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Cantata BWV 8
Liebster Gott, wenn werd ich sterben?
Discussions - Part 4

Continue from Part 3

Discussions in the Week of September 14, 2014 (4th round)

William Hoffman wrote (September 14, 2014):
Cantata BWV 8, "Liebster Gott, wenn werd ich sterben?": Intro.

Following four popular chorale cantatas in Middle Trinity Time, Bach turned to the later theme of “Death and Dying” and produced for the 16th Sunday after Trinity, chorale Cantata BWV 8, "Liebster Gott, wenn werd ich sterben?" (Dearest God, when shall we die?), fostering the concept of unity through diversity found in all four varied works for this Sunday. All four “Works of Faith and Love” effectively address the Gospel (Luke 7:11-17 (Miracle of the raising of the son of the widow of Nain) with relevant texts using a variety of musical forms, instrumentation, and types of chorales, with special emphases on bells and dancing amid sorrow. The other three are Weimar solo Cantata BWV 161,"Komm, du süße Todesstunde" (Come thou, sweet hour of death) and in Leipzig chorus Cantata BWV 95, Christus, der ist meins Leben" (Christ, you are my life)," and chorus Cantata BWV 27, "Wer wiss, wie nah mir mein Ende?" (Who knows how near is my end?).

The Cantata 8 simple, symmetrical form, lasting about 20 minutes, has the traditional opening chorale fantasia dancing pastorale in 12/8 style and closing plain chorale with the unaltered first and last stanzas of the Caspar Neumann c.1690 text and the Daniel Vetter 1690 musical setting, as well as two pairs of arias-recitatives among the four voices with faithful paraphrasing of the corresponding stanzas by an unknown librettist. Again, the men perform the arias, with the tenor accompanied by oboe d’amore instead of flute (Mvt. 2), “Was willst du dich, mein Geist, entsetzen,” (What makes you so alarmed, my spirit), while the bass has the flute and strings (Mvt. 4), “Doch weichet, ihr tollen, vergeblichen Sorgen!” (Go away,you foolish, futile anxieties!) in a rollicking 12/8 gigue-style.

Cantata 8 is influenced by early Reformation motet-chorale style. Underlying the musical theme is an early motet and related Martin Luther hymn. The text of the main and vesper services motet for the 16th Sunday after Trinity, Media vita, which also appears in both Lenten and Funeral sources, shows, a strong thematic link with the cantatas for this Sunday. The cantatas for this Sunday also show a strong thematic arc with both the motet and chorale de tempore, “Mitten wir.” The Luther three-stanza chorale “Mitten wir im Leben sind” (In the middle of life we are) is a German paraphrase of the Latin. The first stanza is from Media vita in morte sumus. Notker, A. D. 912; translated Salzburg 1456; Luther text Stanzas 2-3 published 1525. Melody (not from the Latin), first found in Johann Walter’s Gesangbuch 1525, Harmony by Erythraeus, 1608; according to Charles Sanford Terry, The Hymns of Martin Luther 1884.1

Cantata BWV 8, “Liebster Gott, wenn werd ich sterben? (Dearest God, when shall we die?), chorale Cantata for the 16th Sunday after Trinity, was first performed on September 24, 1724, in the Nikolaikirche before the sermon of Superintendent Salmon Dealing(1677-1755) on the Gospel, Luke 7:11-17 (Miracle of the raising of the son of the widow of Nain), that is no longer extant, says Martin Petzoldt in Bach Commentary, Vol. 1, Trinity Sundays.2 In all there were at least three Leipzig performances in two versions (some instrumental changes), 2nd performance 1735-1740 (also E Major), and 3rd performance (Late version in D): 1746-1747.3

Readings for the 16th Sunday after Trinity are: Epistle: Ephesians 3:13-21 (Paul prays that the Ephesians may perceive the love of God; Gospel: Luke 7:11-17 (Miracle: The raising of the son of the widow of Nain); Martin Luther 1545 English translation, he English translation Authorised (King James) Version [KJV] 1611, BCW full text, The Introit Psalm for Trinity +16 in Psalm 90, Domine, refugium (Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place), according to Petzoldt (Ibid. FN 2: 447). Psalm 90 also is known as the “manly life before maturity,” and “A Prayer of Moses the man of God” (KJV, full text at It originated as a Gregorian chant.

