Cantata BWV 75Die Elenden sollen essen, daß sie satt werden
Discussions - Part 1
Discussions in the Week of June 25, 2000 (1st round)
Aryeh Oron wrote (June 26, 2000):
This is the week of cantata BWV 75, according to Ryan Michero's suggestion. It opens two series. The first is a list of cantatas to be discussed in this group by the end of year 2000, prepared for us by Ryan Michero. The second, is a mini-series of cantatas with two parts - BWV 75, BWV 76, & BWV 21. Actually all 3 cantatas composed by Bach for the 1st Sunday after Trinity (the others are BWV 20, & BWV 39) are in two parts. For some background on BWV 75, hereinafter is what W. Murray Young wrote about it in his book - 'The Cantatas of J.S. Bach - An Analytical Guide':
"This cantata was Bach's first public presentation, sung in the St. Nicolai Church the day before his official induction as Cantor. This was also the first time the Leipzig congregation had heard a long cantata in two parts on the day of preceding such an induction, so it appears that Bach wished to impress his audience right from the start. The librettist was Pastor Christian Weiss. The Gospel was taken from Luke 16: 19-31, while Psalm 22 (26) provides chorus-verse according to the Lutheran Kirchenbuch (Prayer-book). The vocalists are SATB, with a large orchestra: a trumpet, two oboes, one oboe d'amore, a bassoon, strings and continuo."
The quotations preceding the comparisons of the recordings of the individual movements are also taken from Young's book.
See: Cantata BWV 75 – Complete Recordings
Review of the Recordings
Since BWV 75 is one of the longest cantatas (and two more - BWV 76 & BWV 21 - are expecting us in the next two weeks), I was forced to make some choices. After all, I could not compare the recordings of every individual movement, like I did for example last week with BWV 165, which is much shorter in total playing time (about one third of BWV 75) and has only 6 movements (and not 14). BWV 75 includes at least one recitative and one aria for each voice (the tenor and the bass have 2 recitatives for each), one chorus, 2 (identical) chorales for the choir, and one movement for the orchestra, which is actually a chorale. There are so many options to choose from. Almost every one of the movements could be used a centerpiece of another cantata (regarding its musical content). Firstly, I decided to go for the 4 arias and regrettably leaving all the others behind. I was writing my notes while listening to the complete recordings of BWV 75, and during the process I was thinking to myself - how can I leave out the wonderful opening chorus. So I added it. Afterwards, the unique instrumental Sinfonia, which echoes the closing chorale of the first part, also convinced me to put it in. Even the recitatives in this cantata are charming, such as the short recitative of the Alto (Mvt. 9), which precedes her aria. But I had to stop somewhere. Haven't I?
Mvt. 1: Chorus
"Deep pathos is felt immediately in the wailing lament of voices and oboes to paint a picture of grief: "Die Elenden sollen essen, dass sie satt Werden." (The miserable shall eat, so that they become filled.) Then the voices ascend as if in prayer: "und die nach dem Herrn fragen, werden ihn preisen." (and those who ask about the Lord will praise Him.) The choral conclusion changes to a joy-motif in brilliant fugue: "Euer Herz soll ewiglich leben." (Your heart shall eternally live.)"
Rilling  succeeds in bringing out the pathos, the sorrow and the grief in the instrumental introduction and the plea expressed by the voices when they enter. Even the joy motif in the choral conclusion is very convincingly expressed. The whole rendering of this movement has a feeling of continuity. The overly slow and too fragmented playing of the instruments in the first bars of this movement with Leonhardt , almost kill all its glory. But then the choir enters and things are getting better. Along all this movement I had a strange feeling, caused by the contradiction between the playing and the singing. I am very sorry to admit that hearing the opening chorus with Leonhardt, is not a good way to be introduced to this cantata. The orchestra and the choir blends so very well together in Koopman's rendering (3), that you have the feeling that they have equal parts and that they had been prepared for the recording by the same hands. In this recording of this movement I heard details and nuances not revealed in the previous recordings. Such as the small accentuation of the word 'werden', which emphasis the filling of fullness and relaxation after good meal (or maybe it is only my imagination?). The focus of Suzuki's rendering (4) is clarity. And indeed every voice can be clearly heard, even the continuo, which I barely heard in the previous recordings. This performance has calmness and internal beauty, which comes out from the richness of details. Less warmness than Koopman has, yet not less exciting.
Mvt. 3: Aria for Tenor
"His melodious affirmation of faith is accompanied by all the instruments except the trumpet, which blend with the voice: "Mein Jesus soll mein alles sein." (My Jesus shall be my everything.) Then we return to the color-tone purple, but this time denoting Christ's blood: "Mein Purput ist sein teures Blut," (My purple in His precious Blood,). The final word in this aria "Freudenwein" (wine of joy), with its vocal runs, seems to be connected with the idea of purple, signifying His blood, to complete the pictorial impression: "Und seines Geistes Liebesglut/Mein allersusster Freudenwein." (And the love-glow of His spirit/Is my most sweet wine of joy.)"
