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Cantata BWV 123
Liebster Immanuel, Herzog der Frommen
Discussions - Part 4

Continue from Part 3

Discussions in the Week of January 8, 2017 (4th round)

William Hoffman wrote (January 9, 2017):
Epiphanyfest: Chorale Cantata 123, "Liebster Immanuel"

(Note: Cantata 123 was omitted from the BCML Discussion of the chorale cantatas in January 2015. Cantata BWV 248VI will be introduced next year as part of the BCML Discussion of Bach’s later Christological Cycle of major/later works.)

As the Christmas Season of 1724-25 drew to a close, Bach in his chorale cantata cycle turned to a reduced orchestra without festive brass and selected a pietist Jesus love song in old-fashion, two-part BAR Form but set in triple-time dance style for Cantata BWV 123, “Liebster Immanuel, Herzog der Frommen” (Dearest Immanuel, leader of the righteous). Lasting 20 minutes and scored for pairs of flutes and oboes d’amore with strings, Bach’s musical sermon for the Feast of Epiphany 1725 has the general import of the rejection of the world’s vanities and the embrace of Jesus, with a hint of the pending sacrifice on the cross in the central tenor aria.

Cantata 123 begins with a solemn procession of believers in the opening chorale fantasia in 9/8 pastorale style. The six-movement symmetrical-form setting of the Ahasverus Fritsch’s (1679) chorale closes with a quiet prayer of affirmation and acceptance. The internal poetic-paraphrases offer two contrasting male-voice da-capo arias for tenor and bass and two high-voice (alto and soprano) plain recitatives. The plaintive central tenor aria has a brief (4-meanure) operatic style central “rage” aria to the text, “Wenn die Ungewitter toben” (If the thunderstorm rages).1

Chorale Cantata 123 was premiered on Saturday, 6 January 1725, for the Epiphanyfest, also known as the Adoration of the Magi, at the early main service of Thomas Church before the sermon on the gospel (Matthew 2:1-12) by Pastor Christian Weise, says Martin Petzoldt in Bach Commentary, Vol. 2, Advent to Tritintyfest.2 It was repeated at the afternoon vespers before the sermon on the day’s Epistle, Isaiah 60:1-6 (Arise, shine, for thy light has come, KJV). The full text is found at The German text is that of Luther’s translation published in 1545, the English is the Authorised (King James) Version 1611. The Introit Psalm for the Feast of the Epiphany (January 6) is Psalm 8, Domine, Dominus noster (O Lord our Lord, how excellent in thy name in all the earth!, KJV, text, says Petzoldt (Ibid.: 367). It was set as a polyphonic motet3 of Palestrina, Orlando di Lasso, Jakob Hassler, and Josquin Desprez, possibly performed by Bach’s choir.

Since it is based on a chorale text rather than biblical passages, Cantata 123 makes no direct reference to the Epiphanyfest lectionary, although the unknown librettist who paraphrased the internal four stanzas, made references to New Testament passages for the Christmas Season (see below, “Cantata 123 Commentaries . . . Dürr”). The Ahasverus Fritsch six-stanza, six-line BAR form hymn (ABABCB) was “first published in his Himmels-Lust und Welt-Unlust (Jena, 1679), with the melody,” says Charles S. Terry.4 The Fritsch German text and Francis Browne’s English translation is found at BCW The anonymous melody (Zahn 4932) and Bach’s treatment was his sole use in one of his works, as was Fritsch’s 1668 pietist song, “Hast du denn, Jesu Liebster, dein Angesicht gänzlich verborgen” (Have you then, my dearest Jesus, hidden your face completely), in Cantata 57, “Selig ist der Mann” (Blessed in the Man), a third-cycle dialogue cantata set to a Georg Christian Lehms text, for the 2nd Day of Christmas, 26 December 1725), The Fritsch (1629-1701) BCW Short biography is found at

The melody, “Schonster Immanuel,” “does not occur elsewhere in the Cantatas, Oratorios, or Motetts. [Ludwig] Erk [No. 113], who attributes the tune tentatively to Johann Rodolph Ahle, prints the melody, with figured Bass, from Schemelli’s Gesang-Buch (1736),” says Terry (Ibid.). “The tune is very freely treated in the Hymn books. Bach’s version follows a reconstruction of it in the Darmstadt Geistreiches Gesang-Buch (Darmstadt, 1698). His substitution of an F sharp for A natural as the third note of the third bar of the reconstructed melody (supra) is found in a version of the tune in 1715 [in the Gotha Hymnal]. For his treatment of bars 5 and 6 also there is (1731) authority. His closing cadence, based on the 1679 text, is repeated in Schemelli’s Gesang-Buch (1736)” (for further Information on the melody and Bach’s use, including the motif incipit embedded in obbligato flute part in the bass aria [no. 5], see BCW In the Schemelli’s Gesang-Buch, Bach’s melody-bass setting (Melody No. 54) of “Liebster Emmanuel,” BWV 485, in ¾ time is found under Trostreiche Jesuslieder (Comforting Jesus Songs), as No. 761 on Page 461.

