Cantata BWV 65Sie Werden aus Saba alle kommen
Discussions - Part 2
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Discussions in the Week of January 29, 2006 (2nd round)
John Pike wrote (January 28, 2006):
BWV 65 "Sie Werden aus Saba alle kommen" : Introduction
As we proceed with our chronological survey of Bach's cantatas, in order of composition, the cantata for discussion this week (beginning 29th January 2006) is Cantata BWV 65 "Sie Werden aus Saba alle kommen"
("All they from Sheba shall come"
Event in the Lutheran church calendar: Cantata for the Feast of Epiphany
Readings: Epistle: Isaah 60: 1-6; Gospel: Matthew 2: 1-12
Composed: Leipzig, 1724
First Performed: January 6, 1724 - Leipzig
Text: Isaiah 60: 6 (Mvt. 1); Paul Gerhardt (Mvt 7); Anon (Mvts. 2-6)
At Epiphany, the manifestation of Christ to the Magi, which is celebrated on 6th January in Western Christianity, the gospel reading - and usually also the sermon - is about one of the most folk-tale like episodes of the Christmas story: the Wise Men from the East who, following the star, find the "new-born King of the Jews" in the stable in Bethlehem, worship the Christ child and offer him gold, incense and myrrh (Matthew 2: 1-12). The legend has variously turned the Wise Men into Magi, astrologers and even into kings, has given them the names Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar - in which guise, to this day, they travel from house to house in many parts of Europe, singing, one of them traditionally with a blackened face to suggest his African origins. The lesson that is read during the church service on that day is excellently suited in this context, and may even have encouraged such customs. It is a vision of the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 60: 1-6): one day the heathen peoples will come from afar and turn to God. "Sie werden von Saba alle kommen" ("All they from Sheba shall come"), it concludes, "Gold und Weihrauch bringen und des Herren Lob verkuendigen" ("they shall bring gold and incense; and they shall show forth the praises of the Lord"). "Sheba" represents a faraway, legendary country somewhere in the south-west of Arabia, but ultimately means "from all over the world".
Bach's Cantata was composed for 6th January 1724. The author of the text - whose identity, as unfortunately is so often the case, is unknown - demonstrated that he was theologically competent and poetically skilful. On the basis of this text, bach created one of the most beautiful of his Christmas cantatas. With astonishing sureness of touch he combines high art with the folk style. Nowhere does he allow any doubt concerning the seriousness of the theological messages. At the same time, however, he does full justice to the expectations of the lay theologians; it is as though he were adding colour to the biblical images. The use of horns (which at that time were still relatively unusual in church music), oboi da caccia (also a novelty in the sound world of the era and recorders lends the opening chorus (Mvt. 1) a slightly exotic character - without, however, forcing the actual musical artistry into a subservient position. Indeed, quite the opposite is true; as the movement progresses, Bach lays bare his artistry as a composer of fugues. The only surviving material for this cantata is the full score in Bach's own hand; the original parts have been lost. One of the major problems as far as the interpretation of the work is concerned is the absence of a text to which the final chorale (Mvt. 7) should be sung. The tenth verse of "Ich hab in Gottes Herz und Sinn" (1647) by Paul Gerhardt, however, "Ei nun, mein Gott, so fall ich denn getrost in deine Hände" ("Now, my God, I fall consoled into your embrace") which appears in the space below the chorale in the full score - probably in the hand of Carl Friedrich Zelter, conductor at the Berlin Singakademie - seems eminently appropriate to this context, the confession and expression of unlimited faith in God, and performers usually use it for this purpose.
The order of the cantata is: Mvt. 1. Chorus; Mvt. 2. Chorale; 3. Recitative (Bass); 4. Aria (Bass); 5. Recitative (tenor); Mvt. 6. Aria (Tenor); Mvt. 7. Chorale
Link to texts, translations, details of scoring, references, provenance, commentary, vocal score, music examples, and list of known recordings: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV65.htm
Link to previous discussions: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV65-D.htm
Chorales used in this cantata
Bach used two chorale melodies in this cantata:
1. Ein Kind geborn zu Bethlehem (Puer natus in Bethlehem). See:
2. Was mein Gott will, das g'scheh allzeit with the alternative text, Ich hab in Gottes Herz und Sinn. See:
Streamed over the internet, it is possible to hear Leusink's recording of the complete cantata  and extracts by other performers: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Mus/BWV65-Mus.htm
Please note that the link to Harnoncourt's recording  is not working.
