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Cantata BWV 17
Wer Dank opfert, der preiset mich
Discussions - Part 1

Discussions in the Week of September 21, 2003 (1st round)

Neil Halliday wrote (September 27, 2003):
Speaking of BWV 17, this is the cantata chosen for discussion this week. It's a happy, tuneful, church cantata, on the subject of thanks and praise for God's gifts. I have the Richter [3] and Rilling [4] recordings.

Title: "Wer Dank opfert, der preiset mich"

Mvt. 1: Opening Chorus. (scoring - oboes, strings and continuo).

This is an engaging and brilliant fugal movement, unusual for the length of time between the choral entries in the beginning (in the order TASB), and for the insistent syncopated-like emphasis on the 2nd beat of the bar, brought about by the entries of the choral lines on the 2nd beat of the bar, and long notes in the orchestral ritornellos also sounding on this beat (in the context of a triple time rhythm.)

As already noted, Richter's recording [3] suffers from the use of an overly shrill organ registration accompanying the choral entries; the acoustic in the Herkulessaal in Munich (c. 1977) is too live with these large forces; and combined with a fast tempo (3:52), this results in an indistinct presentation of the parts.

Rilling [4] gets it right: a relaxed (4:45), engaging performance, with clearly drawn instrumental and vocal lines. The choir is bubbling with joy on the long melismas.

Mvt. 2: secco recitative (alto). Both Hamari with Richter [3], and Shreckenbach with Rilling [4], give a good account. Richter uses organ and cello, while Rilling uses harpsichord and cello, equally enjoyable to hear.

Mvt. 3: soprano aria. Richter [3] uses the string section of his orchestra for this aria (scored for two violins and continuo), and he manages a bright rendition - helped by the adoption of a semi-staccato treatment of the violins' parts. Mathis is in fine form.

Rilling [4] takes the chamber approach, with two violins playing legato. Augér is her usual inimitable self.

Both versions, of this music of thanks for God's gifts, are highly enjoyable.

Mvt. 4: secco recitative (tenor). Same remarks as for #2; Richter has Schreier [3], and Rilling [4] has Kraus).

Mvt. 5: aria (tenor, with strings and continuo). Richter [3] gives a fine orchestral performance of this enchanting (Robertson's description) aria, with added interest engendered by a prominent bassoon in the continuo. Rilling's [4] chamber orchestra also gives a bright, pleasing performance. Both tenors are fine.

Mvt. 6: secco recitative (bass). This movement is a good example of what all the fuss has been about, on this forum, for a long period of time.

DFD, with Richter [3], brings phenomenal reverence and interest to this simple, even plain, vocal line, in combination with the organ and cello parts as presented here. (BTW, the BWV 594 example is unsatisfactory for this reason - there is nothing simple or plain about the fantasia-like passages in BWV 594).

Rilling [4] also employs the organ with cello; and while perhaps not achieving the magic of DFD, Heldwein engages one's attention throughout, assisted by an excellent organ registration and continuo realisation.

Mvt. 7: chorale. While Richter's large-scale presentation [3] is fine, I prefer the more modest proportions of Rilling's choir [4], for these chorale movements. The oboes can be heard in both of these excellent recordings.

Aryeh Oron wrote (September 27, 2003):
BWV 17 - Introduction

The chosen work for this week’s discussion (September 21, 2003) is the cantata ‘Wer Dank opfert, der preiset mich’ (Who gives thanks praises me) for the 14th Sunday after Trinity. The librettist for this cantata is unknown. Neumann suggested Bach himself of Mariane von Ziegler, where Walther Blankenburg suggested Christoph Helm. The Gospel, Luke 17: 11-19 - Jesus heals the ten lepers in Samaria - is partly quoted but thoroughly reflected in the libretto. More on the text of this cantata can be read at Francis Browne’s English translation. See: Cantata BWV 17 - English Translation [Interlinear Format]
Although it is not long, the cantata is in two parts, the sermon coming between them. The two arias are especially attractive in thought and musical setting. Very impressive is also the intense fugue of the opening chorus.


The details of the recordings of the cantata can be found at the following page of the Bach Cantatas Website (BCW): Cantata BWV 17 - Recordings

After the exhausted overflow of recordings of last week cantata, BWV 202, we have kind of relief with only 5 of cantata BWV 17. The additional recordings to the usual three - Harnoncourt (1972) [2], Rilling (1982) [4] and Leusink 1999 [5] - are: Hans Thamm (1961) [1] and Karl Richter (1976-1977) [3]. All these recordings are available in CD form. Unfortunately I shall be able to add music examples only at the beginning of October 2003.

Additional Information

In the page of recordings mentioned above you can also find links to useful complementary information:
A. Original German text and various translations, three of which were contributed by members of the BCML: English (Francis Browne), French (Jean-Pierre Grivois), and Hebrew (Aryeh Oron).
B Score in Vocal & Piano version and BGA Edition (unavailable until Oct. 2, 2003).
C. Commentaries: in English by Simon Crouch (Listener’s Guide) & Craig Smith (Emmanuel Music), and in Spanish by Julio Sánchez Reyes (CantatasDeBach).

I hope to see many of you participating in the discussion. Only 12 cantatas (3 sacred, 9 secular), including this one, remained to be discussed in the BCML!

Aryeh Oron wrote (September 29, 2003):
BWV 17 - Background

The commentary below, quoted from the liner notes to Thamm’s recording on Bayer [1] (originated from Cantate), was written by Alfred Dürr (English translation by Stanley Godman). Dürr wrote also the commentary on this cantata for Harnoncourt’s recording on Teldec [2].

This cantata is one of a series of works composed in 1726, the textual form of which has given rise to various conjectures. As the American Bach scholar W.H. Scheide has shown, it corresponds exactly to that which Bach's Meiningen cousin Johann Ludwig Bach used in his cantatas, or at any rate in those which Bach performed in Leipzig in 1726. It has not yet been discovered whether Bach's librettist was inspired by this form or whether both the cousins set texts by the same author. The characteristic form of these cantata texts is as follows:

Quotation from the Old Testament
Quotation from the New Testament

Another typical feature are the often quite lengthy lines (frequently Alexandrians) especially in the recitatives.

The subject-matter of this cantata is derived from the Gospel for the 14th Sunday after Trinity, Luke 17: 11-19, which tells of the healing of the ten lepers only one of whom, a Samaritan, thanked God for his cure. The cantata emphasises man's indebtedness to God for His blessings. The first part speaks mainly of God's world-embracing goodness, whilst the second part deals with the Christian duty to thank God. But His blessings, the concluding recitative declares, are only images of the still richer treasures which await us in heaven. Various quotations from the Bible have been woven into the text. The introductory section derives from Psalm 50: 23. The words of the first recitative "Wenn ihre Ordnung als in Schnuren geht" are an allusion to Psalm 19: 4 (“Their line is gone out through all the earth"). The opening of the following aria is clearly based on Psalm 36: 5 ("Thy mercy, o Lord, is in the heavens; and Thy faithfulness reacheth unto the clouds"). The recitative which introduces the second part, Luke 17: 15-16, comes from the Gospel for the 14th Sunday after Trinity, and the last recitative ("Fried, Gerechtigkeit und Freud in deinem Geist") - ("Peace, righteousness and joy in Thy spirit") is a paraphrase of Romans 14: 17 ("for the kingdom of God is not meat' and drink; but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost").

All these allusions reveal a profound student of the Bible, though, from the specifically Christian standpoint, his praises denote a rather loose interpretation of the first clause of the Creed.

The music, however, bears the unmistakable and unique marks of genius which lift J.S. Bach's works out of the ruck of cheap, mass-produced articles turned out by his contemporaries (including Johann Ludwig Bach).

The Sinfonia of 27 bars, which introduces the opening chorus already, has an impressively noble design. The main choral part of the number is divided into two similar sections, each of which again falls into two parts:

A Choral fugue (a)
Introductory Sinfonia (shortened)
with choral insertion (b)

A' Choral fugue (a')
Introductory Sinfonia (shortened)
with choral insertion (b)

This thematically homogeneous construction and the uniform architectural planning of Bach's mature vocal works is the result of a purposeful development of the serial form which Bach took over from his predecessors and used himself in his early works, into a large-scale homogeneity of structure. A simple recitative leads into the following aria, the soprano part of which, with an accompaniment of two violins, forgoes the usual Da Capo repeat in view of the length of the text, and so the form is in three sections. It is delightful when the violins enter with the final ritornello before the soprano voice has finished, the aria being concluded with only a few instrumental bars.

