Helmuth RillingBach Cantatas & Other Vocal Works
General Discussions - Part 1
George Murnu wrote (March 31, 1998):
Since this is my first message as a member of the group - although I have exchange e-mails with some of you in private and I have always read the threads - I think I should introduce myself. So my name is George Murnu, I was born in Romania but now live in a suburb of Washington D.C. and longing to go to New York. To quote George Enescu, my country's greatest musician, 'Bach is my daily bread' - not the most inspired translation but one that makes the point nonetheless. I am especially interested in Bach's vocal music although I'm not neglecting the rest of his output either.
I too have collected the Rilling series and I basically agree with Terry's remarks about the set. It is overall a remarkable achievement though sometimes uneven. It allows us to see how Rilling's approach to Bach has changed from the first recordings in the late sixties to the last ones in the mid eighties. Basically Rilling is becoming leaner over the years and the speeds are faster in the later releases. His soloists, as terry mentions, are almost never worse than reliable and the contributions of Augér, Watkinson, Equiluz, Nimsgern, and sometimes Schreier are outstanding. And I would also like to add a word for the outstanding chorus, Gächinger Kantorei.
I'm generally not a big fan of period-instruments performances, yet I'm starting to collect the Koopman set as well, the reason being the appendixes that offer alternate versions of cantata movements. I'm also collecting every modern-instruments performances of cantatas that I can; so far I have discs conducted by Fritz Werner, Kurt Redel, Kurt Thomas, Karl Ristenpart, Helmut Winschermann, Hans-Joachim Rotzsch, and I am looking forward the re-issue of Günther Ramin's cantata recordings already available in Germany.
Speaking of availability, Rilling's cantatas are available separately in France, Germany - one can try www.jpc.de but they only deliver in the European Community - and possible other parts of Europe, and of course in the U.S. And while is true that earlier issues did not name the soloists and not even the volume number, later prints do offer this information even on separate CD's.
I'm looking forward Rilling completing the secular cantatas series. About them in another message since I've already got carried away.
Wim Huisjes wrote (May 1, 1998):
Bob McDonald wrote:
< I am thinking about getting the Rilling performances of the complete Bach cantatas while they're on sale for about 275.00. Does anyone know if there are notes and translations included in this complete set? >
You must be referring to the set before the "Complete Bach" project by Hänssler Verlag. The cantatas in this project (same performances) are currently re-released at considerable speed at mid-price, ordered by BWV number.
Apart from the music, the set is sloppy. There are no notes, just the essentials (track numbers, names of performers, Sundays in the church year). German texts are included with English translations. Booklets are poorly done an the ordering of the cantatas is confusing. The first half of the set has no system. Halfway they decided to follow the church year, but didn't do so consistently. I bought the complete set as single releases but maybe if you buy it as a complete set a catalogue is included. If not, you'll have to make one yourself in order to find a cantata.
The set contains a lot of re-takes with other soloists, inserted in quite a few cantatas. That sometimes gives you the feeling that you suddenly move from one church to another.
The cantatas were recorded between ca. 1969 and 1985. Recording dates are sloppy also : if P.1985 is mentioned, don't believe it. It probably means 1975 or so with (at best) a re-take of an aria or another part in 1985. Nevertheless, I wouldn't want to miss the recordings for the world! The performances are varying (but that goes for any "complete cycle"). It contains a lot of excellent performances though. But since you asked about notes/texts etc. .....
Rilling's "complete cantatas" somehow always suffered from poor marketing policy by at least 4 labels (including Hänssler).
If you mean US $, go for it immediately. The savings will allow you to buy a pile of books to make up for the sloppy booklets. If you're talking UK pounds, think twice : you might get some extra's in the "Complete Bach" project at appr. the same price. If these are (almost) the only cantata's you have/intend to buy, think three times. There's a lot of good stuff out there and shopping around (although time-consuming) will be more rewarding than buying all cantata's by one conductor.
Rilling Cantata Set
Stephen Knopp wrote (October 13, 1999):
In need of some advice here. I have recently seen some recent information from the group about the availability of the Rilling Cantata set. Acquiring the "complete" set has been a great interest of mine for the past year. However, I am unsure as to which way to go. I own several copies of the Mass in B Minor. Without question, the Gustav Leonhardt version seems to me to be the finest version. Is a complete Leonhardt version of the Cantata set available? If so, does anyone know of any American distributors? To those who have a copy of the Rilling set, could you comment on the quality of the recordings?
