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Cantata BWV 19
Es erhub sich ein Streit

Nicholas Anderson | Alfred Dürr | Martin Petzoldt | Meredith Little and Natalie Jenne | Albert Schweitzer | Woldamar Voigt | Friedrich Smend


Aryeh Oron wrote (December 1, 2002):
BWV 19 - Background

The background below, quoted from the liner notes to the CD reissue of Werner’s recording on Erato, was written by Nicholas Anderson:

"Es erhub sich ein Streit" (BWV 19) was first performed in 1726 and is the second of three complete surviving cantatas sung at Leipzig on the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels (September 29th). Bach's text was a poem by Christian Friedrich Henrici, better known by his pen-name of Picander. Picander's poem describes in colourfully picturesque terms the fight and the victory of St. Michael and his angels over Satan, personified by the dragon of hell. The story, which is contained in the Epistle for the day, appealed to 18th century imagination and particularly, perhaps, to that of Bach all of whose settings are rich in depictive imagery.

The Cantata begins with a masterly fugal chorus scored for Bach's standard four-part vocal texture with three trumpets, drums, two oboes which double the violins, a taille (cor anglais) doubling the viola, and continuo. It depicts, with confrontational vigour, the conflict between Heaven and Hell whose fiery occupant is "the raging serpent, the infernal dragon" of the text. The two arias which follow, each prefaced by a recitative, proclaim St. Michael's victory, as well as expressing the need for God's protection and a strong faith. The first is for soprano accompanied by two oboes d'amore, the second for tenor - a lyrical piece in 6/8 rhythm - with a single trumpet intoning the melody of Martin Schalling's chorale melody, “Herzlich lieb hab ich dich, o Herr". Following a brief soprano recitative the Cantata ends with a verse from the 17th century hymn, "Freu dich sehr, o meine Seele". Its associated melody is sumptuously accompanied by the full instrumental arsenal heard in the opening chorus.

Thomas Braatz wrote (December 11, 2002):
BWV 19 - Commentary:

Alfred Dürr (with some of my own additions):

Bach may well have paraphrased the Picander text himself or asked Picander to do this for him – there is no hard and fast evidence pointing either to one or the other possibility.

The text of the two, newly added mvts. at the beginning of this cantata has a fairly direct connection with the Epistle to be read on this feast day: it speaks of the archangel Michael’s victory over Satan. Rather unusual is the newly constructed phrase, “Gott schickt uns Mahanaim zu” [“God sends to us Mahanaim”]; for even though “Mahanaim” means something like ‘two armies,’ it is really used to designate the place where Jacob caught sight of God’s ‘army’/’camp’/’host’ of angels. Here this name is used to designate the ‘host’ of angels. The notion that angels are camped around us can be found in Psalm 34:8 [Dürr’s reference must be incorrect here – does anyone know what the correct reference is?], while “Feuer, Roß und Wagen” probably refer to how Elisha was saved from imprisonment which threatened him by the heavenly hosts (2 Kings 6:17.) The beginning of the 4th mvt. refers to a passage from Psalms 8:4-5 “Was ist der Mensch, daß du seiner gedenkst”, which Psalms 144:3 does as well in order to point toward God’s love which is expressed in the protection offered to human beings by the angels. In mvts. 5 – 7 a request is made for angels to provide further protection and guidance at the end of life; the angels, in carrying forth a human soul, are compared to Elijah’s experience (2 Kings 2:11) of being taken up into heaven in a whirlwind.

