Chapter 13 BWV 72 Alles nur nach Gottes Willen
All things are just as God wills.
Chorus--recit/arioso (alto)--aria (alto)--recit (bass)--aria (sop)--chorale.
For the third Sunday after Epiphany.
There are four extant cantatas written for this day. C 73 was composed for the first Leipzig cycle (chapter 38) and opens with a chorus of substance and originality incorporating metrical recitative passages. Its fundamental theme is the need to accept the will of the Almighty. C 111 is one of the chorale cantatas from the second cycle (chapter 36), beginning with a raging, swirling, minor-mode fantasia of enormous energy and exploring a similar theme. C 72 continues the tradition of beginning the cantatas for this day with an imposing chorus, later to be broken in C 156 (vol 3, chapter 40), probably first heard in 1729 (Dürr p 212). There Bach requires the chorus for the closing chorale only and returns to the practice of commencing with an instrumental sinfonia, an arrangement of the slow movement of the keyboard concerto in Fm, itself probably originating from a lost violin concerto.
C 72 is another work that suggests that Bach may have been in the habit of looking over the scores of previous cantatas written for the same day; Dürr (p 208) points out the similarities in the libretto for this and the earlier C 73. Furthermore, the opening choruses of Cs 72 and 111 are in the same key (Am), they both begin with two forceful crotchets on the same notes (a and e) and each is carried along with torrents of semi-quaver passages.
Finally, the two works are linked by the fact that Bach uses the same chorale to close them and to form the basis of the C 111 fantasia.
But if the listener feels any sense of déjà vu about the first movement of C 72 it is probably because it is known from a different context. Bach later re-used it for his popular Mass in G minor BWV 235. Both the spirit of the original setting and its marked rhythmic structure made it entirely suitable for the later setting of the Gloria.
C 72, first performed in Jan 1726, was the last original cantata that Bach presented in the Leipzig churches for almost four months. Instead, he performed eighteen cantatas by Johann Ludwig Bach (Wolff pp 281/2) returning to a more regular presentation of his own works for the important Easter celebrations. To what extent he planned a sabbatical of this kind is not known. But if he did prepare for it, he would almost certainly have wished to withdraw, albeit temporarily, with an impressive work and to return with one equally imposing. Bach was a proud man, well aware of his musical abilities and, as the incumbent Cantor, he would not have wished his works to be compared unfavourably with another’s.
The break would certainly have given him a breathing space and time to prepare his next batch of cantatas, several of which are extremely impressive works. The magnificent sinfonia for C 146 (chapter 14), albeit an arrangement, speaks for itself and, although the cantatas for, and following, Easter of 1726 appear to have no obvious uniting principle, it is interesting that in C 129 (chapter16) Bach returned to the chorale/fantasia format for the important date of Trinity.
We may also remind ourselves that the St Matthew Passion was to receive its first performance for the Easter celebrations of the following year and Bach, in addition to his ongoing duties, must have also been composing it at this time.
The characteristics of the opening chorus of C 72 that immediately strike the ear are the two marked crotchet chords (continuo and oboes) and the stream of violin semi-quavers.
The latter has been crafted in order to carry the word alles----all----thus stressing the universality of the message----all things, just as God wills them. The bustling of the strings (and later voices and oboes) reinforces this message; God wills everything from joy and sorrow in times good and bad. The breathless energy of the ritornello (somewhat lightly scored with just the pair of oboes added to the strings and continuo) is taken up by the choir, the rolling semiquavers quickly becoming plosive quavers, allowing the voices to give forceful emphasis to the message----nur nach Gottes Willen----according to God’s will (from bar 19).
Once the choir enters, it sings almost continually to the end, two massive blocks separated only by six bars of the ritornello (bars 55-60). A new idea (bar 61) is stated imitatively in the order sopranos, basses, altos and tenors but note that the two punctuating ‘alles’ chords remain as part of the main instrumental support. The text now affirms our continuing comfort in times of good and bad weather and one cannot miss the swirling of semi-quavers (again imitative, from the basses upwards from bar 76) on the word----Gewölk----clouds. It appears to have been a particularly tempestuous day!
The movement ends with the confident reiteration of the acceptance of God’s will, the two crotchet chords and persistent quaver assertion resounding throughout. Bach clearly wants to leave this message ringing in our ears since there is no repetition of the tumultuous ritornello at the end.
It will not surprise those who have been following through the cantatas of this cycle, especially when approaching the alto recitative, that the libretto was by Salomo Franck (Dürr P 208), . Bach set several of the texts by this poet with whom he had previously collaborated, possibly as a tribute following his death the previous year. Mention has been made of Franck’s predilection for lists (see Cs 168 and 165, chapters 2 and 4). Here we find him at it again!
The opening lines are set as the simplest of secco recitative, for the most part above a held note of c----the true Christian’s will unites with that of His God’s in every circumstance. At this point Bach moves to a tender arioso for the setting of Franck’s list of the positive aspects of God’s resolve: obedience, contentment, freedom from pain, happiness, purity, the act of blessedness; all are catalogued and all are set, marked and unified by a falling scale figure heard on voice and continuo (from bar 7 and later, from bar 28, inverted).
Bars 7-8. Bars 28-32.
