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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 150
Nach dir, Herr, verlanget mich
Discussions - Part 2

Discussions in the Week of January 2, 2005

Continue from Part 1

Neil Halliday wrote (January 1, 2005):
Introducing the 2nd cycle of cantata discussions: BWV 150

Happy new year to all!

According to the chosen schedule for the second cycle of cantata discussions (by chronology), shown at: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Order-2005.htm
the cantata for discussion during the coming week (Jan. 2-8) is:

BWV 150 "Nach dir, Herr, verlanget mich".

Event in the Lutheran Church Year (see the BCW for details of the LCY): Penitential/date unknown.

--------------

1. Cantata details, with links to texts, commentary, music examples, and lists of known recordings: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV150.htm

2. Contributions by list members, during the first cycle of cantata discussions (1999-2003): http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV150-D.htm

There is already a wealth of information at the above links; and list members are invited to contribute their own comments and impressions concerning any aspect of this cantata.

I note that three or four of the listed recordings have not been commented on at this stage; I will comment on the Werner recording [3], and others I have heard, later during the week.

One aspect of this cantata for which I would like clarification - is this the only instance where Bach omits the viola(s) from the usual line-up of the strings?

To borrow the words of our illustrious list-moderator, I hope to see many of you participating in the discussions.

(Regarding music examples, those with broadband should have access to the complete Leusink cycle (available at the BCW) [12], and the L/H cycle available at the David Zale web-site. This last requires a long buffering time where I am; maybe the experience of others is more satisfactory in this regard).

May this wonderful body of music - Bach's cantatas - inspire men to better management of the world's affairs.

Doug Cowling wrote (January 1, 2005):
Neil Halliday wrote:
< May this wonderful body of music - Bach's cantatas - inspire men to better management of the world's affairs. >
Women too!

Paul T. McCain wrote (January 1, 2005):
Neil Halliday wrote:
<< May this wonderful body of music - Bach's cantatas - inspire men to better management of the world's affairs. >>
Doug Cowling wrote:
< Women too! >
May this wonderful body of music--Bach's cantatas--point all people to the One in whom J.S. Bach took his joy and found his peace--Jesus Christ.

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (January 1, 2005):
Neil Halliday wrote:
<< May this wonderful body of music - Bach's cantatas - inspire men to better management of the world's affairs. >>
Doug Cowling wrote: < Women too! >
(1) there are two meaning of "man" in English and every native speaker knows that.
(2) Since the Nazis and others loved music greatly including Bach, it is absurd to consider that listening to Bach or any other music makes persons better to other persons or any other sentient creatures (who matter in my moral compass) in any way or makes them better managers of affairs. I really consider this a delusion that I often see on Classical Music lists and I believe that we need to rid ourselves of this delusion.

Doug Cowling wrote (January 1, 2005):
Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote:
<< (1) there are two meaning of "man" in English and every native speaker knows that. >>
IT WAS A JOKE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (January 1, 2005):
Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote:
<< (1) there are two meaning of "man" in English and every native speaker knows that. >>
Doug Cowling wrote:
< IT WAS A JOKE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! >
But there a many persons who seriously discuss such things and do take umbrage at the use of "man" for "person" and I believe that "man" as used for "person" is on its way out bc. of P.C. and well, we need to surrender to such changes in the language. I have very little sense of humor, I am afraid. At all events, Happy New Year to all and hope that we have no such disaster next year as just occurred.

Neil Halliday wrote (January 1, 2005):
Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote:
"I really consider this a delusion that I often see on Classical Music lists and I believe that we need to rid ourselves of this delusion".
Point taken. Regardless of the truth of the matter, I apologize to the group for causing a divergence from the subject matter of this list, ie, Bach's cantatas.

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (January 1, 2005):
Neil Halliday wrote:
< To borrow the words of our illustrious list-moderator, I hope to see many of you participating in the discussions. >
I shall try to participate with sheer music-love and no expertise. I have both the H-L set and 1/2 the Leusink set and of course various individual cantatas. Last time I tried to participate in the cantata series discussions I found happily that I had both the Leusink and the H-L for the cantata in question only to find that that single disk in my H-L set was missing and another was doubled. Broinc did eventually replace the disk for me and thus I am without excuse these days. I do hope that "normal folk" without expertise but simply with love of Bach will participate and that this list will again become a forum for all kinds of Bach lovers. Aryeh's work and accomplishments are of course legendary.

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (January 1, 2005):
Paul T. McCain wrote:
< May this wonderful body of music--Bach's cantatas--point all people to the One in whom J.S. Bach took his joy and found his peace--Jesus Christ. >
I certainly object to that. There are many Bach-lovers not interested in being converted to Christianity and, if your Bach is so limited, that's your problem.

