Cantata BWV 13Meinen Seufzer, meine Tränen
Discussions - Part 1
Discussions in the Week of January 14, 2001
Aryeh Oron wrote (January 14, 2001):
This is the week of cantata BWV 13 according to Andrew Oliver's suggestion. The title of this cantata reminds me the title of the previous cantata in the BWV Catalogue of Bach Works - BWV 12 "Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen". This cantata was discussed in the Bach Cantatas Mailing List many months ago. But Bach uses different structure for these two cantatas. Cantata BWV 12 opens with Sinfonia followed by a Chorus, where BWV 13 starts with an extended aria for Tenor. The words of the opening vocal numbers of both cantatas are gloomy and sorrowful. BWV 12 has justly acquired a place of honour in the oeuvre of the Bach Cantatas, where its more humble sister is lesser known. As usual in our weekly cantata discussions, we are given the opportunity to investigate Cantata BWV 13 on its own terms, explore it and reveal its internal beauty.
The arias for Tenor and for Bass
Although this cantata has many treasures to explore, I find that the two central numbers are the extended arias for Tenor (Mvt. 1) and for Bass (Mvt. 5). As a background for these two arias I shall use the following sources:
Albert Schweitzer's book - 'Johann Sebastian Bach'. I have this book in Hebrew and the free translation into English is mine.
Alec Robertson's book - 'The Church Cantatas of J.S. Bach'.
The English translation is taken from Richard Stokes' book 'J.S. Bach - The Complete Cantatas - In German-English translation'.
Mvt. 1 Aria for Tenor
Flute I, II, Oboe da caccia, Continuo
Original German text
Meine Seufzer, meine Tränen
Können nicht zu zählen sein
Wenn sich täglich Wehmut findet
Und der Jammer nicht verschwindet
Ah! So muß uns diese Pein
Schon den Weg zum Tode bahnen.
My sighs, my tears
Cannot be numbered
If each day is filled with sorrow
And lamentation does not vanish,
Ah, then this pain must
Pave the way to death.
Schweitzer: "The atmosphere of the opening aria is deeply sombre."
Robertson: "If there is no 'noble cheerfulness' in the libretto there is certainly noble grief in the music in this superb aria. Flutes, classically associated with grief, together with the oboe da caccia and the continuo form, with the voice, a quintet of deep anguish. The words above (the first 2 lines of the aria) are repeated in broken utterance, as are those of the last part of the middle section."
Mvt. 5 Aria for Bass
Violin solo, Flute I, II, unison Continuo
Original German Text
Ächzen und erbämlich Weinen
Hilft der Songen Krankheit nicht;
Aber wer gen Himmel siehet
Und sich da um Trost bemühet,
Dem kahn leicht ein Freudenlicht
In der Trauerbrust erscheinen.
Groaning and piteous weeping
Cannot ease sorrow's sickness;
But he who looks towards Heaven
And seeks solace there,
A beam of joy can with ease appear
In his grieving breast.
Schweitzer: "In the Aria for Bass we find one of the most remarkable dual-motive themes of Bach. It starts with the motive of sighs, which is later accompanied, without bridge, by the motive of joy. The music expresses the duality between the first and second half of the text."
Robertson: "The text of this aria takes up the sentiments of the last sentence in the recitative. In the first section the violin depicts the groaning and wailing in descending semi-tones taken up by the continuo as the violin launches into florid phrases gradually rising up to a pint of climax. These semi-tones, Whittaker interprets as the contrary state of confidence which, indeed, is expressed in the text of the following section and with which the aria ends. The aria is wonderful example of Bach's power in depicting contrary states of mind."
Review of the Recordings
During last week I have been hearing 5 complete recordings of BWV 13 and one recording of the aria for bass only. I shall exceed my practice and include this one in the review, because the bass singer is no less than Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau.
(1) Helmut Barbe (Mid 1960s?)
Aria for Tenor: HIP or the not, the instrumental opening of the aria is so beautifully set, that you know in advance that this is going to be heartfelt performance. High on the hills of this opening enters Krebs and his singing expresses all the sorrow and pain that a human voice can convey. The beauty of tone, sensitivity of expression and tenderness of approach are unsurpassable. This rendering is a masterpiece!
