Chapter 59 BWV 97 In allen meinen Taten
In everything I do.
This is a long cantata consisting of nine movements and lasting, typically, for over half an hour. As with several of the other later chorale/fantasias (e.g. Cs 100, 117 and 192) it does not appear to be linked to a particular event or liturgical date. Dürr, however, suggests that like the others it may have originally been composed to celebrate a wedding (p 788). Wolff (booklet for Ton Koopman′s recording, box 21 p 25) gives the invaluable information that the dated score has the words ′After a Wedding′ latterly crossed out. The assumption must be that this was its initial purpose but it may subsequently have been adapted for liturgical purposes.
It is a generally happy and expansive work with touches of elegiac sadness but with no plumbing of the depths of tragic despair. It contains arias for each of the four voices and a duet for soprano and bass. The theme of the work is fundamentally fatalistic—-it does not matter what I do, aspire to or accomplish, everything will happen as God ordains—-my life and death are entirely in His hands and if I trust in Him; He will protect me. This, however, is not the pessimistic fatalism it might appear to be, quite the reverse. The message is positive—-trust in the God who knows, counsels and protects us in all things. This, as Bach depicts it, is a matter for rejoicing.
Nevertheless, this remains one of Bach′s least performed cantatas. Unknown to most listeners, it has not always had a positive reception from critics, both the ′doggerel′ text and ′uninspiring music′ coming in for criticisms.
The chorale/fantasia is also a French overture, even though it lacks the reprise of the opening section with its characteristic dotted rhythms. Bach used this easily recognizable form in a number of his cantatas, notably C 20 the first of the second Leipzig cycle (chapter 2). The French Overture is an example of a courtly, civilized culture emanating from a society exhibiting a degree of material success. It is likely that Bach had this idea in mind when setting the first stanza—-in all my achievements I allow Him who is Highest to advise me in everything. Bach′s congregational audience would have consisted largely of successful, ambitious people and there may have been a suggestion of this embedded within the musical structure.
On the other hand, Bach may simply have intended the stately opening instrumental section of the overture to act as an appropriately splendid introduction to that which followed, a conventional allegro fugue depicting the busy affairs of mankind. This part of the movement, with its repeated notes in the main theme and trio sections for two oboes and bassoon, is highly reminiscent of the first movement of the first Orchestral Suite.
But the opening sections of these two French overtures are very different in character. That for the first suite is rolling and powerful while that for the cantata is gentler, almost sedate. The rightness and appropriateness of an acceptance of God′s will is implied from the very opening bars.
This idea is used for all entries of the lower voices beneath the soprano chorale, always in imitation. Of note is the variety and symmetry of the order of entries e.g.
Phrase 1 A, T, B. Phrase 4 A, T, B.
Phrase 2 B, T, A. Phrase 5 B, T, A.
Phrase 3 T, A, B. Phrase 6 T, A, B
In addition, the voices enter rapidly after each other (stretto) for the fifth phrase.
Is this just a matter of musical architecture or is it also intended to be symbolic? In fact, it is almost certainly both although one has to speculate about the latter. The stanzas begin with a mention of ′all my accomplishments′ and the busy counterpoint suggests intense activity. It is just as likely, however, that Bach had in mind an all-seeing God showering his wisdom, counsel, blessings and advice down upon mankind.
If this is the case, Bach intends us to note, mark and remember this message. The movement ends with ten bars of energetic instrumental playing around with the fugue subject, not with the more meditative and passive introductory section which the French Overture format would have suggested.
The scene has been set and Bach has laid out the essential premise of the cantata. Following the fantasia comes the time for some introspection and examination of our personal, human situation. The bass aria, without obbligato instrument, is set in the minor mode and informs us that our work and labour shall be in vain since God will ultimately dispose as He wishes.
As is so often the case in these later works, the melodic structure of the ritornello theme, a single continuo line, encapsulates the images and themes expressed in the text. The second and fourth bars contain a sighing figure of resignation, and latterly an expression of effort and venturing upwards—-we strive, but sadly, in vain. Both ideas similarly dominate the vocal line in what is otherwise an uncomplicated ritornello movement.
The short tenor recitative simply tells us that we can accomplish nothing but that which God has ordained. Good Christians fully accept this. Perhaps the practical composer is primarily giving the tenor an opportunity to ′warm up′ before his more taxing aria which follows.
Here the major key returns for a text that asserts complete committal to and trust in the Lord. In return, He provides us with total protection. The violin is called upon to perform the obbligato theme, a solo of great rhythmic complexity. It contains a number of musical ideas ranging from the opening intricate melody (rooted around the tonic note of b flat) to the series of repeated notes (bar 3) to the swathes of rapid swirls of notes (from bar 7).
This is not Bach at his most economical. The sheer range of ideas outlined in such a short space of time may well have had metaphorical or symbolic meanings. Might the syncopation and use of dotted notes (just before the vocal entry) be suggestive of the sins and guilt, which we look to the Lord to annul? Could the swathes of rapid solo violin notes denote the washing away of these sins? Is it no more than a musical depiction of the opulence of God’s protection? Whatever the images that sparked Bach′s creative thinking, there is no doubt of the warmth and encompassing affection of this central aria—-God will judge us and expiate our sins—-His love and protection surrounds us constantly. It is these most tender feelings that the music so beautifully portrays.
