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Cantata BWV 115
Mache dich, mein Geist, bereit
Discussions - Part 2

Continue from Part 1

Discussions in the Week of October 22, 2006 (2nd round)

Alain Bruguières wrote (October 22, 2006):
Introduction to BWV 115, "Mache dich, mein Geist, bereit"

Week of October 22, 2006
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Cantata BWV 115, Mache dich, mein Geist, bereit

Second Annual Cantata Cycle, 1723-24 (Jahrgang II)
22nd Sunday after Trinity
1st performance: November 05, 1724 - Leipzig
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Bach Cantatas resources
Previous Discussions: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV115-D.htm
Main Cantata page: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV115.htm
Text:
German http://www.cs.ualberta.ca/~wfb/cantatas/115.html
English http://www.uvm.edu/~classics/faculty/bach/BWV115.html
French http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Texts/BWV115-Fre4.htm
Score Vocal & Piano: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Scores/BWV115-V&P.pdf
Recordings: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV115.htm#RC
Listen to Leusink recording [6] (free streaming download):
http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Stream/BWV115-Leusink.ram
---------------------------
Librettist : unknown
Reading:
EPISTLE Philippians 1: 3-11: Paul thanks God and prays for the community at Philippi.
GOSPEL Matthew 18: 23-35: The parable of the unfaithful servant.

This is a chorale cantata, based upon the chorale of the same name.
Ten-verse-verse hymn by Johann Burchard Freystein.
For more details on this chorale melody see: http://bach-cantatas.com/CM/Straf-mich.htm
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Structure
1. Choral S + hn ATB fl ob d'am unis str bc
2. Aria A ob d'am str bc
3. Recit. B bc
4. Aria S fl vc picc bc
5. Recit. T bc
6. Choral SATB bc (+ instrs)
--------------------------------------------------------

Comment (mostly based on Dürr).

In this Chorale cantata the unknown librettist uses the ten verses of the hymn in the following way:
Mvt. 1 (Choral) = verse 1
Mvt. 2 (Aria A) = free paraphrase of verse 2
Mvt. 3 (Recit. B) = free paraphrase of verse 3-6
Mvt. 4 (Aria S) = free paraphrase of verse 7
Mvt. 5 (Recit. T) = free paraphrase of verse 8, 9
Mvt. 6 (Choral) = verse 10.

The hymn, and the cantata, are centered on a detail of the parable of the unfaithful servant, namely the servant's being caught unawares by the king's demand for settlement.

We should make ready by our prayers lest the 'evil time' come unexpectedly upon us: thus does the tempter deceive the rigtheous (Mvt. 1). If the soul doesn't rouse itself, it may well be waken up by a sentence of eternal death (Mvt. 2). While God sends us his light of grace in order to dissipate the night of sin, Satan and the world conspire to beguile us into breaking the covenant of grace (Mvt. 3). Watching is not sufficient, we should pray as well to be purified, in spite of our great guilt (Mvt. 4). However God longs for our prayer, and victory is ours, as God's son will give us courage and come to our help (Mvt. 5). Thus, we must watch and pray as the day of judgement and the end of the world draw near (Mvt. 6).

The opening choral is a chorale fantasia with cantus firmus in the soprano reinforced by horn. It is typical of the concertante style. The ritornello begins in a two-part section (upper strings and bc), followed by a four-part section, where the transverse flute and oboe d'amore join in. Both sections share an initial motive of three notes, witha leap an octave down and an octave up again.

As usual, the lines of the chorale are incorporated in the orchestral texture; the lower voices support the cantus firmus in a style which is sometimes homophonic, and sometimes imitative, using thematic material borrowed from the chorale melody, and also the characteristic initial three-note motive of the ritornello.

I suggest that this rather abrupt three-note motive may depict the act of shaking somebody vigorously to wake him up.

The Alto aria's first section, marked adagio, is a melacholy lullaby for the 'slumbering soul', in the form of a siciliano, whereas the middle section begins with a violent allegro episode suggestive of 'sudden punishment', then reverts to the inital adagio tempo at the mention of the 'sleep of eternal death'.

After a secco recitative, the 'molto adagio' Soprano aria is written as a quartet (transverse flute, violoncello piccolo, soprano voice and basso continuo). The very moving instrumental theme and its 'counter-subject' convey an exceptional expressive power to this wonderful aria.

The tenor recitative ends in an elating arioso on the words 'And will come to us as a saviour'.

The cantata ends in the usual 4-part harmonized choral.

--------------------------------------------------------
A more personal comment.

The libretto of this cantata is not much more cheerful than that of the previous one; but it is treated in a very different way. In particular, in sharp contrast with the opening chorale of BWV 38, which was pure style antico, one week later the opening chorale of BWV 115 is pure style concertante. This movement is very lively, rousing (as it should be!) and I would be surprised if anyone could guess the purport of the text from the music. Of course it is the ritornello, not the chorale melody, which confers buoyancy to this piece. It is as if Bach were telling us from the start: do not be too afraid, kids, the story I'm going to tell you may be rather scary but there's a happy end - still be reasonably afraid though, one should not be over confident.

I was not familiar with the soprano aria before preparing this week's introduction, but now I must say that it is one of the most heart-rending and musically fascinating arias I know of in a Bach cantata.

Douglas Cowling wrote (October 22, 2006):
Alain Bruguières wrote:
< The opening choral is a chorale fantasia with cantus firmus in the soprano reinforced by horn. It is typical of the concertante style. The ritornello begins in a two-part section (upper strings and bc), followed by a four-part section, where the transverse flute and oboe d'amore join in. Both sections share an initial motive of three notes, with a leap an octave down and an octave up again. >
Here again is another chorus in 6/4 time with extremely long bars with sixteenth notes and a repeated note figure.

Julian Mincham wrote (October 22, 2006):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< Here again is another chorus in 6/4 time with extremely long bars with sixteenth notes and a repeated note figure. >
Further to which is the great similarity of the opening themes of the two fantasias. Schweitzer pointed this out and explained it as the 'idea of one raising and comfroting himself by means of many repititions of a short soaring motive' (also in BWV 140)

The 6/4 time signature, the shape of the crotchet opening theme, the identical qvaver figure and the use of repeated notes and the 'joy' motive (two semiquavers followed by a quaver) the use of G as a key (one major one minor) all to unite these two big movements.

Bach can surely not have been unaware of these similarities since the cantatas were first performed within a five week period Oct-Nov 1724.

Further thoughts on the congruence of these movements??

Douglas Cowling wrote (October 22, 2006):
Julian Mincham wrote:
< Further to which is the great similarity of the opening themes of the two fantasias. Schweitzer pointed this out and explained it as the 'idea of one raising and comfroting himself by means of many repititions of a short soaring motive' (also in BWV 140) >
I'm more inclined to see this time signature and melodic pattern as a dance genre which we haven't identified (it's not a Loure). Schweitzer's approach suffers from being overly-Wagnerian in its discussion of "motifs". His micro-interpretations really don't reflect the way Baroque composers relate affect and melody.

Thomas Braatz wrote (October 22, 2006):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
>>I'm more inclined to see this time signature and melodic pattern as a dance genre which we haven't identified (it's not a Loure).<<
This seems to be the equivalent to 'scraping the bottom of the barrel' only to come up with what can only be considered a very tenuous connection between BWV 115/1 and some obsolete dance form. An exhaustive study by Meredith Little and Natalie Jenne ["Dance and the Music of J. S. Bach" Indiana University Press, expanded edition 2001] has examined almost every possible avenue/connection between Bach's sacred works and courtly dances (and also how they appear in secular dance suites). BWV 115/1 is not among those compositions by Bach which these authors have been able to identify as possibly being an unnamed courtly dance type (gavotte-like, minuet-like, etc.).

I suggest that a much more reliable source for indications on how this mvt. would neither be performed as a courtly dance nor as an artistic dance form not intended for actually accompanying the dancers while still being based upon a courtly dance is to consider Johann Mattheson's statements about 6/4 time and his differentiation between the three major performance styles that prevailed during Bach's time and place (Church, Chamber, and Opera/Theater Style).

Mattheson, in his "Das Neu-eröffnete Orchestre", Hamburg, 1713, Part 2, Chapter 4, Paragraph 47, states:

>>'Loures' sind gar langsame 'Giquen' und jetzund sehr 'en vogue'; ihr Tact ist 6/4 wol 'punctirt' / und die 'Puncta' wol ausgehalten. Das 'Tempo' der 'Louren' wird sehr offt mit 'Succes' zu Sing='Arien' gebrauchet.>>

("The loures are very slow gigues and are very much in fashion nowadays; their time signature is 6/4, with lots of dotted notes and these dotted notes are held out for their full values. The tempo of the loures is very frequently used successfully for vocal arias.")

[Note that 'tempo' (slow, serious, with gravity) is the only part of the dance form (not the peculiar accents and dotted rhythms that typify the loures as a dance form) which carries over to vocal arias. However, vocal arias are also subject to specific performance practice requirements as related to church, court, opera environments as well as not being exactly what a dance-master from the 1720s in Germany would have taught his dance students about this specific dance form.]

And from Part 1, Chapter 3, Paragraph 8 (on 6/4 time already quoted more extensively fairly recently on this forum):>>Es wird diese 'Mensur' zu 'serieu'sen Sachen...gebrauchet<< ("This time signature is used for serious compositions....")

Although it pertains to this present discussion, I will not repeat here, since it has been covered at least twice before, Mattheson's distinction between the three major performance styles referred to above. Those unfamiliar with these distinctions should do a search on the BCW on "Kirchen-Stylo", or "church style" or "Mattheson AND Church".

Julian Mincham wrote (October 22, 2006):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< melodic pattern as a dance genre which we haven't identified (it's not a Loure). Schweitzer's approach suffers from being overly-Wagnerian in its discussion of "motifs". His micro-interpretations really don't reflect the way Baroque composers relate affect and melody. >
It's nothing at all to do with Wagnerian implications. The themes are very similar in a number of ways which I articulated--that is the point and it is worth discussion.

Thomas Braatz wrote (October 22, 2006):
Alain Bruguières wrote:
>>The libretto of this cantata is not much more cheerful than that of the previous one; but it is treated in a very different way. In particular, in sharp contrast with the opening chorale of BWV 38, which as pure style antico, one week later the opening chorale of BWV 115 is pure style concertante.<<
In order to verify Konrad Küster's theory about the differences in treatment of cantatas to be performed at St. Thomas Church vs. those intended for St. Nicholas Church in Leipzig, it would be necessary to view more of the few cantata booklets that Bach had printed for his intended listeners. According to Küster's theory, anyone living in Leipzig at that time could know in advance where one of Bach's cantatas would be performed and choose to attend that church for the particular church service indicated in the booklet. In addition, a church-goer would essentially know in advance what type of figural music could be expected as well. Does anyone have access to this source (the cantata booklets as found in the Saltykow-Stschedrin Library in St. Petersburg (Signatur: 6/ 34/ 3 N(0) 209) -- it would be a small matter to write down only the given Sunday (of which year), the name of the cantata and the church or churches (which services) at which the performance took place? I believe that these booklets were treated (hopefully reproduced in facsimile) in a 'Bach Jahrbuch' issue from the late 1940s or early 1950s, but I have lost the specific reference.

According to Alain's observation above, this cantata would more likely have been destined for its first performance at St. Thomas Church. This would be my guess based upon the following facts:

1. The text and chorale melody combination is a fairly recent one in Bach's time. This means that the congregation's usual deep knowledge of/acquaintance with such a chorale would not be firmly established in the minds and ears of his listeners. Embedding the chorale in the inner mvts. other than clearly emphasizing it as he has to in the outer mvts. would make no sense here for Bach. I am unable to find any passages in the inner mvts. that reveal a possible variation/embellishment of the chorale melody as found in BWV 38. The chorale melody here is not used as a structurally unifying element to link all the mvts. There must be a different type of linkage here, but what is it?

2. The melody and Bach's treatment of it in BWV 115/1,6 would place it into the category of the Pietistic hymn type rather than that of the Luther type melodies (and text) emanating from the 16th century. Politically this mattered considerably as Bach attempted to address these differences musically. It also gave him the opportunity to experiment within the limitations as he found them in Leipzig.

3. According to Küster's theory, St. Thomas Church would be the appropriate location for a first performance of a cantata employing a freer figural style of composition. BWV 115 seems to be this type of cantata and provides a stark contrast with the 'stile antico' type evident in BWV 38.

>>I was not familiar with the soprano aria before preparing this week's introduction, but now I must say that it is one of the most heart-rending and musically fascinating arias I know of in a Bach cantata.<<
Agreed. This is truly a ficlass gem.

Raymond Joly wrote (October 22, 2006):
[To Thomas Braatz] Thanks to Thomas Braatz for his quotation and translation of Mattheson, "Das Neu-eröffnete Orchestre", Hamburg, 1713, Part 2, Chapter 4, Paragraph 47:
< 'Loures' sind gar langsame 'Giquen' und jetzund sehr 'en vogue'; ihr Tact ist 6/4 wol 'punctirt' / und die 'Puncta' wol ausgehalten. [...].
("The loures are very slow gigues and are very much in fashion nowadays; their time signature is 6/4, with lots of dotted notes and these dotted notes are held out for their full values [...].") >
Two queries:

1) Perhaps the first WOL does not specify quantity ("lots of") but quality: "well, clearly, saliently, conspicuously".

2) Perhaps WOL AUSGEHALTEN means less than "held out" and more than "for their full value". I may be completely mistaken, but what I understand is this. A loure has characteristic dotted crotchets followed by a quaver. Instead of them being related like 3 to 1, the dotted crotchet must in performance be stretched out quite a bit ("wol ausgehalten") and last for more than its "full value", the quaver consequently amounting to much less than a real quaver: a semiquaver or a bit more or even less of it. Whether the lengthened crotchet should be sounded until the shortened quaver takes over or, on the contrary, some intake of breath, some holding back before the jump is advisable: that is another matter.

Thomas Braatz wrote (October 22, 2006):
Raymond Joly wrote:
in reference to: Mattheson, "Das Neu-eröffnete Orchestre", Hamburg, 1713, Part 2, Chapter 4, Paragraph 47: "'Loures' sind gar langsame 'Giquen' und jetzund sehr 'en vogue'; ihr Tact ist 6/4 wol 'punctirt' / und die 'Puncta' wol ausgehalten. [...].<<
>>1) Perhaps the first WOL does not specify quantity ("lots of") but quality: "well, clearly, saliently, conspicuously".
2) Perhaps WOL AUSGEHALTEN means less than "held out" and more than "for their full value". I may be completely mistaken, but what I understand is this. A loure has characteristic dotted crotchets followed by a quaver. Instead of them being related like 3 to 1, the dotted crotchet must in performance be stretched out quite a bit ("wol ausgehalten") and last for more than its "full value", the quaver consequently amounting to much less than a real quaver: a semiquaver or a bit more or even less of it. Whether the lengthened crotchet should be sounded until the shortened quaver takes over or, on the contrary, some intake of breath, some holding back before the jump is advisable: that is another matter.<<
You are probably right that this is a form of 'notes inégales' which is very much a French tradition. I suspect that Mattheson is quoting a French source in regard to the "Loure". Actually, in regard to BWV 115/1, this is more of an empty argument since as Little and Jenne point out: "loures often use the "sautillant" rhythm (dotted crotchet followed by a quaver, then an undotted crotchet) almost continually (a characteristic shared with the French gigue." p. 186

All of this certainly leads away from the fact that Bach, in BWV 115/1 hardly has a single dotted note throughout! (just a few dotted half and whole notes and in one measure only (m 53) 3 instances of dotted crotchets followed by quavers) It is as though Bach deliberately avoids any connection with or even hint of a dance form.

Just because Bach happened to choose a 6/4 time signature does not mean that a search for possible dance forms or rhythms should immediately come to mind as a reasonable pursuit for potential performers of this music. On the contrary, they should be wary of trying to emulate by use of odd, exaggerated dance accents or fast tempi some of the recordings that already exist of this mvt.

There is still much room for improvement in attempting to recapture a bit more of what Bach possibly had in mind for performances of this music.

Thomas Braatz wrote (October 23, 2006):
BWV 115 Score samples

Aryeh Oron has quickly placed some score samples at the following address: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Scores/BWV115-Sco.htm
[to enlarge any one of the examples, simply click again on the image]

Example 1
As indicated previously, there are a number of valid reasons for Bach not having to include references to the chorale melody in the inner mvts. of this cantata. The opening orchestral motif, however, played by the upper strings is evolved from the chorale melody as the red notes and the underlying text indicate.

In the absence of the firm reference to a chorale text and melody very familiar to all his listeners, Bach seems to have found a musically understandable image that is the most basic element of the text. I believe that such an image is not simply an isolated element of word painting in a given mvt. but rather one that is common to all mvts. This, it would appear to me, would possibly be centered upon "beten" ('pray' but how does one depict this musically? see ex. 2 flute part) and 'schläfrig'/'Schlaf' ('sleepy'/'sleep' - the soul can too easily fall asleep). Both of these images can merge into one: the downward movement of notes or sequences of notes and depending upon the context of the specific aria in question: either BWV 115/2 or BWV 115/4. The visual image of an individual falling to his/her knees to engage in prayer (the octave drop at the very beginning of BWV 115/1) or the individual's soul falling asleep (and awakening again only to fall asleep yet again) is translated into descending motion of various types. This, then, becomes the loose connecting 'strand', as it were, between the mvts. of this cantata. Although Bach does not neglect the 'wachen' ('awaken','remaining awake or on guard') aspect of the text as in the 'Allegro' section of BWV 115/2, it appears that his greater emphasis is upon descending motifs or passages.

Example 2 (from the NBA) illustrates Bach's changing articulation of the same descending phrases depending upon whether the voice has to combine notes on certain syllables or because Bach wishes to emphasize the two-note descending phrases - the latter resemble the 'flehen' ('begging', 'pleading') referred to in the opening verse of the chorale text and as the insistent 'beten' ('pray') in BWV 115/4. This is often referred to also as 'the sighing motif'. Question: Does the sliding (slurred) downward glide on the sixteenth notes first played by the flauto traverso indicate 'first falling down on one's knees', and the different response/repetition of the same figure by the violoncello piccolo with its 'sighing, pleading, begging' expression that attempts musically to represent the thoughts or words being expressed after the position of humility has been assumed. The voice part, as described above, varies according to the specific situation encountered with the underlying text.

Example 3
The chorale is given only as a reference for comparison when attempting to discover any suggestion of the chorale melody in the main motifs of the two main arias.

Neil Halliday wrote (October 23, 2006):
Alain Bruguières wrote:
<"I suggest that this rather abrupt three-note motive may depict the act of shaking somebody vigorously to wake him up">.
I love this image! It's especially appropriate at the start of the choral section, where the BTA incepts have this 3-note octave interval figure in 1/8 notes, rather than the 1/4 notes at the start of the ritornello. (Unfortunately, this choral figure appears to be very difficult to hear on recordings; but I suppose audiences at live performances will be aware of it).

Beginning with this 3-note figure in 1/4 notes, the unison upper strings (without woodwinds) have a long line which soon introduces a dactyl-rhythm figure; then the flute and oboe, in canon-like counterpoint, take up both these figures (ie, the octave figure and the dactyl figure), whereupon the flute soon launches into a florid line of continuous 1/16th notes, consisting of repetitionsof a charming 12 note figure that lowers itself a step at a time. Arrangements of this material suffice for most of the writing in the subsequent ritornellos, except that toward the end, where the text speaks of the devil's cunning that tempts many pious people, a new figure is introduced in the strings - called the "tumult' figure (by Dürr, I think) - a figure that will remind keyboard players of the animated treble-clef figure at the start of the WTK Book 2, G major prelude. This figure occurs in the flute toward the end of the ritornello that closes the movement. (Period ensemble conductors, especially, need to ensure their wooden flutes are heard in recordings of this passage).

In the alto aria, the rich orchestration, with throbbing repeated notes in the continuo, is wonderfully captured in the symphonic sweep of Richter's recording [1], accompanied by glorious singing from alto Schmidt. The syncopation on repetitions of "Wie?" is noteworthy for its effect.

In the middle section of this aria, the long melisma on "wach-(est)' stresses the importance of being awake for Christ's summons, while the long held notes on "(be)-deck-(en)" and "Tod-(es)" certainly suggest entombment.

In the recitatives, Richter's orchestration [1], and the singing, are good examples of his art in this genre.

In the soprano aria, the combination of the contrasting timbres of the transverse flute and `cello piccolo are pure magic. Others have rightly noted the descending-scale figures that suggest the act of supplication; the descent over two octaves (from D above to D below the bass clef, in a downward D major scale) on the `cello, soon after
the vocalist enters, is especially effective.

In the middle section of this aria, at the second presentation of the words "bei der grossen Schuld", the flute, in a particularly beautiful passage, adopts its lower register (in the bottom half of the treble clef), with the mellow aspect of the flute's timbre in this range suggesting contrition. The return to its more usual range in the upper treble clef, with brighter timbre, occurs with the words "Soll er dich von Sünden frei, Und gereinigt machen".

After these two emotion-charged arias, Bach concludes with a positively cheerful and confident sounding chorale harmonisation (note the continuous 1/8th notes in the bass line), perhaps to remind his listeners that the end of this sinful realm, will after-all be a cause for much joy (for believers). "Denn die Zeit, Ist nicht weit, Da uns Gott wird richten, Und the Welt vernichten."

-----

Re the dicussion on tempi and 6/4 time, IMO the opening chorus in this cantata might be more relaxed than BWV 64 or BWV 114 (I think Julian meant to refer to BWV 114, not BWV 140), maybe due to the occurence of the floridly long woodwind passages of continuous 1/16th notes in BWV 115/1.

Harnoncourt's tempo [3], the slowest of the lot, has always seemed right to me (Aryeh, I think, has noted, the "woodwinds steal the show" in this recording), while at the other extreme, Rilling [2] sounds slightly breathless to me.

Neil Halliday wrote (October 23, 2006):
I wrote:
<"IMO the opening chorus in this cantata might be more relaxed than BWV 64 or BWV 114 (I think Julian meant to refer to BWV 114, not BWV 140)">
...and I think I meant to refer to BWV 62 and not BWV 64.

Julian Mincham wrote (October 23, 2006):
Neil Halliday wrote:
< Re the dicussion on tempi and 6/4 time, IMO the opening chorus in this cantata might be more relaxed than BWV 64 or BWV 114 (I think Julian meant to refer to BWV 114, not BWV 140), maybe due to the occurence of the floridly long woodwind passages of continuous 1/16th notes in BWV 115/1. >
The main comparison I that passed on (which had been noted by Schweitzer many years before I was born) was between the thematic material of the opening bars of BWV 114 and BWV 115. However, he also mentions BWV 140 in this context because of the motives which suggest 'raising and comforting' oneself which (he suggests) are embedded in all three first movements from these cantatas.

So the allusion to BWV 140 was correct but apologies if the reasons why it was included were not clear in my email..

Bradley Lehman wrote (October 23, 2006):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Scores/BWV115-Sco.htm >
Sorry, but in those "illustrations" (which one would hope might somehow illuminate the piece better than a plain score might do?), the red parts of example 1 are absolutely absurd. It's just picking and choosing whatever notes fit the foregone conclusion that the chorale is somehow "hidden" there; their metric placement is also absurd, snatching notes here and there off the beats and between the beats, as if that's somehow thematic.

And in the other two items within example 1, why would the descending sequencing be interpreted in two different ways from one another...or as anything other than normal musical sequencing or progression, as a compositional device?

Alain Bruguières wrote (October 23, 2006):
[To Thomas Braatz] I find Thomas' suggestion that Konrad Küster's theory may account for the striking differences in style between BWV 38 and BWV 155 very interesting. The fact that, after so many years of Bach scolarship it is so difficult to know in what church each cantata was performed for the first time is rather surprizing and tantalizing in view of this theory which sounds highly plausible.

As for BWV 115, I think that one striking feature is that Bach doesn't set the chorale melody in the foreground of the cantata.In the opening chorus, the ritornello gets all the listener's attention, and even after a few hearings I simply don't remember the chorale melody, because it is expounded in such a way that the cantus firmus merges into the global texture (my impression at least). It may well be that the chorale melody is hidden inside the ritornello in the manner Thomas suggests, but then it is inscribed in a purely graphical, non-musical way; if it is there at all, it is well hidden. The inner movements evince no instance of the chorale melody.

Since the gem aria (soprano) borrows two lines from the hymn, there at least one would expect a quotation of the chorale melody it is not there (not in an audible way). The soprano voice does articulate the corresponding words in a sort of cantus firmus,but not on the hymn's notes, almost as if Bach discarded it on purpose!

Of course we have the melody in the beautifully last 'plain' chorale, but there Bach had no choice...

Maybe this is not significant, yet it is in sharp contrast again with what Bach does in BWV 38.

I'm not quite convinced that the descending figures in movement 1 have the same meaning. The initial 3-note motive has a huge leap downwards followed immediately by an equally huge leap upwards; to me this is not just a downward move, and it can't mean the same thing as a slowly and sinuously descending line. Moreover I find it hard to believe that the same figure could mean on one occasion falling asleep, and on the other, praying, in view of the meaning of the libretto: we should not sleep, we should rather wake and pray. One doesn't expects the good behaviour to be assimilated with the bad... In fact I don't see any image suggesting prayer, the dialectic is rather waking versus sleeping, I think. Pehaps prayer is better depicted generally by the poignant soprano aria.

Thomas Braatz wrote (October 23, 200):
[To Bradley Lehman] It is always possible to look at Bach's scores prosaically and so objectively as to strip from them almost any type of musical symbolism or embedded chorale references which they might contain. There are always some musicians who, as they academically analyze his music, wish to disallow Bach from even entertaining such thoughts which go beyond the mechanical aspects of composition. These are musicians who have not sufficiently immersed themselves in studying the Bach cantatas thoroughly and reading what other true Bach experts who have had a lifetime of experience with this material, have uncovered/discovered as viable avenues for research that lead to a better understanding of his music. Are these 'musicians' attempting to criticize Bach as Scheibe did by accusing him of creating compositions which "ihre Schönheit durch allzugrosse Kunst verdunkelte" ["obscured their beauty through the use of too much art"]? Today Scheibe is infamous for his criticism despite the fact that he was a composer, performer and music critic of his time. He certainly had an antipathy for Bach's type of embellishment or the embedding of chorale themes in various musical passages or structures. He could no longer understand (because he considered this musical art as old-fashioned and very much 'out-of-style') the tradition which Bach represented and had absorbed from his best models from the North German Organ School: Georg Böhm and Dietrich Buxtehude (and to some degree from Pachelbel situated in Nürnberg).

Here are some examples to ponder before asserting that notes are 'picked and chosen to fit a foregone conclusion' where the context is one of a specific chorale melody:

Georg Böhm's "Vater unser im Himmelreich" near the bottom of: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/CM/Vater-unser-im-Himmelreich.htm
(once thought to have been by Bach)

Dietrich Buxtehude's "Herr Christ der einge Gottessohn" BuxWV 192 near the bottom of: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/CM/Herr-Christ-einge.htm

Johann Sebastian Bach's "Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland" BWV 659 about 1/3 of page down: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/CM/Nun-komm.htm

or better yet:

Bach's "Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr'" BWV 662, BWV 663, BWV 664, BWV BWV 676 BWV 677 not quite ½ page down: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/CM/Allein-Gott-in-der-Hoh.htm

If the choice is to be made between disbelieving, academically trained musicians or even just listeners who desire 'only the straight facts and nothing else', I personally would choose the insights given by the likes of Spitta, Schweitzer, Schering, Smend, or Dürr any day, not that they are always correct in their observations and notions which should be reexamined again and again in light of new understanding, but because their broad-ranging experience of working with Bach's music in all of its facets is certainly one to be respected and taken more seriously than the experience of just any academically-trained musicians who have yet to prove themselves in this field of endeavor (a deep understanding of Bach's sacred music).

Thomas Braatz wrote (October 23, 2006):
Alain Bruguieres wrote:
>>I'm not quite convinced that the descending figures in movement 1 have the same meaning. The initial 3-note motive has a huge leap downwards followed immediately by an equally huge leap upwards; to me this is not just a downward move, and it can't mean the same thing as a slowly and sinuously descending line. Moreover I find it hard to believe that the same figure could mean on one occasion falling asleep, and on the other, praying, in view of the meaning of the libretto: we should not sleep, we should rather wake and pray. One doesn't expects the good behaviour to be assimilated with the bad... In fact I don't see any image suggesting prayer, the dialectic is rather waking versus sleeping, I think. Pehaps prayer is better depicted generally by the poignant soprano aria.<<
Certainly BWV 115/4 has the greatest emphasis on the word "bete" ("pray!"), but BWV 115/1 also has "bete" in the first statement of the Stollen. Musical figures are even more elusive and ambiguous than the words of the text themselves. Musical symbols therefore can contain more expressive content, but at the same time they are less precise and distinctive unless they are linked directly to a specific word at the precise point in the music where the word occurs. The link created by specific word painting is rather obvious in such instances. But Schweitzer made two important observations:

1. there are 'kernel' musical ideas/figures which refer more generally to key concepts that Bach deemed important in regard to an entire mvt. or to the entire libretto of the cantata.

2. a 'kernel' may (and often does) consist of a combination of opposing ideas/concepts such as waking/sleeping, living/dying, etc represented musically in a very concise form.

3. given the choice in a text between "standing" and "not running" or "a Christian should be this way" and "a Christian should not engage in a certain evil action" (I had to make these up for the purpose of illustration, but there really are some good examples of this in Bach's cantatas), Bach might take for musical illustration the second option because it offers much better possibilities for creating a musical picture that a listener can understand. In such cases, Bach is not musical moralist indicating only the right way, but rather more like a 'fire-and-brimstone' preacher who delights in depicting musically the imagery provided by difficult or hellish experiences. A 'reasonable' observer of this asks the first time they recognize that such musical devices are employed: "Why would Bach insist on illustrating musically that which is to be avoided when the main emphasis of the text is upon a certain good quality?" The reason might be that it is often more difficult (and less interesting) to illustrate a well-balanced good quality than one which leads to /exciting, upsetting, diffult situations that are rendered more easily in musical forms and figures.

My choice of samples seems to overemphasize the downward, descending motions/motifs. These should have been balanced with those of the opposite direction as well. Certainly the initial 3-note figure of BWV 115/1 capsulizes in the form of a kernel the opposing ideas presented in the complete text of the cantata. Bach has distilled everyting into this kernel and it is from this kernel that everything evolves musically.

Neil Halliday wrote (October 24, 2006):
Alain Bruguieres wrote:
> As for BWV 115, I think that one striking feature is that Bach doesn't set the chorale melody in the foreground of the cantata. <
Agreed.

