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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 58
Ach Gott, wie manches Herzeleid [II]

Carl de Nys | Spitta | Voigt | Schweitzer | Dürr | Eric Chafe


Aryeh Oron wrote (March 23, 2003):
Background [Carl de Nys]

The comprehensive and excellent commentary below, quoted from the liner notes to the original 2-LP album of Corboz on Erato, was written by Carl de Nys (1978).

The cantata ‘Ach Gott, wie manches HerzeleidBWV 58 must have been sung for the first time on the Sunday after the Circumcision, on 5 January 1727; but the work has not come down to us in its original form. The version we know must have been prepared in 1733 or 1734. It was then that Bach added the three oboes and transformed the soprano aria with solo violin: he probably even transformed the text too. The similarity between the text of this aria (n° 3) and that of the first aria in Cantata BWV 84 seems to show that the text is by Picander: the original librettist has not been identified.

In spite of the presence of the chorale in the first and last numbers (each of which takes the form of a dialogue for soprano and bass, symbolizing the spiritual dialogue of the soul with Our Lord) this is not a Chorale cantata. The opening duet is based on the first stanza of Martin Möller's hymn of 1587 and the one at the end derives from the second verse of the hymn ‘O Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht’ (O Jesus Christ, light of my life) by Martin Behm (1610). (However both these hymns were sung to the same tune.) But none of the other three numbers contains a chorale paraphrase: in essence the texts form a commentary on the Gospel of the day, the flight into Egypt (Matthew 2: 13-23), and also refer to the first pericope, the passage in the first Epistle of St Peter dealing with the sufferings of the Christian in the course of his earthly journey (4: 12-19).

The first aria, in C major, is a novel combination of chorale (this is sung by the soprano, supported by the third oboe -the oboe da caccia) and aria in the normal sense, i.e. the freer text sung by the bass. The closing duet is in the same form. The refrain or instrumental ritornello, which is heard three times, is certainly based on the chorale melody; but the individual character of the piece comes from the dotted rhythm and from a lamento motif which is like a more concise version of the one in Cantata BWV 78. This motif is heard in the continuo part at the beginning of the work, but later on the other parts have it too. The secco recitative, which begins in the minor (see the text) and then opens out into the luminosity of F major, serves as an introduction to the aria for soprano with concertante violin. The joy and contentment of the soul is expressed not only in the tranquillity of the melody but also in the lively violin figuration; the soul's sufferings are reflected in the key of D minor, which sets its mark on the whole of this da capo trio (for violin, soprano and continuo). In its original for this aria probably did not include a part for solo violin: many of the works Bach wrote for this particular Sunday are quite simple, without any great challenges in the instrumental parts -for the musicians would have had numerous taxing assignments during the Octave of the Nativity.

When the soprano expresses the soul's ardent desire for death – not for death as such, but for admittance to heavenly bliss and for the long-awaited union with Our Lord - the secco recitative is transformed into a deeply moving arioso: one senses that Bach is writing from his very heart in a passage like this. The final duet sounds like the opening movement of a concerto. Moreover the rising fanfare on the notes C-E-G recalls the E major violin concerto. This theme provides the material for all the violin and oboe figuration. In spite of the ‘arduous journey’ mentioned in the text, this is a joyous C major piece - for the journey is to end in ‘the paradise of Heaven’. A work such as this dialogue cantata demonstrates Bach's ability to ‘preach’ in music with the greatest economy of means - i.e. his skill in creating a sound-picture appropriate to the liturgy of the Sunday in question, and in particular to the pastor's sermon on the pericope.

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 27, 2003):
BWV 58 - Commentaries:


This is an example of Bach’s striving for diversity in the presentation of chorales. This is, in essence, a variant of the chorale cantata, a chorale cantata without a choral mvt. Here, in the 1st mvt. of BWV 58, Bach places upon the orchestral backdrop only a duet with the soprano singing the 1st verse of the chorale “Ach Gott, wie manches Herzeleid,” against which the bass sings a melodic line of a rather unusual character in which he reminds the listeners to be patient and steadfast. Bach uses the same kind of contrast in the final mvt. as well, which is more truly a bass aria that has a chorale, once again sung by the soprano, woven into its texture. The chorale melody is the same as the one used in mvt. 1, but now the text is taken from the 2nd verse of a different chorale by Martin Böhm: “O Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht.” Based upon the lamenting, but also comforting tone which is maintained only in the outer mvts., Bach designates this cantata as a ‘Dialogus.’


This is a short, small (only 2 voices) work, but one very worthy of consideration and respect. The 1st and last mvts. are connected to each other by virtue of the same chorale melody that is used, but each has a completely different mood, a celebratory earnestness in the 1st and an outpouring of liveliness in the last. The shortness of the chorale melody has a favorable effect by causing only a moderate expansion of the musical ideas. [Voigt is always looking for places to cut because he is afraid that the audience might become to bored otherwise – here he could not find anything to cut out.] In mvt. 3, “Ich bin vergnügt in meinem Leiden” would be better with the words “Ich halte still in meinem Leiden.“ It is a good thing that modified repeat does not include the long instrumental (12 ms.) ritornello at the very beginning.


The opening 8 ms. of the 1st mvt. are an example of the 2nd type of dotted rhythm, the 1st type mostly associated with the idea of dignity or solemnity. It is used in the ‘grave’ section of the old French overture. It is unusually majestic in nature. The 2nd type is distinguished from the 1st motif by the fact that is almost invariably appears in animated triple time, whereas the 1st is used in slow 4/4 time. The 2nd type generally begins on the up-beat, and is interspersed with notes of other values or with pauses, while the rhythm of solemnity (the 1st type) begins with the down-beat and continues without interruption. The 2nd type expresses violent passions, sometimes of a joyful, but generally of a grievous kind. Bach especially employs it to represent terror, horror and despair. Its typical form may be seen in Peter’s aria of remorse: “Ach mein Sinn” in the SJP (BWV 245). Another example occurs in the opening duet of BWV 58.

A common feature of all the forms of the dotted rhythm is that the short note is not to be accented lightly, but heavily, so that it has the effect not of a final aspiration of the previous note, but of a preliminary tone and accent to the note that follows it. Bach marks the ties in these rhythms so that notes belonging to the same beat under a tie are grouped together. By this he only means to indicate that the passage as a whole is to be played ‘legato.’ The solution of the question does not turn upon the ties that Bach has marked, but owhether the short note is to be played heavily or lightly. If heavily, then the ear necessarily accepts it in each case as the fore-accent to the succeeding note. The opening duet in BWV 58 may be cited in proof of this. In spite of the fact that Bach has marked the tempo ‘adagio’, and written the ties in the manner already described, the mvt. is dominated by the ‘passion’ rhythm. It does not make its proper effect until we play the short notes not lightly, but with a certain degree of heaviness. The text allows for both a passionate and a peaceful interpretation. The lament “Ach Gott, wie manches Herzeleid begegnet mir zu dieser Zeit” [“Ah God, what grief of heart is mine”] is answered by the other voice with “Geduld! Geduld!” [“Patience! Patience!”]; to the terrified cry “Mein letztes Lager will mich schrecken” [“the vision of my deathbed shocks me”] the other rejoins “Mich wird des Heilands Hand bedecken“ [“The hand of the Lord will cover me.”] The right way of rendering the music therefore depends upon our knowing which of the two feelings Bach is expressing. If the passionate rhythm were not otherwise vouched for, we might conceive the music as expressing the quiet consolation of the text. Nor must we forget the general observation that, where a text gives Bach the choice between two feelings, he very often decides for the more passionate one, without considering whether in this way he best reproduces the sense of the text as a whole. The rhythm as given by the treble instruments in ms. 4 and continued in the bc in ms. 5-7, belongs to the large category of those that represent light and charming mvt, and express symbolical ideas like peace and happiness. Its affinity with the rhythm of solemnity and passion exists only on paper and for the eye; in performance, and for the ear, it has nothing whatever in common with the other. Externally it is distinguished from the ‘solemnity’ rhythm by the fact that it is usually met with only in triple time, and from the ‘passionate’ rhythm by the fact that it never begins on the up-beat. The question of the various dotted rhythms of this sort in Bach is of the greatest practical importance. The average conductor is not clear about the matter, and so renders them all in the same way, thus negating the characterization that Bach intended them to have. The occurrence, meaning, and proper way of rendering this rhythm in Bach should be made the object of a special and searching enquiry.

The marking of the mvt. as ‘Adagio’ must not tempt us to take the mvt. too slowly and too softly. The instrumental accompaniment must flame and glow with suppressed despair. The final duet, on the other hand, can not sound too joyful, notwithstanding the chorale “Ich hab’ vor mir ein’ schwere Reis’ zu dir ins Himmelparadies” [“I have a grievous journey before me to Thee in paradise.”] The orchestra, in union with the voices, “Nur getrost, getrost, ihr Herzen! Hier ist Angst, dort Herrlichkeit“ [„Be of good cheer, oh hearts! Here is anguish, there is glory”] must dominate the lament. Note the animated steps of the basses, violas, and the 2nd violins hastening joyously to the “Himmelsparadies,” with the semiquaver of the 1st violins streaming before them.


Bach included BWV 58 in his yearly cycle of chorale cantatas, although it may be somewhat difficult at first to see why this should be so, particularly since some choral mvts. would be expected. The outer mvts. (1st and last) are not even based upon the same chorale. But as a replacement for a missing chorale cantata it is nevertheless a reasonable substitution.

