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Cantata BWV 28
Gottlob! nun geht das Jahr zu Ende
Discussions - Part 2

Continue from Part 1

Discussions in the Week of August 26, 2007

Russell Telfer wrote (August 25, 2007):
Introduction to BWV 28

Discussion for the week beginning 26th August 2007

Introduction to Cantata BWV 28
Gottlob! nun geht das Jahr zu Ende
Praise God! For now the year is ending

The cantata was composed for the 1st Sunday after Christmas, December 30, 1725.

The text was from Erdmann Neumeister. In this introduction I have relied on the translation (from the website) by Z Philip Ambrose.

It is also useful to remind ourselves that we have discussed in sequence the cantatas for Christmas Day, St Stephen's Day and the 3rd day of Christmas for 1725. Now we are at the last celebration of the old year with the New Year's Day cantata yet to come.

It was last discussed by us at the end of 2002. That exchange of information is well worth reading.

The movements:

Mvt. 1. Praise God! For now the year is ending
The cantata starts with a soprano aria accompanied by two oboes, taille, strings and continuo. I would describe this 3/4 dal segno aria as a precise, sober dance with intricate passage work. At times there are seven independent parts in operation and on top of that the soprano floats a lovely mournful melody - all features for which we love Bach.

Mvt. 2. Now praise, my soul, the Master,
There follows an alla breve Choral, in which cornetto and three trombones join the assembled forces for another characteristic Bach sound, a fugal masterpiece in which choir and trombones share prominence. Don't ever miss a cathedral performance, if it comes up.

Mvt. 3. Thus saith the Lord: It shall to me bring pleasure that I unto them give favor, and them
This (after a bar of recit) is marked 'arioso ma un poco allegro'. It is a lengthy, tuneful movement for bass accompanied only by continuo. The mood is one of quiet reflection, about which, more below.

Mvt. 4. God is a spring, where nought but kindness wells;

The tenor follows with an earnest recitative fully accompanied by strings. I always think that when the composer gives us the full string treatment, it is a way of signifying that this is a 'high' day - higher than most days, at any rate. And indeed, it is the last Sunday at the end of the year, 1725, and what a year it was.

Mvt. 5. God hath us in this very year brought such blessing,
Next follows a duet in canon for alto and tenor accompanied by continuo. Despite the minimal forces, this is a vigorous and tuneful dance-type movement with a continuous pulsing energy.

Mvt. 6. We praise all thy compassion Father, on heaven's throne
We return to A minor for the final Choral. I would describe the tone as reflective but intense. This is a lovely choral to sing. (Most of them are.)

The mood of the cantata as determined by its text has as a whole been uplifting. The music has remained reflective, more internalised. The recent debate between Julian Mincham, myself and others is very much to the point.

As Julian put it when discussing BWV 110:

"Bach.. differentiates between the communal extrovert expression of faith, joy in salvation, praise of God etc and the personal individual expression of the same aspects which are often gentler, more introverted and more reflective."

I think he would agree that those words apply to cantata 28 as well, whose performance followed cantata 110 by four or five days.

My personal conviction is that the 'communal extrovert expression' is the more authentic musical experience, but I may be in the minority.

A final word: when I first put this cantata under close scrutiny for discussion-leading, I did not quickly pick up on some its special features. Gradually I came to realise that this was not a run-of-the-mill creation from the weekly grind, but something special, something for a high day. But that was what the 2002 posters had said already.

