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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 138
Warum betrübst du dich, mein Hertz?
Discussions - Part 3

Continue from Part 2

John Pike wrote (October 12, 2005):
BWV 138

The Bass aria is for me, and I suspect for most others, the glorious highlight of this work, but the first and last movements are also, I feel, very fine.

I have listened to Suzuki [7], Gardiner [10], Harnoncourt [4], Leusink [9] and Rilling [3]. I concur with many of Neil's comments about some of these performances, and sincerely hope that I have remembered them correctly for a change, but will not repeat them here.

All of the performances of the Bass aria are very enjoyable though there are noticeable differences in approach and tempo. It is Suzuki [7] who for me gives a really glorious performance of this movement. It seems a little faster than all the others and is just so full of joy. The sound also seems fuller than many of the other HIP performances, who often take a light approach.

My german wife has heard a number of Suzuki's performances now and comments that she can't believe they are not Germans performing.

In the booklet that comes with Suzuki's recording [7] is a nice photo of Suzuki with a big smile on his face. I can almost imagine such a photo being taken after their performance of the bass aria as he turns to his performers and says "Well done team! That was just great!"

A bit fanciful I know, but an emotional response to a recording that really had me singing the tune all day every day for a week, and listening to the recording till I nearly burnt a hole in the CD.

Thomas Braatz wrote (October 12, 2005):
Alain Bruguieres wrote:
>>If you're referring to the rhythms long-short-short and short-short-long, in prosody the former is a dactyl and the latter, an anapaest.
I don't know if there's musical terminology available for these... >>
It appears that Johann Gottfried Walther, with relatively close contact with Bach, did not have these in his musical vocabulary, whereas Johann Mattheson, in a different region and with limited contact with Bach did, at least later in his career.

Johann Mattheson, in his "Der vollkommene Capellmeister" [Hamburg, 1739] Part II, Chapter 6 §22, 23, brings up the subject of "Von den Klang-Füssen" ["On Poetic Meter"], a subject treating "die 'pedes'" ['feet' in poetry: OED - in prosody, the term commonly taken to refer to the movement of the foot in beating time; hence a division of a verse, consisting of a number syllables one of which has the principal stress] in reference to music and comes to the following conclusions that can be summarized as
follows:

1. A poetic foot in music must appear immediately at the beginning of a mvt., because otherwise its recognition is not easily identifiable and becomes ambiguous since there are many other variations possible in music not available to poetry.

2. The restrictions/limitations of German poetry, for instance in regard to the use of the dactyl, are not binding upon a composer, i.e., a composer does not have to use the rhythmic unit of a 'foot' consistently throughout a mvt. the same way that a poet does in a poem. From one measure to the next, or even within the measure, the composer can quickly change from dactyl to anapaest and vice versa.

3. A composer can quickly turn a musical figure consisting of a specific foot pattern around and transform it to create innumerable 'melodic feet' which are not possible in poetry.

4. There are 24 different types of feet possible in poetry which might be applied to music, but in music these two dozen feet can be transformed into 62044840173323943936030 musical possibilities. [Mattheson explains how he arrived at this number. It is all very logical to those who were part of the Enlightenment.]

5. Poetry is unable to make all of the fine distinctions (consisting of subtle or not so subtle variations on the basic rhythmic structure of a foot) that music can.

In regard to the dactyl, Mattheson makes the following observation:

This is a very common rhythm and in music it suits itself to either serious or humorous melodies according to the tempo (the amount of movement) that is used.

In regard to the anapaest rhythm, Mattheson makes the following observation:

This is the reverse of the dactyl and has a better effect in humorous or strange melodies. It also can be used with great effect in serious music, but then there is usually a mixture with other types of feet. Examples of strict anapaest as well as a mixture with other types can be given, but there is no room here in this book.

[It would appear that Mattheson, who seems to have waited until 1739 to approach this subject in the manner of the Enlightenment, is beginning to run out of steam here, i.e., the extreme wealth of information overwhelms the notion that musical rhythms can be explained by the meters used in prosody. In reality there is some kind of connection, but the nature of music and prosody are nevertheless sufficiently different so as not to allow this comparison of feet to go beyond some rudimentary insights regarding their similarities.]

It should be noted that Johann Gottfried Walther, in his "Musicalisches Lexicon." [Leipzig, 1732] does not have a single entry regarding any of the poetic feet treated by Mattheson a few years later, this despite the fact that there are innumerable specific references given with Greek and Latin terminology in his musical dictionary.

It seems that in the ensuing discussion of 'dactyl' = funeral music, some readers have clearly overlooked Walther's definition of the musical figure which includes the word 'geschwind' ['swift, fast'] to describe how these figures are to be performed.

Bradley Lehman wrote (October 12, 2005):
Rhythmopoeia

<< If you're referring to the rhythms long-short-short and short-short-long, in prosody the former is a dactyl and the latter, an anapaest. >>
< I don't know if there's musical terminology available for these... >
This historical topic of Rhythmopoeia is covered thoroughly in George Houle's scholarly book: Meter in Music, 1600-1800: Performance, Perception, and Notation: Amazon.com

Bradley Lehman wrote (October 12, 2005):
< It seems that in the ensuing discussion of 'dactyl' = funeral music, some readers have clearly overlooked Walther's definition of the musical figure which includes the word 'geschwind' ['swift, fast'] to describe how these figures are to be performed. >
Some readers evidently believe that Walther's source (while important) is not necessarily the only thing that matters. It's not a matter of "clearly overlooking" anything. Rather, it's insulting and condescending to imply/accuse that they have done so.

