Fürchte dich nicht

BWV 228 // Funeral music

(Fear have thou none) for vocal ensemble (double choir),  oboe I+II, taille, strings and basso continuo

Motet by Johann Christoph Bach «Fürchte dich nicht»

Fürchte dich nicht, denn ich hab‘ dich erlöst,
ich hab‘ dich bei deinem Namen gerufen,
du bist mein.
Wahrlich, ich sage dir:
Heute wirst du mit mir im Paradies sein.

O Jesu du, mein Hilf und Ruh,
ich bitte dich mit Tränen:
Hilf, dass ich mich bis ins Grab nach dir möge sehnen.

Johann Heinrich Schmelzer: «Lamento sopra la morte Ferdinandi III»

Motet by Johann Sebastian Bach, BWV 228 «Fürchte dich nicht»

Video

Experience the introductory workshop, concert and reflective lecture in full length.

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Workshop
Reflective lecture
Bonus material

«Lutzogram» for the introductory workshop

Rudolf Lutz’s manuscript for the workshop
Download (PDF)

Performers

Choir

Soprano 
Lia Andres, Felicitas Erb, Simone Schwark, Noëmi Sohn Nad, Alexa Vogel, Mirjam Wernli

Alto 
Laura Binggeli, Antonia Frey, Liliana Lafranchi, Damaris Rickhaus, Simon Savoy, Lea Pfister-Scherer

Tenor
Zacharie Fogal, Raphael Höhn, Tobias Mäthger, Sören Richter, Nicolas Savoy, Walter Siegel

Bass
Fabrice Hayoz, Grégoire May, Daniel Pérez, Retus Pfister, Jonathan Sells, Tobias Wicky

Orchestra

Conductor
Rudolf Lutz

Violin 
Eva Borhi, Peter Barczi

Viola
Matthias Jäggi

Violoncello
Maya Amrein

Violone
Markus Bernhard

Oboe
Katharina Arfken, Philipp Wagner

Taille
José Manuel Cuadrado Sánchez

Bassoon
Susann Landert

Harpsicord 
Jörg-Andreas Bötticher

Organ 
Nicola Cumer

Musical director & conductor

Rudolf Lutz

Workshop

Participants
Rudolf Lutz, Pfr. Niklaus Peter

Reflective lecture

Speaker
Muhterem Aras

Recording & editing

Recording date
22/11/2019

Recording location
Trogen AR (Schweiz) // Evangelische Kirche

Sound engineer
Stefan Ritzenthaler, Nikolaus Matthes

Producer
Meinrad Keel

Executive producer
Johannes Widmer

Production
GALLUS MEDIA AG, Schweiz

Producer
J.S. Bach-Stiftung, St. Gallen, Schweiz

About the work

Librettist

First performance
Unknown; possibly 4 February 1726,
Leipzig (for the funeral of Susanna
Sophia Winckler)

Text
Isaiah; Paul Gerhardt (1653)

In-depth analysis

The exact occasion for the composition of “Fürchte dich nicht” (Fear thou not, BWV 228) is not certain. Unlike the motets and hymns of the venerable “Florilegium portense” collection (1603–1621) that were used as processionals in Leipzig’s church services and for the Currende (street-choir) performances of the St Thomas singers, Bach’s new motets were occasional works that are believed to have been composed for funerals, although to date this assumption has been verified only for “Der Geist hilft unser Schwachheit auf” (The Spirit doth our weakness help, BWV 226), which was composed in 1729 for the funeral of Johann Heinrich Ernesti, rector of the Thomasschule. A connection between BWV 228 and the 1726 funeral for Susanna Sophia Winckler, a noblewoman of Leipzig, was long assumed due to similarities between the motet text and the funeral sermon (Isaiah 43:1); recent research by scholars Daniel Melamed and Klaus Hofmann, however, has called this connection into question.

The motet, composed in the Thuringian tradition that so profoundly influenced Bach, is set for an eight-voice double choir and simultaneously treats a gospel text and a church hymn. Because the original score has not survived, it is unclear whether Bach intended the vocal parts to be doubled by strings and winds. Nevertheless, because this was a common practice for Bach, as seen in BWV 226 and other related works, for our recording, conductor Rudolf Lutz chose to include an instrumental accompaniment with a continuo part based on the lowest choir voice. Indeed, the inclusion of a harpsichord also breathes new life into an old idea of musicologist Arnold Schering, who conjectured that the harpsichords in Leipzig’s churches, although rarely used in cantata performances, were there for the purpose of accompanying motets.

