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

Cantata BWV 161
Komm, du süße Todesstunde
Discussions - Part 2

Continue from Part 1

Discussions in the Week of June 5, 2005

Peter Bright wrote (June 5, 2005):
Introduction: BWV 161

The cantata for discussion this week (June 6 – June 12) is:

Cantata BWV 161
Komm, du süße Todesstunde
(‘Come, sweet hour of death’)

Written for the 16th Sunday after Trinity, composed in Weimar to a text Salomo Franck. It was probably first performed on 27 September 1716 (and later revised in Leipzig – around 1735).

Link to texts, commentary, vocal score, music examples, and list of known recordings: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV161.htm

Link to previous discussions: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV161-D.htm

It is possible to hear two versions of the complete cantata on the internet (Harnoncourt from 1986 [10], and Leusink, from 1999 [14]). See: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Mus/BWV161-Mus.htm

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

1) Crist, S. A. In Boyd, M. (1999) Oxford Composer Companions: J.S. Bach, pp.256-257. Oxford University Press: Oxford2) Isoyama, T. (1997). CD notes: Bach Cantatas Volume 5, Suzuki/Bach Collegium Japan, BIS [13].

1) [...] The differences between the Weimar and Leipzig versions are most pronounced in the opening alto aria. Whereas the Weimar draft features a pair of recorders ('quiet' instruments, often used in works with texts about death), in Leipzig it was recast for transverse flutes and violins. In the earlier version, the alto sings an aria text in the normal manner while a chorale melody is played by the organ, one phrase at a time (such movements, known as 'chorale arias', are found in several Weimar cantatas). In the later version the chorale is assigned to a soprano, transforming the movement from a vocal solo into a duet and introducing the additional complication of a second text.

The comparison between the sweetness of death and honey from the lion's mouth is an allusion to the strange story of Samson's marriage, in which the carcass of a lion provides food for Samson and his parents (Judg. 14). The plea for death to come quickly—so foreign to modern sensibilities—is not to be understood as a morbid 'death wish', because it is undergirded with the firm belief that passing from life to death makes it possible to 'kiss' the Saviour in heaven.

The next two movements develop this theme further and make it clear that the believer's desire is not for death itself but rather for the glory of being with Christ. In the tenor recitative (movement 2), the world is portrayed as a place of deception: its pleasure ('Lust') turns out to be a burden ('Last'); its sugar is actually poison; what seems to be a joyful light is really a portentous comet; and even beautiful roses bring forth thorns that torment the soul. The 'soul's agony' is intensified by chromaticism on the words 'Seelen Qual'. Similarly, the decadence of 'pale death' ('blasse Tod') is captured by an arresting pair of parallel tritones. Soon thereafter the mood becomes more cheerful and ultimately dissolves into a gentle arioso with continuous semiquaver motion in the continue, suggested by the pastoral imagery of 'Ich habe Lust, bei Christo bald zu weiden' ('I long soon to be at pasture with Christ').

A salient feature of the tenor aria (movement 3) is the repeated use of a 'sighing' appoggiatura figure (e.g. at bars 2 and 11) in connection with the word 'Verlangen' ('desire'). The two halves of the middle section (bars 60 ff. and 92 ff.) are sharply differentiated by virtuoso melismas, on 'zermalmet' ('crushed') and 'prangen' ('to be resplendent'), which occur only in the first half, and by the omission of all but the continue instruments in the second.

The alto recitative (movement 4), accompanied by a pair of recorders (or flutes), strings, and continuo, includes several memorable passages. An especially tender moment is the gentle imitative arioso (bars 7-11) that evokes the feeling of a lullaby as Christ is described as 'mein sanfter Schlaf’ ('my peaceful sleep'). This contrasts markedly with the vigorous semiquaver flourishes in bar 18 to illustrate the word auferwekken' ('raise from the dead') and the repeated notes and figures (and pizzicato strings) in the final eight bars, which portray the tolling of the bell that signifies the end of time ('letzter Stundenschlag') and the passage through death to eternal life.

Although they employ the same performing forces (recorders or flutes, strings, continuo, and all four vocal parts), the two choral movements differ greatly from one another. The text of movement 5 is a contemporary poem by Franck, while movement 6 is a setting of a stanza from an early l7th-century chorale. A cantus firmus (the chorale melody Herzlich tut mich verlangen) is present in the latter but not the former. The relationship between the two wind parts also is divergent: in movement 5 they act as duetting partners, often at the interval of a 3rd or 6th; in movement 6, on the other hand, they play in unison. The strings double the upper three voice parts in the latter movement, while they are mostly independent in the former. Although the cheerful affect of movement 5 might seem to be at odds with a text about death, again the emphasis here is on the joy of being with Jesus in heaven. The body is viewed as a 'Last' ('weight') to be gladly discarded, while the spirit is considered to be a 'guest' which only temporarily takes up residence in the body and lives eternally in heaven after death. The elaborate, independent contrapuntal line for the winds in the chorale setting, differentiated from the other parts by its higher register and shorter note values (predominantly semiquavers), is both an unusual and an ingenious way of portraying the transcendent glory of the new bodies that Christ will give his people, who 'beautifully transfigured through Christ, will shine as the sun'.

2) [...] The text of the lesson for the Sunday corresponding to this cantata is the story of the raising of the son of the widow of Nain. Franck, the librettist, makes a connection between the young man of Nain and mankind on its deathbed, and thus likens the story of the raising of the young man to our feelings of hope that we will attain the life of the next world.

Bach has enhanced the text with deeply symbolic music, using two recorders to represent the sound of funeral bells. The music is based on a Hassler chorale melody which is best known from its inclusion in the St. Matthew Passion (BWV 244). Here it is not only used in the first and last movements, but is also the source of the themes of each of the other movements.

The alto begins, taking the peaceful melody from the recorders to sing of the anticipation of death (C major aria). From time to lime the organ sesquialtera (a mixture stop with Quint and Terz) plays the chorale melody. (In the Leipzig performance of the cantata, the first verse of the chorale text itself was sung by a soprano.) In the next movement (number 2. Recitative), the tenor sings in a severe tone, abjuring the pleasures of the world, and turning his thoughts toward the bliss of heaven. Continuing, the tenor sings of his anticipation of death (Number 3. aria in A major) above a flowing accompaniment. The effect is to deepen the sense of sincere longing. A powerful recitative for alto follows (Number 4), using all the instruments. In this mothe anticipation of death appears to be fulfilled, and the alto's declamation, welcoming death and the ringing of the funeral bells, is filled with a pathos amounting almost to obsession.

As the echo of the funeral bells dies away, the music takes on a feeling of innocence which it might not be incorrect to deem extreme. The C major chorus which falls here (Number 5) conveys the sweet joys of heaven with a high ritornello in 3 and very simply-written vocal parts.

The chorale which has made recurring appearances throughout the piece shows itself in its full form for the first time in the final movement (Number 6, A minor). Bach gives the recorders a soaring descant above the four-part chorus, creating the image of the flesh transfigured.

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

My preliminary thoughts

This beautiful late Weimar cantata provides a message of hope and peace. The combination of recorders, strings and voice produce a deeply expressive and unified whole – one of the greatest works of the Weimar period. The final (early 17th Century) chorale melody, best known from its inclusion in the St Matthew Passion (BWV 244) provides a fitting conclusion to yet another great cantata.

I hope that many of you will find the time to discuss your thoughts on this great music.

Thomas Braatz wrote (June 6, 2005):
BWV 161: Welt, gute Nacht!
Welt, gute Nacht! ["Good night, world!]

Nagamiya Tutomu had written and asked during the first round of discussions of BWV 161 (August 2, 2000):
>>I found this phrase in three cantatas: BWV 82, BWV 159, BWV 161. And every piece is very touching, full of comfort. What do you think about these pieces? And
do you know any others including this phrase?<<

Lucia Haselböck, in her "Bach: Textlexikon" [Bärenreiter, 2004], calls this one of the most beloved of all Baroque metaphors used in German sacred lyrics of that period. It embodies the essence of "Todessehnsucht" ["longing for death"] expressed frequently in Baroque poetry. According to Haselböck, 'night' stands for 'darkness and death' that come as a result of Adam's primal sin and are viewed particularly from the perspective of the night preceding Easter.

Haselböck gives the following biblical reference for consideration:

Romans 13:12 {NLT} The night is almost gone; the day of salvation will soon be here. So don't live in darkness. Get rid of your evil deeds. Shed them like dirty clothes. Clothe yourselves with the armor of right living, as those who live in the light.

