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Cantata BWV 136
Erforsche mich, Gott, und erfahre mein Herz

Cantata for the 8th Sunday after Trinity


Sources Consulted

NBA KB I/18, prepared by Alfred Dürr and Leo Treitler, (Bärenreiter, 1967) pp. 120-150.

Additional Sources consulted include:
NBA IX/2 Bachs Notenschrift prepared by Yoshitake Kobayashi, (Bärenreiter, 1989), p. 200.
NBA IX/3 Kopisten-Katalog [Textband], prepared by Yoshitake Kobayashi and Kirsten Beißwenger, (Bärenreiter, 2007)
Alfred Dürr, Johann Sebastian Bach: Die Kantaten (Bärenreiter, 1971, last updated revision 1995) pp. 507-511; English translation: The Cantatas of J. S. Bach (revised and translated by Richard D. P. Jones) (Oxford University Press, 2005) pp. 453-456.
Konrad Küster, Bach Handbuch, (Bärenreiter/Metzler, 1999), pp. 202-203.
Hans-Joachim Schulze, Die Bach-Kantaten, (Leipzig, 2006), pp. 346-348.
Gilles Cantagrel, Les cantates de J.-S. Bach, (Fayard, 2010), pp. 775-779.


Key Sources

The original sources are located in the Staatsbibliothek Berlin where they were originally part of the Staatsbibliothek Preußischer Kulturbesitz (SPK) in Berlin since 1851. The autograph score as well as a set of the original parts are contained in the same original folder and are accessible by their assigned shelf number: SPK St 20. The title on the folder was written by Johann Andreas Kuhnau. It reads:

Domin: 8. post Trinit: | Erforsche mich Gott, und erfahre mein etc. | â | 4 Voci | Corno | 2 Hautbois | 2 Violini | Viola | di Sign: | J. S. Bach.

Someone else at an unknown later time inserted under Viola the words e Continuo (in Duplo). Other library marks are also present including an indication of the former owner: vVoß.



Since BWV 136 is not included in the 1790 estate listing of C.P.E. Bach, it, or at least a part of it, may have already been sold or given away during latter’s lifetime or else W.F. Bach sold it, or at least a part of it). The most likely recipient was Count Voß-Buch who collected Bach’s manuscripts and probably assembled them into the folder prepared by Kuhnau probably intended only for the original parts. The Staatsbibliothek Berlin, after the acquisition, separated the autograph scores from the parts which are now, once again, the only sources found in the original folder.

It can be assumed that the usual division of cantata materials between W.F. Bach and C.P.E. Bach took place in this instance also. One son would inherit the score + doublets and the other would receive the regular set of parts [without the doublets]. The question that remains open here is whether the son who inherited the score + doublets may also have received another score (from an earlier version?), possibly one which required A 1 to make it a complete score.


Extant Sources

A. Two fragments of autograph scores listed as A1 and A2 by the NBA.

Unfortunately, Bach’s score consists of two fragments with some differences in handwriting. Only one has a recognizable watermark. Bach repeats the same section of mvt. 3 (the alto aria), as if he were simply copying from one page to the other.

A1 (recto) mvt. 3, mm 29-39

(verso) mvt. 6 (chorale) The beginning of the text is indicated below the parts.

A2 (recto) mvt. 3, mm. 29-39 (everything very much the same as in A1)

(verso) empty

A2 appears to be more of a clean copy of A1 and because there is no visible watermark, no dating is possible, but it could be from a later time. The KB gives specific examples of changes in Bach’s handwriting on p. 122, but Kobayashi still lists both A1 and A2 as Bach’s penmanship from 1723.

(Gilles Cantagrel lists Bach’s score as: “Autographe: perdu.” p. 775. In this he is at least partially correct.)


The Original Set of Parts

B. The original parts have a consistent paper quality with the same watermark on all of them.

Six individuals were involved in copying the parts with the usual ‘heavy lifting’ in this early Leipzig period done by Johann Andreas Kuhnau (1703-?), nephew of Bach’s predecessor, Johann Kuhnau, enrolled as Thomaner from 1718-1728, active as copyist for J. S. Bach from February 7, 1723 to December 30, 1725 and occasionally circa 1727. J. S. Bach added the final chorale and the thoroughbass figures to the transposed continuo part (B 15).

