Home      Back to Trinity 3

 

 

 

 
 Bach Cantata BWV 21 
"Ich hatte viel Bekummernis"
with Commentary by the Rev. Dr. David Smith
 
This cantata for the third Sunday after Trinity does not use the gospel and epistle reading very directly but the theme of the cantata relates to both. The epistle tells us "humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time; casting all your care upon him, for he careth for you." The theme of the cantata is, in the first part, the expression of the cares of the believer - "I had so much distress and care within my bosom" - and that of the second part, the relieving of those cares by the coming of Christ to the heart in faith. In the gospel the owner seeks the lost sheep and the woman seeks the lost coin, just as Christ seeks the lost soul. The cantata text shows how Christ comes to the soul in its tribulation. The closing doxology reflects that of the epistle. 

We are fortunate to have a wonderful and detailed analysis of this cantata in Eric Chafe's book Analyzing Bach Cantatas, the best study I have seen of the theological and musical aspects of the cantatas. My discussion is much indebted to his. This is how he summarizes the meaning of Cantata 21: 
"Cantata 21 thus articulates a quasi-chronological progression from a state of mind derived from Old Testament lamentation (part 1: [movement] nos. 1-6 to the believer's faith encounter with Jesus (part 2: nos. 7-8), the role of the church's sustenance (no. 9) in bringing about the believer's inner transformation from tribulation to joy (no. 10), and, finally, a more universal anticipation of eternity (no. 11). A basic turning point occurs between parts 1 and 2, after which the sequence of affective states in part 2 can be said to represent the growth of faith in the individual. The most obvious reflection of the turning point is the appearance of the figure of Jesus in dialogue with the soul at the beginning of part 2, while the foremost dimension of its overall musical design is the shift from the C minor tonality that dominates part 1 first to the relative major E flat, with which part two begins, then, by the stages just described, to the C major that ends part 2."  

The movement of Cantata 21, from tribulation and "faith in opposition to experience" (to use Chafe's phrase) to "faith realized in experience" is a common one in the cantatas, and it is presented with great clarity here. 

Exegetically, the basic pattern here is the contrast between lamentation in the first part, represented mainly by quotations from the psalms, and faith, represented by New Testament figures and texts. Significant imagery is drawn from the story of the Wedding at Cana, drawing on a traditional interpretation where the water that fills up the jugs is the tears of tribulation, which are transformed into the wine of joy. The water of tears features particularly in movement 5 and wine appears in movements 8 and 10. In 8 it is the wine of the eucharist, symbol of Christ's suffering, which heals the wounds of the believer. In movement 10 weeping ("Weinen") is transformed into wine("Wein"). Also taken from the Wedding at Cana is the idea of the "hour" at which Christ will come, both in faith to the believer to bring "sweet refreshment" as opposed to "salty tears" in movement 7, and more eschatologically in the final movement. 

Let us then briefly consider each movement:

 

 

German Original

 

Erster Teil
1. Sinfonia - Oboe, Violino I/II, Viola, Fagotto e Organo e Continuo
 
 
 
 
 

 

2. Coro - Oboe, Violino I/II, Viola, Fagotto e Organo e Continuo

Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis in meinem Herzen; aber deine Tröstungen erquicken meine Seele.
  
  
 
 
 
 
 

 

3. Aria S - Oboe, Organo e Continuo  
Seufzer, Tränen, Kummer, Not,
Ängstlichs Sehnen, Furcht und Tod
Nagen mein beklemmtes Herz,
Ich empfinde Jammer, Schmerz.
  
  
 
 
 
 
 

4. Recitativo T - Violino I/II, Viola, Fagotto e Organo e Continuo  
Wie hast du dich, mein Gott, 
In meiner Not, 
In meiner Furcht und Zagen 
Denn ganz von mir gewandt? 
Ach! kennst du nicht dein Kind? 
Ach! hörst du nicht das Klagen 
Von denen, die dir sind 
Mit Bund und Treu verwandt? 
Da warest meine Lust 
Und bist mir grausam worden; 
Ich suche dich an allen Orten, 
Ich ruf und schrei dir nach, 
Allein mein Weh und Ach! 
Scheint itzt, als sei es dir ganz unbewußt. 

5. Aria T - Violino I/II, Viola, Fagotto e Organo e Continuo  
Bäche von gesalznen Zähren, 
Fluten rauschen stets einher. 
    Sturm und Wellen mich versehren, 
    Und dies trübsalsvolle Meer 
    Will mir Geist und Leben schwächen, 
    Mast und Anker wollen brechen, 
    Hier versink ich in den Grund, 
    Dort seh ins der Hölle Schlund. 
  
