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

Cantata BWV 112
Der Herr ist mein getreuer Hirt

Whittaker, Robertson & Young | Friedrich Smend | Alfred Dürr


Aryeh Oron wrote (April 19, 2002):
BWV 112 - Background

The background below is based on several sources (mostly Whittaker, Robertson and Young) and something of my own. The English translations are by Francis Browne, a member of the BCML.

This chorale cantata has all its numbers based on Wolfgang Meussel’s paraphrase of Psalm 23. This fits very well into the Gospel of the day (2nd Sunday after Easter): John 10: 12-16 and the Epistle: 1 Peter 2: 21-25, where Jesus is the Good Shepherd. The listener who does not read German, or does not have the text translated to his own language, is advised to listen to the music with the Biblical text beforehand, and realise how the text is reflected in the music. Bach recaptures the pastoral atmosphere of the Old Testament in the astounding music he sets for this beautiful cantata.

Mvt. 1: Chorus
Der Herr ist mein getreuer Hirt,
The Lord is my faithful shepherd)
Corno I/II, Oboe d'amore I/II, Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo
The metrical version (verses 1-2) keeps closely to the words of the much-loved Psalm. The melody of N. Decius is used for this opening movement, beginning with a short instrumental chorale fantasia, which is continued as the choir sings. The first horn doubles the sopranos’ line with the chorale melody. In the second line there is a suggestion of a shepherd’s pipe in the repeated horn flourishes with the colourful hymn-tune, which evokes a picture of the Good Shepherd leading His sheep into the pasture. The other instruments are given a happy pastoral theme. The personification of the flock into the peaceful surroundings comes out very well in both the text and in Bach’s music. The fantasia is one of the most miraculously beautiful things Bach ever wrote.

Mvt. 2: Aria for Alto
Zum reinen Wasser er mich weist,
He leads me to pure water)
Oboe d'amore solo, Continuo
The running waters (verse 3) are pictured in the phrases of semiquaver runs principally in the oboe d’amore and voice parts, but occasionally in the continuo part, as the alto sings the first four lines of the text. The imagery of the refreshing water in the pasture continues the pastoral colouring. It symbolises the Holy Spirit. The movement has a quiet charm.

Mvt. 3: Arioso & Recitative for Bass
Und ob ich wandelt im finstern Tal,
And though I wander in the dark valley)
Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo
This movement seems to be more Arioso than recitative. The bass sings the words three times, beginnings each line with much the same note, but otherwise with varied music. We can imagine the scene as he wanders through a gloomy, foreboding valley, which is painted by the adagio melody. There is a suggestion of a pilgrim chanting as he walks. The strings, silent till now, enter with poignant effect in the Arioso (adagio) that follows, in which the pilgrim speaks of ‘persecution, suffering, sorrow and the spiteful malice’, but it ends with the certainty that the Good Shepherd is near with His rod and staff, His comforting words.

Mvt. 4: Aria (Duetto) for Soprano & Tenor
Du bereitest für mir einen Tisch
You prepare for me a table)
Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo
After the gloomy preceding movement, this one opens with a joyous theme in the strings. This is a joyous duet with delightfully varied figuration in the long opening and succeeding ritornellos. The soloists sing each line in turn with some overlapping; their ornate singing in the joy-motif makes this duet an exceptionally charming one. The triplet figures of the ritornello come into the voice parts in the middle section, which tells of the anointing of the soul with the spiritual oil of joy.

Mvt. 5: Chorale
Gutes und die Barmherzigkeit
Goodness and mercy)
Oboe d'amore I e Violino I col Soprano, Oboe d'amore II e Violino II coll'Alto, Viola col Tenore, Corno I/II, Continuo
The same hymn melody, with all instruments and four-part choir, recurs as in the opening chorus.

Thomas Braatz wrote (April 22, 2002):
The only commentators that I have that go into detail about this cantata are Friedrich Smend and Alfred Dürr.


