Cantata BWV 194Höchsterwünschtes Freudenfest
Cantata BWV 194a
Discussions - Part 2
Continue from Part 1
Discussions in the Week of November 27, 2005 (2nd round)
Thomas Braatz wrote (November 27, 2005):
BWV 194 - Intro to Weekly Discussion
BWV194 "Höchsterwünschtes Freudenfest" (and BWV 194a)
The cantata which has been selected, based upon the chronological sequence of Bach's performances, for this week's discussion is BWV 194 "Höchsterwünschtes Freudenfest" which had its first performance in Störmthal on November 2, 1723.
As will be come clear from closer study, 5 arias derive from an earlier secular cantata from the Köthen period (1717-1723); 1 additional aria which no longer exists was not taken over into the Störmthal cantata. There were also 5 recitatives (not lost) in the earlier version. For the Störmthal version, Bach created two sections, Part one and 'Parte seconda (Post concionem,)' added an introductory chorus based upon one of the earlier arias, 2 different, simple chorales at the end of each section and the necessary recitatives before and/or after the 4 arias from the earlier version. Mvts. 1, 3, 5, 8, and 10 are parodies of the earlier version. The texts used for the Störmthal version (unknown librettist) were sufficiently general to allow Bach to use it as a cantata for Trinity Sunday. This he did on June 4, 1724 with repeat performances on June 16, 1725 (a shortened version, possibly not directed by Bach) and on May 20, 1731 (only 1st half).
The autograph score along with original parts (these were not the parts which might be considered the main collection of parts, but rather those which had been left over from BWV 194a and the doublets for Störmthal version) was part of C.P.E. Bach's inheritance and was listed in his possession at the time of his death (1790) as a cantata for Trinity Sunday.
The autograph score, as evident from the cover folder, did at one time thereafter belong to the Georg Poelchau (1773-1836) collection of manuscripts. It now resides in the BB (Deutsche Staatsbibliothek Berlin.)
The main set of original parts, as it can be assumed from the evidence, probably went to W. F. Bach. Later Count Voß-Buch (Graf Karl Friedrich von Voß-Buch - 1755-1823) acquired the set. In 1851, the Voß-Buch family donated the set to the BB where it is located today.
For additional information regarding the provenance of this cantata and its background history, see Francis Browne's contribution at: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Ref/BWV194-Ref.htm
The Autograph Score:
The title at the top of the 1st page of the manuscript reads:
J.J. Concerto Bey Einweihung der Orgel in Störmthal. Á 3 Hauptb: 2 Violini, Viola è 4 voci col Org.
At the bottom of the 1st page: "Basson con Cont."
before mvt. 2: "Recit: Basso"
before mvt. 3: "Aria"
over m 27b: of mvt. 3: "Hautb è Violino 1"
before mvt. 4: "Recit:"
before mvt. 5: "Aria Senza Hautbois"
predecing mvt. 6: "Chorale"
after mvt. 6: "Fine della 1ma Parte" and "Post Concionem"
before mvt. 7: "Recit. Tenore"
before mvt. 9: "Recit Duetto"
before mvt. 10: "Aria à 2 Hautb. Sopr: è Basso"
before mvt. 11: "Recit: Basso"
before mvt. 12: "Choral"
This is not a composing score, but rather a clean copy. Even the two chorale setting seem not to have been composed just before the Störmthal performance.
The Original Parts:
The parts were mainly copied by Johann Andreas Kuhnau, with some by J. S. Bach and with isolated help from Anonymus If, Ik and Io.
The parts are:
4a. Additional insertion into 'Basso'
5. Hautbois Imo
6. Hautbois 2do
7. Hautbois 3
8. Violino. Imo
9. Violino Imo
10. Violino 2do
11. Violino 2do
13. (14) Continuo (the confusion in numbers here is
due to Bach's insertions)
14. (13) Continuo
14a. (No title)
An additional set of parts probably copied out in Cöthen before 1723:
1. Oboé 1.
2. Oboé 2.
3. Oboé 3.
4. Violino 1.
4a. Violino 1.
5. Violino 2.
5a. Violino 2.
7. (fragment of an Organo part (transposed a minor 3rd lower, figured)
8. Continuo. (transposed a whole tone lower, partly figured)
8a. Continuo (additional insert containing BWV 194/12)
8b. (no title, additional page for the Continuo part,
The main copyist of these parts is quote unknown and cannot be identified.
Filling in some missing mvts are Johann Christian Köpping, Christian Gottlob Meißner, and Wilhelm Friedemann Bach (only 8b)
1. the autograph score for BWV 194a (the congratulatory cantata)
2. the original set of parts for BWV 194a
3. the original Organo part for the Störmthal performance
4. part of the Continuo part 14 above
5. part of the Continuo part for 7 (fragment above)
6. the printed text for the Störmthal performance
The Pitch Used:
It is no longer possible to determine which pitch standard was used for the Störmthal performance because the Organo part used for that performance is missing. It is really questionable that Bach's notation on the instrumental parts "tief Cammerthon" ("low/deep cammerton") was intended for the Störmthal performance. It is much more likely that this direction was placed their for a subsequent Leipzig performance beginning in 1724, since the same comment appear on doublets which definitely do belong only to the Leipzig period.
According to a report by an organ builder, Hermann Eule, who restored the instrument in 1934, this instrument was tuned to low Chorton: the 'a' above middle c being approximately at 464 Hertz which is about the same at the Bb in modern cammerton. If the cantata had been performed at the usual cammerton pitch, then the Organo part for the Störmthal performance must have been transposed only a semi-tone lower. For the Leipzig performances (Leipzig having a high Chorton standard pitch), only an Organo part that had been transposed downwards by one whole tone would have been usable. The surviving Organo part from the 2nd set of original parts (Cöthen) can not be considered for the Störmthal performance since it was completed later for a shortened performance of the work in Leipzig. Likewise, the Organo part (fragment 7 above) transposed a minor 3rd lower, would have required the woodwinds and strings to tune lower by a whole tone, had it been used in the Störmthal performance. Taking everything into consideration, it is possible to speculate reasonably that the missing Störmthal Organo part would have been transposed a semi-tone lower and, due to its uselessness, would have soon been lost/removed from the set of parts for Leipzig, thus explaining its disappearance in this manner.
Shortened Version (June 16, 1726):
The shortened version of BWV 194 performed on the above date would have looked like this:
Mvt. 1: Choral (originally BWV 194/12)
Mvt. 2. Recitativo (BWV 194/2)
Mvt. 3. Aria (BWV 194/3)
Mvt. 4. Recitativo (BWV 194/4)
Mvt. 5. Aria (BWV 194/5)
Mvt. 6. (BWV 194/7)
Mvt. 7. (BWV 194/10)
This arrangemis based upon evidence found in the parts. It is not known if a final chorale was performed. It is conceivable, however, that that the introductory chorale was repeated at the end with a different verse. The cantata must have had a different title in this form, but it is not possible to determine what this might have been. It is, however, possible, that the cantata in this form might have been performed not under Bach's direction.
For a later performance documented to have taken place on May 20, 1731, Bach performed the cantata once again in its original form, but omitted the 2nd part (only
mvts. 1-6 were presented).
Follow the links to Leipzig: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Tour/Leipzig.htm
Here is a short article on the organ builder from the OCC [full reference is given below]:
>>Hildebrandt, Zacharias (b. 1688; d. 11 Oct. 1757).
Keyboard instrument maker, born in Münsterberg, Silesia. He was trained by Gottfried Silbermann and became an expert tuner. In 1723 Bach composed a cantata (no. 194) for the dedication of Hildebrandt's new organ at Störmthal, and throughout the late 1730s and 1740s Hildebrandt was a colleague of Bach's at Leipzig. He tuned the harpsichords at the Thomaskirche and Nikolaikirche, and built a Lautencembalo (lute-harpsichord) for Bach about 1739. In 1748 he became overseer of the Leipzig organs. Bach and Silbermann were the advisers for his 53-stop organ of 1743-6 (still extant) in Naumburg, near Leipzig, where J. C. Altnickol became organist in 1748. In describing the organ, Altnickol said that Hildebrandt followed J.G. Neidhardt's style of temperament. ML
ML = Mark Lindley served on the executive committee of The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, editing the articles on musical instruments, and on the editorial boards of Performance Practice Review and the Journal of Music Theory. His writings include Mathematical Models of Musical Scales (with Ronald Turner-Smith); Lutes, Viols and Temperaments; Ars Ludendi; Early German Keyboard Fingerings; and Gandhi and Humanism.<<
It is advisable for the reader to check out, in advance of the following discussion, the prescribed readings (the liturgical connection) for Trinity Sunday: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Read/Trinity.htm
Here it is possible to see a list of all the cantatas that are related to these liturgical readings. Usually this includes only the other cantatas which were composed for the same Sunday or holiday/feast day. Here they can be viewed at a glance and a link will take you directly to one of these cantatas, if you so desire.
This libretto was prepared by an unknown poet.
For those who have no original German text and translation available, these can be found as follows:
German Text available at Walter F. Bischof's site at: http://www.cs.ualberta.ca/~wfb/cantatas/194.html
English Translation available at Z. Philip Ambrose's site at: http://www.uvm.edu/~classics/faculty/bach/BWV194.html
English Interlinear Translation by Francis Browne at: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Texts/BWV194-Eng3.htm
English Side-by-Side Translation by Pamela Dellal at: http://www.emmanuelmusic.org/notes_trans/transl_cantata/bwv194.htm
A Singable English Translation of the Bass Aria (Mvt. 3) only by Ebenezer Prout at: http://www.recmusic.org/lieder/get_text.html?TextId=847
French Translation Note-for-Note by Jean-Pierre Grivois at: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Texts/BWV194-Fre4.htm
Hebrew Translation by Aryeh Oron at: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Texts/BWV194-Heb1.htm
Indonesian Translation Word-for-Word by Rianto Pardede at: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Texts/BWV194-Ind.htm
Spanish Translation Side-by-Side by Francisco López Hernández at: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Texts/BWV194-Spa3.htm
The Chorale Text:
At the end of Part 1, Bach has set the 6th and 7th verses of Johann Heermann's (1630) chorale text "Treuer Gott, ich muß dir klagen".
Full original chorale text with Side-by-Side English translation by Francis Browne at: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Texts/Chorale032-Eng3.htm
For more information on the chorale text author, see: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Lib/Heermann.htm
At the end of Part 2, Bach has set the 9th and 10th verses of Paul Gerhardt's (1647, 1653) chorale text "Wach auf, mein Herz, und singe".
Full original chorale text with side-by-side English translation by Francis Browne at: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Texts/Chorale048-Eng3.htm
For more information on the chorale text author, see: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Lib/Gerhardt.htm
In the above links to the chorale texts, you can see at a glance all the other verses of a single chorale text which Bach has set to music elsewhere. The links there will take you to these other cantatas.
The Chorale Melody:
To obtain detailed background (such as the secular origin of the melody and its otherwise very complicated history) on the chorale melody used in mvt. 6, see the Chorale Melody Page for "Freu dich sehr, o meine Seele" with Alternate Text at: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/CM/Freu-dich-sehr.htm
To obtain detailed background on the chorale melody by Nikolaus Selnecker used in mvt. 12, see the Chorale Melody Page for "Nun laßt uns Gott, dem Herren" with Alternate Text at: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/CM/Nun-lasst-uns-Gott.htm
Under 'Scoring' on Aryeh's main Recordings page for this cantata, you will find the scoring for each mvt. The mvts. containing chorale melodies even have a small musical illustration of the melody as it appears in the cantata. Click on any mvt. to find out the details.
See particularly chorale mvts.
Here you not only get the original text with the instrumentation of this mvt., but also links to the complete text and translation of the chorale text, a link to the poet/author of the chorale text, the composer of the chorale melody, and a link to the Chorale Melody Page where details are given about the chorale melody and its use elsewhere in Bach's compositions, but also as used by other composers.
A vocal & piano score of the entire cantata is available for download in PDF format at: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Scores/BWV194-V&P.pdf
Commentaries (Short and Long):
Read Simon Crouch's short commentary at: http://www.classical.net/music/comp.lst/works/bachjs/cantatas/194.html
James Leonard also has a short commentary on this cantata: http://www.allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll?p=amg&sql=42:181079~T1
Julio Sánchez Reyes has a Spanish commentary at: http://www.cantatasdebach.com/194.html
For more information on the possible earlier forms of this cantata see the Commentaries Page from the previous round of discussions at: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV194-D.htm
See also: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV194a.htm
Here is a commentary from the "Oxford Composer Companions: J. S. Bach" [Oxford University Press, 1999]:
>>Höchsterwünschtes Freudenfest ('Much awaited joyful feast'). Cantata, BWV 194, for the dedication of the restored organ in Störmthal near Leipzig, later revised as a cantata for Trinity Sunday. The earliest surviving form of the work (BC B 31) is the Störmthal version, which was first performed at the dedication service on 2 November 1723, or possibly on the previous Sunday (31 October). The anonymous libretto, which dwells in an unfocused way on the majesty of God, was of sufficiently generalized content to permit Bach to reuse it without modification for the Trinity Sunday version, which was first performed in Leipzig on 4 June 1724, though the use of high choir pitch required some changes to the vocal lines. For a later revival (probably on 16 June 1726) Bach shortened the work (version BC A 91b), changing the order of the movements and rescoring two of the arias to replace one of the oboes with an obbligato organ. Material has also survived for a still later revival, which took place on 20 May 1731.
