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Cantata BWV 128
Auf Christi Himmelfahrt allein
Discussions - Part 3

Continue from Part 2

Discussions in the Week of November 21, 2010

Ed Myskowski wrote (November 21, 2010):
Introduction to BWV 128 -- Auf Christi Himmelfahrt allein

This weeks discussion continues the ongoing series of cantatas spanning from Easter to Ascension, Pentecost, and Trinity. With BWV 128, we have the second of four Ascension Day works, this one from the second Leipzig cycle (Jahrgang I) Details of text, commentary, recordings, and previous discussion are accessible via: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV128.htm

Five selected recordings for the current weeks discussion are highlighted on the BCW main (home) page.

I cannot resist opening with this quote from Craig Smith [Emmanuel Music, commentary link]:

<Of all the von Ziegler texts, the one for BWV 128 is the most irritating. Here is a text so bumblingly conceived, and most importantly so anti-musical, that it almost defeats even Bach at the height of his powers.> (end quote)

I took the liberty of inserting a hyphen and comma (within and after *anti musical*). Check the original if you are curious. Bumblingly would make a nice word for a tongue-twister.

The link to commentary by Julian [Mincham} is especially recommended as an introduction to listening. Note that we are occupied with the cantatas for Ascension, and the Sunday after, for six weeks, until the end of this year, although in fact they span of only a few days in Bachs liturgical calendar.

Julians commentary for this work is especially relevant to the ongoing debate as to whether Bachs work on the chorale cantata cycle (Jahrgang II) was planned in advance, or interrupted by a need to change libretto source (i.e., Stubel died, or some such).

I stand with one foot (respectfully) in Craig Smiths grave: see above. Stubels, as well.

Evan Cortens wrote (November 21, 2010):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
< I cannot resist opening with this quote from Craig Smith [Emmanuel Music, commentary link]:
<Of all the
von Ziegler texts, the one for BWV 128 is the most irritating. Here is a text so bumblingly conceived, and most importantly so anti-musical, that it almost defeats even Bach at the height of his powers.> (end quote) >
Thanks again for a great intro! Reading over Smith's commentary, he certainly doesn't have much to say in favour of this text... I wonder,is his opinion so negative of the other Ziegler texts?
<>

Ed Myskowski wrote (November 21, 2010):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
< I cannot resist opening with this quote from Craig Smith [Emmanuel Music, commentary link]:
<Of all the
von Ziegler texts, the one for BWV 128 is the most irritating. Here is a text so bumblingly conceived, and most importantly so anti-musical, that it almost defeats even Bach at the height of his powers.> (end quote) >
On second thought, I rather like this line (translation from the Gardiner CD texts, DG Archiv [5], not to be confused with the actual year 2000 pilgrimage performances, perhaps yet to come):

BWV 128/2:
<there is grief, fear, and pain,
but there, in Salems tent,
I shall be transfigured>

Ed Myskowski wrote (November 21, 2010):
Evan Cortens wrote:
< Reading over Smith's commentary, he certainly doesn't have much to say in favour of this text... I wonder, is his opinion so negative of the other Ziegler texts? >
I wonder, as well. Worth a look.
<>

Ed Myskowski wrote (November 22, 2010):
Evan Cortens wrote:
< Reading over Smith's commentary, he certainly doesn't have much to say in favour of this text... I wonder, is his opinion so negative of the other Ziegler texts? >
Regarding BWV 87, Smith [Emmanuel Music commentary link, via BCW] states that it is one of the best of the von Ziegler librettos. That is not exactly positive (or not negative), however, especially since he emphasizes that the text is based primarily on Biblical citations.

See parallel discussion with subject heading BWV 87, especially the comment from Doug Cowling as to how much credit the text writer should get for the vox Christi quotations.

Ed Myskowski wrote (November 24, 2010):
Evan Cortens wrote:
< Reading over Smith's commentary, he certainly doesn't have much to say in favour of this text... I wonder, is his opinion so negative of the other Ziegler texts? >
Several of the cantatas with Ziegler texts get no comment in the Emmanuel Music commentary by Craig Smith. It appears that for a few, this is an unfortunate coincidence of high BWV numbers, while Craig may have been trying to fill in blanks more or less in order, before we lost him. I will try to get some confirmation of this detail. For a couple others (including BWV 87, as I previously posted) Craig’s approval of the Ziegler texts is grudging, at best. His positive comments are reserved for those which rely heavily on Biblical citations.

