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Cantata BWV 155
Mein Gott, wie lang, ach lange?
Discussions - Part 2

Continue from Part 1

Discussions in the Week of May 29, 2005

Peter Bright wrote (May 30, 2005):
Introduction: BWV 155 (Mein Gott, wie lang, ach lange)

The cantata for discussion this week (May 30 – June 5) is:

Cantata BWV 155
Mein Gott, wie lang, ach lange
(‘My God, how long, ah long’)

Written for the 2nd Sunday after Epiphany, first performed at Weimar, 19 January 1716, and repeated at Leipzig on 16 January 1724 (the same Sunday in the liturgical calendar).
The text is by the Weimar court poet Salomo Franck (Weimar, 1715).

Link to texts, commentary, vocal score, music examples, and list of known recordings: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV155.htm

Link to previous discussions: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV155-D.htm

It is possible to hear two versions of the complete cantata on the internet (Harnoncourt from 1985 [2], and Leusink, from 1999 [5]). See: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Mus/BWV155-Mus.htm


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I have provided notes from two sources (any typing errors are mine):

1) Boyd, M. (1999) Oxford Composer Companions: J.S. Bach, pp.290-291. Oxford University Press: Oxford
2) Isoyama, T. (1997). CD notes: Bach Cantatas Volume 5, Suzuki/Bach Collegium Japan, BIS [4].

1) [BWV155] like most of Bach's Weimar cantatas the work is on a small scale, consisting only of two recitatives, a duet, an aria, and a finale chorale. The instrumentation is correspondingly modest, calling only for a bassoon in addition to the normal strings and continuo. The libretto, like that of Cantata BWV 13 for the same Sunday, makes little reference to the Gospel reading for the day (John 2: 1-11), except to dwell on Jesus's statement that 'mine hour is not yet come'. This gives rise to painful feelings that are expressed by the soprano in the opening recitative, accompanied by strings and continuo. Beginning over the repeated quavers of a twelve-bar tonic (D minor) pedal, it ends with elaborate melismatic word-painting for 'Freudenwein' ('wine of joy') and 'sinkt' ('sinks'), as the singer's confidence in God falters.

In the duet (no. 2), for alto and tenor with a remarkably agile bassoon obbligato, the singers answer this despair with a call to trust in Jesus, who will know when the time is right to extend help and comfort, and these sentiments are carried over into the carefully composed bass recitative that follows. Dotted rhythms and wide intervals in both the string accompaniment and the vocal line lend a sprightly character to the soprano aria 'Wirf, mein Herze, wirf dich noch', and confidence is fully restored in the final chorale, a setting in four parts, with instrumental doubling,of the 12th strophe of the hymn Es ist das Heil uns kommen her by Paul Speratus (1524).

2) [...] As with BWV 152, the libretto for this work is by Salomo Franck. The libretto is an interpretation of the Gospel text appointed for the day, the story of the Marriage at Cana (where Jesus turned water into wine), from a Lutheran perspective. At the heart of this interpretation is the message that one must have faith even in hardship. It is one of the simpler cantatas, beginning with a recitative and using chorus only for the chorale, but Bach's masterfully composed music does much to enhance the meaning of its message. Notable is its instrumentation: it is scored for strings and continue with solo oboe.

Lost in fruitless sufferings, the Christian speaks in Mvt. 1 (soprano Recitative). The mood is supported by dissonances in the harmony and a relentless motion in the continuo. A remarkable image appears close to the end of the movement in 'der Freuden Wein' - "the wine of joy". The second movement is a duet for alto and tenor (A minor). Against a technically challenging oboe background (it is certain that Bach had an excellent oboist at this period), the alto and tenor call to the first singer, giving the imperative ‘must' - 'müssen' - to the concepts of having faith and having hope. At the end of this aria, the bass comes in with a firm declamation (Number 3. Recitative): 'Soul, be content. Your suffering is a test from God, and it will be exchanged for joy'. The continuo answers the bass's expressive pronouncements with occasional but remarkable illustrative passages. The heart responds to these arguments, throwing itself on God wholly in the next movement (Number 4). In this soprano aria in F major, the abandonment demonstrated in the music of the opening phrase, 'Wirf ('Throw'} [thyself into God's arms], supplies the impetus for the entire movement. Finally, an F major harmonization of a chorale by Paul Speratus singing of faith in God closes the work.

