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Cantata BWV 124
Meinen Jesum laß ich nicht
Discussions - Part 2

Continue from Part 1

Discussions in the Week of February 4, 2007

Ed Myskowski wrote (February 3, 2007):
Introduction to BWV 124 - "Meinen Jesum laß ich nicht"

Discussion for the week of Feb. 4, 2007

Cantata BWV 124- "Meinen Jesum laß ich nicht", 1st Sunday after Epiphany

Date of composition for first performance, January 7, 1725. Text, data on recordings, readings for the day, commentary, and previous discussion can be found at: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV124.htm

including the following specific links:

Previous Discussion: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV124-D.htm
Provenance: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Ref/BWV124-Ref.htm
Commentaries:

It is especially important to point out that this week resumes our chronologic discussion of Bach's Sacred and Secular Cantatas. In contrast to three earlier weeks, but similar to last week's BWV 37, there is no question of the authenticity, or of the date of composition, for BWV 124, the 1st Sunday after Epiphany, 1725. Note that although we have taken a four week break, this cantata was originally performed one day after the consecutively numbered BWV 123! This pair seems critical in the ongoing discussion about possible methods and scenarios for Bach's compositions, including an exchange a few weeks ago, already entered in BWV 124 archived discussion. Because most of the commentary is of necessity speculative (used without the slightest pejorative intent!) it results in lively debate, with the risk of occasional open warfare. Carry on, gents.

I continue to rely on Dürr for the basis of the introduction. His text is concise, with up to date scholarly status, and likely priced out of the range of most BCML participants. Since this is the final introduction of my current series, I would like to once again acknowledge and thank Alain Brugières for establishing this model in his own series of introductions.

Dürr:
<The text of this cantata [...] refers to the Gospel reading. The faithful Christian, like Jesus' parents at one time, desires not to lose Jesus but to follow him in all circumstances. Thus far, the choice of the hymn by Christian Keymann of 1658 as the model of this chorale cantata is comprehensible. Further on, however, the biblical account and the chorale text depart from each other considerably: the one tells of the rediscovery of Jesus in the temple; the other turns our thoughts to future life on earth (verse 2), to death (verse 3), to reunification with Jesus after death (verse 4), and to the futility of the world (verse 5). Moreover, the anonymous librettist, who adapts each of these verses to form a madrigalian movement, has taken no steps to establish further links with the Sunday Gospel. Instead, he gives free rein to a truly baroque predilection for graphic descriptions of death and disdain for this world.

<The opening chorus (Mvt. 1) follows the usual scheme: the choir sings the chorale line by line in a texture either homophonic or lightly broken up into polyphony, while the orchestra develops its own thematic material in the introduction episodes, and accompanying passages. The initial theme has the character of a minuet, but soon the oboe d'amore detaches itself from the instrumental body and takes the lead in concertante passages. Alternately, it is supported by the strings, which simplify its figuration in the tuttis, or accompanied by continuo alone, as it repeats and varies the motive heard previously in an echo-like fashion. The line 'To stick to him like a bur' is accorded a very striking interpretation: alto, tenor, and bass all unite on a long held 'b' to the word 'kleben' ('stick').

< A brief secco recitative is followed by the first aria, Mvt. 3, whose words are set no less graphically. The strings add hints of a realized continuo accompaniment to the obbligato of the oboe d'amore. Their rhythmic ostinato figure, which pervades the entire movement apart from a few cadential bars, reflects the words 'fear and terror': [music examples omitted] (compare the accompaniment to 'Warum wollt ihr erschrecken?' from the Christmas Oratorio, No. 49).

<The second recitative, Mvt. 4, is another secco: only on the word 'Lauf' ('run') does it forego its plain declamation in favor of a semiquaver octave scale figure. In the duet that follows, Mvt. 5, dance-style genres are recalled still more obviously than in the opening movement. The voice parts - accompanied by continuo only - are canonic at every entry. Yet this imitation is so completely subordinate to the clear periodic four-bar phrase structure[,] that linear polyphony recedes beneath the dance-like rhythms. The sixth verse of the hymn, in unaltered wording, concludes the work in a plain four-part chorale setting. <end quote>

Personal comments:

I believe someone else has already noted Dürr's virtually formulaic final sentences re the chorale settings, a definite shortcoming in this text. Fortunately, Aryeh and Thomas Braatz (and others, sorry to leave you anon.) have made BCW the benchmark for chorale references, so the shortcoming in Dürr is easily rectified for those who are interested in more detail. Given that we are now resuming discussion of the chorale cantata cycle (Jahrgang II), this is probably a good point for discussion, that is, the relation of the hymn to the cantata structure.

I have only just begun to listen to recordings of BWV 124, and will provide some comments during the week, along with catch-up on BWV 37 and BWV 202. I would encourage others to do the same, especially on the thinly covered (so far) BWV 37.

Thanks to everyone who has participated in, or simply read the discussions for these five weeks. I gather that compared to previous years, the participation for this post-holiday season has been unusually large and lively, even if not especially well focussed on Bach this past week. Thanks again, guys (current American usage!)

I have greatly enjoyed my first experience preparing the introductions. Like everything else on BCML, it has been a pleasant surprise, not at all a chore, and very educational and enlightening. I would encourage other BCML members to give it a try if you are even remotely tempted. Music majors (you know who you are) especially welcome! I am not one, I hasten to remind you, as my final word.

Oops, not quite. As I prepared to post, I realized I had not corrected the cantata title in my template and subject line. In doing so, I found my first need to try out new found skills writing ß. Hope it comes through correctly, apologies if not. I gave it my best shot.

Douglas Cowling wrote (February 3, 2007):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
< The opening chorus follows the usual scheme: the choir sings the chorale line by line in a texture either homophonic or lightly broken up into polyphony, while the orchestra develops its own thematic material in the introduction episodes, and accompanying passages. The initial theme has the character of a minuet, but soon the oboe d'amore detaches itself from the instrumental body and takes the lead in concertante passages. >
I'm loathe to correct Dürr, but doesn't this chorus have the form of a sarabande not a minuet?

