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Cantata BWV 22
Jesus nahm zu sich die Zwölfe
Discussions - Part 2

Continue from Part 1

Discussions in the Week of June 19, 2005

Peter Bright wrote (June 20, 2005):
Introduction: BWV 22

The cantata for discussion this week (June 20-26) is:

Cantata BWV 22
Jesus nahm zu sich die Zwölfe
(‘Jesus took under Him the twelve’)

Performed on 7 February 1723, the Sunday before Lent. The occasion was Bach’s audition to become the Thomaskantor (cantata BWV 23, Du wahrer Gott und Davids Sohn, was also heard during the same service. Cantata BWV 22 was also performed the following year, and possibly in other years during Bach’s Leipzig tenure. The author of the libretto is unknown.

Link to texts, commentary, vocal score, music examples, and list of known recordings: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV22.htm

Link to previous discussions: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV22-D.htm

It is possible to hear two versions of the complete cantata on the internet (Leonhardt from 1973 [1], and Leusink, from 1999 [5]). See: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Mus/BWV22-Mus.htm

The following notes are based on the AMG entry (Brian Robins), the Oxford Composers Companion (Robin A Leaver) and the notes from the Suzuki cantatas series, vol. 8 (Tadashi Isoyama) [4].

1723 was a year that would mark a turning point in Bach's career, the year in which he gained the cantorship of the Thomasschule in Leipzig. It was not a straightforward appointment. The original choice of the Leipzig city council had been Telemann, a composer already well known in Leipzig. But Telemann rejected the post in favor of staying in Hamburg, and eventually the choice came down to Bach and Christoph Graupner, Kapellmeister at Darmstadt and favorite for the cantorship. Both were required to submit to examination and trial which included the performance of two cantatas at St. Thomas' Church. Graupner's test took place on January 17 1723, Bach's following on February 7. It was for this trial that Bach composed Cantatas Nos. BWV 22 and BWV 23, the former being given before the sermon - the usual place in the Lutheran liturgy for the cantata - while Cantata No. BWV 23 was sung later during communion.

In the event, the contest was needless since Graupner's employers refused to release him. Bach thus became cantor and his two examination cantatas herald the great series of Leipzig cantatas that flowed from his pen during the next few years. Although short, both works show every evidence that Bach set out to display his formidable talents in all their diversity. Scored for solo oboe, bassoon, strings, and continuo bass, BWV 22 is the more modestly orchestrated. The anonymous text is based on the Gospel for the day (Luke 18: 31-43), the Sunday before Lent (Quinquagesima). Before leaving for his final journey to Jerusalem, Jesus tells the disciples of his coming passion and resurrection, an event narrated in the opening arioso chorus for tenor and bass, the disciples' lack of understanding articulated in a choral fugue. The arias for alto and tenor form personal comment on these events, the former pleading for understanding of the meaning of the passion, the latter a lively movement in passepied dance rhythm, in which the singer announces his intention to "renounce the things of the flesh" in favor of spiritual peace.

The passion connection explains the generally restrained nature of this “test piece” cantata as a whole and its simple orchestration for strings and oboe. Of all the movements, the concluding extended chorale is probably the most well known, commonly heard in instrumental arrangements, and recalls the insistent journeying of the first movement (Mvt. 1). In this closing chorale, it seems possible that Bach was writing in intentional imitation of his predecessor, Johann Kuhnau.

Doug Cowling wrote (June 20, 2005):
Peter Bright wrote:
< Cantata BWV 22
Jesus nahm zu sich die Zwölfe
(?Jesus took under Him the twelve?) >
The most striking literary moment in this wonderful cantata is the little Passion scena which Bach creates by dividing the scriptural dictum between the tenor as "evangelist", the bass as "Christus" and the choir as the "Disciples". I may just be thinking about passions, but the great bass recitative sounds like a preminisence of the SMP (BWV 244) to me.

Interesting that the companion audition piece, Cantata BWV 23, is specifically idedntified as a cantata for the communion. Has anyone identfied which cantatas were written as "sub communione" and analyzed whether their texts and settings form a genre of cantatas?

The final choral is one of the few pieces of Bach in constant performance by church choirs. After "Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring" was "discovered" and became a popular favourite -- perhaps the most popular of all Bach's works -- his oeuvre was ransacked for comparable chorales with isntrumental interludes. The final movement in this cantata appeared in several collections of anthems and continues to be a regular part of the repertoire of most churches.

