Cantata BWV 60O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort
Discussions - Part 4
Continue from Part 3
Discussions in the Week of December 4, 2005
Thomas Braatz wrote (December 4, 2005):
Introduction BWV 60 - Intro to Weekly Discussion
BWV60 "O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort"
The cantata which has been selected, based upon the chronological sequence of Bach's performances, for this week's discussion is BWV 60 "O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort" for the 24th Sunday after Trinity which was first performed in Leipzig on November 7, 1723 as part of the 1st yearly cycle of cantatas. Despite the loss of the autograph score, it seems reasonable to assume that this was a completely new composition composed not long before its actual first performance.
The autograph title on the cover page (folder in which the original parts are located) reads:
Dominica 24 post Trinit: | Dialogus Zwischen Furcht u.
Hoffnung. | Furcht. O Ewigkeit, du Donner Wort. |
Hoffnung. Herr, ich warte auf dein Heyl. | a | 4 Voci.
| 2 Hautb: d'Amour. | 2 Violini | Viola | e | Continuo
| di | Joh: Sebast: Bach.
The Original Parts
These were copied almost entirely by Johann Andreas Kuhnau with the exception of the violin doublets and most of the continuo parts (these are given as Copyists 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5.
The parts are labeled:
6. Hautbois d'Amour 1.
7. Hautbois d'Amour. 2
8. Violino 1mo
9. Violino 1mo [the doublet]
10. Violino 2do
11. Violino 2do. [the doublet]
13. Continuo. [partly with figured bass]
14. Continuo. [transposed and partly figured]
Original Sources Missing:
1. the autograph score
2. an untransposed continuo part probably completely in Kuhnau's handwriting - this part would have been used by the other copyists in preparing the other continuo parts.
The author is unknown.
It is advisable for the reader/listener to check out, in advance of the following discussion, the prescribed readings (the liturgical connection) for the 24th Sunday after Trinity:
The Epistle and Gospel readings are given in the original German with an English translation at: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Read/Trinity24.htm
Here it is possible to see a list of all the cantatas that are related to these liturgical readings. Usually this includes only the other cantatas which were composed for the same Sunday or holiday/feast day. Here they can be viewed at a glance and a link will take you directly to one of these cantatas, if you so desire.
A connection is made with the Gospel reading: "The Raising of Jairus's Daughter" which has similarities to the readings for the 16th Sunday after Trinity in that human beings hope for their own personal resurrection while facing death with both fear and hope simultaneously.
The text is presented with a well-planned, symmetrical organization. Framed at either end by verses taken from chorale texts, and likewise having Bible quotations at either end with one quotation being responded to by the other ["Herr, ich warte auf dein Heil" Gen 49:18 at the beginning and on the other end "Selig sind die Toten." Rev. 14:13], the middle section is 'free' poetry in the form of a Duet-Aria surrounded on either side by a recitative.
There are no solo mvts. since everything is in the form of a dialogue (with the exception of the final chorale where all voices sing.
For those who have no original German text and translation available, these can be found as follows:
Original German Text available at Walter F. Bischof's site at: http://www.cs.ualberta.ca/~wfb/cantatas/60.html
English Translation available at Z. Philip Ambrose's site at: http://www.uvm.edu/~classics/faculty/bach/BWV60.html
English Interlinear Translation by Francis Browne at: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Texts/BWV60-Eng3.htm
English Side-by-Side Translation by Pamela Dellal at: http://www.emmanuelmusic.org/notes_trans/transl_cantata/bwv060.htm
French Note-for-Note Translation by Jean-Pierre Grivois at: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Texts/BWV60-Fre4.htm
Hebrew Side-by-Side Translation by Srit Schoenhorn at: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Texts/BWV60-Heb1.htm
[this does not display properly on my computer whereas Aryeh Oron's translations do]
Indonesian Word-for-Word Translation by Rianto Pardede at: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Texts/BWV60-Ind.htm
Spanish Side-by-Side Translation by Santiago Sánchez Montoro at: http://www.kareol.es/obras/cancionesbach/bachbwv60.htm
The Chorale Text:
For the full original chorale text of Johann Rist's "O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort" with Side-by-Side English translation by Francis Browne see: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Texts/Chorale007-Eng3.htm
For more on the author of the chorale text, Johann Rist, see: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Lib/Rist.htm
For the full original chorale text of Franz Joachim Burmeister's "Es ist genug" with Side-by-Side English translation by Francis Browne see: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Texts/Chorale053-Eng3.htm
For more on the author of the chorale text, Franz Joachim Burmeister, see: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Lib/Burmeister.htm
In the above links to the chorale texts, you can see at a glance all the other verses of a single chorale text which Bach has set to music elsewhere. The links there will take you to these other cantatas.
The Chorale Melody:
The detailed information on the melody for the first chorale "O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort" will be forthcoming in the next few days. Very briefly, Johann Schop is the composer of this melody.
For a detailed explanation and presentation of the famous chorale melody at the end of the cantata "Es ist genung" see: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/CM/Es-ist-genug.htm
Here you will find the original composition by Ahle in full score as well as a link to the full page score of Bach's harmonization in the NBA.
For more information about the original composer of this melody, see: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Lib/Ahle-Johann-Rudolf.htm
Under 'Scoring' on Aryeh's main Recordings page for this cantata, you will find the scoring for each mvt. The mvts. containing chorale melodies even have a small musical illustration of the melody as it appears in the cantata. Click on any mvt. to find out the details.
See particularly the last chorale mvt.: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/INS/BWV060-05.htm
Here you not only get the original text with the instrumentation of this mvt., but also links to the complete text and translation of the chorale text, a link to the poet/author of the chorale text, the composer of the chorale melody, and a link to the Chorale Melody Page where details are given about the chorale melody and its use elsewhere in Bach's compositions, but also as used by other composers.
A vocal & piano score of the entire cantata is available for download in PDF format at: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Scores/BWV060-V&P.pdf
Commentaries (Short and Long):
Read Simon Crouch's short commentary at: http://www.classical.net/music/comp.lst/works/bachjs/cantatas/060.html
James Leonard also has a short commentary on this cantata: http://www.allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll?p=amg&sql=42:4238~T1
Craig Smith has a short commentary as well at: http://www.emmanuelmusic.org/notes_trans/notes_cantata/bwv060.htm
There is even a Japanese commentary at: http://pine.zero.ad.jp/kuzunoha/cantata/60.htm
Julio Sánchez Reyes has a Spanish commentary at: http://www.cantatasdebach.com/60.html
Additional commentaries by Robertson, Voigt, Schweitzer, and Chafe can be found at: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Guide/BWV60-Guide.htm
Here is a commentary from the "Oxford Composer Companions: J. S. Bach" [Oxford University Press, 1999]:
O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort ('O eternity, thou thunderous word') (ii). Cantata, BWV 60, for the 24th Sunday after Trinity. On the folder containing the original performing parts is the following notation, in Bach's own hand: 'Dominica 24 post Trinit: Dialogus Zwischen Furcht u. Hoffnung'. From it we learn of the work's liturgical occasion, which in 1723, the year of its première, fell on 7 November. Bach's choice of the word 'dialogus' instead of 'concerto' (his preferred term for sacred vocal works of this type) reflects its unusual concentration on pairs of voices: none of the movements employs just one vocal soloist, and all four voices are required only for the concluding chorale. Additionally, the inscription discloses the identities of the two main partners in the dialogue: the allegorical figures Furcht ('Fear') and Hoffnung ('Hope').
The subject of this work is the fear of death. Rather than a detached intellectual treatment, it is a gripping dramatization of existential angst. The opening movement is a duet in which the alto and tenor assume the roles of Fear and Hope respectively. The alto (doubled by the horn) sings a chorale stanza (the same one that opens Cantata 20) likening eternity to a 'thunderous word'. Its contemplation engenders both emotional and physical distress. It feels like a 'sword that bores through the soul', brings 'great sadness' and confusion, and causes trembling and a dry mouth. After the alto has presented the first sentence, the tenor (Hope) counters with a simple expression of trust: 'Herr, ich warte auf dein Heil' ('I wait for thy salvation, O Lord': Genesis 49:18, also Psalm 119:166). Musical means are employed for illustrative purposes throughout this movement. For instance, the sustained notes in the continuo at the beginning (and analogous passages) and the lengthy melismas in the tenor represent the passing of time associated with 'Ewigkeit' ('eternity') and 'warte' ('wait'). Similarly, it is no accident that the final word in the alto part ('klebt'), used to describe the tongue sticking to the gums, is held out for no fewer than three and a half bars! Moreover, the terrifying sound of eternity's thunderous word is evoked by dissonant clusters of repeated notes in the strings (e.g. beat 3 of bars 1 and 3).
A feature of the first recitative (movement 2)--a dialogue between Fear and Hope--is that the two voices never sing simultaneously, even when the recitative twice gives way to arioso. Hope offers a response to each of Fear's three complaints, lengthy melismas illustrating the words 'martert' ('tortures') and 'ertragen' ('endure') at bars 8-11 and 21-6 respectively. (The meaning of 'martert' is also underscored with chromaticism.) It is worth observing, too, that the first few notes of the recitative quote from the beginning of the chorale in the previous movement (the third and fourth notes are raised by a semitone, however).
Movement 3, an aria for two solo instruments (oboe d'amore and violin) and two vocal soloists (alto and tenor) plus continuo, embodies the principle of contrast. The characteristic profile of the oboe d'amore part, defined by the incessant dotted quaver-semiquaver rhythm, is strongly differentiated from that of the violin, which involves rapid scale motion. Moreover, in each of three pairs of contradictory statements, the vocal soloists first sing separately--the alto expressing the viewpoint of Fear, the tenor the opposite perspective of Hope--before joining together. (As in the previous movement, however, Hope has the last word.) A different mode of contrast is found at the end of the last vocal section (bars 76-80), where the uniform dotted rhythms in all three instrumental parts punctuate the lengthy melisma sung by the tenor.
The dramatic turning-point occurs in movement 4, a recitative in which Fear (alto) is confronted three times by a heavenly voice (bass), which sings, in arioso style, progressively longer fragments of Revelation 14:13 ('Blessed are the dead, which die in the Lord from henceforth'). At first Fear speaks of death as the enemy of hope, and then worries about the fate of the soul and the decay of the body. By the end of the movement, however, Fear is vanquished and both the body and soul receive encouragement and refreshment. The relatively settled tonality of the arioso sections stands in marked contrast to the harmonic peregrinations of the recitative passages (e.g. bars 14-17).
The final movement, a four-part setting of the chorale Es ist genung, includes a number of bold harmonic progressions, for example the outlining of a tritone in the first two bars of the soprano line and intense chromaticism in bars 15-16, illustrating the words 'großer Jammer' ('great misery')--a harmonization made famous by its incorporation into Alban Berg's Violin Concerto (1935). It is a remarkable expression of trust, which functions both as summary and conclusion of the work, as well as response and application for the believer. SAC
SAC Stephen A. Crist is associate professor of music at Emory University. His articles have appeared in Early Music, Bach Studies, Bach Perspectives, The Cambridge Companion to Bach, and elsewhere. He has also published a facsimile edition of a Low German hymnal dating from Luther's time and is working on a book on the Bach arias. He is secretary and treasurer of the American Bach Society.
Downloads of the complete cantata recordings of BWV 60 by Harnoncourt and Leusink in RAM format as well as MIDI files of the individual mvts. are available at: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Mus/BWV60-Mus.htm
A list of all recordings of this cantata can be found at:
All complete recordings at: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV60.htm
and recordings of individual mvts. thereof at: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV60-2.htm
This is a chronological list which includes complete recordings by Brieff (1953-1954) , Richter (1964) , Turnovský (1967) , Harnoncourt (1976) , Rilling (1977, 1978) , Koopman (1998) , Leusink (1999) , and Suzuki (2000) .
Previous discussions on the merits of available recordings and sundry related topics can be found at the bottom of the same page (BCML Dis),
Part 1: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV60-D.htm
Part 2: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV60-D2.htm
Part 3: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV60-D3.htm
but before reading them, I would suggest first listening to whichever recording(s) you may have access to. With this approach you will not be unduly influenced to form a preconception regarding the quality of the various recordings. You are cordially invited to share your views and comments on the recordings and the music itself.
When you finish reading and studying all this material, you should be able to explain to anyone else: "What is the correct spelling for the title of the famous final chorale and how should this phrase be pronounced and sung: is it "Es ist genug" or "Es ist
Douglas Cowling wrote (December 4, 2005):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< The cantata which has been selected, based upon the chronological sequence of Bach's performances, for this week¹s discussion is BWV 60 "O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort" for the 24th Sunday after Trinity which was first performed in Leipzig on November 7, 1723 as part of the 1st yearly cycle of cantatas. >
 When I was in my teens growing up in a small Canadian town, for some reason recordings of Bach cantatas -- mono of course-- began to appear on the shelves of pir litlte municipal library. I remember the day when I first heard this cantata and the tremendous effect the opening duet had on me. There was something about Herthe Töpper's maternal alto reenforced by a good Wagnerian horn in dialogue with Ernst Haefliger's dramatic singing that opened a whole new world to me. That old recording is terribly old-fashioned now, but I am still profoundly grateful to the unknown librarian who sat at her desk and ordered those pale yellow Archiv recordings.
Nils Lid Hjort wrote (December 4, 2005):
BWV 60: Ewigkeit = Donnerwort
Once every thousand years a little bird flies to an island in the big blue sea. The island is thousand metres high, thousand metres long and thousand metres broad, and is pure white marble. The little bird scratches the surface with its little beak, and then flies home. When the whole white marble island is finally scratched away and has disappeared from the big blue sea, one second of eternity has passed.
Alain Bruguieres wrote (December 4, 2005):
BWV 60 and the list
Ouch! Sorry for Schönberg!
By the way, BWV may be telling something about our debates: eternal, beginning with no ending, hearts quaking, time lacking time!
'So much my frightened heart doth quake That to my gums my tongue doth stick!' (If only that one were true!)
Ist es genung?
Neil Halliday wrote (December 4, 2005):
[To Nils Lid Hjort] Fantastic!
John Reese wrote (December 4, 2005):
[To Nils Lid Hjort] Nice! Here's how Emo Phillips described eternity:
You're in line at the grocery store...
There are 20 people in front of you with full baskets of groceries...
None of the items are marked...
They're all paying by check...
It's the cashier's first day on the job...
She doesn't speak English.
Thomas Braatz wrote (December 4, 2005):
Chorale Melody Page for BWV 60/1
With Aryeh Oron's quick assistance the chorale melody page for BWV 60/1 "O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort" can now be viewed at: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/CM/O-Ewigkeit-du-Donnerwort.htm
Nils Lid Hjort wrote (December 5, 2005):
choral surprises, BWV 60 and BWV 90
We're discussing BWV 60 this week, and of course one of the standard aspects to note in this highly remarkable cantata is the irregular progression a b c-sharp d-sharp (along with irregular progression of harmonies) in the final "Es ist genung" choral. Perhaps also because of the famous connection to Alban Berg 1935 we are accustomed to hailing this as being "the most unusual Bach chorale moment ever" -- and perhaps this is true!
But surely there are also other "surprises" in Bach chorales, in harmonic progressions, or by unexpected steps in the melody, or by sudden twists in one or more of the voices and that might be related to "contextual tone imagery". Perhaps each BCML fan has his or her favourite "top five" list of such moments -- if so I'd like to learn about them. One that stunned me recently, by listening to the Suzuki CD  with BWV 40, BWV 60, BWV 70, BWV 90, is the final choral of Cantata BWV 90, "Es reißet euch ein schrecklich Ende". Various unusual things take place here, e.g. on the dramatic word "Mord" (murder) in "Behüt für's Teufels List und Mord" (protect us from the devil's sly tricks and murders). But for me the most utterly splendid unusual place is in the following line, "Verleih ein selges Stündelein" (please grant us yet another blessed short moment), with a real fermata to make the prayed-for brief moment last as long as possible (if the conductor wishes to) ... and with a totally unexpected modulation from the underlying d minor to a d flat major chord. Cleverly, this modulation is not effected by the soprano melody line at all, they simply go on with their well-known choral melody, the action and desperation take place in the three lower voices. One really senses the desperate prayer for some peace and protection that really cannot last long -- there's no way the choir can go on singing in d flat major, we must back to the somber and basic and full-of-warnings d minor. "A dreadful end is being prepared for you, you contemptuous sinners... " Strong stuff.
