Cantata BWV 106


2009, November 21

Cantata BWV 106

JS Bach Cantata BWV 106: Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit
(God's time is the best of all) "Actus Tragicus"
Funeral cantata 1707
Mühlhausen Cantatas
Reading: Corinthians 5:6-8; Mark 16:1-8
Scoring: Two recorders, Two violas da gamba, Continuo
  Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass
Bärenreiter vol 14; p 279
Words: Bible verses, chorales
Bach Bibliography

Much has been written about Cantata 106; this post is a sort of literature review. In this cantata Bach treats the subject of death under the "Old Law", then under the Gospel. He has packed into about twenty minutes references to three chorales, two Psalms, bits from Isaiah, Luke, Revelations, the apocryphal book Ecclesiasticus (Sirach), and a verse from the Acts of the Apostles.

Alfred Dürr begins his discussion of this cantata thus: …the Actus Tragicus is a work of genius such as even great masters seldom achieve. Here, in one stroke, the twenty-two year old composer left all his contemporaries far behind him. Of course it could be argued that in later years Bach's art became a great deal more mature, but it hardly grew more profound. The Actus Tragicus belongs to the great musical literature of the world.

Dürr closes his discussion of this cantata with the following: Among the works created using the compositional means of his early period, however, this cantata far exceeds the others both in depth of expression and in spiritual penetration. Dürr p 759-765

Whittaker is equally effusive: Suddenly…at one bound, he leaps into consummate mastery.
Never again did he acheive the continuous tenderness and the elevated spiritual feeling in just the same way as it is found here; it remains unique.
Whittaker continues with an essay that relates the music to the text in a very helpful way. Whittaker vol 1, p 57-63

After much reading and many listenings, score in hand, it is time to move on. I feel I am leaving an old friend. But I know I will return many times and will find more to learn and hear in the many layers of this cantata.

The first chorale









Terry (C.S. Terry vol 2, p 343, 344) discusses the derivation of the melody introduced in the unison recorder parts of 106.2d, measure 150. The illustration on the left is the complete four part song. On the right he has isolated the tenor part from this song, "Ich weiss mir ein Röslein hübsch und fein".

Both the tenor part and the soprano part became associated with the hymn "Ich hab mein Sach Gott heimgestellt". Eventually, the tenor melody fell out of popularity and only the soprano melody was used.

The melody in 106.2d, derived from the tenor part of this song, "Ich hab mein Sach Gott heimgestellt" is never used again by Bach in any of the works we have; BWV 351, 707, 708 and 1113 use the soprano part. Williams, 2nd ed., p 445.

The tenor part of the song, "Ich weiss mir ein Röslein hübsch und fein"

The recorder parts from measure 150, part 2d.


Ja komm, Herr Jesu, soprano solo with above recorder part.


Dürr, p 763, points out that the texts of verses 2, 8, 10 and 16 of the chorale "Ich hab mein Sach Gott heimgestellt" parallel the cantata text. So a rather hidden musical reference to the chorale reinforces the ideas in the cantata text.


The second chorale



The chorale used in the alto part of 3b is the first verse of Martin Luther's Nunc dimittis, Luke 2:29-32.



King James
Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.

Herr, nun läßst du deinen Diener in Frieden fahren, wie du gesagt hast; denn meine Augen haben deinen Heiland gesehen, welchen du bereitet hast vor allen Völkern, ein Licht, zu erleuchten die Heiden, und zum Preis deines Volkes Israel.

Luther hymn
Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin
In Gottes Willen,
Getrost ist mir mein Herz und Sinn,
Sanft und stille.
Wie Gott mir verheißen hat:
Der Tod ist mein Schlaf worden.
("Mit Fried und Freud," verse 1)
With peace and joy I depart
in God's will,
My heart and mind are comforted,
calm, and quiet.
As God had promised me:
death has become my sleep


The final chorale


The final chorus of the cantata is an extended version of the chorale "In dich hab' ich gehoffet, Herr" using the words of the seventh verse. The melody occurs elsewhere: in the "St Matthew Passion," BWV 244.38, in the "Christmas Oratorio," BWV 248.46 and in the organ work BWV 712.

In Johann Hermann Schein's Cantional (Leipzig, 1627) it appears in a form very similar to that in which Bach employs it. Terry, vol 2 p 242

Bach extends the chorale with a closing Amen, a rousing fugue.

