Tilge, Höchster, meine Sünden, BWV 1083

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Tilge, Höchster, meine Sünden
BWV 1083
Psalm cantata by J. S. Bach
EnglishCancel, Highest, my sins
Relatedbased on Pergolesi's 1736 Stabat Mater
Bible textparaphrase of Psalm 51
Published1962 (1962)
  • 2 solo violins
  • 2 violins
  • viola
  • violone
  • cello
  • continuo

Tilge, Höchster, meine Sünden (Cancel, Highest, my sins, or: Lord, annul all my transgressions [1] ), BWV 1083, is a sacred vocal composition by Johann Sebastian Bach. It is an arrangement that Bach made in the 1740s of Pergolesi's Stabat Mater from 1736, slightly expanding the orchestral material. He used a German paraphrase of Psalm 51 as text for his composition. While Bach named the work a Motetto in the autograph, it is rather a psalm cantata, scored for soprano and alto voices, strings and basso continuo. Some of the 14 movements have become traditionally sung by a two-part choir. The work was first published by Hänssler in 1962, and in a critical edition, based on Bach's performance material found only later, by Carus-Verlag in 1989. The work is interesting to scholars as an example how Bach edited music from a different tradition. [2]


History and text

Tilge, Höchster, meine Sünden is a musical parody of the Stabat Mater which Pergolesi had composed in 1736. [3] This setting was successful from the beginning, performed all over Europe and arranged frequently, for example by Johann Adam Hiller as a Passion cantata in 1774 to a translation of the original text by Klopstock. [2]

Bach used a different text, a German paraphrase of the penitential Psalm 51 by an unknown author. [3] [4] [5] The incipit translates as "Cancel, Highest, my sins". [6] Bach wrote his version in the 1740s, slightly expanding the orchestral material. He named it a Motetto (motet) in the header of his manuscript. [7] [8] It is a psalm cantata without assignment to a specific liturgical occasion. [3]

Bach's version was made c. 1745/1747. A first performance in 1746–1747 in Leipzig has been assumed. [6] Bach's performance of Tilge, Höchster, meine Sünden, before Pergolesi's work was printed for the first time in 1748, is the earliest demonstrable performance of this music by Pergolesi in Germany. [9]


Bach structured the 20 stanzas of the poetry in 14 movements: [10]

  1. Tilge, Höchster, meine Sünden (Lord, annul all my transgressions – stanza 1)
  2. Ist mein Herz in Missetaten (When my heart is filled with evil – stanza 2)
  3. Missetaten, die mich drücken (My transgressions still are weighing – stanza 3)
  4. Dich erzürnt mein Tun und Lassen (You despise my deeds and acting – stanza 4)
  5. Wer wird seine Schuld verneinen (Who denies his guilt and sinning – stanzas 5, 6)
  6. Siehe! ich bin in Sünd empfangen (See, we are in sin conceiving – stanza 7)
  7. Sieh, du willst die Wahrheit haben (Yes, you want a truthful freedom – stanza 8)
  8. Wasche mich doch rein von Sünden (Wash me, make me pure from sinning – stanza 9)
  9. Lass mich Freud und Wonne spüren (Let your joy and bliss surround me – stanza 10)
  10. Schaue nicht auf meine Sünden (Do not look on my transgressions – stanzas 11 to 15)
  11. Öffne Lippen, Mund und Seele (Open lips and mouth and spirit – stanza 16)
  12. Denn du willst kein Opfer haben (For you want no off'ring given – stanzas 17, 18)
  13. Lass dein Zion blühend dauern (Let your Zion blossom ever – stanzas 19, 20)
  14. Amen.

Scoring and music

The performance material of Bach's version has parts for voices and instruments, indicated as for Soprano, Alto, Violino Primo, Violino Primo Ripieno, Violino Secondo, Violino Secondo Ripieno, Viola, Violon, Cembalo, Organo. [11] It means soprano and alto voices, two concertante violin parts, two ripieno violin parts, viola, violone, cello using the same music as the violone, and figured parts for both harpsichord and organ. [3] [11] It is unclear if harpsichord or organ would be used depending on a performance place, or both together as was also common practise at the time. [11]

Bach wrote ornamentation and melismas for the voices to express the German text better. The moods and "conceptual traits" [2] of the two texts are similar, but Bach moved Pergolesi's two movement preceding the Amen to an earlier position, having to abandon the key sequence in the process. [2]

