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Unser Mund sei voll Lachens, BWV 110

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Unser Mund sei voll Lachens
BWV 110
by J. S. Bach
Engel erscheint den Hirten.jpg
Annunciation to the Shepherds, topic of the prescribed gospel for the feast day, by an anonymous Dutch painter from the 17th century
Occasion First Day of Christmas
Performed 25 December 1725 (1725-12-25): Leipzig
Movements 7
Cantata text Georg Christian Lehms
Bible text
Chorale "Wir Christenleut"
by Caspar Füger
Vocal SATB choir and solo
  • 3 trumpets
  • timpani
  • 3 oboes (oboe d'amore, oboe da caccia)
  • bassoon
  • 2 violins
  • viola
  • continuo

Unser Mund sei voll Lachens (May our mouth be full of laughter),[1] BWV 110,[a] is a church cantata by Johann Sebastian Bach. He composed the Christmas cantata in Leipzig for Christmas Day and first performed it on 25 December 1725.

Bach composed the cantata in his third year as Thomaskantor in Leipzig. He used a text by Georg Christian Lehms, which was published already in 1711. The text has no recitatives alternating with arias, but instead three biblical quotations, opening with verses from Psalm 26, then a verse from the Book of Jeremiah about God's greatness, and finally the angels' song from the Nativity according to the Gospel of Luke. The closing chorale is taken from Caspar Füger's "Wir Christenleut".

Bach scored the work festively for four vocal soloists, a four-part choir and a Baroque instrumental ensemble of trumpets and timpani, transverse flutes, different kinds of oboe, strings and basso continuo including bassoon. He derived the first chorus, in the style of a French overture, from the overture to his fourth Orchestral Suite, embedding vocal parts in its fast middle section. The song of the angels is based on the Christmas interpolation Virga Jesse Floruit of his Magnificat in E-flat major, BWV 243a. He chose obbligato instruments to differentiate the character of the three arias: two flutes with the tenor expressing the "lowly birth",[1] oboe d'amore with the alto, representing God's love, and trumpet, oboes and strings with the bass for his call to sing songs of joy together. Bach led the Thomanerchor in the first performances on Christmas Day, one in the Nikolaikirche and one in the Thomaskirche.

History and words[edit]

Bach composed the cantata in his third year as Thomaskantor in Leipzig for Christmas Day, the first day of a Christmas celebration which lasted for three days.[1] The prescribed readings for the feast day were from the Epistle of Titus, "God's mercy appeared" (Titus 2:11–14) or from Isaiah, "Unto us a child is born" (Isaiah 9:2–7), and from the Gospel of Luke, the Nativity, Annunciation to the shepherds and the angels' song (Luke 2:1–14).[1]

In 1723, his first year in Leipzig, Bach had composed no new cantata for Christmas Day, but revived Christen, ätzet diesen Tag, BWV 63, on a text of free poetry without any biblical or chorale content.[1] That year, he composed new works for the second and third feast day. In 1724, his second year, he composed three chorale cantatas for the three feast days, beginning with Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ, BWV 91.[1] In his third year, Bach used a cantata text by Georg Christian Lehms, which was published already in 1711 in Darmstadt in the collection Gottgefälliges Kirchen-Opffer.[2] The librettist began with a quotation of two verses from Psalm 126 which deals with the hope for delivery of Jerusalem, "When the Lord turned again the captivity of Zion, we were like them that dream.", and the joyful reaction (Psalms 126:2–3).[1] The poet included for a recitative a verse from the Book of Jeremiah, praising God's greatness (Jeremiah 10:6), and he quoted from the Christmas story in the Gospel of Luke the singing of the angels (Luke 2:14).[1][2] In this early text, three biblical quotations alternate with arias.[1] The closing chorale is the fifth stanza of Caspar Füger's hymn "Wir Christenleut".[1][3]

Bach led the Thomanerchor in the first performance in the morning of Christmas Day in the Nikolaikirche, repeated in the afternoon in the Thomaskirche.[4] He led at least one more performance between 1728 and 1731.[5]

Some Bach scholars believed that the cantata was written in 1734 for the end of the War of the Polish Succession,[6] but the discovery of the printed text showed that it was not related.[1] The cantata was not published until 1876 when it appeared in the Bach Gesellschaft Ausgabe, the first complete edition of the composer's works.

