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Cantatas for the 11th Sunday after Trinity

Trinity 11 Penitential Cantatas, Chorales, Doctrine

William Hoffman wrote (August 7, 2016):
Bach probably presented more music for the 11th Sunday after Trinity than for any other omnes tempore (Ordinary Time) Trinity Time Sunday, emphasizing themes of Christine doctrine, particularly penitence. These involved cantata settings of Psalm 130, de profundis (early Cantata 131) and Psalm 51, Miserere mei (late Cantata Motet 1083), with designated cycle cantatas 199, 179, and 113 in between. The theme is Penitence or Repentance (Buße), with is associated with Confession (Beicht), Forgiveness (Vergebung), or Amendment (Gutmachen) of sins through Justification (Rechtfertegung. It is also related to the concepts of “deliverance” and “trespass” as well as Lenten (Passiontide) services. The reason for so many works was probably that the penitential emphasis this Sunday involved a major doctrine and practice of Martin Luther and succeeding Lutheran leaders, including chorale composers and adapters of music important to this Sunday. In the hymnbooks of Bach’s day, more penitential hymns were prescribed for the Sundays in Trinity (Ordinary Time) than any other thematic category, reflecting both traditional and pietistic teachings.

In all, seven cantatas Bach presented are appropriate for the11th Snday after Trinity. The three extant cantatas Bach composed are BWV 199, 179 and 113, two by other composers Johann Ludwig Bach and Gottfried Heinrich Stölzel, and two others, BWV 131 and 1083, that are suitable for this Sunday with their liturgical, doctrinal, and contextual associations. Cantata 131 is an early (c.1708) setting in of Psalm 130, the De profundis (Out of the depths, Psalm 130), which also is the introit psalm for Trinity 11. Motet Cantata BWV 1083 is paraphrase of Psalm 51, Miserere mei, Deus (Erbarm dich mein, O Herre Gott, Have mercy upon me, O God, KJV), a Bach mid-1740s adaptation of Pergolesi’s popular Stabat mater. Psalm 51 was the Epistle reading for a Lutheran penitential service (see below, “Penitential Service Order”). The texts (KJV) are Psalm 51,, and Psalm 130,

The Bach composition and performance dates are Weimar soprano solo Cantata BWV 199, “Mein Herz Schwimmt in Blut (My heart swims in blood), premiered either in 1713 or 1714, performed again between 1718 and 1722 when Bach was kapellemeister in Cöthen, and reperformed in 1723 on a double bill with new chorus Cantata BWV 179, “Siehe zu, dass deine Gottesfurcht nicht Heuchelei sei” (See that your fear of God is not hypocrisy, Ecclesiastes 1:28). Chorale Cantata BWV 113, “Herr Jesu Christ, du höchstes Gut” (Lord Jesus Christ, you highest good”) was introduced in 1724. The two other composers works are cousin Ludwig Bach’s chorus Cantata JLB-15, “Durch sein Erkenntnis wird er, mein Knecht” (By his knowledge will my righteous servant, Isaiah 53:11 KJV) in 1726, and Stölzel double bill in 1735, Cantatas “Der Herr weiß die Gedanken der Menschen, daß sie eitel sind” (For he knows the thoughts that I think towards you, Jeremiah 29:11 KJV), and “Er stößet die Gewaltigen vom Stuhl” (he hath put down the mighty from their seats, Luke 1:52, Magnificat).

Bach’s early (1707/08) memorial chorus Cantata BWV 131, “Aus der Tiefen rufe ich, Herr, zu dir” (Out of the depths I cry, Lord, to you), uses penitential Psalm 130. The penitential Psalm 51 paraphrase setting is "Tilge, Höchester, meine Sünden" (Blot out, Highest, My Sins), BWV 1083. Both are appropriate liturgically for the 11th Sunday after Trinity, says Martin Petzoldt in his BACH Commentary, Vol. 1, Trinity Sundays.1 However, since they did not have designated services, Cantata 130 and 1083 manuscripts were not part of the church year cantata cycle estate division among Bach family members in 1750. Motet/Cantata BWV 1083, “Tilge, Höchester, meine Sünden,” a paraphrase of penitential Psalm 51 set to Pergolesi’s Stabat mater, was performed in Leipzig c. 1746-47). Full details are available at BCW, especially at BCML “General Discussions - Part 2 (3rd round),”, scroll down to (June 24, 2012): Introduction to BWV 1083 -- The Dresden Connection?.”

Trinity 11 Introit Psalm, Gospel

The Introit Psalm for the 11th Sunday after Trinity is penitential Psalm 130, de profundis (Out of the depths have I cried to thee, O Lord), says Petzoldt (Ibid.: 249). Petzoldt calls Psalm 130 the “Prayer for the Forgiveness of Sins.” Bach set Psalm 130 as Cantata 131, “Aus der Tiefen rufe ich, Herr, zu dir,” possibly for a Mühlhaüsen memorial service in 1707 and it includes the Ringwaldt chorale, “Herr Jesu Christ, du höchstes Gut” (Lord Jesus Christ, you highest good), which also is the subject of chorale Cantata 113 for Trinity 11 in 1724 (see below, ‘Trinity 11 Penitential Chorales”). Bach also composed chorale Cantata BWV 38, “Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir,” based on Martin Luther’s 1524 de profundis setting, for the 21st Sunday after Trinity 1724. Besides the Bach adaptation of Pergolesi’s Stabat mater, BWV 1083, Bach quoted biblical texts in his cantatas and harmonized chorales based on various penitential psalms (see “Motets and Chorales for the 11th Sunday after Trinity,” BCW

Bach's church music for the 11th Sunday after Trinity is grounded in traditional Lutheran teaching and music, with the dominant theme of repentance as part of the Lutheran concept of the "New Life of Righteousness." It is the last of the six Sundays of this Trinity Time conceptual cycle that began on the 5th Sunday after Trinity, preceded by the initial cycle dealing with "The Kingdom of Grace and the "Call" to enter therein.

The texts and chorales relate to the Sunday Gospel, Luke 18: 9-14, the "Parable of the Pharisee and the Publican," found only in the third Gospel. They show the contrast between the Old Testament law observance of the proud, priestly Pharisee and the Gospel of the humble Publican, a Roman contractor and servant, with his plea of mercy as a sinner as his justification. The parable of the two contrasting men also represents the Middle Trinity Time Gospel pairing of Jesus' parables and miracles, in this case with the Gospel for the subsequent 12th Sunday after Trinity: Mark 7: 31-37, "Miracle of the Deaf Man," the first of Jesus' healing miracles at the beginning of his public ministry. Thus the theme of repentance is couple with healing through reconciliation, restoration, and renewal. Re-enforcing the theme of repentance is the central Christian doctrine of the Resurrection of Christ, found in this Sunday's Epistle, 1 Corinthians 15: 1-10, the Apostle Paul's testimonial of Christ's resurrection.

Penitential Plea: Fundamental Theology

Attention is called to Francis Browne's 10/6, [BachCantatas] "BWV 199 Notes on the text"; BCW, .

"The tax collectors plea, "Gott sei mir Sünder gnädig" [God, be gracious to me, a sinner] is placed in the centre of the text as the turning point where anguish for sin turns to repentance and hope," found in No. 3, Recitative with strings, "Doch Gott muß mir gnädig sein" (But God must be gracious to me). Here is the Lutheran pivot point in many of Bach's Trinity Time cantatas, when the text shifts from the Old Testament Law that condemns to the New Testament Gospel that redeems from the law's condemnation, often with tonal allegory key shifting upwards (anabasis).

This focus on the Gospel's answer to the Law's question is "fundamental to Lutheran Theology" and is one of Bach's "Theo-Musico Hermeneutics," says theologian and scholar Robin A. Leaver in "Motive and Motif in the Church music of JSB."2 "The theological distinction between law and gospel frequently provides the ground plan for a good many of Bach's cantatas." The other three hermeneutics or explanatory devices, says Leaver, involve the Doctrine of the Trinity, the theme of Discipleship, and the use of the chorale melody. "Again and again in Bach's vocal works, he underscores Christological meaning by adding a further musical dimension to the text being set. Frequently he will use a chorale melody to achieve this end," Leaver observers.

The 11th Sunday after Trinity, closes the six-Sunday Trinity Time internal cycle of the "New Life of Righteousness." The previous five Sundays after Trinity had focused on the "New Life of Righteousness" in Jesus, replacing the Old Righteousness of the Law of the Scribes and Pharisees; the "holding out" for a "better righteousness"; adding to it the "gift of God"; warning of the false doctrines and prophets; and exhorting to that new life the necessity of faith, loyalty, fidelity, and stewardship, says Paul Zeller Strodach in The Church Year, United.3

The Reformation began in 1517 when Luther challenged the papal authority for the sale of indulgences for the pardoning of sins as a corruption of penance.4 Part of the sacrament of communion, penance as the office of the keys, is the special authority granted by Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins.

Penitential Cantatas/Chorales Summary

Here are the four Cantatas, BWV 199, BWV 179, BWV 113, and JLB-15 with summaries of their chorales:

1. Cantata BWV 199 "Mein Herze schwimmt im Blut" (My heart swims in blood); performances, August 12, 1714 (C Minor version), 1718-22 (?violin=soprano), and August 8, 1723 (D Minor version). Cantata 199 is a soprano solo cantata with strings, and basso continuo, lasting 26 minutes. It is set to a Georg Christian Lehms 1711 text (Movements Nos. 1-5, 7-8). Movement No. 6 is soprano chorale trio aria, chorale text of Johann Heermann (1630) the 11-stanza penitential and general communion hymn, "Wo soll ich fliehen hin" (Where should I fly from here). It is listed in the Neu Leipziger Gesangbuch (NLGB, 1682) as No. 182, a Buß Lied (Repent Song), and specifically as a communion hymn for the 3rd Sunday after Trinity. The soprano sings Stanza 3, "Ich, dein betrübtes Kind,/ Werf alle meine Sünd" (I, your troubled child, cast all my sins). The associated chorale melody in the Thuringian variant is "Wo soll ich fliehen hin"/"Auf meinen lieben Gott" (In my beloved God, a penitential Confessional Catechism hymn. For further details, see BCW:, Musical Context of Bach Cantatas: Motets & Chorales for 8th Sunday after Trinity].

2. Cantata BWV 179 "Siehe zu, daß deine Gottesfurcht nicht Heuchelei sei" (See that your fear of God is not hypocrisy, Ecclesiates 1:34) was first performed on a double bill with Cantata BWV 199 on August 8, 1723. It is a chorus cantata (2 oboes, 2 oboes da caccia, strings, bc) (19 minutes), possibly set to a Christian Weise Sr. text. The chorale text author is Christoph Tietze (1663), "Ich armer Mensch, ich armer Sünder" (I poor man, I poor sinner). The Gospel reference is Luke 18: 13b, when the Publican says: "God be merciful to me a sinner." This< omnes tempore> seven-stanza general plea for mercy is not found in the< NLGB>. Further details are found in the recent BCW discussions of Chorale Cantata BWV 93 (Trinity 8) and Cantata BWV 88 (Trinity 9). For the text, see BCW: The chorale melody (<omnes tempore>) is Georg Neumark's (1657) "Wer nur den lieben Gott läßt walten" (Who only the loving God lets govern). [See, BCW:, Chorales for the 5th Sunday after Trinity (Cantata BWV 93)].

3. Cantata BWV 113 "Herr Jesu Christ, du höchstes Gut" (Lord Jesus Christ, you highest good), first performed on August 20, 1724 is a chorale cantata using the text and melody of Bartholomäus Ringwaldt; Buß Lied (Repent Song), NLGB No. 181 (general omnes tempore penitential hymn [See, BCW:, Solo Cantata BWV 168, Associated Chorales.]

3a. For the 11th Sunday after Trinity in 1725 (August 12), no performance is documented.

4. On September 1,1726, Bach performed Cantata JLB 15, "Durch sein Erkentniss wird er, mein Knecht" (By his knowledge will my righteous servant, Isaiah 53:11 KJV), to a Rudolstadt text. It has two chorales. Movement No. 7b has the hymn text "Zion klagt mit Angst und Schermez" (Zion mourns with anxiety and pain), NLGB 294, a "Klag und Buß Lied" (Lament & Repent Song). The hymn also was set for the omnes tempore Second Sunday after Epiphany in Cantata BWV 13/3, alto aria, Stanza 2) to the associated melody, "Freu dich sehr o meine Seele (Rejoice greatly, o my soul). The closing chorale, Movement No. 8, is "Wo soll ich fliehen hin"/"Auf meinen lieben Gott"; text (Stanza 10): "Darum allein auf dich,/ Herr Christ, verlaß ich mich" (Therefore on you alone, Lord Christ, I rely). See Cantata BWV 199 above for details.

In addition, for the 11th Sunday after Trinity in 1728 (August 8), the Picander published cycle lists Cantata P-54, "Ich scheue mich, Gerechter Gott" (I shy away, righteous God, not in NLGB) to the Johann Rist chorale "Werde munter mein Gemüte" (Be alert, my soul, harmonized in plain chorales BWV 359-60). It is listed in the NLGB as No. 208, "Morgengesänge (Morning Song), melody to various texts. The cantata text closes with Stanza 6, "Laß mich diese Nacht empfinden/ Eine sanft und süße Ruh" (Let me experience this night/ a sweet and gentle rest. Although Bach did not set this text, it appears that Picander, probably with the blessing of Bach and the Consistory, had the text approved for publication.

In summary, the cantatas Bach presented or considered for the 11th Sunday after Trinity in Leipzig between 1723 and 1728 are a balance between law and gospel, moving toward the affirmative, as are the Trinity Time chorales prescribed for the 11th Sunday after Trinity in Leipzig which Bach did not use in the cantatas he presented on that Sunday. They rely primarily on repentance hymns prescribed in the Dresden hymn schedules for this day, observes Günther Stiller, <JSB and Liturgical Life in Leipzig>: 243f.

Cantata 131, “Aus der Tefen”5

One of Bach’s earliest and most popular sacred works is his c.1708 penitential Cantata BWV 131, “Aus der Tiefen rufe ich, Herr, zu dir” (Out of the depths I cry, Lord, to you). It is based on the eight-verse penitential, Psalm 130 (De profundis), particularly appropriate for Lenten Season. Written in perfect symmetrical form of five movements lasting about 24 minutes, it has three prelude and permutation fugues for tutti ensemble (nos. 1, 3, and 5), with two duets in between using bass and tenor ariosi/arias with alto singing two stanzas of Bartholomäus Ringwaldt’s 1588 penitential hymn, “Herr Jesu Christ, du höchstes Gut” (Lord Jesus Christ, you highest good). The service purpose is still debated among Bach scholars, whether for a special memorial service or liturgically for the 11th Sunday after Trinity. Still, it is one of Bach’s most treasured works and has glimpses in the choruses and chorale duet adaptations found in the two great Matthew and John oratorio Passions as well as mature Leipzig cantatas and motets, much of the latter music of mourning and consolation.

“The Lutheran churches in Saxony, and elsewhere, regularly called for "Buss Tagen," says Robin a Leaver in a personal note published June 17, 2013 (Cantata 131, BCML Discussions Part 6, “It is important to distinguish ‘Busse’ and ‘Beichte,’ The ELCA [Evangelical Lutheran Church in America] ‘service of corporate confession and forgiveness’ is a modern version of ‘Beichte,’ which in Bach's time was individual confession at Saturday Vespers before taking Communion the following day. ‘Buss-Tagen’ were a regular occurrence but were also called on special occasions, such as in response to fire, flood, pestilence, war, or some other disaster. They were church services of prayer and preaching, apparently no set order. For example, the Gothaisches Kirchen-Buch [2nd ed.] (Gotha, 1724) simply gives a long prayer for such occasions - 7 pages long! – ‘Gebet an solnnen Buss-Tagen’."

“BWV 131 is indeed a fascinating-and also difficult piece,” writes Marcus Rathey. “Difficult because we do not know for what occasion it was originally written. The assumption that is was written for a "penitential service" is unfounded. It is based on an a-historical chain of arguments: As you probably know, parts of the city of Mühlhausen were destroyed in a fire in 1707. Charles Sanford Terry assumed in his Bach-biography that the city must have commemorated this event in a penitential service at the day of the anniversary of the fire on May 30, 1708, during which BWV 131 might have been performed. Alfred Dürr, in his book on Bach's cantatas, refutes this assumption and argues that the style of BWV 131 rather points to 1707 than to a later date in 1708.

“I have shown a few years ago in an article in Bach-Jahrbuch (2006)6 that we can rule out the hypothesis of a penitential service in 1708 entirely. In my article, I have published a list that was printed in 1708 and that contains all the penitential services for the year: Good Friday, July 10, Sept. 11, and Nov 30. There is no sign of a penitential service in commemoration of the fire from 1707.

“As for Dürr's thesis, there is no evidence for a special service in 1707 either. We have detailed records from the archives in Mühlhausen (I have done extensive research there myself) and if there had been a special penitential service, there would have been some kind of paper trail. To make a long story short, we don't know for what occasion Bach composed BWV 131. The remark on the title page make unequivocally clear that it was ‘commissioned’ (whatever that means in this context) by Eilmar; everything else is conjecture.

“As for the penitential services in general, they were an integral part of the liturgical calendar in the Lutheran church year. The purpose was to remind the congregation of their sins and to ask God for forgiveness. In fact, until a few years ago, a ‘Day of Repentance and Prayer’ (Buss- und Bettag) was still an official holyday in Germany! The liturgy of these days of repentance revolved around prayers and scripture readings. We don't know exactly what such a service would have looked like in 1707/1708 but we have a general outline from a Mühlhausen source that describes a penitential service in 1641. . . . >>

Penitential Service Order

Douglas Cowling wrote (June 17, 2013): <<It's worth outlining this service, for it shows that is a normal Lutheran Mass [Service of Word and Sacrament] such as would be celebrated in the "closed' penitential season of Lent: Introit: “Komm, Heil'ger Geist”; Litany [replaces Kyrie and Gloria in Advent and Lent]; Collect: chanted Prayer of the Day; Epistle: Psalm 51 [German "Miserere Mei" - penitential psalm] is sung instead of a New Testament reading; Hymn of the Day [Gradual], “Erbarme Ddch” - with two other options; Gospel: Luke 13; [Cantata?]; Hymn before the Sermon: “Allein zu dir”; Sermon; Chancel Offertory Hymn: “Nimm von uns”; [Preface and Sanctus]; [Lord's Prayer]; [Words of Institution]; Hymn during Communion: “Jesus Christus unser Heiland]; [Post-Communion Prayer]; [Blessing]; [Final Hymn].

This mass could have been celebrated on any day of the week that was designated as a Buss-Tag. A cantata such as BWV 131 could easily have been performed after the Gospel. Note that the Psalm 51 was sung (in chant?) instead of the Epistle reading. "Miserere Mei" was one of the Seven Penitential Psalms. BWV 131 is a German adaptation of "De Profundis", another psalm from the set.>>

Postscript: Bach’s earliest, Pre-Weimar Cantatas BWV 21, 103, 131, and 150 are the subject of a Neue Bach Ausgabe New Edition of the Complete Works, by Peter Wollny (Baranreiter BA 5940-01), in preparation. Recent research on Cantata 21, “Ich hatte viel Bekummernis in meinem Herzen” (I have much affliction in my heart, Ps. 9419), suggests that as many as all four of its choruses may have originated in Mühlhausen. Three are based on Psalm passages: no. 6, prelude and fugue, “Was betrübst du dich, meine Seele” (Why are you distressed, my soul, Ps. 41:12); no. 9, chorale chorus, “Sei nun wieder zufrieden, meine Seele, denn der Herr tut dir Guts” (Be satisfied again now, my soul, for the Lord does good to you,” Psalm 116:7 (melody “Wer nur den lieben Gott , läßt Walten”); and no. 11, prelude and fugue, “Das Lamm, das erwürget ist, ist würdig zu nehmen”

(The lamb that was slain is worthy to receive, Rev. 5:12-13). They may have been composed for the annual Town Council installation, February 4, 1709 (BWV Anh. 192), and possibly also for the next year, February 4, 1710.7

“Aus der Tiefen” Commentary

“The wider significance of the chorale and text” of "Aus der tiefe", the "De Profundis " of Psalm 130,” is the subject of Peter Smaill’s Commentary, (January 9, 2005), BCML Cantata 131 Discussion Part 3,, edited). <<It is of special significance to Lutherans, having been sung at Luther's funeral [18 February 1546] and was the last chorale to be sung, we are told, in Strasburg cathedral before it was overrun by the French in 1681.

There are grounds for thinking that the chorale was especially inspiring to Bach. The obvious reference point is [chorale Cantata] BWV 38, the [Martin Luther 1524) paraphrased “Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir," chorale cantata for October 27, 1724 [Trinity 21]. The magnificent Pachelbel-style canonic opening chorus by this date is archaic; while the unusual minim introduction to the schlusschoral is innovative, and harmonically adventurous, the use of the Phyrigian mode in the cadences produces overall a mystical, pietistic effect. To this can be added the Clavierubung BWV 686 and BWV 687, again looking backwards sylistically but to magnificent effect.

The apocryphal St Luke Passion (BWV 246), partly transcribed and first performed by Bach c. 1731, features in relation to this chorale. "Aus der Tiefe" concludes the first part, a significant placing. The curiosity here is that a second version of the setting of the chorale, for a second performance in 1745, became detached and was discovered in Japan; and is featured in the Bach-Jahrbuch of 1971. Quite how did it get to the Far East?

The predominant common thread in Bach's deployment of "Aus der Tiefe" is archaism, which trait recurs throughout his career. One of the pleasures of an interest in Bach is that discoveries do occur in our lifetimes. The Arnstadt / Lowell Mason 38 Chorale preludes and the Kiev Archiv being cases in point. In that instance according to Wolff we have rediscovered Bach's arrangement of his father's cousin Johann Christoph Bach's "Lieber Herr Gott, Wecke uns auf", composed just before Bach's death in 1750, the very last manuscript to bear JSB's handwriting.

That he should have adopted a piece written in 1672, possibly for his own funeral, confirms a reverent attitude to the relationship between older musical forms and illustrious antecedents, the same reason to treat "Aus der tiefe" in a conservative fashion in honour of Luther himself.>>

Cantata 131: Theological, Musical Influences

<< [In Cantata 131] Bach took the original eight Psalm 130 stanzas and spread them over five symmetrical movements and leavened with two pieces of troped commentary chorales: “Erbarm dich mein in solcher Last” (Have mercy on me with such a burden, S.2) and “Und weil ich denn in meinem Sinn, . . . / Aucein betrübter Sünder bin” (Especially since I in my mind . . . / am also a troubled sinner, S.4),” observes John Eliot Gardiner in his Bach musical biography.8 These insertions “closely mirror instructions for confession and repentance by a theologian, Johann Gottfried Olearius (1611-84), author of the five-volume Biblische Erklärung [Biblical Explanation] (1678-81), a copy of which Bach was later to own,” says Gardiner.

Bach also utilizes what has been called “Luther’s penitential exaltation,” says Gardiner (Ibid.: 141f), a “thread running through many psalm settings of German composers” who lived through or experienced the aftermath of the Thirty Years War (1619-49), particularly Heinrich Schütz (1585-1672), who systematically set in German and Latin the Davidian psalms. Gardiner also notes that Bach in his Cantata 131 prelude and fugue choruses has this “penitential exaltation” and “harmonic syntax” of mid 17th century composers such as Grandi, Carissimi, Schütz, and Matthias Weckmann.

Motet Cantata BWV 10839

<< While its purpose remains uncertain, Bach's arrangement of the Giovanni Pergolesi popular <Stabat Mater>, substituting a German text paraphrase of Psalm 51, "Have Mercy on me, O God," occupies a special niche in the Leipzig cantor's well-order church music, particularly in its setting and possible application. Most notable is Bach's compositional method involving a new Italian opera style set to a traditional baroque four-part harmony and using an accessible German text similar in mood for utilization in Lutheran services. Bach' motet composition, "Tilge, Höchester, meine Sünden" (Blot out, Highest, My Sins), BWV 108/BC B-26, constitutes a substantial, manifold realization of his creative motive, method, and opportunity, summarized in his final years, about 1746-47.