Even the Störmthal version was evidently not the original form of BWV 194, however. Some instrumental parts (though unfortunately no vocal parts or text) survive for a still earlier version (BWV 194a, BC G 11), which was apparently a secular congratulatory cantata composed during the Cöthen period. This did not include the two chorales (movements 6 and 12) from the Störmthal version, but it did have a closing minuet which Bach jettisoned for the church version. Dürr's reconstruction of it in the NBA (Critical Commentary) includes a blank staff labelled 'Singstimme', but despite the title 'Aria' it seems more likely that the movement is an instrumental dance.
For present purposes the Störmthal version will be treated as the 'core' form of BWV 194. In this form it has 12 movements, divided into two groups (1-6 and 7-12) which form a prima and secunda pars (apparently heard, as usual, before and after the sermon). The cantata opens with a grandiose French overture in which the voices enter only at the central section after the double bar. The rapid triple-time section which forms the bulk of the movement is based on the fugal working out of the motif for the opening of the text; it also includes reduced sections for the two oboes and rapid antiphonal writing between the woodwind and strings. The voice parts, which do no more than double the instruments, drop out when the main tempo returns after the central section (indeed, the awkward handling of the voice parts throughout the movement arouses suspicions that they may have been added later to a purely instrumental movement). After a bass recitative, which Bach remodeled for the Leipzig version to lower the range of the voice part, comes the bass aria 'Was des Höchsten Glanz erfüllt', which Bach sets in pastoral 12/8 meter. The accompaniment is for strings and oboe, which Bach replaced by an obbligato organ for the 1726 revival. A soprano recitative leads to a second aria, 'Hilf, Gott, daß es uns gelingt'; this is in da capo form, with a sturdy gavotte-like rhythm which recalls the secular origins of the cantata. Part 1 closes with a plain chorale, 'Heiliger Geist ins Himmels Throne', which Bach added to the original secular cantata for the Störmthal version. It sets the sixth and seventh strophes of Johann Heermann's hymn Treuer Gott, ich muß dir klagen ( 1630).
Part 2 opens with a tenor recitative, followed by an aria, 'Des Höchsten Gegenwart allein', for tenor with continuo alone. Its material, which expands from an initial motto figure in 'regal' dotted rhythms, poses familiar problems in the synchronization of dotted rhythms and triplets. The following recitative-aria pair are scored for a duet combination (soprano and bass). The duet aria, 'O wie wohl ist uns geschehn' , is set in a minuet tempo to the gently pastoral accompaniment of two oboes (one of which was again replaced by obbligato organ in the 1726 revival). After a final bass recitative in which the dedication theme of the text receives due emphasis, comes the closing chorale, which Bach again added for the Störmthal version to replace the minuet of BWV194a. It sets strophes 9 and 10 of Paul Gerhardt's hymn Wach auf, mein Herz, und singe. DLH
DLH = David Humphreys is a lecturer in music at the University of Wales, Cardiff. He graduated at Cambridge University and went on to take the Ph.D. with a dissertation on the Elizabethan and Jacobean motet. He has since taken an interest in symbolism and attribution problems in the music of Bach, on which he has published a book and several articles, and he has also undertaken research on the lutenist and composer Philip van Wilder.<<
Downloads of the complete cantata recordings of BWV 194 by Harnoncourt  and Leusink  in RAM format as well as MIDI files of the individual mvts. are available at: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Mus/BWV194-Mus.htm
A list of all recordings of this cantata can be found at: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV194.htm#RC
This is a chronological list which includes complete recordings by Rilling (1976, 1977) , Harnoncourt (1989) , Koopman (1998) , Leusink (2000) , and Suzuki (2000) .
Previous discussions on the merits of available recordings can be found at the bottom of the same page (Discussions), but before reading them, I would suggest first listening to whichever recording(s) you may have access to. With this approach you will not be unduly influenced to form a preconception regarding the quality of the various recordings. You are cordially invited to share your views and comments on
the recordings and the music itself.
Peter Smaill wrote (November 27, 2005):
BWV 194, "Hoechterwuenschtes Freudenfest", despite its 40+ minutes length, is in many ways an easily accessible Cantata to the ear, given its simple dance-rhythms. However, it is not universally admired; Robertson, for example, skips over it, referring the reader to Whittaker and saying, "There is some charming music in the work but the recitatives are not interesting, nor is the tenor aria."
The reason perhaps why previous List contributors have found the Holton/Leusink aria  snatched at the high notes is the problem of theStörmthal organ, for whose consecration on 2 November 1723 the Cantata was originally composed being at a lower pitch than those in Leipzig. Dürr says it was subsequently performed in the city on 4 June 1724, 16 June 1726 and 20 May 1731. (Following the rediscovery of the original printed text, Peter Wollny thinks it possible that the first performance was actually on Sunday 31 October, the 23 Sunday in Trinity and the Reformation Festival.)
Thus, as previously noted, the text is multi-purpose and only alludes to the neglected but equal third person of the Holy Trinity in the Chorale, "Heilger geist in himmels Thron," in the conclusion to the first part. Unger list no less than 139 scriptural texts underlying the references in the libretto!
Two apercus; in this cantata, the stress on dance-rhythms, by virtue of the Cöthen origin, fully accords with John Eliot Gardiner's emphasis on this aspect of the Cantatas. However, we do not I think yet have a recording by him of the work and it would be interesting to hear how the cantata pilgrimage approach works in such seemingly fertile territory. It was performed here in Scotland, in the remote St Magnus' Cathedral in the Orkney Isles, on 18 June 2000.
Finally, do other List members detect similarities with Purcell's so-called "Bell Anthem, "Rejoice in the Lord alway," in the opening chorus, with its dotted rhythms and descending, repeated carillon effects on the strings? Quite likely a common Baroque idiom for festal occasions.
John Pike wrote (November 28, 2005):
I was really thrilled to see that this is the cantata for this week. I first listened to it twice about a year ago as I went through the complete Harnoncourt/Leonhardt set . I can't remember being especially moved then, but when I heard my newly acquired Suzuki recording  of it last week, I immediately fell in love with it. There are so many gems and it is a "double-length" (2 part) cantata. I will write again when I have heard some other recordings.
As Aryeh remarked today about a different cantata: "Johann Nicolaus Forkel, the first biographer of J.S., already wrote about 2 hundreds years ago: "Bach's music does not arrest our attention momentarily but grips us stronger the oftener we listen to it, so that after a thousand hearings its treasures are still unexhausted and yield fresh beauties to excite our wonder." If it was true then, it is even truer now, when we have the possibility of listening to different recorded performances of the same work. I believe that each performance adds something to our comprehension of Bach's music. From my experience in 4 intensive years of cantata reviews, listening to several renditions opens our ears to many possibilities in Bach's multi-layered, multi-facets, multi-dimensional music, which one rendition, good as it might be, can only rarely do."