The early melismas on traue—-trust, and allem—-all—-(see bars 13 and 15) emphasise these notions of complete reliance and the universality of redemption from harm. Note also the dark touch of harmonic colour on the word Schaden—-harm or injury—-(bar 19) and the dogged insistence of —-wird mich nichts verletzen—-nothing can ever injure me (bar 33). This is surely the ultimate assertion of faith and trust.
The alto recitative is again placed so as to allow the singer to ′warm up′ in preparation for the following aria. It simply requests that, in His own time He might annul my misdemeanours. The strings accompany with sustained chords although twice, in the middle and at the end, they jab out a staccato quaver figure like the flourish of an authoritative magistrate as he portentously signs the papers cancelling the offences.
The alto aria is the second, and the last, to use a minor mode. Perhaps the key word is ′resignation′. Here we find the expression of a quiet sense of acceptance—-whatever I do, wherever I go I will always find solace in His word.
The opening lines specifically mention the acts of retiring at night, rising in the morning and thence going forth. The first bars of the violin melody encompass all these actions, the ′descending to rest′ the momentary pausing on the notes g and c, immediately followed by an ascending scale indicative of ′setting out′. This is all accomplished within the first three bars.
The low, close writing for the string orchestra produces a sound quality that is sonorous, dark and rich throughout.
This is an expression of the Lord′s comfort and compassion which we can, and indeed should, discover is available to us in every circumstance of our daily lives. The importance of the ritornello in the expression of this text is underlined by its use, three times intact; in C minor at the beginning and end and G minor in the middle. There is very little of the major mode in the movement, although for the setting of the last line—-So tröstet mich sein Wort—-I am comforted by His very word—–Bach employs the comforting glow of Ab major, a warming consequence of the Lord′s response to our unswerving fidelity.
For the majority of his cantatas this would have been sufficient and we might now expect the closing chorale. But on this occasion there are still two arias to come! One wonders why Bach, or whoever selected the verses to be set, deemed this necessary. The fatalistic theme has been fully explored and the final verses add little to it.
It is possible, of course, that the nature of the occasion required a cantata of greater than normal proportion and that the collaborators were influenced as much by the requirements of the event than by narrative or musical imperatives.
But although these last two movements add little to the premise of the cantata as a whole, they are charming enough in themselves and never less than enjoyable.
The duet is supported by the continuo only. It begins slightly hesitantly but then flows into a strong melody characterized by large striding intervals. The rising scale is immediately taken up by the singers and suggests the declaimed sense of endurance. The latter bars are characterised by a series of unexpected leaps attuned to the accidents which may befall us as a precursor of our deaths.
The text simply affirms—- I shall die when He commands it and meanwhile, I will endure all mishaps.
Bach returns to a modified ternary structure, reprising the first section with the solo parts reversed i.e. soprano leading, bass following at the beginning, bass leading latterly. This is, perhaps, a neat metaphor for the universal acceptance of God′s will.
The soprano aria is charmingly accompanied by two oboes which, whilst providing a texture of up to four contrapuntal lines (including voice and continuo), is always lucid and transparent. The melodic material makes much use of two motives, Schweitzer′s three-note ′joy′ figure and a flurry of rapid runs of triplets.
This motive echoes back to the tenor aria and the fantasia’s fugue subject. It is a rare example, in this cantata, of conjoined ideas across the movements. Certainly, apart from the rising scales of the duet ritornello theme, not much use seems to have been made of motives from the chorale melody.
The text adds little to that which has been stated already—-I shall die when He wills it, for only He knows when it shall be the right time. The music appears to convey a sense of the relative unimportance of death within God′s greater plan; it is elegantly uplifting with little hint of sadness or sorrow. True, the long low note on sterben—-death—-(bars 29-30) might threaten to cast a momentary shadow over events, but it is immediately balanced by the rising phrase on leben—-life or existence (bars 32-33).
Perhaps Bach did have a clear purpose for these two final arias after all. The well known closing chorale is a rousing, forthright affirmation of the acceptance of God′s word, oboes doubling sopranos and the upper strings soaring above the rest like an encircling halo of Divine benefice. It is possible that Bach felt he needed something more personal to precede it. The soprano and bass voices of the duet suggest that God′s counsel extends to each of us individually and to attain it is a deeply personal matter. Humility is looked for, and the soprano aria affirms the sense of grace with which it should be proffered.
The chorale at the end is simply a confirmation of all that has preceded it—-trust only in the Spirit who made you, and in your heavenly Father who counsels you. These are the final words sung by the choir, well-chosen Lutheran advice, we assume, for any couple embarking upon the voyage of marriage.
There is a final point of significance to make about this cantata. It is one of nine in which Bach set only verses from the chorale with no interpolated text. The others are Cs 4, 100, 107, 112, 117, 129, 177 and 192. Most of these works betray their origins through the lack of recitatives.
Not so C 97 which, for all of its undue neglect, displays a thoughtful balance of arias and recitatives.
Copyright: J Mincham 2010. Revised 2012, 2014, 2017, 2020.