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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 83
Erfreute Zeit im neuen Bunde
Discussions - Part 2

Continue from Part 1

Discussions in the Week of February 26, 2006

Douglas Cowling wrote (February 23, 2006):
Cantata Discussion: Week of Feb 26, 2006

Week of February 26, 2006

Cantata 83 ­ “Erfreute Zeit im neuen Bunde

First Performed: February 2, 1724
First Annual Cantata Cycle, 1723-24 (Jahrgang I)

Libretto:
Anonymous, Bible (Mvt 2), Martin Luther (Mvt 5)

Texts & Translations:
See: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV83.htm

Movements & Scoring:

1. Aria - Alto
Erfreute Zeit im neuen Bunde
2 Corno, 2 Oboes, Violin Solo, 2 Violins, Continuo

2. Intonation and Recitative - Bass
'Herr, nun lässest du deinen Diener in Friede fahren wie du gesaget hast'
2 Violins & Viola unison, Continuo

3. Aria - Tenor
'Eile, Herz, voll Freudigkeit vor den Gnadenstuhl zu trete.'
Violin solo, 2 Violins, Viola, Continuo

4. Recitative ­ Alto
Ja, merkt dein Glaube
Continuo

5. Chorale ­ Choir
Es ist das Heil” (melody: “Mid Fried’ und Freud”)

Liturgical Comments:

Written for the Feast of Purification of the Blessed Virgin ­ February 2
Purification is one of the three Marian feasts in the Lutheran Calendar, the others being Annunciation and Visitation These holydays usually falls on a weekday.

The orders for Mass and Vespers can be found in an appendix at the end of this posting. Extracted from Wolff.

Texts of Readings:

Readings: Epistle: Malachi 3: 1-4; Gospel: Luke 2: 22-32
See: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Read/Purification.htm

Introduction to Lutheran Church Year:
http://www.bach-cantatas.com/LCY/index.htm

Chorale usedc in this cantata:

1. "Das Nunc dimittis". See:
CT: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Texts/Chorale089-Eng3.htm
CM: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/CM/Das-Nunc-dimittis.htm

2. "Mit Fried un Freud". See:
CT: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Texts/Chorale011-Eng3.htm
CM: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/CM/Mit-Fried-und-Freud.htm

http://www.bach-cantatas.com/CM/index.htm

Piano Vocal Score: (free PDF download)
See: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Scores/BWV083-V&P.pdf

Recordings:

Complete: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV83.htm
Individual Movements: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV83-2.htm

Music (free streaming download): http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Mus/BWV83-Mus.htm

Links to Commentaries: See Recordings Page

Previous Discussion: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV83-D.htm

Performances of Bach Cantatas: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Concerts/Concert-2006.htm

Appendix:

ORDER OF SUNDAY & HOLYDAY MASS (Amt) - 7:00 -10:00 am

1. Choir: Hymn in figural or polyphonic setting
2. Organ: Prelude introducing Introit
3. Choir: Introit Motet in figural or polyphomic setting

4. Organ: Prelude introducing Kyrie
5. Choir: Kyrie in figural setting
6. Choir: Gloria in figural setting (minister sings intonation from altar)

7. Minister & Altar Singers (lower form boys):
Salutation & Collect (Prayer of Day) sung from altar
8. Minister: Epistle sung from altar steps

9. Organ: Prelude introduing Hymn
10. Congregation: Hymn of Season (de tempore)
11. Minister & Altar Singers: Gospel with responses sung from altar steps

12. Organ: Prelude introducing cantata
13. Choir: First Cantata

14. Choir:: Credo sung in chorale setting, minister intones from altar steps
15. Organ: Prelude introducing Wir Glauben
16. Congregation: Wir Glauben All (German Credo)

17. Minister: Spoken annoucement of Sermon from altar
18. Organ: Prelude introducing hymn
19. Congregation: Hymn
20. Minister: Text of Sermon & Lord’s Prayer from pulpit
21. Minister: Sermon (8:00 a.m., 1 hour)
22. Minister: Prayers, Announcments & Benediction from pulpit

23. Organ: Prelude introducing hymn
24. Congregation Hymn
25. Mnister & Altar Singers: Preface in Latin from altar
26. Choir: Sanctus in figural setting (without Osanna or Benedictus)
27. Minister: spoken Communion admoniton, Words of Institution
28. Congregation: Distribution of Communion at altar steps