Douglas Cowling wrote (August 25, 2007):
Russell Telfer wrote:
< It is also useful to remind ourselves that we have discussed in sequence the cantatas for Christmas Day, St Stephen's Day and the 3rd day of Christmas for 1725. Now we are at the last celebration of the old year with the New Year's Day cantata yet to come. >
The Christmas season of 1725-26 is a rather interesting glimpse into Bach's horrifically demanding workload:

Sunday, Dec 23 - Advent 4 - no cantata but a full service with motets
Monday, Dec 24 - (mercifully Lutherans did not celebrate Christmas Eve)
Tuesday, Dec 25 - Christmas Day - full cantata and mass setting
Wednesday, Dec 26 - Second Day - full cantata and mass setting
Thursday, Dec 27 - Third Day - full cantata and mass setting
Friday, Dec 28 - daily service with chorales
Saturday, Dec 29 - daily service with chorales
Sunday, Dec 30 - Sunday after Christmas - full cantata and mass setting
Monday, Dec 31 - daily service with chorales
Tuesday, Jan 1 - New Year's Day - full cantata and mass setting

That's five cantatas in one week with concerted mass settings on the three days of Christmas. The only relief provided by the calendar was the fact that Epiphany (Jan 6) fell on a Sunday that year. The worst years must have been those when Christmas fell on a Monday and Epiphany on a Saturday.

There was certainly no vacation "down" time for Bach. In fact, the Christmas fortnight was the busiest time in Bach's year, busier even than Holy Week when the passion music was performed. The sense of obligation for this season is shown by the fact that Bach interrupted his "sabbatical" of composing cantatas to write new works for Christmas.

Now I'm curious about which domestic celebrations the Bach family had to fit into this schedule.

Jean Laaninen wrote (August 26, 2007):
[To Russell Telfer] Of particular interest to my ear in this cantata is the tenor aria, fresh and beautiful in its simplicity, and the the expansion into a duet in cannon with the alto using only the continuo to undergird the message. Particularly charming to me is the rhyming of ending words. The first eight lines in the tenor aria all have words ending with a 't' and then the last two lines an 'en'. In the duet the rhyming pattern continues, as both provide a clear and grateful perspective. The return to the minor key in the final chorale seems so traditional to me in my Lutheran experience. Russell, Julian and I have been sharing some perpectives as to community in the musical context, and introspection in the setting of the cantatas. In my experience of Lutheranism the introspective aspect in the communal setting was kind of a matter of over-all guidance about how one looks at life and lives in the light of what God has given. There can be joy in the seriousness, but what is serious is never placed in preaching, teaching and music far from the joy. The desired result, be one orthodox or very pious, was an understanding of the importance of commitment in my view.

In the previous discussion Thomas has covered all the major texts, including everything I could find in Dürr and Chafe. What I have not seen in previous discussions, though it probably gets too complex for a general understanding of the work is detailed discussion of the motives. I am quite fascinated by the manner in which short patterns are used and reused in innumerable ways, to create textures that fit with the text, and the manner in which certain instruments are selected for the use of such motifs. A Bach cantata is simply a very deep work, and I was also appreciative of Russell's comment as to the high day aspect of this individual piece.

Julian Mincham wrote (August 26, 2007):
I'vejust got back from a few days in France and am not yet up to date with postings.I did manage to catch most of a performance (by a young group from Paris) of the A maj and G min short masses in Rouen Cathedral which was very good although slightly marred by the over reverberent accoustics. I wonder if Monet would have approved?

Re BWV 28, a couple of off the cuff thoughts. I am always a bit surprised that the opening movements turns out to be an aria rather than a chorus----there are a number of these rather energetic A min first movements dominated by oboes and strings that turn out to be choruses or chorale fantasia (let BWV 178 and BWV 33 from the second cycle serve as examples) Also, taking up the recent theme that Russell has alluded to, the first movement of BWV 28 seems to serve the purpose of individual expression -----consider this MY soul----but it also calls for all to come together and sing a song of praise to Him--which explains the chorus coming next--a movement which is really a chorale fantasia-cum-motet although the chorale used is not that which closes the work. It's also worth looking at the ways in which the writing for the lower voices paints individual lines of text in this movement as is often to be found in the second cycle fantasias.

