Cantata BWV 54Widerstehe doch der Sünde
Discussions - Part 4
Continue from Part 3
Francis Browne wrote (April 22, 2005):
BWV 54: Gerard Lesne/ Il Seminario Musicale 
I first heard this cantata on the performance by Leusink and Buwalda . Although I was struck by the unusual sonority of the instrumentation the cantata itself seemed in comparison to so many others a brief, slight work. When I listened later to the recordings by Suzuki  and nearer and by Herreweghe  I was far more impressed particularly by the opening aria. Both Mera and Scholl in different ways give impressive performances, and the analysis by Whittaker and the postings on this website gave me a a better appreciation of the music.
But listening again to this cantata recently it is a recording that has been mentioned only cursorily by others and dismissed that I found most illuminating. I'm sure that many people would find the performance by Gerard Lesne and Il Seminario Musicale self-indulgent, if not perverse. Of the recordings I have heard Lesne takes both the longest time for the first aria at 8.30 and the shortest time for the second aria at 2.52. Clearly this is no ordinary performance. Where with Suzuki and Mera the dissonance and rapid pace make the resistance to sin enjoined on us seem something jagged, angular-sin as a sudden temptation requiring a quick, energetic response - at the slower tempo Lesne is able to bring an emotional intensity to the words that for me conveys marvellously a sense of dour, unremitting struggle that involves constant effort against both the dogged perseverance and the seductiveness and ease of sin. In contrast Lesne's approach to the final aria expresses with exhilirating, demonic energy what Whittaker refers to as devil twisting and writhing in convulsive semiquavers.
Not perhaps then the ideal recording in which to get to know this cantata, but perhaps some may find the distinctive approach illuminating. Lesne impresses me as an artist of integrity who is prepared to take risks -and often succeeds. The rest of the CD contains works by the Bach family - perhaps most impressive is an intense performance of J.C. Bach 's lamento Ach, daß ich Wassers gnug hätte. The Gramophone review comments :
"If not as consistently focused or evenly controlled as in earlier recordings, he demonstrates musical presence of an exceptional kind. Lesne's performance of BWV 54 is sharpely etched yet is quite distinct from the narrow projection of sound which gives Deller's 1954 account  such an inimitable tonal character"
A French reviewer -whose Gallic eloquence I cannot emulate and am reluctant to translate -says more controversially ;
Une lecture plus nerveuse que d'ordinaire de la célèbre cantate Widerstehe doch der Sünde (BWV 54) ne manquera pas de séduire les mélomanes agacés par l'angélisme placide d'Andreas Scholl : http://www.forumopera.com/critiques/bach-lesne.htm.
I enjoy and admire Scholl's performance with Herreweghe, but I must have been seduced for I can see what he means.
It is to Lesne's performance that I shall return with most delight, but neither this nor any of the other performances I have heard seems definitive . Perhaps the only conclusion to be drawn yet again is the richness of Bach's music that can accommodate seemingly opposite aproaches to performance.
Jason Marmaras wrote (April 23, 2005):
BWV 54 - Samples
I heard the samples on the BCW along with the Koopman recording ; of the samples, I think I liked Leusink  the most (at least at first 'glance'). He is indeed the most baroque with no eccentricities here, I think, and at this time that I stand in need of sleep I can neither cope with Harnoncourt's extreme Sighing-phrasing (remind me the proper [german] term please!) nor Suzuki's aggression, nor Rillings Sea-phrasing  (my term...)
I haven't yet compared the singers, but my favourite recording so far is that of Koopman; it enchanted me from the first time, and I have come to like his Counter-tenor (better than anyone in the samples, I think).
[OT] On Scholl, have you heard him sing the BMB under Herreweghe (BWV 232)? He does some portamenti that I remember as outrageous from my last listening session where I didn't skip the Alto Arias... What say you?
Neil Halliday wrote (April 23, 2005):
[To Jason Marmaras] Concerning the first movement, I would rate the BCW samples thus: Leusink , Leonhardt , Rilling , Suzuki  (sounds too fast unless you come to it without hearing the others), Goodman. This last has the type of gesturalism I don't like.
Is Iason referring (with Leonhardt's "sighing-phrasing") to 'messa di voce'?
I don't have a problem with this in the Leonhardt, and I like the slow tempo. Otherwise I am in broad agreement with Iason. (I haven't heard Koopman ; Scholl/Herreweghe  I rank with Leusink  and Leonhardt  (1st movement only).
Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (April 23, 2005):
Francis Browne wrote:
 < Not perhaps then the ideal recording in which to get to know this cantata, but perhaps some may find the distinctive approach illuminating. Lesne impresses me as an artist of integrity who is prepared to take risks and often succeeds. The rest of the CD contains works by the Bach family perhaps most impressive is an intense performance of J.C. Bach 's lamento Ach, daß ich Wassers gnug hätte. >
Dear Francis and Dear All (that's British English),
The Lesne CD  is a true beauty and probably the only counter-tenor CD as a whole that I often return to and indeed, I am sure, that you will find in Aryeh's pages a good deal of praise for it in previous discussions where either in BWV 54 or in BWV 53 Aryeh himself expressed a preference for the lamented Henri Ledroit . I appreciate the art of Ledroit as a whole but he was a much more variable and problematic interpreter for me than Lesne (whose Stabat Mater [Pergolesi with Gens]) also remains a very special recording for me.
< A French reviewer -whose Gallic eloquence I cannot emulate and am reluctant to translate -says more controversially;
Une lecture plus nerveuse que d'ordinaire de la célèbre cantate Widerstehe doch der Sünde (BWV 54) ne manquera pas de séduire les mélomanes agacés par l'angélisme placide d'Andreas Scholl : http://www.forumopera.com/critiques/bach-lesne.htm >
I did have to look up "agacer" but I don't become agacé par any singer's interpretation; only more delighted with some singers. In this cantata I was weaned on Róssl-Majdan  and am so happy that Archipel has made such a perfect transfer of it. The R-M and the Lesne  are the two I return to, the former an old friend from the days of my youth; the latter a relatively new friend from the days of my grey hair.