The certain softness in Aldo Baldin's voice (with Rilling)  suits very well the mood of this aria. His voice blends pleasantly with the instrumental accompaniment. The wonderful tenor singer Adalbert Kraus is usually identified with Rilling's cycle, But here he appears, quite surprisingly, in the Leonhardt/Harnoncourt cycle. All his good qualities - sensitive expression, evangelist's type voice, intelligence, which reflects understanding to the textual contents of his part, musicality, ability to listen to the other (instrumental) voices - come to forth also under Leonhardt's baton . We do not have to regret that he was left out of the Rilling's recording (he sings only in the opening chorus), because we gained the opportunity to listen to two wonderful tenor singers. Both voices have the above-mentioned 'sweet wine of joy'. The tenor aria in Koopman's recording (3) is performed somewhat fast to my taste. I love Agnew voice, but he has not enough space here to give full 'pictorial impression'. The two previous performances prove that for this aria slower is better. Actually, I believe that this assumption is valid for this cantata as a whole. Türk voice (with Suzuki) (4) reminds me that of Aldo Baldin, and so his interpretation. The accompaniment that Suzuki supplies to him has some sharpness, which complements his singing in a very unique way. The sadness in this performance is less revealed than in the previous recordings of this aria.
Mvt. 5: Aria for Soprano
"An enchanting beautiful tune with oboe d'amore obbligato, continuing the comparison between the sufferings of the Christian and those of Lazarus. Patience in adversity leads to reward hereafter: "Ich nehme mein Leiden mit Freuden auf mich. /Wer Lazarus' Plagen/Geduldig ertragen, /Den nehmen die Engel zusich." (I take upon myself my sufferings with joy. /Who patiently endures Lazarus's torments, /Him the angels take to themselves.)"
The over vibrato in Ingeborg Reichelt voice production (with Rilling)  disturbed me from enjoying her singing. In general, I do not find vibrato as an un-useful tool, even in Bach's singing. But it should be used very sparingly. And when a singer is using it everywhere, I cannot give my full attention to his or her interpretation. It is even more distressing here, because all the other factors are on high level - the tempo is right and the playing of the oboe d'amore is so beautiful. The tenderness and beauty of tone in all registers, and the musical expression of Markus Klein, who sings this aria with Leonhardt , are very rare among treble sopranos. Actually they are the rare exception that proves the rule that usually the boy singers lack the maturity, the stamina and the stability of voice, needed to convincing rendering of a Bach aria. The captivating and relatively clean playing of the old oboe d'amore adds to the overall satisfaction I felt when hearing this aria in this recording, especially after so unpromising opening chorus. The playing of the oboe d'amore in the opening bars of the aria in Koopman's rendering (3) attracts you with magic ropes (Ponseele, I presume). Ruth Ziesak has the modern, post Kirkby, type of feminine soprano voice - pure, young up to sound boyish, minimal vibrato and that angelic quality. Her voice is flexible enough to pass successfully the coloratura parts of this aria. However, she is not expressive enough. Maybe it is only a matter of more experience. She also beautiful playing from the oboe d'amore player continues along the aria. Midori Suzuki's voice (with Suzuki, of course) (4) is lighter than that of Ziesak, yet her expression goes deeper. The sad playing of the oboe d'amore supplies an equal part to the success of this touching performance.
Mvt. 8: Sinfonia
"This is Bach's only use of a chorale tune (the trumpet plays the above chorale melody) for orchestra alone. It evokes a feeling of deep mysticism, which must have moved the congregation when they heard it right after the sermon."
When Rilling  has to use trumpets he almost never fails. The trumpet here is bubbling and glowing with joy, its sound is full and bright and its playing (Friedemann Immer) has singing quality. The old trumpets are much more difficult to play than the modern ones, as was shown in the TV program about the rehearsal of cantata BWV 63 by Gardiner and his forces. In Leonhardt's recording  the trumpeter succeeds in playing right every note of his part, although it seems that has no energy left to cause his trumpet to shine or to put some expression into his playing. Koopman (3) put emphasis on the beauty of the playing, rather than on the power. It causes his rendering of this movement to sound less dramatic than the others are. Suzuki's recording (4) has everything - joy of playing, bright and clean trumpet playing. Every note and every voice can be clearly heard. When it is finished, you are left with the feeling that it was too short.
Mvt. 10: Aria for Alto
"Then she realizes that Jesus can give her spiritual strength, which will complete her life. She will ask for nothing more than to receive His spirit. The mystical quality of the music as she sings "Jesus macht mich geistlich reich" (Jesus makes me spiritually rich) gives her aria an exceptionally emotional appeal."
Julia Hamari's voice (with Rilling)  has also slight vibrato, but she uses it economically to deliver a convincing expression. She sings with 'spiritual strength', while the 'mystical quality' is supplied by the playing of the strings. Esswood (with Leonhardt)  is marvelous - simple yet expressive singing and a voice, which causes you to forget that this aria can be also sung by female alto. The simple, measured accompaniment here supplies convenient platform for the voice to rely on. I love very much von Magnus (with Koopman) (3) timbre of voice and sensitivity of singing. The playing of the strings here is rounding, pleasant and charming. Both the singing and playing supply the 'exceptionally emotional appeal'. I can live with Mera's voice (with Suzuki) (4), but his operatic singing (at least, in this aria), is not to my taste. For me, he is the weakest of all four singers of this aria.
Mvt. 12: Aria for Bass
"Amid a sparkling trumpet obbligato, he sings of his confidence in the love Jesus has for him. His return love stems from the warmth he feels from "Jesu Susse Flammen" (Jesus' sweet flames) - these words are decorated with fine florid runs in his vocal treatment of them. The happy joy rhythm of this aria seems to complement the motif, which the alto expressed in her aria (No.10)."
