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Cantata BWV 94
Was frag ich nach der Welt
English Translation in Interlinear Format
Cantata BWV 94 - What do I ask for from the world

Event : 9th Sunday after Trinity
Readings: Epistle: 1 Corinthians 10: 6-13; Gospel: Luke 16: 1-9
Text: Balthasar Kindermann (Mvts. 1, 3, 5, 8); Anon (Mvts. 2, 4, 6, 7)
Chorale Text: Was frag ich nach der Welt

Biblical quotations in green font, chorales in purple


Chorus [S, A, T, B]

Flauto traverso, Oboe I/II, Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo

Was frag ich nach der Welt
What do I ask for from the world
Und allen ihren Schätzen
and all its treasures
Wenn ich mich nur an dir,
if it is only in you,
Mein Jesu, kann ergötzen!
my Jesus, I can delight!
Dich hab ich einzig mir
In you alone I
Zur Wollust fürgestellt,
look to find pleasure
Du, du bist meine Ruh:
You, you ,are my peace:
Was frag ich nach der Welt!
What do I ask for from the world!


Aria [Bass]


Die Welt ist wie ein Rauch und Schatten
The world is like smoke or shadows
Der bald verschwindet und vergeht,
that soon vanish and are gone
Weil sie nur kurze Zeit besteht.
since only a short time it lasts.
Wenn aber alles fällt und bricht,
But when everything falls and breaks,
Bleibt Jesus meine Zuversicht,
Jesus remains my ground for confident hope,
An dem sich meine Seele hält.
in whom my soul holds fast.
Darum: was frag ich nach der Welt!
Therefore: what do I ask for from the world!


Chorale and Recitative [Tenor]

Oboe I/II, Continuo

Die Welt sucht Ehr und Ruhm
The world seeks honour and glory
Bei hocherhabnen Leuten.
among people of high rank.
Ein Stolzer baut die prächtigsten Paläste,
A proud man builds most splendid palaces,
Er sucht das höchste Ehrenamt,
he seeks the highest post of honour,
Er kleidet sich aufs beste
he dresses himself as finely as he can
In Purpur, Gold, in Silber, Seid und Samt.
In purple, gold, silver,silk and velvet.
Sein Name soll für allen
Before all others his name has
In jedem Teil der Welt erschallen.
to resound in all parts of the world.
Sein Hochmuts-Turm
The tower of his arrogance
Soll durch die Luft bis an die Wolken dringen,
has to pierce through the air up to the clouds,
Er trachtet nur nach hohen Dingen
he concerns himself only with high matters
Und denkt nicht einmal dran,
and does not think once
Wie bald doch diese gleiten.
how quickly these things slip away.
Oft bläset eine schale Luft
Often a mouldy air blows
Den stolzen Leib auf einmal in die Gruft,
the proud body in a moment into the grave,
Und da verschwindet alle Pracht,
and then all the splendour vanishes,
Wormit der arme Erdenwurm
with which this wretched earthworm
Hier in der Welt so grossen Staat gemacht.
here in this world held such great state.
Ach! solcher eitler Tand
Ah ! Such vain trifles
Wird weit von mir aus meiner Brust verbannt.
are banished far away from my heart.
Dies aber, was mein Herz
This however which my heart
Vor anderm rühmlich hält,
considers as glorious before everything else,
Was Christen wahren Ruhm und rechte Ehre gibet,
which gives Christians true fame and real honour,
Und was mein Geist,
and which my spirit,
Der sich der Eitelkeit entreißt,
that tears itself away from such vanity.
Anstatt der Pracht und Hoffart liebet,
loves instead of splendour and arrogance,
Ist Jesus nur allein,
is only Jesus
Und dieser solls auch ewig sein.
And he shall be this for ever.
Gesetzt, dass mich die Welt
Granted that the world
Darum vor töricht hält:
therefore considers me as foolish:
Was frag ich nach der Welt!
What do I ask for from the world!


Aria [Alto]

Flauto traverso, Continuo

Betörte Welt, betörte Welt!
Deluded world, deluded world!
Auch dein Reichtum, Gut und Geld
Even your riches, wealth and cold
Ist Betrug und falscher Schein.
are deception and false appearance.
Du magst den eitlen Mammon zählen,
You may count on vain Mammon,
Ich will davor mir Jesum wählen;
I instead will choose Jesus;
Jesus, Jesus soll allein
Jesus, Jesus alone
Meiner Seele Reichtum sein.
will be the wealth of my soul.
Betörte Welt, betörte Welt!
Deluded world, deluded world!


