Cantata BWV 99Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan [II]
Discussions - Part 2
Continue from Part 1
Discussions in the Week of August 27, 2006
Peter Smaill wrote (August 26, 2006):
Introduction to BWV 99, "Was Gott tut, das ist Wohlgetan"
Week of August 27, 2006
Cantata BWV 99, “Was Gott tut, das is wohlgetan””
1st performance: 17 September, 1724 - Leipzig
Second Annual Cantata Cycle, 1723-24 (Jahrgang II)
Previous Discussion: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV99-D.htm
Main Cantata page: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV99.htm
The Cantata for the 15th Sunday after Trinity 1724 commences with one of the most exuberant choruses and indeed was adapted by Walton for his ballet, the Wise Virgins; for which, see
http://www..bach-cantatas.com/Performers/Walton.htm. Though overshadowed by the even more extrovert setting of BWV 100, this, the first of the three settings of Samuel Rodigast’s chorale, rightly earns the description (Boyd/Anderson) of “beautifully proportioned”.
The joyful opening, and the later adaptation of the one other Cantata for this Sunday, the resplendent BWV 51, ”Jauchet Gott in Allen Landen”, offers some evidence that Bach in 1724 was sensitive to the need of the congregation to have a leavening of the mood in succeeding cantatas. BWV 78 deals, as we saw, with the Passion; and the following Sunday (Trinity 16) is uniquely concerned with death, each Cantata being of superb quality. So this Sunday suggests refreshment is in order. The anapaestic joy-motif is much in evidence in BWV 99/1 (Mvt. 1), as is the case in the Neumeister chorale setting, BWV 1116. This Chorale, known well by Bach and set three times (BWV 98, BWV 99, BWV 100), is suited to a display of happy confidence by virtue of the ascending incipit of the anonymous melody. There is also the splendid setting in BWV 75 which is reused in BWV 100.
By contrast, the prior year saw another traditional Chorale associated with the readings for this day, Hans Sach’s “Warum betrübst du dich, mein Herz”, BWV 138, which is decidedly penitential and so a sequence of three grim texts dealing with following on from the 14th Sunday in Trinity to the 16th - dealing with sickness, distress and then death in that order- may have suggested to Bach an upbeat interloper in the shape of BWV 99 for 1724.
A feature of Mvt. 1 is the prolonged and delightful orchestral ritornellos, with an interesting suggestion that the material may have come from a secular work at Cöthen. However, these passages also include the incipit of the Chorale melody which implies that the format is deliberate in all regards. The effervescence of the flute and oboe work is perhaps explained when the translation of “wohlgetan” is not the prosaic “well done” but instead the Richard Jones' use (in Dürr), “dealt bountifully”.
Textually the linking of human suffering to the Passion, and the transformation implied therein, which is the thesis also of BWV 78, is strongly demonstrated but in a negative sense:
Wenn des Kreuzes Bitterkeiten
Mit des Fleisches Schwachheit streiten…
(“When the bitternesses of the Cross
Struggle with the weakness of the flesh
It is nonetheless beneficial.
Whoever through false opinion
Regards the cross as unbearable
Will not find delight in the future”)
Mvt. 3 allows Bach’s talented flautist to display his talents and in this case the challenge includes a five note chromatic downward figure. Dürr identifies a “shaking” motif clearly linked to the text, whereas possibly “Kreuzkelch” (Cross’s Cup), though not directly set to the passus duriusculus, is the inspiration for the chromatic figure. The SMP (BWV 244) aria, “Kreuz und Becher” has been argued to use the BACH motif transposed and inverted, another hermeneutic reaction to the mention of Cross and Cup. At the risk of encouraging Holy Grail –type speculations, the source is again Timothy Smith at: http://jan.ucc.nau.edu/-tas3/pubs/circ/circulatio.html .. “Kelch” also appears in BWV 92/8, (“Kreuzkelch”) BWV 48/2,5; (Kreuzkelch) BWV 138/2 (“den bittern Kelch von Tränen) and in the sister Cantata BWV 100/5 (“Kelch”) Some chromatic emphasis is apparent at the word in the delightful BWV 92/8, but not the passus; the penitential BWV 48 has a strongly chromatic chorus and amazing tonal intervals in the “Kreuzkelch” recitative, but likewise no strong evidence of word painting and the same is true of BWV 138/2, also for Trinity 15. BWV 100/5 is full of word-painting, but not especially chromatic at “Kelch” So, IMO, does Bach have a special tonal device for the Holy Grail? Generally chromaticism is involved, but no single device distinguishes this theologically charged image.
