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Cantata BWV 125
Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin
Discussions - Part 2

Continue from Part 1

Discussions in the Week of March 4, 2007

Chris Kern wrote (March 3, 2007):
Introduction to BWV 125 - Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin

Discussion for the week of March 4, 2007

Cantata BWV 125 - Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin

Date of first performance: February 2, 1725 (Purification of the Virgin Mary)

Information about recordings, biblical readings, translations, etc: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV125.htm

Music example (Leusink [5]): http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Stream/BWV125-Leusink.ram

What a stupendous cantata! I know sometimes it feels like you can say that every week, but I feel like this is an obvious 1 or even 1* cantata.

The lyrics, once again, talk about how you need not fear death, because if you have faith in God you will be saved. The movements start solemn when they are speaking of death, but by the end of the cantata (especially mv. 4) the mood is joyful.

Mvt. 1
This is one of my favorite chorale fantasias. The flute and oboe play an excellent ritornello. The speed and mood slow down in the middle when the lyrics talk about calm and quiet, perhaps an obvious device but it works very well.

Mvt. 2
Whittaker calls this "one of the most extraordinary numbers in the whole range of Bach's writings", but it's too bad that none of the recordings can really do it justice. The oboe and flute obbligato has some curious accidental writing that Whittaker comments on at length, especially since it is written differently in the oboe and flute parts. The continuo is subdued, marked "tutti ligato" at the beginning. The continuo falls away altogether on "sterben" (death).

Mvt. 3
This is another bass chorale/recitative combination. The mood is between sorrow at death and joy in the salvation of Christ.

Mvt. 4
A tenor and bass duet (an unusual combination). The NBA labels the obbligato staves simply as "Violin I" and "II" but all three recordings I listened to use solo violins to good effect. There is no hint of solemness or sorrow in this sprightly duet, which speaks of the glory of God filling the entire Earth and echoes Jesus' words in Mark 16 that whoever believes shall be saved.

Mvt. 5
The final alto recitative has left the sorrow completely behind.

Mvt. 6
This is the standard 4-part closing chorale. (Even Rilling [1] does not stall on the fermatas in this one.)

I listened to three recordings of this cantata: Rilling [1], Harnoncourt [2], and Leusink [5]. The duet was good in all three performances, with an excellent blending of voices and violin playing in all of them. I will focus on the alto aria and the opening chorus.

[1] Rilling:
This is the standout recording for me. The opening chorus is lush and full of a depth of feeling that none of the other recordings seem to reach. The main weakness is the alto singer in the aria (weaker than both Esswood and Buwalda) -- the obbligato playing is very good. I think that if you could just replace the alto with Esswood from the H&L recording this would be an almost perfect performance.

[2] Harnoncourt:
The opening chorus is a lot faster and a lot punchier; it has a certain charm of its own but I don't like it as much as the R. The alto aria is probably the best one of the recordings.

[5] Leusink:
I have basically the same comments about L's opening chorus as about H's. The alto aria is average -- the obbligato playing is not as good as the other two performances; Buwalda is not as good as Esswood but better than Rilling's alto.

Julian Mincham wrote (March 3, 2007):
This is one of five surviving cantatas for the Purification of the Birgin Mary and the only one to contain a chorus other than the chorale.

Despite the substantial alto solo, the emphasis is on the lower voices (tenor and bass) in these works; someone may be able to suggest a symbolic significance of this?

The opening chorus os 125 is reminicient of that from the SMP with which it shares the time signature, key signature and some similarities of figuration---- it is endlessly stretching upwards yet with a feeling of compliant resignation.

Of the many things one notices about this movement (the instrumental ritornello, for example, is endlessly inventive) is the variety and metaphorical significance of the writing for the three lower voices not carrying the cantus firmus. Here is an excellent opportunity for the student to study the range of Bach's choral writing.

Of the six phrases the first 3 are very similar, entering in the same order tenor, alto bass (the resigned and peaceful soul sustained on its pathway to heaven?)

The 4th (with altered order of entry)expresses 'calm and quietness' and the choral and instrumental forcesdie away appropriately.

The 5th is more assertive, perhaps emphasising God's promise and the last is quite breath taking. Here is the passing from death to sleep, counterpoint is abandoned and the F major (Neapolitan) chord becomes deeply expressive.

This chorus is of a magnitude and depth that ranks with those of BWV 101, 103 and the great Passions. These few words no not do it justice--but they might point listeners towards a few more of the endless points of musical interest and high artistic qualities of this movement.

