Johann Sebastian Bach completed his Cantata No. 68, "Also hat Gott die Welt geliebt," BWV 68, in 1725. It was composed for Whit-Monday, and it was part of the second cycle of cantatas that Bach wrote as the cantor for the School of Saint Thomas in Leipzig. The cantata uses different movement forms to create an effective palindrome: chorus, aria, recitative, aria, and chorus. Its texts are from disparate sources, including the local poet Christiane Mariane von Ziegler; this cantata is one of nine by Bach to feature her words prominently.
Ziegler took John 3:16-21 as her point of departure to create a text specifically intended for the occasion of Whit-Monday, demonstrating the possibility of redemption through faith, opening with "God so Loved the World." A hymn by Salamo Liscow from 1675 opens with the same words, and Bach weaves this into the opening chorus as well, as well as the cantus firmus hymn melody by Gottfried Vopelius (1682). The orchestration of this opening chorale is rich, featuring a four-part chorus with the upper parts thickened with doubling oboes and oboe da caccia.
The soprano melody of the first aria is among the most popular melodies of Bach's catalog. It is airy and well-proportioned, enough so to be reminiscent of the period phrasing style of melodic writing to come into its own later in the century. The cello answers the soprano; the two are effectively paired. In the second aria, the bass is coupled with answering oboes and oboe da caccia. Bach actually wrote both of these arias years before this cantata, while he was still working at Weimar. They were originally presented to Duke Christian of Saxe-Weissenfels. Other than a few adjustments, they are the same pieces.
The final movement is a double-fugue motet. In addition to the already bountiful textures of the opening movement, trombones are added to strengthen the lines of the altos, tenors, and basses. The symmetry of this work is delightful for its understatement. It is strikingly cohesive for a work that draws from earlier work by the composer and others, as well as scripture and the words of other poets. This is one of the cantatas that listeners should go out of their way to become acquainted with; it is invulnerable to exhaustion.