I was struck how closely this chorus resembles the structure of "Wachet Auf" with the independent orchestral themes freely mingling with chorale-fantasy. The lower parts of "Wachet Auf" of course are much more complex than this cantata.

Here we also have a wonderful example of word-painting which is quite funny. At "klettenweis'an ihm zu kleben" all the voices latch on a unison note like a burr and hold on for four long bars. Like our much-maligned chickens, I think this passage comes under the category of "delight" rather than slap-stick comedy.

Ed Myskowski wrote (February 3, 2007):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< Here we also have a wonderful example of word-painting which is quite funny. At "klettenweis'an ihm zu kleben" all the voices latch on to a unison note like a burr and hold on for four long bars. >
Thanks for highlighting this word-painting, which I had thought of but neglected to mention in my haste to be timely, and also for correcting Dürr's spelling (bur), which I let slide as a direct quote.

< Like our much-maligned chickens, I think this passage comes under the category of "delight" rather than slap-stick comedy. >
Thanks also for coming to the defense of the chickens. I bought myself a very nice rooster netsuke for Xmas, in part to compensate for some of the savaging they have taken on these pages. I wore it to a friend's party, a young jazz singer, Tony Gallo. A name you might want to note for future reference, he certainly has the talent for more than local repute. It turns out Gallo means 'rooster' in Italian, and roosters are his decorative theme around the house, so I was very appropriate. You never know what good might come out of BCML squabbles.

Chris Rowson wrote (February 3, 2007):
Doug Cowling wrote:
"I'm loathe to correct Dürr, but doesn't this chorus have the form of a sarabande not a minuet?"
I agree, I feel it as sarabande rhythm. I can´t define exactly what makes me say this, but maybe it´s a "1 - 2 - (rest) 1 - 2 - (rest)" pattern, where are minuet has a different pattern, or one of many different ones in fact, but never that sarabande step.

Ed Myskowski wrote (February 3, 2007):
[To Chris Rowson] One thing for sure, you feel it as a dance from the first measure. Thanks be to the big Someone for the quotes on my attribution, and to you guys for carefully noting it was Dürr, not me. Nevertheless, not bad company in which to be wrong!

Neil Halliday wrote (February 4, 2007):
Unlike the opening chorus of BWV 37, the structure of this one is transparent and relatively easy to comprehend, and does not require much analysis for its enjoyment. The chorale (cantus firmus) in the sopranos is also relatively easy to discern.

One feature of this movement is the occurrence of instrumental trills. Notice those particularly after the third line of text, where we have a sequence of alternating trills between the upper strings and the continuo, with the upper string trills (with oboe holding a note) occurring in `three voices' rather than unison as in other places in the score. This makes for a rich sound if the violas as well as 1st and 2nd violins are clearly heard, as in the Rilling recording [3]. The Rilling booklet describes these as "curiously spiky trills".

Listening to the samples, I found Koopman's ritornello [9] to be light, almost emasculated; and Leusink [10] fails to pay much attention to the above-mentioned trills, as well as allowing the oboe to become inaudible at times. I found the other recordings to be satisfactory.

The tenor aria, with its groups of repeated notes, reminds me of BWV 37's bass aria, but instead of the imagery of "stirring of wings" we now have the suggestion (in the repeated notes) of "hard death-strokes". Both the arias are tuneful and attractive; once again, I like all the recordings.

The continuo of BWV 124's SA duet has some similarity with that of BWV 37's SA duet, and perhaps even more with the continuo of the 2nd aria of BWV 202. I complained about Rilling's rendition of the continuo in BWV 202, but here it is full of interest, with strong cello line (no double bass) and attractive harpsichord realisation. The female vocalists in this SA duet are satisfactory (with controlled vibrato) in both the Richter [1] and Rilling [3] recordings. Koopman [9] has nice voices spoilt by the rattly, dainty organ realisation. Leusink had a pleasing BWV 37 duet, but not in BWV 124 [10] - the cello line is weak, and the organ realisation is dainty. In contrast, Richter has a very tasteful organ realisation.


Suzuki [11] is too fast in the final chorale; the `walking' bass emphasizes this version's rushed character. (His opening movement also strikes me as uncomfortably fast, after listening to the other versions. Also, is the harpsichord a bit noisy in Suzuki's duet? (It might be the internet sample's poor quality I am hearing). Otherwise,
as is the case for all the recordings, no news is good news.

Russell Telfer wrote (February 4, 2007):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< I'm loathe to correct Dürr, but doesn't this chorus have the form of a sarabande not a minuet? >
Minuet or sarabande? There is some evidence for both. At the start it's fairly regular three-in-a-bar but later there are an increasing number of entries on the second beat and the bass in particular is busy in the middle of the bar.

I looked at the choral parts of Meinen Jesum laß ich nicht. IMO, it would not be difficult for any choir to sing this opening chorus (the notes if not the words) for the usual reasons: movement in steps with very few leaps; short phrases; no elaborate modulations.

The implications are that Bach - or any conductor - could cut down on rehearsal time and give his troops a rest. Comments from choir directors might be helpful.

Julian Mincham wrote (February 4, 2007):
minuet or sarabande?

Douglas Cowling wrote:
<< I'm loathe to correct Dürr, but doesn't this chorus have the form of a sarabande not a minuet? >>
Chris Rowson wrote:
< I agree, I feel it as sarabande rhythm. I can´t define exactly what makes me say this, but maybe it´s a “1 ? 2 ? (rest) 1 ? 2 ? (rest)” pattern, where are minuet has a different pattern, or one of many different ones in fact, but never that sarabande step. >
I am completely at a loss to see how one feels this as a sarabande rather than as a minuet. It depends a bit on the tempo and interpretation I suppose but the rhythmic structure and 'bounce' seem to have much more of a feel of the more courtly minuet than the (usually slower and dignified despite its origins) sarabande.