Peter Smaill wrote (March 3, 2007):
[To Chris Kern] As a boy the only source of literature on Bach's choral music in the house where I grew up was the abridged version of Grove's Dictionary of Music; and it was this Cantata which was chosen as the best exemplar of Bach's art. It benefits from a beautiful libretto, starting with Luther's alliterative "Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin", a euphony of expression which is lost in the clunky English translations. The texture is underpinned by the octave leaps in the continuo, and as with the use of a low register for the voices, the suggestion is of falling downwards, transitioning between waking and sleeping, night and day, life and death.

Bach deploys to the greatest degree his word-painting skills; the expression "sanft und stille" and "Der Tod mein schlaf worden" in BWV 125/1 are particularly sensitively extended. In BWV 125/2, the prolonged use of appogiatura and chromaticism across a throbbing bass, and key changes, creates a meditative effect. Even the Chorale BWV 125/6, which is skipped over by the commentators, has a magical impact (it is I think in the Dorian) mode); Bach creates a shift to E major by a tierce at 'Licht' in the first line, as well as the final joy-word "Wonne."

In one other setting of the chorale for a lost Cantata the final bass note is a low D, here in BWV 125/6 a low E. For some reason Riemenschneider thinks the low D is a mistake, although he acknowledges relative to "Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ" (BWV 91) Bach actually deploys a low C (!) in the vocal score. In all these examples, including BWV, we are well below the stave: in BWV 91, emphasising the ancient "Kyrie eleison", in the settings of the Nunc Dimittis, the venerable canticle.

The faith of the aged Simeon is the basis for a full-blooded Lutheran declaration of salvation through belief. The librettist conflates the two modes of Christ's salvific power,: the "stuhl der genaden", the mercy stool on which (OT) the blood of the sacrificial lamb was smeared is conjoined to the "Siegezeichen," the victory sign (an image also from BWV 78). Thus thesecontrasting ideas, atoning sacrifice versus "Christus Victor," which divide the SJP and the SMP theologically, are combined in the key doctrinal passage, which is the little-noticed BWV 125/5.

The key word, however, is "Licht "; this Marian feast, otherwise Purification or Candlemas, is sometimes referred to as "Lichtmess." It is the focus of BWV 125/4 and BWV 125/6 following from its prominence in the "Nunc Dimittis". As Duerr notes, the "Nunc Dimittis" forms part of the service of Compline throughout the year, which is normally associated with the failing of the natural light and the coming of night and sleep.

The final poignancy lies in the fact that the congregation would well know that the conrector emeritus of St Thomas, and possible author of the text, Andreas Stuebel, had died on January 27 1724. His funeral would likely only just have taken place and thus the first performance of this consoling work must have had an especially powerful effect on the worshippers in Leipzig on that second day of February.

Alain Bruguières wrote (March 3, 2007):
Peter Smaill wrote:
< It benefits from a beautiful libretto, starting with Luther's alliterative "Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin", a euphony of expression which is lost in the clunky English translations. >
How about:

"With peace and pep I pop off" ?

Just a suggestion.

Julian Mincham wrote (March 3, 2007):
Peter Smaill wrote:
< The final poignancy lies in the fact that the congregation would well know that the conrector emeritus of St Thomas, and possible author of the text, Andreas Stuebel, had died on January 27 1724. His funeral would likely only just have taken place and thus the first performance of this consoling work must have had an especially powerful effect on the worshippers in Leipzig on that second day of February. >
An interesting observation which, I have to admit, hadn't previously occurred to me.

I guess that the performance of the cantata, only 6 day after Stubel's death (and. let's face it, 92 came between the two) precludes any possibility that Bach was composing this work with his death in mind--he must have composed all or most of it by this time.

But it's still an interesting thought to conjure with.

Also Peter, your mention of the dorian mode chorale brings to mind the several examples of Bach's using a modal melody but forcing it into the mould of major/minor tonalities. That occurs on various occasions throughout the cycle, not least for BWV 176, the final cantata.

I have always thought it somewhat ironic that Bach should complete such an innovative canon with such an archaic melody. But maybe that says something about his stylistic range.

Douglas Cowling wrote (March 3, 2007):
Chris Kern wrote:
< Discussion for the week of March 4, 2007
Cantata BWV 125 - Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin >
Did the opening chorus remind anyone else of the opening of the Matthew Passion? 12/8 in E minor ... frequent pedal points ... dramatic repetitions of "wie"

Cara Emily Thornton wrote (March 3, 2007):
[To Alain Bruguières] LOL

Chris Kern wrote (March 3, 2007):
One other thing I forgot to mention is that Bach gave the first performances of BWV 92, BWV 125, and BWV 126 in the span of one week. As Wolff writes, "Bach's artistic productivity [bordered] on the incredible."

Actually during the Christmas week, BWV 91, BWV 121, BWV 133, BWV 122, and BWV 41 all were premiered in the space of one week, but since Bach had three weeks of advent to write these....actually, it's still pretty incredible despite that.

