Johann Sebastian Bach: Cantata 17

Illustrator of Petrus Comestor's 'Bible Historiale,' The Leper Returns, Koninklijke Bibliotheek, 1372

Wer Dank opfert, der preiset mich
Who gives thanks praises me

Event: Cantata for the 14th Sunday after Trinity;
1st performance: September 22, 1726 - Leipzig
Readings: Epistle Galatians 5: 16-24; Gospel: Luke 17: 11-19
Text: Psalm 50: 23 (Mvt. 1); Luke 17: 15-16 (Mvt. 4); Johann Gramann (Mvt. 7); Anon (Mvts. 2, 3, 5, 6) [Walther Blankenburg suggested Christoph Helm]
Possible Liturgical Use According to the Revised Common Lectionary: Year A - Thanksgiving; Year C - Proper 25 (28)

Cantata 17 performed by: Soprano: Malin Hartelius; Counter tenor: Robin Tyson; Tenor: James Gilchrist; Bass: Peter Harvey; Monteverdi Choir / English Baroque Soloists; John Eliot Gardiner directing; live recording from the Bach Cantata Pilgrimage, at Abbaye d’Ambronay.

To listen, right-click on underlined selections, then left-click on "Open in New Tab.".

First Part

1) Chorus [S, A, T, B]
Oboe I/II, Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo
Who gives thanks praises me
und das ist der Weg,
and this is the way
dass ich ihm zeige das Heil Gottes.
that I show him God's salvation.

2) Recitative [Alto]
The whole world must become a silent witness
Von Gottes hoher Majestät,
of God's exalted majesty,
Luft, Wasser, Firmament und Erden,
air, water, firmament and earth,
Wenn ihre Ordnung als in Schnuren geht;
while they move in order as according to plumb-lines.
Ihn preiset die Natur mit ungezählten Gaben,
Nature praises him with countless gifts
Die er ihr in den Schoß gelegt,
which he has laid in her bosom,
Und was den Odem hegt,
and all who draw breath
Will noch mehr Anteil an ihm haben,
want to have a still greater share in him
Wenn es zu seinem Ruhm so Zung als Fittich regt.
when they stir both tongue and wing to his praise.

3) Aria [Soprano]
Violino I/II, Continuo
Lord, your goodness extends as far as heaven is
Und deine Wahrheit langt, so weit die Wolken gehen.
and your truth reaches as far as the clouds go.
Wüßt ich gleich sonsten nicht, wie herrlich groß du bist,
If I did not already otherwise know how great and magnificent you are,
So könnt ich es gar leicht aus deinen Werken sehen.
then I could see this easily from your works.
Wie sollt man dich mit Dank davor nicht stetig preisen?
How could we not praise you continually for this?
Da du uns willt den Weg des Heils hingegen weisen.
For in return you will show us the way of salvation.

Second Part

Recitative [Tenor]
But one of them, when he saw that he was healed,
kehrete um und preisete Gott mit lauter Stimme
turned back and praised God with a loud voice
und fiel auf sein Angesicht zu seinen Füßen
and fell on his face at his feet
und dankte ihm, und das war ein Samariter.
and thanked him, and this man was a Samaritan.

5) Aria [Tenor]
Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo
What an abundance of kindness
Schenkst du mir!
you bestow on me!
Doch was gibt mein Gemüte
But what does my spirit give
Dir dafür?
to you in return?
Herr, ich weiß sonst nichts zu bringen,
Lord, I know nothing else to bring
Als dir Dank und Lob zu singen.
but to sing thanks and praise to you.

6) Recitative [Bass]
Look at my will, I recognise what I am:
Leib, Leben und Verstand, Gesundheit, Kraft und Sinn,
body, life and understanding, health, strength and mind,
Der du mich lässt mit frohem Mund genießen,
which you allow me to enjoy and rejoice in,
Sind Ströme deiner Gnad, die du auf mich lässt fließen.
are streams of your grace, which you make flow upon me.
Lieb, Fried, Gerechtigkeit und Freud in deinem Geist
Love, peace, justice and joy in your spirit
Sind Schätz, dadurch du mir schon hier ein Vorbild weist,
are treasures through which already here on earth you give me a glimpse beforehand
Was Gutes du gedenkst mir dorten zuzuteilen
of the good you intend to share with me there in heaven
Und mich an Leib und Seel vollkommentlich zu heilen.
and of the perfect salvation you will grant to my body and soul.

7) Chorale [S, A, T, B]
Oboe I/II e Violino I col Soprano, Violino II coll'Alto, Viola col Tenore, Continuo
As a father feels compassion
Üb'r seine junge Kindlein klein:
for his dear little children,
So tut der Herr uns Armen,
so the Lord does for us in our poverty
So wir ihn kindlich fürchten rein.
if we revere him simply him just like children.
Er kennt das arme Gemächte,
He is aware what a feeble race we are,
Gott weiß, wir sind nur Staub.
God knows we are only dust,
Gleichwie das Gras vom Rechen,
like grass before the rake,
Ein Blum und fallendes Laub,
a flower and falling leaves,
Der Wind nur drüber wehet,
the wind has only to blow over it
So ist es nimmer da:
and it is no longer there:
Also der Mensch vergehet,
thus man passes away,
Sein End, das ist ihm nah.
his end is near to him.

Note on the text :

This cantata for the 14th Sunday after Trinity was performed on 22 September 1726. During that year Bach had performed 18 cantatas written by his cousin Johann Ludwig Bach who served at the ducal court of Saxe-Mei­ningen from 1703 to his death in 1731. Ernst Ludwig (1672-1724) the Duke of Saxe-Meiningen, is said to have written two cycles of church cantata texts. Literary and historical evidence suggests that one of these might be the cycle from which Bach drew in composing Cantata BWV 17 ( as well as BWV 39, BWV 43, BWV 45, BWV 88, BWV 102 and BWV 187).These cantatas and those of Johann Ludwig Bach generally follow a typical pattern : the work is shaped by two corres­ponding passages from the Bible, one from the Old Testament and one from the New. The text of Mvt. 1 is from Psalm 50: 23; the fourth movement is based on the passage in St. Luke 17: 15-16 which tells of the Samaritan who, alone among the ten lepers that Jesus cured, returned to give thanks. The main subject of the cantata is therefore gratitude.The first recitative refers to Psalm19: 5. As Z. Philip Ambrose notes “Luther translates "Ihre Schnur gehet aus in alle Lande" ("Their line goeth out into every land"). Luther means here "plumb-line." English versions, following another Hebrew reading, have "voice" or "sound" instead of "line.". I have translated accordingly.Contrary to the normal construction of these cantatas, the text of the first aria for soprano is, strictly speaking, not based on 'free poetry' but on another quotation from the Bible (Psalm 36: 6): 'Thy righteousness standeth like the strong mountains.' This verse serves for the first part of the aria, which then continues with a 'free' strophe.The last recitative refers to Romans 14:17. The cantata ends with the third strophe of the hymn Nun lob, mein See/, den Herren by Johann Gramann (1530).(information taken from Oxford Composer Companion :J.S. Bach)

The English Translation is by Francis Browne:
Both used by permission.