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Cantata BWV 52
Falsche Welt, dir trau ich nicht!
Discussions - Part 2

Continue from Part 1

Discussions in the Week of February 10, 2008 (2nd round)

Jean Laaninen wrote (February 9, 2008):
Introduction to BWV 52 - Falsche Welt, dir trau ich nicht

Cantata BWV 52 Introduction - Falsche Welt, dir trau ich nicht (False world, I trust you not)

Link to Cantata BWV 52 page: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV52.htm

Link to Previous Discussions page: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV52-D.htm

For my first cantata introduction on this forum I am going to use Robertson, Dürr, Unger and some of my own reactions to the music. This is a soprano solo cantata, with a symphonic opening (Mvt. 1) and chorale closing (Mvt. 6).

Sections:

Mvt. 1. A lovely Sinfonia taken from the Brandenburg Concerto BWV 1046 opens the work. According to Robertson, this movement bears no relevance to the libretto. By way of contrast, when I first heard this work, and then read what Robertson had to say I took a different view. For those new to this topic and the cantatas and as review for long time Bach fans, the Brandenburg concertos were composed as a gift to Christian Ludwig, Margrave of Brandenburg-Schwedt in 1721. Although there can be a great deal of debate as to the meaning of instrumental music and its application to new works and various settings, I find this particular movement to be something of a depiction of both the beautiful and the hectic qualities of life. The back and forth pull of many passages and a thickening of textures in places seems to suggest to me the idea of a struggle—somewhat bound by joy, and in minor moments the tension of conflict. Motion conveyed by passages that quickly become familiar to the ear remind me of life today even on the American freeways. I had to marvel that Bach had chosen such aurally articulate expressions of tension and release coupled with a ceaseless sense of forward movement. In my view, Bach’s effort was to always create a coherent whole in his works, and I think the recycling of the BWV 1046 elements offers a great contrast instrumentally between the ideas of darkness and light as they play out in the remainder of the cantata. But as we often hear in Bach, he transforms these darker elements and the Sinfonia ends with a positive cadence.

Mvt. 2. Rec: Falsche Welt (False World)
Moving from the positive cadence at the end of the Sinfonia, the listener is jolted to attention by the stark introductory chord of the first recitative. The astute hearer knows immediately that we are on to the development of some of the darker sounds similar in mood to some of those those we’re heard in the previous movement. On the topic of this verse, however, I am mainly in agreement with the Robertson commentary. He says, “This embittered and utterly passionate outburst jars, comes as it does, after the lively orchestral movement. The soul pictures her self surrounded by scorpions.” The themes of the world are falseness and betrayal (Unger p. 180-181). Alerted by the words, “Sindt auf’ and the idea of a secret destruction thematically, the listener hears that deceit has driven sincerity away and hypocrisy remains in its stead--a central point. In the case of this verse it is difficult for me to imagine a more perfect chord sequence in the
continuo than that which Bach chose to give drama to this story. Dürr references the fact that the illustration of the death of Abner by Joab (p. 627) is used as an example of worldly cunning, and thereby my impression is that the soprano is given a great operatic moment to embellish the idea of life being a woeful state of existence.

Mvt. 3. Aria: Immerhin, Immerhin (Even so, Even so...)
Robertson points to the ascending phrase of the violin and the start of the aria as a point of relief from the recitative, which he terms a diatribe. Beginning in d-minor and moving to e-minor, we are not quite out of the dark wooded scene yet. However, Robertson makes the point that this section points ultimately to the joy of God’s friendship, and I would add, amidst the struggle for Christian authenticity given the Lutheran setting. He makes reference to the florid passages on the word ‘repudiated,’ and interprets this as contempt directed toward the world. My own take on the text and manner of composition is that the soul has not yet fully achieved confidence, but might be having an inner conversation building in such a direction. Others impressions may differ. The reason I take this view as a singer is due to the continuous rising and falling passages, with the idea that the soul at least knows that God’s intentions toward her are positive
and sincere, but I sense a little restlessness.

Mvt. 4. Rec: Gott Ist Getreu (God is True)
Robertson states that the florid passages in both the voice and continuo produce a moving effect. Here in my view we are coming to a higher level of operatic drama, and the words indicating God’s faithfulness are received by the soul with both confidence and anticipation. God’s truth now contrasts musically and verbally with the previous depictions of the false nature of the world. A triple repetition of the phrase ‘Gott ist getreu’ at the end appears to me to be one example of Bach’s use of a Trinitarian formula. This is in my view a point of affirmation.

Mvt. 5. Aria: Ich Halt (I hold)
Robertson alludes to a parallel in this verse with Cleopatra in Handel’s writings. But this aside, he sees the aria showing a unity of the soul with God that can be said to drive away the mockery of false tongues. In the Sinfonia (re: Brandenburg) we begin with the tensions that pull back and forth and resolve positively, and ultimately lead in the final aria to an upbeat perspective. The soul is free to cast aspersions on the false tongues and the scorpions considered in Rec. II and even the slightly minor tones of Aria III have been replaced. The three words that best describe my thought of progression in this number are: joy, reflection and finally triumph.

