Cantata BWV 97In allen meinen Taten
Discussions - Part 1
Discussions in the Week of March 11, 2001
Aryeh Oron wrote (March 11, 2001):
This is the week of Cantata BWV 97 according to Andrew Oliver's suggestion and the last in his current suggested list. This cantata is among the least popular. Robertson does not write about it, because it is not exactly sacred. Schweitzer mentions it only briefly. Crouch calls it 'a really rather depressingly dull affair'. And I? I know from past experience that even a cantata that does not belong to the best crop has something to offer. If we listen to it enough times, investigate it from different angles, and try to judge it on its own terms, and not in comparison to other cantatas, we shall find enough substantial material to enjoy from. After reading carefully the text of this cantata (and translating it into Hebrew), I can say that IMHO the main subject of BWV 97 is submissiveness and humbleness. In such circumstances, no joy is allowed to be expressed too loudly, and no grief is too deep. How can we expect these moods to be expressed other than in low profile music of subdued nature, not too colourful, not too catchy, not too attractive? I find that the multi-facets genius of JSB is revealed here through a new and unexpected angle.
Despite what I wrote above, I found in this cantata the opening Chorus (Mvt. 1) and the Aria for Soprano (Mvt. 8) as the most interesting, pleasing and satisfying numbers. As a background I shall use again the always reliable book 'The Cantatas of J.S. Bach - A Critical Guide' by W. Murray Young:
"This another long nine-verse chorale cantata; its libretto consists of nine stanzas of Paul Fleming's hymn, beginning with the title of the cantata
Fleming's hymn was composed just before he set out on a journey; all stanzas reflects his prayer in the first person of God's protection on this trip and also on the journey through life.
The chorale tune is again only used in the first and last movements (cf. BWV 117). This tune has its origin in Heinrich Isaac's secular song, 'Innsbruck, ich muss dich lassen' (Innsbruck, I must leave thee), a well-known folk song even today."
During last week I have been listening to 3 complete recordings of BWV 97 and one individual movement from it. See: Cantata BWV 97 - Recording.
Review of the recordings
Mvt. 1 Chorus
This opening chorus begins with an instrumental introduction (grave), followed by a faster section (vivace), in the first two movements of a French overture. The soprano voices sing first, imitating fugally by the other vocal sections, while the instruments embellish the text with Bach's setting of it as a chorale fantasia. The voices sing the vivace section only after the introduction. There are instrumental ritornelli interludes halfway and at the end, with a choral repeat of only the last half of the stanza (i.e., no da capo)."
 Rilling's put much colour and grandeur into the instrumental introduction, making it almost epic and Händelian. There is real joy in the vivace, which starts with the instruments, and to which the voices join gladly and very naturally. I like this vivacious approach, although it may contradicts the atmosphere described in the personal viewpoint above. It is certainly valid.
 This is not the first time that I find the fragmented approach of Harnoncourt disturbing. The opening grave is not moving ahead, and causes you almost wanting to leave it as it is and go away. But, wait to the vivace part, and you will be astonished. It is of more chamber-like than Rilling is, but no less vivacious. The choir is marvellous, with warm and precise singing, letting all the fugal lines be clearly heard.
(3) Leusink's instrumental introduction has less volume than either Rilling or Harnoncourt. The orchestra's playing is also less coherent, but the choir has nothing to be ashamed of comparing to the other two. The lines are as clear as those of Harnoncourt's are, however the singing has more enthusiasm, which is more to my liking.
Mvt. 4 Aria for Tenor
"This is an exceptionally beautiful number. The solo obbligato violin weaves a remarkable tapestry of sound around his vocal assertion of trust in God's unfailing protection. In spite of the confident lines of the text, there seems to be an underlying grief-motif, ending the stanza in a tear-motif.
Worthy of note is the fact that in the opening chorus and in all the solo arias for the rest of the cantata, Bach divides the six-line stanzas so that the vocalists repeat only the last three lines, instead of the usual da-capo. Could the length of the cantata be the reason for this? [text of the aria]
With his coloratura runs on 'allem Schaden' and 'allem Ubel', and in the generally tragic or elegiac tone of his aria, there seems to be more emphasis on his present suffering than on God's protection. However, his forceful repetition of 'nichts' obviates this somewhat at the end. The solo violin playing is magnificent and could stand alone as a violin sonata movement."
(1) Adalbert Kraus (with Rilling) is using all his expressive abilities to make the outmost of this grey aria, delivering the hidden message. His technique is faultless and his pronunciation impeccable. The coloratura runs sound very easy and every word can be clearly heard. The playing of the violin is almost romantic. Others might call it inappropriate, but to me it sounds legitimate. Bach may lay here before the coming generations seeds for future developments.
(2) The playing of the violin (Alice Harnoncourt?) that opens the aria in Harnoncourt's rendition is baroque-like and certainly not romantic. I find the violin playing charming and attentive to the singing of the tenor. Kurt Equiluz is less dramatic here than Kraus is. Regarding technique and pronunciation they are on the same par, but Equiluz' singing is greyer. Whose approach is the more justified I do not know.
(3) The baroque violin of Leusink's is lighter than that of Harnoncourt, but no less charming. Knut Schoch's approach is closer to that of Kraus than to that of Equiluz. He is somewhat gentler and even more sensitive than the other two. I find this rendition of the aria the most touching of all three.
Nobody is perfect.
And as always, I would like to hear other opinions, regarding the above mentioned performances, or other recordings.
Thomas Braatz wrote (March 12, 2001):
BWV 97 Name that tune!
That tune, the final chorale, should be familiar to us from other works of Bach. But before getting to that here is more about the origin of that 'tune'. In its first incarnation we find it as "Innsbruck, ich muß dich lassen" by Heinrich Isaak/Henricus Isaac (also spelled Ysaac, Ysac, Yzac, Ysach) 1450? - 1517. It is a 'folk'-song of singular beauty that appeared 'full-blown' in Isaac's four-part setting at the end of the 15th Century.
See Example T1
(Simon Crouch mentions the connection to this melody on his cantata site. See Listener's Guide) Here is the German text, which, as you will see, relates indirectly to the chorale in the cantata (examples from "Alte weltliche Lieder" Fritz Jöde, Kallmeyer Verlag, 1927):
1) Innsbruck, ich muß dich lassen/ich fahr dahin mein Straßen In fremde Land dahin
Mein Freud ist mir genommen/die ich niweiß bekommen wo ich im Elend bin.
2) Groß Leid muß ich jetzt tragen/das ich allein tu klagen dem liebsten Buhlen mein
Ach Lieb, nun laß mich Armen/im Herzen dein erbarmen daß ich muß dannen sein.
3) Mein Trost ob allen Weiben/dein tu ich ewig bleiben stet treu der Ehren fromm
Nun muß dich Gott bewahren/in aller Tugend sparen bis daß ich wiederkomm.
This is a sad song of parting by a man who finds it necessary to leave the Austrian city, Innsbruck. (We are not given the reason why this must happen, but we only need to think of a journeyman in the trades, a tradition that existed until well into the 19th century. A young man had to work in various cities under different masters in order to learn his trade.) To make this situation even sadder, he is also leaving behind a woman, whom he has grown to love deeply. Here is what he sings:
1) Oh, I am going to have to leave this dear city, Innsbruck, (with all of its pleasant memories) and simply travel the roads I have plotted out for myself (to obtain my necessary education and skills) and I will arrive in a foreign country (remember that Austria, Switzerland, and Germany consisted of hundreds of principalities and you only had to travel a limited number of miles and already people dressed differently and spoke a different dialect/language.) ("fremd" also means 'strange'.) All my joy and happiness have left me, and I do not know how I will ever regain them as long as I am in this state of suffering. ("Elend" = related to the Latin that we have in the word 'alien.' What can an alien in a foreign country feel? A state of suffering, because the meaningful social ties are missing.)
2) This great suffering of mine I now have to carry alone on my shoulders, and right now I am telling my beloved all about this privately and complaining to her about this state of affairs: "Oh dearest, can you find it in your heart to have mercy on me, a sad man, because I must leave without fail.
3) You give me more comfort than all other women, I will remain forever faithful to you and be an honorable man. From now on God must keep you from danger and save your virtue until I come back again.
Notice that in the second example, the soprano is a canon following the melody lead established by the tenor. These two settings are extremely beautiful and have been popular since the time when Isaac composed it. It did not take very long for this popular melody to be preempted by the church for its own use. The result of this process is called "contrafactum" explained in this definition: "A particularly important class of chorales were the contrafacta or parodies of secular songs, in which the given melody was retained but the text was either replaced by completely new words or else altered so as to give it a properly spiritual meaning." (OED) The second example also appeared exactly like it is with the heading, "Christe secundum" in the "Missa carminum" printed by Georg Rhau in the early 16th century.
In a hymnal of the German Evangelical Lutheran Church, printed about 25 years ago, I found 10 such chorales based on the melody, "Innsbruck, ich muß dich lassen." In general content they cover the following categories or purposes in the church service: One asks for protection of city (Aha! The last remnant of Innsbruck!), state and country ("Herr, höre, Herr, erhöre, breit Deines Namens Ehre") " = [Lord, listen to us, and spread widely the honour of your name], two chorales are funeral songs for children who have died ("Gott Lob, die Stund ist kommen, da ich werd aufgenommen" = [Thank God, the hour that I will be taken up into heaven has come] and "Wenn kleine Himmelserben in ihrer Unschuld sterben") = [When these little ones that will inherit the kingdom of heaven die in their state of innocence], another two on death in general ("O Welt, ich muß dich lassen" = [Oh World, I have to leave you now] and "Die Herrlichkeit der Erden muß Rauch und Asche werden") = [The splendor of the world, as the Bible tells us, will have to become smoke and ashes]; then another two for Passion-tide ("O Welt, sieh hier dein Leben am Stamm des Kreuzes schweben" = [Oh World, look at your life hovering at the foot of the cross] and "Du Brunnquell aller Liebe, gabst Dich aus Liebestriebe für uns in tiefe Not") = [You, source of all love, for us you put yourself into grave difficulty] and three evening chorales ("Die schönen Sonntagsstunden sind nun dahingeschwunden, uns grüßt die Abendruh" = [The beautiful hours of a Sunday are over now, we are greeted by the evening calm], "Nun sich der Tag geendet, mein Herz sich zu Dir wendet" = [Now that the day is over, my heart turns to you, Lord], and the most famous of these: "Nun ruhen alle Wälder, Vieh, Menschen, Städt und Felder") = [Now everything is at rest, the forests, cattle, human beings, cities, and fields] AND, AND "In allen meinen Taten". To which category does the latter belong? Originally it was a chorale consisting of 15 verses to be sung before going on a long trip. Now we are back to Innsbruck again, aren't we? The author/poet was Paul Fleming (1609-1640). It appears that he was already a famous poet while studying at the university. He decided at one point to undertake a dangerous 16-year-long journey to Russia and Persia and returned only to die shortly thereafter due to the lingering exhaustion caused by the trip. Here then are the missing verses not included in the Bach cantata:
10) Ich zieh in ferne Lande,/ zu nützen einem Stande/ (he wanted to become a doctor, and like Paracelsus (1493?-1541), he wanted to learn from his travels), an den er mich bestellt;/sein Segen wird mich lassen,/was gut und recht ist, fassen,/zu dienen treulich seiner Welt.
11) Bin ich in wilder Wüste,/ so bin ich doch bei Christo,/ und Christus ist bei mir;/ der Helfer in Gefahren,/ der kann mich doch bewahren,/wie dorten ebenso auch hier.
12) Er wird zu diesen Reisen/ gewünschten Fortgang weisen,/ wohl helfen hin und her,/Gesundheit, Heil und Leben,/ Zeit, Wind und Wetter geben/und alles, was ich noch begehr.
13) Sein Engel, der getreue,/ macht meine Feinde scheue,/ tritt zwischen mich und sie;/ durch seinen Zug, den frommen,/ sind wir soweit nun kommen/ und wissen selber fast nicht wie.
14) Gefällt es seiner Güte/ und sagt mir mein Gemüte/ nicht was Vergeblichs zu,/ so werd ich Gott noch preisen/ mit manchen schönen Weisen/ daheim in meiner stillen Ruh.
15) Indes wird er den Meinen/ mit Segen auch erscheinen, ihr Schutz wie meiner sein,/wird beiderseits gewähren,/ was unser Wunsch und Zähren/ ihn bitten werden überein.
Quick summary: it's all about the protection he will receive from Christ, an angel, and God as he encounters difficulties on his journey and asks for protection of his loved ones.
Now comes the interesting part relating to Bach's use of this chorale melody. Ryan Michero, in commenting on BWV 44, pointed out the connection he noticed between the chorale in the last movement and a similar (same melody) chorale in BWV 245 (SJP). Marie Jensen wrote reaffirming this connection that had been noted. Simon Crouch connected it with SMP (BWV 244). Well, what does Bach give us? Including this cantata BWV 97 there are 11 different 4-part chorales using this melody, "Innsbruck, ich muß dich lassen." Here is a listing of their occurences:
1) BWV 13/6 (this means the 6th movement of cantata BWV 13) "Meine Seufzer, meine Tränen"
2) BWV 44/7 "Sie werden euch in den Bann tun"
3) BWV 67/7 "Halt im Gedächtnis Jesum Christ"
4) BWV 97/9 "In allen meinen Taten"
5) BWV 244/10 (SMP) after the chorus asks, "Am I the one to betray you?" the
chorale beginwith "Ich bins, ich sollte büßen
6) BWV 244/37 (SMP) after the chorus asks, "Tell us, Christ, who hit you?" the chorale begins with "Wer hat dich so geschlagen, mein Heil, und dich mit Plagen so übel zugericht'?"
7) BWV 245/11 (SJP) after Christ asks, "Why did you hit me?" the chorale begins with "Wer hat dich so geschlagen, mein Heil, und dich mit Plagen so übel zugericht'?"
[Ah, so you ask, "If this is exactly the same text, surely Bach could lift or transpose to another key one of his numerous harmonizations and use it here?" Nope! It's another new and interesting one.]
8) BWV 392
9) BWV 393
10) BWV 394
11) BWV 395
Where did BWV 392-395 come from? Most likely from cantatas that were lost. But thanks to the quick thinking of some copier these settings were saved from destruction.
So now, I hope, you can 'name that tune' and not forget that it must have been a fairly important one for Bach. I had a suspicion about this before I did this little research project, but I really did not expect to find quite as many examples as I did.
It has also been my observation that Bach's chorales, as they are frequently studied for their harmonizations, are devoid of any words with the exception of the title, and for those who don't know German, even the title is a mystery. Here I must say in German: "Das ist ein Unding" = [it's monstrous] that this situation prevails in our music schools and universities. Each setting, and I will be the first to admit that this is quite difficult to determine at times, reveals subtleties related to the text of the chorale. Here I am reminded that great artists can achieve great things with an "Economy of Means" which happens, for instance, when I hear a particular Mozart march from one of his operas (Don Giovanni?). This march could be just any one of numerous marches he wrote, but here, with the application of a tiny grace note which he applies (I think it is in the viola part) the entire march assumes a 'Turkish' characteristic. This is genius at work. And the same must be true for Bach when he overcomes the strictures of 4-part writing and includes here and there a hint (sometimes not so subtle) pointing at the meaning of the chorale verse. Sometimes it is, like Mozart, just a passing-note here or there, unexpected chromatiscism, and at other times a rather obvious stepping upward or downward pattern in the bass. In any case, listening carefully to a Bach chorale can also be a very rewarding experience, just as important as the examples of musical picture language that we find elsewhere in the Bach cantatas.
Pablo Fagoaga wrote (March 13, 2001):
(To Thomas Braatz) Your "example" stuff is great!!. Don't give it up. Very, very interesting. Thanks
Thomas Braatz wrote (March 13, 2001):
Misconceptions about the origin and purpose of this cantata continue to surface, but can be traced back to Wilhelm Rust who was responsible for preparing the cantata for printing in the BG in 1875. His theory was that this cantata was from the Weimar period around 1716 and discounted the 1734 date as a 'repeat performance' for a special occasion. This was based upon stylistic speculation on his part. Then there is a copy of this cantata with the indication 'For the 5th Sunday after Trinity.' The copier is known, the handwriting of the superscript is not Bach's own. Also, on the original score, there is a note after movement 6 "Nach der Trauung" = [After the Wedding Ceremony]. This is probably where Schweitzer got the idea that this was a wedding cantata. This description is in an unknown handwriting and in a place where Bach does not put such indications.
Here is what happened: Rust, under time pressure, asked someone in England to look at the original score for him and report to him anything unusual that he should know about. The discrepancies between the original score and the set of original parts that Rust was able to look at were overlooked for the most part and only resolved in the NBA I/34 edition (1990). For the most part these were articulation and dynamic markings, of which the original score showed less than those in the parts. All of the parts show additions and corrections except one: the solo violin part for movement 4 which Bach, himself, had copied flawlessly from the original (no surprise here). Since 1932 the proud owner of the original score is the New York Public Library that received it as a gift from the Bliss and Herter families. Rust believed that the date 1734 on the original score was only Bach's indication of a later time for a performance given on a special occasion, but recent studies based on the watermark and the quality of the paper reaffirm 1734 as the correct date for Bach's composition. (Source: NBA I/34 KB pp. 76ff.) What does all of this mean for the listener? We can now place this cantata after the time when Bach had already composed the pre-Leipzig cantatas and the two major cycles that issue from his first years in Leipzig, the bulk of his sacred cantata output. Was Bach now producing cantatas below his usual standard? Some listeners seem to think so, as it does not rank very high in their list of favorite cantatas. Is the text substandard, and for that reason, not conducive to stimulating Bach's usual genius?
My commentary on the chorale and its text should make it quite clear that the poetry of Paul Fleming is a notch above the general level of poetry in that period. Fleming is a recognized poet, recognized for his quality. Perhaps English translations can not do him justice. He will have to be read and appreciated in German. These words have brought comfort and understanding to many generations, otherwise they would have been eliminated from the German hymnals that have kept changing their content over the past few centuries.
In regard to the music, IMHO, Bach demands more from the musicians and listeners than he usually does. As a result, the performances we hear may not meet his standards (nor ours, as listeners), and the audience may not delve deeply enough into Bach's musical picture language, in order to derive the aesthetic pleasure that he intended to give us. This, of course, in addition to the sacred/spiritual message that he was trying to convey through the variety of means that he had at his disposal. It is a somber message that comes to us through Paul Fleming's poetry and all the associations with the original melody, "Innsbruck, ich muß dich lassen." I am almost certain that a distinct mood was set in the listening congregation, a mood established by multiple associations with the words and melodies that were themselves connected with still other similar themes, all known to the listener. Bach spoke to his audience on many different levels. We underestimate Bach, and particularly his Leipzig audience, when we base all we know on our contemporary observations and view everything from mankind's present exalted position as we look back into history, to a time when everything seems a bit less sophisticated or 'primitive' than things are now. Allow me to digress and relate a personal experience I had in a large Lutheran church in Germany almost 50 years ago. I attended a Sunday morning church service, in which I observed an elderly man sitting in a pew across the aisle slightly in back of me. Contrary to my American church experiences where hymns were noted as being sung with preselected verses (Hymn 322 vs. 1,2,5,8,9, for example), I discovered that all 15 verses, for instance, were sung. As I sang along reading from the hymnal, I noticed that this man sang entirely without a hymnal. Not only for one hymn, but for all 4 or 5 that were sung during the service. He had them all memorized and sang them in tune with a good strong voice!! He may have been a relic from an earlieage, but I begin to think more and more that as we go back into history, we would find that such a person was not an exception, but the general rule. My point is that with an audience of listeners of that caliber, a much more meaningful contact between composer and audience could take place, so that after hearing this cantata, BWV 97, the listeners would not think: "Poor Bach, he's probably had a bad hair day. Let's tell the city and church council to begin looking for a new Kantor."
Aryeh will put examples from this cantata on his site (See: BWV 97 - Score). I've included some commentary there.
I do not have the Leusink series (3) yet - it is on the way. Generally, I would prefer Rilling (1) over the Harnoncourt (2), but with this cantata each movement needs to be considered on its own value. My comments on the examples will reflect this.
Does anyone know why 'Seven' is an important symbolic number for Bach? I'm looking for an answer.
Sybrand Bakker wrote (March 13, 2001):
(To Thomas Braatz, regarding Number Seven) Seven = 3 (the number of heaven) + 4 (the number of earth), the number of days the earth was created in, etc.
Jane Newble wrote (March 13, 2001):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< that this man sang entirely without a hymnal. Not only for one hymn, but for all 4 or 5 that were sung during the service. He had them all memorized and sang them in tune with a good strong voice!! He may have been a relic from an earlier age, but I begin to think more and more that as we go back into history, we would find that such a person was not an exception, but the >
This is a good point. When I was little, I used to sit next to my grandfather in church in Holland. He sang most of the psalms by heart, all the verses, not just the first one. The more we go back in time, the more we find that people were more dependent on memory than on paper.
< Does anyone know why 'Seven' is an important symbolic number for Bach? I'm looking for an answer. >
I can only guess that it is because in the Bible and Biblical theology the number seven stands for perfection and completeness, and also Jesus Christ. Four stands for Humanity, and three for Divinity, and because Jesus Christ was both man and God, seven symbolizes Christ in his perfection. I have not studied Bach's music enough to know how this relates, but he did study his Bible. I'm sure there are much more erudite people here, who would know the answer.
Thomas Braatz wrote (March 13, 2001):
[To Sybrand Bakker] Thanks for your information:
< Seven = 3 (the number of heaven) + 4 (the number of earth), the number of days the earth was created in, etc. >
But just where do you see the connection to Bach's music, including the cantatas? I have just read a book, "The Occult Bach," which outlines his very likely use of 'Gematrie' - a numbers system based on the alphabet: A=1, B=2 etc., but nothing I see there uses the number 7 directly so as to tie in with his music. I have a feeling that I should know what it is, but at the moment I am drawing a complete blank.
So, in BWV 97, when Simon Crouch (I believe) indicates that the final chorale has 7 parts instead of the normal four, then Bach is thinking of the creation of the earth? Why? I must be obtuse, since I simply do not see the connection there, as much as I do want to see connections of this sort in Bach's music.
Marie Jensen wrote (March 13, 2001):
A French ouverture often means: party time, suites of dances, splendour! but not here. Perhaps that is why some listeners (from our time) have been disappointed listening to BWV 97. Because after the opening it is already Monday: The strong "every day Christianity" a life can be built upon is praised: (Don't worry no matter what, accept your destiny. You have God's grace) In wedding terms (if this cantata is for a wedding): for better and for worse.
I like this cantata even if it does not go into the extremes. "Gottes Gnade" is a rich violin around the tenor voice. The soprano/bass duet is very beautiful, and in the last soprano aria the oboes begin to dance.
(3) I like Leusink's version, except the alto recitativo, so tense, an early Buwalda. Last week in the difficult aria of BWV 120 he was much better. I have not heard the entire Leusink collection yet. BWV 97 is from the first box and 120 from the last. But is there a tendency here: Buwalda improving along the way?
Andrew Oliver wrote (March 13, 2001):
(2) For those who do not have the Harnoncourt recording of this cantata, here are the notes which accompany it, issued by Teldec, and written by Ludwig Finscher.
'In allen meinen Taten' (BWV 97) is dated 1734 in the autograph version and is thus a very late cantata; nothing is known about its liturgical background. Bach composed the hymn 'per omnes versus', but, while retaining all verses, used the song melody only in the opening chorus and the final chorale. The conspicuously small number of recitatives (two compared to four arias and a duet) is probably due to the inappropriateness of recitative for depiction of the hymn verses. The brittle intellectuality and pictorial poverty of the text confronted Bach with singular problems. They were solved with extraordinary compositional extravagance and above all in concealed symbolism which only a careful study of the score reveals. The opening chorus is, most unusually, a French overture (dotted rhythms - fugal vivace). Its form and its vocal, instrumental and contrapuntal brilliance are perhaps intended to symbolise the majesty of the "highest", "der alles kann und hat" (who can do everything and has everything). The arias are in ascending voice ranges (bass-tenor-alto-soprano and bass/soprano). Moreover, the first four are designed as contrasting key pairs (G minor- B flat major, C minor- E flat major, the soprano leading with F major back to the basic key of B flat major). The instrumentation, compositional technique and accents are just as carefully and closely related to the text in varying ways (albeit also in intricately encoded form): bass aria with thoroughbass (worries, effort); tenor aria with concertante violin (superabundance of Godly grace); alto aria with string tutti (cadence of the slumbering aria, as well as antithetic images - sleeping and awakening, lying and moving away, weakness and consolation); duet only with thoroughbass (singing voice largely canonic: God's decree as the law of human action); soprano aria with concertante oboes (cadence and movement structure, apart from tonesymbolism and image-like details, of surprisingly fashionable sensitivity - "Ihm hab' ich mich ergeben" to be understood as a love poem to Jesus?). The final chorale movement departs from the norm in the sense that the independently led strings expand the four-voice songlike setting into a tonally magnificent seven-part texture; the symbolism of the figure 7 (perfection) undoubtedly also played a part.
I just wanted to add that, as Jane said, the number 7 stands for perfection and completeness (in Christian theology), and this is doubtless relevant. We know that Bach also made use of this number doubled, 14 being the sum of the letters of his name (B+A+C+H = 2+1+3+8). I wonder if it is also relevant that this cantata was composed in 1734, when Bach reached the age of 49 (7x7)?
For continuation of the discussion about this topic, see Number Symbolism in Bach Cantatas [General Topics]
Andrew Oliver wrote (March 16, 2001):
Why, I wonder, is this cantata not very popular? Is it because it does not fit into a preconceived mould as to how be think a Bach cantata ought to be? I certainly don't think his abilities were diminishing as he grew older, far from it, I think there is actually much more packed into this work than some of the early cantatas, but perhaps we need to dig deeper to find it. The answer seems to be to listen to it several times. By doing that, I find that I like it mand more.
I have the Harnoncourt (2) and Leusink (3) versions. Of the two, I prefer the Leusink, mainly because I am not too keen on the sound of Harnoncourt's boy soprano. Sometimes the boys are very good, but in this case he does not seem to have learned to overcome the natural tendency to sing all high notes loudly and all low ones quietly. I suppose this is something which comes with experience, and that is something which Leusink's soprano, Ruth Holton, posesses in abundance.
The solo violin part in the tenor aria is really quite brilliant, making me wonder how anyone is able to call this cantata 'dull'. However, the movement which has become my favourite is the alto aria, because I just love the rich, dark texture of the sound of the strings, forming a sort of backdrop for the solo voice. Esswood is very good with Harnoncourt , but I think Buwalda is better. Perhaps he does not sound very comfortable in the recitative leading into the aria, but he more than makes up for it then. One other factor which I enjoy is the throbbing, syncopated rhythm which Bach incorporates into this movement. He also uses syncopation in the tenor aria.
Verdict: this cantata is underrated and undervalued.
Thomas Braatz wrote (March 16, 2001):
To Pablo Fagoaga and other BCML members who do not own the book: J.S. Bach in the Oxford Composer Companions series- edited by Malcolm Boyd and published in 1999 by Oxford University Press. Check Kirk McElhearn's book review for a general description.
As an example of the quality I would like to share the article on BWV 97, since it is fresh in our minds. I will then add a few comments of my own. The initials at the end of the article identify Alberto Basso as the author of this one.
"In allen meinen Taten" ('In all that I do'). Cantata for SATB, two oboes, strings, and continuo, BWV 97. It is one of the few Bach cantatas for which the liturgical occasion is unknown (the others being BWV 100, BWV 117, BWV 192 and the fragmentary BWV 50 and BWV 200. A copy of the score n the hand of C.F. Penzel (? c.1760) specifies the fifth Sunday after Trinity (in which case it would have been performed on 25 July 1734), and it has also been suggested that it was composed for a wedding. The date 1734 appears on the autograph, which passed through several hands in the course of the 19th century before it became part of the Herter collection in the Public Library at Lincoln Center, New York, in 1932. The work received two further performances, one soon after 1735 and the other between 1740 and 1747, as indicated by the addition of an organ part for movements 3 and 4, which was then transposed from Bb to G major.
The text is the complete hymn in nine strophes by Paul Fleming (1642), but the celebrated melody to which these austere verses are sung, "O Welt, ich muß dich lassen" (derived from the secular "Innsbruck, ich muß dich lassen" by Heinrich Isaac (c. 1450-1537), appears only in the first and last movements. The central movements - four arias, a duet, and two recitatives - make no reference to the melody.
The first movement is a spectacular fusion of a French overture (an instrumental Grave, with repeat, followed by a fugal Vivace in which the voices join) and a cantus firmus motet, recalling Cantatas BWV 75 and BWV 20 from the first and second annual cycles respectively. The six lines of the strophe feature brief but demanding passages of imitative writing for the lower voices, relating only in the last line, which is treated homophonically. The four arias employ each voice in turn, proceeding from the lower to the highest (B-T-A-S); each aria is in the same bipartite form (A-A), the duet 'Hat er es denn beschlossen' (Mvt. 7) being the only movement in the usual da capo structure, albeit in a modified version (A-B-A'). The tenor aria 'Ich traue seiner Gnaden' (Mvt. 4) is particularly interesting for its unusual solo violin writing, which includes both sprightly runs in short note values and strongly syncopated passages and punctuates the discourse with stretches of polyphony (mostly in double stopping) in a style associated with the sonatas for unaccompanied violin. In sharp contrast to this movement, which symbolically expresses the image of divine grace generously granted to the faithful, is the simple style of the soprano aria 'Ihm hab ich mich ergeben' (Mvt. 8), accompanied by two oboes and continuo, which expresses complete and confident submission to the will of God. The complex network of emblems permeating the work is crowned by the final chorale: three independent string parts are added to the usual four-part chordal harmonization to form a texture made up of seven strands - a number which from time immemorial has served as a symbol for perfection.
My comments: Not bad, for a short description to get at the heart of the cantata, but in the details there are some definite problems, not that these would keep you from enjoying the cantatas. It is a question of up-to-date and careful scholarship. Since the publishing date for this Oxford Companion is 1999, it should certainly have consulted the NBA I/34 KB (1990) before including confusing (now considered misinformation because it is outdated) facts about the origin, purpose, and performances of the cantata during Bach's lifetime.
Among the cantatas listed in the NBA as being without a specific liturgical designation there is also BWV 131 which is not listed with the others. Basso should never have mentioned the speculation regarding the 5th Sunday after Trinity designation, much less attempt to fix a date of performance based on this information! Yes, Penzel (what is ?c.1760 supposed to signify? - in any case, 1767 is the year in which Penzel made his copy from the original)copied (for the most part) from the original autograph), but the experts state that the fact that Bach did not put this indication on his title page (he always put such designations there) is sufficient proof to think that this was not Bach's intention to specify the occasion. The 'After the Wedding' description has also been discounted (it is in the wrong place (after movement 6) and written in an unidentifiable hand (perhaps someone later very likely after Bach's death wanted a single movement to be performed at a wedding). Why bring all of this up, anyhow? How does this really help the listener?
How many times did Bach perform BWV 97? Probably only once based on some additions to the Organo part. Perhaps it was performed with some reduction in the number of movements. The other performance, with its transposition of the organ part to another key, indicates that it was performed, not in the two main churches of Leipzig, but rather outside of Leipzig, and Bach may not even have been present. So why mention all of this with such certainty, as if it really occurred?
Has the official name of the New York Public Library been changed to the Public Library at Lincoln Center? I did not know about this. The text of the complete hymn by Paul Fleming consists not only of nine strophes, but fifteen as I have pointed out in my discussion of BWV 97. Is it possible that a German hymnal might only have included nine? Yes, but that does not explain why hymnals printed less than twenty years ago in Germany still include all fifteen. Paul Fleming lived from 1609-1640. What does the cryptic single number 1642 signify?
I do not understand why Cantatas BWV 75 and BWV 20 (both for the 1st Sunday after Trinity) are selected for the reader to consider. It's all very impressive until you look them up and find that whatever connection is being made is of a general nature and could be true of many other cantatas. Perhaps Mr. Basso was simply saying, "Here are two gratuitous examples, I just happen to have my book open to the cantatas for the 1st Sunday after Trinity, so I'll choose those."
In discussing the beautiful tenor aria with solo violin, only the unaccompanied violin sonatas are mentioned. I think that BWV 1014 for violin and harpsichord resembles the violin part in the aria even more, and as far as double-stops check out the slow movement of BWV 1018, also accompanied. When he summarizes by saying "The complex network of emblems permeating the work", it would really help to summarize specifically, in a succinct manner, what he has been speaking about.
I have not zeroed in on the good points. I will leave that up to you, since you now are quite familiar with this cantata.
Kirk McElhearn wrote (March 16, 2001):
< Thomas Braatz wrote: Has the official name of the New York Public Library been changed to the Public Library at Lincoln Center? >
I did not know about this. No, the NYPL is on 42nd St, and the LC PL is at Lincoln Center, in the 1960's.
< To Pablo Fagoaga and other BCML members who do not own the book: J.S. Bach in the Oxford Composer Companions series- edited by Malcolm Boyd and >published in 1999 by Oxford University Press. Check Kirk McElhearn's book >review for a general description. >
Pablo Fagoaga wrote (March 16, 2001):
(To Thomas Braatz) Well, so the book is made up with signed articles. Interesting point. As regards to your comments, Tom, I still remember how Basso's courage in the use of "definitive" statements triggered a hot debate among us around the "toccatta & fugue in D minor". So I think his bunging-jumpin' style doesn't surprise me anymore.
I take his words with a mix of respect and caution. The good thing about the book is that if it allows you to identify the source, you can make your judgement!!!
Jane Newble wrote (March 17, 2001):
(3) The only performance I have of this cantata is Leusink, and I really don't understand why it has been called a 'depressingly dull affair'. Just shows how different people are, I suppose.
I very much like this cantata. It speaks of submission and resignation to (in the positive sense) and complete trust in God. The result of dependence on God to such an extent gives assurance of protection, even through death. It seems to me quite striking that Bach wrote this at a later age, when he had experienced lots of problems and bereavements. The music appears to me to underline the words to an amazing extent, making me think again what a genius he was!
The tenor/violin aria is very beautiful, moving and caressing. But it is so, because of what it expresses. The 'allem Schaden, allem Übel' seems to include every possible variety of harm and evil that can happen. Then the 'nichts' again seems to imply that. The violin staccato at the end is like an echo which underlines and reminds us of the 'nichts'. But it also sounds like a sobbing. This position of trust can only be arrived at through many tears. The sprano aria finishes almost abruptly after musing on death, to give way to the final conclusion and exhortation by all the voices: "So only trust in Him...He knows what to do about anything".
Thomas Braatz wrote (March 17, 2001):
To Jane and other BCML members,
I did enjoy your characterization of the tenor/violin aria. I, too, as I am sure many others, have noted the strong repetition of "nichts" followed here by an answer given by the violin, but then to connect it with what the violin does at the end of the aria -- I find that very good.
Found this on the Internet. It relates to your extract from the Bouman book:
Unter Zahlensymbolik wird der Versuch verstanden, erkennbare Ordnungsverfahren in einem Kunstwerk auf Ziffern oder Zahlenfolgen zu beziehen. Diese Zahlen sollen über einen dem Kunstwerk innewohnenden Sinn hinaus, auf weitere Bedeutungen verweisen.
Die Vorstellung, dass Musik auf Proportionen beruht, bezieht sich auf Erkenntnisse der Griechen. Der Goldene Schnitt wurde wie ein Naturgesetz empfunden.
Dass der Goldene Schnitt auch in der Musik, nicht nur in Architektur und bildender Kunst angewendet wurde, lässt sich am Beispiel des Domes von Florenz belegen. Die mathematischen Proportionen der Kuppel finden sich wieder in Guillaume Dufays (ca. 1400-1474) Motette "Nuper rosarum flores", die zur Einweihung des Bauwerkes komponiert wurde.
Im Mittelalter war die Zahlensymbolik Teil des allgemeinen Denkens. Bereits seit dem antiken "Kirchenvater" Augustinus, hatte man der vorchristlichen Konzeption von der Proportion in der Musik noch einen weiteren Aspekt hinzugefügt: Die Proportionen wurden in Bezug gesetzt zu einem außerhalb der Musik liegenden Ganzen - zum göttlichen Heilsgeschehen.
Rough translation of this extract from a German newspaper article I found:
Number symbolism can be understood as an attempt to relate recognizable methods used to create structure in an artistic creation to numbers or sequences of numbers. These numbers then ought to point toward further significant meaning beyond the meaning that more obviously exists in this artistic creation.
The notion that music is based on proportions goes back to the ancient Greeks. The 'golden mean' was understood to be a law of nature.
One need only consider as an example the Cathedral of Florence to illustrate how the 'golden mean' was applied, not only in architecture, sculpture, and painting, but also in music. The mathematical proportions of the dome can also be found represented in the motet by Guillaume Dufay (c. 1400-1474), a motet that was expressly composed for the dedication of this cathedral structure.
In the Middle Ages people generally thought about such things as number symbolism, and since the time of the church father Augustine, people added to the already existing pre-christian concepts regarding proportions to be included in music a further aspect: these proportions were then connected or placed into a relationship with events concerned with heavenly salvation, normally beyond the realm which music can encompass.
Santu de Silva wrote (March 19, 2001):
Can anyone suggest a good recording of BWV 97?
I can't find it on any of Amazon, Berkshire RO, or BMG.
Donald Satz wrote (March 19, 2001):
[To Santu de Silva] I don't know if it's any good or not, but Rilling recorded it on Hänssler 92031 (1), which is Volume 31 of the Hänssler/Bach series.
It's also on Teldec from Harnoncourt/Leonhardt (2), but that's a five-disc set.
How about Koopman or Suzuki?
Continue on Part 2
Cantata BWV 97: Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Number Symbolism in Bach Cantatas