Neil Halliday wrote (March 4, 2007):
Chris Kern wrote:
>"One other thing I forgot to mention is that Bach gave the first performances of BWV 92, BWV 125, and BWV 126 in the span of one week. As Wolff writes, "Bach's artistic productivity [bordered] on the incredible.">
Amazing! I've listened to BWV 126 last week, because it's on the same CD as Richter's BWV 92. Greater contrast between the opening choruses of BWV 92 and BWV 126 would be hard to imagine; BWV 126 (with trumpet) has "Luther on the war-path again!" (Robertson), thrilling in Richter's performance.

Now to BWV 125.

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 4, 2007):
BWV 125 What the Copy Process Reveals

BWV 125

First Performance: February 2, 1725, Friday

[Let's see now.
a new cantata, BWV 92 composed for and performed on January 28, 1725
a new cantata, BWV 125 composed for and performed on
February 2, 1725
a new cantata, BWV 126 composed for and performed on
February 4, 1725
a new cantata, BWV 127 composed for and performed on
February 11, 1725

What a schedule! Each of these cantatas is a true masterpiece composed by a genius and composed shortly before each performance!]


Copyists for BWV 125:

JAK: Johann Andreas Kuhnau
CGM: Christian Gottlob Meißner
WFB: Wilhelm Friedemann Bach
AIId: Anonymous IId
AIIe: Anonymous IIe
AIIg: Anonymous IIg
JSB: Johann Sebastian Bach

A1: Soprano (mvts. 1 & 6) JAK: mvt. 1; CGM: Mvt. 6

A2: Alto (mvts. 1, 2, 5 & 6) JAK: mvts. 1 & 2; JSB: mvt. 5; CGM: Mvt. 6

A3: Tenore (mvts. 1, 4, and 6) JAK: mvts. 1-4 (to m 49); JSB: mvt. 4 (from m 50 to end); CGM: Mvt. 6

A4: Basso (mvts. 1, 3, 4, & 6) JAK: mvts. 1-4 (to m 49); JSB: mvt. 4 (from m 50 to end); CGM: Mvt. 6

A5: Corno (mvts. 1 & 6) CGM: mvts. 1 & 6

A6: Traversiere (mvts. 1, 2 & 6) JAK: mvts. 1 & 2; JSB: Mvt. 6

A7: Hautbois l'ordinaire (mvt. 1) / Hautbois d'Amour (mvts. 2 & 6) JAK: mvts. 1 & 2; CGM: Mvt. 6

A8: Violino 1mo (mvts. 1, 3, 4 & 6) JAK: mvts. 1, 3 & 4 (to m 49 7th note); JSB: mvt. 4 (from note 8 m 49 to end of mvt.); CGM: Mvt. 6

A9: Violino 2do (mvts. 1, 3, 4 & 6) JAK: mvts. 1, 3 & 4; CGM: Mvt. 6

A10: Viola (mvts. 1, 2 & 6) JAK: mvts. 1 & 3; CGM: Mvt. 6

A11: Continuo (all mvts.) Primary Continuo part not transposed, not figured; JAK: mvts. 1-4 (up to m 49 the 4th note); JSB: mvt. 4 (from m 49 5th note to end); CGM: Mvt. 6

A12: Organo (all mvts.) transposed, figured (but not mvt. 2) AIId: mvt. 1 to m 44; WFB: mvt. 1 (from m 44 to m 64); AIId: mvt. 1 (from m 64 to end of 1st mvt.) mvt 2 (until m 51); WFB: mvt. 2 (from m 52 until 95); AIId: mvt. 2 (from m 96 to end) mvts. 3-6

A13: Violino 1mo (doublet) (mvts. 1, 3, 4 & 6) AIIg: mvts. 1, 3 & 4; CGM: Mvt. 6; WFB: adds a correction consisting of 2 measures/bars in mvt. 4, mm 8 - 10

A14: Violino 2do (doublet) (mvts. 1, 3, 4 & 6) AIIe (all mvts.)

A15: Continuo (doublet) (all mvts.) not transposed, not figured WFB: (all mvts.)

