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Cantata BWV 144
Nimm, was dein ist, und gehe hin
Discussions - Part 3

Continue from Part 2

Discussions in the Week of February 21, 2010

Peter Smaill wrote (February 21, 2010):
Introduction to BWV 144, "Nimm was dein ist, und gehe hin"

Cantata BWV 144, Nimm was dein ist, und gehe hin

First Performed: February 6, 1724, Leipzig, for Septuagesima (Third Sunday before Lent)
First Annual Cantata Cycle, 1723-24 (Jahrgang I)

Bach Cantata Website Link : http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV144.htm

Movements & Scoring

Mvt. 1: Chorus : “Nimm, was dein ist, und gehe hin
Choir: SATB, Instruments: 2 Ob, 2 Vn, Va, Bc

Mvt. 2: Aria: “Murre nicht, Lieber Christ
Soloist: 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
Soloist: Tenor, Instruments: Bc

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

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

Background

At Septuagesima the Church Year turns towards Lent. Bach produces BWV 144, translated as “Take what is yours and go your way!” in his first year at Leipzig, to a text by an unknown author. Dürr considers that the sentiments of this Cantata are “a superficial moral (as it may seem to modern listeners) that one should cultivate contentment, be satisfied with one’s lot and resign oneself to the Will of God”.

However, if we moderns attempt to re-enter the theological world of the seventeenth century, it will be discovered that this moral was then considered profound rather than superficial, and at its extremes a threat to Lutheranism; it is a surprising libretto for that reason. Secondly, the unusual musical construction (leading strict motet and two chorales in a short (18 minute) work suggests that there may be a structural reason for the unorthodox format.

One argument for its length can be challenged quite easily. The Cantata is not short because of cold weather at that time of year, since the successor BWV 92 for 28 January 1725 is in nine parts and lasts 33 minutes. The cause may be the difficulty in sustaining the number-alphabet underpin of the text beyond a small number of movements, the evidence for which is set out below.

Doctrine

“He who has truly yielded up his free-will to God will use it no more, but perform all his actions in dependence on God…He expects only what it shall please God to send or permit, receiving prosperity and adversity with an even mind”.

Thus ran the writings of the Quietist Antoinette de Bourignon (1616-1680), whose output was republished in twenty-one volumes in 1717, sixteen of which were translated into German. In Aberdeen in 1700 her doctrine is described as “spreading like a devouring fire, leading sundry well-meaning persons to vent many errors, and causing young men of good expectations to have their melancholy heightened to an excessive degree.”

This doctrine of passivity to the will of God, rather than the usual Lutheran emphasis on active cultivation of belief, is the basis of BWV 144. The two chorales both reinforce the Gospel message (from the parable of the labourers in the vineyard who grumble at late comers receiving the same amount of wages for less work): complete acceptance of the Will of God.

The issue is the extent of the doctrine of passivity, and its exclusion of the salvific effects of Grace, the Blood of Christ or Belief- all of which are variously mentioned in BWV 92 and 84 for this day. BWV 144, by contrast, does not mention Christ himself at all (though it refers to the Christian), an especially unusual omission in the run-up to Lent and the Passion, and exclusively praises resignation of the will.

Refutations of Madame Bourignon from the University of Tübingen were published in 1708 and 1716; the theologian Albrecht Ritschl recounts how in 1719 a pious Lutheran pastor discovered to his horror that he had in his congregation an adherent of Antoinette Bourignon. And yet, in the text of this Cantata we have a developed thesis entirely in line with her teachings. Even at this early date it has to be questioned as to whether Superintendent Deyling is exerting control over the Cantata texts.

Bach’s musical response

The introductory chorus, in strict motet form, is an exemplar of the phenomenon discussed earlier by Doug Cowling: there is not even an orchestral chord to denote pitch; as in BWV 71, “Gott ist mein König”, we are left to surmise how this dramatic and severe entry is accomplished without the choir risking musical disaster on the first note.

This is one of seven motet-like movements in the Cantatas using biblical texts (unlike BWV 14/1, which is one of eight such movements based on chorales.) Apart from the severe affekt of the words, there is the possibility that Bach chose the motet form to create a numerical language-alphabet underpin. It is as if, by analogy with the Gospel story, each voice is to receive the due number of notes implied by the usual natural order number alphabet, a word-counting technique in which A=1, B=2 etc.

