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Cantata BWV 159
Sehet! wir gehn hinauf gen Jerusalem
Discussions - Part 3

Continue from Part 2

Discussions in the Week of May 9, 2010

David Jones wrote (May 10, 2010):
Sehet! wir gehn hinauf gen Jerusalem

Today's cantata is

Sehet! wir gehn hinauf gen Jerusalem

Solo Cantata for Quinquagesima Sunday [Estomihi]
Readings: Epistle: 1 Corinthians 13: 1-13; Gospel: Luke 18: 31-43

Leipzig, 1729
1st performance: February 29, 1729 - Leipzig

TEXT: Luke 18: 31 (Mvt. 1); Paul Gerhardt (Mvt. 2); Paul Stockmann (Mvt. 5); Christian Friedrich Henrici (Picander) (Mvts. 1, 3, 4)

Soloists: Alto, Tenor, Bass; Four-part chorus (for the final chorale)
Orchestra: oboe, 2 violins, viola, continuo (+ bassoon)
Mvt. 1: Arioso & Recitative | Mvt. 2: Aria w/ Chorale | Mvt. 3: Recitative | Mvt. 4: Aria | Mvt. 5: Chorale

As always, my preference is for Gardiner's [8] plangent, wildly colorful, yet disciplined interpretations. The opening arioso of this cantata is one of my favorites; the dramatic interruption of the words of the Vox Christi by the terrified, worried Christian soul, who, of course, is mystically taking part in (and knows the end of) Christ's crucifixion journey is a stroke of theatrical genius that I am sure made Bach's pedantic overlords bristle.

Neil Halliday wrote (May 11, 2010):
David Jones wrote:
>As always, my preference is for Gardiner's [8] plangent, wildly colorful, yet disciplined interpretations.<
It's interesting that only Gardiner, among more recent performers of the sublime bass aria (Mvt. 4), has taken to heart Voigt's century-old recommendation that the tempo should be read as 'adagio', even though there is no tempo indication in the score. [However, as Thomas Braatz has indicated, the original score and parts are lost, so a tempo indication - most likely a slow tempo - may well have originally existed].

Not surprisingly, I find Gardiner's recording [8] of this movement to be one of the most affecting. Gardiner shows that even the the tempo of the central section ("now will I hasten") need not be changed. The impression is of a timeless, "romantic" rendition, with superb singing and playing.

(I downloaded the mp3 from the site mentioned last week (for BWV 127), at next to no cost).

-----

>The opening arioso of this cantata is one of my favorites; the dramatic interruption of the words of the Vox Christi by the terrified, worried Christian soul, who, of course, is mystically taking part in (and knows the end of) Christ's crucifixion journey is a stroke of theatrical genius<
Yes; in BWV 22 the words "See, we go up to Jerusalem" are sung by the Vox Christi without interruption (but with repetitions of individual words), whereas here the phrase is dramatically broken up as you describe.

(The terrified cry of the soul - glimpsing sight of the Cross being made ready - "Don't go to Jerusalem!" - reminded of the warning of Caesar's wife; but ofcourse the soul recognises that unless Jesus goes to his crucifixion in Jerusalem we are all, for our sins, condemned to Hell.

The brutal realism of the text is remarkable (if not uncommon): "bleed to death", "scourges and rods", and in the following aria, "spitting and scorn". Repetition of text is also a feature of this S,A aria; eg, the words "On the Cross will I yet embrace You" are repeated six times by the alto, during and in between chorale phrases from the soprano(s).

The bass aria is certainly received as balmy relief from the drama of the preceding movements.

Douglas Cowling wrote (May 11, 2010):
Neil Halliday wrote:
<< The opening arioso of this cantata is one of my favorites; the dramatic interruption of the words of the Vox Christi by the terrified, worried Christian soul, who, of course, is mystically taking part in (and knows the end of) Christ's crucifixion journey is a stroke of theatrical genius >>
< Yes; in
BWV 22 the words "See, we go up to Jerusalem" are sung by the Vox Christi without interruption (but with repetitions of individual words), whereas here the phrase is dramatically broken up as you describe. >
Has anyone speculated on the "ex abrupto" opening of this cantata? Could Bach have prefaced the cantata with an organ work or instrumental movement? The concerto movement which opens "Am Abend Aber" BWV 42 comes to mind. The bass arioso here feels like a second movement.

