Bach: The Cantatas

Bach Cantatas

– Septuagesima – Sunday 5th February 2023 – J.S Bach cantata BWV 144 – ,Nimm, was dein ist und gehe hin’ –

Feb 4, 2023

Strangely, in the Neuen Bach-Ausgabe, this cantata is headed-up, as ‘Concerto’, although concertante elements are really no where to be seen…or are they…?
Certainly not in the opening chorus.

The oboe orchestra, joined by a single oboe d’amore, features the usual additions of continuo and chorus/soloists, although there is no bass vocal solo aria or recit. .
But there are 2 x chorales, although it is doubtful, considering the short length of the whole, that this cantata would have been considered as having two real parts.


‘Take what is yours and be on your way,

It is a fact that there are no independent orchestral parts, or concertante elements, in this opening motet and this has cast doubt on Bach as the composer.
Leaving that aside, it seems to me that this is one of the most concise, brilliantly conceived, -in form, structure and content- and satisfying short movements that Bach ever penned.

The arresting three bar opening phrase, is the kernel of the whole conception and the continuation of this, reveals all the other ingredients,
-crochet and quaver, as opposed to minim motion, upward travel, mainly quaver dominated, tied over syncopation and imitative ‘fugal’ writing.

The overlapping of entries, imaginative use of ‘countersubject’ material,
-this setting off a chain reaction at bar 15 through 21 and expressive use of the tie, 21 through 26, make this setting not only a joy to hear, but also one to view, and a score that is worthy of considerable close study. The cascades of contrapuntal excellence is the reason that this music sounds as it does. A total analysis id needed, -a vertical cross-section and linear ‘long-view’, at both the smallest and the longest increments-, to really get to grips with what is going on in this extremely fine movement, something which falls outside the time-frame of these notes.


‘Do not murmur, dear Christian,
when your wish is not fulfilled,
Be content with what God has done for you,
because He knows best.’

Rich strings feature in this minuet-like alto aria and a murmuring attitude is prevalent in the inner accompaniment, second violin + viola, culminating in a strong rising/falling/rising/falling bass line, bars 4, through 7, at the half close. The second half, 9 through 13, shows more murmured repeated bass notes and this is further repeated and elongated, 49, through 52.
At 53, chromatism and syncopation colour the pain of unfulfillment, culminating in rising the rising voice, 60, through 61, akin to the bass lines of bars 4 and 37.

Every minuet must have its trio and such a one seems to emerge, 79, where the orchestration is cut down to the continuo-bone, with bar-length insertions, 82, 86, 100 and 102.
Elsewhere, strings muse upon upwardly murmuring bass-line material, and throughout this pleading-contentment section, those bass line mummering’s continue to make their voice heard, the whole of this trio-like moment, underlined and undermined, with background murmurings. The new first violin counter-melody, 106, through 110, is noteworthy and a balancing figure for an extreme rising and falling bass line, this whole passage, continuing on to the end, shorn of violin support and left only with the vocal part, this time, generating 2 x bars of 6/4, 111, through 114.

Mummering can only lengthen in time.  .


‘What God deals out, is dealt well,
His will is eternally just.
Whatever He works-out for me,
I shall just accept, calmly.
He is my God, who, in difficult times,
looks after me.
I shall let him have His way.’

Bountiful justice and support in times of trouble, this is a simple and magnanimous truth, reflected with a simple humble harmony.
The upward rise in alto and tenor, end of bar 2, is copied, by the bass, beginning of 3 and the turn of the soprano, last beat of 1, through first three, of 2,  is repeated, last of 2, through first three, of 3. and underpinned, with alto and bass thirds, bar 3. The stroke of genius, ‘C’, ‘C sharp’, on ‘…He is my God…’, 9, is bringing a reality to the moment of truth, D major leading to e minor, 10, the moment of trouble, leading onto the sublime rest of the truth-of-sustenance and upholding, bar 12, via, of course descending bass lines, 10, through 11, through 12, imitated, firstly by altos, downward and then tenors, upward…and then downward, all rounded off, in the perfection of beautiful looking….and sounding harmony, 13, through 14,
-a musical ‘Let-Him’.

We must try to remind ourselves that this sort of ‘working-of-notes’, is stunning, but that it runs the risk, especially in these days, of becoming, even in our ears, frightfully commonplace.


‘Wherever contentment is the guide and the lead,
there, everybody is satisfied with what God is doing.
But wherever discontent is ruling, grief and worry rule.
and hearts will not be happy,
and people will be forgetting,
that what God does, He does well.’

The musical line rises and falls (note well bar 7), in total line with the text, although, ‘…und mangedenket nicht daran;’ is as unsatisfying and forgetful, as it is discontented.
The arioso ending, with text from the chorale, is as serious as the opening is knowing.


‘In this life, contentment, is a treasure
that brings pleasure in times of great sadness.
It is always pleased with what God does.’

This treasure of contentment, takes on a shape that is, at first, dotted, on the one hand, then balanced and with a glut of semiquavers, on the other, these semi’s augmenting, by one whole crochet beat, bar 4, with ending leaps, of 7th’s. Phrase lengths, sound longer after 4, but are, in fact, the same length, the last beat energized by those extra semiquavers.

At the vocal entry, 7, the voice settles into downward drops, as the d’amore weaves, lingering on the sorrow, bar 12.

The voice is well pleased, 18 and fulfilled,
-with God’s dealings, 20. Contentment rules the moment, 26, through 28 and beyond and as this is an envelope verse, the flow continues, Bach dispensing with any hint of a da capo, repeating the text, with different vocal and wind inflections and even reducing and compressing the opening kernel, rather spectacularly, the last beat-and-a-half of 36, through to the first three beats of 37,
-and finally foreshortening the closing bars, form 6, to 4.


‘May my God’s will always be done,
-His will, that is always best.
He is ready to help those who faithfully believe in Him.
He helps those in need,
-this righteous God
and corrects with fairness.
Whoever trusts in Him, builds on Him and will not be abandoned.’

This chorale is full of excitement, starting with the F sharp in the alto, that just manages to clash with the soprano ‘E’, bar 4/8, ‘…,ist…’ and ‘…glauben…’, but not long enough to be a problem, Bach, of course approaching and quitting both, with due care and attention.  ‘…correction, with fair and just measure…’, bars 13, through 15, is laden with chromatic spice and the next phrase, ‘…whoever trusts…’, begins in the shakes, but ends, 17, in a triumph. the last phrase, ‘…will not be forsaken…’, is a true shocker, deflating like a part balloon, bar 20 and in the breath-taking process, leading us to really wonder about the very words we have been singing.

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