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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 54
Widerstehe doch der Sünde
Discussions - Part 3

Continue from Part 2

Discussions in the Week of April 17, 2005

Thomas Shepherd wrote (April 16, 2005):
BWV 54: Introduction

The cantata for discussion this week (April 18-23) is:

Cantata BWV 54
Widerstehe doch der Sünde

Event in the Lutheran church calendar: Solo Cantata (for Alto) for Dominica Oculi [3rd Sunday in Lent]
Composed: Weimar, 1714 | 1st performance: March 24, 1715 - Weimar
----------
Link to texts, commentary, vocal score, music examples, and list of known recordings: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV54.htm

Link to previous discussions: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV54-D.htm

Streamed over the internet, it is possible to hear Leusink's version of the whole cantata [23]: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Stream/BWV54-Leusink.ram

Link to liturgical Readings: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Read/Lent3.htm

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From Tadashi Isoyama's 1996 notes for vol 3 of Suzuki's Cantata cycle on BIS records [20]:

"Cantata No. 54 is a small-scale cantata for alto, consisting only of two arias linked by a recitative. It has been suggested, because of its short length, that it may be a fragment of a longer work. Since the original of the text by Georg Christian Lehms has come to light, however, (in Gottgefalliges KirchenOpfer, Darmstadt, 1711), it seems clear that the work was meant to stand on its own. It is certainly a Weimar composition; it has come down to us in a manuscript prepared by Barch's pupil J.T. Krebs and the Weimar organist J.G. Walther. The division of the viola part into two also supports the idea that the cantata is an early work. It has recently been suggested that it was first performed on the third Sunday in Lent (4th March) in 1714; as it predates Cantata BWV 182, it can also be regarded as a kind of trial work. It is certainly based on the established subject of the conflict between sin and the will to resist it, however, and both the penmanship and the mood of the work are clearly Bach's.

"The cantata begins with an aria in E flat major which decries the 'deception of sin'. The tension between the tonic and diminished seventh drives the movement, the unabating dissonances grating on the ear as the piece progresses. This aria was later arranged to form part of the St. Mark Passion, BWV 247 (of which only the libretto survives). The recitative which follows strips the mask from sin, revealing its contents to be nothing but an empty shadow. The true nature of sin is likened to a sharp sword, reflected in the sharp movements of the continuo. The cantata closes with an aria in four-part fugal form declaiming that 'Whoever commits sin is of the devil'."
----------

This week's musical examples were originally going to be of the last movement which rarely gets discussed. I never quite understood how Aryeh and others could listen to the same bits of a cantata many many times in a week. That discipline has often left me somewhat jaded. That is until this week. I have played the four (five) recordings of the first aria Widerstehe doch der Sünde time and time again. It is a most wonderful piece, surely one of Bach greatest compositions! So the links here are of this aria taken from the repeat at the da capo mark. I love all these recordings - each has something very special to say and I can't improve on the judgements made in the first round of the discussions. They are worth careful reading. And I can't say that Suzuki is my favourite this week!!

Rilling: Julia Hamari [9]: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/MusEx/BWV54-M1-Rilling.mp3

Leonhardt: Paul Esswood [3]: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/MusEx/BWV54-M1-Leonhardt.mp3

Suzuki: Yoshikazu Mera [20]: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/MusEx/BWV54-M1-Suzuki.mp3

Leusink: S. Buwalda [23]: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/MusEx/BWV54-M1-Leusink.mp3

The whole cantata [23]: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Stream/BWV54-Leusink.ram

As a curio here is exactly the same music with different words in Simon Heighes's reconstruction of the Mark Passion on Brilliant ( http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Vocal/BWV247-Goodman.htm )
I like this a great deal and think the words fit the music very well: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/MusEx/BWV247-M19-Goodman.mp3
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I hope to see many of you enjoying the music and joining in the discussion about this aria or any other aspect of the cantata.

Thomas Manhart wrote (April 16, 2005):
I had this week a discussion with Paul Esswood on the tuning of this cantata. It is a farely low range for the alto, and I would want to ask those of you in the group who ever performed it, if you helped ourselves with any transpositions. Esswood suggested to put it somewhat a small third higher to have the entire range audible in a concert (although he sang it in the Leonardt recording as noted).

Any suggestions out of your experience?

Thanks

David Atkins wrote (April 16, 2005):
[To Thomas Shepherd] I have just listened to the Suzuki [20] and Herreweghe [21] versions. I actually prefer the Japanese performance, even though Herreweghe has the better singer in Andreas Scholl. I think the faster speed of the Suzuki first aria is more appropriate. Anyone else noticed this?

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 16, 2005):
< Link to previous discussions: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV54-D.htm >
Addressing Neil's question from 11/25/04, archived near the bottom of that: the opening chord of BWV 54 is the rare stroke of having the tonic triad and the dominant seventh mixed together! Bitonality, duality, body vs spirit, whatever other bifurcation sparks the mind through the use of that blended sound. Reality is two or more things that fit together in some way that is difficult to predict, existing in the same space and time.

Stability and instability--needing to resolve back into tonic--are thrust together immediately. The tonic pedal point (E-flat) holds things together through that long passage of the opening bars. Compare the extremely long tonic pedal point at the end of the "Herr, lehre doch mich" third mvt of Brahms's German Requiem, the last several minutes of it. Various stuff swirls around it and threatens to disturb it, but nothing is able to do so. The tonic--groundedness--inevitably wins the resolution. Meanwhile, the dominant and the related harmonies make the whole thing a lot more interesting to experience than a merely static iteration of tonic. There's a dynamic to it. Music is a process of change, and balance.

Presently I have nothing to add to my earlier remarks about favorite recordings of this cantata, as archived in that discussion; still the Deller recording [3] that is now 51 years old. As I noted there on 3/23/03, this is my favorite Bach cantata.

Peter Smaill wrote (April 16, 2005):
"Wiederstehe doch der Sünde" (BWV 54), one of the few Cantatas (dealing sin) which addresses God the Father with no reference to the Son, is also remarkable for a quotation not from the Bible or the Apocrypha (as in BWV106, Gottes Zeit, and in the equally superb BWV 95, Christus, der ist mein Leben )).

It is i think a reference from the Jewish historian Josephus (IV;483-5) and
concerns the apples of Sodom ;

"Sie ist der sodomsapfeln gleich"
(So is is it similar to sodom's apples )

Sodom certainly occurs in the OT. But not the apples. Josephus' version is :

"it is said that, owing to the impiety of its inhabitants, [Sodom] was consumed by thunderbolts; and in fact vestiges of the divine fire and faint traces of five cities are still visible. still, too, one may see the ashes reproduced in the fruits, which from their outward appeaance would be thought edible, but on being plucked with the hand dissolve into smoke and ashes."

the same source applies to BWV 95/2

"Das Wollustsalz verschlucken müssen
Wenn ich an deinem Lustreiver
nur sodomsapfel konnnte brechen
"

(Decauchery's salt I had to swallow
When I in [the world's] pleasure quarters
Only sodom's apples could gather "

and also in BWV 179/3

"Falscher Heuchler Ebenbild
Konen Sodomsapfel heissen..."

(The image of false hypocrites
is like that of Sodom's apples...)

Note that in this source there is an association of Sodom with the concept of glittering on the outside but rotten inside.

The libretto of BWV 54 is by Lehms, but the other two are anonymous. Quite why this very specific image is culled from Josephus and re-used twice is a question to which there may be interesting answers. I'm not aware of Josephus being used anywhere else in the libretti but welcome correction on this point.

