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Cantata BWV 172
Erschallet, ihr Lieder, erklinget, ihr Saiten!
Discussions - Part 2

Continue from Part 1

Discussions in the Week of March 6, 2005

Neil Halliday wrote (March 5, 2005):
BWV 172: Introduction

The cantata for discussion this week (March 6-12) is:

BWV 172 "Erschallet, ihr Lieder, erklinget, ihr Saiten!".

Event in the Lutheran church calendar: Whitsunday.

Composed for May 20th, 1714.

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Link to texts, commentary, vocal score, music examples, and list of known recordings: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV172.htm

Link to previous discussions: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV172-D.htm

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(From the Rilling booklet [5]): "This cantata is the third that Bach was obliged to compose when appointed concertmaster at Weimar". The instrumentation is opulent, in keeping with the nature of the feast day (Pentacost). Apart from the three trumpets and drums, Bach composes for the old-fashioned five-part string setting, which he will not renounce until mid-1715."

The opening chorus (C major, BGA score) is concertante and polyphonic in its middle section. Ryan Michero says (of the Suzuki recording): "I love the way the imitative choral and instrumental lines seem to arch over each other like a perfectly timed fireworks show". The choral entries in the fugal middle section occur in the order BTAS, then SATB.

A recitative is followed by the bass aria: (Robertson) "The Holy Trinity is greeted by ringing fanfares on the trumpets. The brilliant writing, demisemiquaver roulades for the first trumpet part, could only have been played by a virtuoso, such as the principal `town pipers' often were". In several places, the first part of the motif for trumpets (consisting of broken chords in semiquavers), the continuo, and voice are in canon.

We have the first change of key (to relative minor, A minor) in the following tenor aria: (Robertson) " The tone of the unison strings playing the gently ascending and descending legato phrases of the serene melody, and the arpeggiated chords for the continuo, fall gratefully on the ear after the movement just heard, and delight in this aria is complete when the tenor begins to sing of the bliss of Paradise". The tenor has melismas, sometimes long, on the words `(durch)wehet', `(nie) vergehet', and `nahet' all signifying the closeness of the Holy Spirit.

Next comes the duet (SA; in F major): (Robertson) "This is one of the loveliest duets between Christ and the soul in the cantatas. The voices are accompanied by a violin playing the highly decorated melody of Luther's version of the Whitsunday hymn, `Veni creator spiritus'".
[In the Rilling [5] and Leonhardt [7] versions, the violin part is replaced by the right hand part for the obligato organ; this is very effective with Rilling's sparkling organ treble registration, although the bass line without the cello, in Rilling, is a bit weak]. (Rilling booklet) "The ostinato motif in the bass makes this movement into a complete, filigreed quartet".

Finally, we have the chorale `Von Gott kommt mir ein Freudenschein' (still F major) "with an independent 1st violin part that rises above the voices with beautiful effect - the `joy-light' made manifest". This chorale is, as Robertson says, the fourth verse of Philipp Nicolai's `Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern' set to his own melody (1599). Listen for the syncopation in the violin part.

According to the BGA score, the work is to be concluded with a repeat of the joyous opening chorus.

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

Peter Smaill wrote (March 6, 2005):
BWV 172, "Erschallet, ihr Lieder, brings us to what is now believed to be Bach's third Cantata as Konzertmeister at Weimar. It is however, I think, a "first" in separate regards.

Harmonically, the "rules" against consecutive fifths are broken in the duet " Komm,lass mich nicht laenger warten" in bar 23. We' ve already encountered naked consecutive seconds in BWV 71 ; when we come to BWV 95, "Christus, der ist mein Leben", it is consecutive fourths which feature. In the last case, this occurs in the amazing tenor aria "Ach, schlage doch", the texture of oboes d'amore and pizzicato depicting another favourite Bach motif, the striking of bells. JEG's Soli Deo Gloria recording is worth buying for this movement alone.

BWV 172 is also the first encounter with Philipp Nicolai, who furnishes the major chorale "Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern", in this case verse 4. Nicolai was in 1588 appointed court preacher to Countess Margaretha von Waldeck. The first letters of each line of v1. of the chorale are another acrostic, in honour of the son and heir, Wilhelm Ernst, Graf und Herr zu Waldeck.

In the case of the equally famous "Wachet Auf ", the three verses begin W, Z, G; (Wachet ... Zion... Gloria...."); when reversed, it is claimed, giving the acrostic Graf zu Walden. The death of Nicolai's young charge at 15 following the great plague of 1597 is the background to the hidden message.

Terry points out that "Wie schön" derives from the fourteenth century carol, "Resonet in laudibus" via German folksong. Set five times in Reimenschneider (only "Jesu, meine Freude exceeds at six times), this is the first appearance of a chorale which later receives highly attractive harmonic treatment by Bach as well as in its own right being the inspiration of BWV 1.

Stanza 4 is the centrepiece of the seven verse text, the words "dein wort, dein geist, dein leib und blut" at the very heart of the verse itself - "your word, your spirit, your body and blood". Interestingly this chorale is made the closing movement by John Eliot Gardiner [13], omitting the recapitulation of the opening chorus. In view of the sense of the chorale and its exquisite violin descant, the excision of the repeat of the (possibly secular) opening chorus can be argued on musical and theological grounds. The Hauptgottesdienst on this major festival of Epiphany would move next to the Creed, Sermon, Sanctus and then the words of institution, all anticipating Communion for which Nicolai's chorale text is appropriate.

Nicolai's " I come in response to Thy word" stands as the conclusion of the text in present tense, in response to to that which is begun in the future voice appropriate to a congregational introit, "God will make temples of our souls". However, the fact of four additional separate performance of BWV 172, "Erschallet ihr Lieder" suggest scholarship may exist indicating anyhow that, in point of fact, the opening chorus was at some point not repeated in historic terms.

