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Cantata BWV 137
Lobe den Herren, den mächtigen König der Ehren
Discussions - Part 3

Continue from Part 2

Discussions in the Week of December 4, 2011

Ed Myskowski wrote (December 4, 2011):
Introduction to BWV 137 -- Lobe den Herren

Introduction to BWV 137 -- Lobe den Herren, den machtigen Konig der Ehren

Weekly reminder:

This week we continue Trinity season cantatas with BWV 137, from 1725, the second of three works for the 12th Sunday after Trinity.

Details of text, commentary, recordings, and previous discussion are accessible via: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV137.htm

The link to commentary by Julian [Mincham] is especially recommended as an introduction to listening.

The BWV 137 page also has convenient access to notes from the Gardiner [13] and Koopman (notes by Christoph Wolff) [15] CD issues, via link beneath the cover photo.

The chorale text and melody are also accessible via links at the BWV 137 page. Francis Browne has recently added new commentary on the cantata texts to his interlinear translations, linked via [English-3I]. We can expect these to continue, not necessarily weekly. Douglas Cowling and William Hoffman are also posting relevant to chorales and other music for the Lutheran Church Year, accessible via LCY pages.

Aryeh Oron wrote (September 11, 2011):
Based on the important contributions of Douglas Cowling and William Hoffman I have created pages in the LCY section on the BCW dedicated to Musical Context of Bach Cantatas: Motets & Chorales (M&C) for Events in the Lutheran Church Year (LCY).
Each Event in the LCY will have a M&C page discussing the Motets & Chorales associated with this Event.
This material has been presented so far in various pages of the BCW. I thought it would be more convenient for members of the BCML and visitors of the BCW to have it all in one stop shop in connection with the LCY pages.

Douglas Cowling wrote (December 4, 2011):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
< Introduction to BWV 137 -- Lobe den Herren, den machtigen Konig der Ehren >
I first heard this cantata as a young teenager and was blown away by the opening chorus. I became an obsessive hunter of grand festival introductions in Bach's cantatas. This is one of his finest. I still catch my breath with the rhythmic instability produced by that hemiola of 3/4 and 6/8.

I also love this cantata because it is one of the very few cantatas based on a chorale tune which I sang as an Anglican choirboy. There's a flash of recognition which gives me some sense of the delight which Bach's listeners felt when they heard the familiar transformed into something new and splendid. I still wait for the 3 and 4 half-lines of the chorale in which Bach suddenly abandons the counterpoint and presents the tune in blockbuster chords. WOW!

It's also worth mentioning that this chorus is in the first tier of difficulty for singers. In all of the recordings I've heard, the choir is really working hard.

Bach later arranged the alto aria (Mvt. 2) for organ in a very interesting way. The right hand has the violin solo on one manual while the left has the bass line on another. The chorale is played by the feet on a 4-foot pedal stop in the alto range. It's noteworthy that, in these organ arrangements, Bach made no attempt to realize the bass line. He seems perfectly happy to have the three lines presented without harmony. In the same collection, the two voices of "Wachet Auf" are also presented without accompanying harmonies.

The final chorale (Mvt. 5) is clearly not for congregational sing-along. The tune is pitched very high (up to a high G) and the brass have competing counter-melodies.

Kim Patrick Clow wrote (December 4, 2011):
BWV 137 -- Lobe den Herren

I'd like to point out a beautiful performance (but not the Bach version) of the chorale performed in Dresden's rebuilt Frauenkirche with some dizzying views from inside the dome: http://youtu.be/94BILOS1DHU

Like Doug, the chorale is one of my favorites as well.

Ed Myskowski wrote (December 4, 2011):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< I still wait for the 3 and 4 half-lines of the chorale in which Bach suddenly abandons the counterpoint and presents the tune in blockbuster chords. WOW! >
The familiarity of the chorales to Bachs listeners is perhaps analogous to the familiarity of Christmas (or seasonal!) tunes to contemporary (20-21st C.) USA listeners. (Seasonal is indeed appropriate, not just politically correct.) A radio commentator pointed out this morning that Jingle Bells is decidedly not an Xmas song.

