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Cantata BWV 136
Erforsche mich, Gott, und erfahre mein Herz
English Translation in Interlinear Format
Cantata BWV 136 - Search me, God, and know my heart

Event: Cantata for the 8th Sunday after Trinity
Epistle: Romans 8: 12-17; Gospel: Matthew 7: 15-23
Psalm 139: 23 (Mvt. 1); Johann Heermann (Mvt. 6); Anon (Mvts. 2-5) [W. Murray Young suggests Christian Weiss, Sr.]
Chorale Text:
Wo soll ich fliehen hin

Biblical quotations in green font, chorales in purple


Chorus [S, A, T, B]

Corno, Oboe, Oboe d'amore, Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo

Erforsche mich, Gott, und erfahre mein Herz;
Search me, God, and know my heart;
prüfe mich und erfahre, wie ichs meine!
test me and know what I think! Psalm 139.23


Recitative [Tenor]


Ach, dass der Fluch, so dort die Erde schlägt Genesis 3.17
Alas, the curse that strikes the Earth
Auch derer Menschen Herz getrogen!
has struck also the hearts of men!
Wer kann auf gute Früchte hoffen, Matthew 7:16
Who can hope for good fruit,
Da dieser Fluch bis in die Seele dringet,
when this curse pierces as far as the soul
So dass sie Sündendornen bringet Genesis 3. 18
so that it brings forth the thorns of sin
Und Lasterdisteln trägt.
And bears the thistles of vice?
Doch wollen sich oftmals die Kinder der Höllen
Yet the children of hell often want to
In Engel des Lichtes verstellen; Matthew 7:15-20
present themselves as angels of light;
Man soll bei dem verderbten Wesen
with our corrupted nature we are supposed
Von diesen Dornen Trauben lesen.
o gather grapes from these thorns.
Ein Wolf will sich mit reiner Wolle decken,
A wolf likes to cover himself in pure wool,
Doch bricht ein Tag herein, Malachi 4 :1 etc
but the day dawns
Der wird, ihr Heuchler, euch ein Schrecken,
which for, you hypocrites, will be terror
Ja unerträglich sein.
indeed truly unbearable.


Aria [Alto]

Oboe d'amore, Continuo

Es kömmt ein Tag,
A day will come
So das Verborgne richtet,
when what is hidden will be judged,
Vor dem die Heuchelei erzittern mag.
before which hypocrisy may tremble
Denn seines Eifers Grimm vernichtet,
for the fury of his jealousy brings to nothing
Was Heuchelei und List erdichtet.
whatever hypocrisy and cunning have invented.


Recitative [Bass]


Die Himmel selber sind nicht rein, Job 15:15
The heavens themselves are not pure,
Wie soll es nun ein Mensch vor diesem Richter sein?
how then will it be for a man before this judge?
Doch wer durch Jesu Blut gereinigt,
Yet whoever is purified through Jesus' blood,
Im Glauben sich mit ihm vereinigt,
united with him in faith,
Weiß, dass er ihm kein hartes Urteil spricht.
knows no harsh sentence would be pronounced against him.
Kränkt ihn die Sünde noch,
If his sins still weaken him,
Der Mangel seiner Werke,
the lack of good deeds,
Er hat in Christo doch
yet he still has in Christ
Gerechtigkeit und Stärke.
justice and might.


Aria (Duetto) [Tenor, Bass]

Violino I/II all' unisono, Continuo

Uns treffen zwar der Sünden Flecken,
Indeed, the marks of sin still are on us
So Adams Fall auf uns gebracht. Romans 5:14
which Adams fall brought upon us.
Allein, wer sich zu Jesu Wunden,
But whoever has found the wounds of Jesus
Dem großen Strom voll Blut gefunden,
and the great stream of blood
Wird dadurch wieder rein gemacht.
Will be purified by him.


