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Recordings & Discussions of Cantatas: Cantatas BWV 1-50 | Cantatas BWV 51-100 | Cantatas BWV 101-150 | Cantatas BWV 151-200 | Cantatas BWV 201-224 | Cantatas BWV Anh | Order of Discussion

Cantata BWV 118
O Jesu Christ, mein’s Lebens Licht
Discussions - Part 1

BWV 118 "O Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht"

Charles Francis wrote (January 6, 2001):
The Hillliard Ensemble perform BWV 118 "O Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht" in Munich tonight. BWV 118 was composed in 1736/1737, but the occasion for which it was written is unknown. The source for the text, however, is a hymn from 1610 by Martin Behm of which Bach used the first verse:

"O Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht
Mein Hort, mein Trost, mein Zuversicht,
Auf Erden bin ich nur ein Gast
Und druckt mich sehr der Sunden Last."

In English translation:
"O Jesus Christ, my life's true light,
My prize, my strength, hope to my sight,
On earth here am I but a guest
And by sin's burden sore oppressed."

Christoff Wolff notes "The musical assignments varied according to what was ordered, from elaborate motets (such as "O Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht" BWV 118, dating around 1736, with portable instruments for the funeral procession: 2 litui (special trumpets), cornetto and 3 trombones) ..."

Bruce Dickey points out "O Jesu Christ mein's Lebens Licht" is unusual among Bach's surviving works in consisting of a single choral movement. Two versions exists, with different scorings: one with cornett, three sackbuts and two "litui" and a later one which substitutes strings and oboes. The unusual scoring of the original version suggests an occasion involving the Stadtpfeifer: most likely, in view of the funeral nature of the text, at the graveside or in the procession. ... The extreme difficulty of the wind parts is a tribute to the qualities of the Leipzig players. In this motet can be heard an echo of that earlier 'golden age' of the Stadtpfeifer, an institution which in Leipzig (as everywhere else) was nearing its end."

The complete text of the hymn is available in a 19th Century English translation/adaptation:

"Lord Jesus Christ, My Life, My Light"
by Martin Behm, 1557-1622
Translated by Catherine Winkworth, 1878
Text From: THE HANDBOOK TO THE LUTHERAN HYMNAL
(St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1941) p.115

1. Lord Jesus Christ, my Life, my Light,
My Strength by day, my Trust by night,
On earth I'm but a passing guest
And sorely with my sins opprest.

2. Far off I see my fatherland,
Where through Thy blood I hope to stand.
But ere I reach that Paradise,
A weary way before me lies.

3. My heart sulks at the journey's length,
My wasted flesh has little strength;
My soul alone still cries in me:
"Lord, take me home, take me to Thee!"

4. Oh, let Thy sufferings give me power
To meet the last and darkest hour!
Thy blood refresh and comfort me;
Thy bonds and fetters make me free.

5. Oh, let Thy holy wounds for me
Clefts in the rock forever be
Where as a dove my soul can hide
And safe from Satan's rage abide.

6. And when my spirit flies away,
Thy dying words shall be my stay.
Thy cross shall be my staff in life,
Thy holy grave my rest from strife.

7. Lord, in Thy nail-prints let me read
That Thou to save me hast decreed
And grant that in Thine opened side
My troubled soul may ever hide.

8. Since Thou hast died, the Pure, the Just.
I take my homeward way in trust.
The gates of heaven, Lord, open wide
When here I may no more abide.

9. And when the last Great Day shall come
And Thou, our Judge, shalt speak the doom,
Let me with joy behold the light
And set me then upon Thy right.

10. Renew this wasted flesh of mine
That like the sun it there may shine
Among the angels pure and bright,
Yea, like Thyself in glorious light.

11. Ah, then I'll have my heart's desire,
When, singing with the angels' choir,
Among the ransomed of Thy grace,
Forever I'll behold Thy face!

Given BWV 118 was written for use at a funeral, one might even conjecture it was performed again at Bach's graveside!

 

Discussions in the Week of April 1, 2001

Aryeh Oron wrote (April 1, 2001):
Background

This is the week of Cantata BWV 118 according to Pablo Fagoaga's suggestion. Since this is a relatively short piece, I had the time to compile for you a detailed background from some sources (W. Murray Young’s book and the linear notes to the recordings below), adding something of my own.

See: Cantata BWV 118 - Commentary

Review of Complete Recordings

I am aware of 7 complete recordings of Cantata BWV 118. Of those I have been listening last week to 5. See: Cantata BWV 118 - Recordings.

[5] Jürgen Jürgens (1967)
Instrumentation: 2 Lituo (Horn), Cornett (Zink or High Trumpet), 3 Trombones, Organ
IMHO, this is the most authentic rendition. The original instrumentation remains unaltered, the choir is relatively small, and no stanza is added. Although this is relatively older recording, the separation between the various voices and instruments is very clear. It is very easy to follow each line. But the most important factor is that it is captivating in its simplicity, moving in its honesty, and charming in unexplainable way.

[11] John Eliot Gardiner (1980; 1st recording)
Instrumentation: 3 Oboes, Bassoon, Strings, 2 Natural Trumpets (instead of Litui), Organ
Gardiner in his first recording of this movement not only doubling its length by adding a second stanza, he also plays it much slower than Jürgens. He is also using the second Bach’s scoring of it, with a big string section, the oboes and the bassoon. The result is not indoor and intimate performance. On the contrary, it is heavy, muddy and tired. It is so masked that one might even fail to recognize it as a composition of Bach.

[15] John Eliot Gardiner (1989; 2nd recording; BWV 118b)
Instrumentation: 3 Oboes, Bassoon, Strings, 2 Trumpets, Organ
9 years after his first attempt, Gardiner made a second trial, actually the only conductor to do so with this relatively rarely recorded piece of music. Although he uses what seems to be a similar edition, adding also here a second stanza, he succeeds in getting better results. The texture is more transparent, the separation between the lines is more distinct, and the atmosphere is more intimate.

[20] Francoise Lasserre (1997)
Instrumentation: 2 Cornetts, 3 Trombones, 2 Natural Horn (Litui), Organ
Back to the original instrumentation, we hear a simple and charming rendition from an unexpected source. The choir sounds very small and blends beautifully with the brass instruments. This piece of music does not need any sophisticated interpretation, extra forces or additions. The key for a successful rendition is KIS (Keep It Simple) and this is exactly what we get here.

