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Cantata BWV 137
Lobe den Herren, den mächtigen König der Ehren
Discussions - Part 2

Continue from Part 1

Discussions in the Week of July 15, 2007 (2nd round)

Russell Telfer wrote (July 7/15, 2007):
Introduction to BWV 137

Introduction to J.S.Bach's cantata BWV 137
Lobe den Herren, den mächtigen König der Ehren

Week beginning 8th July 2007

BWV 137 was composed for the Inauguration of the Leipzig Town Council on the 12th Sunday after Trinity. It takes the five verses of Neander's hymn Lobe den Herren, den mächtigen König der Ehren - Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of Creation.

The chosen text was written by Joachim Neander. It was first performed on 19th August 1725.

The work was previously discussed in the week beginning 2nd September 2001.

Link to the BCML entries for cantata BWV 137: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV137.htm

Unified by the main hymn theme, heard in varied forms in all the movements it provides a richly varied musical offering in which the opening chorus (Mvt. 1) and the aria for soprano and bass (Mvt. 3) are outstanding. The cantata must stand high up in the list of Bach's choral achievements.

I Lobe den Herren, den mächtigen König der Ehren (Mvt. 1)

One has only to contemplate singing the hymn Praise to the Lord, the Almighty in an Anglican or Lutheran plain and simple version and to contrast that with the thrill experienced when this opening chorus is performed in a church - any place of worship, probably - with the full complement of choir and orchestra.

II Praise to the Almighty, who all things so gloriously ruleth (Mvt. 2)

The second verse is an aria for alto with violin solo and continuo. Now the alto delivers the verse against the violin's obbligato variation in sextuplet semiquavers (3/4 time)

III Praise to the Almighty, who doth with his splendor adorn thee (Mvt. 3)

Next is an aria for bass and soprano with two obbligato oboes. This is in effect a double duet with oboes interweaving together, followed by the singers, and occasionally combining (with the continuo) into five part harmony. The beauty and grace of the interweaving oboe counterpoint comes out in all the recordings I have heard.

IV Praise to the Almighty, who thine estate clearly hath favoured (Mvt. 4)

For the fourth verse the tenor soloist is joined by trumpet and continuo, during which the trumpet's role is confined to playing the tune once through against which the tenor provides a separate part in counterpoint.

V Praise to the Almighty, all that is in me, give his name honour (Mvt. 5)

To conclude, the final verse is sung, simply and powerfully to the plain hymn tune but combined with three independent trumpet parts.

You will note that I have offered no information or opinion on recordings. I try to find the positive in the performances I hear. Using a score, which I frequently do, I reckon to compensate for underemphasised orchestral parts which are much commoner than undersung solos.

This cantata is a gem and a perfect start for anyone who wishes to listen to inspirational singing and playing. A CD of any good recording would be an ideal present for someone 'still on the outside'.)

Thomas Braatz wrote (July 15, 2007):
Russell Telfer wrote:
>>BWV 137 was composed for the Inauguration of the Leipzig Town Council on the 12th Sunday after Trinity.<<
I can find no confirmation for Bach's using this cantata for the Inauguration of the Leipzig Town Council. There is a Town Council Cantata called "Lobe den Herrn, meine Seele" BWV 69, but this is not the same text nor does it have the same music as BWV 137. BWV 69a was first performed (and probably composed for a performance) on the 12th Sunday after Trinity in 1723. This is known as BWV 69a. A repeat performance with changes was to take place on the 12th Sunday after Trinity (August 31, 1727), but very likely the performance did not take place because of the illness of the Electress Christiane Eberhardine who died on September 5, 1727 so that the beginning of the period of national mourning had a noticeable effect musically on any musical performances in Leipzig beginning on the 13th Sunday after Trinity in 1727. On August 26, 1748, a revised cantata, BWV 69, was performed for the Inauguration of the Town Council. The title begins with the text "Lobe den Herrn" which is close to the beginning of BWV 137 "Lobe den Herren", but the text and music of these cantatas are different.

