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Commentaries: Main Page | Cantatas BWV 1-50 | Cantatas BWV 51-100 | Cantatas BWV 101-150 | Cantatas BWV 151-200 | Cantatas BWV 201-224 | Other Vocal Works BWV 225-524 | Sources

Cantata BWV 101
Nimm von uns Herr, du treuer Gott

P. Spitta | Voigt | A. Dürr | F. Smend | Commentary Footnotes


Thomas Braatz wrote (August 9, 2002):

Spitta's comments concentrate on Mvt. 4, bass aria which replaces the 4th verse of the chorale text, „Warum willst du so zorning sein?“ [“Why do you want to be so angry.”] The agitated prelude (ritornello) with the oboes describes the ‘anger.’ Then the bass voice intones in the ‘Andante’ section the beginning line of the verse with the chorale melody. After that the lovely instrumental accompaniment interrupts again and the voice starts joining the instruments, but then, once again, the chorale melody changes everything to a measured gait. Thus it continues in a parallel major key, but when the bass wants to return to the main key of the aria theme, the instruments take over the chorale melody. They are no longer satisfied with only the 1st line of the chorale melody. Now they hover in the complete presentation of the chorale melody above the agitated sequences of the bass voice and bc. It is as if the oboes have just been awakened by the initial phrase of the chorale and have simply been waiting all this time for this opportunity to make themselves known. Here Bach has allowed the chorale melody to appear in a recitative form over the freely invented words of the vocal part.

For those who are intimately acquainted with these chorale melodies, the effect can be thrilling when amidst all the strange new melodies unexpectedly the very familiar melody of a choral is heard. It is a feeling, as if, for a moment, despite the fact that it has been temporarily obscured, the sun, the giver of life, comes from behind the clouds and suddenly sheds light on everything. Bach counted on having listeners who had such an intimate acquaintance with these chorales. There were listeners who had sung these chorales many times in church and even at home, where they offered comfort in the face of personal difficulties. Bach expected his listeners to make these connections with the chorale melodies and the words that were associated with them.


This is one of the most powerful cantatas, but it also has such a somber greatness that the modern-day listeners will need to be educated to appreciate its power and beauty. The opening chorus, with its expansive forms and its lofty style begins with a strict, wonderfully serious, 7-pt. orchestral ritornello. The strict fughetta-like development of the three lower voices present in faster notation the chorale melody before the cantus firmus begins with its slower notation of the same. Every vocal line is filled with deep expression. Wonderfully moving is how the soprano, after the words, “verdienet haben allzumal” [“have deserved in any case”] throws off the shackles of its own part in order to join the lower voices in the motif that they are singing.
While the choir is singing, the orchestra is restricted mainly to a sighing and lamenting motif that was already presented in the initial ritornello. Toward the end of each line of verse, the emotional main motif returns. It is important that the woodwinds should be in balance with the strings. [This was written at a time, prior to WW I, when string players seemed to dominate the orchestra in sheer numbers.] As a powerful mvt. with a passionate content, it must not be taken too slowly.

The tenor aria is of such a type where the voice seems to be unable to hold unto a theme, but instead engages in declamation while the obbligato instrument provides for the unity of the mvt. as well as for a lively contrast with Mvt. 1.

The bass aria is treated rather freely and is definitely of a yet higher quality than the tenor aria. The contrast between the ‘Vivace’ and ‘Andante’ sections should not be overdone, otherwise the unity of the entire mvt. will suffer. The last 4 measures of the vocal part should also be taken ‘Andante’ even though it is not given a specific indication. An almost feverish unrest is expressed in the cascading figures of the initial ritornello.

The duet for soprano and alto accompanied by a flute and an oboe da caccia is a significant piece with deep expression. A fluid tempo should be chosen. The solo instruments should be actively engaged in playing their parts, for all too often, the opposite occurs during performances.

With the recitatives included, this is not an easy task for the solo singers, but rewarding because of the warmth of expression that can be made available here.


