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Musical Context of Bach Cantatas
Motets & Chorales for 23rd Sunday after Trinity


Readings: Epistle: Philippians 3: 17-21; Gospel: Matthew 22: 15-22

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

Motets and Chorales for the 23rd Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 23)


BWV 163: Chorales for Trinity 23: Pietist Influences

William Hoffman wrote (August 18, 2012):
The use of personal chorales and pietistic devotional sentiments strengthens the New Testament teachings of rendering unto Ceasar (Mat. 11:15-22) and avoiding earthly corruption in all three Bach cantatas for the 23rd Sunday after Trinity in Leipzig: BWV 163, 139 and 52. The initial common element, beginning in Weimar, was the use of the personal chorale, developed by Johann Heerman and perfected by Paul Gerhardt, whose hymns were among Bach's favorites, in addition to various thematic Jesus Hymns and texts of songwriters Christian Friedrich Witt, Johann Christoph Rube, and Johann Jakob Rambach.

The texts and corresponding musical treatment of Cantatas BWV 163, 139, and 52 provide distinctive perspectives on this Sunday's biblical teachings, within a cautionary pietistic framework of the Last Times of the Christian and the Church year at hand in the last Sundays of Trinity Time. The three cantatas are:

+Solo SATB Cantata BWV 163, "Nur jedem das Seine" (Only to each his due) (Weimar, 11/24/1715; repeated in Leipzig 10/31/1723), emphasizes distinguishing between false earthly and true spiritual values.

+Chorale Cantata BWV 139, "Wohl dem der sich auf seinen Gott . . . kann verlassen" ("Well for him who himself on his God . . . can depend) repeated (Leipzig, 11/12/1724; 1732-35; 1744-47), deals with personal trust in God.

+ Solo Soprano Cantata BWV 52, "Falsche Welt, dir trau ich nicht" (False worlds, thee trust I not) (Leipzig, 11/24/1726), focuses on the false world's deceptions.

The Lutheran Church Year, Readings for the Twenty Third Sunday after Trinity are:
Epistle: Philippians 3: 17-21 Follow not carnal things, as many do;
Gospel: Matthew 22: 15-22 The Pharisees and the tribute to Caesar;
For complete texts, see BCW

Cantata 163, Special Witt Chorale Melody

In Cantata BWV 163, "Nur jedem das Seine" (Only to each his due), Bach's primary Weimar librettist, court poet Salomo Franck, chose the final, 11th verse, "Führ auch mein Merz und Sinn" (Lead also my heart and mind) from Johann Hermann's popular 1630 <omnes tempore> Penitential and general Communion Hymn, "Wo soll ich Fliehen hin" (Where shall I flee hence), also known as "Auf meinen lieben Gott" (From my loving God). For Francis Browne's full text English translation of the hymn, see BCW,

The 23rd Sunday after Trinity in Weimar in 1715 proved serendipitous and fortuitous, especially in Bach's collaboration with Franck. In late Trinity Time the previous year, 1714, Bach had been unable to produce his required monthly Sunday cantatas for Trinity for three services, the 15th, 19th and 23rd Sundays after Trinity. Fortunately, Bach was able to secure the services of Franck with the next cantata text cycle, "Evangelisches Andachts-Opffer" (Evangelical Sermon Offerings), published in 1715 and with which Bach was able to set at least 15 musical sermons. Bach began the cycle with Cantata BWV 152 for the Sunday after Christmas (December 30, 1714). This monthly production was halted on August 11, 1715, when a three-month mourning period was declared for Bach's favorite Prince Johann Ernst, with Bach providing no cantatas on the 8th, 12th, 16th, and 20th Sundays after Trinity 1715. Bach was scheduled to present the next monthly cantata on the First Sunday in Advent on December 1. Instead, with the mourning period ended, Bach was able to provide a new cantata, BWV 163, a week earlier, on the final Sunday in Trinity Time (the 23rd), on November 24.

