Nach dir, Herr, verlanget mich (For Thee, O Lord, I
long), BWV 150, is an early Lutheran church cantata by
Johann Sebastian Bach composed for an unknown occasion.
It is unique among Bach's cantatas in its sparse
orchestration and in the independence and prominence of
the chorus, which is featured in four out of seven
Although the exact date is not known, this is one of
Bach's earliest surviving cantatas. Some sources say it
dates from Bach's early years in Weimar (from 1708).
However, it may well be earlier. The Zwang catalogue
(which lists the cantatas chronologically) dates it as
the sixth of the surviving cantatas by Bach (composed
1708–1709), and places Aus der Tiefen rufe ich, Herr,
zu dir, BWV 131, composed in 1707, as the earliest.
The scholar Hans-Joachim Schulze identified a
remarkable acrostic in the concluding four movements
(which he described in the 2010 Bach-Jahrbuch, the
journal of the Neue Bachgesellschaft). Adjusting for
transposition errors by the 1755 scribe, C H Penzel,
the initial letters should spell DOKTOR CONRAD MECKBACH
and plausibly therefore the work was composed to mark
this Mühlhausen councillor's 70th birthday which
occurred in April 1707. On this basis the cantata may
date from Bach's time in Arnstadt, where he was
organist of St Boniface's church until his move to
Mühlhausen in the summer of 1707. Possibly the cantata
was heard a few weeks later after the end of Lent, and
thus it may have formed a test-piece for the Mühlhausen
appointment, composed in Arnstadt with Bach's supporter
Meckbach in mind.
The libretto alternates between biblical verses and
free poetry (a rarity among Bach's early cantatas). The
text of movements 2, 4, and 6 is from Psalm 25 (vv. 1,
2, 5, 15). The author of the poetry is unknown. The
work was written for an unspecified penitential
The work begins with a sinfonia and then alternates
choral movements and arias. There are no recitatives,
no da capo repeats, and there is no chorale tune. Bach
makes extensive use of choral fugues and imitative
polyphony, often shifting the tempo and character of
the music within movements very quickly to accommodate
a new musical idea with each successive phrase of
The sinfonia and the opening choral movement are both
based on the motive of an octave leap followed by five
descending half steps. This chromatic figure, sometimes
dubbed the "lamento bass" or passus duriusculus, has
been utilized by composers as early as Monteverdi as a
musical representation of anguish, pain, and longing.
The sinfonia also introduces thematic material
developed later in the work, uses asymmetric phrasing,
and "a seamless flow of unstoppable melody".
The second movement is "waywardly constructed despite
its relative brevity". It is episodic, emphasizing a
descending chromatic scale motif. The following soprano
aria is also brief but includes significant word
painting. The fourth movement is another short and
episodic chorus, divided into four sections.
Movement five is one of only a handful of vocal trios
to be found in Bach's oeuvre, as well as the only
movement in the cantata in the major mode, shifting
from B minor to D major.
The penultimate movement features a "celestial haze" of
instruments as part of a complex texture. It is in
binary form and modulates from D major through B minor
to B major.
The ground bass in the final movement chaconne is the
inversion of the chromatic fourth ostinato from the
opening movement that goes through a series of
modulations. Both the inversion of the lamento bass and
the modulations express in baroque musical affect how
Christ leads from sorrow to joy. The theme of this
closing movement was adapted by Johannes Brahms for the
Finale of his Symphony No. 4.
Although the cantata is scored for soprano, alto, tenor
and bass soloists, four-part choir and a small
orchestra of two violins, bassoon obbligato, and basso
continuo, I created this arrangement for Viola & Piano.