Cantata BWV 89Was soll ich aus dir machen, Ephraim?
Discussions - Part 1
Discussions in the Week of November 19, 2000
Aryeh Oron wrote (November 19, 2000):
Background - Personal Viewpoint
This is the week of cantata BWV 89 according to Ryan Michero's suggestion. As far as I can recall, this is the first cantata in our weekly discussions, whose main subject is anger. But as usually the case with Bach, he looks deeper than is suggested by the text and his music reveals internal feelings. In the opening aria, for example, we hear anger, expressed by the vocal line of the bass. Then we can hear depression, expressed as could have been expected, by the oboes. The painful question of the father, who is disappointed by the behaviour of his son, is expressed by the violins. Isn't it always the case with us, as parents? We can externally express anger at our kid, when he did something wrong. But internally we feel pain and we ask ourselves questions. Maybe we failed in the lessons we have given to him during his growing up. And we feel also sorrow, because we have to act against our natural loving and forgiving feelings. All the feelings are mixed up. And Bach expresses this emotional bewilderment so splendidly. This is why I love the music of Bach so much. He knows so well the human heart. Others may see him as a religious composer. I prefer to look at his universal humanity. Like Shakespeare as a playwright, Bach is the most universal composer of them all. It is important message to remember in our age of advanced technology. The human heart is today the same as it was more than two thousands years ago, when Hosea wrote the biblical phrase, upon which the opening chorus is based, and it remained the same as it was about 250 years ago, when Bach set music to it.
Review of complete Recordings
(1) Kurt Redel (Late 1960’s?)
This is one of the few recordings, which were done by Erato label by other conductors than either Fritz Werner (incomplete cycle during the 1960's) or Ton Koopman (complete cycle from late 1990's onward). I have no reason to imagine that Erato will reissue this recording in CD form in the foreseen future, when they have failed to reissue in their entirety the Werner recordings, which are on higher level. If that were up to me, I would not recommend to them doing it, because this recording is simply boring. The singing is bad to mediocre, to say the least. I could not find any good point in this recording, except that it proves the assumption that if you try really hard, and you do not really care for the results, you can succeed in causing even Bach's music to sound indefinite.
(2) Jaap Schröder (1969)
This recording is included in the same LP as BWV 161, about which I raved so highly couple of weeks ago. It deserves similar praises. All three singers are in their prime. Max van Egmond is alert, authoritative and convincing, showing anger in one moment and compassion in another, and you can hear his pain through the whole aria. The playing is delicate and tender. All the three lines of the opening aria can be easily followed. I hope that Teldec will reissue this recording in the near future.
(3) Helmuth Rilling (1977)
Every component sounds right in this recording. Huttenlocher is impressive in the opening aria; Watts and Augér are giving the right treatment to the recitative and aria that are given to both of them. The instruments play beautifully. Nevertheless something is missing. I could not make up my mind defining what is missing. Maybe delicacy and charm? Or have my ears become corrupted after hearing Schröder's recording. Ah, the trouble of hearing many recordings of the same piece of music in a short period of time. The better recordings sound even better in repeated hearings, and the less than perfect, sound lesser and lesser.
(4) Gustav Leonhardt (1979)
The singing of Max van Egmond is eloquent, but it is strange to hear a kind of phlegmatism, which was totally lacking from his previous rendering with Schröder. This is one of the cases, which proves the claim that however important the roles of the singers in Bach cantatas are, than the role of the conductor is no less important. Leonhardt is not in his best here and the whole performance is uninspired.
(5) Ton Koopman (1998)
Comparing the playing of the HIP instruments in Koopman's recording to that of Leonhardt, which was recorded about 20 years earlier, shows the advance in the technique of playing those hard to handle instruments. It is much more polished and transparent, and you do not hear the fight of the player trying to conquer his instrument. The strings are much sweeter, lighter and homogenous. The main difference is between the corno da caccia and the oboe players of the two recordings. Who can rival Ponseele, with his poised, charming and graceful playing? Mertens is the most convincing father among the bass singers of this cantata. His voice has the warmth of a loving father, who must be hard with his disobeyed son. In his singing you can hear all the nuances and changes in his moods, from anger, through pain, to sorrow. You wish to have such a father. Both women singers - the alto Bartosz and the soprano Röschmann, have a pleasant, gleaming and pure tone, and also delicate expressiveness and both have a major part in making this rendering delightful from every aspect.
(6) Pieter Jan Leusink (2000)
The role of the angry father suits Ramselaar timbre of voice and authoritative approach like a glove. And the instrumental lines in the opening aria are clearly and cleanly played, expressing his internal feelings. Buwalda does not convince when he has to express God's anger in his aria. But Ruth Holton is doing fine in the beautifully flowing and tuneful aria for soprano. The oboe players are not in the level of Ponseele, but they have nothing to be ashamed of. As usual with cantatas of chamber nature, Leusink feels at home and delivers a wholly satisfying and charming rendering.
Recordings of Individual Movements
(M-1) Elly Ameling (soprano) with Hans de Vries (oboe) (1983)
I do not like the idea of separating a certain movement from its connection, especially when Ameling is not at her prime here. Comparing her to Armstrong, Augér or Holton, might cause almost anyone to regret that when Ameling did this recording, she was no longer the angelic singer she once had been.
I was somewhat critical in my review of the various bass singers, who sing the opening aria. If you accept my assumption that the bass singer symbolizes a father scolding his son, than we have to admit that every father has his own individualistic way of doing it. If every bass singer brings to this role his own life experience, than most probably that he will sound different from everybody else. We still have the right to expect from him for sincerity, and in that sense, I feel that every bass singer in this cantata is true to himself.
Having said that, there is still room for personal preference. IMHO, the best recordings of BWV 89 are those of Schröder and Koopman.
And as always, I would like to hear other opinions, regarding the above mentioned performances, or other recordings.
Personal Viewpoint - Marie Jensen
I wrote the review for this week with sadness in my heart. I thought about Marie Jensen, a member of our group, who is unable to contribute due to health problem. I have learnt to expect to her original reviews, almost always from a point of view different than mine. I have learnt a great deal from her, because she taught me how to listen to the cantatas in a different way. I heard cantatas, which I thought I knew quite well, from refreshing and new angles. I hope to see her back soon. Maybe one of the lurkers will step in and feel the gap for the period of Marie's absence from the list?
Harry J. Steinman wrote (November 20, 2000):
I have the Koopman recording of this cantata (5) ...a few observations and a few questions!
First of all, for me the opening few notes of the first movement, played by the ontinuo group, I believe, sets the tone for me. There's a tension in those notes that is recapitulated within the opening bass aria by the strings. Now, this is a personal thing, but I always listen to the continuo, to the bass instruments to get a sense of the music. Don't know why that works for me, but if I can hear those unheralded accompanying voices, I'm happy...and the presence of the continuo in the opening aria makes me happy.
Second observation: In this recording I do hear a plaintiveness in the first two arias that certainly fits the theme of the cantata.
Question: The soprano aria sounds kind of cheery to me, and that doesn't really fit the the text of the cantata, does it? Thoughts, anyone?
Well, I am continuing to enjoy these discussions. Otherwise, I'd probably end up collecting cantatas and not listening to them enough!
Jane Newble wrote (November 21, 2000):
It is not so much anger that speaks to me in this cantata, as Gods love and compassion. Listening to the first aria, I keep thinking of the lines in Ps 103: "The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy. He will not always chide: neither will he keep his anger for ever. He has not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities."
The aria certainly starts with the dark grumbling of potential anger with a rebellious child, and I like what Aryeh said about the father's attitude to his child, and the way Harry pointed out the continuo.
As usual, I think the Teldec (Koopman) translation into English is abominable. It shows a complete non-understanding of the German text, and of the theology behind it. Perhaps it was done by one of those Internet translating machines?..;o) The translation into French is much better.
Of course the main anger of God in this cantata is directed towards those who, unlike himself, have no compassion towards others, even though they are completely dependant on God's mercy for themselves.
