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Cantata BWV 95
Christus, der ist mein Leben
Discussions - Part 4

Continue from Part 3

Discussions in the Week of September 20, 2015 (4th round)

William Hoffman wrote (September 19, 2015)
Cantata 95, 'Christus, der ist mein Leben,' Intro.; Trinity 16 Chorales

Chorale Cantata BWV 95, “Christus, der ist mein Leben” (Christ is my life) is one of Bach’s most significant works in Trinity Time 1723 of the first service cantata cycle. It is a hybrid proto chorale cantata with effective use of multiple hymns under a single theme, “Death and Dying.” It also anticipates troped chorale passages in the John and Matthew Passions and shows Bach’s profound interest in the concept of death and salvation. The contrast of affirmative music set to a morbid text by an unknown librettist suggests the possibility of a productive collaboration involving Bach, his Pastor Christian Weise, and his Matthew and Mark Passion librettist Picander. Its seven movements musically contrast effective chorale settings with engaging secco recitatives, and a stunning, single da-capo aria.1

Composed for the 16th Sunday after Trinity, Cantata 95 was first performed on September 12, 1723, at the early main service of the Thomas Church before the sermon of Pastor Christian Weise (1671-1736) on the Gospel, Luke 7: 11-17 (Miracle of The raising of the son of the widow of Nain), says Martin Petzoldt in Bach Commentary, Vol. 1, Trinity Time Cantatas.2 Cantata 95 runs about 15 to 20 minutes, depending on the tempo taken. The sole aria (da-capo) for tenor and tutti orchestra, No. 5, “Ach, schlage doch bald, selge Stunde” (Ah, strike soon, blessed hour), lasts about one-third of the total playing time. It is a “movement of affecting beauty,” observes Alfred Dürr in The Cantatas of JSB.3

Cantata 95 uses four chorales, the most set in any Bach cantata. The opening chorale chorus movement with troping tenor-arioso-recitative has two chorale settings with orchestral interludes: Melchior Vulpius’ “Christus, der ist mein Leben,” and Luther’s Nunc dimmitis paraphrase, “Mit Fried fahr ich dahin” (With joy I depart). The soprano canto trio aria (no. 3) sings the Valerius Herberger’s “Valet will ich dir geben” (Farewell I shall bid to you). The closing plain chorale, Nikolaus Hermann’s “Wenn mein Stündlein vorhanden ist” (When my little hour is at hand), uses Stanza 4, “Weil du vom Tod erstanden bist” (While from death you stand).

Cantata 95 is Bach’s second consecutive hybrid chorale chorus cantata, following Cantata 138, “Warum betrübst du dich, mein Herz?” (Why do you cause distress to yourself, my heart?), which was preceded by a series of seven chorus cantatas with opening biblical dictum in Cantata Form A. Like Cantata 138, the theme of Cantata 95 is “Death and Dying,” which dominates the middle-late Trinity Time period, and the two works emphasize multiple chorales with intermittent commentary recitatives and only one aria, libretto by an unknown poet.

Besides the radical experiment in overall movement form in Cantata 95 and mixture of chorale and recitative, found prominently in the Cycle 2 chorale cantatas, Bach employs the high trumpet, known as corno da tirarsi (see Suzuki essay below). Bach also makes effective use of the two oboes d’amore in the all the movements except for the brief secco recitatives: No. 2, soprano, “Nun, falsche Welt! / Nun habe ich weiter nichts mit dir zu tun” (Now, false world! / now I have nothing more to do with you); No. 4, tenor, “Ach könnte mir doch bald so wohl geschehn, / Dass ich den Tod” (Ah, if only soon and fortunately it could happen to me / that I could see death); and No. 6, bass, “. . . Dass ich aus meinem Grabe / Ganz einen sichern Zugang zu dem Vater habe” (. . . that from my grave I / have a certain path to the Father).

Cantatas 138, 95 Connections

The connections between Cantatas 138 and 95 are explained in Julian Mincham’s introductory commentary to Cantata 95, Chapter 19, 4 <<Did Bach get the bit between his teeth with C 138 from the previous week? Did his innovative experimentation with the integration of recitative, chorale and chorus into the one united structure tempt him to travel even further down the road of experimental formats? It would seem so because the chorus that begins this week′s cantata is so forward-thinking, particularly in terms of its rhythmic organisation, as to stand right outside of contemporary practice.

