Ach Gott, wie manches Herzeleid, BWV 3

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For the cantata BWV 58 with the same title, see Ach Gott, wie manches Herzeleid, BWV 58.
Ach Gott, wie manches Herzeleid
Chorale cantata by J. S. Bach
Thomaskirche, Leipzig 1885
Occasion Second Sunday after Epiphany
Performed 14 January 1725 (1725-01-14) – Leipzig
Movements 6
Cantata text anonymous
Chorale "Ach Gott, wie manches Herzeleid
by Martin Moller
Vocal SATB soloists and choir
  • horn
  • trombone
  • 2 oboes d'amore
  • 2 violins
  • viola
  • continuo

Ach Gott, wie manches Herzeleid (Oh God, how much heartache),[1] BWV 3,[a] is a church cantata by Johann Sebastian Bach. He composed the chorale cantata in Leipzig for the Second Sunday after Epiphany and first performed it on 14 January 1725. It is based on the hymn published by Martin Moller in 1587.

History and words[edit]

The prescribed readings for the Sunday were taken from the Epistle to the Romans (we have several gifts – Romans 12:6–16) and from the Gospel of John (the Marriage at Cana – John 2:1–11).[2]

The cantata is a chorale cantata based on the hymn in 18 stanzas attributed to Martin Moller (1587), a paraphrase of the Latin "Jesu dulcis memoria", a medieval hymn attributed to Bernard of Clairvaux,[3] meditating on Jesus as comforter and helper in distress.[2][4] The unknown librettist kept the words of stanzas 1, 2 and 18 as movements 1, 2 and 6. In movement 2, stanza 2 is expanded by paraphrases of stanzas 3–5. Movement 3 is a paraphrase of stanza 6. Movement 4 incorporates ideas from stanzas 7–14. Movement 5 relies on stanzas 15 and 16.[2] The poet did not try to relate to the Gospel.[5]

Bach first performed the cantata on 14 January 1725.[2]

Scoring and structure[edit]

The cantata is scored for four vocal soloists (soprano, alto, tenor and bass), a four-part choir, a horn (alternatively a corno da caccia) to double the cantus firmus in the closing chorale, trombone, two oboes d'amore, two violins, viola and basso continuo.[2][5]

The cantata has six movements:

  1. Chorus: Ach Gott, wie manches Herzeleid
  2. Recitative and chorale (soprano, alto, tenor, bass): Wie schwerlich läßt sich Fleisch und Blut
  3. Aria (bass): Empfind ich Höllenangst und Pein
  4. Recitative (tenor): Es mag mir Leib und Geist verschmachten
  5. Duet aria (soprano, alto): Wenn Sorgen auf mich dringen
  6. Chorale: Erhalt mein Herz im Glauben rein


In the opening chorus, the cantus firmus is in the bass, which is doubled by the trombone, as in Ach Herr, mich armen Sünder, BWV 135. Its mood of lamentation is supported by "elegiac sounds" of the oboes d'amore, sighing motifs in the strings, and the upper voices reflecting the oboe motifs.[3]

The recitative combines the hymn tune, sung by the four-part choir, with interpolated text sung by the soloists.[5] The lines of the hymn are separated by a joyful ostinato motif derived from the chorale tune.[6][7] The bass aria, accompanied only by the continuo, expresses the contrast of Höllenangst (hell's anguish) and Freudenhimmel (heaven of joy), with inestimable sorrows (unermessnen Schmerzen) disappearing into light mist (leichte Nebel).[1][3] In the duet for soprano and alto in "bright E major", the voices are, as Christoph Wolff writes, embedded in a "dense quartet texture". He concludes that the movement "banishes human care by means of joyful singing".[5] The closing chorale is a four-part setting.[2]



  1. ^ "BWV" is Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis, a thematic catalogue of Bach's works.


  1. ^ a b Dellal, Pamela. "BWV 3 – Ach Gott, wie manches Herzeleid". Emmanuel Music. Retrieved 16 January 2015. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f Dürr, Alfred (1981). Die Kantaten von Johann Sebastian Bach (in German) 1 (4 ed.). Deutscher Taschenbuchverlag. pp. 181–183. ISBN 3-423-04080-7. 
  3. ^ a b c Hofmann, Klaus (2005). "Ach Gott, wie manches Herzeleid, BWV 3 / Oh God, how many a heartfelt woe" (PDF). p. 9. Retrieved 17 January 2013. 
  4. ^ 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
  5. ^ a b c d Wolff, Christoph (2001). The transition between the second and the third yearly cycle of Bach’s Leipzig cantatas (1725) (PDF). pp. 2, 4. Retrieved 17 January 2013. 
  6. ^ Gardiner, John Eliot (2006). "Cantatas for the Second Sunday after Epiphany / Old Royal Naval College Chapel, Greenwich" (PDF). p. 2. Retrieved 17 January 2013. 
  7. ^ Mincham, Julian (2010). "CHAPTER 35 BWV 3 Ach Gott, wie manches Herzeleid". Retrieved 17 January 2013.