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

Cantata BWV 80
Ein' feste Burg ist unser Gott
Cantata BWV 80a
Alles, was von Gott geboren
Cantata BWV 80b
Ein' feste Burg ist unser Gott
Discussions - Part 1

Bach Edition

Johan van Veen wrote:
Secondly, the text. In BWV 61 (Nun komm der Heiden Heiland) the soprano aria Öffne dich, mein ganzes Herz contains the line "Jesus kömmt und ziehet ein". The soprano sings "kommt" in stead of "kömmt" (ignoring the Umlaut). That must be a decision taken by the conductor, since the same thing happens in the opening aria of BWV 132 (Bereitet die Wege, bereitet die Bahn: "Messias kommt an", instead of "kömmt an"). Why using "original" instruments and not the "original" text? And why does the bass sing - in the recitative "Erwäge doch" from Cantata BWV 80 - "zum Siege" instead of "zum Kriege"? That is not exactly the same. And it doesn't make sense in the context. Result of the short period of time used for the recording?

Ben Crick wrote:
(To Johan van Veen) Could it not just be that the soloists are not native German speakers, and so tend to pronounce the words as if they were English or Dutch, which have no Umlaut? Zum Siege instead of zum Kriege is evidently proleptic wishful thinking. In this spiritual war, the final Victory (the Resurrection) is assured.

Are you sure about those Umlauts? I don't have the lyrics here to check....

Johan van Veen wrote (November 24, 1999):
(To Ben Crick) Yes, I am. The lyrics, printed in the booklet, have Umlauts as well. So have the lyrics in the Teldec recording, which I used in comparison. It is typical for 18th century German, as is 'Jüden' instead of 'Juden' (see St Matthew Passion). There are other errors in the lyrics as well: BWV 33, bass recitative (Mein Gott und Richter): the lyrics say: "und meine Sünd ist schwer" - the soloist sings: "sind meine Sünden schwer". It has to do with the editions used during the recording sessions. According to Frank Wakelkamp (cellist during the recording) they didn't always have the Neue Bach Ausgabe at hand - see his posting in this thread. I doubt whether ignoring the Umlaut has anything to do with not being German native speakers. Even if it was someone should have heard it and corrected it.

Johan van Veen wrote (November 25, 1999):
Frank Wakelkamp wrote:
< What are you trying to prove? Would you have done better? What are your qualifications? One thing I can say is that apart from ebellishments nothing has been made up in this project. About the quality I respect your opinion. Please do not blame ANY people here unless providing a thread for improvement. Just the accusation "amateurism" will not do if you cannot prove that you are capable of doing it better. Otherwise you would make yourself a fool, a Don Quichote. >
I am sorry but this is sheer nonsense, and unfair too. I don't need to be able
to lay an egg in order to be allowed to say that an egg is rotten. The consequence of what you are saying is that all reviewers - most of them are not professional musicians - should keep their mouth shut, and are not allowed to give their opinion. Musicians who make recordings, do so for an audience. It is our right, being the audience, to give our opinion on the quality of those recordings, just as I have the right as a customer to tell a shopkeeper that his product is bad. I go along with the criticism of Eltjo. What sense does it make to use "authentic" instruments, when at the same time not the "authentic" score is used? I fully understand that the invitation to record all Bach's cantatas was a chance of a lifetime for all people involved, in particular the conductor and his choir, which I greatly admire. But there is also something like artistic integrity. I think the musicians should have told the producer that recording all cantatas in such a short period of time is simply impossible, if you want to do a really good job. I haven't had the opportunity to listen to every cantata in detail. But my impression is that many things are just not well thought over. The way in which recitatives are sung, is very inconsistent. Sytse Buwalda - by far the best performer - is very expressive, but Ruth Holton and Knut Schoch just sing the words, and nothing else. I had the bad fortune of starting with the first CD of the first set - it contains some of my favourite cantatas, and therefore my first impression was very negative. BWV 80 is very lacklustre, the rhythms which are so characteristic of this cantata are very shallow. So far I certainly have enjoyed some performances, and it is too early to give a final verdict. You invited us to give our comments, so don't complain when these comments are not of your liking.

 

Unknown Subject

Emile Swanepoel wrote (January 15, 2000):
Ehud Shiloni wrote:
< I want to highlight the other great Bass voice on the above CD-set: Hans Sotin. From my searching around I gathered that he was an opera singer and did not do a lot of Bach recordings. What a pity. To my ears his voice quality is outstanding: A deep, dark Bass, with immense intensity. I'll be glad to hear other opinions about that singer. >
I'm not sure if you received my last message, so I'm sending it again. Your reaction to his voice is exactly the same as mine when I first heard him. I have the recording of BWV 80 that you mention in your letter. Just listen to the Duet, "Mit unsrer macht"! I have the Leonard Bernstein recording of "Fidelio" and he also sings lovely on that one. I believe he also did some Wagner.

Stephen Thomas wrote (March 30, 2000):
Firstly, having just subscribed to this list and enjoying it very much, I wonder if there is a way to access older messages. Is this possible? Particularly Aryeh's 'untiring work'? Secondly, Jane, which Deller disc (BWV 54) are you and Ryan speaking of?

I have been learning Bach's keyboard works on piano and have always loved anything I've heard by Bach, except for vocal music in general. As a child, I sang in a couple of England style men and boy choirs that laid a foundation for me that I was completely not aware of until I purchased a Naxos disc of cantata BWV 80 on whim. It is all have listened to for the last two weeks now. Absolutely gorgeous. Moved beyond belief. Then the other day I noticed Harmonia Mundi was having a sale on it's Bach catalogue. So I gobbled up a couple of box sets of the cantatas etc. etc... The cantatas are a revelation and a turning point.

Ryan Michero wrote (May 14, 2000):
The Toccata and Fugue in d-minor in Fantasia was probably my first exposure to Bach as well, though at that age I wouldn't have known Bach from a hole in the wall.

