Recordings/Discussions
Background Information
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Poet/Composer Bios

Additional Information

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

Cantata BWV 40
Dazu ist erschienen der Sohn Gottes
Discussions - Part 1

Discussions in the Week of February 23, 2003

Aryeh Oron wrote (February 24, 2003):
BWV 40 - Introduction

The subject of this week’s discussion (February 23, 2003) is the Cantata for the 2nd Day of Christmas [Christmas Monday, St. Stefanus Day] BWV 40 ‘Dazu ist erschienen der Sohn Gottes’ (For this reason the Son of God appeared).

Background

The extensive commentary below, quoted from the liner notes to Emmanuel Music’s recording of the cantata, was written by Craig Smith, the music director of this choral & instrumental ensemble (1999) [7]:

See: Cantata BWV 40 - Commentary

Recordings

The details of the recordings of this cantata can be found at the following page of the Bach Cantatas Website: Cantata BWV 40 - Recordings

BWV 40 was composed in 1723, and as an early cantata it has five of its complete recordings coming from recorded cantata cycles: Rilling (1970) [2], Leonhardt (1975) [3], Koopman (1998) [6], Leusink (2000) [8] and Suzuki (2000) [9]. The other three are: Fritz Werner (1964) [1], Hans-Joachim Rotzsch (1980-1981) [4] and Craig Smith & Emmanuel Music (1999) [7]. The last one may mark the launching of another complete cantata cycle, the first one by all-American forces.

Additional Information

In the page of recordings mentioned above you can also find links to five translations of the original text by members of the BCML: Francis Browne (English), Jean-Pierre Grivois (French), Francisco López Hernández (Spanish), Rodrigo Maffei Libonati (Portuguese), and Aryeh Oron (Hebrew); There are also links to other sources over the web for the original German text and various translations.
Other links:
Score (Vocal & Piano version);
Commentary: in English by Simon Crouch (Listener’s Guide), in Japanese (by Hideo Kobayashi), and in Spanish by Julio Sánchez Reyes (CantatasDeBach).

I have already finished the first round of listening to the recordings above. I urge you to listen to this fascinating cantata with first-rate musical content and endless possibilities for interpretation, and hope to see many of you participating in the discussion.

Thomas Braatz wrote (February 27, 2003):
BWV 40 - Provenance:

See: Cantata BWV 40 - Provenance

Thomas Braatz wrote (February 28, 2003):
BWV 40 - Commentaries: [Spitta, Voigt, Schweitzer, W. Gillies Whittaker, Dürr, Christoph Wolff]

See: Cantata BWV 40 - Commentary

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 2, 2003): :
BWV 40 - The Recordings:

This week I listened to the following recordings:

Rilling (1970) [2]; Leonhardt (1975) [3]; Rotzsch (1980-81) [4]; Koopman (1998) [6]; Suzuki (2000) [9]; Leusink (2000) [8]

The timings are as follows (from slowest to fastest):

Total Time:

Rilling (17:53); Rotzsch (16:24); Suzuki (15:30); Leusink (15:15); Leonhardt (15:08); Koopman (14:10)

Mvt. 1 Rilling (5:06); Leonhardt (4:22); Leusink (4:17); Rotzsch (4:11); Suzuki (3:51); Koopman (3:32)

Mvt. 2 Rilling (1:40); Rotzsch (1:26); Suzuki (1:20); Leonhardt (1:15); Leusink (1:10); Koopman (1:07)

Mvt. 3 Rilling (0:54); Rotzsch (0:53); Koopman (0:46); Suzuki (0:44); Leusink (0:42); Leonhardt (0:38)

Mvt. 4 Rilling (2:37); Rotzsch (2:18); Leonhardt (2:08); Leusink (2:03); Koopman (2:02); Suzuki (2:01)

Mvt. 5 Koopman (1:29); Suzuki (1:23); Rilling (1:11); Leonhardt (1:10); Rotzsch (1:07); Leusink (1:07)

Mvt. 6 Rotzsch (1:02); Rilling (0:58); Suzuki (0:58); Leusink (0:57); Koopman (0:46); Leonhardt (0:44)

Mvt. 7 Rilling (4:11); Rotzsch (4:08); Leonhardt (3:50); Suzuki (3:41); Leusink (3:40); Koopman (3:24)

The division between the non-HIP and HIP groups is as follows:

Non-HIP: Rilling [2], Rotzsch [4]

HIP: Leonhardt [3], Koopman [6], Suzuki [9], Leusink [8]

Notice that in the timings the non-HIP are definitely on the slow side, while the HIP range to the opposite extreme (fast and too fast.)

[2] Rilling:

Mvt. 1 (Introductory Choral Mvt.)
At a tempo which is 1 ½ minutes slower than the fastest version; you might be tempted to think that this is another typical, heavy-handed late romantic treatment of a glorious introductory mvt. to a Bach cantata, but just the opposite is true, for now the music can truly sing with dignity and portray the earnestness of the great battle while also expressing a serious attitude of joy that also conveys a true Christmas spirit. Using modern instruments in greater numbers than OPPP, playing primarily in a legato style, and deploying a choir larger than most HIP choirs, Rilling achieves a breadth of presentation that compares favorably with the cosmological ideas expressed in the text. At this slow tempo many details that are lost in the faster recordings become apparent and reveal themselves to the listener. The running 16th-note figures in the bc (ms. 45-51) and the parallel 6ths in ms. 53-54 between the tenors and basses are now clearly present and can be distinctly heard. There is an imprecise attack of the last 8th-note in ms. 65, but otherwise the precision and the balance is very good. The fugue beginning in ms. 29 is sung with great deliberation and sincerity befitting this sacred theme.

Mvts. 3, 6, 8 (Chorales)
These are fairly straight-forward renditions of chorales with no fancy attempts at fragmentation and special accentuation in order to express the text. These follow the traditional type of congregational singing as it has come down to us over the centuries. It does not attempt uncover new ground with the hope that such an interpretation might reveal hidden aspects of the chorale text. Instead there is a solid feeling of strong belief and feeling which nevertheless allows for differentiation between the joyful and the more introspective chorale verses.

Mvt. 2 (Recitative) & 7 (Aria) for Tenor [Kraus]
When Kraus reaches and tries to nail a high note, he immediately loses me as a listener. It is apparent that he is overdoing both text and voice. His voice then begins to sound very unpleasant. Although he does modulate his voice in other places throughout the recitative, where his expression is less objectionable, the general impression that I am left with is one of a very special strained mode of singing which Kraus adopts whenever he sings a recitative. This is truly unfortunate. In the arias, Kraus definitely excels, particularly in the execution of coloraturas where there are very few tenors who can equal him in this category. He does not use any vibrato in singing the coloraturas and he nails each note perfectly and does well at attaining very good expression by varying the dynamics of these passages. His full voice will easily be heard anywhere in a large church (without amplification) and even against the large orchestral background that Bach provides in mvt. 7.

Mvt. 4 (Aria) for Bass [Nimsgern]
This rendition deserves the highest praise, for now the mocking of the serpent from hell takes on new meaning. This mockery is expressed from a foundation of strength that is missing in all the other recordings. The orchestral accompaniment provides the solid background needed to back up Nimsgern voice. What is missing here is the light angularity (exaggeration of the rhythms, extremely staccato playing, faster tempi) of the HIP , but this is replaced with an outstanding performance that far outshines all the others. Instead of hearing the vocal line divided into many 2-measures as in the HIP renditions, Nimsgern is able to unite phrases of 4, 8, and 12 measures. The momentum of singing and expression does not break off after only groups of 2 or 4 ms. but rather is maintained beyond the short rests between the smaller groups of phrases. The powerful assertion of Nimsgern’s voice makes it believable that he is able to vanquish the serpent. It is much more difficult for the numerous sotto-voce voices of the HIP recordings to do likewise.

Mvt. 5 (Recitative) for Alto [Gohl]
This operatic voice has all the bad qualities that one can imagine, however she does manage one phrase that outshines all the altos that I have listened to: on “betrübter Sünder” If only she could have sung the rest of the recitative with comparable sensitivity and expression of feeling!

[3] Leonhardt:

Mvt. 1 (Introductory Choral Mvt.)
A very noticeable difference in the performance style is immediately apparent in the opening measures where the figures are broken into many 2-note phrases which are only indicated a few measures later in the score. Thus the change in phrasing which Bach had intended for a later figure is now extended to be played earlier and the violin figures beginning in ms. 8 in the strings are played staccato on very thin-sounding violins. A staccato-style generally permeates the entire mvt. except for Bach’s phrase markings. The fugal entrances beginning in ms. 29, lack any sense of conviction. These entries with probably only 2 or 3 voices per part are simply unable to get beyond the sense that they are reading through these parts for the 1st time. The overly strong accent on the “Got-” of the word “Gottes” is an example of how easily something can be ‘overdone’ and, as a result, begin to sound ridiculous. Bach has given this syllable a longer note value (half-note value) as opposed to the other notes surrounding it, so it should not be necessary to throw an even heavier accent upon this note. To do so would be ‘too much of a good thing’ as if the conductor were attempting ‘to hammer a point home’ unnecessarily. Another disturbing element here is that, as a result of the strong accent on “Got-“, the 2nd syllable, “-tes” is reduced to virtual nothingness. This is an affliction that spreads far and wide in the HIP community. It is an indication that the projection of the text to the audience/congregation is of secondary importance and that other objectives (such as making the music sound new and different) have become more important. In general, the choir lacks the ability to sing enthusiastically so that the listener may not be moved by the performance of the choir. The sound of the instruments (apart from the strings) is of a much better quality than Harnoncourt’s Concentus Musicus Wien, where, in particular, the oboists demonstrate a much lower level of control over their instruments. In contrast, Leonhardt’s oboists play very well.

Mvts. 3, 6, 8 (Chorales)
Immediately the different HIP notions about singing a 4-pt. chorale become apparent: the simple chorale lines/phrases suffer from a ‘wood-chopper’ approach (mvt. 3, in particular) that completely destroys the musical line. Here Leonhardt, the instrumentalist, reveals his lack of understanding of choral singing. This is a complete misunderstanding of “Musik als Klangrede” where the idea seems to be that choral singing must emulate speech, for if anyone were to speak the way Leonhardt has this choir sing, with slight hiatuses or ‘lifting off’ after almost every quarter note, such a person might be perceived as having a speech impediment since this manner of speech is entirely unnatural. What we hear in these chorale renditions are attempts to make some ill-conceived theories about historical performance standards become a ‘new’ way of performing Bach. In its desperate attempt to create something new, a new sound, that listeners are to believe is genuine, genuine in being based upon historical research, but also genuine because these performers feel that what they are doing is right, the HIP movement disregards and distorts much that has been deemed natural over the centuries. Singing a line of a chorale, for many centuries has not been problematical, but now, under Leonhardt/Harnoncourt and others it has become so. You need only listen with your heart and with a keen ear for the melodious elements in language in order to determine that here, in these simple 4-pt. chorale renditions, they are no longer present since they have been replaced by considerations arising from dry, theoretical concepts far removed from genuine music making. The end effect of these chorale renditions is that they have become very mechanical. They sound very much like Leonhardt playing many solid chords in succession on a harpsichord. It is truly unfortunate to hear a choir being subjected to this type of treatment and perhaps even believing that they are discovering Bach anew in this fashion.

Leonhardt ‘hacks’ his way through the 2nd chorale, hoping that it might be understood as demonstrating his interpretative prowess. Strange accents are an affliction throughout these chorales which lack substance. The singing of these chorales is generally unenthusiastic because everything is very much contrived in nature.

Mvt. 2 (Recitative) & 7 (Aria) for Tenor [van Altena]
Van Altena has a clear, stentorian voice with fairly good control of his vibrato, in contrast to other counter-tenors such a Blaze. Van Altena, with a slightly nasal quality in his voice, has a rather abstract delivery of the text, lacking inflection and the ability to include some of the subtle nuances that other singers are able to bring to this music and text. In the aria, van Altena’s demi-voice becomes very apparent. The real excitement of this part fails to be transmitted by his lack of ability to project genuine feelings. Without the instruments providing the necessary excitement, this mvt. would be quite dull. Van Altena’s rendition fails to be truly moving.

Mvt. 4 (Aria) for Bass [van Egmond]
For all the angularity in the rhythms, the excessively light, staccato treatment, and the fast tempo, this first HIP version misses entirely the truly mocking nature of this aria. With van Egmond’s sotto-voce treatment this becomes a caricature of what is really a powerful aria that should be making a strong statement. Unfortunately, this model which Leonhardt provides is copied by all the later HIP renditions according to the precept that all HIP orchestras play light, fast, and primarily staccato and all voices need to sing sotto voce into a microphone nearby.

Mvt. 5 (Recitative) for Alto [Jacobs]
Jacobs presentation of the text has a quality that is best described as abstract and naïve. The notes are clearly and cleanly sung, but there is little or no emotional appeal noticeable in his voice which has such an instrumental quality that a listener could hear this recitative without even knowing or understanding any of the words.

[4] Rotzsch:

Mvt. 1 (Introductory Choral Mvt.)
At a slightly faster tempo than Rilling (and at a higher pitch than Leonhardt), the phrasing here, in comparison with Rilling, becomes somewhat less legato, but not necessarily staccato. The instrumental playing is lively and the singing of the choir expresses more enthusiasm and conviction than Leonhardt’s and the vocal parts are in excellent balance. There is clarity in the boy’s voices which can not be equaled by Rilling’s choir. The tenors and basses are superior to those that Leonhardt used. Thus it becomes a pleasure to hear the parallel 6ths in ms. 53&54 and the various entries of the fugal subject in all the voices and instruments.

Mvts. 3, 6, 8 (Chorales)
The singing of the chorales by the Thomanerchor is a joy to hear. This all-male choir features the clear sound of the boy sopranos and altos singing according to a tradition that goes back centuries. It is easy to believe that this choir sound comes reasonably cloto that which Bach may have heard when he was the conductor of the same choir. The registration of the organ including some penetratingly high organ stops is, however, not according to the advice that Mattheson gives in his book “Der vollkommene Capellmeister.” Such a registration as this is distracting.

Mvt. 2 (Recitative) & 7 (Aria) for Tenor [Schreier]
Here is an intelligent and moving presentation of both the recitative and aria by an artist who has truly grown up in the Bach tradition fostered by the musical education of the Thomaner Choir. Schreier’s interpretations are perfectly suited to the music and he makes optimum use of all the good qualities that his voice has. He moves effortlessly through difficult passages and illumines the text very intelligently, yet musically.

Mvt. 4 (Aria) for Bass [Lorenz]
Lorenz lacks the ability to control sufficiently the wobbly aspects of his operatic voice. Perhaps he has ‘worn out’ his voice by singing in too many operas and operettas. This takes its toll when a voice is asked to sing with greater subtlety and yet project a sense of utter control over the vocal aspects of expression.

Mvt. 5 (Recitative) for Alto [Wenkel]
Wenkel’s voice is decidedly too operatic for this beautiful recitative. She even lacks the ability to create the kind of moving conclusion that Gohl (Rilling) was able to present.

[6] Koopman:

Mvt. 1 (Introductory Choral Mvt.)
At this extremely fast tempo, it is obvious that something will be lost and very little gained. By rushing through this mvt. in this fashion, Koopman conveys to the listener the tumult of battle without respite and perhaps also a frenetic and quickly passing joy. The instruments have to play more lightly in order to ‘fit all the notes in.’ This is a natural concomitant of this method of HIP. Unfortunately, this method also eviscerates the true substance contained in the music and replaces it with a rushed feeling that lets the listener know that the words are really not that important here after all. The 16th-notes on “ist er-“ are swallowed up so that they become merged and less understandable. This should be an indication to the conductor that the tempo is too fast. Some passages are lost completely, that is they become completely audible. Take, for instance, the tenors, even supported by violas colla parte, in ms. 39-41. They are completely nonexistent, just as if Bach never wrote this part. The long 16th-note coloraturas in the bc in ms. 45-51 become less and less audible as they progress through this passage. Why? Because Koopman can only present this mvt. in this ‘lite’ style, a style that might strike the casual listener as interesting at first, but don’t tell this listener what he might not hear because it simply is not audible. As a listener, you have to imagine what isn’t there. It’s best to follow the score to see what you are really missing.

Mvts. 3, 6, 8 (Chorales)
Aside from rushing through these chorales, Koopman is able create a unified choir sound. For all the musical perfection in sound, there is a lack of depth and conviction. At times the interpretations sound just a bit contrived.

Mvt. 2 (Recitative) & 7 (Aria) for Tenor [Dürmüller]
Dürmüller’s interpretation of the recitative is appropriate for the text. The aria, although a bit too fast, shows Dürmüller’s ability to find interesting ways to break up the sameness of the coloraturas. This version of the aria features excellent playing by the instruments.

Mvt. 4 (Aria) for Bass [Mertens]
Despite having a demi-voice like Kooy, Mertens is able to insert more expression in his rendition of this aria and his expression seems quite genuine.

Mvt. 5 (Recitative) for Alto [Bartosz]
At this very slow tempo, the recitative almost threatens to fall apart, but Bartosz just manages to hold everything together and gives a very listenable rendition of the text.

[9] Suzuki:

Mvt. 1 (Introductory Choral Mvt.)
With only a few differences, this performance is almost a carbon copy of Koopman’s rendition. Some of the rushed feeling is slightly less here. The choir sound is slightly less amalgamated with individual voices recognizable here and there. While Koopman does more with numerous crescendi, Suzuki presents more of a solid, less inflected style of singing and playing. The beginning of the fugal section lacks a solid presence which is really necessary here to lend dignity as well as joy to the words that are expressed there.

Mvts. 3, 6, 8 (Chorales)
Suzuki achieves a good interpretation of the chorales with interesting but appropriate expression. All the details are in good balance. Perhaps the pronunciation of the German text could be even more energetic.

Mvt. 2 (Recitative) & 7 (Aria) for Tenor [Türk]
In the recitative this demi-voice fails to achieve sufficient expression. It has a weak low range. The 1st horn in the aria does not play all the notes that are written. It is truly amazing how the 1st horn player cleverly fades in and out whenever there are too many notes to play or when the notes are too difficult to play. Türk’s is voice rather raspy, particularly on the numerous coloraturas in the aria

Mvt. 4 (Aria) for Bass [Kooy]
Kooy makes it easy for himself by singing mostly with a light staccato. The orchestral background shows very little change between the piano and forte sections. This is a rather bland performance of this exciting aria.

Mvt. 5 (Recitative) for Alto [Blaze]
Blaze, with his occasionally slowly wobbling vibrato (he gives the impression that he has problems controlling it) and howling tones, seems not to convey much of the text’s significance. This is a voice with a restricted range with little or no voice in the low range.

[8] Leusink:

Mvt. 1 (Introductory Choral Mvt.)
On the good side, the tempo was well-chosen and the vocal parts, often not clearly heard in the other recordings achieve distinctness and clarity here, but on the other hand, the horn sound is less well controlled compared to the other recordings and the choir suffers from its usual indiscretions caused by very individualistic voices that distract the listener with their usually unpleasant voice characteristics. Another problem facing this choir is the dropping of final syllables which are barely sung at all and make it difficult to understand the text properly.

Mvts. 3, 6, 8 (Chorales)
Leusink’s worst characteristic in presenting a chorale is the dropping of unaccented syllables at the end of a line. Such syllables often sound like a soft grunt which at times is entirely inaudible. This only compounds the problem of correct enunciation of German which is a general problem in this series. There are some strong accents which create a problem for the passing notes, the 2nd note of which is often barely heard. While the voices of the choir usually sing loudly with all their individual traits standing out, they curiously lack a sense of true conviction regarding the words that they are singing. The effect is usually one of an exercise being completed, not one that has filled the heart completely.

Mvt. 2 (Recitative) & 7 (Aria) for Tenor [Beekman]
Another demi-voice that reduces his voice almost to nonexistence in the recitative. Is he talking to himself here? In the aria Beekman’s voice touches the notes lightly and runs through the coloraturas cleanly, but without sufficient voice to project much of any expression to an audience, this remains a nice bit of chamber music, that would fail to transmit its message to a larger audience in a church.

Mvt. 4 (Aria) for Bass [Ramselaar]
There is no distinction made between the dynamic levels indicated by Bach. Everything remains on a ‘lite’ level which allows Ramselaar to continue singing sotto voce all the way through an aria. The words seem to be entirely irrelevant here. Pretend that they do not exist and you might be able to enjoy the music as lite entertainment.

Mvt. 5 (Recitative) for Alto [Buwalda]
This is a voice to avoid, unless this is your special cup of tea. There is nothing here that speaks to me directly.

