(Till now have ye nought been asking) for soprano, alto, tenor and bass, oboe I+II, oboe da caccia, strings and basso continuo
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«Lutzogram» for the introductory workshop
Rudolf Lutz’s manuscript for the workshop
The sound recording of this work is available on several streaming and download platforms.
From the choir of the J.S. Bach Foundation
Conductor & cembalo
Renate Steinmann, Monika Baer, Claire Foltzer, Elisabeth Kohler, Marita Seeger, Salome Zimmermann
Susanna Hefti, Olivia Schenkel
Martin Zeller, Hristo Kouzmanov
Katharina Arfken, Natalia Herden
Oboe da caccia
Musical director & conductor
Karl Graf, Rudolf Lutz
Recording & editing
Trogen AR (Schweiz) // Evangelische Kirche
GALLUS MEDIA AG, Switzerland
J.S. Bach Foundation of St. Gallen, Switzerland
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About the work
Christiane Mariana von Ziegler, 1725
Text No. 1, 5
John 16:24 and 33
Text No. 7
Heinrich Müller, 1659
6 May 1725
Composed for Rogation Sunday, the cantata “Bisher habt ihr nichts gebeten” (Till now have ye nought been asking in my name’s honour) opens in the particularly sermonizing and soloistic style that is typical of Bach cantatas BWV 80 to BWV 90. The gospel for that Sunday (John 16:23-30) on Jesus’ parting words to his disciples expresses confidence that prayers will be heard and links this confidence to the resurrected Messiah’s close proximity to God and, by extension, to his followers. This dictum, however, is treated in the libretto less as a sure promise than as a warning to remain steadfast in prayer and devotion – a task in which we mortals frequently fall short by paying no heed to God’s gospel and lapsing anew into a cycle of sin and repentance. Penned by the Leipzig poet and noblewoman Christiane Mariane von Ziegler, the libretto is one of her nine cantata texts that Bach set to music during the hiatus in his chorale cantata cycle between Easter and Trinity Sunday in 1725.
Despite its brevity, the Bible dictum of the opening movement is presented in a dense setting in which the string parts are doubled by oboes to engender the appropriate gravitas. In this movement, the musical substance of the theme gives concrete form to the urgent reminder to observe prayer and to the cross-like burden of selfless entreaty, while the solo part, assigned fittingly to the bass voice, embodies fatherly sternness, majestic serenity – and also a hint of disappointment at humankind’s failure to reciprocate godly love.
In the alto recitative, the somewhat vague dictum is then interpreted as a “Wort, das Geist und Seel erschreckt” (word that heart and soul alarms), thus framing the reticence of the disciples as a deliberate transgression. In the following aria, however, a gentler tone emerges: over simple broken chords in the continuo part, a trusting gesture is offered by the oboes da caccia in a wordless anticipation of the ensuing request for forgiveness. The middle section then takes up the gospel word explaining that the resurrected Christ will no longer talk in parables, but speak plainly. This inspires the human soul, represented by the alto soloist, to ask Jesus to eschew preaching in figures of speech, and instead to intercede on humankind’s behalf – a rather brazen request, despite its elegant presentation in flowing, aria style.
In the accompagnato recitative, the tenor reinforces this shift in attitude by taking to heart the divine promise to the disciples and calling for its realisation: even when “die Schuld bis zum Himmel steigt” (all our guilt unto heaven climbs), the Highest is beseeched to look into the heart of the supplicant and to provide the promised comfort. By setting the final flowing melisma on the word “suchen” (seek) rather than “trösten” (comfort), Bach, too, focuses on the tireless efforts of the Saviour.
In a surprising shift, a second weighty dictum then follows, this time from John 16:33: “In der Welt habt ihr Angst, aber seid getrost, ich habe die Welt überwunden” (In the world ye have fear, but ye should be glad, I have now the world overpowered). In contrast to the paternalistic warning that opens the cantata, Jesus appears here as an empathetic, consoling companion, who, in a buoyant duo setting accompanied only by the continuo, displays a surprising lightness and ease – this saviour is as agile and alert as ever, and readily honours his promise.
This in turn establishes an aura of comfort and calm, allowing the tenor to embark on a floating siciliano aria in the relaxed key of B-flat major. The opening line of “Ich will leiden, ich will schweigen” (I will suffer, I will keep silent), although resigned in and of itself, thus acquires a sense of assurance and comfort; accordingly, the orchestral introduction is pervaded by a gentleness of tone that is also sustained in the noble cantilena of the tenor. This intense moment of joy requires neither a da capo nor endless repetitions; rather, it is rendered as a soulful epiphany through its brevity and emotional clarity.
The following closing chorale sets a fitting text by Heinrich Müller from 1659 (“Muß ich seyn betrübet, so mich Jesu liebet” – Must I be so troubled? For if Jesus loves me) to the famous melody of “Jesu, meine Freude” (Jesus, my true pleasure). Bach’s simple arrangement, however, relieves the hymn and text of none of the gravity: rather than alleviating suffering, love serves only to sweeten the pain – a small but significant mercy.
1. Dictum (Bass)
»Bisher habt ihr nichts gebeten in meinem Namen.«
2. Rezitativ (Alt)
O Wort, das Geist und Seel erschreckt!
Ihr Menschen, merkt den Zuruf, was dahinter steckt!
Ihr habt Gesetz und Evangelium vorsätzlich übertreten,
und diesfalls möcht’ ihr ungesäumt in Buß und Andacht beten.
3. Arie (Alt)
Vergib, o Vater, unsre Schuld,
und habe noch mit uns Geduld,
wenn wir in Andacht beten
und sagen: Herr, auf dein Geheiß,
ach rede nicht mehr sprüchwortsweis,
hilf uns vielmehr vertreten!
4. Rezitativ (Tenor)
Wenn unsre Schuld bis an den Himmel steigt,
du siehst und kennest ja mein Herz,
das nichts vor dir verschweigt;
drum suche mich zu trösten!
5. Dictum (Bass)
«In der Welt habt ihr Angst; aber seid getrost, ich habe die
6. Arie (Tenor)
Ich will leiden, ich will schweigen,
Jesus wird mir Hülf erzeigen,
denn er tröst’ mich nach dem Schmerz.
Weicht, ihr Sorgen, Trauer, Klagen,
denn warum sollt ich verzagen?
Fasse dich, betrübtes Herz!
Muß ich sein betrübet?
So mich Jesus liebet,
ist mir aller Schmerz
über Honig süße,
drücket er ans Herz.
Wenn die Pein sich stellet ein,
seine Liebe macht zur Freuden
auch das bittre Leiden.