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Cantata BWV 72
Alles nur nach Gottes Willen

Alberto Basso | Philipp Spitta | Woldemar Voigt | Albert Schweitzer | Alfred Dürr | Little & Jenne | Eric Chafe


Aryeh Oron wrote (April 7, 2003):
BWV 72 – Introduction [Alberto Basso]

The commentary below, quoted from the book ‘Oxford Composer Companion - J.S. Bach’ (1999), was written by Alberto Basso.

’Alles nur nach Gottes Willen’ ('Everything only according to God's will'). Cantata for the 3rd Sunday after Epiphany, BWV 72. As far as we know, Bach wrote four cantatas for this Sunday in the Church calendar; in addition to the present work, performed on 27 January 1726, there are BWV 73 (1724), BWV 111 (1725), and BWV 156 (probably 1729). Since the text of BWV 72 is by Salomo Franck, who was active at the Weimar court, and was published in his Evangelisches Andachts-Opffer (Weimar, 1715), it has been conjectured that the cantata was composed at Weimar for 27 January 1715 and revived at Leipzig in a totally revised version. It is scored for SATB with two oboes, two violins, viola, and continuo, and divided into six movements (in the BG edition and in Schmieder 1 and 2 the second and third movements are seen as one, making the total five).

The liturgy for the third Sunday after Epiphany includes two readings of particular importance and instruction to Christian worshippers. The Epistle (Romans 12: 17-21), recalling the words of Solomon (Prov. 25: 21-2), extols the virtue of charity towards one's enemy. The precept is fundamental to the Christian way of life, and in fact the whole of St Paul's chapter is so charged with exhortation and admonition, and so rich in content, that it might be compared with the Sermon on the Mount in St Matthew's Gospel. The appointed Gospel reading is in fact St Matthew 8: 1-13. It presents Jesus as a worker of miracles in healing the leper and the centurion's servant – a perfect expression of the spirit of charity.

The text of the cantata refers to the biblical readings in a general way, as an act of faith - a testimony to the blind faith that the believer, in good times and in bad times, should place in the Lord. Franck's libretto had designated the opening number an aria, but Each set it as a chorus in concertante style. It is ternary in form and predominantly imitative in texture, but with passages of chordal writing systematically and symbolically tied to the word 'alles' ('all'), which is repeated almost obsessively. This chorus was later parodied in the Missa in G minor BWV 235.

The way that Franck constructed the recitative 'O selger Christ, der allzeit seinen Willen' (Mvt. 2) led Bach to organize his setting (for alto and continuo) in three sections: recitative-arioso-recitative. The central arioso brings into prominence the nine-fold repetition of 'Herr, so du willt' ('Lord, if thou wilt'), which is set to similar (in the first three cases) or varied melodic phrases. The second recitative section is followed without a break by the alto aria 'Mit allem, was ich hab und bin'; the voice begins immediately, anticipating the instrumental ritornello, which takes the form of a fugato for the two obbligato violins. A final aria, 'Mein Jesus will es tun' (Mvt. 5, for soprano with oboe, strings, and continuo), resolves, with its dance-like (polonaise) character, the dramatic tensions accumulated earlier in the work. The cantata ends with the first strophe of the chorale ‘Was mein Gott will, das gscheh allzeit’ by Margrave Albrecht of Brandenburg (1547) in a straightforward four-part harmonization, with instruments doubling the voices.

Thomas Braatz wrote (April 12, 2003):
BWV 72 - Commentaries:


This is one of the most appealing of the texts by Franck. While it seems to follow the basic thoughts of the other texts by Franck and was undoubtedly influenced by them, where the special nuance in these other texts seems to emphasize a more pious feeling of being resigned to suffering, the text for BWV 72, however, praises a blessed state of satisfaction that arises from a feeling that one is everywhere supported by the kind hand of God. In contrast to the other cantatas on Franck texts, some of which have a dark, foreboding quality about them, BWV 72 demonstrates a trusting, childlike intimacy which is almost overpowering. This feeling is best demonstrated in the soprano aria in the words “Mein Jesus will es tun, er will dein Kreuz versüßen” [“My Jesus wants to do this, he wants to ‘sweeten’ your cross/suffering.”] This is one of the loveliest vocal pieces that Bach ever wrote. The rest of the cantata is not less charming: a stirring alto aria “Mit allem was ich habe und bin, Will ich mich Jesu lassen,” with a preceding Arioso, in which a duple and triple rhythms are effectively merged, and, finally, the introductory choral mvt. with its splendid breadth boiling over with intimacy/depth.


