Cantata BWV 21


2010, July 20

JS Bach Cantata BWV 21: Ich hatte viel Bekümmerniss
(I had much Sorrow)
Third Sunday after Trinity between 1714 and 1723
Weimar Cantatas
Scoring: Trumpet I,II,III, Timpani, Trombone I,II,III,IV (in the 1723 version)
Oboe, Violin I,II, Viola
Bassoon, Violincello, Continuo
  Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass
Bärenreiter vol 6; p 377-462
Reading: Epistle: 1 Peter 5:6-11
Reading: Gospel: Luke 15:1-10
Words: Unknown librettist
Bach Bibliography



Ich Hatte Viel Bekümmernis
Conductor: Sigiswald Kuijken
Ensemble: La Petite Bande
Soprano: Greta de Reyghére
Alto: René Jacobs
Tenor: Christoph Prégardien
Bass: Peter Lika
Virgin Classics 63299
Date: 09/12/2006



Ich Hatte Viel Bekümmernis
Conductor: Philippe Herreweghe
Ensemble: La Chapelle Royale Paris, Collegium Vocale
Soprano: Barbara Schlick
Alto: Gérard Lesne
Tenor: Howard Crook
Bass: Peter Harvey (21)
Bass: Peter Kooy (42)
Harmonia Mundi Musique D'abord 1951328
Date: 1990, 1999
Liner Notes - Nicholas Anderson
Early version, no trombones.

More information from


I have Suzuki's two versions, Harnoncourt's, Leusink's, Herreweghe's and Kuijken's. For me, the two best are Kuijken and Herreweghe, with Leusink third.



Dürr p 405-412
Whittaker vol 1 p 110-121
Green p 49-53
Terry vol 2 p 184
Boyd p 131-133
Chafe p 42-71
Melamed p 56-58, 114,
Gardiner: liner notes for his second recording

Eric Chafe, a man who uses the words 'hermeneutics' and 'eschatological' (both words I have to look up every time I see them) in one sentence, uses this piece as an example of how to approach the analysis of a cantata. This work is well chosen because it is complex in every way, going through four versions over probably ten years in the composing. Everyone agrees that it is likely a composite work, but there is not agreement about the occasion for which it was originally written or which sections were written when. Some posit that sections 2 through 9 were an original cantata, with the sinfonia and sections 10 and 11 added later. Others think that Part One (1-6) and Part Two (7-11) were both separate independent cantatas, and then were combined. Alfred Dürr says perhaps the work was originally parts 1-9, then 10 and 11 were added from elsewhere (p 408). Chafe thinks perhaps parts 2-6 plus part 9 were an original cantata. I have listened to this set and it is more coherent. He states that parts 1, 7, 8 and 10 were added in 1714, and part 11 was added from elsewhere. Somebody somewhere said that perhaps parts 2, 6 and 9 were the earliest pieces.

It seems generally agreed that this is one of Bach's greatest works, perhaps a bit overwhelming for the beginner. I find that it combines older and newer styles of music, is very German in its outlook (this is not the sunny south, in spite of being influenced by Bach's growing knowledge of the Italian style). My favorite parts are the Sinfonia (1) and the tenor aria Erfreue dich, Seele, (10) with its wonderful cello part.

1713: shorter
1714: c minor
1720: d minor
1723: c minor

1 Sinfonia (adagio assai)

The sinfonia presents an oboe and violin dialog with a fine walking bass; this could be the slow movement of an oboe and violin concerto. It opens the cantata in the same way as the sinfonia in BWV 12, written at about the same time.

2 Ich hatte viel Bekümmerniss: chorus

Dürr, p 405, and Whittaker vol 1, p 113, mention the relation between BWV 21.2 and an organ fugue, BWV 541.

BWV 21.2 mp3 Herreweghe

BWV 541 mp3 Herrick

Peter Williams (p 83) also notes that Spitta, Emery 1966 and Keller 1948 all wrote about this relationship.

The chorus is in two parts, a fugue-like section and a vivace separated by block chords. I swear that at one point in the vivace section I hear part of the melody of Handel's 'For Unto Us A Child Is Given'.

3 Seufzer, Tränen, Kummer, Not: soprano oboe duet

This part reminds me of some of the music written by Weckmann 75 years earlier. Dürr says of this aria that it is of such overwhelming expressive power that it might be considered one of the most moving arias that Bach ever wrote.

4 Wie hast du dich, mein Gott: tenor recitative

The tenor, lamenting God's turning away, accompanied by strings.

5 Bäche von gesalznen Zähren: tenor aria

Very long, repetitive motif representing waves, floods, tears very wearing, difficult to listen to. incessant, interminable, like a life that has gone on too long and seems likely never to end.

6 Was betrübst du dich, meine Seele: Chorus

A fantasia and fugue in the style of a motet, tiny and self-contained, about three and a half minutes. There is a wonderful independent part for the oboe. Dürr describes this part in detail, five sections in the first part, then a permutation fugue of remarkably logical structure.

7 Ach Jesu, meine Ruh: soprano bass recitive - 8 Komm, mein Jesu: soprano bass aria

The soprano starts the recitativ on measure 1 while the first violin plays an ascending Bb major scale, the bass comes in at the end of measure 3, then at the end of the phrase by the bass, the first violin drops suddenly a twelfth after holding the upper Bb for 7 beats, at the same time the second violin and viola drop a tenth. Oboe and cello then join the soprano and bass in an aria which Dürr compares to a secular love duet of contemporary opera.

