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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 169
Gott soll allein mein Herze haben
Discussions - Part 1

Discussions in the Week of September 29, 2002

Aryeh Oron wrote (September 29, 2002):
BWV 169 - Introduction

The subject of this week’s discussion (September 29, 2002), according to Klaus Langrock’s suggested list, is the Solo Cantata BWV 169 ‘Gott soll allein mein Herze haben’ (God alone should possess my heart). As a cantata for alto solo featuring the obbligato organ, it is a companion work to Cantata BWV 35, which was discussed in the BCML about two years ago. The first and the second movements of the E major Harpsichord Concerto BWV 1053 are used for the Sinfonia (Mvt. 1) and the second aria (Mvt. 5) respectively, all the harpsichord movements becoming organ pieces.

The librettist of this cantata is unknown. The Gospel, Matthew 22: 34-46 – Christ’s answer to the Pharisee concerning the greatest commandment – is closely followed and freely expanded in all movements of this cantata.

Recordings

The details of the recordings of this cantata can be found at the following page of the Bach Cantatas Website: Cantata BWV 169 - Recordings

As most of the solo cantatas, this one has plenty of recordings, at least 15 of them are complete to the best of my knowledge. Started to be recorded in 1960, this cantata has recordings to everyone’s taste – 4 counter-tenors against 11 mezzo-sopranos/contraltos from almost every school. Only the pure voice of an alto boy is missing from the list. And we are still expecting recordings from the ongoing recorded cycles of Koopman [21] and Suzuki [23], and maybe even Gardiner’s recording from his Pilgrimage will see the light of the day [20].

Additional Information

In the page of recordings mentioned above you can also find links to:
The original German text (at Walter F. Bischof Website); English translations by Francis Browne, Pamela Dellal and Z. Philip Ambrose. Hebrew translation by Aryeh Oron;
Score (Vocal & Piano version);
Commentary: in English by Simon Crouch (Listener’s Guide), Blair Johnston (AMG), and Craig Smith (Emmanuel Music); in Spanish by Julio Sánchez Reyes:

Last week’s discussion of Cantata BWV 114 has almost the minimal number of contributors. I do not understand why, because this is an excellent cantata. Bach’s musical settings fit the thought of both punishment for sin and consolation in the redemption following atonement, and Bach draws from this text music of sublime beauty and deep emotions. The two arias (for tenor and for alto) are indeed splendid, although they have quite a different character. The aria for tenor (and flute) as performed by Kurt Equiluz in either of his two recordings - with Rilling (as Thomas Braatz recommended) or with Leonhardt (my own personal favourite) - is something to cherish for a long time.

This week you have no excuse. I am sure that most of the members of the BCML have at least one recording of Cantata BWV 169; you will be familiar with part of the music from the Harpsichord Concerto; several sources for commentary are available over the web, as well as more than one option of translation. So, start listening, and please, please, write about your impressions.

I hope to see many of you participating in the discussion.

Thomas Shepherd wrote (October 2, 2002):
Some thoughts and queries concerning Organ concertos and BWV 169.

Händel wrote a number of organ concertos, probably for secular performance, for small chamber organ (8',4'and 2' without pedals) and chamber orchestra in the Italian style. It has always surprised me that Bach did not write for organ and orchestra in the concerto style or at least none appear to have survived.

Christoph Wolff suggests (The learned Musician p.389) that there may have been a number of organ concertos written by JSB and that a prime candidate for this is the harpsichord concerto in Emaj BWV 1053. I bought the box set of Richter on the Archiv label of the complete harpsichord concertos some years ago. I have always loved them whilst thinking that they are somewhat wooden as well. So I was delighted to come across BWV 169 and hear movements of an organ concerto! It fits the instrument so easily and reminded me instantly of Handel's concertos.

BWV 169 was performed 20th September 1726 (Trinity 18 in the third cantata cycle). According to Wolff, the revisions for the harpsichord concerto BWV 1053 were made in the 1730's. Wolff makes the important point that there is an emancipation of the left hand, that comparing a few bars of BWV 169 and BWV 1053 it is possible to see a new style of keyboard writing appearing for that hand. No longer is it merely the bass continuo line. He suggests that this creative novelty paved the way for future generations of keyboard concertos. From that assertion he suggests that the harpsichord concerto is a later refashioning of music from the cantata. But was there an even earlier (before 1726) organ concerto upon which the cantata was based?

Incidentally, I'm confused about Robertson's chronology of the cantata and its relation to BWV 1053.

Then there is the 3rd movement of the cantata. Robertson likes the nicely worked melody of the aria, yet bemoans the fact that the organ's part is too florid as the accompaniment. Take the alto solo out and we are left with a wonderful organ piece in its own right.

And a finally a thought about the siciliano of the 5th movement of the cantata (Mvt. 5). The alto line and organ obbligato are married perfectly and fittingly in this most melting aria. IMO, the second movement of the harpsichord concerto has much less heart!

Perhaps the organist in this cantata deserves more recognition than the alto?

Robert Killingsworth wrote (October 3, 2002):
Looking through my LP collection from the '60s and '70s, I find one of this cantata to add to the list of complete recordings on the website.

[6] Julia Hamari has recorded BWV 169 with the chamber choir of the Liszt Music Academy and the Liszt Chamber Orchestra conducted by Frigyes Sandor, with Gabor Lehotka playing the organ. It is paired on Hungaroton SHLX 90044 with BWV 161 performed by Hamari, Jozsef Reti, tenor, and the same forces. (Aryeh, if you'd like more details, contact me.)

There is no clear indication of when the recording was made. From evidence on the jacket, it was published after 1965 -- possibly in 1973.

Of BWV 169, I have this recording, Wolf-Matthäus/Hellmann [1] and Baker/Menuhim [5]. I haven't had a chance yet to listen to any of them again. My preference years ago was for Janet Baker, but I ought to give them all a rehearing.