Whittaker and Robertson indicate a reprise ; Boyd says the fifth rendering of the Cantata, sometime after 1731, dropped it. Has anyone chapter and verse on this issue? Which is the more satisfying conclusion?


Doug Cowling wrote (March 6, 2005):
BWV 172: Low C

Peter Smaill wrote:
< BWV 172, "Erschallet, ihr Lieder, brings us to what is now believed to be Bach's third Cantata as Konzertmeister at Weimar. It is however, I think, a "first" in separate regards. >
I was struck by the low C which Bach gives to the bass at the end of the opening recitative. Is this only the case of such a low note in the cantatas? The only other example I can think of is the low E in "Christ Lag in Todesbanden" Not many basses can hit these depths. I wonder if Bach had a particular singer in mind -- Purcell had the legendJohn Gostling who had a two and a half octave range.

On the other end of the scale, is the high C in "Jauchzet Gott" the highest note Bach wrote for a soprano?

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 6, 2005):
Peter Smaill wrote:
>>Interestingly this chorale is made the closing movement by John Eliot Gardiner [13], omitting the recapitulation of the opening chorus. ... However, the fact of four additional separate performance of BWV 172, "Erschallet ihr Lieder" suggest scholarship may exist indicating anyhow that, in point of fact, the opening chorus was at some point not repeated in historic terms. Whittaker and Robertson indicate a reprise ; Boyd says the fifth rendering of the Cantata, sometime after 1731, dropped it. Has anyone chapter and verse on this issue? Which is the more satisfying conclusion?<<
Boyd is close but should have included the 4th rendering as well since the proof that Bach did perform the cantata without the repeat comes from the parts copied and used for the 4th (and very likely 5th) performance of this cantata.

From the BWV and NBA I/13 pp. 35-38:

There is no autograph score for this cantata, only original parts representing different
stages/performances of this work.

There were possibly five performances of this cantata.

1) The original, first performance (the first chorus may have been a parody of a secular cantata) in Weimar took place on May 20, 1714 on the First Day of Pentecost. in C major: Chorton = D major: Kammerton)

Original parts extant from this performance: Tromba I, II, III, Timpani, Viola I, II and Violoncello

Different paper used for Violino I and Fagotto - possibly these were from a repeat performance (2).

Missing parts: vocal parts, Violino II, Oboe or possibly a Flauto dolce (recorder) and continuo part in C major.

The original parts for the 1st performance do indicate a repeat of the 1st mvt.

2) A repeat performance between 1717-1723 in C major (Kammerton?)

3) A repeat performance in Leipzig on May 28, 1724 in D major Kammerton. The Leipzig D-major version has parts that are clearly marked as follows after the final chorale (mvt. 6): "Chorus repetatur ab initio."

The original D-major (not C-major!) parts are (with each group using different paper:

a) Flauto traverso, Violino I, II (clear watermark)
b) Fagotto and Violoncello (watermark unclear)
c) Oboe (mvt. 1) Oboe d'amore (mvts. 5,6) (on Weimar paper)

4) A repeat performance on May 13, 1731 in C major Kammerton - performed in St. Nicholas Church in the morning and St. Thomas in the early afternoon.

An organ obbligato part is added and the vocal parts do not have a repeat of the 1st mvt. indicated.

Following are the original parts from this performance:

Soprano, Alto Tenore, Basso, an undesignated obbligato part ('Aria Duetto') for mvts. 5,6 Violino II (doublet) in C major and Organo in Bb major.

The Violino I (doublet was possibly lost) Very probably the original Weimar parts in C major were used for this performance: Tromba I, II, II, Timpani, Violino I, II (?), Viola I, II, Fagotto and Violoncello.

The orchestration of mvt. 5 (cantus firmus played by an oboe (the undesignated obbligato part for 'Aria Duetto'), the bass part played by a violoncello ('Violoncello obbligato?') while the organo part has 'tacet' marked for this mvt.

5) A repeat performance on after 1731 in C major Kammerton

This version has an autograph organo obbligato part in Bb major.

There are two more pages in small print containing information on questions regarding the instrumentation of mvt. 5. Much of this centers upon transposition with respect to the relationship between Kammerton and Chorton.

Peter Smaill wrote (March 6, 2005):
[To Doug Cowling] Is low C the deepest vocal note in the Cantatas? (BWV 172-2).

Whittaker supports Doug Cowling's observation and generally reflects on the exceptional bass who must have participated in this Cantata:

"Thrice the bassi curve downwards, the descent of the Holy Ghost, not mentioned in the text but appropriate for the Day.The final note for the singer is low C below the stave, a semibreve with a pause! Nowhere else in the cantatas is this depth encountered.....(the recitative)

......Bach's exceptional bass soloist was [also]provided with a glorious opportunity in a non-Da-capo aria, of 31 bars only, scored for three trumpets, bassoon with continuo, no upper strings...Demands upon the performers are relentless..at one place there are nearly fifty successive tromba notes without an opportunity to take breath; the singer is called upon to negotiate [a drop from] D sharp to E. "

"Jauchet Gott", BWV 51, by contrast, hits C above the stave. ""Christus, der ist mein leben", BWV 95, calls the tenor to hit B above the stave, which may be equalled elsewhere -but surpassed?

Returning to "Erscahallet, ihr Lieder"; was the Weimar performance associated with the presence in the town of an exceptional soloist? The diificulty of obtaing a basso profondo on all occasions when BWV 172 was performed was ameliorated at Leipzig by the raising of the pitch of the Cantata from C to D. (thank you, Thomas, for details on the sequence of settings). However, as Boyd (contributor David Schulenberg) points out, this then made some of the instrumental parts too high; in 1731 and later he reverted to C and thus the search for a deep bass soloist would have been a recurring problem.