Bach's orchestration is richer than Pergolesi's original. Where in Pergolesi's version the viola often plays in unison with the continuo, Bach increases the independence of this instrument, thus creating the four-part harmony typical of his own style. [12] [13]

While most vocal movements are accompanied only by solo instruments (violins, viola and cello), Bach uses all instruments for the movements set in counterpoint, Nos. 9 and 14. This justifies to have a choir sing these movements. Editor Hellmann noted that the opening movement and No 6. might be performed in the same style. [11]

In the Amen fugue, Bach first uses Pergolesi's setting in F minor, but repeats it for a conclusion in F major. [12]


The following table provides for the 14 movements the beginning of the text, the voices involved (S = soprano, A = alto), the marking, key and tempo, following the Carus score: [10]

1Tilge, Höchster, meine SündenS ALargoF minor Commontime.svg
2Ist mein Herz in MissetatenSAndanteC minor3
3Missetaten, die mich drückenS ALarghettoG minor Commontime.svg
4Dich erzürnt mein Tun und LassenAAndanteE-flat major2
5Wer wird seine Schuld verneinenS ALargoC minor Commontime.svg
6Siehe! ich bin in Sünd empfangenS AC minor6
7Sieh, du willst die Wahrheit habenSF minor Commontime.svg
8Wasche mich doch rein von SündenAC minor3
9Lass mich Freud und Wonne spürenS AAllabreveG minor Allabreve.svg
10Schaue nicht auf meine SündenS AAndanteE-flat major Commontime.svg
11Öffne Lippen, Mund und SeeleAAdagio spirituosoG minor Commontime.svg
12Denn du willst kein Opfer habenS ALargoF minor Commontime.svg
13Lass dein Zion blühend dauernS AAllegro (Vivace)B-flat major Commontime.svg
14Amen.S AAllabreveF minor Allabreve.svg


A short score in Bach's autograph is held by the Berlin State Library. [2] A set of parts for voices and instruments, missing a title page, was later found in the same library, [14] written by Johann Christoph Altnickol, with some amendments by Bach. [11]

The composition was forgotten, and probably first mentioned in a letter by organist Karl Straube to Hans-Georg Gadamer in 1946. Critical research followed 15 years later. [2] As only a short manuscript was known then, it was assumed that Bach performed the work from the Pergolesi's original material, and a first publication by Hänssler in 1962 was based on this premise. [2] However, Bach's performance material was found by Alfred Dürr a few years later, and a critical edition based on it was published by Carus-Verlag in 1989, edited by Diethard Hellmann. [15] [16] It was revised in 2017. [16]


Recordings of Tilge, Höchster, meine Sünden include: [6]

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  1. Hellmann 1989, p. 11.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Hellmann 1989, p. 7.
  3. 1 2 3 4 Tilge, Höchster, meine Sünden BWV 1083 at Bach Digital
  4. Lyrics of Tilge, Höchster, meine Sünden at Bach Digital
  5. "Tilge, Höchster, meine Sünden" at The LiederNet Archive
  6. 1 2 3 Tilge, Höchester, meine Sünden at Bach Cantatas Website
  7. "D-B Mus.ms. 30199, Fascicle 14". Bach Digital . Leipzig: Bach Archive; et al. 2020-01-31.
  8. Platen 1961, p. 35.
  9. Jürgen Heidrich. Protestantische Kirchenmusikanschauung in der zweiten Hälfte des 18. Jahrhunderts: Studien zur Ideengeschichte "wahrer" Kirchenmusik, p. 65. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2001 ISBN   978-3-525-27906-9
  10. 1 2 Hellmann 1989, p. 11–12.
  11. 1 2 3 4 5 Hellmann 1989, p. 8.
  12. 1 2 Hellmann 1989, p. 9.
  13. Clemens Romijn. Liner notes for Tilge, Höchster, meine Sünden BWV 1083 (after Pergolesi's Stabat Mater). Brilliant Classics, 2000. (2014 reissue: J. S. Bach Complete Edition. "Liner notes" p. 54)
  14. Hellmann 1989, p. 7—8.
  15. Carus 2023.
  16. 1 2 Hellmann 1989, p. 10.