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Cantata BWV 60
O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort
Discussions - Part 1

Es ist genung

Satoshi Akima wrote (May 19, 2001):
Greetings to all as this is my first post to this list. I am sure some of you will be familiar with me from the MCML. I am nowhere near as seasoned a Bach Cantata listener as many here but am keen to discover new things.

I have a query for list members. I have always loved the Berg Violin Concerto and have been deeply aware of the quotation from a chorale in a Bach Cantata "Es ist genug". The entry of the quotation is dark and brooding followed soon by a sudden flourish with sense of release (perhaps from the pain of existence) before the work's eventual paradisal ending. I should add that it's definitely NOT "Ich habe genug" but a quotation from the Cantata "O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort". In one recording I own of the Berg, the writer in the German commentary writes that it is Cantata BWV 60.

In any case could someone kindly recommended a recording of this cantata and / or provide some background to the work? Needless to say I can find precious little on this cantata on the Cantata Website.

Thomas Braatz wrote (May 19, 2001):
[To Satoshi Akima] Without knowing or consciously having listened to Berg's Violin Concerto, I checked the rather detailed information in the New Grove Dictionary of Music & Musicians where the reference you are talking about is definitely listed as "Es ist genug." Also the book, Oxford Composer Companions: J.S. Bach edited by Malcolm Boyd Oxford University Press 1999, discusses a reference to this chorale in the Berg concerto. This is movement 5 of the Bach cantata, BWV 60, "O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort." So everything is correct as you stated. Do not confuse another, even more famous work, the Bach cantata, BWV 82, "Ich habe genung" with the chorale that is the concluding chorale to BWV 60! All of this is not to be confused with another cantata BWV 20 "O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort" which does not contain this special chorale which only exists once in all of Bach's works, to my knowledge, in BWV 60.

Satoshi Akima wrote (May 19, 2001):
[To Thomas Braatz] Many thanks to Thomas Braatz!:
My edition of Berg's score has the words "Es ist genug" printed at the point that the quotation occurs. It seems that this cantata has been relatively seldom recorded. Bach was very important composer to Berg who thought that the way forward in music was through the rediscovery of contrapuntal-imitative musical language after centuries of domination by a homophonic-melodic style. I have always been secretly curious about the source of the quotation and why he chose this particular cantata. Pleas for release from worldly suffering can be found elsewhere in Bach and not just in BWV 60.

Thomas Braatz wrote (May 19, 2001):
Satoshi Akima asked:
< I have a query for list members. I have always loved the Berg Violin Concerto and have been deeply aware of the quotation from a chorale in a Bach Cantata "Es ist genug". The entry of the quotation is dark and brooding followed soon by a sudden flourish with sense of release (perhaps from the pain of existence) before the work's eventual paradisal ending. >
Since 1935 (Berg's Violin Concerto was composed that year) is the year of Alban Berg's death, the connection to the words and music of the chorale can be more easily understood. Allow me to quote the single verse of the chorale at the end of Bach's cantata BWV 60:

Es ist genung;
Herr, wenn es dir gefällt,
so spanne mich doch aus!
Mein Jesus kömmt;
nun gute Nacht, o Welt!
Ich fahr ins Himmelshaus,
ich fahre sicher hin mit Frieden,
mein großer Jammer bleibt danieden.
Es ist genung,
es ist genung.

Allow me to attempt a very modern translation (which means that my interpretation of the words may not correspond directly to what many would consider to be according to strict Lutheranism that prevailed at that time.)

I have had enough of this life;
Lord, if it pleases you at this time,
then do release me (my soul) from my physical body!
[I can now see} my Jesus is coming [to guide me];
So "good night and good-bye World!"
('Good night' is used because Death is the big brother of Sleep.)
I am now on my way to my heavenly house (or place specially prepared for me by Jesus.)
(NLT Joh 14:2 "There are many rooms in my Father's home, and I am going to prepare a place for you. If this were not so, I would tell you plainly." This was said after Simon Peter had asked Jesus, "Where are you going?") I can now securely (with assurance) go there in peace, All my problems and my suffering will remain back on earth. I have had enough of this life for now.