The similarities between the overall shape of this work and that of C 138 are many and cannot have been accidental. In the previous chapter it was suggested that Bach saw C 138 as an edifice of four vast musical slabs, the first two of which amalgamated recitative and chorus, the third recitative and aria. One further short, freestanding recitative and plain chorale setting formed the fourth, which, in traditional terms, might also be thought of as a coda.

In C 95 the blueprint is very much the same: an opening movement combining chorus recitative and chorale (block 1) precedes a conjoined soprano recitative and chorale (block 2 ) which is followed by a similarly abutting tenor recitative and aria (block 3). A final recitative and chorale (block 4) conclude the work. There are minor deviations from C 138 in that there is no chorus in the second block, both recitative and chorale here being carried by the soprano. Furthermore, instead of basing successive movements on the same chorale melody as in C 138, Bach chose four different ones, each of which is quoted in full (two in the first and one in each of the second and fourth blocks).>>

Trinity 16 Biblical Readings

The readings for the 16th Sunday after Trinity are: Epistle: Ephesians 3:13-21 (Paul prays that the Ephesians may perceive the love of God), and the Gospel: Luke 7: 11-17 (Miracle of The raising of the son of the widow of Nain). The full German text is that of Luther’s translation published in 1545, the English is the Authorised (King James) Version 1611. The full texts are found at BCW,

The Introit Psalm is Psalm 90, Domine, refugium (Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place), according to Petzoldt (Ibid.: 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.

Bach also had available polyphonic motets on for the 16th Sunday after Trinity from his motet collection Florilegium Portense,5 says Douglas Cowling in BCW Musical Context (Ibid.). “The text of the motet which appears in both Lenten and Funeral sources shows a strong thematic link with the cantatas for this Sunday. The chorale “Mitten Wir” (Media vita, In the midst of life) is a German paraphrase of the Latin. MOTETS for Introit, Before Sermon at mass and vespers for Choir II, and During Communion: ‘Media Vita’ (8 voices) ­ Jakob Handl (Gallus), Text: Liturgical responsory: In the midst of life we are in death / of whom may we seek for succour, but of thee, O Lord, who for our sins art justly displeased? O Lord God most holy, O Lord most mighty, O holy and most merciful Saviour, deliver us not into the bitter pains of eternal death.”

Trinity 16: Gospel Theme, Bach Treatment

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 sermons (BWV 95, 8, 27, and 161) emphasizing key Christian teachings in these meditations on dea.

As John Eliot Gardiner, observed in his 2004 notes to his 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 [nos. 1, 3, 5]. So too is the magical opening chorus of BWV 27 Wer weiß, wie nahe mir mein Ende, an elegiac lament.”

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). “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.”

Cantata 95: Unique Conception of Trinity 16

Cantata 95 “reveals a unique conception” of the Trinity 16 theme of death and mourning bells, says Tadashi Isoyama in the 1999 liner notes to the Masaaki Suzui BIS recording of the complete sacred cantatas.8 Suzuki’s notes on this recording explain the use of the tromba or corno da tirarsi found in recordings of middle-late Trinity Time. << `Christus, der ist mein Leben', was first performed on 12th September 1723, the sixteenth Sunday after Trinity. The Gospel text for that Sunday, from the Gospel of St. Luke, tells the story of the raising of the widow's son, and the group of works associated with this text (comprising BWV 161, 8 and 27 as well as the present work) are a treasure-store of Bach's musical treatment of the subject of death. Bells of mourning ring in all of them. But BWV 95 reveals a unique conception. Here four (!) different chorales are used; each one fills a different role and has a different form. (The four chorales all deal with the concept of death, and at that time they were all recommended for use in services on that Sunday.) Two of them are thrown into the opening piece, and this handling seems to be a little distant; it is not impossible to look upon this as a criticism by Bach of the text. In this sense, this is a work that should not be overlooked, if we consider anew Bach's compositional method and religious perspective.

The opening movement is an unusual linked series of two chorales bracketing a tenor recitative (and arioso). It begins with a G major, 3/ 4 ritornello dialogue between oboe and strings. This rhythmic 'life' motif governs the first chorale; on the other hand, it also appears to be a plain description of 'death'.

