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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
Kirche St. Marien - Innenraum.JPG
The Marienkirche, Mühlhausen, whose minister commissioned the cantata
Bible textPsalms 130
Chorale"Herr Jesu Christ, du höchstes Gut" by Bartholomäus Ringwaldt
Composed1707 (1707)?: Mühlhausen
  • SATB choir
  • tenor and bass solo
  • oboe
  • bassoon
  • violin
  • 2 violas
  • continuo

Aus der Tiefen rufe ich, Herr, zu dir (Out of the depths I call, Lord, to You),[1] BWV 131,[a] is a church cantata by the German composer Johann Sebastian Bach. It was composed in either 1707 or 1708, which makes it one of Bach's earliest cantatas. Some sources suggest that it could be his earliest surviving work in this form, but current thinking is that there are one or two earlier examples.

The cantata was commissioned by the minister of one of the churches in Mühlhausen, the city where Bach worked at the time. It was possibly written for a special occasion. The text is based on Luther's German version of Psalm 130 and also incorporates the words of a chorale. Bach's music integrates melodies from the chorale into larger structures. Bach also shows his interest in counterpoint, something which was characteristic of him throughout his career.

History and words[edit]

A note on the autograph 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, which is the period when Bach was living in Mühlhausen. Bach was employed as organist at the city's other main church, Divi Blasii,.[2] He was also involved to some extent with performances at the Marienkirche, where civic ceremonies were held. One service there which Bach would have attended was that for the city council's inauguration in 1708 during which his cantata Gott ist mein Konig, BWV 71 had its premiere. He may have had a closer personal relationship with Eilmar than with the minister of his own church. Eilmar was godfather to his daughter Catharina Dorothea (born 1708).[3]

Aus der Tiefen rufe ich, Herr, zu dir has been described as possibly Bach's first surviving cantata.[4][5] For it to be the first, it has to be assumed not only that it predates other cantatas written in Mühlhausen (we know that he wrote at least one other there), but also that there is not a surviving cantata from his previous post at Arnstadt. It seems likely that Bach was composing choral music at Arnstadt. Although Bach was only 22 when he took up the appointment at Mühlhausen, the performance of a work of his own composition appears to have been part of the selection process.[6] Recent scholarship suggests that another surviving cantata Nach dir, Herr, verlanget mich, BWV 150 could have been composed at Arnstadt.[7]

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.[8] Originally a Hebrew text, the incipit has variants in translation. While Psalms 130:1–6 is rendered "Out of the depths..." in the English King James Version, a closer translation of the German text used by Bach would be "deep" rather than "depths". The anonymous librettist, possibly Eilmar,[9] includes in two of the movements verses from "Herr Jesu Christ, du höchstes Gut", a Lutheran hymn by Bartholomäus Ringwaldt. The hymn 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.

In his Bach Cantata Pilgrimage, Sir John Eliot Gardiner performed and recorded the work with cantatas for the Fifth Sunday after Trinity,[10] but it 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.[8]


Bach's ability as a composer was recognised by the city council of Muhlhausen who paid for the printing of the cantata Gott ist mein Konig, BWV 71.[11] They may also have arranged the publication of a later cantata now lost. None of the other cantatas was published in the composer's lifetime. Aus der Tiefen rufe ich, Herr, zu dir was first published in 1881 as part of the Bach-Gesellschaft-Ausgabe, the first complete edition of Bach's works.[12] The editor was Wilhelm Rust,[12] who edited many volumes for the Bach-Gesellschaft. At the time of publication of this volume, he held the position of Thomaskantor in Leipzig.