If you play a keyboard instrument, simply buy yourself a booklet of 4-part harmonizations of J.S. Bach's chorales. It will always be included under the beginning line of the text. Unfortunately, as Schweitzter (1905) pointed out, it is a disgrace that the words are always omitted. They are truly integral to a complete understanding of the harmonization (we can blame CPE Bach for this!)

The Bach experts are not very clear on the origin of this chorale. It is not commonly included in Lutheran hymn books. The connection seems to go back to Bach's earlier career in Mühlhausen, where his predecessors at the church of Divi Blasii were Johann Georg Ahle and his father, Johann Rudolf Ahle, the latter being the one who conceived the melody, but the text was written by Franz Joachim Burmeister (1662). If anyone on this mailing can find the complete text of this chorale, I would be most interested in seeing it.

Alfred Dürr (1971) comments on the Bach's chorale as follows: "It begins with three whole-tone sequences that constitute a 'Tritonus' (called the "Diabolus in musica" = "the devil in music') a sequence of notes "unheard of" (but in German this also means "outrageous, scandalous,") [and for that reason, it probably was not acceptable in the common Lutheran hymnals of that period, or any that followed], but here the use of this sequence of notes is justified because it depicts 'passing over the boundary of life and death.'Berg was probably not only interested in this whole-tone sequence, but also in the harmonization and 'polyphonic loosening' so as to allow the text to become more transparent to the listener. This is particularly true for the harmonization of the words, "mein großer Jammer bleibt danieden." (measure 15-16).

If more information about this is important to you and you are willing to pay the price of an expensive book, you might consider purchasing Eric Chafe's "Analyzing Bach Cantatas" Oxford University Press 2000. Beginning on p. 220, he treats BWV 60 and the final chorale from the standpoint of Lutheranism and tonal allegory. There is a detailed analysis of the final chorale with an illustration containing the score (without words). It seems that this is the high point in this book, and will be worthwhile reading. I have only recently purchased this book, and for that reason can not comment on it any more than this.

Thomas Braatz wrote (May 19, 2001):
Satoshi Akima asked:
< In any case could someone kindly recommended a recording of this cantata [BWV 60] >
At this point, I believe we are talking mainly about the final chorale, "Es ist genug" to Bach's Cantata BWV 60. Currently I only have two, make that three, recordings of this very moving chorale: Karl Richter (1964) on Archiv 439 394 [2] and Helmut Rilling (1978) on Hänssler Classic CD-Nr. 98.821 [5]

Each of these recordings is quite expressive of the text, but leave something to be desired in terms of choral proficiency (the attacks are somewhat sloppy in both and individual voice timbres within a single vocal line are perceivable and detract from having a unified, blended choral sound.) This must be a very difficult chorale to perform correctly!

If you can 'stand' it, there is a 'spooky' OVPP (one voice per part) recorded version available cheaply from Virgin Classic7243 5 61472. Although the pronunciation of German is not perfect as in the other two recordings, and although the breathy voices sound as if they are coming from the grave, the singers are impeccable in every other way: attacks, good intonation (at least relative to each other), balance, little or no vibrato etc. What is surprising is that there is an unnoticeable rise in pitch from the beginning to the end. Perhaps this is the spirit rising from the body?

I hope this will help you in hearing 'what all the fuss is about' regarding this great musical selection. When performed with reasonable correctness, and in consideration of the text that it is set to, this chorale sends chills up and down my spine.

Satoshi Akima wrote (May 20, 2001):
Many kind thanks again to Thomas Braatz for his remarkably thorough response which I enjoyed reading immensely:
< Since 1935 (Berg's Violin Concerto was composed that year) is the year of Alban Berg's death, the connection to the words and music of the chorale can be more easily understood. >
Indeed the Violin Concerto written in response to the death of Mahler's daughter at a tender age but turned out to be Berg's last work and Requiem. Worldly suffering (Weltschmerz) is something that Berg was acutely aware of and this found expression in his Wozzeck and Lulu. It seems his plea for the ultimate "Ausspannung" of Bach quotation was answered when Berg himself died months after completing the concerto.