As the chorale presentation ends, the tenor enters with an encouraging 'Mit Freuden'. His death song is ready, and the words are powerful, but the setting seems somewhat forced. Then the horn (see Masaaki Suzuki's notes) leads into a funereal ritornello with a shift to Allegro, 2/2 time, introducing the second chorale (the Lutheran Simeon chorale). But the mood is somewhat hurried, and the message of the text Mit Fried and Freud ich fahr dahin ('With peace and joy I travel there') still gives only an impression of the concept. Here Bach treats the Lutheran chorale as external dogma, and recognition of and sympathy for that interpretation can be thought to be entrusted to the subsequent movements.

As if shaking off a loss, the soprano in a decisive tone bids farewell to the world. Then she sings Valet will ich dir geben, Valerius Herberger's chorale (melody by Melchior Teschner). The quotation of this third chorale is accompanied by a lively motif on continuo and an oboe d'amore obbligato, giving it an aria-like character (D major, 3/4).

The calm tenor sings of wanting to feel death, the end of suffering, in meinen Gliedem' On my limbs'; froth the book of Job — No.4, recitative). An aria (No.5, D major, 3/4) succeeds this, as it were, mysterious passion. 'Ach, schlage doch bald, selge Stunde!' (`Ah, strike then soon, blessed hour!') With these words, the tenor aria is coloured by the surprising sound of a symphony of bells. The first violins are in semiquavers, the seconds and violas in quavers, and the continuo in crotchets, all pizzicato, imitating the sound of diverse sizes of bells. On top of this, two oboes d'amore develop a happy duo.

Some light is shed on this unusual psychological development by the bass recitative (No.6). What lends sense to it is the message, based on the Gospel text of the raising of the widow's son, of certain trust in the resurrection. The line 'selig Auferstehn' (`happy revival') is accompanied by a great upward-sweeping continuo line, leaving a strong impression. At this point the fourth chorale quotation is presented by all voices and instruments, rising to forge a resurrection faith as the cantata ends (No. 7, G major, 4/4).>> © Tadashi Isoyama 1999

About the Tromba or Corno da Tirarsi

<<Continuing from the last volume of cantatas, the major problem of the brass instruments remains. In particular, BWV 46, BWV 67 and BWV 162 are known to scholars as cantatas calling for the 'corno da tirarsi'. But what is this 'corno da tirarsi'? A direct translation of the words yields 'horn with a slide', but no such instrument currently exists. In the original part for BWV 46, the unique indication 'Tromba, O Como da tirarsi' appears in Bach's own handwriting; the meaning of this has been debated roundly, but no single resolution has emerged.

To begin with, whether it be a trumpet or a horn (these instruments were played by the same players), it is a basic principle of all valveless baroque horns that they use only natural overtones; to produce a series of sequentially higher notes such as a scale using only the lips demanded considerable technique. Since Bach often required notes in his compositions that could not be played using natural overtones, a slide was used to change the length of the instrument itself (thereby changing the base note of the overtones), enabling the notes to be played. The means of attaching a slide to a trumpet is relatively simple, but it difficult to believe that it is possible to attach a slide to a horn.

Setting scholarly debate aside, Bach Collegium Japan trumpet player Toshio Shimada has succeeded in developing a horn with a slide which is capable of playing parts that call for more than natural overtones; we have made use of this solution in this series. But in truth, particularly in the opening and third movements of BWV 46 and the opening movement of BWV 95, specific adjustments were necessary to accommodate the key of each piece and the tempo as it was established in the course of rehearsal.>> © Masaaki Suzuki 1999

Tonal Allegory in Cantata 95

The concept of tonal allegory as found in Cantata 95 is explained in depth in Eric Chafe’s notes, Thomas Braatz writes (October 3, 2001) in his BCW Commentary,9 which also includes movement summaries of notes from Bach scholars Philipp Spitta, Albert Schweitzer, and Alfred Dürr. <<Eric Chafe in his "Tonal Allegory in J.S. Bach" is thoroughly confuseby this cantata as he attempts to fit it into his categories of tonal movement from minor to major and from descent to ascent ("catabasis and anabasis"). He has a lot of explaining to do during which he highlights various features from the cantata that others may have overlooked, or least not explained from the unique vantage point of his theories. For this reason I am including the pertinent paragraphs from his expensive book, so that you will not be deprived of his insights:

"In those cantatas that have movements in major and minor modes on the same keynote Bach normally presents the minor mode before the major to emphasize the ideas of ascent and transformation. One descent/ascent cantata, however, reverses that procedure. "Christus, der ist mein Leben." Cantata 95, was written for the sixteenth Sunday after Trinity, the Gospel for which tells of the raising of the youth at Nain (Luke 7:11-17). To highlight the juxtaposition of death and resurrection within the context of faith, Bach presents the first verses of no less than three different chorales in an introductory complex of movements, separated only by recitatives. Two of these --"Christus, der ist mein Leben" and "Mit Fried' und Freud' ich fahr dahin" (with a connecting tenor recitative) -- comprise the opening movement, the former in a sharp, major key (G) and in triple meter, the latter in a flat, minor key (G Dorian) and in quadruple meter. Although the two hymns share words and ideas, "Christus, der ist mein Leben" emphasizes the joyful view of death in a lively setting that takes its cue from the words "Leben," "Gewinn," and Freud, whereas the somewhat archaic style of "Mit Fried' und Freud'" seems more in keeping with "Fried', sanft und stille," and "Schlaf" in Luther's text. Consciously formulated or not, Bach's underlying conception thus owes much to the opposite attributes of "durus" (major) or "mollis" (minor) as associated with both sharp/flat and major/minor tonal polarities. We are not dealing, however, with a positive/negative affective polarity; Bach's choice of these two verses was made, at least in part, because the last line of "Christus, der ist mein Leben" -- "mit Freud' fahr' ich dahin" -- connects one chorale to the other. The tenor recitative joins the two chorales without a break, measuring the tonal distance between the two modes by modulatory stages and providing us as well with the allegory of their relationship. A pronounced catabasis (both tonal and melodic) from G major to C minor marks the turn from the perfect triad and meter associated with the perfect (Christ) to the imperfect (mortality). The tenor solo starts as a jubilus-like extension of the chorale "Mit Freuden, ja, ja mit Herzenslust will ich von hinnen scheiden" and moves to Bach's preferred key for the "sleep of death" on the words "der Erde wieder in ihren Schoß zu bringen." Here the catabasis represents Christian understanding of the duality of death and life as it is already introduced in the antithetical but complementary motivic material that pervades "Christus, der ist mein Leben." [The opening movement of Cantata BWV 95 presents the main instrumental motive in rhythmically identical ascending and descending forms that answer one another between the winds and strings, the quadruple-meter recitative section between the two chorale movements is punctuated by the triple-meter dialogue between the two.] Having accepted this truth, the Christian is free from worldly cares ("Mit Fried' und Freud'").

In the next recitative the abjuration of false desires leads upward from D minor to the D major chorale "Valet will ich dir geben," the fifth and sixth lines of which -- "Im Himmel ist gut wohnen, hinauf steht mein Begier" --voice the hope that underlies the return anabasis. "Valet" retains, rather conspicuously, the duality of ascending and descending motives from "Christus, der ist mein Leben." After this point the antitheses of sharp and flat and anabasis/catabasis are no longer necessary. The following recitative does not modulate widely, and the subsequent aria (the only one in the cantata) stays in D. The first verse of a fourth funeral hymn closes the work in G, the cantata as a whole giving the unmistakable impression of the church's every-present support and comfort for the believer. Although "Christus, der ist mein Leben" is not a true chorale cantata, Bach makes his four funeral hymns into the mainstays of this structure, thereby uniting individual and doctrinal emphases. They, rather than the single aria, embody the duality that lies at the heart of Cantata 95. Thus surrounded and supported by the church, the soloist of the aria expresses his readiness to face death. Melodic anabasis and catabasis are heard several times on individual words and phrases of the final recitative and chorale, in particular in the high first violin line at the beginning of the chorale ("Weil du vom Tod erstanden bist") and the counterbalancing descent of a twelfth in the final line of the bass ("drum fahr' ich hin mit Freuden") again, in which the duality of direction and the positive association of catabasis are reaffirmed one last time.">>