When I was a chorister in the 1970's I was told that developments in human physiogomy had generally facilitated lower basses but also made the high tenor lines of the baroque (favoured by Händel in particular) less attainable by the typical male upper register. Is there a scientific reason therefore to think that it would have very hard indeed for Bach to find a suitably profound bass for this part?

Charles Francis wrote (March 6, 2005):
[To Thomas Braatz] Regarding the transposition issues Bruce Haynes writes in his "History of Performing Pitch":

"Bach himself reworked a number of his early cantatas for later use at Leipzig. Where the difference in notation between the parts was a M2 [Major 2nd] (i.e. Cantatas BWV 12, BWV 21, BWV 172 and BWV 199), he did the obvious and switched the voice and string parts to Cammerton by transposing them up a step to the same key as the woodwinds (which had already been notated at Cammerton). In this way, the sounding pitch remained unchanged, since the organs were the same and the pitch of the band was a step lower at Leipzig"

Specifically regarding BWV 172, Haynes writes:

"The cantata was originally in Chorton->C. The later Leipzig version is in Cammerton->D. Mendel's theory that at Leipzig Bach first performed this piece in C to avoid rewritting the string parts, and later had it transposed to the key of the woodwinds, is not supported by dates. Bach's last two performances were in C, probably for the sake of the voices."

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 6, 2005):
Peter Smaill wrote:
>>When I was a chorister in the 1970's I was told that developments in human physiogomy had generally facilitated lower basses but also made the high tenor lines of the baroque (favoured by Händel in particular) less attainable by the typical male upper register. Is there a scientific reason therefore to think that it would have very hard indeed for Bach to find a suitably profound bass for this part?<<
Science will need to take into account reliable reports from the Baroque such as those reported by Mattheson and Agricola:

Johann Mattheson, in his "Musikalische Ehrenpforte" p. 21, reports that Caspar Forster, jr. who had once been the famCapellmeister at the Danish court, could sing from an A above middle C down three octaves to a contra A.

Johann Friedrich Agricola "Anleitung zur Singkunst" (1757) p. 28 reports that an Italian bass, Montagnana, who was taught by Porpora, could sing 'naturally and evenly (with even strength/volume) from the low E of the bass range to the A above middle C. That's a roughly 2 1/2 octave range.

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 6, 2005):

Some additional history on singing and bass parts in Bach's music in particular (at the end) can be found in the following enlightening excerpts from the Grove Music Online [Oxford University Press, 2004, acc. 3/6/05]:

>>With the rise of extended monophonic works, starting with the sequence of the late 9th century, there is a marked increase in vocal range. From the time of Notker, sequences often exceed a 12th in range. In the 14th century the monophonic lais of Guillaume de Machaut routinely cover two full octaves: they can last up to 20 minutes, and their very rare modern performances demand extremes of vocal flexibility and stamina. That is perhaps the right context for understanding the description by Hieronymus de Moravia (late 13th century) who mentions vox pectoris, vox gutturis and vox capitis - chest voice, throat voice and head voice.

In the course of the 14th century the voices in polyphony begin to polarize into two different ranges: increasingly the 'discantus' (and occasionally also a 'triplum') stood in a range roughly a 5th higher than the tenor and contratenor. This remains broadly true until about 1450, when composers began to cultivate additionally a 'bassus' voice in a range roughly a 5th below the tenor.

Around 1440 there is the first clear indication of the pitch area implied by these relative ranges. Two works in the Trent codices, Battre's Gaude virgo and Bourgois' Gloria, specifically denote sections to be performed by 'pueri' alongside other sections marked 'mutate voces' (changed voices: presumably adult men). The relative ranges of the Battre piece are, for the 'mutate voces', tenor d-d', contratenor d-e', discantus c'-c''; for the 'pueri', tenor a-b', contratenor c'-c'', discantus d'-d''. Here the discantus lines of the 'mutate voces' sections go as high as those of the 'pueri' sections; thus it seems clear that the discantus must have been sung in a high men's range that could also be sung by boys. If it is legitimate to project that information back to the 14th century, it would suggest that the tenor and contratenor lines were in a range of roughly a 10th from tenor c and the discantus a similar range from about g. Certainly there is documentation from the early 16th century that in Italy the master of the choirboys sang along with the boys in unison. That in its turn would mean that the 'bassus' lines introduced in the middle of the 15th century were approximately at the pitch of the modern bass.

This conclusion is obviously surprising and remains in dispute, because it implies that polyphony before about 1450 avoided the baritone and bass registers that now seem the most common 'natural' voices of grown men. But such arguments are hard to bring any further without firmer information about vocal production and ideals of sound.

A further hint about these matters comes from the chapel statutes of the court of Burgundy codified in 1469. These state that in performing four-voice polyphony there must be at least six men on the top line, three on the tenor, two on the contratenor (which was then still normally in the same range as the tenor) and three on the bassus. The surprise here is the six on the top line. By good luck the payment lists of the Burgundian court choir in that year contain enough information for it to be certain that there was nobody under 20 years old, so they were not choirboys. It therefore seems almost certain that these were grown men singing in a falsetto register but with an extremely light tone.

Already by the late 15th century there are clear statements of specialization in particular ranges: Tinctoris ("De inventione et usu musicae," c. 1481) describes the different voices and names particularly distinguished exponents, including Ockeghem as a bass. In 1481 Siena Cathedral despaired at losing their tenor singer, despite having two contratenors evidently used to singing in the same range, because 'senza tenore non si può cantare'. These were the years in which singers such as Jean Cordier and Giles Crepin travelled from court to court, receiving ever-increasing payment for their services.

