Der Geist hilft unser Schwachheit auf (The Spirit gives
aid to our weakness), BWV 226, is a motet by Johann
Sebastian Bach, composed in Leipzig in 1729 for the
funeral of Johann Heinrich Ernesti.
For Der Geist hilft unser Schwachheit auf , the
autograph score survives. Bach himself noted on its
title: "J. J. Motetta à doi Cori bey Beerdigung des
seel. Hrn. Prof. und Rectoris Ernesti di J. S. Bach."
(Jesu Juva – Motet for two choirs for the funeral for
the blessed Rector, Professor Ernesti, by J. S. Bach).
Ernesti was professor of poetry at Leipzig University
and director of the Thomasschule. Scholars debate if
the date of the first performance (which took place in
the Paulinerkirche, the university church), was 24
October, or rather 21 October, as indicated by the
title page of the sermon.
As well as being one of Bach's funeral motets, the work
can be classified as part of another series, being one
of twelve surviving pieces (which are mainly festive in
character) for Leipzig University, Festmusiken zu
Leipziger Universitätsfeiern. The text is taken from
the Epistle to the Romans (Romans 8:26–27) and Martin
Luther's third stanza to the hymn "Komm, Heiliger
Geist, Herre Gott" (1524). Ernesti himself had chosen
the text from the epistle for the funeral sermon.
Bach composed the text according to its meaning, not as
music for mourning. The opening contrasts two choirs in
imitation. In lively 3/8 time, the word "Geist"
(Spirit) is illustrated by a lively melismatic figure.
The following idea, "Sondern der Geist selbst vertritt
uns" (but the Spirit itself intercedes for), is given
as a fugue, first with independent entrances of all
eight parts, but concentrated to four parts in the end,
"mit unaussprechlichem Seufzen" (with unutterable
sighs). The sighs are audible in the broken melodic
lines of all voices. The thought "Der aber die Herzen
forschet" (He, however, who examines hearts) appears as
a double fugue in four parts in stile antico. Here the
word "Heiligen" (saints) is illustrated in extended
melismatic writing. The closing Pentecostal chorale is
set for four parts
The motet is structured in three movements and scored
for two four-part choirs. They sing together in
movements 2 and 3. The orchestral parts are extant,
indicating that choir I was doubled by strings, choir
II by reeds (two oboes, taille and bassoon). For the
basso continuo, separate violone and organ parts are
I created this arrangement of the opening Chorus: "Der
Geist hilft unser Schwachheit auf" (The Spirit gives
aid to our weakness) for Woodwind Ensemble (2 Flutes, 2
Oboes, 2 Bb Clarinets & 2 Bassoons).