Roland Wörner wrote (October 3, 2002):
[6] To Hamari / Sandor: I bought the LP in July 1969 in Prague. At this time it was a new issue. Also in the cover text Hamari's debut with Karl Richter in Vienna 1966 is mentioned. So it must be recorded 1967/68.

Jane Newble wrote (October 4, 2002):
This is one of my most favourite cantatas. It is the combination of music and the words, and also because it is sung by Aafje Heynis [2]. I always feel I don't need to hear another version when I have got this one. The first time I heard of this cantata was when I heard the aria 'Stirb in mir' (Mvt. 5), sung by a young alto in a small church. It was unforgettable, and wI discovered that Aafje Heynis sung it too, I had to get it.

After the wonderful sinfonia (Mvt. 1), there is a recitativ starting with an arioso (Mvt. 2), after which the voice interrupts itself several times to sing the repeat, to make very sure that we all know what it is about. The deceitfulness of the world as against total devotion of the heart to God. He is the source of all peace and joy. I love the way the recitative moves into the arioso and vice versa.

The following aria again sings the same theme, and gives some of the reason why. I find it amazing how Bach makes the organ to sing the same as the voice, only without words. But it is the same positive, joyful affection and devotion towards the One who 'liebt mich in der bösen Zeit.' Note the tender repeat of the 'Er liebt mich.' (Not the same in Leusink [19], though). The richness of musical notes in the background is like a box of treasures to be explored. It all ends very reluctantly, as if he would have preferred to repeat it all once again.

Next comes another recitativ, explaining this love of God, and why He is 'das höchste Gut.' The organ stops abruptly before the last word, to give a sense of the lightness with which the believer is carried up to eternity.

In the v.d. Horst version [2] of the aria 'Stirb in mir' (Mvt. 5), the continuo gives a very clear, slow and deep heart-beat, to show the inward looking, self examining mood. In a heart only beating for God, there is no place for love of the world, even though a touch of sadness seems to convey a fear of being led away from this total devotion to God by the allurements of the world. Suddenly the music stops, and then it is time for looking out towards others, so that there is no hint of living as a recluse.

The chorale (Mvt. 7) is a prayer for God's love towards others. It is sung very slowly and solemnly by v.d. Horst's Dutch Bach choir.

I also listened to Leusink [19], but I missed the throbbing heart beat in the 'Stirb in mir' aria (Mvt. 5), and just was not touched by it in the same way, although the last chorale (Mvt. 7) is sung beautifully. Overall Leusink's timings were to hurried for my liking, and took away from the devotional aspect of this very moving cantata.

Philippe Bareille wrote (October 4, 2002):
Another great work written for alto and organ. Unlike the cantatas discussed recently (BWV 25, BWV 27 and BWV 114), the BWV 169 "God has my heart" entertains more hope ("the love of God shuts the gate of Hell and open Heaven wide") and is less tormented. It is a love song paying obeisance to God's boundless love. The sinfonia (Mvt. 1) and the second aria (Mvt. 5) are based on the first two movements of the harpsichord concerto BWV 1053. This cantata imposes considerable demands on the organist as well as on the singer.

I tried to get the Philips version with Aafje Heynis [2] to no avail. It seems that this CD is no longer available. I used to listen to the LP record 15 years ago. I had rarely heard anything so illuminating. It is incomprehensible that Philips has stopped reissuing the CD! If I go by another CD produced by Philips with Aafje Heynis that includes the most affecting "Erbarne dich" (from the MP) I have ever heard I' m sure I won't be disappointed if I get the chance to listen to it again after so many years. Jane's email reinforces my impressions.

This week I have listened to Harnoncourt/ Esswood [11] and Menuhin/ Baker [5].

In the opening sinfonia (Mvt. 1) Harnoncourt conveys the joy of the scoring with great conviction and determination. He uses 2 oboes d'amore and has "enhanced the bass line with a bassoon". The organist is impressive. Esswood is less successful. As usual of course he has a great deal to offer especially on the emotional level. However his rendition is occasionally marred by his intonation. He seems technically insecure in the most virtuoso passages but he is fine in the beguiling second aria (Mvt. 5) (although his voice is strained in the higher register).

I wish Harnoncourt had chosen the outstanding boy alto Panito Iconomou who sang notably in cantatas BWV 167 and BWV 177. I think a good boy alto is always a bonus in this music. Otherwise I will always prefer a woman to a countertenor in this repertoire. Despite my reservations Harnoncourt fans should get this version.

I was pleasantly surprised by the superb performance of late Menuhin especially if you consider that it was recorded in 1967. The sinfonia (Mvt. 1) is very lively with quite vivid instrumental attack. Menuhin well known spiritual commitment (he never, however, embraced a particular faith even if he was Jewish) shines through the cantata. This music is indubitably suited to a man who was always imbued with kindness. He was of course helped by Janet Baker [5]. Her efficient, emotionally charged voice never fails to move. Some listeners may find her vibrato too heavy at times but all in all it is a deeply satisfying performance. Warmly recommended.

This cantata is too rich for any outright recommendation of one version over another but I think that I will always particularly cherish Heynis [2]! Hope Philips will reissue the CD I mentioned above and confirm my memories.

Matthew Neugebauer wrote (October 5, 2002):
[To Jabne Newble] Is this a solo cantata?

Aryeh Oron wrote (October 5, 2002):
Philippe Bareille wrote:
< I wish Harnoncourt had chosen the outstanding boy alto Panito Iconomou who sang notably in cantatas BWV 167 and BWV 177. I think a good boy alto is always a bonus in this music. Otherwise I will always prefer a woman to a countertenor in this repertoire. Despite my reservations Harnoncourt fans should get
this version. >
Following a previous message from you, I asked Panito this question in the ongoing interview with him.

Philippe Bareille wrote (October 6, 2002):
[To Aryeh Oron] Thanks Aryeh. I look forward to it.

