Cantata BWV 178Wo Gott derr Herr nicht bei uns hält
Discussions - Part 2
Continue from Part 1
Discussions in the Week of July 16, 2006 (2nd round)
Aryeh Oron wrote (July 15, 2006):
I was asked by Peter Smaill, who enjoys his vacation in France these days, to send his intro to the discussion of Cantata BWV 178.
The cantata discussion is scheduled for the week of July 16, 2006.
I would like to use this opportunity to thank Eric Bergerud, who has led the cantata discussions during the past 10 weeks.
I hope to see many of you participating in the discussion.
Peter Smaill wrote (July 15, 2006):
Cantata BWV 178, "Wo Gott der Herr nicht bei uns hält" - Intro to discussion July 16, 2006
Week of July 16, 2006
Cantata BWV 178, "Wo Gott der Herr nicht bei uns hält " for the Eighth Sunday after Trinity.
1st performance: 30 July 1724 - Leipzig
Second Annual Cantata Cycle, 1723-24 (Jahrgang II)
Librettist: (?) Andreas Stübel (per Wolff, in "Bach: The Learned Musician" p278)
Main Cantata Page: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV178.htm
Previous Discussion: See: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV178-D.htm
Introduction by Peter Smaill
Rather belatedly, a few words on my background prior to commencing the introductions to ten Cantatas from the 1724 Cycle.
From around 7 years old, when as a treble in a small children's choir we would join in the singing of the chorale "Liebster Jesu " at christenings in the mediaeval Church of the Holy Rude in Stirling, Scotland, to the present day over forty years later; Bach and especially the Cantatas have been a source of recurrent interest. In recent years, the experience of John Eliot Gardiner's Bach Cantata Pilgrimage rekindled much enthusiasm. I now live near Roslin in Midlothian, Scotland and work in finance in London.
Although several family members have been musically trained, one under the Bach scholar Donald Francis Tovey who famously formed a conclusion for the Art of Fugue (BWV 1080), I have remained stubbornly amateur and thus am an enthusiast for the BCML since it allows many of us to interact with professional musical scholars without being in the academic world and network many insights into the background of these masterworks.
In introducing the succession of ten Chorale cantatas which Bach composed through the summer of 1724, the aim is to digest recent scholarship and stress the questions that remain open to debate. In these Cantatas of the second cycle Bach was developing new techniques for the Chorale Cantata, in which stylistic variety and innovation was desirable to prevent the recurrence of the unifying Chorale theme dulling the impact of the texts. In this task the broadening of orchestral colour, including Bach's deployment of the oboe d'amore, oboe da caccia and particularly transverse flute played a significant part, but we have already uncovered extensive structural experimentation as well.
Such experimentation is backward as well as forward looking. In this Cantata and some others in the group Bach demonstrates a tendency to use techniques from his earliest Cantatas.
BWV 178, in which Bach illustrates the imagery of the battle-worn Christian being upheld by divine power, is an exemplar of just such a syncretic approach as the critics have variously observed. Further word-painting is achieved in the mystical image of the soul as a wave-torn ship. This Cantata has attracted much interest by the scholars (as follows) and deserves to be better known; indeed, from the setting out of the provenance by Thomas Braatz in the previous round of discussions, it was once considered one of his best Cantatas.
Quotations from selected Commentaries
Bach sounds the call to battle-without recourse to trumpets - in the tremendously vigorous orchestral introduction. (BWV 178/1).
Stanzas 3 and 6 only of the [eight verses of the Chorale] are paraphrased, for two splendid arias.[BWV 178/6]..The vocal line moves magnificently, sometimes depicting the rocking of the ship by syncopations; there are flowing runs to the words of the two lines "Sie wollen Satans reich erweitern" and "und Christi Schifflein soll zerscheitern" (They wish Satan's kingdom to expand" and "Christ's little-ship must founder").
The construction of the alto chorale and recitative is exceedingly ingenious.