If in doubt, compare this to the opening chorus of BWV 6 which has clearly a sarabande quality. The difference in 'feel' is almost physical.

Continue of this part of the discussion, see: Dance Movements in Bach’s Vocal Works

Douglas Cowling wrote (February 4, 2007):
Russell Telfer wrote:
< I looked at the choral parts of Meinen Jesum laß ich nicht. IMO, it would not be difficult for any choir to sing this opening chorus (the notes if not the words) for the usual reasons: movement in steps with very few leaps; short phrases; no elaborate modulations.
The implications are that Bach - or any conductor - could cut down on rehearsal time and give his troops a rest. Comments from choir directors might be helpful. >
This occurred to me as well. I have never understood why Bach's choral writing varies so widely in difficulty from cantata to cantata. I've never discerned a pattern and it doesn't seem to be related to its position in the church year or proximity to more difficult pieces. There are however distinct grades of difficulty in the cantatas which I would hazard a guess must be related to the ensembles which performed them.

Douglas Cowling wrote:
Ed Myskowski wrote (February 5, 2007):
[To Douglas Cowling] I emphasized in my introduction this week, the sequential performance of BWV 123 and 124 on Jan 6 and 7, 1725. If you look back to Dec. 25, 1724, you will realize that it is in fact even more impressive, the culminatof a performance of 7 cantatas in 14 days, after the Advent break subsequent to BWV 91 (for the First Sunday in Advent, 1724).

I am biding my time, because Julian has made us aware that he has work awaiting publication on the topic, but this two week period would seem to be at the very core of the body of compositions which is Jahrgang II. The overall average pace of composition, about one cantata per week, plus a passion for good measure, and miscellaneous other chores, is difficult enough to comprehend for a mere mortal. To suggest that a group of 7 over two weeks would be composed sequentially, independently, (even allowing for work over the break) is mind-boggling, to use a polite phrase.

Julian Mincham wrote (February 5, 2007):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< This occurred to me as well. I have never understood why Bach's choral writing varies so widely in difficulty from cantata to cantata. >
Interestingly it often differs very much within the same movements, particularly the writing for the non cantus firmus voices in the chorale fantasias. On occasions the writing seems to change on virtually every phrase. The range of variety in these instances can often be related to the text.

Neil Halliday wrote (February 5, 2007):
Staccato in 124/1

Bach indicates this at the start, presumably to indicate a detached articulation of the crotchets in the strings and continuo. It's interesting to compare the approaches of Harnoncourt [4] and Koopman [9] (ritornello samples available at BCW).

Apart from the awful, rattly little organ that is quite intrusive at the start in Koopman's recording [9], I would say Koopman uses staccato to excess, breaking up the flow of the music, which sounds incongruous set against the grand sweep of the opening choral phrase.

Harnoncourt's articulation [4] allows the music to flow somewhat more naturally, IMO.

Xavier Rist wrote (February 6, 2007):
Cantata BWV 124 Meinen Jesum laß; ich nicht

All three main movements of this admirable cantata are in ternary rhythm. It is certainly uncommon. Let's hope that someone in the group can tell us how many cantatas, if any, share that characteristic, and its possible symbolic or theological implications.

I have listened to five versions: Leusink [10], Rilling [3], Harnoncourt [4], Richter [1] and Suzuki [11].

Mvt. 1 Chorus
It starts with a tutti motive with a characteristic trill, on dotted ¾ rhythm, in a festive E major, from which the oboe d'amore quickly emancipates to start a long chain of sixteenth notes, concerto like. Those two elements will alternate or be superimposed in the orchestra all along. After 20 bars or so, the choir comes in and quite simply enunciates the choral, sopranos taking the melody as Cantus Firmus (converted in ¾ and doubled by a corno da caccia), other voices harmonising it in supple lines. The last note of each period is prolonged a few bars in the sopranos (7 bars for the last one!) which allows altos tenors and basses to elaborate a nice codetta on harmonic pedal. In between periods we go back to the oboe concerto for a short instrumental interlude. But there is more than this summary description. For instance, notice how Periods 5 and 6 of the choral, melodically identical to P1 and P4, are arranged in a completely different way both in the lower vocal parts and in the orchestra. Remarkable is the fact that, with the exception of the 4 opening bars once (but it is hidden behind the choir so one does not perceive it as a return) and 4 bars in the coda, there is no return of any kind, no repetition in the orchestra and oboe interventions. They are all new, different and varied, and the oboes' sixteenth sound like a long flow endlessly perpetuating itself without ever retracing its own steps. All along it is full of small "surprise" episodes like when the basses take over the dotted rhythm for two bars or gather in unison with tenors and altos after the sopranos (figuring the word "kleben") or when the orchestra plays with the trill motive for a few bars. So the overall impression is one of great freshness and spontaneity. One could almost say it is "durchkomponiert". There would be a great book to write on how Bach, in almost every opening chorus, invents his own unique musical form. Has it been done?

[3] Rilling emphasizes the dynamic contrasts in his first tutti which gives it relief and character. He enjoys his usual excellent choir and an oboe whose imaginative articulation and phrasing are a delight. Too bad the horn has to be guessed more than really heard, but that's the same with all versions.
[10] Well, all but Leusink who simply doesn't use one. Why? Otherwise he gives a good rendition, maybe a bit neutral. As always the choir is disappointing but it has been worse.
[1] Richter is slower, borderline pompous. His huge choir makes great effect in those long simple lines but his oboe is really too mechanical. Harnoncourt's tempo is very close to those of Rilling and Leusink. He opposes to an intimate and dancing orchestral instalment a straightforward and forte choir entrance. That's a viable option. And when the perilous oboe part is so musically shaped one overcomes easily the few intonation and articulation problems coming with the historical instrument - in that case it even adds some charm.
[4] I am pretty sure Harnoncourt has a trumpet play the horn part and I wonder why. Finally, let's be picky and point that the long B sung in unison by altos tenors and basses in the middle of the piece ("kleben") is ugly and out of tune.
[11] Suzuki is faster, a little too fast for my taste and for the sake of his oboist who can't afford any phrasing finesse, busy that he is getting the notes played in tempo. The chamber choir is better than Leusink's although the basses sound forced at times.