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Although a modest cantata (consisting of two recitatives, two arias and a choral), this is one of my favourite works – containing one of the Bach’s most sublime movements: the duet for alto and tenor (mv. 2), in which the bassoon weaves a beautiful dance around a plea for faith.

One of the great joys of immersing oneself in the cantatas is discovering gems such as this one – I hope that list members will agree – and I look forward to reading your comments on this fascinating work.

Thomas Braatz wrote (May 31, 2005):
At the bottom of a previous set of commentaries by Bach scholars is one by Eric Chafe: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Guide/BWV155-Guide.htm

As an extension to this, based upon Lucia Haselböck's "Bach Lexikon" I offer the following:

A few years ago as part of the discussion of BWV 155, I shared an observation by Eric Chafe that "Wein" ["wine"] and "Weinen" ["to cry or shed tears"] are used metaphorically as a pun by Salomo Franck in Bach's libretto for "Mein Gott, wie lang, ach lange." Now with the help of Lucia Haselböck's book, "Bach:Textlexikon" [Bärenreiter, 2004], we are able to gain a fuller picture of the rich religious symbolism with which Bach's congregations/listeners were acquainted. I will select from various passages/entries and present what I consider important without giving the original German because typing out the latter and ensuring that I have typed it correctly takes a lot of extra time; however, if any reader would like to see the original German for any specific, small portion of what I present, I will gladly find and share it with the BCML. Assume that what follows is based entirely on Haselböck's research as presented in her book.

1. "Weinen" ["to shed tears"] and its related terms "Tränen" and "Zähren" (both of the latter mean 'tears') appears in BWV 155 in Mvt. 1: "das Tränenmaß" ["the measure of tears"]; in Mvt. 3: "bittre Zähren" ["bitter tears"] and "daß dein Herz.weine" ["that your heart will cry/shed tears"]

2. "Wein" ["wine"] occurs only as part of a compound noun "Freudenwein" ["the wine of many joys" or "the wine that brings joy"] in mvts. 1 and 3 (in the latter it occurs also as a compound noun with "Trost" in "Trostwein" ["the wine of comfort, the wine that brings comfort."]) Related to "Wein" is the word "Wermut" ["vermouth"] which is contrasted with "Honigseim" ["honey."] Please allow for a digression here on "Wermut" which is described in an old German text as "artemisia absinthium: von der wermuot. absinthihaizet wermuot. daz ist gar ain pitter kraut" ["this absinth, an herb, is called vermouth. that is a really bitter herb."] This leads to a philological investigation that reveals that during and before Bach's time, "Wermut" was not the equivalent to "vermouth," an alcoholic drink containing the extract of 'wormwood'/'absinth.' It was not considered a special wine ('vermouth') in Germany until 1820, although there is ample evidence going back to the 16th century of a "Wermutbier" which was a very bitter beer containing a few drops of absinth. [It was not only used as a healing herb, but was also applied as an effective pesticide: "Where chamber is sweeped and wormwood is strowne, no flea for his life dare abide to be knowne." (1573)]

While we are 'off on a tangent' here, let's find out what Haselböck has to say about "Wermut":It is a metaphor for 1) 'life's bitterness' and 2) 'Christ's suffering'

1) Due to this herb's very sharp and bitter taste, the Hebrews, as documented in the OT [Deuteronomy 29:18; Jeremiah 9:15 and 23:15 with the Hebrew word "la'anah" = 'wormwood'] considered it to be bitter and repulsive. The text of BWV 155/3 establishes the antithesis between sweet honey of a caring comforter, God, who does not leave us, and the bitter 'vermouth' of illness and suffering: "Herz, glaube fest, / es wird ein kleines sein, / da er für bittre Zähren / den Trost- und Freudenwein / und Honigseim für Wermut will gewähren." ["Dear heart, believe it firmly that he will soon (in only a short while) grant you the wine of comfort and joy to replace your bitter tears and also grant you sweet honey to replace the drops of bitter wormwood."]

