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Cantata BWV 98
Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan [I]
Discussions - Part 2

Continue from Part 1

Discussions in the Week of January 27, 2008

Ed Myskowski wrote (January 25, 2008):
Introdction to BWV 98 - Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan

Discussion for the week of January 27, 2008

Cantata BWV 98 - Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan (Whatever God does, that is done well)

Date of composition for first performance, November 10, 1726, 21st Sunday after Trinity.

Data on recordings, and links to text, readings for the day, commentary, and score (piano reduction), can be found at: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV98.htm

A link to the previous round of discussions is also available on that page, or directly at: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV98-D.htm

Again this week, I find the previous discussion (and links to provenance and commentary) especially helpful. In order to avoid repetition, I will write this introduction as a supplement to the earlier material. First of all, there are two minor conflicts or misunderstandings to resolve.

According to the chronology as researched and presented by Dürr, BWV 98 is the second of the three cantatas with the same opening lines [of text] (BWV 99: 1724; BWV 100: ca. 1734-35). BWV 98 is first only in the BGA numbering sequence. We are fortunate that they are at least together. A comparison of the three might make an interesting discussion topic at some point, or a student research project, if not already done.

Many writers have made a major point that the absence of a closing chorale, and that the characteristic indication Fine SDG is omitted, suggest that the cantata is incomplete. In fact, Thomas Braatz reports (Provenance link) that the reproduction of the autograph score in the NBA shows Fine SDG in Bachs handwriting at the close of the bass aria, Mvt. 5. Case closed, unless there is further uncertainty to report.

A curious person (me, for example) has to wonder how the legend of the missing closure began Both Robertson and Whittaker, just for examples I have at hand, state that Fine SDG is absent from the last page of the score.

Dürr makes no reference to the autograph score, but he does clearly suggest that the cantata is complete as we have it:
<In order to underline the finale character of the second aria, and to compensate for the absence of a concluding chorale, Bach has its opening line, Meinen Jesum lass ich nicht (I will not let go of my Jesus), sung to the lightly varied melody of the chorale of that name by Christian Keymann (1658). [music example here] The aria thereby acquires a double function.>
This section is quoted at greater length (unpublished translation?) at the commentary link. Whittaker, citing Terry, makes the same observation (earlier than Dürr, I believe) of the source of the theme. However, Whittaker fails to draw the same conclusion as to the finale nature of the movement. In fact, just the opposite, he specifically discusses the missing last movement.

BWV 98 is brief (under 15 minutes in most recordings) and deceptively simple in structure. The chorale based first movement for chorus is followed by two recitative-aria pairs, spread among the four voices. The innovation lies in the final movement, aria combined with chorale. We have seen a related idea in somewhat different form, just the previous week, in the closing duet of BWV 49.

Malcolm Boyd in the OCC provides a concise description, citing Whittaker for much of it:

<Unlike the other two [BWV 99 and BWV 100], it [BWV 98] is in no sense a Chorale Cantata. It does, however, begin with a chorale fantasia in which the melody is heard as a soprano (and first oboe) cantus firmus, with more active lower voices (ATB) doubled by other wind instruments, and in which the lines of the chorale are separated by string ritornellos with an animated, if not exactly virtuoso, part for first violin.
The two recitative-aria pairs [. . .] are, however, related not to the hymn but to the Gospel of the day [hence the distinction from a Chorale Cantata] [. . .] As Whittaker succinctly expresses it, <the tenor recitative pleads for rescue from misery, the soprano aria bids her eyes cease from weeping, since God the Father lives, the alto recitative breathes a message of solace, and the bass aria declares that he will never leave Jesus.> The two arias are well contrasted: the first in C minor, 3/8 time, with oboe obbligato, is in ritornello form; the second in B flat major, 4/4 time signature, with unison violins, is in a modified da capo form.>

In his commentary, Thomas Braatz points out the alto recit., Mvt. 4, where C-sharp is used in g minor. It is actually first heard on the word klagt (laments), but is also associated with Kreuz (cross), an octave lower, in the same Bar 4. Note that C-sharp occurs elsewhere in Mvt. 4, as well as in the g minor of Mvt. 2, independent of any association with Kreuz in the text. I am out of my element here, and base these observations on listening, along with reference to the BCW piano/vocal score. I will leave it to others to discuss the theologic imagery (or not), but this is the same dissonance (C-sharp in g minor), and association with Kreuz, that we saw two weeks ago in Mvt. 1 of BWV 56. I find it more satisfying than some of the other Kreuz connections suggested, if not completely convincing. I also find the chronologic discussion helpful for seeing such correspondences among nearby works.

Note also the reference to the Ruth Tatlow notes to Gardiner's recording [4], where she concludes by asking:
<Could Bach have been working on the Matthew Passion while writing BWV 98.?>
Although SMP (BWV 244) is not included in our chronologic discussion, it is not far off on the time horizon.

Ed Myskowski wrote (January 26, 2008):
Introduction to BWV 98 - supplement

In my haste to make an early post, in case of technical difficulties, I neglected to review the commentary links from the recordings page: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV98.htm

The commentary link to Emmanuel Music is missing, but cantata notes are easily accessed via the English-6 translation link, or directly at emmanuelmusic.org. By the time you get around to it, Aryeh will likely have added the link to the home page, in any case. At EM, Craig Smith provides some provocative thoughts relating BWV 98 to the gallant (or rococo) influences on Bach, rather different from other sources I cited. If that arouses your curiosity, you can follow the gallant influence on Bach at: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Other/Influence.htm

At the other links, I find Simon Crouch unnecessarily dismissive of the quality of BWV 98, but at the AMG link, writer Blue Gene Tyranny (real name?) is much along the lines of Craig Smith. I was particularly gratified to find Blue Gene writing:

<The second section [Mvt. 2], a wide-ranging recitativo for tenor cast in the relative minor key, presents at first the entreaties and beseeching of a troubled soul: "O God, when will I for once be rescued from my fear and agony? How long shall I cry for help day and night?" Several effective dissonances are used here, such as major seventh leaps and accented non-harmonic tones with a biting edge (e.g., C sharp against a G minor chord). The singer ends by expressing confidence that God does not abandon his own.>

May you see (and hear) sharply, Kreuz or not. And may you find a handle (ACE) as cool as <Blue Gene Tyranny>.

Peter Smaill wrote (January 27, 2008):
[To Ed Myskowski] Tintimate work presents as much a theological puzzle as a musical one. In the latter department , the question , "Why is there no final chorale?" is answered by Dürr. The bass aria BWV 98/5 (Mvt. 5) is an eloboration of the chorale , "Meinen Jesum Lasst ich nicht".

From a theology-interest standpoint, the recitative BWV98/4 presents the translators with a problem . Richard Jones, working on the Dürr translation, says that God is is told by the lamenting mouth of "the Cross's pain". For Melvin Unger it is "(Of)(my) cross's pain. And which Person of the Trinity is involved? God the Father being reminded of the agony of the Son? Or of our own tribulations? And yet, when the text comes to "Er saget, klopfe.." the knocking is surely that suggested by Jesus in Matthew 7:7. Not for the first time in the Cantata texts the Persons of Father and Son are intertwined in a theologically adventurous way, with the overtones of a suffering God enduring a broken heart tending towards the formal "heresies" variously called Sabellianism/theopaschitism/Monarchianism.

Luther's own dictum, "One of the Trinity suffered on the Cross" is capable of orthodox acceptance; but here, long before Moltmann, Hartshorne et al., the librettist is minded to reject the classical theological image of the all-knowing compassionate but essentially impassible God in favour of a One whose mercy depends on actually undergoing sympathetic trauma.