Bach personalized the Heermann hymn text with a special 1679 melody found with the text in the 1715 Gotha Hymnal of Christian Friedrich Witt (c.1662-1717). A year previously (Trinity 11, August 12, 1714) Bach had used the same Witt melody as the viola da gamba obbigato in soprano solo Cantata, "Mein Herz schwimmt im Blut" (My heart swims in Blood), in the sixth movement aria setting of Hermann's Stanza 3, "Ich, dein betrübtes Kind,/ Werf alle meine Sünd" (I, your troubled child, cast all my sins), as found in Christian Lehm's 1711 published cantata annual cycle text. Details of Witt's Turingian melody (Zahn 2177) and other settings are found at BCW, Witt's short biography, BCW:

Bach's uses of the Witt variant melody proved fortuitous two-and-a-half years later when he was invited to present on Good Friday, March 26, 1717, at the Gotha Castle Church, the annual Passion now known as the "Weimar/Gotha Passion" oratorio, BC D-1, in lieu of the music of the dying Witt, kapelmeister to the Duke of Saxe-Gotha.

The Heermann text is found in the <Neu Leipziger Gesangbuch> (NLGB) of 1682, No. 182, Confession Hymn, specifically assigned as a Communion Hymn for the Third Sunday after Trinity. It most often is set to the Jacob Regnart 1574 melody, known as "Auf meinen lieben Gott" (Zahn 2164), particularly as used by Johann Hermann Schein (1586-1630), Bach St. Thomas predecessor. Bach also set the <omne tempore> Trinity Time Hermann text and the Schein version of the melody as Chorale Cantata BWV 5 (Trinity 19, 1724) and plain chorales, BWV 89/6 (Trinity 22, 1723) and BWV 136/6 (Trinity 8, 1723), and the melody for organ chorale preludes BWV 646 (Schubler, 1748-49) and BWV 694 (Kirnberger, 1700-17) and plain chorales BWV148/6 (Trinity 17, ?1723), and 188/6 (Trinity 21, 1728) set to other texts.

No four-part plain chorale setting is found in the surviving sources for Cantata BWV 163/6. No original parts set survives and it is assumed that Bach's oldest son, Wilhelm Friedemann, inherited it as well as the surviving score, as part of both score and parts sets for the final Trinity Time Sundays (17-26) of 1723 in Annual Cantata Cycle 1. Given the score with its standard basso continuo part only designated for the chorale, as well as the presumed Witt soprano melody, and no four-part setting found in second-son Carl Philipp Emmanuel's "complete" collection of his father' Breitkopf chorale settings, 1784-87, the inner two alto and tenor parts have been reconstructed based on Bach's harmonizing principles.

The closing chorale in Cantata BWV 163 is preceeded with the soprano-alto love duet, "Nimm mich mir und gib mich dir" (Take me from myself and give me to thee) with unison obbligato violin and viola playing Andreas Hammerschmidt's "Meinen Jesum laß ich nicht" (My Jesus, let I not leave), found in the NLGB No. 346, <omne tempore> Death & Dying, Zahn melody 3449). Bach's use of obbligato melody in his service cantata arias as Christian proclamation dates to his earliest Cantatas BWV 4, 106, and 131 at Mühlhausen in 1707-08.

Chorale Cantata 139 based on Pietist Hymn

As Trinity Time in the chorale cantata cycle came to its end in November 1724, Bach had virtually exhausted appropriate, popular Trinity Time chorales in his first two cantata cycles involving nearly 50 works. For the 23rd Sunday after Trinity, he looked for a concise five- or six-stanza text to use for Chorale Cantata 139, with a theme of Trust in God appropriate for this Sunday's popular Gospel lesson of Rendering unto Ceasar (Mat. 22:15-22) and the Epistle commentary of Apostle Paul's cautionary Letter to the Philippians (3:17-21) to avoid earthly things of the flesh. Bach found such a five-stsacred text from the popular pietist songwriter Johann Christoph Rube (c.1665-1746), "Wohl dem der sich auf seinen Gott . . . kann verlassen" ("Well for him who himself on his God . . . can depend), dating to 1692. See Rube's short biography, BCW:

Serendipitously, the associated melody also has Bach Leipzig connections with J. H. Schein in his 1628 Death Song of comfort, "Machs mit mir, Gott, nach deiner Güt" (Do with me God, according to Thy Goodness). Although not in the NLGB, Bach had first set the melody (Zahn 2383) by 1710 as a chorale prelude for organ in the Neumeister Collection, previously listed as the beginning "Fugue in G major," BWV 957 (Zahn melody 2383). Subsquently, about 1714, Bach listed the chorale title for his Orgelbüchlein collection of chorale preludes, as No. 138 under the <omne tempore> heading "Death and Dying," but did not provide a new setting. For more information on the melody and related text, see BCW, For Schein's short biography, see BCW, For Bach treatment of the Cantata BWV 139 text, see Frances Browne's English translation, BCW,

Bach generously uses the Schein melody in all four voices in the opening chorale fantasia chorus, "Machs mit mir, Gott, nach deiner Güt" (Do with me God, according to Thy Goodness), sung to the opening stanza unaltered or paraphrased. Bach's librettist (perhaps Picander?) paraphrases and expands the next three Rube stanzas for three movements: No. 2, tenor da-cappo aria, "What avails the rage which . . . an enemy . . . has set up" (S.2); No. 4, bass aria (scena), "Misfortune wraps around . . . me" (S.3); and, No. 4, soprano recitative, "Yea, bear I even the greatest enemy."

Rube's pietistic, simplistic text is a dualistic study contrasting good God with the evil world where God is man's friend. Since the original text makes no reference to the Gospel teaching of rendering unto Caesar, a new text was written for No. 3, alto recitative, "The Saviour does send his people":

Der Heiland sendet ja die Seinen
(The Saviour does send his people)
Recht mitten in der Wölfe Wut.
(in the very midst of raging wolves.)
Um ihn hat sich der Bösen Rotte
(Around them the evil mob)
Zum Schaden und zum Spotte
(for harm and mockery)
Mit List gestellt;
(has gathered with cunning;)
Doch da sein Mund so weisen Ausspruch tut,
(however, since his mouth makes such wise utterances,)
So schützt er mich auch vor der Welt.
(he will then protect me also from the world.)
[Francis Browne's interlinear translation]

Here is a comparison of the original Rube hymn text and the "paraphrase" in No. 4, soprano recitative:

Indeed if the guilt of my sins
Is piled upon me altogether
If I am denied by God's grace
And want only to condemn myself
Then I would still never be afraiid even then,
since God my friend destroys these things
[Rube's original hymn text and Frances Browne's English translation are found at BCW,]

Yes, no matter that I bear my greatest enemy within myself,
the heavy burden of my sins.
My saviour will let me find inner peace.
I give to God what belongs to God
my innermost soul.
If he is willing to choose it for his own,
then the guilt of my sins grows less, the deceit of Satan falls away.
[See the cantata text and Francis Browne's text English translation, BCW,]

Cantata 139 closes with a four-part plain chorale setting of the fifith and last stanza: "Dahero trotz der Höllen-Heer!" (For this reason I defy the hosts of hell!).


Subsequently, Bach used the Schein melody, "Machs mit mir, Gott, nach deiner Güt," again in his St. John Passion, BWV 245/22(40) in 1724, set to the C. H. Postel 1704 Passion text "Durch dein Gefängniss Gottes Sohn" (Through your imprisonment, Son of God), at the point where Pilate wishes to free Jesus. In 1729, Bach used the melody in the opening tenor aria, "Ich steh mit einem Fuß im Grabe" (I stand with one foot in the Grave" with the soprano singing the opening stanza as a duet. Finally, plain chorale BWV 377 was probably used with the first stanza in the St. Mark Passion, BWV 247/15(44) in 1731, after Jesus asks in the Garden of Gethsemane that the cup be lifted from him. See BCW short biography of Schein:

Finally, in the Schemelli Songbook of 1736, the Rube (1714) nine-varse Evening Song, "Der Tag ist hin, die Sonne gehet nieder" (The day is gone, the sun is down), is set to the anonymous 1542 melody, "O höchster Gott, o unser lieber Herre" (O Highest God, o our loving Lord), as edited by Bach but with "very little evidence that Bach had anything at all to do with the figured bass line," says BCW,

Cantata 52: Austere Pietist Tone

Cantata BWV 52, "Falsche Welt, dir trau ich nicht" (False worlds, thee trust I not) closes Trinity Time in the incomplete, homogeneously-texted third annual cantata cycle, on November 24, 1726. Besides Bach's recent reuse of instrumental concerti movements in intimate settings, these late Trinity Time texts often show pietistic influences perhaps from Picander as utilized by Bach. Cantata BWV 52 shows distinct textual connections to Pietist writer Johann Jacob Rambach (1693-1735), whose works were found in Bach's library along with other pietist writers Philipp Jacob Spener, Heinrich Müller, and Johann Arndt.

The soprano solo Cantata BWV 52 closes (Movement 6) with the Stanza 1 harmonization of Adam Reusner's 1533 paraphrase of Psalm 31, "In dich hab' ich gehoffet, Herr" (In Thee have I hoped; NLGB 254 Psalm Hymn, 7 stanzas). See text and Francis Browne English Translation of the chorale, BCW, The associated chorale melody (Zahn 2461) with the same title was composed in 1581 by Seth Calvisius (1556-1615), Bach St. Thomas predecessor. See BCW Calvisius Short Biography htttp://

Bach's settings of the Calvisius melody also are found in the chorale melody in Cantata BWV 106/4 (memorial service, 1707); the Passions of Matthew (1727) and Mark (1731) in plain chorale settings, BWV 244/38=?247/5(11)[S.5]; and in the 1734 Christmas Oratorio, BWV248/46, plain chorale melody set to a different text. Bach also set the melody as an organ chorale, BWV 712 (1700-1717) in the Kirnberger collection.

Bach's interest in the pietist hymnwriter Johann Jacob Rambach (1693-1735) was established early in his Leipzig tenure, with textual influences found in Cantatas BWV 25, and 43, and 52. Rambach as a prominent Halle University professor wrote more than 180 hymn texts particularly in his <Sacred Poetry> of 1720. Prior to Bach's Leipzig tenure, during his predecessor Johann Kuhnau's last days, an anonymous cantata (?Telemann TWV1:644) set to a Rambach text, "<Gott fähret auf mit Jauchzen>" (God ascends to rejoicing) (Psalm 47:6), was presented on Ascension Day, Thursday, May 14, 1722. Bach set the same dictum to Cantata BWV 43, with Rudolstadt/Helm influence, for Ascension Day, 1726).

Two Bach Trinity Time Cantatas BWV 25 and 52 show strong influences of Rambach <Sacred Poetry> hymns. Cantata 25, "Es ist nichts Gesundes," for the 14th Sunday after Trinity 1723 was based on Rambach's "Ich seufze Jesu" (I suffer Jesus) and Cantata 52 for Trinity 23, 1726, was influeby "Wehe mir" (Woe is me), both cantata texts as adapted possibly by Picander. See Frances Browne's recent commentary on the Cantata 25 text, BCW, "Note on the text."

The interest in Rambach began with Bach biographer Phillip Spitta and was enhanced recently with the rediscovery of service cantata libretto handbooks found in the St. Petersburg Library by Tatjana Schabalina, Bach Jahrbuch 2008 and 2009. For a Rambach biography, see

While there is no hymn-schedule reference to the chorale, "Wohl dem, der sich auf seinen Gott" (in Chorale Cantata BWV 139), the other two chorales, "Wo sol lich fliehen hin" and "In dich hab' ich gehoffet, Herr," that Bach set in Cantatas BWV 163 and 52 for the 23rd Sunday after Trinity are found in the Dresden hymn schedules and in Weißsenfels for this Sunday, says Günther Stiller in <JSB and Liturgical Life in Leizig" (p. 246)

Bach's Trinity 23 Hymn Schedule

The NLGB lists four <omne tempore> Pulpit and Communion Hymns appropriate for the 23rd Sunday after Trinity. All are poetic paraphrases of Psalms of praise or caution found in the NLGB under the <omne tempore> category, Christian Life & Hope. They are Psalm 46, Martin Luther's setting, "A mighty fortress is our God"; two related settings of Psalm 124 involving Thanksgiving for Deliverance; and Psalm 1, "Wer nicht sitzt im gottliche Rat" (Who sits not in godly counsel).