Aria for Bass: Kunz does not succeed in holding the listener attention along this lengthy aria. His expressive abilities are not varied enough. He has a pleasant voice, with a strongly felt vibrato, which might disturb some listeners. However this aria calls for more, much more.
 Karl Richter (1971)
Aria for Tenor: From the opening notes through the superb singing of Peter Schreier we are taken into the heart of "the deeply sombre atmosphere." Schreier singing grasp us in the throat and does not let us for a moment forget that "this pain must pave the way to death". We cannot find even the slightest optimism here.
Aria for Bass: Fischer-Dieskau continues along the same line of mood set by Schreier in the opening aria. He brings all his experience to the service of the music and the text. The change from groaning to confidence and from sorrow to joy comes in abruptness and almost causes a shock. The balance between all the components and the give and take relation between the voice and the accompaniment in this aria is exemplary.
 Gustav Leonhardt (1972)
Aria for Tenor: The instrumental opening is moving and Equiluz' singing is on the same par with Krebs and Schreier. His singing reflects more confidence than either of is two predecessors does. As if he is more assured of his way, despite its inevitable end.
Aria for Bass: Egmond is warm, strong and impressive, even if less varied than DFD. The playing of the accompaniment insistently reminds the singer of his destiny.
 Helmuth Rilling (1981)
Aria for Tenor: What I wrote about the previous singers, can also be applied to Adalbert Kraus. What disturbs me in this recording is that the playing of the accompaniment expresses more happiness and joy, rather than sadness and grief. Also in this recording the aria is performed a little bit too fast to my taste.
Aria for Bass: Very similar to that of Egmond.
 Pieter Jan Leusink (1999)
Aria for Tenor: In the discussion about last week's cantata - BWV 124 - there were some complaints about the quality of Knut Schoch's voice and singing. I decided to take a closer examination at his singing of this aria. Actually, hearing him after such heavy-weight champions, as Helmuth Krebs, Peter Schreier, Kurt Equiluz and Adalbert Kraus, is a big challenge for every tenor singer. The charm of the instrumental prelude sets the mood of subdued sombreness, and Schoch enters gently. His singing is lighter than most of his predecessors, but he succeeds in conveying the sadness and the pain of this aria. Not a big tragedy here, but the good balance between all the components, and the strength of the music deliver the message. I could not find any problem with Schoch's voice or expressive abilities.
Aria for Bass: Ramselaar singing is not interesting enough for such long aria. In this aria he is on lower level than either Egmond or Heldwein. The accompaniment is gentle and light, maybe too light.
(M-1) Karl Forster (1958)
Aria for Bass: Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau is here 13 years younger than his latter recording with Richter. He was at the height of his powers, full of youth and enthusiasm, but also very much aware of the sorrowful dimension of life. However, I find his latter recording more touching and convincing and deeper felt. Karl Forster is a capable Bach conductorand I remember his recording of SJP very favourably. But his hand at the accompaniment here is a little bit heavy, especially when compared with the recordings of the same aria by the younger generation of conductors (both HIP and non-HIP).
Aria for Tenor: I find it very hard to choose between Krebs/Barbe , Schreier/Richter , Equiluz/Leonhardt  and Kraus/Rilling . Even Schoch/Leusink  is very well up to the demanding expressive task.
Aria for Bass: Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau/Richter is in a class of his own.
And as always, I would like to hear other opinions, regarding the above mentioned performances, or other recordings.
Jane Newble wrote (January 15, 2001):
In this cantata, everything weeps and sighs...the instruments, the voices, the words, and even the notes in the music. If you are teetering on the edge of a depression, I would advise you not to listen to this - you will be guaranteed to fall right into the pit! Bach here pulls out all the musical stops to convey a deep inner despair and sad loneliness. What is deeper darkness than not being able to get through to God? A 'dark night of the soul' indeed!