The Cantata 8 Libretto text includes Caspar Neumann’s chorale (Mvts. 1, 6, stanzas unaltered), and an anonymous paraphrase librettist (Mvts. 2-5); Francis Browne English translation, BCW, Chorale Text, “Liebster Gott, wenn werd ich sterben was written about 1690 [Neumann (1648-1750), BCW Short Biography,] The Chorale Melody and setting, also “Liebster Gott, wann werd ich sterben” (Zahn 6634) was composer in 1690 by by Daniel Vetter (1657/8-1721) [BCW Short Biography,], source, BCW “Chorale Melodies used in Bach's Vocal Works,”

Contemporary Hymn4

On Sept. 24, 1724 the chorale cantata Cycle 2 involved a standard paraphrased Chorale Cantata BWV 8, of the contemporary pietist hymn, "Liebster Gott, wann werd ich sterben" (Loving God, when will I die?). It is based on Caspar Neumann's c.1690 text in five stanzas, to the four-part, by-1695 funeral setting of Leipzig St. Nicholas organist Daniel Vetter. Cantata 8 has an opening chorale fantasia dancing pastoral 12/8 chorus and closes with a plain four-part setting of the final stanza, "Herrscher über Tod und Leben" (Lord, over death and life, make once for all my good ending), with the four-part setting borrowed from Vetter's "Musicalischer Kirch- und Haus-Ergötzlichkeit, Anderer Theil" (Leipzig 1713), No. 91, in Bach's radical alteration. Bach also used the hymn in the “Schemeli Sacred Songbook” (1736), Melody 61 in E-Flat Major ("Death Songs"), BWV 483. Another key sacred song in the collection is "Komm, süßer Tod" (Come, sweetest death), in C Minor, BWV 478, based on an anonymous text to an original Bach melody with figured bass, and best known in Leopold Stokowski's symphonic transcription.

Cantata BWV 8 may have been repeated in the abbreviated Cycle 2a Trinity Time, on Sept. 16, 1725, opening with the plain setting of the first stanza. It was repeated in Leipzig between 1736-40 and again c.1746-47 in a second version transposed from E to D Major. It is possible that Bach may have performed the two appropriate Schemelli sacred songs during a service where Cantata 8 was reperformed. There is no record that St. Thomas prefect Christoph Friedrich Penzel copied the work and performed it.

The chorale text adapter/paraphraser for Cantata 8 could be from the so-called first cantata group unknown author who began in the Chorale Cantata Cycle (No. 2) with Cantata BWV 78, "Jesu, der du meine Seele," for Trinity 14, two weeks previously, on September 10, and also contributed Cantatas 96, 5, 115, 62, 124, and 1, for Trinity 18, 19, 22, and 24 as well as Advent Sunday 1, Epiphany Sunday 1, and Annunciation/Palm Sunday, March 25, 1725, Bach last chorale Cantata composed for Cycle 2, according to Artur Hirsch (dissertation), BACH July 1973.5 Meanwhile, the adapter(s) used to internal stanza quotes as from previous chorale cantatas or chorale line tropes in between recitative paraphrases. Instead, the internal pairs of arias-recitatives are simple parahrase, remaining true to the spirit of the chorale text, using one stanza per movement except that the 4th Stanza opening lines pararphrased are used for the bass aria (Mvt. 4) and the rest for the following soprano recitative (Mvt. 5). The closing plain chorale (Mvt. 6) uses the final Stanza 5 unaltered.