The trumpeter in the Rilling's recording  of this aria is Hermann Sauter, but he is no less good than was his predecessor, who played in the Sinfonia. The playing of the trumpet obbligato and the singing of the Bass - Hanns-Friedrich Kunz supports each other and complement each other. You get the feeling that they are enjoying playing and singing together, rather than competing with each other. The whole rendering of this aria is full of 'flames of love'. The balance between the trumpet and the bass is not optimal in Leonhardt's recording . The sensitive and tender singing of van Egmond is put in the shadow when heard together with the trumpet. Maybe it is only a recording problem, as though the trumpet was put in the foreground and the bass singer in the background. The opposite is true for Koopman's rendering (3) of this aria, where Mertens is more prominent than the trumpeter is. This is not a glorious trumpet playing, yet its softness complements very well Mertens' voice. The beautiful, bright and clear trumpet playing, which opens this aria in Suzuki' recording (4), is very promising, and when Kooy enters he does not disappoint. His vigorous singing and authoritative voice suit very well the mood of this aria. 'He sings of his confidence in the love Jesus has for him'. I miss 'Jesus' sweet flames', but I am compensated by 'the happy joy rhythm'.
Recordings of individual Movements
See: Cantata BWV 75 – Recordings of Individual Movements
[M-2] Winschermann is such a good Bach conductor, that we can only regret he has not recorded more cantatas. His Philips box, which includes 13 complete sacred cantatas, 13 Sinfonias from cantatas (one of them, BWV 142, is not by Bach!) and some chorales and other movements, must be included in every cantata collection. It is cheap, easily available, and can win the hearts of even the most HIP fanatics. The only problem of hearing an individual Sinfonia under the conducting of Winschermann, is the emptiness you feel afterwards, by not hearing the rest of the cantata, but another Sinfonia. Winschermann is a colorist, who knows how to paint every phrase with the right and bright color. His conducting sounds always natural and never forced, as he is letting the music plays itself. His anonymous trumpeter plays with full and glorious tone above the charming flitting playing of the strings and the continuo. Why could he not record cantata BWV 75 in its entirety? He left me with the taste of more. If you are looking for this recording, you have to know that it is not included in the Philips box mentioned above. The main work ofthe CD is cantata BWV 215 conducted by Rilling (from his first and incomplete cycle of the secular cantatas, which was recorded during the 1960's). The 4 Sinfonias from Bach cantatas conducted by Winschermann, are actually fillers in this CD.
[M-3] The first and the third parts of this recording of the chorale are taken from BWV 144. This is a very simple harmonization of the chorale. Only the second part is identical to the concluding chorale of the first part of BWV 75. This is an old-fashioned large scale rendering, which does not leave you disappointed of not hearing the rest of the cantata.
[M-5] This is a sad record. Ameling's voice, which was considered to be THE angelic soprano voice of the late 1960's and early 1970's, sounds here as it is long behind its prime. Furthermore, the accompaniment does not supply any tension to rely on. Consequently, most of the time this performance becomes boring. In any case, I do not like the idea of collections of arias or other movements from cantatas. Isolating a special aria from its natural habitat is killing any musical logic and continuity. I collect such records only for completeness sake and I am not proud of having them.
[M-1] This record includes the first recording ever of Bach cantatas (almost 70 years ago!). It includes the complete BWV 67 and excerpts from BWV 75, BWV 76, and BWV 70. I do not know who are the actual singers in BWV 75, or what the excerpts from this cantata are. I am very curious to hear this historical recording, but I do not have it yet. This CD can only be bought at or ordered from the Bach-Museum Leipzig. I wrote to them couple of times, but they have not answered me so far.
Except for the opening chorus of Leonhardt's recording, all the other recordings of each movement of BWV 75 are more than satisfactory. Indeed, every conductor has his way of bringing out the glory and the larger than life moods of this cantata, but somehow every one of them succeeds in his mission. Bach used many means to keep the unity of this cantata, such as - the symmetrical structure of the two parts, the motif of contrast between the poor and the rich, using the same chorale in the opening movements of the two parts and an instrumental arrangement of the same choral as the concluding movement of the first part, etc. Helped by all these means, every conductor also succeeds in keeping the spirit of continuity along all 14 movements of this cantata. Surprisingly, but this conclusion also applies for Rilling, who recorded BWV 75 in two dates, where 13 years are separating them!
There are two small personal notes I would like to add:
a. The opening chorus words are taken from Psalms (Tehilim) chapter 22 verse 27 (in the Hebrew Bible). Usually, I am doing translation to Hebrew of the cantata under discussion for my own use, in order to understand it better. This time I did not have to translate the words of the opening chorus. I could go directly to the source, which was written in Hebrew. In this case the Hebrew origin is much more poetic than its translations to German or to English are. The translations in this case are only pale copies of the origin.
b. You know that when you are driving a car in a familiar road, it seems to be much shorter than it was the first time. The same phenomenon happened to me with every repeated hearing of this long cantata. After four rounds of hearing the 4 complete recordings, the last one with Suzuki sounds to me really short (and it is not the shortest of them)!
And as always, I would like to hear other opinions, regarding the above mentioned performances, or other recordings.
Marie Jensen wrote (June 27, 2000):
Bach's first performance in Leipzig, Saying: Here I come! 14 movements! (Numerologists watch out!)
