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Cantata BWV 60
O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort
Discussions - Part 6

Continue from Part 5

Discussions in the Week of November 8, 2015 (4th round)

William Hoffman wrote (November 8, 2015):
Cantata 60, O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort II" Intro. & Trinity 24

Lasting 15 minutes in five mirror-form movements, Cantata BWV 60: Dialogus: “O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort” (O eternity, you word of thunder), represents in the final Sundays of Trinity Time the first of a series of unique, intimate dialogue solo cantatas, composed of alternating duet arias and recitatives for symbolic characters in the style of baroque opera. Focusing on the Gospel of Matthew 9:18-26, the miracle of Jesus’ “Raising of Jairus’s daughter,” for the 24th Sunday after Trinity, Cantata 60 was first performed on November 7, 1723, It a is dialogue between the alto (solo or chorus) representing Fear and the tenor representing Hope, with the bass representing the Jesus Christ (Vox Christi) consoling fear in the fourth movement recitative.1 Cantata 60 was presented at the early main service of the Nikolaikirche before the sermon of Superintendent Salomon Deyling (1677-1755), says Martin Petzoldt in BACH Commentary, Vol. 1, Trinity Sundays.2

Cantata BWV 60 is Bach’s first effort in true dramatic dialogue form, beyond mere duets. Bach exploits, combines, and transforms four key components: 1, The symbolic duo of Fear and Hope, first found in Georg Christian Lehms’ 1711 cantata texts using Jesus and the Soul, the latter also referred to as the Believer or the Christian Church which Bach set as Cantatas 32 and 57; 2, The Vox Christi-style bass voice of Jesus; 3. The arioso form of melodic recitative used in the opening movement and the two recitatives (Nos, 2 and 4), first introduced in Weimar Cantata BWV 61, bass solo, “Siehe, ich stehe vor der Tür” (See, I stand before the door, Revelation 3:20; and 4.

The rhetorical repetition of text in the “hybrid” dialogue recitative arioso movement, BWV 60/4, the bass Jesus singing “Selig sind die Toten, die in dem Herren sterben, von nun an” (Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord, from now on), Revelation 14:13, also found in the two German Requiems of Heinrich Schütz and Johannes Brahms. “The text was inspired by and considered to be an extension of Elijah’s [death bed] prayer as found in 1 Kings 19:4,” says BCW chorale essay, This article cites Bach’s use of whole tones, in Eric Chafe “Tonal Allegory in the Vocal Music of J.S. Bach”, California University Press, 1991, pp. 194-5, as well as Alban Berg’s use of Bach’s version of the chorale melody. There is no other documented use of this sacred song that is not written in the style of a hymn.

Cantata BWV 60, “O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort” (O Eternity, thou word of thunder, Johann Rist’s hymn), is framed by two well-known chorales of Bach’s time: the opening statement, “O Schwert, das durch die Seele bohrt” (O sword, that pierces through my soul), a “Final Days” Hymn (NLGB 394), sung by an alto representing Fear, and the closing, congregational plain “Death & Dying” chorale, “Es ist genug, so nimm, Herr, meinen Geist” (It is enough! Therefore, Lord, take my spirit, NLGB 386). The text and Francis Browne’s English translation are found at BCW, Information on the melody and text and found at BCW

In the the opening chorale adaptation, the alto sings the first stanza of Johann Rist’s 1642 original 12-stanza hymn, O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort,” set to the Johann Schoop 1642 melody. Fittingly, Bach set the same hymn as the paraphrased Chorale Cantata BWV 20 to open the second Leipzig Cycle, beginning Trinity Time, on the Alpha First Sunday after Trinity, June 11, 1724.

Befittingly, Cantata BWV 60 closes with the fifth verse of the hymn “Es ist genug, so nimm, Herr, meinen Geist” (It is enough! Therefore, Lord, take my spirit, NLGB 386), in the closing plain chorale (Movement 5), the only movement that does not contain dialogue between two voices. The text is: Es ist genug;/ Herr, wenn es dir gefällt, (It is enough;/ Lord, when it pleases you). The five-stanza text of Franz Joachim Burmeister (1662) was set to the melody (Zahm 7173) of the same name by Johann Rudolf Ahle in 1662). It is a hymn of Death and Dying in the <NLGB>, No. 386. As with the chorale, “Ach, wie flüchtig, ach wie nichtig,” “Es ist genug” repeats the dictum to introduce all five stanzas. Francis Browne’s English translation is found at BCW, Information on the melody and text is found at BCW,

TRINITY 24 Cantatas, Chorale Themes3

With the 24th Sunday after Trinity, the flexible schedule of extended Sundays in late Trinity Time is observed in the church year calendar. The emphasis in the hymn schedules for this Sunday is on omne tempore chorales for “Jüngsten Tage” or the “Last Days”. These hymns are part of the last topical section in Das Neu Leipziger Gesangbuch of 1682 (NLGB), Bach’s favored hymnbook during his final, Leipzig tenure. Under this category also are sacred songs for the “Resurrection of the Dead, and Eternal Life.”

