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Cantata BWV 156
Ich steh mit einem Fuß im Grabe!
Discussions - Part 2

Continue from Part 1

Discussions in the Week of June 1, 2008

Uri Golomb wrote (May 31, 2008):
Cantata 156: Ich steh mit einem Fuß im Grabe

The cantata for this week is Cantata BWV 156, Ich steh mit einem Fuß im Grabe (I stand with one foot in the grave; http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV156.htm).

In a previous discussion (http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV156-D.htm), Aryeh quoted Crouch's comment: "This cantata probably gets the prize for the most outlandish title from our modern point of view!" And this was even before "One foot in the grave" became the title of a BBC sit-com... It joins a number of works that could be termed "Death-wish cantatas" -- another prominent example is Ich habe genug, BWV 82. Not that the speakers in these cantatas are actually seeking death -- but they welcome it, and the texts speak of (or at least hint at) the futility of earthly life, positing against it the promise of salvation in the afterlife. It too reflects the paradox I noted with reference to Cantata BWV 82, "wherein some of the most life-denying texts led to some of his most life-affirming music" (http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Articles/BWV82-Golomb.htm).

As far as I recall, however, nowhere is the death reference so blatantly displayed in the work's opening line (and hence in its title). For many modern listeners, the title is bound to raise a mixture of guffaws and discomfort. Seeing the full text only partly alleviates the problem: the main message -- of surrendering completely to God's will -- will also sit uncomfortably for Bach's many non-believing admirers (myself included).

The music itself, however, is beautifully lyrical -- without being in any way in contradiction to the text. The cantata opens with a Sinfonia (Mvt. 1) which also appears as the slow movement (Largo) of the keyboard concerto BWV 1056, which in turn also exists in a violin arrangement (among others) purporting to reconstruct a lost original concerto. In the cantata, the solo part is taken by an oboe. It is one of Bach's most beautiful song-like, apparently-simple melodies. The tenor arioso (Mvt. 2) that follows (sung, in Koopman's version [7], by the alto -- the notes do not tell us why) has a similarly understated lyricism. There is nothing here of the morbid associations we might have with the phrase "one foot in the grave" (and certainly no similarity to the cantankerous Victor Melldrew, for those who know the BBC series...). Yet the music beautifully captures the relevant emotion of serene, almost stoic acceptance (it reminds of some passages in Monteverdi's The Coronation of Poppea where Seneca calmly accepts his own impending death: there are no thematic resemblances, but the general character is sometimes quite similar). Aryeh, in his personal note in a previous discussion, heard in it the song of "the dying man [who] has been left with no power or will to really sing". I hear it somewhat differently: the weariness and lack of strength is there, as is the word-painting of the descent into the grave (as Crouch observed) -- but there is also a sense of serenity, even hope, the latter strengthened by the chorale. Obviously, the hope is brighter and more apparent in the subsequent alto aria (Mvt. 4); but it's already suggested, in my view, in the two opening movements.

One further observation. I've been on record here, including this week, as supporting the historical credentials of the one-per-part hypothesis. I stand by this. By this hypothesis, it seems quite clear that the chorale would have been sung here by a soloist, not by a group of sopranos. I don't know enough about the parts for this particular cantata (and I do not have access to the relevant information right now); but it's reasonable to assume that the part was indeed originally assigned to a single singer. However, I must admit that -- as a listener -- I find it beautiful both ways, and even share (slightly) the preference for a group in this particular case.

Later this week, I hope to contribute a few comments on some performances of this cantata, in which case, I'll return to this topic. Meanwhile, I hope there's enough here -- and in the links above -- to start a discussion on this intriguing and beautiful cantata.

Ed Myskowski wrote (May 31, 2008):
BWV 156 introduction

Uri Golomb wrote (quite eloquently!):
>The cantata for this week is Cantata BWV 156, Ich steh mit einem Fuß im Grabe (I stand with one foot in the grave)<
From the other perspective, I still have one foot on the Earth? Is this not the human condition, from near beginning to end, that we are aware of death? Notably so for Bach.

>the title is bound to raise a mixture of guffaws and discomfort.<

Some of us are more aware than others. Especially the Old Dudes. Is this not also the human condition?