William Hoffman wrote (May 11, 2010):
Cantata 159: Sinfonia?

Doug Cowling wrote:
< Has anyone speculated on the "ex abrupto" opening of this cantata? Could Bach have prefaced the cantata with an organ work or instrumental movement? The concerto movement which opens "Am Abend Aber" BWV 42 comes to mind. The bass arioso here feels like a second movement. >
William Hoffman replies: Thank you. You are on the right track. The other two church cantatas that survive during this period in the Picander Cycle both have opening sinfonias borrowed from concerti.

BWV 156/1 - Ich steh' mit einem Fuss im Grabe; Eph. Sun. +3 1729; ob, str, bc (=1056/2)

BWV 174/1 - Ich liebe den Höchsten; Pen., 1729; 2hn, 2ob, obd’c, str. Bc(+bn) (=1048/1)

Thomas Braatz in BWV 159 Provenance points out that the only surviving materials, the Penzel 1770 score copied from Friedemann, lacks the bass solo (Mvt. 4) and a recitative.

Thus, collateral evidence suggests that Bach may have composed cantatas for these Sundays not only to fill needs in his well-ordered church music but to utilize previously-composed instrumental movements as sinfonias. Remember, at this time, Bach was in the process of taking charge of the Collegium musicum and wanted to show his orchestral abilities from his personal library. As to the exact source of a possible BWV 159 sinfonia, it could be one of the concerti movements from BWV 1040-1065.

Paul wrote (May 11, 2010):
[To William Hoffman] I love cantatas. but we now have a Tory government. Fuck.

Ehud Shiloni wrote (May 11, 2010):
[To , Douglas Cowling] My non-professional impression is the exact opposite: I feel that this remarkable "abrupt" opening has a poignant, highly emotional effect on the listener [or, at least, on this one]. Intentional or not - I wish we had more of the kind in Bach's music.

Julian Mincham wrote (May 11, 2010):
[To Ehud Shiloni] I agree with you. I think it was a calculated beginning--and as such, not unique.

Evan Cortens wrote (May 11, 2010):
[To Julian Mincham] It is perhaps worth noting that both of Bach's first two cantatas for Cantate (Easter 4) begin with solo bass ariosos. I do agree with Doug that this sort of beginning (as opposed to the standard choral biblical dictum) is atypical.

Julian Mincham wrote (May 12, 2010):
[To Evan Cortens] Atypical in what sense? for this particular day of the year? Beginning with a choral motet like fugue? Having the fugue subject underpinned by the continuo line? Harmonising the first two notes of the fugue subject? Possibly the last but it seems a rather minor point considering the range of ways in which Bach presented fugal subjects.

William Rowland (Ludwig) wrote (May 12, 2010):
[To Paul] Many of us who compose have arranged these Sinfonia and Concertante movements into true Concerti for Organ. We do not claim that we wrote the works but give full credit to the true composer.

Paul wrote (May 12, 2010):
<>

Evan Cortens wrote (May 12, 2010):
[To Julian Mincham] Apologies, I wrote my previous email in haste, I shave been clearer. What I meant to say was merely that it's considerably less common for Bach to begin a cantata with a movement for solo voice instead of for chorus. While on that point, I had BWV 166 and BWV 108, for 1724 and 1725 respectively, in my ear: both begin with solo bass ariosos (I know they're technically marked 'aria', but they're arioso-like in character) using even the same text, a quote from the Gospel for the day.

A quick search of Bach cantata movements shows that the four most common first movement types are as follows:
Chorus: roughly 60%
Aria: roughly 20%
Sinfonia: roughly 8%
Recit: roughly 6%

This data is hardly scientific, it's just a quick look. Furthermore, it's across all cantatas; I'd guess that if I were to limit it to Leipzig, things would change. As you can see, by atypical, I didn't mean to suggest "unheard of", rather "less common".

Apologies for my haste!

Ed Myskowski wrote (May 12, 2010):
[To Ludwig] Some of you who for whom English is a second (or less) language might wonder what is meant by the phrase (from the Latin) non sequitur, roughly translated does not follow.

The exchange cited above is a perfect example.

I recently had some banter off-list, re the British slang words wanker and tosser. In the course of that, it came about that fuck has been reduced to the status of a mild expletive in UK (not quite yet in USA, but going in that direction).

