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Cantata BWV 154
Mein liebster Jesus ist verloren
Discussions - Part 3

Continue from Part 2

Discussions in the Week of November 8, 2009 (3rd round)

Neil Halliday wrote (November 7, 2009):
BWV 154: Mein liebster Jesus ist verloren

Greetings. I will be introducing the cantatas over the next several weeks.

Thanks to William for leading the discussions with his informative posts.


Introduction to BWV 154.

In their spare time, newcomers (and others) to this cantata should peruse the information available at:

You will find links to scores (and instrumentation), texts, commentary from recognised authorities and other enthusiasts, and a list (with samples) of the (mostly) available recordings.


We have reached the group of cantatas that Bach wrote for the 1st Sunday after Epiphany, the first of them being BWV 154 written for Jan.9th 1724.

A quick thumb through Robertson's book shows that the celebratory brass of the Christmas to New Year cantatas we have recently discussed is now mostly absent in the cantatas written for the Sundays after Epiphany.

The opening tenor aria of BWV 154 features the 'devil's chord' (or tritone interval - the one that Saint Saens uses in his well-known 'Dance of Death'); here it occurs as downward leaps in the vocal and instrumental lines, colouring the chromaticism of the piece.

"Later, we hear quaking, harmonically daring chords progressing through the strings - the very picture of a terrified soul that believes itself to be lost". (Rilling booklet [2]).

A previous contributor questioned Bach's setting of the text of the alto aria; Rilling's booklet [2] explains it thus: "The alto aria begs Jesus not to let our transgressions become the "thick clouds". Hence Bach portrays lucid heights eschewing all earthly foundation by having the lower voices of the violins and violas playing in unison in the suboctave position (Baschetten"). The vocalist and oboes d'amore indulge in a blithe, bucolic mood." (end quote).

The score reveals special dissonance on the words "dicke" (thick) in bar 15, and "verstecken" (hidden) in bar 31. Apparently Bach added a 'cembalo' part for a later performance (but there appears to be some confusion among commentators over whether this is a figured bass part or simply doubling the strings an octave below, as shown in the BGA), but judging by the recordings, it's superfluous anyway; compare Suzuki (with harpsichord) and Kuijken [8] (without). The quartet of oboes d'amore I and II, alto, and unison upper strings is already delicious; the tinkling, pitchless harpsichord (on the recordings) only complicates matters, IMO.

The arioso for bass requires artistic realisation of the continuo as well as expressive singing. [Koopman uses a lute in a similar movement in BWV 153 (from the previous Sunday, Jan. 2nd 1724) with charming effect, but he omits it in this movement]. A chorale-like figure is repeated several times, as is the text (biblical), and the vocalist is often in canon with the continuo. (Is Kuijken's continuo staccato [8] too persisent? I would shape the phrases with more legato, I think).

The ubiquitous figure in the continuo of the AT duet, ie, a repeated mordent-like figure combined with a downward octave leap, mirrors the equally frequent, repeated figure of an upward octave leap and "mordent" in the previous alto aria, perhaps surprising that such similar constructs should be employed in movements from the same cantata. (The different time signatures produce vey different effects, of course). There is a change to 3/8 time toward the end of the duet (which can be heard in Koopman's sample), involving a canonic figure that is quite charming in its effect.

Once again the finest recording overall is probably the most recent - Kuijken [8]; but listeners will probably choose individual movements from other recordings as their personal favourites. Kuijken seems to have hit the happy medium in the matter of secco recitative accompaniment. (A little more prominence in the organ's treble clef material would be perfection, IMO).

Happy listening.

Douglas Cowling wrote (November 7, 2009):
Neil Halliday wrote:
< We have reached the group of cantatas that Bach wrote for the 1st Sunday after Epiphany, the first of them being BWV 154 written for Jan.9th 1724. >
I was struck by the cantata's elaborate hermeneutic which on a narrative level associates the alto and tenor with Mary and Joseph and the bass with Jesus, but draws a deeper anagogical allegory of the soul's search for God. This is emphasized by the unusual placement of the dictum, the words of Jesus, in the centre of the cantata -- I can't think of another cantata in which a self-contained arioso is followed by a secco recitative.

