Background Information
Performer Bios

Poet/Composer Bios

Additional Information

Lutheran Church Year: Main Page and Explanation | LCY - Event Table | LCY 2000-2005 | LCY 2006-2010 | LCY 2011-2015 | LCY 2016-2020
Sundays & Holidays in the Lifetime of J.S. Bach | Performance Dates of Bach’s Vocal Works
Readings from the Epistles and the Gospels for each Event | Motets & Chorales for Events in the LCY
Discussions: Events in the Lutheran Church Year: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Readings from the Bible

Musical Context of Bach Cantatas
Motets & Chorales for Epiphany Time


1st Sunday after Epiphanyy [Epiphany 1]

Readings: Epistle: Romans 12: 1-6; Gospel: Luke 2: 41-52

Dates in the lifetime of J.S. Bach, including works composed for the event

2nd Sunday after Epiphanyy [Epiphany 2]

Readings: Epistle: Romans 12: 6-16; Gospel: John 2: 1-11

Dates in the lifetime of J.S. Bach, including works composed for the event

3rd Sunday after Epiphanyy [Epiphany 3]

Readings: Epistle: Romans 12: 17-21; Gospel: Matthew 8: 1-13

Dates in the lifetime of J.S. Bach, including works composed for the event

4th Sunday after Epiphanyy [Epiphany 4]

Readings: Epistle: Romans 13: 8-10; Gospel: Matthew 8: 23-27

Dates in the lifetime of J.S. Bach, including works composed for the event

5h Sunday after Epiphanyy [Epiphany 5]


Dates in the lifetime of J.S. Bach, including works composed for the event

6h Sunday after Epiphanyy [Epiphany 6]


Dates in the lifetime of J.S. Bach, including works composed for the event


Motets and Chorales for Rpiphany Time


Epiphany Time Chorales

William Hoffman wrote (March 12, 2015):
Original Source: William Hoffman wrote (October 27, 2009):
BWV 123: Epiphany Time Chorales:


The Epiphany Time allowed Bach to utilize the greatest variety of chorales, from Christmas to the Feast of Epiphany as well as Passion hymns in his cantatas for the three pre-Lent Sundays. Most significantly, Bach used a festive setting of the so-called "Passion Hymn," "O sacred head now wounded," to inaugurate the closing Feast of Epiphany section, Herr, wenn die stolzen Feinde schnauben (Lord, when our arrogant enemies snort with rage), in his Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248VI, on January 6, 1735, and hint at the infant’s coming, inevitable sacrifice and death. At the same time, that “cantata” oratorio section focused on the Adoration of the Magi and Holy Family’s Flight into Egypt (Matthew 3:9-14), concluding the six Christmas services of the complete oratorio, and his last work composed for the Epiphany Feast.

Bach’s first Epiphany Feast Cantata, BWV 65, Sie werden aus Saba alle kommen (They will all come from Sheba, Isaiah 60:6), 1724, celebrates the coming of the Magi. It’s closing chorale, Paul Gerhardt’s 1647 “Ich hab in Gottes Herz und Sinn,” Bach also chose for chorale Cantata 92 for Septuagesima Sunday 1725. “In the Dresden hymnbooks of about 1750 this hymn is assigned to the Third Sunday after Epiphany,” says Günther Stiller in JSB and Liturgical Life in Leipzig.1 Cantata 65/3 is a plain chorale setting of the Christmas, "Peur natus in Betlehem," closing the Christmas Season, while the Epiphany Period emphasizes "Jesus Hymns" which can be used at other times, as well as Passion-related and death hymns. The closing, fixed three pre-Lent (Vorfastenzeit) Sundays, misnamed Septuageisma, Sexageisma, and Quinquageisma (70, 60 and 50 days before the Lord's Day), can include Lenten hymns. Bach seized the advantage, using a range of chorales to fulfill his plan and calling for a "well-regulated church music."