[22] Pieter Jan Leusink (1999-2000)
Instrumentation: (probably) 2 Trumpets, Cornett, 3 Trombones, Organ
This rendition reminds me Jürgens’ in many ways. But I have to admit that Leusink and his forces enjoy from better recording conditions. This is exactly the opposite to both of Gardiner’s recordings. The means are more modest and lighter, but the expressed feelings are deeper and more moving. The transparency of this recording is unequalled by any of its competitors. I hear here many details missing from most of the previous recordings and to me it sounds more faithful to the original intentions of the composer. The picture of a small group of mourning people standing in the grave-yard and listening to this lament became for me very tangible. I felt very sad while I was listening this rendition, but I felt even sadder after it came to an end.

Conclusion

My choices are undoubtedly Leusink [22] and Jürgens [5].

And as always, I would like to hear other opinions, regarding the above mentioned performances, or other recordings.

Additional Recordings

[18] Bruce Dickey (Cornett & Direction) (1992)
Instrumentation: "Litui" (played on Natural Horns), Cornetto, 3 Trombones (A.T.B.)

[8] Mark Brown (1972)
Instrumentation: Organ
Note: Sung to English text paraphrasing Behm's hymn)

[16] Rolf Schweizer (1990?)
Instrumentation: Not published.

Peter Bloemendaal wrote (April 1, 2001):
[To Aryeh Oron] Thanks Aryeh for your detailed contribution. I only have one recording and it won't surprise you it is Leusink's [22]. I'll try to give some additional comment.

[22] (Pieter Jan Leusink) < Recorded: 2000? >
I don't know the exact recording date. If you want to know, I'll ask Leusink, but it was definitely 1999 or 2000.

< Instrumentation: (probably) 2 Trumpets, Cornett, 3 Trombones, Organ >
Either you have a different recording from mine, which is on CD 124 in the Bach Edition, or you are mistaken. My recording is the second version, using organ, strings and two oboes with the fabulous Peter Frankenberg on the first hobo.

< The transparency of this recording is unequalled by any of its competitors. >
Here the directness of the recording has worked out wonderfully. Also the tempo perfectly fits the occasion.

< I hear here many details missing from most of the previous recordings and to me it sounds more faithful to the original intentions of the composer. The picture of a small group of mourning people standing in the grave-yard and listening to this lament became for me very tangible. >
Yes! This is also due to the fact that it was sung with a small choir.

< I felt very sad while I was listening this rendition, but I felt even sadder after it came to an end. >
So did I. It was the first time I listened to the recording and I am happy I can share your feelings.

Charles Francis wrote (April 1, 2001):
BWV 118 was composed in 1736 / 1737, but the occasion is unknown. It consists of a single choral movement and two versions exist, with different scorings: one with Cornett, three sackbuts and two "litui" and a later one that substitutes strings and oboes. The unusual scoring of the original version suggests an occasion involving the Stadtpfeifer: most likely, in view of the funeral nature of the text, at the graveside or in the procession. The wind parts are of extreme difficulty, indicative of the skill of the Leipzig Stadtpfeifer, an institution that was nearing its end.

This is a most profound piece when performed at the tempo of a funeral march or requiem. Gardiner, 1980, offers a good rendition of the second (indoor) version. The clarity of the instrumental writing is maintained throughout and never overwhelmed by the voices. The voices enter as a distant other-worldly accompaniment to the instruments.

[18] The 1992 Concerto Palatino version on EMI Classics is based on the first version with portable instruments. Unfortunately, it adopts, IMO, an inappropriately fast tempo (4:12) which ruins the music.

A Leipzig performance was presented on radio last year by the musicologist George Stauffer. I do have an MP3 recording, but no details regarding performers. The tempo is mid-way between the Concerto Palatino [18] and Gardiner recordings, and the instruments have a wailing, lamenting, quality, which seems most appropriate to funeral music.

The source for the text is a hymn from 1610 by Martin Behm and Bach used the first verse:

"O Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht
Mein Hort, mein Trost, mein Zuversicht,
Auf Erden bin ich nur ein Gast
Und druckt mich sehr der Sunden Last."

In English translation:

"O Jesus Christ, my life's true light,
My prize, my strength, hope to my sight,
On earth here am I but a guest
And by sin's burden sore oppressed."

The complete text of the hymn is available in a 19th Century English translation/adaptation:

"Lord Jesus Christ, My Life, My Light"
by Martin Behm, 1557-1622
Translated by Catherine Winkworth, 1878
Text From: THE HANDBOOK TO THE LUTHERAN HYMNAL
(St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1941) p.115

1. Lord Jesus Christ, my Life, my Light,
My Strength by day, my Trust by night,
On earth I'm but a passing guest
And sorely with my sins opprest.

2. Far off I see my fatherland,
Where through Thy blood I hope to stand.
But ere I reach that Paradise,
A weary way before me lies.

3. My heart sulks at the journey's length,
My wasted flesh has little strength;
My soul alone still cries in me:
"Lord, take me home, take me to Thee!"

4. Oh, let Thy sufferings give me power
To meet the last and darkest hour!
Thy blood refresh and comfort me;
Thy bonds and fetters make me free.

5. Oh, let Thy holy wounds for me
Clefts in the rock forever be
Where as a dove my soul can hide
And safe from Satan's rage abide.

6. And when my spirit flies away,
Thy dying words shall be my stay.
Thy cross shall be my staff in life,
Thy holy grave my rest from strife.

7. Lord, in Thy nail-prints let me read
That Thou to save me hast decreed
And grant that in Thine opened side
My troubled soul may ever hide.

8. Since Thou hast died, the Pure, the Just.
I take my homeward way in trust.
The gates of heaven, Lord, open wide
When here I may no more abide.

9. And when the last Great Day shall come
And Thou, our Judge, shalt speak the doom,
Let me with joy behold the light
And set me then upon Thy right.

10. Renew this wasted flesh of mine
That like the sun it there may shine
Among the angels pure and bright,
Yea, like Thyself in glorious light.