Mvt. 3 Aria (T, oboe d'amore, strings)
In his first phrase, the tenor manages to reach the high A and finish on the low E, with in between a descending diminished 7th followed by an augmented 4th, all that within six notes and five beats! For me this is indeed one of Bach's most extraordinary tenor arias, the kind that leaves you panting, shivering and in tears. It's totally on the par with St John's "Ach, mein Sinn". Both are in F sharp minor, both are in 3/4, both use dotted rhythm and are "anguish" arias. But specific to this aria are the broken singing line that carries on in a zigzagging way and interlaces with the incredibly melancholic and desperate melody of the oboe d'amore, counterbalanced by an obligato rhythmic motive (repeated chords in sixteenth notes on each first beat) in the strings. Like always with the greatest Bach, much more than the literal illustration of a text full of imagery, it is the musical incarnation of its deepest metaphysical implications.

[3] Rilling is fast, he rushes into the music with urge. Baldin is intense, almost heroic, full voice all the way. Not my favourite but powerful and effective.
[10] Facing heavy competition, Schoch has nothing to be ashamed of. His singing is faultless, with beautiful tenuto notes, in a sort of resigned but expressive way. Behind him, Leusink crafts a well designed scenery but just that, a scenery.
[11] Weller does an excellent job too, Suzuki providing an interesting accompaniment, but it's not quite enough for this aria.
[1] I hadn't heard Haefliger's voice since many years. What a gorgeous timbre! Unfortunately, Richter treats the rhythmic motive like if it was a harmless accompaniment formula (whit will soon become in the 1770's international "gallant style") whilst in Bach's music it is rather rare and obviously meaningful here.
Harnoncourt is captivating from the very first note. He has his strings literally whip the chords in the most terrifying way. On this implacable rhythmic frame his oboe d'amore manages to sing with a heart breaking freedom, like a wandering soul.
[4] Enters Kurt Equiluz, and it is like your very fellow man grasps you and pour Bach's genius directly into your soul. What is it with this man that makes him so moving? Is it the gravity, the intensity and depth of his expression of which every drop comes to life through his "flexible and penetrating" voice, as so well put by Aryeh in a previous post? Is it his humility and total lack of affectation? Here, while still being profoundly human, he reaches the highest level of spiritual truth. He is for me everything a bachian interpreter should be. Yes, I get carried away and yes, I revere the man but seriously, guys, shouldn't we be grateful to the so many moments of beauty we owe this wonderful artist? Listen to his attack of the second half ("Und wenn der Harte" bar 35 and after), it is to die for. On a completely different note, I would be curious to know why Harnoncourt takes the license of having the singer and orchestra do triplets on "doch tröstet sich" instead of 2 sixteenth and 1 eighth note.

Mvt. 5 Duet Soprano/Alto.
What Bach does in his opening chorus (playing with form) he does it also very often with arias, on a smaller scale. This jubilant duet seems simple but if you take the time of looking into it in terms of composition, you will discover that it is an amazingly precise and refined piece of clock-making. Let's just say that, although it's an ABA form (there is a big da capo), it could as well be called a Rondo (the swirling continuo ritornello keeps coming back and gives a clear feeling of refrain) or a Fugue, since every vocal interventions are regular fugue entrances at four bars distance (the subject being the ritornello theme).There is even a contra subject (soprano bar 16-20) which will be used as subject in the fugue episodes of the second part.

[10] Holton and Buwalda (Leusink) seem well suited for this kind of duet, but they have both intonation problems scattered all over.
[3] Augér and Watts give the piece a "popular dance" touch, helped by Rilling's moderate tempo and a monotonous continuo realisation.
[4] Harnoncourt uses two boys from Tölzer Knabenchor. They both have the usual difficulty pulling off some sound on the low range, and tempo tends to drag after a while, but finally they acquit their task with guts. Their application and seriousness are touching.
[1] I like Richter's fast tempo and his continuo (organ and bassoon). The ladies' singing is somewhat quaint but they manage to convey a true feeling of joy.
[11] Suzuki is even faster, light and dancing, and catches the spirit of the piece. His elfin singers (Nonoshita and Blaze) are just perfect and seem to have great fun.

Mvt. 6 Choral
Everybody does the final choral in his own way but Richter's choir [1] here is so enormous than it sounds like if the whole Leipzig population has gathered in St Thomas. Maybe not historically accurate (or is it, on another level?), but definitely rejoicing to the heart and ears.

Conclusion
In my opinion there are excellent things in all recordings but Harnoncourt [4] is a "must have", if only for the tenor aria (Mvt. 3). For the other movements my ideal version would be Rilling [3] for Mvt. 1, Suzuki [11] for Mvt. 5 and Richter [1] for the choral (Mvt. 6). That was the first time I listened to Suzuki's work. I am well impressed and look forward to hear more from him.

As well as to read your posts, comrades. And yes I will start a thread "Let us praise Kurt Equiluz!" in a few days.

Chris Stanley wrote (February 6, 2007):
Xavier R wrote
< Harnoncourt [4] uses two boys from Tölzer Knabenchor. They both have the usual difficulty pulling off some sound on the low range, and tempo tends to drag after a while, but finally they acquit their task with guts. Their application and seriousness are touching. >
Actually Xavier these are not anonymous boys for a change, but Stefan Rampf (alto) and Alan Bergius (treble), so we can actually use their names........................

