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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 4

Continue from Part 3

Discussions in the Week of January 2, 2005 [Continue]

Johan de Wael wrote (January 8, 2005):
Bach's signature in BWV 150 ?

First of all my best wishes to all of you and your relatives for a new year full of real joy and happiness.

Concerning our cantata BWV 150, I think I may have made a curious discovery.

As you all know by now, Bach decided to combine in this cantata some verses of Psalm 25 with free poetry (easily recognised by the rhymes) by an unknown poet.

The texts of the two sources alternate:
1. Sinfonia: instrumental
2. Coro: Nach dir, Herr, verlanget mich - Psalm 25.1-2
3. Aria S: Doch bin und bleibe ich vergnügt
4. Coro: Leite mich in deiner Wahrheit - Psalm 25.5
5. Aria A T B: Zedern müssen von den Winden
6. Coro: Meine Augen sehen stets zu dem Herrn - Psalm 25.15
7. Coro: Meine Tage in dem Leide

This morning I was wondering why Bach chose these particular verses from Psalm 25. For their sheer beauty perhaps?

Now Psalm 25 is one of those abecedarian psalms: each verse begins with a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet.

So, curious as we are, we had to investigate further.

The first letter of verse 1 is alef (A), the first one of verse 2 bet (B), of verse 5 he (H) and of verse 15 ajin.
This last letter is a voiced laryngeal, difficult to represent in Indo-European languages. In the Greek Septuagint the ajin is represented either by a vocal or by a gamma (G).
The Latin C was derived from the Greek G.

So I ask myself: could BACH have selected precisely those four verses that he believed to correspond most closely to the letters of his own name?

Another issue: 1 + 2 + 5 + 15 = 23, a number which comes pretty close to Bach's age at the time when he composed this cantata. Personally I don't like this arithmetical juggling at all, so I'm rather sceptical about it. It might be mere coincidence.

Doug Cowling wrote (January 9, 2005):
[To Johan De Wael] You'd have to check editions of the Lutheran Bible to see how the text was cited for Bach. I'm never very impressed with numerological schemes -- you can find any text if you work at it.

The alternation of biblical and poetic verses is also used to structure "Jesu Meine Freude"

John Pike wrote (January 10, 2005):
[To Johan De Wael] There may be something in this. Interesting. We don't know for certain what date it was composed (and there are doubts about it being by Bach at all). At age 23, we are talking 1708, within the suggested range of dates for composition if by Bach.

Johan de Wael wrote (January 12, 2005):
BWV 150: Bach's signature in the Ciacona

The last four verses form an acrostic:

Meine Tage in dem Leide
Endet Gott dennoch zur Freude;
Christen auf den Dornenwegen
Führen Himmels Kraft und Segen.
B leibet Gott mein treuer Schutz,
A chte ich nicht Menschentrutz,
C hristus, der uns steht zur Seiten,
H ilft mir täglich sieghaft streiten.

Am I overlooking something?
Is MECF perhaps an abbreviation for ME ConFecit?

Another acrostic is hidden in the soprano aria:

D och bin und bleibe ich vergnügt,
O bgleich hier zeitlich toben
K reuz, Sturm und andre Proben,
T od, Höll und was sich fügt.
O b Unfall schlägt den treuen Knecht,
R echt ist und bleibet ewig Recht.

What do you think?

Dale Gedcke wrote (January 12, 2005):
[To Johan De Wael] RE; the appended message from Johan De Wael:

How can you determine whether the B-A-C-H at the beginning of successive lines is intentional or accidental?

This reminds me of a game children play to pass the time in long trips by car. Each child has to find all the letters in the alphabet from signs along the road. The letters have to be found in the proper sequence and only one letter is allowed to be extracted from each roadside sign. The first one to get all the letters in the alphabet wins. Do you suppose the workers who erected those signs anticipated the need to find the appropriate letters in alphabetical order, one sign at a time?

Have you tried finding "Mozart", "Purcell", "Clarke", "Telemann", "Christ", "God", "Jesus", "Bush" or "Abbas" in Bach's libretti? The names with more letters should be rare. But, "Bush" (George W., I presume) should occur about as often as "Bach". (Did J. S. Bach know that Bush would be president of the USA, one day?) "God" should be even more likely to find, because it requires the right combination of only 3 letters.

Doug Cowling wrote (January 12, 2005):
Dale Gedcke wrote:
< Have you tried finding "Mozart", "Purcell", "Clarke", "Telemann", "Christ", "God", "Jesus", "Bush" or "Abbas" in Bach's libretti? The names with more letters should be rare. But, "Bush" (George W., I presume) should occur about as often as "Bach". (Did J. S. Bach know that Bush would be president of the USA, one day?) "God" should be even more likely to find, because it requires the right combination of only 3 letters. >
The biblical scholars on this list should have a few choice things to say about the search for cryptic messages in the so-called "Bible Code".

