Composed in 1724 in Leipzig, the text for the opening chorus of BWV 144 is one of the shortest in all the cantatas. It comes from our Gospel reading today, Matthew 20:14 – “take what is yours and depart.” This gospel passage frames the central theme of the cantata that we should accept what we have and what we are; we should not be seeking anything better.Bach sets the opening chorus as a fugue in the manner of a 17th century motet with the orchestra doubling the voices. The fugue subject is resolute and decisive, reflecting the vineyard owner’s command. The countersubject on the text “gehe hin,” first heard in the tenors is busier and represents the departing workers. A brief middle episode, characterized by a series of held suspensions may perhaps suggest the workers still congregating around the vineyard, hoping for more, and reluctant to leave. The alto aria presents a somber and serious character. The text "grumble not when things do not go your way" is colored with low and dark writing for strings and voice. The movement in the lower strings gives a sense of disgruntled muttering. The familiar chorale that follows re-states the main theme of the cantata: What God does is well done.

The brief tenor recitative sends a warning: “where there is discontent there will be grief and sadness; and as a consequence, we may forget that what God does is done well.” The essential word of the soprano aria, “Genügsamkeit” [contentment], is repeated almost obsessively. A simple, personal aria with oboe d’amore, Bach’s choice not to set it as a da capo aria seems to emphasize the notions of satisfaction and gratification. The closing chorale, a four part setting of “Was mein Gott will, das gscheh allzeit,” makes a specific point on the final word “verlassen” – in the context of God never abandoning us – with a melisma in the tenor line.

© Ryan Turner

Bach Cantata BWV 144 begins with a spirited and energetic motet-style movement with the orchestra doubling the voices in an archaic 17th century manner. The alto aria with strings is movingly expressive and in direct contrast to the austerity of the opening chorus. The familiar charale “Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan” follows. After a brief recitative, the soprano aria with oboe d’amore is a beautiful and lively affair, brief but very effective. “Was mein Gott will, das g’scheh allzeit” ends the cantata.

©Craig Smith

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