The introductory choral mvt. is one of the most monumental opening mvts. in all of Bach’s cantatas. It is a classical musical setting of a ‘classical’ text which his very talented uncle, Johann Christoph Bach, an organist in Eisenach, had already composed as a very impressive choral mvt. (we know that Bach had performed this work consisting of 22 individual parts in Leipzig where the listeners marveled at the grand effect it created.) In this cantata (BWV 19), Bach does not use the exact words of the biblical text, a part of the Epistle reading, but rather as a madrigal-type transformation of the text, and, for this reason, he does not choose the motet-like sequences that he would usually prefer when setting direct quotations from the Bible, but instead chooses a pure Da capo form: A fugally constructed choral setting interspersed with occasional, independent instrumental sections embraces a middle section which is partly homophonic, but also, at times, freely polyphonic, surrounded again by a mainly independent instrumental section. The festive inclusion of trumpets, kettledrums and oboes doubling the string parts enhances the impression that this mvt. can make upon the listener, but the choir is the most dominant element even beginning the mvt. without a preceding ritornello and having only short pauses throughout the mvt. Without an introductory sinfonia, the possibility for ‘Choreinbau’ is lost so that this mvt. comes closer to the principles governing the motet style, not so much in the matter of “Formaufbau” [“overall sequencing of the parts that make up the mvt.”], but rather in regard to “Satzstruktur” [“the structural elements within the mvt.]

Mvt. 2 is a simple secco recitative, after which follows a soprano aria using 2 obbligato Oboi d’amour, which blend and become one with the solo voice. Already in the introductory ritornello, but also later, there are word-painting elements that become recognizable: there are long, held notes on “stehen” [“stand”] and on “Ruh” [“rest”]; there are moving 16th-note figures on “gehen” [“go”]; nevertheless, it is remarkable that, despite all this word-painting, there is great unity in all of the thematic material which does not even change much in the 2nd half of the mvt.

The 2nd recitative (mvt. 4), in contrast to the 1st recitative, has instrumental parts (strings) that are completely written out, and yet, the vocal part resembles the 1st recitative. There is no arioso effect, nor are there any coloraturas.

There is no doubt that the following aria for tenor (mvt. 5) is one the highest achievements among all of Bach’s aria compositions. The siciliano-like dotted rhythm, which Albert Schweitzer referred to as the “rhythm of angels,” dominates the entire mvt. The melodiousness of this mvt. is in stark contrast to the opening, very turbulent mvt. of the cantata. This aria is, at the same time, based on a chorale which is presented by the trumpet, one line at a time. The church-goer in Bach’s time and place would have no difficulty recognizing the chorale melody, “Herzlich lieb hab ich dich, o Herr,” and even making the connection with the 3rd verse, which is the only one that ties in with the text that the tenor is singing:

“Ach Herr, laß dein’ lieb’ Engelein
Am letzten End’ die Seele mein
In Abrahams Schoß tragen;
Den Leib in sein’m Schlafkämmerlein
Gar sanft, ohn’ Qual und Pein,
Ruhn bis am Jüngsten Tage!
Alsdann vom Tode erwecke mich,
Daß meine Augen sehen dich
In aller Freud’, o Gottes Sohn,
Mein Heiland und Genadenthron!
Herr Jesu Christ, erhöre mich,
Ich will dich preisen ewiglich!“

[Oh Lord, let your dearest angels
At the final end carry my soul
To the bosom of Abraham;
Let my body in its little sleeping chamber
Tenderly, without any torture or pain
Rest until Judgment Day!
Then awaken me from death
That my eyes will see you
In all joy, oh Son of God,
My savior and my throne of mercy.
Lord Jesus Christ, hear me,
I will praise you eternally!]

There is no doubt that this chorale text and melody had a very special place in Bach’s heart. The most important occurrence of this choraleusing this 3rd verse as well is in Bach's SJP BWV 245/40. Bach performed this passion a number of times during his lifetime making changes in it for each performance. This final mvt. has a history of being performed one year, only to be removed again for the next performance, and then taking its original position again for the subsequent performance, etc. The SJP, in its penultimate mvt., has a comparable concluding mvt. to the one that concludes the SMP. However, for some reason that we can only surmise, Bach refused to give up on placing this chorale as the last mvt. for the SJP.

