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Cantata BWV 215
Preise dein Glücke, gesegnetes Sachsen
Discussions - Part 1

Discussions in the Week of December 7, 2003

Aryeh Oron wrote (December 6, 2003):
BWV 215 - Introduction

The chosen work for this week’s discussion (December 7, 2003) is the Drama per Musica ‘Preise dein Glücke, gesegnetes Sachsen’ (Praise your good fortune, blessed Saxony)

The extensive commentary below, quoted from the liner notes to Rilling’s first recording of this cantata on the German label Cantate (reissue on Musicaphon) [1], was written in 1966 by Alfred Dürr (English translation by Howard Weiner).

We are unusually well informed about the outward circumstance that led to the composition and performance of this cantata, and Werner Neumann has sketched a clear picture of the relationships in the New Bach Edition (Critical Report 1/37).

The Elector of Saxony and King of Poland, August III, announced - apparently unexpected - a visit to Leipzig, with his consort, for the period from 2-6 October 1734. And since the 5th of October was the first anniversary of his coronation as King of Poland, the students of the Leipzig University resolved to pay homage to him with a serenade and torchlight procession. The text was written by the Leipzig schoolmaster Johann Christoph Clauder. Bach composed the music - a task for which he must have had hardly more than three days time. The Leipzig town chronicler Salomon Riemer provides a vivid picture of the particulars of the event itself:

"Around nine o'clock in the evening, the local students offered His Majesty a most humble serenade with trumpets and timpani, so composed by Kapellmeister Joh. Sebastian Bach, Cantor of St. Thomas's, whereby six hundred students carried torches and four counts led the music as marshals. The procession came up from the Black Bret through the Ritter Street, the Brühl and Catharinen Street to the King's lodgings [on the Market Square]. As the musicians reached the Waage [the house on the corner of the Market Square and Catharinen Street], the trumpets and timpani also arrived there, as did a choir coming up from the town hall. At the presentation of the song, the four counts were invited to kiss the hand [of the King], after which his Royal Majesty, along with His Royal Consort, and the Royal Prince did not leave the balcony as long as the music lasted, but rather graciously listened, and it did please His Majesty greatly."

The next day, however, the joy over the success was dampened somewhat: Bach's first trumpeter, town musician Gottfried Reiche succumbed to a stroke, which is supposed to have been caused by the exertions of playing and the smoke of the torches at the "Royal Musique."

The text, which this time is not assigned to a group of antique gods or shepherds, refers directly to the events of the past months: Following the death of August the Strong, his successor as Elector of Saxony was indeed also elected in turn to the throne of Poland; but there arose against him, in Stanislaus Leszczyniski, a rival king, who first had to be defeated. Stanislaus fled to Danzig, and with the capitulation of this city on 6 July 1734, the outcome of the disorders was decided in favour of August. It is understandable that the events that occurred only a few months earlier should find expression in the libretto of the cantata: The first three movements praise the good luck that, with this king, has been bestowed on Saxony. After that, attention is directed to the reason: August is distinguished, so one learns, not only through descent, but also through his own virtue. But also dangers are inevitable: Such luck creates envy, which, however, has no success (Aria "Rase nur, verwegener schwarm" / "Rage then, audacious swarm"). The third recitative-aria pair of the cantata alludes even more directly to the events of the recent months: "The entire north", "the conquered Vistula" , and Danzig, "that city, which resisted him so long" , knows August's martial strength, but also his mercy. For the King does not punish, he repays "evil with good deed" (Aria "Durch die vom Eifer entflammeten Waffen" / "Through weapons inflamed by fervour"). Now, the Sovereign himself is addressed, he is thanked, and, finally, the heavens are called upon to provide protection in the future.

Even if the text hardly differs from that to which we are accustomed in terms of flattery in the veneration of rulers during the Baroque, it is certainly refreshing in its relatedness to the historical events of these days.

Considering the short space of time that remained for Bach to complete the composition, it might be supposed that much from earlier composed works found its way into the new cantata. In no case, however, has this been able to be proved on the evidence of existing compositions. Also the otherwise so successful method of establishing parody relationships to lost compositions (whose texts have been preserved) by means of the similarities of verse structure have failed here: Bach apparently did not have an opportunity to discuss the details of the parody process with the poet before the completion of the libretto, as he was in the habit of doing with Picander.

Nevertheless, Werner Neuhaus was able to identify the original version of the opening chorus (Mvt. 1): It is the chorus "Es lebe der König, der Vater im Lande" ("Long live the King, the Father of the Country") from the cantata of the same name (BWV Anh. 11), which Bach performed with the Collegium Musicum in honour of the name day of August the Strong on 3 August 1732 - at that time, however, not in the presence of the court. With its vocal (eight-voiced) polychoral writing and sumptuous instrumentation, including trumpets, timpani, flutes, oboes, strings, and continuo, the movement satisfies all the requirements that were placed on an open-air performance in the presence of the King. Only the dissimilarity of the verse structure necessitated a number of changes in the voice leading of the choral parts.

Thus, at the very beginning, the upbeat syllable had to be discarded, and

Example from the score

Only more than a decade later, when Bach finished the B-Minor Mass (BWV 232), did the movement, as the "Osanna" , again receive the original form of the opening motif, the one familiar to us today from this large work.

In the following movements, Bach dispensed with the polychoral vocal writing. He restricted himself to three vocal soloists (soprano, tenor, bass) and united all the singers to a single four-voiced choir in the final chorus (Mvt. 9). On the other hand, the instrumentarium was richly endowed, as befitted the occasion. Moreover, of the four recitatives, only one was composed as a secco, two others as motivically characterized accompagnatos with oboe and flute accompaniment, respectively, and the last, the salutation to the King, even with alternating employment of all the instruments.

