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Cantata BWV 132
Bereitet die Wege, bereitet die Bahn!
Discussions - Part 2

Continue on Part 1

Discussions in the Week of May 22, 2005

Peter Bright wrote (May 22, 2005):
Introduction: BWV 132

The cantata for discussion this week (May 22-28) is:

Cantata BWV 132
Bereitet die Wege, bereitet die Bahn
(‘Prepare the way, prepare the course’)

Written for the fourth Sunday of Advent, first performed on 22 December 1715.
The text is from Evangelisches Andachts-Opffer by Salomo Franck (Weimar, 1715)

Link to texts, commentary, vocal score, music examples, and list of known recordings: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV132.htm

Link to previous discussions (including a very nice recordings review by Aryeh): http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV132-D.htm

It is possible to hear two versions of the complete cantata on the internet (Leonhardt from 1983, and Leusink, from 1999 [8]). See: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Mus/BWV132-Mus.htm

This page also includes a link to the alto recitative (from volume 2 of the Koopman series, 1995 [6])

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I have provided notes from two sources (any typing errors are mine):

1) Humphreys, D.L. (1999). Bereiteit die Wege, bereitet die Bahn. In Boy, M. (Ed.) Oxford Composer Companions: J.S. Bach, pp.60-61. Oxford University Press: Oxford
2) Isoyama, T. (1998). CD notes: Bach Cantatas Volume 7, Suzuki/Bach Collegium Japan, BIS [7].

1) [BWV132] dwells on Advent themes, the opening aria being built round Isaiah 40: 3 ('The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God') and the central aria (movement 3) paraphrasing the words of the Jews to John the Baptist 'Who art thou?' (John 1: 19). Franck's text includes a final chorale strophe, 'Ertot uns durch dein Gute', from Elisabeth Kreuziger's hymn Herr Christ, der einig Gotts Sohn (1524), but there is no setting of this in BWV 132, at least in the form in which it survives today. Alfred Dürr persuasively suggests that a chorale harmonization was entered on a loose sheet of paper after the third gathering (which was full) and has since dropped out of the score and been lost. There is a parallel with Cantata BWV 163 (Nur jedem das Seine), composed a few weeks earlier, in which a similar loss seems to have taken place. The only other cantata for the fourth Sunday of Advent to have survived is BWV 147, Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben.

BWV 132 is scored for SATB, oboe, strings, and continue (including bassoon). In its present form it consists of three arias flanking two simple recitatives, with all four voices assuming a solo role.

The opening da capo aria is in a lilting 6/8 metre with a rhythm suggesting the influence of the loure [a French court dance]. Most of the material is based on the opening figure, which lends itself easily to dialoguing and overlapping effects. The prominent solo oboe (the compass of the part shows that an oboe d'amore is required) is heard in dialogue with the soprano voice, exchanging figures based on the melismatic word-painting for 'Bahn', which wanders about its winding way in semiquavers. The words 'Messias kommt an!' ('the Messiah is coming!') are proclaimed unaccompanied, throwing them into relief and forming a climax to the aria's middle section.

The following tenor recitative, 'Willst du dich Gottes Kind und Christi Bruder nennen', is interspersed with arioso sections, with vividly descriptive word-painting to reflect the phrase 'Walz' ab die schweren Sundensteine' ('Roll away the heavy stones of sin'). There follows a bass aria, 'Wer bist du?' (Mvt. 3), the text of which takes as its point of departure the questions addressed by the Jews to John the Baptist (John 1: 19 ff.). The pervasive bass figure in the accompaniment (for continue only) is related to the main motif of the voice part. Its Buxtehudian character gives the whole movement an old-fashioned air, the cello working out the figure constantly against the background of simplified writing for the other continue instruments.

Also noteworthy are the spectacular chromatic melismata for 'ein falscher heuchlerischer Christ' ('a false, hypocritical Christian'). The following accompanied recitative leads to a third aria, 'Christ; Glieder, ach, bedenket', for alto. Exhorting the Christian to meditate on the baptism of Christ, it is in ritornello form with an elaborate violin obbligato. As mentioned above, the final chorale is apparently lacking.