Ed Myskowski wrote (May 31, 2008):
OT: Flights of Fancy [was: BWV 156 introduction]

Speaking of the <human condition>, as I was just a moment ago, who is the most important guy in Space?

The guy with the toilet repair parts.

Neil Halliday wrote (June 1, 2008):
Uri Golomb wrote:
>The cantata opens with a Sinfonia (Mvt. 1) which also appears as the slow movement (Largo) of the keyboard concerto BWV 1056, which in turn also exists in a violin arrangement (among others) purporting to reconstruct a lost original concerto. In the cantata, the solo part is taken by an oboe. It is one of Bach's most beautiful song-like, apparently-simple melodies.<
Listening to Rilling's [1] lovely Sinfonia (Mvt. 1), I imagined this music sounding across the land in China after the dust had settled ans the screaming had ceased; the music somehow seemed appropriate (except I almost burst into tears).

Bach knew what he was doing, ofcourse; music uniquely is capable of hinting at a world of safe and secure joy and beauty and peace that is impossible in this world, but might exist beyond creation.

Neil Halliday wrote (June 1, 2008):
Uri Golomb wrote:
>I must admit that -- as a listener -- I find it (the chorale line in BWV 156/2 (Mvt. 2)) beautiful both ways, and even share (slightly) the preference for a group in this particular case.<
The ethereal sound (suggesting a soaring away from the earth) of the soprano group, contrasting with the earthly emotion of tenor solo, is a feature of this movement. (I have only heard Rilling [1] so far, and no OVPP examples; I'll explore the samples later.) Robertson also wants a soprano group on this chorale line.

Something strikes me as odd in the BGA score. BWV 156 is titled "Cantata for alto, tenor, and bass".

Why doesn't the soprano in BWV 156/2 (Mvt. 2) get a mention? Is it because there is no soprano soloist?

[I checked the BGA score of BWV 171 (with large-scale SATB chorus as 1st movement) discussed last week; here no singer-type gets a mention on the title page. In BWV 155 (no chorus), all four types are named on the title page. I don't know if the BGA title pages follow Bach's designations].

Francis Browne wrote (June 1, 2008):
Forget Victor Meldrew (if you know who he is ) or any comical associations evoked by the opening lines of this cantata. It would be a pity to miss music of such subdued, restrained beauty because of what seems an absurd text. With the early death of his parents, his first wife and many of his numerous children Bach was of course well acquainted with death in his own experience and the theme often inspires him to some of his most profound and moving music. But the texts whe set sometimes read strangely to our eyes today. In the attempt to give memorable expression to the commonplace idea of the inevitability of death and to inculcate the Christian response Bach's librettists often strike unconvincingly melodramatic poses and adopt what seems a glib, superficial cheerfulness - all expressed in strained, unconvincing language .

[That there can be strained convincing language about death in German poetry I have been convinced by my recent discovery of Andreas Gryphius' sombre and powerful Gedancken/ Vber den Kirchhoff vnd Ruhestädte der Verstorbenen
http://www.zeno.org/Literatur/M/Gryphius,+Andreas/Gedichte/Vermischte+Gedichte/Gedancken

-it makes most interesting background reading for Bach's cantatas about death.Would Bach have known this poet and this poem?]

Beyond infelicities of style many people in the secular culture of today may have little sympathy with the positive , hopeful attitude to death promoted by such texts. Dylan Thomas ' words :

Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light

perhaps express a common response to our mortality today,and Paul Valery's lapidary stanza in Le Cimitiere Marin summarises the reaction of many to the Christian message :

Maigre immortalité noire et dorée,
Consolatrice affreusement laurée,
Qui de la mort fais un sein maternel,
Le beau mensonge et la pieuse ruse!
Qui ne connaît, et qui ne les refuse,
Ce crâne vide et ce rire éternel!

"A fine lie and a pious trick" - not the most receptive attitude for cantatas like BWV 156 and yet the seeming gap between Bach and his modern audience is more apparent than real.

In his stimulating introduction Uri sees the problem - : "the main message -- of surrendering completely to God's will -- will also sit uncomfortably for Bach's many non-believing admirers (myself included)." and goes some way to suggesting a solution : "The music itself, however, is beautifully lyrical -- without being in any way in contradiction to the text."