11. Ah, then I'll have my heart's desire,
When, singing with the angels' choir,
Among the ransomed of Thy grace,
Forever I'll behold Thy face!

I do wonder, if this piece was eventually performed at Bach's funeral.

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (April 2, 2001):
Charles Francis wrote:
< The source for the text is a hymn from 1610 by Martin Behm and Bach used the first verse: "O Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht Mein Hort, mein Trost, mein Zuversicht, Auf Erden bin ich nur ein Gast Und druckt mich sehr der Sunden Last." In English translation: "O Jesus Christ, my life's true light, My prize, my strength, hope to my sight, On earth here am I but a guest And by sin's burden sore oppressed." The complete text of the hymn is available in a 19th Century English translation/adaptation: "Lord Jesus Christ, My Life, My Light" by Martin Behm, 1557-1622 Translated by Catherine Winkworth, 1878 >
Trouble is that this in hardly an English translation (as customary with Bach cantatas "translations"). The German is quite simply "Oh Jesus Christ, My Life's Light, My Treasure, My Assurance, On Earth I am only a guest, and the burden of sins oppresses me very much". While "sore" is a cognate of German "sehr", it is so archaic as to be silly in English. And, after the summary of What Jesus is to the believer, we have two sentences involving the 1st person sg. (1) with "ich" as subject and (2) with "mich" as direct object. The first has a copulative verb "bin", the second has a transitive verb "druckt". Such basics should IMVHO be observed in a translation. The changing of an active to a passive sentence in the so-genannt translation may suit English hymnody, but not the purpose of following the German. The actual English hymn given after the translation is even less relevant to present purposes. It may or may not be nice English poetry.

Pieter Pannevis wrote (April 2, 2001):
[22] (Leusink) According to the booklet the recording was made November 1999 - January 2000.

Santu de Silva (Archimedes) wrote (April 2, 2001):
Ah! At last a work on which I can express something without much research! I loved this piece the very first time I heard it, (Gardiner, from Berühmte Chore (?)) and I still love it. I agree with everything said below, and Aryeh is probably right about the failings of Gardiner's recordings [11] & [15]. If Gardiner is so fabulous, how much fabulouser* must Leusink [22] aJürgens [5] be!

This whole business is going to cost me much money, I can tell. At present I have the following cantatas:
1, 4, 8, 12, 18, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 31, 36, 44, 50
51, 54, 55, 57, 59, 61, 62, 63, 67, 69, 71, 75, 76, 78
80, 82, 84, 86, 92, 95, 98, 100, 101, 102, 104, 105
106, 111, 114, 116, 118, 131, 132, 135, 136, 140
144, 147, 148, 150, 152, 155, 159, 161, 162, 163
165, 167, 172, 173, 179, 181, 182, 184, 185, 186
188, 190, 196, 198, 199, 200, 201, 202, 203, 204
208, 209, 211, 214, 215

which leaves me about (I'm too lazy to actually count) around 130 more cantatas to get. At the rate of $3 a cantata that would cost me...around $390; that's about 1/5 of my monthly income (in a good month). These Leusink deals sound really attractive! I have CDs 34-38 by him.

Sorry for the rather diffused post. We've just switched to daylight-savings time, and saving has never been my strong point.

< Aryeh Oron wrote: The unusual instrumentation and the serious declamation of the choir produce a motif of deep solemnity, reminiscent of some of the choral writings of Heinrich Schütz in the 17th century. >
Yes; I love Schütz; at least his Christmas historia...

* There is no such word; I'm just being funny. See smiley below. :-)

Peter Bloemendaal wrote (April 2, 2001):
Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote:
< While "sore" is a cognate of German "sehr", it is so archaic as to be silly in English. >
True, it is archaic, but why silly? Bear in mind that the text was written in 1610. In those days "sore" was common for Mode "very" and German "sehr". The "King James" Bible (1611!) mentions in the well-known Christmas gospel of St. Luke 2:9 that the shepherds "were sore afraid".

< And, after the summary of What Jesus is to the believer, we have two sentences involving the 1st person sg. (1) with "ich" as subject and (2) with "mich" as direct object. The first has a copulative verb "bin", the second has a transitive verb "druckt". Such basics should IMVHO be observed in a translation. The changing of an active to a
passive sentence in the so-genannt translation may suit English hymnody, but not the purpose of following the German. The actual English hymn given after the translation is even less relevant to present purposes. It may or may not be nice English poetry. >
The transition from an active sentence into an inverted active sentence in the German original might well be purely based on the necessity to get the rhyme right. The problem is that in the first sentence "ich" is the subject and in the second sentence "der Suenden Last". It seems logical and tolerable to use the passive in the English translation of the inverted sentence. What makes the given translation wrong English, however, is the fact that the verb "am" is used as a copula in "I am a guest" and as an auxiliary of the passive in "I am oppressed by my sins' burden". This is stylistically not done. It is a linguistic pitfall, which is most likely caused by the happy coincidence that "pressed" rhymes with "guest". Be my guest.

Pablo Fagoaga wrote (April 3, 2001):
[To Aryeh Oron] Well, Aryeh: Thanks for the information on this. When I chose BWV 118, one of the things I thought would be interesting to discuss is why Schmieder included this particular work among cantatas. Any other member who would like to shine a light on this, I'll be grateful (Undoubtedly, there are some astonishingly informed members of this group that could surely help on this!!). P.S.: Aryeh, thanks a lot for sending the review on BWV 82 to the group.

Thomas Braatz wrote (April 3, 2001):
[To Pablo Fagoaga] Back on 3/25 when the question about BWV 1 was raised by Aryeh, I responded with:
"Die durch BA (read this as BG) eingeführte Zählung der Kantaten ist willkürlich, aber allgemein gebräuchlich und auch von Neumann, 'Handbuch der Kantaten,' 1947, und von Schmieder BWV, 1950, beibehalten worden."

The numbering system introduced by the BG (1851) ist completely arbitrary, but is generally used, and has been maintained by Neumann in his 'Handbook of the Cantatas', 1947 and by Schmieder, 1950, in the BWV numbering system that is used today.

Does this help explain your question?

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (April 3, 2001):
[To Peter Bloemendaal] First of all, I wish I had the command of Dutch or of any
language that you apparently have of English!

