Wohl dem, der sich auf seinen Gott, BWV 139

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Wohl dem, der sich auf seinen Gott
BWV 139
Tizian 014.jpg
Occasion23rd Sunday after Trinity
Performed12 November 1724 (1724-11-12): Leipzig
Cantata text
"Mache dich, mein Geist, bereit"
by Johann Christoph Rube
VocalSATB choir and solo
  • 2 oboes d'amore
  • 2 violins
  • viola
  • continuo

Johann Sebastian Bach composed the church cantata Wohl dem, der sich auf seinen Gott (Fortunate the person who upon his God), BWV 139,[a] in Leipzig for the 23rd Sunday after Trinity and first performed it on 12 November 1724. The chorale cantata is based on the hymn by Johann Christoph Rube (1692).

History and words[edit]

Bach composed the chorale cantata in his second year in Leipzig for the 23rd Sunday after Trinity. The prescribed readings for the Sunday were from the Epistle to the Philippians, "our conversation is in heaven" (Philippians 3:17–21), and from the Gospel of Matthew, the question about paying taxes, answered by Render unto Caesar... (Matthew 22:15–22).[1] The cantata is based on the hymn in five stanzas by Johann Christoph Rube[2] (1692).[3] It is sung to the melody of Johann Hermann Schein "Machs mit mir, Gott, nach deiner Güt" (1628).[4] An unknown poet retained the first and the last stanza as the outer movements the cantata. He derived the four inner movements as a sequence of alternating arias and recitatives from the inner stanzas. He based movement 2 on stanza 2, movements 4 and 5 on stanzas 3 and 4, and inserted movement 3, based on the gospel.[1] According to Hans-Joachim Schulze[5] in Die Welt der Bach-Kantaten (vol. 3), Andreas Stöbel,[6] a former co-rector of the Thomasschule is a likely author of the chorale cantata texts, since he had the necessary theological knowledge, and Bach stopped the cantata sequence a few weeks after he died on 31 January 1725.[7]

Bach first performed the cantata on 12 November 1724. He performed it again between 1732 and 1735, and between 1744 and 1747.[7] For the second movement, the part for an obbligato violin is extant, but the part of a second obbligato instrument, possibly a second violin or an oboe d'amore, is missing.[8][9]

Scoring and structure[edit]

The cantata in six movements is intimately scored for four vocal soloists (soprano, alto, tenor and bass), a four-part choir, and a Baroque instrumental ensemble of two oboes d'amore, two violins, viola, and basso continuo.[1]

  1. Chorale: Wohl dem, der sich auf seinen Gott
  2. Aria (tenor): Gott ist mein Freund; was hilft das Toben
  3. Recitative (alto): Der Heiland sendet ja die Seinen
  4. Aria (bass): Das Unglück schlägt auf allen Seiten
  5. Recitative (soprano): Ja, trag ich gleich den größten Feind in mir
  6. Chorale: Dahero Trotz der Höllen Heer!


The opening chorus is a chorale fantasia. Strings and the two oboes d'amore play concertante music, to which the soprano sings the cantus firmus, and the lower voices interpret the text, speaking of "child-like trust of the true believer" in the first section, of "all the devils" in the second, "he nonetheless remains at peace" in the third.[10] The key is E major, a rare, "rather extreme" key at Bach's time, as musicologist Julian Mincham notes: only about a third of Bach's chorale cantatas begins in a major key at all, and only two in E major, the other being Liebster Gott, wenn werd ich sterben? BWV 8, "a musing on death and bereavement and one of his most personal works".[9]

In the tenor aria, movement 2, the motif of the first line "Gott ist mein Freund" (God is my friend) appears again and again in the voice and the instruments. The voice is "more convoluted" when the raging enemies and the "Spötter", those who ridicule or mock, are mentioned.[9]

In movement 4, a bass aria with solo violin and the oboes d'amore in unison, Bach changes seamlessly from loud double-dotted music to "the most nonchalant texture imaginable" in 6/8 time to illustrate the text "But a helping hand suddenly appears", compared by John Eliot Gardiner to "God's outstretched hand as painted by Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel".[10]



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


  1. ^ a b c Dürr, Alfred (1981). Die Kantaten von Johann Sebastian Bach (in German). 1 (4 ed.). Deutscher Taschenbuchverlag. pp. 511–514. ISBN 3-423-04080-7.
  2. ^ "Johann Christoph Rube". Hymnary.org. Retrieved 11 November 2012.
  3. ^ "Wohl dem, der sich auf seinen Gott / Text and Translation of Chorale". Bach Cantatas Website. 2011. Retrieved 5 November 2012.
  4. ^ "Chorale Melodies used in Bach's Vocal Works / Machs mit mir, Gott, nach deiner Güt". Bach Cantatas Website. 2006. Retrieved 5 November 2012.
  5. ^ "Hans-Joachim Schulze (musicologist, arranger)". Bach Cantatas Website. Retrieved 11 November 2012.
  6. ^ Role, Claude. "Cantata BWV 125 – Commentary in French". Bach Cantatas Website. Retrieved 11 November 2012.
  7. ^ a b Wolff, Christoph (1999). The Leipzig church cantatas: the chorale cantata cycle (II: 1724–1725) (PDF). Bach Cantatas Website. p. 7. Retrieved 5 November 2012.
  8. ^ Hofmann, Klaus (2004). "Wohl dem, der sich auf seinen Gott, BWV 139, BWV 139 / Happy the Man who in his God" (PDF). Bach Cantatas Website. p. 10. Retrieved 6 November 2012.
  9. ^ a b c Mincham, Julian (2010). "Chapter 24 BWV 139 Wohl dem, der sich auf seinen Gott". The Cantatas of Johann Sebastian Bach. Retrieved 7 November 2012.
  10. ^ a b Gardiner, John Eliot (2010). Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) / Cantatas Nos 52, 55, 60, 89, 115, 139, 140 & 163 (Media notes). Soli Deo Gloria (at Hyperion Records website). Retrieved 28 October 2018.