Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben, BWV 147

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Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben
BWV 147
Church cantata by J. S. Bach
Heimsuchung, Unionskirche.jpg
Heimsuchung, topic of the cantata
Relatedbased on BWV 147a
Cantata text
Performed2 July 1723 (1723-07-02): Leipzig
Movements10 in two parts
VocalSATB choir and solo
  • trumpet
  • 2 oboes
  • bassoon
  • 2 violins
  • viola
  • continuo

Johann Sebastian Bach composed the church cantata Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben (Heart and mouth and deed and life),[1] BWV 147 in 1723 during his first year as Thomaskantor, the director of church music in Leipzig. His cantata is part of his first cantata cycle there and was written for the Marian feast of the Visitation on 2 July, which commemorates Mary's visit to Elizabeth as narrated in the Gospel of Luke in the prescribed reading for the feast day. Bach based the music on his earlier cantata BWV 147a, written originally in Weimar in 1716 for Advent. He expanded the Advent cantata in six movements to ten movements in two parts in the new work. While the text of the Advent cantata was written by the Weimar court poet Salomo Franck, the librettist of the adapted version who added several recitatives is anonymous.

Bach began the cantata with a chorus for the full orchestra, followed by alternating recitatives and arias with often obbligato instrument. He scored it for four vocal soloists, a four-part choir, and a Baroque instrumental ensemble of trumpet, two oboes, strings, and continuo. The closing chorale of the earlier work was replaced by the hymn "Jesu, meiner Seelen Wonne" (1661) by Martin Janus, with a melody by Johann Schop. Two of its stanzas close the two parts of the cantata in an identical setting. While Bach often composed four-part chorales to end a cantata, he embedded such a setting here in a pastoral instrumental concerto. This music became famous in a piano transcription by Dame Myra Hess as Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring.

History and words[edit]

Bach took office as Thomaskantor, the music director in Leipzig, end of May 1723. It was part of his duties to supply music for the Sundays and feast days of the liturgical year at four churches of the town, and he decided to compose new cantatas for these occasions. He began with a cantata for the first Sunday after Trinity in 1723, performed on 30 May, and wrote a series of church cantatas until Trinity of the next year, which became known as his first cantata cycle. Some cantatas of that cycle were based on music he had composed before,[2] including Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben, presented as the sixth cantata of the cycle.

Among the Marian feasts celebrated in Lutheran Leipzig was "Mariae Heimsuchung" (Visitation, literally: Mary's visit) on 2 July, for which Bach composed Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben.[3][4] The prescribed readings for the feast day were Isaiah 11:1–5, the prophecy of the Messiah, and from the Gospel of Luke, Luke 1:39–56, Mary's visit to Elizabeth, including her song of praise, the Magnificat.[5] Bach used as a basis for the music a cantata in six movements that he had written in Weimar for the fourth Sunday in Advent 1716, Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben, BWV 147a.[4] As Leipzig observed tempus clausum (time of silence) during Advent, allowing cantata music only on the first Sunday, Bach could not perform the cantata for the same occasion in Leipzig, but adapted it for the feast of the Visitation.[6]

The Advent cantata text was written by the Weimar court poet, librarian and numismatist, Salomo Franck,[7] who published it in his 1717 collection Evangelische Sonn- und Festtages-Andachten.[8] He wrote four arias in a row, focused on the Advent message of "repentance, faith, preparation and conversion",[7] in the words of John Eliot Gardiner who conducted the Bach Cantata Pilgrimage in 2000.

The text for Advent was also suitable for a feast celebrating Mary in general. An anonymous librettist adapted the text for the different occasion, mainly by adding three recitatives that clarify the relation to Visitation. He made references to the gospel reading, for example mentioning in the fourth movement, as in verse 52 of the gospel, that "the arm of the Most High thrusts the mighty from their seat and exults the lowly, and in the eighth movement, as in verse 41, that the unborn child leaps in its mother's womb.[9] The order of the arias was changed, their text changed mostly slightly but rewritten for the last aria,[10] and the closing chorale was replaced by the 1661 hymn "Jesu, meiner Seelen Wonne" (Jesus, my soul's delight) by Martin Janus (or Jahn). Its stanzas 6 and 17 were selected to conclude the two parts of the new cantata which were performed before and after the sermon. They express a commitment of the believer, speaking in the first person, to hold Jesus as a high treasure.[9]


Structure and scoring[edit]

