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Recordings & Discussions of Cantatas: 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

Cantata BWV 144
Nimm, was dein ist, und gehe hin
Discussions - Part 1

Discussions in the Week of February 20, 2000

Aryeh Oron wrote (February 20, 2000):

Since I heard the Ramin recording of this cantata [1] about 2 months ago, I have been waiting for the week I will have the opportunity to listen again to this performance (especially to the Aria for Alto) and to compare it to the other recordings I have. And I was not bored in the meantime. My ears and hands were full with listening and comparing other cantatas, complete the listening to a second cycle of the cantatas (Harnoncourt/Leonhardt), complete listening to the cycle of 75 cantatas conducted by Karl Richter, listening to WTC on Piano played by different pianists (Tureck, Gieksing, Richter, Nikolayeva, Hewitt, Gulda, Gunnar Johansen), listening to some Jazz, doing some writing about Jazz, and more.

Opening Chorus and Aria for Alto

Mvt. 1 Chorus (The same)
SATB, Continuo

Mvt. 2 Aria for Alto
Murre Nicht, / Lieber Christ/ Wenn was nicht nach Wunsch geschicht; / Sondern sei mit dem zufrieden, / Was dir dein Gott hat beschieden, / Er weiß, was dir nützlich ist.
(Murmur not, / Man of Christ, / When thy wish is not fulfilled; / Rather be with that contented/ Which thee thy God hath apportioned; / He knows what will help thee.) English translation by Z Philip Ambrose
Alto, Strings, Continuo

About the first 2 movements of this cantata Robertson wrote:
"The libretto of cantata BWV 84 deals with the laborer who was contented with his lot although he had endured the heat and burden of the day and had to see the latecomers receive the same wage as he did. In cantata BWV 144 we meet the grumbler and the only words in the opening chorus are those of the rebuke administered to him by his master.
(Mvt. 1) Bach sets the words in straightforward fugal style. Placing ‘thine’ on the highest note of the subject, while the rhythm of the counter subject at ‘go hence’ is equivalent to a curt dismissal. In the last 4 bars all parts sing together ‘go hence’.
(Mvt. 2) The brusque ‘go thy away’ gives place, in this lovely Aria, to gentle spiritual advice. The simplicity of the writing in the opening Chorus is again present in the purely harmonic accompaniment to the melody, but into this Bach introduces from time to time full bars of repeated notes in the Continuo. These could be taken as the murmurs; the soul has not yet succeeded in suppressing envy."

While waiting last week for a football match to begin, I found two small quotations in J.A. Westrup little book – Bach Cantatas, which relate to BWV 144:
(Mvt. 1) "While it is true that the majority of Bach’s choruses are set in a style which allows for considerable elaboration, there are one or two in a more austere style which seems to look back to an older form of polyphony, such as… the first chorus of BWV 144, which is virtually a motet with the instruments doubling the voices throughout. Though Bach in his later days was thought to be old fashioned, this could hardly have been said of him in 1724, when BWV 144 was written."
(Mvt. 2) "The art of construction is exempt from any danger of monotony by the imaginative contours of the melodic line and the constant freedom of rhythm. It is rare in Bach to find anything as symmetrical as this Aria (for Alto)."

Review of the Recordings

See: Cantata BWV 144 - Recordings.

The 3 performances of BWV 144 I have listened to (in chronological order) are:

[1] Günther Ramin with Lotte Wolf-Matthäus (contralto) (1952; Opening Chorus: 2:31; Aria for Alto: 6:36)
In the linear notes to this recording there is a quote by Ramin: “In Johann Sebastian Bach I see the ultimate personification of everything which lends meaning, purpose, vigor and gladness to human life. He is for me the supreme symbol of vital and ceaseless energy”. All of Ramin’s recording were radio transcriptions and were done with almost no rehearsals. But what they lack in polish, they gain in sincerity and spontaneity. The performance of the opening Chorus and the Aria for Alto grab you by your throat and take you with it. I have heard altos (women and men alike) equipped with nicer voice and gentler approach than Wolf-Matthäus, but none of them sings with such enthusiasm and conviction. There is a lot of talking in this group and other groups dedicated to Bach’s music about the meaning of authencity. Usually I avoid participating in such debates, because they seem to me tasteless. But for me Ramin’s recordings of Bach cantatas are the most authentic. Not only that Ramin was also a Thomaskantor as Bach himself was and that he used the same Thomanerchor for his pioneering recordings of the cantatas. I feel that the spirit of his performances is the closet to Bach. I know that I cannot prove it, but nobody can prove otherwise, unless he recorded Bach himself back in the 18th Century.

[2] Helmuth Rilling with Helen Watts (contralto) (1978; Opening Chorus: 2:12; Aria for Alto: 5:21)
This performance is a mess. The orchestra is very unclear and it does not seem that it is going anywhere. They do not follow the line directed by the strong music. Tremolo will not be the strong enough word to describe Helen Watts singing here. Her voice is really shaking and annoying. It was not a good day for anyone of the participants in this recording, including the Conductor, the Orchestra, the Chorus and or most of the soloists. Rilling has shown us in other cantatas recordings that he can do much better than here.

[3] Gustav Leonhardt with Paul Esswood (counter-tenor) (1984; Opening Chorus: 2:04; Aria for Alto: 5:02)
This performance is simply boring. Of course the playing of the old instruments is beautiful as usual, and the Chorus is on very high level. Two Choruses are listed in Teldec recording, and I believe that in the opening Chorus it is Herreweghe and his Collegium Vocale. Esswood’s singing here is nice but does not reflect the mood of the Aria. The musical line is clear, but its juice is dried. Did they work too hard on this cantata and made too many rehearsals, up to the point of taking most of its spirit out?