A year after Cantata 65, the chorale Cantata, BWV 123, Liebster Immanuel, Herzog des Frommen (Dearest Emmanuel, Lord of the righteous), has only a loose connection with the Epiphany Feast. Instead it centers on the name of Jesus, initially found at the Feast of the Circumcision, January 1, and goes forward to contrast the coming conflict between Jesus and the world, initially found in the Epiphany Time Sundays. Cantata 123 is one of the most finely-crafted and engaging works in this unique genre. With its symmetrical ABA form (dal segno in the opening chorale chorus), its contrasting closing chorale, and the chorale melody's triplet rhythm in dance form, BWV 123 begins Bach's most intense and varied "time" of chorale cantatas as well as utilization and exploration of chorales. Thus the Feast of Epiphany serves at least a dual purpose and is a transitional, liminal (threshold), turning, pivoting celebration.

Epiphany Time Focus

The some three to five Sundays in Epiphany focus on Jesus at the beginning of his ministry: after the presentation in the temple, the wedding at Canan, the first miracles, Jesus’ Baptism, and the selection of the disciples. For these, Bach in his cantatas utilized texts and melodies from the omnes tempore theme Sundays, particularly Jesus Hymns, as well as chorales specifically for Epiphany time and even a Passion and a wedding chorale, based on the biblical readings for those specific Sundays as listed in various Leipzig and Dresden hymnbooks. Bach also set popular general hymns in early cantata texts of Rudolstadt (1704), Georg Christian Lehms (1711) and Salomo Franck (1715), usually for the de tempore, first half of the church year.

Epiphany Time was both a serendipitous and revelatory opportunity as well as a period having “the mood of Epiphany blues,” involving worldly conflict and personal suffering, particularly in Chorale Cantata BWV 123, Liebster Immanueal, Herzog des Frommen, for the Feast of Epiphany 1725 and Cantata BWV 13, Meine Seufzer, meine Tränen (My sighs, my tears), for the 2nd Sunday after Epiphany, 1726, says John Eliot Gardiner in his new Bach musical biography, “Cycles and Seasons” (Chapter 9), Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven.2 In Cantata 13 bass aria, “Ächzen und erbärmlich Weinen (Groaning and pitiful weeping), “Bach seems determined to impress on his listeners the full misery and wretchedness of life here below.”

Before Bach's time the Epiphany period usually was not observed in the Lutheran hymn books as a season for distinct chorale settings, between hymns for the Advent-Christmas Season and Easter-Pentecost Season. In both the Neumeister and Orgelbüchlein collections of organ chorale prelude settings for the church year, there are no designated Epiphany hymns, just as in the hymn books there are no sections titled "Epiphany Hymns." Instead, the various hymn books have a topical, omnes tempore collection of as many as 28 chorales under the heading "Jesus Hymns," often dating to the Pietistic period 1670-1750) and often not found in Bach’s Leipzig hymnbook, Das neu Leipziger Gesangbuch (NLGB). Of 1682.3

The NLGB lists popular Trinity Time chorales for Epiphany Time Sundays while Bach used most of them in Trinity Time cantatas (the first listed is the prescribed hymn of the day (de tempore), the remainder are sermon or communion hymns):

1st Sunday after Epiphany [Epiphany 1], “Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ,” “Dies sind die heilige zehn Gebot,” and “Herr Christ, der einge Gottes Sohn”;
2nd Sunday after Epiphany [Epiphany 2], “Herr Christ, der einge Gottes Sohn,” “Wie schon leuchtet der Morgenstern,” and “Am dritten tag ein Hochzeit war” (NLBG 400, Last Days, not set by Bach);
3rd Sunday after Epiphany [Epiphany 3], “Allein zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ,” “Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ,” and Vater under im Himmelreich”;
4th Sunday after Epiphany [Epiphany 4], “Wenn wir in Höchsten Nöten sein,”r Gott der Herr nicht bei uns hält,” “Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir,”and ”Es ist das Heil unskommen Her;
5th Sunday after Epiphany [Epiphany 5], “Ach Gott vom Himel siehe darein,” “Es spricht der Unweisen Mund wohl,” and “Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ”;
6th Sunday after Epiphany [Epiphany 6], “Herr Christ, der einge Gottes Sohn.”