Perhaps on 30 July 1724 Bach had no boy chorister he could rely on for soprano solos. BWV 178/2 is a simile aria, such as is found in numerous operas of the period, likening a soul disturbed by the wrath of an enemy to a storm-tossed ship at sea. Even more disturbing, though, is the tenor's "Schweig nur, taumelnde Vernunft" with its syncopations and its disjointed, declamatory phrases. (BWV 178/6)
The troped Chorale BWV 178/2 is a contrapuntal masterpiece. While the recitative insertions are set as secco, the chorale lines are sung throughout in minims in counterpoint with their quaver diminution in the continuo.
The tenor aria BWV 178/6 is also in substance the most topically significant for Bach's day, arguing against "tottering reason". The model of the hymn makes no mention of reason at all.
For the century of the Enlightenment, the apologetics against rationalism were a major concern. Hence not only does Bach's librettist command reason to be silent at the opening of the aria, but Bach himself designs the string ritornello, with its syncopations and shaking figures, to reflect the image of the "tottering" of reason.
Timothy Smith (précis)
Smith identifies a tonal elaboration in BWV 178/6 surrounding "und wenn sie Kreuz", a technique allying this Cantata to the variation of the cantus firms (by a figuration referred to as a "circulatio" ) in BWV 4. Other examples from this period of the second Jahrgang given are BWV 2, BWV 99, BWV 101 and BWV 78, occurring in conjunction with "Kreuz" and "Tod". For a fuller account of this phenomenon, see http://jan.ucc.nau.edu/~tas3/pubs/circ/circulatio.html.
1) The apparent intrusion into the chorale text to produce an anti-enlightenment bias is textually remarkable; Wolff's belief in the attribution of the libretto to Andreas Stübel raises the issue of the extent to which Leipzig at this time had divided into factions for and against the "Aufklärung". Do we know anything more of Stübel's background?
2) No soprano solo, in fact, in any Cantata for this Sunday, though of course there are treble voices in the chorus and Chorale. Is this for any known cause? Eric Bergerud earlier noted that BWV 20 and BWV 2 of the same series likewise omitted a soprano aria, as does BWV 7, and BWV 135, but there is one in the Magnificat setting BWV 10 (2 July), BWV 93 (9 July), BWV 107 (23 July) and BWV 94 (6 August).
I look forward to the contributions of the participants in the BCML, and in particular a review of the Suzuki recording of this Cantata , which has become available since the last discussions.
Appendix: Further Resources
1 Chorus SATB
2 Recitative and Chorale SATB A
3 Aria B
4 Chorale T
5 Chorale SATB
6 Aria T
Romans 8: 12-17 (All who are led by the Spirit are sons of God)
Matthew 7: 15-23 (Sermon on the Mount: beware of false prophets; you will know them by their fruits)
Chorale Text & Melody:
"Wo Gott, der Herr, nicht bei uns halt"
Author: Justus Jonas (1524) (Mvts.1, 2, 4, 5, 7)
Chorale Melody: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/CM/Wo-Gott-der-Herr.htm
Instruments: 2 Ob, 2 Vn, Va, Cor with S. Cont
Written for the 8th Sunday after Trinity
Other Cantatas written for this Sunday:
BWV 136, "Erforsche mich, Gott" (1723)
BWV 45 , "Es ist dir Gesagt, Mensch, was gut ist"
Piano Vocal Score: (free PDF download)
Music (free streaming download):
Performances of Bach Cantatas:
Order of Discussion (2006)
Julian Mincham wrote (July 16, 2006):
What a fantastic opening chorus. But I will resist temptation and leave others to comment upon it. Comment upon three striking movements only.
