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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

Cantata BWV 137
Lobe den Herren, den mächtigen König der Ehren
Discussions - Part 1

Discussions in the Week of September 2, 2001 (1st round)

Aryeh Oron wrote (September 4, 2001):
Background

This is the week of Cantata BWV 179 according to Peter Bloemendaal, the fifth one in his proposed list of cantatas for discussion. As a background to the review of the various recordings of this cantata, I shall allow myself using this time the exemplary notes written by Alfred Dürr, and which appeared on the back cover of the Electrola/EMI LP (the recording by Hans Thamm).

See: Cantata BWV 137 - Commentary

Review of the Recordings

Like last week cantata BWV 179, Cantata BWV 137 has also 8 recordings. But unlike last week, 6 of these recordings belong to the old school, which means traditional non-HIP. Of the 6 older recordings: One conductor (Richter) recorded it twice; one tenor (Peter Schreier) sings in three, another (Gert Lutze) sings in two, while Kraus is left with only one recording; one soprano (Augér) also participates in two recordings. Let us see what they have to offer. I am also aware of two recordings of the opening chorus (Mvt. 1) from this cantata. I shall not review them here because I simply cannot accept taking a certain movemvent from this very well-tailored cantata and performing it individually. The details of these recordings will appear later in the page dedicated to this cantata in the Bach Cantatas Website. See: Cantata BWV 137 - Recordings.

[2] Günther Ramin (1953)
I know that Ramin had no reference point when he did this recording. The research of Bach performance practice was probably in its early stages. When he did his pioneer recordings of the cantatas, Ramin was equipped only with his ears, taste and of many years of experience serving as a Cantor. I believe that he thought that the best way to praise the Lord is with dignity and slow pace, as he was doing in this rendition. But to contemporary ears, as mine are, it sounds indeed very slow, too slow. The soprano and alto parts in the first movement is sung by the boys in the choir. The enthusiasm in their sing can be clearly heard, but also the incoherence. The instrumental playing is also far from being satisfactory and this is a pity, because the orchestral ritornellos have to be the glue between the choral parts. I do not know why did Ramin give the alto part to a boy, when he had many good female contraltos in his surrounding (as we know from his recordings of other cantatas). Is it because this aria is not very challenging technically, or because he thought the innocence of a boy is more suitable to deliver the message? Whatever was the reason, had the boy alto more stable voice it could work. The soprano part in the third movement is sung together by some boys from choir, and the effect of their singing against (or together) Johannes Oettel has a unique charm. Gert Lutze is very expressive in the aria for tenor, however he does strange things when he accentuates certain points. He could have benefited from faster pace.

[3] Karl Richter (Late 1950’s?; 1st recording)
Unfortunately Richter’s first recording has never been reissued on CD, and I was not able to listen to it. It is interesting to see if Lutze changed his approach under the baton of a different conductor, who usually preferred faster tempos and more vigorous approach than Ramin’s.

[4] Hans Thamm (1966)
There are cases when you hear a rendition of a cantata and you say to yourself ‘ This is the right thing; there is nothing I want to improve.’ This is the recording by which the others should be judged. It was done probably in the late sixties, by a German conductor who recorded too few cantatas. But he had authority, he had taste, and he had sense of balance, which gave his renditions a feeling that they are the real thing. This sense of rightness was achieved in almost all the cantata recordings which where done by a small groups of post-war German conductors, such as Wolfgang Gönnenwein, Helmuth Kahlhöfer and Wilhelm Ehmann. It is a pity and a shame on behalf of the record labels, which do not manage to transfer the cantata recordings by these conductors to CD form and make them more widely available. I do not think that it should cost too much money. After all, a friend transferred for me my Thamm’s LP to CD using home burner with satisfactory results. What is so good about this recording? First, the first movement - clarity of lines, homogenous choir singing, every small detail can be clearly heard. The tempo is right and so is the balance. And above all, Thamm manages to get all this and still to convey a sense of exuberant joy, vividness and vigour, which are so important for the message of this movement. What is so impressing with Ingeborg Russ is the way she manages to hold the long and challenging lines, and still to out into her singing delicate and irresistible expression. The listener must agree with her when she asks him whether has he ever noticed how God, who governs all things so wonderfully, has preserved him as he wished. And the listener can easily imagine the wings of the eagle when he is hearing the playing of the violin. What a wonderful couple of singers we have in the duet (Mvt. 3) – Teresa Zylis-Gara and Franz Crass in their prime. They are wonderful singers individually who manage to make even more marvellous team. The emotion they deliver together is so strong that they tore your heart into pieces. I feel myself lucky to be able to hear this duet in this rendition. I shall cherish its memory for a long time. And after this pick we get Schreier. He gives you confidence and hope and love, which are all that you need after the previous movement. I am speechless!

[8] Karl Ricther (1975-1977; 2nd recording)
Everything is fine with Richter’s rendition of the opening chorus (Mvt. 1) - professional singing from the choir, clear lines, and a lot of vigour and energy. Had it been the only recording I knew, I would enjoy it very much. But when it is compared with Thamm’s rendition, I feel that something is missing. You can call it inspiration. In the comparison, Richter sounds workmanlike. Julia Hamari voice has kind of hollowness, which characterise a certain kind of mezzo-sopranos who try to sing contralto part and are not equipped with enough depth and volume. In the long lines her vibrato is too much felt. Despite these reservations, she has enough musicality to convey a deep faithfulness. The playing of the solo violin is clean, strong and impressive, as Eagle’s wings should be. Edith Mathis and DFD are a fine couple, whose voices blend very well, and they listen very carefully to each other. Personal emotion is needed to be expressed here and this is what we get. The oboes illustrate the joy-motif around the voices to form a perfect trio. Schreier remains Schreier, which means high level of delivery and expression. Richter supplies him the right accompaniment, which means good balance between the solo trumpet, the continuo and the singer, as good as one could wish for.

[10] Hans-Joachim Rotzsch (1981-1981)
Rotzsch’s rendition of the opening chorus (Mvt. 1) is very similar to that of Richter, but its edges are softer, more rounded, and it reflects more joy. On the other hand, it is a little bit less focused, the message is less clear. Ortrun Wenkel is equipped with natural contralto and she sounds less forced than Hamari. But the accompaniment she gets from Rotzsch has less energy and does not push forward. It is too relaxed and lacks momentum. The combination of Augér and Adam is even better than that of the couple of Mathis and DFD. The accompaniment in the duet (Mvt. 3) is more flowing, but less prominent. Schreier maintains the same high levelhe has shown in his two previous renditions. The trumpet is glowing splendidly, matching the timbre of the tenor singer, without being over bright.

[9] Helmuth Rilling (1981-1982)
Rilling’s rendition of the opening chorus (Mvt. 1) is almost a duplication of Rotzsch, with tendency to more legato on one side, and more brightness from the trumpets on the other side. Gabriele Schreckenbach is another mezzo-soprano who tries to sing in the contralto range, with the same problems that Hamari has. But Hamari manages to put more emotion into her performance than Schreckenbach does, and therefore she keeps the interest of the listener more successfully. Heldwein does not have the authority and sensitivity to the other singer that Adam (with Rotzsch) has, and consequently this duet (Mvt. 3) is less successful, despite the presence of Augér. Kraus singing is inspired and he his aria for tenor is the best part of Rilling’s recording. His delivery has the vigour that convinces the listener of the sincerity of the text. The trumpet shines.

[11] Nikolaus Harnoncourt (1983)
Do I belong to the camp of those who hate Harnoncourt? How can I hate somebody who has dedicated so much of his life to explore the enormous field of the Bach Cantatas? I have only appreciation and admiration for him. I am only a listener, and he is a performer. But it does not mean that I enjoy everything that he does. I have a parable or two, which will explain my point of view when I am doing comparative listening to various renditions of the same cantata. I hope that I shall find the time to tell them to you some day. Anyway, the opening chorus of this cantata (Mvt. 1) is one of those cases in which Harnoncourt has an original point of view, different from the others. It is certainly valid; it is certainly original and it illuminates the movement from an angle uncovered by most of the other performers. This movement has distinct parts for the voices, each line is sung by another voice – the first by the altos, then the tenors, and then the basses and then comes the effective entry of the sopranos. The vocal parts are separated by orchestral ritornellos. What Harnoncourt does is outlining the contours of each part, to emphasis its uniqueness. And he manages to do it while he is keeping the flow of the music and its momentum. The baroque violin in the aria for alto is fantastic, a reason for careful listening to this rendition. And the warm singing and the full and rich voice of Esswood and his stable lines justify the use of counter-tenor. He is certainly better than either Hamari or Schreckenbach, also in terms of expressiveness. This is the best part in Harnoncourt’s recording. The duet (Mvt. 3) is given here to a boy soprano and to a bass, unfamiliar to me. The boy is certainly good with pleasant voice and tasteful singing. In one point he has to hold a long line and he does it impressively. I dare say that he outshines his partner, who sounds ordinary. Equiluz is very expressive in the aria for tenor, but I feel that, untypical for him, he is trying too much, instead of letting the music speaks for itself.

[12] Pieter Jan Leusink (2000)
The opening chorus (Mvt. 1) of Leusink is almost the most spontaneous and certainly the least polished of all the recordings I heard. It is almost irresistible in first hearing and almost intolerable in repeated hearings. Especially when it is heard after most of the other recordings. Buwalda is not bad, probably because the aria for alto suits his range of voice. But he has certain problems to hold the longs lines, and they tend to be fragile. The violin in this aria is charming, which means a gentle flight of the eagle. The tender approach continues into the duet (Mvt. 3), sung by Strijk and Ramselaar, whose voices blend nicely together, and the oboe complements the pleasant trio. Schoch is OK, but his expression leaves something to be desired when he is compared to most the other tenors singers. Schreier beats him 3 to 1 (-:

Conclusion

My priorities -
Level A - Thamm [4]
Level B - Richter 2 [8], Rotzsch [10], Rilling [9], Harnocourt [11]
Level C - Ramin [2], Leusink [12]

And despite this rating, I admit that I have found all the recordings more than satisfactory. Have I not done comparative listening, I assume that I would rate each one of them higher.

My conclusion regarding the duet (Mvt. 3) is that, as in the tennis game, not everybody who is successful in the solo game is also good in couple game and vice-versa. Because the good couples in the third movement of this cantata are not necessary those whom one might expect for in advance.

And if was forced to take only one movement from this cantata in only one rendition, it would be the duet (Mvt. 3) in the singing of Zylis-Gara and Crass under the baton of Thamm.

And as always, I would like to hear other opinions, regarding the above mentioned performances, or other recordings.

Thomas Braatz wrote (September 5, 2001):
BWV 137 - What to listen for in this cantata:

As interesting and exciting as the opening chords played by the trumpets and timpani and the syncopated rhythms played by the oboes may sound, do not let these distract you from hearing the fugal subject announcements that begin with the 5-note motif in the violins, which is answered by the oboes (measure 4,) and finally occurs in the bc (13.) Bach certainly was moved by the words in this first verse, particularly the final lines: "Kommet zu Hauf,/Psalter und Harfen, wacht auf!/Lasset die Musicam hören." ("Let's all come together, awaken the sounds of psaltery and harp. Let's hear the entire musical ensemble!") In the alto aria (Mvt. 2), the violin figure represents the Lord's wings of an eagle that guide and support you, but in its reincarnation in the Schübler Chorales for organ, BWV 650, it carries the title of another hymn, "Kommst du nun, Jesu, vom Himmel herunter?" Whenever I have played this version, I have always found the title intriguing because I have yet to see the full text of this first verse, let alone the entire (Advent) hymn. Based on this lack of context, I come up with two translations: 1. "Jesus, are you going to come down from heaven now?" [Is this the time you have chosen to come down to earth?" Or "Have you decided to come down to earth now?"} 2. [the same words spoken as an exasperated mother talking to her child up in a tree and telling the child to get down now because dinner is ready.] The duet for soprano and bass (Mvt. 3) is very difficult to perform properly. There are many versions that fail to make the grade. I am glad that Aryeh at least found one truly satisfying version of this duet. For me the highpoint occurs twice on the words, "In wieviel Not." The tenor aria (Mvt. 4) is a challenge even for the best tenors. There are beautiful coloraturas as well as a phrase, "Denke dran" which can be emotively expressed. The final chorale (Mvt. 5) has the seven (symbolic significance) parts for fullness and completion. Would that all trumpeters/tromba players were up to challenge of playing their few notes with steadfast affirmation!

Review of the Recordings

This past week I listened to the following versions of BWV 137: Ramin (1953) [2], Richter (1975-77) [8], Rilling (1980-82) [9], Rotzsch (1981-82) [10], Harnoncourt (1983) [11], and Leusink (2000) [12].

[2] Ramin:
1st Mvt.: Despite the fact that the rehearsal time combining instruments and choir was very limited or non-existent, it is remarkable, nonetheless, how the feelings of grandeur and praise manage to survive the primitive recording equipment used to preserve this radio broadcast. There are a few spots where the recording equipment is simply overwhelmed by the volume produced when the choir joins the instrumental ensemble. The slow tempo that Ramin takes not only helps to underscore the dignity of this performance, but it also allows the listener to hear new things in the movement of the the sixteenth notes sung by the choir that the subsequent recordings tend to cover up or lose with their faster tempi. If you wonder why this version takes much longer than the other faster recordings, the reason is not only the slow tempo, but also Ramin's recapitulation of the entire mvt. which he achieves by using the final orchestral ritornello as the introductory section after having performed this mvt once through. He then continues where the choir began the first time, thus you hear the same verse twice. Why would Ramin do this? He knows that this mvt. is a memorable one, and for those who may have tuned in a minute or two late on the radio, he gave the opportunity to hear this glorious mvt. without missing it entirely. Remember, in those days, few were the listeners fortunate enough to have recording equipment, and rebroadcasts were virtually impossible. Aria 2 is performed by two altos (boys) singing in unison. Similarly Aria 3 is sung by pairs of sopranos (boys) and basses. In the latter, the tempo is extremely slow, but nevertheless enjoyable. But why the pairs of voices on each solo part in both arias? My guess is that it allows one of the boys to catch a breath, while the other is still singing. The result is a natural delivery of the vocal part devoid of breathlessness that might ensue when a single boy is required to sing (on national radio) the many long notes (or faster notes at a slower tempo.) Aria 4: Lutze's singing is very operatic with the type of vibrato that typifies this type of singing. There is much straining of his voice as he attempts to reach the high notes. The coloraturas are unexceptional. What a thick, overwrought accompaniment - a heavy, cumbersome string bass and a cello (perhaps too close to the microphone?) Simon Couch's description of this phenomenon seems to fit best here: "The continuo group are on stimulants." The final chorale (Mvt. 5) is taken at a very slow tempo, but this does not detract from the grandeur, perhaps even adds something to it. As a listener, I really feel that the choir understood and meant every word that they were singing. This is the type of musical praise that I can identify with easily.

[8] Richter:
This is a rather thrilling version because of the excitement that the faster tempo generates, but there are some serious problems as well: the choir sounds muffled at times, the organ can be detected where it should not be heard, the bass is very staccato, and the tempo undergoes some pushing from time to time. Hamari's version is wonderful (I must have a crush on this woman - she seems to pull all the right stops or push all the right buttons for me.) While other vocalists outdo themselves to create something to show off their voices, Hamari achieves this with warmth and simplicity. In the duet (Mvt. 3), Mathis and Fischer-Dieskau work very hard at trying to form a musical twosome, but this keeps falling apart, leaving separate individuals trying to create music side-by-side, sometimes succeeding for a new measures, but never quite sustaining what should bring them together. In the tenor aria (Mvt. 4), listen to how Schreier does the coloraturas on "strömen" and "geregnet." Serious intonation problems exist in the chorale (Mvt. 5). The organ is to blame, since there is a natural tendency for a choir to go sharp together (relative to each other) as the level of enthusiam increases. The organ remains behind as an obvious reminder, "Hey, you've all gone sharp!" This becomes painfully evident in a few spots where Richter is still holding the chord, while the voices are catching a quick breath. Richter did not breathe with them. I hope he was not saying by this action, "All of you, listen to this. Get back in tune!" By that time, it was already too late to do anything about the situation.

[9] Rilling:
Everything is much clearer here with the polyphony being right up front and not receding into the distance because of the difficulty in the florid passages. Despite the fact that the voices are very clear, there is something lacking when the great chordal statements are made: "Kommet zu Hauf.") A certain excitement and intensity are missing. Schreckenbach's version of the alto aria (Mvt. 2) is one step below Hamari's treatment. Schreckenbach has a slight reedy edge in her voice, an edge that is part of her vibrato. This calls attention away from the message that she is trying to convey. In the duet (Mvt. 3) Heldwein has less voice that Fischer-Dieskau, but he matches Augér quite well. The blend of voices is good, although not ideal. The "In wieviel Not" could use a little more expression. Kraus has trouble with the simple quarter notes and the long, held notes where he displays too much vibrato. He also has to strain for the high notes. The coloraturas are, as usual, very good. In the chorale (Mvt. 5) one can hear certain individual tenors and sopranos, but the choir is very precise in its attacks. This version (with its slow trumpet vibrato at the end) lacks the final touch of enthusiasm that would put it into the top category.

[10] Rotzsch:
This is the first time that I have listened carefully to a recording under his direction. I was expecting much more than I actually heard. Quite a disappointment! For my ears solid, agreeable intonation can add much to the musical statement, and this 1st mvt. certainly is one that could stand strongly or fail miserably on this point alone. I was shocked when I heard the obvious strong vibrato in the oboes and shocked even more by the likes of Ludwig Güttler, who is more like a prima donna with his noticeable vibrato, in places where I might expect a straight tone, but then that may only be my personal preference. A vibrato on the high ascending notes that serve to transport me into Bach's heaven, is more like walking on crumbling steps rather than secure stones. The next great shock was the sound of the Thomanerchor: it lacked intensity with the exception of the soprano line. There was no articulation of the individual notes and as a result the lower voices sounded muffled and weak, particularly the bass line. In the florid passages, all the 16th notes were treated 'legatississimo.' Because this recording is in the early 1980's, it reminded me of a similar shift that took place in recorder playing. In my experience the Dutch have produced many excellent recorder players, but one of them (I would have to check my CD's to find his name,) proposed a new way of playing the instrument, based on the theory that recorders were to be played the same way that you sing. This was interpreted, wrongly of course, to mean that there should be no 'attack' of the note. Simply begin blowing air slowly into the recorder until a sound develops. Let this develop into a full, round sound, but as you stop for a rest mark, do not stop the air-flow suddenly. No, let the breath subside gradually until the sound stops. Going from one note tied to another, simply glide into it (your change in fingering will change the note.) There should be no articulation between the notes. Some of you already know what this sounds like: the note begins softly at a low p. The pitch increases along with volume until the note is reached. With a decrease in breath the pitch will fall as well. I think Brad, at one point, was explaining to someone how real bellows (not electrically pumped)on an organ operate and what would happen, if you held a few notes on the keyboard, while someone began pumping the bellows by hand. Along with the wheezing sound, the pipes would begin to sound softly at lower pitches and increase in volume and pitch until the required wind pressure was attained. It is this uncanny 'attackless' sound (without the raising or lowering of pitch) that I hear in the Thomanerchor. Of course, the strong German consonants are also reduced from their normal vigor. They are emasculated and I wonder if they now teach American English (sloppy) vowels that slide effortlessly into sound without any barrier. Did you know that German vowels in the initial position of a word are correctly pronounced with a type of consonant, a glottal stop? [Test case: "Eine alte Eiche" ("an old oak tree") ] English slides gradually into the vowels, but German distinctly inserts the glottal stop before each word. It sounds almost as though the Thomaner have become Americanized in this regard. I will need to listen to more Rotzsch to see if this theory holds up and offers an explanation for the muffled, less precise musical articulation of words. In her alto aria (Mvt. 2), Ortrun Wenkel has rather excessive vibrato for a rather simple chorale melody. At times she even has a howling quality in the production of her notes. Intonation: On the middle syllable of "verspüret" she goes flat. I do not find Augér and Adam a good match. She sings "off in her own world" and he is "down there" and never the twain shall really meet. The oboes are still terrible with their vibratos. The entire mvt. sounds belabored. Schreier always seems able 'to pull it off,' no matter what the circumstances. The final chorale (Mvt. 5) generally has a good, exuberant sound, but Güttler, on the 1st trumpet overdoes everything a bit with extra trills on the the long held notes. I would be satisfied with a simple straight note without vibrato but with correct intonation. Simplicity is power in this situation.

[11] Harnoncourt:
1st Mvt.: By opting for a very detached-note style of playing and singing throughout, as unmusical as such a choice may be, Harnoncourt deprives this glorious mvt. of all of its essential dignity and grandeur. Having dissected the musical line in this manner, he now has to resort to one of his many 'tricks' from his hatbag full of tricks (the Harnoncourt Doctrine) in order to 'save' the situation from collapsing completely under his type of HIP: the main fugal motif must be changed from the five quarter notes in sequence (a motif that Bach clearly marked 'staccato' on each note in the bc in measures 13-14, 77-78, 102-103), a five-note, detached-note sequence that would normally be right in Harnoncourt's bailiwick, to something else that can now carry the Harnoncourt signature: a special accent resembling an appoggiatura in the middle of this important fugal motif. This is a characteristic feature that can be found in many of the other cantata performances in this Teldec series. Harnoncourt has the instrumentalists lean heavily into a note, a note that is then tied to the next note with a ligature. The second note under the ligature is then played much softer than the first and is also released prematurely. The entire five-note pattern now sounds this way: dot, dot, DAH´ah, dot. Remember that this is genius at work! Now Harnoncourt can ride roughshod over Bach's own, personally marked, staccato treatment of the fugal motif. By perversely disregarding Bach's intentions in this manner, Harnoncourt loses my respect for him as a purveyor of Bach's music and brings discredit upon the HIP movement which is tainted by his presence, since other conductors have been adversely affected by the methods contained in his doctrine. When the valve-less, natural trumpets enter on a repeated-note motif in measure 9, they are slightly out-of-tune. This throws off the relative intonation within the entire ensemble and contributes further to the weakness of this recording. [When instruments and voices are in tune, they sound stronger than when they are not - That is my personal experience.] At times, the trumpets sound very distant, for example in measures 55-56, where the trumpets could really add some excitement to an otherwise rather dull performance. Whether the 'mix-down,' the reduced volume of these trumpets 'as original' instruments, or the incapability of the trumpeters to produce clear-sounding notes that are in tune with the rest of the ensemble are to blame for the lack of excitement, or for some other reasons unknown to me as a listener, I still have a right to demand or expect from a conductor that he should stand in awe of what Bach accomplished and attempt through his interpretation to infuse and convey a believable emotion of musical praise that is uplifting. This is what I do not hear in many of the recordings in this series, such as as this one. The choir is out of balance within itself with the only remarkable trait being the clear soprano line without which this recording's value would slip even lower. Compare the balance of choir and instrumental ensemble. The alto and bass voices are weak, while the instrumental ensemble is too loud. These are all things that a good Kapellmeister must take into consideration and remedy. When the altos enter for the first time they are insecure. A few measures later with all the florid 16th notes being sung, one hears too much 'he-he-he-he' and not enough real musical tone (notes having a definable pitch.) When the straight chordal passage ("Kommet zu Hauf, Psalter und Harfen, wacht auf!") occurs, there are too many prima donnas with vibratos that can be clearly heard, undermining the potential strength these measures could and should have. Esswood's aria is a definite improvement upon some of the more operatic voices used in the other recordings. A characteristic flaw in his singing that frequently, but not always, comes through, is that he tends to sing on the flat side of the designated note. You can hear this in measures 13-14. In one place, measures 39-40 on the syllable "-hält" he slowly changes the pitch, going higher toward the end. [Is Harnoncourt motioning to him that he should raise the pitch of this note?] Alice's treatment of this beautiful violin solo loses beauty because of the manner in which she attacks and overemphasizes certain notes, hitting them too hard. Yes, she sounds 'scratchier' than most violinists, even those of the HIP variety. [I could single out the same way, but for different reasons, Salerno-Sonnenberg or Mutter, if this were a forum on Romantic chamber music and indicate why they fail to give me listening pleasure - violin players and voices, although they have objective traits that can be described, nevertheless affect individuals subjectively in different ways.] In the duet (Mvt. 3), the bassoon is obtrusive, rarely yielding to any 'piano' markings in the score (measure 81, for instance.) The image of the 'Zippelfagottist,' a pejorative name Bach used in referring to a bassoonist, who very likely played in this unthinking, insensitive manner, comes to mind. The fast vibrato of Hartinger at the very beginning does not match Alan Bergius' soprano voice. There is great variation in the dynamic range (very loud, very soft) with Bergius holding some very successful long notes, but almost disappearing from sight/hearing in measure 93 ("-tet") as does also the bass in measures 21 ("und") and 63 ("ge-.") Equiluz was not in good voice or simply having a bad day with this aria. The one place where he shines, as usual, is in the expression of the word content as in "denke dran." He strains for the high notes, and something that I rarely hear him do: a vibrato on each separate 16th note in the coloraturas! Now the final chorale (Mvt. 5)! Will this cantata end with a bang or a whimper? We have trumpets and timpani and a strong 4-part harmonization of the vocal parts - everything seems to be pointing toward success. But wait! Where are the altos and tenors? Did they leave early? Their parts are hardly audible. Well, the final trumpet flourish will put the right touch on everything. Let's listen carefully to the final two measures (17-18.) The 1st trumpet, after fumbling over some of the notes (the a's on the score are almost inaudible or off-pitch) tries to perform a feeble trill at the end. A careful listener can only think, "That was a whimper, not a fitting conclusion for such a magnificent cantata."

[12] Leusink:
The tempo is quite fast and the balance in the instrumental ensemble is better than Harnoncourt's. What does Leusink do about the Harnoncourt innovation regarding the fugal motif in the 1st mvt.? He wavers, he vacillates! He has probably taken Harnoncourt's 'discovery' into account, but worries a bit about contradicting Bach's intentions. The first entrance of the altos is weak, the tenors are somewhat stronger, but with way too much vibrato. The bass entry is also weak. The soprano line, although audible, is nevertheless too weak to serve as the strong connecting link with all the florid passagework going on in the other voices. On the chordal passage ("Kommet zu Hauf..") the use of vibrato reveals the shaky aspects of each chord. There is no real strength or conviction. The violin solo in the alto aria (Mvt. 2) is not as edgy/angular as Alice Harnoncourt's. It is much mellower, perhaps so mellow that it verges on becoming boring to listen to. The thin edge in Buwalda's voice makes it sound like it will break at any moment. There is poor pronunciation of German and too much vibrato at times. Strijk and Ramselaar (both half-voices) match better than most of the other pairs of soloists, but with the lack of volume in their voices, they are always in danger of being covered up, particularly by the bc which is still much too heavy (Harnoncourt's bc was worse in this instance.) With Schoch there is an intonation problem as he sings flat at times (measures 17, 31, 33, 46.) There is not much 'soul' in his singing. Listen to the soft bassoon! Such things do exist! Chorale (Mvt. 5): At this fast tempo, the choir, with its yodelling falsettists and with its dropping of important final syllables ("-men") can not fulfill the minimum requirement of stately joy and grandeur, nor can the loud timpani make up for a fumbling effort on the part of the trumpeter who misses all the a's in the last two measures.

No Summary

Jane Newble wrote (September 7, 2001):
Although I only have the one version of BWV 137, and can therefore not add anything useful to comparisons, I would like to say a few things (not really useful either) about this wonderful cantata.

This always used to be one of my favourite hymns when I still lived in Holland. When I came to England, I was most disappointed to find that the eagles' wings had been left out of the translation of the second strophe.

So, after all those years of knowing this hymn in different forms, it took some getting used to hearing the 'Bach' version. Having listened to it several times, I have come to love it. The only version I have is Leusink [12]. For once I am not put off by the singing of the soprano boys in the chorus (Mvt. 1). They are fairly restrained here, and don't sound too much like the 'pack of hounds' as someone very aptly called it. Whatever I or anyone else may think about Buwalda, in the alto 'aria' I like the way his serene voice sets off the beautiful violin part. It doesn't seem to matter that the organ can hardly keep up with it. The violin shows me the excitement of being carried on eagles' wings, serene, steady and 'sicher', and yet the airiness of the wings – the 'Adler's Fittichen'. Looking down from that great height, one could feel quite vulnerable! I love the duet (Mvt. 3), with Marjon Strijk and Bas Ramselaar. 'Künstlich und fein' he has made it, just like in the text. The tenor 'aria' is extremely clever, with the trumpet singing the chorale tune, and the bassoon affirming whatever is going on. It sounds quite complicated, and I am lost in admiration for this genius called Bach! It is just a pity it had to be Schoch singing this! And then the final chorale (Mvt. 5), with the timpani banging away, as if to make really sure that we have understood the message. I like the exhortation in the text to join in with 'the seed of Abraham'. What a way to sing praises to the God of Abraham! Bach must have been quite happy with this. I certainly am.

Andrew Oliver wrote (September 9, 2001):
I have been guilty of assuming that, since the chorale melody on which this cantata is based is familiar to me, and since the words, both in German and in the English translations given provide pointers towards the reason why it seems familiar, surely all other list members must also recognize immediately where they have heard it before. On reflection, I realize that perhaps not everyone will have done so. So, to quote from Oxford Composer Companions, J.S.Bach : 'Cantata 137 is based entirely on the five stanzas of Joachim Neander's hymn of 1680 and its associated melody, familiar in English as "Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation." ' I note that Neander wrote his hymn in the year in which he died, and that he was born in 1650.

The Gospel reading for the twelfth Sunday after Trinity, for which this cantata was originally written, is Mark 7: 31-37, which concerns the healing by Jesus of the deaf man, who also had a speech impediment. Therefore, this hymn of praise relates most specifically to the final two verses which say (KJV): He (Jesus) charged them (the deaf man who had been healed, and those who brought him) that they should tell no man; but the more he charged them, so much the more they published it, and were beyond measure astonished, saying, "He hath done all things well: he maketh both the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak." From this we may see that the most relevant stanza of Neander's hymn is the third, which Z.Philip Ambrose translates as:

Praise the Almighty, who doth with his splendor adorn thee,
Who hath thy health given to thee, and kindly doth guide thee;
In what great need
Hath not the merciful God
Over thee his wings extended?

This third stanza is that marvellous duet for soprano and bass (Mvt. 3). I love Leusink's version of it [12], with Strijk and Ramselaar and those beautiful oboes. Thomas considers the continuo too loud, but it sounds fine to me; in any event, it doesn't obscure the voices. Speaking of Leusink's recording, I also like Buwalda's solo quite as much as Esswood's (with Harnoncourt) [11], though I prefer Equiluz to Schoch in the tenor solo. Having said that, I very much like the sound of the bassoon which Leusink gives us in the fourth movement. Overall, I am quite happy with both the Harnoncourt and Leusink versions.

Sometimes the issue of pronunciation of German is raised. To me that seems a matter about which we should not be too dogmatic if we are considering recordings in terms of authenticity of production, since Bach's own choir would doubtless not have been using pronunciation identical to that of modern standard High German.

Michael Grover wrote (September 9, 2001):
[To Andrew Oliver] I love this mailing list! I don't know why I didn't realize it before, but not having heard this cantata, I wasn't aware what the hymn was that 137 is based on until I read Andrew's post. And, by golly, that just happens to be one of my most favorite hymns! Now I'm going to have to head over to Berkshire RO anload up the shopping cart again...

And as an interesting side note, my hymn book states that Neander wrote the text, and the tune comes from the "Stralsund Gesangbuch", published 1665. Here is some more information about Neander and this hymn, courtesy of http://villa.lakes.com/irv/hymns/hymn-75.htm:

Hymn Title: Praise Ye the Lord, the Almighty
Hymn Author: Joachim Neander, 1650-1680
Hymn Tune: Lobe Den Herren
Hymn Music: From Stralsund Gesangbuch, 1665
Hymn Meter: 14 14. 4 7 8
English Translation: Catherine Winkworth, 1827-1878 Scripture Reference: Psalm 103:1-6; Psalm 150

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Text: Let the people praise Thee, O God; let all the people praise Thee. Psalm 67:3

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Joachim Neander, called the greatest of all German-Calvinist Reformed hymn writers, was born in Bremen, Germany on May 31, 1650. He wrote approximately sixty hymns and composed many tunes. Nearly all of his hymns are triumphant expressions of praise. Neander, though only thirty years of age when he died, was a noted scholar in theology, literature and music, as well as pastor of the Reformed Church in Dusseldorf, Germany,. The Julian Dictionary of Hymnology calls this hymn "a magnificent hymn of praise, perhaps the finest production of its author and of the first rank in its class."