Recitatives and arias for all: SATB! All kinds of instruments from oboe to trumpet! All kinds of musical forms! Dancing chorales!
Reviewing this cantata is like reviewing a scolding. A very beautiful scolding, which always leaves me with bad conscience.
Actually all us rich and privileged persons (compared with the rest of the world) do exactly as the cantata warns us about. We collect worldly goods, cantata after cantata, version after version, Super HI FI, Giga Giga byte PC's!
Was hilft der grosste Uberfluss,
Weil alles, so wir sehen,
Ach, wie geschwind ist es geschehen,
Dass Reichtum, Wollust, Pracht
Den Geist zur Holle macht!
Gott sturzet und erhohet
In Zeit und Ewigkeit.
Wer in der Welt den Himmel sucht,
Wird dort verflucht.
Wer aber hier die Holle uberstehet,
Wird dort erfreut.
And Bach chisels these words into our minds with powerful recitatives. He couldn't know, he was talking about his own music 277 years later. Bach's music was Gottesdienst and recreation at the same time but not a collector's item. Of course if one doesn't believe a word of the cantatas, it will remove some of the problems, but no matter what: Empty-handed we entered this world. Empty-handed we shall leave it.
There is no doubt; the author has found a way to God, which makes him very happy. The first part describes the physical poverty, the second part the spiritual poverty and in both parts we hear about Gods help and comfort. Especially the second part of the cantata is a guide in living a life leading to salvation.
Written the next days: - had to take a long break impressed by the words. First I found it improper to talk versions at all, and then all the wonderful music took over.
It would be a very big job to review this "double-up" in details, so I will not. I know the cantata in two versions:
 Rilling's (Reichelt, Gohl, Kraus, Kunz) and
(4) Suzuki's (Midori Suzuki, Mera, Türk, Kooy).
As heading for Rilling I would say, solemn, innerly felt, truly mourning when needed. For Suzuki I would say: dramatic, dancing.
But how fast were the dances at Bach's time, and how dancing - in a church-room? Whose tempo is the right historic one? When I listen to a congregation singing hymns Sunday at the same tunes as in Bach's cantatas, they are not as fast as Suzuki's, especially not the mourning ones (Ex: Suzuki's St. Matthew! O Mensch bewein dein Suende gross - but do it in a hurry!). Musical trends change much faster in high-level concert life than behind the church walls. So a rather slow pace in the chorales will probably be more genuine. But Suzuki's dancing approach sounds so great too, like when old varnish is removed form a painting and splendid colors appear. Today people might listen to pop and be Christians at the same time. The old wig heads in Leipzig must have felt the same way when they let this dance and opera inside. If it sounded like Suzuki, they must have been real progressive. But Bach is again balancing on the edge of the forbidden. Dancing was certainly not allowed in austere pietism, but for my inner eye I can easily see a long row of chain dancers move on with elastic cross steps up into the sky to "Was Gott tut..." dressed in their dark 18th century Sunday outfit. So pietists may be right: gay music takes away concentration from the text. (Sorry for this long tangent - should probably have been a separate mail)
A few places I would like to comment:
The first scolding recitativo >Was hilft des Purpurs Majestat>: Kooy is great. He scares me deeply when he names the sins of the rich man! >Dass Reichtum, Wollust, Pracht, Den Geist zur Holle macht>
The soprano aria:
Ich nehme mein Leiden mit Freuden auf mich.
Wer Lazarus' Plagen
Den nehmen die Engel zu sich.
is so beautiful, especially the last mellow line. These "Leiden mit Freuden" arias are found here and there in Bach huge production for example (BWV 58, BWV 84). The obsession of suffering here to get a reward after death is (to continue my review last week) so typical pietistic. The singer is always a soprano symbolizing the soul, the instrument an oboe. Here I find the mature mezzo Reichelt (Rilling) best. Midori Suzuki sings more like a boy, and the text seems to require some life experience. By the way: Notice how long >Ertragen> lasts and the kindly waving angle wings.
In the next recitativo >Indes schenkt Gott ein gut Gewissen>, Suzuki is best. Her voice is more relaxed in the first part about the Christian joy:
>Ein kleines Gut mit grosser Lust geniessen>.
Notice how the mood changes when it talks about
>durch lange Not Zum Tod,>
and once again, talking about the happy ending
>So ist es doch am Ende wohlgetan.>
When Jane last week mentioned how much she loves Bach recitatives, I can only agree. This recitativo is a fine example.
In the second part Mera sounds a little like a well behaved precocious boy in the recitativo >Nur eines krankt> but the text deals with lack of spiritual power, so with that in mind it's OK anyway. Gohl's sadness sounds genuine.
Actually I like both versions of the cantata, when I have the courage to listen.
When a certain structure or number is found in Bach's works, it is seldom casual. I don't know with this one about the text: Bach had a well-paid job at Fürst Leopold's court in Köthen. He was rather wealthy. The education of his sons, Leopold's terrible jealous new wife (the "amusa"), the wish to serve Church again, made him go to Leipzig, to a smaller salary and lots of intrigues and troubles. BWV 75 was his first cantata in the new job. This couldn't possibly be his personal comment or presentiment? Not as author of the text, but choosing it, and choosing exactly this Sunday to his first performance? It seems to fit exactly to his life situation at that very moment.
