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Cantata BWV 54
Widerstehe doch der Sünde
Discussions - Part 6

Continue from Part 5

Discussions in the Week of February 9, 2014 (4th round)

Wiliam Hoffman wrote (February 9, 2014):
Cantata 54: Wiederstehe doch der Sünde”: Introduction

Bach’s tersest musical sermon, a setting on the evils of sin couched in striking and appealing music, Cantata BWV 54, “Widerstehe doch der Sünde” (Stand firm against sin), is his second extant solo cantata and the first for alto and strings. Probably composed in 1714 in Weimar to a text of the versatile and pioneering Darmstadt poet Georg Christian Lehms, the three movement Cantata 54 has long been a favorite of alto singers, despite the obscurity of its liturgical intentions for a Sunday service either during the appropriate Lenten Period of reflection and fasting or the Trinity Time of austere Christian teaching.

Lasting just under a quarter of an hour (14 minutes), Cantata 54 features an opening aria of low tessitura and unsettling harmony against a traditional backdrop (Bach-drop?) of Italian secular cantata da-capo form and French five-part string accompaniment. This aria was recycled almost 20 years later in the St. Mark Passion, BWV 247, at the point where Judas betrays Jesus in the Garden Gethsemane, set to a parodied Picander text. The succeeding brief secco recitative describes sin as appealing on the surface but fraught with corruption, like the apples of Sodom. Cantata 54 closes with Bach’s first fugal aria, without repeated initial material, urging the sinner to stand firm with devotion so that sin will quickly flee.

Cantata 54 was composed for the Third Sunday in Lent (Oculi; possibly March 4, 1714; most likely March 24, 1715) or for the Seventh Sunday after Trinity (possibly July 15, 1714). Cantata 54 Details are found at BCW http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV54.htm.1

The three movements, their scoring scoring, and the text titles, are:

1. Aria da-capo (Alto; Violino I/II, Viola I/II, Continuo): “Widersteh e doch der Sünde” (Stand firm against sin), B. “Laß dich nicht den Satan blenden” (Do not let Satan blind you);
2. Recitative (Alto, Continuo) “Die Art verruchter Sünden / Ist zwar von außen wunderschön” (The nature of loathsome sins / is indeed from outside very beautiful);
3. Aria (Alto; Violino I/II all' unisono, Viola I/II all' unisono, Continuo): “Wer Sünde tut, der ist vom Teufel” (Who commits sins is of the devil).2

Bach used unchanged the Lehms text from Gottgefälliges Kirchen-Opfer (Darmstadt 1711): “Andacht auf den Sonntag Oculi” (worship for Oculi Sunday, p. 25). The Oculi Readings in the lectionary are: Epistle: Ephesians 5:1-9 (Exhortation to lead a pure life); and the Gospel: Luke 11: 14-28 (How does Jesus drive out devils?).3 The Oculi Introit Psalm in the lectionary is Psalm 25 (Unto thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul, KJV), http://search.earthlink.net/search?q=Psalm+25+KJV&area=earthlink-ws&channel=webmail&; “Gebet um Gottes Regierung, Gnade und Schutz” (Prayer for God’s reign, grace, and protection).4

Mincham Intro Summary

The opening aria blends innovation with tradition, originality of harmonic instability and dissonance with established da-capo form (and a five-part string texture modeled after an older French type). This creates the affect of sin as Julian Mincham describes in his introductory commentary (http://www.jsbachcantatas.com/documents/chapter-66-bwv-54.htm). <<It is difficult to over-emphasise the originality of the opening of this cantata, the baroque convention being to begin a movement with a clear establishment of its key. In fact, this practice was maintained well into the latter part of the century, many masterpieces beginning with two or three statements of the key chord (see, for example, the first movements of Beethoven’s Eroica and Mozart’s Jupiter symphonies).

Bach, on the other hand, begins this cantata with a dissonance, exacerbated by the throbbing rhythms, rising pitches and building up of the texture. There is a tonic (doh) note of e flat in the continuo but immediately above it we hear an incomplete version of chord V7. One does not really get the impression that the key has been fully established until the cadence over bars 8-9.

