Herr Jesu Christ, wahr' Mensch und Gott (Lord Jesus
Christ, true Man and God), BWV 127, is a church cantata
by Johann Sebastian Bach. He composed the chorale
cantata in Leipzig for the Sunday Estomihi, the Sunday
before Ash Wednesday, and first performed it on 11
February 1725. It is based on the chorale in eight
stanzas by Paul Eber (1562).
Bach wrote the chorale cantata in his second year in
Leipzig for Estomihi. The Sunday, also called
Quinquagesima, is the last Sunday before Lent, when
Leipzig observed tempus clausum and no cantatas were
performed. In 1723, Bach had probably performed two
cantatas in Leipzig on that Sunday, Du wahrer Gott und
Davids Sohn, BWV 23, composed earlier in Köthen, and
Jesus nahm zu sich die Zwölfe, BWV 22, both audition
pieces to apply for the post of Thomaskantor in
The prescribed readings for the Sunday were taken from
the First Epistle to the Corinthians, "praise of love"
(1 Corinthians 13:113), and from the Gospel of Luke,
healing the blind near Jericho (Luke 18:3143). The
Gospel also announces the Passion. The text is based on
the funeral song in eight stanzas by Paul Eber (1562).
The hymn suites the Gospel, stressing the Passion as
well as the request of the blind man in the final line
of the first stanza: "Du wollst mir Sünder gnädig sein"
(Be merciful to me, a sinner). The song further sees
Jesus' path to Jerusalem as a model for the believer's
path to his end in salvation. An unknown librettist
kept the first and the last stanza and paraphrased the
inner stanzas in a sequence of recitatives and arias.
Stanzas 2 and 3 were transformed to a recitative,
stanza 4 to an aria, stanza 5 to a recitative, stanzas
6 and 7 to another aria.
Bach first performed the cantata on 11 February 1725.
It is the second to last chorale cantata of his second
annual cycle, the only later one being BWV 1 for the
feast of Annunciation which was celebrated even if it
fell in the time of Lent.
The opening chorale is structured by an extended
introduction and interludes. These parts play on a
concertante a motif derived from the first line of the
chorale, but also have a cantus firmus of the chorale
"Christe, du Lamm Gottes", the Lutheran Agnus Dei,
first played by the strings, later also by the oboes
and recorders. It appears in a similar way to the
chorale as the cantus firmus in the opening chorus of
his later St Matthew Passion, "O Lamm Gottes,
unschuldig (de)". Its request "erbarm dich unser" (have
mercy upon us) corresponds to the request of the blind
man. A third chorale is quoted repeatedly in the
continuo, "O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden". Christoph
Wolff notes that on Good Friday of that year Bach would
perform the second version of his St John Passion,
replacing the opening and the closing movement of the
first version by music based on chorales, "O Mensch,
bewein dein Sünde groß" which would become the final
movement of the first part of the St Matthew Passion,
and again "Christe, du Lamm Gottes".
Bach chose a rare instrumentation for the first aria,
the oboe plays a melody, supported by short chords in
the recorders, in the middle section "Sterbeglocken"
(funeral bells) are depicted by pizzicato string
sounds. Movement 4 illustrates the Day of Judgement. On
the text "Wenn einstens die Posaunen schallen" (When
one day the trumpets ring out), the trumpet enters. The
unusual movement combines an accompagnato recitative
with an aria, contrasting the destruction of heaven and
earth with the security of the believers, the latter
given in text and tune from the chorale. John Eliot
Gardiner describes it as a "grand, tableau-like
evocation of the Last Judgement, replete with triple
occurrences of a wild 6/8 section when all hell is let
loose in true Monteverdian concitato ("excited")
manner". He compares it to the "spectacular double
chorus" from the St Matthew Passion "Sind Blitze, sind
Donner in Wolken verschwunden".
The closing chorale is a four-part setting with
attention to details of the text, such as movement in
the lower voices on "auch unser Glaub stets wacker sei"
(also may our faith be always brave) and colourful
harmonies on the final line "bis wir einschlafen
seliglich" (until we fall asleep contentedly).
Although originally scored for three vocal soloists
(soprano, tenor and bass), a four-part choir, trumpet,
two recorders, two oboes, two violins, viola and basso
continuo, I created this arrangement for Piccolo,
Flute, Oboe, Bb Clarinet, Bb Trumpet, Flugelhorn,
Trombone, French Horn, F Tuba and Strings (2 Violins,
Viola & Cello).