This cantata is one of those early Bach works whose origins are rather a mystery. Its date of composition is unclear: recent scholarship suggests Bach may have written it during his Weimar years, 1708-1714, though some musicologists have dated the work to 1706 or earlier, making it a product of Bach's Arnstadt service. In any event, this cantata is among the earliest of Bach's to survive, very possibly the sixth in chronological order out of his 200 or so completed church cantatas. Another mystery surrounding the work: like other Bach cantatas (BWV 117 for example), it is not known for what specific occasion the work was composed.
The cantata is cast in seven movements and typically lasts about 15 minutes. It is scored for chorus, soprano, alto, tenor, bass, and a chamber group consisting of bassoon, violin, cello, double bass, and continuo. The musical writing and text are quite unusual among Bach's cantatas: the instrumental scoring is not only sparse, but the chorus is uncommonly prominent, appearing in four of the seven movements; the text mixes Biblical verses and poetry, a somewhat unusual feature in early Bach cantatas.
The brief first movement presents a somber instrumental introduction. Some musicologists suggest this cantata is really in six movements, with the first actually serving as a ritornello for the second. The chorus in the second panel, "Nach dir, Herr, verlanget mich" (For Thee, Lord, is my desire), presents the title music, so to speak. These words are derived from Psalm 25, and movements four and six draw on that source, as well. The remaining choral and vocal movements use poetry from an anonymous source.
The mood in the second movement is also rather somber and the pacing slow, but for a brief Allegro section. The ensuing soprano Aria is brighter in mood, as is the choral music that follows in the fourth movement. Here, the chorus alternates slower with faster music, while Bach deftly moves from the bass regions in the opening thematic material to the higher registers, as if to suggest an ascension toward the heavens, toward God.
The fifth movement is a trio or terzetto (alto, tenor, and bass in this instance), a seldom-used combination in Bach's vocal music. The three sing above rhythmic, scurrying strings and impart a mixture of energy and joy.
The final movements are choral, with the sixth having a somewhat somber character as the text looks to the Lord to "pluck my foot from the net's confinement." The seventh movement is brighter, both in music and text ("Christ...Helps me daily win the battle"). It is a chaconne and features a repeating theme that Johannes Brahms would famously use in the finale of his Fourth Symphony.