O Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht

O Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht

BWV 118 performed by the Netherlands Bach Society
conducted by Shunske Sato
Walloon Church, Amsterdam

Behind the music


A rare performance

Unconventional funeral music with uncommon instrumentation

Sometimes – viewed from our current performance perspective – Bach gets in his own way a bit: unclear genres and unusual instruments make his work interesting, but also difficult to place at times. A good example of this is O Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht. As it consists of only one movement, it doesn’t really belong with the cantatas. But because it has independent instrumental parts, it is not usually counted as a motet either, although Bach did refer to the work as such himself.

Moreover, the first of the two versions of the piece requires two lituos, alongside a cornetto and three trombones. The Latin word lituus (derived from Etruscan) means “curved” or “crooked” and was also used to denote a crooked staff or curved wind instrument. Various authors of the past refer to the lituus as a signal instrument for the army. However, it is not clear what Bach intended by it. It may have referred to a sort of alphorn, which was already known in the sixteenth century as lituus alpinus. Or maybe, as Michael Praetorius wrote at the beginning of the seventeenth century, it was another term for shawm or crumhorn. In Bach’s day, the word lituus was also used for brass instruments. So here, we have chosen for two trumpets.

As a consequence of the aforementioned lack of clarity, BWV 118 is performed relatively infrequently, for which there is no musical reason whatsoever. It is a wonderful chorale arrangement, like the ones we are familiar with from the cantatas. The instrumental introduction sets the tone, with its melancholy lines and harmonies. The sentiment is continued by the chorale melody, in long notes in the soprano and the other imitating voices. And Bach did indeed write the piece for a funeral. It was performed at the graveside of Joachim Friedrich von Fleming in October 1740. For such an occasion, another composer would probably have written something a little more conventional. Bach, however, grasped the moment to do something special, also within his own oeuvre.

O Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht
trumpet, trombone
Unknown, possibly Martin Behm, 1610

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Extra videos

Vocal texts


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. 

Dein letztes Wort laβ sein mein Licht,
wenn mir der Tod das Herz zerbricht;
behüte mich vor Ungebärd,
wenn ich mein Haupt nun neigen werd!


Lord Jesus, light for my life long,
my comfort, and where I belong,
on earth I walk a pilgrim road
bent deep beneath sin’s heavy load.

Let your last word light my last day        
when death rends my heart on its way
let me not in false ways be led
when it is time to bow my head.

translation © Ruth van Baak Griffioen


  • Release date
    20 October 2022
  • Recording date
    27 May 2021
  • Location
    Walloon Church, Amsterdam
  • Direction
    Shunske Sato
  • Soprano
    Lauren Armishaw, Marta Paklar, Amelia Berridge
  • Alto
    Alex Potter, Sofia Gvirts, Bernadett Nagy
  • Tenor
    Daniel Johannsen, Adriaan de Koster, Immo Schröder
  • Bass
    Matthew Baker, Pierre-Guy Le Gall White, Michiel Meijer
  • Cornetto
    Andrea Inghisciano
  • Trumpet 1
    Robert Vanryne
  • Trumpet 2
    Mark Geelen
  • Trombone
    Bram Peeters, Kate Rockett, Joost Swinkels
  • Director
    João MB Costa
  • Music recording
    Guido Tichelman, Bastiaan Kuijt, Pim van der Lee
  • Music edit and mix
    Guido Tichelman
  • Camera
    Santiago Rodriguez, Milo McCafferty, Oscar Widl, Enzo Dumettier
  • Lights
    Zen Bloot
  • Grip
    Patrick Galvin, Harm Bredero, Sven Deen
  • Assistant director
    Santiago Rodriguez
  • Video editing
    Rob Gradisen, Robin van Erven Dorens
  • Assistent music recording
    Marloes Biermans
  • Producer concerrt
    Imke Deters
  • Producer film
    Jessie Verbrugh
  • With support from

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