Other Cantata 95 Commentaries

Details of Cantata 95 movements are found in a commentary by Nicholas Anderson from Oxford Composer Companions: J. S. Bach" ed. Malcolm Boyd [Oxford University Press, 1999: 106f), as cited in Braatz’s Introduction to BCML Discussions, Part 2.10 Overall, Cantata 95 is “both instantly accessible (lots of chorales) and profoundly moving,” observes Peter Smaill in his October 17, 2005, commentary. The connections between Cantatas 138 and 95 are probed, including theological elements, as well as Josephus’ "Sodom's apple" image (BWV 95/2) and the overall Cantata 95 “syncopated dance rhythms, operatic soloist interventions and pizzicato display interspersed with their most solemn chorales” where the solemn text is delivered within affirmative music.

Trinity 16 Chorales

The 16th Sunday after Trinity offered Bach a rare, serendipitous situation in his choice of subject matter. Bach’s Leipzig hymnbook, Das Neu Leipziger Gesangbuch (NLGB)11 1682 of Gottfried Vopelius, allowed the choice of chorales from the latter< omnes tempore> section under major headings, specifically the category “Death and Dying,” followed by “The 10 Commandments” and “Christian Life and Hope” for the succeeding two Sundays. Previously, the NLGB had focused on Trinity Time well-known hymns involving liturgy, the Lutheran Catechism, and popular Psalms with important Christian themes for the second half of the church year dealing with the teachings of the Christian Church instead of the major events in the life of Jesus Christ. The one previous exception was Trinity 12 with chorales emphasizing “Cross, Persecution, and Tribulation,” another Bach favorite category.

Thematic chorales played a major role as Bach shaped his three Leipzig cycles of “well-regulated church music.” This is most evident in his setting of six chorales with the themes of “Death and Dying” (“Christus, der ist meins Leben,” “Valet will ich dir geben,” “Wenn mein Stündlein vorhanden ist,” “Liebster Gott, wann werd ich sterben,” “Wer wiss, wie nah mir mein Ende?,” “Welt, ade! Ich bin deine müde”) two in the related “Cross, Persecution and Tribulation” (“Wenn wir in höchsten Nöten sein,” “Wer nur den lieben Gott lässt walten”), and Passion chorales like “O sacred head now wounded.”

Besides a choice of chorales of “Death and Dying,” the NLGB for Trinity 16 in Leipzig specifically lists two chorales to be sung at service: “Wenn wir in höchsten Nöten sein” (When we are in utmost need), as No. 277, “Cross, Persecution and Tribulation,” and Martin Luther’s three-stanza teaching hymn, “Mitten wir im Leben sind” (We are in the middle of life), found with the four-part setting of J. H. Schein in the NLGB, No. 344, “Death and Dying” but not set by Bach.

Trinity 16 Biblical References

The gospel and Bach’s treatment through chorales and poetic text in the cantata as a musical sermon shows that the 16th Sunday after Trinity is part of the third Trinity Time mini-cycle of New Testament teachings on the “Wof Faith and Love,” that is, the meaning of being a Christian, says Paul Zeller Strodach, The Church Year.12 During this time from the 12th to the 18th Sunday after Trinity, the lectionary presents affirmative teachings of parable and miracles, and the Lutheran hymnbook prescribes thematic omnes tempore timely hymns on Sundays that occur primarily between mid August and late September.

The Middle Trinity Time Gospel lessons emphasize “Thematic Patterns of Paired Parables or Teachings & Miracles,” according to Douglas Cowling at the Bach Cantata Website (BCW). The current pairs are: * Trinity 15: Matthew 6: 23-34. Teaching: Avoid worldly cares if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness! * Trinity 16: Luke 7: 11-17 Miracle of the raising of the son of the widow of Nain, And he came and touched the bier: and they that bare him stood still. And he said, Young man, I say unto thee, Arise.

Bach’s Trinity 16 Calendar

For the record Bach was particularly active on this 16th Sunday after Trinity in Leipzig. Here are the cantatas Bach probably presented and their chorales:

Sweet Death & Passion Chorale

In Weimar, Cantata BWV 161, “Komm, du süße Todesstunde” (Come thou, sweet hour of death) is believed to have received its first performance on Sept. 27, 1716. It probably was composed for Trinity 16 the year prior (Oct. 6, 1715) but set aside as that date coincided with a three-month period of state mourning in Weimar, that began on August 1, for Prince Johann Ernst (excluding Trinity 8 to 20).