Catherine Winkworth was born in London, England, on September 13, 1827. She was a pioneer in the higher education of women. Miss Winkworth was regarded as one of the finest translators of the German language while expressing the text in English. Her translations helped to make German hymns popular in England during the nineteenth century. Prior to her work, very little of the German hymnody had been translated after the work of John Wesley in the eighteenth century. Miss Winkworth translated several books of German verse which became widely known. One of these books, The Chorale Book for England, 1863, contained the translation of this hymn. She also translated the well-known German chorale, "Now Thank We All Our God" (No. 62).

The tune, "Lobe Den Herren" ("Praise To the Lord"), first appeared in the Stralsund Gesanbuch, 2nd edition, in 1665. It is said that Joachim Neander personally chose this tune for his text, and his words have never been used with any other melody. The tune first appeared in England in the 1904 edition of Hymns Ancient and Modern.

Peter Hoogenboom wrote (October 5, 2001):
Sorry for a bit of catchin up:

Andrew Oliver wrote:
< [snip] Sometimes the issue of pronunciation of German is raised. To me that seems a matter about which we should not be too dogmatic if we are considering recordings in terms of authenticity of production, since Bach's own choir would doubtless not have been using pronunciation identical to that of modern standard High German. >

I agree that poor pronunciation may not be the most appropriate thing to consider in judging a recording's authenticity. (But I don't think that the word authentic leads to useful discussions.)

However, poor pronunciation by a non-native speaker (or even a native speaker) can indeed ruin an otherwise good performance for a listener who knows the language well.

As an example, I'll cite Jose Carreras in Bernstein's recording of West Side Story. His accent might have been acceptible if he hadn't been portraying a character with ties to the non-hispanic side of an entrenched ethnic conflict, but even still, it is difficult for me to take.

Closer to the topic at hand, I find it difficult to be moved by thickly accented renditions of Händel's oratorios.

 

BWV 137 expert opinion needed

Arjen van Gijssel wrote (April 18, 2004):
I was studying on BWV 137, Lobe den Herrn. That is, listening while driving to work. Ideal place to prepare for our monthly cantata series. And then I discovered something. My theory is that in the opening of the choir Bach cutted the cantus firmus material in two subthemes and mingled them.

The cantus firmus line is: c c g e d c. This can be splitted in c c and g e d c. The first notes are transformed into subtheme c c c c b c. It is introduced by the violins, and then taken over by the hobo's, and after a while by the bc. The second group of notes is transformed into subtheme G E a g f d' f E D C. It is first introduced by the hobo's, and taken over by the violins. After that, there is a short roundabout, and then the violins play the first subtheme, and at the start of the choir again.

Now, the big question is: is this all imagination, or too far-fetched. Might it be that Bach was sitting at the kitchen table back in April 1725 (birds were singing at the window, sun was shining) and thinking about the well-known choral theme, puzzling about a possible orchestration. And he thought, well let us work from the two genetic strings in this theme and whirl them around each other. I work with with fugal entries, as usual. Okay, doing that I will have some 16 bars completed, let the choir begin. Another cantata project born. I should write it down tonight, let's see how far it goes.

Brad, Thomas, or any other experts, tell me whether I might have a case. Thomas, I read your discussion contribution in 2001 on the site. You indeed talk about the fugal theme (c c c c b c), and that you should not be distracted from that. But what distracts you, in my view is the second part of the choral line!

Thomas Braatz wrote (April 18, 2004):
Arjen Gijssel stated the following:
>> My theory is that in the opening of the choir Bach cutted the cantus firmus material in two subthemes and mingled them. The cantus firmus line is: c c g e d c. This can be splitted in c c and g e d c. The first notes are transformed into subtheme c c c c b c. It is introduced by the violins, and then taken over by the hobo's, and after a while by the bc. The second group of notes is transformed into subtheme G E a g f d' f E D C. It is first introduced by the hobo's, and taken over by the violins. After that, there is a short roundabout, and then the violins play the first subtheme, and at the start of the choir again.<<
There are probably a number of ways to analyze just where Bach derived his thematic material. Let me suggest that, instead of splitting the opening cantus firmus line as you have indicated, think instead of the three-notes-in-succession theme that is derived from the opening of the Abgesang (of the bar-form chorale used here.) It may not appear to you immediately because of Bach’s syncopation/variation of the chorale melody at this point and the fact that the last note goes up rather than down a step, but what we have here is really a 4-note motif:: E E E F (the regularity of the beat is preserved in the bass and tenor parts) of which the first 3 repeated notes are individually given special emphasis. It could be, however, that Bach needed the inversion of this motif: CCCBBC, slightly extended by two notes, as the framework upon which his initial combination of ideas could be erected. As Schweitzer once pointed out – you can usually find somewhere in Bach’s opening chorale mvts. a kernel from which Bach develops/unfolds all the marvelous possibilities that work together so seamlessly. One such kernel (all in a nutshell) would be the first 2 measures of the mvt. which contains bits and pieces derived from the cantus firmus as well as from the elements of the fughetta-like entries in the voices that precede the actual singing of the cantus firmus.

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 19, 2004):
Arjen van Gijssel wrote:
< I was studying on BWV 137, Lobe den Herrn. That is, listening while driving to work. Ideal place to prepare for our monthly cantata series. And then I discovered something. My theory is that in the opening of the choir Bach cutted the cantus firmus material in two subthemes and mingled them.
The cantus firmuline is: c c g e d c. >
That's the chorale tune "Hast du denn, Liebster, dein Angesicht" (#1912a in Zahn's catalogue), by Neander. Bach used it also in cantatas BWV 120a, BWV 57, and the organ chorale (Schübler) 650 as a solo organ arrangement of one of the movements from BWV 137.

[And it was one of my own favorite tunes in the hymnal I grew up with...I've conducted a cappella singing of it dozens of times.... I put on a recording of BWV 137 today at lunch and my wife started singing along with the cantus firmus wherever it came up, with the English words from our hymnals, as she recognized it immediately.]

< This can be splitted in c c and g e d c. The first notes are transformed into subtheme c c c c b c. It is introduced by the violins, and then taken over by the hobo's, and after a while by the bc. The second group of notes is transformed into subtheme G E a g f d' f E D C. It is first introduced by the hobo's, and taken over by the violins. After that, there is a short roundabout, and then the violins play the first subtheme, and at the start of the choir again.
Now, the big question is: is this all imagination, or too far-fetched. >
Isn't it merely a coincidence that one subject starts with several repeated notes, and so does the chorale? Lots of subjects start with repeated notes, in much of Bach's music. Bach invented several other counter-subjects against the same chorale in the other movements of BWV 137, here. So what?

Repeated-note subjects are especially useful, anyway, in any situation (such as this one) where a pedal-point works, or where it's invertible counterpoint; just repeat the notes giving it a bit more interest than holding one long note, or holding a simple suspension. Again, so what? (Ask anyone who's ever played viola: middle parts in musical texture get a lot of this filler-material, and lots of repeated notes.)

And why take "c c c c b" as a complete subject at all? It doesn't get its own exposition during this movement, which a real subject would do, but merely (and regularly) accompanies the main quick one stated by everybody. Isn't this one merely a fancier way to play a c-b suspension, filling in the texture?

< Might it be that Bach was sitting at the kitchen table back in April 1725 (birds were singing at the window, sun was shining) and thinking about the well-known choral theme, puzzling about a possible orchestration. And he thought, well let us work from the two genetic strings in this theme and whirl them around each other. I work with with fugal entries, as usual. Okay, doing that I will have some 16 bars completed, let the choir begin. Another cantata project born. I should write it down tonight, let's see how far it goes. >
Wouldn't that be August 1725 instead of April? :) Also, Bach's knowledge of DNA helices was probably not that advanced. <bigger grin>

< Thomas, I read your discussion contribution in 2001 on the site. You indeed talk about the fugal theme (c c c c b c), and that you should not be distracted from that. But what distracts you, in my view is the second part of the choral line! >

For what it's worth: I took a look briefly at the archived discussion at: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV137-D.htm
trying to find Mr Braatz' analysis of this alleged fugal theme, but frankly I couldn't read past his usual Harnoncourt-bash (allegation of "unmusical", and allegation of "hatbag full of tricks (the Harnoncourt Doctrine)" and his allegation that Harnoncourt doesn't know how to read articulation correctly). That, plus his usual tromba-bash (allegation of "players not up to the challenge of playing their few notes with steadfast affirmation", and a trumpeter who "tries to perform a feeble trill" as if anybody would ever attempt that). That, and the decision that any sound he doesn't like is to be equated with the "Zippelfagottist" that Bach disliked, giving this opinion a veneer of authenticity. And to wrap up, Mr Braatz' assertion of what "a careful listener can only think". Far be it from anyone to have intelligent or careful musical opinions different from his own. I'm sorry to be so negative about this in response, but the man's writing is so antagonistic to performers I can hardly bear to look at it. Does that make me a "bad guy" in reporting my honest reaction?

