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Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir, BWV 38

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Title: Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir, BWV 38  
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Subject: Phrygian mode, List of Bach cantatas by liturgical function, Monteverdi Choir, List of transcriptions of compositions by Johann Sebastian Bach, Psalm 130
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Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir, BWV 38

Not to be confused with the organ preludes of the same name from Bach's Clavier-Übung III

Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir ("Out of deep distress I cry to you"), BWV 38, is a church cantata by Johann Sebastian Bach. Bach composed the chorale cantata in Leipzig in 1724 in his second annual cycle for the twenty-first Sunday after Trinity and first performed it on 19 October 1724.

History and text

Bach composed this chorale cantata in Leipzig in 1724. Written for the twenty-first Sunday after Trinity, it was part of his second annual cycle of cantatas. The work was first performed on 19 October 1724.[1]

The prescribed readings for the Sunday were from Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians, "take unto you the whole armour of God" (Ephesians 6:10–17), and from the Gospel of John, the healing of the nobleman's son (John 4:46–54).[2]

The cantata is based on the Martin Luther's chorale Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir, a paraphrase of Psalm 130.[3][4] The texts of the chorale is unchanged for the first and last movements. An unknown poet paraphrased the other three stanzas of the chorale for movements 2 to 5.[5]

Scoring and structure

The piece is scored for four vocal soloists (soprano, alto, tenor, bass) and four-part choir, two oboes, four trombones, two violins, viola, and basso continuo[6] (specifically including fagotto, violone, violoncello, and organ).

The cantata has six movements:

  1. Coro (Chorale): Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir
  2. Recitative (alto): In Jesu Gnade wird allein
  3. Aria (tenor): Ich höre mitten in den Leiden
  4. Recitative (soprano): Ach! Dass mein Glaube noch so schwach (chorale theme)
  5. Aria (Terzetto; soprano): Wenn meine Trübsal als mit Ketten
  6. Chorale: Ob bei uns ist der Sünden viel


The opening choral fantasia combines the structure of a motet with chromatic and dissonant Phrygian harmonies. The trombones double the vocal lines, creating an "unearthly Stygian quality of sound". Although the lower voices have the initial melodic presentation, it is adopted by the soprano as a cantus firmus. Each phrase appears in imitative counterpoint, a "portrayal of the individual cries of distress which coalesce to form a combined human clamour".[7]

Like the fantasia, the alto recitative is stylistically archaic. Its "semi-chaotic" form may reflect the tumult of evil and sin. The tenor aria is expressive with a prominent rhythmic motive. It sits in a four-part texture between the oboes and continuo part. The fourth movement, a soprano recitative, adopts the chorale melody as the continuo. The trio aria uses a descending sequential ritornello based on the circle of fifths, contrasting with the "serpentine" vocal lines. The closing chorale is striking, with an "enigmatic" final cadence.[7]



Further reading

  • J. C. J. Day. The texts of Bach's Church cantatas: some observations. German Life and Letters, volume 13 (1960), num. 2, pages 137–144.
  • Alfred Dürr: Johann Sebastian Bach: Die Kantaten. Bärenreiter, Kassel 1999, ISBN 3-7618-1476-3
  • Alfred Dürr: The Cantatas of J.S. Bach, Oxford University Press, 2006. ISBN 0-19-929776-2
  • Werner Neumann: Handbuch der Kantaten J.S.Bachs, 1947, 5th Ed. 1984, ISBN 3-7651-0054-4
  • Hans-Joachim Schulze: Die Bach-Kantaten: Einführungen zu sämtlichen Kantaten Johann Sebastian Bachs. Leipzig: Evangelische Verlags-Anstalt; Stuttgart: Carus-Verlag 2006 (Edition Bach-Archiv Leipzig) ISBN 3-374-02390-8 (Evang. Verl.-Anst.), ISBN 3-89948-073-2 (Carus-Verl.)
  • Emmanuel Music.
  • Geoffrey Turner. Singing The Word: The Cantatas of J S Bach. New Blackfriars, volume 87, issue 1008, pages 144–154.
  • Christoph Wolff/Ton Koopman (Eds.): Die Welt der Bach-Kantaten, Metzler/Bärenreiter, Stuttgart und Kassel, 3 Bände Sonderausgabe 2006 ISBN 3-476-02127-0

External links

  • Piano & vocal score of BWV 38 on
  • Discussion of the work on
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