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Herr Christ, der einge Gottessohn, BWV 96

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Herr Christ, der einge Gottessohn
BWV 96
Thomaskirche, Leipzig
Occasion18th Sunday after Trinity
Performed8 October 1724 (1724-10-08): Leipzig
Cantata text
VocalSATB choir and solo
  • horn
  • flauto traverso
  • flauto piccolo
  • 2 oboes
  • 2 violins
  • viola
  • continuo

Johann Sebastian Bach composed the church cantata Herr Christ, der einge Gottessohn (Lord Christ, the only Son of God),[1] BWV 96, in Leipzig for the 18th Sunday after Trinity and first performed it on 8 October 1724. The chorale cantata, part of Bach's second annual cycle, is based on the hymn in five stanzas "Herr Christ, der einig Gotts Sohn" by Elisabeth Cruciger, published in Eyn geystlich Gesangk Buchleyn in 1524.

The hymn, related to mysticism and comparing Jesus to the Morning star, matches two aspects of the prescribed gospel for the Sunday, the Great Commandment and a theological dispute about the term "Son of David". An unknown poet kept the first and last stanza for the first and last movement of the cantata, and paraphrased the inner stanzas as four movements, alternating recitative and aria. Bach set the first stanza as a chorale fantasia with the cantus firmus in the alto, adding sparkle by a "dancing" soprano and the illumination of a sopranino, which he used for the first time in his cantatas. In the four inner movements, all four vocal parts have their solo. A tenor aria is accompanied by an obbligato transverse flute, a part written for a virtuoso player. A bass aria is accompanied by an oboe and strings, acting as in a Venetian concerto. The cantata is closed with a simple four-part setting of the hymn tune. Bach performed the cantata again in later years, with minor changes to the scoring.

History and text[edit]

Bach wrote the cantata in 1724 for the 18th Sunday after Trinity as part of his second annual cycle of mostly chorale cantatas. The prescribed readings for the Sunday were from the First Epistle to the Corinthians, Paul's thanks for grace of God in Ephesus (1 Corinthians 1:4–8), and from the Gospel of Matthew, the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:34–46), also mentioning that the byname "Son of David" was discussed in a "theological dispute" of Jesus and the pharisees.[2][3]

The cantata text of an unknown author is based exclusively on the hymn "Herr Christ, der einig Gotts Sohn" in five stanzas by Elisabeth Cruciger (1524).[2][4] The hymn is based on a Latin Christmas hymn, "Corde natus ex parentis", by Aurelius Prudentius. It is the first hymn by a Lutheran reformer which continues late medieval mysticism.[4] Martin Luther appreciated the hymn so much that he placed it at the beginning of an early hymnal,[2] Eyn geystlich Gesangk Buchleyn.[4] The chorale was originally associated with Epiphany, but also with the 18th Sunday after Trinity.[5]

The hymn's first and last stanza in their original wording became the outer movements, as usual in Bach's chorale cantatas.[3] The unknown librettist paraphrased stanzas 2 and 3 to the cantata's respective movements, and stanza 4 to movements 4 and 5. The Gospel asks how Jesus, of David's descent as said in 2 Samuel 7, can also be David's Lord, as claimed in Psalms 110:1. The hymn tries to answer this question, comparing Jesus to the Morning star, an image also used in the hymn "Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern", the base for Bach's cantata Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern, BWV 1.[5]

Bach performed the cantata at least three times, first on 8 October 1724, a second time probably on 24 October 1734 when the sopranino was replaced by a violino piccolo,[3] and a third time probably on 1 October 1740. The Bach scholar Christoph Wolff suggested performances in 1744/47,[6] Klaus Hofmann in 1747, when the corno part was given to a trombone.[3]


Structure and scoring[edit]

Bach structured the cantata in six movements, framing alternating recitatives and arias by an opening chorale fantasia and a closing four-part chorale.[6] He scored it for soprano, alto, tenor and bass soloists, a four-part choir, and an ensemble of Baroque instruments: horn (Co) or (later) trombone to enforce the hymn tune, flauto traverso (Ft), flauto piccolo (Fp) or (later) violino piccolo, two oboes (Ob), two violins (Vl), viola (Va), cello (Vc), and basso continuo.[7] The title page of the autograph score reads: "Concerto. / Dominica 18. post. Trinit: / Herr Christ der einge Gottes Sohn etc. / a / Traversiere / 2 Hautbois / 2 Violini / Viola / Canto / Alto / Tenore / Basso / e / Continuo. / d. J.S. Bach".[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).[5] The continuo, playing throughout, is not shown.