The two viola lines, in themselves evidence of this being an early work, give a richness to the string texture which is, at times, reminiscent of the 6th Brandenburg Concerto. The overall effect is mildly disconcerting rather than dramatically invasive, a representation of the insidious poisoning of the soul from pervading sin. And yet despite the originality of the conception, Bach adheres to a conventional structure, that of the strict da capo aria.

Bach had clearly experimented with the solo cantata as a young man although it seems not to have been particularly popular in his early Leipzig years. He did resurrect C 199 for soprano as the 13th work of the first cycle (chapter 14) but there are none in the second and most of the solo works come later, either recalled from the Weimar years or newly composed. There are four for alto (Cs 54, 35, 170 and 169) and further contextual comments may be found in the essays in volume 3, chapters 23, 19 and 28.

Returning to C 54, the theme of the work is that of sin, its invasive nature, the necessity to resist it and its ultimate vulnerability. The structure is unusual, two arias separated by a recitative and no reference to any chorales. Very possibly the first solo cantata composed by Bach, it stands out as a superb example of how a new idea or genre stimulated in him the most imaginative and innovative of creative responses.>>

Christoph Wolff's Commentary

The striking opening with vivid text and closing aria, compositional style and manuscript source are described in Christoph Wolff’s liner notes to the Koopman-Erato CD.5 “The exceptional nature of the genre is [no biblical dictum or chorale harmonization] is underscored by the unusual beginning of the composition inasmuch as it is launched by dissonant chords on tremolando strings. The string textures as a whole are modeled on the older French type of five-part writing (two violins, two violas and cello/violone), a type of writing that was gradually replaced in Bach's cantata from the years between 1715 and 1717 by four-part writing for two violins, viola and cello. Words and music go hand in hand in conveying the cantata's message 'Sin', 'poison" and 'curse" are the salient words of the opening aria, and they duly inspire the composer to strike a correspondingly graphic and note, hence, for example, the dissonant hormonies of the opening bars. The second aria, with which this brief cantata [14 minutes] concludes, is notable for the dense polyphonic texture of its four-part writing, with a chromatic subject combined with a rhythmically animated counter subject at the words “Wer Sünde tut, der ist vom Teulel” (He who sins is of the Devil!). In its compositional style, Cantata 54 recalls the motet Fürchte dich nich BVW 228, which may have been written at more or less the same time. The principal manuscript source of Cantata 54 is a copy prepared jointly by Johann Tobias Krebs and Johann Gottfried Walther at some date before1717. In consequence the work can be dated only conjecturally. It is not known if it was revived in Leipzig.”

Biblical Sources of Cantata 54

Detailed description of the Cantata 54 music is found in conductor John Eliot Gardiner liner notes to Bach Cantata Pilgrimage 2000 BCW.6 Gardiner says that the dictum, “Widerstehe doch der Sünde” (Stand firm against sin), is “based by Bach’s librettist Georg Christian Lehms on the Epistle to James [4:7, KJV, not found in the church year lectionary]: ‘Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you’. While this seems plausible, there are two exceptions. The dictum is related to the passage in Book of Hebrews, 12:4, “Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, strivinagainst sin” (KJV), says Martin Petzoldt (Ibid.: 640, see Footnote 4). Bach sets a text only once from the James [1:12], the incipit “Selig ist der Mann, der die Anfechtung erduldet” (Blessed is the man who endures temptation) from soprano-bass dialogue Cantata BWV 57 for St. Stephens Day (December 26, 1725) at the beginning of church cantata Cycle 3, set to the same Lehms text of 1711 as Cantata 54. Bach avoids the Epistle of James, suggests Peter Smail, because Calvin’s concept found in James that works “are a sign of regeneration and election” runs counter to Luther’s principle of justification by grace through faith alone, not through works. 7

Cantata 54 is “one of the few Cantatas (dealing with 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,” says Smaill in the BCML: Discussions in the Week of April 17, 2005, Part 3, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV54-D3.htm. In the recitative, “Die Art verruchter Sünden / Ist zwar von außen wunderschön” (The nature of loathsome sins / is indeed from outside very beautiful), like gold or “the apples of Sodom” or “a sharp sword.” The “apples of Sodom,” says Smaill, is “a reference from the Jewish historian Josephus (IV;483-5), that in Cantata 54 is “an association of Sodom with the concept of glittering on the outside but rotten inside.” “The “apples of Sodom” phrase also is found in the harsh-texted Trinity Time Cantata arias 95/2 and 179/3, in the first church cycle, to anonymous authors, says Smaill, possibly Christian Weiss the elder, St. Thomas pastor and Bach’s chief confessor.

Gardiner's Notes on Cantata 54

Gardiner assigns the work to Oculi Sunday 1714 or 1715 in Weimar and speculates that it may have ended with a chorale (Ibid., see Footnote 6). <<The first aria is spellbinding. Twice within the space of a year we find Bach opening a movement with a harsh dissonance, a dominant seventh chord over a tonic pedal point (the other occasion comes in the Advent cantata BWV 61Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland). It is a deliberate shock tactic to rouse his listeners to the need to ‘stand firm against all sinning, or its poison will possess you’. Was it also, one wonders, his way of announcing himself, two days after his appointment, as Concertmeister at the Weimar court [March 2, 1714]? Bach creates a mood of urgent, unflinching resistance to the seductive, tenacious powers of evil. These he evokes in lyrically entwined violin lines which writhe and twist, then teeter for a whole bar in suspense before tumbling down to an apparent repose, a clear symbol of the reprieve available to those who stand firm against sin. A deadly curse (illustrated by two abrupt re-entries of the violas on the same dominant seventh) awaits those who lose the will to resist. And just in case anyone was not paying attention, he maintains the strong and stubborn chord pulsation throughout. Of the thirty-two quavers of the opening four bars only four are consonances, all the rest being dissonances, twelve of them five-note chords! The recitative which follows strips the masks from sin, which on closer inspection turns out to be ‘but an empty shadow’. It is also a ‘sharpened sword that pierces us through body and soul’. The second aria is cast as a four-part fugue, with an insinuating chromatic theme and a long, contorted counter-subject to portray the wily shackles of the devil. Did the piece really end there or have we lost a chorale somewhere along the line, if not at the very end then, perhaps, as a missing cantus firmus, a musical superscription to the fugue? It occurs to me that Bach uses precisely such a device (strophes of Paul Gerhardt’s hymn ‘Warum sollt’ ich mich denn grämen’) in his double-choir motet BWV 228 Fürchte dich nicht, very likely written around this time. Both fugues begin, intriguingly, with a descending chromatic figure. More striking still is the resemblance of the counter-subject to the theme in the last movement of BWV 63 Christen, ätzet diesen Tag, written for Christmas Day in Weimar in 1714. Suppose for a moment that Widerstehe was written the following year [Oculi, March 24, 1715] (and here, even the great Alfred Durr sits on the fence); could it be that Bach was re-invoking his Christmas-tide appeal for grace (‘Almighty God, gaze graciously on the fervour of these humble souls!’) in the Lenten cantata, to nullify the tempting beauty of sin (‘outwardly wonderful’) which the devil has invented?>>

Background & Recordings

Cantata 54 Background Introduction and extensive discussion of then 23 listed Recordings is found in the initial Discussions in the Week of March 26, 2000 (BCW, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV54-D.htm). Aryeh Oron wrote (March 26, 2000): “The linear notes to Deller’s recording [3], written by S.W. Bennett, summarise the important things to be said about BWV 54”: <<The score employed in this recording of the cantata BWV 54 is not that of the Bach-Gesellschaft, which was shown by Smend to be based not on a rather carelessly copy, but on a manuscript discovered later in the Bibliotheque Royale a Brussels. It opens with what Schweitzer describes as “an alarming chord of the seventh… the trembling of the basses and violas, and the sighs of the violins between them give the movement of a somewhat disturbing effect. It is meant to depict the horror of the curse upon sin that is threatened in the text”. The music, as he proceeds, also portrays, somewhat more tenderly, the anguish of heart. Smend proves that this Aria had originally written for the lost St. Mark’s Passion (BWV 247), on the text “Falsche Welt, dein schmeichelnt Kussen…” [False world, thy poisonous kisses]. Thus the music that Bach had originally written on the theme of Judas became a more general exhortation to withstand temptation and sin. The recitative that follows begins, in the words of Arnold Schering, in “an almost impersonally calm, declamatory style”, with a touch of “visionary” as the instrumental accompaniment makes itself heard. In the final Aria, Schering finds that “the chromatically descending quarter notes represent sin… the sixteenths continually circling about the single note represent the Devil, while the bass stamps down in a restless quarter notes. With the entry of the singer, a fugue begins its soaring flight, with the searing dissonances, and with appearance of the word “davongemacht” [fled away], “the events develop at a breathless pace, and there is no end to the surprises, including overwhelmingly complicated canons, until the composition is at the end”.>>