Whatever the inadequacies of language Bach's music throughout this cantata -the expressive writing for oboe in the sinfonia (Mvt. 1), the interweaving of chorale and aria in the second movement where each text comments on and illuminates the other, the finely judged alto aria (Mvt. 4) -neither too fainthearted to be convincing , nor yet bumptiously cheerful - and the moving simplicity of the closing chorale - express a mature and courageous attitude to death which compels respect and while you listen commands imaginative assent , no matter what may be your beliefs at other times.

Uri makes a valuable comparison with Monteverdi's music for Seneca's death - as an Englishman I would also put in a word for Purcell's Music for the Funeral of Queen Mary- but perhaps comparison with later composers may help us to appreciate what is valuable in BWV 156. This and other 'death' cantatas of Bach have come to impress me far more than the efforts of other composers which I once found moving and in a way still enjoy : the swirling feverous emotions of Wagner's Liebestod, the death- haunted symphonies of Mahler ( which are also life -affirming), the contrived happy ending of Strauss Tod und Verklarung, even Verdi's dramatisation of death - all of these,despite their considerable merits, seem to miss something that is expressed in Bach's music.

I have listened to the recordings of Leusink [4], Rilling [1] and Gardiner [5] and with a singularly unhelpful lack of discrimination have enjoyed all of them. The single soprano voice of Ruth Holton works well in movement 2 and Buwalda may not be the ideal choice for the second aria but the music still suceeds. Rilling has some beautiful orchestral playing and expressive singing, but I suspect no one will be surprised if I say that it is once again Gardiner's performance [5] which I find most interesting and to which I am most likely to return.

Julian Mincham wrote (June 1, 2008):
As in so many of the cantatas, this one is likely to offer more if it is looked at as a wholistic structure?rather than a collection of different movements strung together.? It is, for example notable, that of the 6 movements, and despite the nature of the text, four are set in major modes; only the 2 bass recits are in the minor. Furthermore the keystone movement, the alto aria (Mvt. 4) with oboe obligato is easily the most joyous of the entire 6. These points in themselves (I suggest)?may well say something about Bach's optimistic view of religion and the passing?from mortal to?afterlife.

The chorale is interestingly structured with its apposition of 2 and 3 bar phrases (2, 4 and 7 are three bars long the rest two) In this case the words fit the tune better than in some other cases, the extended phrases giving point to such key words as Sterben and verderben (to do with death and perishing) almost like the drawn-out last breaths of the dying person.

But it is the second movement (Mvt. 2) which draws attention to itself as being almost like no other in the cannon. On the surface a simple chorale accompanied by strings and tenor (alto?) but from the beginning it is proves to be a movement of great depth? Bach combines violins and violas at the unison (here and elsewhere) when he seeks a darkish doleful sound and the opening idea seems, as is so often the case, to have been derived directly from textual images; the long held string note (standing by the grave?) the descending bass quavers (the body slumping? the lowering into the grave?) and the persistent downward direction of the sequences (from bar 5). Note also the minor-mode harmonies at cadence points, first heard just before the entry of the first voice. I think that Bach deliberately uses the contrasts of major and minor in this way as a metaphor of the compexities of feelings which human have about the process of death. Maybe felt differently in the Cantata BWV 18, but I bet they still Had them!

I well recall my first hearing this movement and wondering what the time signature was. It's impossible to tell from the opening bars, the abstruse rhythm ?having the effect of timelessness at this moment of death. One bears in mind that Bach's congregations would be hearing these works for the first time (even if the cycles were repeated every 4/5 years, the interval in between would render them seeming to be heard for the first time on each occasion) and Bach must have had a clear idea of what he expected his audiences to derive from these works on one hearing.

The association with a popular British sitcom has already been noted. Another (this time Shakespearian) may be found in the last words of the 2nd movement chorale--all's well that ends well!

Douglas Cowling wrote (June 1, 2008):
Julian Mincham wrote:
< But it is the second movement (Mvt. 2) which draws attention to itself as being almost like no other in the cannon. >
This aria (Mvt. 2) is a tour de force. The use of extremely low registers for both the strings and the tenor is arresting: the tenor has to sustain a low C! And as Julian has pointed out, that falling bass line is one of the most audacious rhythmic effects that Bach ever attempted.