The work's arias are carefully harmonized with one another. The festive-joyful melody "Freilich trotzt Augustus' Name" ("Certainly August's Name defies") is an enthusiastic hymn of praise to the King (the long-drawn-out beginning syllable, on the other hand, may perhaps indicate a hidden parody relationship), while at the words "Rase nur, verwegner Schwarm", a veritable satirical song aimed at the King's enemies sounds. Bach's Presto marking, and for the oboe staccato sempre, make this intent clear. Entirely different is the third and last aria of the cantata "Durch die vom Eifer entflammete Waffen", in which the King's kindness is praised. Already the unusual instrumentation with obbligato flute, soprano doubled by oboe d'amore, and fundamental part known at that time as "Bassettchen" (little bass), consisting of violins and violetta (a sort of viola), make obvious what important to Bach: The continuo fundament, the symbol of the "standing on the ground with both feet", is missing; for the repaying of "evil with good deed" ("die Bosheit mit Wohlvat vergelten”) is an entirely unearthly characteristic - we recall the St. Matthew Passion (BWV 244), in which Bach also left the aria "Aus Liebe will mein Heiland sterben" ("Out of love, my Saviour will die") without continuo to illustrate the words "von einer Sünde weiß er nichts" ("of a sin, he knows nothing"). Bach later used the cantata aria in the Christmas Oratorio (BWV 248) with the text "Erleucht auch meine finstre Sinne" ("Illuminate also my dark thoughts"), but this time with continuo, for which, to be sure, a less elaborate setting was indicated than for the other movements.

For the concluding homage, the tenor, bass, and soprano first come forward one after the other in an accompagnato recitative, They then unite in an arioso terzet to beseech the heavens for protection, before all the participants come together in a hymn-Iike final prayer, composed in rondo form (ABAB'A) and predominantly homophonic, to the "Stifter der Reiche, Beherrscher der Kronen" ("Founder of empires, Sovereign of crowns").

Recordings

I am aware of 7 complete recordings of this cantata, 6 of which are available in CD form. The recordings are listed at the following page of the Bach Cantatas Website (BCW): http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV215.htm

Additional Information

In the page of complete recordings mentioned above you can also find links to useful complementary information:
a. Original German text and various translations, two of which were contributed by members of the BCML: English (Francis Browne) and French (Jean-Pierre Grivois).
b. Score from BGA Edition.
c. Commentaries: in English by James Leonard (AMG), and in Spanish by Julio Sánchez Reyes (CantatasDeBach).

BWV 215 is the LAST cantata to be discussed in the first round of the weekly cantata discussions in the BCML. The first discussion in the long traversal was of Cantata BWV 57, back in December 7, 1999. Altogether 210 Bach Cantatas have been discussed during the last four years. Time for conclusions and summaries would definitely come. Until then, I hope to see many of you participating in the discussion of BWV 215.

Neil Halliday wrote (December 8, 2003):
It's interesting the hear this early version of the great double-chorus 'Hossana' from the B minor mass (BWV 232), presented here as the opening chorus.

In the version I have, from Rilling [7], the ensemble performs flawlessly, giving us an exciting recording of this familiar music.

However, my previous comments about the fast speed of the arias, which seem to result in emotionally 'cool' renditions, also apply to this cantata. Rubens' strong vibrato also seems to be a problem (perhaps this would not be so apparent in the context of heavier/slower accompaniment?).

The distinctively scored accompanied recitatives are attractive; but Rilling [7] manages to present the single fairly long (1:51) secco recitative in the manner described by one 18th century critic as the "disagreeable strokes (ie, short accompaniment) on the basses".

The cantata ends with another well-performed, brilliant and exciting chorus (again, with double chorus), making possession of this set worthwhile, despite the criticisms noted above.

Footnote:
I decided to check my impression of the fast speeds in this recent Rilling secular cantata set (BWV 201-215), and I discovered that Rilling is fastest in 7 of them, second fastest in 3 of them, and 3rd fastest in another 3. (Goebel and Bernius are prominent among the other speed merchants.)

Bradley Lehman wrote (December 16, 2003):
Neil Halliday wrote:
< The distinctively scored accompanied recitatives are attractive; but Rilling [7] manages to present the single fairly long (1:51) secco recitative in the manner described by one 18th century critic as the "disagreeable strokes (ie, short accompaniment) on the basses". >
To satisfy curiosity: Neil, did you ever hear of or read about an 18th century critic's lament of "disagreeable strokes on the basses", other than hearing it quoted at you by another member of these discussion lists (specifically on 11/25/03)? If so, where did you read it independently?

This just strikes me as a "sound bite" you have picked up from another polemicist (and which you echoed yourself that next day, 11/26/03), as something you can use in a regular bash of a practice you don't fancy: and claiming the 18th century source to give a stronger air of legitimacy to the complaint. You've already used it twice here on BachCantatas, after picking it up 11/25 on BachRecordings, unless that was a huge coincidence. I'm certainly willing to be proved wrong if you picked it up somewhere other than hearsay here on these lists; but where? And what do you know, personally, about "the Verri brothers" other than repeating the hearsay that Mr ______ has told you?

Just concerned about your sources, and your willingness to follow a pied piper.... It's as I was saying in the other message a bit ago, you guys evidently just bouncing stuff off one another until you all believe it's true, and then using any memorable bits of it to thrash any performance you don't fancy (in this case, a bit of Rilling).