29. Organ: Prelude introducting Communion Cantata
30. Choir: Second Cantata

31. Organ: Prelude introducing hymn
32. Congregation: Hymn during Communion
33. Minister & Altar Singers: Collect with responses sung from altar
34. Minister: spoken Benediction

35. Organ: Prelude introducing Hymn
36. Congregation: Hymn
or
36. Choir: Hymn in figural setting (festal days)

ORDER OF AFTERNOON VESPERS ­ 1:30 pm

1. Organ: Prelude introducing Hymn
2. Choir: Hymn in figural setting

3. Choir: Cantata (repeated from morning)

4. Organ: Prelude introducing Hymn
5. Congregation: Hymn
6. Minister & Altar Singers: Psalm
7. Minister: Lord’s Prayer from altar steps

8. Organ: Prelude introducing hymn
9. Congregation: Hymn

10. Minister: Annoucement of Sermon from pulpit
11. Congregation: Hymn
12. Minister: Sermon from pulpit
[13. Choir: Passion or narrativer oratorio, no cantata]
14. Minister: spoken Prayers, Collect & Benediction from pulpit

15. Organ: Prelude introducing Magnificat
16. Choir: LatinMagnificat in figural setting
17. Congregation: German Magnificat Hymn (Meine Seele)

18. Minister: spoken Responsary, Collect & Benediction from altar
19. Congregation: Hymn ­ Nun Danket Alle Gott

Richard wrote (February 23, 2006):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< Week of February 26, 2006
Cantata 83 - "Erfreute Zeit im neuen Bunde"
First Performed: February 2,
1724
First Annual Cantata Cycle, 1723-24 (Jahrgang I) >
This Cantata will be played in Paris on Sunday 4th March on period instruments by Ensemble XVIII-21 Musique des Lumières.
Temple du Foyer de l'âme, 7 rue du Pasteur Wagner, 75011 Paris

Julian Mincham wrote (February 23, 2006):
BWV 83

A cantata which, for all of its positive assertiveness is not one of the easiest to come to, particularly the enigmatic second movement (Bass aria/recit).

The first movement poses some interesting questions upon which to speculate. It has very much the feeling of an Italian concerto type movement with the bold positive opening, relatively full scoring and solo violin part throughout. Interestingly it shares the same opening motive as the double harpsichord concerto in C BWV 1061---the three rising notes the second of which is trilled. The material then follows different paths but the opening idea is striking enough to be noticeable as an unusual Bachian repitition.

BWV 1061 is almost certainly a rewrite of an earlier work as all of Bach's keyboard are thought to be. It has also been suggested that it originated as a duet for two solo keyboards (rather in the manner of the Italian Concerto BWV 971) and that the (rather rudimentary) string parts were added later when Bach needed single and multiple keyboard concerti. Whatever the genesis it is fascinating to conjecture whether both the first movements of the concerto and cantata have a common genesis.

The scoring strongly brings to mind Brandenburg 1 (BWV 1046) but there are other links with these earlier works. The form (along with that of the later tenor aria) is one which derives from Bach's structural innovations from the time of the Brandenburgs and is virtually identical to that of the last movement of Brandenburg 6 (BWV 1051).

It is, firsa large ternary form da capo (A-B-A) movement. However, it is also an Italian ritornello movement with the opening tutti, or parts of it, separated by soloistic episodes. However, the restating of the complete orchestral ritornello (it comes four times at the beginning and at the end of each 'A' section) also gives a large scale rondo feeling. Thus Bach has taken the fundamental principles of three crucial music forms (ternary, ritornello and rondo) and combined them to produce movements with a quite specific shape. The analogy does not end there as the key structure of all three movements is identical. In the A sections Bach moves, traditionally enough, from the tonic to the dominant and back, in the B section he begins in the relative minor and ends in the mediant minor.

i.e. CANTATA F C F D- A- F C F
BRANDENBURG CONCERTO Bb F Bb G- D- Bb F Bb
(This process, and particularly the effect of the rondo feel is more readily noticeable in the Brandenburg movement because of its more concise scale--but the principles are the same)

Right in the middle of the first Leipzig cantata cycle and under great pressure to meet his schedules, it is not surprising if he looked back over earlier works and structural experiments for inspiration?