This gives a symmetrical chiastic structure to the two halves of the cantata. On the narrative level, the opening ritornello with its quasi-ostinato becomes the journey to Jerusalem. The centre of the cantata is the finding of Jesus in the Temple. The conclusion is the return journey of Jesus, Mary & Joseph to Nazareth.

On the allegorical level, these two journeys express the search for God and then the journey with God. It's an extraordinary example of Bach's creation of theological drama with theological characters. It would have been very easy to dramatize the scriptural story as an oratorio with an evangelist and the characters of the Holy Family engaging in dialogue. Bach's achievement is a remarkable musico-literary creation.

Small note: The chorale, "Jesu, mein Hort" is the 4/4 version of the chorale which in its 3/4 version will become so famous as "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" -- Bach's most frequently performed choral movement.

Ed Myskowski wrote (November 8, 2009):
BWV 154 (Epiphany 1)

Douglas Cowling wrote:
< I was struck by the cantata's elaborate hermeneutic >
This strikes me as a very appropriate technique for the First Sunday after Epiphany (literally: to show (or shine?) upon).

I trust this is concise, rather than abrupt?

William Hoffman wrote (November 8, 2009):
BWV 154: Fugitive Notes:

Fugitive Note:


Epiphany 1: BWV 154, Mein liebster Jesu ist verloren [ATB solo, ? Weimar origin]
1/9/1724 (Cycle 1), 1736-37*, wholly original text, similar to BWV 81, Eph.4,1/30/1724)
Sources: (1,2) incomplete score (dated "ao 1724; completed Zelter, DS P.130, CPEB, Berlin Sing); (2) parts set DS St. 70, CPEB, Berlin Sing.); score copy AmB 44,5
Literature: Breitkopf Catalog 1761, BG XXXII (Naumann 1886), NBA KB I/5 (Helms 1976), Neumann Cantata Handbuch ("1724 original but supposedly traced back to a Weimar cantata"), Whittaker I:392-7, Robertson 49-51, Daw 102f, Young 49f, Dürr 183-5.
Text: (#1-2, 4-7) ?C. Weiss (or ?Schweitzer JSB "Author A"); chorales (#3) Jahn "Jesu, meiner Seelen Wonne" (Jesus, bliss of my soul) (S.2) mel. Schop "Werde munter, mein Gemüthe" (Be cheerful, my spirit); (#8) Keymann "Meinen Jesum laß' ich nicht" (My Jesus, let I not) (S.1); (#5) Gospel Luke 2:49.
Forces: ATB, 4vv, 2 ob d'a, sgtr,bc
Movements: 3 arias (T, A, AT), 2 recits. (T, T), arioso (B), 2 chorales
Mvt. 1. Aria (T, str): My dearest Jesus (brief)
Mvt. 2. Recitative (T): Where find I my Jesus (brief)
Mvt. 3. Chorale (tutti): Jesus, my refuge and rescuer
Mvt. 4. Aria (A, tutti): Jesus, let me find thee (lovely)
Mvt. 5. Arioso (B): Know yet not that I must be about my father's business? (somber)
Mvt. 6. Rec. (B): This is the voice of my friend (Song of Solomon 2:8)
Mvt. 7. Aria (AT, obs): Well for me Jesus is found (blissful)
Mvt. 8. Chorale (tutti): My Jesus, leave I not.

*This is Bach's first Epiphany time cantata to be reperformed, in 1736 or 1737.


