Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) – The Motets: O Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht BWV 118

bach signature This Sunday marks the start of a new series on "Saturday Chorale" this week and for the next six weeks thereafter I’ll be posting one of Bach’s motets, its text, a translation to English, and a short commentary. This Sunday, partly because I want to whet your appetite, but mostly because it’s a motet that’s far too often overlooked in Bach’s output I’m posting "O Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht," BWV 118b. It’s a heart-breakingly beautiful motet which, despite the fact that Bach himself clearly described it as ‘Motetto’ has often (wrongly) been called a cantata. This error first surfaced in the old Bach-Gesellschaft edition, presumably because of the motet’s independent instrumental accompaniment. Later musicologists and writers assumed that the Bach-Gesellschaft was correct with the sad result that "O Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht," has languished neglected amongst Bach’s real cantatas until the Neue Bach Ausgabe (Deutsch | English) corrected the error by publishing it in their volume of motets.

Bach originally composed "O Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht," in 1736 for a funeral procession and interment this version – the original, was for chorus and brass instruments (two litui , a cornetto, and three trombones) he later composed an ‘indoor’ version for two two trumpets, strings, and chorus. It is quite simply beautiful and is one of the last original choral works he wrote. The chorale melody he used "Ach Gott, wie manches Herzeleid" comes from a Leipzig hymnal of 1625 and must have been one of his favourites as it appears in no less than four cantatas: BWV 3, 44, 58 and 153.  The sopranos sing this melody while the lower voices sing counterpoint, music and text combine to portray death as a desirable outcome because it allows the soul to enter into a state of eternal happiness. This feeling of the desirability of the soul’s release is portrayed musically by the sound of the trumpets floating above the ascending string motif and the voices. It’s sung below by The Cambridge Singers, conducted by John Rutter, and accompanied by La Nuova Musica. Enjoy :-)


O Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht,
Mein Hort, mein Trost, mein Zuversicht,
Auf Erden bin ich nur ein Gast,
Und drückt mich sehr der Sünden Last.
(Martin Behm, 1557–1622)
Lord Jesu Christ, my life and light,
My strength, my stay, my day-star bright,
On earth I have no home or rest,
By all my grievous sin oppressed.
Series NavigationJohann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) – The Motets: Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied BWV 225 >>

4 thoughts on “Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) – The Motets: O Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht BWV 118

  1. Thank you so much Mark,

    A Saturday morning is the right moment to discover “Saturday Chorale” (I wonder why “Saturday Chorale” and not “Sunday Chorale” ; but for reasons I shall explain to you, may be, someday, it fits me completely.

    Thank you Mark, and thank you Johann Sebastian, an so many others that make, by their music, life a litlle less difficult to live. Shakespear-Purcell, and hundred years after, Schumann sung that quite well.

    I began by Johann Sebastian, because, since I am six years old, He is in my life, nearly every day or evening and sometimes by night, like a grand father I never had.

    Sorry for my english which is awkward and sometimes incorect. I manage as I can, but my native langage is French

    Kind regards


    • Cher Marcel,

      Merci de votre visite et de commenter. Je comprends le Français donc s’il vous plaît n’hésitez pas à commenter en Français.



  2. Yes, it flows beautifully under John Rutter’s direction, doesn’t it? Thank you, Mark, for posting this, and also for explaining how even such a sublime piece of music came to be neglected. Very interesting.

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