Wohl dem, der sich auf seinen Gott

BWV 139 // For the Twenty-third Sunday after Trinity

(Blest he who self can to his God) for soprano, alto, tenor and bass, vocal ensemble, oboe d’amore I+II, bassoon, strings and continuo.

The introductory choir to the chorale cantata “Wohl dem, der sich auf seinen Gott” (Bless he who self can to his God) demonstrates a particularly distinctive relationship between key, sound character and affects of the text.

J.S. Bach-Stiftung Kantate BWV 139

Video

Listen and see the introductory workshop, the concert and the reflection lecture in full length.

Would you like to enjoy our videos ad-free? Subscribe to YouTube Premium now...

Workshop
Reflection lecture

«Lutzogram» on the introductory workshop

Rudolf Lutz’s script on the workshop
Download (PDF)

Audio

The sound recording of this work can be found on all common streaming and download platforms.

LISTEN ON

LISTEN ON

LISTEN ON

Performers

Choir

Soprano
Susanne Frei, Damaris Nussbaumer, Noëmi Tran Rediger, Madeline Trösch

Alto
Jan Börner, Antonia Frey, Olivia Heiniger, Lea Scherer

Tenor
Marcel Fässler, Clemens Flämig, Walter Siegel

Bass
Fabrice Hayoz, Chasper Mani, Philippe Rayot, William Wood

Orchestra

Conductor & cembalo
Rudolf Lutz

Violin
Renate Steinmann, Martin Korrodi

Viola
Susanna Hefti

Violoncello
Maya Amrein

Violone
Iris Finkbeiner

Oboe d’amore
Luise Baumgartl, Esther Fluor

Bassoon
Susann Landert

Organ
Norbert Zeilberger

Musical director & conductor

Rudolf Lutz

Workshop

Participants
Karl Graf, Rudolf Lutz

Reflection lecture

Speaker

Thomas Held

Recording & editing

Recording date
10/24/2008

Recording location
Trogen

Sound engineer
Stefan Ritzenthaler, Johannes Widmer

Producer
Meinrad Keel

Production
GALLUS MEDIA AG, Schweiz

On the work

In-depth analysis

The introductory choir to the chorale cantata “Wohl dem, der sich auf seinen Gott” (Bless he who self can to his God) demonstrates a particularly distinctive relationship between key, sound character and affects of the text. According to the conventions of baroque tonality, the sharp key of E major was best suited to express passionate emotion, even extreme grief. Bach, however, chooses to apply it here to a libretto treating the comfort of having faith in God, who is addressed by the believer as a father and trusted friend. Considering that Bach’s E major compositions are often suggestive of beatitude and rapture, this could simply be his personal preference. Regardless of his motivation, however, the movement’s gently flowing instrumental part (based on the cantata’s hymn) and the somewhat leisurely chorale motet also contain a pure serenity that hints at the delights of true heavenly love, and overcomes all temptation (“sin and world and death”) with childlike trust.
In stark contrast, the following tenor aria “God is my friend” depicts a fighting spirit, with the valiant soloist invoking the protection of the highest and casting back the raging foes together with energetic violin figures. The determined singer drives away the “scorners”, musically underscored by a rapidly descending line, while the concept of “falsity” is unsurprisingly communicated by “false” interval leaps. In this section, the lost, second upper instrumental part has to be completed using the surviving material.
While the threat from “wolves” and other evils remains somewhat abstract in the alto recitative, in the bass aria “Misfortune wraps from all directions”, Bach sketches a more realistic scene of danger and salvation. Here, the strongly dotted rhythms of the oboes d’amore and continuo summon a sense of urgency that frames a violin obbligato of dazzling semiquaver figures. Like Job, plagued by misfortune, the praying people seem completely overwhelmed, indeed almost crushed by the “hundredweight” pedal point of the continuo. Then, suddenly, the clouds part and the movement gains clarity and lightness as “the help of his hand” appears. Help and salvation, however, also require patience: the fact that the “light” of this “hope” can only be seen “far off”, is insightfully presented in a studious andante-arioso; afterwards, the cycle of hardship and constancy resumes its path – Bach certainly delivers a rollercoaster of tempi and affects in this turbulent movement. The string-accompanied soprano recitative then locates the burden of sin – the “greatest foe” – in the depths of the soul, before imploring God to do his part in a somewhat wilful allusion to the gospel story of the tribute money. With its resolute closing chorale “I therefore scorn the host of hell”, a cantata that proved much more substantial its tender opening would suggest comes to a close. Those seeking “God as friend” have much to endure, but also much to demand. Bach, the controversial Thomas cantor, could not only relate to this message, but also render it audible.