Rediscovered at mid-20th century and finally securing acceptance at the beginning of the 21st century, "Tilge, Höchster" in its compositional method has the form of an extended, 14-movement duet cantata with the best elements of old and new musical styles. As a major Bach <omne tempore> work for many occasions, it is an ingenious blend of progressive appealing Pergolesi Neopolitan-opera gallant-style singing with traditional Bachian Baroque four-part string accompaniment set to a poignant but anonymous (? Picander) paraphrase of popular Psalm 51, <Miserere mei, Deus> (Have mercy on me, O God), verses 3-20.

Within the context of his life-long compositional production of a well-ordered church music, "Tilge, Höchster," is a significant summary of Bach's diverse style and practice, and his affinity for music of the past that had a profound influence on him. It serves as a unique composition that raises intriguing questions with possible answers regarding Bach motives and opportunities for creating such a singular work near the end of his life.>>

<<Bach’s Adaptation. Since the Stabat Mater had no place in the Lutheran service, Bach sought out a German sacred text similar in content and form which he then had paraphrased in the manner of a parody or new-text underlay, here called a contrafaction from Latin to vernacular German. Bach's other major contrafaction was a reverse, setting sacred German cantata choruses to texts of the Mass Ordinary in the B Minor Mass as well as the four compositions of the initial Mass Kyrie-Gloria, BWV 233-36. The choice of Psalm 51 for "Tilge, Höchster" was most serendipitous in terms of both poetic text structure and mood as well as Bach's affinity for the biblical text, lines of which he had set to music in various church cantatas.>>

BWV 1083 Possible Usages

Adapting Pergolesi's <Stabat Mater>, Bach's motive and opportunity are intertwined and manifold. In the Lutheran Main Service liturgy, the Psalms follow the opening Introit. "Although the text of Psalm 51 was used during Lent, Bach's work could not have been performed at that time because only <a cappella> music was then permitted at the Thomaskirche in Leipzig. Nowadays, therefore, we can only speculate as to the occasion on which the work was heard. Bearing in mind the gospel texts, the most plausible times are the eleventh Sunday after Trinity (Luke 18, 9-14, `God be merciful to me a sinner'),10 the nineteenth Sunday after Trinity (Matthew 9, 1-8, `Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee') and the seventh Sunday before Easter, Quinquagesima (Luke 18, 31-43, `Jesus, thou Son of David, have mercy on me'). It is also possible that the work was performed during Communion," says Jean-Pascal Vachon 2008, BCW Recordings No. 14 Liner Notes, Kirkby-Taylor BIS recording. Another possible use of Bach's adaptation could have been in the Lutheran household to accompany devotional study books increasingly popular in Leipzig in Bach's later years, although not considered traditional "church music."

There is one exception for music during Lent, at the Good Friday Vesper Service when the annual Passion music was performed, followed by a (normally) Latin motet, with possibly a Psalm or Isaiah reading before the sermon between the two parts of the Passion. It is known that Bach departed from the special Good Friday Vesper tradition established in 1721 in Leipzig with the presentation of an annual liturgical Oratorio passion. In 1734, he presented Stözel's Passion oratorio, "Ein Lämmlein geht und trät die Schuld," and in the later 1740s he presented pasticcio Passions set to the music of Handel-Keiser, and C. H. Graun, etc. It is possible that Bach may have used the Pergolesi music set to a German paraphrase of Psalm 51 as either a musical Psalm setting before the sermon or a motet after the Passion presentation at Good Friday Vespers.

Another opportunity for a performance of "Tilge, Höchster," could have come during <omne tempore> Trinity Time Sunday services when two chorale settings of Psalm 51, according to <Das Neu Leipziger Gesangbuch> (NLGB) of 1682, were authorized as Communion and Pulpit hymns. They are:

1. "Erbarm dich mein, O Herre Gott" (Be merciful to me, O Lord God), Erhart Hegenwalt 1524, 5 stanzas, melody Johann Walter Gesangbuch 1521 (NLGB No. 256 for use with the Third, 11th, 13th, 14th and 22nd Sundays after Trinity), setting of Psalm 51, Prayer for Forgiveness (penitence). Bach's uses: plain chorale in BWV 305 in E Major, and miscellaneous organ chorale prelude in F-Sharp Minor, BWV 721, a composite c.1700 by others; and it was listed in the Orgelbüchelin (Little Organ Book) chorale preludes for <omne tempore> Catechism (No. 68, Confession) but not set.
2. "O Herre Gott begnade mich" (O Lord God, pardon me), NLGB No. 257, Tr.+8, 11+, 13+, 19+, is the Bishop Coverdale setting of Psalm 51 (Prayer for Forgiveness) 5 stanzas; psalm tune, Matthias Greitter 1525 (Calvin published in 1539). No Bach use is extant. Greitter, BCW Short Biography:

Provenance, Purpose

Fortunately, Bach's son-in-law, Johann Christoph Altnikol had copied the parts and the set as well as the original short-score found in the Bach estate division of 1750. Altnikol also had worked with Bach in his final years to produce the Passion pasticcios and other sacred vocal music. Emmanuel, Bach's second-oldest son, and Altnikol in 1751 co-authored Sebastian's Obituary. It appears that Bach himself had kept the Psalm 51 setting apart from the manuscripts of his other church works, primarily the three church-year cantata cycles, the original Passion and oratorio music, and the Latin church music adaptations of the Mass and Magnificat.

While Bach may have found considerable use for his Psalm 51 setting in Lutheran services is his later years, his primary motive may have been to set a popular new-style work to traditional accompaniment. This arrangement is an accessible, reverse-contrafaction text from Latin to German that was not necessarily an improvement as much as a special treatment and utilization of popular music set to an important Psalm text.

As he approached the end of his life, Bach seems to have felt a special identification with Catholic Latin music and a desire to many facets of the old and new styles which he had mastered. Further, the Psalm 51 text represents his core spiritual beliefs based on a lifetime of composing, learning and personal experiences. While he resolutely moved to complete his last great testament, the B-Minor Mass for his earthly Catholic monarch, Bach may have relished a particular composer's holiday as he created a unique composition that summarizes his mastery of music and his resolute belief in God. Ending with his motto, "Soli Deo gloria," this music is the synthesis of a mother's personal grief with the Christian's personal appeal for mercy, filling another vital niche in Bach's calling of a "well-order church music to the glory of God."


1 Martin Petzoldt, Bach Kommentar: Die geistlichen Kantaten des 1. Bis 27. Trinitas-Sontagges, Vol. 1; Theologisch Musikwissenschaftlicke Kommentierung der Geistlichen Vokalwerke Johann Sebastan Bachs, Internationale Bachakademie Stuttgart (Kassel: Bärenreiter, 2004: Commentary, 249; Cantata 131 256-63, and "Tilge, Höchester,” BWV 1083, 290-302).
2 Robin A. Leaver in Bach essays, ed. Yo Tomita, (Burlington VT: Ashgate, 2011: 120ff).
3 Paul Zeller Strodach in The Church Year (Philadelphia PA: Lutheran Publication House, 1924: 211).
4 Cited in Franck C. Senn, Lutheran Identity: A Classical Understanding (Minneapolis MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2008: 14).
5 Source material is Cantata 131 BCML Discussions, March 6, 2016 (4th round),
6 Marcus Rathey, “Lucia Haselböck, Bach Textlexikon, ein Wörterbuch der religiösen Sprachbilder im Vokalwerk von Johann Sebastian Bach” (Revision), Bach-Jahrbuch 92 (2006): 315-318.
7 The Mühlhausen Town Council services in 1709 and 1710 are established in Christoph Wolff, New Bach Reader: A Life of Johann Sebastian Bach in Letters and Documents; New York: Norton & Company, 1998, p. 54 note).
8 John Eliot Gardiner, BACH: Music in the Castle of Heaven (New York: Alfred A, Knopf, 2013:140ff).
9 Source material, Motet Cantata BWV 1083, BCML Discussions Part 2 (June 24, 2012),
10 Suggested by Diethard Hellmann (1928-99), editor, BWV 1083, first publication 1963: Hänssler Verlag, Stuttgart Bach Editions, Cantatas No. 151; includes forward, revision study, printed text and four facsimile reproductions.