Neil Halliday wrote (November 29, 2005):
If we picture the church dignitaries in splendid robes pacing down the nave, as a prelude to the brilliant expression of joy in God's blessings for the new church, given by the choir in the `fast' middle section of the French Overture, we have Harnoncourt , Leusink , and Suzuki  all pacing at a relatively sober pace and capturing the dignity of the occasion. Rilling  has a slow step (perhaps a little too slow), but still within reasonable bounds for our image of the dignitaries' noble progress down the nave. (Rilling's tempo, though slow, is easily walked, or paced - try it yourself).
[Rilling's opening section  sounds more enlivened in the `da capo' where the orchestration is reversed so that the strings now have the dotted rhythm motive, and the oboes the downward cascading motive; it even seems as if he is using an expanded (and more satisfying) string section for this da capo. However, if I listen to the recording at a realistically loud volume, I enjoy this performance from start to finish (at first hearing the opening might sound too placid/sedate at a low volume)].
Koopman  is very fast, so that the image of the dignified pacing of the clergy fails completely, unless one assigns the `left, right' of each step to the beat of the (cut C tempo) minim (instead of assigning only the `left' of the `left-right' step to the minim as in the other recordings - Koopman is over twice as fast as Rilling) but the image still fails because the gigue-like gaiety of Koopman's conception is without ritual or ceremonial nobility and is therefore inappropriate for our image of steady, calm, regal pacing.
Into this music, as stated in the Rilling booklet , "Bach inserts the contrapuntal chorus; the feast of joy reveals itself in abundant coloraturas". There is an important animated, ascending, rocking figure that is part of the vivid expression of joy, and which occurs in all instrumental and vocal parts, within the often fugue-like structure.
[Many years later, Bach used this figure in another exhilarating piece, namely, variation #16 of the Goldberg Variations, where it also occurs as part of the `fast' section of a French overture movement].
I see David Humphries, in the OCC, comments (re the vocal section): "indeed, the awkward handling of the voice parts throughout themovement arouses suspicions that they may have been added later to a purely instrumental movement". I'm not a composer, so I can't comment on the "awkward handling of the voice parts", except to say I've got no idea what he's talking about (apart perhaps from those two soprano leaps to high C near the end of this section?); rather, I find this music to be a delightfully vivid choral/instrumental expression of joy in God's blessings for a new church. Of course one can agree that the music most likely has instrumental origins, but there are other examples of fine vocal adaptations of instrumental works by Bach in the cantatas, eg, the `fast' section the French overture of the 4th suite (BWV 110), and the slow (2nd) movement of the D minor keyboard concerto (cantata BWV?).
As already mentioned, I find Rilling's recitatives  in the following bass and soprano recitative-aria pairs to be quite effective musically; due to the harpsichordist's efforts (well recorded by Rilling's engineers, on this CD) as well as the fine singing by bass Heldwein and later on, soprano Beckman.
[While I have some sympathy for Douglas Cowling's comments about "wearying" sustained 16' violone tones in secco recitatives, this does not appear to be a problem here because the continuo strings are counterbalanced by, and in good balance with, sufficiently developed treble clef material on the harpsichord. Indeed, 16' violone tone can be a problem in secco's whether notes are sustained or not - a quick listen to the coarse sound of Koopman's deep continuo strings , without sufficient counter-balancing treble clef material, will confirm that. But to curtail the accompaniment of the other continuo instruments because of this problem, amounts to throwing the baby out with the bath water. Better, the violone itself might be restricted to notes of a crotchet's length or less (or even perhaps pizzicato in certain places)].
Leusink  has an example of sustained accompaniment up to the first cadence, but the bass voice lacks `gusto' in comparison with Heldwein's powerful presentation, proving that the voice is important, too.
The bass and soprano arias are delightfully tuneful, with their whistle-able opening melodies, and full orchestrations. As stated, Heldwein has the rich voice necessary for this fully accompanied, confident, feel-good, bass aria (with oboe, and b.c.).
I think I hear some uneven intonation in Rilling's upper strings in the soprano aria , and though Beckman has a strong, expressive voice, the vibrato can become wearisome towards the end of the aria (she's fine in the recitative).
The angular, dotted rhythm continuo tenor aria (uninteresting, according to Robertson) needs a strong/clear continuo group with developed keyboard part to help overcome Robertson's objections, as well as an expressive voice; I find Rilling/Kraus  and Harnoncourt/Equiluz  to be successful in this regard, though the latter performance is softer/lighter than I would prefer, and the former does have the familiar problem of a somewhat `thick', or in-sufficiently phrased continuo.
A comment on hearing some other recordings: `dainty' organ realisations are not appropriate in this type of movement; listeners can judge this aspect of the various performances themselves.
The duet is an unusually long movement (Rilling 10.59) ; I enjoy the music's relaxed meandering with its elaborate oboes parts and imitation in the voice parts. In the Rilling recording, Beckman's voice is in good balance with Heldwein's voice, and with their well-matched vibratos, I find the problem of the intrusive vibrato from Beckman, which existed in the soprano aria, does not seem to be an issue here. I like this relatively slower, graceful, strong, version.
Douglas Cowling wrote (November 29, 2005):
Neil Halliday wrote:
< If we picture the church dignitaries in splendid robes pacing down the nave, as a prelude to the brilliant expression of joy in God's blessings for the new church, given by the choir in the `fast' middle section of the French Overture, we have Harnoncourt , Leusink , and Suzuki  all pacing at a relatively sober pace and capturing the dignity of the occasion. >
There was no actual procession during the cantata. Bach however often uses the French overture symbolically to suggest a beginning or arrival. My favourite is "Nun Komm Der Heiden Heiland" which heralds both the approach of the Saviour in Advent and Bach's own arrival in Leipzig.
Alain Bruguieres wrote (November 29, 2005):
It seems to me that - at least as far as this wonderful cantata is concerned, it is difficult to maintain the position that Bach's notion of sacred music is completely alien to dance.
Nild Lid Hjort wrote (November 30, 2005):
BWV 194 movements 2-3
Singing along my Suzuki recording of BWV 194 , thanks to the conveniences of modern technology that let me print out the score from the net, I'm struck by the unusually high vocal range of the Bass Recitativo ("Unendlich grosser Gott") and Aria ("Was des Höchsten Glanz erfüllt"). The Soprano aria ("Hilf, Gott, dass es uns gelingt / und dein Feuer in uns dringt") is also high-placed, but I find that less unusual, and less difficult for a performance, than the Bass parts in these movements 2-3.
Indeed the range (from C to g) almost invites a Tenor, and I'm sure some conductors would point to a Tenor to take over the job, out of convenience or sheer practical necessity.
Suzuki  argues a bit back and forth in his scholarly notes about this, in the CD booklet, and ends up with a pitch of a = 392 ("tief Kammerton"). But even with this tiefer Ton the range strikes me as a surprising job for a Bass, and I become curious about how conscious this might have been for Bach -- are there any history notes about this? Are we to associate human struggle for "des Höchstens Glanz" the better this way, since a Bass have to work rather harder than a Tenor for these phrases?