Neil Halliday wrote (December 5, 2005):
BWV 60 "O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort"
Robertson writes, "The thudding notes in the strings and continuo, heard throughout a large part of the duet, express Fear's terror of death", but I think he may have overstated the case; for while the rapidly repeated notes most certainly convey the idea of trembling or shivering, none of the recordings convey frightening, "thudding" notes - rather, the notes (chords) are spicy, in the major key tonality.
I find that all the recordings appear to capture much of the charm of this movement. Rilling  and Koopman  give the alto (chorale) melody to the choir; the others have the alto soloist. (Did Aryeh say that Harnoncourt  uses the choir in this movement, in the previous discussions? I definitely hear Esswood in the sample). I have not heard BAG's first movement (more on this group later). Richter  has a spirited performance, slightly faster than Suzuki . Koopman, with the quickest version, is the furthest removed from Robertson's above conception - the music is light and happy, in this form. Suzuki's recording is probably the finest from an overall standpoint, including engineering.
How to make the instrumental parts of this continuo recitative musically interesting? Richter  comes close, but the organ does at times sound thick/inflexible in combination with the continuo strings, in the recitative sections (as opposed to the arioso sections). In other places the subtle registration changes are charming. The harpsichord in Rilling  has, of course, limited potential to vary the expression; any variety in instrumental expression depends on the continuo strings. The period groups chicken out altogether, with their apparently HIP (or so it is believed) `operatic', unaccompanied recitative approach; I abandon Suzuki , for example (whose complete recording I have) out of boredom, after about half a minute (of a 2 minute movement).
This typiwell-designed movement has the oboe and the continuo generally alternating the dotted rhythm, while the violin has rising and falling scale passages. Into this the voice parts are added. I enjoy all the recordings, except BAG, which is too slow and lacks cohesion. The music is strong enough to deal with the vibratos that Watts and Kraus bring to it, in the Rilling recording , IMO. Suzuki  might take top honours in this movement, too (I need to listen further to make a decision).
Footnote: I think a criticism of Koopman's violinist  is in order - where does he/she disappear to, for much of the time? Or are the engineers at fault? (Or both?).
This can be a long movement: up to 6 minutes with BAG, 5.20  with Rilling , and 4.19 with Suzuki . The movement's structure is unusual. Each of the three `Vox Christi' interregnums increases in length, starting with "blessed are the dead" to which is added, "who in the Lord die", with the final addition of "from now on". From an instrumental viewpoint, BAG and Rilling bring the most interest and variety of expression to the movement, by varying the instrumentation of `Fear' (alto recitative) and `Vox Christi (bass arioso)'; for the alto 'recitative' sections, BAG has a solo piano playing the chords seen in the piano reduction score at the BCW, which is joined by the continuo strings in the lovely arioso sections sung by the bass, while Rilling has harpsichord and continuo strings for the alto recitative sections, changing to attractive organ tones with continuo strings for the consoling bass's arioso sections. Watts and
Huttenlocher contribute a good deal of expression, in Rilling's recording. Once again I abandon the Suzuki (and no doubt other period groups) after a short time.
This has been extensively considered in previous discussions (and Nils has pointed to other instances of startling harmony in the chorales, eg in BWV 90's sudden, expressive change to D flat major - see the BCW score).
As usual, I like Rilling  in this type of movement, as well as Richter's  expressive use of his large forces. Suzuki's  frequent separation of the notes on the horn, that doubles the chorale's tune, is a problem, IMO.
Peter Smaill wrote (December 5, 2005):
BWV 60 and the list
BWV 60 belongs to a group of Cantatas where Time is a dominant theme- its namesake BWV 20 "O Ewigkeit du Donnerwork" obviously hits the theme, but as Eric Chafe has pointed out in his essay "Anfang und Ende", BWV 31 and BWV 41 are also rich in time allusions , as are all the "Sterbenlied" Cantatas especially where pizzicato implies a clock ticking or bells sounds indicate the tocsin.BWV 26, "Ach wie fluchtig", also majors on the theme of transience.
Chafe also points out that Alban Berg's transposition of the final, amazing, chorale is not note perfect!
Of all the recordings of it that I know, if the desert island scenario required a single choice, it would be the a capella performance by the Swingle Singers [M-2]. What a terrible confession to have to make! But the ethereal quality is captured perfectly.
Nils Lid Hjort wrote (December 6, 2005):
BWV 60: Fear, Hope, and ?
Neil Halliday wrote:
< 4th movement.
This can be a long movement: up to 6 minutes with BAG, 5.20  with Rilling , and 4.19 with Suzuki . The movement's structure is unusual. Each of the three `Vox Christi' interregnums increases in length, starting with "blessed are the dead" to which is added, "who in the Lord die", with the final addition of "from now on". From an instrumental viewpoint, BAG and Rilling bring the most interest and variety of expression to the movement, by varying the instrumentation of `Fear' (alto recitative) and `Vox Christi (bass arioso)'; for the alto 'recitative' sections, BAG has a solo piano playing the chords seen in the piano reduction score at the BCW, which is joined by the continuo strings in the lovely arioso sections sung by the bass, while Rilling has harpsichord and continuo strings for the alto recitative sections, changing to attractive organ tones with continuo strings for the consoling bass's arioso sections. Watts and Huttenlocher contribute a good deal of expression, in Rilling's recording. Once again I abandon the Suzuki (and no doubt other period groups) after a short time. >
I read Neil Halliday's comments & CD comparisons with interest. But regarding Movement 4, I thought somehow that the bass line "Selig sind die Toten, die in dem Herren sterben" that steadily and repeatedly interrupts Furcht, the Fear (blessed are those that die with the Lord), is not quite "Vox Christi"? Which made me sufficiently curious to briefly check out John Ch 14. My theologian education level is amateurish, and I'd venture to say that the text must be open to various interpretations, regarding the "voice from heaven" that give us these words. Perhaps the Holy Spirit, or simply "voice from heaven"; i.e. perhaps Christ by Proxy but not Christ Himself? I'm sure there are readers on the BCML who can give a more authoritative interpretation.
Nils Lid Hjort wrote (December 6, 2005):
BWV 60 and Time
< BWV 60 belongs to a group of Cantatas where Time is a dominant theme- its namesake BWV 20 "O Ewigkeit du Donnerwork" obviously hits the theme, but as Eric Chafe has pointed out in his essay "Anfang und Ende", BWV 31 and BWV 41 are also rich in time allusions , as are all the "Sterbenlied" Cantatas especially where pizzicato implies a clock ticking or bells sounds indicate the tocsin. BWV 26, "Ach wie fluchtig", also majors on the theme of transience. >
Certainly Peter Smaill is right in his pointing out the importance of "time" as a theme for BWV 60 and various other Bach cantatas. But if I gave my students a " class: discuss `time' " one week home assignment I would not have expected all of them to take the angle of "our time here is like a drop in the ocean / eternity lasts much longer / from which follows [fill in details]". And arguably it is this angle that Bach takes in these cantatas, including certainly the BWV 26 "Ach wie flüchtig, ach wie nichtig" that Smaill also mentions (one of my favourites).
My indirect comment or question is therefore: does Bach also give us cantatas where that mighty sculptor "time" is still a main theme, but in a somewhat more mundane sense of the word, not "zero versus infinity" but rather something which more easily can be measured in human years?
If this came out too convolutedly, consider the rephrased question, "when Bach thinks about Time, can he do so without thinking about Eternity (and our short life spans)"?
(I suppose Soviet composers were geared towards thinking in terms of "pyatiletki", five-year-plan-periods, for example. Did Bach ever have a pyatiletka?)
Thomas Braatz wrote (December 6, 2005):
Nils Lid Hjort wrote:
>>...regarding Movement 4, I thought somehow that the bass line "Selig sind die Toten, die in dem Herren sterben" that steadily and repeatedly interrupts Furcht, the Fear (blessed are those that die with the Lord), is not quite "Vox Christi"? >
This is a new beatitude Rev 14:13 "Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on" that certainly sounds like Christ who is present at the beginning of this chapter, despite the intervening messages by the angels. Compare this statement with the original set of beatitudes given in Mat 5:3-10 (or 11). I also am not a theologian, but I am here that Alfred Dürr would have been aware of what he wrote in his commentary on BWV 60 when he used the term 'vox Christi' to describe the role of the bass soloist singing these words.
Typically, this term is used for the singing of Jesus's words in the Passions given to a bass voice to sing. I have discovered, however, that some Passions from the 16th and 17th century even had more than one voice singing the role of Jesus. That seems to prove that there is no absolute logic in deciding who, for instance, gets to sing the 'vox Christi' despite the fact that generally bass soloists are assigned to this part. The tradition of having the pastor and a few selected voices sing the main roles of the Passion in chant from the altar, goes back to the time of Luther who indicated specifically, for instance, how the questions were to be sung (which notes the pastor should sing so that it would sound more like a question.)
Doug Cowling wrote (December 6, 2005):
BWV 60: Voice of Christ
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< I have discovered, however, that some Passions from the 16th and 17th century even had more than one voice singing the role of Jesus. That seems to prove that there is no absolute logic in deciding who, for instance, gets to sing the 'vox Christi' despite the fact that generally bass soloists are assigned to this part. The tradition of having the pastor and a few selected voices sing the main roles of the Passion in chant from the altar, goes back to the time of Luther who indicated specifically, for instance, how the questions were to be sung (which notes the pastor should sing so that it would sound more like a question.) >
The use of multiple singers in the recitation of the Passion goes back to the early middle ages. The text was divided by three singers, the Chronista (Narrator), the Christus (singing a fifth below) and the Synagoga (singing the crowd and other characters' parts a fifth above). In the late 16th century, the crowd choruses ("Turbae") were given harmonized settings. Lassus took the further step by setting the individual characters such as Pilate and Peter for two voices (he was a genius at writing 2 voice motets). That tradition did not take hold however. Schütz for example does not use mutliple voices and returns to the old tenor narrator and bass Christ.
Mendelssohn, fresh from his experiences with the Bach Passions, was taken to a Catholic church on Good Friday to hear the Latin Passion with choruses by the 16th century composer, Tomas Luis da Victoria.
"Pretty tame Jews!" was his comment.
Peter Smaill wrote (December 6, 2005):
Nils Lid Hjort writes:
< mments & CD >
"Selig sind die toten" in BWV 60 is drawn from the Revelation of St John the Divine, which, as noted before, often calls up from Bach music of exquisite mystical quality in line with this most puzzling Book of Scripture - which scholars often doubt belongs in the Bible rather than the Apocrypha.
The voice from Heaven is either angelic or divine, but which Person? I"The Revelation of Jesus Christ which God gave unto him" is St John's strapline, but voices change throughout the book.It is not easy to discern as this passage occurs amongst the voices of Angels and is followed by the Spirit in acknowledgement,, "Yea sayeth the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours and their works do follow them." Thereafter the angels acknowledge one "like unto Jesus" in the succeeding passages.
If the voice were Jesus', would it not say, "Blessed are the Dead which die in me"; rather than speak in the third person? (Though Jesus often does just that in the Gospels). If it were Jesus speaking, then Brahms, who sets the same words, would therefore not have been forced to include "I know that my Redeemer Liveth" in the first performance of the "Deutsches Requiem" on the grounds that the Saviour had been left out! ? But I agree it is not clear to a layman whether it is an angel,God the Father or maybe the Holy Spirit at work - further research beckons. If Bach is setting God, then we have an addition to Thomas Braatz' interesting observation regarding BWV 89,"Was soll ich machen Ephraim" which otherwise appears to be the only setting of the Vox Dei in the Cantatas.
When Bach speaks of Time or sets music for it, it is indeed the threshold of the eternal that arrests his imagination, from BWV 106 onwards, "Gottes Zeit is das Allerbeste Zeit." It is also a mysticist preoccupation; the great 1920's mystical writer Evelyn Underhill, also the first female Professor of Theology (a confirmed lover of the music of J S Bach) , had a large framed picture above her desk simply inscribed "ETERNITY". I don't sense a more trivial allusion to time in Bach, but he did have his own five year Plan, namely, the five cycles of the Cantatas. But that is a cue for members to debate whether there actually were five cycles, or four or even, as I have recently heard, actually only three with additional ad hoc additions thereafter.
Eric Bergerud wrote (December 6, 2005):
[To Peter Smaill] I don't know if looking at the precise context in Revelation will identify the "heavenly voice." Bach frequently employed passages from scripture to evoke a religious image: his cantatas are not passions.
Obviously it's impossible to determine precisely how the unknown librettist and Bach were trying to impart this particular message of salvation. However, I think it very possible to view the cantata as an "internal dialogue" - a term Bach no doubt never heard. The concept would have been more than clear though. Indeed, Luther's theology revolves around a view of the human soul as a kind of battleground where faith battles doubt (or the Spirt battles Satan) every moment of life. Both Hope and Fear employ the first person when speaking of themselves. Are we to think of this as a theological dispute between two people? That doesn't strike me as right. A bad moment about 4:00 AM for a weak mortal (ie anyone) sounds more like it to me.
Whatever the case, the tide in the struggle turns slowly. At least it does if your listen to Harnoncourt's recording . In the first chorale, despite the sprightly introduction, Esswood is almost screeching despair, while Equiliuz repeats a single line over and over. Hope reminds me of a little kid covering his eyes because he thinks that by doing so something will go away. The dialogue begins in the recitative. The soul continues to tremble (listen to the way the alto stretches out "martert" - torture) but hope and faith gather force and the part ends with a similarly extended "ertragen" (endured). The aria in part 3 continues the dialogue with, it strikes me, hope gaining the upper hand. Look closely at the lovely recitative in part 4. Fear, who had in parts 1 and 2, spoken in a tone of complete despair, now speaks in a more conditional frame. "But death remains hateful to human nature and almost tears hope right down to the ground." (Note the "almost.") It is at this point that heaven speaks. Considering musical precedent and the repeated mention of Jesus in part 3, I would think the voice is that of Jesus. It is, after all, the Word that affirms faith and conquers death. And Jesus is the Word. Fortified by the Word Fear calls for the return of Hope. Unless a symbolic figure is to rush back on stage, all of this is taking place inside a single heart. A lovely chorale finishes off a spectacular work. That chorus works so well with Harnoncourt's trebles - the voice of angels. (Koopman  does without the angels. He also has the choir - the alto doesn't appear until the recitative - turn the terror expressed by fear in part 1 into a lovely chorus. You'd never know anything was wrong if a score wasn't handy.)
Alain Bruguieres wrote (December 6, 2005):
I have noted three approaches to Time in Bach's cantatas.
The first two concern 'human' time, that is time as percieved by a mortal.
- time viewed in a worldly perspective : time flows desperately fast, condemning all we are and all we achieve to a rapid destructi; hence vanity of things of this world. A moralist's point of view, which could have been endorsed by ancient, pre-christian philosophers. A typical example being Ach wie flüchtig, Ach wie nichtig.
- time viewed in a spiritual (pietist?) perspective : time flows al too slowly, while the christian craves for his final liberation from the sufferings of this world.Many instances of this, notably BWV 95.
The third point of view is quite different : a meditation on Eternity - Time on a divine scale, which is completely beyond our experience. 'O Ewigkeit Du Donnerwort' is obviously an instance of that. It's not really about time, in fact. More about the total absence of limits - a concept hard to fathom!
Does this sound pertinent? Have you noted other approaches?
