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Cantata BWV 111
Was mein Gott will, das g'scheh allzeit
Discussions - Part 1

Discussions in the Week of January 26, 2003 (1st round)

Aryeh Oron wrote (January 28, 2003):
BWV 111 - Introduction

The subject of this week’s discussion (January 26, 2003) is the Chorale Cantata for the 3rd Sunday after Epiphany BWV 111 ‘Was mein Gott will, das g'scheh allzeit’ (What my God wants, may it always happen). The subject of the cantata is submission to God’s will and trust in Him. The Gospel for the day is Matthew 8: 1-13 (The cleansing of the leper) and the Epistle is Romans 7: 17-21 (Overcome evil with good). If there is any connection between the cantata and the bible reading of the day, it is rather slim. Markgraf Albrecht von Brandenburg-Culmbach’s hymn with the same title as the cantata was arranged in a poem by an unknown librettist. In this cantata, the first verse of the chorale is quoted unchanged; this has been set for the concluding verse of the chorale in both BWV 72 and BWV 144 (already discussed in the BCML three years ago). The fourth verse is here being used in the final chorale, the second and the third stanzas being paraphrased for the arias and recitatives.

The details of the recordings of this cantata can be found at the following page of the Bach Cantatas Website: Cantata BWV 111 - Recordings

The eight complete recordings of this cantata are equally divided between HIP and non-HIP. In the traditional camp we can find Günther Ramin [1], Kurt Thomas [2], Karl Richter [3] and Helmuth Rilling [4]. In the second we have Nikolaus Harnoncourt [5], Pieter Jan Leusink [6], John Eliot Gardiner [7] and Ton Koopman [8]. Richter recorded again the opening chorus only in a newly released recording of a collection of choral movements from Bach Cantatas [M-1]. These movements were neither compiled from Richter’s cantata cycle for Archiv, nor recorded with his usual Munich’s forces. He recorded them with the Ansbach Bach Festival Choir & Orchestra, probably in the early 1970’s. The collection was issued for the first time on 2 CD’s by Baroque Music Club only couple of months ago.

Additional Information
In the page of recordings mentioned above you can also find links to:
Original German text: at Walter F. Bischof Website;
Two English translations: by Francis Browne (Bach Cantatas Website) and Z. Philip Ambrose;
Portuguese translation: by Rodrigo Maffei Libonati (Bach Cantatas Website);
Hebrew translation by Aryeh Oron (Bach Cantatas Website).
Score (Vocal & Piano version);
Commentary: in English by Simon Crouch (Listener’s Guide); in Spanish by Julio Sánchez Reyes (CantatasDeBach).

I hope to see many of you participating in the discussion.

Dick Wursten wrote (January 31, 2003):
Dear Bachlovers, I'm sorry but I have to say it:

IMO: What a mistake the opening choir of this cantata! Completely missing the point of the text. Triumphant atmosphere, overflowing vitality where prayer and gratitude for faith (against all odds and at the edge of feeling forsaken (last line of the first verse) would be appropriate, when you read the text carefully.

Was mein gott will gescheh' allzeit: What my God wants, may that always happen... Gods will be done...

Where the poet is struggling with God (Like Jacob with the angel at the river Jabbok; like Jesus in Gethsemane, sweating blood and tears to reach this level of faith: not my will, but yours be done, o God)... Bach interpretes this prayer along the lines of the pope and the people who started off for the crusades shouting: Deus vult (Dieu le veut): God wants it ! I know that is an overstatement, but those were my feelings when I heard this piece of music of Bach: sublime in itself (brilliant music!) but beside the mark.

AND then - what a contrast - mvt 2 : enormous relief ! intimistic, searching for Gods will, tentatively (beautiful broken figures of the continuo/cello), and so finding comfort in 'Gottes weiser Rat' (Gods wise council) alone. Oh, Bach!

Kirk McElhearn wrote (January 31, 2003):
I only have three recordings of this cantata: Leusink [6], Rilling [4] and Harnoncourt [5].

I have just been listening to the long aria - one of Bach's finest – and have a few observations.

[5] Harnoncourt is delightfully light and delicate, with a snappy tempo that seems to fit the music well. But the sound is very airy, very treble; there seems to be little bass. The soloists are good, but distant in the recording.

[4] Rilling's recording suffers from the usual heaviness and dense string sound, but it has some very good points. The rhythm is much more apparent, giving a nice incisive tone to the piece. The solo violin - easy to miss in the Harnoncourt recording - is much more present, and its obbligato part is very good. But the overuse of vibrato by the singers makes this one a problem - especially when they don't vibrate in unison. Bass Philippe Huttenlocker is excellent; Arleen Augér a bit less good.

[6] Leusink's version has one main problem - Syste Buwalda. With a shaky orchestral sound, much less lively than Harnoncourt's, this aria is played a bit limply by the orchestra. The violin is not very much in the front, and the soloists are not well mixed.

There's no clear winner here - I like the tempo and energy of the Harnoncourt version [5], but the obbligato violin in Rilling's [4] is excellent.

Thomas Braatz wrote (February 1, 2003):
BWV 111 - Provenance:

See: Cantata BWV 111 – Provenance


See: Cantata BWV 111 – Commentary

Philippe Bareille wrote (February 1, 2003):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< The duet for alto and tenor, “So geh ich mit beherzten Schritten, und wenn mich Gott zum Grabe führt” (“I go with courageous steps, even though God be leading me to the grave”) is like a gladsome, stately march. The voices are accompanied at their entry by the following figures in the first violins (Example given from opening bars of Mvt. 4.)
Schweitzer counts this cantata among those that “are useful for winning over a public that is musically cultured but not yet intimate with Bach.” >
Schweitzer is absolutly right about this cantata. The duet is a gem and perhaps one of the highlights of Bach cantatas. I have the Harnoncourt version [5] which admirably conveys the determination of the believer in this duet. Esswood and Equiluz are outstanding.

Jane Newble wrote (February 1, 2003):
This cantata comes in with a joyful, even exuberant affirmation of the fact that God is in control. The voices sing it, the instruments underline it in a decidedly buoyant, marching rhythm: God's will is always best, and works out for the best in all circumstances. Personally I feel that this is just right for these words, because this
is the effect of trusting God completely, even when facing death.

The bass aria addresses the feelings that inevitably come up when faced with devastating news. The worried heart is soothed with both bass voice and continuo. The continuo is quiet, comforting, understanding and uplifting, and yet unfaltering, - supporting, and sometimes preceding the words, forming an unwavering harmony.

The alto recitative (alto is often symbolic of the Holy Spirit) portrays in awkward notes what happens when one goes contrary to God's will, and assures happiness to those who do not try to escape.

The duet is one of unforgbeauty. Bach at his best. The resolve to go with courageous and determined steps, is a result of the affirmation by the previous movements. Happy those who choose God's protection! The instruments are reminiscent of the first movement, but now they are dancing in 3/4, rather than marching. Even when facing death, all will be well. Yet, the strings and the throbbing continuo give a hint of victory won through tears and deep suffering. After all, it was only a week ago that BWV 3 was composed.... There is nothing superhuman about this courage and optimism.

The soprano recitative is a prayer for submission in death, and ends with a beautiful Adagio of longing. It is one of those deeply felt recitatives that Bach so often writes.

The cantata ends with a prayer, once more, for steadfastness, with voices and all instruments in complete harmony. Richter [3] makes the most of this chorale, which finishes with a 'fröhlich' Amen.

Robin Crag wrote (February 1, 2003):
Mvt. 1
Bach fills the music with fiery faith. The oboes and the violins have a tune which they throw backwards and forwards between each other (The "concertante dialogue"). The bassline takes its part fully in the music, as well as holding everything up. It has these wonderful steady downwards shapes, which I always find myself humming along with. This movement doesn't sound too bad with Leusink+co [6], but it sounds rushed to me. Does it sound better in any versions where it is slower?

Mvt. 2
This is probably just my ignorant ears, but it sounds to me like there is something missing here. I don't like it as much as the rest of the cantata somehow.

Mvt. 3
Bach scolds the fools with a really nasty dissonance (on the word "Toerichter"). Very effective.

Mvt. 4
This is wonderfully joyful (especially the violin line). The "beherzten Schritten" are portrayed by the dotted rhythm, especially those long pedal points (with the same note played again and again, instead of just being held down, in the bassline).

The recording with Leusink [6] seems to be too light and dippy.

Mvt. 5
The oboes are painfully beautiful. Bach conveys the meaning of the last line musically, with the oboes and the repeated notes in the bassline.

Mvt. 6
A beautiful chorale... Is it just me, or is Bach looking back to an older style of music? (especially on the words versagen/verzagen/Amen)?

Bye for now, sorry for sending this twice, I think the yahoospellchecker took its revenge...

Dick Wursten wrote (February 1, 2003):
In spite of the positive appraisals of the atmosphere of mvt1, I cannot get over my first negative feelings. It's personal, I know, that's why I wrote: IMO. It has something to do with what the choral and melody of the hymn, 'Was mein Gott will, das g'scheh allzeit' mean to me. One preliminary remark: My depreciation has nothing to do with the quality of the music. Splendid ! and I would have enormously enjoyed it, if.... other words would have been the subject.

This is the story of the hymn.
1. the poet and his faith: Albrecht of Prussia (born 1490, 7 years older than Luther), was a very influential person, Not a poet, but a duke. In 1511 he became 'Hochmeister des Deutschen Ordens' [don't know the right translation of this: 'Grand Master of the German Order'], which was a religious title and a sign of political importance at the same time... Almost from the beginning he was interested in the reform activities of Luther. He even payed a visit to Luther in 1523... And got convinced of the right of Luthers reform-movement. He was no political opportunist. This is proved by what he did next. He laid down his dignity as 'Hochmeister' and completely secularized the 'German Order' in Prussia. He publicly confessed his evangelical faith and made clear to everyone that he was serious, because he started to 'evangelize' the neighbouring states = tried to convince them to embrace the Lutheran reform as well. He grounded a university in Königsberg (yes: Kant!) and created strong alliances with Danmark and Sweden. He married the daughter of the Danish king: Dorothea. His whole life he was eager to learn more. He was 'in correspondance' with theologians, scholars and colleagues. He published 'confessional writings' and wrote some 'hymns'. The evangelical church in his own Duchy he provided with Kirchenordnung (church-order), he arranged the system of fraternal 'visitation' and Synods. His Duchy became an 'example'.
2. the hymn:.. In 1547 his wife died. 1547 is the year of this hymn. And why should it not be triumphant ? Because of the melody he borrowed...: The French chanson: Il me suffit de tous mes maulx... A touching lamento, provided with a fitting melody by the chanson-melody-composer whose first name was enouugh to identify him in all of Western-Europe, first half of the 16th Century: Claudin de Sermisy... You only have to listen, or to sing the original melody (with the characteristic renaissance metre, which is almost completely gone in the baroque... but indeed in the final choral in BWV 111 you can hear the remants or reminiscences of it.).
3. I see Albrecht singing this chanson/lamento to give words or at least sounds to his grief. And then I see Albrecht sitting in one of the empty rooms of his palace, reading Luther’s catechism, seraching for comfort. He finds it in Luthers explanation of the third prayer from the Lords Prayer: Your will be done... And then I see it happen: The comforting lines - prose, but not unpoetical - from Luther become intertwined with that sad song and ... merge themselves into three verses of the most simple but elementary and pure poetry of the hymn: 'Was mein Gott will, das geschehe allzeit'... [The fourht verse is added]. The story of this counterfact I knew, the renaissance chanson and hymn I knew before I started to listen to Bach... That's why his first mvt missed the mark for me and his second mvt is completely to the point.

(BTW: g'scheh is not an indicativus, but an optativus... > prayer mood, no preaching mood).

Thomas Braatz wrote (February 2, 2003):
BWV 111 - The Chorale Melody:

Thanks to Dick Wursten I was reminded that I was remiss in checking out the contrafact involved with this chorale melody. I will repeat some of his information and add some things of my own:

The original composer of the chorale melody was Claudin de Sermisy whose secular song, “Il me suffit de tous mes maulx” was published in Paris in 1529. In 1540 a contrafact of Claudin’s secular melody was accomplished in a Dutch verse form of Psalm 129 which was published in “Souterliedekens” in Antwerp in 1540. Duke Albrecht von Preußen wrote his chorale text in memory of the death of his wife, Dorothea.

In addition to its use in BWV 111, Bach also used this melody in the following cantatas: BWV 65/7, BWV 103/6, BWV 144/6 and BWV 244/25 (SMP).

The Recordings:

This week I listened to the following recorded versions:

Ramin (1953) [1]; Kurt Thomas (1960) [2]; Richter (1972) [3]; Rilling (1980) [4]; Harnoncourt (1981) [5]; Leusink (1999) [6]; Gardiner (2000) [7]; Koopman (2000) [8]

The Timings (from slowest to fastest):

Total Timings:
[2] Kurt Thomas 22:10
[3] Richter 21:42
[4] Rilling 19:58
[1] Ramin 19:42
[6] Leusink 19:23*
[5] Harnoncourt 17:08*
[8] Koopman 15:37*
[7] Gardiner 15:01*

It is interesting to note the clean division between HIP and non-HIP performances. The ones with asterisks are HIP. A 7-minute difference between the extremes!

Mvt. 1:
[2] Thomas 6:06
[1] Ramin 5:16
[3] Richter 5:06
[5] Harnoncourt 5:04
[4] Rilling 5:01
[6] Leusink 4:52
[8] Koopman 4:46
[7] Gardiner 4:16

With the exception of the Harnoncourt/Rilling switch (3 seconds is quite insignificant), this key mvt. demonstrates the clear split between non-HIP and HIP with an almost 2 minute difference between the extremes.

Mvt. 2 Bass Aria
[6] Leusink 4:09
[3] Richter 3:50
[1] Ramin 3:43
[2] Thomas 3:41
[4] Rilling 3:06
[8] Koopman 3:00
[7] Gardiner 2:37
[5] Harnoncourt 2:36

A difference of 1 ½ minutes between the extremes is significant in a short mvt. such as this. Only Leusink is the ‘spoiler’ here as he stands out on the extreme end where he would not be expected.

Mvt. 3 Recitativo Alto
[1] Ramin 1:20
[3] Richter 1:18
[2] Thomas 1:03
[4] Rilling 1:02
[6] Leusink 0:49
[7] Gardiner 0:48
[8] Koopman 0:47
[5] Harnoncourt 0:43

Mvt. 4 Aria Duet Alto Tenor
[2] Thomas 8:34
[3] Richter 8:28
[4] Rilling 7:44
[6] Leusink 7:14
[5] Harnoncourt 6:20
[8] Koopman 6:07
[1] Ramin 6:05
[7] Gardiner 5:14

3 and ¼ minutes difference is significant. Ramin is the surprise here, but otherwise the general difference between non-HIP and HIP is maintained.

Mvt. 5 Recitativo Soprano
[1] Ramin 1:25
[4] Rilling 1:22
[3] Richter 1:21
[2] Thomas 1:16
[6] Leusink 1:04
[5] Harnoncourt 0:57
[8] Koopman 0:55
[7] Gardiner 0:53

Just what one would expect: a clear division between the two camps.

Mvt. 6 Chorale
[1] Ramin 1:54
[3] Richter 1:39
[2] Thomas 1:30
[4] Rilling 1:28
[5] Harnoncourt 1:28
[8] Koopman 1:15
[6] Leusink 1:15
[7] Gardiner 1:13

Another perfect division!

What do these timings tell us about the difference between the non-HIP and HIP versions:

The conductors of larger choral and orchestral forces using modern instruments tend to gravitate towards slower tempi.

The conductors of period instrumental ensembles with a minimum number of players on a part and very small choirs (1, 2, 3, 4 voices per part) generally tend to increase the tempi.

What are some of the reasons for these trends?

Non-HIP conductors can achieve greater breadth (which means a slower tempo) because more voices singing the same part can be asked to use staggered breathing, thus giving the effect that a voice part easily can be extended at the direction of the conductor without losing intensity. The same is generally true of the orchestral aspect where a rich, velvety, legato tone characterizes the string orchestra sound in particular.

HIP conductors are faced with instruments of less volume that are generally playing with one instrument on each part and with a reduced choir of small numbers (often only one or two singers per part.) Now the space between phrases becomes more noticeable and the conductor speeds up the tempo to connect these spaces so that they will not be as apparent to the listener as they would be if a slower tempo were taken.

The Negatives:

Non-HIP performances become excessively lush with slow tempi. They can tend to die under their own heavy weight. It can begin to sound like an excessively slow tempo used by a conductor in performing a Mahler or Bruckner symphony.

HIP performances with fast tempi tend to be excessively light-weight in nature with the notes being played and sung in a manner that might best be described as ‘tripping it lightly,’ a very incongruous way of presenting the more serious content of the Bach cantatas.

Thomas Braatz wrote (February 2, 2003):
BWV 111 - Recordings (ctnd.)

[1] Ramin:
This recording is mainly of historical interest, but it fails in most other respects: lack of precision due to insufficient rehearsal time and perhaps incapable musicians as well; serious intonation problems; some shouting on the part of the choir; poor recording quality (it was recorded directly from a radio broadcast (probably at home with the inferior recording equipment available at the time.) There is some evidence of energetic singing. Oettel, despite his fast but narrow vibrato, gives a reasonable rendition of his bass aria. This is a full voice that is worth listening to in order to get an idea of what such full voices can sound like. Häussler and Lutze blend reasonably well together, but Häussler’s low range is unable to compete with Lutze’s voice. Lutze has some of the mannerisms of the opera singers of that time (disconcerting swooping up to notes.) Singing with extreme vibrato, Giebel’s performance in her recitative, is not noteworthy. Only in the adagio section does she seem to recover somewhat. The chorale gives further evidence of the poor audio quality as well as more of the inaccuracies that abound in the choral sections of this cantata.

[2] Kurt Thomas:
Thomas’ slowest tempo rendition of Mvt. 1 allows the boy singers of the Thomanerchor to sing legato without shouting and nevertheless sound affirmative and convincing in their expression of the text. Almost all of the loose ends evident in the Ramin recording have been cleaned up here. For those who want to hear what the Thomanerchor sounded like in this early period, this is a good recording to purchase. The precision and enthusiasm of this performance far exceed that of Harnoncourt’s feeble attempt to restore the choir sound that Bach might have heard. This version of the bass aria with Adam is slightly better than his later one with Richter 12 years later. Höffgen, who is capable of some good performances, is a complete letdown here. In addition to her wide vibrato, she seems to have difficulty controlling other aspects of her voice properly. This is too bad, because she also manages to destroy the beautiful duet that follows. If only Rotzsch had found a different partner here, this duet could have been one of the better ones in this group of recordings. Grümmer has difficulty controlling her vibrato as well. In the beautiful adagio, she is unable to shift gears. There is even a glottis Anschlag on the word ‘Ende,’ a sign that her vocal control is slipping away. The chorale exhibits some unevenness with an occasional voice sticking out more than others. Although sung forcefully, it seems to lack some of the necessary intensity that would put this version in a yet higher classification.

[3] Richter:
Almost every time I listen to a wonderful, opening mvt. to a chorale cantata by this group, I am dismayed by the lack of sensitivity displayed by the organist (either Hedwig Bilgram or Elmar Schloter) or is it really Richter’s fault that he demanded (or condoned) the cheap-sounding strident organ registration that duplicated at a range a few octaves higher than the voices almost every vocal part? Mattheson clearly pointed out this problem as one to be avoided: never should the organ be heard over the voices of the choir, but that is just what happens here and in almost every other recording of this series. That having been said, this version is perhaps the best out of all of those that I listened to. There is a solemn joy and dignity that is complemented by the strong feeling of commitment toward this music that are uplifting and moving at the same time. The controlled energy of the singing of this choir coupled with their obvious enthusiasm in singing this text is infectious. How can a listener not be moved by such a performance? The tempo is appropriate. It is energetic, but not hurried. The c.f. is steady and strong as it should be. The choir sings legato without punching notes and reducing their values. They seem really to believe the words that they are singing (whether they actually do or not seems irrelevant) and this makes this version very effective. Adam’s heavy treatment (Richter’s bc only enhances this impression) makes this aria become boring after a while, so that the listener begins to wonder when it will end and why it takes so long. Reynolds, with an operatic voice, manages nevertheless to give a reasonable rendition of the recitative (Mvt. 3.) The aria-duet is definitely one of the best versions of this 4th mvt. This is partly due to the correct tempo that is chosen by Richter who is careful to balance the large instrumental forces with the voices. These voices (operatic full voices) are generally well-matched. Mathis, through most of this recitative, is unbearable, although she manages a few more pleasant sounds in the adagio section. This is the chorale version that expresses an affirmation of the text better than all the other versions. Each chord stands firmly in space. The leading notes push forever onward and drive toward a convincing conclusion.

[4] Rilling:
The orchestral playing is very clear with the bc being somewhat heavy. The cf in the soprano is sung by a few sopranos that are competing against each other with their fluctuating vibratos that fail to unify into a steady, unfailing sound. The other trained voices also sing with vibratos, and although they sing accurately, the choir sound is slightly unsteady for this reason. Otherwise, however, each part can be clearly heard and all the parts in balance with each other. Huttenlocher gives another one of his many disingenuous performances. By playing around with the expression too much, he distracts from genuinely presenting the text so that it sounds convincing. With Rilling’s treatment of the bc, this aria soon becomes boring to listen to. The combination of Watts and Harder is not necessarily a good blend. Harder’s rather strident, nasal voice does not match well with Watt’s overly operatic treatment (there is too much vibrato in her voice.) Augér’s treatment of the recitative is better than the one Mathis gave. There are a few high notes where Augér’s voice begins to sound unpleasant (she is trying too hard and forces her voice as she attempts to put expression in certain words), but in the adagio section she recovers from this relapse. Rilling’s final chorale is very good indeed. He understands well how such a final chorale ought to be sung. There is very little obvious vibrato being used here and that certainly helps. Too bad the same did not occur in the 1st mvt.