The piano/vocal score has "capella" marked over the soprano line. Is that in the original score or is that an editorial opinion that the tutti sopranos should sing it?

Peter Smaill wrote (June 1, 2008):
Two thoughts:

1) Theologically the Cantata is not only a reflection on death, but from a standpoint close to that of the Quietists, a seventeenth century sect led variously and in different phases by Mmes Guyon and Bourignon. The key sentiment is of extreme resignation and a denial that the believer can act in any way to frame his or her salvation. It is a far cry from raging at the night, and as often in Lutheranism, abandonment to, and faithful acceptance of, the divine will is the uppermost concept.This Luther derives at least in part from ideas in general circulation and especially promoted by the medieval mystic Johannes Tauler, whose sermons both he and Bach in their time possessed. Tauler, who stresses the "return to God",was suspected of being an early sort of Quietist, but scholars consider this a misinterpretation of his subtle writings.

2) The origin of the phrase which forms the incipit in BWV 156/2 (Mvt. 2) is quite ancient and not it seems Germanic:

"The phrase "One foot in the grave" is attributed to the 1647 play The Little French Lawyer (act 1, scene 1) written by Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher. Ancient Greek historian/biographer Plutarch (circa 45-125 A.D.) stated in his work On the Training of Children the sentiment "An old doting fool, with one foot already in the grave".

Aryeh Oron wrote (June 2, 2008):
BWV 156 Provenance

Thomas Braatz contributed Provenance page for Cantata BWV 156 discussion.
See: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Ref/BWV156-Ref.htm

Julian Mincham wrote (June 2, 2008):
The piano/vocal score has "capella" marked over the soprano line. Is that in the original score or is that an editorial opinion that the tutti sopranos should sing it?

It's not in the Barenreiter Urtext score so I guess it's some editor's interolation.

Neil Halliday wrote (June 3, 2008):
Julian Minchamwrote:
>Bach must have had a clear idea of what he expected his audiences to derive from these works on one hearing.<
He certainly seems to have expected a lot from his listeners at times.

I was confused by the rhythm at the start of the wonderful Mvt. 2, and then there are two different texts interspersed with one-another line by line.

So off to the score for a cheating look. Once deciphered, the syncopation at the start, though simple enough on paper, is breathtaking and very engaging; it helps to mentally count the beats (1,2,3) to 'feel' the structure of the music at the start. As Julian says, this is a unique work from Bach; I love the impression of romanticism (as in the era) that the piece seems to engender.

An interesting aspect of performance is that Bach apparently wants the tied quavers in the continuo (bars 1 and 2) to be heard as distinct pulses; this is how Harnoncourt plays them, others (eg, Rilling [1] and Leusink [4]) play these as crotchets. But in the corresponding bars 12, 13 and 14 (and later), crotchets are indeed written - which Harnoncourt plays as quaver pulses! In any case, I suspect Harnoncourt's distinct pulses make the rhythm at the start of the piece easier to grasp on first hearing, which may explain why Bach exclusively wrote the notes as tied quavers in bars 1 and 2.

Of greater significance is the choice of either soloist or soprano group for the chorale line. I find the tutti effect on the chorale line (in Rilling [1], the ABS [3], Gardiner [5] and Koopman [7]) to be far more engaging than a solo chorale line (Harnoncourt and Leusink [4]), with the tutti soprano line 'opening up' the proportions of the piece in a wonderful manner.

There is much imitative writing in the unison strings, continuo and tenor line, especially a significant descending scalar 1/16th-note figure, while the unadorned chorale melody soars aloft. Julian also mentioned the appearance of a minor key mitive near the end of the ritornello, which recurs througout the piece, these figures remind me of the MBM (BWV 232) Et Incarnatus Est accompanying violion figures.

Koopman's [7] use of an alto, singing an octave higher in place of the expected tenor, is odd; for one thing, the pleasing contrast in character between the two vocal lines is reduced. Rilling's continuo [1] (among others) has problems discussed on this list previously.

The Sinfonia (Mvt. 1) surely has room for embellishment of the oboe melody - the part as written seems surprisingly plain for Bach - although to some extent the tempo will determine the need or desirabilty of embellishment. Rilling's oboist [1] embellishes the part in a tasteful manner bringing grace and charm to the music; some of the others seem plain in comparison. The detached string chords can sound mechanical if played too uniformly short, as in the ABS perormance [3].