The 20-minute Cant8 movements, scoring, principal text, key, and meter are:6

Chorale Chorus (Stanza 1 unaltered) in two parts with ritornelli [SATB; Corno col Soprano, Flauto traverso, Oboe d'amore I/II, Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo]: A. “Liebster Gott, wenn werd ich sterben?” (Dearest God, when shall I die?); B. Haben dies zum Vaterteil, inherit this from their father); E Major; 12/8.
2. Aria (Stanza 2 paraphrase) two parts with ritornelli [Tenor; Oboe d'amore, Continuo]: A. “Was willst du dich, mein Geist, entsetzen,” (What makes you so alarmed, my spirit); B. “Mein Leib neigt täglich sich zur Erden,” (My body everyday inclines to the earth); c-sharp minor, ¾.
3. Recitative with strings (Stanza 3 paraphrase) [Alto; Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo]: “Zwar fühlt mein schwaches Herz / Furcht, Sorge, Schmerz:” (Indeed my feeble heart feels / fear, care, pain); g-sharp minor to A Major; 4/4.
4. Aria free da-capo (Stanza 4a paraphrase) [Bass; Flauto traverso, Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo]: A. “Doch weichet, ihr tollen, vergeblichen Sorgen!” (Go away,you foolish, futile anxieties!); B. “Nichts, was mir gefällt, Besitzet die Welt.” (Nothing the world posseses gives me pleasure); A Major; 12/8.
5. Recitative secco (Stanza 4b) [Soprano, Continuo]: “Behalte nur, o Welt, das Meine!” You can keep, o world, what belongs to me!); f-sharp minor to g-sharp minor; 4/4.
6. Chorale (Stanza 5) [SATB; Violino I e Flauto traverso in octava e Oboe d'amore I e Corno col Soprano, Violino II e Oboe d'amore II coll'Alto, Viola col Tenore, Continuo]: “Herrscher über Tod und Leben, / Mach einmal mein Ende gut, Lord over life and death / grant me finally a good end); E Major; 4/4.

Trinity 16 Chorales and References. William Hoffman wrote (March 5, 2012): <<The 16th Sunday after Trinity was a particularly fruitful time for Bach in Leipzig. It enabled him to craft service cantatas that embraced a wide array of popular Lutheran chorales -- both traditional and contemporary -- on the subject of "Death and Dying," creatively utilized in musical forms that feature poetic free-verse and rhymed commentary with accessible melodies in a quartet of cantatas as musical sermon emphasizing key Christian teachings. As John Eliot Gardiner, observed in his 2004 liner notes to Bach 2000 Cantata Pilgrimage:7 "The four cantatas for Trinity 16 draw their inspiration from the Gospel story of the raising of the widow of Nain's son. All four - BWV 161, 27, 8 and 95 - articulate the Lutheran yearning for death, and all but one feature the `Leichen-Glocken', the tolling of funerary bells" [two recorders in BWV 161/1 chorale chorus, and plucked strings in 95/5 tenor aria "Ach schlage doch" and 8/1 chorale chorus]. "Yet for all their unity of theme, there is immense diversity of texture, structure and mood, and together they make a satisfying and deeply moving quartet - music that is both healing and uplifting"

Besides the funeral bells providing an air of consolation to the theme of death and dying, Gardiner notes the lilting dance qualities found in three of the four cantatas for Trinity 16: "With two of its movements in triple time (Nos.3 and 5), BWV 161 seems to be setting a pattern for Bach's later cantatas dealing with the call of death - or is this quite by chance? Could this be a deliberate device to lull and soothe the grieving heart? Three of the four main movements in BWV 95 are in triple metre. So too is the magical opening chorus of BWV 27 Wer weiß, wie nahe mir mein Ende, an elegiac lament."

“The opening movement of BWV 8 Liebster Gott, wenn werd ich sterben? Is an extraordinary tableau in sound. It consists of almost continuous semiquaver movement in 12/8 in E major for the two oboes d’amore over a muted staccato quaver accompaniment by the upper strings, pizzicato in the bass. Soaring above this is the high chiming of the flute, playing out of its normal range. There is something Brahmsian in the oboe-writing, but something too of Berlioz and L’Enfance du Christ in the instrumentation and some of the harmonic progressions, while the entry of the hymn-tune sung by the sopranos (doubled by cornetto) has an almost fairground swing. There is an elegiac and iridescent tenderness to this whole movement which gives it its special allure. The funeral bells return (at least by inference) in the detached quavers of the tenor aria (No.2) with the words ‘wenn meine letzte Stunde schlä-ä-ä-ä-ä-ä-gt’, and in the pizzicato continuo. This is beautifully balanced by the bass aria (No.4), an optimistic affirmation of trust in Jesus’ summons to a better life. Here Bach provides singer, flute and strings with unabashed dance music, a 12/8 gigue in A major with some of the swagger and ebullience of the finale from the sixth Brandenburg concerto.” © John Eliot Gardiner 2004 from a journal written in the course of the Bach Cantata Pilgrimage.