Movements of Herr Christ, der einge Gottessohn
No. Title Text Type Vocal Winds Strings Key Time
1 Herr Christ, der einge Gottessohn Cruciger Chorale fantasia SATB Co Fp 2Ob 2Vl Va F major 9/8
2 O Wunderkraft der Liebe anon. Recitative A common time
3 Ach, ziehe die Seele mit Seilen der Liebe anon Aria T Ft C major common time
4 Ach, führe mich, o Gott, zum rechten Wege anon. Recitative S common time
5 Bald zur Rechten, bald zur Linken anon. Aria B 2Ob 2Vl Va D minor 3/4
6 Ertöt uns durch dein Güte Cruciger Chorale SATB Co 2Ob 2Vl Va F major common time



As in most cantatas of the second cycle, Bach set the opening chorus on the first stanza of the hymn in its original wording, "Herr Christ, der einge Gottessohn" (Lord Christ, only Son of God),[1] as chorale fantasia. He assigned the cantus firmus to the alto, enforced by a horn (in later performance replaced by trombone). Bach had a used a cantus firmus in the alto already in his chorale cantata Ach Gott, vom Himmel sieh darein, BWV 2, for the second Sunday after Trinity.[3] In Herr Christ, der einge Gottessohn, this leaves the sopranos free, as the musicologist Julian Mincham notes, "to dance their own hymn of joy in the upper register above the chorale tune, thus lightening the texture and mood of the entire chorus". An unusual flauto piccolo or sopranino recorder is used to illustrate the sparkling of the morning star.[9] Hofmann notes that it was the Bach's first use of a sopranino in a cantata, and the first introduction of his Leipzig audience to the instrument which had not been used as a concert instrument. In a later performance (probably 1734) it was replaced by a violino piccolo.[3] The choral setting is polyphonic in the three other voices and embedded in instrumental music based on similar motifs.[10]


The first recitative for alto, "O Wunderkraft der Liebe" (O wondrous power of love),[1] is secco, only accompanied by the continuo. It refers to Jesus as descendant of David and son of Mary, reflecting the Virgin birth. John Eliot Gardiner, who conducted in 2000 the Bach Cantata Pilgrimage and performed this cantata in Leipzig's Thomaskirche, notes that the cantata's two recitatives are "exemplary even by Bach's standards in their economy of means and richness of expression.[2][10] Mincham notes that a "flowing bass line" is heard when one line is quoted from the hymn, referring to "the end of earthly time".[10]


The tenor aria, "Ach, ziehe die Seele mit Seilen der Liebe" (Ah, draw my soul with skeins of love),[1] is accompanied by the transverse flute, probably played by the flauto piccolo player of the first movement.[2] As for Was frag ich nach der Welt, BWV 94, written some weeks before, Bach seems to have had an excellent flute playerat hand,[5] whom he used in twelve cantatas in the fall of 1724. Some musicologists think that he was Friedrich Gottlieb Wild, a law student.[2]


The recitative for soprano, "Ach, führe mich, o Gott, zum rechten Wege" (Ah, lead me, o God, to the right path),[1] is a prayer for God's guidance.[2]


The bass aria illustrates the words "Bald zur Rechten, bald zur Linken lenkte sich mein verirrter Schritt" (Soon to the right, soon to the left my erring steps lean)[1] in jagged motifs and a frequent switch between winds and strings. In the middle section steady steps picture "Gehe doch, mein Heiland, mit" (Yet go with me, my Savior).[1][10] The final part combines both elements.[5] Gardiner notes that Bach uses the winds and strings in concerting choirs (cori spezzati), enforced by positioning them on galleries, one of them right, the other left of the singers.[2][6] The technique had been practised in Venice in the late sixteenth century and introduced in Germany by composers such as Heinrich Schütz who studied in Venice. Gardiner observes also a hint at the style of French opera which Bach may have heard, traveling as a boy in northern Germany, at the Hamburg opera, in Celle or Lüneburg.[2]


The closing chorale,"Ertöt uns durch dein Güte" (Kill us through your goodness),[1] is a four-part setting for the choir, horn, oboes and strings playing colla parte with the voices.[5]


The entries are taken from the listing on Bach Cantatas Website.[11] Instrumental groups playing period instruments in historically informed performances are marked green under the header Instr..