Every mvt. of this cantata is a verse from the chorale text by Martin Moller (who used the melody ‘Aufer immensam’ originally a Latin melody, Wittenberg, 1541), written during the time of the plague. The unknown librettist took verses 1, 3, 5, and 7 directly and paraphrased vs. 2, 4, and 6 as arias. In the latter, the librettist used the opportunity to make references to the Gospel reading for the 10th Sunday after Trinity: Luke 19: 41-48. In addition other passages are also referred to: John 8:44 and 1 Peter 5:8. Even in mvts. 4 and 6, the references back to the Moller text are made with only slight changes. Only Mvt. 2 is completely free of such references.

Bach, likewise, stays fairly close musically to the chorale melody and only departs completely from it in Mvt. 2. The reason for this close association with the chorale melody may be due to the fact that Moller's text uses the chorale melody for the Luther chorale text, Vater unser im Himmelreich, which, with its Doric mode sound, must have reminded the members of the congregation in Bach’s time of the Luther chorale heritage. The latter would cause a feeling of distance and great respect. Had Bach been working with a chorale melody of a more modern vintage, he probably would have treated the cantata with a freer form of composition.

Actually, the form of Mvt. 1 is really not very much different than most chorale cantatas: the chorale melody is presented line by line in long notes by the soprano voice (cantus firmus,) while being supported by the lower voices and is embedded in an orchestral ritornello that has its own thematic material. Despite all of this, the vocal elements dominate while the instruments play a secondary role. There is no concertato effect (Bach often marks such mvts. ‘Concerto’) which often occurs in other introductory mvts. to the cantatas. One could easily take the main thematic material of the introductory sinfornia, make it vocal and have a text sung to it. The main motif keeps changing between the winds and the strings. Another motif which already appears in the opening ritornello becomes more significant in the later course of the mvt.: [the ‘sighing motif’] which appears with different, beginning intervals. Important to note is the fact that the orchestral accompaniment has long stretches where there is little or no thematic material, but instead the motifs predominate. As a result, the choral material stands out while the orchestra plays a much more secondary role, a rather uncommon feature in Bach.

This allows the importance of the choral setting to stand out more. The voices (in some versions) are supported by a trombone choir with the upper part played by Zink (‘cornet.’) In addition the cf has the flute playing an octave higher the part that the soprano sings (in some versions.) The lower voices engage in ‘Vorimitation’ [“preimitation” which means that they introduce in faster note values in free polyphonic form which sound like fughettas] to prepare the listener for main entry of the cf. In reality, the entire mvt. is a very expacf. motet, the most unusual characteristic of which is the supplement of the orchestral parts which sometimes join in as they duplicate some of the vocal parts. An example of this also occurs in BWV 118 “O Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht.”

Mvt. 2: With the help of the flute, in a later version the violin, the concertante element that was missing in Mvt. 1 now comes into its own. Here Bach can use word painting more easily as on the word “ruhn” [“rest”] where the singer has to sing a very long note. There are upward-leaping motifs on the word, “Höchster” [“Highest”]; sighing motifs on “Flehen” [“entreat”] and a descending melody line on “vergehen” [“to pass away”]

Mvt. 3 has a highly ornamented version of the chorale melody with an ostinato bc that is derived from it. There are short arioso-type sections, but also ‘secco’-type sections as well.

Mvt. 4, the 2nd aria has a very unusual form which arises from the fact that Bach is trying to combine a very dramatic, passionate section (‘vivace’) with the citation of the chorale melody in both vocal and instrumental form. Right after the ritornello played by the oboes and bc, the bass voice begins with the quote of the chorale melody. In the middle section, the oboes play the entire verse of the chorale in a 4-part setting. This section is ‘andante’, but soon, at the end of the middle section, the fast ritornello from the beginning reappears as a deceptive da capo which has been radically reduced. This gives the impression of a ‘rounded-off’ more complete composition.

Mvt. 5 is very much like Mvt. 3, but has a more regular, uniform time structure.

Mvt. 6, the duet, is the high point of this cantata with its expressively pleading theme in a siciliano rhythm which, played by the flute, is the counterpoint to the chorale melody played by the oboe da caccia. These parts are switched later on. All the thematic material for the rest of the mvt. is derived from it. Again a pseudo da capo is used to close this mvt.


