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Cantata BWV 161
Komm, du süße Todesstunde
Discussions - Part 3

Continue from Part 2

Discussions in the Week of March 4, 2012

Ed Myskowski wrote (March 4, 2012):
Introduction to BWV 161 -- Komm, du süße Todesstunde

Weekly reminder:

This seems an opportune spot to remind everyone that discussion of all Bach vocal works is always on-topic at BCML (and accepted on BRML, as well, for those who cannot abide BCML, for whatever reason).

This week we continue Trinity season cantatas with BWV 161, the first of four works for the 16th Sunday after Trinity.

Details of text, commentary, recordings, and previous discussion are accessible via: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV161.htm

The link to commentary by Julian [Mincham] is especially recommended as an introduction to listening, music examples included.

The BWV 161 page has convenient access to notes from the Gardiner, Koopman (notes by Christoph Wolff), Suzuki, and Leusink (and more!) CD issues, via link beneath the cover photo.

The chorale text and melody are accessible via links at the BWV 161 page. Francis Browne has recently added new commentary on the cantata texts to his interlinear translations, linked via [English 3]. We can expect these to continue, not necessarily weekly. Douglas Cowling and William Hoffman are also posting relevant to chorales and other music for the Lutheran Church Year, accessible via LCY pages.

I do not always take the time to check all links before posting. Special thanks to the folks who provide timely corrections.

Douglas Cowling wrote (March 4, 2012):
Introduction to BWV 161 --Funeral or Clock Bells?

Ed Myskowski wrote:
< Introduction to BWV 161 -- Komm, du süße Todesstunde >
I'm curious about the "bells" at the end of alto recitative "Der Schluss ist schon." Although most commentators speak of church bells, there really is no musical link with the actual music of tower bells. Rather the music, with its repeated notes and persistent pizzicato effects, surely represents the clockwork action of a chiming mantlepiece clock.

We discussed a similar "clockwork" passage in another cantata (title?). And the Hoffmann cantata, "Schlage Doch Gewünste Stunde" -- which has almost an identical text -- has an actual treble bell which sounds over pizzicato strings.

Charles Francis wrote (March 4, 2012):
[To Douglas Cowling] Doug Cowling's observation, if correct, would enable the tempo of this alto recitative to be determined exactly. Of relevance to baroque tempo in general is Rosamond Harding's 1938 book "The Metronome and it's Precursors" which relates Henry Purcell's instructions: "Stand by a large Chamber-Clock and beat your Hand or Foot...to the slow Motions of the Pendulum, telling one, two, with your Hand down as you hear it strike and three, four, with your Hand up; which I would have you observe in this slow sort of Common Time."

[Henry Purcell (1674), A Choice Collection of Lessons for the Harpsichord or Spinnet Composed by y late Mr Henry Purcell... Printed ...for Mrs Frances Purcell, Executrix of the Author and ... sold by Henry Playford at his Shop in the Temple exchange Fleet Street, 1695. (Unpaginated.)]

With regard to clockwork, some relevant technological developments are mentioned here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pendulum_clock

Julian Mincham wrote (March 4, 2012):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< We discussed a similar "clockwork" passage in another cantata (title?) >
BWV 8, When Oh Lord shall I die, the opening chorale fantasia.

Kim Patrick Clow wrote (March 4, 2012):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< I'm curious about the "bells" at the end of alto recitative "Der Schluss ist schon." Although most commentators speak of church bells, there really is no musical link with the actual music of tower bells. >
But churches had carillons in particular, which are very similar. In fact there are a multitude of specific movements named after the "carillion" from the period.

< Rather the music,with its repeated notes and persistent pizzicato effects, surely represents the clockwork action of a chiming mantlepiece clock. >
My hunch is that clocks were pretty expensive during this period. All of them were handmade (long before the use of assembly line production) and since I was curious about that, I've written to a specialist on clocks from this period to see what they cost.

It's fascinating that in his setting for this cantata for the same Sunday that has been recorded on CPO, Christoph Graupner uses 2 chalumeaux and prefaces the entire cantata (rather unusually for him) a "Tombeau," and the instruments lend the music an utter sadness.

Peter Smaill wrote (March 4, 2012):
[To Kim Patrick Clow] Thank you Kim for the fascinating information about the Graupner cantata and its chalumeau.

