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Cantata BWV 4
Christ lag in Todesbanden
Discussions - Part 4

Continue from Part 3

Discussions in the Week of January 23, 2005

Neil Halliday wrote (January 23, 2005):
BWV 4: Introduction

The cantata to be discussed during this week (Jan. 23-29) is:

BWV 4 "Christ lag in Todesbanden".

Event in Lutheran Church Year: Easter Sunday.

From the Rilling booklet [19]: " This cantata was created in Mühlhausen around 1707/8 and is one of Bach's earliest cantatas. However, it has only been preserved in parts for further performances in 1724 and 1725 at Leipzig. Here Bach doubled the vocal parts with cornets and trombones, and the simple final chorale may have substituted for a repeat performance of the opening chorus".

Link to texts, score, commentary and music examples: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV4.htm
This link also has the list of known recordings, in BWV 4's case, over two dozen!

Link to previous discussions: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV4-D.htm

As always, there is much interesting information here, including a colourful description of the cantata from Steve Schwartz way back in 1997.

-----------

I wondered why I recalled the organ chorale prelude "Christ is erstanden" BWV 627 (from the "Orgelbühlein") when first thinking about this cantata. It turns out that the first two lines of the chorale melody are almost identical to those of the chorale tune in the organ prelude "Christ lag in Todesbanden" BWV 625 (same organ book as above); but the structure of the former piece might be considered to more closely resemble the structure of the opening chorus of the cantata. In any case, despite the seeming opposite sentiments expressed in the titles, the texts of the two pieces (the first verse of each is quoted in the Marcel Dupré edition of the Orgelbüchlein) present the same meaning, ie, Christ suffered and died for our sins, and is arisen; and we shall rejoice. Further, as Alec Robertson notes: "The melody is derived from one of the oldest German hymns `Christ ist erstanden' which in turn is a version of the ancient plainsong sequence `Victimae Paschali laudes' sung in the Easter Sunday Mass".

That Bach desired to bring a strong instrumental character to his sacred music is emphatically demonstrated with this cantata; the sound of a battery of trombones and a cornetto doubling the SATB vocal parts, in conjunction with the five (six) part string orchestra is thrilling, to say the least. (You can listen to a charmingly `earthy` if unpolished performance excerpt of the opening chorus by Wilhelm Ehmann [12] at: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Mus/BWV4-Mus.htm

Of course, those list-members with broadband can listen to complete recordings of Leusink [36] at the BCW, and I believe the recordings of BWV 4 by Parrott and Koopman, as well as Leonhardt, are available at the David Zale site.

Enjoy some great listening this week!

Doug Cowling wrote (January 23, 2005):
Neil Halliday wrote:
< Here Bach doubled the vocal parts with cornets and trombones, and the simple final chorale may have substituted for a repeat performance of the opening chorus". >
This would certainly emphasize the partita structure of the work with all the movements in the same key.

Has there been any speculation why Bach uses double viola? I'm trying to think of other works: Nun Komm Der Heiden comes to mind. Is it an earlier tradition? Is Bach being deliberately "antique" here?

Bradley Lehman wrote (January 23, 2005):
< Has there been any speculation why Bach uses double viola? >
Just an offhand thought: five-part writing is typically French.

Neil Halliday wrote (January 24, 2005):
Doug Cowling wrote:
<"Has there been any speculation why Bach uses double viola? Is it an earlier tradition? Is Bach being deliberately "antique" here?">.
My understanding is that Bach only used double violas in the pre-Leipzig cantatas (BWV 4 was conceived pre-Leipzig), and that therefore he was following an early tradition. OTOH, some early works such as BWV 150 and Pergolesi's (1710-1736) famous Stabat Mater don't have violas at all; perhaps it also has something to do with regional styles , as Brad suggested.

If it was an early baroque tradition that died out for a while, it certainly achieved a rebirth in the late romantic; looking at the score of Tchaikovsky's 6th symphony, I can see some pages with divided violas, as well as divided cellos, double basses, violins 1
and 2, making 10 string parts in all.

Werner's recording [11] of BWV 4's Sinfonia fully captures this 'rich, lush' multi-part string sound, in a performance that must be the slowest on record (2.46).

(Anyone remember Mantovani? His ensemble's sound comes to mind).

Thomas Braatz wrote (January 24, 2005):
Bradley Lehman wrote: >>Just an offhand thought: five-part writing is typically French.<<
Check out the German Baroque tradition for composing for 5 parts in an excellent example of a continuing German tradition (M. Praetorius and others):

Johann Hermann Schein: "Banchetto Musicale,... Padouanen, Gagliarden, Courenten u. Allemanden" 5v., Lpz. 1617. English translation of part of the title:
"Musical Banquet | New charming | Pavans, Galliards | /courantes and Allemandes of five parts | for | all kinds of instruments | especially for viols...."

Schein had just previously, on August 19, 1616, become Cantor at St. Thomas's Church in Leipzig.

There was no need for Bach to turn to the French for a rich-sounding, 5-part string texture, for Germany had its own strong tradition which may partly have been influenced by English composers, Dowland, Brade, etc.

Some highly recommended recordings of this music are:

1) Centaur CRC 2357 with the Sex Chordae Consort of Viols

2) Virgin Veritas 7243 5 61399 2 3 with Jordi Savall's Hespèrion XX

Neil Halliday wrote (January 24, 2005):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
"There was no need for Bach to turn to the French for a rich-sounding, 5-part string texture, for Germany had its own strong tradition".
Aha, so there was, in Germany, an earlier ( 5-part) viol tradition that died out in the 1720's, perhaps partly as a result of the violin family rendering obsolete the viol family, or because increasing numbers of different instruments (recorders, flutes, several types of oboes etc) in Bach's cantatas made a second viola part unnecessary.

Eric Bergerud wrote (January 24, 2005):
John Butt on BWV 4

Small world. Last night I attended a concert by the American Bach Soloists in Berkeley's lovely First Congregational Church. (I always forget what an art acoustics is. I listened to a couple across the room - at least 50 feet away - talked like they were sitting at my elbow.) The program was made up of early cantatas, including BWV 4. The ABS certainly took a minimalist approach: OVPP and six instrumentalists including two on continuo. Still gorgeous, another true blue Bach masterpiece. (The bad news is that the ABS doesn't do as many cantatas as it once did. A member told me that they get big crowds with the Passions and instrumental programs, but "ordinary" cantatas don't fill the seats as well. There was a good crowd in a big church in terms of absolute numbers, but still only about half full.)

The program notes written by John Butt may be of some interest. Concerning BWV 4 Butt writes:

Most Bach scholars are agreed that Bach's cantata "Christ lag in Todes Banden" is one of his earliesurviving church compositions and certainly the first to employ a chorale as the main source of its text and melodic material. Indeed, Bach later incorporated the work into his second cycle of Leipzig cantatas, the so-called chorale cycle. However, while the majority of these later cantatas only use the text and melody directly for the opening and closing movements, Christ lag in Todes Banden preserves Luther's original text (and usually the melody too), presenting each verse in successive movements. Thus the piece sounds as one long variation form, within which Bach creates an astonishing variety of textures and moods. .... Immediately noticeable is the constant repetition of melodic fragments, figures which act as the main substance of every movement to come. This is basically the style adopted by composers of the late seventeenth century, and it is easy to surmise that such in incessant repetition of motives could be extremely tedious in the hands of a mediocre composer. Fortunately Bach is indeed one of the best composers, so that he could use this technique to create a vibrant, intense and extremely dramatic succession of movements. Furthermore, within the limitations of the variation form, Bach employs an astounding variety of forms during the course of the piece: motet, ostinato bass, string concerto and fugue. Nor does he ignore the local details of the text setting, something which is especially evident in the bass solo, where death is represented by an astonishing leap of one and a half octaves and the word "strangler" is given a delightfully picturesque highlight.

Bradley Lehman wrote (January 24, 2005):
>>Just an offhand thought: five-part writing is typically French.<<
< There was no need for Bach to turn to the French for a rich-sounding, 5-part string texture, for Germany had its own strong tradition which may partly have been influenced by English composers, Dowland, Brade, etc. >
And would/should we think even one whit less of Johann Sebastian Bach if he did turn to the typically French five-part texture on occasion?

Sure, there are English precedents and German precedents of five-part music from four or five generations before Bach. So what? The most common contemporary practice with five regular parts was French. That was the extent of my remark: that it's typical for French music. Why any need to exclude possible French influences (textures, playing styles, phrasing, ornamentation, whatever) from Bach's music? It's a plain and simple fact that Bach's music is full of French and Italianate influences all over the place, in addition to any native Germanic influences. One of Bach's strengths was his ability to blend all this into a personal style, taking what he considered the best features from each. To play and sing Bach's music well, it is necessary for musicians to be comfortable in all these styles and give each one their due (letting the music sound sufficiently French and sufficiently Italianate, and not "merely" Germanic). English influence on Bach there would be quite a bit more of a stretch, by comparison.

Thomas Braatz wrote (January 24, 2005):
In his discussion of the 6th Brandenburg in his book "The Social and Religious Designs in J. S. Bach's Brandenburg Concertos" [Princeton University Press, 1995, p. 54, Michael Marissen refers to the use of more than one viola in his discussion of BWV 1051 as follows:

>>Indications of a previous score with alto clefs in all four upper parts might, on the other hand, suggest an earlier version for the similarly unusual scoring of four violas. Consider, for example, the sinfonia to Bach's cantata "Gleichwie der Regen und Schnee vom Himmel fällt," BWV 18, which, in its Weimar version, is scored for four violas and continuo. But in the original performance parts to the cantata (Mus. ms. Bach St 34, Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin; Bach's score is lost), only violas 1 and 2 are notated in the alto clef, while violas 3 and 4 are notated in the tenor clef. The cantatas "Christ lag in Todesbanden," BWV 4; "Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen," BWV 12; "Der Himmel lacht! die Erde jubilieret," BWV 31; "Widerstehe doch der Sünde," BWV 54; "Aus der Tiefen rufe ich, Herr, zu dir," BWV 131; "Erschallet, ihr Lieder, erklinget, ihr Saiten!" BWV 172; and "Himmelskönig, sei willkommen," BWV 182, also have viola parts that were notated in the tenor clef in the original materials. Except for the parts in the margrave's dedication score of the Sixth Brandenburg Concerto, the only Bach gamba part notated in the tenor clef in the eighteenth-century manuscripts is the second gamba line in the early copy, apparently apograph, of the cantata "Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit," BWV 106, and its notation alternates between tenor and bass clefs. Since Bach wrote gamba and viola parts in tenor and alto clefs, we cannot draw conclusions about the scoring of Bach's exemplar for the margrave's score of the Sixth Brandenburg Concerto from the clef indications by themselves.<<

Alfred Dürr, in his comments on the 'Sinfonia' to BWV 4 [in his book "Johann Sebastian Bach: Die Kantaten" [Bärenreiter, Kassel, 1972-2000, p. 304] states: "Das Instrumentalensemble basiert auf dem althergebrachten vollen, fünfstimmigen Streicherklang (mit geteilten Bratschen) ohne Oboen und Flöten...."

["The instrumental ensemble is based upon the traditional/old, full-sounding, 5-part string sound (using 2 separate viola parts) without oboes and flutes...."]

There is no mention here of any possible French influence in this regard.

In a similar vein, Friedrich Smend, on p. I.15 of "J. S. Bach Kirchenkantaten" [Berlin, 1947], states that "Bach erreicht dies einerseits dadurch, daß er auf die ihm aus älterer Zeit überkommene und von ihm selber in seinen Jugendwerken verwandte Instrumentation zurückgreift, in den 14 Takten der einleitenden Sinfonia vielleicht sogar einen eigenen Satz aus viel früherer Zeit aufnahm...."