2) In the bass arioso "Betrachte meine Seele" of the SJP/19 (BWV 245), the listener/reader is challenged to look steadily at Christ's suffering on the cross: "Du kannst viel süße Frucht von seiner Wermut brechen, / drum sieh ohn Unterlaß auf ihn" ["You can obtain much sweet fruit by picking it from His wormwood plant (=the cross?), for this reason look upon him uninterruptedly."]

Haselböck's entry "Wein" = "wine" reveals, as one might expect, a plethora of references in the OT and NT. It can point to the "Meal of Heavenly Life" where it brings joy to human beings; the 'grape-vine' can point to the promised messianic deliverance. In early Christian times, the 'grape', iconographically is linked to eternal life and in the Middle Ages with a special accent upon the Eucharist. Later the metaphor was extended to include 'the mystical grape of Christ' and "Christ the Wine-Stamper (inside the Wine-Press)" and 'God's Vineyard.' From the connection with the Last Supper as a sacrament established through Jesus' words (Matthew 26:29), Christian prayers up to the Middle Ages contain images of 'the Blood of Christ,' 'the Water of Life' 'the Restorative Powers of Wine, the 'Grape-Vine' = 'Christ's Cross' (John 15:1. The depictions of the "Ecce Homo" with the five bleeding wounds of the savior seen as the source of all healing are equated with pictures of Christ in a cowering position imprisoned within the wine-press (Haselböck gives a wonderful medieval illustration of this image) and stamping the grapes. The church fathers made a connection between the cluster [Hebrew: 'eshkol' in Numbers 13:24] of grapes/grapevine brought back from the Promised Land on a pole and the symbol of 'Christ hanging on the Cross.' The theology and art of the Middle Ages then picked up on these images and illustrated them more fully.

1) the Grape-vine as the Tree-of-Life-Cross

In the Easter cantata, BWV 31/5 "Der Himmel lacht, die Erde jubilieret," ["The heavens laugh and the earth rejoices"] the grape-vine is viewed as the tree of life; however, the green, ripening grapes as the truly living, resurrected Christ: "Der Weinstock, der itzt blüht, / trägt keine toten Reben" ["The grape-vine that blossoms now, bears no dead grapes."]

2) the Joy-Wine, (the wine that brings all the joys in life)

In BWV 138/2, Bach's libretto gives us a picture of 'joie de vivre' associated with wine in contrast to actual bitter reality: "Man schenkt mir vor den Wein der Freuden /den bittern Kelch der Tränen ein" ["Instead of pouring out for me the wine of joy, they give me the goblet of bitter tears to drink."]

In the 2nd part of the cantata BWV 21/8 "Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis" ["I was filled with great anxiety - I was heavily laden with personal problems"], the soprano-bass aria contains the well-known antithesis between "'bitter passion' vs. 'sweet results/consequences'" as well as "'death' vs. 'life'" in the middle of which the saddened soul ["ich muß stets in Kummer schweben" = "Continually I am forced to be suspended in the midst of all my worries"] "erlangt Heil durch den Saft der Reben" ["obtains its salvation by means of the juice of the grapes = wine."]

3. the 'gratia infusa' (the grace or blessing which has been poured in)

This term, 'gratia infusa' is a term used in mysticism, a term primarily inspired by the Song of Solomon where the blood becomes the 'wine of love' which satisfies the thirst of the soul and creates as it flows a 'pleasant melting away or dissolving into nothingness.' Accordingly, when Heinrich Seuse, a mystic, speaks of God's love, he points to the Song of Solomon 2:4 where the bride is led by her friend into a wine tavern where she exclaims: "Your love is sweeter than wine." Likewise, the Baroque poet, Angelus Silesius, sees the ultimate union between God and humans in the special mystic form of love contained, among other things, in "God's wine:"

"Derohalben die Seele welche zwar kalt war / ist jetzt brennend / die vor Finster war / ist jetzt leuchtend: Die vor harte war / ist jetzt weich; Gantz und gar Gottfarbig: weil ihr Wesen mit Gottes Wein durchgossen ist: Gantz mit dem Feuer der Göttlichen Liebe verbrennet / und gantz verschmeltzen in Gott übergangen" [Angelus Silesius, "Cherubinischer Wandersmann" {Glatz, 1675, Foreword}] ["For this reason the soul, which, to be sure, was cold, now burns forth, which before was darkness, now shines forth: which before was hard, is now soft; completely filled with the colors of God because its being has been drenched (by pouring all the way through it) with God's wine: completely consumed (burned up) with the fire of God's love and completely fused (melted together with God) has been transformed into God."

Based upon this mixture of speculative and sensually erotic imaginations, Bach's cantata texts have captured linguistically some of the highest/noblest religious experiences found in these earlier works. Sometimes human beings wait in vain for God to work (to have an effect, to stimulate something) within them: "die Liebeshand zieht sich, ach, ganz zurück,..der Freudenwein gebricht" [BWV 155/1] "the loving hand of God has been retracted, seemingly pulled back completely from me..the 'Wine of Joy' is lacking/missing;" but usually he/she is filled with God's "Freudenwein": as in BWV 13/4 and BWV 155/3: "[der Erlöser] will nach allem Leid für bittre Zähren / den Trost- und Freudenwein gewähren. Gott kann den Wermutsaft / gar leicht in Freudenwein verkehren" ["{the Savior} will grant/allow {you to enjoy} the 'Wine of Comfort and Joy' in place of all the bitter tears that have come from all the suffering {you have endured.}"] "Freudenwein" ["the Wine of Joy"] and "Freudengeist" ["the Spirit of Joy"] are identical in that both are capable of healing the soul (see BWV 75/3.) In the cantata BWV 21/10 ["Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis"] "Weinen" ["crying, shedding tears"] is transformed "in lauteren Wein" ["into pure wine"] {an allusion to the Wedding in Cana} and Jesus comforts "mit himmlischer Lust" ["with heavenly joy."]

Back to number 1: "Weinen" ('to cry, to shed tears') and how it might or might not be connected with "Wein" ('wine, grapes, etc.):

There are various types of tears, which Haselböck documents in Bach's libretti, tears which have nothing to do with the above: tears of remorsand repentance or tears of compassion. There are tears which parallel the bleeding of one's heart as illustrated in the libretti of the SMP (BWV 244) and particularly BWV 199 "Mein Herze schwimmt im Blut." But the tears equated with wine occur when the situation described focuses upon the general life situation of humans on earth. Acts 14:22 must have made a very special impression on Bach and his librettist since he returned a second time to set these words to music: "Wir müssen durch viel Trübsal in das Reich Gottes eingehen" ["We must enter the Kingdom of God through many tribulations"] [BWV 12/3 and BWV 146/2.] In BWV 138/2, the text reads: "Man schenkt mir vor den Wein der Freuden / den bittern Kelch der Tränen ein" ["Instead of pouring me the 'Wine of Joy', they are giving me a goblet full of tears."] And then there is again BWV 155/1: "Das Tränenmaß wird stets voll eingeschenket,/ der Freudenwein gebricht" ["They always pour out for me a full measure/glass of tears, but the Wine of Joy is always lacking/there is never enough of it."]

In heaven the tears will be wiped away [Revelations 21:4] and pure, unadulterated wine will be poured out for you [BWV 10/10]: "Verwandle dich, Weinen, in lauteren Wein!" ["Let my crying/my tears be transformed into a pure wine!" = 'pure wine' = 'the wine of eternal bliss and joy.']

Neil Halliday wrote (May 31, 2005):
1st Movement (soprano acc. recitative)

Harnoncourt [2] vividly captures the dissonance in the upper strings. Rilling's [1] string strokes are perhaps a little soft at the start, but towards the end they are fine, and express the "sinking confidence" of the narrator more vividly than the other recordings. The vocalists in both recordings are excellent, and both recordings are most enjoyable.

Leusink's [5] organist draws too much attention to the organ continuo realisation, by playing repeated chords exactly in step with the repeated note on the continuo strings.

Mvt. 2 (A,T duet).

All three recordings of this distinctly scored duet, with obligato bassoon, are most enjoyable.

I like Harnoncourt's slow tempo; if one concentrates on listening to the dovetailing of the vocal lines, the slow tempo should not be a barrier to enjoyment of the music.

