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Cantata BWV 171
Gott, wie dein Name, so ist auch dein
Discussions - Part 2

Continue from Part 1

Discussions on the Week of May 25, 2008

Francis Browne wrote (May 23, 2008):
BWV 171: introduction

This week's cantata, BWV 171, Gott, wie dein Name, so ist auch dein Ruhm, contains much to enjoy. My intention was to write a synthesis of the various commentators I have been using but since through unforeseen circomstances I have run out of time I shall simply present their views and leave members of the list to make their own judgements.

Aryeh has as always provided abundant resources at: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV171.htm

and more specifically the musical examples from Whittaker to which I refer can be found at: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Scores/BWV171-Sco.htm

In the Oxford Composer Companion to Bach Nicholas Anderson writes of this week's cantata:
"It is probably the last of the five surviving cantatas that Bach wrote for this festival at Leipzig, and was most likely performed on 1 January 1729. The text is by Picander, who in the previous year had published a set of cantata librettos for the entire Church cal­endar. In this particular cantata Picander focuses on the significance of God's name for all Christians; but he also makes specific reference to the hope of Church and State that God's guidance and protection will attend them throughout the coming year. The text is, furthermore, loosely connected to the appointed Gospel reading (Luke 2: 15-21) and, in the case of the opening move­ment, more specifically to part of the ninth verse of Psalm 48: 'O God, according to thy Name, so is thy praise unto the world's end."

Dürr considers the text in more detail:
"Picander adheres more closely than the librettists of most of Bach's other New Year cantatas (cf. BWV 190, BWV 41, BWV 16, and BWV 143) to the New Year Gospel, which is concerned with the naming of Jesus. In his interpretation, he tries to show the significance of Jesus's name for Christianity With this in mind, he first introduces a verse from the Psalms (Ps. 48.10): the entire world - knows and praises the name of God. The aria, Mvt. 2, takes up the same idea, but the recitative Mvt. 3 strikes 4 more personal note, addressing Jesus Himself: called in times of persecution and adversity, Jesus's name gives comfort and protection; and, in a reference to the occasion of the work, it is `my gift for the New Year'. The following aria Mvt. 4 tells us that, just as Jesus's name is my first word at the beginning of this new year, so too it shall be my last word at the hour of my death. The last two movements have the character of prayers. In a reference to John 14.13_ Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it' (John 16.23 is similar) - God is asked to protect his people in the coming year too. Similar ideas are present in the closing chorale, the second verse of the hymn Jesu, nun sei gepreiset by Johannes Herman (1591), whose opening lines again refer to the name of Jesus. The text of this cantata thus moves through three stages: reading (biblical words), contemplation, and prayer."

Mvt. 1 :Chorus

OCC: The introductory chorus is a joyful one, generously scored for three trumpets, timpani, two oboes, strings, and continuo. It is cast as a vigor­ous choral fugue in which the woodwind and strings perform a colla parte role while the trum­pets and drums enjoy greater independence. Bach further delivers a masterstroke by bringing in the first trumpet at bar 23 with a restatement of the fugue subject already presented in each of the four vocal parts. With this resonant gesture and the overall contribution of brass and timpani, the glittering, occasional opulence of the movement is assured. In the 1740s Bach parodied this music for `Patrem omnipotentem' in the Symbolum Nice­num of his B minor Mass (BWV 232).

Dürr: Bach sets the introductory psalm words as a large-scale choral fugue in which strings and oboes largely double the voice parts, lending it a somewhat archaic, motet-like character. The trumpets, on the other hand, have inde­pendent parts (the first trumpet is even thematic), and it is through this that the movement acquires its awe-inspiring radiance. The music is probably not new: an earlier vocal work that no longer survives apparently formed the common source of this opening chorus and of the later adaptation of the same music to the words 'Patrem omnipotentem, factorem coeli et terrae, visibilium et invisibilium' ('Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible') in the Credo, or `Symbolum Nicenum', of the B minor Mass, BWV 232". Here again, the underlying concept is the world-embracing almighty power of God.