TO COME: Highlights of penitential Cantatas 199, 179, 113, Bach’s extensive use of Psalm 51 verses in his cantatas, as well as Bach’s settings of penitential chorales, including major uses in services.


Trinity 11 Penitential Cantatas, Chorales, Doctrine, Part 2

William Hoffman wrote (August 8, 2016):
Patterns of consistency in cantata topics and format dominated Bach’s musical sermons for the first third of omnes tempore (Ordinary Time) Trinity Sundays in the second half of the church year in all three service cycles Bach composed in Leipzig. Dominant was the Lutheran theological concept of penitence as found in the liturgical Old Testament penitential psalms and New Testament Catechism Confession teachings.

Penitential hymns were the most prescribed for Trinity Time in the NLGB, focusing on early and late Ordinary Time. Three penitential hymns Bach set are listed as Confession or Repentance hymns under designated Catechism hymns at the end of that section of the NLGB (Nos. 178-180), just before Bußlied or Repentance songs: “Allein zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ,” Auf tieffer Not laßt uns zu Gott (Psalm 130, Bohemian Brothers); and “Ach Gott und Herr, wie groß und schwer sind mein begangne Sünden!” (Ah, my Lord and God, how great and heavy are the sins I have committed!). Also, certain penitential hymns are listed as related communion hymns in various hymnbooks: “Nun lob’, mein’ Seel’, den Herren” (Now praise, my soul, the Lord, Psalm 103, NLGB 261; Wo soll ich fliehen hin (Where shall I flee, NLGB 182, Repentance), and “An Wasserflußen Babylon” (By the Waters of Babylon), Psalm 138, NLGB 271.

Thematically listed in Das Neu Leipziger Gesangbuch (NLGB) of 1682, for the 11th Sunday after Trinity are four penitential chorales prescribed for previous Trinity Time Sundays, as well as repeat appearances of two Trinity Time Lutheran Catechism chorales. The two are Martin Luther’s 1524 hymn setting of Psalm 130, the de profundis, "Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir" (Out of the depths I cry to thee), and the 1542 setting of the Lord's Prayer, "Vater unser im Himmelreich" (Our Father in the heavenly kingdom). The latter prayer includes the ecumenical petition, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us” and the closing petition, “but deliver us from evil.” The two prevalent categories Catechism Confession (Nos. 177-189) and the seven penitential Psalms (6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, and 143) found in Christian Life and Conduct: Psalms (Nos. 241-274). All six NLGB penitential hymns also were prescribed for later Trinity Time, especially the 22nd Sunday after Trinity. Bach set three of these as Trinity Time chorale Cantatas BWV 33, 9 and 38; the six hymns are:

1. "Erbarm dich mein, o Herre Gott," Psalm 51 (Have mercy on me, O God, Prayer for Forgiveness), NLGB 256, (Tr. 3, 13, 14, 22).
2. "O Herre Gott begnade mich" (O Lord God, pardon me), Psalm 51 paraphrase meditation, NLGB 257 (Tr, 13, 19, 22).
3. "Allein zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ (Alone with Thee, Lord Jesus Christ), Catechism-Confession), NLGB 178 (Tr. 3, Tr. 22, Tr. 24), Bach set as chorale Cantata BWV 33 for Trinity 13 (for Bach's uses of these chorales, see BCW:
4. "Es ist das Heil uns kommen her" (It is the salvation that comes to us); omnes tempore proclamation, NLGB p. 230 (no hymn number) (Eph. 4, Setuagesima; Tr. 6, 13, 18), Bach set c.1732-35 as chorale Cantata BWV 9 (for Bach’s uses, see BCW:
5. "Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir" (Psalm 130) (Tr. 1, 19, 21), NLGB No. 270, Bach set as chorale Cantata 38 for Trinity 21 and also set as organ chorale preludes BWV 686 Clavierübung (Catechism), and BWV 1099 (Neumeister).
6. "Vater unser im Himmelreich" (Tr. 7, 15, 25), NLGB No. 175 Catechism Confession (see BCW,, “Luther's Lord's Prayer”).

Penitential Psalm 51, Miserere mei, Deus

Psalm 51, Miserere mei, Deus (Erbarm dich mein, O Herre Gott; Have mercy upon me, O God, KJV) is the most dominant and often used in Bach’s cantatas. References to various verses are found in 10 works (BWV 25, 68, 78, 85, 97, 104, 112, 132, 194, 199) English Text (KJV) & Bach Cantata References):

1. Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy loving-kindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. ["tender mercies" or "goodness" of the Lord, Misericordias Domini (Second Sunday after Easter, Shepherd Cantatas 85, 104, 112]
2. Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.
3. For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me. [Cantata 97/5, wedding]
4. Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest. (Rom. 3.4) [Cantata 132/4, Advent 4]
5. Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.
6. Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom.
7. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. [Cantata 78/1, Trinity 14]
8. Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice.
9. Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities.
10. Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.
11. Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy HolySpirit from me.
12. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free Spirit. [Cantata 25/4, Trinity 14]
13. Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee. [Cantata 194/11, Trinity]
14. Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation: and my tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness.
15. O Lord, open thou my lips; and my mouth shall show forth thy praise. [Cantata 68/4, Pentecost Tuesday]
16. For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering.
17. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.
18. Do good in thy good pleasure unto Zion: build thou the walls of Jerusalem. [Cantata 199/3, Trinity 11]
19. Then shalt thou be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness with burnt offering and whole burnt offering: then shall they offer bullocks upon thine altar. (Source:

Cantata Cycles, Penitential Themes

Because of the importance of the biblical and hymn texts, Bach during Trinity Time observed and exploited the tradition of chorus dicta recitation found in German sacred concertos dating to Heinrich Schütz. In the first cycle Bach was able to compose seven consecutive chorus cantatas from the eighth to the 14th Sundays after Trinity with BWV 136, 105, 146, 179, 69a, 77, and 24. Thematically, in “these and many other cantatas for the Trinity season the believer is concerned with God’s judgment, which can be escaped by clinging to God’s word (186), by faith and purification through Jesus’ [sacrificial] blood (136), by Jesus’ meditation (105, 46), acknowledgment of sin (179), love of one’s neighbor (77), and Jesus’ mercy (25), says Eric Chafe in “Bach and Hypocrisy: Truth and Appearance in Cantatas 136 and 179.”1 In company with the believer’s acknowledgment of sin, prayer for God’s mercy is the principal route. In such a context hypocrisy is one of the greatest stumbling blocks, since in leading the believer to cover up the truth concerning his sinful nature, it deflects him away” from salvation. The solution is the Act of Contrition or Holy Absolution, traditionally expressed in the Lutheran churches through corporate or collective confession in the main service after the pastor’s sermon or in the preceding Saturday confessional service, which leads to the distribution of the sacrament of Holy Communion.

For the second cantata cycle at Trinity Time 1724, Bach chose popular chorale texts grounded in the Lutheran confessional tradition established in the 1530 Augsburg Confession of faith and the Catechisms centered on fundamental teachings. The cycle commemorated Luther’s initial publication of chorales in hymnbook collections in 1524. Of the 52 chorale cantatas, 17 chorales are from the original Reformation period (11 texts by Luther), using 25 Reformation melodies. The next largest number are the most recent, established personal chorales from the period of 1651-1697) involving personal, topical and thematic interests. The most common are related to the pulpit (word) and communion. Again, Bach produced a succession of original chorus-drive works for each Sunday and feast day.

For the third cycle, Bach took Trinity Time 1725 to find published texts while pursing other musical interests involving instrumental works. His favored musical sermon form again was the opening chorus involving biblical dicum and closing chorale with alternating recitatives and arias. The 1704 Rudostadt texts also enabled Bach to compose two-part cantatas, usually shorter than those produced two years before (BWV 21, 22-23, 75, 76, 147, 186, 194, and 70), with the second part beginning with a related quote from the New Testament appropriate for that service.

