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Cantata BWV 102
Herr, deine Augen sehen nach dem Glauben!
Discussions - Part 1

Discussions in the Week of August 19, 2001 (1st round)

Aryeh Oron wrote (August 21, 2001):
Background - Opening Chorus (Mvt. 1)

This is the week of Cantata BWV 102 according to Peter Bloemendaal, the third one in his proposed list of cantatas for discussion. I was lucky to get from Thomas Braatz in advance his review of various aspects in the structure of the opening chorus of this cantata. I recommend everybody listening to this chorus with his illuminating and erudite review at your hand. Even if you are a musician, the picture of the unique structure of this chorus will become clearer and clearer with every repeated hearing. I shall allow myself complementing his splendid review with the text (Original German and good English translation), which is very important for the understanding of the structure and the meaning of the marvellous movement, and three other sources, which I believe that he has not used. I have also my personal viewpoint regarding the unique structure of this chorus, as you will see below. I recommend for those members who know Hebrew, reading also the original Hebrew text from Jeremiah 5: 3.

Original German text:
Herr, deine Augen sehen nach dem Glauben!
Du schlägest sie, aber sie fühlen's nicht;
du plagest sie, aber sie bessern sich nicht.
Sie haben ein härter Angesicht denn ein Fels und wollen sich nicht bekehren

English Translation (by Richard Stokes):
Lord, are not Thine eyes upon the truth!
Thou hast stricken them, but they have not grieved;
Thou hast consumed them, but they have refused to receive correction;
they have made their faces harder than a rock, and they have refused to return.

Alec Robertson:
“No direct reference is made to the Gospel in the libretto of this cantata but the emphasis is again (as in BWV 101, for the same day) laid on the wrath of God and not on Jesus’ weeping over the destruction of Jerusalem to come… Bach repeats the opening line four times before coming to ‘thou smitest them’, graphically illustrated in the broken phrases of the fugato that follows, accompanied only by the detached staccato phrases for the oboes. A return to the first line leads to a full-scale fugue where the text refers to the fourth line of the text. The texture becomes dense in this astonishing fugue, which seems to burn with wrathful fire. The last words are those of the first line. The diversity of themes in the orchestral introduction is used to good effect in the course of this powerful movement.”

Murray W. Young:
“The chorus seems to proclaim the words of the prophet Jeremiah, as they sing his lamentation about the sins of the people.”

Simon Crouch:
“Fugue alert! If you, like me, adore the way that Bach elevates the choral fugue from the worthy to the sublime, then try and get some singing friends together and go through the opening movement of this cantata. Bach starts with emphatic declamatory phrases, moves through a fugal texture to arrive at a full-blown fugue towards the end of the movement. There are few better examples of this style than this exceptional movement.”

Personal Viewpoint

After many listenings to the opening chorus of this cantata, and guided by the various approaches presented by the conductors, I came to personal conclusion regarding the structure of this cantata. I believe now that it is based primarily by the emotional content suggested by the words. The biblical phrase is divided into four parts. The first part describes to goal to which everyone has to look forward to. This plea to look to faith is presented by Bach in the introductory ritornello and the first part of the choir, which repeats the theme of the ritornello. This is very melodious theme, even tempting. When you want somebody to do something you ask him to do it in a pleasant way. You present to him the benefits he gains if he accede to your wish. The next three parts of the biblical phrase describe the reaction of the person to your suggestion. In this case you meet somebody stubborn, who wants to do it his way and not yours, although you himself believes that is preferable for him. You repeat your asking, and with every repetition the resistance of this person becomes harder and harder. You talk to him with pleasant words, and he will answer you with short, tough and impolite, staccato-like words ‘I told you that I do not want to do it!’. At the end he makes you really angry. After all, you wanted his favour.

The Recordings

See: Cantata BWV 102 - Recordings.