You can listen to short examples from other recordings through the links to Amazon provided at the Recordings page.
I look forward to reading your comments about this cantata and about the available recordings.
Neil Halliday wrote (February 1, 2006):
It's interesting that Werner's 1959 performance  of the opening chorus (Mvt. 1) is closest in concept to the latest recording, that of Suzuki (2002) , in comparison with all the recordings in between. Both have a spacious tempo (taking around 4 & 1/2 minutes), with flowing instrumental and vocal lines, and both recordings have reverberant acoustic that adds richness to the sound, especially that of the horns. This is complex, richly scored music that I find most appealing and easiest to digest at a slower tempo. After the opening ritornello, the choir makes beautiful canonic entries over a pedal point, then in the reverse order; a fugue ensues during the course of which more and more instruments are added to the accompaniment.
Rilling  and Richter , both at a faster tempo, sound somewhat inflexible in comparison to Werner  and Suzuki , IMO.
Werner's  symphonic approach to the tenor ari(Mvt. 6) is most pleasing, with Kreb's voice nicely complementing the orchestral accompaniment. This movement has Bach displaying the timbres of the four orchestral groups (flutes, horns, oboes, and strings), both alternately and together.
Richard wrote (February 1, 2006):
[To Neil Halliday] I do agree with you about Werner's performance  which has a true Christmas atmosphere, with its slow tempi. And the recording quality is astonishly good, it was made in 1960... I think that Suzuki  take this spacious tempo to manage with his natural horns weakness and lack of virtuosity.
Scott Sperling wrote (February 2, 2006):
Text in Cantata 65
The textual theme of Cantata BWV 65 is (if I would be permitted to give it a title) "Giving Gifts to the Lord". The librettist, it seems, desires that the listener be inspired to ask this question: "What can I give to the Lord?"
The Readings for the Epiphany (for which Cantata BWV 65 was written) are Isaiah 60: 1-6 and Matthew 2: 1-12. The two Readings are closely related. The Reading in Isaiah is a prophecy concerning the coming of the "light" of the Lord to the "darkness" of the Gentile nations. It ends speaking of the obeisance and tribute that the Gentile nations will eventually pay toward the Messiah. The Reading in Matthew tells of the visit of the Magi to the infant Jesus. Their visit is a partial fulfillment of the prophecy in Isaiah. They were guided to the Lord by a supernatural "light", the star. Also, Isaiah 60: 6 seems to contain a reference to the Magi's visit: "All they from Sheba shall come: They shall bring gold and incense; and they shall show forth the praises of the Lord."
The librettist for Cantata BWV 65 uses this verse, and this verse alone, as the text for Mvt. 1 Chorus. In the Mvt. 2 Chorale, the librettist then ties this verse from Isaiah to the visit of the Magi to Jesus: "The kings came from Sheba. They brought from there gold, incense and myrrh."
Now, the Magi, as far as we can discern from history, were not physically from the land of Sheba (which was located in the Southern Arabian peninsula). They were most likely from Persia, which had for hundreds of years before Christ, a priesthood called "Magi". The prophecy in Isaiah, in referring to "Sheba", was using symbolic language. A signal event in the history of the nation of Israel, was when the Queen of Sheba, having heard of King Solomon's great wisdom from the Lord, visited him, bringing gifts of gold and spices (see I Kings 10:1ff). That event can be considered typologically as the light of the Lord (typified by Solomon) shining on the Gentile nations (typified by the Queen of Sheba). And so, the prophet Isaiah uses Sheba as a symbol of the Gentile nations for the prophecy in Isaiah 60.
In Mvt. 3 Bass Recitative, the libretto (as is often done in the Cantatas) moves beyond Theological considerations, and applies the Readings in a personal way, so as to involve the listener. The Bass Recitative begins by recounting story of the Magi, as prophesied by Isaiah: "What Isaiah foretold has happened in Bethlehem...". Then, in the middle of the 3rd Mvt, the Recitative (and indeed, the rest of the Cantata) becomes a personal meditation: "My Jesus, when I think now of my duty, I must also turn to Your crib." The singer is thankful for the Epiphany, the "light" coming to the Gentiles, but is concerned about what gifts he should give to his Lord: "But what should I bring You, King of Heaven?" His gift? His heart: "If my heart is not too little, then accept it through Your mercy, since I can bring nothing more noble."
Mvt. 4 Bass Aria is a further meditation on this. In the 3rd Mvt, the singer seemed hesitant that he had nothing better to give (no riches of kings) than his heart. In the 4th Mvt, the singer realizes that, indeed, his heart is a much better gift to the Lord, than something such as gold, which is "broken from the Earth". "Gold from Ophir is too slight. Away, away with vain gifts... Jesus wants to have your heart. Give this, O Christian flock to Jesus for the New Year."
On a few different levels, the gifts of the Magi were appropriate for Jesus, at that time. The gifts can be seen as symbolic of the offices of Jesus Christ. The gold speaks f His royalty; the incense (which was commonly used in sacrificial offerings) speaks of His Deity; the myrrh (which was used in the embalming of deceased bodies, see John 19:39) points to His death and thus speaks of His priesthood. On a more material level, I think that it is quite interesting that this was perhaps the only time when our Lord could have needed gifts of a monetary value. Recall that just after the visit of the Magi, the Holy Family would be forced by Herod (who sought to kill Jesus) to flee to Egypt. Certainly, for that journey, they could have well-used any gifts of material value.
But for us, at this time, a gift of gold to the Lord, the stuff of earth, does, as the librettist says, seem to be a "vain gift". When one ponders the question, "What is the greatest gift that I have seen given to the Lord?", one does not consider as greatest, a large check made out to a church. Rather, one recalls the life-long gifts Mother Theresa gave, bringing the love of God to poor and sick children in India. Or one thinks of the Prison Chaplain, seeking to use the love of God to mend broken lives. Or even, one thinks of the love of God shared by the helping hand of a neighbor, given during a time of need. These are gifts of the heart, not the stuff of earth. This sentiment is reflected in Mvt. 6 Tenor Aria: "Take me as Your own... Take my heart as my gift... All, all that I am... I shall always be dedicated to Your service."
The Cantata ends with Mvt. 7 Chorale, which is a prayer that the gift be accepted, and through it, God's honor be exalted.
Eric Bergerud wrote (February 2, 2006):
[To Scott Sperling] I listened to two 65s and a wild card. Impressions below.
Cantata 65 is another lovely work produced by Bach. No matter how many cantatas listens to in depth, it is striking how much Bach has to say musically in each of them. Perhaps it's ignorant to generalize thus, but I cannot think of a bad Bach cantata.
In our world that means if you have a copy of BWV 65 you have lovely music. I liked Leusink's  quite a bit. Perhaps because of artistic policy or because of the extreme pressure of the schedule of Leusink's cantata cycle, the conductor rarely took chances. The result is always straight forward, sometimes ragged, more often just fine and sometimes inspired. (Although I don't believe for a moment that any artist should make an intentional error for the sake of "authenticity" the very human scale of Leusink's work strikes me as being close to the spirit and perhaps practice of the master. I wouldn't say the same about much of the music, however beautiful, produced by adult musicians in a studio over a long period of time. Except Harnoncourt  - see below.) Leusink's BWV 65 is a perfectly good rendition of a fine work. I think both van der Meel and Ramsclaar do a fine job in a cantata based upon bass and tenor (Mvt. 6) arias. My single greatest criticism of Leusink is that sometimes alto Syste Buwaldo, who has did some fine solos in the cycle, is over-miked in the chorus, drowning out the trebles. To my ears this happens in the first and second choral movements of BWV 65.
Harnoncourt's BWV 65  is one of the finest in his cycle I think. There certainly is no attempt to hide the "period instrument" sound of the instrumentalists. Equiluz and van der Meer (singing 12 years before his performance wLeusink) do a wonderful job. The chorus (Mvt. 1) is wonderful throughout. If well done (at least to my ears) trebles in the chorus give the movements a quality that cannot be equaled regardless of the skill of the singers. And, as BWV 65 has no solos for the boys, no one can complain of lack of "stability" (or whatever other term is used to say "I don't like boy solos"). The chorus is its movements with skill and grace. I also like Harnoncourt's leisurely tempo in the work: although it's hard to read a message into the performance it strikes me that his work is very consistent with the theme of gratitude found in this work.