[5] Harnoncourt:
Mvt. 1:
The best way to describe this Harnoncourt sound is one with many ‘rough edges’ showing in various ways: the note values are clipped (predominantly played staccato), the many notes that are heavily accented sound crude when overemphasized in this manner, the harsh accents cause the oboes, which are shaky in their intonation to begin with, to over blow (over blowing causes a slight rise in pitch), the strings sound very thin and squeaky/scratchy, the sopranos sing each half note of the cf with an accent followed by a ‘lifting off’ which causes each note to be detached from the one before and after it, the strong accents in the accompanying vocal parts begin to sound too much like shouting, the accompanying parts (altos, tenors, basses) are truly a muddle with some notes barely audible (in the altos) and even missing entirely in the tenor (where a two-note phrase consisting of two quarter notes has the 1st note emphasized and absolutely no sound whatsoever on the 2nd quarter note.) It is very difficult to find any kind of redeeming qualities in Harnoncourt’s treatment of a mvt. such as this. Mvt. 2 has van der Meer attempting to be expressive, but failing the mark entirely. The bc accompaniment is entirely pedestrian and boring. This mvt. is hacked into many tiny pieces by Harnoncourt’s misconception of this music. Mvt. 3 features Esswood, a voice that I personally find very difficult to listen to. When he reaches for a high note (the ‘e’ on “Geduld”) and in the duet (Mvt. 4) ms. 73, he sounds like a hen getting its head chopped off. This is a truly ugly vocal sound. As a half-voice he has serious problems doing much, if anything with the notes in the low range. The two voices do not blend well together. Even Equiluz sounds as if he is forcing his voice too much. The combination of both of these voices here makes for an unpleasant listening experience. In Mvt. 5, Huber is uncertain in his intonation and the out-of-tune oboes do nothing whatsoever to improve the situation. Sometimes I think that Harnoncourt must have been sitting on his ears to allow performances such as this to be recorded. Mvt. 6: Here the choir is dragging along, one heavy step after another, to their ignominious finish line: “Drauf sprech ich fröhlich: Amen” I can not imagine any listener perceiving any joy whatsoever in a chorale rendition such as this. Harnoncourt simply does not understand how a chorale ought to be performed. He disregards the text and he mutilates the musical lines that should be uplifting. His conception of Bach’s music is a travesty and should be held up as an example of how not to perform Bach’s vocal music.

[6] Leusink:
Mvt. 1: The instruments here give evidence of much better intonation than in Harnoncourt’s performance. Unfortunately the bc, as always, is much too loud for the proper balance in this ensemble (Leusink should have done something to ‘tone down’ or remove completely the double bass player who obviously is playing a modern double bass which is much too loud for the other instruments and doubles the bc line an octave lower than the cello would be playing. The chest organ registration also ‘muddies’ the bass line rather than enhancing it with clarity. The oboes sound much better here than they have in the other recordings that I reported on recently. There are some intonation problems in the choir with the soprano line going sharp compared to the rest of the ensemble. This is due in part to the type of voices that are singing the soprano part. The accompanying vocal parts show some ‘rough edges’ due to a lack of preparation and a tendency to ‘overdo’ the singing of some of the louder passages. Some individual voices stand out too much. The tempo for Mvt. 2 seems proper for thiaria, but Ramselaar is unable to ‘fill out’ the necessary presence of the bass voice with his half-voice, overly gentle treatment. Whatever Harnoncourt’s van der Meer had too much of, Ramselaar lacks because his treatment becomes boring due to his lack of engagement with the text. Mvt. 3: Buwalda – one word says it all – he is almost comparable to Esswood here. In the duet, Mvt. 4, there are similar difficulties as those heard in Harnoncourt’s recording with Equiluz and Esswood. Of course, van der Meel does not approach Equiluz more energetic treatment and Buwalda begins to sound comical here. Holton’s half-voice limitations are very apparent here: a tiny voice with occasionally howling tones that lack any sense of expression. The usual Leusink chorale treatment (better than Harnoncourt’s in any case) with clipped final notes under the fermata can be heard here. The individual voices that stand out destroy any sense of unity in the choral sound, but at least there is more of a sense of commitment to expressing the words of the chorale text.

[7] Gardiner:
Mvt. 1 at this very fast tempo is a complete farce. Everything is treated very lightly. There is no substance, no dignity, no real commitment to the rendering of the text. The entire mvt. becomes a will-o’-the-wisp, a flash of nothingness, because it flies by so quickly. The much venerated choir of soloists has met its match in Bach in this chorale mvt. They begin to sound quite ridiculous in punching out each quarter note while rushing on to the next note without establishing much of any connection between one note and the next. Sometimes certain notes are not heard at all. Their vibratos are quite in evidence and distract from a unified choral sound. Sometimes, when they emphasize certain notes, they begin to sound like bleating sheep. After this mvt. concludes, the listener will ask, “What was that?” From this unfortunate treatment of a glorious chorale fantasia, it is downhill all the way. Varcoe in Mvt. 2 is terrible (Don Satz, you were certainly right about this!) Mingardo’s half-voice can not do the recitative (Mvt. 3) justice. Gardiner’s extremely fast tempo in the Aria Duet demonstrates a lack of musical sensibility (or perhaps he was following the dictum of Glenn Gould and others who decide they must shoot for some extreme interpretation because that is the only way to set oneself apart from the ‘middle-of-the-road’ renditions that are a dime a dozen.) How can any listener with reasonably good ears and a good sense of what Bach may have intended for his sacred cantatas want to return to this type of recording for further enlightenment and enjoyment? Lunn in Mvt. 5 creates some unpleasantly sharp, narrow sounds as well as howling tones. The final chorale is given a ‘Leusink’-type treatment with the final notes under the fermati generally clipped much too short. There is some lack of precision. Somehow this version fails to move because of its lack of commitment to the text being sung. There is a tendency to separate notes in a non-legato style of singing reminiscent of Harnoncourt.

[8] Koopman:
Of the all the HIP versions currently available for this cantata, this is the best one so far, despite the fact that Koopman usually tends toward presenting it in a ‘lite’-entertainment style (soft, fast, staccato-like.) The tempo is less extreme than Gardiner’s. The cf is clear and quite steady. The accompanying voices are completely in balance with each other with all the parts being clearly heard. In Mvt. 2, Mertens, although possessing only a half-voice, gives a very reasonable performance of this aria. The accompaniment is charming as well. His expression, although not the greatest, suffices to make this understandable as well as enjoyable. Markert’s voice is more operatic which seems slightly out of place here. With Prégardien’s help the wonderful duet is saved from becoming a complete disaster. Markert is unable to cope with the low-range requirements and she sounds out of place here. Also Koopman’s tempo is too fast to allow even a good singer such as Prégardien to do much with the text. There is too much sotto voce singing which keeps this aria-duet from becoming very convincing. Larsson’s half voice prances through this beautiful recitative without leaving any lasting impression. The final chorale is a wonderful version in every respect, except in one very important one: it does not represent the steady, unwavering faith that is expressed in the text. Remove the text and have this choir sing nonsense syllables, and then you will hear a choir very well balanced, singing with precision, with a generally legato tone. This is a wonderful chorale version for background listening where musical lines and harmonic progressions are the only things of interest, but as a final mvt. to this marvelous cantata, it misses its mark entirely. Will Suzuki give us a better version when he records this cantata? I sincerely hope so.

None of the recordings is excellent in all the mvts., but if I had to choose from among the non-HIP versions, it would be Richter’s; and, from among the HIP versions, I would, somewhat reluctantly choose Koopman [8] with the hope that Suzuki will perhaps improve on Koopman’s recording. In the choral mvts., Richter [3] (sans inappropriate organ registration) reigns supreme over all the others, the HIP recordings included.

Dick Wursten wrote (February 2, 2003):
Thomas Braatz wrote about The Chorale Melody:
< In 1540 a contrafact of Claudin’s secular melody was accomplished in a Dutch verse form of Psalm 129 which was published in “Souterliedekens” in Antwerp in 1540 >
1. litt: Den C.xxviij psalm. Sepe expugnaverunt me. Den Tenor Nae die wijse. Il me souffit de tout mes maulx (psalm 128 because following the Vulgata way of counting the psalms; in original hebrew and modern count: psalm 129). This psalm also starts with a strong 'complaint'.

2. If one wants to hear a version of this choral in the originale style, metre (and mood) H. Schütz (who rarely used a choralmelody for his compositions) made a motet of it for his 'Geistliche Chormusik' from 1648: SWV 392

3. For those interested: the original text of the love-sick lamento, first published in Pierre Attaingnants Trente et Quatre Chansons 1529

Il me suffit de tous mes maulx
Puis qu'ilz m'ont livré a la mort.
I'ay enduré peine et travaulx,
Tant de douleur et desconfort.
Que fault il que ie face
Pour estre_en vostre grace?
|: De douleur mon cueur si est mort
S'il ne voit vostre face. :|

Aryeh Oron wrote (February 3, 2003):
BWV 111 - The Recordings

Last week I have been listening to the following complete recordings of Cantata BWV 111:

[1] Günther Ramin (1953)
[2] Kurt Thomas (1960)
[3] Karl Richter (1972)
[4] Helmuth Rilling (1980)
[5] Nikolaus Harnoncourt (1981)
[6] Pieter Jan Leusink (1999)
[7] John Eliot Gardiner (2000)

And also to:

[M-1] Karl Richter (Early 1970’s) – Opening Chorus only

I thought that I would listen also to Koopman’s recording [8]. I took the first CD from the set, put it in the CD player, tuned the player to track 19, and pressed the ‘play’ button. To my astonishment, what I heard was not the opening chorus of BWV 111 but a chorale. I looked at the CD and also at the other CD’s in the set, only to find out that I have two copies of CD 3. Shame on you Erato! I bought the CD set when it was released more than a year ago. So I guess that it is a little bit too late to ask fa replacement. I discovered the mistake only now, because the other cantatas on CD 1 were either discussed before the album was released, or have not yet been discussed in the BCML.

As usual, in order to be as objective as possible, I have avoided reading the messages regarding the recordings of this cantata, which were sent to the BCML prior to mine.

Background & Review – The Opening Chorus & the Duet for Alto & Tenor

The standouts of this cantata, IMO, are the opening chorus and the duet for alto and soprano (Mvt. 4). The background for my short review is quoted from Robertson and Young books. The English translation of the original German text is by Francis Browne.

Mvt. 1 Chorus
Oboe I/II, Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo
Was mein Gott will, das g'scheh allzeit
(What my God wants, may it always happen)

Robertson: On paper, as Whittaker points out, there does not seem to be enough variety in this chorus to sustain interest. The chorale melody is almost invariable and minims and semibreves, the lower voices predominantly in crotchets. There is also ‘a stern economy of resource’ in the orchestral score, yet the movement is ablaze with life, with fiery animation, with a vivid flow of imagination, and one regrets its apparent brevity. Bach could truly work miracles with the smallest means. The emphatic gesture made by the two chords for oboes and strings at the start of the introductory ritornello is repeated no less than sixteen times in the course of the movement as if proclaiming that ‘God’s will is the best’
Young: In spite of the small number of instruments he used, Bach composed a chorale fantasia which is a masterpiece. The joy-motif, developed by various vocal parts, is most impressive and far superior to the choral presentation at the end of BWV 72 and BWV 144.

