O heilges Geist- und Wasserbad, BWV 165

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
O heilges Geist- und Wasserbad
BWV 165
Church cantata by J. S. Bach
Schlosskirche Weimar 1660.jpg
Occasion Trinity
Performed 16 June 1715 (1715-06-16) – Weimar
Movements 6
Cantata text Salomon Franck
Chorale by Ludwig Heimbold
Vocal SATB choir and solo
  • bassoon
  • 2 violins
  • viola
  • continuo

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

Bach had taken up regular cantata compositions a year before, writing one cantata per month to be performed in the court chapel. O heilges Geist- und Wasserbad was his first cantata for Trinity Sunday, the feast day marking the end of the first half of the liturgical year. The libretto by the court poet Salomo Franck is based on the prescribed Gospel about the meeting of Jesus and Nicodemus and the verse "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God". The music is structured in six movements and scored for a small ensemble of four soloists, two violins, viola, and continuo including cello and bassoon. The voices are combined only in the closing chorale, the fifth stanza of Ludwig Heimbold's hymn "Nun lasst uns Gott dem Herren", which mentions as a summary scripture, baptism and the Eucharist.

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 libretto was written by court poet Salomon Franck and published in Evangelisches Andachts-Opffer in 1715. The opening refers to Jesus' words in John 3:5: "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God."(John 3:5)[4] The second movement, a recitative, reflects 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).[5] Movement 3, an aria for alto, 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,[6] termed "Todes Tod" (death's death).[4] The cantata is concluded by the fifth stanza of Ludwig Heimbold's hymn of 1575, "Nun lasst uns Gott dem Herren", mentioning scripture, baptism and the Eucharist.[7][8]

Bach first performed the cantata on 16 June 1715 and performed it again in his first year in Leipzig, reviving it possibly there on Trinity Sunday, 4 June 1724,[9] with presumably minor changes.[6] The performance material for Weimar is lost, but a copy prepared by Bach's assistant Johann Christian Köpping for the Leipzig performance is extant.[10]

The cantata was published in the first edition of Bach's works by the Bach-Gesellschaft in 1887 in volume 33, edited by Franz Wüllner. In the second edition, the Neue Bach-Ausgabe, it appeared in 1967, edited by Alfred Dürr, with a Kritischer Bericht (Critical report) following in 1968.[9]

Scoring and structure[edit]

The title on the copy by Johann Christian Köpping is: "Concerto a 2 Violi:1 Viola. Fagotto Violoncello S.A.T.e Basso e Continuo / di Joh:Seb:Bach" (Concerto for 2 violins, 1 viola. Bassoon Cello S.A.T and Bass and Continuo / by Joh:Seb:Bach).[11] The cantata in six movements is scored like chamber music for four vocal soloists (soprano, alto, tenor and bass), a four-part choir (SATB) in the closing chorale, two violins (Vl), viola (Va), bassoon (Fg), cello (Vc) and basso continuo (Bc).[10][12][13] The bassoon is called for, but has no independent part.[14][8]

In the following table of the movements, the scoring follows the the Neue Bach-Ausgabe,[9] and the abbreviations for voices and instruments the list of Bach cantatas. The time signature is provided using the symbol for common time (4/4).

No. Type Text Text source Vocal Strings Bass Key Time
1 Aria O heilges Geist- und Wasserbad Franck S 2Vl Va Fg Bc G major common time
2 Recitative Die sündige Geburt verdammter Adamserben Franck B Bc C minor A minor common time
3 Aria Jesu, der aus großer Liebe Franck A Bc C mimor 12/8
4 Recitative Ich habe ja, mein Seelenbräutigam Franck B 2Vl Va Fg Bc B minor G major common time
5 Aria Jesu, meines Todes Tod Franck T 2Vl (unis.) Bc G major common time
6 Chorale Sein Wort, sein Tauf, sein Nachtmahl Heimbold SATB 2Vl Va Fg Bc G major common time


Jesus and Nicodemus, seventeenth century painting attributed to Crijn Hendricksz Volmarijn

The cantata consists of solo movements closed by a four-part chorale. Arias alternate with recitatives, both sung by the bass. John Eliot Gardiner summarizes: "It is a true sermon in music, based on the Gospel account of Jesus' night-time conversation with Nicodemus on the subject of 'new life', emphasisizng the spiritual importance of baptism."[15] He points out the many musical images of water.[15]


In the first aria, "O heilges Geist- und Wasserbad" (O bath of Holy Spirit and of water),[5] 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.[12]


The first recitative, "Die sündige Geburt verdammter Adamserben" (The sinful birth of the cursed heirs of Adam),[5] is secco, but several phrases are close to an arioso.[12]


The second aria, "Jesu, der aus großer Liebe" (Jesus, who out of great love),[5] 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.[12]


The second recitative, "Ich habe ja, mein Seelenbräutigam" (I have indeed, o bridegroom of my soul),[5] is accompanied by the strings (accompagnato), marked by Bach "Rec : con Stroment."[11] The text is intensified the text by several melismas, "adagio" marking on the words "hochheiliges Gotteslamm" (most holy Lamb of God),[5] and by melodic parts of the instruments. Gardiner notes that Bach has images for the serpent displayed in the desert by Moses, and has the accompaniment fade away on the last line "wenn alle Kraft vergehet" (when all my strength has faded).[15]


The last aria, "Jesu, meines Todes Tod" (Jesus, death of my death),[5] is set for tenor, accompanied by the violins in unison, marked "Aria Violini unisoni e Tenore".[11] The image of the serpent appears again, described by William G. Whittaker (nl): "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".[15]


The cantata is closed by a four-part setting of the chorale stanza, Sein Wort, sein Tauf, sein Nachtmahl (His word, His baptism, His communion).[5][16] The hymn tune by Nikolaus Selnecker was first published in Leipzig in 1587 in the hymnal Christliche Psalmen, Lieder vnd Kirchengesenge (Christian psalms, songs and church chants).[17] It is marked "Chorale. Stromenti concordant", indicating that the instruments play colla parte with the voices.[11]

Selected recordings[edit]


  1. ^ Although grammatically heiliges agrees with Bad instead of Geist, Dellal translates "O bath of Holy Spirit and of water, and W. Murray Young "O Holy Ghost and water bath" (as cited at Bach-cantatas.org)
  2. ^ Koster 2011.
  3. ^ Dürr 1971, p. 316.
  4. ^ a b Hofmann 1996, p. 6.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h Dellal 2012.
  6. ^ a b Dürr 1971, p. 317.
  7. ^ Browne 2007.
  8. ^ a b Ambrose 2012.
  9. ^ a b c Bach digital 2014.
  10. ^ a b Hofmann 1996, p. 7.
  11. ^ a b c d Grob 2014.
  12. ^ a b c d Dürr 1971, p. 318.
  13. ^ Oron 2012.
  14. ^ Mincham 2010.
  15. ^ a b c d Gardiner 2008, p. 6.
  16. ^ Dürr 1971, p. 319.
  17. ^ Braatz & Oron 2005.




Online sources

The complete recordings of Bach's cantatas are accompanied by liner notes from musicians and musicologists; John Eliot Gardiner commented on his Bach Cantata Pilgrimage, Klaus Hofmann wrote for Masaaki Suzuki, and Christoph Wolff for Ton Koopman.