On the wider subject of the reaction of Bach to the appearance of "Kreuz", see Thomas Braatz earlier work at
Yet again we have the notion of “Ewigkeit”, here in the recitative BWV 99/4 rather than, as is common, in the closing number. The Cantatas are at this date of a highly ontological character, usually in the final verses of the Chorales:
Trinity 10 BWV 101 Keywords Ewig, Stundelein (literally “little hour”)
Trinity 11 BWV 113 Letzen Stunde
Trinity 13 BWV 33 Ewigkeit
Trinity 14 BWV 78 Ewigkeit
Trinity 15 BWV 99 Ewigkeit, Errettungszeit (*in Recit 99/4)
Trinity 16 BWV 8 Ende gut, endlich
Trinity 17 BWV 114 Selig sterben (*Recit 114/3)
Trinity 18 BWV 96 Ewigkeit (*Chorus 96/1)
Trinity 19 BWV 5 Ewig
The sentiment of looking forward to eternity, the last hour, the time of deliverance, a good end and a holy death are often present in the Cantatas but seem to have special appeal for the librettist in the second cycle.
Extracts from selected Commentaries
(Mvt. 1) The strings introduce the attractive melody, which is obviously derived from that of the Chorale, and then give place to the woodwind, with the oboe d’amore playing the melody, the flute carolling above.
(Mvt. 1) The ritornelli are disproportionately long. For example, the introduction lasts nineteen bars, the first choral entry 4½. This in no wise interferes with the beauty of the movement.
(Mvt. 3) The obbligato flute soon slides down chromatically, a foretaste of similar passages, both direct and inverted, and flutters like a wounded bird for many bars at a time. It is a beautiful and effective number.
Boyd (Nicholas Anderson):
(Mvt. 5) In this Duet [in B minor for soprano and alto with obbligato flute and oboe d’amore], where both vocal and instrumental lines proceed fthe most part in imitation, Bach reaches ever greater heights of expressive subtlety. Contrasting themes of suffering and triumph over adversity, or, more specifically, the conflict between the spirit and the flesh, are held in the balance with the utmost delicacy.
(Mvt. 1) …the Abgesang introduces new groupings. Passages assigned a tutti function are no longer played by strings alone but by strings and woodwind- a true orchestral tutti- and the flute occasionally yields its figurative concertante role to the oboe. Consequently, the instrumental postlude is not identical with the opening ritornello as it is in most cases.
(Mvt. 5) At the entry of the voice parts… the texture is expanded to a quintet. As in many of Bach’s duets, something of the sectional structure of the motet is still maintained. The duets of Agostini Steffani, regarded as classics in Bach’s day, were constructed according to the same principle.
If there are further thoughts on the significance of “Kelch” to Bach, who as a Protestant may have been told to be wary of this image, then no doubt the film rights will repay the research!
We have extant only two cantatas written for this Sunday in the 1720’s, with BWV 51 (“In ogni tempo”) adapted for the occasion later (? 1730). BWV 100 (partly adapted from BWV 99) in (?) 1732 is nevertheless not known to be for this Sunday. Was there a reason for this much later addition of BWV 51 of the selection for this Sunday – or it is simply the case, as with other Sundays (e.g. Trinity 18) that other Cantatas from the 1720’s have not survived? Or did Bach actually lose the parts and score for a further Cantata in 1725 or 1726 and need to replace it later?
BWV 99 has much to offer in the sense of its upbeat opening Chorus, fine solo and duet, delightful flute and oboe work; and with the subtle structural variety underneath. I look forward to responses on the extent to which the various recordings have captured its special appeal. Peter Smaill
Andreas Stübel (per Wolff, “Johann Sebastian Bach: The Learned Musician”, p.278)
Chorale: “Was Gott tut, das is wohlgetan”
Text: Samuel Rodigast (1674)
Melody: Severus Gastorius (?)
Chorale Melody: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/CM/Was-Gott-tut.htm
Chorale Text: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Texts/Chorale014-Eng3.htm
English Translation: http://www.uvm.edu/~classics/faculty/bach/BWV99.html
Other translations: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV99.htm
Structure and scoring:
Aria Duetto SA
Instruments: Fl trav, Ob d’Am, 2 Vn, Va, Cor, Cont
For the 15th Sunday in Trinity
Other Cantatas written for this Sunday:
BWV 138, “Warum betrübst du dich, mein Herz”, Leipzig, 1723
BWV 51, “Jauchzet Gott in Allen Landen”, Leipzig, 1730 (?). Dürr suggests 1729.