In the church year calendar, the final Sunday in Trinity Time falls between the 23rd and the 27th Sunday after Trinity Sunday. This depends on how long the earlier, other flexible omne tempore period of Epiphany Sundays lasted involving three to six Sundays after the Feast of the Epiphany, on January 6. Bach’s church year calendar observed 70 main services for Sundays and holidays while Leipzig practice allowed music only for 61 services, omitting the three final Sundays in Advent, the four Sundays in Lent, Passion (Judika) Sunday and Palm Sunday.

Thus, Bach had fewer natural opportunities to compose cantatas for the extended Sundays of late Trinity Time. During Bach’s active cantata-composing period in Leipzig from 1723 to 1726, occurring were 26 Trinity Time Sundays in 1723, 25 Sundays in 1724, 26 Sundays in 1725 when he composed almost no cantatas, and only 23 Sundays in 1726, with the final two Epiphany Sundays set to Johann Ludwig Bach Cantatas JLB-1 and 2. For these final Trinity Time Sundays Bach’s six Cantatas -- BWV 60, 26, 90, 116, 70, and 140 – more than fill the bill, or need, in terms of appropriate texts and chorales. At the same time, these cantatas also address the concerns and themes of late Trinity Time: the “Last Days, Resurrection of the Dead and Eternal Life” as well as “Death and Dying,” and “Lament and Comfort,” says Günther Stiller’s JSB and Liturgical Life in Leipzig (p. 246).

Late Trinity Time Chorales

At the same time in the extended, three closing Trinity Time Sundays of November 1723, Bach was able to utilize appropriate, popular chorales and fashion cantatas with special forms despite the pressing need to create numerous new works for the approaching Christmas season. For Cantatas BWV 60 and 90 Bach chose the simple but highly effective palindrome form of five movements in mirror form: opening dictum solo aria, closing four-part plain congregational chorale, and two teaching recitatives flanking the central (third) movement dramatic yet expressive aria. For the final Trinity Time 26th Sunday, Bach serendipitously and shrewdly salvaged Weimar Advent Cantata BWV 70, expanding it to the two-part form with which he began his first cycle six months earlier at the beginning of Trinity Time.

In addition, in the contemporary lectionary of service readings for the final three Sundays in Trinity Time (now called Sundays after Pentecost), other Bach omne tempore cantatas are particularly relevant in these eschatological Last Days, Omega, or End Times. The Appendto the Evagelisches Kirchen Gesangbuch (EKG) lists the following as appropriate for the Second to Last Sunday in the Church Year: Cantatas 105 (Trinity 9), 114 (Trinity 17), 115 (Trinity 22), and 127 (Septuagesima); Next to the Last Sunday, BWV 70 (Trinity 26), 94 (Trinity 9), 105 (Trinity 9), and 168 (Trinity 9); and the Last Sunday, BWV 140 (Trinity 27).

The New Testament readings in Bach’s one-year lectionary are particularly appropriate for the 24th Sunday after Trinity: Paul’s Epistle to the Colossians 1:9-14 “Prayer for the increase of grace”; and the Gospel of Matthew 9:18-26, the miracle of Jesus’ “Raising of Jairus’s daughter.” The German text is that of Luther’s translation published in 1545, the English is the Authorised (King James) Version 1611. (full texts, BCW The Gospel incident “gives rise to the discussion of death, and the quotation from Psalm cxix, “Herr ich warte auf dein Heil” (Lord, I wait on Thy Salvation), has direct bearing on the Epistle,” says W. Gillies Whittaker in The Cantatas of JSB.4

The Introit Psalm for the 24th Sunday after Trinity is Psalm 90, Domine, refugium (Lord, Thou has been our dwelling), says Petzoldt (Ibid.: 651). He calls Psalm 90 “The frailty of manly life.” Bach may have used Gregorian chant-based polyphonic motet settings of Psalm 90 by Palestrina, and Josquin des Prez. The full text of Psalm 90, also known as “A prayer of Moses the man of God,” is found at

Two Trinity 24 Cantatas: BWV 60, 26

For the 24th Sunday after Trinity, Bach’s surviving cantatas BWV 60 and 26 and the prescribed NLGB chorales for this Sunday are particular relevant for the final Trinity Time services. Cantata BWV 60, “O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort” (O Eternity, thou word of thunder), is a solo “dialogue” cantata framed by two well-known chorales of Bach’s time: the opening dictum “Final Days” Hymn (NLGB 394), sung by an alto representing Fear, and the closing plain “Death& Dying” chorale, “Es ist genug, so nimm, Herr, meinen Geist” (It is enough! Therefore, Lord, take my spirit, NLGB 386). Chorale Cantata BWV 26 “Ach, wie flüchtig, ach wie nichtig is der Menschen Leben!” (Ah, how fleeting, how trivial is man’s life!), is a paraphrase of Michael’s Franck’s 13-verse 1652 hymn of “Death and Dying.”