The second movement of 83 is a weird movement indeed and one that may well not immediately appeal; possibly due to the lack of melodic interest of the bass singer's line (the intoning of verses of the Nunc dimittis to a medieval psalm). One simply is not used to a Bachian vocal line largely stuck upon one or two notes. Boyd (Oxford Composer Companions: J. S. Bach p157) has an interesting and illuminative comment. '-----strings and continuo weave around it' (i.e. the psalm as sung by the bass) --'a filigree of two part counterpoint, mostly in strict canon----------almost as if the ancient melody had gathered cobwebs' (my italics--I don't know about others but I find that an imaginative and insightful image of this kind can take one back to the music with 'new ears'). He goes on to say 'the movement is quite unlike anything else in Bach's music'.

The recitative uses the same key progression as the middle sections of the arias (D- to A-)---another example of Bach's organic approach to the structuring of the whole work.

The choir is only used for the concluding chorale and this might seem a strange decision when one considers the joyous assertiveness of the piece. Bach's decisions to give the choir the minimum to do were often pragmatic as he was clearly sensitive to the problems of overload (evidence for this can be found elsewhere at prime workload times e.g. at Christmas and Easter). Schweitzer suggested a century ago that Bach, through experience, may have had little faith in the capabilities of choirs got together for Festive cantatas.

Peter Smaill wrote (February 25, 2006):
One wonders if anyone has actually extracted BWV 83/1 and 83/3 from "Erfreute Zeit im neuen Bunde" and recreated them as a "lost" violin concerto; at least that way sales would be many times the level for this relatively neglected Cantata for the Feast of the Purification of the BVM. It is overshadowed by the exquisite BWV 125, "Mit Fried und Freud," and by the sublime BWV 82, "Ich habe genug", both of which capture Simeon-like resignation to death in the knowledge of the Saviour in a wholly different and numinous fashion.

The suggestion by some that BWV 83/2 is also part of a lost concerto is strange, since its unique Intonation of the plainchant associated with the "Nunc Dimittis," and the sombre, indeed harsh pursuit of canonic form, marks it as ecclesiastical in purpose.

The common element with BWV 125 is the closing chorale, which Thomas Braatz emphasises is the last verse of Luther's "Mit Fried und Freud, namely the stanza, "Er ist das Heil und Selig Licht". Reimenschneider does not bother to restate the BWV 125 version which seems to be to be identical save for instrumentation. Even the words are the same. Passed over as a "simple" harmonisation, and felt to be an anticlimax in one contribution to the last set of BCW discussions, it may I think merit a little more attention beyond concurring with Whittaker - that it is a beautiful setting.

The chorale accentuates the archaic feel of BWV 83/2 by being essentially a modal, Dorian, tune. However, starting in D minor and ending in the Christian assurance of D major, it also ends successive short lines in the unusual descending sequence of A major, G major and F major, each I think creating a tierce de Picardy against the modal path of the Chorale. Finally, at the penultimate bar, a C sharp announces that Bach has abandoned the modal tune in favour of modern harmony and the salvific affekt of the resolution to D major.

Bach also achieves the same ambiguity of tonality in the much more famous Orgelbuchlein setting of "Mit Fried und Freud", BWV 616. "Its conclusion is unusually chromatic and dissonant" (Stinson"), and also settles on D major in the end.

The Cantata is I feel distinguished by both the overlooked key symbolism of the Chorale, and the more analysed sequence in the Intonation, BWV 83/2. Here the progression is B flat - C minor - Gminor; G, B flat, E flat, F minor, modulating to C minor at "der todesfurcht", "death-fear." A further intonation at A flat, we then move to Fminor - B flat minor, modulation to E flat; and the circle of keys completes in the host B flat. Whittaker, who identifies this sequence, sees in it "the effective sinking of the intonation in pitch, as if Simeon were growing weaker and weaker, [but with] beauty in some places."

It would be interesting to see what Eric Chafe makes of the key scheme in BWV 83 given his extensive work on modal and key significance elsewhere in the Bach Cantatas.

Scott Sperling wrote (February 26, 2006):
Text in Cantata BWV 83

The Readings for the Sunday for which Cantata BWV 83 was written, are Malachi 3: 1-4 and Luke 2: 22-32. The Reading in Luke speaks of the purification ceremony of Mary after childbirth, and the consecration to the service of God of Jesus, as the first-born male in the family. At that ceremony was a man named Simeon, who was led by the Spirit of God to be there. "It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord's Christ" (Luke 2: 26). When he saw Jesus, he recognized Him as the Messiah, and said, "Lord, now let Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word, for my eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared in the sight of all people" (Luke 2: 29-31).

Cantata BWV 83 takes as its subject this utterance of Simeon (Luke 2: 29-32), and projects it to the everyday Christian. The Cantata specifically focuses on Simeon's mental state with regard to death, his readiness to "depart in peace." The textual theme of the Cantata may be summarized by the words of Paul (echoing Hosea): "O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory" (I Corinthians 15:55; also Hosea 13:14). The Cantata is practically a celebration of death. In the 1st Mvt Alto Aria, the Christian sings: "Wie freudig wird zur letzten Stunde die Ruhestatt, das Grab, bestellt, die Ruhestatt, das Grab, bestellt!" ("How joyful at the last hour will our resting place, the grave, be prepared, will our resting place, the grave, be prepared!").

From a worldly point of view, what an odd sentiment. In the world, one rarely hears the words "joyful" and "grave" used in the same sentence. Yet, the Christian, can by faith, look forward to the grave, because for him, on the other side of death lies the fulfillment of the heavenly promises of God. The 2nd Mvt Bass Recitativspeaks of the contrast between the world's view of death, and the Christian's: "Was uns als Menschen schrecklich scheint, ist uns ein Eingang zu dem Leben" ("What seems so dreadful for humans, is for us an entrance into life").

The structure of the 2nd Mvt is quite interesting. The Recitative is bracketed (in the Intonation) by the words of Simeon from the Reading in Luke. The beginning of the 2nd Mvt is from Luke 2: 29: "Herr, nun lassest du deinen Diener in Friede fahren, wie du gesaget hast" ("Lord, now let Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word"). Then, the end is from Luke 2: 30-31: "Denn meine Augen haben deinen Heiland geschen..." ("For my eyes have seen Your salvation..."). The Recitative (in between), in meditation upon these words of Simeon, points out the similarity between the case of the Christian concerning death, and the case of Simeon: "Und weil der Heiland nun der Augen Trost, des Herzens Labsal is, was Wunder, dass ein Herz des Todes Furcht vergisst!" ("And since the Savior now is the comfort of our eyes, the delight of our hearts, what wonder, such that a heart forgets the fear of
death!"). Simeon was told in a dream that he would not die before he had seen the Messiah, the Savior of his people. Having seen the salvation of the Lord in Jesus, Simeon felt that he could "depart in peace". So also, the Christian having seen the salvation of the Lord, is able to "depart in peace": the sting of death is gone, the grave will have no victory.

This conquering of the fear of death is something to be desired for all who dwell in their earth-bound frames. The 3rd Mvt Tenor Aria expresses the joy of discovering the forgiveness of sins that conquers death: "Eile, Herz, voll Freudigkeit, vor den Gnadenstuhl zu treten!" ("Hurry, heart, full of joy, approach the throne of grace"). The text in this Aria directly refers to the beloved passage in Hebrews concerning our free access to the salvation of our Lord through prayer: "Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help us in time of need" (Hebrews 4:16).

Now, though the Christian has no reason to fear death, there may still be reason for anxiety about the process of dying. In most cases, there is pain as the body moves toward death. Just as through the travails of childbirth, we passed into this life; so through the travails of death, we move on to the next. But we can be assured that our Lord will be with us through that journey. This is expressed in the 4th Mvt Alto Recitative: "Ja, wenn des Grabes Nacht die letzte Stunde schrecklich macht, so wirst du soch gewiss sein helles Licht im Tode selbst erkennen" ("Yes, when the grave's night makes the last hour terrifying, you will certainly see His bright light in death itself").

For the Christian, the glories of heaven are not nonsensical mythology, but our splendid hope. They are the fulfillment of the promises of a God who does not break His promises. Our actions and behavior, especially as we approach death, should reflect this. They should be a light to a world still in darkness. Our mien should reflect the light of the Lord, which has been poured out upon us. As the Final Chorale summarizes: "Er ist das Heil und selig Licht" ("He is salvation, and blessed light").