Bloody Hell, there goes civilization, as we used to know it. OTOH, my spouse, of Spanish heritage, still has the habit (fifty years later) of casual use of cono (with squigle over the n).

Ed Myskowski wrote (May 12, 2010):
Evan Cortens wrote:
< While on that point, I had BWV 166 and BWV 108, for 1724 and 1725 respectively, in my ear: both begin with solo bass ariosos (I know they're technically marked 'aria', but they're arioso-like in character) using even the same text, a quote from the Gospel for the day. >
Note also BWV 85, for 2nd Sunday after Easter, 1725. Perhaps there is theologic intent, to emphasize the voice of the resurrected Jesus, at the outset?

Perhaps the option is left open for organ improvization by Bach, to introduce the cantata?

Julian Mincham wrote (May 12, 2010):
[To Evan Cortens] Thanks for the clarification.

I think I would differ with you only to a degree in that, although it is certainly true that Bach opens cantatas with a chorus more often than with a solo voice (for example, of the 53 cantatas of the second cycle 46 open with a chorus and only 5 with the solo voice---3 for bass, BWV 85, BWV 87 and BWV 108 and two recitatives---BWV 183 and BWV 175) in the whole repetoire there are still quite a few that begin with solo voice--there are about a dozen solo cantatas for a start.

What i was really wondering about was the 'missing sinfonia theory' (was that Doug's)? It is pretty rare to find Bach placing a chorus directly after a sinfonia---in fact after the second cycle a quick trawl only came up with BWV 146 in which bach took the paired first and second movements from the D minor keyboard concerto--now that IS atypical. If you look at BWV 35, BWV 169, BWV 49, BWV 52, BWV 156, BWV 174, BWV 188, BWV 248/2 a recit or aria always follows the opening sinfonia. What I am suggesting is that it is ususual if not completely unique to find Bach using this movement pattern and the likelihood of a missing sinfonia is pretty low (BWV 42 from the second cycle is the only one to begin with an extended sinfonia and that is followed by a recitative--the opening bars of BWV 4 act more as a short introduction to the opening chorus that a free-standing sinfonia in its own right).

There are a few more examples from the first cycyle although here the sinfonias which are followed by choruses tend to be atmospheric, oboe-solo + string movements--examples may be found in BWV 21 and BWV 12.

My conclusion is that there is no strong evidence to suppose the existance of a missing sinfonia--but no one would be more delighted that me if it suddenly turned up!

Peter Smaill wrote (May 12, 2010):
Sinfonia Cantata BWV 156

[To William Hoffman] According to the Telemann expert Steven Zohn, the Sinfonia for BWV 156 (of 1729) (slow movement of F m keyboard concerto) is actually a transcription by Bach of a Telemann concerto movement (this was discussed at the American Bach Society in Madison last week).

The wider thesis, by Peter Wollny, is that the fourth "Picander" cycle may have involved a Cantata exchange programme in which Bach interspersed his own works with settings by other composers. This interesting angle is suggested by the identification that a Passion by Stoelzel was performed at Leipzig in 1734. Fasch, whose Zerbst library had many guest works, called for sharing of cantatas. Likewise, at Halle when W F Bach became Cantor, there were cantatas from many composers in use........

........except, notably, at both Zerbst and Halle - no works at all were listed by any of the Bach family in the libraries.

The conclusion is unclear. Bach may have participated but insisted that parts and scores borrowed from him were returned; or simply received works (as with the Johann Ludwig Bach cantatas ) on a one-way basis; in which case the non-Bach works have simply been lost from Leipzig at some point.

Julian Mincham wrote (May 12, 2010):
[To Peter Smaill, regarding BWV 156] Presumably this theory just applies to the slow movement of that concerto? The outer movements don't sound like Telemann to me.

It is interesting that the version of this movement used in the cantata is much less embellished than that in the concerto implying that it was taken from an original for a sustained melodic instrument such as violin or oboe. Also the ending is different; in the concerto Bach manipulates it to end on a chord of C the dominant of F minor, that of the outer movements.

Evan Cortens wrote (May 12, 2010):
[To Ed Myskowski] In Bach's first year in Leipzig, on autograph score for BWV 61 (Nun komm der Heiden Heiland (2)), he wrote out the full order of the service for Advent 1. (Published in NBR, document 113, and Bach-Dokumente I, no. 178.) It's interesting to note that the item referring to the performance of the cantata is simply "9) Preluding on the principal music."

