Bach's appointment as organist to the ducal court at Weimar in 1708 made no formal demands on him to compose cantatas; during his early years there he produced only a few occasional works. Following his promotion to concertmaster in the spring of 1814, he was required to compose and perform one cantata each month. Cantata No. 172 ("Ring out, ye songs"), for Whit Sunday (the feast of Pentecost), was the third of these works, first performed in the ducal chapel on May 20, 1714. Although Bach composed three other cantatas for Pentecost (Nos. 59, 74, and 34), BWV 172 seems to have been a particular favorite of the composer's, being revived and revised by him several times after he took up his cantorship in Leipzig.
The text, like those of the majority of the cantatas Bach composed in Weimar, is probably the work of the Weimar court librarian and poet Salomo Franck. Formally it departs from the older style of through-composed Biblical cantatas Bach had written in his pre-Weimar days, introducing closed forms such as the recitative and da capo aria.
In keeping with the festive spirit of the day, the cantata opens with a brilliantly joyous four-part chorus with trumpets and timpani. A short bass recitative -- the only one in the cantata -- leads to a da capo aria in which the bass asks the Holy Trinity to "enter into us." The powerful plea is supported by three obligato trumpets; Bach takes this trinity symbolism a step further by writing the vocal part mainly in intervals of a third. This leads to another aria, this time for tenor, and in a completely contrasting mood. Here, gently flowing strings create a mood of tranquility, "wafting the soul" on the breath of the Holy Spirit. The following duet for soprano and alto takes the form of a dialogue between the impatient Soul and the Holy Spirit. It employs the kind of neo-erotic language often used in such duets, its "purified happiness" (as described by Albert Schweitzer) counterpointed by an ornamented version of Martin Luther's chorale "Veni creator Spiritus," heard first on the oboe, later on the organ. The cantata concludes with a strophe from Philip Nicolai's beautiful chorale "Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern."