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Ich elender Mensch, wer wird mich erlösen, BWV 48

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Title: Ich elender Mensch, wer wird mich erlösen, BWV 48  
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Subject: Oboe da caccia, Wo soll ich fliehen hin, BWV 5, List of Bach cantatas by liturgical function, Monteverdi Choir
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Ich elender Mensch, wer wird mich erlösen, BWV 48

Ich elender Mensch, wer wird mich erlösen (Wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me), BWV 48, is a church cantata by Johann Sebastian Bach. He composed it in 1723 in Leipzig for the 19th Sunday after Trinity and first performed it on 3 October 1723.

History and words

Bach wrote the cantata in 1723 for the 19th Sunday after Trinity as part of his first annual cycle. The prescribed readings for the Sunday were from Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians, "put on the new man, which after God is created" (Ephesians 4:22–28), and from the Gospel of Matthew, Healing the paralytic at Capernaum (Matthew 9:1–8).[1] The first movement is written on words from Romans 7:24, stressing the need of the sinner for redemption. The unknown poet saw the soul more in need of rescue than the body, affirmed by a chorale as movement 3, verse 4 of Ach Gott und Herr (1604) of Martin Rutilius. After contemplating ideas based on Psalm 88:11 and 2 Corinthians 12:9, he concludes the cantata in hope, expressed in the closing chorale "Herr Jesu Christ, einiger Trost" (Lord Jesus Christ, only trust), verse 12 of "Herr Jesu Christ, ich schrei zu dir" (Freiburg 1620).[1]

Bach first performed the cantata on 3 October 1723.[1]

Scoring and structure

The cantata is scored for alto and tenor soloists, a four-part choir, trumpet, two oboes, two violins, viola, and basso continuo.[1]

  1. Chor: Ich elender Mensch, wer wird mich erlösen
  2. Recitativo (alto, strings): O Schmerz, o Elend, so mich trifft
  3. Choral: Solls ja so sein
  4. Aria (alto): Ach, lege das Sodom der sündlichen Glieder
  5. Recitativo (tenor): Hier aber tut des Heilands Hand
  6. Aria (tenor, strings, oboe): Vergibt mir Jesus meine Sünden
  7. Choral: Herr Jesu Christ, einiger Trost


An instrumental chorale melody is present in the opening chorus. It may refer to the words "Herr Jesus Christ, du höchstes Gut", but also creates a connection to the closing chorale, which was sung on the same tune, and therefore may also quote its first verse. This chorale cantus firmus is played by the trumpet in canon with the oboes.[2] The strings present themes in the instrumental introduction which are later used as a countersubject to the lamentative theme of the voices.

A recitative of the alto, accompanied by the strings, leads to a chorale, concluding the ideas of the first section in expressive harmonization.

A different mood prevails in the following aria, the voice and the oboe being equal partners in the request to spare the soul. In the last aria the tenor is accompanied by the strings with oboe, music dominated by a lilting rhythm changing between 3/4 time and 3/2 time.[1]




The first source is the score.

Several databases provide additional information on each cantata:

  • Cantata BWV 48 Ich elender Mensch, wer wird mich erlösen history, scoring, sources for text and music, translations to various languages, discography, discussion, bach-cantatas website
  • Emmanuel Music
  • Ich elender Mensch, wer wird mich erlösen history, scoring, Bach website (German)
  • University of Vermont
  • University of Alberta
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