The church polyphony of the years around 1500 is remarkable for its wide voice ranges. Josquin's masses, for example, seem to expect each voice to have a range of almost two octaves. Again, lightness and flexibility seem to be implied. By contrast, 80 years later, in the Palestrina generation, voice ranges appear to have diminished: only rarely does Palestrina expect a single voice to exceed a 10th; and Nicola Vicentino's L'antica musica (1555) firmly recommends those ranges. While the reasons for this change have not yet been explored, it is plausible to think that
one element was a change in vocal ideals: a need for a more focussed sound that concentrated on the best notes in the voice.

Some hint of the change can be seen in the distinction between the quiet voce da camera and louder voce da chiesa, first found in a letter of 1491 (Fallows, 1985, p.64) and most clearly spelt out in a letter of 1568, in which the singer Carlo Durante is reported as saying that he cannot sing with voce da camera because he has recently been singing regularly in church but that when his voice is rested he hopes to be able to sing in the chamber ('et come la voce sara riposata si crede gli servirà per camera'). It looks very much as though the techniques and ideals of singing in church changed substantially in the 16th century whereas chamber music retained the older style.<<
[David Fallows]

>>The history of singing in the 17th and 18th centuries is characterized by several trends: the rise of the professional opera star, inaugurating a continuous succession of nationally and internationally famous singers; the wide popularity of the castrato and the soprano; the formation and dissemination of the Italian style of singing, along with a concurrent tendency towards national differences; and the cultivation of vocal ornamentation to a peak of artifice. All these trends were supported by specialist teachers of singing, working either independently or in institutions such as the Neapolitan conservatories and the Venetian ospedali. Just as previously the authors of singing treatises tended to be tenors, they now tended to be Italian castratos, and the most important of these treatises, by Tosi and later Giambattista Mancini ("Pensieri, e riflessioni pratiche sopra il canto figurato," 1774), must therefore be used with caution when applied to other voices and other countries. For example, the joining of the head and chest registers over the break, so important to both Tosi and Mancini, was apparently not as valued in France or Germany. J.J. Quantz (Versuch einer Anweisung die Flöte traversiere zu spielen, 1752) writes, 'Joining the chest voice to the falsetto is as unknown to [German singers] as it is to the French'. Apparently French and German singers continued the older tradition of singing in one register as much as possible, using transposition (as suggested by Caccini) to facilitate this where necessary. Where the compositional range demanded vocal expansion beyond one register, the natural break was probably accepted, as it was in many voices well into the 19th century. Raguenet ("Paralèle des italiens et des françois, en ce qui regarde la musique et les opéra," 1702; Eng. trans., 1709) states that one essential difference between French and Italian opera was the variety of ranges in the French; he especially praises the deep French bass as opposed to the 'feign'd Basses among the Italians, which have neither Depth nor Strength'. He speaks of the resultant 'agreeable Contrast' in French muarising from the 'Opposition' of the bass with the treble parts, something that is lacking in Italian music - 'the Voices of their Singers, who are, for the most part, Castrati, being perfectly like those of their Women'. The partiality of the French to the low bass, or 'basse noble', continued past the 18th century as an identifying feature.

Tosi mentions a distinction between the treble voices of castratos and women when he states, 'Among the Women, one hears sometimes a Soprano entirely di Petto, but among the Male Sex it would be a great Rarity, should they preserve it after having past the Age of Puberty'. Händel wrote for a number of renowned sopranos, and a comparison of the surviving descriptions of their voices with the music they sang confirms that Händel was careful to place the highest notes in weak, unaccented positions, a practice that tends to confirm the use of the head voice and a lesser dynamic in the upper register. There is, however, at least one exception to this practice in the music Handel wrote for Anna Maria Strada (such as in the role of Alcina), where the high notes are frequently accented in both word and rhythm. Strada may have been one of these women who was able to sing completely di petto. Nevertheless, the definitive change in vocal production towards a strong and resonant upper register did not occur until after 1800.<<
[Owen Jander, Ellen T. Harris]

>>In Germany, the bass was prized for depicting seriousness and wisdom, both in opera and sacred music. In Buxtehude's cantata "Jesu, meine Freude," for example, the bass sings 'Trotz dem alten Drachen' in which the lowest range of the bass (down to D) is explored for the word 'abyss'. J.S. Bach's works are full of remarkable solo parts for bass. In "Jesu, der du meine Seele" (BWV 78, 1724), the bass (G-d') represents the dying soul expressing trust in the Lord in an elaborate concerto aria ('Nun, du wirst mein Gewissen stillen'). In the "St Matthew Passion," (BWV 244) the bass arias towards the end are among the most beautiful and affecting in the entire work (especially 'Mache dich, mein Herze, rein'). In his secular music, Bach used the bass for Aeolus, god of the wind, in "Der Streit zwischen Phoebus und Pan" and the old,
conservative father in the Coffee Cantata. Extensive passage-work in the music written for bass in Germany demanded a virtuoso technique, but J.F. Agricola (Anleitung zur Singekunst, 1757) complained that many German basses, by inserting a 'ga, ga, ga' before each note and gulping for breath every half-bar, created an
unpleasing effect.<<
[Owen Jander, Lionel Sawkins, J.B. Steane, Elizabeth Forbes, Ellen T. Harris (with Gerald Waldman)]

Joel Figen wrote (March 7, 2005):
[To Douglas Cowling] I'm a singer myself and a bass to boot, and I'm also shocked by the low C. I had to look it up to be sure it's there. (Fear arising.....) It's there. But I wouldn't blame anyone who sang it an octave higher. After all, it's just one cadential note. If the rest of the recitative is well sung, it probably wouldn't be criticized. I know I wouldn't criticize it. Those who are offended by such a departure from the score should just consider it an ornament.