In the distribution of the first cycle manuscripts between sons Friedemann and C.P.E, beginning with Advent Sunday, this is the first documented date when C.P.E. received both the score and parts set. Throughout most of the cycle, they alternated taking score and parts for each successive service, and it was C.P.E.'s turn to receive the parts set. It is quite possible that C.P.E. inherited both the parts set and score since Mvt. 2, Mvt. 4, and Mvt. 8 are missing in the original score. This would have necessitated keeping the parts with the incomplete score in order to reconstruct the score, which Zelter later did. As to why the movements were missing and their texts altered, Thomas Braatz in Provenance summarizes the findings in the NBA KB I/5:


It is quite possible that Cantata BWV 154 was based on previously composed materials from Weimar and possibly Koethen. The original solo proto cantata, like other surviving materials, has similar hallmarks of prior practice. Two of the three surviving aria movements show dance influence: The opening tenor dictum is in sarabande form, and the alto aria, No. 4, is based on a pastorale. The third movement four-part chorale, minus original text in the score, suggests that Bach may have substituted a new chorale stanza to replace the Weimar original. Although not designated as being in two parts, the chorale placement as the third movement could reflect a two-part division.

Lending credence to theory of preexisting materials is the fact that the opening movement in Bach's score has accompaniment only for strings and basso continuo, whereas the two chorales and the alto aria are score for tutti ensemble of strings and two oboes d'amore. Bach's opening movement should have included at least one oboe. The original opening movement, a soprano-bass vivace gavotte with oboe and strings may have been parodied in Cantata BWV 32 for the same First Sunday after Epiphany in the third cycle of 1726, says Norman Carrell in <Bach the Borrower>.

Thus it is quite possible that Bach salvaged as many as three intimate arias composed in Weimar and adapted in Köthen for one of his now non-extant New Year's Day Cantatas. With this core lyric music in hand, as he did with many of the some 20 Weimar cantatas which he expanded in the first Leipzig cantata cycle, Bach easily completed Cantata BWV 154.

Bach composed two recitatives which can refer to the biblical readings for the appointed Sunday, two harmonized chorales appropriate for the season and this specific service, and added an arioso illuminating his Sunday's Gospel. It is taken from Luke 2: 41-52, Jesus at age 12 introduced in the temple at Passover, in conversation with the elders, being about his father's business (v. 49, #5 arioso). This Sunday may be referred to as the Epistle of Loving Duty.

The first three movement are all concise and may be considered a prelude to the actual cantata, which is one of Bach's most focused, engaging and consistently compelling musical sermons.

Epiphany Events

Jesus' presentation in the temple is the first revelatory event of the Epiphany time main services to show (make known, reveal) Jesus' significance. It follows in Luke's Gospel after Epiphany (adoration and naming) and Jesus' initial presentation in the temple (Feast of Purification; Simeon's canticle and Anna's thanks). One major Epiphany event that was missing from the main service in Bach's day was the Baptism of our Lord (Mat 3:17 et al). Instead it was an appointed reading for Vespers at the Feast of Epiphany, beginning Epiphany time.

Bach in his cantata texts makes passing reference to God's baptismal blessing over the "Beloved Son" in BWV 153/7 (Sunday after New Year, Mat. 3:17), BWV 151/2 (Third Day of Christmas, Mark. 1:9), and BWV 129/2 (Trinity Sunday, John 3:34), as well as Luke 9:29, the reference in the Transfiguration of Jesus to his shining clothes, found in the second tenor recitative in this week's Cantata BWV 154/6, just before God the father blesses his Son for the second time, ending the Epiphany period. Like the Baptism, the Transfiguration was not part of the appointed main service readings in Bach's time but has been restored in today's three-Gospel lectionaries.

The readings for the next two Sundays in the fixed Epiphany period deal with the wedding at Canaan, Jesus first miracle (John 2:1-11), and Jesus first public healing, of the leper (Mat. 8:1-13). They show Jesus emerging into the world: his baptism, struggle and calling, gathering of the disciples, and the teachings of the beatitudes, lessons, and parables.

