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Cantata BWV 99
Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan [II]
Discussions - Part 4

Continue from Part 3

Discussions in the Week of September 7, 2014 (4th round)

William Hoffman wrote (September 7, 2014):
Cantata BWV 99, “Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan”: Intro.

Bach’s interests in a string of four popular chorales for Middle Trinity Time reaches its apogee with the later popular Saxony chorale of Samuel Rodigast, “Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan” (What God does, that is done well). Initially, in Leipzig, he fashioned this joyous and often-used wedding hymn as a typical Chorale Cantata (BWV 99) for the 15th Sunday after Trinity, September 17, 1724. This time, he chose a recent chorale in the hymn period of the development of new literary concerns (1618-c.1675, lead by Paul Gerhardt), before the period of Pietism, while retaining the popular repeat Bar Form.

Cantata 99 is a concise (17-20 minute), memorable blend of joyous beginning chorus fantasia and plain-chorale ending using unaltered the first and last hymn stanzas, with its internal, paraphrased tenor aria and soprano duet emphasizing suffering and struggle necessary to achieve the chorale dictum, and two interspersed traditional secco recitatives that quote only a key hymn phrase, while uniting themes of the hymn and the teaching Sunday Gospel, Matthew 6:23-34 (Sermon on the Mount: Avoid worldly cares).1

In all, Bach composed three cantata “settings” using the hymn “Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan” popular in Leipzig and suitable for Middle Trinity Time. The other two are1726 chorus Cantata 98, for the 21st Sunday after Trinity; and undesignated pure-hymn unaltered stanzas c.1732 Cantata 100 suitable for the 12th Sunday after Trinity (Martin Petzoldt: Footnote 2, Ibid.: 338-345) or the 15th or 18th Sundays after Trinity. In addition, Bach used the hymn stanzas with music in varied Cantata plain chorales BWV 12/7 (S.6), 69a/6 (S.6), 75/7,14 (S. 5, 6), 144/3 (S.1), as well as the wedding chorale, BWV 250. The hymn remains popular today and the English version is "What God Ordains Is Good Indeed."

In addition to extensive recording liner notes from John Eliot Gardiner and Klaus Hoffman, preceding are materials from the BCW and BCML Archives on various commentaries from regular contributors that are quite information. Selections include: Thomas Braatz’ Commentaries of Friedrich Smend and Alfred Dürr; Francis Browne on the arias and use of text; and Peter Smaill’s discussion on joy and the Passion.

Cantata 99 Lectionary & Liturgy

Cantata 99 was presented before the sermon on the Gospel (Matt. 6:24-34) of Thomas pastor Christian Weise (1671-1736) at the early service at St. Thomas, although the sermon itself is not extant, says Martin Petzoldt in BACH Commentary, Vol. 1, Trinity Sundays.2 Lutheran Church Year Readings for the Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity: Epistle: Galatians 5:25-6:10 (The fruits of the Spirit); Gospel: Matthew 6:23-34 (Sermon on the Mount: Avoid worldly cares); full text, Martin Luther 1545 German translation, English translation Authorised (King James) Version [KJV] 1611; BCW THEMATIC PATTERNS IN BACH¹S GOSPELS (BCW,’ PART THREE: Paired Parable. Teachings& Miracles: * Trinity 15: Matthew 6: 23-34 - Teaching: 23 Avoid worldly cares; 23 “If thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!” * Trinity 16: Luke 7: 11-17 - Miracle of the raising of the son of the widow of Nain. 14 “And he came and touched the bier: and they that bare him stood still. And he said, Young man, I say unto thee, Arise.”

