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Cantata BWV 68
Also hat Gott die Welt geliebt

J. Rifkin | P. Spitta | W. Voigt | A. Schweitzer | A. Dürr | Little & Jenne | E. Chafe


Aryeh Oron wrote (April 1, 2003):
Background [Joshua Rifkin]

The excellent and extensive commentary below, quoted from the liner notes to the American issue by Nonesuch of the original Cantate recording (conducted by Klaus Martin Ziegler) [4], was written by no less than Joshua Rifkin (1971).

In the spring of 1725, Bach wrote and performed a series of nine cantatas based on librettos by a talented poetess named Christiane Mariane von Ziegler. Frau von Ziegler's verse, which combined a deep religious understanding with a graceful command of language, would have seemed ideally suited to Bach's needs; yet her librettos evidently failed to satisfy the composer, who altered them substantially in his settings, even to the extent of destroying rhymes and metric schemes. The two never worked together again; Frau von Ziegler subsequently published the nine librettos, in the form that she intended, as part of a collection of her poetry that appeared in 1728.

Also hat Gott die Welt geliebt’, BWV 68, was the seventh product of this brief collaboration. It received its first performance on May 25, 1725, the second day of Pentecost. The first three verses of the Gospel for the day, John 3: 16-21, provide a frame for the libretto: Verse 16, as paraphrased and elaborated in a hymn by Salomo Liscow (1675), forms the basis of the opening chorus (Mvt. 1); the passage beginning "Er kam nicht nur, die Welt zu richten" in the central recitative (Mvt. 3) refers to Verse 17; and the work concludes with a chorus (Mvt. 5) built on Verse 18. The Epistle of the day (Acts 10: 42-48) is referred to at the start of the recitative (Mvt. 3). The two arias transfer the scriptural message to a more personal level, reflecting the joy of the faithful in Christ's birth.

Bach may have influenced the decision to begin the text with a chorale rather than the more usual Biblical quotation or poem in aria form. Shortly before he started working with Mariane von Ziegler, he had abandoned a vast cycle of cantatas written to librettos based on chorale poetry. Each of these pieces opened with a chorus in which the melody of the chorale, usually presented in long note-values, was spread phrase-by-phrase throughout the movement. The first chorus of ‘Also hat Gott die Welt geliebt’ (Mvt. 1) follows this pattern as well. Bach takes the tune provided for Liscow's hymn in Gottfried Vopelius' ‘Neu Leipziger Gesangbuch’ of 1682 and entrusts it to the sopranos, doubled by a horn. The orchestra, which consists of two oboes, oboe da caccia, strings, and continuo, punctuates the movement with a ritornello characterized by a siciliano rhythm. As usual, Bach takes advantage of any opportunities for pictorialism offered by his text, stretching out the words "der bleibet ewig unverloren" in the lower voices and introducing chromatic progressions at the end of the phrase "und ist kein Leid, das den betrübt." Like the rest of the cantata, this chorus shows no signs of the tensions that must have beset the relationship of the composer and his librettist; the music maintains Bach's highest level of invention throughout.

Both of the arias borrow material from Bach's early secular cantata ‘Was mir behagt, ist nur die muntre Jagd’, BWV 208, written in 1713. The first, "Mein gläubiges Herze," takes the ritornello of a modest piece for voice and continuo and develops it into an exuberant concertato movement for soprano, violoncello piccolo (an obscure instrument possibly identical to an outsize member of the violin family called the viola pomposa), and continuo. The joyous energy of the music even spills over the close of the vocal line: instead of the expected restatement of the ritornello by the solo cello and continuo, Bach adds an oboe and a violin to the ensemble and spins out a magnificent instrumental fantasy on the ritornello theme, This piece also came from the secular cantata, where it appeared as an independent movement.

The bass aria "Du bist geboren mir zugute" (Mvt. 4), which follows after a short recitative (Mvt. 3), derives from a piece whose rustic text, placed in the mouth of the god Pan, no doubt prompted the unusual scoring of a pair of oboes, oboe da caccia, and continuo. The basic material remains unchanged, but Bach alters numerous details, largely to fit the new words, and expands the form with new instrumental interludes and a modified recapitulation of the opening section.

The motet-like final chorus (Mvt. 5) belongs among Bach's most striking fugal movements. The sternness of the words is emphasized by the addition of a cornet to and three trombones-already an archaic combination in Bach's day-to the instrumentation. A pair of imitative expositions, the second based on the counter-subject of the first, set forth the initial two clauses of the text; a third section shifts the music to the major, re-unites the two themes, and introduces the third clause in anew counter-subject. The last entry of this section, in the bass, returns the piece to the tonic, after which a brief homophonic coda, exposing the concluding words more forcefully, drives the work to a powerful close.