(5) The only version I have is Leusink, and I want to start by saying that I take back everything I wrote about Knut Schoch last week. I can't imagine anyone singing this with more feeling and sadness. Buwalda does his bit, too, and of course the instruments sound absolutely wonderful all through this and through the soprano recitative. Then the bass enters and it is incredible how Bach portrays the 'pitiful weeping'. What I noticed particularly at the end of this aria were the last two lines. When he mentions 'Freudenlicht' and 'erscheinen', I can hear a little flame of hope and joy beginning to burn higher and higher. It slowly goes out again in the instrumental part. At the end there is the chorale, pointing us to the One who knows and will know what is best. Somewhere I heard that Bach had written this chorale himself? I have not read Aryeh's review yet, so perhaps the answer is there.
What I like so much about this cantata, is that Bach does not offer any cheap remedies, or says: "Just cheer up". He weeps with those who weep, but also points at the possibility of change. I think for those suffering deep depression, it must be very comforting to have someone who knows what it is like. Reading Bach's life history, he certainly would know what it is like when all things seem to go wrong, and there is no way out. It is definitely worth getting to know this cantata better.
Roy Reed wrote (January 18, 2001):
No, Sebastian, this will not do as a cantata for Epiphany 2!! This lugubrious business for the wedding feast at Cana in Galilee, the first of the 6 "signs" in the Gospel of John. And what do you give us for a wedding feast? Gloom, misery, pain, death... only a few downers in this litany of torment. What happened? Did the mayor die? Did the blacksmith run away with the baker's wife? What gloomy theologian de jour held forth on the total depravity and hopelessness of the human condition? Can't we lighten up for a wedding feast? Shame!! Yes, I know about particular Zeitgeist and all that, but really......!!!
OK, Sebastian, I grant you that this is truly masterful music. Wonderfully apt settings of words, but couldn't this stuff wait on a passion setting somewhere? Not here, at the wedding feast, where flat old water changes into the intoxicating wonder of wine? Huh?? Let's dance. I know you know how.
Yes, I know there is a reference to the text of John 2. But how tangential can you get. One little hint in the alto recitative #2, and a tiny bit of hope creeps in, only to be swallowed immediately by yet more moaning and groaning. We all know that life is hard and bitterly disappointing, but it is also serendipitously wonderful... and that is what this gospel is all about.
I have the Leusink performance (5) and the bass aria by Fischer-Dieskau on EMI (M-1). I think that the DFD performance is masterful.....the sense of tragedy and of weeping is so clear, as is the joy (Freudenlicht) permitted. In the motif on "weeping" in ms. 12, etc., Bach has a downward progression which includes the interval of an augmented second (f sharp to e flat)... very effective. At the end of the aria Bach has another unusual interval which is very effective. Of course, it ends on a dramatic downer: "hilft der Sorgen Krankheit nicht." The notes for "Krankheit nicht," are d, f sharp and the lower g at the bottom line of the bass clef. Very effective that drop of a major seventh. Unfortunately, DFD doesn't do the lower note. He is one of the many excellent Bach singers without good low tones. Ramselaar on the Leusink CD does sing that low g. It is one of the plusses for him. He can hit the high notes, and he does have a lower range.
I love you, Sebastian, but this is a bit much!!
Andrew Oliver wrote (January 19, 2001):
(5) First of all, I have to give credit where it is due. I have said sometimes that I don't like Knut Schoch's voice in the recordings of some (not all) cantatas. In this cantata, he sounds fine as the tenor soloist for Leusink, and I wonder if the text he is singing made any difference. Anyway, I like his performance here, and what is more, I like Sytse Buwalda's performance as well, as the alto. This is not the easiest cantata to listen to, but its mood is determined entirely by the words, so I would advise anyone who may have been deterred by their first hearing of it to find a good translation of the words (if they do not understand German), and then listen to it again.
I have two versions, Leusink (5) and Leonhardt , and I like them both, but if I had to make a choice, I would probably choose Leusink, and if I had to choose a favourite movement in the cantata, it would be the third, for the delightful orchestration which partners the alto voice singing the chorale. Bach excels himself with word-painting in the bass aria, but does he perhaps give us too much Ächzen and not enough Freudenlicht? As always, I love the closing chorale.