Johan de Wael wrote (January 13, 2005):
[To Dale Gedcke] I'd like to clarify a few things.

I didn't really try finding BACH, I didn't really look for it, but I simply saw it, when I looked at the last stanza of the cantata.

I didn't look anywhere at random, but the point is that the four letters B-A-C-H appear in that sequence at the beginning of the four last lines of the cantata. As if he had put his signature under it.

I really don't think you will find BUSH or GOD in the texts of any cantata, but you can always try if you like. I only state that the initial letters of the four last lines of this cantata form the acrostic BACH. It doesn't seem to be a coincidence to me, since Bach is the composer (not Bush, or God, or even Mozart). A very weird coincidence indeed, if this happened by accident.

Now, acrostic is a well-known and wide-spread literary device, especially in learned poetry.

And a very ancient one as well, as the abecedarian psalms (like Psalm 25) prove it to be.

An abecedarium is a special case of acrostic, where the lines begin with the letters of the alphabet.

Perhaps this acrostic thing may seem a bit ridiculous and childish to you, so be it. You may take an interest in these things or not. But maybe others can affirm that acrostic was a popular literary device in those days. And why deny Bach the pleasure of using it? Or why deny us the satisfaction of discovering it?

I'll give you another example: the initial letters of the consecutive stanzas of the Dutch national anthem (1568) form the name of Willem van Nassou.

Bradley Lehman wrote (January 13, 2005):
Johan de Wael wrote:
< Now, acrostic is a well-known and wide-spread literary device, especially in learned poetry. And a very ancient one as well, as the abecedarian psalms (like Psalm 25) prove it to be. An abecedarium is a special case of acrostic, where the lines begin with the letters of the alphabet.
Perhaps this acrostic thing may seem a bit ridiculous and childish to you, so be it. You may take an interest in these things or not. But maybe others can affirm that acrostic was a popular literary device in those days. And why deny Bach the pleasure of using it? Or why deny us the satisfaction of discovering it? >
A thorough study of that literary device, in Bach's milieu, is in Ruth Tatlow's book.

Charles Francis wrote (January 13, 2005):
Johan De Wael wrote:
< Perhaps this acrostic thing may seem a bit ridiculous and childish to you, so be it. You may take an interest in these things or not. But maybe others can affirm that acrostic was a popular literary device in those days. And why deny Bach the pleasure of using it? Or why deny us the satisfaction of discovering it? >
29 letters in the German alphabet, so there's a better than 1 in 707'281 chance of B-A-C-H occuring, and better than 1 in 594'823'321 odds of D-O-K-T-O-R occuring. So the probablity of both occuring is at least 1 in 420'707'233'300'201. Sufficient odds to convince our resident sceptics, I'll grant.

Thomas Braatz wrote (January 13, 2005):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
>>A thorough study of that literary device [acrostic], in Bach's milieu, is in Ruth Tatlow's book. <<
Thorough?!!! check pp. 68, 82, 97, 126 to find out that she only refers to it in passing since her main interest is in number alphabets.

It might be better to consider Bach's intimate acquaintance with Philipp Nicolai's only two chorales "Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme" and "Wie schön leucht' uns der Morgenstern." How unusual that both of these songs are acrostics based upon the name, "Graf zu Waldeck!"

For more information on this check the following and search for 'acrostic' on the page: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV140-D3.htm

And there is also an abecedarian chorale text by Paul Speratus: "Es ist das Heil uns kommen her" which has each verse begin with the letters of the alphabet in sequence.

For more information on this check the following and search for 'acrostic' on the page: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Ref/BWV9-Ref.htm

Bradley Lehman wrote (January 13, 2005):
[To Charles Francis] And in the calculation of such odds, that's presuming it's equally likely that the words used in German acrostics or codes will start with letters such as C, I, J, O, and Q, as opposed to letters such as H, N, V, and W?

An interesting recent film, "Enigma": http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0157583

Jim Groeneveld wrote (January 13, 2005):
[To Charles Francis] As a statistician I have to comment on that. I think your interpretation of the probability of your finding is not correct. Your calculation may be correct, but with the same calculation you would be able to "prove" that any occurring and encountered (arbitrary) sequence of characters is not coincidental, thus intended. E.g. if the letter 'J', 'I' and 'M' (or whatever letters) would occur in a sequence I might as well state that Bach intentionally inserted my name in there. And that, of course, is not true. All characters, all sequences, as long as not intended (to our historical knowledge) is coincidental.

