Jesus schläft, was soll ich hoffen

Jesus schläft, was soll ich hoffen

BWV 81 performed by the Nederlands Bach Society
conducted by Shunske Sato
Walloon Church, Amsterdam

  • Menu
  • 1. Jesus schläft, was soll ich hoffen? (Arie)
  • 2. Herr! warum trittest du so ferne? (Rezitativ)
  • 3. Die schäumenden Wellen von Belials Bäche (Arie)
  • 4. Ihr Kleingläubigen (Arioso)
  • 5. Schweig, aufgetürmtes Meer! (Arie)
  • 6. Wohl mir, mein Jesus spricht (Rezitativ)
  • 7. Unter deinen Schirmen (Choral)

Behind the music

Extra videos
Extra videos

Storms of life

Bach unleashes theatre in the church

On his appointment as cantor at the Thomasschule in 1723, Bach was told that his church music must not be too ‘opernhafftig’, or operatic. Might the gentlemen of the Leipzig council have cast their minds back to this condition on the second to last day in January 1724? The cantata on this fourth Sunday after Epiphany was Jesus schläft, was soll ich hoffen. The words take Matthew 8:23-27 as their subject, telling of the disciples on the lake who are afraid of the storm while Jesus sleeps peacefully. They wake him and he calms the waves. Bach and his lyricist have created an expressive scene with an operatic quality. "Bach is extremely theatrical here", says the bass Stephan MacLeod.

There is no opening chorus, so the alto comes straight to the question: Jesus is asleep, what can I hope for? In this first aria, Bach augments the string ensemble with two alto recorders, which barely fulfil an independent role. Their main function is to double the violin parts an octave higher. It is clearly a question of timbre here. In the Baroque, the recorder is often used to suggest sleep or death, and both are the case in this instance! This is not just a lullaby, but also a lament for the supposed lack of help in the face of death.

The storm breaks out in the second aria, where the tenor is accompanied by a torrent of fast notes from the strings. Amid the violence, there are three brief periods of rest (adagio): a model representation of Christians with faith in God. But the storms of life rear their heads again just as often, in an attempt to undermine that faith.

The words spoken by the awakened Jesus are given to the bass, who sings a short arioso with the crucial question: Ye of little faith, why are you so afraid? This arioso is the fourth movement of the seven in the cantata, thus forming its literal heart. In the aria that follows, Jesus quietens the storm and the lake with the command to calm down. Stephan MacLeod hears this command mainly in the parts of the two oboes d’amore. The lesson follows in the subsequent recitative and the closing chorale: have faith in Jesus at all times. The closing chorale is the second strophe of the chorale Jesu, meine Freude, which we also know in motet form by Bach.

Jesus schläft, was soll ich hoffen
alto, bass, tenor
unknown, psalm 10:1 and Matthew 8:26, chorale by Johann Franck (1653)
fourth Sunday after Epiphany
First performance
30 January 1724

Extra videos

Bass Stephan MacLeod

“In this cantata Bach chooses to be very theatrical and spectacular, with strong contrasts between hope and fear.”

Vocal texts


1. Arie (Alt)
Jesus schläft, was soll ich hoffen?
Seh ich nicht
mit erblasstem Angesicht
schon des Todes Abgrund offen?

2. Rezitativ (Tenor)
Herr! Warum trittest du so ferne?
Warum verbirgst du dich zur Zeit der Not,
da alles mir ein kläglich Ende droht?
Ach, wird dein Auge nicht durch meine Not beweget
so sonsten nie zu schlummern pfleget?
Du wiesest ja mit einem Sterne
vordem den neubekehrten Weisen,
den rechten Weg zu reisen.
Ach leite mich durch deiner Augen Licht,
weil dieser Weg nichts als Gefahr verspricht.

3. Arie (Tenor)
Die schäumenden Wellen von Belials Bächen
verdoppeln die Wut.
Ein Christ soll zwar
wie Wellen stehn,
wenn Trübsalswinde um ihn gehn,
doch suchet die stürmende Flut
die Kräfte des Glaubens zu schwächen.