Pablo Andres wrote (October 13, 1999):
In your message you said that you have several copies of the Mass in B Minor, I think that you have Philippe Herreweghe version. Why do you think that Gustav Leonhardt version is the best?
Wim Huisjes wrote (October 13, 1999):
The Rilling set was first released on single releases over a period of several years. Then Hänssler collected all 60 CD's in a large box and sold them at a lower price per CD. Both options have officially disappeared in their newest catalogue, though from what I see in several stores you might still find them in either format. If you look into the archives, you'll find descriptions of how sloppy and unorganized these options were (not the music).
Right now, they're available as single releases, as part of Hänssler's "Complete Bach":
Vol. 1 - 60 (label numbers 92.001 through 92.060). On these CD's the ordering is by BWV number. I bought them as single releases and don't know if they re-mastered them, added notes or other improvements. Also don't know if one can buy these 60 CD's as a complete set. Over here, they're available at mid-price.
The performance quality is good to excellent (no complete cantata cycle as a whole by one conductor would qualify as excellent: there will always be the occasional unsatisfying performance). If it's of importance to you: Rilling uses modern instruments, though his performance style is clearly HIP-influenced. Middle sized choir and orchestra, female voices.
The cantatas were recorded approximately in the period 1969 - 1985. Sound quality also varies from good to excellent (sometimes the date tells).
If you want the secular cantatas also (these are all new recordings): volume 61 - 68 (label numbers 92.061 - 92.068).
As for Leonhardt: his performance of the Mass in b is indeed one of the best available.
Teldec's complete church cantata set has Leonhardt & Harnoncourt as conductors. It was the first large HIP project that hit the scene. Recorded in the same period as Rilling's set. Apart from maybe two or three exceptions (for example BWV 51): consistent use of boy's voices/counter tenor, period instruments, etc.... Same comments as for the Rilling set (though IMO the sound quality is on average slightly better).
Probably still available on ten 6-CD boxes: 4509-91765-2 (60 CD's at approximately US $ 435 over here. In the US you might get a better deal).
The same CD's are available as volume 1 - 4 of Teldec's complete Bach 2000 project (15 CD's per volume). Label numbers: 3984-25706-2, 3984-25707-2, 3984-25708-2 and 3984-25709. You may have to wait a while before you can buy these volumes separately. Price over here would be around 60 x $ 6.50 = $ 390.
Teldec left out a few cantatas (in the BWV190's) that are present in the Rilling set. These can be found in Teldec's volume 5.
Also highly recommended!!!!
In the Bach 2000 project, the secular cantatas are in Vol.5 (11 CD's; Koopman, Schroeder, Leonhardt, Goebel, Jurgens & Harnoncourt conducting). This volume also has BWV 190, 191, 193 by Koopman. Also in volume 5: BWV 36c (Schreier), 200 (Werner) & alternative parts from BWV 63, 182 (Koopman).
I'll refrain from detailed comments: there's a lot to be found in the archives on both sets.
BTW: several fine cantata recordings by Leonhardt (others than in the Teldec cycle) can be found on Philips and Sony.
Both the L&H and Rilling recordings should be easily available in the US. Wouldn't want to miss either one of them!
Hope this is of some help.
Rilling Article from Liner notes/Tirade
Carl Burmeister wrote (January 12, 2000):
Bach Recordings, As promised, I have transcribed the article from the Edition Bachakademie notes. Parts are little too rah rah for my taste but that's marketing for you. My scanner's not hooked up right now or I'd have gotten it done sooner. I'd have included the German original but time does not permit.
Reprinted with the kind permission of Collegium USA
Tradition, Change, Modernity
Helmuth Rilling's complete edition of Johann Sebastian Bach's church cantatas
Back in 1970 Helmuth Rilling and his ensembles started recording albums of Johann Sebastian Bach's lesser known cantatas. By the eve of Bach's 300th birthday in 1985 this exercise had resulted in the first and hitherto only complete recording of Bach's cantatas. In return for their great artistic and editorial achievement Helmuth Rilling and Hänssler Verlag were promptly awarded the "Grand Prix du Disque". In a fundamental essay Rilling described his experience of this awesome project. "What impressed me most was that from the individual cantatas of the early years through the works composed at four-week intervals during the Weimar period and those of his first years in Leipzig, where he produced a new cantata almost every Sunday, to the late works created after yet a larger interval, no two cantatas are alike".