Rilling's relatively brisk performance flows naturally, and here we have one of the better vocal duet combinations in his set; the well-controlled vibratos of the singers combine in an attractive manner.

Leusink has the intermediate tempo.

Mvt. 3 Recitative/arioso (bass).

I would like to add some organ chords, in the right places, to Rilling's performance with harpsichord and continuo strings, to add a little more variety to the continuo realisation.

Harnoncourt and Leusink - no comment.

Mvt. 4. Soprano aria.

Rilling's rich, melodious strings are a treasure in this aria. Unfortunately, Reichelt seems to introduce a somewhat harsh, operatic vibrato which was not evident in the 1st movement, but this remains an enjoyable performance.

Harnoncourt's articulation of the continuo [2] results in a 'plodding' expression, IMO; and Leusink overemphasizes a 'dance' aspect.

Rilling [1] has his usual excellent final chorale (Mvt. 5). Harnoncourt [2] gives one of his better performances, without exaggerated attenuation of the final notes of the chorale lines, or over-separation of individual words.

John Pike wrote (May 31, 2005):
Cantata for the 2nd Sunday after Epiphany

First performed Weimar Jan 19th 1716.

I particularly enjoyed the duet No. 2, with the prominent bassoon solo, and the oprano aria no.4.

I listened to Leusink [5], Rilling [1] and Harnoncourt [2]. I enjoyed Leusink particularly. I found Rilling a bit heavy for my taste and I thought the duet was too operatic. Once again, I found the alto vibrato disturbing. However, I found the opening soprano aria quite dramatic. The boy soloist from the Tölzer Knabenchor for Harnoncourt, Alan Bergius, was technically a bit unsteady I thought in the opening movement, but it was otherwise a moving performance. He was also very strong musically in the 4th movement.

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (May 31, 2005):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< 1. "Weinen" ["to shed tears"] and its related terms "Tränen" and "Zähren" (both of the latter mean 'tears') appears in BWV 155 in Mvt. 1: "das Tränenmaß" ["the measure of tears"]; in Mvt. 3: "bittre Zähren" "bitter tears"] and "daß dein Herz.weine" ["that your heart will cry/shed tears"]
2. "Wein" ["wine"] occurs only as part of a compound noun "Freudenwein" ["the wine of many joys" or "the wine that brings joy"] in mvts. 1 and 3 (in the latter it occurs also as a compound noun with "Trost" in "Trostwein" ["the wine of comfort, the wine that brings comfort."]) Related to "Wein" is the word "Wermut" ["vermouth"] which is contrasted with "Honigseim" ["honey."] >
Without in any way denigrating the time and care that it takes anyone, in this case Thomas, to bring such scholarship to our collective attentions, having for a change invested the time and the emotional energy to listen to said cantata in light of the hyberbolic majesty as to both music and text that is always invested here in each and every cantata, I have the following conclusion to share for those who might care to learn of it: We are told that a rather insignificant pun (dare I say a puny pun?) is indicative of some profound textual insight into some mystical understanding with major profundity when what we have is the metaphoric use of "wine" for "joy" for the simply purpose of contrasting it with several German words for "tears" or "cry". This is all very inconsequential in my view. Of course "Tränen" and "Zähren" are etymologically related to one another (and ultimately to English "tears" and Latin "lacrima") but that would not be obvious. "Weinen" the verb and "Wein" the noun are of course not related to one another etymologically. "Weinen" is an Old Germanic derivative of the root seen in "Weh" according to Dudens Das Herkunftswörterbuch. "Honigseim", a word previously unknown to me, is a compound of "Honig"+ "Seim" and means literally "honey-think-liquid" or "honey-in-the-comb". Unfortunately the librettist(s) did not find any verb to pun with it with a meaning "to rejoice" or perhaps "to cry" or whatever. In conclusion the pun is rather banal and we are thrown back on the music. Is every Bach cantata replete with supreme and divine music? I think not. Although there are nice items in this cantata as well as in many other cantatas, I believe that we perpetually overdo the greatness of the entire oeuvre here both as to music and as to words most especially.

