Cantata BWV 27Wer weiß, wie nahe mir mein Ende?
Discussions - Part 3
Continue from Part 2
Discussions in the Week of March 25, 2012 (3rd round)
Ed Myskowski wrote (March 25, 2012):
Introduction to BWV 27 -- Wer weiß, wie nahe mir mein Ende?
This week we continue Trinity season cantatas with BWV 27, the final of four works for the 16th Sunday after Trinity. It strikes me as appropriate that after these four works focused on the Lutheran vision of death (and transfiguration?), we should have a break to discuss a Passion setting, the St. Mark, before continuing with the rest of the Trinity season cantatas for most of 2012. Note that the break for Passion discussion will coincide with the real time liturgical calendar, Holy Week, with comments by Will Hoffman based on original research.
Details of text, commentary, recordings, and previous discussion for this week are accessible via: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV27.htm
The link to commentary by Julian [Mincham], music examples included, is especially recommended as an introduction to listening.
The BWV 27 page has convenient access to notes from the Gardiner , Koopman  (notes by Christoph Wolff), Suzuki , and Leusink  (and more!) CD issues, via link beneath the cover photo. Special attention is drawn to the availability of two recordings, Herreweghe and Kuijken,
The chorale text and melody are accessible via links at the BWV 27 page. Francis Browne has recently added new commentary on the cantata texts to his interlinear translations, linked via [English-3]. We can expect these to continue, not necessarily weekly. Douglas Cowling and William Hoffman are also posting relevant to chorales and other music for the Lutheran Church Year, accessible via LCY pages.
I do not always take the time to check all links before posting. Special thanks to the folks who provide timely corrections.
Douglas Cowling wrote (March 25, 2012):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
< Introduction to BWV 27 -- Wer weiß, wie nahe mir mein Ende? >
It's interesting that Bach chooses the "bookend" structure that we saw last week in BWV 8: two choruses of similar easy technical difficulty, the opening a part of a complex instrumental movement and the closing with colla parte doubling. In this cantata, Bach opens with a simple chorale fantasy (Grade Three in difficulty) and concludes with a simple motet setting by another composer.
Has there been any scholarly speculation what Bach intended by the "Recitative" marking in the opening chorus? There could be three possiblities:
1) The Recitative sections are intended to have freer rhythmic performance.
2) The marking indicates that the recitative is a solo and the chorale is sung by a choir.
3) "Recitative" indicates the intrusion of a new poetic text into a familiar hymn text.
Possibility 1) seems impossible as the music continues without change of style and does not suggest freer rhythmic style. It's not similar to the recitative & chorus which closes the St. Matthew Passion
If 2) is the case ... If Bach wanted solo/choral alternation why didn't he use the more obvious solo and tutti or ripineo markings as in the fugue of "Das Lamm das erwürdig" or "Gott is mein König"?
If 3) indicates literary genres, does it have any performance implications? For instance, the conventional "Dictum" indicates a scriptural quotation without any musical inferences. Why bother to mark literary aspects?
Charles Francis wrote (March 25, 2012):
Bach Cantata, BWV 27 - Sigiswald Kuijken OVPP
Sigiswald Kuijken performance of the opening chorus nicely demonstrates the logic of a One Voice Per Part interpretation - singers start together for mutual security, then take turns to go it alone:
Kim Patrick Clow wrote (March 25, 2012):
[To Charles Francis] Beautiful performance. And I love seeing that brass instrument -- what a strange looking thing!
Thomas Gebhardt wrote (March 25, 2012):
[To Kim Patrick Clow] It seems a reconstruction of the trumpet you see here in the hands of Bach's trumpeter Gottfried Reiche: http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gottfried_Reiche
Kim Patrick Clow wrote (March 25, 2012):
[To Thomas Gebhardt] No it's not that, it's a slide trumpet. That portrait you're referring to is a coiled trumpet.
Claudio Di Veroli wrote (March 26, 2012):
[To Thomas Gebhardt] Excellent performance indeed!
IMHO, Reiche's portrait clearly shows a coiled clarino trumpet with the usual tuning coil added.
Instead, the instrument shown in the video is obviously NOT a reconstruction of Reiche' portrait trumpet, but of a similar hypothetical instrument, adapted for the slower-and-lower zug-trompete roles.
Charles Francis wrote (March 28, 2012):
David Couch has asked off-list for clarification of my OVPP "logic" remark and suggested sharing this with the group.
'I do not understand why "security" is needed if we assume a minimal level of competence among the singers'
My response to this comment would be that the initial vocal entry is in the treble (i.e. a child), so an opportunity to clear the throat, as it were, would benefit a young nervous solo singer.
'I do not think having a 4-part texture from the start demostrates the logic of OVPP. After all, the fact that many cantata choral movements begin fugally, with one line at a time, does not demonstrate that OVPP is illogical'
I would agree with that. One might add that the fugues you mention would not typically unfold SATB, thereby exposing the younger singers at the beginning: consider, for example, BWV 47 and note how the initial voice
entry order compares to the order at 2'25" once the voices are warmed up:
Clarifying my "logic" remark: let's assume, for arguments sake, that Bach has ripienos who would sing the two chorales in BWV 27 (i.e., within the opening chorus and at the end), while sitting idly by for the remaining time. Assume further that they are fully competent singers, then we have a scenario of under utilisation and lack of challenge for them. On the other hand, if the ripienos are only capable of singing chorales, then the BWV 27 opening chorus would be a good way to get them involved in a more complex scenario - namely, a broken chorale. But then such challenged ripienos would be incapable of singing in BWV 47, for example - so Reductio ad absurdum we are left with One Voice Per Part as Bach's normative singing practice.
A final comment regarding BWV 27, is that it nicely showcases the pedagogic work of the Thomasschule, highlighting Bach's younger singers in the opening chorus via solos, while the bass singer (possibly a teacher, ex pupil or Bach himself) remains in the background. This reminds me of some jazz performances, where the musicians start together and then take turn to show off their skills.
Douglas Cowling wrote (March 28, 2012):
Bach Cantata, BWV 27 - The Voices of Bach's Choirs
Charles Francis wrote:
< Clarifying my "logic" remark: let's assume, for arguments sake, that Bach has ripienos who would sing the two chorales in BWV 27 (i.e., within the opening chorus and at the end), while sitting idly by for the remaining time. Assume further that they are fully competent singers, then we have a scenario of under utilisation and lack of challenge for them. >
I think we have to be careful in the way we visualize the array of performing forces in Bach's choir loft. The service was not like a modern concert where the repertoire is chosen to maximize the participation of the performers or where soloists wait offstage, enter to sing, and then disappear.
All of the singers in Bach's Choir I (indeed in all of his choirs) were required by statute to be on their bench before the final bell rang. That was a minimum number of eight (SSAATTBB). Like a sports team, not all of them were fielded.
They each had a hymn book and all sang the opening hymn.
They then turned to their motet book and sang Handl's eight-voice motet "Media Vita" I looked at the motet in the Handl complete works, and it is a demanding Renaissance work, ironically more demanding technically than the cantata.
Back in their hymn book, they sang the hymn de tempore before the Gospel, perhaps in unison and unaccompanied.
Quickly flipping to another page, they sang the 6-voice polyphonic responses for the "Gloria Tibi" before the Gospel, again technically more demanding than the cantata. Did Bach use only six singers or was there ripieno
doubling which could overbalance a part?
Arriving at the cantata, the singers would step to the desks at which the manuscripts were laid. The fact that Bach's parts show no marks of handling ("Fritz, wipe that schlag off your hands!") suggests that the singers never touched them but rather stood at the desk where the pages were laid out.
The presence of singers doesn't necessarily tell us how many sang in the cantata. In this cantata, it is rather attractive to imagine the 8 singers stepping up to the four desks and singing the opening chorus with Solo and
Tutti divisions. And we need to remember that Bach asked for a minimum of 8 voices which could suggest that ideally there would be more singers on the bench.
Nor does it tell us if the same singer sang the all of the movements. Did the soloists in the opening chorus necessarily sing the succeeding movements?
We just don't have the documentary evidence.
Peter Smaill wrote (March 28, 2012):
[To Douglas Cowling] I believe Douglas Cowling is introducing a very important topic, namely, the possibility that the pools of singers in the Thomasschule singers were variably deployed according to skill. It is a thesis which Richard Neville-Towle and the group Ludus Baroque tested in December 2011 in a performance of the Christmas Oratorio BWV 248.
In that work the tension is between opening choruses, which are all properly interpreted as the words of angels, very complex to sing, and in contrast to the inwardly-directed simple meditation chorale, generally for mortal voices. Since we know that the Nicholaikirche venue predominated in performance it is a possibility that a chorale choir was there formed from the less able singers, with the Thomaskirche regular choir managing the great choruses. Perhaps the chorales were memorised, as the closed period of Advent would permit.