Mvt. 6. Chorale: In Dich hab ich (In you have I)
Robertson shares that this is the first verse of Adam Reissner’s hymn from about 1533 set to a Seth Calirius melody of 1531. Thematically the idea is expressed in the corporate context in the form of a prayer: may I trust in thee and not be confounded...uphold me in Your faithfulness, Lord God! (in part, Dürr – p. 627)

I’d like to make a few comments on the score. In the Sinfonia throughout, there is not even a single measure without sixteenth notes, or even occasional 32nd notes. This element allows for maintaining tension throughout, and oboe I and violin I double in this exercise in spots, with violin I being given a little additional ornamentation. These instruments convey a primary melody that establish a theme for the work. As a featured instrument coronet II underscored lightly by violin I provides the opening upward motive a fourth lower, as an introduction to the musical sentence in the opening rising three note—eighth note pattern, but the tune of the motive is given by violin I even before the first measure is finished. Of course, in Bach, each line provides an intertwining melody of its own, but this first measure combination sets up a theme that becomes familiar. I particularly enjoy the bassoon (fagotto) in this number, and when I set my own midi to wave file (using the Kalmus scores—free to record) via Finale there were bassoon parts that I brought out a little bit in terms of volume, where they precede building tension in the piece.

To hear my sequenced midi to wave rendition offered in mp3 format click on the link below and scroll to the bottom of the page: http://sopranojlaaninen.homestead.com/index.html

In Recitative Mvt. 2, the pattern changes abruptly, with stark sounds provided in unison that can be adapted for figured bass realization. All the notes are whole, half or quarter notes, instrumentally reflecting a slow-down in tempo and mood.

In Aria Mvt. 3, the structural pattern differs from the previous two numbers. Antiphonally, there is an exercise between the violins and the continuo instruments in the first two measures. This pattern repeats at measure 33, and then we hear it again before the aria closes. Interpretively, for me, these measures reflect the back and forth pull the soul may still be feeling.

Recitative Mvt. 4 opens with a two measure solid sustained and grounded note on the dominant suggesting in my view that the soul is coming to peace with her dependence upon God, and at the end we have a bright display of movement with a cadence note on the tonic, suggesting to me an element of further grounding.

Aria Mvt. 5 begins with an upbeat on the dominant, quickly moving to tonic. In this movement eighth notes predominate in the instrumental ensemble, and most of the lively sixteenth notes presented in a building fashion are left to the soloist. In this section I enjoy the rhythmic contrast between the oboes and the soloist.

Chorale Mvt. 6 offers a straight-forward hymn style conclusion, bringing the more dramatic contrasting mood elements together to complete the work on the basis of a serious, but somewhat joyful element.

In conclusion I am depending upon those on this list who conduct these works to add their observations, and views, especially including the matter of recordings. I am the new kid on the block in terms of writing these descriptions and I value enormously what others can crunch together academically and from listening experiences and share.

Julian Mincham wrote (February 9, 2008):
[To Jean Laaninen] Welcome to the 'presentation of the cantata of the week' club.

You raise an interesting point about the opening sinfonia one which I have wrestled with in a number of the 3rd cycle cantatas where Bach brings back earlier composed concerto movements--it is -----Why this particular movement rather than another? it cannot be a matter of instrumentation ---sometimes the sinfonia requires instruments not used elsewhere in the cantata. Why did he used so few of the Brandenburg movements--only drawing upon 1 and 111? Why did he use the earlier version of Brand. 1 in this work rather than the revised one? Why such a large and richly instrumented movement for what is a solo and essentially a chamber cantata?

I am in total agreement with you and against Robinson when he takes the glib view that there is no connection between this and the rest of the cantata. I think that Bach looked carefully at his texts (as always) and deliberately chose earlier movements which fitted in well with the mood, sentiments and imagery of the cantata.

Another fascinating point to ponder is the fact that in the Brandenburg movement Bach sets the three groups of instruments against each other ---strings, oboes and horns. He seems to have used a similar principle in the following movments (excepting the recits). The first aria uses the strings, the second the oboes and the chorale (not uniquely and albeit rather modestly) the horns.

Did he choose the sinfonia as suitable for this text and then replicate the instrumental strategy for the following movements? or did he choose the sinfonia at a later stage looking for instrumental equivalences?

A lot of fascinating questions lie at the root of the use of these previously composed sinfonias. We don't know the answers but it's interesting to speculate about them.

Jean Laaninen wrote (February 9, 2008):
[To Julian Mincham] Thanks for the welcome Julian. I'm glad to be here.