["Bach achieves this {a closeness to the time of Martin Luther} on the one hand by falling back on traditional compositions from an earlier time and which he himself used in the very early works of his youth, and may have even used one of his own works from a much earlier time in the 14 measures of the introductory 'Sinfonia'...."]

Again, no mention of any possible French influence.

Eric Bergerud wrote (January 24, 2005):
[To Bradley Lehman] I'm sure that Bach's most important influences were home grown. (I've listening to McCreesh's wonderful Praetorious Mass for Christmas Morning a lot - music like that must have given musicians plenty to think about.) That said, Wolfe goes into some length about the direct Italian influence on Bach and the indirect via Neumeister. In John Butt's concert notes I recently forwarded he singles out Bach's use of a French Overture for the opening of BWV 61 suggesting that "it develops Neumeister's general intention to use the best of secular musical forms to expand the expressive range of church music; secondly the regal connotations of the French court can be grafted onto the coming of Christ the King." Butt makes a very similar comment concerning BWV 182: "The opening sinfonia might furthermore allude to the French overture with its royal connotation, thus functioning as a musical allegory welcoming the King of Heaven." Makes sense as these works were written in the waning days of the Sun King.

Doug Cowling wrote (January 24, 2005):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
["The instrumental ensemble is based upon the traditional/old, full-sounding, 5-part string sound (using 2 separate viola parts) without oboes and flutes...."]
The other notable aspect, perhaps also self-consciously "antique", isthe use of a minor key chorale for an Easter cantata -- no festive major-key trumpets here! The chorale of course is based on the plainsong "Victimae Paschali Laudes", the old Easter Sequence of the Roman rite. So un-Easter-like is this modal sonority that the cantata is routinely performed in Holy Week and rarely on Easter Day by modern choirs.

Eric Bergerud wrote (January 24, 2005):
[To Doug Cowling] Maybe we should define terms here. I thought Brad and others were discussing the French and Italian influence on early Bach cantatas, not BWV 4 specifically. The Butt notes that I forwarded on the matter surely seem to indicate that BWV 4 is a beautifully produced anachronism of German origin and inspiration - specifically that of Luther's. I'm not sure what Luther would have thought of the Sun King - probably not much.

Thomas Braatz wrote (January 24, 2005):
Doug Cowling wrote:
>>The other notable aspect, perhaps also self-consciously "antique", is the use of a minor key chorale for an Easter cantata -- no festive major-key trumpets here! The chorale of course is based on the plainsong "Victimae Paschali Laudes", the old Easter Sequence of the Roman rite. So un-Easter-like is this modal sonority that the cantata is routinely performed in Holy Week and rarely on Easter Day by modern choirs.<<
Friedrich Smend, one page before the section I quoted yesterday from his book on the cantatas, states: "Out of all of Bach's cantatas, this one [BWV 4] assumes a special position in every direction. Let's stay, for a few moments, with the chorale itself. Other commentators have often pointed out the curious fact that Luther, in whose theology the cross is central to everything else, had, to be sure, composed the most wonderful Christmas, Easter and Pentecost chorales, but not a single "Passionslied" [a chorale for Holy Week.] The key to this riddle lies in part in the chorale "Christ lag in Todesbanden." Here Christ's death and resurrection, the Passion and Easter, are blended into one. The One who has been resurrected is the Easter Lamb, that is, He is simultaneously "The Lamb of God who was innocently slaughtered on the Cross," or as this chorale puts it in a rather gruesome, yet grand manner: "hoch an des Kreuzes Stamm in heißer Lieb gebraten" ['fried in hot love high on the cross.'] The victory of life is celebrated here triumphantly; but it was a victory only after an inconceivable battle with death. This is what determines the very serious tone set in this chorale."

Neil Halliday wrote (January 25, 2005):
Harnoncourt's BWV 4 [15]

Mvt. 1 Sinfonia: The quasi-staccato articulation at the start is difficult to take seriously. (E.g. Leusink [36] is more successful, with a legato articulation resulting in a quite strong expression of mournfulness, which is lacking in the Harnoncourt).