There are amazon samples for all the recordings listed at the BCW.

Now for a closer look at the alto aria (Mvt. 4).

Julian Mincham wrote (June 3, 2008):
Neil Halliday wrote:
< The Sinfonia (Mvt. 1) surely has room for embellishment of the oboe melody - the part as written seems surprisingly plain for Bach - although to some extent the tempo will determine the need or desirabilty of embellishment. >
this point occured to me too and I wondered if it indicated that Bach had taken his model from the original violin version of this concerto thought to have been the basis of the harsichord concerto we all know. For one thing the violin's sustained notes (like the oboe's) require less embellishment than does the sound of the harspichord which falls away. The ending is different from the harpsichord version as well.

Although it may be that listeners used to the highly decorated harpsichord line may simply find this version a little bare by comparison.

But I'd put my money on the lost violin version being the direct model in this case.

Neil Halliday wrote (June 3, 2008):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
>The piano/vocal score has "capella" marked over the soprano line. Is that in the original score or is that an editorial opinion that the tutti sopranos should sing it?<
No mention of tutti on the soprano (chorale) line in the BGA either, but (as already mentioned) the soprano(s) don't even get a mention on the title page.

On the subject of soprano chorale, what is the meaning of "Soprano ripieno" on the chorale line (stave) of the opening chorus of the SMP (BWV 244)?

How can this chorale line be a "soprano ripieno" line when we already have two different parts for non-ripieno sopranos (assuming OVPP) in Coro I and Coro II, unless there were two or more of them?

Douglas Cowling wrote (June 3, 2008):
Neil Halliday wrote:
< On the subject of soprano chorale, what is the meaning of "Soprano ripieno" on the chorale line (stave) of the opening chorus of the SMP (BWV 244)?
How can this chorale line be a "soprano ripieno" line when we already have two different parts for non-ripieno sopranos (assuming OVPP) in Coro I and Coro II, unless there were two or more of them? >
For the SMP (BWV 244), Bach had the two choirs, Coro1 and Coro 2, in the choir loft. A third "choir" of a boy/boys who sang the chorale from the so-called Swallow's Nest gallery over the chancel arch. They only sang the opening chorus and "O Mensch Bewein" at the end of Part 1. Wolff has a very poetic analysis of the puprose and effect of this third choir.

In modern non-HIP performances, the ripieno choir is almost always performed by what commentators call Bach's "boys' choir," often a large children's choir who also sing all of the chorales.

Neil Halliday wrote (June 4, 2008):
Steven Rickards of the ABS [3] has possibly the most attractive voice of the countertenors in the alto aria (but do I detect some pitch inaccuracy in the first melisma on "gefallen"?).

However, I like the livelier tempo of Gardiner [5] and Leusink [4] for a light-hearted effect in this tuneful alto aria beginning with a canon at the unison (oboe leading the violins). Rilling's alto [1] is satisfactory but perhaps the least enjoyable of the recordings because of the type of vibrato.

In Mvt. 2, Equiluz with both Rilling [1] and Harnoncourt [2] is hard to beat. I don't think the timbre of the boy soprano (with Harnoncourt) on the chorale line is ideal.

All of the recordings will most likely please most listeners, allowing for the usual deficiencies.

Neil Halliday wrote (June 5, 2008):
Ripieno CM lines (was: Cantata 156)

Douglas Cowling wrote:
>For the SMP (BWV 244), Bach had the two choirs, Coro1 and Coro 2, in the choir loft. A third "choir" of a boy/boys who sang the chorale from the so-called Swallow's Nest gallery over the chancel arch. They only sang the opening chorus and "O Mensch Bewein" at the end of Part 1.<
You mention "boy/boys", but doesn't the specific designation 'Soprano ripieno' on the chorale line above Coro I and Coro II (BGA) mean boys plural?

The idea of one boy singing the final chorale line (in bars 76-79 inclusive) over the entire massed forces of Coro 1 and Coro II (at a minimum 34 musicians) in the climatic final bars of the opening chorus seems problematic.