BWV 13 &/or Missa Brevis
Shawn Charton wrote (February 18, 2007):
I once sang a particularly strange Aria from BWV 13 for baritone and recorder (Ächtzen und erbärmlich weinen [I think])... It was an amazing aria but just plain odd. Does anyone know anything about BWV 13?
Also... I've always wondered about the Missa Brevis. They seem to be sadly neglected.
Julian Mincham wrote (February 18, 2007):
[To Shawn Charton] Oh boy this is a weird one. Generally listed as for bass this aria, which comes just before the chorale, has such convoluted chromatic harmony that at times it almost seems atonal. The obligato line is creates a doleful sound, recorder doubling violin throughout.
What interests me about this movement is the long opening ritornello in which Bach, with no compromise of structural unity or artistic integrity, conveys both the 'moaning and piteous weeping' but also the 'looking and striving upwards' (to the light of heaven). Both are clearly expressed in the musical shapes.
Highly recommended to cantata lovers as an outstanding example of Bach's skill and depth of expression.
Russell Telfer wrote (February 19, 2007):
[To Shawn Charton] I've always been fascinated by BWV 13. BTW the words I have in my copy for the baritone aria are - Aechzen und erbärmlich Weinen - you're right, except in minor detail. It strikes me that this Bass (it says here) aria has much in common with the Crucifixus and one or two similar movements in the B Minor Mass (BWV 232).
The gem in my consideration is the so called CHORAL, actually an Alto aria - Der Gott der mir hatt gesprochen -with the same recorder (or flute) and oboe da caccia on the same line.
This aria is an amazing piece ofperpetual motion which takes your breath away. A beautiful short theme is put through its paces and keeps you wondering what it's going to do next until it reaches a perfect neat ending, hinting at the preciseness of some of Bach's model fugues.
As to the Missa Brevis, I'm afraid I can't tell from the complete BWV listing I've got where it fits in. I'll keep looking.
Julian Mincham wrote (March 27, 2007):
I have been temporarily led astray from the second cycle (by Shawn's comment and Russell's endorsement) to choose BWV 13 as my cantata for this evening's listening.
Certainly for those who want a temporary respite from the cantatas of the second cycle they can do no better than turn to this one. Wonderfully balanced ----two arias (for tenor and bass) two recits (alto and sop) and two chorales.
Whilst it is often the bass aria that people remember, the tenor aria, with some marvellous filagrees of recorder and oboe, is no less compelling.
And has anyone noticed the thematic similarities between this aria and the duet (with the energetic bassoon obligato) from the much earlier BWV 155?
A work which wonderfully balances the expression of earthly sorrow and spiritual hope.
(Incidentally in the bass aria one finds a surprisingly wide range of tempi . I think there is around 2 1/2 minutes difference between Koopman and Harnoncourt for example)
Neil Halliday wrote (March 28, 2007):
BWV 13; and back to BWV 1
Julian Mincham wrote:
>has anyone noticed the thematic similarities between this aria and the duet (with the energetic bassoon obligato) from the much earlier BWV 155?<
Yes, this is rather observant of Julian; the thematic motifs are virtually identical, except that the aria is in triple time and the duet in common time.
BTW, the Rilling BWV 155 duet has two excellent singers (with well-controlled vibratos) recorded in 1971. It's a pity we did not hear more of them in this series.
The mood of BWV 13 is certainly a long way from the general happiness and confidence expressed in BWV 1, with this week's cantata expressing 'sunny blue skies' in almost symphonic proportions in the graceful opening chorus, and the "delightfully melodious" (Robertson) soprano and tenor arias.
The oboes da'caccia in the opening chorus add interesting orchestral colour to the horns and strings.
It's worth making sure one knows the cantus firmus, especially in the penultimate line, because here it is somewhat masked by the other voices (albeit in lovely harmony), with the altos rising above.
The 1st horn reinforces the cantus firmus when the c.f is being sung, otherwise it has indepedent material throughout the movement, as does the 2nd horn.
Julian noted the elaborate material in the lower voices leading up to the cantus firmus in the 2nd and 5th lines, in which the tenors and then altos quote the complete melody of that line, before the sopranos take it over in the usual long notes. Otherwise the c.f precedes the lower voices, except in the last line.
I find the manner in which the words (some with 3 or 4 syllables) are fitted to the notes, in both arias, to be most impressive and enjoyable, and as noted above, the sheer tunefulness of the arias is a delight.
Shawn Charton wrote (March 28, 2007):
[To Neil Halliday] Since when is the mark of "excellent" singing a "well controlled vibrato??" Sheer opinion, good sir. MY opinion is that contorolled vibrato of any sort means tense singing. But then, I have graduate degrees in vocal performance and a professional career singing... what's your excuse?
Neil Halliday wrote (March 28, 2007):
Shawn Charton wrote:
< Since when is the mark of "excellent" singing a "well controlled vibrato??" >
I mean "not too much" vibrato, which I and many others have complained about in relation to some of the singers in the Rilling set (and not only Rilling). Sorry for the lack of clarity resulting from my use of the term "well-controlled". Of course, I recognize there are many other factors that are responsible for creating the magic of an excellent voice, but the nature of the vibrato is surely one of the important factors.
(I heard a performance of Rachmaninov's Vocalese the other night; I was amazed that the conductor could tolerate such a pronounced and horrible vibrato).
Anyway, it's good to have another professional musician on the list!
Shawn Charton wrote (March 28, 2007):
[To Neil Halliday] Just so everyone knows (in a fairly simplified format)... as far as vocal technique is concerned vibrato is a by product of healthy vocal cord closure. It is caused by the Bernoulli effects of the air passing between the vocal folds. In order to "control" it a singer must put extra tension in his or her vocal folds and then pressurize the breath to compensate for the lessened breath flow. Some voices have faster or slower vibrato than others naturally just as some vibratos have a wider or narrower pitch oscillation. A vibrato that is heard as offensive is usually an indicator of other problems. I might add that those other problems are USUALLY caused by various versious of trying to CONTROL the voice.
The mark of GOOD historical singing, in my humble opinion, is to be found more in how much chest resonance the singer takes to the upper registers. True, less chest resonance usually accompanies lighter singing and lighter singing usually has less vibrato... but the main affecting factor is how much weight the singer is using. The rest are just side effects. Therefore, when a singer "fixes" their vibrato they are really just treating the symptom and letting the disease go rampant.
All of this is, of course, able to be backed up by buckets of medical terminology, etc... but I'd rather not confuse the issue with all that.
Russell Telfer wrote (March 28, 2007):
Julian Mincham's question:
<< has anyone noticed the thematic similarities between this aria and the duet (with the energetic bassoon obligato) from the much earlier BWV 155? >>
Neil Halliday writes:
< Yes, this is rather observant of Julian; the thematic motifs are virtually identical, except that the aria is in triple time and the duet in common time. >
So I went to look at cantata BWV 155 and the fagotto obbligato. I was very surprised - I thought I knew both of these movements well, but had never realised the close relation of the initial themes.
The cantata is (as we come to expect) finely written and the expression matches the sentiment of the words. "Our sorrow never passeth," from BWV 13/2 can perhaps sum it up.
However, in the sweeping Chorale for Alto which bears some relation in construction to BWV 147's double chorales (Jesu Joy) BWV 13/3 has these (translated) words:
Will he then evermore
Cruel wrath retain for me,
Can and will he to the wretched
Now no longer show his mercy?
Believe me, this sentiment doesn't match the glorious 49 bar perpetuum mobile dance.
Julian Mincham wrote (March 28, 2007):
Russell Telfer wrote:
< Will he then evermore
Cruel wrath retain for me,
Can and will he to the wretched
Now no longer show his mercy?
Believe me, this sentiment doesn't match the glorious 49 bar perpetuum mobile dance. >
Granted: but I think that the explanations for Bach's often unexpected and occasionally bizarre settings of movements is more likely to be found in the overall message and structure of a cantata as a whole rather than within the text of the individual movement.
Continue on Part 2
Cantata BWV 13: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3