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

Cantata BWV 58
Ach Gott, wie manches Herzeleid [II]
Discussions - Part 2

Continue from Part 1

2nd movement of BWV 58

Neil Halliday wrote (March 30, 2003):

[To Bradley Lehman] I wonder if you could look at the score of Mvt. 2 (bass recitative) of BWV 58, given at the David Zale site [4], and give your thoughts on performing the continuo part on the organ (on the appropriate organ stop), as realised in this score?

My own thoughts are that this could sound quite wonderful, minus a bassoon which is probably surperfluous to the organ sound (and maybe even cello, although the cello may add a pleasing extra colour to the bass line of the organ, depending on acoustics etc), so the organ could be played more or less legato as written without overpowering the vocalist. There are some wonderful suspensions and harmonies in this score.

Would this sound infinitely more musically interesting than Harnoncourt's realisation [4] of this movement?

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 31, 2003):
[To Neil Halliday] Neil, I downloaded that file and printed it out. It's a piano reduction (vocal score for rehearsal) from the late 19th or early 20th century, for what that's worth...not very reliable as scholarship, by any standards....

Nevertheless, I played through it at what seemed the most appropriate instrument in my house, my late 19th century parlour-organ (since I don't have a piano; only a clavichord, harpsichord, virginal, synthesizer, and this parlour-organ/harmonium). I held all those chords all the way through, and connected them all with finger legato. I sang the vocal part myself while playing, using my "pleasant demi-voice" as one might describe it.

Sure, this edition can work well as entertaining and pleasing music, especially if one wants to conjure up visions of Grand-Uncle Charles valiantly singing through it, accompanied by Grand-Aunt Nelly at the parlour-organ or the piano. That's better than not hearing the music at all!

As for whether this is "infinitely more musically interesting" than the Harnoncourt recording, I can't say, as I haven't heard the Harnoncourt recording of this [4].

Neil Halliday wrote (April 1, 2003):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
<<"Sure, this edition can work well as entertaining and pleasing music, especially if one wants to conjure up visions of Grand-Uncle Charles valiantly singing through it, accompanied by Grand-Aunt Nelly at the parlour-organ or the piano. That's better than not hearing the music at all!
As for whether this is "infinitely more musically interesting" than the Harnoncourt recording
[4], I can't say, as I haven't heard the Harnoncourt recording of this.">>
Leaving aside the ambitions of one's Grand-Relations, do I detect you enjoyed singing this with the harmony supplied by the organ? (I'm glad you did'nt use a piano - it's the complex polyphony I'm chasing in this instance, and which is a legitimate realisation of Bach's figured bass score.)

I can assure you there is no way Harnoncourt's realisation [4] of this movement can be described as "pleasing music" - it is practically unaccompanied declamation, appropriate perhaps for carrying the story in an opera, but not what you can call music, and, IMO, out of place in the rarified musical atmosphere of the Bach cantatas.

In fact, I find the occasional, seemingly unrelated, short organ chords to be an annoyance; it would be better, IMO, to treat secco recitatives as pure declamation and be done with it. (But I hope it does not come to this!)

After reading the articles you and others have supplied on this site, I am wondering if the failure to distinguish between the ensemble size required for particular cantata movements, and the employment of the same continuo instruments for all these different movements, is one source of the problem of secco recitative accompaniment, ie, how long or short the organ and other continuo instruments should sound.

As a general principle, in other than secco recitatives, I would say that the larger the forces required for a particular movement, the less requirement is there for an organ to be part of the continuo 'team' - several instruments and singer(s) can already supply a complete musical structure from the continuo up, and an organ, except in a solo role, will only double (and muddy) the more complex structures. With these more complex structures, bassoons, cellos (celli?) and double-basses, as the continuo instruments, can supply all that is required.

OTOH, in the secco recitatives, the organ is a wonderful instrument, for supplying beautiful harmony, especially suitable for 'religious' music - as you noticed, when singing this movement; for this reason I see it as the ideal instrument for 'making music' out of the secco recitatives, and in this case I see less of a requirement for the other continuo instruments. Did Bach specify, or allow for different (combinations of) continuo instruments, in different movements of the same work? Notice the whole question of the convention of long and short notes becomes less signifcant with this approach - the musicianship of the performers becomes paramount.

BTW, I would have liked to have heard your performance!

Johan van Veen wrote (April 1, 2003):
Neil Halliday wrote:
< Leaving aside the ambitions of one's Grand-Relations, do I detect you enjoyed singing this with the harmony supplied by the organ? (I'm glad you did'nt use a piano - it's the complex polyphony I'm chasing in this instance, and which is a legitimate realisation of Bach's figured bass score.)
I can assure you there is no way Harnoncourt's realisation
[4] of this movement can be described as "pleasing music" - it is practically unaccompanied declamation, appropriate perhaps for carrying the story in an opera, but not what you can call music, and, IMO, out of place in the rarified musical atmosphere of the Bach cantatas. >
But that is exactly what a cantata was all about: telling the "audience" once again hat the sermon had already told them. Cantatas were "sermons on notes", therefore eclamation is essential for these cantatas.

BTW: the principle of 'declamation' in all music goes back to the theories of accini, which are the basis of the 'seconda prattica' and basically of all 'baroque' music.

No, the result is not always 'pleasing', in particular to some modern ears. But since when does music need to be 'pleasing' all the time? It is the message - and that's not always a 'pleasing' one - that counts. Bach didn't compose cantatas to please the ear, but to bring a message across.

Francine Renee Hall wrote (April 1, 2003):
[To Johan van Veen] (I took a peek at your website, and I'm so pleased with your wonderful accomplishments.)

Anyway, with all this talk of recitatives, have you or anyone checked out the extreme speeds that Oestman places on his singers in Mozart's 'Marriage of Figaro"? They are clearly declamations posed at such lightning speed that the listener has to literally fly through the pages to keep up.

Neil Halliday wrote (April 1, 2003):
Johan van Veen wrote:
<<No, the result is not always 'pleasing', in particular to some modern ears. But since when does music need to be 'pleasing' all the time? It is the message - and that's not always a 'pleasing' one - that counts. Bach didn't compose cantatas to please the ear, but to bring a message across.>>
Without getting into a debate about your point here, is Harnoncourt's realisation [4] of the movement we are discussing (Mvt. 2 BWV 58) legitimate? Presumably Bach wrote a figured bass line for this movement, which is the basis of the realisation of the score given on the David Zale site; if this is the case, Harnoncourt must be simply ignoring many of these figures (nombers showing chord harmonies), because his realisation of the continuo is very sparse indeed. Or is it that the realisation of the score shown at the David Zalsite contains material not indicated by Bach's figured bass, and which represents an impermissable extension of what Bach indicated, which is what Brad seems to be suggesting with his suggestion that this is a 19th century realisation?

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 1, 2003):
[To Neil Hallisay] It is a very simple exercise to transform that score from the Zale site back into figured bass for this recitative (writing in the numerals): I did it myself this morning in just a few minutes, over three bites of a muffin at breakfast. Bach uses some surprising progressions there, but none of the harmonies in themselves are outlandish, or out of the ordinary as figured bass.

Can somebody post an mp3 of Harnoncourt's performance [4], or point to an Internet site that has a sample of this movement, so I can check how they're playing those? The normal way is simply to play a short chord whenever the bass note changes; and that's very easily done using that figured version I wrote out, mentioned above. (The chord spacing itself might vary; that's up to the taste of the player...that is, the voice-leading doesn't have to be exactly the same as in that piano realization.)

-----

Here's a nice bit from Peter Williams' article, page 238:

"Türk commended CPE Bach for writing the continuo line in some of his church compositions as it should be played, i.e. short and detached in recitatives. To play thus, no matter how the composer actually notated the part, was to him 'one of the most important rules for organists'; unfortunately he does not tell us what to do at those points where a new chord is figured above a rest in the bass:"

[musical example from The Israelites]

"The answer, as with similar situations in other music of that time is: nothing. It was a guide to the director-accompanist, like the figures Corelli put above notes expressly marked tasto solo. If the composer did for some reason want the chords held on the organ, he must write tenuto, according to Türk. Several writers suggested this somewhat fussy convention, including a musician of German origin resident in England, AFC Kollmann, in his 'A Second Practical Guide to Thorough Bass' (London, 1807). But it did not become popular.

"Short organ chords in German church recitative were taken as the norm by major and minor theorists from at least the second third of the eighteenth century, but it is difficult to guess at the origins of the practice. Nor is it assumed that every organist did as he was told. (...)"

[From the second part of Williams' article "Basso Continuo on the Organ", starting in Music and Letters 50 (1969). Again, the whole thing is worth reading: don't just go from my excerpts here!]

That is, in both this example from CPE's "Israelites" and the recitative from BWV 58 we're talking about above, it's possible for the figured harmonies to change even though the bass note is not restruck. The vocal part makes the change of harmony clear, anyway, outlining the new harmony, and the figures merely describe what is happening...not always prescribing that the keyboard player must play something. When the harmonies change over a rest, or over a white note in the bass, it's customary to simply watch them go by; all it's doing there is describing how the composition is put together, for reference.

(Oh, no! Now our friendly skeptics here are seeing eight different variations of red! How can a harmony be heard in the music, and written right there in the figures, if NOBODY except the singer is performing it? Horrors! And yet, it works, as the composers knew, and as those of us who perform this music know. We had some on Saturday, in a plain recitative in a Bach cantata: I played and released short chords whenever the bass note changed, only; and Jim Weaver sang everything in between over silence, even in the places where I watched the changes of harmony go by in my part. There was nothing unclear about it.)

Johan van Veen wrote (April 1, 2003):
[To Neil Halliday] I don't want to go into the specifics here. That's not what I was referring to.You criticised the realisation of that movement because it isn't pleasing. That is a valid argument, but it is an argument of personal taste which probably tells more about you than about the way the music is performed. If we talk about "right" or "wrong" then I can only see two kinds of arguments: a technical one (technical fallacies in the way the music is performed or the score is realised) and a historical one (the way the music is played is not in accordance with the rules or conventions of the time of the composition).

