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Last Trinity Time Sundays' Cantatas, Chorales

Last Trinity Time Sundays' Cantatas, Chorales

William Hoffman wrote (December 7, 2017):
The very last Sundays of the Church year, those in Ordinary Time (omnes tempore) address the gospel and chorale eschatological (Last Time) themes of “Last Days, Resurrection of the Dead, and Eternal Life found in the last pages of Bach’s hymnbook, Das neu Leipziger Gesangbuch (NLGB Nos. 390-396). These hymns follow the church year sequences of the de tempore (Proper Time) of the Christological cycle, from incarnation to reincarnation or the so-called “Second Coming” of Jesus Christ through his Great Parabola of descent and ascent. In the Trinity Times ending in the final themes of the Last Time, and Life Eternal is the reward of Catechism “Justification” through grace alone (sola fide) principle of Lutheran Theology ( Other non-liturgical Catechism personal themes are found in the hymns for Morning and Evening prayers, Grace at Meals, and Prayer for Good Weather.

Bach’s first concern in Leipzig was the composition of church-year cycles of cantatas (musical sermons) for the 61 Sundays and feast days, usually ending in appropriate, four-part congregational chorales, often with familiar melodies, following Martin Luther’s practice. In the church-year calendar, the 24th to the 26th Sundays after flexible TrinityTime occurred less often so that Bach between 1723 and 1726 in his three cycles was able to compose five appropriate cantatas: BWV BWV 60, 26, 90, 116, and 70. In 1723, he composed successive Cantatas 60, 90, and 70, and in 1724 chorale Cantatas 26 and 116. For the rarest 27th Sunday after Trinity, which occurred in 1731, Bach compiled a special, hybrid chorale Cantata BWV 140. Besides the NLGB-designated chorales, Bach also utilized the Leipzig and Dresden hymn schedule themes of "Death and Dying," and Lament and Comfort," says Günther Stiller.1

In addition, in the contemporary lectionary of service readings for the final Sundays in Trinity Time (now called Sundays after Pentecost), other Bach omne tempore cantatas are particularly relevant in these eschatological Last Days, Omega, or End Times. The Appendix to the Evagelisches Kirchen Gesangbuch (EKG) lists the following Bach cantatas (chorale cantatas in bold) as appropriate for the Second to Last Sunday in the Church Year: Cantatas 105 (Trinity 9), 114 (Trinity 17), 115 (Trinity 22), and 127 (Septuagesima); Next to the Last Sunday, BWV 70 (Trinity 26), 94 (Trinity 9), 105 (Trinity 9), and 168 (Trinity 9); and the Last Sunday, BWV 140 (Trinity 27). In the current three-year Revised Common Lectionary,2 the Sundays in November, and the appropriate Bach Cantatas are: First Sunday of End Time (Reformation): BWV 57, 26, 55, and 126; 2nd Sunday of End Time (Last Judgement): BWV 116, 127, and 14; Third Sunday of End Time (Saints Triumphant): BWV 140, 60, 118, and 140; Last Sunday in End Time (Christ the King): BWV 134, 117, and 182.

24th Sunday after Trinity

The New Testament readings in Bach's one-year lectionary are particularly appropriate for the 24th Sunday after Trinity themes of grace and rising from the dead: Paul's Epistle to the Colossians 1:9-14 "Prayer for the increase of grace"; and the Gospel of Matthew 9:18-26, the miracle of Jesus' "Raising of Jairus's daughter" (full texts, BCW

Liturgical Psalms, Songs

The so-called variable Propers readings in the main service also were set to music in Bach’s time, most notably the opening Introit Psalm performed as a choral polyphonic motet and the congregational Graduallieder chorales, sung by the congregation between the Propers lessons of the Epistle and the Gospel (Source,

The Introit Psalm for the 24th Sunday after Trinity is Psalm 90, Domine, refugium (Lord, Thou has been our dwelling place,, says Martin Petzoldt in his BACH Commentary, Vol. 1, Trinity Sundays.3 Petzoldt calls Psalm 90 “The frailty of manly life.” Bach may have used Gregorian chant-based polyphonic motet settings of Psalm 90 by Palestrina, Josquin des Prez (, Heinrich Schütz, and Orlando de Lasso.4