Review of the recordings

[1] Britten (6:37)
In the booklet of this CD, which was issued for the first time only last year, there is a description by Philip Reed. Although we cannot expect such a review to be fully objective, it is still interesting to read. About the first movement Reed write: “A pair of choral movements frames the sequence of arias. Britten marked extensive opening movement 'quick & stern'. Although it‘s not especially fast, the movement is imbued with characterful dynamic markings and lively articulation. At he first chorus entry, Britten’s indication in his score of ‘righteous indignation’ is certainly realised.” Although Britten is clearly not ingrained in the Bach tradition, he is still very much aware of what he is doing and has full control on the occurrences. He has his own way of looking at the possibilities suggested by the score and he gives full respect to a composer who wrote his music about two hundreds years before him, and who actually laid the foundations for all classical European music that came after him. For some listeners, Britten might sound old-fashioned, but I hear in his interpretation interesting things. For example the staccato element is hinted even during the opening ritornello, as though he expect things to come. Although the choir is not as polished, as the other choirs are, they still sound enthusiastic and sincere.

[3] Rilling (7:52)
Rilling has his trademarks, which makes it easier for the occasional listener to identify him. He is rich, colourful and tends to prefer the legato rather than the staccato. Here he almost abandons the staccato marks, and also takes very slow tempo. These two characteristics make his interpretation very different from the other. Is this approach justified? In my opinion, the answer is definitely yes. Although the pace is slow indeed, Rilling succeeds to build the tension gradually, up to the level that at the end you feel flooded and overwhelmed. You do not have the power to stand against such powerful resistance and you give up.

[5] Richter (6:12)
Richter is an architect. With his rendition you see the full picture from the very beginning to the end. His interpretation has much more vigour and splendour than the previous two have. In the first part I hear in the choral singing certain tenderness, uncommon in Richter’s performances. The resistance in the following pats is firm and it becomes more determined as the movement is proceeding.

[6] Harnoncourt (6:09)
I like Harnoncourt’s interpretation of this chorus, despite its being certainly different from the others. Although he takes the staccato approach very strongly along the whole chorus, and it is clearly heard even in the opening ritornello and the first part, he still manages to picture the asking very convincingly. Two parameters characterise this rendition. The first is that the instrumental lines are more emphasised than in any other rendition. It is as if Harnoncourt wants to say, this is the goal, do not forget it. The second is that in the remaining of the chorus, which comes after the first part, he almost dries up the singing. It seems that he intentionally peels all the melodious shells of the vocal lines. According to what I see as potential explanation for the structure of this movement, this is a legitimate approach.

[7] Leusink (6:35)
Hearing Leusink at the makes his rendition sounds as average of the four previous renditions. It is not too slow and not too fast; not too strong and not too fast; not too staccato and not too legato. There is not too much emphasise neither on the vocal line, nor on the instrumental line. Average might sounds boring. But this is not the case here. This is untypical balanced performance, where every part falls into its place. The picture is very clear and on top of it, it has certain kind of liveliness, enthusiasm and spontaneity, which makes it very attractive. I do not hear here firm resistance, neither do I hear ‘wrathful fire’, but I do enjoy it very much.

Recordings of the Mass in G minor BWV 235

The list of the recordings of Missa Brevis in G minor BWV 235 appears in the Bach Cantatas Website in the following page:

I shall not review them here only due to lack of time. But I recommend everybody who wants to broaden his horizons, listening to at least some of the recordings of this Mass. I find the following recordings as the most fascinating:
Purcell Quartet’s recording of this and the other three Lutheran Masses, is a fine example of OVPP rendition. There is a perfect match between the voices of the four singers, clarity of lines, and thrilling expression.
Hickox combines delicacy with momentum.
Rilling 2 is full-blooded and rich, yet clear.
Herreweghe is floating in the air, illustrating the texture like an aquarelle.
Schreier is jumpy, lively, transparent and danceable.


I do not have any priorities. Every rendition has its own merits. The strength of Bach’s music is proved once again by its openness to very different interpretations.

And do try to take this marvellous chorus out of your head after hearing it several times. I cannot.

And as always, I would like to hear other opinions, regarding the above mentioned performances, or other recordings.

Thomas Braatz wrote (August 22, 2001):
BWV 102 Mvt. 1.