Interestingly, only one of these once-popular chorales melodies survived into the 20th century, sung in English. “Es ist genug, so nimm, Herr, meinen Geist” (It is enough! Therefore, Lord, take my spirit) is found in <The Lutheran Hymnal> of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (Concordia, St. Louis MO, 1941), in three places: Easter, No. 196, “I am content, my Jesus liveth still” (text, “Ich habe genug”); Missions, No. 509, “There still is room” (text, “Es ist noch Raum”); and No. 599, “My course is run” (text, “Es ist vollbracht”)

There is an important theological connection between Cantata BWV 60 and the four Cantatas, BWV 165, 95, 8, and 27 for the 16th Sunday after Trinity with its Gospel lesson of the miracle of the raising of another offspring, the dead son of the widow of Nain, says Alfred Dürr in <The Cantatas of JSB> (p. 631). The concept of the coming resurrection finds the individual struggling with doubt and hope, with despair and confidence as a theme found in Late Trinity Time and in Bach’s musical treatment of the poetic texts and chorales.

Julian Mincham in his BCW monograph of Cantata BWV 60 speaks at length of Bach’s amazing musical technique ( It should also be noted that Bach’s dramatic dialogue is exploited further a few months later in the St. John Passion of 1724 and achieves fruition in the St. Matthew Passion of 1727/29. In addition, below the Cantata 60 Movement summary with Francis Browne’s English translation of the unknown librettist’s German text is Browne’s “Notes in the Text,” including a listing of Bach’s other “dialogue” cantatas containing duet recitatives-ariosi and arias.>>

Cantata 60 Movements, Scoring, Incipits, Key, Meter5

1. Chorale fantasia, dal segno, cantus firmus alto and horn [Alto] and Aria [Tenor]; Corno, Oboe d'amore I/II, Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo: Fear (Alto): “O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort, / O Schwert, das durch die Seele bohrt” (O eternity, you word of thunder, / o sword, that pierces through my soul); Hope (Tenor): “Herr, ich warte auf dein Heil” (Lord, I wait for your salvation, Genesis 49:18 = Psalm 119: 166); D Major, 4/4.
2. Recitative secco [Alto, Tenor; Continuo]: Fear (Alto): “O schwerer Gang zum letzten Kampf und Streite!” (O how hard is the way to the last battle and conflict!”; Hope (Tenor): “Mein Beistand ist schon da” My help is already here”; Fear (Alto): “Die Todesangst, der letzte Schmerz / Ereilt und überfällt mein Herz” (The agony of death, the last sorrow / overtakes and attacks my heart); Hope (Tenor): “Ich lege diesen Leib vor Gott zum Opfer nieder” (I lay this body down before God as an offering); Fear (Alto): “Doch nun wird sich der Sünden große Schuld vor mein Gesichte stellen” (But now the great burden of my sins’ guilt stands before my face”; Hope (Tenor): “Gott wird deswegen doch kein Todesurteil fallen / Er gibt ein Ende den Versuchungsplagen” (But God will not pass a judgement of death upon you because of your sins/ / He sets an end to the torments of temptation), and closing arioso, “Dass man sie kann ertragen” (so that they can be endured); b minor to G Major; 4/4.
3. Aria three-part with ritornelli (Duet) [Alto, Tenor; Oboe d'amore, Violino solo, Continuo): Fear (Alto): “Mein letztes Lager will mich schrecken” (My death bed will terrify me); Hope (Tenor): Mich wird des Heilands Hand bedecken, I shall be covered by my Saviour’s hand); Fear (Alto): “Des Glaubens Schwachheit sinket fast” (My weak faith is rapidly failing); Hope (Tenor): “Mein Jesus trägt mit mir die Last” (My Jesus bears my burden with me); Fear (Alto): “Das offne Grab sieht greulich aus” (The prospect of the open grave is terrifying); Hope (Tenor): “Es wird mir doch ein Friedenshaus” (For me it will be a house of peace); b minor; ¾.
4. Recitative [Alto] and Arioso [Bass, Continuo]: Fear (Alto): “Der Tod bleibt doch der menschlichen Natur verhasst” (But death remains hateful to human nature); Christ (Bass): “Selig sind die Toten” (Revelation 14:13, Blessed are those who have died); Fear (Alto): “Ach! aber ach, wieviel Gefahr / Stellt sich der Seele dar / Den Sterbeweg zu gehen!” (Oh! but Oh! What great danger, / confronts the soul / as it goes along the path to death!); Christ (Bass): “Selig sind die Toten, die in dem Herren sterben” (Blessed are the dead who have died in the Lord); Fear (Alto): “Wenn ich im Herren sterbe, / Ist denn die Seligkeit mein Teil und Erbe?If I die in the Lord, / is blessedness really my share and inheritance?); Christ (Bass): “Selig sind die Toten, die in dem Herren sterben, von nun an” (Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord, from now on); Fear (Alto): “Wohlan! / Soll ich von nun an selig sein: / So stelle dich, o Hoffnung, wieder ein!” (Very well! / Since from now on I shall be blessed, / come back, o Hope, once more!); e minor to D Major; 4/4.
5. Chorale plain [SATB; Corno e Oboe d'amore I e Violino I col Soprano, Oboe d'amore II e Violino II coll'Alto, Viola col Tenore, Continuo): “Es ist genug; / Herr, wenn es dir gefällt” (It is enough; / Lord, when it pleases you); A Major; 4/4.

