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Du wahrer Gott und Davids Sohn, BWV 23

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Title: Du wahrer Gott und Davids Sohn, BWV 23  
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Subject: List of Bach cantatas by liturgical function, St John Passion, Chorale fantasia, Jesus nahm zu sich die Zwölfe, BWV 22
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Du wahrer Gott und Davids Sohn, BWV 23

Du wahrer Gott und Davids Sohn (You true God and son of David), BWV 23, is a church cantata by Johann Sebastian Bach. Bach composed the cantata in Köthen between 1717 and 1723 for the Sunday Estomihi and performed it as an audition piece for the position of Thomaskantor in Leipzig on 7 February 1723.

History and words

Bach probably composed the cantata in Köthen between 1717 and 1723 for Quinquagesima Sunday (also known as Estomihi), but it was revised to be included as Bach's other test piece (with Jesus nahm zu sich die Zwölfe, BWV 22) for the position of Thomaskantor in Leipzig. The work was performed there on 7 February 1723 (after the sermon), and performed again on 20 February 1724. It is unclear whether a "test" performance of the 1723 revised version took place in Köthen before Bach's audition at the Thomaskirche.

The prescribed readings for the Sunday were taken from the First Epistle to the Corinthians, "praise of love" (1 Corinthians 13:1–13), and from the Gospel of Luke, healing the blind near Jericho (Luke 18:31–43). Authorship of the poetry is unknown.

The chorale theme Christe, du Lamm Gottes first appeared in print in Johannes Bugenhagen's Braunschweig church order, published in Wittenberg in 1525.[1] The theme is an adaptation of Luther's setting of the Kyrie eleison in his 1525 Deutsche Messe.[2][3]

Scoring and structure

The piece is scored for cornett, tromboni (or trombe) I/II/III, oboes I/II, violins I/II, viola, and basso continuo, along with three vocal soloists (soprano, altus, and tenor) and four-part choir.[4]

It is in four movements:

  1. Aria (Duetto): "Du wahrer Gott und Davids Sohn" for soprano & alto, oboes, and continuo.
  2. Recitative: "Ach! gehe nicht vorüber" for tenor, oboes, violins, and continuo.
  3. (Coro): "Aller Augen warten, Herr" for choir, oboes, strings and continuo.
  4. Chorale: "Christe, du Lamm Gottes" for choir, cornetto col Soprano, trombone I coll'Alto, trombone II col Tenore, trombone III col Basso, oboes, strings, and continuo.


In this cantata, Bach combines elements of ritornello and concerto writing to expand his range of structural experimentation. Although the chorale was a later addition, its melody is incorporated earlier in the piece. The text's theme is optimistic, but the music throughout has a sense of underlying sadness.[5] Craig Smith describes the cantata as "one of the densest and greatest".[6]

The opening movement is a "a sinewy and somewhat enigmatic quintet" for soprano and alto voices (assuming the role of the blind man addressing Jesus) with low active oboes and continuo. The movement is in adapted ternary form with an opening and closing "Italianate" ritornello. The soprano line includes a "drooping" motive, hinting at later harmonic and emotional development.[5] There is a "thorny, even awkward juxtaposition of triple and duple meters" throughout the duet.[6]

The tenor recitative is quite similar to that for bass in BWV 22: they are in major and use chordal strings underlying the vocal line. This movement adds an instrumental rendition of the closing chorale in oboe and violin.[5]

The chorus is "dance-like but not toe-tapping, major but not ebulliently so, employing the full chorus but restrained throughout". The form is free rondo with interspersed extended episodes of tenor and bass duet. The opening includes the BACH motif.[5][6]

The closing chorale sets the same verse three times, likely representing the Trinity and drawing the listener's attention to the Passion narrative.[5] It opens with "some of the weightiest and most ponderous music that Bach ever composed".[6] The instrumental introduction varies between settings: the first and second begin with an oboe figure in G minor, the third with imitative counterpoint above the continuo. The harmonic structure of the movement is unsettled, ending on a C major chord that does not resolve. There is a concluding coda of Amens, heralded by a syncopated figure.[5]




The first source is the score.

Several databases provide additional information on each cantata:

  • Cantata BWV 23 Du wahrer Gott und Davids Sohn history, scoring, sources for text and music, translations to various languages, discography, discussion, bach-cantatas website
  • Emmanuel Music
  • Du wahrer Gott und Davids Sohn history, scoring, Bach website (German)
  • University of Vermont
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