You wrote:
< You raise an interesting point about the opening sinfonia one which I have wrestled with in a number of the 3rd cycle cantatas where Bach brings back earlier composed concerto movements--it is -----Why this particular movement rather than another? it cannot be a matter of instrumentation ---sometimes the sinfonia requires instruments not used elsewhere in the cantata. Why did he used so few of the Brandenburg movements--only drawing upon1 and 111? Why did he use the earlier version of Brand. 1 in this work rather than the revised one? Why such a large and richly instrumented movement for what is a solo and essentially a chamber cantata? >
You raise some interesting questions here. I think in Bach's work he had what I would call a genius process oriented mind. To cover as much ground compositionally as he did with such time constraints, it was either that or divine inspiration at times. The first is easier to speculate on, while likely the second enters in. My take on Bach's work manner is that he probably took a seat, and looked at the text first. My tendency albeit perhaps prejudiced in view of my Lutheran background is to think that he used his musical writing to illustrate the text, whilst maintaining some traditional musical aspects also expanding them. The Brandenburg Concertos, if my memory is correct did not come into more common use until after Bach's death. So while he was waiting to see what might transpire as to their acceptance he may have decided to use some limited elements from them so that in his time they would not be altogether hidden. That's what I would have done if I'd been in his situation. However, whatever brought him to the composition of this sinfonia at the get-go, from Brandenburg must have been remained in his memory as rather note-worthy and when he encountered this text I imagine that the contrasting elements that I found striking perhaps seemed to him to go with the text. I also think that the reason for the large and rather grand opening was to set the stage for this text discussion that is rather central to the core of human life. Who has not at times been betrayed by even a friend? And who, even among people who might be considered decadent has not noticed when people or tides of events turn against them? On the basis of common ground in these tensions, the opening to Brandenburg may have seemed to Bach a good mini-depiction of the state of affairs in human life. As a church worker, and as a person who did not come up through the ranks of academia, he also suffered some cruelty. But there is a kind of joyous redemption in being able to take the good and the complex elements and exploit them musically--a kind of musicological justice to my mind. I think Bach was saying by this grand opening, "hey, look here...this is part of how it is." One would be amiss to fail to experience the colors of this large scale opening, I think, and I have a hunch Bach did, too. Maintaining cohesive elements, and creating drama, the move to a solo voice is a very effective contrast, as I see it. In opera, with which we know he was familiar, orchestral openings were common, often moving thereafter to a solo entrance...so the connection to Handel and opera mentioned in my notes may have also played into Bach's choices.

As to a choice between the original and the revised, I am not scholarly enough to know what contrasting elements might have provoked his choice, but maybe others do.

You also wrote:
< Did he choose the sinfonia as suitable for this text and then replicate the instrumental strategy for the following movements? or did he choose the sinfonia at a later stage looking for instrumental equivalences? >
I think Bach would have taken elements from the sinfonia, once the opportunity to use it effectively occured, and developed them in the following movements as complimentary. I sense them as derivative.

Ed Myskowski wrote (February 10, 2008):
Julian Mincham wrote [reply to Jean Lanninen]:
>Welcome to the 'presentation of the cantata of the week' club.<
A welcome from me, as well. I am still focused on recordings of BWV 55, from the previous week, but I did read the introduction to BWV 52; nicely organized, thorough, and best of all, readable!

Somepoints which I expect to have the time (and technical communication facility?) to expand on in the coming week:

(1) BWV 52 for Trinity 23, 1726, is the end of the Liturgical Year

(2) It completes a small cycle of four cantatas, one for each of the solo voices

(3) It is the last new church cantata before the first performance of SMP (BWV 244) in 1727.

[Julian again, reply to Jean]
>I am in total agreement with you and against Robinson when he takes the glib view that there is no connection between this and the rest of the cantata.<
Count me in. I would go so far as to speculate that BWV 52 is a significant musical and liturgical juncture for Bach, that he probably long had in mind, in the creative process. Fully deserving of yet another orchestral overture. Dare I say operatic?

Jean Laaninen wrote (February 10, 2008):
[To Ed Myskowski] Thanks, Ed. I appreciate your affirmation. And thank you for adding the additional historical details--they are important. Good thought there, too, that Bach may have had the ideas for this work in mind for some time before it's actual composition. Yes, I believe there are some operatic features included...I think you can say operatic.

Nicholas Johnson wrote (February 10, 2008):
BWV 52 no figures

[to Jean Lanninen] How much choice do we have when the bass has no figures such as BWV 52? A lot of the time it's fairly obvious what fits and what doesn't but occasionally one has to decide whether the harmony changes on the first beat or is delayed.

An example comes in BWV 210.6 bar 46. Breitkopf gives a root position for the first chord where one could harmonise the bass with a D sharp, anticipating the 5th semiquaver triplet. Barenreiter's score has no figures to guide us.

Jean Laaninen wrote (February 10, 2008):
Nicholas Johnson wrote:
< How much choice do we have when the bass has no figures such as BWV 52? A lot of the time it's fairly obvious what fits and what doesn't but occasionally one has to decide whether the harmony changes on the first beat or is delayed. >
I can see you are paying close attention. Yes, there are no figured bass indications, and this is the kind of situation where one might well ask what could be done. We had quite a discussion with comments by Thomas, Neil and Brad, et. al. some time ago. Neil likes arrangements, and Brad is an expert in creating them so I'd be interested in hearing his comments on what he thinks the level of freedom is here--but I will give you my answer earned by my own experience as I believe music is a tool to wielded at times.

A while back, and well over a year ago I raised the figured bass question. This was because I was unaccustomed to the simple stark lines of a recitative without chords. Thomas Braatz recommended a book to me: The Art of Accompaniment From A Thorough-Bass as practised in the XVIIth and XVIIIth Centuries, by F. T. Arnold. I discovered from the contents of this book that there are so many rules for figured bass that it is unlikely any but the brightest of keyboard players could carry all of them in his (her?) mind at once, let alone for the fact that the rules changed in various locales and by various performers/conductors, historically.

Later I purchased Sibelius software, which allows a melody to be entered, and bass notes, and a figured bass accompaniment to be generated from this minimum of information. This immediately produced the chord sequence that is seen in the piano accompaniment scores which we have online thanks to Aryeh. And this is the chord sequence that I believe is implied by the melody line and bass notes in the original score to the extent that I understand these matters. In Finale one can ask the program to analyze the chord sequence once an accompaniment is created. Although there is no figuration in the scores we have it is my guess that Bach always had some notion of his musical direction, and figured bass players of the day might have been like contemporary band players who seeing a line progress, or simply hearing one (as I have done with the flute) know almost intuitively how to fill in melodies and harmonies. We either use something to improvise that our ears have prepared us to use (tradition) or we innovate as our flights of fancy allow. I might be wrong, but I do not think the missing figuration has to be seen as a restriction. This is especially the case when a PD score is offered in among other ways as free to arrange.

Your question is quite specific as to how much freedom one can have. When I created four or five figured bass accompaniments in Finale all on my own before acquiring Sibelius I had quite a bit of variety--none of which left me feeling secure. That was when I turned to the list for help. I had a fig. bass chart from music theory days that gave me some ideas, but I dare-say, to the experienced ear the results might have been more of a surprise than most serious listeners would tolerate. After I read through the Arnold text I was even more frustrated. Then when I got Sibelius and it automatically generated the same chord sequence as we have in our online educational scores I felt that was probably the most customary of choices and shelved all but one simple score I had produced in Finale as something on which I could confidently share my work. After I made my chord choices I had to decide if long-sustained notes were the correct choice at the beginning of each measure, or if short, detached notes would suffice. I at least knew that with this text I should not clutter the underlying material too much. This was well discussed on the list with a variety of opinions.

Bear in mind I was working with notation software, and with a score that while it follows the original is free to arrange. In the end I compromised and notated the first recitative with short detached notes and the second with a long sustained organ line and no arrangement including chords. The first recitative has a jarring message and so I felt the detached simple chord form worked well. The second recitative is a vote of confidence for God's friendship, and notating it sustained made sense to me based on content. I think figured bass choices must consider the nature of the text to be effective...that's my opinion, at least.

My audience, so called, is a group of friends and relatives to whom I send my CDs...usually one a year. I don't think there is a Bach scholar among them, but all or most of them have listened to Bach in some setting--the majority in the Lutheran church. I have what I would call an ear for Bach, and his variety, and when I play keyboard and deal with hands that are not large I sometimes rearrange notes so that I can get the chordal structure in, while breaking a few rules. No one in the past who listened ever caught this until I was taking more piano lessons from a past teacher Kris Carlisle--a former Rome Summer Festival accompanist. He rapped on the piano a few times and stomped his feet to get after me before I discovered I was going to have to follow the score exactly, and change my fingering. So in my own mind until then I'd felt a freedom to take considerable liberties, but at that time I wasn't working with figured bass. However, this aside, I think since there are boundless rules on figured bass a person would want to exercise good taste. My voice teacher at the time simply told me to use the line as given--which I did in the second case. In the first case, the sound was so stark produced electronically that I went for the chord structure like the one that emerged from using Sibelius. In the end each figured bass player or each electronic musician has to make an independent call, but having said that Brad's input would be welcome. Neil's comments and those of others as to what they would do would enhance the discussion.

I think you have as much choice as your daring allows, and as you believe is in good taste. But in the end the call is left to the conductor or his continuo player. With so many rules historically I cannot say more.

Nicholas Johnson wrote (February 10, 2008):
[To Jean Laaninen] Than. This is helpful. I suppose reading the figures off doesn't aim at the "elegant" version one would expect on paper. I take as my cue the slow movement of the b minor flute sonata.Of course something will sound different on each instrument and a harpsichord is far more transparent than a piano which might only need a 2-part texture in , say, a fast gigue.

Jean Laaninen wrote (February 10, 2008):
Nicholas Johnson wrote:
< Thanks. This is helpful. I suppose reading the figures off doesn't aim at the "elegant" version one would expect on paper. I take as my cue the slow movement of the b minor flute sonata.Of course something will sound different on each instrument and a harpsichord is far more transparent than a piano which might only need a 2-part texture in , say, a fast gigue. >
Hello again, Nicholas.

One point I could make about realizing figured bass is that an introductory note by the continuo helps the singer get his or her bearings...this might be taken as something that is obvious. I tried arpeggiated figures with the first recitative, and some other little motives that in the main seem to distract. I am not quite sure about this but I seem to remember seeing figured bass under some pianistic score a while back, suggesting alternative possibilities, but I cannot say just where I observed this.

My own creativity so-called went with the idea of keeping the texture from being too thick. So where a full chord might have been a bit heavy I left out what seemed to me to be non-essential notes (as we often find in analyzing a work). When a composer or arranger has worked out something lovely, or one who improvises with prolific creativity that's a treat. I just think realization comes down to a couple of things. One is of course the skill of the keyboardist. The second is the required amount of sound for a meaningful experience.