The Gradual Song, a so-called Sequence Hymn, was sung in conjunction with the Pulpit Hymn as the culmination of the Service of the Word. It also played an important part in Bach chorales, particularly in organ prelude settings and the chorale cantatas, says Bach theologian Robin A. Leaver.5 "The primary examples of these Graduallieder, many of them written by Luther, figure prominently in Bach's compositions for the church. A major part of the Orgelbüchlein (BWV 599-644) is primarily a collection of chorale preludes on the principal Graduallieder of the church year. Similarly, many of the chorale cantatas of his second Jahrgang in Leipzig (1724-25) are based on such Graduallieder. . . ." Appropriate Luther Gradual-Psalm Songs (English translation Francis Browne) would be: “Nun bitten wir dem heiligen Geist” (Now we pray to the Holy Spirit,” Luther’s first Gradual Song), “Ach Gott, vom Himmel sieh darein” (Ah Lord, look down from Heaven, Psalm 12), “All Ehr' und Lob soll Gottes sein” (All glory and praise to God alone, Psalm 111), “Ein’ feste Burg ist unser Gott” (A mighty fortress is our God, Psalm 46), “Er Spricht der Unweisen Mund” (The unknown mouth speaks well, Psalm 14), “Es woll uns Gott genädig sein” (May God be gracious unto us, Psalm 67), “Wär Gott nicht mit uns diese Zeit” (If God were not with us at this time, Psalm 124), and “Wohl dem der in Gotts Fürcht steht” (Happy the man that fears God, Psalm 128; no Bach setting).

Varied Psalm Settings

Beyond the chorale paraphrases of psalms of penitence and ritual observance appropriate for communion are a varied group of Reformation psalms hymns and later settings under the rubric “The Church Militant,” found in the NLGB mostly under “Christian Life and Conduct: Psalm hymns,” NLGB 241-274. Bach set them in five chorale Cantatas: BWV 2, “Ach Gott, vom Himmel sieh darein” (NLGB 249, Psalm 12, Trinity 2); BWV 80, “Ein’ feste Burg ist unser Gott” (NLGB 266, Psalm 46, BWV 80a, Oculi 1715; Reformation); BWV 14, “War’ Gott nicht mit uns diese Zeit” (NLGB 266, Psalm 124, Epiphany 4); BWV 178, “Wo Gott der Herr nicht bei uns hält” (If the Lord God does not stay with us, NLGB 267, Psalm 124, (Trinity 8); and Cantata 112, “Der Herr ist meine Getreue Hirt, hält mir” (The Lord is my faithful shepherd, Psalm 23; mel. “Allein Gott,” NLGB 252, Misericordias Domini).

Bach also set 10 NLGB Psalm hymns as plain chorales: “Danket den Herren, denn er ist so freundlich” (Thank the Lord, he that is so friendly, NLGB 218 Catechism: Before Meal, Psalm 136), BWV 286; “Der Herr ist meine Getreue Hirt, dem ich” (NLGB No. 251, Psalm 23, mel.”Allein Gott”); BWV 83/3 cle. aria, BWV 104/6; “Es spricht der Unweisen Mund wohl” (The unknown mouth speaks well Psalm 14, NLGB 250), BWV 308; “Es woll’ uns Gott gnädig sein” (May God be gracious to us, NLGB 258, Psalm 67), BWV 311-12(PC); “Herr, straf mich nich in deinem Zorn” (O Lord, do not punish me in your anger, NLGB No. 244, Psalm 6), BWV 338; “Gott sei uns gnädig und barmherzig” (May God be merciful and compassionate for us, NLGB No. 319, Word of God, Psalm 67), BWV 323; “Lobet den Herren, denn er ist so freundlich” (NLGB No. 223, Catechism: After Meal, Psalm 147), BWV 374; “Lobet Gott, unsern Herren” (Praise God, our Lord, NLGB No. 273, Psalm 147), melody “Befiehl du deine Wege” (Commend thy ways, BWV 272, BWV 1126; "Wo Gott zum Haus nicht gibt seGunst" (Where God to the house gives not his goodwill, NLGB 268, Psalm 127), BWV 438, BWV 1123. One plain chorale setting is not found in the NLGB: Matthäus Appeles von Löwenstern’s 1644 “Wenn ich in Angst und Not” (When I’m in fear and distress, Psalm 121), BWV 427. In the NLGB as No. 271 Psalm hymn, Ob. 101 (Christian Life) is Wolfgang Dachstein’s 1525 Psalm 137 paraphrase, “An Wasserflussen Babylon” (By the flowing waters of Babylon, Psalm 138, NLGB 271, BWV 653 (18), BWV 267 PC).