Questions regarding Cantata 54 Provenance and the four copy sources, based on BGA and NBA References (See Footnote 1), are discussed by Thomas Braatz in the Discussions in the Week of April 17, 2005, Part 3 (Ibid, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV54-D3.htm). Braatz wrote (April 17, 2005): Various questions and answers. Questions: Is BWV 54/1 a parody of a movement from the St. Mark's Passion, BWV 247? Where did Bach get the text for this cantata? And the actual dating. This discussion also includes Tadashi Isoyama's 1996 notes for Suzuki BIS liner notes.8

FOOTNOTES

1 The BCML Cantata 54 Details include: Scoring: Score Vocal & Piano [0.91 MB], http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Scores/BWV054-V&P.pdf; Score BGA [1.04 MB], http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BGA/BWV054-BGA.pdf. Also found are the References: BGA XII/2 (Church cantatas BWV 51-60, Wilhelm Rust Ed. 1863); NBA KB I/18 (Cantatas for the 7th Sunday after Trinity, Alfred Dürr; BC A 51 (Oculi, Christoph Wolff & Hans-Joachim Schultze).

2 Complete German text and Francis Browne English translation, see BCW http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Texts/BWV54-Eng3.htm; Lehms BCW Short Biography, see http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Lib/Lehms.htm).
3 Epistle and Gospel readings, see BCW http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Read/Lent3.htm (German, Martin Luther 1545; English King James Version, 1611).
4 Martin Petzoldt, Bach-Kommentar (Bach Commentary).FN Theologisch-Musikwissenschaftliche Kommentierung der Geistlichen Vokalwerke JSB, Band II, Dir Geistlichen Kantaten vom 1. Advent bus zum Trinitatisfest: Oculi, Cantata 54: 637). Petzoldt describes the Epistle and Gospel readings as: Epistle: “Vermahnung zu einem heilgen Wandel” (Admonition to a holy change); Gospel: “Treufelsaustreibung, Gottes Wort höhren bewahren” (Devils driven out, proving God’s word is heard).
5 Wolff’s liner notes, see BCW, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Pic-Rec-BIG/Koopman-C03-1c[Erato-3CD].pdf, Recording details, BCW http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Performers/Koopman.htm#C3.
6 Gardiner’s liner notes, See BCW, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Pic-Rec-BIG/Gardiner-P21c[sdg118_gb].pdf, Recording details, BCW http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Performers/Gardiner-Rec4.htm#P21. Gardiner has no further comments on Cantata 54 found in his new musical biography, BACH: Music in the Castle of Heaven (New York: Alfred A Knopf, 2013).
7 Smaill, Footnote 60, “Calvinism,” “Bach among the Heretics: Inferences from the Cantata Texts,” Understanding Bach 4 (2009), Bach Network UK, http://www.bachnetwork.co.uk/ub4/smaill.pdf.
8 Isoyama’s liner notes, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Pic-Rec-BIG/Suzuki-C03c[BIS-CD791].pdf; BCW Recording details, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Performers/Suzuki.htm#C3

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To come: The odyssey of Bach scholarship into the purpose and dating of Cantata 54, and the Recordings

Charles Francis wrote (February 9, 2014):
Cantata 54: Glenn Gould

Given the innovations and harmonic mastery, I was surprised to see this exceptional work being dated back to Bach’s Weimar period. It’s a cantata that caught the attention of the Canadian pianist Glenn Gould, and his interesting commentary and performances from 1962 are well worth watching:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=crQ8YEUkUjg

Luke Dahn wrote (February 9, 2014):
[To Charles Francis] I always get a kick out of Gould's entirely scripted interviews and the delivery of his speeches as if entirely spontaneous. The way he translates the title of BWV 54 around the 9:05 mark in this video saying "...roughly translates as 'Stand firm against sin' or something like that," he might as well say, "... 'Stand firm against sin' or some such nonsense."

Does anyone play the "harpsipiano" anymore?