> Es ist genung;
> Herr, wenn es dir gefällt,
> so spanne mich doch aus!
> Mein Jesus kömmt;
> nun gute Nacht, o Welt!
> Ich fahr ins Himmelshaus,
> ich fahre sicher hin mit Frieden,
> mein großer Jammer bleibt danieden.
> Es ist genung,
> es ist genung.

Translating passages out of Bach can sometimes be terribly difficult I agree. The main problems is how to tackle the old German - whether to preserve it by translating into older English or to modernize. There is no easy answer. How do you convey nuances such as "genung" with the "n" compared to the modern German "genug"? I have a recording of William Bird where the singers use period English pronunciation so that 'bird' is pronounced more like 'beard' (which is how it would be pronounced were it a German word). Similarly "kömmt" is certainly not modern German and I must admit I am unsure what to do with it (is the modern equivalent "käm", "kommt", or "wird kommen"?).

> I have had enough of this life;
> Lord, if it pleases you at this time,
> then do release me (my soul) from my physical body!
> [I can now see} my Jesus is coming [to guide me];
> So "good night and good-bye World!"
> ('Good night' is used because Death is the big brother of Sleep.)
> I am now on my way to my heavenly house (or place specially prepared for me by Jesus.)

Gar nicht schlecht, but I might have done it a little differently:

'Tis enough
Lord should it so please Thee
So do release me
My lord Jesus shall come;
Thus I bid thee good night o world
Into the house of heaven shall I journey
Hither shall I travel safely and contented
My great torments shall remain far below,
'Tis enough
'Tis enough

I hope to have preserved the resigned melancholic anguish of the text for those non-German readers on the list who are generally left reading dry, awkward translations of the original texts by people who obviously don't care.

< Alfred Dürr (1971) comments on the Bach's chorale as follows: "It begins with three whole-tone sequences that constitute a 'Tritonus' (called the "Diabolus in musica" = "the devil in music') a sequence of notes "unheard of" (but in German this also means "outrageous, scandalous,") [and for that reason, it probably was not acceptable in the common Lutheran hymnals of that period, or any that followed], but here the use of this sequence of notes is justified because it depicts 'passing over the boundary of life and death.' Berg was probably not only interested in this whole-tone sequence, but also in the harmonization and 'polyphonic loosening' so as to allow the text to become more transparent to the listener. This is particularly true for the harmonization of the words, "mein großer Jammer bleibt danieden." (measure 15-16). >
Interesting - I didn't know that the choral in question was harmonized in tritones. I cannot help but wonder if there was some other far more complex religious symbolism in JS Bach mind, of the sort found in Buch III of his "Clavier Übung", when he used the tritone? Doubtless the use of this triad once thought to be unacceptably dissonant also fascinated the dodecaphonist Berg.

For those interested the greatest ever recording of the Violin Concerto is the 1936 live one by Louis Krasner who commissioned it with the orchestral part conducted by Anton Webern (on Testament). Webern's, a masterly conductor by anyone's standards, conveys as sense of grief for a lost friend with overwhelming intensity. The abrupt flourish with upward soaring open strings occurring after the Bach quotation has a breathtaking sense of "Ausspannung" and of being lifted up far away from all worldly sorrows. It is also a potent reminder that Schönberg thought Bach was the greatest of them all and that this was a unanimous feeling he shared with Berg and Webern.