Whittaker seems more concerned with the later use of this movement:
"A bad mis-accentuation at the end of the fugue subject of the opening chorus:[Ex 483] points here also to adaptation, although the source has been lost. The number is familiar to concert-goers in the form of a readaptation, the second 'Credo' of the B Minor Mass (BWV 232). The orchestration is pre­served, three trumpets, timpani, two oboes and strings, but there is much rewriting of the choral parts. Fine though the fugue-subject sounds in the cantata, it is much more compelling in the Mass. One new feature there is the three-fold hurling out of `Credo in unum Deum' by the voices not for the moment occupied with the subject. The unforgettable closing sixteen bars, beginning with the tonic pedal, are reproduced almost faithfully, although the later version contains a new exciting point, the exhilarating leap of the sopranos to high B. Spitta thinks that after this chorus was written the cantata lay long unfinished, in spite of the propitious opening, and that the remainder was not added for a considerable time.

Mvt. 2: Tenor Aria

OCC: From the festive D major of the opening chorus, the tenor aria takes us into A major. Bach's autograph lacks any precise specification for the two imitative obbligato parts, but the usual practice of assigning them to violins seems to be the most likely solution. Voice and instruments play roles of equal importance, resulting in a par­ticularly pleasing texture

Dürr: The two obbligato instruments of the following aria, Mvt. 2, are unspecified in the sole surviving autograph score. Their range of g# to e3/c#3 r suggests that they are two violins. There is a certain contrapuntal severity about this move­ment also, with its richly imitative texture in which voices and instruments participate on equal terms. Compared with the opening chorus, however, it is to a considerable degree loosened up by its wide-ranging, concertante instru­mental figures.

Robinson :
The particular charm of this aria lies in the way the violins, in the introduction, intertwine as they gradually rise and fall as if in illustration, as Schweitzer suggests, of white clouds sailing in the sky.

Whittaker:
The chief theme of the tenor aria, ii (two violins and continuo), a climb upwards, appears in two forms, the semiquaver version with which the violins begin[Example 484] and a skeleton version for the voice: [Ex485] which the singer is allowed to use in the more ornate form later to `erhöhen' - `Alles, was die Lippen rührt, alles was nur Odem führt wird dich in der Macht erhöhen' (`All thathe lips touches, all that only breath draws, will Thee in the might elevate'). It is a companion nature-picture to the Zephyr aria, sweeping arpeggi descend, scale passages cross and recross each other while the voice scurries along to 'gehen'.

Mvt. 3: Alto Recitative

Mvt. 4: Soprano Aria

OCC: a virtuoso D major movement in 12/8 metre, in which the protagonists are sop­rano voice and solo violin. This is a masterly par­ody of an aria which Bach had written a few years earlier for a secular cantata, Zerreißet, zersprenget, zertrümmert die Gruff. As Alfred Dürr remarked in a note accompanying a recording of the cantata (Cantate 651 209), `Anyone who has absorbed this aria must find it difficult to believe that the mel­ody which fits the text so effortlessly was ever sung to different words.'

Dürr: [In the second aria] the virtuoso element is more pronounced. Its music is drawn from the secular cantata Zerreißet, zersprenget, zertrümmert die Gruft, BWV 205, where the text, 'Angenehmer Zephyrus' (`Pleasant Zephyr'), sang the praises of that gentle wind. Now the elaborate violin figures are sum­moned to the praise of Jesus's name, a bold transference which is nonetheless a convincing success.

Robinson: The music of this aria is not, however, Bach's `first word', but an adaptation of the soprano aria beginning 'Angenehmer Zephyrus' (Pleasant Zephyr') from the secular cantata `Der zufrieden­gestellte Aeolus' (`The pacified Aeolus') performed in 1725 for the birthday of August Friedrich Müller, one of the professors at Leipzig University, and reproduced, with a remodelled libretto, in 1734. in honour of the Coronation of Augustus III, as King of Poland. The enchanting rising and falling phrases of the solo violin obbligato depict the `pleasant Zephyr'. It is in the last section of the aria as adapted, repeating the opening words, that the semiquaver runs to `Jesus' and `year', seem misplaced. One can only guess that it was the lovely violin obbligato that led Bach to adapt the secular aria, deciding that the name of Jesus was like `a refreshing Zephyr' to the soul.

