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Schauet doch und sehet, ob irgend ein Schmerz sei, BWV 46

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Schauet doch und sehet, ob irgend ein Schmerz sei
BWV 46
Church cantata by J. S. Bach
Thomaskirche, Leipzig
Related Qui tollis peccata mundi of the Mass in B minor
Occasion Tenth Sunday after Trinity
Performed 1 August 1723 (1723-08-01): Leipzig
Movements six
Bible text Lamentations 1:12
Chorale by Johann Matthäus Meyfart
  • SATB choir
  • solo: alto, tenor and bass
  • slide trumpet
  • 2 recorders
  • 2 oboes da caccia
  • 2 violins
  • viola
  • continuo

Johann Sebastian Bach composed the church cantata Schauet doch und sehet, ob irgend ein Schmerz sei (Behold and see, if there be any sorrow),[1] BWV 46,[a] in Leipzig for the tenth Sunday after Trinity and first performed it on 1 August 1723.

The cantata is part of Bach's first cantata cycle, which he began when he took up office as Thomaskantor in May 1723. The topic is based on the prescribed reading from the gospel of Luke, Jesus announcing the destruction of Jerusalem and cleansing of the Temple. The librettist is unknown. The cantata is structured in six movements: two choral movements frame a sequence of alternating recitatives and arias. The opening movement is based on a verse from the Book of Lamentations, a lament of the destructed Jerusalem, related to the announcement from the gospel. The text moves from reflecting God's wrath in the past to the situation of the contemporary Christian. The closing chorale, a stanza from Johann Matthäus Meyfart's hymn "O großer Gott von Macht", is a prayer culminating in the thought "do not repay us according to our sins".[1]

The cantata is scored for three vocal soloists (alto, tenor and bass), a four-part choir, and a Baroque instrumental ensemble of a slide trumpet, two recorders, two oboes da caccia, strings and basso continuo. This is an unusually rich instrumentation for an ordinary Sunday. Bach created in the opening chorus an unusual "uncompromising"[2] fugue for up to nine parts. The bass aria with an obbligato trumpet, depicting God's wrath compared to a thunderstorm, has been regarded as "more frightening"[2] than any contemporary operatic 'rage' arias. The closing chorale is not the usual simple four-part setting, but includes instrumental interludes reminiscent of motifs used before.

Bach used music of the first section of the opening chorus for Qui tollis peccata mundi of his Mass in B minor. He made considerable changes when he adapted the lamenting music to depict the Lamb of God carrying the sins of the world.

History and words[edit]

Bach composed the cantata in his first year as Thomaskantor in Leipzig for the Tenth Sunday after Trinity,[2] the eleventh cantata of his first cantata cycle.[3] The prescribed readings for the Sunday were from the First Epistle to the Corinthians, different gifts, but one spirit (1 Corinthians 12:1–11), and from the gospel of Luke, Jesus announcing the destruction of Jerusalem and cleansing of the Temple (Luke 19:41–48).

As with other cantatas Bach composed in his first years in Leipzig, we do not know the identity of the librettist. It is the third in a group of ten cantatas following the same structure of biblical text (in this case from the Old Testament) – recitativearia – recitative – aria – chorale. The ten cantatas were dedicated to the 8th to 14th and 21st to 22nd Sunday after Trinity and the second Sunday after Easter.[4]

The words for the first movement are taken from the Book of Lamentations (Lamentations 1:12), a lament about the historic destruction of Jerusalem.[4] The text, suitable in connection with the announcement by Jesus, is among the prescribed readings for Good Friday and has been set to music often. The text for the inner movements 2 to 5 were written by the unknown poet, who dedicated a pair of recitative and aria to the memory of the historic event, another pair to the warning that the contemporary Christian is threatened in a similar way.[4] The final chorale is the ninth stanza of "O großer Gott von Macht" by Johann Matthäus Meyfart.[5][6]

Bach led the Thomanerchor and instrumentalists in the first performance on 1 August 1723.[4]


Structure and scoring[edit]

The cantata is structured in six movements and scored for three vocal soloists (alto (A), tenor (T) and bass (B)), a four-part choir (SATB), and a Baroque instrumental ensemble of a slide trumpet (Zugtrompete, Tr), mostly doubling the choir soprano, two recorders (Fl), two oboes da caccia (Oc), two violins (Vl), viola (Va) and basso continuo (Bc).[7] This is an unusually rich instrumentation for an ordinary Sunday.[4] The duration is given as 20 minutes.[4] The title on the original parts reads: "10 post Trinit: / Schauet doch und sehet, ob irgend ein etc. / a / 4 Voci / 1 Tromba / 2 Flauti / 2 Hautb: da Caccia / 2 Violini / Viola / con / Continuo / di Sign: / J.S.Bach".[8]

In the following table of the movements, the scoring and keys and time signatures are taken from Alfred Dürr, using the symbol for common time (4/4).[4] The instruments are shown separately for winds and strings. The regular continuo is not shown, playing in most movements but not in movement 5.