Bradley Lehman wrote (June 1, 2005):
<>

Thomas Braatz wrote (June 1, 2005):
Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote:
>>I have the following conclusion to share for those who might care to learn of it: We are told that a rather insignificant pun (dare I say a puny pun?) is indicative of some profound textual insight into some mystical understanding with major profundity when what we have is the metaphoric use of "wine" for "joy" for the simply purpose of contrasting it with several German words for "tears" or "cry". This is all very inconsequential in my view. Of course "Tränen" and "Zähren" are etymologically related to one another (and ultimately to English "tears" and Latin "lacrima") but that would not be obvious.<<
Well, 'Zähren' 'tears' and 'lacrimae' are related to each other etym, but 'Träne(n) is not. 'Träne' has no equivalent in modern English (its oldest form is Anglo-Saxon "trahni" and in OHG 'trahan' and Germanic: 'trahnu-.' There is no way to relate 'Träne' etymologically to either 'tear' in English or 'lacrima' in Latin.

>>"Weinen" the verb and "Wein" the noun are of course not related to one another etymologically. "Weinen" is an Old Germanic derivative of the root seen in "Weh" according to Dudens Das Herkunftswörterbuch.<<
That's right!

>>"Honigseim", a word previously unknown to me, is a compound of "Honig"+ "Seim" and means literally "honey-think-liquid" or "honey-in-the-comb". Unfortunately the librettist(s) did not find any verb to pun with it with a meaning "to rejoice" or perhaps "to cry" or whatever.<<
From time to time poets have to take recourse to measures of this type. Some solutions are more successful than others. The important thing is that the text inspired Bach to set it to great music that we still listen to today, even if all the renditions we hear are not equally inspired and perhaps make us wonder about the quality of Bach's compositional skills and his ability to inspire those who listen to his music.

>>In conclusion the pun is rather banal and we are thrown back on the music. Is every Bach cantata replete with supreme and divine music? I think not. Although there are nice items in this cantata as well as in many other cantatas, I believe that we perpetually overdo the greatness of the entire oeuvre here both as to music and as to words most especially.<<
I personally believe that there is still much to be learned from and appreciated in the less familiar works (text and music) by Bach.

Actually, I am beginning to think, upon further research into the matter, that the 'puny pun' suggested by Eric Chafe is, for the most part, unnecessary and rather unimportant since the association between 'Weinen' and 'Wein', not based upon similar sound alone, already existed in the OT (specifically Isaiah) which I will document in my next message after having just discovered it last night. There is no need to read all of this if it bothers you; however, I think you should recognize that others might still find such information as I offer helpful in gaining a better understanding of what it was that inspired Bach to compose such great music that can withstand repeated hearings if properly performed.

Neil Halliday wrote (June 2, 2005):
Suzuki BWV 80;"incongruous" recitatives; and BWV 155.

Continue of discussion from: Massaki Suzuki - Cantatas Vol. 27 [Performers]

Bradley Lehman wrote:
"<...if we're referring to the typical Baroque practice of flexible note-lengths in recitative accompaniment">
But if the "flexible" note lengths are almost always invariably short as is the case in most HIP examples of Bach cantatas, the resulting fragmented, smale-scale form (one vocalist, mostly unaccompanied) is likely to sound incongruous alongside such music as we have heard in the first two movements of Suzuki's BWV 80.

[BTW, can anyone report on Suzuki's method in the 1st part of the 3rd movement (the second part takes the form of arioso, not recitative), and its effect after the preceding movements?].

This week's cantata, BWV 155, is an interesting example. In the 3rd movement, we have a mixing of recitative and arioso forms. Harnoncourt supplies instrumental accompaniment to the arioso 'bits' but not the recitative sections (other than fragmented, widely separated short chords). It is the typically minimalist, fragmented nature of the instrumental accompaniment in the recitative sections that reduces the stature, appropriateness and impact of the music, IMO.

[The person who realised the piano reduction score (available at the BCW) for this movement, must have been thinking along these lines; the impact of the harmonic progression of these chords is considerable].

