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Cantata BWV 110
Unser Mund sei voll Lachens
Discussions - Part 2

Continue from Part 1

Discussions in the Week of August 5, 2007

Russell Telfer wrote (August 5, 2007):
Introduction to BWV 110

Topic for discussion for the week beginning 5th August 2007

Introduction to J.S.Bach's cantata BWV 110
Unser Mund sei voll Lachens
Let our mouths be full of laughter

The work, which has many textual sources from biblical and contemporary writers, was first performed on Christmas Day 1725.

It was last discussed in December 1999. Aryeh Oron provided much detail of the recordings of BWV 110 then available: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV110-D.htm

This impressive and ultra cheerful opening chorus (Mvt. 1) shares its music with the opening movement of the 4th Suite. It is scored for 4 part choir with 3 trumpets, timpani, flutes, oboe, bassoon, violin, viola and continuo with organ. Some listeners may feel that it dominates the cantata. It goes without saying that adapting a work with such large forces requires an extremely high level of skill.

Like the orchestral work it has 189 bars and is - bearing in mind that this sort of analysis wasn't intended for music like this - in ABA form:

23 bars in 2/2 time,
145 bars in 9/8 time and
21 bars in common time reprising the opening 'call to arms'.

I was interested to check whether the music had been extended or shortened as in the case of another adaptation, the last movement of BWV 207 which differs in length and detail when performed in another cantata. Which? I confess I can't tell you this and am still hoping another list member will supply that information.

As to the cantata as a whole, I have to express my belief that apart from the first and last movements, words and music do not match. For the most part the words are uplifting; the music in my view a little downcast.

Mvt. 2 Aria: Ihr gedanken und ihr sinnen
All ye thoughts and all ye senses, Lift yourselves aloft this moment

This aria is for tenor. 2 independent flutes, working in canon much of the time, maintain a constant onward pulse whilst the soloist intones his message of praise and admiration but in a solemn and devotional mode.

Mvt. 3 Recit: Die, Herr, ist Niemand gleich!
Thou art great and Thy works are great

A very short recit for bass follows with fully scored string parts. Other commentators have noted the short rising arpeggios - the imagery suggests looking up to God.

Mvt. 4 Aria Ach Herr, was ist ein Menschenkind
Ah Lord, what is a child of man
That thou wouldst through such pain redeem him?

Scoring is for solo oboe d'amore, alto and continuo. It is in ¾ time with running triplets throughout, giving a catchy 9/8 rhythm which belies the solemnity of the movement which remains rooted in F# minor.

I feel that this is in similar mood to the previous aria, although here the music is a little more closely matched to the message of the words.

Mvt. 5 Duetto Ehre sei Gott in der Höhe
Glory to God in the highest

Soprano, tenor and continuo: this is a moment for some unrestrained contrapuntal singing. I am in two minds about the movement though: the Gloria (textual) theme (think of the B Mi Mass (BWV 232)) is vibrant to the nth degree

But here, despite the uplifting arpeggiate entries of the soloists, we remain in the solemn, mildly depressed, mood experienced in Mvt. 2 and Mvt. 4 above. I don't feel the music matches the message.

Mvt. 6 Aria Wacht auf, ihr Adern und ihr Glieder
Wake up and sing those very hymns of gladness

Here at last is Bach at his uplifting best. We have a heart-warming aria that would wake the more somnolent members of his congregation before the final chorus. Trumpet, violin and soloist are given challenging parts to an ever moving bass. Yet another demonstration of Bach's mastery.

Mvt. 7 Alleluja! Gelobt sei Gott
Alleluia! All praise to God

There is a single verse, 12 bars of music: the tone intense and serious. Like the first aria, it is in B minor. Alleluias - are they normally as solemn as this?

The final Choral tune is also found at the end of BWV 248 part 3 to the words "Seid froh die-weil." on the same tune but with dramatically rewritten harmonies and different effect. So much so, that I did not notice the fact until I read Marie Jensen's post on the earlier discussion of this cantata which had been written in 1999.

Julian Mincham wrote (August 5, 2007):
Russell Telfer wrote:
< (Mvt. 3) A very short recit for bass follows with fully scored string parts. Other commentators have noted the short rising arpeggios - the imagery suggests looking up to God. >
And note the use of this figure in the previous movement bars 37/8 thus conjoining them.

I don't agree with Russell about the fitting of words and music. I think there are 2 vital issues here--one is that one needs to view the cantata as an entity, with a planned sense of progression and movement. In BWV 110 we have the overt expression in Mvt. 1, the quieter expression of same (see below) in Mvt. 2, the picture of sinless salvation and thw writhing worm in Mvt. 3---in other words a progression from elation to potential misery (the latter forming the centerpiece of the cantata and a warning to the congregation). Then Bach brings us back throught the more neutral duet to the overtly joyous bass aria returning to the open and extrovert expression of the first movement (Mvt. 1) (the chorale finally gives as a moment for reflection) There is a clear gradation here of interpretation of message, artistic balance and variety.

The other point is--and it's a vital and not often discussed one-- that Bach often differentiates between the COMMUMAL extrovert expression of faith, joy in salvation, praise of God etc and the PERSONAL individual expression of the same aspects which are often gentler, more introverted and more reflective. This is what happens (I suggest) in Mvt. 1 and Mvt. 2 of this cantata. And is you want to see this really happening within the one movement look at BWV 151/1 coming up where a da capo structure is extended to make such a contrast immediately apparent. Seen in this light I think that the music fits the words perfectly.

Peter Smaill wrote (August 5, 2007):
[To Russell Telfer] BWV 110 is dominated by its opening movement (Mvt. 1) and the remarkable Bass aria (Mvt. 6) and it is tempting to skip over the other movements. However, as Russell points out, the opening movement has a remarkable variety of time signatures and this is also true of the Alto aria Mvt. 4 which switches around from 3/4 to 9/8. Quite apart from the highly successful and innovative adaptation of the first movement of the fourth orchestral suite, BWV 1069, Bach is experimenting with flexibility in time signature in relation to text.

Recent scholarship seems to suggest that the orchestral suite as we know it (cf Boyd, quoting Rifkin) did not originally have trumpets- so here is a rare case of the sacred work drawing from, and then subsequently enriching the secular counterpart.

The Bass aria (Mvt. 6), prior to the da capo, finishes the text on a wonderful plunging motif at "Dabei sich Herz und Geist erfreuen" ("In which the heart and spirit rejoice"). In under two bars the soloist swoops tones downward from a high D to low F Sharp.

The word-painting is perhaps not immediate but buried in the subsequent chorale, and more obvious from the text booklets for the day (the da capo would not be reprinted) in which the juxtaposition is close by: "Singen wir all aus unsers Herzens Grunde" ("Sing we all from the bottom of our hearts").

If there is any pattern to Bach's general approach to Christmas Day, it is, in the mode of a modern parent attempting to surprise with a new present, a love of variety. Thus here in BWV 110 we have the unique use of a Lehms morning text, the special adaptation of the orchestral suite, and the time signature variations.

in BWV 63, chiastic structure and no biblical words or chorale at all;

In BWV 91; chorale dialogue in the recitative, based on the hymn of the day; antithesis in the duet.

Alas BWV 197a for Christmas Day 1728 , which may have had a Sinfonia, is scarcely known and fragmentary. Nevertheless the opening part of the Christmas Oratorio BWV 248/1 from 1734, also for Christmas Day, confirms a tendency to variety and parody of the highest order for this great Feast. The burghers of Leipzig were, like good children everywhere, able to expect a surprise on Christmas Day.

Julian Mincham wrote (August 5, 2007):
Peter Smaill wrote:
< The burghers of Leipzig were, like good children everywhere, able to expect a surprise on Christmas Day. >
And perhaps even more so on the days following. It seems to me that Bach's attidude to the music of the days following Christmas Day was rather different in 1725 than in previous years.

Russell Telfer wrote (August 5, 2007):
Julian Mincham wrote:
< I don't agree with Russell about the fitting of words and music. I think there are 2 vital issues here--one is that one needs to view the cantata as an entity, with a planned sense of progression and movement. In BWV 110 we have the overt expression in Mvt. 1, the quieter expression of same (see below) in Mvt. 2, the picture of sinless salvation and thw writhing worm in Mvt. 3---in other words a progression from elation to potential misery (the latter forming the centerpiece of the cantata and a warning to the congregation). Then Bach brings us back throught the more neutral duet to the overtly joyous bass aria returning to the open and extrovert expression of the first movement (Mvt. 1) (the chorale finally gives as a moment for reflection) There is a clear gradation here of interpretation of message, artistic balance and variety. >
I had a good look at what you said, Julian, and I think we have to agree to disagree. I'm always willing to admit I might be missing something, but perhaps like the man who missed the clue in the detective story, I am taking a more prosaic view of this than you.

Mvt. 1 exhorts us to be full of laughter, and we have a mind-blowingly cheerful and powerful choral movement.The only seriously painful movement is Mvt. 4. I would regard the rest of the words of the cantata as dutiful (Mvt. 2 and Mvt. 3) and the rest cheerful.

But of two movements with cheerful text, Mvt. 5 (Glory to God) is hardly unrestrained, and the final chorale (Mvt. 7) (Alleluia) is intense and in the minor. Not what the layman would expect, anyway.

Julian Mincham wrote (August 5, 2007):
Russell Telfer wrote:
< I had a good look at what you said, Julian, and I think we have to agree to disagree. >
I am always happy to do this.

But I stand by my analysis which I could example from so many other cantatas. i think the communal/personal expression of the text is still much misunderstood but yetexplains so much in the cantatas.

but what do others think?????

Jean Laaninen wrote (August 6, 2007):
[To Julian Mincham] I'm a bit pressed for time, but I did listen to the cantata today and I also looked at the score and read all the comments. Even if minor mode does not always indicate sadness as we've recently discussed with Ed, minor mode is usually a signal musically that one is moving to a more serious or deeper view of a matter...I think. So the arrival of Christ in the world retrospective of the time in which he lived, could be a call to awareness for the congregation regarding the magnitude of the event. Minor also nearly always enters in to the music on a communion Sunday, and some Lutheran Churches do practice observance of communion on Christmas morning--therefore minor mode might be appropriate on such a basis. I am going to listen again, and come back with some more detailed opinoins. But this is turning into a busy week so it might be a few days. Even so, I am keeping tabs on what everyone is saying, while trying to get my house caught up and doing some library research and interviewing one of my young musician friends for my website. The site will be available for the list in just a few weeks, and I'm having a very good time writing about young people and some friends my age who for the most part have a serious interest in music as a career.

Russell Telfer wrote (August 6, 2007):
Peter Smaill wrote:
< If there is any pattern to Bach's general approach to Christmas Day, it is, in the mode of a modern parent attempting to surprise with a new present, a love of variety. Thus here in BWV 110 we have the unique use of a Lehms morning text, the special adaptation of the orchestral suite, and the time signature variations. >
Intuitively, Peter, I went for this straight away. The parent, the child, the new present: a lovely idea. I've always felt that Bach was with us on Christmas Day, but this was an interesting way of expressing it.

We know that Meister Bach was a master of word painting; he could put down music for anything from a state funeral to a drinking song competition as fast as the copyists could copy. He was a master of mood control (using a 21st century term for an eternal entity). Which brings me to my main point about BWV 110:

Some music is exhilarating, like BWV 110'1, which explicitly has the theme of laughter. Then (confining the discussion to devotional issues) there are textual verses, poems, prayers, etc which portray Praise, Thanks, Penitence, and everything from Victory in Battle to Crucifixion.

You might well imagine on a scale of 0 - 10, how cheerful\upbeat\positive versus miserable\downbeat\negative you might expect music for any of these themes to be.

As I said in my last post, I regard much of the text for cantata BWV 110 as being reflective and neutral (in a good sense of the word) and I feel that in this cantata Bach has turned *down* the thermostat, so to speak, on our
emotions, apart from the opening and the bass aria.

So when we sing Glory to God, and later, Alleluia, there is no exclamation mark at the end.

Farewell, 1725, just about.

Julian Mincham wrote (August 6, 2007):
Russell Taelfer wrote:
< As I said in my last post, I regard much of the text for cantata BWV 110 as being reflective and neutral (in a good sense of the word) and I feel that in this cantata Bach has turned *down* the thermostat, so to speak, on our emotions, apart from the opening and the bass aria. >
Well I would still like to hear others' views on the two ideas I put forward on list the other day--one, that Bach carefully 'gradated' his cantatas on an emotional le, rising or falling in emotional intensity from movement to movement and two that there is a clear distinction to be made between his expressions of the same theme/idea/emotion from a private personal viewpoint of the one hand and as the extrovert communal expression on the other. AND that he used this distinction as a way of balancing his cantatas.

However that Bach approached the whole Xmas celebrations of 1725 in a more subdued manner than previously is indisputable to my mind. Look for example at the two cantatas coming up for the second and third day after Xmas BWV 57 and BWV 151, and compare them with works written for the same days in previous years--it's quite interesting.

Neil Halliday wrote (August 7, 2007):
Russell Telfer wrote:
"As to the cantata as a whole, I have to express my belief that apart from the first and last movements, words and music do not match."
One way to overcome this conundrum is to allow a different interpretation of the words. The music of first two arias is indeed tinged with a gentle sadness, especially the second; but the text of the tenor aria should be read as an invitation to contemplate what God has achieved for us with the Incarnation, and not read as being concerned with experiencing the actual joy of soaring aloft to be in heaven:

"Lift your thoughts and senses swiftly to heaven, and think what God has done. He became man only so that we are heaven's children".