There are only two situations in which I would accept the theory of intended 'B', 'A', 'C', 'H' and likewise DOKTOR. That is firstly every historical confident acknowledgement of the intention and secondly a theory, an assumption of intention, which is tested without having seen the character sequences yet and then finding the results with probabilities as you've seen them. But you can not "prove" something to be true (anymore) after already having looked at the information and assigned meaning to it.

So the only thing that remains without historical evidence is a question.

Y. (Jim) Groeneveld, MSc., NL, Statistician, Musician
Jim.Groeneveld_AT_HCCnet.NL (replace _AT_ by AT sign)

Dale Gedcke wrote (January 13, 2005):
[To Jim Groeneveld] Re: The appended points made by Jim Groeneveld and Charles:

I feel compelled to plead that I have not studied the field of acrostics. Consequently, I may be ignorant of some of the scientific (and non-scientific) approaches already established in that field. But, I have spent a great deal of time acquiring competence in statistical analysis in a completely different field.

In light of my ignorance of acrostics, it seems to me that there are two methods to determine whether the letters B-A-C-H at the beginning of successive lines in BWV 150 were accidental, or intentionally placed there by Bach to spell out his name.

1) Credible documentation of J. S. Bach stating that he intentionally put his name in that location, or a statement by Bach that he often did so in various locations.

2) Lacking the first evidence, one could do a comprehensive statistical analysis of the frequency of occurrence of all letters in the alphabet in Bach's cantatas, and the frequency with which B, A, C and H showed up at the beginning of 4 successive lines. One could also catalog how often the letters B, A, C, and H occurred at random locations in Bach's cantatas and compare that number to how often they showed up in proper order to spell his name at the beginning of 4 successive lines.

There are statistical method to calculate the probability of the letters B-A-C-H randomly occurring in sequence, and the confidence that such a discovered sequence is not random. One would want to exceed the 95% confidence level that the sequence is not consistent with a random occurrence in order to be confident that Bach entered the sequential letters as an intentional scheme to spell his name.

One of the limitations in doing the analysis is a limited sample size. The sample is limited by the total number of times each letter occurs in the Bach cantatas. This is one parameter controlling the calculation of the 95% confidence level.

Have those steeped in acrostics and statistics done such an analysis?

Thomas Braatz wrote (January 13, 2005):
Dale Gedcke asked:
>>Have those steeped in acrostics and statistics done such an analysis?<<
I, for one, have not. IMHO, I perceive insurmountable difficulties using this approach alone since it has its own limitations. Some of these you have already outlined concerns such as the inability to collect a large enough sample for a reliable analysis. As a result there must be other ways to achieve a certain level of reasonableness to determine intention (human intervention) in the creation of acrostics or other matters as well.

It was already mentioned by someone on this list that there is a long-standing tradition of the use of abcedarians (a specialized form of acrostics using the letters of the alphabet in sequence for the beginning of each verse) going back at least to the Middle Ages. Specifically these sacred song texts were in Latin, but later, but in the 16th & 17th century there were German poetry and song texts as well. No longer can a statistician simply be looking for the random occurrence of BACH or DOKTOR, there would have to be a special factor to include the possibility that the first letter or the first word of every verse has a heightened probability of being significant compared to any other placement in the verse itself. For this a tedious analysis of texts which are difficult to procure in entirety would not even be necessary.

Last night I did a cursory examination of the introductory letters or words to each of the 483 German chorales (most of them from the 18th century or before) in the North German hymnal (Evangelisch-Lutherisch) and discovered that there were two additional (I referred to some others just recently) acrostic chorale texts of which I had not been aware: "Hilft mir Gotts Güte preisen" (text by Paul Eber (1511-1569) and "Das walte Gott" (text by Johann Betichius (1650-1722). In the first hymn, the initial letters of each verse spell "HELENA" (I have no idea what the connection with the text is, but perhaps a thorough reference work such as that by Wackernagel would give the explanation for this) and the second has each verse beginning with one letter to spell out the incipit text of the chorale: "DAS WALTE GOTT." Here we even have a chorale text which is contemporary with Bach's lifetime. I am certain that a search of German Baroque poetry would uncover quite a few others of this sort with which Bach would have had an intimate acquaintance.

It would be unreasonable for anyone to expect that Bach, whose statements about his own work (the methods that he employed, etc.) are almost non-existent, would leave historical evidence to clear up this matter. It is necessary, therefore, to turn to evidence regarding those things (traditional methods, procedures, etc.) from other sources with which there may have been a likelihood that he had some acquaintance. If it were not for a single printed statement related by Johann Gottfried Walther that J. S. Bach understood the letters 'BACH' as a significant sequence of musical notes, we would be left today simply with a few random occurrences of BACH in all of Bach's musiand would ultimately be unable to prove statistically that this sequence of letters meant anything at all to Bach.