Dave Harman wrote (January 1, 2005):
Paul T. McCain wrote:
< May this wonderful body of music--Bach's cantatas--point all people to the One in whom J.S. Bach took his joy and found his peace--Jesus Christ. >
One of the characteristics of music such as Bach's - is that it doesn't require religious beliefs in a listener to reveal it's beauties.

My first reaction to the statement below is to ask how any music can "point" a listener to any non-musical concept ? The statement reads as a strong religious conviction which would exist no matter what music was being listened to. And, conversely, music cannot support any religious conviction unless it is bent to that task by a non musical motivation.

If we're going to associate Bach's music with a particular religious belief then it is just as valid to write "May this wonderful body of music --Bach's Cantatas-- point all people to the sense of the divine and good within each of us.

Eric Bergerud wrote (January 1, 2005):
Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote:
< (1) there are two meaning of "man" in English and every native speaker knows that. (2) Since the Nazis and others loved music greatly including Bach, it is absurd to consider that listening to Bach or any other music makes persons better to other persons or any other sentient creatures (who matter in my moral compass) in any way or makes them better managers of affairs. I really consider this a delusion that I often see on Classical Music lists and I believe that we need to rid ourselves of this delusion. >
This isn't the place to open up the whole issue of the arts under the Nazis. I would like to point out that most of the regime's top figures were anti-clerical to one degree or another. Although privately contemptuous of Christianity, Hitler was too shrewd to pick a fight with the churches. But Himmler and others believed an aggressive anti-Christian policy would be a logical step for a postwar government possessing the prestige of the greatest military victory in history. (Many of Himmler's plans came to naught - they were based on the assumption that Germany would succeed in fighting a war versus half the world. Himmler's faith in victory lasted longer than most of the lead. Albert Speer's last book, the rarely read Infiltration examines Himmler's wicked and bizarre dreams in great detail.) It's true that the churches have all been accused of doing too little to stand in the way of Hitler's crimes. Of course so has the US government. However, unless one has lived in a totalitarian state, such criticism is much safer from a distance. Those that did oppose the regime were often motivated by religious belief and many paid with their lives. The problem in Nazi Germany was not too much Christianity but too little.

As for Bach and spirituality I think one might take up the issue with John Elliott Gardiner. I got a DVD for Xmas containing three cantatas and some highlights of the Bach tour. Gardiner specifically brought up the issue of religious belief, saying that for he and many of his musicians the deep immersion with Bach's religious music deepened their spiritual awareness greatly. The remark has the ring of truth to me. Now one could make the argument that spiritual awareness does not lead to virtue. Such arguments are nice ones to make because they defy answer.

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (January 1, 2005):
[To Eric Bergerud] I have read and heard where Hitler did square off against the Church. And he was not the only one. After all, the whole of Communism's anti-religious stance came from Josef Stalin. There was no anti-religion sentiment in Lenin or his policies.

Paul T. McCain (boc 1580) wrote (January 1, 2005):
Bach was a through and through orthodox Lutheran whose life's work was inextricably linked to his Christian faith, which he was passionate about expressing through his music. You can be a Bach lover all you want, but if you don't really get what made Bach tick, well, you'll never know Bach as he wanted to be known! And if you don't share Bach's passion for Christ and what He was all about, well....it's like listening to Bach with cotton stuffed in your ears. Sure, you can hear it, but....how much better to listen to it in all its glory and beauty.

If you object to that, or if that offends you, well, that's your problem, not Bach's!

Paul T. McCain wrote (January 1, 2005):
[To Eric Bergerud] Adolf Hitler had a strong and active program to gut the Christian Church through his "German Christianity" as it was called. He hated Christianity.

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (January 1, 2005):
[To Eric Bergerud] In fact, the height of Hitler's anti-religiousness was the fact that he used the very cross he saw in the cathedral in Graz when he was growing up as the symbol of the Nazi party--the Schwastika.

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (January 1, 2005):
Paul T. McCain wrote:
< Bach was a through and through orthodox Lutheran whose life's work was inextricably linked to his Christian faith, which he was passionate about expressing through his music. You can be a Bach lover all you want, but if you don't really get what made Bach tick, well, you'll never know Bach as he wanted to be known! And if you don't share Bach's passion for Christ and what He was all about, well....it's like listening to Bach with cotton stuffed in your ears. Sure, you can hear it, but....how much better to listen to it in all its glory and beauty.
If you object to that, or if that offends you, well, that's your problem, not Bach's! >
An Orthodox Evangelical (Lutheran) with Pietist leanings.

