Bach: The Cantatas

Bach Cantatas

– third Sunday after Epiphany – 22nd January 2023 – J.S.Bach cantata BWV 111 -,Was mein Gott will, das gscheh allzeit’ –

Jan 21, 2023

Simple orchestration colours this cantata,
-2 x oboes with string orchestra and a 4 part chorus + continuo.


‘My God’s will, must always be done, as it is the best.
He helps those who have strong faith and
those who have needs, because He is righteous, guiding with justice.
Whoever trusts in and relies on Him will not be abandoned.’

This opening choral movement is very typical in design, in that the sopranos present the chorale melody, the same to be heard in the final choral, and the lower parts present elements, or diminutions of this, all of it embedded in the surrounding instrumental texture, mostly itself independent thematically.
This surrounding instrumental texture, is composed  of a sort of motto theme, which dominates,
-2 x crochets followed by a twice repeated quaver-2-semiquaver convolute figuration,
the whole also presented, at the beginning, twice, as a fanfare-like call to the active response that this opening line of text requires.
A familiar exchange, between strings and oboes begin, the former rising, to the latter’s convolution, a faith that is rising, in opposition to a strong and self-centred unbelief.

At each line ending, the lower parts continue on, under the sustained final choral note, for at least another bar, allowing the phrase structure to be somewhat elongated, stretching the textural line forward.
All is tight, musically and an overall effect, or sense of direction is immediately impressed and sustained, on all.

At 32, the bass line changes, loosing its 2 beat rest, becoming more supportive, to the emerging text at 32, ‘…He helps those…’ This ‘help’ idea returns, at 63, where the bass line begins to drop and a sense of the next line of text,’…He helps…’ flows over the listener, as the tonality drops down to d minor and the bass line, firstly and literally, reaching out and then lending that helping hand, dropping the 2 beat rest.

Listen out for the intense orchestration, both choral and orchestra, at 88, through 95, as the text turns to talk of, ‘…guiding with justice/corrects with just measure…’, similar being seen and heard, 56, through 63, ‘…who have strong/firm faith.’

A final version of this intensity occurs, 114, through 119, this time, this time in the light of ‘…will not be abandoned or forsaken.’


‘Do not be afraid, my heart,
God is comfort and confidence
and the life of the soul.
His wise counsel has considered the world
and human might cannot in any way disagree, with that.’

The rhythmically jagged and uneven opening ritornello bass line, is difficult to pin down, as its implied phrase structure and shifting rhythmic emphasis, seem un-centred and wayward.
Mercilessly, our bass singer cannibalized its content, some recognisable elements of the first movement opening oboe motto, littering the landscape.

This difficult aria is a rather bleak rendition of dismay, consoled by comfort, confidence, life and a recognition, that worldliness and human might, can never be a match for wise counsel.


‘Foolish one, who withdraws from God, is like a Jonah,
fleeing before God’s countenance.
To Him, our thoughts are obvious
and He has counted the hairs on our head.
Blessed is the one who takes this protection, in faith,
looking for His word and counsel, with hope and patience.’


‘I walk with energized steps,
-even when going to the grave.
God has recorded my time, so that,
when His hand reaches out to me,
the bitterness of death, shall be pushed aside.’

This dancing Handelian duet, steps out with a dotted gate, for 7 bars, then igniting and energizing itself, for 5, of spirited kicking and leaping.
Both are odd and thus uneven, in length, perhaps foreshadowing an understandable hesitation, in the understanding, of continuing this undoubted joy, right up to the grave side.

The spirited 5 bars, are unbridled outbursts, outwardly joyful, of an ill disciplined soul, one that has been damaged by this common root of the bitterness of death, that has affected at least this one life.

The entry of our two vocalists are joyfully determined, reinforcing their quest, by following the imitative lead, of each other.
The ecstasies of the background and foreground ‘noise’, 24, through 44, is indeed ecstasy, transporting their steps and even us. The music starts to out-do even itself and 6 part orchestral weave, takes on the heart soul and spirit, of the actual words.

This elation continues, 44, through 51, Bach in response, raising  the pitch along with the stakes and at the ‘theme’s’ return, we have all ‘themes’, dotted, spirited and a new violin idea, from 25, again in masterful and real ecstasy, all round.

A  full stop, 98, is perhaps always a good time to allow time to stop.
Bach is having none of it and proceeds to really now raise those stakes, with a vocal virtuosity almost beyond belief, and as time is recorded, there really is no time to breath, so that when this hand reaches out, it is truly a breath-taking moment, although strangely un remarkable to the ear, 103, through 107.
There is here, a tiny short though vital and deliberate, watch-stop, 106.

Nevertheless, the bitterness of death, is pushed aside,
-like most of the band, except the continuo,
107, through, 109.

And so it repeats, until the da capo.


‘When death tears my spirit from my body,
please, O God, take it, in your fatherly care.
When Devil, death and sin attack me
and my deathbed pillow, becomes a battle ground,
help my faith, to be victorious,
so that I might have that longed-for, blessed end.’

This accompanied recit, employing 2 x oboes,
-with ending arioso,
deals, not with the graveside, but the death bed, the battle ground for faith and the blessedness associated with the end.

The opening phrase, of death, seems surprisingly optimistic and relaxed and continues to be so, even through a diminished tearing of the spirit, from the body.
The father’s faithful hand and care, receives it, again in a relaxed and almost faithful way, despite attacks, of devil, death and sin, bars 4, through 5 and this strange moment, where the deathbed-pillow,
-metaphorically, the mind, are revealed, as the real  battleground, 6, through 7.

A bar of an uncertain victory, in uncertain faith, bar 8, gives way, 9, through 12, to a lingering although troubled vision, of a future blessed and desirable end.


‘One more thing, Lord, I would ask:
-and you will not please refuse me-
When evil tempts me, help me not to loose courage.
Help, guide and defend, for the honour, of your name.
Whoever would desire this, it will be granted.
So gladly, we all say, Amen.’

The opening phrase, second bar, contains a nice upward line, first seen in altos, which is immediately picked up, by tenors, a sign perhaps, that what is asked, is always instantly and certainly acknowledged.
An increasing feeling of rising up, bar 3, F sharp/G sharp, in the bass line, lifts this forward prayer, far beyond any possibility, of refusal.
Help, guidance and defence, of the honour of the name, is tinged with an anticipation, that the next line, ‘…whoever desires…will be granted…’, a musical repeat, of the first, seems to calm.

The final phrase, a repeat of the second line up-lift, ends, not with refusal, or a loss of courage, or ‘heart’, but a splendidly well set Amen, albeit, ending in the, certainly at the beginning, slightly ambiguous tonic minor.



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