This cantata does not attract much attention, but it is a heartfelt, mature work of uniform excellence. The introductory chorus begins with a stern, majestic greatness best exemplified by the repeated 2 chords on the word “Alles” [“everything”] that dominate the mvt. and are based on a clever poetic conceit, for this “Alles” is simply the most important thing in this mvt. These chords should not be played in an overly staccato fashion, but rather more like a tenuto or portato (a marking which Bach did not use.) This will suit better the meaning of the word. Also, the soprano, in introducing additional text, movingly distances itself from time to time with fervent musical departures from the repeated chords being announced in the other voices. The middle section on the words “Gottes Willen soll mich stillen” [“God’s will ought to ‘quiet’ me/bring me satisfaction”] very movingly expresses the notion behind the words (word painting) by having the instrumental accompaniment step down lightly on the 2-chord motif, while the voices are weaving a dense network of sounds, at first growing passionate in their pleading, but then concluding in a calm manner. All the while the 2-chord Leitmotif continues to appear. The return to the beginning section introduces new text, and now the alto rather than the soprano plays a special role in providing the leading melody in a beautiful, serious manner.

The solos that that follow the chorus are of equal worth and continue to develop the mood in such a way that there is a gradual development (albeit not in a simple straight line) throughout from a struggle to attain resignation which eventually leads to a joyful devotion/dedication.

The beautiful alto arioso is simply earnest, while the following aria brings deep excitement. [Voigt now suggests how to cut the length of this aria.]
The soprano aria has an extraordinarily intimate theme and approaches in the 2nd part an almost rapturous enthusiasm/ecstasy which nevertheless is free of any saccharine quality. [Voigt suggests changing “dein” to “mein.”]

This inwardly directed cantata concludes with a chorale that is firmly confident.


[Bach] does not even shrink from finding a musical symbol for the abstract idea of “time.” In BWV 27 the flight of time is suggested in the orchestra by a mysterious pendulum stroke that never ceases throughout the opening chorus. There is a similar representation in the 1st chorus of the BWV 72.

In the opening chorus of BWV 72, the main musical theme is prompted by a word of quite subordinate importance. It is the word “Zeit” [“time,”] –“Alles nur nach Gottes Willen…so bei gut als böser Zeit” [“God’s will be done…both in good and evil time.”] Bach expresses it by the stroke of the pendulum, as in BWV 27. Tmonotonous rhythm in the bass, in which the rest of the orchestra also joins {example: the bc of ms. 1-6 of mvt. 1} is accordingly maintained from the beginning to end of the chorus. It is to this impressive tick-tack that the choir sings the moving text.

In the almost dance-like prelude to the soprano aria “Mein Jesus will es tun” [“This will my Jesus do,”] the upper voices several times pause suddenly on a chord, while the bass of the theme—{1st 2 ms. of the oboe part of mvt. 5} continues. The only other in which this occurs is “Wirf mein Herze, wirf dich noch in des Höchsten Liebesarme” [“Cast thyself, oh my heart, into the loving arms of God,”] in BWV 155 in which passionate mvt. it depicts the heart at rest in God’s arms. Bearing this musical identity in mind, let us look again at the text of the aria “Mein Jesus will es tun.” The passage is at once seen to mean “Although thy heart is overwhelmed with heaviness, it shall rest gently in His arms.” This is one of the cases where the meaning of Bach’s music becomes clear by the comparison of 2 quite unconnected passages.

Regarding the parody:

The adaptations [of the masses from cantata mvts.] are perfunctory and occasionally quite nonsensical. In the G minor Mass, for example, Bach adds the text of the ‘Gloria’ to the gloomy music of the 1st chorus of the BWV 72.


Mvt. 1 begins with an introductory choral section which Franck had really intended to be an aria. The thematic material is revealed in a concertante instrumental ritornello. The violins dominate the orchestra made up of 2 oboes, strings and continuo in this part with 16th-note figures which eventually also occur in the bc. The choir then enters and plays a prominent role, but gradually this role is passed back to the orchestra. The mvt. has a da capo form which provides the frames for a middle section. Each da capo section ends with a Choreinbau, while the middle section features the tightly interlaced canonic imitation by the voices on “Gottes Wille soll mich stillen” accompanied by the instruments.