No specularite needed!!!

Neil Halliday wrote (February 6, 2007):
Xavier Rist wrote: (of the tenor aria)
<Harnoncourt [4] is captivating from the very first note. He has his strings literally whip the chords in the most terrifying way. On this implacable rhythmic frame his oboe d'amore manages to sing with a heart breaking freedom, like a wandering soul. Enters Kurt Equiluz, and it is like your very fellow man grasps you and pour Bach's genius directly into your soul.>
Thanks for this vivid descripion of Harnoncout's very original and powerful treatment of this aria. Equiluz can certainly bring emotional intensity to this type of aria, without resorting to the hard-edged 'theatrics' of Baldin (with Rilling).

This is not the usual 'da capo' aria; the singer simply sings the six lines of text straight through three times, without repeating words or syllables along the way (Matheson would be pleased!). [Third time, the two middle lines of text are omitted]. No coloraturas, only a few ornaments.

Thanks also for your interesting comments about the other movements, pointing out some aspects of the music I had not considered.

Xavier Rist wrote (February 6, 2007):
[To Chris Stanley] I know, Chris, that was negligent of me not to put their name but in my defense this is a free commentary not the amazon catalog (where they are given due recognition)

I understand perfectly your desire to pull, whenever possible, those boys out of their anonymity purgatory. After all they are part of musical history now.

As a child, I spent several years in a boy's choir where the policy was also to keep the soloist's unnamed, so I am used the other point of view.

I guess the reason was to avoid jealousy between members and increase the community feeling: everybody was equally in the service of the institution. It has a certain nobleness and is certainly ethically defendable.

Ed Myskowski wrote (February 6, 2007):
Xavier Rist wrote:
< As well as to read your posts, comrades. And yes I will start a thread "Let us praise Kurt Equiluz!" in a few days. >
Kurt Equiluz [4]? Does (or did) he endorse the 'Harnoncourt doctrine', or is he just a singer in the band? This could get interesting!

Ed Myskowski wrote (February 6, 2007):
[To Xavier Rist] Some of us (well, me, for sure) see 'in the service of the institution' as the operative phrase. To be struggled against at every opportunity. Power to the people!

Xavier Rist wrote (February 6, 2007):
[To Ed Myskowski] Ed, do you mean you never heard him sing? In that case you are up for a great discovery!

His artistry goes way beyond any doctrine...
He is the main tenor in Harnoncourt/Leonhardt cycle but he recorded also a good number of cantatas with Rilling and numerous other conductors. Although he was never a star (but what oratorio singer is?), in the 70's and 80's every Bach conductor in Europe wanted to work with him. Needless to say he was quite busy at Easter time.

Bradley Lehman wrote (February 16, 2007):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
<< Kurt Equiluz [4]? Does (or did) he endorse the 'Harnoncourt doctrine', or ihe just a singer in the band? This could get interesting! >>
Xavier Rist wrote:
< Ed, do you mean you never heard him sing? In that case you are up for a great discovery!
His artistry goes way beyond any doctrine... >
I believe that Ed's quip about "The Harnoncourt doctrine" was a wry joke.

"The Harnoncourt doctrine" doesn't exist, except to one person who blathers on about it for years on the BCML: a person who regularly states a personal distaste and often bewilderment against Harnoncourt's work. "The Harnoncourt doctrine" is his (Thomas Braatz's) label to mock and belittle it.

He also uses that term as a sweeping backhand against anyone else whom he accuses of "following" it ("it" being any performance practice that Thomas Braatz despises and blames on Harnoncourt); as if modern expert musicians are just stupid camp-followers and unable to think.

Search http://www.bach-cantatas.com for "harnoncourt doctrine" if you don't believe my assessment on this. Search Results

Neil Halliday wrote (February 7, 2007):
Introduction to BWV 124 - 'Harnoncourt Doctrine'

Ed Myskowski wrote:
>Kurt Equiluz? Does (or did) he endorse the 'Harnoncourt doctrine', or is he just a singer in the band?<
To be fair, Tom's invention of the term "Harnoncourt doctrine", on this list, primarily refers to the drastically shortened accompanying continuo chords in secco recitatives, a method that Harnoncourt espoused for performances in his "historically correct" approach to the cantatas, even to the extent of ignoring figured bass harmonies actually supplied by Bach Tom sees flaws in the scholarship surrounding this matter.

For my part I simply wish, and I suspect along with many other long-suffering listeners, that we could have some variety in the instrumental accompaniment to secco recitatives, so that they become as interesting - as music - as the accompanied recitatives. It does seem a pity that the impact of the implied complex harmonies (eg, see the BCW piano reduction scores), and even the possibility of dynamic variation in long recitatives (you could actually add or subtract an organ stop before or after a cadence, for instance) are completely eschewed in current performance practice. (Regarding this issue, it seems Suzuki is still plugging along in the same boring, apparently `historically correct' fashion. Disappointing).

Ed Myskowski wrote (February 7, 2007):
Neil Halliday wrote:
< To be fair, Tom's invention of the term "Harnoncourt doctrine", on this list, primarily refers to the drastically shortened accompanying continuo chords in secco recitatives >
I'm not sure I agree that this is the 'primary' point in Tom's use of the term 'Harnoncourt doctrine', it is certainly not the only point. In fact, anything he doesn't like about an H&L performance is discredited with the term. With a bit of practice it is possible to read through or around his disparaging language, and get some useful information from his reviews, but I'm not sure it does him proud.

I was in fact posing an actual question, with a sly reference to the Beatles lyric:

'Molly was a singer in the band' (Obladi Oblada, I believe, but it has been a while, and not important enough to check).

