There are 52 chorale cantatas by Johann Sebastian Bach surviving in at least one complete version. Around 40 of these were composed during his second year as Thomaskantor in Leipzig, which started after Trinity Sunday 4 June 1724, and form the backbone of his chorale cantata cycle. The eldest known cantata by Bach, an early version of Christ lag in Todes Banden, BWV 4, presumably written in 1707, was a chorale cantata. The last chorale cantata he wrote in his second year in Leipzig was Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern, BWV 1, first performed on Palm Sunday, 25 March 1725. In the ten years after that he wrote at least a dozen further chorale cantatas and other cantatas that were added to his chorale cantata cycle.

Lutheran hymns, also known as chorales, have a prominent place in the liturgy of that denomination. A chorale cantata is a church cantata based on a single hymn, both its text and tune. Bach was not the first to compose them, but for his 1724-25 second Leipzig cantata cycle he developed a specific format: in this format the opening movement is a chorale fantasia on the first stanza of the hymn, with the hymn tune appearing as a cantus firmus. The last movement is a four-part harmonisation of the chorale tune for the choir, with the last stanza of the hymn as text. While the text of the stanzas used for the outer movements was retained unchanged, the text of the inner movements of the cantata, a succession of recitatives alternating with arias, was paraphrased from the inner stanzas of the hymn.



Martin Luther advocated the use of vernacular hymns during services. He wrote several himself, also worked on their tunes, and helped publish the first Lutheran hymnal, the Achtliederbuch, containing four of his hymns, in 1524.

Leipzig had a strong tradition of sacred hymns.[1][2] In 1690, the minister of the Thomaskirche, Johann Benedikt Carpzov, had announced that he would preach not only on the Gospel but also on a related "good, beautiful, old, evangelical and Lutheran hymn", and that Johann Schelle, then the director of music, would perform the hymn before the sermon.[3]

Bach's duties as an organist included accompanying congregational singing, and he was familiar with the Lutheran hymns. Some of Bach's earliest church cantatas include chorale settings, although he usually incorporates them into just one or two movements. Hymn stanzas are most typically included in his cantatas as the closing four-part chorale. In his passions, Bach used chorale settings to complete a scene.

Before Bach chorale cantatas, that is, cantatas entirely based on both the text and the melody of a single Lutheran hymn, had been composed by among others Samuel Scheidt, Johann Erasmus Kindermann, Johann Pachelbel and Dieterich Buxtehude. Sebastian Knüpfer, Johann Schelle and Johann Kuhnau, Bach's predecessors as Thomaskantor, had composed them. Contemporary to Bach, Christoph Graupner and Georg Philipp Telemann were composers of chorale cantatas.

From his appointment as Thomaskantor in Leipzig end of May 1723 to Trinity Sunday a year later Bach had been presenting the church cantatas for each Sunday and holiday of the liturgical year, his first annual cycle of cantatas.[4][5] His ensuing second cycle started with a stretch of at least 40 new chorale cantatas, up to Palm Sunday of 1725.[6] A week later, for Easter, he presented a revised version of the early Christ lag in Todes Banden chorale cantata.

Bach's chorale cantatas


The oldest known chorale cantate by Bach, which may well have been the first cantata he composed, was likely composed in 1707 for a presentation in Mühlhausen. All further extant chorale cantatas were composed in Leipzig. There Bach started composing chorale cantatas as part of his second cantata cycle in 1724, a year after having been appointed as Thomaskantor. Up to at least 1735 he amended that cycle transforming it into what is known as his chorale cantata cycle. With its 52 extant cantatas for known occasions, out of 64 for a full cantata cycle in a city like Leipzig where during the largest part of advent and lent a silent time was observed, the cycle however remains incomplete.

Possibly the inspiration for starting a chorale cantata cycle in 1724 is linked to it being exactly two centuries after the publication of the first Lutheran hymnals.[3] The first of these early hymnals is the Achtliederbuch, containing eight hymns and five melodies. Four chorale cantatas use text and/or melody of a hymn in that early publication (BWV 2, 9, 38 and 117). Another 1524 hymnal is the Erfurt Enchiridion: BWV 62, 91, 96, 114, 121 and 178 are based on hymns from that publication. BWV 14, and 125 were based on hymns from Eyn geystlich Gesangk Buchleyn, also published in 1524.

