Es erhub sich ein Streit, BWV 19

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Es erhub sich ein Streit (There arose a war), BWV 19, is a church cantata by Johann Sebastian Bach. He composed it in Leipzig in 1726 for the Feast of Saint Michael and first performed it on 29 September 1726.

History and words[edit]

The prescribed readings for the day are Revelations 12:7–12 and Matthew 18:1–11.[1] The text of the cantata was written by Christian Friedrich Henrici (Picander),[2] with the exception of verse 7, whose author is Christoph Demantius.

The chorale theme is Freu dich sehr, o meine Seele, which was codified by Louis Bourgeois when setting the Geneva Psalm 42 in his collection of Pseaumes octante trios de David (Geneva, 1551). Bourgeois seems to have been influenced by the secular song "Ne l'oseray je dire" contained in the Manuscrit de Bayeux published around 1510.

Scoring and structure[edit]

The piece is scored for three vocal soloists (soprano, tenor, and bass) and four-part choir, three trombe, timpani, two oboes, oboe da caccia, two oboes d'amore, two violins, viola, and basso continuo. Traditionally in Leipzig during Bach's time the Feast of St Michael celebrations used the largest orchestra available. All known complete Bach cantatas for this occasion include trumpet and timpani.[3]

It is in seven movements:

  1. Chorus: Es erhub sich ein Streit
  2. Recitative (bass): Gottlob! der Drache liegt
  3. Aria (soprano): Gott schickt uns Mahanaim zu
  4. Recitative (tenor): Was ist der schnöde Mensch, das Erdenkind?
  5. Aria (tenor) & Chorale: Bleibt, ihr Engel, bleibt bei mir!
  6. Recitative (soprano): Laßt uns das Angesich
  7. Chorale: Laß dein' Engel mit mir fahren


As with other Bach cantatas written for the Feast of St. Michael, this work opens with an "imposing" chorus. The opening and closing section of this da capo movement focuses on a single line of text describing the battle against the forces of evil. The middle section sets the remaining five lines of the text. The movement includes no instrumental introduction, creating an "immediate dramatic effect".[4] Craig Smith suggests that the "vaulting high-energy fugue theme is the perfect illustration of the heroic struggle".[3]

The bass recitative in E minor describes the importance of the victory over Satan, but exudes a sombre mood, suggesting the continued difficulties of mankind.[4]

The third movement is a soprano aria with obbligato oboes, "an oasis of protective tranquillity" in the major mode. However, elements of the music disturb the peace conveyed by the text: the extended ritornello begins with an "odd three-bar phrasing", leading into a passage of constant momentum between the two oboes.[4]

The tenor recitative is again in the minor mode, this time to describe the fragility of man. This movement moves into a striking tenor aria, describing a personal response to the text. The aria is the longest movement of the cantata, representing a third of the total length of the work.[4] The trumpet plays the full chorale melody of "Herzlich lieb hab ich dich, o Herr", probably with the third stanza mentioning angels in mind,[3] over a siciliano rhythm in the strings and continuo.[4]

The penultimate movement is a brief secco soprano recitative that returns to the major mode to prepare the closing chorale. The chorale has the feel of a minuet, although there is some tension because of the changing phrase lengths employed by the melody.[4]



  1. ^ bach-cantatas
  2. ^ C. S. Terry and D. Litti, Bach's Cantata Libretti, Journal of the Royal Musical Association 1917 44(1):71–125; doi:10.1093/jrma/44.1.71
  3. ^ a b c Emmanuel Music
  4. ^ a b c d e f Julian Mincham

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