Movements of Schauet doch und sehet, ob irgend ein Schmerz sei, BWV 46
No. Title Text Type Vocal Winds Strings Key Time
1 Schauet doch und sehet, ob irgend ein Schmerz sei Lamentations 1:12 Chorus SATB Tr 2Fl 2Oc 2Vl Va D minor 3/4
2 So klage du, zerstörte Gottesstadt anon. Recitative T 2 Fl 2Vl Va common time
3 Dein Wetter zog sich auf von weiten anon. Aria B Tr 2Vl Va B-flat major 3/4
4 Doch bildet euch, o Sünder, ja nicht ein anon. Recitative A common time
5 Doch Jesus will auch bei der Strafe anon. Aria A 2Fl 2Oc G minor common time
6 O großer Gott von Treu Meyfart Chorale SATB Tr 2Fl 2Vl Va G minor common time



conductor John Eliot Gardiner at work in rehearsal, looking to the left
John Eliot Gardiner, who conducted the Bach Cantata Pilgrimage, in 2007

The first movement, "Schauet doch und sehet, ob irgend ein Schmerz sei" (Behold and see, if there be any sorrow),[1] in two sections is a lamento of large proportions. The text of lament, part of the prescribed responsorios for Good Friday, has been set by many composers, including Tomás Luis de Victoria, Carlo Gesualdo and Handel who set it as a tenor arioso Messiah, the last movement before the scene of the death.[2]

The movement is structured like a prelude and fugue,[6] the prelude covering the beginning of the biblical verse, the fugue the anguish of the Lord's wrath. The "prelude" begins with 16 measures of instrumental music, with the strings "engaged in a persistent sobbing commentary", as John Eliot Gardiner puts it, who conducted the Bach Cantata Pilgrimage in 2000 and performed this cantata in the Brunswick Cathedral.[2] In the second round of vocal entries, each part is intensified by a wind instruments.[2] The musicologist Julian Mincham notes about Bach's different ways to convey the distress of the text: "There is frequent stressing of the word "Schmerz" (sorrow). Suspensions and dissonant seventh chords in the harmony add to the tension as do the uses of the highly expressive Neapolitan chord and false relations".[2] The fugue, marked "Un poco allegro", covers the second part of the verse, translating to "For the Lord has made me full of anguish on the day of his wrathful anger."[1] The fugue builds from two vocal parts and continuo to nine parts. Gardiner writes: "It is uncompromising in its contrapuntal wildness and grim, dissonant harmony."[2]

two lines of musical notation in comparison
The beginning of the first vocal entry in the cantata movement and the beginning of Qui tollis peccata mundi in the mass

In 1733 a period of mourning the death of August the Strong permitted the composition of complex music. Bach wrote his Missa (Kyrie and Gloria) in B minor, he reworked the first part of the movement as the Qui tollis peccata mundi in the Gloria.[2] The lamenting music depicts the Lamb of God carrying the sins of the world. Bach transposed the music from D minor to B minor, used transverse flutes instead of the recorders, dropped the instrumental opening and installed a repetitive bass, when he adapted the music to the new function. Towards the end of his life, Bach used the complete Gloria for his Mass in B minor.[2]


A tenor recitative, "So klage du, zerstörte Gottesstadt" (Lament then, O destroyed city of God),[1] is accompanied by the recorders and the strings.[9] The recorders play "five-note mourning figures" which may depict the tears of Jesus mourning the fall of Jerusalem.[2] Mincham notes that "Bach′s experiments with instrumentation in a way that lends colour and expressive depth", adding that "it is equally likely that these iridescent twinkles are symbolic; flickering feelings of uncertainty within a demolished world".[3]


The first aria, sung by the bass, "Dein Wetter zog sich auf von weiten" (Your storm arose from far off),[1] depicts dramatically the outbreak of a thunderstorm. It is the only part of the cantata where the trumpet appears in a solo function, as a symbol of divine majesty.[4] The strings and continuo depict the "rouring thunder and lightning striking the earth".[6] Mincham notes about the double image: "The bass aria is, indeed, a graphic musical portrait of a thundering storm as well as an allegorical portrayal of God′s anger and fury".[3] Gardiner regards the aria as "more frightening, than any operatic 'rage' aria of the time by, say, Vivaldi or Handel".[2]


The alto renders in a secco recitative: "Doch bildet euch, o Sünder, ja nicht ein" (Yet do not imagine, o sinners).[1] Mincham observes that "Bach is using the minimum of resource but even so, he still manages to create the maximum of effect",[3] for example that in the last measures, in contrast to the calm beginning, "the harmony becomes more obscure, the bass less conjunct and the alto line more passionate".[3]


The alto aria, "Doch Jesus will auch bei der Strafe" (Yet Jesus will, even in punishment),[1] is scored as a quartet for the voice, the two recorders, and the oboes in unison, without basso continuo. Mincham notes that "the alto voice [is] surrounded and encompassed by instruments of contrasting but complementary timbres". A movement without continuo appeared in the same position within the cantata the previous week, a soprano aria about the "conscience of the sinner" in Herr, gehe nicht ins Gericht mit deinem Knecht, BWV 105. Here Jesus is seen as the caring good shepherd,[3] whom the poet describes: "Er sammelt sie als seine Schafe, als seine Küchlein liebreich ein" (He gathers them as his sheep, Lovingly, as his little chicks).[1]