Douglas Cowling wrote (February 9, 2014):
Luke Dahn wrote:
< Does anyone play the "harpsipiano" anymore? >
It's remarkable how fixed is the gulf between pianists in the neo-Roamntic Gould tradition and keyboard players in the early music stream. An interesting apologia from his successor, Angela Hewitt:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZAeLjliS1LY

Charles Francis wrote (February 11, 2014):
Cantata 54: Key & Temperament

Authoritative musicologists occasionally intimate that this or that work, ranging far and wide around the circle of fifths, necessitates a circular tuning; one has even proposed that Buxtehude’s organ works were mere theoretical studies, as there was apparently no suitably tuned instrument for performance. An obvious issue, however, is the assumption that modern ears necessarily hear music in the same way as the composer; for how else are we to judge whether a given tuning would be acceptable or not? Regarding BWV 54, Glenn Gould’s remark, equating Bach with Gesualdo and Schonberg, would presumably argue, if valid, for a tuning that accentuates rather than diminishes dissonance. Indeed, when performed in Quarter-Comma Meantone, the opening movement of BWV 54 in three flats, is no longer a pietistic pleading of the soul, but a more obvious Lutheranic depiction of sin, and so in agreement with the text. Here’s a musical snippet to illustrate: http://tinyurl.com/od59v4m

Claudio Di Veroli wrote (February 11, 2014):
Charles Francis wrote:
< Authoritative musicologists occasionally intimate that this or that work, ranging far and wide around the circle of fifths, necessitates a circular tuning; one has even proposed that Buxtehude’s organ works were mere theoretical studies, as there was apparently no suitably tuned instrument for performance. An obvious issue, however, is the assumption that modern ears necessarily hear music in the same way as the composer; for how else are we to judge whether a given tuning would be acceptable or not? >
As much as we agree on other matters concerning temperaments, Charles, I have to strongly disagree on this one. The matter is very complex and explained in detail in my book on the matter. Suffice here to say that there are sound scientific methods to (a) find objectively when a tuning is acceptable or not based on acoustic laws that were the same in the past and now and (b) to find out what a particular composer or musical style needs so that the temperament fits the desired consonances/dissonances which the composer assumed when writing down the score.

< Regarding BWV 54, Glenn Gould’s remark, equating Bach with Gesualdo and Schonberg, would presumably argue, if valid, for a tuning that accentuates rather than diminishes dissonance. Indeed, when perfor med in Quarter-Comma Meantone, the opening movement of BWV 54 in three flats, is no longer a pietistic pleading of the soul, but a more obvious Lutheranic depiction of sin, and so in agreement with the text. H ere’s a musical snippet to illustrate: http://tinyurl.com/od59v4m >
It is true indeed that at least in two musical eras (Middle Ages and Late Baroque) dissonance also become very important. However, and even though late Baroque theoreticians wrote about the relationships between affects and temperaments, the reverse procedure is fraught with pitfalls: deducing temperament from feelings is a very dangerous procedure, and the "Kellner's saga" is a good example of how baseless conclusions can be reached.

In this particular case, it has been observed by different musicians (and supported by sheer statistical analysis) that JSBach wrote more often for flats than for sharps, to the point that two very similar temperaments in use today for Bach, Vallotti (with 6 pure fifths down from F) and Vallotti-Young (with 6 pure fifths down from C), can be shown to produce a very different effect. Vallotti works very well for JSBach, Vallotti-Young in many works produces a poor result.

Wiliam Hoffman wrote (February 11, 2014):
Cantata 54, <Wiederstehe doch der Sünde: Recordings

Bach’s alto solo Cantata BWV 54, <Wiederstehe doch der Sünde> (Resist then the sin) is indicative of the growing interest in Bach’s intimate solo vocal music, bolstered by recordings, intensive and extensive scholarship, and adaptations. Electronic media throughout the 20th century, particularly with incredible advancements in technology, have enabled Bach champions -- including noted performers, a cadre of scholars and a legion of enthusiasts – to produce and share a wealth of music hardly imagined 100 years ago. In addition, milestone celebrations and observances, particularly the Bach year 2000 250th anniversary of his death, have enabled a breadth and depth of musical experience and harvest. Various “Complete” or extended recorded collections of Bach’s works, particularly the cantatas, have flourished, as well as publicaof general and special interest.