The sentiment in these words is contemplation, not joy.

Likewise the text of the alto aria should be read as contrasting the miserable state of man with the hope of salvation:

" What is a child of man? A cursed worm surrounded by Hell and Satan. And yet Christ's soul and spirit, out of love, is Man's salvation."

The horror of reality (as envisaged by the librettist) is tempered by the hope of God's promise of salvation; hence the music's gentle sadness.

The movement whose music for me at first glance does not correspond to the text is the final chorale:

''Alleluja! Praise be God, we all sing from the bottom of our hearts. For God has today made such joy we shall never forget it".

The music is noble and solemn, rather than joyful; perhaps Bach wants to remind his congregation that a celebration of Christ's birthday must perforce be coloured by an awareness of His suffering for man's sake.

Speaking of the final chorale, I like Herreweghe's [9] more traditional approach with 'tenuto' on the fermatas, very much like Rilling [6] and Werner [3]. This endows the movement with a more substantial aspect, in comparison with some other HIP examples.

Gardiner [13], Herreweghe [9] and Harnoncourt [7] have lovely duets (with Harnoncourt having the most vivid and satisfying continuo; Rilling's continuo [6] is heavy and un-phrased, as is often the case); Rotzsch's singers [8] have the worst type of heavy vibrato. Overall, Herreweghe's recording will probably be judged the finest of the period performances. Rilling [6] and Werner [3] both give satisfying modern instrument performances, with minor problems.

As usual, enjoyment of the music is enhanced by following the text while listening, at least a couple of times, as an aid to getting to know the music more completely.
_________

Julian's idea of Bach setting out to contrast the communal and the individual aspects in his (Bach's) settings of the texts, just about solves a problem I had with last week's cantata BWV 79, namely, the huge contrast between the vast scale of first movement and the intimate, small-scale second movement, with both texts having the same basic idea: "God is our sun and shield". This contrast in the perspective of the texts, and the resulting differences in scale of the music, is worth bearing in mind when approaching the cantatas.

Julian Mincham wrote (August 7, 2007):
Neil Halliday wrote:
< This contrast in the perspective of the texts, and the resulting differences in scale of the music, is worth bearing in mind when approaching the cantatas. >
This contrast is ever there with Bach but, it seems to me increasingly so in the third cycle. Whereas earlier Bach generally made this contrast in different movements, at this stage he is doing it more within the same movement. There are several examples but the combination of aria and chorus in BWV 16/3 and the highly contrasting sections of what is otherwise a traditional da capo aria in BWV 151 really do stand out. An appreciation of this point does, as you suggest, explain so much when it comes to apparently different settings of virtually identical texts.

Jean Laaninen wrote (August 8, 2007):
[To Julian Mincham] I am going to vote with Julian, now that I've had a chance to listen to BWV 110 again. I think the texts and the music fit very well indeed. I also felt the use of flutes, strings and trumpets in this cantata added quite a bit of dimension to the texts, and seemed very Christmasy to me. The final chorale, while I'm still adjusting to minor mode for the end of the cantatas is selected with an eye to depth perception on the event, I believe. There were several instances where it seemed to me little bits of folk style rhythms and tunes might have been incorporated and were I knowledgable to a great degree about folk tunes, I might be able to say more. But these small additions bring out the folk character of the humble setting of the birth of Christ. That's enough comment from me for now since I'm not getting into details about each section, but I am comfortable with the fit...and also comfortable with diverse opinions on this matter.

Ed Myskowski wrote (August 16, 2007):
Neil Halliday wrote:
< "Lift your thoughts and senses swiftly to heaven, and think what God has done. He became man only so that we are heaven's children".
The sentiment in these words is contemplation, not joy. >
Herreweghe's [9] interpretation seems to emphasize contemplation, without exactly lacking joy. He also provides maximum contrast between solo/ripieno vocal parts. According to Dürr, this distinction was added by Bach for a subsequent performance, not in 1725.

< Likewise the text of the alto aria should be read as contrasting the miserable state of man with the hope of salvation:
"What is a child of man? A cursed worm surrounded by Hell and Satan. And yet Christ's soul and spirit, out of love, is Man's salvation."
The horror of reality (as envisaged by the librettist) is tempered by the hope of God's promise of salvation; hence the music's gentle sadness. >
This seems to be in line with Julian's emphasis on contrast within a single aria, if not precisely a personal/communal distinction. Dürr supports this contrast within Mvt. 4, 'the antithesis prescribed in the text between mankind cursed and mankind redeemed.' Nevertheless, I find Russell's outline of the architecture satisfying, deepening and darkening from beginning to Mvt. 4, and rising again to the concluding 'Alleluja!'

