Membra Jesu Nostri

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Membra Jesu Nostri
Cantata cycle by Dieterich Buxtehude
BuxWV75 title page.jpg
Title page
Full titleMembra Jesu nostri patientis sanctissima
EnglishThe most holy limbs of our suffering Jesus
CatalogueBuxWV 75
Composed1680 (1680)
Movements43 in seven cantatas
Vocal2 sopranos, alto, tenor, bass

Membra Jesu Nostri (English: The Limbs of our Jesus), BuxWV 75, is a cycle of seven cantatas composed by Dieterich Buxtehude in 1680, and dedicated to Gustaf Düben. The full Latin title Membra Jesu nostri patientis sanctissima translates to "The most holy limbs of our suffering Jesus". This work is known as the first Lutheran oratorio.[1] The main text are stanzas from the Medieval hymn Salve mundi salutare[2] – also known as the Rhythmica oratio – a poem formerly ascribed to Bernard of Clairvaux, but now thought more likely to have been written by Medieval poet Arnulf of Leuven (died 1250). It is divided into seven parts, each addressed to a different part of Christ's crucified body: feet, knees, hands, sides, breast, heart, and face. In each part, biblical words referring to the limbs frame verses of the poem.


Each cantata in Membra Jesu Nostri is divided into six sections; an instrumental introduction; a concerto for instruments and five voices (SSATB), with the exception of the fifth and sixth cantatas where only three voices are used; three arias for one or three voices, each followed by an instrumental ritornello; and an exact reprise of the concerto. The first and the last cantata of the cycle deviate from this pattern. In the first cantata the choir repeats the first aria after the reprise, in the last one, Ad faciem, 5 parts sing the last aria, and then a final Amen instead of the reprise concludes the cycle.

The structure of Membra is dictated by its text. Buxtehude selected biblical verses for the concertos, and three strophes from each part of the poem Salve mundi salutare for the arias in each cantata. The biblical words are chosen for mentioning the member of the cantata and taken mostly from the Old Testament. The metre of the poetry unifies the arias' rhythmic patterns.

Example 1 (in bold are stressed syllables):
I Ad pedes:
Sal-ve mun-di sa-lu-ta-re
II Ad genua:
Quid sum ti-bi re-spon-su-rus
III Ad manus:
In cru-o-re tu-o lo-tum
V Ad pectus:
Pec-tus mi-hi con-fer mun-dum
Rhythmic similarities between sections
Sample: Ad pedes, 5. Aria


The work is scored for five voices SSATB who may also form the choir, two violins and basso continuo. A viola da gamba consort is called for only in part VI, Ad cor, to the heart.

The following table shows for each cantata the title and its translation, Tempo marking, the voices (SATB, first for the choir, then for the arias, with S2 for the second soprano), the Baroque instruments of two violins (Vl) and five violas da gamba (Vg), and the biblical text source for the concerto. The source for the arias is always Salve mundi salutare. The continuo, playing throughout, is not shown.

Movements of Buxtehude's Membra Jesu Nostri
No. Title Translation Voices Instruments Text source
I Ad pedes To the feet SSATB S S2 B 2Vl Nahum 1:15
II Ad genua To the knees SSATB T A SSB 2Vl Isaiah 66:12
III Ad manus To the hands SSATB S S2 ATB 2Vl Zechariah 13:6
IV Ad latus To the sides SSATB S ATB S2 2Vl Song of Solomon 2:13–14
V Ad pectus To the breast SSATB A T B 2Vl 1 Peter 2:2–3
VI Ad cor To the heart SSB S S2 B 5Vg Song of Solomon 4:9
VII Ad faciem To the face SSATB ATB B 2Vl Psalms 31:17

I Ad pedes[edit]

(To the feet)