Regarding this mvt. there seems to be little doubt as to its greatness. Even Bach parodied this mvt. as the opening mvt. in his Mass in G minor BWV 235. It is interesting so see various minor differences between the two versions that exist. I listened to the Herreweghe recording of BWV 235 and was amazed at the loss of angularity due to the Latin and Herreweghe's interpretation in which everything is delicate, smooth and clear. Almost none of the staccato marks made it from the original BWV 102 into this version BWV 235, and those that do appear are not found in the vocal parts! The NBA II/2 KB offers no indication of a date for this transformation/parody by Bach and the experts even indicate that Bach's authorship, although probable, has not been completely verified, since there are only copies and copies of copies to rely upon here. Regarding the sequence as to which version came first, the experts that did the research for the NBA agree that the Missa is later than BWV 102. [Konrad Küster, nevertheless, in writing for the "Oxford Composer Companions: J.S.Bach {Boyd} 1999" wants to imply that BWV 235 is the original composition from which BWV 102 is the parody, even citing the musical structure of BWV 235 with its Latin text as 'clearly matching that of the text.' No way!!]

The more I heard this mvt (Mvt. 1 of BWV 102,) the more I became convinced that this mvt. deserved further investigation. Perhaps the first thing to strike a listener's ear as being unusual and noteworthy is Bach's rendering of "Du schlägest sie" where he breaks the theme into bits using staccato and short rests to underscore the text musically, but it was not until I had listened to various recordings several times that the falling pattern in the oboes and violins made sense as well by describing how people were falling to the ground under the blows of the beating they were receiving or does this represent the falling of blows upon mankind? Then I began to marvel at and enjoy the long held note (pedal point) sung by the bass on the word "Glauben" ["belief,"] where Bach wants to point out the enduring quality that 'belief' must have.

Then I began discovering instrumental motifs that seemed significant, but I had no way of relating them to words in the text. Dürr gives a structural analysis that attempts to emphasize two main points: 1) A B A overall structure with many insertions (fugues) and modifications (only parts of sections occurring at times) thus making the structure difficult to follow (at least for me!) and 2) "Choreinbau," a technical term for that which we have experienced in BWV 146 Mvt. 2 (actually the slow mvt. of the famous D minor Clavier Concerto) where Bach takes the existing instrumental slow mvt. and composes a rather interesting, but difficult to perform correctly, 4-part choral setting of "Wir müssen durch viel Trübsal." But perhaps because most of us have first heard this as the slow mvt. of the clavier concerto, before hearing it in this transformation, it appears that this mvt. is less successful, more difficult to perform successfully despite the adept hand of the master in accomplishing this feat.

This mvt. (BWV 102 Mvt. 1) does not seem to be in the same category as the Choreinbau in BWV 146. The text, the vocal scoring, the instrumental accompaniment are unified and give the impression that they were conceived simultaneously, hence Choreinbau does not explain much, if anything to me. So where to turn? After examining the score and listening to this mvt. carefully, a solution presented itself to me. Before I had been analyzing the motifs in the introductory instrumental section as if this were the initial conception from which all else issued, but this I now believe was wrong. When are overtures to operas normally written? If you are Mozart, then this happens at the last moment, a few hours before the actual performance. Back to Bach: so then these motifs are coming from different places throughout the mvt., the mvt. being the equivalent to an entire opera here. No, that does not work either. Finally, it occurred to me that the concluding section has it all! The introductory sinfonia, measures 1-20 are exactly the same as measures 98-118 in the concluding section, the only difference being that the voices are lacking at the beginning! To me it appears Bach began with the block of material 98-118 and probably had the text and choral parts foremost in his mind to which he then added the instrumental parts, in many instances duplicating the vocal parts, but also adding here and there and additional twist/motif derived from the vocal parts, or in some instances completely original like the slow, written-out trill in the oboes toward the very end of this section. What a conservation of energy not to have to worry about writing an introductory sinfonia if the time on the clock for next Sunday's performance of the cantata is already running out and the copier is waiting to write out the parts!