My favorite jazz analogy is the Modern Jazz Quartet playing God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen.

DC:
< Bach later arranged the alto aria (Mvt. 2) for organ in a very interesting way. >
Can you identify the organ works for us?

Ed Myskowski wrote (December 4, 2011):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
< Details of text, commentary, recordings, and previous discussion are accessible via: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV137.htm
The link to commentary by Julian [Mincham] is especially recommended as an introduction to listening. >
Julian points out:
The third cycle, on the other hand, stretches over approximately two years and contains less then forty new works, considerably fewer than before.

OTOH, I had not noticed previously (or I had forgotten) that the third Leipzig cycle is as extensive as forty works. Also, BWV 137 is an opportunity to notice that the orientation of Bachs vocal works to the Lutheran chorales is not limited to the second Leipzig cycle. See ongoing posts from Will Hoffman, as well as his proposed scholarly presentation at ABS 2012 meeeting.

Douglas Cowling wrote (December 5, 2011):
Introduction to BWV 137 -- The survival of cantatas

Ed Myskowski wrote:
< Can you identify the organ works for us? >
Around 1748, Bach took chose six movements based on chorales from his cantatas (one of them presumably from a lost cantata) and had them professionally engraved for publication as:

"Sechs Chorale von verschiedener Art" ('Six Chorales of Various Kinds')

They are known popularly as the Schübler Chorales (BWV645≠650)

The alto aria (Mvt. 2) from BWV 137 appears with the title:
"Kommst du nun, Jesu vom Himmel herunter", BWV 650
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-KDg0CK4Q6M

The most famous of the six is the middle movement of "Wachet Auf" BWV 140, which this month is receiving thousands of performance around the world as part of Advent services: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RoL6v8VLWzc

Although commentators are often a bit sniffy about "arrangements", the fact that Bach chose to create this publication in the last years of his life seems to suggest that he assumed that these chorale-preludes would survive and be disseminated while the cantata would disappear.

In a sense, he was right. Thousands of organists have given tens of thousands of performances of this movement while the cantata is rarely performed and known almost exclusively from recordings.

Did he know that his cantatas would fade from popularity while his organ works would continue to be performed?

Ed Myskowski wrote (December 5, 2011):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
< Details of text, commentary, recordings, and previous discussion are accessible via: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV137.htm >
The number of older recordings is especially rich for BWV 137, including a variety of styles which bring into question the trusim that there is a traditional interpretation, in contrast to what has become knas HIP (Historically informed performance). Alas, there is no OVPP version of BWV 137, or we could use BWV 137 as the prime example to sort through all that. Plenty of comparison of the older recordings on page 1 of the archived BCW discussions.

< The link to commentary by Julian [Mincham] is especially recommended as an introduction to listening. >
Fortuitously (or by plan) Julian provides a simple presentation of the chorale melody. That is welcome because:

< The chorale text and melody are also accessible via links at the BWV 137 page. >
Not available this week. The chorale melody can be found via link in the scoring for Mvt. 5.

< Francis Browne has recently added new commentary on the cantata texts to his interlinear translations, linked via [English 3]. >
Also not available this week. Apologies for any confusion, to new or infrequent readers.

Ed Myskowski wrote (December 5, 2011):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< Around 1748, Bach took chose six movements based on chorales from his cantatas (one of them presumably from a lost cantata) and had them professionally engraved for publication as:
"Sechs Chorale von verschiedener Art" ('Six Chorales of Various Kinds')
They are known popularly as the Schübler Chorales (BWV645-650)
The alto aria
(Mvt. 2) from BWV 137 appears with the title:
"Kommst du nun, Jesu vom Himmel herunter", BWV 650. >
Thanks for pointing out this important connection for us.

