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Christ unser Herr zum Jordan kam, BWV 7

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Christ unser Herr zum Jordan kam
Chorale cantata by J. S. Bach
José de Ribera 063.jpg
Baptism of Jesus (topic of the chorale) by José de Ribera, 1643
Occasion Feast of St John the Baptist
Performed 24 June 1724 (1724-06-24) – Leipzig
Movements 7
Cantata text anonymous
Chorale "Christ unser Herr zum Jordan kam" by Martin Luther
  • SATB choir
  • solo: alto, tenor and bass
  • 2 oboes d'amore
  • 2 violins
  • viola
  • continuo

Christ unser Herr zum Jordan kam (Christ our Lord came to the Jordan),[1] BWV 7,[a] is a church cantata by Johann Sebastian Bach. He composed it in Leipzig for the Feast of St. John the Baptist and led the first performance on 24 June 1724. It is the third chorale cantata from his second annual cycle of chorale cantatas, based on Martin Luther's "Christ unser Herr zum Jordan kam", a hymn about baptism.[2] Luther's first and last stanza are used unchanged (the former treated as a chorale fantasia, the latter as a four-part closing chorale) and an unknown librettist paraphrased the five inner stanzas into a corresponding number of recitatives and arias. The cantata is scored for three vocal soloists (alto, tenor and bass), a four-part choir, two oboes d'amore, two solo violins, strings and basso continuo.

History and words[edit]

Bach composed the cantata for St John's Day in Leipzig as the third cantata of his second annual cycle, which began about two weeks before with O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort, BWV 20, for the first Sunday after Trinity.[3] The cycle was devoted to Lutheran hymns, typically rendered by keeping their text of the first and last stanza, while a contemporary poet reworded the inner stanzas.[3]

The prescribed readings for the Sunday were from the Book of Isaiah, "the voice of a preacher in the desert" (Isaiah 40:1–5), and from the Gospel of Luke, the birth of John the Baptist and the Benedictus of Zechariah (Luke 1:57–80).[3] The cantata is based on Martin Luther's hymn for baptism in seven stanzas "Christ unser Herr zum Jordan kam".[2] Stanzas 1 and 7 are used unchanged in movements 1 and 7. An unknown librettist paraphrased the ideas of stanzas 2 to 6 to a sequence of as many recitatives and arias.[4] The song and thus the text focus on Luther's teaching on baptism, derived from biblical accounts. It is not related to the prescribed gospel about the birth of the baptist.[3]

Bach first performed the cantata on 24 June 1724.[3]

Scoring and structure[edit]

The cantata in seven movements is scored for three vocal soloists (alto (A), tenor (T) and bass (B)), a four-part choir (SATB), two oboes d'amore (Oa), two solo violins (Vs, the second one only introduced in a later performance), two violins (Vl), viola (Va) and basso continuo (Bc).[3]

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).[3] The instruments are shown separately for winds and strings, while the continuo, playing throughout, is not shown.

Movements of Christ unser Herr zum Jordan kam, BWV 7
No. Title Text Type Vocal Winds Strings Key Time
1 Christ unser Herr zum Jordan kam Luther Chorus SATB 2Oa Vs 2Vl Va E minor common time
2 Merkt und hört, ihr Menschenkinder anon. Aria B G major common time
3 Dies hat Gott klar mit Worten anon. Recitative T
4 Des Vaters Stimme ließ sich hören anon. Aria T 2Vs A minor 9/8
5 Als Jesus dort nach seinen Leiden anon. Recitative B 2Vl Va
6 Menschen, glaubt doch dieser Gnade anon. Aria A 2Oa (unis.) 2Vl Va G major common time
7 Das Aug allein das Wasser sieht Luther Chorale SATB 2Oa 2Vl Va
common time


The structure of seven movements begins with a chorale fantasia and ends, after a sequence of alternating arias and recitatives, with a closing chorale as a four-part setting. Bach increased the number of accompanying instruments for the arias, from only continuo to two solo violins, finally to two oboes d'amore and the strings.[3]


The hymn in a print of 1577

In the opening chorus, "Christ unser Herr zum Jordan kam" (Christ our Lord came to the Jordan),[1] the tenor has the melody[5] as a cantus firmus, while the other voices sing free counterpoint.[6][7] In the first cantata of the cycle, O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort, BWV 20, Bach gave the cantus firmus of the chorale tune to the soprano, in the second, Ach Gott, vom Himmel sieh darein, BWV 2, to the alto. The opening chorus resembles an Italian violin concerto.[4] The musicologist Julian Mincham likens the "solo violin's persistent, rocking, wave-like idea" to the waves of the Jordan River.[7] Alfred Dürr compares the vocal sections, all with the solo violin, to the solo sections of a violin concerto, as opposed to the tutti sections with the orchestra.[3] John Eliot Gardiner interprets the movement as a French overture, "replete with grandiloquent baroque gestures to suggest both the processional entrance of Jesus and the powerful flooding of the River Jordan".[6] Klaus Hofmann notes that the movement combines the old style of motet writing with the new type of solo concerto, and observes that "the main violin solo episodes ... are at first linked to the choral entries, but gradually assume larger proportions and greater independence as the movement progresses".[4]