Looking back, I can understand why I had not paid attention to this cantata before I heard the Ramin recording [1]. I knew Rilling [2] and Leonhardt [3] recordings before, but each one of them misses the spirit of this cantata in his way. My conclusion is that among the available recordings (I am aware of) of BWV 144, the one performed by Ramin is some degrees above the others, despite its flaws. I recommend to every member of the list, who does not know Ramin’s recordings of Bach’s cantatas, to try and listen to them. It will add a new dimension to his enjoyment of these wonderful works, especially spontaneity, enjoyment of discovering and a kind of real authenticity, rarely found in other, more elaborated recordings of the cantatas. However, I have the feeling, that because none of the above recordings is perfect from all the aspects, the best recordings of BWV 144 is yet to come. I do not know who will be the guy who is going to make it – Herreweghe, Gardiner, Suzuki or Koopman, or maybe unexpected performer. Somehow, I hope that Pieter Jan Leusink and his Dutch forces will do it [5]. Of all the active performers of the cantatas, they seem to be the most qualified, because they have that extra factor, which Ramin also had – spontaneity. We shall have to wait and see and until then we have enough things to hear.

And as always, I would like to hear other opinions, regarding the above mentioned performances, or other recordings.

Jane Newble wrote (February 21, 2000):
[5] (Leusink) This is the only version of BWV 144 I have (it's on Vol.4 of the cantatas), and I like it, as I do all of the Leusink cantatas, because of their unpolished freshness. I am getting rather fond of the alto Sytse Buwalda. He seems to put more feeling in his voice than most male altos. But of course I cannot say how it compares with Ramin [1].

Johan van Veen wrote (February 21, 2000):
(3) (Leonhardt) The choirs singing in this cantata are both the Knabenchor Hannover (trebles only) and the Collegium Vocale Gent (ATB).

Does your verdict refer to the performances of the cantatas as a whole, or only to the two first parts? In some respects I can go along with your assessment of Leonhardt's recording, but the Soprano Aria (Mvt. 5) later on is very well sung by the treble Ansgar Pfeiffer. I assume you are planning to write about the rest later. I have two versions of this cantata (strange that there are so few recordings, isn't it?): the Teldec recording by Leonhardt (3), and the new recording by Pieter Jan Leusink (Brilliant Classics) (5).

(Mvt. 1) Although Leonhardt's choir and orchestra [3] surpass Leusink's [5], I think Leusink's tempo is right: 1'47" (GL: 2'04"). The opening chorus has a pretty forceful character, and that comes across better in a somewhat faster tempo than Leonhardt has chosen.

(Mvt. 2) The booklet of the Brilliant Classics recording says about this Aria: "man is summoned to accept his existence as it is. Rebellious grumbling is illustrated by obstinate, repeated quavers." Both recordings don't show that very much. The slowish tempo Leusink [5] has chosen (5'50" - too slow IMO; GL is a little too slow as well: 5'02") makes it difficult to imagine any rebelliousness. The repeated quavers lose their 'nagging' character. The inciting character of the opening phrase asks for a brisk tempo and a somewhat aggressive articulation and accentuation, which both performances are lacking. The B section - which gives an explanation for the incitement of the A section - could then be performed a little quieter and slower – the contrast is underplayed in both performances. The solo part is also interesting in the difference between 'Murre nicht' (low) and 'lieber Christ' (high). That isn't easy for the singer, and Paul Esswood clearly has problems to sing the low notes strongly enough after an uncomfortable leap downwards. They are too weak, and hence the balance with the strings isn't ideal. In Leusink's recording Sytse Buwalda [5] is more convincing on a whole, having a more colorful and stronger voice, both in the high and the low register, and making meaningful contrasts within the Aria. I am looking forward to more comments later on, hopefully the rest of this cantata.

Alan Dergal Rautenberg wrote (February 21, 2000):
(3) I think he used both choirs for the performance (as he does almost always). The Sopranos are from the Knabenchor Hannover (they are actually boys), the Altos were taken from both choirs (boys and Counter-Tenors: you can notice that on other recordings by them, it is not "pure" Counter-Tenor sound) and the Tenors and Basses are from the Collegium Vocale. I think the Knabenchor Hannover is an absolutely great choir (hey! if the choir is on a very high level, it doesn't mean it MUST be the Collegium Vocale!). Although its (the Knabenchor Hannover's) high voices (i.e. Sopranos and Altos) are sung by boys, the sound is normally beautiful and their parts are often well interpreted. Well, this is the reason why they mention both choirs.

Ryan Michero wrote (February 22, 2000):
Hey, I did my homework on time for this one! Does that mean I get a gold star from the teacher?

BWV 144 is an interesting cantata, and I thank Aryeh for including in his post the selection of quotes he always does. I love the "dismissal" aspect of the opening chorus: Take what is thine and go away! Also, an unusual thing happens in the final chorale: right where there would usually be the final chord, Bach gives us a pungent chromatic embellishment on the word "verlassen", almost Purcellian in its sudden, twisting dissonance. Great stuff!