Having had no real exposure to "classical" music in my life, I decided to broaden my horizons by taking a music appreciation class in college. I know that for 99.99% of my classmates, the overcrowded course was a waste of time and effort--either a rehash of material they already knew or a colorless overview of material they weren't interested in. But for me it was a revelation. I had my first real exposure to Bach's art here. It was in the curriculum for this class that I first got a taste of some of Bach's greatest masterpieces: the third orchestral suite, the "little" fugue in g-minor, the third Brandenburg concerto. The range of his expression, the sheer diversity of his output, amazed me.

Four Bach pieces I first heard in that class really captivated me, and they remain some of my favorite works today. (Snip)
Another piece that fascinated me was the opening chorus to BWV 80, the cantata "Ein' feste Burg ist unser Gott". Bach takes a simple chorale melody and transforms it, phrase by phrase, in every possible way and layers these transformations on top of each other in a non-stop rush of sublime six-voice counterpoint. Here was music I could listen to again and again, uncovering different layers with each hearing, that I could never really hear the same way twice. I took another note to myself: Get a full recording of BWV 80 and listen to it over and over. (I got Richter's version and later Thomas'--the latter is my favorite.) (Snip)

Since I took that courI've been a rabid Bach fanatic. No other composer's music spoke to me quite like Bach's, and I'm still fascinated by these pieces. It was sort of like falling in love, I guess--not so much with a 250-years-dead Kantor, but with his endlessly youthful and beautiful creations.

 

What's Everyone's Favourite Religious Music?

Kevin Gassaway wrote (July 11, 2000):
Some of my favorite religious music is Bach's St. Matthew's Passion (BWV 244), especially the aria "Mache Dich Mein Herze Rein", which I have sung from time to time. I also love the chorale "O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden" from the same. Bach's Cantata BWV 80 is a favorite of mine I also enjoy Pergolesi's Stabat Mater, Haendel's Messiah, and Mozart's, Verdi's, and Berlioz's Requiem. (Snip)

 

Bach "Lutheran" Masses

Johan van Veen wrote (November 11, 1999):
Wouldn't it be possible that this is exactly the way hymns were sung in Bach's time? A comparison between Praetorius' and Bach's time is appropriate. In Bach's music the chorales have lost their original rhythms - see p.e. Bach's use of Luther's hymn 'Ein feste Burg' in Cantata BWV 80 with settings from Praetorius' time. The way hymns were sung has obviously changed quite dramatically during the 17th and early 18th centuries. A Dutch organist has done a lot of research into the way psalms were sung in Dutch churches in the 17th and 18th centuries. He concluded that the congregation sang in a very slow tempo, without the original rhythms of the Huguenot psalter. Wouldn't it be plausible to assume that there is a parallel here with hymn singing in German churches in Bach's time?

Bach Cantatas

Allen Tyler wrote (March 15, 2000):
Max Erlandsson wrote:
< Hi, there sale on Bach cantatas (BIS - Suzuki) but since there are so many of them I don't know which ones to buy. Which cantatas are considered really good music, to start with? >
I have never heard a Bach cantata that I didn't like. I don't think you would go wrong if you just chose blindfolded. Some of the old standbys include 4, 21, 79, 80, 104, 140, 147. But please--Where is this sale?

 

Bach Cantatas - best and worst!

J.R. Robinson wrote (September 8, 2000):
Andy Evans wrote:
< I want to get some Bach Cantatas, probably not the whole shooting match but some particularly good ones - most likely suspect is the Teldec series. [...] Can anyone else suggest some favorites or ones not worth buying? >
Simon Crouch has a comprehensive Bach cantata Web site, which rates and gives a description of each cantata: http://www.classical.net/music/comp.lst/works/bachjs/rateindx.html
Teldec offers a 4-disc set of 13 "Famous Cantatas" from the Harnoncourt-Leonhardt complete traversal: BWV 4, 12, 51, 54, 56, 67, 80, 82, 131, 140, 143, 147 & 170. A good starter set. Of course, Teldec manages to leave out my favorite cantata, BWV 106 "Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit" (a.k.a. "Actus Tragicus") -- not famous enough, I guess. The Leonhardt recording of "Actus Tragicus" is the most affecting single cantata recording known to me.

 

Discussions in the Week of October 22, 2000

Aryeh Oron wrote (October 22, 2000):
Background

This is the week of cantata BWV 80 according to Ryan Michero's suggestion. This is one of those unavoidable cantatas, like BWV 140 and BWV 147. By unavoidable I mean that every cantata collector finds himself (or herself) with at least one recording of this cantata, sometimes more, intentionally or not. For some background about this festive, impressive and popular cantata, I shall quote from the linear notes to the Vandernoot's recording (On Vanguard LP), written by S.W. Bennett:
"The two Church cantatas by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) on this recording make an especially interesting combination for two reasons (the other cantata is BWV 104, which has not discussed yet in our group, A.O.). One is that they are both of inspired beauty from beginning to end. The other is that they are so different from one another in mood and style, and thus indicate the wide range of Bach's poetic-musical imagination. One thinks of Beethoven's following his stormy, heroic Fifth Symphony with the sweet and folkish Sixth, or 'Pastoral', Symphony.
Part of the Cantata BWV 80, based on the grand hymn by Martin Luther, Ein' feste Burg ist unser Gott, was composed by Bach during his Weimar years (1708-1717). At about 1730, in Leipzig, he revised and expanded it, adding two mighty choral-orchestral movements of processional and battle, the first and the fifth movements, that make this work so extraordinarily stirring even for Bach. In taking up the old hymn, Bach seems to have had in mind a thought similar to that which Heine expressed much later, when he called it, 'the Marseillaise hymn of the Reformation' and said, 'a battle hymn was this defiant song with which Luther and his comrades entered Worms'.
The opening chorale-fantasia evokes a picture of a mighty processional. The momentum, sweeping all before it, is intensified by the polyphony, the choral writing developing section after section of the hymn fugally, while all this movement is framed in the original form of the hymn, which is pealed by trumpets and oboes high in the orchestra and answered canonically in the bass. In the second movement the soprano choir intones the hymn, with tumultuous string accompaniment and an independent bass solo. The bass recitative and arioso, and the lovely succeeding soprano aria, do not use the basic hymn. It returns powerfully and imaginatively however in the fifth movement, sung by the chorus in unison against the powerful contrast of the stormy orchestra, with trumpets and drums. The tenor follows with an expressive, hortatory recitative and arioso, and an almost wholly tranquil duet for alto and tenor, with fanciful oboe de caccia obbligato, is then heard, leading to the final statement of the chorale, splendidly harmonised and orchestrated."

