For this Sunday, the third after Epiphany in 1725, Bach wrote Cantata 111 Was mein Gott will, das g’scheh allzeit.
In the church year, we have now arrived at the time where the Gospel reading talks about a new miracle every Sunday. Last week it was turning water into wine at the Marriage at Cana, this week it is about Jesus healing a leper. In my post from two years ago about cantatas 72 and 73, I explained what to Bach were the most important words from this Bible story:
Da er aber vom Berg herabging, folgte ihm viel Volks nach. Und siehe, ein Aussätziger kam und betete ihn an und sprach: Herr, so du willst, kannst du mich wohl reinigen. Und Jesus streckte seine Hand aus, rührte ihn an und sprach: Ich will’s tun; sei gereinigt!
(When He had come down from the mountain, great multitudes followed Him. And behold, a leper came and worshiped Him, saying, Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean. Then Jesus put out His hand and touched him, saying, I am willing; be cleansed.)
When, in 1725, in the context of his chorale cantata cycle, Bach needed to find a chorale that would underline this theme, he found the perfect match in Was mein Gott will, das g’scheh allzeit, a chorale from 1547.
I’m sorry to say that I haven’t really found a satisfying recording of this cantata. At the beginning of this week I listened to many different recordings, and I was often unhappy with the tempo of the opening chorus, and sometimes also with the interpretation of one of the other movements.
So I’ll fall back on the Harnoncourt recording because I like the instrumental part of the opening chorus the best of all recordings I listened to. You can find that recording here on YouTube. If you prefer to watch a live video recording, you can find the live performance by the J.S. Bach Foundation here.
A very nice and unusual element in this cantata is the alto/tenor duet (movement 4). It doesn’t happen very often that Bach writes for this combination of voices. They walk happily, even if it is to the grave. Note how the two voices are apart, written in canon (following each other) on most of the text, but together on the text zum Grabe führt (leads me to the grave). To make sure that everyone really got the message that if it is God’s will, even death is blessed, Bach and his librettist stress it again in the soprano recitative.
Wieneke Gorter, January 21, 2018. Links updated January 25, 2020.