Texts of Readings: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Read/Trinity15.htm
Piano Vocal Score: (free PDF download): http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV99.htm
Music (free streaming download): http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Mus/BWV99-Mus.htm
Performances of Bach Cantatas: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Concerts/Concert-2006.htm
Order of Discussion (2006): http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Order-2006.htm
Julian Mincham wrote (August 26, 2006):
Chorale fantasia:- BWV 99, "Was Gott tut, das ist Wohlgetan"
Not much to add to Peter's comprehensive introduction to BWV 99 except to comment upon certain discrepancies to be found in discussions about the first movement. One often finds people saying (as Robertson, quoted by Peter) that the ritornello is 'obviously' derived from the chorale. Well, is it? Both opening phrases begin on rising notes (beginning on different notes of the scale) but that's a pretty tenuous connection which i have yet to be convinced by.
What, to me is more interesting is the odd construction of the ritornello. It runs for 16 bars then comes to a full stop with a perfect cadence in the tonic key. This is just where we might expect the solo instrument to enter in an Italian corncerto type movement--and it is just where the solo flute does enter (NOT the chorale) and it bubbles along for rour bars where the sopranos enter with the first phrase of the chorale. The solo flute is not impeded a jot by this but carries on regardless as it does in all the chorale entries.
And look how sparsely harmonised most of the chorale entries are, usually the soprano line enters alone and the other voices do not weave a complex tapestry around it--they provide a simple four part harmonisation of the type we would expect from the harmonisations at the end of the cantatas---exactly what we would expect if Bach had taken a concerto movement and adapted it minimally in order to accommodate the chorale entries.
So the internal structural evidence leans much more towards it being a pre-composed concert movement than composed especially for this cantata and deriving from this chorale.
If so which concerto and for what instrument? Here I admit I stray into total conjecture. The original is unlikely to have been for flute for a number of historical reasons and violin is the most likely candidate. So might it have been one of the missing three violin concerti?
If so could the key be a pointer to finding other possible reuses of lost violin concerti? Assuming G major to have been the original key (of course it may not have been) but if it were we might have 4 concerti in the keys E, Am, Dm and now G. Could it be that Bach's set of six violin concerti had an underlying key pattern (like, for example the six English suites) using the notes of the circle of fifths? Depending where if began this could make a set of six in Bm, E, Am Dm G and C. Or E, Am, Dm G, C and F. Not outside the bounds of possibility----- F major was used by Bach on more than one occasion for concerti including Brandenburgs 1 and 2, and note the violin concertante parts in the chorale fantasia for BWV 1 also in F.
So I would propose that there is quite good internal evidence to suggest that the movement has its origins in a concerto movement and further indications which might suggest where we might seek other examples of arrangements of Cothen concerti. May mean nothing of course, but its fun to have a couple of pointers as to where one might look.
Thomas Braatz wrote (August 26, 2006):
Julian Mincham wrote:
>>And look how sparsely harmonised most of the chorale entries are, usually the soprano line enters alone and the other voices do not weave a complex tapestry around it--they provide a simple four part harmonisation of the type we would expect from thharmonisations at the end of the cantatas---exactly what we would expect if Bach had taken a concerto movement and adapted it minimally in order to accommodate the chorale entries.<<
This seems to be a modified form of "Vokaleinbau" ("vocal/voice inbuilding") where the vocal parts are placed on top of already existing instrumental material.
Ed Myskowski wrote (September 1, 2006):
Peter Smaill wrote:
< By contrast, the prior year saw another traditional Chorale associated with the readings for this day, [...] BWV 138, which is decidedly penitential and so a sequence of three grim texts following on from the 14th Sunday in Trinity to the 16th [...] may have suggested to Bach an upbeat interloper in the shape of BWV 99 for 1724. >
If that was Bach's intent, it certainly worked for me. I am new to much of this music, and new to all of it with analytical intent. I start with a once through listen to what recordings I have on hand (increasing), a read through the the BCML introduction, and references (also increasing), and more listening. The first impression from Rilling , BWV 99 is more upbeat than the previous weeks, BWV 33 and BWV 78.
One important contribution to this impression is the evolution of the flute line, from the hiatus in BWV 33, to bubbling accompaniment (BWV 78/4), to essential solo role from the outset (BWV 99/1). Where are the flautists, all secretly writing books?
