J.S. Bach: Sacred Cantata: Es ist euch gut, daß ich hingehe, BWV 108

BWV 108 (29 April 1725) concerns itself with Jesus’ promise of the Holy Ghost It opens with Jesus himself explaining that he has to leave to make room for his Spirit. The bass (vox Christi) sings in a beautifully quiet, stepping rhythm. In the following tenor aria the violin jumps up and down to illustrate the doubt of which the text speaks, `gehst du fort’ has an ascending line, `glaube’ is sung to a long Halteton to illustrate that this faith is strong and confident. The tenor recitative ends in a question which is answered by a splendid setting of a text from John 16. It consists of three fugues, the third of which is based on the first one. It burns the words of Jesus into our heads and hearts, with glorious long runs on words like `reden’ and `verkündigen’, this last word being thrown back and forth between the different voices. Just before the last entrance of the fugue theme the message is twice repeated separately. A solemn alto aria then expresses how the blessings of Christ are poured out richly, with a beautiful run on `überschütte’. The final chorale sings of faith in the power of the Spirit.

This is a beautiful and warm cantata! I really enjoyed it for the first time. It shows Bach versatility and care in composing. This is a shorter cantata coming in at between 15 and 20 minutes.

Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra & Choir – Ton Koopman (conducting)

  • Klaus Mertens (bass)
  • Jörg Dürmülle (tenor)
  • Bogna Bartosz (alto)

The movements are:

Basso solo: Es ist euch gut, daß ich hingehe
Aria (tenor): Mich kann kein Zweifel stören
Recitativo (tenor): Dein Geist wird mich also regieren
Coro: Wenn aber jener, der Geist der Wahrheit kommen wird
Aria (alto): Was mein Herz von dir begehrt
Chorale: Dein Geist, den Gott von Himmel gibt

Bach structured the cantata in six movements, beginning with a biblical quotation for the vox Christi, Jesus speaking. A set of aria and recitative is followed by a chorus on another biblical quotation from the gospel, while an aria leads to the closing chorale. Bach scored the work for three vocal soloists (alto (A), tenor (T) and bass (B)), a four-part choir, and a Baroque instrumental ensemble of two oboes d’amore (Oa), two violins (Vl), viola (Va) and basso continuo.

In the following table of the movements, the scoring follows the Neue Bach-Ausgabe. The keys and time signatures are taken from Alfred Dürr, using the symbol for common time (4/4). The continuo, playing throughout, is not shown.

No.TitleTextTypeVocalOboeStringsKeyTime
1Es ist euch gut, daß ich hingeheJohn 16:7AriaBOa2Vl VaA majorC
2Mich kann kein Zweifel störenanon.AriaTVlF-sharp minorC
3Dein Geist wird mich also regierenanon.RecitativeTC
4Wenn aber jener, der Geist der Wahrheit kommen wirdJohn 16:13ChorusSATB2Oa2Vl VaD majorC
5Was mein Herz von dir begehrtanon.AriaA2Vl VaB minor6/8
6Dein Geist, den Gott von Himmel gibtGerhardtChoraleSATB2Oa2Vl VaB minorC

The following is prepared and annotated by noted Bach scholars Michael Marissen and Daniel R. Melamed.

1. Es ist euch gut, dass ich hingehe; denn so ich nicht hingehe, so1 kömmt der Tröster nicht zu euch. So ich aber gehe, will ich ihn zu euch senden.21. It is good for you [disciples] that I [Jesus] should go there [to heaven];3 for if I should not go there, then the Comforter [Holy Spirit]4 will not come to you. But if I should go, I will send him to you.
2. Mich kann kein Zweifel stören,
Auf dein Wort, Herr, zu hören.
Ich glaube, gehst du fort,
So kann ich mich getrösten,
Dass ich zu den Erlösten
Komm an gewünschten5 Port.
2. No doubt can hinder me
In hearing your word,6 Lord [Jesus].
I believe that if you go away [to heaven],7
Then I can comfort myself
That I will come to the wished-for haven,8
To the [place of the] redeemed [of God].9
3. Dein Geist wird mich also regieren,
Dass ich auf rechter Bahne geh;
Durch deinen Hingang kommt er ja zu mir,
Ich frage sorgensvoll: Ach, ist er nicht schon hier?
3. Your [Holy] Spirit10 will thus govern me
That I may go on the right course;11
Through your going there [to heaven]12 he [your Spirit] indeed comes to me;
I ask, full of worrying: Ah, is he not here yet?
4. Wenn aber jener, der Geist der Wahrheit, kommen wird, der wird euch in alle Wahrheit leiten. Denn er wird nicht von ihm selber reden, sondern was er hören wird, das wird er reden; und was zukünftig ist, wird er verkündigen.134. But when that one [the Comforter], the Spirit of Truth,14 will come, he will guide you into15 all truth. For he will not speak out of his own [authority];16 rather, what he will hear,17 this will he speak; and what is in the future, [this] will he proclaim.18
5. Was mein Herz von dir begehrt,
Ach, das wird mir wohl gewährt.
Überschütte mich mit Segen,
Führe mich auf deinen Wegen,
Dass ich in der Ewigkeit
Schaue deine Herrlichkeit!
5. What my heart desires from you [Jesus],
Ah, that will assuredly be granted to me.
Shower me with blessings;19
Lead me on your paths,
So that in eternity
I may look upon your glory.
6. Dein Geist, den Gott vom Himmel gibt,
Der leitet alles, was ihn liebt,
Auf wohl gebähntem Wege.
Er setzt und richtet unsren Fuss,
Dass er nicht anders treten muss,
Als wo man findt den Segen. 20
6. Your21 [Holy] Spirit,22 whom God gives23 from heaven,
He [the Spirit] guides everything that loves him [God]
On the well-cleared path [of the upright].24
He places and directs our foot
So that it does not have to tread other
Than where one finds blessing.
Christiana  Mariana von Ziegler(transl. Michael Marissen and Daniel R. Melamed)

1 This word—”so” (“then”)—appears in m. 25 of Bach’s setting but is lacking in m. 18.

2 John 16:7 (verbatim; i.e., including the “so” [“then”] discussed in fn. 1, above).

3 On Jesus “going there,” see fn. 12, below. Not only the “come” verb but also the “go” verbs are subjunctive in the underlying Greek text of John 16:7, including where they are not preceded by the word “ean” (“if”), suggesting their translation as “should come” and “should go.” In Luther’s German rendering, the “go” verbs are likewise probably subjunctive (“should go”) but the “come” verb is indicative (“will come”—”kömmt” is simply an archaic spelling of “kommt”).

4 At the time of the writing of the Gospel of John, the Greek term “ho parakletos” (“the paraclete”), which Luther rendered as “the Comforter,” apparently carried a range of meanings, from “the [legal] advocate/helper” to “the [all-purpose] comforter/helper” (inclining, however, toward the legal connotation). Luther, following traditional interpretation since the time of the early postbiblical church fathers, took John’s term to be a title for the Third Person of the Trinitarian God, “the Holy Spirit” (John 14:26 had identified “the paraclete/Paraclete” with “the holy/Holy spirit/Spirit” that God would send after Jesus had departed).

5 In Bach’s own score this word is “gewünschten” (“wished-for”/”desired”), but in his separate performing part, copied by an assistant, the text reads “erwünschten” (“welcome”/”desired”).

6 That is, the “word” of Jesus in John 16:7 that was proclaimed in the first movement.

7 “Fortgehen” (“to go away”) here acts a synonym for the “hingehen” (“to go [from here to over] there”) in movement 1. See fn. 12, below.

8 This is a standard baroque metaphor. The desired “Port” (“haven”/”harbor”) is that of the heavenly city, the “new Jerusalem” (see fn. 9, below).

9 This line’s expression “the redeemed” stems from Isaiah 35:10, “Die Erlösten des Herrn werden wiederkommen” (“the redeemed of the Lord will come back [to Zion/Jerusalem, from captivity in Babylon]”). Traditional Christian interpretation took this passage to be a foreshadowing of Christian believers returning, at the resurrection of the dead, from their miserable captivity in the earthly “old Jerusalem” (caused by “the Fall” of Adam and Eve, and thus of their progeny, into sin) to their joyful freedom in the heavenly “new Jerusalem” (where they will be restored to the sinless state in which Adam and Eve had been created by God).