Jason Marmaras wrote (December 16, 2003):
[B. Lehman, 16/12/2003; of the liability of "18th-century critics"]
(This is not an aggressive sentence; I am just expressing my/our agreement of the critics' liability in bach's time - I had a laugh when I first read this, but it is quite serious...)

'A Critique on Bach's Style'
"This great man would be the admiration of whole nations if he had more amenity (Annehmlichkeit), if he did not take away the natural element in his pieces by giving them a turgid (schwuelstig) and confused style, and if he did not darken thei beauty by an excess of art. Since he judges according to his own fingers, his pieces are extremely difficult to play; for he demands that singers and instrumentalists should be able to do with their throats and instruments whatever he can play on the clavier. But this is impossible. Every ornament, every little grace, and everything one thinks of as belonging to the method of playing, he expresses completely in notes; and this not only takes away from his pieces the beauty of harmony but comletely covers the melody throughout. All the voices must work with each other and be of equal difficulty, and none of them can be the principal voice. In short, he is in music what Mr. von Lohenstein was in poetry. Turgidity has led them both from the natural to the artificial, and from the lofty to the somber; and in both one admires the onerous labor and uncommon effort - which, however, are vainly employed, since they conflict with Nature."
["An able travelling musician", anonymous letter to the periodical edition (i.e. magazine) Der critische Musikus by Johann Adolph Scheibe, May 14, 1737]

As much as you can trust this man in judging Bach, so can you trust any critic that has not proven himself(*) - and, as Brad Lehman points out in his post, you certainly can't know that until you see some documents. (* even in matters of era style, as would be the stacatto playing of eighth-notes in Baroque music {the most common Bach piano-aspect, at least here in Greece})

Neil Halliday wrote (December 17, 2003):
Brad asks:
< To satisfy curiosity: Neil, did you ever hear of or read about an 18th century critic's lament of "disagreeable strokes on the basses" >.
No, not apart from that related by Mr. Braatz. I simply find fascinating any evidence contemporary with Bach, which might offer the possibility that my tastes are not entirely "anachronistic."

I have no reason to doubt Thomas's quotations regarding Heinichen or the Verri brothers etc.; in any case, I don't see myself as being led by a 'pied piper', and iI have to live with the knowledge that my tastes are anachronistic, I will accept that reality. (Furthermore, if I am wrong to see congruence between the 18th century Verri brothers' comments, and my own impression of Rilling's newly adopted secco recitative practice, I would like to know my error.)

I'm reasonably confident that if a poll were able to be taken on the relative merits of Hotter or Bostridge, regarding the accompaniment to their BWV 82 recitative, for example, that the Hotter example would score highly among regular listeners to Bach's cantatas, which if true, should surely carry some weight.

BTW, notice that Harnoncourt himself brings up the matter of "audibility" of the vocalist as being a relevant consideration in determining recitative accompaniment, but you and I know this is a red-herring (witness the Hotter example, with its "cathedral" organ).

(currently reading through Aryeh's many informative personal impressions of the various recordings of the cantatas, at the BCW, and noting the art of positive criticism along the way, hoping that I can criticize performance practices and still keep the musicians on this board 'on-side'.)

Bradley Lehman wrote (December 17, 2003):
Neil Halliday wrote:
< I'm reasonably confident that if a poll were able to be taken on the relative merits of Hotter or Bostridge, regarding the accompaniment to their BWV 82 recitative, for example, that the Hotter example would score highly among regular listeners to Bach's cantatas, which if true, should surely carry some weight. >
Neil, such a poll would indeed show something: the preferences of some people who collect recordings, and who spend time in subscription to this discussion board reading the opinions of other collectors.

Period. That is all such a poll would tell us, the "weight" it would carry. A small sample of people enjoy something a certain way. Fine.

But historical accuracy is not a democracy. It is a scientific inquiry, a long process of hypothesis-theory-proof-correction-refinement-theory-proof-etc-etc from a positive consideration of evidence. When somebody asserts that all or most of the scientific experts (historians, and specialists in performance practice) are wrong, against a theory that has been refined and tested through several generations of scientists, the burden of proof is on that negative campaigner whose main method is the dismissal of evidence. Whether he can bring rank-and-file music listeners along for his contrary ride, or how many such, is neither here nor there...it's not up to a popularity vote. Go ahead and have as many polls as you want to; popularity doesn't directly change scientific theory.

Aryeh Oron wrote (December 21, 2003):
BWV 215 – Preise dein Glücke, gesegnetes Sachsen

Short Background

Dürr‘s exemplary commentary, quoted in the introductory message sent to the BCML about two weeks ago, is so well written, that not much has left to say about this work.

Since Bach felt obliged to hastily produce a work to celebrate the first anniversary of The Elector’s coronation, he produced, despite the short notice, this royal cantata in about three days. I doubt if anybody would have guessed it by listening to this cantata. The text of the cantata is rather uninspired and monotonous, since the subject of all the movements is praise to the King in various forms, from glorious choruses to flattering recitatives. Hearing the wonderful music without familiarity with the words, one would hardly guess it. An evidence for the quality of the music is that Bach have found it good enough to reuse parts of this cantata in more famous works: the opening chorus (Mvt. 1) as the Osanna of the completed Mass in B minor BWV 232, and the aria for soprano (Mvt. 7) in Cantata 5 of the Christmas Oratorio BWV 248. The surprising thing is that Bach have not reused the best movement of this cantata, the concluding chorus (Mvt. 9), which is one of Bach’s most impressive choruses. This movement could easily fit into one of Bach’s sacred cantatas.

Recordings & Timings

During last week I have been listening to 6 complete recordings of Cantata BWV 215:

No.