Dave Harman wrote (January 1, 2005):
Paul T. McCain wrote:
< Bach was a through and through orthodox Lutheran whose life's work was inextricably linked to his Christian faith, which he was passionate about expressing through his music. You can be a Bach lover all you want, but if you don't really get what made Bach tick, well, you'll never know Bach as he wanted to be known! And if you don't share Bach's passion for Christ and what He was all about, well....it's like listening to Bach with cotton stuffed in your ears. Sure, you can hear it, but....how much better to listen to it in all its glory and beauty. >
So what you're saying is unless one shares your religious beliefs, they will never know what makes "bach tick" and, thus, will never know Bach's music. So, Bach is like a personal possession - only you, because of your religious beliefs, can know Bach.

Your smug, self-satisfied religiosity makes a mockery of Bach. You limit him and his music to your small collection of religious beliefs. According to you, a Buddhist, an aethist, an agnostic - all of them have 'cotton stuffed in their ears' - they haven't a prayer (!) at being able to know Bach.

Seems to me you're the one with cotton stuffed in your ears, and blinders on your eyes, and a mind as closed as the prayer books after the Sunday service.

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (January 1, 2005):
Paul T. McCain wrote:
And if you don't share Bach's passion for Christ and what He was all about, well....it's like listening to Bach with cotton stuffed in your ears. Sure, you can hear it, but....how much better to listen to it in all its glory and beauty. >
And of course we are all going to eternal damnation and hellfire as are all the victims of the Tsunami in your view of how music and god and all things work together. You see I and many of your fellow music lovers and many humans like most of the Tsunami victims do not believe in your faith. Hence according to your belief system we will all burn forever. Sorry, to me Bach was likely the greatest musical genius ever who happened to live in a Lutheran Christian context and hence his greatness was put to work in setting the texts of that particular belief system. I accept that and still do not accept the belief system and don't accept anyone sending me and many others to hell forever.

Ciao and may your god bless you as he and you see fit,

Neil Halliday wrote (January 1, 2005):
BWV 150 Terzett/Suzuki

Naturally this list attracts people with strong beliefs, but I wonder if we can agree on this: Suzuki's BWV 150 [8], Terzett (5th movement), is too fast.

The sixteenth-note phrases in the continuo seem to lack shape at this fast speed; Leonhardt [4] gives a more satisfying reading at a moderate tempo, with a clearly articulated cello part.

Paul T. McCain wrote (January 1, 2005):
A person can never enjoy Bach to the fullest extent possible unless one shares Bach's faith in Jesus Christ. Bach didn't write his music simply for the sake of music, but did it precisely as an expression of his faith in Jesus Christ. That's the real key to J.S. Bach. You can study his music all day long but never fully appreciate Bach unless you share his passion for Jesus Christ.

Paul T. McCain wrote (January 1, 2005):
I'm not sending you to hell forever. That decision is entirely out of my hands and up to somebody else.

Hope you get to know the source of Bach's inspiration and joy--Jesus Christ.

For Bach Jesus Christ was not a fairy tale or an old fable or myth, but a very real and living presence in his life and work.

If you want to really understand Bach and his work, get to know the source of his inspiration.

George LeFurjah wrote (January 1, 2005):
[Toi Yoël L. Arbeitman] When I first fell for Bach I was about 14 years old. Although I was raised in a sort of enlightened rational but traditionally Christian family, we did not attend church anymore, and I was as likely to hear my Dad telling me about atheist philosophers as I was to hear him speak of Jesus. There was an implicit belief in something transcending this world - God if you will - but there was no in-your-face religiosity. My Dad loved music - I can only describe it as spiritually - and taught me to feel the same. When I first started listening to the E Power Biggs recordings it filled me with such a powerful feeling of connection I just listened over and over. It still is there almost every listening. I am saying this poorly, it is late and I am no poet. I think there is a spiritual element to much of Bach that is beyond musical scholarship and I can appreciate the sentiments of those that feel similarly. It is not at all clear to me that you have to be a Christian to get this, but I have thought that Bach's own spiritualhad something to do with the transcendent beauty of his creations.

Although I am somewhere in the amateur musician, record collector categories of Aryeh, and no musical scholar, I am eagerly reading the scholars postings here. I hope to learn.

