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Cantata BWV 18
Gleichwie der Regen und Schnee vom Himmel fällt
Discussions - Part 3

Continue from Part 2

Discussions in the Week of March 14, 2010

Peter Smaill wrote (March 14, 2010):
Introduction to BWV18, "Gleichwie die Regen und Schnee vom Himmel faellt"

Cantata BWV 18, Gleichwie der Regen und Schnee von Himmel Fällt

Written for Sexagesima (second Sunday before Lent)

First performance (?) 19 February 1713 Weimar
Second performance (?) 13 February 1724 Leipzig

Mvt. 1. Sinfonia vla I-IV (+rec I, II 8va) bsn cello Bc
Mvt. 2. Recitative B Bc, “Gleichwie der Regen und Schnee von Himmel Fällt
Mvt. 3. Recitative (+Litany) SATB vla I_IV (+rec I,II 8va) Bc
Mein Gott, hier wird mein Herze sein
Mvt. 4. Aria S vla I-IV unis (+rec I, II 8va)
Mein Seelenschatz ist Gottes Wort
Mvt. 5. Chorale SATB (+instrts) “Ich bitt, O Herr, aus Herzens Grund

Liturgy: 2 Corinthians 11.19-12.9: God’s power is mighty in the weak
http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Read/Sexagesima.htm
Gospel: Luke 8.4-15: The Parable of the Sower

Libretto by Erdmann Neumeister (1671-1756)

BCW Resources and Previous Discussions:
http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV18.htm
http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV18-D.htm (two parts)

Introduction

Whether Bach ever visited the opera at Hamburg during his visits in 1702 and 1706 is unknown; but, had he done so, he might have encountered unusual permutations of strings such as that which can be found in the four-viola line up in BWV 18. This Cantata’s opening, following Isaiah, deploys this close-set combination to depict the analogy, “As the rain falls, and the snow comes down from heaven, and do not return again, …so too shall the Word that goes out of my mouth; it shall not return to Me empty, but rather do what pleases me… ..”

Mattheson, in the likely year of first performance of this Cantata (1713), observed that one hit aria at the Hamburg Opera, an “Aria con Violette all’Unisono” was supported “wegen der Tieffe des Accompagnements recht fremd und artig klingen”, “by way of a strange low-pitched but well-sounding accompaniment”; and we know that Bach’s contemporaries, including Telemann who also set this text, experimented with peculiar combinations of instruments.

Libretto

There we might halt in analysing the peculiarities of BWV 18. However, the presence of a Litany (also found in the Weimar BWV 72, and the apocryphal St Luke Passion (BWV 246)) suggests that Bach in setting this composition, one of a half dozen of the 500 libretti by Neumeister, is particularly engaged in experimenting with text: music relations.

This is the only one of the five (six if BWV 79 is included) Neumeister texts from the 1711 cycle (the rest are from 1714), and is thus an early experiment by Bach with the Neumeister poetry. Commencing the text setting with the Bass as “vox Christi” in BWV 18/2 (Mvt. 2), but expressing the Old Testament dictum from Isaiah, the imagery follows the seventeenth century liking for the picture of the garden as an analogy of human life.

Doctrine

BWV 18 is above all concerned with the role of the Word; the emphasis is on the metaphorical seed that accompanies the falling rains, the seed of the Bible.

The whole text is an extended exercise in metaphysical analogy based on key words:

Falling: Not only does the rain and snow fall, (“fällt”), but the finale Chorale is associated with the fall of man (“Durch Adams’ Fall ist ganz verderbt”)

On this dual reading the plunging ostinato bass “ground” in the Sinfonia can be heard both as the falling of the elements but also, as in the famous pedal line of BWV 637 in the Orgelbüchlein, depicting the Fall of Man.

Returning: The Litany is the pleasing response to God by Man, (BWV 18/3 (Mvt. 3)): “O Lord, help! O Lord let it succeed well”.

Ground: The physical seeds are to fall “as if on good ground”; (BWV 18/3 (Mvt. 3)); the final Chorale talks of the Heart’s ground (BWV 18/5, “Herzensgrund”).

Neumeister’s analogical and metaphysical technique is similar to Caroline preachers such as Lancelot Andrewes and William Laud and leads on to consider whether Bach also uses artifice in his composition which looks towards the preparation of the congregation for Lent.