The Recordings

See: Cantata BWV 80 - Recordings.

Some Statistics

BWV 80 is one of the most popular cantatas. I do not really understand the reasons for the popularity of a special cantata over the others. I do not have anything wrong to say about BWV 80 in particular. It only seems strange to me that other cantatas, with lot of appeal of their own, do not get the same amount of attention as BWV 80 does. One of the interesting characteristics of this cantata is that many performers participated in more than one recording of it. Here are some statistics regarding the recordings of BWV 80:
The conductor Helmuth Rilling did it twice (1964 [3] & 1983 [14]).
The soprano Agnes Giebel did it twice (Mauersberger (4) & Vandernoot (5)), and both in the same year! (1966).
The soprano Arleen Augér did it twice (Rotzsch [11] & Rilling 2nd [14]).
The alto Hertha Töpper did it twice (Werner [2] & Mauersberger (4)).
The tenor Kurt Equiluz did it twice (Prohaska (1) & Harnoncourt (9)).
The tenor Jeffery Thomas did it twice (Rifkin [16] & Jeffery Thomas (himself) [19]).
The tenor Peter Schreier did it trice! (Mauersberger (4), Richter [8], & Rotzsch [11]).
The bass Theo Adam did it twice (Mauersberger (4) & Rotzsch [11]).
ThomaneLeipzig did it twice (Mauersberger (4) & Rotzsch [11]).
You may also notice that all the soloists in Mauersberger's recording (4), and even his choir, participated in at least one more recording of BWV 80!

Review of the opening Chorus

During listening to the various recording of BWV 80, I have become more and more captivated by the aria for soprano (No.4). But there are many others arias for soprano, which supply us the opportunity to enlighten the individual strengths and weaknesses of each singer. I decided to concentrate on the opening Chorus for two reasons. Firstly, this is the most distinguished movement of this distinguished cantata. And secondly, the differences between the various recordings of this cantata are intensified especially in this movement.

The various recording of this movement can be divided into three groups - the Traditional (non-HIP), the Modern (HIP) with conventional choir, and the Modern with OVPP (One Voice Per Part) approach.

The first group (traditional) includes - Prohaska (1), Rilling 1st (3), Werner

(2), Mauersberger (4), Vandernoot (5), Gönnenwein [6], Somary (7), Richter (8), Rotzsch [11], Rilling 2nd [14], Münchinger [15], and Antál [18].

Last week I raved about Gönnenwein's recording of BWV 148, but regretted that it is not available yet in CD form. This week we have the opportunity to hear his version of BWV 80, which is easily available, with almost identical forces. I would not like to repeat myself, because every word that I wrote last week, may also be applied to the cantata of this week. The level of inspiration and enthusiasm is indeed high. The opening chorus is clear and the contrapuntal lines are remarkably brought out. There is integrity and authority to this rendering, combined with clarity and sensitivity, which make it very communicative. The tension is being built gradually, from victory to victory, tower after tower. The recordings of Prohaska, Richter and Mauersberger are almost on the same level. Most of the conductors prefer the version with the trumpets, which have been added after Bach, whereas Mauersberger's omits them. The trumpets sound to me very appropriate, but Mauersberger recording succeeds even without them. The weakest in this group is Rilling's first, that lacks power, focus, and clear direction. It is soft-centred and muddy. His second his much better, if not yet in the league of the first four renderings mentioned above.

The second group (HIP, with conventional choir) includes - Harnoncourt (9), Herreweghe [17], and Leusink [20].

All three seems to me to miss the main point. Harnoncourt is too dry and lacking in splendour. One can feel that Harnoncourt endeavours, but his rendering does not gain momentum. Herreweghe is too gentle and tender and lacks glory. Leusink is better than both of them are. It is not as polished as Herreweghe and even Harnoncourt are, but it has the freshness and enthusiasm that both of his rivals do not have. Nevertheless, even this rendering lacks volume and does not rise up to the occasion. If that were a call for celebration, then none of the recordings in this group would convince me to join in.

The third group (HIP, OVPP) includes - Rifkin [16], and Thomas [19].

Both Rifkin and Thomas are coming from another world. BWV 80 seems to be the last in the line of candidates among the cantatas and the least appropriate to be treated in OVPP approach. On the face of it, this approach seems to suit better cantatas of more chamber nature, like BWV 182, BWV 106, BWV 131, etc. But here Rifkin and Thomas convince by showing that their approach can be applied to one of the most magnificent cantatas. Well, Thomas' rendering is not exactly OVPP, because I hear a very small choir and not individual soloists, like he did in some of his other cantata recordings, but it is still a chamber approach. Indeed, in their renderings this cantata is not really festive, surely it is not colossal, and certainly it does not have the dignity and the glory associated with it. In their hands it becomes gentle and tender piece of music, with a lot of charm, which we have not been aware it can convey. They reveal unfamiliar faces of this cantata, and show that even a very familiar piece of music can sound completely different from what our experience and imagination might tell us. OVPP is not the only way to perform a cantata, let alone BWV 80, but both Rifkin and Thomas convince that it is a valid and refreshing approach. Rifkin is a little bit more polished, where Thomas is somewhat bolder. I like them both.

Conclusion

And as always, I would like to hear other opinions, regarding the above mentioned performances, or other recordings. I have written a lot to the group in the last couple of weeks, regarding the weekly cantatas under discussion, but got very little feedback, if any at all. This time I have limited myself, hoping that due the enormous popularity of this cantata, other members will step in and fill the space.