Julian Mncham wrote (December 5, 2011):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
< Fortuitously (or by plan) Julian provides a simple presentation of the chorale melody. That is welcome >
Ed with reference to your comment above, coincidentally, at the moment I am adding a new batch of musical examples to the website. These will include the appropriate chorale melodies set out at the top of each of the chorale cantatas.

This will include the 40 chorale cantatas from the second cycle, BWV 20-BWV1, the later 'unattached' cantatas (some of which may have been conceived as replacements or additions to that cycle----i.e. BWV 117, BWV 192, BWV 112, BWV 140, BWV 177, BWV 100, BWV 9, BWV 97, BWV 80 and BWV 14 and the two which, according to Wolff, properly reside in the third cycle, BWV 137 and BWV 129). This will make it easy for readers who have at least a smattering of knowledge of musical notation to make immediate comparisons of the motivic shapes referred to in the essays with the chorale melodies from which they are so often derived.

This is quite a long process which requires the creation of the examples, converting them to J-pegs, placing them in a folder where they can be individually dropped into the right places in the essays in the editing suite. When theses processes are complete the whole lot will be uploaded to the live site.

I hope that this will happen early in the new year.

Douglas Cowling wrote (December 5, 2011):
Julian Mincham wrote:
< At the moment I am adding a new batch of musical examples to the website. These will include the appropriate chorale melodies set out at the top of each of the chorale cantatas. >
Question to Julian and Will ...

I'm sure someone has done the sleuthing, but does Bach always use the version of the chorale familiar to the Leipzig congregation in the cantatas or does he allow variants? I have a vague memory of seeing different versions of "Gelobet seist du" in the cantatas and organ works.

Julian Mincham wrote (December 5, 2011):
[To Douglas Cowling] He was certainly not averse to using different versions. For example, the chorale used for the cantata BWV 111 is structurally altered from other appearances, notably in the SMP (BWV 244).

Douglas Cowling wrote (December 5, 2011):
Introduction to BWV 137 -- The wrong tune

Julian Mincham wrote:
< He was certainly not averse to using different versions. For example, the chorale used for the cantata BWV 111 is structurally altered from other appearances, notably in the SMP (BWV 244). >
Is that Bach's musical flexibility at play or do various versions tell us something about a piece's geographical origin?

Can you speculate on the reaction of Bach's listeners hearing the "wrong" tune? Or did they themselves embrace variant versions?

George Bromley wrote (December 5, 2011):
[To Douglas Cowling, in response to his message above]
I came to know of Bach's music as an organist. It wasn't until college that I understood the way Bach is enjoyed by the world at large. Shortly thereafter I had the most dissagreeable experience of meeting a Bach snob. I'm sooooo glad this list isn't populated by such people!

The Schubler are required repretoire of any organist. We even sat through lectures detailing where the musical ideas came from and how and where they have been used. Unfortunately, my overtaxed, sleep deprived mind didn't retain much. I am very interested in learning it all again (if I even remembered it long enough for the final!)

Thank you to all who graciously share your knowledge and opinions. May we all hear Bach more frequently.

William Hoffman wrote (December 5, 2011):
There are many variants to the chorale melodies, including the old rhythmic styles and changes of notes. The Bach Cantata Website is a treasure trove of the genesis of chorales Bach used. It can be a complicated matter, with variant tunes and multiple texts. By Bach's time there was a trend to simplify chorale texts using selective tunes in order to introduce new texts and get the congregation to sing and learn them set to familiar melodies. The Schemelli Gesangbuch of 1636 is such a private, devotional source. Just look up BCW Chorale "Texts and Translations," and "Melodies" with great contributions, including bibliography, from Aryeh Oron, Francis Browne, and Thomas Braatz. My apologies for others omitted.