< For my part I simply wish, and I suspect along with many other long-suffering listeners, that we could have some variety in the instrumental accompaniment to secco recitatives, so that they become as interesting - as music - as the accompanied recitatives. >
I could not agree more! The recitatives are an innovation, equal to the innovation of the varied structure of the opeing choruses in Jahrgang II. I eagerly await Julian's analysis.

I have been looking for a place to sneak in a comment from my friend Dan Stepner, violinist and writer (and, aside to Steve Benson, music director of the summer Aston Magna series), from his program notes to a recent performance of Beethoven's Op. 131 string quartet (yes, the same performance where Lily said 'Hi, Babe' to Paulina, for those following the details):

'The listener is rudely awakened by No. 3 - really a brusque little recitative in B minor'

This is the first time I have seen 'recitative' applied to purely instrumental music, a nice extension of Bach's innovation?

Jazz fans may be interested to know that the same program included a piece, 'Village Street String Quartet' by Cuban sax great Paquito D'Rivera, including Latin (Afro-Cuban) rhythms played on both the strings and wood of the quartet instruments. Wonderful, innovative, live, music (both the Beethoven and the D'Rivera)! Also the third piece on the program, 'Shadow Chase' (2003) by Yu-Hui Chang, an homage echoing the Beethoven.

Xavier Rist wrote (February 7, 2007):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
< 'The listener is rudely awakened by No. 3 - really a brusque little recitative in B minor'
This is the first time I have seen 'recitative' applied to purely instrumental music, a nice extension of Bach's innovation? >
Dear Ed, the notion of "instrumental recitative" is really not so uncommun.

No example comes to my mind in Haydn or Mozart (but maybe there is), so I guess it can be counted as one of the so many formal inventions of Beethoven, who used this process on several occasions, the most famous being the first section of the 9th symphony finale (right after the opening tutti). He even wrote on the cello and bass line "In the character of a recitative but in tempo". Another occurence would be the first part of the slow movement of op. 110 piano sonata (n. 31) which is pure recitative.

After Beethoven, numerous composers used that device extensively, notably Berlioz who admired it greatly. The opening bars of "Symphonie fantastique" are in fact a recitative.

Thomas Braatz wrote (February 9, 2007):
BWV 124 Provenance + Time Line

See: Cantata BWV 124 - Provenance

Bradley Lehman wrote (February 9, 2007):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< (lots of facts clipped) (...)
Likely Scenario: >

And here goes the fantasy-fiction again, leading off with a practically impossible axiom: Bach and family leaving all this to the last night before the performance. And ending with husband and wife finishing together.

Chris Rowson wrote (February 9, 2007):
[To Bradley Lehman] I thought it was very sweet.

Peter Bright wrote (February 9, 2007):
[To Thomas Braatz] I greatly enjoyed reading this suggested scenario. As you say, a hypothetical scene setting, but a well thought out one all the same... Many thanks for taking the time to do this (and please ignore the predictably sneering response from the usual suspect)....

Douglas Cowling wrote (February 9, 2007):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< OTwas the night before the 1st Sunday after Epiphany when the first performance of BWV 124 was to take place early on Sunday morning on January 7, 1725. >
This has about as much historical plausibility as "'Twas the Night Before Christmas". The notion that Bach was still composing on Saturday night and adding doubling instruments at the last minute so that his musicians could sight-read it the next day is practically impossible. The historical data at the beginning of the posting is valuable, but the rest is historical fiction. I'm perfectly happy to consider people's speculation as long it is not imbedded in factual information and presented as if it's documented.

Aryeh Oron wrote (February 9, 2007):
[To Bradley Lehman, Chris Rowson & Thomas Braatz] So, what is wrong with it? I found it quite entertaining as a possible scenario.

Please consider that ALL Bach biographies (yes, including The Learned Musician' by C. Wolff) are actually fiction based on the available facts and pseudo-facts (as the story about Johann, his brother and the moonlight).

Chris Rowson wrote (February 9, 2007):
[To Aryeh Oron] Yes, I take your point that all Bach biography is fiction based on the available sources. But here we have first material which is extremely useful, cwith fantasy which seems to me laughable.

Specifically, for example, the scenes with JSB and AMB, and particularly with AMB and the babies, strike me as reminiscent of bad mid-20th century film making, and very out of character for the 18th century scene.

Bradley Lehman wrote (February 9, 2007):
Aryeh Oron wrote:
< So, what is wrong with it? I found it quite entertaining as a possible scenario. >
"What is wrong with it?" Really? Do you want a point-by-point survey of all the sentences and clauses in it that are implausible? All right then, although I'm not going to spend more than 20 minutes on this because the whole thing's absurd. (And I'll grant that it's "entertaining" and "sweet"; but as Doug has already pointed out, it's presented *as if* it has historical possibility, coming after a couple of pages of useful facts!)

What follows is a copy of the whole fantasy scenario, and I'll simply mark with [***] all the spots that look impossible to me (as a practicing composer/performer and a good sight-reader myself), or at least questionable by current serious research, or simply like unsupported/unsupportable speculation for whatever reason.

The boy orchestra and singers were supposed to show up on Sunday morning with no advance preparation and sight-read this cantata BWV 124, as Thomas asserts?! From copies made only the night before, by candlelight? And an adequate performance before several hundred parishioners--in a major municipal church--was supposed to result from this, despite copying errors (mistaken bar count) in some of the parts? Errors that would be found how, without rehearsal?

Here goes:

< Likely Scenario: >
[***] ["If pigs had wings"]

< ‘Twas the night before the 1st Sunday after Epiphany when the first performance of BWV 124 was to take place early on Sunday morning on January 7, 1725. JSB, as usual, >
[***] ["As usual" based on what?]

< had not yet quite finished composing all the music for the cantata to be performed early the next morning and none of the parts had been copied as yet >
[***] [None of them? On what evidence, other than this fantasy itself?]

< since he has, during the last few days, been busy composing the score. Yet there was no need for unusual concern since this situation was fairly common >
[***] [According to what?]