6. Coro - Oboe, Violino I/II, Viola, Fagotto e Organo e Continuo  
Was betrübst du dich, meine Seele, und bist so unruhig in mir? Harre auf Gott; denn ich werde ihm noch danken, daß er meines Angesichtes Hilfe und mein Gott ist.   
 
 
 

Zweiter Teil      
7. Recitativo (Dialog) S B - Violino I/II, Viola, Fagotto e Organo e Continuo   Seele (S), Jesus (B) Sopran  
Ach Jesu, meine Ruh,  
Mein Licht, wo bleibest du?  
Baß  
O Seele sieh! Ich bin bei dir.  
Sopran  
Bei mir?  
Hier ist ja lauter Nacht.  
Baß  
Ich bin dein treuer Freund,  
Der auch im Dunkeln wacht,  
Wo lauter Schalken seind.  
Sopran  
Brich doch mit deinem Glanz und Licht des Trostes ein.  
Baß  
Die Stunde kömmet schon,  
Da deines Kampfes Kron'  
Dir wird ein süßes Labsal sein.  
 
 

8. Aria (Duetto) S B - Organo e Continuo   Seele (S), Jesus (B)  
Sopran  
Komm, mein Jesu, und erquicke,  
Baß  
Ja, ich komme und erquicke  
Sopran  
Und erfreu mit deinem Blicke.  
Baß  
Dich mit meinem Gnadenblicker,  
Sopran  
Diese Seele,  
Baß  
Deine Seele,  
Sopran  
Die soll sterben,  
Baß  
Die soll leben,  
Sopran  
Und nicht leben  
Baß  
Und nicht sterben  
Sopran  
Und in ihrer Unglückshöhle  
Baß  
Hier aus dieser wunden Höhle  
Sopran  
Ganz verderben?  
Baß  
Sollst du erben  
Sopran  
Ich muß stets in Kummer schweben,  
Baß  
Heil! durch diesen Saft der Reben,  
Sopran  
Ja, ach ja, ich bin verloren!  
Baß  
Nein, ach nein, du bist erkoren!  
Sopran  
Nein, ach nein, du hassest mich!  
Baß  
Ja, ach ja, ich liebe dich!  
Sopran  
Ach, Jesu, durchsüße mir Seele und Herze,  
Baß  
Entweichet, ihr Sorgen, verschwinde, du Schmerze!  
Sopran  
Komm, mein Jesus, und erquicke  
Baß  
Ja, ich komme und erquicke  
Sopran  
Mit deinem Gnadenblicke!  
Baß  
Dich mit meinem Gnadenblicke  
  
9. Coro - Oboe e Violino I e Trombone I all' unisono, Violino II e Trombone II all' unisono, Viola e Trombone III all' unisono, Fagotto e Trombone IV all' unisono, Organo e Continuo    
Sei nun wieder zufrieden, meine Seele, denn der Herr tut dir Guts. 
Tenor 
Was helfen uns die schweren Sorgen, 
Was hilft uns unser Weh und Ach? 
Was hilft es, daß wir alle Morgen 
Beseufzen unser Ungemach? 
Wir machen unser Kreuz und Leid 
Nur größer durch die Traurigkeit. 
Sopran 
Denk nicht in deiner Drangsalshitze, 
Daß du von Gott verlassen seist, 
Und daß Gott der im Schoße sitze, 
Der sich mit stetem Glücke speist. 
Die folgend Zeit verändert viel 
Und setzet jeglichem sein Ziel. 
  
10. Aria T - Organo e Continuo    
Erfreue dich, Seele, erfreue dich, Herze, 
Entweiche nun, Kummer, verschwinde, du Schmerze! 
Verwandle dich, Weinen, in lauteren Wein, 

Es wird nun mein Ächzen ein Jauchzen mir sein! 
Es brennet und sammet die reineste Kerze 

Der Liebe, des Trostes in Seele und Brust, 
Weil Jesus mich tröstet mit himmlischer Lust. 
  


11. Coro - Tromba I-III, Timpani, Oboe, Violino I/II, Viola, Fagotto e Organo e Continuo    
Das Lamm, das erwürget ist, ist würdig zu nehmen Kraft und Reichtum und Weisheit und Stärke und Ehre und Preis und Lob.   
Lob und Ehre und Preis und Gewalt sei unserm Gott von Ewigkeit zu Ewigkeit. Amen, Alleluja!  
  
--------------------------------------------- 
Besetzung   Soli: S T B, Coro: S A T B, Tromba I-III, Trombone I-IV, Timpani, Oboe, Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo   
Entstehungszeit   17. Juni 1714   
Text   vielleicht Salomo Franck; 1. Psalm 94,19; 6: Psalm 42,12; 9: Psalm 116,7 und Georg Neumark 1657; 11: Offenbarung 5,12-13   
Anlass   3. Sonntag nach Trinitatis   
 

 
 
------------------------------- 
from Bach Cantata Page    
Created by Walter F. Bischof  
Used with permission   

 

 

English Translation
 

First Part
1. Sinfonia  
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

2. Chorus [Dictum] (S, A, T, B)  

I had so much distress and woe within my bosom; but still thy consoling restoreth all my spirit.
 
