O Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht, BWV 118

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O Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht (O Jesus Christ, light of my life), BWV 118,[a] is a sacred motet composed by Johann Sebastian Bach, intended for a funeral, formerly called a cantata.

History and text[edit]

This work was written around 1736 or 1737 and was performed at the grave-side ceremony for Count Friedrich von Flemming on October 11, 1740.[1]

This work, along with Lobet den Herrn, alle Heiden, BWV 230 is included as a motet in the Neue Bach-Ausgabe, though both of the works fall partly outside the norms of the motet genre. "O Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht" has been characterized as "something between a cantata movement and a motetic choral transcription."[2]

The text is a 1610 hymn by Martin Behm.[3]

Scoring and structure[edit]

The piece is scored for four-part choir. It is structured as a chorus, O Jesu Christ, mein's Lebens Licht, comprising chorale strophes separated by repeated instrumental interludes. The number of strophes sung would likely correspond to the length of the procession for which the work was used.[4]

There are two versions of the instrumental scoring:

  • The first version is unique among the Bach cantatas in not including strings,[1] and also differs from the instrumentation of the motets, where that is specified. It is for two litui (a type of horn or trumpet),[5] cornett, three trombones, and organ;
  • The second version is for two litui, strings, organ continuo, and optionally three oboes and bassoon.[3]

The first version is possibly intended for outdoor use where brass would be more effective than strings (although, paradoxically the inclusion of an organ part suggests a performance at least partly indoors), whereas the second version is more suitable for indoor use. The available recordings of the piece (see section below) appear to have been performed indoors. A notable outdoor performance was that of John Eliot Gardiner and the Monteverdi Choir, who performed it outside Iona Abbey to mark the 250th anniversary of Bach’s death. However, this performance was not included in the Bach Cantata Pilgrimage set of recordings.[6]


This work is a motet version of the chorale Ach Gott, wie manches Herzeleid. The lower voices of the choir sing counterpoint to the chorale melody line in the soprano. The accompaniment includes an ascending string motive.[7]


  • Amor Artis Chorale. Choral Masterpieces of the Baroque. Decca, 1965.
  • Bach Collegium Japan. Bach: Motets. BIS, 2009.
  • Greifswalde Bach Tage Choir / Bach-Orchester Berlin. J.S. Bach: Soli Deo Gloria. Baroque Music Club, 1950s–1960s?
  • Monteverdi Choir. "Funeral Cantatas (cantatas BWV 106, BWV 118b & BWV 198)". Archiv, 1989
  • Theatre of Early Music. The Voice of Bach. Sony BMG, 2007.


  1. ^ "BWV" is Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis, a thematic catalogue of Bach's works.


  1. ^ a b "Cantata BWV 118 O Jesu Christ, mein's Lebens Licht Commentary". Bach Cantatas. Retrieved 21 August 2015. 
  2. ^ Martin Geck, John Hargraves Johann Sebastian Bach: His Life and Work 2006 Page 467
  3. ^ a b "Cantata BWV 118". Bach Cantatas. Retrieved 28 May 2013. 
  4. ^ Christoph Wolff. "Liner notes to Bach Cantatas, Vol. 21" (PDF). bach-cantatas. pp. 26–26. Retrieved 1 June 2013. 
  5. ^ Pallab Ghosh (30 May 2009). "'Lost' Music Instrument Recreated". BBC News. BBC. Retrieved 22 August 2015. [not in citation given]
  6. ^ His 1989 recording was made in St John's, Smith Square, London.
  7. ^ Ryan Turner. "BWV 118". Emmanuel Music. Retrieved 28 May 2013. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Hochreither, Karl. 2002. Performance Practice of the Instrumental-Vocal Works of Johann Sebastian Bach, translated by Melvin P. Unger. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press. ISBN 978-0-8108-4258-8.
  • Schulze, Hans-Joachim. 1993. "O Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht: On the Transmission of a Bach Source and the Riddle of Its Origin". In A Bach Tribute: Essays in Honor of William H. Scheide, edited by Paul Brainard and Ray Robinson, 209–20. Kassel and New York: Bärenreiter; Chapel Hill: Hinshaw Music. ISBN 978-0-937276-12-9.

External links[edit]