Jesus schläft, was soll ich hoffen? BWV 81

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Jesus schläft, was soll ich hoffen?
BWV 81
Church cantata by J. S. Bach
Rembrandt Christ in the Storm on the Lake of Galilee.jpg
OccasionFourth Sunday after Epiphany
Bible textMatthew 8:26
Chorale"Jesu, meine Freude"
Performed30 January 1724 (1724-01-30): Leipzig
  • solo: alto, tenor and bass
  • SATB choir
  • 2 oboes d'amore
  • 2 recorders
  • 2 violins
  • 2 violas
  • continuo

Jesus schläft, was soll ich hoffen? (Jesus sleeps, what shall I hope for?),[1] BWV 81, is a church cantata by Johann Sebastian Bach. He composed it in 1724 in Leipzig for the fourth Sunday after Epiphany and first performed it on 30 January 1724.

History and words[edit]

Bach wrote the cantata in his first year in Leipzig for the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany. A fourth Sunday after Epiphany is rare and occurs only in years with a late date of Easter.[2] The prescribed readings for the Sunday were taken from the Epistle to the Romans, love completes the law (Romans 13:8–10), and from the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus calming the storm (after sleeping in the boat) (Matthew 8:23–27). The poet is unknown, but Erdmann Neumeister and Christian Weiss have been suggested by scholars.[3] The poet refers to the Gospel and expands on the contrast of Jesus hidden (sleeping) and appearing (acting), similar to Mein Gott, wie lang, ach lange? BWV 155, written in 1716 and performed three weeks earlier on the First Sunday after Epiphany. The words of movement 4 are a quote from the Gospel, the question of Jesus: "Ihr Kleingläubigen, warum seid ihr so furchtsam?" (Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith?).[1] The closing chorale is the second stanza of Johann Franck's hymn "Jesu, meine Freude".[2][4]

Bach first performed the cantata on 30 January 1724.[2]

Scoring and structure[edit]

The cantata in seven movements is scored for alto, tenor and bass soloists, a four-part choir in the chorale, two oboes d'amore, two recorders, two violins, viola, and basso continuo. The recorders and the oboes were probably played by the same musicians.[2]

  1. Aria (alto): Jesus schläft, was soll ich hoffen?
  2. Recitative (tenor): Herr! warum trittest du so ferne?
  3. Aria (tenor): Die schäumenden Wellen von Belials Bächen
  4. Arioso (bass): Ihr Kleingläubigen, warum seid ihr so furchtsam?
  5. Aria (bass): Schweig, aufgetürmtes Meer!
  6. Recitative (alto): Wohl mir, mein Jesus spricht ein Wort
  7. Chorale: Unter deinen Schirmen


Bach expresses the questions of the anxious "soul" in a dramatic way, similar to dialogues such as in O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort, BWV 60. The first aria speaks of the "sleeping", illustrated by the recorders, low registers of the strings, and long notes in the voice. Bach used similar means also in the aria Sanfte soll mein Todeskummer of his Easter Oratorio. The third movement almost visualizes the storm and the movement of the waves, similar to scenes in contemporary operas.[5] The central fourth movement within a symmetrical arrangement is devoted to the bass as the vox Christi (voice of Christ). The continuo and the voice use similar material in this arioso, intensifying the words. The following aria, marked allegro, contrasts the "storm", in unison runs of the strings, with calmer motion in the oboes.

The closing chorale is set for four parts.[2] It is the second verse of "Jesu, meine Freude",[1] a chorale by Johann Franck with a melody by Johann Crüger which appeared first in his Praxis pietatis melica published in Berlin in 1653.[6]

Bach composed a similar symmetry around a biblical word in 1726 in Brich dem Hungrigen dein Brot, BWV 39.

Selected recordings[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Dellal, Pamela. "BWV 81 – Jesus schläft, was soll ich hoffen?". Emmanuel Music. Retrieved 19 January 2015.
  2. ^ a b c d e Dürr, Alfred (1981). Die Kantaten von Johann Sebastian Bach (in German). Vol. 1 (4 ed.). Deutscher Taschenbuchverlag. pp. 196–199. ISBN 3-423-04080-7.
  3. ^ C. S. Terry and D. Litti, Bach's Cantata Libretti, Journal of the Royal Musical Association 1917 44(1):71-125; doi:10.1093/jrma/44.1.71
  4. ^ "Jesu meine Freude / Text and Translation of Chorale". Bach Cantatas Website. 2006. Retrieved 23 January 2012.
  5. ^ Mincham, Julian (2010). "Chapter 39 BWV 81 Jesus schläft, was soll ich hoffen?". Retrieved 18 January 2011.
  6. ^ "Chorale Melodies used in Bach's Vocal Works / Jesu meine Freude". Bach Cantatas Website. 2009. Retrieved 23 January 2012.


External links[edit]