Ed Myskowski wrote (November 8, 2009):
BWV 154 Intro

I share Neil's enthusiasm for the Kuijken version of BWV 154 [8]. However, I went straight to that, and have not yet listened to anything else for comparison. I also note Dougs suggestion of chiastic (symmetrical) structure, which I would analyze slightly differently, with the alto aria at the crux, in combination with the bass arioso:

[...]Let my sins not hide me
Like a thunder cloud from thee
Sorely would it grieve me
Shouldst thou chance to leave me [...]
[sung by Petra Noskaiova, with a feeling that I would call glorious (take heart, altos!)]

Wist ye not that I must be
About my fathers business?
[bartone Jan Van der Crabben]
(translations from Kuijken booklet [8], see Francis Browne or Pamela Dellal for comparison)

Not a disagreement with Doug, just an alternate thought. I take the suggestion of unique structure:

< I can't think of another cantata in which a self-contained arioso is followed by a secco recitative. >
as another example of Bach always striving to make each work original.

Note how often the alto arias provide the point of transition, the denouemont, for Bach in the cantatas. Brian McCreath has emphasized this point in his radio commentary, more to come tomorrow (, 1300 UT)).

Ed Myskowski wrote (November 8, 2009):
In my previous post I referenced translations which may be unfamiliar to some. From the BCW home page for BWV 154, as provided in the introduction:

Translation English 3 is by Francis Browne, interlinear, unique and copyright to BCW. Unsurpassed.

English 6 is by Pamela Dellal, alto soloist and choir member with Emmanuel Music, who hold copyright to the translations.

In a a rare moment of candor, after completion, Francis conceded, on list, that he had found the task of translating these texts to be penitential. One of my top ten moments on BCML. Take 50,000 years off Purgatory time (available for transfer or sale, if not needed).

Pamela once confided to me, re another work, where she had translated Ach differently in differenplaces, that she gets insight into the translations from singing the German texts. The alto roles in BWV 154 are especially rich, perhaps we should try to identify examples?

Julian Mincham wrote (November 8, 2009):
[To Douglas Cowling] This is emphasized by the unusual placement of the dictum, the words of Jesus, in the centre of the cantata -- I can't think of another cantata in which a self-contained arioso is followed by a secco recitative.

Neil Halliday wrote (November 8, 2009):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
> ...a deeper anagogical allegory of the soul's search for God.
This is emphasized by the unusual placement of the dictum, the words of Jesus, in the centre of the cantata -- I can't think of another cantata in which a self-contained arioso is followed by a secco recitative.<
Interestingly, the Rilling booklet [2] entitles BWV 153/3 an 'arioso' (not 'aria' as in the BGA); and indeed the similarities with the arioso movement 154/5 are obvious, both being short continuo only movements for bass directly quoting the word of God (Jesus in the latter case), and both are followed by long tenor seccos that comment on these words.

Thanks for mentioning that the CM of BWV 154/3 is the basis of the elaborate transformation in BWV 147 ('Jesu joy'). I hadn't picked it - the beautiful orchestration in BWV 147 is ofcourse far more memorable than the CM itself.

William Hoffman wrote (November 8, 2009):
BWV 154: Chorales

Fugitive Note:

Cantata BWV 154 Chorales

To complement the Gospel story of Jesus' Presentation in the Temple (Luke 2: 41-52), Bach set two Jesus Hymn chorales for this initial Cantata BWV 154 for the First Sunday after Epiphany. He used Stanza 2 of Martin Jahn's text, "Jesu, meiner Seelen Wonne" (Jesus, delight of my Soul) for the third movement four-part harmonization). For the closing plain chorale setting (Mvt. 8), Bach used Stanza 1 of Christian Keymann's six-stanza text set to the Andreas Hammerschmidt melody, "Meinen Jesum laß ich nicht" (I shall not leave my Jesus since), both dated 1658

Jahn's 1661 text is set to Johann Schop's 1642 melody, "Werde munter, mein Gemüthe" (Be alert, my soul), which also was set to Johann Rist's text of the same title about the same time. Chorale BWV 154/3, Stanza 2 of Jahn's 19-stanza text (Francis Browne new translation) reads:

Jesu, mein Hort und Erretter, Jesu, meine Zuversicht, Jesu, starker Schlangentreter, Jesu, meines Lebens Licht! Wie verlanget meinem Herzen, Jesulein, nach dir mit Schmerzen! Komm, ach komm, ich warte dein, komm, o liebstes Jesulein!