Incidentally, there is a big BCW gap with this week's chorale, "Lobe den Herren, den maechtigen Koenig der Ehren," only one English translation, and no background from C. S. Terry or recent sources such as <The Hymnal Companion to the Lutheran Book of Worship>.

Otherwise, go to my posting of Chorales for Trinity 12: Yahoo Group, need password
http://launch.groups.yahoo.com/group/BachCantatas/message/35826
[See also: Motets & Chorales for 12th Sunday after Trinity]

Julian Mincham wrote (December 5, 2011):
[To Douglas Cowling, in response to his message above]
I make some tentative speculation about this in the essay on BWV 111 in vol 2 in the website. My own view is that Bach presented chorales anew to suit the different texts or verses he set in different works. Certainly there evidence that he altered the harmony and part writing to accommodate different words and images. In the case of BWV 111 he also seems to have tinkered with the phrase lengths which is less usual. He often distorted the melodic and rhythmic lines when using chorales phrases in recitatives (see for example BWV 2 but there are numerous examples, many from the second cycle.)

Douglas Cowling wrote (December 5, 2011):
BWV 137 -- The wrong tune

Julian Mincham wrote:
< My own view is that Bach presented chorales anew to suit the different texts or verses he set in different works. >
My persistence in this question reflects my continuing interest in the practical performing logistics for Bach's music. Bach's congregations had a prodigious collective memory for chorale melodies and their texts. Did their
hackles go up when the wrong version of the tune was performed?

For instance, on Christmas Day 1724, Bach presented Cantata BWV 91, which is based on the chorale "Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/CM/Gelobet-seist-du.htm

This is one of the oldest chorales in the repertoire, going back a century before the Reformation. It was a Classic Old Chestnut. Bach used the chorale in many vocal and organ works. He variously used two versions with
significant variants: 1) a rising third between the sixth and seventh notes; 2) a rising second (musical examples on BCM page)

Here's a conjectural musical sequence involving the chorale which was the Hymn of the Day (de tempore):

1) Chorale prelude on "Gelobet seist du" before the Hymn of the Day
2) Hymn of the Day: "Gelobet seist du"
3) Sung Gospel Reading
4) Chorale prelude on "Gelobet seist du" before the cantata
5) Cantata BWV 91, based on "Gelobet seist du"

We can assign works by Bach:

1) BWV 697, which is only 14 bars long, is clearly an introductory "intonation" to hymn singing. It could have been used on the occasion. It uses Version One.

2) BWV 722 which gives us a written example of Bach's improvisations between the lines of a sung chorale. It uses Version Two.

4) BWV 314 (Orgelbüchlein) is also an "intonation" to singing like BWV 697.It uses an ornamented Version One.

5) BWV 91 uses Version Two throughout the cantata.

Bach uses Version Two on most occasions and it seems reasonable that this was the "Leipzig Version" which the congregation knew so well (we see it used in late works like the "Christmas Oratorio" (BWV 248).) That leave us with two logistical possibilities.

A) the Leipzig congregation was prepared to hear a variant version of their Old Chestnut and even switch to it when they sang it. I think this highly unlikely. It would like asking Americans to sing "The Star-Spangled Banner" with double-dotting throughout!

B) BWV 697 and 314 were never used in Leipzig. The Orgelbüchlein was begun in Weimar. Was it left unfinished because it used the "Weimar Version" of chorales and thus was useless when Bach came to Leipzig?

Bach took a close interest in the choice of hymns. He had a clash with a cleric at St. Thomas who usurped his prerogative to choose the hymns. And always listening was the disgruntled "Cantor" cabal of the Leipzig town
council who would have complained about fancy-dancy "Weimar Ways" being foisted on them.

Ed Myskowski wrote (December 6, 2011):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< B) BWV 697 and 314 were never used in Leipzig. The Orgelbüchlein was begun in Weimar. Was it left unfinished because it used the "Weimar Version" of chorales and thus was useless when Bach came to Leipzig? >
A very satisfying idea!

