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Cantata BWV 20
O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort [I]
Discussions - Part 4

Continue from Part 3

Discussions in the Week of April 24, 2011 (3rd round)

Ed Myskowski wrote (April 24, 2011):
Introduction to BWV 20 -- O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort

Last week we began our discussion of the cantatas for the Sundays after Trinity, the long span of time which is approximately the second half of the liturgical year , beginning after Whitsun (Pentecost) and continuing to Advent. This week we continue with the next work for Trinity 1, BWV 20, for the same Sunday as last weeks BWV 75. This is perhaps an opportune moment to remember the architecture off the ongoing five-year weekly discussion schedule, oriented to the church calendar, and cutting across the chronology of composition. Clear enough to those of us who are immersed in it, after the previous five-year chronologic cycle, but perhaps not so easy for recent participants to grasp.

Details of text, commentary, recordings, and previous discussion are accessible via: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV20.htm

The link to commentary by Julian [Mincham] is especially recommended as an introduction to listening. Note especially this week, Julians suggestion to read his essay in the context of associated works, and the beginning of Bachs second Leipzig cycle (Jahrgang II)

The BWV 20 page also has convenient access to Gardiners notes to the pilgrimage CDs [5], by clicking on the PDF link under the picture of the CD cover.

BWV 20 was the first work composed for Bachs second Leipzig cantata cycle (Jahrgang II). It remains a matter of viable speculation (to avoid saying fantasy), as to what extent Bach had in mind his first two (or more) cantata cycles, from the outset, in seeking the Leipzig appointment.

It requires a bit of concentration to sort out the chronology of composition, in relation to the church calendar and our discussion cycle. It is worthwhile to get it straight, ask questions as necessary.

Two recording for special attention this week:

(1) Kuijken, XVPP (X=1) [9]

(2) Craig Smith/Emmanuel Music [6], the first in a series , which turned out to be a series of one. Plenty of previous discussion, via the above link to BCW, BWV 20. Alto Pamela Dellal also provides the text translations at [English 6], worth exploring to get a performers perspective on details.

More comments intended during the week, on both recordings. My road is paved with good intentions.

Ed Myskowski wrote (April 25, 2011):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
< Two recording for special attention this week:
(1) Kuijken, XVPP (X=1)
[9]
More comments intended during the week >
The Kuijken performance [9] is OVPP (one voice per part), for those who may not have appreciated the math. Whatever your opinion may be of the OVPP branch of Bach scholarship, Kuijken also provides excellent notes with respect to more general, structural aspects of Bachs intent in the cantata compositions. A brief excerpt to stimulate the curious, from the General Introduction booklet which is provided with each of Kuijken releases on Accent label:

<The librettists and composers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries took it for granted that the congregation for which the cantatas were intended were familiar with the themes they dealt with, since the texts were written for liturgical use. They always followed upon the prescribed readings from the Old and New Testaments. By nature, they were a fabric of paraphrases and commentaries [emphasis in original] on those readings, and as such, they were given personal, poetic treatment.

The majority of cantata texts from Bachs time and sphere of influence have a collage structure made up of at least two layers of different origins. Almost all the cantatas contain one or more stanzas of a Lutheran hymn (mostly from the seventeenth century, sometimes from the late sixteenth century, in more or less unchanged form) which are integrated with the newly written texts. Being able to recognize the double-layered structure helps us to feel it as well. More than just a structural process, the collage often allows us to better perceive the core of the central idea.> (end quote, Sigiswald Kuijken [9]. Translation: J & M Berridge)

Neil Halliday wrote (April 27, 2011):
It's interesting to compare Koopman's French overture [3] ('Grave' section) with Kuijken [9] (samples available at the BCW).

Koopman [3] certainly captures the expression of royalty in a more convincing fashion - inter alia, flowing and unhurried compared to Kuijken.

Listening to Rilling [1] again, I have to admit it's not Bach - Rilling (in 1970; he would not perform the 'grave' like this nowadays) transforms this music into a massive romantic Brahmsian symphony, or such like, which however is remarkably effective and powerful.

BWV 20 is not one of Suzuki's better performances [7]. The equal fastest timing (around 23 mins - with Gardiner [5]) is probably one reason for this.

Just listening to Rilling's [1] alto aria now - it's beautiful; none of the HIP's are as moving as this.

Kuijken's [9] usually more varied approach to secco recitative accompaniment does not help here - the bass strings are coarse and heavy, the organ tones are dull and low-pitched. An "F" for the organist's artistry! (One can understand Niedt's complaint about holding recitative notes!).

The natural trumpet displays the usual short-comings, in Kuijken's [9] bass aria.