My suggestions:

Mvt. :
Rilling [2] and Rotzsch [4]

Mvts. 3, 6, and 8:
Rotzsch [4], Rilling [2] and on a slightly lower level: Suzuki [9], Koopman [6]

Mvt. 4 Bass Aria:
Nimsgern (Rilling) [2] and at a lower level, but quite good: Mertens [6]

Mvts. 2 & 7 Tenor Aria:
Schreier (Rotzsch) [4]

Francine Renee Hall wrote (March 2, 2003):
[9] [To Thomas Braatz] I bought a cut-out of Robin Blaze performing Elizabethan lute songs on the Hyperion label as an inexpensive experiment to hear what all the fuss was about concerning his voice. My first reaction stayed with me throughout the music. Blaze has a wide wobble and poor range. He did not sound like a successful countertenor should, i.e., effortless, strong, and dynamic.

Simon Crouch wrote (March 2, 2003):
[9] [To Francine Renee Hall] Gosh, he must have been having a bad day! I've been very impressed with his work.

Neil Halliday wrote (March 3, 2003):
[9] [To Francine Renee Hall] Sorry to hear this about Blaze. I heard him about a year ago in one of Händel's large works for choir and orchestra, and loved the clarity and complete ABSENCE of vibrato he brought to his part.

It seems some evil influences have over taken him.....-).

Aryeh Oron wrote (March 3, 2003):
BWV 40 - Background - The Three Serpent Movements

The background below is based mostly on Robertson and Young books and something of my own.

Both Robertson Young quote the rave review of W. Gillies Whittaker:
“Cantata BWV 40 is one the most perfect cantatas, every number being of superb quality, and is truly representative both of the composer’s religious outlook and of his supreme inventive and imaginative powers, not the Cantor in the official position, but the real man, passionate in his spiritual fervour, believing in the personal activity of the Evil One and the all-conquering might of the Saviour. There are few choruses in the whole range of cantatas which can equal in dramatic power and vivid representation the opening movement of BWV 40 1 John 3: 8.”
This description sums up the Gospel source, the central theme, and the composer’s gift of creativity in this cantata.

This is an unusual cantata with three chorales. Nevertheless it is not defined as a Chorale Cantata. Each chorale fits perfectly into its place in the cantata. Sometimes the connection between the concluding chorale of a cantata might seem arbitrary, but this is not the case here. The chorales are so well interwoven in the whole structure of the cantata, as actually all the other movements are. This is one of those cantatas that should be heard in one sitting continuously. It should not be torn apart into individual movements. Although it has two fine arias and splendid opening chorus, I could not find any individual recordings of either of them.

I have planned to review each of the 8 complete recordings of the cantata in its entirety, but due to a lot of pressure at work during the week and unanticipated family matters at the weekend I have not had the needed time. Therefore I had to limit myself somehow. I chose to concentrate on three consecutive movements, the subject of each includes various representations of the serpent: the infernal serpent (Mvt. 4), the serpent in paradise (Mvt. 5), and the old serpent (Mvt. 6).

The aria for bass (Mvt. 4) is one of Bach’s finest arias. The pictorial quality of this aria is remarkable. The sinuous obsessive rhythm depicting the serpent, which personifies Satan, is present throughout the aria until the last line: ‘Werden mit ewigem Frieden beglückt’ (will be made happy with everlasting peace). We hear and seem to see the angry stamping of the heel that crushes its head, as in the Biblical prophecy.

The ensuing recitative for alto (Mvt. 5) continues to portray the picturesque imagery of the serpent, accompanied by a gently rocking rhythm, in which Bach visualises in hanging from a tree above Eve. The text speaks of the serpent who brought about the fall of man in Paradise, but it no longer excites fear. The Saviour takes its poison away. The declamation is superb and the nature of the lovely instrumental accompaniment is obviously related to the comforting last line: ‘Drum sei getrost! betrübter Sünder’ (Therefore be comforted, grieving sinner).

The chorale of Mvt. 6 is the second verse of Paul Gerhardt’s hymn, ‘Scheig dich auf zu deinem Gott’ (1653), with its associated melody (1680) magnificently harmonised, follows on the message of the recitative. In this chorale the believer refuses to let the old serpent return; he is removed from the serpent by the suffering of his Saviour.

The Recordings

Last week I have been listening to the following 8 complete recordings of Cantata BWV 40:

[1] Fritz Werner (1964)
[2] Helmuth Rilling (1970)
[3] Gustav Leonhardt (1975)
[4] Hans-Joachim Rotzsch (1980-1981)
[6] Ton Koopman (1998)
[7] Craig Smith & Emmanuel Music (1999)
[8] Pieter Jan Leusink (2000)
[9] Masaaki Suzuki (2000)

Short Review of the Recordings

[1] The first recording, by Werner, can be counted among his finest cantata recordings. The overall tempo is generally slower than most of the other recordings of this cantata are. Yet we gain in extra meaning, in clearer expression, in more realistic visualisation of the text through Bach’s music. The movements of the serpent in the aria for bass are strong and big, and he is indeed frightening. Stämpfli gives his usual excellent performance, which conveys successfully the spirit of the aria, while not missing any important detail. And his voice is so marvellous, rich, with depth and endless colours. Claudia Hellmann is relatively weak, with certain instability in the vocal line, and uninteresting expression. In a recitative as demanding emotionally as this one, this rendition can be considered as a failure. The slow tempo allows Werner to display the chorale with all its heart-rending potential. They sing with verve, dedication and sincerity.

[2] Rilling’s tendency for legato lines, diminishes his rendition along all the eight movements. The chorales especially suffers, because they lose the needed sharpness, the rhythm, some of the expressive potential. Siegmund Nimsgern in the aria for bass is the right man for the job. I have noticed along the weekly cantata discussions that Rilling prefers using him in movements, where authority, courage and firmness are called for. His voice is less varied than Stämpfli’s, yet his expression is not less convincing. This man can fight with the serpent of hell and win! The accompaniment is smoother than I like it to be, which causes the serpent to be seen as more lazy than frightening. The operatic approach of Verena Gohl does not suit the recitative at all. She tries to be too expressive than is needed. Her vibrato is also too strong for my taste.

[3] Max van Egmond, who sings the aria for bass with Leonhardt, is too nice to be fully convincing. The accompaniment he gets from Leonhardt is more vigorous than Rilling’s but his voice is not big enough to do justice with the aria. On the other hand, René Jacobs makes the outmost of his short part. He succeeds in giving meaning to every word in his recitative, without exaggerating. His delivery is simply captivating. The chorale is an example of waste of good resources. The Knabenchor Hannover sing cleanly and with drive and the right rhythm, but their rendition also lacks inner flow and they avoid using any meaningful expression.

[4] In this cantata Rotzsch is better than Rilling. His tempi are somewhat faster, but even more important, his lines are sharper, bolder and seem to be more focused. Siegfried Lorenz in the aria for bass sings with assurance and confidence, using economical vibrato. He gives the impression that he knows what he has to do to defeat the serpent of hell, which is portrayed very realistically by the accompanied supplied by Rotzsch. Ortrun Wenkel follows Hellmann’s route, which cannot be considered as a compliment. She has similar deficiencies, although to a lesser degree. The Thomanerchor prove in the chorale that boys’ choir can do much better in terms of expression than what the previous recording showed us. No doubt that the difference is originated from the conductor’s approach.