Fortunately we have Alfred Dürr's assessment of any possible connection between BWV 137 and a performance for the Ratswahl/Ratswechsel (Inauguration of the the City Council) on p. 815 of Dürr's book, "Johann Sebastian Bach: Die Kantaten", Bärenreiter, 1971-2000:

In essence Dürr states that there is no evidence or proof whatsoever for Spitta's contention/supposition (one which many Bach commentators have adopted and repeated) that BWV 137 was performed twice, once as the cantata for the 12th Sunday after Trinity in 1725 and then as the cantata performed for the Inauguration of the Town Council on August 25, 1732. Is it possible that this cantata, BWV 137, was performed for that occasion on that specific date? Yes, but then it is equally possible that BWV 97, BWV 100, BWV 117, BWV 192 may have been performed on that date as well. There is absolutely no confirming evidence that would justify anyone choosing a specific cantata from this group and then declaring it to be the one that Bach would have performed on August 25, 1732.

Neil Halliday wrote (July 16, 2007):
There is plenty of commentary on the structure of this cantata at the BCW - Bethlehem, Emmanuel Music, etc.

An obvious aid to this cantata's appreciation is to know the chorale tune well enough to play or sing it, since the tune appears in all five movements. The tune is in G major (in the alto) in the 2nd movement; in E minor (in the S and B) in the duet (Mvt. 3), though barely recognisable after the start; in C major (!) on the trumpet in the A minor tenor aria (Mvt. 4); and in C major (sopranos) in both choruses. All the movements of this cantata are in triple time (all 3/4, with the alto aria (Mvt. 2) in 9/8).

For more `active' listening, identification of the motifs listed below is useful (everyone with broadband has access to the full score).

In the opening chorus (Mvt. 1), there are two main motifs (disregarding the chorale tune, of course). These two motifs - a syncopated motif and a 6-crotchet motif - occur straight away in the first two bars (syncopated motif in the oboes and 6-crotchet motif in the upper strings) and always (with one exception) occur simultaneously in the ensemble. This can be a test of the recordings; both simultaneous motifs ought always to be audible - including in the consecutive syncopated entries of each of the lower choral voices, where a listener should also hear the associated crotchet motif somewhere in the orchestra (except in the block chords of the third and fourth phrases of the cantus firmus).

Another two motifs are also important; namely, thirdly, a `quaver plus two semiquavers' motif (fiheard in bar three), and fourthly, an extended semiquaver motif that consists of multiple units of four semiquavers, where the last note of one unit is repeated to become the first note of the following unit (first heard in bar nine); this motif often alternates between second and first oboes, then second and first violins, and sometimes appears in the first trumpet and other instruments. Also appearing for the first time in bar nine is a fifth motif consisting of groups of repeated quavers. The combination of these motifs makes for lively animation of the opening chorus.

At the end of the second phrase of the cantus firmus, a variation of the 6-crotchet motif, with its associated syncopated motif occurring in the trumpets, can be heard in the upper strings - the six crotchets are changed into 12 quavers, thus mimicking the repeated quavers identified as the fifth motif.

All three trumpeters have to be agile, as is shown in their accompaniment to the forth phrase ("Psalter und Harfen, wacht auf") where all three trumpets have two beats (x2) worth of 1/16th notes, in a variation of the fourth motif identified above. Richter's trumpets [8] are brilliant here (see below).

The one exception in the entire score where the syncopated motif occurs without the 6-crotchet motif can be heard in the middle of the last phrase of the cantus firmus, where the syncopated motif occurs alone on the first trumpet. This unusual placement of the syncopated motif, as a kind of embellishment of the last phrase, is most effective.