Marie Jensen wrote (October 22, 2000):
Ein fester Burg ist unser Gott! is Luther's "Allons enfants de la Patrie!". We are standing at the top of the barricade not in Paris 1789, but next to "Christi blutgefaerbte Fahne". Jesus has beaten the devil, risen from the dead, and Luther has completed the first of the big revolutions, the rebellion against the Catholic Church, called the Reformation. The Bible has been translated into German, the monks thrown out of the convents, and hymns about the new dogmas have to be made in a language everybody can understand. So Luther writes his hymn par excellence "Ein fester Burg ist unser Gott". He is not the greatest poet the world has seen, but he knows for sure how to express himself clearly. So even if the hymn deals with the victory of Jesus, I read between the lines also about Luther's own. 200 years later this calls for a celebration. Bach and Luther have so to say grown out of the same soil, Thuringia. They have been pupils in the same school in Eisenach, and in Weimar where Bach was Hof-organist, lies also the castle Wartburg, where Luther threw his inkpot after the devil. The cantata text is a mix of Luther's hymn from 1529 and poetry by Salomon Franck 1715 and it is very clearly heard in text as well as in music when they change, even if Franck seems very much inspired by Luther's expressions. In music because Klug's tune to the Luther hymn is played.

This is grandiose triumphant music, much of it military inspired. The cantata is both popular and very complex at the same time. In the opening choir it is clearly heard. The music seems to be a castle, strong and impregnable, but at the same time a polyphonic building with lots of walls and towers. In the following duet "Mit unser Macht" the old chorale is heard again in the soprano. And the choir sings two stanzas more: one in the middle about how safe a Christian is, even if the world was full of devils. You can hear the tiny beasts pop up from soil (violins andoboes), while the chorale stands as a safe ground in the middle. And then of course the chorale is back in the end of the cantata. But the cantata also contains two very emotional movements both about inviting Jesus into ones heart, and when Bach put music to such invitations it is as always very moving. I talk about the soprano aria 4 "Komm in mein Herzenshaus" and the duet for alto and tenor 7 "Wie selig sind doch sie".

I have two versions - Richter's (8) and Leusink's [20]. This cantata is as made for Richter, who has his force in power and grandiosity as well as in emotion. But exactly as in BWV 130 the unpolished Leusink troops are great in popular/military movements. Probably the effect is not made deliberately, but when the choir singes forte fortissimo, so you can hear their efforts, it makes me think of the ordinary people singing in the streets about their victory. That goes for the other stanzas too. They sing right from heart. It is the first of cantata on Vol.1, perhaps the first Leusink recorded, so everybody seems very eager to get from start. Richter's Bach Chor has more members, adults, more trained. Everything is as expected, splendid! But trumpets and drums are added in the central and final choral. The Leusink booklet tells about how Friedemann Bach added those instruments later, so perhaps that is what we hear in Richter's version. The Meisterwerke label (DG) (Richter's version) does not even have the text printed. (But there is a nice picture of Pastor Neumeister!)

In the lyric details Richter's version is so fine. Fischer-Dieskau sings his recitativo 3 like a caring admonishing father, and after the final lines "Daß Christi Geist mit dir sich fest verbinde!" the organ ties the listener with gentle ropes. To be tied up with Jesus for sure doesn't hurt. Leusink's version focuses on the deep strings in stead.

In the last part of the duet "Wie selig sind doch sie" the words "Und wird zuletzt gekrönt, wenn es den Tod erlegt" are sung. The song seems to die at "Tod", as the theme from the start rises to be the crown itself. This effect sends me directly through the ceiling. Reynolds and Schreier sing great here.

Even if I have written most about Richter, I like Leusink's version too. As Aryeh wrote some weeks ago: Comparing old Bach sopranos with new ones is like comparing oil paintings and water paintings. That is in fact how I feel here about the two cantata versions.

Harry Steinman wrote (October 23, 2000):
(To Aryeh Oron) I have only the Leusink version of this cantata [20], and listened to it for the first time this morning, with the Sunday paper and coffee...and I enjoyed it very much. Nothing in it was especially overwhelming but all enjoyable. Once again, a new (to me) cantata... Thanks, as usual,

Jim Morrison wrote (October 23, 2000):
More on this later, but just in the spirit of keeping the ball rolling, I'd like to say that the first version I heard of this cantata was Rifkin's [16], which I enjoyed, the second was Rilling's first recording of it (3), which I didn't like.

Trumpets? Drums? What the heck is going on here? Then I read the liner notes and they went into how one of his sons had added them.

I'm a member of a strange new breed of cantata appreciators whose first encounters with some of the cantatas are the OVPP advocates, Rifkin, Thomas, Parrott, Purcell Quartet, Cantus Cölln.

I'm looking forward to seeing how this may affect how I listen to the works done by larger groups.

Ehud Shiloni wrote (October 24, 2000):
Aryeh Oron wrote:
< BWV 80 is one of the most popular cantatas. I do not really understand the reasons for the popularity of a special cantata over the others. I do not have anything wrong to say about BWV 80 in particular. It only seems strange to me that other cantatas, with lot of appeal of their own, do not get the same a mount of attention as BWV 80 does. >
This is also my own observation: The more canatatas I "discover" the more it seems strange that BWV 80 is considerably more popular than many other "Gems".

(6) < Last week I raved about Gönnenwein's recording of BWV 148, but regretted that it is not available yet in CD form. This week we have the opportunity to hear his version of BWV 80, which is easily available, with almost identical forces. I would not like to repeat myself, because every word that I wrote last week, can also be applicable to the cantata of this week. The level of inspiration and enthusiasm is indeed high. The opening chorus is clear and the contrapuntal lines are remarkably brought out. There is integrity and authority to this rendering, combined with clarity and sensitivity, which make it very communicative. The tension is being built gradually, from victory to victory, tower after tower. >
One personal note: I think it is worth to mention the magnificent voice and singing of bass Hans Sotin. I was amazed by his vocal performance, and in my opinion he towers over all other Bach bass singers thet I listen to. Dont get me wrong: I think very highly of Kooy and Mertens, and I like several other bass singers of Bach's music, but I still find Sotin's voice unique. It is a shame that this opera singer made only very few Bach recordings, and none of the solo bass cantatas.