Whitttaker:
One number in `Gott, wie dein Name, so ist auch dein Ruhm' (`According to Thy name, O God, so is Thy praise unto the ends of the earth', Ps. xlviii. 10) is known to be borrowed, the soprano aria, iv (see P. 19). It comes from the secular cantata, BWV 205 `Der zufriedengestellte Aeolus', performed on 3 August 1725, for the birthday of August Friedrich Müller, one of the university professors, and reproduced on 17 January 1734, as `Blast Lärmen, ihr Feinde', in honour of the coronation of the Saxon monarch, Augustus III, as king of Poland. The first text begins 'Angenehmer Zephyrus' (` Pleasant Zephyr'), and the gentle breeze is depicted in graceful and incessantly soaring and falling phrases of a beautiful violin obbligato. Picander's new text does not utilize this imagery, but is a New Year's song (the cantata is for this occasion), saying that `Jesus' is the first word uttered - 'Jesus soll mein erstes Wort in dem neuen Jahre heißen' (`Jesus shall my first word in the New Year be ')-and will also be the close of life: und in meiner letzten Stunde ist Jesus auch mein letztes Wort' (`and in my last hour is Jesus also my last word'). Consequently, wonderfully beautiful though the aria be, the obbli­gato is of no special significance. The long notes of the singer origin­ally on 'Kühlen' (`coolness'), with a pulsating bass not heard else­where in the aria, mean nothing when allotted to 'Jahre', the soaring passages to 'Höhen' (`height') are strangely misplaced to `Jesus', and the first vigorous phrase to `Großer König' (`Great King', addressed to Aeolus) has nothing to do with `fort and fort' (`continually'), though the second is more appropriately set to lacht Sein Nam' in meinem Munde' ('laughs His name in my mouth') with the high note for `Nam". The sacred version stands a tone lower than the secular.

Mvt. 5: Bass recitative
OCC :The bass movement that follows is of particular interest for the way in which Bach dovetails elem­ents of accompanied recitative and arioso. It begins with a passage of arioso in 3/8 time accom­panied by the continuo; this leads to a section of recitative in which the continuo is joined by two oboes; the concluding six bars, however, revert to arioso, yet retain the oboes of the middle section, thus uniting the disparate elements of this effect­ively declaimed movement.

Dürr: The following recitative, Mvt. 5, is another masterpiece of its kind. An intro­ductory arioso,* accompanied only by continuo, alludes to God's promise to hear prayers said in the name of Jesus. The prayers that follow are sung in recitative to an accompaniment 'of two oboes - and` continuo.' The conclusion, Wir bitten, Herr ..: (We ask, Lord ..: ), again turns into arioso but maintains the oboes' accompagnato, thereby surpassing the two previous sections.

Robinson: The opening words are in recitative, the quotation from St John (xIv. 14) is an arioso. The oboes come in with the rest of the text which prays for protection from pestilence, fire and war, for wise ruling and the prosperity of the Church. Then, in another arioso the bass invokes the name of the Lord to grant this boon, ending with three `Amens', the last one on long notes

Mvt. 6: Chorale

OCC: The cantata ends with the second strophe of Johann Hermann's hymn Jesu, nun sei gepreiset (1593). Bach had previously used this elaborate setting for another strophe of the same hymn in another New Year cantata, BWV 41 (1725). While the woodwind and string instruments reinforce the vocal parts, the trumpets and timpani provide fanfare-like interludes between some of the lines of the hymn. A change from duple to triple time takes place in the second half of the stanza, both illuminating the text and emphasizing, by means of a more lyrical song-like declamation, the festive ' nature of the occasion and its hopeful message. It is with the fifth and last of the fanfares that this resplendent work is concluded.

Dürr: The dosing chorale unites the entire instrumental ensemble: oboes andd strings strengthen the choir, as in the first movement, while trumpets and drums interpose their own episodes. Bach borrowed the movement from his New Year cantata Jesu, nun sei gepreiset, BWV 41, where it is thematically linked with the opening chorus. And even in the later cantata, a link back to the first movement may easily be felt by virtue of the similar style of instrumental treatment.

Whittaker: The concluding chorale presents a problem. Oboes and strings double the voices, and the cadences of lines 1, 2, 3, 4, and 11 are punctuated with fanfares for the three trumpets and timpani, in all cases the last four beats of these being unaccompanied; thus the can­tata ends with ringing brass and percussion. The same number is found, a tone lower, in another New Year's cantata, BWV 41, based on the hymn and probably written in 1736. There the fanfares are also among the thematic material of the first chorus, which is based on the chorale. Picander's libretto of BWV 171 was published in 1728, so that cantata would probably be given in 1729 or 1730. There are two possibilities; (1) that the number was borrowed from BWV 41 for a later performance of BWV 171 to replace one already there and (2) the fanfares in BWV 171 pleased the composer so much that when he came to write BWV 41 he adopted them for the long chorale fan­tasia which opens that cantata, and developed them with evident delight. The stanza is No. 3 of J. Herrmann's 'Jesu, nun sei gepreiset' to its anonymous melody: `Thine is alone the honour, Thine is alone the glory. Patience in suffering us teach, Govern all our doings, Till we comforted depart Into the everlasting heavenly kingdom, To true peace and joy, To the saints of God equal. Meanwhile do it with us all After Thy pleasure. Such sings today without grief The Christ - believing host, And wishes with mouth and heart A blessed New Year.' The text of the last two lines is repeated."