I am following the sequence based upon the summary on pp. 31-32 of NBA KB I/28.1

Most of the copy work as usual was completed by Johann Andreas Kuhnau. Evidently Kuhnau began copying the parts for this cantata before J. S. Bach had completed composing all of it since Kuhnau had to stop copying mvt. 4 abruptly at m 49. It can be assumed that Bach had finished composing a portion of mvt. 4 to the bottom of one sheet and was ready to begin a new sheet in order to complete the aria in his score. Bach handed the completed portion of mvt. 4 from the score (a loose sheet) to JAK so that he could complete copying as much as was available at the moment. The 2nd violin part was the last to be completed by JAK since he was able to copy thimvt. out to its conclusion without stopping at measure/bar 49. Next J. S. Bach personally finished copying out the yet unfinished parts, Tenor, Bass, 1st Violin, and Primary Continuo, for the remaining portion of mvt. 4. Then Bach personally copied mvt. 5 into the Alto and Primary Continuo parts as soon as he had finished composing this mvt. Next Bach composed the final chorale, Mvt. 6. Bach then added Mvt. 6 to the Flute part transposed up one octave from what the score indicated. While Bach was adding 'tacet' markings and was still working on copying out the incomplete parts for mvt. 4 that JAK had begun, Christian Gottlob Meißner added a few more 'tacet' markings that were still missing and then turned his attention to copying the final chorale into all the vocal parts (Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass), the oboe and all the string parts as well as the Primary Continuo part. In the Alto part, CGM also had added a 'tacet' after the 1st mvt., but then recognized his mistake and crossed it out. CGM also copied, at this time, the Corno part, which was a relatively easy part to copy because it did not include very many notes.

The doublets (2 violin parts and a continuo part), as usual were not copied from the score, but rather from the parts that had already been prepared. (In this instance, however, compared to the usual procedure followed in copying these parts, the doublets for BWV 125 were copied before Bach had had a chance to make his corrections and additions (the violin doublets do not show any dynamics in the handwriting of the copyist, dynamics which are indicated in the original parts). Perhaps Bach was still busy writing out the figures for the Organo part at this point? Bach, together with another copyist (Wilhelm Friedemann Bach?) had to add these dynamic and articulation markings (slurs) later.


Summary:

1. Bach was still composing mvt. 4 out of a 6 mvt. cantata when JAK began with the major effort directed toward copying the parts for as much music as was available to him [last part of mvt. 4 Duetto, mvt. 5 Recitativo, and Mvt. 6 Choral still remained to be composed by Bach].

2. Seven copyists are involved (including J. S. Bach) in ensuring that all the parts could be copied out as quickly and efficiently as possible. Some copyists, probably younger members of Bach's family, were not as adept at copying and transposing parts as were JAK and CGM, but they were nevertheless pressed into service to help speed up the copy process and to learn something from this experience.

3. This entire copy process, which Bach used frequently during the composing of his chorale cantata cycle, gives evidence of the speed at which Bach worked in composing the score and preparing the parts for a performance to be given on the next day. Both activities took place almost simultaneously with only half of the score completed when copying from the score was begun. He knew that he could depend on his copyists to meet the deadline and musicians to sight-read, without any prior preparation or rehearsals, the music during the performances given the next morning and early afternoon.

Douglas Cowling wrote (March 4, 2007):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< He knew that he could depend on his copyists to meet the deadline and musicians to sight-read, without any prior preparation or rehearsals, the music during the performances given the next morning and early afternoon. >
Now the musicans are not only not given rehearsal time but they can't even look at the music to prepare!

This is utter nonsense.

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 4, 2007):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
>>Now the musicans are not only not given rehearsal time but they can't even look at the music to prepare! <<
Yes, this is quite different from what one would expect based upon current practices. However, what we see indicated in the historical record reveals a different kind of modus operandi used to compose a tremendous amount of new music in a very short span of time with the final preparation of parts being prepared, as it were, at the last moment before a performance. There is evidence as well in Germany at that time that rehearsals and any repetition or prior preparation of these parts were frowned upon by any musicians other than those who were highly-paid professionals. Perhaps the musical results were not equivalent to what these professionals were able to achieve with much more time and money on their hands, but Bach's young, talented musicians probably provided some good competition for them although they did not entirely reach their high standards.

Cara Emily Thornton wrote (March 4, 2007):
[To Thomas Braatz] I recall reading at various times over the years about pieces written in modern times by people who are alive and quite well to this day, which were completed a scandalously short time before the premiere. Apparently modern times are not so different from Baroque times after all...

Ed Myskowski wrote (March 4, 2007):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< There is evidence as well in Germany at that time that rehearsals and any repetition or prior preparation of these parts were frowned upon by any musicians other than those who were highly-paid professionals. >
This sentence says that 'highly paid professionals' were willing to rehearse, but everyone else frowned upon rehearsal, repetition, or prior preparation.

I suppose this is not totally impossible, but it is certainly inconsistent with the crackerjack performances achieved by Bach's lads, as proposed in many other posts.

However, it is not inconsistent with the reference (awaiting recovery) I ran across, with an aging Tnomaner recalling that the performances were pretty much a shambles. My word, not his, but that was the gist of it.