As I just said: there is nothing wrong with not liking a performance, but the simple fact that you don't like it doesn't make it wrong. It is quite possible - and in this case very likely - that you expect the performance - and the music - to deliver something the composer and/or the performers don't want to deliver. If you want music to be pleasing, that's fine, but if the composer and the interpreters didn't aim at 'pleasing music', than you won't get what you want. In that case you should perhaps listen to other kinds of music instead.

To return to an example I have used before: many people want the aria "Erbarme dich" from the St Matthew Passion (BWV 244) to be "beautiful", but I'm certain Bach didn't want it to sound "beautiful". The aria reflects on a situation of despair and deep sorrow. That can only sound 'pleasing' to someone who is absolutely not interested in the content of the work.

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 1, 2003):
[To Neil Halliday] Neil, may I offer a different interpretation of that "complex polyphony" you see here in that piano/vocal score? I see it as merely smooth (and academically 'correct') part-writing as three upper voices...nothing really polyphonic about it.

Furthermore, if we assume the shown harmonies are correct according to the original figures (can anyone with a full score confirm?), there are two very surprising spots. (1) Going from bar 3 to bar 4 we have two consecutive harmonies that would be figured "#4 2", but bass notes a fifth apart. (2) Going from bar 6 to bar 7 we have "#4 2" going to "6 4 2" (which might be abbreviated as "4 2"), the bass leaping downward by a major third. That is, in both these spots, Bach has written two consecutive harmonies of seventh-chords in third inversion (the bass note being the 7th of the chord).

Now, anyone who's played much figured bass knows there is a very 'bankable' pattern whenever one runs into a "4 2" and especially a "#4 2" in the music, whether it's recitative or aria or chorus. 95% of the time, or more, one could wager good money that the next thing to happen will be that the bass moves down a step, and the next figure is "6". This is one of the surest bets one can lay in music from about 1600 to 1800. Why? Because the bass is the 7th of the chord and has to resolve downward by a step (that's what 7ths do); and the root motion of the chords moves by a 5th (again, that's what 7th-chords do, the way they typically resolve)...resulting in a "6" chord, that is, a first-inversion triad.

Whenever the music does anything other than that, it's a huge surprise.

Bach has done it twice here: appropriately, on the words "Feinde" and "Todes"...both pretty nasty words (enemies, and death). He's illustrating some ugly things here. Smooth part-writing is not what he's looking for here; rather, the sharp shock of unexpected harmonies and leaps in the bass!

How does one play such surprises to bring out the fact that they're surprises? By smoothly connecting all the notes, regardless of their unexpectedness? By politely giving all these bass notes and harmonies equal weight? NO! NO #*&%*@#*&%@ WAY! The harmonies and bass motion here are like expletives, like slaps in the listener's face, like shouts to disturb everyone's complacency.

How would I play this passage? On organ, I would give a matter-of-fact and uninteresting short articulation to every bass note and chord up to that point (playing them withsome value between a quaver and a crotchet, probably; and playing only when the bass note changes...all very light and unproblematic)...and then at each chord that is surprising, i.e. the chords that are not the "6" the listener expects, I'd play the notes longer to emphasize that it's a shock. I might even add more fingers to the chords to make it louder. Then I'd go back to the more bluff approach for the rest of it that isn't so surprising. All this is done pretty much by feel, determining the exact lengths of the notes by context...it becomes easy to do, dramatically, with experience...doesn't need to be thought about all that consciously. One simply plays along with the meaning of the words, and reacts whenever either the text or the harmonic progression are surprising.

On harpsichord, I'd definitely play bigger chords at those spots, and maybe also give them less arpeggiation (a sharper stroke) than default, and perhaps lift off them more abruptly than I do the others. WHACK! Again, it's making a dramatic stroke there...and notice, to make it shorter there on harpsichord is the opposite of what I'd do for emphasis on the organ, which is to make it longer! There are many different ways to make accents, technically, but the point is to make them as clearly as possible. We develop a repertoire of these musical gestures on the various instruments, so we can simply think of the size of stroke we need to make at any given moment, and then do it.

Scare the crap out of people; we're talking about enemies and death here. Those evil #*#%*#ers are gonna come kill your kid, so get the @#%*&* out of here and go to Egypt NOW while you have a chance!

The point is: recitatives are (in effect) declamatory speech, and it is the continuo players' job to make it even more dramatic (while agreeing with the way the singer is singing it) with these punctuating strokes of various weights. The accompaniment of plain recitative is to treat it as punctuation, highlighting what the singer is already doing, making some words more forceful than others. As Johan has pointed out, these cantatas are sermons in themselves; didactic and rhetorical speech, through the medium of notes. Speech and rhetoric have punctuation in them, they have dramatic strokes, they have a dynamic mixture of expectation and surprise.

That's what's going on here. Anyone who plays/sings the music with less clarity than this, smoothing it out, making polite sounds, is missing the point (with the gain of making the music more "beautiful", perhaps, but that's not what it's about).

None of this dramatic stuff is possible if one adopts the plebeian method of connecting everything as a default, playing all those bass notes and harmonies the same as one another. I'd say, anyone who plays the @#%*@#%&in' #%*#&*%@% out of the drama here is making it infinitely more interesting (and is better attuned to the way the music is written) than a person who cluelessly sustains all the chords.