Leo Ditvoorst wrote (October 5, 2002:
Philippe Bareille wrote:
< I tried to get the Philips version with Aafje Heynis [2] to no avail. It seems that this CD is no longer available. I used to listen to the LP record 15 years ago. I had rarely heard anything so illuminating. It is incomprehensible that Philips has stopped reissuing the CD! >
http://srvr3.com/SqlShopA/2/index.php?acornid=music&CA=2

Aryeh Oron wrote (October 5, 2002):
BWV 169 - The Recordings

Last week I have been listening to the following recordings of Cantata BWV 169:

[1] Diethard Hellmann with Lotte Wolf-Matthäus (Contralto) (1960)
[4] Karl Ristenpart with Eva Bornemann (Contralto) (Mid 1960’s?)
[3] Antonio Janigro with Maureen Forrester (1964)
[5] Yehudi Menuhin with Janet Baker (Mezzo-soprano) (1966)
[10] Helmuth Rilling with Carolyn Watkinson (Contralto) (1983)
[11] Nikolaus Harnoncourt with Paul Esswood (Counter-tenor) (1987)
[12] Leo van Doeselaar with Jard van Nes (Contralto) (1988)
[13] Robert King with James Bowman (Counter-tenor) (1988)
[15] Hartmut Haenchen with Jochen Kowalski (Counter-tenor) (1994)
[16] Andrzej Mysiński with Jadwiga Rappé (Contralto) (1995)
[17] Juha Kangas with Monica Groop (Mezzo-soprano) (1998)
[18] Ludwig Güttler with Elisabeth Wilke (Contralto) (1998)
[19] Pieter Jan Leusink Sytse Buwalda (Counter-tenor) (1999)

Short Background

I shall skip the usual background section of the review this time. As I wrote in the introduction, plenty of commentaries are available on the Web. I shall only say that I believe that the ‘heart’ of this cantata is the second aria (Mvt. 5). This movement (as the opening chorus) is an adaptation of the second movement, the siciliano, of the harpsichord concerto, or of a lost viola/oboe concerto. But hearing it as an aria, a step lower than the concerto, it sounds as if it was written especially for this matter. As Blair Johnston justly wrote: “In ‘Stirb in mir’, things are not quite so simple: the organ and the alto soloist offer, simultaneously, slightly different versions of the original solo line -- sometimes their two versions line up note-by-note, but sometimes, usually so that the alto might better carry the text, they diverge and become counterpoints to one another.” And Murray W. Young: “It is like a death lullaby, which Bach was induced to compose by the verb ‘Stirb’ (die)”. There is a moment, when the singer sings the second ‘Stirb in mir’, which must touch every human being. Even the least successful renditions can hardly miss this moment. On the other hand, it is not easy to bring out a wholly successful rendition of this aria, where the delicate balance between the singer and the organist must be carefully kept along the whole aria.

Short Review of the Recordings

With so many recordings to listen to, do I miss something? Not really, because most of them are not bad and some of the really excels. But when I am aware that two of my favourite female altos – Aafje Heynis [2] and Julia Hamari [6] - have also recorded this cantata, I know that most probably the best renditions of this cantata are not at my disposal!

Although I have been listening extensively to the 11 recordings in their entirety, the short comparative review below relates only to the 2nd aria (Mvt. 5). I should have written also about the organist, whose part is almost as important as the singer’s part, but I do not have the time.

The recordings can be roughly be divided into three groups: female altos from the ‘old school’, female altos from the ‘modern school’, and counter-tenors.

Female altos from the ‘old school’
Personal preference: Bornemann [3], Wolf-Matthäus [1], Baker [5], Watkinson [10], Forrester [4].

Only Bornemann encompasses the deep sadness of the aria in its wholeness. You feel breathless and close to tears after hearing her. Wolf-Matthäus is almost on the same par, but her voice is somewhat smaller, and less stable. Baker is always at her best in this kind of repertoire. I can only express my regret that she has not recorded more Bach. Watkinson is fine regarding expressiveness, but her is voice limited and lacking in volume and richness. Forrester's singing is dignified and respectful, and her voice is full and rich. But I feel that something is missing. I can define it as a lack of variety and unsuitable approach. All the other four singers from this school find more nuances and intimacy this aria than she does and as a result are more moving. I do not have anything against some vibrato. But I expect the singer to use it economically and tastefully. With Forrester the vibrato is dominating everything and you can’t escape from it. Maybe she was better in Händel.

Female altos from the ‘modern school’
Personal preference: Wilke [18], Groop [17], Rappé [16], Nes [12].

Only Wilke sounds natural when singing the aria. Groop, although she has a charming voice, do not dig below the surface, Rappé’s singing is too straightforward and lacking in sensitivity, and Nes’ instability of line is almost intolerable.

Counter-tenors:
Personal preference: Esswood [11], Bowman [13], Kowalski [15], Buwalda [19]

Only Esswood has the warmth and sensitivity to do justice with this aria. I find Bowman singing lacking somewhat in emotion, and Kowalski too operatic.

Conclusion

A movement to take away: The 2nd Aria (Mvt. 5) with Bornemann [3] (and most probably also Heynis [2] and Hamari [6]!)

As always, I would like to hear other opinions, regarding the above mentioned performances, or other recordings.

Thomas Braatz wrote (October 6, 2002):
BWV 169 - Provenance:

See: Cantata BWV 169 – Provenance

The Recordings:

This week I listen to only four recordings, two of which were below average, one that might be termed ‘acceptable,’ and another slightly above average:

Rilling [10], Harnoncourt [11], Güttler [18], Leusink [19]

Since I have such a small group of recordings to choose from, it is difficult to make comparisons based only on these three performances. Also, the second aria (Mvt. 5) (the slow mvt. of the E major Harpsichord Concerto (BWV 1053), is one of my all-time favorites among Bach’s compositions. The sublime nature of this piece struck me as a teenager when I read through the keyboard score on my own. What a discovery! It has not lost any of all its moving qualities ever since that first encounter many years ago. In the meantime I have heard numerous recorded versions of the harpsichord concerto, but the cantata recordings that I have leave much to be desired. Because I have known this piece for such a long time, my expectations are probably higher than they normally would be.