It is instructive to compare the third movement (bass aria) with its counterpart (tenor aria) in Cantata BWV 81 from the first cycle. Both are depictions of the savage foaming ocean's waters battering the faithful Christian. Both are extremely demanding vocal parts, both (perhaps surprisingly) are based in major keys and both make use of tempestuous string parts to represent the rage of the driven sea. The earlier aria, however, uses the images of storms and tempests as a background to the true believer's monumental (and ultimately successful) struggle towards the haven of the shore, representing a position safety and security. This aria has a slightly different focus. The image of the storm at sea is less a metaphor of the struggle to find faith and more a simile of comparison with the encroaching enemies who aim to divert us from it. Both arias stretch the techniques of the singers to their ultimates and this in itself is an expression of stress and effort. But the bass aria is slightly less frenetic and the constantly repeated notes in the strings portray a sense of persistent inevitability. The almost suicidal runs and melismas continue the idea of enemy hordes from the opening chorus. They also convey the sense of effort required to resist both temptation and the lures of the enemies surging around us.
Mention has been made of Bach's various experiments with the setting of long tracts of text---more of this ahortly. There are two examples in this cantata and others may have been noted is Cantatas BWV 93 and BWV 94---Bach is clearly pre-occupied with this area of experimentation at this time This movement introduces further experimental elements in that whilst in BWV 178/2 the chorale was presented as a single melodic line, here it is fully harmonized, in four parts, much as we would expect at the end. Furthermore, the recitative here is not in relatively free rhythm but keeps to the same tempo, evidenced by the unrelenting accompaniment figure driving all sections. Finally, Bach makes use of alto, tenor and bass voices for the recitative interpolations (why no soprano, one wonders?) instead of confining them to a single voice.
What an original movement!
The opening ritornello gives us a preview of what is to come. The rhythm is pointed and disjointed, the phrases extended and lacking the symmetry of the more common four bar phrase. The odd phrase lengths and broken rhythms result in a melody of great dramatic power.
The key word is 'taumelnde'---reeling or staggering------- be quiet, staggering reason and do not say that the pious are lost:- they are saved by the power of the cross. Clearly the opening bars depict an inebriated reeling but yet combined with a commanding voice: 'be silent' is a clear and imperious command.
But if the ritornello is unusual, the first seven bar tenor phrase has no counterpart in music of the time. It is not a melody in the conventional sense. The tenor seems to pick notes out of the air; rhythmical, one can never be quite certain upon which beat the next note will fall. Listen to these bars and then try to sing them yourself, If you get the rhythm immediately right, first time, I would suggest you have an exceptionally good ear. More likely the exercise will bring about an enhanced respect for Bach's singers who would have been expected to learn and perform such convoluted lines in a matter of days! This is the precursor to the pointillism of the Twentieth Century, a technique of seemingly picking notes from the air and employed by Webern, Berio, Nono and others.
Once again Bach was far ahead of the game.
Remarkable is the change of mood for the words 'Denn denen, die Jesum Hoffen'---those putting faith in Jesus. Here Bach temporarily abandons several of the characteristics of the first section in order to convey a more tranquil and less hectic mood. Minor becomes major, the phrases are more symmetrical and the unpredictable rhythmic outbursts are replaced by a more flowing, even quaver movement
The disjointedness returns to conclude the movement in a loose ternary form structure. But the feeling of comfort which the cross and the Lord provides will be reaffirmed in the chorale's closing stanza.
Eric Bergerud wrote (July 16, 2006):
Peter Smaill wrote:
< Outstanding Questions
1) The apparent intrusion into the chorale text to produce an anti-enlightenment bias is textually remarkable; Wolff's belief in the attribution of the libretto to Andreas Stübel raises the issue of the extent to which Leipzig >at this time had divided into factions for and against the "Aufklärung". Do we know anything more of Stübel's background?