Johann Matthäus Meyfart, the poet of the hymn

The closing chorale, "O großer Gott von Treu" (O great God of faithfulness),[1] by Johann Matthäus Meyfart is a four-part setting,[10] with the recorders playing "isolated little episodes between the lines of the chorales".[2] They are reminiscent of the motifs of mourning heard in movement 2.[6] The elaborate setting with instrumental interludes is similar as in Herr, gehe nicht ins Gericht mit deinem Knecht, BWV 105, composed a week earlier.[4]


The listing is taken from the selection on the Bach Cantatas Website.[11] Ensembles playing period instruments in historically informed performance are shown with green background.

Recordings of Schauet doch und sehet, ob irgend ein Schmerz sei, BWV 46
Title Conductor / Choir / Orchestra Soloists Label Year Orch. type
Radio Recording - Archiv-Nr: U0-04073 Thurn, MaxMax Thurn
Members of NDR Chor
Members of Hamburger Rundfunkorchester
NDR 1958 (1958)
J. S. Bach: Cantatas BWV 46 & BWV 65 Kahlhöfer, HelmutHelmut Kahlhöfer
Kantorei Barmen-Gemarke
Barmen Chamber Orchestra
Cantate 1960 (1960) Chamber
J. S. Bach: Das Kantatenwerk · Complete Cantatas · Les Cantates, Folge / Vol. 12 – BWV 43–46 Leonhardt, GustavGustav Leonhardt
Knabenchor Hannover
Telefunken 1975 (1975) Period
Die Bach Kantate Vol. 46 Rilling, HelmuthHelmuth Rilling
Gächinger Kantorei
Bach-Collegium Stuttgart
Hänssler 1976 (1976)
J. S. Bach: Complete Cantatas Vol. 8 Koopman, TonTon Koopman
Amsterdam Baroque Choir
Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra
Antoine Marchand 1998 Period
J. S. Bach: Cantatas Vol. 11 – Cantatas from Leipzig 1723 IV – BWV 46, 95, 136, 138[12] Suzuki, MasaakiMasaaki Suzuki
Bach Collegium Japan
BIS 1998 (1998) Period
Bach Edition Vol. 12 – Cantatas Vol. 11 Leusink, Pieter JanPieter Jan Leusink
Holland Boys Choir
Netherlands Bach Collegium
Brilliant Classics 1999 (1999) Period
Bach Cantatas Vol. 5: Rendsburg/Braunschweig / For the 8th Sunday after Trinity / For the 10th Sunday after Trinity Gardiner, John EliotJohn Eliot Gardiner
Monteverdi Choir
English Baroque Soloists
Soli Deo Gloria 2000 (2000) Period


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


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Dellal, Pamela. "BWV 46 – "Schauet doch und sehet"". Emmanuel Music. Retrieved 29 August 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Gardiner, John Eliot (2008). "Cantatas for the Tenth Sunday after Trinity / Dom, Braunschweig" (PDF). Monteverdi Choir. pp. 17–19. Retrieved 18 August 2017. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f Mincham, Julian (2010). "Chapter 12 BWV 46 Schauet doch und sehet, ob irgend ein Schmerz sei / Behold and see, should there be sorrow". Retrieved 29 July 2015. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i Dürr, Alfred (2006). The Cantatas of J. S. Bach: With Their Librettos in German-English Parallel Text. Translated by Richard D. P. Jones. Oxford University Press. p. 27, 477–. ISBN 978-0-19-929776-4. 
  5. ^ "O großer Gott von Macht / Text and Translation of Chorale". Bach Cantatas Website. 2005. Retrieved 29 July 2015. 
  6. ^ a b c d Isoyama, Tadeshi (1998). "J.S. Bach: Cantatas Vol. 11 – Cantatas from Leipzig 1723 / IV – BWV 46, 95, 136, 138" (PDF). Bach Cantatas Website. pp. 6–7. Retrieved 29 July 2015. 
  7. ^ Bischof, Walter F. "BWV 46 Schauet doch und sehet, ob irgend ein Schmerz sei". University of Alberta. Retrieved 29 July 2015. 
  8. ^ Grob, Jochen (2014). "BWV 46 / BC A 117" (in German). Retrieved 29 July 2015. 
  9. ^ Wolff, Christoph (1998). "On the first cycle of Bach cantatas for the Leipzig liturgy 1723/1724" (PDF). Bach Cantatas Website. p. 14. Retrieved 10 August 2012. 
  10. ^ "Chorale Melodies used in Bach's Vocal Works / O großer Gott von Macht". Bach Cantatas Website. 2008. Retrieved 29 June 2015. 
  11. ^ Oron, Aryeh. "Cantata BWV 46 Schauet doch und sehet, ob irgend ein Schmerz sei". Bach Cantatas Website. Retrieved 29 July 2015. 
  12. ^ "Bach: Cantatas Vol 11 / Suzuki, Bach Collegium Japan". ArkivMusic. 1999. Retrieved 15 July 2010.