Yes this cantata strikes me deeply in every way!
Ehud Shiloni wrote (June 27, 2000):
Not much can one add to Aryeh's superb [as always] report, and I will make just a couple of personal comments.
To highlight my special affection, I will quote from my own message to the "Old List" after my initial discovery of BWV 75:
< I listened to cantata BWV 75, which is the first cantata that Bach performed in Leipzig, just one week after arriving there with his family from Köthen. For me it was the "First Heard" experience with this cantata, and it made me think about the "First Heard" experience of the Leipzig congregation, and about the discussion we recently had about Bach's appreciation by his contemporaries. Christoph Wolff's liner notes say:
"According to contemporary newspaper reports, "the new Cantor and Director of the Collegium Musicum, Herr Johann Sebastian Bach, who has come hither from the Prince's court at Cothen, produced his first music here with great success"."
And I wonder: What did they mean by "Great Success"? We know that his music was accepted, respected, even liked, but not revered anyway near what we think about it today. As I finished listening to the opening chorus, and was half way through the majestic Bass recitative, I thought to myself: How on earth was it possible that the people present did not realize that this is something more than "A Great Success"? That what they are hearing is N O T Kuhnau, not the sought-after Telemann, not anyone else they ever heard? I am no scholar, but my inclination is to side with those who said that this misconception was mainly the result of poor performance. When I hear Koopman and the ABO+C I hear carefully selected, highly skilled, extensively trained performers, polished by as many rehearsals as were needed to produce such a splendid recording. Obviously Bach had very few of these "luxuries", and what his audience heard probably didn't come close to what I've heard on my stereo. It is almost a statistical impossibility that his Bass singer came anywhere near Klaus Mertens' quality, given that Leipzig at the time had a population of maybe thirty thousand people... >
Like Marie, I cannot help but think about the fact that what I'm listening to is the very first Leipzig cantata, and that makes the experience very special. I like very much this large-scale but very cohesive cantata. I wish Bach had written many more like these. Aryeh was absolutely right when he wrote that with every additional hearing the TT appears to be shorter, and it feels like the music ends too soon...
The two versions I have are Koopman's (3) and Suzuki (4), and both are wonderful. I wish to point out one special feature in Koopman's treatment of the choral: When he hits "mit suessen trost im herzen" [in the first choral appearance] and "in seinen armen halten" [in the second], the choir drops into pianissimo, to create a very endearing effect.
Ryan Michero wrote (June 27, 2000):
(To Marie Jensen) Thanks for a very interesting analysis, Marie!
Marie Jensen wrote:
< Bach's first performance in Leipzig, Saying: Here I come! 14 movements! (Numerologists watch out!)>
For those of you that don't know, Marie is talking about 14 being one of Bach's signature numbers. If you add up the numbers corresponding to the letters of B-A-C-H (calculated according to their place in the German alphabet, so B=2, A=1, C=3, and H=8), you get the number 14. Only this cantata and its sister work, BWV 76, the first two cantatas written for regular Leipzig services, have 14 movements. Bach seems to be putting his signature, literally and figuratively, on the church music of Leipzig!
< BUT: Reviewing this cantata is like reviewing a scolding. A very beautiful scolding, which always leaves me with bad conscience.
Actually all us rich and privileged persons (compared with the rest of the world) do exactly as the cantata warns us about. We collect worldly goods, cantata after cantata, version after version, Super HI FI, Giga Giga byte PC's!
And Bach chisels these words into our minds with powerful recitativos. He couldn't know, he was talking about his own music 277 years later. Bach's music was Gottesdienst and recreation at the same time but not a collector's item. Of course if one doesn't believe a word of the cantatas, it will remove some of the problems, but no matter what: Empty-handed we entered this world. Empty-handed we shall leave it. >
On the other hand, Bach himself was an avid collector of books, musical instruments, and printed scores. Certainly these kinds of culturally and artistically oriented possessions have parallels to our cantata recording collections. So you can either view Bach as a hypocrite or believe the more reasonable view that Bach made exceptions for certain goods, especially ones that are artistically or educationally oriented. I like the last idea best (A sigh of relief--we are off the hook!).
< When a certain structure or number is found in Bach's works, it is seldom casual. I don't know with this one about the text: Bach had a well-paid job at Fuerst Leopold's court in Kothen. He was rather wealthy. The education of his sons, Leopold's terrible jealous new wife (the "amusa"), the wish to serve Church again, made him go to Leipzig, to a smaller salary and lots of intrigues and troubles. BWV 75 was his first cantata in the new job. This couldn't possibly be his personal comment or presentiment? Not as author of the text, but choosing it, and choosing exactly this Sunday to his first performance? It seems to fit exactly to his life situation at that very moment. Yes this cantata strikes me deeply in every way! >
This is brilliant! It may well be that he had a special affinity for this text because he was leaving a very well paid secular position for a more austere life as Kantor of the Tho. Bach is saying, "Yes, this is best for me. I don't need worldly possessions! I don't need any more money! I can endure this job! Soli Deo Gloria!" A very interesting personal interpretation...
Marie Jensen wrote (June 27, 2000):
Ryan Michero wrote:
< Thanks for a very interesting analysis, Marie! >
And Thank you for your kind words!