< and the score and parts had always been prepared in time for the first performance.
After the Bach family’s evening meal, at which the two copyists, JAK and CGM were also present, >
[***] [Evidence that any of this copying was ever done at night at all, let alone after a family meal with guests?]

< the table was cleared and made ready for an evening devoted primarily to one activity: copying out the new parts from the score which was being finished right before the eyes of all who were present. >
[***] [Cue the fully-orchestrated soundtrack to this wonderful scene!]

< While AMB cleared the table, washed and dried the dishes, and put the two babies (ages 1 and 2) to bed, >
[***] ["A woman's work is never done..."]

< JAK, using a rastral, has already begun creating the staffs on the blank sheets of paper that JSB had brought to the table for this purpose.
After quickly finishing this task and while JSB is still working on finishing the final mvt., the 4-pt. chorale, on the final page of the score, >

[***] [Evidence that Bach is only getting to this important task of finishing the composition now, after dinner on Saturday night?]

< both JAK and CGM place themselves strategically on the long edge of the table with the fresh score of the first movement between them. As one less experienced and adept at copying, CGM copies more slowly than JAK does; also, JAK is able to quickly help CGM with any problems he might encounter as they work their way through mvt. 1. This makes it possible for JAK to copy out an entire instrumental part while CGM simultaneously concentrates on one vocal part. Of course, there may be times when CGM must patiently wait for JAK to finish the instrumental interludes. In essence, what happens is: >
[***] [So these guys are working together that closely and knowing their efficient working strategy ahead of time, on a composition that isn't even finished yet? How?]

< while JAK does the oboe d’amore part for mvt. 1, CGM copies out the soprano part; while JAK does the 1st violin part, CGM copies out the alto part; while JAK does the 2nd violin part, CGM copies out the tenor part; and while JAK does the viola part, CGM copies out the bass part. [It is also conceivable that JAK and CGM could be seated across from each other and would have exchanged, >
[***] [Any evidence at all that the parts were copied in this order?]

< as needed, pages of the score of mvt. 1 which is distributed over four separate pages.]
At this point CGM, who has learned much from JAK who offered help whenever needed, >

[***] [Wasn't he busy feverishly trying to get his own assignment done, by candlelight?]

< leaves the copy session, perhaps to go home. JAK, JSB’s true workhorse in these sessions, now turns his full attention to the important primary (untransposed) continuo part which must be prepared before the doublet and the transposed continuo parts can be prepared. JAK now prepares mvts. 1 through 4 of this continuo part, after which he turns his attention >
[***] [Ah, the shifting of attention can now be cited as historical fact!]

< to the missing mvts. in the tenor and bass parts (mvts. 2 &3 for tenor; mvt. 4 for bass), and mvt. 3 in the oboe, both violin and viola parts. In all of these parts that JAK has been copying, the complete final chorale for mvt. 6 is still unavailable >
[***] [And JS Bach has nothing better to do at this point than to be still finishing the composition? Such as minding any of the other children, or lifting a finger to help Anna Magdalena, or working on the way he's going to conduct the music in the morning, i.e. approaching the composition like a performer who will have to give cues, etc?]

< in the score and could not be included.
While JAK finishes these tasks, JSB has begun copying mvts. 5 and 6 into the primary continuo for which he supplies the figured bass for mvt. 1 to m 60 and also mvts. 2 & 4. At this point JAK leaves the copy session, >

[***] [Evidence that he went home early?]

< but not before JSB asks him >
[***] [Evidence that JSB said a word to him?]

< to stop by Gottfried Reiche’s house to inform him that he will be needed for the cantata performance early tomorrow morning. >
[***] [Yo, Reiche, show up tomorrow morning and bring your horn, we'll have something for you to sight-read. Sorry it's not finished yet, old bloke!]

< This comes as somewhat of a surprise to JAK >
[***] [The surprise of JAK is documented where?]

< since there is no indication anywhere in the score or on the separate title page that a brass instrument would be playing along. Bach explains that there is only one soprano who has been paid not to sing in the Currende, a group that has been singing itself hoarse all during the Christmas and New Year’s season. This means that the other sopranos >
[***] [What, more than one?]

< will probably not be able to sing with their full voices as needed for this cantata. Exit JAK. >
[***] [JAK's early departure that evening is documented where?]

< An unknown copyist now begins creating the Primary Continuo doublet but copies his material from the unrevised score and only finishes mvt. 1. Since there is more room at the table now, >
[***] [The size of Bach's household table is known? Where?]

< JSB now calls upon his eldest son, WFB, and gives him the job of finishing this copy project (which involves only reproducing the notes of the already completed Primary Continuo part verbatim, a part that JSB has just revised). >
[***] [Wait, just revised when? Revising it before he's finished the chorale yet?]

< Having finally finished the compof the last movement of the score, JSB now begins filling in mvt. 5 which had been inaccessible to the copyists since a portion of it is on the back side of the same page of the score which also has the final chorale. Both mvts. 5 and 6 are added by JSB to the Soprano, Alto, and Primary Continuo parts and mvt. 6 to the Tenor, Bass, Oboe d’amore, 1st and 2nd Violins, and Viola parts.
Having completed this task while having a watchful eye >
[***] [JSB has time and energy to supervise copyists, by candlelight, in a household with several small children?]

< over WFB’s progress with the Continuo doublet, JSB now begins the process of the correction of the other parts and the addition of marks or words to indicate articulation, embellishment, dynamics, tempi, etc. most of which were not in the score. Having finished the continuo doublet for which he receives praise from his father, >
[***] [Praise documented where?]

< WFB asks to be excused. >
[***] [Why? Is there somewhere else he needs to be?]

< Now, all alone, and motivated by the fact that the sopranos >
[***] [More than one?]