The cantata is divided into two parts, with the sermon in between. At the beginning of the second part another quotation from the Bible is heard, this time, however, in a simple, recitative-like setting. The succeeding tenor aria with full string accompaniment gives expression in lyrical vein to man's indebtedness to God; the words "Dank" and "Lob" being marked by extended coloraturas. Here again, for textual reasons, Bach forgoes a regular Da Capo repeat but he does introduce into the third part an appreciable echo of the first. Once again a simple recitative-arioso parts are entirely absent in this cantata - leads into the final chorale which for all its simplicity is a model of Bach's style, for example in the "autumnal" sounds which illustrate the words "der Wind nur drüber wehet" ("the wind only blows over it"). In this there is almost an anticipation of impressionist harmonies.

Recordings & Timings

Last week I have been listening to 5 complete recordings of Cantata BWV 17:




Mvt. 1

Mvt. 2

Mvt. 3

Mvt. 4

Mvt. 5

Mvt. 6

Mvt. 7

























































Short Review of the Recordings

As you can see from the table above, Thamm’s opening chorus [1] is not the longest, yet it is the most dignified and very well balanced, with clear singing by all four sections of the choir, so that the fugue can be easily followed. It has the needed intensity without being rushed.
Richter [3], with similar approach, achieved less satisfactory results. The tempo he chose for the chorus is the faster of all five. I believe that it should reflect enthusiasm, but much is lost along the way, with many details unnoticed and hard to follow lines. A choral fugue should get a more ***
Rilling’s opening chorus [4] is full of joy, happiness and vividness. This is a legitimate interpretation of the text and the music, but I found that both Thamm and Richter reveal more dimensions of this chorus.
Harnoncourt’s [2] tendency to break the flow of the lines is less evident here, probably because the recording of this cantata was done early in his joint cycle with Leonhardt. The Viennese choral forces sing with precision and clarity, even if next to most other choirs they sound restrained. The sense of urgency revealed by all other four renditions, Leusink [5] included, is almost missing here. This rendition calls for more boldness and vigour.
Leusink’s opening chorus is livelier than Harnoncourt’s, more attractive and sweeping. Although there are some imperfections are easily recognisable they are not so important, because you want to sing with them. The Lord should be convinced by their enthusiasm.

Emmy Lisken (with Thamm [1]) gives a fantastic performance of the recitative for alto, with beautiful dark voice, clean singing and commanding interpretation. The playing of organ that accompanies her is not varied, but this is only small reservation.
The organ accompaniment in the recitative for alto is tasteful and Esswood delivery is satisfactory.
Hamari (with Richter [3]) makes the recitative for alto am attractive piece to listen to.
Schreckenbach (with Rilling [4]) has dark voice and natural authority, but the instability of her lines disturbs.
Buwalda (with Leusink [5]) holds the simple lines quite satisfactory.

Wehrung’s voice (with Thamm [1]) sounds somewhat strained in the upper part and her expression is not as emotionally loaded as Augér. Otherwise this is a quite listenable performance.
Mathis’ interoperation falls short of Wehrung. Although she copes well with the technical demands of the aria, she does not give any meaningful substance to it.
The anonymous boy, who sings the aria for soprano with Harnoncourt [2], has beautiful voice but pale expressivity.
Augér (with Rilling [4]) raises the aria for soprano to a new level with her usual excellent and touching performance. She gives you something to which you want to listen over and over again.
Holton gives impeccable performance in the aria for soprano, but I have found Holton’s boyish timbre (with Leusink [5]) not so suitable to the demands of the aria for soprano. On the other hand, it might very well be that my mind was already poisoned by Augér’s renditi.