Thomas Braatz wrote (April 3, 2003):

Bach frequently went back to the well-known occasional music contained in (BWV 208 - The Hunt Cantata) “Was mir behagt, ist nur die muntre Jagd” as he did in this instance when he ‘plundered’ music from it to use in the arias of BWV 68. The conversion into the soprano aria “Mein gläubiges Herze” demonstrates Bach’s great genius. Associated with each aria is a newly composed choral mvt., the character of which is determined by the aria. The 1st choral mvt. (Mvt. 1) is more in the nature of a choral aria with a charming accompaniment of a church-like siciliano. ; the 2nd choral mvt. continues the mood established in the bass aria (Mvt. 4) but expands this to include a powerful final fugue surrounded by the sound of trombones.

This cantata is at the same time full of religious content/meaning while at the same time remaining throughout highly unusual. The chorale plays a secondary, very subordinate role in contrast with the generally better-known chorale cantatas.

One of the parodies was less successful than the other (the soprano aria “Mein gläubiges Herze.”) In the soprano aria found a very successful solution with the text while at the same time expressing in the music a general sense of the happiness associated with springtime, even the secular feelings related to May festivals. Even if such parodies such as this occurred and were even possible, there is no way to determine any stylistic differences between Bach’s sacred and secular compositions. They simply do not exist. Bach’s style of composition was sacred and remained so no matter what. He did not change styles as one would put on different articles of clothing due to weather or fashion changes. Bach remained Bach. His manner of expression was entirely and uniquely his own as it had developed naturally from within himself. There was no otheway for him to express himself. In certain details of the secular cantatas he does try to loosen the reigns slightly and one will perceive a greater degree of grace and charm; but, for the most part, the purity and restraint of his polyphonic writing remains essentially the same in secular or in sacred music.


Although everyone seems to know that the famous aria “Mein gläubiges Herze” comes from this cantata, the cantata, as a whole is not very well known, although all the mvts. contained in it are estimable (worthy of recognition.)

The text does not really relate to Pentecost, and the quotation taken from the Gospel for Pentecost seems to point more to Christmas than Pentecost.

Mvt. 1 has the form of a figured chorale, but is based upon a freely invented melody. The orchestra accompanies this with a broadly conceived siciliano rhythm which lends an extraordinarily solemn mood to this mvt.

Without any recitative to bridge the gap between Mvt. 1 and the aria which follows it directly, Bach launches into a theme taken from BWV 208. This admirable motif has charm and lightness to which is added a new vocal part that ‘nestles/snuggles’ up to it. Anyone attempting to (re-)arrange this mvt. should take care not to introduce prematurely the vocal theme into the ritornello, since the vocal motif is repeated many times throughout the mvt. and would otherwise lose its effectiveness. After completing the vocal portion of this aria, Bach does not want to simply repeat the ritornello, but rather he introduces a quartet of instruments to round out the mvt. This is done more out of musical considerations rather than purely poetic ones.

After a short recitative (Mvt. 3), the following bass aria (Mvt. 4) (also a parody from the same source) seems quite suitable here with its new text. At the very beginning it might be better to sing the words “Du bist geboren mir zu gute, das stärket mich mit hohem Mute” rather than the original text.

In an extremely uncharacteristic manner (for Bach), the cantata closes with a strict fugue which is enhanced in its seriousness by Bach’s use of trombones that play colla parte. There is almost a threatening expression here – very unusual as the conclusion of a Pentecost cantata.


In the cantata for the 2nd day of Whit (BWV 68), the 2 arias “Mein gläubiges Herze” and “Du bist geboren mir zugute” are taken from the Weimar secular cantata BWV 208Was mir behagt, ist nur die muntre Jagd.” The choruses are original. The 1st, upon the fine passage in John 3: 16, is accompanied by the gently-swaying rhythm with which Bach loves to express the feeling of joyous serenity (1st 2 ms. of Mvt. 1 are shown.)

In the other, -- a motet-like chorus (Mvt. 5), in which strings and wind are added to the voices – Bach writes peculiarly severe music to express the idea of the Last Judgment, already in process, of which St. John speaks in the passage “Whosoever believes in Him shall not be judged, but whosoever believes not is already judged.”