Roar Myrheim wrote (October 12, 2005):
It's interesting to observe, that what is considered appropriate to discuss, are the technical terms - dactyls and anapests.

I agree that it can be very interesting to analyse the theoretical aspects of music. Intellectually that can be a rewarding activity, like a crossword puzzle, or sudoku. But to be honest: when it comes to music, it's not my first choice. As a performing musician, I must confess, that if that was all there was to it, we could just as well program a computer. I regard music as a language that speaks to the soul, when I play the organ, as well as when I listen to music. In that respect, I find Schweitzer's terms "Motive of joy" and "Motive of grief" more in accordance with my way of thinking than the technical terms.

I must also say, that on the background of Thomas Braatz's excellent introduction,this week has been an exciting experience, listening to Leusink's [9], Herreweghe's [6] and Gardiner's [10] versions of Cantata BWV 138!

Bradley Lehman wrote (October 13, 2005):
< The previous discussions are found at: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV138-D.htm and are well worth reading.
(...)
1. How did Bach illustrate musically the text which he set to music? How well did the performers succeed in bringing out what Bach may have intended?
2. What aspects of performance were you able to distinguish (too fast/slow; intelligible/unintelligible text; good intonation/out-of-tune (too flat/sharp); clear/unclear musical lines; too legato/staccato; too heavy or sharp accents/too monotonous (lack of inflection); unity/disparity of sound; balance/imbalance between the musicians or groups of performers; vocal qualities, whether as a solo or as a group/choir; well-prepared/not so well-prepared performances; emotionally convincing/not so emotionally convincing; technical accuracy/lack of technical accuracy, etc. All of these things can be determined by careful listening even without the score in hand and simply with a rudimentary understanding of music, if (and this is a crucial 'if') you devote sufficient time to this type of activity. The experience of doing so will be very rewarding. >
I'm sorry, but I really can't get past these items of "guidance". These latter two batches of questions seem--at least to me--like an invitation to turn sessions of subjective listening into just a bunch of fault-finding. Consumer opinions--especially if they're negative ones against performers--win the day, according to this batch of questions! Consumer opinions get to determine which recordings are worthy to be listened to!

Who, without being a performer or record producer, is worthy to judge all those musical and technical points about "too X vs Y", good/bad balance, etc etc etc etc etc? And even more importantly, how well that lines up with Bach's presumed intentions?!

As if (1) "what Bach may have intended" is accessible just through enough consumer-listening and self-guided study into books; and as if (2) that's a license to decide who in the field of music is worthy to work, by going through a subjective checklist of things that are liked or disliked in the recording. To me it's like seeing some televised sporting event where the color commentators are chattering the whole time, "OOO, did you see how he muffed that play? What could he have been thinking? You know, he has 58 career wins plus his dog's name is Muffin! Let's see that terrible play again." That's why I don't bother with televised sports, unless the sound is turned off....

Myself, I prefer to listen to recordings with an attitude that I'll find something to enjoy or appreciate, somewhere in there. Something positive and uplifting about both the composition and the performance. NOT looking for a host of little picky things according to arbitrary standards, where I should then go complain on the internet about somebody else's published work. Especially with any claims that "Bach's intentions" have been somehow violated!

What is the point of listening to a CD with the attitude of fault-finding against the performance, or picking apart a zillion minutiae that don't matter to performance? Especially in a musical repertoire (Bach's cantatas) that purports to be about spirituality, humility, understanding, edification, and other weighty ideals? This particular cantata is about suffering, yet trusting in God that divine guidance will arrive anyway and things will work out OK. And it's written with Bach's usual and brilliant mastery of his materials.

Bach's music is inexhaustibly rich; we already know that. Each performance brings out some different things in it; we already know that, too. Why not simply listen to as many performances are available to oneself, and find something positive to appreciate in each one? Myself, I have only one recording of BWV 138 and no complaints against it. The performance clearly presents the exquisitely intertwining musical lines of this composition, and with enough dramatic impetus to put the text's message across.

Neil Halliday wrote (October 13, 2005):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< What is the point of listening to a CD with the attitude of fault-finding against the performance, or picking apart a zillion minutiae that don't matter to performance >
While I agree that an open mind and an accepting attitude can aid in the appreciation of a performance that one might initially be inclined to reject, still it is interesting to analyse those features of performance that 'float your boat', and those that don't, and try to understand why.

For example, why is it that Gardiner [10] seems to skim the surface of the music in the ritornello, whereas Herreweghe [6], and Leusink [9] as well (the recording you have, I think) find a good deal of the pathos we kmow exists in Bach's score. Violins 1, violins 2, violas, successively enter with a decending phrase, then oboes enter, one playing the chorale tune, the other the grief motive mentioned by Roar Myrheim.

How has Gardiner [10] missed some of the depth of feeling, in this ritornello? I think it's an interesting question, one which, if I were Gardiner, I would not be averse to considering.

Thomas Braatz wrote (October 13, 2005):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
>>I'm sorry, but I really can't get past these items of "guidance". These latter two batches of questions seem--at least to me--like an invitation to turn sessions of subjective listening into just a bunch of fault-finding. Consumer opinions--especially if they're negative ones against performers--win the day, according to this batch of questions! Consumer opinions get to determine which recordings are worthy to be listened to!<<
This is a very condescending view to hold as a musician who wishes to make contact with an intelligent audience which wishes to uphold the highest and not the lowest common denominator in regard to performances of Bach's music. Why should performances of the Bach's cantatas be extolled which obviously have definite shortcomings? Or why should some performances not be discussed at all out of fear that the slightest criticism might be interpreted as derogatory by a few overly sensitive readers or professional musicians? Most intelligent listeners are aware of the fact that not everything can be perfect in a performance and are willing to concede some negative aspects if there is evidence of true excellence in other areas. This is what this mailing list is all about: 'calling a spade a spade' and 'not beating around the bush' 'to save the hides of some musicians' who simply have not met certain higher standards about which there can be some differences of opinion, but also much agreement.