Latin Biblical Polyphonic Motets for the 15th Sunday after Trinity

The Introit Psalm for the 15th Sunday after Trinity is Psalm 23, Dominus regit me (The Lord is my Shepherd), says Martin Petzoldt (Ibid.: 438). The full text KJV, is on-line at There is no record of Bach performing a Latin polyphonic motet setting of Psalm 23 as the Introit Psalm. One of the three chorales for pulpit and communion hymns for the 15th Sunday after Trinity in the NLGB is “Der Herr ist mein Hirt” (The Lord is my shepherd

Bach’s Erhard Bodenschatz Florilegium Portense Collection contains Sethus Calvisius (Thomas cantor, 1594-1615) setting Quaerite Primum (8 voices) of the Gospel, Matt. Matthew 6:33: “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (KJV).3 Another setting of Quaerite Primum (6 voices) is Nicolas Zangius (1570-1619), Bo:, Score: Denkmäler der Tonkunst in Österreich
er+Tonkunst+in+O%CC%88sterreich%22 , Bd. 87. The Collection of motets is for Introit, Before Sermon at mass and vespers for Choir II, and During Communion. See Calvisius BCW Short Biography, (1556-1615),

Popular Rodigast Chorale

Cantata 99 Text is based on Samuel Rodigast 1675 hymn (Mvts. 1, 6); and anonymous librettist hymn paraphrase (Mvts. 2-5) is found with Francis Browne English translation at BCW, The original hymn text was written by Samuel Rodigast in 1675. The dictum, "Was Gott tut, das its wohlgetan" (What God does, that is done well), opens each stanza. In Cantata 99 it is found in No 1. Chorale chorus (S.1) concerto; . . . "Es bleint gerecht sine Wille" (His will remains just), reused as Cantata BWV 100/1, and found in No. 6. Plain chorale (S.6) . . . "Dabei will ich verbleiben" (I will abide by that).

The melody, also “Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan” (Zahn 5629), appeared in the 1690 Nürnberg Gesangbuch. Composers are Severus Gastorius/Werner Fabricius, Dates: 1674, 1679 (Gastorius); based upon 1659 (Fabricius). Chorale Melody history and Bach’s uses are found at found at BCW, and in Charles Sanford Terry.4 <<the melody, “Was Gott thut, das ist wohlgethan,” published in the Nurnbergisches Gesang-Buch (Nürnberg, 1690), which contains eight melodies not found in the first (1676) edition of the book. Four of them (“Was Gott thut” being one) are anonymous.[163] The authorship of the tune has been attributed to Severus Gastorius of Jena, for whom the Hymn was written. With greater probability it has been assigned to Johann Pachelbel, who was born in 1653 at Nürnberg, and held important positions as organist at Eisenach, Erfurt (1678-90), Stuttgart, Gotha and Nürnberg. He died in 1706. The tune certainly is associated with Pachelbel, who set it in Motett form during his residence at Erfurt, c. 1680. On the other hand, the first line of the melody is set to the Hymn, “Frisch auf, mein Geist, sei wohlgemuth,” in E. C. Homburg’s Geistlicher Lieder, Erster Theil, mit zweystimmigen Melodeyen geziehret von Wernero Fabricio (Naumburg, 1659 [1658]). Werner Fabricius, born in 1633, was Music Director at St Paul’s Church, and Organist of St Nicolas’ Church, Leipzig. He died in 1679. The tune is referred to in the 1693 (Frankfort) edition of the Praxis Pietatis Melica as “bekannte Melodie,” a statement which disposes of Gastorius’, and perhaps of Pachelbel’s, claim to it. Bach uses the melody also in Cantatas 69, 75, 98, 99, 100, 144, and in th“Drei Chorale zu Trauungen” (Choralgesänge, No. 339). The words of the Choral are the sixth stanza of Samuel Rodigast’s Hymn, “Was Gott thut, das ist wohlgethan,” founded on Deuteronomy xxxii. 4.[164] Rodigast was born at Groben near Jena in 1649. He became Co-rector (1680) and Rector (1698) of the Greyfriars Gymnasium at Berlin. He died in 1708. The Hymn is said to have been written in 1675 at Jena for his sick friend, Severus Gastorius, Cantor there. It was published in Das Hannoverische ordentliche Vollständige Gesangbuch (Gottingen, 1676).>>