Henri N. Levinspuhl wrote (October 24, 2000):
This music is like the hanks of air that rustles in silence. In the boisterous hour of the agitated soul it sounds as if it were not calling the consciousness to partake in its chorus. And nevertheless it calls, the rustling song of consciousness, and its trumpets of feast are the joy of consciousness, theirs cymbals expresses the power that trembles the consciousness' enemy.

Harry J. Steinman wrote (October 25, 2000):
(6) (To Ehud Shiloni, regarding Gönnenwein's recording of cantata BWV 80) This recording sounds really good…I found it on Amazon.com and ordered it. I’ll be thinking of you when it arrives in a few days.

Thanks for the recommendation, and it’s nice hearing from you again, Ehud. The List has been less without your insightful posts!

Roy Reed wrote (October 31, 2000):
Hello all. Been ill but am resurrecting.

BWV 80....The "internationale" of the Reformation. Now in more ecumenical loci. Joined with others singing it in a morning prayer liturgy at nearby Pontifical College Josephinum...local RC seminary down the road.

I have three readings of this cantata. [16] The Joshua Rifkin OVPP rendition, which I believe is my favorite. I appreciate Rifkin's tempos, And I think that the duet No.5 with Jane Bryden and Jan Opalach is especially lovely. That bass part is so "hairy" and Opalach makes it sound like the most natural thing.

[19] I also have the American Bach Soloists version. I like it too. I especially appreciate in the opening movement the canon between the top line (which everyone augments with trumpet) and the bass line are tonally balanced. Both of my other readings wimp out on the bottom line. Hey, pull out an 8 ft. reed on the organ pedal!!!

[12] The other performance I have, I don't believe has been mentioned. Raymond Leppard, with the English Chamber Orchestra, with Elly Ameling, Aldo Baldwin and Samuel Ramey. This is the Wilhelm Friedemann version with brass additions. I have a study score I picked up in Boston back in the 1950's with this orchestration. I must say it is really something. The brass sounds wonderful. Can't quite approve, but really love it. Samuel Ramey is miscast here. He just doesn't have the flexibility for the duet in No.5.

When I was a boy I observed that a the time we Protestants were observing Reformation Sunday, the Catholics on Nov. 1 were celebrating All Saints Day. Only much later did I appreciate the absurd irof this. It was no kind of coincidence that Martin Luther chose All Hallows Eve (One of your bigger "trick or treats" of all time) as the moment to begin his revolution.....as the time to nail the 95 Theses to the door of the castle church of Wittenburg. The timing had everything to do with his belief in the universal sanctity in the church, with his awareness that in the New Testament "saint" is a plural word. For Protestants to fail to see this, and ignore "All Saints" for a tribal celebration of the great revolt, is to do an incredible injustice to Martin Luther.

Aryeh Oron wrote (October 31, 2000):
Roy Reed wrote:
[12] < The other performance I have, I don't believe has been mentioned. Raymond Leppard, with the Eng. Chamber Orch. with Elly Ameling, Aldo Baldwin and Samuel Ramey. This is the Wm. Friedemann version with brass additions. (snip) I must say it is really something. The brass sounds wonderful. Can't quite approve, but really love it. Samuel Ramey is miscast here. He just doesn't have the flexibility for the duet in #5. >
You are right! I missed that recording. Can you supply us please with more details regarding this recording? Such as - choir, alto singer, record label, the year it was recorded, was it issued in CD form?, availability, etc. BTW, isn't the name of the tenor singer Baldin (and not Baldwin) - who recorded many cantatas with Rilling?

Roy Reed wrote (October 31, 2000):
[To Aryeh Oron] The information you seek:
[12] Raymond Leppard, Conductor
Cantatas BWV 140 and BWV 80
Elly Ameling, sop.
Linda Finnie, contralto
Aldo Baldin, tenor
Samuel Ramey, bass
London Voices and Eng. Chamber Orch.
Philips CD 422 490-2
Rec. London, 2/1981.

Matthew Westphal wrote (November 1, 2000):
Hello everyone! Sorry I haven't participated more lately.

I have a couple of observations about this cantata (a favorite of mine when done well):

1. Aryeh wondered why BWV 80 is one of the most widely recorded cantatas. My explanation is that (a) the chorale theme appears in all but one of the movements (recitatives excepted, of course); and (b) that melody is one of the few Lutheran chorales that's widely known beyond Germany. I think that virtually any English-speaker who has regularly attended Protestant church services (of any variety) for more than a year or so knows the tune of "Ein feste Burg" ("A Mighty Fortress is Our God") by heart -- and probably the words to the first verse as well. That familiarity makes recordings of BWV 80 much easier to sell to the huge English-speaking market than other cantatas of equal or higher quality.

2. A couple of people have commented that Herreweghe's performance [17] was too soft and didn't have enough edge or fire. (This was a recurring problem with him in earlier years, but it seems to have gotten much better since 1997 or so.) Actually, I find that Herreweghe's BWV 80 is one of his few Bach performances from that period that *does* have enough fire. (I do find his performance of the Magnificat (BWV 243) on the same disc overly gentle.)

3. I think that Rifkin's recording of this cantata [16] (coupled with BWV 147) is one of his weakest efforts - in part because I don't think his team of singers is in good form. My favorite is probably the Thomas/American Bach Soloists version [19] (which is not, incidentally, one-to-a-part -- the choir is 3-3-4-3). I'd love to hear McCreesh, his Gabrieli Players and four really good singers -- say, York, Blaze, Padmore and Harvey -- or Junghänel and Cantus Cölln (with Koslowsky, Popien, Jochens and Schreckenberger) have a go at this cantata. (A small choir for the final chorale might not be out of place.)