Cantata 123 movements, scoring, texts, key, meter5

1. Chorus fantasia aligned in BAR form (AAB), 20-measure sinfonia, instrumental ritornelli complex, mostly homophonic chorus [S, A, T, B; Flauto traverso I/II, Oboe d'amore I/II, Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo]: A. Stollen, “Liebster Immanuel, Herzog der Frommen, / Du, meiner Seele Heil, komm, komm nur bald!” ((Dearest Immanuel, leader of the righteous, / you, the salvation of my soul, come, come soon!); A’. “Du hast mir, höchster Schatz, mein Herz genommen, / So ganz vor Liebe brennt und nach dir wallt.” (You, my greatest treasure, have taken my heart from me / so that it burns entirely with love and yearns after you); B. Abgesang, “Nichts kann auf Erden / Mir liebers werden, / Als wenn ich meinen Jesum stets behalt.” (Nothing on earth can / be dearer to me / than always to keep my Jesus.); b minor; 9/8 pastorale-giga style.
2. Recitative secco [Alto, Continuo]: Dein Nam ist zuckersüß, Honig im Munde, / holdselig, lieblich, wie ein kühler Tau,/ welcher das Feld erfrischt zur Morgenstunde, / also, mein Jesu! Wann ich dir vertrau. / Es weicht vom Herzen, / was nur macht Schmerzen, / wann ich im Glauben dich anbet und schau.”(Your name is sweet, honey in the mouth, / fair, lovely, like a cool dew, / which refreshes the field at the hour of dawn, / that’s how it is, my Jesus! when I place my trust in you. / There vanishes from my heart / what only causes sorrow, / when I in faith adore you and look towards you.); f –sharp minor to A Major; 4/4.
3. Aria da capo with ritornelli [Tenor; Oboe d'amore I/II, Continuo]: A. Lento, “Auch die harte Kreuzesreise / Und der Tränen bittre Speise / Schreckt mich nicht.” (Even the hard journey of the cross / and the bitter food of tears / do not frighten me.); B. “Wenn die Ungewitter toben (Allegro) / Sendet Jesus mir von oben / Heil und Licht.” (If the thunderstorm rages, / Jesus sends me from above / salvation and light.); f-sharp minor; 4/4.
4. Recitative [Bass, Continuo]: “Kein Höllenfeind kann mich verschlingen, / Das schreiende Gewissen schweigt. / Was sollte mich der Feinde Zahl umringen? / Der Tod hat selbsten keine Macht, / Mir aber ist der Sieg schon zugedacht, / Weil sich mein Helfer mir, mein Jesus, zeigt.” (No enemy from hell can devour me, my clamorous conscience falls silent. / What does it matter how many enemies surround me? / Death itself has no power, / victory is already assured for me / because my Jesus shows himself to be my helper.); A to D Major; 4/.
5. Aria da capo with ritornelli [Bass, Flauto traverso, Continuo]: A. “Laß, o Welt, mich aus Verachtung / In betrübter Einsamkeit!” (Leave me, O World, with contempt / in mournful solitude!); “Jesus, der ins Fleisch gekommen / Und mein Opfer angenommen, / Bleibet bei mir allezeit.” (Jesus, who has come in the flesh and accepted my sacrifice / remains with me always.); D Major; 4/4.
6. Chorale in BAR Form [SATB; Flauto traverso I e Flauto traverso II in octava e Oboe d'amore I/II e Violino I col Soprano, Violino II coll'Alto, Viola col Tenore, Continuo]: A. Stollen, “Drum fahrt nur immer hin, ihr Eitelkeiten, / Du, Jesu, du bist mein, und ich bin dein;” (Therefore go away for ever, you vanities, / you, Jesus, you are mine, and I am yours); A’. “Ich will mich von der Welt zu dir bereiten; Du sollst in meinem Herz und Munde sein.” (I want to turn away from the world and make myself ready for you; / you must be in my heart and mouth.); B. Abgesang (repeated), “Mein ganzes Leben / Sei dir ergeben, / Bis man mich einsten legt ins Grab hinein.” (May my whole life / be given to you / until one day I am laid in the grave.); b minor; 3/2.

Opening Chorus Dance Style 9/8

The dance style in the 9/8 opening section is described in detail in Julian Mincham’s Commentary introduction, << 9/8 is one of the time signatures less frequently used in baroque music. Like 12/8 it has connotations of the pastorale when given a moderate tempo, a gigue when played faster.6 Typical examples of its expressive range may be found in the last movement of the A minor violin concerto (jauntily buoyant) the first movement of the sixth English Suite (discursive and contrapuntal) and the French Overture from the fourth Orchestral Suite (busily imperious and latterly adapted as the opening chorus for C 110, see vol 3, chapter 6). Its use is relatively rare in the cantatas although other fantasias in this cycle in 9/8 are those from C 96 (chapter 19) and C 125 (chapter 38). A more tempestuous treatment of this rhythm may be found in the bass aria from C 178 (chapter 9) graphically describing the actions of storms and waves.

Chorus/fantasia. Because 9/8 is formed from three groups of three quavers within the bar, it can have symbolic resonances of the Holy Trinity and it is possible that Bach intends this even when no specific reference is made in the text. Cs 123 and 96 both offer praise to the Divine and suggestions of the Trinity may well be intended through the rhythmic structures. With the possible exception of some of the earliest toccatas and organ works, Bach is today admired as one of the most economical and focused of composers. In these cantatas, chorales increasingly offered him a variety of shapes and motives, the raw material from which to develop the other movements.

In this context it may be instructive to compare the fantasia of this work with that of the slightly [pre-Lenten Estomihi Sunday] later C 127 (chapter 40). Both make considerable use of the first chorale phrase as a part of the organic development of the highly concentrated ritornelli sections. Both use four woodwind instruments with a high degree of independence i.e. they are not merely placed in the service of doubling the strings. However, in C 123 the lower and slightly darker oboes d’amore have been chosen and, in combination with the flutes, they provide a particularly distinctive colouring. It is also interesting to note that both of the chorales from which these two cantatas are built begin with one note sounded three times. This is a motive which often attracts Bach’s attention and is discussed further in chapter 40. A comparative study of both works reveals much about his endless inventiveness and ability to construct a seemingly infinite number of characterful musical ideas from such apparently bland material.>>

Cantata 123 Commentaries

Cantata 123 English language commentaries of Albert Schweitzer, Alfred Dürr, and David L. Humphries are summarized in Thomas Braatz’s “Commentary” (

Schweitzer find Cantata 123 one of the finest expressions of Bach’s mysticism. Dürr seems impressed while suggesting that Schweitzer’s sense of the duality, of heaven’s joy and earth’s drudgery, while found in Bach’s music, exists in the original chorale. Humphreys offers some important observations about word play and musical techniques.