As for the low E's in BWV 4.6, there are three of them, all cadential, and they don't bother me much when I sing them, but I find the low F (in the same movement) that lasts 7 torturously slow beats considerably more daunting. Fortunately, that note represents the grave, so one can hardly be required to sing it perfectly. The continuo has the same note in unison, and the BGA score has the word "tasto" marked above it. I take that as an indication that the organist should try to strengthen the singer's output. My point here is that the difficulty of a note depends many factors, raw pitch being just one. There's a place in the aria Höllische Schlange (BWV 40.4) where I want to sing a baritone high a-flat, a note I can't normally reach, but here it just rolls off my vocal chords without resorting to head tones. Unfortunately it's not in the score, though I can't help wondering whether Bach really wanted to put it there, since it works so well. The actually scored note is an octave lower and musically inferior, in my humble opinion.

But back to the topic of anomalously low notes. Recently I encountered an aria nominally for alto, in one of the cantatas, but it was very definitely in the tenor range, at least when read in modern pitch. These days, I spend lots of time reading and transcribing bach cantata scores, so I hope I won't be censured for not remembering which one I saw this in. I'll try to find it again soon.

So I'm wondering whether varying pitch standards could have something to do with this. Recently I've seen a few posts about Chorton and Kammerton, and the customary transposition of organ parts downward. Perhaps these anomalously low parts were written for use in environments where Chorton was standard, and other parts were transposed up? Just a guess. This might explain BWV 4, which was an early work, with only strings and trombones in the orchestra, all of which are easily tunable to the organ. I might even suggest the hypothesis that Bach intended it to be performed this way and didn't have to say anything about it..

Most of Bach's more typical bass parts, on the other hand, actually sit rather high. I've seen this explained by changes in the male voice. I wouldn't rule that out, but Kammerton is a simpler hypothesis.

As for BWV 51, in addition to a high top note, it also has an uncommonly wide range
in the solo part. Here I might expect Bach had a specific singer in mind, perhaps one of his choirboys?

John Reese wrote (March 7, 2005):
Peter Smaill wrote:
>>Harmonically, the "rules" against consecutive fifths are broken in the duet "Komm,lass mich nicht laenger warten" in bar 23. <<
I haven't been able to locate the part you're referring to... (I don't have the full score unfortunately) Can you describe the context of the parallel fifths?

>>We' ve already encountered naked consecutive seconds in BWV 71; when we come to BWV 95, "Christus, der ist mein Leben", it is consecutive fourths which feature. In the last case , this occurs in the amazing tenor aria "Ach, schlage doch", the texture of oboes d'amore and pizzicato depicting another favourite Bach motif, the striking of bells. JEG's Soli Deo Gloria recording is worth buying for this movement alone. <<
Parallel fourths and seconds are really a separate issue than parallel fifths, as they are considered dissonances rather than "perfect" intervals. Bach sometimes employed an ungodly-long string of parallel fourths in mellisma passages.

Dale Gedcke wrote (March 7, 2005):
BWV 172: Introduction: Chorton & Kammerton?


Here are excerpts from the March 6, 2005 posting from Thomas Braatz:
"1) The original, first performance (the first chorus may have been a parody of a secular cantata) in Weimar took place on May 20, 1714 on the First Day of Pentecost. in C major: Chorton = D major: Kammerton)"
"2) A repeat performance between 1717-1723 in C major (Kammerton?)"
"4) A repeat performance on May 13, 1731 in C major Kammerton"
MY QUESTION:

I realize that the modern translation of "Kammerton" is "chamber tone (sound)" and the translation of "Chorton" is "choir tone (sound)". But, what is the significance of these terms as used in Thomas's description. Does it refer to the basic tuning pitch of the organ? Please pardon my ignorance.

Tom Dent wrote (March 8, 2005):
Tasto low note

Clear Mind wrote: (...)
As for the low E's in BWV 4.6, there are three of them, all cadential, and they don't bother me much when I sing them, but I find the low F (in the same movement) that lasts 7 torturously slow beats considerably more daunting. Fortunately, that note represents the grave, so one can hardly brequired to sing it perfectly. The continuo
has the same note in unison, and the BGA score has the word "tasto" marked above it. I take that as an indication that the organist should try to strengthen the singer's output. >
I believe that means there should be no continuo chords in the right hand. Doubly effective, first in depicting the desolation of the grave, second in not masking what may be a note where the singer has not much power. (But what else is happening through the 7 beats?)

My point here is that the difficulty of
< a note depends many factors, raw pitch being just one. There's a place in the aria Hoellische Schlange (BWV 40.4) where I want to sing a baritone high a-flat, a note I can't normally reach, but here it just rolls off my vocal chords without resorting to head tones. Unfortunately it's not in the score, though I can't help wondering whether Bach really wanted to put it there, since it works so well. >
I believe Purcell had a top G for bass in at least one place; Wagner has a single top G for bass (Alberich)... so hardly surprising that Bach did not risk the A flat.

Charles Francis wrote (March 8, 2005):
[To Dale Gedcke] I can't resist quoting Adlung's words of 1726:

"Organs are tuned to Chorton, as it is now called, which is 1 or 1 1/2 tones higer than Cammerton. Formerly, it was the reverse, and Cammerton was higher than Chorton; organs were tuned to what was then called Cammerton."

