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Cantata BWV 127
Herr Jesu Christ, wahr' Mensch und Gott
Discussions - Part 3

Continue from Part 2

Discussions in the Week of March 18, 2007

Chris Kern wrote (March 17, 2007):
Introduction to BWV 127 - Herr Jesu Christ, wahr' Mensch und Gott

Discussion for the week of March 18, 2007

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

Date of first performance: February 11, 1725 (Estomihi)

Information about recordings, biblical readings, translations, etc: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV127.htm

Music example (Leusink [8]): http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Stream/BWV127-Leusink.ram

One of the hallmarks of the Classical writing style is said to be the development of a small theme throughout a movement or work -- but we can find this in certain Baroque compositions such as Bach's chorale cantatas as well. Here the first few notes of the chorale tune show up all over movement 1 (in many of the instrumental lines as well as vocal), then throughout movement 4 as well (and 5, of course).

Once again the lyrics speak of death and salvation, and how the believer should not fear death or the judgment because of Jesus' saving power.

Mvt. 1
Supposedly this movement contains several quotations from other hymns -- Whittaker mentions the Agnus Dei, Emmanuel Music claims both Agnus Dei and the Passion Chorale, and there are debates about it in the discussion archives of the site. I listened to this movement twice with the NBA score and I could not find the Agnus Dei quotation, although I was able to spot in the BC what was supposedly the Passion Chorale quotation. I'm a little skeptical, though.

As I said before, the opening notes of the chorale tune are played all over the movement -- the TAB lines often use it as counterpoint even in later lines of the chorale, and the instruments are constantly quoting it throughout.

Mvt. 2
The tenor recitative turns slightly arioso at the end; the text saying that Jesus will be with you at the hour of your death.

Mvt. 3
This seems to be the centerpiece of the cantata. The soprano aria has staccato flute lines with a wonderful oboe obbligato. On "sterbeglocken" (death bells) pizzicato strings come in -- an effect that might almost be comical except that Bach pulls it off very well in the context of the whole aria.

Mvt. 4
This is an unusual movement -- another blend of recitative and chorale but one that is done more fluidly, with some words actually repeated. I didn't quite know what to make of it. Whittaker finally praises a recitative/aria combination. He also notes that the line beginning "ich breche mit starker" is nearly identical to "Sind Blitze, sind Donner" in BWV 244. I don't know if this has any significance or even if the resemblance was intentional, but it's interesting nonetheless.

Mvt. 5
The standard closing chorale.

I listened to three recordings of this cantata: Rilling [3], Leonhardt [4], and Leusink [8].

[3] Rilling:
For me this was the overall best version. Rilling's opening chorale holds together very well, Auger sings the aria excellently (why can't all modern performance sopranos learn from her?), and the trumpets in the bass aria/recitative sound good.

[4] Leonhardt:
The opening movement has very fragmented articulation. Looking at the NBA score while listening to this, there are no slurs marked in the score and the notes of the singing are not connected by bars (i.e. consecutive eight notes) -- certainly the appearance suggest a sort of fragmented style. I'm not even going to venture to say what Bach intended, but as a listener I prefer a more legato style of singing in the chorus movements. Leonhardt's boy soprano is very good in the third movement; I think this is probably my favorite rendition of the aria. The trumpets in the bass aria are awful (partly I think due to the fast tempo). Overall this performance is lacking.

[8] Leusink:
In previous weeks I have been finding the Leusink performances good, but this week I didn't like it too much. Ruth Holton does a fine (but not outstanding) version of the aria, but other than that I don't have much to recommend about this performance.

That's the end of my block of six discussion openers. I now pass the reigns over to Julian Mincham, who will finish the chorale cantata cycle proper with BWV 1 and then take us into new territory.

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 17, 2007):
Chris Kern wrote:
>>Mvt. 1 Supposedly this movement contains several quotations from other hymns-- Whittaker mentions the Agnus Dei, Emmanuel Music claims both Agnus Dei and the Passion Chorale, and there are debates about it in the discussion archives of the site. I listened to this movement twice with the NBA score and I could not find the Agnus Dei quotation, although I was able to spot in the BC what was supposedly the Passion Chorale quotation. I'm a little skeptical, though.<<
For those of you who might otherwise miss my analysis of Mvt. 1, where these various chorale melodies are noted in the NBA score, may I direct your attention to a special location on the main page for this cantata: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV127.htm

Locate under the category "Scoring" the following:

Commentary & Examples from the Score of Mvt. 1: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Scores/BWV127-M1-Chorale.htm

Part 1: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Scores/BWV127-M1-1.htm
Part 2: etc. etc.

And finally, there is a discussion of the melody variants which constitute the means by which Bach transforms the "Urmotiv" (the chorale incipit) to make it carry various meanings without losing its original shape in the mind of the listener who can still connect it with the original. Upon first hearing, many of these variants sound the same, but a closer analysis soon makes clear that there are many differences which can be associated with the concurrent text (word-painting).