 
 
 
 

 

 


 

3. Aria (S)
Sighing, crying, sorrow, need,
Anxious yearning, fear and death
Gnaw at this my anguished heart,
I am filled with grieving, hurt.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

4. Recit. (T)  

Why hast thou, O my God,  
In my distress,
In my great fear and anguish  
Then turned away from me?  
Ah! Know'st thou not thy child?  
Ah! Hear'st thou not the wailing  
Of those who are to thee  
In bond and faith allied?  
Thou wast once my delight  
And to me art now cruel;  
I search for thee in ev'ry region,  
I call and cry to thee,  
But still my "Woe and Ah"  
Seems now by thee completely unperceived.  


5. Aria (T)  

Streams of salty tears are welling,  
Floods are rushing ever forth.  
Storm and waters overwhelm me,  
And this sorrow-laden sea  
Would my life and spirit weaken,  
Mast and anchor are near broken,  
Here I sink into the depths,  
There peer in the jaws of hell.  
 


 

6. Chorus [Dictum] (S, A, T, B)  

Why art thou distressed, O my spirit, and art so unquiet in me? Trust firm in God; for I even yet shall thank him, that he of my countenance the comfort and my God is.  
 
 
 

Second Part 
7. Recit. (S, B) Soul and Jesus  
(Soul)  
Ah Jesus, my repose,  
My light, where bidest thou  
(Jesus)  
O Soul, behold! I am with thee.  
(Soul)  
With me?  
But here is nought but night.  
(Jesus)  
I am thy faithful friend,  
Who e'en in darkness guards,  
Where nought but fiends are found.  
(Soul)  
Break through then with thy beam and light of comfort here.  
(Jesus)  
The hour draweth nigh  
In which thy battle's crown  
Shall thee a sweet refreshment bring.  
 

 


8. Aria (S, B) Soul, Jesus  

(Soul and Jesus) 
Come, my Jesus,  
{ } with refreshment  
Yes, I'm coming  
And delight in thine appearing  
{                     }  
For thee in my grace appearing.  
This my  
{      } spirit,  
This thy  
       perish  
Which shall {        }  
           flourish  
           flourish  
And not {     }  
        perish  
And in its misfortune's  
{                  } cavern  
Here from its afflictions'  
Go to ruin.  
{       }  
Shalt thou merit  
I must e'er in sorrow hover,  
{                     }  
Healing through the grapes' sweet flavor.  
Yes, ah yes, I am forsaken!  
{                     }  
No, ah no, thou hast been chosen!  
No, ah no, thou hatest me!  
{                     }  
Yes, ah yes, I cherish thee!  
Ah, Jesus, now sweeten my spirit and bosom!  
{                                    }  
Give way, all ye troubles, and vanish, thou sorrow!  
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

9. Chorus [Dictum] and Chorale (S, A, T, B)  
 
 
 

Be now once more contented, O my spirit, for the Lord serves thee well.  

What use to us this heavy sorrow,  
What use all this our "Woe and Ah?"  
What use that we should ev'ry morning  
Heap sighs upon our sore distress?  
We only make our cross and pain  
Grow greater through our discontent.  

Think not within the heat of hardship  
That thou by God forsaken art,  
And that he rests within God's bosom  
Who doth on constant fortune feed.  
Pursuing time transformeth much  
And gives to ev'rything its end.  
 

 


10. Aria (T)  
Be glad, O my spirit, be glad, O my bosom,  
Give way now, O trouble, and vanish, thou sorrow.  
Transform thyself, weeping, to nothing but wine,  
For now shall my sobbing pure triumph become!(3)  
Now burneth and flameth most purely the candle  
Of love and of hope in my soul and my heart,  
For Jesus consoles me with heavenly joy.  
 