=====

Anyone else who wants to take a look at what we're looking at here: it's at:
http://www.bh2000.net/score/sacrbach/bwv058.pdf
...pages 5-6, i.e. movement #2.

Thomas Braatz wrote (April 1, 2003):
Bradley Lehman asked:
>>Furthermore, if we assume the shown harmonies are correct according to the original figures (can anyone with a full score confirm?)<<
My guess is that you are viewing the Breitkopf & Härtel piano reduction edition which often had Max Reger's realization of the continuo parts.

The NBA version of this mvt. can be viewed at:
Cantata BWV 58 - Examples from the Score

Brad goes on:
>>Scare the crap out of people; we're talking about enemies and death here. Those evil #*#%*#ers are gonna come kill your kid, so get the @#%*&* out of here and go to Egypt NOW while you have a chance!
The point is: recitatives are (in effect) declamatory speech, and it is the continuo players' job to make it even more dramatic (while agreeing with the way the singer is singing it) with these punctuating strokes of various weights. The accompaniment of plain recitative is to treat it as punctuation, highlighting what the singer is already doing, making some words more forceful than others. As Johan has pointed out, these cantatas are sermons in themselves; didactic and rhetorical speech, through the medium of notes. Speech and rhetoric have punctuation in them, they have dramatic strokes, they have a dynamic mixture of expectation and surprise.
That's what's going on here. Anyone who plays/sings the music with less clarity than this, smoothing it out, making polite sounds, is missing the point (with the gain of making the music more "beautiful", perhaps, but that's not what it's about).<<
There is great danger here in 'overdoing' all the dramatic effects so that the dramatic techniques overwhelm the message and begin to sound ridiculous. Why is it that the most moving account of this mvt. recorded until now does not have to resort to these rather extreme gestures which can begin to sound artificial? There needs to be a balance between the musical aspects which can be deeply moving and the expression of the text which need not sound more like spoken words than music which is sung. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau's rendition (Richter [2]) 'knocks' all the other attempts at singing this recitative 'out of the water' and the bc notes are sustained as indicated in the autograph score and in both continuo parts which were checked over by Bach before the performance.

Johan van Veen wrote (April 1, 2003):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< There is great danger here in 'overdoing' all the dramatic effects so that the dramatic techniques overwhelm the message and begin to sound ridiculous.>
To your ears maybe. Not to mine. It is very hard to overdo these dramatic effects. They can't overwhelm the message. The more attention is given to the text, the more dramatic the result is and therefore the better the message comes across.
>Why is it that the most moving account of this mvt. recorded until now does not have to resort to these rather extreme gestures which can begin to sound artificial?<

You make it sound as if the "moving character" of the recording you are referring to is a fact. But it is only moving to your ears. It isn't a fact that it is moving, just your personal experience, which others may not share. This makes it clear again that you have great problems in making a distinction between your personal opinion and taste on the one hand and facts on the other. It underlines what I wrote before - that your postings more than anything else prove that strict objectivity is a fiction.

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 1, 2003):
Brad asked:
>>Furthermore, if we assume the shown harmonies are correct
according to the original figures (can anyone with a full score
confirm?)<<
Thomas Braatz wrote: < My guess is that you are viewing the Breitkopf & Härtel piano reduction edition which often had Max Reger's realization of the continuo parts.
The NBA version of this mvt. can be viewed at:
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BachCantatas/files/BWV58M2.jpg >
Tom, thanks for this link to that page. Indeed, the two spots I pointed out have the two consecutive "6 #4 2" and similar figures (indicating seventh-chords in third inversion, and the diminished-seventh shock in bar 7) as I surmised; the harmonies of that piano realization are correct.

And yes, for the piano reduction the Breitkopf & Härtel is a reasonable guess; or perhaps a Schirmer or Kalmus. That's how the typeface and spacing look to me.

< There is great danger here in 'overdoing' all the dramatic effects so that the dramatic techniques overwhelm the message and begin to sound ridiculous. Why is it that the most moving account of this mvt. recorded until now does not have to resort to these rather extreme gestures which can begin to sound artificial? There needs to be a balance between the musical aspects which can be deeply moving and the expression of the text which need not soundmore like spoken words than music which is sung. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau's rendition (Richter [2]) 'knocks' all the other attempts at singing this recitative 'out of the water' and the bc notes are sustained as indicated in the autograph score and in both continuo parts which were checked over by Bach before the performance. >
"Most moving" in your opinion, where (I suppose, from your comments) you still expect the music to sound 'beautiful'. I disagree with that premise, personally; and suspect Johan and some others do also.

And you still keep missing the point: even if Bach checked over all the parts before his performance, once or 15,000 times to make sure the notation looked right, it still does NOT tell us (one way or another) EXACTLY HOW HE EXPECTED IT TO SOUND. That is a fundamental point that you seem never to get. You keep expecting that he automatically wanted all or most of the notes to be held out exactly as long as they look on the page, and (I submit) that is a highly questionable expectation.

That's why this argument keeps dragging on for months and months; we come to this with completely different expectations. To you, the notation and sound cannot conceivably be much different from one another: it looks to you like music of definite note-lengths and a beautiful sound (since that's evidently THE definition of music, to you, and anything else is incomprehensible overdone nonsense, to you).