Cantata BWV 161 uses throughout the Hans Leo Hassler Passion chorale melody, “Herzlich tut mich verlangen/Befiehl du deine Wege” (Heartily do I long/Commend you your ways, NLGB No. 329, Death & Dying): in the opening alto slumber song in basso continuo cantus firmus with obbligato organ, in the closing four-part chorale (Movement No. 6) with recorders obbligato, set to the Christoph Knoll 1605 associated text, “Der Lieb zwar in der Erden” (The body indeed in the earth), Stanza 4, and “is the source of the themes in the other movements (Cantata 161 Recordings, Suzuki Liner Notes). Bach used this chorale, known in English and “Oh sacred head now wounded,” in his music more often than any other.

Death, Dying & Simeon’s Canticle

On September 12, 1723 in his first cycle, Bach instead composed Cantata BWV 95, Christus, der ist meins Leben” (Christ, you are my life),” a second hybrid chorale cantata that has the distinction of citing more chorales than any other cantata – four.

1. The opening chorale chorus is set to the Melchior Vulpius’ prayer for the dying with the 1609 melody “Christus, der ist mein Leben,” originally set to an anonymous eight-stanza poem, proclaiming the opening stanza. It is found in the NLGB No. 369, “Death and Dying.” Francis Browne’s BCW translation of the entire eight-verse “Christus, der ist meins Leben” is found in: Notes on the melody and text are found at BCW,

Bach selectively used the Vulpius melody elsewhere: as a variant of chorale chorus, Cantata BWV 95/1, in the plain chorale, BWV 282 (also in G Major but in triple time), and as an early (c.1700) Neumeister organ chorale prelude in F Major, BWV 1112, and its similar four-part plain chorale setting, BWV 281 (also in F Major in common time).

The melody is listed in the Weimar <Orgelbüchlein> (Little Organ Book) chorale preludes as No. 134 under “Death and Dying” but not set. It is possible that the two plain chorale settings, BWV 281 and 282, originated in Weimar since the Salomo Franck text of the Prince Johann Ernst funeral cantata, “Was ist, das wir Leben nennen?” (What is it that we call life?), BC B-19, calls for settings of Stanzas 1 and 3. Plain chorale BWV 281 and its companion Neumeister organ chorale prelude, BWV 1112, are found in the Hänssler complete Bach Edition chorale settings, Vol. 85, under “Death, Dying and Eternity” (Details: BCW,

The initial chorale chorus in Cantata 95 is followed by an interpolated tenor arioso-recitative, “Mit Freuden, ja mit Herzelust” (With joy, yea with heart’s desire), and the movement concludes with another chorale chorus with interludes, singing Martin Luther’s “Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin” (With peace and joy I now depart) with the solo horn imitating the melody.

The final line of the first stanza of “Christus, der ist mein Leben” proclaims: “Mit Fried fahr ich dahin” (with joy I depart). The words are based on the Nunc dimmitis, Simeon’s Canticle, “Lord, let your servant depart in peace” (Luke 2:29-32), best known for the Feast of the Purification in Luther’s paraphrase, “Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin,” as a four-verse alliterative prayer of thanksgiving and reconciliation with death. It is found in the NLGB 113, under the Purification feast. The German text and Francis Browne’s English translation are found at BCW, Notes on the melody and text are found at BCW,

No. 3. The soprano canto trio aria sings the opening stanza of Valerius Herberger’s 1613 five-stanza text, “Valet will ich dir geben” (Farewell I shall bid to you), to the Melchior Teschner melody, with oboe obbligato interlude. Bach also set this plea to the saviour of the soul in the St. John Passion, BWV 245, with Stanza 3, “In meines Herzen Grunde” (In the depths of my heart), following Pilate’s condemnation of Jesus. The German text and Francis Browne’s English translation are found at BCW, Notes on the melody and text are found at BCW,

Bach sets the melody of “Valet will ich dir geben” as a four-part chorale, BWV 415 in D Major, as early miscellaneous organ chorales, Fantasia Super with pedal obbligato, BWV 735(a) in B-Flat Major, and BWV 736, pedal chorale in 24/16 time and D Major. The chorale also is listed in the <Orgelbüchlein> (Little Organ Book) chorale preludes as No. 132 under “Death and Dying” but not set. It is found in the NLGB as No. 345, “Death and Dying.” Today the popular hymn is known in English as “All glory, laud and honor,” and is found in the current American Lutheran hymnal, Evangelical Lutheran Worship (Minneapolis MN: Augsburg Fortress Press, 2006) as No. 344, for Holy Week.

