O heilges Geist- und Wasserbad, BWV 165

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O heilges Geist- und Wasserbad
BWV 165
Church cantata by J. S. Bach
Schlosskirche Weimar 1660.jpg
The [[Schlosskirche, Weimar|Schlosskirche in Weimar]]
Occasion Trinity
Performed 16 June 1715 (1715-06-16) – Weimar
Movements 6
Cantata text Salomon Franck
Chorale by Ludwig Heimbold

O heilges Geist- und Wasserbad (O bath of Holy Spirit and of water),[1] BWV 165, is a church cantata by Johann Sebastian Bach. He composed it in Weimar for Trinity Sunday and likely first performed it on 16 June 1715.

History and words[edit]

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 (court church), on a monthly schedule.[2] He composed this cantata for Trinity Sunday.[3] The prescribed readings for the Sunday were from the Epistle to the Romans, reflecting "depth of wisdom" (Romans 11:33–36), and from the Gospel of John, the meeting of Jesus and Nicodemus (John 3:1–15).

The cantata text was written by court poet Salomon Franck and published in Evangelisches Andachts-Opffer in 1715. The poet follows the gospel closely. The opening refers to Jesus saying "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God".[4] The text reflects in a recitative as movement 2 upon birth in the Spirit as baptism through God's grace: "Er wird im Geist und Wasserbade ein Kind der Seligkeit und Gnade" (In the bath of spirit and water he becomes a child of blessedness and grace).[1] Movement 3, an aria, considers that the bond has to be renewed throughout life, because it will be broken by man (movement 4). The last aria is a prayer for the insight that the death of Jesus brought salvation,[3] termed "Todes Tod" (death's death).[4] The cantata is concluded by the fifth stanza of Ludwig Heimbold's Nun lasst uns Gott dem Herren, mentioning scripture, baptism and the Eucharist.[5]

Bach likely first performed the cantata on 16 June 1715 and performed it again in his first year in Leipzig, reviving it there on Trinity Sunday, 4 June 1724, with presumably minor changes.[3] However it is only through a copy prepared by Bach's assistant Johann Christian Köpping for the latter performance that the work is known today.[4]

Scoring and structure[edit]

The cantata in six movements is scored like chamber music for four vocal soloists (soprano, alto, tenor and bass), a four-part choir in the closing chorale, bassoon, two violins, viola, and basso continuo.[3][4] The bassoon is called for, but has no independent part.[6]

  1. Aria (soprano): O heilges Geist- und Wasserbad
  2. Recitative (bass): Die sündige Geburt verdammter Adamserben
  3. Aria (alto): Jesu, der aus großer Liebe
  4. Recitative (bass): Ich habe ja, mein Seelenbräutigam
  5. Aria (tenor): Jesu, meines Todes Tod
  6. Chorale: Sein Wort, sein Tauf, sein Nachtmahl


Jesus and Nicodemus, Crijn Hendricksz, 1616–1645

In the first aria, the ritornello is a fugue, whereas in the five vocal sections the soprano and violin I are a duo in imitation on the same material. These sections are composed in symmetry, A B C B' A'. The theme of B is the reverse of that of A, that of C is derived from measure 2 of the ritornello. Alfred Dürr relates the form to the birth mentioned in the gospel. The first recitative is secco, but several phrases are close to an arioso. The second aria, accompanied by the continuo, is dominated by an expressive motif with several upward leaps of sixths, which is introduced in the ritornello and picked up by the voice in four sections. The second recitative is accompanied by the strings and intensifies the text by several melismas, "adagio" marking on the words "hochheiliges Gotteslamm" (most holy Lamb of God),[1] and melodic parts of the instruments. The last aria, mentioning the snake, is described by Whittaker: "the whole of the obbligato for violins in unison is constructed out of the image of the bending, writhing, twisting reptile, usually a symbol of horror, but in Bach's musical speech a thing of pellucid beauty".[7] The cantata is closed by a four-part setting of the chorale.[3][8]

Selected recordings[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Dellal, Pamela. "165 – "O heilges Geist- und Wasserbad"". Emmanuel Music. Retrieved 13 June 2014. 
  2. ^ Koster, Jan. "Weimar 1708–1717". University of Groningen. Retrieved 16 December 2011. 
  3. ^ a b c d e Dürr, Alfred (1981). Die Kantaten von Johann Sebastian Bach (in German) 1 (4 ed.). Deutscher Taschenbuchverlag. pp. 316–319. ISBN 3-423-04080-7. 
  4. ^ a b c d Hofmann, Klaus (1996). "RWV 165: O heilges Geist- und Wasserbad / (O Holy Spirirual and Water Bath)" (PDF). Bach Cantatas Website. p. 5. Retrieved 30 May 2012. 
  5. ^ "Nun lasst uns Gott dem Herren / Text and Translation of Chorale". Bach Cantatas Website. 2005. Retrieved 30 May 2012. 
  6. ^ Julian Mincham (2010). "Chapter 62: BWV 165, O heilges Geist- und Wasserbad". The Cantatas of Johann Sebastian Bach. Retrieved 31 May 2012. 
  7. ^ John Eliot Gardiner (2008). "Cantatas for Trinity Sunday / St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall" (PDF). Bach Cantatas Website. p. 6. Retrieved 30 May 2012. 
  8. ^ "Chorale Melodies used in Bach's Vocal Works / Nun laßt uns Gott dem Herren". Bach Cantatas Website. 2005. Retrieved 30 May 2011.