Chris Rowson wrote (March 4, 2007):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< There is evidence as well in Germany at that time that rehearsals and any repetition or prior preparation of these parts were frowned upon by any musicians other than those who were highly-paid professionals. >
What is that evidence, please?

I remember seeing here evidence that French musicians were said to rehearse a piece 100 times before performance, and that this was looked down on by German musicians. But less than 100 is rather different from not at all.

Julian Mincham wrote (March 4, 2007):
BWV 125 What the time table reveals

Chris Rowson wrote:
<
What is that evidence, please?
I remember seeing here evidence that French musicians were said to rehearse a piece 100 times before performance, and that this was looked down on by German musicians. But less than 100 is rather different from not at all. >
True. But the evidence of four quite massive and demanding cantatas performed within a week, plus the other liturical music required PLUS the fact that prior to BWV 3 there were seven (yes seven) cantatas performed in barely a fortnight (BWV 91, BWV 121, BWV 133, BWV 122, BWV 41, BWV 123, BWV 124) ----put all this together and it is only logical to reason that rehearsal time must have been very short indeed. There are so many new and difficult works performed within a minimal period and only so many hours in a day.

And furthermore, in referring to the latest accepted timetable of these works, Bach's choir performed 13 cantatas (91-127) in seven weeks.

Collate these facts and you have strong evidence (I suggest) if not for the 'no rehearsal' proposal, at least for the 'extremely limited' rehearsal proposal.

Nor is this unique within the cycle. At the end of the second cycle the choir performed 8 cantatas (108-176) in a month.

Between these two groups of apparently frenetic activity there are only six cantatas in around 10 weeks (BWV 1-103) --but this period also included performances of the revised SJP and Easter Oratorio.each of which could be considered (in terms of length and complexity) the equivalent of several cantatas.

Personally all this is, to me, pretty compelling evidence that these works were not rehearsed anything approaching the 'French manner' and the sheer logistic of getting parts copied , organising people, rooms, learning notes, tunings etc etc must evidence minimal rehearsal times.

We've already heard from some of the singers on list that they could work up some of the highly difficult arias within a day. The evidence offered by the timetable suggests strongly that Bach's musicians could and did so, pretty consistently.

It occurs to me that a key figure to comment upon the rehearsal requirements would surely be John Elliot Gardiner and his prodigious performances of the cantatas in Bach year 2000 [6].

Chris Rowson wrote (March 4, 2007):
Julian Mincham wrote:
< But the evidence of four quite massive and demanding cantatas performed within a week, plus the other liturical music required PLUS the fact that prior to BWV 3 there were seven (yes seven) cantatas performed in barely a fortnight (BWV 91, BWV 121, BWV 133, BWV 122, BWV 41, BWV 123, BWV 124) ----put all this together and it is only logical to reason that rehearsal time must have been very short indeed. >
< Collate these facts and you have strong evidence (I suggest) if not for the 'no rehearsal' proposal, at least for the 'extremely limited' rehearsal proposal. >

CR:
Itīs certainly a very busy schedule, and it would be very interesting to have a non-dogmatic discussion of the implications of this evidence.

JM:
< Nor is this unique within the cycle. At the end of the second cycle the choir performed 8 cantatas (108-176) in a month.
Between these two groups of apparently frenetic activity there are only six cantatas in around 10 weeks (BWV 1-103) --but this period also included performances of the revised SJP and Easter Oratorio.each of which could be considered (in terms of length and complexity) the equivalent of several cantatas. >
CR:
Is it possible that JSB used that period to write these cantatas in advance, and to begin rehearsals of them?

JM:
< Personally all this is, to me, pretty compelling evidence that these works were not rehearsed in anything approaching the 'French manner' and the sheer logistic of getting parts copied , organising people, rooms, learning notes, tunings etc etc must evidence minimal rehearsal times. >
CR:
I donīt think anyone is suggesting French rehearsal manner for JSB. But the fact the JSB managed the logistics of getting the scores and parts produced (which we know) suggests that he might have been able to manage the logistics of having the cantatas ready in time for some level of rehearsal (which we donīt know, but could perhaps consider).

Alain Bruguières wrote (March 4, 2007):
Chris Rowson wrote:
<
What is that evidence, please?
I remember seeing here evidence that French musicians were said to rehearse a piece 100 times before performance, and that this was looked down on by German musicians. But less than 100 is rather different from not at all. >
You do not remember the same as I do. There has been evidence that german musicians played ex tempore.

In fact, all the evidence dating from Bach's period - or shortly afterwards - which has been produced on the list indicate that the norm for German performers was to perform ex tempore - without any form of preliminary work on the piece.Even Bach says so - and deplores it.