A further conundrum : BWV 54 is given out as being for the third Sunday in Lent (Oculi). is there a reason why the general rule against Cantatas in Lent is broken on this date in the Church's calendar? (Robertson states in capitals "THERE WERE NO CANTATAS PERFORMED IN LENT). Or is Dürr's suggestion of the seventh sunday after Trinity more plausible?

Whatever the sources or purposes of the Cantata, it is in the hands of an alto able to exploit the unequalled low register, a solo cantata of outstanding quality and unique acoustic texture.

Tom Dent wrote (April 16, 2005):
Thomas Shepherd wrote:
< The cantata for discussion this week (April 18-23) is:
Cantata BWV 54 Widerstehe doch der Sünde
(...)
I hope to see many of you enjoying the music and joining in the discussion about this aria or any other aspect of the cantata. >
Two questions:

Are there any other cantatas that begin with a discord, or a chord figured other than 5 3 ? (A dominant 7th over the tonic pedal would be figured as 7 5 4 2 ... I think.)

Has the cantata ever been sung/recorded by a baritone?

Peter Smaill wrote (April 16, 2005):
[To Tom Dent] Nearest comparable moment to the opening of "Wiederstehe doch der sünde" for me in Bach is the shock of the astonishing 6 4 2 on D which starts the final chorale of BWV 38, "Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir" (B, E, A sharp, D). Much later than the Weimar cantata BWV 54 but also a work on penitential themes.

John Reesse wrote (April 16, 2005):
[To Tom Dent] All I know is that when Beethoven began his first symphony with a dissonance, many years later, it was considered very iconoclastic for its time.

When I first saw Brad's post (I am unfamiliar with the cantata) I assumed the opening movement was a recitative, for which a dissonant opening chord wouldn't have been too unusual. But this cantata opens with an aria! Another example of Bach being ahead of his time.

I can't tell from the piano score -- is there actually a tonic triad in the continuo, or is this just a dominant seventh chord with a tonic pedal point?

Thomas Braatz wrote (April 17, 2005):
Tom Dent wrote:
>>Are there any other cantatas that begin with a discord, or a chord figured other than 5 3?<<
It may not be the beginning of another cantata, but Bach used the same opening chord at the beginning of BWV 61/4, also a work from the Weimar period (1714.)

Information given by Alfred Dürr on p. 294 of his "Johann Sebastian Bach: Die Kantaten" [Bärenreiter, last revision 1995.)

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 17, 2005):
< I can't tell from the piano score -- is there actually a tonic triad in the continuo, or is this just a dominant seventh chord with a tonic pedal point? >
Bach-Gesellschaft at: http://www.mymp3sonline.net/bach_cantatas/mp3.asp

The continuo's figure on the downbeat is 7 5 4 2 on a repeated E-flat for the whole bar. And then check out that stack in the third bar, still over the E-flat: 7b 6 5 2 !

Then in bar 7 he's right back to his dominant/tonic mixing again, but this time it's all modulated to B-flat....

Thomas Braatz wrote (April 17, 2005):
BWV 54 "Widerstehe doch der Sünde"

Various questions and answers

Some questions regarding the provenance:

Do we have an original (autograph) source or a set (or even part of a set) of original parts?

No, we do not even have any record (such as the transmission of the cantata from the estate of one of Bach's sons or the official sale or auction of the original) that such sources ever existed. It can only be conjectured that they must once have existed for a performance under Bach's direction, probably in the early Weimar period (and possibly even a bit earlier.)

They are considered 'lost without a trace.'

On which source then is the cantata as we hear it today based?

This may depend upon the edition being used - is it the BGA, Breitkopf & Härtel, Eulenburg or NBA edition.

The first attempt to publish this cantata was undertaken by Wilhelm Rust in volume 12,2 of the BGA (Berlin, July 1863). Since Rust had based his edition upon a copy of a copy, numerous additional errors crept into this edition, errors which were later corrected. Arnold Schering based his version on the BGA and made some corrections on his own (without having recourse to the main copy upon which the NBA is based). This was published as part of the Eulenburg miniature score series (No. 1010, Leipzig/Vienna, 1928.) Breitkopf & Härtel, for its series of cantata scores (and piano reductions), used some of Arnold Schering's corrections (and thereby deviated from the BGA original) for its continuing publications of the Bach cantatas. Unfortunately, in following too carefully the secondary copy which Rust had used and judiciously, in some cases, conjectured what Bach may have intended, Schering reintroduced, for instance, parallel fifths between the 1st viola and bc (1st mvt. m. 48.)

The copy upon which the NBA primarily bases its editorial decisions has the following history:
It is not clear how, under which circumstances, the firm Breitkopf & Härtel acquired this copy - was it through the estate of either the Bach or the Johann Gottfried Walther family? Thanks to a Breitkopf catalog of musical compositions (many of them still in manuscript form) from 1761, it is listed there on p. 10 under the category "4 Small Sacred Cantatas and Arias. With Instruments" with the specific entry: "Bach, J. S. Capellm. und Musikdirector zu Leipzig, Cantate: Widerstehe doch der Sünde, à 2 Violini, 2 Viole, Alto Solo, Organo. a 1 thl." [Wolff gives 1 Reichsthaler = $72.00 today] Then, in a Breitkopf & Härtel auction catalog from the year 1836, on p. 4 under the heading "7 Cantatas," it is once again mentioned as item 153 "Bach, J. S., Cantate, Widerstehe doch der Sünde, Partitur. 2 [Bogen]."

This copy was acquired in 1836 by the musicologist François-Joseph Fétis (1784-1871) who purchased it as an 'original' (autograph) score by J. S. Bach. Upon the death of this musicologist, it was acquired in 1872 by the Royal BelgiaLibrary in Brussels [Bibliothèque Royale de Belgique, Bruxelles [Signatur: II. 4196; Fétis No. 2444.]

In the library's catalog dating from 1877 (p. 309) it is listed as follows:

"Cantata a 2 violini, 2 viole, alto solo, e basso continuo del J. S. B. (Jean Sébastien Bach). MS original, 1 vol. in-fol."

The watermarks do not allow a more precise dating than sometime between 1686-1739.

Friedrich Smend was the first to notice and report in the Bach-Jahrbuch (1940-1948) p. 20, that the score was not autograph, but that the handwriting was that of Johann Gottfried Walther. Subsequent scholarship has refined the authorship of the copy to include Johann Tobias Krebs d. Ä. (senior) (1690-1762), the father of Johann Ludwig Krebs, of whom Bach himself stated that he was the only 'crab' in the 'brook' ["der einzige Krebs im Bache."] The NBA KB I/8.1-2, p. 90 puts the situation this way: this copy [of BWV 54] was written/copied by Johann Tobias Krebs, sr. with the help/assistance of Johann Gottfried Walther.

This Krebs/Walther copy of BWV 54 is the primary secondary source. It is secondary because it is a copy of the presumed original of which no record exists. It is primary among all the other copies. It is listed as source A.

Source B, upon which the BGA based its edition, is a copy made from source A by Franz Hauser and dated by him as "Leipzig, November 20, 1832." In addition to having made errors in copying, both violas are notated on the same staff in alto clef. This copy is in the BB.

Source C was copied from B by a copyist who simply signed his name as Passer and even indicated that he copied it from Hauser's copy with the date given in the preceding paragraph. This copy belonged to the Josef Fischhof collection and is now in the BB.