While up through the early 1960’s the KJ Bible (80% based on Tyndale's translation) was the standard English Christian translation (and indeed the standard English Jewish Bible was not very much different), thereafter the English Bible wars began when the RSV appeared, at first massively rejected by Fundamentalist Christians and accepted by Liberal Christians. Largely that battle is over. The KJ Bible has massively influenced English literature and the language, but it has two problems: (1) Its language is archaic enough that it is incomprehensible often. (2) Scholarship has shown many of renderings not to reflect (obviously) the massive advances in all fields of biblical studies and Semitic languages (and in Koine Greek).

YOEL: < While "sore" is a cognate of German "sehr", it is so archaic as to be silly in English.
PETER: True, it is archaic, but why silly? Bear in mind that the text was written in 1610. In those days "sore" was common for Mode "very" and German "sehr". >
"Sore" means something totally different in today's English and I dare say that the Luke locus you cite is like the locus "Suffer little Children to come unto me". "Suffer" is only in Current English "leiden" never "lassen". They indeed sound silly today. And "silly" itself is cognate with German "selig". English has changed a lot.

PETER: < The "King James" Bible (1611!) mentions in the well-known Christmas gospel of St. Luke 2: 9 that the shepherds "were > sore afraid".
YOEL: < And, after the summary of What Jesus is to the believer, we have two sentences involving the 1st person sg. (1) with "ich" as subject and (2) with "mich" as direct object. The first has a copulative verb "bin", the second has a transitive verb "druckt". Such basics should IMVHO be observed in a translation. The changing of an active to a passive sentence in the so-genannt translation may suit English hymnody, but not the purpose of following the German. The actual English hymn given after the translation is even less relevant to present purposes. It may or may not be nice English poetry.
PETER: < The transition from an active sentence into an inverted active sentence in the German original might well be purely based on the necessity to get the rhyme right. >
Yes, it is. I maintain that meaning is more important than silly rhyme here. Only a great translator can aim at both sense and rhyme. Some few have succeeded in re-producing Dante's terza rima in the Commedia.

PETER: < The problem is that in the first sentence "ich" is the subject and in the second sentence "der Suenden Last". It seems logical and tolerable to use the passive in the English translation of the inverted sentence. What makes the given translation wrong English, however, is the fact that the verb "am" is used as a copula in "I am a guest" and as an auxiliary of the passive in "I am oppressed by my sins' burden". This is stylistically not done. >
The native speaker might not even notice this. The use as the circumlocution "I am oppressed" in a stative sentence where e. g. German has "werden" for true passive and "sein" for stative is just taken for granted by the native speaker, I believe.

PETER: < It is a linguistic pitfall, which is most likely caused by the happy coincidence that "pressed" rhymes with "guest". Be my guest. >
You are a very good rhymer:-)

Andrew Oliver wrote (April 3, 2001):
[8] I do not have any of the recordings listed by Aryeh, and therefore cannot comment on them. However, I do have an old LP, produced in 1972, featuring the Westminster Bach Choir, which includes an English language version of this work, with organ (only) accompaniment. Obviously, in terms of authenticity, this recordcannot be considered appropriate for comparison, but I still think it worth having, as it allows me to hear those lovely melodic lines and that marvellous, typically Bachian polyphony, together with my favourite aspect of it, the subtle harmonic progressions, especially those points at which the bass moves in chromatic steps. This recording lasts 5 min. 20 seconds, which seems about right to me. Slower would be all right, but not faster. The whole piece leaves me with the impression of sombre serenity, a calm acceptance of the inevitable separation of death, but coloured by a very human sadness at the loss.

Andrew Oliver wrote (April 3, 2001):
Although 'sore' meaning 'very' is archaic, it is not entirely obsolete, since it is still used quite frequently in such phrases as 'sorely tempted'.

Also, I don't think it is often possible to render German poetry in precise English translation. However, if it is desirable to translate the lines currently being considered without altering the form of the relevant verbs, it will be necessary to say something like:

(Auf Erden bin ich nur ein Gast
Und drückt mich sehr der Sünden Last
.)

Tho' I on earth a guest may be,
Sin's heavy load oppresses me.

Jane Newble wrote (April 3, 2001):
What a wonderful surprise to come home to this gem after a few days away!

After some hunting around I found that I have two versions of this motet.
[22] The first one I have is Leusink.
[16] The second one is one of the wonders of the world. I bought it at the Railway Station at Nordhausen (Germany) of all places. It is called "Best of Baroque, Classic Collection, featuring Johann Sebastian Bach", and it cost me TWO Deutschmark. It has all the motets, and there is absolutely no information except that they are all performed by 'Motettenchor und Bachorchester Pfarzheim. Leitung / Dir.: Rolf Schweizer'. The whole CD is very good and a real find. The timing of BWV 118 is 3:15 as compared to 7:46 in Leusink. At first I thought that it must be a different piece, using half the time of the Leusink recording.

So I listened first to Leusink [22]. Very beautiful, slow, and sad. Then the 3:15 of the unknown Schweizer. I am still amazed at the difference. It is twice the speed, and yet it is twice as melancholy!! The reason is, I think, that the faster beat resembles a slow heart beat, and it gives it an almost overwhelming urgency and expectancy. Very powerful, that pounding, it really tugs away at the heart strings, and leaves a lasting impression of incredible beauty and solemnity.

The thought of being lowered into the grave at the sound of this music...

Charles Francis wrote (April 4, 2001):
[16] [To Jane Newble] I believe I've found your CD, but at 10 times the price :-(
http://home.t-online.de/home/M.Fehsenbecker/cds_f.htm

Its also available at Amazon Germany for the same price :-( Amazon.de

But how about dropping in to the "Evangelische Stadtkirche Pforzheimone" for one of their "Kantaten- und Musikgottesdienste" :-)
http://home.t-online.de/home/hj.ostertag/bach.htm#kg

After all, why should the Lutherans have all the good music ;-)

Jane Newble wrote (April 4, 2001):
[16] (Schweizer) Listening to the whole CD, my comment is that the sopranos seem a bit overpowering, but that is not the case in BWV 118.

The whole thing is very minimal, but I suppose for that money you can't expect much more... Still, it was very much worth it.