Peter Smaill wrote (January 13, 2005):
The fascinating contributions on Bach's signature to perhaps his earliest cantata BWV 150 , creates the intriguing lifelong pattern of the very first cantata and very last fugue being signed BACH - i e the latest extant passages of the Art of Fugue in which German musical notation achieves the signature.

The sentiment that old age shall be as youth is captured in BWV 71 (Gott ist mein König) and in this sense JSB has put into practice just such a symmetry.

Doug Cowling wrote (January 13, 2005):
[To Peter Smaill] This "dans ma fin est mon commencement" possibility reminded me of Strauss' Four Last Somgs in which, at the end of his life, the composer quotes the theme from his early tone poem, "Tod und Verklarung". Perhaps T.S. Eliot best expressed the sentiment of the artist looking self-consciously at his life:

'We shall not cease from exploration,
and the end of all our exploring
will be to arrive where we started
and know the place for the first time.'

(Four Quartets)

Thomas Braatz wrote (January 13, 2005):
[To Peter Smaill]
BWV 1080/19 'Fuga a 3 Soggetti'

The 'signature' in this work is figurative, or more explicitly stated: The notes BACH as a countersubject near the end of this fragment are 'taken as his signature' but Bach did not acknowledge this as such. The NBA VIII/2.2 (editor Klaus Hofmann, 1995) instructs us based upon Kobayashi's handwriting analysis that this manuscript has been dated between August 1748 and October 1749, the same period in which Bach was still writing out such compositions as the 'Credo' BWV 232, BWV 69 and BWV 769. Kobayashi maintains that Bach had to give up writing complete manuscripts in October, 1749. After that time he still performed and made corrections. He could have been composing and writing out scores until that date (10/1749) and it does seem likely that the unfinished fugue on 'BACH' might point to the actual moment of crisis when he realized that he would not be able to commit his compositions to paper on his own any more. Kobayashi believes that in addition to sight problems getting worse, there were also motor problems (stroke?) that were becoming increasingly worse between late 1747 and October 1749 when documented autographs break off suddenly.

One might conjecture that Bach, perhaps realizing the earnestness of his situation, expressly took up the composition of the fugue with the BACH counter-subject at this time (October 1749), a project which he may have had in mind for a very long time, but which he now felt he had to try to complete. Perhaps he may have been a bit superstitious about completing such a fugue before the time had come. A premonition of the end of his composing career as well as the clear evidence of a serious health situation may well have prompted him to take up the composition of 1080/19 at the time when he did. Bach did not personally indicate on the score what these notes meant to him. C.P.E. Bach and others posthumously tried to make this connection, but never indicated that Bach intended this connection, i.e., that he personally knew what he was consciously doing here when using the random notes BACH as a fugal counter-subject. For this we have to go to Johann Gottfried Walther who states in his 'Musicalisches Lexicon...' [Leipzig, 1732] (in essence): "J. S. Bach made this comment to me personally that the reason there are so many Bachs devoted to and proficient in music is possibly due to the fact that even the sequence of the letters 'B,'
'A,''C,' and 'H' in the Bach family name are musical."

Fortunately we do thus know as a fact that Bach was very much aware of this significant connection and that it probably guided him in his life to live up to the high expectations which this name brought with it.

It is very enlightening in this regard to view pp. 50-55 in the "Oxford Composer Companions: J. S. Bach [Boyd, ed., Oxford University Press, 1999]), where a list which does not even claim to be comprehensive has 336 composers (some of them with more than one composition) who have treated this theme BACH in their compositions.

Charles Francis wrote (January 13, 2005):
Jim Groeneveld wrote:
< As a statistician I have to comment on that. I think your interpretation of the probability of your finding is not correct. Your calculation may be correct, but with the same calculation you would be able to "prove" that any occurring and encountered (arbitrary) sequence of characters is not coincidental, thus intended. E.g. if the letter 'J', 'I' and 'M' (or whatever letters) would occur in a sequence I might as well state that Bach intentionally inserted my name in there. And that, of course, is not true. All characters, all sequences, as long as not intended (to our historical knowledge) is coincidental. >
So tne arrangement of matter as DNA, eyeballs and brains is coincidental, given it has the same probability as any arbitrary amorphous cloud?

Jim Groeneveld wrote (January 14, 2005):
[To Charles Francis] I know it is difficult to understand, not being statistically educated. I don't say the hidden words or texts, DNA, eyeballs and brains all are coincidental. I only said your method, your attempt, to prove they are not coincidental does not hold true. With your method you could "prove" any arbitrary amorphous cloud to have as much meaning as the hidden words or texts, DNA, eyeballs and brains if existing (already observed to exist) in the same context.