< On the other hand, Bach himself was an avid collector of books, musical instruments, and printed scores. Certainly these kinds of culturally and artistically oriented possessions have parallels to our cantata recording collections. So you can either view Bach as a hypocrite or believe the more reasonable view that Bach made exceptions for certain goods, especially ones that are artistically or educationally oriented. I like the last idea best (A sigh of relief--we are off the hook!). >
I don't see Bach as a hypocrite! I hope like you, we're off the hook! You are absolutely right. He had, was it 5 harpsichords? We don't talk about the 687 pair of shoes of Imelda Marcos! What I mean is basically this: The number of collected items is inversely proportional to the time one has to enjoy them. Looking at the world as a whole makes me sad, though I can't save it alone, but give a little money to charity now and then. Yet I'm sure, even if Mother Theresa had been a Protestant, she would still only have owned a piece of soap!
Matthew 19.24: And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. 25: When his disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed, saying, Who then can be saved?
26: But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.
Verse 26 should give us a reason to be more optimistic!
Harry Steinman wrote (June 28, 2000):
(To Marie Jensen) I see Bach's collection of instruments and scores as part of his profession. Surely we would not worry that a carpenter would have too many hammers, saws and even exotic carpentry tools; we wouldn't fault a dentist for having too many probes and mirrors; nor a professor for library. So I think Marie is right: Bach is not to be judged in the same light as the rich man trying to pass through the eye of the needle.
And if he did do something wrong by collecting all his instruments and music, I hereby volunteer to take on some of whatever bad karma he piled up along with his harpsichords!
Marie Jensen wrote (June 29, 2000):
(To Harry Steinman) Bach at the dentist's or other nasty doctors is a great idea! There will be no bad Karma to take I'm sure!
Enrico Bortolazzi wrote (June 30, 2000):
(To Aryeh Oron) [M-1] (Karl Straube) Here are the details:
Grete Welz, Soprano, Hans Lissmann, Tenor, Alfred Paulus, Bass
Recorded: 7, June 1931 - Leipzig, Grassimuseum
The numbers included are: 5, 6, 8, 11, 12, 13, 14
My (little) comment:
This is the only recordings of BWV 75 I have (!) so I cannot make a comparison, but I think this is not important since we should look at this recording as an exceptional historical document. In fact the sound quality is far from our standard, and they probably used only one microphone for choir and orchestra. So the choral parts are very confused. The thing I found more interesting in this recording is the pathetic interpretation of the arias, probably typical of that time. It's like another Bach.
I got it from the NBG for the year 1998 subscription. The Bach-Archiv Leipzig has a www site and an e-mail, but like the NBG, they are hard to reach: the first time I subscribed to NBG I sent them two faxes, an e-mail and finally I had to find a friend that phoned to the Bach-Archive that is in the same place and asked for the NBG personnel!
Jane Newble wrote (June 30, 2000):
Just a few comments in between unpacking and packing. As before, I have not read the posts on this cantata yet. (I'm always afraid that if I read Aryeh's post first, I shall feel unworthy to say anything else, as he is so good.)
This cantata is wonderful. Not just the words, but the music that goes with it. It leaves me with an almost impossible high standard: to love God above all else, and not to put any value on anything of this earth. Then there is the other core-element, that of trusting God to such an extent, that whatever happens, it is still possible to sing the two chorales from the heart.
Bach knew what he was writing music for. He had had four bereavements in the past 4 years, his two brothers, a child, and his first wife. And yet, he puts so much joy in his submission to Gods will. I like especially the trumpet in the Sinfonia, singing triumphantly the chorale of the first part all over again. And then the trumpets in that beautiful bass aria. The chorales always make me want to listen again to that heartbreaking piece (after BWV 12) by Liszt, which he wrote after the death of his beloved eldest daughter, where he pours out his grief, and his questions, and finally ends with this same chorale.
I only have the Koopman version (3), so I cannot compare it, but I do feel that if I never heard another version, I should be quite happy with this.
Now I look forward to reading all your posts.
Andrew Oliver wrote (July 1, 2000):
As a newcomer to this list, there is not much I want to add to what has already been said.
I possess only the Leonhardt recording of this cantata . So I have not yet compared the tempo of the opening chorus with any other version, but it seems to me that, while Leonhardt's tempo is measured rather than exciting, it does allow the plaintive tone of the oboe to depict the condition of 'Die Elenden'. The other point I notice about the first movement is that, although the recitative which follows is in a minor key, the chorus nevertheless closes with a tierce de Picardie, which is doubtless Bach's way of describing the prospect to come, "Euer Herz soll ewiglich leben". Bach is very fond of this device in his choral works, but I have not yet discovered a consistency to the way he uses it. For example, he uses it to close the first chorus of the Matthaus Passion (BWV 244), but not the final chorus.
Marie made a very valid point when she mentioned numerology. Not only is this work constructed as two halves of seven movements each, but there seem to be many other numerological symbols employed as well. To mention just two, I note that, in the tenor aria, Bach sets the opening sentence "Mein Jesus soll mein alles sein" thirteen times plus two half sentences before moving on. He appears to be setting his own signature (14) on this phrase. The other example to note is in the chorale setting which closes each half, where Bach introduces the motif which forms the instrumental accompaniment seven times, six on the tonic of the scale and once (6th) on the dominant. One theme, seven times, and repeated in the other half of the work, and this theme, also stamped with Bach's personal signature, is based on the first line of the chorale "Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan". Yes, he was not only showing his new Leipzig audience what he could do, he was also telling them, in code, what he believed. I wonder if they understood it.