[1] Apparently, Ramin’s rendition (5:16) is the least polished of all the eight recordings of the opening chorus to which I was able to listen. But regarding understanding of Bach’s spirit and conveying his message convincingly, what Ramin has forgotten, many conductors of the new generation seems that they will never learn. Indeed, they have more coherent choirs, better players, more polished sound, and theoretically they are closer to Bach’s intentions by adopting HIP approach. But if I was forced to choose between Ramin and, for example, Gardiner renditions of the opening chorus, there is no doubt in my mind what I would prefer.

[2] The level of playing and choir singing of Kurt Thomas, who recorded the opening chorus (6:06) with the same forces, only seven years after Ramin, is much higher. Yet, what they gained in quality they lost in spirit. This rendition is dried out of any real expression. Based on previous discussed cantatas, I assume that his is the conductor’s fault. No enthusiasm and no uplifting of spirit.

[3] Richter’s opening chorus (5:06) is major improvement in relation to both Ramin (in technical matters) and Kurt Thomas (in spiritual matters). This is dignified, serious and sweeping rendition, which shows real involvement of all the participants. All the components are well balanced, and the choir, despite its size, sings with precision. Even though, I still feel that Ramin is more faithful to Bach’s spirit.

[4] Comparing to Richter, Rilling’s rendition (5:04) is much more colourful and more bubbling with joy. The instrumental and vocal lines are bright and clear. Yet, I miss some of Richter’s seriousness and the confidence he conveys.

[5] Harnoncourt has a marvellous choir as the Tölzer at his disposal (5:04), but his usual fragmented approach ruins the flow of the movement and makes it hard for the listener to get at its message. Rilling, in exactly the same tempo, also not free from deficiencies, achieves much better results.

[6] Leusink’s opening chorus (4:52) has more flow than Harnoncourt’s and the choir, although less polished, shows more enthusiasm. Yet this rendition has so many drawbacks, regarding bad balance, unclean singing, muddy lines, etc. that I found it as among the least enjoyable renditions of the chorus.

[7] I do not understand what did Gardiner try to achieve or to prove in his rendition of the opening chorus (4:16). This is a complete disaster. The break-neck tempo does not leave any room for real development, or to take care of the details.

[M-1] Richter’s second recording of the opening chorus is a major improvement to his first take, which was already very good. As I mentioned in the introduction message, this recording was done not with his usual Munich’s forces, but with the Ansbach Bach Festival Choir & Orchestra, probably in the early 1970’s. This rendition is bubbling with joy, but does also have the dignity of Richter’s previous recording. There is much more life and enthusiasm. The choir is a little bit less polished and as a result the vocal lines are less sharp, but who cares? The spirit is there, and for me this factor is much more important.

Mvt. 4 Aria (Duetto) for Alto & Tenor
Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo
So geh ich mit beherzten Schritten
(Therefore I walk with emboldened steps)

Robertson: This is a fascinating duet. The ‘courageous steps’ are marked by a kind of pedal bass in the prevailing dotted rhythm. The tenor and alto sing in canon at the start of the duet, as also in the middle section where the text speaks of the day, written down by God, when His hand will touch the soul and drive death’s bitterness away.
Young: The fascinating melody of this movement comes from a combination of a joy-motif and a step-motif. The voices sing in canon and reproduce a scene of two trusting believers who, like carefree children, confidently tread along life’s path even though they know that its end is death. God knows when they will die, but He will be there to comfort them then. The sentiment expressed in the text and Bach’s marvellous interpretation of it in the music make this duet outstanding.

[1] The voices of both the alto Annegret Häussler and the tenor Gert Lutze, who sing the duet with Ramin (6:05), are heavy with lot of vibrato. Although their singing is not very well adjusted, probably due to lack of rehearsal time, they seem to identify with the message of the movement. The sombre and dark mood is conveyed through the slow tempo and the weeping strings.

[2] The main assets of Thomas’s recording are the singers. In the duet (8:34) we have the alto Marga Höffgen and the tenor Hans-Joachim Rotzsch, two excellent Bach singers in their prime. They are concentrated in delivering the messages and not in themselves. They listen to each other and their voices blend beautifully in the canon singing. The slow tempo give them a wide room for expression and they use the opportunity to give a fascinating rendition, which opens our ears to a unique approach, quite different from all the others regarding its tempo. We can marvel once again to the endless possibilities of interpretation Bach’s music offers us.

[3] After the convincing rendition of Thomas’s singers, comes Richter (8:28) and his singers show that they can do it on the same par with their predecessors. What a joy is it to hear the voices of Schreier and Reynolds, whose praises have been sung many times in the weekly cantata discussions. The slow tempo Richter chose for the duet and the wonderful result show us that Thomas’ tempo was not a mere caprice but a clever decision. There is more lightness in this rendition of the duet, but no less taste and mutual listening. One can hear that the two simply enjoy singing together and so do we enjoy while we are listening to them.

[4] It was a kind of disappointment hearing Rilling’s singers in the duet (7:46) after the two previous couples. The match between Watts and Harder is not as good as with the Thomas and Richter singers. The accompaniment has some irritating restlessness, which does not help the singers. Harder has beautiful voice, but his expression leaves something to be desired. Watts has lost some of the beauty of her voice and her expression is better than her partner’s is. In short, this is not a rendition to which I would like to return very often.

