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Cantata BWV 47
Wer sich selbst erhöhet, der soll erniedriget werden
Discussions - Part 4

Continue from Part 3

Discussions in the Week of September 18, 2016 (4th round)

William Hoffman wrote (September 18, 2016):
Trinity 17 Cantata BWV 47, “Wer sich selbst erhöhet": Intro.

As the last two months of Trinity Time approached in late September 1726, Bach in his probably final third cycle of church year cantatas composed a quartet of musical sermons in his favorite form, the chorus cantata, often with biblical dicta: BWV 17, followed by Cantata 19 for the Michaelfest/Trinity 15, then Cantata 47, “Wer sich selbst erhöhet, der soll erniedriget warden” (Who exalts himself, / Will be humbled, Gospel Luke 14:11, repeated 18:14). It is based on a severe pietist text of Johann Friedrich Helbig, Bach’s only use of the Eisenach poet’s texts which were composed in 1720 for Georg Philipp Telemann, kapellmeister (Bach-Telemann Helbig connection, see “Notes on Texts, Music,” below). Cantata 47 lasts about 23 minutes, long by Bach standards but subject to his extraordinary treatment of inferior poetry While the Helbig text of only three interpretive movements is concise (one of its few virtues), Bach sets them in free da-capo form, repeating the opening sections, and also elaborating extensively on the connecting ritornelli and developmental passages. Cantata 47 closes with the Erasmus Alberus plain chorale, "Warum betrübst du dich, mein Herz?" (Why Are You Afflicted, My Heart?). The work is scored for the usual two oboes, strings and continuo, with obbligato organ. The opening chorus and closing plain chorale are set in g minor. The internal music moves to d minor in the soprano aria (no. 2) while the bass recitative (no. 3) begins in g minor and modulates to E-flat Major, the key of the succeeding bass aria (no. 4).1

The monumental opening chorus uses the last stanza of the day’s gospel, (Luke 14:1-11, involving Healing on the Lord's Day and the Parable of Humility. Cantata 47 closes with the anonymous devotional, before-1563 chorale, "Warum betrübst du dich, mein Herz?" (Why Are You Afflicted, My Heart?). The Helbig central sermon bass recitative with strings (no. 3) with elements of vox Dei, “Der Mensch ist Kot, Staub[or Stank], Asch und Erde;

Man is filth, dust,[or stench] ash and earth), is treated as a bass recitative with strings. The second movement, "Who a true Christian will be called," is in pastoral style 3/8 time aria for soprano and obbligato violin, substituting an organ in reperformances in 1736-39 and about Sept. 3, 1742. The fourth movement, “Jesu, beuge doch mein Herze / Unter deine starke Hand” (Jesus, bend therefore my heart / Beneath your strong hand), is a bass quartet aria with violin and oboe in three parts.

For the third and final heterogeneous cantata cycle of 1725-27 Bach seems to have exhausted the use of reliable old 1704 Rudolstadt texts and Georg Christian Lehms 1711 Darmstadt texts while increasingly recycling instrumental concerti and parodied cantata music. Before turning to mostly solo works with texts possibly by Leipzig student Christoph Birkmann and again to the usually-acceptable and always-available Picander, Bach turned to another long-standing published poet, the late Johann Friedrich Helbig. Helbig in 1720 wrote one cycle for Telemann, like Erdmann Neumeister, who also had provided Telemann with annual cycles of ready-made, cantata texts. Unfortunately, the Helbig text has been condemned as the worst! To quote John Eliot Gardiner in his 2000 Bach Cantata Pilgrimage recording notes: "At times it descends into pure doggerel" (se below, “Fine Music Despite Helbig Text”). Perhaps Bach was administering to the conservative pietist members of the Leipzig Town Council a dose of their own medicine. After this, Bach rarely composed further cantatas, occasionally relying almost entirely on Picander, who published an entire, pietist-flavord cycle in mid-1728 from which only nine Bach cantatas are extant.

Cantata 47 was premiered on October 13, 1725, in the early main service of the Nikolaikirche before the sermon (not extant) of Superintendent Salomon Deyling (1677-1755), says Martin Petzoldt in BACH Commentary, Vol. 1, Trinity Sundays.2 The Gospel was Luke 14:1-11, the miracle of Christ healing the dropsical man, and the Epistle, from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians 4:1-6, “Exhortation to unity.” The full texts of Luther’s German translation published in 1545 and the English Authorised (King James) Version 1611 are found at The introit psalm for the 17th Sunday after Trinity is Psalm 50, Deus deorum (The mighty God, even the Lord, hath spoken, KJV), says Petzoldt (Ibid. 487), that he describes as “Vom wahren Gottesdienst” (observing God’s service), which originated musically with the Clementine vulgate. The full text is found at

To close Cantata 47, Bach harmonized the 11th stanza of the 14-verse Erasmus Alberus (Luther pupil), before-1563 chorale, "Warum betrübst du dich, mein Herz?" (Why Are You Afflicted, My Heart?), beginning with the text "Der zeitlichen Ehrn will ich gern entbehrn" (Worldly honour I shall do without completely). It is found in the Das neu Leipzgier Gesangbuch (NLGB) as No. 275, is an omnes tempore "Of the Cross: Persecution and Trial," for Trinity 7, 9, and 15. Francis Browne's English translation is found in BCW, Alberus (1500-53) BCW Short Biography is found at The melody is attributed to Bartholomeus Monoetius, Crailsheim 1565 (Appendix to Das gros Kirchen Gesangbuch, Straßburg 1560). Details of the Chorale Melody, text, and Bach's uses of this 14-stanza, 5-line (AABCC) hymn are found in BCW, Bach’s other uses of this hymn are found in chorus Cantata 138, a 1723 hybrid chorale cantata setting of the first three stanzas, respectively, a chorus fantasia, plain chorale with recitative tropes (no. 3), and a closing plain chorale (no. 7).