Chris Kern wrote (June 20, 2005):
This is my first post to the list, and also the first Bach Cantata I've ever listened to. I'm familiar with Bach's vocal works from the Mass in B Minor (BWV 232) and the John (BWV 245) and Matthew (BWV 244) Passions, but I haven't yet delved into the Cantatas.

Peter Bright wrote:
< The cantata for discussion this week (June 20-26) is:
Cantata BWV 22
Jesus nahm zu sich die Zwölfe
('Jesus took under Him the twelve') >
From the text, I was expecting the opening recitative to be like the Passion and Christmas Oratorio (BWV 248) recitatives. I had a similar expectation about the final Chorale, but both turned out to be more instrumental and melodic. Is there any big reason for this, or just a different style of music befitting the cantata rather than the Passion?

As for the text, like the Passion arias and recitatives, it does a good job of linking the Gospel reading to the relevance of the modern believer. Like the disciples, the Christian often finds him or herself ignorant of what Jesus is actually saying. The text of the bass recitative reminded me of "the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak". There's a nice constrast in the recitative between the attitude of the disciples at the Transfiguration vs. their attitude at the crucifixion (the Japanese commentary linked this to the disciples fleeing after Jesus' capture, which seems sensible to me).

I only listened to the two free(?) recordings linked to off the BC page -- the Leonhardt [1] and the Leusink [5]. I wouldn't have bothered with the Leusink except that the Japanese commentary page linked from the BC site claimed it was unexpectedly good. Without listening to both of them a number of times I'm not sure I can make a firm claim on to which I liked better, but I did think that Leusink's final chorale sounded better than Leonhardt's.

I look forward to seeing other people's commentary and participating in future discussions. I don't have a broad knowledge of Bach or even music in general other than the smatterings picked up from years of piano pand random web sites.

Neil Halliday wrote (June 22, 2005):
BWV 22: some observations

In the first movement (Mvt. 1), the tenor, and then the bass, begin their respective sections on the same note (D above middle C - quite high for the bass), allowing the listener to hear the contrast between the timbres of the two voices. The following fugal section for choir has interesting imitative effects, as the different parts of the choir alternately sing "was das (gesaget war)" against "sie aber vernahmen...nicht".

The following alto aria (Mvt. 2) has striking modulations to remote keys on the word "Leiden"'; first time to C flat major, second time to D flat major (from the home key of C minor).

The tuneful tenor aria (Mvt. 4) (after an attractive accompanied recitative) has, in Rilling [2], an interesting istrumental contrast between a solo violin (in those places where only a part for the 1st violin occurs in the score) and the 'tutti' strings. Note the 'singing' violas in Rilling, in these movements.

I agree with Thomas Braatz's observation regarding the final chorale; Rilling [2] has too much legato in the continuo, while Leonhardt [1] has too much staccato!

Overall, I find the performances of Leonhardt [1], Rilling [2] and Leusink [5] to be mostly enjoyable; Watts has too much vibrato in her aria; Leonhardt's period strings sound 'wiry' and 'brittle' in the accompanied recitative and elsewhere; Leusink has that 'harsh
resonance' in places in the continuo, IMO. These, and other recordings, are reviewed at the BCW.

BTW, Bach re-used the text of the final chorale, in BWV 164.

Bradley Lehman wrote (June 22, 2005):
< The following alto aria (Mvt. 2) has striking modulations to remote keys on the word "Leiden"'; first time to C flat major, second time to D flat major (from the home key of C minor). >
That second occurrence (i.e. the downbeat, five bars before the D.S.) is simply the use of a "Neapolitan sixth" effect in that home key of C minor; note that it's D flat major in its first inversion. As is typical for a "Neapolitan" progression like this, it's functioning as a souped-up subdominant preparing the dominant of the next bar.

Note that there's another one in the last few beats of the instrumental introduction and its reuse as the coda.

As for the C flat major one, that's indeed a strong effect. The music by that point has modulated to E-flat major...and then it suddenly drops out to VI of the minor mode. Bach striving to make an immediate impression as an adventurous and au courant composer, for his audition?

< I agree with Thomas Braatz's observation regarding the final chorale; Rilling [2] has too much legato in the continuo, while Leonhardt has too much staccato!
Overall, I find the performances of Leonhardt
[1], Rilling [2] and Leusink [5] to be mostly enjoyable; Watts has too much vibrato in her aria; Leonhardt's period strings sound 'wiry' and 'brittle' in the accompanied recitative and elsewhere; Leusink has that 'harsh resonance' in places in the continuo, IMO. These, and other recordings, are reviewed at the BCW. >
Yep, I've read those reviews at: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV22-D.htm
...and some of them are even more cruelly contemptuous, defamatory, and arbitrarily dismissive of good work (and of well-prepared personnel) than usual....

As for an assessment of "too much staccato" in Leonhardt's bass line, why is Leonhardt [1] being faulted for looking at the score and recognizing that this is a movement in vivace character (rather like many a Handel "tempo ordinario" movement)? That generally detached treatment of the bass line, recognizing that it's full of leaps, also lends excellent clarity to the whole texture. The figural phrasing in his ensemble's top parts is marvelous, too. So is the attention by his singers to the strong/weak syllables of German pronunciation, and the shaping of melodic lines with a normal tapering at the end. All around, Leonhardt's recording of this movement is a model of lucidity and elegance, IMO. Couple that with the observation that 1973 was a very long time ago, and this recording stands as an excellent pioneering effort in this field.

Neil Halliday wrote (June 23, 2005):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
<"That second occurrence (i.e. the downbeat, five bars before the D.S.) is simply the use of a "Neapolitan sixth" effect in that home key of C minor;...">
Thanks for your technical explanation of what is happening at this point in the score, and also with the more impressive C flat major modulation.

As for my comments about Watts's excessive vibrato, Leonhardt's [1] 'wiry' period strings, and Leusink's unpleasantly 'harsh, resonant' continuo (difficult to describe, but anyone hearing it will instantly pick it up), these are in no way a denigration of musicians' abilities, but rather a criticism of stlye or techniques (including hardware).

[But Rilling [2] seems to achieve greater clarity and inpact in the vocal lines of the first movement's choral fugue. Is this greater skill on Rilling's part, or better performances by the individual singers of the choir?]

The bass line in Leonhardt's [1] final movement...once I pick up on the continuously detached, 'bouncy' effect, I find it a distraction, but this is obviously only an opinion. Leusink [5] is better than either Leonhardt, or Rilling [2] (with his continuous legato), in this regard (but is the tempo too brisk?).

Peter Smaill wrote (June 25, 2005):
BWV 22, " Jesu Nahm zu sich die Zwolfe"

The probe Cantatas BWV 22 and BWV 23 are so well explored, marking as they do a turning point in Bach's career and a transition from the Weimar years via the (sacred cantata-barren) Köthen period to the apogee of Bach's career at Leipzig, such that my efforts this week are to pull together some themes from those who have commented before.

Paradoxically, the two Cantatas must have been composed at Köthen; Whittaker speculates (well actually he says "attribute(d) definitely!" ) that BWV 47 "Wer sich selbst erhohet, de soll erniedriget werden" was actually a Köthen cantata, basing on Spitta who surmises that it was composed in 1720 on the fateful trip to Karlsbad. Indeed, the text is of 1720, by the Eisenach Court official, Heilbig. But modern scholarship gives its first performance as 13 October 1726. It seems unlikely that it was in Bach's knapsack for six years!

But what of BWV 22 and BWV 23 - a very basic question; did Bach in any way have access to any forces at Köthen to "try out" these masterworks? Presumably they had to be practised, not at Köthen where only secular cantatas were performed; but at Leipzig in the few days before the Probe took place? So the Leipzig forces must presumably have prepared these two works in a matter of days, perhaps accounting for the relatively undemanding choral input.

Was BWV 22 deigned to please the ears of the Graupner - seeking councillors, attuned to the melodies of Kahn, with BWV 23 as the piece de resistance? ThomBraatz gives good evidence in his 2003 commentaries for this line of reasoning. And yet...

...In BWV 22 it is instantly recognisable that the Arioso and Chorus (BWV 22/1) is employing a multiplicity of devices. Entries are at several pitches, the step image is illustrated, the fugal writing has interjections prefiguring the turba choruses of the Passions. As has been pointed out, the use of a bass voice to depict Jesus is an anticipation of Passion music; it is quite rare in the Cantatas (BWV 67, "Halt im Gedaechhtnis Jesum Christ," a post-easter Cantata, is another instance).

In imagery terms, the emphasis on the picture of Jesus "drawing" the soul, which Thomas B. developed as theme earlier this year, is a throwback to mystical imagery. Among the intensive word-painting, Malcolm Boyd points out that in the recit (BWV 22/3), the expression "ein Feste Burg" has a momentary, fleeting quotation from the famous Chorale, an almost Wagnerian leitmotif, as distinct from the complete quotation of the chorale more generally found.