>Wow! This has got to be the biggest Suzuki I have ever heard!<

John Pike wrote (June 2, 2005):
[To Neil Halliday] I know this is a real issue for you but I have never noticed anything unusual when listening to HIP recordings of these secco recitatives. It was only discussions on this list that made me aware of what was being done. Isn't that what continuo playing is supposed to be like....not drawing attention to itself?

Neil Halliday wrote (June 3, 2005):
John Pike wrote:
<"...I have never noticed anything unusual when listening to HIP recordings of these secco recitatives. It was only discussions on this list that made me aware of what was being done>.
Which indicates that we come to this music with differing expectations; thanks for your point of view.

<"Isn't that what continuo playing is supposed to be like....not drawing attention to itself?">.
Is this a general statement about continuo? The organist indeed draws attention to himself, to the detriment of the music, in the opening movement of BWV 155 in Leusink's recording, IMO.

[But continuo is an important part of the structure of the music; and while I sometimes wish I was not hearing a 'tinkling' continuo harpsichord or bland organ in a complex chorus, the continuo strings certainly need to be powerful enough to support the music's structure].

OTOH, at the other extreme, which is what we are discussing in this thread, with continuo only arias and recitatives, the success or failure of the music rests on the continuo keyboardist's artistry, if one indeed one wishes to hear *engaging* instrumental accompaniment to the vocal line (I suppose this is where we differ).

Admittedly, it seems some people are quite happy to hear a mostly unaccompanied vocalist in 'secco' recitatives; or in the case of continuo only arias, nearly bare cello accompaniment.

I have noted previously the virtual inaudibility of the often striking harmonies indicated by Bach's thoroughbass figures (in both continuo recitatives and arias), and also the often ineffective keyboard realisations, in many recordings. Have a look at the keyboard realisation of the tenor continuo aria of BWV 182 at the BCW, for what I would consider as an effective (piano) accompaniment for this aria. (If a cello was part of the ensemble, it might be best if the the piano did not double the bass (cello) line).

And because of the complete absence of figures in some movements, or their paucity in others, I think a musician is justified in realising the accompaniment in the manner of the BWV 182 example noted above; in many movements thoroughbass figures are infrequently indicated, or have indeed been completely lost or never added to the score.

In the meantime we are stuck with arguments about what Bach actually did, but I find the bare, minimally harmonised music that often results from this approach, to be disappointing.

John Pike wrote (June 3, 2005):
[To Neil Halliday] Thanks for this, Neil. You are obviously far more knowldegeable about this than me. I am going to order the Dreyfus book, Bach's Continuo Group, which Brad recommended, and which I can now get in the UK in paperback for a very reasonable price. In the mean time, the extract from you e mail below, at the end, suggests to me at least that this is very strong evidence for those who say that the indications that Bach does give us are merely rough indications for what should be done, leaving it up to the continuo player to fill in tastefully, rather than a "do this and don't play anything else at all" approach, favoured by some other members of this group.

Bradley Lehman wrote (June 3, 2005):
< (...)<"Isn't that what continuo playing is supposed to be like....not drawing attention to itself?">.
Is this a general statement about continuo? The organist indeed draws attention to himself, to the detriment of the music, in the opening movement of BWV 155 in Leusink's recording, IMO.
(...)
Admittedly, it seems some people are quite happy to hear a mostly unaccompanied vocalist in 'secco' recitatives; or in the case of continuo only arias, nearly bare cello accompaniment.
I have noted previously the virtinaudibility of the often striking harmonies indicated by Bach's thoroughbass figures (in both continuo recitatives and arias), and also the often ineffective keyboard realisations, in many recordings. Have a look at the keyboard realisation of the tenor continuo aria of
BWV 182 at the BCW, for what I would consider as an effective (piano) accompaniment for this aria. (If a cello was part of the ensemble, it might be best if the the piano did not double the bass (cello) line). >
That piano reduction is based on 19th century aesthetics.....

