Liebster Gott, wenn werd ich sterben

Liebster Gott, wenn werd ich sterben

BWV 8 performed by the Netherlands Bach Society
conducted by Shunske Sato
Grote Kerk, Naarden

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Behind the music


Ringing of bells

The clocks, bells and clockwork in this cantata portray the certainties and uncertainties of death

Although the words of this cantata never literally refer to a bell, the music is still permeated with the ringing of bells. For Bach, there was nothing unusual about this in texts about death and dying, as he lived – just as the majority of people in Europe at the time – in a world where chiming bells communicated precise messages and mechanical clocks showed the time.

The opening chorus is determined by the first two thoughts in the text: one of uncertainty (“When shall I die?”) and one of certainty (“Time always goes on”). This second thought leads to a clockwork passage in which the strings and the basso continuo relentlessly tick away the time like a clock mechanism. On the other hand, the uncertainty about when we will die is heard in the oboe d’amores. At various places, they suddenly change the harmony unexpectedly to minor. And to make this idea perfectly clear, Bach does the same in the opening sentence of the chorus, precisely on the word “sterben”.

But the most striking element is the flute that is heard above everything else, like a shrilly jangling bell. This is no big church bell, but a small handbell – a ‘Loretto’ or ‘St Anthony’ bell – that was used when someone lay on their deathbed. Ringing it at the bedside drove away evil spirits, according to popular belief.

In the tenor aria that follows, we remain in a similar sound world: the plucked basso continuo is still reminiscent of a bell or clock mechanism. But now the words themselves also explicitly refer to what the soul does “when the final hour has struck” (and we also hear that ‘striking’ quite literally in the singing part). The worries are not dispelled until the bass aria, which – not by coincidence – is the only part of the cantata to have a clear dance form. The little bell has done its job in driving away the evil spirits and is once again just a carefree, cheerful flute.

Liebster Gott, wenn werd ich sterben
alto, bass, soprano, tenor, recorder
16th Sunday after Trinitatis
First performance
24 September 1724

In loving memory of

Wendy Wallace

Extra videos

Vocal texts


1. Chor
Liebster Gott, wenn werd ich sterben?
Meine Zeit läuft immer hin,
und des alten Adams Erben,
unter denen ich auch bin,
haben dies zum Vaterteil,
daß sie eine kleine Weil
arm und elend sein auf Erden
und denn selber Erde werden.

2. Arie (Tenor)
Was willst du dich, mein Geist, entsetzen,
wenn meine letzte Stunde schlägt?
Mein Leib neigt täglich sich zur Erden,
und da muß seine Ruhstatt werden,
wohin man so viel tausend trägt.

3. Rezitativ (Alt)
Zwar fühlt mein schwaches Herz
Furcht, Sorge, Schmerz.
Wo wird mein Leib die Ruhe finden?
Wer wird die Seele doch
vom aufgelegten Sündenjoch
befreien und entbinden?
Das Meine wird zerstreut,
und wohin werden meine Lieben
in ihrer Traurigkeit zertrennt, vertrieben?

4. Arie (Bass)
Doch weichet, ihr tollen, vergeblichen Sorgen!
Mich rufet mein Jesus, wer sollte nicht gehn?
Nichts, was mir gefällt, besitzet die Welt.
Erscheine mir, seliger, fröhlicher Morgen,
verkläret und herrlich vor Jesu zu stehn.

5. Rezitativ (Sopran)
Behalte nur, o Welt, das Meine!
Du nimmst ja selbst mein Fleisch
und mein Gebeine;
so nimm auch meine Armut hin!
Genug, daß mir aus Gottes Überfluß
das höchste Gut noch werden muß;
genug, daß ich dort reich und selig bin.
Was aber ist von mir zu erben,
als meines Gottes Vatertreu?
Die wird ja alle Morgen neu
und kann nicht sterben.

6. Choral
Herrscher über Tod und Leben,
mach einmal mein Ende gut,
lehre mich den Geist aufgeben
mit recht wohlgefaßtem Mut!
Hilf, daß ich ein ehrlich Grab
neben frommen Christen hab
und auch endlich in der Erde
nimmermehr zuschanden werde!


1. Chorus
Dearest God, when shall I die?
My days run ever on,
and old Adam’s heirs,
of whom I am also one,
have this as their inheritance,
that they for a little while
are poor and wretched on earth,
and then become earth themselves.

2. Aria (Tenor)
Why, my spirit, would you be fearful,
when my final hour strikes?
Daily my body bows nearer the earth,
and there its place of rest must be,
whither so many thousands are borne.

3. Recitative (Alto)
In truth, my faint heart feels
fear, sorrow, pain:
where shall my body find rest?
Who shall free and release
my soul from the yoke of sin
that weighs upon it?
What is mine will be dispersed,
and whither will my loved ones
in their sadness be scattered and banished?

4. Aria (Bass)
But vanish, you foolish, vain worries!
My Jesus calls me: who would then not go?
Naught that I desire is of this world.
Appear to me, blessèd, happy morning,
transfigured and glorious before Jesus I’ll stand.

5. Recitative (Soprano)
You may keep, O world, what is mine!
Since you take my flesh
and bones,
take my poverty as well;
it is enough, that from God’s abundant store
the greatest blessing shall be mine,
it is enough, that I shall be rich and blessèd there.
But what is to be inherited from me
except my faith in God the Father?
For it is renewed each morning
and cannot die.

6. Chorale
Ruler over death and life,
let at the last my end be good,
teach me to give up the ghost
with courage firm and sure.
Help me earn an honest grave
next to godly Christian folk,
and finally covered by earth
never more be confounded!

translation © Richard Stokes


  • Release date
    23 May 2024
  • Recording date
    30 May 2023
  • Location
    Grote Kerk, Naarden
  • Violin and direction
    Shunske Sato
  • Soprano
    Griet De Geyter
  • Alto
    Franz Vitzthum
  • Tenor
    Guy Cutting
  • Bass
    Felix Schwandtke
  • Ripieno soprano
    Marta Paklar, Amelia Berridge
  • Ripieno alto
    Sofia Gvirts, Bernadett Nagy
  • Ripieno tenor
    João Moreira, Immo Schröder
  • Ripieno bass
    Matthew Baker, Donald Bentvelsen
  • Violin 1
    Lidewij van der Voort, Kano Imada, Mayumi Sargent Harada
  • Violin 2
    Lucia Giraudo, Alyssa Wright, Andrew Wong
  • Viola
    Anneke van Haaften, Esther van der Eijk
  • Cello
    Lucia Swarts, Anne-Linde Visser
  • Double bass
    Robert Franenberg
  • Recorder
    Benny Aghassi
  • Oboe
    Rodrigo Lopez Paz, Katharina Verhaar
  • Horn
    Christopher Price
  • Organ
    Bart Naessens
  • Harpsichord
    Siebe Henstra
  • Director and editor
    Bas Wielenga
  • Music recording
    Guido Tichelman, Pim van der Lee, Ernst Coutinho
  • Music edit and mix
    Guido Tichelman
  • Camera
    Martin Struijf, Bjorn Tiebout, Tom de Beer, Jesper Blok
  • Lights
    Ernst-Jan Thieme
  • Grip
    Jordi Kooij, Joey Marcoux
  • Assistant director
    Ferenc Soeteman
  • Set technique
    Justin Mutsaers
  • Data handling
    Ruben Kuyl
  • Project manager nep
    Ron Vermeulen
  • Assistant music recording
    Marloes Biermans
  • Producer concert
    Imke Deters
  • Producer film
    Wietske Hovingh
  • In loving memory of
    Wendy Wallace

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