<and "O Mensch Bewein" at the end of Part 1.>
This is something I was not aware of. The BGA makes no mention of ripieno sopranos in "O Mensch Bewein", simply showing that both Coro I and Coro II sing/play the SATB chorus, in which the soprano line happens to be an (often decorated) CM. This differs from the opening chorus in which the CM line is in addition to the two SATB choruses/ensembles. However, it would certainly make sense to have extra singers on the soprano line, since it is a CM.

Neil Halliday wrote (June 5, 2008):
Neil Halliday wrote:
>This differs from the opening chorus in which the CM line is in addition to the two SATB choruses/ensembles. However, it would certainly make sense to have extra singers on the soprano line, since
it is a CM.<
That is - extra singers on the soprano line in "O Mensch Bewein".

Douglas Cowling wrote (June 5, 2008):
[To Neil Halliday] I'm using the Eulenberg full score which has a separate line marked "soprano in ripeieno" in the opening chorus, and has the marking of "Soprano e Soprano in ripieno" over the only soprano line in "O Mensch Bewein". I understood that the "Soprano in ripieno" part only included those two movements. Is this correct?

Neil Halliday wrote (June 5, 2008):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
>and has the marking of "Soprano e Soprano in ripieno" over the only soprano line in "O Mensch Bewein".<
Interesting; I take it the "e" means "and"; in any case the Eulenberg and the BGA obviously differ on this point. (I'm assuming the Eulenberg like thw BGA shows Coro I and Coro II for "O Mensch Bewein").

>I understood that the "Soprano in ripieno" part only included those two movements. Is this correct?<
I think the BGA, for the entire SMP (BWV 244), has "Soprano ripieno" on the CM in the opening chorus only, but I'll have to check.

Neil Halliday wrote (June 5, 2008):
I have just read the previous discussion about this cantata: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV156-D.htm

Two points:
1. I like Simon Crouch's imaginative description of the (syncopated) continuo notes at the beginning of BWV 156/2 (Mvt. 2): "A descending figure representing the descent into the grave!"

This is especially true of those performances that treat the tied quavers in the continuo as crotchets. (Harnoncourt's [2] articulation of the individual quavers would suggest a rather jerky descent into the grave!).

2. The BCW lists a boy soprano, namely Cristoph Wegmann + Choir (in the aria with chorale) in Harnoncourt's version [2]. Listening to the amazon sample, I was sure there was only a single boy on the chorale line; this is certainly not the sound I would expect from "choir sopranos", such as can be heard in the other recordings (apart from Leusink [4]).

Ed Myskowski wrote (June 7, 2008):
BWV 156 introduction [was: BWV 131]

Thérèse Hanquet wrote, in response to Russel Telfer:
>>Maybe one of the more obvious example (for me) of Bach's optimism in the front of the prospect of death is the chorus in the middle of BWV 106, where the three lower voices sing "Es ist der alte Bund: Mensch, du musst sterben"
("This is the ancient law: Man, you must die") in long notes, while the soprano voice sings her ornamented and tender melody: "Ja, komm, Herr Jesu, komm" ("Yes, come, Lord Jesus, come").
When we performed
BWV 106, the choir sung the lower parts and the solist soprano the upper part. This gave a really striking contrast. In such case I feel that OVPP "loses" something(although I find the version of this cantata by the Ricercar Consort wonderful).<<
RT:
>BWV 131 is not completely on its own: BWV 106 for example shares some of thesame characteristics: the tone, the sentiment of BWV 131 has an integrity, continuity and power that few other music works convey: there is something elemental that cannot easily be explained.<
EM:
I previously wrote, without a lot of consideration, that perhaps the use of sinfonias in the later cantatas, including BWV 156, was Bach <going back to his roots>. I listened to BWV 131 and BWV 156 earlier today, and I think the idea is worth further considration.

I find that the setting of Biblical texts in both BWV 106 and BWV 131 contibutes to the elemental power, as does the older style, without recitatives.

I cannot say it too often, it is a wonderful addition to BCML to have posts from folks who have performed these works. Thanks to you both.