One thing Brad mentioned to me some time ago was the matter of working around the circle of fifths as a tool for creating something special. This is the kind of step where mere accompaniment becomes an art form, I imagine.

Thanks for opening up this aspect of the topic.

Chris Stanley wrote (February 11, 2008):
[To Jean Laaninen] Thanks for your Introduction to this cantata which, by coincidence, when I heard it on the BBC in 2005 (A Bach Christnmas) was the inspiration for me to learn more about the cantatas as a whole. It has been a long wait for this cantata to be the subject for discussion.

Last time around in the discussion it was open season on Leonhardt's Tolz Boys Choir soloist "poor boy Seppi" Seppi Kronwitter [3], who I feel did nothing to deserve some of the comments and harsh opinions expressed. Much of the criticism seemed to be directed against boy sopranos or trebles in general..

e.g. "when he has to sing in the higher register, his voice tends to be shrieking"
shrieking?? I never heard shrieking..

e.g. "If you listen to how Seppi [3] sings the final “getreu” in Mvt. 4 (2nd recitative), you will hear “gah-treu” instead of a short ‘e’."
I did listen and no I didn't hear what TB obviously did.

As for the imaginary telephone call, ever heard the laugh of the sarcastic hyena? ha bloody ha, . but close to actionable IMO.

For information, his H&L performance was chosen to represent BWV 52 in the 2005 Bach Christmas fest on BBC Radio 3, and introduced (albeit broadcast at 6.30am on Christmas Eve) by none other than the great Emma Kirkby who said of Seppi Kronwitter's singing ".............he really goes for it ...in places you can hear him gasping for breath............but he has a lovely warm voice......"

I agree with her comments and her choice, it is an intensely expresive performance, not perfect, but adventurous and with hardly any vibrato, a little decoration here and there and sung as Aryeh suggested, with beautiful clarity, also in perfect southern German (e.g. ickh rather than the softer isch seemingly preferred by other German and non-German singers). Compared to the offerings of Ruth Holton (no feeling, too fast) and the great Kirkby herself (swoopy and all over the place) it is IMHO infinitely preferable.

This cantata musically falls into the top rank of cantatas IMO. I can only believe it is not more popular (Crouch only rates it a 2) because of some of the obscure biblical references to Abner, and from the parodied Brandenburg Concerto opening Sinfonia..

Peter Smaill wrote (February 11, 2008):
[To Julian Mincham] Per Wolff, the reuse by Bach of purely orchestral movements is a feature distinguishing him from the other composers of Cantata cycles. In the case of BWV52 , as noted by many others, the effect is alarming: the pomp and circumstance of the Brandenburg Concerto leads to a plaintive recitative denouncing the falseness of the world. The inference is that the preceding concerto movement, with its kingly horns (note their remarkable syncopation in the Leonhardt recording [3]) is giving the impression of Caesar passing by. The drama of the boy soprano Seppi in this recording, much criticised I know, is the utter contrast in affekt. Think perhaps of the little boy in Hans Christian Andersen's "Emperor's New Clothes" and something similar occurs but in a radically more frivolous narrative than this libretto.

Could this juxtaposition be Bach recording his feelings of being let down by some broken promise relating to the Brandenburg Court?

The fifth aria (Mvt. 5) is most appealing, with its trinity of wind instruments. In my counting , Bach (even without the da capo) brings out a semiquaver/quaver octave drop in the continuo line 36 times. With the emphasis on a repeated "God" in the text, this may well be an instance where the figure has a hermeneutic as well as musical value, as do the octave leaps in the "Sanctus" of the BMM (BWV 232). "Gott mit mir and ich mit Gott" , implying the divination of Man by the saviour Jesus, is a notable emphasis in Lutheranism and without this theological gloss it would be the case that there is no reference to Jesus in the Cantata at all.

Jean Laaninen wrote (February 11, 2008):
Chris Standley wrote:
< e.g. "when he has to sing in the higher register, his voice tends to be shrieking"
shrieking?? I never heard shrieking.. >
Sometimes this is a problem with web transmission or computer/player volume controls. It may also be the case that the high tones are not of a familiar quality to the listener...and who knows if a person listening has an undiagnosed high frequency hearing issue or not. I don't direct this comment at any individual, but beauty is often in the ear of the listener. My husband has a slight high frequency hearing loss and sopranos in the high range bother him so he does not attend soprano recitals with me as a rule. The problem very well might not be the singer, as you suggest.