Jean Laaninen wrote (January 27, 2008):
[To Ed Myskowski] The balance of rhythmic textures in this cantata seems particularly attractive to me, and the setting of a deeply heartfelt aria (Mvt. 3) in the center also a balancing factor. In one respect a closing corporate chorale is an attractive and often expected feature; however, in the case of the text of the final verse the final voice in the first person balances with the voice of the first person (however corporately sung) in the initial verse (Mvt. 1). I enjoy seeing how Bach balances his works, bringing form to a central position. Generally speaking I am more score oriented than a listener of many recordings, unless I am on a search for very fine diction in the matter of learning something--and one who appreciates the efforts of all the singers and conductors who so gracefully invest their time and lives into the matter of continuing Bach's great traditions.

Jean Laaninen wrote (January 27, 2008):
Peter Smaill wrote:
< Luther's own dictum, "One of the Trinity suffered on the Cross" is capable of orthodox acceptance; but here, long before Moltmann, Hartshorne et al., the librettist is minded to reject the classical theological image of the all-knowing compassionate but essentially impassible God in favour of a One whose mercy depends on actually undergoing sympathetic trauma. >
In traditional Lutheran theology the concept of the God 'who suffers with us,' is a central theme. Delving into such an idea is somewhat mystifying and not so easily grasped. Many times it is easier to think that God stands outside of our trouble and trial, but in Bach's writings and in his music I find the idea that God stands or is involved very closely with human suffering.

Neil Halliday wrote (January 27, 2008):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
>According to the chronology as researched and presented by Dürr, BWV 98 is the second of the three cantatas with the same opening lines [of text] (BWV 99: 1724; BWV 100: ca. 1734-35). BWV 98 is first only in the BGA numbering sequence.<
Curiously, Robertson states that BWV 98 is "Bach's first setting of Samuel Rodigast's hymn with the above title", yet he has the dates of compostion of the three works as: BWV 98, 1726; BWV 99, 1724, and BWV 100, 1732.

>We are fortunate that they are at least together. A comparison of the three might make an interesting discussion topic at some point<
Certainly, the opening movements of all three are orchestrated chorale fantasias with the same chorale melody (in the sopranos) and the same text; BWV 98 differs because it is set in 3/4 time (c,f. 4/4 for the other two), while the music of BWV 100 is largely a repeat of BWV 99 with the addition of horns and timpani.

> Many writers have made a major point that the absence of a closing chorale, and that the characteristic indication Fine SDG is omitted, suggest that the cantata is incomplete. In fact, Thomas Braatz reports (Provenance link) that the reproduction of the autograph score in the NBA shows Fine SDG in Bachs handwriting at the close of the bass aria, Mvt. 5.<
The BGA has no such marking, and though the NBA undoubtably trumps the BGA, as a listener I can only entirely agree with Robertson and Whittaker who both desire the addition of a suitable final chorale. Despite Dürr's point about the final aria serving a "double function" (for the reasons given), the fact remains it is a solo bass aria with only a single obbligato line (albeit for two unison violins) plus continuo..

Compare this with the last movement of last week's BWV 49, which is a richly orchestrated duet (including scintillating organ obbligato) with a chorale melody in the soprano line; BWV 49/6 is indeed a satisfying, almost grand, conclusion to that cantata, but the same can hardly be said of BWV 98/5 (Mvt. 5).

>...Mvt. 4, where C-sharp is used in g minor. It is actually first heard on the word klagt (laments), but is also associated with Kreuz (cross), an octave lower, in the same Bar 4. Note that C-sharp occurs elsewhere in Mvt. 4, as well as in the g minor of Mvt. 2, independent of any association with Kreuz in the text.<
The harmonies (and dissonances) of these recitatives can be readily appreciated by playing the BCW score on a piano or organ.

In the 1st recitative, C# first occurs on the word "Angst" (though it is a cadential harmony on the way to the following D major chord). In the 2nd bar we have dissonant F#'s in the accompaniment and vocal line on the word "Leidens" (sorrow)

In the 2nd recitative there are C#'s on "klagt" (cries) and "Schmerz" (pain), as well as "Kreuz" (cross), so the use of sharps (in the key of G minor in both movements) to express pain is obvious. I'm not sure we need to find any more significance than that, in the use of these accidentals.