Two Trinity 24 Cantatas: BWV 60, 26

For the 24th Sunday after Trinity, Bach's surviving cantatas BWV 60 and 26 and their prescribed NLGB chorales for this Sunday are particular relevant for the final Trinity Time services. Cantata BWV 60, "O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort" (O Eternity, thou word of thunder), is a spirited, solo "dialogue" cantata framed by two well-known chorales of Bach's time: the opening dictum "Final Days" Hymn (NLGB 394,, sung by an alto representing Fear, and the closing plain "Death & Dying" (NLGB 386) chorale, "Es ist genug, so nimm, Herr, meinen Geist" (It is enough! Therefore, Lord, take my spirit, Chorale Cantata BWV 26 "Ach, wie flüchtig, ach wie nichtig is der Menschen Leben!" (Ah, how fleeting, how trivial is man's life!), is a paraphrase of pietist Michael's Franck's 13-verse 1652 hymn of "Death and Dying” (NLGB 371,,

Trinity 24 NLGB Chorales

The four chorales appointed to be sung for the 24th Sunday after Trinity involve a simple Luther teaching on death, a popular contemporary hymn with strong Passion undercurrents, a poignant personal Trinity Time sacred song, and a little-known setting of a favored text:

+"Mitten wir im Leben sind" (We are in the middle of Life), BWV 383; Martin Luther's three-stanza teaching hymn, in the NLGB, No. 344, "Death and Dying";
+Herr Jesus Christ wahr Mensch und Gott (Lord Jesus Christ, truly man and God, NLGB 338, Death & Dying; cf. chorale Cantata BWV 127, Estomihi 1725); and plain chorale, BWV 336;
+Allein zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ, (Trinity 3, 11, 22); chorale Cantata BWV 33, plain chorale BWV 261, and Neumeister chorale prelude BWV 1100;
+Ich weiß, das mein Erlöse lebt, ob ich schon (I know that my Redeemer lives, Hebrews 19, trust in death), NLGB Death & Dying No. 354; Prince Johann Wilhelm of Weimar 1573, 3 stanzas (Zahn 7539); not set by Bach.

Trinity 25: Cantatas 90, 116

Bach’s two cantatas for the 25th Sunday after Trinity, using well-known, affirmative chorales, are The two works are 1723 solo Cantata BWV 90, "Es reißet euch ein schrecklich Ende" (A dreadful ending carries you away), and 1724 Chorale Cantata BWV 116, "Du Friedefürst, Herr Jesu Christ" (Thou Prince of Peace, Lord Jesus Christ). The chorales under the omne tempore heading of hymns of the "Word of God & Christian Church," are used to contrast with the Sunday's gospel of apocalypse and tribulation. This contrast represents the Christological concept of the "Christus Paradox” (source,

The eschatological or End Times of the Last Days/Things are the subject of both New Testament lessons in the lectionary for the 25th Sunday after Trinity in Bach's time ( They are: Epistle: 1 Thessalonians 4: 13-18 "Christ's Second Coming" (sleeping in Jesus, rapture); & Gospel: Matthew Chapter 24: Verses 15-28, "The Awful Horror," Christ's prediction (apocalypse, tribulation). "The Epistle (is) filled with comfort and peace and glory for His own; the Gospel (is) a message of dread and terror and doom for His enemies," says Paul Zeller Strodach.6 The Introit Psalm for the 25th Sunday after Trinity is Psalm 70, Deus, in adjutorium (Make haste, O God, to deliver me, KJV), says Petzoldt (Ibid.: 669). He calls Psalm 70 “David’s plea for help against the devil.” The full text is found at Polyphonic motet settings for the 12th Sunday include Orlando di Lasso (6 voices) and Monteverdi’s also setting for his 1610 Vespers for the Virgin Mary.7

Christus Paradox

That Bach late in 1724 chose to set the Christological hymn, "Du Friedefürst, Herr Jesu Christ” (Thou Prince of Peace,Lord Jesus Christ), as Chorale Cantata BWV 116, for the 25th Sunday after Trinity, Its End Times theme may seem paradoxical as it embodies the concept of the "Christus Paradox." The Christus Paradox is best expressed in the 20th century hymn, "Let all mortal flesh keep silence," set to the Byzantine Greek Liturgy of St. James and the 17th century French carol, "Picardy" (Wikipedia, "Christus Paradox" is a 1991 "Chorale Variations for SATB and organ, with the text of the late Sylvia Dunstan (incipit, "You, Lord, are both Lamb and Shepherd") and "Picardy" music arranged by Alfred Fedak (GIA Publications G5463.