< e.g. "If you listen to how Seppi [3] sings the final “getreu” in Mvt. 4 (2nd recitative), you will hear “gah-treu” instead of a short ‘e’."
I did listen and no I didn't hear what TB obviously did. >
If one is following standard IPA (International Phoenetic Alphabet for those who don't know it) for formal singing, the 'e' in getreu would be pronounce as the American letter with a long 'A' sound, but more to the side of the German bright 'a'. This however can be moderated in thought by saying that there are a range of German dialects that are acceptable for performance standards, and not everyone will use the same approach. I've listened to enough German singing now in the past ten years on recordings for my own diction purposes to realize that even top singers do not always use a consistent approach. There may be reasons, such as the consonants that proceed or follow a vowel, the length of a given note or notes over which the sound is sung, and simply the human factor. Over-all, absolute perfection seems to be out of the reach of everyone. If a note or notes for a particular sound avery high, sometimes a singer will modify the vowel so that the vocal quality will not be distorted. This is considered by most in the vocal field to be an acceptable practice. Another factor that enters in is the word which follows a particular vocal sound. As the words come together sometimes there is a virtually inevitable change in sound. I am quite sure that while Bach was likely had an acute sense of good diction, some of the texts he had to work with precluded always making things ideal for a singer. Some opinions about Bach suggest his greatest ability was with the organ, and then followed by the work with instrumentalists. That instrumentality is part of why Bach is such a challenge for singers, and in the Baroque period singers were not in the cantata setting often more than one of the instruments. Today, with so many recordings, and millions of dollars behind production, we specialize in great divas and dons, who bring to each assignment the skills either they were given or what a conductor demands of them. We are bound to get phoenetic and quality differences, but the real test in my mind is does the singer convey the message and is the presentation pleasant??? If one likes the purity of a soprano voice with a lyric quality and little or no vibrato, the vocal gift of a dense voice in Bach is probably annoying with perhaps the bass being the exception. So people are going to have plenty of opinions, but to my mind the best view is to appreciate each one for what it is, and the efforts of the conductor for pulling the work together. By that, I don't mean we should not point out differences, but an educated view suggests to me that realizing the complexity of diction a harsh commentary on one presentation over the other is unjustified. Again, the issue really is, does the message come across.

< in places you can hear him gasping for breath............but he has a lovely warm voice......" >
Here again, training enters in. There are myriad techniques for breathing. I will hazard a guess here, and an expert can correct me if needed, but that Bach's sopranos used the French technique of natural breathing. For singing, this means breathing through the mouth. Anne Sofie Von Otter has a lovely mezzo voice, but she is one example of those who record who use natural breathing. Depending on the work that is done with sound preparation or not, natural breathing can disrupt the quality of a recording if one does not wish to hear such sounds. I have noticed over the years that recording engineers will tone down the breath sounds, but leave some in to give a recording a live effect. The singer you mention may have been gasping for breath, but again, maybe not. The 'fault' if there is one may have been in the microphone sensitivity set-up. If the sensitivity setup was too high, the breath sounds may come through in excess. But if the sensitivity is set too low, the beauty of some sound may be lost. This is the kind of issue where an amateur understanding of recording plays in, when we hear critical remarks toward a singer that may instead be related to the work of sound recording, or perhaps the conductor prefers the more lively natural sound of breathing in the work, to a more 'sanitized' or 'managed' style of breathing. I think for me one of the reasons I do not read reviews or follow discography as a study is that I realize that while people may have put in countless years listening, they often do not understand the dynamics they discuss. That is why when I do write about a recording I tend to say I like this or that or appreciate this or that, because in the end I know even with five years of study related to recording, largely self-taught, I don't have the whole story. And when someone who has studied neither voice or recording becomes highly critical I am sorry to hear negative talk. However, when someone notices something that is a glaring issue, that's a different matter.

< I agree with her comments and her choice, it is an intensely expresive performance, not perfect, but adventurous and with hardly any vibrato, a little decoration here and there and sung as Aryeh suggested, with beautiful clarity, also in perfect southern German (e.g. ickh rather than the softer isch seemingly preferred by other German and non-German singers). >
Again, this issue of ickh and isch may be caused by factors listed above. 'Ick' is clearly verboten. But, you do hear it at times. 'Isch 'also appears in the singing of some good German singers...I can't say if this is a regionalism or a result of particular vocal training, but personally I try not to focus on this issue unless a singer accentuates this word too much. When I was younger I used to be deeply disturbed about the differences in Latin pronunciation. Then, when I became further educated I found out that one pronunciation was standard Latin, while the other was church Latin. My belief at this point in the cantatas is that the conductor has decided one form of German or another is acceptable in his or her productions, and probably not worth worrying over...

I harken back to the idea that music is subjective and personal, and my own view is that people should be able to have boy sopranos if that is a preference, or girl or lady sopranos if that's what they enjoy. Music is a field to be weilded and to make into something meaningful over and over again by many and those who can discipline themselves to the task. I love them all, even though of course I have my preferences.

Jean Laaninen wrote (February 11, 2008):
Peter Smaill wrote:
< Could this juxtaposition be Bach recording his feelings of being let down by some broken promise relating to the Brandenburg Court? >
I think the question you raise is interesting...and certainly when one has given a 'best' as we hear in Brandenburg, Bach would want it to be heard. Whatever else may have transpired is hard for me to say--others may have an idea.

< The fifth aria (Mvt. 5) is most appealing, (I agree with you here) with its trinity of wind instruments. In my counting , Bach (even without the da capo) brings out a semiquaver/quaver octave drop in the continuo line 36 times. (This I failed to notice...thanks.) With the emphasis on a repeated "God" in the text, this may well be an instance where the figure has a hermeneutic as well as musical value, as do the octave leaps in the "Sanctus" of the BMM. "Gott mit mir and ich mit Gott" , implying the divination of Man by the saviour Jesus, is a notable emphasis in Lutheranism and without this theological gloss it would be the case that there is no reference to Jesus in the Cantata at all. >
This is another good point that I had not considered. Thanks for adding this information.