BWV 144 is one of the most striking examples in Hirsch’s 1966 analysis and runs as follows:

Letter/number scores for Mvt. 1:

Nimm, was dein ist = 163
Und gehe hin= 92

Soprano sings 163 notes
Soprano+ Tenor sing “und gehe hin” 92 times
Bass + Alto sing “und gehe hin” 92 times

The score of the first two lines of Mvt. 2 is exactly the same as the chorale Mvt. 3, (246). “Murre nicht”=123 “Lieber Christ”= 123; the alto sings 245 notes ( a discrepancy of 1 is commonly observed in Hirsch.)

Such an analysis if accepted rules out any possibility that the fugal writing is an adaptation of a keyboard piece or an older motet.

Reception

Sometimes it is suggested that we have no knowledge at all of the effect on the hearers of Bach cantatas. This is generally the case but not so in two instances.

As discussed previously, this Cantata is a rarity in that the insistent repetition of “und gehe hin” was noted by F W Marpurg for its “splendid declamation”. As Marpurg claimed to have met Bach and discussed counterpoint with him this may well constitute, though published in 1760, a reaction to a later performance in Bach's lifetime. It is not the only one, for in the Acta Lipsiensum Academica for June 1723, the chronicler (presumably referring to the performance of BWV 75 on 30 May) records that Bach’s music found general approval (“mit guten applaus.”)

Conclusion

If the contentions on theology and numerology are correct then we can start to form an idea of the character of the librettist – exposed to, and influenced by, a rigorous doctrine of self-abnegation; and tempted to order words to create hidden numeric patterns within the text even before the musical relationship to notes is established by Bach. Whoever the author, he has a mind that is (contra Leibniz) “ conscious that it is calculating.”

Bach responds with a tightly controlled work suited to the focussed text. The theology may be dated but and the praise to be heaped on the robust and rythmic opening chorus, achieving sustained musical interest despite the short text and frequent repetitons, is as valid in 2010 as it was for Marpurg exactly 250 years ago.

Douglas Cowling wrote (February 22, 2010):
Peter Smaill wrote:
< Bach responds with a tightly controlled work suited to the focussed text. The theology may be dated but and the praise to be heaped on the robust and rythmic opening chorus, achieving sustained musical interest despite the short text and frequent repetitons, as valid in 2010 as it was for Marpurg exactly 250 years ago. >
Again I have to say that one of the joys of this list is encountering cantatas of Bach I have never heard before.

One quick scoring question ... The BGA full score has no markings for instrumental doubling in the opening chorus or in the chorale. Are the strings meant to double the voices?

There's a tendency to dismiss Bach's motet-style choruses as somehow old-fashioned and not as advanced as concerted movements (interestingly, Bach calls this cantata a "concerto"). The opening chorus has much in common with the "Credo" and "Confiteor" of the B Minor Mass (BWV 232) in its dynamic, independent "walking" bass. The dactylic figure which is so prominent also appears in the opening chorus of "Jesu, Der Du Meine Seele."

Is there an allusion to the chorale "Aus Tiefe Not" in the opening theme of the first chorus?

I would say this cantata is an excellent example of Bach's self-conscious juxtaposition of musical genres for symbolic or literary purposes. The juxtaposition of the "a capella" opening moevement with the luxurious string accompaniment of the aria reminded me of the concerted "Et Misericordia" and motet-style "Sicut Locutus Est" of the Magnificat (BWV 243).

The aria with its sarabande rhythm also reminded me of the closing choruses of the two Passions.

Neil Halliday wrote (February 22, 2010):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
> One quick scoring question ... The BGA full score has no markings for instrumental doubling in the opening chorus or in the chorale. Are the strings meant to double the voices?<
Most definitely. As you know, Bach invariably employs all his instruments in the final chorale (this cantata has two "plain" 4-part chorales); the BGA is obviously lacking the usual designations, including the oboe d'amore 'colla parte' the soprano line. (There are no figured bass figures in the score either).

Suzuki recognises this and in fact has the oboe d'amore and strings play not only in all the SATB movements, including the opening chorus, but in the alto aria as well, where the oboe doubles the first violins to charming effect. The oboe d'amore is of course the obbligato instrument in the soprano aria.

Julian Mincham wrote (February 22, 2010):
[To Neil Halliday] Barenreiter scores also recogise the doublings even going to the extent of printing the parts separately in the chorus. They also have the two oboes doubling 1st and 2nd violins in three of the movements, the chorus, the alto aria and the chorale.

Incidentally there is a somewhat odd preponderence of minor modes in this cantata; only one of the six movements , the first chorale, is major.