All right, so we have an A B A with the two A's already established, but what goes on in between? The next step is very logical as Bach introduces the voices for the first time at the beginning at measure 21, but only with one attention-getting chord on the word "Herr" ["Lord"] somewhat similar to the intial word sung by the choir in the opening mvt. of the SJP (BWV 245). Bach immediately reduces the volume level by allowing only the alto voice to continue alone, then the full choir for a double restatement of the initial line. Once again he repeats the initial "Herr" after which the soprano continues alone. Bach knows that if he immediately began with a full chorus statement of the mcontained in the final section, the latter would be an anticlimax. He builds slowly toward the eventual conclusion. How better to do this than with the two fugues that he intersperses in the middle section, including short bridge passages for instruments only, as well as merging the fugues with material from the final section. Which came first? Which is the chicken or the egg? Did Bach work out the fugues first before doing the last section? Or did the germinal idea of 'schlagen' already present in the final section give rise to the full-fledged fugue later? I can only marvel at how Bach merges the end of the first fugue into material derived from the final section. The second fugue is quite different in structure that it demands a more careful examination. Even disregarding the text, if that were possible, this fugue is greater in every way than the first, even disregarding the startling nature of the fugal theme in the first. This fugue, "Sie haben ein härter Angesicht denn ein Fels," begins in the bass and moves up through all the voices to the soprano voice but does not stop there. What happens is one of those great moments in Bach that are always worth anticipating. Bach breaks through the limits of the vocal forces to add yet another fugal entrance in the instruments (oboes and violins, but in many cantatas it is the trumpet that will soar with this theme announcement above all the performers.) Now Bach reverses the order descending in reverse from soprano through the other voices to the final statement in the bass.

At another point in this mvt. Bach works with pairs of voices in a quasi dialog, at first having soprano and bass sing a phrase, whereupon the alto and tenor begin their answer with different words before the other pair has finished. This is reversed in the final section, an image reversal that not only breaks up any potential monotony, but also serves to challenge Bach, a challenge that he accepts because it satisfies his inner desire for order, balance, and increasing diversity and momentum toward a climax.

I forgot to mention the 'fate' rhythm-motif [dot,dot,dot,dah] which consists of, well, you will know it best by its use in mvt. 1 of Beethoven's 5th, but here it does not have the characteristic minor third drop at the end, nor is it as fast. Bach gives it special attention in that it is the only phrase to be marked with a dynamic indication, 'forte.' It occurs twice (measures 23 and 32.)

Once you understand this mvt. better, you will hear in the introductory instrumental sinfonia, the crying out of "Herr," the staccato notes of "schlägst,' the falling down two-note phrases in the violins, the 'fate' rhythm/motif, the beating blows (staccato notes played by the oboes) raining down on mankind, the long held notes of the oboes ("Glaube"?), and the slow trill in the oboes and drives toward an inevitable conclusion (also at the end of the entire mvt.)

Review of the Recordings

The recordings I listened to: Rilling (1972) [3], Richter (1975-7) [5], Harnoncourt (1980) [6], and Leusink (1999) [7].

Mvt. 1

[3] Rilling has the slowest tempo of all these versions. Add to this the fact that he so favors the legato treatment as much as possible throughout, even disregarding Bach's own indications of staccato and the 'fate' motif, and the wonderful two-note falling phrases in the violins, that you experience mainly the sadness and wailing as a heavy weight around mankind's neck. In the very angular phrase, "Du schlägest sie," the separation between notes is barely noticeable. Even with these distortions and lack of respect for Bach's intentions, Rilling still manages to pull off a reasonable performance. The use of vibrato in the voices of the choir causes some real problems for me. The musical lines, although always present, tend to become unclear and shaky, a quality that detracts from the monumentality of this work. Rilling tries to make up for this by imposing a legato on almost everything, which is certainly not what Bach wanted, if we can believe his own score.