Leading the way are iconic musical figures in electronic recordings, film, radio and television, sometimes generating controversy, most notably organist and scholar Albert Schweitzer, cellist and conductor Pablo Casals, conductor and arranged Leopold Stokowski, and pianists Rosalyn Tureck and Glenn Gould. They play major roles in Paul Elie’s recent epic story, Reinventing Bach, about “how one composer precipitated two revolutions in music and technology” (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2012). The Bach Cantatas Website (BCW) accounting, “Table of Cantata Recordings by Major Conductors according to BWV Number,” http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Performers/Recordings-Table.htm, represents the tip of the proverbial iceberg, the mountain top of a vast range of collective and individual musical works.

The conductors of “complete” Bach music collections are Helmut Rilling on the Hänssler label, Nikolaus Harnoncourt and Gustav Leonhardt on Teldec, and Pieter Jan Leusink et al on Brilliant Classics. Leaders of complete cantata recordings, as well as other vocal music, are Ton Koopman on Erato and Misaaki Sazuki on BIS, with the Bach Stiftung (J. S. Bach Foundation) currently performing, recording and documenting the complete vocal works of Johann Sebastian Bach over the course of around 25 years (http://www.bachstiftung.ch/en/). Extensive series of Bach vocal music has been produced by John Eliot Gardiner in the Bach 2000 Pilgrimage on Soli Deo Gloria and continue with Philippe Herreweghe on Harmoniua Mundi. Others are producing new recordings on a regular basis and the best source of information on baroque recordings is Johann van Veen, an original BCW regular contributor beginning in 2000, at: http://www.musica-dei-donum.org.

In addition to those pioneers listed above who have Bach recordings reissued are German conductors Karl Richter on Arkiv, the Berlin (Leipzig) Classics, and Fritz Werner on Erato, as explained in Aryeh Oron’s BCW “Remarks on the Table of Cantata Recordings . . . ,’ http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Performers/Recordings-Table-Remark.htm . Oron also has complied the BCW discographies, “Bach Cantatas: Index to Recordings & Discussions,” http://www.bach-cantatas.com/IndexBWV.htm, and “Bach's Other Vocal Works: Index to Recordings & Discussions,”: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Vocal/index.htm, as well as the BCW “Index to Short Biographies of Performers,”http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Bio/index.htm. The BCW Cantata 54 Complete Recordings list has doubled from 23 in 2000 to 47 today, see Cantata 54 Details & Complete Recordings, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV54.htm. These include numerous recent and historic YouTube recordings of the complete cantata as well as individual movements, found in the bottom panel of each of the 47 listings.

The Bach Stiftung adds a closing four-part chorale (Mvt. No. 4) not in the Lehms libretto or Bach’s cantata: Martin Jans’ text, “Jesum nur will ich liebhaben” (Only Jesus I shall hold dear), BWV 360 in B-flat Major, best known from Cantata 147 as the popular “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring,” Stanza 16 of “Jesu, meiner Seelen Wonne” (Jesus, delight of my soul), Johann Schop melody (Werde munter, mein Gemüthe).

Cantata 54 “Recordings of Individual Movements,” including albums of Bach vocal music selections and instrumental adaptations, are found at BCW, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV54-2.htm.

A recent trend are adaptations and reconstructions of vocal music. The two adaptations of Cantata 54 are guitarist Christopher Parkening playing the vocal part of BWV 54/1with chamber orchestra (Individual Movements; Ibid.: M-2), and oboist Albrecht Mayer in an oboe concerto arrangement, Voices of Bach, BCW http://www.bach-cantatas.com/NVP/Mayer-A.htm#T2 (scroll down to T 2).

The list of complete recordings of Cantata 54 begins with historic recordings of three contraltos, Hilde Rössel-Majdan, Helen Watts, and Maureen Forrester, as well as counter tenors Alfred Deller and Russell Oberlin in a studio recording with commentary by Glen Gould. Famous American contralto Marian Anderson also recorded Cantata 54, Terri Noel Towe, BCW contributor, recalls. “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!” Towe has connections to William Scheide and the historic Bach Aria Group with a veritable treasure of early recordings: Bach Cantatas & Other Vocal Works, see BCW http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Performers/BachAriaGroup.htm.