Eric Bergerud wrote (January 1, 2005):
< I'm not sending you to hell forever. That decision is entirely out of my hands and up to somebody else.
Hope you get to know the source of Bach's inspiration and joy--Jesus Christ.
For Bach Jesus Christ was not a fairy tale or an old fable or myth, but a very real and living presence in his life and work.
If you want to really understand Bach and his work, get to know the source of his inspiration. >
John Butt recently wrote a rather dense but very interesting book Playing with History which analyzes HIP in several ramifications. One of the questions Butt raises is whether the intention of the artist/composer should or should not be used as any kind of guide for the audience. It's an interesting question that defies simple answers. I think it would be self-evident that religious art of any kind would have a different impact on followers of the faith in question than on those who do not follow the faith. It is also self-evident that non-believers can cherish religious art. But beyond these simple generalizations, things get tricky. For instance, who is to say what Bach believed? While Bach was composing Protestant theology was just beginning a very major change from the stark message of Luther and Calvin (not the same in detail, by any means, but similar in tone) toward something more affirmative and less dogmatic. In the 18th Century there was, for instance, open debate concerning the fate of those outside the denomination. Although it was far from clear at the time, but Europe was finished with religious wars, a sign, I think of very important changes in Christianity itself. (The War of Spanish Succession had a definite religious angle. But it was the last.) Bach didn't leave detailed commentary on theology so I don't see how we can possibly judge where his beliefs lay in a faith that was expanding is boundaries. The same thing would have been true concerning the original audience. Perhaps we can learn something from the study of the librettos. What strikes me is how affirmative most are. The utter wretchedness of the human soul was the starting point for Luther's theology. That message does appear in several cantatas. More common, however, is the celebration of the miraculous love that Jesus has for mankind and his ability for forgiveness. So what was Bach's core message? I don't have the foggiest. And no doubt the range of opinion among the good Lutherans at Leipzig was broad indeed. I suspect more than a few were snoozing. Some were hanging on every word. Some were thinking about dinner.

I'm pretty good buds with my late father's pastor in St. Paul. A few months back he and I discussed how much of Luther's message is still accepted by Lutherans today. I argued that most Lutherans today believe in free will, good works and think damnation is both rare and probably something closer to an absence of grace than eternal torment. He agreed with me, allowing the recognition of serious Luther fans. In any case, I don't think that many Christians today would receive the same message from Bach that would have been common 270 years ago. So if we don't know what exactly what Bach was trying to achieve, and the religious sensibilities of believers have changed fundamentally since Bach's time, I should think that the Bach fan club can be a very big one with only a love of music as requisite for membership.

BTW: Santa brought me the Christmas Mass by Michael Praetorius as it might have appeared around 1620. Score another win for Paul McCreesh. Lovely recording all around.

Uri Golomb wrote (January 1, 2005):
< Adolf Hitler had a strong and active program to gut the Christian Church through his "German Christianity" as it was called. He hated Christianity. >
For another view, see: http://www.secularhumanism.org/library/fi/murphy_19_2.html.

More importantly, strong spiritual and religious beliefs are not, in themselves, a guarantee of humane behaviour: Christianity itself has been directly responsible for several massacres and atrocities in the name of God. Before the emergence of racial theories, Christianity has probably been the main source of anti-Jewish feelings

(Luther contributed generously to this "literature") and violence. This is also reflected in religious art: virulently anti-Jewish sentiments can be found in a number of passions and oratorios. Bach's own Passions, however, are largely exempt from this (at least when compared to those of several contemporaries).

As a Jew and a non-believer, I resent any suggestion that I'm listening to Bach with stuffed ears. Agnostics, atheists and believers in other faiths (be they from other Christian denominations or from other religions altogether) are capapble, not only of passive appreciation of Bach's music, but also of performing it with great beauty and understanding. I agree that, when approaching Bach's sacred music, it is important to UNDERSTAND his religious convictions. But it is not essential to SHARE them.

Uri Golomb wrote (January 1, 2005):
I haven't forgotten we're meant to discuss BWV 150, and I'll write on this cantata later this week.

Eric Berglund wrote:
< Bach didn't leave detailed commentary on theology so I don't see how we can possibly judge where his beliefs lay in a faith that was expanding is boundaries. The same thing would have been true concerning the original audience. Perhaps we can learn something from the study of the librettos. What strikes me is how affirmative most are. The utter wretchedness of the human soul was the starting point for Luther's theology. That message does appear in several cantatas. More common, however, is the celebration of the miraculous love that Jesus has for mankind and his ability for forgiveness. So what was Bach's core message? I don't have the foggiest. >
Given that Bach lived for 65 years -- and, as Eric points out, during a period of change -- isn't it possible that his own convictions on some issues have changed over the years? Not, perhaps, on the core beliefs of Christianity (belief in God, salvation through Christ, etc.), but on more subtle issues. Changes of EMPHASIS are certainly likely, and indeed can be sensed quite strongly when comparing the two Passions.