In order to prove, or rather show with a high level of probability, that the acrostic theory is acceptable, you would have to demonstrate that the occurrence of certain words (like BACH as first letters in quite some different texts) raises significantly above their level of coincidence (like Dale Gedcke already suggested), given no further knowledge or indications of acrostics. But I doubt there is enough data to investigate that purely statistically.

I know it is difficult to understand by you and difficult to explain by me. I have tried to explain it as much as possible in common language, while yet stressing the most important concepts. I hope it is clear enough, but if you would like more explanation (private, off-list), just give me a yell.

At present I do neither reject nor accept the acrostic theory, because there hasn't been a firm quantitative investigation to that matter yet. Nevertheless the historical (not statistical) evidence of what might have been common use, including by Bach, may give sufficiently convincing arguments for the intentional occurrence of certain words. And if experts studying that history, based on that history say it is rather likely that acrostics (or whatever it is called) has been applied in Bach's case as well, then I won't argue that at all.

Peter Smaill wrote (January 14, 2005):
Can we settle on the high plausibility that an early Cantata is acrostically signed Bach, and a very late Fugue certainly evidences B-A-C-H? The device is pre-baroque rather than romantic in any case.

Quite apart from the statistical improbability of the chaconne's final four line just happening to commence B-A-C-H, there is the clinching parallel of Paul Eber's "Helft mir Gotts gute preisen", where the name of his daughter, Helena, is so formed (1569), and "Hilf Gott, lass mirs gelingen" by Heinrich Muller (c1524) in which the first letters of each stanza spell, in antique form, Hejnrjch Muler.

Both these chorale texts would have been well known to Bach (who set them ) and it thus seems highly likely he was consciously engaging in a revival of acrosticism in BWV 150.

The sentiment echoed by Doug Cowling quoting TS Eliot is also found in the English mystical writer Thomas Traherne (1637-1673):

"There is an instinct which carries us to the beginning of our lives; all of a man's life put together contributes a perfection to every part ofit, and the memory of things past is the most advantageous light of our present condition"

Johan de Wael wrote (January 20, 2005):
BWV 150 (6): Bach, Beethoven, Brahms

In the sixth movement of BWV 150 there's a wonderful effect accompanying the words "(Meine Augen sehen) stets zu dem Herrn". I'm referring to measures 6 to 13. The alternating leaps (fourths) down and up again in the two violin parts (I think this kind of rhythm is called the "angel motive", but hardly recognisable as such, because of the overlapping unisons), accompanied by an oscillating effect in the bassoon (alternating seconds), produce an airy, ethereal effect, suggesting in my opinion the (music of the) heavenly spheres. [In the St. Matthew Passion (BWV 244) the recitatives of Christ are also accompanied by violins, providing a kind of aureole to his person.]

Now, there is a remarkable similarity with the accompaniment of the words "Brüder! überm Sternenzelt muss ein lieber Vater wohnen." (for the second time) in Beethoven's Ode to Joy. Beethoven uses a similar kind op leaps (fifths, sixths, octaves and occasionally a fourth) down and up again in the violin parts, but parallel, not alternating with each other. Celli, double basses and the double bassoon (!) have alternating seconds. [For two measures the parts switch roles ("ein lieber").]

Now, I think you will agree that such great leaps are a distinguishing feature of Brahms' musical idiom. They may convey great emotions, violent passions to the listener. Besides, his admiration for Beethoven may have reinforced the development of his style in this fashion. A few examples in Beethoven, where great leaps may convey violent passions: the Kreutzer Sonata (Op. 47), the Coriolan Overture (Op. 62), the Grosse Fuge (Op. 133).

But the finest example of them all is in my opinion the one mentioned above, in the last movement of his last symphony (Op. 125), where the leaps upwards express the passionate craving of man gazing at the stars in search of his heavenly Father.

Bradley Lehman wrote (January 20, 2005):
Leaps

< Beethoven uses a similar kind op leaps (fifths, sixths, octaves and occasionally a fourth) down and up again in the violin parts, but parallel, not alternating with each other. (...)
Now, I think you will agree that such great leaps are a distinguishing feature of Brahms' musical idiom. They may convey great emotions, violent passions to the listener. Besides, his admiration for Beethoven may have reinforced the development of his style in this fashion. A few examples in Beethoven, where great leaps may convey violent passions: the Kreutzer Sonata (Op. 47), the Coriolan Overture (Op. 62), the Grosse Fuge (Op. 133). >
Some other good ones: Elgar in "Sospiri", the Enigma Vars, the slow movement of the cello concerto, the main theme of the violin concerto, and the slow movement of the 2nd symphony.