The four key Epiphany Time “Jesus” chorales are found in the newer hymnbooks under various themes, after the de tempore chorales (Advent to Trinity Sunday), says Stiller (Ibid.: 249). The hymns with ’s cantata settings are: "Liebster Immanuel, Herzog des Frommen" (Gotha hymnal 1715) chorale Cantata BWV 123, Feast of Epiphany 1725; "Jesu, meine Freude" (NLGB 301, “Cross, Persecution”), Cantata BWV 81, 4th Sunday after Epiphany 1724, melody of closing plain chorale; “Meinen Jesus, laß ich nicht" (NLGB 346, ”Death & Dying”), chorale Cantata BWV 124, 1st Sunday after Epiphany 1525, and Cantata 154, “Mein liebster Jesu ist verloren” (Gotha hymnal 1715), 1st Sunday after Epiphany 1724, closing plain chorale, BWV 154/8; and, lastly, "Jesu, meiner Seelen Wonne" (Werde munter, mein Gemüte; NLGB 208, Catechism Morning Song) 154/3 plain chorale. Two of these sacred songs were used as plain chorales in the St. Matthew Passion: “Meinen Jesus, laß ich nicht von mir" closed Part 1 of the original 1727 version when Jesus is arrested, and (BWV 244b=29a), and “Werde munter, mein Gemüte” (BWV244/40), S. 5, “Bin ich gleich von dir gewichen” (If I have ever abandoned you), after Peter’s third denial. Bach’s Epiphany Time Cantatas & Chorales

Bach's chorale cantatas (Cycle 2) in 1725 for the First through the Third Sundays after the Feast of Epiphany are: 1, BWV 124, "Meinen Jesum, lass ich nicht;" 2, BWV 3, "Ach Gott, wie manches Herzeleid" (NLGB 289, Cross, Persecution); and 3. BWV 111, "Was mein Gott will, das g'scheh allzeit" (NLGB 325, Death & Dying). Chorale Cantata BWV 14, Wär gott nicht mit uns diese Zeit" (NLGB 266, Psalm 124) for the 4th Sunday after Epiphany, was composed 10 years later in 1735, using an original paraphrased libretto probably written (author unknown) in 1725 when there was no 4th Sunday after Epiphany.

Other Leipzig Epiphany Sunday cantata settings and their chorales are: Epiphany 1, 1724, BWV 154/8, Meinen Jesum, lass ich nicht, and 1726, BWV 32/6 (Lehms 1711 text), “Freu dich sehr, o meine Seele” (NLGB 358, Death & Dying); Epiphany 2, 1724, BWV 155/5 (Franck 1715 text), “Es ist das Heil” (NLGB 230, Justification); and 1726, BWV 13/6 (Lehms), “O Welt, ich muß dich lassen” (NLGB 340 Death & Dying); Epiphany 3, 1724, BWV 73/1 (?Weise), “Wo Gott, der Herr,” (NLGB 267, also Psalm 124), and 73/5 “Von Gott will ich nicht lassen (=186a/6 1716, Franck; NLGB 310, Word of God & Christian Church), 1726, BWV 72/6 (Francks 1715), “Was mein Gott will,” and 1729, BWV 156 (Picander), “Herr, wie du willt” (NLGB 349, Death and Dying); Epiphany 4, 1724 BWV 81 (?Weise), “Jesu, meine Freude), 1726 JLB-1 (Rudolstadt), chorale not identified; Epiphany 5, 1726 JLB-2 (Rudolstadt), chorale not identified. The chorales specified for the services of Epiphany Time between the Sunday after Christmas and the Lenten season are not always listed in established Lutheran hymn books Bach used to compose cantatas. The exception is "Meinen Jesum, lass ich nicht," “found in the hymn schedules of both the Leipzig and Dresden hymnbooks for” the 1st Sunday after Epiphany, says Stiller (Ibid.: 237f). In these same hymnbooks, however, various chorales Bach used in cantatas for Epiphany Time are assigned to different Epiphany Sundays, as well as Turning Time and Septuagesima (“Was mein Gott will,” Cantata 144), observes Stiller (Ibid.: 238). In the Hänssler/Rilling complete Bach recordings edition the Epiphany Season chorales are found mostly under the thematic Volume, 84 “Patience & Serenity/Jesus Hymns,” BCW Recording details,, scroll down to CH-11), including "Jesuslieder" or "Jesus Hymns." The 25 settings of 18 titles of "Jesus Hymns" are: BWV 335, 352, 353, 355, 356, 357, 358, 359, 360, 361, 380, 409, 467, 468, 470, 472, 473, 474, 485, 490, 496, 497, 610; BWV 1103, 1118. The primary source is Bach’s Schmelli Gesangbuch (SG), BWV 439-508 of 1736. Of these 18 text titles, Bach set eight as free-standing plain chorales) BWV 252-438), marked +, and six, marked ^ set in his vocal works