Jason Marmaras wrote (April 24, 2005):
Neil Halliday wrote:
< Is Iason referring (with Leonhardt's "sighing-phrasing" ) to 'messa di voce'? >
No. If I recall correctly, messa di voce is the crescendo in each long note, yes? If it is, the answer is no.
What I was referring to is something one 'has to do' in Mozart, the decrescendo from a stressed note (quite commonly an apoggiatu) to the next to which it is tied (legato).
[One example is, in the Kleine Nachtmusik, the trilled note towards the end of the first non-unison phrase and the note following it.] The term might be Seufzenfrasierung, but I am not quite sure...
In the specific example, Leonhardt  did - I repeat: in my first listening to his recording- seem to be exaggerating this legato, and the ardent sighs (to my ears) between every two notes.
Note: After listening to BWV 21 'Ich hatte viel bekümmernis' from Harnoncourt (or Leonhardt?), the series has fallen quite a bit in my esteem. . The boys' singing of the first chorus is very aggressive and stressed, and changes to something much more calm in the "erquicken meine Seele" part. Any opinions on this? Did H/L get carried away from the Affekte in pursuing the stylistically correct or free-from-19th-century-preoccupation execution?
Thomas Braatz wrote (April 24, 2005):
Jason Marmaras wrote:
>>The term might be Seufzenfrasierung, but I am not quite sure...<<
More correctly spelled it would be "Seufzenphrasierung." (It does not exist in the MGG!)
>>In the specific example, Leonhardt  did -I repeat: in my first listening to his recording- seem to be exaggerating this legato, and the ardent sighs (to my ears) between every two notes.<<
This has been discussed on this list before. It is a very obvious mannerism, which in the case of the Harnoncourt/Leonhardt cantata cycle, has been exaggerated deliberately based upon, as far as I can determine as explained in one of Harnoncourt's books, as appropriate for Baroque violins which are played with shorter bows, and hence, (this is Harnoncourt's 'logical' explanation for using this 'gesture') the violinists playing such instruments are generally unable to play (tie-together, play legato) more than two or three notes in succession. Now add the overly strong accent on the first note of such a pair with the resulting extreme deemphasis of final or weaker notes, and you will get an extreme diminuendo plus the shortening of the final note value by half or more of its original value. Now allow a string player (Harnoncourt) to apply this to a choir singing Bach cantatas with the result that the longer vocal phrases become cut-up and choppy (generally the antithesis of normal choral singing which is known for using a cantabile, legato technique in singing.) Final syllables, or worse yet, final mono-syllablic words, are generally unintelligible or inaudible.
>>Note: After listening to BWV 21 'Ich hatte viel bekümmernis' from Harnoncourt (or Leonhardt?), the series has fallen quite a bit in my esteem.The boys' singing of the first chorus is very aggressive and stressed, and changes to something much more calm in the "erquicken meine Seele" part. Any opinions on this? Did H/L get carried away from the Affekte in pursuing the stylistically correct or free-from-19th-century-preoccupation execution?<<
The general rule on 'Affekte' as given by Mattheson on a number of different occasions is that the composer and performer should strive to establish only a single 'Affekt' in any given movement of a cantata. There are exceptions to this rule based upon certain circumstances (word-painting within a mvt. Would necessarily call for slight variations in expression), but generally HIP conductors tend to 'micro-manage' for special effect too many musical elements and tend to lose sight of the longer phrases and the monumental structure of a mvt. or of the entire cantata.
In the last two decades, there have been more HIP recordings and performances that have attempted to overcome the excesses prevalent in the H/L cantata series. However, as long as there are calls for more 'gesturing' on the part of listeners, some of whom are not really listening to understand the words that are being sung, there will continue to be relapses on the part of some musicians/conductors to repeat the exaggerated mannerisms that are evident, with a few exceptions here and there, in the bulk of the H/L cantata recordings.
I have found myself succumbing to using the word 'gesture' which appears quite regularly in these discussions. This slogan or catch-word has no firm basis in any musicological discussions as far as I can determine. Does anyone have a musical definition of 'gesturalism' or any of its variants as applied to Bach cantatas?
Aryeh Oron wrote (April 25, 2005):
BWV 54 - The Counter-tenors
Cantata BWV 54, as well as most of Bach Cantatas is open to various approaches and interpretations.
For me the key to the heart of this cantata lies in the accompaniment of the opening movement. As has been well pointed out by previous contributors to the discussion of this cantata, its main subject is the struggle against the sin. But who is symbolising the sin? After many listenings to the cantata I came to conclusion that these are the strings playing along the whole long first movement. They have to be insistent, tempting, charming. Their playing should avoid rigidity, dryness or vagueness. If this is the case, then the singing of the soloist should reflect internal struggle against the temptations of the sin. The believer is talking to himself. He knows that it is hard to resist; he knows that he would probably fail, but he is still trying. He has his hesitations and doubts. He is not sure that he has the powers to overcome his weaknesses. I prefer interpretations that reflect the various moods that the believer has in his mind and soul.
I had one temptation, which I had to overcome, and it is reading my previous review, sent to the BCML about five years ago. But I shall definitely read it after sending this short review. If I contradict my former conclusions, I accept it as an indication of change. I hope I am now a different person from the one I was five years ago. Life has so much to offer, and time is so short, that being stuck with one view means missing of options.
On the other hand, recordings are frozen moments in time. The recordings to which I listened in the first round have not changed. This week I listened to 20 recordings of this cantata. I do not have the time to review them all and in any case I am behind schedule. I decided to limit myself to short review of the renditions by counter-tenors. It does not mean that I under-value the renditions by the female singers. On the contrary, some of them speak directly to my heart.