Chorale and Recitative [Bass]


Die Welt bekümmert sich.
The world is troubled.
Was muss doch wohl der Kummer sein?
But what must this trouble be?
O Torheit! dieses macht ihr Pein:
O Folly! This causes the world's pain:
Im Fall sie wird verachtet.
It fears the possibility of being despised.
Welt, schäme dich!
World, shame on you!
Gott hat dich ja so sehr geliebet,
God has indeed so loved you
Dass er sein eingebornes Kind
that he has given his only begotten son
Vor deine Sünd
for your sins
Zur größten Schmach um dein Ehre gibet,
to the greatest ignominy so that you may have honour,
Und du willst nicht um Jesu willen leiden?
and are you unwilling to suffer for Jesus's sake?
Die Traurigkeit der Welt ist niemals größer,
The sadness of the world is never greater
Als wenn man ihr mit List
than when people with cunning
Nach ihren Ehren trachtet.
are concerned about its honours.
Es ist ja besser,
It is indeed better
Ich trage Christi Schmach,
that I should endure Christ's ignominy
Solang es ihm gefällt.
as long as it pleases him.
Es ist ja nur ein Leiden dieser Zeit,
It is indeed only a suffering of this present time,
Ich weiß gewiss, dass mich die Ewigkeit
I know certainly that eternity
Dafür mit Preis und Ehren krönet;
will crown me with glory and honour because of this;
Ob mich die Welt
even though the world
Verspottet und verhöhnet,
mocks and despises me,
Ob sie mich gleich verächtlich hält,
even if it regards me as contemptible,
Wenn mich mein Jesus ehrt:
if my Jesus honours me:
Was frag ich nach der Welt!
What do I ask for from the world!


Aria [Tenor]

Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo

Die Welt kann ihre Lust und Freud,
The world's pleasure and joy,
Das Blendwerk schnöder Eitelkeit,
the deception of despicable vanity
Nicht hoch genug erhöhen.
cannot be raised high enough.
Sie wühlt, nur gelben Kot zu finden,
It burrows down only to find yellow excrement
Gleich einem Maulwurf in den Gründen
like a mole in the ground
Und lässt dafür den Himmel stehen.
and for this pays no attention to heaven.


Aria [Soprano]

Oboe d'amore solo, Continuo

Er halt es mit der blinden Welt,
Let him keep to the blind world
Wer nichts auf seine Seele hält,
who takes no care for his soul.
Mir ekelt vor der Erden.
I feel disgust at the earth.
Ich will nur meinen Jesum lieben
I want to love only my Jesus
Und mich in Buß und Glauben üben,
and act constantly in repentance and faith,
So kann ich reich und selig werden.
then I can be rich and blessed.


Choral e[S, A, T, B]

Flauto traverso in octava e Oboe I e Violino I col Soprano, Oboe II e Violino II coll'Alto, Viola col Tenore, Continuo

Was frag ich nach der Welt!
What do I ask for from the world!
Im Hui muss sie verschwinden,
in a flash it must vanish,
Ihr Ansehn kann durchaus
its prestige can in no way
Den blassen Tod nicht binden.
bind pale death.
Die Güter müssen fort,
Its wealth must pass away
Und alle Lust verfällt;
and all its pleasures decay;
Bleibt Jesus nur bei mir:
if only Jesus stays with me
Was frag ich nach der Welt!
What do I ask for from the world!

Was frag ich nach der Welt!
What do I ask for from the world!
Mein Jesus ist mein Leben,
My Jesus is my life
Mein Schatz, mein Eigentum,
my treasure, my property,
Dem ich mich ganz ergeben,
to whom I have given myself entirely,
Mein ganzes Himmelreich,
all my heavenly kingdom
Und was mir sonst gefällt.
and whatever else pleases me.
Drum sag ich noch einmal:
Therefore I say yet again:
Was frag ich nach der Welt!
What do I ask for from the world!

Notes on the text

BWV 94, Was frag ich nach der Welt,was first performed on 6th August 1724 and is one of the many chorale cantatas which Bach included in his second yearly cycle in Leipzig. These cantatas are based on a single chorale : the first and last verses are set unaltered, while the intervening verses may be treated variously. The cantata was revived in -35 and again performed by Bach’s successor after his death in 1750s.

The connection of the cantata text with the readings for the 9th Sunday after Trinity is tenuous. The epistle warns against idolatry and in some of the gospel there is an antithesis between worldly values and Jesus.