(3) (Leonhardt) I guess this performance seems boring to Aryeh compared to his preferred version by Ramin [1], because I don't think it's boring at all but very good. True, Leonhardt's interpretation is pretty reserved, but the text seems to call for a certain austerity, I think. And, crucially, he doesn't gloss over the cantata's emotional core. Esswood and the boy soprano sound fine (if not particularly polished), and they are emotionally engaged with the music to my ears. The orchestra and chorus are wonderful: their sound is beautiful and phrasing is always interesting. The pulsing murmurs in the alto aria come out very well, and (Ku Ebbinge's?) oboe d'amore in the soprano aria (Mvt. 5) is lovely. Ramin's version [1] must be pretty spectacular to make this one look bad; I may have to give it a try.

I have another version: [4]. As is usual with Koopman, his recording sounds more tonally refined and is given more dramatic flair than Leonhardt's version [3]. Koopman can also sound a little impersonal sometimes, but here he is largely successful. I like the solo singing here very much. Bartosz is impressive in the alto aria, as is Larsson in the soprano aria (Mvt. 5). Türk, who is one of my favorite tenors, leaves me longing for a tenor aria after his excellent singing in the recitative! Koopman's choir sounds particularly fine in this outing, always clear and intense. I listened to this performance first, and the choral singing gave me chills on the chromatic embellishment in the final chorale; Leonhardt's version isn't as effective here.

Overall, I think it's a draw between Koopman [4] and Leonhardt [3] in this cantata. Both versions are excellent. Now I will take what is mine and go away!

Marie Jensen wrote (February 28, 2000):
At last a little embarrassing confession about last weeks cantata BWV 144: I only have it in a tape-recorded version, and I had forgotten to write down the names of the performers! OOPS! I like my version, but I'm not sure about who it comes from! Leichtgesinnte Flattergeister as I am!


Discussions in the Week of March 5, 2006

Doug Cowling wrote (March 4, 2006):
March 5: Intro to Cantata 144

Week of March 5, 2006

Cantata 144: “Nimm, was dein ist, und gehe hin”

First Performed: February 6, 1724, Leipzig
First Annual Cantata Cycle, 1723-24 (Jahrgang I)

Matthew 20: 14 (Mvt. 1);
Samuel Rodigast (Mvt. 3);
Markgraf Albrecht von Brandenburg (Mvt. 6);
Anon (Mvt. 2, Mvt. 4, Mvt. 5)



Movements & Scoring

Mvt. 1: Chorus (Concerto)
Nimm, was dein ist, und gehe hin”
Choir: SATB, Instruments: 2 Ob, Oda, 2 Vn, Va, Bc

Mvt. 2 :Aria
Murre nicht, LieChrist
Soloists: Alto, Instruments: 2 Vn, Va, Bc

Mvt. 3: Chorale
Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan
Choir: SATB, Instruments: Bc

Mvt. 4: Recitative
Wo die Genügsamkeit regiert
Soloists:Tenor, Instruments: Bc

Mvt. 5: Aria
Genügsamkeit Ist ein Schatz in diesem Leben
Soloists: Soprano, Instruments:Oda, Bc

Mvt. 6: Chorale
Was mein Gott will, das gscheh allzeit
Choir: SATB, Instruments: Bc

Liturgical Comments:

Written for Septuagesima Sunday. Septuagesima is the third Sunday before Lent (Quadragesima) and forms a liturgical trio with Sexagesima and Quinquagesima, the last three Sundays when a cantata was required before the “closed” season of Lent. Note that in 1724 Cantata BWV 83 was performed on the preceding Wednesday (Purification)

Other cantatas written for Septuagesima Sunday:
BWV 92 Ich hab in Gottes Herz und Sinn (Leipzig, 1725)
BWV 84 Ich bin vergnügt mit meinem Glücke (Leipzig, 1727)

The orders for Mass and Vespers can be found in an appendix at the end of this posting. Extracted from Wolff.

Texts of Readings:

Epistle: 1 Corinthians 9: 24 - 10: 5; Gospel: Matthew 20: 1-16

Introduction to Lutheran Church Year:

Chorale Melodies:
Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan
Was mein Gott will, das g’scheh allzeit

Piano Vocal Score: (free PDF download)


Music (free streaming download):

Links to Commentaries: See Recordings Page

Previous Discussion:

Performances of Bach Cantatas:


ORDER OF SUNDAY & HOLYDAY MASS (Amt) - 7:00 -10:00 am

1. Choir: Hymn in figural or polyphonic setting
2. Organ: Prelude introducing Introit
3. Choir: Introit Motet in figural or polyphomic setting

4. Organ: Prelude introducing Kyrie
5. Choir: Kyrie in figural setting
6. Choir: Gloria in figural setting (minister sings intonation from altar)

7. Minister & Altar Singers (lower form boys):
Salutation & Collect (Prayer of Day) sung from altar
8. Minister: Epistle sung from altar steps

9. Organ: Prelude introduing Hymn
10. Congregation: Hymn of Season (de tempore)
11. Minister & Altar Singers: Gospel with responses sung from altar steps

12. Organ: Prelude introducing cantata
13. Choir: First Cantata

14. Choir:: Credo sung in chorale setting, minister intones from altar steps
15. Organ: Prelude introducing Wir Glauben
16. Congregation: Wir Glauben All (German Credo)

17. Minister: Spoken annoucement of Sermon from altar
18. Organ: Prelude introducing hymn
19. Congregation: Hymn
20. Minister: Text of Sermon & Lord’s Prayer from pulpit
21. Minister: Sermon (8:00 a.m., 1 hour)
22. Minister: Prayers, Announcments & Benediction from pulpit