Gospel, Chorale, and Libretto

The Gospel story, Vetter’s popular chorale, and an effective libretto leads to a very effective Cantata 8, says Klaus Hofmann’s liner 2004 notes at the Misaaki Suzuki BIS cantata recordings.8 <<Liebster Gott, wenn werd ich sterben, BWV 8, Dearest God, when shall I die. The gospel reading on the l6th Sunday after Trinity tells how Jesus raises the widow's son at Nain (Luke 7, verses 11-17). In Bach's cantata, which was performed for the first time in the Nikolaikirche in Leipzig on 24th September 1724, the gospel story is taken as a cue to draw the Christian's attention to his own death. The cantata text begins as a large-scale monologue in which the thoughts of the believer circle around the time and circumstances of his death, natural fear of dying mixed with worries about the salvation of the soul and forgiveness of sins, and also with concern about the fate of those who remain. Then, suddenly, all of this is rejected: 'Doch weichet, ihr tollen, vergeblichen Sorgen! Mich rufet mein Jesus, wer sollte nicht gehn?' ('Yield, you wild, vain sorrows! Jesus calls to me: who would not go?'; fourth movement). Fed and apprehension are conquered by the vision of the next world. 'verklaret und herlich vor Jesu zu stehn' ('tresligured and glorious to stand before Jesus').

On this occasion the cantata is based on a relatively recent hymn, written in 1695 for a funeral by the organist of the Nikolaikirche in Leipzig, Danniel Vetter (d.l72l) after a poem by Caspar Neumann (1648-1715); this seems to have enjoyed particular popularity in Leipzig. As usual, Bach's unknown librettist used the original wording in the first and last verses of the hymn, but reworked the inner strophes into recitatives and arias.

Bach's opening movement is one of the most impressive in the entire chorale cantata year. The four-part chorus is embedded in a highly complex, colourful and thematically rather independent orchestral part. The basis of the movement, as always, is provided by the basso continuo consisting of string basses (cello and double bass) and organ; above that, as a separate motivic unit, are the two violin and the viola parts; above these, in turn, are two oboi d'amore playing as a duet, and a flute part in a very high register that confines itself to rapid repeated notes and broken chords. In addition there is the extra tonal colour of a horn, which supports the cantus firmus in the soprano. The logic of this complicated score structure is not immediately self-evident to a modem listener, but must have been totally clear to Bach’s contemporaries.

Bach makes a musical allusion to the second line of the text: ‘Meine Zeit läuft immer hin’ (‘My time ever runs on’). His music paints a picture of a great mechanical clock, of the type found on church and town hall towers to this day. The basso continuo, interspersed with pauses, only marks the beginning and middle of the bar with single notes ( pizzicato in the string basses) and thereby illustrates the slow swinging of a heavy pendulum; meanwhile, the uninterrupted 3/8 figurations of the violin and viola group, playing with mutes and staccato, imitate the ticking of the clock mechanism. The peculiar rapid repeated notes in the flute part provide an acoustic imitation of the forward motion of the minute hand. movement is in 12/8-time, a choice which was plainly not coincidental but was chosen with regard to the twelve hours of the clock. The choral writing fits in flexibly with the orchestra; it is pensive in expression, almost slightly dreamy. Bach achieves particular unity by letting just the sopranos begin each of the choral entries (joined on only one occasion by the tenors), the followed en bloc by the other voices – a procedure which will be used again in the concluding chorale.

One could hardly imagine a greater difference than that between the two arias in this cantata. The aria ‘Was willst du dich, mein Geist, entsetzen’ (‘Why should you be frightened, my soul’; second movement) takes up the meditative, inwardlooking attitude of the opening strophe. The instrumental sound image is restrained; the solo tenor is joined by the expressive cantilenas and coloraturas of an oboe d’amore, and the string basses play pizzicato. Again and again we hear a swinging sequence of notes, an imitation of a death knell that alludes to the words of the text: ‘wenn meine letzte Stunde schlägt’ (‘When my final hour rings’).