The usual format of Bach's chorale cantatas is:

  • First movement (or, when the cantata starts with an instrumental sinfonia, the first movement with vocalists): choral movement, usually a chorale fantasia, that takes its text unmodified from the first stanza of the Lutheran hymn on which the cantata is based. In this movement the chorale melody most often appears as a cantus firmus in the soprano part.
  • Inner movements: usually three to five movements which are recitatives alternating with arias, based on the inner stanzas of the hymn. For the chorale cantatas Bach premiered from 11 June 1724 to 25 March 1725 the text of these inner movements is almost always a rephrasing, by an unknown author, of the hymn's inner stanzas. For chorale cantatas composed before and after that period Bach often uses unmodified hymn text for the inner movements of his chorale cantatas.[7] When the text of all stanzas of the hymn is used unmodified that is called per omnes versus.
  • Last movement: four-part homophonic setting for SATB voices of the hymn tune, taking the unmodified last stanza of the hymn as text.

In Bach's time the congregation would have sung during some of the services in which the cantatas were performed, but it is not known whether the congregation would have joined the choir in singing the chorales in the cantatas themselves. On the other hand, although Bach's chorale arrangements can be tricky for amateur singers, sometimes in 21st-century performances of the cantatas and passions audience participation is encouraged. For example, the Monteverdi Choir encouraged audience participation in a 2013 performance of the Christ lag in Todes Banden cantata.[8]

Legend to the sortable table
column content
1 BG The numbers refer to the 44 cantatas that survived the 18th century as performance parts kept in Leipzig: the list follows Dörffel in the 27th volume of the Bach Gesellschaft (BG) publication.[9]
2 K
(basic order)
K numbers of the chronological Zwang catalogue for Bach's cantatas: this catalogue keeps the bulk of the chorale cantatas together in the range K 74–114. This catalogue places the Reformation Day cantata Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott, for 31 October, between the chorale cantatas for Trinity XXI and for Trinity XXII in 1724, instead of a few years later as most other scholars do.[7][10]
3 BWV Number of the cantata in the Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis (Bach works catalogue)
4 cantata Name of the cantata, by incipit (in German). Links go to the separate article on the cantata.
5 occasion Indicates for which occasion in the liturgical year Bach's church cantata was written.
6 BD Bach Digital (BD): this column contains external links to the "Bach Digital Work" pages on the cantatas at the website. Such webpages contain links to various primary sources, including early manuscripts (e.g. Bach's autographs when extant), and the cantata text.
Not listed as chorale cantatas at that website:[11]
  • BWV 58, 68 and 128: not chorale cantatas in a strict sense, nonetheless belonging to the chorale cantata cycle.
  • BWV 192: incomplete cantata, the three extant parts of which are however based on the same hymn
7 date Date(s) of the first and/or other early stagings of the cantata. Links go to chronological entries in the list below
8 hymn Indicates the Lutheran hymn on which the cantata is based, represented by the hymn's Zahn number when available (some hymns have more than one melody associated with it, the Zahn number is a unique identification of the Hymn tune used in the cantata). A few minor spelling variations aside, the name of the hymn is identical to the name of the cantata given in column 4. Links go to the article on the hymn.
9 year Year associated with the hymn, typically the year of first publication. A horizontal line separates the year associated with the hymn's text from the year associated with the hymn's melody (if different). Links go to entries in the list below that add details about the hymn.
10 text by

tune by

Author of the hymn text and composer of the hymn melody, separated by a horizontal line (if different). Links go to articles on the author and/or composer of the hymn.
Background colors
Color Signifies
yellow The libretto of the cantata consists exclusively of unmodified hymn text
orange-brown Not a chorale cantata in the strict sense, but seen as part of the cycle
Bach's chorale cantatas
BG K BWV cantata occasion date BD hymn year text by

tune by

17 4 004 Christ lag in Todes Banden Easter 24 Apr 1707
8 Apr 1708
9 Apr 1724
1 Apr 1725
7012a 1524 Luther
21 74 020 O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort Trinity I 11 Jun 1724 00023 5820 1642




