Bach: The Cantatas

Bach Cantatas

-Sunday 12th September-2021-15th Sunday after Trinity-J.S.Bach BWV 99-,Was Gott tut, du ist wohlgetan.’

Sep 6, 2021

A 6 movement cantata, with opening chorale fantasia, 2 x recits, 2 x arias and closing chorale.

Four soloists, a four-part chorus -with reinforcing cornetto, supporting opening chorale tune, usual strings and continuo -and extensive use of transverse flute, -movement 3, which is then joined by a single Oboe d’amore, -movement 5. Closing chorale, as usual accompanied by full band of instrumental and vocal forces.

1/ (choral fantasia with choral tune)

From 20, the first line or cantus firmus, of the hymn:

,Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan’

‘What God does, is well done.’

intoned by the soprano voice, supported and reinforced, by that lone cornetto.

The opening string melody is cleverly derived from this tune, is concerto-like in character and sets the scene for three events:

-the entry of two solo instruments, -the hearing of the words, -the joy at, the hearing of those words.

And sure enough, firstly, after 16 bars of ‘ripieno’ introduction, we hear two solo instruments, a chanting Oboe d’amore and a fluttering Flute.

Secondly, we hear the words of the text, -here, stated, from the second line:

‘His will is just and lasts forever. However He acts, on my behalf, I shall stand by Him, calmly. He is my God, who sustains me, when I am in destress. That is why I let Him rule me.’

and thirdly, we hear -and see, a picture of the joyful character, painted by Bach’s dancing charges, and dancing precisely, with their repetitive phrases and charming, drooping sequences, building textures towards prepared dissonances.

A prevailing wind of calm sustenance, is enhanced by the prevailing winds, of the orchestration, a flute and oboe concertino.

I was immediately put in mind, again, of France, though, this time, not the world of painter Watteau, but of composer Messiaen and his oiseaux exotique, bursting with the rich and exotic sounds of so much varied bird-song.

Birdsong is in the air, the beauty of creation and all its habitants, celebrated, by Bach, in Baroque splendour.

This morning, Bach reveals himself, in the guise, of an aviarius, a bird keeper, although, not that of the light weight, Mary Poppins type, or even of a more respectable although lightweight, Papageno, but that of a heavy weight, a sort-of, latter day St Francis, feeding the birds of creation. -and by no-means just a cheap ‘tuppence-a-bag’ experience- And in doing so, nourishing and nurturing an avarian soundscape, the chattering and the chirping and the chanting, of life and grace.

It is worth noting, also, that, our two solo concertino instruments, are sometimes supported, -albeit part-time, but with due care and consideration, by a first violin, creating a, sometimes, much needed three-part-texture. In fact, the ripieno and concertino groups are not exclusive, and all instruments participate in one or the other.

The continuo, innovative as always, uses the opening figuration, in bass imitation.

Bach seems to be willing to combine all and sundry. His skills as a chemist are beyond measure and measurement.


‘His word of truth, stands secure. It will not deceive me, because I know the faithful will never fall, or perish.’

We are taken aback, with the grim determination of this setting, which somehow seems to miss the ease, that, the believing of these words, might make, to life, maybe rendering it, somewhat less determined and more determining?

However, a sense of humour is awakened, as our singer suggests, -albeit with a certain hollow faith, that if misfortune may appear, with God’s help, he might be able to say:

‘My bad luck turns around.’


,Mein Unglück wenden.’

Because of this, he is so pleased with himself, that, in the last three-and-a-half-bars, Bach gives him a chance to strut and swagger around, really in a rather sad sort of way, as he sings his rather tame and predictable coloratura.

3/Aria: flute and tenor:

Did Bach have a super-duper flautist, flying around or would he have written this part for the regular crew, in any case?

‘Do not shake, despondent soul, when the taste of the cross, is so bitter, to you..’

As we listen to this aria, -with its bird-song, this time, really in the guise of Papagano’s pipes, with its faithful representation, of the textual ‘affects’, written into the text- it is impossible, not to hear the audacious chromaticism, -bars 3 and 11- that Bach writes into the part.