Ed Myskowski wrote (April 27, 2011):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
< A brief excerpt to stimulate the curious, from the General Introduction booklet which is provided with each of Kuijken [9] releases on Accent label:
<The majority of cantata texts from Bachs time and sphere of influence have a collage structure made up of at least two layers of different origins. Almost all the cantatas contain one or more stanzas of a Lutheran hymn >

Specific to BWV 20, see this BCW page for details of the chorale: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/CM/O-Ewigkeit-du-Donnerwort.htm

I note that this chorale was used previously, in the first Leipzig cycle, BWV 60. Julian Mincham in particular has suggested that the chorale basis of the second cycle perhaps grew out of more incidental use of chorales in the first cycle. I did not explore this further at the moment, but there is a wealth of data available in the BCW archives, and linked commentary.

Ed Myskowski wrote (April 28, 2011):
Neil Halliday wrote:
< It's interesting to compare Koopman's French overture [3] ('Grave' section) with Kuijken [9] (samples available at the BCW).
Koopman
[3] certainly captures the expression of royalty in a more convincing fashion - inter alia, flowing and unhurried compared to Kuijken [9]. >
EM:
I find that Koopman’s [3] recordings have a middle of the road consistency, which grows on one with repeated listening. In any case, certainly a fine reference set, perhaps the best.

NH
< Kuijken's [9] usually more varied approach to secco recitative accompaniment does not help here - the bass strings are coarse and heavy, the organ tones are dull and low-pitched. An "F" for the organist's artistry! (One can understand Niedt's complaiabout holding recitative notes!). >
EM:
The unexplained Neidt reference drove me to the BCW archives, where I found:

<Neil Halliday wrote (May 11, 2004):
"Perhaps part of the reason for this is that the HIP practitioners all felt they could only use organ..."
(in the sacred cantatas), and certainly use of the organ, with its unvarying sustaining tone (coupled with unvarying cello/violone tone), may be more likely to run into the problem that Niedt spoke of, when he warned (if memory serves me) of the continuo sounding like a "rattling old mill-wheel". [Niedt, writing in the 18th century, used this as an argument for short accompaniment, thereby seeming to deny the possibility of musicians doing something musically intelligent in the context of long accompaniment, and tossing the baby out with the bathwater, in my view).

However, there are plently of (non-HIP) examples of long accompaniment with organ which are quite attractive, when intelligence, artistry and musicality are present.

My question now is, are there any HIP examples of long accompaniment, with either harpsichord or organ, in the sacred cantatas. It would indeed be strange if this relatively recent Harnoncourt/Goebel [8] use of long accompaniment is to be restricted to the secular cantatas.

Neil Halliday wrote (May 11, 2004):
"My question now is, are there any HIP examples of long accompaniment, with either harpsichord or organ, in the sacred cantatas?"
It seems Brad has pointed to one (Kuijken) or possibly two (Parrott) examples of HIP long accompaniment, for BWV 82, at: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV82-D2.htm
(under the heading; "Some longer notes in recitative of BWV 82."

Any more? Only two examples in the whole recorded discography of the sacred cantatas?> (end quote)

Is the complaint now that Kuijken, in BWV 20, employs organ notes in secco recitative accompaniment that are too extended? In any case, an F for the organist is a bit extreme, no?

Kim Patrick Clow wrote (April 28, 2011):
Neil Halliday wrote:
<< It's interesting to compare Koopman's French overture [3] ('Grave' section) with Kuijken [9] (samples available at the BCW).
Koopman
[3] certainly captures the expression of royalty in a more convincing fashion - inter alia, flowing and unhurried compared to Kuijken [9]. >>
Koopman [3] is reading the music entirely too slow I think, which is born out in the note values of the chorale melody. The 'royality" of the double dotted notes is old fashioned, even though Koopman isn't doing the really old school playing of the notes (performers used to misunderstand French dotted notes, etc).

YMMV.

Neil Halliday wrote (April 28, 2011):
Kim Patrick Clow wrote:
>Koopman [3] is reading the music entirely too slow I think, which is born out in the note values of the chorale melody.<
OTOH, Kuijken's [9] 'grave' definitely sounds as if he is conducting it in cut C, or 2 to a bar - very common theses days - and yet the time signature is C (common time, 4 to a bar). Notice how rushed the recurring 8-note semiquaver figure sounds.

On the issue of double dotting: Kuifken's overly sharply clipped dotted notes creates an inappropriate 'bouncy' rhythm, IMO.

Thanks for your opinion.

Kim Patrick Clow wrote (April 28, 2011):
Kim Patrick Clow wrote:
>Koopman [3] is reading the music entirely too slow I think, which is born out in the note values of the chorale melody.<
Neil Halliday wrote:
< OTOH, Kuijken's [9] 'grave' definitely sounds as if he is conducting it in cut C, or 2 to a bar - very common theses days - and yet the time signature is C (common time, 4 to a bar). Notice how rushed the recurring 8-note semiquaver figure sounds. >
Or maybe he's just playing it in "C" time, but a faster pace. To me, the crucial test is the tempo of the chorale singing. Koopman's [3] is just too slow.

Since Kuijken's [9] also using one voice per part, the time will be understandably more snappy.

< On the issue of double dotting: Kuifken's overly sharply clipped dotted notes creates an inappropriate 'bouncy' rhythm, IMO. >
Koopman's [3] "eternity" is just a bit too long for my taste ;)

As I said earlier, YMMV.

Neil Halliday wrote (April 29, 2011):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
>Is the complaint now that Kuijken [9], in BWV 20, employs organ notes in secco recitative accompaniment that are too extended?<
Sorry I missed this, Ed.

No, the complaint is that the upper organ tones are low-pitched, barely rising to the lower treble clef, which, combined with the continuo instruments all playing the notated bass line, fails to produce an interesting accompaniment to the vocalist, and worse, throws the spotlight on some unpleasant instrumental textures in the bass that likely result from too much doubling of the bass note on the organ, bassoon, cello etc.

However, have a listen to the recitatives in Leusink's BWV 185.
The first is a lovely accompanied recit. with strings, while the 2nd is a secco with 'extended' organ accompaniment which is realised with an attractive (bright yet under-stated) treble clef registration. It's not too difficult!

I recall this secco is the example I commented on in earlier discussions; and which I more recently commented on in relation to Suzuki's method [7] of simply ignoring the figured-bass figures, in the realisation of his 'short accompaniment', in this same recitative.

(BTW, Leusink's BWV 185 alto aria - between the recits. - is also quite attractive, despite some controversy over Buwalda's voice).

In a different method of secco accompaniment, Cristoph Coin has given an example of extended - ie. full - secco accompaniment, using bright organ tones without any other continuo instrumrents at all, which I also liked (can't recall the cantata just now).

Hope this clears up any seemingly contradictory remarks.

Ed Myskowski wrote (April 29, 2011):
Kim Patrick Clow wrote:
< Since Kuijken's [9] also using one voice per part, the time will be understandably more snappy. >
I agree. In addition to tempo (and rhythm), the crispness of articulation contributes to the impression of quickness.

KPC:
< Koopman's "eternity" [3] is just a bit too long for my taste >
EM:
Curiously, Koopman [3] is significantly slower in the Mvt. 1 Chorale (fantasia), than in the Chorale Mvts. themselves, Mvt. 7 and Mvt. 11. The relative tempos:

Koopman [3], Mvt. 1 slowest

Kuijken [9], Mvt. 1, Mvt. 7, Mvt. 11 midrange, all about equal

Koopman [3], Mvt. 7, Mvt. 11, fastest.

In the chorales, Mvt. 7 and Mvt. 11, Koopman [3] times at about 57 secs. Kuijken [9] at about 64 secs (1:04)

Note that the published timings do not properly reflect this difference, nor the internal consistency of the chorale tempos for both Koopman [3] and Kuijken [9], because of the inclusion of varying amounts of silence for side breaks. Not insignificant on these brief movements.

Ed Myskowski wrote (April 29, 2011):
Neil Halliday wrote:
< In a diffemethod of secco accompaniment, Cristoph Coin has given an example of extended - ie. full - secco accompaniment, using bright organ tones without any other continuo instrumrents at all, which I also liked (can't recall the cantata just now). >
I will check out the other details. Thanks for mentioning the Coin performance. His recordings provide the all-to-rare opportunity to hear the cantatas with church organ accompaniment.

NH:
< Hope this clears up any seemingly contradictory remarks. >
EM:
Yes, thanks. I hear your points, but I still think an F for the organist is extreme. I mention this again only because I would hate for this detail (secco recit continuo) to discourage anyone interested in sampling OVPP from seeking out the Kuijken performances [9], which I find especially enjoyable in vocal quality and balance.

In fact, might not part of the continuo problem simply be that the strings are overrecorded relative to the organ, perhaps a point takedown for the engineers as much as the organist?

Neil Halliday wrote (April 29, 2011):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
<Curiously, Koopman [3] is significantly slower in the Mvt. 1 Chorale (fantasia), than in the Chorale Mvts. themselves, Mvt. 7 and Mvt. 11>.
If I'm not mistaken, Kuijken [9] often takes these 'plain' 4-part chorales at a steadier pace than Koopman [3], Suzuki [7] and Gardiner [5] (who are often too fast, IMO)

In fact, as many have commented, Kuijken's OVPP method [9] seems to work well in these plain chorales, perhaps because each line is doubled by intruments; the shortcomings of OVPP (in the opinion of many) are more likely to arise in complex choruses. (OVPP chorale fantasias can work if the cantus firmus is reinforced with an instrument).