Notes on the text

“O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort” is the beginning of a long hymn (1641) by Johann Rist. Bach wrote two cantatas that make use of this poem. BWV 60 is the earlier composition. BWV 20 was written seven months later and inaugurated Bach's cycle of choral cantatas. BWV 60 was written during Bach's first year in Leipzig and performed for the first time on 7 November 1723. On the folder containing the original performing parts Bach wrote in his own hand: “Dialogus zwischen Furcht und Hoffnung. Furcht:O Ew, du Donnerwort. Hoffnung : Herr, ich warte auf dein Heyl.”

It is therefore one of the small number of 'dialogue' cantatas: BWV 21 (STB, ?Salomo Franck, 1714, Trinity 3), 32 (SB, Lehms ,1726, Epiphany 1), 49 (SB, unknown, 1726, Trinity 20), 57 (SB, Lehms, 1725, Christmas), 58 (SB unknown, 1727, Sunday after New Year), 60, 66 (ATB, unknown, 1724, Easter Monday), 140 (STB, Niccolai chorale, 1731, Trinity 27), 152 (SB, S. Franck, 1715 Sunday after Christmas). Except for the concluding chorale [in Cantata 60] every movement uses two voices; there are no solo arias.

[Cantata 59 (SB, Neumeister), 1723 Pentecost) is a solo cantata but has no designated characters in dialogue. Except for BWV 21, 60, 66, and 140, five SB (Soul, Jesus) works (BWV 32, 49, 57, 58, 152) are found in the BCML latest discussions, April 6 to May 11, 2014, Like Cantata 60, Cantata 66, composed in 1724, is also score for Fear, Hope, and Jesus, while Cantata 140 is score for Bride and Bridegroom representing Soul and Jesus.]

The gospel for this Sunday is the raising of Jairus' daughter. This traditionally symbolises the resurrection hoped for by believers and the anonymous librettist has provided Bach with a text that deals with the conflict between doubt and hope. As the Oxford Composer Companions: J. S. Bach [Ibid.] comments Bach produces “not a detached intellectual treatment of the fear of death but a gripping dramatization of existential angst”.

It begins with Rist's chorale and concludes with the fifth verse of the hymn “Es ist genung” [It is enough] by Franz Joachim Burmeister (1662). As Bach's note reveals in the opening movement Rist's words are seen as being sung by Fear who is answered by Hope with a verse from Genesis (49:18, repeated and amplified in Psalm 119). There is an obvious contrast between the tortured imagining and verbosity of Rist's words used by Fear and the confident brevity of the biblical quotation.

There is more of a dialogue in the first recitative. Fear makes three complaints, each of which is answered in turn by Hope. The two voices never sing simultaneously and Hope is given the last word. The following aria has a similar structure of three complaints by Fear answered each time by a response from Hope.

The turning-point of the cantata comes in the second recitative where Fear's continuing anxieties -death's assault on hope, the soul's fate, the body's decay - are answered not this time by Hope but by a heavenly voice(bass) which does not respond in detail but sings progressively longer fragments of Revelation 14:13 “And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth.”