Alfred Deller & Gustav Leonhardt (1954) :
The gentle and charming playing of the strings supplies the best background to the exemplary rendition of Alfred Deller. He tears your heart apart in his moving performance. It is hard to believe it was recorded half a century ago. He is the modern man, not shying of exposing his vulnerability and hesitations. The man who is aware of his weaknesses is stronger than the one who seems to be masculine and confident.
Paul Esswood w/ Gustav Leonhardt (1976) :
Leonhardt approach to the accompaniment of this cantata lost most of its charm in the 22 years that separate his two recordings. It became stiffer and dryer. The two Englishmen, Esswood and Bowman, come from the post-Deller generation. Esswood has learnt one or two things from Deller as his interpretation shows. However, his approach is somewhat more limited, less varied and as a result less convincing.
Henri Ledroit w/ Ricercar Consort (1983) : Ledroit moved from baritone to counter-tenor after a meeting with Deller. One could expect to hear some Deller influence in his interpretation. Indeed, there is certain similarity in the colour of their voices. The delicacy of Ricercar's strings matches very well the delicate and sometimes fragile timbre of Ledroit's voice. I would dare saying that this approach is too delicate, because I do not hear any struggle in this interpretation. It falls very nicely on the ears by lacks any sense of drama.
James Bowman w/ Robert King (1986  & 1988 ): Bowman recorded this cantata with the same ensemble twice, two years apart. Last year I heard him performing this same cantata live in Abu-Gosh Festival. His voice was in excellent condition, and he gave technically assured performance, full of self-confidence of a man knowing what is his way in life. After the performance, I approached him behind the screens and asked him why he recorded this cantata twice, especially when his interpretation was actually the same. He answered me that the playing was better and so the recording. I told him that I had compared the two recordings and had not been able to find any faults in the first, which would justify a second take. Than he answered, 'maybe better distribution'. Although about two decades have passed, his interpretation in the two recordings reminds me very much the live performance. But in closer examination some differences are revealed. The Hyperion (2nd) recording is not only faster than the Meridian (1st), it also has extra dimension of sensitivity and more nuances, which brings Bowman closer to Deller. The Abu-Gosh performance was much faster than either of the two recordings. His voice in the two recordings could be described as rich and delicious, more attractive and beautiful than the voice of his peer Esswood.
Drew Minter w/ Jeffrey Thomas (1990) :
The American Bach Soloists' strings play faster than any previous recording. Yet they manage to remain attractive. However, I found the voice of Drew Minter not as attractive as Deller or Bowman. He also adds some ornaments to his singing, which I find unnecessary, even disturbing. The material of this cantata has a lot to offer to an interpreter who is ready to indulge into its depth and possibilities.
Andreas Scholl w/ Ton Koopman (1995)  & w/ Philippe Herreweghe (1997) :
Scholl is another singer who has recorded this cantata twice. His voice is simply irresistible. I find his voice almost unmatched among contemporary counter-tenors in its richness, naturalness and musicality. Comparing the timings of Koopman and Herreweghe, it is somewhat surprising that they are almost equal, movement to movement. Why surprising? Because Koopman sounds somewhat rushed, where Herreweghe is relaxed. I feel that with Koopman Scholl does not have much room for personal expression, where with Herreweghe he seems to feel much more comfortable. There is chemistry between the players and the singer and a real dialogue in the Herreweghe's. It so beautifully done that you do not want it to come to an end. On the other hand, some tension and drama are missing. Hearing this rendition one can hardly guess that the subject is struggle against sin. But it is so enjoyable, that you can listen to it on pure musical terms.
Yoshikazu Mera & Masaaki Suzuki (1996) :
Suzuki presents an interesting approach to the instrumental accompaniment. Under his guidance the strings sound threatening, almost frightening. Mera has a small and pleasant voice with a kind of purity, which makes it very attractive. He has good technique, as his success to cope with the break-neck tempo of the first aria shows. However, I find that his small voice does not allow him a wide range of expressive possibilities and therefore his performance is somewhat limited on the dramatic side. One gets the impression that this believer does not have the powers to struggle successfully with the sin.
Sytse Buwalda & Pieter Jan Leusink (1999) :
I remember that in the first round of cantata discussions I found Buwalda's rendition many times as one of the least satisfactory renditions. However, he may well use cantata BWV 54 as a visiting card. The Dutch strings are charming with tinge of pleasant pungency, and they supply an excellent support to his performance. Buwalda seems to feel quite comfortable with the vocal lines of this cantata and nothing here disturbs me, nothing at all. He manages to find the sadness, pain, and despair, and the joy of overcoming, which are inseparable from the frustrating struggle against sin. As a result he coveys convincingly the drama, which some of the other singers of this cantata miss.
Gérard Lesne & Il Seminario Musicale (2001) :
This is a peculiar rendition, which caused me much discomfort. Firstly the strings, with disintegrated playing and accentuations in strange places, do not flow. Secondly, the singer's voice is unstable and unpleasant, at least here. I do not understand his interpretation, both as a singer and a leader of the instrumental ensemble. I know that Lesne was a great singer. He might have passed his prime or simply had a bad day when he made this recording. There are many recordings of this cantata to which I would like to listen again. Sorry, but this is not one of them. Indeed, it is interesting, because it is so different from the others; yet it is simply not attractive, even awkward.
Conclusion: This is so splendid cantata, open to so many interpretations, that I would not dare describing none of the recordings I listened to during the past week as bad. I have my views about the key to understanding this cantata, but I am open to hear other possibilities. However, I can surely say that if I were forced to choose only one recording for another listening, it would definitely be the one that was recorded more than 50 years ago. Yes, Deller set an artistic standard for this cantata with which it is hard to compete. IMHO, his album should belong to every cantata collection.