Incidentally I have often thought that the quaver movements in the lower strings of the alto aria might represent the grumbling of those who did not get what they thought they deserved. Harking back to the biblical quotation of the opening chorus it relates to the workers in the vineyard who had worked all day and received no more than those who came later and they felt, rather justifiably, somewhat aggrieved.

Evan Cortens wrote (February 22, 2010):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< One quick scoring question ... The BGA full score has no markings for instrumental doubling in the opening chorus or in the chorale. Are the strings meant to double the voices? >
It looks like the reason for this is that there are no extant parts for this cantata, only an autograph score. (Facsimile available here: http://vmbach.rz.uni-leipzig.de:8971/receive/BachDigitalSource_source_00001001) Since neither the first or last movement specify any instrumental headings (as is typical), one must guess what the instruments would have played. That said, I agree with the NBA, and Suzuki (and I would guess most others) in that the strings and oboes doubled the voices.

Ed Myskowski wrote (February 22, 2010):
Julian Mincham wrote:
< Harking back to the biblical quotation of the opening chorus it relates to the workers in the vineyard who had worked all day and received no more than those who came later and they felt, rather justifiably, somewhat aggrieved. >
Justifiably aggrieved, indeed!

Julian Mincham wrote (February 22, 2010):
[To Ed Myskowski] Quite so. I was always on their side---I think they were rather hard done by and its rubbing salt in the wound to have this held up as an example of patience and forbearance. I guess they didn't have a trade union!

No wonder you can hear them grumbling in the aria!

Thérèse Hanquet wrote (February 22, 2010):
[To Julian Mincham] I beg to disagree... I find much wisdom in this parable.

As a kid I often heard: "Regarde dans ton assiette" ("look at what is in your own plate") Actually a recipe for happiness ;-)

Julian Mincham wrote (February 22, 2010):
[To Thérèse Hanquet] I would in all humility, suggest that it is more complicated than that. I also think it is probably the parable of the political (be satisfied with what you have and eschew any ambition) which is the principle that underlies the staus quo.The doctrine that those who have earned should have no more than those who have not is, i suggest, a corrosive one. This is not to deny that the needy should be provided for by the majority.

Interenting that an C118 Lutheran lyric and a Bach cantata should lead us to look intensely at out own political beliefs and doctrines.

Ed Myskowski wrote (February 22, 2010):
Thérèse Hanquet wrote:
< I beg to disagree... I find much wisdom in this parable.
As a kid I often heard: "Regarde dans ton assiette" ("look at what is in your own plate") Actually a recipe for happiness ;-) >
Julian Mincham wrote:
< I would in all humility, suggest that it is more complicated than that. >
EM:
I agree with Julian, although this seems an opportune moment to repeat my appreciation of the civilizing influence of the BCML ladies. I do find irony in the fact that the cited proverb is French, who at least from my distant observation, seem willing to enter labor disputes over the most trivial misunderstandings.

Originally, I nearly quoted Jimmy Cliff, <The Harder They Come>, but decided to let go. On third thought, here it is:
But I'd rather be a free man in my grave
Than living as a puppet or a slave
So as sure as the sun will shine
I'm gonna get my share now, what's mine

Aloha, Ed Myskowski (from the land of the free, home of the [Boston] Braves)

Kim Patrick Clow wrote (February 22, 2010):
Thérèse Hanquet wrote:
< I beg to disagree... I find much wisdom in this parable.
As a kid I often heard: "Regarde dans ton assiette" ("look at what is in your own plate") Actually a recipe for happiness ;-) >
This parable is one of the few that the Jesus seminar thought was authentic, and from Jesus himself (i.e. a very old oral tradition), precisely because of the paradox of the unfairness and the reprimand of the Master to the disgruntled workers who thought he was being completely "unfair."

Ed Myskowski wrote (February 23, 2010):
[To Kim Patrick Clow] Is not religion where we turn for solace, in the face of the unfairness of life on Earth? Next we have to accept, unfairness is just a misunderstanding?

I am sticking with Jimmy Cliff:
<So as sure as the sun will shine,
I'm gonna get my share now, whats mine>

Kim Patrick Clow wrote (February 23, 2010):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
< Is not religion where we turn for solace, in the face of the unfairness of life on Earth? Next we have to accept, unfairness is just a misunderstanding? >
I'm not sure about that. You'll have to ask the Jesus seminar participants those questions.

Ed Myskowski wrote (February 23, 2010):
Kim Patrick Clow wrote:
< You'll have to ask the Jesus seminar participants those questions. >
First off, let me state that the Jesus seminar is new to me, as of the last hour or so, corrections warmly accepted.