23. Organ: Prelude introducing hymn
24. Congregation Hymn
25. Mnister & Altar Singers: Preface in Latin from altar
26. Choir: Sanctus in figural setting (without Osanna or Benedictus)
27. Minister: spoken Communion admoniton, Words of Institution
28. Congregation: Distribution of Communion at altar steps

29. Organ: Prelude introducting Communion Cantata
30. Choir: Second Cantata

31. Organ: Prelude introducing hymn
32. Congregation: Hymn during Communion
33. Minister & Altar Singers: Collect with responses sung from altar
34. Minister: spoken Benediction

35. Organ: Prelude introducing Hymn
36. Congregation: Hymn
36. Choir: Hymn in figural setting (festal days)


1. Organ: Prelude introducing Hymn
2. Choir: Hymn in figural setting

3. Choir: Cantata (repeated from morning)

4. Organ: Prelude introducing Hymn
5. Congregation: Hymn
6. Minister & Altar Singers: Psalm
7. Minister: Lord’s Prayer from altar steps

8. Organ: Prelude introducing hymn
9. Congregation: Hymn

10. Minister: Annoucement of Sermon from pulpit
11. Congregation: Hymn
12. Minister: Sermon from pulpit
[13. Choir: Passion or narrativer oratorio, no cantata]
14. Minister: spoken Prayers, Collect & Benediction from pulpit

15. Organ: Prelude introducing Magnificat
16. Choir: LatinMagnificat in figural setting
17. Congregation: German Magnificat Hymn (Meine Seele)

18. Minister: spoken Responsary, Collect & Benediction from altar
19. Congregation: Hymn ­ Nun Danket Alle Gott

Peter Smaill wrote (March 4, 2006):
BWV 144,"Nimm, was dein ist,und gehe hin" for Septuagesima ( 6 February) 1724, appears to have attracted a relatively low level of interest in the previous cycle of discussions; perhaps on account of its brevity.

It can be argued that its beauty lies in he compactness of the structures; even with the fifteenfold "Genuegsamkeit" ("contentment") expressed in the soprano aria Mvt. 5, the work only takes around 16 minutes to perform, a far cry from the 40 minutes needed for BWV 75, "Die Elenden sollen essen", with which Bach commenced his tenure at Leipzig. By now, if one includes BWV 22 in the reckoning, Bach has completed a full cycle barring the following Sunday for which "Leichtgesinnte Flattergeister" BWV 181, which ends in a chorus, is offered. At 14 minutes it is even shorter, as if we are winding down as a preparation for Lent.

By contrast with its modern obscurity, this cantata, according to Daniel Melamed,"especially its first movement, was particularly well known after Bach's death. Writing in 1759, F.W.Marpurg cited the first movement as an example of admirably clear text declamation in a fugal texture." This setting of a short Spruch or dictum is the gem of the work, with a falling major scale from the sixth to the tonic, with the vigorous countersubject producing clarity of structure. The emphasis on "Thine' at the highest note of the fugal subject and the slow minim rendition of "gehe hin" show Bach's care in fitting the music and text.

The final suspension in the Chorale BWV 144/6 at "verlassen", resolving into the major, is another moment of effective word-painting in a setting of "Was mein Gott will, das g'scheh allzeit." The poignancy of this Chorale, as a meditation by the Prussian prince Markgraf Albrecht of Brandenburg-Culmbach (multiple titles apparently) on the death of his wife Dorothea, was explained in the discussions of the eponymous BWV 111 by Thomas Braatz and others. Its sentiment of resignation to the divine will are entirely appropriate to the exposition of doctrine flowing from the Gospel of the labourers in the vineyard.

After the discussion of the nautical images in BWV 81, from the previous Sunday, it is interesting to see a "Ruder" (rudder) making a brief appearance here, even when there is no cue from Scripture. (Tenor recitative, BWV 144/4; Duerr translates, "Where contentment governs, and everywhere rules the helm"). Was the librettist for both Sundays a sailor?

Raymond Joly wrote (March 5, 2006):
[To Peter Smaill] In order to use RUDER metaphorically, you do not have to be a sailor any more than for being on a steering committee or fearing the blasts of Fortune.

Thanks for the very worthwhile information on BWV 144.

Scott Sperling wrote (March 5, 2006):
Text in Cantata BWV 144

The Readings for the Sunday for which Cantata BWV 144 was written, are 1 Corinthians 9: 24 - 10: 5, and Matthew 20: 1-16. In the reading in Matthew, Jesus tells a parable about a landowner who needed laborers to work in his vineyard. At dawn, he hired workers, who agreed to work for a denarius (a normal day's wages). Three hours later, the landowner saw some idle people in the marketplace, so he hired them also. Then also, at six hours after dawn and nine hours after dawn, he did the same thing. Even "at the eleventh hour", he found some idle in the marketplace, and so he hired them also. At the end of the day, the workers lined up to get paid. The ones who were hired at the eleventh hour were paid a denarius (the same wage that the first workers agreed to be paid). So, the workers who were hired first thought that they would be paid more. But alas!, they also received a denarius. "And when they received it, they murmured against the goodman of the house" (Matthew 20:11). The landowner answered their grumblings: "Friend, I do you no wrong. Did you not agree to work for a denarius? Take what is yours, and go your way. I will give to the last, even as I did to you. Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with what I own? Or are you envious because I am generous?" (Matthew 20: 13-15).