And Tchaikovsky in the final movement of the "Pathetique", with the melody zigzagging between the violin parts. (Listen to it in a stereo recording with a divided-violins seating plan, for example Klemperer's.)

Doug Cowling wrote (January 20, 2005):
BWV 150 (6): Celestial Vibrato

Johan De Wael wrote:
< [In the St. Matthew Passion
(BWV 244 the recitatives of Christ are also accompanied by violins, providing a kind of aureole to his person.] >
Is there any evidence that strings played with vibrato as an ornament in this kind of accompanied recitative? Perhaps I grew up with performances with modern sensibilities, put period performances often seem like opening up a refrigerator rather than basking in celestial warmth and sweetness?

Thomas Braatz wrote (January 20, 2005):
Doug Cowling asked:
>>Is there any evidence that strings played with vibrato as an ornament in this kind of accompanied recitative?
Here is a statement from the Grove Music Online [Oxford University Press, 2004, acc. 8/04] by G. Moens-Haenen:

>>In ensemble music of the 17th and 18th centuries, measured vibrato is often the only kind [of vibrato] accepted, as the specific technique, which relies mostly on carefully gauged fluctuations in intensity, helps the players to stay together and reduces the risk of intonation problems.

Although normal vibrato is also to some extent measured, and most measured vibrato involves fluctuations of pitch, both kinds were mainly connected with only one of their characteristics. As a rule, measured vibrato has strong emotional connotations; its use survives well into the 19th century, most clearly in opera, but also in the symphony. Unlike an ornamental 'normal' vibrato, it produces some degree of continuity.<<

Sometimes these 'measured vibratos' were written out fully in notes or with a special sign (embellishment) consisting of a wavy line over the notes.

In the NBA scores I have never seen this type of 'wavy' embellishment used by Bach except over a solo vocal part where strong or extreme emotion is called for and the occurrence of this is quite rare indeed in Bach's oeuvre.

The question really is: would you want a very strong emotional effect (use of measured vibrato to describe a human emotion) or would you simply want to underline the ethereal effect with no vibrato at all?

>>period performances often seem like opening up a refrigerator rather than basking in celestial warmth and sweetness?<<
This could easily be due to the fact that modified string instruments today only partially represent what these instrument types once sounded like in Bach's time. Also the playing techniques used today may not sufficiently replicate what once existed before the major watershed at the end of the 18th century.

Neil Halliday wrote (January 21, 2005):
Johan De Wael wrote:
<"In the sixth movement of BWV 150 there's a wonderful effect accompanying the words "(Meine Augen sehen) stets zu dem Herrn"..... (and) there is a remarkable similarity with the accompaniment of the words "Brüder! überm Sternenzelt muss ein lieber Vater wohnen." (for the second time) in Beethoven's Ode to Joy">.
Definitely! That figure on the violins in BWV 150, (vividly captured in the Rilling recording), reminds me of the most exalted writing at the place you point out, in the "Ode to Joy" movement.

Beethoven's music is the much more complex of the two examples, of course, as we are here comparing that composer near the end of his composing life, with Bach at the very beginning of his career.

John Pike wrote (January 21, 2005):
[To Thomas Braatz] I like the anecdote about Sir Thomas Beecham and a first oboist with a particularly marked vibrato. On one occasion, while tuning up, Sir Thomas pointed to her to give the pitch to be tuned to. The oboist duly obliged with her usual severe vibrato, whereupon Sir Thomas turned to the violinists and said simply "Take your pick!"

 

Question to BWV 150

Thomas Manhart wrote (May 26, 2005):
Does anyone of you have an idea, if in BWV 150 the trio "Zedern müssen von den Winden..." the main melody is derived from any hymn or basic choral melody? Or if for any of the perts, the composer might have had any initial tune as motive?

Thanks

Bradley Lehman wrote (May 26, 2005):
[To Thomas Manhart] Nope. BWV 150 doesn't use any of the chorales listed at the back of the BWV, pp471-481.

 

Question to BWV 150

Peter Smaill wrote (November 2, 2005):
A while back we had some very interesting questions on this putative first Cantata ("Nach dich, Herr") from Mühlhausen. More recently, the question of the relationship between the Michaelmass cantata "Es erhubt sich ein Streit" by Johann Christoph Bach (1642-1703) and the J S Bach works for St Michael's Day, BWV 19 of the same name, and the text-sharing BWV 50, "Nun is das Heil," has been considered.