Spitta gives support to an earlier practice whereby the choristers represented shepherds and personification occured in a Christmas pageant at the crib, the "Kindleinzweigen". Although we have no separate parts to suggest two choirs (but there is a write-out of the echo aria response) it is the idea of singers advancing and retreating from the music lecterns which helps advance this proposition.
Anyhow, the enormous acoustic difference moving, as Ludus did, from 12 choristers plus four soloists in the main numbers, to a young chorister group of four for " Ich steh bei meinen Krippen heir", created remarkable drama and contrast. The contention thus is that the XO should not be belted out unichorally like "Messiah" but in dialogue between variable forces of angels and mortals....
The possibility of flexible choral forces does not deny the predominance of small forces for most Cantatas but helps explain the natural tendency to train the pools of singers according to skill, and on special occasions, the rhetorical demands of the work.
Douglas Cowling wrote (March 28, 2012):
Peter Smaill wrote:
< Since we know that the Nicholaikirche venue predominated in performance it is a possibility that a chorale choir was there formed from the less able singers, with the Thomaskirche regular choir managing the great choruses. Perhaps the chorales were memorised, as the closed period of Advent would permit. >
It's hard to differentiate the gradations in ability across Bach's four choirs, all of which sang simultaneously morning and evening in Leipzig's four churches on Sundays and festivals.
It is pretty clear that Choir IV was comprised of the last-picked boys of the musical team. They were probably not much more than a unison body of voices leading the congregational singing. It doesn't appear that they sang
any concerted works or whether they were joined by any men.
The musical heavy-lifting was done by Choirs I and II. They never sang together. If Choir I was singing in St, Thomas in the morning, Choir II was singing in St.Nicholas. In the afternoon, the roles were reversed. It seems
likely that they sang the same repertoire of hymns and motets. Thus, on Trinity 16, Handl's eight-voice "Media Vita" was being sung simultaneously in the two churches.
The difference between the two choirs is that Choir I had the responsibility for the performance of concerted works like the cantata and mass settings. Thus, on the morning of Trinity 16, Choir I sang the cantata and perhaps a mass setting with orchestra in St. Thomas, while Choir II sang a motet for the cantata and a polyphonic mass setting in St. Nicholas.
Then the two choirs packed up music and instruments and waved to each other as they switched churches in the afternoon.
At Vespers in St. Nicholas, Choir I would sing the cantata and perhaps a concerted setting of the Magnificat. Over in St. Thomas, Choir II would sing a motet instead of the cantata and a polyphonic setting of the Magnificat.
It would seem then that Choirs I and II were more or less equally competent in the traditional motet repertoire, but, in the auditions, the best singers were placed in Choir I because they had the experience and technical ability to sing "modern" concerted music. The serious musicians who were heading to professional musical careers would have aimed for a place in Choir I. It's not clear if someone who didn't win a spot and was placed in Choir II could re-audition, or whether Bach used the best Choir II voices for ringers when illness or absence afflicted Choir I.
It's hard to know what Choir III sang. I've often wondered if Bach's settings of the German chorale Gloria, Creed, Sanctus, etc. that survive in the chorale collections were in fact used by Choir III. The settings are quite elaborately harmonized and could well have been part of a repertoire which was more demanding than the simple chorales of Choir IV.
The oversight of four choirs each with their own prefect/sub-conductor performing eight services in four different churches every Sunday was a vast bureaucratic task, not to mention the additional supervision of the
instrumentalists. Bach was really a civic Superintendant of Music overseeing 50 or 60 musicians -- this was not a quaint village, pump-organ position. I don't believe that Bach's struggles with the Council can tell us much about actual performance practice, but they do tell us that Bach the Bureaucrat was forever agitating for more budget to maintain the personnel necessary to meet the statutory obligations for music across the city of Leipzig.
No wonder he may have been day-dreaming about moving to the court of Dresden where money was lavished on music.
Ed Myskowski wrote (March 28, 2012):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< The oversight of four choirs each with their own prefect/sub-conductor performing eight services in four different churches every Sunday was a vast bureaucratic task, not to mention the additional supervision of the instrumentalists. Bach was really a civic Superintendant of Music overseeing 50 or 60 musicians... >
Thamks for the analysis, logistically very satisfying! If I read this and the previous post from Doug correctly, under normal circumstances, two voices per part would be avaialble (though not necessarily used) for newly composed concerted music, the cantatas.
I do not see that anyone has previously thought through what Doug provides for us on an ongoing basis: toverall performance requirements for Bachs choirs. An essential perspective on the OVPP discussions.
Martibn Ruiz wrote (April 1, 2012):
BWV 27: Introducing myself
Although Iīve been a member of the BCML since years ago, this is the first time I write, so I am going to introduce myself briefly. I am 44, spanish, architect and no professional musician at all, only an inconditional lover of Bachīs music. This love began more than twenty years ago thanks to an ex-girlfriend, pianist, who introduced me in classical music. After that, I myself got deeply into other styles and musicians and so I discovered Bach. It was bit by bit as I knew more of him and his music, and began to purchase cdīs. My first contact with his cantatas was about 16 years ago, when Ton Koopman began recording his complete series but my knowlege of them was always very superficial until one day (about seven years ago), visiting a web site about Bach, I was linked to the BCW. It was like having been walking during years through the dessert and suddenly find the paradise full of manah: your comments, reviews, articles, translations, recommendations,... were like sweet fruits to eat, fresh water to drink, beautiful bird chants to hear. And thanks to all of you, my knowledge of all concerning Bach grew up; thanks to all of you I knew more and more about cantatas, I began to analyze their texts, their meanings, their context in which were written, ...; thanks to all of you I knew about musicologists and their opinions; thanks to all of you... so many things thanks to all of you.... that I only have words of thanks for all of you.
As IMHO the four cantatas for 16th Sunday after Trinity form one of the most beautiful and consistent group in the whole Bachīs production, it was my intention to begin writing three weeks ago, when BCW discussed about BWV 161, then the following week with BWV 95, and then again last week with BWV 8, but always lack of time prevented me from doing it.
But this week, I havenīt been able to miss the opportunity (who knows how near is to me my end...) of writing something about this BWV 27, although not my favourite one among the four cantatas for this Sunday (in fact, my predilect one, in all of Bachīs cantatas, is BWV 95). Three facts have made me decide to write:
1) The enormous beauty of the first movement, so brilliant that IMHO the rest of the cantata becomes a bit darkened (something similar happens to me with the magnificient opening choral of BWV3 "Ach Gott wie manches Herzeleid"). Superb the Gardiner version, especially when the tenor ends with the words "drum bet ich alle Zeit:" and the chorus re-enters in ecstasy with "Mein Gott,...".
2) On september 21, 2002, Aryeh Oron wrote: "The text of this cantata appears to have been written, or compiled, by Bach himself". This theory could be corroborated by the own words of Anna Magdalena Bach (in her "little chronicle") when, thinking about Bachīs yearning for death, she wrote: "In one of his cantatas he wrote these words from Neumeister: Willkomenn will ich sagen" (I am translating from my spanish copy so I donīt know the exact words in the english translation of this book). But itīs very eloquent the phrase "he wrote these Neumeisterīs words" because it seems to state clear that Bach was the one who wrote the text, maybe commpiling, or just adding sometimes, the words from other poet.
3) As I havenīt seen anything written on the subject in the discussions of this cantata, nor in any book of any musicologist, the question is: am I the only one who have noticed that the main theme of the alto aria (mov. 3) is the same as one of the most popular themes of Vivaldiīs 1st movement of Op.8 nº 1 "The Spring"? The entry of the alto, the eight notes for the words "Willkomenn will ich sagen" are exactly the same as those in Vivaldiīs work (only in Bach a semitone lower), with the only exception that the last note in Vivaldi is a crotchet and in Bach is varied to the form quaver-quaver rest (also is different the slurs between the notes). I donīt usually believe in just coincidences so, as Vivaldiīs Op. 8 was first published in Amsterdam in December 1725, it is obvious that Bach knew those works by the time he composed this BWV 27 and, as a tribute to the italian composer (one more), he decided to resort to this beautiful and, at least now well-known, melody (I donīt know if it was so popular already in Bach times). I enclose a link to visit Vivaldiīs full score.
In Vivaldi, this eight-note theme is presented in the last beat of measure 7 and the first two beats of measure 8 (both violino principale and violino I; the theme also occurs in violino II but with different notes), and in Bachīs aria the same theme is presented in the same beats of measures 16 and 17.
The sequence of notes in Vivaldi is: E-B-A-G sharp-A-B-C sharp-B. And in Bach is: E flat-B flat-A flat-G-A flat-B flat-C-B flat. Could someone tell me the letters, in german notation, corresponding to the 8 notes in both composers?
Thanks and regards to all the members.
Continue on Part 4
Cantata BWV 27: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements
Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4