The antithesis between the sinful world and the light of God:

The connection between Adam's original sin and the 'night of sin' which mankind still can feel today is made quite clear in BWV 199/1 [My 'free' translations follow the original in each instance]:

"Mein Herze schwimmt im Blut,
Weil mich der Sünden Brut
In Gottes heilgen Augen
Zum Ungeheuer macht;
Und mein Gewissen fühlet Pein,
Weil mir die Sünden nichts als Höllenhenker sein.
Verhaßte Lasternacht,
Du, du allein
Hast mich in solche Not gebracht!
Und du, du böser Adamssamen,
Raubst meiner Seelen alle Ruh
Und schließest ihr den Himmel zu!
Ach! unerhörter Schmerz!
Mein ausgedorrtes Herz
Will ferner mehr kein Trost befeuchten;
Und ich muß mich vor dem verstecken,
Vor dem die Engel selbst ihr Angesicht verdecken
."

["My heart is swimming in its own blood because my own brood of sins has made me into a monster in the sight of God's sacred eyes; and I am tormented by my own conscience, because my sins are nothing but the executioners from hell.
O hated night of corruption/dissoluteness,
You alone have brought me into such real trouble!
And you, you evil seed of Adam,
Steal from me my entire peace of mind
And close (and lock up for me) the portals of heaven!
O, unheard of pain!
No more comfort can continue to moisten
My thoroughly dried-out heart;
And I find it necessary to hide myself from that being
Before which even the angels hide their faces."]

All the riches of the world are also represented as night:

BWV 26/5 "Ach wie flüchtig, ach wie nichtig"

"Die höchste Herrlichkeit und Pracht
Umhüllt zuletzt des Todes Nacht
."

["The greatest magnificence and splendor is, in the end, shrouded by the night/darkness of death."]

In BWV 21/7 "Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis" the 'soul in distress' says to itself:

"Hier ist ja lauter Nacht."

["There sure is a lot of night/darkness here." or
"There's nothing but night/darkness here."]

and in BWV 13/4 "Meine Seufzer, meine Tränen" the soul speaks of:

"Der Sorgen Kummernacht
Drückt mein beklemmtes Herz darnieder,
Drum sing ich lauter Jammerlieder
."

["The sorrowful night of worries
presses down on my oppressed heart,
For this reason I sing all sorts of songs of despair/misery."]

We are, according to BWV 148/3 "Bringet dem Herrn Ehre seines Namens," the children of this night/world:

"O! wenn die Kinder dieser Nacht
Die Lieblichkeit bedächten!
Denn Gott wohnt selbst in mir
."

["O, if only the children of this night (world)
would consider this loveliness/pleasantness!
For God Himself lives in me."]

The night of death:

BWV 83/4 "Erfreute Zeit im neuen Bunde"

Ja, merkt dein Glaube noch viel Finsternis,
Dein Heiland kann
Der Zweifel Schatten trennen:
Ja, wenn des Grabes Nacht
Die letzte Stunde schrecklich macht.
."

["Yes, if your belief still notices much darkness,
your Savior can
keep separate the shadows of doubt:
Yes, even when the night of the grave
turns your last hour into terror."]

Saying farewell to the tumult of the world:

"Weltflucht und Todessehnsucht" ["Fleeing from the world and a longing for death"]

BWV 27/5,6 "Wer weiß, wie nahe mein Ende"

"Gute Nacht, du Weltgetümmel!
Jetzt mach ich mit dir Beschluß;
Ich steh schon mit einem Fuß
Bei dem lieben Gott im Himmel
.

["Good night, you tumult of the world!
I have now reached a decision about you;
I am already standing now with one foot
In heaven next to my beloved God."]

and from the same cantata:

"Welt, ade! ich bin dein müde,
Ich will nach dem Himmel zu,
Da wird sein der rechte Friede
Und die ewge, stolze Ruh.
Welt, bei dir ist Krieg und Streit,
Nichts denn lauter Eitelkeit,
In dem Himmel allezeit
Friede, Freude und Seligkeit
."

["Good bye, world! I am tired of you,
I want to go in the direction toward heaven,
That's where real peace and harmony will prevail.
World, where you are there is war, quarreling,
Nothing but pure vanity,
But in heaven at all times there is
Peace, joy, and blessedness."]

Melody & setting by Johann Rosenmüller Text by Johann Georg Albinus (1649) 1st verse of the chorale with the same title.

BWV 60/5 "O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort"

The famous 'tritone' Chorale: "Es ist genung"

"Es ist genung;
Herr, wenn es dir gefällt,
So spanne mich doch aus!
Nun gute Nacht, o Welt!
Ich fahr ins Himmelshaus,
Ich fahre sicher hin mit Frieden,
Mein großer Jammer bleibt danieden.
Es ist genung."