See Melody Variants: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Scores/BWV127-M1-Inc.htm

Julian Mincham wrote (March 17, 2007):
This wonderful fantasia is in F major, the key of the first and last (20 & 1) of the continuous group of forty. Two particularly interesting points arise.

The first is the amount of minor used in this essentially major movement. This occurs as early as the C minor section of bar 6 of the ritornello.The final bars are in F minor, emerging on a hopeful major chord at the end?

The second point is that (unusually) whilst there are only six phrases in the chorale, the fantasia has seven. There is a definite structural reason for this. A bottle of wine (which you will need to collect!) for the first one to spot the reason for this!

Chris is right in that the powerful soprano aria (longer than the combined length of the first two movements) is the keystone of the the cantata. There is an ultimate message of hope and fullfillment--but the journey is not going to be easy!

The bass recit/aria is one of the most extraordinarily original in the canon. For those whose listening is enhanced through a clear concept of the musical structure the form is essentially A1-B2-A2-B2-A3-B3-A4 in which the A\sections are tempestuous and fully orchestrated and the B sections more serene and more lightly accompanied. The A sectioinvoke the last trumpet and the end of the world and and third B section cuts to the quick of the matter with God's words.

Changes of texture, tempo, time signature and instrumentation follow upon each other with no loss of musical cohesiveness. A really amazing movement. Where here is the commonly held theory of baroque movements designed to express a single emotion or 'affect' throughout?

Peter Smaill wrote (March 17, 2007):
If in any difficulty in identifying the German chorale incipit of the Agnus Dei, "Christe du Lamm Gottes", in BWV 127/1, the solution is to listen to John Eliot Gardiner's 2000 Pilgrimage recording (Vol 21., relaesed last year on SDG label).

JEG takes the radical step of actually singing the chorale using the choristers of Clare and Trinity Colleges to belt it out as it were as a cantus firmus. He adapts the introductory ritornello such that the supplementary choirs immediately introduce the Agnus Dei, which they seem to then sings antiphonally as the main Monteverdi choir sings the incipit, "Herr Jesu Christ, Wahr' Mensch und Gott".

The more conventional treatment is included as an appendix. The justification given for the new treatment in the main body of the CD is the unfamiliarity of modern listeners with the Chorales. You certainly cannot miss the unique combination in this version of the Cantata of two whole chorales interspersed (often there is, as I argued last week, a snippet of one but not AFAIK anything else like BWV 127).

JEG points out the stylistic similarity of much of the writing of BWV 127/4 with the SMP and even dares speculate that the SMP was already being written, on stylistic grounds, at the same time. The unique orchestration of BWV 127/3 could also be used as a parallel with the amazing orchestral effects also found there, and the use of a chorale as a descant has parallels with the treatment of "Christe, du Lamm Gottes", just discussed.

All Bach's settings for this Quinquagesima Sunday are of exceptional quality and this last Sunday before Lent confirms the theological importance of the Incarnation and Atonement doctrines for Bach in the context of the choosing of the disciples since he rises to the occasion with some of the most exquisite music of the Cantatas - BWV 22-5; BWV 23-4; BWV 127-1 127-3; and BWV 159- 4 and 5 come to mind.

Neil Halliday wrote (March 18, 2007):
Chris Kern wrote:
>I listened to this movement twice with the NBA score and I could not find the Agnus Dei quotation<.
Chris, you will find the Agnus Dei in the following places (I believe this is correct, from a perusal of the BGA score):

1. Straight away at the start, in the 1st violins in long notes (minims).
2. In the unison oboes (minims) over the second pedal point in the continuo in the opening ritornello (that occurs after the - possible - quote of the Passion Chorale in the b.c. which you have identified).
3. In the unison flutes (minims) immediately after line three of the text.
4. In the unison violins (minims) *with* line four of the text.
5. Beginning on the last note of the cantus firmus sung to the last line of text, on unison violins (minims).

I haven't determined whether I can hear thsese quotes in the recordings, yet.

---------

My answer to Julian's quiz question regarding the reason for the 7th section of the fantasia (despite only six lines of text): to allow a winding up of the whole movement (with a repeat of the last line of text) with the four voices in succession having the opening chorale incipit - one of the main motifs of the movement. (I'm not quite convinced this is what Julian is after - worth a try for that bottle of wine).

Julian Mincham wrote (March 18, 2007):
Neil Halliday wrote:
< My answer to Julian's quiz question regarding the reason for the 7th section of the fantasia (despite only six lines of text): to allow a winding up of the whole movement (with a repeat of the last line of text) with the four voices in succession having the opening chorale incipit - one of the main motifs of the movement. (I'm not quite convinced this is what Julian is after - worth a try for that bottle of wine). >
Hi Neil--good try and worth a schooner (which I will happily buy you when we meet up later this year). But I think there's another reason--so I will leave the offer open a bit longer.

