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Cantata BWV 60
O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort [II]
English Translation in Interlinear Format
Cantata BWV 60 - O eternity, you word of thunder

Event: 24th Sunday after Trinity
Readings: Epistle: Colossians 1: 9-14; Gospel: Matthew 9: 18-26
Text: Johann Rist (Mvt. 1); Franz Joachim Burmeister (Mvt. 5); Anon (Mvts. 2-4); Genesis 49: 18 (Mvt. 1); Revelation 14: 13 (Mvt. 4)
Chorale Texts: O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort | Es ist genug
Persons: Fear (Alto), Hope (Tenor), Christ (Bass)

Biblical quotations in green font, chorales in purple


Chorale [Alto] and Aria [Tenor]

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

Fear (Alto):
O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort,
O eternity, you word of thunder,
O Schwert, das durch die Seele bohrt,
o sword, that pierces through my soul,
O Anfang sonder Ende!
o beginning that has no end!
O Ewigkeit, Zeit ohne Zeit,
O eternity, time without time,
Ich weiß vor großer Traurigkeit
out of great sorrow I do not know
Nicht, wo ich mich hinwende.
where I should turn.
Mein ganz erschrocken Herz erbebt,
My heart completely terrified shudders
Daß mir die Zung am Gaumen klebt.
so that my tongue sticks to my gums.

Hope (Tenor):
Herr, ich warte auf dein Heil. (Genesis 49:18 = Psalm 119 : 166)
Lord, I wait for your salvation


Recitative [Alto, Tenor]


Fear (Alto):
O schwerer Gang zum letzten Kampf und Streite!
O how hard is th way to the last battle and conflict!

Hope (Tenor):
Mein Beistand ist schon da,
My help is already here,
Mein Heiland steht mir ja
my Saviour stands by me
Mit Trost zur Seite.
with consolation at my side.

Fear (Alto):
Die Todesangst, der letzte Schmerz
The agony of death, the last sorrow
Ereilt und überfällt mein Herz
overtakes and attacks my heart
Und martert diese Glieder.
and tortures these limbs.

Hope (Tenor):
Ich lege diesen Leib vor Gott zum Opfer nieder.
I lay this body down before God as an offering.
Ist gleich der Trübsal Feuer heiß,
Even though the fire of affliction is hot,
Genung, es reinigt mich zu Gottes Preis.
I am content, it purifies me for God’s praise.

Fear (Alto):
Doch nun wird sich der Sünden große Schuld vor mein Gesichte stellen
But now the great burden of my sins’ guilt stands before my face.

Hope (Tenor):
Gott wird deswegen doch kein Todesurteil fällen.
But God will not pass a judgement of death upon you because of your sins.
Er gibt ein Ende den Versuchungsplagen,
He sets an end to the torments of temptation
Dass man sie kann ertragen.
so that they can be endured.


Aria (Duet) [Alto, Tenor]

Oboe d'amore, Violino solo, Continuo

Fear (Alto):
Mein letztes Lager will mich schrecken,
My death bed will terrify me.

Hope (Tenor):
Mich wird des Heilands Hand bedecken,
I shall be covered by my Saviour’s hand.

Fear (Alto):
Des Glaubens Schwachheit sinket fast,
My weak faith is rapidly failing.

Hope (Tenor):
Mein Jesus trägt mit mir die Last.
My Jesus bears my burden with me.

Fear (Alto):
Das offne Grab sieht greulich aus,
The prospect of the open grave is terrifying.

Hope (Tenor):
Es wird mir doch ein Friedenshaus.
For me it will be a house of peace.


Recitative [Alto] and Arioso [Bass]


Fear (Alto):
Der Tod bleibt doch der menschlichen Natur verhasst
But death remains hateful to human nature
Und reißet fast
and almost tears
Die Hoffnung ganz zu Boden.
hope right down to the ground.

Christ (Bass):
Selig sind die Toten; (Revelation 14:13)
Blessed are those who have died;

Fear (Alto):
Ach! aber ach, wieviel Gefahr
Oh! but Oh! What great danger
Stellt sich der Seele dar,
confronts the soul
Den Sterbeweg zu gehen!
as it goes along the path to death!
Vielleicht wird ihr der Höllenrachen
Perhaps the vengeance of hell
Den Tod erschrecklich machen,
will make death terrifying
Wenn er sie zu verschlingen sucht;
as he seeks to devour your soul;
Vielleicht ist sie bereits verflucht
perhaps my soul is already damned
Zum ewigen Verderben.
to everlasting destruction.

Christ (Bass):
Selig sind die Toten, die in dem Herren sterben;
Blessed are the dead who have died in the Lord.

