Gleichwie der Regen und Schnee vom Himmel fällt, BWV 18

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Gleichwie der Regen und Schnee vom Himmel fällt
BWV 18
Church cantata by J. S. Bach
Schlosskirche Weimar 1660.jpg
Occasion Sexagesima
  • 1713? (1713?) – Weimar
  • 13 February 1724 (1724-02-13) – Leipzig
Movements 5
Cantata text Erdmann Neumeister
Bible text Isaiah 55:10–11
Chorale by Lazarus Spengler
  • solo: soprano, tenor and bass
  • SATB choir

Gleichwie der Regen und Schnee vom Himmel fällt (Just as the rain and snow fall from the sky), BWV 18, is an early church cantata by Johann Sebastian Bach. He composed it in Weimar for the Sunday Sexagesimae, the second Sunday before Lent, likely by 1713.

History and words[edit]

Bach worked for the court in Weimar from 1708. On 2 March 1714 Bach was appointed concertmaster of the Weimar court capelle of the co-reigning dukes Wilhelm Ernst and Ernst August of Saxe-Weimar. As concertmaster, he assumed the principal responsibility for composing new works, specifically cantatas for the Schlosskirche (palace church), on a monthly schedule.[1] Bach composed this cantata for the second Sunday before Ash Wednesday, called Sexagesima. The prescribed readings for the Sunday were taken from the Second Epistle to the Corinthians, "God's power is mighty in the weak" (2 Corinthians 11:19–12:9), and from the Gospel of Luke, the parable of the Sower (Luke 8:4–15).[2]

The cantata is based on a text by Erdmann Neumeister written for the Eisenach court and published in Gotha in 1711 in the collection Geistliches Singen und Spielen (Sacred singing and playing),[3] which had been set to music by Georg Philipp Telemann.[2] The text cites Isaiah in the second movement, "For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, ... So shall my word be ..." (Isaiah 55:10–11), related to the Gospel about God's word compared to seed.[4] In the third movement, the poet combines warnings of the dangers to God's word in the style of a sermon with four lines of prayer from a litany by Martin Luther. The closing chorale is the eighth stanza of Lazarus Spengler's hymn "Durch Adams Fall ist ganz verderbt" (1524).[2] [5]

The cantata falls relatively early in Bach's chronology of cantata compositions. It was possibly composed for 24 February 1715, but more likely a year or two earlier.[2] Christoph Wolff states: "The original performing material has survived and allows us to date the work to 1713".[3] Bach performed the cantata again in Leipzig in 1724, with an expanded scoring in a different key.[2] It was then probably performed in the same service as the newly composed Leichtgesinnte Flattergeister, BWV 181.[6]

Scoring and structure[edit]

Like other cantatas written in Weimar, the cantata is scored for a small ensemble, composed of soprano, tenor, and bass soloists, a four-part choir, four violas, cello, bassoon and basso continuo.[2] The setting for four violas is unusual.[4] In a similar orchestration, the Brandenburg Concerto No. 6 also omits violins. The second version of this cantata for a performance in Leipzig adds two recorders, which double viola I and II an octave higher. John Eliot Gardiner compares the effect to a four-foot stop on a pipe organ.[7] The cantata begins in G minor in the Weimar version, in A minor in the Leipzig version.

The cantata, which opens with a sinfonia, contains five movements.[2]

  1. Sinfonia
  2. Recitative (bass): Gleichwie der Regen und Schnee vom Himmel fällt
  3. Recitative and chorale (litany) (tenor, bass, choir): Mein Gott, hier wird mein Herze sein – Du wollest deinen Geist und Kraft
  4. Aria (soprano): Mein Seelenschatz ist Gottes Wort
  5. Chorale: Ich bitt, o Herr, aus Herzensgrund


The keys in this section refer to the Weimar version, although the recording by Masaaki Suzuki, with commentary by Klaus Hofmann, uses the Leipzig keys. Hofmann notes the work's "Lutheran character", quoting Luther's litany inserted in the third movement, and sees it as a "recitative study, exploring the secco recitative of the Italian opera, introduced by Erdmann Neumeister, and also the accompagnato with rich instrumental accompaniment.[4] Gardiner finds all three cantatas for the occasion, dealing with God's word, "characterised by his vivid pictorial imagination, an arresting sense of drama, and by music of freshness and power that lodges in the memory".[7]

The cantata opens with a sinfonia in G minor, which illustrates falling rain and snow in descending phrases. In da capo form, is reminiscent both of a chaconne and a concerto. The four violas and continuo, with bassoon and cello parts specified, create an unusual sound,[4] termed "magically dark-hued sonority" by Gardiner.[7]

The quotation from Isaiah is sung by the bass, the vox Christi (voice of Christ), in a secco recitative.[2] This is Bach's first adaptation of recitative in a church cantata, not following operatic patterns, but "a lucid presentation of the text in a dignified, highly personal style".[7]

The central movement is unique in Bach's cantatas, the choir soprano interrupts the prayer of the male soloists four times, followed by a conclusion of the full choir "Erhör uns, lieber Herre Gott!" (Hear us, dear Lord God!).[2] The recitatives are marked adagio in E-flat major, while the interspersed litany is presented dramatically (allegro in C minor).[4] Gardiner compares the imagery of the recitatives: "all adds up to a vivid, Brueghel-like portrayal of rural society at work – the sower, the glutton, the lurking devil, as well as those pantomime villains, the Turks and the Papists. He compares the movement to Telemann's setting of the same text and states:

On the other hand here is Bach, seeming to relish the contrast between archaic litany and his new 'modern' recitative style in which he empowers his two male soloists to voice personal pleas for faith and resolution in the face of multiple provocation[s] and devilish guile, with increasingly virtuosic displays of coloratura, ever-wider modulations and extravagant word-painting on 'berauben' (to rob), 'Verfolgung' (persecution) and 'irregehen' (to wander off course).[7]

The only aria for soprano in E-flat major is accompanied by the four violas in unison. The cantata closes with a four-part setting of Spengler's hymn stanza,[8] Bach's first of many to come as the typical conclusion of his cantatas.[7]



  1. ^ Koster, Jan. "Weimar 1708–1717". Retrieved 16 December 2011. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Dürr, Alfred (1981). Die Kantaten von Johann Sebastian Bach (in German) 1 (4 ed.). Deutscher Taschenbuchverlag. pp. 209–211. ISBN 3-423-04080-7. 
  3. ^ a b Wolff, Christoph (1997). "Gleichwie der Regen und Schnee vom Himmel fällt" BWV 18 (PDF). pp. 9, 10. Retrieved 29 January 2013. 
  4. ^ a b c d e Hofmann, Klaus (2005). "BWV l8: Gleichwie der Regen und Schnee vom Himmel fällt (For as the rain and snow come down from heaven)" (PDF). pp. 5–6. Retrieved 30 January 2013. 
  5. ^ "Durch Adams Fall ist ganz verderbt / Text and Translation of Chorale". 2005. Retrieved 3 February 2011. 
  6. ^ Mincham, Julian (2010). "Chapter 37 BWV 92 Ich hab in Gottes Herz und Sinn / I have, to God's heart and mind (surrendered myself).". Retrieved 23 January 2013. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f Gardiner, John Eliot (2009). "Cantatas for Sexagesima / Southwell Minster" (PDF). pp. 8–11. Retrieved 30 January 2013. 
  8. ^ "Chorale Melodies used in Bach's Vocal Works / Durch Adams Fall ist ganz verderbt". 2005. Retrieved 3 February 2011. 

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