Cantata BWV 115Mache dich, mein Geist, bereit
Discussions - Part 1
Discussions in the Week of November 11, 2001
Dick Wursten wrote (November 13, 2001):
Last night, I listened to cantate BWV 115. I prepared nothing, nor read anything. I just listened and was 'taken away' by the music. (In Dutch/Flemish you have the expression: ingepakt worden door = litterally being wrapped in by meaning that from the first moment you are 'lost', 'sold' ... I hope you understand this). The music of this cantata is well balanced, the combination of the different instruments is wonderful. Other words: harmonious, subtle, the music is fluent like a deep river, always moving and irrestible.
(6) I listened to the Kruidvat-edition... I always have difficulty in appreciating the way of singing (I already wrote about it a few days ago, not fluent, too aggressive), also have difficulty with the voice of the alto, though Buwalda certainly has musical quality. But in spite of possible criticism here, I am very happy that I have a CD with this piece of music on it.
The generations before us had to try to appreciate the Bach-cantates by looking through the 'score' from the Bach-Edition, trying to play them on their pianos at home (probably humming the melodies).
Compared with that the Kruidvat edition is a better way for getting acquainted with this part of Bach’s oeuvre.
When I have time, I will give my opinion more detailed a next time
Curious about other reactions.
Dick Wursten wrote (November 14, 2001):
Where are your reactions ? Or is this cantata so boring, that no one listens to it but me? I can't believe that.
Just some extra information.
Historical: BWV 115 belongs to the yearcycle of cantatas which are all based on Lutheran chorals, hymns. Most of the time this means that at least the first and the last movement are verses of the hymn. In BWV 115 this also is true. The aria's and recitative's are more or less built out of some other verses of the same hymn. In the English translation from Z. Ph.Ambrose the allusions and quotations are mentioned. The only straight quotation by the way are the two first lines of the Soprano aria: 'Bete aber auch dabei mitten in dem Wachen' (this is the first line of verse 3). The rest is moralizing and preaching on a theme just lightly connected with the gospelreading of that sunday (see below). Most of the times just a few words from a verse of the hymn seem to have triggered the words out of the poet. By the way: I find the original text of the hymn better and more concise and precise than the elaboration of it by (as Chr. Wolff supposes with solid arguments, I think!) Andreas Stübel, a retired conrector of the Thomasschule.
To give you the possibility to verify or falsify (if you follow Karl Popper) this thesis, I'll attach the original hymn (in German) at the bottom of this mail.
Musically there is something dubious with this cantata: The lilteral message is that we should be awake and ready, because it is dangerous out there. The last lines of the cantata are gloomy.. The music though has an opposite effect on me: it eases me down, it consolates, brings me to rest, especially the coro 1, and the two arias. The first aria (Mvt. 2) even has the famous siciliano-rhythm so famous for pastorales...
As a theologian I am suprised about the intertwining of all kinds of texts in this cantata. The gospel-reading (Matthew 18: 23-35) is about forgiveness: A servant, whose enormous debt is forgiven by his master (after he had begged him ons his knees etc...) but the servant then makes someone pay a small debt to him without and shows no mercy at all. This attitude is condemned. Obiously this is not the main theme ot the cantata: The cantata is more about sleeping and being awake, being a faithful and ready servant, which can be found also in Matthews gospel: 24: 34-51. This would have been a perfect fit with the cantata..
As promised the original hymn of Johann Burchard Freystein, as it still can be found in the hymnbook of the Evangelisch (Lutherische) Kirche Deutschlands: hymn 261:
1. Mache dich, mein Geist, bereit, wache, flehe und bete
daß dich nicht die böse Zeit unverhofft betrete
denn es ist Satans List
über viele Frommen zur Versuchung kommen.
2 Aber wache erst recht auf von dem Sündenschlafe;
denn es folget sonst darauf eine lange Strafe,
und die Not samt dem Tod
möchte dich in Sünden unvermutet finden.
2a Wache auf, sonst kannst du nicht Christi Klarheit sehen;
wache, weil sonst wird dein Licht stets dir ferne stehen;
denn Gott will für die Füll
seiner Gnadengaben offne Augen haben.
2 b Wache, daß dich Satans List nicht im Schlaf erblicke,
weil er sonst behende ist, daß er dich berücke;
und Gott gibt, die er liebt,
oft in seine Strafen, wenn sie sicher schlafen.
2c Wache dazu auch für dich, für dein Fleisch und Herze,
damit es nicht freventlich Gottes Gnad verscherze;
denn es ist voller List, kann bald Schwachheit heucheln,
bald in Stolz sich schmeicheln.
3 Bete aber auch dabei mitten in dem Wachen;
denn der Herre muß dich frei von dem allem machen,
was dich drückt und bestrickt,
daß du schläfrig bleibest und sein Werk nicht treibest.
4 Ja, er will gebeten sein, wenn er was soll geben;
er verlanget unser Schrei'n, wenn wir wollen leben
und durch ihn unsern Sinn, Feind, Welt,
Fleisch und Sünden kräftig überwinden.
5 Doch wohl gut, es muß uns schon
alles glücklich gehen, wenn wir ihn durch seinen Sohn
im Gebet anflehen; denn er will uns mit Füll
seiner Gunst beschütten, wenn wir gläubig bitten.
6 Drum so laßt uns immerdar wachen, flehen, beten,
weil die Angst, Not und Gefahr immer näher treten;
denn die Zeit ist nicht weit, da uns Gott wird richten
und die Welt vernichten.
Johann Burchard Freystein 1671-1718
Joost wrote (Bovember 14, 2001):
[To Dick Wursten] (4) Funny you mention BWV 115, as it is one of the cantatas on the disc I named as my single favourite Bach cantatas disc, a couple of days ago, directed by Christophe Coin . Maybe you should listen to this version some time. The beautiful alto aria is sung by Andreas Scholl... I'm sure you will be able to find it somewhere in Belgium (ASTREE AUVIDIS 8530).
(6) I don't think many of the list members outside Belgium and the Netherlands will know what you mean by the Kruidvat. Worldwide these recordings are known as Brilliant Classics. You and I know there is little brilliance in a kruidvat (nor is there in a Kruitvat), but I don't think we should tell them, should we?
Aryeh Oron wrote (November 14, 2001):
Pre-Review – Personal Viewpoint
The reason that I am sending this review so late is because I did not want to separate from this cantata. It has been in my mind and ears during most of my listening hours last week. I heard it in my car and at home. Every morning I left my home gladly knowing that I am going to listen to it on the way to work. Couple of days ago I saw the charming movie of Ingmar Bergman 'The Magic Flute' in a local TV station. I stopped listening to it after about half an hour, returning to my 'Guilty Pleasures' of listening to cantata BWV 115. Yesterday night I went to a special intriguing concert with lecture about Classical Arabic music. It was interesting and charming indeed, more than I could have expected. The knowledgeable lecturer finished the concert by saying that he could enjoy music of both worlds, hearing this kind of music, and immediately after that the B minor Mass of Bach. He touched a sensitive point in me, and when I came home I returned to Bach’s world and to this week cantata – BWV 115. This relatively unfamiliar cantata contains two da-capo arias, which are among the most heart-rending of their kind in the whole oeuvre of the Bach Cantatas. I guess that I have become addicted to Bach’s music. Could I ever been saved?
W. Gilles Whittaker summerizes aptly this cantata when he writes at the beginning of his analysis of BWV 115 (in his book ‘The Cantatas of J.S. Bach – Sacred & Secu’): “It is fortunate that he (Bach) condensed the ten stanzas of J.B. Freystein’s hymn into six numbers; it ensures that the cantata is short and that there is no encumbrance of unnecessary or problematic matter. Every number is of worth; the cantata is one of the most perfect of all.”
Despite this promising introduction I shall not go on further quoting from this analysis, because it will take too much space of my review. But I recommend everyone wanting to delve deeper into the rich world of Bach Cantatas, reading this book. Some would say that this book is somewhat out-dated, because it does not reflect the most updated research. But I say that every book, which opens up your eyes to see elements unrevealed by other books (or articles), is worth investigating. As much as I believe that (almost) every recording of a cantata is worth hearing, because it opens up our ears to a unique point of view. Think, for example, about a three-dimensional object, any object. Each two-dimensional picture of it will help us building in our imagination how the real object is looking in reality. No single picture of the object will be able to give us the full real image. With every additional picture, taken at different time, from different angle, with different lightening, in different length from the object, we shall learn more and more about the object. That is why I do not believe that there is such phenomenon as an ideal recording of a cantata, and why I want to hear every cantata in as many recordings as I can put my hands on (HIP vs. non-HIP; OVPP vs. big choirs; boy sopranos vs. women sopranos, fast vs. slow, etc.).
As a background for the review of 6 complete recordings of Cantata BWV 115 and 2 individual movements from it, I shall quote this time from the liner notes to the charming CD of 3 Bach Cantatas (BWV 180, BWV 49, BWV 115) with violoncello piccolo directed (and played) by Christophe Coin  (included in mini-series of 3 CD’s of cantatas under his direction).
See: Cantata BWV 115 - Commentary
The second da-capo aria is actually a trio. Unlike last week cantata BWV 38, this one is composed not for three vocal soloist but for soprano, flute and violoncello piccolo. They have actually equal parts, and in order to retain the emotional depth of this movement all three of them must not only be on high level technically, they should also give their heart out, while they are keeping listening carefully to each other with outmost sensitivity.
Review of the Recordings
The details of the recordings can be found at: Cantata BWV 115 - Recordings.
 Karl Richter (1977-1978)
Richter is starting the opening chorus vigorously, armed with full forces, ready to fight with Satan’s evil forces – one, two three, spears up! The curtain of the sleep is indeed heavy in the aria for alto. The unique heavy contralto voice of Trudeliese Schmidt suits very well this approach. However, she has also heavy vibrato, which disturbs a little. The power of the music is so strong that I could enjoy the aria for soprano even in Edith’s Mathis’ rendition, although it is not a good one. Her approach is too operatic; in the long lines her vibrato is too strong as if she has problems to control it, and was is worst, is that she is trying too much to dominate the aria. The delicate balance between the three voices, which forms the basis is for good performance of this aria, is not kept. This aria (as the aria for alto) is loaded with emotion, but Mathis is singing it almost anaemically.
 Helmuth Rilling (1980)
With Rilling the dancing elements of the opening chorus come forth. Do we hear a waltz? There is overt enjoyment in the singing of the choir and playing of the orchestra. The transverse flute plays a nice trill at the end of each line. Charming indeed, although the text is serious. Helen Watts gives an exemplary performance of the aria for alto. Her singing is so intelligent. We can hear minor details, which has not been brought out by Schmidt. When things come to express emotion, few sopranos can rival with Arleen Augér. The players of the flute and the violoncello piccolo in the aria for soprano are also strong, and they also do not shy of exposing their feelings. This rendition is so loaded with emotion that one has to take some rest after hearing it.
 Nikolaus Harnoncourt (1981)
Harnoncourt is original as could have been expected, but his approach works. At the end of each line in the opening chorus you can hear a short pause. This makes things clearer, with disturbing the flow of the music. This rendition is somewhat dry. You can hear here neither military winds, nor joyful dance. As if the approach is more instrumental than vocal. As in a movement from a concerto the woodwinds are the real heroes here, and not the choir. In the opening ritornello of the aria for bass we hear heavy breathes of a sleeping man, and than enters Paul Esswood, captivating with his tender warm and calm singing. He is so humble, so unpretentious. The boy soprano has marvellous voice, and he holds beautifully his vocal lines, although his short breath is overt. The blending between his voice, the flute, and the violoncello piccolo is pure magic. Nevertheless, this rendition is beautiful rather than touching.
 Christophe Coin (1993)
In my imagination I see light spring wind with singing birds, when I am hearing Coin’s instrumental introduction. The small choir has the same weight as the orchestra. We are in utopic world. Nobody is afraid of Satan or of anybody else. The voice of Andreas Scholl is pouring out like honey. It is so natural; nothing is forced. Everything is so pleasant in this rendition. The same description could be applied also to the playing of the oboe in the aria for alto. Barbara Schlick has rarely sounded as good as in the aria for soprano of this cantata. Her singing is so tasteful, and her voice integrates so nicely with the flute and the violoncello piccolo. Indeed, Augér is more emotional, but Schlick has so much delicacy.
 Ton Koopman (1999)
The approach Koopman is taking is very close to that of Coin . The choir is somewhat fuller and warmer, and there is a little bit more internal rhythm. I know that it takes some time to get used to Annette Markert’s unique contralto voice. I have to admit that even hearing it several times, I did not get used to this voice, at least not in this aria. The accompaniment she is getting is wonderful. Sibylla Rubens has beautiful voice and sensitivity to her partners in the aria for soprano. However, she barely scratches the emotional depths of this aria below the surface.
 Pieter Jan Leusink (2000)
Leusink’s opening ritornello of the opening chorus is more energetic than that of his two predecessors, and I like it more, although the choir is less polished. The dancing pulse, so evident with Rilling , is dominant also here. Poor Buwalda. Hearing him after Scholl and Esswood, and you feel as if you are walking on thin ice. He sounds pressed and fragile, where they sound so natural and unforced. With them you can concentrate on the internal levels of this aria. With him you afraid that every second something might be broken. Strijk’s voice is less beautiful than Rubens’ is, but their approaches are very similar. Nothing special to write home about. At least, both of them manage to keep being in good balance with the flute and the violoncello piccolo.
The personal priorities listed below are more emotional than rational, and are right for the time I am finishing this review. It means that these are the priorities according which I would like to hear certain movements of this wonderful cantata. It does not mean that I consider any one of them as better than the others in terms of perfection of performance, technical accomplishment, emotional profundity, faithfulness to the intentions of the composer and/or the librettist, or any other parameter. Every one of the six recordings of this cantata will not fail to move even the most cold-hearted human being with its charm and uncharted emotional intensity, unless this human being has no heart.
Opening Chorus (Mvt. 1) - Rilling (2), Harnoncourt (3), Leusink (6), Koopman (5), Coin (4), Richter (1)
Aria for Alto (Mvt. 2) - Scholl/Coin (4), Esswood/Harnoncourt (3), Watts/Rilling (2), Schmidt/Richter (1), Markert/Koopman (5), Buwalda/Leusink(6)
Aria for Soprano (Mvt. 4) - Schlick/Coin (4), Augér/Rilling (2), Hubber/Harnoncourt (3), Rubens/Koopman (5), Strijk/Leusink (6), Mathis/Richter (1)
And as always, I would like to hear other opinions, regarding the above mentioned performances, or other recordings.
Thomas Braatz wrote (November 15, 2001):
See: Cantata BWV 115 – Provenance
Older Commentaries: [Spitta, Voigt, Schweitzer]
See: Cantata BWV 115 - Commentary
More recent commentary:
[This is based primarily on Alfred Dürr's material contained in his book on the Bach cantatas.]
See: Cantata BWV 115 - Commentary
This week I listened to Richter (1977-78) (1); Rilling (1980) (2); Harnoncourt (1981) (3); Coin (1993) (4); Koopman (1999) (5); Leusink (1999) (6)
Only the 1st two recordings are at standard pitch, the remainder are a semitone lower.
Mvt. 1 Richter takes this mvt. at a sprightly tempo and observes carefully Bach's dynamics (he cuts back to 'piano' at ms. 7). While the cantus firmus is clearly delineated, the supporting voices generally lack clarity. For instance, the octave interval jumps when the voices first enter are hardly audible. There is doubling of the oboe d'amore and the flute throughout except when the parts are very difficult to play. Due to the large orchestral forces, the solo flute (metal!) playing the 'tumult' motif at the end disappears amidst the overwhelming orchestral sound (strings and oboes).
Mvt. 2 Schmidt has a full, operatic voice, but controls it very well. As a result there are some beautiful moments in her rendition of this aria. Richter very carefully observes Bach's 'piano' indication in ms. 8, and as well he must with his otherwise overpowering orchestral forces. Isn't it strange that most of the HIP conductors do not feel obligated to do likewise, but rather allow the instrumentalists either to plod on with a 'forte' level, or engage in diminuendi and crescendi, which are atypical of a HIP?
Mvt. 3 Fischer-Dieskau excels in this type of interpretation. I am well aware of the tendency on Fischer-Dieskau's part to sound almost too studied as he ferrets out every possible nuance for his interpretation. I do not fin d this to be the case here as everything seems to be genuinely felt and projected. This in contrast, for instance, with Huttenlocher, who almost always 'goes too far' and becomes disingenuous.
Mvt. 4 Mathis is much too operatic for an aria of this type. She does sing a few wonderful notes, but at other times it becomes evident that she is approaching the time when she should no longer be singing Bach arias. In a different aria that happens to be on the same CD that I have, she demonstrates clearly that she is 'past her prime.' This aria, however, may be considered a passable performance, if you can overlook certain tendencies that indicate a possible lack of control.
Mvt. 5 Schreier has great variation in his expression of the text, a fact that helps to support the intended meaning of the words being sung. Schreier makes this recitative truly come to life in his presentation. Each phrase is carefully crafted and nothing is overdone.
Mvt. 6 A very spirited performance with the trumpet heard above the choir. The inner voices, particularly the altos, are not as clear as the others. There is a ritardando at the very end.
Mvt. 1 Rilling's treatment of this mvt. is very energetic and forceful, unfortunately with a very heavy bc that he does not even bother to reduce to 'piano' in ms. 7 as Bach indicated. In the ritornello I think I hear only a solo viola playing, whereas the score calls for the 1st and 2nd violins to be playing along. There is good balance and precision in the choir and all the vocal lines are clearly distinguishable and audible (the octave jumps can be properly heard in this recording!) My usual complaint is with the operatic quality of the voices used, particularly in the singing of the cantus firmus. The vibratos of these professional singers are out of place here, because they are not sufficiently controlled.
Mvt. 2 Watts has a very pronounced operatic voice that often begins to sound unpleasant to my ears. In listening to this aria a number of times over the last few days, I discovered that Watts creates the same phenomenon that I encountered when comparing recordings of Fischer-Dieskau and Matthias Goerne. When I listen to Goerne with the volume turned up but situated in another room, his voice sounds terrible, very unpleasant, but this does not happen with Fischer-Dieskau, who sometimes sounds even somewhat better at a distance. Actually, he is great either directly before the speakers or at a distance. Watts is like Goerne. Up close she is quite tolerable, but at a distance there is a marked drop-off in musical quality with certain unpleasant traits becoming more apparent.
Mvt. 3 Schöne definitely has a full voice which he fills with bombast to make up for his lack of interpretative skills.
Mvt. 4 Augér offers a good rendition of this aria, but I would just wish that she could be gentler with the high notes (she almost always attacks them with ferocity) when she reaches for a 'G' (the note on top of the line of the treble clef).
Mvt. 5 Harder, with his nasalized singing always sounds as if he has a cold. He strains somewhat to reach the high notes. His voice lacks a round, endearing quality and has instead a tendency toward a narrowness, which becomes harsh in a recitative that demands a forceful delivery. His expression remains too much on a single level.
Mvt. 6 This is a professionally performed version sung with precision and balance. Each vocal line is clear, but all the operatic voices can also be heard. They tend to destroy the strong, unified sound of a choir. Just listen to the various vibratos in the various voice parts. All the notes are held at full volume to the end of the length that Bach intended for them.
Mvt. 1 Harnoncourt begins with a slower tempo than the recordings above. He then proceeds to add strange accents and phrasings in odd places, all of this calculated to make this recording sound different. When the strings have an ascending motif in the ritornello, he has them slur the upward-moving figure. Bach has indicated slurs where he wants them, but this is not a place where he indicated anything. At the end of every line of the chorale, the volume of the choir, including the cantus firmus, drops off considerably, giving the impression that the choir is simply giving up prematurely, that they have insufficient energy to finish the phrase properly and that there is no strong belief or feeling about the text which they are singing. For a note that should be held for 6 beats, you will be lucky if you hear more than the first three beats. Where Bach marks a slur (phrasing mark above the notes), a two-note slur on "zur Versuchung," Harnoncourt allows the voices to slide in glissando fashion (portamento) from one note to another. This is a technique that he evolved from "jazzing up" the bc accompaniments when he used to play them himself. If you are keeping track of such things, just add this to the list of items to be included under the "Harnoncourt Doctrine." The sudden 'fortissimo' on "Wachet" is a cheap trick a la the Surprise Symphony by Haydn. Harnoncourt thinks he is interpreting the text, but in reality he has deprived the mvt. of its essential dignity. But where it really counts, for instance, in the 1st line of the chorale in the accompanying vocal parts, he fails to have the voices enunciate clearly, to sing audibly so that the primary motif (the octave leaps) can be heard properly and convey the meaning that this musical figure should have. This motif simply disappears into the woodwork of his recording arena and never reaches the recording itself. When I see in the score and hear in the recording all the things that are going 'wrong' or have been ill-conceived, I marvel at the sheer persistence of Harnoncourt in pursuing his elusive goal to produce truly memorable performances of these cantatas. With Harnoncourt it seems that too much preparation based on his mistaken notions about HIP are just as bad as Leusink's  lack of preparation which creates too much unevenness in his recordings. Both extremes lead to a bad result, a musical experience, that I hope, will not discourage the new listener from listening to other recordings of the cantatas. Let me rephrase this statement: As a listener hears the Harnoncourt/Leonhardt or Leusink's cantata versions for the first time, some of Bach's genius will, no doubt, 'shine through' nevertheless. Let the listener be aware that these recordings, in numerous ways, give a false impression of what Bach really had in mind, just as they are unable to convey to the listener the inner conviction regarding the text and music and the profound respect for Bach's sacred music. Some of these important aspects of performance which have eluded these artists are sometimes captured to a greater degree in Suzuki's recordings (but not always!)
Mvt. 2 This interpretation is full of contradictions and extremes, some possible negative traits to be noted. On the one hand, Harnoncourt looks at the score and decides: "I want to emphasize the aspect of sleep in the 1st repeated section. I will do this by playing and having Esswood sing as softly as possible," but on the other hand, he insists on creating hiatuses in the flowing melodic line. Esswood, a half-voice is faced with his usual intonation problems - he tends to sing flat. Add to this the sick-sounding oboe d'amore, the very scratchy violins, and the sudden thrusting accents where nothing of the sort is indicated, and you have the attributes that
begin to spell a musical disaster. How would anyone attending Bach's church in Leipzig on November 5, 1724 have heard Esswood's voice, had he sung the beginning of this aria on that occasion? Whatever happened to the idea that a voice must project itself sufficiently, even in sections that may be sung more softly. In any case, Bach, who marked the parts very carefully in this instance, only indicated to the instruments that they should cut back in volume, a procedure which he employs ever so frequently as the message that the voice is conveying is now the most important factor. There is no message here except to close your eyes and fall asleep. Esswood can barely be heard above the now softly playing instruments. What sort of game is this? Let's see who can win by playing or singing the softest? In the fast middle section Esswood attempts to sing louder, but, would you believe that he is almost covered up entirely at times by the noisy playing of the orchestra.
Mvt. 3 The usual bc accompaniment according to the Harnoncourt Doctrine (very abruptly terminated long notes, based upon an erroneous assumption on Harnoncourt's part) leaves Huttenlocher completely exposed as he engages in his usual, unconvincing attempts to convey genuine, heartfelt emotions.
Mvt. 4 What could be worse than an out-of-tune flute, or even Harnoncourt having a bit of difficulty maneuvering about on the violoncello piccolo (slight intonation problems)? Answer: A boy soprano, Huber, with serious intonation and control problems. This recording is truly a disaster!
Mvt. 5 Equiluz has even more emotion in his voice compared to Schreier and does not strive to emulate Schreier's wide variations in expression. Equiluz makes the final 'arioso' section become a tender song with a wonderful melisma that expresses Christ's desire to come to us (if we ask him.) In contrast, Harder emphasizes each step that Christ takes. Of course, Harnoncourt cuts off prematurely the note values indicated for the bc in the original score.
Mvt. 6 The sopranos with a (trumpet?) are leading here, but they tend to scream a bit. The altos are weak, as are also at times the tenors, but otherwise this version is remarkably legato when compared to Harnoncourt's usual performing practice. The held notes (with fermati over them) are drastically reduced in length.
Mvt. 1 Coin does not achieve the excellence that I could distinguish for instance in the opening mvt. of BWV 180, "Schmücke dich." Here all sorts of things go wrong: The octave interval jumps are really quite inaudible. It is as if they did not even exist in the score. There are strong thrusting accents on certain notes, accents that do not achieve anything except to break up the continuity of the musical line. Beginning in ms. 59, there are weak entrances by the supporting voices. There is a feeble, dull-sounding, anemic oboe d'amore that has trouble navigating the tumult motif in ms. 15, 16 and 34, 35. Perhaps the tempo is too fast for this player The transverse flute also has a dull sound (yes, I know it is a wooden flute, but it still sounds too dull for that too.) In ms. 70 to 95 (End) the flute part is in the mid to low range and is almost inaudible throughout this passage. Why did Bach bother to even write this part for the flute, if it can not be heard? Very disturbing is the dynamic change: a decrescendo from ms. 39 – 43 and the crescendo from 44 - 46. All of this unmarked by Bach.
Mvt. 2 Scholl - WOW! The orchestral accompaniment is excellent as well. The tempo is deliberate and slow, as it should be. The recording of this mvt. is a 'keeper.' Should anyone try to compile truly memorable mvts. From the cantatas, this one should be included, as moments like this are rare indeed.
Mvt. 3 Schwarz, although not as strong a voice as Fischer-Dieskau or Schöne, nevertheless does very well with the expression of the text in this .
Mvt. 4 Another dead-sounding, out-of-tune wooden flute (Andreotti) but Coin is on the violoncello piccolo and sounds great (very sensitive playing.) Schlick is a half-voice that engages in quite a bit of sotto voce singing - a very bad combination because the listener is being cheated out of hearing a more humanly endearing expression of the text. There is almost no ability to project this expressionless voice. Do not ask her for more than a 'piano' or 'pianissimo', because otherwise she will reveal her lack of vocal control. She 'cheats' vocally on many of the notes that she is supposed to sing. Where did she ever learn to sing the unaccented syllables of 'bete' and 'bitte' the way she does? From Fred Waring perhaps?
Mvt. 5 Pregardién has good expression and approaches the high level of Equiluz and Schreier in this regard. Coin copies, although not to a great extreme, the Harnoncourt Doctrine regarding the bc accompaniment.
Mvt. 6 There is a heavy bc with the organ perhaps contributing to this sound. The cantus firmus is very clear as well as all the other voices/parts. The balance is also very good. There is excellent pronunciation, as there well should be, but the consonants are not always together (sloppy attacks and releases). Everything flows properly. Each vocal line devoid of vibrato contributes to a strong, unified, well-blended choir sound.
Mvt. 1 Koopman's choir is a cut above Harnoncourt's/Leusink's/ or Coin's, but it still unclear and weak in spots. Also, the underlying harmonies in the supporting voices are not as clear as they should be. The critical octave leaps (ms. 12, 13, 51, 52) are not audible. In some places (ms. 31, 32) the consonants can be heard, but where are the actual sounding notes? The bc is too heavy throughout and Koopman does not cut back to a 'piano' where this is indicated by Bach. The horn lends necessary support to the cantus firmus. The lute can frequently be heard. Even Wilbert Hazelzet is unable to overcome the loud sound of the orchestra in the final section (ms. 70-75.)
Mvt. 2 Markert tries to sing in the grand opera style with a thick, wide vibrato that does not suit the text very well. She seems to lose control of this vibrato and has difficulty trying to 'turn it off' at will. In ms. 73, on an 'E', she has trouble releasing a high note. The orchestral accompaniment is very good: excellent oboe d'amore (Bernardini),and there is a string sound that is not overly scratchy. Koopman, however, does not observe the 'piano' marking in the bc at ms. 8.
Mvt. 3 Here the bc is treated according to the Harnoncourt Doctrine (a tied whole note with 8 beats duration is reduced to barely one beat – it should be noted that Bach was much more careful than most of his contemporaries in putting down the precise notation that he desired). Mertens sings mainly sotto voce and uses many additional embellishments that do not make up for his lack of ability to bring out all the various elements of the text that need additional expression. It is as though Mertens is expending great effort to pronounce each word correctly. It then sounds almost as if he is overdoing this aspect and, as a result, his delivery begins to sound unnatural. [The emphasis here is on the word, 'begins'.] Otherwise his voice is very pleasant to listen to.
Mvt. 4 Rubens has a half-voice fraught with special problems: She will begin without a vibrato, then suddenly shift to a full vibrato that is fairly wide. There is also a tendency to 'howl' the notes rather than sing them with a personal warmth and expression that are lacking. Everything, except the shifting from no vibrato to full vibrato, sounds very much the same. Problems with German pronunciation: she has trouble distinguishing between the main, accented vowels of 'bete' and 'bitte.' The instrumental accompaniment is excellent. You can even hear the lute! I recently watched and heard the performance of Viva Vivaldi recorded by Il Giardino Armonico in the Theatre des Champs-Elysses, Paris. This was very revealing (I am not speaking about Cecilia Bartoli, but rather the manner in which the music was presented.) Even in the accompaniment (non-solo) mode, the lutenist sat front and center with a microphone about one foot in front of the instrument. The harpsichord, in the back, was also playing along, but do you think that it could also be heard? My only question would be: Is the mike not only used for recording, but also for amplification purposes in the theater where the performance too place? What is really going on here?
Mvt. 5 Pregardién again, but this time the Harnoncourt Doctrine is more rigidly enforced.
Mvt. 6 The cantus firmus is quite strong. It is almost as if the other voices are on a very much lower level of volume and intelligibility. It is difficult to follow the accompanying voices in the score. I sometimes see the notes, but do not hear them. Try, for instance, to follow the passing notes in the alto and tenor voices. They are just barely audible, and sometimes can not be heard at all as they 'meld' with the other voices of the choir (or perhaps are drowned out by them.) The effect here is almost one of impressionism or romanticism, certainly not that of the transparency of all the musical lines, an effect that is always extolled by those who favor HIP.
Mvt. 1 Leusink copies Harnoncourt's cheap trick with the word "Wache." What else is Leusink to do? Harnoncourt is the 'leading light' in the HIP mvt., so many of the sins of the father (Harnoncourt) are visited upon his children (Leusink, et al). There are the usual sudden, uncontrolled outbursts, as well as those places where the vocal lines disappear and reappear again. The yodelers also put in their appearance. At times Leusink tries so hard for expression that the choir begins to sound like Prussian officers with a Dutch accent barking out their commands. There is the usual heavy bc and inconsistencies abound - in one place Leusink gets the dynamics right only to overlook them in another place where they were also marked by Bach. The flute is weak and the oboe d'amore only slightly better.
Mvt. 2 Buwalda, a half-voice with a reedy quality (not round) is stuck in the lower part of his range where the volume of his voice begins to disappear. He has definite intonation problems, partly due to the fact that he can not reasonably control his voice (sometimes he goes sharp.) This happens when he has to exert himself more as in the fast section where he begins to sound more like a comical parody. Leusink does not observe the dynamic marking in the bc at ms. 8. The oboe d'amore lacks character (overtones and formants are missing): it has a 'dead' uninteresting sound.
Mvt. 3 Ramselaar with his half-voice even attempts to half-whisper the text in order to get expression. This, of course, sounds very unnatural. There seems to be no ability on his part to fully project his voice. It is as if he is speaking/singing only to the people in the close vicinity where he happens to stand, certainly not to an entire congregation that would have to read the notes to find out just what he is doing here.
Mvt. 4 Strijk is flat in many places. This does not make for a very pleasant listening experience. She howls as well, but uses less vibrato than Rubens. She has similar problems with "bete" and "bitte". With the flute also being out of tune, this does not help this performance where the orchestral accompaniment also sounds 'dead.'
Mvt. 5 van der Meel has a very limited range of expression and goes flat on the "tre" of "treten". Leclicks his heels and voila the Harnoncourt Doctrine appears in the bc.
Mvt. 6 The sopranos come in too early in ms. 10 and 13. The usual strong appearance of individual voices on certain notes and not on others is pronounced. There are the usual problems with German pronunciation: consonants not aggressively attacked as well as the final consonants being sloughed over. The tenors do a 'he-he-he-he-' where Bach has a slur over a particular grouping of notes. The tenors also sound very raspy and thin without the necessary fullness or roundness of sound.
Mvt. 1 Rilling (2), Richter (1), Koopman (5), Coin (4), Harnoncourt (3), Leusink (6)
Mvt. 2 Scholl (4), Schmidt (1), Watts (2), Markert (5), Esswood (3), Buwalda(6)
Mvt. 3 Fischer-Dieskau (1), Schwarz (4), Mertens (5), Schöne (2), Huttenlocher (3), Ramselaar (6)
Mvt. 4 Augér (2), Mathis (1), Rubens (5), Schlick (4), Strijk (6), Huber (3)
Mvt. 5 Schreier (1)/Equiluz (3), Pregardien (4) (5), Harder (2), van der Meel (6)
Mvt. 6 Rilling (2), Coin (4), Richter (1), Koopman (5), Harnoncourt (3), Leusink (6)
Dick Wursten wrote (November 15, 2001):
I want to comment on the statement that the Gospel-reading and the cantata belong together, BECAUSE THEY DON'T.
It is very clear that the hymn from Freystein (basis of this cantata) was not inspired by Matthew 18: 23-35, the story of the bad servant (You can read it by Thomas Braatz). That story is about forgiveness. The imagery of being awake and sleeping is ABSENT, the theme of praying (bitte, bete) is ABSENT etc... etc.. And that are the central themes of the cantata and the hymn.
The theme of a servant, not being faithful and ready... when the lord (lord) comes) [Mache dich bereit, be prepared] can be found elsewhere in the gospel: f.i. Matthew 24:34-51 (and parallels in Luke and Marc). This parable was certainly the inspiration for Freystein to make his hymn. And also in the elaboration of the unknown poet (but I repeat myself probably: Andreas Stübel, a retired conrector of the Thomasschule (suggestion Chr. Wolff) he sticks to the imagery of this gospelreading. In other words. Both in the hymn and the elaboration the central exhortation of the gospel-reading of that 22nd Sunday after Trinity: Forgive, forgive and forgive, because you are forgiven... is absent.
So this cantata is an example of how loose the connection between the gospel-reading and the cantata is / was / could have been.
So: the phrase from Cantagrel: quoted by Aryeh "the libretto moves away from the Gospel text" is correct, but also a huge understatement.
And: hallo Joost,
(6) We should not tell them that the Kruidvat (Brilliant) is not brilliant (you say, I agree), but when you read the Thomas Braatz criticism on the performance of Leusink in his recent mail, I'm afraid the secret is not secret anymore. I must say, I agree with him. lack of preparation, superficiality... But still for me it is the only way to listen to ALL the Bach-cantatas. And I did not have to sell my car for being able to buy them...
Richard Grant wrote (November 15, 2001):
[To Dick Wursten] To say that the variations in text and central textual message between the Gospel reading and the cantata text "is/was/could have been" "loose" is not to disprove categorically a connection between the two. To do this in a way that would ultimately substantiate your theory would require a definitive statement from the librettist, which you don't provide. So Cantagrel's statement MAY have been "a huge understatement" to you but your statement that the Gospel reading and the cantata "DON'T" belong together is NOT dispositively supported by the possibilities you proffer.
Dick Wursten wrote (November 15, 2001):
[To Richard Grant] It works !
A sweeping statement evokes (provokes) a reaction. This reaction makes me feel free to be more specific about what I mean. This - I'm sorry – will take a little more email space than my sweeping statement did.
I reformulate my thesis (in a less sweeping way):
1. Is it possible that another bible-text than Matthew 18: 23-35 inspired Freystein to create his hymn: 'Mache dich mein Geist, bereit'. Of course I know: historical propositions are always probabilities, never facts. That is the truth of Richard Grants reply. But one hypothesis has more probability than another. Corroborating evidence, that is what we seek. To find it: this is the simplest thing to do:
My hypothesis is that Matthew 24: 42-51 inspired Freystein to this hymn.So: Read this pericope, I would say, and then read the hymn of Freystein (I pasted the german text in my second mail about BWV 115) or when not available: read at least the first and last mvt of BWV 115... Mark the similarities in theme, keywords and central message. Then Read Matthew 18: 23-35.
Now decide which of both gospel-readings shows most links to the text of Freystein. I'm sure Matthew 24: 24-51 will beat Matthew 18: 23-35 by many lengths... Most central: the keyword of Matthew 18: 23-35 is Be merciful as your heavenly Father is (imagery: servant, debt, beg for mercy, forgiveness) The keywords of 18:23-35 MERCY, FORGIVENESS are ABSENT in the whole hymn. On the other hand: The keywords of the hymn: BEREIT, WACHE, SCHLAFE, PLÖTZLICH... are alle absent in 18: 23-35 AND present in 24: 24-51.
2. Did the librettist of Bach elaborate this hymn in the direction of (the central theme of) Matthew 18: 23-35.
Only in some cases/places I find indications (not evidence of course) that he did a little effort indeed:
In mvt 3, the bassrecitativo, he elaborates the theme of : God did such good things for you (diese Gaben, reichlich)... you should repay with.. no not readiness to forgive your neighbour, which you should expect based on Matthew 18: 23-35).. but 'offne Geistesaugen'. Well it is something.
More clear is the reference to Matthew 18: 23-35 in the next part of the recitative: where the librettist speaks of 'Wenn du nu selbst den Gnadenbund brichst wirst du die Hilfe niet erblicken'. But this is still based on Freysteins hymn (verse 2c: Gottes Gnad verscherzen) and can easily be combined with 24: 24-51.
In the aria (Mvt. 4) there is a clear reference to Matthew 18: 23-35. After citing the first two lines of Freysteins hymn verse 3 (Bete auch dabei mitten in dem Wachen), which is linked ento 24: 24-51, the librttist freely continues with: 'Bitte bei der grossen Schuld Deinen Richter um Geduld' This line can only be explained when you suppose a link to Matthew 18: 23-35... Also the stressing of 'you should pray, beg' in mvt 4 and 5 is more easily explicable linked with Matthew 18: 23-35 than with 24: 24-51 alone.