Source D is a copy of A made in the early 19th century before 1836 when it was still in the possession of Breitkopf & Härtel in Leipzig. For a while its owner was Johann Theodor Mosewius (1788-1858), a music director and founder of the Singakademie of Breslau. As part of the estate of the Academic Institute for Church Music of which Mosewius was also a director, it came to the Musicological Institute of the University of Breslau where it remained until 1945 when it went to the University Library of Warsaw.

Is BWV 54/1 a parody of a mvt. from the St. Mark's Passion, BWV 247?

This theory was first advanced by Friedrich Smend in the Bach-Jahrbuch (1940-1948) pp. 19ff. Smend correctly pointed out the connection between BWV 54 and the aria "Falsche Welt, dein schmeichelnd Küssen" (mvt. 53 of BWV 247) but since this Passion has only text sources and no musical ones, there is no way to verify this theory, but Alfred Dürr admits the textual similarities that Smend listed are very convincing that the music must have been very much the same with minor changes.

For the purpose of comparison, here are the two texts:

BWV 54/1
Widerstehe doch der Sünde,
Sonst ergreifet dich ihr Gift.
Laß dich nicht den Satan blenden;
Denn die Gottes Ehre schänden,
Trifft ein Fluch, der tödlich ist.

BWV 247/53
Falsche Welt, dein schmeichelnd Küssen
Ist der frommen Seelen Gift.
Deine Zungen sind voll Stechen,
Und die Worte, die sie sprechen,
Sind zu Fallen angestift.

However, Smend assumed incorrectly that BWV 54/1 was a parody of BWV 247/53.

At the time, the source of the original text had not yet been uncovered. However, researchers had already discovered that both father and son cantors in Leisnig, Johann Melchior Stockmar d. Ä. [sr.] (1698-1747) and d. J. [jr.] (1725-1791) had published cantata texts (similar to the type that Bach had to have published in Leipzig for use by the congregations) in 1739 and 1748 with the complete text for BWV 54 with only minor changes. The one for 1739 gives texts 'in ogni tempo' while the one for 1748 is specifically for the 20th Sunday after Trinity. Dürr, because of biblical references that connect with the readings for the 7th Sunday after Trinity, prefers the latter although he can also see a connection for the 1st Sunday after Trinity. Dürr sees a good possibility that the Stockmars did actually perform BWV 54 and believes that it is rather likely that Bach had lent them the materials, but that they never returned the autograph score and original parts and that this might be the reason why these original sources were lost.

On pp. 19-21 of NBA KB I/18, Dürr refutes most of Smend's arguments regarding BWV 54/1 as a fairly late parody of BWV 247/53. Although many of these arguments are outdated as a result of more recent research, it is interesting to read, for instance, Dürr's argument against Smend's thesis that the entire cantata, even when presented by Smend as a cantata originating in Leipzig between 1731-1735 after completion of BWV 247 is still extremely low (for an alto to sing:) "freilich auch dann noch extrem tief bleibt" ["though it still remains extremely low."] Dürr then goes on to state that BWV 54 has an extremely low tessitura "die sich am ehesten durch Annahme einer Notierung für Wiedergabe in Chortonstimmung (so Weimar 1714) erklären läßt" ["which can be most easily explained by assuming a notation that would be used for a performance in Chorton."] Dürr ends his argumentation with stating that it is most likely that BWV 54/1 was composed in 1714 and that it was parodied in 1731 for use in the St. Mark Passion, BWV 247/53, "because it would be out of the question that BWV 54 would have received a repeat performance without making changes [transposition] in Leipzig on account of the low tessitura of the solo voice" ["weil eine Wiederaufführung der Kantate 54 in Leipzig wegen der tiefen Lage der Singstimme in unveränderter Form nicht in Frage kam."]

Where did Bach get the text for this cantata?

In the Bach-Jahrbuch (1970), pp. 13ff, Elisabeth Noack proved that the text was taken from a collection of texts by Georg Christian Lehms, a collection that Bach used for some other cantatas as well. The title of this collection is "Gottgefälliges | Kirchen- | Opffer, | In einem gantzen | Jahr-Gange | Andächtiger Betrachtungen | über | die gewöhnlichen | Sonn- und Festags-Texte | . | Von | M. Georg Christian Lehms | .
| Darmstadt [1711
]"

The text for BWV 54 is found on p. 26 listed as "Andacht auf den Sonntag Oculi."

Liturgically this designation is fixed for the Sunday of the church year called 'Oculi.' Combined with the date of publication of Lehms' text and Bach's appointment as Concertmaster at the Weimar Court (March 2, 1714), Oculi would fall that year on the following Sunday, two days later, March 4, 1714. This fact alone makes this date, as the date of composition, rather unlikely. A better choice would be the adjoining years, 1713 and 1715, with 1713 being a better choice because BWV 199 (also with a text by Lehms) can at least be dated by Bach's handwritten document to 1713. [Yoshitake Kobayashi, in "Quellenkundliche Überlegungen zur Chronologie der Weimarer Vokalwerke Bachs" appearing in "Das Frühwerk Johann Sebastian Bachs (Kolloquium Rostock 1990) edited by Karl Heller and Hans-Joachim Schulze, Cologne 1995, p. 304, had fixed the date for BWV 199 for the 11th Sunday after Trinity, August 27, 1713.]

The question now arises whether either of the cantatas, BWV54 or BWV 199, actually have a specific liturgical designation, i.e., that they belong with the other cantatas that are liturgically fixed. Remarkably in the sources for both works, there is not a single indication of a liturgical connection. Both cantatas have texts with rather general content which leads to the suspicion that these solo cantatas, as many other cantatas before this date were used 'in ogni tempo.' Thus the precise dating to any particular Sunday would not be applicable here. Such cantatas as these were used on occasions as needed and would have served for very different situations. BWV 54 and BWV 199 were suited to Bach's position in Weimar as the Court Organist, but not to that of the Concertmaster.

As far has having a repeat performance in Leipzig, for which there is no evidence, a performance, if there had been one, could not have taken place on Oculi, for this was a Sunday when the 'tempus clausum' was in force - no concerted church music would have been allowed. [The last few paragraphs are from pp. 89-90 of the NBA KB I/8.1-2. This commentary was published in 1998 and supersedes any firm confirmation about the liturgical designation for this cantata given elsewhere.]

Is BWV 54 a complete cantata or is there something missing (at least a choral mvt. or inclusion of a chorale sung by the soloist)?

Argument for missing mvt(s).:

Nowhere in any of the copies is there the usual indication which Bach supplies elsewhere: 'Fine' or 'SDG.'

The lack of inclusion of a chorale in some form is highly unusual (cf. BWV 199 its near twin, or BWV 51 much later.

Argument against missing mvt(s):

The original text source by Lehms (1711) is complete and does not indicate a chorale text to be added. The Stockmar printed versions of the text (1739, 1748) also confirm what is found in the Lehms original.

Dürr: Two arias surrounding a single recitative give us the simplest, basic, balanced form of the solo cantata.