And then there's McCreesh . BWV 65 appears on McCreeh's Epiphany Mass CD along with works by Bach but also by Luther, Praetorious, Pachabel and "anonymous". The attempt, of course, is to somehow reproduce a liturgical service as it might have appeared in Leipzig in 1730. It joins a series of McCreesh works that attempt the same in the world of Mother Church in the late 16th and 17th Century. At last count I have all of them so I guess I'm a fan. It's not that McCreesh succeeds in a deep sense - if he did he would accomplish what the most eager of the period instrument hoped for a generation ago - a reproduction of music as it took place. He certainly doesn't do that. His Bach work (also includes the Magnificat (BWV 243) and the SMP (BWV 244) is OVPP and leaves boys behind altogether. So much for reproduction. And yet the overall impact of McCreesh's works surpasses nitpicking on any individual piece. I don't see how one can reproduce a liturgical experience on an audio CD, but with one's mind and ear open the hymns, organ works, cantatas etc do indeed create a different plane of listening if one has the patience. Ditto with other CDs coming from the same conductor. It doesn't hurt that the Gabrielli Players and the soloists employed are of the highest caliber. It also doesn't hurt that McCreesh has received some of the finest engineering I've heard on CD. Anyway, if you like 65 and have Epiphany Mass, start at track 17. If you don't have it, consider acquisition - Epiphany Mass is not only a splendid recording but it could well lead to about a dozen CDs of equal quality.
BTW: If you like the McCreesh approach at all, you might want to check _Moon, sun and all things: Baroque Music from Latin America_ by Ex Cathedra under Jeffrey Skidmore. It reproduces a church service that o/ne might have encountered in Peru or Bolivia in the 18th or 19th Century. It includes lovely religious music composed by musicians from New Spain and the Old World combined with local works in Indian languages that were used to keep the faithful in their seats. If one can imagine some 18th century religious Salsa combined with more conventional work you get the idea. Anyway, the CD is a triumph.
John Pike wrote (February 2, 2006):
[To Scott Sperling] Thank you very much for this most interesting and moving commentary. And many thanks to all those who have written in such an interesting way about this wonderful cantata. In particular, I found myself agreeing with much of what Eric said.
The opening chorus (Mvt. 1) and the tenor aria (Mvt. 6) are particularly fine.
I have listened to Suzuki , McCreesh , Rilling , Leusink  and Harnoncourt . I found much to enjoy in all these recordings which, sadly once again, I have only had time to listen to as background music. However, a few impressions emerged: like Eric, I enjoyed Leusink a lot. I think Neil said he enjoyed Suzuki, and I would certainly second that. I found some of the intonation in Harnoncourt's opening chorus (Mvt. 1) a little uncertain, and the vibrato in the upper 2 voices of the chorus for Rilling was too obtrusive for my taste. I am particularly grateful to Eric for reminding me of the excellent recording by McCreesh on the "Epiphany Mass recreation". When I win the lottery, I will buy all McCreesh's recordings, but at present, this is sadly one of only a few I have. Nevertheless, what a beauty it is! The instrumental playing, soloists and chorus are absolutely top draw...a very fine achievement indeed, and undoubtedly my top choice for this cantata.
Douglas Cowling wrote (February 2, 2006):
Eric Bergerud wrote:
< And then there's McCreesh . BWV 65 appears on McCreeh's Epiphany Mass CD along with works by Bach but also by Luther, Praetorious, Pachabel and "anonymous". The attempt, of course, is to somehow reproduce a liturgical service as it might have appeared in Leipzig in 1730. It joins a series of McCreesh works that attempt the same in the world of Mother Church in the late 16th and 17th Century. >
One of the interesting things about the MCcreesh recreation  is that it allows us to see some of the resonances that Bach builds into the cantata. I could never figure out why Bach has a chorale verse right after that wonderful opening chorus (Mvt. 1).
In the McCreesh recording , that chorale is sung in full at the beginning as the introit or entrance motet. Bach may well be suggesting that the Three Kings who journey from the East in the opening chorus (Mvt. 1) now enter the house to see Jesus just as the congregation has come into chruch.
Later we hear "Schmücke Dich" as a communion cantata and the text resonates with the act of communion. I'm convinced that "Christ Lag in Todesbanden" functions the same way with the "Osterfest" accompanying the communion.
The McCreesh recording  is also invaluable in that it demonstrates the three types of congregational chorale-singing and their close relationship to the organ chorale-preludes in Bach's time.
The only thing I don't like about McCreesh is his overly-rushed tempi in the "Gloria" and "Sanctus"
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Cantata BWV 65: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements
Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4