< A feature of BWV 99/1 is the prolonged and delightful orchestral ritornellos, with an interesting suggestion that the material may have come from a secular work at Cöthen.>
Again, the constructions through this week and the two preceding weeks stand out. It is an outstanding advantage of the chronolgic discussion to discover (or rediscover and emphasize) these relations. It is all new to me, so I will leave it to others to argue the novelties. I think Tom Braatz' idea of vocal lines laid over preexisting instrumental music is worth consideration in both BWV 33 and BWV 99:
< This seems to be a modified form of "Vokaleinbau" ("vocal/voice inbuilding") where the vocal parts are placed on top of already existing instrumental material.>
Peter Smaill wrote:
< What, to me is more interesting is the odd construction of the ritornello. It runs for 16 bars then comes to a full stop with a perfect cadence in the tonic key. This is just where we might expect the solo instrument to enter in an Italian concerto type movement--and it is just where the solo flute does enter (NOT the chorale) and it bubbles along for four bars where the sopranos enter with the first phrase of the chorale. The solo flute is not impeded a jot by this but carries on regardless as it does in all the chorale entries.
And look how sparsely harmonised most of the chorale entries are, usually the soprano line enters alone and the other voices do not weave a complex tapestry around it--they provide a simple four part harmonisation of the type we would expect from the harmonisations at the end of the cantatas---exactly what we would expect if Bach had taken a concerto movement and adapted it minimally in order to accommodate the chorale entries.>
A lot of material to repeat, especially since I am uncertain of my call and response functions, but it is hard to see what to cut. In any case, all relevant to current three weeks, with respect to flute, ritornello, and chorale variety. I don't have a lot of insight to add, but I would at least like you guys to know I read and appreciate.
To jump back a year, I especially enjoyed Peter's mention of BWV 138 (the cross cutting liturgical year mini-set often suggested), and the extended references culminating in:
< If there are further thoughts on the significance of <Kelch> to Bach, who as a Protestant may have been told to be wary of this image, then no doubt the film rights will repay the research! >
The Grail, the Wundermann, the Todesschweiss, mon Dieu, what a movie! All is wellen that ends wellen.
Eric Bergerud wrote (September 3, 2006):
Peter Smaill wrote:
<By contrast, the prior year saw another traditional Chorale associated with the readings for this day, [...] BWV 138, which is decidedly penitential and so a sequence of three grim texts following on from the 14th Sunday in Trinity to the 16th [...] may have suggested to Bach an upbeat interloper in the shape of BWV 99 for 1724. >
I certainly enjoyed listening to my recordings of BWV 99. (Why did I have so few duplicates when I was introducing the earlier works? Divine Providence perhaps: fewer recordings the less the confusion?) In Lutheran terms the message is certainly affirmative, a strong reminder that God is there to help us through the vale of tears. The Rifkin version  was very nice - I agree with earlier comments singling out Ms. Baird's singing. I like her more and more. Leusink's ensemble  put out a perfectly nice rendition. I am not a Buwalda fan, but he and Ruth Holton sang well together in the duet and the remainder of the work was middle of the road in approach and impact. In general I think Leusink was wise not to try to make grand statements, the horses aren't strong enough and the nature of the project didn't allow it. And I'm not sure it's necessary considering the inherent strength of the music.
Not many liked Harnoncourt's boy/male alto duet . I thought it was okay, but have heard better. However, I think Harnoncourt's players did a very impressive job with rest of the work. The chorale movements at beginning and end were both very pleasing to my ears. I particularly enjoyed the slow, almost regal introduction. As noted elsewhere, Koopman  was in no rush either. The two versions could hardly have been more different, but I found Koopman's approach very satisfying. The long and beautifully sung duet with mezzo and soprano I thought, as opposed to Aryeh's view, fit the text beautifully. When looked in context of the entire libretto, the duet is not about tension. Instead it's that "bittersweet" view of man and God that leads to so much of Bach's best music.
BTW: Like Yoël I've been sending Berkshire some of my money, although not on cantatas. There are indeed great bargains galore but the site has a real "first generation" search engine and is one of the least intuitive sites I've seen. Found a pretty good way around it though. I downloaded the music catalog in PDF format and used the search too in the Acrobat reader. I searched composers and labels (you can do that on-site if you know what you're doing and are lucky) until I get enough data to feed Berkshire's lame search machine the data required. For instance, try searching simply $2.99 on Adobe: hundreds of nice recordings pop up.
CD reviews (July 20): J.S. Bach
Neil Halliday wrote (July 21, 2009):
Johan van Veen wrote:
< Arias and duets
Anne Sofie von Otter, mezzosoprano; Concerto Copenhagen/Lars Ulrik Mortensen (Archiv - 00289 477 7467) >
Coincidentally, I heard the SA duet (Mvt. 5) from BWV 99 on the radio, performed by this very ensemble, while driving to work this morning. This Bach piece was by far and away the most delightful music of the entire program.
Continue on Part 3
Cantata BWV 99: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3