Andrew Oliver wrote (April 4, 2001):
Two weeks ago, because I did not have a recording of BWV 211, I listened to the cantata scheduled for the same week last year, before I joined this list. The cantata was BWV 106, Actus Tragicus, of which I have four recordings. One of those recordings is Gardiner's. Stupidly, I failed to note that the same CD also includes Gardiner's second recording of BWV 118 [15], and that I therefore do possess a recording of this work using the proper text and instruments.

Strangely, though, I find that my old LP recording [8], with its less than perfect performance, its poor sound quality, its English text, and its organ only accompaniment, is nevertheless a more moving experience (for me) than Gardiner's more professional production [15]. Gardiner's is more accurate. Brown's has more soul.

Matthew Westphal wrote (April 5, 2001):
[16] [To Charles Francis[ Thanks for forwarding this, Charles.

If you or anyone else on the list has any idea of where one can buy a copy of this recording [16] (which is currently out of print), please contact me off-list and let me know.

Pieter Pannevis wrote (April 5, 2001):
Leusink Cantatas does cost here a cd dfl 2,99

Jane Newble wrote (April 6, 2001):
Charles Francis wrote:
[16] < I believe I've found your CD, but at 10 times the price :-( http://home.t-online.de/home/M.Fehsenbecker/cds_f.htm >

Yes!!! Definitely, although it looks different, with a nice picture on the cover, and you probably pay for the booklet! Even so, it is still worth it just for the #118 ... IMVHO! I like the sites! Thank you. I shall have to keep an eye on them and look out for the Weihnachtsoratorio!! It should be fabulous! And of course I now want to go on holiday to the Schwarzwald!!

Aryeh Oron wrote (April 7, 2001):
[16] [To Jane Newble & Charles Francis] Since there is some interest in Rolf Schweizer's Bach recordings, I compiled a list of his recordings of Bach's vocal works, which have already been published. I put the list in the Bach Cantatas Website in the following page: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Performers/Schweizer.htm

2 interesting facts:
a. The CD of the motets includes all the familiar ones (BWV 225-230) and also BWV 118. Therefore, it seems to be more interesting than a mere collection of motets from various composers. It is also not so expansive. Amazon.de sells it for 19.00 DM.
b. The recording of Oster-Oratorium has also been published in Brilliant Classics Bach Edition Volume 2 (Vocal Works - Vol. I). Therefore, I believe that many of us have it, although most probably that we have not been aware of its existance in our disposal!

Pablo Fagoaga wrote (April 9, 2001):
Yesterday my father came back from the US, with the Oxford Composer Companion JSB. Although he brought some other itmes, like Parrot's "Essential Bach Choir" and a bunch of CDs (none of them Bach, I must say), I have to confess that the Companion is a real seducer. It is extemely interesting, and inviting to browse. I understand that the nature of the contents (I mean, the wide scope and the dictionary style) helps the book to be more instantly appelaing than other prose books, like Parrot's, which I have no doubt, is very interesting. But the companion really got my attention.

Really good stuff. The first demonstration (at least to me) is the information about BWV 118, specially concerning my initial intrigue about the nature of the work, and it's classification. It may be boring to the members than own the book, but I want to quote a paragraph:

"There remains the question of genre. The partly independent instruments have led commentators to regard the composition as a vocal concerto (cantata): the BG published it among the church cantatas, and it was given a BWV number accordi. But Bach labelled both autograph scores 'Motetto', a term he used in limited senses, and we need to take that label seriously. In most respects 'O Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht' has the textual and musical features of a motet: it sets a chorale as a contrapuntally supported cantus firmus in large note values. Its first version uses trombones, strongly associated with motet style, and they are mostly 'colla parte' with the voices. The independent instrumental sections are unusual for a motet, but they are limited in their thematic material in the ritornello sections, and entirely subservient to the voices (limited to harmonic filler) otherwise. Bach apparently held a slightly expanded view of what a motet could be."

So, I think we have a plausible explanation for Schmieder's "mistake" including BWV 118 among Cantatas. Seems to be the somewhat independent nature of instrumental parts in the work. Of course the article gives enough reasons to consider that incusion a mistake.

The most impressive thing is that the autographs call the piece "MOTET" (I didn't know that, and I could have never imagine this, considering Schmieder's view as the result of lack of information). This makes me reaffirm that sometimes scholarship can go a little too far. :o)

 

Funeral

Bernard Nys wrote (May 6, 2002):
Thanks for the answers some of you gave me to the question about the unusual length of the B-minor Mass (BWV 232). I'm happy to hear that it remains an "enigma".

Warching the Purcell DVD "Sacred Music" with the walking fanfare for the Funeral of Queen Mary, I remembered my favorite "Funeral Music" : O Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht, Motetto BWV 118b, by John Eliot Gardiner [15], for an unknown solemn funeral service. Probably, it was played by a walking "band" on the way to the cemetery.

Charles Francis wrote (May 6, 2002):
[To Bernard Nys] BWV 118 was composed in 1736 / 1737, but the occasion is unknown. It consists of a single choral movement and two versions exists, with different scorings: one with cornett, three sackbuts and two "litui" and a later one which substitutes strings and oboes. The unusual scoring of the original version suggests an occasion involving the Stadtpfeifer: most likely, in view of the funeral nature of the text, at the graveside or in the procession. The wind parts are of extreme difficulty, indicative of the skill of the Leipzig Stadtpfeifer, an institution which was nearing its end.

From the notes to the "Concerto Palatino" performance on EMI: 567-754 455-2 [18]:

"By the 15th century, most German civic authorities maintained a wind band, its principle instruments were (by the 16th century) the cornett and sackbut, but each player mastered many instruments. The Leipzig Stadtpfeifer probably reached their peak during the time of Kantors Knüpher, Schelle and Kuhnau; Bach's complaint in 1730 that they were partly retired, and partly nowhere near in such practice as they should be, undoubtedly reflects a decline which took place after 1720. In the second half of the 17th century, the Stadtpfeifer were an uncontested élite among professional musicians: they enjoyed significant privileges and almost total control over their string-playing associates (the Kunstgeiger) in the Ratsmusic, or civic musical establishment. Indeed, nearly all Stadpfeifer began their careers amongst Kunstgeiger and were later promoted to the more prestigious wind band."