Comparisons to Cantata 39, Trinity 17 Choruses

Julian Mincham in his Cantata 47 Commentary introduction [BCW]
presents a comparison of Cantata 47 with Cantata BWV 39, “Brich dem Hungrigen dein Brot” (Break your bread with the hungry, Isaiah 58:7), for the 1st Sunday after Trinity 1726, as well as a look at the openings choruses of the three cantatas for this Sunday (Trinity 17). <<It is tempting to begin a discussion of this cantata by comparing its first movement with that of C 39 (chapter 17) performed a little over three months previously. Both are massive choruses in Gm and of almost identical length, 218 and 228 bars. Both have complex ritornelli which contain all the essential musical ingredients, stated at the beginning but not at the end. In each case the ritornello opens with a broken, partially fractured rhythmic statement, ultimately transforming itself into more flowing and continuous contours.

Finally, each of the massive vocal fugal sections is separated by moments of a more homophonic texture. All of this may seem like coincidence although it does suggest that Bach was taking interest in a particular type of chorus structure at this time, as indeed he had done previously with the chorale/fantasia cantatas. He was certainly the kind of man who, having hit upon a new idea or formal principle, tended to explore and develop it far as it would go. Furthermore, textual themes also link these movements together.

C 39 is an admonition to those who have to provide for those who have not. In this way one may ′raise′ oneself and be taken by the Lord into His home. C 47 is more laconic but presents us with a different perspective of the same theme----he who exalts himself shall be abased and vice versa. The juxtaposition of the rich and poor, high and low, proud and humble lies at the root of both these great movements and may indicate that Bach deliberately reminded himself of the format of the one before embarking upon the composition of the other.

Three cantatas written for this day are extant, one from each cycle in the order Cs 148 (vol 1, chapter 20), 114 (vol 2, chapter 18) and 47. Superficially their structures are similar in that they all begin with a long and complex chorus and end with a four-part chorale.

The first movement of C 148 is a song of worship and honour to the Lord, the need to offer such homage being the main theme of the work. It begins with one of the longest trumpet solos in the canon, clearly a demonstration of the pomp and ceremony with which we are mandated to praise Him.

The vaulting theme which announces C 114 is a rallying cry to the faithful, an exhortation of energy and affirmation. There can be few contrasts in the cantata repertoire greater than that between this impressive chorus and the despair evinced by the obbligato flute at the beginning of the following tenor aria.

Of these three cantatas C47 contains the fewest movements but compensates by having by far the longest opening chorus; counted in bars it is longer than the other two added together. The text, paraphrased above, is quite short so one is not surprised to encounter even more than the usual amount of repetition.>>

Trinity 17 Cantatas BWV 148, 114, 47 3

Following the unified, somber yet uplifting chorale-driven four meditations on death in the 16th Sunday after Trinity, Bach in his three extant cantatas for the 17th Sunday after Trinity again seeks unity through diversity in his choice of texts, hymns and corresponding musical treatment. Timing in middle-late Trinity Time of thematic Christian teaching is crucial as the temporal calendar year and Trinity Time begin transitioning towards their cyclic conclusions. Flexibility, unity through diversity, and a renewed need to proclaim and teach also infuse chorus Cantata BWV 148, "Bringet dem Herrn Ehre seines Namens" (Bring to the Lord the Honor of His Name) and chorale Cantata BWV 114, the hymning "Ach lieben Christen seid getrost" (Ah, dear Christians, be comforted).

That Bach had a special interest in this cantata trilogy of reflections on the Lucan gospel teaching of Healing on the Lord's Day and the Parable of Humility is shown through his careful selection of poetic texts and chorales with biblical and theological references and his subsequent reprisals of all three cantatas with changes. Meanwhile, all three cantatas are representative of the special character of each of his three respective annual church cycles composed in Leipzig between 1723 and 1727, as well as Bach's quest for well-ordered cantatas as musical sermons through effective texts and expressive music.

All three cantatas show Bach's intense interest in the principal ingredients of poetic text, chorale hymns, and appropriate music. At this point in Trinity Time, there had been a succession of three months of Sunday didactic cantatas without festive holidays and communal celebration. The proximity to the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels, of the symbolic defeat of evil, on September 29, inaugurated the Leipzig Fall Fair celebrating the harvest with Cantata 19, “Es erhub sich ein Streit” (There arose a strife), next week’s BCML Discussion (September 25). The final church year festive was the observance of Reformation Day on October 31, about one month before the beginning of the new church year of Advent in December and the onset of winter.

Bach could have been excused for being a bit anxious, wanting to use brass instruments and effective choruses to anticipate the coming changes as well as the eschatology (end times) of the church and civic year. Thus, for Cantata BWV 148, Bach chose a solo high trumpet for the opening chorus, and used a horn in the opening chorale fantasia of Cantata 114. For the opening chorus of Cantata 47, Bach composed elaborate interplay between solo voices and chorus as well as instruments in the orchestra.