In mvt. 2, the ‘Arioso’ contains an anaphora (the 9-fold repetition of “Herr, so du willt.) This is similar to what happens in BWV 73. The 2nd recitative is based upon Matt 8:3 where a leper asks Jesus to heal him: “Und Jesus streckte seine Hand aus, rührte ihn an und sprach: Ich wills tun.” [“And Jesus put forth his hand, and touched him, saying, I will; be thou clean. And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.”] Franck applies this text to the present: “So glaube nun! Dein Heiland saget: Ich wills tun! Er pflegt die Gnadenhand | Noch willigst auszustrecken…” Also, in mvt. 5, Franck falls back upon the same biblical passage with the words „Mein Jesus will es tun.” Finally, in mvt. 4, Franck bases his text upon the words of the captain from Capernaum: “Herr, ich bin nicht wert, daß du unter mein Dach gehest” [“Then the officer said, "Lord, I am not worthy to have you come into my home”] when he writes: “Und will das niedre Dach | Der armen Herzen nicht verschmähen, | Darunter gnädig einzugehen.

Mvt. 3 begins directly without any ritornello and the alto enters directly all alone with the 1st 2 lines of the text. This is one of the very few aria ritornelli that are constructed as a fugal exposition. The 2 obbligato violins (with bc) having a running, imitative 16th-note theme. The ritornello closes with an epilogue, after which the main section of the aria (constructed out of repetition of the beginning after which a Vokaleinbau is superimposed over the fugal exposition) begins. Once again this entire section is repeated before the middle part which has a freer treatment is introduced. This then leads into shortened form of the da capo section. This aria is a modified da capo form that is much more like the bar-form (A A B A’).

After a secco recitative, the 2nd aria, in contrast to the 1st one, has a more song- or dance-like character which allows the instruments much more freedom than usual. The ritornello consisting of 16 ms. is repeated entirely after the short statement of “Mein Jesus will es tun” by the vocalist. Only then does the main section really begin with somewhat less strictly observed repetition of the ritornello that includes a Vokaleinbau. The 2nd section of the aria, using the coloring of a minor key, expresses the text much more directly on the words “Obgleich dein Herze liegt in viel Bekümmernissen,” and using long, held notes underlines the words “still in seinen Armen ruhn.” At the very end of the final ritornello, the motto appears once again: “Mein Jesus will es tun.”

The final chorale setting is a very simple one.

Little & Jenne (“Dance and the Music of J. S. Bach):

They have not determined any characteristic dance-type mvt. anywhere in this cantata. This means that comments by Schweitzer, Dürr and Ludwig Finscher (1977—in his commentary for the Teldec series where he states that mvt. 5 is in “a light-hearted dance style {polonaise}”] may be mistaken.


“In Cantata BWV 108, “Es ist euch gut, daß ich hingehe,” anticipation of the Spirit’s descent and the relinquishing to it of all self-determination –“Dein Geist wird mich also regieren” (rec.), “Dein Geist, den Gott vom Himmel gibt, der leitet alles, was ihn liebt, auf wohlgebähntem Wege” (final choral) – prompts a plan of descent from A major (chorus) through F sharp minor (aria) and D major (recitative and aria) to B minor (aria and chorale). Cantatas emphasizing these qualities can also make a return ascent. In Cantata BWV 72, “Alles nur nach Gottes Willen” (1726), for example, after the opening A minor chorus, the 2nd mvt., a complex of recitative, arioso, and aria, moves downward from its 1st words, “O sel’ger Christ, der allzeit seinen Willen in Gottes Willen senkt.” The aria, in D minor, emphasizes the weak individual’s submission to Christ. The following recitative brings out Jesus’ help, through faith, in suffering and oppression; near the end of the phrase “Er stärkt, was schwach” moves to close in G minor as if to illustrate human weakness; but with the final G major chord treated as the dominant of the ensuing C major aria, “Mein Jesus will es tun,” the cantata can close in its original key of A minor. Here the flat region is associated with human weakness, the relative major with Jesus’ aid.


Cantata BWV 72: Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Commentaries: Main Page | Cantatas BWV 1-50 | Cantatas BWV 51-100 | Cantatas BWV 101-150 | Cantatas BWV 151-200 | Cantatas BWV 201-224 | Other Vocal Works BWV 225-524 | Sources


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