The bass aria ‘Doch weichet, ihr tollen, vergeblichen Sorgen’ (‘Yield, you wild, vain sorrows’; fourth movement) seems to drive away all the anxiety and worry of the here and now with power and verve. The flute emerges as a soloist from the striking orchestral ritornello; the flute also plays in a most virtuosic fashion during the bass’s solo episodes. Initially this flute part – like that of the first movement too – was intended by Bach for the ‘fiauto piccolo’ (probably a highpitched recorder); as the original performance material shows, however, the player seems to have become unavailable shortly before the performance, so Bach had to replace this instrument with a normal transverse flute and simplify the part accordingly. (For a repeat performance in the 1740s

Bach revised the instrumentation of the cantata completely.)

The final chorale is in this case written with particular skill in a setting that is softened by polyphony. Like in the opening movement of the cantata, the individual choral sections are introduced by one or sometimes two voices as ‘lead singers’. In this way Bach takes up a peculiarity of the original choral setting by Daniel Vetter, perhaps in the spirit of a veiled tribute to the former organist of Leipzig’s Nikolaikirche– the venue in which the cantata was first heard on the sixteenth Sunday after Trinity in 1724.>> © Klaus Hofmann 2004

Vetter Pietist Chorale & Bach’s Methods

Insight into the Vetter chorale and Bach’s method in the cantata are found in John Butt’s 2007 liner notes to the Jeffrey Thomas American Bach Soloists recordings on the Vetter chorale and summary of the Cantata.9 << Cantata 8 dates from the chorale-cycle of cantatas and was first performed on September 24, 1724. Taking as its starting point the Gospel for the day (Christ’s resurrection of the young man at Nain), the chorale text centers on the inevitable death of the individual, the sinful state of whom is redeemed by Jesus and God’s truth. Particularly unusual among the corpus of Bach’s chorale cantatas is the chorale melody itself, a relatively recent one written by a Leipzig organist and quite different from the traditional Lutheran chorales which so often betray the vestiges of the modal system. This melody is unequivocally tonal and specifically ‘tuneful,’ thus typical of the large repertory of ‘sacred songs’ engendered by the pietist movement which cultivated personal devotion at the expense of formalized public worship. Although Bach almost certainly disapproved of the pietist attitude to worship, eschewing as it did complex and demanding music, he sometimes entered into the spirit of its devotional songs, such as with his harmonizations for Schmelli’s song book during the 1730s. His setting of the final verse of the chorale in Cantata 8 is certainly unusual, playing on the lightness of the ‘catchy’ melody, yet at the same time curiously elevated stylistically with the frequent imitation of the opening of each line.”

“The cantata opens with a graphic portrayal of the question of the hour of death, a mesmerizing texture which seems from the first to be itself a question (particularly with the immediate flattened seventh degree of the scale); the imagery of bells may also be perceived in the strings and trembling fear in the high flute. The first aria employs the characteristic leap of a minor sixth (familiar in ‘Erbarme dich’ from the St. Matthew Passion or the opening of Cantata 82, ‘Ich habe genug’) and several further awkward leaps which together point to the fear of the soul at the hour of death. Bach is particularly adept at writing lines which would conventionally be considered unvocal, perhaps just to evoke the agony the individual should experience. There are also often secondary images embedded in the music, such as the striking of the hour of death in a sequence of staccato notes in the vocal part. The alto recitative extends both the questioning nature of the first two movements and the extreme anxiety of the text; this provides a bridge to the second, far more optimistic, section of the cantata. Using the imagery of a new morning succeeding the night, all is saved by the grace of Christ. Interestingly Bach uses secular imagery here: the courtly and fashionable flute in an energetic obbligato; the rhythm and idiom of the gigue, that most lively of secular dances. Bach clearly believed that religious music should take the best of what current idioms could offer, regardless of the origins or conventions of a particular style.” © 2007 American Bach Soloists