Thomas Braatz wrote (May 20, 2001):
Satoshi Akima stated and asked:
< Translating passages out of Bach can sometimes be terribly difficult I agree. The main problems is how to tackle the old German - whether to preserve it by translating into older English or to modernize. There is no easy answer. How do you convey nuances such as "genung" with the "n" compared to the modern German "genug"? I have a recording of William Bird where the singers use period English pronunciation so that 'bird' is pronounced more like 'beard' (which is how it would be pronounced were it a German word). Similarly "kömmt" is certainly not modern German and I must admit I am unsure what to do with it (is the modern equivalent "käm", "kommt", or "wird kommen"?). >
This is beginning to sound a bit like the HIP or non-HIP approaches to playing Bach as discussed on the Bach Recordings Mailing List. Perhaps we should have both available so that listeners can decide for themselves what 'works' for them. In regard to older forms of English or German, my personal preference has changed over the years from what I learned as a child to expect from religious verse, that it should sound like the King James Version of the Bible to my present mode which is to keep it simple and modernize it. At this point in life, I begin to think that it is odd that one needs to assume a special language to speak with or about God, and yet I can appreciate the beauty of the language in the KJV of the Bible. The latter can sound majestic and yet stilted or unnatural in my ears.

The 'unusual' forms of German words that you point to are really not that different from modern standard German. These are more in the nature of regional forms at a time when the German language was still moving toward standardization. I personally feel no requirement to render these forms differently in English, let's say by using a form of a word that sounds slightly different in some English dialect or in the style of the KJV. Even 'kömmt' falls into this category. There is no reason to assume that a subjunctive form is 'hiding behind' it. However, you are correct in assuming that the 3rd person present tense form of 'kommen' might have a future implication. In this instance I feel a more direct statement of immediacy is implied: the event is happening right now as I imagine myself dying. There is no longer a hope or a faith that he will come in time. He is there at the moment of the 'Ausspannung.'

< Interesting - I didn't know that the choral in question was harmonized in tritones. I cannot help but wonder if there was some other far more complex religious symbolism in JS Bach mind, of the sort found in Buch III of his "Clavier Übung", when he used the tritone? Doubtless the use of this triad once thought to be unacceptably dissonant also fascinated the dodecaphonist Berg. >
I do not think that tritone and triad are the same here, but I could be mist. Dürr was, I think, referring to the whole-tone sequence of notes as they moved upwards. The New Grove Dictionary of Music & Musicians indicates that it is an interval equal to the sum of three whole tones. It also states that Bach (in the chorale "Es ist genug") used the tritone embedded in the major scale to create an ambiguity in the relationship between tonic and dominant. Bach was not simply exploring possibilities, but had a definite connection, or better yet, many connections in mind as he composed music of this sort. Here we are centuries after his death still finding more connections than we could ever have imagined!

Satoshi Akima wrote (May 20, 2001):
Thomas Braatz writes:
< This is beginning to sound a bit like the HIP or non-HIP. In regard to older forms of English or German, my personal preference has changed over the years from what I learned as a child to expect from religious verse, that it should sound like the King James Version of the Bible to my present mode which is to keep it simple and modernize it. >
I appreciate your argument. However I don't think my own suggested translation was in full blown King James English at all. I decided to use less than standard newspaper English but keeping to within the limits of reasonable literary English. I find using somewhat stylized literary English can be of great help in translating German into English because older English is much more grammatically akin to German, which is why Shakespeare translates well into German. That's also why I used the phrase "hither":

< Hither shall I travel safely and contented >
I think it translates "hin" with greater ease. I don't think my English is so archaic as to compromise clarity for the typical modern English speaking audience. You are right in so far as you can take this trend too far and become too flowery as you find some older Victorian writers doing.

< The 'unusual' forms of German words that you point to are really not that ...you are correct in assuming that the 3rd person present tense form of 'kommen' might have a future implication. In this instance I feel a more direct statement of immediacy is implied: the event is happening right now as I imagine myself dying. There is no longer a hope or a faith that he will come in time. He is there at the moment of the 'Ausspannung.' >
I agree and this a recurrent problem with translating languages which use the present indicative form of the verb as the future tense as well. I think that in these languages it can introduce deliberate ambiguity to whether a word such as "kömmen" is future or present tense. This ambiguity cannot be translated regardless of whether it is a Bach Cantata, Dante, or Goethe. However the text flows more readily when you write "My lord Jesus shall come" rather than "is coming" or "comes". It gives the coming of Jesus a sort of emphatic finality mixed with a sense of yearning perhaps not implied in the original but "sounds" right. So you see I am not being pedantically "authenticist" at all but very free in my translation.

Thomas Braatz wrote (May 20, 2001):
Satoshi Akima translated "Es ist genug" (Mvt. 5 Chorale from BWV 60 "O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort"):
<
Es ist genung;
Herr, wenn es dir gefällt,
so spanne mich doch aus!
Mein Jesus kömmt;
nun gute Nacht, o Welt!
Ich fahr ins Himmelshaus,
ich fahre sicher hin mit Frieden,
mein großer Jammer bleibt danieden.
Es ist genung,
es ist genung.

as:

‘Tis enough
Lord should it so please Thee
So do release me
My lord Jesus shall come;
Thus I bid thee good night o world
Into the house of heaven shall I journey
Hither shall I travel safely and contented
My great torments shall remain far below,
'Tis enough
'Tis enough

and stated:

Translating passages out of Bach can sometimes be terribly difficult I agree. The main problems is how to tackle the old German - whether to preserve it by translating into older English or to modernize. There is no easy answer. Similarly "kömmt" is certainly not modern German and I must admit I am unsure what to do with it (is the modern equivalent "käm", "kommt", or "wird kommen"?).>
< I decided to use less than standard newspaper English but keeping to within the limits of reasonable literary English. I find using somewhat stylized literary English can be of great help in translating German into English because older English is much more grammatically akin to German, which is why Shakespeare translates well into German. That's also why I used the phrase "hither" >
Let me say, before I begin, that I admire your poetic translation very much, and that I know that I personally would have to expend great effort in doing likewise, the result very likely not being as good as yours. However, just as I had alluded to earlier in this thread in comparing our various translated versions to that of HIP vs. non-HIP recordings, there are different ways (and no single correct way) to approach the subject of translating the verses that Bach used as a basis for his sacred vocal compositions. I also do not value my slap-dash, quick-fix, wordy type of translation over your polished, distinctive, concise, and reverent translation.

One major consideration which makes undertaking a translation of Bach's cantata texts so difficult is the question of the prospective listener audience. We need to ask ourselves, "Is this a highly educated and specialized audience, the type that will go to hear a performance of a Bach cantata, oratorio, or passion, or even purchase recordings thereof, or is it an audience much wider in range, such as that found on the internet, where simply understanding the various forms of modern English used throughout the world precludes understanding the subtleties of an older level of English that preserves the best elements of the past and its connection with German?"

In my own experience I have observed the continuing loss of such subtleties, particularly among the younger generation. If there are still a few in this group that understand the formal style that you use, they most often associate it with a 'church-going' type of experience, but everywhere else in life they have no need for it. Indeed many churches (where Bach cantatas could possibly be performed) have abandoned this formal style in favor of relevancy, an act which I deplore on the one hand, and yet understand in the light of inevitable language development. During my many years of daily contact with 'young adults' from a highly educated segment of the population, I had the opportunity to observe first hand the demise of such English language subtleties as the subjunctive mood, a factor in language which was already in a decline in the first half of the 20th century. I still remember the puzzled looks on their faces, as I tried to explain the use of 'hither and thither.'