Douglas Cowling wrote (March 19, 2007):
Introduction to BWV 127 - Death Bells

Chris Kern wrote:
< Mvt. 3
This seems to be the centerpiece of the cantata. The soprano aria has staccato flute lines with a wonderful oboe obbligato. On "sterbeglocken" (death bells) pizzicato strings come in -- an effect that might almost be comical except that Bach pulls it off very well in the context of the whole aria. >
Once again we encounter a movement which refers to the bells of death and seems to represent the ticking of a clock: the orchestration is wonderfully mechanical with those bleeping winds and pizzicato strings Does anyone know anything about the kind of clock which Bach is depicting? It seems to be that kind of mantelpiece clock you see in 18th century rooms.

I still wish Bach had written "Schlage Doch Gewünschte Stunde" (BWV 53): great ticking and a real bell!

Neil Halliday wrote (March 20, 2007):
The recitative and chorale for bass (movement #5) is potentially very dramatic and musically very effective - and it has a vivid text as well.

The seven sections are: 1. recitative (4/4 time); 2. chorale (4/4, with change of tempo); 3. aria (6/8 time); 4. chorale/arioso (4/4 time); 5. aria (6/8 time); 6. chorale (4/4 time); and 7. aria (6/8 time).

Sections 6 and 7 are a repeat of 2 and 3.

Section 5 ("With a strong, helping hand, I will break death's powerful, encompassing bond") is the one that reminds us, in the shape of the vocal line, of "Sind Blitze, Sind Donner" from the SMP, as mentioned by Chris (thanks for pointing this out).

Rilling [3] is quite effective in the sections that have the orchestration supplied by Bach (ie, strings and trumpet, in sections 1,3,5,7). But in 2,4 and 6, we have the bass vocalist accompanied by Rilling's usual heavy, unattractive continuo strings, virtually without any much-needed accompanying treble clef material on the organ - or rather, the organ is very weak, with an unattractive timbre, typical of many of the ineffective organ continuo realisations in this series.

Suzuki [10] comes very close to getting it right. Here (in sections 2,4, and 6) the organ is still a bit quiet, but its timbre is attractive and what can be heard of the realisation is pleasing, and the continuo strings are pleasing enough. There is drama a-plenty in the other sections. Bass Peter Kooij carries his part very well, so that Suzuki may well have finest recording of this movement.

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 20, 2007):
BWV 127/3 [was: Luther and Bach]

Neil Halliday wrote:
>>...this joy being beautifully realised in the text and music of Bach's lovely soprano aria, 127/3. "The soul rests in Jesus' hands / when earth covers this body / ah! call me soon, you death-tolling / I am not frightened of dying / because my Jesus again awakes me."
The repeated notes on the flutes are surely suggestive of the bliss of paradise.<<
I am immediately reminded in this regard of that wonderful passage in Beethoven's 9th (choral section: at the end of the section "Adagio ma non troppo, ma divoto" and just before the "Allegro energico, sempre ben marcato") where Beethoven uses the repeated note/chord effect to represent the Almighty Creator who lives above/beyond the 'field of stars': "Über Sternen muß er wohnen..." ("He (Almighty God) must live above/beyond the stars"). Is Beethoven here trying to express the eternal by means of the repeated pianissimo notes? Has Beethoven coalesced the fast 'tinkling' of the "Sterbeglöckchen" ("small funeral bells" with the twinkling of the stars that lead us to the paradise beyond after we have died?

Before going off into paradiswith the help of Jesus who awakens us, it is necessary to consider the direct connection of Bach's slowly repeated notes with the "Sterbeglocken" (note that this is not written "Sterbeglöckchen") and the possible connection with a type of church bell that records the passing of time as well as that of a slowly ticking clock reminding us of our mortality.

I have just been doing some research into church bells and have found some interesting insights that I hope to share with this group.

Neil Halliday wrote (March 20, 2007):
BWV 127/1: Phenomenal frequency of the the main motif.

The one-bar long eight-note 1/8th-note motif (which is the diminution of the first line of the cantus firmus) is remarkable for appearing in almost every bar of the opening movement.

It's missing in bars 2, 8, 10 and 16 in the opening ritornello, but thereafter occurs in almost every bar, some times even in (mostly vocal) stretti; these stretti always occur at a distance of a half bar. The one purely instrumental stretto (involving this motif) occurs between the upper strings and the oboes after the last "erwabst" (end of line four). Otherwise, in the instrumental parts, the motif moves, in every consecutive bar, from oboes, to
flutes, to continuo, to upper strings, and so forth.

The initial vocal entries (and some others) of this motif for each line are as follows (I expect a score is needed to follow all of this at first, while listening to the music, although I know the music well enough now to hear all these entries without a score. Be aware that sometimes the cantus firmus precedes, other times follows the lower voices):

Line 1. TAB in stretto (ie, at a distance of a 1/2 bar).