Not all of Bachís cantata texts are as neatly constructed as this. Neumeister begins with the recognition of the passing of the year and the need to acknowledge Godís part in providing all that is good. It goes on to recognise the need to praise God for his great powers and continuing beneficence. It then comes to the specific entreaty, placed in the penultimate verse just where Bach would have considered it to be best situated for maximum effect----we now beseech Him explicitly to provide us with another happy and fruitful New Year. By the way, might the oboes reinforced by the strings (a process later reversed) symbolise the coming together of all mankind in order to offer praises (sop aria)? And does anyone have any thoughts as to the symbolic significance of the showers of falling semiqauavers in the duet? continuo line?

Finally a question--not loaded but for information only--I'm not sure what you meant by 'authentic' in the sentence below, Russell--could you explain it?

Russell Telfer wrote:
< My personal conviction is that the 'communal extrovert expression' is the more authentic musical experience, but I may be in the minority. >

Alain Bruguières wrote (August 26, 2007):
[To Julian Mincham] Welcome back on the list.

It is a paradox of our times that by leaving the country where I live you're getting closer!

Julian Mincham wrote:
< Re BWV 28, a couple of off the cuff thoughts. I am always a bit surprised that the opening movements turns out to be an aria rather than a chorus----there are a number of these rather energetic A min first movements dominated by oboes and strings that turn out to be choruses or chorale fantasia (let BWV 178 and BWV 33 from the second cycle serve as examples) I felt somehow disappointed, too..Also, taking up the recent theme that Russell has alluded to, the first movement of BWV 28 seems to serve the purpose of individual expression -----consider this MY soul----but it also calls for all to come together and sing a song of praise to Him--which explains the chorus coming next--a movement which is really a chorale fantasia-cum-motet although the chorale used is not that which closes the work. It's also worth looking at the ways in which the writing for the lower voices paints individual lines of text in this movement as is often to be found in the second cycle fantasias. >
... but then the second movement is such a treat that I forgot about my disappointment! The sense of freedom in the way the 'accompanying' voices are conduced is incredible. This piece could probably be classified among the motet-style chorale fantasias (such as the opening movement of BWV 2, BWV 14, BWV 80, and a few more which have been listed here) but it feels different to me. In these other pieces there is a sense of inexorable progression of the chorale melody, the accompanying voices reinforcing the hieratic aspect of the CM (often due to Luther; by the way who's the author of that one?). The effect is all but fearsome...Here I find that there's a sense of great freedom of expression which makes you almost forget that the cantus firmus is a pre-existing melody, and the four voices sound entrancing both as a whole and individually. [Perhaps this is telling us that there is no contradiction between the 'collective' and the 'individual' point of view?]

Julian Mincham wrote (August 26, 2007):
Alain Bruguières wrote:
< [Perhaps this is telling us that there is no contradiction between the 'collective' and the 'individual' point of view?] >
A profound point. I would agree that there is no contradiction and that they are just different perspectives of the same ideas/principles/tenents.

The important thing from the aesthetic (Bach's??) point of view is that this distinction allows light and shade and various manners of contrast between---and sometimes even within---movements of a given work.

Jean Laaninen wrote (August 26, 2007):
Julian Mincham wrote:
< By the way, might the oboes reinforced by the strings (a process later reversed) symbolise the coming together of all mankind in order to offer praises (sop aria)? And does anyone have any thoughts as to the symbolic significance of the showers of falling semiqauavers in the duet? continuo line? >
Thanks for pointing out those falling patterns, Julian. Biblically, and culturally throughout history the need for rain, or rain being a symbol of God's providence might have played into Bach's thinking. Provisionally, all life depends on water, so if the patterns are indicative of rain, or blessings falling from heaven in a general way, an awareness of the pattern would serve to enrich textual understanding, and might also provide emotional conveyance. I cannot say that I have ever heard of anyone writing on the matter of psychology in the works of Bach, but retrospectively of course many explorations have been made from the discipline of Psychology into the personalities and work of many historical figures. This is just another one of those somewhat random thoughts that come to my attention, while not really wanting to go too far from central and critical material.