Mvt. 2. This chorus is very successful indeed. It's a welcome change to hear Harnoncourt treating the chorus, including cantus firmus, in this legato fashion. The strings are not distractingly scratchy as is sometimes the case with this series, and the cornetto with the C.F. is charming, as are the trombones doubling the other voices, when these (trombones) can be heard. Tempo is pleasingly moderate, and overall this is a substantial and impressive performance.

Mvt. 3. Another successful movement. The boy soprano and Esswood are attractive in this duet, with well-controlled vibratos, and the 'walking' continuo is clearly articulated. (Personally, I think the issue of a vocalist's gender is a minor one; the singing is either attractive or it is not, regardless of gender). Again, the tempo is pleasingly moderate, and the audibility of the instruments doubling the voices (cornetto with S, trombone with A) is an attractive feature.

Mvt. 4. Equiluz is fine, as usual. The unison strings are lively and well-articulated. Good tempo.

Mvt. 5. The choral lines are clearly articulated, with the alto, in the C.F. singing in an appropriately legato fashion. A nice performance indeed.

Mvt. 6. Van Egmond has an attractive, if gentle, bass voice. The mostly detached articulation of the string parts is not to my liking, probably because I have loved the `symphonic' version of this aria, by DFD and Richter [14], for ages.

Mvt. 7. The solo voices are again pleasing. Tempo is moderate, but the basso continuo is perhaps a little on the plodding side, as a result of the sempre semi-staccato articulation. Enjoyable, nevertheless.

Mvt. 8. Harnoncourt actually holds the final notes of each line of the chorale, and overall this is a more flowing example of a chorale than we often hear from this conductor. The prominent cornettto is attractive.

Overall, this is my favourite period-instrument recording of this cantata, the others (of this genre) I have heard being Leusink [36], Parrott [24], Koopman [28], and Suzuki [29]. Strange that the first HIP recording should appeal the most; in general, I find the increasingly lighter, faster performances of the more recent recordings to be not as impressive as this first HIP reading.

Ludwig wrote (January 25, 2005):
Harnoncourt's BWV 4. OT--sources to purchase Harnoncourt series [15]

[To Neil Halliday] Would anyone know where to purchase of have for purchase the Harnoncourt Complete Cantata series containing Cantata BWV 145. I bought most of these but before I could buy the finishing touches they took them off the market and have not been reprinted since.

Eric Bergerud wrote (January 25, 2005):
[To Ludwig] [15] Six people are bidding for an almost complete set on ebay. Present price is $106 with three days left. It'll go higher. Amazon still carries the complete original edition for $493 - $419 used.

Neil Halliday wrote (January 25, 2005):
Suzuki's BWV 4 [29]

Mvt. 1. Sinfonia. The typically fussy articulation (micro management of individual notes), as opposed to articulation of the musical phrase, detracts from the expression of emotional depth that is appropriate for the image of Christ's body in the tomb, IMO. Listen to Leusink [36] for a straightforward, attractive period instrument reading, that has loads of expression.

[With the micro-management type of articulation, I am reminded of the latest fashion amongst TV camera-men - all effect and no content - which is to show super-closeups of the face of the subject, juxtaposed with far distant foci; or images of eyes, feet, etc - or views of the subject often from weird angles, from the ground or the side, or with the subject obscured by out-of-focus or flashing images, etc etc etc. Hopefully all this nonsense will pass. A few years back the 'shaky camera' efect was all the rage, but thankfully that seems to be on the wane. I prefer to gain information from the images, not 'effect'.]

Mvt. 2. This is a polished performance. Whereas Harnoncourt's recording [15] features the cornetto with the C.F., Suzuki's features the trombones with the lower voices, an attractive feature. Tempo is brisk. But speaking of polish or rather, lack of it, I suspect I would enjoy Ehmann's recording [12] more, if I could get hold of it. (That recording also features the trombones).