10 “Geist” here would be understood as “the Holy Spirit.” This line alludes to Galatians 5:18, “Regiert euch aber der Geist, so seid ihr nicht unter dem Gesetz” (“But if the [Holy] Spirit governs you [followers of Jesus], then you are not under the Law [of Moses]”). Luther took the word “Geist” in this verse to refer to God, the Holy Spirit (see also fn. 4, above).

11 An allusion to Psalm 143:10, “du bist mein Gott; dein guter Geist führe mich auf ebener Bahn” (“you are my God; may your benign Spirit lead me on the even course”). Luther took the “Geist” in this verse, too, to refer to God, the Holy Spirit (see also fn. 4 and fn. 10, above).

12 “Hingang” (“going there/away”), essentially an archaic synonym for “Weggang” (“going away”/”departure”), was the term used in Lutheran discourse for Jesus’s “going away” from the world up “there” to God the father in heaven (hence Bach’s setting the “Hin” in “Hingang” to the highest note in this movement), with the idea that Jesus would eventually come back and that in the meantime the Holy Spirit would comfort his followers. In later German, “Hingang” came to be used as a synonym for “Tod” (“death”; i.e., one’s departure from earthly life), or as a synonym for “Ruhr” (“dysentery”).

13 John 16:13.

14 Because this title is linked in the Gospel of John to the title that Luther had rendered as “the Comforter” (see fn. 4, above), Luther took “the Spirit of Truth” likewise to be a title for the Third Person of the Trinitarian God, “the Holy Spirit.”

15 The sources of the original Greek wording of Gospel of John are divided on whether this preposition should be “eis” (“into”) or “en” (“in”). The Greek source for the text transmitted in the Luther Bibles of Bach’s day gives “eis,” and accordingly Luther’s “in alle Wahrheit”—i.e., using the accusative “in alle Wahrheit,” not the dative “in aller Wahrheit”—calls for “into all truth,” not “in all truth.”

16 That is, “the [Holy] Spirit” speaks on the authority of what God the father communicates to him. John 12:49 and 14:10 say that Jesus, the son, likewise speaks not “out of his own” but out of the authority of God the father.

17 That is, this concerns what “the [Holy] Spirit” (the Third Person of the Trinity) would “hear” in communication from God the father (the First Person), or Jesus (the Second Person), or both, or from the father through the son.

18 Luther took this to mean that the Holy Spirit will proclaim to the followers of Jesus not only what they should believe and do but also what the future holds specifically for Christianity.

19 “Segen” here is probably plural here but could be singular. The line clearly alludes to Psalm 21:4, but the Luther Bibles of Bach’s day variously give that passage either as “du überschüttest ihn mit guten Segen” (“you [God] shower him [King David] with benign blessings”), or as “du überschüttest ihn mit gutem Segen” (“you shower him with benign blessing”). In the Hebrew text of Psalm 21:4 the noun is plural (literally, “blessings of goodness”).

20 A stanza of “Gott Vater, sende deinen Geist.”

21 The hymn books read not “dein Geist” (“your Spirit”) but “der Geist” (“the Spirit”). The cantata’s reading is presumably meant to echo the “dein Geist” from line 1 in movement 3, where the “your” applies to Jesus.

22 The Spirit/Comforter guides the followers of Jesus, according to John 16:13, the text of movement 4.

23 The sense of this line is derived from John 3:34, which in the Luther Bibles of Bach’s day reads “Welchen Gott gesandt hat, der redet Gottes Wort; denn Gott gibt den Geist nicht nach dem Mass; der Vater hat den Sohn lieb und hat ihm alles in seine Hand gegeben” (“He [Jesus], whom God has sent [from above, into the world], speaks God’s word; for God gives [Jesus] the Spirit not according to [finite] measure; [God] the father loves the son [Jesus] and, into his hand, has given him everything”).

24 The sense of this line is derived from Proverbs 15:19, which in the Luther Bibles of Bach’s day reads “Der Weg des Faulen ist dornigt, aber der Weg der Frommen ist wohl gebähnt” (“The path of the lazy man is hedged with thorns, but the path of upright men is well-cleared [of such impediments]”); some Luther Bibles of Bach’s day, however, give “wohl gebaut” (“well-built”). In older German the verb “bahnen” can carry the same meaning as the English-dialect verb “boon” (“to repair/clear a road/path”). That the Spirit guides people on the right course/path is expressed in Psalm 143:10 (see fn. 11, above).

You can find the complete musical score here.

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