In all three cycles, Bach took a particular interest in setting and enhancing effective music to the poetic texts while harmonizing popular omnes tempore Trinity Time chorales to support the teaching and energize the congregations at St. Thomas and St. Nikolaus. All three cantatas open with intricate large-scale choruses and close with effective chorale harmonizations emphasizing specific words in the chosen verses. All three cantatas have appealing internal dance-style da-capo solo arias with elaborate solo instruments: BWV 148/2 is a 6/8 gigue for tenor and violin, "I hasten the teaching of life to hear." Chorale Cantata BWV 114, opens with a gigue-style vivace opening chorus in 6/4, followed by a progressive tenor aria with flute in Lombard "Scottish-snap" rhythm in the ¾ time tenor.

Bach found the high ground with his use of chorales. He relied on popular traditional and newer published hymns. His conflicts were solely with the Leipzig Town Council, involving mostly non-religious issues, primarily his job conditions. Church matters were the exclusive purview of the ordained members of the Leipzig church consistory (ruling council). Bach's use of popular chorales is no exception in his Trinity 17 Cantatas 148, 114, and 47. Closing Cantata 148, the Trinity Time chorale "Wo soll ich fliehen hin/Auf meinen lieben Gott" is one of Bach's most used settings with various interrelated texts and melody variants. Chorale Cantata 114 is a setting of "Ach lieben Christen seid getrost" (Ah, dear Christians, be comforted); and Cantata 47 closes with the chorale "Warum betrübst du dich, mein Herz?" (Why Are You Afflicted, My Heart?).

The 17th Sunday after Trinity is the penultimate Sunday of the six affirmative paired teachings of miracles and parables in the Trinity Time mini-cycle emphasizing the "Works of Faith and Love," that is, the meaning of being a Christian, says Paul Zeller Strodach, <The Church Year> (United Lutheran Publication House, Philadelphia PA, 1924: 216). This Sunday's Gospel (Luke 14:1-11) uses both a healing miracle and a parable to show the righteousness of the Lord and his judgments. These lead to next Sunday's Gospel affirmation (Matthew 22:34-46) of the Great Commandment to love God and its Christian corollary, and also to love one's neighbor as one's self, ending the six-Sunday cycle in the third quarter of Trinity Time. The affirmative facets of the Christian character in this Sunday's Gospel involve proactive care for all living things beyond passive observance of the law that is primarily motivated by pride in self and place. This is demonstrated in Jesus' Sabbath miracle healing and his concomitant parable of the guests and their place at a wedding where humility instead of pride leads to honor from the host and respect from the other guests.

As Trinity Time enters its final third of the omnes tempore half year, the essential theological interest is in Eschatology (Last Things) and its four essential themes of Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell. As a transition to the final third, the biblical texts, chorale thematic texts, and the interpretive poetic texts that Bach particularly sought out focused on various aspects as they would be of interest to the sermon preacher and the Leipzig congregations. For example, the previous Sunday’s Cantata BWV 27, “Wer weiß, wie nahe mir mein Ende?” (Who knows how near my end is to me?), with its multiple-source te, focuses on Death and the promise of Heaven, with its didactic antithesis between humility and pride, between the trials and tribulations of earth and the reward and joy of heaven. This Sunday’s Cantata 47, with its austere pietist tone, is directed more towards Hell and Judgment, with its Gospel emphasizing Healing on the Lord’s Day and the teaching Parable of Humility, contrasting exalting arrogance and humble acceptance.

Cantata 47 movements, scoring, incipits, key, meter: 4

1. Chorus rondo in free-da-capo form fugual complex; extended sinfonia, ritornelli (Choreinbau text Luke 14:11) [SATB; Oboe I/II, Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo]: A. “Wer sich selbst erhöhet, / der soll erniedriget warden” (Who exalts himself / Will be humbled”; B. “und wer sich selbst erniedriget, / der soll erhöhet warden” (And who humbles himself / Will be exalted.); g minor; 2/2 alle breve.
2. Aria trio da-capo [Soprano; Organo obligato or violino, Continuo]: A. “Wer ein wahrer Christ will heißen, / Muss der Demut sich befleißen / Demut stammt aus Jesu Reich.” (Whoever wants to be called a true Christian / Must be concerned with humility; Humility comes from Jesus's kingdom.); B. “Hoffart ist dem Teufel gleich; / Gott pflegt alle die zu hassen, / So den Stolz nicht fahrenlassen.” (Haughtiness is like the devil; / God is accustomed to hate all those / Who do not abandon arrogance; d minor; 3/8 pastorale-giga style.