The original Rodigast hymn has six stanzas of eight lines each, Bar Form: Stollen 1 AB, Stollen 2 AB, Abgesang CCDD (EKG 299). The six-stanza German text and Francis Browne’s English translation are found at BCW, A newer hymn, “Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan,” is not found in the 1682 Neu Leipziger Gesangbuch but is found in the Dresden hymn schedules in Bach's time for the 21st Sunday after Trinity, says Günther Stiller in JSB and Liturgical Life in Leipzig (St. Louis, Concordia, 1984: 246). Bach listed the chorale incipit in the Weimar Orgelbüchlein organ chorale prelude collection as No. 112, “Christian Life & Conduct” (In Time of trouble) but not set, and the theme is found with “Praise & Thanks” and “Cross, Persecution & Challenge” in the earlier 1682 NLGB.

The hymn is still found in the current Evangelical Lutheran Worship hymnbook (Minneapolis MN, Augsburg Fortress, 2006) as No. 776, "What God Ordains Is Good Indeed" (8787877 syllables per line) under the heading "Trust, Guidance." It is listed under "Cross and Comfort" as No. 521, "What God Ordains Is Always Good," in the 1941 Concordia Luthern Hymnal (Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod, St. Louis MO).

Mincham: Joyful Major key and ‘Spirited Effervescence’

In his introductory Commentary on Cantata 99, Julian Mincham points out its joyful major key (G Major with French horn) in the opening fantasia and closing plain chorale (Mvt. 6) and its “spirited effervescence” in the positive second quarter of the chorale cantata cycle, “Chapter 15 BWV 99 Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan”5 <<This cantata takes us into the second quarter of the cycle and it would be difficult to imagine a more joyful and ebullient beginning than the opening chorus. God does nothing without good purpose, it proclaims, and we would do well to remember this----He upholds us even during the most difficult periods of our lives and we are wise to accept His rule and wisdom. One is tempted to think that Bach himself held to a philosophy of this kind, expressed here in the most cheerful and urbane manner.

Although this is the fourteenth cantata of the cycle, it is only the third with an opening fantasia set in a major key. Of the twenty-five cantatas from C 20 (the beginning of the cycle as determined by the date when Bach had begun his duties in Leipzig in May 1723) to C 116 (the twenty-fifth Sunday after Trinity and the end of the ecclesiastical year) only ten are in major keys. A quick glance at the chronological listing shows that most of these appear in this second quarter of the cycle.

So Bach begins and ends the first half of the cycle with major key fantasias (Cs 20 and 116) but clearly he is seen to lean more towards the major modes only when the canon is well established. Of the last twelve works comprising the church year, eight are major (Cs 99, 8, 130, 96, 180, 115, 139, and 116) and only four are minor (Cs 114, 5, 38 and 26). This is a complete reversal of his initial tonal policy since of the first thirteen fantasias of the cycle (Cs 20-78) only two (Cs 20 and 94) are major. Clearly this imbues the first two quarters with very different characters.

Nevertheless, it is illuminating to note the degree of expressive variety Bach achieves by using major modes, ranging from the quiet, personal introspection of C 8 to the spirited effervescence of Cs 94 and 99. Of these last two cantatas, the former would seem, in many ways, to have been a practice run for the latter.>>

The movements, scoring, text, key, and meter are:6

1. Two-part Chorus
fantasia concertante with ritornelli, chorale in Bar Form [SATB; Corno col Soprano (C.f.), Flauto traverso, Oboe d'amore, Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo]; G major, 4/4: Stollen 1, A. “Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan” (What God does, that is done well), B. “Es bleibt gerecht sein Wille” (his will remains just); Stollen 2, A. “Wie er fängt meine Sachen an” (However he deals with my affairs), B. “Will ich ihm halten stille” (I want calmly to place my whole trust in him); Abgesang CCDD: “Er ist mein Gott, / Der in der Not / Mich wohl weiß zu erhalten; / Drum laß ich ihn nur walten.” (He is my God, / who in my troubles / knows well how to support me; / therefore I yield power to him alone.)
2. Recitative secco (Stanza 2 paraphrase) [Bass, Continuo]: A. “Sein Wort der Wahrheit stehet fest” (His word of truth stands firm); B. chorale line Stollen 1B “Und wird mich nicht betrügen” (and will not deceive me); C. Abgesang second half of line C quoted, “und hab' Geduld” (and have patience); D. closing arioso on last word “wenden”, “Gott kann mit seinen Allmachtshänden / Mein Unglück wenden.” (God can with his almighty hands / change my misfortune; b minor; 4/4.
3. Aria da-capo (Stanza 3 full paraphrase) [Tenor; Flauto traverso, Continuo]: A. “Erschüttre dich nur nicht, verzagte Seele, / Wenn dir der Kreuzeskelch so bitter schmeckt! (Do not be shaken, despondent soul, / if the chalice of the cross tastes so bitter to you); B.Gott ist dein weiser Arzt und Wundermann,” (God is your wise doctor and miracle-worker); e minor; 3/8 dance style.
4. Recitative secco (Stanza 4 paraphrase [Alto, Continuo]: A. “Nun, der von Ewigkeit geschloß'ne Bund / Bleibt meines Glaubens Grund” (Now the covenant that was drawn up from eternity / remains the basis of my faith); B. chorale line Stollen 2B, “Ihm will ich mich ergeben” (to him I want to surrender myself); C. closing arioso on last two words “Sinn erscheinet,” “Kommt endlich die Errettungszeit, / Da Gottes treuer Sinn erscheinet” (there comes in the end the day of deliverance, / when God's faithful intention appears clearly); b minor – D Major; 4/4.
5. Aria two-part (Stanza 5 full paraphrase) homophonic & imitation-fugue, with ritornelli (Duet) [Soprano, Alto; Flauto traverso, Oboe d'amore, Continuo): A. “Wenn des Kreuzes Bitterkeiten / Mit des Fleisches Schwachheit streiten / Ist es dennoch wohlgetan. ” (When the bitterness of the cross / struggles with the weakness of the flesh, / it is nevertheless done well.); B. Wer das Kreuz durch falschen Wahn / Sich vor unerträglich schätzet, / Wird auch künftig nicht ergötzet.” (That person who through ignorant delusion estimates / that the cross cannot be borne / will in the future have no enjoyment); b minor; 4/4.
6. Chorale four-part (Stanza 6) [SATB; Flauto traverso in octava e Oboe d'amore e Corno e Violino I col Soprano, Violino II coll'Alto, Viola col Tenore, Continuo]; Bar form as Stanza 1, “Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan,” (What God does, that is done well:); “Dabei will ich verbleiben.” (with this belief I want to stay firmly in agreement.); “Es mag mich auf die rauhe Bahn” (I may be driven on the rough road); “Not, Tod und Elend treiben,” (by distress, death and misery); “So wird Gott mich” (but then God will); “Ganz väterlich” (just like a father); “In seinen Armen halten;” (hold me in his arms;); “Drum laß ich ihn nur walten.” (therefore I yield power to him alone); G Major; 4/4.

BCW, BCML Commentaries

Thomas Braatz summarizes Cantata 99 “Commentaries” of Bach scholars Friedrich Smend and Alfred Dürr are summarized Thomas Braatz wrote (November 13, 2002), at BCW * Smend: “The Gospel for the 15th Sunday after Trinity emphasizes Jesus’ words, “Sorget nicht!” [“Don’t worry (about everyday life)!”] and “Trachtet allein nach dem Reich Gottes!” [“Make the Kingdom of God your primary concern!”], but, at the time, it refers to the grass, “das doch heute stehet und morgen in den Ofen geworfen wird,” [“which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven.”], to how all creation must succumb to death and to God’s faithful caring for us as a father. This is the basis upon which the cantata is constructed.” Dürr: “Dürr sees only a slight connection between the text of this cantata and the Gospel for this 15th Sunday after Trinity. In the 4th mvt., the librettist’s words, “und haben alle Tage gleich ihre eigne Plage” ["and all days have their own particular trial"] refer specifically to the Gospel reading, Matt 6:34 “So don't worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today's trouble is enough for today.” The librettist generally follows rather closely the sequence of thoughts in the original chorale and in Mvt. 2 he even keeps almost all the rhyming words of the original. He does, however, add references to the ‘cross’ that God places upon man as, for example, in Mvt. 3 “wenn dir der Kreuzeskelch so bitter schmeckt” and twice in Mvt. 5 “des Kreuzes Bitterkeiten” and “Wer das Kreuz… vor unerträglich schätzet.” In doing this the librettist strengthens even more than the Gospel does the connection between Christ’s suffering and that of any Christian.”