Biblical references for each part

References for the text: Luther's German Bible

  Scripture Text Part
2a Acts 17:28 In ihm leben, weben und sind wir. Chorus
2b Psalms 90:12 Lehre uns bedenken, daß wir sterben müssen, auf daß wir klug werden Tenor
2c Isaiah 38:1 Bestelle dein Haus; denn du wirst sterben und nicht lebendig bleiben Bass
2d Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) 14:18 Es ist der alte Bund: Mensch, du mußt sterben! Alto, tenor, bass
  Revelations 22:20 Ja komm, Herr Jesu! Soprano
  Chorale Ich hab mein Sach Gott heimgestellt Instruments
3a Psalms 31:6 In deine Hände befehl ich meinen Geist; du hast mich erlöset, Herr, du getreuer Gott Alto
3b Luke 23:43 Heute wirst du mit mir im Paradies sein. Bass
  Chorale Mit Fried und Freude ich fahr dahin Alto
4 Chorale Glorie, Lob, Ehr und Herrlichkeit
Sei dir, Gott Vater und Sohn bereit'
*7th verse of: In dich hab ich gehoffet, Herr


References for the text: King James Bible

  Scripture Text Part
2a Acts 17:28 For in him we live, and move, and have our being. Chorus
2b Psalms 90:12 So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom. Tenor
2c Isaiah 38:1 Set thine house in order: for thou shalt die, and not live. Bass
2d Ecclesiasticus (Sirach)14:18 The covenant from the beginning is, Thou shalt die the death! Alto, tenor, bass
  Revelations 22:20 Come, Lord Jesus! Soprano
  Chorale I have brought my affairs home to God Instruments
3a Psalms 31:5 Into thine hand I commit my spirit; thou hast redeemed me, O Lord God of truth Alto
3b Luke 23:43 To day shalt thou be with me in paradise. Bass
  Chorale With peace and joy I depart Alto
4 Chorale Glorie, Lob, Ehr und Herrlichkeit
Sei dir, Gott Vater und Sohn bereit'
*7th verse of: In dich hab ich gehoffet, Herr

The music

1 Sonatina with recorders. On some recordings the recorders are rather overwhelming.
2a Chorus with recorders
2b Tenor aria with recorders
2c Bass aria with recorders
2d Soprano aria and chorus, special
3a Alto aria with viola da gamba obbligato, particularly affecting.
3b Bass and alto aria with choir, continues from 3a without break; very sad alto chorale; duet causes shivers in my spine.
4 Chorus with recorders; uplifting short fugal Amen


BWV 106.1 and commentary.
Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra
Ton Koopman
Els Bongers, soprano
Elisabeth von Magnus, alto
Lothar Odinius, tenor
Klaus Mertens, bass

1 2




My favorite recording is Rifkin's with one voice per part, no one part is overbearing at any time. The recorders are not intrusive, but blend with the voices, with no harsh overtones.



BWV 106
Joshua Rifkin, conductor
The Bach Ensemble
Recorded: American Academy of Arts and Letters; New York, NY; October, 1985






Instruments and voices for each part

Section   Instruments, voices
1   Sonatina recorder I,II, viola da gamba I,II and continuo (NBA: not specified)
2a   SATB, recorder I,II, viola da gamba I,II and continuo (NBA: not specified)
2b   Tenor, recorder I,II, viola da gamba I,II and continuo (NBA: not specified)
2b   Bass, recorder I,II, viola da gamba I,II and continuo (NBA: not specified)
2d   SATB, recorder I,II, viola da gamba I,II and continuo (NBA: not specified)
3a   Alto, bass, viola da gamba I,II and continuo (NBA: not specified)
3b   Bass and continuo (NBA: not specified) then add viola da gamba I,II with tenor chorale
4   SATB, recorder I,II, viola da gamba I,II and continuo (NBA: not specified)



Emmanuel Notes BWV 106.
Emmanuel Translation BWV 106.
BWV 106 score, old edition, not under copyright.

Discussion from Bach Cantatas Website.
Recordingsfrom Bach Cantatas Website.
Mit Fried und Freud from Bach Cantatas Website. Brian Robins

John Eliot Gardiner Cantatas, PDF index.
John Eliot Gardiner Cantatas Recordings. discussion, Simon Crouch.
Carol Traupman-Carr of the Bach Choir of Bethlehem.

London Bach Society Database entry BWV 106
Article BWV 106


The Complete Cantatas
Barenreiter cat# TP 2004

Enter TP2004 in full text search box on the left.

This Website

This web site offers free midi, QT, MusicXML and PDF files of Bach's four-part harmonized chorales. They can be downloaded individually or in complete sets. Be aware that other sites offering files downloaded from this site in the past may not have current updates. Please see Chorale Editions, File Accuracy.


The revision is complete. Please read about tenor clef.

The old list of updates and corrections can be found in the Corrections Archive.


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