Incidentally, in the Suzuki recording  the singer is referred to as "Baritone" in the list of vocal soloists, a minor clash from the clearly indicated "Bass" in the main listing of movements. Also, Jochen Kupfer (qua Bass, or Baritone) does a very good job, and I would not have liked a Tenor voice here.
Thomas Braatz wrote (November 30, 2005):
Alain Bruguieres wrote:
>>It seems to me that - at least as far as this wonderful cantata is concerned, it is difficult to maintain the position that Bach's notion of sacred music is completely alien to dance.<<
It is important to consider the following:
1. The performance at the Störmthal church was in addition to his regular composing duties in Leipzig which were difficult enough as he had to come up with new materials suited for the Sundays and Holidays of the liturgical year (with the exception of a portion of Advent and most of the Lenten period.) Being hardpressed for time to compose new materials, he desperately needed to reuse previously composed cantatas. The one from Cöthen (BWV 194a) was a secular congratulatory cantata in suite-form, consisting of various dances set to music, probably mainly or exclusively solo arias and recitatives. The Störmthal performance was not really part of a regular Sunday main service or for the main service on a holiday. It also did not take place in one of the main churches in Leipzig where more critical attitudes toward such music on the part of the church/city elders, pastors, and university professors, etc. prevailed.
2. Having had success at Störmthal with the festive sacred parody he had created from a secular cantata, Bach then performed the Störmthal version the following June for a high feast day, Trinity Sunday. Just how well this was received, we do not know, but if you read between the lines, it seems apparent that Bach may have suffered some harsh criticism for the 'worldly' nature of the music, for in 1726 it appears that Bach did not even perform the work (Köpping may have copied parts for a performance in one of the lesser churches in Leipzig under his own direction, or even outside of Leipzig). In any case, one half of the cantata had already been dropped. It appears that, in such a severely reduced form, Bach once again performed the cantata in 1731 (Dürr admits that the printed evidence for this performance includes only the first half, but he thinks that Bach would have performed the second half after the sermon anyway. The NBA believes that a full performance may have taken place around that time and later performances, although undocumented, can be assumed as being likely.) By this time, Bach's congregation, the church/city council members and pastors may have become more accustomed to hearing dance-like mvts. in the cantatas and Bach had less to fear (or he did not care anymore that much that there were those who were critical of such 'courtly' music.) We know that Bach had become rather dissatisfied with his situation in Leipzig by the early 1730s, but he had his family to think about. Now he could give repeat performances of cantatas such as BWV 194 and not be worried about what kind of new music he should compose--dance-like, operatic, or 'stile antico'. But mainly, he had become adept at and accustomed to recycling his own secular cantatas by creating parodies for use in church. The Christmas Oratorio (1734-1735) serves as a good example of the direction that Bach was taking in the 1730s.
Neil Halliday wrote (November 30, 2005):
BWV 194 and 'Dance'
Should a French overture movement, as the opening movement (prelude) of a suite of dances, itself be regarded as a dance? I don't think so; I believe the form is supposed to represent, at least symbolically, ceremonial regal motion.
This is my objection to Koopman's conception  of the opening of the 1st movement of BWV 194. I note that both Leusink  and Suzuki , recorded later, have pulled back from Koopman's fast, gay, dance-like interpretation of the `slow' section of this movement.
No doubt the tempos in the other dance-based movements can more appropriately reflect the fact of their dance origins, and personal taste will direct listener's preferences among the various recordings.
Thomas Braatz wrote (November 30, 2005):
Nils Lid Hjort wrote:
>>I become curious about how conscious this might have been for Bach -- are there any history notes about this? Are we to ssociate human struggle for "des Höchstens Glanz" the better this way, since a Bass have to work rather harder than a Tenor for these phrases?<<
Bach knew the capabilities of the singers and instrumentalists for whom he composed parts in his compositions. There was no need for 'a human struggle' to reach higher or lower notes. Bach had the ranges of voices and instruments firmly in mind.
History notes? I can not dig up all the information about this now, but one source close to Bach, Johann Friedrich Agricola, in his notes to his translation of Tosi's book on singing, gives examples, somewhat uncommon (not every city or town would be able to claim such singers) but nevertheless documented in the historical records. One bass that Agricola mentions by name could sing with full voice (no demi-voix here) from a low bass E to the A above middle C (about 2 1/2 octaves). It is a known fact (I do not have the name of the bass singer before me now) that Bach had a very good bass singer/soloist.
It is important not to have a limited vision of the capabilities of Bach's singers and players. There are those today who actually think and say the Gottfried Reiche really could not play his clarino/trumpet/horn parts cleanly and without making mistakes here and there and that Bach capitalized on his deficiencies in order to put more expression into his compositions and the performances thereof. This type of limited reasoning arises because some individuals, 'experts' and amateurs alike, can only imagine what they themselves think is possible. They are also possibly looking for an excuse not to strive for true excellence. A thorough study of the historical sources will help to correct such a misjudgment, just as a few current thoroughly-trained, widely-experienced and historically-founded, performance-oriented players like Friedemann Immer and Edward H. Tarr can help us to correct our own narrowly conceived notions of what is possible and what is not with Bach's music.
Thomas Braatz wrote (November 30, 2005):
Neil Halliday wrote:
>>No doubt the tempos in the other dance-based movements can more appropriately reflect the fact of their dance origins....<<
Somewhere (I do not have the reference before me) Mattheson comments that he recognizes that dances and dance-like mvts. do occur in sacred music, but these must never be the equivalent to what the style and tempi of these dances are when played and danced to at court. On top of this, the highest priority is to maintain the solemnity/seriousness of the 'church-style' performance. We have discussed the latter at length before, and when I find again the quote about 'dances' performed in church, I will definitely share it with the list.
Nild Lid Hjort wrote (November 30, 2005):
[To Thomas Braatz] Braatz' comments here are interesting but do not directly touch the point I attempted to make. I am not raising the question "but could Bach's Bass really sing this high-ranged Aria well?", neither am I saying "we should rather let this one be done by Tenors". We can not guess well from a well-executed trumpet solo whether the player is bulky or portly or leptokurtic or skinny, but we can all hear whether such an Aria (BWV 194, movement 3) is sung by a Tenor-type or a Bass-type singer. But I find it interesting that Bach specifically says "Bass, please, for this Aria", in spite of its high (literally) demands, with much happening in the upper d to g range, and that will have most Bass-type singers gasping.
Douglas Cowling wrote (November 30, 2005):
Nils Lid Hjort wrote:
< 3) is sung by a Tenor-type or a Bass-type singer. But I find it interesting that Bach specifically says "Bass, please, for this Aria", in spite of its high (literally) demands, with much happening in the upper d to g range, and that will have most Bass-type singers gasping. >
Bach certainly wrote for specific singers even if there is no documentatry evidence. The bass in "Christ Lag in Todesganden" (BWV 4) and the soprano in "Jauzchet Gott" (BWV 51) come to mind.
