Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland (Now come, Savior of the
heathens), BWV 61, is a church cantata by Johann
Sebastian Bach. He composed it in Weimar for the first
Sunday in Advent and first performed it on 2 December
On 2 March 1714 Bach was appointed concertmaster of the
Weimar court capelle of the co-reigning dukes Wilhelm
Ernst and Ernst August of Saxe-Weimar. As
concertmaster, he assumed the principal responsibility
for composing new works, specifically cantatas for the
Schlosskirche (palace church), on a monthly
The exact chronological order of Bach's Weimar cantatas
remains uncertain. Only four bear autograph dates. BWV
61 is dated 1714 and bears the liturgical designation
"am ersten Advent", the First Sunday of Advent. The
prescribed readings for the Sunday were from the
Epistle to the Romans, "now is our salvation nearer"
(Romans 13:11–14), and from the Gospel of Matthew, the
Entry into Jerusalem (Matthew 21:1–9). The cantata text
was provided by Erdmann Neumeister, who included the
first stanza of Martin Luther's hymn "Nun komm, der
Heiden Heiland" in the first movement, the end of the
last verse of Philipp Nicolai's "Wie schön leuchtet der
Morgenstern" as the closing chorale, and text from the
Book of Revelation (Revelation 3:20) in the fourth
movement ("Siehe, ich stehe vor der Tür und klopfe an.
So jemand meine Stimme hören wird und die Tür auftun,
zu dem werde ich eingehen und das Abendmahl mit ihm
halten und er mit mir." – "Behold, I stand at the door
and knock. Anyone that hears My voice and opens the
door, to him I will enter and keep the evening meal
with him and he with me."). The poet combined the ideas
of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem and his promise to
return with an invitation to enter the heart of the
Because of Bach's liturgical designation, the
performance can be precisely dated to 2 December 1714.
However, the opening movement relates to an earlier
undatable version of the work. As Thomaskantor,
director of music of the main churches of Leipzig, Bach
performed the cantata again on 28 November 1723.
The first Sunday of Advent begins the liturgical year.
Bach marked it by creating the opening chorus as a
chorale fantasia in the style of a French overture,
which follows the sequence slow – fast (fugue) – slow.
In a French opera performance, the King of France would
have entered during the overture; Bach greets a
different king. Two of the four lines of the chorale
melody are combined in the first slow section, line
three is treated in the fast section, and line four in
the final slow section. The melody of line 1 is first
presented in the continuo, then sung by all four voices
one after another, accompanied by a solemn dotted
rhythm in the orchestra. Line 2 is sung by all voices
together, accompanied by the orchestra. Line 3 is a
fast fugato, with the instruments playing colla parte.
Line 4 is set as line 2.
The recitative begins secco but continues as an arioso,
with tenor and continuo imitating one another. (This
more lyrical style of recitative derives from early
Italian operas and cantatas, where it was known as
mezz'aria – half aria.) The tenor aria is accompanied
by the violins and violas in unison. It is written in
the rhythm of a gigue, and the combination of voice,
unison strings and continuo gives it the texture of a
trio sonata. Richard Taruskin comments: "This
hybridization of operatic and instrumental styles is
... standard operating procedure in Bach's cantatas."
Movement 4, the quote from Revelation, is given to the
bass as the vox Christi, and the knocking on the door
is expressed by pizzicato chords in the strings. The
response is the individual prayer of the soprano,
accompanied only by the continuo, with an adagio middle
section. In the closing chorale the violins add a
jubilant fifth part to the four vocal parts.
Like other cantatas written in Weimar, the cantata is
scored for a small ensemble consisting of soprano,
tenor, and bass soloists, a four-part choir, two
violins, two violas, and basso continuo. It has six
I created this arrangement for Oboe & Strings (2
Violins, Viola & Cello).