This is what is known about this chorale, ‘Herzlich lieb hab ich dich, o Herr”:

a) the text was written by Martin Schalling (1532-1608) with two dates given (probably printed editions in which it was first found) 1569 and 1571. Schalling was born in Straßburg (Alsace), was a pupil of Melanchthon, and later a pastor in Regensburg, Amberg and Vilseck, then court preacher in Amberg, a general superintendent of the Lutheran region of the Upper Palatinate, due to his theological views he was driven from his post as pastor 4 times, in 1585 he became the pastor at the Frauenkirche in Nürnberg and became blind toward the end of his life
b) the music/melody evolved as follows: in its 1st incarnation the melody by Matthias Gastritz appeared in “Kurtze vnnd sonderliche Newe Symbola etlicher Fürsten,” Amberg, 1571; it was later modified by Bernhard Schmid in “Zwey Bücher einer Neuen Künstlichen Tabulatur auf Orgel und Instrument,” Straßburg, 1577 – [this is the melody that remained associated with the chorale text, “Herzlich lieb hab ich dich, o Herr,” a chorale that still appears in German Lutheran hymnals up to the present day.

There are 4 Bach settings of this chorale (not including the unusual one in the tenor aria of this cantata):

BWV 245/40 – the most famous instance as the final mvt. of the SJP (3rd verse of chorale)

BWV 174/5 – the final chorale (1st verse) of the cantata, “Ich liebe den Höchsten von ganzem Gemüte

BWV 149/7 – the final chorale (3rd verse) of the cantata, „Man singet mit Freuden vom Sieg“ – this version is remarkable in that 3 trumpets enter unexpectedly for the final cadence of the chorale

BWV 340 – as the number indicates, this is one of the orphaned 4-pt. chorale settings, very likely for a cantata that has been lost. We do not even know which verse was sung.

Another plain secco recitative is the bridge that leads into the final chorale which also is simple 4-pt. chorale supported by woodwinds and strings, but also with the obbligato trumpets which, through their splendor and brilliance, remind the listener once again of the victory achieved over Satan by the archangel Michael.

Thomas Braatz wrote (December 13, 2002):
BWV 19 - Other Commentaries:


Martin Petzoldt on “The Theological Aspects of Bach’s Leipzig Cantatas” contained in “The World of the Bach Cantatas” [Wolff-Koopman]:

An important, remarkable, theologically-based feature of Bach’s cantatas can be found in those particular cantata mvts. in which the chorale melodies are presented wordlessly by the instruments only. As a matter of principle there is hidden behind such instrumental settings of chorales a kind of theological guessing-game or trying to guess the answer to a riddle: the listeners are being prompted or stimulated to think along parallel lines and make a connection between the actual text being sung and the chorale text which is only being hinted at by the instrumental presentation of the chorale melody. After this association has been made, the listener will be able to find within himself by recalling the appropriate chorale text additional material for further meditation. Bach already made use of this technique in some of his Weimar cantatas; however, in Leipzig, he seems to have pondered more intensively on how this technique could be even more efficiently applied. As an example, one need only think of BWV 77/1, where he includes the chorale, “Dies sind die heiligen zehn Gebot” [“These are the holy ten commandments”] as a 2-pt. canon as an amplification to a text which treats the dual commandment of love. Other examples that already existed during the Weimar period are BWV 12/6; BWV 31/8; BWV 163/5; BWV 172/5 and BWV 185/1. Others also taken from his 1st yearly cycle in Leipzig are BWV 23/2; BWV 25/1; BWV 48/1 and BWV 70/9;

During the chorale cantata cycle there are frequent instances of mvts. of this type, and from his late period BWV 19/5 could also be mentioned.

Little & Jenne:

From the book, “Dance and the Music of J. S. Bach” [Expanded Edition] by Meredith Little and Natalie Jenne comes the following insight into the great tenor aria, mvt. 5:

Little and Jenne have classified the rhythmic dance mvt. as being ‘Loure-like’ which puts it in the same company as the instrumental works: BWV 537/1 (Fantasie in c) and BWV 849 from the WTC 1, Prelude in c# and the sacred vocal works: BWV 101/6; BWV 152/6 and BWV 185/1.

The checklist of Loure characteristics includes:

Compound duple meter (6/4) with an upbeat
Serious affect: majestic, proud, or pastoral
Slow tempo
Phrases may be of equal or unequal length
Characteristic rhythmic patterns
Two harmonies per beat

Loures have two dotted half-note beats to the measure in 6/4 time, though the slow tempo and sometimes heavy ornamentation invites counting six quarter-note beats to the measure. [Check Schweitzer below, who compares the WO BWV 248/II/1 Sinfonia in 12/8 to the tenor aria (BWV 19/5) -- Little and Jenne do not see this 'Sinfonia' as a Loure]

There are two titled dances by Bach that carry this name:

BWV 1006 (1006a) Partita 3 in E for violin
BWV 816 French Suite in G for keyboard


In the 1st chorus of the Michaelmas cantata BWV 19, Bach launches a whole army of devils against the divine power. In this mvt. Satan is beaten. In this chorus Bach paints the struggle of Satan and his host against the archangel Michael. The serpent-forms fling themselves upward in mighty contortions (motive at the very beginning); but at the words, “Aber Michael bezwingt, und die Schar, die ihn umringt, stürzt des Satans Grausamkeit.” [“But Michael conquers, and the cruel host of Satan encircling him is cast down”], the motive is inverted, and the agitated and distorted mass falls precipitately into the depths. Then with one broad stroke of the pen Bach completely spoils the striking picture. At the finish, when Satan’s host has fallen, the composer writes Dal segno, repeats the first part, “Es erhub sich ein Streit” [“Now there was war”] and so concludes. This da capo that he has inserted out of mere habit is of course a sing against both the text and the music: it shows how helpless this unique genius is against the formulae and ordinances of his epoch. In this one Dal segno we have the whole tragic fate of Bach’s art. There must be something in the nature of the pictorial conception of music to account for the fact that its two greatest representatives, Bach and Berlioz, are insensible to many things of which a quite mediocre talent would be conscious.

In the pastorale (Sinfonia) of the WO, BWV 248/II/Mvts. 10, 23 in 12/8 time, Bach gives a motive to the angels. It is founded on the light, floating rhythm that is given out by the strings and flutes in the Sinfonia of the WO while the oboes represent the music of the shepherds. The same motive recurs in the bass and in d the interludes of the chorale “Wir singen dir in deinem Heer” at the end of this part of the WO (mvt. 23), this hymn being sung by tmen who join in with the music of the angels.
The music of the aria (tenor – mvt. 5 of BWV 19) might have been copied from the Sinfonia of the WO. The same motive also appears in BWV 122/4 (“Das neugeborne Kindelein”) in the trio “O wohl uns!”

The music of this tenor aria is of course derived from the graceful ‘angel’ theme. The trumpet adds the chorale “Ach Gott, lass dein Lieb’ Engelein.” This causes the mvt. to be unusually long, even for Bach. The marking of adagio therefore ought not to be taken too literally. The final chorale, “Lass dein Engel mit mir fahren,” with its free orchestral accompaniment, is extraordinarily solemn in its effect.


The opening theme of mvt. 1 has great power and its development can sweep the listener away with its fiery character. The middle section describing the fall of the evil one uses mainly new material unrelated to the 1st section. Voigt criticizes Schweitzer’s comments about the use of the da capo in this mvt. It really does not matter, Voigt says, since the battle and the victory are treated as one in the 1st section. The 1st trumpet part is very difficult (Voigt is always concerned about possible performance problems. The tenor aria (mvt. 5) is by its very nature (it is built around the long verse structure of “O Herr, laß dein’ lieb’ Engelein”) too long, particularly because the tempo is indicated as ‘Adagio.’ For this reason the aria should be cut by eliminating repeated lines in the chorale melody. [Voigt is always ready to cut short Bach arias.]

