Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben, BWV 147

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Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben
BWV 147
Church cantata by J. S. Bach
Heimsuchung, Unionskirche.jpg
Heimsuchung, topic of the cantata
Related based on BWV 147a
Occasion Visitation
Performed 2 July 1723 (1723-07-02): Leipzig
Movements 10 in two parts
Cantata text
Chorale by Martin Jahn
Vocal SATB choir and solo
  • 2 oboes
  • bassoon
  • trumpet
  • 2 violins
  • viola
  • continuo

Johann Sebastian Bach composed the church cantata Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben (Heart and mouth and deed and life),[1] BWV 147,[a] in 1723 during his first year as Thomaskantor, the director of church music in Leipzig. His cantata is part of his first cantata cycle there and was written for the Marian feast of the Visitation on 2 July, which commemorates Mary's visit to Elizabeth as narrated in the Gospel of Luke. Bach based the music on his earlier cantata BWV 147a, written originally in Weimar in 1716 for Advent. He expanded it to from six movements to ten movements in two parts. While the text of the Advent cantata was written by the Weimar court poet Salomo Franck, the librettist of the additions is anonymous.

Both parts are concluded by a new chorale setting, identical music to two stanzas of the hymn "Jesu, meiner Seelen Wonne" (1661) by Martin Jahn (de). Different from many other closing chorales by Bach, a four-part setting of the hymn tune is embedded in a pastoral instrumental concerto.. This music became famous as Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring in a piano transcription by Dame Myra Hess.

History and words[edit]

Bach took office as Thomaskantor, the music director in Leipzig, end of May 1723. It was part of his duties to supply music for the Sundays and feast days of the liturgical year at four churches of the town, and he decided to compose new cantatas for these occasions. He began with a cantata for the first Sunday after Trinity in 1723, performed on 30 May, and wrote a series of church cantatas until Trinity of the next year, which became known as his first cantata cycle. Some cantatas of that cycle were based on music he had composed before,[2] including Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben.

Among the Marian feasts celebrated in Lutheran Leipzig was "Mariae Heimsuchung" (Visitation, literally: Mary's visit) on 2 July, for which Bach composed Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben.[3][4] The prescribed readings for the feast day were Isaiah 11:1–5, the prophecy of the Messiah, and from the Gospel of Luke, Luke 1:39–56, Mary's visit to Elizabeth, including her song of praise, the Magnificat. Bach used as a basis for the music a cantata in six movements that he had written in Weimar for the fourth Sunday in Advent. As Leipzig observed tempus clausum (time of silence) from Advent II to Advent IV, Bach could not perform the cantata for thesame occasion in Leipzig, but rewrote it for the feast of the Visitation. The original cantata text was suitable for a feast celebrating Mary in general; more specific recitatives were added, the order of the arias changed, and the closing chorale was replaced by the hymn "Jesu, meiner Seelen Wonne" (1661) by Martin Jahn (de). Bach chose stanzas 6 and 16 of the hymn to conclude the two parts of the new cantata which were performed before and after the sermon.[5]


Structure and scoring[edit]

Bach structured the cantata in ten movements, in two parts of six respectively four movements. The first movement is scored for choir and the full orchestra. The inner movements are alternating recitatives and arias for solo singers and mostly obbligato instruments. Both parts are concluded with a chorale stanza, both from the same hymn and set the same way. Bach scored the work for four vocal soloists (soprano (S), alto (A), tenor (T) and bass (B)), a four-part choir, and a Baroque instrumental ensemble: trumpet (Tr), two oboes (Ob) (oboe d'amore (Oa), oboe da caccia (Oc)), two violins (Vl), viola (Va), and basso continuo (Bc) including bassoon (Fg).[6][7]

In the following table of the movements, the first shows the movement number, and in brackets the movement number of the Weimar cantata. The scoring follows the Neue Bach-Ausgabe.[7] The keys and time signatures are taken from the book by Bach scholar Alfred Dürr, using the symbol for common time (4/4).[8] The instruments are shown separately for winds and strings, while the continuo, playing throughout, is not shown.

Movements of Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben, BWV 47
No. Title Text Type Vocal Winds Strings Key Time
1 (1) Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben Chorus SATB Tr 2Ob 2Vl Va G major common time
2 Gebenedeiter Mund! Recitative T 2Vl Va common time
3 (2) Schäme dich, o Seele nicht Aria A Oa A minor 3/4
4 Verstockung kann Gewaltige verblenden Recitative B common time
5 Bereite dir, Jesu, noch itzo die Bahn Aria S Vl solo D minor common time
6 Wohl mir, daß ich Jesum habe Jahn Chorale SATB Tr 2Ob 2Vl Va G major 9/8
7 (4) Hilf, Jesu, hilf, daß ich auch dich bekenne Aria T F major 3/4
8 Der höchsten Allmacht Wunderhand Recitative A 2Oa C major common time
9 (5) Ich will von Jesu Wundern singen Aria B Tr 2Ob 2Vl Va C major common time
10 Jesus bleibet meine Freude Jahn Chorale SATB Tr 2Ob 2Vl Va G major 9/8


The opening chorus renders the complete words in three sections, the third one a reprise of the first one and even the middle section not different in character. An instrumental ritornello is heard in the beginning and in the end as well as, slightly changed, in all three sections with the choir woven into it. In great contrast all three sections conclude with a part accompanied only by basso continuo. Sections one and three begin with a fugue with colla parte instruments. The fugue subject stresses the word Leben (life) by a melisma extended over three measures. The soprano starts the theme, the alto enters just one measure later, tenor after two more measures, bass one measure later, the fast succession resulting in a lively music as a good image of life. In section three the pattern of entrances is the same, but building from the lowest voice to the highest.[9]

The three recitatives are scored differently, the first accompanied by chords of the strings, the second by continuo, the third as an accompagnato of two oboes da caccia which add a continuous expressive motive, interrupted only when the child's leaping in the womb (in German: Hüpfen) is mentioned which they illustrate.[10]

The three arias of the original cantata are scored for voice and solo instruments (3., 5.) or only continuo, whereas the last aria, speaking of the miracles of Jesus, is accompanied by the full orchestra.[11]

The chorale movements 6 and 10, ending the two parts of the cantata, are the same music based on a melody by Johann Schop, "Werde munter, mein Gemüthe", a melody which Bach also used in his St Matthew Passion for the words "Bin ich gleich von dir gewichen". The simple four-part choral part is embedded in a setting of the full orchestra dominated by a motive in pastoral triplets derived from the first line of the chorale melody.[12]

Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring[edit]

The music of the chorale movements is now best known for the piano transcription by Dame Myra Hess of Hugh P. Allen's choral version of Bach's arrangement, and is notable under the title Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring which approximately relates to "Jesus bleibet meine Freude", more closely translated as "Jesus shall remain my joy".[1][13]



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





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