The fifth verse of Burmeister's hymn makes an appropriate conclusion. “The portrayal of a divided soul by allegorical figures may seem alien to many today. John Eliot Gardiner's comments6 are, as often, perceptive and helpful: “Such a rigid theological dichotomy couched in such bald allegorical terms may at first glance fail to strike a chord with many listeners. Nowadays this tension might be expressed more conventionally as one between the breezy truisms of the natural optimist, and the pessimist attempting to fend off the chilly realities of life’s disappointments by growing an extra layer of protective skin. Bach almost hints at such a more contemporary, nuanced interpretation. As so often in the cantatas the signs of what we might call ‘progressiveness’ show up in the complexity of his thought and a willingness (perhaps even a need) to combine the old with the new.”

Cantata 60 Movements Described

A recent, analytical descriptions of Cantata 60’s five movements is found in Richard D. P. Jones’ The Creative Development of JSB, Vol. II, 1717-1750.7 “The recitatives of Cycle 1, like those of the Weimar cantatas, often juxtapose or alternate secco and arioso. Such an alternation is eminently suited to the task of clarifying in musical terms the opposition between different states of being presented in the text. In the dialogue recitative no. 4, from O Ewigkeit du Donnerwort, BWV 60, for example, the fearful reflections on death of the allegorical figure ‘Furcht’ (Fear), sung by the alto in secco, are three times interrupted three times by the bass, the vox Christi, who in the most eloquent arioso, announces, ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord’ (Selig sind die Toten, die in dem Herrren sterben).”

Cantata 60 “in concerned with two conflicting attitudes towards death, hence its conception as a dialogue between the allegorical characters Fear (alto) and Hope (tenor).” In the opening chorale arioso the [p. 127] “two characters represent opposite reactions to the prospect of death. Fear (doubled by horn) sings a plain chorale cantus firmus

-- the first verse of Johann Rist’s hymn O Ewigkeit du Donnerwort – while simultaneously Hope sings Jacob’s words from Genesis 49:18, ‘Lord, I await your salvation (‘Herr, ich warte dein Heil’) in a wide ranging arioso. Each protagonist is supported by one of the two maan instrumental themes from the framing ritornello: Fear by the opening string tremolo and Hope by the gentler legato figures of the oboe’s d’amore duet. The result is one of Bach’s most imaginative conceptions, vivid in its portrayal of conflicting states of the soul.”

“In the dialogue-recitative (no. 3), the two characters are still at loggerheads, a situation reflected by the contrast between the dotted rhythms of the oboe d’amore (Fear) and the decorative legato semiquavers of the solo violin (Hope). In the dialogue-recitative no. 4 Hope is vanquished and fear has a new dialogue partner, Christ himself (bass)” with the Genesis 49:128 statement. “Thereupon Fear is able to call: ‘Then appear again, O Hope?’ In the concluding chorale, the rising fourth that opened the first movement becomes an augmented 4th.”

Tonal Allegory and Further Analysis

A through analysis [of tonal allegory and other factors] is found of Cantata 60 is found in Eric Chafe “Analyzing Bach Cantatas” Oxford University Press, 2000, pp. 222-240, Thomas Braatz cites (November 30, 2005): “The following is an extended treatment by Eric Chafe of primarily only this particular chorale although he does refer to the earlier mvts. of BWV 60 and some other cantatas as well” [Cantata 109 (Trinity 21), Cantata 77 (Trinity 17), and Cantata 21 (Trinity 3 and per ogni tempo) in BCW Cantata 60 Commentary,

Braatz continues: “Here is a commentary of Stephen A. Crist from the Oxford Composer Companions: JSB.8 <<O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort ('O eternity, thou thunderous word') (ii). Cantata, BWV 60, for the 24th Sunday after Trinity. On the folder containing the original performing parts is the following notation, in Bach's own hand: 'Dominica 24 post Trinit: Dialogus Zwischen Furcht u. Hoffnung'. From it we learn of the work's liturgical occasion, which in 1723, the year of its première, fell on 7 November. Bach's choice of the word 'dialogus' instead of 'concerto' (his preferred term for sacred vocal works of this type) reflects its unusual concentration on pairs of voices: none of the movements employs just one vocal soloist, and all four voices are required only for the concluding chorale. Additionally, the inscription discloses the identities of the two main partners in the dialogue: the allegorical figures Furcht ('Fear') and Hoffnung ('Hope').