In the St. John Passion (BWV 245), the last aria ("Zerfliesse, mein Herze" - "Melt, my heart", no. 35) mournfully declares "My Jesus is dead". The last chorus, however, sings "Rest in peace, you holy bones, which I will now on longer mourn" ("Ruht wohl", no. 39), in music of simple, restrained sadness - and the concluding chorale has an almost triumphant, major-key ending. The St. Matthew Passion (BWV 244) exhibits the opposite pattern. The joy of the final aria is dispelled in the last narrative scene; and the increasingly mournful final arioso leads to the intense lament "Wir setzen uns mit Traenen nieder" ("We sit down in tears", no. 68) which closes the work. The words of this da-capo chorus offer a glimmer of hope, especially in the middle section:
"Your grave and tombstone/ Shall for the unquiet conscience /Be a comfortable pillow/ And the soul's resting place. / In utmost bliss the eyes slumber there."
Bach's music, however, is suffused with mourning: painful harmonies, sighing figures, descending phrases. In the 'b' section, one can sense the striving towards "rest" and "bliss" - but not their achievement. The section builds up towards a high-point on the words "Höchst Vergnuegt" - literally, "highest bliss"; but the word "bliss" is undermined by the increasingly painful harmonies. The words allude to the promise of peace and salvation; but the music retains a tragic aura to the very end (even avoiding the customary major-key endi). This difference between Bach's two Passions mirrors the difference between their respective narratives. In St. John's Gospel, Christ accepts his fate boldly and impassively, and his last words are "It is fulfilled". In St. Matthew's, his doubts and suffering are palpably exposed, and his last words are "My God, why hast thou forsaken me?". The latter narrative inspired Bach to write one of the greatest tragedies in musical history. The work movingly explores the emotions associated with the promise of salvation; but it ultimately focuses upon the believers' remorse and their painful sympathy with Jesus's suffering.

I wouldn't go so far as to claim that these works present different messages: the tragic aspect of Jesus' suffering and death is certainly expressed in the SJP (BWV 245), while the promise of salvation is not ignored in the SMP (BWV 244). But there is a clear difference in the emphasis placed on these different aspects, and on which one of them is allowed to have the final word, as it were. And I cannot help feeling that this differene is emphasis has more to do with Bach's artisitc instincts -- with his feeling that the SMP (BWV 244) narrative is more tragic and that therefore it should inspire a more tragic artistic expression -- than with theological issues.

< In any case, I don't think that many Christians today would receive the same message from Bach that would have been common 270 years ago. So if we don't know what exactly what Bach was trying to achieve, and the religious sensibilities of believers have changed fundamentally since Bach's time, I should think that the Bach fan club can be a very big one with only a love of music as requisite for membership. >
Hear, hear. Religious views and communities change over time; Lutheranism in Bach's time was not the same as in Luther's own time, and Lutheranism today differs from both. Same is true, of course, of Catholicism, Islam and Judaism in all their denominations and varities, and so forth (and, indeed, atheism and agnosticism). Many of us admire artists who themselves did not have the same religious and spiritual creeds. If you have to share an artist's creed to appreciate his or her art, then each of us would only be able to appreciate a very small sub-section of humanity's rich artistic history. The same religious beliefs that would enable some people to appreciate Bach, by this logic, would bar them from appreciating Beethoven, Bruckner, Brahms or Mahler. I hope that no member of this list truly believes that this is likely.

Francis Browne wrote (January 1, 2005):
BWV 150: does authenticity matter?

Some scholars have doubted whether this cantata is by Bach. Does the authenticity matter? Do we enjoy the work more if it is by Bach? Would we enjoy it less if it were by somebody else ?

As a prelude to the early cantatas that begin this cycle of discussions I have been listening with great delight to recordings of sacred music before and around Bach:

Herreweghe: Before Bach, German Cantatas (Tunder, Kuhnau, Bruhns, Graupner)
The Purcell Quartet: Buxtehude, Sacred Cantatas
The King's Consort: Sacred Music by Johann Kuhnau

I would recommend all these discs strongly both for the intrinsic beauty of the music and the excellence of the performances but also for the answer they provide to the question that occurred to me and will I'm sure occur to others who listen to the early cantatas of Bach: how was it possible for Bach to achieve such excellence the very beginning of his career? For I find the early cantatas which we are about to discuss among those that have given me most delight and to which I return most often. Others with far more knowledge than I possess may be able to point to immaturities and clumsiness in style, but my experience as an ordinary listener is that these early cantatas are perfectly achieved works of art, with deep expressive power to move and delight. Bach will of course go on to achieve far more, works of greater emotional depth and contrapuntal splendour, but that does not take away from the value of these cantatas. The somewhat patronising attitude to them as being apprentice work that some critics show - the excellent W. G. Whittaker for example - seems to me misplaced.

What my brief impressionistic survey of music in Bach's time has made clear to me is that Bach did not drop from heaven and begin from nowhere: he was part of a rich and varied musical world. There was in the Germany of his time a highly developed musical language already in existence, waiting for him to use. The sacred music of Buxtehude and Kuhnau is a far more than antiquarian interest and would I suspect be better known, were it not for the dominance of Bach. As he began his career Bach clearly absorbed and learnt from his predecessors and contemporaries and these early cantatas which we shall listen to built on what was already achieved. He was able to begin at such a level of excellence because he had learnt so well from what he had inherited.