22 75 002 Ach Gott, vom Himmel sieh darein Trinity II 18 Jun 1724 00002 4431 1524[a] Luther
23 76 007 Christ unser Herr zum Jordan kam St. John's Day 24 Jun 1724 00008 7246 1541 Luther


77 135 Ach Herr, mich armen Sünder Trinity III 25 Jun 1724 00167 5385a[b] 1597 Schneegass


27 78 010 Meine Seel erhebt den Herren Visitation 2 Jul 1724 00012 German




25 79 093 Wer nur den lieben Gott läßt walten Trinity V 9 Jul 1724 00118 2778 1657 Neumark
28 80 107 Was willst du dich betrüben Trinity VII 23 Jul 1724 00132 5264b 1630 Heermann
29 81 178 Wo Gott der Herr nicht bei uns hält Trinity VIII 30 Jul 1724 00216 4441a[e] 1524[f] Jonas
30 82 094 Was frag ich nach der Welt Trinity IX 6 Aug 1724 00119 5206b 1664 Kindermann


31 83 101 Nimm von uns, Herr, du treuer Gott Trinity X 13 Aug 1724 00126 2561[g] 1584 Moller


84 113 Herr Jesu Christ, du höchstes Gut Trinity XI 20 Aug 1724 00138 4486 1588 Ringwaldt
33 85 033 Allein zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ Trinity XIII 3 Sep 1724 00043 7292b 1540




34 86 078 Jesu, der du meine Seele Trinity XIV 10 Sep 1724 00097 6804 1642 Rist
35 87 099 Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan Trinity XV 17 Sep 1724 00124 5629 1674 Rodigast


36 88 008 Liebster Gott, wenn werd ich sterben? Trinity XVI 24 Sep 1724[i]
17 Sep 1747[j]
6634 c. 1690

bef. 1697



89 130 Herr Gott, dich loben alle wir St. Michael's Day 29 Sep 1724
and later
0368[k] 1554 Eber


37 90 114 Ach, lieben Christen, seid getrost Trinity XVII 1 Oct 1724 00139 4441a[l] 1561




38 91 096 Herr Christ, der einge Gottessohn Trinity XVIII 8 Oct 1724 00121 4297a[n] 1524[o]




39 92 005 Wo soll ich fliehen hin Trinity XIX 15 Oct 1724 00006 2177 1630 Heermann
93 180 Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele Trinity XX 22 Oct 1724 00218 6923 1649 Franck, J.
40 94 038 Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir Trinity XXI 29 Oct 1724 00053 4437 1524[p] Luther
95 080b
Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott Reformation Day 1723 or later
1727 or later
7377 c.1529 Luther
96 115 Mache dich, mein Geist, bereit Trinity XXII 5 Nov 1724 00140 6274a[q] 1695 Freystein
41 97 139 Wohl dem, der sich auf seinen Gott Trinity XXIII 12 Nov 1724 00171 2383 1692 Rube
42 98 026 Ach wie flüchtig, ach wie nichtig Trinity XXIV 19 Nov 1724 00033 1887b 1652 Franck, M.


43 99 116 Du Friedefürst, Herr Jesu Christ Trinity XXV 26 Nov 1724 00141 4373 1601 Ebert
1 100 062 Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland Advent I 3 Dec 1724 00078 1174 1524[r] Luther
2 101 091 Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ Christmas 25 Dec 1724
and later
1947 1524[s] Luther
3 102 121 Christum wir sollen loben schon Christmas 2 26 Dec 1724 00148 0297c 1524[t] Luther
4 103 133 Ich freue mich in dir Christmas 3 27 Dec 1724 00163 5187 1697 Ziegler
5 104 122 Das neugeborne Kindelein Christmas I 31 Dec 1724 00149 0491 1597 Schneegass
6 105 041 Jesu, nun sei gepreiset New Year 1 Jan 1725 00056 8477a 1539 Hermann
8 106 123 Liebster Immanuel, Herzog der Frommen Epiphany 6 Jan 1725 00150 4932c 1679 Fritsch
9 107 124 Meinen Jesum laß ich nicht Epiphany I 7 Jan 1725 00151 3449 1658 Keymann