Jelden (with Thamm [1]) has a warm voice with unique softness, which makes it very attractive. His subdued expression also does not leave much to be desired, but it is not as heart-rending as Equiluz, for example, is. What I have missed in his interpretation is compensated by the entreating playing of the violins.
Nothing is missing from Equiluz exemplary performance (with Harnoncourt [2]) of both the recitative and aria for tenor. You ask with him what else can you give in return that have not given yet. Every word gets extra meaning through his interpretation.
Kraus (with Rilling [4]) gives both movements convincing interpretation as well, although he approaches them from a different point of view. His delivery is freer and bolder. Equiluz is the more introvert and Kraus the more extrovert.
Schreier (with Richter [3]) gives his usual commanding performance. Personally, I prefer in this case the previous three tenors, because I feel that each one of them brings something unique to his rendition, where Schreier sounds somewhat more ordinary. This is not a criticism of his performance, just a personal feeling.
Schoch (with Leusink [5]) has nothing to sell in this group of tenor singers.

What can I write about Stämpfli’s rendition of the recitative for bass (with Thamm [1]) that I have not written before? Nothing really. Such a joy listening to a master-singer in his pick, singing a Bach recitative as few other singers can, making it a small masterpiece.
Next to Stämpfli, DFD (with Richter [3]) seems trying (too much?) to give extra meaning to every syllable, instead of letting the music flow naturally and speak for itself.
I hear moving sensitivity in Egmond’s singing of the recitative for bass, not always to be found in his renditions along H&L cycle.
Heldwein (with Rilling [4]) is passable, but I find his interpretation of the recitative for bass as the least interesting of all five.
Ramselaar is the most impressive of Leusink’s singers [5]. I was particularly taken by the naturalness of his singing.


All five recordings of the cantata are satisfying in various ways, but I have found Thamm [1] as the one to which I would like to return.

And now I would like to hear other opinions.

Peter Bloemendaal wrote (September 30, 2003):
This cantata was written for the fourteenth Sunday after Trinity. A.D. 2003 that was September 21st. The epistle reading is Galatians 5: 16-24 (The works of the flesh as opposed to the fruit of the Spirit). The gospel reading is St. Luke 17: 11-19 (The healing of ten lepers). Three cantatas for this Sunday have survived:

Es ist nichts Gesundes an meinem Leibe” – BWV 25, for 29 August 1723,

Jesu, der du meine Seele” – BWV 78, for 10 September 1724, and

Wer Dank opfert, der preiset mich” - BWV 17, for 22 September 1726.

The main theme of BWV 25 is that every man, not only the ten lepers, is full of sins, such as lust, pride and greed. The only way man can be cured is through Jesus, the perfect physician.

The impressive cantata BWV 78 is about the redemption of the human soul through Jesus’ bitter sacrifice.

The theme of BWV 17 is already mentioned early in the cantata: Whosoever offers Jesus gratitude, honours God. The unknown librettist is obviously referring to the Samaritan, the only one of the ten healed lepers, who returns to Jesus to thank Him for being made whole again.

In the Oxford Composer Companions J. S. Bach, there is an interesting entry on this work by Konrad Küster, professor of musicology of Freiburg University and a renowned Bach scholar, from which I adopt the following.

Cantata BWV 17 is the last composition to result from Bach’s encounter with the church music from the ducal court of Saxe-Meiningen, where his distant cousin Johann Ludwig wrote some influential church cantatas, using a standardized text pattern devised by Duke Ernst Ludwig. Johann Sebastian performed 18 of his cantatas in 1726 and integrated some of their stylistic elements into his own cantata style. Following the typical pattern of these cantata texts, the work is shaped by two corresponding passages from the Bible, one from the Old Testament and one from the New. The text for the first movement is from Psalm 50:23; the fourth movement is based on the passage in St. Luke 17: 15, 16, which tells of the Samaritan who, alone among the ten lepers that Jesus cured, showed his gratitude.

Unlike most of those in the other cantatas of this type, the opening movement (A major) is not multi-sectional, but rather, since the text is only a short one, it consists of a single, large chorale fugue. It is followed first by a short simple recitative for the alto, and then by a soprano aria with two solo violins, “Herr, deine Güte reicht so weit der Himmel ist”. Contrary tot the normal construction of these cantatas, the text of this movement is, strictly speaking, not based on “free poetry” but on another quotation from the Bible (Psalm 36:6): “Thy righteousness standeth like the strong mountains.” This verse serves for the first part of the aria, which then continues with a “free” strophe. The movement as a whole is given a tonal shape such as might be found in a Baroque concerto movement, with ritornellos in the tonic (E major), the dominant (B major), the relative minor (C# minor) and finally again in the tonic.