Jeremy Vosburgh wrote (December 6, 2005):
In response to Doug.
You may be generally right that Schütz uses a tenor and bass to sing narrator and Jesus. But in his "last seven words" the 'bass' is actually marked a tenor II in Suzuki's recording, although Urano (obviously a bass-baritone) sings the part. Interestingly enough, Schutz mixes up the narration in the piece so the soprano, alto and tenor have times when they do the narration. There is even one spot where SATB (quartet) sings the narration (to great effect). In many cases I actually prefer this method of changing the narration but keeping Christ the same. It forces the passion to be more meditative, as the narrator gains almost a kind of intraspective dialogue with itself. Bach's method of using a single soloist is, of course, more biblical as each passion was obviously ascribed to a single author (John, Matthew, or whoever probably wrote it (or dictated it)).
Roar Myrheim wrote (December 8, 2005):
"O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort" is one of my favourites among Bach's cantatas, primarily because of the chorale "Es ist genug". Bach's harmonization of this chorale amazes me with its modern sound. I wonder how it sounded in the ears of people at Bach's time!
I also love Alban Berg's Violin concerto, and in fact, on of my greatest concert-experiences was last winter with that concerto. I then heard Christian Tetzlaff with Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Jukka-Pekka Saraste. I seldom find myself so emotionally moved at a concert!
Also at this concert, we could hear the Finnish composer Magnus Lindberg's work "Chorale" (2001-2002), which also is based on the chorale "Es ist genug". This piece has a dark, massive sound, almost like a rich Big Band sound. It has recently appeared on CD, on ONDINE (ODE10382). Those who might be interested can listen to a sample on Amazon.com. (It does not appear under "Use of the Chorale Melody by other composers" at: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/CM/Es-ist-genug.htm Maybe it deserves a place there?)
I thought a lot about this concert afterwards - why was I so moved by music written in the 12-note serial method?
One idea that evolved in me, was that maybe some of the genius of both Berg and Bach, lies in their ability to combine the supreme mastery of the "technical / mathematical" aspects of music with an element of - what shall I call it? - spirituality?
In my opinion, that spiritual factor, is what rises the music from good crafting and to "real art", and which has the ability to make resonance with people's deeper feelings.
If we imagine a continuity between two extremes, Mozart's "automatic menuets" could be at one end, and the Finnish composer Einojuhano Rautawara, (who has an idea that the music he composes already exists "out there", and his task is to "find it"), maybe could fit at the other extreme. My belief is that some of the great genius of Bach is founded on the superior mastery of the whole of this continuity, and his ability to combine both aspects.
I welcome responses, both for and against this idea!
John Pike wrote (December 15, 2005):
BWV 60 and BWV 90
I am just back from holiday and trying to catch up on some cantatas. I see that BWV 60 was discussed while I was away and I have to say I think this is a wonderful cantata. The opening is very reminiscent of the other Bach cantata with the same name, BWV 20.
I have listened to Suzuki , Harnoncourt , Rilling  and Leusink .
The first three of these all give splendid accounts of the opening movement. Harnoncourt is particularly good. It is sung with such "Kraft" that one really gets a sense of "Donnerwort", but it also has great charm and conveys a sense of truth and grace. It is all beautifully phrased and shaped. I am prepared to agree that, on this occasion, it is the faster recording, by Leusink that I found disappointing in this extraordinary opening movement, not so much because of the speed per se (although the problem for me could well be a by-product of the speed) but because I felt it lacked the tension and sense of anticipation of the other recordings. Of the other movements, I would say that Rilling gives a particularly fine account of the closing Chorale, which is beautifully shaped and has a very attractive and well chosen dynamic range.
BWV 90 is another very pleasant cantata. I particularly enjoyed movements 1 and 3. I listened to Suzuki, Gardiner, Rilling, Leonhardt and Leusink in the background and enjoyed them all.
OT -- ITZAQUIZ
Bruce Simonson wrote (February 11, 2011):
Our local symphony will perform Berg's Violin Concerto this coming April, and as part of the mix, I have been asked to prep a choir to perform BWV 60:5. This unusual harmonization of "Es ist Genug" by JSB was incorporated (nearly) verbatum, by Berg, into the end of his concerto.
While studying this chorale, I noticed that Bach uses all 12 notes in the harmonization ... not surprising, given the introductory whole-tone fragment, and the wonderful chromatic lines Bach writes around the text.
This made me wonder, hmm, like, um ... just how many of Bach's harmonizations of chorales actually use all twelve pitches?
So I scraped midi files from http://www.jsbchorales.net/index.shtml (thanks Margaret!), dumped the midi into text format, wrote a couple of quick programs, and generated some statistics.
And now for the pop-quiz. Whatcha think, folks? Of the 487 midi files I pulled from Margaret's website, what percentage touch all 12 notes in the harmonizations?
Better yet, just dig into your prodigious collective memories, and make a guess. Can you think of particular harmonizations (favorites, or otherwise) which you think touch all 12 notes?
PS: By the way, Margaret's files include obbligato lines and such, so my quick and dirty statistics are a little fuzzy at this point. But here's an eye-opener, for me, anyway. Remember good old BWV 140:4 ... where tenor(s) sing the melody in Wachet Auf (i.e, Zion hört die Wächter singen), accompanied by the famous violins/viola unison line? Later used by Bach in a Schübler Chorale? Guess what? ... the violin line uses all 12 notes. Doesn't this obbligato line just seem really tonal, and centered in E-flat? At least to me. JSB continually surprises!
