Cantata BWV 103Ihr werdet weinen und heulen
Discussions - Part 2
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Discussions in the Week of April 21, 2002 (1st round) [Continue]
Dick Wursten wrote (April 26, 2002):
BWV 103 - Mvt. 2 - Leusink 
Thomas Braatz wrote about BWV 103 mvt. 2 to give some audible examples of what the secco-recitative discussion is all about:
About the Leusink adaptation he said:
< Essentially the same thing happens [as in Leonhardts ..]. The only difference that I can detect is that Leusink  holds the chord in the organ and cello for slightly more than one beat, but not much longer than that. The hiatuses are still quite apparent. This is not what Bach intended. >
Two comments on this - after listening -
1. As I hear it, he is not deliberately holding the chord for slightly more than one beat, he just allows his cellist and organist absolute freedom to hold the chord as long as they want (the one even independent from the other. Listen to the first chord. The cello stops before the organ). Apart from the musicological discussion, this is just care-less and sloppy (?)
2. <This is not what Bach intended.>
Although in general I agree with Thomas' position, this statement is one bridge too far. In my humble opinion (IMHO) THE INTENTIONS of Bach we will never know for sure. A true scientific approach should be satisfied by saying: Based on the evidence we have, considering all the ins and outs, this is the best guess I can make concerning the way to perform this particular score of this particular composer. The idea, that we can go back into the mind of someone dead is romantic superstition. We can not even be sure of what is in the mind of someone alive.
Charles Francis wrote (April 26, 2002):
[To Dick Wursten] Isn't, the idea, that we can go back into the mind of someone dead a HIP superstition?
Thomas Braatz wrote (April 26, 2002):
Dick Wursten commented:
< Although in general I agree with Thomas' position, this statement is one bridge too far. In my humble opinion (IMHO) THE INTENTIONS of Bach we will never know for sure. A true scientific approach should be satisfied by saying: Based on the evidence we have, considering all the ins and outs, this is the best guess I can make concerning the way to perform this particular score of this particular composer. The idea, that we can go back into the mind of someone dead is romantic superstition. We can not even be sure of what is in the mind of someone alive. >
< Isn't, the idea, that we can go back into the mind of someone dead a HIP superstition? >
Yes, it certainly is. For anyone who wishes to understand the origin of this HIP superstition, Harnoncourt, who stands as a giant at the beginning of the HIP movement, and who has broadcast these ideas through his books, essays, and statements in interviews, has given us an ample demonstration of this fuzzy thinking on musical matters. On the one hand, Harnoncourt states that it is impossible to go back into the mind of Bach by relying solely on musicological evidence [this is what Dick pointed out], but on the other hand, Harnoncourt's genius can discover what was Bach's genius and make it come alive in his music. [In essence, Harnoncourt has it both ways: he feels free enough to make any careful listener believe his mumbo jumbo about mysterious, undocumented performance traditions while at the same time imposing new restrictions (his own) on the performance of a melodic line played in legato style (he is in essence reacting excessively to the excessively romantic style that preceded him.)] In order to accomplish his aims, Harnoncourt wants you to suspend your ability to think critically and simply listen and be surprised at the new (genuinely old and odd) sound which he proposes more closely resembles what Bach may have heard. Whenever Harnoncourt finds some musicological evidence that seems to support his 'innovating' ideas, he will selectively offer such information without documenting the evidence; otherwise he hides behind his genius and makes sweeping statements that do not offer sufficient grounds for a meaningful discussion (such as Mozart's and Haydn's melodies that should be played as written, but not Bach's because he was a Baroque composer.) At this point most Harnoncourt believers (unfortunately, this includes many current conductors of Bach's cantatas) simply 'buy into' his ideas on performance of Bach's music unquestioningly because there is no longer a firm basis on which aspects of performance practice can be intelligently examined.
Andrew Lewis wrote (April 27, 2002):
[To Thomas Braatz] Mr. Braatz, I've had enough of your chicanery. You repeatedly commit the three most egregious sins that I can think of regarding respectful debate of an historical issue:
1) you have totally misrepresented Laurence Dreyfus' book "Bach's Continuo Group". Dreyfus substantiates his view with an overwhelming amount of information, both primary and secondary sources, including Bach's parts (and, no, he does not simply rely on the parts of the SMP, much less on just what Schering said of them) as well as a plethora of treatises regarding so-called short accompaniment.
Any lover of Bach's music, especially his cantatas, should own a copy of "Bach's Continuo Group" and read it thoroughly. I urge everyone on this list to do so. Whether you like it or not, short-accompaniment was the norm, though there were variations that allowed for individual choice and taste. In case none of you are able to get your hands on the book right away, I have quoted Dreyfus at length:
The Convention in Historical Perspective [Dreyfus' summary of the material he has set forth]
The review of the treatises suggests that, with the assimilation of the Italian recitative into Protestant church music at the beginning of the eighteenth century, musicians in German and German-influenced centers began to shorten long values in the bass parts of simple recitatives. Authors offered various reasons for the convention: it relieved the monotony of sustained organ pipes and droning bass lines, allowed listeners to understand the text better, saved time for the copyist, ands represented harmonic progressions with greater clarity for the keyboardists. Writers who mention short accompaniment came from a wide geographic area: Germany, France, England, Holland, and Sweden; and within Germany they came from both Protestant and Catholic centers including Hamburg, Berlin, Thuringia, Saxony, Silesia, and Bavaria. Nevertheless, the convention was probably not universally known or practiced in the earliest years of the eighteenth century, since some writers prescribe it as a novel corrective to ignorance while others offer it as only one choice--albeit a desirable one. Yet whenever a musical example of the practice accompanies a text's recommendation--as in Niedt, Tuerk, and others--only quarter notes are supplied. Musical realizations of the convention, in other words, never hint that bass notes of varying lengths were substituted for the long values, although one writer suggests that the reduced notes should be played neither too loud nor too short. Finally, most writers imply that the entire continuo group made use of the comnvention.
Even the recommendation of Telemann and Petri to detach only the realized chords and not the bass confirm that, in order to understand the text, some form of shortening was required in recitatives. In any case, no eighteenth-century author takes issue with the convention and asserts that one should "play as written." The salient feature of all statements in the literature is that they were founded on essentially the same principles. The polarity between the secco and the accompagnato genres was apparently such that composers marked the accompagnato primarily to distinguish it from the secco. As soon as the authors begin to discuss accompanied recitative, they specify that the convention did not apply to it. For if players failed to recognize that a recitative was accompanied, they would be tto invoke short accompaniment where it was never intended. This inclination to separate the practice of secco from accompagnato explains why composers ever bothered to write out the short notation and why they often marked accompagnato movements with dynamic signs and provided performance indications directing players to sustain the long values. In so doing, they avoided a potentially annoying notational ambiguity: one musical sign serving two renditions. In fact, Tuerk praises none other than a son of J. S. Bach for clearing up this unfortunate confusion. Whatever the notational choice made by a particular composer, the convention itself was a standard norm of performance in important German centers through the turn of the century.
So much for witnesses of the convention, here now is undeniable proof in Bach's own hand:
How do the original parts for Bach's vocal works reflect this history? Most striking is the fact that evidence of short accompaniment surfaces in three cantatas from Bach's Weimar period (ca. 1713-1716), that is, at the very time when descriptions of short accompaniment occur in treatises by Heinichen (1711) and Niedt (1717).
and somewhat later:
Just a few years earlier, Heinichen had called the recitative a "new and quite special style" that does not "obey the usual rules." But where Heinichen had vacillated about a systematic application of short accompaniment, Bach was consistent. In the bassoon parts Bach invariably used quarter notes for every "reduction". Moreover, the staccato cues in all three cantatas are likewise distributed consistently across the parts in the designated movements. Except in these three early cantatas, Bach never again employed cues for short accompaniment, probably because--as Lustig, Rousseau, and Schroeter state--the convention became an automatic procedure. The presence of the cues thus suggests that Bach's Weimar years saw not only the introduction of the recitative genres into his cantatas but also an awareness that the secco and accompagnato kinds required different manners of execution.
In Leipzig (other than SMP!):
In cantatas BWV 69/4 (1723), BWV 58/4 (1727), BWV 94/5 (1732), BWV 30/11 (1738), and BWV 197 (1742), Bach assisted his players by notating secco passages adjoining accompagnato or arioso sections in the short fashion.
There is much more proof of the convention in this book, and certainly more proof that Bach was both aware of the convention, and applied it regularly. Again, I urge all of you to read this book. You will have no doubt in your mind that "short-accompaniment" was the norm in Bach's day.
2) Mr. Braatz, your writing on this subject has served to deflect the debate away from the issue of short-accompaniment to your disdain for Harnoncourt. I have no particular love for Mr. Harnoncourt, but to wail away in diatribes such as yours against someone who has no opportunity to defend himself -- all in the apparent cause of discrediting short-accompaniment -- is not scholarship. It is, at best, polemic and, at worst, slander. Furthermore, by calling Sybrand (I've read the history of this debate as it was available to me on the Bach Cantatas Website) a child, you have resorted to name calling in the defense of your (indefensible) views.
3) Inexcusably, you accuse all HIP conductors of blindly following Harnoncourt's lead. What proof do you have of this? Do you really think that John Eliot Gardiner, Phillipe Herreweghe, etc. simply perform short-accompaniment because Harnoncourt did? That's preposterous! Please show me your proof.
I have supplied as much information in support of short-accompaniment as I care to. But PLEASE do not take my word for it. Read Laurence Dreyfus' book. Then from there, if you care to, double-check his bibliography and go to the sources yourselves. Do not trust Mr. Braatz's "interpretation" of the source material. Trust the legitimate musicologists who have spent a considerable part of their lives researching this issue. This issue should not be about Harnoncourt. Rather, it should be and is about understanding Bach's cantatas as fully as we are able.
Cantor, Immanuel Lutheran Church, Evanston, IL USA
Artistic Director, Lutheran Choir of Chicago
Founder and Music Director, The Janus Ensemble
Thomas Braatz wrote (April 28, 2002):
Andrew Lewis commented as follows:
< it (the issue) should be and is about understanding Bach's cantatas. >
< Trust the legitimate musicologists who have spent a considerable part of their lives researching this issue. >
What happened to the honest, hardworking individuals that trusted the information given to them by the experts regarding Enron stocks?
Information can be conveniently disregarded by experts when it suits their purpose, or it can be given a certain spin to make it fit a currently existing theory or to further the ends that the experts have in mind. Sometimes sheer laziness takes over and the easy road becomes the best road.
With all the information that you have placed before us, you still have not answered, or perhaps have not even bothered to read carefully what I have stated:
You refer to Dreyfus as stating the following:
“descriptions of short accompaniment occur in treatises by Heinichen (1711) and Niedt (1717).
“In any case, no eighteenth-century author takes issue with the convention and asserts that one should "play as written.”
Did you read carefully what Heinichen (1711) really says? Let me repeat once again what Heinichen says about playing secco recitatives in a church cantata:
“Since you are concerned with the sustaining notes and the vibrating stops of a church organ when playing a church recitative, you simply have to press down on the keys and the hands remain there without any further ceremony holding the chord until another chord follows it. This next chord is held out the same way as before.”
Which part of this is not clear? This is the opposite of the short accompaniment that Dreyfus would like to have Heinichen saying. Or are you disputing the translation of the original German which I also supplied?
How about Dreyfus' statement: “The parts for the St. Matthew Passion present the most impressive evidence regarding Bach’s use of short accompaniment.”
I would advise you not hide yourself behind musicologists, who are, after all, human beings also subject to making misjudgments and errors, but rather investigate the information that I have supplied from the NBA KB II/5. This is not just one fact out of myriad similar quotations; this is the cornerstone upon which the theory of shortened accompaniment in the secco portions of Bach's recitatives is based and this cornerstone is seriously flawed. Focus your attention specifically on these major points that I have made, and if you still have questions about this, I will be glad to engage in a meaningful discussion.
You state: “You will have no doubt in your mind that "short-accompaniment" was the norm in Bach's day.”
Here is one individual with serious doubts regarding which you have not been able to put forth information to the contrary because you have not answered specifically my objections to the current theory, but have only put forth a barrage of misinformation based on some of Dreyfus’ false assumptions.
Charles Francis wrote (April 28, 2002):
[To Andrew Lewis] IMO, performance practice can suffer from the 'Urban Legend' syndrome where consensus beliefs arise through the speculation of one or two 'authorities'. And it is disconcerting when the primary sources call into question cherished habits. But reformations are needed on occasion to enable further progress.
Andrew S. Jongsma wrote (April 29, 2002):
[To Andrew Lewis] I was wondering when someone would get upset - and here we are. Thank you Mr. Lewis
Andrew Lewis wrote (May 1, 2002):
Dear Mr. Braatz and others following this discussion thread regarding 'short-accompaniment':
First, my apologies for not responding sooner. I havbeen very busy concertizing as of late and am not yet free of those responsibilities: I am performing Bach's cantata BWV 93 "Wer nur den lieben Gott laesst walten" for worship this Sunday, which is also to be taped for cable television.
By the way, the two recitatives in this cantata are an excellent example each of secco juxtaposed with accompagnato recitative. That is, each recitative contains both types. If there were no assumed practice of short-accompaniment, then there would be not differentiation between the two styles, though Bach clearly marked them separately by providing tempo indications. Do check it out. Listen to Herreweghe's recording while following the score. He does not follow the indications precisely (that is, the indications as understood by Laurence Dreyfus), but very closely. Keep in mind that there are other options of rendering the accompaniment while still adhering to the basic practice of short-accompaniment. One of these practices, not observed by Herreweghe, might be to play the right hand chords (the indicated figures are included in the score) if the soloist needs the harmonic support.
I do not wish to stay off topic for long. Please forgive the slight digression. Still, my topic is short-accompaniment, and here I will answer Mr. Braatz's queries:
Mr Braatz writes: "What happened to the honest, hardworking individuals that trusted the information given to them by the experts regarding Enron stocks?"
Are you proposing that there exists a far-reaching conspiracy to elude music lovers into believeing that short-accompaniment was at all practiced? This conspiracy would have to include not only Mr. Dreyfus and the HIP crowd, but also the many musicologists that served as mentors and "sounding boards" for Mr. Dreyfus, as well as the publishers of his book, AND the entire musicological community. For you see, there is something called peer review and, even though peers may steadfastly disagree on even fundamental points or interpretation of data, there is no respected musicologist that would call into question Mr. Dreyfus' material. His material consists of many, many writings where short-accompaniment is specifically addressed. Simply because you can quote Heinichen stating an opposing view does not suddenly negate that there were other writers that defined and espoused the practice. In fact, Mr. Dreyfus tells us, and includes in his bibliography, of several sources that specifically deride short-accompaniment, most notably from French sources. But this, of course, only points further to a practice. And that is all that Mr. Dreyfus has to show: that there was a practice. Keep in mind, this was a nuanced practice. There were several ways of rendering a secco recitative. What we hear today on nearly every HIP recording is the same application of the practice.
And then, after showing that there was a practice, Mr. Dreyfus shows us very clear markings in Bach's continuo parts, one of the most convincing one coming from a Weimar cantata. I wish I could reproduce the facsmilie here, but I can't. Each reader reading this will simply have to look for the book.
Mr. Braatz, once again you accuse anyone dissenting from your position as not having read you carefully enough. I've read you very carefully. You say that musicologists can withhold certain information so that they can maintain a particular theory. Well, that is what you are doing. And regarding your Heinichen quote (please read below if necessary) you don't give us enough context. Does Heinichen say both hands? Is he speaking only about the organist? Telemann argues that the organist should hold down the right hand while the organist and bass players should cut the bass note short. Is this what Heinichen is saying? Your quote is not at all clear on that matter.
Remember, Mr. Dreyfus is not arguing for any particular type of short-acompaniment, simply that a practice existed and that certain musicians rendered it differently, though most Germans agreed on some sort of shortening.
Mr. Braatz said: "I would advise you not hide yourself behind musicologists, who are, after all, human beings also subject to making misjudgments and errors, but rather investigate the information that I have supplied from the NBA KB II/5. This is not just one fact out of myriad similar quotations; this is the cornerstone upon which the theory of shortened accompaniment in the secco portions of Bach's recitatives is based and this cornerstone is seriously flawed. Focus your attention specifically on these major points that I have made, and if you still have questions about this, I will be glad to engage in a meaningful discussion."
The hubris in your statement is transparent. Thank you, but I do not need you to supply me with the pertinent information. I have it myself. The corner stone of short-accompaniment is not really the parts to the SMP. Perhaps, one may argue (and I think cogently) that they are the most impressive evidence that Bach observed the practice. They are not the only proof. In fact, as I mentioned earlier, for me the most convincing evidence was from a Weimar cantata. But this does not prove the practice -- the myriad writings of others do. In other words, there are two distinct elements here: the evidence for a practice of short-accompaniment in Germany, and evidence for the practice of short-accompaniment in Bach's parts. If the practice is proven to have existed at all and in any place in Germany, then that clearly raises the possibility that Bach would have known of the practice. Since evidence of the practice exists in Bach's parts, then, surely he must have followed the custom. This is not a stretch of the imagination. A stretch of the imagination would be that he followed the practice only for those specific cantatas that have the evidence. If you investigate those cantatas, you will see that applying the practice does not create some kind of special effect. In the SMP it does highlight the "halo effect". But what is it that creates the halo? Short-accompaniment? No. Sustained strings. That's the unusual effect.
Again, I urge all interested parties to read "Bach's Continuo Group." I would like to hear what others have to say.
Thank you, Mr. Jongsma, for your support!
Thomas Braatz wrote (May 1, 2002):
Andrew Lewis argues:
< By the way, the two recitatives in this cantata are an excellent example each of secco juxtaposed with accompagnato recitative. That is, each recitative contains both types. If there were no assumed practice of short-accompaniment, then there would be not differentiation between the two styles, though Bach clearly marked them separately by providing tempo indications. Do check it out. >
There are many such examples of a secco juxtaposed with accompagnato recitatives in the Bach cantatas, so there is nothing unusual or ‘excellent’ about the choice of this recitative except perhaps the fact that you are performing it and wish to make this fact known here. Your logic in repeating the notion that “If there were no assumed practice of short-accompaniment, then there would not be differentiation between the two styles, though Bach clearly marked them separately by providing tempo indications,” is typical for what you will find in the Dreyfus book and may demonstrate also that you have a limited acquaintance with the Bach cantatas. Since you only qualifiedly admit Dreyfus’ key evidence from the SMP to document short accompaniment in Bach’s vocal works evidence that Dreyfus considers “the most impressive evidence,” I have decided to make this final attempt to help you out of the confusion that you must feel, particularly because you are so very busy performing Bach, an activity that I most certainly commend:
< You asked: And regarding your Heinichen quote (please read below if necessary) you don't give us enough context. Does Heinichen say both hands? >
If you had read my quotation correctly, there would be no problem. You create more problems by not reading carefully. Original: “die Hände” Translation: “Hands”
< You stated: And then, after showing that there was a practice, Mr. Dreyfus shows us very clear in Bach's continuo parts, one of the most convincing one coming from a Weimar cantata. I wish I could reproduce the facsmilie here, but I can't. Each reader reading this will simply have to look for the book. >
< In fact, as I mentioned earlier, for me the most convincing evidence was from a Weimar cantata >
Let’s take as an example a famous Weimar cantata, BWV 61 “Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland.” Examine the bass recitative, mvt. 4, where you will discover that Bach has strings and continuo playing 8th notes with 8th -note rests in between. Looks like proof for a ‘shortened accompaniment,” but it is not! If you read the text that the bass (vox Christi) is singing (Christ is knocking at the door), you will see why Bach used this type of accompaniment. Use your imagination! Now, look at mvt. 2, Recitative for Tenor, and what do we find there? Bach has both types of recitative (secco and accompagnato) in this mvt. He does not designate, nor need to differentiate between the two styles by including descriptive words or tempo designations above these separate parts, because any continuo player ‘worth his salt’ could easily see the difference between them by observing the note values: The mvt. begins with a tied-over whole that is sounded for 8 beats, because Bach wrote it that way, and not because of some imagined (also 'selbstverständliche' according to Schering and Dreyfus) shortened accompaniment practice that was never clearly documented. When the bc begins to move in 8th and 16th notes, it is apparent that the accompagnato section has begun.
< You also stated: If there were no assumed practice of short-accompaniment, then there would not be differentiation between the two styles, though Bach clearly marked them separately by providing tempo indications. >
As you can see from the above Weimar cantata example, this entire argument fails. Moreover, this type of thing (unmarked recitatives) happens quite frequently in the cantatas.
Another Dreyfus ‘proof’ that you offered:
< In fact, Mr. Dreyfus tells us, and includes in his bibliography, of several sources that specifically deride short-accompaniment, most notably from French sources. But this, of course, only points further to a practice. >
Trying to connect these statements from French sources to Bach’s own performance practices certainly takes ‘a leap of faith,’ when the evidence for 'shortened accompaniment" from Bach’s vocal compositions rests upon rather flimsy evidence, now that you have discounted the strong emphasis that Dreyfus places upon the proof from the SMP.
Since you and your supporter, Mr. Jongsma seem unable to grapple with the evidence that I have presented and prefer to hide behind Mr. Dreyfus’ explanations, rather than attempting to point out directly what is wrong with the evidence that I have presented, this discussion seems to be leading nowhere except perhaps to document how slavishly you adhere to Dreyfus' interpretations and to attempt to have others buy his book, in which they will discover, as I have, that his views in this matter are slanted indeed, peer review notwithstanding.
Paul Farseth wrote (May 2, 2002):
[To Andrew (Lewis) and Thomas (Braatz)]
You both contribute wonderfully interesting postings, but it's not necessary to argue ad_hominem and by denunciations. Nobody's life or eternal fate is hanging in the balance, waiting for one or the other of you to prove your point. Indeed, both of you appear to have led your lives in places of worship, so let the Pax Christi of the weekly service be between you even while you disagree.
Andrew Lewis wrote (May 2, 2002):
[To Paul Farseth] You are very right. I should have offered such a peace offering myself far sooner.
Mr. Braatz, I vehemently disagree with your position and I will continue to argue my point, but you will receive no more denunciations from me.
Henny van der Groep wrote (May 2, 2002):
[To Andrew Lewis] Ad hominum attacks in Science always cause resentment. I've just realized myself those are sophism. I know some scholars using it to get there rights. And we are searching for "truth" ( as far as we are possible to do), aren't we? I'll admire people who place themselve in the service of "the Muse" (They are doing a great job). I've learned myself something on this point (in connection with Shostakovich) so I want to share my view and thoughts.
BWV 103 Mvt. 1 “The Howling”
Thomas Braatz wrote (April 29, 2002):
It just occurred to me what a wonderful example for Bach’s multi-leveled approach is found in this first movement. Bach, as Schweitzer noted, went about searching for ways to illustrate musically through word or tone painting. Bach particularly made use of antitheses because of the increased possibilities for presenting contrasts in music that would be apparent to the listener and also evoke the appropriate feelings. In a general sense it was the musical portrayal of sadness and joy that must have inspired his initial thoughts as he went about setting this antithesis to music. However, as we have seen elsewhere, his mind operated on many levels simultaneously as evidenced in his penchant for punning.
Essentially Bach attempted to represent the basic antithesis in the 1st mvt. while also allowing for the possibility of development from sadness to joy to be revealed in the sequence of mvts. that follow. The antithesis becomes so capsulized that it can be expressed in a single note in which the essence of the entire cantata is revealed! This note is the long held note in the sopranino recorder, the very first note that the listener hears. If there is one sound that is uncharacteristic for the sopranino recorder, it certainly is this feature, a feature that is normally avoided by composers because the sopranino is much better suited for fast-moving passages that provide sparkle and liveliness to a composition.