If all consumers had easy access to all of the existing Bach cantata recordings, we could be generous and say that they should listen to all of them because there is certainly something to be discovered in each performance; however, if the consumer is forced to pay high prices for each of these recordings, it becomes a luxury which almost all consumers are unable to afford. In this instance, it certainly is very important as a consumer to discriminate and make wise choices. By viewing the various opinions offered by list members regarding these performances, such consumer/listeners could be guided in deciding for themselves which choices to make.

The obvious fear behind the statement "Consumer opinions--especially if they're negative ones against performers--win the day" seems to be a testimony for the fact that some performing musicians of this great music are concerned that listeners will become too well-informed and could possibly reject some of the musical freedoms that certain musicians have arrogated to themselves, musical freedoms which they are reluctant to relinquisin the face of some rather hard evidence from Bach's time and place in history.

>>Who, without being a performer or record producer, is worthy to judge all those musical and technical points about "too X vs Y", good/bad balance, etc etc etc etc etc? And even more importantly, how well that lines up with Bach's presumed intentions?!<<
This is precisely what has been the subject of many of the discussions on the BCML, all recorded for posterity in the BCW for anyone to examine and ponder.

You underestimate the potential listening capabilities and discriminating judgment of many listeners on a world-wide basis. These are not simply listeners who happen to live in your town or area and attend church services where you perform regularly.

Some of Bach's intentions have been rather clearly spelled out and the general statement about how he was much more precise than almost all composers of his time needs to be repeated over and over again because there are some performing musicians who seem not to understand what this entails.

>>As if (1) "what Bach may have intended" is accessible just through enough consumer-listening and self-guided study into books; and as if (2) that's a license to decide who in the field of music is worthy to work, by going through a subjective checklist of things that are liked or disliked in the recording."<<
The process of sifting and winnowing is a given in the arts. That which has excellent quality wins out in the end. The list which was suggested is one which is just that: a list of suggestions regarding those things which help to distinguish one performance from another and possibly to rank the efforts of the musicians as to which ones had greater success in conveying the potential which Bach wrote into his music: this potential having a number of subjective elements which differ from one performance to another, but a potential which can be measured by some of the suggestions that have been offered.

>>Myself, I prefer to listen to recordings with an attitude that I'll find something to enjoy or appreciate, somewhere in there. Something positive and uplifting about both the composition and the performance. NOT looking for a host of little picky things according to arbitrary standards, where I should then go complain on the internet about somebody else's published work. Especially with any claims that "Bach's intentions" have been somehow violated!<<
There is a limit to which this can be accomplished depending entirely upon the circumstances of the performance/recording. Most listeners will approach each given situation according to certain expectations. If a normal high school choir performs a Bach cantata, these expectations will not be the same and there will always be something of value to be cherished even under such performing conditions (mainly amateur in nature.)

The standards used for judging vary somewhat from individual to individual with some listeners judging more from the heart while having an intuitive sense of what seems right or appropriate. Others may judge more from the mind, appreciating the intricacies of Bach's musical ideas as they are brought out or simply glossed over by certain performers or performance groups. These are the listeners who will tend to investigate more deeply everything that is possible to be found out regarding the composition itself, using as a source of evidence to judge by the musical score from which each performance issues. To deny musically intelligent listeners (not referring to those that have studied music at the university level and have earned degrees in this subject) the opportunity to avail themselves of many different types of sources and to decry their ability to understand what has been documented in musical scores and books is tantamount to telling them that they have no hope for ever understanding anything at all about the way music is performed and how it can affect listeners unless they can demonstrate ownership of a graduate degree in music at a renowned university.

>>What is the point of listening to a CD with the attitude of fault-finding against the performance, or picking apart a zillion minutiae that don't matter to performance?<<
But these 'minutiae' were put there by Bach for a purpose and certainly not to be swept under the musical rug of certain idiosyncratic performers who believe that only they can be the proper prophets to broadcast Bach's intentions to the entire world by distorting the evidence which is in the notation and in the text.

>>Especially in a musical repertoire (Bach's cantatas) that purports to be about spirituality, humility, understanding, edification, and other weighty ideals?<<
These weighty ideals have a better prospect of being expressed musically when Bach's original intentions contained in his scores are revealed through the humility that some listeners can discern on the part of certain conductors and musical groups who strive for this ideal rather than search out opportunities and methods whereby Bach's intentions can be distorted in an effort to catch some new listeners who are used to very different types of music. Performed properly, Bach's music will uplift the listener without requiring the performers to perform 'certain tricks' such as deliberate asynchronicity of attacks, soloistic rubato applied outside simple ('secco') recitatives, extremely fast tempi which the allow the vocalists and choir to sing sotto voce and the instrumentalists to 'pick off' in light pianissimo fashion the notes which become almost inaudible at times, and the list of the 'bag of tricks' goes on and on.

>>And it's [BWV 138] written with Bach's usual and brilliant mastery of his materials.<<
It's wonderful to find a point of agreement here!