Ed Myskowski wrote (January 27, 2008):
Introduction to BWV 98

Neil Halliday wrote:
>Compare this with the last movement of last week's BWV 49, which is a richly orchestrated duet (including scintillating organ obbligato) with a chorale melody in the soprano line; BWV 49/6 is indeed a satisfying, almost grand, conclusion to that cantata, but the same can hardly be said of BWV 98/5 (Mvt. 5).<
I agree that BWV 49/6 is more grand, but I am not sure that necessarily makes it more satisfying to me, as a conclusion. I will listen some more. In any case, my point was not how succesful BWV 98/5 (Mvt. 5) is, but simply what is the evidence for Bachs intention. The Thomas Braatz citation from the NBA refers to the autograph score. That seems conclusive to me, but I do not have access to the NBA for confirmation, so I am simply pointing out the evidence from others. Actually, I was hoping someone might confirm it (or not).

Ed Myskowski wrote (January 27, 2008):
BCML generalities [was: Introduction to BWV 98]

Jean Laaninen wrote:
>Generally speaking I am more score oriented than a listener of many recordings, unless I am on a search for very fine diction in the matter of learning something--and one who appreciates the efforts of all the singers and conductors who so gracefully invest their time and lives into the matter of continuBach's great traditions.<
I have often written that I believe the Leusink set provides a fair impression of the music, sometimes much better than that, at very modest cost. Indeed, I gather that you can access it on-line at no charge.

Analysis of the music from the scores is an important aspect of BCML. I wish there were more of it, but it is not an area where I can make original contributions. I am happy when I can grasp someone elses idea, and add a bit to my listening enjoyment.

I think the comments on recordings are equally important, and perhaps more unique to BCML and the BCW archives. Where else can you go to find out what is available, and how the options compare? The discography is what first drew me to BCW, and I suspect that is true of many, perhaps most, list members. And as you can see in the archives, Aryeh used to point out almost weekly that anyone can offer an opinion of a recording, even if only to say like it or not.

I have greatly enjoyed learning over the past couple years what a range of performance styles are avaialble. Neil Halliday frequently points out what is available via recording samples. Even with my primitive computer gear I can access some (but not all) of them, so I expect this is a resource available to just about everyone.

Incidentally, I was shocked to hear from Jeans previous post that the OCC Bach has gone out of print, and is no longer a resource available at an affordable price. That is a shame, but perhaps understanable with the publication of the English translation of Dürr. Keep an eye on the second-hand book market, I guess. My copy of OCC was under $20 in 2006.

Jean Laaninen wrote (January 27, 2008):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
< I have often written that I believe the Leusink set provides a fair impression of the music, sometimes much better than that, at very modest cost. Indeed, I gather that you can access it on-line at no charge. >
Yes, Ed, I do listen online. I have a few of the cantatas on CDs--those with soprano content I want to learn in time, and I access Leusink on the web which works most of the time, and is quite adequate for my purposes. I'm more inclined to know a work than all the different ways it has been performed, again, unless it is something I want to learn. In that case I go to the trouble of locating other recordings to make a comparison. Since I've lived this long already I do have quite a collection of records, tapes and CDs in the house--but generally only one of each work.

And yes, I did get the OCC as an eBook. I am surprised to find that I enjoy using it on my computer, and I also have five other recommended references, plus the 1995 printing of Grove at this point. Moreover, I also have the ASU Music Library only a fifteen to twenty minute drive away so I go there periodically and look at texts on Bach and read the flute periodicals. The library provides no shortage of material--far more than I will access in a lifetime.

Peter Smaill wrote (January 27, 2008):
Jean Laaninen wrote:
< In traditional Lutheran theology the concept of the God 'who suffers with us,' is a central theme. Delving into such an idea is somewhat mystifying and not so easily grasped. Many times it is easier to think that God stands outside of our trouble and trial, but in Bach's writings and in his music I find the idea that God stands or is involved very closely with human suffering. >
Thanks for your interest on this point, which we previously debated in the context of BWV 116.