Francis Browne on Arias and Text Usage

The paraphrased tenor aria (Mvt. 3) and soprano-alto duet (Mvt. 5) emphasize suffering and struggle through the chorale dictum, “What God does, that is done well),” with effective use of the text, observes Francis Browne’s Commentary (including Recordings), September 15, 2002 (BCML Cantata 99 Discussions Part 1, <<In terms of the emotional architecture of this cantata the joy and reassurance of the opening movement form an important background for what follows. Suffering and struggle are more prominent in the aria and duet but they are meant to be heard, I feel, in the context that has been established: Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan.

In the tenor aria the words are formally reassuring but I found it was the wonderfully expressive writing for the flute that haunted me. [Alec] Robertson [Bach, a Biography] comments " the flute has demisemiquaver phrases in most of its part...perhaps depicting the fears of the 'despondent soul' " and Whittaker says vividly:" the obbligato flute soon slides down chromatically...and flutters like a wounded bird for many bars at a time". Just as the orchestra conveys joy and reassurance in the opening movement, so here it is the flute which gives expression to the suffering and fear implied by the text and the role of the tenor should be straightforward. Unfortunately the strain in Knut Schoch's singing in Leusink's recording [5] puts the impression of suffering in the wrong place and unbalances the movement. Simply by singing more easily Pregardien and the excellent flautist in Koopman's [6] achieve much more.

After repeated listening it is the fifth movement, the duet for soprano and alto, which stays with me as the jewel of this cantata. Robertson comments: " The text reflect's St Paul's words in the Epistle for this Sunday about the antagonism between spirit and flesh. It is hammered home by the constant use of repeated notes in the instrumental and vocal parts. The struggle is vividly depicted whenever' struggle ' comes into the voice parts". Leusink's version [5] seems so miscalcuated with its jerky, jaunty tempo that I do not want to comment further on it. But I feel more may be said about Koopman's version [6] which Tom found "a dirge-like presentation [that] lacks any sense of the ‘fighting’ or ‘battling’ that the text speaks " and in which after some very perceptive positive comments Aryeh found " The only factor missing is some tension and sense of struggle when the music and the text call for it."

Again, as in the opening movement and the tenor aria, it seems to me that Bach conveys much the implications of the text in the instrumental writing; and in Koopman's performance both the instrumentalists and singers combine wonderfully to convey what music and text express : in this there is 'streiten' - the fighting, battling, struggle to which Tom and Aryeh refer- but there is also Bitterkeiten (bitterness), Schwachheit (weakness) and what seems unertraglich (unenduurable): after repeated listening it seems to me that Bach has -as so often- accomplished something different and more worthwhile than what one might expect at first. To convey simple joy, sorrow, struggle is comparatively straightforward for a composer of Bach's abilities. But to express a sense of the difficulty of the effort, constant discouragement, occasional hope in trying to lead a moral life as most people do from day to day - this is far harder, and this I feel is what Bach accomplishes in this duet and what Koopman's performance [6] in a large measure succeeds in conveying.>>

Peter Smaill Discussion Lead

Cogent observations on the importance of joy in Middle Trinity Time, comparisons and contrasts with the Passion mood, especially in Cantata 138 with chorale for the same Sunday in 1723, the tenor-flute aria (Mvt. 3), and the ontological character of “Ewigkeit” (Eternity) in these cantatas are discussed in Peter Smaill’s BCML Cantata 99 Discussions Part 2 (Aug. 26, 2006),<< The Cantata for the 15th Sunday after Trinity 1724 commences with one of the most exuberant choruses and indeed was adapted by [William] Walton for his ballet, the Wise Virgins; for which, see 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:

(Mvt. 5)
Wenn des Kreuzes Bitterkeiten
Mit des Fleisches Schwachheit streiten…
(“When the bitternesses of the Cross
Struggle with the weakness of the flesh
It is nonethelessbeneficial.
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: .. “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.>>

Gardiner on Trinity 15 Cantatas and BWV 99, 100

Bach’s cantatas for the 15th Sunday after Trinity contain a “deep, rich darkness with shafts of light that are both subtle and brilliant,” particularly Cantata 138 (Cycle 1, 1723), in contrast to joyous soprano solo Cantata 51 (c.1730), says John Elliot Gardiner in his 2004 liner notes to his 2000 Bach Cantata Pilgrimage on Soli Deo Gloria recordings.7 The others are Cantata 99 and 100. “Some of Bach’s cantata music contains more darkness than light; but in the case of those cantatas that he composed for Trinity 15 it is a deep, rich darkness with shafts of light that are both subtle and brilliant. BWV 138 Warum betrübst du dich is a case in point: a poignant work from Bach’s first Leipzig cycle, it charts the beleaguered Christian’s journey from profound distress of mind and soul, punctuated by (choral) injunctions to hold fast, to an eventual solidity of faith.” “Jauchzet Gott BWV 51, one of the very few genuinely popular of Bach’s surviving cantatas, seems never to lose its glitter and charm . . . . For all the brilliance of the outer trumpet-centred movements, I find that it is the inner movements which have the greater musical appeal . . . .”

<<Although they have successive BWV numbers, Bach’s first and third settings of Samuel Rodigast’s hymn Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan are separated by at least a decade [1724-a1732], and their points of difference are as intriguing as their shared material (for example, the addition of two corni da caccia and timpani in BWV 100 to the string band with flute and oboe d’amore in BWV 99). In the earlier version, Bach provides just a single aria (No.3), for tenor with flute obbligato. It describes the bitter taste of the ‘cross’s cup’ and how God ‘can pour no fatal poison for you even though its sweetness lies concealed’. A chromatic ascent in both flute and voice suggests the bitter-tasting liquid (you can almost sense it gurgling through the veins) and then the balm provided by God ‘the wise physician’. It is followed by a quintet (No.5) for soprano and alto with flute, oboe d’amore and continuo depicting the heavy tread to Calvary. In performance it seemed like a return to those woebegone Epiphany and Lenten themes – the ‘bitter sorrows of the cross’ struggling with the weakness of the flesh. You cannot but sense the ‘unerträglich’ (unbearable) enormity of the weight of the cross and the hollow victory of those who give up midway. It is a salutary piece of musical sermonising, but still a bitter pill to swallow amid the cheerier admonitions of the opening chorus and closing chorale.

In his third version (BWV 100), which was first performed in Leipzig in 1734, Bach continues the words of the opening chorale unaltered through all six verses while managing never to repeat himself musically nor to allow the hymn tune to outlive its welcome. You sense Bach either responding to criticism (‘Why do you make your cantatas so complicated? Couldn’t you restrict them to a single theological theme?’) or setting himself a new challenge, to provide maximum variety within the constraints of the verse form. The four middle movements are hugely challenging and gripping, without a single recitative to break up the pattern. An alto/tenor duet (No.2), demanding giant lungs and firm control of coloratura, is followed by a siciliano for soprano and flute obbligato (No.3) – probably the most technically challenging of all Bach’s flute obbligati, with its roulades of twenty-four successive demisemiquavers per bar. Then comes a jaunty bass aria accompanied by full strings with lilting syncopations (No.4), and a glorious 12/8 aria for alto with oboe d’amore (No.5) – lyrical and soothing. Bach rounds off the cantata with a repeat (No.6) of the setting we first performed on Trinity 1 (BWV 75), but this time with added horns and timpani.>> © John Eliot Gardiner 2004 from a journal written in the course of the Bach Cantata Pilgrimage.