>>Bach's music is inexhaustibly rich; we already know that. Each performance brings out some different things in it; we already know that, too.<<
But some are better in certain ways than others. Why call out the musical 'thought police' and declare judging musical performances of Bach's music 'off-territory' or taboo for all but the tiny minority of 'ivory-tower' graduates of universities? What purpose does that serve?

>>Why not simply listen to as many performances are available to oneself, and find something positive to appreciate in each one?<<
Why prevent potential listeners who wish to inform themselves (there are some who like to experience surprises-let them buy whatever the pocketbook allows them to procure) from reading the comments and opinions on the BCML about the many performances which are not available to them?

>>Myself, I have only one recording of BWV 138 and no complaints against it. The performance clearly presents the exquisitely intertwining musical lines of this composition, and with enough dramatic impetus to put the text's message across.<<
Why the great mystery and 'hush-hush' attitude about the specific performance you have in mind? Is this to be a guessing game? Why are we not treated to an in-depth analysis by a degreed musician of this performance? Which standards of judging, besides those which I had suggested, could be added to my list? How, specifically, did this group succeed in creating sufficient dramatic impetus in order to get Bach's message (music and text) across to the listener? How is this degree of dramatic impetus measured, by strong accents and thrusts at the cost of radically or entirely losing the sound of unaccented notes, or by means of a performance which does not need to resort to drastic means, but rather relies upon sincere singing and playing generally using a cantabile style unless Bach calls for something else?

Alain Burguieres wrote (October 13, 2005):
Regarding the recent joust about criteria of appreciation I'm a bit baffled.

As an amateur, I feel entitled to state that I prefer interpretation A to interpretation B. (I'm well aware, though, that this may change in time as such changes have occurred in the past!) If asked why I prefer A to B, I might say that it has to do with A being faster or slower in tempo than B. However, I don't think I would assert that B is too slow/to fast in abstracto. This would assume that there ia right tempo, that what this right tempo is can be determined with certainty, and one should stick to it.

I very much doubt the first assumption (let alone the second!). I would suspect that, if Bach were to play the same piece twice, he would play it in a different way on the second occasion.

So the point which I can't fully endorse about Thomas' list of criteria is not the aspects of interpretation that he lists - and which indeed are important in forming one's opinion, but the 'too much of this' 's and the 'not enought of that' 's. In short, the normative tone of the text.

John Pike wrote (October 13, 2005):
[To Thomas Braatz] Oh dear! I detect another flame war brewing up.

I have to confess I agree wholeheartedly with Brad's views.

It is certainly true that most listeners cannot afford more than one recording of a work and it is therefore useful to have well qualified people to write reviews about the available recordings to help the purchaser decide on what to buy. But this is a very complex matter. A good review will not only give a brief summary of the overall quality of the recording but will also say as objectively as possible what the strengths and weaknesses are and discuss general matters of approach, since one persons A+ is another man's C- or even E-. If the critic is not keen on HIP performance, for example, he should try to keep his comments objective and not let his own personal tastes cloud his judgement or blind him to obvious qualities in the recording. He can point out, for example, that original instruments are used and that in movement x or y, the tempo taken is much/a little faster than recording B. In that way, even if he is not keen on the HIP approach himself, he can enable the reader to make his own decisions about the recording is one he wishes to buy. To take an example: Prof. Jonathan Freeman Attwood is an acknowledged expert in Early Music. It was therefore appropriate that BBC Music Magazine asked him to write a review of Sir John Eliot gardiner's first BCP recordings on the SDG label [10]. He awarded the recordings 3/5 and had some pretty scathing criticisms to make about them, especially regarding speed. Had I relied on his review, I would not have bought the recording. Fortunately, I have much experience of Sir John's work and have found his Bach performances to be generally very much to my liking. I therefore bought the recording before reading Prof. Attwood's review. I found that I disagreed most strongly with Prof. Attwood's comments in general, although there was one movement which I found a little too fast initially until I rapidly came to understand why that tempo had been chosen. One could claim that I was less well qualified than Prof. Attwood to make a judgement about the recording, but one of these recordings has subsequently won Gramophone's record of the year award, an award based on the judgement of serious professional critics (in shortlisting it in the first place) as well as keen amateurs (such as myself) who had bought it. The problems of reviews should be apparent from this anecdote. I could give countless other accounts of where, had I relied on the view of the professional critic, or some reviews posted on this list, I would have been deprived of hearing an impressive recording or seeing a fine film. I have also found myself buying recordings on the advice of critics which I cannot bear to listen to. Everyone to his own taste.

As a general rule, I prefer Suzuki, Gardiner and Herreweghe's recordings of Bach, but there is so much to be enjoyed in Leusink's and Rilling's recordings as well.

When I listen to a recording, I do so for my enjoyment, and almost never with a score to hand. Music is there to communicate, not for someone to nit pick whether x, y and z has been done. Broadly speaking, those who communicate well, will have observed the composer's markings anyway. In Bach, where frequently there are no (or few) markings, a lot is left to the interpretation of the musician.

I recently gave a performance of the Bach A minor violin concerto at my church. Without wanting to appear a show off, the congregation loved it and they all told me so afterwards. The performance meant something to them and did something to improve their day and attendance at church. For my own part, I knew only too well that the performance was flawed in several places, but so long as the congregation enjoyed it, I was happy. We both went away feeling good as a result. For me, the whole exercise was therefore worthwhile.

There is a place for critics to sit at a performance with a score and notice IN PASSING whether certain dynamic markings have been observed or not, to help them write a much broader and fair review of the performance as a whole, which takes more account of overall impression rather than whether x remembered to do the forte in bar 56. There is little place for a casual listener to go to a performance with a score and pick out every place the performer cocks it up. You'll be so obsessed with the minutiae that you won't notice the overarching beauty of a great performance. And that way, you just won't see the wood for the trees and your experience will be the all the more impoverished.