Time Metaphor, Recording Features, Pietist Spirituality

The time metaphor, recordings that feature various musical characteristics, and pietist spirituality are among the topics in Peter Smaill’s BCML Discussion Part 2 Introduction,10 that also contains “Selected (Author) Commentaries” and “Outstanding Qusetions.” <<The Cantata for the 16th Sunday after Trinity 1724 maintains, indeed surpasses, the high standard of the extended instrumental ritornelli set in BWV 33 and BWV 99. On this occasion, Bach produces one of his most arrestingly beautiful combinations of orchestral colour, a lyrical oboe d’amore phrase in sixths and thirds punctuated by repeated high notes on the flute, with an insistent, lullaby continuo together with instrumental pizzicato and the broadening of the flute part into arpeggios. Seldom does the contemplation of death receive such an original and poignant delineation.

What precisely does Bach mean by this scoring and layout? Tempting as it is to hear remains of Cöthen concertos, on this occasion the allusion to the passing of Time (a favourite theme in Bach) cannot be gainsaid. The music is thus tied to the Biblical exegesis, and was written very precisely for this service.

I am grateful to Thomas Braatz, for while I was unsuccessfully hunting for gematric “Bach”, he spotted something that is only part realised by Whittaker and Dürr. They note that the high flute (?) part repeats 24 times and say no more; but the word painting is therefore, according to Thomas, of ’Zeit”, the “Time” image in the second line: “Meine Zeit läuft immer hin” (“My time keeps running on”)

And so it does – the 24 hour clock at work; then petering out at eighteen pulses, symbolising mortality as the full day’s allotment of hours is at last avoided in death. The whole is therefore the musical realisation of a large clock, with the pulsing of the hours until the day is done being the allusion. Simultaneously, as was debated by the vocalists and instrumentalists with John Eliot Gardiner during the Cantata Pilgrimage [11], it is possible also to hear the flute as a funeral bell, which rings at a high pitch and more frequently in the minutes before obsequies begin. With 25 repetitions of the 24 note phrase plus 18 we reach 618 separate toots on the flute - a further opportunity for Bach's flautist (Wild?) to demonstrate his skills.

There are some wonderful recordings of this moving piece. It is one of the greatest of the Eliot Gardiner selection [11] (from Santiagoda Compostella), but to hear the pulsing continuo, Herreweghe [7] is best; and, if you thought that Suzuki [12] could not be more ravishing in his rendering of the beautiful first movement - he can; by re-performing BWV 8/1 (Mvt. 1) himself. This he does by addition of the later D major version of the chorus as an encore to volume 24, but with the sensuous inflections of the violins substituted for the oboes, and this new setting is utterly persuasive as to the loveliness of the Creator, "Liebster Gott",even in the face of death.

Why were the oboes d’amore, with their appropriately plangent tones, dropped in the later version? The problem may be the absence by the 1730’s of oboists able to master the typically prolonged lines. Whittaker somewhere reflects in his two volume work on the Cantatas on the rueful comments of one oboist of his day who complained to the effect that “Bach doesn’t really write for the oboe-more like the bagpipes!” The reserves of lungpower demanded can be extreme but it would be interesting to know whether the construction of the baroque oboe is less demanding for breath than the modern equivalent.

There is also a complex problem relating to the transposition of the flute; an octave up or down, and was it a flauto piccolo or traversière? Suzuki’s programme notes [12] gives detail on this tangled web relating to the instrumentation of the unparalleled, high-pitched, repetitive flute line.

The Chorale is unusually modern, indicating that there was no prexisting rota of Chorales and suggesting that Bach and his librettist had a free hand in selecting the Chorales in Jahrgang II. Here, the sentiment is directly relevant to the Gospel, wherein the transience of death is at the centre of the story of the raising of the youth at Nain. The melody by Daniel Vetter, organist of the Nikolaikirche (d.1721), was commissioned for the burial of a Cantor, Jakob Wilisius, and dates from as recently as 1695, being published in 1713.

The background to the clock image may be very specific, for in all the engravings I know, of contemporary Leipzig in Bach’s time, there is no clock on the Thomaskirche; but there is one on the Nikolaikirche. Thus that Church acted as the authoritative image of time to the Leipzigers, few of whom would have had timepieces. Even though Nuremberg and Augsburg not very far away were clockmaking centres, these items were scarce and highly expensive.

