BWV 238

All of Bach: a project by the Netherlands Bach Society

Sanctus in D major

BWV 238 performed by the Netherlands Bach Society
conducted by Jos van Veldhoven
Walloon Church, Amsterdam

"Many composers go towards simplicity when it comes to express happiness. Not Bach."


Contrary to popular belief, Luther argued for multilingualism in the church.

“I am not at all in sympathy with those who cling to one language and despise all others”, wrote Martin Luther in the introduction to his Deutsche Messe, and “for in no way do I want to banish the Latin tongue entirely from the Service”. Although German usually springs to mind when we think of Bach and Luther, in reality things were more multilingual. Particularly in university cities like Leipzig, Latin remained important in the church. The hymn book by Gottfried Vopelius that was used in Leipzig is full of Latin texts. It contains three versions of the Sanctus: two Gregorian melodies and a six-part setting for major feast days.

Bach himself also had a series of festive Sanctus settings for such occasions; partly his own compositions and partly those of others. The unusual thing about the Sanctus, BWV 238, is that there are only two independent instrumental parts: the bass part and the first violins. The other instruments double the four-part choir. So the whole work is six-part, just like Vopelius’ Sanctus. This is probably due to the biblical source of the Sanctus, as the book of Isaiah tells of seraphim with ‘six wings’ who sing the Sanctus to one another.

Besides Latin and German, Luther would have liked even more variation: “if the Greek and Hebrew tongues were as familiar to us as Latin, […] we should hold mass on successive Sundays in all four languages, German, Latin, Greek and Hebrew.”. The Sanctus itself takes the initiative, beginning with the words “Sanctus dominus Deus sabaoth...”. The last word (meaning “army” or large group”) comes via the Greek Σαβαώθ from the Hebrew צבאות. Luther himself left it at Zebaoth. The more multilingual, the better, he may have thought.


Sanctus (in D major)

Latin church music (part of Mass)



Mass text

Christmas 1723

First performance
25 December 1723

Special notes
probably performed during Bach’s first Christmas in Leipzig during the morning service, along with cantata BWV 63

Cast & Crew

Release date 30 November 2018
Recording date 11 February 2018
Location Walloon Church, Amsterdam
conductor Jos van Veldhoven
soprano Maria Keohane
alto Tim Mead
tenor Daniel Johannsen
bass Matthew Brook
Ripieno soprano Hilde Van Ruymbeke, Marjon Strijk
Ripieno alto Barnabás Hegyi, Marleene Goldstein
Ripieno tenor Kevin Skelton, Guy Cutting
Ripieno bas Drew Santini, Matthew Baker
violin 1 Shunske Sato, Anneke van Haaften, Pieter Affourtit
violin 2 Sayuri Yamagata, Lidewij van der Voort, Paulien Kostense
viola Staas Swierstra, Jan Willem Vis
cello Richte van der Meer, Lucia Swarts
double bass Robert Franenberg
oboe Martin Stadler
bassoon Benny Aghassi
organ Leo van Doeselaar
harpsichord Siebe Henstra
Director and editor Bas Wielenga
Music recording Guido Tichelman, Bastiaan Kuijt, Pim van der Lee
Music recording, edit and mix Guido Tichelman
Camera Merijn Vrieling, Ivo Palmen, Martin Struijf, Bjorn Tiebout
Director of photography Merijn Vrieling
Lights Zen Bloot, Henry Rodgers, Patrick Galvin
Assistant director Ferenc Soeteman
Video engineer Vincent Nugteren
Set technique Dennis van Hoek
Data handling Jesper Blok
Project manager NEP Peter Ribbens
Interview Onno van Ameijde, Marloes Biermans
Producer concert Imke Deters
Producer film Jessie Verbrugh

Vocal Texts


Sanctus Dominus
Deus Sabaoth.
Pleni sunt coeli et terra
gloria eius.


Holy Lord,
God of hosts.
Heaven and earth
are full of your glory.


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