<< Schweitzer: Schweitzer is one of the few commentators whose works I have access and who had something worthwhile to say about this cantata. He hears a similarity in the triplet rhythms in the famous chorale setting (Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring) in BWV 147 and the opening mvt. of BWV 123. It is this present cantata which he declares to be “one of the finest expressions of Bach’s mysticism.” Its first chorus reminds us a good deal of that of the cantata “Du Hirte Israel” BWV 104. “Liebster Immanuel! Liebster Immanuel!” cry the orchestra, all the instruments repeating continually the opening phrases of the melody. It suggests a crowd of people appealing to the Lord, whose glory has just been revealed in baptism, to be allowed to kiss the hem of his garment.” In Mvt. 3 the tenor sings of the “cruel way to the cross,” the two oboi d’amore adding an expressive lament. At the end [no. 5] comes the joyous march-song “Laß, o Welt, mich aus Verachtung,” in which the soul bids the world farewell.” “In the staccato quavers in the basses and the hurrying figures in the flute” Schweitzer perceives “the joyousness and urgency” rather than the “elegiac mood of the text.”

Dürr: This commentator sees some loose connections between the text of this cantata and the Gospel (Luke 2, 21) for New Year’s Day, a reference which refers to the naming of the Christ child. Mvt. 2 has “Jesusnamen” (the name of Jesus to remind us of this connection. Mvt. 3 has “Heil und Licht,” which relates to the Epistle for Epiphany (Jes. 60, 1-6). Mvt. 5 has a general reference to Christmas: “Jesus, der ins Fleisch gekommen” [“Jesus, who has become flesh – has been incarnated as a human being.”]. Very important: According to Schweitzer’s general analysis of the sacred cantatas, Bach usually begins composing with an overriding theme in mind. This frequently takes on the form of a duality, an antithesis which then allows for dramatic development of the musical ideas. Dürr suggests the antithesis already present in the original chorale: the contrast between the World and Jesus, or in other words which provide for a resolution of this contrast, the World’s animosity and contempt which a Christian feels will not affect him as long as Jesus stands beside him.
Dürr also points out that in Mvt. 6, the repetition of the Abgesang using a “piano” dynamic marking for the repetition is not unusual for Bach. Further examples of this can be found in the early cantatas BWV 106 and BWV 71, but also in BWV 68 dating from 1725.

David Humphreys: Humpheys, who wrote the article on this cantata for the Oxford Composer Companions: J.S.Bach [Boyd], 1999, makes some valuable observations worth repeating here: Mvt. 1 – The presence of nine units in the bar and the constant stream of triplet and three-part chords suggest apparently that Bach interpreted the word “Frommen” [“the pious ones”] as a reference to the angelic host. The first line of the chorale, which forms the basis of much of the accompanying instrumental material, is treated in chains of imitations and sequential repetitions producing many entries in parallel 3rds (simple and compound) which reinforce the symbolism. Mvt. 3 – The angular ritornello melody (the opening motif of which could perhaps be seen as a version of the Baroque ‘cross’ figure) represents the ‘hard journey of the Cross’ with its hard-won ascent through a diminished 7th to a high a’: motifs derived from it pervade much of the A section of the aria. As so often in Bach’s figural language, the Cross is symbolized by tthree sharps in the key-signature (F# minor) and by additional sharps as accidentals. For the B section Bach changes the tempo from Lento to Allegro to accommodate the line “Wenn die Unwitter toben” (“When the storms rage”), depicting the rumbling of the thunder with an extravagant melisma in the voice part, and he reverts to the main tempo at the next phrase, “sendet Jesus mir von oben Heil und Licht” (“Jesus sends me salvation and light from above.”). Mvt. 5 – Much of the material for this aria is generated by the opening phrase, with its characteristic drop of a major 7th at “Verachtung” [“scorn”]. Bach also ‘paints’ the words “in betrübter Einsamkeit” [“in troubled loneliness”] by applying chromatic disturbances to the melodic line and by silencing the instruments, thus he leaves the singer momentarily unaccompanied.>>

Commentary Fugitive Notes: W. Gillies Whittaker8 notes that Bach does not use a hymn appropriate for Epiphany or cite the lectionary readings; thus Canata 123 seems “not particularly suitable for the period.” Nevertheless, he finds the music impressive, especially the closing chorale repetition of the Abgesang as “one of these unique touches of genius,” as well as the opening fantasia, “too, is like any other in the cantatas. The tenor aria (no. 3), evokes “the sufferer painfully carrying his cross on earth, salvation and light coming with Jesus from above” while the bass aria (no. 5) is another contrasting earthly-heavenly journey very descriptive music. The opening fantasia “is unified to an exceptional degree” with its opening two-bar dance-style motive permeating the instrumental music, says Richard D. P. Jones.9 “The effect is as if all the participants in turn are calling out ‘Beloved Emmanuel’.”

Cantata Pilgrimage Welcomed in Leipzig

Opening with a graceful dance in the “form of a proto-Romantic love song, Cantata 123 was most welcomed in Bach’s Leipzig Nikolaicirche, observes John Eliot Gardiner in his 2010 liner notes to the 2000 Bach Cantata Pilgrimage on Soli Deo Gloria recordings10 (Recording, <<Leipzig, for many the self-styled Mecca of the Bach tradition and religion, was always going to be a high point in our pilgrimage and one of the biggest challenges. Our first appearance there was on the 6 January, the Feast of Epiphany, in the thirteenth century Nikolaikirche, the official church of the city in Bach’s day, a place which during the 1980s became a focus of hope for change. It was here that the charismatic pastor Christian Führer presided, leading the Monday prayer meetings open to all. On 9 October 1989, at the height of the GDR crackdown on dissidents and demonstrators, he was surprised to find his church pews filled with 1,000 party officials and Stasi members anticipating trouble and an invasion by the so-called ‘rowdies’. None materialised. Instead Pastor Führer recited to his Stasi congregation the Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount. The gallery gradually filled with peace-abiding congregants, and eventually after the bishop’s blessing and urgent call for non-violence, 2,000 people left the church to be greeted by tens of thousands outside holding candles. As one member of the ruling party said, ‘We had planned everything. We were prepared for everything. But not for candles and prayers.’ Eleven years later Pastor Führer’s welcome to us could not have been warmer or more heartfelt. Luxury of luxuries, we had three days in this inspirational setting to prepare for this Epiphany concert, a programme comprising parts V and VI of the Christmas Oratorio flanking two of Bach’s most striking Leipzig cantatas, BWV 123, “Liebster Immanuel” and BWV 65, “Sie werden aus Saba alle kommen.”