< And because of the complete absence of figures in some movements, or their paucity in others, I think a musician is justified in realising the accompaniment in the manner of the BWV 182 example noted above; in many movements thoroughbass figures are infrequently indicated, or have indeed been completely lost or never added to the score.
In the meantime we are stuck with arguments about what Bach actually did, but I find the bare, minimally harmonised music that often results from this approach, to be disappointing. >
Again, at the risk of being tedious: this is covered thoroughly in the articles that are readily available in libraries:

- Peter Williams, "Basso Continuo on the Organ", Music and Letters #1 [1969], pp136-54 and 230-45
- Peter Williams and David Ledbetter, "Continuo", The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians [2001]

...especially the first one, which goes into more detail than the New Grove article does. And, as I've pointed out before, it's not suitable to extract snippets from this as any representation of the article's contents. The whole package of organ accompaniment must be understood, this comprehensive art of registering and articulating and reading the parts and listening to the singer/acoustics--of all sorts of music, and not only Bach's. How to read recitative, how much to add in continuo arias, how much harmony to fill in within various situations, how to improvise or play a harmonization when there aren't figures, how to accompany congregational singing, how to prelude, etc etc etc. That is the context within which the 18th century sources (duly cited by Williams--an organist himself) make sense as to explaining current practices. Practice, theory, history, it's all a package that demands study and experience in deciding what and how to play.

Thomas Braatz wrote (June 3, 2005):
Bach's recitative realizations [was: Suzuki BWV 80;"incongruous" recitatives; and BWV 155.]

Bradley Lehman wrote:
>>How to read recitative, how much to add in continuo arias, how much harmony to fill in within various situations, how to improvise or play a harmonization when there aren't figures, how to accompany congregational singing, how to prelude, etc etc etc. That is the context within which the 18th century sources (duly cited by Williams--an organist himself) make sense as to explaining current practices. Practice, theory, history, it's all a package that demands study and experience in deciding what and how to play.<<
And what happens when all of this 'package' is treated similarly and indiscriminately allowing trends and fashions of performance practices from different centuries and countries to be mixed in and then dictate what an organist should play (or not play) in a Bach secco recitative when Bach carefully and precisely notates it and provides the figures for the chords to be used.

A few typical examples from HIP Bach cantata recordings of what really happens contrary to Bach's expressed intentions can be found at: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Scores/Continuo4-Sco.htm

These are musicians who have adopted the esoteric doctrine, aptly summarized in Dreyfus' book, that musicians (the continuo group) under Bach did not perform the basso continuo as written but simply stopped playing entirely for many beats and dropped the numerous chord notations that Bach had intentionally added for various reasons. Bach certainly could have applied his available time to other projects, but the fact is evident from almost all of the original sets of parts that there was invariably always one continuo part at least where the figures were supplied personally by Bach after the continuo part had been copied by someone else. Certainly Bach did not need the figured bass part for himself so if Bach's efforts as a master teacher were directed at making his pupils, and possibly even his sons, who may have participated in the cantata performances as continuo players themselves, why would he not want to 'wean them away' from dependence on the figures in the score and give them the chance to learn how to play as they would wish according to all the recommendations allowed to a continuo player when improvising these chords at sight?

Neil Halliday wrote (June 5, 2005):
BWV 155 (was Bach the evangelist)

Continue of discussion from: Bach the Evangelist - Part 2 [General Topics]

Douglas Cowling wrote:
<"I think the solution is to..... actually dicuss the music of J.S. Bach.>
Yes, for example, I think the opening movement of BWV 155 is a vivid musical expression of one believer's sense of wretchedness, desolation, and abandonment before his/her God.

The continuously repeated note in the bass (this rpeated D accounts for the first 3/4 of the whole movement) is representative of the narrator's highly strung mental state, and the dissonant upper string strokes have a 'searing' quality (I like Harnoncourt's strings here) that leaves us in no doubt as to the emotions being experienced by the narrator.

This is a most expressive short movement.

Douglas Cowling wrote (June 5, 2005):
[To Neil Halliday] And I'm sure Bach would have had no qualms about using it in a secular cantata. Remember the snakes in Hercules' cradle became the paths of the Lord in the Christmas Oratario, the exqusitely secular Brandenburg Concertos make guest appearances in the cantata, and even the opening chorus of the St, Mark Passion became an invocation to a dead electress. The "affections" make no disticntion between sacred and profane, a factor which has always bothered the pious.

 

Continue on Part 3

Cantata BWV 155: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

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Last update: ýSeptember 24, 2011 ý10:52:08