2) No soprano solo, in fact, in any Cantata for this Sunday, though of course there are treble voices in the chorus and Chorale. Is this for any known cause? Eric Bergerud earlier noted that BWV 20 and BWV 2 of the same series likewise omitted a soprano aria, as does BWV 7, and BWV 135, but there is one in the Magnificat setting BWV 10 (2 July), BWV 93 (9 July), BWV 107 (23 July) and BWV 94 (6 August). >
Obviously one can only speculate, but I don't see that an "anti-enlightenment bias" is remarkable in the least. The Enlicame in many guises some people took bigger doses of it than others. To the extent that the Enlightenment is to be equated with reason and religion, the theological bias goes straight to the heart of Luther's teachings. Indeed, the very core is on display. Luther went out of his way to pour scorn on the followers of St. Thomas who held that an understanding and appreciation of the workings of the natural world affirmed the glory of God's creation and plan. (This is why, btw, that historians of science in the past decade have repeatedly attacked the idea, so common in 19th & 20th century Protestant and secular circles, that Mother Church was hostile to scientific inquiry for most of it's history. The opposite was the case.) Luther considered it conceit to attempt to "prove" the existence of God and the truth of Christ's message through reason. This revelation came exclusively through faith according to Luther. (This also explains Brother Martin's particular affection for the Gospel of John which stresses faith. What I've never understood, however, is why the same Gospel didn't puncture Luther's rejection of free will.) This didn't make the Evangelical movement hostile to scientific inquiry. It did, however, create theological wall between observing the natural world and using these observations to validate matters that can only come from faith through the Holy Spirit.
For what it's worth the famous physicist Freeman Dyson has just made exactly the same argument in the most recent issue of New York Review of Books. Dyson and Gary Willis are the journal's token theists, no doubt appearing because NYR has published many articles in the past decade, particularly by Steven Weinberg, that view all religion not only as foolish but as the source of many of humanities ills. So Dyson echos Luther and Weinberg Voltaire: this is a squabble with some real pedigree. Dyson's father George was, as I understand it, an almost-famous composer in England in the interwar period.
Ed Myskowski wrote (July 16, 2006):
Eric Bergerud wrote:
< understanding and appreciation of the workings of the natural world affirmed the glory of God's creation and plan. >
An unbroken tradition, carried on in dedicated, unrelenting, fashion by the Society of Jesus (Jesuits), and reaching a bloom in the 20th century with Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. Who was not exactly squelched, just left
unpublished, in his lifetime. He never abandoned science (or Jesus), or a smile. He is having the last laugh.
< Dyson's father George was, as I understand it, an almost-famous composer in England in the interwar period. >
I will leave the final word to the English correspondents. From my side of the pond, <almost> is the operative word.
For weeks, I have forgotten to post this citation from the Oxford Composer Companion (Sacred Cantata entry, R. A. Leaver, p. 86):
Since many of the chorales used in these cantatas are the Wittenberg hymns of Luther and others, which began to be published in 1524, it seems highly likely that the cantatas of Jahrgang 2, which began in 1724, were intended to celebrate 200 years of Lutheran hymnody.
Perhaps my procrastination was fortuitous. From Robertson, the libretto [BWV 178] is based on Justas Jonas' hymn (1524).
I will leave it to the scholars to confirm, but I believe this is the first we have seen from 1524. Perhaps we should expect something special.
Ed Myskowski wrote (July 16, 2006):
I am in the habit of trying to listen at least once through before reading posts, and so had not yet gotten to Julian's description. I was writing a few minutes ago about Robertson's text reference and listening to Richter .
Julian Mincham wrote:
< It is instructive to compare the third movement (bass aria) >
(1) You want to read everything Julian said, no need to repeat it all here.
(2) Fischer-Dieskau  performing this aria (BWV 178/3) is not to be missed! Did I say expect something special? If I am repetitious from earlier discussions, pardon my enthusiasm.
Neil Halliday wrote (July 16, 2006):
In the opening chorus (Mvt. 1) we see yet another method for the arrangement of a 4-voice chorale.
The first line of text is presented in (mostly) minims in all voices; the second line has the minims of the cantus firmus accompanied by animated semiquaver writing in the lower three voices. Lines three and four repeat this pattern. Line five has the three lower voices in mostly crotchets, line six has them in mostly quavers, and line seven has the mostly semiquaver animation of lines 2 and 4, in the lower voices.
There are two main motives in the orchestral writing; an agitated dotted rhythm figure (not indicative of a `French overture' type of motion), and an animated eight-note (2 by 4) figure that repeats again and again, by lowering itself (usually) one step at a time.