Symbolism and Numerology

Hirsch points out that in the Litany BWV 18/3 (Mvt. 3) the intonation of the Soprano is chanted on high D ten times, the number of the Law, as in “Dies sind der heil’gen Zehn gebot”. If so then this reference, appropriate in view of the Biblical stress in the doctrine, leads on to a possibility that the use of four violas is representative of the four Evangelists, who are usually graphically depicting as figures of equal stature. In addition we have the fourfold choral interventions in the Litany.

The unison violas in BWV 18/4 (Mvt. 4), perhaps suggesting the unity of the Gospels, set the soul’s treasure against the “webs as the world and Satan spins” (Richard Jones) or “Mere snares/Set by the world and Satan” (Richard Stokes). The “netzen” as snares or nets, from which Christians are rescued by divine aid has emblematic support: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Emb/BWV18-Emb.htm

This Cantata combines an intense emphasis on the Word together with the more mystical concepts of heavenly treasure and the technique of the “Vox Christi”, the Bass declamation of Isaiah. As Stiller says in perhaps the most important of the observations in “Liturgical Life in Leipzig”:

“Even though the old adage says: “either mysticism or the Word”, ….in Bach’s Cantatas the relationship to the Word of God plays a decisive role in spite of all the mysticism that is present”.

BWV 18 is a prime example of this tension being integrated in the text.

Conclusion

BWV 18 is thus of structural and doctrinal interest, and the Litany setting has dramatic power. It is in places reminiscent of the Brandenburg concertos (the charming Sinfonia) and elsewhere operatic (the amazing melisma on “verfolgung" (“persecution”)” is perhaps the longest in all Bach). The recitative BWV 18/1 (Mvt. 2) is Bach's first setting of recitative in modern style. likewise, the aria BWV 18/4 (Mvt. 4) has been described as "Bach's most modern aria so far." It is full of academic points of interest, even though (or perhaps because) the format never became a departure point; nothing is quite like BWV 18 in structure and orchestration.

Yet the work is destined to receive few performances; partly because of the need to find four violas; and the text passages dealing with the “Pope and Turks” were considered potentially offensive as long ago as 1959. Paradoxically, the musicological demand for authenticity makes it unlikely that the text will now be interfered with for performances, as once clumsily suggested by the (apparently) atheist Gillies Whittaker: “The passage offensive to the Church of Rome can readily be altered”.

As Stiller also points out, the literary form of the Cantata Libretto is the most neglected in German liter; and Neumeister, who originated the form with its potential for creating unity yet variety in a fusion of biblical, madrigalistic and chorale texts, is here skilful to a degree rarely found in the Leipzig texts. Once the effort is made to understand a Cantata such as BWV 18 as a form of proclamation, the creative success of author and composer (in the face of a congregation fresh from the winter snows and looking beyond Lent to Easter and Spring), becomes apparent.

Douglas Cowling wrote (March 14, 2010):
Peter Smaill wrote:
< Cantata BWV 18, Gleichwie der Regen und Schnee von Himmel Fällt
Written for
Sexagesima (second Sunday before Lent)
First performance (?) 19 February 1713
Weimar
Second performance (?) 13 February 1724
Leipzig >
As a preliminary exercise, it is well worth a quick look at the tables which Areyh's wonderful new resource produces for 1715 (the latest year possible) and 1724:
http://www.bach-cantatas.com/LCY/1715.htm
http://www.bach-cantatas.com/LCY/1724.htm

The sparsesness of the 1715 list reminds us that it is only because Bach chose to reuse his Weimar cantatas that they survive at all.

The creative activity in 1724 is truly mind-boggling.

Douglas Cowling wrote (March 14, 2010):
Introduction to BWV 18, "Gleichwie die Regen - Litany

Peter Smaill wrote:
< Returning: The Litany is the pleasing response to God by Man, (BWV 18/3 (Mvt. 3)): ³O Lord, help! O Lord let it succeed well². >
The Litany replaced the Gloria during Lent. Do we know if this pattern was also extended to the three pre-Lent Sundays? If not, Bach is using the Litany quotation as a very dramatic musical gesture pointing ahead to the coming "closed season" when cantata would be silenced.

Do we know why Lutherans did not call the third pre-Lent Sunday by its old title of "Quinquagesima, but rather by the first words of its introit, "Esto mihi"?

Neil Halliday wrote (March 15, 2010):
Peter Smaill wrote:
>Written for Sexagesima (second Sunday before Lent)
First performance (?) 19 February 1713
Weimar
Second performance (?) 13 February 1724
Leipzig<
Interesting that we appear to have two Bach cantatas performed on this Sexagesima Sunday on 13th Feb. 1724 - BWV 18 and BWV 181.

