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Cantata BWV 45
Es ist dir gesagt, Mensch, was gut ist
English Translation in Interlinear Format
Cantata BWV 45 - You have been told, mankind, what is good

Event: Cantata for the 8th Sunday after Trinity
Readings: Epistle: Romans 8: 12-17; Gospel: Matthew 7: 15-23
Text: Micah 6: 8 (Mvt. 1); Matthew 7: 22-23 (Mvt. 4); Johann Heermann (Mvt. 7); Anon (Mvts. 2, 3, 5, 6) [Walther Blankenburg suggested Christoph Helm]
Chorale Text: O Gott, du frommer Gott

Biblical quotations in green font, chorales in purple

First Part

1

Chorus [S, A, T, B]

Flauto traverso I/II, Oboe I/II, Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo

Es ist dir gesagt, Mensch,
You have been told, mankind,
was gut ist und was der Herr von dir fordert, nämlich:
what is good and what the Lord requires of you, namely:
Gottes Wort halten und Liebe üben und demütig sein vor deinem Gott.
Micah 6:8
to keep God's word and to live in love and be humble before your God.

2

Recitative [Tenor]

Continuo

Der Höchste läßt mich seinen Willen wissen
The Highest lets me know his will
Und was ihm wohlgefällt;
and what pleases him well;
Er hat sein Wort zur Richtschnur dargestellt, Isaiah 28:17-18
He has revealed his word as a the guiding principle [plumbline]
Wornach mein Fuß soll sein geflissen
which my foot should zealously
Allzeit einherzugehn
at all times follow
Mit Furcht, mit Demut und mit Liebe
with fear and with humility and with love
Als Proben des Gehorsams, den ich übe,
as tests of the obedience which I practise
Um als ein treuer Knecht dereinsten zu bestehn. Luke 12:42ff;Luke 16 :1-7
in order as a faithful servant to pass future tests.

3

Aria [Tenor]

Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo

Weiß ich Gottes Rechte,
If I know God's justice,
Was ist's, das mir helfen kann,
that is what can help me,
Wenn er mir als seinem Knechte
when from me as his servant
Fordert scharfe Rechnung an.
he demands a strict account.
Seele, denke dich zu retten,
Soul, consider how to save yourself:
Auf Gehorsam folget Lohn;
Reward follows obedience;
Qual und Hohn
torment and shame
Drohet deinem Übertreten!
threaten you when you transgress!

Second Part

4

Arioso [Bass]

Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo

Es werden viele zu mir sagen an jenem Tage:
Many will say to me on that day:
Herr, Herr, haben wir nicht in deinem Namen geweissaget,
Lord, have we not prophesied in your name,
haben wir nicht in deinem Namen Teufel ausgetrieben,
have we not driven out devils in your name,
haben wir nicht in deinem Namen viel Taten getan?
have we not done many deeds in your name?
Denn werde ich ihnen bekennen:
Then I shall declare to them:
Ich habe euch noch nie erkannt,
I have never known you,
weichet alle von mir, ihr Übeltäter! Matthew 7: 22-23
all of you go away from me, you evil doers!

5

Aria [Alto]

Flauto traverso I, Continuo

Wer Gott bekennt
Who acknowledges God
Aus wahrem Herzensgrund,
from the true depths of his heart,
Den will er auch bekennen.
him he will also be willing to acknowledge.
Denn der muß ewig brennen,
But that person must burn for ever
Der einzig mit dem Mund
who only with his mouth
Ihn Herren nennt.
Mark 7:6 (Isaiah 29 :13)
names him Lord.

6

Recitative [Alto]

Continuo

So wird denn Herz und Mund selbst von mir Richter sein,
Therefore my heart and mouth themselves will be my judges,
Und Gott will mir den Lohn nach meinem Sinn erteilen:
and God wants to grant me my reward according to what I have intended:
Trifft nun mein Wandel nicht nach seinen Worten ein,
If now my way of life does not accord with his word,
Wer will hernach der Seelen Schaden heilen?
Mark 8 :36
who afterwards will heal my soul's shame ?
Was mach ich mir denn selber Hindernis?
Why then do I make an obstacle for myself?
Des Herren Wille muß geschehen,
The Lord's will must happen,
Doch ist sein Beistand auch gewiß,
but his assistance is also certain,
Daß er sein Werk durch mich mög wohl vollendet sehen.
so that he may see his work in me accomplished well.