< The movement whose music for me at first glance does not correspond to the text is the final chorale:
''Alleluja! Praise be God, we all sing from the bottom of our hearts.
For God has today made such joy we shall never forget it".
The music is noble and solemn, rather than joyful; perhaps Bach wants to remind his congregation that a celebration of Christ's birthday must perforce be coloured by an awareness of His suffering for man's sake. >
The joy is not unrestrained, neither at beginning nor end (Mvt. 1 or Mvt. 7).

< Speaking of the final chorale, I like He's [9] more traditional approach with 'tenuto' on the fermatas, very much like Rilling [6] and Werner [3]. This endows the movement with a more substantial aspect, in comparison with some other HIP examples.
Gardiner
[13], Herreweghe [9] and Harnoncourt [7] have lovely duets (with Harnoncourt having the most vivid and satisfying continuo; Rilling's continuo [6] is heavy and un-phrased, as is often the case); Rotzsch's singers [8] have the worst type of heavy vibrato. Overall, Herreweghe's recording [9] will probably be judged the finest of the period performances. Rilling and Werner [3] both give satisfying modern instrument performances, with minor problems. >
I find Herreweghe [9] outstanding as an overall performance, and especially superior to Gardiner [13] and Leusink [12] in Mvt. 1, where quick tempo and exaggerated dotted rhythm overwhelm the contemplative aspect. Leusink also has a staccato effect in the chorale (and in BWV 137, as well) which is perhaps intended to be joyous, but suffers by comparison.

I enjoyed the opportunity to hear Thamm [2] on LP, every bit the equal of Werner [3], I think, and both superior to the period performances, other than Herreweghe [9], for this music. If the Cantate series is ever reissued, they are not to be missed. In the meantime, we are fortunate to have such a variety of recordings available.

Keeping in mind Julian's emphasis on contrasts, I found BWV 137/BWV 164 to make a contrasting pair on consecutive weeks, and perhaps a prelude to the present pair, BWV 110/BWV 57.

Julian Mincham wrote (August 16, 2007):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
< The movement whose music for me at first glance does not correspond to the text is the final chorale: >
A good point and this is not, in my experience altogether unusual----if there is a mismatch it tends (I believe) usually to be found in the closing chorales. Which might suggest that Bach did not always choose the chorales himself. Or it might be that he did what he could to with them and reserved the greater part of his original thinking and textual interpretation to the rest of the work which he composed himself from scratch and had maximum control over.

Neil Halliday wrote (August 17, 2007):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
< The joy is not unrestrained, neither at beginning nor end (Mvt. 1 or Mvt. 7). >
This is quite so.

In fact, the so-called 'Grave' sections of the opening movement of BWV 110/1 (same as the 4th Orchestral Suite) are most pleasing, IMO, if performances express a gracious and noble aspect, rather than the lively, somewhat disjointed motion that many HIP examples bring to these sections. Schweitzer wrote of these suites "a fragment of a vanished world of grace and elegance has been preserved for us", which seems to epitomise a performance I have on LP (Menuhin/Bath Festival Chamber Orchestra, 1961). Menuhin brings a lovely grace to the 'Grave' sections; and the striking diminished and minor harmonies over the long pedal point in the continuo have more than a hint of pathos.

The joy is of course quite overt in the 'fast' section to which Bach added the vocal parts. Werner [3] is excellent in this vocal section, being livelier than Rilling [6] whose tempo is a bit slow. Werner ignores the ripieni/soli contrast, but it's not something I miss while listening to his recording.

Bradley Lehman wrote (August 17, 2007):
< I enjoyed the opportunity to hear Thamm [2] on LP, every bit the equal of Werner [3], I think, and both superior to the period performances, other than Herreweghe [9], for this music. If the Cantate series is ever reissued, they are not to be missed. In the meantime, we are fortunate to have such a variety of recordings available. >
Browsing the http://www.rondeau.de site a few minutes ago, to look up the Windsbach cantatas recording for my other posting, I saw a note there that Thamm died in March. They have a short bio there:
http://www.rondeau.de/webbusiness_e/files/kuenstler/hthamm.shtml

It says they have these two recordings of his on CD:

60 years of the Windsbach
http://www.rondeau.de/webbusiness_e/query.php?cp_sid=2891376351c&cp_tpl=5504&cp_pid=180&cp_cat=

and the mixed program "Singet dem Herrn"
http://www.rondeau.de/webbusiness_e/query.php?cp_sid=2891376351c&cp_tpl=5504&cp_pid=218&cp_cat=

 

Continue on Part 3

Cantata BWV 110: Details & 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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