Mvt. 3. The very quiet continuo, in conjunction with the vibrato-less voices, makes for too much refinement, if that is possible.The sound of the doubling instruments is its best feature.

Mvt. 4. This tenor has a small, or soft voice, which combined with the light, brisk unison strings, does not make for a particularly distinctive performance.

Mvt. 5. Light, clean, brisk.

Mvt. 6. The solo bass voice is fine, but Suzuki rushes through this aria, as if to get it over with as quickly as possible (2.38). Light, dance-like rhythm.

Mvt. 7. A brisk, light, 'tripping' rhythm, in this duet. The tenor sounds more impressive, with the support of the soprano.

Mvt. 8. Closing Chorale. Light, clean, brisk.

Overall, this is the least impressive of the three cantatas on this CD (which includes BWV 150 and BWV 196). BWV 4 needs a more substantial treatment than is given here, IMO.

Doug Cowling wrote (January 25, 2005):
Cornetti and Trombones

Neil Halliday wrote:
[29] < Mvt. 2. This is a polished performance. Whereas Harnoncourt's recording [15] features the cornetto with the C.F., Suzuki's features the trombones with the lower voices, an attractive feature. Tempo is brisk. But speaking of polish or rather, lack of it, I suspect I would enjoy Ehmann's recording [12] more, if I could get hold of it. (That recording also features the trombones). >
In which other cantatas does Bach use the old-fashioned cornetto (as opposed to the trumpet) and trombones? The only one that comes to mind is Cantata BWV 25, "Es is nichts Gesundes" which has the unusual ensemble of three flutes in unsion, cornetto and three trombones playing the "Passion Chorale". In that cantata, which deals rather obsessively with mortality, it occurred to me that the cornetto and trombone consort may be intended to suggest a funeral procession passing -- cornetti and trombones were played by civic waits. Does the doubling in Cantata BWV 4 have the same funereal conotation? The doubling certainly isn't necessary because the voices are inadequate -- Bach wouldn't have written them that way if he didn't have the voices. I've also wondered whether the"antique" sonority of unison recorders and divided gambas in Cantata 106 had a similar funeral symbolism.

Neil Halliday wrote (January 25, 2005):
Doug Cowling wrote:
<"In which other cantatas does Bach use the old-fashioned cornetto (as opposed to the trumpet) and trombones?">
this is the page you want, to answer that question: http://www.cs.ualberta.ca/~wfb/cantatas/minst1.html
(The link, at the bottom, to the main web-site, should be in the 'favourites' folder of all Bach cantata enthusiasts.)

No doubt there are quite a few movements with trombones there.

For me, the trombones in BWV 4 are more expressive of the 'transcendental' rather than the 'funereal', because the vitality and power of the opening chorus seem inconsistent with a funeral.

No, the trombones are not entirely necessary for a successful perfomance. Both Werner [11] and Rilling [19] give very impressive, powerful performances without them, emphasing other aspects of the chorus (or the trombones are inaudible, if they are there).

Riccardo Nughes wrote (January 25, 2005):
< Would anyone know where to purchase of have for purchase the Harnoncourt Complete Cantata series containing Cantata BWV 145. I bought most of these but before I could buy the finishing touches they took them off the market and have not been reprinted since. >
Which Cantatas/cds are you missing?

Bradley Lehman wrote (January 25, 2005):
< No, the trombones are not entirely necessary for a successful perfomance. >
Trombone consorts (plus strings) went right through into Viennese and Salzburg church-music practice, 1770s and later.

Bob Henderson wrote (January 25, 2005):
I can't let the week go by without mentioning the varsion of BWV 4 with which many of us grew up: Richter [14]. This is certainly not HIP (one wonders how this Kapellmeister would have responded to the movement had he lived). His conducting has been called "square" and the Sinfonia might qualify. But for precise and informed choral work in the older German tradition, and for pure drama, this performance is not to be missed. Then there is Fischer-Dieskau in his prime. Versus V has never sounded as emphatic and sure; this rendition spoils us for others. I am a Suzuki collector but I agree that his BWV 4 is one of his weaker presentations.