Hopefully everything is clearer now ;-)

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 8, 2005):
[To Dale Gedcke] This difficult subject is treated in the following excerpts/short summaries by Bruce Haynes are from the "Oxford Composer Companions: J. S. Bach [Boyd, ed., Oxford University Press, 1999.] You will find the references to the organ pitch dispersed throughout these excerpts:

Cammerton (Kammerton). A general instrumental PITCH standard, usually at a&#8242; &#8776; 415 but also commonly at a&#8242;=404 or a&#8242;=390 (this last known as tief-Cammerton). a&#8242;=415 had been used by choirs in early 17th-century Germany, but first became associated with instruments on the arrival of the newly developed French woodwinds at about the time that Bach was born. A few Cammerton organs began to be built at the beginning of the 18th century, and their pitches agree well with those of contemporary instruments of relatively immovable pitch, like recorders and transverse flutes.

In 1713 Johann Mattheson wrote of 'A- und B-Cammerton'. These terms expressed an interval relation to Chorton rather than absolute pitch frequencies. To produce the note C in the Cammerton a major 2nd below Chorton, an organist would need to play his B&#9837; (B in German nomenclature), hence the name B-Cammerton.

Playing an A produced a C in A- Cammerton , a minor 3rd below Chorton . The names 'A- und B-Cammerton' may also have been used as instructions for notation when parts had to be copied. Since Chorton was commonly at a&#8242;=465 (alias "Cornet-ton"), A- and B-Cammerton were virtually absolute pitch designations (a minor 3rd below 465 is 390, a major 2nd is 414). J. J. Quantz and J. E Agricola later used the term 'A-Cammerton' to mean a specific pitch frequency.

Cornet-ton . A specific level of Chorton at a=465. All the organs Bach regularly played were at Cornet-ton. The name is derived from the standard pitch of cornetts, the majority of which had been made at this approximate frequency for centuries. Most German organs made in Bach's lifetime whose pitches survive are in the range 460-70. Of the 13 organs that were described as in Cornet-ton at the time they were built and whose pitch has survived, the range is 450-67, with an average of a&#8242;=463.

Pitch. A term often used, as here, to mean 'pitch standards'. The subject is of special interest in relation to Bach because he lived at a time when several pitch standards were used simultaneously (none of which was at the level of standard modern pitch, a&#8242;=440 Hz), and the choice of pitch affects the sonorities of his music and the techniques of singers and instrumentalists who perform it. The pitch factor can be a useful tool in dating and editing the music, and in understanding the performing situations of Bach's works, since so many combinations and relations are represented. It is fairly easy, on the basis of written texts, to discover the names of the pitch standards Bach used: Cornet-ton, Chorton, and Cammerton. The pitch distance between these standards (a major 2nd or minor 3rd) is also clear from the notation of the music, and recent research on the original pitches of instruments of the time (cornetts, transverse flutes, recorders, and organs) has made it possible to link frequency values to the standards. In this and associated articles the expression 'a&#8242;=415' means that the note a&#8242; sounds at a frequency of 415 Hz (or cycles per second). When the pitch is merely approximate (to an accuracy of a quarter-tone), it is expressed as 'a&#8242;[circa]415'.

1. Introduction. For obvious practical reasons, the principle of standard pitch was generally accepted in Bach's day, and standards were in widespread use throughout Europe. However, musicians did not pretend, as they do today, that there was a universal 'A'. Several different standards, some quite specific and others more general, were recognized and used simultaneously, taking their names by association from musical functions or instruments (e.g. chamber pitch, opera pitch, cornett pitch, and choir pitch).

A more-or-less standard universal pitch did exist in the centuries before Bach's birth. The pitches of original instruments in the 16th and early 17th centuries cannot be described as uniform, but they are remarkably consistent at one principal level, about a&#8242; =465, called (among other things) mezzo punto, corista di Lombardia, ton d'éurie, and Cornet-ton. Part of the reason for this relative uniformity was that instrument making was centralized; the best woodwinds came from Venice, the best brass from Nuremberg, and those instruments were played all over Europe.

The name "Cornet-ton" remained connected to this frequency even into the 18th century, since cornetts did not change pitch. Michael Praetorius in 1618 wrote about 'Cornettenthon', but he preferred another name for the same frequency: 'CammerThon', which meant (and still means) standard instrumental pitch. Praetorius CammerThon, however, was not at the same frequency as Bach Cammerton, because in the mean time instruments themselves had changed dramatically.

In the 1670s and 1680s, as a result of a general interest in French culture and the music of JeanBaptiste Lully (1632-87), a revolutionary new French instrumentarium was adopted all over Europe. The pitch levels of these new instruments, being based on Parisian ton d'opéra and ton de chambre, were much lower than the traditional German instrumental pitch at a&#8242;[circa]465. Throughout this period pitch standards underwent important realignments that lasted almost exactly the duration of Bach's lifetime. The new French pitches, since they had become the most common levels for instruments, naturally appropriated the name "Cammerton."

But 18th-century churches were equipped with 17th-century organs, which were too venerable to replace merely because of a pitch change. A significant expense was also involved in lowering an organ's pitch, as pipes would have to be added to the bottom of each stop (and these were of course the biggest pipes). Nor was there room for larger pipes in organ cases, often highly prized in themselves. Until such time as old organs had to be replaced, church music maintained its own separate pitch. This pitch was known generically as Chorton. In order that 'figural' instruments (woodwinds, horns, and often strings) at Cammerton could be used in the church, however, organs were purposely tuned at a convenient interval to Cammerton, so that the two types could, through transposition, function together when desired. The intervals between them were a major 2nd or minor 3rd.

2. Speciworks. Determining the original pitch of a specific piece by Bach is usually a question of knowing where he wrote it. The organs he normally had at his disposal were at Cornet-ton (the specific type of Chorton at a&#8242;[circa] 460-70). His chamber and orchestral works were performed at Cammerton (a&#8242;[circa] 415, 404, or 390, depending on the place). Most of his vocal works, since they involved both organ and other instruments, were conceived in a combination of the two levels.