Wolff describes this Johann Christoph (beware- there are four relatives of this name)! as a kind of role model for Johann Sebastian. I am beginning to think that there may be a special influence between Bach, JS, and the former's Wedding Cantata, "Meine Freundin, du bschoen". I would welcome any other reactions to this hypothesis. (JC Bach's Wedding Cantata is available, with many other good things from the Alt Bachisches Archiv, on the Capriccio label.)

The similarity lies in an almost exactly identical passacaglia figure in the Wedding Cantata of JCB; to the concluding chorus in BWV 150. We have, at the end of this movement, the acrostic (a device also noted in the newly discovered Weimar aria):

Bleibet Gott mein treuer Schutz
Achte ich nicht Menschentrutz
Christus, ber uns steht zur Seiten,
Hilft mir taeglich sieghaft streiten

The revelation of this acrostic seemed to add to the arguments for the authenticity of Bach authorship of BWV 150: he seems, as it were to have signed it. But now - which Bach is meant by the acrostic? J S himself? Or could it be a tribute by Johann Sebastian to the family name, or especially to Johann Christoph? Or is BWV 150 actually by Johann Christoph?

A further powerful set of links between the Wedding Cantata in the Alt Bachisches Archive and the greatest of all Bachs has been identified by Hans Gruss.

Firstly, the cover for the Wedding Cantaat was actually written in J S Bach's own hand, suggesting a performance in which he took part.

Secondly, it was so admired by Johann Sebastian's father that he (Johann Ambrosius) wrote a commentary on it, the texts being from the Song of Solomon;

Thirdly, textual passages in it are intimately connected to the great double chorus of the SMP (BWV 244):

"Whence come you? Where go you? Why thus alone? "........
...."Whither is thy beloved gone? they enquire and say, "O thou fairest [among women],they do not give up but enquire, "Whither is thy beloved turned aside?""

Further extracts quoted by Gruss lead to the conclusion "they form part of the introduction to the second part[of the SMP], and the theme of the choral entry there used basically leaves no doubt that Johann Sebastian remembered Johann Christoph's Wedding Cantata when composing this part of the SMP (BWV 244)."

It seems to me plausible, thus, that both Bach's earliest Cantata (if it is his) and his arguably greatest choral work are both influenced by the Wedding Cantata "Meine Freundin, du bist schoen" by Johann Christoph Bach of Eisenach, cousin to Johann Sebastian's father.

Douglas Cowling wrote (November 2, 2005):
Peter Smaill wrote:
< I am beginning to think that there may be a special influence between Bach, JS, and the former's Wedding Cantata, "Meine Freundin, du bist schoen". >
Sounds hot!

 

Pacific Boys Choir

Eric Bergerud wrote (August 5, 2006):
[18] After howling at the moon over the lack of boy soloists in contemporary Bach cantatas I finally picked up a CD (entitled Cantate) by the Pacific Boys Choir that includes all of BWV 150 and one aria from BWV 68. (Mozart and Mendelssohn works round out the CD.) Well, it sure sounds different than Harnoncourt. The PBS has been around for less than ten years and doesn't claim to rank with the best European groups, at least for now. And the quality of the singing did vary. But some parts were very lovely indeed. And the employment of both boy sopranos and altos does make for a unique experience. If nothing else the CD certainly makes me wish even more that other groups in Europe would try again, even if on a far smaller scale, what Harononcourt attempted over a generation ago.

Along with a certain lack of polish I should note the CD is only 39 minutes in length. I suppose it's market is intended for people that attend concerts. But my used copy was $6 so it was well worth it.

 

BWV 150: Acrostics again

Ole Martin Halck wrote (December 17, 2011):
In an entry of 2005-01-12
(http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV150-D4.htm), Johan de Wael notes the acrostic "BACH" in the initial letters of the last four lines of BWV 150, wondering whether this might be a signature, and thus initiates a discussion on whether this, along with the acrostic "DOKTOR" earlier in the cantata, is intentional. Looking a bit closer at this, I've found what I take to be pretty decisive evidence that it is an intentional acrostic, that it is not Bach's signature as such, but that it still supports his authorship.

Disregarding the part of the text from Psalm 25 (II, IV, VI), let's look at the first letter of all lines in the cantata:

DOKTORZOORADMECFBACH

Now, it turns out that "Zedern" may also be spelled "Cedern" (and is indeed written this way e.g. in the full score available at imslp.org). Thus we have

DOKTORCOORADMECFBACH

which is, it seems to me, too close to the name of Dr. Conrad Meckbach to be a coincidence. In the discussion of BWV 71, Peter Smaill on 2005-02-05 describes Conrad Meckbach, burgomaster, as "Bach's Mühlhausen patron". Christoph Wolff's biography says of Bach's application to the post of St. Blasius organist that "On May 24, 1707, [...] the influential senior consul and previous burgomaster, Dr. Conrad Meckbach, asked without any preliminaries 'whether consideration should not first be given to the man named Pach [sic] from Arnstadt, who had recently done his trial playing at Easter.' Without any further deliberation, the parish convent quickly
commissioned the town scribe Bellstedt to work out an agreement with Bach."