Perhaps the most interesting aspect of all the research that I did into this cantata is contained in a one-line reference to this cantata by Friedrich Smend, who does not otherwise discuss this cantata. For this you will need to understand Bach’s ability to reference a chorale melody in the form of a variation thereof. If you are looking for an exact quotation, you will not find it in this instance, but if you have examined how Bach creates variations of a chorale melody presented in Mvt. 1 of a cantata and then proceeds to use variations of it in creating thematic material for the arias, then this will make sense:

Smend states that the main motif introduced immediately at the beginning of Mvt. 1 is based on none other than that of another Luther hymn (Bach is trying very hard to create the atmosphere and sound of an earlier period by making this mvt. sound more like the old fashioned, archaic motet. He does this musically with certain chord progressions that resemble those of the older church modes. He also has the trombones play colla parte with the voices, another feature of this older time.) Here Bach uses another Luther hymn that I have discussed before
where similarly this Luther hymn, “Dies sind die heiligen zehn Gebot,” [“These are the Holy Ten Commandments”] appears at the beginning of the ritornello. There is even an example from the score with comparison to the actual chorale melody:
Here in BWV 101 is a variation or modification of this melody, but it is still fairly well recognizable (with a bit of musical imagination which Bach certainly had.)

What does Smend say about this for BWV 101? The motif appears 10 times in the basso continuo. Of course, as a doubting Thomas, I have to check this out and what do I find? Only 9 entrances! What am I missing here? Careful inspection of the bc part revealed that there was one instance that I continually overlooked because it involved a further fugal transformation of the theme. In this single instance the theme is inverted in what is technically referred to as a ‘comes inversus.’ Here then are the 10 entrances of the theme (in the basso continuo) referring to the 10 Commandments:
1) ms. 22 – 25
2) 51 – 54
3) 89 – 92
4) 111 – 114 (together with the bass voice)
5) 117 – 120 (together with the bass voice)
6) 152 – 155 (together with the bass voice)
7) 177 – 179 (slightly modified and reduced but still recognizable)
8) 185 – 188
9) 190 – 192 (inverted – together with bass voice)
10) 253-256

While I am ‘way out on a limb’ anyhow, why not ask, “Why is the ninth instance chosen for the inversion?” Take the 9th commandment, but invert it, so that it is not directed at Bach, but rather that Bach is the victim of such action. Now find someone in Bach’s community who is so astute musically that he can hear this in the music without seeing the score, or perhaps it was one of those individuals involved with music who might on occasion substitute for Bach. What a cleverly coded way to send a message to a specific individual! I know this sounds crazy, but if anyone could do this musically, it would be Bach.

Other occurrences of the same theme elsewhere:
1) Violino I 1 – 4
2) Oboe I 5 – 8
3) Violino I & 2 17 – 19 (inverted)
4) Oboe I 19 – 22
5) Oboe I 46 – 49
6) Violino I 49 – 52
7) Violino I 75 – 78
8) Oboe I 78 – 81
9) Oboe I 85 – 88
10) Oboe I 101 – 104
11) Violino I 103 – 106
12) Oboe I 113 – 116
13) Violino I 115 – 118
14) Oboe I 137 – 140
15) Oboe I 156 – 159
16) Violino I 160 – 163
17) Oboe I 172 – 174 (inverted)
18) Violino I 174 – 177
19) Violino I 188 – 191
20) Oboe I 192 – 195
21) Oboe I 227 – 229 (inverted)
22) Violino I 229 – 232
23) Violino I 232 – 235
24) Oboe I 236 – 239
25) Violino I 227 – 229 (inverted)
26) Oboe I 250 – 253

If anything, this list should give you an idea of the density of Bach’s polyphonic writing. On the surface, you might think, “How boring! Always the same melody keeps popping up.” But in reality, this fugal subject enhances the unity of the parts while it keeps hammering away at the 10 Commandments theme, which, because of its connection with Luther gives this mvt. the feeling that it represents Luther’s time. The archaic motet sound helps to create this connection with an earlier century as well.

Thomas Braatz wrote (August 9, 2002):
BWV 101 - Commentary Footnotes

The first cantatas to be published after Bach’s death mainly as a result of Mendelssohn’s efforts with the SMP (BWV 244) are the cantatas BWV 101, BWV 102, BWV 103, BWV 104, BWV 105, BWV 106 which appeared in a score and also piano reduction (Simrock, Bonn, 1830.)