Thomas Braatz wrote (April 17, 2005):
Peter Smaill wrote:
>>It is i think a reference from the Jewish historian Josephus (IV;483-5) and concerns the apples of Sodom ;
"Sie ist der sodomsapfeln gleich"
(So is is it similar to sodom's apples )
Sodom certainly occurs in the OT. But not the apples. Josephus' version is:
"it is said that, owing to the impiety of its inhabitants, [Sodom] was consumed by thunderbolts; and in fact vestiges of the divine fire and faint traces of five cities are still visible. still, too, one may see the ashes reproduced in the fruits, which from their outward appeaance would be thought edible, but on being plucked with the hand dissolve into smoke and ashes."<<
Lucia Haselböck, in her "Bach Textlexikon" [Bärenreiter, 2004], found a reference/explanation of "Sodomsäpfel" in Johann Heinrich Zedler's "Großes vollständiges Universal-Lexikon aller Wissenschaften und Künste" 68 volumes, Halle und Leipzig 1732-1754. This explanation is probably based upon Josephus' writings, but it is interesting to see it in print during Bach's lifetime (although Lehms' text was about 20 years earlier:

Sodomsäpfel - Pomo sodomitica, der "Sodoms=apffel" ist die Frucht eines Strauches, der in der Gegend des Roten Meeres wächst: "Derselbe trägt eine liebliche frucht anzusehen, weiß und röthlich, wie die kleinen paradis-äpffel. Inwendig aber sind sie voll weisser körner, die wie unreiffen äpffel, ohne safft, herb und ungeschmack. Die auf dem stamme vertrocknen, werden schwärtzlich, und wenn man sie aufbricht, stauben sie wie asche." ["The apple of Sodom is the fruit of a bush which grows in the region of the Red Sea: "the same bush bears an apple, both white and red, which has the appearance of being 'delightful/sweet/charming' somewhat like the small paradise-(decorative) apples (not for eating). Inside, however, they are full of white, hard seeds, which are without juice, bitter and tasteless like those of unripe apples. The fruits left to dry on the bush become blackish, and when you break them open, they make a lot of dust just like ashes."]

I could not help thinking here about the apple offered to Snow White in the Grimm brother's original:

"und [die Königen-Hexe] machte da einen giftigen, giftigen Apfel. Äußerlich sah er schön aus, weiß mit roten Backen, daß jeder, der ihn erblickte, Lust danach bekam; aber wer ein Stückchen davon aß, der mußte sterben." ["and the queen (witch) made there (in her secret, lonely chamber) an extremely poisonous apple. On the surface it appeared to be beautiful, white with red cheeks, so that anyone who would catch sight of it, would want to have (and eat) it, but whoever ate even a little piece of it would have to die."]

Neil Halliday wrote (April 17, 2005):
John Reese wrote:
<"I can't tell from the piano score -- is there actually a tonic triad
in the continuo, or is this just a dominant seventh chord with a tonic pedal point?">
I believe Brad has answered your question, but to be absolutely certain, in the light of your comment "is this just (my emphasis) a dominant 7th chord with a tonic pedal point"); the continuo figures show that the first chord consists of the notes (in the key of E flat major) E flat, F, A flat, B flat, D (2457)- much more interesting than the relatively common dominant 7th chord, whose notes would be E flat, G, B flat, D flat. (Or are you actually referring to a chord which has the note G - of the E flat major triad - in there as well as 2457? The answer is no.)

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 17, 2005):
[To Neil Halliday] It's the DOMINANT seventh chord, i.e. Bb7 (Bb-D-F-Ab in an inversion), with a tonic Eb played simultaneously to anchor us in the home key instead of that competing dominant.

Johan de Wael wrote (April 17, 2005):
BWV 54-1: Two astonishing chords - a mortal curse

The words:

Lass dich nicht den Satan blenden;
Denn die Gottes Ehre schänden,
Trifft ein Fluch, der tödlich ist.

(the middle section of the first aria)

occur twice (symbolic for imperfect, incomplete, diabolic, ...) and are concluded by remarkable chords.

Two times the cadenza is deliberately resolved in an erroneous way.

The first time we are in C minor and the alto ends on C (on the word 'ist'). C should be the ground-note (consonant in the tonic chord), but the instrumental accompaniment completes the chord with the notes D - A - F#. So the C becomes the seventh (dissonant) in a very loosely related chord to the key C minor (DACF#: the dominant (D) of the dominant (G)).

The second time we are in G minor and the alto ends on G (on the word 'ist'). This time the chord is completed in a more acceptable way, but instead of the tonic chord (G - Bb - D), the chord is completed with the notes F - B - D (FBDG: the third inversion of the dominant-seventh of C minor). So the G is the ground-note, but in the highest part (alto), and instead the seventh (dissonant) is in the bass (continuo).

In both cases the notes that form the tritonus (diabolus in musica, augmented 4th: CF#, FB) are in adjacent parts: the first time alto and viola I, the second time continuo and viola II.

In both cases the continuo makes a 'mistake' by a major second in making the final leap of the cadenza, which should be an ascending perfect fourth (dominant - tonic). The first time the concluding leap is a second too high (ascending perfect fifth: G - D). The second time the concluding leap is a second too low (ascending minor third: D - F).

By these subtle harmonic inventions Bach illustrates in my opinion the 'mortal curse' that falls upon the sinner who lets himself be blinded by the devil and who dishonours the name of God: the very ground of his existence lets him down and he is unable to find a point of reference. Also the final judgement, the final word of God may not be what he has expected.

Alain Bruguières wrote (April 17, 2005):
Since I told you a few weeks that BWV 54 was one of my favorites, I feel obliged to say smething about it!

The subject-matter of this cantata is very serious, and the text is direful. Yet I can't help feeling a little touch ou humour... something hardly perceptible, which I would find hard to justify. Still, the first movement is (to me) extremely sensual, and deligthfully so (in spite of its 'dissonance' - or thanks to it); of course the text warns me that sin can easily delude us (and probably I'm a long way from salvation) but Bach's music seems almost to contradict the text... There's something paradoxical there.

Further, the third movement, with Satan fleeing in front of steadfast devotion, has a humorous flavor, too... things seem so easy, as in the commedia dell'arte or the Théatre Guignol. Of course this is Bach, so the humour - if humour there is- is not blatant, rather tongue-in-cheek.

One could argue that three centuries have elapsed, and we can't percieve things the way Bach meant them, or his public... Right. Still, most of the times, when Bach talks about sin, he does so in dead earnest... even 300 years later, there's no doubt about it!

So I wonder. Perhaps BWV 54 was the first cantata Bach wrote in the Neumeister format... That is, essentially an alternating senquence of arias and recitatives. Isn't it striking that wrote the minimal Neumeister cantata, ie aria + recitative + aria?

This choice is very formal, and somewhat humorous too (a mathematical kind of humour).

Also, a Neumeister cantata is a sort of diminutive opera, so perhaps Bach was in a theatrical mood when he wrote this... and perhaps greatly amused. I like to think that he had great fun writing this cantata...

Does anyone of you feel the same, or am I just a depraved frenchman?

PS Many thanks to those of you who answered my questions, I've learned a lot from your contributions.

Tom Dent wrote (April 18, 2005):
BWV 54 - An effective sermon?

Alain Bruguières wrote:
< The subject-matter of this cantata is very serious, and the text is direful. Yet I can't help feeling a little touch ou humour... something hardly perceptible, which I would find hard to justify. Still, the first movement is (to me) extremely sensual, and deligthfully so (in spite of its 'dissonance' - or thanks to it); of course the text warns me that sin can easily delude us (and probably I'm a long way from salvation) but Bach's music seems almost to contradict the text... There's something paradoxical there. >
What can Bach the father of 20 children have been thinking of in connection with 'sin'? The text is really quite ineffectual in that it doesn't mention any particular sin, just saying 'don't be naughty --- or else'. Of course everyone thinks that he himself is quite virtuous, it is only the other fellow who is in the grip of Satan. So the text provides the pleasure of serenely contemplating someone else's faults.

Indeed, the use of dissonance, although it is supposed to symbolize dangerous sin, provides particular enjoyment to our post-dodecaphonic ears. (Did Bach's listeners find that, on the contrary, it was chaotic and disorienting?) The text says that the superficial pleasure of sin will crumble into dust when we realize that it leads to damnation: but on the contrary, the pleasure of Bach's virtuoso treatment of dissonance is only deepened with repeated listening. The devil having the best tunes?