Johan van Veen wrote (April 25, 2005):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< Now add the overly strong accent on the first note of such a pair with the resulting extreme deemphasis of final or weaker notes, and you will get an extreme diminuendo plus the shortening of the final note value by half or more of its original value. Now allow a string player (Harnoncourt) to apply this to a choir singing Bach cantatas with the result that the longer vocal phrases become cut-up and choppy (generally the antithesis of normal choral singing which is known for using a cantabile, legato technique in singing.) >
And who decides what is 'normal' choral singing? Legato technique in singing is something of the renaissance and the romantic era, but what proof is there of legato singing in the baroque era?
< In the last two decades, there have been more HIP recordings and performances that have attempted to overcome the excesses prevalent in the H/L cantata series. However, as long as there are calls for more 'gesturing' on the part of listeners, some of whom are not really listening to understand the words that are being sung, there will continue to be relapses on the part of some musicians/conductors to repeat the exaggerated mannerisms that are evident, with a few exceptions here and there, in the bulk of the H/L cantata recordings. >
Who are those listeners who are not 'listening to understand the words'? The point is that the words should be expressed in the music written on them. And a gestural performance is not a performance which adds something to the words. It just shows what is in the music, how the composer has used the notes to express the meaning of the words.
((URGENT)) Need some help with a cantata orchestration ASAP
Adam Strange wrote (January 14, 2006):
I'm more of a lurker, but I have a dilemma that is in dire need of the opinion of more learned minds than mine own.
My roommate (also a countertenor) is planning on putting on a recital in a couple of months. He has two Händel Alto solo cantatas, the Vivaldi Stabat Mater, and is also planning on performing BWV 54 "Widerstehe doch der Sunde".
He is planning on performing the entire programme with only Harpsichord and Cello. He won't be able to afford strings, so he wants to perform the cantata with only continuo.
I am personally against performing any Bach with even one less than what's required. However, I've always been with the understanding that Bach would improvise and use what forces were avato him. Is there a way for my roommate to do the same?
Any and ALL help would be GREATLY appreciated.
William Rowland (Ludwig) (conductor and composer) wrote (January 14, 2006):
[To Adam Stange] YOur room mate can do this but it will not be the same just as the Glenn Gould fans substitute try to Piano, which Bach never heard of or saw until his dying breaths and almost totally blind,for Harpsichord.(but to hear Glenn Gould fans tell it Bach invented the Piano, wrote for it and knew about it shortly after Christofori sent one to Germany or Silberman's attempts and Bach's Piano was a big romantic Steinway or Bursendorffer(sp?))
Harpsichord is ok but Organ should be used in preference to harpsichord. The Harpsichord was NEVER used in any of the cantatas unless the Organ was down. Bach did use what was available but that comes with strings attached. He almost never re-orchestrated a cantata for what was available on the second go around. Instead he wrote new music for what would be available---that is the difference.
The Instrumentation for BWV is rather simple and I think that your friend should get together a group of volunteers as follows. Your friend should have:
8 Violins (4 firsts and 4 seconds)
4 Viola ( 2 first and 2 seconds)
2-4 Viola d'amore (Bach does not call for these often). Your Viola players will double on these)
1-2 Gamba (Cello did not exist in Bach's time and the Gamba and Cello are not the same instrument and do not sound the same. Your Cellist will double on Gambas)
1 Violone (this can be done without but whatever you do DO NOT USE A MODERN CONTRABASSE--WHICH WILL DESTORY THE MUSICAL STRUCTURE. IF YOU MUST HAVE A VIOLONE YOU CAN RENT OR BUY ONE SAME AS GAMBA---CHECK ONLINE. Because of the lugubriousness of the sound I prefer to omit them)
1 ORGAN doubles with continuo with Gamba (for BWV 54); Organ is always THE continuo instrument but may be used with other instruments as continuo such as Bassoon, Violone, Gamba.
1 ALTO Vocalist
If you are going to do other Bach Cantatas you will need in addition to these esources:
1 Tympani set of two drums; if you have the money 3 would be nice and if you are playing other music 4-5 would be perfect ranging from 8' C all the way up to Piano Mid C.
2 Trumpet with some works calling for 4 ( you might as well buy some Piccolo Trumpets since most folks can not play the high notes. Natural Trumpets are preferred
2 Blockflutes---(please do not call these Recorders ---a misnomer in English) depending on the work they should be Tenor, Soprano and Alto. When unspecified flute is called for this is the flute intended.
2 French Horns----Natural prefered; Bach only asks for these in 2 Cantatas Max
2 Trombones------ Bach only asks for these in One Cantata.
2 Flutes---modern orchestra flutes (do not use these for any works not specifically called for instead use Blockflutes)
2-4 Taille---you will have to probally have these custom made. We are not sure what Bach meant by this term ---it is probally the Oboe da caccia but scholars have never been sure. The word means 'Tenor'
2-4 Oboe da caccia---you may have to custom order these---Bach invented them and they are not same as the modern oboe or English Horn.
2-4 Oboe d'amore ----do NOT substitute the English Horn for this or Clarinet---they do not sound the same.
2-4 Oboe----modern oboe ok but baroque style preferred.
16 Choristers---4 Sopranos, 4 Altos, 4 Tenors and 4 Basses from which you will draw soloist or invite solists. No discrimination intended but to get the sounds that Bach heard--your choristers should be all male. Boys on the Soprano and Alto parts; Men on the tenor and Bass parts. We no longer have Castrati who also would have sung the Soprano part.
For my Orchestra; we raised the funds and bought these instruments that were copies of the museum originals. The most difficult we found to obtain was the Oboe da caccia/Taille and I have forgotten who made them for us or I would tell you. Too many people tried to sell us an English Horn which is not the same thing. Recently, an Oboe da caccia from Bach's time was found and it is nothing like what folks were trying to make or sell us.