To me, the notation and sound can (and often SHOULD) often be remarkably different from one another, because Bach was coming to this from 17th and early 18th century NOTATIONAL conventions (not the same thing as performance-practice conventions, please don't confuse this). I'm trying to read his music the way I believe Bach did, looking forward from the norms of his own formative years and his own immediate past, using the conventional manners of writing down sounds and musical gestures (even if it is no longer identical with the way we 250 years later might have expected him to notate them). You, on the other hand, are blithely reading the music with expectations from Bach's future rather than his past, ignoring the fact that notational conventions and expectations have changed since Bach's death, in some cases vastly so.

NOTATIONAL conventions and expectations. We have to find out what the notation meant TO BACH, before any question of how to play it most appropriately today. This is not a problem for you: you simply assume that the notation meant the same thing to him that it does to you, automatically. But if Bach were alive in today's society, via some time machine, and wanted to write down exactly the same sounds he had in his head, would he write them exactly the same way he did? Not if he wanted people nowadays to get it, no. People now have different expectations about notation. Rather than having a heck of a lot of explainin' to do, he'd be much better off writing down things exactly as WE expect to see them now: different clefs, more exact durations, clearer dynamic markings, clearer tempo and mood markings, clearer descriptions of the instruments, the whole shebang.

Expectations. That is why we do not agree here. You're listening in from Bach's future, hearing this as comfortable, rather conservative, "old" music to be studied and enjoyed for its text and its sounds, none of it "overdone." That suits your temperament. I'm trying to listen in from Bach's past, if possible, hearing it as avant-garde (or, at least, mildly radical) as it was, finding out what impact it had when new, and I'm disappointed when it's "underdone" as you keep asserting it 'should' be (to suit your expectations). That suits my temperament. Sure, I'm still in Bach's future, bodily; but I want the music to strike me with the full impact he wrote into it for his
people, and not be merely some nice relic from the past.

Bach's music generally wasn't as wildly expressionistic as (say) Handel's and Telemann's at their most intense, but he sure had his moments too (including this bit in BWV 58), and if we smooth him out (as you seem to expect as a norm) I think we do him a terrible disservice, and misunderstand the impact of his music. BWV 58 is never going to be as harrowingly scary as Handel's extraordinary cantata about the rape of Lucrezia, but by gum, we should give it a shot anyway. Bach's music has such a strong rational balance (construction, workmanship) that that aspect of it doesn't need to be brought out further; rather, we should emphasize the startling bits, the parts where he stretches outside his norm of beautiful poise.

Both of our approaches here are reasonable; but they're vastly different because of expectations. This seems to be one of those age-old "truth and beauty" aesthetic discussions. To you, the extreme gestures are 'artificial' and disturb your enjoyment. To me, the 'artificial' aspect is when it all sounds like merely nice, undisturbing, ungestural music, devoid of the musical rhetoric that is the more natural (or at least the more communicative) mode of expression. Simply, the music doesn't mean much without those gestures in it, when the performers downplay the expressive intensity in the quest to make it more balanced or more beautiful. I'm saying, it doesn't need to be made MORE balanced or MORE beautiful in performance; it already is so. We do best to bring out the irrational and ugly bits, honestly, where Bach has troubled to write them, so the more comfortable bits are seen to be even more comfortable by contrast. That is, we shouldn't artificially reduce his work to be merely inoffensive.

Comfortable, beautiful sounds are not the only way to be moved, sir. And beauty is only relative: one thing can be beautiful only if something else is allowed to be ugly. It's the dynamic contrast between these that is the truth: the contrast of different dimensions, sometimes even occurring simultaneously. A piece such as the B Minor Mass or the SMP (BWV 244) is beautiful insofar as the nasty parts are also allowed to be excruciatingly ugly, for the truth is in that contrast. Things can't resolve into ultimate beauty unless they first go somewhere else. That's just the basic nature of contrast: consonance is nothing without the presence of dissonance, and vice versa. Music of little or no contrast may be in some way 'beautiful,' sure, but it's also boring and probably makes less impact than music of more dimensions does. (And dissonance can be beautiful, too, in itself.)

To you, my supposedly 'extreme' ways of interpreting these pieces probably don't even seem like music at all. That's your loss. I don't doubt you that the DFD/Richter performance [2] is moving; I haven't heard it. But if it's as you describe it, Richter missed some obvious opportunities to let it be more fully expressive (dramatic), and therefore it errs on the side of beauty rather than truth. The way you describe it, it's underdone. Whatever water it 'knocks everybody else out of,' that's not the type of water I drink, or use for recreation, or whatever.

Neil Halliday wrote (April 2, 2003):
[To Thomas Braatz] Thanks for the link to the original score of this movement, Thomas.

It would appear my impression that Harnoncourt [4] is ignoring "half the score" in not correct - he does ignore the figures on the 3rd beat of the first two bars, but the rest of the score sounds like it is there, with many of the notes very shortened, of course. (So in a sense, I can still say half the score is missing.)

Perhaps another problem (in addition to the shortened notes) with Harnoncourt's realisation [4], is the very quiet, innocuous organ registration he employs. Surely Brad and Johan cannot find much evidence of "drama" in this rendition?

