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Chorale Melodies: Sorted by Title | 371 4-Part Chorales sorted by Breitkopf Number | Explanation

Chorale Melodies used in Bach's Vocal Works
Herr [or O] Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht

Melody & Text | Use of the CM by Bach | Use of the CM by other composers | Arrangements/Transcriptions | Footnotes

 

Melody & Text: Zahn: | EKG:

Text: Zahn: | EKG:

Historical information about the text as explained in the NBA KB III/1 pp. 191ff.:

The text of the chorale “Herr [or “O”] Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht” has been handed down and recorded with several distinct, widely differing variants, some having a different total number of verses or with a different sequence of verses.

The oldest version is an anonymous broadside containing only two chorale texts (one on each side). There is no indication of where it was published; however, the year is established as 1608. The title is as follows:

ZWEY | Schöne / Geistliche newe Lieder | … | Das Ander. | Wie ein sterbender / vnnd |
von dieser Welt abscheidender | Christen Mensch / jhme das vnschüldi= | ge Leiden Christi / zu einer frölichen | vnd seligen hinfarth / recht nützlich | appliciren vnnd zueignen | möge. | Im Thon /| HERR JEsu Christ wahr Mensch vnd GOtt / etc. ANNO | M. DC VIII. |

Just as there are songs that can be categorized as promoting a “carpe-diem” mode of thinking, here the preceding title promises instruction in the “ars moriendi”.

The first verse reads as follows:

HERR JEsu meines Lebens Licht /
Mein Hort / mein Trost / mein Zuversicht /
Auff Erden bin ich nur ein Gast /
Vnd drückt mich sehr der Sünden Last
.

A second version having 14 verses appears for the first time in 1610 in:

Christliche | Gebet. | Psalm am 55. | Wirff dein Anliegen auff den Her- | ren/…ANNO 1610 |

In the latter, the first verse is as follows:

O Jesu Christ / meins lebens Liecht /
mein hort / mein trost / mein zuversicht:
Auff erden bin ich nur ein Gast
und drücket mich der Sünden last
.

The same text as the latter with a few changes appears in Martin Behm’s collection published in Wittenberg in 1611:

Zehen | Sterbegebet | Reimweise zu- | gerichtet | Durch | MARTINUM BOHE- | mum Laubanensem Lusa- | tium, Predigern da- | selbst…. Wittenberg / … Im Jahr / 1611 |

It is clear that Martin Behm was not the author/poet of this chorale text. He simply included the older, already existing text in his collection of chorales. The fourth line of the first verse is exactly like the oldest version from 1608. In the printed collection “Kirchen- und Haus-Musik” Breslau, 1644, an additional verse was added between verses 6 and 7 beginning with: “Die heiligen fünf Wunden dein….”

This version now containing 15 verses appears in numerous hymnbooks after this time; sometimes, however, the chorale text began with “Herr Jesu” and at other times with “O Jesu”. There are even some shortened versions; for example, from Königsberg, 1650, Hannover, 1659, Lüneburg, 1661, all having 10 verses, but those from Leipzig, 1673, and Dresden, 1676, having 12 verses. Some hymnals offered both versions: Vopelius, Leipzig, 1682, Leipzig, 1707, and Dresden, 1741.

 

Melody/Melodies:

Historical information about the specific melodies most commonly used by Bach for various chorale texts relating primarily to the settings of the following texts:

O (or Herr) Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht
Ach Gott, wie manches Herzeleid
O Jesu, du mein Bräutigam

The NBA makes a clear distinction between two different melodies, both used by Bach for settings of “O (or Herr) Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht”:

The first melody, set only once by Bach, but using the chorale text for “O (or Herr) Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht” is identified as Zahn 314. The NBA designates this combination of chorale text and melody as “Herr Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht I”.

The second melody, frequently used by Bach for the chorale texts for Herr (or O) Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht and Ach Gott, wie manches Herzeleid is identified as Zahn 533a. This important melody is listed by the NBA as “Herr Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht II”.

These melodies are treated separately below:

 

Melody 1: Herr Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht I | Zahn: 314

The source of the melody has yet to be determined accurately and definitively; however, it does seem to come from a period before the Reformation and shows many similarities with “Rex Christe, factor omnium” which may have been the source. See the melody sample as given by Schein.

We find this melody used only in BWV 335 which is a 4-part setting probably from a lost cantata in which the text used was Herr Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht as this is the title given in the Breitkopf and Dietel collections. Breitkopf 236, essentially the same harmonization as Breitkopf 294, even gives a different title not documented elsewhere: O Jesu, du mein Bräutigam Thus it is apparent that Bach also used this melody with yet another chorale text.