[6] Klaus Mertens is given by Koopman a very narrow room to express himself in the aria for bass. The quick movements of the serpent are not frightening at all. Most of the potential of this aria is lost by such approach. The alto Bogna Bartosz sings the recitative with delicacy and taste. The choir in the chorale is excellent, with warm singing and tender expression, but again it is too fast. I hope that Koopman will get rid off his tendency for too extra-tempi in his future recordings of Bach Cantatas.

[7] Based on the 3 CD’s of Bach Cantatas, which have already appeared, and on the fact that they have already performed all the sacred cantatas at least twice since they were formed in 1970, I do hope that Emmanuel music will go on to record a complete Bach cantata cycle. I like their approach to this cantata. It can be characterised as dramatic and tense, with strong colours and clear singing. In that sense it surpasses most of the other modern recordings of this cantata. Even Suzuki sounds somewhat neutral in comparison. The tempi are somewhat slower than all the other three modern recordings of this cantata, and as a result the images portrayed by Bach become clearer. If this rendition has weaknesses, they can be found in the vocal soloists. I understand that most of them are members of the choir, but not all of them are well-equipped either technically or expressionally to make the outmost of the arias and the recitatives. The bass Mark McSweeney and the alto Gloria Raymond are good examples for competent singers, who perform their respective aria and recitative satisfactory, but leave a lot to be desired, especially in expressive terms. With soloists of higher calibre, this series could be counted among the best. But the chorale is bold, vigorous and sweeping.

[8] The best of the three movements in Leusink’s rendition is the aria for bass, sung by Ramselaar. The oboes and the strings play with sense of spontaneity, which makes the picture of the serpent vivid and realistic. Ramselaar does not have the depth that singers as Nimsgern and Stämpfli have, but he conveys confidence effortlessly and naturally. I have to admit that as much as I listen to Buwalda, so I become less tolerant of his singing. However, in the recitative for alto he is better than his usual self, probably because the movement is relatively short and not very demanding technically. The chorale, although not as cohesive as it should, is sung with freshness.

Drama and strong visualisation are present also in Suzuki’s recording. Kooy’s voice is not as strong and full as some of the bass singers from the past are. But his rendition is the best of the modern recordings, with dramatic delivery and inner conviction. The feminine quality of Robin Blaze’s counter-tenor voice suits the recitative for alto quite well and I find the delicacy and sensitivity of his approach arresting. The rendition of the chorale would have been sounded perfect to me had I not heard this chorale with Emmanuel music, which takes it to a higher level, managing to put much more feeling into it.

Conclusion

Satisfying renditions:
Aria for Bass: Werner/Stämpfli [1], Rilling/Nimsgern [2], Rotzsch/Lorenz [4]
Recitative for Alto: Leonhardt/Jacobs [3], Koopman/Bartosz [6], Suzuki/Blaze [9]
Chorale: Werner [1], Rotzsch [4], Smith/Emmanuel Music [7]
The whole Cantata: Werner [1], Smith [7], Suzuki [9]

Movements to take away: The aria for bass with Stämpfli/Werner [1] and the chorale with Craig Smith & Emmanuel Music [7]

Dick Wursten wrote (March 3, 2003):
Aryeh wrote about <The Three Serpent Movements>
Until that moment I was able to resist the temptation to write about the serpent in BWV 40, but when I read Aryeh’s review, presented under the above title, I was lost....

So all who don't want to read about theological background of bach cantatas: skip this message or delete it after reading my musical appreciaton of BWV 40:

In the appreciation of Leusink’s performance [8] I agree with Thomas concerning the performance of the tenor (Beekman) and with Aryeh in the appreciation of the Bass-aria (I don't understand why Thomas is so negative about Ramselaar’s performance. I sometimes think that Thomas has little feeling for subtle ways of Text-expression. Understatement is also an emotion.) The instrumental playing is much appreciated by me and I am so accustomed to this choir that I don't hear the typical imperfections any more...

Back to the Three Serpents of BWV 40 - theologically

Aryeh distinguished 3 personae (= Greek for masks) in which the 1 Serpent (=Devil) makes his appearance in this cantata: the infernal serpent (Mvt. 4), the serpent in paradise (Mvt. 5), and the old serpent (Mvt. 6). The libretto of this cantata is a tight composition with a wonderful theological coherence. Often one speaks about rhetorical aspects of Bach’s music. Here is an example of the rhetorical quality of his libretto (chapeau for the anonymous librettist !). In accordance with the rules of the classical retorics he places his central thought in front (mvt 1): the quote from 1John 3:8 . This is the goal of the epiphany of the Son of God: He has come to destroy the works of the devil. The protagonist en the antagonist are thus introduced: Christ vs Satan

(Mvt 2) elaborates the thought by drawing some wider circles around this theme, placing it in a broad biblical context. The first reference is to the beginning of the gospel of John: The Word became Flesh. The battle there is light vs. darkness. A more hidden reference is to Philippians 2:6-11 where the strange strategy of God in this battle is depicted: he lays down his majesty and changes into a defenceless child. This action will save mankind from evil, a conviction which is wholeheartedly affirmed by the faithful (Mvt 3: choral, as in the Greek tragedies, where the chorus knowingly contemplates the action).

After this confession of faith, the believers become courageous and start to defy the enemy (mvt 4). The reference in this text of course is to the first curse and the first promise in the bible: GENESIS 3: 14-15 ("and And the LORD God said unto the SERPENT: because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life. And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel."). Seed = Off spring. This text is traditionally interpreted in this way that the 'seed of the woman' = Messiah (Jewish) / Christ (Christian) and the 'seed of the serpent' = the devil and all demonic powers. 'bruising the heel' = wounding, hurting, making life difficult. that's what the devil can do to mank. But the 'seed of the woman' will eventually destroy evil. Since this promise is in principle fulfilled with the Epiphany of Christ the victory is to the faithful and he can defy satan (mvt 4) and be comforted (mvt 5).

The choir finally comments on this facts by drawing the widest circle around this theme (plus widest perspective) naming the serpent: OLD serpent. This is a reference to the second part of the bible where the serpent plays a prominent role: The book of Revelations. In ch. 12 in a daring vision the signs of the zodiac are the players in the cosmic drama: 'Drago' threatens 'Virgo', who is pregnant of a child. Virgo delivers a son and Drago wants to swallow it, but God doesnot allow it. A war (star-war) starts. The dragon fights against Michael and his angels, but prevailed not.. quote: verse 9 "And the great dragon was cast out, that OLD SERPENT, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him."

And in a later part of this apocalyptic caleidoscope (Revelation 20) this history is repeated and the defeat of the serpent made definitive. Quote verse 1-3: "And I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. 2 And he laid hold on the dragon, that OLD SERPENT serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years, 3 And cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more…

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 11, 2003):
Those of you who have access to multiple recordings or scores of BWV 40, along with the F major Mass BWV 233: at the place in the mass where Bach reuses one of 40's movements (it becomes the "Cum sancto spiritu" fugue), which version do you think is more effective musically? Is there anything that Bach makes easier, or more difficult, in his reworking?