Also interesting is the (offensive to modern ears) reference to "murderous papists and Turks" that also occurs in the opening chorus of cantata for the same occasion a year later, BWV 126.

Should this text be modified (Whittaker)? I dont't know; after all, sections of the Old Testament itself need to come with a warning, and are frankly illegal under modern international law (post creation of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights).

Certainly, we would all want this charming music to be associated with the lofty universal truths of the UN Charter, unknown in Bach's time but to which we can be sure he would subscribe in the 21st century.

>It is in places reminiscent of the Brandenburg concertos (the charming Sinfonia) and elsewhere operatic (the amazing melisma on “verfolgung" (“persecution”) is perhaps the longest in all Bach).<
Also check the AT melisma on "siegen" in BWV 66 - four bars in 12/8!

Ed Myskowski wrote (March 16, 2010):
BWV 18 libretto

From Francis Browne's fine interlinear translation (English 3 on the home page), BWV 18/2 (Mvt. 2):

Gleichwie der Regen und Schnee vom Himmel fällt
Just as the rain and snow fall from heaven
Und nicht wieder dahin kommet,
And do not return there again

there is no finer example of the need to interpret Bach's texts in the context of his 18th C. Leipzig world view.

A few centuries later, we realize that the rain and snow do indeed return again to heaven. In fact, as the planet warms, return in ever greater volume, only to fall again.

What goes up must come down. You could say, what comes down must go up.

Jean Laaninen wrote (March 17, 2010):
Peter Smaill wrote:
< As Stiller also points out, the literary form of the Cantata Libretto is the most neglected in German literature; and Neumeister, who originated the form with its potential for creating unity yet variety in a fusion of biblical, madrigalistic and chorale texts, is here skilful to a degree rarely found in the Leipzig texts. Once the effort is made to understand a Cantata such as BWV 18 as a form of proclamation, the creative success of author and composer (in the face of a congregation fresh from the winter snows and looking beyond Lent to Easter and Spring), becomes apparent. >
Thanks for setting the context so well for us. I had often wondered about the controversy that arose over the Turks and the Pope, but with your introduction it is possible to view this work in a different and enlightened manner.

I might add that I finally took the plunge and subscribed to Naxos Music Library and I am enjoying the Koopman version [5] of this cantata as I write. Someone on list suggested this music service to me previously, but it is only now that I have switched and I am enjoying the variety. There is a lot of Bach available via Naxos.

Peter Smaill wrote (March 17, 2010):
[To Jean Laaninen] I'm glad that this quite obscure work has attracted interest, and for those wishing to delve deeper there is a long account of the hermeneutic and tonal architecture in Eric Chafe's "Analyzing Bach's Cantatas". Chafe is particularly interested in the Chorale, the only cantional setting of "Durch Adams Fall" which was described by Werckmeister as "Hypophryrgian".

Chafe sets out the harmonisation as found in C.P.E. Bach's collection ( the Weimar setting is a tone lower). To begin with , the first note sounds as an inverted chord of A, with C sharp in the bass leading to two phrases concluding in d; normally this opening would be an anacrusis /leading note in the dominant moving to the principal key of the Chorale ,d or more appropriately, in the Dorian mode. However, after modulating through F and G the chorale concludes in the unexpected real tonic, A.

The Chorale illustrates a doctrine in Werckmeister's "harmonologia Musica " : "In fine videbitur cujus Toni", ("In the final (chord) one may see the Tone"). We don't know what key is the dominant really is until the last moment , as in the final chorale of BWV 46, "O Grosser Gott von Macht".

It is as if IMO Bach is illustrating the text: the "seed" of A as the dominant returns at the end as the tonic, effecting a shift from d as the minor/modal key of the Chorale to a major final chord symbolising the transformation of the Christian by the Word, from gloom to joy as it were.

Douglas Cowling wrote (March 17, 2010):
Introduction to BWV 18, Congregational Singing?

Peter Smaill wrote:
< Chafe is particularly interested in the Chorale, the only cantional setting of "Durch Adams Fall" which was described by Werckmeister as "Hypophryrgian". >
I was struck by how low the chorale melody was pitched, with sopranos going down to middle C. If the text was familiar, could Bach have anticipated that the congregation would start singing along as has been documented in contemporary performances of Telemann's cantatas?

