All of Bach: a project by the Netherlands Bach Society

Jesus schläft, was soll ich hoffen

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

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

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




unknown, psalm 10:1 and Matthew 8:26, chorale by Johann Franck (1653)

fourth Sunday after Epiphany

First performance
30 January 1724

Cast & Crew

release date 27 October 2017
recording date 21 January 2017
LOCATION Walloon Church, Amsterdam
conductor and violin 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
Producer concert Imke Deters
producer film Jessie Verbrugh
Interview Onno van Ameijde

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

Jesus sleeps, what hope is there for me?
Can I not see
with ashen countenance
death's abyss gaping wide?

2. Recitative

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

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

O ye of little faith,
why are ye so fearful?

5. Aria

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

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.


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