So the "BACH" acrostic turns out to be a bit of a red herring! Still, it would seem Bach had reasons to be thankful to Meckbach, and the time this occurred fits well with the standard hypothesis that BWV 150 is from around 1707-08ish.

What about the two "wrong" letters -- O instead of N, and F instead of K? Would it be an unreasonable guess that a couple of words in the text may have been accidentally replaced in the course of the 300+ years that have passed? I must admit I don't feel at all qualified to speak on the plausibility of this...

Peter Smaill wrote (December 18, 2011):
[To Martin Halck] This is a fascinating further development of the acrostic puzzle; and indeed Bach would have been familiar with the device, for he set the strophic song "Alles mit Goot" BWV 1123 which has a double acrostic based on the name of Duke Wilhelm Ernst of Saxe-Weimar.

On BWV 150, we still have the previously unremarked fact that the terzett is headed next to the title with the inscription "41", in number-alphabet terms , "J S BACH" , and the number of bars is exactly 41, one of three occurrences unknown to Arthur Hirsch. So Bach may yet have been signing in hermeneutically, as well as referring to the good Doctor.

It's often thought that BWV 150 is a funerary piece so the next step...did Merkbach, if it is he, die at around this time suggested (1708, after BWV 71?) ? If so then there is a further prop towards accurate dating of one of the earliest (once thought the earliest) Cantata. Malcolm Boyd notes that Mühlhausen Burgomaster (and Consul) Conrad Meckbach's son Paul Friedemann was a godparent at a Weimar christening, and Wolff covers the connection in JSBTLM pps 102-3 et seq. Meckbach also connects as previously discussed, to BWV 71. Alas, however, I cannot find when he died so as to confirm the long standing theory of funerary purpose. Can anyone help on this point and the wider issue, as to why and when this Cantata was created?

Ole Martin Halck wrote (December 18, 2011):
Peter Smaill wrote:
< Alas, however, I cannot find when he died so as to confirm the long standing theory of funerary purpose. Can anyone help on this point and the wider issue, as to why and when this Cantata was created? >
The PDF book index at http://assets.cambridge.org/97805218/70740/index/9780521870740_index.pdf gives his year of death as 1712.

Peter Smaill wrote (December 18, 2011):
[To Martin Halck] Yes indeed the 1712 reference in Williams makes it perhaps unlikely that this Cantata is a piece for the funeral of Meckbach senior,and yet...... after Bach's departure for Weimar, between 4 and 14 July 1708 according to Wolff, he did return in 1709 and 1710 to conduct his council pieces. It is maybe therefore not impossible that the close connection of the Bach and Meckbach families could, as late as 1712, have implied a special return for a funeral; yet the immature compositional aspects of BWV 150 argue somewhat against such a position.The early years at Weimar are spent as court Organist and the Orgelbuchlein began to be composed there.

As regards the use of names in funerary works, this was a tradition under Schein at Leipzig (analysed by Stephen Rose) and in the Alt Bachisches Archive, Adam Drese ( ?) sets beautifully a funeral song, "Nun ist alles ueberwunden" in which a pun is made relating to the sister of two Bach aunts, married to the mayor of Arnstadt: her surname, Feldhaus (nee Margarethe Wedemann), was use in the sense of "field-house" depicting the transience of human existence.

This new angle for BWV 150 is a potentially fruitful tack, and if it leads to the redating of this important Cantata then a significant step in Bach chronology is involved. I'd be delighted if others joined in this, IMHO, fascinating discussion.

Julian Mincham wrote (December 18, 2011):
Peter Smaill wrote:
< This new angle for BWV 150 is a potentially fruitful tack, and if it leads to the redating of this important Cantata then a significant step in Bach chronology is involved. I'd be delighted if others joined in this, IMHO, fascinating discussion.>
Whilst internal evidence cannot date the work with complete accuracy, the sinfonia (with several details similar to that of BWV 4) and the episodic structure and preponderance of short choral sections certainly place this alongside the earliest of Bach's cantatas.

Ole Martin Halck wrote (December 21, 2011):
[To Julian Mincham] By the way -- Googling shows me this acrostic was previously known:
http://www.s-line.de/homepages/bachdiskographie/vok_trau/vok_trau.html
-- search page for "meckbach".

 

Continue on Part 5

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

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