The motet opens with a dialogue initiated by the bass groups of each choir that furnishes the assurance of “Fürchte dich nicht” (Fear have thou none) with a motivic energy throughout the work and that recurs twice as a framing figure. This gesture of assurance is also composed into the opening motif itself, followed closely by the phrase “Ich bin bei dir” (I am with thee), which appears to answer the question suggested by the intervallic leap on the word “nicht” (not).

After dense choral exchanges on the text of “Weiche nicht, denn ich bin dein Gott” (waver not, for I am thy God), a coloratura on the words “Ich stärke dich” (I strengthen thee) is passed from voice to voice; this passage, thanks to its triumphant style, remains highly popular among the Thomas singers to this day. It then flows into a more subdued section that, so to speak, gradually lifts the curtain on the prophetic text while continually enhancing its import through additional layers of contrapuntal density (“Ich stärke dich, ich helfe dir auch, ich erhalte dich” – I strengthen thee, I also help thee, I uphold thee). Following a renewed acclamation of “Fürchte dich nicht”, the second part of the work melds both choirs in one four-voice entity. The resulting concentration of vocal parts goes hand in hand with a further display of compositional artistry: Bach combines an extended double fugue in the three lower voices (“Denn ich habe dich erlöset, ich habe dich bei deinem Namen gerufen” – for I have now thee delivered, I have thee by thy name now called) with a line-for-line presentation of the two hymn verses “Herr, mein Hirt, Brunn aller Freuden” and “Du bist mein, weil ich dich fasse” (Shepherd, Lord, fount of all pleasure and Thou art mine, for I shall clasp thee) in the soprano voice. This union of meditative calm and polyphonic motion culminates in an eight-voice closing section, which, despite its brevity, maximises the powerful solace of the composition’s central message: “Fürchte dich nicht, du bist mein!” (Fear have thou none, thou art mine!)

Whether Bach personally signed this section of the work by inserting a transposition of his B­A­C­H motif in the first bass part is a matter of conjecture – the gift he made with this motet to all future singers and audiences, by contrast, is documented in a Leipzig review of 1837 that opened with a description of a vesper service in the St Thomas church that was nearly ruined by the grotesquely incompetent composition of a young composer. The reviewer then singles out Bach’s motet as a true sign of quality: “… the listeners often stifled laughter, furrowed their brows, suffered earache; no doubt they would have soon departed had not Father Bach stepped in with his world-famous words of comfort: Fürchte dich nicht, ich bin bei dir! Denn ich habe dich erlöset. (Fear have thou none, I am with thee, for I have now thee delivered).”

Among Bach’s collection of works by his forefathers is another setting of “Fürchte dich nicht”, a five­voice motet by his Eisenach uncle, Johann Christoph Bach (1642–1703), whom Bach admired as a “great expressive composer”. Like BWV 228, this motet also unites a gospel text sung by the choir with a chorale presentation in the descant voice. Both this fifth verse of Johann Rist’s Passion hymn “O Traurigkeit, o Herzeleid” (O grief, o woe) and the promise contained in the closing line of the gospel text “Wahrlich, ich sage dir, heute wirst du mit mir im Paradiese sein” (Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise, Luke 23:43) are suggestive of a funeral work borne by images of the crucifixion. This composition is featured on our CD as a bonus track, together with a Lamento by the Viennese violinist and Vice Kapellmeister Johann Heinrich Schmelzer (approx. 1623–1680). Written for a four-part string ensemble, the Lamento was composed in memory of Kaiser Ferdinand III, a respected musician who died in 1657. Set in the poignant key of B minor, the work is replete with heartrending intervals and desolate, funeral-bell figures and imbued with a noble, personal tone.

Libretto

1. Chor

Fürchte dich nicht, ich bin bei dir,
weiche nicht, denn ich bin dein Gott!
Ich stärke dich, ich helfe dir auch,
ich erhalte dich durch die rechte Hand
meiner Gerechtigkeit.

2. Chor

Fürchte dich nicht, denn ich habe dich
erlöset, ich habe dich bei deinem Namen
gerufen, du bist mein.
Fürchte dich nicht, du bist mein!

3. Choral

Herr, mein Hirt, Brunn aller Freuden,
du bist mein,
ich bin dein,
niemand kann uns scheiden.
Ich bin dein, weil du dein Leben
und dein Blut mir zugut
in den Tod gegeben.

<strong>4. Choral</strong>

Du bist mein, weil ich dich fasse
und dich nicht, o mein Licht,
aus dem Herzen lasse.
Laß mich, laß mich hingelangen,
da du mich und ich dich
lieblich werd umfangen.

Bibliographical references

All libretti sourced 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 in-depth analyses by Anselm Hartinger (English translations/editing by Alice Noger-Gradon/Mary Carozza) based on the following sources:  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.

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