In his discussion of motifs of felicity, Schweitzer states the following:

Bach expresses a warmer tinge of peaceful joy by a motif in this rhythm (the one predominantly used in Mvt. 1 of BWV 68) usually in 12/8 or 9/8, but occasionally also in 6/8 and ¾ time. Rhythms of this kind are not often met with in other composers. Bach, however, is very fond of them, forming out of them the loveliest and most flexible of his great phrases. The affinity of these themes with the angel motifs is obvious. Both are meant to represent graceful motion of an almost superterrestrial kind, by means of which Bach wishes to express the transfigured joy that has vanquished grief.

In the 1st chorus (Mvt. 1) of the cantata (BWV 68), a similar theme expresses the idea of the eternal, compassionate love of God. (1st ms. of Mvt. 1 are shown)

From this rhythm, again, is derived a heavier form, in which the 3rd quaver must be played with a certain amount of accent. Bach employs it for the representation of sorrowful pathos. Typical examples of it are the Siciliano of the 4th sonata for violin and clavier, and the violin accompaniment to the aria “Erbarme dich” in the SMP.

The arrangement of “Mein gläubiges Herze” from its secular source is not wholly satisfactory. The simple aria of the hunting cantata is in its own way more beautiful and better balanced than that of the Whit Monday cantata, in which we cannot help seeing ultimately that a new patch has been placed on an old garment.


This is not really a chorale cantata, yet it begins with instrumentally accompanied choral mvt. and is thus at least related to the chorale cantata form.

In a broadly-conceived introductory choral mvt., Bach includes in the soprano voice a choral melody (supported by a horn) which he transforms in a remarkably expressive manner so that today’s listeners would hardly recognize its source as coming from a chorale. The independent (unrelated to the chorale) ritornello has its themes played by oboes supporting the violins moving according to the rhythm of a siciliano. Even the supporting vocal parts are independent of the chorale melody. Thus, despite the minor tonality of the chorale melody, this mvt. has a gently relaxed and pleasantly elated expression that relates to the miracle of Pentecost and is notable for the freedom from form restrictions, a freedom that Bach has allowed himself here.

The now famous soprano aria “Mein gläubiges Herze” is a parody that in its original form had the continuo play the ostinato theme, but here it has the violoncello piccolo play this theme while receiving a new bc part to support the violoncello piccolo. The greatest transformation occurred in the vocal part which was changed from a plain, song-like melody into an elaborate, very lively version with wide interval leaps and decorative melismas. To this Bach added a separate ‘ritornello’ in which the oboe and violin are added and create a trio of instruments together with the violoncello piccolo. This ritornello existed as a separate mvt. in BWV 208.

The 2nd aria (Mvt. 4) is separated from the 1st aria (Mvt. 2) by a short, secco recitative (Mvt. 3). This aria also relates to its original form and betrays its origin by its use of 3 oboes (very pastoral in nature). In a manner similar to the 1st aria (Mvt. 2), there is no attempt to make the sacred text suit the originally secular text. Bach was forced once again to modify the musical structure as he had in the soprano aria, but this time the changes were not as profound as in the 1st aria (Mvt. 2).

The final chorus (Mvt. 5) is in a motet form, in which the vocal parts are not only supported by the strings and oboes as in Mvt. 1, but also by a ‘choir’ of trombones inclusive of a Zink which play colla parte. This last mvt. consists of a double fugue – it begins with the 1st theme “Wer an ihn gläubet, der wird nicht gerichtet.” After 16 ms. the counter theme is heard “er aber nicht gläubet, der ist schon gerichtet” after which both themes/subjects are combined with each other. In the last few ms. of this mvt., the 1st theme is changed in order to accommodate the words “denn er gläubet nicht an den Namen des eingebornen Sohnes Gottes.” As is the case in some cantata mvts. of the young Bach, this choral mvt. ends with the final 4 ms. played ‘piano’ (the choral parts are not marked this way.) This creates an echo-effect that does not usually fit into our preconceived notions about Bach, but will, upon repeated hearing, reveal its peculiar charm.

Little & Jenne:

One of Bach’s unique dance pieces is the soprano aria “Mein gläubiges HerzeBWV 68/2 (1725), which appears to feature 2 dance rhythms going on simultaneously at 2 different metric levels. [Bach fits the two together with his usual consummate skill.] The violoncello piccolo begins in gavotte rhythms, then the soprano enters in bourée rhythms as the gavotte rhythms continue simultaneously: [ms. 1-6 of Mvt. 2.) The violoncello piccolo’s gavotte rhythm is barred like the Type II gavottes, with thesis on beat 8 but not beat 4. Bach obviously loved this violoncello piccolo solo because he borrowed it, in revised form, from the earlier secular “Hunt” cantata, BWV 208/13 (1716), and also used it in the trio sonata for violin and oboe, BWV 1040.


The liturgical year provides one of the principal contexts for our understanding of the Bach cantatas. And the placing of cantatas within the liturgical year often, as we will see, had great influence on how their texts were constructed. Themes such as destruction/restoration and the dialectic of God’s wrath and His mercy were, like the concept of salvation history and the metaphor of light and darkness, so central to the thought patterns of the Christian church from antiquity that they not only recur frequently in individual cantatas but also condition the character of the liturgical year at many points. since the liturgical year was centered on the regular reading of scripture, its seasonal unfolding and especially its most prominent turning points exhibit parallels of various kinds with the principles that underlay the ordering, understanding, and interpretation of the sacred texts. From its beginnings at Advent to its closing at the end of the Trinity season, the liturgical year exhibits both a chronological dimension that closely parallels the eras of salvation history and what we might call a dynamic character that emerges with particular force at the principal climaxes and turning points (Advent/Christmas, Good Friday/Easter, Pentecost/Trinity.) On the largest scale, the liturgical year divides basically into two “halves,” of which the first is the so-called Proprium Temporale or “proper of the time” (of Christ,) which summarizes the principal stages of Jesus’ life and work in a series of changing seasons that extend from the anticipation of His birth (Advent) to His death, resurrection and post resurrection appearances, and the coming of the Holy Spirit (Good Friday, Easter, Pentecost.) In the Lutheran liturgy Trinity Sunday ends this sequence, celebrating the completed revelation of God’s triune nature and serving as a kind of symbolic “doxology” to the first half of the year. In a very broad sense, the dynamic of the Temporale can be described as a pattern of descent (extending from the incarnation of Jesus’ death and burial) followed by ascent (Jesus’ resurrection and ascension,) after which the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, traditionally viewed as the “birthday of the church,” describes another symbolic incarnation, or descent, that returns the liturgical focus of the year to the perspective of the church on earth.

This interpretation of Pentecost can be found in Cantata 68, “Also hat Gott die Welt geliebt,” for the 2nd day of Pentecost, 1724, all the mvts. of which refer not to the coming of the Holy Spirit but to the incarnation of Jesus: “Also hat Gott die Welt gelibt, daß er uns seinen Sohn gegeben” (Mvt. 1); “Mein gläubiges Herze, frohlocke, sing, scherze, dein Jesus ist da!” (Mvt. 2); and “Du bist geboren mir zugute” (Mvt. 4.) Without knowing the occasion for which the work was composed, we might well conclude that it was a Christmas cantata.

In BWV 68 (1725), the systematic rise from D minor to C major over the 1st 4 mvts. exults in God’s love as manifested in Christ’s incarnation. The arias “Mein gläubiges Herze” (F major) and “Du bist geboren mir zugute” (C major) are particularly joyful in tone. Both are parodies based on the Weimar Hunting Cantata (BWV 208,) in which the aria “Ein Fürst ist seines Landes Pan” (“Du bist geboren”) is one of the most overt of all Bach’s paeans to the baroque rule. The majestic character is evidently transformed into Cantata 68; the simple association of worldly and divine glory through the medium of music is not problematic. But the return to the original key is made in an unusual manner – within a single chorus that begins in A minor and ends in D minor – that reveals “Also hat Gott die Welt geliebt” as a more complicated representation of majesty than the earlier work. This chorus is set up as a double fugue in which the two subjects, “Wer an ihn gläubet, der wird nicht gerichtet” (A minor) and “wer aber nicht gläubet, der ist schon gerichtet” (D minor) – both rather severe in tone – are first heard separately, then in combination. These texts represent the tendency in the Gospel of John toward realized or present eschatology, that is, an eschatology that perceives the division of worlds in terms of above and below rather than present and future. Those who will never be judged already belong to the former world; those who are already judged belong to the latter. The combination section ends in A minor, but Bach sets the rest of the text – “denn er gläubet nicht an den Namen des eingebornen Sohnes Gottes” –continuing from the 2nd phrase and negative in tone, as an appendage ending in D minor. After the 2 joyful arias no return to D minor could have sounded positive; Bach’s ending brings out the Johannine division not only among the people of the world but between the worlds themselves in a manner that makes particularly clear the separation of God and man that has no place in the Hunting Cantata. The uncomplicated assertion of secular majesty in the latter work enabled Bach to reuse the music for an assertion of divine majesty. If there is any implication of equivalence in the transfer, it lies only in the ruler’s unquestioned authority in his own sphere, a characteristically Lutheran idea. As Cantata BWV 68 makes clear, however, there can be no interpretation of equivalence between the two spheres themselves.


Cantata BWV 68: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

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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