Question: is there any other bass aria in Bach's cantatas which calls for a high G?
Thomas Braatz wrote (November 30, 2005):
Nils Lid Hjort wrote:
>>Braatz' comments here are interesting but do not directly touch the point I attempted to make. I am not raising the question "but could Bach's Bass really sing this high-ranged Aria well?", neither am I saying "we should rather let this one be done by Tenors". We can not guess well from a well-executed trumpet solo whether the player is bulky or portly or leptokurtic or skinny, but we can all hear whether such an Aria (BWV 194, movement 3) is sung by a Tenor-type or a Bass-type singer. But I find it interesting that Bach specifically says "Bass, please, for this Aria", in spite of its high (literally) demands, with much happening in the upper d to g range, and that will have most Bass-type singers gasping.<<
You seem to be grasping for the phrase 'high tessitura' which would describe a fact about BWV 194/3. But if a tenor-type voice sings this aria, then the chances are great that the low end of the range will suffer (become weak and inaudible.) It is, as you
say, 'interesting' that Bach calls for a bass voice. That is an objective analysis. But your initial question seemed to infer that you wished to know why Bach chose this voice range. I think I have tried to answer that question: just as there are few clarino/tromba players alive today who can play Bach's trumpet parts relatively flawlessly, so there are only a few bass soloists who would be able to sing this aria properly (with a full voice) now the way Bach would want it to sound properly. My point is that too often this observation is turned around by those who specialize in this type of music, but necessarily fail to do the music complete justice. They all too easily concoct theories which they would like to have their listeners believe that Bach really did not expect his singers to 'hit' all the notes, or that he even intentionally made the parts almost unplayable or unsingable because he was trying to draw attention to the text by doing so. In this manner such contemporary artists find excuses for the insufficiencies that become apparent in their renditions of Bach's works.
(Lest someone on this list misunderstand these statements, let me reiterate: the above applies particularly to those artists who present in their performances what they expect to be called 'world-class' recordings that wish to represent a semblance of authenticity based upon what is known about Bach's performance practices. Otherwise I support anyone's efforts, high school, local church, etc. to attempt to perform Bach to the best of their capabilities.)
Eric Bergerud wrote (December 1, 2005):
[To Thomas Braatz] I'm certainly glad that the list decided early this year to go through the cantata cycle again. When picking a cantata I usually put my hands over my eyes and grab a CD case. There's no real danger of "wearing out" a Bach cantata as every single one has its own rewards and these rewards require repeated listening to find them. That said, I always listen to the weekly discussion work and give it a little extra thought, a rewarding experience.
I'm sure I've heard BWV 194 several times before (it's included in the first volume of Harnoncourt  I bouyears back). Before this week, however, I don't think I would have singled it out. Maybe I had cotton in the ears, because this is a really wonderful work. I'm sure others disagree but I think the old Harnoncourt approach of employing a male choir works here really well despite the technical drawbacks inherent in employing boys instead of female sopranos. (My other recording is Leusink's with Ruth Holton  and she does sing wonderfully.)
As far as "what Bach intended" debate, I'd like to resubmit part of post I made last year that draws on Birnbaum via Wolf:
[ There is an argument that Wolf makes that I've cited before on this list that I think requires attention. Wolf argues that the leitmotiv of Bach's career was the pursuit of "perfection." A perfect beauty, but a beauty not as understood in later years as moving the individual heart but as manifestation of natural order. Wolf also notes, "Bach's idea of musical perfection, as Birnbaum affirmed, included the goal of perfect execution. He was well aware, however, that performances, especially of larger ensemble works, would not necessarily match the degree of perfection represented in the musical composition." At Bach's urging Birnbaum elaborated in 1739: "It is true, one does not judge a composition principally and predominantly by the impression of its performance. But if such judgment, which indeed may be deceiving, is not to be considered, I see no other way of judging than to view the work as it has been set down in notes." (Epilogue, p. 470)
If Birnbaum's argument, as quoted by Wolf, is not an elegant way of saying "Bach's works would sound a lot better if they were played right" then I would like to know what it does mean. And let's not forget that whether one is considering the boys at St. Thomas or the volunteers from the University, Bach's music (outside of solo keyboard works) was played by amateurs even by baroque standards.]
I doubt very much that today's musicians and/or singers are less skilled or less well trained than those performing earlier in our century. I am even more skeptical that today's artists would not equal those of Bach's days - I think the opposite far more likely. If Thomas Hampson didn't hit the right notes for Harnoncourt  he did a great job fooling yours truly.
John Pike wrote (December 1, 2005):
As I indicated in an earlier e mail, I fell in love with this cantata after hearing Suzuki's recording . I particularly enjoy movements 3, 5 and 10; the bass and soprano arias and the duet.
I have listened Suzuki , Rilling , Harnoncourt  and Leusink .
Suzuki  gives a splendid account in every way. I found Rilling's group  gave a pleasing sound throughout and, in movement 5, the soprano vibrato seemed less of a problem than usual given the words and the general nature of the music. However, I found all the other recordings more lively and enjoyable, with a lighter approach and slightly faster tempi.
Leusink  gives a very enjoyable account. I feel it has an edge over Harnoncourt  for superior intonation throughout.
Rank (for what it's worth): Suzuki , Leusink , Harnoncourt , Rilling .
Thomas Braatz wrote (December 2, 2005):
BWV 194/3 High bass tessitura
I believe it was Doug Cowling who asked whether there are other comparable bass parts with high G's required in Bach's sacred music. Perhaps I was just lucky, but the first book of cantata scores which I pulled off the shelf included at the beginning BWV 106 (Actus tragicus) where in part 3b the bass sings the words "Heute wirst du mit mir im Paradies sein." The bass solo begins on a high F and needs to sing that note eight more times before finishing this solo 30 measures later. The high G's occur twice in the same span of measures.
Nils Lid Hjort wrote (December 2, 2005):
BWV 194 and BWV 106 high bass tessiturae
[To Thomas Braatz] I also thought of the "Heute, heute wirst du mit mir" bass part of BWV 106 as another unusually high-ranged one, and meant to find a score to check out. I still haven't checked, but my recollection, from singing this with an amateur choir many years back, is that this part is in E flat (at which position the first "Heute" is placed), not in F? Or is this a case where a/the new Bach Ausgabe has it differently from previously published versions?
(This is the Cantata that is practically difficult to perform for ordinary non-specialised ensembles, since it relies on two flute a bec (Blockflöten) playing fluently away in E flat, which is impossible for ordinary alto Blockflöten tuned in F. And you can't go to your local music shop to get hold of two Blockflöten tuned in E flat. But one could try asking the rest to go up one tone. I recall our trying out this at rehearsal.)
Douglas Cowling wrote (December 2, 2005):
BWV 106 high bass tessiturae
Nils Lid Hjort wrote:
< (This is the Cantata that is practically difficult to perform for ordinary non-specialised ensembles, since it relies on two flute a bec (Blockflöten) playing fluently away in E flat, which is impossible for ordinary alto Blockflöten tuned in F. >
At the recent Bach Festival in Toronto, Helmut Rilling performed Cantata BWV 106 in F major to accommodate the recorders.
Neil Halliday wrote (December 2, 2005):
Perhaps Bach did have the capabilities/characteristics of a specific bass voice in mind, when writing this aria.
I notice that the lowest note in 194/3 is D on the middle of the bass clef, thus requiring a modest voice range of a 11th (D to G).
This compares with the two octave range required for the bass aria in BWV 4, with the top note E being lower than the G required in 194/3, but the range streching all the way down to E below the clef, which is almost an octave lower than anything in 194/3!
In passing, those with Rilling's BWV 194  will have noticed in the soprano aria that Rilling reduces the string section to a solo violin in those passages where the 2nd violins and violas are silent - a pleasing effect. Moreover, in the da capo of this same aria, he has the double basses playing pizzicato, also very effective musically, emphasing the strong 4/4 rhythm of this tuneful, happy music (the time signature is actually cut C).
Also in passing, re Taruskin's polemic about Harnoncourt's stressed BWV 178/1, notice Aryeh's ranking of the recordings: Richter, Rilling, Leusink, Harnoncourt. Hmm. The old conflict between conservatives (and at the extreme, reactionaties/preservers of the status quo) and progressives (and at the extreme, revolutionaries/radicals/destroyers of the status quo) is alive and well. Which group has the finer artistic taste? (No answer required!)
Thomas Braatz wrote (December 2, 2005):
Nils Lid Hjort wrote:
>>I also thought of the "Heute, heute wirst du mit mir" bass part of BWV 106 as another unusually high-ranged one, and meant to find a score to check out. I still haven't checked, but my recollection, from singing this with an amateur choir many years back, is that this part is in E flat (at which position the first "Heute" is placed), not in F? Or is this a case where a/the new Bach Ausgabe has it differently from previously published versions?<<
The NBA I/34 has it in F meaning also that normal F recorders can play these parts.
Ulrich Prinz, in his "J.S. Bachs Instrumentarium" (Kassel, Stuttgart) 2005, p. 202, after studying all the available evidence, makes the following blanket statement:
"Allüberlieferten Flauto-Partien [Flauto=Blockflöte] im Bachischen Werk belegen, daß nur die Diskantblockflöte mit einem Umfang von f1 - a3 (unsere heutige Altblockflöte) gefordert ist."
["All extant recorder parts from Bach's entire oeuvre give evidence for the fact that only the normal upper-range recorder (the alto recorder in modern terms) is required. It has a range from f1 to a3."]
Bradley Lehman wrote (December 2, 2005):
BWV 194 and pitch
In regard to BWV 194, and Bach's dedication of the Störmthal organ by Hildebrandt: I've contacted an organbuilder who has personally done research on that instrument.
He confirmed for me that the pitch at its original construction in 1722-3 was normal
Chorton, i.e. about half a step above our current A=440, i.e. in the 460s. And therefore the organist played from the extant A-flat major part, while orchestra and singers read the extant parts in the notated B-flat, a whole step lower.
In 1934 this organ was converted to equal temperament and 440: by moving all the trackers over by a whole tone, adding new C and C# pipes at the bottom, and then cutting all the pipes down to shorter length. Whatever original temperament(s) it had between 1723 and 1934 is lost information.
Several other things are clear to me, from studying BWV 194: directly in the music as a continuo player, and with various reference sources to corroborate....
- The piece as originally composed c1719 had the organist reading from the extant G major part, with everybody else in "tief Cammerton" playing in Bb. The harmonies are quite simple throughout the piece, with very few exceptions where a regular meantone G major would have sounded even moderately spicy with any wrong harmonics; there are a few isolated places where F# major chords or B major chords are played briefly in passing, all of which is normal and consistent with a hypothesis that the other organ (c1719) was in or very near meantone.
- The extant A-flat major organ continuo part, coming to us first through the estate/collection of Wilhelm Friedemann, is clearly the one that was used at the Störmthal premiere.
- For the organist to be able to play in A-flat and E-flat as extensively as this piece demands, obviously the Störmthal organ was in a very moderate temperament: and my own suspicion was that this was the first new organ to be built to Bach's temperament immediately after his move to Leipzig. The clues fit: Hildebrandt was Bach's own harpsichord tuner on staff at the school, and he (if anybody) would have known very well what Bach's expectations/preferences were.
- And, what better and more audacious way for Bach to show off the new Störmthal organ and its temperament for dedication, but to have it play in A-flat major (the classically most-forbidden key from meantone-related temperament) for 40 minutes?! I believe the temperament was specified right there that same year of 1722-23 by Bach himself, handwritten exactly where my earlier research has indicated it is. http://www.larips.com
Innocuous-sounding and joyful cantata in Bb major, spending most of its time in easy and limited modulation around that center; nobody present would suspect that this is a phenomenal and spectacular achievement, except organists and church officials who know how forbidden an Ab-major continuo part is in the typical village-church scene. Great way to show off a new instrument.
- Some have commented about the high vocal tessitura in some of the solos, especially the bass in forays above middle C. Well, since this whole piece was being performed a half or a whole step below our modern expectation of A=440, it's really not that problematic. The original bass didn't have to go above what we moderns would hear as an F, and the Störmthal bass only to F#. (Same top end required of the baritone soloist in Brahms's German Requiem, IIRC....)
- Conjecture about the "choir" in earlier discussion at: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV194-D.htm is also a non-problem. Put Bach in a 12km carriage ride over to Störmthal with Anna Magdalena (the probable soprano soloist), the bass, and two other guys, and that's all the singers needed for the whole 40-minute piece. Maybe JSB himself sang the bass here, which he was reputedly good at doing. Now the carriage ride has only 4 people instead of 5.
- If he had to import any orchestral players for rehearsals or performance, that's just another couple of carriages or horseback; what's the problem? Hand the A-flat continuo part to Friedemann, who was already good enough and old enough (12) to play what really is a simple diatonic continuo part (compared with some other wilder pieces later); he was probably there at the occasion, whether playing or not. Or give it to one of Bach's older keyboard students from Leipzig; whatever. A-flat major should have had no improvisational terrors for anybody competent who had been taking lessons under Bach.
Adding all of this up, the cantata sounds joyful and unproblematic all around, and an excellent practical piece to bring for the Störmthal organ dedication. Also with Bach--the official organ examiner on this young builder Hildebrandt's 2nd instrument at the start of a career--improvising some organ solos or perhaps playing some of his ready compositions, as part of the service? Bach at age 38 knew what he was doing, as an expert...none of which is news. He was just doing his job well!