John Pike wrote (October 13, 2005):
[To Neil Halliday] I think these comments about Gardiner's performance [10] are very subjective and not ones which everyone will necessarily agree with.

John Pike wrote (October 13, 2005):
[To Bradley Lehman] As indicated in my other reply, I agree with EVERYTHING in this 100% (apart from the fact that I have 5 recordings (and enjoyed them all)).

John Pike wrote (October 13, 2005):
[To Roar Myrheim] What a very enjoyable e mail to read from someone who is not a regular contributor to the list. I look forward to many more contributions from Roar.

I agree with all these comments. I also found many helpful things in Thomas' introduction, notwithstanding the reservations discussed in a previous e mail.

John Pike wrote (October 13, 2005):
[To Bradley Lehman] Indeed. I made no such comment that dactyl=funeral music. I agreed that the term is appropriate for that figure. I commented that Schubert uses the dactyl figure a lot in his music and gave an example of an ANDANTE movement (not funereal) from the A minor string quartet where it is used a lot. It is very easy to fall into playing this movement too slowly, almost like a funeral piece, because of that rhythm, and disregarding Schubert's tempo marking. That is exactly the mistake I made when I first played it. I then commented that the dactyl rhythm is ALSO used in funeral music. Doug quite correctly gave the second movement of Beethoven's 7th symphony as a particulalrly fine example of its use in a funeral movement, even though Beethoven marks this movement "Allegretto". He marks the slow second movement of his third symphony "Marcia funebre. Adagio assai", although this is not a true dactyl rhythm.

Bradley Lehman wrote (October 13, 2005):
[To Thomas Braatz]
<>
As for understanding maybe some glimpse into a music-performing mind, perhaps one might read the book The Mastery of Music: Ten Pathways to True Artistry by Barry Green. It's full of terrific advice about concentration, commitment, tolerance, ego, humility, creativity, discipline, and fun. The author interviewed real performers, and is one himself (a double-bass soloist and orchestra player; I've heard him in concert myself, 20 years ago). Additionally good books along this line are Eloise Ristad's A Soprano on her Head, and Green and Gallwey's The Inner Game of Music. All of these authors respect the amount of hard work, commitment, risk, and enterprise that go into being a practicing musician. And they offer seasoned, tested, appreciative advice as to doing the job better.

Douglas Cowling wrote (October 13, 2005):
Human remains…

John Pike wrote:
< I recently gave a performance of the Bach A minor violin concerto at my church. Without wanting to appear a show off, the congregation loved it and they all told me so afterwards. The performance meant something to them and did something to their day and attendance at church. For my own part, I knew only too well that the performance was flawed in several places, but so long as the congregation enjoyed it, I was happy. We both went away feeling good as a result. For me, the whole exercise was therefore worthwhile. >
I actually take the extreme opinion that a few mistakes are authentic music-making. I have heard many legendary vocalists and instrumentalists in concert over the years and there is always some flaw in a performance. It can be spectacular like Kathleen Battle stopping her accompanist not once but TWICE in the opening of a song, but more often it's a missed note or a bit of sagging intonation. I would say those are hallmarks of humanity.

Not so with most CD performances. They are perfect. They have been stitched together from so many takes or even have applied corrective technology to fix wrong notes. We have recitatives recorded separately from their arias, ensemble balances manipulated in mixing, and so on. I think something human has been lost in this cold pursuit of technical perfection.

Bradley Lehman wrote (October 13, 2005):
[To Douglas Cowling] I saw something interesting in a shop last week, but haven't put down the money for it yet. Probably will. It's the famous Horowitz concert from 1965, but removing all the edits/fixes from all the previously published releases of this...and giving us the naked raw concert. This one: Amazon.com

"For a couple of wrong notes, nobody was ever put in jail!" - his father-in-law, the conductor.

Roar Myrheim wrote (October 13, 2005):
Neil Halliday wrote (October 10, 2005):
>> For the remainder of the cantata, Rilling is without doubt my pick (to judge from the samples. BTW, Rilling examples can be heard at amazon, though the link at the BCW brings up the wrong cantatas. Also, apparently, the complete Harnoncourt recordings at the Zale site have lapsed, so amazon samples will have to suffice. I cannot find examples of Suzuki for BWV 138).<<
You can find Suszuki at http://www.bis.se/index.php?op=people&pID=2396
The good thing here, is that we can listen to half the duration of the tracks. Not so nice with the short recitatives, but it lets us get a good impression of the arias and choirs.

Jack Botelho wrote (October 14, 2005):
[To Thomas Braatz] Mr Braatz's invitation to the reader to develop his/her own critical thinking and listening skills is to be very much commended.

The lack of attention paid to the issue of stylistically accurate historically informed performance practice, which Mr Braatz does, thankfully, address, is excellent.

Yang JF wrote (October 14, 2005):
I don't think Braatz's "guidances" are so terrible...
At least they are helpful for a amateur listener like me to understand more music details.

Neil Halliday wrote (October 14, 2005):
I asked:
<"How has Gardiner [10] missed some of the depth of feeling, in this ritornello?">
John Pike replied:
<"I think these comments about Gardiner's performance [10] are very subjective and not ones which everyone will necessarily agree with">
which is of course, correct.