The source for the text is a hymn from 1610 by Martin Behm and Bach used the first verse:

"O Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht
Mein Hort, mein Trost, mein Zuversicht,
Auf Erden bin ich nur ein Gast
Und druckt mich sehr der Sunden Last."

This profound music would have been a good choice for the family at Bach's funeral, IMO.

 

BWV 118(b) & Kerll

Continue of discussion from: Trumpets in Bach’s Vocal Works - Part 6 [General Topics]

John Pike wrote (September 16, 2004):
[To Thomas Braatz] I must confess I am generally in favour of trying to reproduce an authentic Bach sound so far as is possible, whether that means original instruments, the instruments Bach specified, the pitch, the registration, the temperament, the orchestral forces or the choral forces. Clearly, we can never be 100% certain about much of this. However, that does not mean that any other attempts to perform Bach on modern or alternative instruments are unworthy. On the contrary, Bach's music is so resilient that any performance with real musicianship and sensitivity can overcome lack of authenticity and give a satisfying result.

Recently, the motet BWV 118 "Herr Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht" was mentioned in one of Thomas' posts. The first time I heard this was a radio broadcast at Christmas 1999 of the Gardiner recording [15] (although I think it was originally written as funeral music). I was totally bowled over and it remains one of my favourite Bach works. Yesterday, I heard the Rilling recording [17]. It sounded so completely different and I think he must use different instrumentation. For me, it lacked much of the emotional impact of the Gardiner. I'd be interested to hear comments from others on these 2 recordings.

Bradley Lehman wrote (September 16, 2004):
[To John Pike] John, are you referring to the 1989 Gardiner recording of "118b" [15] (the one that has shared a disc with the Actus tragicus BWV 106 and the Trauer-Ode BWV 198)? Or Gardiner's earlier one?

I like that piece, too (having only the 1989 recording--mmm, that cornetto and the trombones in there!). That warm, sustained, Bb-major opening reminds me a lot of J.C. Kerll's requiem in F major...another gorgeous funerary piece, scored more simply for a consort of viols. This recording: Amazon.com
Boy, there's a piece that deserves some additional recordings. The score has been readily available since 1923, in Denkmäler der Tonkunst in Österreich, vol 59. Has there ever been more than that single recording, from 1990?

Joost wrote (September 16, 2004):
Kerll

Bradley Lehman wrote:
< [snip] That warm, sustained, Bb-major opening reminds me a lot of J C Kerll's requiem in F major...another gorgeous funerary piece, scored more simply for a consort of viols. This recording: Amazon.com
Boy, there's a piece that deserves some additional recordings. The score has been readily available since 1923, in Denkmäler der Tonkunst in Österreich, vol 59. Has there ever been more than that single recording, from 1990? >
As far as I know that's the only recording. There is however another Missa pro Defunctis (I love that description in Latin) from Kerll which has been recorded by the Hassler-Consort on MDG 6140739-2 (1997). I love this work and this performance even more than the one on the Ricercar disc.

John Pike wrote (September 16, 2004):
[To Bradley Lehman] Yes, Brad. Quite right. It is BWV 118b in the 1989 recording, coupled with BWV 106 and BWV 198. The Rilling recording [17] is of BWV 118. It was only by looking on the Bach Cantatas web site earlier today for further detail that I discovered that there were 2 versions. Aryeh gave the earlier Gardiner recording of BWV 118 [11] a disappointing write up, but it was better received by others, such as Charles.

Neil Halliday wrote (September 17, 2004):
Rilling's BWV 118 (was: cornetti)

John Pike wrote:
<"I was totally bowled over and it (the Gardiner recording [15]) remains one of my favourite Bach works. Yesterday, I heard the Rilling recording [17]. It sounded so completely different and I think he must use different instrumentation. For me, it lacked much of the emotional impact of the Gardiner.">
According to the liner notes with Rilling's 1990 recording [17] (he did not record BWV 118 as part of his cantata cycle), there exist two versions of this work:

1. The original 1736 (presumably outdoor) funeral service with instrumentation for wind instruments only - the BGA lists: lituus I,II (horns in high B flat), cornetto, trombone I,II,III (plus SATB chorus, with cantus firmus in the sopranos), and

2. a 1746 church instrumentation, with added strings and continuo.

Rilling [17] is obviously using the later version (the score of which is apparently not in the BGA), and Gardiner the earlier [11]; and I very much doubt that Rilling is using trombones at all (I can't hear them - I think the three trombones are replaced by violin II, viola, and cello/double bass, respectively (the booklet, unusually for Rilling, does not specify the actual instruments used).

[Nor can I easily identify the (presumably modern) instrument playing the cornetto line, partly because it is playing in unison with the 1st violin].

This could account for the lack of emotional impact of Rilling's recording [17] relative to Gardiner [15], that John perceived (trombones are likely to be more 'hair-raising' than strings), although I cannot comment on this aspect further, because I have not heard the JEG.

I would describe Rilling's version [17] as quietly beautiful, but somewhat 'cool' and unemotional (timing 6.26). The choir sounds somewhat diffuse, lacking clarity and focus - are the tenors to the left or right of the altos?

Still, without another choice at present, I can enjoy this recording of a captivating, late work from Bach.

John Pike wrote (September 17, 2004):
[To Neil Halliday] I looked into this and there are, indeed, 2 versions of the work, but the recordings are the opposite way round. Rilling's version [17] is, according to the BWV number on the box, 118, the earlier version, although, as you say, he has the strings there. is it really 118b? Gardiner's recording from 1989 [15] is definitely 118b, the later version, and says so on the box. The strings are there and he replaces the specified brass with trumpets, according to the liner notes. I would be most interested to hear a recording of the earlier version with all the brass and no strings....perhaps I will get Gardiner's earlier 1980 recording [11], notwithstanding Aryeh's disappointing review on the BC website.

Bradley Lehman wrote (September 17, 2004):
John Pike wrote:
< I looked into this and there are, indeed, 2 versions of the work, but the recordings are the opposite way round. >
For what it's worth: the current edition of BWV (the catalog itself, the book: 1998) doesn't list any "118a" or "118b" but simply "118". It's put at the end of the "Motetten" section. The two productions by Bach are dated as 1736/37 and 1746/47. The first one has the instrumentation with the cornetto and trombones; the second one has the oboes and optional bassoon. The BWV entry also includes a handful of literature references in which one can go explore further; in addition to NBA volume III/1, of course, and Bach-Gesellschaft volume 24. In total, about half a page of goodies about it here in the BWV, including the musical incipits.