One of the highlights of the Leonhardt recording is the marvelous voice of the tenor, Adalbert Kraus.
Thank you for listening to my ramblings.
Harry Steinman wrote (July 1, 2000):
(To Andrew Oliver) Welcome, Andrew! Your contributions (you call it, "rambling" but I thing what you have to say is concise and on-target) are most welcome. Glad to hear from you. Happy listening...Harry
Ryan Michero wrote (July 2, 2000):
Well, after all of my carping about rating cantatas, here we come upon a cantata that stands out from the crowd--a cantata that feels important, that is ambitious, impressive, and colorful, that must be considered a masterwork. Listening to this cantata after BWV 165, SimonCrouch's ratings system makes more sense. BWV 165 gets a 3 and BWV 75 gets a 1--I can accept that. And like Simon said, it's not that BWV 165 is not worth a visit, it's just that, with so many other great cantatas, there are others worth visiting sooner. Like this one.
As Aryeh said, this is a long cantata, and the first of three long cantatas we are studying in the next weeks, along with BWV 76 and BWV 21. But I agree with Aryeh that this cantata is so good that even after a few listens it still seems too short--you wish it would go on for 14 more movements! I was a little uncertain about studying so many long cantatas back to back, but I am energized after BWV 75. Yes, we are doing a lot of work--but what glorious work we have to do! But "work" is the wrong word--we are indulging our addiction!
Aryeh's list of recordings seems rather small for this cantata because all of the recordings have come from complete cantata cycles. Why is this great work so neglected? Perhaps it is too long to be commercially attractive? Is it because it fills up too much space on a CD? For this cantata I am happy there are and have been so many complete cantata recording cycles for us to choose from, because it seems no one else is willing to champion this great neglected work. And luckily, all of the versions I have heard do this piece ample justice, so we are spoiled for choice even if this piece is seldom recorded.
 (Gustav Leonhardt) Leonhardt's version is flawed, but there are many nice things about it. The main weakness of this recording is the performances of the choruses, especially the opening movement. Leonhardt seems to have paid too much attention to the articulation of the orchestral parts and not enough to the drilling of the choir. Hence, while the instruments are played sharply, the choir is loose and imprecise. The boys of the Knabenchor Hannover sound particularly bad, and the forces mesh together poorly. But things are looking up when Max van Egmond comes in with the bass recitative "Was hilft des Purpurs Majestat"--quite dramatically sung and played. The tempo for the tenor aria "Mein Jesus soll mein alles sein" is quite slow compared to others, but it suits the sort of pastoral calmness of the movement quite well. And Adalbert Kraus sings it and the next recitative really beautifully. He's a nice change of pace from the often overwrought voice of Kurt Equiluz (who seems less well suited to express joy), and it's a shame Kraus didn't sing more with Harnoncourt and Leonhardt. In the soprano aria "Ich nehme mein Leiden mit Freuden auf mich", the boy Markus Klein is surprisingly effective, singing with much feeling and surmounting the technical difficulties of his vocal line quite well (though it is hard to imagine such a young boy experiencing the joy and pain of the text). Klein also sings his recitative beautifully, setting up the chorale chorus nicely. Too bad the chorus itself is marred by sloppy playing and singing.
The Sinfonia that begins the second part sounds fine, though, with the orchestral strings wonderfully articulated and the trumpet suitably impressive. Paul Esswood is great in his ensuing recitative and aria, his voice well suited to the expression of the text. Leonhardt's direction of the aria is also quite skillful, making the orchestra sound remote and clinical most of the time, but softening with lovely legato phrasing in the major-key sections. The bass aria is a bit anti-climactic, though--van Egmond pales in comparison with Peter Kooy, Leonhardt's tempo plods a bit, and the trumpeter seems to struggle through his part. Kraus makes a final appearance in the last tenor recitative, and he sounds great again. The last movement again sounds a little unruly. To sum up, Leonhardt's recording is worth hearing in spite of its weaknesses, mostly due to some fine solo singing. I recommend it with reservations.
(3) (Ton Koopman) Koopman's recording is excellent, bringing out the beauty, power, and drama of this cantata. From the opening bars it is obvious that he has an immediate advantage over his competitors in Marcel Ponseele, whose playing in this cantata is exquisite. The choral singing in the first chorus is also great. Unlike Leonhardt and like Suzuki, Koopman observes Bach's marking of "concertists" at the beginning of the fugue, allotting the first statements of it to soloists. Although this pleases me, I wish Koopman had used his excellent soloists instead of his choir soloists here. Even if Bach did use a choir in his cantatas, his concertists certainly must have sung the arias. Klaus Mertens, as always, is quite expressive in the first recitative. The tenor aria sounds a bit fast but has a pleasant, peaceful quality to it that is quite attractive. Paul Agnew's interpretation of the aria is very convincing, and he sounds alternately thankful, uncertain, and ecstatically joyful. After an expressive recitative by Agnew, Ruth Ziesak sings "Ich nehme mein Leiden..." wonderfully. She sings with anticipation and worry in her voice until she reaches the line "Den nehmen die Engel zu sich" where she releases some beautifully angelic high notes. Marcel Ponseele's oboe d'amore playing is again gorgeous here. Ziesak's recitative "Indes schenkt Gott ein gut Gewissen" is quite touchingly sung. The "Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan" chorale setting sounds appropriately joyous, but Koopman's too quick tempo gives it an edge of nervousness that is out of place.