Line 2. A, followed (at a bar) by B (T do not have the motif); immediately followed by (on the final note of the cantus firmus) ABT in stretto.

Line 3. AT in stretto, followed by B at normal distance (1 bar); further vocal and instrumental stretti too complex to mention here.

Line 4. A, followed (at a bar) by TB singing together at an interval of a third. But the voices now find themselves with the motif beginning in the middle of the bar (because A began half way though the bar after the start of the cantus firmus; the instrumental stretto noted above (upper strings then oboes at ½ a bar) immediately following the final "erwabst" brings everything back into place.

Line 5. ATB at normal distance (of 1 bar). Notice that when T start, a chromatic variation of the motif (with a semitone rise) also begins, in A, T, B at a bar's distance; this last B (with the chromatic variation of the motif) simultaneously occurs with the normal form of the motif in both the altos and flutes, at an interval of a tenth! Now there are two bars (this is all happening to the words "I beg through your bitter sorrow") where the oboes are followed by the flutes with the chromatic form of the motif set against highly chromatic vocal writing. Glorious stuff!

Line 6. AT in stretto, followed by B at normal distance.

And so on to the end; amazingly, after the opening ritornello, the only three bars in the whole composition that do not have the motif are the single bars immediately preceding the vocal parts in lines 4, 5, and 6, respectively. As for bars 2 and 10 in the opening ritornello, mentioned above, in each case they have the 2nd half of the Agnus Dei theme.

Then there are the endless dotted rhythm motifs. I would say a score is necessary for full enjoyment of this complex movement. There is way too much happening to easily comprehend it all.

I am currently enjoying Koopman's flowing, relaxed (perhaps just a bit fast) performance of this "elegiac fantasia of great expressive intensity" (OCC description); the entire movement can be heard at the BCW, along with several other recordings.

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 22, 2007):
Neil Halliday wrote:
>>I would say a score is necessary for full enjoyment of this complex movement. There is way too much happening to easily comprehend it all.<<
Realizing that I am repeating myself here after announcing this earlier:

The full NBA orchestral score of BWV 127/1 is available at a special location on the main page for this cantata: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV127.htm

Locate under the category "Scoring" the following:

Commentary & Examples from the Score of Mvt. 1: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Scores/BWV127-M1-Chorale.htm

The following 'parts' are the individuals pages from the score:

Part 1: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Scores/BWV127-M1-1.htm
Part 2: etc. etc.

BTW, I do not recall whether I had shared this information from the NBA KB:

BWV 127

Composing score completed in time for the first performance on February 11, 1725

The 1st page of the autograph score has on top in Bach's handwriting:

J.J. Do[minica] Esto mihi Herr Jesu Christ wahr Mensch und Gott

No details of orchestration are included (just the staves without indications which parts they are). Fortunately the original cover page for the autograph score is still available. This cover page was most likely completed after all the parts had been copied out for on it we can read:

Dominica Esto mihi | Herr Jesu Christ, wahr Mensch u. Gott | á | 4 Voci | 1 Tromba | 2 Flauti | 2 Hautbois | 2 Violini | Viola | e | Continuo | di | J: S: Bach.

(Notice the "1 Tromba", a part which is not apparent from viewing the score itself (Mvt. 1) since it was added later to support the cantus firmus in the Soprano part.)

At the end of the autograph score, Bach wrote:

Fine | SDG

The original parts: Again JAK (Johann Andreas Kuhnau) copied more than anyone else; however, as usual, he did not finish copying the parts since the final mvts. including the final chorale had not yet been composed. Sometimes, as in the vocal parts, he [JAK] finished copying only the first 2 or 3 mvts., thus indicating that Bach, when Kuhnau began his copy session, had not yet finished composing mvts. 3, 4, and 5. All of this, with slight variations compared to earlier cantatas in this series from the previous months points to the same mode of operation being applied here:

1. Bach had not yet finished composing the last few mvts. of the cantata when Kuhnau began copying out what was already completed. Bach came to the copy table with 3 mvts. essentially completed. It may have been only then that Bach decided on using the tromba as obbligato instrument in the bass aria. This could be the reason why the tromba part is missing in the first mvt.

2. Including Bach, there were 8 copyists working simultaneously to ensure that the parts would be ready for performance the next morning.

Just imagine! Out of all this hustle and bustle comes all of this glorious music. This is Bach at his best, working under considerable pressure caused by time constraints but nevertheless producing unforgettable masterpieces week after week!

Neil Halliday wrote (March 23, 2007):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< Realizing that I am repeating myself here after announcing this earlier:
The full NBA orchestral score of BWV 127/1 is available at a special location on the main page for this cantata:
http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV127.htm >
Thanks, Thomas, for restating this; I failed to look carefully enough under "Scoring" to find the complete NBA score, divided into 6 parts. (However, I have the BGA, so I prepared my notes anyway). I hope others who are interested will utilise this resource.
----
Like you I considered whether (what I termed) the "chromatic variant" of the main motif can in fact be considered as such, and like you I decided in the affirmative - which also enables us to confirm the appearance of the main motif in all but a few bars of the movement.