< One could argue that three centuries have elapsed, and we can't percieve things the way Bach meant them, or his public... >
There is some internal evidence: Bach could have provided really unpleasant discords, but he actually composed rather beautiful and even satisfying ones, and chose a particularly relaxed key (E flat major) to do so.

< most of the times, when Bach talks about sin, he does so in dead earnest... even 300 years later, there's no doubt about it! >
I wonder. I have never found the 'hellfire and damnation' (to caricature one aspect of Lutheranism) elements of the religious works convincing, at least in today's beautiful performances.

Teri Noel Towe wrote (April 18, 2005):
Thomas's 2 questions about BWV 54

< Are there any other cantatas that begin with a discord, or a chord figured other than 5 3 ? (A dominant 7th over the tonic pedal would be figured as 7 5 4 2 ... I think.) >
Doesn't BWV 61 open with such a chord?

< Has the cantata ever been sung/recorded by a baritone? >
To my knowledge, no.

I am a wee bit rusty about the specifics of the matter, but, if my little grey cells are still working effectively, the pitch in the Himmelsburg in Weimar in Bach's day was very high, approximately a minor third higher than cammerthon.

Many modern singers have transposed the cantata upwards, particularly in concert. For instance, I recall the superb Canadian contralto Maureen Forrester, who has a wonderfully wicked sense of humor, remarking during the break during a ca. 1973 rehearsal for a concert performance in New York, that there was no reason to dig the "ubertunchtes Grab" any deeper than absolutely necessary.

I share Brad's deep and abiding affection for Alfred Deller's wonderful recording [3], which qualifies as a recording "first" in more than one category, and it surely is my favorite commercial recording of the cantata. I also am very fond of Maureen's recording [7].

However, the most extraordinary recording of the work that I have ever heard is a private recording, a miraculous rendition that was cut directly to lacquers in Town Hall in New York. The soloist is Marian Anderson, and the performance documented is, it appears, the only one that she ever gave of BWV 54. It was recorded on December 5, 1951. She sings it at the written pitch, with a modern instrument accompaniment at A = 440. She has absolutely no difficulty with the lowest notes, and her naturally dark sound is simply perfect for both the text and the music. In fact, as far as I am concerned JSB wrote BWV 54 expressly for her!

John Reese wrote (April 18, 2005):
[To Neil Halliday] That's what I originally thought Brad meant; the secondary dominant to IV, but looking at the score it's obviously the true dominant (in relation to the tonic), Bb, D, F, Ab.

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 18, 2005):
I think we should be careful against making any too-easy equation that "dissonance" = "sin". Dissonance in music creates dynamic process, tension that needs to resolve (and that almost always resolves "correctly" according to a complex set of rules/conventions). Musicianship is--at least in part--the ability to handle this in controlled balance, knowing what those normal processes are and knowing how/when it's appropriate to bend them for expressivity.

Dissonance is a foreground feature against a backdrop of consonance; but music can also work in the opposite way. Whenever there's a bunch of dissonance in succession, that's the thing that starts to sound normal as backdrop and then any intruding consonance grabs the attention and starts a dynamic process.

Point is, these are simply tools/elements, like having several colors of paint available in contrast with one another, and all sorts of gradations in between as they can be mixed. Morally neutral.

Here's an example of another piece by Bach that is also in E-flat major and also explicitly about sin. (It is also probably from the same year as cantata 54: 1714. Or, it may be slightly earlier.) "O Mensch bewein..." BWV 622 in Orgelbuechlein. Last minute of the piece including the famous motion to a C-flat major harmony; sample at: http://launch.groups.yahoo.com/group/BachCantatas/files/
Embellishment is the use of dissonance to enliven a texture that would otherwise have too much of a static consonance and be dull. And the word "embellishment" means "beautification". Is the dissonance in here sin? I don't think so! The dissonant moments in there, by complex harmony and by linear motion, are beautiful bits to be savored.

Stevan Vasiljevic wrote (April 18, 2005):
BWV 54 - a slightvariation in Goodman's performance

I listened to the first movement of this cantata uncountable times and it is among my favorites. As was already mentioned, this movement was parodied for movement 19 (I think) ("Falsche Welt, dein...") of Roy Goodman's performance of Markuspassion, BWV 247 (reconstruction by Sir Simon Heighes [pardon my spelling]). I listened to this version also many times. And I then noticed something small, but striking. At the very last repetition of the subject, I noticed a slight difference in 2nd violin. It is near the end of the subject, one bar before those long sustained notes in 1st and 2nd violin (I don't have the score to count bars, sorry). Both violins have descending patterns in 32nds, but then the 2nd violin instead plays triolas of some sort. What a terrific surprise it is. It only adds to the enjoyment of this masterpiece. I looked at BGA scores and piano reduction score on BCW (months ago), but I haven't noticed that such a thing is written down. Admittedly, my sources are not the best, but they were available. Has anyone else heard this detail, or am I just hearing things?

I just wish that Goodman used a slower tempo, like the one used in Teldec-Harnoncourt/Leonhardt performance (not sure which one of those two, my memory doesn't serve me that well today). Contrary to my usual taste, in this case slower is better.

Uri Golomb wrote (April 18, 2005):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< I think we should be careful against making any too-easy equation that "dissonance" = "sin". Dissonance in music creates dynamic process, tension that needs to resolve (and that almost always resolves "correctly" according to a complex set of rules/conventions). >
Here are some interesting comments on this issue from Glenn Gould, speaking specifically of this cantata. I am not, for the moment, expressing my own opinion, negatively or positively, about this quote -- I just think it's pertinent, interesting and provocative enough to share:

"The title of this Cantata is 'Widerstehe doch der Sünde', which rough translates as 'Stand Firm against Sin' and its text is very probably by Bach himself. Certainly its musical realization is accorded an intensely personal and poignant expression; the very opening chord is one of the most powderful dissonances in Bach's harmonic arsenal. In fact, coming as it dose at the beginning of a work, it is well-nigh unprecedented, and both of the outer movements of this cantata are full of that tortuous art of intense corss-relations and suspensions which Bach alwasy reserved for thsoe subject on which he felt most keenly and most deeply.

"It is very tempting but it's too easy to dwell at length upon the descriptive qualities of Bach's music. Ever since the great Bach revivals of teh late nineteenth century an incredible amount of effort and scholarship has been applied in dissecting the dramatic connotations of almost every instrumental and vocal motive which occurs more than once in his work. Indeed, in the most active years of Bach research at the beginning of [the 20th] century his cantatas and his Passion-music were treated to much the same sort of microscopi analysis as was the leitmotif technique of Wagner's Ring Cycle. Fortunately we have now learned to accept hte pictorial aspect of Bach's writing within its proper context. It was certainly an important part of his musical thinking and one thorugh which many of the characteristic motives of his instrumental style were adopted in his vocal writing, and vice versa, but there is a very real danger to be faced in overstating the pictorial qualities in this music. "

(and here comes perhaps the most provocative bit)

"If, for instance, one applies the dramatic view to the opening of the Cantata no. 54, one can easily claim that the great tension of this dominant 11th chord -- which what it technically is called -- depicts the tension and discord of the struggle for the soul's purity, and that its tonic resolution portrays the state of contentment which awaits the spiritual victor. This is a plausible analysis. However, it would be equally possible to say -- if one had the malice to say it -- that the great tension of the opening chord represents the sacrifice and the nuisance of bothering to struggle, while the tonic resolution represents the ease and pleasures of sin. I don't think Bach subscribed to that view, but it does indicate that it is extremely dangerous to apply or expect this kind of dramatic thesis in the music of Bach. Because the fact remains that Bach, for all the passion of his own belief, for all the conviction of his theological position, was, insofar as his musical achievement was concerned, first and last an architect, a constructor of sound, and what makes him so inestimably valuable to us is that he was beyond a doubt the greatest architect of sound who ever lived".