10 108 003 Ach Gott, wie manches Herzeleid Epiphany II 14 Jan 1725 00003 0533a 1587




109 111 Was mein Gott will, das g'scheh allzeit Epiphany III 21 Jan 1725 00136 7568[12] 1547


Albert of Prussia

de Sermisy

13 110 092 Ich hab in Gottes Herz und Sinn Septuagesimae 28 Jan 1725 00117 7568 1647



de Sermisy

12 111 125 Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin Purification 2 Feb 1725 00152 3986[x] 1524[y] Luther
14 112 126 Erhalt uns, Herr, bei deinem Wort Sexagesimae 4 Feb 1725 00153 0350 1541 Luther & Jonas
15 113 127 Herr Jesu Christ, wahr' Mensch und Gott Estomihi 11 Feb 1725 00154 2570 1557




16 114 001 Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern Annunciation
Palm Sunday[aa]
25 Mar 1725 00001 8359 1599 Nicolai
122 128 Auf Christi Himmelfahrt allein Ascension 10 May 1725 00156 4457[ab] 1661 Sonnemann
19 125 068 Also hat Gott die Welt geliebt[ac] Pentecost 2 21 May 1725 00085 5920 1675 Liscow


deest Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ[ad] Trinity III 17 Jun 1725 01669 7400 1529?/31 Agricola
32 129 137 Lobe den Herren, den mächtigen König der Ehren Trinity XII 19 Aug 1725 00169 1912a 1680 Neander
20 142 129 Gelobet sei der Herr, mein Gott Trinity 8 Jun 1727 00157 5206b 1665 Olearius
7 161 058 Ach Gott, wie manches Herzeleid New Year I 5 Jan 1727
1733 or 1734
0533a 1587/1610




172 117 Sei Lob und Ehr dem höchsten Gut ZZZ_unknown 1728–1731 00142 4430 1673


Schütz, J. J.


181 192 Nun danket alle Gott ZZZ_unknown 1730 00233 5142 1636(c.)




18 182 112 Der Herr ist mein getreuer Hirt Easter II 8 Apr 1731 00137 4457 1530 Meuslin


44 184 140 Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme Trinity XXVII 25 Nov 1731 00172 8405 1599 Nicolai
24 186 177 Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ Trinity IV 6 Jul 1732[af] 00215 7400 1529?/31 Agricola
26 187 009 Es ist das Heil uns kommen her Trinity VI 20 Jul 1732 00011 4430 1524[ag] Speratus
188 100 Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan ZZZ_unknown 1732–1735 00125 5629 1674 Rodigast


189 097 In allen meinen Taten Trinity V? 25 Jul 1734? 00122 2293b 1633 Fleming
11 196 014 Wär Gott nicht mit uns diese Zeit Epiphany IV 30 Jan 1735 00016 4434 1524[ai] Luther

Easter 1707?

  • 24 April 1707 (Easter): Christ lag in Todes Banden, BWV 4 (K 4), early version, assumed to have been presented in Mühlhausen. In that case it would be Bach's first documented cantata: the cantata is however only fully extant in its later versions. It was performed then as the test piece for the post of Organist at the Church Divi Blasii in that town. He repeated it on 8 April 1708.

Reformation Day 1723?


Easter 1724


During his first year in Leipzig Bach presented a reworked version of his 1707 Easter cantata in Leipzig:

  • 9 April 1724 (Easter): Christ lag in Todes Banden, BWV 4 (K 4), Leipzig version, first performance. Bach changed the last movement to reflect the current one (4-part Chorale setting). The first version (1707 & 1708) had the last verse (last movement) using the same music as the 1st verse (2nd movement).