4. Arioso (Bass)
Ihr Kleingläubigen, warum seid ihr so furchtsam?

5. Arie (Bass)
Schweig, aufgetürmtes Meer!
Verstumme, Sturm und Wind!
Dir sei dein Ziel gesetzet,
damit mein auserwähltes Kind
kein Unfall je verletzet.

6. Rezitativ (Alt)
Wohl mir, mein Jesus spricht ein Wort,
mein Helfer ist erwacht,
so muss der Wellen Sturm,
des Unglücks Nacht
und aller Kummer fort.

7. Choral
Unter deinen Schirmen
bin ich für den Stürmen
aller Feinde frei.
Lass den Satan wittern,
Lass den Feind erbittern,
Mir steht Jesus bei.
Ob es itzt gleich kracht und blitzt,
ob gleich Sünd und Hölle schrecken,
Jesus will mich decken.


1. Aria (Alto)
Jesus sleeps, what hope is there for me?
Can I not see
with ashen countenance
death's abyss gaping wide?

2. Recitative (Tenor)
Lord! Why art Thou so far from me?
Why conceal Thyself in time of need,
when all things threaten me with a pitiful end?
Alas, does my distress not trouble Thine eyes,
that were never wont to rest in slumber?
Thou didst show once, by means of a star,
the newly converted wise men
the proper path to travel.
Ah, lead me by the light of Thine eyes,
for this path promises naught but danger.

3. Aria (Tenor)
The foam-crested billows of Belial's waters
redouble their rage.
A Christian, it is true,
should rise up like waves,
when winds of sorrow surround him,
but the raging flood seeks
to weaken the power of faith.

4. Arioso (Bass)
O ye of little faith, why are ye so fearful?

5. Aria (Bass)
Be silent, O towering sea!
Be still, storm and wind!
Let a boundary be set you,
that my own chosen child
should never suffer harm.

6. Recitative (Alto)
Happy am I, my Jesus speaks,
my Helper has awoken,
the raging waves,
misfortune's night
and all sorrow must now end.

7. Chorale
Under Thy protection
I am set free from the assaults
of all my enemies.
Let Satan rage,
let the foe grow bitter,
Jesus will stand by me.
Though lightning cracks and flashes,
though sin and Hell strike terror,
Jesus will protect me.


  • Release date
    27 October 2017
  • Recording date
    21 January 2017
  • Location
    Walloon Church, Amsterdam
  • Violin and direction
    Shunske Sato
  • Soprano
    Marjon Strijk
  • Alto
    Robin Blaze
  • Tenor
    Daniel Johannsen
  • Bass
    Stephan MacLeod
  • Violin 1
    Sayuri Yamagata, Lidewij van der Voort
  • Violin 2
    Annelies van der Vegt, Paulien Kostense, Anneke van Haaften
  • Viola
    Staas Swierstra, Jan Willem Vis
  • Cello
    Lucia Swarts, Ruth Verona
  • Double bass
    Robert Franenberg
  • Recorder
    Martin Stadler, Benny Aghassi
  • Oboe
    Martin Stadler, Peter Frankenberg
  • Bassoon
    Benny Aghassi
  • Organ
    Leo van Doeselaar
  • Harpsichord
    Siebe Henstra
  • Director
    Bas Wielenga
  • Assistant director
    Ferenc Soetman
  • Music recording
    Guido Tichelman, Bastiaan Kuijt, Pim van der Lee
  • Music edit and mix
    Guido Tichelman
  • Camera
    Merijn Vrieling, IMartin Struijf, Chris Reichgelt, Thijs Struick
  • Camera stagiair
    Klazina Westra
  • Lights
    Zen Bloot
  • Lighting assistant
    Henry Rodgers, Teun Pulles
  • Video engineer
    Vincent Nugteren
  • Stagiair video engineer
    Jildert Hof
  • Set technique
    Justin Mutsaers
  • Data handling
    Jesper Blok
  • Projectmanager NEP
    Jochem Timmerman
  • Interview
    Onno van Ameijde, Marloes Biermans
  • Producer concert
    Imke Deters
  • Producer film
    Jessie Verbrugh

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