It has been asserted that the 'no rehearsal hypothesis' was possible, but illogical and therefore should be considered only in the presence of strong positive evidence. I refute the term illogical. The fact is this hypothesis is contrary to modern usage, henceseems illogical, but within Bach's context it is exactly in conformity with contemporary usage, and therefore the burden of the proof should be on the contrary hypothesis.

We do have plenty of evidence that Bach was considered an exceptionnaly good performer on the organ; that he wrote excellent (if somewhat complicated and antiquated) pieces of music, that he was an expert of highest repute on all musical matters. Do we have any evidence that the cantata performances in Leipzig were of the highest quality? Not that I know of, and Ed just mentioned evidence to the contrary (by the way it would be great to have a precise reference for this).

We have significant evidence pointing in one direction, and the only arguments we have so far in the other direction are authority argument of the kind 'No one in their senses /with the slightest musical sense/would ever think such a thing'. Often this is associated with pretending that those who do not discard the no-rehearsal hypothesis off-hand are saying that rehearsals are useless. This kind of attitude always puzzles me. Is one trying to convince, or to silence? In any case - as far as I'm concerned - one achieves neither.

Uri Golomb wrote (March 4, 2007):
Julian Mincham wrote:
< It occurs to me that a key figure to comment upon the rehearsal requirements would surely be John Eliot Gardiner and his prodigious performances of the cantatas in Bach year 2000 [6]. >
Yes, this is indeed an interesting case in point. On the one hand, Gardiner did not have to compose the music, or even copy it out: it's true that he re-examined the editions, but presumably the scores and parts were ready in advance of the performance. (Gardiner did have a few years to prepare for the project: the performances all took place in 2000, but the planning was done before that). This arguably gave him more leeway for rehearsals. On the other hand, Gardiner and his musicians spent a lot of time on the road from one location to another, and performed each week in a different place -- so they had to get over travel fatigue and get used to a new acoustic (and, at least in some cases, a new organ) each week, whereas Bach and his musicians were performing in familiar places, and no travel was involved.

In any case, Gardiner did have rehearsals -- not many, but certainly more than none at all. It's amazing that he managed to inject so much interpretive detail into his performances with so few rehearsals; but I doubt if even he could have managed it with none. But then, he had the privilige of hand-picking the musicians -- most or all of whom have worked with him before, and were familiar with his style and his way of thinking. Bach, too, was working with musicians who knew him, but was not in a position to draw from a pool of the best professional musicians. In this sense, Gardiner's ensembles resemble the Dresden ensembles that Bach envied, rather than the Leipzig ensembles he actually worked with.

Incidentally, AFAIK Gardiner was the only musician to be involved in the entire project, appearing in each and every concert: the personnel of the Monteverdi Choir and English BAroque Soloists changed during the year, so that few or no singers and players took part in the entire series from beginning to end. One wonders if Bach was able (and/or willing) to "rotate" his musicians in a similar fashion, giving some singers and players a rest for a few weeks while other musicians took their place.

Another comparison one might offer is Pieter Jan Leusink [5], who covered the same repertoire in only a slightly longer period. Leusink did not proceed by the church calendar, did not (AFAIK) perform live, and indeed did not even do complete cantatas in sequence (he did individual movements, and then strung them together -- a standard practice in the studio, but not, of course, in live concerts!). In other respects, he was closer to Bach: he worked with children (like Bach, and unlike Gardiner [6]), and did not switch venues all the time (again, like Bach and unlike Gardiner). That said, the differences between the two series probably have more to do with the differences between the musicians involved than between their different circumstances.

Chris Rowson wrote (March 4, 2007):
Alain Bruguières wrote:
< We have significant evidence pointing in one direction, and the only arguwe have so far in the other direction are authority argument of the kind 'No one in their senses /with the slightest musical sense/would ever think such a thing'. Often this is associated with pretending that those who do not discard the no-rehearsal hypothesis off-hand are saying that rehearsals are useless. This kind of attitude always puzzles me. Is one trying to convince, or to silence? In any case - as far as I'm concerned - one achieves neither. >
So what do you think of the suggestion that Bach may have used the 10-week lull to prepare for the extremely busy period following it?

Julian Mincham wrote (March 4, 2007):
Julian Mincham wrote:
<< … Collate these facts and you have strong evidence (I suggest) if not for the 'no rehearsal' proposal, at least for the 'extremely limited' rehearsal proposal. >>
Chris Rowson wrote:
CR:
< Itīs certainly a very busy schedule, and it would be very interesting to have a non-dogmatic discussion of the implications of this evidence. >
JM----- Is it being suggested that a statement of the performance schedule and the suggestion that this implies very little rehearsal time is being dogmatic??