The Leusink/Buwalda recording [19] belongs to the category of counter-tenors, along with the Harnoncourt/Esswood [11] version of this cantata. Both singers affect me negatively: Buwalda’s half-voice fails to give sufficient voice and feeling for a text of this sort. Esswood’s insecurities in intonation and even in controlling his voice properly makes me very uncomfortable. Extended sotto voce passages convey a tentativeness regarding the text as well as the music. This is entirely inappropriate for a solo cantata of this type. Buwalda and Esswood both lack conviction in their singing. This may be due to the fact that their fragile voices do not allow for anything more than a very limited range of dynamics. When Esswood begins to sing flat (why can’t he find the proper pitch? Shouldn’t Harnoncourt have signaled to him with a raised thumb?) I feel as if someone is slowly trying to extract one of my teeth. This may not bother some listeners, but for me it is agony to listen to a singer searching for proper intonation, but failing most of the time in this endeavor.

From the female altos, Rilling/Watkinson [10] and Güttler/Wilke [18], there is, on the whole, more depth of expression, although both are not overwhelming by any means. Watkinson, with a full operatic voice, has trouble keeping this voice under control. Wilke, on thother hand, succeeds in giving a ‘cleaner’ performance that also allows the listener to take in the words and music without being constantly distracted by vocal idiosyncrasies such as a strange or too wide vibrato. What I do not like about Wilke’s voice is a tendency to add a sudden push to a note after it has been attacked and intoned. This pressing, pushing, sudden increase of volume with, at the same time, a narrowing at the end of a note is a trait that Wilke has in common with Lucia Popp and Magdalena Koczena. I find this vocal trait quite bothersome as it frequently interferes with musical phrases that may tend to build and diminish gradually. In the middle of such a phrase, a sudden thrust at the end of a loud note is extremely distracting and detracts from the concentration that a listener may be placing on the words and music. Listen to the way Wilke releases certain consonants at the end of a word: “Stirb in mir (heh)” [not in all instances, but in some as in measure 22 just before attacking “Hoffart.”] I think you will hear what I am referring to.

Mvt. 1
For a straight-forward version without shenanigans a la Harnoncourt [11], listen to the Rilling version [10] which follows the score carefully. Harnoncourt treats this mvt. like a hoedown in a country dance atmosphere where this type of treatment would be appreciated, but for a performance in a church, Bach would never have tolerated this type of treatment. There are no indications in the score of either this mvt. from BWV 169 or in BWV 1053 for the special emphases/accents and slurs that Harnoncourt invented for his performance. Güttler [18] copies the very same, non-existent strong accents from Harnoncourt’s recording; as a result, both versions sound very similar, although Harnoncourt’s version is more extreme in this regard. Leusink [19] does not copy Harnoncourt, but throws in a few special accents in different places. Leusink’s clumsy and heavy bc and lack of definition in the high instrumental parts makes his version much less interesting than the other two HIP versions.

Robin Crag wrote (October 6, 2002):
A beautiful cantata, full of love. This cantata is definitely one of my favourite ones.

The performance (Leusink) [19]:
I would say, don't buy this one from choice. It's not very good. But you can hear the music through it, and appreciate the music.

Sinfonia (Mvt. 1):
This movement is wonderful in its place as a concerto movement. But Bach has chosen just the right thing for this cantata, too. My personal impression of this movement is of faithfulness, love, and joy, communicated in music. But there are those darker moments, too (like at that long "pedal point"). It is possible to "read" these as the faithfulness and love continuing through the difficult times. How wonderful the bassline is, underlying everything, and yet saying so much of its own!

Arioso/recitative (Mvt. 2):
I'm not big on recitatives, so just a small observation. After the line "Das von des Hoechsten Guete quillet;" the bassline rises in a scale, demonstrating the "joy sublime" welling from the God. In the next line, could the decoration in the voice part on the word "Stroemen" represent a meandering stream?

Aria (Mvt. 3):
I have the feeling here that Bach believes strongly in the words. The love between the believer and his God just pours out of the music (especially the organ's right hand's line..). The bassline walks steadily, supporting everything. The times when the bassline turns (for only two notes!) to notes with half the usual length (I don't know if they're quavers or semiquavers or what, I haven't got the score) are like when your heart skips a beat, without any feeling of stopping (if u c?). Bach demonstrates the words "Er liebt mich in der boesen Zeit" perfectly. The music changes to a minor key, and after a brief moment, the organ (and the love) flows again. I was surprised, looking at the cdcover, that this movement lasts only ~2 minutes. It goes on forever!

Recitative (Mvt. 4):
Bach has the singer sing a downwards shape on the line "Sie schliesst die Hoelle zu", this could be a shutting gesture, or maybe just demonstrating that hell is downwards. Somehow, Bach makes all of the three next lines show rising up (To open heaven up, to carry Elias/Elijah up there, and to carry everyone else up).

Aria (Mvt. 5):
From time to time, I listen to the mystical music of the Pakistani Qawwali singers. Certainly nothing compared to Bach, but they have something Bach doesn't normally have. But Bach has it here! (Confirming that we should listen to lots of Bach, and a little of everything else..). It is a very mystical movement, with something about it that is beyond describing. But hey, lets try. Its in 3/x time (where x=4, if Leusink [19] is an adequate mathematician). The Bassline always comes in on the second beat, and is always silent on the first. This somehow creates the "death" effect. And then the almost disturbing harmonic changes, and those swirling shapes...
(ok, I tried)
Here, Bach's poet condemns riches, pomp, and Augenlust ("outward show"). I have to agree with this. And so would Antoine de Saint-Exupery's Little Prince (or at least about the Augenlust: we should always strive for Herzenlust..).

Recitative (Mvt. 6):
I've nothing to say about the music here. But the words are important, pulling us back from our trance into the real world, where there are people to love.