All right, we now know that the sopranino can represent best of all the instruments at Bach’s disposal in a cantata such as this the element of joy, the joy that is already present in the word’s of Christ as he speaks about sadness. Whatever joy we feel presently is only a representation of the greater joy that will come in the future. What about the howling? Even this word taken alone (remember that it is illustrated by a long held note) encompasses both aspects of the antithesis. A short check of the DWB (the Grimm brothers’ Deutsches Wörterbuch, the equivalent to the complete OED [Oxford English Dictionary]) turned up the following, amazing information about ‘howling.’ In essence, the OED confirms much of the information uncovered by the Grimm brothers – no surprise here, since ‘howling’ and ‘heulen’ are etymologically related. Here is what I found:
Both Latin ‘ulalare’ and the Greek equivalent ‘ololuzein’ [which will not be represented correctly in an e-mail such as this] are onomatopoeic in nature. These represent not only a wailing, but also a joyful sound. Could Bach have been aware of these two antithetical meanings? I think so. Of course, both German and English with their common origins connected their equivalent words, ‘howling’ and ‘heulen’ with the negative sound produced by animals such as wolves, dogs, etc. The DWB gives numerous references where ‘heulen’ is combined with the notion of ‘weinen,’ so at least in these important references the meaning is entirely negative. In German ‘heulen’ can also be applied to wailing sounds of a singer. As in English, German has the ‘howling’ of inanimate objects in nature: Storms, trees, etc. Another ‘howling’ which Bach and the listeners to his music would have been very much aware of can be connected to a phenomenon often associated with church organs: the note being struck (or depressed) hangs on even after the finger is lifted from the key. Certainly Brad Lehman can fill us in on this point and tell us whether this can still happen today with all the technical improvements in organ building that continue to be made in this area. I have had it personally happen to me a number of times. Although it is possible that the actual key is stuck in the down position (a situation that mightbe remedied rather quickly), it usually happens that the problem occurs elsewhere between the key and the pipe. Even releasing or pushing in the stop may not help at all in what the English also call a ‘cipher.’ What can one do in an emergency? Run, do not walk, to the specific organ chamber, find the delinquent pipe and carefully remove it from its base. In this way the performance can continue without continually hearing this single note from one pipe that continues to ‘howl.’
Back to Bach’s multi-layered, punning approach to representing emotions, actions and ideas in music: The very first note held out for two measures at a time thoughout the mvt. can have the following meanings for the listener:
1) The congregation knows in advance the title of the cantata (and has perhaps had time to read the text that Bach had made available in printed form before the cantata begins during the service. The members of the congregation recognize the ‘howling’ sound as one associated with the sounds in inanimate nature (the wind howling through the trees, etc.) or as applied negatively to the crying sounds made by human beings referred to in the Bible as well.
2) The Leipzig congregation, also consisting of professors and students well acquainted with Latin and Greek, would make the association with the pregnant kernel inherent in a single sustained note, a kernel that immediately conjures up both sides of the antithesis, including the joyful one. This association is more on an intellectual level and presupposes an academic education.
3) Some members of the congregation who may be musically more sensitive, but certainly the performing musicians would be well aware of the suggestion of a cipher, a ‘stuck’ note on the organ, that could spoil or halt the entire performance until it is fixed. So it is with apprehension that these musicians hear the opening bars of the cantata and think, as they hear the long piercing note of the sopranino, “Oh no! Not this. This is something that we certainly do not want at this time!” Only when they discover that this note is not coming from the organ, but rather a sopranino recorder player who took up a position off to the side where he could not be seen as easily, does their momentary apprehension disappear. The other musicians see a slight smile on Bach’s face, a smile of wordless recognition which they all momentarily share. They have understood Bach in yet another way.
Level upon level, condensing and reducing emotions and ideas in the cantata texts to their most elemental, symbolic form, Bach finds the best musical representation that will allow certain images and emotions to unfold in the mind and heart of the listener, and they seem to continue to unfold for us even today as we discover these new associations.
Of course, there are those who think that they can simply listen to the cantatas with little or no regard for the text. The cantatas, including the texts upon which they have been built, offer an important source for understanding all of Bach’s music. Could this 1st mvt. be played simply as an orchestral piece with the vocal parts played by instruments? Yes, it would sound like Bach, but would you easily gain an insight into the various levels of understanding and emotion that gave rise to the composition in the first place? I doubt it very much. Even some of Bach’s secular orchestral music gains greater depth and meaning when he uses it in a church cantata setting because we can then hear more directly what he had in mind. There are motifs in the cantatas that appear in his keyboard works. How much greater is the understanding of the player and listener if they are aware of these textual associations.
Continue on Part 3
Cantata BWV 103: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements
Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5