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Jesus schläft, was soll ich hoffen? BWV 81

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Title: Jesus schläft, was soll ich hoffen? BWV 81  
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Subject: List of Bach cantatas by liturgical function, Wär Gott nicht mit uns diese Zeit, BWV 14
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Jesus schläft, was soll ich hoffen? BWV 81

Jesus schläft, was soll ich hoffen? (Jesus sleeps, what shall I hope for?), BWV 81, is a church cantata by Johann Sebastian Bach. He composed it in 1724 in Leipzig for the fourth Sunday after Epiphany and first performed it on 30 January 1724.

History and words

Bach wrote the cantata in his first year in Leipzig for the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany and first performed it on 30 January 1724. A fourth Sunday after Epiphany is rare and occurs only in years with a late date of Easter.[1] The prescribed readings for the Sunday were taken from the Epistle to the Romans, love completes the law (Romans 13:8–10), and from the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus calming the storm (Matthew 8:23–27). The poet is unknown, Erdmann Neumeister and Christian Weiss have been suggested by scholars.[2] The poet refers to the gospel and expands on the contrast of Jesus hidden (sleeping) and appearing (acting), similar to Mein Gott, wie lang, ach lange? BWV 155, written in 1716 and performed three weeks earlier on the First Sunday after Epiphany. The words of movement 4 are a quote from the Gospel, the question of Jesus: "Ihr Kleingläubigen, warum seid ihr so furchtsam?" (Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith?). The closing chorale is the second stanza of Johann Franck's chorale "Jesu meine Freude".[1][3]

Scoring and structure

The cantata in seven movements is scored for alto, tenor and bass soloists, a four-part choir in the chorale, two oboe d'amore, two recorders, two violins, viola, and basso continuo. The recorders and the oboes were probably played by the same musicians.[1]

  1. Aria (alto): Jesus schläft, was soll ich hoffen?
  2. Recitativo (tenor): Herr! warum trittest du so ferne?
  3. Aria (tenor): Die schäumenden Wellen von Belials Bächen
  4. Arioso (bass): Ihr Kleingläubigen, warum seid ihr so furchtsam?
  5. Aria (bass): Schweig, aufgetürmtes Meer!
  6. Recitativo (alto): Wohl mir, mein Jesus spricht ein Wort
  7. Chorale: Unter deinen Schirmen


Bach expresses the questions of the anxious "soul" in a dramatic way, similar to dialogues such as in O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort, BWV 60. The first aria speaks of the "sleeping", illustrated by the recorders, low registers of the strings, long notes in the voice. Bach used similar means also in the aria Sanfte soll mein Todeskummer of his Easter Oratorio. Movement 3 almost visualizes the storm and the movement of the waves, similar to scenes in contemporary operas.[4] The central movement 4 within a symmetrical arrangement is devoted to the bass as the Vox Christi (voice of Christ). The continuo and the voice use similar material in this Arioso, intensifying the words. The following aria, marked allegro, contrasts the "storm", in unison runs of the strings, with calmer motion in the oboes.

The closing chorale is set for four parts.[1] Its chorale theme is by Johann Crüger and appeared first in his Praxis pietatis melica published in Berlin, 1653.[5]

Bach composed a similar symmetry around a Bible word in 1726 in Brich dem Hungrigen dein Brot, BWV 39.

Selected recordings



The first source is the score.

General sources are found for the Bach cantatas. Several databases provide additional information on each single cantata:

  • Cantata BWV 81 Jesus schläft, was soll ich hoffen? history, scoring, sources for text and music, translations to various languages, discography, discussion, bach-cantatas website
  • Emmanuel Music
  • Jesus schläft, was soll ich hoffen? history, scoring, Bach website (German)
  • University of Vermont
  • University of Alberta
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