The suffering God is indeed a present-day feature of Lutheranism but the position per Luther is rather more subtle than it is today, hence the importance of texts in the Cantatas which show even at this early date the doctrine is developing.

According to the Oxford theologian Alistair McGrath the idea of a "Suffering God" as an inspiration from Luther only really got going from 1883 with the publication of the Weimar edition of Luther's works. Another theologian, Klaus Zwanepol, Professor of Lutheran Theology at the University of Utrecht, puts the historical perspective as follows:

"Since the communication of Christ's attributes was for Luther not one-way where only the human attributes are participating in the divine ones, but also meaning that the divinity is involved in humanity, the idea of God undergoing the human destiny and sufferings is actually unavoidable. Luther held this opinion over and against the current of a very long and strong tradition which rejected God's capacity to suffer, Though Luther's "theopaschitism" did not go so far as the idea of the "suffering God", which developed in nineteenth and twentieth century theology, this thought was already in principle present in Luther's work".

In which case the thought is here already being developed in BWV98, the image of the brokenhearted God, not Jesus,?which points IMO to the growing possibility that the Cantata texts are of greater theological significance than is generally considered to be the case.

Jean Laaninen wrote (January 28, 2008):
Peter Smaill wrote:
< In which case the thought is here already being developed in BWV98, the image of the brokenhearted God, not Jesus,?which points IMO to the growing possibility that the Cantata texts are of greater theological significance than is generally considered to be the case. >
Thanks, Peter.

I believe I would have to say I find myself in agreement with you here. This is not to say that a person without a belief system cannot find great depth and pleasure in the cantatas aside from the Lutheran/Christian traditions, but the case you make here for the theological implications of the work is strong and academically grounded. I recall making the statement previously that leaving out such details is akin to discussing a great war in history without regard to its causes. I don't only make that point from my own belief system, but also this kind of critical thinking retains the context academically in my mind. I find it interesting that Schweitzer, though his musical training reflects the Romantic Period significantly, and I believe he held a different belief system, did not minimize the theological implications that could be discovered, only he used the tools of the training of his own time to explore the details. This is not to say he did not from time to time find areas to criticize, but he did not throw the baby out with the bath water to use current jargon. The current pattern of deconstruction, as it is called makes sense to me when the theological aspects are included, and even highly regarded.

I have also been intrigued by the psychological aspects of some of the cantatas, and other musical writings... Bach's biographers in the main place him in the center of orthodoxy, while still admitting to the influence of surrounding counter-views of his time. A skilled over-view of his cantatas that could possibly reflect well the area of psychology would be interesting for discussion. I am not far enough along in the cantatas, nor disciplined enough to make that kind of study, but I am well-read in the area of Psychology, and would enjoy studying something of this nature should a scholar embark on such an academic journey. A joint project for a pscyhologist and a musicologist might be a fruitful endeavor.

Neil Halliday wrote (January 28, 2008):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
>my point was not how succesful BWV 98/5 (Mvt. 5) is, but simply what is the evidence for Bachs intention.<
Interestingly, as a conclusion to the cantata, Kuijken's bright, upbeat version [8] of the bass aria BWV 98/5 (Mvt. 5) (which I just discovered I have) does seem satisfying, maybe because the entirely happy mood he establishes does not need any "follow on", in contrast to a less exuberant (but very fine) performance such as Werner's [1]. Subjective, I suppose, but maybe Dürr is correct in his conclusions.

Kuijken's recording [8] is excellent in most parameters; however, the OVPP approach in the opening chorus lacks the desirable proportions this movement, when one compares with the versions for choir. (And yet the OVPP final chorales in the other cntatas on this CD are quite enjoyable).

Werner's flowing lyricism [1] (instrumental and vocal) works well in the opening movement, even at the relatively slow tempo. The vibratos of his female singers seem old-fashioned to me, so I expect to return to the 1st and last movements only, of this recording.