(5th verse of Franz Joachim Burmeister's chorale (1662): "Es ist genung, so nimm, Herr, meinen Geist")

["I have had enough;
Lord, if you wish,
You can unharnass/unhitch me {from the yoke of being
tied to this world}
So now, good night, o world!
I am now going/moving into the house of heaven,
I will certainly go there peacefully,
My great misery will stay down here.
It's been enough for me."]

BWV 64/8 "Sehet, welch eine Liebe"

"Gute Nacht, o Wesen,
Das die Welt erlesen,
Mir gefällst du nicht.
Gute Nacht, ihr Sünden,
Bleibet weit dahinten,
Kommt nicht mehr ans Licht!
Gute Nacht, du Stolz und Pracht;
Dir sei ganz, du Lasterleben,
Gute Nacht gegeben
."

This 5th verse of Johann Franck's (1650) "Jesu, meine Freude" also used in Bach's motet by the same name BWV 227/5 is perhaps themost exquisite poetic expression of this 'farewell to the world.'

["Good night, o that part of me,
that had chosen this world,
I don't like you anymore.
Good night, all of my sins,
Stay way behind me down there,
Don't come into the light any longer!
Good night, my pride and splendor;
To you particularly, you, my life of sin,
I am saying a very firm 'good night.'"]

BWV 82/4 "Ich habe genung"

"Mein Gott! wenn kömmt das schöne: Nun!
Da ich im Friede fahren werde
Und in dem Sande kühler Erde
Und dort bei dir im Schoße ruhn?
Der Abschied ist gemacht,
Welt, gute Nacht!
" (Librettist unknown)

["My God! When will that beautiful word 'Now!' be spoken by you,
When I will be allowed to depart in peace
and end up in the sand of the cool earth
and rest there in Your lap?
The leave-taking is over,
World, good night to you!"]

BWV 158/2 "Der Friede sei mit dir" same as 60/5

BWV 161/4 "Komm, du süße Todesstunde" librettist Salomon Franck

"Der Schluß ist schon gemacht:
Welt, gute Nacht!
Und kann ich nur den Trost erwerben,
In Jesu Armen bald zu sterben;
Er ist mein sanfter Schlaf!
Das kühle Grab wird mich mit Rosen decken,
Bis Jesus mich wird auferwecken,
Bis er sein Schaf
Führt auf die süße Himmelsweide,
Daß mich der Tod von ihm nicht scheide!
So brich herein, du froher Todestag!
So schlage doch, du letzter Stundenschlag!
"

["The end/conclusion has been reached:
World, good night to you!
And if only I can then obtain the comfort
Of dying soon in Jesus' arms;
He is my gentle sleep!
The cool grave will cover me then with roses,
Until Jesus will come to awaken me,
Until He will lead his sheep {me!}
Onto the sweet pasture of heaven,
So that death will never separate me from Him!
So come whenever you want, you happy day on which I will die!
So go ahead and strike the hour, you last hour of life
{during which I will still be alive}!]

The resolution of the antithesis, the night of the sinful world and the light of God, occurs with the contemplation of the events surrounding the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, where, in the concluding section of the SMP (BWV 244), Jesus is laid to rest with the words: "Nun ist der Herr zur Ruh gebracht. Mein Jesu, gute Nacht" ["Now the Lord has been laid to rest. Good night, my Jesus."]

The text of the Easter chorale "Christ lag in Todesbanden" which Bach set as cantata BWV 4/7 proclaims Christ's conquering of the 'night of death' as follows:

"Er ist selber die Sonne,
Der durch seiner Gnaden Glanz
Erleuchtet unsre Herzen ganz,
Der Sünden Nacht ist verschwunden. Halleluja
."

"He, Himself, is the sun,
By means of the shining of which His mercy/His blessings
Illuminate completely our hearts,
The night of all sins has disappeared. Hallelujah."]

Now the mystical union with the Savior dispels the deep night of sin and sadness:

BWV 517:

"Dem muß die Nacht des Traurens scheiden.
der in dir findet Ruh und Lust
."

["The night of sadness/mourning must leave that person
who finds in You inner peace of mind and the desire to accomplish things."]

BWV 115/3: "Mache dich, mein Geist, bereit"

"Gott, so vor deine Seele wacht,
Hat Abscheu an der Sünden Nacht;
Er sendet dir sein Gnadenlicht
Und will vor diese Gaben,
Die er so reichlich dir verspricht,
Nur offne Geistesaugen haben.
Des Satans List ist ohne Grund,
Die Sünder zu bestricken
.."