In 1726 Bach performed 18 Rudolstadt-texted cantatas by his cousin Johann Ludwig, beginning with the Marien Purification Feast on February 2 (JLB-9) until the feast of the Ascension when he composed an original work, Cantata 43, to a Rudolstadt text. Instead of composing new works each week, Bach paced himself, reperforming old works for the Pentecost Festival and then usually alternating Ludwig Bach cantatas with his own new Rudolstadt church pieces (seven in all), before composing mostly solo works in later Trinity Time.

Trinity 11 Performance Calendar

Bach’s Trinity Time compositions in the first three cycles culminated at the penitential 11th Sunday after Trinity where he systematically but selectively produced three appropriate Cantatas BWV 199, 179, and 113 as well as two works of Ludwig Bach and Gottfried Heinrich Stölzel. Bach also had available early Cantata 131 (Psalm 130), and arranged Pergolesi’s Stabat mater as a German contrafaction setting of penitential Psalm 51, BWV 1083, in the mid-1740s. Bach’s Trinity 11 Leipzig performance calendar was:

1707-09-04 So or 1708-08-19 So - ?Cantata BWV 131, “Aus der Tiefen rufe ich” (lst performance, Mühlhausen)
1714-08-12 So - Cantata BWV 199 Mein Herze schwimmt im Blut (1st performance, Weimar) (possibly 1713)
1723-08-08 So - Cantata BWV 179 Siehe zu, daß deine Gottesfurcht nicht Heuchelei sei (1st performance, Leipzig) + Cantata BWV 199 Mein Herze schwimmt im Blut (3rd performance, Leipzig)
1724-08-20 So - Cantata BWV 113 Herr Jesu Christ, du höchstes Gut (1st performance, Leipzig)
1725-08-12 So – no performance documented
1726-09-01 So - J.L. Bach: Cantata Durch sein Erkenntnis wird er, mein Knecht, JLB-15 (1st performance, Leipzig)
1728-08-08 So – Picander cycle text only, P-54, "Ich scheue mich, Gerechter Gott," chorale "Werde munter mein Gemüte"
1735-08-21 So 11.So.n.Trin. - G.H. Stölzel: Der Herr weiß die Gedanken der Menschen, daß sie eitel sind, Mus A 15:279 + Er stößet die Gewaltigen vom Stuhl, Mus A 15:280

Vocal works with no definite date
(1718-1722) - Cantata BWV 199 Mein Herze schwimmt im Blut (1st performance, Köthen)
c1746/47 So - Motet/Cantata BWV 1083, “Tilge, Höchester, meine Sünden" (?1st performance, Leipzig).

Also available for the 11th Sunday after Trinity was Bach’s arrangement of Francesco Bartolomeo Conti's Lenten soprano cantata, “Languet anima mea amore tu” (My soul languishes for love of you), BWV deest I 006. At least three Bach performances are possible: 1st performance - Weimar 1716; 2nd performance - Köthen 1718-1722 (during Holy Week); J.S. Bach added 2 oboes; 3rd performance: - Leipzig 1724; J..S. Bach added basso continuo organ part for church service (see BCW Details & Discography,

Cantata 199, “Mein Herze schwimmt im Blut” 2

Composed and presented in 1713 or 1714 in Weimar for the penitential 11th Sunday after Trinity, Bach’s Cantata BWV 199, “Mein Herze schwimmt im Blut” (My heart swims in blood), represents his first known solo church service piece, for soprano and pastoral oboe. It was repeated in Cöthen c.1721 and the soprano part was sung by Anna Magdalena Bach, says Christoph Wolff (personal communication).

In its “richness of invention of the youthful composer,” it constitutes a “perfect chamber cantata” in the new Italian style, says Julian Mincham’s BCW 2012 Introduction,

One of Bach’s first musical sermons for the church year, Cantata 199 includes a quote from the day’s Gospel parable and embraces the Johann Heerman penitential-communion hymn melody, “Wo soll lich fliehen hin.” Its poetic, alternating four da-capo arias and four recitatives based on a text of Georg Christian Lehms describe a “complex psychological interchange” in which the individual believer progresses from distressed sinner to repentance, confession, comfort, reconciliation, and redemption, says Calvin R. Stapert in My Only Comfort: Death, Deliverance and Discipleship in the Music of Bach.3 “This comfort comes in reflecting upon Christ’s Death on the Cross,” the so-called “Toddesstünde” (death-). It embraces various facets of humility, penitence and ultimate justification found in the texts of the four cantatas Bach presented in Leipzig (BWV 199, 179, and 113, and JLB 15) on the same Sunday.

“The mix of ‘disquieting phrases” in the Lehms text, the initial emphasis on penitence, the tonal wavering in the first half of the work, the special placement and treatment of the chorale, and the spare use of instruments to emphasize intimacy gives this unique work a special, arresting character, says Stapert. Calvin R. Stapert in My Only Comfort: Death, Deliverance and Discipleship in the Music of Bach.FN Further, “This wavering among a wide range of emotional states reflects the stages leading from sin and humility to recognition with comfort and, ultimately, redemption, in this spiritual allegory of suffering as passion,” says Eric Chafe in Tonal Allegory in the Vocal Music of J. S, Bach.4

The Cantata 199 Lehms text deals with sin and repentance, guilt and reconciliation in general terms which allowed Bach to use the cantata on various occasions. It is tenuously connected with the gospel for the 11th Sunday after Trinity, the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18: 9-14). The tax collector's plea, "Gott sei mir Sünder gnädig" is placed in the centre of the text as the turning point where anguish for sin turns to repentance and hope. The process from penitence to joy, figuratively from tears to wine, is typical both of Lutheran sermons and Bach’s musical sermons.

Cantata 179, “Siehe zu, daß deine Gottesfurcht”5

Cantata 179 "Siehe zu, daß deine Gottesfurcht nicht Heuchelei sei" (See that your fear of God is not hypocrisy, Ecclesiates 1:34), was premiered on August 8, 1723, on a double bill with Cantata 199 at the early main service of the Leipzig Nikolaikirche, says Richard Petzoldt in BACH Kommentar, Vol. 1, Trinity Sundays.6 Cantata 179 was presented before the sermon and Cantata 199 during Communion, he says. It was the fourth in a series of seven new chorus cantatas set to a biblical dicta, the dominant form of musical sermon in the first church year cycle.

The essential penitential/judgment theme for these early-middle Trinity Time Sundays motivated Bach to create choruses and arias which he found appropriate to recycle as contrafactions in his settings of the Kyrie-Gloria Masses, MBV 232-236 in the 1730s. Contrafaction is found in the following from Cantata 179, chorus (no. 1) “Siehe zu” became the Kyrie eleison (Lord, have mercy, no. 1) of the Mass No. 4 in G Major, BWV 436; the tenor aria (no. 3), “Falscher Heuchler Ebenbild / Können Sodomsäpfel heißen” (The appearance of false hypocrites / can be called Sodom’s apples) became the “Quoniam tu solus sanctus” (For Thou only art holy, no. 5) in same Mass; and the Cantata 179 soprano aria (no. 5), “Liebster Gott, erbarme dich” (Dearest God, be merciful), became the “Qui tollis pecca mundi” (Thou that takes away the sins of the world), no. 4, in the Mass No. 2 in A, BWV 234.

Textually and theologically, the theme of hypocrisy is repeated from Cantata 136, “Erforsche mich, Gott, und erfahre mein Herz” (Search me, God, and know my heart, Psalm 139:23), for the Eighth Sunday After Trinity, observes Eric Chafe in “Bach and Hypocrisy” (Ibid.: 121ff). In both Cantatas 136 and 179, the theme of hypocrisy “serves as a springboard to the more fundamental and positive themes of faith and acknowledgment of sin” with a “prayer for God’s mercy,” says Chafe. Later, the Cantata 136 opening chorus was used as the closing Gloria chorus in the A Major Mass, “In Gloria Dei patris (In the glory of the God the Father.”