Throughout Christian history, writers have explored the richness of what they perceive as the uniqueness of Jesus Christ through the study of Christology. Central to this concept are the two paradoxical doctrines of Jesus' nature in the gospels as Son of God (fully divine) and Son of Man (fully human) and the three states of Christ in the kenosis (emptying) parabola (descent-ascent) hymn of Philippians 2:5-11 or Col. 1:15-20: pre-incarnational glory, death, and resurrection, says noted theologian Cornelius Plantinga Jr. in his article "Christus Paradox" (Calvin College, Grand Rapids MI, nd). Other paradoxical images include Jesus as lamb and shepherd, prince and slave, steward and servant. Increasingly within churches using today’s Three-Year Lectionary, the Christological Feast days of Christmas, Easter, Ascension, and Christ the King Sunday incorporate the Christus Paradox readings of Philippians 2:5-11 or Col. 1:15-20, as well as the two passages in Isaiah prophesying the two different aspects of Christ's dual identity, Chapter 53, The Suffering Servant, and Chapter 11, The Peaceful Kingdom.

Bach's choice of another chorale for his other cantata for the 25th Sunday after Trinity, also reflects the Christus Paradox found in Late Trinity Time, in the transition from End Times of the Church Year to the Advent of the New Church year cycle. Cantata BWV 90, "Es reißet euch ein schrecklich Ende" (A dreadful ending carries you away) closes with the affirmative chorale, "Nimm von uns, Herr, du treuer Gott" (Take from us, you faithful God), set to the Lutheran melody of the Lord's Prayer, Luther’s “Vater unser im Himmelreich” (Oiur Father in the heavenly kingdom, Both affirmative chorale texts "are found in the Dresden hymnbooks of that time among the Hymns of Lament and Comfort, says Günther Stiller (Ibid.: 246f).

The NLGB lists four chorales that could be sung on the 25th Sunday after Trinity: Luther’s liturgical “Vater unser im Himmelreich" is the Hymn of the Day. and three little-known pulpit and communion chorales, all under the heading "Last Days, Resurrection of the Dead, and Eternal Life" that Bach did not set: +"Es wird schier der letzten Tag herk" (It will almost be the last day, NLGB 393; Last Days, Resurrection of the Dead, and Eternal Life); Bohemian brothers and martyrs; German, Michael Weissen 12 stazas (Zahn 1423); "Gott hat das Evangelium" (God gave the gospel, Mat. 24; no NLGB), Erasmi Alberi, Magdeburg; Leipzig 1638, Last Days, 14 stanzas, NLGB No. 390 melody Zahn 1788; and "Ach Gott tu dierbarmen"; Erasmi Alberi, Last Days, NLGB 396, 12 stanzas Zahn 7228c.

Trinity 26: Cantata 70, Chorales

Serendipity enabled Sebastian Bach, at the end of Trinity Time in late 1723, to assemble easily a musical sermon from an existing Cantata 70 ( with appropriate music and having the general textual and biblical theme of the "Last Judgement." Chorus Cantata BWV 70, "Wachet! Betet! Betet! Wachet!" (Watch, pray, pray, watch) uses three relevant chorale sources: "Freu dich sehr, o meine Seele” (Psalm 42 paraphrase), "Es ist gewißlich an der Zeit” and "Meinen Jesum laß ich nicht” (source:

The Readings for the 26th Sunday after Trinity are most appropriate for End Times: Epistle, 2 Peter 3:3-13 Christ's second coming; Gospel: Matthew 25:31-46, The Last Judgement, see: The Introit setting for the 26th Sunday after Trinity is Psalm 126 In convertendo (When the Lord turned again, kjv, , says Martin Petzoldt (Ibid.: 685). There are no designated introit Psalm music but most appropriate would be settings of Guillaume du Fay, Michael Praetorius, Heinrich Schütz, and Johann Hermann Schein.