2) […] It was the custom at this time in Weimar to perform a cantata during the liturgy on Advent 4, although not in Leipzig. Accordingly, it is believed that BWV 132 was only performed once during Bach's lifetime. For the same Sunday of the following year, the first version of BWV 147 was written, but this piece was reworked later in Leipzig and has survived as a Marian cantata (for the Feast of the Visitation).

The Gospel reading for Advent 4 tells the story of John the Baptist (John 1: 19-28). The Jews, hearing John's powerful preaching in the wilderness, wonder if John himself is the Messiah, and they ask him this question. John replies that he is not the Messiah, but a voice in the wilderness which cries 'make straight the way of the Lord'. They ask him why he baptizes if this is so. He answers, thus foretelling the advent
of the true Messiah:

'I baptize with water: but there standeth one among you, whom ye know not; he it is, who coming after me is preferred before me, whose shoe's latchet I am not worthy to unloose'.

It is clear that the libretto by Salomo Franck is closely based on this Gospel text. In his interpretation, he calls for Christians to 'prepare the way' of their inner selves, and to confirm their faith through confession. Bach's chamber-music-like arrangement for oboe, strings and continue gives a youthful and intimate imression. The music for the final chorale is missing from the autograph, but it has become standard practice to use the chorale from BWV 164, which has the same text.

The command to 'prepare the way' first appears at the beginning of the initial soprano aria (Mvt. 1) with oboe accompaniment (A major, 6/8 time). The pastoral rhythm flows along in dance-like steps, and the long runs on the word Bahn {road) create an effect of delightful motion.

In order to prepare the way, Christians must proclaim their faith openly and make their lives a confession of their faith. This is the message of the tenor recitative (Mvt. 2), which incorporates two A major arioso passages. The tenor tells how we must clear the way for the Saviour to become one with us through faith.

The bass aria (Mvt. 3) (E major, 4/4 time) which follows, as if it were a rite of passage itself, looks deeper into the Christian's sin. Over the fine figures the cello and continue repeatedly expose, the bass asks the severe question 'Who art thou?'.

The alto takes up the narrative with a recitative (Mvt. 4) with string accompaniment, in which he confesses his dishonesty and begs for God's forgiveness. He then continues with a B minor 4/4 aria (Mvt. 5) meditating upon the baptism of the Saviour. Virtuoso arabesques in a solo violin part might be thought to represent the 'fountain of blood and water' in the text. The fichorale is a prayer for God's goodness and mercy; as mentioned above, the harmonization written for BWV 164 is normally used to conclude this cantata.

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For me, the jewels of this cantata are the beautiful, lilting soprano aria (Mvt. 1) and the alto aria (Mvt. 5). But the entire cantata impresses Unfortunately, the music for the final chorus is missing, and (as stated in the above notes), the chorale from BWV 164 is commonly employed in its place.

I hope to see many of you joining in the discussion of this wonderful music.

Peter Smaill wrote (May 22, 2005):
The appearance of this cantata, BWV 132, "Bereitet die Wege, bereitet die bahn!" sent me scurrying back to the Richter vinyl recording [3] which I last listened to in the 1980's. And what a stream of recollection follows ! The haunting triple rythm of the opening aria comes back to the mind; the device of almost continuos triple time in the bass set against the dotted figure of the upper parts and the melismatic oboe create an unforgettable stream of music. The effect is of continuous movement, brilliantly appropriate to the words.

Within the text there is one interesting image, which links Old and new testaments, and is at the heart of the penitential aspect of the Advent season. It is the image of "Sundensteine", sin-stones being rolled away, an ingenious linkage of the stones of Christ's tomb after Calvary (Mark), with the OT concept of being "laden with iniquity" (Isaiah); the "lifting of the burden of our sins" (Esdras, Apocrypha). as an allegory of the effect of the Passion and Resurrection it is a brilliant conflation of ideas and images. But is it original to Salomo Franck?