(Source: Glenn Gould: "Bach the Nonconformist" == script for the CBC TV program "Glenn Gould on Bach", Jan. 25, 1962; reprinted in The Art of Glenn Gould: Reflections of a Musical Genuis, edited by John P. L. Roberts and published by Malcolm Lester Books, Toronto, in 1999. "Bach the Nonconformist" appears on pp. 95-102; the quote above comes from pp. 99-100).

Henri Sanguinetti wrote (April 18, 2005):
[To Stevan Vasiljevic] Are you talking about the recording by Goodman with Nathalie Stutzmann as a soloist (BMG 1996) [17]?

I have been listening to it several times in series with Esswood (Teldec, Harnoncourt) [9] and Scholl (Koopman) [19]. They are all different to me, and moving. I found that Nathalie is sounding more "operatic", with that unmistakable flavour in her voice. It took me a certain time to appreciate it I must confess.

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 18, 2005):
Quote of Glenn Gould:
< "If, for instance, one applies the dramatic view to the opening of the Cantata no. 54, one can easily claim that the great tension of this dominant 11th chord -- which what it technically is called -- depicts the tension and discord of the struggle for the soul's purity, and that its tonic resolution portrays the state of contentment which awaits the spiritual victor. This is a plausible analysis. However, it would be equally possible to say -- if one had the malice to say it -- that the great tension of the opening chord represents the sacrifice and the nuisance of bothering to struggle, while the tonic resolution represents the ease and pleasures of sin. >
I think it's interesting that the great tension of the opening bar is caused by having the tonic in it! Remove that note and we simply have a bland dominant 7th. Still a surprise, on its own, but not as intense.

Another piece that starts on a dissonance: Tchaikovsky's ballet "Sleeping Beauty". And Mahler 7. And the Brahms first piano concerto, not being in the advertised key. And Beethoven 1 (already mentioned). And Schumann's C major piano Fantasia, and the piano concerto. And the Mozart "Dissonant" quartet. And the Telemann concerto that starts Dombrecht's album on Vanguard. The Scarlatti sonata K175 has extra stuff crushed into its harmonies, much of the way through the piece...sometimes more than five notes to be played by the same hand. Most of these compositions are probably not about sin. :)

Uri Golomb wrote (April 18, 2005):
Brad wrote, about several works with discoard beginnings (which, incidentaly, can also include at least one Haydn quartet -- op. 74 no. 1, I think, which begins with a dominant chord, not particularly dissonant in itself but definitely a jolt when placed at the BEGINNING of a work):
< Most of these compositions are probably not about sin. :) >

An instrumental version of BWV 54 wouldn't be about sin, either; at most, it would be "about" tension and resolution. I think that, text or not text, most listeners would sense in this piece an acute sense of struggle; but there would be npoint in asking "who is struggling? against/with what?". That's part of Gould's point, I suppose: the music only "tells" you that there is strong, discordant tension which is eventually resolved. However, the text is part of the work; and once you have that sort of music placed together with that particular text, it's an inevitable -- and expected -- that a connection will be made. And if the text says "resist sin", and the music seems to illustrate a struggle, than it's not much of a jump to say that the music IN THIS PARTICULAR CONTEXT, with these words, potrays the struggle and resistance against sin. One could say that it's still more about resistance than about sin; and somehow, it seems that dramatic notions like struggle and resistance are much more amenable to musical illustration than a relatively abstract concept like "sin" in any case.

Thomas Braatz wrote (April 18, 2005):
Stevan Vasiljevic wrote:
>>I listened to this version [BWV247/53] also many times. And I then noticed something small, but striking. At the very last repetition of the subject, I noticed a slight difference in 2nd violin. It is near the end of the subject, one bar before those long sustained notes in 1st and 2nd violin (I don't have the score to count bars, sorry). Both violins have descending patterns in 32nds, but then the 2nd violin instead plays triolas of some sort. What a terrific surprise it is. It only adds to the enjoyment of this masterpiece. I looked at BGA scores and piano reduction score on BCW (months ago), but I haven't noticed that such a thing is written down. Admittedly, my sources are not the best, but they were available. Has anyone else heard this detail, or am I just hearing things?<<
The NBA shows no triolas [triplets] anywhere in BWV 54/1 and since there is no music extant for BWV 247/53, there is nothing reliable about the introduction of these triplet figures as having anything at all to do with Bach's composition. As pointed out numerous times before in these discussions, Bach wrote out whatever embellishments he thought were suitable for his music and did not desire these to be added by musicians whose taste in these things he generally distrusted. I am somewhat surprised that no listener has caught in one of the many recordings a special embellishment at the end of m. 26 on "sonst er" in the vocal part (the 2nd measure after the long hold on 'widerstehe' where the word 'stehe' = to stand {firmly} is illustrated musically with this held note.) This embellishment was written in later, not in the handwriting of either Krebs or Walther, and is yet another step removed from Bach's original conception.

Tom Dent wrote (April 18, 2005):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< Dissonance is a foreground feature against a backdrop of consonance; but music can also work in the opposite way. Whenever there's a bunch of dissonance in succession, that's the thing that starts to sound normal as backdrop and then any intruding consonance grabs the attention and starts a dynamic process. >
I don't know what 'dynamic process' means, apart from 'something happens'. Which is true, since Bach is not a minimalist. But even in the most minimalist piece, something happens at the beginning, namely silence is replaced by a sound. The simplest and least 'dynamic' way to begin is a single note (Bruckner 8, Mozart D major quintet, Das Rheingold); the major chord is just this note plus its harmonics. Bach has chosen a chord of 5 different tones, which is remarkably difficult to assimilate at the first hearing, while not being actively unpleasant.

This tends to support Gould's view that the subject of the first movement is not 'Sünde' but 'Widerstehe' (struggle against).

Parsifal Act III has a good example of consonance grabbing the attention with the tremendous series of perfect cadences in B major after interminable shifting chromaticism... a bit like when you get to the verb at the end of a long German sentence.

< Point is, these are simply tools/elements, like having several colors of paint available in contrast with one another, and all sorts of gradations in between as they can be mixed. Morally neutral. >
A very postmodernist proposition! I agree, the elements of music (individual notes and chords) do gain most of their meaning as a result of being put next to other elements. But it is difficult to believe that the first note of Beethoven's Pathetique sonata, or the finale of his Ninth - have no 'moral' in themselves. Deryck Cooke's book 'The Language of Music' is a series of reflections on the 'moral' qualities of different elements and I guess he would also endorse the notion of an accented rising melodic jump as a musical embodiment of struggle. Anyway, to return to basics, the first chord of BWV 54 has a definite emotional effect independent of what follows it. (But dependent on its listeners!)

< Here's an example of another piece by Bach that is also in E-flat major and also explicitly about sin. "O Mensch bewein..." BWV 622 in Orgelbüchlein. (...) Embellishment is the use of dissonance to enliven a texture that would otherwise have too much of a static consonance and be dull. And the word "embellishment" means "beautification". >
I'm a little lost here - is this 'embellishment' a technical term of music theory? If so, it loses its literal meaning.