Re BWV 128, consider his continuation from the opening sentences I cited in my introduction:

<The readings for Ascension Day are two complementary descriptions. In one, the very end of the Gospel according to Mark, the Ascension is almost incidental to the exhortation to go into the world and preach the gospel. The very beginning of Acts [Epistle for the day] has the more vivid picture, not only the one which is the source for the many paintings of the subject, but certainly an image that can be used in musical description of the story. > (end quote)

This is in agreement with some comments I posted a couple weeks ago, with regard to BWV 87 (I believe) for Rogate, Fifth Sunday after Easter, but more generally to the entire period from Resurrection to Ascension. In fact, in those general comments, I overlooked several readings, including the Epistle for Ascension Day, but also the Gospel readings for Easter Monday and Tuesday. I had forgotten that the activities of Jesus documented in scripture for that mystical period are so sparse. They are covered by appropriate readings for various days, which were available to Bachs librettists for amplification of the story.

This seems an appropriate spot to repeat the point often made by Doug Cowling: Bachs congregations would have heard both Epistle and Gospel, so no need to repeat them at length in the cantata texts. Nevertheless, I stand with Craig Smith, especially with regard to Ascension Day: overlooking the vivid picture from Acts, the Epistle for the day, is a musical opportunity missed (not necessarily Bach’s oversight).

Evan Cortens wrote (November 21, 2010):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
< Several of the cantatas with Ziegler texts get no comment in the Emmanuel Music commentary by Craig Smith. It appears that for a few, this is an unfortunate coincidence of high BWV numbers, while Craig may have been trying to fill in blanks more or less in order, before we lost him. I will try to get some confirmation of this detail. For a couple others (including BWV 87, as I previously posted) Craigs approval of the Ziegler texts is grudging, at best. His positive comments are reserved for those which rely heavily on Biblical citations. >
Thanks for this, Ed! I confess, I've skimmed some of Mr Smith's commentary in the past, but haven't read them in detail. I wonder what he has to say about the othlibrettists? Relating to discussions we've had over the past months, I wonder if knowing who the author is influences his impression of the work? In other words, if he has a low opinion of Ziegler based on one work, does this then influence him to try to identify those same flaws in other texts by her? (Perhaps this is related to his "grudging" approval of BWV 87.)

This certainly isn't an issue specific to Bach or Ziegler... "Genius" composers are often praised for dealing with perceived "flaws" in the libretti they were given to set.

Douglas Cowling wrote (November 21, 2010):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
< Bach’s congregations would have heard both Epistle and Gospel, so no need to repeat them at length in the cantata texts. Nevertheless, I stand with Craig Smith, especially with regard to Ascension Day: overlooking the vivid picture from Acts, the Epistle for the day, is a musical opportunity missed (not necessarily Bachs oversight). >
On Ascension Day, Bach's listeners heard THREE musical accounts of the Ascension narrative before the cantata: the chanted Epistle and Gospel were preceded by the Introit motet, "Viri Galeilei" ("You men of Galilee") which set the Latin account in polyhony.

One of these days, we'll get a list of the motets and their composers in Bach's well-used Bodenschatz and Vopelius collection so that we can reconstruct the musical matrix of the cantatas. We know that Palestrina's music appeared frequently in the collections. Here's his 6-voice setting of the Ascension text. It give us some idea of the regular repertoire of Bach's choirs:

Palestrina: Viri Galilaei: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KrJcTqfJRm8

Ed Myskowski wrote (November 24, 2010):
Evan Cortens wrote:
< I've skimmed some of Mr Smith's commentary in the past, but haven't read them in detail. I wonder what he has to say about the other librettists? Relating to discussions we've had over the past months, I wonder if knowing who the author is influences his impression of the work? >
Perhaps, but I would rather think that his impresssions come from the experience of performing these works several times over with a close-knit group of musicians, including alto (or mezzo?) Pamela Dellal who provides the translations [English 6, BCW link] associated with Emmanuel Music. As I mentioned, I will try to glean some inside information, if I can do so without being intrusive.

EC:
< This certainly isn't an issue specific to Bach or Ziegler... "Genius" composers are often praised for dealing with perceived "flaws" in the libretti they were given to set. >
EM:
Yes, I think I have gone on record a few years ago, in agreement with a quotation from liner notes, to the effect that the texts (other than Biblical citations) would be largely forgotten without Bachs music. Chorales and hymns probably deserve a bit more consideration, as well.

Ed Myskowski wrote (November 24, 2010):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< One of these days, we'll get a list of the motets and their composers in Bach's well-used Bodenschatz and Vopelius collection so that we can reconstruct the musical matrix of the cantatas. >
Thanks for the ongoing contributions, helping us to move toward understanding that matrix. One of the key features of BCML discussions.

Julian Mincham wrote (November 24, 2010):
[To Ed Myskowski] Chorales and hymns probably deserve a bit more consideration, as well.

And, may I suggest, a number of the (largely ignored by many) recitatives which have their own particular richness of musical-cum textual meanings.

Ed Myskowski wrote (November 25, 2010):
Julian Mincham wrote:
< Chorales and hymns probably deserve a bit more consideration, as well.
And, may I suggest, a number of the (largely ignored by many) recitatives which have their own particular richness of musical-cum textual meanings. Jut being intrusive. >
Agreed, looking forward to ongoing discussion. I think both Evan and I (after reading Craig Smith, re BWV 128) were wondering to what extent the musical richness is in spite of (as opposed to inspired by) some of the text specifics.

I also think Doug Cowlings repeated point is worthy of more emphasis: the cantatas were heard in the context of a much larger, traditional, musical (and textual) matrix.

Julian Mincham wrote (November 25, 2010):
[To Ed Myskowski] Agreed, looking forward to ongoing discussion. I think both Evan and I (after reading Craig Smith, re BWV 128) were wondering to what extent the musical richness is in spite of (as opposed to inspired by) some of the text specifics.

Bach's texts were repetitive, Germanic in style and rather ponderous. But they did deal with issues of great human significance---death, life after death, absolution, good and evil, faith and determination, the fear of the grave, human happiness, misery and fulfillment etc. etc. This allowed, or gave opportunity to, a composer of extraordinary insight to employ his art to penetrate beyond the superficial. I would suggest that the form, language and repetitiveness of the texts renders them open to just criticism but the themes which which many of them deal are a different matter.

As an example------When will it be my turn to die Oh Lord?? (BWV 8) Who can say, hand on heart, that this is not a matter of some significance to every individual?

Ed Myskowski wrote (November 27, 2010):
Julian Mincham wrote:
< As an example------When will it be my turn to die Oh Lord?? (BWV 8) Who can say, hand on heart, that this is not a matter of some significance to every individual? >
Having just had a nice Thanksgiving dinner with many of my family, I cannot help but wonder if the ones who think about it at all (the kids do not, in our age!) do not look at me (the Old Dude) and think:

<It will most likely be his turn, before me>. I think, most likely they are correct.

Very brief comments, re Bach texts;

I am in agreement with Julian, that Bachs underlying themes are fundamental to the human condition. Some of the individual librettos are better than others, however, and the poorest are absolutely forgettable. I will try to have a deeper look at BWV 128 (*bumblingly* written, in the somewhat bumbling word of Craig Smith. I hope that was a joke, Craig!). Not to overlook the problem of translation, versus German originals.

For example: Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen (BWV 12). Not effectively translatable into English.

With gracious thanks to Bach, for saving many of those writers, including unknown and anonymous, from premature (or well-deserved) obsurity.

Evan Cortens wrote (November 27, 2010):
PM, Ed Myskowski wrote:
< For example: Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen (BWV 12). Not effectively translatable into English. >

Even worse for translation, I think, is BWV 147/1: "Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben". It is perhaps no coincidence that both texts in question are by Salomo Franck.

Ed Myskowski wrote (November 27, 2010):
Evan Cortens wrote:
< Even worse for translation, I think, is BWV 147/1: "Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben". It is perhaps no coincidence that both texts in question are by Salomo Franck. >
And no coincidence that Salomo Franck is neither unknown nor anonymous? Thanks to Evan for ongoing commentary.

Ed Myskowski wrote (November 29, 2010):
BWV 128 - Recordings

A few additional thoughts, before closing out the week dedicated to discussion of BWV 128.

from Julian [Mincham] commentary link, re Mvt. 3
<It is possible that it was the complexities of ideas within passages such as this which made Bach suspicious and possibly dissatisfied with von Ziegler's texts. Perhaps he felt that she had little real understanding of the balance of images and ideas that made a text suitable foaria, chorus or recitative. Sometimes there are just too many thoughts expressed within a few words and, as Bach knew better than anyone, music requires time in order to make its greatest impact.> (end quote)

I find this movement grows with repeated listening and thought (as Julian suggests?). In fact, I would analyze it with a couplet of arioso, between aria and recitative. Perhaps an appropriate transition for ascent to a seat in heaven.

Julian, re Mvt. 4
<The duet which follows is the only movement set in the minor mode. Those who read widely will discover a rather tepid response to it, claiming that it lacks the vitality and sustained interest of the rest of the work. This, of course, is partially a matter of taste but a judgment about its quality can only be made by viewing it within its overall context and noting what this reveals of Bach's macro-planning.

It is certainly the longest movement in this cantata and that fact alone gives it significance. It lacks the evocative, haunting quality of some of the oboe obbligato arias Bach has given us but that is not what he is seeking here. This is not the expression of a moment of doubt that we may reasonably have expected although Bach might well have concentrated upon the notion of skepticism as a portrayal of the reverse side of the certainty and optimism already expressed. Rather, this is an expression of the awe and wonder we feel as we contemplate His might and power. The music is more subdued than that which preceded it but it is neither tragic, nor fearful. It expresses a perfectly proper Lutheran sense of the greatness and unfathomable attributes of the Lord.> (end quote)

The recordings by Suzuki [8], Koopman [7], and Gardiner [5] provide a nice opportunity for comparisons in Mvt. 4. Koopman uses female alto Bogna Bartosz, as is usual in the later issues in his series (from Vol. 14) . Counter-tenor Robin Blaze has the alto part in both the others, separated by six years (1999 for Gardiner, 2006 for Suzuki). IMO, Bartosz and the earlier Blaze (with Koopman) have a purity of tone which is not quite matched by Blaze with Suzuki. That may in fact be as much the result of the resonant recording venue, as any difference in his voice. I find all three of these performances preferable to any other counter-tenor who comes to mind.

The entire performances are first rate. I notice some negative comments in the BCW archives, re the soloists with Gardiner [5], which opinion I do not share. If I had to choose one, it would be Suzuki [8], but that is more a general feeling than any specific shortcomings in the others. All three are clearly preferable to Leusink [6], and to the earlier recordings by Leonhardt [4] and Rilling [3]. I did ot have an opportunity to listen to Winschermann [2], which was very highly regarded in earlier discussion.

Taking the time to listen to these various performances confirms for me Julians suggestion that BWV 128, and especially the duet aria (Mvt. 4), is Bach at full creative power, whatever inspiration the text may lack. Incidentally, I believe that opinion was also shared by Craig Smith, with a careful reading of the little snippet I cited in my introduction.

 

BWV 128 -- English translation

Ed Myskowski wrote (January 25, 2011):
A bit of old business, which came up just after our scheduled disucssion of BWV 128, for Ascension Day. Paul Farseth contributed an original translation, which is available via the [English 8] link at: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV128.htm

Bach’s German, a literal translation, and a translation intended to be suitable for performance in English are presented in three side-by-side columns. Worth a look for the format alone.

The performance translation matches the German rhyme and meter, a formidable challenge. It would be interesting to hear from the correspondents who perform these works, as to interest in tranlsations for performance.

There is ample historic precedent. Off the top of my head, re SMP recordings with English translations:

(1) Leonard Bernstein, with NY Philharmonc, heavily edited for political correctness (or performance length), broadcast on WKRC Bach fest 2010.

(2) Ralph Vaughn Williams, with big piano (to my ears, from a radio broadcast a few years back). A lot of fun to hear once.

(3) Serge Koussevitzky (sp?), Boston Symphony Orch, Harvard Choir, a local favorite on my block. Well respected by the critics, as best I can tell. I have the CDs, waiting to be played in their entirety after a couple years on the shelf. A sampling early-on sounded historic and listenable.

(4) I believe I heard from Bachfest 2010 that the McKinley recording from 1931 is an English translation? This was incidental commentary to the Bernstein broadcast, and perhaps I misunderstood. From a quick check at that time, I did not see any indication in the BCW discography that McKinley is in English, but it is the first SMrecording.

I know Paul Farseth would appreciate some feedback on his considerable effort, so give it a look. re BWV 128 and several other cantatas.

While you are at it, give a nod if you enjoy Julian Mincham’s essays, the single best introduction for weekly listening. This is like family: you cannot show up once a year, and then expect all the beer and turkey you can manage. Well, you can expect it ...

William Hoffman wrote (January 25, 2011):
[To Ed Myskowski] Thank you, Paul. For those who quibble or quarrel over Ziegler's text or the general level of cantata poetry of Bach's day, the three settings/translations, IMHO, show the feelings and beliefs of the congregation, the biblical commentator, and the individual, giving us the opportunity to better understand Bach's Changing World and maybe even ours.

Julian Mincham's monographs are particularly insightful and helpful, and a great complement to the previous discussions, with their emphasis on basic facts and recordings.

Peter Smaill wrote (January 25, 2011):
[To Ed Myskowski] The beginning of the SMP English translations is as early as 1862 with the Novello edition edited by William Sterndale Bennett. It followed from the performance in St martin's Hall on March 23 1858 , in the presence of Prince Albert. the translator was a Miss H F H Johnston, whose " zeal in this cause is well known to the memebers of the Bach Society".

It has a period feel:

"Wir setzen uns mit Traenen nieder" becomes "In tears of grief we here recline/Murm'ring to Thee in thy tomb".

My copy, which belonged to the Bishop of Gloucester, Charles Ellicott (1819-1905) has many of the translations overwritten, perhaps to conform with later texts ( to suit a new performing translation in later editions) , or just maybe to satisfy doctrinal preferences of His Grace. Notably Ellicott's daughter Rosalind wasa composer in her own right. Ellicott it was rumoured would have becokme Archbishop of Canterbury except for the fact that Queen Victoria did not like his squeaky voice!

Paul Farseth's work on BWV 128 far surpasses the complete set of rhyming translations accompanying the Leonhardt/Harnoncourt Cantata set (Teldec) which often completely sacrifice meaning to rythmn and end up as doggerrel, alas. But maybe, as the revival of the Cantatas proceeds, the solution will be German singing with English surtitles, as at the opera; hitherto a rare occurrence due to cost?

Evan Cortens wrote (January 25, 2011):
On the question of cantata text translation and meaning, I heartily recommend Michael Marissen's article "Historically informed rendering of the librettos from Bach's church cantatas" in the Festschrift for Robin Leaver: http://worldcat.org/oclc/70176924

A fascinating and thprovoking essay from someone who has spent a good deal of time preparing translations and discussing the meaning and theological context of the texts.

Paul Farseth wrote (January 26, 2011):
Thanks, Ed (and Peter, and Will) for the attention to the BWV-128 translation and also for the appreciation.

This translation business is tricky, as we all know. Traduttore traditore! What I have tried to get across is some sense of the literal imagery and its roots in the German along with the idiomatic sense (where possible by use of analogous English idioms or word roots). Having a German Bible helps also, since it gives a clue to what context a word in a cantata might have had in the alluded-to Scripture texts. Then there is the trick of getting images more or less in the same phrases of the musical lines as in the original. At the very end comes the desire to rhyme, which is a little harder in English than in the more inflected German. (But rhyme and "music" in the lines is a good thing if they don't make the text awkward or stilted.) In any event, this translating is a jolly task.

Ed Myskowski wrote (January 27, 2011):
Evan Cortens wrote:
< On the question of cantata text translation and meaning, I heartily >recommend Michael Marissen's article "Historically informed rendering >of the librettos from Bach's church cantatas" in the Festschrift for >Robin Leaver: http://worldcat.org/oclc/70176924 >

Although I did not yet take the opportunity to access this reference, I hope to do so. For all the fun we have, these are the details that make BCML a credible resource for research (or just reading).

 

Cantata BWV 128: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

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

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Last update: ýSeptember 27, 2011 ý14:16:40