Klaus Hofmann on Cantata 99

Gospel and chorale commentary as well as a summary of the opening chorus and two arias is found in Klaus Hofmann’s 2004 liner notes to the Masaaki Suzuki BIS complete cantata recordings.8 <<Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan, BWV 99. What God does is well done. A week after “Jesu, der du meine Seele,” on 17th September 1724, the cantata Was Gott tut, des ist wohlgetan (What God does is well done), BWV 99, was heard for the first time (there two further cantatas with the same opening words, from 1726 and from the time after 1732, BWV98 und BWV l00). The gospel passage for this Sunday, the fifteenth after Trinity, Matthew 6, verses 24-34, contains the warning that we should pay no heed to our bodily comfort but should trust God and should primarily direct our thoughts and endeavors towards the Kingdom of God. By using Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan from the pen of Samuel Rodigast (1649-1708) - a hymn that remains popular to this day - as the basis for the cantata, Bach takes up the idea of trust in God as the real theme of the work. Bach's librettist in Leipzig once again left the first and last of the six hymn strophes alone and modified the middle four into two sets of recitatives and arias.

In the introductory chorus the well known melody by the Jena cantor Severus Gastorius (1646-1682) is - as in most of the chorale cantatas - in the soprano, which here is always the first line to enter and is accompanied by very simple writing in the other three vocal parts. On this occasion the orchestral part has m especially significant role: a small, colourful instrumental group - comprising transvflute, oboe d'amore, violin I and continuo - constantly comes to the fore. The whole movement is characterized by a certain sweetness of expression, by a joyful desire to make music, and should no doubt be understood as an image of those who calmly place their turst in God.

The aria Erschüttre dich nur nicht, verzagte Seele, (Just do not shudder, desperate soul'; third movement), as so often in this series of cantataa, combines a demanding solo tenor part with virtuoso solo writing for the transverse flute; in 1724 Bach evidently had two excellent soloists at his disposal and was keen to employ them together, A striking feature is the chromaticism of the flute theme which is later also taken up by the vocal part for the words 'vezagte Seele' ('desperate soul'), but also for the word 'Kreuzeskelch' ('cup of suffering'), and can also be heard in the flute on several occasions accompanying the word 'bitter', later also the word 'Gift' ('poison'). The duet 'Wenn des Kreuzes Bitterkeiten' ('When the bitterness so of the cross'; fifth movement) is especially artful - a wholly fugal quintet setting in which, supported by the basso continuo, a vocal duet of soprano and alto and a wind duet of trasverse flute and oboe d'amore are set against each other. The words 'des Fleisches Schwachheit' ('the weakness of the flesh') are repeatedly emphasized by means of delicate harmonies, whilst the concepts of 'streiten' ('fight') and 'ergdtzen' ('delight') are brought out by extended coloratura writing for the voices. Although the text does not require it, Bach uses a three-part form with a clearly differentiated middle section ('Wer das Kreuz durch falschen Wahn' - 'Whoever regards the cross as unbearable') and return to the start of the opening theme ('wird auch künftig nicht ergötzet' - 'will, even in the future, never find delight'). The ending (sixth movement) is, as so often, a simple four-part chorale setting. © Klaus Hofmann 2004