However, I mentioned this performance (speaking of the ritornello only) because it, like the Koopman [8], most noticeably emphasizes certain characteristics such as: sharp variation in dynamic level on each individual note (within a limited dynamic range of moderately soft to inaudible), short phrasing, and a general lightness of expression - is there more than one violin at the start?.

Neil Halliday wrote (October 14, 2005):
Roar Myrheim wrote:
< You can find Suszuki at: http://www.bis.se/index.php?op=people&pID=2396 >
Thank you. This is a most useful resource, which I have marked for future reference.

John Pike wrote (October 14, 2005):
[To Yang JF] No, indeed. They are not terrible. They include some very useful information. But I'm sorry again. I have to agree with everything Brad has said. Some of the comments Thomas has made are very subjective and unsubstantiated. <>

Of course Thomas is entitled to his own tastes but I find it irritating that he attributes such ignoble motives to those who don't share them.
<>
This is not intended as a personal attack. It is just an attempt to get a bit of balance into the argument since there are several people who have written in to congratulate Thomas on his postings, especially as regards HIP, and I wouldn't want them to assume that Thomas' views on this are the ultimate ones.

Jack Botelho wrote (October 14, 2005):
John Pike wrote:
< No, indeed. They are not terrible. They include some very useful information. But I'm sorry again. I have to agree with everything Brad has said. Some of the comments Thomas has made are very subjective and unsubstantiated. >
Bach's time was punctuated with considerations of "good taste" in music performance, so it is odd that such an approach, however subjective, is greeted by so much opposition by some. From my own point of view, Mr Braatz's posts, although of course at times full of bias (who isn't biased!) keeps me reading posts to this e-mail exchange.

By the way, on the subject of "good taste", exclamations of "Bologna! Bologna!" are ghastly in the context of discussions devoted to matters of western music history.

Stephen Benson wrote (October 14, 2005):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
"Why not simply listen to as many performances are available to oneself, and find something positive to appreciate in each one?"
Because this is only one of an infinite variety of reasons for listening to music and only one of many ways of listening and encourages a degree of intellectual complacency on the part of the listener. Sure, there are times when I listen according to this prescription. But there are other times when I want to be critical, when I want to take the performance apart and listen to how a figure is presented, when I want to compare one performance against another to figure out why I prefer one over the other, when I want to understand the inner workings of a piece as well as I am able, when I want simply to learn. I know not only that Maria Joao Pires's Gigue from the First Partita is my favorite performance of that work on the piano, but, after much comparative listening, I know why I feel that way. That brings me a great sense of satisfaction.

The inquiring mind is NOT the sacrosanct preserve of the academically trained musician. We all have something to offer. Inquiry, discussion, and analysis should be encouraged on ALL levels. Such thinking inevitably results, not only in increased appreciation, but, for better or for worse, in value judgments. Are some more meaningful than others? Certainly. The credibility of a source is always a factor. Regular contributors to this list have made their biases and their backgrounds clear, and list members have the intelligence to evaluate their expressed opinions accordingly.

John Pike wrote (October 15, 2005):
[To Stephen Benson] There is much I agree with here but there is a very great distinction between inquiry and libel, which is the word I would use to describe some of the things I have read on this list.

Bradley Lehman wrote (October 15, 2005):
graceful desynchronization and rubato

Thomas Braatz asserted:
< Performed properly, Bach's music will uplift the listener without requiring the performers to perform 'certain tricks' such as deliberate asynchronicity of attacks, soloistic rubato applied outside simple ('secco') recitatives, extremely fast tempi which the allow the vocalists and choir to sing sotto voce and the instrumentalists to 'pick off' in light pianissimo fashion the notes which become almost inaudible at times, and the list of the 'bag of tricks' goes on and on. >
Since the important performance point about graceful desynchronization and rubato is greeted here <>, let me try onceagain to explain it. It is no "bag of tricks" (although it might appear so, to people who don't bring the practical background of doing this work, and who don't trust performers to have honest/noble motivations in the music). It is graceful and thoughtful preparation in the interest of the composition's clear delivery.

Part of the process of learning music, I dare say especially 17th and 18th century music, is to go all the way through it carefully looking to see which written-out notes are really parts of ornaments (graces). Then, practicing them carefully and thoughtfully to find the most graceful way to deliver them. That is usually with a free rhythm (between the beats or disengaged from the other parts) and a lighter intensity (letting them be connective tissue between other stronger events). The grouping with the events before or after them, and the way they embellish those events--enlivening the texture and clarifying the expression--is all-important. There is a huge hierarchy where some notes deserve more prominence than others, within the composition. And add to this the fact that there will also be some non-notated ornamentation as well, or other inflections that aren't shown on the page, from knowing the syntax of the language and the meaning of the passage.

It is like an actor studying all the way through a script to see the relative importance of each line within the whole drama, to decide the meaning of each, to decide what speech inflections he/she will use. And then, going through each line closely to identify all the prepositions and conjunctions, to treat them appropriately as connecting words in the syntax...giving them an appropriate (usually loose) rhythm and usually less emphasis than the nouns/verbs/adjectives around them. Sometimes there are delays or anticipations of the overall rhythm, around these syllables, not shown on the page of script...because it's part of the language as background to the composition (the play). Because the goal is obvious clarity of the overall meaning and drama, all these various syllables do not get the same timing or weight as one another. The spoken language is not a monotone, or a succession of equally spaced syllables; neither is the musical language.

It's the performer's job to figure all this out and deliver it with clarity and grace, whether the composer has marked it with a forest of helpful little notations or not. It will also be somewhat different at each performance, just because natural life works that way, and there's no way to foresee every circumstance during a performance.