Doug Cowling wrote (January 25, 2005):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< Trombone consorts (plus strings) went right through into Viennese and Salzburg church-music practice, 1770s and later. >
It's interesting to watch how standard colla parte doublings in the early masses of Mozart move towards independent trombone parts in the Mass in C Minor. The choruses of the priests in Magic Flute owe much to this convention.

Ludwig wrote (January 25, 2005):
[To Eric Bergerud] I just need one or two volumes out of this complete set because someone at the retail store had the nerve to break the set I was buying on installment.

Riccardo Nughes wrote (January 25, 2005):
[To Ludwig] At www.mdt.co.uk you'll be able to find both the 6 cd-boxes of the second cd reissue and the single cds from the Bach 2000 Edition from Teldec. The 6 cd boxes are also available from amazon.de

Michael Telles wrote (January 25, 2005):
Funny, I was just listening to Suzuki's BWV 4 [29] when I checked in on the conversation. I've always really enjoyed the recording and found it stately, even kind of chilling at points (the Duetto always stops me in my tracks). An interesting way to start his entire series. Sadly, this is the only recorded version I own, and I've heard some mild discontent with it from others. How do other recordings compare? For instance, the elusive Harnoncourt [15]?

Here's an unrelated question: I have a small group of Rilling discs [19] that were copied for me from a friend, and I really like them. The strange thing is that they sound kind of like they were transferred from vinyl to digital: the faintest crackling and even slight wavering of tone is perceptible here and there. Yet my friend claims to have cut them straight from disc. Is this anyone else's experience?

Neil Halliday wrote (January 26, 2005):
Doug Cowling wrote:
<"It's interesting to watch how standard colla parte doublings in the early masses of Mozart move towards independent trombone parts in the Mass in C Minor".>
At least one Bach cantata has independent parts for trombones (Robertson claims three, but I cannot locate the other two), ie, the one you mentioned, BWV 25/1. These parts are essential, of course, unlike the situation in BWV 4 in which trombones merely double the choral ATB parts; in this latter situation, a convincing performance of the music can be made without the doubling instruments (although they can be a very attractive feature if they are present, as in Suzuki [29] and Ehmann [12]. Richter [14] has them too, but the frequent staccato articulation reduces the trombones' impact.)

Neil Halliday wrote (January 26, 2005):
Neil Halliday wrote: "Richter [14] has them too, but the frequent staccato articulation reduces the trombones' impact.)"
This comment applies to BWV 4's opening chorus. Perhaps I should have also mentioned the final chorale; here, Richter [14] does capture some of the 'transcendental magnificence' of the trombones, especially in the second half, where you can hear thtrombones 'blasting away' in the background.

Doug Cowling wrote (January 26, 2005):
Neil Halliday wrote: < This comment applies to BWV 4's opening chorus. Perhaps I should have also mentioned the final chorale; here, Richter [14] does capture some of the 'transcendental magnificence' of the trombones, especially in the second half, where you can hear the trombones 'blasting away' in the background. >
Renaissance and Baroque trombones make a completely different sound from 19th century instruments. They were used in choral music in the Reniassece and early Baroque because their focused flexible sound was often compared to human verses. Listen to 17 th c. Venetian canzona for 4 solo strings and 4 solo trombones on the McCreesh's recreation of "Music for San Rocco" and you will be astonished to hear the brass in total balance with the strings. The cornetto and trombones in Cantata BWV 4 are the tailend of this "vocal" tradition and should not be expected to provide a huge Romantic sound.

Continue of this part of the discussion, see: Trombones in Bach's Vocal Works [General Topics]

Neil Halliday wrote (January 26, 2005):
Werner's BWV 4 [11]

Someone recently used the word "quaint" to describe pre-HIP baroque recordings. I looked up the definition of this word in the dictionary, and found it has three meanings:

1. Unfamiliar
2. Old-fashioned
3. Daintily odd.

The third meaning, which I associated with the word, can definitely not be used to describe performances such as Werner's 1961 BWV 4, the present cantata being discussed, because such vast and magnificent creations as this, although anachronistic, can in no way be described as `dainty' - whereas on the contrary, this word might be applied to many HIP examples.