When I read your translation of "Mein Jesus kömmt" as "My lord Jesus shall come" where you admit in the quote above that there definitely is ambiguity in the verb form, I began thinking about what this would mean to a potential audience trying to understand the text. (I think that we can remove any consideration of 'käm' at this point, since it does not really apply.) Now we are left with the ambiguity of having either the present tense "he comes, he is coming, he does come" or the future tense "he will come, he will be coming." Upon reading your translation of this, I was reminded of a section of a book on modern English grammar by Fowler (I believe) Oxford University Press. This book, despite the title, was really a compendium of knowledge concerning very formal English which preserved all the best of the past so as to establish the highest level of English usage. In this particular, fascinating section, if I can remember this correctly after all these years, the rules concerning 'shall' and 'will' were spelled out: For the expression of futurity, the forms should read as follows: (singular)I shall, you will, he,she,it will, (plural) we shall, you will, they will, but when expressing volition, a Bachian twist is introduced, the opposite appears: I will, you shall, he,she,it shall, we will, you shall, they shall. Then, again if I remember correctly, twas a special emphatic form with the voice raised to accent the form (Harnoncourt would love this) where every possible form has 'shall' and nothing else. Based on this very erudite assessment of very formal English, your translation of "Mein Jesus kömmt" as "My lord Jesus shall come" should be construed as "I want or desire Jesus to come at this time" and not simply as expressing futurity. Or if you had written "My lord Jesus SHALL come," then you would be commanding Jesus to appear at this time because you are ready or need him now. (The other two instances of 'shall' in your translation would, of course, correctly imply futurity.) How much of this did you know when you translated this? How much can you expect the audience to know about this? These are all legitimate thoughts that cross my mind as we grapple with Bach's cantata texts, trying to make them as accessible as possible. I do hope that you understand that there is room for a variety of translations, just as there is a variety of recordings available for the wide gamut of listeners to choose from for their own edification and enjoyment. Any effort you expend to improve on any translation of a Bach cantata text will be worthwhile, as you put it: "for those non-German readers on the list who are generally left reading dry, awkward translations of the original texts by people who obviously don't care." You obviously care, I care also, so let us do it together. You provide the best you can, and I will attempt to do likewise in my own way. Thus others may be able to find a part of themselves in the TEXTS as well as in the music that Bach has so amply provided for enrichment of us all.

Andrew Oliver wrote (May 20, 2001):
Tom cites Fowler's Dictionary of Modern English Usage with regard to choosing which auxiliary verb to use when indicating future tense. This book was 'modern' when it was first published in 1926. It was revised in 1965 by E.Gowers. Fowler takes a prescriptive approach to language usage, by setting rigid rules to be followed, and taking little account of the fact that any language at any given time has developed from earlier forms, and will inevitably continue to develop. His 'rules', as to whether 'shall' or 'will' should be used, largely reflect the prevailing view and usage of grammarians at that time.

Let me quote from another book:
"..... the language acquired a range of ways of forming the future tense. Wyclif rendered the Latin future tense of verbs in the Bible by 'shall' and the present tense of Latin 'volo' by 'will'. Throughout the (medieval) period, and in the standard language in Britain to this day, a destinction between 'shall' and 'will' remained, though it is now fast falling away." (Robert Burchfield, The English Language, O.U.P. 1986) (This is an excellent and very readable book.)

Personally, I prefer to use 'will' always to express volition, and 'shall' always to express futurity, though, of course, volition implies futurity anyway. To quote further from the same book: "Old English had no distinctive future tense: the present tense was used to express future time...... The future tense came into being as the verbs 'sculan' and 'willan' lost their ancient power as finite verbs and turned into future auxiliaries."

As regards the phrase in question, "Mein Jesus kömmt", I would prefer to use the present continuous form "my Jesus is coming", because this describes an action that is taking place now, in the present, but the completion of the action is still in the future.

Thomas Braatz wrote (May 20, 2001):
[To Andrew Oliver] Thanks for your input, particularly the information from the Robert Burchfield book that I think I will attempt to acquire.

 

Bach and Berg, is it ever enough!

Peter Bloemendaal wrote (May 26, 2001):
Time flies and life is so hectic at the moment that I find hardly any time to read the messages on the list, let alone to contribute anything myself.