3. Recitative secco [Bass; Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo]: Der Mensch ist Kot, Stank, Asch und Erde; Ist's möglich, dass vom Übermut, Als einer Teufelsbrut, Er noch bezaubert werde? Ach Jesus, Gottes Sohn, Der Schöpfer aller Dinge, Ward unsretwegen niedrig und geringe, Er duldte Schmach und Hohn; Und du, du armer Wurm, suchst dich zu brüsten? Gehört sich das vor einen Christen? Geh, schäme dich, du stolze Kreatur, Tu Buß und folge Christi Spur; Wirf dich vor Gott im Geiste gläubig nieder! Zu seiner Zeit erhöht er dich auch wieder.” (Man is filth, dust,[or stench] ash and earth; Is it possible that from overweening pride As one of the Devil's brood He is still deluded? Ah Jesus , son of God Creator of everything For our sake became humble and insignificant, He endured disgrace and mockery; And you poor worm, do you try to boast about yourself? Is this how a Christian should behave? Go and be ashamed of yourself, you arrogant creature, Feel repentance and follow in Christ's footsteps Throw yourself down before God in faith! In his own time he will raise you up again.)
4. Aria three-part with ritornelli setting, dal segno; homogeneous [Bass; Oboe, Violino, Continuo]: A. “Jesu, beuge doch mein Herze / Unter deine starke Hand, / Dass ich nicht mein Heil verscherze / Wie der erste Höllenbrand.” (Jesus, bend therefore my heart / Beneath your strong hand, So that I do not forfeit my salvation / As the first fire of hell); B. Laß mich deine Demut suchen / Und den Hochmut ganz verfluchen” (Let me seek your humility / And curse arrogance completely); C. “Gib mir einen niedern Sinn, / Dass ich dir gefällig bin!” (Give me a humble mind / So that I may be pleasing to you!); E-Flat Major; 4/4.
5. Chorale plain [SATB; Oboe I/II e Violino I col Soprano, Violino II coll'Alto, Viola col Tenore, Continuo]: “Der zeitlichen Ehrn will ich gern entbehrn, / Du wollst mir nur das Ewge gewährn, / Das du erworben hast / Durch deinen herben, bittern Tod. / Das bitt ich dich, mein Herr und Gott.” (Worldly honour I shall do without completely, / If You will only grant me what is eternal / That you have won / Through your harsh bitter death. I ask you for this, my Lord and my God.); g minor, 4/4.

Notes on Text, Music

The writer of church cantata texts, Johann Friedrich Helbig (1680-1722), was active as secretary at the ducal court of Saxe-Eisenach from 1709 onwards.5 In 1718 he was also appointed court poet. In this position he wrote an annual cycle of church cantata texts, Aufmunterung der Andacht ('Encouragement of Devotion'), published in 1720. Georg Philipp Telemann (who perhaps had been his fellow student at Leipzig University, in the early 1700s) set 168 of Helbig's cantata texts.

Telemann settings of this 1720 Helbig cycle, known as the “Sicilianischer Jahrgang,” because of it simple, dance-like Italian style, influenced Bach’s setting of” Cantata 47, says Jeanne Schwack in the American Bach Society biennial publication, Notes (No.6, Fall 2006: 11f), review of Brit Repisch’s article, “Annotationen zu Georg Philipp Telemann, Johann Friedrich Helbig, und Johann Sebastian Bach,” in the Hans-Joachim Schulze 65th birthday Festschrift of scholarly essays, Telemann und Bach/Telemann Beiträge.6 “More specifically, Reipsch expands upon Dürr’s suggestion [Cantatas of J. S. Bach]7 that BWV 47 was inspired by Telemann’s setting of this same text, TVWV 1:1603, by pointing out numerous gestural and compositional similarities between the two. She posits that Bach may have received this cantata directly from Telemann.” For more information on the Bach-Telemann Leipzig connections, see Cantata 160 Discussions, June 27, 2010, BCW

“Jesus’s warning against pride” is the theme of Cantata 47, observes Dürr (Ibid.). The opening is followed “by a truly Draconian sermon against pride in the second and third movements, which flows into a prayer of humility and for eternal blessedness in the second aria and the concluding chorale, nos. 4 and 5. The phrase ‘So that I do not trifle away my salvation, as did that first Hell-hound’ [Höllenbrand] in the fourth movement alludes to a legend widespread in popular Christian belief according to which Lucifer, originally an angel, was hurled down to hell on account of his pride (in accordance with Luke 10:18 8 ).”

Cantata 47 opens with a “long and complex ritornello-sinfonia, which recur at the end with inbuilt vocal parts [Choreinbau], forming an outer frame (AA),” says Richard D. P. Jones in The Creative Development of Johann Sebastian Bach, Volume II: 1717-1750.9 “The massive central fugue [in 2/2 alle breve], comprising three expositions, is built on a subject that rises and falls through an octave to illustrate Christ’s words, ‘Whoever exalts himself shall be abased’ (Luke 14:11). It is accompanied by a regular counter-subject that falls and rises through an 11th or 12th, illustrating the continuation of the New Testament text, ‘And whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.”

The opening chorus initial fugal statement may be performed with the concertists (single voices), while development and recapitulation with repienists (all voices). For those interested in OVPP (one voice per part), the challenge simply can be solved with the use of single voices, as found in the video of La Petite Bande, Sigiswald Kuijken conductor, Bach Cantata, BWV 47 - 1.Chorus - Wer sich selbst erhöhet; BCW Recording details,, Cantatas for the Liturgical Year, Vol. 12 (Cantatas BWV 138, 27, 47, 96). These cantatas for Trinity 15-18 emphasize the pietist devotional theme, "Warum betrübst du dich, mein Herz?" (Why Are You Afflicted, My Heart?).

The version of Cantata 47 with full chorus is found in the Ton Koopman recording, The version with organ obbligato in the soprano trio da-capo aria (no. 2), follows, see BCW Recording details, The version of the soprano aria with violin solo is found in the Kuijken recording. The soprano aria was originally accompanied by an obbligato organ, as was, three weeks later, the aria Ich geh und suche mit Verlangen, BWV 49.

In the opening chorus of Cantata 47, the “opposition of arrogance and humility are expressed by ascending adescending figures, and through the antiphonal use of the two oboes versus the strings, says Johan van Veen in his MusicWeb International review of the Sigiswald Kuijken recording, “Notes and Editorial Reviews,” ( “The soprano aria 'Wer ein wahrer Christ will heißen' expresses this contrast in a different way. The opening motif of the violin in the A section is taken over by the basso continuo in the B section. ‘“Arrogance” is with which the servant (the bass accompaniment) undertakes the chief rôle!,’" Kuijken writes, cited by van Veen. The cantatas on the recording reveal the sense of distress (Betrüst) found in these Cantatas for Trinity 15-18, with two 1724 chorale Cantatas, BWV 138 and 96, between two 1726 cantatas, BWV 27 and 47. A dialogue sense of questioning the distress and the answer are found in Cantatas 138 and 27 (Trinity 15 and 16), van Veen observes.

"Warum betrübst du dich, mein Herz?"

The anonymous early Reformation hymn "Warum betrübst du dich, mein Herz?" (Why Are You Afflicted, My Heart?), once attributed to Hans Sachs, appears in the NLGB under the category "Vom Creutz, Verfolung & Anfechtung” (Cross, Persecution and Trial). It also is found in other hymnbooks under the categories “Wider aller Welt Sorge” (Against All the Cares of the World”) and “Vom christlichen Leben und Wandel” (About the Christian Way of Life and Its Changes”), see BCW Chorale Melody (Ibid.). Besides in the NLGB for Trinity 15, this hymn is found in the same category in the Leipzig hymnbook of 1693, as well as the Weißenfels Leipzig and Dresden hymn schedules of the 17th and 18th centuries, says Günther Stiller in Johann Sebastian Bach and Liturgical Life in Leipzig.10

Helbig chose to conclude his libretto with the 11th verse of "Warum betrübst du dich, mein Herz?," which refers to the theme of heaven over death in the previous Sunday’s teaching: “Der zeitlichen Ehrn will ich gern entbehrn, / Du wollst mir nur das Ewge gewährn, / Das du erworben hast / Durch deinen herben, bittern Tod. / Das bitt ich dich, mein Herr und Gott.” (Worldly honour I shall do without completely, / If You will only grant me what is eternal / That you have won / Through your harsh bitter death. I ask you for this, my Lord and my God.). The subject of Chorale Cantata BWV 138, the other use in Bach’s works of "Warum betrübst du dich, mein Herz?," “is connected to the gospel reading of the 15th Sunday after Trinity: St Matthew 6, vs 24-34,” observes van Veen. “Here Jesus urges his disciples not to live in fear because of a lack in faith, but rather trust in God's direction of their lives. It is a chorale cantata: three of the original 14 stanzas are used.”

There are two free-standing plain chorale settings of "Warum betrübst du dich, mein Herz?" (Why Are You Afflicted, My Heart?): BWV 420, 421, and 421 variant. Chorale BWV 420 in A Major may have closed Cantata BWV Anh. 209, Liebster Gott, vergißt du mich (Loving God, forget me not), set to a Georg Christian Lehms 1711 text for the 7th Sunday after Trinity, possibly dating to July 15, 1714 in Weimar, and performed in 1727 to a funeral with BWV 157 (see BCW Chorale BWV 421 in G Major is the final chorale to an untexted and transposed version of BWV 421 that J.G. Schicht possibly added later (see: Früdruck Leipzig 1802/03) to motet BWV Anh. III 159, “Ich lasse dich nicht, du Segnest mich denn” (I will not let you go, unless you bless me), Stanza 3, “Weil du mein Gott und Vater bist” (Since you are my God and father), which Bach also used to close Chorus Cantata BWV 138 (see BCW BWV Anh. 159 Details & Discography,

The text of "Warum betrübst du dich, mein Herz?" inspired a plain chorale setting, BWV 424, “Was betrübst du dich, mein Herz?" (Why be sorrowful, my heart?), set to a 12-stanza, 8-line text of Zacharias Hermann c.1690, melody by an unidentified composer, once attributed to Bach. The four chorale plain chorales, BWV 420-423 are all recorded in the Book of Chorale Settings, Hänssler Vol. 85, under the category, “Trust in God, Cross, and Consolation,” Details, see BCW, CH-12. Chorale BWV 420 recording, go to J.S.Bach - Chorale 'Warum betrubst du dich,mein Herz' BWV 420.

The text of "Warum betrübst du dich, mein Herz?" also inspired the Paul Gerhardt (1607-76) 1653 setting (not in the NLGB) of “Warum sollt’ ich mich denn grämen” (Why should I grieve), the 15th stanza, “Ich will dich mit Fleiß bewahren” (I shall diligently keep you in mind), in the Christmas Oratorio, Part III Adoration of the Magi, BWV 248/33, as well as a plain chorale setting, BWV 422. The melody is adapted after Daniel Vetter (1657/8-1721), Musicalische Kirch- und Haus-Ergötzlichkeit (Musical Church and House Delight), Leipzig 1713 (See Vetter BCW Short Biography, Vetters’ publication was apparently the first collection of organ pieces by a Leipzig organist published in over a century. In it, well-known chorale melodies are presented in simple four-part harmonizations intended for the organ.