[5] Esswood and Equiluz, Harnoncourt’s couple in the duet (6:20), know how to sing together tastefully. The blending of their voices is magical. But regarding expression, I have to admit that I miss something, as if they were not inspired while they were singing the duet. Has some dangerous routine permeated into their singing? The accompaniment is also not as supportive as some of the previous renditions are.

[6] I prefer not to write about Leusink’s singers in the duet (7:14) this time.

[7] With Gardiner (5:14) we hear Sara Mingardo, who conveys some feeling and Julian Podger who does not seem to show real involvement. But the main problem the two poor singers and we, the listeners, have to tackle is the tempo, which is again too fast. I am sure that with slower tempo we could enjoy them much more. Who can enjoy the ‘fascinating melody’ in such distorted approach? Gardiner has shown us many times that he can do much better.


Movements to take away: The opening chorus with Richter (2nd recording) [M-1] and the duet with either Höffgen & Rotzsch (Kurt Thomas) [2] or Reynolds & Schreier (Richter 1) [3].


BWV 's 26 and 111

Neil Halliday wrote (December 22, 2004):
Has anyone noticed the similarity in form of these two opening choruses?

I refer to the important initial motive consisting of an emphatic downward-stepping, two-note figure (two chords of A down to E, and variations, in the course of the movements.)

BWV 26 has the racing upward and downward scales, and sometimes even contrary motion scales, in the orchestral parts; BWV 111 is simpler in its construction, but equally energetic and forceful.

Without looking at the score, my piano tells me both choruses are in A minor; both have a vigorous 4/4 rhythm (which Richter takes at virtually the same speed, so much so, at first I thought I was listening to the same chorus.

Both these cantatas have received extensive commentary at the BCW, but the striking similarity of these two opening choruses does not appear to have been mentioned.

John Reese wrote (December 22, 2004):
[To Neil Halliday] Let me take a look, I'll get back to you...

John Reese wrote (December 22, 2004):
[To Neil Halliday] Interesting. The harmonic structure is strikingly similar, and I think the variation in character owes to the fact that the meanings of the texts are so starkly contrasting -- one is about "flightyness" while the other is about a "firm foundation". This would explain Bach's simpler, more solid approach to BWV 111.

It's possible that Bach either elaborated BWV 26 from BWV 111, or that he came up with the ideas independently, thinking along the same harmonic lines.

Bradley Lehman wrote (December 22, 2004):
[To John Reesse] For what it's worth to the argument: these two cantatas were only a few months apart. November 19 1724 for BWV 26, and January 21 1725 for BWV 111.

And, those two first movements are based on different chorales.

And, BWV 26's first movement is in C meter, while BWV 111's is in cut-C. These tempos should not be the same, either in absolute speed or in accentuation.

Peter Smaill wrote (December 23, 2004):
Thank you for drawing attention to this interesting compositional parallel between BWV 26 and BWV111.

As regards the opening chorus of BWV ,"Ach wir nichtig", the linkage normally apparent to Bach practitioners is with the Orgelbuchlein, where we again find running scales and contrary motion depicting the transitoriness of life . Russel Stinson points out that the Cantata contains precisely the same sort of scalar configuration, and the motif is also found in Bohm's organ partita on the chorale.

The chorale is one of the few to have received a really satisfactory translation ,in terms of English metre , from the nineteenth century polymath, Member of Parliament and diplomat Sir John Bowring . Here it is:

O how cheating,O how fleeting
Is our earthly being,
'Tis a mist in wintry weather,
Gathered in an hour together ,
And as soon dispersed in ether.

O how cheating , O how fleeting
Are our days departing
Like a deep and headlong river
Flowing onward , flowing ever ,
Tarrying not and stopping never.

Thus closes for me one of the most perfect of the Cantatas , in which the text affords a series of opportunities for Bach to illustrate imagery using his fully developed powers of invention .And yet , the opening theme is treated with fidelity to the interpretation of twenty years previously , illustrating here as elsewhere the power of his musical memory.

Will Stoner wrote (December 23, 2004):
[To Peter Smaill] For members or visitors interested in MIDI renditions of the cantatas, the Classical Archives web page has (among others) the entire BWV 26 except (I think) for the recitatives. Excellent they are....

Peter Smaill wrote (December 25, 2004):
Before we progress to the delights of the early cantatas, a further arcane thought on BWV 26, "Ach wie nichtig, ach wie fluchtig".

The contrawise rushing of the scalar passage appears to commentators such as Robertson and Whittaker as betokening the rushing to and fro of transitory existence . This is indeed suggested by the meaning of the words, but there is a trigger in the words themselves .

In the original setting of the words of the chorale, by Michael Franck, the words "Leben" and "Nebel" are emphasised with capital letters, drawing attention to the fact that one is the other read backwards. And, in the revised setting by Schemelli, the expressions "Ach wie fluchtig" and "Ach Wie nichting" are transposed alternately .

Are there other examples of such word play in the cantatas? The palindromic arrangement of the SJP touches on linguistic forms , it is true , but I have in mind the cue being word play of the leben-nebel type being echoed in the musical motifs .

A Happy Christmas to all.

Thomas Braatz wrote (December 25, 2004):
Peter Smaill wrote:
>>Are there other examples of such word play in the cantatas? The palindromic arrangement of the SJP touches on linguistic forms , it is true , but I have in mind the cue being word play of the leben-nebel type being echoed in the musical motifs.<<
Check the following links and search for 'palindrom':


Continue on Part 2

Cantata BWV 111: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

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