An inventory of the parts is as follows:
1. Canto: mvts. 1 & 6 Kuhnau and possibly some autograph additions
2. Alto: 1, 3 & 6 Kuhnau with autograph additions
3. Tenore: 1, 2, 5 & 6 Kuhnau with autograph additions
4. Basso: 1, 4, 5 & 6 Kuhnau with autograph additions
5. Corno: 1 & 6 Kuhnau with autograph additions
6. Hautbois. 1mo: 1, 3 & 6 Kuhnau with autograph additions
7. Hautbois 2. d’Amore 1 & 6 Kuhnau with autograph additions (Bach also added ‘d’Amore’)
8. Violino 1mo: 1, 5 & 6 Kuhnau with autograph additions
9. Violino 1mo: (Doublet) 1, 5 & 6 Copyist 1 with autograph additions
10. Violino. 2do: 1, 5 & 6 Kuhnau with autograph additions
11. Violino. 2do: (Doublet) 1, 5 & 6 Copyist 2 with autograph additions
12. Viola: 1 & 6 Kuhnau possibly with autograph additions
13. Continuo (figured) 1 – 6 Kuhnau with autograph additions; figures possibly by someone else
14. Continuo 1 – 6 Copyist 3: from beginning to mvt. 1 m 20; also from mvt. 1 m 47 to mvt. 3 m 44; Copyist 4 all the rest
15. Continuo (transposed, figured) 1 – 6 Copyist 4: mvt. 1-5; J. S. Bach mvt. 6 and the figured bass (or possibly only partially by J. S. Bach).


Identification of the Copyists

1 = Anonymous I g from July 2, 1723 to Nov 7, 1723 also copied violin I (doublets) for BWV 60, BWV 147, BWV 199

2 = Anonymous I b from June 6, 1723 to Sep 3, 1724 primarily violin parts (sometimes doublets) for BWV 33 (S,T,B), BWV 48, BWV 60, BWV 63, BWV 64, BWV 69a, BWV 73, BWV 76, BWV 89, BWV 94, BWV 94, BWV 153, BWV 154, BWV 162, BWV 185, BWV 190, BWV 245 (Fassung I) and BWV Anh. 24. For the latter in April and May of 1724, he prepared the Violin 1 and 2 doublets for J.C. Pez: Kyrie and Gloria from the Missa San Lamberti (J. S. Bach had begun copying out the parts for this in Weimar).

3 = Anonymous I n from July 2, 1723 to February 2, 1724 BWV 40, BWV 69a, BWV 83, BWV 147.

4 = Hauptkopist B later identified as Christian Gottlob Meißner (1707-1760); Thomaner 1719-1729; attended University of Leipzig beginning in July, 1729; Cantor in Geithain 1731-1760. Active copyist for J. S. Bach from Feb 2, 1723 until Dec 30, 1728 and occasionally thereafter from 1727-1731 and possibly c. 1731 (?). He was predominantly involved in copying many transposed continuo parts. In the number of parts copied, he ranks in second place in comparison with Kuhnau.


Non-original Sources

C. A copy of the score from the first half of the 19th century: Mus. ms. Bach P 1159ix in the BB (Staatsbibliothek Berlin). The manuscript copy was begun by Franz Hauser (an important collector of Bach manuscripts) and completed by an unidentified copyist. The content agrees essentially with B above. There is a note bey Zelter which could possibly indicate that he was copying from a different source, but this is rather doubtful.

D. A copy of the score from the middle of the 19th century: Mus. ms. Bach P 447 in the BB. It seems to be copied from C.


Missing/Lost Sources

[E] Bach’s composing score from which A1 and A2 were copied. Wilhelm Rust, in his commentary for BWV 136 in the BG 28 volume (Leipzig, December, 1881), wisely surmised that Bach “in dem vorliegenden Falle überhaupt keine vollständige Partitur gefertigt, und dass die Cantate ‘Erforsche mich’ aus einem andern Werk hervorgegangen [sei]” [“in this particular case – {composing BWV 136} – Bach did not prepare a complete score at all and that {the music for} the cantata “Erforsche mich” came from a different {earlier} work.”] Today it will be impossible to determine whether cantata as we know it today came via earlier original parts or an earlier autograph score, both of which are no longer extant.