[A minor correction to my post: I said "the 2nd half" of the Agnus Dei appears in bars 2 and 10 (two of the few barwithout the main motif). A more accurate description would be 'the middle' of the Agnus Dei].

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 23, 2007):
BWV 127 Composing and Copying Scenario

BWV 127 The Composition and Copy Process

Details about the autograph composing score have already been shared. What remains is a closer inspection of the copy process which took place on Saturday evening, February 10th, 1725.

In the NBA, the autograph score is listed as exhibit A.

The copyists involved in this copy session are:
Johann Sebastian Bach [JSB]
Johann Andreas Kuhnau [JAK]
Wilhelm Friedemann Bach [WFB]
The following Anonymous copyists:
Anon. 1p, IId, IIe, IIf, IIg

The extant parts from the original set of parts (all designated with a 'B') are as follows:

B1: Soprano
JAK: mvts. 1,3; Anon Ip: Mvt. 5

B2: Alto
JAK: mvts. 1; Anon Ip: Mvt. 5

B3: Tenore:
JAK: mvts. 1-2; Anon Ip: Mvt. 5

B4: Basso
JAK: mvts. 1, Mvt. 4 up to m 40a; JSB: Mvt. 4 m 40b to end; Anon Ip: Mvt. 5

B5: Flauto 1
JAK: mvts. 1,3,5

B6: Flauto 2
JAK: mvts. 1,3,5

B7: Hautbois 1mo
JAK: mvts. 1,3; Anon. Ip: Mvt. 5

B8: Hautbois 2
JAK: Mvt. 1; Anon Ip: Mvt. 5

B9: Violino 1mo
JAK: mvts. 1, 3; Mvt. 4 to m 43; JSB: Mvt. 4 m 44 to end; WFB: Mvt. 5

B10: Violino 1mo (Doublet)
Anon. IIe: Mvt. 1 to m 39; WFB: Mvt. 1 from 39 to end; Mvt. 3; Anon. IIe: Mvt. 4 to m 27; WFB: Mvt. 4 from m 28 to the end, Mvt. 5

B11: Violino 2do
JAK: mvts. 1,3,4; WFB: Mvt. 5

B12: Violino 2do (Doublet)
Anon. IIf: mvts. 1,3,4; JSB: added mm 44-46 of Mvt. 4; WFB: Mvt. 5

B13: Viola
JAK: mvts. 1,3,4; WFB: Mvt. 5

B14: Continuo (Primary)
JAK: mvts. 1-3, Mvt. 4 to m 40a; JSB: Mvt. 4 from m 40b to end; Anon. Ip: Mvt. 5

B15: Continuo (Doublet)
Anon. IIg: mvts. 1-4; WFB: Mvt. 5

B16: Continuo (transposed to Chorton, w/figured bass for Mvt. 2 & Mvt. 4)
Anon. IId: Mvt. 1 to m 53; WFB: Mvt. 1 from m 54 to end, Mvt. 2; Anon. IId: Mvt. 3, Mvt. 4 to m 31; WFB: Mvt. 4 m 32 to end, Mvt. 5


C: Tromba (a missing part as determined from the title on the cover page and the inclusion of an obbligato tromba part in Mvt. 4) [Often parts such as these were copied out at the last moment by J. S. Bach.]

It is customary to have numerous, generally less capable copyists involved in copying the doublets. These copyists do not work from the score directly, but rather copy from one of the main parts which have already been completed.

A probable scenario for the evidence derived from the parts is as follows:

On Saturday evening, February 10th, 1725, a crew of copyists convene at a large table in Bach's apartment. The first copyist to arrive is Bach's most reliable and productive copyist, JAK. At this point in time Bach has just finished composing Mvt. 3 and is now turning his main attention to Mvt. 4. JAK first begins copying the first 3 mvts. from the loose sheets of the score which have been completed and are now available to him: soprano, alto, tenor, flauti 1 & 2, 1st oboe, 1st violin, and continuo (primary). When JSB has partially completed Mvt. 4 to about m 40, he begins a new page, thus making the first part of Mvt. 4 available to JAK as well who happens to have just completed Mvt. 1 of the bass part and is now ready to begin Mvt. 4. Now JAK can move directly on into the first part of Mvt. 4 up to m. 40 of the bass part. He then goes on to the primary continuo part to add the first 40 measure of Mvt. 4 to it. Then he does the same to the 1st violin part which has been completed up through Mvt. 3 and now adds the beginning of Mvt. 4 up to m 43 to it as well. Bach has now finished all of Mvt. 4 and begins copying the latter portions of Mvt. 4 to the parts that JAK had already begun: the bass part, the 1st violin part, and the primary continuo part. JAK then adds Mvt. 4 to the 2nd violin, and viola parts.

At this point, JSB has finished composing the finale chorale, Mvt. 5. JAK is the first to use this sheet from the score to add Mvt. 5 to the 1st and 2nd flauto parts. After this final effort, JAK leaves the table to go home. A job well done!

At this point WFB, Anon. Ip, and the little army of not so skilled copyists take over the remaining tasks still left unfinished:

adding the final chorale to all the vocal parts, 1st and 2nd oboe parts and the primary continuo part (Anon. Ip)

adding the final chorale to the 1st and 2nd violin parts (also the doublets), the viola part, the continuo doublet and transposed continuo parts (WFB)

copying doublets from the existing violin 1 & 2 as well as the primary continuo parts (the remaining anonymous copyists)

While all the latter additional tasks are being completed, JSB checks each part carefully adding articulation, dynamics, embellishments and correcting any obvious mistakes or oversights.

The preparations for performing the new cantata have been completed in time for the first performance during church services tomorrow morning, February 11th, 1725.

Chris Rowson wrote (March 23, 2007):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< BWV 127 The Composition and Copy Process
Details about the autograph composing score have already been shared. What remains is a closer inspection of the copy process which took place on Saturday evening, February 10th,
1725. >
What is the basis for asserting that the copying took place on Feb. 10th?

Is it not equally possible that it took place on the 9th, or the 8th, . ?

Neil Halliday wrote (March 23, 2007):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< BWV 127 The Composition and Copy Process >
Thomas, can you explain (or clarify for me, please; I'm having trouble getting my head around the information about the all the copyists and the particular parts they copied, and in what order, and at what times) your thoughts on why Bach might not have begun composing a new cantata, say, on Monday morning, and assembled
various copyists at various times, as available, over the next few days, allowing for a possible Friday rehearsal?

I think most of us on this list are terrified of the prospect of poor Bach standing up in front of his band of lads in church on Sunday morning, attempting to direct a dozen staves of music that have never been seen before (eg, say, 127/1) with two hands and facial expressions only, expecting each one of the lads to be concentrating so fully that they can correctly count in all their entries without stumbling, apart factually getting all the notes right

Admittedly, sheer musical ability does come into the question, but I personally can't see all of those lads having the level of skill required for a satisfactory performance, without rehearsal and, in some cases (eg, obbligato performances, etc) private practise. (Tom Dent mentioned Lizst's awesome sight-reading skills; I wonder if the Rach 3 would have caused even him to stumble :-).

One possible solution to the mystery of the unused appearance of the parts: the prospective Thomaner for the next Sunday's performance were given access to the newly copied parts, say, by Thursday, from which they made their own performing copies - personal secondary documents that would be most unlikely to survive for any length of time, certainly not beyond the life-time of the individuals concerned.

Philip Legge wrote (March 23, 2007):
Neil Halliday wrote:
< One possible solution to the mystery of the unused appearance of the parts: the prospective Thomaner for the next Sunday's performance were given access to the newly copied parts, say, by Thursday, from which they made their own performing copies - personal secondary documents that would be most unlikely to survive for any length of time, certainly not beyond the life-time of the individuals concerned. >
I read this too with some incredulity - the original section of Thomas' article describing this is in message 23470, under section 5:

"The existing parts are generally in excellent condition, a fact which has caused NBA editors to comment on this with some amazement. How is it possible that none of the usual wear and tear associated with parts which we know were used in performance are completely absent?"

Thomas then goes on to enumerate several of the common examples of wear and tear that do occur. I have sung for well over a decade in churches where both candles and incense are used, and can personally attest to the semi-regular handling of music in such an environment leads to all of the five physical signs (a) through to (e) that he describes.

Well, there is an obvious answer - that these parts were never actually used in church. But I can't see Thomas agreeing to that!

What would be worth knowing is whether the type of manuscripts used for the parts can be matched to the precise type of manuscript that Bach used for the holograph composition score (i.e. by studying graphology). If not, there is the possibility that the particular parts that survive are not the first set of parts to have been copied for the performance of BWV 127, and we can imagine a multitude of different scenarios under which that can have come to pass, that I will not dare to elaborate upon - they should be obvious to anyone who has experience of these practices. I think the word Thomas used was "selbstverständlich" :-)

Julian Mincham wrote (March 23, 2007):
Neil Halliday wrote:
< One possible solution to the mystery of the unused appearance of the parts: the prospective Thomaner for the next Sunday's performance were given access to the newly copied parts, say, by Thursday, from which they made their own performing copies - personal secondary documents that would be most unlikely to survive for any length of time, certainly not beyond the life-time of the individuals concerned. >
Certainly Bach's this would fit well with Bach's emphasis upon copying of music as a way of educating onself about it-----a process he advocated for both himself and his students. I think it's a reasonable supposition that the boys may have spent a proportion of each week's lessons copying out their parts for the Sunday performances. Learning the notes in this way might also have reduced the necessity for additional rehearsals.

Thérèse Hanquet wrote (March 23, 2007):
Neil Halliday wrote:
"I think most of us on this list are terrified of the prospect of poor Bach standing up in front of his band of lads in church on Sunday morning, attempting to direct a dozen staves of music that have never been seen before (eg, say, 127/1) with two hands and facial expressions only, expecting each one of the lads to be concentrating so fully that they can correctly count in all their entries without stumbling, apart from actually getting all the notes right "
And another issue with sight-reading must be: how do you look at the conductor?

Of course if you look at the conductor just for the entries, it is not a big problem, but a conductor gives a lot more important indications which you must be able to catch while you are singing / playing.

With the Chapelle des Minimes, we perform 2 cantatas per month with few rehearsals. I try to learn the musical phrases more or less by heart so I can look at the conductor most of the time and also listen carefully to the other voices while singing. The quality of the result is completely different when you must have your eyes riveted to your part...

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 23, 2007):
Neil Halliday wrote:
< One possible solution to the mystery of the unused appearance of the parts: the prospective Thomaner for the next Sunday's performance were given access to the newly copied parts, say, by Thursday, from which they made their own performing copies - personal secondary documents that would be most unlikely to survive for any length of time, certainly not beyond the life-time of the individuals concerned. >
Yeaaaaaahhh...and I recall suggesting the same thing, informally, six months ago. Repeated posting below!

9/16/2006:

Hypothesis: the sets of parts (usually only one of each exist, more rarely two) were exemplars. Whether they were actually used in the performance by one or more players, we don't know. But, the thrust of my hypothesis: the student(s) assigned to play/sing each movement would have--as part of the assignment--the task of making HIS OWN copy of the whole thing, by hand, as part of the learning process. And then keep it afterward, not file it back away with the master set of parts and score, in Bach's folders.

That's how Bach taught the WTC and other keyboard music to his keyboard students: they started by making their own hand-copy from the master score. Why would it be any different for the cantatas, given sufficient lead time for the students to do this?

This was also Bach's OWN practice in educating himself about other people's music: start by making his own copy of it by hand.

And yes, we must first discard the over-romanticized notion of the cantatas being written only as late as a couple days before the gig.

Note that this is independent of the number of singers or players assigned to perform any given part. Within this hypothesis, we can't use the number of extant parts (master copies) to extrapolate the number of singers/players, either to many or few; it's an unknown.

Corrections to the master parts, if any, would tend not to get written down: that particular part might not be on anyone's music stand at all, if the players were playing from their own copies (where any corrections would get written in -- the copies they kept for themselves afterward). The master part itself might be back in the library during the performances, having served its purpose as exemplar....

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 23, 2007):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
(Factual section deleted, for space...)
< A probable scenario for the evidence derived from the parts is as follows:
On Saturday evening, February 10th,
1725, a crew of copyists convene at a large table in Bach’s apartment. The first copyist to arrive is Bach’s most reliable and productive copyist, JAK. >
And there goes the same old fantasy yet again, starting with the assignment of a "Saturday evening" date. And still being presented as a "probable scenario".

I give up. You just go ahead making up whatever scheisse you want to. And it's inconsequential toward the way I or any other skilled musicians today perform music, anyway, so the whole thing's moot. You just go ahead playing your silly game of making up implausible pseudo-history, that has nothing recognizable to do with musicianship or real skill.

Chris Kern wrote (March 23, 2007):
Neil Halliday wrote:
< One possible solution to mystery of the unused appearance of the parts: the prospective Thomaner for the next Sunday's performance were given access to the newly copied parts, say, by Thursday, from which they made their own performing copies - personal secondary documents that would be most unlikely to survive for any length of time, certainly not beyond the life-time of the individuals concerned. >
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< Yeaaaaaahhh...and I recall suggesting the same thing, informally, six months ago. Repeated posting below! >
While this seems like an attractive theory, I do wonder how you account for the fact that apparently 100% of these secondary copies have been lost -- is this unusual for not a single one to survive? Is there any documentary evidence to suggest that this sort of copying was the norm for church performers?

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 23, 2007):
[To Chris Kern] As I said, I was just throwing it out there "informally" as a possibility. I also wasn't suggesting that it was any norm for church performers, specifically; but rather that it would be a possibly normal pedagogical thing to do, in a milieu where Bach's students were known to be hand-copying the music regularly for their other lessons.

One difference here, obviously, is disposability. An isolated performance part (as opposed to an exemplar part) from some cantata really isn't much useful beyond the week when the performance has been finished. But, a student copy of solo keyboard music is useful and worth preserving, long after the lessons in which it has been copied and studied, since the piece can be re-performed anytime (solo) in the student's career after that.

Ed Myskowski wrote (March 25, 2007):
Chris Kern wrote:
< Discussion for the week of March 18, 2007 >
I am determined to say a few words about BWV 127 before the week is completely gone, if only to thank Chris for his introductions: concise, readable, and informative.

< Once again the lyrics speak of death and salvation, and how the believer should not fear death or the judgment because of Jesus' saving power. >
I don't think it is possible to overemphasize how intimately Bach's life (indeed, the entire culture he lived in) was intertwined with the ever-present possibility of sudden and unexplained death. His parents, first wife, many children, and in the present instance, the very likely possibility that the writer of the text was Stübel, who then died unexpectedly. The text is of course appropriately deathly for the liturgical day. The coincident personal details add to the drama, but do not create it. As in:

< Mvt. 2
The tenor recitative turns slightly arioso at the end; the text saying that Jesus will be with you at the hour of your death. >
Before that arioso salvation, we once again endure the Todesschweiß (cold death-sweat), IMO, the most chilling image in the cantata texts.

Other writers have covered comparisons of the recordings. In particular, I agree with the enthusiasm expressed for Gardiner [7], and for the performances of S Ruth Holton both there and with Leusink [8], by Uri Golomb (archived under Gardiner, not BWV 127), and via his link to a review off-site by John Quinn. I also share Aryeh's enthusiasm for Gönnenwein [2], alas, LP only.

One detail which stands out for me and is not mentioned elsewhere is the continuo accompaniment in Mvt. 2, where Gardiner finds an effective middle ground in the debate between sustained voicing or long rests. In fact, each continuo note is individually tailored to the text, in both articulation and dynamics, which I believe is the effect it has been argued Bach would have intended but would not (indeed, could not) have tried to specifically notate. In any case, I find it superior to either the sustained notes of Richter [1] or Gönnenwein [2] (incidentally, much more expressive than Richter), or the secco abruptness of Koopman [6] and Leusink [8]. Not to mention the better comparison it makes with:

< Mvt. 4
This is an unusual movement -- another blend of recitative and chorale but one that is done more fluidly, with some words actually repeated. I didn't quite know what to make of it. >

I find that the extreme contrast between the recits is a significant part of the deceptively simple architecture of this cantata. On paper, the text appears symmetrical about the central aria, but it does not sound that way at all. However, Mvt. 1 and Mvt. 2 function as a unit which perfectly balances Mvt. 4 and Mvt. 5. What a fitting, perfect climax before the penitential Lenten break. There is no doubt in my mind that at least the contrasting character and structure of BWV 1, coming for the Annunciation in a few weeks, was already planned at this point, and the text was likely in hand. I have not even the tiniest shred of evidence to support this thought, although it is consistent with Wolff's opinion of text chronology and source.

Ed Myskowski wrote (March 26, 2007):
I hope you will indulge me in a few final thoughts: I cannot imagine a more dramatic contrast in imagery, than that between the Todesschwieß of BWV 127, before moving on to the Morgenstern of BWV 1. These are apparently consecutive texts by the same author. If it is indeed Stübel, and he died unexpectedly shortly after completing them, this is the stuff of myth as much as reality.

We are fortunate to be discussing these on consecutive weeks, so as not to miss the imagery. Bach's audience would have had five weeks elapse, but perhaps with text booklets in hand to contemplate during Lent. I cannot imagine Bach composing these two works without this contrast in mind, for both works. Although nothing more than unsupported opinion, I believe they must have been conceived (if not composed) in tandem.

A particular sweetness of the imagery, for me, is that it is not limited to Christian mythology. Any human anywhere on the planet at any time can relate to both the 'chill death-sweats' and the beauty of the morning star, be it rising sun, or even better, bright Venus in the dawn sky before the rising sun. That is the physical reality, no less important than the metaphor for Jesus, and easily grasped by people who have never heard of Jesus. This is not in any way to deny the importance of Christianity to Bach, only to point out that some of his (and Christianity's) imagery is even more universal.

A strength of Gardiner's performance of BWV 127/2, and a strong argument for the accuracy of interpreted continuo performance, is the fading to silence beneath Todesschweiß, as well as beneath the cognate first line rhyme. Much more effective than either the long held notes or abrupt plunks of the other versions I have heard. The bottom drops out.

A quick search for Todesschweiß on BCW turns up an article with many 'Tod' references, cited by Thomas Braatz, and several references to the healing sweat of Jesus, but no previous comments re BWV 127. A theme worth investigating further, for someone who might have the temperament to manage it.

Bring on the Morgenstern, for me.

Douglas Cowling wrote (March 27, 2007):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
< Bring on the Morgenstern, for me. >
Rhoda?

 

BWV 127, Feb. 22, 2009, Quinquagesima (Sunday before Lent)

Ed Myskowski wrote (February 22, 2009):
Todays cantata on WGBH-FM (www.wgbh.org) was BWV 127, repeating via webcast at this moment beginning noon EST (1700 UT). The version chosen by Brian McCreath was a private recording by Emmanuel Music under Craig Smith, circa 1993. A rare treat, thanks Brian.

 

Continue on Part 4

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

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