Structure and scoring[edit]

Bach structured the cantata in seven movements. An opening chorus and a closing chorale frame a sequence of arias, a recitative and a duet. Bach scored the work for four vocal soloists (soprano (S), alto (A), tenor (T), bass (B)), a four-part choir and a Baroque instrumental ensemble of three trumpets and timpani (Ti), two transverse flutes (Ft), three oboes (Ob) (also oboe d'amore and oboe da caccia), two violins (Vl), viola (Va), and basso continuo including bassoon.[2][7] The heading of the original parts reads: "J.J. Feria 1 Nativitatis Xsti. Concerto. a 3 Trombe, Tamburi. 3 Hautb. / Baßon. 2 Violini e Viola, 4 Voci è Continuo.", which means "Jesus help. First feast day of the birth of Christ. Concerto for 3 trumpets, timpani, 3 oboes, bassoon, 2 violins and viola, 4 voices and continuo".[8] The duration is given as 27 minutes.[1]

In the following table of the movements, the scoring follows the Neue Bach-Ausgabe.[7] The keys and time signatures are taken from the book on all cantatas by the Bach scholar Alfred Dürr, using the symbols for common time (4/4) and alla breve (2/2).[1] The continuo, playing throughout, is not shown.

Movements of Unser Mund sei voll Lachens, BWV 110
No. Title Text Type Vocal Winds Strings Key Time
1 Unser Mund sei voll Lachens Psalm Chorus SATB 3Tr Ti 2Ft 3Ob Fg 2Vl Va D major
  • cut time
  • 9/8
  • 3/4
2 Ihr Gedanken und ihr Sinnen Lehms Aria T 2Ft Fg B minor common time
3 Dir, Herr, ist niemand gleich Jeremiah Recitative B 2Vl Va common time
4 Ach Herr! was ist ein Menschenkind Lehms Aria A Oa F-sharp minor 3/4
5 Ehre sei Gott in der Höhe Luke Aria (Duet) S T A major 12/8
6 Wacht auf, ihr Adern und ihr Glieder Lehms Aria B Tr 2Ob Oc 2Vl Va D major common time
7 Alleluja! Gelobt sei Gott Füger Chorale SATB Tr 2Ft 2Ob Oc Fg 2Vl Va B minor common time


In 1725, Bach typically composed alternating recitatives and arias in his cantatas, both on contemporary poetry. The text for this work is in an older style, with biblical texts interspersed with arias. Bach followed it, using different musical forms for the biblical quotations. The opening chorus on psalm verses is an adaptation of his overture to his fourth Orchestral Suite in D major, BWV 1069. The duet "Ehre sei Gott in der Höhe" is based on the Christmas interpolation Virga Jesse floruit from Bach's Magnificat in E-flat major, BWV 243a, of 1723, performed for his first Christmas in Leipzig.[1]


conductor John Eliot Gardiner at work in rehearsal, looking to the left
John Eliot Gardiner, who conducted the Bach Cantata Pilgrimage, in 2007

The opening chorus is "Unser Mund sei voll Lachens" (May our mouth be full of laughter).[1] It calls for all instruments to perform.[9] The text "concludes with acknowledgement that the Lord has achieved great things for his people".[10] Bach based the music on the overture to his fourth Orchestral Suite in D major, adding festive trumpets and timpani as well as flutes[4] to the original music and embedding the voices.[1] He followed the format of the French overture by instrumental slow sections framing the fast choral section.[1] The French overture, normally played upon the arrival of the king to a performance, seemed suitable to greet the King of Heaven.[4] The laughter mentioned in the text is "often made quite graphically audible", as the Bach Scholar Alfred Dürr words it.[1] When Bach performed the work again later, he marked some vocal sections as "ripieno", achieving even more variety in the "concerto".[1] John Eliot Gardiner, who conducted the Bach Cantata Pilgrimage, interprets it as Bach's vote against a strict one voice per part concept. He chose this cantata in one of three Christmas concerts to conclude the endeavour of a full year, and notes the first movement's "marvellous rendition of laughter-in-music" and "innate elegance and lightness of touch".[9]