Of the period groups, Leonhardt [2] and Kuijken [8] have the better continuo realisations in the arias - avoiding coarse bass string sound, and having pleasing, yet non-intrusive organ realisations.

Santu de Silva (Archimedes) wrote (January 28, 2008):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
< In my haste to make an early post, in case of technical difficulties, I neglected to review the commentary links from the recordings page: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV98.htm
The commentary link to Emmanuel Music is missing, but cantata notes are easily accessed via the English-6 translation link, or directly at emmanuelmusic.org. By the time you get around to it, Aryeh will likely have added the link to the home page, in any case. At EM, Craig Smith provides some provocative thoughts relating BWV 98 to the gallant (or rococo) influences on Bach, rather different from other sources I cited. If that arouses your curiosity, you can follow the gallant influence on Bach at: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Other/Influence.htm >
I believe the term Ed is referring to is "galant", in contradistinction to "gallant". At least, this was the case until about 1990, when the world was young; maybe some enterprising theorist has since decided that "galant" was a little too French? (Can one earn a D.Mus. by introducing such alternate terminology? :)

Talking about Bach's sorties into the galant, I was just listening to the beautiful compilation called Divine Sopranos, which featured the Laudamus Te from the B minor mass (BWV 232). It is almost Handelian, in its galant-ness. (Are we sure it is by Bach?)

Ed Myskowski wrote (January 27, 2008):
Santu Desilva wrote:
>I believe the term Ed is referring to is "galant", in contradistinction to "gallant".<
First of all, let me say that it is always gratifying when I see evidence that someone has read the introductions!

I took the double-l spelling from the Emmanuel Music notes to BWV 98, where it is italicized. I have just checked the Harvard Dictionary of Music (1981), where the entry is double-l (no italics), but with indication of single-l, italicized, for the French.

I did not omit the italics when citing EM to make it correct, but because my eMail service seems to be unable to transmit italics from my software. This appears to be one of those rare instances where two wrongs make a right (ACE)? In any event, no quest for a D.Mus. intended :)

I left the original quotation marks in Archs post, as they got to me OK. Apologies in advance if they are garbled anywhere along the line.

Stephen Benson wrote (January 28, 2008):
Santu de Silva wrote:
< Talking about Bach's sorties into the galant, I was just listening to the beautiful compilation called Divine Sopranos, which featured the Laudamus Te from the B minor mass (BWV 232). It is almost Handelian, in its galant-ness. (Are we sure it is by Bach?) >
For what it's worth, George Stauffer's Bach: The Mass in B Minor (BWV 232) includes a plate representing a section of the "Laudamus te" from the P180 autograph in the Berlin State Library, a section penned in 1733 and worth looking at if only for the beauty of Bach's refined and graceful hand. Stauffer traces the evolution of thought regarding the provenance of the manuscript and goes on to say:

"Both Marshall and Rifkin see the 'Laudamus te' as a parody of an existing aria, perhaps a piece selected because of its specific appropriateness for [Faustina] Bordoni. Dürr feels that the music is adopted from somethingóthe generally neat nature of the autograph manuscript points in that directionóbut does not rule out the use of sketches. While the instrumental parts of the 'Laudamus Te' are elegantly and immaculately written in the P180 score, the soprano 2 line displays numerous reworkings and stretches of a stiff compositional handóa strong indication of parody. It is likely that Bach was either adapting an existing cantata aria or working from drafts in which the soprano 2 part was insufficiently realized (since many of the erasures in the soprano 2 involve the spontaneous embellishment of the vocal line). Gerhard Herz has shown that Bach was strongly infatuated with lombardic figures in the 1730s, between 1732 and 1735 in particular... Thus if the 'Laudamus te' is the parody of a now-lost cantata movement, the model may have been written only a short time before the Mass segment."

This citation really doesn't answer the question. If the "Laudamus te" was based on an earlier piece, no one seems to know what that piece may have been. Certainly, it is generally accepted that Bach was eager to incorporate a compendium of styles in the Mass, and the very fact of its stylistic distinctiveness should not necessarily mean that its genesis lay elsewhere.
<>

Douglas Cowling wrote (January 28, 2008):
Laudamus Te and Faustina Bordoni

Stephen Benson wrote:
< "Both Marshall and Rifkin see the 'Laudamus te' as a parody of an existing aria, perhaps a piece selected because of its specific appropriateness for [Faustina] Bordoni. >
Do they compare the aria to any of the arias composed by Händel for Faustina? Händel was theultimnate singer's composer and was always reshaping music for particular performers.

Stephen Benson wrote (January 29, 2008):
[To Douglas Cowling] There's no mention of Händel in Stauffer's reference to Marshall and Rifkin. Stauffer does give some evidence cited by Marshall for his hypothesis that Bach created the "Laudamus te" for Faustina, however, such as the numerous trills in, and the low tessitura of, the "Laudamus te", attributes which could easily have been tailored to Faustina's strengths. In typing the passage from Stauffer, I omitted the footnoted references to Marshall and Rifkin, and there very well may be further information in those sources, none of which I have at hand. The Marshall sources are "Bach the Progressive: Observations on His Later Works", p. 341, and "The Mass in B Minor: The Autograph Scores and the Compositional Process", p. 181. The Rifkin source is the essay in his liner notes to his recording of the B Minor Mass (BWV 232). Marshall does, apparently, credit his observation re. Faustina "to a remark made my Arthur Mendel." Moreover, it seems to be generally accepted that Bach heard Faustina perform in 1731 and that he was friendly with both Faustina and her husband, both of whom came to visit Bach in Leipzig several times during the 1730's.

Ed Myskowski wrote (February 4, 2008):
BWV 98 - recordings

There are two new recordings since the first round of discussions, Koopman [7] and Kuijken [8]. Kuijken is worth special notice, in that he provides a still relatively rare opportunity to hear a performance using OVPP (one voice per part; this and other acronym abbreviations are widely used on BCML, they are defined in the glossary). With the exception of the use of female soprano and alto voices, this is what current scholarly research supports as very close to Bachs performing forces,

Neil Halliday wrote (January 28, 2008):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
>my point was not how successful BWV 98/5 (Mvt. 5) is, but simply what is the evidence for Bachs intention.<
[Neil]
>Interestingly, as a conclusion to the cantata, Kuijken's [8] bright, upbeat version of the bass aria BWV 98/5 (Mvt. 5) (which I just discovered I have) does seem satisfying, maybe because the entirely happy mood he establishes does not need any "follow on", in contrast to a less exuberant (but very fine) performance such as Werner's [1]. Subjective, I suppose, but maybe Dürr is correct in his conclusions.
Kuijken's recording
[8] is excellent in most parameters; however, the OVPP approach in the opening chorus lacks the desirable proportions for this movement, when one compares with the versions for choir. (And yet the OVPP final chorales in the other cantatas on this CD are quite enjoyable).<
I deferred responding to Neils post in order not to delay my introduction for the following week [BWV 55], but also in order to choose some words thoughtfully, to the extent that I disagree with Neil. In the interim, I came across the Melamed text, <Hearing Bachs Passions> which I have already cited with respect to BWV 55. Melameds <Epilogue: Listening to Bachs Passions Today> is also applicable to the cantatas, especially the chorus movements. A few words which nicely state what I would have said less well:<we need to be suspicious of arguments that suggest that performances of Bachs Passions with a small group of concertiests and ripienists [OVPP] do not do justice to the music [. . .]
one often hears the opinion that small ensembles do not adequately convey the monumentality of Bachs conception of his Passions, especially [SMP]. But the idea of monumentality itself (at least as expressed in the volume produced by massed forces) comes from the experience of large-scale performances - it is a standard set by modern experience.> (p. 133)

The entire Epilogue is only three pages, well worth reading for anyone even remotely interested (as is the entire book). I am not sure if monumentality is exactly what Neil has in mind by proportion, but I think it is along the correct lines. Even more important is the implication that what sounds correct is often what is most familiar to our modern experience.