 

BWV 80, 80a, 80b

David Jackson wrote (November 2, 2000):
In the Baerenreiter catalogue BWV 80 and BWV80b are shown in Volume 31 'Kantaten zum Reformationsfest und zur Orgelweihe' and BWV 80a in Volume 8/1 - tegether with BWV 54 and BWV 182 - 'Kantaten zu den Sonntagen Oculi und Palmarum' .

On the Gottingen Bach Institut site only BWV 182 is listed for Volume 8/1 and BWV 80a is not shown. Which is correct?

Does anyone have the German text and an English translation for 80b? The German text is not available from Bischof for either 80a or 80b and Ambrose does not include 80b.

Finally, is there a Epistle and Gospel test in the Saxon Lutheren Church calander for Reformation Sunday?

Michael Zapf wrote (November 3, 2000):
David Jackson wrote:
< On the Gottingen Bach Institut site only BWV 182 is listed for Volume 8/1 and BWV 80a is not shown. Which is correct? Does anyone have the German text and an English translation for 80b? The German text is not available from Bischof for either 80a or 80b and Ambrose does not include 80b. >
80a is lost but is known to have been the precursor of 80, and it can largely be reconstructed from BWV 80 and the chorale BWV 303. Understandably, no print exists. The text for BWV 80b was most likely identical to the BWV 80 text. The few relics which we have of 80b were printed as facsimile in NBA I/31 VIII and IX. The German text to 80a is printed in Alfred Dürr's book on the cantatas, page 295/6.

Michael Zapf wrote (November 3, 2000):
David Jackson wrote:
< In the Baerenreiter catalogue BWV 80 and BWV 80b are shown in Volume 31 'Kantaten zum Reformatiosfest und zur Orgelweihe' and BWV 80a in Volume 8/1 - together with BWV 54 and BWV 182 - 'Kantaten zu den Sonntagen Oculi und Palmarum'. >
This looks extremely confusing. BWV 54 is printed in NBA I/18, and BWV 182 in NBA I/8.2. The (downloadable) complete Baerenreiter catalogue 2000/01 shows no entry for BWV 80a.

 

BWV 80 & female altos

Michael Grover wrote (December 20, 2000):
Those of you who own a copy of Pieter Jan Leusink's version of BWV 80, on Brilliant Classics with the Holland Boys Choir [20], can you tell me if he uses Wilhelm Friedemann's trumpets and timpani on the recording? Also, are any other HIP recordings of this cantata recommended? (Again, WITHOUT the trumpets and timpani.) I own the Naxos version of this cantata, conducted by Matyas Antal, and it's rather disappointing. I find the arias and recitatives stirring enough, but the movements with full choir are hopelessly muddled and dense, except of course when the trumpets come blaring out of the speakers.

And to another question: although I am a big fan of HIP recordings and love the sound of Hogwood and Koopman, there is one thing I prefer, and that's female altos instead of male countertenors. That's one reason I so enjoy Gardiner's St Matthew Passion (BWV 244), since the wonderful Anne Sofie von Otter is given some of the alto recitatives and arias. I know this is a rarity, but is anyone aware of other HIP recordings of Bach's vocal works using female altos?

My apologies if this should have been posted on the BachRecordings list rather than the BachCantatas list. I'm still rather new to the neighborhood and learning the protocol.

Kirk McElhearn wrote (December 20, 2000):
(To Michael Grover) Don't worry about that. You could post it on both lists, if you want.

Matthew Westphal wrote (December 20, 2000):
(To Michael Grover) The HIP recordings of BWV 80 I know of which don't use Friedemann's trumpets are:
Rifkin on Decca/L'Oiseau-Lyre [16]
J. Thomas/American Bach Soloists on Koch International Classics [19]

The Rifkin is pretty pallid (among my least favorite of his efforts), but the ABS performance is rather good, I think.

There are plentyof HIP performances of Bach vocal works with female altos. Herreweghe seems to go back and forth between male and female altos (Sarah Connolly is good; Catherine Patriasz and Ingeborg Danz are too wobbly for my taste). Parrott almost always uses female altos (except on his B Minor Mass (BWV 232), where he uses female sopranos but boy altos); his usual alto is the good but rather countertenor-like Caroline Trevor (Mrs. Peter Phillips of the Tallis Scholars). Koopman used countertenors for most of his earlier recordings of the big vocal works, but he uses female altos often (not always) on his cantata series; Elisabeth von Magnus (Nikolaus Harnoncourt's daughter) gets mixed reviews, but Bogna Bartosz is excellent. Suzuki rarely uses female altos. McCreesh goes both ways: his Epiphany Mass uses countertenor Angus Davidson (by much the weakest of his soloists, but his upcoming Magnificat/Easter Oratorio pairing uses a female, I believe; his recent and upcoming performances of the St. Matthew Passion (BWV 244) use a female alto for the arias but counter-tenors in the two vocal quartets.

Then there's Konrad Junghänel and Cantus Cölln, with the sublime Elisabeth Popien.

My recommendations for a start:
Herreweghe: Advent Cantatas and Christmas Cantatas (with Connolly) (HM)
Parrott: the new budget re-issue with the Magnificat, Easter Oratorio, Ascension
Oratorio and BWV 4 and BWV 50 (Virgin); also
"Heart's Solace" with the Trauer-ode and two motets (Sony)
Koopman: Magnificat/Easter Oratorio or Cantatas Vol. 7 (Erato)
McCreesh: Magnificat/Easter Oratorio (due spring 2001) (DG Archiv)
- and -
the Bach Recordings List Best recording of Bach Year 2000
Cantus Cölln: Actus Tragicus (HM)

Hope this helps,

Galina Kolomietz wrote (December 20, 2000):
(To Michael Grover) You said you already own an SMP (BWV 244), but if you want another one there is a splendid recording directed by Hermann Max with my favourite female alto Lena Susanne Norin. (I think it's on CPO and rather cheap)

Galina, who is actually a HUGE fan of countertenors

Matthew Westphal wrote (December 20, 2000):
(To Galina Kolomietz) It's on Capriccio - and I agree, Norin is WONDERFUL.