["God, in this manner watches over your soul,
And is repulsed by the night/darkness created by your sins;
He sends you His merciful light
And wants from you in return for this gifts,
Which He so richly promises you,
Only that you should have an open spiritual sight/conscience.
Satan's cunning is directed, without rhyme or reason,
At bewitching/charming sinners.."]

Doug Cowling wrote (June 6, 2005):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< Welt, gute Nacht! ["Good night, world!] >
My favourite movement with this theme is "Gute Nacht" in "Jesu Meine Freude" with that wonderful "walking" tenor line and no bass.

Continue of this part of the discussion, see: Motet BWV 227 - Discussions

Thomas Braatz wrote (June 6, 2005):
[To Doug Cowling]
...which makes perfect sense as illustration of the text:

>>Gute Nacht, ihr Sünden,
Bleibet weit dahinten,
Kommt nicht mehr ans Licht!
<<

[>>Good night, all of my sins,
Stay way behind me down there,
Don't come into the light any longer!<<]

The sinners have, in Bach's musical depiction, already left the dark night of the soul (ensnared by sin) which had been grounded in the bass line and are moving toward the light with only a 'Bassetgen' or 'Bassetchen' (in French a 'petit basse') to indicate
the quality of floating upwards.

Peter Bright wrote (June 7, 2005):
BWV 161

I have picked up a few bits and bobs from the internet concerning the cantata for this week (BWV 161):

1. Entry from Sir John Eliot Gardiner's rolling diary of his cantata pilgrimage tour: http://www.monteverdi.co.uk/resources/sdg104_gb.pdf (pp. 2-3).

Are there any more thoughts on this recording (volume 8, SDG104), recently released on his new label (Soli Deo Gloria) [15]?

2. For those who are unfamiliar with the Suzuki version [13], I would encourage you to listen to it... In my view, Bach Collegium Japan really hit their stride with volume 5 (and have not let up since) - it's a quite remarkable performance. Here's a review: http://www.classicstoday.com/review.asp?ReviewNum=6222

3. I had to smile when I saw the following page (particularly in the light of recent discussions on Bach's Christianity). It is a comparison of "death metal" rock music, with its glorification of death and BWV 161! I've pasted the relevant text below (the site also has the words, in English: http://www.df.lth.se/~lft/music/todesstunde.html

["Metal music (particularly death metal and black metal) is occasionally criticized for its glorification of death. Concerned parents fear that their children, having read a bunch of lyrics dealing with death, pain, reincarnation and whatnot, will suddenly go nuts and commit suicide. Christian fundamentalists indignantly claim that death is not something 'cool', not even remotely, and that these terrible lyrics are the evil work of Satan.

Well, then, consider the lyrics of J. S. Bachs "Komm, du süße Todesstunde" (BWV 161). (These lyrics were written by Franck, a truly devoted Christian, just like Bach himself.) This is a cantata, i.e. it was performed in church, as part of the Sunday service. You'll find that the Christian doctrine is as death glorifying as anything you'd find within the death metal culture.

So this is a message to both metal fanatics and Christians: Do not fight. Comparing the two camps reveals quite a lot of similarities. (But of course, that's part of the idea with satanism.)

I should also mention that "Komm, du süße Todesstunde" is well worth listening to. But that goes without saying, since it's Bach. =)"]

John Pike wrote (June 8, 2005):
"Komm, du süße Todesstunde", BWV 161

Cantata for 16th Sunday after Trinity/At the Feast of the Purification

This week's cantata is really beautiful. I particularly enjoyed nos. 1,3, 5 and 6 and also the end of the recitative no. 4 "So schlage doch, du letzter Stundenschlag!", reminiscent of the aria "Schlage doch, bald" in BWV 95. The arrangement of the final famous chorale tune is very fine.

I enjoy the scoring with 2 recorders, reminiscent of BWV 106.

I have listened to Gardiner (recent release) [15], Leusink [14], Rilling [7] and Harnoncourt [10].

Gardiner gives a splendid account. I thithis is the best of this bunch by quite a long way, although the others are also very good. I feel Gardiner really gets to the heart of this music to an extent which none of the others really do. A pall of death hangs over the whole performance. I didn't get that feeling with any of the other performances.

I greatly enjoyed Leusink [14].

I found the vibrato of the alto soloist in the beginning of Rilling's recording too obtrusive, a common problem for me in Rilling's performances, which are otherwise often very enjoyable. The rest of the performance is very good.
Harnoncourt [10] gives a fine performance as well.