Ed Myskowski wrote (February 11, 2008):
I previously wrote that BWV 52 is the last new church cantata, before the first performance of SMP, BWV 244, in 1727.

That is not exactly correct, I misread the BCML order of discussions, and did not check further at that time. In fact, we will discuss a couple new cantatas, including another important solo cantata, BWV 82, for early 1727. Apologies for any confusion.

I do think the underlying point remains valid, that after BWV 52, Bachs major composition activity was completion of SMP (BWV 244), and as suggested by Ruth Tatlow, SMP (BWV 244) could well have already been in process at the time of the solo cantatas of late 1726.

Neil Halliday wrote (February 13, 2008):
Peter Smaill wrote:
>The fifth aria (Mvt. 5) is most appealing, with its trinity of wind instruments. In my counting , Bach (even without the da capo) brings out a semiquaver/quaver octave drop in the continuo line 36 times.<
Leonhardt's oboes [3] are certainly most picturesque in this aria, and the downward octave leaps in the continuo are vividly presented, high-lighting the rhythmic interplay: oboes - AND ONE AND TWO; continuo - AND THREE (octave leap). However, Seppi's voice doesn't really doit for me - my choice would likely be Rubens with Koopman [8]. Augér (with Rilling [4]) seems altogether too powerful/operatic.

It's interesting to do a quick run through of the L/H BCW samples of the five arias with three oboes listed at the Bischof site, namely, BWV 26/4; BWV 91/3; BWV 20/5; BWV 41/2; and this week's BWV 52/5 (Mvt. 5). They are all most enjoyable movements, with 52/5 being the last composed of the group. So Robertson's theory that Bach composed BWV 52/5 (Mvt. 5) after hearing a certain piece from an opera by Handel perhaps does not hold up, with the form being well-established before then.

The first aria (BWV 52/3) (Mvt. 3) seems most charming in the lively tempo of Koopman [8] and Leusink [6]. There are attractive melismas on "verstossen" (rejected) and "Freund".

Leonhardt's [3] 'slap-dash' tempo in the final chorale is unsatisfying; listen to Koopman [8] for a 'broader' version with colourful horns.

Rilling's horns [4] in the sinfonia are a bit understated, otherwise an enjoyable performance, as is Leonhardt's [3]; Koopman [8] also sounds very fine. I love Peter's "pomp and circumstance" imagery of "Caesar passing by", and the general high spirits of the 1st Brandenburg, vividly contrasted with the dark message of the following recitative beginning on the soprano's dramatic high G of a diminished 7th chord.

The realisation of the recitatives? Well, I play the BCW piano scores, in order to more vividly experience the implied harmonies....

Jean Laaninen wrote (February 13, 2008):
[To Neil Halliday] Thanks, Neil, for adding these comments to the discussion this week.

Peter Smaill wrote (February 13, 2008):
[To Jean Laaninen] Neil's post , rounding up the five arias with triple oboes, raises the interesting question: do they consistently accompany a particular text image?

using the Stokes translations :

BWV 20/5 God is just in all his works
BWV 26/4 For the heart to cling to earthly pleasures/is a temptation for our foolish world
BWV 41/2 Let us, O highest God, complete the year
BWV 52/5 (Mvt. 5) I put my faith in God/Let the world remain alone
BWV 91/3 God, for whom the earth's orbit is too small

The theme (though it is fairly general) is the relationship of the trinitarian God to creation, and of man to creation. "God" appears four times in the incipits; "world /earth/works "(i.e. creation words) four times. BWV 20, BWV 26, BWV 52 and BWV 91 all call the Christian to consider the world?insignificant compared to its creator.

Jean Laaninen wrote (February 13, 2008):
[To Peter Smaill] Thanks, Peter. This adds some interesting depth.

Ed Myskowski wrote (February 18, 2008):
BWV 52 recordings

As I prepare to write a few words, in the background is a USA TV program (60 Minutes) discussing Danes, the happiest people on Earth. Who knew? Not even the inhabitants of Denmark, apparently. They would expect greater happiness on a tropical island, for example.

Not so. The reason, in a word (or two): Modest Expectations! More carefully stated, realistic expectations.

That outlook is applicable to recordings in general, and specifically to those of BWV 52 that I have listened to: Leonhardt [3], Leusink [6], and Koopman [8]. Rilling [4] is notably missing to me, Gottsche [1] is on my list of historic performances to be recovered, and Suzuki [9] appears to be due for release this month.

I have enjoyed the recent posts; I am mainly adding a supporting opinion. In particular, I agree with Neil that the continuo details in the arias (Mvts. 3 and 5) are nicely heard with Leonhardt [3] (for those of us who are not able to play them!), and that Sybilla Rubens with Koopman [8] is the preferred soprano.