 

Melody 2: Herr Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht II | Zahn: 533a | EKG: 317 2

This melody, Herr Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht II, is based upon the secular song Ich fahr dahin, wann es muß sein (“I will go when it is necessary” - ‘dahin fahren’ often meant ‘to die’ not only to travel to some other location on earth). This song appeared in Wolflin Lochamer’s “Liederbuch” printed in Nürnberg circa 1455. It later appeared in association with a different chorale text “Herr Jesu Christ, wahr Mensch und Gott” [this is a famous chorale text used by Bach, but not with this melody] as No. 314 in “Kancyonal” printed by Jan Seklutian in Königsberg, 1552.

In a manuscript written by J. Hänisch, also in Königsberg, but in 1602, the same melody appears with the chorale text “Hilf mir, Herr Jesu, weil ich leb” by Bartholomäus Ringwaldt. There are some differences to be noted here, but even greater similarities so that it could easily be possible that both sources look back to the much older original source, but then went through a different development. Later, there were other variants as well, but remarkably some of the later variants still look back to the early form from 1602. The dance-like rhythms employed betray the secular origin of this melody but seem somewhat incongruous when considering the import of the sacred chorale text.

The oldest source in which both this melody and the chorale text, Herr Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht appear together for the first time is in a collection entitled:

AS HYMNODUS SACER. | Zwölff Geistliche/ | anmuthige / vnd theils newe | Gesänge/ … Interprete | M. CHRISTIANO GALLO, | Pastore Osmünd. | Leiptzig | … (1625)

With several variants which appear later in the Vopelius Hymnbook of 1682 and also in Bach’s settings, this melody is found in a 4-pt. setting by Georg Seidler at the end of the manuscript from Dresden, dated July 17, 1626.

With further variants and now connected with the chorale text Ach Gott, wie manches Herzeleid, the melody appears in:

PSALMODIA NOVA, | …Das ist: Hundert Christliche | …Gesänge: …Von | M. JOSEPHO CLAUDERO, P.L.C. | vnd Schul-Rectore zu Altenbur. | LIPSIAE,…(1630)

Bach used this melody five times: in ľ time in BWV 153 and in BWV 58, then in 4/4 time with additional embellishments in BWV 44 and BWV 3, and finally in augmentation (long note valu) for the cantus firmus in BWV 118. By comparing the various early pre-Bach versions with his own, it should become apparent that Bach showed no particular preference for any particular version. Indeed, Bach’s versions deviate from the earlier versions of the melody just as much as they deviated from each other.

Here is a comparison of the various changes that Bach made to the melody.

Here is an early sacred use of the melody with a different text:

For a grand comparison of various versions referred to above or otherwise important, see the following listing which places one on top of the other for easier comparison:

Text 2/1: Ach Gott, wie manches Herzeleid | EKG: 286
By Martin Moller (1587)

Text 2/2: O Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht | EKG: 317
By Anon (1608)

 

Use of the Chorale Melodies by Bach:

Melody 1:

Untexted: | EKG:

Ver

Work

Mvt.

Year

Br

RE

KE

Di

BC

Score

Music Examples

- 1

BWV 335

-

?

294
236

   

83

F170.1

PDF | PDF v

Chorale (MG) [midi]

[1] Breitkopf 294 with the title: Herr Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht
Breitkopf 236 with the title: O Jesu, du mein Bräutigam
probably from a lost cantata

Comparison of BWV 335 with an older form of the melody:

 

Melody 2:

Text 2/1: Ach Gott, wie manches Herzeleid | EKG: 286
Author: Martin Moller (1587)

Ver

Work

Mvt.

Year

Br

RE

KE

Di

BC

Score

Music Examples

1

BWV 3

Mvt. 1

1725

-

-

-

-

A33:1

-

Mvt. 1 (CCARH) [midi] | Mvt. 1 (Leusink) [ram]

2

BWV 3

Mvt. 2

1725

-

-

-

-

A33:2

-

Mvt. 2 (CCARH) [midi] | Mvt. 2 (Leusink) [ram]

18

BWV 3

Mvt. 6

1725

156
307

8

156
308

28

A33:6

PDF | PDF v

Mvt. 6 (CCARH) [midi] | Mvt. 6 (MG) | Mvt. 6 ver (MG) [midi] | Mvt. 6 (Leusink) [ram]

1

BWV 44

Mvt. 4

1724

-

-

-

-

A78:4

-

Mvt. 4 (CCARH) [midi] | Mvt. 4 (Leusink) [ram]

1

BWV 58

Mvt. 1

1727

-

-

-

-

A26:1

-

Mvt. 1 (CCARH) [midi] | Mvt. 1 (Leusink) [ram]

16-18

BWV 153

Mvt. 9

1724

217

9

217

-

A25:8

PDF

Mvt. 9 (MG) [midi] | Mvt. 9 (Leusink) [ram]

 

Text 2/2: O Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht | EKG: 317
Author: Anon (1608)

Ver

Work

Mvt.