No. 7. Closing plain chorale, Nikolaus Herman’s 1650 “Wenn mein Stündlein vorhanden ist” (When my little hour is at hand), Stanza 4, “Weil du vom Tod erstanden bist” (While from death you stand), with solo violin obbligato. It is found in the NLGB as No. 330, <omnes tempore>, “Death and Dying,” also listed as pulpit/communion hymns for Trinity 16 and 17. The German text and Francis Browne’s English translation are found at BCW, Notes on the melody and text and found at BCW,

Bach uses of “Wenn mein Stündlein vorhanden ist” are: for Easter Tuesday, no Orgelbüchlein listing; Cantata BWV 31/9(S.5) Easter Sunday; BWV 95/7 (S.4), Trinity 16); BWV 428, 429 (Death & Dying), 430=?247/41; and Johann Ludwig Bach Cantata BWV 15/11, BWV Anh III 157=JLB21/11(S.4) Easter Sunday.

During this time in Leipz, Bach began utilizing texts of Picander and inserting interpolated chorale texts. It quite possible that the hybrid libretto of Cantata 95 was a collaboration of Bach, his Pastor Christian Weiss Sr., and possible Picander. Francis Browne’s translation of the text of Cantata BWV 95 is found at:

Contemporary Hymn: Chorale Cantata 8

On Sept. 24, 1724 the chorale cantata Cycle 2 involves a standard paraphrased Chorale Cantata BWV 8, of the contemporary hymn, “Liebster Gott, wann werd ich sterben” (Loving God, when will I die?). It is based on Caspar Neumann’s 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 a borrowing 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 Schemelli 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, and best known in Leopold Stokowski’s symphonic transcription (EMI CD 57758, RCA CD61267). German text and English translation is found at,_süßer_Tod,_komm_selge_Ruh.

Funeral Hymn Set to Popular Melody

On Oct. 6, 1726 in Cantata Cycle 3, Bach presented his chorus Cantata BWV 27, “Wer wiss, wie nah mir mein Ende?” (Who knows how near is my end?), set to a hybrid libretto. It opens with a chorale chorus setting of the first verse of a 1695 12-stanza contemporary funeral hymn of Princess Ämilie Juliane von Schwarzburg-Rudolstdadt 1695, using the associated, popular Georg Neumark 1640 melody, “Wer nur den lieben Gott lässt walten” (We only the loving God lets govern), NLGB No. 303, “Cross, Persecution and Tribuation.”

The Neumark melody, “Wer nur den lieben Gott lässt walten” (Who only the loving God lets govern) was one of Bach’s favorites and remains a popular hymn today. Bach’s settings include the Neumark original 1640 text in two cantatas for Trinity Sunday 5, Chorale Cantata BWV 93, same title, for Cycle 2 in 1724, and Cantata 88, “Siehe, ich will viel Fischer aussenden” (Behold I will many fishers send out) in Cycle 3 in 1726.

Other Trinity 16 Works

A. On Sept. 28, 1727, there was no performance during the mourning period of Sept. 7, 1727, to Jan. 8, 1728, for deceased Saxon Queen Christiane Eberhardine.
B. On Sept. 12, 1728, in the published Picander so-called Cycle 4, the Cantata text P-59, “Schließet euch, Ihr müden Augen (Close you, your tired eyes), has no chorale listed.
C. On Oct. 10, 1734 (Trinity 16), Chorale Cantata 8 may have been reperformed as part of a possible repeat of the chorale cantata cycle with oratorios for the major feast days, ending at Trinity Time 1735, when Bach introduced the first of two annual cycles of Gottfried Heinrich Stözel’s sacred cantatas.
D. On Sept. 18, 1735, Bach performed Stözel’s two-part cantata “Mein Jesu, deine Vater-Hand”; as part of the cycle “Saitenspiele des Hertzens” (Music Playing of the Heart), text by Benjamin Schmolck, with two more contemporary chorale settings not in the <NLGB>: No. 4, plain chorale, “Die Thronen-Freude dieser Welt” (This world is the throne of joy) Stanza 2, Johann Jacob Schültz 1673 “Was mich auf dieser Welt betrübt” (What the world concerns for me). No. 8, plain chorale, “Gottes Kinder säen zwar traurig und mit Thränen (God’s children sow most mournfully with tears), from Paul Garhardt’s 1653 “Schwingt dich auf zu deinem Gott” (Swing thee up to thy God).
E. About Sept. 16, 1736; Bach may have performed Stözel’s two-part cantata “So bist du doch. Gott, allein meines Herzens Trist und mein Teil,” from the cantata cycle “Das Namenbuch Christi,” (Book of Names of Christ), Schmolck text, No. 58. No chorales are listed in the sources.