Interestingly, the person who realised the figured bass for the tenor recitative (in the piano reduction score shown at the BCW) has taken the opportunity to quote the first line of the chorale in the last three bars of the final arioso section. You can see the "hidden" chorale tune marked by accent signs in the score.

In the chorale harmonisation of the final movement, I wonder if Bach took his cue, for the bass line, from the 1st three notes of the chorale, by inversion and diminution? In the penultimate bar the bass notes take the same direction as the chorale notes, but still in diminution.

Thomas Braatz wrote (October 25, 2006):
BWV 115/1 Samples of Motifs

Aryeh Oron has added a batch of motifs from BWV 115/1 to the bottom of the page as Example 4. It can be viewed at: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Scores/BWV115-Sco.htm
a click on this item will present the enlarged/magified view of the score samples.

Bradley Lehman wrote (October 25, 2006):
I checked there again today, to see if anything I comabout has been fixed yet. Apparently not. Apparently those colorful things in Example 1 are just going to stay there, even though they make no sense and don't contribute to a coherent understanding of Bach's music? Especially the red treasure-hunt, forcing a bunch of off-the-beat notes to line up with the chorale, in a way it could never be sung. One could just as easily take those same first four bars, pick out the different notes G G A B A G A A B ignoring everything else in between them, ignore metric position, and claim it's a quotation of the chorale "Nun freut euch, lieben Christen g'mein". (Not that one should!)

And if falling triads or scales allegedly mean "falling asleep" in one place, why do they suddenly allegedly mean "kneeling to pray" elsewhere? Aren't they just a bunch of notes going downward, not necessarily needing such a reason (or at least such a specific clamping-down of any possible allusions to just one or two)?

=====

I see there's a new section, Example 4. Take a look at the one there where Schweitzer allegedly asserted it means "joy", which is sort of halfway plausible, maybe; but it's also just a stock figure going up and later down the scale. If that particular motive specifically means "joy" here, what does it mean when it comes up all the way through a movement in Bach's A-major violin sonata? Is it still "joy" there, or is it something plain and simple like "decorated rising major triad, with anapestic emphases"? Why or why not; and how can anyone "know" that it "means" one thing vs another, and isn't simply about its own musical content?

Come to think of it, why can't the alleged "Tumult" or "Mesh" motive (what a difference!) here be thought of more simply as just a nice violin line doing a bunch of straightforward string alternations, as happens in so many of Bach's other string pieces, and in pieces such as the BWV 565 organ fugue as well? It makes just as nice an organ-pedal line, at least for its main part, as a string line: alternating the feet, with one of them staying steady while the other one moves. It's a physical gesture in the music, an instrumental thing to do in decorating scales and employing pedal-point tactics. How is this a "Mesh" or "Tumult" specifically, or anything else specifically?

The allegedly "Make yourself ready" motif in the bass -- isn't that too just a decorated rising triad followed by an octave leap?

Point is, any wishful thinking can impute "thematic" "meaning" that isn't necessarily there. It's doomed to succeed, as just about anything whatsoever can be made up, especially if consistency doesn't need to come into play. Maybe that's fun, but why insist that it should be that specific?

Ed Myskowski wrote (October 26, 2006):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< And if falling triads or scales allegedly mean "falling asleep" in one place, why do they suddenly allegedly mean "kneeling to pray" elsewhere? >
I agree that these particular interpretations are a stretch. But the colored overlays to the score samples clearly label them as interpretation. IMO, it is perfectly appropriate to disagree with interpretation, but it crosses the bounds of a free forum to ask that such interpretation be removed. Interpretations which offend human civility are another matter, not relevant in this instance.

On a personal note, I find that the posted score samples are a quick and useful entry to the music. They often encourage me to explore the scores in more depth, even if only the the BCW piano reductions. This is not a peer reviewed, professional forum (if so, I would not be here). Whatever invites people (including, but not limited to professional musicians) into the music in more depth seems helpful. Score samples often do that for me.

I previously wrote that two of my favorite people in the world after joining BCML are Tom Braatz and Brad Lehman. Not something I expected to say again, but best to repeat it now to avoid misunderstandings. Whether they are each other's favorites is unknown to me (but I have an opinion).

Neil Mason wrote (November 15, 2004):
>>I must admit that I have been a "lurker" on this list for quite some time before posting, because of what I perceive to be an argumentativeness in some posters, or in other words a lack of generosity of spirit.<<
Sorry, Neil, if you did not ever expect to see that again! But <generosity of spirit> is a lovely phrase I noticed while scanning something else, and in a BCW search, your reference comes up first. It is the one I saw, as well. Sometimes you get lucky recovering a reference.

I guess <generosity of spirit> is not a requirement before hitting send. No harm to think about it.

Bradley Lehman wrote (October 26, 2006):
was BWV 115 Score samples, but obviously not now

[To Thomas Braatz]
The concern in my postings, as both a practicing musician and historian, is that the presented material about Bach's music be reliable and at least reasonable. I pointed out problems in that regard, and explained the reasons by which I believe the presented material is faulty -- frankly it's unconvincing, to me, for exactly the reasons I pointed out. It hasn't been established that a web of Wagnerian (or even Weberian!) leitmotifs shot through Bach's music exists at all, let alone that these examples in BWV 115 mean these specific things, and that's the point where I'm objecting: these just look to me like they're made-up products of wishful thinking, reducing the music to a little arbitrary game of hide-and-seek.