This is one of the cantatas where Richter's approach [3] works particularly well, but I have also found much to enjoy in Rilling [4], Leusink [6], Harnoncourt [5] and Koopman [8]. Whatever recording[s] you may have, I am sure that you will find this cantata abundantly repays closer acquaintance.

Since this is my last introduction, I would like to thank those who have taken part in the discussions. I have only belatedly realised by reading what Aryeh has posted on the website that for whatever reason I have not been receiving all contributions in my e-mail. In particular the thoughtful and perceptive remarks of Julian never reached me, but there are others. My apologies if I have seemed unappreciative.

I am delighted to be handing over the task of introduction to Uri Golomb whose knowledgeable and judicious views so often have made a valuable contribution to this list. In his case Apuleius' words can be used confidently: lector, intende: laetaberis.

Ed Myskowski wrote (May 23, 2008):
Francis Browne wrote;
>This is one of the cantatas where Richter's approach [3] works particularly well, but I have also found much to enjoy in Rilling [4], Leusink [6], Harnoncourt [5] and Koopman [8]. Whatever recording[s] you may have, I am sure that you will find this cantata abundantly repays closer acquaintance.<
A point which cannot be repeated too often, and which applies to all the cantatas (even the 49.9% which are, by definition, below average Bach).

>Since this is my last introduction, I would like to thank those who have taken part in the discussions.<
Thank you for the erudite introductions, enjoyable interactions in the discussions, and a couple forced (and enlightening) visits to the reference resources.

Sincere best wishes for your health issues. I expect a love of music, and specifically Bach, will stand you in good stead.

>I am delighted to be handing over the task of introduction to Uri Golomb whose knowledgeable and judicious views so often have made a valuable contribution to this list. In his case Apuleius' words can be used confidently: lector, intende: laetaberis.<
A fitting and clever use of introductory words, in conclusion. Just to let you know I noticed, and perhaps others will catch it, as well.

I am still on day 6 of BWV 117. I will try to stay up to date, and avoid any errors of transposition with BWV 171.

William Hoffman wrote (May 24, 2008):
Cantata 171: Fugitive Notes:

New Year's: There are two additional works that contribute to this as a major feast: BWV 248/4, "Herrscher des Himmels," and Motet BWV 225, Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied. It is a time of Praise (Te Deum laudaumus) and illumination. For BWV 248/4, text also (probably) by Picander, Christoph Wolff recently at Bethlehem PA insisted that the entire BWV 248 is an oratorio (not six cantatas), presented in six parts for the Feasts of Christmas and Epiphany, with the emphasis on historia (biblical event).

Text: This is one of Picander's best sacred texts, ranking with SMP, BWV 248, and a few others at this time. It is part of the so-called Fourth (Picander) Church Year Cantata Cycle, 1728-29, of which only ten cantatas (of 60 published texts) survive. The cycle begins on St. John's Day (June 24, 1728) and ends with the Fourth Sunday after Trinity, June 10, 1729. Chronologically the texted works are: BWV 149 (Michael's Day), BWV 188 (Trinity Sundays 21+), BWV 197a (Christmas Day), BWV 171 (New Year's), BWV 156 (3rd Sunday after Epiphany), BWV 84 (Septuageisma), BWV 159, (Quinquageisma), BWV Anh. 190 (Easter Monday), BWV 145 (Easter Tuesday), and BWV 174 (Pentecost Monday). Only one cantata, BWV 84, was first presented in an earlier version, on February 9, 1727. Spitta and Wolff show a special interest in this cycle. Spitta (II, 340) cites Picander's published "Preface," dated June 27, 1728, in which the poet hopes Bach will set the cycle to music to "be performed in the services of the main Leipzig Churches." Wolff (NGBF, 131) lauds the "interpolation of chorale and free poetry" in arias and cites the homogeneity of the cycle (as with the chorale cantata cycle), fusing old and new literary elements. Dürr in this week's discussion points out the effective use of Biblical citation.