Today Rilling sees exploring this musical universe as the most important learning process of his musical career. "Only if you know Bach's cantatas can you say that you really know Bach". At the same time, the founder of Stuttgart's International Bach Academy already focused attention on the historical performance venue of this music: "Bach's church cantatas...were an integral part of the church service, for which he shared responsibility at the time. What the priest expressed in words, Bach expressed in music, commenting on the issues of each Sunday test..." For this reason Rilling's main interest, besides the album recordings, has always been to promote live performances of Bach's cantatas in church and concerts and to invite musicians and music lovers all over the world to become involved with this music.
Rilling's complete edition of Bach's church cantatas also mirrors the constant change in performance customs brought on by research and new practices. Still Rilling did not opt for the "original instruments" approach for understandable reasons. No matter how crucial the knowledge of "original performance practices" may be to make the music come to life, Rilling doesn't see much sense in reconstructing isolated aspects to convert the meaning of Bach's works to modern listeners who have a completely different background in every respect. The objective is still the same, even if emotionality, dynamism, continuo practice, articulation and phrasing, and many other elements that illuminate the spirit and meaning of the text have changed. This goes equally for recording technology, which has explored new ways of reproduction over the past years ranging between integral stereophonic sound and structural transparency of the music.
Even the names of the musicians contributing to this complex edition mirror half a generation of European oratorio tradition. This goes in particular for the vocal and instrument (al) soloists. To document the tradition, change and undiminished modernity reflected by this music, the complete edition of Bach's cantatas conducted by Helmuth Rilling, a milestone in recording history, has been included in Edition Bachakademie without making any changes. There are many good ways to arrange cantatas on the CD's. Edition Bachakademie's aim was to help the listener find the individual cantatas by using the order according to the Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis (BWV) by Wolfgang Schmieder.
1. Aktuellitat: Current, Being up to Date, Topical. "Modern" is such a loaded word in musicology. I'd might have substituted "Being Hip" for the comic value.
2. "Know" in the sense of being personally familiar with rather than in the sense of factual knowledge (kennen vs wissen)
3. "auseinanderzusetzen" implies gathering together to do something. "Involved" is "verwickeln" or "umfassen". My German is inadequate for this word. As an aside, I find the issue of involvement vital as the schism between audience and performers has become unacceptable.
4. Aktuellitat again; try "progress" instead
Johan van Veen wrote (January 13, 2000):
Thanks Carl, for printing this article. I just read an extensive interview with Rilling in a Dutch music magazine, so I didn't read anything new. But it is certainly interesting to hear his thoughts on the way to perform Bach's cantatas today. I don't share his view, though, and although he insists having studied baroque performance practices, I can't hear anything in his performances to prove that, although I haven't heard that many of his interpretations. I would like to add something about the translation of German terms: 'auseinandersetzen' means 'engage oneself in' - but: getting involved is not a bad translation at all. I wouldn't translate 'Aktualitat' with modernity, since that calls up all sorts of associations, which are not relevant here. What 'Aktualitat' means in this context is that Bach's music is still appealing to a modern audience, although it has been composed ages ago. It is my understanding that Rilling chooses to perform with modern instruments to underline that 'modernity' and because he believes that using period instruments would make Bach's music seem to be music from a past era. I believe that this is the fundamental difference of opinion between people like Rilling and representatives of HIP: they give different answers to the question how to underline that Bach's cantatas are 'aktuell' ("modern") - that Bach's cantatas *are* still 'modern' is something they all agree about.
Steven Langley Guy wrote (January 13, 2000):
Bach Recordings Thanks for posting this Carl it is very interesting and it does seem to be a little like propaganda to me!
(For this reason Rilling's main interest, besides the album recordings, has always been to promote live performances of Bach's cantatas in church and concerts and to invite musicians and music lovers all over the world to become involved with this music.) All, except those who play period instruments?)
(Rilling's complete edition of Bach's church cantatas also mirrors the constant change in performance customs brought on by research and new practices.) Except in the field of the use of same instruments Bach actually used!