To that extent I agree with Neil, a choir movement composed of individual voices sounds unfamiliar, and not completely satisfactory. Perhaps the chorale movements are closer to what we hear in the form of madrigals, for example, and so not quite so unfamiliar as an opening chorus. In any case, I think what is unsatisfactory is more a matter of habit than of proportion. I have greatly enjoyed listening to a series of Kuijkens performances over the recent weeks, and I find any sense of a lack of familiarity disappearing.

If proportion refers to the balance between voices and instruments, or between chorus and aria movements, then I find the proportion, in this sense of balance, to be outstanding with Kuijken [8], whatever combination of performance and recording engineering is used to achieve it. In any case, it is not a question of OVPP versus modern small choir (or even traditional larger choir). As Kuijken has stated, whatever the performance forces, a sense of good taste is the most essential factor in a good performance (if I am not twisting his intent too badly). The choir is not necessarily obsolete, whatever its relation to Bachs performance practice.

I wonder if the idea of a missing closing chorale in BWV 98 is not also simply a matter of unfamiliarity? Aryeh posed this as a question in the first round of discussions, as well.

BWV 98 is my first opportunity to compare all of the available recordings for any cantata. A very enjoyable experience, for a relatively modest number, but it gives me a real appreciation of how much work went into the reviews which are archived from the first discussions. I often find that some of the earlier reviews place undue emphasis on negative details, but that is not especially the case this time. I find very little to take serious issue with in those details, with the exception of the comments on Leonhardt [2]. I do think it is important to emphasize that there are not any really poor performances. The difference between good and best in the individual movements is often a matter of personal taste, and those comparisons can overlook the overall effect of a performance. I find that the overriding distinction among recordings comes down to that of style: traditional choir, modern smaller choir, the unique H&L HIP style with boys choir and soloists, or OVPP. Note that neither the traditional nor modern choir structure has any claim to authenticity, and even the boys choir is much larger than Bachs..

There is no doubt that Agnes Giebel with Werner [1] and Arleen Auger with Rilling [3], are powerful soloists, in traditional interpretations which remain enjoyable. I find Ruth Holton with Leusink [5] different in quality, more delicate, but that does not necessarily mean a less successful performance. I would place a gap in style, but not quality, between her and the earlier recordings. It is probably unfair to single her out, as the other modern (and OVPP) sopranos are just about as good in BWV 98. Holton is likely the most widely known because of the availability of the Leusink set, where she is featured almost exclusively. Claus Lengert, the boy soprano with Leonhardt [2] is to my ears the least enjoyable, but others may enjoy or even prefer this tone. In any case, in Mvt. 3 he presents what is likely the closest approach to what Bach might have heard.

Gardiner [4] is a studio recording, misrepresented on the outer packaging as from the pilgrimage series. The booklet notes also refer to the pilgrimage recording series, but the recording dates from the previous year are presented correctly. In any case, it is a good modern choir version, and the best choice for those who prefer a male counter-tenor for the alto parts. We can expect the pilgrimage performance to eventually be released for comparison, and the Suzuki series appears to be secure of completion as well.

I have a slight preference for Koopman [7] in the modern choir style. It is one of his better performances, and I especially enjoy female alto Bogna Bartosz. Koopman comes with the standard warning that you need to learn to tolerate (or enjoy?) his abrupt continuo style in secco recitatives, frequently denigrated in BCW archives as part of the Harnoncourt doctrine.

If you prefer performances which pay special attention to continuo realization, that is one more reason to give Kuijken [8] a try. If you enjoy the uniquely structured cantatas we are discussing in recent weeks, three of them are available on a single disc, including BWV 55, so i will return next week for a few closing words. As much as I like Kuijken, I would not suggest this as my only performance. After listening for a while, it is especially good to return to a modern choir performance, Koopman [7] for example, for a more familiar sound. For the many who already have Leusink [5] available, either on CD or internet, that would do as well.

 

Continue on Part 3

Cantata BWV 98: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

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

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Last update: żAugust 22, 2012 ż23:25:46