When a composition is performed well, whether it's a musical piece or a play: the meaning of everything comes across with such natural obviousness that even a small child can get it, without needing any study. (No need to look at the musical performers, either; it's all in the sound.) When things are distinguished strongly enough, all the characters seem real, and all the action an inevitable progression. And the language--whether musical or spoken--comes across so idiomatically that it all seems like natural improvisation, effortless by the performers. The hard work of background preparation conceals itself within graceful delivery. The goal here is clarity. "Uplifting the listener" without requiring the listener to sort through some bewildering forest of inadequately emphasized sounds, all too much the same.

Douglas Cowling wrote (October 15, 2005):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< Part of the process of learning music, I dare say especially 17th and 18th century music, is to go all the way through it carefully looking to see which written-out notes are really parts of ornaments (graces). Then, practicing them carefully and thoughtfully to find the most graceful way to deliver them. That is usually with a free rhythm (between the beats or disengaged from the other parts) and a lighter intensity (letting them be connective tissue between other stronger events). The grouping with the events before or after them, and the way they embellish those events--enlivening the texture and clarifying the expression--is all-important. There is a huge hierarchy where some notes deserve more prominence than others, within the composition. And add to this the fact that there will also be some non-notated ornamentation as well, or other inflections that aren't shown on the page, from knowing the syntax of the language and the meaning of the passage. >
Mozart speaks of desynchronization of left and right hands in piano music as an old and traditional facet of interpretation. Desynchomization between parts is certainly implied by Bach in several movements. The violin solo in "Erbarme Dich" in the SMP (BWV 244) notates the embellishments precisely. I would also say that the rhythmic notation gives the impression in performance that the soloist and ensemble are desychronized for expressive purposes. The flute solo in "Aus Liebe" is similarly notated very closely to give the impression that the solo is desynchronized from the oboes. Bach may have wanted to control desyncronization but I don't think we can deny that the it was part of his interpretative apparatus.

Thomas Braatz wrote (October 15, 2005):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
>>And the language--whether musical or spoken--comes across so idiomatically that it all seems like natural improvisation, effortless by the performers.<<
'idiomatically' from 'idiom': OED: a characteristic mode of expression in music, art, or writing, an instance of this.

All performers of Bach's cantatas may claim to speak 'idiomatically', but unfortunately a great gap exists between HIP and non-HIP, a gap that can not simply
disappear and not be obvious to even the most casual listener. One side claims to have 'discovered the Rosetta Stone' by reviving old instruments and relying upon playing/singing techniques not fully understood nor always properly documented, the other side comes down hard on tradition which stretches back unchanged for centuries, as if the ensuing improvements in instruments and playing and singing styles never changed in the interim.

It has certainly been agreed upon many times on this list by reasonable contributors/listeners that performers in either camp or even those mixing things up a bit are capable of superior performances which are powerfully effective in expression and appear effortless (one is not distracted by elements of performance and technique). But it has also been my contention that the process by which Bach's message reaches the listener is not truly idiomatic, but rather strained and pushed to an extreme in many, but not all of the recordings of Bach's cantatas by Harnoncourt, for example.

>> Because the goal is obvious clarity of the overall meaning and drama, all these various syllables do not get the same timing or weight as one another. The spoken language is not a monotone, or a succession of equally spaced syllables; neither is the musical language.<<
Most reasonable contributors to this list would also claim that "obvious clarity of the overall meaning and drama" is an admirable goal. The difference lies in the amount of deviation and stress which, in the case of Harnoncourt and his followers who support his 'Klangrede' theory (all of this has been discussed before on the BCML,) has reached an intolerable extreme which distorts Bach's explicit intentions as given in his scores. No reasonable contributor to this list, as far as I can remember, has ever advocated a monotonous delivery of Bach's music. It is just as obvious that in Bach's musical language as used in his cantatas, and not on the stage of a Baroque opera which is presented in a very different style using different techniques, does not expect (at least, according to Mattheson, Walther and Quantz) the performer to equate the spoken language of ordinary conversation with musical language in a sacred setting (all of this has been discussed before as well.)

>> There is a huge hierarchy where some notes deserve more prominence than others, within the composition.<<
But not to the detriment and disappearing quality of the others. These de-emphasized notesdeserve to be heard as well, even if with slightly less intensity and at a lower volume, otherwise Bach would not have put this notes on the page to be played!
<>

Doug Cowling added:
>>Desynchronization between parts is certainly implied by Bach in several movements.<<
and
>>Bach may have wanted to control desynchronization but I don't think we can deny that the it was part of his interpretative apparatus.<<
Again, as understood by extremists who support greater rather than lesser freedom in regard to interpretation of Bach's cantatas, this might appear to be a viable theory which could give even greater license for performers to employ desynchronization wherever they might want in Bach's music.

Unless great subtlety is applied in this type of interpretation, it will certainly run counter to Bach's efforts in specifically notating what he desired in a performance which he would consider worthy of his name.

[Whatever happened to the subject matter concerning 'asynchronicity of attacks in choral music?' When Bach after a pause/rest in the music writes the same value note for each voice at the beginning of the next measure/bar, which voices come in slightly premature, which ones hesitate a bit before entry? Does the the voice singing the cantus firmus come in a split-second earlier or later than the accompanying voices? Where is the documentation from Bach's lifetime to validate this interpretative technique (particularly when there is more than just a single voice singing a part which is usually the case for Leipzig cantatas?]

