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Recordings & Discussions of Cantatas: 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

Cantata BWV 105
Herr, gehe nicht ins Gericht mit deinem Knecht
Discussions - Part 2

Continue from Part 1

Discussions in the Week of August 21, 2005

Santu de Silva wrote (August 19, 2005):
BWV 105: Herr, gehe nicht ins Gericht mit deinem Knecht (8/21)

Apologies for being a couple of days early with this!

[All scripture summaries and text translations are taken from Alec Robertson.
The recording I listened to was that of Koopmann [11], the soloists were Lisa (or Lissa?) Larsson, Elisabeth von Magnus, Gerd Türk, and Klaus Mertens.]

Herr, gehe nicht ins Gericht mit deinem Knecht BWV 105
Scoring: horn, 2 oboes, 2 violins, viola, continuo

Epistle: 1 Corinthians 10: 6-13 I Take heed lest ye fall)
Gospel: Luke 16: 1-9 (Parable of the unjust steward)

Mvt. 1: Chorus: "Herr, gehe nicht ins Gericht mit deinem Knecht"
(Lord, enter not into judgement with thy servant)
(Full orchestra, oboes playing with violins.)

Alec Robertson declares that Bach was inspired by one of the 'greatest librettoes he ever had to set.' The text of the Chorus is said to be from Psalm 143 (I think I got that right), verse 2.

This appears to be in prelude-and-fugue form, as Christoph Wolff points out, and the second part, with the words "For before Thee is no living person riteous" is the fugue.

The slow 'prelude' part sounds tortured in exactly the same way as the opening sobs of the Introit of Mozart's Requiem, not only in the similar rhythm, but in the modulations.

Mvt. 2: Recitative - Alto, Continuo: "Mein Gott, verwirf mich nicht, indem ich mich in Demuth vor dir beuge" (My God, cast me not away, whilst I bend myuself in humility before Thee)

Mvt. 3: Aria - Soprano, Oboe i, Violins i, ii, Viola: "Wie zittern und wanken der Suender Gedanken indem sie sich unter einander verklagen, wiederum sich zu enstchuldigen wagen" (How tremble and totter the sinner's thoughts while they accuse one another and again dare to excuse themselves.)

There is no continuo part in this aria. The viola and violins provide a trembling accompaniment, while the voice and the oboe expresses the distress of the guilty soul (as one often finds in Bach, the Soprano represents the soul). Very creative.

This aria is difficult to listen to; it is harrowing, as it is intended to be. Being required to listen to it for the list, over several listenings I began to see some beauty in it, and to appreciate the skill of the interpreter (Lisa Larsson).

Mvt. 4: Recitative - Bass, Strings, Continuo: "Wohl aber dem, der seinen Bürggen weiss, der alle Schuld ersetztet" (But how happy is he who his surety knows, who all guilt endemnifies)

The continuo part is given repeated octave leaps -in pizzicato- as the soloist sings "The death hour striking." (Robertson)

Mvt. 5: Aria - Tenor, Horn, Strings, Continuo: "Kann ich nur Jesum mir zum Freunde machen so gilt der Mammon nicht bei mir." (If I can only make a friend of Jesus, Mammon is worth nothing to me.)

What is the exact sense of these words? Would Mammon mean nothing to me if I could only make a friend of Jesus, or: If only I could make a friend of Jesus; Mammon means nothing to me (now)? There's a difference, to my mind.

The aria, accompanied by the horn and strings, is an energetic march, sung by the Tenor (Gerd Türk) with passion and excitement.

Mvt. 6: Chorale SATB, Strings, Continuo. "Nun, ich weiss, du wirst mir stillen, mein Gewissen das mich plagt" (Now I know Thou wilt calm my conscience which tortures me)

Verse 11 of Johann Rist's "Jesu, der du meine Seele"

Alec Robertson:
This is one of Bach's most imaginative settings of a chorale. The trembling gigures that accompanied the soprano aria (No. e) now accompany the chorus, who pause at the end of each line; and make us see the unhappy soul, lonely and outcast. At the next two lines of the chorale, the semiquavers become quaver triplets groups, then normal quaver groups, followed by crotchet-quaver triplets in 12/8 time, and ending with two chromatic phrases in 4/4 time.

The cantata does not end with a bang; there is something incomplete about this Chorale, despite Robertson's admiration of it.

Peter Smaill wrote (August 20, 2005):
Adding to the commentaries in 2000 on this superlative Cantata will be a challenge to us all!

It is hard to think of another vocal work of similar length in which Bach combines extremities of harmonic expression, (the chromaticism of the opening chorus (Mvt. 1) and closing chorale, BWV 105/1 and 6), exceptional vocal leaps and dissonances (BWV 105/3), with a range of rhythmic variety so broad.

From the demisemiquavers of the tenor aria BWV 105/5, to the sweeping final chords that end the rhythmic progression of the strings in the final Choral, from the pulsing of the continuo in the Chorus, the "totenstunde" use of pizzicato in the bass Arioso, and complementary rhythms of violas and violins in the complex soprano aria - in all this, Bach is extending the idiom of the cantata in his first and most creative year at Leipzig. Scarcely any contemporary rhythmic device is missing.

In this musical progression, Bach mirrors the movement from OT apprehension of judgement to NT assurance of salvation, a pattern which argues for the librettist being the same as that for the (less successful) text for "Erforsche mich, Gott," which would have been heard on the preceding Sunday (Trinity 8). Other, later, cantatas for the 9th Sunday after Trinity are drawn from New Testament sources alone.

And yet, there is, at the same time as this amazing expansion of musical expression, some evidence to the ear that the inspiration is also backward looking. Does not the Cantata end with virtually the same passage as underpins the opening chorus of BWV 150, from Mühlhausen c.1712? and are there not also other points of similarity in the opening chorus of both Cantatas, both intensely chromatic and with the canonic choral entries at the octave?

Or is Whittaker after all entirely right in saying that BWV 150 is "quite unlike any Cantata in the series?"

John Pike wrote (August 20, 2005):
[To Peter Smaill] Thank you for these most interesting comments, Peter, on this week's cantata which, as you say, is superlative. All 6 movements are excellent, and the 2 arias are just wonderful.

I have listened to Herreweghe [10], Gardiner [15], Leusink [14], Rilling [8] and Harnoncourt [9]. I greatly enjoyed all of the first 4 recordings but found some of the intonation in Harnoncourt's soprano aria No.3 a bit questionable, and the soloist's voice a bit strained.

Gardiner and Herreweghe are both technically very assured but their tenor arias are quite different. I greatly enjoyed both accounts. Gardiner seems to emphasise the joy of knowing Jesus, with a very stirring performance, bringing out all the rhythmic qualities in the music, with a dance-like feel and quite marked gestures and emphasis on certain notes. By contrast, Herreweghe is more restrained, perhaps more conscious of the references to Mammon and the negative feelings associated with it. My wife preferred the more restrained approach of Herreweghe. I preferred Gardiner by a whisker. Leusink, Rilling and Harnoncourt are all on the more restrained side in the tenor aria.

The sound throughout Rilling's performance is very pleasing and the arias, in particular, are beautifully shaped. I greatly enjoyed the soloists in both these arias. Leusink, I thought, also gives a very naccount.

John Pike wrote (August 20, 2005):
I forgot to say that, for those who have Gardiner [15], the notes by Ruth Tatlow are really excellent. They take the three cantatas for the 9th Sunday after Trinity together and discuss their composition in the context of Bach's own life and the conditions in Leipzig. She speculates on the impact the cantatas would have had on some of the very wealthy people who lived in Leipzig. The religious significance of the works and the musical aspects are very well discussed.

Aryeh Oron wrote (August 21, 2005):
CM 'Jesu, der du meine Seele'

A page dedicated to the CM 'Jesu, der du meine Seele' including alternate CM's connected to it has been added to the BCW.
See: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV105.htm
Contributed by Thomas Braatz.

This CM is used in Mvt. 6 of BWV 105, the cantata for discussion this week.

The format of the CM pages continues to be revised and expanded, since each CM sets new challenges. An important addition are the full scores of the chorales (PDF format), contributed by Margaret Greentree from the website 'The Bach Chorales', highly recommended by Bradley Lehman last week: http://www.jsbchorales.net/

Margaret Greentree wrote to me as follows:
"This giant project is a very much larger scale of the database I created in FileMaker of the chorale melodies for my own use.
The database you are working on is more detailed and more up to date. I was basing my data on Charles Sanford Terry and Peter Williams.
Your project looks very good, I am looking forward to using it in the future."

You are invited to send corrections/additions/suggestions for improvements.

Neil Halliday wrote (August 24, 2005):
BWV 105

The Rilling booklet [8] introduces the opening chorus thus:
"At the beginning, we hear mankind sighing under the burden of his sins in a quasi programmatic sinfonia. Full of humility and almost stammering, he implores God not to enter into judgement with him, the servant and sinner. This elaborate exposition, which is highly expressive in its detailed structure, ends on a forlorn pedal point; the music revolves around itself and finds an escape only in the shape of a fugue".

The fugue has great rhythmic as well as melodic vitality; the fugue subject is at first presented by the choir (TBSA), and the impression of relentless power increases as the orchestra joins the choir in the fugue subject, in the order of: continuo with basses,
violas with tenors, 2nd violins and oboe 2 with altos, and 1st violins and oboe 1 (and presumably corno, but I can't hear it) with sopranos. The music becomes increasingly complex - ecstatic even, with an increasing number of short notes - as it reaches its
conclusion.

There is an important secondary subject, occurring at different times in all the parts, consisting of downward stepping minims.

Werner's 1963 recording [4] is impressive; at a very slow tempo (8 mins), all the parts are discernable, and the music holds one's attention from beginning to end, in the manner of the opening movement of a requiem mass. (However, there does appear to be an engineering problem at about the initial entry of the sopranos in the fugue - the volume seems to drop off noticeably, robbing the music of its impact. This is remedied by jacking up the power of the amplifier for the remainder of the movement. Also, some of the choral entries in the adagio are unsteady, but the choir soon settles down nicely.)

Rilling [8] brings marvellous clarity to all the parts. Some listeners may not appreciate the vocal vibrato of (especially) the solo quartet of singers he employs at the start of each section. (7 mins)

Richter's performance [6] suffers from a constricted dynamic range, which results in the choir sounding distant and muddy, especially in the fast tempo fugue (6 mins for the whole movement). The full organ with the choir is also a problem.

Herreweghe's brisk performance (5.24) [10] is strong, vigorous, and polished, with only a hint of his annoying `swelling tone production' (on long notes).

We will have to ask Harnoncourt [9] why he took this unusual approach with the adagio - shortening many of the notes, thereby producing a disjointed effect.

Ranking: Werner [4], Rilling [8], Herreweghe [10], Richter [6], Harnoncourt [9].

I enjoyed the remainder of the cantata in all the above recordings (except the HIP secco recit); but Mathis's strong vibrato (Richter) is unattractive; and Herreweghe seems to have a less interesting oboe, instead of the horn, in the tenor aria.

The boy soprano (with Harnoncourt) is one of the better sopranos of the H/L series.

Hermann Baumann displays assured and expressive horn playing in both the Werner [4] and Richter [6] tenor arias.

Nagamiya Tutomu wrote (August 24, 2005):
You can hear Fritz Lehmann's 1952 recording of this cantata [1] in my website: http://www.kantate.info/old_recordings.htm#BWV105

Please try this old recording too.

You can hear also BWV 82, 51, 249, 39, 21, 200, 53, 152, 158 on the same page.

Douglas Cowling wrote (August 24, 2005):
BWV 105 Apocalypse Now?

Neil Halliday wrote:
< The Rilling booklet [8] introduces the opening chorus thus:
"At the beginning, we hear mankind sighing under the burden of his sins in a quasi programmatic sinfonia. Full of humility and almost stammering, he implores God not to enter into judgement with him, the servant and sinner. This elaborate exposition, which is highly expressive in its detailed structure, ends on a forlorn pedal point; the music revolves around itself and finds an escape only in the shape of a fugue". >
I have always been struck that the fugal subject begins before the prelude has finished as if the voices cannot hold back their pleas any longer. I'm not sure that we can read a program into the final pedal-point: that's a pretty standard concluding device in most fugues.

Has anyone wondered if the "affect" in modern performances may be wrong? Everyone performs this movement as if it is a gentle lament. I'm intrigued by the notion that it should be a sound-picture of the Last Judgement with a more aggressive, driving tempo and strong cries of "Herr" -- the repetition of "Herr" through the voices looks remarkably like the opening the "St. John Passion" (BWV 245).

Neil Halliday wrote (August 24, 2005):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
<"I'm not sure that we can read a program into the final pedal-point: that's a pretty standard concluding device in most fugues".>
The pedal point referred to is at the end of the `adagio'; there is no pedal point at the end of the fugue.

Dr. Bomba, in the Rilling booklet [8], is referring to the emotional intensity of the music above the "forlorn pedal point", just before the music launches into the fugue.

(I note the first note of the fugue subject (tenors) is also the last note of the adagio section, as you imply].

<"Everyone performs this movement as if it is a gentle lament">
I agree this music should not be `gentle'. Listen to the intense emotion that the German choir brings to the adagio, in the astounding Lehmann performance [1] kindly donated by Nagamiya Tutomu, at: http://www.kantate.info/old_recordings.htm#BWV105

One can hear that the choir are "singing hearts out", in the midst of the ruins of Berlin in 1952.

Still, perhaps the adagio can be regarded primarily as a lament ("Lord, judge not your servant, because in your sight no-one living is righteous"), rather than a magnificent, or apocalyptic drama, as in the SJP's (BWV 245) expression of triumph over tragedy ("Lord, our master, show us through your passion, that you have risen from humiliating lowliness, unto victory").

BTW, the horn in the Lehmann recording can be heard playing `at the unison' with the 1st violins and oboe, in the opening chorus of BWV 105, to fine effect.

Neil Halliday wrote (August 24, 2005):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
<"Has anyone wondered if the "affect" in modern performances may be wrong? Everyone performs this movement as if it is a gentle lament. I'm intrigued by the notion that it should be a sound-picture of the Last Judgement with a more aggressive, driving tempo and strong cries of "Herr" -- the repetition of "Herr" through the voices looks remarkably like the opening the "St. John Passion" (BWV 245) >.
Further to my previous comments, it should also be noted that Bach has indicated an obvious change of 'affect" between the two sections of this movment; in th BGA, the first section is marked 'adagio' and the second section is marked 'allegro', so one ought not refer to only one 'affect' for the whole movement, ie, the opening adagio (in 4/4 time) can be considered as a lamentation or plea, while the contrasting allegro fugue (cut C time, but notice the word 'allegro' appears two beats before the change to cut C time) can be considered to represent the exhilaration of righteousness (even though no-one living can claim to be righteous).

Santu de Silva wrote (August 25, 2005):
[To Nagamiya Tutomu] It was beautiful, despite the so-called non-'hip'-ness. Thanks!

Peter Smaill wrote (August 25, 2005):
In both BWV 23/4, "Christe,du Lamm Gottes" and BWV 105/1. "Herr, gehe nicht ins Gericht", Bach appears to me to be creating the rythym , indeed affekt, appropriate to a funeral procession by accenting only quavers in groups of two in the lower supporting instrumental lines. This may relate to the special step which pallbearers use, the history of which would be of interest if anyone has a source.

In both instances faster contrapuntal sequential passages emphasise the forgiving/accepting response of God to sinful Man. The pedal point in BWV 105/1 is one of the moments of genius, drawing the lamenting theme to a climax of introspection before the assurance of the succeeding declamation is led out in the fresh subject.

Neil Halliday wrote (August 27, 2005):
Santu de Silva wrote:
"Mvt. 5: Aria - Tenor, Horn, Strings, Continuo: "Kann ich nur Jesum mir zum Freunde machen so gilt der Mammon nicht bei mir." (If I can only make a friend of Jesus, Mammon is worth nothing to me.)
What is the exact sense of these words? Would Mammon mean nothing to me if I could only make a friend of Jesus, or: If only I could make a friend of Jesus; Mammon means nothing to me (now)? There's a difference, to my mind">
In view of the delightfully care-free, happy nature of this aria (eg, Werner [4]; paradoxically, perhaps, with a wonderfully earthy horn part), I would go for the following meaning: "Even if I only have Jesus as a friend (ie, the singer is already confident that he has a strong relationship with Jesus), this world (Mammon) means nothing to me. I find no pleasure here, in this vain world and earthly matters".

In any case, this aria is a perfect foil to the highly wrought emotions of the other movements.

Chris Kern wrote (August 28, 2005):
[To Neil Halliday] I think this is why I preferred the sprightly Harnoncourt version [9] to the slower, more "stately" rendering of the aria given by the 1950's recording that was linked to by an earlier post.

Thomas Braatz wrote (August 28, 2005):
Santu de Silva wrote:
"Mvt. 5: Aria - Tenor, Horn, Strings, Continuo: "Kann ich nur Jesum mir zum Freunde machen so gilt der Mammon nicht bei mir." (If I can only make a friend of Jesus, Mammon is worth nothing to me.)
What is the exact sense of these words? Would Mammon mean nothing to me if I could only make a friend of Jesus, or: If only I could make a friend of Jesus; Mammon means nothing to me (now)? There's a difference, to my mind">
Neil Halliday responded:
>>In view of the delightfully care-free, happy nature of this aria (eg, Werner; paradoxically, perhaps, with a wonderfully earthy horn part), I would go for the following meaning: "Even if I only have Jesus as a friend (ie, the singer is already confident that he has a strong relationship with Jesus), this world (Mammon) means nothing to me. I find no pleasure here, in this vain world and earthly matters".
In any case, this aria is a perfect foil to the highly wrought emotions of the other movements.<<
Disregarding for a moment the fact that Bach, remarkably, will sometimes musically depict (word painting, expressive mood, etc.) a word or concept which the text has placed in the negative (in this case: "kein Vergnügen" = ["no pleasure, enjoyment, or 'fun and games'"] or "gilt der Mammon nichts' ["the world holds no value"], the technical, grammatical term for a conditional statement expressed in German this way is that it is 'a real condition' which can be distinguished from 'an unreal condition' by the 'mood' that it is in:

a 'real' condition:

"Kann ich nur Jesum mir zum Freunde machen (or 'Wenn ich mir nur Jesum zum Freunde machen kann'), so gilt der Mammon nichts bei mir (or 'dann wird der Mammon nichts bei mir gelten')."

["If and when the time comes that I can make Jesus be my friend, then the world will mean nothing to me {anymore}"]

an 'unreal' condition (subjunctive mood):

"Könnte ich nur Jesum mir zum Freunde machen (or 'Wenn ich mir nur Jesum zum Freunde machen könnte'), so würde der Mammon nichts bei mir gelten."

["If only I could make Jesus become my friend, then the world would mean nothing to me {anymore}."] or ["if I could only make Jesus become my friend, then...."]

The position of 'nur' in the first, 'real' condition as in the cantata libretto, places special emphasis upon Jesus. It seems to be saying that there is only one person, Jesus, and no one else who could fulfill this role. At that point in time when I succeed in making Jesus, and only Jesus will do, become my friend (and I feel within myself that I am close to that point now), then the result will follow automatically: the world will mean nothing to me anymore. The speaker/singer is clearly affirming the fact that as soon as he succeeds in making the first part of the condition come to pass, the second part will follow without a doubt.

The 'unreal' condition (which can take the 'real' condition as is and change only two or three verb forms in German) states, on the contrary, that there is, at the most only a remote possibility that the condition can be fulfilled (perhaps the speaker's/singer's faith is simply not sufficiently strong and this person is aware of this fact while speaking/singing these words. This takes on the form of a hypothetical wish like "I wish I had a million dollars right now!" "If I only had a million dollars right now, I would....!"

Not only the conditional verb forms and the position of 'nur' in this statement, make this an affirmative expression of feeling, but also the fact that this aria comes late in the cantata just before the final chorale. Consider also that this tenor aria stands in stark contrast to the doubts ('wanken' = 'indecisiveness') expressed in the first soprano aria.

Dürr points to the melodic, dance-like, rhythmic aspects of the music with everything being clearly distinguished in the tenor aria as opposed to soprano and oboe parts in the earlier aria aimlessly chasing after each other and emphasizing the every-changing 7th chords depicting a tortuous, hopelessness.

Coming back to the original question: what if I turthe conditions around, placing the last part first? Aside from a slight difference in emphasis, the meaning behind the type of condition used, must remain the same. The problem is with the use of a hypothetical 'would' or a definitive 'will' in the conclusion of the conditional sentence. Therein lies the difference in meaning. Do I see a good possibility that the condition will reasonably come to pass, or have I loaded the condition with extreme remoteness or even impossibility of fulfillment?

Santu de Silva wrote (August 28, 2005):
[To Neil Halliday] Yes, but the words "Kann ich nur . . ." seem to suggest a hope, rather than something that exists? I have to agree that the mood of the piece is not one of longing.

(In my mind, I'm translating the words as "Could I but" [have Jesus as my friend] but I know such substitutions are often misleading.

But I think I understand; there is a relationship already, but the librettist hope to make it deeper.

Santu de Silva wrote (August 28, 2005):
[To Thomas Braatz] Thanks; this is (now) quite clear. The anticipated vs the hypothetical - - these are troublesome distinctions, and how they are communicated is interesting! I don't presume to say I can see how it's done, now, in German, but I know enough to be cautious!

Leonardo Been wrote (August 28, 2005):
[To Thomas Braatz] (Thanks to Thomas for his excellent explanation of grammar, and the conditional aspect of the phrase.)

The phrase translated: 'Being truly able to feel the love and beauty of life and of people, is endlessly more valuable than merely owning things.'

Jason Marmaras wrote (September 2, 2005):
'Kann ich nur Jesum mir zum Freunde machen' (was: BWV 105)

[To Leonardo Been] I have a rather unpleasant memory of the singing of this Aria by a Japanese Tenor under Suzuki [13]. Anyone felt the same? (Otherwise a fine BWV 105 by Suzuki!)

Tomek wrote (September 2, 2005):
[To Jason Marmaras] I feal quite different, for me Makoto Sakurada's voice [13] resembles Christoph Pregardien's voice (in timbre, expresion and esspecially a kind of "strongnes" which isn't "forced" in any way). Although I must admit I don't think Sakurada brings the best what you can get from this aria, and that tenor aria in BWV 105 isn't the best what you can get from Sakurada. Still it is very far from "unpleasant singing". BTW: the best recording of fugue in part one of BWV 105 is Herreweghe [10]: Collegium Vocale singing is razor sharp, but not cold which is rare to keep the perfection together with expression.

 

Continue on Part 3

Cantata BWV 105: Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Recordings & Discussions of Cantatas: 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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