About this work
Cantata No. 22 ("He took unto him the twelve") and Cantata No. 23 occupy a unique position within the canon of Bach's sacred cantatas. Both were composed in 1723 during the last days of Bach's tenure as Kapellmeister at Cöthen, a post that had not required the composition of such works. But 1723 was a year that would mark a turning point in Bach's career, the year in which he gained the cantorship of the Thomasschule in Leipzig. It was not a straightforward appointment. The original choice of the Leipzig city council had been Telemann, a composer already well known in Leipzig. But Telemann rejected the post in favor of staying in Hamburg, and eventually the choice came down to Bach and Christoph Graupner, Kapellmeister at Darmstadt and favorite for the cantorship. Both were required to submit to examination and trial which included the performance of two cantatas at St. Thomas' Church. Graupner's test took place on January 17 1723, Bach's following on February 7. It was for this trial that Bach composed Cantatas Nos. 22 and 23, the former being given before the sermon -- the usual place in the Lutheran liturgy for the cantata -- while Cantata No. 23 was sung later during communion. In the event, the contest was needless since Graupner's employers refused to release him. Bach thus became cantor and his two examination cantatas herald the great series of Leipzig cantatas that flowed from his pen during the next few years. Although short, both works show every evidence that Bach set out to display his formidable talents in all their diversity. Scored for solo oboe, bassoon, strings, and continuo bass, BWV 22 is the more modestly orchestrated. The anonymous text is based on the Gospel for the day (Luke 18:31-43), the Sunday before Lent (Quinquagesima). Before leaving for his final journey to Jerusalem, Jesus tells the disciples of his coming passion and resurrection, an event narrated in the opening arioso chorus for tenor and bass, the disciples' lack of understanding articulated in a choral fugue. The arias for alto and tenor form personal comment on these events, the former pleading for understanding of the meaning of the passion, the latter a lively movement in passepied dance rhythm, in which the singer announces his intention to "renounce the things of the flesh" in favor of spiritual peace. The final movement is a prayerful and richly conceived four-part chorale set over a "walking bass."