I don't know this cantata yet, but it's a nice synchronicity that it's being discussed now: I'm preparing for a performance of BWV 233 in a few weeks.

Thomas Braatz wrtote (March 11, 2003):
[To Bradley Lehman] As you may have noticed, BWV 40 was just discussed recently. I would heartily recommend reading the notes that have accumulated on Aryeh’s site: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV40-D.htm

Just to quote two sources already mentioned there:

Schweitzer: Bach treated this chorus badly by using it for the ‘Cum sancto spiritu’ in the F major Mass.

Whittaker: It was a strange idea to adapt it later as the ‘Cum Sancto Spiritu’ of the Short Mass in F. While all the imagery is lost there, it sounds astonishingly well in its new surroundings

This gives a fairly good idea of what’s involved here.

With a cursory look at the NBA KB for BWV 233, it becomes apparent that that just about everything about BWV 233 has no direct evidence of Bach's involvement (autograph score, parts, or corrections are missing and supposed to have existed at some point) and only through the work of copyists has it come down to us. Because many mvts. are parodies of existing mvts. from the cantatas, it is assumed that Bach may have done the adaptation himself.

Having recently listened to most of the recorded versions of BWV 40/1 recently, I decided that it would only be necessary to listen to BWV 233/6 to be able to make a comparison between the two versions (BWV 40/1 & BWV 233/6.) You can read about my impressions of the recordings of BWV 40/1 at the URL listed above. Just now I listened to Herreweghe and McCreesh, both of whom take the ‘presto’ marking (was this Bach’s marking?) very seriously and literally fly through this mvt. so that much of the text and even many of the notes become superfluous (inaudible.) For both this music becomes an exercise in impressionism with emphasis on special effects McCreesh has his horns become rather raucous so that one begins to think that nobility has once again gone out on a hunt (what does this have to do with the Latin text?,) while Herreweghe preserves a bit more what little sanctity/sacredness is left in this Latin text.

When you begin to compare BWV 40/1 with BWV 233/6, the very first striking aspect is the loss of the glorious introduction (ritornello & Choreinbau) that lasts for 28 ms. (actually in comparison with the cut time in BWV 233/6 this would be the equivalent to 56 ms. of introduction before the fugue begins. BWV 233/6 has a measly 4 ms to introduce the fugue.)

What I find truly bothersome (this is certainly not unique in Bach’s parodies, some of which are more successful than others) here is the tremendous loss incurred by stripping the original of its imagery and gestures and replacing these with such an incongruity between words and music that I would begin to think that Bach did not really care that much about this aspect. The NBA KB does not even have any evidence that this was ever performed under Bach’s direction.

Here is what bothers me most about this parody:

At the point in the fugue where faster moving notes occur, the Missa in F (BWV 233/6) has the words: “in Gloria Dei Patris amen” [“in the glory of God the Father, Amen.”] In the original (BWV 40/1) the words are: „daß er die Werke des Teufels zerstöre“ [„that he will destroy the Devil’s works.”] These oft-repeated phrases increase in intensity as the movement reaches a highpoint at ms. 78 in BWV 40/1 and ms. 102 in BWV 233/6 where the choir announces in unison (octaves) [the Christians join together as one to help Christ defeat the Devil’s works] – after which there follows a series of downward-cascading passages at first in the basses and tenors then followed by the sopranos and altos. This is a musical depiction of the destruction of these works as they fall to pieces upon the ground. The Latin words of the Mass have absolutely no association with the music. Of course, only if you were lucky enough to have heard Bach perform BWV 40/1 and then remember this single occurrence many years or decades later when BWV 233/6 may have been performed, would you be able to make the comparison and determine that something has gone radically wrong here. Bach may have simply remembered that the fugue for BWV 49/1 was a good one and then simply decided many years later (perhaps his interest in this type of thing was waning as his mind was more interested in other works of his late period,) to give this ‘job’ of transcription to one of his students (one of the main copies that the NBA relied upon was that by his son-in-law Altnickol) who may have worked from the autograph score of BWV 40/1 under Bach’s guidance. The question remains: Just what was Bach thinking of as he helped to create this Latin version of the fugue?

BWV 235/1 (“Kyrie”) is another example of a completely incomprehensible parody of a cantata mvt. which has a fugue very specifically representing the German text (BWV 102/1), now forced into a Latin mold. Check out my comments on this: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV102-D.htm

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 11, 2003):
[To Thomas Braatz] That's interesting about the first version (cantata) having the words „daß er die Werke des Teufels zerstöre“ where the later version becomes "Cum Sancto Spiritu in gloria Dei Patris, amen."

But (looking only at BWV 233) the music and new words don't seem incongruous to me at all. And I get no impression anywhere that "something has gone radically wrong here," or any sense of disappointment when playing or listening to it. Isn't Bach simply using a nicjubilant piece of music to invoke the Holy Spirit, and it doesn't matter what the same notes were expressing before? The words from the mass seem to fit well into this spirited music. (Would this suddenly become a "better" piece of music if the early version had never existed, suggesting a different interpretation of
the notes? Why are parody works--with perhaps the exception of the B minor mass (BWV 232) and Xmas O (BWV 248)--thought of as any less good than the originals?)

And at the measure 102, which is the second of the two Phrygian cadences in this movement (where in both cases he's set it up by modulating deep into the flats), I see what you're saying about the choir being in unison. But, musically, isn't that just a generally useful attention-grabbing device to tell the listener "here comes the big finish," followed by a few bars of very formulaic sequence, a subdominant pedal point, and a rather quick ending? That is, looking at BWV 233, I don't see or hear anything being destroyed or falling to pieces on the ground (even if that may have been an intention in the earlier work)...I just see and hear an effective piece of music
doing musical things, and a rousing conclusion. That's how I experienced it last night at rehearsal, playing along as the choir learned it: when we got to that unison passage in measure 102 I was immediately alerted that we were on the last page of the piece, with a good sense of drama (that seemed almost more Handelian than Bachian).

He also uses an exciting texture for about half of this movement: the basso continuo is moving twice as fast as everybody else, building up the momentum of that jubilation, sort of like a kettle of water simmering. Was all that in the cantata version the same way, or was there some deeper reworking of the texture here (other than changing the words and excising the introduction)?

What's the meter in 40/1? Cut C as in BWV 233/6, or regular C (which would be a slower tempo)?

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 11, 2003):
Brad Lehman commented and asked: >> But (looking only at BWV 233) the music and new words don't seem incongruous to me at all. And I get no impression anywhere that"something has gone radically wrong here," or any sense of disappointment when playing or listening to it. Isn't Bach simply using a nicely jubilant piece of music to invoke the Holy Spirit, and it doesn't matter what the same notes were expressing before? The words from the mass seem to fit well into this spirited music.<<
This fugue is a great fugue whether you sing it or even play it on a Moog Synthesizer. The question here is how the words suit the music and vice versa. More and more it appears to me that modern performances of Bach’s sacred music take less interest in the word-music connection, perhaps because they have not really experienced the powerful statement that Bach makes when both are in complete harmony and when the conductors are sensitive to this connection. Specifically I perceive that at this late point in the composition, when invoking the name of God the Father, this portion of the fugue does not make much sense, unless one were to allow just about any other text to appear here as well.