[5] Richter takes a faster tempo. This removes some of the dour aspect of the Rilling version [3]. But we do not want a happy-go-lucky feeling either. By using a pizzicato bass, Richter is able to overcome some of the heavy basso continuo that he has been known to produce. The negative aspect of this is a 'thumpier' bass line and a lack of continuity where Bach has not indicated any breaks or staccato-type playing. Instead of having all two or three string bass players (I do not know how many he had), he could have reduced their number to one player who would be instructed to play softly (if this is ever possible - listen to Leusink, whose basso continuo is almost always too loud.) Richter does the staccato indications properly by detaching the notes more than Rilling did. Richter definitely brings out the 'fate' motif/rhythm. When the choir enters with its first chord with its correct note value and appropriate accentuation, it is very convincing. This is the way to get the Lord's attention. There is an attitude expressed that is based on conviction and sincerity, qualities lacking in the versions that follow. That awful organ accompaniment duplicating the vocal lines mars an otherwise interesting performance. It really does sound ridiculous when Richter duplicates the bass singing the fugal entrance where no other voice is singing. Three or four octaves higher are these mixture stops playing parallel notes! Was Richter so afraid that the voices 'would not make it on their own?" Balance: when the fugue ("Du schlägest sie") begins, the wonderful two-note, staccato motifs are practically inaudible, and this with only one or two vocal lines + bc! When the second fugue reaches its upper limit (5th entrance of the theme) in the oboes and strings, I can only hear the strings. Could this be because he has at least 4 or 5 players for each string part and only one or two for the oboes? In one place, where the voices enter in pairs, Richter has the voices suddenly sing 'piano.' What is the purpose of this? If Bach had wanted it that way, he would have indicated it that way. I do not see that this whim really adds any substance to the interpretation. In the choral sections the vocal lines sometimes become muddy or unclear. It is as if a musical line gets lost in the mass of choral singing that is going on in the other voices. If a voice gets into the mid or low range and no effort is made to balance the sound of the choir, such a voice simply disappears for a few notes. The ritardando at the end of the mvt. is somewhat extreme, but then this is a Romantic interpretation.

[6] Harnoncourt, at a semi-tone lower (also Leusink) begins with a clear instrumental sinfonia. With the exception of the special accentuation of certain notes requiring the shortening of actual note values, the overuse of staccato (not marked this way by Bach,) and the non-tiered dynamics (17-20,) [Yes, the Romanticist Harnoncourt frequently indulges in this sort of thing, building a crescendo toward a climax. This is nevertheless called HIP. Guess who declares which rules of HIP to follow and when?], this recording is closer to the score in many ways than are the previous two recordings. But when the choir enters, it becomes quite apparent that Harnoncourt does not know how to create or elicit an acceptable choir sound. The sounds that emanate from these voices are ugly. Instead of seeking to make adjustments that would accommodate the frail quality of these voices in order to elicit the best musical sounds that they are capable of producing, Harnoncourt stubbornly imposes upon them a 'singing' style that is utterly unmusical to my ears. In pursuing his own HIP vision of a Bach cantata, he creates a travesty of what should really be a monumental composition. When the voices enter, Harnoncourthrows whatever musical perception and judgment that he had out the window and reveals a serious weakness that hounds him through most of this cantata series: he lacks a true understanding of choral singing. It is truly unfortunate that Teldec has sought to perpetuate the gross errors committed in this original series by issuing the BACH 2000 containing performances such as this. They are even available as single CD's!

[7] Leusink takes a somewhat more moderate stance than Harnoncourt's, but he does unfortunately incorporate much of Harnoncourt's Doctrine: the heavy accents, somewhat heavy and detached bass, and quarter notes treated as eighth notes. The oboes sound good, but the violins have intonation problems. The choir has its usual problems: the yodelers trying to hit the higher notes in the range, problems with the pronunciation of the German text (they even changed the words in measure 62,) the dropping of final syllables (note value and sound volume), the use of too much vibrato, and individual singers standing out and asserting their vocal personalities without regard for the ensemble. The wonderful pedal point on "Glauben" is almost non-existent, and so the list goes on. Despite some of the heavy accents, this version is not convincing, the voices sound rather bored at times and struggling to keep up at other times. The fugues lack even the hint of any monumentality which a mvt. such as this requires. This version also does not demonstrate what Bach is truly capable of providing a listener: a sense of having a musical blessing bestowed on oneself, or of simply being grateful for having the privilege of hearing this music properly done.