And, this practice of my reacting to the material (analysis of Bach's music!) is apparently rewarded by the gratuitous diatribe below...which still doesn't address the problem that the interpretation under discussion is illogical and untenable. Picking out all those red notes and ignoring everything else in between, when one could pick out other sequences of notes and color them red to "reveal" different chorales, arbitrarily: that's the basic problem!

Bradley Lehman wrote (October 26, 2006):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< My choice of samples seems to overemphasize the downward, descending motions/motifs. These should have been balanced with those of the opposite direction as well. Certainly the initial 3-note figure of BWV 115/1 capsulizes in the form of a kernel the opposing ideas presented in the complete text of the cantata. Bach has distilled everyting into this kernel and it is from this kernel that everything evolves musically. >
It's G-G-G in octave leaps. How is this "certainly" any manner of "kernel" or "capsule" for the whole text of the cantata? How is this anything BUT the beginning of a string of wishful thinking, as to Bach's compositional process (i.e. what he allegedly "had in mind" while reacting to the text and making his choices)?

The text is about making oneself ready, avoiding sinful ways, and yadda yadda yadda. How exactly does a series of three G notes do that, in presenting "opposing ideas" or whatever? Is this whole cantata going to be about octave leaps or something? What does the use of three G's say about spiritual readiness, or avoiding anything, or whatever?

And, how does "everything evolve musically" from three leaping notes G-G-G, for this whole cantata or at least this whole movement, as is apparently asserted here? It's just three notes of the same pitch class. Maybe, in a stretch, one could observe that it illustrates "things go down and things go up", but that's so generic as to be next to useless; pretty much all music goes down and up, so how does that cause the evolution of this particular piece, especially?

By the way, the word "kernel" as a technical term typically means that a self-contained microcosm of the whole is present. Does that octave leap thingamabob really stick around, all the way through this cantata's approximately 25 minutes, as an essential motive that generates everything? I don't see any notable use of three notes making down-up octave leaps anywhere but the first movement. (For example, the bass line of the concluding chorale appears to employ an entirely different figure, lots of times...but with no immediate connection to a V-shaped octave pattern.) Or maybe, that "kernel" octave leaps is so well hidden that it's not normally perceptible...except maybe to some unverifiable eighth or ninth sense (aka "wishful thinking") that's nowhere near the audible surface of the music?

These are all reasonable questions about the material as presented.

Neil Halliday wrote (October 27, 2006):
BWV 115: soprano aria

The internet samples reveal the following characteristics:

Rilling [2] and Leusink [6]: more `andante' than `molto adagio', ie, too fast, among other problems.

Koopman [5]: has the strange rattling and scraping noises coming from his continuo.

[1] Richter, [3] Harnoncourt, [4] Coin, and [8] Suzuki all have lovely instrumentation in `molto adagio' versions, but [3] Mathis' vibrato is distracting; [3] Huber displays some unsteadiness; [4] I have not heard Schlick with Coin (the sample is not long enough); [8] Ryden is, for me, distracting with her technique of beginning each note quietly, then increasing the volume. See if you agree.
http://www.bis.se/index.php?op=album&aID=BIS-CD-1421

This leaves Coin [4] as potentially the most satisfying, depending on Schlick's performance!

Bradley Lehman wrote (October 27, 2006):
Briefly comparing three of the recordings in the BWV 115 soprano aria:

I like Barbara Schlick's performance, with Coin [4]: a broad sense of spaciousness, and a good match of tone between her voice and the flute. At the same time I wish for more tempo rubato, "at ease", which is what molto adagio usually calls for.... Not merely a matter of being slow, but being free and relaxed. At this extremely slow tempo it sometimes seems a bit laborious, to me, with the notes too carefully hitting their metric positions on paper. It could bend a lot more!

I also like Marjon Strijk's basic sound, with Leusink [6]: but here she doesn't seem secure enough with intonation, and the tempo is too crisp/bouncy (too much "click" in the beat) to settle into gracefulness. It seems a bit businesslike. This performance does have an "easy" flow, though.

Harnoncourt's performance [3] gives what seems to me a strong and appropriate character of this ease, from all the ensemble players including himself. Markus Huber, the treble, has fine clarity of tone and diction. His interpretation seems maybe a little cautious, not quite relaxed (i.e. not much expressive range, and metrically stiff, compared with what the players are doing). Decent intonation on the sustained notes, but he's sometimes noticeably off with the passing tones inside the melismas.

=====

Harnoncourt's [3] first movement sounds excellent to me, too, with graceful declamation (and differentiation) of those contrasting instrumental bits. The orchestra and singers all sound well poised and attentive, moving forward through the 6/4 meter (which is generally a difficult meter to sustain, balancing flow and accentuation, and without either rushing or dragging). This recording of this movement makes me get up out of the chair and move around the room, responding to its gentle dance.

Coin's [4] first movement, by contrast, is faster and seems to press forward a bit too much, not making as much differentiation among the beats or bringing out as much dimensional detail. But then his second movement, with Scholl, is so good!....

 

Continue on Part 3

Cantata BWV 115: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements
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