Fear (Alto):
Wenn ich im Herren sterbe,
If I die in the Lord,
Ist denn die Seligkeit mein Teil und Erbe?
is blessedness really my share and inheritance?
Der Leib wird ja der Würmer Speise!
My body will be food for worms!
Ja, werden meine Glieder
Yes, my limbs will become
Zu Staub und Erde wieder,
dust and earth once more.
Da ich ein Kind des Todes heiße,
Since I am called a child of death,
So schein ich ja im Grabe an verderben.
it seems that I shall rot in the grave.

Christ (Bass):
Selig sind die Toten, die in dem Herren sterben, von nun an.
Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord, from now on.

Fear (Alto):
Very well!
Soll ich von nun an selig sein:
Since from now on I shall be blessed,
So stelle dich, o Hoffnung, wieder ein!
come back, o Hope, once more!
Mein Leib mag ohne Furcht im Schlafe ruhn,
My body without fear may rest in sleep,
Der Geist kann einen Blick in jene Freude tun.
my spirit can already glimpse that joy.


Chorale [S, A, T, B]

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

Es ist genug;
It is enough;
Herr, wenn es dir gefällt,
Lord, when it pleases you,
So spanne mich doch aus!
then grant me release!
Mein Jesu kömmt;
May my Jesus come
Nun gute Nacht, o Welt!
Now good night, o World.
Ich fahr ins Himmelshaus,
I am going to Heaven’s house
Ich fahre sicher hin mit Frieden,
I go confidently there with joy,
Mein großer Jammer bleibt danieden.
my great sorrow remains down below.
Es ist genug.
It is enough.

Notes on the text

O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort is the beginning of a long hymn (1641) by Johann Rist. Bach wrote two cantatas that make use of this poem. BWV 60 is the earlier composition. BWV 20 was written seven months later and inaugurated Bach's cycle of choral cantatas.

BWV 60 was written during Bach's first year in Leipzig and performed for the first time on 7 November 1723. On the folder containing the original performing parts Bach wrote in his own hand: Dialogus zwischen Furcht und Hoffnung. Furcht:O Ewigkeit , du Donnerwort. Hoffnung : Herr, ich warte auf dein Heyl. It is therefore one of the small number of 'dialogue' cantatas (BWV21, 32, 49, 57,58, 60, 66,140, 152).Except for the concluding chorale every movement uses two voices; there are no solo arias.

The gospel for this Sunday is the raising of Jairus' daughter. This traditionally symbolises the resurrection hoped for by believers and the anonymous librettist has provided Bach with a text that deals with the conflict between doubt and hope. As the Oxford Composer Companion comments Bach produces “not a detached intellectual treatment of the fear of death but a gripping dramatization of existential angst”.

It begins with Rist's chorale and concludes with the fifth verse of the hymn Es ist genung by Franz Joachim Burmeister (1662). As Bach's note reveals in the opening movement Rist's words are seen as being sung by Fear who is answered by Hope with a verse from Genesis (49:18, repeated and amplified in Psalm 119). There is an obvious contrast between the tortured imagining and verbosity of Rist's words used by Fear and the confident brevity of the biblical quotation.

There is more of a dialogue in the first recitative. Fear makes three complaints, each of which is answered in turn by Hope. The two voices never sing simultaneously and Hope is given the last word. The following aria has a similar structure of three complaints by Fear answered each time by a response from Hope.

The turning -point of the cantata comes in the second recitative where Fear's continuing anxieties -death's assault on hope, the soul's fate, the body's decay - are answered not this time by Hope but by a heavenly voice(bass) which does not respond in detail but sings progressively longer fragments of Revela14 :13 And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth.

The fifth verse of Burmeister's hymn makes an appropriate conclusion.

The portrayal of a divided soul by allegorical figures may seem alien to many today. John Eliot Gardiner's comments are, as often, perceptive and helpful:

Such a rigid theological dichotomy couched in such bald allegorical terms may at first glance fail to strike a chord with many listeners. Nowadays this tension might be expressed more conventionally as one between the breezy truisms of the natural optimist, and the pessimist attempting to fend off the chilly realities of life’s disappointments by growing an extra layer of protective skin. Bach almost hints at such a more contemporary, nuanced interpretation. As so often in the cantatas the signs of what we might call ‘progressiveness’ show up in the complexity of his thought and a willingness (perhaps even a need) to combine the old with the new.
(Liner notes to Vol. 12 of Bach Cantatas)


This Translation in Parallel Format

English Translation by Francis Browne (November 2005; revised & Notes: September 2012)
Contributed by Francis Browne (November 2005, September 2012)

Cantata BWV 60: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4
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Chorale Texts:
O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort | Es ist genug

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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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