Bach structured the cantata in ten movements, in two parts of six and four movements, respectively. The first movement is scored for choir and the full orchestra. The inner movements are alternating recitatives and arias for solo singers and mostly obbligato instruments. Both parts are concluded with a chorale stanza, both from the same hymn and set the same way. Bach scored the work for four vocal soloists (soprano (S), alto (A), tenor (T) and bass (B)), a four-part choir, and a Baroque instrumental ensemble: trumpet (Tr), two oboes (Ob) (oboe d'amore (Oa), oboe da caccia (Oc)), two violins (Vl), viola (Va), and basso continuo (Bc) including bassoon (Fg).[11][4]

In the following table of the movements, the first columns shows the movement number, and in brackets the movement number of the Weimar cantata. The scoring follows the Neue Bach-Ausgabe. The keys and time signatures are taken from the book by Bach scholar Alfred Dürr, using the symbol for common time (4/4).[12] The instruments are shown separately for winds and strings, while the continuo, playing throughout, is not shown.

Movements of Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben, BWV 147
No. Title Text Type Vocal Winds Strings Key Time
1 (1) Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben Franck Chorus SATB Tr 2Ob 2Vl Va G major common time
2 Gebenedeiter Mund! anon. Recitative T 2Vl Va common time
3 (2) Schäme dich, o Seele nicht Franck Aria A Oa A minor 3/4
4 Verstockung kann Gewaltige verblenden anon. Recitative B common time
5 (4) Bereite dir, Jesu, noch itzo die Bahn Franck Aria S Vl solo D minor common time
6 Wohl mir, daß ich Jesum habe Jahn Chorale SATB Tr 2Ob 2Vl Va G major 9/8
7 (3) Hilf, Jesu, hilf, daß ich auch dich bekenne Franck Aria T F major 3/4
8 Der höchsten Allmacht Wunderhand anon. Recitative A 2Oa C major common time
9 (5) Ich will von Jesu Wundern singen anon. Aria B Tr 2Ob 2Vl Va C major common time
10 Jesus bleibet meine Freude Jahn Chorale SATB Tr 2Ob 2Vl Va G major 9/8


A complex choral movement is taken from the Advent cantata. The three new recitatives are scored differently, the first as an accompagnato with chords of the strings, the second secco accompanied only by the continuo, the third as another accompagnato, with oboes. Three of the arias from the original cantata are scored for voice and solo instruments or only continuo, whereas the last aria, speaking of the miracles of Jesus, is accompanied by the full orchestra.[13]


The opening chorus, "Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben" (Heart and mouth and deed and life),[1] renders the complete words in three sections, the third one a reprise of the first one and even the middle section not different in character. An instrumental ritornello is heard in the beginning and in the end as well as, slightly changed, in all three sections with the choir woven into it. In great contrast all three sections conclude with a part accompanied only by basso continuo. Sections one and three begin with a fugue with colla parte instruments. The fugue subject stresses the word Leben (life) by a melisma extended over three measures. The soprano starts the theme, the alto enters just one measure later, tenor after two more measures, bass one measure later, the fast succession resulting in a lively music as a good image of life. In section three the pattern of entrances is the same, but building from the lowest voice to the highest.[14][15][16]


The first recitative for tenor introduces the situation: "Gebenedeiter Mund! Maria macht ihr Innerstes der Seelen durch Dank und Rühmen kund" (Blessed mouth! Mary makes the inmost part of her soul known through thanks and praise).[1] It is accompanied by chords of the strings.[14][17]


The first aria, "Schäme dich, o Seele nicht, deinen Heiland zu bekennen" (Do not be ashamed, o soul, to acknowledge your Savior),[1] is sung by the alto with an obbligato oboe d'amore. [15]


The second recitative is for bass, a secco accompanied only by the continuo. "Verstockung kann Gewaltige veblenden, bis sie des Höchsten Arm vom Stuhle stößt" (Astonishment might dazzle the mighty, until the arm of the Highest throws them),[1] relates to the gospel verse 52.[17]


The second aria was the third in the Advent cantata. The soprano, accompanied by a solo violin, expresses: "Bereite dir, Jesu, noch itzo die Bahn" (Prepare, Jesus, even now the path for Yourself,).[1][18]


Johann Schop who composed the melody for a different text

The chorale ending Part I is the sixth stanza from the hymn, setting a melody by Johann Schop, "Werde munter, mein Gemüte", which Bach also used in his St Matthew Passion for the words "Bin ich gleich von dir gewichen". The simple four-part choral part is embedded in a setting of the full orchestra dominated by a motive in pastoral triplets derived from the first line of the chorale melody.[19]

Wohl mir, daß ich Jesum habe,
O wie feste halt ich ihn,
Daß er mir mein Herze labe,
Wenn ich krank und traurig bin.
Jesum hab ich, der mich liebet
Und sich mir zu eigen gibet;
Ach drum laß ich Jesum nicht,
Wenn mir gleich mein Herze bricht.