Yet, I was surprised and grateful to read about the connection between "Es ist genug" and Alban Berg's Violin Concert "Dem Andenken eines Engels", which is one of my favourite violin concertos, but which I had not listened to for several years. I have the recording by Itzhak Perlman with the Boston Symphony Orchestra under Seiji Ozawa and it is great! Alban Berg was a genius and this brilliant and moving concert is layed to perfection on this 1979 DGG record. Since I had not recognized the Bach theme before, I hurried to my record collection to listen to it anew, and how wonderful, there it was, coming out so beautifully in the adagio, first in the celli, then in the organ, the woodwinds and the strings. Of course I could not resist the temptation to try and write my own translation after reading the extensive discussion between Satoshi and Thomas and Andrew's final contribution. I have followed the original metre, but could not quite do so with the rhyme scheme.

It is enough;
Lord, when it pleases thee,
Release me, set me free!
My Jesus comes;
So world, good night to thee!
I leave for heaven's home,
I'm safe and sure to go in peace there,
My misery I leave below here.
It is enough.
It is enough.

Alban Berg was asked in February 1935 by the then famous violinist Louis Krasner to write a violin concerto for him, but it was the death of 18-year-old Manon Gropius two months later that moved and inspired him to compose the masterpiece, which was to be his own requiem before the year was out. Alban's angel was not the daughter of Gustav Mahler, who died in 1911, but his posthumous stepdaughter from Alma's short-lived marriage to the great Bauhaus architect Walther Gropius.

The concerto is an amalgamation of the twelve tone technique Alban Berg had acquired from his teacher Schönberg and such widely different tonal music as a Carinthian folksong and Bach's chorale "Es ist genug". In doing so Alban Berg wished to create a memorial in music to the essence of this young woman's being in an attempt to reconcile himself to the cruel death of this budding flower. In the concert Berg wanted to unite his ideas of life (Part 1. Andante - Allegretto), death and the transcendental (Part 2. Allegro - Adagio). It stands to reason that he used the folksong theme in part 1. Both Alban Berg and the Mahlers must have heard, hummed and sung it dozens of times and I can imagine Berg visiting Alma Mahler, listening to the crystal clear voice of the endearing young girl singing the familiar Austrian folksongs. As to the Bach chorale, I am not sure whether there is any direct connection to the life of the deceased, but both the grieving mother and the composer must have known it quite well. I do not know where and when, but there is no doubt in my mind that Berg had actually heard Cantata 60 being performed, which is a perplexing experience for anyone anywhere anytime. I just listened to it again and it knocked me over once more.

And then that concluding chorale "Es ist genug". Astonishing! A jewel, both musically and poetically. The chorale text by Franz Joachim Burmeister (1662) is a strong poem, modern in its use of short, simple statements. No far-fetched imagery, no redundant, highly rhetorical adjectives as so often in Bach's day. And on top of this Bach's musical setting! The very opening with the tritone "a - b - cis - dis" must have baffled and delighted Berg as it will do anyone hearing it today. From the medieval warning "Mi contra fa diabolus est in musica" this interval of the augmented fourth has been known as the devil in music. It was thought diabolically hard to sing, it was thought to be heard only in pagan melodies. It was also connected with the devil because it sounded awkward in the ears of Bach's contemporaries, whereas to modern ears, used to Hindemith and other 20th century composers, it has long lost this connotation. Bach would sometimes use the tritone to ilevil. Here, in Cantata BWV 60, it is not only used to illustrate the transition from life into death, it is also the conclusion of the struggle between fear and hope, which ends in a definite triumph of hope inspired by Christ. Moreover "It is enough!" marks the victory over the devil's eternal death and the reunion of the soul with Jesus. Bach, however, wanted to illustrate that this transition from earthly misery to heavenly bliss also had a dark and painful side. He had often felt the pain of losing a loved one, and Berg, for that matter, had also experienced the discrepancy between the grief for death and the hope for eternal life. Listen to his violin concerto and you will know. And so his inclusion of "Es ist genug" is significant of his acute awareness of this pain, perhaps as a testimony of his belief in a "paradisum", but also as an incantation to put an end to sorrow and suffering.