11. Chorus [Dictum] (S, A, T, B)   

The lamb that is slaughtered now is worthy to have all might and riches and wisdom and power and honor and praise and fame.   
Fame and honor and praise and great might be to our God from evermore to evermore. Amen, alleluia!(4)   
 


--------------------------------------- 
Notes: 
1. On the envelope of the autograph score is written Per ogni Tempo.  
2. For the text of this cantata see H. Werthemann, BJ (1965). For its parallels 
with the rhetorical features of BWV 12 and Salomo Franck's style in general, see Ambrose, BJ (1980).  
3. For the text of this cantata see H. Werthemann, BJ (1965). For its parallels  
with the rhetorical features of BWV 12 and Salomo Franck's style in general, see Ambrose, BJ (1980).  
4. "Amen, alleluja!" is added, perhaps through the influence of Rev. 5:15.  
--------------------- 
Third Sunday after Trinity and For any occasion.(1)  
Salomo Franck.(2)  
2. Ps. 94:19; 6. Ps. 42:12; 9. Ps. 116:7 and Georg Neumark, verses 2 and 5 of "Wer nur den lieben  
Gott läßt walten," 1657 (Fischer-Tümpel, IV, #365); 11. Rev. 5:12-13.  
Probably 17 June 1714, Weimar; other performances: ?1720, Hamburg? (See Dürr, p. 344),  
13 June 1723, Leipzig (revised).  
BG 5, 1; NBA I/16. 
--------------------- 
English translation: 
© Copyright  Z. Philip Ambrose  
Used with permission. Visit his site at:  
www.uvm.edu/~classics/faculty/bach/  

 

 

Commentary by David Smith 
 

Part One
1. Sinfonia 
Chafe suggests that the primary role of the sinfonia is to convey the pathos of the believer's path through life. The oboe takes the lead and is as often the voice of pathetic affections. The steady bass line suggests the inevitable coming of tribulation.

 

2. Opening Chorus
The repetition of "ich" at the start of the chorus and the on-going repetition of the opening line in different voices suggests, according to Chafe, "a framework from which the individual consciousness, obsessively projected in the many repetitions of the word "ich", cannot free itself." Then the movement shifts and quickens its tone to mark the hope of the believer that God will come to "quicken" his spirit.

 

3. Aria
There is no contrasting section to this aria, which thus represents unrelieved sorrow.  Chafe comments, "the various fragmented melodic units of the oboe and soprano lines, with their tortured augmented and diminished intervals, suggest, like the text repetitions, an analogue of tribulation "knawing" unrelievedly on the believer's 'beklemmtes Herz' (contricted heart)"

 

4. Recitative 
Like Job or the psalmist, the believer bemoans his sense of distance from God - "Thou wast once my delight and to me now are cruel."
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

5. Aria  
Here the believer is submerged in a sea of tears. He seems to sink into the depths of hell.  There are possible reflections of the flood story, Psalm 130, and the story of Jonah here.  Chafe points out that the music reflects a certain release, after the tortured character of the previous aria. The tears are like rain which precedes sunshine.  

 

6. Chorus 
This chorus is C minor, in contrast to the closing chorus of part 2, which is in C major. It expresses the believer's hope, again in Old Testament quotation (Psalm 42). The fugal part of the movement has a musical "descending" pattern which is contrasted with the "ascending" pattern of the cantata's final movement.

 

Part Two  
7. Recitative Dialogue  
Movements 7 and 8 are duets that represent dialogues between Jesus and the believer.  The recitative is an introduction to the dialogue. The soul feels itself in darkness, but Jesus promises to be its guide. He points it to the coming time of refreshment.  
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

8. Aria Duet  
This duet is the theological heart of the cantata. In the first part, the tension between the desolation of the believer and the promise of God's coming has a chronological aspect to it - "I am suffering now but God will relieve me". But in the duet the tension is between the sense the believer has that he is lost and the gracious presence of Christ. The believer experiences "faith in opposition to experience" in its sharpest form.  The believer says, "Yes, ah yes, I am forsaken" and Christ replies, "No, ah no, thou hast been chosen." The truth expressed here is that of imputed righteousness the righteousness of Christ is ours at the very moment when we feel no worthiness to have it. The tension is that of the man who is "simul iustus simil peccator." This opposition necessarily precedes the joy of God's presence - "faith realized in experience." Rather than understanding this dialogue as an expression simply of a Christ-centred mysticism, it is better to see it, as Chafe does, as "the shift from a literal or external understanding of God's word in Scripture to the inner prompting of faith and its recognition by the believer." This movement is a poignant expression of the recognition of the imputed grace of Christ in the heart.  
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

9. Chorus with chorale  
In this beautiful chorus, with its intertwining of the choral setting of Psalm 116, v.7 and a chorale by Georg Neumark, the believer takes a further step towards comfort by recognizing in the wisdom of the church, expressed in one of its hymns, his own experience of suffering and the futility of dwelling on it. The soul is reassured by the voice of the church.  
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
10. Aria  
Now the believer fully experiences God's comfort. Weeping is turned into wine.   
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 


 

11. Chorus  
In words taken from Revelation 5:12-13, the cantata ends by looking beyond present comfort to the consummation of things in Christ. What the believer now feels will be the objective reality of all things. This chorus is closely related musically to the chorus that ends part 1, as I indicated there.