Koopman scores in the Sinfonia of the second part. His orchestra sounds great, with the strings weaving through each other and the trumpet cutting through them all wonderfully. Elisabeth von Magnus is expressive and effective in her recitative and aria, but she is not as moving as her competitors are and Koopman sweeps past this movement a little quickly. But "Mein Herze glaubt und liebt" is a success, with a characterful (if a little sloppy) trumpet sounding lovely alongside the sensitive singing of Mertens. Agnew is again supremely expressive in his recitative, and the final chorale is again joyful but quick. All in all, a very satisfying recording.
(4) (Masaaki Suzuki) But for me, as is so often the case, Suzuki's recording is the most impressive version of this cantata. I know some of you must get tired of my constant championing of Suzuki's Bach recordings, but I am continually impressed by their sensitivity and power. Suzuki's opening chorus sounds the most like a French overture, with a nice swing in the rhythms of the first part and a powerful drive in the fugue. Although Suzuki doesn't have Ponseele this time around, Alfredo Bernardini is a top-notch player and a fine substitute for the period oboe king. The singing of the chorus is glorious, and Suzuki rightly uses his soloists as concertists to open the fugue. And what a fugue it is! --exciting, powerful, and with a cumulative intensity that climaxes wonderfully. It is immediately apparent from the first bars of "Was hilft des Purpurs Majestat" that Kooy is much more engaged with this cantata than any of his competitors. I challenge anyone to find a performance of this movement as powerful, fearsome, or dark as Kooy's. Although the orchestra sounds beautiful in "Mein Jesus soll mein alles sein", a greater sense of calm and quiet is preferable. However, Gerd Türk is wonderful, his high, bright tenor sounding more joyful but less emotional than Paul Agnew's. After a fine recitative, Midori Suzuki sings the soprano aria "Ich nehme mein Leiden mit Freuden auf mich". Luckily, Suzuki spends more time with this aria than Koopman, letting each note make its full impact. Midori Suzuki has a lovely voice, and her interpretation is darker and more somber than that of any of her competitors. Aryeh astutely noted that her voice sounds younger than Ziesak's and yet she sings with more maturity, and I agree completely. Suzuki's recitative is also lovely, her voicesoftening beautifully at the last line--"So ist es doch am Ende wohlgetan". I daresay Suzuki's reading of the chorus "Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan" is perfect--quick enough to sound joyful but slow enough to be touching, wonderfully sung, and with a glowing choral and orchestral sound.
Like Koopman's, Suzuki's performance of Part II's opening Sinfonia sparkles with joy. But here the strings sound a bit richer, and the trumpet rings out with more warmth and gladness. It is easier to get caught up in the elaborate string lines, following their every turn, only to be surprised by the triumphant chorale tune (I can't wait for Suzuki's Brandenburgs!). Some people on the list don't care for the countertenor Yoshikazu Mera, but I can't understand why. His singing is GORGEOUS in the alto recitative and aria, with more expressiveness, character, and variety than I can remember hearing from any other countertenor. He doesn't sound too operatic to me, but I would love to hear him in a Baroque opera! After a fine recitative by Kooy, the cantata reaches its apotheosis with an outstanding performance of "Mein Herze glaubt und liebt". Kooy sings magnificently, and virtuoso trumpeter Toshio Shimada again proves what an asset he is to Suzuki. There are "susse Flammen" aplenty here! Türk gives an expressive account of the penultimate movement, and a return of the beautiful chorale setting tops off another wonderful cantata recording.
So, here's my ranking of each individual movement, my preferred version first, leaving out movement performances I find unsatisfying:
1. Chorus "Die Elenden sollen essen"—Suzuki (4), Koopman (3)
2. Recitative "Was hilft des Purpurs Majestat"--Suzuki/Kooy (4), Koopman/Mertens (3), van Egmond/Leonhardt 
3. Aria "Mein Jesus soll mein alles sein"--Koopman/Agnew (3), Leonhardt/Kraus , Suzuki/Türk (4)
4. Recitative "Gott sturzet und erhohet"--see #3
5. Aria "Ich nehme mein Leiden mit Freuden auf mich"--Koopman/Ziesak (3), Suzuki/Suzuki (4), Klein/Leonhardt 
6. Recitative "Indes schenkt Gott ein gut Gewissen"--see #5.
7. Chorus "Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan"—Suzuki (4), Koopman (3)
8. Sinfonia—Suzuki (4), Koopman (3), Leonhardt 
9. Recitative "Nur eines krankt"--see #10
10. Aria "Jesus macht mich geistlich reich"--Suzuki/Mera (4), Leonhardt/Esswood , von Magnus/Koopman (3)
11. Recitative "Wer nur in Jesu bleibt"--see#12
12. Aria "Mein Herze glaubt und liebt"--Suzuki/Kooy (4), Koopman/Mertens (3), Leonhardt/van Egmond 
13. Recitative "O Armut"--see #3
14. Chorus "Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan"—Suzuki (4), Koopman (3)
Overall—Suzuki (4), Koopman (3), Leonhardt 
So for me, "Was Suzuki tut, das ist wohlgetan"!
Thanks for a great discussion this week, everyone!
Continue on Part 2
Cantata BWV 75: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements
Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4