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.[8] As in other early cantatas, there are no recitatives. (Bach later came more under the influence of Italian music, combining recitatives and arias).[13]

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.[14] Most recordings of the cantata, however, feature mixed choirs: an exception is the version conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt, which deploys boys' voices as the top lines of the choir.[15]


The singers are accompanied by an instrumental group consisting of oboe, bassoon, violin, two violas and basso continuo.[16] 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.[13]

Musical forms[edit]

disputed portrait of the young Bach, with brown curled hair, dressed festively
Portrait of the young Bach (disputed)[17]

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.[18] 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.[13] On the other hand, the musicologist Julian Mincham regards the piece as being different from later cantatas rather than inferior to them.[18]

Structure and scoring[edit]

Bach structured the cantata in five movements, three choral movements interspersed by an arioso and an aria. In both solo movements, a chorale stanza sung simultaneously by the soprano intensifies the Psalm text. He scored it for two soloist (tenor and bass), a four-part choir, and a small Baroque instrumental ensemble of oboe (Ob), bassoon (Fg), violin (Vl), two violas (Va), and basso continuo.[19]

In the following table of the movements, the scoring follows the New Bach Edition (Neue Bach-Ausgabe).[19] The keys and time signatures are taken from Alfred Dürr,[20] using the symbol Commontime inline.png for common time (4/4). The continuo, playing throughout, is not shown.

Movements of Aus der Tiefen rufe ich, Herr, zu dir, BWV 131
No. Title Text Type Vocal Winds Strings Key Time
1 Aus der Tiefen rufe ich, Herr, zu dir Ps. 130:1–2 Chorus SATB Ob Fg Vl 2Va G minor
  • 3/4
  • common time
2 So du willst, Herr, Sünde zurechnen
  • Ps. 130:3–4
  • Ringwaldt
Arioso e chorale
  • B
  • S
Ob G minor common time
3 Ich harre des Herrn, meine Seele harret Ps. 130:5 Chorus SATB Ob Fg Vl 2Va common time
4 Meine Seele wartet auf den Herrn von einer Morgenwache
  • Ps. 130:6
  • Ringwaldt
Aria e chorale
  • T
  • A
C minor 12/8
5 Israel hoffe auf den Herrn; denn bei dem Herrn Ps. 130:7–8 Chorus SATB Ob Fg Vl 2Va G minor common time


The following entries are taken from the listing on the Bach Cantatas Website.[21] Choirs with one voice per part (OVPP) and ensembles playing period instruments in historically informed performances are marked by green background.

Recordings of Aus der Tiefen rufe ich, Herr, zu dir, BWV 131
Title Conductor / Choir / Orchestra Soloists Label Year Choir type Instr.
J. S. Bach: Cantatas BWV 131 & BWV 140 Robert Shaw
Robert Shaw Chorale
RCA Victor Orchestra
RCA 1949 (1949)
Bach Made in Germany Vol. 1 – Cantatas IX Günther Ramin
Eterna 1952 (1952)
Les Grandes Cantates de J. S. Bach Vol. 17 Fritz Werner
Heinrich-Schütz-Chor Heilbronn
Pforzheim Chamber Orchestra
Erato 1964 (1964)
J. S. Bach: Cantatas BWV 93 & BWV 131 Hans Thamm
Windsbacher Knabenchor
Das Corsortium Musicum
EMI 1966 (1966)
Die Bach Kantate Vol. 15 Helmuth Rilling
Gächinger Kantorei
Bach-Collegium Stuttgart
Hänssler 1975 (1975)
J. S. Bach: Das Kantatenwerk • Complete Cantatas • Les Cantates, Folge / Vol. 32 Nikolaus Harnoncourt
Tölzer Knabenchor
Concentus Musicus Wien
Teldec 1981 (1981) Period
Bach: Actus Tragicus – Cantatas 106, 131, 99, 56, 82 & 158 Joshua Rifkin
The Bach Ensemble
Decca 1985 (1985) OVPP Period
J. S. Bach: Kantaten BWV 131, 73 & 105 Philippe Herreweghe
Collegium Vocale Gent
Harmonia Mundi France 1990 (1990) Period
Deutsche Barock Kantaten (VIII): Aus der Tiefe Erik Van Nevel
Ricercar Consort
Ricercar 1991 (1991) OVPP Period
J. S. Bach: Cantatas Vol. 2 – (BWV 71, 106, 131) Masaaki Suzuki
Bach Collegium Japan
BIS 1995 (1995) Period
J. S. Bach: Complete Cantatas Vol. 1 Ton Koopman
Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra & Choir
Antoine Marchand 1997 (1997) Period
Bach Edition Vol. 20 – Cantatas Vol. 11 Pieter Jan Leusink
Holland Boys Choir
Netherlands Bach Collegium
Brilliant Classics 2000 (2000) Period
Bach Cantatas Vol. 3: Tewkesbury/Mühlhausen John Eliot Gardiner
Monteverdi Choir
English Baroque Soloists
Soli Deo Gloria 2000 (2000) Period
Bach – Purcell: Motetten – Kantaten Thomas Hengelbrock
Balthasar-Neumann-Chor & Ensemble
Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 2007 (2007) Period