7

Chorale [S, A, T, B]

Flauto traverso I/II, Oboe I/II, Violino I col Soprano, Violino II coll'Alto, Viola col Tenore, Continuo

Gib, daß ich tu mit Fleiß,
Grant that I may do with diligence
Was mir zu tun gebühret,
what it is proper for me to do,
Worzu mich dein Befehl
wherever your command
In meinem Stande führet!
leads me in my position!
Gib, daß ichs tue bald,
Grant that I may soon do it
Zu der Zeit, da ich soll;
at the time when I should do it;
Und wenn ich's tu, so gib,
and when I do it, then grant
Daß es gerate wohl!
that it may turn out well!

Notes on the text:

BWV 45 was first performed on 11th August 1726. It was therefore part of Bach’s third annual cycle (1725 -27) which contains cantatas treated in a variety of ways. Between February and September 1726 Bach performed a series of 25 cantatas whose texts had a common origin in a yearly cycle published by an unknown writer in 1704 in Meiningen .It was republished at least twice, notably in 1726 at the Hofkapelle at Rudolstadt in Thuringia.

Eighteen of these cantatas were by his cousin Johann Ludwig Bach, who was Kapellmeister at Meiningen from 1711 until his death in 1731. Bach repeated some of these cantatas in later years. He composed seven cantatas of his own using texts from the cycle . All the texts begin with a quotation from the Old Testament and include in the middle a text from the New Testament, and so they lend themselves easily to a two-part structure which suited the practice in Leipzig of having the first part of the cantata before the sermon on the second part after the sermon.

The Old Testament passage used for the opening chorus comes from the prophet Micah, who was active around the time of the fall of Samaria (721 BC). The gospel reading for this Sunday warns against false prophets and insincere profession of faith. Micah’s words develop these thoughts by proposing an alternative ideal In the original context the prophet argues against the insincere outward profession of religion and puts forward instead a memorable threefold summary of the spiritual teaching of the prophets. These words are often quoted. Some may remember that in 1977 President Carter took his oath of office on a family bible open at this passage and in his inaugural address referred to “the timeless admonition of the ancient prophet Micah”.

Bach sets Micah’s words to magnificent joyful music that makes clear that the admonition is not to be regarded as a burdensome command imposed on us but a precious revelation of how to live. The following recitative and tenor aria therefore stress the value and importance of such guidance. “Richtschnur” is literally a plumb line and the uncommon word may recall a passage from Isaiah which Christians later read as referring to Christ as the necessary foundation for living our lives well.(Isaiah 28 : 17-19).Micah’s threefold admonition is repeated as Furcht, Demut and Liebe. The transformation of “Gottes Wort halten” into Furcht (fear) may seem puzzling but as often what is meant is not abject terror before a dangerous threat but a proper reverence for God’s immeasurable goodness. The references to “treuer Knecht”and “ scharfe Rechnung” would have brought to mind for Bach’s congregation New Testament passages about the faithful servant who knows and carries out his master’s will and of the steward who has to give an account of himself (Luke 12, Luke 16). The dire consequences of not following God’s advice on how to live are stressed at the end of the aria and this idea introduces well the bass arioso that begins the second half of the cantata. The words are taken directly from the Gospel reading and as set by Bach give an energetic portrayal of the decisive vehemence with which Christ rejects hypocritical followers.

In case such an uncomproattitude might seem discouraging the alto aria gives assurance of God’s positive response to those who respond sincerely to his guidance. But echoing words of Isaiah that Christ himself quotes the second half of the aria warns of the dangers of professing Christ with the mouth instead of the heart.

The final recitative reflects further on these issues in the implicit light of Christ’s question, "What does it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul” (Mark 8:36) . The concluding chorale takes two strophes from Johann Heermann's "O Gott, du frommer Gott," which stress the practical active response that is the necessary response to God’s revelation of how we should live.

Whittaker damns this text with faint praise : “The libretto is cold and wanting in imagery , though not devoid of skill” . But though this cantata text may be considered to be without forceful expression or striking originality, it does present a coherent argument and Bach is able to turn what Whittaker calls “a homily on conduct” into compelling music.

--

This Translation in Parallel Format

English Translation by Francis Browne (June 2002; revised & Notes: September 2011)
Contributed by Francis Browne (June 2002, September 2011)

Cantata BWV 45: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3
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Chorale Text:
O Gott, du frommer Gott

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Last update: ýMarch 23, 2012 ý14:00:08