Just as fine [as Cantata 65], but in quite another way, is BWV 123 Liebster Immanuel, Herzog der Frommen, composed for the following year (1725). It opens with a graceful chorus in 9/8, a little reminiscent of a dance from the court of Elizabeth I, with paired transverse flutes, oboes and violins presented in alternation. The chorus’s interjections form a proto-Romantic love song that sticks in the mind days after the music has ended. But what comes next is still more memorable: a tenor aria (No.3) with two oboes d’amore, describing the ‘cross’s cruel journey’ to Calvary with heavy tread and almost unbearable pathos belying the words ‘[these] do not frighten me’. Four bars in a quicker tempo to evoke ‘when the tempests rage...’ dissolve in a tranquil return to the ‘lente’ tempo as ‘Jesus sends me from heaven salvation and light’. This is followed by what is surely one of the loneliest arias Bach ever wrote, ‘Lass, o Welt, mich aus Verachtung’. It is for bass with flute and a staccato basso continuo (No.5). The fragile vocal line, bleak in its isolation, is offset by the flute accompanying the singer like some consoling guardian angel and inspiring him with purpose and resolve. Even the ‘B’ section (‘Jesus... shall stay with me for all my days’) offers only a temporary reprieve because of the da capo return to the lean-textured ‘A’ section. The closing chorale, in triple rhythm bestriding the barlines, is one of the few that Bach specifically marks to end ‘piano’. The stillness in the packed Nikolaikirche here and during the two preceding arias was palpable – the first sign to us of how the quality of listening in these East German audiences differs from what we are used to in the west. It is as though the listeners have a genuine desire to be there – the aged, the middle-aged and the young, apparently not (so far) TV-surfeited – and are almost grateful (manifestly so in certain cases) for our visit and the approach we bring to their music. We in turn are of course grateful for the privilege of visiting this most celebrated of Bach shrines at the outset of our pilgrimage, and the two attitudes feed off one another.

Pastor Führer told us he was thrilled that his church had been the scene of the first (‘and possibly best’ he wagered) of the Bach Year celebrations in Leipzig. Touchingly, he had lit the altar candles and set out clay figures of the magi and the Holy Family on a table in mid-aisle, little figurines of the same wise men we were evoking in ‘Sie werden aus Saba’. It was, as Nicolas Robertson wrote at the time, ‘as if (reversing the usual hierarchy) he were saying to us, this is no ordinary concert’. As I was bowing a lady moved forwards to give me flowers, with a prayer and blessing on all the musicians and our pilgrimage. The sheer intensity of the occasion – the synchronisation of date and venue, memories of the church’s recent past, above all the power of Bach’s music – was overwhelming.
>> © John Eliot Gardiner 2010, From a journal written in the course of the Bach Cantata Pilgrimage

Jesus Song as Rapt Prayer

Cantata 123 uses a Jesus hymn to set a “rapt mood of prayer,” observes Klaus Hofmann in his 2006 liner notes to the Masaaki Sukuki BIS complete cantata recording.11 <<Bach’s cantata “Liebster Immanuel, Herzog der Frommen” was written for Epiphany in 1725. With this feast day, celebrated annually on 6th January, western Christianity celebrates the appearance (Greek: epiphaneia) of Christ on earth. The gospel reading for this day, Matthew 2, 1-12, includes a very popular episode of the Christmas story: the visit of the Wise Men from the east, following the star to the stable in Bethlehem, where they worship the infant Jesus and present him with gifts. Admittedly Bach’s cantata is only linked to this story in a very generalized way. Its text is from “Liebster Immanuel, Herzog der Frommen,” a hymn expressing the most heartfelt love for Jesus by the Saxonian poet and musician Ahasverus Fritsch (1629-1701). The choice of this hymn may have been prompted by the rapt mood of prayer in the first strophe, and the conceptual link thus provto the scene of worship in the stable in Bethlehem. Bach’s librettist has expanded this idea to the notion that a believer, through his love for Jesus, can overcome all the trials and tribulations of earthly life.

The formal concept of the introductory chorus is of the most common type found in the chorale cantata year: the hymn melody appears as a cantus firmus in the soprano and is presented line by line, accompanied by the lower voices in a setting that is sometimes relieved by polyphony. The orchestra provides a framework, linking mechanism and accompaniment. In full accord with the text, Bach’s music is filled with the expression of intimacy and lovability. No small contribution is made by the hymn tune itself, which in its original form (as heard in the final movement of the cantata) is already in triple time. In the opening chorus this is converted to 9/8-time, thereby acquiring particular charm and vivacity. The hymn melody is omnipresent in the movement: this time the orchestral part does not have enjoy thematic independence but plays material derived from the first two bars of the hymn melody. For the listener who has the beginning of the hymn in his mind, it sounds as if the instruments were constantly singing the words ‘Liebster Immanuel’ (‘Dearest Emanuel’).

As so often in Bach’s cantatas on the subject of love, the normal oboes in the introductory chorus are replaced by oboi d’amore (‘oboes of love’). In the aria [no. 3] ‘Auch die harte Kreuzesreise’ (‘Even the hard journey of the cross’) they accompany the tenor in a dense, imitative setting, the expressive melody of which is also taken up by the singer on the words ‘harte Kreuzesreise’, the sorrowful earthly path of the Christian who follows Christ. The horrors that threaten on this earthly path are the subject of the aria’s dramatic middle section: suddenly the music’s character is transformed, the vocal line turning into a ‘raging’ coloratura and then, equally suddenly, calm returns. The expression of terror yields to confidence as the text continues: ‘sendet Jesus mir von oben Heil und Licht’ (‘Jesus will send me from on high salvation and light’).