German composers of the early 18th century who were faced with the problem of writing in 'German' and 'French' pitches simultaneously developed an ad hoc system of notation to accommodate them. Since Cammerton instruments sounded lower, the common factor in this system was that their parts were always written higher than the organ's. There are many examples of pieces written in keys separated by a minor 3rd or major 2nd by, among others, Vincent Lübeck (1654-1740, Stade), F.W. Zachow (1663-1712, Halle), Tobias Volckmar (1678-1756, Breslau), J.L. Krebs (Altenburg), J. F. Fasch (Zerbst), J. D. Heinichen (Dresden), Christoph Graupner (Darmstadt), and G.P. Telemann (Frankfurt and Hamburg).

Bach solved the question of notating Cornetton and various levels of Cammerton in different ways at the various places he worked. The most complex situation was the one at Weimar. The Positiv organ built by Samuel Bidermann (b. 1600) in the court chapel in Weimar where Bach was Konzertmeister was documented as in 'Cornet-Thon'. During the first year he wrote cantatas (1714), Bach wrote parts for a single 'Oboe' notated a major 2nd above the other parts (organ, voices, and strings). The strings must therefore have been tuned up to Cornet-ton, and the 'Oboe' must have sounded a tone below the organ (and therefore at the highest form of Cammerton, a&#8242;[circa]415). But the 'Oboe' disappears at the end of 1714, to be replaced by an instrument consistently called 'Hautbois', whose parts differed a minor 3rd from the organ and strings. From this time Bach also notated certain other instruments at the interval of a minor 3rd, like the 'Basson' and the 'Flaut'. Since the organ did not change pitch, these instruments must have been at tief-Cammerton, or a&#8242;[circa]390. All the remaining works written for the Weimar chapel show this relationship.

The parts to Bach's music written at Cöthen are much simpler: they are all in the same key. Presumably, then, all the instruments were at the same pitch. But there is reason to think the prevailing pitch at Cöthen was a form of tief-Cammerton at a&#8242;[circa]403 or 390. The voice ranges of cantatas written there are unusually high, for instance, and when he used material from Cöthen later at Leipzig, Bach sometimes performed it at 'tief-Cammerthon'. The problematic trumpet part to the Second Brandenburg Concerto would be significantly easier on an original instrument at tief-Cammerton rather than at a&#8242;[circa]415.

At Leipzig the performing materials for the great majority of Bach's vocal works indicate that the strings, voices, and woodwinds were at Cammerton and the organ and brass were a major 2nd higher. Bach's predecessor at Leipzig, Johann Kuhnau, had specified in 1717 that the pitch of the organs at the Thomaskirche and the Nikolaikirche was Cornet-ton. Kuhnau used figural instruments at intervals of both a 2nd and a minor 3rd below Cornet-ton, 'depending', as he said, 'on which is the more convenient' (i.e. for finding mutually satisfying keys). He had woodwinds available, in other words, at both normal Cammerton and at tief-Cammerton (a&#8242;[circa]415 and a&#8242;[circa]390). Since string instruments sounded best in tonalities with open strings, and appropriate tonalities were critical for unkeyed woodwinds, the presence of woodwinds tuned a semitone apart was extremely practical; it offered Kuhnau a greater choice of keys in which to compose.

During Bach's first year and a half at Leipzig, he took advantage of this option by writing several pieces at tief-Cammerton: Cantatas BWV 22, BWV 23, BWV 63, and BWV 194, and the first version of the Magnificat (BWV 243). (Cantatas BWV 22 and BWV 23 were his trial pieces and were performed together; BWV 63 had been conceived some years earlier, probably for performance at tief-Cammerton, and was performed on the same day as the Magnificat (BWV 243)--which, with Cantata BWV 194, had antecedents in Cöthen.) The last known date that Bach used the tief-Cammerton option with his regular winds is 4 June 1724. In the late 1740s he performed a Pergolesi Stabat mater and a motet by Johann Christoph Bach at tief-Cammerton. He revised the Magnificat (BWV 243) for performance in the 1730s, transposing it from E&#9837; to D, probably because tief-Cammerton woodwinds were no longer available.

3. Transposition. For a composer, choice of key was circumscribed by a number of interrelated factors. Four general performing groups were affected by transposition: the voices, the string band, the organ, and the woodwinds.

Because Bach's vocal ranges are normally close to the possible extremes, changes of key can be critical. Transposition shifts the position of register breaks and alters tone quality and range. Given the primary role of the voice, considerations of transposition must begin with their effect on singers.
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Examples of string instruments tuned up to Chorton are common in the early 18th century. Many of the instruments in use were made in previous centuries, when the usual instrumental pitch was a&#8242;=465 (mezzo punto in Cremona). As late as c.1780 in Salzburg, string sections were tuned up to the high brass and organ pitch, while oboes ('hautboys') and bassoons sounded a step lower. It often worked better to retune string instruments than to transpose to keys that shifted their open-string resonances or affected the sonorities of specific notes. With a band of strings, the effect was multiplied. Especially important were the sound of open-string chords (which Bach exploited, for example, in Cantata BWV 161). Strings were regularly retuned as much as a whole tone up or down in this period. When Kuhnau did not want to transpose his organ parts down to remote tonalities, for instance, he had his string players tune up a step.

As far as the organ is concerned, many sources indicate that transposition was considered an essential skill of a good organist, developed for dealing with the common situation of differing pitch standards.

The range of tonalities that functioned well on the essentially keyless woodwinds of Bach's day was limited. The different placement of the forked fingerings and half-holes that produced the accidentals gave each tonality its own particular character, technique, and intonation. Trills and other ornaments were often played with special fingerings; some were ea, others nearly impossible. Various tonalities therefore offered the 18th-century woodwind player particular technical ease or difficulty in choice of fingerings. Transpositions had to be made with care, for musical as well as practical reasons.