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 2, 2003):
[To Neil Halliday] Neil, as I mentioned in the posting this morning where I talked about the Williams article &c...to ignore the figures there in the first two bars is a normal way to play this, since the voice outlines the new haitself, and the figures are merely describing what's happening (for the benefit of the director, keyboard player(s), and bass line player(s)). The keyboard player is not required to strike them. It's analogous to Williams' example (from CPE Bach) where there are figures over bass-line rests!

You can say "half the SCORE is missing" from Harnoncourt's performance [4], but that doesn't mean any of the MUSIC is missing. :) See my posting this afternoon, the one in response to Tom: it's just a difference in expectation. You evidently expect to hear everything you see on the page, reading it with a manner from Bach's future where note-lengths are all specified exactly; but that's not necessarily what Bach meant in the sound using the notational conventions of his time. [That is: the note-lengths on the page simply mean 'do not strike the next note until this much time has passed', and an appropriate moment of release of the note is determined by many other factors, not only its appearance on the page. The expectation of exactly-notated durations is a MODERN expectation, not one we should hold Bach to with a literalistic vigour.]

And as for the shortened notes being a "problem," again it's only a "problem" if you are expecting something different instead of short notes (which evidently you are)...again, see my response to Tom on this matter; and see my method of determining the varied lengths, from harmonic analysis and from following the meaning of the text...that is, reacting to the dramatic thrust of the declamation.

As for Harnoncourt's performance [4], I'd still like to hear it. Can you or anyone furnish an mp3 copy of it, or a link to a place on the Internet where they have samples of this movement? Thanks! (Frankly, I wouldn't be surprised if it's too under-characterized for my taste; it's rare for anyone, even Harnoncourt, to characterize things enough on recordings. People on recordings tend to play things safely.......)

Neil Halliday wrote (April 2, 2003):
[To Bradley Lehman] Brad, check this site out:

http://www.mymp3sonline.net/. (Sorry for the lack of a 'live' link, but it's easy to get to.)

Aryeh pointed this out some time ago - you can listen to Harnoncourt's version of ALL the cantatas. (I hope you have broadband, I think it's necessary).

It is a pity we all don't have access to the same music we are discussing; I notice you have not heard Richter's (with DFD) version [2]. It would probably be possible to come to a more meaningful resolution of the issues we have been discussing, if we could all hear the various performances on the internet! (Maybe technology will make this possible some time in the future, I would certainly subscribe to such a site.)

I must say this quiet, chaste, clipped, and hence un-dramatic style of continuo realisation, in the secco recitatives, which characterises the Harnoncourt, seems to me to be widespread amongst HIP recordings; can you point to a more 'dramatic' recorded version of this movement, among HIP ensembles.)

Neil Halliday wrote (April 2, 2003):
Hey, that link is live!!!!

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 2, 2003):
Neil Halliday wrote:
< Brad, check this site out:
http://www.mymp3sonline.net/. (Sorry for the lack of a 'live' link, but it's easy to get to.)
Aryeh pointed this out some time ago - you can listen to > Harnoncourt's version of ALL the cantatas. (I hope you have > broadband, I think it's necessary). >
All four of my browsers (MS-IE 5, Netscape 6, Opera 6 and 7) are configured to pop it up in RealPlayer for those "m3u" files, but it doesn't work for cantata BWV 58: gives a network error every time. "Unable to establish a connection with the server." No luck. (That's over ISDN, the fastest thing available to me out here.) All I can pick up from that site http://www.mymp3sonline.net/Bach_Cantatas/
are those antiquated piano/vocal scores.

< It is a pity we all don't have access to the same music we are >discussing; I notice you have not heard Richter's (with DFD) version [2].It would probably be possible to come to a more meaningful resolution of the issues we have been discussing, if we could all hear the various performances on the internet! (Maybe technology will make this possible some time in the future, I would certainly subscribe to >such a site.) >
I haven't heard DFD/Richter [2] in BWV 58, but I do have them in BWV 68 (this week's). From that, and from Tom's description, it's not difficult at all to extrapolate the overly "reverent" and subdued delivery of the recitative in 58, and to understand the appeal of this approach. It does sound warmly musical and is very easy to listen to; although, I feel it totally misses Bach's point. :) ...Not only Bach's point, but also the text of the recitative itself (in 58): they really are talking about Herod's minions coming to kill the baby Jesus, and such a message does not sit well with schmoozy treacly sounds from sustained bass and organ!

The "issues we are discussing" derive directly from the music, not from recordings (or, one would hope so, anyway....). Everybody 50+ years ago learned this music (when they cared to) without the "benefit" of recordings; can we not continue to do at least some of that today? A point about musical content is true or false not because X or Y or Z did it on a recording, or because we think it sounds wonderful or terrible in such a recording, but (at the root) because it's true or false in the way Bach wrote the music, regardless of what ANYBODY does in recordings! Nicht wahr? That is, we should find out Bach's intentions, from a reading of the music his way (the notational conventions and other traditions he knew, influencing the manner of putting notes onto paper for his people to play/sing from), not automatically making assumptions from the way we read notation with later 'rules', and not automatically assuming that anybody ("HIP" or otherwise) has done the right thing on ANY recording!