The 1st Mvt Chorus of the Cantata consists of the words from Matthew 20: 14: "Nimm was dein ist, und gehe hin" ("Take what is yours, and go your way"). These are the words in the parable of the landowner to the grumbling laborers, and by extrapolation, the words of the Lord to grumbling Christians. In the parable, the landowner represents the Lord, inviting laborers to work in "His vineyard". The grumbling laborers represent grumbling Christians who are discontented with what God has given them.

The 2nd Mvt Alto Aria is an admonition for us not to be like the grumbling laborers: "Murre nicht, lieber Christ, murre nicht, lieber Christ, wenn was nicht nach Wunsch geschicht" ("Grumble not, dear Christian, grumble not, dear Christian, when things do not go as you wanted").

I dare say that there is not one of us who does not sympathize a bit with the grumbling laborers in the parable. It is the way of the world of commerce (and rightly so), that the one who works the hardest and longest should receive the higher wages. However, the Kingdom of Heaven is not the kingdom of this world, and is certainly not a kingdom based on the rules of commerce. This is the point of the parable. The Kingdom of Heaven is based on the grace of God, and follows the dictates of the will of God. God, in His sovereignty, doles out rewards, as only He sees fit. We must not think of life in the Kingdom of God as an arithmetical process, adding up the good deeds and the bad ones, and coming out with graces or losses according to whether the balance is on the credit or debit side. That is not the proper way to understand the dealings of God with His people. The 3rd Mvt Chorale speaks of God's sovereignty, and the perfection of His will in dealing with His people: "Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan, wie er fangt meine Sachen an" ("What God does, that is well done, however He directs my affairs").

In the parable, the reason the workers grumbled was not so much due to how the landowner treated them. Rather, their grumbling was due to the fact that the others, who did not work as long as they did, were given the same wages. If there were no other workers, and the original workers were paid the denarius, they would not have grumbled, for that was the wage they had agreed to at the beginning of the day.

We often see this attitude in this world. A person is content with his house, or car, or job, until he sees a friend get a better house, or car, or job. The 4th and 5th Mvts of the Cantata deal with being content with what God has given us. In the 4th Mvt: "Wo die Genugsamkeit regiert und uberall das Ruder fuhrt, da ist der Mensch vergnugt mit dem, wie Gott es fugt" ("Where contentment rules and everywhere steers the rudder, there people are pleased with what God ordains"); and later in the 5th Mvt: "Genugsamkeit, Genugsamkeit ist ein Schatz in diesem Leben" ("Contentment, contentment is a treasure in this life"). Much of the dissatisfaction, or grief, or anxiety, that we have in this life is due to our choice not to be content with what God has given us. We can choose to be the grumbling laborers, or we can choose to be content, and rejoice that we had the privilege of working all day in the Master's vineyard.

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 5, 2006):
Peter Smaill wrote:
>>After the discussion of the nautical images in BWV 81, from the previous Sunday, it is interesting to see a "Ruder" (rudder) making a brief appearance here, even when there is no cue from Scripture. (Tenor recitative, BWV 144/4; Duerr translates, "Where contentment governs, and everywhere rules the helm"). Was the librettist for both Sundays a sailor?<<
Bach set several texts by Johann Rist to music and may well have been acquainted with many more.

1. Johann Rist was born and lived in various places closely connected with the Elbe river where many sea and ocean-faring vessels were seen close at hand and probably had many opportunities to speak with sailors who attended his churches in Rinteln and later in Wedel.

2. In sacred Baroque poetry, a standard, very common metaphor for the course and transitoriness of life is that of the "Kreuzesmeer" ("the sea/ocean of the Cross") or "das stürmische Weltenmeer" ("The stormy sea of the universal sea/ocean"). The "Seelenschiff" ("the ship of one's soul") is protected from the gravest dangers and eternal death by Christ and Death eventually steers this ship out of the raging storm with its extremely high waves to a secure 'Port' which is "God's City of Bliss and greatest Joy". The 'Port' is the eschatological destination of this ship's journey (BWV 56 "the Kreuzstab cantata" mvt. 5 "Komm, o Tod, du Schlafes Bruder, komm und führe mich nur fort, löse meine Schiffleinsruder, bringe mich an sichern Port..") where my control of the 'rudder' of 'my little ship' is finally released. A similar reference to "Port" is found in BWV 108/2: "So kann ich mich getrösten, daß ich zu den Erlösten komm an gewünschten Port."

3. A specific example of the above is found in Rist's "Passion-tide Devotions" where a sonnet covers this subject in detail:

>>Was ist dieß unser Thun / was ist dieß unser Leben? Ein Schiff /ein leichtes Holtz das durch der Wellen Macht wird über See und Sand getrieben Tag und Nacht und muß so zwischen Luft und zwischen Wasser schweben. Nicht anders muß der Mensch den Lüsten widerstreben die lauter Winde seyn / die Wollust Ehr und Pracht sein Klippen / Sand und Stein an die man ohn bedacht offt stösset und den Geist darüber auff muß geben. Hie sind der Räuber viel / Fleisch / Sünde / Teuffel / Todt / die bringen manche Seel in schwere Wassernoth. Drumb selig der sein Schiff so wo weis zu bewahren / daz weder Klippen noch die Wind und grossen Thier Ihn stürtzen in Gefahr / der kann ja nach Begier mit sanfftem Glaubens-Wind ins Himmels Hafen fahren.<<

("What are all of our life's activities and what is this thing we call 'our life'? A ship made of light wood driven day and night by powerful waves over the sea and the sand below and hovering between the air and water. Similarly you (as a human being) must stand firm against all kinds of winds (your desires), against dangerous cliffs/rocks (relishing honor and splendor), against the unseen sands and rocks which you may often carelessly encounter and thus, in such an encounter, give up the spirit (die). There are many pirates/robbers out (t)here: the flesh, sin, the devil, and death. All of are capable of pulling many a soul under water. Blessed is, for this reason, the sailor who knows how to protect his ship very well so that neither the (rocky) cliffs, nor (treacherous) winds, nor the giant creatures of the ocean/sea would bring him into (great) danger, for this sailor will be able to steer his ship as desired into the harbor of heaven with the gentle wind provided by faith.")