Michael Telles wrote (June 8, 2005):
[To John Pike] This is such a favorite of mine; the Gardiner [15] sounds very interesting (part of the pilgrimage performances, I assume). The one I'm most familiar with his Suzuki's [13], which is on the 5th volume. The 5th volume, but the way, is an all-around exceptional disc. Suzuki recorded BWV 161 with Yoshikazu Mera before they parted ways, and Mera really luxuriates in his part. For me, Suzuki's recording of this cantata really underscores the best in his series: the unearthly glow of the sound is magnificent, thanks to the chapel, and Suzuki's contemplative, peaceful approach suits the experience so well. In other contexts, Suzuki's meditative approach has caused surprise and debate, as in his performance of the St. Matthew Passion.

I've really got to get my hands on these Gardiner discs coming out. They sound exciting.

Neil Halliday wrote (June 8, 2005):
The 1st movement (alto aria) has descending (and ascending) two-note figures which infuse the flute, alto and continuo parts; and into this texture Bach effortlessly weaves the chorale tune "Herzlich tut mich verlangen", played on the organ. I have no trouble with the vibrato of Laurich's rich, powerful, yet 'soft-edged' voice in this movement.

In the 2nd movement (recitaive), Kraus' voice does have a 'barking' quality at times, though he is very expressive on 'Der blasse Tod ist meine Morgenroete'.

The third movement is richly orchestrated for strings, and has a particularly attractive melisma on "...den Engeln prangen"; Kraus' singing is quite pleasing in this aria.

The 4th movement (accompanied alto recitative) is also richly orchestrated, with strings and flutes. Robertson decribes it well:"Recitative is a bald word to describe the content of this exquisite movement. At the prayer to die in Jesus's arms ('in Jesu Armen bald zu sterben, er ist mein sanfter Schlaf'), the voice, continuo and flutes - in that order - gently descend the scale. One sees the soul sinking to rest, the roses covering the grave till the awakening, and one hears the bells tolling - swinging octaves in the continuo, strings pizzicato, the 1st flute high above. The four chords at the close seem to pronounce 'Requiem aeternam'."

Laurich (with Rillling) is particularly expressive in the line of the text quoted above, with the long held note on 'Schlaf' being exquisitely performed without vibrato. The two cadential chords following this section are exquisite in Rilling - slightly different to the normal cadence (I have not deciphered the vocal clefs in the BGA yet to find find out what these two chords are exactly, performed tenuto by Rilling).

The 5th movement (chorus) in Rilling is graceful, wistful and beautifully performed by the choir. This is a non-fugal movement which nevertheless has antiphonal effects in that the sopranos/altos on the one hand always make alternative entries to the tenors/basses, on the other.

As well as the two-note figures in the flutes and strings, reminiscent of the 1st movement, we have a rocking figure in the 2nd violins, especially at the words "In der suessen Himmelsfreude", that most effectively expresses the joy.

The 6th movement demonstrates Bach's ease in adding a separate line (flute) to a 4 part chorale, clearly articulted in Rilling.

John Pike wrote (June 8, 2005):
[To Neil Halliday] Am I right in thinking that Rilling has recorded some (if not all) the cantatas twice, once in the 1960s, and again in the 1990s. I have the recordings in the budget set released for the Czech market last year. I suspect these are recordings from the 1960s. i suspect you have the recordings from the 1990s. Are you able to clarify?

Uri Golomb wrote (June 8, 2005):
John Pike asked about Rilling's cantata recordings. As far as I'm aware (and also as documented on Aryeh's website), the chronology is as follows:

In the 1960s, Rilling recorded a number of secular cantatas, and a few sacred ones as well. Between 1970 and 1984, he recorded the complete sacred cantatas, a series that was eventually released by Hanssler. It was this series that appears on Hanssler's Edition Bachakademie, and probably also on the Czech set that John mentioned.

In the 1990s, Rilling also recorded Bach's complete secular cantatas for Hanssler; these recordings were made especially for the Edition Bachakademie (unlike the 1970-1984 sacred cantatas, which were only re-issued on that edition).

I hope this is accurate enough..

Neil Halliday wrote (June 8, 2005):
John Pike asks:
"Am I right in thinking that Rilling has recorded some (if not all) the cantatas twice, once in the 1960s, and again in the 1990s.>
I believe Rilling has re-recorded some (but only about a dozen) of the church cantatas as part of a lecture series, in the late 1990's, as well as re-recording all of the secular cantatas.

But the vast majority of the church cantatas have only been recorded once by Rilling, starting about 1971 and finishing about 1984.