The subject of this work is the fear of death. Rather than a detached intellectual treatment, it is a gripping dramatization of existential angst. The opening movement is a duet in which the alto and tenor assume the roles of Fear and Hope respectively. The alto (doubled by the horn) sings a chorale stanza (the same one that opens Cantata 20) likening eternity to a 'thunderous word'. Its contemplation engenders both emotional and physical distress. It feels like a 'sword that bores through the soul', brings 'great sadness' and confusion, and causes trembling and a dry mouth. Afthe alto has presented the first sentence, the tenor (Hope) counters with a simple expression of trust: 'Herr, ich warte auf dein Heil' ('I wait for thy salvation, O Lord': Genesis 49:18, also Psalm 119:166). Musical means are employed for illustrative purposes throughout this movement. For instance, the sustained notes in the continuo at the beginning (and analogous passages) and the lengthy melismas in the tenor represent the passing of time associated with 'Ewigkeit' ('eternity') and 'warte' ('wait'). Similarly, it is no accident that the final word in the alto part ('klebt'), used to describe the tongue sticking to the gums, is held out for no fewer than three and a half bars! Moreover, the terrifying sound of eternity's thunderous word is evoked by dissonant clusters of repeated notes in the strings (e.g. beat 3 of bars 1 and 3).

A feature of the first recitative (movement 2)--a dialogue between Fear and Hope--is that the two voices never sing simultaneously, even when the recitative twice gives way to arioso. Hope offers a response to each of Fear's three complaints, lengthy melismas illustrating the words 'martert' ('tortures') and 'ertragen' ('endure') at bars 8-11 and 21-6 respectively. (The meaning of 'martert' is also underscored with chromaticism.) It is worth observing, too, that the first few notes of the recitative quote from the beginning of the chorale in the previous movement (the third and fourth notes are raised by a semitone, however).

Movement 3, an aria for two solo instruments (oboe d'amore and violin) and two vocal soloists (alto and tenor) plus continuo, embodies the principle of contrast. The characteristic profile of the oboe d'amore part, defined by the incessant dotted quaver-semiquaver rhythm, is strongly differentiated from that of the violin, which involves rapid scale motion. Moreover, in each of three pairs of contradictory statements, the vocal soloists first sing separately--the alto expressing the viewpoint of Fear, the tenor the opposite perspective of Hope--before joining together. (As in the previous movement, however, Hope has the last word.) A different mode of contrast is found at the end of the last vocal section (bars 76-80), where the uniform dotted rhythms in all three instrumental parts punctuate the lengthy melisma sung by the tenor.

The dramatic turning-point occurs in movement 4, a recitative in which Fear (alto) is confronted three times by a heavenly voice (bass), which sings, in arioso style, progressively longer fragments of Revelation 14:13 ('Blessed are the dead, which die in the Lord from henceforth'). At first Fear speaks of death as the enemy of hope, and then worries about the fate of the soul and the decay of the body. By the end of the movement, however, Fear is vanquished and both the body and soul receive encouragement and refreshment. The relatively settled tonality of the arioso sections stands in marked contrast to the harmonic peregrinations of the recitative passages (e.g. bars 14-17).

The final movement, a four-part setting of the chorale Es ist genung, includes a number of bold harmonic progressions, for example the outlining of a tritone in the first two bars of the soprano line and intense chromaticism in bars 15-16, illustrating the words 'großer Jammer' ('great misery')--a harmonization made famous by its incorporation into Alban Berg's Violin Concerto (1935). It is a remarkable expression of trust, which functions both as summary and conclusion of the work, as well as response and application for the believer. SAC

SAC Stephen A. Crist is associate professor of music at Emory University. His articles have appeared in Early Music, Bach Studies, Bach Perspectives, The Cambridge Companion to Bach, and elsewhere. He has also published a facsimile edition of a Low German hymnal dating from Luther's time and is working on a book on the Bach arias. He is secretary and treasurer of the American Bach Society.>>

In the initial BCVML Discussion of 2001, Bach and Berg, is it ever enough!” Peter Bloemendaal wrote (May 26, 2001) extensively about the Berg Violin Concerto that quotes the chorale “Es ist genug” (

<<Chorale Melody, ‘O Ewigkeit du Donnerwort”

Johann Schoop set the original melody (Zahn 5819) of “O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort” as a sacred song, “Wach auf, mein Geist, erhebe dich, Lasset uns den Herren preisen” (Wake up, my soul, rise up, let us praise the Lord), in the 1642 early version (not in the < NLGB>). Johann Crüger adapted and slightly modified the melody (Zahn 5820), set to the Rist text, “O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort,” published in 1653. Information on the text and melody is found in BCW, The chorale is not cited in Günther Stiller’s <JSB and Liturgical Life in Leipzig>. The Rist chorale text is found in the NLGB in the shortened version, 12 of 16 stanzas printed, omitting the original Stanzas 4, 7, 8, 12. Frances Browne’s full English translation of all 16 verses is found in BCW,

In Cantata BWV 20, there are three chorale uses in F Major: No. 1 chorale fantasia (S.1); No. 7 (S.11[8]) “Solang ein Gott im Himmel lebt” (As long as God lives in heaven); and No. 11 (S.16[12]) “O Schwert, das durch die Seele bohrt (O sword that pierces through the soul). The closing plain chorales of both parts are the same setting with different texts.