Charles Francis wrote (September 18, 2004):
BWV 118 (was Rilling's BWV 118i)

[To John Pike] If you like the way Klemperer handles the opening chorus of the Matthew Passion (BWV 244), you'll most probably like the Gardiner [15]. But for something more mainstream, check out the following One Voice Per Part recording [23]: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Performers/RobertsTimothy-C1.htm

Steer clear of Koopman's caffeinated performance [26] (even more breathless than Concerto Palatino [18]).

Neil Halliday wrote (September 18, 2004):
John Pike wrote:
"I would be most interested to hear a recording of the earlier version with all the brass and no strings....perhaps I will get Gardiner's earlier 1980 recording [11], notwithstanding Aryeh's disappointing review on the BC website."
I should have looked at the informative page at the BCW: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV118-D.htm because I would then have known that Gardiner's 1st recording [11], like his 2nd [15] (and like Rilling's [17]), doesn't have the earlier (c.1736) instrumentation, with trombones, and no strings.

Aryeh's multi-recording review suggests looking at Leusink [22] for a good CD recording of the original score. Timothy Robert's recording [23] (with His Majesty's Cornetts and Sackbutts, etc), recommended by Charles, also looks interesting, and both appear to have an approriate speed.

[Assuming that all the timings of around 4 - 5 mins. are for the movement without repeat, Rilling's recording [17] is fast - at 6.22 - since it includes a repeat].

Meanwhile, Jürgens apparently desirable recording [5] is languishing on LP.

Neil Halliday wrote (September 18, 2004):
Robert's "Wind' version of BWV 118

Check out the sample at: Amazon.de

The opening Sinfonia (BWV 29) is also very interesting, but the organ's power (lack of) doesn't match that of the orchestra.

Jason Marmaras wrote (September 19, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
> [...] For what it's worth: the current edition of BWV (the catalog itself, the book: 1998) [...] <
Is this Catalogue available only in German? Where can one find it?

Peter Smaill wrote (September 24, 2004):
The identification of BWV 118b as a particularly affecting interpretation by Gardiner (originally for me part of a two cassette offering under the Erato label [11]) is a perceptive judgement, because JEG himself chose to make it the culminating piece of the commemorative concert on the actual 250th anniversary of Bach's death on 28th July 2000.

Set in the remote beauty of the island of Iona in the Scottish Hebrides, the piece was performed outside from the west end of the restored mediaeval Abbey. As the musicologist Gillies Whittaker said in his "Cantatas of JS Bach" the work is "of profound beauty, one of the most deeply moving chorale settings in the whole of Bach's church music."

The decision of Gardiner to play the piece externally , in line with the original funerary purpose of 118a , was a masterstroke in which the azure seascape beyond on an day of unusually intense sunshine conspired to create an unforgettable synthesis of music, nature and sentiment .

While the event was generally marked in the European capitals with the familiar masterpieces, Gardiner 's programme ( also BWV 106, BWV 131 and the apocryphal BWV 53) revealed the intense expressiveness of the small scale early works.

The inclusion earlier of "Vor deinen Thron tret ich hiermit" completed the span of Bach's meditation on a holy and happy death , the theme which is threaded throughout his life and remains unclouded by his own experience of bereavement ; his parents, first wife and the majority of the children dying prematurely.

It is perhaps the mundane spirit of our age which prevents more listeners from appreciating the numinous qualities of "O Jesu Christ mein Lebens Licht" BWV 118 .It is not much recorded as you demonstrate but anyone who likes the Cantatas would do well to track down the Gardiner recording and discern why he himself placed it at the apex of the 2000 commemoration.

Neil Halliday wrote (September 24, 2004):
Peter Smaill wrote:
<"BWV 118 .It is not much recorded as you demonstrate but anyone who likes the Cantatas would do well to track down the Gardiner recording and discern why he himself placed it at the apex of the 2000 commemoration.">

Amazon.com

This slower Gardiner performance (1989?) [15] is certainly more moving than the 1990 Rilling recording [17] I have, which is perhaps overly brisk and emotionally 'cool'.

John Pike wrote (September 24, 2004):
[To Smaill P.] Many thanks for this deeply moving e mail. I'm interested to hear that many others rate this lesser known piece as highly as I do.

I have been to Iona, a most extraordinary place where one can really get close to the spiritual. I wish had been there for the Gardiner concert which, I heard, the musicians played for free of charge. It must have been a moment of rare and exquisite beauty.

Bradley Lehman wrote (September 24, 2004):
http://launch.groups.yahoo.com/group/BachCantatas/message/9981
John Pike wrote:
< Many thanks for this deeply moving e mail. I'm interested to hear that many others rate this lesser known piece as highly as I do. I have been to Iona, a most extraordinary place where one can really get close to the spiritual. I wish had been there for the Gardiner concert which, I heard, the musicians played for free of charge. It must have been a moment of rare and exquisite beauty. >
Me too. That abbey at Iona really is lovely. So is the walk from the port town out to that end of the island. I can't say I enjoyed the bus ride on Mull that much, though! :) [Ferry from Oban to Mull, then a 90-minute bus ride to the other end of Mull, then ferry to Iona; and reverse it all to get back. Whole day, for only a few hours on Iona.]

Some of that time on Iona (in October 1998) I spent in the little chapel about halfway across the island, improvising organ music in there. Nobody else around.

When Gardiner was there in 2000, did he bring the whole chorus and band (including a chamber organ) across on that bus and ferry? Quite a commitment to using that remotely located and wonderful space.

Peter Smaill wrote (September 24, 2004):
[To Bradley Lehman] The Iona concerts on Thursday 27 and Friday 28 th July 2000 were with a small scale group from the Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists, from memory no more than a dozen singers, 6 sopranos and two per part otherwise, and fewer than than 20 instrumentalists.The soloists were programmed as :

soprano Joanne Lunn
alto David Taylor
tenor James Gilchrist
bass Stephen Varcoe

You can perhaps imagine , in the setting of the Abbey, what the effect of "Gottes Zeit" BWV 106 was on the hearers of the intoned Nunc Dimittis and descending ululation of the exposed soprano appeal, "Herr Jesu!"

