.1 (Cantatas for Christmas Days; Alfred Dürr, Klaus Hofmann; Bach Compendium BC: A 14, Zwang: K 133.

2 See 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: 139, text 169f; commentary 171ff).

3 Jones, “Music to Delight the Spirit,” The Cöthen and early Leipzig Years: 1717-29, Sacred and secular: the vocal works (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013: 172).

4 Georg Christian Lehms German text and Francis Browne English translation, BCW; Lehms (1684-1717) BCW Short Biography,

5 Mincham, The Cantatas of Johann Sebastian Bach: A listener and student guide, Revised 2012; see

6 Gardiner notes at[sdg127_gb].pdf, BCW Recording Details

7 Hofmann notes in[BIS-SACD1761].pdf, BCW Recording Details,

8 Francis Browne Introduction to BCML Discussion 3 (May 9, 2009),; the Lehms original choice is identified in Alfred Dürr’s The Cantatas of J.S. Bach, revised and translated by Richard D. P. Jones (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005: 116). Dürr provides an informative short biography of Lehms and his poetry in the “Introduction: Development of the Bach Cantata” (Ibid.: 16).

9 Terry, The Hymns and Hymn Melodies of the Cantatas and Motetts (Cambridge University Press, 1915-1921). 3 vols. Vol. 2. April 17, 2014., scroll down to Cantata LVII [247].

10 Williams, 2nd Edition (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2003: 333).

Julian Mincham wrote (April 21, 2014):
[To William Hoffman] ONe thing that has always puzzled me is why the music for this Christmas season is generally more restrained and less ebullient for the most part, that that of the previous seasons. Some national or political even maybe?

Peter Smaill wrote (April 21, 2014):
In terms of the number-alphabet (A=1`, B=2 etc.) debate, this Cantata is a striking exemplar: "Selig ist der mann, der die Anfechtung erduldet; denn, nachdem er bewahret ist, wird er die Krone des lebens empfangen", has a count of 728. The exact number of bars in the work is also 728. The seventh movement at 230 bars is exactly double the first (115); there are three movements of exactly 18 bars....

The usual caveats apply regarding the meaning of a single example but it is also I recall the case that around 40% of the second cantata cycle demonstrate a similar connection.

Linda Gingrich wrote (April 21, 2014):
[To Peter Smaill] Although I can't give you numbers or percentages, In my study of the Trinity season second cycle chorale cantatas I found some striking examples of number symbolism. The first movement of Cantata 101 is a prime example. There are 262 measures in the movement. The most important textual phrase in the movement, a confession of sin, begins at m. 100, as close as you can mathematically get in a piece of music to the golden mean of the number 262, but counting backward from the end of the movement! I took that as a gesture of humility, a kind of musical prostration. Bach also uses a sudden change in the pattern of vocal entrances to highlight this line, so the number symbolism isn't the only marker, but the golden mean discovery was a marvel.

Of course, it could be coincidence, but I wonder...

Douglas Cowling wrote (April 22, 2014):
Cantata 57: St. Stephen's Day or Second Day of Xmas

[To William Hoffman] Particularly appealing were the Lehms non-festive texts for the Second and Third Days of Christmas, using the alternate New Testament Readings for the Feast of St. Stephen (December 26), the first Christian martyr, and St. John, the Evangelist (December 27).

I have never been able to discover the ecclesiastical regulations that governed which feasts were celebrated on December 26 and 27 which both had two sets of "proper" readings: St. Stephen's Day or the Second Day of Christmas; St.John's Day or the Third Day of Christmas.

Here's how Bach organized his cantatas.

December 26:
St. Stephen's Day:
BWV 57 Selig ist der Mann (Leipzig, 1725)

2nd Day of Christmas:
BWV 40 Dazu ist erschienen der Sohn Gottes (Leipzig, 1723)
BWV 121 Christum wir sollen loben schon (Leipzig, 1724)
BWV 248/2 Weihnachts-Oratorium (Leipzig, 1734-35)

December 27:
St. John's Day
3rd Day of Christmas

BWV 64 Sehet, welch eine Liebe hat uns der Vater erzeiget (Leipzig, 1723)
BWV 133 Ich freue mich in dir (Leipzig, 1724)
BWV 151 Süßer Trost, mein Jesus kömmt (Leipzig, 1725)
BWV 248/3 Weihnachts – Oratorium (Leipzig, 1733-34)

Note: It is difficult to decide which feast links with the cantata because Johannine texts are chosen for both sets of readings.
Although Parts Two and Three of the Christmas Oratorio use the scriptural verses of the Infancy Narrative, these verses are not taken from the Gospel readings proper to these days.

Who decided which feast was to be observed? It's unlikely that Bach could choose. Either there was a traditional pattern (alternating years?) or the clergy who had to preach on the readings made the decision. That decision must have been communicated to Bach in time for the writing of the libretto, composition of the music and choice of the hymns for the service.

Does anyone what Bach wrote on the wrapper of the parts for these eight cantatas?

Aryeh Oron wrote (April 22, 2014):
[To Douglas Cowling] Thomas Braatz provided a detailed answer to your query.
Linked from:

Douglas Cowling wrote (April 22, 2014):
[To Aryeh Oron] Many thanks for this outline, particularly the unusual (unique?) note which Bach inserted into the manuscript linking the cantatas for December 26 & 27. That would suggest that Bach looked at the cantatas of the three days as a kind of mini-cycle with thematic links, and that he was already thinking of a grand cycle which became the Christmas Oratorio.

I'm still curious about the regulations which determined which set of readings was read on Dec 26 & 27.


Cantata BWV 57: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

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Last update: ýJuly 26, 2014 ý12:27:10