Jesus schläft, was soll ich hoffen? (Jesus sleeps,
what shall I hope for?), BWV 81, is a church cantata by
Johann Sebastian Bach. He composed it in 1724 in
Leipzig for the fourth Sunday after Epiphany and first
performed it on 30 January 1724.
Bach wrote the cantata in his first year in Leipzig for
the fourth Sunday after Epiphany A fourth Sunday after
Epiphany is rare and occurs only in years with a late
date of Easter. The prescribed readings for the Sunday
were taken from the Epistle to the Romans, love
completes the law (Romans 13:8–10), and from the Gospel
of Matthew, Jesus calming the storm (Matthew 8:23–27).
The poet is unknown, but Erdmann Neumeister and
Christian Weiss have been suggested by scholars. The
poet refers to the Gospel and expands on the contrast
of Jesus hidden (sleeping) and appearing (acting),
similar to Mein Gott, wie lang, ach lange? BWV 155,
written in 1716 and performed three weeks earlier on
the First Sunday after Epiphany. The words of movement
4 are a quote from the Gospel, the question of Jesus:
"Ihr Kleingläubigen, warum seid ihr so furchtsam?" (Why
are ye fearful, O ye of little faith?). The closing
chorale is the second stanza of Johann Franck's hymn
"Jesu, meine Freude".
Bach expresses the questions of the anxious "soul" in a
dramatic way, similar to dialogues such as in O
Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort, BWV 60. The first aria speaks
of the "sleeping", illustrated by the recorders, low
registers of the strings, and long notes in the voice.
Bach used similar means also in the aria Sanfte soll
mein Todeskummer of his Easter Oratorio. Movement 3
almost visualizes the storm and the movement of the
waves, similar to scenes in contemporary operas. The
central movement 4 within a symmetrical arrangement is
devoted to the bass as the vox Christi (voice of
Christ). The continuo and the voice use similar
material in this arioso, intensifying the words. The
following aria, marked allegro, contrasts the "storm",
in unison runs of the strings, with calmer motion in
The closing chorale is set for four parts. Its chorale
theme is by Johann Crüger and appeared first in his
Praxis pietatis melica published in Berlin, 1653.
Bach composed a similar symmetry around a biblical word
in 1726 in Brich dem Hungrigen dein Brot, BWV 39.
Although originally scored for alto, tenor and bass
soloists, a four-part choir in the chorale, two oboes
d'amore, two recorders, two violins, viola, and basso
continuo, I created this arrangement for Bb Trumpet &
Strings (2 Violins, Viola & Cello).
Download the sheet music here: