Cantata BWV 112Der Herr ist mein getreuer Hirt
Discussions - Part 1
Discussions in the Week of April 14, 2002
Aryeh Oron wrote (April 15, 2002):
The subject of this week’s discussion (April 14, 2002), according to Riccardo Nughes suggest list, is the Chorale Cantata BWV 112 ‘Der Herr ist mein getreuer Hirt’ for the 2nd Sunday after Easter. All three (survived) Bach Cantatas for this occasion deal with the Good Shepherd. BWV 85 and BWV 104 were already discussed in the BCML in 2000 and 2001 respectively. The picture of Christ as the Good Shepherd clearly made a great appeal to Bach, for all his cantatas on this theme are among the loveliest he composed. Each of them takes a different course. BWV 112 is the last and perhaps the most beautiful of the three. The text is a metrical version of Psalm 23 by Wolfgang Messulin (1530). The melody set to it is N. Decius’ ‘Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr’ (1539). Bach used it in the choral movements, which open and close this cantata (Mvts. 1 & 5).
In order to allow the members of the BCML being prepared for the discussion, I compiled a list of the recordings of this cantata, the details of which can be found in the following page of the Bach Cantatas Website: Cantata BWV 112 - Recordings
In the same page you can also find links to translations of the German text - to English (English-3), made by Francis Browne, and to Hebrew, by me. I hope that the English and Hebrew readers of the BCML will find the translations useful. After last week Cantata BWV 210, the task of translating the text to Hebrew was not only shorter this time, it was also very pleasurable. I was looking at the poetic Hebrew Biblical text and found easily the original passages inserted into the German text of the cantata. I repeat here my wish see other members of the BCML contributing translations to their languages (French, Dutch, Italian, Spanish, etc.).
Three of the five complete recordings of BWV 112 come from the complete cantata cycles (Rilling , Harnoncourt , and Leusink ). The other two are harder to find – Grischkat from the early 1950’s (LP only)  and Rotzsch from mid 1970’s  (not included in his Berlin Classics box set). The other contemporary performers of the Bach Cantatas (Koopman , Herreweghe, Suzuki, Gardiner , J. Thomas, etc.) have either not recorded yet this cantata or their recordings have not yet been released. In the meantime we can enjoy of the available recordings. There is also a recording of the aria for alto (Mvt. 2) from this cantata by the legendary Marian Anderson [M-1].
I hope to see you at you participating in the discussion.
Aryeh Oron wrote (April 19, 2002):
The background below is based on several sources (mostly Whittaker, Robertson and Young) and something of my own. The English translations are by Francis Browne, a member of the BCML.
See: Cantata BWV 112 - Commentary
Review of the Recordings
 Grischkat (early 1950’s)
The relaxed opening chorus (Mvt. 1) is balanced well with impressive playing from the high trumpet and smooth singing from the choir. The star of the show is the contralto Hetty Plümacher in Mvt. 2, with deep and stable voice that reflects internal calmness. The other vocal soloists are not as good – the heavy-voiced bass sings with minimal expression and flexibility, the soprano is unpleasant in the upper register, and the tenor’s voice is simply strange. Consequently the recitative for bass (Mvt. 3) and the duet for tenor and soprano (Mvt. 4) are not satisfactory.
 Rotzsch (Mid 1970’s)
Glowing horn playing opens Rotzsch’s rendition. The singing of the choir is enthusiastic not cohesive. The voice of the contralto Gerda Schriever is not too pleasant and has too much vibrato. The bass Hermann Christian Polster is much better in the ensuing recitative (Mvt. 3). Through his expressive singing and the sensitive accompaniment we can imagine him walking through the dark valley, saying to himself, ‘And though I wander in the dark valley, I fear no misfortune’. Soprano Regina Werner and Tenor Peter Menzel enjoy singing together the duet (Mvt. 4), and their enjoyment is sweeping. The choir returns in the concluding chorale (Mvt. 5) with much better performance than in the opening chorus (Mvt. 1) (maybe because this movement is less demanding?).
 Rilling (1980-1981)
Beautiful horn playing sign Rilling’s approach to the opening chorus (Mvt. 1) with the orchestra in full bloom and the choir with warm singing. The playing in the aria for alto (Mvt. 2) is better than the singing. Schreckenbach sings with taste but her voice production gives the impression that she is trying to sing below her natural range. Heldwein in the recitative for bass (Mvt. 3) is not up to the level set by his predecessor. He is saying the right words, but with no sensitivity, leaving the listener unmoved. Both Baldin and Nielsen have beautiful voices, which blend nicely together. They convey naturally their sheer joy.
 Harnoncourt (1981)
The opening chorus (Mvt. 1) of Harnoncourt has internal contradiction. On one hand we have the playing of the old instruments, recalling the atmosphere of ancient times. On the other hand, we have this fragmented approach, which goes against the pastoral nature of the movement. With repeated hearing it becomes almost intolerable, because even if it is the only recording you have at your disposal, you know that it should be done in a better way. Things are getting better in the next two movements. The subdued approach of Esswood suits very well the demands of the aria for alto (Mvt. 2), and the chilly water flows calmly. Both the accompaniment and Egmond are doing fine in the recitative for bass (Mvt. 3). A very slight hesitation can be heard when Egmond sings the first lines of his part, as if he saying, I have to fear but I put my confidence in God. The boy soprano in the duet (Mvt. 4) is not among the best in the long line of boy sopranos in this series. He is trying hard, but he is not up to the task, especially in technical terms. The balance between the tenor and the tenor is so important in this duet, that we cannot be compensated by the presence of Equiluz.
 Leusink (2000)
Leusink is doing much better than Harnoncourt in the opening chorus (Mvt. 1). The playing and the singing are cleaner and they flow ahead lightly and pleasantly, as they should. Buwalda is not bad in the aria for alto (Mvt. 2) either. I have the impression that this kind of arias suit the best he vocal production and interpretative approach. So is Ramselaar in the recitative for bass (Mvt. 3), and Holton and Meel in the duet (Mvt. 4). In short a very satisfactory result from the Dutch forces, which have been criticisemore than once in the weekly cantata discussions.
Mvt. 1 & Mvt. 5: Rilling , Leusink , Grischkat , Rotzsch , Harnoncourt 
Mvt. 2: Plümacher/Grischkat , Esswood/Harnoncourt , Buwalda/Leusink , Schreckenbach/Rilling , Schriever/Rotzsch 
Mvt. 3: Polster/Rotzsch , Egmond/Harnoncourt , Ramselaar/Leusink , Werdemann/Grischkat , Heldwein/Rilling 
Mvt. 4: Werner & Menzel/Rotzsch , Holton & Meel/Leusink , Nielsen & Baldin/Rilling , Huber & Equiluz/Harnoncourt , Fassbender-Luz & Stemann/Grischkat 
A personal word
As always, I would like to hear other opinions, regarding the above mentioned performances, or other recordings. In the last couple of weeks I feel a little bit lonely in the weekly cantata discussions. I envy the discussions about the Chaconne in the BRML. I feel as a child in the playing yard, who has been left alone. All the other kids moved to another yard. He offers them beautiful toys to play with, but they are not tempted. I know that the weekly cantata reviews are read; otherwise there would not have been more than 250 members in the BCML. But what about some active contribution from the members?
Francis Browne wrote (April 20, 2002):
This is an enchanting cantata. One of the reasons why Bach's music is so immediately attractive and appealing is, I believe, the nature of the text Bach is setting. As Aryeh has pointed out, it is based closely on the Hebrew psalms. In translating the German texts of the cantatas I have been struck by how the literary quality of the writing improves markedly when it echoes the bible, particularly the psalms. It makes me wonder - as Aryeh speculated in a previous discussion- whether Bach would have produced music even more magnificent than the cantatas we have if circumstances had led him to set more of the psalms.
In The Cambridge Companion to Bach I came across a general description of the structure of many of the cantatas that I found illuminating. Robin Leaver argues that a distinction between "Law and Gospel is sufficient to understand the conceptual structure that underlies many of Bach's cantatas. In the opening chorus (Mvt. 1) the problem is stated, often in biblical words, that we humans are afflicted in some particular way by the dilemma of sin and stand under the condemnation of the Law. Succeeding recitatives and arias explore some of the implications of the impasse. Then a movement, often an aria, presents the Gospel answer to the Law question. Thereafter the mood of both libretto and music take on the optimism of the Gospel, the final chorale (Mvt. 5) being an emphatic endorsement of the Gospel answer."
This structure allows Bach to express with his incomparable skill a wide range of emotions, but it also means that religious faith is presented at least initially as a dilemma or problem.
Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen....
Ich hatte viel Bekümmerniss....
Ich steh mit einem Fuss im Grabe....
Mein Herze schwimmt im Blut etc
In this cantata by contrast there is throughout a sure and serene confidence in God . This in our largely secular world is , I suspect, a more immediately appealing aspect of religious faith than a tortured conscience eventually finding solace and forgiveness in God.
 I have only heard the Leusink performance and enjoyed it greatly. The opening chorus (Mvt. 1) is better judged than often in this cycle and the horns are most effective. In the alto aria (Mvt. 2) Buswalda performs competently but it was the writing for the oboe d'amore that struck me - Peter Frankenberg seems to me one of the stars of the Leusink cycle. The bass recitative (Mvt. 3) has more musical interest than often and Ramselaar is competent as usual. But what delighted me beyond measure was the duet for soprano and tenor (Mvt. 4). The light, youthful quality of both voices suits well the joyful music. On my first hearing of the cantata I found it difficult to get on to the chorale- the temptation to repeat the duet was so irresistible!
I strongly endorse what Aryeh said in his personal word about the need for more contributions to the cantata discussion. As I have been translating some of the cantatas already discussed, I have been reading through the past discussions and I have been struck by the wide range of people who have made varied and interesting contributions. This makes the lack of contributions last week most disappointing - I was looking forward to seeing how members reacted to a different aspect of Bach's music. Where have they all gone?
It seems a bizarre and disapointing situation if the very excellence of Aryeh's introductions and discussions should have the effect of ending rather than stimulating further debate and discussion.
Dick Wursten wrote (April 20, 2002):
 I just listened to the cantata in Leusink’s performance. I agree with the remarks from Aryeh concerning the performance of Leusink’s ensemble:
<In short a very satisfactory result from the Dutch forces, which have been criticised more than once in the weekly cantata discussions.>.
I esp. enjoyed Nico van der Meel singing the tenor. The duet (Mvt. 4) with Ruth Holton sounded very joyful.
I also feel that the 'epitheton ornans' Francis Browne used for this cantata is very fitting: <enchanting>.
I had some strange associations listening to this cantata:
When the Mvt. 2 started I for a few seconds thought I was going to listen to a Bach-adaptation of Händel’s 'How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace..' Buwalda obviously is much more at ease in pastoral aria's, in which he does not have to force his voice. Then indeed his voice even can become pleasant.
In the Mvt. 3 I thought of Vivaldi, not because of the style, but simply because I have a double CD with Bassoon-concertos... and I expected the bassoon to enter in this strange and fascinating arioso (?) make.. but he didn't appear.
Bach must have felt at ease (happy, satisfied, 'zufrieden') when he composed this cantata. Normally this part of ps 23 (wandern im finstern Tal, Trubsal, Leiden, Tücke etc..) gives the composer lots of opportunities to 'musicpaint'. Bach is content to depict this part of the road as a short setback, already overcome by 'Gods staff, which comforts him', which in this poetic adaptation of the psalm has become Gods Word... well done, Luther would have said.
As he would, when he would have been able to read [quoted by Fr. Browne] The Cambridge Companion to Bach, in which Robin Leaver argues that a distinction between "Law and Gospel is sufficient to understand the conceptual structure that underlies many of Bach's cantatas". Of course: the distinction of Law and Gospel is the very fundament of Luthers hermeneutics. But [as Francis Browne noticed already himself] this distinction is not of any use for this cantata, because ps 23 is not Lutheran, but is one of the highlights of religious poetry about what is 'faith' allabout (fides > trust in God, whatever happens, against all odds).
Dick Wursten wrote (April 20, 2002):
Francis Browne observed: <In translating the German texts of the cantatas I have been struck by how the literary quality of the writing improves markedly when it echoes the bible, particularly the psalms>
And then he wondererd <whether Bach would have produced music even more magnificent than the cantatas we have if circumstances had led him to set more of the psalms.>
In my simple logic this implies, that Francis Browne holds the opinion that Bach’s music improves when the literary quality of the texts improve. I don't have that impression myself. Bach makes magnificent music on horrible texts and sometimes can sound un-inspired when the text is okay.
By the way: I agree that the quality of the cantata-scripts improves when the link to the biblical language becomes closer. I myself was privileged to religiously grow up in a church where only psalms were sung. It gave me a sensitivity for the mystery of language.... being more than an objective transporter of clear messages. By the byway: The same goes for the accompanying music: Long live the psalter !
Francis Browne wrote (April 21, 2002):
Dick Wursten wrote:
<Francis Browne observed: <In translating the German texts of the cantatas I have been struck by how the literary quality of the writing improves markedly when it echoes the bible, particularly the psalms>
And then he wondered <whether Bach would have produced music even more magnificent than the cantatas we have if circumstances had led him to set more of the psalms.>
In my simple logic this implies, that Francis Browne holds the opinion that Bach’s music improves when the literary quality of the texts improve. I don't have that impression myself. Bach makes magnificent music on horrible texts and sometimes can sound un-inspired when the text is okay.>
Your point that 'Bach makes magnificent music on horrible texts' is well made and perfectly correct.
When I wrote that 'the literary quality of the writing (I meant of course the text, not music) improves markedly when it echoes the bible' I was thinking particularly of secular cantatas with long recitatives that I have translated recently (BWV 207, BWV 210) and the cantata that I am working on now BWV 194, on the consecration of an organ). There seems to me often little of musical interest in such recitatives, and as I struggle my way through them I think nostalgically of such works as the early cantata BWV 131 Aus der Tiefe rufe ich based on one of the penitential psalms - and no recitatives !
Conversely, as an experiment once or twice I have translated the German text before listening to a cantata - and, not surprisingly, on each occasion the music Bach wrote utterly surpassed what I had imagined was possible. And so I agree with you that it would be wrong to argue in general that "Bach's music improves when the literary quality of the texts improve." The alchemy of Bach's genius can turn the most unlikely dross to pure gold.
My speculation about psalm settings Bach might have written was precisely that; speculation. As I get to know the cantatas I often wonder about the daily circumstances in which these masterpieces were produced. What two hundred years later we study and revere, music that seems so right and inevitable, was once merely one possibility in Bach's imagination - and could have been different. I wonder also about the hundred or so cantatas that have been lost from the annual cycles we know Bach produced. I see no reason to think that the lost cantatas would be inferior to those we have.
And so I wonder about the psalms that Bach might have set as I wonder about the lost cantatas, or the operas Bach might have written if his career had been different - or as I wonder about the music that Mozart might have written if he lived to fifty, or if Schubert had lived even one more year....
Andrew Oliver wrote (April 22, 2002):
Well, I didn't have a recording of last week's cantata (BWV210), but I do have this week's. Two, in fact, the Harnoncourt  and the Leusink . Sorry to be unoriginal, but I have to echo most of the comments which have already been made about these recordings.
 I much prefer the Leusink in this instance. That's probably to do with the fact that the style and tessitura of much of the composition suits the soloist's voices, which is not the case in every cantata. In particular, the alto aria (Mvt. 2) brings out the better aspects of Buwalda's voice. I believe it is Marie who has previously characterised it as 'fragile', and that seems a very appropriate epithet to me. This fragility acts as a suitable foil for the haunting oboe d'amore, yet Buwalda manages to convey at the same time a sense of confidence as required by the text. Aside from this aria, I especially liked the sense of joy produced by the orchestra in the opening chorus (Mvt. 1); I like the portrayal of the valley of the shadow of death, and the transition from its menacing, lonely gloominess to the assured comfort of the presence of God. I like the duet (Mvt. 4), in particular Ruth Holton's soaring upper notes. I notice both duettists sing "Du bereitest vor mir einen Tisch" as translated by Luther rather than "für mir" as given in the libretto provided by Brilliant Classics (and also that provided by Teldec). Leusink's choir also give a more euphonious performance in this cantata than in some others; I am quite happy with it.
Thomas Braatz wrote (April 22, 2002):
See: Cantata BWV 112 – Provenance
The only commentators that I have that go into detail about this cantata are Friedrich Smend and Alfred Dürr.
See: Cantata BWV 112 - Commentary
Review of the Recordings
 Rilling (1980-81):
Rilling demonstrates an energy and vitality that is lacking in the other recordings that I listened to. Mvt. 1 could be considered excellent in all aspects in this rendition if it were not for the usual drawbacks caused by the vibratos used by the singers in the choir. Particularly bothersome is the lack of a straight, relatively vibratoless soprano cantus firmus, but otherwise it is obvious that these voices have received serious vocal training giving them the ability to control their voices properly and allow for all the parts to be heard equally. At no time do they drift away into nothingness as the parts go into the lower range for any given voice, nor do they suddenly penetrate and achieve solo status when they reach the tops of their ranges. The wonderful duet (Mvt. 4) expresses very aptly the jumping for joy that the text and the dance-like music that Bach composed for it.
 Harnoncourt (1981):
The best way to assess the quality of this music as performed under Harnoncourt’s guidance at the approximate midpoint of his c. 20 year sojourn through all the cantatas, at a point when all his performers had ample opportunity to adapt to Harnoncourt’s personal vision of how Bach should be performed, is to consider his own words as documented in his book, “Musik als Klangrede” [“Music as the Sounds of Speech”], Salzburg, Vienna, Kassel, 1982: “Bezüglich der Interpretation empfinde ich jemanden als ungeeignet, der technisch alles perfekt macht, alle Aspekte der Artikulation beachtet, sich genauestens an die Quellen halt, der das richtige Instrument verwendet, mitteltönig intoniert, das richtige Tempo wählt, dem aber eines fehlt: Musikalität oder, etwas poetischer ausgedrückt, der Musenkuß. Es ist grausam in diesem Beruf, aber wen die Muse vergessen hat zu küssen, der wird nie ein Musiker sein. Ich habe hier alle Prioritätennochmals aufgezählt und sie zugleich, vielleicht etwas übertrieben, ad absurdum geführt, denn: Ein wirklicher Künstler kann sehr vieles falsch, nachweisbar falsch machen, und es wird ihm trotzdem gelingen, dem Hörer die Musik unter die Haut gehen zu lassen, sie ihm wirklich nahezubringen. Das entsteht eben durch diesen „Musenkuß“. Und der andere kann uns eine noch so interessante Interpretation liefern – das, was die Musik wirklich ist, eine uns direkt ansprechende, betroffen machende, uns verändernde Aussage, das gelingt ihm nicht.“ [„In regard to the interpretation (of music from earlier periods) I think that such a person is unsuitable, who plays everything with technical perfection, pays attention to all aspects of articulation, always uses only verified Urtext versions, plays an instrument appropriate to a given period of musical history, has average intonation, chooses the correct tempo, but despite all of these things lacks one very important element: musicality, or, to put it more poetically, “the kiss of the muses.” Professional music-making is ruthless in this regard, for, whoever the muse has forgotten to kiss, will never be a true musician. I have listed all these prerequisites once again while perhaps exaggerating them somewhat and taking them to the point of absurdity, for the point that I am trying to make is that a real artist can do many things wrong, things that can even be proven to be wrong, and yet he will succeed in making the music ‘get under the listener’s skin’ so that he will be moved by it. This can only occur with the help of the ‘muses’ kiss.‘ The former type of musician can present an interpretation that may be ever so interesting, but he will never succeed in expressing the music in such a way that it speaks to us directly, moves us directly, and transforms us.”] After listening to the opening mvt. (Mvt. 1) of this cantata (and many other similar cantata performances) under Harnoncourt’s direction, I think that I have determined whether Harnoncourt was kissed by the muses or not!
 Leusink (2000):
The choir has better control over the otherwise usual yodeling effects usually heard in the upper voices, but balance, control and preparation are still major problems that Leusink has to contend with. For instance, the bass voices miss their entrance completely (for 4 or 5 notes nothing is heard from them at all) at ms. 18, but when the music is repeated with different words the second time through they find and sing the missing part correctly. There is a section beginning in ms. 53 where the tenors are supposed to be singing, “darauf wächst das wohlschmeckend Gras” their entrance is almost inaudible until they jump to a high note on “schmeck-“ with such a vengeance that it is startling. Such is the lack of control that is frequently heard with this group. In Buwalda’s aria the instrumental ensemble plays very sensitively and does not overwhelm his voice, but I am very uncomfortable with this extremely fragile voice that seems to be threatening to break or come apart at any moment. What a vast difference there is between Buwalda’s (or even Esswood’s) voice and that of Andreas Scholl, with whom I do not get this type of feeling. The duet (Mvt. 4) (Holton/Meel) is very restrained and I miss the sense of true joy that I hear in the Rilling version (Nielsen/Baldin) . Again, as in Buwalda’s aria, everything is extremely restrained, as if there is a great fear that in expressing any additional emotion (which would place a burden on these half-voices that are already at the limit of their capacity) which would cause unpleasant sounds to occur either in the voices or in the orchestral accompaniment that would otherwise overpower the delicate, generally unemotional voices.
Mvt. 1 & Mvt. 5 Rilling , Leusink , Harnoncourt 
Mvt. 2 Schreckenbach , Esswood , Buwalda
Mvt. 3 Heldwein , Ramselaar , Egmond 
Mvt. 4 Nielsen/Baldin , Holton/Meel , Huber/Equiluz 
Thomas Braatz wrote (April 22, 2002):
Andrew Oliver wondered:
< I notice both duettists sing "Du bereitest vor mir einen Tisch" as translated by Luther rather than "für mir" as given in the libretto provided by Brilliant Classics (and also that provided by Teldec). >
The NBA has a facsimile printed version of the text (the type that Bach had had printed in 1731 to be available to members of the congregation.) It shows "Du bereitest für mir einen Tisch vor mein'n Feinden allenthalben...." This was also the text used in the autograph score. When the NBA editors compared this text with other hymn books that Bach may have been acquainted with, they discovered only one variant, that by Schemelli in 1736 who has 'vor mir' instead of the 'für mir' that Bach uses, but in the phrase, "vor mein'n Feinden" which Bach uses there is a variant form used by Schemelli (1736), Vopelisches Gesangbuch, and Wagner (1697) who all have "für" instead of "vor."
There is a very complicated history of confusion of these two prepositional forms, with 'für' taking the dative case, which was no longer allowed later on. This confusion reached a critical point at the time that nhd. (New High German) evolved around the time of Luther and was not really resolved until the 19th century long after Bach had died. Modern German does not allow 'für' to take the dative case as in 'für mir' which Bach still used. This causes many performers of Bach's music to modernize these forms or bring them up to date because they are afraid that their audience might not understand these words as easily or that they might sound wrong to the current speaker of German. The situation might be comparable to modernizing Shakespeare or the KJV of the Bible. Something of the original may get lost in the process of modernizing.