Conductor

Year

Mvt. 1

Mvt. 2

Mvt. 3

Mvt. 4

Mvt. 5

Mvt. 6

Mvt. 7

Mvt. 8

Mvt. 9

TT

[1]

Rilling 1

1966

8:48

1:26

8:12

1:58

3:34

1:32

4:27

2:44

3:04

37:03

[3]

Schreier

1979-81

7:46

1:13

7:24

1:56

3:44

1:19

3:53

2:40

2:06

31:58

[4]

Beringer

1986

8:36

1:10

8:05

1:38

3:15

1:21

4:17

2:43

2:48

34:14

[5]

Koopman

1996

7:09

1:19

6:42

1:47

3:15

1:29

4:05

2:57

3:32

32:19

[6]

Leonhardt

1996

8:01

1:13

7:56

1:36

3:50

1:15

4:15

2:30

2:52

33:28

[7]

Rilling 2

1999

7:13

1:09

7:05

1:51

3:25

1:32

4:09

2:33

2:26

31:23

Short Review of the Recordings

[1] Rilling 1 (1966)
Rilling’s opening chorus (Mvt. 1), with its slow tempo and extra-legato lines, might sound anachronistic to our ears. I found that it holds quite well and has a unique charm. The three vocal soloists should be praised as much as they praise his Royalty. Werner Krenn with his golden voice, is the kind of singer from whom the King might have asked to sing his aria once again. Erich Wenk is also in good form with deep voice and interesting expression, even showing slight humour. And Erna Spoorenberg belongs to the long tradition of Dutch singers, whose every recording of a Bach’s movement is a joy. Such charm, such intelligence and such captivating voice! The balance between the singers and the instrumentalists in the recitatives and arias is not as good as in some of the later recordings of this cantata (Beringer, Koopman, Rilling 2)

[3] Schreier (1979-1981)
After listening to all the recordings of Bach’s secular cantatas under the baton of Peter Schreier, I have to conclude that I have not found much in them to enjoy. The choruses are not well-balanced and many times the brass and timpani dominate. The accompaniment, especially in the recitatives is heavy and insensitive. It might definitely be that Schreier at his early stages as a conductor, was not experienced enough to be freer in his interpretation, less dogmatic. His rendition of this cantata is no exception. At least we have great singers, as Schreier himself and as Siegfried Lorenz, from whom we can draw some enjoyment, despite the above mentioned shortcomings.

[4] Beringer (1986)
Beringer’s opening chorus (Mvt. 1) is very similar to Rilling’s not only in tempo but also in the overall approach. His choir is simply excellent, where each section has a clear distinctive voice. The chorus is more vivid and enthusiastic and its sound is warmer and richer than the previous two renditions. The accompaniment Beringer supplies to his singers is delicate and sensitive. Regarding the singers themselves, two of them are competent indeed, but have not left lasting impression on me. Only Barbara Schlick is in good shape and gives commanding performance, especially of her aria, even if not too much involved.

[5] Koopman (1996)
Koopman’s choir and orchestra deserve nothing but praise. They are precise, coherent and transparent. The interpretation of the opening chorus (Mvt. 1), although quite fast, lacks some focus and boldness, especially after hearing Beringer and Rilling 1. The weakest of the three singers is Paul Agnew. His voice is not very attractive, and he not offer much in terms of interpretation. Els Bongers has a full voice with flexibility that allows her giving light and delicate performance, which I find quite attractive. Mertens is as reliable as he has ever been. The accompaniment along all the recitatives and arias is sensitive and supportive and the level of the players is high indeed.

[6] Leonhardt (1996)
Leonhardt’s opening chorus (Mvt. 1) is only apparently rhythmic. To my ears it sounds ponderous and heavy. I believe that the King of Poland would not be very enthusiastic hearing his praises sung so ungracefully and unenthusiastically. The singing of the tenor John Elwes does not help much to change that impression. His singing is too restrained and his expression is lacking in grace. The bass-baritone David Wilson-Johnson is much better with warm and pleasant voice and confident delivery. Monika Frimmer is a reliable singer, with clear voice production, which allows you following every word. But in terms of expression she does not raise you above the plain delivery of the music and the text. What this rendition mostly lacking is sense of enjoyment.

[7] Rilling 2 (1999)
Rilling’s brisk tempo in the opening might leave some listeners breathless. To his credit it should be said that the bright and polished playing of the orchestra and the bold and vivid singing of the choir are much more interesting and sweeping than Koopman’s with similar tempo. I doubt if a listener to the two recordings by Rilling, 33 years separating them, would have guessed that they were directed by the same conductor. Couple of days ago I had a visit of Uri Golomb. We listened to parts of the two recordings of the Christmas Oratorio BWV 248 by Rilling. Uri wisely said that old Rilling sounds much younger than the young Rilling. I find all three singers in this rendition extremely satisfying. Young Markus Schäfer has a voice to cherish, good technique and fascinating performance. In short, he has presence. Dietrich Henschel is one of the newcomer bass singers, to whom I would like to listen more often. He has dark and deep voice with the flexibility needed to make his interpretations meaningful and dramatic. Sibylla Rubens has never disappointed me in Rilling’s second cycle of secular cantatas. She has the intelligence and the taste to give the right treatment to every movement and the tool that enables her expressing what she has in mind. The trio arioso (Mvt. 8), in which all three singers participate, is a lesson in mutual listening and civilised singing.

Conclusion

None of the recordings to which I have listened is satisfying from every aspect. Regarding individual movements, I have my preferences. If you read carefully what I wrote above, you can have your guess what they are.

This is my LAST cantata review. After four intensive and fascinating years, listening and reviewing 210 Bach Cantatas, I need some rest.

Aryeh Oron wrote (December 22, 2003):
BWV 215 – Music Examples

I have uploaded into the Bach Cantatas Website Music Examples (mp3 format) of the Recitative & Arioso (Mvt. 8) from 6 recordings of Cantata BWV 215. See: Cantata BWV 215 - Music Examples

Yesterday I sent my review of the recordings of this cantata to the BCML. Now, I would like to hear your opinions.

Neil Halliday wrote (December 22, 2003):
[To Aryeh Oron] This is a very interesting accompanied recitative in four sections (all with continuo):

(a) tenor, with strings,
(b) bass, with trumpets, timpani and strings,
(c) soprano, with flutes and oboes, and
(d) terzett with continuo alone.

Just some random observations: I like Schreier's [3] treatment of the continuo in section (d), namely, a lively staccato treatment in which the bassoon is prominent. Leonhardt [6] has a similar approach. I mention this because the otherwise excellent Rilling recordings (both first [1] and second [7]) seems to have a somewhat dull/heavy continuo of cello/double bass combination, in this section (d). In fact, all the other examples are superior in this detail.

(This is an area Rilling needs to look at; in the church cantatas, this cello/double bass sound is sometimes a problem in the secco recitatives, giving gist to the mill of those who dislike held notes in the continuo of secco recitatives.)

Koopman [5] perhaps goes overboard with the bass's dire warnings about Frenchmen with hostile intent (!) - I doubt anyone can hear the demisemi quaver scales of the violins over the racket from the timpani and trumpets. (These scales are clearly heard in Rilling 1 [1].)

Overall, this is a case of a movement being well-performed in all of the examples; and all the vocalists sound fine to me. Beringer [4], Schreier [3] and maybe Leonhardt [6] perhaps are most consistently pleasing throughout the movement, but there is not much to complain about in any of them, although I might mention that the terzett sounds rushed in Rilling 2 [7]. (He might be sounding 'young' in his mature age, but I have some qualms about him consistently being the fastest of all the conductors; and I'm sure some of the slower examples of this terzett here have more character.)

Bradley Lehman wrote (December 22, 2003):
BWV 215 - Examples and a practical view

[To Aryeh Oron] As I did with a similar exercise in BWV 173 in July: Cantata BWV 173 - Discussions, in the following review I will focus on how well the thoroughbass is played as a dramatic line. That part is the foundation of this music, and the rhetorical expressivity of the music...if the basso continuo team isn't alert and guiding all the goings-on (while also following and reacting to the singers, in the moment), the whole performance has little chance of getting anywhere. Such issues of dramatic unity, forward direction, and bass-line expression are especially fresh in my mind, as I improvised the harpsichord continuo through a performance of "Messiah" yesterday.

Of those six examples from BWV 215, here's what I hear in that regard:

- [1] Rilling 1. Everything sounds generic, both from the continuo team and the higher strings...they don't project any awareness that they care what words are being sung, or what they might mean. The lightning also sounds like a bunch of generic trumpet stuff, notes arriving on cue instead of startling anybody (as real lightning does in its unpredictability). The basso continuo line in the terzett is attractively legato but goes nowhere: again just a bunch of generic notes one after the other. The harpsichordist's descending right-hand scales at several places are distracting: as if he's filling up an awkward moment with a finger exercise, again having nothing to do with the meaning of the words, or any spontaneity that would catalyze the other players to do their jobs better (which, after all, is one of the main duties of a keyboard continuo player: to bind the whole ensemble together and help everybody do their parts with confidence and imagination).

- [3] Schreier. Strongly focused singing from Peter Schreier himself, almost enough to carry the whole show on its own...but his continuo players let him down, sounding neither involved nor spontaneous...they just follow him like a faithful spaniel, not helping him lead. Especially in the terzett at the end of the examples, the bass line has no character at all (a uniform poke, poke, poke) and the harpsichordist is far too distracting with his right hand (where he should be using his right hand to focus the expressiv/rhythm of the left hand, not distract attention away from it).

- [4] Beringer. I'm an enthusiastic fan of Beringer's newest work (since the late 1990s) but this earlier recording is a snooze. The bass arioso is so measured and inexpressive, right down to the extremely cautious and orderly lightning. Just a bunch of notes, and it is very easy to "see" the stick waving very steadily in the air with big undifferentiated legato strokes, just listening to this. The continuo players do nothing but follow along timidly in the ariosos; but then they do a good job shaping things in the terzett. Very well played there, giving a dancing lilt and a decent variety of note-lengths: a real line with an integrity of its own. The harpsichordist here does very tastefully, contributing just enough rhythmic interest to help focus the bass line; the music doesn't need more melodic interest (already having three vocal parts!) and he wisely keeps his fingers under control.

- [5] Koopman. Good dynamic shaping from the continuo players, everywhere. Very exciting lightning crackles, and overall a well-projected sense that several levels of dramatic rhetoric are going on simultaneously (by the different parts in the singing and the instruments)...like different characters in a drama having validly different feelings onstage as characters (a basic element of any drama: contrast). Terrific sense of line in the terzett, from the continuo. All around, excellent.

- [6] Leonhardt. Even better than Koopman! All of his players sound alert and improvisational, even when playing from printed music (as opposed to improvising some of the notes). They are obviously listening closely to one another and reacting to one another as collaborators, not merely taking an autocratic stick-waving interpretation from a conductor. Chamber music at its best. The lightning interjections are the best of any here. This all illustrates that rhetoric (composed into the music by Bach) is no formality at all, any puzzle of secret meanings to be unraveled by score-reading connoisseurs, but an in-your-face strength of direct drama: and to be played that way. The rhetorical elements are there to kick ass and help all listeners "get it" immediately. And they do here, most strongly of any of these recordings. And the terzett's bass line has a terrific forward flow despite a slowish measured delivery: they do it with dynamics and by making some of the notes subtly longer than others. The joyful character here comes (in part) from that vigorous bounce in the bass line. The harpsichord improvisation is integrated into the whole instead of distracting from it; it strengthens the character of the bass line; and, being spontaneous, it helps the other players play with a spirit of spontaneity. (The harpsichord in Rilling 1 and Schreier sounded much too pre-packaged, not like an improvisation.) [Aryeh: is Leonhardt playing it himself here, or does he have Paul Nicholson or somebody else, from the OAE?]

- [7] Rilling 2. Much, much better than his first one. More involvement from everybody. Outstanding singing from the remarkable Markus Schäfer (who is even better with Beringer, elsewhere!). Rilling has learned how to recognize and conduct with a sense of drama; and how to make his orchestra sound alert and involved in the action. The terzett seems too fast to me, but the urgency of line in it is attractive, and there is excellent variety from the continuo players, shaping it. If the Leonhardt [6] were not available, I could be persuaded fairly easily to purchase this Rilling recording: it is remarkable that a musician whose early recorded work is so reliably stodgy could have improved this much, picking up so much focus and sparkle. Bravo (while I still prefer the Leonhardt [6] and the Koopman [5] performances, for the way they both sound like ensemble-listening and split-second reactions from the players, not merely an autocratic and carefully-rehearsed unity from the baton)!

=====

Obviously, the above review reveals plenty of my own listening preferences and priorities: from being an active player of such repertoire (improvising continuo for the past 20 years), and knowing what it's like to play in various ensembles under various conductorial approaches.

Of the given examples, the Leonhardt [6] and Koopman [5] performances are the ones I find most inspiring: both as a listener and pedagogically, giving me ideas to refine my own approach further. But it's also inspiring to hear that Rilling [7] has been willing to learn how to react musically to the music, instead of just giving us a bunch of notes anymore.

I'd like to hear Beringer have another go at this piece. His recent recording of cantatas BWV 34/BWV 93/BWV 100 is so good...I'm pretty sure that Beringer in a second try would top Rilling in his own game!

=====

An anecdote, second-hand (for what rumors are worth), about Leonhardt from one of my teachers (who was a Leonhardt student): we were talking about Leonhardt's various recordings with La Petite Bande. How did they get such bright, fresh results from Leonhardt's conducting? The players look at the focus of mood in Leonhardt's face and body language, the strength of Affekt that he can project: and then to get everything together they watch concertmaster Kuijken and listen like mad to one another, playing it like conductorless chamber music.

Yep. The conductor as a catalyst rather than a micro-manager. That's also, memorably, the approach reported by Philharmonia concertmaster Hugh Bean from the Otto Klemperer years: in the Teldec video/DVD "The Art of Conducting", 1993. (None of this is intended as a detraction at all of Klemperer's or Leonhardt's physical conducting technique; but rather, their ability to inspire ecstatic results and collaboratively alert music-making.)

=====

The conductor I played with yesterday did zero with cueing, and zero with commentary or advice in rehearsal (in that regard being like Thomas Beecham?!), just expecting and allowing everybody to do their jobs while listening like mad. He didn't even use a full score, but simply a vocal score; and was so heavily drugged on cold medicine that he seemed scarcely aware of things at times. I was playing from a scholarly Urtext full score that didn't agree with the Schirmer set of parts played by the rest of the band; an adventure hearing those later accretions from Mozart et al and trying to figure out who's playing what, when, with zero help from the conductor! Whatever stylistic and textual mishmash it was, "if it sounds good and God is praised" that's what counts.

And an appropriate character of the music was quite clear from the manner of the conductor's beat, both leading us and reacting to what we were doing; the conducting was quite adequate and we had very good musical results, things jelling nicely (on extremely limited rehearsal, and for some of the movements zero rehearsal). It was inspiring, with that catalytical sort of conducting: and judged by results it was excellent leadership. (Hire a good batch of players and let us do our jobs, no micro-management.) This conductor and his choir have been doing this piece annually for more than 25 years (although I'd never heard of or met any of them until Saturday), and their love for the music made the whole thing go well, on limited preparation. That experience, love, clarity, and trust (gonna wing it, and it will all miraculously be fine) made it all come together.

Philippe Bareille wrote (December 22, 2003):
[To Aryeh Oron] Thanks Aryeh for your hard work and always stimulating reviews. I hope you will still be participating in some reviews sometimes.

We have had a vintage [of Bach cantatas] this year 2003. If I had the difficult task of picking out 3 cantatas, I would choose BWV 34 (Leonhardt, the pick of the bunch: the opening chorus), BWV 72 (Harnoncourt) and BWV 149 (Leonhardt, a delight from beginning to end and excellent singers).

Among many many other works discussed this year, I wouldn't want to discard the BWV 158 (Max van Egmond/Jürgens), the soprano arias or the BWV 68 and BWV 171 (sung by P. Jelosits the best soprano of the H&L series and H. Wittek respectively), and the alto aria of BWV 11 by Anna Reynolds/Richter.


For those who like David Thomas, I recommend the BWV 214 bass aria (Orchestra of Enlightenment), even if Leonhardt is obviously less at ease in the secular cantatas than in the sacred works.

