Composed in November of 1723, Bach O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort, BWV 60 became an enormous favorite among the fin de siècle intelligentsia in Vienna. The final chorale, perhaps the most extreme of any chorale setting, was the backbone of the Berg Violin Concerto. The Austrian expressionistic poet, painter and playwright Oskar Kokoshka, sketched an astonishing series of drawings based upon the cantata and its dialogue between Fear and Hope. The content of this dialogue is one of the most intense, neurotic and immeshed thirteen minutes of music ever written. This exploration into the human psyche seemed to fascinate Bach as is evident in a few other cantatas (BWV26, 70, 90) that precede Advent.In the first movement the icy-cold chorale "O Ewigkeit du Donnerwort" appears in the alto voice (fear), doubled by a horn, above trembling strings and a hysterical tenor. An even more unstable recitative follows in which Fear sings a tragic, agonizing and forever searching melisma on the word “torture”.  This leads directly to the bony and unpleasant duet with violin and oboe d'amore. Jagged dotted rhythms and slippery scale passages live together in an uneasy truce. Hope, significantly, has the final word; his melodic line continuing after Fear has spoken. In the recitative/arioso that follows, the voice of the Holy Ghost appears more as an arbiter than a comforter. The opening whole tone scale and disjunct phrase lengths of the final chorale are hair-raising in their instability. The text, however, does offer some kind of comfort in its acceptance of death.  

© Craig Smith & Ryan Turner


Bach Cantata BWV 60 was an enormous favorite among the fin de siecle intelligentsia in Vienna. The final chorale, perhaps the most extreme of any chorale setting, was the backbone of the Berg Violin Concerto. Oskar Kokoshka sketched an astonishing series of drawings based upon the cantata and its dialogue between fear and hope. The drawings are mostly autobiographical and the female figure in the drawings bears too much resemblance to Alma Mahler to be coincidental. Kokoshka and Alma Mahler had one of the most scandalous affairs in turn-of-the-century Vienna. The content of our dialogue between fear and hope does seem tailor-made for the neuroses of Freudian Vienna. It is one of the most intense and immeshed thirteen minutes of music ever written. In the first movement the icy-cold chorale "O Ewigkeit du Donnerwort" appears in the alto voice above trembling strings and an hysterical tenor. An even more unstable recitative leads to the bony and unpleasant duet with violin and oboe d'amore. Jagged dotted rhythms and slippery scale passages live together in an uneasy truce. The voice of the Holy Ghost appears more as an arbiter than a comforter. The famous final chorale's words offer some kind of comfort but the music is hair-raising in its instability.

©Craig Smith