After pointing out the chorale melody, “Allein Gott in der Höh’ sei Ehr,” Smend draws our attention to the completely enclosed unity that encompasses the entire cantata. Beginning with Mvt. 1 in the ritornello and the voices that accompany the cantus firmus which is in the soprano, Bach continues to provide variations of the first line of this chorale. This continues, as it probably should, into the other mvts., but generally the listener may be quite unaware of this feature and think that the main motifs and melodies in those mvts. are quite different from the chorale melody. The fact, however, is that they are not. They are in reality variations of the beginning few notes of the chorale. A very remarkable variation is the opening theme in the duet (mvt. 4 for soprano and tenor) which is first played by the strings before the voices imitate it. This theme variation is prepared or introduced in mvt. 2 (alto aria) in the opening motif (ms. 1) played by the oboe d’amore in E minor, but changed to G major beginning in the middle section (ms. 36-37 ff.) The bc at the end of the recitative (mvt. 3 for bass) ms. 18-19, also provides an introduction of the theme that will open mvt. 4. Even the chorale (mvt. 5) continues to imitate with passing-note figures the opening three-note figure of the first line of the chorale melody. It is imitatated at the end of ms. 1 in the altos (and oboe d’amore II), then in the bass (bc) in ms. 2, and twice in ms. 3, but also in the soprano and alto parts (corno I, oboe d’amore I).

The sequence of tonality indicates a strong framework with the beginning and end emphasizing the tonic G major. The alto aria (mvt. 2) presents the parallel E minor key, and the duet (mvt. 4) the dominant D major. The only recitative, however moves (modulates) from C major to G major, but between those two keys, it touches upon rather ‘strange,’ unrelated keys: where references are made to the “finstern Tal” and “Leiden und Trübsal” the strange sounds of the F minor key are used.


Dürr also points specifically to the fact that not only do the imitative, accompanying voices in mvt. 1 mimic the opening line of the chorale, but they also create subtle connections (a kind of word painting) to the chorale text that voices are singing. Of special note is the recitative (mvt. 3) with its arioso recitative (only bass voice and bc) section followed by the adagio section using the halo effect of 3 strings, a section that is also marked recitative. [Is Bach, who has acquainted his audience with this halo device in his passions, consciously causing us to think of Jesus Christ when the words, “in Verfolgung, Leiden, Trübsal” are used and when “du bist bei mir stetiglich” and “dein Wort,” are sung? Is Bach, the preacher, underlining the connection and movement from the OT leading into the NT as already discussed by others on this site?] The bassoon-like opening theme of the arioso section in the bc conjures up the idea of ‘wandering’ as it wanders back and forth between the bc and the voice, but also has the repeated stepping notes that are followed by a slipping downward. Perhaps, also, the voice “need not fear” because the bc is always close behind with another repetition of the theme.
A few other things to note:

In Mvt. 1, beginning at ms. 44-46 Bach continues to lead the tenor line upwards (more than in the other voices which only move up 4 steps on the scale, whereas here the tenors reach a seventh higher than the note on which they began.

Bach ‘plays around’ with the opening motif of his PartitaIII BWV 1006 (the famous E major Preludio for solo violin) introduced at first by the 1st oboe d’amore and 1st violin in ms. 2, 4, 6-8, then the bc in ms. 9, after which he inverts the theme (ms. 10) in the violin and oboe d’amore parts while the 1st horn plays it for the 1st time. I count approximately 40 separate entrances of this motif in this mvt.

Mvt. 2 has the oboe d’amore playing flowing 16th notes marked with long phrase marks which make them sound legato. These represent the ‘water’ in the text, but also the ‘ohn Ablaß’ [‘without stopping.’]

The words, “Im finstern Tal” in mvt. 3 have interval drops or chromatically descending notes.

In Mvt. 4salben” [“to anoint with oil”] is illustrated with ‘running’ 8th notes on a coloratura. This happens later again with the word(s) “Freuden=Öl” where “oil” and “joy” are combined.

A curious item:

In Mvt. 5 (the final chorale) the corno II (2nd and lower horn part) has an interesting 32nd- note horn quip at the end of each line of the Stollen and once again at the very end of the Abgesang (final measures.) These figures are always the same notes! This is also the same figure that appears at the very ending of mvt. 1 (also in the corno II part) and at the end of the ritornello in ms. 11 and 31. In these latter instances, however, the figure is played somewhat slower as 8th notes. With Harnoncourt these three quips in the final mvt. are not heard at all. In Leusink and Rilling, the first two (repeated) quips are not audible at all, but can be heard at the very end, probably because a slight ritardando makes it easier to play these very fast notes. This must be a special effect with some significance. But all that comes to mind is that it must underline the pastoral, bucolic, rustic sound of a hunting horn. Perhaps, it is a hunting call? Too bad that none of the recordings that I listened to could play all of these quips audibly!


Cantata BWV 112: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

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


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