I have Werner [6], Richter [8] and Rilling [9]. All are enjoyable; though the lower voices in Werner lack crispness/definition, and the bass entries in the Richter are a bit soft; OTOH, the instruments in all three recordings are excellent. Werner is a bit slow. Richter has the most exciting though not necessarily the best performance - with a brisk tempo (as fast as Koopman's [15]), and splendid trumpets that alone are worth the price of admission! The final chords in Werner and Richter end with a drum roll; Rilling's single drumbeat sounds tame by comparison.

The samples of other recordings all seem to show satisfactory performances of the opening chorus, allowing for the usual characteristics. The drums in Harnoncourt [11] might seem a bit loud in places, and the lower voices in Koopman [15] seem to lack clarity.

-------

In the alto aria (Mvt. 2), the graceful rising and falling figures on the obbligato violin were likely inspired by the text's image of secure/unfailing eagles' wings.


I find the organ realisation in Rilling [9] to be distracting. Otherwise all the recordings are enjoyable. Koopman [15] gives the vocal line to the alto section of the choir, with pleasing effect.

-------

The SB duet (Mvt. 3) is a substantial piece with chromaticism on "In wieviel Not" ("In how much need"). The text has another metaphor concerning wings; this time the Lord's protection is likened to the protective covering of wings.

Once again all the recordings are enjoyable, though the vibratos of Mathis and DFD are perhaps excessive, and Harnoncourt's [11] (from the sample) singers disappear behind one another at times. Koopman [15] is faster than I want, in this movement that has more 'affect' at a slower tempo, IMO.

-------

After the first two bars, the tenor aria (Mvt. 4) has a continuo line that, in the ritornello and elsewhere, is based on 6 notes of a descending A minor scale (recalling the structure of the continuo in BWV 168's duet).

Again all the recordings are very good, though I dislike the organ in Rilling [9] (raspy timbre) and Koopman [15] (rattly noises, `dainty' treble). In contrast, Harnoncourt [11] has an excellent organ realisation, with bright, clear treble tones and thematic development. Leusink's bassoon [12] reminded me of a bass saxophone, in the sample. Werner's 1972 recording [6] has a wonderful acoustic, so that if I close my eyes, I am transported into the actual space in which the music was recorded. The trumpet is superb in this acoustic.

---------

The final chorale (Mvt. 5) has to be the grandest, short (c.60 secs.) piece of music ever!

The three trumpets and drums ring out gloriously, endowing the simple 4 part chorale tune with pomp and splendour. Note the extent to which the dominant (G) is part of the altos' harmonisation.

Even Ramin [2] (from the sample) with inferior recording techniques is effective at a very slow tempo. Werner [6] and Richter [8] both have glorious brass, and both conclude with a drum roll on the trumpet-reinforced final chord; once this is experienced, a single drum beat sounds inadequate. Apart from this, Rilling [9], also, is excellent. Richter perhaps overdoes the ritardando at the end.

From the samples, Koopman [15] and Leusink [12] have faster tempos, with drastically shortened notes at the end of the first two lines, a stylistic detail not to my liking. The Rotzsch sample [10] seems to have a powerfully resonant C drum, while the G drum is soft, almost inaudible; no doubt this is an engineering problem. (There is no sample for Harnoncourt's [11] final chorale (Mvt. 5)).

Happy listening!

Jean Laaninen wrote (July 16, 2007):
[To Neil Halliday] Thank you Neil, for your detailed commentary above. The source of this work is one of my favorite hymns of all time, and one I have known most of my life. I had listened to this cantata very briefly about a year ago, but I did not study it closely, so I was not aware of the manner in which the hymn tune appears throughout the cantata. I am curious to know if any of the other cantatas were entirely based on a single hymn tune.

I especially enjoyed the alto aria (Mvt. 2), as I listened to the Leusink [12]. The emotional interpretation of the alto was so calming and secure. And I'd even go so far as to call the accompanying figures charming, lending to my view an added emphasis of surety.