Recordings of Herr Christ, der einge Gottessohn
Title Conductor / Choir / Orchestra Soloists Label Year Instr.
Die Bach Kantate Vol. 52 Helmuth Rilling
Gächinger Kantorei
Bach-Collegium Stuttgart
Hänssler 1973 (1973)
Bach Cantatas Vol. 5 – Sundays after Trinity II Karl Richter
Münchener Bach-Chor
Münchener Bach-Orchester
Archiv Produktion 1978 (1978) Period
J. S. Bach: Das Kantatenwerk – Sacred Cantatas Vol. 5 Gustav Leonhardt
Tölzer Knabenchor
Teldec 1979 (1979) Period
Bach Cantatas Vol. 9: Lund / Leipzig / For the 17th Sunday after Trinity / For the 18th Sunday after Trinity John Eliot Gardiner
Monteverdi Choir
English Baroque Soloists
Soli Deo Gloria 2000 (2000) Period
J.S. Bach: Solokantaten Kreuzstabkantate BWV 56; "Der Friede sei mit dir" BWV 158; "Ich habe genug" BWV 82 Karl-Friedrich Beringer
Windsbacher Knabenchor
Consortium Musicum
Siegmund Nimsgern Baier Records 1991 (1991)
J. S. Bach: Complete Cantatas Vol. 13 Ton Koopman
Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra & Choir
Antoine Marchand 2000 (2000) Period
J. S. Bach: Cantatas Vol. 26 Masaaki Suzuki
Bach Collegium Japan
BIS 2003 (2003) Period


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Dellal, Pamela. "BWV 96 – Herr Christ, der einge Gottessohn". Emmanuel Music. Retrieved 13 October 2014.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Gardiner, John Eliot (2009). Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) / Cantatas Nos 47, 96, 114, 116, 148 & 169 (Media notes). Soli Deo Gloria (at Hyperion Records website). Retrieved 11 November 2018.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Hofmann, Klaus (2004). "Herr Christ, der einge Gottessohn BWV 96 / LordChrist,the only Son of God" (PDF). Bach Cantatas Website. pp. 7–8. Retrieved 4 October 2015.
  4. ^ a b c "Chorale Melodies used in Bach's Vocal Works / Herr Christ, der einge Gottessohn". Bach Cantatas Website. 2008. Retrieved 5 October 2012.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Dürr, Alfred (1981). Die Kantaten von Johann Sebastian Bach (in German). 1 (4 ed.). Deutscher Taschenbuchverlag. pp. 467–469. ISBN 3-423-04080-7.
  6. ^ a b c Wolff, Christoph (2000). "Chorale Cantatas from the cycle of the Leipzig church cantatas, 1724-25 (III)" (PDF). Bach Cantatas Website. pp. 8–9. Retrieved 4 October 2015.
  7. ^ Bischof, Walter F. "BWV 96 Herr Christ, der einge Gottessohn". University of Alberta. Retrieved 4 October 2015.
  8. ^ Grob, Jochen (2014). "BWV 96 / BC 142" (in German). Retrieved 4 October 2015.
  9. ^ "Herr Christ, der ein'ge Gottessohn (Lord Christ, the only Son of God)". 2010. Retrieved 27 September 2010.
  10. ^ a b c d Mincham, Julian (2010). "Chapter 19 BWV 96 Herr Christ, der einge Gottessohn / Lord Christ, the one Son of God". Retrieved 4 October 2015.
  11. ^ Oron, Aryeh. "Cantata BWV 96 Herr Christ, der einge Gottessohn". Bach Cantatas Website. Retrieved 3 October 2015.