Cantata 95 Provenance, Estate Division

Cantata 95 surviving original parts set and other provenance information is found at BCW (Thomas Braatz, October 16, 2005), The 1750 estate division of the three cantatas for the 16th Sunday after Trinity shows that Emmanuel received the surviving parts set of Cantata 95 while the original score is lost (Friedemann?); chorale Cantata 8 parts were given to Anna Magdalena while Friedemann probably received the score which is lost; and chorus Cantata 27 was divided with Emmanuel receiving the score and Friedemann the parts, both surviving. Cantata 161 score and parts are lost and a copy from the late 18th century survives with twin designation for Trinity 16 and the Feast of the Purification. Its provenance is unknown.


1 Cantata 95, BCW Details & Discography, Scoring: Soloists: Soprano, Tenor, Bass; Four-part Chorus; Orchestra: horn, 2 oboe d'amore, 2 violins, viola, continuo. Score Vocal& Piano [1.32 MB],; Score BGA [2.29 MB], References BGA XXII (Cantatas 91-100, Wilhelm Rust, 1875), NBA KB I/23 (Trinity 16 cantatas, Helmuth Osthoff, 1984), Bach Compendium BC A 136, Zwang: K 44.
2 Petzodt, 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: 462).
3 Dürr, Cantatas of J. S. Bach, revised and translated by Richard D. P. Jones (Oxford University Press, New York, 2005: 550).
4 Mincham commentary, The Cantatas of Johann Sebastian Bach: A listener and student guide, Revised 2014; Home Page,
5 BACH'S MOTET COLLECTION: Otto Riemer, "Erhard Bodenschatz und sein Florilegium Portense"; Schünigen: Kaminsky, 1927.
6 Source: BCW Musical Context of Bach Cantatas, Motets & Chorales for 16th Sunday after Trinity
7 Gardner notes,[sdg104_gb].pdf; BCW Recording details,
8 Cantata 95 notes,[BIS-CD991].pdf; BCW Recording details,
9 Braatz’s Cantata 95 BCW Commentary:
10 Braatz’s BCML Discussions, Part 2, Introduction,
11 BACH'S HYMN BOOK: Jürgen Grimm, "Das neu [?] Leipziger Gesangbuch des Gottfried Vopelius (Leipzig 1682)", Berlin: Merseburger, 1969.
12 Strodach, The Church Year: Studies in the Introits, Collects, Epistles and Gospels (United Lutheran Publication House, Philadelphia PA, 1924: 216).

Aryeh Oron wrote (September 22, 2015)
Cantata BWV 95 - Revised &updated Discography

The discography pages of Cantata BWV 95 " Christus, der ist mein Leben" (Christ is my life.) for the 16th Sunday after Trinity on the BCW have been revised and updated.
The cantata is scored for soprano, tenor & bass soloists; 4-part chorus; and orchestra of horn, 2 oboe d'amore, 2 violins, viola & continuo. See:
Complete Recordings (12):
Recordings of Individual Movements (11):
The revised discography includes many listening/watching options to recordings directly from the discography pages, just below the recording details.

I also put at the BCW Home Page:
2 audios & 1 video of the cantata. A short description below the audio/video image is linked to the full details at the discography pages.

I believe this is the most comprehensive discography of this cantata. If you are aware of a recording of BWV 95 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 95: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

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


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Last update: Sunday, May 28, 2017 05:14