Here the issue may be the clocks at Weimar; Duerr thinks of them in BWV 161 /4 as "finally the striking of small death-bells on recorders and of deeper bells on pizzicato violins and violas, mostly on open strings."

But there is more of hidden symbolism here. The final cadence of the Phyrigian choral resolves to E major, yet sounds, as Chafe points out, as the dominant of A minor. It is, with BWV 46, one of the most harmonically interesting final chords, and throughout the work the relative major and minor keys interplay. He sees it or rather hears it as "the pivotal piece in terms of the subject of death"

For the numerologists, Hirsch scores the expression, "Welt, gute Nacht" by the usual number alphabet (a=1, b=2 etc.) at 151, the same number as the Alto's notes in this recitative. In BWV 159, where the same verbal expression occurs, the instruments play 151 notes in the ritornello. It is one of his more intriguing observations but added interest is hardly needed for this wonderful Cantata. By contrast, that final chord, whatever it symbolizes, give a profoundly mystical feeling to the work.

Douglas Cowling wrote (March 4, 2012):
Kim Patrick Clow wrote:
< But churches had carillons in particular, which are very similar. In fact there are a multitude of specific movements named after the "carillion" from the period. >
Now there's an invitation for an afternoon google!

A list of carillons in Germany. Rather paltry in comparison with Belgium:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_carillons#Germany

The web-site of the Central European Association of Change Ringers, suggests rhythmic bell-ringing is pretty much an English monopoly:
http://www.change-ringers.eu/

And a VERY serious percussionist playing a little Orff treble glockenspiel in Hoffmann's "Schlage Doch Gewünschte Stunde".
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i70WCUKjXSo

The Hoffman cantata sounds like a mantelpiece clock to me (it chimes at 00:26):
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DPzsrZ114bE

Do we know whether Bach's organs had pitched glockenspiel stops? Here's an 18th century organ with spinning Zimberlsterns at the bottom of the case (random pitches). The pitched carillon begins on the repeat of the
ineptly-played piece:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mHeWURRm-jg

Handel had a custom-built combination organ and harpsichord which had a carillon stop added. He wrote an elaborate carillon part for the da capo of "Happy, Happy, Happy We" in "Acis and Galatea". Oddly I couldn't find a performance of that recension.

And finally, here are the actual tower bells of St. Thomas, Leipzig: Amazon.com

Does the name Quasimodo ring a bell?

Evan Cortens wrote (March 4, 2012):
[To Douglas Cowling] Fascinatinstuff, Doug!

A quick addendum. It looks like the list of carillons in Germany is much more complete on the German wikipedia, which lists 45 instruments (it also implies that it's only listing the largest ones):
http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carillon#Deutschland

(Interestingly, the German page lists only 8 carillons in Belgium, while the English wikipedia page listed 89 there, but only 5 in Germany.)

Kim Patrick Clow wrote (March 4, 2012):
Kim Patrick Clow wrote:
<< But churches had carillons in particular, which are very similar. In fact there are a multitude of specific movements named after the "carillion" from the period. >>
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< Now there's an invitation for an afternoon google!
A list of carillons in Germany. Rather paltry in comparison with Belgium:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_carillons#Germany >
That's current, it's not inclusive or a historical listing. For example, Weimar could have been rare exception, and had such a device. The entire palace was destroyed in a horrible fire in the 1780s, and along with it the music library (it would have had many Bach manuscripts). Many churches were destroyed by fires (e.g. Hamburg
around 1838), never mind the terrible devasation of several wars (with WW2 being the worst). And again, the use of these devices in a lot of the baroque literature (usually in orchestral suites) indicates to me, they were certainly well known to the composers (e.g. Graupner never left Germany so he had to have experienced them personally). Telemann and Fasch and Endler and other baroque composers used it as the basis of a musical composition.

< Handel had a custom-built combination organ and harpsichord which had a carillon stop added. He wrote an elaborate carillon part for the da capo of "Happy, Happy, Happy We" in "Acis and Galatea". Oddly I couldn't find a performance of that recension. >
There was a console version of the instrument available during the 18th century (it certainly wasn't a "children's toy" and there were several virtuosos that played them-- Darmstadt's Grunewald for example). Here's a photograph of it (I found this because a friend of mine has edited a Telemann Easter cantata that has two arias with an obbligato glockenspiel required).
http://i.imgur.com/sXHZB.jpg

I'm fascinated by church bells and there are videos on youtube for Magdeburg
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OfBMFGN_bbI (which Telemann HAVE had to known as a boy there).