From this perspective the question of authenticity seems less pressing. BWV 150 is a cantata of great beauty from the early years of the 18th century. My own belief is that it is an early work of Bach, but the music would be just as beautiful if it was somehow proved conclusively that it was written by a contemporary of Bach. The music not the ascription matters. The works of Kuhnau and Buxtehude do not need to be ascribed to Bach to have value, nor does BWV 150.

I hope others share my enjoyment of this cantata. I shall write separately about the ciacona and Suzuki's recording [8] which Neil mentioned.

(I must confess I was delighted when I saw so many messages headed BWV 150 this morning and then read on with increasing gloom and despondency as they almost all turned out to be not about the cantata. I respect both the religious beliefs and lack of religious belief of members of the list but have no wish to discuss them. As often Uri Golomb makes the essential point: it is not necessary to share Bach's beliefs, but sympathetic understanding, an openness to what is expressed in a work of art, is surely the basis for any critical appreciation. Now can we return to BWV 150?)

Peter Smaill wrote (January 1, 2005):
A Happy new year to all. May we all grow in knowledge and enjoyment of the cantatas in 2005!

The 2001 discussions of BWV 150 are dominated by the authenticity question. On this it has always been difficult to have comfort from the late surviving and derived manuscript, and Phillip Spitta does not add much weight when one reads his fervent justification of the undoubtedly (largely) spurious attribution of the St Luke Passion (BWV 246) to Bach.

For my part, years of doubt were swept away by comparing the similar idiom and use of chromaticism, marching bass and religious sentiment between the opening Sinfonia, chorus and bass line of the chaconne in BWV 150, and the opening Chorus of BWV 78, "Jesu, der du meine Seele", which is much later (1724). But as we know, Bach's musical recollection extends across his lifetime. "Bach the Borrower" by Norman Carrell has fourteen chapters on Bach borrowing from himself but only six on borrowing from others !

In the last point, Robertson concurs insofar as he spots in BWV 78 the same ostinato bass "of ancient origin" and familiar as the death-song in Purcell's opera Dido and Aeneas. This is of course the same ground in essence as concludes BWV 150.

As to libretto, the concept of God as refuge against wordly tribulation aligns the sentiment of both (please excuse my handling of the German):

BWV 150

Nach dich Herr,verlanget mich

O My Lord, my Lord, I long for Thee My God!
I trusted, I trusted in thee
let me now not be confounded
No; let those who hate me not triumph over me.

(Psalm 25)

Yet I am and shall remain content,
though Cross, storm and other trials
May rage here on earth,
death, hell and what must be.
Tmishap strike thy faithful servant,
Right is and remains ever right.

BWV 78 Jesu, der du mine Seele

Jesus, who my soul,
through thy bitter death,
From the devil's hell-hole
And from the soul's abyss
has mightily delivered
and has led me to knowledge thereof
Through thy gospel tidings
Be even here, O God, my refuge !

Are these parallels strong enough materially to contribute to the verification of Bach as the author of BWV 150; or are we dealing with widely employed musical and religious motifs in the Baroque era ? The best test is to listen to BWV 150 movements 1, 2 and 7; and then 1 of BWV 78, and then ask, can these two works possibly be by anyone else?

Gabriel Jackson wrote (January 1, 2005):
Paul T. McCain wrote:
"A person can never enjoy Bach to the fullest extent possible unless one shares Bach's faith in Jesus Christ. Bach didn't write his music simply for the sake of music, but did it precisely as an expression of his faith in Jesus Christ. That's the real key to J.S. Bach. You can study his music all day long but never fully appreciate Bach unless you share his passion for Jesus Christ."
A Christian cannot know how a Jew, a Muslim, an atheist (or whoever) experiences Bach, or any other music. And vice versa. So it is impossible, and quite wrong, to assert that someone else's experience and understanding of music is somehow incomplete. Music is organised sound, that's all.

Dave Harman wrote (January 1, 2005):
Paul T. McCain wrote:
< A person can never enjoy Bach to the fullest extent possible unless one shares Bach's faith in Jesus Christ. Bach didn't write his music simply for the sake of music, but did it precisely as an expression of his faith in Jesus Christ. That's the real key to J.S. Bach. You can study his music all day long but never fully appreciate Bach unless you share his passion for Jesus Christ. >
Your appropriation of Bach to further your own narrow religious views is reprehensible. You've pushed Bach's music into the background and declared his "true meaning" to be a belief in the same person you believe in. To you, Bach's music doesn't even matter, since you declare that no amount of study of his music means anything - only your narrow set of religious views means anything to you. Bach might as well be Bon Jovi for all you care, as long as you can interpret their work as affirmation of your religious beliefs.