The melody is found in plain chorale BWV 397 in F Major (S. 13 [9], “Wach auf, o Mensch, vom Sündenschlaf” (Wake up, O Man, from the sleep of sin), which probably is used in the <St. Mark Passion>, BWV 247/30, where the apostles sleep in the Garden of Gethsemane. The hymn was a popular sacred song in the Bach household, found in Anna Magdalena’s 1725 Notebook, BWV 513, No. 42 (last item, p. 121) in F Major for soprano and basso continuo in Anna Magdalena’s early handwriting. There also is an organ chorale prelude setting, BWV <deest>, Emans No. 146 (NBA KB [Criticial Commentary] IV/11), of doubtful authenticity and therefore not published in the Neue Bach Ausgabe.

Chorale Interest Slight

Bach’s predecessors seemed to have shown little interest in “O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort.” The BCW article cited above lists the following chorale settings: Tobias Zeutschner (1621-1675): Setting of the Chorale O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort in P. Sohr(e), in Musicalischer Vorschmack (Ratzeburg, 1683); Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767): Church Cantata: O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort (Neumeister text), 1:1189 (1723); Johann Gottfried Walther (Bach Weimar cousin, 1684-1748): O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort, Chorale Prelude for Organ; and Johann Tobias Krebs (Bach student, 1690-1762): O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort, Chorale Prelude for Organ, T 83.

Cantata 60 & Artist Kokoschka

Bach’s Cantata 60 and artist Oskar Kokoschka are found in BCW Bach in Arts - Hommage a Bach - Oskar Kokoschka, Details: About the portfolio: Heather Hess, German Expressionist Digital Archive Project, German Expressionism: Works from the Collection. 2011. “Through these eleven illustrations of Johann Sebastian Bach's cantata no. 60, "O Eternity, Thou Word of Thunder," Oskar Kokoschka attempted to exorcise the pain from his tormented relationship with Alma Mahler, his lover for nearly two tumultuous years. Kokoschka remained infatuated with her, even after she rebuffed his marriage proposal and aborted his child. The pianist Leo Kestenberg, a friend of Kokoschka's, first played the cantata for him, but Kokoschka insisted it was the libretto, not Bach's music, that prompted him to make the prints.

“Bach's cantata presents a dialogue between Fear and Hope. In these prints, Kokoschka casts himself in the role of Hope, while Mahler plays Fear. Guided by Fear, Hope sets down a road that leads to death (although the cantata itself sounds a positive note of divine salvation). Throughout, Kokoschka cites earlier works and weaves in biographical allusions to his relationship with Mahler. The imagery in Drachen über einer Flamme (Dragons over a flame) recalls his attempts to protect the pregnant Mahler from seeing frightening reptiles, while the final print reprises imagery from the poster for his earlier play Mörderer, Hoffnung der Frauen (Murderer, hope of woman). In the penultimate print, Kokoschka depicts himself standing in a grave, an acknowledgement of guilt for the failed relationship. As he later stated, "I am in the grave, slain by own my jealousy."

It is possible that Cantata 60 was repeated on November 4, 1731, possibly as part of Bach’s first annual cantata cycle repeat in 1731 when he systematically reperformed cantatas from his first and third cycle during the entire Easter Season (see BCW, It is documented that Cantata BWV 70, “Wachet, betet” (Watch, pray), was repeated two weeks later on November 18, on the 26th Sunday after Trinity, and that <per omnes versus> Chorale Cantata BWV 140, “Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme Der Wächter” (Wake up, cries to us the voice of the watchmen) was premiered on November 25 for the final, 27th Sunday after Trinity, a rare occasion. For the 25th Sunday after Trinity on November 11 it is possible that Bach repeated either solo Cantata BWV 90, Es reißet euch ein schrechliche Ende” (There ripens for you a dreadful ending), or Chorale Cantata BWV 116, “Du Friedefürst, Herr Jesu Christ” (Thou Prince of Peace, Lord Jesus Christ).

Chorale Cantata BWV 26

For his penultimate setting of a chorale cantata in Trinity Time of his second cycle, Bach in Cantata BWV 26 premiered on November 19, 1724, paraphrased the hymn “Ach, wie flüchtig, ach wie nichtig ist der Menschen Leben!” (Ah, how fleeting, how trivial is man’s life!). Michael’s Franck’s chorale of “Death and Dying” begins each of its 13 stanzas of each lines each with the same two-line dictum, often in later settings with the words “flüchtig” (fleeting) and “nichtig” (trivial) in either order in the title. The theme is maintained through the chorale text with the three responsory lines in each of the 13 stanzas. The associated melody of the same title was composer by Franck (1652) and Johann Crüger (1661).