Here is a list of folks you can contact for Baroque Style instruments. Be sure that they know what a Oboe da caccia is as it is sometimes confused with other instruments. The Oboe da caccia has a box like structure in it's makeup. You will have to look these folks up on the net.
Robert H. Cronin
Peter de Koningh
Renaissance Workshop Company
Leslie Ross Workshop
Guntram Wolf Workshop
There are many others who build string intruments (there is a Gamba and Viola d'amore society you can draw players from)
The Renaissance Workshop Co. makes a wide variety of instruments which you can have as a kit or have custom made. Their website is: www.renwks.com you will have to have import permits I believe to work with them or they can get the permits for you.
However Leslie Ross has the above products in his catalog and he is in the United States. His website is: http://mysite.verizon.net/ross.bassoon
I had a pair of Oboe d'amores made by a man in Atlanta whose address I got from Smithsonian Magazine back in the 1970s . I do not remember this persons name or if he is still in Atlanta but the Smithsonian Museum in Washington can tell you.
I know you are exclaiming ---we do not have that kind of money. IF you are truly serious about Bach you
will get the instruments and try to get your money back through performances, grants and donations. Organs are a differerent matter. Do not use fake Organs ---electronics. You can have a small chamber instrument built that you can haul around on a truck or just plan your performances at places where there is a Pipe Organ (that is a real organ---if it does not have pipes that are wind blown it is not an Organ)
Depending on what is available to you. You can get a Bach group started instrument wise for around 50,ooo in instruments if none of what you need are available. Your local Arts councl probally has grant money to help you with this. Good luck with your project.
Neil Halliday wrote (January 14, 2006):
Adam Strange wrote:
<"He is planning on performing the entire programme with only Harpsichord and Cello".>
Have a look at the piano reduction/vocal score of BWV 54 at the BCW.
No doubt this score would sound fine on a harpsichord, and the cello need only mostly double the pulsing bass notes.
If your friend has a good voice, I'm sure he will bring the house down, and Bach will be looking down and smiling.
Cara Emily Thornton wrote (January 14, 2006):
[To Adam Stange] This is quite a challenging problem. My personal experience in these matters leads me to believe that if the aria is scored for a 'full complement of strings', it suffices to have one instrument on a line, and all the more so if, for example, all of the violins are playing the same thing (e.g. 'Christe eleison' from Bach's Mass in b minor (BWV 232), or 'I know that my Redeemer liveth' from Händel's Messiah). If the score calls for a full complement, depending on the exact nature of those parts, sometimes you can do without one of them.
So, for example, 'Et exultavit' from the Magnificat will come out reasonably well without a viola, because it just provides harmonic background which in principle is provided by the continuo (both violins really HAVE to be there because they play as a duet), but there are other arias where the counterpoint is sufficiently complex, and all of the string parts have sufficiently independent voices, where that will not work.
I am unfortunately not familiar with the specific arias you mention, so I cannot speak to the situation at hand in any more detail than that, but the bottom line here is that I would definitely not omit any solo instrumental parts, and I would do strings one on a part/line (other words, that 'Christe eleison' with just one violin).
But this is all part of a larger picture. It would be really helpful if your roommate has connections with, for example, a local place of worship which has good conditions for early music performance and is interested in that sort of music (in my case, for example, it's St. Martin's Lutheran Church in Krakow, Poland - a pretty little Baroque church that seats, say, 200 in its sanctuary/nave), and with which he finds himself in sufficient spiritual agreement.
Then, I would encourage him to think in terms of forming an ensemble. Then he can approach the office at the place of worship and ask about performing during the service as an ensemble - and if they are pleased, do it regularly, thereby as it were establishing a headquarters. With another type of place, it might be they already have a concert series, and he can propose to take part in it, or even suggest they set up such a series if they don't have one. For personnel, he can draw on personal connections, for example with students and recent alumni of a nearby conservatory, friends of friends, etc. - even better if he's already studying there or an alum - and if need be, pitch it to them more or less as follows:
'The remuneration is at this point spiritual and musical. So, you will be able to learn and perform interesting repertoire with serious musicians in a supportive environment. We can provide you with opportunities to play recitals (in a church setting, this is particularly advantageous for folks who are studying early instruments, as there will be an organ available on-site for the continuo; if the church also has a good piano, even better) - so, you'll have that place to do a trial run of your exam or other recital program. Once we solidify as an ensemble, we will be able to answer our potential audience's question of what we have to offer them - in business terms, a USP - and think about performing elsewhere, outside of our headquarters, and in due time for pay.'
Obviously, the task of pitching this to potential personnel is made easier if there is a possibility of remuneration. But it really can be done even without, and you really can get good people. If you need someone REALLY good, you can even go to one of the professors at the conservatory, state any connections you might have to the institution in question, and tell him/her 'I am putting on a concert with such and such content, and some of the material requires a very good [instrument] soloist. Could I ask you to recommend your best student?' And if it's repertoire that the person really SHOULD learn for professional reasons, the professor can even help you convince the person to do it for free..
Then all you have to do is set up performance times, rehearsals, then go for it (and by all means go out for tea afterward, and have an annual banquet at a nice, reasonably-priced restaurant in town!). I wish your roommate all the best - the courage to think big and do something he really believes in.
Douglas Cowling wrote (January 14, 2006):
< Harpsichord is ok but Organ should be used in preference to harpsichord. The Harpsichord was NEVER used in any of the cantatas unless the Organ was down. >
I don't think that this complete exclusion of the harpsichord is supported by the facts.
Ludwig wrote (January 14, 2006):
[To Douglas Cowling] I do not know what facts you are speaking of but all of my Uninversity professors were big HIP folks taught me this and their proof of the pudding were church documents, letters and recommendations of Bach---some of which were in Bach's hand. I not only have been told this by them but others also. It is mention in Sumner's Book on Bach---very rare publication which I own. I only paid 5.00 for this book but saw it for sale at nearly 5000 us dollars recently on Alibris and one of the book sites.