Like earthly tribulations, even death itself has no power over the believer: that is the message of the bass recitative, and the bass aria (no. 5) follows this with a renunciation of the world, of everything mortal and earthly. Perhaps the agile flute solo here represents the lustre and reflection of that earthly sphere. In the vocal part, Bach emphasizes the word ‘Verachtung’ (‘scorn’) by means of a sudden drop of a seventh in the melodic line, in a manner that is incomparably eloquent. Darker harmonies characterize the ‘betrübte Einsamkeit’ (‘troubled solitude’), and at this point the instruments fall silent for a moment, leaving the singer in ‘solitude’.
The simple final strophe once more confirms the renunciation of the world and its ‘Eitelkeiten’ (‘vain conceits’) and renews the declaration of belief in Jesus. A special feature is that Bach repeats the end of the hymn (‘Mein ganzes Leben…’ [‘May my entire life…’]) at a reduced dynamic level. This must be a musical image of distancing oneself from the world and of being removed from earthly existence, animated by the final words ‘bis man mich einsten legt ins Grab hinein’ (‘until I am laid into the grave’).
>> © Klaus Hofmann 2006

Cantata 123 Provenance

Thomas Braatz wrote (January 7, 2002 ( <<Provenance, the autograph was lost during WWII when it was placed elsewhere for secure storage. Many details regarding this score were recorded for the 1st printed edition in the BGA [XXVI,; ?Friedemann Bach; Mus. ms. Bach P 875 (BB), Krakow Biblioteka Jagiellonska. Braatz provides a detailed account of “BWV 123 Probable Composition & Copy Procedure” in the BCML Discussion Part 2 (January 2, 2007), based on the BGA,].

The original set of parts: The main set was turned over to the St. Thomas School in Leipzig by Bach’s widow soon after his death. This set is now located in the Bach-Archiv in Leipzig. 3 doublets are currently in the State Library (Staatsbibliothek, Preußischer Kulturbesitz) Berlin. Various copiers were used in preparing all the parts: Johann Andreas Kuhnau, Christian Gottlob Meißner and 3 identified, but anonymous copiers, and even Wilhelm Friedemann Bach worked on the doublets. Of considerable interest is the fact that no single part (even W.F.Bach’s) was completed all the way to the end. Bach personally added the final chorale to each part (even the doublets!) [Digital facsimile,, SPK St.359].

Text: The librettist (unknown) kept as is vs. 1 and 6 of the chorale by Ahasverus Fritsch (1679). This original chorale text seems to be based on the type of language used in the early period of Pietism. It is in the tradition which is called “Jesusminne” [“Jesus love” where “Minne’ in German usually refers to courtly love in the Middle Ages. Unfortunately the word, “Minne” in German suffered from a degradation of its original meaning to that of a baser form of love in the period immediately following the Middle Ages. This change, however, is not reflected in the term “Jesusminne” which still hearkens to the earlier, original meaning.] The other vs. (2-5) were paraphrased in the form of recitatives or arias.

Leipzig Winter Fair, Epiphany Time 12

Following New Year’s Day, the major celebration in Leipzig was the annual Winter Fair, or Neujahrs. Like the other two fairs, it lasted three weeks and then the week after the fair (Zahlwoche -- Accounting), merchants who obtained proper permission were allowed to continue to sell goods while taxes were being assessed," says George B. Stauffer, in "Leipzig: a Cosmopolitan Trade Centre."13 Thus, the fair could last until January 28 in the fixed Epiphany season, beginning January 6, with the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany falling as early as January 28. We know from the church records that attendance went up during the fairs, especially the Spring or Easter starting at Jubilate Sunday (3rd after Easter), and the Autumn, St. Michael's, Sept. 29, beginning Oktoberfest. Perhaps the Leipzig Protestants in January were getting a leg up on their Catholic brethren in Dresden and especially Munich with their celebration of Fasching (Mardi Gras) before Ash Wednesday (from BWV 14, BCML Discussion Part 2, Oct. 19, 2008,

Epiphany means "to show," "to make known" or "to reveal." It represents Jesus revealed to the Gentiles, as shown in the recognition or adoration of the Three Kings, Wise Men or Magi. The three are thought to have been learned members of the Eastern Zoroastrian religion, best known in Friedrich Nietsche's book (and Richard Strauss' tone poem) "Also Sprach (Thus Spake) Zarathustra (Zoroaster").

The actual Epiphany "Season" is a mixed, in-between, overlapping “laminal” time - in fact, it is not even a church season, based in part on its treatment in Lutheran hymn books and Bach-era chorale settings. In traditional Christian practice, it was the period from the fixed date festival of the Feast of Epiphany on January 6 to Ash Wednesday or the beginning of the Lenten season. The theme of "epiphany" or illumination, is repeated in the lectionaries, or appointed readings, for the intervening Sundays, from the Baptism of Our Lord to the Transfiguration of Our Lord and includes such other revelatory events as Jesus' first mat the wedding feast at Canaan and his calling of the disciples. The Feast of Epiphany is ranked behind the three-day feasts of Christmas, Easter and Pentecost as a one-day de tempore celebration, as with the Feast of the Ascension, in the Leipzig Church Book of 1718. They describe the church-year liturgical contents, scope and emphasis of Lutheran services in the community and designate the “Feastless Days/Period” as Epiphany and pre-Lenten “gesima” Sundays, the six Sundays after Easter, and Trinity Time, as part of omnes tempore or “Common Time.” The brief seasons of Advent and Lent are “Fasting” periods. With the chorale (hymn) books they constituted a template for Bach’s goal of a well-ordered church music (details, see BCW Articles, “Liturgy and Music in Leipzig’s Main Churches” by Martin Petzoldt, Thomas Braatz trans.,