>>(Would this suddenly become a "better" piece of music if the early version had never existed, suggesting a different interpretation of the notes?<<
I think that I have already commented on this when trying to put myself in the situation of a listener who may have heard a single performance of this mvt. and then many years (even decades) later would have heard the Latin parody of this same mvt. It does not seem even remotely possible that such a listener (contrary to our situation today where we can listen to various versions of this mvt. any time that we like) would have made the connection between the these 2 mvts. The only thing that I can imagine is that such a listener would certainly have been puzzled by hearing performances of the Latin version by Herreweghe or McCreesh and think: “What in the world was that supposed to be?” Perhaps this is what prompted the church council to search for and audition Bach’s replacement many months before his eye operation and subsequent death.

>>Why are parody works--with perhaps the exception of the B minor mass and Xmas O--thought of as any less good than the originals?)<<
Some parodies are obviously more successful than others. What may work in an instrumental reworking of a composition may not do so when text is involved (even Latin text that many members of the congregation might have difficulty understanding.) Whereas the parodies in the works that you mention might earn an ‘A’ or a ‘B’, the examples(BWV 40/1 & BWV 102/1) would be lucky to earn a passing mark if you consider only the word-music connection and not the music per se.

>>But, musically, isn't that just a generally useful attention-grabbing device to tell the listener "here comes the big finish," followed by a few bars of very formulaic sequence, a subdominant pedal point, and a rather quick ending? That is, looking at BWV 233, I don't see or hear anything being destroyed or falling to pieces on the ground (even if that may have been an intention in the earlier work)...I just see and hear an effective piece of music doing musical things, and a rousing conclusion.<<
Once the power of the real image (word-painting) is fixed in one’s mind, anything else loses the original impact of the word-music association that Bach had in mind when he first conceived of this music. No amount of prestissimo will salvage the Latin version to bring it back to its original concept where everything came together as one and became a truly unified whole.

>> I was immediately alerted that we were on the last page of the piece, with a good sense of drama (that seemed almost more Handelian than Bachian).<<
This sense of drama is only a faint reminder of the truly powerful ending of BWV 40/1 that derives from the cosmological battle that is raging in the original. I don’t hear Handel in this at all. Simply having the horns blaring and the choir barely being able to enunciate and sing properly the ‘amen’ as if it hardly existed, simply does nothing for me except to tell me that these are the wrong words being sung and singing only ‘la’ and ‘li’ would do just as well.

>> He also uses an exciting texture for about half of this movement: the basso continuo is moving twice as fast as everybody else, building up the momentum of that jubilation, sort of like a kettle of water simmering.<<
Yes, this is the impressionistic device that HIP groups (Herreweghe & McCreesh) love: indistinct rumbling (you know something is going on down there in the bc but just what it is and which notes are being played will elude the listener entirely.) In lieu of actually trying to have the music support and express the text, the conductors are only interested in creating effects. [“Effekthascherei”]

>> Was all that in the cantata version the same way, or was there some deeper reworking of the texture here (other than changing the words and excising the introduction)?<<
There is a lot of changing of note values (actually forcing the original music which is more aggressive to appear more 'Latinized') with the original having many more notes (through repetition of certain words) than the later parody. It's almost like looking at German Fraktur in the original but Roman Type in the parody. But generally the patterns of mvt. (up or down) and the main intervals are preserved (usually simplified.)

>> What's the meter in 40/1? Cut C as in 233/6, or regular C (which would be a slower tempo)?<<
It’s a regular C whereas BWV 233/6 is notated in Alla Breve.

BTW, McCreesh has soloists (Concertists) begin the fugue and the Ripieni pick up where the altos begin with the real fugal subject.

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 11, 2003):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
>> He also uses an exciting texture for abohalf of this movement: the basso continuo is moving twice as fast as everybody else, building up the momentum of that jubilation, sort of like a kettle of water simmering.<<
(Mass
BWV 233/6, the "Cum Sancto Spiritu")
Yes, this is the impressionistic device that HIP groups (Herreweghe & McCreesh) love: indistinct rumbling (you know something is going on down there in the bc but just what it is and which notes are being played will elude the listener entirely.) In lieu of actually trying to have the music support and express the text, the conductors are only interested in creating effects. [“Effekthascherei”] >
This has nothing to do with "what HIP groups love." I made my comment about the kettle of water simmering not from listening to a recording, but rather from looking at the score, and from having played this piece in rehearsal Sunday evening (accompanying the choir rehearsal with solo harpsichord). That is an effect I derived from the music here in BWV 233, from the harmonic rhythm, from the overall shape of this movement, and from what it feels like to play it. (Not saying that Bach was trying to depict water or anything, specifically, but it's that bubbling excitement that seems appropriate when the singers are asking the Holy Spirit to put in an appearance.)

So again I wonder: why is there any "problem" with Bach's text-setting here? This is a good choral piece, musically, and it expresses the meaning of the text assigned to it. So, what's the problem?!

>> What's the meter in 40/1? Cut C as in BWV 233/6, or regular C (which would be a slower tempo)?<<
< It’s a regular C whereas
BWV 233/6 is notated in Alla Breve. >
Aha. So, the fast tempo in 233/6 (which you evidently don't like) is indeed Bach's fault. :) I think it works fine here in the Mass. There's no listener in the building who's going to fail to know what the words are there (from having heard them hundreds or thousands of times during his/her lifetime), even if not every one is audible. And the Alla Breve tempo works well: as a big exciting finish (this is the end of the Gloria, after all) and giving some urgency to asking the Holy Spirit to show up.

So again I wonder: why is there any "problem" with Bach's tempo here? This is a good choral piece, musically, and it expresses the meaning of the text assigned to it. So, what's the problem?! (And, for that matter, why would one assume that Bach wanted the listener to be able to pick out every distinct note? Can't Bach be allowed to write musical effects that are more interesting than mere notes?)

Johan van Veen wrote (March 11, 2003):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
>>(Would this suddenly become a "better" piece of music if the early version had never existed, suggesting a different interpretation of the notes?<<
< I think that I have already commented on this when trying to put myself in the ituation of a listener who may have heard a single performance of this mvt. and then many years (even decades) later would have heard the Latin parody of this same mvt. It does not seem even remotely possible that such a listener (contrary to our situation today where we can listen to various versions of this mvt. any time that we like) would have made the connection between the these 2 mvts. >
This seems to me a pretty bold statement. Why would it be impossible to remember what one had heard some years ago? I think it is quite reasonable to suggest that maybe people's memories in those days were better than ours. Most people couldn't go to a library to look something up; many people even couldn't read. So they were much more dependent on their memories. And those who listened to music every day had possibly the ability to remember things they heard a couple of years ago. It would be interesting to hear the view of professional musicians who are trained to listen carefully to music they hear. If they have heard something for the first time a couple of years ago, and never since, are they able to remember or do they recognize that piece of music if they hear it again after some years?