The first aria, "Merkt und hört, ihr Menschenkinder" (Mark and hear, you humans),[1] is accompanied by the continuo alone. Mincham observes that a characteristic fast motif of five notes, repeated abundantly in the cello, always flows downward, while Bach usually also inverses motifs, such as in his Inventions. Mincham concludes that it represents the "pouring of the baptismal waters".[7]


The following recitative is given to the tenor as an Evangelist: "Dies hat Gott klar mit Worten" (This God has clearly provided with words),[1] narrating the biblical command to baptise.[3]


The central aria is sung by the tenor, accompanied by two violins, marked "solo" in a later performance, "Des Vaters Stimme ließ sich hören" (The Father's voice can be heard).[1] Gardiner notes that the music "describes, through its pair of soaring violins, the circling flight of the Holy Spirit as a dove".[6] Hofmann notes the character of the movement as a gigue, and several appearances of the number 3 as a symbol of the Trinity: it is a trio for voice and two violins, "in triple time – and markedly so: not only is the time signature 3/4, but also the crotchets are each divided into triplets", and in a form of three solo sections as "all variants of a single model that is presented in the opening and concluding ritornellos". Hofmann concludes: "The sequence that this creates – three different forms of the same musical substance – is evidently to be understood as a symbol of the Holy Trinity."[4]


A recitative for bass, the vox Christi (voice of Christ), "Als Jesus dort nach seinen Leiden" (As Jesus there, after His passion),[1] speaks of Jesus after his passion and resurrection. It is accompanied by the strings, similar to the words of Jesus in Bach's St Matthew Passion.[3]


The last aria is sung by the alto with rich accompaniment: "Menschen, glaubt doch dieser Gnade" (People, believe this grace now,).[1] The two oboes d'amore double the first violin when human beings are requested to accept the grace of God to not "perish in the pit of hell".[6]


The closing chorale is the final stanza of the hymn, with the instruments playing colla parte: "Das Aug allein das Wasser sieht" (The eye sees only water,),[1] a summary of Luther's teaching about baptism.[6]

Selected recordings[edit]

A list of recordings is provided by Aryeh Oron on the Bach-Cantatas website.[8]

Recordings of Christ unser Herr zum Jordan kam, BWV 7
Title Conductor / Choir / Orchestra Soloists Label Year Choir type Orch. type
Les Grandes Cantates de J. S. Bach Vol. 22 Werner, FritzFritz Werner
Heinrich-Schütz-Chor Heilbronn
Pforzheim Chamber Orchestra
Erato 1966 (1966) Chamber
J. S. Bach: Das Kantatenwerk • Complete Cantatas • Les Cantates, Folge / Vol. 2 Leonhardt, GustavGustav Leonhardt
Choir of King's College, Cambridge
Teldec 1971 (1971) Period
Die Bach Kantate Vol. 40 Rilling, HelmuthHelmuth Rilling
Gächinger Kantorei
Bach-Collegium Stuttgart
Hänssler 1976 (1976) Chamber
Bach Edition Vol. 9 – Cantatas Vol. 4 Leusink, Pieter JanPieter Jan Leusink
Holland Boys Choir
Netherlands Bach Collegium
Brilliant Classics 1999 (1999) Boys Period
J. S. Bach: Complete Cantatas Vol. 11 Koopman, TonTon Koopman
Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra & Choir
Antoine Marchand 1999 Period
Bach Cantatas Vol. 1: Long Melford For Whit Sunday For Whit Monday Gardiner, John EliotJohn Eliot Gardiner
Monteverdi Choir
English Baroque Soloists
Soli Deo Gloria 2000 (2000) Period
J. S. Bach: Cantatas Vol. 22 (Cantatas from Leipzig 1724) Suzuki, MasaakiMasaaki Suzuki
Bach Collegium Japan
BIS 2002 (2002) Period


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


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Dellal, Pamela. "BWV 7 – "Christ unser Herr zum Jordan kam"". Emmanuel Music. Retrieved 30 August 2014. 
  2. ^ a b "Christ unser Herr zum Jordan kam / Text and Translation of Chorale". 2006. Retrieved 17 June 2012. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Dürr, Alfred (1981). Die Kantaten von Johann Sebastian Bach (in German) 1 (4 ed.). Deutscher Taschenbuchverlag. pp. 561–563. ISBN 3-423-04080-7. 
  4. ^ a b c d Hofmann, Klaus (2002). "Christ unser Herr zum Jordan kam, BWV 7 / Christ our Lord came to the Jordan" (PDF). p. 8. Retrieved 17 June 2012. 
  5. ^ "Chorale Melodies used in Bach's Vocal Works / Christ unser Herr zum Jordan kam". 2006. Retrieved 17 June 2012. 
  6. ^ a b c d e Gardiner, John Eliot (2004). "Cantatas for the Feast of St John the Baptist / St Giles Cripplegate, London" (PDF). pp. 1–2. Retrieved 23 June 2015. 
  7. ^ a b c Julian Mincham (2010). "Chapter 4 BWV 7 Christ unser Herr zum Jordan kam". Retrieved 24 June 2012. 
  8. ^ Oron, Aryeh. "Cantata BWV 7 Christ unser Herr zum Jordan kam". Retrieved 20 June 2015. 


External links[edit]