Neil Halliday wrote (February 27, 2006):
BWV 83

The alto aria has the same easy-going high spirits as the 1st movement of the E major violin concerto. The solo violin dances through its part with a practically unbroken line of 1/16th notes; the voice part is lively and charming, and the continuo gives forth a typically strong Bachian rhythm - altogether totally charming music, whose happy mood is barely disturbed by the clouds that briefly appear during the central, minor-key section.

The Rilling CD [2] seems to have been engineered at a low dynamic level; I have to turn the volume up for full enjoyment of the music. As for impressions of the amazon samples, Koopman's string section [3] seems underpowered, an impression confirmed by Harry Steinmann, who wrote (in the previous discussions): "I'm especially drawn to the accompaniment. I wish that in the aria, the horns were a little less prominent, or perhaps that the violins were recorded a bit more prominently". This aspect (ie, underpowered strings) might also apply to Suzuki [6] and Gardiner [4]. The horns seem a bit raucous in Harnoncourt [1]. The singers are all excellent, even Watts (with Rilling) who seems to have the vibrato under control, with pleasing vibrato-free melismas. The boy alto with Harnoncourt has received high praise from previous correspondents.

----

The second movement is an interesting enlargement of a form we have seen recently, where the bass voice was often in canon with the continuo; here the continuo is in canon with the unison upper strings, while the bass voice intones the `Nunc dimittis' in whole notes (dotted crotchets). In listening to the actual working-out of this canon, I was often confused by the rhythm, necessitating a look at the score; it turns out that the accompaniment exhibits strong syncopation, in which the trilled dotted crotchet, and the following un-trilled dotted chrotchet, always fall on the 2nd and 5th beat of the bar respectively (in 6/8 time), against the voice which intones in dotted crotchets on the expected 1st and 4th beats of the bar. Understanding this, everything fulls into place and the music flows gracefully.

As Aryeh noted in previous discussions, the continuo in Rilling [2] sounds thick. Some of the other recordings also exhibit coarse, and/or foggy continuos. Harnoncourt [1] seems fine in this regard.

----

The tenor aria is completely happy music with continuous triplets, in the voice and solo violin parts, set within a straightforward common time rhythm.

Most listeners will no doubt enjoy any of the recordings of this movement; I like the more deliberate tempo (the slowest) adopted by Harnoncourt [1], with fully engaged singing by Equiluz. Kraus [2] exhibits a 'barking' characteristic at the start, but soon settles down with his usual clarity.

Neil Halliday wrote (February 27, 2006):
BWV 83 "thick" continuo

I wrote (of Rilling's 83/2): "the continuo in Rilling [2] sounds thick".

Perhaps Rilling [2] became aware of this aspect of some of his recordings, which several people have commented on during the previous discussions of cantatas. I note that in the following cantata on this CD (BWV 84) made five years later in 1983, he has dispensed with the double bass altogther in the 2nd and 3rd movements, the former being a soprano secco recitative, and the latter being an S aria with just oboe and solo violin (plus continuo). This seems an intelligent solution, where there is not a full complement of upper strings (violins1, violins2, and violas) to counter-balance the powerful cello/double bass (or violone) combination in the continuo.

Eric Bergerud wrote (February 28, 2006):
BWV 83 performance query

I've listened to BWV 83 as performed by ensembles led by Leusink [5], Harnoncourt [1], Gardiner [4] and Ton Koopman [3].

Nothing dramatic to report from the lowly fan's point of view. BWV 83 is terrific cantata, the ensembles involved are world class and each delivers wonderful music. (One advantage of not being well trained musically is that I can't detect errors that the more discriminating listener perhaps can. It's a rare day when I get upset by someone making some grave error on a recorded Bach cantata because if the error is serious enough for me tpick it up, it won't be recorded. Suppose that means I do miss the real gems though.

So they all so sound great but they are different. The two closest in approach are Leusink [5] and Gardiner [4]. (Gardiner's is an Archiv live recording from the pilgrimage I believe.) Gardiner plunges into the work with typical energy and his players respond to it. I think Leusink gets fine music out of his players in this cantata but the tempo is slower: nearly 2 minutes less for the whole lot. To my ears both Ramselaar (Leusink [5]) and Paul Harvey (Gardiner [4]) sound very good indeed. I scratch my head on countertenors Syste Buwalda and Robin Tyson. Both seem up to the job, but for the life of me I'm not really sure I know what a countertenor is supposed to sound like. Tyson has a higher and lighter voice - more boy like. No trouble telling that Buwalda is singing falsetto.

I like Harnoncourt and BWV 83 doesn't let me down a bit [1]. Bring on the boy altos and Equiluz and Egmond can stay too.

I've been listening Koopman [3] more lately than ever before. My impression of Koopman for a couple of years is that his ensemble makes really wonderful music but it is somehow too pretty to be real Bach. (Sorry Prof. Wolff.) I guess for some reason I never really noticed the obvious. Koopman is the only modern period instrument group employing a large chorus that uses a mezzo instead of a countertenor. Harnoncourt [1] uses a male choir and sometimes lets the boy altos sing solo. I think Buwalda is the one soloist that was with Leusink [5] from beginning to end. When Suzuki had Mera on board he had an exceptional talent but even without him Suzuki has stayed with a countertenor. I don't know what choir Gardiner [4] used during the pilgrimage, but on his Archiv cantatas he employed a mezzo on some, a countertenor on others. Judging from my rather limited collection of Richter and Rotzsch, the "big battalion" ensembles employed mezzos. On the other end of the spectrum, so do all of the OVPP groups (I will stand correction here.)

I think we can agree that a mezzo and a countertenor sound very different. And unless something is very unequal in interpretation (such as an extremely fast or slow tempo, or very large orchestra vs period group) the difference in sound is going to strike many ears with greater force than fine points concerning interpretation. As I've been thinking over Koopman [3], I'm not sure that I don't prefer mezzos. (Does this mean another cycle? I've only got four of his volumes.) So I'd like to put a simple question to the musically wise on the list. Why chose a countertenor over a mezzo at all? Desire to reproduce any kind of "authentic" performance can't be part of the equation as boys have been shown the door by everyone since Harnoncourt [1] finished his cycle. Are some cantatas better suited to one type of sound as opposed to another? Does this reflect the availability of singers? Or are we dealing with a simple matter of artistic interpretation? Or am I missing the obvious again?

Continue of this part of the discussion, see: Altos in Bach's Vocal Works [General Topics]

Neil Halliday wrote (February 28, 2006):
Eric Bergerud wrote:
<<"Why choose a countertenor over a mezzo at all? Desire to reproduce any kind of "authentic" performance can't be part of the equation as boys have been shown the door by everyone since Harnoncourt [1] finished his cycle">>.
But perhaps it's better to be 75% authentic (by using a counter tenor, or male alto) than 50% (with females on the alto and soprano lines)? [I personally would never think along these lines; I would always opt for the most `satisfying' presentation of the music (admittedly a subjective consideration), thus certainly allowing women on the S and A lines; and even allowing, as I have often stated, use of piano in the continuo, in secco recitatives, for example].

<<"Are some cantatas better suited to one type of sound as opposed to another?">>.
I doubt it; the excellence of the particular singer on the alto line is likely to be much more significant - for any cantata whatsoever - in determining the musical results, than the sex of the singer. For example, I would certainly consider employing Scholl before many female altos, but there are no doubt some females who could achieve results that may be superior to Scholl on the day, regardless of the particular cantata.)

<<"Does this reflect the availability of singers?>>".
My guess is that it's easier to find satisfactory female altos and sopranos, compared with male singers, especially as one moves down from the most professional, world-class ensembles. (Admittedly, you probably have the most professional groups in mind).

<<"Are we dealing with a simple matter of artistic interpretation?>>".
I believe my point about vocal excellence, made above, also applies for this question.

A final point, which Harnoncourt's cycle [1] may have exposed. I wonder if, on a subliminal level at least, an all boy choir is too much associated with a past era that repressed, and discouraged expression by women; surely in an equal opportunity world we should at least have women singing the soprano line? (Personally, once again I would not be concerned with this issue, assuming it has any substance; once again, give me the most `beautiful' choir, whose sex may vary over time and locality).

It would be interesting to know Suzuki's and Koopman's thoughts on their contrasting positions, in regard to the issue you raise.

John Pike wrote (February 28, 2006):
Neil Halliday wrote:
< once again, give me the most `beautiful' choir, whose sex may vary over time and locality). >
Some very interesting responses to this issue, especially Doug Cowling's very erudite e mail. I have many sympathies with both views, and I wouldn't want to be without my Harnoncourt/Leonhardt set for the reasonably authentic sound of the boys (although I certainly take Doug Cowling's point about how boys voices in those days were very different from those today, and broke much later). However, the sound of the Monteverdi Choir is just so good, and people like Andreas Scholl and numerous other soloists employed by the conductors of the Bach cantatas can make such a superlative sound, that sometimes I put considerations of authenticity quietly to one side. I therefore have a lot of sympathy with Neil's view as well (above).