Alain Bruguières wrote (August 26, 2007):
Julian Mincham wrote:
< The important thing from the aesthetic (Bach's??) point of view is that this distinction allows light and shade and various manners of contrast between---and sometimes even within---movements of a given work. >
I entirely agree with you. The fact that in this particular cantata JS surprizes us by having the Aria in 1st position and the Chorale Fantasia in 2nd position (and, as you noticed, the introductory ritornello preserves the surprize effect) may be significant. Apparently here Bach is playing, not only with the opposition individual/collective, but also on our expectationsregarding this opposition. I wonder whether there's any reason in the text, or related to the significance of this particular Sunday in the Lutheran religion (it certainly is a particular Sunday in the yearly cycle), which justifies such treatment.

Somehow that movement 2 reminds me of the chorale 'Vor deinem Thron tret' ich hiemit' which reportedly JS dictated on his death bed.

You may find it executed here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xtzDyxRD3lE
Some people have no respect...

Julian Mincham wrote (August 27, 2007):
Jean Laaninen wrote
< Biblically, and culturally throughout history the need for rain, or rain being a symbol of God's providence might have played into Bach's thinking. Provisionally, all life depends on water, so if the patterns are indicative of rain, or blessings falling from heaven in a generaway, an awareness of the pattern would serve to enrich textual understanding, and might also provide emotional conveyance. >
Thanks for this thought. Certainly there are many examples of this sort of figuration in Bach and the general interpretation would seem to be that it represents a showering down of God's blessings. However the general idea of 'life giving water' may also be relevant--certainly the specific idea of the showering of the waters of baptism are represented on occasions---BWV 7 is an excellent example of this.

Jean Laaninen wrote (August 27, 2007):
[To Julian Mincham] Great additional point, Julian. Thanks.

Julian Mincham wrote (August 27, 2007):
Authentic

Russell Telfer wrote:
< My personal conviction is that the 'communal extrovert expression' is the more authentic musical experience, but I may be in the minority. >
I don't want to push you but I am intrigued by whay you may have meant by the above--particularly the use of the word authentic. I got the feeling that we may have beem moving together to some extent on the idea of Bach's public/private depictions of the text--but I wasn't sure what you meant here.

Sheer curiosity on my part but its been bugging me!

Neil Halliday wrote (August 28, 2007):
It's amazing what a difference the right continuo realisation makes, in the continuo only movements. Rilling [5] and Werner [1] spoil the bass arioso (Mvt. 3) and the AT duet (Mvt. 5), with thick, unpleasant, un-phrased bass strings and nondescript organ (or harpsichord) parts. Even McDaniel's superb voice (with Werner) can't save the situation. OTOH, Richter [2] works wonders with a lovely ethereal organ realisation in the arioso, attractive continuo strings, and superb singing by DFD; and Richter's AT duet has an imaginative, bright organ realisation with most enjoyable singing from Töpper and Schreier. (This must be one of the rare occasions when Töpper can be heard singing, at least in the 16th note passages, without vibrato, and the combination with Schreier is most successful).

From the BCW samples of the period recordings, Harnoncourt's organist [4] brings the same imaginative treatment to that part as Richter's organist [2], and with his good vocalists, succeeds for the same reasons. I found Leusink [6] also easy to listen to. Koopman [8] is quite good in the arioso (Mvt. 3) with an expressive vocalist and intimate continuo with lute (but why is the timbre of the very first organ chord so dull?). Koopman's duet (Mvt. 5), though with lovely AT voices, suffers from his typical miniaturisation of the continuo.

I like the wide-ranging `melodious' nature of the continuo line in the ritornellos and elsewhere, in this duet (Mvt. 5).
----------
Speaking of Richter [2] and Koopman [8], they both have the same quick tempo in the opening movement (Mvt. 1) (and fastest of all the recordings), but Richter's performance is spoilt by inappropriate 20th century operatic style of singing, whereas Koopman's performance with attractive singing is a lively song of thanks. Harnoncourt [4], in a performance featuring a boy soprano, shows that the aria works well at a slower tempo. Auger (Rilling [5]) is sometimes too forceful to my ears. Werner [1] is laboured.

The long and varied melisma on "gedenken" is most attractive, in this aria.

------------

The very fine motet-style chorale is a contrapuntal `tour de force'. Particularly memorable are the chromatic passages in the lower voices accompanying the 5th line of text, and the rich harmonies over the long pedal point accompanying the last (12th) line of text. (None of the performances fully realises the potential, IMO, though most are satisfactory. I'd like to hear more vivid trombones in Werner's recording [1]).
----------

My picks (currently):
S aria (Mvt. 1): Harnoncourt [4], Koopman [8], Rilling [5], Leusink [6].
Chorale (Mvt. 2): undecided.
Bass arioso (Mvt. 3): Richter [2]; DFD sounds like the Lord himself!
Accompanied recitative (Mvt. 4): Richter [2], who makes it sound like an enraptured 20th century symphonic adagio. (Harnoncourt [4] spoils it with `dying' tone on every note in the strings).
Duet (Mvt. 5): Richter [2], Harnoncourt [4], Leusink [6].
Chorale (Mvt. 6): undecided.

Nessie Russell wrote (August 28, 2007):
Neil Halliday wrote:
< It's amazing what a difference the right continuo realisation makes, >
It's really great to hear that people notice this.

Russell Telfer wrote (August 28, 2007):
Julian Mincham wrote:
< I don't want to push you but I am intrigued by what you may have meant by the above--particularly the use of the word authentic. I got the feeling that we may have beem moving together to some extent on the idea of Bach's public/private depictions of the text--but I wasn't sure what you meant here.
Sheer curiosity on my part but its been bugging me! >
I'm afraid this question reminds me of a lengthy joke in which a janitor engaged in a debate with the Pope, until the Pope gave up and admitted defeat. Just prior to that the Pope, in his final attempt to win the debate, had waved an apple in the air, whereupon the janitor brandished a piece of flat bread.

The Pope 's explanation, as I recall, was that he had attempted to explain in a philosophical way, the many heresies to which mankind was prone, and the worst of these was the insane possibility that the earth might be round; but the janitor had trumped that by pointing out that everyone knew that the world was flat.

The janitor's explanation was different. 'The Pope was waving his arms around a lot, but then he got out his lunch. So I got out mine.'

In this case, I am cast as the janitor.

I found it difficult to answer to your question so I just listened to cantata 110 again. I still felt the mismatch of words and music in movements 2 and for 5 for example.

I can take back the word 'authentic' - 'straightforward' would be better.

I'd say there is a lot of mainstream music which tries to match words and text closely - what we might agree was the extrovert approach.

Then there are such compositions as "Meditations on a Theme by Sweelinck'' by A. N Other, in which the composer can do what he likes in the ensuing development and may end up with a devotional possibly very introverted piece of music. These are surely much less common.

That's the best way I can express my understanding of the issue. Hope it helps!

Julian Mincham wrote (August 28, 2007):
Russell Telfer wrote:
< In this case, I am cast as the janitor. >
So long as I am not cast as the Pope!!

Thanks Russell. Yes 'straightforward'---or even 'direct' makes sense. Or even extrovert??

But it is the introverted, personal, 'deep' Bach movements that I find myself always coming back to and finding myself increasingly unable to account for their' spiritual' power.