Thérèse Hanquet wrote (June 7, 2008):
Uri Golomb wrote:
< The cantata for this week is Cantata 156, Ich steh mit einem Fuß im Grabe (I stand with one foot in the grave; http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV156.htm). In a previous discussion (http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV156-D.htm), Aryeh quoted Crouch's comment: "This cantata probably gets the prize for the most outlandish title from our modern point of view!" And this was even before "One foot in the grave" became the title of a BBC sit-com... >
The title of this cantata reminds me of Heinrich Schütz's "Musikalische Exequien", a work I find very impressive and beautiful.

It was written for the funeral of a lord who was named Posthumus (a predestinate name...), who died in 1635. A part is a motet based on Simeon's canticle, and one movement titled "Selig sind die Toten" ("Happy are the dead") was meant to be sung by three solisten standing in the grave where Posthumus was about to be buried.

But if death was present in Bach's life, what should we say about Schütz? The liner notes of my recording (Herreweghe) indicate that 8 years before his birth, one third of the inhabitants of his city were taken away by the plague. When he was 4, in one single day 133 women were burnt as sorceresses in a convent near his town. He lived through the whole Thirty Years' War which ruined many German regions (some lost half their population). Additionnally, Schütz lost in the space of a few years his parents, his young wife, his only brother and his two little daughters.

You can indeed feel some melancoly in most of his works, but there are also joyous works, such as the Weihnachts-Historie (C' Story), generally considered as his master piece and which he wrote at the age of 79.

Ed Myskowski wrote (June 9, 2008):
I had thought to post a few words re recordings of BWV 156, especially Stephen Rickards, counter tenor with the American Bach Soloists. I am awaiting the Koopman version [7], with Bogna Bartosz, for comparison. Thanks for purchasing hints, which is why it is on the way.

While getting the disc (ABS [3]) on, and checking texts, I recognized the connection between BWV 156/2 (Mvt. 2) <I have already set my house in order>, and BWV 106/2c <Bestelle dein Haus (Put your house in order)>. Both translations from Dürr, as to <Bestelle>, put or set.

The message is the same, in any case, not so much reliant on Jesus to take charge, as on the individual to be self-responsible. From early to late, Bach is Biblical? Just a thought.

I am determined to say something postive about Buwalda in his alto arias, or nothing at all. Rickards is my choice, with ABS [3]. I eagerly await Bogna Bartosz with Koopman [7].

From the past, thanks to Eric Bergerud, who first (to me) pointed out the female alto arias in the Koopman series. Not to everyones preference, but an important detail to be aware of, depending on personal taste.

I leave you with a thought from BWV 39/2, neither Biblical nor Gospel, simply a text that Bach set (Dürr translation):

<Mercy that rests on ones neighbor
Can, more than all gifts, go straight to His [capital H] heart.>

John Pike wrote (June 9, 2008):
Thérèse Hanquet wrote:
< The title of this cantata reminds me of Heinrich Schütz's "Musikalische Exequien", a work I find very impressive and beautiful. >
Many thanks indeed for this thoughtful, informative and moving e mail. I certainly feel I want to get to know this work after reading your e mail.

Gardiner and the Monteverdi Choir have performed it recently and I saw on one of their flyers how highly Gardiner rates this piece.

I will also take this opportunity to say how much I am enjoying Uri's weekly introductions to the cantatas. Following, as he did, a large number of excellent predecessors in this post, he too has excelled.

James Atkins Pritchard wrote (June 10, 2008):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
< I leave you with a thought from BWV 39/2, neither Biblical nor Gospel, simply a text that Bach set (Dürr translation):
<Mercy that rests on ones neighbor
Can, more than all gifts, go straight to His [capital H] heart.> >
I've been thinking about your final comment about the second movement of BWV 39. It's true that the text you cite is not a direct biblical quotation, but surely the intention is that the hearer should think of the injunction in
the Gospel According to St Matthew to "love thy neighbour as thyself' (22:39); it's not as though the poet (perhaps Christophe Helm) would have been looking to express a private opinion. With regard to capitalization I'm fairly sure that Herze is capitalized just because it's a noun; the capitalization of the the pronoun "His" in some translations does not appear to me to have any basis in the German.