BWV 94 is based on a hymn by Balthasar Kindermann published in 1664. It has been often ascribed to Georg Michael Pfefferkorn but the general consensus today is that Kindermann is the author. The phrase Was frag ich nach der Welt is repeated insistently throughout the hymn in a way that suggests it may have been familiar and proverbial for the original audience. The exact words do not seem to be used in the bible. Some eighteenth century hymn books include this chorale in sections dealing with the vanity of the world and for this theme quote Psalm 73:25-6
Wenn ich nur dich habe, so frage ich nichts nach Himmel und Erde.Wenn mir gleich Leib und Seele verschmachtet, so bist du doch, GOtt, allezeit meines Herzens Trost und mein Teil.

Other hymn books give 1 John 2:15 as reference for this theme:
Habt nicht lieb die Welt, noch was in der Welt ist. So jemand die Welt liebhat, in dem ist nicht die Liebe des Vaters. Denn alles, was in der Welt ist (nämlich des Fleisches Lust und der Augen Lust und hoffärtiges Leben), ist nicht vom Vater, sondern von der Welt.
Und die Welt vergehet mit ihrer Lust; wer aber den Willen GOttes tut, der bleibet in Ewigkeit.

But the vanity of the world was a common topic in Baroque poetry . Andreas Gryphius (1616-1664), arguably the most impressive German poet of the seventeenth century, uses the phrase in a striking poem Verleugnung der Welt which is often included in anthologies. Verleugnung der Welt (

The first stanza is :
Was frag ich nach der welt! sie wird in flammen stehn:
Was acht ich reiche pracht: der Todt reißt alles hin!
Was hilfft die wissenschafft/ der mehr denn falsche dunst?
Der liebe Zauberwerck ist tolle Phantasie:
Die wollust ist fürwar nichts alß ein schneller Traum;
Die Schönheit ist wie Schnee'/ diß Leben ist der Todt.

The poem is a sestina where the repetition of the same end words throughout helps to build up a powerful treatment of the world's vanity In contrast to Kindermann’s hymn, the positive promises of Christianity are hardly mentioned . The phrase Was frag ich nach der welt is also used by Friedrich von Logau (1605 -55), a slightly older contemporaryof Gryphius (Sinngedichte, 20.Am Sontage Quinquages).

To come much closer to Bach, Christiane Mariane von Ziegler (1695-1760) uses the phrase in her Versuch in gebundener Schreib-Art (1728). Fer. 2. Pentec . Bach used this book for the texts of nine cantatas.

Perhaps the phrase was proverbial, perhaps it was given currency by Gryphius. Whatever its origin Kindermann uses these words eleven times in his hymn. Three of the stanzas taken over unaltered by Bach’s librettist begin and end with the phrase.

A comparison of the text of the bass aria second movement with the second stanza of the hymn shows the librettist at work : Rauch becomes Rauch und Schatten; vergehet becomes verschwindet und vergeht. The image of Christ as a starker Fels is changed to the abstract Zuversicht. The expansion of the chorale by added recitative in the third and fifth movements of the cantata confirms this tendency to verbosity and abstraction. The mention of hocherhaben Leuten is expanded in a much longer description of such people that draws upon what Christ said when questioned about John the Baptist ( Luke 7 :25) and the story of the Tower of Babel. In general Bach’s librettist places greater emphasis on devotion to Christ as a substitute or antidote for obsession with worldly things.

The sixth stanza of the hymn provides the starting point for the text of arias for tenor and soprano. Here the librettist expands the chorale with more forceful negative diction , striking imagery (Kot, Maulwurf) and greater emphasis on the rejection of worldly values (Mir ekelt von der Erden).

Some commentators have felt that Bach’s music is in places inappropriately cheerful and positive for a rejection of life in this world. Perhaps a key to understanding the texts of the chorale and cantata and how Bach has set them is to note how what can seem to us a negative attitude of rejection is outweighed by devotion to Jesus and the promise of eternal happiness.


This Translation in Parallel Format

English Translation by Francis Browne (August 2008; revised & notes September 2011)
Contributed by Francis Browne (August 2008, September 2011)

Cantata BWV 94: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3
German Text | Translations: Catalan-1 | Dutch-6 | English-1 | English-3I | English-3P | English-6 | English-10 | French-4 | French-6 | Hebrew-1 | Hungarian-1 | Indonesian | Italian-2 | Russian-1 | Spanish-5 | Spanish-7
Chorale Text:
Was frag ich nach der Welt

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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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Last update: Friday, June 02, 2017 06:36