By tradition, the Feast of Epiphany marked the end of the 12-day Christmas season while it is observed in certain cultures and regions as the profane celebration of Jesus' Coming or the alternate Christmas Day celebration. Today, the so-called Epiphany Season is recognized and observed in the Lutheran Church as a period of Standard Sundays or Green Sundays (the color of the paraments and vestments). This means that Epiphany time is an omnes tempore period, like the last half of the calendar and church year, called the Trinity Season or the Twenty-some Sundays After Pentecost. These Standard Sundays emphasize the timeless teachings of Jesus Christ, rather than the milestone events in his life. The established, fixed "de tempore" or timely seasons of Christmas and Easter-Pentecost, are preceded by fixed observance periods of reflection and temperance, called Advent and Lent. The "de tempore" seasons of Christmas and Pentecost end, respectively, with the Feasts of Epiphany and Trinity Sunday, according to Keeping Time, the Church's Years, Using Evangelical Lutheran Worship, Vol.3 (Minneapolis MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2009).

Epiphany Time Chorales14

The Feast of Epiphany closes the Christmas Season and its ending Turning Time, and includes Christmas hymns like "Peur natus in Betlehem," while the Epiphany Period emphasizes "Jesus Hymns" which can be used at other times, as well as Passion-related hymns. The closing, fixed three pre-Lent (Vorfastenzeit) Sundays are misnamed Septuageisma, Sexageisma, and Quinquageisma (70, 60 and 50 days before the Lord's Day) and can include Lenten hymns.

In Bach's time and before, the Epiphany period was not observed in the Lutheran hymn books as a season for distinct chorale settings, between hymns for the Advent-Christmas Season and Easter-Pentecost Season. In both the Neumeister and Orgelbüchlien collections of organ chorale prelude settings for the church year, there are no designated Epiphany hymns, just as in the hymn books there are no sections titled "Epiphany Hymns." Instead, the hymn books have a topical, "omnes tempore" collection of some 28 chorales under the heading "Jesus Hymns." These include Jesus hymns used by Bach in four cantatas for Epiphany time (BWV 81, BWV 123, BWV 124, BWV 154): "Liebster Immanual, Herzog des Frommen," “Meine Jesum lass ich nicht" ( “Jesu, meiner Seelen wonne" (BWV 147/6,10), and "Jesu, meine Freude" (Motet BWV 227), observes Günther Stiller in Johann Sebastian Bach and Liturgical Life in Leipzig.15

In the Haenssler recordings of the Complete Bach Edition of the chorales BWV 250-507, there is no listing for "Epiphany" cantatas. Instead, there is the listing: Edition Bachakademie Vol. 84, A Book of Chorale-Settings for Patience & Serenity/Jesus Hymns. The chorales and songs are: BWV 335, 339, 352, 353, 355, 361, 379, 380, 384, 409, 417, 419, BWV 1125. Bach's chorale cantatas (Cycle 2) for the First through the Fourth Sundays after the Feast of Epiphany 1725 are: 1. BWV 124, "Meinen Jesum, lass ich nicht;" BWV 3, "Ach Gott, wie manches Herzeleid"; BWV 111, "Was mein Gott will, das g'scheh allzeit"; and BWV 14, Wär Gott nicht mit uns diese Zeit." Besides setting these Epiphany chorales, Bach used the following "Jesus Hymns" in Epiphany time cantatas: Jesu, meine Freude (BWV 81/7); Jesu, meiner Seelen wonne (BWV 154/3); Liebster Immanual, Herzog des Frommen (BWV 123); and Meinen Jesum lass ich nicht (BWV 124, BWV 154/8).

Notes on the Text

While the librettist(s) of the chorale cantata cycle remaining unknown -- since the texts were never published -- much can be realized through studies of Bach’s compositional methods, interests in the texts, and techniques of word-play, as well as Baroque, hymn book, and service liturgical conventions and practices. Previous studies of Bach’s unknown authors of cantata texts through style, technique of verse, and language shows four groups of chorale cantatas, according to Harald Streck’s 1971 PhD dissertation.16 For the period of Christmas 1724 through Perification 1725, involving 10 services, Bach needed two sets of church service libretto books approved and produced in advance. All but two came from the same author(s) (BWV 124 and 92), probably a local pastor with theology and chorale book credentials. Bach and his presiding pastor who would preach the sermon, would select the chorale to be set with some indication of the sermon theme, perhaps even an emblematic series befitting the time of the church year.

In the case of Cantata 123, Bach could easily develop a template of the projected movements since, serendipitously, the learned Ahasverus Fritsch pietist Jesus hymn was in repetitive BAR Form involving six stanzas, the perfect number for a Bach chorale cantata with the four internal stanzas set as paraphrases. Bach – and his pastor -- could have suggested specific metaphors and word-emphasis in harmony with the sermon theme. An overview shows that the expressive chorale is a personal love song of the Believer representing the Soul and addressing the young Jesus, Emmanuel (God with Us). Using various metaphors from nature, the speaker affirms Jesus and contrasts the world’s storms and the evil cunning of Satan, as well as the world’s rejection of the Believer, amid the personal challenges of the cross, and a final reunion with Jesus as in the tradition of the Soul-Jesus dialogue inspired by the Song of Solomon. Bach’s two recitatives (nos. 2 and 4) are straightforward, didactic expressions of the import of the related stanzas and prepare the deeper, poetic reflections of the male tenor and bass (nos. 3 and 5). The da capo arias repeat the opening sentence as an affirmation, in contrast to the second part. Musically, Bach shows his stuff in the verbatim-texts’ opening chorus, repeating certain phrases with extensive musical support, while in the closing plain chorale emphasizing the power of the individual word and the general affect.

