Wo Gott der Herr nicht bei uns hält, BWV 178

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Wo Gott der Herr nicht bei uns hält
BWV 178
Justus Jonas, the author of the hymn
OccasionEighth Sunday after Trinity
Performed30 July 1724 (1724-07-30): Leipzig
Cantata text
  • SATB choir
  • solo: alto, tenor and bass
  • corno da caccia
  • 2 oboes
  • 2 oboes d'amore
  • 2 violins
  • viola
  • continuo

Wo Gott der Herr nicht bei uns hält (Where God the Lord stands with us not),[1] BWV 178 is a church cantata by Johann Sebastian Bach. He composed it in Leipzig for the eighth Sunday after Trinity and first performed it on 30 July 1724. It is a chorale cantata from his second annual cycle, based on the hymn "Wo Gott der Herr nicht bei uns hält" (1524) by Justus Jonas, a paraphrase of Psalm 124.

History and words[edit]

Bach composed the cantata in his second year in Leipzig for the Eighth Sunday after Trinity.[2] The prescribed readings for the Sunday are from the Epistle to the Romans, "For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God" (Romans 8:12–17), and from the Gospel of Matthew, the warning of false prophets from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7:15–23). The cantata text is based on the hymn "Wo Gott der Herr nicht bei uns hält", published in 1524 by the Lutheran reformer Justus Jonas as a paraphrase of Psalm 124.[3][4] The theme of the psalm, the need of help against raging enemies, corresponds to the Gospel. Compared to Bach's other chorale cantatas of the period, the unknown poet kept much of the original text, six of the eight stanzas, expanding two of them by recitative, to connect even closer to the Gospel. He paraphrased only stanzas 3 and 6 to an aria each. In the last aria, in a statement of opposition to rationalism—the "weasel words of rationalists, who would bring down the whole Lutheran theological edifice" in the words of John Eliot Gardiner[5]—the poet expands the words of the reformers' hymn, "Vernunft kann das nicht fassen" (reason cannot grasp it),[1] appealing to reason, described as unstable and frenzied, to be silent.[2]

Bach first performed the cantata on 30 July 1724,[2] as the eighth chorale cantata of his second annual cycle.[2][6]

Johann Nikolaus Forkel borrowed the manuscripts of Bach's chorale cantatas from Bach's son Friedemann and copied two of the cantatas, Es ist das Heil uns kommen her, BWV 9, and this cantata.[2][5]

Scoring and structure[edit]

The cantata in seven movements is scored for three vocal soloists—alto, tenor and bass—a four-part choir, horn, two oboes, two oboes d'amore, two violins, viola and basso continuo.[2]

  1. Chorale: Wo Gott der Herr nicht bei uns hält
  2. Recitative and chorale (alto): Was Menschenkraft und -witz anfäht
  3. Aria (bass): Gleichwie die wilden Meereswellen
  4. Chorale (tenor): Sie stellen uns wie Ketzern nach
  5. Chorale and recitative (alto, tenor, bass): Aufsperren sie den Rachen weit
  6. Aria (tenor): Schweig, schweig nur, taumelnde Vernunft!
  7. Chorale: Die Feind sind all in deiner Hand


As in most of Bach's chorale cantatas, the opening chorus is a chorale fantasia. The chorale tune was published in 1529 by an anonymous author in Wittenberg.[4] The soprano sings this chorale melody[7] line by line, doubled by the horn, as a cantus firmus to the independent concerto of the orchestra.[2][6] The strings play "agitated dotted rhythms", the oboes "agitated semiquaver cascades" throughout the movement,[4] supplying a sense of unity.[2] The lower voices sing partly in homophony, partly in independent movement similar to the instruments. Bach uses the contrast to illustrate the text in the first lines, with no regard to its negation. "Wo Gott der Herr nicht bei uns hält" is set in homophony and the last word "hält" (literally: "holds") is held as a long note, whereas in "wenn unsre Feinde toben" the raging of the enemies is shown in dotted rhythm and fast runs. When the bar form's Stollen is repeated in the following lines, Bach repeats the music also, although it doesn't reflect the text.[2]

In the following chorale and recitative, Bach distinguishes the chorale lines from the secco recitative by a continuo line on a repeated motif that is derived from the beginning of the respective melody line,[2] termed "in rhythmically compressed form ... four times as fast".[4]

The first aria shows the image of "wild sea surf" in undulating movements in the voice, in the obbligato part of the violins in unison, and in the continuo. The bass voice has to sing challenging coloraturas on the words "Meereswellen" and especially "zerscheitern" (be wrecked).[1][2]

The center of the cantata is an unchanged stanza of the chorale, the alto's unadorned melody accompanied by the oboes d'amore and the continuo as equal partners.[2]

In movement 5, Bach differentiates chorale and recitative differently from the second. The chorale lines are four-part settings, the recitatives are given to individual different singers in the sequence bass, tenor, alto, bass. The continuo unifies the movement by a constant independent regular motion in motifs based on triads.[2]

In the last aria Bach invents a setting for strings that illustrates the instability of "frenzied reason" in syncopated rhythm, interrupted by chords on the repeated appeal "schweig!" (be silent). The drama of the aria rests only at the end of the middle section, when the words "so werden sie mit Trost erquicket" (they will be revived with solace)[1] are given by a fermata and the marking adagio. The cantata is closed by two stanzas of the chorale in a four-part setting.[2]



  1. ^ a b c d Dellal, Pamela. "BWV 178 – "Wo Gott der Herr nicht bei uns hält"". Emmanuel Music. Retrieved 22 July 2014.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Dürr, Alfred (1981). Die Kantaten von Johann Sebastian Bach (in German). 1 (4 ed.). Deutscher Taschenbuchverlag. pp. 382–385. ISBN 3-423-04080-7.
  3. ^ "Wo Gott der Herr nicht bei uns halt (Psalm 124) / Text and Translation of Chorale". Bach Cantatas Website. 2011. Retrieved 23 July 2011.
  4. ^ a b c d Hofmann, Klaus (2002). "Wo Gott der Herr nicht bei uns hält, BwWV 178 / If God the Lord is not with us" (PDF). Bach Cantatas Website. p. 9. Retrieved 24 July 2012.
  5. ^ a b Gardiner, John Eliot (2008). Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) / Cantatas Nos 45, 46, 101, 102, 136 & 178 (Cantatas Vol 5) (Media notes). Soli Deo Gloria (at Hyperion Records website). Retrieved 11 August 2018.
  6. ^ a b Julian Mincham (2010). "Chapter 9 BWV 178 Wo Gott der Herr nicht bei uns hält". jsbachcantatas.com. Retrieved 27 July 2011.
  7. ^ "Chorale Melodies used in Bach's Vocal Works / Wo Gott der Herr nicht bei uns hält". Bach Cantatas Website. 2006. Retrieved 24 July 2011.