Cantata 179 opening motet chorus establishes the theme of hypocrisy with a quote from Ecclesiates 1:34. The “musical theme is clearly related to the text” and the rest of Cantata 179 deals with the day’s Gospel, says Walter Blankenburg in the Karl Richter recording liner notes.7 This week’s Lectionary (Trinity 11/Pentecost 12) deals with the themes of hypocrisy (vanity and greed) as opposed to sharing, with the alternate Old Testament reading from Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23 (Vanity), along with the alternate Psalm 49:1-12 (Foolishness in Riches); Epistle, Colossians 3:1-11 (Old Life & New Life); and Gospel Luke 12:13-21 (Rich Fool Parable).

“In the two recitatives and arias which follow,” says Blankenburg, “the story of the Pharisee and the Publican is handled in such a way that the Pharisaical spirit is vividly present and then contrasted with the publican’s humility which, in the second recitative, is set before the listener as a model for the Christian. The Publican’s prayer appears in the second aria and is echoed in the final chorale-verse, ‘Ich armer Mensch’…. Especially noteworthy from the musical point of view among the solo pieces is the second aria, ‘Liebster Gott, erbarme dich,’ which summarizes with great expressiveness the spirit of the Publican’s prayer.”

The tenor aria (no. 3), “Falscher Heuchler Ebenbild / Können Sodomsäpfel heißen” (The appearance of false hypocrites / can be called Sodom’s apples), in its later version in the “Short Mass” in A, BWV 234 shows Bach’s rare use of non-continuo writing. For the previous Sunday, Cantata 46 has an alto aria (no. 5) in the so-called “bassetto” texture, “Doch Jesus will auch bei” The soprano aria (no. 5), “Liebster Gott, erbarme dich” (Dearest God, be merciful), is reminiscent of the love aria, “Aus Liebe will mein Heiland sterben,” also with “bass-less” technique, found in the 1727 St. Matthew Passion. The theme of having mercy is explored in Chafe’s article, “Bach and Hypocrisy” (Ibid.).

Cantata 113, Herr Jesu Christ, du höchstes Gut

Chorale Cantata BWV 113, Herr Jesu Christ, du höchstes Gut (Lord Jesus Christ, you highest good), for the 11th Sunday after Trinity, August 20, 1724, is one of Bach’s longest cantatas at almost half an hour, because of a series of six internal arias and recitative-chorales. This is due to the extended use of both four unaltered verses of the Bartholomäus Ringwaldt 1588 penitential hymn and four paraphrases in contemporary pietist language around a hymn which relates directly to the Gospel Parable of the Pharisee and the Publican (Luke 18:9-14).

“The hymn itself is somewhat in the nature of a sermon on the phrase ‘God be merciful to me a sinner’ from the Gospel reading for the day, ” says Malcolm Boyd in Oxford Composer Companions: J. S. Bach.8

Based on the day’s Gospel, Luke 18:9-14, the Parable of the Pharisee and the Publican, Cantata 113 paraphrases the words spoken by the publican, “Gott sei mir Sünder gnädig” [“God be merciful to me a sinner”], says Thomas Braatz in his commentary, BCW<< In verses 5 and 6 the text is treated most freely. . . . Ringwaldt’s chorale text simply asks for forgiveness, whereas the cantata text claims this forgiveness for any penitent Christian. In doing this, the cantata text becomes more like a sermon. Not only are the “bußfertige Zöllner” [“the penitent publican”] and his statement, “Gott sei mir gnädig” [“God be merciful to me a sinner”] mentioned, but a number of Bible passages are quoted in order to prove that a sinner has a right to hope for Jesus’ mercy: Luke 15:2, “Jesus nimmt die Sünder an” (Mvt. 5) and „Der Heiland nimmt die Sünder an“ (mvt. 6) [“Jesus/the Savior accepts the sinners“]; Matthew 9:2; Luke 7:48 “Dein Sünd ist dir vergeben“ (Mvt. 5) [“Your sins are forgiven“].”

Doctrine & Musical Treatment. Of special interest is Peter Smaill’s Introduction to Discussions Part 2 in the Week of August 6, 2006 (BCML,<< The Cantata for the 11th Sunday after Trinity is a gloss on the parable of the Pharisee and the publican, the passage in Luke read for the day, thus emphasising contrition as the route to the forgiveness through Jesus. For the opening chorus Bach adopts the technique of a homophonic choral setting of the Ringwaldt hymn-tune, creating scope for the prominent flowing orchestral background to colour the referento “Brunquell,” the “wellspring of all grace”, by which means Bach alleviates the penitential nature of the chorale in favour of a wistful atmosphere.

The doctrinal emphasis of BWV 101 continues in the exposition of the atonement in the Alto chorale verse BWV 113/2, and throughout the Cantata the tension is maintained between the brooding reflection of the Christian on sin, and an altogether jollier and rhythmic use of strings and woodwind to counteract with the joy of reconciliation.

The image of Christ as Fount of Mercy recurs in the tenor recitative BWV 113/6; “Quelle” and “Brunquell” being a group of images which (per Lucia Haselbock in her "Bach Textlexikon") occurs at least nine times in the Cantatas. It may well thus be the keyword for this Cantata and part of the justification for the musical lightening of the otherwise daunting text and downbeat chorale. In this tension, between the sensual fluidity of the instrumental and vocal lines with the dry constructs of the text, lies the quiet charm of the work.>>

Luther’s First Catechism Hymn9

Luther’s initial setting of Psalm 130, is not only his first catechism hymn but also one of the first he wrote in 1523, says Robin A. Leaver in Luther’s Liturgical Music.10 With the purposes of encouraging congregational singing and the Word of God set to music, the Psalm version set the Luther text to the existing hymn melodies, as with other early settings, either “Es ist das Heil” or “Ach Gott vom Himmel.” With the initial acceptance of the Psalm hymn, Luther in 1524 “recreated his earlier metrical psalm into a Gospel hymn,” observes Leaver (Ibid.: 147f). As a Reformation hymn, it begins like the first of the 95 Theses, “with the meaning of repentance,” then “deals with the tension and distinction between Law and Gospel, the essence of the doctrine of justification, by effectively expounding the meaning of the Reformation principles of sola gratia, sola fide and sola scriptura (grace alone, faith alone, word alone). The “striking Phrygian melody [Zahn 4437, EKG 195] almost certainly composed by Luther, beginning as it does with a musical hermeneutic,” “is given sonic (and visual) expression in the fall and rise of a fifth.” In 1525 Wolfgang Dachstein and Matthias Greiter set another, simpler melody to Luther’s text (Zahn 4438, EKG 195) in the “distinctive Straßburg tradition of congregational singing,” says Leaver (Ibid.: 28).

“The hymn has had wide usage in the history of Lutheran worship,” says Leaver (Ibid.: 149). It initially was used most as a burial, catechism and psalm hymn, and as an introit at the beginning of worship. About 1537, for liturgical use, it was designated as a Gradual hymn, sung between the Epistle and Gospel, for the 22nd Sunday after Trinity.” More history on Luther’s hymn is found at BCW, “Chorale Melodies used in Bach's Vocal Works,”

Cantata 38: De profundis

Familiar chorales assume a major role in the 21st Sunday after Trinity, particularly in chorale Cantata BWV 38. The four designated penitential chorales for this Sunday in Bach's favorite hymnbook, used extensively throughout <omne tempore> Epiphany and Trinity Times, also are given important places in Bach's cantatas. Most significant is Martin Luther's 1524 austere, penitential paraphrase of David Psalm 130, <De profundis>, "Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir" (From deep affliction I cry out to you), found in the <Neu Leipziger Gesangbuch> (NLGB) of 1682 as No. 270 with five stanzas (see Francis Browne BCW English translation, Bach set the de profundis as Cantata 131 while the other three designated chorales and his chorale cantata settings are “Ich ruf zu dir, Herr jesu Christ” (BWV 177, Trinity 8), “Herr Christ, der einig Gottes Sohn” (BWV 96, Trinity 18; NLGB 231, Justification), and “Allein zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ” (BWV 33, Trinity 13).