Mvt. 1. Sinfonia. Those listeners who do not like Stokowski's Bach should perhaps avoid this one, but the rest of us can luxuriate in the rich, slowly unwinding 5-part counterpoint in the strings (6 parts if we count the double-basses) for the drawn-out 2 min.46 sec. duration of the depiction of Christ's body in the tomb (double the length of most performances). Werner's changing dynamics at the beginning are less abrupt than Richter [14], and hence more satisfying.

Mvt. 2. The image that comes to mind, while listening to this chorus, is of the new A380 Airbus at the point of lift-off, as it effortlessly propels its huge mass into the air. (Sounds grandiose? Maybe, but that is the effect of this music). The SATB choral lines of the large choir, especially the cantus firmus (sopranos), are strong and clear, perhaps bolstered by the brass, although these instruments cannot really be heard. The large string orchestra features the `singing' violas, as well as the animated violins, and this is all supported by the massive, but well-balanced continuo. Listen for the powerful entry of the basses at "Gott loben und ihm dankbar sein", just before the last line from the C.F. in long notes (same text). At the close, the piling-up of the "Halleluja's" in all the voice-parts is thrilling.

Mvt. 3. Werner imbues this movement with a quiet, celestial expression, such as might be heard in a cathedral, for the funeral service of a dignitary. The soprano and alto sections of the choir blend pleasingly, and the quiet, legato `walking' continuo reinforces the celestial mood.

Mvt. 4. Here we have a complete change in mood, with the bright, lively unison strings in conjunction with the choir-tenors, expressing the optimistic, confident message of the text.

Mvt. 5. This is a charmingly animated, almost chamber-like performance from this large choir.

Mvt. 6. When I first heard this `aria' with Werner's massed choir-basses, I judged it to be inferior in comparison with Richter's magnificent rendition with DFD [14]. However, after several hearings I have come to like this performance a great deal. Werner turns the aria in to a kind of symphony for voices, for which an appropriate title might be "Sea Symphony", because of the vast depths which the music seems to plumb. Once again the rich counterpoint, including the `singing violas', is featured in the large string orchestra.

Mvt. 7. Werner returns to a celestial type of expression for this movement, sung by the choir sopranos and tenors, and with the gently lilting rhythm in the continuo, the mood is pleasantly serene.

Mvt. 8. This is similar to Richter's large and vigorous final chorale [14], except that the trombones are less prominent. Not that we should expect powerful modern brass in this music, as Doug has noted, but with these symphonic - if anachronistic- presentations of the work, such as this one from Werner, prominent modern brass sounds great, judging from the Richter example of this movement.

John Pike wrote (January 27, 2005):
"Christ Lag in Todesbanden", cantata for the first day of Easter is another very fine early cantata, possibly 1707-8, written to the text of a Luther hymn of 1524. I have only 2 recordings, Harnoncourt [15] and Rilling [19], both of them very enjoyable, I thought. No time for more.

Neil Halliday wrote (January 28, 2005):
BWV 4: Cantus Cölln/Junghänel [37]

The opening chorus (2nd movement) certainly is a jazzy little number, isn't it! I find myself conducting in time to those staccato eighth notes in the continuo and string parts (8 to a bar), like Mitch Miller :-).

But the concluding Halleluja's are definitely too fast - it's a relief when they finish.

For the rest, it's all too light for me. What with the engaging character and variety that Werner [11], Richter [14], Rilling [19] and Harnoncourt [15] bring to many of the other movements, I find Parrott [24], Koopman [28] and Junghänel [37] to be all much of a muchness.

 

Continue on Part 5

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

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

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Last update: żOctober 1, 2011 ż17:44:22