Meanwhile, counter-tenors following in the tradition of Deller and Oberlin, have increasingly become the usual voice in the past forty years, although few if any boy altos have sung the part in Cantata 54, given its low tessitura. Noted counter-tenors, usually baritones singing falsetto alto, include Paul Esswood with conductor Leonhardt (1974), James Bowman with the King’s Consort; Andreas Scholl with Koopman, Herrewehge and Martin Lutz, and Daniel Taylor with Jeanne Lamon. Noted altos include Julia Hamari with Rilling (1975), Nathalie Stutzmann with Roy Goodman and Gardiner, and Petra Noskaiova with Sigiswald Kuijken. A mix of lesser-known counter-tenors and altos also have sung the role. Renee Jacobs, well-known counter-tenor and conductor, was a frequent singer with Leonhardt on the Teldec “complete” cantatas and has one album of solo alto Cantatas BWV 35, 53, and 82 (transposed) with conductor Chiara Banchini and Ensemble 415, as well as a recording of alto solo Cantata 170 with Hans-Martin Linde. [For a wide-ranging lively series of BCW Discussions on “Counter-tenors in Bach’s Vocal Music” (3 parts, 1998-2005), see: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Topics/Countertenors.htm.]

The four historic contraltos recording Cantata 54, who also recorded Mahler’s “Kindertotenlieder,” collectively have recorded all six alto cantatas originally attributed to Bach. In addition to Cantata 54, Rössel-Majdan also recorded Bach alto cantatas 53 and 170; Watts, also BWV 53 and 200; and Forrester, also 35, 53, and 169. The Bach alto cantata common pairing among the four singers (excepting Anderson), is Cantata 53, which with Cantata 200, is not by Bach.

Cantata BWV 53, “Schlage doch, gewünschte Stunde” (Strike then, longed for hour) often was paired on programs with Cantata 54, and previously the most popular of Bach alto solo cantatas, with funeral bells and strings in one movement, running 6-9 minutes. There are 37 mostly older recordings and several recent You-Tube free downloads, including three without details (see BCW Cantata 53 Details & Recordings, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV53.htm). The list includes historic recordings of the three contraltos (Rössel-Majdan, Watts, and Forrester) as well as noted counter-tenors Robin Blaze, Scholl, and Taylor. The BCML Cantata 53 Discussions in three parts include TBraatz’s (October 14, 2004) posting with details on its supposed composer, Melchior Hoffmann, who also is listed for Cantata BWV 189 and the German Magnificat, BWV Anh. 21, both initially attributed to Bach (seehttp://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV53-D.htm). The work is variously dated to 1704-15 and the extant copy in ?Bach’s hand is assumed to be a reperformance c.1730 in Leipzig. Like Cantata 54, Cantata 53 originally was dated to 1730 and first appeared in the Breitkopf Leipzig 1761 catalogue, there listed as a sacred occasional funeral cantata.

For an extended BCW discussion of “Altos in Bach’s Vocal Works,” see http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Topics/Altos.htm, and for a recording of all but one alto solo cantata (BWV 35), see Bach Alto Cantatas, Vol. 1 (BWV 53, 54, 169, 170, 200) - 8.557621 – Naxos http://www.classicsonline.com/catalogue/product.aspx?pid=4673.

Charles Francis wrote (February 13, 2014):
[To Claudio Di Veroli] Well, Claudio, let’s say that one day through the wonders of science we discovered that some colour combinations were more harmonious than others. Then wouldn’t we expect to find that paintings by discerning artists, let’s say of ‘heaven’ and ‘hell’ respectively, exploited that feature in different ways? And if one artist were more disposed to paint heaven than another, wouldn’t that give rise to statistical anomalies in respective colour use?

In the case of BWV 54, the opening aria text reads (in the Emmanuel Music translation):
“Just resist sin, lest its poison seize you. Don't let Satan blind you; for those who defile God's honour will incur a curse that is deadly.”
So taking Bach’s musical competence as self-evident, we might expect him to express i) sin, ii) Satan, iii) defiling God’s honour, iv) a deadly curse. In the following recitative there is an obscure (for me) reference to “the apples of Sodom”, perhaps suggesting a rotten core, and to a “sharp sword, that pierces through body and soul”. So I don’t think it’s far-fetched to suggest that Bach would exploit “original sin” in a chain of pure thirds to make his point. Indeed, Werckmeister, addresses his hated meantone in such theological terms.