Bach set "Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir" melodies as organ chorale preludes BWV 686-87 in E Major and F# Minor, <Clavierübung III> (Catechism chorale prelude collection) 1737 (Luther 1524 melody), and BWV 1099 (Neumeister Collection, c.1700; Wolfgang Dachstein 1525 melody). The title is listed in the Weimar <Orgelbüchlein> (Little Organ Book) as an <omne tempore> Catechism chorale, No. 67, "Confession, Penitence, and Justification," but not set.

The treatment of the Cantata 38 opening movement chorale motet is similar to Bach's later treatment in the <Clavierübung III>, observers Alfred Dürr (<Cantatas of JSB>: 603). It retains the <stile antico> motet style but not the varied character of each line-section text setting differentiation.

The hymn, "Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir," was assigned to the 21st Sunday after Trinity "in all the older Leipzig hymnbooks," says Günther Stiller in JSB & Liturgical Life in Leipzig.11 In Bach's< NLGB> it also was designated for the 11th, 19th and 22nd Sundays after Trinity as well as the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany. It also was sung at Catechism and funeral services, including Luther's in 1546. It is still found in many hymnals, often for funerals, translated as "Out of the depths I cry to Thee," by Catherine Winkworth.


1 Eric Chafe, in The Century of Bach and Mozart: Perspectives in Historiography, Composition, Theory and Performance, ed. Sean Gallagher& Thomas Forrest Kelly (essays for Christoph Wolff festschrift; Cambridge MA: Harvard Univ. Press: 2008: 123).
2 Materials source is the BCML Cantata 199 Discussions 4th Round (January 26, 2014),
3 Calvin Stapert, My Only Comfort: Death, Deliverance and Discipleship in the Music of Bach (Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 2000: 65-73), from “BWV 199: Two Musico-Theological Commentaries,” November 12, 2011, cited in BCW Discussions Round 3 (Part 4), Week of November 6, 2011, This discussion also includes Francis Browne’s extensive “Notes on the Text,” also found at the end of his translation of Cantata 199 (Ibid.).
4 Eric Chafe, Tonal Allegory in the Vocal Music of J. S, Bach (University of California Press, Berkeley, 1991: 141f).
5 Material source in BCML Cantata 179 4th Round Discussion (August 16, 2015),
6 Petzoldt, Bach Kommentar: Die geistlichen Kantaten des 1. Bis 27. Trinitas-Sontagges, Vol. 1; Theologisch Musikwissenschaftlicke Kommentierung der Geistlichen Vokalwerke Johann Sebastan Bachs, Internationale Bachakademie Stuttgart (Kassel: Bärenreiter, 2004: Trinity 11 Commentary 249-55; Cantata 179 text, 272f, Commentary, 273-78.
7 Walter Blankenburg, “Bach’s Cantatas for the Middle Sundays after Trinity” (trans. Martin Cooper), BCW Recording details, .
8 In Oxford Composer Companions: J. S. Bach, ed. Malcolm Boyd (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995: 217f).
9 Source material, BCML Cantata 38 Discussions Part 4 (September 29, 2014),
10 Robin A. Leaver, Luther’s Liturgical Music: Principles& Implications, Chapter 9, “Aus tiefer Not schrei' ich zu dir” (William B. Eerdmans Publishing, Grand Rapids MI: 144).
11 Günther Stiller, in Johann Sebastian Bach & Liturgical Life in Leipzig (St. Louis Mo.: Concordia Publishing, 1985: 248).


Trinity 11: Penitential Psalms & Reformation Music

William Hoffman wrote (August 9, 2016):
The tradition of setting to music psalms, with their innate sense of music, particularly psalms with a penitential theme, gained greater impetus with the Protestant Reformation and its emphases both on the biblical text or word of God as well as on congregational singin the vernacular. While Catholic composers created psalm settings for the vespers service, the major impetus began with the late Renaissance Franco-Flemish master, Josquin de Prez (c.1450/55-1521). Place, temperament, and genius placed Josquin on the edge of the Reformation and his polyphonic motet settings of two penitential Psalms, 51, Misereri mei, and Psalm 130, de profundis, were famous and greatly influenced subsequent settings of Penitential Psalms.

Martin Luther greatly admired Josquin, saying: "He is the master of the notes. They must do as he wills; as for the other composers, they have to do as the notes will" ( HOASM: Josquin Des Pres). As Luther advanced the Reformation, settings of Penitential and related Psalms became paramount as he adapted cantus firmus and chant settings into German, preserving as much as possible the original music and text. The most popular Psalms, musically and doctrinally, were the Misereri mei, and de profundis.

The best-known and one of the earliest musical settings of the Penitenital Psalms is Orlande de Lassus, Psalmi Davidis poenitentiales, published in 1584 in Munich. Heinrich Schütz (1585-1672) set the psalms in German, beginning with the Psalmen Davids sampt etlichen Moteten und Concerten (Op. 2, Dresden, 1619), usually using Martin Luther’s translations. The settings may have been composed two years earlier for the centennial of the Protestant Reformation in 1517. The Reformation Jubilee, was celebrated from October 31 to November 2, 1617, with a Mass at the Dresden Court, where in 1719 Schütz was appointed Hofkapellmeister ( Also participating in the Mass was Michael Praetorius (1571-1621). Schütz and Praetorius provided much of the music (see Musica Ficta,, Schütz Praetorius Reformationsmesse Dresden 1617 Musica Fiata

The Jubilee German Mass settings of Praetorius and Schütz included well-known chorales such as “Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott” (A mighty fortress is our God, Psalm 46) and “Ach Gott, vom Himmel sieh' darein / Und lass' dich des erbarmen” (Ah God, look down from heaven / and still have mercy on us, Psalm 12). Others with a penitential emphasis were “Nun lob, mein Seel, den Herren” (Now praise, my soul, the Lord, Psalm103), and “Nicht uns, Herr, nicht uns, sondern deinem Namen gib Ehre um deine Gnade und Wahrheit” (Not unto us, O LORD, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory, for thy mercy, and for thy truth's sake (KJV), Psalm 115).

Schütz’s setting of Psalm 115, “Nicht uns, Herr,” SWV 43 is a 12-voice sacred motet, SSAT.SATB.ATTB; 3 cornetti, 3 trombones, bc; Schütz-Psalm 115 'Nicht uns Herr' - YouTube

Later in 1648 Schütz composed a motet setting of the Advent prayer, “Lieber Herr Gott, wecke uns auf,” SWV 381 (Dear God, keep us awake). In December 1672, Johann Christoph Bach (1642-1703) set the same prayer as a double chorus motet. In the late 1740s, Sebastian Bach added instrumental doubling parts (woodwinds and strings) to his cousin’s chorus for performances, perhaps later used at his funeral ( Lieber Herr Gott - Johann Christoph Bach (1642-1703).

The text is: "Lieber Herr Gott, wecke uns auf, dass / wir bereit sein, wenn dein Sohn kommt, / ihn mit Freuden zu empfangen, und dir /mit reinem Herzen zu dienen, durch /denselbingen, deinen lieben Sohn Jesum / Christum, unsern Herren. Amen." English translation: “Lord God, wahe us now so that we shall be ready to receive your son with gladness when he comes, and to serve you with a pure heart through that same dear son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen”

The seven Penitential Psalms are Psalm 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, and 143

Psalm 6 – Domine, ne in furore tuo arguas me (Pro octava). (O Lord, rebuke me not in thy indignation (For the octave).)
Psalm 32 – Beati quorum remissae sunt iniquitates. (Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven.)
Psalm 38 – Domine ne in furore tuo arguas me (in rememorationem de sabbato). (O Lord, rebuke me not in thy indignation (For a remembrance of the Sabbath).)
Psalm 51 – Miserere mei, Deus, secundum magnam misericordiam tuam. (Have mercy on me, O God, according to thy great mercy.)
Psalm 102 – Domine, exaudi orationem meam, et clamor meus ad te veniat. (O Lord, hear my prayer, and let my cry come unto thee.)
Psalm 130 – De profundis clamavi ad te, Domine. (Out of the depths I have cried to thee, O Lord.)
Psalm 143 – Domine, exaudi orationem meam: auribus percipe obsecrationem meam in veritate tua. (Hear, O Lord, my prayer: give ear to my supplication in thy truth.)


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