It seems that some people here are seduced by the Richter/Rilling type of sound and wary of the Harnoncourt type of sound; or vice versa. Some approaches seem more appealing to some people, and others to other people; fine. Everybody has heroes and villains. And some of us (including myself) are of the conviction that NOBODY has ever really got it right on recordings; we're still searching for at least one really adequate delivery that gets everything, or at least most things. The music (and its drama) is richer than any single recording is ever going to be able to bring out.

So, really, at the heart of things, shouldn't we be talking about what's in the MUSIC (if possible) instead of being misled by recordings we like or dislike? The analysis of BWV 58's recitative I presented here yesterday was directly from studying the score (the words, bass line, and harmonic progressions) and from years of experience playing this type of music, and from years of training in Bach's style and the milieu he came from. My analysis is not from listening to anyone's recording; I really don't give a hoot what anybody has done on any recording, and I deliberately didn't listen to any. And I've told you all how I would play it, from that analysis, given a competent singer. [And my analysis was confirmed even more strongly when I then looked at the NBA score that Tom kindly posted.] My performance choices have to come from MY conviction (and the singer's conviction) of how it should go, if I want it to be convincing. Isn't that how it always should be?

Just wondering.

=====

Speaking of Fischer-Dieskau, have you ever listened to the way he sang "Dover Beach" by Samuel Barber? He sounds lovely, but totally misses a crucial word of the (English) text: he sings about "French toast" instead of the "French coast"! I have a sample at: http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bpl/frtoast.html

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 2, 2003):
Neil Halliday wrote:
< I must say this quiet, chaste, clipped, and hence un-dramatic style of continuo realisation, in the secco recitatives, which characterises the Harnoncourt, seems to me to be widespread amongst HIP recordings; can you point to a more 'dramatic' recorded version of this movement, among HIP ensembles.) >
I can't; but I am at least eagerly looking forward to hearing Klaus Mertens in this; I ordered the CD three or four weeks ago (never having heard any samples) but it hasn't arrived yet...I've especially wanted to hear him in the other two cantatas on this disc, BWV 49 and BWV 82. But I see that BWV 58 is also there as a nice bonus! Any day now, when the delivery truck arrives....

The past several months (prompted by private e-mail from a list member here who never says anything on-list), I've been listening to Mertens in the Christmas Oratorio (BWV 248) recording conducted by Ralf Otto, which I've had since November. My wife and I both very much like what we hear from his singing, so it was an obvious decision to order the BWV 82/BWV 49/BWV 58 disc [7]... especially as it also has Sigiswald Kuijken and Pierre Hantaï, both of whose work I also regularly find very amenable to my tastes. (And my wife was astonished when I told her I had bought the Christmas Oratorio (BWV 248) two-disc set for under $4.00 USD...a bargain from Berkshire Record Outlet.)

Hugo Saldias wrote (April 2, 2003):
[To Neil Halliday] All 75 cantatas recorded in CD by Karl Richter can be listened to in internet by going to amazon.de there you have each aria and choir of these performance the best I ever did listened to.

Hugo Saldias wrote (April 2, 2003):
[To Neil Halliday] I do not think Harnoncourt [4] ignores things. He just has the freedom to do the recitaive his way. I do not like it, but we must understand that a recitative with out freedom or improvisation is not music.

Thomas Braatz wrote (April 3, 2003):
Brad Lehman stated:
>>I haven't heard DFD/Richter [2] in BWV 58, but I do have them in BWV 68 (this week's). From that, and from Tom's description, it's not difficult at all to extrapolate the overly "reverent" and subdued delivery of the recitative in 58, and to understand the appeal of this approach. It does sound warmly musical and is very easy to listen to; although, I feel it totally misses Bach's point. :) ...Not only Bach's point, but also the text of the recitative itself (in 58): they really are talking about Herod's minions coming to kill the baby Jesus, and such a message does not sit well with schmoozy treacly sounds from sustained bass and organ!<<
It appears that with this 2nd mvt. of BWV 58 only exaggerated, extreme expression, with a staccato treatment of the notes sometimes shouted in unmusical fashion in order to achieve dramatic effect or whispered so that the congregation would have difficult in understanding it, would suit your interpretation of this mvt. Referring to DFD’s interpretation [2], one which you admittedly have not yet heard, but have already decided “would miss Bach’s point,” it appears that you have allowed your expectations that derive from your professional studies and musical experiences (as limited as these may be in regard to the entire body of Bach’s cantatas) unconsciously to color your judgment in these matters. Constantly professing that your understanding of what Bach wanted is superior to anything that has existed before this time, or that only certain recordings can possibly come close to what Bach really had in mind because they happen to agree with your preconceptions in performance practices, gives ample proof of your lopsided approach to Bach’s music.

BL: >>Speaking of Fischer-Dieskau, have you ever listened to the way he sang "Dover Beach" by Samuel Barber? He sounds lovely, but totally misses a crucial word of the (English) text: he sings about "French toast" instead of the "French coast"! I have a sample at: http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bpl/frtoast.html <<
I would be the first to admit that Fischer-Dieskau is not perfect and that in his interpretation of American music, he may be a ‘fish out of the water.’ Also there are many times when I am not pleased or satisfied with some of his interpretations of German Lieder and even Bach. However, when DFD [2] has a good day, or a good recording session, particularly using the German language, he can achieve a sublime, almost-perfect expression which seems to have no equal.