Ich lass dich nicht, du mußt mein Jesus bleiben (467), Wolfgang Christoph Dreßler 1692 (SG Trusting Jesus Songs);
Ich liebe Jesum alle Stund (468), ?Georg Christian Schmellis, (SG Trusting Jesus Songs);
+Jesu, der du meine Seele (352, 353), Johann Rist 1641;
^Jesu, der du selbsten wohl (?247/56=355) [mel. Jesu Leiden, Pein & Tod]
+^Jesu, du mein leibstes Leben (356) [BWV 248IV/3(58), NY];
+Jesu, Jesu, du bist mein (357, 470) (?Lent, Meinengen Song Book 1697;
+^Jesu, meine Freude (BWV 81/7; 358, 610, 1103; 64/8; 227/1,3,5,7,9,11);
+^Jesu, meiner Seelen wonne (BWV 154/3, 359, 360, 1118) [mel.Werde munter, mein Gemuete];
Jesu meines Glaubens Zier (472), Gottfried Wilhelm Sacher 1714, Justification;
Jesu, meines Herzens Freud (361, 473) (?Christmas), Johann Flitner 1661
Jesus ist das schoenste Licht (474), Christian Friedrich Rochter 1706-11, Love & God’s Friendliness;
^Liebster Immanuel, Herzog des Frommen (BWV 123);
+^Meinen Jesum lass ich nicht von mir (BWV 124, BWV 154/8, 380; 70/11, 70a/6, BWV 157/5, 244b(29a);
Nur mein Jesu ist mein Leben (490), Anpnymous 1697, Love & Longing for Jesus;
+O Jesu, du mein Braeutigam
(335) [mel. Herr Jesu Christ, mein's Lebens Licht]; Tr.+13, P 56/5 [mel. Ach Gott, wie manches Herzeleid];
+Seelenbraeutigam (409, 496), Adam Dresse 1697, Love & God’s Friendliness; and
Seelenweide (497), Dresse 1695, Love & Longing for Jesus.

(It is noted that lines 5-8 in the Jesus Hymn, "Jesu, du mein liebstes Leben," above, are set to an original chorale melody, possibly by Bach, beginning with text "Jesu, meine Freud' und Wonne," in the soprano-bass arioso, No. 5, in the Christmas Oratorio, Part 4, for New Year's Day.)

The Haenssler Vol. 84 lists the chorale setting BWV 339, "Herr, wie du willt, so sichts mit mir," under the heading "Patience and Serenity." The chorale is the basis for chorale Cantata BWV 73 for the 3rd Sunday after Epiphany, 1725, and is the closing plain chorale setting in Cantata BWV 156, also for the same Sunday in 1724.

The chorale text or melody Bach used most (in four services) at Epiphany time is "Was mein Gott will, das g'scheh allzeit." The first verse and melody are used in the closing plain chorale in BWV 72/6 for the Third Sunday after Epiphany 1726, and in BWV 144/6 for Septuageisma Sunday (Third Sunday Before Lent) 1724. The entire text is utilized in chorale Cantata BWV 111, also for the Third Sunday after Epiphany 1725. The melody was used to in BWV 65/7 for the Feast of Epiphany, and in the chorale Cantata BWV 92, "Ich hab in Gottes Herz und Sinn," for Septuageisma Sunday, 1725. Bach also used the opening verse and melody as the plain chorale in the St. Matthew Passion, No. 25.