But, surely this is, in itself, no ‘shaking’, but, rather, precise walking steps, -yes, unsuccessful, at first- out of some outrageous and tricky pyrotechniques, framed by those even more tricky demi-semi-quavers, -so precariously balanced and with little support- that, themselves, represent troubled times.

These are those shakings, so easily left behind, with and through, those precise chromatic steps.

‘God is your wise physician and works wonders. He can never dish out any deadly poison to you, although, it may be, that, its sweetness, does lie, hidden and concealed and perhaps, needs to be searched for?’

Our singer, shakes and rattles his way, through a vocal part, that is as varied as that of the flute’s, -chromaticism’s, runs, rests, awkward leaps, leaning appoggiaturas, etc, etc.

Although singing, -and speaking, and trying to reassure, that flute, reminds the singer that, at any moment, tottering over, into the mire, is certainly, a possibility.


‘God is your wise physician’

the singing bucks up, with a power and a passion, although, unfortunately, lingering, with some vocal pryotechniques, over and around, that fatal poison, -fatal for a singer, but fatal-attraction, for our bird singing flute, who, rising higher and higher, with not a care for any earth-bound depressive human, drops, instantly, any dead weight.

our singer tries desperately, to charm this bird, out of its tree, with some of that ‘hidden sweetness‘, but, it is all too little and too late and both are doomed, -bar 111, flattened second, C major in E minor- to, at very best, the inevitable repetition, in the form of a da-capo.


‘Now, the covenant, that was contracted, from eternity, remains, the ground of my faith. It says, -and that with confidence, God is my light and to Him, I submit. Although each day, has its suffering, and when that has been endured, -when we have wept enough- then, at last, will come, the time of deliverance, when God’s faithful disposition, will finally appear.’

As before, although, this time, with alto voice instead of bass, this is a somewhat serious declamation, of, basically, good news.

And, as before, that last line, this time:

‘…that day of salvation, will appear, at last, when God’s true will appears.’

is delivered, naively or not, with a little less of that dark seriousness, with a slight kick of the heels, seemingly, in order.


‘When the bitter sorrows, of the cross, struggle with the weakness, of the flesh, it is, nonetheless, beneficial. Whoever, through false delusion, considers the cross, too heavy to be borne, will have no pleasures, in times to come.’

Two lots of soloists, -flute and oboe and soprano and alto, a quartet of imitative counterpoint, set off this slow, dirge-like march.

But what sort of dirge-like march, is it?

The highly chromatic line, -movement 3 and the highly evocative harmony, -movement 1, combine, sometimes and particularly towards the finish, with great beauty, but generally, this aria, is not, in, or of, the ‘fluttering and chirruping of the chatter of optimism’ type, but the grinding and griping, of the bitter sorrows of the bitterness of the cross.

Bach sees that, this text, can be read and received, in a negative way, and he chooses, to illustrate, that view.

How well he knows his own and humanity’s condition and he illustrates the many facets of human weakness, -slow, trill-like, appoggiaturas perhaps showing weakness, of the flesh.


Listen out for, at 35, the exquisite beauties of,

‘…those pleasures, in times to come…’,

that will of course be the joy of those who believe them, to be possible.

The G# at 37, is a stroke of genius, melisma and antiphonal juggling, taken over from the orchestral ping-ponging, from the start-tantalising, go-on, to prolong those pleasures, almost taken out of the constrictions of time and beyond anything that we may feel, is humanly, or spiritually, possible.

‘The dance to the music of time.’ (Poussin)

Bach at his very very best.


‘What God does, is well done. I will abide by that. Although I walk a rough road, in affliction, death and misery, God will -and in a fatherly manner, hold me in His arms. That is why, I let Him, alone, prevail over me.’

The final chorus, fully orchestrated and fully bloodied, in richness of sound and soul, seems, strangely, to be, detached, from its last line, until, of course, we realise, that, this last line of text, in keeping with Bach’s reading of this whole text, can be read in two different ways, resolution or opposition…

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