First page of original manuscript of Ad pedes in tablature notation
Second page of original manuscript of Ad pedes in tablature notation
1 Sonata (instrumental introduction)
2 Concerto (SSATB)
Ecce super montes
pedes evangelizantis
et annunciantis pacem
Behold, upon the mountains
the feet of one bringing good news
and proclaiming peace.
3 Aria (S I)
Salve mundi salutare,
salve, salve Jesu care!
Cruci tuae me aptare
vellem vere, tu scis quare,
da mihi tui copiam.
Hail, salvation of the world,
Hail, hail, dear Jesus!
On Your cross would I hang
Truly, You know why
Give me Your strength.
4 Aria (S II)
Clavos pedum, plagas duras,
et tam graves impressuras
circumplector cum affectu,
tuo pavens in aspectu,
tuorum memor vulnerum
The nails in Your feet, the hard blows
and so grievous marks
I embrace with love,
Fearful at the sight of You
Mindful of Your wounds.
5 Aria (B)
Dulcis Jesu, pie Deus,
Ad te clamo licet reus,
praebe mihi te benignum,
ne repellas me indignum
de tuis sanctis pedibus.
Sweet Jesus, merciful God
I cry to You, in my guilt
Show me Your grace,
Turn me not unworthy away
From Your sacred feet.
6 Concerto (da capo: Ecce super montes)
7 Concerto (SSATB)
Salve mundi salutare,
salve Jesu care!
Cruci tuae me aptare
vellem vere, tu scis quare,
da mihi tui copiam.
Hail, salvation of the world,
Hail, hail, dear Jesus!
On Your cross would I hang
Truly, You know why
Give me Your strength.

II Ad genua[edit]

(To the knees)

1 Sonata
2 Concerto (SSATB)
Ad ubera portabimini,
et super genua blandientur vobis.
You will be brought to nurse
and dandled on the knees
[of Jerusalem, portrayed as a mother].
3 Aria (T)
Salve Jesu, rex sanctorum,
spes votiva peccatorum,
crucis ligno tanquam reus,
pendens homo verus Deus,
caducis nutans genibus.
Hail Jesus, King of Saints
Hope of sinners' prayers,
like an offender on the wood of the cross,
a man hanging, true God,
Bending on failing knees!
4 Aria (A)
Quid sum tibi responsurus,
actu vilis corde durus?
Quid rependam amatori,
qui elegit pro me mori,
ne dupla morte morerer.
What answer shall I give You,
Vile as I am in deed, hard in my heart?
How shall I repay Your love,
Who chose to die for me
Lest I die the second death?
5 Aria (SSB)
Ut te quaeram mente pura,
sit haec mea prima cura,
non est labor et gravabor,
sed sanabor et mundabor,
cum te complexus fuero.
That I may seek You with pure heart,
Be my first care,
It is no labour nor shall I be loaded down:
But I shall be cleansed,
When I embrace You.
6 Concerto (da capo: Ad ubera portabimini)

III Ad manus[edit]

(To the hands)

1 Sonata
2 Concerto (SSATB)
Quid sunt plagae istae
in medio manuum tuarum?.
What are those wounds
in the midst of Your hands?
3 Aria (S I)
Salve Jesu, pastor bone,
fatigatus in agone,
qui per lignum es distractus
et ad lignum es compactus
expansis sanctis manibus.
Hail, Jesus, good shepherd,
wearied in agony,
tormented on the cross
nailed to the cross
Your sacred hands stretched out.
4 Aria (S II)
Manus sanctae, vos amplector,
et gemendo condelector,
grates ago plagis tantis,
clavis duris guttis sanctis
dans lacrymas cum osculis.
Holy hands, I embrace you,
and, lamenting, I delight in you,
I give thanks for the terrible wounds,
the hard nails, the holy drops,
shedding tears with kisses.
5 Aria (ATB)
In cruore tuo lotum
me commendo tibi totum,
tuae sanctae manus istae
me defendant, Jesu Christe,
extremis in periculis.
Washed in Your blood
I wholly entrust myself to You;
may these holy hands of Yours
defend me, Jesus Christ,
in the final dangers.
6 Concerto (da capo: Quid sunt plagae istae)

IV Ad latus[edit]

(To the sides)

1 Sonata
2 Concerto (SSATB)
Surge, amica mea,
speciosa mea, et veni,
columba mea in foraminibus petrae,
in caverna maceriae.
Arise, my love,
my beautiful one, and come,
my dove in the clefts of the rock,
in the hollow of the cliff.
3 Aria (S I)
Salve latus salvatoris,
in quo latet mel dulcoris,
in quo patet vis amoris,
ex quo scatet fons cruoris,
qui corda lavat sordida.
Hail, side of the Saviour,
in which the honey of sweetness is hidden,
in which the power of love is exposed,
from which gushes the spring of blood
that cleans the dirty hearts.
4 Aria (ATB)
Ecce tibi appropinquo,
parce, Jesu, si delinquo,
verecunda quidem fronte,
ad te tamen veni sponte
scrutari tua vulnera.
Lo I approach You,
Pardon, Jesus, if I sin,
With reverent countenance
freely I come to You
to behold Your wounds.
5 Aria (S II)
Hora mortis meus flatus
intret Jesu, tuum latus,
hinc expirans in te vadat,
ne hunc leo trux invadat,
sed apud te permaneat.
In the hour of death, may my soul
Enter, Jesus, Your side
Hence dying may it go into You,
Lest the cruel lion seize it,
But let it dwell with You.
6 Concerto (da capo: Surge amica mea)

V Ad pectus[edit]

(To the breast)

1 Sonata
2 Concerto a 3 voci (in 3 voices: ATB)
Sicut modo geniti infantes rationabiles,
et sine dolo concupiscite,
ut in eo crescatis in salutem.
Si tamen gustatis, quoniam dulcis est Dominus.
Like newborn infants,
long for the guileless milk of reason,
that by it you may grow into salvation,
if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.
3 Aria (A)
Salve, salus mea, Deus,
Jesu dulcis, amor meus,
salve, pectus reverendum,
cum tremore contingendum,
amoris domicilium.
Hail God, my salvation,
sweet Jesus, my beloved,
hail, breast to be revered,
to be touched with trembling,
dwelling of love.
4 Aria (T)
Pectus mihi confer mundum,
ardens, pium, gemebundum,
voluntatem abnegatam,
tibi semper conformatam,
juncta virtutum copia.
Give me a clean breast,
ardent, pious, moaning,
an abnegated will,
always conforming to You,
with an abundance of virtues.
5 Aria (B)
Ave, verum templum Dei,
precor miserere mei,
tu totius arca boni,
fac electis me apponi,
vas dives Deus omnium.
Hail, true temple of God,
I pray, have mercy on me,
You, the ark of all that is good,
make me be placed with the chosen,
rich vessel, God of all.
6 Concerto a 3 voci (da capo: Sicut modo geniti)

VI Ad cor[edit]

(To the heart)

In this part a consort of violas da gamba replaces the violins.

1 Sonata
2 Concerto a 3 voci (SSB)
Vulnerasti cor meum,
soror mea, sponsa,
vulnerasti cor meum.
You have wounded my heart,
my sister, my bride,
You have wounded my heart.
3 Aria (S I)
Summi regis cor, aveto,
te saluto corde laeto,
te complecti me delectat
et hoc meum cor affectat,
ut ad te loquar, animes.
Heart of the highest king, I greet You,
I salute You with a joyous heart,
it delights me to embrace You
and my heart aspires to this:
that You move me to speak to You.
4 Aria (S II)
Per medullam cordis mei,
peccatoris atque rei,
tuus amor transferatur,
quo cor tuum rapiatur
languens amoris vulnere.
Through the marrow of my heart,
of a sinner and culprit,
may Your love be conveyed
by whom Your heart was seized,
languishing through the wound of love.
5 Aria (B)
Viva cordis voce clamo,
dulce cor, te namque amo,
ad cor meum inclinare,
ut se possit applicare
devoto tibi pectore.
I call with the living voice of the heart,
sweet heart, for I love You,
to incline to my heart,
so that it may commit itself to you
in the breast devoted to You.
6 Concerto a 3 voci (da capo: Vulnerasti cor meum)

VII Ad faciem[edit]

(To the face)

Original manuscript of the Amen at the close of Ad faciem in tablature notation, marked Soli Deo gloria at the end
1 Sonata
2 Concerto (SSATB)
Illustra faciem tuam super servum tuum,
salvum me fac in misericordia tua.
Let Your face shine upon Your servant,
save me in Your mercy.
3 Aria (ATB)
Salve, caput cruentatum,
totum spinis coronatum,
conquassatum, vulneratum,
arundine verberatum
facie sputis illita.
Hail, bloodied head,
all crowned with thorns,
beaten, wounded,
struck with a cane,
the face soiled with spit.
4 Aria (A)
Dum me mori est necesse,
noli mihi tunc deesse,
in tremenda mortis hora
veni, Jesu, absque mora,
tuere me et libera.
When I must die,
do not then be away from me,
in the anxious hour of death
come, Jesus, without delay,
protect me and set me free!
5 Aria (SSATB)
Cum me jubes emigrare,
Jesu care, tunc appare,
o amator amplectende,
temet ipsum tunc ostende
in cruce salutifera.
When You command me to depart,
dear Jesus, then appear,
O lover to be embraced,
then show Yourself
on the cross that brings salvation.
6 Concerto (SSATB)

Selected recordings[edit]


External links[edit]