Leichtgesinnte Flattergeister, BWV 181

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Leichtgesinnte Flattergeister
BWV 181
Teachings of Jesus 2 of 40. parable of the sower. Jan Luyken etching. Bowyer Bible.gif
Parable of the Sower, topic of the cantata, etching by Jan Luyken
Performed13 February 1724 (1724-02-13): Leipzig
Cantata text
VocalSATB solo and choir
  • trumpet
  • flauto traverso
  • oboe
  • 2 violins
  • viola
  • continuo

Leichtgesinnte Flattergeister (Light-minded frivolous spirits),[1] BWV 181, is a church cantata by Johann Sebastian Bach. He composed it in Leipzig for Sexagesima and first performed it on 13 February 1724.

History and words[edit]

Bach composed the cantata in his first year in Leipzig for the second Sunday before Lent, called Sexagesima.[2] He had already composed a cantata for the occasion for the court in Eisenach, Gleichwie der Regen und Schnee vom Himmel fällt, BWV 18. It seems possible that in 1724 both works were performed in the service, one before, one after the sermon.[3] The prescribed readings for the Sunday were taken from the Second Epistle to the Corinthians, "God's power is mighty in the weak" (2 Corinthians 11:19–12:9), and from the Gospel of Luke, the parable of the Sower (Luke 8:4–15).[2]

The cantata text by an unknown poet stays close to the Gospel. The obstacles to growth of the seeds, such as rock and thorns, are related to other Biblical quotations where they are mentioned. For example, rock appears also when Moses gets water from a rock (Exodus 17:6) and a rock is removed from the grave of Jesus (Matthew 28:2). The cantata is not closed by a chorale but the only choral movement, a prayer that God's word may fall on fertile ground in us.[2] The original anonymous libretto is extant.[4]

Bach first performed the cantata on 13 February 1724. He performed it at least one more time between 1743 and 1746, only then he added parts for two woodwinds.[5]

Scoring and structure[edit]

The cantata in five movements is scored for four vocal soloists (soprano, alto, tenor, bass), a four-part choir, trumpet, flauto traverso, oboe, two violins, viola, and basso continuo.[2]

  1. Aria (bass): Leichtgesinnte Flattergeister
  2. Recitative (alto): O unglückselger Stand verkehrter Seelen
  3. Aria (tenor): Der schädlichen Dornen unendliche Zahl
  4. Recitative (soprano): Von diesen wird die Kraft erstickt
  5. Chorus: Laß, Höchster, uns zu allen Zeiten


The cantata consists of five movements, twice a sequence of an aria and a recitative, concluded by a choral movement. This resembles the typical format for secular cantatas.[2] Likely at least the final movement if not others also are parodies of unknown secular music. The parts for flute and oboe were added for a later performance.[3] A characteristic motif with staccato leaps dominates the movement, introduced by the instruments, then picked up by the voice.[2] "Flattergeister" literally means "fluttering spirits". Richard Stokes translates the cantata title as "frivolous flibbertigibbets"; they compare to the fowl feeding on the seeds in "nervous, jerky movement".[4] According to the musicologist Julian Mincham, it depicts the "flippant and superficial" in an irregular pattern, which fits an observation in Bach's obituary about his melodies, considered "strange and like no other's". Mincham continues: "One can never quite predict the turns which this spiky, disjointed melody is likely to take". A second part speaks of Belial, whose evil intervention is mentioned frequently in literature, including Milton's Paradise Lost.[3] Both parts of the aria are repeated; after only four measures of what seems like a da capo, a modified version of the middle section begins which depicts Belial, the "demon of lies and guilt".[4] The following secco recitative stresses the text "Es werden Felsenherzen … ihr eigen Heil verscherzen" (One day those hearts, so stony, … will their salvation forfeit)[1] in an arioso.[2] The images of the crumbling rocks are illustrated by a rugged line in the continuo. The tenor aria is probably lacking the part of an obbligato violin. Robert Levin supplied three "convincing reconstructions" for the Bach Cantata Pilgrimage.[4] The final movement, with trumpet sound, is happy and uncomplicated.[2] According to Christoph Wolff, the movement is based on a lost secular piece composed in Cöthen.[5] Its middle section is a duet of soprano and alto. John Eliot Gardiner notes the movement's "madrigalian lightness and delicacy perfectly appropriate to the joyous message of the parable".[4]



  1. ^ a b Dellal, Pamela. "BWV 181 – Leichtgesinnte Flattergeister". Emmanuel Music. Retrieved 2 February 2015.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Dürr, Alfred (1981). Die Kantaten von Johann Sebastian Bach (in German). 1 (4 ed.). Deutscher Taschenbuchverlag. pp. 211–213. ISBN 3-423-04080-7.
  3. ^ a b c Mincham, Julian (2010). "Chapter 42 BWV 181 Leichtgesinnte Flattergeister". jsbachcantatas.com. Retrieved 2 February 2012.
  4. ^ a b c d e Gardiner, John Eliot (2009). Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) / Cantatas Nos 18, 84, 92, 126, 144 & 181 (Media notes). Soli Deo Gloria (at Hyperion Records website). Retrieved 16 February 2019.
  5. ^ a b Wolff, Christoph (1998). On the first annual cycle of Bach's cantatas for the Leipzig liturgy (1723–24) (II) (PDF). bach-cantatas.com. p. 18. Retrieved 7 February 2012.