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Du wahrer Gott und Davids Sohn, BWV 23

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Du wahrer Gott und Davids Sohn
BWV 23
Thomaskirche Leipzig, the location of the first performance, 1885
Relatedperformed with BWV 22
Composed1723 (1723)?: Köthen
Performed7 February 1723 (1723-02-07) and 20 February 1724 (1724-02-20), Leipzig
  • (cornett)
  • (3 trombones)
  • 2 oboes (oboes d'amore)
  • 2 violins
  • viola
  • continuo

Du wahrer Gott und Davids Sohn (You true God and Son of David),[1] BWV 23,[a] is a church cantata by Johann Sebastian Bach. He composed it in Köthen between 1717 and 1723 for Quinquagesima Sunday and performed it as an audition piece for the position of Thomaskantor in Leipzig on 7 February 1723. The Sunday was the last occasion for music at church before the quiet time of Lent.

Bach had at least the first three movements ready for the audition in Leipzig and may have added the substantial last movement, derived from the lost Weimarer Passion, rather late. The cantata deals with healing the blind near Jericho. An anonymous author stayed close to the gospel, having the blind man call Jesus in the first movement, and begging Jesus not to pass in the second. In the last movement Bach presents an extended version of "Christe, du Lamm Gottes", the German Agnus Dei of the Lutheran mass. He scored the cantata for three vocal soloists, a four-part choir, and a Baroque instrumental ensemble with oboes, strings and continuo.

Bach possibly led the audition performance of the work in Leipzig in the Thomaskirche on 7 February 1723, probably after the sermon. He performed the cantata again for the same occasion on 20 February 1724, this time reinforcing the voices by a brass choir in the final movement.

History and words[edit]

Bach probably composed the cantata in Köthen between 1717 and 1723 for Estomihi (Quinquagesima), the last Sunday before Lent. He revised it, transposing it from C minor to B minor and possibly adding the last movement, to be a test piece, together with Jesus nahm zu sich die Zwölfe, BWV 22, for his application for the position of Thomaskantor, director of church music in Leipzig. The prescribed readings for the Sunday were taken from the First Epistle to the Corinthians, "praise of love" (1 Corinthians 13:1–13), and from the Gospel of Luke, healing the blind near Jericho (Luke 18:31–43). The authorship of the poetry is unknown.[2] The Sunday was meaningful because it was the last chance to perform cantata music before the quiet time of Lent began.[3]

The chorale theme assigned to "Christe, du Lamm Gottes", first appeared in print in Johannes Bugenhagen's Braunschweig church order, published in Wittenberg in 1525.[4] Luther assigned it then to the Kyrie eleison of his Deutsche Messe.[5][6]

Bach possibly led the audition performance of the work in Leipzig in the Thomaskirche on 7 February 1723, probably after the sermon.[7] It is unclear whether a "test" performance of the 1723 revised version took place in Köthen before Bach's audition. Bach performed the cantata again for the same occasion on 20 February 1724,[8] reinforcing the voices by a brass choir in the final movement.[2] When he performed the cantata again between 1728 and 1731, he returned to the original Köthen key and performed without brass.[8]


Structure and scoring[edit]

Bach structured the cantata in four movements: a duet for soprano (S) and alto (A), a recitative for tenor (T), a chorus, and a closing chorale. He scored it for the three vocal soloists, a four-part choir and a Baroque instrumental ensemble.[9] The duration is given as 20 minutes.[2]

In the following table of the movements, the scoring and keys follow the Neue Bach-Ausgabe for the version performed in 1724, which is in B minor, uses oboes d'amore in the first movement and brass playing colla parte with the voices in the last movement, a choir of cornett (Ct) and three trombones (Tb) (or trumpets (Tr)). According to the Bach scholar Alfred Dürr, the audition version of 1723 had no reinforcement by brass, matching the scoring of the other audition piece.[2] The originally composed version, which was not performed until 1728, was in C minor, had oboes in the opening movement and no brass. The time signatures are taken from the book on all cantatas by the Bach scholar Alfred Dürr, using the symbol for common time (4/4).[2] The continuo, played throughout, is not shown.

Movements of Du wahrer Gott und Davids Sohn, BWV 23
No. Title Text Type Vocal Winds Strings Key Time
1 Du wahrer Gott und Davids Sohn anon. Aria (Duetto) S A 2Oa 2Vl Va B minor common time
2 Ach! gehe nicht vorüber anon. Recitative e chorale T 2Ob 2Vl Va common time
3 Aller Augen warten, Herr anon. Chorus SATB 2Ob 2Vl Va D major 3/4
4 Christe, du Lamm Gottes German Agnus Dei Chorale SATB Ct 3Tb 2Ob 2Vl Va
common time


In this cantata, Bach combines elements of ritornello and concerto writing to expand his range of structural experimentation. Although the closing chorale was a later addition, its melody is incorporated earlier in the piece, unifying the form. The theme of the text is optimistic, but the music throughout has a sense of underlying sadness.[10] Craig Smith describes the cantata as "one of the densest and greatest".[11] The Bach scholar Christoph Wolff notes that the opening duet and also the duet passages on the chorus are in the style of Bach's secular cantatas written in Köthen.[8]


The opening movement, "Du wahrer Gott und Davids Sohn" (You true God and Son of David),[1] is "a sinewy and somewhat enigmatic quintet" for soprano and alto voices (assuming the role of the blind man addressing Jesus) with low active oboes and continuo. The movement is in adapted ternary form with an opening and closing "Italianate" ritornello. The soprano line includes a "drooping" motive, hinting at later harmonic and emotional development.[10] There is a "thorny, even awkward juxtaposition of triple and duple meters" throughout the duet.[11]