Johan van Veen wrote (December 21, 2000):
(To Matthew Westphal) For those interested in Ms Norin: a short time ago CPO has released a recording of the secular cantata Cassandra by Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach (with Das Kleine Konzert, directed by Hermann Max). It lasts almost an hour and Ms Norin is great, even though I think she is best in sacred music. She recently recorded pieces by Barbara Strozzi. Has anyone heard that?

Galina Kolomietz wrote (December 21, 2000):
(To Johann van Veen, regarding Norin) *** She is also amazing in medieval repertory. Have you heard her with Ens. Gilles Binchois? Oops, I just realized this is the Bach Cantatas list rather than the EM list. Sorry to veer off topic.

 

BWV 80 Ein feste Burg in unser Gott

Charles Francis wrote (July 4, 2001):
Bob Sherman wrote, regarding the topic My First Cantata:
< I was 20 and into Brahms,Tchaikovsky etc. Loved Messiah but had no interest in and not much contact with Bach. I was at Oberlin and about the #4 trumpeter. Due to various circumstances the three guys who were better than I was were unavailable, so I was asked to play trumpet with the Oberlin College Choir on the very King of Cantatas, Ein' Feste Burg BWV 80. Robert Fountain conducted and we had some good performers, including Ed Brewer, who now has a baroque chamber orchestra, on harpsichord.
As I discussed a few days ago, this is a most difficult part. It was more difficult then than it would be today because Selmer had not yet invented the modern piccolo trumpet. D trumpet parts were played on a D trumpet, which made them risky. We did about 15 performances in various cities and, not to put too fine a point on it, my high notes were a bit like spinning a roulette wheel. With the adrenaline thus cranked up to max, I lived, ate,and slept nothing but Ein' Feste Burg for two weeks. Got deeply into BWV 80 and have been hooked on the cantatas ever since. >
I'd be interested to know what you make of the Rifkin "One Voice Per Part" (OVPP) recording of BWV 80. Not only does Rifkin drop the choir, but also the timpani and ...wait for it... the trumpet. Regarding the omissions, Nicholas Anderson writes:

"The oft encountered trumpet and timpani parts of the first and fifth sections of the cantata, while undoubtedly lending colourful distinction to the music, were never part of Bach's design, but were additions made by his eldest son, Wilhelm Friedemann, shortly after his father's death in 1750".

Personally, I love Rifkin's performance and find the movements are again in balance. The Bachian counterpoint is wonderfully exposed and gone are the "bombastic" elements that seem so inappropriate in Bach's religious music.

Robert Sherman wrote (July 4, 2001):
(To Charles Francis) It is correct that the trumpet and tympani parts -- and the organ in #1 too, which is in canon with the trumpet -- were not written by JSB and have a very different character from his trumpet writing. That being said, I like them. I also like BWV 80 in its original form. It's great music either way.

Regarding Rifkin's performance, I must disagree with you. I regard this as a disappointment from beginning to end. One voice per part is an interesting idea in theory but the reality of this recording is awful. The whole idea of small chorus is to improve resolution of the details but Rifkin throws that away by having the instruments so loud they obscure the chorus. Even within the orchestra the balance is horrible; at times the dominant sound is the organ doing no-brainer harmonic fill. You get a lot more choral detail with Richter or other of the best conventional performances

To cap it off, the quality of the voices -- except for the excellent bass Jan Opalach -- is substandard. For example, the solo tenor phrase "Tritt freudig and den Krieg" (March joyfully to the battle) comes across as if he were singing "wander vaguely over to the buffet table." Contrast this with, for example, Aldo Baldin's intense and deeply felt performance with Leppard [12].

I would like to hear a good OVPP performance of BWV 80. But to me, this isn't it.

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (July 4, 2001):
Bob's post got me to listen to both BWV 80 and BWV 8 on the Rifkin CD set. Now the tenor is different in each. Jeffry Thomas in the former, but Frank Kelley in the latter and BWV 8 is a cantata I care for more as I do all similar text Bach cantatas. It does not take much to say that the tenor in "Was willst du dich, mein Geist, entsetzen, wenn meine letzte Stunde schlägt" was pretty awful. Reminds me of the "great days" of Helmut Krebs on the set I collected 30+ years ago. I was not noting, but if the tenor actually sings "willst" as the text given, then we have this anachronism again.

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (July 5, 2001):
Charles Francis wrote:
< "Perhaps this comes down to personal taste. I suspect you prefer the sound of a "trained" voice with greater projection etc. But one can, of course, argue that in a church service anything that focused attention on an individual would be considered bad taste." >
Somehow, it seems to me, that here we are getting to the heart of a second stage problem beyond even the HIP problem on the OVPP problem. I long took a dislike for Bach to operatic performances, the prime ex. being Klemperer's Matthäus-Passion (BWV 244), but e.g. the voices in Gillesberger-Harnoncourt's Johannes (BWV 245) are very beautiful to me. The duet in BWV 140 between Tom Hampson and the boy soprano is perfect to me. The Leonhardt’s äus great. But here we are having the same argument as in the Harnoncourt Matthäus where it has been stated that inadequate voices express the text. Maybe it is true, but then we cease to deal aesthetically with music and deal only with sacredness.

Robert Sherman wrote (July 5, 2001):
Charles and I clearly have different purposes in listening to Bach. To each his own.

Charles Francis wrote (July 5, 2001):
Bob Sherman wrote:
< Regarding Rifkin's performance, I must disagree with you. I regard this as a disappointment from beginning to end. One voice per part is an interesting idea in theory but the reality of this recording is awful. The whole idea of small chorus is to improve resolution of the details but Rifkin throws that away by having the instruments so loud they obscure the chorus. >
I suspect you'll have the same complaint about Rifkin's B-minor Mass (BWV 232)!

