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Vox Christi

Vox Christi, Latin for Voice of Christ, is a term for the bass voice representing Jesus in the music of Johann Sebastian Bach and others. This part appears prominently in Bach's Passions. In the St John Passion, the St Matthew Passion and the lost St Mark Passion the singer renders the exact words of the Bible, translated by Martin Luther.

In contrast, the Evangelist in music of Bach is always a tenor, who narrates the Bible words in recitative, in the Passions, the Christmas Oratorio, and also in the Ascension Oratorio, Lobet Gott in seinen Reichen, BWV 11. The Evangelist really is an Evangelist, a teller of good news, whereas the bass singer is not Jesus Christ. Therefore his part is traditionally called vox Christi, voice of Christ. The words of Jesus in the St John Passion are recitatives leaning toward arioso, in the St Matthew Passion they are additionally highlighted by an accompanying string quartet.


Some basses and baritones are especially known for singing the words of Jesus in Bach's Passions, including:

In cantatas

The vox Christi is present in several Bach cantatas.


In Himmelskönig, sei willkommen, BWV 182, (25 March 1714), Bach's first cantata in Weimar, for Palm Sunday coinciding with Annunciation, verses from a Psalm are treated as if Jesus said them, set as the only recitative of the cantata, expanding to an Arioso: "Siehe, ich komme, im Buch ist von mir geschrieben" ("Lo, I come: in the volume of the book [it is] written of me, I delight to do thy will." Psalms 40:7—8.

In Erschallet, ihr Lieder, erklinget, ihr Saiten! BWV 172 (20 May 1714) for Pentecost the bass sings the words of Christ from the Gospel of John: "Wer mich liebet, der wird mein Wort halten" ("If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him." John 14:23.

In Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland, BWV 61, (2 December 1714) the bass sings the words of Christ from the Book of Revelation: "Siehe, ich stehe vor der Tür und klopfe an. So jemand meine Stimme hören wird und die Tür auftun, zu dem werde ich eingehen und das Abendmahl mit ihm halten und er mit mir." ("Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. " Revelation 3:20.

In Barmherziges Herze der ewigen Liebe, BWV 185, (14 July 1715), the bass summarizes admonitions from the Sermon on the Mount, all introduced by the keywords "Das ist der Christen Kunst" (That is the Christian art).

In Bereitet die Wege, bereitet die Bahn! BWV 132, (22 December 1715) the question Wer bist du? (Who are you), posed to St. John in the Gospel, is given to the bass, as if Jesus asked the listener this question.

In Mein Gott, wie lang, ach lange? BWV 155, (19 January 1716) serious questions get answered by words of consolation, sung by the bass as the vox Christi, almost as an arioso on the words "Damit sein Gnadenlicht dir desto lieblicher erscheine" (so that the light of His grace might shine on you all the more brightly).

First cantata cycle

In Jesus nahm zu sich die Zwölfe, BWV 22 (7 February 1723, Oculi), the cantata starts with a scene from the Gospel, the announcement of suffering in Jerusalem, quoting Luke 18:31,34. The tenor as the Evangelist begins the narration from the verse 31, Jesus nahm zu sich die Zwölfe (Jesus gathered the twelve to Himself). The bass sings the announcement of the suffering, Sehet, wir gehn hinauf gen Jerusalem (Behold, we go up to Jerusalem), A choral fugue illustrates the reaction of the disciples.

In O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort, BWV 60, (7 November 1723) the bass as the voice of Christ answers in dialogue a recitative of the tormented Fear three times with Selig sind die Toten.

In Schau, lieber Gott, wie meine Feind, BWV 153, (2 January 1724) the Bible word from Isaiah 41:10, "Fürchte dich nicht, ich bin mit dir" ("Fear not, I am with you"), is given to the bass as the vox Christi, as if Jesus said it himself.

In Mein liebster Jesus ist verloren, BWV 154, (9 January 1724) the bass sings in an arioso the answer of Jesus, found in the temple 12 years old, to the questioning of his desperate parents: "Wisset ihr nicht, daß ich sein muß in dem, das meines Vaters ist?" ("Do you not know that I must be in that which is My Father's?", Luke 2:49.

In Jesus schläft, was soll ich hoffen? BWV 81, (30 January 1724) the bass sings in an arioso, central within the cantata, the question of Jesus: "Ihr Kleingläubigen, warum seid ihr so furchtsam?" (Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith?), Matthew 8:26.

The sixth movement of Halt im Gedächtnis Jesum Christ, BWV 67, (16 April 1724) is an "operatic scene", with the bass serenely repeating the words of Jesus from the Gospel, "Peace be with you", four times (three times each), contrasted by agitated choral answers which see Jesus as help in the battle, in strengthening of the weary in spirit and body, and in overcoming death.

Cantata Wo gehest du hin? BWV 166, (7 May 1724) is opened by the bass singing a quote from the gospel, the third Farewell discourse, but turned into a general question about the direction of life.

In the cantata Wahrlich, wahrlich, ich sage euch, BWV 86, (14 May 1724) the bass sings in the opening movement three times the promise from the farewell discourse of Jesus: "Verily, verily, I say unto you, whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give you" (John 16:23).

Second cantata cycle

In the cantata Christ unser Herr zum Jordan kam, BWV 7, for St. John's Day (24 John 1724), a recitative referring to the command to baptise is set as an expressive arioso, accompanied by strings, similar to the words of Jesus in Bach's St Matthew Passion.

In Jesu, der du meine Seele, BWV 78, (10 September 1724) a bass recitative is accompanied by strings, Die Wunden, Nägel, Kron und Grab ("The wounds, nails, crown and grave"), reminiscent of the vox Christi in Bach's St. Matthew Passion.

Selig ist der Mann, BWV 57, (26 December 1724) is a dialogue of the Anima and Jesus.

In the first movement of Ich bin ein guter Hirt, BWV 85, (15 April 1725), the bass sings "I am a good shepherd" from the Gospel.

In the unusual first movement of Ihr werdet weinen und heulen, BWV 103, (22 April 1725), Bach inserted an almost operatic recitative of Jesus in the fugal choral singing.

In the first movement of Es ist euch gut, daß ich hingehe, BWV 108, (29 April 1725), the bass sings a quote from the Gospel, "It is good for you that I leave".

Jesus speaks twice in Bisher habt ihr nichts gebeten in meinem Namen, BWV 87, (6 May 1725), in movement 1 accompanied by strings, doubled by oboes, in movement 5 accompanied by the continuo: "In the world you have fear; however be comforted, I have conquered the world."

In the first movement of Sie werden euch in den Bann tun, BWV 183, (13 May 1725), the announcement of Jesus from the second Farewell discourse is set as a recitative of only five measures, accompanied by long chords of the four oboes, two oboi da caccia and two oboi d'amore on a pedal point of the continuo, creating a "sepulchral" sound.

Third cantata cycle

The central movement of Brich dem Hungrigen dein Brot, BWV 39, (23 June 1726) is a line from the Epistle to the Hebrews 13:16, Wohlzutun und mitzuteilen vergesset nicht ("To do good and to share, forget no"). Bach treats it, as if Jesus said the words himself, between arioso and aria.

In Siehe, ich will viel Fischer aussenden, BWV 88 (21 July 1726, 5th Sunday after Trinity), the Evangelist begins part 2 with a recitative on Luke 5:10, "Jesus sprach zu Simon" (Jesus said to Simon), the following direct speech of Jesus, calling Peter as his disciple, is sung by the bass: "Fürchte dich nicht; den von nun an wirst du Menschen fahen" (Fear not, from henceforth thou shalt catch men).

In the central movement of Es ist dir gesagt, Mensch, was gut ist, BWV 45, (11. August 1726) beginning Part II, the voice of Christ appears in a "highly virtuosic aria, half Vivaldian concerto, half operatic scena", according to John Eliot Gardiner.

The central movement of Es wartet alles auf dich, BWV 187, (4 August 1726) is Darum sollt ihr nicht sorgen ("Therefore do not be anxious") from the sermon on the mount. The words of Jesus are sung by the bass, accompanied by the violins in unison and the continuo, which also takes part in their motifs.

In Herr, deine Augen sehen nach dem Glauben, BWV 102, (25 August 1726) Bach himself marked movement 4 for bass Arioso on words from the Epistle to the Romans 2:4—5, Verachtest du den Reichtum seiner Gnade ("Do you scorn the riches of His mercy").[1]

In Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, BWV 140, (25 November 1731) Jesus "appears" with the "Soul" in movement 3, a duet for soprano and bass, Wann kommst du, mein Heil? ("When will you come, my salvation?").[1]

In Es ist das Heil uns kommen her, BWV 9, three bass recitatives based on stanzas of the chorale can be considered a sermon on the Lutheran creed, based on the Sermon on the Mount.


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