First Sunday after Trinity 1724 to Easter 1725


The first four chorale cantatas presented in 1724 appear to form a set: Bach gave the cantus firmus of the chorale tune to the soprano in the first, to the alto in the second, to the tenor in the third, and to the bass in the fourth. He varied the style of chorale fantasia in those four cantatas: French Overture in BWV 20, Chorale motet in BWV 2, Italian concerto in BWV 7, and vocal and instrumental counterpoint in BWV 135.[14]

Ascension to Trinity 1725


Two cantatas opening with a chorale fantasia usually grouped with the chorale cantatas

Later additions to the chorale cantata cycle


After Trinity 1725 Bach added further cantatas to the chorale cantata cycle, at least up to 1735:

  • 19 August 1725 (Trinity XII): Lobe den Herren, den mächtigen König der Ehren, BWV 137, a per omnes versus chorale cantata.
  • 5 January 1727 (New Year I = Christmas II; there hadn't been a Sunday between New Year and Epiphany in 1725): Ach Gott, wie manches Herzeleid, BWV 58 (K 161), early version. This version is partly lost: the continuo part is all that is left from its middle movement. The other four movements are to a large extent identical to the 1730s version of this cantata (however without oboes in the outer movements).
  • 129 (1727)
  • 1727 or later (31 October, Reformation Day): Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott, BWV 80 (K 95), second Leipzig version. An early version of this cantata, BWV 80b, may have been composed or performed as early as 1723. The trumpet parts in the second Leipzig version were possibly a later addition by W. F. Bach. Luther's "Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott" (A Mighty Fortress Is Our God) was probably written and published in the late 1520s. Its oldest extant print is in Andrew Rauscher's 1531 hymnal.
  • 112 (1731)
  • 140 (1731)
  • 177 (1732)
  • 9 (1732)
  • 4 January 1733 or 3 January 1734 (New Year I): Ach Gott, wie manches Herzeleid, BWV 58 (K 161), later version as published by the Bach Gesellschaft in Vol. 122, p. 133 ff. In this version a new composition replaces the third movement, and oboes are added in the outer movements. The cantata's libretto, by Christoph Birkmann, is not completely consistent with the chorale cantata format, but the cantata was certainly intended as an addition to the cycle. The cantata is unusual in combining the text of two hymns (Martin Moller's 1587 "Ach Gott, wie manches Herzeleid" and Martin Behm's 1610 "Herr Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht", both sung to the same 15th-century hymn tune), and in ending on a chorale fantasia instead of a four-part chorale. The hymn tune had first appeared in the Lochamer-Liederbuch (1451–1460). In a strict sense it is thus not a chorale cantata.
  • 14 (1735)

Chorale cantatas with unknown liturgical function


For some chorale cantatas, written from 1728 to 1735, it is not known for which occasion they were written, and whether they were intended to belong to a cycle:


  1. ^ No. 5 in Achtliederbuch
  2. ^ melody of "O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden"
  3. ^ text in Luther Bible
  4. ^ tonus peregrinus
  5. ^ text of 6 (of 8) verses kept
  6. ^ No. 14 in Erfurt Enchiridion
  7. ^ melody of "Vater unser im Himmelreich"
  8. ^ based on Werner Fabricius
  9. ^ first version in E major
  10. ^ second version in D major
  11. ^ melody Old 100th
  12. ^ melody of "Wo Gott der Herr nicht bei uns hält"
  13. ^ No. 14 in Erfurt Enchiridion
  14. ^ melody of secular "Mein Freud möcht sich wohl mehren"
  15. ^ No. 10 in Erfurt Enchiridion
  16. ^ No. 7 in Achtliederbuch
  17. ^ melody of "Straf mich nicht in deinem Zorn"
  18. ^ No. 23 in Erfurt Enchiridion
  19. ^ No. 8 in Erfurt Enchiridion
  20. ^ No. 23 in Erfurt Enchiridion
  21. ^ Melody of "Herr Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht" in Lochamer-Liederbuch
  22. ^ fourth and final stanza, anonymous
  23. ^ a b chanson "Il me suffit de tous mes maulx"
  24. ^ German Nunc dimittis
  25. ^ in Eyn geystlich Gesangk Buchleyn
  26. ^ melody of "Wenn einer schon ein Haus aufbaut" in Genevan Psalter (1551 edition)
  27. ^ Annunciation and Palm Sunday coincided in 1725
  28. ^ not based on a chorale, but beginning with a chorale fantasia
  29. ^ beginning and ending with a chorale fantasia, each on a different hymn (both with the same hymn tune)
  30. ^ music lost, possibly composed by Telemann or, alternatively, an early version of BWV 177 (see BD 00215); this cantata's libretto, identical to that of BWV 177 (the 1732 cantata for Trinity IV in the chorale cantata cycle) was published as the text for a cantata performed on Trinity III, 17 June 1725 in Leipzig
  31. ^ melody of "Es ist das Heil uns kommen her", No. 2 in Achtliederbuch
  32. ^ composed at a later date while in 1724 Visitation fell on the Sunday of Trinity IV
  33. ^ No. 2 in Achtliederbuch
  34. ^ based on Werner Fabricius
  35. ^ in Eyn geystlich Gesangk Buchleyn