Arjen van Gijssel wrote (April 19, 2004):
[To Bradley Lehman] txs very much for your response (and likewise to Thomas). You're not a bad guy at all, although you dismissed my amateur theory. You know how I feel about antagonistic theories on this site. But behind the veil there is expertise.

BTW, bring in your wife more often. It makes you more human and less giant :)

Thomas Braatz wrote (April 20, 2004):
An 'expert' voiced the following personal opinion not based upon solid evidence:
>>Isn't it merely a coincidence that one subject starts with several repeated notes, and so does the chorale? Lots of subjects start with repeated notes, in much of Bach's music. Bach invented several other counter-subjects against the same chorale in the other movements of 137, here. So what?

Repeated-note subjects are especially useful, anyway, in any situation (such as this one) where a pedal-point works, or where it's invertible counterpoint; just repeat the notes giving it a bit more interest than holding one long note, or holding a simple suspension. Again, so what? (Ask anyone who's ever played viola: middle parts in musical texture get a lot of this filler-material, and lots of repeated notes.)

And why take "c c c c b" as a complete subject at all? It doesn't get its own exposition during this movement, which a real subject would do, but merely (and regularly) accompanies the main quick one stated by everybody. Isn't this one merely a fancier way to play a c-b suspension, filling in the texture?<<
It appears that Bach himself sees this matter differently and that Arjen Gijssel was ahead of us all in this one. In the 'Urtext' NBA I/20 printed score, any Bach scholar or true Bach musician would notice that Bach has delineated carefully the motif CCCBB as being very important to the structure (as if this isn't already apparent by its repeated use elsewhere in the movement) and the appropriate performance style of this mvt. As proof I offer the following snippet from the bc of Mvt. 1, measures 13 & 14. [This is found at: Cantata BWV 137 - Examples from the Score ]
This articulation, which is Bach's own, occurs only once in this fashion throughout this entire mvt. It is Bach calling special attention to this motif. I interpret the dots here to mean strong accentuation (not necessarily abrupt or radically truncated) in order to call attention to its importance as it occurs here for the 1st time in the bc. Bach has personally placed a very special significance upon this motif at this point even though it had already occurred as an accompanying figure in the violins and oboes.

This is the motif derived, as I had already pointed out previously, from the cantus firmus (1st verse) at the point where the chorale or Bach is placing special emphasis upon "Kommet zu Hauf, Psalter und Harfen, wach auf!" It is as if he is stomping his feet on each syllable of "Kommet zu Hauf" which is an admonition to get all the musicians to come together with their instruments (the voices are understood to be included here) so that the last powerful line speaks directly from Bach's heart: "OK, let's hear all the musicians (and singers) play and sing with 'everything that they've got!"

This motif, CCCBB, articulated with dots and appearing as it does just before the initial entrance of the voices at ms. 17, is perhaps also an signal/indication for the choir to get ready to sing. Remember, the voices are looking at parts which have no cues as to what the instruments are doing. These parts contain only the single voice part devoid of all the cues what are usually found in piano-reduction sused today.

In the light of all this information which an 'expert' can conveniently overlook and arrive at his own opinion that this is just 'filler-material,' 'lots of repeated notes' without significance and then ask the question "So what?" it does appear that when Arjen Gijssel or Marie Jensen make discoveries in Bach's music, discoveries which go beyond saying that something in Bach's music is 'merely a fancier way to play a c-b suspension, filling in the texture,' they have discovered miraculous aspects in Bach's music which are not simply reserved for the 'experts' to explain and experience. Bach speaks directly to his listeners, and thankfully, does not need necessarily to be explained by certain immodest 'experts' who have an inflated opinion of their musical capabilities. Actually, as is apparent here, the 'experts' are operating from their arrogant heights and feel that it is necessary to make people understand that they too can produce music on the level that Bach did. It is discouraging for those who are just making an acquaintance with Bach's music, or even those like Arjen and Marie who have lived with Bach's music for many years, to have their initial thoughts and feelings about Bach's music or the performances thereof questioned by a few arrogant 'experts' who have lost the sense of true discovery which generally enlivens anyone's experience of Bach's music.

Thomas Braatz wrote (April 20, 2004):
>>What is remarkable about Mr Braatz's defense of the rights of listeners to their own personal and subjective interpretations of the music is that he would deny that those rights to performers, and instead seeks to impose upon them his own rigid views on how Bach's music should and shouldn't be performed.<<
I thought I had stated it quite clearly on a number of occasions:

I do not deny any rights to performers who may perform Bach any way that they wish using whatever instruments or voices they so desire. Bach's music seems to be indestructible and seems to provide genuinely good listening experiences to an extremely wide variety of audiences. Performers and composer/performers may take any available edition of Bach's music, transform or arrange it at will, and it will still have in it some aspect of Bach's greatness.

However, when the claim is made that a performance is close to what Bach really had in mind or that it was close to what he actually heard, a different, higher standard of performance must be applied. It is then no longer in the hands of composer/musicians to wave a magic wand and say "this is how the music is best performed based upon some musicological research and upon having gained experiences in performing Bach's works according to what has been taught at the university level/music schools or by playing or listening to HIP groups who have attempted to translate some musicological research into a performance reality." At this point these performers can no longer 'hide behind' some theoretical performance practices without having these practices questioned and examined, not only by their peers, but by anyone outside of this field as well. It is the claim for authenticity that raises the level of expectations on the part of the listeners, many of whom have heard performances of Bach's cantatas, etc. in different venues and on recordings which span more than a half century. Among such listeners certain key questions are bound to arise: why is the music performed this way and not in another way? who determines what is closer to what actually existed in Bach's time? It does not suffice for some listeners who have asked these questions to hear: 'You'll simply have to trust me because I have infinitely more knowledge and experience in these matters than you as a dilettante/amateur can possibly hope gain in a single lifetime" or "Read Harnoncourt's books, or Dreyfus because everything is explained very clearly there."

It seems that some composer/musicians are placed into an extremely uncomfortable position when questions are raised and issues confronted which they have until now assumed to be correct. It is obvious that they will expend an inordinate amount of time and energy in attempting to squelch such independent inquiry, even to the extent of engaging in a series of demeaning and unfruitful tactics that are primarily employed to divert/deflect such issues that tend to make them appear less secure in their position. Finding that they are required to answer for their performance and interpretive choices by giving clear, forthright reasons based upon continuing scholarship which is not frozen into the mindset emanating from the Leonhardt/Harnoncourt period, these composer/musicians have become utterly frustrated and wish that all these uncomfortable questions would simply disappear. They will disappear as soon as they make the disclaimer that they are simply performing Bach according to certain theories which are 'not set in cement.' This means that musicians will be given greater freedom in performance practices that do not have to emulate the questionable aspects that they might hear in many period performance groups. So it might appear that my insistence on pursuing the examination of certain musicological theories may actually prevent certain composer/musicians from becoming too entrenched, too rigid in their current beliefs. This could be a good thing, if musicians are caused to stop and think about what they are doing when they attempt to find yet another extreme mannerism that can be included in the arsenal of historical performance practices.

As Harry Haskell wrote in his article on ‘Early Music’ in the New Grove (Oxford University Press, 2004): >>As early [read HIP] musicians encroach on the core 19th-century repertory, however, there has been a mounting backlash against some of the more extreme claims made on behalf of ‘historically informed’ performance, and a growing body of opinion has come to view it as no more or less ‘authentic’ than other modes of interpretation.<<

Although this quote still refers to 19th rather than 18th century repertory, it is just a matter of time when this ‘mounting backlash’ will confront with full force ‘the more extreme claims’ of the majority of HIP musicians and scholars.