A digression .The Abbey houses the marble tomb of the Duke and Duchess of Argyll, she being Princess Louise, daughter of Queen Victoria. From the point of Prince Albert's last hours , when the children played Bach chorales on the Bechstein outside his rooms, to the enthusiastic support of Prince Charles for the Gardiner cantata project ( he himself sang Bass under David Willcocks in the 300th anniversary concert of Bach's birth (on 21 March 1985) there seems to be an affinity in the royal line for Bach although exactly how continuous I leave to others to determine.

Aryeh Oron wrote (October 1, 2004):
Neil Halliday wrote:
< [snip] Meanwhile, Jürgens apparently desirable recording [5] is languishing on LP... >
Better later than never...

The Jürgens' recording of BWV 118 was re-issued in CD form as a part of Teldec Bach-2000 edition - Vol. 7. See: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV118.htm [5]

John Pike wrote (October 1, 2004):
[To Aryeh Oron] I have been listening to the recording by Timothy Roberts/His Majesty's Sagbutts and Cornetts [23] of the original version of BWV 118 (1736) with no strings/oboes, possibly originally performed on a funeral procession. It is very moving. It comes on an album called "A Bach album", together with arrangements for brass and soloists of some other Bach pieces.

Dale Gedcke wrote (October 1, 2004):
[To John Pike] The recording you mention below sounds like an attractive album to purchase. Can you please list the information I (and possibly others) will need to locate and purchase that CD?

Thanks,

John Pike wrote (October 1, 2004):
[To Dale Gedcke]
Amazon.co.uk

Neil Halliday wrote (October 2, 2004):
BWV 118

Listen to three samples:

Roberts [23]: Amazon.com

Jürgens [5] (thanks, Aryeh, for mentioning this CD transfer): Amazon.com

Gardiner [15] (with strings): Amazon.co.uk

All attractive versions.

Dale Gedcke wrote (October 9, 2004):
John Pike wrote:
< I have been listening to the recording by Timothy Roberts/His Majesty's Sagbutts and Cornetts [23] of the original version of BWV 118 (1736) with no strings/oboes, possibly originally performed on a funeral procession. It is very moving. It comes on an album called "A Bach album", together with arrangements for brass and soloists of some other Bach pieces. >
Per John Pike's recommendation, I ordered a copy of the CD that contains BWV 118. I received it today. It is a great performance of a variety of Bach's compositions (21 selections)! What is interesting is that the players use historical sackbutts (the original trombone) and cornetts (a.k.a., cornetti, zinks).

Trumpets, cello, violone, timpani, organ, and 1 to 4 voices are also included in various cantatas. The rendition of BWV 118 is good, and the 14 intricate canons are intriguing. But you will likely be most impressed with the surprising sound and dynamics of the last cantata on the CD, BWV 29/7!

I bought this CD so that I could sample the sound of cornetti and sackbuts. The sound is excellent. The cornetti (basically a woodwind with a trumpet mouthpiece) sound close to the tone of a modern brass Bb cornet, and possibly closer to the tone of an Eb cornet. The sackbuts sound pretty close to a modern trombone. Of course connoisseurs of trumpets, cornets, zinks, sackbutts and trombones will, no doubt, detect a tonal distinction.

The full designation of this CD is:

A Bach Album; His Majesty's Consort of Voices, His Majesty's Sagbutts and Cornetts; Timothy Roberts, director; HYPERION CDA67247, published in 2002 [23].

I highly recommend this CD! John provides the link to this CD on Amazon.com below: Amazon.co.uk

Continue of this part of the discussion, see: A bach Album - Timothy Roberts & HMS&C [Performers]

 

Dartington International Summer School

Tom Dent wrote (August 7, 2005):
May be known to some people as the place where Imogen Holst put together a famous mixed amateur-professional performance of the BMM (BWV 232) about a half-century ago (with Peter Pears among the soloists and clarinets on the clarino lines...)

Well it's still going strong as a summer school and last week I attended some of their courses. The Chamber Choir of which I was a member did two cantatas, numbers BWV 25 and BWV 118, with the accompaniment of the Baroque Orchestra and Early Brass groups. It cannot be claimed that we had authentic 'litui', but cornetts and Baroque trombones were much in evidence. The choir was directed by John Hancorn, and also performed 'A Canticle of Man' by centenary-man Rawsthorne on a text based on the book of Job. This was an interesting piece (flute, string ensemble and baritone solo along with the chorus) which one might claim to be about the closest 20th century analogue to a Bach cantata... see for example: MusicWeb .

Back to Bach, the tuning data for those who care were as follows: BWV 25 was at 'Cammerton' with chamber organ and harpsichord, probably in Vallotti / Young - which is what Colin Booth puts on all the instruments he loans to the summer school. BWV 118 was at modern pitch and, being unencumbered by string or keyboard instruments, was entirely free-tuning.

The first chorus of BWV 25 is notably difficult to sing (in terms of both its melodic intervals and breath control), which may be correlated in some way with its subject matter. In principle, with good enough singers and quiet enough brass, there is no reason why BWV 25 should not be done with one to a part up until the closing chorale. However, the mass of sound of brass instruments of BWV 118 would probably overwhelm solo singers. It should be remembered that in the version with full brass the piece was probably a funeral motet meant for open-air performance, a quite different setting from most cantatas.

BWV 25 presents many unusual features, such as the use of three recorders in unison to project the Passion chorale melody along with the cornett and trombones. I cannot offhand remember many instances of Bach explicitly asking for several players on a part. Of course the chorale itself is so simple that any three of his children could have
done it...

As remarked in a previous (2002) discussion, the first chorus starts and ends on a chord of E major but has no key signature, thus being nearly in the Phrygian mode - although it sounds like a somewhat off-centre A minor.

Next year Dartington are due to do the BMM (BWV 232) again, this time with 'period instruments' for the first time. With Imogen Holst the rehearsals took several weeks; this time it is supposed to be prepared within a single week. The conductor (Skidmore?) will have his work cut out.

 

Continue on Part 2

Cantata BWV 118: Details & Complete Recordings | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

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