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 11, 2003):
< Johan van Veen wrote: And those who listened to music every day had possibly the ability to remember things they heard a couple of years ago. It would be interesting to hear the view of professional musicians who are trained to listen carefully to music they hear. If they have heard something for the first time a couple of years ago, and never since, are they able to remember or do they recognize that piece of music if they hear it again after some years? >
Depends what it is, and how much of a unique profile (or surprising characteristics) it has. I can usually recognize that I've heard something before, and place it pretty closely by composer and approximate year...but that's as much on stylistic grounds as on straightforward recognition. It's harder to know which Shostakovich quartet or which Haydn symphony or which Bach cantata it is.

And I still sometimes confuse Mozart's "Paris" (31) and "Haffner" (35) symphonies, after years of hearing both of them many times. They're in the same key. At least I can differentiate the "Prague" (38) from both of them.

Arjen van Gijssel wrote (March 12, 2003):
[To Bradley Lehman] With a big smile I read through your story on what it takes to perform Bach's vocal music with a bunch of devoted people. With this, I think you give a valuable contribution to this site. We often tend to be too critical on this or that performance and forget what it takes to perform Bach's music. And I copy your remark on the difficulties which Bach in his time must have had in getting a good performance.

Of course, nowadays we have access to precious performances of professional ensembles. In the light of that material, it is quite natural to compare and state your preferences. But I would say we should not forget to do it with respect to the performers and with an eye to the general state of perfectionism we have reached, compared to 1700-1750.

I have performed BWV 233 myself just recently with the Laurenscantorij, Rotterdam, the Netherlands (www.laurenscantorij.nl). We did it with only a few rehearsals. We perform a cantate every month, and the F-mass was the opening concert of the new season. Afterwards we turned to Mozart's Requiem, and then we did BWV 100, BWV 104 and BWV 45, etc.. Every two weeks we contribute to the Protestant service on Sundays (often with a work of Sweelinck, Schütz, Schein etc.). Then we only come one hour before church begins. It takes a lot of the choir members. They have their jobs, but haven no problem devoting much of the leisure time to prepare the performances. We have an incentive for doing that because we admire Bach's work so much. Nothing is worse than an ill-prepared performance of Bach.

As far as Thomas remarks on Bach's parody process, I beg to differ with him. Of course the original BWV 40 has a very intimate music-words relation, and it might be the case that something is lost in the parody. But what I generally admire in Bach, is that his parodies again become brilliant pieces of music, where again music and words are closely interrelated. The same melodic line or structure can serve different purposes and different texts. I have never understood Schweitzer's critique on Bach's masses. I think the origin of the criticism on Bach's parodies is the romantic idea that a piece of music has to be unique, one-time-for-all creation. But I think it is quite understandable for Bach to have made parodies. Reasons could have been: continuing work/perfectioning a past musical idea; preventing that occasional music became lost after the occasion, lack of time, etc. The last reason beingperhaps the least plausible one, because I think that making parodiwas sometimes even a more laborious process than creating a totally new piece of music (the B minor Mass as a case in point). I find the Cum sancto Spritu closure of the F mass a very joyful piece of music. I like it when played fast (like we did ourself), but also with a more moderate (sacred) tempo. The only critiscism I could think of is that the music something seems more for organ than for human voice. The line with `amen` or `gloria dei patris amen` is difficult to sing, and here Bach has not much compassion with human beings having to use their body as an instrument.

Neil Halliday wrote (March 12, 2003):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< "...why would one assume that Bach wanted the listener to be able to pick out every distinct note? Can't Bach be allowed to write musical effects that are more interesting than mere notes?". >
I think we have a confusion of musical genres here, (although I admit it probably is a matter of our different psychological temperaments.)

In my opinion, if you want impressionistic effects in music, listen to Debussy or Ravel.

I look for the clear expression of large scale architecture in Bach's large works; I simply turn off the high-speed impressionistic versions of Bach.

That's why I prefer the versions of the opening chorus of the St John Passion (BWV 245) which are built upon the ON-OFF-ON-OFF in the basses, as opposed to your preference to much faster versions based on the structure ON-ON in the basses; in favour of my preference I note the time signature is 4/4, not 2/2.

Hugo Saldias wrote (March 12, 2003):
[To Bradley Lehman] Just one thing:

Music never "sounds the same" even played by the same musicians:there are lots of factors: the tempo,the singers,the instruments,the articulation and the improvisation! Live performances should never sound the same. Just look at conductors that have the same piece of music recorded twice. Or also if you are lucky compare a recording with the live concert of the same piece by the same conductor and the results can be amazing. This is not only true in Bach but also in all the music.

Johan van Veen wrote (March 12, 2003):
[To Neil Halliday] Talking about 'confusion of musical genres'! Since when do 'musical effects' have nything to do with 'impressionistic effects'? We are talking about baroque music here, so if 'musical effects' are mentioned, it means the effects the composer want to achieve. Maybe it would be more precise to use the word 'Affekt' here, which in itself is an 'effect', of course.

I still fail to understand why people have so many problems with performances where you can't hear every single note. How many notes do classical symphonies have? And you tell me that you can hear every single one of them? I simply don't believe that. The point is: even if you can't hear them all, you would know something was missing if they were left out. I find it extremely difficult to understand why people don't realise the role of suggestion. If you listen to Bach's works for solo violin, you think you hear a polyphonic piece, but that is not the case. It is merely suggestion, intended by Bach of course.

In an earlier posting I compared singing and playing baroque music with speaking. Nobody stresses every word equally while speaking. That would be most unnatural. And it is very likely that the audience is missing a syllable now and then. But most of the time that is no problem, since they usually recognize the words anyway and know what the speaker means. And that is exactly what is going on in music: don't forget the audiences of the 18th century were familiar with the musical idiom of their time, and I assume just knew most of the musical formulas used by composers. In their minds they automatically fill the gaps, so to speak, just as I know that someone means difficult if I only hear dif'cult.

Arjen van Gijssel wrote (March 13, 2003):
Thanks to Aryeh's quick and kind co-operation you can now listen to the performance of the Laurenscantorij of the Cum Sancto Spiritu part of the F major mass, as referred to in earlier e-mails. It's on our website:
http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Mus/BWV233-242-Mus.htm

Arjen van Gijssel wrote (March 16, 2003):
[snip] I contributed a piece of live music to the Bach Cantata website this week (cum sancto spiritu;
http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Mus/BWV233-242-Mus.htm). Somehow, nobody onsidered it worthwile to give me feedback on that. Little bit disappointing.

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 17, 2003):
[To Arjen van Gijssel] Arjen, it's terrific, and thanks for posting that sample. Very energetic, a perfect tempo (IMO), good clarity and balance, all beautifully done. I've been enjoying it during study of this piece, both with and without the score...I hope our horns can play it as well as yours. Congratulations on this performance!

Do you happen to know what score they gave your organist to play from? We have the Baerenreiter set, and I haven't yet decided between using the (unfigured) bass part or the full vocal score (piano reduction), as the basis of the improvisation. Maybe some of both....

 

Continue on Part 2

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Last update: ýOctober 2, 2011 ý08:25:51