< may not be strong enough (have sufficient volume) to ensure the clear and certain delivery of the cantus firmus as he had explained to JAK, JSB now prepares an entirely new part for a brass instrument, Corno, playing colla parte as needed to give the required support for the sopranos >
[***] [More than one?]

< who, in all likelihood, will not be singing up to their usual high standard. Instead of looking at the Soprano part in the score, JSB takes the newly created Soprano part prepared by CGM and repeats the same mistake >
[***] [A mistake to be discovered only during tomorrow morning's sight-reading performance, too bad!]

< CGM made when he miscounted the number of rests for mm 117-123 in mvt. 1. Now, of course, JSB can add the final mvt. to the Corno part as well.
With this completed, there is a slight interruption:
AMB, who has already put the children to bed, is beginning to wonder >
[***] [This wondering is documented where?]

< when her husband will come to bed as well. He informs her >
[***] [This conversation is documented where? And while we're at it, was she disappointed or surprised by such news in any way, or was it just the normal way of life for people who leave impossible situations for themselves as last-minute work?]

< that he still needs to prepare the Organo part (with transposition and figures needed to be added) and “BTW, the Violin doublets still need to be copied.” >
[***] [As if nobody thought to finish them before?]

< To help things move along a little faster, AMB offers >
[***] [Conversation documented where? And she has energy to do any of this at night, by candlelight, in the coldest part of winter, after feeding the whole family and putting the youngest ones to bed...how?]

< to copy the Violin doublets which already have all of Bach’s corrections and additions included. Meanwhile JSB completes the last important element >
[***] [Other than anybody PRACTICING THE MUSIC...]

< needed for the performance tomorrow morning: the transposed and figured Organo parts for all of the mvts. of this cantata.
JSB and
AMB both finish their tasks at about the same time. Before extinguishing the candles, JSB writes at the end of the Organo part: “Fine SDG”, the same conclusion he had used after finishing the composition of the final chorale earlier that same evening. >
[***] [The evidence of a Saturday-night composition of that chorale
is...where?]

< Thomas Braatz >
[***] [Oh, THERE's the evidence! The all-seeing and all-knowing eyewitness to the event! Well then, that makes it all true, I guess. I sorta wish he'd pointed out how long it actually takes to prepare a handwritten cantata part, by candlelight with dipping ink, in a cold house in winter; just so we understand from a practical point of view.]

That's more than enough of my time wasted on this absurdity. (An equal amount of time to actually listening to a recording of BWV 124.)

Ed Myskowski wrote (February 9, 2007):
Aryeh Oron wrote:
< So, what is wrong with it? I found it quite entertaining as a possible scenario. >
One thing (of perhaps many) wrong with it: it strains even my naive credulity to accept the possibility that BWV 124 was composed and prepared in the less than 24 hour period after the performance of BWV 123, on Epiphany, Jan 6, 1725. Once we recognize that the composition of BWV 124 most likely overlapped with others in the group of 7, beginning with BWV 62, for the First Sunday in Advent, Dec 3, 1724, and continuing through the Christmas and New Years group, to Epiphany, then there is no need to propose the last minute rush to completion.

I suppose anyone is free to propose such a scenario, and it cannot be disproven. But as I read them, the church musicians on list are even more incredulous than I am, supported by their performing experience.

I continue to suggest that it would be far more productive and enlightening to 'specularite' (thanks to fellow geologist Chris Stanley for that one!) on possible working methods, reflecting the availability of text booklets, and the need for clusters of cantatas, with large gaps at Advent and Lent. The group from BWV 62 through BWV 124 strikes me as an ideal spot to begin.

Perhaps Julian has already done something along these lines, and it is awaiting publication?

Peter Bright wrote (February 9, 2007):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< fiction. I'm perfectly happy to consider people's speculation as long it is not imbedded in factual information and presented as if it's documented. >
You appear to have no idea about what the term 'hypothetical' means (included at the beginning of Thomas's message). There is clearly an attempt to kick Thomas off the list by using collective bullying tactics - you would obviously welcome this, but I (and others who have contacted me off list) welcome his informative insights (even if they are routinely given as facts rather than opinions). I fail to see what was so offensive about his post - like Aryeh, I enjoyed it. What is wrong with you?

Bradley Lehman wrote (February 9, 2007):
Peter Bright wrote:
< You appear to have no idea about what the term 'hypothetical' means (included at the beginning of Thomas's message). There is clearly an attempt to kick Thomas off the list by using collective bullying tactics - you would obviously welcome this, but I (and others who have contacted me off list) welcome his informative insights (even if they are routinely given as facts rather than opinions). >
What "collective bullying tactics" by anybody? I have no quarrel with Thomas's FACTUAL presentations, the type that stick to real facts. But it's his bizarre intermixture of fact and impossible fantasy (with obviously no basis in church-music performance/composition practicality), as if it's all one and the same thing, that offends me: as both a musicologist and musician.

Such fantasy--presented as if it's fact or even a "likely" scenario!!--severely demeans the value of study, the value of years of training, and I'll say even the value of common sense. It reduces musical work to a sight-reading exercise, for Sunday morning church services, and one that a fantasy batch of mid-teenaged boys could allegedly do *better* than expert musicians of today. IT'S ABSURD.

It also makes Bach into a schlump, terrible at his job, for putting his staff through such impossible conditions...from any last-minute Saturday night composition, any round-the-family-table-by-candlelight copying parties, to having the whole orchestra and singers go into church totally unprepared for the things they're responsible to deliver. IT'S ABSURD.

And when I see things that are that absurd, I unfortunately waste my time speaking up about it. It's obvious that *some* people here prefer ludicrous fantasy ahead of responsibility to Bach's music, and to serious , and to serious research. I don't have that luxury, though; I'm trained to be responsible to music and musicianship and scholarship, and to try to do the best practical job at church music that circumstances allow.

 

Continue on Part 3

Cantata BWV 124: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

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