Chorale [S, A, T, B]

Violino I, Corno e Oboe e Oboe d'amore col Soprano, Violino II coll'Alto, Viola col Tenore, Continuo

Dein Blut, der edle Saft,
Your blood, the noble liquid
Hat solche Stärk und Kraft,
has such force and might
Dass auch ein Tröpflein kleine
that even one small drop
Die ganze Welt kann reine,
can make pure the whole world,
Ja, gar aus Teufels Rachen
indeed, from the devil's jaws themselves
Frei, los und ledig machen.
can make us free, released and unattached.

Note on the text:

The author of this text is unknown. Starting from the readings for the day it considers the ideas of sincerity and hypocrisy, true and false prophets and reaches the conclusion that we should depend on Christ's blood, a symbol of God's merciful love.

The words of the opening movement and so the title of the cantata come from Psalm 139. In Robert Alter's view this “is one of the most remarkably introspective psalms in the canonic collection.... essentially a meditation on God's searching knowledge of man's innermost thoughts, on the limitations of human knowledge, and on God's inescapable presence throughout the created world”. It is surprising therefore that Bach should set this earnest penitential Psalm to bright cheerful music and commentators have suggested that he may have used music from an earlier secular cantata.

The recitative in the second movement refers to the curse placed by God on the earth after the sin of Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:17) and the question asked by Christ in the section of the Sermon on the Mount used for the gospel this Sunday : “Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?”. The curse on the earth has affected also the hearts of men so that they produce thorns and thistles of sin.Truth may be difficult to discern because the wicked may present themselves as virtuous (angels of light, in sheep’s clothing) and we also may delude ourselves into thinking we can do right with our corrupted nature (gather grapes from thorns).Hence the you plural form (ihr Heuchler) is used at the end of this recitative.

But God’s truth will in the end prevail –either at death or the last judgement – and hypocrisy will be revealed for what it is.This idea is presented at the end of the second movement and in the third movement by the common biblical imagery of the day of the Lord, some future decisive action by God.

The opening of the fourth movement recalls a passage from the Book of Job emphasising the greatness of God and the imperfection of man. But this seeming impasse leads in fact to the turning point where reliance upon the blood of Christ rather than our own merits makes salvation possible. The same idea of salvation through Christ is taken up in the second aria and the concluding chorale. Christ as often is seen as the new Adam who undoes and makes good the damage done by his predecessor.

The concluding chorale is taken from the ninth stanza of Wo soll ich fliehen hin written in 1630 by Johannes Heermann. Like the opening movement it echoes Psalm 139. Many people may find bizarre the references to blood in this cantata. But blood sacrifice was common in the ancient world and it is an important image in the bible (mentioned 400 times in the Old Testament, and 100 in the New) and so in subsequent Christian tradition. Perhaps it may be understood as an assertion of both God’s existence and his love and power.

Compare the conclusion of Geofffeey Hill's poem Genesis :

By blood we live, the hot, the cold,
To ravage and redeem the world:
There is no bloodless myth will hold.
And by Christ's blood are men made free
Though in close shrouds their bodies lie
Under the rough pelt of the sea.

In the chorale Rachen is sometimes translated by wrath or anger or vengeance. In German der Rachen (jaws, throat) and die Rache ( vengeance) are easily confused and both meanings give good sense but Rachen cannot here be the dative of Rache.


This Translation in Parallel Format

English Translation by Francis Browne (September 2008, August 2011: revised with notes)
Contributed by Francis Browne (September 2008, August 2011)

Cantata BWV 136: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3
German Text | Translations: Catalan-1 | Dutch-3 | English-1 | English-3I | English-3P | English-6 | French-4 | French-6 | Hebrew-1 | Indonesian | Italian-2 | Russian-1 | Spanish-3 | Spanish-7
Chorale Text:
Wo soll ich fliehen hin

English Translations in Interlinear/Parallel Format (English-3): Sorted by BWV Number | Sorted by Title | Sorted by Event | Note on English Translations

Texts & Translations: 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 250-438 | Geistliche Lieder BWV 439-507 | AMN BWV 508-524 | Other Vocal 1081-1089 | BWV Anh | Chorale Texts | Emblemata | Sources | Poets & Composers
Discussions: Texts | Translations: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4


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Last update: Thursday, June 01, 2017 21:31