Russell Telfer wrote (July 16, 2007):
Russell Telfer wrote:
>>BWV 137 was composed for the Inauguration of the Leipzig Town Council on the 12th Sunday after Trinity.<<
Thomas Braatz replied:
< I can find no confirmation for Bach's using this cantata for the Inauguration of the Leipzig Town Council. There is a Town Council Cantata called "Lobe den Herrn, meine Seele" BWV 69, but this is not the same text nor does it have the same music as BWV 137. >
Despite best intentions, I may have been wrong in quoting others. I have to confess, I have neither primary sources nor primary texts to throw into the argument. You may well be right in your statements, Thomas. I took the information available to me from our own website, plus an accretion of information gathered over the years about this cantata.

All the statements I made about BWV 137 were made in good faith, and at least one other source has provided any of the information I quoted.

This is a bit of a digression, but in the world of "'news management"' that we live in, not all historical facts are available at anygiven time. Two differing examples from a more recent time, the nineteen thirties, are the suppression and total disappearance of information in Stalinist Russia, and the temporary (but not permanent) suppression of information about the abdication of Edward VIII of Britain.

Without beating about the bush, what might have been apparently true at one time of writing may not in the long term turn out to be truly true. Let us be thankful that whatever happened in historical time, all the cantatas that survived did survive.

Russell Telfer wrote (July 17, 2007):
Neil Halliday wrote:
< An obvious aid to this cantata's appreciation is to know the chorale tune well enough to play or sing it, since the tune appears in all five movements. The tune is in G major (in the alto) in the 2nd movement; in E minor (in the S and B) in the duet (Mvt. 3), though barely recognisable after the start; in C major (!) on the trumpet in the A minor tenor aria (Mvt. 4); and in C major (sopranos) in both choruses. All the movements of this cantata are in triple time (all 3/4, with the alto aria (Mvt. 2) in 9/8). >
Thank you Neil. You made some very interesting comments. In particular something I would wish to have spotted myself: all the verses are in 3/4 or 9/8 time. This I think is comparatively rare in any of the cantatas.

Where I take mild issue with you is where you say "the tune appears in all five movements". It's a pedantic point, I'm sure, but especially in verse 2, the Alto aria (Mvt. 2) is so heavily varied from the original as to be virtually a separate entity. However the written notes are as they are, so interpretation of these differences becomes a matter of mild dispute.

Thomas Braatz wrote (July 17, 2007):
Russell Telfer wrote:
>>Where I take mild issue with you is where you say "the tune appears in all five movements". It's a pedantic point, I'm sure, but especially in verse 2, the Alto aria (Mvt. 2) is so heavily varied from the original as to be virtually a separate entity. However the written notes are as they are, so interpretation of these differences becomes a matter of mild dispute.<<
No, the alto aria (Mvt. 2) is not a separate entity and the slight variations that Bach employs do not obscure the chorale melody at all. Actually, this is also heard as the cantus firmus in Bach's arrangement of this movement for organ in the Schübler chorale settings. There is no doubt that any listener in Bach's time would have easily recognized the chorale melody in either setting.

As Alfred Dürr has stated in his book on the cantatas (German version) p. 562 regarding BWV 137: "Seine Melodie ist in allen Sätzen hörbar." ("Its [the chorale's] melody can be heard in all of the mvts. [of this cantata].") It is therefore necessary to lift oneself up, by means of repeated listening to performances and recordings, to the level of Bach and his audience and not allow one's own lack of experience in detecting the chorale melody to make this become even a matter of mild dispute.

Ed Myskowski wrote (July 17, 2007):
Neil Halliday wrote:
< For more `active' listening, identification of the motifs listed below is useful (everyone with broadband has access to the full score). >
I do not have broadband access at my lap, but it is not far away. Have I overlooked something? Are scores now publicly available again, as they were for a time, not long ago (but, alas, just before my joining BCML)?