Chorale (Mvt. 7):
Bach chooses here to end what would otherwise be a solocantata with a four part chorale. I think this emphasises wonderfully how the believer must love his neighbours. Looking at the text+translation again, the words talk in the plural first person (Where everything else in the cantata is singular), so a solo chorale with these words would be a bit silly. Bach probably chose the words, too, so it is still relevant.

My own personal "spiritual" reaction:
Here I can see a side of Bach's Christianity that has something to it that is possibly universal. (Or maybe its just me that sympathies with it..) But to me, who doesn't believe in an afterlife or a friendly man sitting on a cloud, the complete devotion to God, and nothing else, suggested in the second aria, is a little bit silly. But then the last two movements (especially the chorale (Mvt. 7)!) show us truly useful religion, that helps us love those around us, and those that we don't know, too.

Anyway, I had better shut up now...

Juozas Rimas wrote (October 6, 2002):
[11] < Only Esswood has the warmth and sensitivity to do justice with this aria (Mvt. 3). >
Esswood's arioso (Mvt. 2) is simply awful at 0:37 and 1:31 - I can't call it anything else than shouting. Perhaps counter-tenors have their own standards but to me, those two moments are enough to destroy the arioso completely. There are less extremities in the first aria but it was very boring to listen to it through.

The recitative "Was ist die Liebe Gottes" is again a disaster - the very first notes made me turn down the volume immediately. Recitatives, with their scarce accompaniment, require even more expression from the singer than arias yet Esswood, boring in arias, chooses to shout in recitatives... I thought the 23 seconds of the "Doch meint es auch dabei" recitative will be too little for Esswood to find a moment to shriek but he does this shamelessly at 0:14.

All in all, the best part of the Harnoncourt's performance [11] is, of course, the chorale (Mvt. 7), with the barelistenable first aria (Mvt. 3).

This was my first exposure to the wonderful cantata. I'm on my way to find enjoyable performers. Should I start with Heynis [2] and Hamari [6]?

Marie Jensen wrote (October 6, 2002):
35 Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying,
36 Master, which is the great commandment in the law?
37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
38 This is the first and great commandment.
39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

BWV 169 (Gott soll allein mein Herze haben) deals with these verses from St. Matthew : Love God more than anything else, and your neighbour as yourself. In the cantata however, the neighbour only gets a recitativo and the final chorale (Mvt. 7). I always feel it a bit like: Oh , we forgot the neighbour, let's say a little about him before we end.

The Rilling / Watkinson [10] version is full of energy all the way through. The organ / alto constellation is similar to BWV 35 (Geist und Seele wird verwirret...): an instrumental movement and an allegro aria with passionate organ patterns: Play " the Queen of Instruments" with all your might, use all your imagination to praise God , in the frames of a cantata !

The siciliano aria, the famous clou, prays: "Die, sinful world ! I don't want to be tempted by you!" It has an intense climax , a prayer from the very deepest of the soul , and then the theme comes back ; probably like it sounded in the beginning, but after all this intensity it seems relaxed, like an answered prayer.

This is one of my favourite cantatas. Rilling’s version[10] is great. Leusink / Buwalda [19]. I cannot recommend it. The allegro aria for instance seems tired and uninspired.

Gott soll allein mein Herze haben,
Ich find in ihm das höchste Gut.
BWV 169

Aryeh Oron wrote (October 7, 2002):
Juozas Rimas wrote:
[11] < Esswood's arioso (Mvt. 2) is simply awful at 0:37 and 1:31 - I can't call it anything else than shouting. Perhaps counter-tenors have their own standards but to me, those two moments are enough to destroy the arioso completely. There are less extremities in the first aria (Mvt. 3) but it was very boring to listen to it through. [snip] The recitative "Was ist die Liebe Gottes" is again a disaster - the very first notes made me turn down the volume immediately. Recitatives, with their scarce accompaniment, require even more expression from the singer than arias yet Esswood, boring in arias, chooses to shout in recitatives... >
I respect you opinion and your right to express it freely. Usually, I avoid relating to others members' opinion, but we definitely hear Harnoncourt/Esswood recordings [11] differently...

Esswood is boring in arias? Shouting in recitatives? While I prefer most of the contralto/mezzo-soprano singers to any of counter-tenors who have recorded this cantata, I still find Esswood as the best of the four men. Although I have already started listening to Cantata BWV 48, I gave Esswood another shot and again, he did not fail to move me. He succeeds to bring out the loneliness and the deep grief of the dirge for worldly pleasures (the second aria). His singing might be seen as over-passionate. But I prefer such approach to neutrality or incapacity.

< This was my first exposure to the wonderful cantata. I'm on my way to find enjoyable performers. Should I start with Heynis [2] and Hamari [6]? >
If you can find them... We have leant from Leo Ditvoorst that Heynis recording is available again. I hope that the Israeli distributor of Universal/Polygram will not fail to bring it soon.

Philippe Bareille wrote (October 27, 2002):
NB: At last I managed to find the CD with Aafje Heynis singing BWV 169/BWV 170 [2]. To say that Heynis gives a deeply satisfying performance of these 2 cantatas is an understatement!

 

Are these HIP characteristics?

Continue of discussion from: HIP - Part 9 [General Topics]

Hugo Saldias wrote (May 16, 2003):
[To Neil Halliday] Richter adds one intrument to the ensemble, adds color too.It is not needed but makes it more orchestral if you like the word.Kantor Mauersberger is a little agressive if you like but still sounds like an organ obligato piece. Listen to the cantata BWV 169: Gott soll mein Herze haben (God will have my heart). It is a cantata for organ obligato (not very common, there are only a few, I do not remember the others) Richter did not record this one but other's did and it sounds really beautifull we have arias were you can take the organ out and still be beautiful, so Bach added the organ to make it better, let us say....

Listen please to this cantata even the few bars. The first movement is the first movement of a cembalo concerto...played on the organ of course.... After you listen to this BWV 169 give me your review.

Neil Halliday wrote (May 16, 2003):
[To Hugo Saldias] You asked me to listen to cantata BWV 169, the Sinfonia of which (Mvt. 1) is an adaptation of the 1st movement of the Clavier Concerto in E major, BWV 1053, with the harpsichord part transcribed for organ.

Harnoncourt's version [11], the one I have access to, is very agreeable, especially so, if you can turn the volume up! (Otherwise the organ part might sound as if it lacks sufficient power.)

The organ features quite a 'sparkling' registration, an improvement over that of the Herreweghe Sinfonia from BWV 29, which was the topic of conversation a while ago. The tempo feels right, the strings play vigorously, especially in the 'tutti' sections, which is something I look for in HIP, and the structure holds together well, without the fragmentation, caused by excessive staccato, and detachment of notes and phrases, that afflicts some of Harmnoncourt's performances. There is also some charming interplay between the oboes and strings. In places, I am reminded of Handel's organ concertos.

Regarding the Richter Duet (BWV 78), the recording I have heard, available at the www.dovesong.com, is from a mono LP, and perhaps the comments I made are influenced by this; for example, if one could actually hear the pizzicato from the double bass, I might have a more favourable impression. OTOH, I'm not sure this movement should be considered as having an obligato organ part, as the score does not specify this (according to Robertson, at least). The charm and character of this duet seem to respond better (IMO) to Rifkin's treatment, with the more articulate, gentler (than the organ) cello part taking the bass eighth-note theme, combined with the wonderful effect of pizzicato on double bass, one of my favourite orchestral 'colours'.

But then there's the glorious 1st movement (chorus). The sheer power of Richter's performance remains thrilling, 40 years after its creation, despite the mono recording.

BTW, I mentioned in my previous post (to Brad) the 'sharp timbre' (difficult to describe, actually), of period strings, the distraction of a < and > articulation on certain (long) notes, as well as a certain 'weakness' or primness in the violins, as characteristics of HIP, but I don't mean to imply that all period performances display these characteristics at levels which are distracting.

 

Chorale Ending BWV 169

Olly Fox wrote (May 29, 2005):
One of my favourchorales is the one which closes BWV 169: Du Susse Liebe, schenk uns deine Gunst (Mvt. 7).

It is performed exquisitely OVPP by Robert King's fine soloists on Hyperion [13]. Comparing this with an equally moving acount by Ton Koopman's choir [21] I noticed that they close with slightly different wordings.

King [13] uses the familiar Kyrie eleison as does the BGA but Koopman [21] closes with Kyrie eleis. Is this a Germanic alteration of the Latin text?

I would be interested to find out the NBA has to offer on this point.

Thomas Braatz wrote (May 29, 2005):
Olly Fox wrote:
>>One of my favourite chorales is the one which closes BWV 169: Du Susse Liebe, schenk uns deine Gunst (
Mvt. 7). King [13] uses the familiar Kyrie eleison as does the BGA but Koopman [21] closes with Kyrie eleis. Is this a Germanic alteration of the Latin text?
I would be interested to find out the NBA has to offer on this point.<<
The NBA has 'Kyrie eleis' [Greek text] which is the Luther original for this 3rd verse of his hymn "Nun bitten wir den Heiligen Geist" (1524). As usual the NBA KB I/24 gives a list of all the variant wordings of hymn texts in hymnals that Bach may have used or come into contact with. This cantata was composed in 1726 and the only variant which has "Kyrie eleison" is the "Vopelisches Gesangbuch" from 1737. All the earlier versions/editions of this hymnal consulted (1682, 1729, and 1730) still have the Luther original.

Other hymnals concur with the Luther original.

Thomas Braatz wrote (May 29, 2005):
There is more to the use of "kyrie eleis" which I did
not get to yesterday:

1. It occurs at the end of chorale verses as follows
in Bach's texts:

BWV 66/6
BWV 91/1,6
BWV 169/7
BWV 197/5

and in assorted, free-standing chorale settings:

BWV 276, 298, 385

2. der 'Leis' or 'Leise' (not meaning 'soft' in German), according to the DWB [German equivalent of the OED] means 'spritual song' or 'hymn', in the Middle Ages (MHD). It was a 'spiritual folksong' abbreviated from the Greek phrase heard in church: "Kyrie eleison" which was a 'cry' nevertheless sung melodically by the congregation. From Luther's writings there are documented even other Germanic corruptions of the Greek "kyrie eleison":

"kyrioleis"

and

"kyrieleison"

Summary:

In the time before printed books and hymnals, congregations in the Pre-Reformation churches in Germany heard the priest chant, sing or exclaim "Kyrie eleison" which was then repeated by the German speaking congregation rendered as a corrupted form which seemed closer to the native language. 'Leis' or 'Leise' eventually took on the meaning of 'a religious folksong' in a broader sense, but Luther also has a specialized use of this term: a specific, musical 'tag ending' at the end of each verse:

Luther: ".wenn ich dis liedlin einmal vol mache, wil ich dem zu Meinz seine leisen auch finden." [".when I have completed writing out all the verses for this little song (a chorale text by Luther), I will look about and see if I can locate additional 'songs' [chorales] written by the man in Mainz."]

Luther [specialized meaning]: ".mit beziehung auf eine parodie des liedes vom armen Judas, die er auf Heinrich von Wolfenbüttel macht und von der jeder vers mit kyrioleis oder kyrieleison schlieszt." ["in connection with a parody of a song about poor Judas, based upon a text by Heinrich von Wolfenbüttel and of which each verse ends with either a 'kyrioleis' or a 'kyrieleison'"]

Peter Smaill wrote (May 29, 2005):
Quite aside from the interesting question of the abbreviation "Kyrie Eleis," there is the general point that this Chorale is especially attractive - for me, dating back to a 33 rpm recording of Dame Janet Baker / Yehudi Menuhin performing BWV 169 [5], "Gott soll allein mein Herze haben." OVPP must sound superb given the animated writing of all the parts.