(Still Rilling did not opt for the "original instruments" approach for understandable reasons.) "Understandable reasons" to who? I can't understand not using a lute on a lute part, a cornetto on a cornetto part, a viola da gamba on a viola da gamba part, an oboe da caccia on an oboe da caccia part, et cetera.
(No matter how crucial the knowledge of "original performance practices" may be to make the music come to life, Rilling doesn't see much sense in reconstructing isolated aspects to convert the meaning of Bach's works to modern listeners who have a completely different background in every respect.) This sound like rubbish to me! Most lovers of Bach are familiar with Bach played on period instruments - this is part of their mbackground in Bach - even if they are not lovers of HIP recordings/performances.
(The objective is still the same, even if emotionality, dynamism, continuo practice, articulation and phrasing, and many other elements that illuminate the spirit and meaning of the text have changed.) I bet Rilling uses HIP standards - only he uses HIP standards from the 1940-50s, when people finally accepted the need for keyboard continuo in Bach's music.
(This goes equally for recording technology, which has explored new ways of reproduction over the past years ranging between integral stereophonic sound and structural transparency of the music.
Even the names of the musicians contributing to this complex edition mirror half a generation of European oratorio tradition.) I bet the great performers on viols, baroque violins, recorders, baroque oboes, natural trumpeters, cornettists are absent?
(This goes in particular for the vocal and instrument (al) soloists. To document the tradition, change and undiminished modernity4 reflected by this music, the complete edition of Bach's cantatas conducted by Helmuth Rilling, a milestone in recording history, has been included in Edition Bachakademie without making any changes. There are many good ways to arrange cantatas on the CD's. Edition Bachakademie's aim was to help the listener find the individual cantatas by using the order according to the Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis (BWV) by Wolfgang Schmieder
) I think that Rilling is either an arch conservative or he got too far into his recordings to change to HIP. How does Rilling perform BWV 106? 2 Recorders & 2 Violas da gamba? Or does he substitute 2 flutes and 2 cellos? What about BWV 4? Modern trombones & trumpet? Or does he use a Cornetto and three Sackbuts? These are among the many important issues about instrumentation when approaching Bach's Cantatas. If he uses some early instruments then why not use all period instruments? A mixture of cornetts, recorders and viols just doesn't mix with modern vibrato-bound steel-strung violins, violas & cellos, modern oboes and metal flutes.
I have heard a few of the Rilling Cantatas on the radio and they strike me as being just okay. Give me Suzuki, Koopman, Harnoncourt or Leonhardt any day!
Steven Langley Guy wrote (January 13, 2000):
Bach Recordings Warning: Major tirade about Rilling ahead!
I intend no criticism or implied criticism of any of good souls on the List. But I do feel that the efforts of people who make recordings of music are fair game and critiques should be expected. Once again I thank Carl for the trouble he took to put this article on the list. As stated at the end in the interests of fair comment I will post a substantial and unedited (by me) interview with Helmut Rilling from an Aussie magazine soon. I will not comment further.
Thanks Carl, for printing this article. I just read an extensive interview with Rilling in a Dutch music magazine, so I didn't read anything new. But it is certainly interesting to hear his thoughts on the way to perform Bach's cantatas today. I don't share his view, though, and although he insists having studied baroque performance practices, I can't hear anything in his performances to prove that, although I haven't heard that many of his interpretations.
I get the impression (and it is only an impression) that conductors like Rilling say that they study baroque performance but they either promptly forget it, only superficially study it or they misrepresent what they actually know! Some conductors think if they tell the violinists to tone down the vibrato a little, use a chamber orchestra instead of a symphony orchestra, get the players to start the trills on the upper note, get a harpsichord in for the continuo and get in recorder players - Violą, you have a historically aware performance! This is the way things were done by modern instrument chamber orchestras in the 50s and 60s, but as far as performance in the year 2000 goes, it is simply third rate HIP. Nikolaus Harnoncourt once said that he would really like to hear a genuinely modern interpretation of the Cantatas - not simply a group using instruments that have changed little since the time of Tchaikovsky! Synthesizers? Computers? Kevlar Flutes and Oboes? Violins with carbon fiber strings? Maybe playing Bach on period instruments is the most modern way of approaching his music.