And Cologne Cathedral: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=endscreen&NR=1&v=k2JlI-NXV_A

Fascinating thread! Thanks

Ed Myskowski wrote (March 5, 2012):
Julian Mincham wrote:
<< We discussed a similar "clockwork" passage in another cantata (title?) >>
<
BWV 8, When Oh Lord shall I die, the opening chorale fantasia. >
Probably not coincidence, both works are for the same liturgical date, Trinity 16. BWV 8 will be our discussion topic in two weeks (March 18)

Douglas Cowling wrote (March 5, 2012):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
< Probably not coincidence, both works are for the same liturgical date, Trinity 16. BWV 8 will be our discussion topic in two weeksw (March 18) >
Hmm. When did the clockmakers have their guild fair?

Bruce Simonson wrote (March 5, 2012):
Kim Patrick Clow wrote:
< But churches had carillons in particular, which are very similar. In fact there are a multitude of specific movements named after the "carillion" from the period.> Fascinating thread! Thanks >
Couple of related items come to mind:

a) The tradition of town square clocks, with bells and figurines and such: e.g., Munich's town square, Strassbourg cathedral, and Prague astronomical clock. Any of these type of public clocks in Thuringia?

b) (Okay, Handel again, sorry). On my bucket list is "L'allegro"; wonderful setting of Milton's "or let the merry bells ring round", with some kind of bell device.

OK, that's two things, but here's another:

c) Again, in "L'allegro", Milton's

Oft on a plat of rising ground,
I hear the far-off curfew sound,
Over some wide-water'd shore,
Swinging slow, with sullen roar...

is accompanied by a pizzicato bass (that represents the tolling of a distant curfew bell).

This "curfew" thing is interesting, after reading a little bit of wiki. It comes from the French "couvre-feu" (cover fire), based on a law of William the Conqueror (1066) to keep Anglo-Saxons from meeting after dark with hearth firelight ablaze (and planning pesky insurrections). Later, it seems, these curfew bells were rung, to get folk to cover open flames at bed-time, and reduce the risk of causing (possibly devestating) fires from unattended hearths with open flames.

So, here's a question related to item (c), did our friend Bach live in a place where "lights and fires out at eight PM" was enforced, and announced by ringing a curfew bell? If so, it's hard to imagine not utilizing music metaphors for that, huh?

Douglas Cowling wrote (March 5, 2012):
Bruce Simonson wrote:
< (Okay, Handel again, sorry). On my bucket list is "L'allegro"; wonderful setting of Milton's "or let the merry bells ring round", with some kind of bell device. >
Except that Handel is echoing the descending scales of English change-ringing which doesn't appear in Bach's Bells: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SkpHa1QS4Yg

Purcell appears to do the same in "Rejoice in the Lord" (aka "The Bell Anthem",) although there is no explicit reference to bells in the text: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kkh6WMcV_ic

(lovely modulation to second dominant D over the ostinato C as a 7th)

George Bromley wrote (March 5, 2012):
[To Bruce Simonson] A fantastic example is the carrion at the city hall in Cape Town.

Henner Schwerk wrote (March 5, 2012):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< I'm curious about the "bells" at the end of alto recitative "Der Schluss ist schon." Although most commentators speak of church bells, there really is no musical link with the actual music of tower bells. Rather the music, with its repeated notes and persistent pizzicato effects, surely represents the clockwork action of a chiming mantlepiece clock.
We discussed a similar "clockwork" passage in another cantata (title?). And the Hoffmann cantata, "Schlage Doch Gewünste Stunde" -- which
has almost an identical text -- has an actual treble bell which sounds over pizzicato strings. >
you can also hear the (funeral) bell in the Cantata BWV 73, Bass Aria, suddenly the noce melody of the instruments stop, the strings play pizzziucato and the text is: "so schlagt, ihr Leichenglocken..." (" so beat, funeral bells") I think the affect of the bells is a little similar to the affect of the heartbeat, which we can find in bachs music.

Douglas Cowling wrote (March 5, 2012):
BWV 161 - Death and Open Strings

I just noticed at the end of the Alto "Bell" recitative that the text speaks of the "striking of the final hour" and the violins pluck the four open strings. Is this like the opening of the 9th symphony and the open strings presage the last dissolution of the universe? A rather striking effect.