Charles Francis wrote (October 16, 2005):
< Mr Braatz's invitation to the reader to develop his/her own critical thinking and listening skills is to be very much commended. >
Indeed so! It is an epistemological error to rely on the authority of others.

Thomas Braatz wrote (October 16, 2005):
BWV 138 - Answers to Questions Raised

The answers to some questions I had initially raised regarding BWV 138 are found at: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Term/Terms-7.htm

Aryeh Oron kindly set up this page which, in the future, might contain other technical terms relating directly to Bach's cantatas.

Lex Schelvis wrote (October 16, 2005):
Neil Halliday wrote:
< How has Gardiner missed some of the depth of feeling, in this ritornello? I think it's an interesting question, one which, if I were Gardiner, I would not be averse to considering. >
I think the question is wrong. I was deeply moved by the perfiormance by Gardiner. It has a lot of depth to me, lots of feeling, so I couldn't answer the question. I think the question should be: How come that I miss a depth of feeling that I notice in other performances?

That's why the next statement of Braatz gives me problems:
< Why should performances of the Bach's cantatas be extolled which obviously have definite shortcomings? >
There almost are no definite shortcomings in performances. There are things I or somebody else dislike. I often do not like Richter, but that doesn't mean his performances contain definite shortcomings. And it's all relative: I like Richters Bach more than I like Herrewege's Bruckner.

 

Performance of BWV 47, BWV 138 + motet Ich lasse dich nicht

Thérèse Hanquet wrote (September 27, 2010):
I have been regularly encouraged by Ed Myskowski to give accounts of performances of our ensemble, the Chapelle of the Minimes (Brussels): http://www.minimes.be/home.php?&new_l=en .

Thus here we go for the first concert of the season 2010-2011, which took place yesterday: http://www.minimes.be/images/concerts/2010-09-26_affiche_concert.pdf .
It was a beautiful selection of works, which our artistic director had most probably chosen on basis of their common choral ("Warum betrübst du dich, mein Herz").

Note that the tenor was ill and replaced by one of our regular conductors and excellent singer, Jan Caals. All soloists were convincing, a special mention for Christine Minet (soprano) for her aria in BWV 47 and Alessandro Cortese (basso) who had an aria in both cantatas.

During this month, I have looked on this site for information about motet "Ich lasse dich nicht", but not found much (for once!). On our score this motet is supposed to be by Johann Christoph Bach, but I have read elsewhere that there is evidence that it was composed by J.-S. Bach. In any case, it is very beautiful, and interesting with the contrast between the two parts. I especially like the second part where the 3 lower vocal lines make a light and crisp tapestry while the soprani hold "trumpet like" the cantus firmus.

BWV 47 is a challenge for the choir and the orchestra (for the soloists I guess also). The opening chorus is quite difficult, all the more as the tempo is quick (in other words, there are many pages in the score but they go by very fast!); #2 is also requiring for the organ, which was beautifully played by another one of our regular conductors, Benoît Jacquemin. For #4 (basso aria), the first oboe moved between the violins, which helped to enhance the dialogue between them.Side comment: #1 seems an interesting example of word painting with ascending and descending motives. The French version of this biblical text is close to the German version, both referring to the concrete idea of raising / lowering. This is (in my opinion) more abstract in the English version (exalt / humble).

BWV 138 is quite different in character, but particular for the dialogue (in Mvt. 1 and Mvt. 2) between the "troubled heart" of the soloists (A and S) and the choir which tries to confort them with words of hope.

We had never worked before with Piers Maxim (http://www.piersmaxim.com/ ) as conductor and it was an illuminating experience. He particularly emphasised the dance-like character (sometimes "jazzy") of some of the
choir parts. Afterwards, someone in the audience said to me that the choir obviously took pleasure to sing - and it was true! I hope we can work with him again someday.

Next concert on October 24th... with BWV 117 and BWV 192 + motet by Altnickol (BWV Anh. 164).

Anne (Nessie) Russell wrote (September 27, 2010):
[To Thérèse Hanquet] Thank you for this report. Those of us who are directors for amateur church choirs love to hear that somewhere in the world this kind of music is being sung.

Aryeh Oron wrote (September 29, 2010):
[To Thérèse Hanquet] Thanks for your contribution.

You wrote:
"During this month, I have looked on this site for information about motet "Ich lasse dich nicht", but not found much (for once!). On our score this motet is supposed to be by Johann Christoph Bach, but I have read elsewhere that there is evidence that it was composed by J.-S. Bach."
There is a page dedicated to this motet on the BCW.
See: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Vocal/BWVAnh159.htm
You can see that the work, once attributed to Johann Christoph Bach, is now considered as a genuine J.S. Bach's composition. Only the final chorale is doubtful.

Ed Myskowski wrote (October 1, 2010):
Thérèse Hanquet wrote:
< I have been regularly encouraged by Ed Myskowski to give accounts of performances of our ensemble, the Chapelle of the Minimes (Brussels) http://www.minimes.be/home.php?&new_l=en .>
Thanks, Therese, I trust my encouragement did not reach the level of nagging! I hope you enjoyed a Chimay Bleu afterward (any further beer chat will be off-list).

< Thus here we go for the first concert of the season 2010-2011, which took place yesterday: http://www.minimes.be/images/concerts/2010-09-26_affiche_concert.pdf .
It was a beautiful selection of works, which our artistic director had most probably chosen on basis of their common choral ("Warum betrübst du dich, mein Herz").>
Among the many virtues of concert reports is to have this kind of insight on the selection of works, and for those of who wish to do so, to recreate the concert grouping via recordings.

 

Continue on Part 4

Cantata BWV 138: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

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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