With no. 4, “Einer aber unter ihnen”, the second part of the cantata (after the sermon) begins. The biblical text is cast as a simple recitative, not as an aria or arioso (as in all other Bach’s “Meiningen” cantatas except “Gott fähret auf mit Jauchzen”). The reason for this might be that the Gospel “Spruch” (the healing of the ten lepers) is not like the text for a sermon, but a plain biblical narrative which can be entrusted to an Evangelist, here as so often with Bach a tenor soloist. However, Bach cuts off the narrative when the Samaritan gives thanks to Jesus. The tenor aria that follows, “Welch Ubermass der Güte schenkst du mir”, is an individual reflection on what we should offer God in return for his abundance of goodness. Apparently, Bach understood this as a direct allusion to the gospel account of the thankful Samaritan, and the words of the aria might be those of the Samaritan himself and, in a wider sense, of anyone who will avow in solidarity “Ich bin ein Samaritaner”.

After another simple bass recitative, the cantata ends with the third strophe of the hymn “Nun lob, mein Seel, den herren” by Johann Gramann (1530).

When Bach wrote his four “short masses” in about 1738-9, he reused the opening chorus of “Wer Dank opfert” for the concluding “Cum Sancto Spiritu” of the Gloria in the G major “MissaBWV 236, to which its fugal form is well-suited. He transposed the music down one tone and replaced the orchestral riternello with a homophonic vocal introduction.

I listened to the recording by Holland Boys Choir and Netherlands Bach Collegium, conducted by Pieter Jan Leusink [5]. From the opening ritornello to the final chorale, I was quite pleased with their performance. The first chorus is sung with sound conviction and ardour. The melodic lines are clear and the orchestra play not bad at all, although they could do with a bit more colour at times. The soprano aria features Ruth Holton together with two concertante violins. All three of them lack some firm body in places, but nevertheless it is a pleasure listening to them, moreover, they are throughout well-supported by an expressive basso continuo. Short or long notes in the recitatives, I can hardly tell the difference. Since this is a HIP recording, I guess these must be short notes in the BC. It has been said that recitatives become uninteresting that way. Not for me, that is. To me everything sounds musically right and well-balanced. The tenor aria is real bel canto, Knut Schoch at his best, eine herrliche Melodie and excellent singing to match. The cantata ends with the chorale “Wie sich ein Vater erbarmet”, a well-known melody of great beauty, a worthy conclusion of an apparent simple cantata that becomes more and more attractive the more frequently and intensely you listen to it.

Marie Jansen wrote (October 3, 2003):
There are so many things to thank God for. Many of them are listed in cantata BWV 17. Why do I so often forget?

Before the choir begins to sing in the opening there are small figures, like gestures of offering. After a while they become an unbroken stream of praise and gratitude building up to the first entrance.

Richter [3] begins very enthusiatic, so swift that the opening nearly looses its dignity.

The soprano aria flows gently along in Rillings version [4]. Richter's [3] is more distinct.

The tenor recitativo reminds me of the passions. An evangelist appears. The leper kneels in gratitude in front of Jesus. Notice "Dankete" What a sound painting! Both Kraus (Rilling [4]) and Schreier (Richter [3]) do fine. I like both Rilling’s and Richter’s versions.

Welch Übermaß der Güte
Schenkst du mir!
...(BWV 17)

Aryeh Oron wrote (October 5, 2003):
BWV 17 - Music Examples

I have uploaded into the Bach Cantatas Website Music Examples (mp3 format) of the Opening Chorus (Mvt. 1) from 6 recordings of Cantata BWV 17. See: Cantata BWV 17 - Music Examples

I would like to hear your opinions.

Arjen van Gijssel wrote (October 5, 2003):
[To Aryeh Oron] Aryeh, thanks for your enormously rich set of new audio samples! The website is becoming more and more an unparallelled treasure.