4. Some 'cross'-language etymological correspondences:

a.) to 'cross' [OED nautical term: to set into position across the mast (the long extended arms forming a cross]

b.) Segelrute: sail-yard, yard-arm of a sailing ship -- etymology: from ahd. [Old High German] segelruota, segelruada, segelro&#780;ta, segilro&#780;te; mhd. [Middle High German] segelruote

c.) the ,rood': [OED The cross upon which Christ suffered; the cross as the symbol of the Christian faith.] This word is etymologically related to the modern German word: "Rute"

d.) Kreuzstab: ein Stab mit einem Kreuze ("a staff with a cross") Is there a nautical connection here? (see text reference above)

e.) Kreuzmaß or Kreuzrute: a surveying device, a measuring 'into the cross' (hairs?), a device for area measurement (not length or cubic).

f.) Rute (English: 'rod')[DWB gives, among others, the following equivalent meanings: Ruderstange, Ruder (English: rudder)]

Significant Quotation:


"den Steuerruder ihres Lebensschiffes" ("the,steering' rudder of their ship of life') p. 869 in Samuel Butschky, sr. "a-z Pathmos, enthaltend: sonderbare Reden und Betrachtungen", Leipzig 1677; this word also appears as neuter gender on p. 489.

Peter Smaill wrote (March 6, 2006):
[To Thomas Braatz] My thanks to Thomas Braatz for developing the connnection between the "navigatio vitae" images and the Cantatas, particularly to Johann Rist (1618-1677), a chorale writer on whom Bach frequently draws. The persistence of this type of imagery in the Baroque mindset has also been examined, but in a more general sense , by James Day in his "Literary Background to Bach's Cantatas."

The image of the journey through life as a voyage is so entrenched in Baroque form that it is not really a serious suggestion by me that the writers of such texts must have sailed; but, to have seen the sea? John Eliot Gardiner makes a point in his rehearsal DVD of saying that it is remarkable that Bach uses these images when he had never seen an ocean , an unusual mistake (or said for effect?) since Bach visited Lubeck and Hamburg.

Here is what Day said on the allusion:

"The theme of the navigatio vitae was medieval in origin. It is well known to us from the Christmas hymn "I saw three ships". There is a German version , "Uns kommt ein Schiff gefahren", attributed to the German mystic Johannes Tauler (c.1300-1371).......In the seveteenth century, the image was usually connected with the unpleasantness and uncertainty of a sea-voyage, with consequent dangers of storms and so on. In the allegory, these stood for passions and emotions.

The ship is usually the individual soul; though Rumpius (in 1609), Josua Stegman (1627), and Simon Dach (1642) write of the ship of the Church. August Buchner (1628) refers to the waves of human desires; faith is the steersman. Variations of this treatment occur throughout the century; Gryphius, Rist and David Peck ( in "Wenn wir in hoechsten Noeten Sind") being examples of poets who followed this fashion."

Day later reflects on Bach's fidelity to word painting in BWV 56,"Ich will das Kreuzstab gerne Traegen" "the wave figure in the continuo ceases the moment the text indicates that the Christian has landed from the ship."

It is thus that the greatest of all Lutheran/Protestant composers is engaged in elaborating medieval mystical imagery. But then, Lutherans do not consider themselves as a breakaway; they are a confessional Church arising from orthodox Christianity and as such the use of mystical images is part of a natural syncretism which allowed Bach's poet to draw freely from the treasurehouse
of Christian images.

Doug Cowling wrote (March 6, 2006):
Peter Smaill wrote:
< The ship is usually the individual soul; though Rumpius (in 1609), Josua Stegman (1627), and Simon Dach (1642) write of the ship of the Church. >
The main body of a gothic church like St.Thomas is called a "nave" because the building resembles an inverted ship.

Ed Myskowski wrote (March 6, 2006):
Peter Smaill wrote:
<Lutherans do not consider themselves as a breakaway>
This strikes me as at odds with Christoph Woolf's interpretation that Lutheran ideology is personal, almost mystical, and very much a breakaway sect from the Roman Catholic orthodoxy of Luther's time. And that the personal, as opposed to institutional, ideology informs Bach's music at it's very core. Perhaps you mean confessional to cover all this?

I don't have any special interest in one position or another, beyond enjoying Bach's music in an appropriate (HIP, even) context. Neither do I have any special attachment for Woolf, if he is superficial or inaccurate. He does seem like a reasonable and accessible source for the casual but serious listener: thorough and well organized for the available length, supported by appropriate references, and with integrity (but that is hard to judge).

If I have misinterpreted your position vis a vis Woolf, or more important, if I have
misjudged his value as an easy source for the casual Bach listener, I would be
interested to hear your opinion, which I respect.

All is wellen that ends wellen (BWV 81/3).