Jesus, my refuge and deliverer,Jesus, the ground of my confidence,Jesus, mighty trampler on the serpent,Jesus, light of my life!How my heart longs for you,dear Jesus, painfully!Come, ah come, I wait for you,come, O dearest Jesus!

"Jesu, meiner Seelen Wonne," Text and Translation of Chorale is found at:

As Doug Cowling recently pointed out, the Jahn text and Schop tune, found in BWV 154/3, are best known in Bach's elaborate chorale setting with instrumental interludes, now known at "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring," closing Part 1 (Jahn Stanza 6) and Part 2 (Jahn Stanza 16), Movements 6 and 10, respectively, in Cantata BWV 147, "Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben, for the Feast of the Visitation, July 2, 1723.

This is Bach's first setting of tune and text, inserted into Cantata BWV 147, originally composed in Weimar for Advent, and transformed with new chorale settings and recitatives. Six months later, Bach harmonized Stanza 2 of the same text and tune in Cantata BWV 154 for the First Sunday after Epiphany.

Subsequently, Bach would use the chorale melody in the closing chorale of Cantata BWV 146, "We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God," for the Third Sunday in Easter, May 12, 1726. The mood of this cantata and the others for Jubilate Sunday, as well as Cantata BWV 154, moves from despair to joy. The text for BWV 146/8, beginning "Denn wer selig dahin fähret," may be from Jahn's chorale. As Francis Browne notes: "BWV 146/8 must have had a text associated with (Jahn) when Bach performed it. The text simply did not make it down to us." Perhaps it is Stanza 10, 11, or 12, in Rist's complete text to "Werde munter, mein Gemüthe," not shown in Browne's nine-verse BCW translation.

Later, Bach harmonized the Schop melody as plain chorales BWV 359 and 360, which are listed in the Beitkopf/Richter chorale collection as "Jesus Hymns," along with chorale BWV 154/3 (Nos. 363-65). Perhaps these two Bach settings Bach were used at an Epiphany time Sunday service. The associated, extant 19-stanza Jahn text is listed in the Breitkopf-Richter chorale collection, along with a similar six-stanza "Jesus Hymn" text of Wilhelm Sacer, "Jesu, Meiner Freuden Freude," dated 1671, which Bach did not set.

Bach wasn't finished with the Schop melody, "Werde munter, mein Gemüthe." Johann Rist's setting to his own twelve-stanza text, "Werde munter, mein Gemüthe," is found in two Bach harmonizations, BWV 55/5 (Stanza 5), "Though I have abandoned you," for the 22nd Sunday after Trinity, 1726, and St. Matthew Passion, BWV 244b/40, same Stanza 5, for Good Friday 1727. These two, along with BWV 146/8, are listed in the Breitkopf-Richter collection, Nos. 360-362, "Werde munter, mein Gemüthe" (same text and melody), as omnes tempore timeless, topical "Evening Songs."

When Bach took up setting his closing chorale for Cantata BWV 154 in January 1724, he also harmonized another "Jesus Hymn," appropriate to Epiphany time as well as other omnes tempore uses and at Passiontide. Bach chose the closing Verse 6 of Keymann's chorale text, which emphasizes blessed eternity. He later also set this stanza as the closing chorale in Cantata BWV 157, "I will not let thee go," originally composed for the Marian Feast of the Purification, February 6, 1727, to a Picander text, and intended as double duty for a funeral in 1728.