Happy new year 2004

Aryeh Oron wrote (December 22, 2003):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
[6] < The joyful character here comes (in part) from that vigorous bounce in the bass line. The harpsichord improvisation is integrated into the whole instead of distracting from it; it strengthens the character of the bass line; and, being spontaneous, it helps the other players play with a spirit of spontaneity. (The harpsichord in Rilling 1 and Schreier sounded much too pre-packaged, not like an improvisation.) [Aryeh: is Leonhardt playing it himself here, or does he have Paul Nicholson or somebody else, from the OAE?] >
Unfortunately, I could not find any mention of the players in the booklet attached to Leonhardt's CD.

Thanks for your excellent and illuminating review. Although some of the insights you get at are different from mine, I found them well-argued and enough challenging to re-examine my own conclusions. Your view from a perception of a continuo player is definitely something from which I can learn.

Thanks also to Neil for his interesting and stimulating review.

Thomas Braatz wrote (December 23, 2003):
Brad, in commenting on the emphasis placed upon ‘rhetorical elements’ and the playing style necessary to communicate these to the audience, states:
>>The lightning interjections are the best of any here. This all illustrates that rhetoric (composed into the music by Bach) is no formality at all, any puzzle of secret meanings to be unraveled by score-reading connoisseurs, but an in-your-face strength of direct drama: and to be played that way. The rhetorical elements are there to kick ass and help all listeners "get it" immediately.<<

Walther, in his ‘Musicalisches Lexicon…’ (Leipzig, 1732) has an entry on ‘Barbarism’ as follows:
>>‘Barbarismus’ heisset: wenn einer so noch nicht im Ruf ist, alles nachthun, und sich die Freyheit nehmen will, bisweilen etwas Unrechtes mit anzubringen; oder solche Sätze gar zu viel brauchet, deren sich die berühmtesten und ‚accuratesten’ ‚Musici’ nur mäßig bedienet haben.<<

[„Barbarism {in music} means: when someone {some ‚wannabe’ musician or composer} who has not yet achieved a name for himself, imitates all the worst traits possible [*‘nachthun’ = in the DWB is just as often a negative ‘imitation’ as a positive one: {example} …ist ein lauter nachthun und affenspil auß dem apostelampt worden. {a lot of monkey-like imitations (caricatures) have been made of an apostleship}], and even arrogates onto himself (allows himself the freedom) of occasionally including [in a performance or composition] something improper/unsuitable [according to the standards of good musical taste]; or he may use too frequently such pieces/mvts. of the type the most famous and most accurate musicians would only make moderate use of.”]

And another entry:
>>‚Bizarrement’ oder ‚bigearrement’ (gall) heißt: fantastisch, närrisch, eigensinnig; wenn nemlich eine ‚modulation’ bald geschwind, bald langsam, bald starck, bald leise, u. d. g. gehet, nachdem des Componisten Fantasie, oder vielmehr die verschiedene ‚expressiones’ der Text-Worte es also zu erfordern scheinen. Es wird aber auch dieses Wort in gutem Verstande gebraucht, welches daraus erhellet: weil etliche ‚Auctores’ selbst, und unter andern Giuseppe Valentini, ihre Kling-Stücke ‚Bizarrie’ betitelt haben; wenn aber jemand seine Einfälle mit unangenehmer und wunderlicher Art an- und vorbringet, es geschehe nun solches in der ‚Composition’ selbst, oder bey deren ‚execution’, ‚vocaliter’ and ‚instrumentaliter,’ so hat die obige erstere Bedeutung statt, und sagt man alsdenn: diese ‚Composition’ ist ‚bizarr’ gesetzt; oder dieses Singen und Spielen ist ‚bizarr.’<<

[„The ‚bizarre’ means fantastic, odd/eccentric, capricious/fitful; this occurs specifically whenever a ‘modulation’ {Walther defines a ‘modulation’ as manner in which the singers or instrumentalists bring out/perform a melody} is performed now (soon) fast, now slow, now very loud, now very soft etc., all of this according to the whim of the composer, or to a greater degree {or even more frequently in the case}when the expressions {rhetorical affects} of the text seem to demand it. This word can also be used in a positive sense, a fact which becomes clear by virtue of the fact that a few composers such as Giuseppe Valentini have named some of their compositions (sonatas?) ‘Bizarrie;’ if however someone allows his thoughts/ideas {musical ideas or notions on how his or someone else’s music should be performed} to be performed in an unpleasant or strange/odd/wayward/curious/whimsical manner, it does not matter whether this occurs within the composition itself {the musical ideas placed into the composition by the composer} or whether this occurs in the performance of such compositions, whether in vocal or instrumental form, then the first meaning given above applies and this is when people {Walther, Bach, etc.} say “This composition has been composed in a ‘bizarre’ manner, or this manner of singing and playing is ‘bizarre.’]

The OED has defined ‘bizarre’ in English. This definition is certainly in line with everything that Walther noted:
“bizarre = at variance with recognized ideas of taste, departing from ordinary style or usage; eccentric, extravagant, whimsical, strange, odd, fantastic; at variance with the standard of ideal beauty or regular form, grotesque, irregular.”

On April 1, 2003, Brad stated:
>>We do best to bring out the irrational and ugly bits, honestly, where Bach has troubled to write them, so the more comfortable bits are seen to be even more comfortable by contrast.<<

And:
>> To you, my supposedly 'extreme' ways of interpreting these pieces probably don't even seem like music at all.<<

It would seem from Walther’s assessment above that ‘kicking-ass-’ and ‘in-your-face-’ style performances with emphasis on 'the irrational and ugly bits' are not at all what Bach had in mind when he composed and performed his sacred music.

BTW, Giuseppe Valentini’s nickname was ‘Straccioncino’ (‘Little Ragamuffin’) –

To shed further light upon Walther’s definitions, I am including a portion of Enrico Careri’s article on Valentini from the New Grove (Oxford University Press, 2003):
>> Only since the 1980s has Valentini's music received some critical attention and his role in the history of early 18th-century instrumental music begun to be appreciated. Even then, it is usually in discussions of ‘greater’ composers, such as Corelli, Vivaldi and Locatelli, that he has been mentioned, and according to the context he has been considered either as an epigone or as an important precursor. However general and inappropriate these terms may be (if only because Valentini's works have not yet been sufficiently studied), they might both have some basis in truth. What characterizes Valentini's instrumental writing is on the one hand a continual attempt to surprise the listener with something new, original or fantastic, and on the other an apparent difficulty to free himself fromthe model supplied by the work of Corelli and followed by his contemporaries. The titles of the printed collections (Bizzarrie per camera, Fantasie musicali, Idee per camera, Villeggiature armoniche), but more especially their character (which is indeed sometimes bizarre), seem to indicate Valentini's determination to be different from Corelli and his imitators, and to offer an alternative to them. In the preface to his op4 one reads: ‘and if you think this work in some places diverges from the correct rules, remember that I have written it to give more pleasure to those listeners who do not like to be confined within narrow limits’; and that to op.7 says he has ‘tried to write them [the concertos] in a new style, thinking that novelties do not usually displease’.

The desire for originality, sometimes too selfconscious and ineffectual, led Valentini to some important innovations in the concertos (more than in the sonatas) that have not been sufficiently recognized. One of these is the inclusion of the viola in the concertino and the resulting possibility of a string quartet in contrast to the ripieno, an innovation wrongly attributed to Geminiani. Michael Talbot has stressed the importance of op.7 no.11, where for the first time the traditional distinction between concertino and ripieno is set aside: the two ripieno violin parts are replaced by parts for a third and fourth violin. This must have influenced Vivaldi when he chose this arrangement for some of the concertos in L'estro armonico op.3. The trio sonatas, and in some ways the violin sonatas, are closer to the Corellian model, although they are not without surprises, especially in the harmony. Technically the violin parts are not as advanced as might be expected from a virtuoso player and a composer who liked to surprise his audience; but it must be remembered that the collection ‘a due, e tre corde’, which doubtless constituted Valentini's major contribution, is lost (the manuscript was sold at The Hague in 1759). Nevertheless, the sonatas as a whole reveal a strong and individual personality and, as Talbot has written, it is difficult to agree with Burney's judgment that Valentini's works ‘have been long since consigned to oblivion, without any loss to the public, or injustice to the author’.<<

It would appear that many HIP musicians are also too desperately attempting to be different and original in their interpretations, and, as Careri indicates with Valentini, they too may tend to become too ‘selfconscious’ [egocentric] and ‘ineffectual’ in their extreme interpretations of Bach's music.

Bradley Lehman wrote (December 23, 2003):
At 09:25 PM 12/22/2003 -0600, Thomas Braatz wrote:
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BachCantatas/message/6845

There you go again, Tom, trying to disallow good musicians from doing our jobs; and hitting us over the head with selective quotes that you believe are the only thing that could possibly be relevant. I have to wonder what motivates you to try to discredit everything and everybody; but I have more important and enjoyable things to do than argue with you. Have some happy holidays there, whatever that means to you. I'm out of here for some traveling.

 

Festive cantatas

Jack Botelho wrote (February 10, 2004):
"After the dedication [to the new Elector, Friedrich August II, in Dresden] of the 'Missa' [Mass in B minor] in July 1733, Bach kept the Saxon royal family's interests in mind with his 'extraordinaire' concerts of the [Leipzig] collegium musicum. On 3 August, the name day of the new elector, Bach began his remarkable series of secular cantatas of congratulation and homage with BWV Anh. 12 (music lost), followed by Cantata BWV 213 (5 September, for the heir to the electorate), BWV 214 (8 December, for the electress), BWV 205a (19 February 1734, for the coronation of the elector as King of Poland; music lost), an unknown work (3 August, again for the elector), and BWV 215 (5 October, also for the elector, who was at the performance). Much of the festive music was performed in the open air with splendid illuminations, and according to newspaper reports the music benefited from a resounding echo. (On the day after the performance of BWV 215 Bach's virtuoso trumpeter and the leader of the Leipzig Stadtpfeifer, Gottfried Reiche, died as a result of the exertions of his office.) During the following Christmas season Bach gave the people of Leipzig a chance to hear much of the music from his secular festive cantatas in modified form, as the "Christmas Oratorio", which was heard in six sections between Christmas Day 1734 and Epiphany 1735 (and consisted predominantly of parodies of Cantatas nos.213-15)."

Wolff, Christoph: "Bach, Johann Sebastian" in
The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians
2001 edition.

The above is some basic information regarding the "remarkable series of festive cantatas" that contributed to the composition of the 1734 Christmas Oratorio. It would seem that the highly skilled musical forces of the Dresden court instrumentalists and singers (male and female) contributed to Bach's enthusiastic hopes for an important appointment to this musical centre, especially in light of the succession of the new elector.

Please note the academic bull shit concerning the death of Gottfried Reiche "dying as a result of the exertions of his office". Reiche was (I believe) in his sixties at the time, so it may have been a case of over-enthusiastic playing of very tasty trumpet parts by this old man, rather than Bach himself pushing Reiche "too far".

 

Continue on Part 2

Cantata BWV 215: Details & Complete Recordings | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

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