< Is the dissonance in here sin? I don't think so! The dissonant moments in there, by complex harmony and by linear motion, are beautiful bits to be savored. >
Although the chord of C flat major, an unexpected remote shift of tonality in the flat direction. is not a dissonance, it has a remarkable effect of sudden estrangement and decline, which requires resolution via an upwards alteration of the Cb and Gb: the effect of the return to E flat major is yet more remarkable. It is a curious feature of music that it can have negative emotional 'affect' (depression, sadness) while being aesthetically enjoyable. I think there is a good argument to be made that these few bars are a deliberate depiction of fall and resurrection.

This momentary extreme fall and rise of tonality, which stands alone in the piece, is a quite different case from 'Widerstehe' where the dissonances are endemic to the fabric of the piece, and involve upward melodic movement without radical change of tonality.

There is I think another conventional equation, chromatic descent = sin, which is borne out on the symbolic level in the last movement. Chromatic descent can also be a lament, but that seems unlikely here.

Thomas Braatz wrote (April 19, 2005):
It seems highly improbable that Bach was not acquainted with the writings of Andreas Werckmeister, and it is quite likely that Bach would have at least possessed some of his books at a certain point in his life.

Eric Chafe, for this reason, has numerous references to Werckmeister's ideas in his discussions of the Bach cantatas and Passions.

With this in mind, I submit the following for study and consideration:

Excerpted from Werckmeister's "Musicalische Paradoxal-Discourse oder Ungemeine Vorstellung" [Quedlinburg, 1707]

p. 91 "Die 7. klinget nicht mit denen andern 'harmoni'schen Zahlen / sie wird eine Ruhe=Zahl genennet."

["The number 7 (or the interval of the 7th) does not sound together with the other harmonious numbers, it (7) is called a 'resting' number."]

['Ruhe' can imply many things such as: 'lack of sound; stillness; being paralyzed or unable to move; doing nothing; death' - this can be related to Faust's bargain with the devil (Mephistopheles in Goethe's 'Faust' where inaction, tranquil complacency become the condition under which Faust would have to surrender his soul to Mephistopheles - perhaps this is the sinful nature of 'Ruhe.']

p. 92 "Diese Zahlen 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. und 8. sind nun ein 'Corpus' der völligen 'Harmonie,' und klingen vor dem Gehör...als wenn es ein 'Sonus' wäre. Sie können uns Schatten=Weise das Wesen des Allmächtigen Gottes abbilden / wie er von Ewigkeit in seiner ewigen Natur /ehe der Welt=Grund gelegt war / gewesen ist. Denn er ist das einige / und ewige Wesen/ welches durch die Unität bezeichnet wird /aus welcher al'Harmonia' ihren Uhrsprung hat / und die wahre Einigkeit herfließet..."

["This numbers, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 8 constitute the 'body' of full harmony and sound to the ear as if they were a single sound. They can represent for us the 'shadowy' nature of the Almighty God, the way He was been in His eternal nature even before the universe was formed. For He is the unified/single and eternal being which can be described as the unity from which all harmony has its origin and from which flows forth true agreement/consensus."]

[Note the omission of 7!]

p. 95 "Die Zahl 7. ist eine Ruhe=Zahl auch eine solche / welche eine Vielheit in der Heil. Schrifft bedeutet / womit man nicht allemal eine Gewißheit bedeuten kan: Weßwegen sie auch dem Gemühte des Menschen eine Undeutlichkeit in den 'Sonis' veruhrsachet. Sonsten wird auch die 7. eine Jungfräuliche Zahl / 'Numerus virgineus, u.s.w. genennet: 'Kepplerus' hat in seinen 'Sectionibus circulorum' noch andere Uhrsachen / warum die 7. mit denen andern 'harmoni'schen Zahlen / nicht 'harmonieren' will.

Sie wird auch eine heilige Zahl genennet / weil sie niemand als der Geist GOttes erforschen kan. Darum wird auch der Geist GOttes 7benfalt genennet: Sie ist auch eine geheime Zahl / wie davon in 'Apocalypsi' vielfältige Meldung geschiehet / in der Ordnung ist dies heilige Zahl die dritte / von denen Ungeraden / wodurch wieder die Dreyheit in GOtt angedeutet werden kan
."

["The number 7 is a 'resting' {see above} number and also such a number which indicates plurality in the Bible, but you can not even be certain about any aspect of this 'plurality' - for this reason, it (the number 7 or the interval of the 7th) creates/causes a vagueness or a lack of clarity in its sound. In other connections the 7 (or 7th) is also called a virginal number 'numerus virgineus, etc.: Kepler, in his 'Sectionibus circulorum,' listed other reasons/causes why the number 7 does not want to harmonize with the other harmonious numbers.

It (the number 7) is also called a holy/sacred number because only the Spirit of God can explore and fathom it. This is why God's Spirit is called 'seven-fold.' It (the number 7) is also a mysterious/secret number as reported many times in the "Apocalypse." In the order of things, this sacred number is the third of the uneven numbers, whereby the God's Trinity (Triune Nature) is suggested."]

pp. 101-102

"Die Zahl 8. giebet in sich / wenn sie getheilet wird. 1 7. 2 6. 3 5. Sie die 8. ist in ihrer Ordnung eine volle Zahl / und machet die 'Harmoniam' gantz 'complet.' Wie aber in dieser Zeitlichkeit immer etwas hartes mit unterläuffet / und das Creutz sich bey uns einfindet: So ist hier auch 1-7. der 'Sacer Septenarius' welcher das Creutz vorbildet: Es finden sich aber auch noch andere schöne 'Proportiones' in diesen 'Septenario,' als 1-6. 2-5. und 3-4. Eine schöne und ordentliche 'Harmonia' c g, c e, g c. welche dieses Creutz versüßen. [the latter grouping of letters include some lines above the letters to indicate the change of octaves]"

["The number 8 yields (from itself) when it is divided into its parts the pairs 1 and 7, 2 and 6, 3 and 5. In its order/sequence, it (the number 8) is a full number and makes harmony very complete (in itself.) But just as in this temporal existence something hard/difficult always has a way of creeping in and the 'Cross' appears to us, so here, in the instance of the interval of a 7th (1 to 7) the 'sacred 7th' prefigures (wants to give us in advance a picture, or provide an example of) the Cross. But there are also other 'nice proportions' (good-sounding intervals) contained in this seventh: 1-6, 2-5, 3-4 - a beautiful and proper harmony of c g, c e, g c which serve to 'sweeten' this Cross."]

Eric Bergerud wrote (April 19, 2005):
I will certainly let the musicians of the group decide to what degree Bach embedded a message inside the structure of BWV 54 or was acting the "architect" (thanks Uri, the Gould piece is a gem). And I suppose we should never forget that Bach did not write his own librettos.

The message however is absolutely core Lutheranism - indeed, core Christianity. The text deals not with sin per se, but the seductive cunning of Satan. Satan is so dreadfully dangerous (check Feste Berg for the details) not because of the horns, tail and unspeakable rites - in other words, garden variety evil. Rather the danger comes from lies of the devil, lies cloaked in earthly pursuits that seem to bring pleasure but in reality deflect the individual from the pursuit of God's truth and thus imperil the soul. High stakes. Luther was obsessed with this issue and it lies at the heart of his attack on the "worldliness" of the Renaissance Church and his desire to return to the purity of early Christianity.

I certainly see no humor in the point or in the cantata. However, why address something central to salvation with a musical miniature of great beauty? Perhaps because in this case Bach and/or Lehms thought it best to approach the matter as a serious but almost gentle admonishment - the kind of warning a parent might give an older child if the issue was of the gravest importance.