Now if we are talking about Händel---you are correct. The practice was in Church to use the Organ but in the Theatre--one used Harpsichord for practically all the baroque Operas. Bach was primarily an Organist not a Harpsichordist although he could and did play the Harpsichord just as he could many string instruments.
The Harpsichord for the secular Bach Cantatas is prefered over Organ since these were usually performed in the Coffee Houses of the time. He even wrote music for the Harpsichord. One of the family members played harpsichord----not sure but think that was his first wife--- over which Bach got into serious trouble with the authorities over their bigotry against women having anything to do with the service---so I think it probally may have been one of the sons.
That reminds me---we know commonly of about 5 of the Bach kids. He is supposed to have had somewhere around 20-26??? so what were their names and how many survived to adulthood?
Bradley Lehman wrote (January 14, 2006):
[To Adam Stange] If he's a strongly skilled musician and has plenty of confidence about putting the music across convincingly, whose permission does he need to do so? In any reasonable arrangement? A test of good musicianship is to make the best of whatever situation is dealt. I'd say: go for it!
Sure, there will be some things missing. The two violin and two viola parts create such a beautifully intertwined web of suspensions and sighing motifs. And there are some exceptionally thick/rich harmonies in this piece. A good harpsichordist can simulate some of this, fashioning or improvising something convincing. Pick up the piano-vocal score from: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV54.htm and consult a full score also (at your university's library or wherever).
I've played through that piano score here on my harpsichord and it works fine, with of course the caveat that I have to leave some things out selectively as it goes along. Some of the parallel-6ths passages in the last movement, especially, sound too busy on the harpsichord and I'd simplify them a bit with the emphasis on projecting a forward-flowing upper line instead. But it works. (A couple of years ago I did a concert with two countertenors, mostly performing music by Purcell, and a good bit of that was reducing full string orchestra down to single harpsichord. We didn't even have a cello or viola da gamba for that concert; I just improvised/played whatever sounded suitable.)
And I tune my harpsichord with the various sets of hands-on instructions here, making gorgeous effects in all the thickly flat-key harmonies of BWV 54: http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bpl/larips/praxis.html
That temperament will work perfectly for his entire concert. If he can't use all of Bach's string parts, at least use Bach's temperament so it will project an appropriate Affekt!
For easiest/clearest ensemble, have the cellist tune all four open strings to the slightly narrowed 5ths on the keyboard (general suggestion by Quantz for string players), and play in or near first position the whole time. Then give some air-space and drama to the recitative's harmonic realization as I suggest here: http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bpl/recits.htm
Sounds like a fine recital there all-around. Wish him the best!
Thomas Braatz wrote (January 14, 2006):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
>>If he can't use all of Bach's string parts, at least use Bach's temperament so it will project an appropriate Affekt!<<
Let the singer know that 'appropriate Affekt' comes mainly from the soul and vocal abilities of the singer and not from rather minor distortions in the distance between notes, distortions which may actually cause more harm and good to the performance by calling deliberate attention to a mechanical detail of pitch and intonation rather than the import of the words and the beauty of the musical setting.
Nessie Russell wrote (January 14, 2006):
About the countertenor's recital, Brad wrote:
< If he's a strongly skilled musician and has plenty of confidence about putting the music across convincingly, whose permission does he need to do so? In reasonable arrangement? A test of good musicianship is to make the best of whatever situation is dealt. I'd say: go for it! >
I agree. I have accompanied many singers. The thing you have to remember about singers is that the singing is what is most important. A recital given by a vocal soloist is not the same thing as a HIP Cantata.
< Sounds like a fine recital there all-around. Wish him the best! >
Adam Strange wrote (January 25, 2006):
Thanks a great deal to all of you for your help. I really appreciate it.
My roommate's gonna go with harpsichord and cello, and then is going to see if he can find at least one of each string for the Bach and the Vivaldi. If not, He's gonna have the harpsichordist play the reduction on the BCW.
I knew I could trust y'all to be quick to answer with great suggestions.
SHARING: BWV54 Gould/Oberlin
Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (August 18, 2006):
Every since I got home tonight from an unpleasant day and found this fascinating gift, I've been listening the Deller , Ledroit , Rössl-Majdan , and finally now Lesne .
Your Download-Link: #1: http://rapidshare.de/files/29804704/01-AudioTrack_01.mp3.html
I have re-uploaded what came in a .rar folder as a simple MP3. It all depends sometimes on what order you listen in.
The Gould-Oberlin  is a wild ride both conductor-pianist-wise and singer-wise.
Deller  we have discussed many times.
The Ledroit and his Ricercar Consort  I find lugubrious and fairly uninteresting. Of course we have been through this all before.Lesne and his group  speak to me much more at the moment.
Rössl-Majdan  alone as a female and German-speaker is obviously in a class by herself.
Most, all of the males have diction problems but one doesn't have to listen for an umlauted u.
There is more to a performance.
My recent harangues against counter-tenors don't apply here.
The Gould-Oberlin is sui generis.
