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Cantata BWV 162
Ach! ich sehe, itzt, da ich zur Hochzeit gehe
Discussions - Part 2

Continue from Part 1

Discussions in the Week of June 12, 2005

Peter Bright wrote (June 12, 2005):
Introduction: BWV 162

The cantata for discussion this week (June 13-19) is:

Cantata BWV 162
Ach, ich sehe, itzt, da ich zur Hochzeit gehe
(“Ah, I see now, as I go to the marriage”

Written for the 20th Sunday after Trinity, composed in Weimar to a text by Salomo Franck. It was first performed on 25 October 1716, and later in Leipzig (10th October 1723).

Link to texts, commentary, vocal score, music examples, and list of known recordings: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV162.htm

Link to previous discussions: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV162-D.htm

It is possible to hear two versions of the complete cantata on the internet (Harnoncourt from 1986 [2], and Leusink, from 2000 [5]). See: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Mus/BWV162-Mus.htm

Unfortunately, Bach’s score for this cantata has been lost, and the surviving parts are incomplete. It is scored for four voices, strings, bassoon and continuo. However, when later performed in Leipzig, Bach added a part for corno da tirarsi - a horn, of which no example survives. I would tentatively welcome further discussion of how this horn may have sounded (or even looked like) – there is some discussion in the Bach Cantatas pages: (http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Topics/Corno-da-caccia.htm) – and a few recordings available, but, without any surviving instruments, I guess we may never know for sure. The only information provided in the Oxford Companion Series to Bach (p. 222), is that it had a “mainly cylindrical bore, closely coiled several times”.

My subjective feeling about this cantata is that, outside of the first two arias (movements 1 and 3), it holds relatively little of interest for me. However, it seems to me, that the first movement in particular represents some of the most engaging of Bach’s cantata writing, with its Fortspinnungstypus ritornello (other examples of which can be found in part 4 of the Christmas Oratorio (BWV 248), and in the first movement of the Violin Concerto in E major). Be that as it may, I look forward to the discussion of this work. As a further means of introduction, I include (below) Tadashi Isoyama’s notes from the Suzuki series (third volume) [4].

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BWV 162: Ach, ich sehe, itzt, da ich zur Hochzeit gehe (Ah, I see, now as I go to the wedding)

It was thought that this cantata for the twentieth Sunday after Trinity was first performed on 6th October 1715. According to recent research, however, it appears likely that the premiere took place on the same Sunday of the following year (25th October 1716). This is because it has become clear that. in August 1715, the court entered a state of mourning for Duke Johann Ernst, and the performance of cantatas was halted until the beginning of November by this observance. Examination of a new chronological list of cantatas from this period reveals that between October and December 1716. the pitch Bach used for his cantatas was raised (BWV 161, BWV 162, BWV 70a, BWV 186a, BWV 147a). This revolves around the death from illness of the court's Kapellmeister J.A. Drese, on 1st December 1716, and possibly also a hope of being named as Drese's successor in that post. In any case, the series of cantatas composed at the higher pitch concludes with BWV 147a, first performed on 20th December.

Cantata No. 162 uses Franck's libretto, which appears in the 1715 Evangelisches Andachts-Opfer, it is based on the reading for the twentieth Sunday after Trinity (the parable of the marriage of the king's son). It sets the parable as a contemporary occurrence, in which a believer going to the wedding wakes to the essence of God's blessings, and arrays himself in the garment of faith. After this happens, the individual is filled with the joyful conviction of the next life. To this text Bach has appended small-scale, chamber-style music. The chorus sings only the concluding chorale, and the leading role in the cantata is played by three arias, including one duet. No wind instruments are used (although when the cantata was performed in Leipzig in 1723, a trombu da tirarsi [sic] was used in the opening and concluding movements); strings and continuo (including bassoons) alone make up the instrumental part. While the third and fifth movements are accompanied only by continuo, an instrumental obbligato part for the third movement is thought originally to have existed but now to be lost. On this recording, that lost part has been restored for the recorder [...].

The cantata opens with an aria in A minor for bass. The text of this is an account in the first person by someone on the way to the wedding who, as he goes along, notices the juxtaposition of good fortune and suffering, heaven and hell in the present condition of the world. The vivid emphasis of the words is largely on the negative side. The continue imitates the feet of Christians hurrying to the wedding, while the higher instruments give sighs of uneasiness. This gives way to a tenor recitative in which the marriage feast is considered a blessing of God and which announces that the preparations for the banquet are complete. In the D minor soprano aria which follows (movement three), the singer pleads to Jesus that, unworthy though she is, she may be admitted as a guest to the feast. The phrase 'Brunnquell aller Gnaden' (spring of all mercies) is illustrated by the following passage and, in the middle section, we also hear a lament for the weakness of mankind. In the fourth movement, an alto recitative, the incident of the guest without the wedding garment from the second half of the reading appears. The singer wishes to be given the proper attire of a garment of faith. The movement which follows this (movement five, F major) takes the form of a duet in 3, evoking the image of a festal dance. Alto and tenor sing of their conviction that they will be among God's guests: the continuo moves in long strides with a 'rejoicing' rhythm beneath. At the end, the chorale (movement six, A minor) foresees 'unending joy'; note that the words of the choir now change from the opening 'Ah! I see' to 'Ah! I have already seen’.