The opening mvt., marked ‘Adagio,’ is at the same time a treatment of a chorale (the melody is located in the soprano and is supported colla parte by a ‘Taille’, a tenor oboe,) as it is also a duet in that a bass voice presents the freely invented text while it supplies a concertante counterpoint to the lines of the chorale melody with which it converges directly in two instances. The instrumental ritornello which appears 3 times as it frames the vocal lines has only a remote connection with the chorale melody. It is characterized by the dotted rhythms which persists throughout the mvt. But there also is simultaneously, no less significant than the dotted rhythms, a chromatically descending musical figure which appears immediately in the 1st 3 ms. of this mvt. This appears later in the treble voices of the instrumental ensemble. Bach had originally scored the vocal part [not the one singing the chorale melody] for an alto voice, but then changed his opinion while writing out the parts to that of a bass, very likely because of the association with the vox Christi. Thus it becomes part of a 17th -century tradition: “Gespräch einer gläubigen Seele mit Gott” [“Conversation of a Believing Soul with God.”]

A secco recitative (mvt. 2) leads on to the soprano aria (mvt. 3) with an obbligato solo violin. This mvt. is a substitution for an earlier mvt. which can no longer be reconstructed. The extremely lively figures in the violin create a stark contrast with the soprano part which remains quite lyrical and very song-like in character.

The following recitative (mvt. 4) moves quickly into an ‘arioso’ section after only 4 ms.
This arioso (“Ach! könnt es heute noch geschehen,”) with its insistent melodic line, expresses the soul’s longing for release from the suffering of this world.

The final mvt., marked ‘Aria,’ is quite concerto-like while again combining an aria with a chorale, very much like the 1st mvt. The fanfare-like opening notes based on an ascending triad are reminiscent of the opening of the E-major Violin Concerto BWV 1042. This motif, which is assigned to the 1st notes which the bass sings [“Nur getrost”], is repeated numerous times throughout the course of this entire aria. The bc has variant of this motif in a syncopated form which forms the basis for the concertante, playful figures in the oboe and 1st violin.

Eric Chafe:

One of the means by which Bach represents the destruction/restoration dynamic in his cantatas is that of tonal descent followed by ascent. That procedure led Bach, in his cantata for the Sunday after the New Year 1725, to devise one of the most conspicuously symmetrical designs in his cantata oeuvre, one in which parallel chorale-plus-recitative settings of “Ach Gott, wie manches Herzeleid” in C frame a recitative – aria – recitative sequence that modulates “down” by 3rds to d for the “central” aria and back to C for the final mvt. (i.e., C, a – f, d, F – a, C.) In that work, BWV 58, parallels between the outer mvts. set the ‘Angst’ and ‘Geduld’ of the present life (mvt. 1) in opposition to the ‘Herrlichkeit’ and ‘Trost’ of the “Himmels Paradies,” the believer’s “rechtes Vaterland” (mvt. 5), reinforcing the metaphoric interpretation of the old year as the time of Israel and the new year as the time of Christ. The 1st recitative draws explicit parallels, first between the believer’s plight in the world and Herod’s persecution of Jesus, then between both those events and the flight of the Israelites from Egypt in the time of Joseph. Then, following the central aria, “Ich bin vergnügt in meinem Leiden,” the 2nd recitative narrates God’s hand pointing to “ein andres Land,” ending with the believer’s longing for eternity: “Ach! könnt es heute noch geschehen, daß ich mein Eden möchte sehen!

The theme of suffering turned into joy effects a transformation of a somewhat different kind in BWV 58. The work is symmetrical. It begins in C major; the 1st recitative moves from A minor to F major. After the central aria, in D minor, the second recitative moves back from F major to A minor, and it ends as it began, with a duet in C major. Here the message of the acceptance of suffering is centered within the world that is the subject of the 2 recitatives, and the key plan is similar (but transposed) to that of BWV 86. The soprano and bass soloists resemble the personifications of the Souland Christ that we find in other cantatas. The chorales in the outer mvts. – the 1st vs. of “Ach Gott, wie manches Herzeleid” and the 2nd of “O Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht” – are both sung to the same chorale melody although their characters are entirely different. This difference is underscored in the free poetry sung against the cantus firmus by the bass in each mvt and by the contrasted styles of the 2 settings. The gravely dissonant and somber style of “Nur Geduld, meine Herze” sets up an affective contrast to the exuberant diatonic and triadic emphasis of “Nur getrost, ihr Herzen” (last mvt. examples from the score are given.) Likewise, because the 2 recitatives deal with the conflict of the world and the life of faith, their modulatory directions are reversed, the one leading down to and the other up from the central aria of faith, “Ich bin vergnügt in meinem Leiden.” Their tonal styles, like their respective texts, are also contrasted. The 1st contains dissonances and modulations to flats for ideas opposed to God’s promises (e. g., C minor for Herod’s attempt to kill Jesus, followed by D minor for God’s warning to Joseph in the dream; down again to G minor for mention of drowning in the Flood, and back up to F major for reiteration of promise); and the 2nd modulates from F up to A minor ending with an arioso expressing longing for the future life, “Ach! könnt es heute noch geschehen, daß ich mein Eden möchte sehen!” Despite the relatively circumscribed range of keys, the tonal character of BWV 58 is planned to the last detail.


Cantata BWV 58: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

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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Last update: Friday, September 01, 2017 13:35