Claudio Di Veroli wrote (February 13, 2014):
Charles Francis wrote:
< Werckmeister's work is certainly very important and is as interesting for its pioneering aspects (beats) and proposals (Werckmeister III and Continuo) as for a few less-than-good ideas (for example the poor Werckmeister IV which, as shown in my book p.435ff, produces major thirds following a variant of his much-maligned meantone and has three wolf thirds). The fact that he uses theological terms does not change this argument in any way. >
JSBach instead, unlike Werckmeister, rarely if ever composed anything with less-than-good ideas. This consistency in quality and working methods has allowed musicologists to deduce, just from the scores, conclusions (on temperament, on articulation, and so on) that have proven much more difficult to reach for less consistent composers, e.g. (and famously with the "paradigm of consistency" polemics) Handel.

Charles Francis wrote (February 13, 2014):
[To Claudio Di Veroli] Eric Chaffe has attempted to equate key and text (‘affekt’) in some of Bach’s cantatas, but I doubt that any statistical temperament studies to date have considered such characterisations. Conceivably, a textual classification might be incorporated using technology along the lines of IBM’s Watson: http://tinyurl.com/28tzt6v

Pursuing the ‘artist’ analogy further, it would seem that without taking into account whether a given painting is of Heaven (pleasing colours) or Hell (clashing, dissonant colours), it would be at best pseudo-scientific to make non-testable claims about the limitations of his or her paint box.

Notably, BWV 54 opens with a repeated dissonance on the beat that would not form part of a student’s rule book of part writing, and, most likely, of whatever algorithm might be used for interval analysis within a statistical study.

Claudio Di Veroli wrote (February 13, 2014):
Charles Francis wrote:
< Eric Chaffe has attempted to equate key and text (‘affekt’) in some of Bach’s cantatas, but I doubt that any statistical temperament studies to date have considered such characterisations. Conceivably, a textual classification might be incorporated using technology along the lines of IBM’s Watson: http://tinyurl.com/28tzt6v >
Sorry Charles, but I could not care less about what WE moderns FEEL about the matter, only about what we can measure.

I care about what BACH FELT.

Baroque texts equating affect to the degree of temperament of a tonality were written in France and in Italy. Werckmeister just found that circular temperament was convenient to concentrate dissonances in the less-frequented tonalities.

< Notably, BWV 54 opens with a repeated dissonance on the beat that would not form part of a student’s rule book of part writing, and, most likely, of whatever algorithm might be used for interval analysis within a statistical study. >
Actually, discussions about temperament benefit from scrutinising CONSONANT works.

Works with many dissonances sound mostly dissonant, and the difference between temperaments become hardly relevant. This was always well known, and is dealt with in my book as well: see the text box on p.111.

I am sorry to be blunt, but I do not see the point in pursuing discussions and uttering opinions on matters that have been, IMNSHO, very conclusively dealt with in the modern literature on historical temperaments.

Have a nice day, Charles and everybody.

Charles Francis wrote (February 13, 2014):
[To Claudio Di Veroli] See Joke Number 7: http://tinyurl.com/qy6re4u

Arthur Robinson wrote (February 16, 2014):
Marian Anderson's Cantata 54
William Hoffman wrote:
< Famous American contralto Marian Anderson also recorded Cantata 54, Terri Noel Towe, BCW contributor, recalls. “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!” Towe has connections to William Scheide and the historic Bach Aria Group with a veritable treasure of early recordings: Bach Cantatas &Other Vocal Works, see BCW http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Performers/BachAriaGroup.htm. >
A number of these private recordings, including the Marian Anderson recording of BWV 54, recently were broadcast by Mr. Towe on his weekly broadcast on WPRB-FM. He devoted two 5 hour broadcasts to the celebration of the 100th birthday of William H. Scheide, the founder of the Bach Aria Group. Mr. Scheide celebrated his centenary on January 6, 1914.

 

Cantata BWV 54: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements
Discussions:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6


Recordings & Discussions of Cantatas: Main Page | 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
Discussions of General Topics: Cantatas & Other Vocal Works | Performance Practice | Radio, Concerts, Festivals, Recordings



 

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