Throughout, the interpretive librettist remains faithful to the original text, resisting theological /biblical references, and providing literal paraphrases. In the alto recitative (no. 2), the name of Jesus sooths the believer whose heart is uplifted. In the tenor aria (no. 3), the challenges of the cross and the earthly storms become simply “salvation and light.” In the soprano recitative (No. 4), Satan’s cunning and hell’s hosts in the original stanza are overcome: “I still stand firm. Jesus is the best, who chases away everything through his blood” becomes “Death itself has no power, victory is already assured for me,” with a poetic addendum, “because my Jesus shows himself to be my helper.” Again, in the second aria, the librettist emphasizes the positive and smoothes the diction. Original: “Although all the world persecutes and hates me, although I am despised by everybody, abandoned also by my friends, if Lord Jesus shows concern for me and strengthensme in my weariness, says: be content, I am your best friend and can help you.” Bach’s setting: Leave me, O World, with contempt in mournful solitude! Jesus, who has come in the flesh and accepted my sacrifice / remains with me always.

Bach’s Epiphanyfest Performance Calendar

Bach’s Epiphanyfest performance calendar seems slim at first glance, in comparison with many of his major feast day celebrations. He began with Cantata 65 with two horns and a stately Magi procession =, with rich music appropriate for the festival. Following Chorale Cantata 123, which is more solemn and anticipates the coming Passion sacrifice of Jesus Christ, Bach for his third cycle in 1726 may have substituted one or two short, intimate solo cantatas of Georg Philipp Telemann. Apparently, Bach did not have a satisfactory, solo Lehms text, which he previously was able to use (BWV 110, 57, 151, 28, and 16), and in the two subsequent Epiphany Sundays (BWV 32 and 13). Meanwhile, the Ludwig Bach Rudolstadt-texted cantatas were mostly in two parts and appropriate for chorus settings. Later, in mid-Trinity Time, Bach again turned to intimate dialogue and solo

Cantatas, possibly set by student Christoph Birkmann, and may have set them from the Sunday after New Year to the Feast of the Purification. Bach added one more piece to his well-ordered music for Epiphany, presenting the “cantata” with two chorale choruses, the Christmas Oratorio closing “Herr, wenn die stolzen Feinde schnauben,” for the Epiphanyfest which, like in 1726, also fell on a Sunday.

1724-01-06 Do - Cantata BWV 65 Sie werden aus Saba alle kommen (1st performance, Leipzig)
1725-01-06 Sa - Cantata BWV 123 Liebster Immanuel, Herzog der Frommen (1st performance, Leipzig)
1726-01-06 So - ?G.P. Telemann: Cantata Ich freue mich im Herren, TWV 1:826 or Cantata Hier ist mein Herz, geliebter Jesu, TWV 1:795 (1st performance, Leipzig) (?)
1727-01-06 Mo - ?BWV Deest, Verschmähe nichts das schlechte Lied (Christoph Birkmann)
1735-01-06 Do - Weihnachts-Oratorium BWV 248/6 Herr, wenn die stolzen Feinde schnauben (1st performance, Leipzig)
1736-01-06 Fr - G.H. Stölzel: Es wird ein Stern aus Jacob aufgehen [Not extant]

For the chorale cantata second cycle, on Saturday, 6 January 1725, Bach presented BWV 123, “Liebster Immanuel, Herzog der Frommen” (Dearest Immanuel, leader of the righteous). There is no record of a reperformance, especially since the original parts set is lost, but it is possible that Bach reperfromed all the extant chorale cantatas in 1732-33.

For the Feast of Epiphany, Jan. 6, 1726, which coincidentally fell on a Sunday, there is no record of a Bach cantata performance. It was of one only three services documented which Bach had missed setting since starting his annual cycle production in Leipzig in June 1723. In this third cantata cycle Bach may have presented a Telemann cantata, possibly "Ich freue mich in Herzen," TVWV 1:826, originally for the 20th Sunday After Trinity (for TB, ob d’a str, bc), or another solo work for Epiphany, "Hier ist mein geliebster Jesu," TVWV 1:795 (ST, str. bc), says Stephen Daw in The Music of JSB: The Choral Works.17 He suggests Bach may have substituted a Telemann from the Lehms 1711 cycle that Telemann composed in Frankfurt in 1715, also about the time Johann Ludwig Bach composed his Rudolstadt cycle. Sebastian’s third cycle in 1726 emphasizes solo cantatas set to Lehms texts and chorus cantatas of Ludwig and himself set to Rudolstadt texts.

For the Epiphanyfest on Monday 1727, it is possible that Bach presented an intimate dialogue cantata in the third cycle, Verschmähe nichts das schlechte Lied (Spurn not the creeping song), from a later-published annual libretto by Birkmann, Sabbaths-Zehnden (Sabbath Tithes, Nuremberg 1728), says Christine Blanken.18 Bach also may have used three other solo cantatas from this cycle as they fit the pattern of similar works he did set (BWV 58 and 82), whose librettist was unkown.

In 1729 Picander produced a libretto, dictum "Dieses ist der Tag, den der Herr" (This is the day of the Lord, Psalm 18:24)), P-11. No Bach music survives, except possibly for the closing chorale, "Lobt Gott, ihr Christen allzegleich," BWV 375-76. Interestingly, Bach had just set Picander texts for the two previous feast days, Christmas, "Glory to God in the Highest," BWV 197a, and New Years, "God, so like thy name, thus also thy fame," BWV 171. Instead of setting Picander’s text, Bach seems to have been content to wait until the mid-1730s when, probably working with Picander, they fashioned the Christmas Oratorio. Bach returned to festive chorus settings for the Feast of Epiphany in 1735 with the closing Part 6 of his Christmas Oratorio, a full setting of the gospel Magi story, Matthew 2:1-12. "Lord, when the stiff-necked foes do rage," BWV 248VI. A year later at Epiphany 1736, Bach probably performed Stölzel’s “Es wird ein Stern aus Jacob aufgehen” (not extant) in the String Cycle.