An instructional chorale-book with 238 melodies, “Sebastian Bach’s Choral-Buch?,” also has a setting of "Warum betrübst du dich, mein Herz?" It is “a workbook for learning how to create four-part settings,” says Robin A. Leaver in his essay, “Bach’s Choral-Buch?: The Significance of a Manuscript in the Sibley Library,” in Bach and the Organ.11

Vetters’ publication was designed for church as well as home devotional use in the pietist tradition that also inspired the 1736 publication of the Schemelli Gesangbuch, BWV 439-507 (see BCW “Thomas Braatz wrote (December 11, 2004).” A new recording, "Heart& Soul - Devotional music from the German Baroque" (, displays the tradition of sacred songs often done in intimate concerto form that pre-dates the Italian-style cantatas beginning in 1700. Composers represented include Dietrich Buxtehude, Philipp Heinrich Erlebach, Adam and Johann Philipp Krieger, Johann Rosenmüller, Samuel Scheidt, and Johann Christoph Bach. One of the works, “‘Was betrübst du dich, meine Seele’ [Why by sorrowful, my Soul] Christoph Bernhard is a setting of the opening verses of Psalm 43,” says Johann van Veen in his review of the recording. “ It is for alto - Bernhard's own voice type - with an accompaniment of viola da braccio (here played by a violin), viola da gamba and bc. It is from a collection of sacred concertos for two to five voices which suggests that they were - or could be - used in the liturgy.”

Although rooted in the orthodox Lutheran tradition, members of the Bach Family, as well as many other fine German composers, composed in this personal tradition, as well as in the complex motet style that also embraced sacred chorale settings. The best known was Johann Christoph Bach (1642-1703), who composed a variety of concertos in the forms of aria, dialogue, and lament that often contained secular and sacred elements. “The [Heart and Soul] opens with one of the most famous sacred concertos of the 17th century, “Ach, daß ich Wassers g’nug hätte in meinem Haupte” [Ah, that my head were waters] by Johann Christoph Bach,” says van Veen (Ibid.]. “It beloamong the genre of the lamento which was very popular at the time across Europe and could be of a sacred or a secular nature.”

Fine Music Despite Helbig Text

The music in Cantata 47 is “consistently fine,” despite the Helbig text, says John Eliot Gardiner 2009 liner notes to his 2000 Bach Cantata Pilgrimage in Soli Deo Gloria recordings.12 <<Much the most consistently fine of these cantatas [for Trinity 17] is BWV 47, “Wer sich selbst erhöhet, der soll erniedriget werden,” and this despite the fact that its three middle movements are based on a nugatory text from a cycle by Johann Friedrich Helbig, court official in Eisenach. At times it descends into pure doggerel; no wonder Bach (unlike Telemann) set Helbig’s words to music only this once. It was first performed on 13 October 1726. It opens by quoting St Luke [14:11], and the concluding homily from the parable against pride in the second part of the Gospel reading, ‘for whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted’. [W. Gillies] Whittaker13 claims that Bach wrote few choruses ‘as mighty and monumental’ as this opening movement, and one can hardly argue with that. It starts as a speeded up variant of the C minor organ prelude (BWV 546) [fugue, Fugue in c-minor (BWV 546) J.S. Bach] transposed up a fifth, with curt antiphonal exchanges between the strings and the pair of oboes, but it is not until bar 186, when it is assigned to the chorus in block harmony, that you understand firstly how its initial shape responds to the natural stresses of the Spruch, and secondly how its continuation (in the oboes at bar 12) forms the core of a fugal subject that rises to fill the puffed-out chest of the man ‘who exalteth himself’ and will later descend at the moment of his come-uppance. The second clause (concerned with the humble) acts as a counter-subject and concludes with its own smoothly rising phrase (‘shall be exalted’). There are striking episodes, reversals of the voice entries in the twin expositions, homophonic ‘summings up’ and a final return to the elaborate opening ritornello with the addition of the choir in a restatement of the complete text. This may not be the most attractive or easily assimilated of Bach’s opening choral fugues, but it grows on one, and by the encore of the second concert it had registered its considerable power with all the performers and (one sensed) with the listeners.

The second movement is a soprano da capo aria in D minor with organ or, for a later revival, violin obbligato, and it was this version that we chose to perform, calling for extremes of poetic lyricism in the first part and bravura in the second. Its theme is a simple contrast between Christian humility and devilish pride. It is not certain that Bach included it at the cantata’s first outing in 1726. Perhaps he tried it out and discarded it at the eleventh hour when the performers fell short of its taxing demands. This might also explain why the subsequent movements appear to go over the same ground; indeed, you could remove this aria and the cantata’s narrative would still cohere. But what a loss that would be! The violin is assigned a fluttery, kite-like figure in the first section which seems at first to be purely decorative, but which acquires on greater acquaintance the elusive attributes of humility that Christians are required to follow. Then for the B section Bach writes staccato double-stopping for the violin to evoke devilish ‘Hoffart’ (haughtiness or arrogance) and ‘Stolz’ (pride). With these harsh, stubborn broken chords (v – –) we seem suddenly close to the violin concertos of Bartok or Khachaturian. Meantime the soprano is locked into furious imitative exchanges with the bass line (‘Gott pflegt alle die zu hassen’ / God is wont to hate all those [who do not abandon their stubbornness and arrogance]’).