Jason Marmaras wrote (April 20, 2004):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
<< I interpret the dots here to mean strong accentuation (not necessarily abrupt or radically truncated) in order to call attention to its importance as it > occurs here for the 1st time in the bc. >>
Gabriel Jackson wrote:
< The words "I interpret" are important here... >
You've got a point here, Gabriel, but, taking into account the quote from Butt's book by Brad
>>
- The articulation marks in Bach's music clarify the compositional features (showing the groupings of the notes that belong together in the musical thoughts/figures). Occasionally, but less often, the markings also clarify or prescribe technical handling of the passages. The articulation marks are not restrictions on performers [as Braatz would have it, expecting us to "adhere closely to the best editions"]; and the lack of markings is not a prohibition. The marks are there to help performers understand the musical figures Bach wanted, thinking across several different media (instruments whose performing technique are different from one another).

- In much of Bach's music, the articulation marks are there to clarify things the performers would not already know from general musicianship and/or rehearsal with him. That is, the articulation marks are there to get the attention of people who might otherwise come to the music with wrong expectations. Once Bach has established a clear enough pattern, he does not mark every little thing, but rather only indicates when there is something new to notice, something exceptional. (For example, performers who know about the hierarchies of "good" and "bad" notes should go ahead and do them with the normally differentiated articulation and accentuation, unless explicitly contradicted by a slur or dots in the notation.) Furthermore, Bach's notational habits are recognizably somewhat different when preparing music for publication,as contrasted with music for his own immediate use. <<
Bach would not mark something common in practice at the time, and as I think is clearly stated in J.J. Quantz's book repeated notes were always seperated articulated, not played 'legato'; thus, the point that the staccati on a repeated note might show something seems quite steady to me - steady until someone studied in the practices of the time (that is, if you will, a HIP-ist) sees that it is not so.

On the other hand, Brad, it seems to me a bit agressive to turn down Arjen's suggestion - didn't composers in Bach's time change, twist the subject to vary the music? (as in the Mus. Opfer, where the theme appears somewhat varied in every new canon - I know it's not the same case, I can't remember an example right now)

Hmm... Ok... I just saw the .jpg from the NBA... I actually had quavers in mind when I wrote the above... I think that <my> case is quite weaker now, and I may as well as abandon it.

[Brad,] I must say I cannot digest your rejection of Arjen's idea; please explain your position.

[If I sound aggressive, I am yet again simply not handling the language as well as I should - my apologies]

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 20, 2004):
Jason Marmaras wrote:
< Brad, it seems to me a bit agressive to turn down Arjen's suggestion - didn't composers in Bach's time change, twist the subject to vary the music? (as in the Mus. Opfer, where the theme appears somewhat varied in every new canon - I know it's not the same case, I can't remember an example right now)
(...)[Brad,] I must say I cannot digest your rejection of Arjen's idea; please explain your position. >
Certainly. I didn't say that Arjen's idea is wrong, but only that I think it's not very likely. Compositionally, it appears to me that Bach has fashioned several contrasting subjects here: the main syncopated one played and sung, the little subsidiary thing with the repeated notes (and their dots) as a countersubject to it, and of course the chorale as cantus firmus. He makes up different new subjects against the cantus firmus in other movements, too; and, see the way he treats the c.f. canonically in the soprano/bass duet movement (Mvt. 3). Bach has no lack of usable ideas ("duh").

As I pointed out yesterday, here in the first movement I think it's simply a coincidence that the countersubject and the chorale both begin with repeated notes (four and two, respectively)...repeated notes are not at all uncommon in any of Bach's music, and (as I pointed out) this countersubject and the main syncopated one are in invertible counterpoint. Again, they contrast with one another and can be combined in various ways [which is what I just said with the phrase "invertible counterpoint"...either voice can be on top or bottom]. And, the five-note countersubject is--at least in pitch-class content--merely a preparation, suspension, and resolution against the main subject...very much a garden-variety one. Quite an uninteresting line, really...and maybe that's why Bach marked it with dots, to be sure it's played lightly and keep it from being too intrusive?

Not every note in Bach has to derive from fragments of the cantus firmus! Sure, sometimes some of the notes do, but we should also remember, this isn't Schoenberg here. Why can't we grant that Bach simply came up with subject that work together well, as he has demonstrated here in this piece, and let it go at that...not trying to explain or invent the genesis of every single repeated note?

If Bach is borrowing this little countersubject from anywhere, may I suggest [rather idly] that he may have got it from the alto line of his own harmonization in the final chorale (Mvt. 5)? In the chorale, looking at only the soprano and alto lines, we have CCGEDCB... against GGGGGF#D. It would also work just fine if he'd written the alto line GGGGF#F#G there, or GGGGF#ED...except that both of those would make parallel fifths with the bass line on the motion from G to F#. In the first movement, with a different bass, he has no such problem. But again, so what? Here I'm merely pointing out that an extremely bland subject with only two different notes in it will combine easily with just about anything, if the composer takes a little care. A "subject" that stays mostly on the same note is reusable tissue. Why does it have to be derived from a complex splitting and shuffling of the cantus firmus?

In any sufficiently voluminous set of data, people can come up with believable patterns just by looking hard enough. (That's a point made by Michael Shermer, director of the Skeptics Society: http://www.skeptic.com/ , in his book Why People Believe Weird Things: IMO a good book for a person in any scientific field to read, about separating science from pseudo-science.) Hurrah for patterns. The human mind loves them. That doesn't mean the person who assembled the data (Bach, here) deliberately put all those possible interpretations in there, or had any such process in mind when creating it. It only means that people who are clever enough can come up with whatever patterns they are determined to find there, and that proofs have to sell the idea adequately to independent observers. Wishful thinking is quite seductive, the finding of patterns. That's as a former doctoral classmate reminded me a few days ago, when I showed him some of my own informal and preliminary work on a Bach topic, for a small paper I'm hoping to have published. I'm in the research and first-draft stage right now, and the first very small set of my notes certainly didn't convince that associate. He's done his job well with his skepticism, pushing me for the types of documentation he will need to see in the case. If I can convince that guy, and several others like him, I'll know that I'm getting somewhere and have something plausible. That's what peer review is for (sometimes double-blind, sometimes informal), trying out the evidence on trusted critics, to strengthen the case before it's publicized.

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 20, 2004):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< It does not suffice for some listeners who have asked these questions to hear: 'You'll simply have to trust me because I have infinitely more knowledge and experience in these matters than you as a dilettante/amateur can possibly hope gain in a single lifetime" or "Read Harnoncourt's books, or Dreyfus because everything is explained very clearly there." >
Indeed, although the first pseudo-quotation is a gross overstatement.

And that is why I have, repeatedly, supplemented advice about reading such books (and additional articles that you've never looked at) with suggestions that you (or anyone else interested in playing basso continuo appropriately) go apply for university training in this. Books and articles go only so far. I've already provided reference to the ones I've found most helpful at: http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bpl/recits.htm , middle of the page; but that really is no substitute for going and learning this stuff thoroughly in university and in playing gigs.

I also, in a message just a few minutes ago, mentioned the two short thoroughbass primers by Bach that are to be found in the Bach Reader; and pointed out that Bach himself asserted it's best taught in action, with direct instruction, rather than through documents.

If you're not willing to enroll in such formal instruction, and actually do the work, it doesn't really do much good to keep complaining that it's beyond your current understanding. As you recall, Bach himself is quoted as saying that musicians have to work hard to get where he is, with diligent study and practice. Bach was right. So, why do you keep trying to take shortcuts around training and experience, while complaining that it doesn't make sense to you (and worse, trying all the while to knock it all down as not worthwhile, as if expertise means nothing)?

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 20, 2004):
BWV 137 1st mvt: the dots, and Butt's book about articulation

Also sprach Braatz:
< It appearthat Bach himself sees this matter differently and that Arjen Gijssel was ahead of us all in this one. In the 'Urtext' NBA I/20 printed score, any Bach scholar or true Bach musician would notice that Bach has delineated carefully the motif CCCBB as being very important to the structure (as if this isn't already apparent by its repeated use elsewhere in the movement) and the appropriate performance style of this mvt. As proof I offer the following snippet from the bc of Mvt. 1, measures 13 & 14. [This is found in the Files section of the Yahoo Group Bach Cantatas as BWV137M1Ms13.jpg [See: Cantata BWV 137 – Examples from the Score ]
This articulation, which is Bach's own, occurs only once in this fashion throughout this entire mvt. It is Bach calling special attention to this motif. I interpret the dots here to mean strong accentuation (not necessarily abrupt or radically truncated) in order to call attention to its importance as it occurs here for the 1st time in the bc. Bach has personally placed a very special significance upon this motif at this point even though it had already occurred as an accompanying figure in the violins and oboes. >
Tom, thanks for providing the scan of the NBA score of this...six notes of it anyway, which looks like a minimum for the type of "proof-text" selectivity you do: one unmarked note followed by five with dots. Hello, context of the rest of the orchestral texture?