Freystein most probable made his hymn inspired by Mt 24: 24-51. Bach librettist did a slight effort (almost hints) to connect it also with Mt 18: 23-35.
Well, so far my historical experiment.
Try to shoot me... if you can.
Dick Wursten wrote (November 16, 2001):
Sorry to disturb you once more with my private discussion (almost with myself) about the textual basis of BWV 115.
My final thought about the main scriptural inspiration of the poet Joh. Burchard Freystein for his hymn 'Mach dich mein Geist bereit' is Matthew 26: 41 Wachtet und betet, dass ihr nicht in Anfechtung fallet !
This really is the last word I say about it.
Stephen Polniaszek wrote (November 16, 2001):
A modest follow-up.
A reflective Dick Wursten wrote re BWV 115:
Musically there is something dubious with this cantata: The literal message is that we should be awake and ready, because it is dangerous out there. The last lines of the cantata are gloomy. The music though has an opposite effect on me: it eases me down, it consolates, brings me to rest, esp the coro 1, and the two arias.
In THE CHURCH CANTATAS OF J.S. BACH, Alec Robertson sounds the same note: that BWV 115 reminds him of St. Augustine saying "Wake me, Lord, but not just yet."
Dear Bach, what a dreamy work. Ton Koopman's version (5) has been getting something of a critical spanking this week, especially from the very learned and thorough Thomas Braatz. I am grateful for his carefully considered analysis, but, de gustibus, Deo gratias. Koopman's recording has been a most happy companion all week; I wish I could hear all the other versions, of course, but reading about them in this mailing list has added so much to the listening experience.
p.s. If you haven't come across the out of print Alec Robertson work listed above, check your library. His concise overview of every movement of every sacred cantata is blessed with wit, insight and a wonderful economy. Hating to return my library copy, I've ordered another from Alibris book search.
Once again thanks to all of you who have written this week. The rest of us readers (why are we called lurkers?) are out there, learning, and grateful to you for your work.
There is a crack in everything.
That's how the light gets in.
Richard Grant wrote (November 20, 2001):
[To Dick Wursten] Please don't hesitate to pass on any and all thoughts you may have about the subject. I've found what you've had to say so far both interesting and thought-provoking and I don't ask a great deal more than that from any encounter. I will comment on your response observations when I have more time.
Richard Grant wrote (November 20, 2001):
[To Stephen Polniaszek] I've always thought that text was an exhortation to be ready for a great event rather than the dangers that lurk out there -the great event being ultimately the second coming of the Messiah.
Dick Wursten wrote (November 21, 2001):
[To Richard Grant] This of course is true. But the apocalyptic passages in the gospel all have a double side. To make the light of the great event even brighter, the darkness outside is deepened. This dualism is predominant in St. Johns Apocalyps, and as a background in the apocalyptic (or if you want to use a more neutral term: the eschatological) passages in the gospel.
The last part of the chuch-year (be it Lutheran, Roman-catholic) is always busy with 'these last things' (starting from 1ste november: All saints day. Halloween).
The Gospel of Matthew f.i. has a large eschatological part. From Ch. 24 (signs of the times, false prophets, the day of destruction, the great tribulatione > the coming of the Son of MAN.. ends with the imagery which inspired the hymn of Freystein, or at least linked this hymn to the Gospelreading of BWV 115 which is less apocalyptical but still about the last things: the judgment: Matthew 18: 21-35).
DARKNESS covers the earth to make the LIGHT shine more brightly Ch 25 about the foolish and wise maidens with or without oil in their lamp waiting for the groom... IN the darkness they wait for the SHINING boy-bridegroom to come.. This ch. culminates in the famous scene of the judgment of the son of man... 31-46. And as always this judgment has two sides: eternal joy and eternal damnation. LIGHT and DARK.
In Bach days - I think - the world often is painted in thick black. And the anti-thesis is exaggerated. This makes a sermon much easier. By the way: This is also the case in this weeks cantata, BWV 52. I personally don't like this way of looking to the world, but you have to accept it to begin to understand something of the inside, the SOUL of Bach’s cantatas, which is a abridged protestant sermon from the 18th century... as outdated as his music and the question is: as alive as his music ?
Battle And Perlman; and speed
Neil Halliday wrote (March 10, 2004):
I heard them today in a highly effective version of the soprano aria from BWV 115, in which Perlman played the flute part on his violin [M-2].
The dialogue between the cello and violin, as opposed to flute, worked well - not surprising, since Bach himself has given alternate versions in other arias (eg, in the Easter Oratorio (BWV 249) soprano aria).
Kathleen Battle's voice was captivating, in this stunning 'molto adagio' aria, taken at a speed similar to Richter's reading . (In the latter, we have to contend with Edith Mathis' full-on vibrato, but the music is so powerful I can easily deal with her voice.)
On the question of speed, I find Rilling  too fast in this spell-binding aria, even with Augér's lovely voice; and both Richter  and Rilling are too fast in the opening chorus - I find Harnoncourt's  more moderate tempo gives the captivating oboe part much more room to 'breathe'.
OTOH, Richter  demonstrates an appropriate adoption of fast tempo, on the same CD, with an exhilirating performannce of the opening chorus of BWV 26 "Ach wie fluechtig".
But I should not impose my preference on anyone, and we have enough to choose from.
So, 8 minute or 12 minute Kyrie's? Take your pick.
Continue on Part 2
Cantata BWV 115: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4