I would like to add something about the translation of German terms: 'auseinandersetzen' means 'engage oneself in' - but: getting involved is not a bad translation at all. I wouldn't translate 'Aktualitat' with modernity, since that calls up all sorts of associations, which are not relevant here. What 'Aktualitat' means in this context is that Bach's music is still appealing to a modern audience, although it has been composed ages ago. It is my understanding that Rilling chooses to perform with modern instruments to underline that 'modernity' and because he believes that using period instruments would make Bach's music seem to be music from a past era.
Well Bach ain't no Stockhausen! He is from a different era, and it could suggested that it is cultural imperialism to impose 250 years of change on Bach and suggest that we know better than Bach what Bach wanted. To try to make Bach 'fit in' to modern tastes seems to me to be a denigration of his music. We don't expect music from other cultures to try to fit in with late 20th Century European musical tastes? Does playing Beethoven on Fortepiano alienate a modern audience? Should Monteverdi and Biber be played on a modern symphony orchestra - so that modern audiences can connect with their music? Should Rameau and Lully be played on big symphony orchestras with big Italian tenors singing - so that we can appreciate what great composers they were?
Seems to me Rilling hasn't thought this through or very deeply!
I believe that this is the fundamental difference of opinion between people like Rilling and representatives of HIP: they give different answers to the question how to underline that Bach's cantatas are 'aktuell' ("modern") - that Bach's cantatas *are* still 'modern' is something they all agree about.
I think Bach's Cantatas were perhaps the finest examples of German 18th Century Cantatas we know. Yes, they are a music from the past and yes, they can still be very important music to modern musicians and listeners alike.
But, they are music from the past.
Not that there is anything wrong with that! We should say, "Isn't it fantastic that music that is over 250 years old still communicates so well to us!". We don't need some old conductor patronizing his audience by imposing the spirits of Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Copland, Shostakovich, etc. on Bach's music through his modern musicians as a means of making Bach fit in with some modern concept of how this music should sound.
Would Rilling think of doing this to Buxtehude's, Kuhnau's, Schelle's or Telemann's Cantatas? It probably hasn't even occurred to him! Like many, he seems to think that Bach wrote the only cantatas worth performing and is blissfully unaware of the cultural milieu of cantatas before and after Bach.
I am sorry about this tirade again Rilling but I wish he would simply come out and say "I don't like/understand/care about period instruments and, anyway, I was too far into my cantata recordings to make such an ignominious change. Apart from Bach, I'm not really interested in Baroque music and I couldn't care less about Telemann, Kuhnau or any of those other losers! The real reason for doing a non-HIP Cantata set is because there was a gap in the market for one! Karajan's dead now you know!?"
I have heard some of the Rilling cantatas and as far as non-HIP Bach cantatas go I prefer Karl Richter.
Okay, I'm ready. Flame away!
PS I will post a further interview with Rilling from an Australian magazine soon and I will not comment on it! I'll leave that to others.
Steven Langley Guy wrote (January 13, 2000):
From 24 Hours magazine of ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation September 1999 page 42 - 45
Johann Sebastian Bach - Towards 250
SHIRLEY APTHORP steals some rehearsal time from Helmut Rilling, a man who is passionate about Bach, about a very special anniversary.
It is inevitable that the year 2000, 250 years after the death of Johann Sebastian Bach, will bring a rash of special Bach projects. There will be Bach cycles, Bach books, Bach lectures, Bach festivals, doubtless the usual Bach T-shirts and Bach bottle-openers; and, of course, Bach CD's.
Long before all of this stuff started, before anybody else had even had the idea, Helmut Rilling was beavering away at it. He started recording all of Bach's sacred cantatas for the small German label Hänssler back in 1970, and struck with it until he'd finished, by which time it was 1985.
Meanwhile Teldec completed a similar series which Harnoncourt and Leonhardt shared the load, and of course Ton Koopman is set to become the first single conductor to record them all on original instruments. Then there's John Eliot Gardiner, with his mad scheme of weekly live recordings next year. And no doubt there are dozens of others. But Rilling got there first.
Evidently that wasn't enough. Now Hänssler is bringing out the Edition Bach Akademie, which will feature the complete works of Bach. Not the complete sacred works, nor the complete choral music; no. Everything the man ever wrote, or at least everything that hasn't been subsequently lost, on a special edition of 160 CD's. And the person at the helm is Helmut Rilling.