This is a vividly theatrical portrayal of one of the worst of the deadly sins, guaranteed, you would think, to jolt the complacent listener out of his seat. The aria makes blindingly good sense, for once, of da capo form, its long A section an exposition of the need for humility, its B section a tirade denouncing the vice of arrogance. Then, purposefully, comes the return to A, its theme of ‘Demut’ drawing on all the self-abnegating qualities of the good chamber musician. The final play-out gives the most eloquent portrayal of humility imaginable, with harmony and figuration in creative symbiosis. How could the preacher compete with this?

Well, he – or rather Bach on his behalf – tries, hampered not just by the overpowering eloquence of the preceding number but by the banality of a text beginning ‘Mankind is filth, stench, ash and earth’. Nevertheless this stentorian accompagnato for bass [no. 3] is one of Bach’s most elaborate and subtle pieces of musical sermonising, so much so that one easily sidesteps the verbal crudity to admire the care Bach lavishes on the smallest detail of verbal inflection: his autograph score shows, for example, how he sharpened the rhythm of the word ‘Teufelsbrut’ (‘devil’s brood’) to make its impact more abrupt and brutal. It is followed by an aria in E flat in which the same singer, now accompanied by violin and oboe obbligati, prays for humility ‘that I may not forfeit my salvation like Lucifer’. You get the feeling that his recurrent struggles with pride are being soothed –mitigated, even – by the instrumental duo, except at three points when they join him in his abomination of pride.

Whittaker [Ibid.: 167f] warns us not to make snap judgements condemning Bach for setting such ‘offensive’ texts’ [as found in the bass recitative]: ‘The battle that Luther waged against unscrupulous enemies was used as a model by himself and his followers when considering the opposing elements within their own hearts, and the evil elements of the mixture of good and bad which is found in every one of us are addressed in the same terms as hostile powers, sacred or secular’. But is that the real point? What interests me more is the impact Bach’s music can have – his skill in overcoming the sheer nastiness of the text by organising his musical material to articulate its emotional content (this you can analyse, but in the process it will disappear like water between your cupped hands). He appears to invite us non- Lutherans into his orbit and to elicit from us a sympathetic response to the underlying homily, and to the nuance his music gives it, that excessive pride is unacceptable under any circumstances, that there is dignity, not just worthiness, in humility. Hegel attributed to music an ‘indeterminate content’, but for Mendelssohn (who knew Hegel) ‘it is not that music is too imprecise for words, but that it is too precise’. Bach seems to anticipate and substantiate Mendelssohn’s belief that music can unleash the central core of meaning so often obfuscated by words. © John Eliot Gardiner 2009, From a journal written in the course of the Bach Cantata Pilgrimage

Biblical Text Shaped Bach’s Music

The layout and word-painting potential of the opening biblical text enabled Bach to create superior music, observes Klaus Hofmann in his 2009 liner notes to the Masaaki Suzuki complete cantata BIS recordings.14 <<The mighty opening chorus of Bach’s cantata heard at the Leipzig church service on the seventeenth Sunday after Trinity in 1726 (13th October) must have made a lasting impact on the more receptive listeners, with the Biblical words of exaltation and abasement, pride and humility making a deep impression. Jesus’ words are the last verse of the Sunday gospel passage (Luke 14:1–11). A baroque composer could hardly have wished for a more flexible text: the ‘up’ and ‘down’ of exaltation and abasement are an open invitation to depict the text illustratively with rising and falling melodies. The text, with its four lines linked together into a whole, is turned by Bach into a large-scale choral fugue, the themes of which reflect the ‘up’ and ‘down’ constantly illustrate them anew in three contrapuntally dense development sections. Bach, how ever, was not content to be merely a skilful illustrator. The choral writing is part of a formal conception that is to some extent symphonic: the thematically independent orchestra provides a framework for the vocal parts, and its characteristic echo effects between the strings and wind instruments are superimposed on the choral writing, thereby binding the vocal and instrumental spheres closely together.

The text for the cantata is of limited literary merit; it comes from the cycle “Auffmunterung zur Andacht” (En - couragement to Worship, 1720) by the Eisenach court official Johann Friedrich Helbig (1680–1722). Despite its poetic weaknesses, however, this text inspired Bach to compose three wonderful arias. In the soprano aria, he contrasts humility, depicted in exquisite music, with pride, represented by grand gestures. The agile instrumental solo part is allocated in Bach’s score to the organ, but in the original set of parts (possibly prepared for a repeat performance) this survives only in Bach’s own arrangement for an unspecified instrument – in all probability a violin.