JM:
<< Nor is this unique within the cycle. At the end of the second cycle the choir performed 8 cantatas (108-176) in a month. >>
CR:
< Is it possible that JSB used that period to write these cantatas in advance, and to begin rehearsals of them? >
JM___- People often suggest that Bach wrote the cantatas ahead of time but never offer any evidence for this certainly not with reference to this cycle. To ask your own question Chris, what is the evidence? Furthermore as I pointed out although there were only 6 new cantatas performed within this 10 week period, two major works were also performed. If the cantatas required substantial rehearsal, these works would have required even more. BWV 249 had not previously been performed at Leigzig although 245 had been heard in the first cycle but in the earlier version. So I do not see that there would have been a lot of time for additional rehearsals of the coming bunch of works. This was not a performance-free period.

But again where's the evidence for the supposition expressed?

CR:
< I donīt think anyone is suggesting French rehearsal manner for JSB. But the fact the JSB managed the logistics of getting the scores and parts produced (which we know) suggests that he might have been able to manage the logistics of having the cantatas ready in time for some level of rehearsal (which we donīt know, but could perhaps consider). >
JM yes I said in my first posting that all this evidence of sustained performance of new works did not prove a 'no rehearsal' supposition. I said that it is strong evidence for a 'minimum rehearsal' process---possibly somewhat less than many performers would look for today.

Chris Rowson wrote (March 4, 2007):
Julian Mincham wrote:
< Is it being suggested that a statement of the performance schedule and the suggestion that this implies very little rehearsal time is being dogmatic?? >

CR: no, I consider the performance schedule informative and your suggestion reasonable

JM: < People often suggest that Bach wrote the cantatas ahead of time but never offer any evidence for this certainly not with reference to this cycle. To ask your own question Chris, what is the evidence? Furthermore as I pointed out although there were only 6 new cantatas performed within this 10 week period, two major works were also performed. If the cantatas required substantial rehearsal, these works would have required even more. BWV 249 had not previously been performed at Leigzig although 245 had been heard in the first cycle but in the earlier version. So I do not see that there would have been a lot of time for additional rehearsals of the coming bunch of works. This was not a performance-free period.
But again where's the evidence for the supposition expressed? >
CR: I donīt claim to have evidence, I am not aware of any evidence for or against rehearsals of the JSB cantatas. I am suggesting a possibility for organising rehearsal - not necessarily substantial, but at least some.

JM: < yes I said in my first posting that all this evidence of sustained performance of new works did not prove a 'no rehearsal' supposition. I said that it is strong evidence for a 'minimum rehearsal' process---possibly somewhat less than many performers would look for today. >
CR: Yes, we can be sure the process was very different from that of modern concert performers and recording artists. My understanding of early 18th C practice is that it was in general considered necessary to have at least one full rehearsal.

Shawn Charton wrote (March 4, 2007):
Cara Emily Thornton wrote to Thomas Braatz
< I recall reading at various times over the years about pieces written in modern times by people who are alive and quite well to this day, which were completed a scandalously short time before the premiere. Apparently modern times are not so different from Baroque times after all...>
The finale to Oklahoma was completed 6 hours before opening night... for example...

Shawn Charton wrote (March 4, 2007):
[To Julian Mincham] Again, I'll say that, though Bach's music is difficult, it presents the SAME problems over and over again... Thus once you're in a Bach singing mode and the problems have been dealt with it becomes exponentially easier to read. The preparation I'd want to see it the preparation that happened BEFORE these marathon performing times. What kind of rehearsal time did he spend working up to these obvious special occasions...

Chris Kern wrote (March 4, 2007):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
< However, it is not inconsistent with the reference (awaiting recovery) I ran across, > with an aging Tnomaner recalling that the performances were pretty much a shambles. My > word, not his, but that was the gist of it. >
Whittaker has a quotation from one of Bach's cousins (I think?) who was in Bach's choir; he was asked about how it was to perform the cantatas with Bach and his response was "Oh, he cuffed us a lot and they sounded terrible." I don't know how credible that is, though.

Alain Bruguières wrote (March 4, 2007):
Chris Rowson a écrit :
CR: < Yes, we can be sure the process was very different from that of modern concert performers and recording artists. My understanding of early 18th C practice is that it was in general considered necessary to have at least one full rehearsal. >
Whence do you derive this 'understanding of early 18th C practice?

Chris Rowson wrote (March 4, 2007):
Alain Bruguières wrote:
< Whence do you derive this 'understanding of early 18th C practice? >
From long-term occupation with 18th C music, with particular emphasis on contemporary sources.

To cite one example, The Diary of John Grano, written c. 1728 while he was in debtorīs prison in London, describes how he produced benefit concerts to try to raise the money to get out. Although he was using top-flight instrumentalists, his friends and colleagues from the opera orchestra etc., he took it for granted there had to be a run-through the day before.

This is all made clear by his description of how it went wrong.

Alain Bruguières wrote (March 4, 2007):
Alain Bruguières wrote:
<< We have significant evidence pointing in one direction, and the only arguments we have so far in the other direction are authority argument of the kind 'No one in their senses /with the slightest musical sense/would ever think such a thing'. Often this is associated with pretending that those who do not discard the no-rehearsal hypothesis off-hand are saying that rehearsals are useless. This kind of attitude always puzzles me. Is one trying to convince, or to silence? In any case - as far as I'm concerned - one achieves neither. >>
Chris Rowson wrote:
< So what do you think of the suggestion that Bach may have used the 10-week lull to prepare for the extremely busy period following it? >
First of all, I entirely agree with you that this question should be approached in a non-dogmatic way, and I believe that quite a few list members do approach it in a non-dogmatic way.

This suggestion which you mention has been discussed here. What Ithink about this basically is :

- no evidence sustains this; whereas there are indications of a hurried compositional process.

- even if this were true, this would not account for the amazing rate of composition and performance.

- Bach had other duties and activities - professional and not professional, and nothing proves that what few weeks when no new cantata was performed were entirely dedicated to stockpiling new cantatas.

We can consider two scenarii :

A. Whenever Bach has a 'free' week (ie with no obligation to produce a cantata) he stockpiles.

B. Bach never stockpiles.

With infinitely many intermediate possibilities.

Now consider A : even if Bach stockpiles during free weeks, the number of free weeks is so small that the stock cannot possibly last for a full stretch of time without free week. This means that Bach alternates between two modes:
a) 'leisurely mode' when he composes ahead of time; then he has to juggle with several works at a time, the one (ones) he is composing, and the one he is about to perform.
b) 'emergency mode' when each week he composes the cantata of the week, which supposes a different mode of organization.

It is a general fact of life that shifting from one organizational mode to another is time and energy spending. My guess here is that scenario A would entail a waste of time and energy. If Bach was able to work on 'emergency mode' (and this seems to be the case) I think it would have been more efficient for him to adopt it systematically, and to reserve the free weeks to different activities. Therefore - to me- B seems more plausible than A.

By the way, the quality of his production during the first 2 Leipzig years is pretty homogeneous and doesn't suggest that some works were written hurriedly, and others more carefully.

For all thess reasons, I cannot rule out your hypothesis, but I do not find it convincing, nor does it contribute to explain the 'mystery' of Bach's incredible productivity any better than the contrary hypothesis.

Kim Patrick Clow wrote (March 4, 2007):
Chris Kern wrote:
< Whittaker has a quotation from one of Bach's cousins (I think?) who was in Bach's choir; he was asked about how it was to perform the cantatas with Bach and his response was "Oh, he cuffed us a lot and they sounded terrible." I don't know how credible that is, though. >
Makes sense.

Handel's Coronation Anthems were performed horribly according to one person who wrote about it. I'm not sure what the nature of this debate is, but performing conditions and the approach to music in the 18th century are light years apart from what we do today.

Another tip off to difficult performances and very short prep timeare in the the very difficult horn and trumpet parts in the cantatas. I heard a baroque trumpet player offer a suggestion that given the nature of the music, it was more than likely that the trumpet player in the first performances could have cracked a few notes, and that was ok, because this trumpet player thought having a perfect trumpet part was unlikely in the first performances anyway.

That makes sense to me, because in the DVD rehearsal for the Christmas cantatas for BWV 63, the lead trumpet player Mr. Mark Bennett was having a very hard time playing the music correctly; and you can see his obvious frustration with himself for not playing it right.

Have a great Sunday!

Alain Bruguières wrote (March 4, 2007):
Chris Rowson wrote::
< To cite one example, The Diary of John Grano, written c. 1728 while he was in debtorīs prison in London, describes how he produced benefit concerts to try to raise the money to get out. Although he was using top-flight instrumentalists, his friends and colleagues from the opera orchestra etc., he took it for granted there had to be a run-through the day before.
This is all made clear by his description of how it went wrong. >

Among these contemporary sources, is there any one concerning the practice in Germany?

Ed Myskowski wrote (March 4, 2007):
Shawn Charton wrote:
< The finale to Oklahoma was completed 6 hours before opening night... for example... >
The finale, yes (new to me), but while the show itself was in preparation and rehearsal! Or perhaps revision after the off-broadway tryout?

 

Continue on Part 3

Cantata BWV 125: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

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Last update: ýDecember 29, 2012 ý23:50:36