Neil Halliday wrote (August 30, 2007):
Russell Telfer wrote (of Mvt. 2)>
>"There follows an alla breve Choral, in which cornetto and three trombones join the assembled forces for acharacteristic Bach sound, a fugal masterpiece in which choir and trombones share prominence. Don't ever miss a cathedral performance, if it comes up".<
An unusual aspect of this chorale fantasia is that, aside from the first note, the tenors often present the chorale melody (CM) in the same note values as the CM phrase that is eventually sung by the sopranos. (This occurs in lines 1,3,5, 8,9,10,11, and 12). In lines 1, 3, and 5, the altos and basses have motifs in quarter notes that are not imitative of the CM. In lines 2, 4 and 6, the lower voice parts are not imitative of the CM. In line 7, we have initial `pre-imitation' (in the lower voices) which has the CM in note-lengths of half value. (Surprisingly, this is the only line where `pre-imitation` in the lower voices occurs in note lengths of *half value relative to the CM in the sopranos). There are stretti in all three lower voice incipits in lines 7 to 11 inclusive, with note lengths (apart from the first note) same as the CM (except line 7 as noted above). Line 12 has the CM - over the long pedal point - initially in the altos, then the tenors and finally the sopranos.

The counterpoint in the lower voices in lines 5 ("Sünd") and 6 ("Schwachheit") is particularly chromatic, as is usual with Bach's treatment of such words, while the harmony over the pedal point in line 12 ("Reich") is particularly rich and attractive.

Bach manages to ensure that the relentless and complex vocal counterpoint is nevertheless surprisingly transparent, so that a listener can often identify the words that are being sung by each of the four vocal lines.

As usual with such complex movements, it's worth studying the score in order to engage more completely in the listening experience. (The BCW vocal piano reduction score is adequate, because the instruments - apart from the continuo - double the SATB parts).

Russell Telfer wrote (August 30, 2007):
Neil Halliday wrote:
< It's amazing what a difference the right continuo realisation makes, in the continuo only movements. Rilling [5] and Werner [1] spoil the bass arioso (Mvt. 3) and the AT duet (Mvt. 5), with thick, unpleasant, un-phrased bass strings and nondescript organ (or harpsichord) parts. >
Thanks, Neil, for your recent posts on this cantata. As often happens, it caused me to go back to the drawing board and listen to the only accredited recordings I have of BWV 28 - Rilling [5] and Leusink [6].

Until you pointed it out, I didn't realise that Rilling [5] (I use my words) could have made much more of the Arioso (Mvt. 3) than he did. I preferred Leusink's [6] more fluid style.

I have always had, I confess, a prejudice towards saying that the score contains the kernel of the musical idea, and that a performance will be an ephemeral event. This isn't true now where a 1000 mb recording can be preserved for all time. As well as that, in figured bass situations, there is potentially enormous scope for realisation. The creative performer has a wonderful opportunity.

I also looked at your analysis of Mvt. 2. I haven't had a chance yet to road test it, but I can guess that when JSB is at his best, as here, the work is formally perfect as well as sound-perfect. You appear to have proved the former, and we're all agreed on the latter.

Julian Mincham wrote (September 1, 2007):
[To Neil Halliday] Thank you Neil for this well-written articulation of the Choral. My training has only allowed me two similar writing experiences related to Bach's work, but I learned enough from those events to thoroughly appreciate what you have done in this case. It took me a matter of months to write out what I did as I studied several scores, and I hope other members on this list will appreciate the kind of detail to the music that you have been able to provide in a rather terse and quick manner. This addition to the study of the cantata is a serious piece of academic writing, but most of all informative to the listener.

Ed Myskowski wrote (September 4, 2007):
Neil Halliday wrote:
< As usual with such complex movements, it's worth studying the score in order to engage more completely in the listening experience. (The BCW vocal piano reduction score is adequate, because the instruments ? apart from the continuo - double the SATB parts). >
For some reason (techno glitch?) I did not receive Julian's response to this post. I only happened to notice it today while reviewing the discussion archives. It begins:

Julian Mincham wrote (September 1, 2007):
[To Neil Halliday] < Thank you Neil for this well-written articulation of the Choral. >

And thanks to you both for stimulating commentary. I believe I said that just about a year ago, as well. I will try to make it an annual event, if you keep writing.

 

Continue on Part 3

Cantata BWV 28: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

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