Bach uses similar long, animated figures (consisting of repetitions of an eight-note figure, as above) - twice, a few months apart in 1726, in the opening choruses of BWV 47 and BWV 187, as part of the main subjects of incredibly expansive vocal fugues.
In BWV 178 the prominent dotted rhythm motive imbues the music with a more agitated aspect. Notice the violins insistent, repeated A above the stave, in dotted motion, accompanying the fourth line "In heaven high above". This `same-note' motive also occurs elsewhere.
Tempi of BWV 178/1 range from a rushed 4:19 with Suzuki , to an unhurried 5:26 with Rilling ; some detail of the 1/16th note passage-work is difficult to discern in the former. The lines of Richter's large choir  (4.49) smudge in places.
Rilling  allots the chorale sections of the following movement to the choir altos (in answer to Ed's question re the same situation in BWV 93, there is no indication for this in the score). This helps to stave off any tediousness that might result from the structure of this kind of movement (already discussed in BWV 93); but Rilling's continuo strings here are too thick/heavy, not helped by the `husky' timbre of the organ. Richter  has the excellent alto Julia Hamari, and pleasing organ tones in long held notes. Anyone like Suzuki's minimalist (HIP) approach ? (My opinion does not need restating).
I see Ed likes DFD  in the bass aria (Mvt. 3). This performance has the necessary drive, but I would prefer less vocal vibrato on the coloraturas, where I like to be able to discern the actual pitch of the notes (not a simple proposition with most bass singers in this type of aria). Schöne has an easier task, with Rilling's slower
tempo . Notice that, in this bass aria, the unison violins I and II play the obbligato line in an unusually low register for these instruments.
In the tenor chorale movement (Mvt. 4), Bach seems to be continuously juggling the little instrumental motive in the parts for oboes and continuo, while accompanying the tenor chorale. I like Euiluz and Rilling's moderate tempo .
The second `chorale e recitativo' (Mvt. 5) is fully composed, and easier to present successfully (IMO), compared with the second movement.
Rilling  shines in the tenor aria (Mvt. 6), where the rich 4 part (5 part with string basses) writing for strings is vividly heard, and presented in a lively fashion via Rilli's powerful modern strings. Equiluz is pleasing, and injects sufficient energy into the part.
[BTW, I heard a `period' "Zadok the Priest" the other day in which the charming, ascending broken-chord figures on the violins (1/16th notes) at the start were virtually inaudible, leaving the repeated quavers on the oboes to carry the day. Definitely a case of underpowered strings!].
Ed Myskowski wrote (July 17, 2006):
Thomas Braatz wrote (August 9, 2001):
< This time I will include all that he [Chafe] has to say about this cantata [BWV 178], then you can judge for yourself rather than rely on my possibly prejudiced paraphrase. >
I thought I recalled Tom saying somewhere that Eric Chafe is tough reading, but he has some good things to say beneath it all. I did not take the trouble to recover the reference, because -
From the several paragraphs Tom cited in 2001, all I can say is, this is the most impenetrable writing I have encountered anywhere. Not excluding Finnegans Wake, to return to a recent thread. Sorry for any insensitive comments at that time, I now see one aspect of the issue - there is a lot of pretense and intentional obscurity in academic jargon (indeed, any professional jargon). Not to be confused with accurate, professional statements.
Not always easy for the outsider to distinguish, so I am counting on the musicologists to give us an updated opinion on Tom Braatz 2001 citations from Chafe.
Ed Myskowski wrote (July 20, 2006):
It is a rewarding challenge to keep up with the weekly discussions.
Julian Mincham wrote:
< It is instructive to compare the third movement (bass aria) [BWV 178/3] with its counterpart (tenor aria) in Canata BWV 81 from the first cycle. >
I have not yet done this, but my intentions are good, and repeating it here clarifies the following sequence.