All this to say, I think it was Bach's standard practice (if this order can be taken as typical) for him to improvise (i.e. prelude), if briefly, to introduce the the cantata (the "Hauptmusik".)

Evan Cortens wrote (May 12, 2010):
[To Peter Smaill, regarding BWV 156] This is fascinating stuff! Were you in Madison last week? I regret that I couldn't make it, but I'm sure the list would love a run down!

Douglas Cowling wrote (May 12, 2010):
Evan Cortens wrote:
< All this to say, I think it was Bach's standard practice (if this order can be taken as typical) for him to improvise (i.e. prelude), if briefly, to introduce the the cantata (the "Hauptmusik".) >
It would appear that many of the organ chorale preludes were used for that purpose. The brevity of the preludes in Orgelbüchlein points to their use as"intonations." McCreesh and Leaver even suggest that the instruments tuned during these preludes! A prelude, either through-composed or improvised, would be a practical necessity in "ex abrupto" cantatas such as "Gott ist mein König" (BWV 71), "Nun ist das Heil" (BWV 50), and "Ein Feste Burg." (BWV 80)

To get back to this cantata, there may be a symbolic structure of the cantata "following" the words of the bass (Jesus) singing the biblical dictum. My original question about the opening of this cantata was prompted by my surprise at how quickly the bass begins to sing such beautifully expressive music. In other cantatas which begin with a bass/Christ solo, I remember that the orchestra prepares the entry of the voice with a ritornello or a bit of harmonic context. Is there another cantata which begins with such a spare unelaborated introduction to the solo voice? Here it's one beat and you're in.

Lex Schelvis wrote (May 12, 2010):
Is there another cantata which begins with such a spare unelaborated introduction to the solo voice? Here it's one beat and you're in.

Not with a bass, but:
BWV 155
BWV 134
BWV 173
BWV 175
BWV 199

BWV 158, but the first movements might be lost.

It seems normal when the cantata starts with a recitative, that the introduction before the solo voice is unelaborated. But I might have missed your point.

Douglas Cowling wrote (May 12, 2010):
Lex Schelvis wrote:
< It seems normal when the cantata starts with a recitative, that the introduction before the solo voice is unelaborated. But I might have missed your point. >
Thanks for your list. It's very interesting to notice the similarity of those recitatives to the opening of this cantata. As always, I wonder if there are specific chorale-preludes which could be connected to the cantata as a prelude. Or imagine Bach improvising on the Passion Chorale which appears in the second movement or "Jesu deine Passion" which closes the cantata.

The closing chorale uses a very familiar text set in a key which is very singable for congregations. Is this Sing-Along Bach by design?

Julian Mincham wrote (May 13, 2010):
My apologies!

Burdened with overseas visitors and various commitments I carelessly misread this week's cantata as Sehet, welch eine Liebe BWV 64 instead of BWV 159. Consequently my comments about choruses following, or nor following sinfonias must have confusing--if indeed anyone read them which is questionable as noone seemed to pick up on the silly error. I only picked it up when the discussion concentrated upon a solo voice opening.

Actually there are quite a few cantatas that also begin with a solo voice (when you combine the five i already mentioned from the second cycle, a number which begin with recitatives in the first cycle and the solo and dialoque cantatas) although, admittedly more usually with an instrumental introduction or ritornello.

Anyhow sorry for the confusion. If anyone wants to read what I have writte in a more considered context on either of theses cantatas the essays are readily available through my website.

Julian Mincham wrote (May 13, 2010):
[To : Lex Schelvis] Also BWV 183. And BWV 185 begins with a duet with the soprano entering in the second bar.

Bach also begins choruses from time to time quite abruptly--BWV 176 being one example.

Ed Myskowski wrote (May 13, 2010):
Julian Mincham wrote:
< Burdened with overseas visitors and various commitments I carelessly misread this week's cantata as Sehet, welch eine Liebe BWV 64 instead of BWV 159. Consequently my comments about choruses following, or nor following sinfonias must have confusing >
I did notice something was amiss, but did not take the trouble to try to figure out exactly what. Thnaks for the explanation.

 

Cantata BWV 159: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

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