NT: BWV 54=247/53(19)
Continue of discussion from: Cantata BWV 132 - Discussions
William Hoffman wrote (February 10, 2009):
John Pike wrote:
< I found it very interesting that Bach did not revive such a superlatively good cantata as BWV 54 " Widerstehe doch der Sünde" in Leipzig. Why should this be? Then I recalled hearing several reconstructions of the lost St Mark Passion which do indeed use music from BWV 54. Perhaps, then, in a sense, Bach did make alternative good use of this excellent material in Leipzig. How strong is the case for using BWV 54/1 in reconstructions of the St Mark P (BWV 247)? Is it as good as for BWV 198? >
William Hoffman replies: It (BWV 54/1) now is almost as good as BWV 198/1, 3, 5, 8, and 10. Wilhelm Rust gets credit for BWV 198, Friedrich Smend for BWV 54/1 (see NBA KB II/5, Dürr, 1972, p. 248, as well as Schmieder BWV 247 and Bach Compendium BC D-5, plus Diethard Hellman's accepted, definitive Haenssler realization of BWV 247/53(19)
As for BWV 54, text by Lehms 1711, it dates back to at least 1714 and it may originally have been a per ogni tempo cantata, as well as for Lent 3, (Occuli) and the Seventh Sunday after Trinity in Weimar (double duty?). Cantata BWV 54 has various associations with specific Sundays in the Trinity Season, especially trust and acceptance in the face of death, betrayal, and hypocrisy.
There is a slight chance Bach repeated BWV 54 early in the first cycle in Leipzig in 1723 when he was hard pressed to present original works early in the Trinity Season, inserting Weimar cantatas wherever possible. Bach resorted entirely to Weimar cantatas between June 13 and July 11, the Third to the Seventh Sundays after Trinity, including the feasts of John the Baptist on June 24 and Visitation, July 2. He presented five cantatas for the respective dates, BWV 21, BWV 185, BWV 167, BWV 147, and BWV 186.
There are no documented performances for the Fifth and Sixth Sundays after Trinity, June 27 and July 24. Yes, these two possibilities would have been a stretch to accommodate BWV 54. Also, Bach could have presented BWV 54 on Trinity +7, on a double bill with BWV 186, which was presented with new recitatives and chorale from the original for the Second Sunday in Advent in Weimar.
There is no BWV 54 original score or parts set from Bach, only a score copy from Bach's colleague and distant cousin in Weimar, J.G. Walther. This score was one of those questionable pieces in Bach's estate, not part of his cantata cycles (entrusted to W.F. and CPE), which stayed in Leipzig, probably through other family members and found its way into publisher Breitkopf's 1761 catalog of manuscripts.
Incidentally, there is renewed interest in Bach's heterogenius first cantata cycle 1723-24.Eric Chafe is writing a study of contrafaction connections between Leipzig cantatas and the Missae Breves, BWV 233-236, through tonal designs and service lesson themes. His article, "Bach and Hypocrisy: Truth and Appearance in Cantatas 136 and 179" was recently published in <The Century of Bach and Mozart>: Perspectives on Historiography, Composition, Theory, and Performance, Harvard U. Press, 2008.
Cantata BWV 54 is a gorgeous work for a very low alto voice. It seems, IMVVVVHO, that it was written for a mature adult voice, perhaps a castrato? I haven't read the BCW discussion of BWV 54.
Douglas Cowling wrote (February 11, 2009):
William Hoffman wrote:
< Cantata BWV 54 is a gorgeous work for a very low alto voice. It seems, IMVVVVHO, that it was written for a mature adult voice, perhaps a castrato? >
Castrati weren't employed in Lutheran churches where the alto part was sung by boys -- modern German choirs maintain the tradition. Some of the Renaissance repertoire was sung by discantists, adult male altos or haute-contres. Bach probably heard castrati at the Dresden opera where they took the high coloratura roles in Italian opera.
William Hoffman wrote (February 11, 2009):
[To Douglas Cowling] William Hoffman replies: Emphasis on My Very, Very, Very, Very Humble Opinion. It appears that while the Weimar and Leipzig Operas disappeared shortly before Bach came, there were still traveling Italian troupes from Dresden with castrati, that castrati were engaged at Köthen in 1719, that Bach possibly encountered them at Carlsbad in 1719 and 1721 and certainly at the Dresden Opera (Hasse's Cleofide), and that the young Gluck came to Leipzig in 1747 with the Mingotti brothers' combined opera companies.
Beyond the Lutheran Church restrictions, it is possible that as Bach was beginning to compose secular serenades (BWV 208, 1713), and cantatas in the Italian opera style, he also began to explore various non-ecclesiastical voice possibilities. Yes, the Lehms 1711 text is sacred but is it possible that Bach may havetried to apply BWV 54 at some point, with Weimar copyists Walther and Krebs, in a secular context, perhaps for his champion, the talented Prince Johann Ernest?
Whomever Bach wrote BWV 54 for, he/she must have been an amazing singer!
Ah, extravagant musing and meanderings, thinking out of the box!
Douglas Cowling wrote (February 11, 2009):
William Hoffman wrote:
< Beyond the Lutheran Church restrictions, it is possible that as Bach was beginning to compose secular serenades (BWV 208, 1713), and cantatas in the Italian opera style, he also began to explore various non-ecclesiastical voice possibilities. >
Handel faced the same restrictions in his English church music where he used English male altos a la Purcell for the first time. Handel used whatever voices he had to hand. In the operas we find both female and castrati altos. In the oratorios he used both female and male altos. What is most intriguing about his attitudes to voices in the oratorios is that he expected the female soprano and alto soloists to sing in the choruses with the boys as well. That never happens in modern HIP performances -- except for the "Hallelujah Chorus".
Deller's BWV 54
Stephen Benson wrote (February 12, 2010):
 Vanguard's re-issue last year of Alfred Deller's BWV 54 seems to have slipped under the radar, or, at least, under MY radar. Coming across it last week, I grabbed it. It's included in a 6-disc box, "Music of Handel, Bach, and the English Renaissance", Volume 4 of Vanguard's re- issue of ALL the Deller Vanguard recordings. At $30 for the 6 discs from Barnes & Noble, it's another great bargain, certainly many times less than the exorbitant amounts being asked by owners of earlier versions. Anyone doing what I did, which was to cue up that cantata first thing, should be aware that the track listings in the accompanying booklet (and "bonus" CD) don't match the disc. BWV 54 can be found on tracks 13-15 of Disc 2 instead of the indicated tracks 14-16.