Collaboration. Obviously, Picander offered Bach the opportunity to compose another integral cycle, and took the initiative to publish it. Possibly some, if not many of the texts were written in collaboration between composer and lyricist, given the earlier performing date of BWV 84. It is also possible that the two worked closely, at least in the drafting of the text and selection of chorales, with St. Thomas Church's Chief Pastor, Christian Weiss, Sr., who usually preached the Gospel in the main Sunday service. They certainly would have had time to work together, since Bach, with BWV 84 in early 1727, ceased composing (and probably presenting) 60 cantatas annually.

Compositional Process: Besides the integral and effective text, the other distinguishing feature of the Picander Cycle is the consistent use of borrowing, both vocal (BWV 145/a,b,1,3; 149/1; 171/1,4,6; and 197a/?1,2) and opening instrumental sinfonias (BWV 145 ? =1047/1, BWV 156/1, BWV 174/1, and BWV 188/1). This week's cantata, BWV 171, offers effective examples of both vocal and instrumental forms, according to Robert L. Marshall's essay "'Composing Scores' and `Fair Copies'" (Music of JSB, p.97ff). Instrumentally, the festive opening choral fugue, which later became the "Patrem omnipotentem chorus in the B Minor Mass (BWV 232), is probably a fair copy of a lost instrumental composition. It possibly came from Köthen, as did the two arias in BWV 145/1,3. Marshall notes that the entire second half of the cantata score manuscript, Movements 4-6 are on different paper type, with an aria parody from BWV 205, and the closing chorale with new verses, simply transposed from BWV 41. He suggests that the different paper and the two borrowings suggest cantata composition at two different times. Obviously, by 1729 Bach 1729 had the liberty to pick and choose, cut anpaste, and transform previously composed music.

Ed Myskowski wrote (May 26, 2008):
BWV 171 introduction (day 1)

In the spirit of real time listening/writing, I chose the Koopman recording [8], because it was immediately at hand, same (Vol. 19) as last weeks BWV 117 (I will be returning to finish up on that that soon). I would have gone to Leusink [6] first, to select the most widely available performance first, but for the convenience.

In fairness to Francis, I have not yet read his introduction, for listening. I did scan it, and respond to a few general points. I like to get an impression of the music first, before much reading.

The staggered entry of the chorus sounds like nothing we have heard recently, followed by orchestra. It is over before it is begun, almost.

I barely have time to check the notes for text, performers. Two arias, two recits, a chorale, it is finished! Not discouraging word to be found anywhere. Could this be Bach <the contented composer>? A long way from the <vast desert> of those Sundays after Trinity!

To repeat, I listened to Koopman [8] first, solely for convenience (it was at my fingertips). More than once, in previous weeks, I nearly recommmended Vol. 19 as the ideal introduction to his complete series. I decided that would be rather unfair, because of the weird layout of cantatas across the volumes, pricing from various vendors, etc.

You owe it to yourself to hear at least a bit of his performances; I expect everyone on BCML would enjoy hearing a batch of Koopman [8], with the proviso that the volumes I enjoy most are the later ones with alto Bogna Bartosz. If she is not to your taste, so be it. Otherwise, Vol. 19 is as good a place as any to jump in. If you already have it on order (Harry), opinions on BWV 188, BWV 117, BWV 171, from recent discussions especially welcome.

Summary: I listened to Koopman [8] as an introduction to BWV 171. This is music anyone would love, instinctively! I guess that means I like the recording.

Neil Halliday wrote (May 26, 2008):
A feature of the tenor aria (Mvt. 2) is the 'fluid' tonality, eg, in bar 4, the D natural above the treble clef (violin 1) would suggest a move back to A major, but the immediately following D# on the treble clef (violin 2) in the fourth beat reconfirms E major. There are examples of this all the way through this aria; especially striking are the accidentals in bars 44-45 and 56-57.

I don't like the voice in Rilling's [4] tenor aria (Mvt. 2) or that in Richter's [3] soprano aria (Mvt. 4), otherwise these two recordings are quite engaging. I liked Leusink's [6] soprano aria (Mvt. 4), and both Koopman's [8] arias judging from the amazon samples. (Harnoncourt [5] samples not available).

In the choral movements, the period groups' trumpets are markedly inferior to the modern equivalents, from the standpoint of brilliance and accuracy. However, Koopman [8] does have a pleasing choir.

Schreier with Richter [3] has an attractive voice, but Richter's method of hushing his large string orchestra, while Schreier is singing, reduces the clarity of the instrumental lines; and his choir does sound larger than desirable in the outer movements.

 

Continue on Part 3

Cantata BWV 171: Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

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