Bach readily expanded his standard six-movement Weimar Cantata BWV 70a, same title, for the 2nd Sunday of Advent, into his favored two parts, inserting four alternating, didactic recitatives specifically addressing the new Sunday main service context, and adding a plain congregational chorale to close Part 1, "Freu dich sehr” (Rejoice greatly,, as well as an incisive chorale tune on the trumpet, ”Es ist gewißlich an der Zeit” (It is certainly time; 9. Recitativo [tenor e chorale],, and closing with "Meinen Jesum laß ich nicht” (I shall not leave my Jesus, melody (11. Choral).

Hymns & Organ Chorale Preludes

Bach wasn't through providing music for late Trinity Time. It is quite possible that he repeated Cantata BWV 70 several more times on this appointed final Sunday of the Church Year. It is documented that about 1730 Bach also composed several harmonized, free-standing plain chorales mostly listed under the last hymnal category of "The Last Judgement, Resurrection of the Dead, and Eternal Life" (Vom Jüngsten Tage, Aufferstehung des Todten und ewigen Leben) in the NLGB of 1682), and discussed below. They are: Trinity 26 Hymn of the Day, "Es wird schier der letzten Tag herkommen" in e minor, BWV 310; "Nun freut euch, lieben Christen g'mein" (alternate title "Es ist gewißlich an der Zeit," Trinity 26 Pulpit Hymn) in G Major BWV 388, as well as the same double title in B-Flat Major, BWV 307; "Gott has das Evangelium gegeben" in e major, BWV 319 - all "Last Judgement" chorales; and Trinity 26 Communion Hymn, "Gott der Vater wohn uns bei" (God, the Father, stay with us), in D Major, BWV 317. It is even possible that Bach substituted one or more of these harmonized hymns in services with further reperformances of Cantata BWV 70.

In addition, Bach had on hand early organ chorale preludes, including "Ach Gott tu dich erbarmen" in G Major, ending in D Major, BWV 1109, found in the early Neumeister Collection; the double title "Nun freut euch/Es ist gewißlich" Miscellaneous Chorale in G Major, BWV 734; the questionable Miscellaneous Chorale, "Es ist gewißlich" in G Major, BWV 755, in G Major; and Gott der Vater wohn uns bei," Miscellaneous organ chorale prelude BWV 748(a) in D Major.


1 Günther Stiller, Johann Sebastian Bach and Liturgical Life in Leipzig, trans. Herbert J. A. Bouman, Daniel F. Poellot, Hilton C. Oswald, ed. Robin A. Leaver (St. Louis: Concordia, 1985: 246).
2 See: John S. Setterlund, “Lectionary: Christian Worship,” in BACH Through the Year: The Church Music of Johann Sebastian Bach and the Revised Common Lectionary (Minneapolis: Lutheran University Press, 2013: 174).
3 Petzoldt, Bach Kommentar: Die geistlichen Kantaten des 1. Bis 27. Trinitas-Sontagges, Vol. 1; Theologisch Musikwissenschaftlicke Kommentierung der Geistlichen Vokalwerke Johann Sebastian Bachs, Internationale Bachakademie Stuttgart (Kassel: Bärenreiter, 2004: 651).
4 Source: Bach’s Motet Collection: Otto Riemer, "Erhard Bodenschatz und sein Schünigen": Kaminsky, 1927 ML 410 B67R4; Partial Index of Motets in Florilegium Portense with links to online scores and biographies: and; Dissertation on Bodenschatz Collection.
5 Robin A. Leaver, Luther’s Liturgical Music: Principles and Implications (Grand Rapids MI, Eerdmans Publishing, 2007: 302), and see Index, Leaver’s related Lutheran Quarterly articles on Luther and music,
6 Paul Zeller Strodach, The Church Year: Studies in the Introits, Collects, Epistles and Gospels (Philadelphia PA, United Lutheran Publication House, 1924: 261f).
7 Polyphonic motet settings are found in Jan Peter Sweelinck,,_Domine,_speravi_(Jan_Pieterszoon_Sweelinck); Heinrich Schütz,ütz; Josquin des Pres,; Nicolas Gombert,; Orlando de Lassus,; Hans Leo Hassler,; Jean-Baptiste Lully,, as well as Palestrina.


To come: Plain chorales and sacred songs of End Times: Life Eternal (Justification), preceded by the Catechism hymn-prayers of Morning, Evening, and Grace at Meals.


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