Neil Halliday wrote (April 29, 2011):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
>might not part of the continuo problem simply be that the strings are overrecorded relative to the organ, perhaps a point takedown for the engineers<
Yes, possibly, part of the problem.

>I mention this again only because I would hate for this detail (secco recit continuo) to discourage anyone interested in sampling OVPP from seeking out the Kuijken performances [9], which I find especially enjoyable in vocal quality and balance.<
May my comments not result in such an outcome!

Paul wrote (April 29, 2011):
<>

Paul wrote (April 29, 2011):
<>

Neil Hallidayl wrote (April 29, 2011):
Neil Halliday wrote:
>(OVPP chorale fantasias can work if the cantus firmus is reinforced with an instrument).<
But I would not endorse this as a general principle. Those who like these choruses with a a more 'expansive' character should listen first beforw they buy.

Chris Kern wrote (April 29, 2011):
BWV 20

I finally listened to some Bach cantatas again. BWV 20 is the first in the Chorale Cantata cycle, and it starts out as large-scale as BWV 75 and BWV 39. The arias are shorter and snappier than what Bach sometimes used for the later chorale cantatas. I only listened to Suzuki [7], but it was fairly pleasant. I didn't find it a standout cantata, but I did like that the bass aria was not just continuo-only. The practice of the penultimate aria being a duet is first used here. One thing I thought was interesting is the three obligatto oboes; generally Bach only uses 2 so that was an interesting change.

Are the Kuijken cantatas people talking about all OVPP? I wanted to hear a complete cantata OVPP cycle for a while now so that would be interesting.

Julian Mincham wrote (April 29, 2011):
Chris Kern wrote:
< One thing I thought was interesting is the three obligatto oboes; generally Bach only uses 2 so that was an interesting change. >
There are several of these arias for three oboes, continuo and most often a bass voice, spread throughout the cantatas. They are always a treat sometimes having the quality of opera buffa

Randy Lane wrote (April 29, 2011):
[To Chris Kern] All of the Kuijken titles in the ACCENT SACD releases are OVPP. But it is not planned to be a complete cycle. Rather they are doing one cantata for each day of the litrugical calendar.

I just got my hands the two most recent volumes a few weeks ago, and they are once again splendid. The most recent volume (# 13) has the Easter Oratorio and the Ascension Oratorio. Both were very impressive, but I received the cheap Harmonia Mundi reissue containing Herreweghe's readings of both and found the latter more pleasing. Particularly the alto aria in the Ascencion Oratorio had me on the edge of my seat for several replays.

Sadly the Atma OVPP appears stalled or cancelled. I've repeatedly contacted Atma about future issues, and they insist the series is not dead. But there has not been a release in nearly two years, so I am pretty certain it is a victim of the economic downturn.

Ed Myskowski wrote (April 30, 2011):
Julian Mincham wrote:
< There are several of these arias for three oboes, continuo and most often a bass voice, spread throughout the cantatas. They are always a treat sometimes having the quality of opera buffa >
This prompted me to another listen to BWV 20/5, where the character could indeed be described as buffa, to my ears, despite the somber text. It also provides an appropriate lead to the characteristic snakelike appearance of Satan in Mvt. 6.

Ed Myskowski wrote (April 30, 2011):
BWV 20, grade for organist

I cannot resist one additional comment, re the grade of F for Kuijken’s [9] organist, in BWV 20. I find this is an alumni publication, chemical engineering at MIT:

<[Anonymous] BS, 40, MS 41
Freshman for Two Years
I was enjoying my freshman year at Miami University in Oxford Ohio very thoroughly -- my parents thought too thoroughly! So they arranged for my transfer to MIT. Most credits from Miami were acceptable, but I had to take advanced standing examinations in math & science because those courses were so different at MIT. So I took the exams and got a grade I had never heard of before: FF! Double F meant that I could not repeat the exam, but I was admitted as a freshman. Then I proved my ability be making the deans list.> (end quote)

Apparently a grade of single F is not so extreme after all, nor deadly. I was moved to come to the defense of the organist, Ewald Demeyere, for a number of reasons, not least his contributions to BCW. See his archived article on Art of Fugue (BWV 1080), which is still awaiting the invited comments and discussion, as best I can tell (See: The Art of Fugue: Expanding the Limits!).

 

Continue on Part 5

Cantata BWV 20: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements
Discussions:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

Recordings & Discussions of Cantatas: Cantatas BWV 1-50 | Cantatas BWV 51-100 | Cantatas BWV 101-150 | Cantatas BWV 151-200 | Cantatas BWV 201-224 | Cantatas BWV Anh | Order of Discussion

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