The other footnote to the commentaries concerns the ‘sighing’ motif which pervades the entire 1st mvt. In his book on the cantatas, Dürr gives musical illustrations to show the different intervals which this motif can assume during the course of the mvt.
It is very interesting to observe and hear how Bach manipulates this motif. For this it is important to understand the ‘Urform’ [“the original form from which all variations of the form can evolve”] as a general shape. Here is the general shape and features of the ‘sighing’ motif:
In a measure consistingof two main beats, it generally begins on the offbeat before the second main beat in the measure.

The general direction of movement in the figure is down, then up, then down. More specifically the downward leap can be almost any interval except an interval consisting of a half-step or semi-tone. Then follows an upward movement of only a semi-tone, after which another downward leap of more a whole tone takes place. Here you might be thinking of subject of Bach’s Fugetta (BWV 889) which drops down a major third, leaps up a fourth after which it drops down a seventh. While the final leap downwards does occur quite a number of times in BWV 101, it is the leap upwards of a fourth that would disqualify from fitting into the mold, the ‘Urform’ mold. It is the chromatic ½ step movement upward that gives it its poignancy and makes it seem sad as if someone were crying or weeping. The angularity of the Fugetta (BWV 889) is much more powerful as it establishes its presence, whereas the semi-tone movement upwards in the ‘sighing’ figure endows it with sadness.

To describe Bach’s use of this figure in BWV 101, I will use the following system based on ½ tones and whole tones (D = down; U = up): D1 = one step down, U1/2 half-step up
Bach first uses this three-note figure with very small intervals:
Ms. 25 Oboe I + Violino I D 1 U ½
27 Oboe II + Violino II D ½ U ½ {[This figure which imitates immediately the figure above has the smallest interval and appears near the beginning of the composition. From this point the intervals begin to open up to wider and wider intervals.]
31 Bc D 2 U ½
32 Oboe II + Violino II D 1 ½ U ½
32 Oboe I + Violino I D 2 U ½ [Notice the entry here is like a stretto, with one group of instruments entering before the other has finished – a sort of dovetailing]
33 Taille + Viola D1 ½ U ½ [Note the entrance of a third group of instruments with the same figure]
33 – 34 Oboe II + Violino II D 3 U ½ [Note the gradually expanding interval between the notes!]
34 Oboe I + Violino I D 2 U ½
34 Bc D 2 ½ U ½ D 4 ½ [Here the complete figure occurs for the 1st time with the final interval being a drop of a seventh]
At this point the upper instrumental parts also include a drop of a seventh as follows:
D 4 ½ U ½ but they do not extend the figure as the bc does.

This goes on this way for a while until the bc makes a notable change:
Bc 108 – 110 D 3 ½ U 1 D 3 ½ [a whole tone is introduced in the middle of the figure]
Another interesting change occurs for the first time in the bass and alto vocal parts:
Bass + later Alto 141-142, 148-149, 181 ff. U 4 D ½ later answered with U 4 D 1 [Here the theme has been inverted! The instruments later imitate this new transformation of the theme.]
Later in ms. 171 the bc has a drop of an augmented 7th.

Unrelated to the ‘sighing’ motif, there is a series of downward-stepping sequences in the bc ms. 121 – 128 and 197 – 211. This coupled with the drooping, sighing figures helps to set the somber, serious, and very sad mood for the entire mvt.


Listen for the motif, hear how the intervals increase in size gradually, observe the dovetailing of parts, and above all, see if you can catch the inversion of the motif. The more you look at the score or listen to the music carefully (hopefully both!) the more you will continue to be amazed at Bach's consummate skill and artistry. Below the surface there is so much more going on than you can even imagine. Somehow I feel that I am only 'scratching it.'


Cantata BWV 101: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Commentaries: Main Page | Cantatas BWV 1-50 | Cantatas BWV 51-100 | Cantatas BWV 101-150 | Cantatas BWV 151-200 | Cantatas BWV 201-224 | Other Vocal Works BWV 225-524 | Sources

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Last update: ýNovember 26, 2011 ý09:26:30