Another more obvious problem was that of range. Original woodwind parts at Cammerton are sometimes transposed down a major 2nd or minor 3rd in modern editions (BG, for instance) to match the other instruments notated at Chorton. When this occurs, they often include notes below the compass of the instruments (in some cases modern as well as original ones).

Given that the standard transpositions were a major 2nd or a minor 3rd (these intervals were valid both for instruments at different pitch standards and for the transposing 'd'amore' instruments), it was still possible to combine different keys without resorting to equal temperament. 'Regular' meantones (i.e. those in which all the 5ths except one are the same size) accommodate standard transpositions, since intervals are identical in most keys (although the problem of choosing between flats or sharps-C&#9839; or D&#9837;, for instance--remains). Considerations of temperament applied only to the keyboard instruments, since singers and other instruments made appropriate ad hoc tuning adjustments.

The question of what effect transposition had on key character is not straightforward. Bach rewrote pieces for other instruments or situations, changing the key for what often appear to be functional rather than aesthetic reasons. An example is the oboe ('hautboy') aria BWV 102:3, once in F minor and once, in BWV 233:4, in C minor. The violin concertos BWV 1041-3 and 1049 are notated a major 2nd lower in Bach's arrangements for harpsichord, primarily because of range. Bach would not, then, appear to have taken the affective properties of keys very seriously. If the special sound of a particular key is a consideration, a special color is also produced by the combination of two different keys played simultaneously. That effect is lost, of course, when the piece is reduced to a single key.

4. Modern editions of Bach's works. When a work by Bach involves the simultaneous use of different keys, editors of modern editions are faced with a difficult decision. If they choose a single universal tonality, it may be necessary to 'un-transpose' the music, and the result might be unintentionally to alter the original effect. When Bach's cantatas were first published at the end of the 19th century by the BG, the transposition factors discussed above were no longer obvious. The editors solved the question of part transpositions in a way that must have seemed quite reasonable at the time: they normally kept to the key of the greatest number of parts. The BG remained the definitive edition of Bach's cantatas for about a century, and as a result some of them continue to be misunderstood and difficult to perform.

The pieces that have suffered are the early ones composed at Weimar. Bach reworked a number of those cantatas for later use at Leipzig. Where the difference in notation between the parts was a major 2nd (i.e. Cantatas BWV 12, BWV 21, BWV 172, and BWV 199), his usual practice was to transpose the voice and string parts up a step to the key of the Cammerton woodwinds. In this way the sounding pitch remained the same, since the strings and voices were notated at Cornet-ton at Weimar and Cammerton at Leipzig. Converting the cantatas notated with a difference of a minor 3rd was more difficult because of the remote keys involved. Bach adapted five of them for Leipzig (BWV 31, BWV 155, BWV 161, BWV 182, and BWV 185), putting all the parts in the same key (except, of course, the organ), but in the process much more transposition was necessary, and some parts had to be eliminated or replaced by other instruments.

Notational and transpositional questions caused by pitch differences affect the following works by Bach: BWV 12, BWV 18, BWV 21, BWV 22, BWV 23, BWV 31, BWV 63, BWV 70a, BWV 71, BWV 80a, BWV 106, BWV 131, BWV 132, BWV 147a, BWV 150, BWV 152, BWV 155, BWV 161, BWV 162, BWV 172, BWV 182, BWV 185, BWV 186a, BWV 194, BWV 199, BWV 208, and BWV 243a. Most, but not all, of these questions are addressed by the NBA. For a detailed discussion, see Haynes (1995), pp. 299 ff.<<

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 8, 2005):
Sorry about the extraneous characters. I hope the following corrections will make the text more readable:

Cammerton ("Kammerton" ). A general instrumental pitch standard, usually at a' c. 415 but also commonly at a' c. 404 or a' c. 390 (this last known as tief-Cammerton ). a' c. 415

Since Chorton was commonly at a' c. 465 (alias "Cornet-ton"),

an organist would need to play his Bb (B in German nomenclature),

the range is 450-67, with an average of a' = 463.

In this and associated articles the expression 'a' = 415' means that the note a&#8242; sounds at a frequency of 415 Hz (or cycles per second). When the pitch is merely approximate (to an accuracy of a quarter-tone), it is expressed as 'a' c. 415'.

but they are remarkably consistent at one principal level, about a' = 465, called (among other things) mezzo punto, corista di Lombardia, ton d'éurie, and Cornet-ton. being based on Parisian ton d'opéra and ton de chambre, were much lower than the traditional German instrumental pitch at a' c. 465.

The organs he normally had at his disposal were at Cornet-ton (the specific type of Chorton at a' c. 460-70). His chamber and orchestral works were performed at Cammerton (a' c. 415, 404, or 390, depending on the place).

The strings must therefore have been tuned up to Cornet-ton, and the 'Oboe' must have sounded a tone below the organ (and therefore at the highest form of Cammerton, a' c. 415).

Since the organ did not change pitch, these instruments must have been at tief-Cammerton, or a' c. 390.

But there is reason to think the prevailing pitch at Cöthen was a form of tief-Cammerton at a' c. 403 or 390.

The problematic trumpet part to the Second Brandenburg Concerto would be significantly easier on an original instrument at tief-Cammerton rather than at a' c. 415.

He had woodwinds available, in other words, at both normal Cammerton and at tief-Cammerton (a' c. 415 and a' c. 390).

He revised the Magnificat (BWV 243) for performance in the 1730s, transposing it from Eb to D, probably because tief-Cammerton woodwinds were no longer available.

Many of the instruments in use were made in previous centuries, when the usual instrumental pitch was a' =465 (mezzo punto in Cremona)

(although the problem of choosing between flats or sharps C# or Db, for instance--remains).

 

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