A tenor aria, "Ihr Gedanken und ihr Sinnen" (You thoughts and musings),[11] is accompanied by two transverse flutes. Dürr interprets the choice of the flutes as a symbol for the "lowly birth".[1][4]


A bass recitative, "Dir, Herr, ist niemand gleich" (There is no one like You, Lord),[11] is accompanied by the strings, which accompany the expressive line of the bass voice by "upward-pointing gestures".[1]


The alto aria, "Ach Herr, was ist ein Menschenkind" (Ah, Lord, what is a human being),[11] is accompanied by a solo oboe d'amore that "expresses wonder about the nature of man" and God's interest in him.[10] The aria, as the first one, is not a da capo aria, but in two parts. The idea of man in a sinful condition which is presented first, is changed to redemption.[1] The Bach scholar Klaus Hofmann relates the choice of the oboe d'amore to the answer to the singer's question "Why do you do all this for man?": "Aus Liebe" (through love).[4]


The duet "Ehre sei Gott in der Höhe" (Glory to God in the highest),[11] combines two high voices over a simple continuo accompaniment, singing of God's glory in the highest and peace on Earth.[10] The music is based on the Virga Jesse floruit from the Magnificat, changing the vocal lines to the different text but retaining the "essentially lyrical character".[1] Gardiner notes that "goodwill towards men" is expressed in pastoral style, with the voices in parallels of tenths.[9]


The bass aria "Wacht auf, ihr Adern und ihr Glieder" (Awaken, veins and limbs),[11] is a final call to wake up and join the praise of the angels. Trumpet and oboe add to energetic music. The oboes double the strings or rest, for more dynamic effect. Virtuoso passages in the trumpets are reminiscent of the first movement.[1] The first triad call of the trumpet is of martial character, and imitated by the voice. When the text refers to the strings, the winds have a rest.[12]


The closing chorale, "Alleluja! Gelobt sei Gott," (Alleluia! Praise be to God),[11] is a four-part setting of the tune by an anonymous composer.[13] Bach set the same tune again to close Part III of his Christmas Oratorio with another stanza fromthe hymn, "Seid froh, dieweil" (Be glad, therefore).[10]

Selected recordings[edit]

The listing is taken from the selection on the Bach-Cantatas website.[5] Choirs and orchestras are roughly marked as large by red background; instrumental groups playing period instruments in historically informed performances are highlighted green under the header Instr..