Never fret! We still have Koopman [9] and Suzuki to look forward to. Who knows? Perhaps they will get it right.

In case I do not get to comment on the other mvts. (I just finished the Mattheson) let me point to Hamari's aria performance on the Richter recording [5]. Musically and expressively this is an interpretation that receives my highest rating. Be sure not to miss listening to this voice! For many years I had a very negative preconception of what all altos singing Bach arias sounded like (there are so many beutiful ones that Bach composed for this voice range, and also, I had not heard Ferrier do any Bach until the reissues on CD appeared.) Finally, here is one that dispelled that false notion. Hamari tenderly caresses each note she sings, and yet her voice expands to fill out space. It must take a certain amount of time for all of this to happen. Unfortunately, both Richter and Rilling [3] tend to speed up these expansive alto arias. (Just think of what Koopman, Leusink, and Gardiner are capable of doing in a situation such as this!) In one instance in the Rilling series (I do not remember specifically which cantata and aria it is,) Rilling obviously attempts to accelerate the tempo, but Hamari does not give in. She continues with her tempo, and it is Rilling who sounds out of place. It is as if Hamari is saying, "I know my voice better than you do, and I want to make this music sound the best that I possibly can. If you speed up the tempo, something will be lost." She was right and Rilling, in this instance, was wrong in pursuing some other goal that was secondary to whatever her voice was attempting to create. After reading Mattheson, I now know that Mattheson would have frowned on Rilling's attempt to manipulate (speed up the tempo and not immediately make an adjustment to accommodate the voice) the tempo so as to make the disparity between instruments and voice become even more apparent. As a good Kapellmeister Rilling should have listened carefully to what the voice was doing at the rehearsal and decided on a tempo which was best for the voice, and then use that tempo in the recording/performance. This way an audible tug-of-war does not occur during the recording/performance.

Andrew Oliver wrote (August 28, 2001):
The Gospel reading for the 10th Sunday after Trinity, for which day this cantata was written, is from Luke 19: 41-47a, which is about Jesus weeping over Jerusalem, foretelling its destruction, and driving those who were buying and selling in the temple out of it. This reading does not appear in the cantata. Instead, we have two other passages of Scripture quoted : Jeremiah 5:3 in the opening chorus, and Romans 2:4,5 in Mvt. 4., the bass arioso. These two movements happen to be my favourites in this cantata.

Although the chorus in the first movement quotes the third verse of Jeremiah 5, the orchestral sinfonia which introduces the work and the first choral section which follows it seem to me to be representing the words of the first verse of the chapter: "Run ye to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem." This intricate movement is truly a masterpiece. Tom Braatz has described the way the second fugal section is constructed, with the entries ascending in order through each voice part, reaching the zenith with the fifth entry by the oboes and violins before descending again through all the voices. One thing I have not found an explanation for is the descending chromatic phrase sung by the altos at the end of their second entry in this section. Perhaps it is simply to reinforce the descending order of entries at this point.

I find the dark, rich texture of the orchestral accompaniment to the bass arioso (Mvt. 4) very attractive. I say 'accompaniment', but this is really more of a dialogue between voice and instruments, and I like particularly the word-painting Bach employs in the fourfold repetition of the phrase illustrating the stubbornness of the 'hard and impenitent heart.'

As a whole, I rank this cantata as among Bach's finest. As always, the more times it is heard, the more there is to hear.


Continue on Part 2

Cantata BWV 102: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

Recordings & Discussions of Cantatas: Main Page | Cantatas BWV 1-50 | Cantatas BWV 51-100 | Cantatas BWV 101-150 | Cantatas BWV 151-200 | Cantatas BWV 201-224 | Cantatas BWV Anh | Order of Discussion
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