BWV 161 was recorded in 1975, which is the recording you and I have.

Continue of this part of the discussion, see: Helmuth Rilling - Bach Cantatas & Other Vocal Works - General Discussions Part 5 [Performers]

Peter Smaill wrote (June 10, 2005):
On this day when was broadcast the newly discovered aria, (?) "Alles getan und nichts ohn ihr," heard by an audience perhaps for the first time since 1713, we are in the midst of discussing one of the most beautiful of the Weimar Cantatas, BWV 161, "Komm du Suesse Todesstunde", dating from 1715.

Both in the opening aria and the closing chorale are heard the chorale melody, "Herzlich tut mich Verlangen," also known to us as "O Haupt von Blut und Wunden," or "Befiehl du deine Wege." As Remenschneider states:

"this chorale was evidently a great favourite of Bach's, for he has left eleven harmonisations of it, five of which are found in the St Matthew Passion. (BWV 244)" (R. also lists BWV 153, BWV 161, and the Christmas Oratorio (BWV 248) plus two unattached sources.) Reimenschneider does not cover BWV 58 ("O Gott wie manches herzeleid") which has the soprano intoning the chorale, ditto the alto in BWV 159/2, from "Sehet, wir gehen hinauf gen Jerusalem." Then there is the superb choral fantasia introducing BWV 25, "Es ist nichts Gesundes an meinem Leibe", borrowed by Ton Koopman for his controversial reworking of the "St Mark Passion" (BWV 247).

The deployment of the chorale in BWV 161 creates an affecting symmetry between first and last movements; the final chorale particularly beautiful (if one discounts the suggestion that the movement of worms is depicted as one commentator observed!). At this early date it is (I stand to be corrected) the first use in Bach's choral works, but the first deployment in any form must I think be BWV 742, the organ prelude which forms one of the 38 in the Arnstadt/Neumeister collection.

Why is it such a dominant chorale throughout Bach's life? There may be musical reasons which make it (eg O Sacred Head Sore Wounded, a Lenten favourite in Anglicanism) so transmissible. Textually there may be a clue in the interior verses as to whyit meant a great deal to Bach: :

7 ob ich auch hinterlasse...

Even if I leave behind worried little orphans whose anguish cries to me in my heart without measure I will still die gladly and trust my God He will well take care of them and save them from all distress

8 was thut ihr so verzagen ...

Why do you despair so, you poor little orphans?
Shall God, who feeds even the little ravens
Fail to help you?
He is a faithful Father to good widows and orphans....

The young Bach, taken into an elder brother's care and moved away from his native Eisenach must have known these words and felt their comfort especially directed at him. The text of the chorale in these inner verses is twice focussed on the plight of orphans. This may, stress may, be a contributory factor in Bach's particular love of the associated melody.

Bradley Lehman wrote (June 10, 2005):
< Both in the opening aria and the closing chorale are heard the chorale melody, "Herzlich tut mich Verlangen," also known to us as "O Haupt von Blut und Wunden," or "Befiehl du deine Wege." (...)
Why is it such a dominant chorale throughout Bach's life? There may be musical reasons which make it (eg O Sacred Head Sore Wounded, a Lenten favourite in Anglicanism) so transmissible. (...)
The text of the chorale in these inner verses is twice focussed on the plight of orphans. This may, stress may, be a contributory factor in Bach's particular love of the associated melody. >
Or additionally (whether the words have much of a role or not) it might just be a really good tune, beloved of many a composer because it sounds beautiful. The leaps and the contrasting melodic shapes in it have some especially expressive possibilities, for many different harmonizations. So does the contrast of register between low and high as it goes along, and the ambiguity of several different modes.

Here are some of the words from a John Forster song, lampooning Paul Simon's use of it: "This pretty tune was written by Hans Leo Hassler / in 1599 / I wrote the words and changed about three notes / now ASCAP says it's mine...."

I have two recordings of one of the several Brahms organ settings here: http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bpl/larips/samples.html

Bradley Lehman wrote (June 10, 2005):
>>, "Herzlich tut mich Verlangen," also known to us as "O Haupt von Blut und Wunden," or "Befiehl du deine Wege." (...) <<
< Or additionally (whether the words have much of a role or not) it might just be a really good tune, beloved of many a composer because it sounds beautiful. The leaps and the contrasting melodic shapes in it have some especially expressive possibilities, for many different harmonizations. So does the contrast of register between low and high as it goes along, and the ambiguity of several different modes. >
And another good one in Leipzig is the Biblical Sonata #4 by Kuhnau, for keyboard: little melodramas there from 1700. King Hezekiah has a miraculous recovery from an illness and gets up and dances a gigue: this tune.