1 CANTATA 99 BCW Details & Discography,
2 Petzoldt, Bach Kommentar: Die geistlichen Kantaten des 1. Bis 27. Trinitas-Sontagges, Vol. 1; Theologisch Musikwissenschaftlicke Kommentierung der Geistlichen Vokalwerke Johann Sebastan Bachs, Internationale Bachakademie Stuttgart (Kassel: Bärenreiter, 2004: Commentary Trinity +15, 423; Cantata 99 & hymn text, 434-439; Cantata 99 commentary, 438-442).
3 BACH'S MOTET COLLECTION: Otto Riemer, "Erhard Bodenschatz und sein Florilegium Portense" Schünigen: Kaminsky, 1927; ML 410 B67R4. Partial Index of Motets in “Florilegium Portense” with links to online scores and biographies: Dissertation on Bodenschatz Collection (downloadable): [Source: Musical Context: Motets & Chorales for 15th Sunday after Trinity, BCW
4 Johann Sebastian Bach, Bach’s Chorals. Part I: 2 The Hymns and Hymn Melodies of the Cantatas and Motetts, by Charles Sanford Terry (Cambridge University Press, 1915-1921). 3 vols. Vol. 2. September 5, 2014. [PATIENCE!], scroll down to Cantata XCIX.
5 Mincham, on-line,; The Cantatas of Johann Sebastian Bach: A listener and student guide, Revised 2014; Home Page,
6 Scoring, Soloists: Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass; 4-part Chorus; Orchestra: horn, transverse flute, oboe d’amore, 2 violins, viola, continuo. Score Vocal & Piano [1.58 MB],; Score BGA [2.18 MB], References: BGA XXII (Church Cantatas 91-100, Wilhelm Rust, 1875), NBA KB I/22 (Cantatas Trinity +15, Matthias Wendt 1991), Bach Compendium BC A 133, Zwang: K 87.
7 Gardiner liner notes,[sdg104_gb].pdf; BCW Recordings details,
8 Hofmann liner notes,[BIS-CD1361].pdf; BCW Recording details,


To Come: Cantata 99, Part 2: Chorales and Liturgy for the 15th Sunday after Trinity; Bach’s Trinity 15 Performance Calendar; Provenance and Chorale Cantata Designations; Discussion on related Cantata 100 and Trinity Time applications for chorale “Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan”; a special commentary on the chorale from Dr. Theodor Glaser; and (time and space available), notes on Cantata 99 from Linda Gingrich’s dissertation on Chorale Cantata Allegorical Connections, The seen and the unseen: Hidden allegorical links in the Trinity season chorale cantatas of J. S. Bach; D.M.A., University of Washington, 2008, 146; 3303284 (

Aryeh Oron wrote (September 9, 2014):
Cantata BWV 99 - Revised & updated Discography

The discography pages of the Chorale Cantata BWV 99 “Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan” for the 15th Sunday after Trinity on the BCW have been revised and updated.
The cantata is scored for alto, tenor & bass soloists; 4-part Chorus; and orchestra of horn, transverse flute, oboe d’amore, 2 violins, viola, continuo. See:
Complete Recordings (13):
Recordings of Individual Movements (15):
The revised discography includes many listening/watching options to recordings directly from the discography pages, just below the recording details.

The English composer William Walton wrote in 1940 music for the ballet "The Wise Virgins", based on the parable of the ten virgins in St. Matthew 25:1-13. The music was arranged by Walton from the works of J.S. Bach. The score consisted of 9 numbers, 6 of which Walton abstracted for an orchestral suite. The first movement "What God hath done is rightly done", is based on the opening chorus of Cantata BWV 99.
I have revised and updated also the discography page of "The Wise Virgins" on the BCW (14 complete recoirdings and 7 of individual movements):

In addition, I put at the BCW Home Page 2 audios of complete recordings of this cantata: Joshua Rifkin (1988) and Pieter Jan Lesink (1999) and 2 videos: Aria-Duet for Soprano & Alto from the cantata series of Rudolf Lutz and J.S. Bach Foundation and the 1st movement of "The Wise Virgins" with Tõnu Kalam conducting the UNC Symphony Orchestra.

I believe this is the most comprehensive discography of this chorale cantata. If you are aware of a recording of BWV 99 missing from these pages, or want to correct/add details of a recording already presented on the BCW, please do not hesitate to inform me.

William Hoffman wrote (September 10, 2014):
Cantata BWV 99 - Part 2: Chorales, Texts, Etc.

See: Motets & Chorales for 15th Sunday after Trinity.


Cantata BWV 99: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4
Bach-W. Walton: The Wise Virgins, suite from the ballet (arranged music of J.S. Bach)

Recordings & Discussions of Cantatas: Main Page | Cantatas BWV 1-50 | Cantatas BWV 51-100 | Cantatas BWV 101-150 | Cantatas BWV 151-200 | Cantatas BWV 201-224 | Cantatas BWV Anh | Order of Discussion
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Last update: Sunday, May 28, 2017 05:16