Dick Wursten wrote (April 22, 2002):
[To Francis Browne] Is it not Plato who said something about the abilitly to 'wonder' as the the source/origin of philiosophy ?
Francis Browne wrote (April 22, 2002):
[To Dick Wursten] Are you psychic? As your e-mail about wondering arrived, I have on my desk a book of extracts to illustrate the history of Greek philosophy. On the first page there is an extract from Plato's Thaeetetus 155D which translates as "This is the particular experience of a philospher, wonder(to thaumazein). Another extract from Aristotle Metaphysics A2.9 82 b11 says "Both now and in the beginning men began to philosophise on account of wonder (dia to thaumazein).
But it is kind of you to dignify my idle day dreaming and speculation with the title of philosophy!
Dick Wursten wrote (April 22, 2002):
[To Francis Browne] Psychic, me ?
Translated in Dutch: 'ziel-ig', I don't want to be.
semi-Translated in German: Se(e)l-ig , I hope so.
But talking about Plato: music should make audible the harmony of the spheres (or reflect the eternal order of ideas ?) wasn't it and so comfort mankind..? If so, is Bachs music-philosophy platonic, I wondered.
Thomas Braatz wrote (April 22, 2002):
Dick Wursten 'wondered' about the following:
< Is it not Plato who said something about the ability to 'wonder' as the source/origin of philiosophy? >
and Francis Browne stated:
< On the first page there is an extract from Plato's Thaeetetus 155D which translates as "This is the particular experience of a philospher, wonder( to thaumazein). Another extract from Aristotle Metaphysics A2.9 82 b11 says "Both now and in the beginning men began to philosophise on account owonder ( dia to thaumazein).
But it is kind of you to dignify my idle day dreaming and speculation with the title of philosophy1 >
On the subject of 'wondering':
At the end of his life, Goethe, in a conversation with Eckermann which turned to the subject of the "Urphänomen" ["Original phenomenon beyond which one can not go since it is the primary phenomenon,"] stated the following:
"Das Höchste, wozu der Mensch gelangen kann, ist das Erstaunen. Wenn ihn das Urphänomen in Erstaunen setzt, so sei er zufrieden; ein Höheres kann es ihm nicht gewähren, und ein Weiteres soll er nicht dahinter suchen; hier ist die Grenze. Aber den Menschen ist der Anblick eines Urphänomens gewöhnlich noch nicht genug, sie denken es müsse noch weiter gehen, und sie sind den Kindern ähnlich, die, wenn sie in einen Spiegel geguckt, ihn sogleich umwenden, um zu sehen was auf der anderen Seite ist."
My rather free translation: "The highest goal that a human being can attain is the ability 'to be astonished', 'to wonder about something.' When such a person is brought into this state by a primary phenomenon, he should be satisfied with this alone, since there is nothing higher than this that will come out of it. He should not try to seek for anything beyond this, since this is the ultimate limit beyond which there is nothing. However, usually a person is not yet satisfied when viewing such a primary phenomenon. He then begins to think that there is yet more beyond this point. In this he is very much like children that view themselves in a mirror, but then immediately turn it around to see what is on the back side of this mirror."
My own 'take' on this statement is that Goethe says that we should 'stand in awe' of such composers of genius and 'wonder about' what additional great compositions by Bach and others, that we have been deprived of through circumstances beyond our control (the premature death of such composers as Schubert and Mozart, all the lost compositions by Bach, etc.), but that we should be grateful that we have the opportunity 'to stand in awe of' and 'to have feelings and thoughts of wonderment' for those 'wonderful' compositions that have come down to us intact and which are brought alive by musicians who have recorded or performed them for us so that we can enjoy them daily.
Continue on Part 2
Cantata BWV 112: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3