DC:
< Bach took a close interest in the choice of hymns. He had a clash with a cleric at St. Thomas who usurped his prerogative to choose the hymns. >
EM:
This clash is sometimes presented as an example of Bachís obstinate nature. However accurate that evaluation of his personality may be, this particular event seems equally well explained by his deep commitment to the spiritual impact of his music, not only on the congregation but on his God.

Ed Myskowski wrote (December 6, 2011):
Julian Mincham wrote:
< at the moment I am adding a new batch of musical examples to the website. These will include >the appropriate chorale melodies set out at the top of each of the chorale cantatas. >

I expect many others will share my enthusiasm for this effort, a very helpful addition to Julianís already superb essays.

Anne (Nessie) Russell wrote (December 6, 2011):
DC:
< Bach took a close interest in the choice of hymns. He had a clash with a cleric at St. Thomas who usurped his prerogative to choose the hymns. >
And the battle continues today.

EM:
< This clash is sometimes presented as an example of Bachs obstinate nature. ?
This is a conflict the lowly organist, not even Bach, can win. Good for him for trying.

Ed Myskowski wrote (December 7, 2011):
[To Nessie Russell] Seems like an opportune moment to remember this post, re Bachís notes to his copy of Calovs commentary on Lutherís Bible:

Ed Myskowski wrote (June 3, 2009):
IMO, the music is much more durable than the texts. Or as Bach noted, marginalia to Chronicles (the text!): <Where there is Music, there is God.>

Nicholas Johnson wrote (December 7, 2011):
[To Ed Myskowski] Choosing hymns reminds me of a concert held in a church in Sussex , in the south of England. After an exquisite baroque program for recorder and guitar the well-meaning vicar stood up and announced a hymn to give thanks to God for the concert !

Can anyone remember the alto aria (Mvt. 2) with 2 flutes? I think it is in e minor and 9/8 ?

Nicholas Johnson wrote (December 7, 2011):
[To Ed Myskowski] Choosing hymns reminds me of a concert held in a church in Sussex , in the south of England. After an exquisite baroque program for recorder and guitar the well-meaning vicar stood up and announced a hymn to give thanks to God for the concert !

Can anyone remember the alto aria (Mvt. 2) with 3 flutes? I think it is in e minor and 9/8 ?

William Hoffman wrote (December 7, 2011):
BWV 137 -- The wrong tune (Alto Aria) (Mvt. 2)

Johnson Nicholas wrote:
< Can anyone remember the alto aria (Mvt. 2) with 2 flutes? I think it is in e minor and 9/8 ? >
I believe it's Mercury's da-capo aria in sarabande-style 3/4 time, <Aufgeblasne Hitze, aber wenig Gruetze> (Inflated passion, but few wits; Dürr <JSB Cantatas: 908) from the dramma per musica, "Geschwinde: ihr wirbelnden Winde (Der Streit zwischen Phoebus und Pan).

Ed Myskowski wrote (December 8, 2011):
William Hoffman wrote:
< I believe it's Mercury's da-capo aria in sarabande-style 3/4 time, <Aufgeblasne Hitze, aber wenig Gruetze> (Inflated passion, but few wits; Dürr <JSB Cantatas: 908) >
That text is a refreshing respite from Lutheran theology, worthy of Shakespeare? Alas, it hits a bit close to home.

With respect to wrong tune, note also how Bach has the chorale tunes move to triple meter (if that observation is not overly passionate).

William Hoffman wrote (December 8, 2011):
[To Ed Myskowski] Responses:

The text of 201/14 is vintage Picander of 1729 (SMP (BWV 244) text published), mixing mythology, "enlightenment," and arcadia. In a similar vein (vain), I have just finished reading Peter Smaill's fascinating article, "Bach among the Heretics: Inferences from the (Sacred) Cantata Texts" (<Understanding Bach>, 4, 101-118 cBach Network UK 2009). There's intriguing material about references to various isms and schisms in Bach's authors' syncretism. I believe Picander was a University (?Leipzig) graduate and besides the pietistic phrases in his sacred texts, there may be an occasional (?subconscious) allusion in the profane cantatas to a bit of scholastic, theological dogma. I would entertain some thoughts from Peter.