+"Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott" (A mighty fortress is our God, Psalm 46); details, BCW, NLGB (p.) 670.

+"Wo Gott der Herr nicht bei uns halt" (If Got the Lord does not abide in us, Psalm 124, Justus Jonas' 1524 paraphrase, NLGB 267), BCW (also full details of "Wo sol lich fliehen hin").

+"Wär Gott nicht mit uns diese Zeit" (Were Got not with us this time, Psalm 124 Hymn, Luther, NLGB 266, anonymous melody (Zahn 4434). Bach used Luther's 1524 three-verse text once in Chorale Cantata BWV 14, "Wär Gott nicht mit uns diese Zeit," for the 4th Sunday after Epiphany in 1735. Instead of the related, rarely heard anonymous Johann Walther melody, Bach used the the popular Justas Jonas accompanying melody to his 1524 Psalm 124 paraphrase, "Wo Gott der Herr nicht bei uns halt." The NLGB also designates "Wär Gott nicht mit uns diese Zeit," for the 4th Sunday after Epiphany (Bach's use) and the 5th Sunday after Trinity.

"Wer nicht sitzt im gottliche Rat" (Who sits not in godly counsel) is a Psalm 1 paraphrase (Christian Life and Hope) from the Cornelius Becker 1602 Psalter (texts only to be sung to popular melodies). It was set to music in Heinrich Schütz's Becker Psalter, Op.5, SWV 97-256 (published 1628/61). Becker's six stanzas and the "Gloria Patri," Lesser Doxology in praise of the Christian Trinity appears in the NLGB as No. 241, set to the melody (Zahn 305), "Wo Gott zum Haus nicht gib sein Gunst" (Where God to the house gives not his goodwill). The text is Johann Kolrose's four-verse setting with "Gloria" of Psalm 127 (NLGB 268). For detailed information on the settings of Psalm 124 and 127 as well as texts and translations, see BCW,, "Leipzig Main Service Chorales (Trinity 5).

Other Bach Trinity 23 opportunities:

+On November 16, 1727, there was no performance during the mourning period of Sept. 7, 1727, to Jan. 8, 1728, for deceased Saxon Queen Christiane Eberhardine.

+On October 31, 1728, the Picander Cycle printed text for Cantata P-67, "Schnöde Schönheit dieser Welt," was schedule but contained no chorale stanza, possibly because this Sunday fell on the Reformation Festival with various choices for chorale texts.

+On Trinity, November 13, 1735, Bach probably performed a Stözel two-part cantata, "Ich weiß, mein Gott, daß du das Herz prüfest" [not extant], as part of the cycle "Saitenspiele testeddes Hertzens" (Music Playing of the Heart), text by Benjamin Schmolck, with two chorale settings not identified.

+About Novemer, 1736, Bach may have performed a Stözel two-part cantata, from the cantata cycle "Das Namenbuch Christi," (Book of Names of Christ), Schmolck text, No. 65. No musical source with the presumed chorales is extant.


For a full enjoyment of Cantatas BWV 163, 139, and 152 in the BCW discussion, here again are valuable, available BCW resources:

+Julian Mincham's Cantata Commentary, especially musical details as well as other related insights, see the BCW pages:;;

+Access the same pages for Claude Role's new Cantata Commentary in French, especially for documented sources on the dating, manuscript sources, biblical sources (pericope), text, individual movements, and extensive bibliography.

+John Elliot Gardiner's Bach Cantata 2000 Pilgrimage, informative and entertaining commentary on the cantatas for for the 23rd Sunday after Trinity, access the same cover pages under Recordings, Liner Notes.


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
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

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