It is the third stanza of the hymn, "Nun bitten wir den heiligen Geist," and the especial beauty of the words is an inspiration to Bach:

Du Sueusse Liebe, schenk uns deine Gunst,
lass un empfinden der Liebe Brunst,
dass wir uns von Herzen einander leiben
und in Frieden auf einem Sinn bleiben.
Kyrie eleis(on).

Thou sweetest Love, give to us your Grace,
Let us feel the fire of Love,
That we may from our hearts love one another
Continuing to dwell in peace, of one mind
Kyrie eleis(on).

One of the reasons why the chorale is the most affecting of the three harmonisations in Reimenschneider, each harmonically interesting in varying ways, is the delicious suspensions. The twelfth bar gives us, transiently, an exposed octave in the upper parts on A, E and D in tenor and bass. Bar 13 has the passing dissonance G, F sharp and E (SAB) with the tenor holding B; leading to a second resolution of F sharp on E.

The open octave is perhaps a device indicating the unity of mind ("einem Sinn")?

These harmonies, and in all the harmonisations the use of the subdominant at the close of the second strophe, gives a poignant feeling to the prayer to the Holy Ghost, creating colour in what is otherwise a mellifluous setting; and, of course, wonderfully punctuated by the final "kyrie eleis".

The other linguistic point of interest is in the Alto arioso, "Ein Bachlein der Zufriedenheit" (Mvt. 2), "A rivulet of contentment". I should be interested to know how often, and to what significance (if any) Bach is enabled by the librettist to allude to his own name , rather than setting the more common "Brunquell" when illustrating the spiritual imagery of water.

Bradley Lehman wrote (May 30, 2005):
< One of my favourite chorales is the one which closes BWV 169: Du Susse Liebe, schenk uns deine Gunst.
It is performed exquisitely OVPP by Robert King's fine soloists on Hyperion
[13]. Comparing this with an equally moving acount by Ton Koopman's choir [21] I noticed that they close with slightly different wordings.
King uses the familiar Kyrie eleison as does the BGA but Koopman closes with Kyrie eleis. Is this a Germanic alteration of the Latin text?
I would be interested to find out the NBA has to offer on this point. >
That's important. But an even broader question is: should the whole Greek phrase "Kyrie eleison" be sung whether the score says so or not? That's a question for liturgical research, not merely for the positivism of looking in a score. Take a look, for example, in the Liber Usualis where the standard plainchants are codified. IIRC, there are hundreds of examples there (both in the Ordinary and the Propers) where the text underlay is not completely written out, because it's just something everybody knew from the incipit.

Another interesting question is: in a Mass or its excerpts, composed by a German composer, is "eleison" a four-syllable word or a three-syllable word? At least on the evidence of Bach's mass scores, it appears to have been a three-syllable word for him (with accent on LEI, "lye"? e-LYE-zohn?) in the masses BWV 233-235, but a four-syllable word in BWV 236 and the big B minor, perhaps with a more Italianate pronunciation rather than Germanic. But again, we have to take into account the broader issues of liturgical pronunciations and other unwritten traditions, around all this; and it's properly a question for specialists of historical liturgy and pronunciation. It's rather like Doug Cowling's remarks on the improvised fauxbourdons in Tallis et al, liturgi: the surviving scores do not tell us everything we need to know about reconstructing the actual practices plausibly. And it takes interdisciplinary processes (with practical musicianship among the foremost) to get toward that.

Gabriel Jackson wrote (May 29, 2005):
Bradley Lehman writes:
"Another interesting question is: in a Mass or its excerpts, composed by a German composer, is "eleison" a four-syllable word or a three-syllable word? At least on the evidence of Bach's mass scores, it appears to have been a three-syllable word for him (with accent on LEI, "lye"? e-LYE-zohn?) in the masses BWV 233-235, but a four-syllable word in BWV 236 and the big B minor, perhaps with a more Italianate pronunciation rather than Germanic. But again, we have to take into account the broader issues of liturgical pronunciations and other unwritten traditions, around all this; and it's properly a question for specialists of historical liturgy and pronunciation. It's rather like Doug Cowling's remarks on the improvised fauxbourdons in Tallis et al, liturgically: the surviving scores do not tell us everything we need to know about reconstructing the actual practices plausibly. And it takes interdisciplinary processes (with practical musicianship among the foremost) to get toward that."
I'm wondering if perhaps both are (were right)....It was always the case (until 100 years or so ago) that Latin was pronounced as if it were one's one native language, but I wonder if pure taste on the composer's part ever came into it. I just wrote a Mass where, partly for musical reasons (i.e. /shapelength/number of notes in a phrase) it was necessary that 'eleison' was three syllables, whereas in a previous setting a few years ago, I set it as a four-syllable word. (Doubtless my experience will be dismissed as irrelevant....) Interstingly Byrd, in his 4 part Mass, clearly at one stage thought that "Kyrie eleison" could be seen (heard...) as having only 5 syllables as it appears set to a point of only 5 notes. At some point, he appears to have become aware of the six-syllable prounciation, or at least taken it on board, since there is some obvious adjustment of the underlay in the published version, though it isn't consistent and he certainly didn't change the 5-note point. Maybe consistency didn't matter to him and his listeners. Maybe it didn't matter to Bach and his either? And 6 or 7 syllables was OK. Just a thought.....

Gabriel Jackson wrote (May 29, 2005):
Thomas Braatz writes:
"Bach gives us what we need to know in order to pronounce/sing his music correctly. (But then there will always be some aberrant musicologists/musicians who will say: "But perhaps Bach did not mean this, perhaps he meant something else, or perhaps the Greek words should be performed in the Italianate style....")"
No, Thomas, but there are quite rightly musicologists/musicians and just plain people, who quite rightly will say "One has to understand what the notation meant to the players and singers who it was intended to communicate with, because some of those notational devices meant something different then to what they do know." but then this has been said a million times before...