Ed Myskowski wrote (March 6, 2006):
[To Douglas Cowling] You may be interested to know that the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem MA opened a new and very expensive expansion in 2003. The architectural inspiration for the atrium, dating from about 1994, was an inverted ship. To reflect our maritime heritage. I did not have any involvement in the planning, but I understand that the idea was considered (or promoted) as highly original. The result is very attractive. Did I say expensive?

Eric Bergerud wrote (March 6, 2006):
[To Ed Myskowski] This is a pretty deep subject. Wolff does a pretty good job in my view of incorporating theology into his biography of Bach, but it is a secondary matter to the music itself as it should be. (I rather think Bach would have thought that way too. I don't doubt Bach's sincerity in the least, but it would be wrong, I think, to view Bach as a dogmatist or fanatic. I'd still wish someone would have recorded conversations had the nights Bach shared some beer and wine with students and faculty from the university. I doubt the conversation dealt solely with music. We'll never know alas.) Peter can speak for himself. However here are a couple of observations. First, the Lutheran church of Bach's era was not the same institution as the evangelical sect just being called "Lutheran" at the time of Luther's death. The core beliefs were there, but the emphasis on many points changed over time. Certainly Bach's era was a time of "peacful coexistence" between Lutherans and Catholics. Obviously Luther and his followers broke away from Mother Church. Indeed, if the Emperor would have got Luther in his mits there would have been a fire lit in an instant. Yet Luther himself often said he didn't realize the full import of his early actions on the European scene. It took several years from the 95 theses to the realization that a reconciliation between Luther and other schismatics was not going to take place with Rome. Second, in general, if one wishes to analyze the bewildering array of sects that arose from the Reformation (some may still be on the way - some of the Christian churches in China and other parts of Asia are taking on an identity very much of their own as I understand it) a good way to start to identify how far they broke from traditional Catholicism. Luther rejected the Pope, redefined sacraments and rejected good works in favor of redemption from faith. (All were related to the issue of faith. I rather suspect that is what is referred to in BWV 144: the amount good work meant nothing - God's favor was evidenced by redemption through faith alone.) However, Luther and his followers kept much of traditional church's teachings and made relatively small changes in others. I was raised reciting the Nicean creed. The Lutheran scripture isn't in Latin, but the work itself is essentially the same. Although some of Protestants showed a strong streak of iconoclasm, Luther never advocated it (thankfully). Luther saw a role for Latin in evangelical worship. Lutheran theologians continued to study and respect many of the great names from the Catholic past like Augustine. (St. Thomas and the scholastics weren't so lucky at the time.) In any case, very much of the old faith was maintained. Indeed, this factor was no doubt essential for the success of Luther's movement in the areas where it flourished. So Lutherans were indeed free to borrow heavily from the powerful and often beautiful imagery inherited from the Christian past.

John Pike wrote (March 6, 2006):
[To Eric Bergerud] When Wolff's book first came out, I read a review of it in the London Review of Books by Edward Said, that had a number of criticisms about the book. I think it was a very good review of an excellent book. Said's comments were interesting, and one of them was concerned with the interface between Bach's faith and his personal circumstances and suffering. Said suggested, I think, that it would have been incomprehensible for Bach not to have questioned his faith in the face of the terrible suffering in his life, and he criticised Wolff for not discussing that in the book. My own view is that such comments must inevitably be based on speculation and, although Wolff does make some interesting speculative comments, the book is not weakened by too much of this. Different books try to do different things and I think Wolff met HIS objectives admirably. If there is a need for a book with more speculation on the market, Sir John Eliot Gardiner's forthcoming book might fill that lacuna since I understand from an interview he did with the Guardian before Xmas that his book will contain a lot of speculation.

I do wonder a lot whether people like Bach ever questioned their faith in the face of terrible suffering. I certainly review my faith regularly in the face of some of the terrible human suffering that we witness on this planet.

Doug Cowling wrote (March 6, 2006):
John Pike wrote:
< I do wonder a lot whether people like Bach ever questioned their faith in the face of terrible suffering. I certainly review my faith regularly in the face of some of the terrible human suffering that we witness on this planet. >
It is almost impossible to discover the interrior religious disposition of an artist such as Bach because he left no personal memoir or theological writings. Shakesespeare wrote no overtly religious plays and scholars have tried for four centuries to discover his religious beliefs. To no avail -- the most recent "grasy-knoll" theory makes him a crypto-Catholic.

Bach lived in a time and place where religious conformity was required -- legally and socially -- and there is no evidence that Bach questioned his Lutheran context. If he had been a free-thinker, agnostic or dissenter, it is unlikely that he would have taken on a career which involved such an intimate, daily contact with established religion.

What we can do is examine works like the cantatas to see how they fit into the religious and social context of the period. There were a number of streams and schools in Lutheranism at the time and Bach's choice of texts does show their influence. Whether that was from personal conviction or conformity to his position we will never know.

What we cannot do is pluck the cantatas out of their context, dump them in a concert hall and call them "timeless works of art" which transcend their narrow religious origin. I once read with some amusment a programme note which gushed about the dramatic pause between the end of the Credo and the beginning of the Sanctus in the Mass in B Minor (BWV 232). The writer was completely unaware that the two movements in the Lutheran mass were separated by at least an hour of hymns, prayers and sermon.

Julian Mincham wrote (March 7, 2006):
BWV 144 and BWV 181

I hope I may be forgiven if I pre-empt the introduction to the latter of these cantatas set for discussion in the second week of March. The reason is that it seems illuminating to compare and contrast these two works written (or at least performed) a week apart in the second month of 1724.

