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Die Elenden sollen essen, BWV 75

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Die Elenden sollen essen
BWV 75
Church cantata by J. S. Bach
Leipzig Nikolaikirche um 1850.jpg
Nikolaikirche, c. 1850
OccasionFirst Sunday after Trinity
Bible textPsalms 22:26
Chorale"Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan"
Composed1723 (1723): Köthen
Performed30 May 1723 (1723-05-30): Leipzig
Movements14 in two parts (7, 7)
VocalSATB choir and solo
  • Trumpet
  • 2 oboes
  • oboe d'amore
  • 2 violins
  • viola
  • continuo

Johann Sebastian Bach composed the church cantata Die Elenden sollen essen (The miserable shall eat),[1] BWV 75, in Leipzig for the first Sunday after Trinity and first performed it on 30 May 1723. The complex work in two parts of seven movements each marks the beginning of his first annual cycle of cantatas.

Bach composed the cantata at a decisive turning point in his career. After various positions in churches and courts, he assumed his post of Thomaskantor in Leipzig on the first Sunday after Trinity, performing this cantata. He began the ambitious project of composing a new cantata for every occasion of the liturgical year.

The work is structured in an unusual layout of 14 movements in two symmetrical parts, to be performed before and after the sermon. The unknown poet begins his text with a quotation from Psalm 22 and departs from its ideas on wealth and poverty, rich and poor, and illustrates the contrasts. The focus of the second part is on being poor or rich in spirit. Both parts are concluded by a stanza of Samuel Rodigast's hymn "Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan".


Johann Sebastian Bach had served in several churches as Kantor and organist, and at the courts of Weimar and Köthen, when he applied for the post of Thomaskantor in Leipzig. He was 38 years old and had a reputation as an organist and organ expert.[2] He had composed church cantatas, notably the funeral cantata Actus tragicus around 1708. In Weimar, he had begun a project to cover all occasions of the liturgical year by providing one cantata a month for four years, including works such as Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen, BWV 12, and Erschallet, ihr Lieder, BWV 172.

History and words[edit]

Bach composed the cantata for the First Sunday after Trinity and first performed it in the service in the Nikolaikirche on 30 May 1723, to take up his position as Thomaskantor.[3] From then he was responsible for the education of the Thomanerchor, performances in the regular services in the Thomaskirche, the Nikolaikirche, Neue Kirche and Petrikirche.[4] He started a project of composing one cantata for each Sunday and holiday of the liturgical year,[5] termed by Christoph Wolff "an artistic undertaking on the largest scale".[3]

The prescribed readings for the Sunday were from the First Epistle of John, "God is Love" (1 John 4:16–21), and from the Gospel of Luke, the parable of the Rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19–31). An unknown poet begins the cantata with a verse from a psalm, Psalms 22:26 (verse 27 in the Luther Bible), "The meek shall eat and be satisfied: they shall praise the Lord that seek him: your heart shall live for ever", connecting the gospel to the Old Testament as a starting point.[4] The later cantata for the same occasion, Brich dem Hungrigen dein Brot, BWV 39 (Break your bread for the hungry), begins similarly with a quotation from the Old Testament. The poet expands on the contrast of "Reichtum und Armut" (wealth and poverty, rich and poor) in fourteen elaborate movements, arranged in two parts to be performed before and after the sermon. The poet expands the contrast of "Reichtum und Armut" (wealth and poverty, rich and poor) Both parts are concluded by a stanza of Samuel Rodigast's hymn "Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan", stanza 2 in movement 7, stanza 6 in movement 14.[4]

The autograph score is written neatly on non-Leipzig paper, probably while Bach still lived in Köthen.[6] A Leipzig chronicle, "Acta Lipsiensium academica", reported the social event: "... führte ... Hr. Joh. Sebastian Bach ... mit gutem applauso seine erste Music auf" (... performed ... with good applause his first music).[4] "Good applause" means "great approval"[3] rather than clapping of hands.[4] A different translation renders the note as "... the new Cantor and Director of the Collegium Musicum, Herr Johann Sebastian Bach, who has come hither from the Prince's court of Cöthen, produced his first music here with great success."[7]


Structure and scoring[edit]

The cantata is structured in two parts of seven movements each, to be performed before and after the sermon. It is scored for four vocal soloists (soprano (S), alto (A), tenor (T) and bass (B)), a four-part choir SATB, trumpet (Tr), two oboes (Ob), oboe d'amore (Oa), two violins (Vl), viola (Va), and basso continuo (Bc) including bassoon.[5] The two parts of seven movements each are composed as the same arrangement of alternating recitatives and arias with a concluding chorale, only Part II is opened by a sinfonia instead of a chorus.[4] The duration is given as 35 minutes.[8]

In the following table of the movements, the scoring follows the Neue Bach-Ausgabe. The keys and time signatures are taken from 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 Die Elenden sollen essen, Part 1
No. Title Text Type Vocal Winds Strings Key Time
1 Die Elenden sollen essen Psalms 22:26 Chorus SATB 2Ob Fg 2Vl Va E minor
  • 3/4
  • common time
2 Was hilft des Purpurs Majestät anon. Recitative B 2Vl Va common time
3 Mein Jesus soll mein alles sein anon. Aria T Ob 2Vl Va G major common time
4 Gott stürzet und erhöhet anon. Recitative T common time
5 Ich nehme mein Leiden mit Freuden auf mich anon. Aria S Oa A minor 3/8
6 Indes schenkt Gott ein gut Gewissen anon. Recitative S common time
7 Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan Rodigast Chorale SATB 2Ob 2Vl Va G major common time
Movements of Die Elenden sollen essen, Part II
No. Title Text Type Vocal Winds Strings Key Time
8 Sinfonia Tr 2Vl Va G major cut time
9 Nur eines kränkt anon. Recitative A 2Vl Va common time
10 Jesus macht mich geistlich reich anon. Aria A 2Vl unis. E minor 3/8
11 Wer nur in Jesu bleibt anon. Recitative B common time
12 Mein Herze glaubt und liebt anon. Aria B Tr Vl Va C major common time
13 O Armut, der kein Reichtum gleicht anon. Recitative T common time
14 Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan Rodigast Chorale SATB 2Ob 2Vl Va G major common time