(Interestingly both Luther and his friend the theologian Phillipp Melancthon did own timepieces, the latter’s being the oldest portable “watch” in existence and inscribed with the German Gloria, “Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr”.)

The Chorale and thus the Cantata are imbued with Pietist spirituality and the whole moves via striking bells in the Tenor Aria to a dance-rhythm in the Bass; with the final consoling Chorale taken essentially from Vetter, just as Bach was to lay aside his harmonising skills and adopt, this time completely unaltered, the former Cantor Rösenmuller’s Chorale, “Welt ade! Ich bin deine müde”, which ended BWV 27 for the same Sunday in 1726.

Given the size of Leipzig, there would at this date have been members of the congregation who had known Vetter and Wilisius. This meditation, intimately associated with Christians who had gone before, must have been a deeply moving experience for them, as has been the case for all fortunate to have discovered this lovely work in modern times.

Selected Commentaries

*Spitta: (Mvt. 1) evokes the sound of tolling bells, the fragrance of blossoms pervade it - the sentiment of a churchyard in springtime.

*Robertson: (Mvt. 1) These high, medium and low ‘tolling bells’ accompany the long breathed melody for the oboes d’amore. It expresses shade of gentle regret - for the world pictured here is beautiful- but not of mourning of the unchristian kind formerly denoted by black clerical vestments and dismal lay clothes.

*Whittaker: (Mvt. 1) The movement is more akin to an extended chorale than a chorale fantasia, for there is no expansion of the melody, but it plays a relatively humble role in the scheme. The canto fermo is different from most of those employed by Bach; it is more florid, with more contrasts of length of notes. Bach uses it nowhere else. Only once does a line occupy more than three bars.

Chafe: Since E major is the sharpest key of any closed movements in all Bach’s vocal music, whenever we are dealing with an E major Cantata, of necessity, the other movements will be flatter, a feature that encourages the idea of descent. Cantata 8, for ex“descends” from E through C# minor to A major before returning to E.

*Boyd (Anderson): Further small adjustments were made for a performance in the late 1730’s, and for another, in the mid to late 1740’s Bach transposed the music down a tone, to D major, in order to facilitate the flute part of the opening chorus and the bass aria (Mvt. 4). This last solution, though solving one problem, creates another in its distortion of the iridescent tonal palette of the original.
(Mvt. 1) The transcendently beautiful opening chorus of Liebster Gott must rank among Bach’s most poetic and alluring fantasias.

*Dürr: The four madrigalian middle movements (BWV 8/2-5) are divided according to textual content and musical affect into two contrasting aria-recitative pairs. The first pair expresses anxious concern over death; the second pair, comfort derived from the certainty of God’s faithfulness. The bass aria (Mvt. 4) strikes a quite different note. The fear of death is now overcome, and the ritornello, clearly articulated and in a joyful gigue-rhythm, unfolds its theme in a homophonic string texture together with a virtuoso concertante flute part.

[Addendum: In all four cantatas, "the subject is death as such, not only its unforseen-ability but its conquest by the resurrection, and hence the longing for a better world beyond the grave," says Walter Blankenburg (Martin Cooper translation) in the Karl Richter "Bach Cantatas Vol. 4 - Sundays after Trinity I" (Deutsche Grammophon Archiv CD set; BCW Cantata 27 Recordings, BCW "It is not the tragic aspect of the gospel story, the death of a widow's only son, that is emphasized, but his raising from the dead by Jesus, as a sign of his divine omnipotence. It is therefore a central article of the Christian faith rather than the chief feature of the human story that is the subject of each of these cantatas."]