Not wanting to elevate you, Brad, to the level of DFD [2], I nevertheless need to state the following: I can imagine that with your limited knowledge of German you too could easily miss the proper interpretation of certain ‘crucial words’ in Bach’s sacred music. Then some student of yours, perhaps one that you have belittled once too often, will take one of your future Bach cantata recordings (if there are any) in which you participated conducting from the keyboard and post it on the web so as to point out your laughable mistakes.

BL: >>That is, we should find out Bach's intentions, from a reading of the music his way (the notational conventions and other traditions he knew, influencing the manner of putting notes onto paper for his people to play/sing from), not automatically making assumptions from the way we read notation with later 'rules', and not automatically assuming that anybody ("HIP" or otherwise) has done the right thing on ANY recording!<<
You should ‘not automatically [be] making assumptions from the way you read notation based upon faulty evidence or evidence faultily applied from a later period to an earlier one (as already discussed regarding the Schering/Mendel/Dreyfus theory.) Until this theory has been adequately ‘proven’ (if such a thing were ever possible), it is much better to rely literally upon Bach’s notation as the absolute starting point and not be assuming that what Bach wrote most frequently in his scores and which he corrected in the original set of parts (the bulk of this evidence shows long notation for both in the bc) is wrong. There should be no hocus-pocus, unwritten, esoteric traditions, but rather the clarity of Bach’s notation regarding which it is known that he was more careful than most composers in being as explicit as possible. It is as if Bach sensed that (and may have even personally experienced) certain performers would tend to over exaggerate certain aspects of his music (too much or unmusically applied embellishment, overly dramatic, and idiosyncratic mannerisms.) This well-documented concern on Bach’s part is a very good reason why every performer who aspires to get at the essence of his music with some sense of authenticity must return to the best available Urtext as the point of departure. The more removed from this source the performance becomes, the more important it will be to assign an honest declaration: Bach-Busoni, Bach-Stokowski, Bach-Harnoncourt, Bach-Leonhardt, Bach-Reger, Bach-Lehman, etc. Some of these performances may be quite thrilling in their own right and should be considered and enjoyed for their relative merits, but it is quite dishonest for HIP groups, for instance, to claim this is ‘Bach’ when they have already deviated more than just slightly from the original source in whatever form it has come down to us. By naming recordings in this way, it would not be as important to listeners participating on the BCML to compare and distinguish the quality of performances across these categories of non-HIP and HIP. The comparison of a Bach-Leonhardt with a Bach-Koopman would not need to reveal the similarities that already exist between the. The moment, however, that non-HIP and HIP are compared in work only by Bach, the differences are quite audible and distinguishable. These are worth noting as they will help the listener who wishes to come to a deeper understanding of the music and its performance traditions.

Otherwise, as another possibility, the list contributors might simply be polled on the cantatas assigned for a given week. That would save many readers from being confronted with rancorous statements and arguments which may do little to further the purpose of opening the ears, minds, and souls of most listeners who are just becoming acquainted with Bach’s sacred music.

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 3, 2003):
[To Thomas Braatz] Well, gee. And just when I was going to say something nice about DFD and Richter [2], too: this afternoon (thanks to Hugo's link) I checked out that recitative of 58 at the German Amazon site, and was pleasantly surprised by what I heard. His singing there is magisterial, well-characterized (no surprise from DFD...I've always been a fan, as he's so good at that in all the music he does), indeed "moving" as you said.

Richter [2], for his part, could be much worse at it: at least, he changes his organ registration at least twice during that short recit to give it some semblance of drama. Not terrible, and not as "devotional" as I expected. I still think it would sound MUCH better, much more exciting, and focus the listener's attention much more on the thrust of the words and drama, if he simply relied on different sizes of 'strokes' (punctuating the singer's delivery) instead of fussing with registration changes,... but the way he did it is undeniably effective. His performance is 'wrong' (heh!), and seems to me far too tame in communicative immediacy (that is, it's way too polite),... but it's at least intelligent-sounding, and obviously musically committed.

That latter thing ("musically committed") is the part that counts most.

Hugo Saldias wrote (April 3, 2003):
[To Bradley Lehman] I am happy I have been of help.

About Professor Karl Richter [2] some of you will not agree sometimes in certain details. But we all agree that he makes music in every single performance, it does not matter if it is organ,cembalo, or conducting... And, he played it always from the bottom of his heart.

 

Two sopranos in Harnoncourt's BWV 58

Neil Halliday wrote (December 17, 2004):
[4] At first I could not believe my ears, when the soprano aria (Mvt. 4) came along. I was expecting Peter Jelosits, who is the soprano in the duet with bass van der Meer (Mvt. 1).

What a change in the soprano's voice, in Mvt. 4!.

Then I noticed two sopranos are listed for this recording, the second being Kronwitter.

No prizes for noticing who is the vastly superior boy soprano.

Jelosits is excellent in BWV 57 as well, with pure tones and no (minimal) vibrato in the aria "Ich wuenschte mir den Tod".

 

Continue on Part 3

Cantata BWV 58: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

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