Thanks to Peter Smaill for emphasizing the octave drops in Mvt. 5 continuo, and the hermeneutic (theologic?) possibilities. Nevertheless (immerhin?), I was first struck by the riffs that develop into the <immerhin> refrain in Mvt. 3 (including some octave intervals?) Perhaps this looks back to the worldliness of the opening sinfonia, as well as forward to the spirituality of the chorale (Mvt. 6). In any case (immerhin?), I find that Peters comments support the importance of Mvt. 1 as an integral part of the cantata, which we are only beginning to evaluate on its own, and in the context of several other nearby cantatas with opening sinfonias and other movements recast from earlier works. Consider, in contrast, Whittakers opening statement re BWV 52:

<There can have been no reason, other than a wish to hear the music again, or to make the cantata longer, to justify the adaptation of the opening movement of Brandenburg Concerto No. 1 as a sinfonia to [BWV 52].>

Or his closing statement:

<The preludes [to BWV 52 and BWV 174] are extraneous numbers, quite unessential.>

In fairness, the intervening four pages of analysis of the vocal movements are typical Whittaker, essential, and worth the effort (for me, at least) to absorb the details of music examples.

I find Chris Stanleys comments on Leonhardt [3], and especially in defense of Seppi Kronwitters singing and articulation, very appropriate. I would come to the defense of Ruth Holton, but as noted above, choose Sybilla Rubens ahead of both. Anyway (immerhin?), is it necessarily a matter of one is best and the others lacking in some way? Or worse yet, all of them lacking in some way. Why not enjoy the differences?

If you do not like any of them, you are probably not living in Denmark. When I listen to Leusink [6], I do not find myself wishing for one of the others. The tempos are brisk, but not overly so, and nicely balanced. As so often with his set, the performance is satisfying, even before considering the superb value.

With that said (immerhin?), if I had to choose one movement to take away from these three recordings, it would be Seppi with Leonhardt [3], Mvt. 3: <Immerhin>. For overall performance, including sinfonia (Mvt. 1), chorale (Mvt. 6), and soprano quality, it would be Koopman [8]. I look forward to hearing additional versions, both new and old, and to rethinking my preferences.

BWV 52 brings to a close a group of six works for consecutive weeks with emphasis on the characteristics of Jahrgang III: solo voices, organ obbligatos, and reuse of earlier instrumental works. It is also the conclusion of the liturgical year. Durr makes specific reference, with respect to BWV 98 from two weeks ago, of a <chamber-music sonority>. As Julian Mincham has suggested, this description is equally applicable to the group of six compact works, and perhaps to others in the cycle. An open topic for further discussion.

Jean Laaninen wrote (February 18, 2008):
[To Ed Myskowski] Thanks, Ed for this good summation. Timeless works grow on a person, and this is one of two cantatas I sing almost daily to stay in good vocal form (the other being BWV 51). The variation in opinion on the use of the Brandenburg material remains interesting. The cantata for this week, which I hope has reached everyone also includes similar material used in a different manner, and thus provides another open area for comment--yes, Bach definitely must have wanted to hear these works again, and perhaps there were others who did, too.

I hope everyone has had a chance to read through the material on BWV 207 and while there has only been a minimum of comment on this work in the past on the BC forum, add something to the writings that will enhance greater knowledge or thought. If anyone did not receive the mailing I can post it again.

 

BWV 52, Trinity 23 (Nov. 15, 2009)

Ed Myskowski wrote (November 16, 2009):
This mornings broadcast and webcast (WGBH-FM, 89.7; www.wgbh.org) was BWV 52 in the CD version by Suzuki [9], repeating later on the web at (I believe) 11:00 AM EST (1600 UT). Next week will be BWV 26, for Trinity 24. Note that Brian McCreath continues to select works coordinated with the Lutheran liturgical calendar, although he has not specifically pointed this out on air for some time now.

Note also that the transfer of classical programming from WGBH to WCRB (99.5 FM) has now been formally announced, including FCC (USA government) approval of the merger, and on-air fund raising for the new, non-commercial outlet. Fortuitously, the conclusion of the church year next week, and the beginning of the new year with Advent 1 the following week, represent the conclusion of the 89.7 transmissions, and hopefully, the transition to the Bach cantata series continuation at 99.5 FM, as well as the web. Stay tuned for confirmation.

As he has done throughout his tenure, Brian continues to emphasize the importance of the texts to Bach's cantatas. BWV 52 is especially emphatic of the late Trinity theme of the futility of life on Earth, opening with <False world, I do not trust you> and closing with the chorale, beginning <In you I have placed my hope, Lord>. Even the dance-like character of the aria (Mvt. 5) <apparently reflects not the world, as is often the case elsewhere, but rather the rather the joy of those who know themselves to be secure in God> (end quote), Durr. Preparing for the ensuing cyclic renewal with the beginning of the Advent sseason.

I always enjoy hearing the Suzuki interpretations, which make a nice contrast with the other ongoing release series: Gardiner (in concert, nearly complete), and Kuijken (OVPP, still going toward its objective of 20 CDs, we can only hope). Although the size of Suzuki's forces is not exactly cutting-edge HIP, the details are carefully recorded and audible, and the resonant acoustic unique.

 

Continue on Part 3

Cantata BWV 52: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

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