Jesum laß' ich nicht von mir, Geh' ihm ewig an der Seiten; Christus wird mich für und für/ Zu dem Lebensbächlein leiten. Selig, wer mit mir so spricht; Meinen Jesum laß' ich nicht!

I shall not let Jesus go from me, I shall go along always by his side; for ever and ever Christ willlead me to the waters of life. Blessed is the man who says with me;
I shall not leave my Jesus.

Bach's first use of the hymn "I shall not leave my Jesus" came at Weimar in December 1716, when he composed three cantatas for the omnes tempore Second to the Fourth Sundays in Advent. For the Second Sunday, he set Stanza 5, "I shall not leave him," with its emphasis on longing, to close Cantata BWV 70a/6, "Watch, Pray, Be Ready." In his first year in Leipzig, Bach expanded the cantata for the final Sunday in Trinity, with its similar omnes tempore theme, on November 21, 1723. He composed a new harmonization for stanza 5, closing Cantata BWV 70/11, with string obbligato.

This leaves two four-part, free-standing harmonizations of "I shall not leave my Jesus" found in the Breitkopf-Richter Collection, as shown in

Setting BWV 380 uses Stanza 1, with the Keymann text and Hammerschmidt melody with grace notes in Bach's mature harmonization with intricate, moving supporting parts.

Bach also harmonized a different, shorter chorale with the same text incipit. The melody is called "Jesus ist mein Aufenthalt" in Zahn's chorale melody list. Appearing in Breslau c.1690, it is set to a completely different text found in the Lueneberger G.B. 1686 hymnal, by an unknown author. This setting BWV 379, with a different second line beginning "Jesus wird mich auch nicht lassen," is also classified as a "Jesus Hymn" and also is a mature Bach harmonization. These two setting could have been used for an Epiphany Sunday service or in the projected but unrealized Schemelli Song Book of devotional, pietistic settings.

For Good Friday, 1727, Bach also set Stanza 1, "I shall not leave my Jesus," emphasizing duty, to close the original version of Part 1 of the St. Matthew Passion" BWV 244b/29a, at the point of Jesus' arrest, when he is abandoned by his disciples. Bach in the SMP used the other Jesus Hymn from Cantata BWV 154, "Werde munter, mein Gemüthe," later when Peter weeps bitterly at his denial knowing Jesus.

For a full and enriching understanding of Bach's musical Epiphany sermon of loving duty, see Thomas Braatz Commentary and Aryeh Oron Background,

Russell Telfer wrote (November 10, 2009):
Neil Halliday wrote:
< Thanks [to Doug Cowling] for mentioning that the CM of BWV 154/3 is the basis of the elaborate transformation in BWV 147 ('Jesu joy'). I hadn't picked it - the beautiful orchestration in BWV 147 is of course far more memorable than the CM itself. >
I venture some comments on the cantata of the week.

This did not engage me in earlier years, probably because of its generally solemn and reflective character, but mainly because of indifferent recordings.

I note in BWV 154/1 the word painting with urgent repeated semi-quavers underlining the thunder above, something we can appreciate to this day. There is a similar effect, I think in the SJP (BWV 245) (I don't have the score) and also in the Messiah - the refiner's fire - a wonderful piece of writing.

I am usually quick to spot the chorale tune in BWV 153/3 for BWV 147, but when it's presented in one of the organ chorales I usually miss it.

The Alto and Tenor duet in my view is the highlight of this cantata, and it's hard to believe the number of years since I last heard it.

One general truth. When listening to the cantatas, to do them justice, one needs to give them one's full attention. I haven't always done that, more's the pity.

Ed Myskowski wrote (November 10, 2009):
Russell Telfer wrote:
< One general truth. When listening to the cantatas, to do them justice, one needs to give them one's full attention. I haven't always done that, more's the pity. >
I am reminded of Francis Browne citing Apuleius for us on a couple occasions (with translation appropriately left as an exercise for the student), to the effect that the rewards are proportional to the effort put in.


Continue on Part 4

Cantata BWV 154: 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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