Thomas Braatz wrote (December 2, 2005):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
>>- The extant A-flat major organ continuo part, coming to us first through the estate/collection of Wilhelm Friedemann, is clearly the one that was used at the Störmthal premiere.<<
If this is a newly discovered part, then it needs to be more fully documented by you in that the NBA I/31 states clearly that the original organo part used for the Störmthal performance is not extant.
The NBA editor, Frieder Rempp explains that the newly built Hildebrandt organ in Störmthal might possibly have been ("vermutlich") tuned to 'low/deep/ Chorton pitch (a Chorton 'a' = Cammerton 'b' approximately). This would have meant that Bach would have to have an organo continuo part that would be transposed lower either a half-tone or a whole-tone (this according to the markings in some instrumental parts (B 5-14) which were given this indication) depending upon whether the performance took place in Cammerton or low/deep Cammerton. It appears the fragment insert organo continuo part in W.F.Bach's handwriting was written subsequently (not for the Störmthaler performance. Even the paper used it different and shows that this W.F. Bach fragment was used in numerous documents from his time in Halle (1746-1764).
John Pike wrote (December 2, 2005):
[To Bradley Lehman] Fascinating!
Thomas Braatz wrote (December 2, 2005):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
>>For the organist to be able to play in A-flat and E-flat as extensively as this piece demands, obviously the Störmthal organ was in a very moderate temperament...<<
or better yet equal temperament with which Bach very likely was acquainted at the time of the Störmthal performance. If Bach had a choice over which temperament would allow for the easiest shifting to accommodate the different pitch standards involved and the easy transposition from one to another, he certainly would have preferred the best over a temperament which might still present a few problems.
Neil Mason wrote (December 4, 2005):
[To Thomas Braatz] Perhaps you are right, but the matter is by no means certain.
The whole point is that the different colours created by different keys in non-equtemperament can be musically meaningful. Who are we to judge what Bach thought? It's not like we can phone him up to ask him.
Alain Bruguieres wrote (December 4, 2005):
[To Neil Mason] Indeed. The equal temperament is a simplistic (and poor) answer to a very rich and difficult question. Bach always finds subtle and unpredictable answers, even to comparatively simple questions (some of his chorale harmonizations astounded Shönberg).
Much can be said one way or the other, and this debate can go on indefinitely. I haven't seen a truly conclusive argument so far, and I don't expect to see one, actually. This is the typical situation where one cannot convince one's opponents; one merely tries to convince oneself...
Joel Figen wrote (December 6, 2005):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< Question: is there any other bass aria in Bach's cantatas which calls for a high G? >
Not that I've seen, and I've bumbled through at at least half of them. But I suspect editors have been at work in a some places.
For instance, the aria Höllische Schlange, BWV 40.4, contains a note that I believe MUST be sung as a high A flat, even though it's written an octave lower in every score I've seen. Furthremore, the exact configuration of that note - short length, open vowel, upward reach, stressed syllable - these things combine to make it easy to hit, even for me, a bass who often has to work on high e's and f's. It's somewhat deceptive
to think of a singer's range as bounded by a specific pitch. Unlike a rigid instrument, the human body bends in marvelous ways.
Bach seems to assign mature male voices to a bass:tenor dichotomy. Today we think more in terms of a bass:baritone:tenor continuum (with more types at both ends.) There can be little doubt that the same continuum of vocal ranges existed then as now. Today we'd call an aria that tops out at G a baritone aria. I'd give it to a baritone and everyone should be happy, including Bach.
Nils Lid Hjort wrote (December 6, 2005):
BWV 40 range of bass aria
[To Joel Figen] Joel Figen writes about the "Höllische Schlange, wird dir nicht bange?" aria from BWV 40, Darzu ist erschienen der Sohn Gottes. You inspired me to print out the score, from: http://bach-cantatas.com/Scores/BWV040-V&P.pdf , which I'll take home to sing along Suzuki tonight (it's a fabulous aria)! But where precisely is this note that you wish to sing as a high A flat? I'm looking through the score now [which has the Aria placed in d minor] and don't see any obvious candidates? (Or do you have in mind the G sharp in bar 4 from where the bass starts? In that case you'd really succeed in making both me and most of the Snakes from Hell "bange"...)
Thomas Braatz wrote (December 6, 2005):
Joel Figen wrote:
>>But I suspect editors have been at work in a some places. For instance, the aria Hoellische Schlange, BWV 40.4, contains a note that I believe MUST be sung as a high A flat, even though it's written an octave lower in every score I've seen. Furthremore, the exact configuration of that note - short length, open vowel, upward reach, stressed syllable - these things combine to make it easy to hit, even for me, a bass who often has to work on high e's and f's. It's somewhat deceptive to think of a singer's range as bounded by a specific pitch.<<
If you are referring to a possible high G# in measure 20 of BWV 40/4, then there are some strong reasons against singing that note even if the soloist is able to reach it:
1. Both the autograph score and the original part for bass copied by Johann Andreas Kuhnau confirm that this (the lower G#) was Bach's intention from the start. This was not an aria being recycled from an earlier work nor a parody of a secular aria from an earlier performance of this music.
2. At most, the voice part would parallel the Oboe 1 part which reaches only a high f before breaking back. But Bach also rejected this for the bass voice even though he requires 3 high Eb's and even a high E from the bass throughout the course of the aria.
At least we know that the NBA editors were 'not at work' changing certain notes. If they had done so, they would have clearly noted which notes were based upon editorial speculation, as well founded as such conjectures may be, and which ones were clearly Bach's intention, confirmed in this instance by both by the autograph score and the original part for the bass voice.
3. Despite a hectic schedule with rather awesome responsibilites demanded by his position in Leipzig (not to mention family responsibilities as well), Bach meticulously wrote out and checked over rather carefully the scores and parts for his weekly performances based very frequently on his entirely new musical creations. Bach wished to be judged by the music he had written and not on performances which did not measure up to his standards.
Douglas Cowling wrote (December 7, 2005):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< 3. Despite a hectic schedule with rather awesome responsibilites demanded by his position in Leipzig (not to mention family responsibilities as well), Bach meticulously wrote out and checked over rather carefully the scores and parts for his weekly performances based very frequently on his entirely new musical creations. Bach wished to be judged by the music he had written and not on performances which did not measure up to his standards. >
Bach was such a stickler for detail (positively anal in comparison to Händel!) that it is almost impossible to imagine him writing a note which was unplayable or singable. A lesser composer may have made mistakes when oboes doubled violins or violas doubled cellos but not Bach. If he wrote a note which lies outside the "normal' bass range it was because he had a singer who had that range. Composers write for specific singers all the time. Henry Purcell had a phenomenal bass who had a range of G above middle C down to low C below the staff. Alas, today there are few singers who can pull off this musoc. Even in Bach, there are few basses today who have both a sustained high E and a sustained low E for the aria in "Christ Lag in Todesbanden" (BWV 4).
Continue on Part 3
Cantata BWV 194: Details & Complete Recording | Recordings of Individual Movements
Cantata BWV 194a: Details
Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4