Was soll ich aus dir machen, Ephraim, BWV 89

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Was soll ich aus dir machen, Ephraim
BWV 89
Church cantata by J. S. Bach
Teachings of Jesus 12 of 40. parable of the ungrateful servant. Jan Luyken etching. Bowyer Bible.gif
Occasion 22nd Sunday after Trinity
Performed 24 October 1723 (1723-10-24): Leipzig
Movements 6
Cantata text anonymous
Bible text Hosea 11:8
Chorale "Wo soll ich fliehen hin"
by Johann Heermann
  • horn
  • 2 oboes
  • 2 violins
  • viola
  • continuo

Johann Sebastian Bach composed the church cantata Was soll ich aus dir machen, Ephraim (What shall I make of you, Ephraim),[1] BWV 89,[a] in Leipzig for the 22nd Sunday after Trinity and first performed it on 24 October 1723.

History and words[edit]

Bach wrote the cantata in his first year in Leipzig for the 22nd Sunday after Trinity.[2] The prescribed readings for the Sunday were from the Epistle to the Philippians, thanks and prayer for the congregation in Philippi (Philippians 1:3–11), and from the Gospel of Matthew, the parable of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:23–35).

The unknown poet of the cantata text stressed the opposites of the gospel, God's justice versus unjust men. The text begins with a related quotation from the prophet Hosea, Hosea 11:8. The next two movements, recitative and aria, reflect the sinful condition of man, another set of recitative and aria deals with God's mercy. The closing chorale is stanza 7 of "Wo soll ich fliehen hin" by Johann Heermann (1630), which Bach would treat completely one year later in his chorale cantata Wo soll ich fliehen hin, BWV 5.[3]

Bach first performed the cantata on 24 October 1723.[2]

Scoring and structure[edit]

The cantata in six movements is scored for three vocal soloists (soprano, alto and bass), a four-part choir only in the chorale, horn, two oboes, two violins, viola, and basso continuo.[2]

  1. Aria (bass): Was soll ich aus dir machen, Ephraim
  2. Recitative (alto): Ja, freilich sollte Gott
  3. Aria (alto): Ein unbarmherziges Gerichte
  4. Recitative (soprano): Wohlan! mein Herze legt
  5. Aria (soprano): Gerechter Gott, ach, rechnest du
  6. Chorale: Mir mangelt zwar sehr viel


The cantata is scored like chamber music. Only the chorale is set for four parts; the alto voice sings of man's sin, the soprano of God's grace, and the bass is God's voice in the opening movement. On some copies of the parts, the movement is marked aria but we don't know if that marking is authorized by Bach. Formally it has some characteristics of an aria, such as a ritornello to open the movement and frame the text sections, and some aspects of an arioso, for example the free setting of the sections. The last section, which speaks of God's "meine Barmherzigkeit ist zu brünstig" (too fervent mercy) is embedded in the ritornello, then the ritornello is repeated once more. One motif in the ritornello is similar to one in the chorus "Lasset uns den nicht zerteilen" from Bach's St John Passion and may illustrate undecidedness in both cases. The following three movements, two recitatives and an expressive aria, are only accompanied by the continuo, the last aria also by an obbligato oboe.[2] The closing chorale is set for four parts; the melody[4] in the soprano is doubled by the horn, the oboes, and violin I.[5]

Selected recordings[edit]


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


  1. ^ Dellal, Pamela. "BWV 89 – Was soll ich aus dir machen, Ephraim". Emmanuel Music. Retrieved 16 November 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c d Dürr, Alfred (1981). Die Kantaten von Johann Sebastian Bach (in German). 1 (4 ed.). Deutscher Taschenbuchverlag. pp. 502–504. ISBN 3-423-04080-7. 
  3. ^ "Wo soll ich fliehen hin / Text and Translation of Chorale". Bach Cantatas Website. 2005. Retrieved 26 October 2011. 
  4. ^ "Chorale Melodies used in Bach's Vocal Works / Wo soll ich fliehen hin / Auf meinen lieben Gott". Bach Cantatas Website. 2008. Retrieved 26 October 2011. 
  5. ^ Gardiner, John Eliot (2010). "Cantatas for the Twenty-second Sunday after Trinity / All Saints, Tooting" (PDF). Monteverdi Choir. pp. 8–9. Retrieved 17 November 2017.