Bach marked the occasion, creating the opening chorus reminiscent of a French overture, with a slow first section in dotted rhythm and a fast fugue. He chose the same form one year later to begin his second annual cycle of chorale cantatas with O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort, BWV 20. The composition can also be seen as a prelude and fugue on a large scale. The prelude is again in two sections separated by a short interlude, in the way of a motet according to the different ideas of the text. In the fugue on the words "Euer Herz soll ewiglich leben" (your heart shall live for ever),[9] the subject is developed three times, again separated by interludes.[4]

Four of the recitatives are "secco", accompanied only by the continuo, but the first one of each part is "accompagnato", brightened by the strings.[5] In the arias, the voice and the instruments mostly share the themes. The arias can be considered as a suite of French dance movements, the tenor a Polonaise, the soprano aria a Minuet, the alto aria a Passepied and the bass aria a Gigue.[6] In the last aria, the trumpet opens the setting and then accompanies the bass in virtuoso figuration, adding splendour to the words "Mein Herze glaubt und liebt" (My heart believes and loves).[4][5][9]

The music of the two stanzas of the chorale[10] is identical. The tune is not a simple four-part setting as in most of Bach's later cantatas, but the voices are embedded in a concerto of the orchestra, led by violin I and oboe I.[5] The instrumental theme is derived from the first line of the chorale tune.[4]

The sinfonia beginning Part II, rare in Bach's cantatas, is especially remarkable because it is a chorale fantasia on the same chorale melody.[5] The tune is played by the trumpet which was silent throughout Part I, as the cantus firmus against a polyphonic string setting, emphasizing once more "Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan" (What God does is well done).[4][9]


The entries of the following table are taken from the list of recordings is provided by Bach Cantatas Website.[11] Ensembles playing on period instruments in historically informed performance are marked by green background.

Recordings of Die Elenden sollen essen, BWV 75
Title Conductor / Choir / Orchestra Soloists Label Year Orch. type
Die Bach Kantate Vol. 38 Helmuth Rilling
Frankfurter Kantorei
Bach-Collegium Stuttgart
Hänssler 1970 (1970) Chamber
J. S. Bach: Das Kantatenwerk • Complete Cantatas • Les Cantates, Folge / Vol. 19 Gustav Leonhardt
Teldec 1977 (1977) Period
J. S. Bach: Complete Cantatas Vol. 6 Ton Koopman
Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra & Choir
Antoine Marchand 1998 (1998) Period
J. S. Bach: Cantatas Vol. 8 – Leipzig Cantatas Masaaki Suzuki
Bach Collegium Japan
BIS 1998 (1998) Period
Bach Edition Vol. 19 – Cantatas Vol. 10 Pieter Jan Leusink
Holland Boys Choir
Netherlands Bach Collegium
Brilliant Classics 2000 (2000) Period
Bach Cantatas Vol. 1: City of London / For the 1st Sunday after Trinity John Eliot Gardiner
Monteverdi Choir
English Baroque Soloists
Soli Deo Gloria 2000 (2000) Period
J. S. Bach: Weinen, Klagen Philippe Herreweghe
Collegium Vocale Gent
Harmonia Mundi France 2003 (2003) Period


  1. ^ Verschaeve, François (2007). Répertitres. p. 525. ISBN 9780973845419. Retrieved 16 June 2014.
  2. ^ "Johann Sebastian Bach". Carus-Verlag. Archived from the original on 10 May 2012. Retrieved 15 March 2013.
  3. ^ a b c Wolff, Christoph (1991). Bach: Essays on his Life and Music. ISBN 9780674059269.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Dürr, Alfred (1981). Die Kantaten von Johann Sebastian Bach (in German). Vol. 1 (4 ed.). Deutscher Taschenbuchverlag. pp. 325–330. ISBN 3-423-04080-7.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Mincham, Julian (2010). "Chapter 2 BWV 75 Die Elenden sollen essen / The first cantata of the cycle for the First Sunday after Trinity". Retrieved 21 June 2011.
  6. ^ a b Gardiner, John Eliot (2004). Bach Cantatas Vol. 1: City of London (PDF) (Media notes). Soli Deo Gloria (at Hyperion Records website). pp. 12–13. Retrieved 29 June 2019.
  7. ^ Wolff, Christoph (1997). ""Die Elenden sollen essen" BWV 75" (PDF). Translated by Stewart Spencer. Bach Cantatas Website. p. 16. Retrieved 10 February 2017.
  8. ^ a b Dürr, Alfred; Jones, Richard D. P. (2006). The Cantatas of J. S. Bach: With Their Librettos in German-English Parallel Text. Oxford University Press. pp. 381–387. ISBN 9780199297764.
  9. ^ a b c Dellal, Pamela. "BWV 75 – "Die Elenden sollen essen"". Emmanuel Music. Retrieved 16 June 2014.
  10. ^ "Chorale Melodies used in Bach's Vocal Works / Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan". Bach Cantatas Website. 2006. Retrieved 21 June 2011.
  11. ^ Oron, Aryeh (2006). "Cantata BWV 75 Die Elenden sollen essen". Bach Cantatas Website. Retrieved 8 June 2015.


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