The tenor recitative, "Ach! gehe nicht vorüber" (Ah! do not pass by),[1] is similar to that for bass in Jesus nahm zu sich die Zwölfe: they are both in major mode and accompanied by chordal strings underlying the vocal line. This movement adds an instrumental rendition of the melody of the closing chorale in oboe and violin.[10]


The chorus, "Aller Augen warten, Herr" (All eyes wait, Lord),[1] is, according to the musicologist Julian Mincham, "dance-like but not toe-tapping, major but not ebulliently so, employing the full chorus but restrained throughout".[10] The form is a free rondo with interspersed extended episodes of tenor and bass duet. The opening includes the BACH motif.[10][11]


The last movement, "Christe, du Lamm Gottes" (Christ, Lamb of God),[1] is probably older than the first three movements and may have originated in the lost Weimarer Passion from 1717.[8] The three calls of the Agnus Dei are all set differently, with an independent prelude and interludes by the oboes and strings, between the verses.[2] The first verse is marked "adagio". Instrumental motifs are derived from the hymn tune, which appears in the soprano and mostly chordal support by the lower voices. In the second verse, marked "andante", the tune appears in a three-part canon in soprano, oboes and first violin.[2] The third verse returns to B minor.[7] It has the tune in the soprano with polyphony in the lower voices and the instruments. The oboes play a syncopated independent role, while the strings support the voices, and the oboes in the interludes. The complex artful composition is a good preparation for Lent, the time of the Passion.[2] Bach used it again to conclude the second version of his St John Passion in 1725.[7]


The selection is taken from the listing on the Bach Cantatas Website.[12]

Recordings of Du wahrer Gott und Davids Sohn, BWV 23
Title Conductor / Choir / Orchestra Soloists Label Year
J. S. Bach: Cantatas BWV 23 & BWV 159 Kurt Thomas
Frankfurter Kantorei
Deutsche Bachsolisten
Cantate 1962 (1962)
Bach Cantatas Vol. 2 – Easter Karl Richter
Münchener Bach-Chor
Münchener Bach-Orchester
Archiv Produktion 1974 (1974)
Les Grandes Cantates de J. S. Bach Vol. 29 Fritz Werner
Heinrich-Schütz-Chor Heilbronn
Württembergisches Kammerorchester Heilbronn
Erato 1973 (1973)
J. S. Bach: Das Kantatenwerk – Sacred Cantatas Vol. 2 Gustav Leonhardt
Teldec 1973 (1973)
Die Bach Kantate Vol. 28 Helmuth Rilling
Gächinger Kantorei
Bach-Collegium Stuttgart
Hänssler 1977 (1977)
J. S. Bach: Complete Cantatas Vol. 3 Ton Koopman
Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra & Choir
Antoine Marchand 1995 (1995)
J. S. Bach: Cantatas Vol. 8 – Leipzig Cantatas Masaaki Suzuki
Bach Collegium Japan
BIS 1998 (1998)
Bach Edition Vol. 5 – Cantatas Vol. 2 Pieter Jan Leusink
Holland Boys Choir
Netherlands Bach Collegium
Brilliant Classics 1999 (1999)
Bach Cantatas Vol. 21: Cambridge/Walpole St Peter John Eliot Gardiner
English Baroque Soloists
Soli Deo Gloria 2000 (2000)
J. S. Bach: Cantatas for the Complete Liturgical Year Vol. 6 (Sexagesima and Estomihi Sundays) Sigiswald Kuijken
La Petite Bande
Accent 2007 (2007)
J. S. Bach: Jesus, deine Passion Philippe Herreweghe
Collegium Vocale Gent
Harmonia Mundi France 2007 (2007)


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


  1. ^ a b c d e Dellal, Pamela. "BWV 23 – Du wahrer Gott und Davids Sohn". Emmanuel Music. Retrieved 11 February 2015.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h 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. ISBN 978-0-19-929776-4.
  3. ^ Gardiner, John Eliot (2006). Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) / Cantatas Nos 1, 22, 23, 54, 127, 159 & 182 (Media notes). Soli Deo Gloria (at Hyperion Records website). Retrieved 1 March 2019.
  4. ^ Leaver, Robin A. (2007). Luther's liturgical music: principles and implications. William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co. ISBN 978-0-8028-3221-4.
  5. ^ Terry, Charles Sanford (1921). Bach's Chorals (PDF). III. pp. 124–125.
  6. ^ Chafe, Eric (2000). Analyzing Bach cantatas. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-516182-3.
  7. ^ a b c Hofmann, Klaus (1998). "Du wahrer Gott und Davids Sohn, BWV 23 / Thou true God and David's Son" (PDF). Bach Cantatas Website. pp. 5–6. Retrieved 6 February 2013.
  8. ^ a b c d Wolff, Christoph (1995). "From konzertmeister to thomaskantor: Bach's cantata production 1713 to 1723" (PDF). Bach Cantatas Website. pp. 17–19. Retrieved 6 February 2016.
  9. ^ Bischof, Walter F. "BWV 23 Du wahrer Gott und Davids Sohn". University of Alberta. Retrieved 6 February 2016.
  10. ^ a b c d e Mincham, Julian. "Chapter 45 BWV 23". jsbachcantatas. Retrieved 6 February 2016.
  11. ^ a b c Smith, Craig. "BWV 23". Emmanuel Music. Retrieved 6 February 2016.
  12. ^ Oron, Aryeh. "Cantata BWV 23 Du wahrer Gott und Davids Sohn". Bach Cantatas Website. Retrieved 6 February 2016.

External links[edit]