Text of the work and musical-theological comments

1. Chor

Wohl dem, der sich auf seinen Gott
recht kindlich kann verlassen!
Den mag gleich Sünde,Welt und Tod
und alle Teufel hassen,
so bleibt er dennoch wohlvergnügt,
wenn er nur Gott zum Freunde kriegt.

2. Arie (Tenor)

Gott ist mein Freund; was hilft das Toben,
so wider mich ein Feind erhoben!
Ich bin getrost bei Neid und Hass.
Ja, redet nur die Wahrheit spärlich,
seid immer falsch, was tut mir das?
Ihr Spötter seid mir ungefährlich.

3. Rezitativ (Alt)

Der Heiland sendet ja die Seinen
recht mitten in der Wölfe Wut.
Um ihn hat sich der Bösen Rotte
zum Schaden und zum Spotte
mit List gestellt;
doch da sein Mund so weisen Ausspruch tut,
so schützt er mich auch vor der Welt.

4. Arie (Bass)

Das Unglück schlägt auf allen Seiten
um mich ein zentnerschweres Band.
Doch plötzlich erscheinet die helfende Hand.
Mir scheint des Trostes Licht von weiten;
da lern ich erst, dass Gott allein
der Menschen bester Freund muss sein.

5. Rezitativ (Sopran)

Ja, trag ich gleich den grössten Feind in mir,
die schwere Last der Sünden,
mein Heiland lässt mich Ruhe finden.
Ich gebe Gott, was Gottes ist,
das Innerste der Seelen.
Will er sie nun erwählen,
so weicht der Sünden Schuld,
so fällt des Satans List.

6. Choral

Dahero Trotz der Höllen Heer!
Trotz auch des Todes Rachen!
Trotz aller Welt! Mich kann nicht mehr
ihr Pochen traurig machen!
Gott ist mein Schutz, mein Hilf und Rat;
wohl dem, der Gott zum Freunde hat!

Bibliographical references

All cantata texts were taken from «Neue Bach-Ausgabe. Johann Sebastian Bach. Neue Ausgabe sämtlicher Werke», published by the Johann-Sebastian-Bach-Institut Göttingen and the Bach-Archiv Leipzig, Series I (Cantatas), vol. 1-41, Kassel and Leipzig, 1954-2000.
All introductory texts to the works including the texts " in-depth analysis" as well as the " musical-theological comments" were written by Anselm Hartinger and Rev. Niklaus Peter as well as Rev. Karl Graf (translations by Alice Noger) upon consideration of the following references:  Hans-Joachim Schulze, «Die Bach-Kantaten. Einführungen zu sämtlichen Kantaten Johann Sebastian Bachs», Leipzig, 2nd edition, 2007; Alfred Dürr, «Johann Sebastian Bach. Die Kantaten», Kassel, 9th edition, 2009, and Martin Petzoldt, «Bach-Kommentar. Die geistlichen Kantaten», Stuttgart, vol. 1, 2nd edition, 2005 and vol. 2, 1st edition, 2007.

Support us

Support the Bachipedia project as a donor - in order to spread Bach's vocal works worldwide and to make them accessible to young people in particular. Thank you very much!

JSB Newsletter

Follow us on: