Aus der Tiefen rufe ich, Herr, zu dir, BWV 131

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Aus der Tiefen rufe ich, Herr, zu dir
BWV 131
Church cantata by J. S. Bach
Blasiuskirche MHL Orgelempore Westen.jpg
Organ of the church Divi Blasii, Mühlhausen
Composed 1707 (1707)? – Mühlhausen
Movements 5
Bible text Psalms 130
Chorale Bartholomäus Ringwaldt
Scoring solo voices (T B), SATB choir, five instrumental parts

Aus der Tiefen rufe ich, Herr, zu dir (From the depths I call, Lord, to thee), BWV 131,[a] is a church cantata by Johann Sebastian Bach. He composed it in Mühlhausen in either 1707 or 1708, which makes it one of Bach's earliest cantatas. The text is based on Psalm 130.

History and words[edit]

A note on the score of the cantata indicates that the work was commissioned by Georg Christian Eilmar, minister of the Marienkirche (St Mary's church) in Mühlhausen. This allows the work to be dated to 1707–08, the period Bach was employed as organist at another of Mühlhausen's churches, Divi Blasii.[1][2] Bach was only 22 when he arrived in the town, but his talent as a composer was recognised, and he wrote other cantatas while living there. Aus der Tiefen rufe ich, Herr, zu dir has been described as possibly Bach's first surviving cantata, on the assumption that it was composed not long after arrival.[3][4]

The libretto is based on Psalm 130, one of the penitential psalms. The incipit of the psalm, "Aus der Tiefen rufe ich, Herr, zu dir", gives the cantata its name.[5][6] The anonymous librettist, possibly Eilmar, includes in two of the movements verses from Herr Jesu Christ, du höchstes Gut, a Lutheran chorale by Bartholomäus Ringwaldt.[7]

In his Bach Cantata Pilgrimage, Sir John Eliot Gardiner performed and recorded the work with cantatas for the Fifth Sunday after Trinity,[8] but is not known for sure when in the liturgical year Bach performed it, and there has been speculation that it was written for a special occasion.[5]

Scoring and structure[edit]


Bach scored the work for tenor and bass soloists and a four-part choir. Bach gives his soloists an arioso and an aria.[5] As in other early cantatas, there are no recitatives. (Bach later came more under the influence of Italian music, combining recitatives and arias).[9]

Bach did not give a direct indication of how many singers he envisaged in the choir. The cantata can be performed with only four singers, as in the recording by Joshua Rifkin, who is well known in the world of Bach performance for his "one voice to a part" approach. However, most recordings feature a choir with multiple voices to a part. Another choice to be made is whether to use women singers: Bach's original singers were probably all male.[10] Most recordings of the cantata, however, feature mixed choirs: an exception are Nikolaus Harnoncourt and Gustav Leonhardt, who used all male voices in their set of the complete cantatas, and here deploys boys' voices as the top lines of the choir.


The singers are accompanied by an instrumental group consisting of oboe, violin, two violas, bassoon and basso continuo.[11] As in the case of the singers, the question arises as to whether Bach used one or more players per part. The oboe and the violin are given some important solos, suggesting that there may well have been only one of each. Ton Koopman, for example, uses one oboist and one violinist in his recording. The role of the violas is more to provide accompaniment, filling in harmonies and sometimes doubling vocal lines. The bassoon sometimes supports the continuo section, doubling its bass line, and sometimes plays an independent line.[9]

Musical forms[edit]

Bach used some musical forms which reappear in later cantatas. For example, two of the choral movements have a fugue, a style of composition in which Bach excelled. Also, the two movements for soloists are developed as a type of chorale fantasia with the soloist singing the psalm text and an upper voice singing the chorale in long notes as a cantus firmus.[12] Craig Smith called the chorale settings "a window on the future". However, he criticised the structure of the cantata, saying that it offers evidence that at this stage in his career the composer had difficulty with large forms.[9] It is true that the structure of the cantata is in many ways unusual, compared to Bach's later cantatas. On the other hand, Julian Mincham sees the piece as being different from later cantatas rather than inferior to them.[12]

The sections are as follows (with the verse numbers from Psalm 130 in brackets):

  1. Chorus: Aus der Tiefen rufe ich, Herr, zu dir (Verse 1)
  2. Arioso: So du willst, Herr, Sünde zurechnen, Herr, wer wird bestehen? (Verse 3)
  3. Chorus: Ich harre des Herrn, meine Seele harret, und ich hoffe auf sein Wort (Verse 5)
  4. Aria: Meine Seele wartet auf den Herrn von einer Morgenwache bis zu der andern (Verse 6)
  5. Chorus: Israel hoffe auf den Herrn; denn bei dem Herrn ist die Gnade und viel Erlösung bei ihm (Verse 7)

Selected recordings[edit]

See also[edit]

  • The Fugue in G minor, BWV 131a is a transcription for organ of the fugue from the closing movement of the cantata. Although the work has an BWV number, it is not certain that the arranger was Bach.


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


  1. ^ Ambrose, Z. Philip. "BWV 131 Aus der Tiefen rufe ich, Herr, zu dir". University of Vermont. Retrieved September 19, 2012. 
  2. ^ Hill, John. "The Church of Blaise the Divine (Divi-Blasii-Kirche)". Retrieved September 19, 2012. 
  3. ^ Smallman, Basil. "Bach, Johann Sebastian". The Oxford Companion to Music. Ed. Alison Latham. Oxford Music Online (subscription access). Retrieved August 3, 2009. 
  4. ^ McLellan, Joseph (March 21, 1993). "For Bach's Birthday, the Soloists' Joyful Celebration". The Washington Post. HighBeam Research (subscription access). Retrieved August 30, 2012. 
  5. ^ a b c "Aus der Tiefen rufe ich, Herr, zu dir, BWV 131". (information based on Dürr, Die Kantaten and the Oxford Composer Companion: J.S.Bach). Retrieved September 7, 2012. 
  6. ^ Originally a Hebrew text, the incipit "From the depths..." has variants in English translation (for example, the relevant verse from Psalms 130:1–6 is rendered "Out of the depths..." in the King James version). A closer translation of the German text would be "deep" rather than "depths".
  7. ^ The chorale is also penitential. Bach later used it as the basis for the cantata Herr Jesu Christ, du höchstes Gut, BWV 113, where the words form a counterpart to the tax collector's prayer in the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican, the gospel reading for the eleventh Sunday after Trinity.
  8. ^ This was partly for a practical reason, the paucity of surviving cantatas for that particular Sunday. See Cantatafinder – search tool dedicated to the live recordings made during the Bach Cantata Pilgrimage under the SDG label
  9. ^ a b c Smith, Craig. "Cantata 131; Programme Notes". Emmanuel Music. Retrieved September 3, 2012. 
  10. ^ "Considering Women's Impact on the Music of Johann Sebastian Bach". Yale Institute of Sacred Music. Retrieved September 17, 2012. 
  11. ^ "BWV 131". University of Alberta. Retrieved 30 May 2014. 
  12. ^ a b Mincham, Julian (December 2010). "Chapter 64 BWV 131 Aus der Tiefen rufe ich, Herr, zu dir". Retrieved September 17, 2012. 

External links[edit]