Dale Gedcke wrote (January 1, 2005):
RE: The Harman and Paul T. McCain epistles (appended above):

Let me offer a less harsh perspective on the subject of how one's religious beliefs affect the appreciation of Bach's music. What are my credentials for posting this perspective? I write from the life-experience of an agnostic atheist who was raised as an Evangelical Christian, and who spent some time studying all the great religions of the world.

Now put aside the historical credentials, and let's see if we can understand the possible diversity of experiences in Bach's music.

There is no doubt that the conditions of Bach's employment were to write suitable supporting music for Lutheran religious services. The words that were incorporated were, for the most part, directly from the Bible.

There is also no doubt that the Bach's ingenuity and skill in composing the music was masterful. His skills as an outstanding composer have stood the test of time. Not only were the notes beautifully arranged, but he managed to make the music support the meaning of the text. It is this skill and beauty in the music that everyone, independent of religious belief, can thoroughly enjoy.

Those of a different religious faith can even appreciate how Bach's religious perspective helped to shape his compositions into the masterpieces we enjoy today.

In short, there is a lot of gold to be mined from Bach's works, regardless of your religious affiliation.

What do devout Christians gain from Bach that is different? The scriptures comprising the text, and the events described in the Cantatas echo and reinforce their faith. Ironically, that was the original purpose in composing the Cantatas and presenting them at religious services. The intent was to reinforce and enhance the religious message of the service.

If there are those on this list that can derive extra satisfaction from Bach due to their religious beliefs, I would certainly not deny that satisfaction. It is an extra dimension available to them. But, for the others, there is still the remaining 99% of Bach's genius, craftsmanship and beauty to enjoy. In fact, there is more to discover and enjoy about Bach than can be exhausted in a single lifetime.

Doug Cowling wrote (January 1, 2005):
Cantata 150 and 78

Peter Smaill wrote:
< For my part, years of doubt were swept away by comparing the similar idiom and use of chromaticism, marching bass and religious sentiment between the opening Sinfonia, chorus and bass line of the chaconne in BWV 150, and the opening Chorus of BWV 78, "Jesu, der du meine Seele", which is much later (1724) >
I had never heard Cantata BWV 150 until yesterday but was immediately struck by the strong similarities with the opening chorus of "Jesu der du meine Seele". The use of a chromatic descending scale as a chaconne for a lament or a penitential text can be found quite frequently in the period. Händel used it "Joshua" and Bach rather freely in the "Et Misericordia" of "Magnificat". It seems to be a traditional way to express such texts. However, there are so many points of similarility in voice leading and counter-melodies between the cantatas that I could be convinced that Bach reused the material for the later cantata. What is the history of the manuscript? Is it in Bach's hand, etc? Could it be the work of another composer, perhaps a family member?

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (January 1, 2005):
boc 1580 (Paul T. McCain) wrote:
< I'm not sending you to hell forever. That decision is entirely out of my hands and up to somebody else. >
I am wondering why you don't seem to have a name. Perhaps you are the force who decides who burns in eternal damnation with stuffed ears. Most humans have names and the use of one to sign your posts would make you more human instead of an evangelist.

Thank you,
Yoel (my full name is in the discussions that Aryeh keeps so well)

Bob Henderson wrote (January 1, 2005):
Has no one on the list heard of transvaluation? When applied to history transvaluation is the process whereby the essence of an idea, a behavior or a work of art is transfered intact to a culture or a time different from that from which it sprang. Great art thus transcends its historical circumstance.

No one today can experience the social and religious context within which Bach worked. That applies to Christians and non-Christians. The world has changed. For all. Yet the essence of the experience of Bach's music survives intact. For all. Equally. Thank God.

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (January 2, 2005):
[To Francis Browne] I think that for the enjoyment of the music, it doesn't matter. However, for the appreciation of the music, I believe it does matter. It matters a great deal (at least to me) to fully understand all aspects of a composition in order to fully and truly appreciate it.

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (January 2, 2005):
Gabriel Jackson wrote:
< A Christian cannot know how a Jew, a Muslim, an atheist (or whoever) experiences Bach, or any other music. And vice versa. So it is impossible, and quite wrong, to assert that someone else's experience and understanding of music is somehow incomplete. Music is organised sound, that's all. >
To enjoy the music, what you say is true. However, to truly appreciate it, one must understand all aspects of it, including the faith of the composer.