Outstanding questions:

*This Cantata’s opening Chorus is indeed a remarkable achievement in terms of instrumental colour, pattern and thus imagery. But are we hearing clocks, or funeral bells - or both?
*Did Bach especially treat this Sunday twice as a memorial service for departed fellow Cantors and Organists, leaving the final Chorale as a tribute to them?>>


1Martin Luther, Dr. Martin Luther’s Deutsche Geistliche Lieder. The Hymns of Martin Luther set to their original Melodies with an English version, ed. Leonard Woolsey Bacon and Nathan H. Allen (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1884). September 11, 2014. Full German text and R. Massie English Translation,, scroll down to “Mitten wir im Leben sind. Currently Evangelisches Gesangbuch (EG-Wü) Nr. 518, for the Third to the Last Sunday in the Church Year. Details of the chorale ands motet will be discussed in Cantata 8, Part 2, to come.
2Petzoldt, Martin. 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: Cantata 8, 474, commentary to 479; text 470-473 ).
3Cantata 8, BCW Details & Discography,
4 Notes from Musical Context: Motets & Chorales for 16th Sunday after Trinity,
5 Streck, Harald: “Die Verskunst in den poetischen Texten zu den Kantaten J. S. Bachs.” diss. (Hamburg, 1971), 214p; described in Arthur Hirsch’s “Johann Sebastian Bach’s Cantatas in Chronological Order,” AUTHOR’S NOTES: 19 (BACH, Journal of the Riemenschneider Bach Institute 11 [July 1980]: 18-35).
6 Scoring, Soloists: Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass; 4-part Chorus; Orchestra: transverse flute, 2 oboes d’amore, strings, continuo; horn features in the continuo for the 1st movement. Score Vocal & Piano [1.65 MB],; Score BGA [2.97 MB], References: BGA I (Cantatas 1-10, Maurice Hauptmann 1851, NBA KB I/23 (Trinity +16; Osthoff, Helmuth, Hallmark, Rufus) Bach Compendium BC A 137, Zwang K 88.
7 Gardiner liner notes,[sdg104_gb].pdf), BCW Recording details,
8 Hofmann’s liner notes,[BIS-CD1351].pdf; BCW Recordings details,
9 John Butt liner notes[ABS-CD].pdf; BCW Recording details, .
10 Smaill BCML Cantata 8 Discussion September 3, 2006,


To Come: “Motets& Chorales for the 16th Sunday after Trinity”; “Trinity 16 Biblical References”; “Bach’s Trinity 16 Calendar”; Cantata 161, 95, 27 Chorale Settings: “Sweet Death & Passion Chorale,” “Death, Dying & Simeon's Canticle,” and “Funeral Hymn Set to Popular Melody”; “Other Trinity 16 Performances”; and notes on Cantata 8 from the Linda Gingrich dissertation, The seen and the unseen: Hidden allegorical links in the Trinity season chorale cantatas of J. S. Bach.

Aryeh Oron wrote (September 14, 2014):
Cantata BWV 8 - Revised & updated Discography

The discography pages of the Chorale Cantata BWV 8 “Liebster Gott, wenn werd ich sterben?” for the 16th Sunday after Trinity on the BCW have been revised and updated.
The cantata is scored for soprano, alto, tenor & bass soloists; 4-part chorus; and orchestra of transverse flute, 2 oboes d’amore, strings, continuo; horn features in the continuo for the 1st movement. See:
Complete Recordings (19):
Recordings of Individual Movements (12):
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 three complete recordings of this cantata. Two are audios: a studio recording by Philippe Herreweghe& Collegium Vocale Gent (1998) and a live recording conducted by Hans Zender from Bachfest Leipzig 2005. The third is a video of a live performance in New York in 2012, conducted by Mary Westbrook-Geha with Blanche Moyse Chorale.

I believe this is the most comprehensive discography of this cantata. If you are aware of a recording of BWV 8 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.

William Hoffman wrote (September 16, 2014):
Cantata BWV 8, Part 2, Notes, Trinity 16 Chorale, Motets, Liturgy

See: Motets & Chorales for 16th Sunday after Trinity


Cantata BWV 8: Liebster Gott, wann werd ich sterben? for 16th Sunday after Trinity
Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements
Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

Recordings & Discussions of Cantatas: Main Page | Cantatas BWV 1-50 | Cantatas BWV 51-100 | Cantatas BWV 101-150 | Cantatas BWV 151-200 | Cantatas BWV 201-224 | Cantatas BWV Anh | Order of Discussion
Discussions of General Topics: Cantatas & Other Vocal Works | Performance Practice | Radio, Concerts, Festivals, Recordings


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