Year

Br

RE

KE

Di

BC

Score

Music Examples

2

BWV 58

Mvt. 5

1727

-

-

-

-

A26:5

-

Mvt. 5 (CCARH) [midi] | Mvt. 5 (Leusink) [ram]

1

BWV 118

Ver 1

1736-37

-

-

-

-

B23a

-

Complete Work (Leusink) [ram]

1

BWV 118

Ver 2

1746-47

-

-

-

-

B23b

-  

 

Untexted:

Peter Williams in “The Organ Music of J. S. Bach” (2nd Edition) Cambridge University Press, 2003, lists BWV 750 as “Herr Jesu Christ, mein’s Lebens Licht” on p. 492. It is not included in the NBA which does not recognize this work as Bach’s own composition.

 

Use of the Chorale Melody by other composers:

Michael Praetorius (1571-1621):
O Jesu, meines Lebens Licht, 4-pt. setting of a completely different melody (the text is slightly different as well).

Johann Hermann Schein (1586-1630):
Rex Christe (1627) from a 4-pt. setting of the Latin hymn which is really Herr Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht I.

Samuel Scheidt (1587-1654):
4-pt Setting of Herr Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht II from the Tabulatur=Buch (Görlitz, 1650).

Georg Friedrich Kauffmann (1679-1735):
Herr Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht II, Chorale Prelude for Organ.

Johann Friedrich Fasch (1688-1758):
Cantata: Ach Gott, wie manches Herzeleid

Johann Ludwig Krebs (1713-1780):
Herr Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht (Version unknown), Chorale Prelude for Organ

Johann Friedrich Doles, sr.(1715-1797):
Ach Gott, wie manches Herzeleid, Cantata for Chorus, Soloists, and Orchestra

Max Reger (1873-1916):
O Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht, Chorale Prelude for Organ, Op. 67/32 (1902)

 

Arrangements/Transcriptions of Bach's use of the Chorale Melodies:

See list of Piano Transcriptions of BWV 3/1 by various composers/arrangers at:
Piano Transcriptions of Bach's Works - Index by BWV Number Part 1: Cantatas

 

Footnotes:

[2] The EKG also uses this melody for a communion hymn “O Jesu, du mein Bräutigam” [text by Johann Heermann (1585-1647) while the Martin Moller text, based upon the Latin “Jesu dulcis memoria” by Bernhard von Clairvaux (1090-1153) uses the melody “Vater unser im Himmelreich” in place of the melody under discussion here].

 

Sources: NBA, vols. III/2.1 & 2.2 in particular [Bärenreiter, 1954 to present] and the BWV ("Bach Werke Verzeichnis") [Breitkopf & Härtel, 1998]
The PDF files of the Chorales were contributed by Margaret Greentree J.S. Bach Chorales
Software: Capella 2004 Software, version 5.1.
Prepared by Thomas Braatz & Aryeh Oron (January 2006)

Chorales BWV 250-438
Recordings | General Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Chorales in Bach's Vocal Works: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Hidden Chorale Melody Allusions | Passion Chorale
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Chorales BWV 250-300 | Chorales BWV 301-350 | Chorales BWV 351-400 | Chorales BWV 401-438
Texts & English Translations of Chorales:
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Chorale Melodies:
Sorted by Title | 371 4-Part Chorales sorted by Breitkopf Number | Explanation
MIDI files of the Chorales:
Cantatas BWV 1-197 | Other Vocal Works BWV 225-248 | Chorales BWV 250-438
Articles:
The Origin of the Texts of the Chorales [Schweitzer] | The Origin of the Melodies of the Chorales [Schweitzer] | The Chorale in the Church Service [Schweitzer] | Choral / Chorale [Terry] | The History of the Breitkopf Collection of J. S. Bach’s Four-Part Chorales [Braatz] | Chorale Melody Allusions in Bach's Vocal Works [Braatz]
Hymnals used by Bach | Abbreviations used for the Chorales | Links to other Sites about the Chorales

Chorale Melodies: Sorted by Title | 371 4-Part Chorales sorted by Breitkopf Number | Explanation

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Last update: ýMarch 11, 2008 ý16:55:57