Both are relatively short cantatas lasting around 13-15 minutes in performance. BWB 144 has six movements, BWV 181 five. Each contains one fully worked out chorus (i.e. not just a simple chorale setting) and two arias.

However it is when noticing the differences in structure that one becomes aware of the range of experimentation in cantata form that Bach explored in his epoch making first cycle, before settling on a more established pattern for the first 40 works of cycle two. For example, BWV 181 has, unusually, no chorale; BWV 144 has two (third and sixth movements). The large scale chorus is the opening movement of BWV 144:- it closes BWV 181. BWV 144 has one recitative; BWV 181 has two, the first of which transforms itself seamlessly into an arioso.

Comparing the two major choral movements it will be seen that that which opens BWV 144 is clearly a traditional fugal motet type movement which is largely vocally self sufficient, requiring virtually no instrumental support (the bass continuo line would press on when the lowest voices were silent and the upper parts may well have been doubled by brass instruments for safety--but that is all). The concluding chorus of BWV 181 is entirely different. This is the Italianate concerto ritornello structure in which the instrumental forces play a large part in introducing the musical material and accompanying the singers (although the word 'accompany' is usually misleading in the context of Bach's contrapuntal textures). Examples of both choral structures are commonly to be found in the cantatas, not least in the first group of the second cycle
where Bach demonstrated his great versatility in bending very different formal principles to the purpose of introducing the selected chorales, phrase by phrase.

The BWV 144 chorus is a very tight fugue of which it need only be said that the subject or opening theme (introduced by the tenors and derived from the shape of the first phrase of the first chorale) has the imperious quality of a command---'take what is yours'---and the countersubject, constructed of quavers and crotchets, conveys the feeling of movement or dispersal. Within the first few bars Bach has musically encapsulated the two fundamental images of the one line text.

Of the arias, three of the four are in minor keys. In fact, minor predominates in BWV 144 with the exception of the two chorales:- the major modes here possibly reflect the light cast by the guidance of the Lord. The first (bass) aria of BWV 181 is particularly striking. Possibly it is this sort of muscular, angular melody which CPE and Agricola had in mind when, in the Obituary they refer to Bach's melodies as being 'strange' and 'unlike those of any other composer!' Bach had a particular liking for 'strange' but greatly energetic bass arias; see, for example, the fourth movement of BWV 40 (earlier in this cycle) and the first movement of BWV 168--a piece of monumentaforce. What a beginning, in each case! One wonders how the sermon could have adequately followed or matched such drama!

Why are these two short works so differently structured? (a different question from the one which asks why are they so expressively different? Musical character is obviously a direct consequence of the structuring of the basic elements--melody, harmony rhythm etc.)

But one can have the same movement structures repeated time and again but achieving greatly contrasting characters---e.g. the classic symphony or concerto. Here the whole architectural structure is different. Is it simply Bach's need to experiment? Is it directly related to, or derived from the text? Did he consciously seek musical contrast of this kind in weekly adjoining works? Re recordings, Koopman has done a reconstruction of the obligato part of the tenor aria of BWV 181 and he also provides both the earlier and later (from Bach's last decade) versions of the first and last movements.

Neil Halliday wrote (March 7, 2006):
BWV 144

Mvt. 1:
Following on Julian's comments about this fugue, I would add that the fugue subject is introduced in the order T, B and S, A; but the unusual aspect is that the last note of the subject in the tenor is the first note of the subject in the bass, and likewise (an octave higher) for the soprano and alto. Thereafter there is interesting (even moving) quasi-chromatic writing resulting from the combination of long notes in the various voices. The subject, as well as the lively counter-subject (in dactyl rhythm, if I remember the explanation correctly), appears from time to time. Note the syncopation of the incipit of the subject in the tenor - first about half way through the movement, and also after a powerful bass entry, toward the end.

The version I have - Rilling [2] - conveys all this in a pleasing fashion; and to judge from the amazon samples, the music seems to survive all approaches from the heavy and slow (Ramin [1]) to the relatively brisk and light (Koopman [4]).

Mvt. 2:
The alto aria features repeated 1/8 notes ("murmurs/grumbling") in the string parts (except the 1st violins which often carry the melody), which add up to quite rich scoring for the string orchestra. Notice the contrast between the strength of Rilling [2] (and also Leonhardt [3]) in this regard on the one hand, and the quietness and restraint of Koopman [4], on the other. Notice also Ramin [1] does something that Richter often did - due no doubt to their large forces - and that is to quieten the orchestra while the soloist is singing. I prefer Rilling's approach where the orchestra is fully apparent all through the piece.

I note Aryeh did not enjoy the Rilling [2]; I can certainly admit that Watts is not the most satisfying of the singers - Bartosz with Kooman probably claims this accolade; and the counter-tenors also all give a good account - but Rilling's performance seems vital enough to me.

Mvt. 5:
The soprano aria is a lovely piece that admirably serves the purpose of expressing `contented acceptance'. The minor key tonality prevents too happy a mood arising; rather the music ambles along amiably. Rilling [2] has a perky bassoon in the continuo; the others have the usual string-based sound. Once again my favourite singer might be Koopman's soloist (Larsson) [4]. The boy soprano (Pfeiffer) with Leonhardt [3] is certainly very good, as long as he avoids a wobble on the low notes. Auger avoids an overwrought expression and is therefore quite pleasing, in combination with Rilling's distinctive instrumentation.


Continue on Part 2

Cantata BWV 144: Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

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