< This aria has a slightly different focus. The image of the storm at sea is less a metaphor of the struggle to find faith and more a simile of comparison with the encroaching enemies who aim to divert us from it. Both arias stretch the techniques of the singers to their ultimates and this in itself is an expression of stress and effort. >
I posted my immediate reaction to Richter  and DFD. I have since compared this with Leusink  a few times, and as of today, with Suzuki . One has to wonder if the modulations in the accompaniment to Richter are not as much the DG/Polydor engineers tweaking knobs as the performance decisions of Richter. This does not in any way change my immediate response to the drama and impact of the CD, something special indeed, but it does make me ponder what, exactly, I am listening to.
Suzuki , with Peter Kooy (Kooij on label) is in a class of its own. Not more dramatic. Not more impact. But everything is just right, including added harpsichord to the continuo. Not to mention listing all the continuo instruments in the booklet, so one doesn't need need to be a professional, or make a project, to figure out what exactly sounds so good.
Neil halliday mentioned my original post, with comment on DFD vibrato. I find the vibrato less pronounced with Suzuki/Kooy , and even less so with Leusink/Ramselaar . I enjoy them all, but then, my nature is a <glass half full> attitude, not looking for opportunities to complain. If I had to pick one, it would be Suzuki. As soon as I wrote that, I had another look at the text:
wild waves of the sea violently shatter the ship
This is what you feel, immediately, with Richter/DFD , however it was achieved.
More comments re Suzuki  planned, as this performance is absent from previous comments. If I don't get to it, you can see from the archives that his performances are highly regarded, if a bit pricey to collect in total. Everyone should try at least one - HIP with a resonant venue, a unique presence.
Ed Myskowski wrote (July 22, 2006):
Peter Smaill wrote (July 16, 2006):
< I look forward to [...] a review of the Suzuki recording of this Cantata , which has become available since the last discussions. >
Richter  1, 4:49. 2, 2:23 3, 3:27. 4, 1:51. 5, 1:27. 6, 4:27. 7, 1:57. 19:51 total (20:21 by addition)
Leusink . 1, 5:08. 2, 2:15. 3, 4:04. 4, 1:51. 5, 1:36. 6, 3:38. 7, 1:50. 20:22 total (by addition, total not published)
Suzuki . 1, 4:19. 2, 2:13. 3, 3:23. 4, 1:39. 5, 1:33. 6, 3:53. 7, 1:37. 18:47 total (18:37 by addition)
Generalizations regarding HIP vs. trad tempos are not meaningful, and should be abandoned. Specific comparisons only.
Conclusions regarding tempos, based on published timings, are suspect because published timings are suspect. I did no more than check the arithmetic. If you are making a serious point, best double check the actual timing of sections, as well.
I did not do that. Nevertheless, the Suzuki  opening chorus (BWV 178/1) does sound on the quick side. Not so much as to spoil the overall impression, but in a direct comparison Richter  is better. Leusink , very transparent and unhurried, best of all, even with staccato beat..
The Richter soloists  are difficult to match, no surprise. The counter-tenors in BWV 178/2 are adequate (Buwalda/Leusink ) or good (White/Suzuki ), just not quite a match for Julia Hamari with Richter .
Somehow, Suzuki  makes the best overall impression. Probably, the combination of musicians, recording venue , and engineering, create the total effect. One detail does stand out as superlative, the oboes in the T chorale, BWV 178/4, have a particular subtlety. No cackling hens (or pecking roosters) here. Merely quibbling heretics (or quibbling as if at heretics, I have conflicting translations), very musical.
Suzuki's  use of harpsichord in the continuo may not be to everyone's taste. It does provide an interesting listening alternative, and Suzuki explains his choice in the booklet notes. Even if he does conclude his justification with that dread phrase <clearly appropriate>, without a lot of preceding clarity.
Ed Myskowski wrote (July 22, 2006):
Neil Halliday wrote:
< Rilling  allots the chorale sections of the following movement to the choir altos (in answer to Ed's question re the same situation in BWV 93, there is no indication for this in the score). >
Thanks for remembering this detail, which I had just about forgotten asking!
Ed Myskowski wrote (July 30, 2007):
This morning, Brian McCreath played BWV 178 as the weekly cantata on WGBH-FM (www.wgbh.org for the internet savvy). My comments are continued from parallel thoughts re BWV 164.
Brian is a BCML correspondent, and those of you who have access to his radio program may enjoy hearing his concise distillations of some of our discussion points. In particular, Brian emphasizes the importance of the texts to the music, and that Bach's Lutheran theology is essential to the texts.
With regard to BWV 178, he noted the conflict in the chorale text, Mvt. 7:
<Help us, that we do not waver.
Reason struggles against Faith>
Brian pointed out that there is no uncertainty here, reason was an enemy of faith in Bach's lutheran theology. This strikes me as a belief that it would be difficult to maintain today. I hasten to add, Brian did not state this, he left us to draw our ownconclusion.
It is a point of ongoing discussion whether we can know that Bach's personal theology agrees 100% with Lutheran dogma of his time. Some of the comments with regard to Bach's view of human nature, and in fact some of the texts themselves, in BWV 164, are in conflict with my understanding of Lutheran dogma: salvation is a matter of faith that Christ will save you, and good works, even love thy neighbor, are not of much help.
Jean Laaninen wrote (July 30, 2007):
[To Ed Myskowski] You have raised an important point in regard to a stricter view of Lutheran doctrine...sola fide...by faith alone is the standard as I understand it from a lifetime of either being in Lutheran Churches or being related to all kinds of Lutheran relatives and in such circles. But despite certain primary doctrines, Lutherans have traditionally taught that faith with out works is dead. So although I have been unable to find much of a theological focus on this particular issue in Schweitzer so far, and in the other texts I have been reading, a look at the cantatas reveals interesting information. For example, Recitative II in Cantata BWV 51 could be said to carry an interpretation of obedience to God, but I think the idea can possibly be extended just a little. The idea I get from my translation (word by word) leads me to think that 'we' go to church to thank God for his goodness towards us. Worship in Lutheranism translates in preaching as the work of the people. So works of all kinds that are good are not far from Lutheranism even if they are not at the core.
I read just this evening about Bach signing the Lutheran Accords, so he was pledged to uphold the tenets of his faith. However, I also read a bit earlier about the Bach family and their jovial music making during the yearly family reunions.
The thing about all of this is to say that Bach was part of a remarkably human family in my view, but he also had a challenging job dealing with the authorities, teaching and composing. And on the compositional side and the textual side, so far as I have been able to see in the cantatas I have explored, the texts do not appear to me to be in conflict with Lutheran teaching, even if today we have some more liberal elements existing. The tough thing is understanding that unless one is a Lutheran steeped in theology some of it won't make complete sense. Then, too, perhaps some of these texts didn't make full sense to the congregations Bach served. But this is what I think as I hear the discussions taking place--without the need to convey the texts from the Bible for a particular Sunday many of these great works would not have been written. So understanding comes from the source, if not necessarily agreement on meaning. And you don't have to fully understand every line to get something out of the music.
A good family friend, a certain Dr. Eiser who is Jewish, happily sang in all the Christian works we did in a master arts chorale in California. He didn't have any arguments with the texts because he considered the texts 'ours' and the music something that could be uplifting for everyone. The texts are history in one sense, but also vital to many Christians and others who have a view toward belief in God. But the music as a whole is enriching for Bach's genius.
The idea of reason being an enemy of faith (as you mention below) is still prevalant today in many religious entities. However, as a modern person and somewhat liberal on some issues, I think without reason we would not be able to accomplish much of anything. And I also see reason as a God-given gift. Bach would not have been able to write such amazing counter-point without the facility of reason. So I am sure those of us who use our powers of reason in an able manner need not feel this is a threat. But in traditional Lutheranism and many other branches of the Christian community, putting reason above faith is the difficulty.
Cara Emily Thornton wrote (July 30, 2007):
[To Jean Laaninen] I have traveled in Lutheran and other 'sola fide'-adherent circles for many years, and basically we can boil down their thinking on 'sola fide' to a certain 'equation':
FAITH => SALVATION + WORKS
These circles contrast their view with another view:
FAITH + WORKS => SALVATION.
So, works are not absent from either equation. The difference is whether they are a cause or an effect.
In secular terms, this matter can be understood very simply: it is true that only faith saves, but if we really believe in something, it is going to affect our behavior. If that something, whatever it is, does not affect our behavior, then it becomes evident that we don't really believe it. And we can arrive at what we really believe in by reasoning backwards from our actions.
Nicholas Johnson wrote (August 2, 2007):
[To Jean Laaninen] The text of the bass aria «Komm süsses Kreuz" (Come blessèd cross) in the St Mathew Passion (BWV 244) strikes us today as a bit on the heavy side! But we love the sound of the three bass lines running along together. Even Mozart's constant references to death when writing to his father strike us as a little morbid. But those were different times when the darker side of life was there for all to see.
Your friend, Dr. Eiser, enjoyed singing the music, taking the text with its Christian message in his stride. Dr Jonathan Miller in the BBC documentary series "World's Greatest Composers" denies that an appreciation of the St Mathew Passion (BWV 244) is a proof of the power of the message in that gospel. His view is that the St Mathew Passion (BWV 244) is part of the culture and civilization of the western world. The power of the music carries us along even when the text seems old-fashioned or out of line with our own line of thought.
Jean Laaninen wrote (August 2, 2007):
[To Nicholas Johnson] Thanks for your comments Nicholas.
I sang the St. Matthew's Passion (BWV 244) for four years in college, and the experience was sacred and spiritual. So even today, that piece of music represents a presence of God's compassion in both my heart and mind. But I can also understand the point of view of Dr. Jonathan Miller. Bach's music is of a certain period, yet it transcended the everyday experience in part for the very reason that there was a great deal to rise above in his times. There is much that is great about living at this time, not least of all the ability to communicate with people around the world and find friends for whom Bach's music is extra-special. In the time I have been doing home recording, I have chosen Bach selections that some of my friends and family most likely would never have heard, had I not chosen to make this effort for them, and as a challenge for me. I have been delighted to discover that some of them have also felt very touched by the experience. And even though most of these folks have a pretty good situation in life, there have been times of darkness for them, too. I recently mailed out copies of a recording I finished this summer entitled Darkness and Light...Bach, Marcello and Bach. The center section was the Bach Concerto in D-minor, my first ever attempt at a flute concerto recording that I was willing to share. None of those folks who received it have escaped struggles to survive in one way or another, or death of loved ones. The first selection was Cantata BWV 52 and the last Cantata BWV 51. So for those who still walk in a world with many blessings but various uncertainties, the music carries a message that transcends daily life. Maybe the transcendent quality that I describe as spiritual that is why I continue to want to learn more of these great works, and why they give me so much satisfaction.
I can't speak for Dr. Miller, but for me Bach is beyond the cultural icon. Still I understand his point. And when I sing Bach there are times when I feel as if I know him in some way for his extraordinary perception of what may be called his text pain. I think he understood the context in which he was writing. How grand it might have been to hear him play the organ and improvise, and much of the rest. But the music is left to us. The discussions are great and help me as I determine how I will sing Bach as I proceed. Right now my notebook for learning has Cantata BWV 82a, BWV 202 and BWV 84 in it, as well as some Verdi and some Faure. It remains to be seen whether or not I will decide to record any of these works, but I want to know them. Now I sing both Cantata BWV 52 and BWV 51 on an almost daily basis to stay in shape, and I love being able to do this. So, most of all I love the music and the discussions are also good.
Julian Mincham wrote (August 2, 2007):
Nicholas Johnson wrote:
< His view is that the St Mathew Passion (BWV 244) is part of the culture and civilization of the western world. The power of the music carries us along even when the text seems old-fashioned or out of line with our own line of thought. >
Yep, well put
Continue on Part 3
Cantata BWV 178: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements
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