Tadashi Isoyama (1996)

Thomas Braatz wrote (June 13, 2005):
Tadashi Isoyama (1996), as quoted by Peter Bright, wrote in his notes for the Suzuki Bach Cantata Series [4]:
>>Examination of a new chronological list of cantatas from this period reveals that between October and December 1716. the pitch Bach used for his cantatas was raised (BWV 161, BWV 162, BWV 70a, BWV 186a, BWV 147a). This revolves around the death from illness of the court's Kapellmeister J.A. Drese, on 1st December 1716, and possibly also a hope of being named as Drese's successor in that post. In any case, the series of cantatas composed at the higher pitch concludes with BWV 147a, first performed on 20th December.<<
This information has not withstood the test of subsequent scrutiny in the intervening 'decade' (9 years to be more exact.) A recent listing given by Ulrich Prinz in his "Johann Sebastian Bachs Instrumentarium [Bärenreiter + Internationale Bachakademie, Kassel, Stuttgart, 2005, pp. 20-21] does not show a raising of pitch for the cantatas cited above. Almost without exception, the frame of reference of pitch for the pre-Leipzig cantatas was 'Chorto' while in Leipzig 'Kammerton' became the standard frame of reference. Without a firm scholarly reference given, Isoyama's comments need to be discounted as an outdated opinion which no longer applies.

Nel Halliday wrote (June 13, 2005):
Peter Bright wrote:
<"However, it seems to me, that the first movement in particular represents some of the most engaging of Bach's cantata writing, with its Fortspinnungstypus ritornello">
I agree this is an exceptional movement. Robertson refers to the "obsessive figure in the continuo, present almost throughout"; this figure, according to Tadashi Isoyama, "imitates the feet of Christians hurrying to the wedding, while the higher instruments give sighs of uneasiness (my emphasis)".

Both Rilling [1] and Harnoncourt [2], at the same tempo, effectively present the 'striding' element of the aria.

The bitter-sweet nature of this aria, alluded to in the last sentence of Isoyama's above, is unmistakable, and the music is a brilliant realisation of the text which relates to the somewhat dire parable in Matthew 22: 1-14: those foolish persons who refused an invitation to the "wedding" (God's kingdom) and who moreover abused the King's servants, were destroyed by God's wrath; and the person who did turn up to the wedding without "wedding garments" (ie, true faith) was likewise consigned to the flames of hell.

Musically, the bitter-sweet mood is engendered by the cycle of fifths, in the A minor tonality, that comprises the structure of the continuo, as well as the rich orchestration with the upper strings (the violins' "sighs of uneasiness"), corno da tirarsi, and bassoon in the continuo. BTW, does Suzuki [4] have the corno da tirarsi? Both Rilling [1] and Harnoncourt [2] employ this instrument; in Rilling the trombone-like timbre is most effective, bringing a bright and yet 'forbidding' element to the music. And in Rilling, Schöne's rich voice competes magnificently with the strong instrumentation.

"Heaven and Hell are together". Wih the second exposition of these words, the music is almost joyful and carefree, but one might be close to tears as well - the repeatd melismas on "are together" are very moving indeed. Noteworthy also are the long held notes on the c. da t. and viola occurring in the third ritornello.

BTW, does "Fortspinnungs" refer to the constant 'striding' motion of this aria?

Neil Halliday wrote (June 13, 2005):
"BTW, does "Fortspinnungs" refer to the constant 'striding' motion of this aria?" Or, I have just worked out ("forth-spinning"), more likely to the extended nature of the ritornellos that occur in this aria?

Thomas Braatz wrote (June 13, 2005):
Neil Halliday wrote:
>>BTW, does Suzuki[4] have the corno da tirarsi? Both Rilling [1] and Harnoncourt [2] employ this instrument; in Rilling the trombone-like timbre is most effective, bringing a bright and yet 'forbidding' element to the music.<<
Check for details about this instrument at: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Topics/Horn.htm

Also search Aryeh's site (BCW) for "corno da tirarsi" for additional information from the Suzuki [4] footnotes describing an attempt at making this instrument.