Paul Johnson wrote (February 12, 2010):
[To Stephen Benson]  I have considered buying thus box, Steve. would you recommend it as an overall package? I don't have the deller BWV54. I've never heard it!
Julian Mincham wrote (February 13, 2010):
[To Stephen Benson]  Does this include his recording of the Bm mass Agnus Dei?
Stephen Benson wrote (February 13, 2010):
[To Julian Mincham]  Yes, and BWV 170.
Julian Mincham wrote (February 13, 2010):
[To Stephen Benson]  Thanks.
Stephen Benson wrote (February 13, 2010):
Paul Johnson wrote:
 < I have considered buying thus box, Steve. would you recommend it as an overall package? I don't have the deller bwv 54. I've never heard it! >
 All I can do is speak for myself. I had never heard Deller's recording. I had only heard all the hype. Now that I have it and have heard it for myself, I can say that I'm glad I got it, and that it's a performance I will cherish.
Why? (And this includes both my reasons for pursuing it and, now, for possessing it.)
(1) Alfred Deller. His voice and his performances of Early Music and Baroque music are sui generis. After more than 50 years, there's a freshness and generative idealism and enthusiasm that cannot be erased. For me, all criticisms of diction and pronunciation are excused by the palpable sincerity of his interpretation.
(2) Historically. This, the first recording of Leonhardt and Harnoncourt to utilize HIP principles, marks a new beginning in Bachian interpretation.
(3) Recommendations. When two of the Bach scholars for whom I've developed the most respect — Brad Lehman and Teri Noel Towe — speak so highly of a recording, I feel compelled to at least hear it. To cite Teri from an earlier posting on this website: "I share Brad's deep and abiding affection for Alfred Deller's wonderful recording, which qualifies as a recording 'first' in more than one category, and it surely is my favorite commercial recording of the cantata."(4) And, now that I've heard it, I love it – for all of the above reasons and for its sheer musicality. It's gorgeous!
Julian Mincham wrote (February 13, 2010):
[To Stephen Benson]  Deller was well ahead of his time and got short thrift from the English musical establishment in his early years as he had come through neither of the traditional routes of university or cathedral music training---(shades of JS Bach?). I had the chance to meet him just the once in the 1960s when he was doing quite a bit of concert work with the lutenist Desmond Dupre. There was nothing 'concerty' about their performances, they both sat throughout and used music stands so one had the impression of dropping in and eavedropping on a couple od musicians who were making music for their own pleasure.
The tenor Max Worthley (who had worked with Deller in one of his consorts) told me that he hated rehearsing and did the minimum, which made recording with him terrifying, particularly in an age where many singers did not have the sight reading capacity that is expected of them today.
To the comments below I would add his unparallelled range of vocal colour. Listen for example to his redition of Purcell's Music for a while and i reckon that most people would be gobsmacked. Also for those just getting to know his recordings i would recommend the catches and glees, mostly done with the vocal consort without instruments. They are great fun and represent a range of composers besides the better known e.g.William and Henry lawes, Cornyshe, Arne, Travers, Rogers etc. Theye are available in a 7 CD set of Vanguard classics Folk Songs and Ballads which also includes a CD rom of the original LP covers and notes---CD Universe can get it.
Interesting that Deller is getting some positive comment on this list now. Some years ago his Bach performances were roundly lambasted. Well each to his own but I still want his performance of the Agnus Dei played at my funeral (aalthough not just yet!).
Paul Johnson wrote (February 13, 2010):
[To Stephen Benson]  Thanks Steve!
Douglas Cowling wrote (February 13, 2010):
Julian Mincham wrote:
 < Interesting that Deller is getting some positive comment on this list now. Some years ago his Bach performances were roundly lambasted >
 Like Janet Baker, Walter Deller did not have a beautiful natural voice. James Bowman, his principal successor was blessed with a much more attractive, powerful and even voice which did not have the vocal "holes" that Deller had. Russell Oberlin had many of the same problems. However, like Dame Janet, Deller was a consummate artist especially in the Purcell repertoire where he tossed off the fiendishly difficult ornaments with elan. It's worth noting that Britten created the role of Oberon in "A Midsummer Night's Dream" especially for him. Remarkably, the obstinate Britten, who was no singer's friend, actually rescored passages where he thought Deller was being swamped by the orchestra. The great sarabande which closes the opera is Deller at his finest.
Julian Mincham wrote (February 13, 2010):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
 < Like Janet Baker, Alfred Deller did not have a beautiful natural voice. >
 I guess it's a matter of individual taste; personally I do find his voice beautiful particularly in the respects I mentioned, his extraordinarily kaleidescope range of vocal colour. But it is the case that not all great singers have great voices--and vice versa. Gigli was blessed with a great voice---but his 78 recordings of thMozart arias are a complete embarrassment showing up his appalling lack of technique. Tauber had a small voice and a limited range, but consumate control. He is probably the only tenor who could go through the entire cadenza-like passage of Il mio Tesoro and straight onto the following phrase without having to take breath!
Tom Sherwood wrote (February 14, 2010):
[To Stephen Benson]  I have come out of lurk mode to add my recollection of hearing Alfred Deller sing live at Reed College in Portland, Oregon in the late 60's. As a music student I had thought that early music should sound differently from the way he sang it. It took about half a song to realize that he was entirely alive and in the moment, and that I had, unknowingly, thought the music was supposed to sound dead. My musical life was changed that day.
George Bromley wrote (February 14, 2010):
[To Julian Mincham]  I heard Gigli's last live concert held at the circus venue, Bellvue,Manchester towards the end of the 1950's. He held the audience spell bound for two hours. It was his birthday and we all sung to him which amused him and brought a big smile to his face.
Continue on Part 5
Cantata BWV 54: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements
Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6