Eric Bergerud wrote (January 2, 2005):
I will not quibble with the idea that Bach played and composed in a rich musical environment. And I think it obvious that every artist works on the shoulders of their predecessors and are influenced by contemporaries. That said, I think my take on BWV 150 is not quite the same as those held by others that have posted on the list. I explain that in addition to Leonhardt's version [4] I also have Ton Koopman's [7]. Koopman organized his cantatas chronologically - Leonhardt/Harnoncourt simply started with #1. In any case to get to BWV 150 on the Koopman CD I must first listen to BWV 106, BWV 196 and BWV 71, other Mühlhausen works. I have several recordings of choral works by Bach's predecessors - Schütz, Buxthude, Praetorious some by his contemporaries like Telemann and, of course, Händel. (This doesn't count the Catholic side of Europe with Vivaldi, Biber etc.)

What strikes me about these early Bach works is how extraordinarily good they are. (As far as some of Bach's presence outshining other artists this was no doubt true. But, and I will stand correction, it was the rediscovery of Bach that prevented artists like Vivaldi and Telemann from flirting with artistic oblivion.) Maybe BWV 150 and others of the period lack the sheer complexity of the great Leipzig works, but each has a delicate beauty of its own. And, anyway you look at it, BWV 106 is a masterpiece. When one considers that Bach was in his early 20's, the accomplishment grows in stature. How many composers could boast similar accomplishments at a similar age? Mozart and Rossini, perhaps, but the list would be short. (And let's not forget the early keyboard works.) Indeed, the sheer quality of these early works strongly suggest that Wolf is correct in surmising that Bach's genuine apprentice work has probably been lost. If not Bach was penning Toccata and Fugue and Actus Tragicus (BWV 106) during his first at-bat. Now on a really good day, I'm sure the best composers of Bach's era could match Bach on a not so good day. There have been several works, after all, that have been cleansed from the temple: they must be good if musicologists ever thought Bach composed them. (I've recently completed my Bach cantata collection: next on the hit list is Apocryphal Bach Cantatas performed under Wolfgang Helbich. Telemann is there and so is Johann Ludwig Bach. JS admired his cousin's work and conducted much of it as I recall. A pretty good endorsement.) And if BWV 150 belongs on a new Helbich edition, it is worthy because it certainly sounds like Bach to me. But my ears say Bach was a definite cut above his contemporaries and that this superiority was clear very early on. The fact that this was not obvious to every musician in Europe says much more about the sociology of music making in the early 18th Century than it does about Bach's work. People have been arguing over the relative value of authenticity since the Renaissance (artistic forgery was becoming big business - every merchant prince wanted a good Greek or at least Roman statue for the court-yard: and there weren't enough to go around). Whether it's fair or not, the origin of a work means a lot. If it didn't why would artists sign their work?

Alan Klamkin wrote (January 2, 2005):
[To Paul T. McCain] By the same type of argument, you could say: "You can love Jesus all you want, but you don't really get what made Jesus tick, if you are not an orthodox Jew, as he was. You'll never know Jesus as he wanted to be known, since he remained an orthodox Jew until his dying breath. And therefore you are missing all of his glory and beauty! And if that offends you, that is your problem and not Jesus's." lol

I don't think this is really what you wanted to say, and I apologize for getting off the track of the discussion of Bach's music.

Gabriel Jackson wrote (January 2, 2005):
David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote:
"To enjoy the music, what you say is true. However, to truly appreciate it, one must understand all aspects of it, including the faith of the composer."
Up to a point. But in the case of a composer of religious (let's say Christian) works who was not themselves a Christian (and there were/are many) how does that knowledge aid appreciation of the music? Does their faith, or lack of it, matter? And if it does matter, is one's appreciation somehow flawed if one isn't aware of that?

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (January 2, 2005):
[To Gabriel Jackson] Actually, it does. Remember that many of the composers of the so called "Viennese Classical School" were Deists. van Beethoven himself had no personal religion except what one could call a primative form of Nature worship, and yet he wrote some of the most sublime representations of religious music (the Missa solemnis and the oratorios Christus am Oelberg).

So, to return to Bach, one should understand everything about his music to truly appreciate it. Even his secular works are imbued with his religious and personal beliefs. He was an Orthodox Evangelical (albeit with leanings toward Pietism). As such, he believed that the whole of human endeavor was to glorify God and to give thanks for what He has done for humanity through the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of His only-begotten Son. He carried on Luther's teaching of the sacdredness of the call, the concept that every person could be his or her own priest through their own vocation (whether it be the clergy, a peasant, a miller, a merchant, a ruler, or a musician). Every single musical work Bach wrote or compiled is embued with the principle and personal credo he put on the title page of the Orgelbuechlein: "Dem höchsten Gott allein zu Ehren, dem Nächsten, draus sich zu belehren." ("The Highest God alone to glory, the Neighbor, all himself to teach.").

 

Continue on Part 3

Cantata BWV 150: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

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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