Ed Myskowski wrote (July 17, 2007):
Neil Halliday wrote:
<< An obvious aid to this cantata's appreciation is to know the chorale tune well enough to play or sing it, since the tune appears in all five movements.>
Russell Telfer wrote:
< Thank you Neil. You made some very interesting comments. >
Plenty of friends to help out with the weekly commentary. Thanks, Russell, for taking on the commitment to write on a schedule.

Neil Halliday wrote (July 18, 2007):
Russell Telfer wrote:
>the Alto aria (Mvt. 2) is so heavily varied from the original as to be virtually a separate entity.<
I will admit that I had to study the score before being confident that the alto melody (Mvt. 2) was in fact merely embellished rather than actually varied.

One aspect of the score which may at first 'disguise' the tune is the clever rhythmic variation of the accompaniment which is in 9/8 time; but note that the score does in fact show *two* time signatures (!) on the alto stave, namely 9/8 and 3/4 (this happens in Bach's scores now and again).

One can easily convince oneself that the melody is merely embellished, by transposing the unembellished melody of the cantus firmus in the opening chorus into G major, and playing it simultaneously with the embellished form we have in the alto aria (Mvt. 2) (both forms of the tune are in 3/4 time, as in Bach's designation noted above). You will discover a perfect match.

Neil Halliday wrote (July 18, 2007):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
>Are scores now publicly available again<
http://bach-gesellschaft.cygoth.com/BGA.html

Broadband and 'acrobat reader' are most likely necessary.

Neil Halliday wrote (July 18, 2007):
I wrote (of the alto's tune)
>You will discover a perfect match.<
A 'perfect fit' is a better way of describing it.

Neil Halliday wrote (July 19, 2007):
Jean Laaninen wrote:
>I am curious to know if any of the other cantatas were entirely based on a single hymn tune.<
In their comments on BWV 137, the OCC notes: "extremely rare are cantatas, like this one, that employ only the stanzas of the hymn and use the associated melody in every movement."

The article also mentions the very early and well-known "Christ lag in Todes Banden" (BWV 4), in which the chorale melody appears in all seven vocal movements.

Jean Laaninen wrote (July 19, 2007):
[To Neil Halliday] Thank you Neil. I will take a look at these two cantatas by way of comparison. Yesterday I finally got a copy of Dürr's comprehensive text on the cantatas. Now I will be able to also look at his comments on these similar works, too.

Ed Myskowski wrote (July 19, 2007):
Neil Halliday wrote:
< http://bach-gesellschaft.cygoth.com/BGA.html
Broadband and 'acrobat reader' are most likely necessary. >
Thanks for the response. Acrobat does appear to be essential, but patience (plenty) can substitute for broadband.

Do we know current copyright status? I gather from the archives and other correspondence that these scores have been posted and subsequently withdrawn in the recent past.

Neil Halliday wrote (July 19, 2007):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
>Do we know current copyright status?<
I notice this at the bottom of the web-site's home page:

"The New Mexico Bach Gesellschaft Ausgabe Leipzig Archive is own and run by Vince Ho. The content of the archive is public and is for fair use and educational purpose only. Please email to the owner if you have any questions. To help maintain the website available for free for everyone, donations via paypal are greatly appreciated."

Russell Telfer wrote (July 19, 2007):
[To Neil Halliday] Thanks Neil

I read your comment with interest (and that of Thomas.)

Yes, you're both right. As you say, superimposing the two versions shows a perfect fit. I drew my conclusion from the harmony which accompanies the tune in verse 2 - but describing it as a separate entity is a statement too far.