PPS: I also scraped some "FASOLA" southern harmonization midi files, and ran the same programs. Really, I'm not a geek, but it is very interesting to compare the frequency distributions of JSB vs FASOLA. At least, so it seemed to me at the time.
PPPS: Sorry for the OT interjection, Ed. I am enjoying the discussion these days, just been too busy to jump in, and haven't much to add. Other than, we performedBWV 34 a couple of years ago, and it is wonderful work, every bit worth the effort. And Doug, I had to smile at your conjectured synopsis of the "where is it, anyway?" Pentacost cantata, with lo, "the many", speaking in tongues. That would have put our friend Johann to the test, eh, with trying to match melodic fragments with text from many languages, don't ya think?
PPPPS: Let's not sidetrack on enharmonic spellings, okay? Let's just pretend that it's a 12 note octave, and gleich-tempierte, just for fun, okay?
Douglas Cowling wrote (February 11, 2011):
Bruce Simonson wrote:
< Better yet, just dig into your prodigious collective memories, and make a guess. Can you think of particular harmonizations (favorites, or otherwise) which you think touch all 12 notes? >
Somewhere in "The Classical Style" or "Sonata Forms", Rosen observes that passages with all 12 tones are not uncommon: he points to a transitional passage in Mozart's G Minor Symphony. He comments that these inclusive melodies are never true serialism because the tone row is never continuous and the form and harmony of the composer is required to "explain" the 12 tones. It remains an open question what Bach intended in his chorale: a composer's tour-de-force? A symbol of life passing through all the notes of life's scale?
Julian Mincham wrote (February 11, 2011):
[To Bruce Simonson] Actually this is not so surprising as it may first appear when you think about it. For non musicians, think of the C major scale on the piano which uses the white notes (known as the diatonic notes of the key of the piece). Any chorale which uses the three most basic chords of 1, 1V and V (C, F and G) will use all of these seven notes.
That leaves the five black notes--NOT notes natural to the key of C and known as chromatic notes. They can be used in two ways--ornamentally, or to produce a movement to establish another key i.e. modulation.. As many of Bach's chorales are harmonised so that they pass through one or more related keys, they too will be called upon. So it's quite likely that chorales will draw, in their harmonisations of all 12 notes. I wouldn't hazard a guess as to how many do, but I think the number might be quite high.
Here's a question for you, Bruce. How many of the chorales that use all 12 notes are major key melodies and how many minor? I'd take a guess that there might be more in the minor although it is the case that more German chorales are major than minor. (Having said that that if you look at the first dozen chorale cantatas from the second cycle, the majority of the chorales are minor!)
I think Bach is often at his most interesting though when he uses all 12 notes within a very short time span. The famous Musical Offering (BWV 1079) theme uses 11 of the 12 notes, the theme of the last (B minor) theme from book 1 WTC contains all 12 within 3 bars and the prelude to the A minor fugue from book 2 uses all 12 notes in the two parts in the first bar alone! And what all these three examples have in common is that they are all in minor keys. Theye also conjure up the feeling of a 12 note tone row, especially the B minor fugue theme, although of course they do not follow the rule of not repeating any one note before all the others have been sounded.
Russell Telfer wrote (February 11, 2011):
Julian Mincham wrote:
< Here's a question for you, Bruce. How many of the chorales that use all 12 notes are major key melodies and how many minor? I'd take a guess that there might be more in the minor although it is the case that more German chorales are major than minor. (Having said that that if you look at the first dozen chorale cantatas from the second cycle, the majority of the chorales are minor!) >
This correspondence got me thinking about the way in which JSB projects uncertainty or creates calm by his use or non-use of accidentals.
I took the easy way and consulted Riemenschneider where the chorales are transcribed from the cantatas. I was pretty sure that there would be many more accidentals in any chorale in the minor: after all you've got the raised or flattened elements in the sixth and sevenths of the scale to start with, and if you consider the related keys - the dominant contains four more sharps rather than one, and so on.
I chose just two chorales to check on Julian's "guess"
O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden from the SMP (BWV 244) reflects resignation. And Calm. In 16 bars I counted 9 beats where there was an accidental, a note foreign to the key of F in this case.
Christus, der uns selig macht, from the SJP (BWV 245) is a striking example of something else. Bach wishes to illustrate the evil judges and false witnesses who condemn Christ, with a rootless, shifting and uncomfortable bass line. In 17 bars, 68 beats, there are (I counted, correctly I hope) 30 beats with full or passing accidentals.
Most of the chorales in the minor key are milder than this, but I am sure, without checking the lot, that nearly all of them contain more notes foreign to the diatonic scale, than any of the major chorales.
(who is not a scholar, and reads rather than writes)
Ed Myskowski wrote (February 13, 2011):
Russell Telfer wrote:
< Christus, der uns selig macht, from the SJP (BWV 245) is a striking example of something else. Bach wishes to illustrate the evil judges and false witnesses who condemn Christ, with a rootless, shifting and uncomfortable bass line. In 17 bars, 68 beats, there are (I counted, correctly I hope) 30 beats with full or passing accidentals. >
Interesting observation and interpretation.
< (who is not a scholar, and reads rather than writes) >
Perhaps that will tempt a few other readers to add a few words to the discussions?
Aloha, Ed Myskowsk
(also not a scholar, before anyone else submits that opinion)
Continue on Part 5
Cantata BWV 60: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5