In his Epiphany time cantatas, Bach used four non-Epiphany chorale texts:

Peur natus in Betlehem, Christmas (BWV 65/2), Feast of Epiphany 1724
Ich stehe in deiner Krippen hier, Christmas (BWV 248VI/6[59])), Feast of Epiphany, 1735
Ach Gott, wie manches Herzeleid, omnes tempore (BWV 3), 2nd Sunday after Epiphany, 1725
In allen meinen taten, wedding (BWV 13/6), 2nd Sunday after Epiphany, 1726

Bach also used these two chorales in Epiphany time cantatas:

+Freu dich sehr, o meine Seele (BWV 32/6), mel. Weg, mein Herz, omnes tempore; Eph. 1 1726
+Machs mit mir Gott, nach deiner Gut (BWV 156/2 Eph.3 1729, Passion mel.)

After creating three cantatas for virtually all the Sundays in Epiphany Time, Bach considered texts from the Picander text cycle, 1728-29. Of six services, Bach left only one complete cantata (BWV 156) but, interestingly, he did composed plain chorales for most of the other services in the Epiphany segment of the Picander Cycle:4

Date; No., Occasion, Incipit; Chorale (stanza), other chorale uses
1/6/29; P11, Feast of Epiphany, "Dieses ist der Tag, den der Herr"; Lobt Gott, ihr (1/8), Xmas, BWV 375-6.
1/9/29; P12, Sun.a.Epiphany, "Ich bin betruebt"; Meinen Jesum (6), Jesus Hymn, BWV 380.
1/16/29; P13, 2nd. Sun.a.Epi., "Ich hab in mir ein frohehlich Herz"; Wer nur (4), omnes tempore, BWV 434.
1/23/29; P14/BWV 156, 3rd Sun.a.Epi., "Ich steh mit einem Fuss im Grabe"; Herr, wie (1), Eph., BWV 339.
1/30/29; P.15, 4th Sun.a.Epi., "Wie bist du doch in mir"; Herr J.C., ich weiss (mel, H.J.C.,du hoechstes), (1),unclear, 1114 (mel).
2/6/29, P.17, 5th Sun.a.Eph., "Erwache, du verschlafnes Herze"; Es wohl (3), omnes tempore, BWV 311-12.

Thus, in Picander's design for a complete cantata cycle that he hoped Bach would set, Bach's Leipzig literary collaborator focused closely on the readings for the services as well as the appropriate chorale, particularly during the very diverse Epiphany time. Bach composed set only one Picander text, BWV 156, but did set the all the chorales for the other Epiphany Sundays. It is quite likely that Picander, in setting the full cycle, obtained permission of the Leipzig consistory, and the Town Council, before publishing the entire cycle in June 1728 in Leipzig.

Epiphany Time Introit Psalm Motets

The Introit Psalm for the Feast of the Epiphany (January 6) was Psalm 8, Domine, Dominus noster (O Lord our Lord, how excellent in thy name in all the earth!, KJV), says Martin Petzoldt in Bach Commentary, Vol. 2, Advent to Trinityfest.5 For the full text of Psalm 8, see: It was set as a polyphonic motet of Palestrina,; Orlande di Lasso,; Jakob Hassler,; and Josquin Desprez,

The Introit Psalm for the 1st Sunday after Epiphany was Psalm 121, Levavi oculos (I will life up me eyes, KJV), says Martin Petzoldt (Ibid.: 407). For a full text of Psalm 121, see It was set as a motet by Orlando di Lasso, Palestrina (, and Schütz. Bach’s Passions-Pasticcio, BWV 1088 (1743-48) includes the Bach bass arioso, “So heb ich denn mein Auge sehnlich auf” (I lift my longing eye to Heav'n above) beginning with the dictum of Psalm 121, Levavi oculos (I will life up my eyes). It is the first of series of 15 instructional Psalms called "A Song of degrees." It may be a radical parody of the alto arioso, ”O Schmerz,” from the St. Matthew Passion.