The chorale “Lobt Gott, ihr Christen, allzugleich” (Praise God, you Christians, all together), Bach used only once, in the Lehms Cantata 151, two weeks before producing no setting at the Epiphany fest 1726. Bach set the original melody as plain chorale BWV 375 in G Major and BWV 376 in A Major, as well as much earlier in the Orgelbüchlein as a Christmas organ chorale prelude in G Major, BWV 609 and an early Miscellaneous organ chorale prelude, BWV 731 in E Major. Interestingly, while Picander wrote his cycle hoping that Bach would set it, the latter probably had at least a hand in suggesting the chorales before publication approved by Town Council authorities. As to Bach’s choice of this hymn for Epiphany and his setting of it in two plain chorales is a mystery.

Meanwhile, there is no documentation that Bach repeated any of his three extant cantatas for the Feast of Epiphany. It is possible that Cantata BWV 65 was repeated, since the best evidence, the parts set, does not survive. It is assumed that it went to Friedemann in the first cycle division, alternating manuscripts scores and parts sets between him and Carl Philipp Emanuel, and was lost. The score of BWV 65 was inherited by Emmanuel, as well as sketches of the gorgeous opening chorus, found in the score of Cantata BWV 81, "Jesus sleeps, what shall I hope," for the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany, composed and presented 24 days later on January 30, 1724. Both the scores and the sketches now reside in Berlin, as does the Christmas Oratorio original score and parts set, also inherited by Emmanuel.


1 Cantata 123 BCW Details& Discography, Score Vocal & Piano [1.33 MB],, Score BGA [1.92 MB], References, BGA XXVI (Cantatas 121-130, Alfred Dörffel, 1878), NBA KB I/5 (Epiphany, Marianne Helms, 1976: 42), Bach Compendium BC A 28, Zwang K 106.
2 Martin Petzoldt, Bach Kommentar: Theologisch Musikwissenschaftlicke Kommentierung der Geistlichen Vokalwerke Johann Sebastan Bachs; Vol. 2, Die Geistlichen Kantaten vom 1. Advent bis zum Trinitatisfest; Internationale Bachakademie Stuttgart (Kassel: Bärenreiter, 2007: 381).
3 Motets of Palestrina, ; Orlande di Lasso,; Jakob Hassler,; and Josquin Desprez,
4 Johann Sebastian Bach, Bach’s Chorals. Part I: 2 The Hymns and Hymn Melodies of the Cantatas and Motetts, by Charles Sanford Terry (Cambridge University Press, 1915-1921), 3 vols. Vol. 2. January 8, 2017;, scroll down to Cantata CXXIII.”
5 Cantata 123 German text and Francis Browne English translation, BCW Aryeh Oron’s Commentary Background (January 6, 2002) uses various English language sources and is found at BCW
6 Bach’s setting in BWV 123/1 is classified as a pastorale-giga in Doris Finke-Hecklinger, Tazcharaktere in JSB’s Vokalmusic (Trossingen: Hohner, 1970: 113). Earlier scholars -- W. Gillies Whittaker (see below, “Commentary Fugitive Notes”) and Alec Roberson -- describe the chorale melody treatment in the opening chorus as a courante, Bach’s only use of this dance style in his vocal works. For further details, see Thomas Braatz “Commentary” (January 7, 2002), BCW
7 Commentary sources: Albert Schweitzer, J. S. Bach, trans. Ernest Newman (London: Dover, 1966: II: 358ff; from Leipzig: Breitkopf & Härtel, 1911); Alfred Dürr, Cantatas of J. S. Bach, revised and translated by Richard D. P. Jones (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005: 177f); and David L. Humphreys Cantata 123 Essay, “Liebster Immanuel,” Oxford Composer Companions: J. S. Bach, ed. Malcolm Boyd (Oxford University Press, 1999: 267f).
8 W. Gillies Whittaker, The Cantatas of Johann Sebastian Bach (London: Oxford University Press, 1958: II: 123ff).
9 Richard D. P. Jones, The Creative Development of Johann Sebastian Bach, Volume II: 1717-1750. “Music to Delight the Spirit” (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013: 148)).
10 Gardiner notes, BCW[sdg174_gb].pdf; BCW Recording details,
11 Klaus Hofmann notes, BCW[BIS-SACD1501].pdf; BCW Recording details,
12 Source material, Cantata 65, BCML Discussion Part 4,
13 George B. Stauffer, "Leipzig: a Cosmopolitan Trade Centre." Music and Society: Late Baroque Era, ed. George J. Buelow (Englewood Cliffs NJ: Prentice Hall, 1994: 257).
14 Original source material: “Motets & Chorales for Turning Time, BCW This article also includes materials on “Epiphany Festival Chorales.”
14 Original source material: “Motets & Chorales for Turning Time, BCW This article also includes materials on “Epiphany Festival Chorales.”
15 Günther Stiller, Johann Sebastian Bach and Liturgical Life in Leipzig (St. Louis MO: Concordia, 1984: 249).
16 Harald Streck, Die Verskunst in den poetischen Texten zu den Kantaten J. S. Bachs (Dissertation: University Hamburg 1971).
17 Stephen Daw, The Music of JSB: The Choral Works (Rutherford NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson Univ. Press, 1981: 228). Descriptions and recordings of the Telemann works can be found at BCW:,
18 Blanken, “A Cantata-Text Cycle of 1728 from Nuremberg: A preliminary report on a discovery relating to J.S. Bach’s so-called ‘Third Annual Cycle,’” Understanding Bach 10 (Bach Network UK 2015: 24),

Aryeh Oron wrote (January 11, 2017):
Cantata BWV 123 - Revised & updated Discography

The Chorale Cantata BWV 123 "Liebster Immanuel, Herzog der Frommen" (Dearest Immanuel, leader of the righteous) was composed by J.S. Bach in Leipzig for the Feast of Epiphany of 1725. The cantata is scored for alto, tenor & bass soloists; 4-part Chorus; and orchestra of 2 transverse flutes, 2 oboes d'amore, 2 violins, viola & continuo.

The discography pages of BWV 123 on the BCW have been revised and updated. See:
Complete Recordings (9):
Recordings of Individual Movements (7):
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 chorale cantata. If you are aware of a recording of BWV 123 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):

Happy New Year,


Cantata BWV 123: 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: Monday, September 11, 2017 15:27