[F] & [G] are unimportant.

H. For comparison the NBA has also examined mvt. 6 from the A major Mass BWV 234 beginning with mm 4 ff where mvt. 1 from BWV 136 appears in a changed form.


The Interrelationships between A1, A2, and B

A very detailed investigation on pp. 130 to 134 of the KB, in particular the appearance of mvt. 6 in A1 as the Neufassung (new version), have revealed among other things the following:

1. Several details in A1 certainly do point to a revision from an earlier version, but there is no single principle that can be ascertained which would explain all of these. As a result Rust’s theory when examined from the standpoint of the original set of parts lacks the required persuasiveness.

2. On the other hand, the existing state of the score fragment A1 cannot easily be explained any other way than by Rust’s theory. To this can be added the observation that the mm 29-39 of mvt. 3 in B 13 very obviously were added later so that it must be assumed that B 13 was copied from a different source where m 40 followed m 28 immediately.

2. B 15 was copied from an untransposed original source [not the same source used by B 14 and B 15] as seen from the numerous transposition errors that needed to be corrected. The fact that mm 29-39 of mvt. 3 had to be added later, while the untransposed continuo parts B 14 and B15 already have these measures properly inserted and not added later, points to the fact that Bach’s usual procedure (transposing from an already existing untransposed continuo part) was not used here.


Origin of the Music

There is no doubt that this cantata in the form that it has come down to us was composed for the 8th Sunday after Trinity and was performed on July 18, 1723. This is based upon the following facts:
1. The watermarks for the paper used in A 1 and all of B are the same.
2. All the copyists fit into this period covering the earliest years of Bach’s Leipzig cantatas.
3. The handwriting of Kuhnau and Bach (in A 1) fits into this same period.
4. The unique style of Bach’s soprano clef used at the beginning of mvt. 6 in A 1 points to this particular year.

The speculation that the music must have existed in an earlier form (or that it was an adaption from an earlier work) arose from working with all the available sources as occurred with the BG and NBA preparation of this score. Rust had already indicated in BG 28, p. XXX that the portion of the cantata found on A 1 was the newer version, now established to be from 1723. However, all the extant sources give no clear idea what the earlier version would have looked like. Perhaps it might be concluded from lack of a composing score for the recitatives, that they may have already existed in the earlier version, and likewise from the composing score for the final chorale in A 1 that it may not have existed in the same form in the original, earlier version. It is apparent that the earlier form or version was composed with a different purpose in mind, and yet, on the other hand, it looks very much like the movements of this cantata were taken entirely or almost entirely from another single work.

Taking all these considerations together, it appears that this cantata might be a parody of a secular composition that was performed prior to July, 1723. This goes beyond the scope of this investigation as it would entail a critical examination of stylistic elements.


Later Performances of BWV 136?

There are various possibilities for interpretation based on the observation that the composing score [fragment] A 1 was copied again as a clean copy A 2. Unfortunately A 2 cannot be dated since the watermark is missing. However, it can nevertheless be considered as possibly being connected with a later repeat performance. But why did Bach deem it necessary to create A 2 for such a repeat performance? Certainly not for readability! Assuming Rust’s idea about the preexistence of all the other movements, then it certainly would have been more necessary for Bach to replace them with a corrected clean copy for use as the new version and not repeat himself by creating another separate score for the portion contained on A 2. Perhaps he (or a copyist) made a mistake in creating the new score with missing measures in mvt. 3, a situation that had to be remedied by creating A 2. Another possibility is that A 1 and A 2 were meant to be insertions into the prior, original version of BWV 136 where additions and corrections (adding the missing measures) were required to make it complete or up to date. On the other hand, the possibility can be ruled out that Bach had temporarily lost A 1 and thus was required to create A 2, for it is a fact that A 2 was copied from A 1.