  1. ^ Sadie, Stanley, ed. (2001). The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. Oxford University Press. pp. II 331–5, V 26–7, 746, XIV 511–4. ISBN 978-0-19-517067-2.
  2. ^ Leahy, Anne; Leaver, Robin A. (2011). J. S. Bach's "Leipzig" Chorale Preludes: Music, Text, Theology. Scarecrow Press. p. 79. ISBN 978-0-8108-8181-5.
  3. ^ a b Hofmann, Klaus (2002). "O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort, BWV 20 / O eternity, thou thunderous word" (PDF). p. 5. Retrieved 5 June 2012.
  4. ^ Christoph Wolff (1991). Bach: Essays on his Life and Music. Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0-674-05926-9. Retrieved 21 June 2011.
  5. ^ John Eliot Gardiner (2004). "Cantatas for the First Sunday after Trinity / St Giles Cripplegate, London" (PDF). p. 2. Retrieved 5 June 2012.
  6. ^ Dürr, Alfred (1971). Die Kantaten von Johann Sebastian Bach (in German). Vol. 1. Bärenreiter-Verlag. OCLC 523584.
  7. ^ a b Günther Zedler. Die Kantaten von Johann Sebastian Bach: Eine Einführung in die Werkgattung. Books on Demand, 2011. ISBN 9783842357259, p. 32–34
  8. ^ Hewett, Ivan (2013). "Bach Marathon, Albert Hall, Review". The Telegraph. Retrieved 4 May 2015.
  9. ^ a b Alfred Dörffel. Bach-Gesellschaft Ausgabe Volume 27: Thematisches Verzeichniss der Kirchencantaten No. 1–120. Breitkopf & Härtel, 1878. Introduction, pp. V–IX
  10. ^ Philippe (and Gérard) Zwang. Guide pratique des cantates de Bach. Paris, 1982. ISBN 2-221-00749-2. See Johann Sebastian Bach: Correspondance Catalogues Zwang — Schmeider at
  11. ^ "Choralkantate"[permanent dead link] at
  12. ^ a b Chorale Melodies used in Bach's Vocal Works: Was mein Gott will, das g'scheh allzeit at
  13. ^ a b Louis Bourgeois (editor; composer). Pseaumes Octante Trois de David. Geneva, 1551.
  14. ^ Julian Mincham (2010). "Chapter 5 BWV 135 Ach Herr, mich armen Sünder". Archived from the original on 5 December 2011. Retrieved 4 July 2011.
  15. ^ Johann Rist (author) and Johann Schop (composer, editor). Johann Risten Himlische Lieder (revised edition). Lüneburg: Johann & Heinrich Stern, 1658, pp. 34–36 (I, No. 6) and 202–208 (III, No. 10)
  16. ^ Carl von Winterfeld. Der evangelische Kirchengesang und sein Verhältniss zur Kunst des Tonsatzes. Breitkopf und Härtel, 1843, p. 415
  17. ^ Philippe and Gérard Zwang. Guide pratique des cantates de Bach. Second revised and augmented edition. L'Harmattan, 2005. ISBN 9782296426078. pp. 43–44