Douglas Cowling wrote (May 29, 2005):
[To Bradley Lehman] There are innumerable examples from across Europe from the Renaissance onwards of "Kyrie" pronounced as both 2 and 3 syllables, "eleison" as 2 or 3 syllables, and "kyrie eleison" elided. Palestrrina frequently uses two forms in the same movement. Dropping the final syllable of "eleison" is found in English, French and German macaronic poetic texts.

Thomas Braatz wrote (May 30, 2005):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
>>should the whole Greek phrase "Kyrie eleison" be sung whether the score says so or not?<<
It should be sung just as Bach indicated it!

>>Another interesting question is: in a Mass or its excerpts, composed by a German composer, is "eleison" a four-syllable word or a three-syllable word? At least on the evidence of Bach's mass scores, it appears to have been a three-syllable word for him(with accent on LEI, "lye"? e-LYE-zohn?) in the masses BWV 233-235, but a four-syllable word in BWV 236 and the big B minor, perhaps with a more Italianate pronunciation rather than Germanic.<<
One quick look at BWV 232/3 (Kyrie II) in the last two measures makes it quite apparent that Bach used 'eleison' both ways, even within the same measure/bar: both as a 3- and 4-syllable word.

Why complicate an issue beyond what is necessary? Bach gives us what we need to know in order to pronounce/sing his music correctly. (But then there will always be some aberrant musicologists/musicians who will say: "But perhaps Bach did not mean this, perhaps he meant something else, or perhaps the Greek words should be performed in the Italianate style....")

Thomas Braatz wrote (May 30, 2005):
Gabriel Jackson wrote:
>>...there are quite rightly musicologists/musicians and just plain people, who quite rightly will say "One has to understand what the notation meant to the players and singers who it was intended to communicate with, because some of those notational devices meant something different then to what they do know." But then this has been said a million times before...<<
...and unfortunately such musicologists/musicians and just plain people adamantly refuse to recognize what Bach clearly put down in notation and writing and still insist that Bach did not mean what he put down in writing and in his scores/parts and that some undocumentable 'esoteric practices' must be invoked in order to perform Bach differently from what he had intended.

J. A. Birnbaum's defense of Bach against Scheibe's attacks (beginning of January 1738) reiterates the observation by the music critic, Scheibe, that Bach is extremely careful to notate even those things normally left to the performers' manner of rendering music normally not notated to the same degree of detail as that of Bach's score/parts. Birnbaum claims that Bach is justified in doing this because the fewest
musicians possess the same degree of good taste as Bach himself does. If this was true during Bach's lifetime, how much more will this be true today when some musicologists/musicians erroneously and self-deceptively deem themselves better instructed in these matters than any musician dead or alive has ever been!

Birnbaum states: "...so ist ja wohl ein jeder componist, und also auch der Herr Hof-Compositeur befugt, durch vorschreibung einer richtigen und seiner absicht gemäßen methode, die irrenden auf den rechten weg zu weisen, und dabey auf die erhaltung seiner eignenen ehre zu sorgen" [...and so it is that every composer, as well as Mr. Bach, a court composer, is entitled to prescribe/stipulate the way his composition should be performed according to a method which he considers to be the right one and one that conforms to his intentions in order to show those erring musicians who stray from the correct path how they can get back again on the right path. In doing this Bach will be able to ensure that his personal honor/respect as a composer will be preserved."]

One easy way 'to stray from the correct path prescribed by Bach' is to sew the seeds of doubt about Bach's intentions by questioning what the Urtext gives us and by disseminating the notion that there is an elite group of musicologists/musicians who are permitted to take licence with the information explicitly stated in Bach's writing and notation. When questioned about their deviations, they respond with: "Only those fully trained in the various methods for reading scores can understand this difficult subject that can never be adequately understood without a university education specializing in these subjects." This, however, is only a cowardly compromise or evasion to prevent a full disclosure of an established direction of historical performance practices that leads away from Bach's intentions rather than working within the limitations Bach has prescribed. Once the area of performance practices has become clouded with speculative theories, it is easier such performers to simply follow their own wishes and whims based in part upon outdated theories (now having become doctrines) that they no longer can expect anyone outside of their specialty and expertise to penetrate and comprehend. They are now able to make up their own rules which are not in accordance with Bach's intentions as given, in many instances, quite explicitly by him, much to the dismay of Scheibe and a whole new generation now of elite musicologists/performers. When no one will be able any longer to question these new rules or personal liberties which they allow themselves, when they succeed in making the general listening public believe that they are incapable of doing Bach's music a disservice and that they are actually being responsible to the material that constitutes the legacy that Bach has passed on down to us, they will have achieved their ultimate goal: not to have to answer to anyone for the manner in which they present Bach's music to the public at large. Their belief and hope is that by repeating 'a million times' nonsensical ideas such as "Bach didn't mean specifically what he notated in his score/parts and what he wrote in documents which have been preserved for us," the general public will docilely accept this as the truth and no more questions will be asked.

Fortunately, however, time will explode their speculative theories and we will be left with Bach's rather explicit instructions which will continue to inform directly, without intervention of esoteric doctrines of performance practice, future generations of Bach performers and listeners.

Gabriel Jackson wrote (May 30, 2005):
Thomas Braatz writes:
">>...there are quite rightly musicologists/musicians and just plain people, who quite rightly will say "One has to understand what the notation meant to the players and singers who it was intended to communicate with, because some of those notational devices meant something different then to what they do know." But then this has been said a million times before...<<
...and unfortunately such musicologists/musicians and just plain people adamantly refuse to recognize what Bach clearly put down in notation and writing and still insist that Bach did not mean what he put down in writing and in his scores/parts and that some undocumentable 'esoteric practices' must be invoked in order to perform Bach differently from what he had intended."
No they don't.

"If this was true during Bach's lifetime, how much more will this be true today when some musicologists/musicians erroneously and self-deceptively deem themselves better instructed in these matters than any musician dead or alive has ever been!"
Who are these musicians who deem themselves 'better instructed in these matters than any musician dead or alive has ever been!', ?!

 

Continue on Part 2

Cantata BWV 169: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

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