Doug Cowling wrote (June 10, 2005):
"Passion" Chorale

Peter Smaill wrote:
<< Both in the opening aria and the closing chorale are heard the chorale melody, "Herzlich tut mich Verlangen," also known to us as "O Haupt von Blut und Wunden," or "Befiehl du deine Wege." (...)
Why is it such a dominant chorale throughout Bach's life? There may be musical reasons which make it (eg O Sacred Head Sore Wounded, a Lenten favourite in Anglicanism) so transmissible. (...)
The text of the chorale in these inner verses is twice focussed on the plight of orphans. This may, stress may, be a contributory factor in Bach's particular love of the associated melody. >>
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< Or additionally (whether the words have much of a role or not) it might just be a really good tune, beloved of many a composer because it sounds beautiful. The leaps and the contrasting melodic shapes in it have some especially expressive possibilities, for many different harmonizations. So does the contrast of register between low and high as it goes along, and the ambiguity of several different modes. >
It is clear that the chorale did not have an exclusively Passiontide significance to Bach, but its prominent position as the first and last chorale of the 'Christmas Oratorio" indicates that it was an important melody for Bach. Where was it mandated to be sung in the Lutheran liturgy? I read someplace that it was a popular chorale during the distribution of Communion.

 

About BWV 161

Leonardo Been wrote (October 22, 2005):
I don´t understand clearly, but ,¿why in the score of the cantata 161 appears, the recorders in e flat major key and 1st line g clef, and the strings in cmajor key? please help me to resolv this doubt.

Bradley Lehman wrote (October 23, 2005):
[To Leonardo Been] In Bach's original performance situation for that piece, the woodwind instruments were built at a different pitch level. Therefore it was necessary to write out the parts in a different key, so the sound together would work out correctly.

The Purcell Quartet + Friends performed this cantata BWV 161 several times last week at venues in England, using that configuration of transposing winds. They had the continuo organ tuned to Bach's temperament, to aid with that process and to reveal the proper sequences of harmonic tension/resolution in the music. They have recorded it in that configuration for release (likely) sometime next year. The singers were Emma Kirkby, soprano, Michael Chance, alto, Charles Daniels, tenor, Peter Harvey, bass.

They performed/recorded the cantatas:
BWV 12: Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen
BWV 18: Gleichwie der Regen und Schnee vom Himmel fällt
BWV 61: Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland
BWV 161: Komm, du süße Todesstunde

Charles Francis wrote (October 23, 2005):
[To Bradley Lehman] I don't know which of the numerous "Bach" temperament proposals was in use on this particular occasion, but the results were apparently disappointing. I only found one review on the web: http://www.musicweb-international.com/SandH/2005/Jul-Dec05/weimar1510.htm

It mentions Emma Kirkby's "wayward intonation". However, if one keeps in mind the tuning contest between J.G. Neidhardt and J. S. Bach's cousin Johann Nikolaus Bach, noting that the latter won since a singer found it easier to sing a chorale in his tuning, then the perceived "varying standard of vocal fitness" mentioned by the reviewer, might not have reflected any failing on the part of the performers, but rather an unwanted artefact of an unsuitable tuning.

The reviewer also mentions an "overall lack of togetherness in instrumental ensemble", but this also may have been an artefact of the temperament rather than a fault of the performers. In this regard, I would draw the attention of the group to Professor Sparshuh's observation regarding the key role of the continuo in keeping the ensemble together and specifically his contention based on extensive analysis of the historical German tuning literature that "old Germans under 'gleichschwebend' really had originally meant: All the tempered 5ths beat equal synchronous at same frequency of just one single Hz in resonance to the metric speed of the performer". Accordingly, by virtue of such resonance, the equal beating Bach temperaments proposed by Sparschuh, Zapf and myself, might be expected to yield a tighter performance than a temperament with arbitrary beat rates as reflected in today's logarithmic paradigm.

John Pike wrote (October 24, 2005):
[To Charles Francis] Thank you, Charles, for making us aware of this review. Having read it, I am completely satisfied that any shortcomings of the performance as experienced by the reviewer were in no way at all anything to do with the use of Bach's temperament (as discovered by Brad) in this concert.

 

Continue on Part 3

Cantata BWV 161: Details & 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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Last update: ýMarch 12, 2012 ý20:06:35