So, while the Leipzigers were not be shocked by the Probe, there is also, at many levels, points of sophistication in BWV 22 which mark it out as a work of innovation and allusion. This view is taken by me only in contrast to Graupner's "Der Tod Jesu"; has the music for Graupner's test pieces survived ("Lobet den Herrn/ Aus der Tiefen")?

It would be an interesting musical experience to set both Bach and Graupner's offerings as a blind tasting (no names) before an audience (hard-rock trained sophomores will do nicely), whose task will be to act as if they were the Leipzig council sitting in judgement!

Thus became immortal the name of the otherwise forgettable Councillor Abraham Christoph Platz:

"Since the best could not be obtained, a mediocre one would have to be accepted" (!).

Thomas Braatz wrote (June 25, 2005):
BWV 22 & BWV 23 Details

This is important detailed information about BWV 22 and BWV 23 which may be more than some readers will want to know. Nevertheless this can be viewed as a fascinating investigation which probes rather deeply into the complications surrounding the performances of these cantatas during Bach's lifetime. If at times, the discussions seem repetitious, it is because they are presented in this fashion as various aspects and perspectives are explored.

See: BWV 22 & BWV 23 Details

 

More on Rilling and BWV 22

Chris Kern wrote (June 16, 2006):
I've listened to Rilling's recording [2] of the first movement of BWV 22 some more, and I still don't see his interpretation as the "right" way to do the movement.

Theologically, this is how I see the text. It's taken from Luke 18, the full segment of which reads "Then he took the Twelve aside and said to them, 'Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem and everything written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. He will be handed over to the Gentiles and he will be mocked and insulted and spat upon; and after they have scourged him they will kill him, but on the third day he will rise.' But they understood nothing of this; the word remained hidden from them and they failed to comprehend what he said."

This is not the first time Jesus predicted his passion and death, and the disciples' reactions to it the previous times were rebuke, distress, fear, and a lack of comprehension. But this time he is telling them as they are on their way to Jerusalem that when they go to Jerusalem, he will be killed. The disciples have been with Jesus for some time, and they have given up their entire lives to follow him and exposed themselves to mortal danger, and they have come to believe that he is the Messiah. And now he's telling them that he's going to be killed by the gentiles, but even so, he's still going there because it fulfills what is written in the prophets. But they don't understand why Jesus has to be killed, and they probably have no idea what they're going to do after Jesus dies. He says he'll be raised again, but repeatedly a lack of faith is attributed to the disciples so they may not completely believe this.

Bach starts the movement out with the tenor singing the evangelist part, following the Passion tradition. The bass takes Jesus' words. But then instead of going back to the tenor for the last line (which would follow the standard practice), he sets the lines about the disciples confusion as a fugue, marked "allegro" (which I do understand indicates a mood rather than a specific metronome marking), which begins with solo voices and then grows to include the ripienists as well.

The theological meaning of the lines, the tempo marking, and the structure of the fugue suggest to me that what Bach had in mind was to portray the disciples' confusion, fear, and uncertainty. I simply do not hear this in Rilling's version [2]. Rilling takes the fugue more slowly than the preceding section, and very carefully delineates each part. What he ends up with is something that is musically sound, but I think it loses sight of the theological message of the section.

Now, I'm not saying that the fugue needs to be taken at lightning speed or that it's OK if they don't hit all the notes right. But when I listen to the 4 versions that I have of this movement (Rilling [2], Leonhardt [1], Suzuki [4], and Leusink [5]), Leonhardt is the one that manages the best to make me imagine the disciples turning to each other in confusion and asking frantically "What does he mean? Why does he have to die?" (reminiscent to me of the mood of the "Is it I?" turba chorus from BWV 244) The fugue is faster than the Jesus section, but only slightly faster -- not so much faster that it seems like the choir can no longer handle the music. The only flaw I can see in Leonhardt's interpretation is that he does not make the distinction between soloist and ripienist. Aryeh Oron, back in 2003, said "The choir's singing is not as coherent as it should be. However, it does not bother me, because it gives the impression of surprise and spontaneity, which suits well the message they have to convey" and I think that pretty well sums up my feeling about the movement.

Leusink [5] seems to be going too fast for his choir's ability, and Suzuki's interpretation [4], while technically very good, just doesn't quite communicate the feeling to me as well as Leonhardt [1].

Sorry that was so long, and I know BWV 22 isn't what we're discussing this week, but hopefully that makes some sense.

 

Continue on Part 3

Cantata BWV 22: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

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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