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Cantata BWV 67
Halt im Gedächtnis Jesum Christ
Commentary

 
 

Thomas Braatz wrote (April 24, 2001):
Aryeh wonders in regard to BWV 67, " this is the first of Bach Cantatas to be recorded in its completeness (by Straube), back in 1931! Why was this special cantata so (relatively) popular in those old days, I do not have a clue."

Spitta (1873) says, this is a work "that satisfies in every respect any demands you might make of it, particularly from the standpoint of a poetic nature." He also says, "if this is Picander's text, then he outdid himself." He also comments on the wonderful musical architecture of the cantata. Schweitzer (1905) uses it many times throughout his commentary on the Bach cantatas as a basis for illustrating many of his 'word-picture' ideas in Bach's music and he calls this cantata a 'symphonic tone-picture.' Even Voigt (1920) who advises adding a few more flutes and a clarinet, if necessary, and even has the audacity to suggest that the final bass aria ought to be performed by the entire bass section, because they have been neglected throughout the cantata, says, "this is a significant work containing deep religious poetry." He also says of the final bass aria, "on account of its deep poetry, it will always achieve the deepest effect, if the performance is done in a dignified manner." Voices such as these may have influenced the choice of this cantata over others in the early recording days, but even Ludwig Finscher in the Teldec notes (1977) states that this may be "one of the most original cantatas altogether." Another consideration is the relatively short playing time (at least it seemed shorter to me, or was that because it was so interesting?) that might have made it a good candidate for 78 records. How does this cantata compare with the average cantata length? I have not checked that.

I have only one original insight into this cantata, everything else has been discussed by the experts in the manner that Nicholas Anderson (Oxford Composer Companions: J.S.Bach - Boyd) summarized much that already exists. He simply refers to the bibliography, and that saves us a lot of work looking up each cantata reference to discover, for instance, that Schweitzer already had pointed out the connection between mvt. 6 Bass aria and the parody of it in BWV 234, a Lutheran Mass in A major.

In the 1st mvt. I was somewhat puzzled by the first entrance of the chorus in a mvt. that admonishes the disciples and all of us 'to hold on' to our strong belief in Christ's resurrection, while recognizing that they (and we) are in fact vacillating, fearful, insecure to the point of actually being terrified. Bach musically paints the idea behind the verb 'halten' ('hold') by allowing one of the vocal parts to 'hold on' to a note longer than might be expected, This 'holding on' to one's belief is further dramatized by the very long note (longer than that of the voice) played by the corno da tirarsi. What is startling here, however, are the repeated, very abrupt shorter notes sung by the other voices. This is now an admonishment, not an entreaty to beg you to do what is right, to remain with that which has been given, and to continue to believe. In German "halten" can have both meanings: "to hold" and "to stop." Both "hold" and "halt" are etymologically related in English, but, generally, when you try to say each word, "hold" has greater length or duration than "halt," and, of course the meanings are now different. The German language has both of these meanings in a single word (or verb). When Bach has "halt" sung on a short note, and when that is sung emphatically as in the Richter recording, the effect is similar to English in the phrase, "Halt, who goes there?" That means, "Stop dead in your tracks, and don't move!" Likewise, in the cantata, the majority of the voices are crying out emphatically to stop the negative attitudes of fear and despair that were already highlighted for us in BWV 6 Bleib bei uns, while a single voice supported by the horn says, 'hold on to what you have as long as you possibly can." Just having listened to the mvt. again, it appears to me to be a telescoping or overlaying of both meanings at the same moment in time, the faster note values saying, "Stop that behavior," and the long note values emphasizing, "Stay with your belief." For me this is evidence of a genius at work, making use of every inherent possibility and speaking simultaneously on more than just a single level. What a wonderful way to depict the battle which is the subject of the entire cantata. The battle is announced when the very first word is sung and the two sides are already clearly delineated from the very beginning!

Dürr (1971) comments on the 'artistically conceived, symmetrical construction of the 1st mvt. I will attempt to show how he describes the structure, if the formatting will allow it here (at the end are the measure numbers.) Section A' is in the middle of the section beginning at measure 55:

Section A Symphonia (Instruments alone) 1
- Choral Blocks w. independent instrumental parts 17
- Choral Fugues 33

Section A' Symphonia + Chorus 55
- Choral Blocks 75
- Choral Fugues + Instruments 91
- Symphonia + Chorus 114

Another way that Dürr blocks this mvt.:

Symphonia (Instruments alone) 1

Choral Blocks w. independent instrumental parts 17
Choral Fugues 33
Symphonia + Chorus 55

Choral Blocks 75
Choral Fugues + Instruments 91
Symphonia + Chorus 114

Schweitzer points out the 'ascending,' uplifting,' or 'rising' motifs in this mvt.

Mvt. 6 Aria Basso + Chor has cause much discussion among the experts, rightfully so. Dürr outlines the structure as follows:

A String mvt. (1)
B Bass solo + Woodwinds (10)
A' String mvt. + Choral verse 1 (25)
B' Bass solo + Woodwinds (37)
A" String mvt. + Choral verse 2 (53)
B" Bass solo + Woodwinds (66)
A"' String mvt. + Choral verse 3 (81)
B"' Bass solo + Woodwinds + Strings (95)

Schweitzer sees in this mvt. Christ appearing to the eleven disciples who are surrounded by turmoil, (a reechoing of the chorale in mvt. 4 surrounded by the two alto recitatives that depict the disciples' situation.) The tumult is immediately silenced upon Christ's appearance, so it becomes important not to introduce any rallentando or diminuendo as the transition from one section to the next occurs. When the woodwinds enter on a 'piano' dynamic level before the instrumental basses have finished, the basses must continue at their louder 'forte' level until they finish, thus enhancing the abruptness with which the change takes place. (Bach personally took the parts that had been copied from the score by someone else and inserted the dynamic markings in his own hand, leaving nothing to chance.) Schweitzer 'had a field day' with the bass solo, as he derived from this section alone what he termed the 'solemnity' or 'felicity' rhythm on the woodwinds, 'a rhythm of tranquil majesty.' In the "Friede sei mit euch" he detects a 'joy' motif unlike the typical 'jumping for joy' motifs that we see elsewhere. This is a quiet joy. He also calls it a 'transfiguration' motif.

This mvt. is noted for its contrasts:

Tumultuous Movement vs. Rest (or at least a restful attitude)
Chorus vs. Solo;
Higher Voice Ranges (SAT) vs. the Low Voice (Bass-Vox Christi);
Strings vs. Woodwinds;
Alternating Time Signatures - the Even Beat 4/4 vs. 3/4 Time;
Dynamic Markings: Forte vs. Piano.

Despite the fact that the chorale will still follow, Spitta sees or hears in this mvt the true conclusion of the cantata with that wonderful reverberation and reechoing of the bass voice as it continues to sing on in our minds or memories the blessing (or greeting) of peace long after we have left the church or have turned off the recording.

 

Cantata BWV 67: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Commentaries: Main Page | Cantatas BWV 1-50 | Cantatas BWV 51-100 | Cantatas BWV 101-150 | Cantatas BWV 151-200 | Cantatas BWV 201-224 | Other Vocal Works BWV 225-524 | Sources

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Last update: ýSeptember 28, 2011 ý21:55:18