As for the chorales in 3/4 time, it could be Bach's response more to a little lilt and bounce (I could call it sashay) than to some Trinitarian or Numerological concept.

Julian Mincham wrote (December 8, 2011):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
< With respect to wrong tune, note also how Bach has the chorale tunes move to triple meter >
Bach had no inhibitions about changing the metre of the chorale melody especially when using it as the basis of a chorale/fantasia. I am not aware of any analysis focussupon this issue but I suspect he changed it as or more often than he retained it, probably to fit with his concept of what he determined the musical character of the opening chorus of a particular cantata should be.

A few quick examples

BWV no chorale metre metre of chorale in fantasia.

BWV 20 4 4 then 3 returning to 4
BWV 93 4 6/8
BWV 107 6/8 4
BWV 113 4 3
BWV 78 4 3
BWV 8 4 12/8
BWV 114 4 6/4
BWV 96 4 9/8

I suspect his reasons for these changes were more musical and structural than symbolic since it is not just a simple matter of converting 4 time into the Holy Trinity of 3.

Russell Telfer wrote (December 10, 2011):
The wrong tune

[To Johnson Nicholas] A somewhat Off Topic post but it starts On Topic at least ....

I have enjoyed reading the posts of Ed, Doug, Will and many other regulars these last few months. I thank you all for devoting so much careful effort and learning to your posts, which I know will be added to the Bach Cantata archive. Like many others, it is one of my first ports of call for secondary sources. I believe that Aryeh's distillation of the most productive comments will create a benchmark for future generations of devotees in any field of study. And how civilised it has been these last few years!

About wrong tunes, and organists: I happen to be a Village Organist with that accorded status, but I acknowledge that I am right at the bottom of that particular food chain. Some years back I was asked to take responsibility for the hymns for our village service. This was a responsibility I was pleased to accept. The previous holder of this task was a layperson who probably was not up to the task. After playing several hymns to dead silence, I was asked to take over. (You may well ask why the clergypeople didn't want this onerous task? I don't know, but they didn't. I can't imagine that there would be this lack of ambition in any other anglophone country.)

And so I brought in the tunes that congregations love to sing - or would love to sing if they knew them well. Cue in JSB especially at Eastertide. It was now a case of "educating" the congregation by playing subliminally (so-called voluntaries) some of the hymn tunes they ought to know but in England usually don't. My ultimate aim is to present Christ lag en Todesbanden's chorale as a regular hymn tune, but I haven't dared so far. But the Passion Music as presented in English hymnal variants offer a few choices for enlightenment.

I would love to hear from other low level performers who cope with local politics, a tone-deaf "choir" and other mini-megalomaniacs as to how they offer their best music in the face of all the drag factors that organists since Johann Sebastian have had to contend with. You might imagine JSB's frame of mind as he was about to introduce a complex five-part fugue that he felt would complete and encapsulate the service.... "I'll show them!" And he did.

Ed Myskowski wrote (December 11, 2011):
Russell Telfer wrote:
< I would love to hear from other low level performers who cope with local politics, a tone-deaf "choir" and other mini-megalomaniacs as to how they offer their best music in the face of all the drag factors that organists since Johann Sebastian have had to contend with. >
2 Chronicles 5:13 is the point where Bach offered a rare marginal interpretation, <where there is music, there is God>.

With respect to other recent posts, see also 2 Chronicles 35:25 <Jeremiah also uttered a lament for Josiah; and all the singing men and singing women ...>

Translations per RSV.

 

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

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

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Last update: żDecember 26, 2011 ż21:25:08