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Cantata BWV 127
Herr Jesu Christ, wahr' Mensch und Gott
Discussions - Part 2

Continue from Part 1

Bradley Lehman wrote (November 22, 2004):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< Bach's 'primary medium of expression is sound' which he neglected to codify precisely in terms of temperament so that everyone then and now would know precisely what he had in mind. Something is rather incongruent or amiss about this notion of Bach's 'primary focus' in his music. >
He codified it with a startling degree of precision, indeed; and I have corroboration from at least two other expert 18th century musicians as well, as to the physical properties of his tuning and the way he handled it. It's only the historiography since then that has missed this, leading to blanket assertions of abusive contempt such as yours.

The incongruency here, as to things being amiss, is that people such as yourself do not listen in all seriousness to the evidence as provided by the Bach children and the Mizler dudes; but instead you have cast these expert witnesses as incompetent fools or self-serving opportunists, of no good taste. As I remarked yesterday, nothing historical can be proven by starting from the premise that the people back then were dishonest or stupid or both; but that's regularly your premise to dismiss whatever you don't understand or care to accept.

Why would the primary medium of expression of this brilliant composer (JSB) not be sound? Answer me that.

>>To me, the much more interesting notes of this particular passage are the Db and Ab in bar 36ff, not the F# "Kreuz" which has so amused you in bar 34! They're both suggesting F minor, of which C major is the dominant.<<
< So? How does this relate to the text precisely? >
It interacts with the orchestra in some startling ways, as to the confluence of the text and those modulatory notes in that particular key. Especially there at the place where the words "starbst" and "Kreuz" occur simultaneously, in bar 38. C major is being souped-up by the addition of these foreign tones Db and Ab, i.e. superimposing some of the character of F minor simultaneously and letting the lines duke it out as to what key we're in. Play the recorder parts with their Db's against the D naturals of the violins, and the suspended G in the oboes; and then the bass comes up to Ab under this, while the oboes are still suspending that G. It's a hellish portrayal of death on a cross, all these lines crunching together into extremely complex harmonies from the linear motion, and the bitonality.

And, that's not to neglect the basic sound of two recorders trying to play in unison (as we have here), especially near the top of their ranges. The chorusing effect of two recorders in almost-unison is a special sound, as for example in the sommeil bits of French opera...but we digress. Check out that chord at the moment that "starbst" and "Kreuz" hit together, in the middle of bar 36. Ab-C-E-G-Bb, and then the recorders add that Db at the end of the beat. (Essentially a 7-6 suspension in there above the Ab, if the thoroughbass had been figured.) Suspended F minor in inversion, but from the perspective of the Chorton organ it's E-flat minor which is even a bit more harrowing. Also, think about the long string of consonants the bass singer is producing in the tongue-twisting words "endlich starbst". Lots of non-pitched noise in there, on purpose. Ugly, ugly, ugly, ugly sound all around...on purpose, to illustrate crucifixion. It's a huge contrast against the placid F major of the opening section.

Some of your analysis is on the right track, rather superficially as to looking for "Kreuz" and other key words in the text, as those are some of Bach's foci for intensified expression. Bach was really good at word-painting in the sound, to put across the ugliest ideas known to humanity (such as the tortured death on a cross). But, you're then stuck at this point because you can't get past your notion that "Augenmusik" exists here at all, for you to find. He's built these complex structures into the melodic/harmonic crunches, which you're not seeing at all in the bigger picture because you're looking for superficial and incidental little stuff like sharp signs, and countable entrances of a chorale incipit. Those minutiae have somehow convinced you that "Augenmusik" is worth looking for; distracting you away from the music!

And if you do see something that catches your fancy on the page, you run with it as if that's all that's happening, that the sound produced doesn't really matter as much as your on-page game itself! But, the priorities are seriously upside-down here. In your triumphant labeling of entrance #35, there in bar 36, you've failed to point out that the subject forms strong dissonances against the harmony of the moment, whereas it's usually been consonances before! As a listener you can surely pick up the wild effect of that spot, immediately (if you're paying attention), even though you lack the theoretical apparatus to describe what's going on with a harmonic analysis or other awareness of complex intervals. That's the point: it IS for the direct perception of listeners, foremost, ahead of this analytical stuff where we figure out WHY it sounds so weird.

Really, there's so much happening in these subtleties of the sound itself, the lines and the harmonic events (whether the organ is tuned correctly or not!), that any mere "Augenmusik" or other analytical games for the self-amusement of 21st score readers are moot. Bach wrote such contrasts into the music! The expression takes care of itself, the way these harmonic passages interact and move around, due to the colors and characters in the sound itself at such moments. It's there for the listeners to hear immediately and feel in the gut. There's no need to look at a page of music to experience the visceral effects Bach has written into this, to know when it's calm and when it's in a frenzy! "Listening" with the eyes glued to a score takes attention away from the sound where this is happening. It puts us into analytical mode ("How did he do THAT?") rather than take-it-in mode ("What intense music this is!").

The man writes a chord such as Ab-C-E-G-Bb-Db, and we take it like a sword in the chest. Why assume that any of this is primarily in the realm of things to look for with the eyes, as opposed to the ears and soul? As we've pointed out before, this music is written to be sung and played from the back balcony where the congregation can't even see the performers, let alone any page of music. EVERYTHING is in the sound, primarily, and to make its point on first hearing if possible. Where else could Bach put this intensity of expression, but in the sound itself, if anybody is to perceive it? The notion of buying a neatly printed and bound volume of cantata scores, to follow along and pick out every single note-game that is allegedly in there, is anathema to Bach's milieu.

The immediately perceptible stuff is the weird harmonizations, the crunches of lines going in unexpected directions as the ear follows more than one at once, the rhythmic profiles, and the expressionistic treatment of the words. In bar 36 it's the bitonality of C major and F minor as the singers sing about death on a cross, against the shrill recorders in near-unison. A broad and complex stroke of music, within those fleeting seconds, to be taken in directly as it is. Not so much to be picked apart by scribbling upon a page. The entrances of the chorale incipit are obvious already, because they happen so regularly (although we can't always guess what note they'll start on, or in which instrument or voice). That series of entrances quickly becomes the listener's background, the knowledge that they're going to keep coming and keep coming; it ceases to be interesting. The interesting stuff happens to conflict with such expectations. That's how music moves forward: it sets up expectations and then it contradicts them at various moments, being more intense or less intense, or doing different things altogether.

Thomas Braatz wrote (November 22, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
>> but instead you have cast these witnesses as incompetent fools or self-serving opportunists, of no good taste. As I remarked yesterday, nothing historical can be proven by starting from the premise that the people back then were dishonest or stupid or both; but that's regularly your premise to dismiss whatever you don't understand or care to accept.<<
That CPE Bach was not reporting accurately what really happened has already been discussed, and that Daube's claim of having really heard Bach's performances of his church cantatas in order to render his description of their performance practices accurately is seriously to be doubted based upon the evidence provided by someone who actually performed under Bach's direction for a number years. Also there is no record of Daube having visited Leipzig during Bach's lifetime, yet he claimed that he had heard performances by Bach in that location. His time-line of his biography does not even reasonably allow for such an event to take place, so he is, in all likelihood a liar. How can such a source be considered a reliable witness for what Bach
actually stood for during the key period of compositional activity involving cantatas?

Nothing historical can be proven by starting from the premise that the people back then were completely honest and as 'sharp as a tack.' To make such a blanket assumption without taking into account the possibilities of the biases or tendencies that these sources exhibit makes a mockery out of your professed faith in 'scientific inquiry and research.'

>>Why would the primary medium of expression of this brilliant composer (JSB) not be sound? Answer me that.<<
So now you have twisted your original statement about Bach's primary focus in his cantatas so that it now supposedly reads in your favor: the sounds we hear in Bach's music vs. 'eye-music,' You must think this a brilliant move on your part. Since when does the use of untexted chorales, variation techniques not easily spotted by those with doctorates in music, the use of canons indistinctly glossed over by some HIP conductors, etc., etc., not constitute the use of sound as the primary medium of expression? Only the aspects of 'Augen-musik' are available to the performer or sometimes only to the one who reads the score. I, personally, believe that such technique could have been intentional on Bach's part, even though it might hardly have been noticeable to anyone but the composer at the time. Haven't you ever created
something special, where the pieces of the puzzle fortuitously came together in such a way that it caused a pleasurable surprise which also may have caused a moment of pride in the accomplishment of a particular aspect that at first seemed unlikely or impossible?

>>It interacts with the orchestra in some startling ways, as to the confluence of the text and those modulatory notes in that particular key. Especially there at the place where the words "starbst" and "Kreuz" occur simultaneously, in bar 38. <<
First of all, the reference to bar 38 is incorrect, it probably should have been m. 36 ff. as you had indicated earlier, but no matter. The question is this: Should not more emphasis be placed upon the very first time these two words confront each other in a simultaneously utterance? This would be the first beat of m. 35 where the two B naturals in the c. f. and the tenors come immediately after the F# of the altos. The clash of these two words occurs 3 more times after that: 1. the first beat of m. 36; 2. the third beat of m. 36, and 3. the third beat of m. 37. Although these subsequent 'clashes' are interesting, the intial effect of the clash of words has passed with Bach only providing later on different harmonic coloring for additional 'crunchiness' in mm. 36 and 37. This may be some additional word-painting which does not detract from what I stated about the very first instance when these words confront each other as they are sung simultaneously.

>>Check out that chord at the moment that "starbst" and "Kreuz" hit together, in the middle of bar 36. Ab-C-E-G-Bb, and then the recorders add that Db at the end of the beat.<<
But this is on the off-beat, not at all to be compared with both recorders playing the high Eb on a main beat (the 3rd) in m. 55. Now there the recorders' sound is used to good advantage to bring out the 'stabbing' pains of bitter suffering.

>>Also, think about the long string of consonants the bass singer is producing in the tongue-twisting words "endlich starbst". Lots of non-pitched noise in there, on purpose. Ugly, ugly, ugly, ugly sound all around...on purpose, to illustrate crucifixion. It's a huge contrast against the placid F major of the opening section.<<
This is a very biased, but understandable prejudice that is held by many foreigners used to having less strong consonants in their own languages. I perceive nothing 'ugly' about the consonant sounds in 'endlich starbst.' It all depends upon whether a native German singer (like Fischer-Dieskau, for instance) produces these as poetic sounds or if some foreigner attempting to sing these words overemphasizes the consonants because they seem or are difficult for him to pronounce. These are 'tongue-twisting' words only for the uninitiated.

>>Some of your analysis is on the right track, rather superficially as to looking for "Kreuz" and other key words in the text, as those are some of Bach's foci for intensified expression. Bach was really good at word-painting in the sound, to put across the ugliest ideas known to humanity (such as the tortured death on a cross).<<
This insistence on creating deliberately 'ugly' sounds in performing Bach's music is one that you have expressed on numerous occasions since you joined these lists. It appears to be the credo of a certain group of HIP practitioners who have lost sight of true beauty and depth of feeling in Bach's music which does not come from treating Bach's music in this fashion.

>>.because you're looking for superficial and incidental little stuff like sharp signs, and countable entrances of a chorale incipit.<<
If you are listening carefully to some of the recordings of this mvt., you will detect a number of instances where the 'countable entrances of a chorale incipit' could have been helpful to conductors who were unable to make all of these entrances audible for the listener. In essence, these conductors have created 'eye-music' which is all that is left for listeners with the genuine score before them. These listeners will then be able to say: "I don't hear this incipit here at all, but I am certainly glad that I know what Bach's original intentions were: not to have parts of his music swallowed up by other parts."

>>The entrances of the chorale incipit are obvious already, because they happen so regularly (although we can't always guess what note they'll start on, or in which instrument or voice).<<
And yet there are entrances which are inaudible on some of the recordings. Do you suggest that these should be entirely forgotten or simply to be 'thought' in the mind of the listener who can see where they are really supposed to be? Is this more of the same: "Let's forget that Bach wrote whole notes in his secco recitatives, whole notes which are, according to a speculative theory often discussed here, to be drastically shortened and figured bass chords which can easily be omitted." Things that are obvious to you with university training can be very obviously wrong. Why not let the listener who is just beginning to become familiar with the Bach cantatas, have this 'obvious' aid so that they do not miss anything as obviously as some of the conductors of this mvt. have?

>>Bach wrote such contrasts into the music! The expression takes care of itself, the way these harmonic passages interact and move around, due to the colors and characters in the sound itself at such moments. It's there for the listeners to hear immediately and feel in the gut. There's no need to look at a page of music to experience the visceral effects Bach has written into this, to know when it's calm and when it's in a frenzy! "Listening" with the eyes glued to a score takes attention away fromthe sound where this is happening. It puts us into analytical mode ("How did he do THAT?") rather than take-it-in mode ("What intense music this is!").<<
I think that the better informed the listener is about what Bach's intentions were (his scores are certainly very good indications of this), the better future performances will be when conductors no longer will be able to produce performances with all the rough edges showing and the ugly sounds being produced. I perceive that Brad, in the statement above, is truly afraid of having informed listeners looking over his shoulder, lest they discover what he is really doing to the music.

>>As we've pointed out before, this music is written to be sung and played from the back balcony where the congregation can't even see the performers, let alone any page of music. EVERYTHING is in the sound, primarily, and to make its point on first hearing if possible. Where else could Bach put this intensity of expression, but in the sound itself, if anybody is to perceive it? The notion of buying a neatly printed and bound volume of cantata scores, to follow along and pick out every single note-game that is allegedly in there, is anathema to Bach's milieu.<<
This is more of the same notion: keep the listening public uninformed about really what is going on. It's better for them and us this way.

Also, the notion that Bach was stomping his way through his cantatas while creating deliberately 'ugly' sounds, exists only in the minds of a few misguided souls who think this is the only way to grab the attention of the audience.

I have the feeling that, if the costs had not been so prohibitive, Bach would have gladly supplied printed scores, instead of simply the texts, for all the members of the congregation. All of them were at least able to sing from the notes in the hymnal and with the educated group from the university of Leipzig that were in attendance, many would have certainly enjoyed taking a souvenir score along with them after a cantata performance so that they could marvel even more at the musical genius who was supplying this form of musical edification as well as a deepening of religious emotions.

Neil Halliday wrote (November 22, 2004):
[To Aryeh Oron] Thanks Aryeh, Thomas (and Brad, in his role as 'devil's advocate') for all these examples and analysis.

I had found this chorus to be one of the more difficult to comprehend musically; in Rilling's version [3], the only one I had heard (until recently), my impression was of quite pleasant music with a bouncy rhythm, coloured by some very strange harmony that was best ignored, if possible! (timimg: 5.55).

But after reading Thomas's analysis; and writing out and playing the notes of the main chorale tune, knowing the text, but above all, listening to the second of the Richter examples, the full subdued grandeur of Bach's creation has become apparent. (Timing 7.11)

(BTW, this is the only other example I have heard as yet; I am way over my download limit for the month. And also BTW, disappointingly, neither of the Richter examples provided by Aryeh [1] [M-3] is included in the Richter Archiv set which I have).

[On the performance, I think I detect some lapse in rhythmic control, by Richter, over the choir and orchestra, in one or two places].

Back to the music, the writing is so incredibly dense (full of complex musical relationships, as Thomas has graphically illustrated - and never mind the 'non-musical' symbolism) that I suspect that comprehension of all the various musical elements only begins to be possible at the slower speed adopted by Richter. (This is certainly true in my case).

Certainly, the impression is of different elements having their own modality (key signature); in fact, for me, the 'atonality' of much of this music is remarkable.

For example, if one simply plays or sings the notes of the chorale itself, the tonality of the lines comprises a simple alternation between F major and C major; but in the opening ritornello, straightaway after the 'heavenly' F major music over the pedal point at the beginning, the continuo sets the stage for some strikingly atonal writing: (in the continuo) F, followed by C#, then A, D (repeated), C, A, B natural, C, B natural (whatever happened to F major!); soon followed by descending: (G) C, B flat, A flat, G, F etc (the incipit of the Passion Chorale identified by Thomas), and we know we are in for an alarming harmonic ride.

In fact, my impression is that the modality of that 'simple' chorale tune, when it finally appears in long notes (soprano), is almost completely hidden by the different modalities and chromatic writing in the other simultaneously occurring vocal and instrumental parts. (I believe, despite previous discussions on "ugliness", that this dissonance is what Brad was referring to, in relation to the music's expression of "ugly" events and circumstances, not that the music itself needs to be presented in an "ugly" manner).

On the symbolic front, Thomas has pointed out the remarkable word-painting that occurs on the word 'warbst' (acquired), where the dotted rhythm instrumental figure is momentarily adopted by the altos alone, at this and at no other place in the vocal writing over the entire course of the movement.

BTW, I do prefer an 'as written' presentation of that dotted rhythm figure (first heard on the recorders in bar 1), as heard in the Richter recording, over the Rilling method [3], where all the undotted notes are demisemiquavers. In the former, the 'diminution' (in regard the the rhytmic pattern) sets up a pleasing rhythmic contrast, IMO.

(More on the other examples next month).

Bradley Lehman wrote (November 23, 2004):
[To Aryeh Oron] Thanks Aryeh!

Some of my impressions, so far, listening to all of them deliberately without looking at the score:

Richter 1 [1]: interminably slow and pedantic, especially in the refusal to overdot the first note of each wind phrase in the dotted figure. Sounds like a subdivided 8 beat, instead of 4. This performance bored me most of the way through.

Richter 2 [M-3]: considerably more flowing, while still very slow (and at nearly the same tempo). The lines seem clearer, too. The basic sound (mostly legato, and large-ish string sections) reminds me of Stokowski, who would have bent the tempos more fluidly than this and brought out even more detail from the various parts. The singing is well controlled, more or less, but I wished to hear more direction during the notes. It gave me some thought of zombies intoning a bunch of meaningless syllables one after the other. Anyway, it's still much preferable over the earlier one.

Rilling [3]: attractive sound in the orchestra, while I'm not so fond of the vibratos and monolithic treatment of the notes in the singing. Overall, pretty static...I kept waiting for the movement to go somewhere with overall shape, but the drama was flat, seems overly "reverential" to me where they could have done a lot more with the meaning of the text. I like the tempo.

Koopman [6]: a more easygoing and simple/natural flow than all the preceding versions. Lovely "pastoral" character at the beginning. Good clarity of instrumental texture, and shaping of lines. Things seem to rush slightly during the choir sections (maybe from splices?). Sounds as if the singers are too far away, and too many in number, for clarity of diction. Decent intensification during the middle sections, due to the harmonic events, although I still wished for more emphasis.

Leusink [7]: I like the crisp dotting in the winds; it imparts excitement to this movement, which in my opinion is quite welcome. And, as is so often true with Leusink recordings, the basso continuo line here has especially good melodic/rhythmic shaping, compared with the more nondescript delivery by competi. I'm not fond of the sound from the choir's trebles and altos. Plenty of nice contrast of articulations in the orchestra, keeps the ear moving through the texture well. The strong articulation in the choir's tenors and basses is effective.

Max [5]: a real sense of 2, instead of 4 or 8! This helps the phrases move forward melodically, and the orchestra's accents to be strong. Against that, the contrast of the legato in the dotted figure makes good balance. Max's tempo makes the movement's overall structure the clearest. Good dynamic shaping and diction in the singing.

Leonhardt [4]: I couldn't get to the Zale site to hear this.

I think my favorite among these six is the Leusink, with Max a very close second. The instrumental parts are so important to me, and I like the way Leusink delivers them here, that I can put up with a bit of the less-attractive singing.

I'd like to hear another performance that has Max's level of 2-to-a-bar, but slightly slower tempo (toward the Rilling); Leusink's crisp winds and shaping of string lines, the Koopman pastorale-sense at the beginning (so there's something to contrast with later in the movement, like the Leusink/Max excitement), but with only four singers. I'd enjoy hearing a more present organ in there (playing crisply/accentually, not merely sustained), and maybe also theorbo. There could also be more dynamic shape to the phrases than any of the present performances have given, and stronger diction (more prominent consonants) spicing up the sound. All this is in the interest of bringing more clarity and contrast, more variegated color, more strength of Affekt (and not a constant one, but changing from section to section); more dramatic drive to the shape of the movement as a whole. This would also be aided by some slight--hardly perceptible--changes in tempo from section to section...changes that sound organic as the music goes along, and not merely like singers and conductor not quite agreeing on which steady tempo to take.

Ludwig wrote (November 23, 2004):
<>

Neil Halliday wrote (December 1, 2004):
The Leonhardt version [4] (available at the Zale site) is the one that most vividly reveals the complex structure of this movement, IMO. (Timing 6.11, which puts it 3rd slowest, after the Richter 1 [1] and 2 [M-3]; see all the timings at Aryeh's page).

Although I would prefer a little more variety in the articulation of the main 8-note motive (ie, the 1st line of the chorale, in diminution), which Leonhardt always presents in a semi-staccato fashion, his approach most clearly contrasts the cantus firmus in the sopranos from the other choral lines/entries, in conjunction with a pleasing clarity in the orchestral parts. In this regard, Richter [1] [M-3] is perhaps too powerful in the voices that are subsidiary to the cantus firmus, thus reducing the transparency of the movement's structure, and allowing a 'ponderous' element to appear in an otherwise pleasing performance (or is the speed in fact too slow, at 7.11 for the second recording?)

Leonhardt's spacious tempo [4] (which is surprisingly only 17 seconds slower than Rilling - 6.11 cf. 5.54) gives an appropriate 'gravity' to the movement, that all the other recordings except Richter seem to lack.

Of the 'lightweight' group (and lacking the substantiality that I think appropriate in this movement) ie, Rilling [3], Koopman [6], Leusink [7], and Max [5], this last gives the impression of being the most carefully and vividly articulated, although his cantus firmus is weak in places. (Rilling's c.f. also disappears behind the other voices in places).

[Rilling [3] redeems himself with a particularly beautiful rendition of the soprano aria (with Arleen Augér). Just listening now to Leonhardt's recording [4], this is also charming - you guessed it, even slower than Rilling (7.49 cf 7.20); I admit to quite liking the sound of this boy's voice].

------------

An interesting point about the cantus firmus in the opening chorus is that all six lines have exactly 8 notes, and the 1st note of a line is always the last note of the previous line, which is surely unusual.

Thomas Braatz wrote (December 1, 2004):
Neil Halliday wrote:
>>An interesting point about the cantus firmus in the opening chorus is that all six lines have exactly 8 notes, and the 1st note of a line is always the last note of the previous line, which is surely unusual.<<
Perhaps not very common, but it does occur from time to time with certain chorales, the regularity of the number of notes in each line representing the syllables in the text verse (or sometimes the text verse was based upon the regularity of the melody which originally had a different text/verse associated with it.)

The Advent chorale, "Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland" is similar with exactly 7 notes in each line. Certainly the associated verse text predetermines the equal number of syllables.

"Vom Himmel hoch" has only one exception to the beginning the 1st note of a line with the last notes of the previous one.

"Herzliebster Jesu, was hast du verbrochen" has 11 notes in each line except the last which has only 5 and begins an octave higher (same note)- all other endings and beginnings are the same.

"Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr" has each line ending and beginning with the same note and each line has exactly 8 notes but there are 7 lines (a bar form.)

"Herr Jesu Christ, mein's Lebens Licht" has the same ending and beginning notes for each line with 8 notes in each line and a total of 4 lines.

This list is not exhaustive and there may still be additionally a few chorales that Bach set that are not in this list.

Neil Halliday wrote (December 1, 2004):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
<"Perhaps not very common, but it does occur from time to time with certain chorales">
Thanks for these examples, Thomas.

Come to think of it (which I hadn't), I suppose chorales, by their nature, are likely to display these features now and again.

Neil Halliday wrote (December 1, 2004):
BWV 127/5

If Leonhardt's non-legato approach [4] in the 1st movement works, it certainly does not, in the closing plain chorale movement of the cantata.

Why anyone would wish to copy this manner, of emphatically separating each note of the chorale, is beyond me.

Thomas Braatz wrote (December 1, 2004):
[To Neil Halliday] Listen once again more carefully to the cantus firmus in Mvt. 1. What do you hear there? Where is the contrast between the primarily legato, sustained lines of the c.f. and the rest of the ensemble?

Yes, others have tried to emulate this distinctive style including, of course, Harnoncourt with whom Leonhardt shared this series.

Neil Halliday wrote (December 1, 2004):
Thomas Braatz asks:
<"Listen once again more carefully to the cantus firmus in
Mvt. 1. What do you hear there? Where is the contrast between the primarily legato, sustained lines of the c.f. and the rest of the ensemble?">
Yes, the cantus firmus is certainly not legato; but because of the slowish tempo and the fact that the notes are held out for almost their entire length, the impression is of a strong cantus firmus, that contrasts with the semi-staccato treatment of the main motive in the other voices.

I certainly agree (if this is your point) that this performannce would flow (hang together) more impressively if the cantus firmus was in fact presented in a wholly legato fashion, while maintaining a contrasting semi-staccato presentation of the other vocal parts, this latter articulation seeming to help in elucidating the clarity of the overall structure of the mov. It's a pity Leonhardt [4] did not 'trump' this point, with a wholly legato cantus firmus.

Neil Halliday wrote (December 2, 2004):
Bach too hard for the recording engineers?

In studying the score of BWV 127/1 (trying to discover some of the musical secrets of this movement, which seem to be more hidden, for me at least, than is the case with most of Bach's works), I notice that not one of the recordings has captured the detail of the 6-note descending semiquaver scale, in the entry of the tenors at the 2nd line of the text ("Der du littst Marter, Angst und Spott"). This is the only such scale-like passage in the whole vocal score, surely it should be heard. (There are only a few shorter semi-quaver figures scattered throughout the vocal writing, which is mainly in quavers, apart from the c.f.).

I think I can detect a smudge of this scale in Richter 2 [M-3], but the entry is slightly late, which doesn't help. Anyone with more acute hearing than me able to pick it up in any of the recordings?

If one plays the vocal parts on a piano (vocal score with modern clefs available at the BCW - play the tenor part an octave lower than written) one begins to fully grasp the magnitude of Bach's achievement, regarding the fineness of the music's structure and its chromatic daring.

Bach's intricate structures in movements such as this, the comprehension of which is one of the joys of listening to this music, certainly present a challenge to recording engineers!

Ludwig wrote (December 2, 2004):
[To Neil Halliday] I have missed the other part of this post and apologize that I may be chiming in like someone walking in and butting in on a conversation. I am however, able to professionally comment on the problem here.

Much of good recording lies in the miking of things. Choral works are hard on the human ears and engineers because speech is often not clear. If everyone in the chorus and orchestra has a mike that feeds into a central cable and this goes to the recorder plus other mikes setup to catch the acoustics of the room if they are good then the results are often good then volume levels at various pitches gotten from whisper soft to jet engine loud provided someone in the control room does not screw up--one often gets a good recording in which everynote is distinquisable.

However, what then occurs is in the individual hearers ears and the electrical responses to the brain that occurs. There are somethings the human ear and brain can not hear no matter what is done and that often occurs when we hear birds sing. We never hear what they sing but just the gist of what they sing as the notes are just too fast for our neurons to pick up and they develope sensory overload which is compensated by giving us the gist of what is heard rather than what is actually heard. We are sometimes fooled into hearing what is not there in the score as in one of the Tschaikovsky Symphonies which if the individual lines are played sound nothing like the written score but played together produce something entirely different that what is written. The same thing occurs when certain Organ Stops are drawn---we can get the sound of a Clarinet when no Clarinet stop is to be found. Listen to Ravel's Bolero and you will hear things that are not in the score played separately but when combined---it is very much there although not written. So if you do not hear the notes that you are
complaining about--it is not your fault nor the recording engineers---is is just the way you are made.

William Rowland, FCC licensee.

 

BWV 127/1 Commentaries

Thomas Braatz wrote (November 29, 2004):
For those who might be interested, I have, with Aryeh's kind help, placed on Aryeh's site a chronologically arranged series of commentaries on BWV 127/1 (often including the commentary on the entire cantata.) It is quite worthwhile, IMO, to read/study these in sequence. You can also view the few commentaries already present on his site before I finished preparing these. This should then give you a fairly complete survey of 'what is out there.' If you know of or have access to any others (from books, program notes and/or liner notes for recordings) that are not listed here, please share them with list or send them to Aryeh who would be glad to include them.

The list of commentaries that I assembled can be found at: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Guide/BWV127-Guide.htm

Bradley Lehman wrote (November 29, 2004):
[To Thomas Braatz] A helpful collation, to see these commentaries that informed the earlier analysis. I might even go buy or borrow some of the books to see the broader context from which these excerpts are drawn.

But, will there also be a version presenting the same sources without the point-by-point assassination (by Thomas Braatz) of each source in turn? This window into Braatz' working methods is valuable, but it doesn't really prove that the music contains all the little symbolic games Braatz claims are in there, as put there deliberately by Bach. (Such as the assertion that a sharp in a second-violin part is supposed to make the player go think private spiritual thoughts about Jesus' crucifixion, when hearing a singer elsewhere in the balcony use the word "Kreuz" half a second later.)

Overall, this survey of the commentaries just looks like "same old same old" in its overall thrust: a showcase where Braatz puts up copyrighted material (OK, some expired by now) and then his own variously destructive opinions about each source, as to why each scholar is not as smart or as well-informed about the music as he (Braatz) is. It's the processing and re-processing of other people's musicological work, all of which is shown to be unsatisfactory according to Braatz, because it doesn't contain all the "insights" he believes he's had in knowing the music better than anybody (yet, without ever performing or rehearsing it).

=====

I wonder what Dr Chafe and Dr Wolff think about having their copyrighted stuff quoted out there and then "corrected" and ridiculed by one who puts himself above all this, and whose main commentary (in some cases) is to express personal disappointment with the work. Were Chafe and Wolff contacted for permission to use their work in this way?

Furthermore, it looks (to me) as if Mr Braatz has selected the final Chafe quote explicitly to promote his own rationalizations about numerology. It's the denouement of Braatz' presentation, most triumphantly. The discussion wrenches suddenly from BWV 127 over to BWV 77, where Chafe's authority is (mis)used to promote Braatz' own agenda there. Chafe's transitional material into his next chapters is turned back into a sideways endorsement of Braatz' own alleged discovery of canons in BWV 127! It all leads up to the conclusion that Braatz' comprehensive survey places him in a position to discover things that all these authorities haven't mentioned.

I was reading along through the material as presented, and that jumped out at me as an anomaly. It's like this slippery slope, where Braatz is evidently trying to tie numerology and the contrapuntal use of chorales back into some odd analytical package that he personally understands better than all the authorities whom he has cited (even Chafe!). And, such a crystal-ball understanding on his part then gives him license to criticize each scholar in turn on points that he (Braatz) has found either unclear or too objective, or whatever. There's just enough criticism against Chafe that Braatz has established his morally superior position above even his favorite.

=====

Example, to clarify what I mean there by those comments:

At one other point, earlier in the presentation, Braatz chides Alfred Dürr:
"1. Dürr neglects to point out Smend's discovery of Bach's use of the chorale melody for "O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden" etc. in the bc and bass voice."

Think about it. Isn't it possible that Dürr omitted this because of a scholarly belief that Smend's "discovery" of this coincidence (those few intervals appearing in the bass line) is too tenuous?

I wasn't convinced last week, myself, reading through the score and Braatz' markings of it, that that "O Haupt" chorale exists in the bass line; it just looks and sounds to me like normal bass-line motion, from a compositional point of view. It harmonizes the other lines above it. So what? It's not necessarily a little quotation from "O Haupt"...especially so because it ends so differently, as can be seen in Smend's own musical examples! Notes descending six degrees along a minor scale, and then a cadential formula. So what?! The "O Haupt" chorale has five descending notes in a minor scale. Does that mean that every time a descending minor scale comes up anywhere in Bach, it's probably a quote from this chorale, especially if it's been preceded by a leap from the dominant (as here)? I don't think so.

Yet, this is a point where Braatz is using Dürr and Chafe as action figure dolls, to bash against each other. Braatz obviously prefers Chafe's reading (i.e. the conjecture that Smend wasn't making up symbolic nonsense himself, and that the chorale exists there in the bass at all as any deliberate quotation by Bach) and is using this along with the numerological assertion to try to score a point against Dürr, as if he (Braatz) knows better than Alfred Dürr.

Braatz used that same point to try to beat up Alec Robertson here, also chiding him as follows: "2. Robertson does not include anything at all about Smend's discovery of the untexted "O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden" discovered 24 years earlier." That's from the obvious assumption that there's something there to tell!

Braatz, meanwhile, congratulates Smend: "2. Smend's new contributions to a discussion of BWV 127 are significant: the identification of the chorale melody." Significant of what? Significant that some musicologists are willing to make up tenuous stuff that Braatz agrees with wholeheartedly, seeing there what he wants to see there?

And then, Braatz himself (working on a somewhat scholarly-looking presentation as if he's being objective about all his sources) is properly equipped, somehow, to make a value judgment of Chafe/Smend vs Dürr/Robertson? How? Where's his allegiance here, other than preferring whichever one yields the symbolism that he himself wants to find there? (And, come to think of it, isn't Braatz himself usually a Dürr fan, where the man can hardly do anything wrong? But, Dürr slipped up here by being too objective and having too much scholarly caution for Braatz' taste?)

Again, this is that same old same old. Braatz picks one recent commentary in which he likes the outcome (Chafe, and the source back in Smend), and uses it as a weapon against other researchers: chiding them that they don't think in the same way that he does, and that they don't give Friedrich Smend's symbolic treasure hunts the same credence that Thomas Braatz does.

Smend's "discovery" here (and Chafe's echoing of it) is a debatable one, and Dürr and Robertson don't address such things that may be only coincidence. Yet, to Braatz, that's obviously sufficient reason to chide them on their work as being somehow incomplete, to and "correct" it by overruling them on a web site. Braatz is out to out-symbologize and out-numerologize Smend, and to put down everybody who doesn't agree with his procedures. Braatz must be top of the heap, a heap that includes real musicologists and musicians, all of whom are not privy to the level of channeling insights that Braatz himself has gleaned from his personalized study, and all of whom must therefore be put down as disappointing to him.

Same old same old. Anything that can be read to support Braatz' own foregone conclusions (about numerology, symbolism, other unprovable stuff) is automatically right, and anything else (scholarly work by Wolff, Robertson, Dürr) gets public ridicule at his hand, as if real scholars weren't thorough enough to please consumers who bring their own agendas to the reading.

=====

And, Christoph Wolff's crime here is to have been too succinct?

Wolff does mention the "O Haupt" conjecture from Smend, and yet that's not enough for Braatz either. He dismisses Wolff thus, getting in his ad hominem criticism against Wolff as a person as part of his swing: "1. Wolff's commentaries on the cantatas supplied with the Koopman series, leave much to be desired. This is a rather disappointing effort on the part of an important Bach scholar."

What, there's something wrong with being an important Bach scholar and with knowing more background information than is written down in the limited space of CD booklet notes? A scholar is supposed to spill everything he knows, for the satisfaction of Mr Thomas Braatz, at every opportunity, else he comes in for disparaging criticism?

=====

In summary, it's all the usual Braatz polemic where his analysis of the music can be the only correct one, i.e. self-justification. And, it's dressed up (also as usual) to look like a scholarly assessment of and representation of his sources, where he's qualified to sit in objectively balanced judgment above all of them, telling us what's wrong with each one in turn. The end consumer always has to be right, in whatever he wants to find there. Therefore all the experts always have to be wrong, in one way or another.

Thomas Braatz wrote (November 30, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
>>A helpful collation, to see these commentaries that informed the earlier analysis. I might even go buy or borrow some of the books to see the broader context from which these excerpts are drawn.<<
That, I am certain, would be very helpful and shows the beginning of a dawning realization on your part that you still have very, very much to learn from other experts.

>>But, will there also be a version presenting the same sources without the point-by-point assassination (by Thomas Braatz) of each source in turn?<<
What 'assassination'? That which in your mind construes almost any type of criticism which you do not personally agree with as 'assassination? I wonder who is really guilty here of showing the greater imbalance toward favoring his own biases and prejudices? Other readers will be able to draw their own conclusions on this matter as they see to what lengths you feel obligated to go without offering anything substantial: they see only excessive repetition which is unable to make a succinct point that could conceivably have any value beyond illustrating a personal vendetta that you continue to engage in. You do not offer scholarly refutation, only a profusion of wild speculation regarding the motivations of or imagined hurt felt by various experts.

>>This window into Braatz' working methods is valuable, but it doesn't really prove that the music contains all the little symbolic games Braatz claims are in there, as put there deliberately by Bach.<<
You have a right not to believe in what you have incorrectly termed 'little symbolic games,' but your right not to believe this does not exclude the possibility that such symbols did exist in Bach's mind as he composed. It simply means that Brad Lehman at this particular time and place in history and for motivations that only he can account for, is unable to comprehend the possibility of their existence. Just imagine, for the greater part of your present life, and despite the fact that you had undergone rigorous training in a specialized field and had been trying out various temperaments, you were incapable of seeing and describing 'your earth-shaking' discovery (until this year!) So it is likely that you, despite the fact that you had once entertained thoughts about these symbols, are now temporarily mentally 'blind' to truly understanding the symbols being referred to here. You still can see them (like previously working with certain temperaments), but they no longer have significance for you only because you have persuaded yourself of their 'non-meaningfulness' for you. But, what gives you the right to tell others in your present state of blindness that these symbols do not exist? Certainly not your profession or professional degrees! On the contrary, there are Bach scholars with qualifications in this specialized area fabeyond anything that you can even dream about, who do not casually dismiss out of hand, as you do, Bach's use of symbolism of this sort.

>>...all of which is shown to be unsatisfactory according to Braatz, because it doesn't contain all the "insights" he believes he's had in knowing the music better than anybody (yet, without ever performing or rehearsing it).<<
Since I am not writing this for a scholarly journal, my audience on this mailing list and later on Aryeh's Bach Cantata site, it would appear, will not consist of vociferious, disgruntled and frustrated musicians who believe that only they can properly interpret Bach's music, but rather will attract anyone interested in fathoming the depth of Bach's genius, whether beginner, amateur, or experienced musicians without chips on their shoulders. These are individuals who are truly willing to learn from the experts, the best experts at the moment that the world has to offer. These experts, to be sure, wrote from a standpoint reflecting the period in which they lived and used as a basis the evidence which was available to them at the time.

It is important that my comments should highlight such facts as Dürr's research into the chronology of this cantata which changed radically from being considered a late, mature work to one from the 2nd Leipzig cantata cycle almost 20 years earlier. Thus the reader will understand better why the early commentators made certain observations as they did, but that these must be considered as 'overhauled' now in light of the new evidence.

>>Were Chafe and Wolff contacted for permission to use their work in this way?<<
I would hope that they would understand that their work is being used for 'study purposes' by those who might not ever be able to gain easy access to these sources.

My comment on Wolff's extremely short commentaries stands as is: they are a disappointment, when you consider that they come from one of the most important Bach scholars of our day. Likewise, the set of 3 hard-bound volumes on the Bach cantatas that were meant to accompany the Koopman cantata series falls into the same category, if a listener is trying to come to terms with the specifics of a certain cantata by Bach. I am referring here to "Die Welt der Bach Kantaten" [Metzler/Bärenreiter, 1999] 3 volumes, Christoph Wolff, editor. -- total number of pages: 742, and BWV 127 is mentioned only once in a list that at least gives the correct date for its first performance but the entire 3-volume set gives no further information on this important cantata at all. I find this rather disappointing!]

>>The discussion wrenches suddenly from BWV 127 over to BWV 77<<
It would be best to write Chafe personally on this matter and explain that his transitions are 'wrenching' and not smooth as yours might appear to yourself.

>>Think about it. Isn't it possible that Dürr omitted this because of a scholarly belief that Smend's "discovery" of this coincidence (those few intervals appearing in the bass line) is too tenuous?<<
Yes, this is just like Brad's temperament theory not having been considered by other scholars for over two and a half centuries 'because of a scholarly belief that' Brad's' '"discovery" of this coincidence' (those few cents in this direction or that)'is too tenuous?'

>>I wasn't convinced last week, myself, reading through the score and Braatz' markings of it....So what?<<
This simply proves that you do not have the same ability to discern things that other Bach scholars have discovered or considered. It is a reflection upon your own inadequacies in regard to Bach cantata interpretations. Aside from having played a few Bach gigs, where are your articles on the analysis of Bach cantatas? Are they printed in book form or as part of a reputable journal such as the 'Bach-Jahrbuch'?

>>Yet, this is a point where Braatz is using Dürr and Chafe as action figure dolls, to bash against each other.<<
This does reflect your mentality and cultural upbringing! As do the following phrases culled from your present message:
>>to try to score a point against<<
>>A scholar is supposed to spill everything he knows<<
>>must be top of the heap<<
>>and uses it as a weapon against other researchers<<
>>treasure hunts<<
>>all the little symbolic games<<

I would venture to say that I believe most readers (and the scholars whose efforts regarding BWV 127 were presented on Aryeh's site) would not consider the analysis of a sacred cantata by Bach a game as you would seem to do. This is an unfortunate attitude on your part, Brad. It will prevent others from believing that you are to be taken seriously (other than a ludicrous attempt at playing the devil's advocate, which you also treat as a game.)

 

Melody Variants

Thomas Braatz wrote (January 24, 2005):
Aryeh has kindly place on his BCW the results of some research which I recently completed on the 1st mvt. Of BWV 127, the NBA study score of which can be found beginning at: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Scores/BWV127-M1-1.htm

The new article is located at: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Scores/BWV127-M1-Inc.htm

I hope this will be of interest to BCML members and I invite any suggestions, additions, or corrections to improve what has been posted at the above address. Constructive criticism would also be helpful.

Bradley Lehman wrote (January 25, 2005):
[To Thomas Braatz] It's interesting to see that comprehensive catalog of the variants, thanks. But I stand by my comments (the constructive criticism) that are already archived at: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV127-D.htm : the questionable premises themselves are not improved by simply piling a lot more detail on top of the derivative results, and repeating those results more vehemently. It still looks to me like a bunch of coincidences, and then assigned arbitrary meaning. Especially the part about slipping a secret "Kreuz" pun moment that only one violinist might "get", and only if properly conditioned by esoteric preparations. Sorry, I still believe it's merely the normal behavior of tonal music there, a sharp coming into the texture to aid the modulation to the next key!

The melodic changes catalogued here also look to me, for the most part, like normal alterations in the shape of the subject as the music takes its course: that the primary effect on the listener is to be the sameness of motive binding the compostional structure together, rather than the momentary alterations. See, for comparison, the various transformations of a subject that Bach used in Contrapunctus 4 of KdF. The various versions of the subject simply help the music to move along through the various keys, and not every little moment of it has to have overly spiritualized and arbitrary meaning to it. Let music be music!

Thomas Braatz wrote (January 25, 2005):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
>>Let music be music!<<
Thanks for taking the time to look at it and making some comments.

Your reference to "the various transformations of a subject that Bach used in Contrapunctus 4 of KdF", I believe, is not comparable, except in a very general way, to Bach's use of the chorale incipit motif that I was discussing. Where, for instance, are the specific text references in the KdF?

The connection with musical pictures or word painting is the crucial (pun intended) element here, and, which, in turn, determines how Bach modifies a single motif and other contextual musical elements as well. This is certainly not the result of "a bunch of coincidences!"

For Bach, the meaning connections to the chorale text are not "arbitrary" or "overly spiritualized." A short review or single listening to BWV 4 is already ample evidence for this technique of musically depicting a text.

By restricting Bach's use of this type of musical reference in his cantatas, are you not placing a limit upon Bach's musical inventiveness and ability to control his musical material?

Do you wish to contend that most of these variants are "like normal alterations in the shape of the subject as the music takes its course" and that Bach, while 'binding the compositional structure together with the sameness of the motif,' was not capable of undertaking 'momentary alterations' at the same time? This sounds like an underestimation of Bach's capabilities as a composer who wished to speak on various levels simultaneously to his audience (members of the congregation, performing musicians, perhaps also to other composers and future listeners.)

For Bach, "let music be music" meant allowing all the possibilities of music be brought to bear upon expressing the noble texts that should speak not only to the ears, not only to the eyes, but also to the hearts of his listeners. Who is it that can not be moved by the final variant "durchs bittre Leiden dein" ["through your bitter suffering"], one of twenty other variants of the motif that I found in BWV 127/1? Who will seriously state that this variant was an arbitrary modification of the motif, variant that simply happened to take on this form as the music took its course?

Bradley Lehman wrote (January 25, 2005):
< The connection with musical pictures or word painting is the crucial (pun intended) element here, and, which, in turn, determines how Bach modifies a single motif and other contextual musical elements as well. This is certainly not the result of "a bunch of coincidences!" >
I have no general objection to finding the word "Kreuz" illustrated by Bach on a note that has a sharp sign. Listen especially to Emma Kirkby's interpretation (with Gardiner, on Philips) of the first movement of cantata BWV 51, a big one in there.

But, I'm not convinced that the claimed occurrence here in BWV 127 is anything more than coincidence, from an eagerness to "find" that in there and assign meaning to it. There are lots of other reasons, all from normal behavior of tonal music, why that note might be sharped. Bar 34 at: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Scores/BWV127-M1-3.htm in the alto singer and the doubling violin part. It still looks to me like simply a passing thing during a normal-looking modulation. It's on the weakest possible spot in the bar, at the end half of the fourth beat and the weak syllable at the end of "endlich". The presentation here hasn't convinced me otherwise, that I should think that it's a deliberate game on "Kreuz" at this particular spot, crossing against the word "Kreuz" immediately following IN A DIFFERENT PART, because so many other decent reasons are equally convincing or better.

It seems to me, when Bach wanted to make a theological point in his pointing (pun intended) with the music, he made it obvious enough not to be missed, putting it into a blatantly audible place. This one in BWV 127 isn't that way.

In BWV 51, bar 54 of the first movement, Bach leaps to it and hits it on a main beat, in the primary (vocal) part, plus it's outside the scale of the whole preceding vocal phrase. The "Kreuz" shows up like a jab in the flesh here in BWV 51, with the open texture and only a solo singer, landing on an accented D# in a passage that otherwise has just arrived at A minor.

But at the claimed spot over in BWV 127, bar 34, it takes a whole lot of apologetics and rationalization to compel it to show up at all...if it does.

In the discussion of this at the page: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Scores/BWV127-M1-Inc.htm , heading "Group 6", I find it seriously misleading. I looked back to the referenced spots, entrances #34 and 35 as marked on the score, bars 35-7. There are NO sharps there. The discussion here in "Group 6" is dealing with a transposition, forcing the music to start on F for the convenience of analysis, when it really does not do so in the piece at that spot. And so conveniently it ends on F#! But to be really technical here, if such a transposition is allowed at all, the concluding note has to be G-flat instead of F-sharp: moving by a diatonic semitone (F to Gb) rather than the chromatic one (F to F#) as claimed. Such a transposition and misspelling here is part of the reason why this whole thing looks too arbitrary and contrived, to me. Sorry!

Yes, I understand that all these transpositions have been done so the catalogue of all the "variants" of the melody can all start on the same note F, for direct comparison. But, music in practice does not do that. And, no points can be drawn from any incidental sharps that come up from doing such a transposition, especially if it's chromatically misspelled in the process. Isn't that sort of like moving the golf ball to another spot and changing balls before taking the next swing?

 

Continue on Part 3

Cantata BWV 127: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

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