Friedrich Smend:

The Lutheran church announces, according to the Bible, that hell and the devil have been vanquished (or at least had their power seriously reduced), but that the final destruction of the Antichrist will still have to take place during the end time, and, for that reason, a battle still rages between the heavenly powers and those demonic powers that oppose heaven. For the last two centuries before ours, Lutherans, with their increasing optimistic sense of security, did not perceive as strongly as they once had that these events involved very real events; on the contrary, they began to believe that this was all a matter of abstract, ‘religious’ doctrines and concepts. In this way a true understanding for the significance of Michaelmas, a religious feast during which Christianity could already rejoice over the eventual victory that the heavenly hosts under the archangel Michael would achieve, was gradually lost. However, the church in Bach’s day, in particular J. S. Bach himself, still had a strong sense of this heavenly battle and celebrated as a significant holiday of the church year, the Day of the Archangel Michael (a fixed day which always occurred on the 29th of September,) a triumphant festival day on which the congregation called upon God to support the angelic hosts in the great battle of life. The thoughts that centered upon the angels immediately led to a consideration of the role of the angels at the time of one’s own death: Jesus, in a parable (Luke 16:22), indicated that poor Lazarus would be transported by angels into Abraham’s bosom. Alongside this rather peaceful notion of death, there was also another image from the Old Testament of the prophet Elijah, who, in a chariot, was driven into heaven by fiery horses (2 Kings:2:11.) The picture that appeared quite clearly in the minds of the Michaelmas participants was one of also being transported to the place where the ‘ecclesia triumphans’ would be engaging in jubilation.

The Epistle for this day (Revelations 12:7-12) is at the center of this cantata text. In the 1st aria other biblical pictures that point to the mighty powers accorded to the angels are called to mind, for instance, the place, Mahanaim, where Jacob meets the host of angels (Genesis 32:2); the passage from Psalms (34:8) where the God-fearing individual is protected by an angel; and finally Matt 18:1-11 which points out the protective angels that always see the countenance of the heavenly Father.

The 2nd aria (tenor) has woven into it another chorale melody, “Herzlich lieb hab ich dich, o Herr,” played by the trumpet. The congregation would immediately know that the reference is to no other text than the 3rd verse of this chorale: “Ach Herr, laß dein lieb Engelein/Am letzten End die Seele mein/In Abrahams Schoß tragen,” which is the very same text and chorale melody that Bach used at the end of the SJP BWV 245/40 and which also concludes another Michaelmas cantata: BWV 149/7.

This cantata, BWV 19, belongs to a group of compositions in which the number of voices carries a symbolic significance. Instead of noting on the score the individual parts, sometimes as ‘2 Violini, 2 Hautbois,’ etc. etc. here Bach simply writes: “J. J. Festo Michaelis. Concerto. Á 14.” Compare this with another autograph manuscript showing the beginning of the 2nd part of the SMP (BWV 244.) Although not very much space on the page was still available to him, he nevertheless manages to squeeze his name/signature in. Here (BWV 19), however, a third of the line available to him is left empty, and yet he does not insert his name as he usually would because he has already fulfilled this requirement by indicating the total number of parts in the score: 14 = BACH using gematria the sum of B=2, A=1; C=3; H=8.

Here (in the 1st mvt.) there are tremendous visions of the raging battle as the choir begins immediately without any instrumental ritornello. But the full orchestra (including strings, woodwinds, trumpets, timpani and organ) is immediately present as well. Heaven, earth, and hell are in full commotion. In order to destroy the forces of darkness, the most extreme measures are employed by God. An interpretation of this picture is offered in the 1st recitative by quoting Revelations 12:8. And even if we are still standing amidst the raging battle, the Lord lets us see the help that he is offering: the 1st aria has 2 oboi d’amore and organ surround the soprano voice which expresses the security that the listener can feel and speaks of continuing to be comforted in the face of the many onslaughts. Yes, God, the almighty ruler of the world, wants to aid every poor soul (2nd recitative.) So now we are permitted to ask him to send his helping servants to guide us during life and through death (the hovering rhythms in the tenor aria illustrate this support.) As a result, we can now peacefully bid the world adieu (3rd recitative) because, here, we can already look upwards in faith to the heavenly splendor of this great day of victory, by means of which we, along with all pious individuals, will be able to attain a blessed death. The last verse (verse 9) of “Freu dich sehr, o meine Seele,” unites all the instruments and voices and gives us a foretaste of that eternal triumph that awaits us.


Cantata BWV 19: 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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