Ed Myskowski wrote (March 6, 2012):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< I just noticed at the end of the Alto "Bell" recitative that the text speaks of the "striking of the final hour" and the violins pluck the four open strings. Is this like the opening of the 9th symphony and the open strings presage the last dissolution of the universe? A rather striking effect. >
Thanks for pointing out this effect, striking indeed. Perhaps the open strings suggest a new beginning, as much as an ending?

If only there were more reliable reports from the other side.

Ed Myskowski wrote (March 7, 2012):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< I just noticed at the end of the Alto "Bell" recitative that the text speaks of the "striking of the final hour" and the violins pluck the four open strings. Is this like the opening of the 9th symphony and the open strings presage the last dissolution of the universe? A rather striking effect. >
Compare also BWV95/5, for Trinity 16 (translation from Herreweche CD):

Ah, strike then blessed hour
Your very last stroke!

The emphasis on <schlage doch> is striking, in both the later BWV 95, as well as the original source from Weimar, BWV 161. Herreweche programs and performs this pair nicely.

Douglas Cowling wrote (March 7, 2012):
BWV 161 - Transposing Flutes

Can someone explain why the BGA edition uses the transposing G clef to place the "flute" part a third higher in E flat? I've seen that transposition for recorders in early music, but I was curious why the editors would use it in this cantata. How often does this transposition occur in the cantatas? Why did Bach choose to use it?

Kim Patrick Clow wrote (March 7, 2012):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< Can someone explain why the BGA edition uses the transposing G clef to place the "flute" part a third higher in E flat? I've seen that transposition for recorders in early music, but I was curious why the editors would use it in this cantata. How often does this transposition occur in the cantatas? Why did Bach choose to use it? >
Recorder music was typically notated this way (French clef), and it was also a transposing instrument. It's a nightmare when editing this type of music, deciding to keep the old style notation or modernize it.

Hope this helps

Douglas Cowling wrote (March 7, 2012):
Kim Patrick Clow wrote:
< Recorder music was typically notated this way (French clef), and it was also a transposing instrument. It's a nightmare when editing this type of music, deciding to keep the old style notation or modernize it.>
When the BGA was being produced, did the editors always reproduce the clefs as Bach notated? I ask this because it was normal for traverse flutes to play all parts marked as "flutes" until about 20 years ago when suddenly recorders began to appear in Bach performances. This may sound snarky, but did the original editors even consider that recorders not traverse flutes were used by Bach?

Kim Patrick Clow wrote (March 7, 2012):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< When the BGA was being produced, did the editors always reproduce the clefs as Bach notated? >
I don't know that anwser.

< I ask this because it was normal for traverse flutes to play all parts marked as "flutes" until about 20 years ago when suddenly recorders began to appear in Bach performances. This may sound snarky, but did the original editors even consider that recorders not traverse flutes were used by Bach? >
Musicology has evolved a lot since the original BGA for sure.

I tried to find a copy of the original source on the Bach Digital website, but no luck. I was curious what the score or parts looked like. I've come across a Endler symphony that requires a recorder piccolo and a traverse flute player was pretty excited because hardly any parts for this survive from the baroque.

Hope this helps

Henner Schwerk wrote (March 8, 2012):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< Can someone explain why the BGA edition uses the transposing G clef to place the "flute" part a third higher in E flat? I've seen that transposition for recorders in early music, but I was curious why the editors would use it in this cantata. How often does this transposition occur in the cantatas? Why did Bach choose to use it? >
I think its because the flauto dolce of Bach in Weimar have been tuned in "tiefer Kammerton", which is a third lower than the "Chorton" of his organ. Have a look at BWV 182, which is our next cantata in our weekly cantata
cycle.

Jung Jin Baek wrote (March 10, 2012):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< I'm curious about the "bells" at the end of alto recitative "Der Schluss ist schon." Although most commentators speak of church bells, there really is no musical link with the actual music of tower bells. Rather the music, with its repeated notes and persistent pizzicato effects, surely represents the clockwork action of a chiming mantlepiece clock.
We discussed a similar "clockwork" passage in another cantata (title?). And the Hoffmann cantata, "Schlage Doch Gewünste Stunde" -- which has almost an identical text -- has an actual treble bell which sounds over pizzicato strings. >
Another example is found in BWV 159/3, the aria for soprano.
The similar effect (Fl with flucked strings) starts on the word of "Sterbeglocken" (funeral bell) in m.31.

 

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 ý20:04:45