Bach’s Other Trinity 24 Opportunities:

+It seems likely that Bach composed no cantatas at Trinity Time 1725, instead searching for published texts (Lehms, Rudolstadt) for the new and final third cycle, which began at the traditional start of the church year, the First Sunday in Advent, December 2, 1725.
+The Picander published annual cycle of 70 Cantatas for 1728-29, lists a libretto for the 24th Sunday after Trinity (November 7, 1728), P-68, “Küsse, mein Herz, mit Freuden” (Kiss, my heart, with joy), but with no closing chorale listed.
+On Trinity, November 20, 1735, Bach probably performed a Stözel two-part cantata, “Dazu ist Christus gestorben und auferstanden” [not extant], as part of the cycle “Saitenspiele testeddes Hertzens” (Music Playing of the Heart), text by Benjamin Schmolck, with two chorale settings not identified.
+About November 11, 1736, Bach may have performed a Stözel two-part cantata, from the cantata cycle “Das Namenbuch Christi,” (Book of Names of Christ), Schmolck text, No. 65. No musical source with the presumed chorales is extant.

NLGB Chorales

The four chorales appointed to be sung for the 24th Sunday after Trinity involve a simple Luther teaching on death, a popular contemporary hymn with strong Passion undercurrents, a poignant personal Trinity Time sacred song, and a little-known setting of a favored text:

+”Mitten wir im Leben sind” (We are in the middle of Life), not set by Bach; Martin Luther's three-stanza teaching hymn, found with the four-part setting of J. H. Schein in the NLGB, No. 344, "Death and Dying";
+Herr Jesus Christ wahr Mensch und Gott (NLGB 338, Death & Dying; cf. chorale Cantata BWV 127,

Estomihi 1725); BWV 336
+Allein zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ, (Trinity 3, 11, 22);
+Ich weiß, das mein Erlöse lebt, ob ich schon (I know that my Redeemer lives, Hebrews 19, trust in death),

NLGB Death & Dying No. 354; Prince Johann Wilhelm of Weimar 1573, 3 stanzas (Zahn 7539); not set by Bach.>>

Provenance: Braatz’s BCW article on the Provenance of Cantata 60 is found at


1 Cantata 60 BCW Details and revised and updated Discography,
Score Vocal & Piano [1.40 MB],, Score BGA [1.79 MB], References: BGA XII/2 (Cantatas 51-60, Rust 1863) NBA KB I/27 (Trinity 24, Alfred Dürr 1968), Bach Compendium BC A 161, Zwang: K 50.
2 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: 655).
3 Original source: BCW, “Motets and Chorales for the 24th Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 24),”
4 Whittaker, The Cantatas of Johann Sebastian Bach (Oxford University Press: London, 1958: 407).
5 German text and Francis Browne English translation and “Notes on the text,” BCW
6 Liner notes to Vol. 12 of Bach Cantatas,[sdg171_gb].pdf; BCW Recording details,
7 Jones, The Creative Development of Johann Sebastian Bach, Volume II: 1717-1750. “Music to Delight the Spirit” (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013: 130, 131f, 127).
8 Crist, Oxford Composer Companions: J. S. Bach, ed. Boyd, Malcolm (Oxford University Press: New York, 1999: 330f).

Aryeh Oron wrote (November 8, 2015):
Cantata BWV 60 - Revised & updated Discography

The discography pages of the Solo Cantata BWV 60 "O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort[!" II (O eternity, you word of thunder) for the 24th Sunday after Trinity on the BCW have been revised and updated.
The cantata is scored for alto, tenor & bass soloists; 4-part chorus; and orchestra of horn, 2 oboes d'amore, 2 violins, viola& continuo. See:
Complete Recordings (16):
Recordings of Individual Movements (17):
The revised discography includes many listening/watching options to recordings directly from the discography pages, just below the recording details.

The closing movement of the cantata is a setting of Bach to the beautiful Chorale Melody by Johann Rudolf Ahle "Es ist genung":
Some of the recordings of individual movements present arrangements of Bach setting by Paul-Heinz Dittrich, Edison Densov, Magnus Lindberg, the Swingle Singers and others. The most famous use is in the final Adagio of Alban Berg's Violin Concerto ("To the memory of an angel"). Berg included two variations based upon the Bach chorale setting the end of the Concerto. Berg's Concerto is not included in the discography of Cantata BWV 60. This masterpiece has over 100 recordings and needs a dedicated discography. I hope to find the time to do it some day.

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 solo cantata. If you are aware of a recording of BWV 60 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 60: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6

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: Sunday, May 28, 2017 06:15