Nice to hear BWV 17! With the Laurenscantorij we have performed the G major mass BWV 236 two weeks ago. So, when hearing "wer Dank opfert" , I am constantly hearing "cum sancto spiritu" as well (I will upload a sample of it in due course).

I listened to the samples of BWV 17. Harnoncourt [2] and Schweizer [M-2] have a strange pitch (going down), whereas I consider the choirs rather massive and intransparant. It may may have something to do with the quality of the samples. I am not a fan of Rilling [4], but he certainly did a good job (perhaps the best of all collected here). The choir is not as big as usual, they are not singing too vibrato and vibrantly as normally. You still hear Rilling's preference for vibrant high voltage notes in the strings, but this time it is digestable. Richter [3] is a little bit rough, both in tempo but also the choir is a bit too direct and raw for my taste. Thamm and his choir [1] did a good job, but I believe they are of another league than the Koopman, Suzuki, Herreweghe group etc.

Arjen van Gijssel wrote (October 5, 2003):
BWV 236 + BWV 17 comparison; music example

Aryeh uploaded a music example from the Mass in G major BWV 236 (Cum Sancto spiritu), which compares well with BWV 17 (Wer Dank opfert) which was the subject of discussion some weeks ago:

The Laurenscantorij performed this Mass in the Grote of Sint-Laurenskerk, Rotterdam, the Netherlands on September 21st, 2003.

Furthermore, Aryeh has included some bios on the Laurenscantorij and its conductor Barend Schuurman:

Neil Halliday wrote (October 6, 2003):
[To Arjen van Gijssel] On hearing the Laurenscantorij "Cum Sancto spiritu" from BWV 236, I was struck by the similarity of the sound to that of the Suzuki recording (acoustic and all!) (vol. 15) of the opening chorus of BWV 40 (Darzu ist erschienen der Sohn Gottes), a cantata composed in 1723. The liner notes say Bach parodied this "splendid piece" in the late 30's in the Mass in F, BWV 233, and here you have it again in the Mass in G, BWV 236! (One can understand Bach's reuse of material in this fashion; in a age before radio or recordings, very few people would have heard, even once, the endless pages of glorious music which he composed).

Concerning the BWV 17 examples, I like the Harnoncourt [2], which is a pleasantly relaxed performance, better than the somewhat 'harsh' and rushed Richter performance [3]; and though the parody is not strictly comparable, I liked the Laurenscantorij performance better than Leusink [5] and Schweizer [M-2], because the characteristic swelling on the long notes on sharp-timbred (not pitch) period violins (and oboes!) - an effect which I would characterise as "fastidious elegance" - is not overly evident or distracting, as is the case with the latter two (Schweizwer is the worst in this regard). The Leusink recording is pleasant enough when the choir starts up.

My ranking of the actual BWV 17 recordings: Rilling [4], Thamm [1] and Harnoncourt [2], Leusink [5], Richter [3], Schweizer [M-2].

BTW, the Stuttgart players recordings on this same page:
are well worth hearing; in particular, I like the alto voice of Lotte Wolf-Matthaus.

Alex Riedlmayer wrote (October 6, 2003):
< Neil Halliday wrote: On hearing the Laurenscantorij "Cum Sancto spiritu" from BWV 236, I was struck by the similarity of the sound to that of the Suzuki recording (acoustic and all!) (vol. 15) of the opening chorus of BWV 40 (Darzu ist erschienen der Sohn Gottes), a cantata composed in 1723. The liner notes say Bach parodied this "splendid piece" in the late 30's in the Mass in F, BWV 233, and here you have it again in the Mass in G, BWV 236! >
I think you're confused because you weren't listening to BWV 236 - the link to that sample is broken.

Neil Halliday wrote (October 6, 2003):
[To Alex Riedlmayer] Thanks Alex, you are correct. (I looked at the subject heading, but not the numbers alongside the examples.)

Here is an even more BCJ sound-alike group, in the original of the BWV 233 movement ie, BWV 40, with Schütz: Cantata BWV 40 - Music Examples


Continue on Part 2

Cantata BWV 17: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

Recordings & Discussions of Cantatas: Main Page | 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
Discussions of General Topics: Cantatas & Other Vocal Works | Performance Practice | Radio, Concerts, Festivals, Recordings


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