The text of BWV 204 is derived from a text of C. F. Hunold dating from 1713, and bears the subtitle Von der Zufriedenheit (on Contentment). It provides the basis for a very fine (if under-performed and under appreciated) cantata from the mid 1720's. You might wish to compare this work to the sacred cantata BWV 84, based on the same text.
It's not known what occasion this cantata was composed for, and it has been suggested that Bach intended it for his own private domestic use. The text has been criticised over the years (both Spitta and Schweitzer having little time for it and the work in general) but I must admit that I don't think it's all that bad! The cantata is all about the sufficiency of ones own inner contentment, and in these hectic troubled times, that's not such a bad idea. What's more, the music is very fine and the cantata concludes with, in my opinion, one of Bach's finest inspirations.
The cantata takes a typical Italianate form with repeated recitative-aria pairs. The first pair praise inner calm, with an aria beautifully accompanied by two intertwining oboes. The second pair takes up the theme of worldly riches implying spiritual poverty (and vice-versa) and here the aria's fine vocal line is accompanied by an athletic solo violin. Next up is the message of contentment through communion with God. In the aria of this pair the flute gets its chance to shine. The final recitative continues the theme of money being the root of evil and moves into an arioso section in which even worldly friends are denied as unreliable. The final aria, amplifying the message that true happiness derives from oneness with God, is one of most beautiful pieces of music that Bach ever commited to the world. Used again in BWV 216/3 and BWV 216a/3, and possibly used in the lost St. Mark Passion (in the aria Angenehmes Mordgeschrei), BWV 247, this is a piece of music that you absolutely must get to hear!
Copyright © 1999, Simon Crouch.