And the reason, I think, is that through generations of homophonic music tradition, we've become conditioned to think in terms of a "lead" being accompanied. Thus, we sometimes talk in terms of the violin accompanied by a harpsichord in Bach's sonatas, or singers accompanied by an orchestra in the cantatas. But we know very well the historic conflict between audibility of "the sacred text" and polyphony - there's even the legend that Palestrina rescued polyphonic music from destruction. We also know that Bach, clinging to old fashioned polyphonic ideas, was attacked for treating singers like instruments. We know he sold copies of the texts for his cantatas to the faithful, so we may reasonably infer the words were difficult to hear in church. So in the final analysis, what grounds do we have for suggesting a soprano singer should be louder than an oboe?

< Even within the orchestra the balance is horrible; at times the dominant sound is the organ doing no-brainer harmonic fill. >
Rifkin cuts down the size of the orchestra to reflect what he thinks Bach would have had available for a performance. Of course, this brings the organ to the fore, and one may not like the result. After all, Bach wasn't entirely happy!

< You get a lot more choral detail with Richter or other of the best conventional performances >

This I grant you! Richter's choir control is exceptional and the diction on his recordings is generally excellent. But, on the other hand, sometimes you can't hear the orchestral detail because of the prominent singers.

< To cap it off, the quality of the voices -- except for the excellent bass Jan Opalach -- is substandard. For example, the solo tenor phrase "Tritt freudig and den Krieg" (March joyfully to the battle) comes across as if he were singing "wander vaguely over to the buffet table." Contrast this with, for example, Aldo Baldin's intense and deeply felt performance with Leppard [12]. >
Perhaps this comes down to personal taste. I suspect you prefer the sound of a "trained" voice with greater projection etc. But one can, of course, argue that in a church service anything that focused attention on an individual would be considered bad taste.

 

BWV 80 recordings

Neil Halliday wrote (July 16, 2001):
New to the Internet, I am pleased to discover views similar to mine. In Australia, the national classical music broadcaster has almost abandoned traditional, in favour of Modern HIP, recordings. In most cases, I find period instrument renditions of the great baroque works barely tolerable; I am therefore compelled to seek out the earlier recordings. In my view, Koopman, Gardiner, Rifkin, et al. and the instruments they employ, should be confined to a museum, open to those who want to experience ancient technology and sound. The rest of us should be able to enjoy magnificent music like the opening chorus of BWV 80 performed with the superior technology of modern instruments. I wonder if we will ever get a complete recording of the cantatas of the quality of, e.g., Richter, at his best. Anyway, I will continue my exploration of the Bach Cantatas Website with enthusiasm.

 

Ein Feste Burg ist unser Gott

Takashi Tushima wrote (October 29, 2001):
As the Reformation anniversary day is around the corner, I've singing Dr. Luther's 'Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott' several times.

I wonder if you or any other members know any CD’s of BWV 80 performed by only men and boys choirs (including the soloists) besides the Teldec's Bach cantata series.

Boyd Pehrson wrote (October 30, 2001):
[To Takashi Tushima] I think the Teldec is your best offering for the full Cantata. Otherwise I know the new CD from Choir of King's College, Cambridge has the Luther hymn: "Ein Feste Berg" in English, in a rousing version with Kettle Drums and Trumpets. ("Best Loved Hymns," EMI Classics, 2001,CDC 7243-5-57026-2-3, Stephen Cleobury) The sleeve notes say that verses 1,3 &4 were arranged here by John Rutter, and that verse 2 was harmonised by J.S. Bach.

I am not aware of where else one may find this by all male choirs. One may check with the various Knabenchöre sites, as I think they may be more inclined to offer the German version. Andreas- any ideas?

Takashi Tushima wrote (October 30, 2001):
[To Boyd Pehrson] Thanks for your response,

I'll try to find that CD. (Or I might already own it. I have to check my King's collections.)

Now it's 1:41 a.m., Wednesday (12:41 p.m. EST), and tonight we are going to celebrate the holy communion service. While people around us are celebrating Hallowe'en, we are going to celebrate Reformation. Probably many of Luther's chorale will be sung by the congregation (no boys choir unfotunately) with a new pipe organ's accompanyment.

Andreas Burghardt wrote (October 30, 2001):
[To Takashi Tushima] In my collection I have three different versions of this cantata performed by boychoirs (Tölzer – Harnoncourt (9), Thomaner - Rotzsch [11] and Holland Boys Choir – Leusink [20]). There is another one I don't have: Thomaner – Mauersberger (4). Only Harnoncourt uses boy soloists. Boyd is quite right in writing "Teldec is your best offering for the full Cantata", however the other version are interesting, too.

By the way, there is a CD with the title "Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott" (Berlin Classic 0091192BC), music of the Reformation, performed by members of the Dresdener Kreuzchor and the Capella Fidicina. On this CD there is an other setting of the Martin Luther's words "Ein feste Burg..." composed by Johann Walter (1496-1525). Additional there are many more interesting composition of other Luther's words by Thomas Müntzer (1489-1525), Josquin Desprez (1440-1521) and Martin Luther (1483-1546) himself.

Enjoy the celebration of the Reformation anniversary! It is a national holiday in some states of Germany, however here in catholic Bavaria the next day, 1st of October, "Allerheiligen" (all saints), is a holiday.

Takashi Tushima wrote (October 31, 2001):
[To Andreas Burghardt] We had a joint Reformation Anniversary Worship service of two Lutheran body. Also we had forum of Luther studies two days ago. (There were learned how Luther has been misunderstood.)

Well, I have most of the CDs. So far it seems Teldec version [9] is the best one for me. But I love the choral version sung by King's which Boyd referred to yesterday as this is the best performance in English (this is my personal opinion). But I also love the last verse sung by American Boychoir in Bach's cantata arrangement.)

Luther himself was a goomusician. And he earned daily bread by singing as was a custom in his day. (He had a patron called Ms. Cotta.) I would like to listen to him sing if he were alive today.

P.S. We sang 'Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott' at the end of the service with the accompanyment of an gorgeous pipe organ! In memory of God's gracious works through Dr. Martin Luther,

 

Continue on Part 2

Cantatas BWV 80, BWV 80a & BWV 80b : Details & Complete Recordings of BWV 80 | Recordings of Individual Movements from BWV 80 | Details of BWV 80a | Details of BWV 80b | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7

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

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