Three bars of recitative conclude the movement as the alto affirms that, be it God’s will, His spirit will infuse the soul eternally even beyond life and physical existence. The movement ends on an imperfect (unfinished) cadence which leads us to Dm, the key of the alto aria. But equally significantly it suggests the everlasting nature of the Lord’s supportive and pervading Spirit.
The aria is another of Bach’s original movement structures, loosely based upon the ritornello principle but combining it with a reiterated ‘motto’ theme for specific emphasis. A fine example of this approach is to be found in the soprano and bass duet from C 79 (chapter 5) which begins with a four-bar assertion----Ah God, do not forsake your children evermore. What follows is a textbook ritornello movement but the strong motto theme is repeated, unaltered, throughout.
In C 72 the principle is the same. The significant opening line states unequivocally----everything I am and have, I entrust to Jesus. The soprano sings this at the beginning of the movement, lightly accompanied by the continuo so as to obscure nothing of the message.
This ‘motto’ phrase is heard four more times (beginning in bars 17, 27, 42 and 68). It is always sung at the same pitch and in the same key although not always to the same words. Nevertheless, it conveys the fundamental notion underpinning not only the aria but, indeed, the entire cantata.
Following the motto, first and second violins and continuo present their imitative semi-quaver theme under which a further motive (an octave leap up to a note played three times and then falling one note) is heard, firstly in the continuo in bar 5, but latterly assuming importance in all parts.
Both ideas are almost certainly derived from the last lines of the stanza-----my mind and soul may not be capable of fathoming His purpose but He may yet lead me through the paths of roses and thorns. The motive described ideally expresses the sense of personal inadequacy, yet still a stretching out to grasp that which is offered. The continuous string quavers suggest both the all-encompassing benefice we seek to receive from the Almighty and the complexities of the route we must follow in order to achieve it. There is a moment of passing word painting with a briefly convoluted vocal line at the mention of the ‘thorns’ (bar 62).
The final ritornello statement is extended, first and second violins amicably competing with each other over a gently pulsating continuo figure. The effect is one of ultimately winding down. The struggles are forgotten, or becoming less significant as we make progress along the pathway towards the desired objective of simple, unquestioning faith and trust.
The soprano and alto voices are most favoured in this cantata but the second recitative is devoted to the words of the Almighty himself and so it is appropriate to introduce the voice of authority, the bass (there are no tenor solos). The text exhorts us to have faith because He has told us that He will do as asked----He will stretch forth His hand, alleviate our sufferings, strengthen the weak and enter our hearts without condescension. The recitative ends on the chord of G major, beckoning us towards the C major key of the penultimate movement, a second aria for soprano now taking on the persona of the Soul.
It is, perhaps, slightly surprising in retrospect just how much of this muscular cantata is set in minor modes. It is a sturdy, powerful work that has none of the tragic overtones of C 13 from the previous week, yet this is the only movement set in the major. The range of expressive character that Bach could wring from minor modes is quite extraordinary.
One oboe returns to support voice and strings in a movement that at first seems more instrumental dance than aria. Of the 94 bars, the voice is absent from almost half of them and is heard in only four of the first 32! The message conveyed through the text is important of course, but the character and mood is no less so.
This is a movement which initially conveys qualities of stately and serene purposefulness. It is also a musical statement of great subtleness and structural individuality. It seems as if Bach has taken hold of the text, letting it lead him through musical paths which have no need of conventional, formal constraints.
The text affirms simply and directly that Jesus will do as we have asked and sweeten the crosses that we bear. The A section of the aria, or rather what we might consider it to be were Bach to be writing a conventionally constructed ternary form movement, deals with this reassuring thought and ends at bar 56. This is precisely where we might expect a contrasting middle section to begin and for a moment it seems that this is what Bach has planned. The text touches upon our many afflictions and the caressing of A and E minor is gently suggestive of troubles and sorrow; but this cannot be drawn too overtly because the crux of the message is that these will disappear when we reside in the arms of Jesus. Consequently the musical colouring is lightly textured and delicately drawn.
There are echoes of the first section towards the end but no proper return to it. Notable is, from bar 70, the long, low sad note on ruhn----the rest or repose [that we enjoy in the arms of Jesus]. The ending is particularly effective. After a revised version of the opening ritornello, the voice returns to assert twice the opening phrase----my Jesus will do it!
And there the movement ends, pausing appropriately and positively before the closing chorale.
One cannot leave it, however, without noting the delicious continuo phrase (first heard bars 14/15) heralding the first two vocal entries. It briefly suggests a moment of opera buffo, a hint of the ‘human being’ amidst the setting of the sublime.
Humans may hold a central place in the divine plans of the Saviour but they can still be fallible and foolish.
The chorale returns us to the minor but in a fully robust and extrovert manner. Textually, it is no more than a re-hashing of what has gone before----my God wills that which is best---trust Him as He will reward and discipline us in just measure. Bach contrives to harmonise the eight phrases alternatively in major and minor keys almost certainly with symbolic intent.
Was he looking forward to his sabbatical from composing new cantatas? Might his reasons have been tiredness, indisposition, or a desire to free himself in order to engage in other activities?
But from the evidence of this cantata alone it cannot have been because of any diminution in his powers of inspiration or invention.
Copyright: J Mincham 2010. Revised 2012 and 2014.