Again we have Franck's focus on the spiritual washing qualities of Baptism and the favourite colours red, purple and white which make their third appearance.

Demanding modest forces and at a time of year when Christmas beckons, why is BWV 132 so rarely performed? One observation is that the oboe disappears after the first aria, and a perfunctory chorale closes the work without the joyous anticipation of the Saviour that would draw modern worshippers, albeit it fulfils the test 'in simplice stylo". The possible solution to this, although the purists might scoff, is to import not the plain setting of "Ertodt uns Durch deine Gute" from BWV 164, but the beautiful extended setting of the same words in the final chorale of BWV 22, allowing orchestral colour and the reappearance of the walking movement so brilliantly acheived in the opening aria.

Thomas Shepherd wrote (May 22, 2005):
Thanks to Peter Bright for taking over the task of introducing the cantatas!

The entire cantata performed by Helmut Kahlhöfer of 1966 on the Cantate / Oryx label [1] is available for a few weeks over the internet at: http://www.zen20101.zen.co.uk/Stuff/BWV132-Kahlh%259afer/

I've always enjoyed this recording - its a very careful and honest rendition by all the performers. The flowing long runs that the soprano has in the dance-like first movement are endearingly performed by Ingeborg Reichelt. She is forced to breath mid-phrase in some of the runs, but no matter. Kahlhöfer takes a much more sedate pace than, say, Suzuki [7] and allows space for the music to speak of the approaching Messiah without rushing!

Douglas Cowling wrote (May 22, 2005):
BWV 132 - Bass

Peter Bright wrote:
< Cantata BWV 132
Bereitet die Wege, bereitet die Bahn
(OPrepare the way, prepare the courseą)
Written for the fourth Sunday of Advent, first performed on 22 December
1715. >
I was struck by the virtuoso bass aria (Mvt. 3) with its wide tessitura and dramatic downward leaps. Reminded me of the bass aria in "Christ Lag in Todesbanden" (BWV 4).

Thomas Braatz wrote (May 22, 2005):
Peter Smaill wrote:
>>within the text there is one interesting image, which links Old and new testaments, and is at the heart of the penitential aspect of the Advent season. It is the image of "Sundensteine", sin-stones being rolled away, an ingenious linkage of the stones of Christ's tomb after Calvary (Mark), with the OT concept of being "laden with iniquity" (Isaiah); the "lifting of the burden of our sins" (Esdras, Apocrypha). as an allegory of the effect of the Passion and Resurrection it is a brilliant conflation of ideas and images. But is it original to Salomo Franck?<<
A search of the DWB (the equivalent to the complete version of the OED) turns up the compound "Sündenstein" without, however giving the context -- so there is no way, unless one has access to some rather obscure and probably very rare books, to assess whether exactly the same connection is made. Just possibly, however, Salomo Franck, might have read this book before he used the image himself:

"Sündenstein" ['sin-stone'] was first used in German by Gottfried Wagner (1652-1725, born and died in Leipzig) in his "Ter Tria oder die Lehre von denen Dreyhochheiligen Personen der Gottheit" [a book about the Holy Trinity] published in Leipzig in 1698. This book is a translation of a book that appeared that same year in English: "Faithfull Teate." [This is all that given about this English book in the DWB.]

