'Der Geist hilft unser Schwachheit auf' by J.S. Bach

In each of our first four seasons, we have performed a motet by Johann Sebastian Bach. To date we have performed:

  • Lobet den Herrn, alle Heiden (Praise the Lord, all heathens),
  • Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied (Sing to the Lord a new song),
  • Komm, Jesu, Komm (Come, Jesu, Come); and
  • Fürchte dich nicht, ich bin bei dir (Fear not, I am with you)

For our fifth anniversary season, we are very excited to offer Der Geist hilft unser Schwachheit auf (The Spirit gives aid to our weakness), as we continue to deepen our understanding and relationship with these beautiful motets. 

"The text highlights the idea of asking for strength of spirit in our weakness and troubles, which takes a lot of faith," says Timothy Shantz, founding director of Luminous Voices. "While the motet may not necessarily fit the theme of 'Leap of Faith' perfectly, one never needs an excuse to perform Bach's music."

Come hear Luminous Voices breathe life into the music of J.S. Bach on Sunday, February 25! Reserve your tickets today!


Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) and Johann Heinrich Ernesti (1652-1729)

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) and Johann Heinrich Ernesti (1652-1729)

In 1723, Bach applied for the position of cantor (choirmaster) at St. Thomas School in Leipzig. The school's rector at the time was Johann Heinrich Ernesti, a Saxon philosopher, Lutheran theologian, Latin classicist and poet.

Ernesti died in 1729. For his memorial service held at Paulinerkirche, the church on the University of Leipzig campus, Bach composed Der Geist hilft unser Schwachheit auf.

The text is taken from the Epistle to the Romans (Romans 8: 26-27), while the text for the chorale is the third stanza of a hymn for the feast of the Pentecost by Martin Luther, entitled Come Holy Ghost, God and Lord (Komm Heiliger Geist, Herre Gott). Ernesti himself had chosen the text from the epistle for the funeral sermon. Note, however, that the motet does not sound morose, despite having been composed for a funeral.

Luminous Voices and the Bach motets

With this performance of Der Geist hilft, Luminous Voices will have performed five of the six motets authenticated to J.S. Bach.

"The motets teach so much to listeners and performers alike," says Timothy Shantz, founding director of Luminous Voices. "The musical ideas are brilliantly displayed. The essence of the text shines through in every note. Every musical gesture, every phrase and the virtuosity requires the most of us as performers."


Translation by Francis Browne (2008)
Source: Bach Canatas Website
Accessed: 05 February 2018

Der Geist hilft unser Schwachheit auf,
denn wir wissen nicht,
was wir beten sollen,
wie sich's gebühret;
sondern der Geist selbst vertritt uns
aufs beste mit unaussprechlichem Seufzen.
Der aber die Herzen forschet,
der weiß, was des Geistes Sinn sei;
denn er vertritt die Heiligen nach dem,
das Gott gefället.

Du heilige Brunst, süßer Trost
Nun hilf uns, fröhlich und getrost
In deinem Dienst beständig bleiben,
Die Trübsal uns nicht abtreiben.
O Herr, durch dein Kraft uns bereit
Und stärk des Fleisches Blödigkeit,
Dass wir hie ritterlich ringen,
Durch Tod und Leben zu dir dringen.
Halleluja, halleluja.

The spirit gives aid to our weakness,
For we do not know
What we should pray,
As we ought to pray;
But the spirit itself pleads for us
in the best way with inexpressible groans.
But he who searches our hearts knows
what the Spirit means
since he pleads for the saints
In the way that pleases God.

You sacred warmth, sweet consolation,
now help us joyful and comforted
in your service, always to remain
do not let sorrow drive us away!
O Lord, through your power make us ready
and strengthen the feebleness of our flesh
so that we may bravely struggle
through life and death to reach you!
Alleluia, alleluia.