Gardiner calls this music of "mellifluous beauty and apparent naturalness", and points out that it is nonetheless derived from the hymn tune.[10]


The third aria was the second in the Advent cantata. The tenor, accompanied only by the continuo, sings a prayer for help: "Hilf, Jesu, hilf, daß ich auch dich bekenne in Wohl und Weh, in Freud und Leid" (Help, Jesus, help that I may also acknowledge You in prosperity and in woe, in joy and in sorrow).[1][18]


The third recitative is for alto: Der höchsten Allmacht Wunderhand wirkt im Verborgenen der Erden (The wondrous hand of the exalted Almighty is active in the mysteries of the earth).[1] It is an accompagnato with two oboes da caccia which add a continuous expressive motive, interrupted only when the child's leaping in the womb (in German: Hüpfen) is mentioned which they illustrate.[17] Gardiner mentions that it forebodes recitatives of the later great Passions.[15]


The last aria speaks of proclaiming the miracles of Jesus. The bass is accompanied by the full orchestra: "Ich will von Jesu Wundern singen und ihm der Lippen Opfer bringen" (I will sing of Jesus' wonders and bring my lip's offering to Him).[1][20]


The chorale concluding Part II is the same music as for Part I, setting the 17th stanza, "Jesus bleibet meine Freude, meines Herzens Trost und Saft" (Jesus shall remain my joy, my heart's comfort and sap).[1][19]

Jesus bleibet meine Freude,
Meines Herzens Trost und Saft,
Jesus wehret allem Leide,
Er ist meines Lebens Kraft,
Meiner Augen Lust und Sonne,
Meiner Seele Schatz und Wonne;
Darum laß ich Jesum nicht
Aus dem Herzen und Gesicht.

Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring[edit]

The music of the chorale movements is now best known for the piano transcription by Dame Myra Hess of Hugh P. Allen's choral version of Bach's arrangement, and is notable under the title Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring which approximately relates to "Jesus bleibet meine Freude", more closely translated as "Jesus shall remain my joy".[1][21]


In the following table of recordings, instrumental groups playing period instruments in historically informed performances are highlighted by a green background.

Recordings of Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben, BWV 147
Title Conductor / Choir / Orchestra Soloists Label Year Instr.
Les Grandes Cantates de J. S. Bach Vol. 1[22] Fritz Werner
Heinrich-Schütz-Chor Heilbronn
Pforzheim Chamber Orchestra
Erato 1957 (1957) Chamber
Bach Cantatas Vol. 3 – Ascension Day, Whitsun, Trinity Karl Richter
Münchener Bach-Chor
Münchener Bach-Orchester
Archiv Produktion 1961 (1961)
Bach Cantata BWV 147, Motets BWV 226, BWV 228, BWV 230 David Willcocks
Münchener Bach-Chor
Academy of St Martin in the Fields
EMI 1970 (1970)
Bach: 13 Sacred Cantatas & 13 Sinfonias Helmut Winschermann
Nederlands Vocaal Ensemble
Deutsche Bachsolisten
Philips 1972 (1972)
Die Bach Kantate Vol. 12 Helmuth Rilling
Frankfurter Kantorei
Bach-Collegium Stuttgart
Hänssler 1977 (1977)
J.S. Bach: Das Kantatenwerk Vol. 36 Nikolaus Harnoncourt
Tölzer Knabenchor
Concentus Musicus Wien
Teldec 1981 (1981) Period
J. S. Bach: 6 Favourite Cantatas Joshua Rifkin
The Bach Ensemble
  • Jane Bryden
  • Drew Minter
  • Jeffrey Thomas
  • Jan Opalach
L'Oiseau-Lyre 1985 (1985) Period
J. S. Bach: Cantatas John Eliot Gardiner
Monteverdi Choir
English Baroque Soloists
Archiv Produktion 1990 (1990) Period
J. S. Bach: Complete Cantatas Vol. 7 Ton Koopman
Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra & Choir
Antoine Marchand 1997 (1997) Period
J. S. Bach: Cantatas Vol. 12 – Cantatas from Leipzig 1723 Masaaki Suzuki
Bach Collegium Japan
BIS 1999 (1999) Period


Cited sources[edit]

External links[edit]