Reading Doug's comments about "Es ist vollbracht" reminded me of the latest recording from Gardiner, including BWV 22, BWV 23, BWV 127, BWV 159, BWV 1, BWV 54 and BWV 182. I was most impressed once again with these discs, especially the recording of BWV 159. The last 2 movements, including "Es ist vollbracht" and "Jesu, deine Passion" were, to my ears, just superlative, and the slow tempo and reverential approach so marked that I would be very surprised if these 2 movements did not satisfy Gardiner's sternest critics on this list.

Eric Bergerud wrote (March 1, 2006):
[To John Pike] I am not at all convinced by the argument that Bach's boys were physically different beasties. It's true that both boys and girls reach adolescence sooner today than they did at the beginning of the 20th century much less the 18th. (A very sharp reviewer in New York Review noted this recently when doing on essay on "Little Women" - a 13 year old in Alcott's day probably would have acted more like a girl than a teen. This explains why the characters act, in our terms, "childlike." So the author was a realistic picture of life rather than being hamstrung by Victorian ideals.) No demographer agrees exactly how great the relative change is because our figures from earlier epochs grow less perfect the farther back in time one goes. However, everyone agrees that this change was not due in any way to genetics because it took place, biologically speaking, so quickly. Instead, kids today receive a far better diet, getting much more protein when very young than earlier generations. (Japanese adults today are 2" taller than typical in 1930's - that's a lot, quick.) They are also in much better health. They are ill much less often and parasites are very rare in the developed world. (One wonders how many of Bach's boys were "eating for two" in the 18th century: it would have been a lot. And they wouldn't have been eating Big Macs.) Just to prove the point, this process pretty much ended in the developed world in the 1960s-70s. In the past most people didn't eat as well as contemporary urban pets. Now health pros worry huge portions of the population in the developed world being overweight. As my father would have said, "You can't win for losing." Original sin maybe.

Put simply, children begin to enter adolescence when their bodies get bigger and stronger. Today's 12 year olds are bigger and stronger than those in Bach's era. Musically speaking this would have left a level playing field from what I understand. There would have been one difference: the extra two years or so of childhood enjoyed by Bach's boys would have added to their time in musical training. How today's specialized music schools, especially in Europe, measure up against the talent pool and training techniques that would have shaped Bach's choir is impossible to answer I suppose. The question of logistics is another question altogether. Leusink [5] commented in an interview that the draconian schedule required for his project ruled out boy soloists whether he wanted to use them or not.

As I've noted here before I'm very glad that Bach is approached so many different ways. The female soprano, to my ears, makes the most lovely sound in creation. I do think it's a pity, though, that we seem to have seen the complete and probably permanent end of boy soloists in cantata recording. But I wouldn't dodge the issue by arguing that 18th century boys created a sound unreacheable today. Oh well, let 99 flowers grow. And so much for HIP.

Continue of this part of the discussion, see: Boy Sopranos in Bach's Vocal Works [General Topics]

Tom Hens wrote (March 1, 2006):
Eric Bergerud wrote:
< The question of logistics is another question altogether. Leusink [5] commented in an interview that the draconian schedule required for his project ruled out boy soloists whether he wanted to use them or not. >
I don't know if this has been discussed here before, but there are rumours that Leusink resorted to using some female sopranos and altos to support his boys as the project advanced, and as the singing from his little local boys choir grew increasingly ragged because of the breakneck pace. I can't vouch for the truth of those rumours, but I had already suspected it myself long before I heard the rumours, simply based on listening to the later recordings in the series.

< Put simply, children begin to enter adolescence when their bodies get bigger and stronger. Today's 12 year olds are bigger and stronger than those in Bach's era. Musically speaking this would have left a level playing field from what I understand. There would have been one difference: the extra two years or so of childhood enjoyed by Bach's boys would have added to their time in musical training. >
This is exactly my problem with the "boys' voices broke much later in Bach's time" argument. Puberty may have set in much later, but that also meant the rest of physical development went slower than today. Even if it's true that voices broke on average at, say, 16, instead of, say, 13 today (I have no idea what the actual ages are, and the people who advance theories about this never seem to provide any exact data either), that doesn't mean Bach had at his disposal boys with soprano voices but otherwise with the physical development of present-day 16-year-olds. He'd have 16-year-olds with the approximate physical development and therefore the voices of present-day 13-year-olds. The only real difference that I can see is exactly what you state: several more years of musical training, and probably much more intensive training than today (less other stuff to learn, and less other entertainment to be distracted by).