The bass aria (fourth movement) is set as a chamber music-like quartet, in which the oboe, violin and voice are closely intertwined above the peaceful tread of the basso continuo. This is a contrapuntally dense movement in which Bach must have intended to address the ‘connoisseurs and amateurs’ in his audience, but at the same time its poised seriousness impressively embodies the prayer-like attitude of the text. Nowadays one point in this text requires explanation: the words ‘der erste Höllenbrand’ (‘the first fire of hell’) refer to Lucifer, the fallen angel who, according to an old church tradition, rose up presumptuously in pride against God, and was then cast out of heaven and banished to hell. The cantata ends with a strophe from the hymn Warum betrübst du dich, mein Herz (Why are you afflicted, my heart; 1557) by Luther’s pupil Erasmus Alber – a brief, simply expressed prayer.
© Klaus Hofmann 2009

Production Notes: BWV 47/2
Both BWV 27 and BWV 47 continue to present problems as regards the selection of obbligato instruments in the arias. To begin with, the second movement in BWV 47 has an obbligato part that looks as though it should be played on the organ or the violin; the writing in the second half in particular is highly violinistic in character. In the autograph score Bach has written an incomplete instruction (‘Aria Organo') regarding the instrumentation. He thus seems to have broken off writing any specification of instrumentation half way through, although on the cover of the score are the words ‘Organo obligato’. Organs in the Leipzig area at that time were generally tuned at ‘Chorton’ pitch (a'=c. 465). In order to compensate for the difference between this pitch and the ‘Kammerton’ pitch at which the strings and the wind instruments would have been tuned, the organ parts would be notated a major second lower. In the case of this cantata, however, the transposed organ part included in the original set of parts for the second movement contains only the continuo part, and there is no sign of an obbligato part. There also exists a separate part that Bach himself created when the work was re-performed in or after 1734. It bears the title ‘Organo’, but this would appear to have been added at a later date. The music has not been transposed for the organ, however, and the double-stops that appear in the second half of the second movement have been revised extensively from those that appear in the autograph score – clearly in such a manner as to make them readily playable on the violin. It is nevertheless quite possible to perform the obbligato part on the violin while still adhering to the autograph full score. To judge from these materials, the possibility that the obbligato part was played on the organ on the occasion of the first performance cannot be excluded, but on a musical level the part was clearly conceived with the violin in mind, and for this reason it is here performed on that instrument.
© Masaaki Suzuki 2010


1 Cantata 47 BCW Details & Discography, Score Vocal & Piano [1.92 MB],, Score BGA [3.21 MB], References: BGA X (Cantatas 41-50, Wilhelm Rust 1860), NBA KB I/23 (Trinity 17 cantatas Rufus Hallmark 1984), Bach Compendium BC A 141, Zwang: K 154.
2 Martin Petzoldt, Bach Kommentar: Die geistlichen Kantaten des 1. Bis 27. Trinitas Sontagges, Vol. 1; Theologisch Musikwissenschaftlicke Kommentierung der Geistlichen Vokalwerke Johann Sebastan Bachs, Internationale Bachakademie Stuttgart (Kassel: Bärenreiter, 2004: 508)
3 Source Material: BCW Motets & Chorales for the 17th Sunday after Trinity,
4 Cantata 47 Helbig text and Francis Browne English translation,
5 Source, Helbig biographical information, BCW
6 Telemann und Bach/Telemann Beiträge, ed. Brit Repisch & Wolf Hobohm, Magdeburger Telemann-Studien XVIII (Hildesheim: Georg Ohms Verlag, 2005: 286 pp).
7 Alfred Dürr, Cantatas of J. S. Bach, revised and translated by Richard D. P. Jones (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005: 565).
8 Luke 10:18, also cited in Petzoldt [Ibid.: 507]. This also is the premise and motivation in John Milton’s Paradise Lost (1656-74).
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).
10 Günther Stiller in Johann Sebastian Bach and Liturgical Life in Leipzig, ed. Robin A. Leaver (St. Louis MO: Concordia Publishing, 1985: 243).
11 Bach and the Organ, Bach Perspectives Volume 10, ed. Matthew Dirst (Urbana Ill: University of Illinois Press, 2016: 36), American Bach Society.
12Gardiner notes, BCW,[sdg159_gb].pdf); Recording Details,
13 W. Gillies Whittaker, The Cantatas of Johann Sebastian Bach (London: Oxford University Press, 1958: 162ff)
14 Klaus Hofmann notes, BCW[BIS-SACD1861].pdf
BCW Recording details, Masaaki Suzuki - Bach Cantatas & Other Vocal Works - Recordings Part 3: Cantatas Vols. 41-60.

Aryeh Oron wrote (October 4, 2016):
Cantata BWV 47 - Revised & updated Discography

Cantata BWV 47 "Wer sich selbst erhöhet, der soll erniedriget werden" (Who exalts himself, Will be humbled) was composed by J.S. Bach in Leipzig for the 17th Sunday after Trinity of 1726. It was performed again in Leipzig two more times (between 1735-1740 and c1742) The cantata is scored for soprano & bass soloists; 4-part Chorus; and orchestra of 2 oboes, 2 violins, viola & continuo.

The discography pages of BWV 47 on the BCW have been revised and updated. See:
Complete Recordings (19):
Recordings of Individual Movements (8):
The revised discography includes many listening/watching options to recordings directly from the discography pages, just below the recorddetails.

I also put at the BCW Home Page:
2 audios & 2 videos of the cantata. A short description below the audio/video image is linked to the full details at the discography pages.

I believe this are the most comprehensive discography of the cantata. If you are aware of a recording of BWV 47 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 current discussion of the cantata in the BCML (4th round):



Cantata BWV 47: 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 15:25