Lucia Haselböck, in her book, "Bach: Textlexikon" [Bärenreiter, 2004], states (I am summarizing from her text only the beginning of her long article on 'Sin.') that the Baroque tends to personify more strongly/vividly virtues, vices, heavenly vs. demonic qualities/aspects. Sins appear in various recognizable guises/forms ["Gestalten."] They are as numerous 'as the grains of sand' near an ocean. They are hindrances that stand in the way on our path to God, because they are heavy burdens "auf der Glaubensbahn" ["on the path of faith" -- BWV 152 "Tritt auf die Glaubensbahn" also Salomo Franck]; they create the "Hügel und Höhen, die ihm entgegen stehen" ["the hills and heights which stand in his way."] BWV 159/1: "O harter Gang! hinauf? O ungeheurer Berg, den meine Sünden zeigen! Wie sauer wirst du müssen steigen!" [O, what a difficult path! Am I supposed to go all the way up there? O monstrous mountain which reveals {all} my sins! With what great difficulty will I have to climb {up there!} Haselböck interprets: they {the mountain of sins} are the 'mountain' of Golgatha which Jesus must overcome/conquer and the heart of the sinner is challenged to "Wälz ab die schweren Sündensteine" ["roll aside the heavy 'sin-stones!'[BWV 132/2]

Neil Halliday wrote (May 24, 2005):
Thomas Shepherd wrote:
<"Kahlhöfer [1] (in the soprano aria (Mvt. 1)) takes a much more sedate pace than, say, Suzuki [7] and allows space for the music to speak of the approaching Messiah without rushing!">
Agreed. Leusink's version [8] also struck me as taking the baroque 'dance' idea to extremes, with his fast tempo and small forces resulting in a rushed, light performance.

It's a pity Reichelt (with Kalhöfer [1]) employs a continuous fast vibrato, otherwise she might have given the nicest performance of them all: Augér with Rilling [4] once again shows her tendency to a harsh stridency in places (eg, on high notes; but her avoidance of vibrato on the melismata on "bereitet" is attractive); Mathis with Richter [3] lacks the sweetness this aria requires; Holton's voice with Leusink really dseem to lack projection in this aria. That leaves the boy Hennig with Leonhardt [5] with perhaps the most appealing singing; but I prefer the instrumental sound of the larger non-HIP orchestras mentioned above.

Do I detect some out of tune playing in the continuo at the start of Karlhöfer's bass aria (Mvt. 3)? The singer, Wollitz, has the ability to more accurately project the pitch of the notes he is singing, compared with the other basses, so that the downward leaps of a seventh (on "Satan's nets") are easily heard. But Karlhöfer's portable organ part sounds lame to me; Richter [3] in effect makes his fully realised organ part (on a large instrument) the obligato part, relegating the cello part to the continuo, with distinctive, effective and pleasing results (admittedly probably not what Bach had in mind). I find that the sempre staccato approach to the cello part, in Leusink and Leonhardt, results in an inappropriate light 'chamber music' sound in this aria. OTOH, Leonhardt and Leusink give quite pleasing performances of the lovely alto aria (Mvt. 5); notice the flowing, legato-sounding continuo in Leonhardt's version; Karlhofer's continuo, with its vibrato, perhaps (it depends on my mood) sounds too 'dense' in this aria. Rilling's recording is well engineered, with a spacious acoustic resulting in a life-like sound.

John Pike wrote (May 25, 2005):
BWV 132, "Bereitet die Wege, bereitet die Bahn"

Cantata for the 4th Sunday of Advent, Weimar 1715. The music for the final chorus is missing although Salomo Franck's entire libretto remains. It is therefore possible to substitute the music from the choral at the end of BWV 164, which is also a setting to the same words "Ertoet uns durch dein Guete".

I found this a most charming cantata. I particularly enjoyed the opening soprano aria (Mvt. 1) and the alto aria Mvt. 5.

I have listened to Leusink [8], Rilling [4] and Leonhardt [5] (the latter with Herreweghe as chorus master of Collegium Vocale Gent). I greatly enjoyed all three. I particularly enjoyed Ruth Holton's singing, as ever, in the Leusink, and her light approach. The soloists in Rilling's recording are all fine and there was not as much obtrusive vibrato as in some other recordings. The violin obbligato in no. 5 is very beautifully played in Rilling's account. I agree with others who have commented on the fine singing of Sebastian Hennig, the soprano soloist of Knabenchor Hannover in Leonhardt's recording.

 

Continue on Part 3

Cantata BWV 132: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

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