9 Sei nun wieder zufrieden: chorus

Two stanzas of the chorale in voices, tenor, then soprano, at first, with trombones added in later version. The biblical text is set in counterpoint to the chorale, in motet tradition.

C.S. Terry vol 2, p 184 discusses the chorale 'Wer nur den lieben Gott läßt walten' in the ninth part.
Here is a thorough discussion of the chorale on
Here is the score of BWV 21.9, in old clefs.

Harnoncourt, Herreweghe and Kuijken add trombones in the second half of this section. I find Kuijken more emotionally expressive; Herreweghe takes the chorus at a quicker tempo, changing the quality of the music. Suzuki recorded this cantata twice, once in the 1720 version and once in the 1723 version. In the 1723 version he is joined by the Concerto Palatino on trombone in the ninth section.

10 Erfreue dich, Seele: tenor aria

One of my favorite sections, a joyful dancelike movement, with an especially nice cello part.

11 Das Lamm, das erwürget ist: final chorus

Opens with an eleven measure homophonic choral section followed by a 57 measure permutation fugue. Nicholas Anderson in the Oxford Composer Companion says that Bach suffuses his canvas in a radiance of color, unleashing three trumpets and timpani. Personally, I have some difficulty integrating this movement with the rest of the cantata. Somehow it does not seem to belong. Dürr speculates that this movement may have been borrowed from another piece. This seems more consistent to me.

Green, p 49, states that all oboe parts are exposed and difficult. The oboe plays in parts 1, 2, 3, 6, 9, 11.

Whittaker vol 1 p 110 provides us with an extensive analysis of the music and text, as well as hypotheses about the origin of the structure of the cantata.

I find this cantata filled with many small treasures, miniature pieces of music that stand on their own, not needing the support of the structure of the whole. Writing about it and listening to it, I have learned much: the music, cantata development, some history of the Thirty Years War. I am going to skip a little out of order to listen next to BWV 147, for some relief from the very grave music of this cantata.

The music

Sinfonia and Chorus, Part 1 and 2 Harnoncourt
Sinfonia, Part 1 Philippe Herreweghe
Das Lamm, das erw├╝rget ist, Chorus, Harnoncourt
Chorus c oboe, Philippe Herreweghe
A link to download the score with old style clefs

Instruments and voices for each part

Section Text Instruments, voices
1   Sinfonia, oboe, strings, continuo (NBA: bassoon and organ)
2 Psalm 94:19 Chorus, SATB, oboe, strings, bassoon, continuo (NBA: violoncello and organ)
3   Soprano aria, oboe, strings, continuo (NBA: violoncello and organ)
4   Tenor recitativ, strings, continuo (NBA: bassoon, violoncello and organ)
5   Tenor aria, strings, bassoon, continuo (NBA: violoncello and organ)
6 Psalm 42:11 Chorus SATB, oboe, strings, bassoon, continuo (NBA: violoncello and organ), permutation fugue in second section
    Part 2
7   Recitativ duet Soprano, Bass, strings, continuo (NBA: bassoon, violoncello and organ)
8   Aria duet, soprano, bass, continuo (NBA: violoncello and organ)
9 Psalm 116:7 Chorus and chorale, SATB, oboe, strings, trombones (in a later version), bassoon, continuo (NBA: violoncello and organ)
10   Tenor aria, continuo (NBA: violoncello and organ)
11 Revelation 5:12-13 Chorus trumpets, timpani; oboe, strings; SATB, bassoon, continuo (NBA: violoncello and organ)


Biblical references for each part

References for the text: King James Bible

  Scripture Text
2 Psalm 94:19 In the multitude of my thoughts within me thy comforts delight my soul.
6 Psalm 42:11 Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God.
9 Psalm 116:7 Return unto thy rest, O my soul; for the Lord hath dealt bountifully with thee.
11 Revelation 5:12-13 Saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing. And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever.


References for the text: Luther's German Bible

  Scripture Text
2 Psalm 94:19 Ich hatte viel Bekümmernisse in meinem Herzen; aber deine Tröstungen ergötzeten meine Seele.
6 Psalm 42:11 Es ist als ein Mord in meinen Beinen, daß mich meine Feinde schmähen, wenn sie täglich zu mir sagen: Wo ist nun dein Gott?
9 Psalm 116:7 Sei nun wieder zufrieden, meine Seele; denn der Herr tut dir Gutes.
11 Revelation 5:12-13 Und sprachen mit großer Stimme: Das Lamm, das erwürget ist, ist würdig, zu nehmen Kraft und Reichtum und Weisheit und Stärke und Ehre und Preis und Lob. Und alle Kreatur, die im Himmel ist und auf Erden und unter der Erde und im Meer, und alles, was drinnen ist, hörete ich sagen zu dem, der auf dem Stuhl saß, und zu dem Lamm: Lob und Ehre und Preis und Gewalt von Ewigkeit zu Ewigkeit!



Emmanuel Notes BWV 21.
Emmanuel Translation BWV 21.

Discussion from Bach Cantatas Website.
Recordingsfrom Bach Cantatas Website.
Comparison of versions

Wikipedia article. article discussion, Simon Crouch.

London Bach Society Database entry BWV 21
Bach 101 BWV 21 from Bach Choir of Bethlehem
Bach 101 article, page 2


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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