The Introit Psalm for the 2nd Sunday after Epiphany was Psalm 127, Nisi Dominus, Except the Lord build the house (KJV), says Petzoldt (Ibid.: 433), which he describes as “Gesegnete Haushaltung und Regierung” (Blessing of the household and reign). For the full text of Psalm 127, see Motet settings of the chant include Monteverdi in the 1610 Vespers of the Virgin Mary, Ludwig Senfl (a 5 voices, 1530, for Luther,, Palestrina, di Lasso, and Schütz. The best-known and recorded are Vivaldi, RV 608 (, and Handel’s, HWV 238 SSATB (

Introit Psalm for the 3rd Sunday after Epiphany was Psalm 13, Usquequo, Domine oblisvisceris (How long wilt thou forget me> (To the chief Musician, a Psalm of David), says Petzoldt (Ibid.: 461), which he calls “Gebet in Traurigkeit und Herzenangst (Prayer of mourning and heartfelt angst). For the full text of Psalm 13, see There are several motet entries, including Josquin Des Prez,, Francisco Guerrero,, Adrian Willaert,, Benedito Marcello, (p.24), Antoine Brumel,,

Monteverdi, (p.7), Philippe de Monte,, as well as Palestrina, di Lasso, and Schütz.

The Introit Psalm for the 4th Sunday after Epiphany was Psalm 46, Deus noster refugium (God is our refuge, KJV, or “Gott ist unser Zuversicht”), says Martin Petzoldt (Ibid.: 503), which he describes as “Der Kirche Trost und Sicherheit” (The Church’s trust and certainty). Luther's popular Reformation hymn, "Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott" (A Mighty Fortress is our God) (4 stanzas) is a setting of Psalm 46 (see “Motets and Chorales for the Feast of Reformation,” BCW For the full text of Psalm 46, see There are Latin motet settings of Frescobaldi, Hassler, Palestrina, di Lasso, and Schütz.


1 Stiller, Johann Sebastian Bach and Liturgical Life in Leipzig, Ed. Robin A. Leaver (Concordia Publishing: St. Louis, 1985: 237).
2 Gardiner, BACH: Music in the Castle of Heaven (Alfred A, Knopf: New York, 2013: 329f).
3 NLGB, BACH'S HYMN BOOK: Jürgen Grimm, "Das neu [?] Leipziger Gesangbuch des Gottfried Vopelius (Leipzig 1682),"Berlin: Merseburger, 1969. ML 3168 G75.
4 Klaus Häfner in his Bach Jahrbuch (61, 1975: 70-113) article, “Der Picander Jahrgang,” lists all of the chorale texts in Picandser’s cycle and the numerous free-standing settings, BWV 252-434, that Bach may have composed as part of the cantatas for that cycle.
5 Petzoldt, Martin. Bach Kommentar: Theologisch Musikwissenschaftlicke Kommentierung der Geistlichen Vokalwerke Johann Sebastan Bachs; Vol. 2, Die Geistlichen Kantaten vom 1. Advent bis zum Trinitatisfest; Internationale Bachakademie Stuttgart (Kassel: Bärenreiter, 2007: 367).


Musical Context of Bach Cantatas: Table of Motets & Chorales for Events in the Lutheran Church Year

Lutheran Church Year: Main Page and Explanation | LCY - Event Table | LCY 2000-2005 | LCY 2006-2010 | LCY 2011-2015 | LCY 2016-2020
Sundays & Holidays in the Lifetime of J.S. Bach | Performance Dates of Bach’s Vocal Works
Readings from the Epistles and the Gospels for each Event | Motets & Chorales for Events in the LCY
Discussions: Events in the Lutheran Church Year: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Readings from the Bible


Back to the Top

Last update: Wednesday, May 31, 2017 01:38