Indeed, why don't you also quote John Butt (the same book you cited a couple of days ago: the reworking of his doctoral dissertation about articulation in Bach) about how dots often imply a lightness, i.e. pushing the notes into the aural background, instead of bringing out a subject? He also suggests (page 169) that dots help weak beats be as weak as they should be, warning the player not to make too much of those notes. On page 176 he suggests that "dots, in addition to indicating exceptions to expected articulation, help distinguish different Affekts within the same piece."

Sure, various interpretations are possible, but why would the dots mean "strong accentuation" as you assert, unless you're just digging in your heels with stubbornness? Isn't it more likely it means the opposite type of sound, such as "give these notes a lower profile so they don't overpower the main subject"? If you were conducting this piece, would you seriously ask the players to bash out those staccato notes as strong accents? Why, beyond your intuitive guesswork?

It appears that you quote John Butt's book [and many others] only when convenient to your own points, to give your own suggestions a ring of authority, but overrule such expert opinion freely with your own interpretation (see above) when you think "strong accentuation" is necessary. (As I recall, you also regularly "correct" New Grove articles here in these forums, accusing their authors of not being as thorough as you are...same problem, magnified. I disagree with the wisdom of that behavior.)

It is not "Bach calling special attention to this motif" with any of the certainty you appear to have, as to bringing it out with accents. More than that, it is Thomas Braatz asserting that he understands Bach's priorities better than expert performers do, colored by Thomas Braatz' own habits of the meaning of "staccato" wherever he may have derived or invented them. Sure, Bach wanted us to notice how those notes fit into the texture of the movement; but that doesn't lead inexorably to strong accents. (A practical question: Tom, have you ever studied any of Bach's music at an instrument, under the direct guidance of a Bach expert? Answer the question. As you probably know, I spent five years in harpsichord lessons with such an expert, for graduate credit, and we did discuss these issues of dots in Bach in each piece I played that has them. My teacher agreed with this "dots=lightness" interpretation, while not sending me directly to read Butt's book. That book hadn't been published yet when this first came up in my lessons. I remember working very carefully on the harpsichord touch that yields wispy, quiet, light staccato notes: quite the opposite of loud accents. My classmates on other instruments similarly worked hard on having a broad and appropriate range of expression...as all serious musicians do, especially in doctoral programs!)

Anyway, back to this book by John Butt. As can be seen from the appendices from pages 211 to 261, Dr Butt has been a hell of a lot more thorough with the material (Bach's music, in original sources) than Thomas Braatz. His doctoral research took five years of work, documented here. It's an outstanding reference and I'm planning to go buy a copy of this book for myself. Meanwhile, who is this Thomas Braatz who overrules people with doctorates in musicology whenever he disagrees with the outcomes?

It's odd, to say the least.

I do offer one helpful piece of advice, if you'd like to reread Butt's book with closer attention than you have done. On pages 96-97 of this book there is an unfortunate typographical error that makes items 1D and 1E somewhat confusing, or at least would do for the casual or thoughtless reader. I ran into it a couple of months ago reading the book, and checked it immediately with one of Butt's current associates to see if it's maybe just a printing error in this first edition, 1990, maybe fixed in a later one. (According to him, it's not.) Fortunately, wherever it came from, this problem is easily corrected with a pencil (as I have done in this copy I have here, before I turn it back in to a university library tomorrow). As is made clear in the text and examples, 1D should be the pattern 1+3, and 1E should be the pattern 1+2+1. Write in something like "pictures 1D and 1E exchanged" and draw the slurs the way they should be. Obviously this is merely a printing detail the editor missed, and doesn't harm Butt's overall points about the music. The rest of the text makes it clear that his figures should be as I state here. 1E is the 1+2+1 figure most familiar from Kyrie 1 of the BMM, the gentle syncopation.

p.s. Your assertion above about "any Bach scholar or true Bach musician" is quite insulting. And that's an understatement, by me.

p.p.s. It's also quite insulting to be told repeatedly that musicians should just go read the NBA Urtext, as you do, and come to exactly the same conclusions you do as to how the music should be interpreted. We've invested many years of our lives in this field. We know what we're doing. We know what Urtext means. We know how to read the NBA. We know how to play our instruments and sing our parts, and we've also worked with conductors who know how to do their jobs. So, please, give it a rest. Or, better yet, go apply for a graduate program and devote yourself seriously to this field; go and actually do the work instead of [mis]quoting other people's information. You certainly have the enthusiasm for it, although not [yet] the willingness to listen to interpretive opinions other than your own, and especially not the opinions of people who really have been there in the music and the libraries more than you have. Experience and mastery simply can't be purchased as a set of books and recordings. Please realize this, and desist, as I have also implored you off-list (months ago, several times, with no response).

Arjen van Gijssel wrote (April 20, 2004):
[To Jason Marmaras] I did not feel the reply is agressive. It is simply peer review and I can live with it. My conductor Barend Schuurman also thought that it was not a good theory. Nevertheless, he somehow used it, by explaining to the orchestra players at the rehearsal that he wanted to hear them taking over the two subthemes in the opening bars. Thanks to that, the rehearsal gained much clarity. So, maybe the subthemes were not taken from the choral theme, but they are there, and thinking about Bach great music, then becoming aware of some sort of structure, and passing that message on by playing and singing is one ofthe greatest things in life.

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 20, 2004):
[To Arjen van Gijssel] Any remark or theory to get orchestral musicians to pay attention, to recognize a thematic part, and fit it into the whole: it's worth something! Anything to get past automatically reading notes off the page, to using the ears.... :)

Still, though: in fugal music it's just as important to know what's not thematic and bring out that interesting free material. The episodes and countermelodies that come up only once. Anybody who's heard the main subjects a couple of times already knows them and doesn't need to be bashed over the head with them each time they come up, all the way through the piece. Looking at it this way, the subject entrances are merely the formal structure for the whole movement, even in invertible counterpoint as here; and it's the stuff that happens against that scaffolding where the composer's inventiveness really shows up.

When children play hide-and-seek, the game is the tension of searching through the bushes and other obstacles, both for the hiders and the seekers. The environment gets examined closely, and everybody's on alert. You know the other kid's in there somewhere, probably just around the next corner, and the attention goes way up. If the kids just popped out, "Here I am!" whenever the seeker got anywhere close to them, what fun is that?

Neil Halliday wrote (April 21, 2004):
[To Arjen van Gijssel] I'm thankful for this discussion. I have to admit I had missed this important secondary subject in the opening movement of this cantata. (Perhaps I can forgive myself, because the oboes and trumpets are rather forcefully presenting the important syncopated, animated material at this point!)

This crotchet subject (CCCBBC) occurs in the upper strings beginning bar 1 and then in the oboes in the dominant (GGGF#F#G) beginning bar 4.

This secondary subject first appears in the continuo in bar 13, articulated with the dots as shown in the example posted by Thomas.

Listening to Rilling's excellent recording [9], I have to lend my support to the proposition that the dots over those six notes in the continuo mean: "notice that these six notes form a group, namely, the secondary subject already presented twice previously", and not that the notes are literally to be played 'staccato'. (A continuo player might at first think that the preceding crotchet on the first beat in bar 13 is part of the group, but it is not, and the purpose of the dots is to make make this clear.)

(These dots occur once more in the score - near the end when the continuo plays in the dominant, GGGF#F#G).

As far as articulation of this secondary subject is concerned, I like Rilling's unforced 'tenuto' approach [9]; notice that often the continuo and violas present this subject in unison, and there are no such dots in the viola part.

(Arjen, apart from the lenght of the notes (crotchets -which probably is significant) , I don't see the neccesity to observe a relationship of this subject with the beginning of the chorale theme; that's just my two cents worth, but I thank you for observing and raising the topic.)

 

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Cantata BWV 137: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements
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