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 1, 2006):
Tom Hens wrote:
>>This is exactly my problem with the "boys' voices broke much later in Bach's time" argument. Puberty may have set in much later, but that also meant the rest of physical development went slower than today. Even if it's true that voices broke on average at, say, 16, instead of, say, 13 today (I have no idea what the actual ages are, and the people who advance theories about this never seem to provide any exact data either....<<
Johann Friedrich Agricola, who participated in performances of Bach's sacred music under Bach's direction for a number of years, writes as follows in his translation and commentary of Pier Francesco Tosi's (a castrato) "Opinioni de' Cantori...." Bologna, 1723:

"Wie es zugehe, daß bey unverschnittenen Mannspersonen, ohngefähr um das vierzehnte Lebensjahr, die hohe Stimme sich in eine tiefere verwandele....daß sich der Sopran gemeiniglich in den Tenor, der Alt in den Baß, der tiefe Sopran in den tiefen Tenor (baritono) u.s. w. verändert. Dieses macht gewöhnlicher Weise eine Septime aus, welche die Stimme in der Tiefe gewinnt, und dagegen in der Höhe verliert." pp. 28-29 "Anleitung zur Singkunst", Berlin, 1757 [this portion from a commentary by Johann Friedrich Agricola.

("As it happens that with uncastrated males approximately around the age of 14 their high voice mutates into a low voice....so that a soprano voice generally changes into a tenor voice, an alto into a bass, a low soprano into a low tenor {baritone}, etc. The change usually entails a drop of a seventh with the voice gaining the same number of notes in the low range as are lost in the high range."}

Christopher Tye
born: c. 1500
Mutation: at age 13 (according to musicologist Denis
Stevens)

Johann Schelle
born (baptized): Sep 6, 1648
Mutation: 1664

Henry Purcell
born:(Baptized) Sep 6, 1659
Mutation: 1673

Johann Sebastian Bach
born: March 31, 1685 NS
Mutation: Mid 1700 ("soon after his arrival in
Lüneburg)

Franz Schubert
born: Jan 31, 1797
Mutation: 1813

James Joyce
born: Feb 2, 1882
Mutation: 1897

Eric Bergerud wrote (March 1, 2006):
Tom Hens said:
< I don't know if this has been discussed here before, but there are rumours that Leusink resorted to using some female sopranos and altos to support his boys as the project advanced, and as the singing from his little local boys choir grew increasingly ragged because of the breakneck pace. I can't vouch for the truth of those rumours, but I had already suspected it myself long before I heard the rumours, simply based on listening to the later recordings in the series. >
Obviously I wasn't there so I don't have inside info on Leusink. I have noticed that in many cantatas the chorus sounds a little out of balance especially when compared to the same movements from Harnoncourt and Leonhardt. This is certainly not always the case. It strikes me that sometimes you hear too much of Buwalda than appropriate. Maybe the kids were getting tired. Whether that means he snuck in extra women to keep the train from going off the tracks I have no idea. It could be bad engineering or bad conducting or bad ear drums on my part. Actually whatever was done, I'd say the later volumes are, if anything, better than the first ones: a view supported by the Gramophone Guide.

I did once run into a Dutch music sitewhose author contended that Leusink almost wrecked the choir. Sour grapes I hope. I still like the series and listen to it often.

Neil Mason wrote (March 1, 2006):
[To Eric Bergerud] One of the things that has changed since Bach's day (and presumably can't be changed back again) is the age that puberty starts.

For this reason it is simply impossible to recreate the vocal sound that JSB heard.

So, it is a question of whether one thinks countertenors are a better substitute that mezzos. My stance is this: yes, they are, as long as they can perform the music without vocal strain. Unfortunately I can't stand Buwalda; his vocal production is tight, and my throat tightens in empathy. Locally, here in Brisbane I usually use mezzos as good countertenors are hard to come by.

 

Continue on Part 3

Cantata BWV 83: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

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