Recordings of Unser Mund sei voll Lachens, BWV 110
Title Conductor / Choir / Orchestra Soloists Label Year Choir type Instr.
J. S. Bach: Kantaten BWV 21, 110 (Ramin Edition Vol. 1) Ramin, GüntherGünther Ramin
Fidelio 1947 (1947) Boys Symphony
J. S. Bach: Cantata BWV 110 Thamm, HansHans Thamm
Windsbacher Knabenchor
Pforzheim Chamber Orchestra
Cantate 1961 (1961) Boys Chamber
Les Grandes Cantates de J. S. Bach Vol. 11 Werner, FritzFritz Werner
Heinrich-Schütz-Chor Heilbronn
Pforzheim Chamber Orchestra
Erato 1961 (1961) Chamber
J. S. Bach: Cantata BWV 110 & Magnificat BWV 243 Schmidt-Gaden, GerhardGerhard Schmidt-Gaden
Tölzer Knabenchor
Collegium Aureum
Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 1972 (1972) Boys
Die Bach Kantate Vol. 62 Rilling, HelmuthHelmuth Rilling
Gächinger Kantorei
Bach-Collegium Stuttgart
Hänssler 1974 (1974)
J. S. Bach: Das Kantatenwerk • Complete Cantatas • Les Cantates, Folge / Vol. 27 – BWV 107-110 Harnoncourt, NikolausNikolaus Harnoncourt
Tölzer Knabenchor
Concentus Musicus Wien
Teldec 1979 (1979) Boys Period
Bach Kantaten BWV 110, BWV 40, BWV 71 Rotzsch, Hans-JoachimHans-Joachim Rotzsch
Neues Bachisches Collegium Musicum
Berlin Classics 1982 (1982) Boys
J. S. Bach: Cantates de Nöel Herreweghe, PhilippePhilippe Herreweghe
Collegium Vocale Gent
Harmonia Mundi France 1995 (1995) Period
Bach Cantatas Vol. 14: New York / Christmas Cantatas Gardiner, John EliotJohn Eliot Gardiner
Monteverdi Choir
English Baroque Soloists
Soli Deo Gloria 2000 (2000) Period
Bach Edition Vol. 14 – Cantatas Vol. 7 Leusink, Pieter JanPieter Jan Leusink
Holland Boys Choir
Netherlands Bach Collegium
Brilliant Classics 2000 (2000) Boys Period
J. S. Bach: Complete Cantatas Vol. 15 Koopman, TonTon Koopman
Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra & Choir
Antoine Marchand 2001 (2001) Period
J. S. Bach: Cantatas Vol. 43 – BWV 57, 110, 151 Suzuki, MasaakiMasaaki Suzuki
Bach Collegium Japan
BIS 2008 (2008) Period
J. S. Bach: Magnificat, Unser Mund sei voll Lachens Veldhoven, Jos vanJos van Veldhoven
Netherlands Bach Society
Channel Classics Records 2010 (2010) Period


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


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x Dürr, Alfred; Jones, Richard D. P. (2006). The Cantatas of J. S. Bach: With Their Librettos in German-English Parallel Text. Oxford University Press. pp. 97–99. ISBN 0-19-929776-2. 
  2. ^ a b c Wolff, Christoph. "The transition between the second and the third yearly cycle of Bach's Leipzig cantatas (1725 Leipzig, I)" (PDF). Bach-Cantatas. pp. 2–3. Retrieved 5 December 2013. 
  3. ^ "Wir Christenleut habn jetzund Freud / Text and Translation of Chorale". Bach-Cantatas. 2006. Retrieved 16 December 2015. 
  4. ^ a b c d e Hofmann, Klaus (2012). "Unser Mund sei voll Lachens , BWV 110 / Then Was our Mouth Filled with Laughter" (PDF). Bach-Cantatas. pp. 5–6. Retrieved 13 December 2015. 
  5. ^ a b Oron, Aryeh. "Cantata BWV 110 Unser Mund sei voll Lachens". Bach-Cantatas. Retrieved 12 December 2015. 
  6. ^ Traupman-Carr, Carol (2006). "Cantata BWV 110 Unser Mund sei voll Lachens". The Bach Choir of Bethlehem. Retrieved 11 March 2011. 
  7. ^ a b Bischof, Walter F. "BWV 110 Unser Mund sei voll Lachens". University of Alberta. Retrieved 12 December 2015. 
  8. ^ Grob, Jochen (2014). "BWV 110 / BC A 10" (in German). Retrieved 15 December 2015. 
  9. ^ a b c Gardiner, John Eliot (2005). "Christmas Day / St Bartholomew's, New York" (PDF). Bach-Cantatas. p. 4. Retrieved 13 December 2015. 
  10. ^ a b c d Eriksson, Erik (2006). "Johann Sebastian Bach / Cantata No. 110, "Unser Mund sei voll Lachens," BWV 110 (BC A10)". Retrieved 11 March 2011. 
  11. ^ a b c d e f Dellal, Pamela. "BWV 110 – Unser Mund sei voll Lachens". Emmanuel Music. Retrieved 12 December 2014. 
  12. ^ Mincham, Julian (2010). "Chapter 6 BWV 110 Unser Mund sei voll Lachens / Fill our mouths with the sounds of laughter.". Retrieved 12 December 2015. 
  13. ^ "Chorale Melodies used in Bach's Vocal Works / Wir Christenleut habn jetzund Freud". Bach-Cantatas. 2006. Retrieved 16 December 2015.