I have been thinking quite a lot about the relationship between the Hosea text in the first aria, and the text from Matthew for the rest of the cantata, and came to the conclusion that God's compassionate attitude towards his people Israel (Ephraim) should be the standard for our attitude towards others. We have a lot to learn in this respect, and it is only our trust in the forgiveness of God through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, that will set us free from guilt, and helps us to become more like that.
Hence, I think, the joyfulness in the aria for soprano. Trusting in the blood of Jesus is the only hope of escaping Gods anger. Here again the Teldec translation is completely out of touch with what's really going on in the text.
The two versions I have are Koopman (5) and Leusink (6) and I love them both. Both Mertens and Ramselaar are wonderful in their portrayal of the dilemma between anger and mercy. It is interesting that Leusink on the whole takes it faster than Koopman.
Like Aryeh, I'm not too sure about the effectiveness of Buwalda, who sings the only 'real' angry aria. His voice is too kind. But I like both sopranos, Dorothea Roschmann and Ruth Holton. They both sound really grateful in that lovely joyous aria. I very much like the singing in the Leusink chorale . The more I hear this cantata, the better I like it.
It always amazes me, how Bach is spot on, not just in his portrayal of humanity, but also theologically. It is well known that he was very interested in that aspect of his work, but he had the musical ability to make it work.
Every week I am more thankful to be able to listen to this wonderful music, and for all the help of other list contributors who help so much in understanding it better.
I am extremely sorry that we have to miss Marie, even if it is hopefully temporarily.
Jane Newble wrote (November 21, 2000):
Harry Steinman wrote:
< Question: The soprano aria sounds kind of cheery to me, and that doesn't really fit the the text of the cantata, does it? Thoughts, anyone? >
Harry, In case you didn't feel like wading through all my ramblings on the whole cantata, this is what I wrote, for what it's worth:
< I have been thinking quite a lot about the relationship between the Hosea text in the first aria, and the text from Matthew for the rest of the cantata, and came to the conclusion that God's compassionate attitude towards his people Israel (Ephraim) should be the standard for our attitude towards others. We have a lot to learn in this respect, and it is only our trust in the forgiveness of God through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, that will set us free from guilt, and helps us to become more like that. Hence, I think, the joyfulness in the aria for soprano. >
Don't know if this is any help, as it's only my guess. Perhaps others have different
Harry J. Steinman wrote (November 21, 2000):
(To Jane Newble) Thanks. And by the way, I did feel like reading your entire post! Never rambling...and full of conviction!
Andrew Oliver wrote (November 24, 2000):
Greetings, fellow Bach cantata lovers, whatever your creed may be!
Last week's cantata appealed to me straight away. This week's one had to be listened to several times before I learned to enjoy it properly. I think that is partly because I tend to prefer choruses to solo arias (though there are plenty of exceptions to that general rule). Anyway, this cantata deals with several different moods and emotions.
To start with, we have the anger expressed in the first aria, but it is not only anger. It is also longsuffering patience as expressed in the verse from Hosea which immediately follows the one quoted in the aria: "I will not execute the fierceness of mine anger, I will not return to destroy Ephraim: for I am God, and not man; the Holy One in the midst of thee." The text of the first aria is not the subject of the cantata; Bach is using it to illustrate his real subject, which is the Gospel for the day, Matthew 18:23-35, which deals with forgiveness. The anger of God comes into it when we don't show the same compassion to our fellows as He has shown to us, and is summed up by the last three verses of the Gospel passage: "Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee? And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses."
Having set the scene with the restrained anger of the first aria, Bach proceeds to illustrate the other aspects of his subject. For me, the subject is summed up by the way he writes the other two arias. The alto speaks of merciless vengeance being meted out to those who don't show mercy to others. Several times in this aria, you will notice that the continuo runs all the way up the scale and then straight back down again. This puts me in mind of another Old Testament text which serves to illustrate the subject: "The pride of thine heart hath deceived thee, thou that dwellest in the clefts of the rock, whose habitation is high; that saith in his heart, 'Who shall bring me down to the ground?' Though thou exalt thyself as the eagle, and though thou set thy nest among the stars, thence will I bring thee down, saith the Lord". Or, as this aria says: '....machet sie....ganz zunichte'. Note the difference in the way the continuo plays in the soprano aria. Although there are downward runs around the word ergruenden, most of the scale passages run optimistically upwards, to reflect the joy of being forgiven.
The message of this cantata is summed up a little later in Matthew (22: 37,39) "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. And.... thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." And that means fellow cantata list members as well.
Fredrik Sandström wrote (March 22, 2004):
On Koopman'Complete Cantatas vol 8 BWV 89  is recorded, along with an alternative version of the opening bass aria (Was soll ich aus dir machen, Ephraim?). It has different orchestration and is labeled "BWV 89a". However, the booklet doesn't say anything about it, and neither jsbach.org nor www.bach-cantatas.com know about a BWV 89a. So what is this, really?
Bradley Lehman wrote (March 23, 2004):
[To Fredrik Sandström] There is no 89a listed in the 1998 edition of BWV (the book), either.
Thomas Braatz wrote (March 25, 2004):
In response to Fredrik Sandström’s query regarding BWV 89a:
The NBA KB I/26 (1995) does not recognize this designation, but the following might be stated about the various versions of this cantata:
1) There is very strong evidence that an early version similar to cantatas composed in 1715 and 1716 from Bach’s Weimar period did exist at one point:
a) a typical feature of this early period is opening the cantata directly with an aria in place of the usual opening chorus as is typical in the Leipzig period
b) a stylistic analysis of the continuo aria (mvt. 3) also points to this earlier period
c) the autograph score (which is missing) may also have been from this early period
2) The original set of parts for a performance of this cantata in Leipzig on October 24, 1723 copied mainly by Christian Gottlob Meißner and Johann Andreas Kuhnau all show clearly a specific water mark of this period and the identifiable handwriting originating from this period (doublets were copied by Anonymous copyists Ia, Ij, Il, Im and Ic.)
3) Meißner, on the title page, wrote the following:
Dominica 22 post Trinit: | Was soll ich aus dir machen? | CONCERTO. | a 4 Voc: | 2 Violini | 2 Hautbois | 1 Viole | Soprano | Alto | Tenore |Basso | con Continuo | di | Signore: Joh: Sebast: Bach.
Note that the ‚Corne du Chasse’ is not mentioned at all, and yet Bach personally wrote out a separate part for this instrument on paper somewhat similar in the water mark, yet different from the others (paper quality is different and the watermark quite faded in contrast to the other parts.) This is the only part that Bach copied for this cantata. This fact has led to some possible speculation that either this part was added at the very last moment before the only recorded performance on 10/24/1723 or that it was added for a second, later performance which can not be confirmed by any other method.
4) ‘Corne du Chasse’ part is musically superfluous. For 37 of the 61 measures in mvt. 1, the only mvt. where it is used, it does not play at all! It is what is called a ‘fill-in’ part written in such a way as to simply fill in harmonies and does not enter into the motivic-thematic aspects of this mvt. The NBA score prints this part with the designation (warning?!) ‘ad libitum’ in italics and refers to the KB for further information about this unusual part.
5) From a wider perspective the horn part may have fulfilled a symbolic function in Bach’s mind: he may have added it to emphasize that God is speaking here (the bass voice is the ‘vox Dei,’ a fact that is then underlined by inclusion of a ‘hunting’ horn which represents the temporal rulers who are ‘chosen’ by the supreme ruler, God. The connection between hunting horns and social class is explored by Michael Marissen in his “The Social and Religious Designs of J. S. Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos” (Princeton University Press, 1995.)
6) There are at least 36 corrected errors of a similar type in the two existing continuo parts (the untransposed continuo part is missing) made by copyists Anonymous Ic and Im. This set of corrections indicates the problems that these copyists had in transposing from an original (Weimar) source that was a second (the musical interval) higher than the resulting parts. Possibly the original source used was the score from the Weimar period for which a new set of parts had to be created to suit the performance conditions in Leipzig. (Meißner and Kuhnau, as extremely reliable copyists, had no difficulties with the transposition of all the remaining parts which they completed.)