As to the translation, a lot has been said already. I think these explanatory translations do not do justice to the original poem. Let the words "Es ist genu(n)g" be enough and speak for themselves. When you translate "I have had enough of this life", you restrict the range of possible implications, when translating "'t is enough" it sounds rather mannered to me. In line 2, I favour the use of "when" because both "if" and the auxiliary "should" express uncertainty and condition and there is no doubt in the mind of the believer at the end of the long dialogue in BWV 60 that Jesus is at and on his side. It's just a matter of time. Which brings me to line 4. Both the use of "shall" (cp. "And he shall purify" from Händel's "Messiah") and "is coming" are correct, but in order to stick to the metre I have simply translated "My Jesus comes". Then I think it is also the slightly better translation. It is the statement of a fact, a certainty. The present single is often used to stress a factual situation, whereas the continuous tense or progressive form denotes different aspects, a temporal action in motion or near future. I prefer the use of the rather stilted "thee" to "you" because it fits the decorum of the poem and it does not sound too antique in my ears. "Himmelshaus" is "my Father's house", both in the KJV and the RSV, so I could have opted for "I leave for Father's house", but I chose to stay closer to the German text and in order to denote the aspect of the paternal home I translated "Haus" as "home". German "sicher" has a double meaning of "safe" and "sure", which I have tried to render in the English text. "Jammer" can be either "misery" or "miseries". Yet I decided to keep it singular.

Well, I think I'm going to join my family now. Tomorrow will be another day to listen to Berg and Bach again.

Thomas Braatz wrote (May 27, 2001):
Thanks to Peter Bloemendaal's explanation of his excellent translation of "Es ist genug," I looked once again at the verse with different eyes. The use of 'thee' still seems somewhat artificial to me in English, whereas the German word, "dir" is very direct and natural. With much of the discussion centering on present and future tense, I became aware of another way to understand (not to translate perfectly nor even attempt to reproduce the verse poetically - I will leave that to Peter, Satoshi, and others) this verse: After the first three lines ("It is enough; Lord, whenever you think the time for my death has come, do release me from this body"), which relate most commonly, but not always, to the situation where individuals, in the congregation or choir, are considering these words from a very personal viewpoint while sitting in a church, there is a definite shift of focus to the time when the death of this individual (whoever is singing it) is imminent. The individual then (beginning with line 4) suddenly has a clairvoyant prevision of this death at the very moment when it is happening. Everything that the individual has believed about this moment in the past is now just as expected: "I now see Jesus coming. He knows me personally and is coming to help and guide me. At this point I can more comfortably say 'good night' and 'good-bye' to the world, where I am leaving behind all my problems (those things that have caused me misery all my life.) Now that I feel peaceful and secure about what is happening, I'm happily on my way to the place that has been prepared for me. Life has truly been enough for me." This verse has had the effect of projecting the individual into the future to the moment of that individual's death. Such an experience then serves to bring about or strengthen an affirmation of the individual's belief in very much the same way that others have had a 'near-death-experience' which can serve to enhance that individual's life.

Es ist genung;
Herr, wenn es dir gefällt,
so spanne mich doch aus!
Mein Jesus kömmt;
nun gute Nacht, o Welt!
Ich fahr ins Himmelshaus,
ich fahre sicher hin mit Frieden,
mein großer Jammer bleibt danieden.
Es ist genung,
es ist genung
. [Franz Joachim Burmeister (1662)]

'Tis enough
Lord should it so please Thee
So do release me
My lord Jesus shall come;
Thus I bid thee good night o world
Into the house of heaven shall I journey
Hither shall I travel safely and contented
My great torments shall remain far below,
'Tis enough
'Tis enough [Satoshi Akima]

It is enough;
Lord, when it pleases thee,
Release me, set me free!
My Jesus comes;
So world, good night to thee!
I leave for heaven's home,
I'm safe and sure to go in peace there,
My misery I leave below here.
It is enough.
It is enough. [Peter Bloemendaal]

 

Continue on Part 2

Cantata BWV 60: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

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Last update: ęDecember 27, 2012 ę23:40:32