Ed Myskowski wrote (July 25, 2007):
Neil Halliday wrote:
< I have Werner [6], Richter [8] and Rilling [9]. All are enjoyable; though the lower voices in Werner lack crispness/definition, and the bass entries in the Richter are a bit soft; OTOH, the instruments in all three recordings are excellent. Werner is a bit slow. Richter has the most exciting though notnecessarily the best performance ? with a brisk tempo (as fast as Koopman's [15]), and splendid trumpets that alone are worth the price of admission! The final chords in Werner and Richter end with a drum roll; Rilling's single drumbeat sounds tame by comparison. >
I am a bit late getting to BWV 137, and I don't have any new thoughts to add to the extensive comments already posted in both the current and earlier (2001) discussions. In the spirit of Aryeh's suggestion to write, even if only to say 'I like (or not) this recording', I will add a few comments which echo Neil's.

The Werner [6] set is new to me. I have been looking forward to an opportunity to listen in the context of weekly discussions. The available comparison with Richter [8] is a bonus. I anticipated that they would be similar. As you can guess from Neil's post, that is not so.

I appreciate Aryeh's comment in the first round of discussions, to the effect that a complete performance can make a better impression than comparative listening to individual movements. For me, that was the case with Werner [6]. The overall impression was very positive, but on movement by movement listening in comparison, Richter [8] seems preferable for one reason or another in every instance. Mvt. 1 is more exciting, as noted by Neil, and Richter's soloists are characteristically superb, all star performances. See comments from Round 1 on individual performances.

Nevertheless, Werner [6] seems at least equally enjoyable, overall. Apparently the reissue was not available for discussion in 2001. The tempos and balance strike me as appropriate for what we might call a 'traditional' performance. I have no interest in joining the arguments as to whether this is correct, preferable, or whatever. I do think it is worth preserving and enjoying, whatever alternatives more recent research endorses.

I also enjoyed comparing Leusink [12] and Harnoncourt [11], in less detail. These sets have received much negative commentary on BCML, so it was satisfying to note Jean's endorsement of the alto aria (Mvt. 2) (Buwalda), with Leusink. I agree, although I do prefer the ladies with Werner [6] and Richter [8].

Ed Myskowski wrote (July 26, 2007):
In preparing to be timely with BWV 194 discussion, I realized that I had overlooked a recording of BWV 137. The two are adjacent on Koopman, Vol 18 [15]. This also got me to thinking about some other loose ends, especially Russell's original comment that BWV 137 was written for the Town Council Inauguration, which comment was immediately discredited. The source Russell cited was BCW archives.

Lo and behold, in the link to Emmanuel Music commentary, Craig Smith suggests that BWV 137 was something of a dual purpose production, since Trinity 12 was the Sunday adjacent to the Inauguration, in 1725. This provides a very convenient explanation for the celebratory trumpets and drums, added to the appropriate texts for Trinity 12. Dürr does not consider this possibility, merely noting that there is no specific evidence that BWV 137 was composed for, or performed, at the later 1732 Inauguration, the traditionally assumed date. Dürr is careful to note that such a performance is conceivable, simply not supported by any specific evidence.

Smith's point is of course conjecture, but the orchestration and nature of the music is consistent with a dual purpose composition in 1725. Not so easy to dismiss out of hand, and if you don't care for it, how else to explain those trumpets and drums for an otherwise unexceptional Sunday in the 'vast expanse' (Gardiner) of the Sundays after Trinity.

The Koopman recording [15] has very quick tempos, as you might guess from the total time. I listened with the expectation to find them too quick, but in fact the performance holds together very well. I am not sure I would enjoy it as my first, or only, version of BWV 137, but it does provide a unique interpretation. Probably not to the taste of those who believe there is a single correct way to perform this music, although Koopman may feel that strongly about it?

The BCW recording list does not identify alto Bogna Bartosz for BWV 137, correctly so. Mvt. 2 is performed by the choir section (four voices) to excellent effect. But her performances with Koopman [15] are strong points of the series, including all other alto parts on Vol. 18. I was encouraged to seek out some of the Koopman volumes in order hear HIP interpretations with female alto (sometimes, not always). I am finding it worthwhile, although some of Koopman's quirks take getting used to.

 

Continue on Part 3

Cantata BWV 137: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements
Discussions:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

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