Herr Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht

Herr Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht

BWV 335 performed by the Netherlands Bach Society
Grote Kerk, Naarden

Behind the music

Story
Story
Texts
Texts
Credits
Credits

A well-known melody

Bach contributes to an age-old musical tradition

BWV 335 is Bach’s four-part version of the old Gregorian hymn Rex Christe factor omnium. In his Tischreden, Martin Luther had few good words to say about the hymns of the Early Church Fathers, except for “der Gesang Rex Christe factor omnium &c. ist der aller beste Hymnus und Gesang”. For a long time, the hymn was attributed to St Gregory. Rex Christe factor omnium was a hymn for Passiontide, which was extremely popular in Germany for many centuries. In the thirteenth century, the melody already played in important role in the life of Saint Gertrude of Helfta, a Benedictine nun from Saxony. In a vision, she heard Christ singing a hymn to the melody of Rex Christe factor omnium.

The hymn is a good example of how the Reformation did not necessarily cause a clean break with the past. The old Latin text and the melody of Rex Christe factor omnium remained in use in Protestant Germany as well. A four-part version of the hymn (which is actually already a chorale), with the original Latin text, is included in the Cantional oder Gesangbuch augspurgischer Confession from 1627 (a book of polyphonic music for the whole year, by Johann Hermann Schein). Long before Luther, however, the opposite was also in use – singing in the vernacular. In Germany, there was already a tradition of German hymns in the early Middle Ages. For example, there is a mediaeval version of Rex Christe that was sung by the congregation: Christ schepfer alles des da ist.

BWV 335 is the only time Bach used this chorale melody. His version is known only from the books of four-part chorales that were published after his death. This version appears twice in the series, once with the title Herr Jesu Christ, mein Lebens Licht. It is not known why Bach combined the melody of Rex Christe factor omnium with this text. Maybe the chorale is the only surviving final section of a lost cantata. In any case, BWV 335 provides us with Bach’s small contribution to an age-old musical tradition.

BWV
335
Title
Herr Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht
Genre
chorales

Extra videos

Vocal texs

Original

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.

Ich hab vor mir ein schwere Reis
zu dir ins himmels Paradeis,
da ist mein rechtes Vaterland,
darauf du hast dein Blut gewandt.

Dein letztes Wort laß sein mein Licht,
wenn mir der Tod das Herz zerbricht.
Dein Kreuz lass sein mein Wanderstab,
mein Ruh und Rast dein heilig Grab.  

Translation

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.

Before me lies a painful road
to Paradise, my heavenly home;
where you are, that is my true land
which you have purchased with your blood.

Let your last word light my last day        
when death rends my heart on its way.
May your cross be my walking-staff,
your holy tomb my peace and rest.

translation © Ruth van Baak Griffioen

Credits

  • Release date
    10 November 2022
  • Recording date
    7 March 2020
  • Location
    Grote Kerk, Naarden
  • Soprano
    Marta Paklar
  • Alto
    Sofia Gvirts
  • Tenor
    João Moreira
  • Bass
    Matthew Baker
  • Theorbo
    Mike Fentross
  • Director
    Onno van Ameijde
  • Music recording
    Guido Tichelman, Bastiaan Kuijt, Pim van der Lee
  • Music edit and mix
    Guido Tichelman
  • Camera
    Jesper Blok
  • Lights
    Zen Bloot, Patrick Galvin
  • Set technique
    Justin Mutsaers
  • Projectmanager team
    Ron Vermeulen
  • Video editing
    Bas Wielenga
  • Assistent music recording
    Marloes Biermans
  • Producer
    Jessie Verbrugh
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