On a somewhat related point, has anyone compared the quotations from the Litany in "Mein Gott" with the performance style of the Litany with congregation during Lent? There are many fauxbourdon settings of the Litany withthe chant harmonized in block chords going back to Praetorius.

Did Bach's choir and congregation sing the Litany to one of these settings? Or is the harmonization in the cantata perhaps a quotation from Bach's own setting? Was there a tradition of the organist improvising beneath the minister singing the introductory petitions which is echoed in the cantata?

The melody and text is discussed at: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/CM/Die-Litanei.htm

Ed Myskowski wrote (March 17, 2010):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< I was struck by how low the chorale melody was pitched, with sopranos going down to middle C. If the text was familiar, could Bach have anticipated that the congregation would start singing along as has been documented in contemporary performances of Telemann's cantatas? >
This topic is interesting enough to me, and relevant enough to Bach, so I would like to request the documentation for the Telemann sing-a-longs. Apologies if this is readily available, and I have overlooked it.

DC:
< Did Bach's choir and congregation sing the Litany to one of these settings? >
EM:
A variation of the same question: what is the evidence that Bach's congregation sang along?

I wish to emphasize (on St. Patrick's Day, here in Irish-American parts) that I am an enthusiast of sing-along participation. I am also sensitive to the fact that the musicians in charge like to maintain a bit (or more) of control over when (or not) that participation cuts in.

My experience: the very best musicians always welcome true audience appreciation. On occasion, that even extends to my growling.

Neil Halliday wrote (March 21, 2010):
Peter Smaill wrote:
>On this dual reading the plunging ostinato bass "ground" in the Sinfonia can be heard both as the falling of the elements but also, as in the famous pedal line of BWV 637 in the Orgelbüchlein, depicting the Fall of Man.<
Thank you for mentioning the Orgelbüchlein work BWV 637 (also in the key of A minor, corresponding with your interesting analysis of the CM as it appears in BWV 18's final chorale (Mvt. 5)).

I have enjoyed discovering the almost outlandish falling intervals of the pedal part - depicting the Fall of Man - and the exquisite harmonies of the final bar (when the number of voices increases to five, on the second beat).

Douglas Cowling wrote (March 21, 2010):
Neil Halliday wrote:
< I have enjoyed discovering the almost outlandish falling intervals of the pedal part - depicting the Fall of Man >
Contradicted by the rising fifths in the pedal in "Christus ist erstanden"

Peter Smaill wrote (March 21, 2010):
[To Neil Halliday] Neil is not alone in admiring the Orgelbuchlein setting of BWV 637, "Durch Adams Fall ist ganz verderbt":

"There is perhaps no other chorale setting, instrumental or vocal, whose music so clearly and effectively symbolises its text " (Stinson)

Williams notes that the repertory of accompanimental motives is the largest in the entire Orgelbüchlein.

Spitta was first to detect that the descending-seventh motive was a representation of Man's fall from Grace.

As with the chorale setting for BWV 18 the tonality is in doubt right until the end.

The level of chromaticism, diminished sevenths and tritones led Wolfgang Budday to observe that Bach's radical experimentation was a "corruption" of normal practice, symbolising the depravity of the human race.

It is interesting that although the Orgelbuechlein piece has been studied by academics for many years there is as far as I know no cross referencing to the treatment of the CM in this Cantata (only with BWV 26, "Ach wie nichtig, ach wie fluchtig" is the connection made of the parallel motivic symbolism). This is perhaps a sign of the compartmentalism of thought which has tended to segregate the organ repertory away from the Cantatas, and which tendency the BCW is able to remedy from time to time!

Ed Myskowski wrote (March 22, 2010):
Neil Halliday wrote:
>>On this dual reading the plunging ostinato bass "ground" in the Sinfonia can be heard both as the falling of the elements but also, as in the famous pedal line of BWV 637 in the Orgelbüchlein, depicting the Fall of Man.><
Hmm. Does the famous ascending pedal line (full octave scale) in the the D Major Prelude (BWV 532) then represent the ascent of man?

Ed Myskowski wrote (March 22, 2010):
Peter Smaill wrote:
>The level of chromaticism, diminished sevenths and tritones led Wolfgang Budday to observe that Bach's radical experimentation was a "corruption" of normal practice, symbolising the depravity of the human race. <
Depravity of the human race? Give it a rest, guys. World ends soon! Buy records.

 

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