Summary of the most likely scenario for BWV 89:
1) It was originally composed (and performed) in Weimar (original score & parts are missing.)
2) Bach used the original Weimar score in Leipzig as the basis for a 2nd performance of this work during one of his most active years as a composer of cantatas. The only definitely confirmed date of performance (with or without the ‘corne du chasse’) is October 24, 1723 in Leipzig. The horn part did not exist as part of the original musical conception of this work.
3) The ‘corne du chasse’ part, for the opening mvt. of the cantata only, was a sudden afterthought on Bach’s part or perhaps an addition for a later performance yet undocumented. It may have been quickly added to reinforce and give coloring to the role of the ‘vox Dei’ sung by the bass.
It would be best for future recorded performances to offer both versions of mvt. 1 (with and without the horn part.)
Bradley Lehman wrote (March 25, 2004):
Fredrik Sandstrom wrote:
< On Koopman's Complete Cantatas vol 8  BWV 89 is recorded, along with an alternative version of the opening bass aria (Was soll ich aus dir machen, Ephraim?). It has different orchestration and is labeled "BWV 89a". However, the booklet doesn't say anything about it, and neither jsbach.org nor www.bach-cantatas.com know about a BWV 89a. So what is this, really? >
Thomas B responded with helpful detail (thanks, Thomas):
>>It would be best for future recorded performances to offer both versions
of mvt. 1 (with and without the horn part.)<<
Looking more closely at the 1998 edition of BWV, they just have a single listing for BWV 89 (no 89a) and in that first Aria they mark the orchestration as "B, Cor (ad lib), Ob I, II, Str, Bc".
Why can't a conductor simply pick whichever version will suit his/her forces, and the occasion, best, and leave out the other one? If there's a horn available, use it; if not, don't. Make it work in the occasion. I enjoy hearing alternate versions as much as anybody, but why would a recording need to include both?
What's available in the other recordings, with or without the horn? So far I have only Leusink's , no horn. I don't miss it; the music has so much else going on in those churning strings and oboe parts, why add more?
The conductor's responsibility (IMO) is to give a good flow of the whole cantata, from first aria to last chorus, not second-guess oneself with alternate versions just because Bach changed his mind some other time. It would be nice, just as a curiosity, to have the other reading in an appendix track and program it into the player to replace the first one, but it's not necessary if one can get (at least) Koopman's . How much over-completeness must a recording have, unless they're trying [too hard] to reproduce some documented original circumstances as exactly as possible, as opposed to presenting the music now?
I guess this goes back to a broader question: how much responsibility must a performer have to present EVERY note and every alternate version of every note, to give a satisfying performance? What if somebody misses a couple of notes, or improvises some new notes, is it still the same piece? That gets into the realmof philosophy. Museum mentality, vs living music. Intelligent performers are much more than museum docents, IMO. Museums are for dead things on display, out of circulation, dead people's things no longer in use. Music isn't something to freeze-dry into packages.
Benjamin Mullins wrote (March 25, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote: <SNIP> Why can't a conductor simply pick whichever version will suit his/her forces, and the occasion, best, and leave out the other one? If there's a horn available, use it; if not, don't. Make it work in the occasion. I enjoy hearing alternate versions as much as anybody, but why would a recording need to include both? <SNIP>
Why? If said conductor is recording the complete cantatas. One must be thorough! ;-)
Bradley Lehman wrote (March 25, 2004):
[To Benjamin Mullins] Yeah, whatever "complete" means. :) Who really wants to hear the piece of tripe known as the Fantasia in C Minor, BWV Anh. 86? It's awful, and best left unplayed. (I've played through it enough times to know that it's bad.) If it's by Bach at all, it's Bach on a very bad hair day. Ditto for the fantasia BWV 920. Both of these are now relegated to the "questionable" appendix of BWV. I think any artist, including Bach, has the right not to be judged by his worst work; the public should hear the best. Everybody has a bad run sometimes. I don't understand the completists who have to hear every note the man wrote, just because he wrote it.
Continue on Part 2
Cantata BWV 89: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3