Peter Bright wrote (June 13, 2005):
[To Neil Halliday] There will be other, more qualified members, who will be able to more accurately define 'Fortspinnungstypus', but, with the help of the Oxford Composers Companion, I can tell you that the term was invented by Wilhelm Fisher (in around 1915). It is used to describe a ritornello structure commonly found in late Baroque concertos among other works. There are 3 sections: the Vodersatz, or opening motif, which establishes the character and tonality of the piece; the Fortspinnung or continuation, which normally involves sequential repetition and shifting from the tonic of the Vordersatz; and the Epilog or conclusion, which ends the ritornello with a well-defined cadence.

With respect to BWV 162, the Vodersatz is in A minor (or B minor in the Leipzig version), which repeats twice in related keys during the aria and again at the end.

So, to cut a long story short, your latter suggestion seems closest to the established definition... But perhaps others can provide a more thorough appreciation of this type of ritornello structure...

John Pike wrote (June 14, 2005):
BWV 162 "Ach, ich sehe, itzt, da ich zur Hochzeit gehe"

Cantata for 20th Sunday after Trinity, Weimar 1715
Re-performed Leipzig 1723

I agree with Peter that this week's cantata is not one of Bach's finest, but it does include some pleasant music nonetheless. I enjoyed Nrs. 1, 3 and 5.

I have listened to Harnoncourt [2], Rilling [1] and Leusink [5]. All enjoyable. The instrumentation in the opening movement from Leusink was very interesting and I thought Ruth Holton's soprano aria (no.3) was delightful. Overall, however, I found Harnoncourt's recording the best of this bunch. I found Rilling a bit heavy, but with a pleasing sound otherwise.

Peter Smaill wrote (June 18, 2005):
From the paucity of comment on this Cantata, overshadowed by the new aria discovery (who was the librettist-any ideas?), flame wars, pronunciation issues on Leusink [5], we appear to be at a low point of the Weimar sequence. May I attempt to inject some interest into this seemingly unregarded work?

From the start we have a vigorous Bass aria, the emphasis of the delicious corno di tirarsi falling incessantly on the late notes of the bar. As Robertson indicates, the interaction of voice and continuo with this simple three note call of the horn creates an atmosphere of tension and purpose, as the metaphysical guest hastens to the Wedding, described in Matthew 22: 10-13.

But there is much, much more ; Salomo Franck creates a synthethsis of the Gospel text with Revelation, calling upon the mystical images of the Soul as bride, Christ the Bridegroom. Otherwise, who is the "Ich" who drives the text?

The bass aria gives us the poetic couplet, "Wohl und wehe", and a series of antitheses, using alliteration;

Ach! Ich sehe
Itzt, da ich zur Hochzeit gehe,
Wohl und Wehe.
Seelengift und Lebensbrot
Himmel, Hoelle, Leben, Tod,
Himmelglanz und Hoellenflammen
sind beisammen
Jesu, hilf, dass ich Bestehe!

Salomo Franck again uses, from the limited palette of Scripture, White and Purple ; and the full instrumental ensemble, backing the Schlusschoral, aligns the Gospel with Revelation, ever the chance for more mystical imagery:

Ach, Ich habe schon erblicket
Diese grosse Herrlichkeit
Itzund werd ich schoen geschmuecket
Mit dem weissen Himmelskleid;
Mit der gueldnen Ehrenenkroene
Steh ich da fuehr Gottes Throne
Schaue solche Freude an,
Die kein Ende nehmen kann.

Ah, I have already glimpsed
This great Glory
Now I shall be adorned
In the white robe of Heaven;
In the golden crown of glory
I stand before the throne of God,
And gaze at such joy
that can never end.

Now, the electrifying thought here, is the eighth line :a paraphrase of "Vor deinen Thron tret ich allheir", Bach's own Sterbenlied ? as Wolff describes it, the "propopoeia", the witness of the deceased ?

And thus, the cantata, which speaks of an earthly wedding, is in fact aimed at the marrying of the soul to Jesus in death ; hence the use of a verse of the funeral chorale "Alle menschen müssen sterben", as the chorale setting at the end. And why the image of the individual before the throne, not just in the white robes of the Redeemeas per Revelation ; but - crowned?

The precedent for this image is not I think in the Bible; it is the practice of the Orthodox in the use of symbolic crowns at the marriage service; in this image, the celestial wedding of the soul. A far fetched extrapolation of images? Did not Bach also set "Alle Menschen müssen sterben" in the Orgelbuchlein, there as a lullaby?

as Robertson says :

"Above all there is Bach's inspiring faith in God, and his sublime approach to death as the key to eternal life, all concepts which he clothes in glorious music".

BWV 162, treating the wedding image as that of reception in Heaven, thus anticipates even Bach's own ultimate concept of his death, established even at the age of thirty.

 

Continue on Part 3

Cantata BWV 162: 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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