James Atkins Pritchard wrote (June 10, 2008):
One other point occurs to me in relation to my earlier comments about Matthew 22:39--it's fairly clear that the last verse of the Epistle for Trinity I refers to this text: www.bach-cantatas.com/Read/Trinity1.htm

I'm not sure at what point in the service exactly BWV 39 would have been sung (Doug?) but I'm guessing that the hearers of the Cantata would have just heard this Epistle read. It concludes:

*"And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also."

*The recitative ends:

*"But mercy which is to one's neighbor shown
Can more than any gift be to his heart compelling." *(Ambrose)

Douglas Cowling wrote (June 10, 2008):
James Atkins Pritchard wrote:
< I'm not sure at what point in the service exactly BWV 39 would have been sung (Doug?) but I'm guessing that the hearers of the Cantata would have just heard this Epistle read. >
The Epistle and Gospel were chanted then a chorale was sung. The cantata and sermon followed, the latter two being interpretations of the scriptural readings.

James Atkins Pritchard wrote (June 10, 2008):
[To Douglas Cowling] Thanks, Doug.

Ed Myskowski wrote (June 10, 2008):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
>The Epistle and Gospel were chanted then a chorale was sung. The cantata and sermon followed, the latter two being interpretations of the scriptural readings.<
I heard John Butt on a radio interview this past winter, to the same effect (paraphrase):

Butt: The cantata provides an exposition of the scriptural readings for the day.
WPRB interviewer: Is that always the case?
Butt: Always.

In fact, I think it would be an interesting sub-topic, on a comparison of cantatas for a particular liturgical occasion, to compare how closely (or not) the cantata texts relate to the scriptureal readings. I believe Dürr finds the relation thin, at best, in some instances, although I did not check any details at the moment. I did find Butts final response rather dogmatic; I believe I understood correctly.

Douglas Cowling wrote (June 10, 2008):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
< In fact, I think it would be an interesting sub-topic, on a comparison of cantatas for a particular liturgical occasion, to compare how closely (or not) the cantata texts relate to the scriptureal readings. I believe Dürr finds the relation thin, at best, in some instances, although I did not check any details at the moment. I did find Butts final response rather dogmatic; I believe I understood correctly. >
This is why I believe the next cycle of discussions should be by Sunday, for example that we would consider the three cantatas written for the First Sunday of Advent for three weeks and then move on to Advent 2. Bach's various perspectives on the scriptural texts is fascinating.

James Atkins Pritchard wrote (June 10, 2008):
[To Douglas Cowling] I also think that this would be an extremely fruitful approach.

Ed Myskowski wrote (June 11, 2008):
BWV 156 (correction) and BWV 159

I previously wrote (Re: BWV 156, June 9):

Doug wrote:
>>The Epistle and Gospel were chanted then a chorale was sung. The cantata and sermon followed, the latter two being interpretations of the scriptural readings.<<
EM
>I heard John Butt on a radio interview this past winter, to the same effect (paraphrase):<

EM (June 11, correction)
In fact, I believe the guest was Robin Leaver, rather than John Butt, which does not affect my underlying point. To be on the safe side, keep it impersonal, and replace my previous comments with:

EM (rewrite of June 9)
<Guest: The cantata provides an exposition of the scriptural readings for the day.
WPRB interviewer: Is that always the case?
Guest: Always.> (end quote)

In fact, I think it would be an interesting sub-topic, on a comparison of cantatas for a particular liturgical occasion, to compare how closely (or not) the cantata texts relate to the scriptureal readings. I believe Dürr finds the relation thin, at best, in some instances, although I did not check any details at the moment. I did find the guests final response rather dogmatic; I believe I understood correctly.

EM (new, June 11)
Coincidentally, this weeks canata, BWV 159, provides an ideal opportunity for those impatiently awaiting the opportunity for such comparisons. There are three other works available for Quinquagesima (Sunday before Lent), including Bach's two trial pieces for Leipzig, BWV 22 and BWV 23. Note that the Gardiner recording series, and Dürr's text, are organized by liturgical event. For a modest investment, the basic materials (performances, texts, and existing schol) are readily available and sorted. All that is lacking is the motivation and effort.

Also note that, as often emphasized, such a comparison is perfectly in compliance with existing BCML guidelines, at any time, with the stipulations concisely elaborated by Julian, and endorsed by the moderator.

 

Continue on Part 3

Cantata BWV 156: Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

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

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