This issue is hardly one isolated to the Reformation or 18th Century Germany. If one follows the debates going on inside the Vatican since Vatican II and now brought to the public by the Pope's passing, concern over the perils of pleasure are quite obviously at the heart of conservative wing of the Church. I listened to Ratzinger's homily last night and he talked about familiar themes for him: the danger of the central importance of absolute truth; the danger of relativism; the importance of a defined and deep belief. The Church doesn't often speak loudly about damnation and Satan in our day, but the ideas expressed are almost identical to those put more simply in BWV 54.

Musically, I can't say that I'd take a three movement alto cantata to a desert island with me, although the arias are indeed lovely. I only own Koopman's version of this work, and Scholl does a wonderful job supported by Koopman's splendid players. If nothing else the illustrates the extraordinary range the great range of we generically call cantatas. It also illustrates, as do so many others, that if one wishes to hear wonderful instrumental Bach, one should listen to cantatas.

John Pike wrote (April 19, 2005):
Cantata for ?Oculi Sunday. Alto cantata with string accompaniment.

The cantata for this week is only 3 movements but the first movement, in particular, is an absolute gem. I know it better as the aria "Falsche Welt" in reconstructions of the St Mark Passion (BWV 247).

I have listened to Rilling [9] and Leonhardt [8], sadly the only 2 recordings I have. I love Alfred Deller and I have been trying for ages to get hold of his recording of this cantata [3], which Brad has so often effused about. I was always unlucky until yesterday, when I found a second hand copy on Amazon.com in the US. It cost me a lot but it should be worth it.

Rilling's recording [9] shows what, for me, are all the typical features of his recordings....pleasing instrumental playing but rather bland articulation and phrasing. Gestural elements are lacking. The alto's vibrato is obtrusive and the performance is too operatic for my taste. I would prefer a much more intimate approach for this cantata.

Leonhardt [8] is much more satisfying for the strongly gestural opening movement. He really seems to make the most of all those glorious dissonances. However, I did not enjoy the alto, Paul Esswood particularly.

John Pike wrote (April 19, 2005):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< BWV 54 "Widerstehe doch der Sünde" - Various questions and answers >
Most fascinating. Thanks.

Doug Cowling wrote (April 19, 2005):
John Pike wrote:
< I love Alfred Deller and I have been trying for ages to get hold of his recording of this cantata [3], which Brad has so often effused about. I was always unlucky until yesterday, when I founda second hand copy on Amazon.com in the US. It cost me a lot but it should be worth it. >
On the other end of the spectrum, I fell in love with this cantata and "Schlage Doch" (BWV 53) when I was a teenager and heard the recording by Helen Watts [4]. What a voice! I don't like contraltos in Bach anymore, but she remains a primal memory for me.

Neil Halliday wrote (April 19, 2005):
John Pike wrote:
<"Rilling's recording [9] shows what, for me, are all the typical features of his recordings....pleasing instrumental playing but rather bland articulation and phrasing">.
I have to agree with you, as far as the first movement is concerned, in that Rilling [9] allows the detached chords in the lower strings to practically merge into one-another, in places. The HIP recordings are better in this regard.

Not that I appreciate too much 'gesturalism'; and since I like Julia Hamari's voice, I'm entirely happy with Rilling's 2nd, (naturally), and 3rd movements.

OTOH, I seems to enjoy all the recordings I have heard; Leonhardt [8], Rilling [9], Leusink (Mvt. 1) [23], Herreweghe/Scholl [21], and lastly Suzuki (Mvt. 1) [20], even with its fast tempo. Must be the music.

Notice that Hamari makes the octave jump (to a very low note), at the end of the long note on 'widerstehe', more audible than some of the other vocalists; listening to Esswood now, I notice he manages this well, too.

Luke Hubbard wrote (April 21, 2005):
BWV 54: Performances

I have four recordings of BWV 54:

- Leonhardt & Esswood [8]: a very good performance, stylistically sound. The tempi are very good, the playing is contrapunctally correct and highly engaging. As with his harpsichord performances, Leonhardt has a healthy obsession in slowish delieveries, in order to reach the maximum of clarity for every voice. Thankfully, there is no oboe to spoil this performance and the orchestra comes out acceptably good. Esswood is in my oppinion a variable performer. In some cantatas, he gives very capable performances (BWV 22, BWV 23, BWV 43 and many others), in others he's barely listenable. Here Esswood is absolutely superb. The timbre of his voice is powerful and virile, despite the tremolo, and his engagement to the texts is exemplary. All the three main soloists of TELDEC cantatas (Equiluz, Esswood and van Egmond) rarely if ever sound unengaged, which is arguably almost a norm among modern singers of Bach cantatas.

- Suzuki & Mera [20]: the orchestral playing is extremely good, but the tempi are far too fast and does not cope well with Mera's limited range. Mera has a small, lovely, feminine voice, full of purity. The highly dramatic requirements and the chosen tempi do not work well with Mera's singing.

- Koopman & Scholl [19]: the orchestra is subdued, totaly lacking dramaticism. This koopmanish "slow" style (as opposed to his "super fast" alternatives) is never in my liking.

- Herreweghe & Scholl [21]: the tempi are very well chosen, the orchestral support is outstanding: technically perfect, highly dramatic. Scholl is the best Baroque countertenor in over half a century. He has all the qualities needed: power, dramaticism, virility, tonal purity, wide range modulation abilities. He is always far ahead other competitors.

Henri Sanguinetti wrote (April 21, 2005):
Luke Hubbard wrote:
>>Thankfully, there is no oboe to spoil this performance <<
Like to say I feel sorry for you if you don't like baroque oboe!

>>Herreweghe & Scholl [21]: the tempi are very well chosen, the orchestral support is outstanding: technically perfect, highly dramatic <<
I agree, it is a very good recording. Scholl is certainly a very fine performer in particular in Bach.

I am not sure he stays on top of the list in all occasions. May be I said this because I love baroque opera, and like "Antoine Marchand' said somewhere, "I regret that we don't have operas by Bach".

Luke Hubbard wrote (April 21, 2005):
Henri Sanguinetti wrote:
< Like to say I feel sorry for you if you don't like baroque oboe! >
Well, I didn't say that. I love baroque oboe, but NOT the way it's performed in TELDEC (Harnoncourt / Leonhardt) cantatas. It has a characteristical strident, uncontrolled tonality very difficult to be listened to.

< May be I said this because I love baroque opera, and like "Antoine Marchand' said somewhere, "I regret that we don't have operas by Bach". >
Well, I for one have no regard at all for baroque operas, at least those composed by Händel, who are persistently one-dimensional, just as his entire repertoire. Until Wagner, operas have been little more than consummable music for public use. The music is always shallow, the characters always primitive (good, bad, loving, hating). While some pieces can be MUSICAL, I always end up bored quickly and try something more serious.

Bach's cantatas and oratorios, with no stage to aggrandish the impact of their message, have immensely higher dramaticism, are immensely more thought provoking in content (not just about instincts, love, warfare and other garbage), without mentioning the quality of the music and its ability of almost infinite modulation with regard to each state the soloist must deliver. Of course, you are just as entitled to express a contrary oppinion, as long as you provide arguments for that oppinion. Just as Wagner's music, they are an intimate communion between music and words, a perfect counterpoint of different spheres communicating through a common theme.

Continue of this part of the discussion, see: Richard Wagner & Bach [Bach & Other Composers]

 

Continue on Part 4

Cantata BWV 54: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

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

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Last update: ýSeptember 29, 2011 ý09:29:13