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. ^ Dellal, Pamela. "BWV 131 – Aus der Tiefen rufe ich, Herr, zu dir". Emmanuel Music. Retrieved 26 March 2016.
  2. ^ Wolff 2002, p. 104.
  3. ^ Wolff 2002, p. 112.
  4. ^ Smallman, Basil (2011). Bach, Johann Sebastian. The Oxford Companion to Music. Ed. Alison Latham. Oxford Music Online (subscription access). ISBN 978-0-19-957903-7. Retrieved August 3, 2009.
  5. ^ McLellan, Joseph (March 21, 1993). "For Bach's Birthday, the Soloists' Joyful Celebration". The Washington Post. HighBeam Research (subscription access). Archived from the original on June 10, 2014. Retrieved August 30, 2012.
  6. ^ Geck 2006, p. 64.
  7. ^ Isoyama, Tadashi (1995). "Cantata No. 150 Nach dir, Herr, verlanget mich (BWV 150)" (PDF). Bach-Cantatas. p. 7. Retrieved 26 January 2016.
  8. ^ a b c "Aus der Tiefen rufe ich, Herr, zu dir, BWV 131". Retrieved September 7, 2012. (information based on Dürr, Die Kantaten and the Oxford Composer Companion: J.S.Bach)
  9. ^ Ambrose, Z. Philip. "BWV 131 Aus der Tiefen rufe ich, Herr, zu dir". University of Vermont. Retrieved September 19, 2012.
  10. ^ 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
  11. ^ Bach, Johann Sebastian: Glückwünschende Kirchen Motetto, als bey solennen Gottesdienste in ... Mühlhausen: Tobias David Brückner, 1708 (D-B Mus. 11495: original print at Berlin State Library)
  12. ^ a b Aus der Tiefe rufe ich, Herr, zu dir, BWV 131: Scores at the International Music Score Library Project
  13. ^ a b c Smith, Craig. "Cantata 131; Programme Notes". Emmanuel Music. Retrieved September 3, 2012.
  14. ^ "Considering Women's Impact on the Music of Johann Sebastian Bach". Yale Institute of Sacred Music. Retrieved March 30, 2016.
  15. ^ Recorded in 1981,[1] this version is part of a complete set of the cantatas, a joint project with Gustav Leonhardt, which mainly uses male voices.
  16. ^ "BWV 131". University of Alberta. Retrieved 30 May 2014.
  17. ^ Towe, Teri Noel. "The Portrait in Erfurt Alleged to Depict Bach, the Weimar Concertmeister". The Face Of Bach. Archived from the original on 16 July 2011. Retrieved 28 April 2014.
  18. ^ a b Mincham, Julian (December 2010). "Chapter 64 BWV 131 Aus der Tiefen rufe ich, Herr, zu dir". Retrieved September 17, 2012.
  19. ^ a b Bischof, Walter F. "BWV 150 Aus der Tiefen rufe ich, Herr, zu dir". University of Alberta. Retrieved 25 March 2013.
  20. ^ Dürr 2006.
  21. ^ Oron, Aryeh. "Cantata BWV 131 Aus der Tiefen rufe ich, Herr, zu dir". Bach-Cantatas. Retrieved 26 March 2016.


External links[edit]