It does appear that the Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard from Matthew is rated highly for authenticity, but in a forum which takes a much different view of Jesus than 18th C. Leipzig, orindeed, Lutheranism in general.

I do find the particular parable especially ironic on BCML, in view of Bachs attention to detail in attempting to extract fair treatment from authorities of any stripe. He seems remarkably undeterred by lack of success; even French workers could take a lesson?

Thérèse Hanquet wrote (February 22, 2010):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
< I agree with Julian, although this seems an opportune moment to repeat my appreciation of the civilizing influence of the BCML ladies. I do find irony in the fact that the cited proverb is French, who at least from my distant observation, seem willing to enter labor disputes over the most trivial misunderstandings.
Originally, I nearly quoted Jimmy Cliff, <The Harder They Come>, but decided to let go. On third thought, here it is:
But I'd rather be a free man in my grave
Than living as a puppet or a slave
So as sure as the sun will shine
I'm gonna get my share now, whats mine >

I completely agree with you about French labor disputes (in Belgium also, strikes are a kind of national specialty...). Note that its is quite funny to imagine God as a CEO...

I will not enter into a theological dispute here, but for me parables are particularly interesting when they go against "common sense". There is always something to discover and use.

Ed Myskowski wrote (February 23, 2010):
Thérèse Hanquet wrote:
< for me parables are >particularly interesting when they go against "common sense". There is always something to discover and use. >
Check out the Jesus seminar which Kim brought to our attention, for an interesting 20-21st C. perspective on historical Jesus, and his love of paradox. I hasten to reemphasize that, as I see it, this is not at all the Jesus of 18th Leipzig, not by a long shot.

Here in New England, USA, we have a long Puritan tradition. That theology has been described as <rooting out any trace of happiness, from every corner>.

Julian Mincham wrote (February 23, 2010):
Thérèse Hanquet wrote [to Ed Myskowski]:
< I completely agree with you about French labor disputes (in Belgium also, strikes are a kind of national specialty...). Note that its is quite funny to imagine God as a CEO... >
I will not enter into a theological dispute here,

Very wise knowing what they are likely to degenerate into; and nor was I attempting to start one. I was thinking of this from a slightly different angle. The cantata texts, which presumably supported the premise of the sermon of the day, were generally non controversial. They stressed the basic line, man is sinful, but he may be saved through Christ's sacrifice, faith etc. The fact of available salvation was never in dispute, although the processes we may undergo in order to achieve it allowed for some latitude of discussion. The texts could not be controversial, otherwise why would they be vetted in advance and approved?

It just occurred to me though that in a university city like Leipzig there must have been a well educated and intelligent congregation who might well have taken some of the ideas offered in the services as a basis of further thought and discussion. BWV 144 obviously throws up a parable which could be deemed contraversial as it allows for diverse views. Is this a C 21st way of looking at it though? Would C18 congregations have swallowed everything whole or might they have chewed over some of the ideas presented to them in texts and sermons?

Just musing----I guess we cannot get into the C18 mindset.

Neil Halliday wrote (February 23, 2010):
Impressions of the recordings.

Suzuki [7] has overall the finest recording of this week's cantata, IMO.

Kuijken [8], who is often near the top, doesn't make the grade this week; his small-scale (chamber) version is confirmed in the soprano aria which has a marked sempre-staccato continuo cello, understated violins, and prominent unvarying chamber organ. Koopman [4] flows more naturally with his tenuto (though detached) treatment of these cello notes.

But Koopman's [4] opening chorus (Mvt. 1) is taken 'allegro', lessening the impact of the fine counterpoint, IMO. Suzuki, while lively, displays the counterpoint in an impressively robust 'andante', in comparison.

Rilling's [2] chorales are especially grand.

Leusink's [5] arias are pleasing. (I haven't heard Gardiner [6] or Leonhardt [3]).

-----

The ritornellos of the two arias, on which the subsequent material is based, once again demonstrate Bach's endless gift for melodic invention.
-----
Doug drew attention to the initial intervals, a 5th and 6th of the minor scale, of the subject of the opening chorus (Mvt. 1), noting the similarity with the chorale "Aus tiefer Not". Some more instances employing these same scale degrees: the subject of the Eb minor fugue WTK I, and the bass aria of last week's cantata BWV 14.

Finally, that modulation on "Gram und Kummer" (grief and sorrow) in the recitative is rather effective (F major to C minor 6th, in inversion).

 

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

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Last update: ýFebruary 23, 2010 ý14:51:31