Bach reused mvt. 1 of BWV 136 in connection with the A major Mass BWV 234. If Rust’s theory is true, then BWV 136 would not be the original source of the parody, but rather both would have been based upon an Urform which both BWV 234/6 and BWV 136/1 have in common. According to Rust, BWV 234/6 might have more accurately reflected this Urfor than BWV 136/1. This needs further study and investigation particularly from the standpoint of stylistic features.


Later Commentaries

Alfred Dürr (German p. 509) (English-Jones, p. 454:
There are various indications in the sources, however, that Bach might have made use of music composed at an earlier date. Only the 12/8 section of the third movement and the final chorale are incontestably ad hoc compositions. It is tempting to imagine that the remainder might have originated in a secular work, or possibly in a church cantata for another occasion (and hence with a different concluding chorale). As yet, however, it has not proved possible to establish any further particulars.

p. 455 regarding mvt. 1:
In addition the fugue subject in its literal form [example given here] occurs considerably more often in the outer than in the inner parts, possibly due to the origin of the movement (it suggests an original in fewer parts). Curious, too, are the framing instrumental ritornellos, more concertante than fugal in character, and the prefacing of the vocal section with a motto which is followed by a bar-and-a-half of extra instrumental music before the fugue really begins. Finally, the instruments are assigned very different roles.

p. 456 regarding mvt. 3:
The contrasting ‘presto’ middle section (‘For the wrath of His jealousy annihilate...’) is, as mentioned above, an ad hoc addition.

p. 456 regarding mvt. 5:
With its part-imitative and part-homophonic writing for the voices, this movement closely resembles the secular duets of the Cöthen years.

p. 456 regarding mvt. 6:
The plain concluding chorale, based on the melody Auf meinen lieben Gott, is expanded to five-part texture by the addition of an independent first violin part. It seems possible that in this revaluation of the final chorale Bach wanted to counteract the indifferent quality – perhaps conditioned by parody – of the opening movement.

Konrad Küster, p. 203
The final chorale is no longer embedded in an independent [? – I thought that the instruments played colla parte] instrumental setting (as was the case in all of the final chorales that had been previously composed in Leipzig), but rather it is expanded to include the violin as a 5th part above the soprano – this is similar to the final chorales of Bach’s Weimar cantatas.

Hans-Joachim Schulze, p. 348
There are some strange characteristics surrounding Bach’s setting of this very concentrated text for which there are no clear explanations. The introductory movement on a Psalm text is, as one might expect, composed as a choral fugue, but there is a strange tension between the seriousness of the text and the brightness of the A major tonality, the rather peaceful fugal subject and the composure inherent in the 12/8 meter. This causes the question to be raised: “Was this movement originally composed on a different text? As we know Bach used it again shortly before 1740 as the conclusion of the “Cum Sancto Spiritu” in his Missa in A major. There is less doubt about the original connection between text and music in the first alto aria. It is a very different situation with the second aria. To be sure, the text does speak of a plural idea, but there is no real reason to compose it as a duet. It is hard to connect the playful figures in the obbligato violin parts with the text. It certainly would not be out of place to consider this as an adaptation from an older source. The fact that the final chorale has five parts instead of four by adding a high violin part in counterpoint opens additional questions about its origin. This type of treatment would point more toward Bach’s Weimar rather than his Leipzig cantata style.


Contributed by Thomas Braatz (September 1, 2011)

Cantata BWV 136: Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

References: Main Page | Cantatas BWV 1-50 | Cantatas BWV 51-100 | Cantatas BWV 101-150 | Cantatas BWV 151-200 | Cantatas BWV 201-224 | Other Vocal BWV 225-249 | Chorales BWV 250-300 | Chorales BWV 301-350 | Chorales BWV 351-400 | Chorales BWV 401-438 | Geistliche Lieder BWV 439-507 | AMN BWV 508-524 | Vocal Works BWV Anh
BGA | NBA | BC: A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | Sources
Discussions of BWV Numbering System: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3


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Last update: Thursday, June 01, 2017 11:35