The question sends me by train to Cologne, where Rilling is conducting Bach's B Minor Mass on Easter Saturday. The choir is the excellent Gachinger Kantorei Stuttgart, with the vibrant but disciplined Bach-Collegium Stuttgart as the orchestra - the former founded by Helmut Rilling when he was a student back in 1954, the latter, again by Rilling, two years later.
So by the year 2000, Rilling and his forces will have been performing Bach for nearly half a century. That makes the prospect of an Easter B Minor Mass slightly daunting. Will it sound dusty? Are they bored with it? Is this going to be like those ghastly Karajan Brandenburg Concerto recordings? (I swear I didn't write this myself. Steven;-)
None of the above, thank God. Rilling works with modern instruments, but he's taken careful note of everything that's happened in the world of historically informed performance practice. What sets him apart is his strength of mind. It sounds fresh, yes, and informed, and young and alive; but it's still unmistakably Rilling, which also sometimes seems downright old-fashioned. Somehow the two worlds coexist. It's hard to imagine anybody else who could pull it off, but with Rilling, it sounds so organic that in the moment of performance you wonder how it could be done any other way.
Presumably that's why he's known in some circles as the Bach Pope - a nickname that he detests. Not that he lacks evangelical zeal. His Bach-Collegium Stuttgart grew and developed; until in 1985 it spawned the International Bachakademie Stuttgart. Even with the world map of that organization's activities staring you in the face, it's hard to grasp the scale of it. Rilling's scheme of lectures, workshops and concerts hasn't just spanned Eastern and Western Europe, from Seville to St. Petersburg. It's also taken in countless centers in North and South America, not to mention Japan and the Middle East.
So there's a lot to ask about in the tight framework of our hour-long interview just before his B Minor Mass in Cologne.
Unfortunately Rilling isn't in his dressing room at the time the interview is due to start. That's because he's still on stage, rehearsing his forces for the coming concert. And he stays there, interview date notwithstanding to the contrary, for another half-hour. There has been a last minute change in the line-up of soloists, and Rilling's not leaving the rehearsal until all of the resulting rough patches have been smoothed over to his satisfaction.
He expects me to understand this, too, and apology to me is kept to a minimum. Music has to come before music journalism, otherwise what would be the point? We've still got 20 minutes.
Which isn't enough time for polite preamble, so I ask him straight up; why does the world need a complete edition of Bach CD's?
'This is a good question, I think,' he responds amiably, 'Having done so much Bach over many years, I thought that it would be interesting to really say, do we know everything? And the interesting thing is that even I myself did not know certain things which I had to do - for example the chorale collection - they've never been recorded.'
'At first I thought, oh God, do I have to record 235 chorales? But now being in the process of that, this is wonderful! These chorales are of the same level as the chorales from the Matthew Passion or the Cantatas. We had an idea of making the chorale book of J S Bach where we combine solo chorales, for example the Klavierbuchlein for Friedmann, with these chorales and organ chorales, so you have the same topic - say Christmas chorales, with choir, and then with solo (the Christmas organ chorale). If you have the text, then you understand what's going on. And so we are doing this in 10 different CD's, with themes of the church year.
'Also, we know that many of the sacred cantatas of Bach come from secular cantatas, which he wrote and later on transcribed. Many of these secular cantatas have been lost, but some still exist. Others are partly lost but partly there. And we never recorded these before. So I think it's interesting to look what is not the mainstream.'
Doubtless so - but the Edition is not just a look at unknown Bach works. Why record everything?
'I think,' says Rilling, 'it's a sort of homage for Bach for the year 2000 - we say, "We admire you so much, dear J S, that we will take you earnestly, and we would like to know everything which we still have from you.'
'Also, this will be the last Bach year for a long time. The next Bach commemoration will be 2035, and this is a long time away - I will not be here any more.'
Furthermore, Rilling is of the opinion that you can't really know Bach just by knowing bits of Bach.
'Having performed and recorded all of the cantatas, I concluded that Bach can't be grasped through a single composition. You don't know Bach just by knowing the St Matthew Passion. It's the total of the decades I've spent occupied with Bach - his organ music, the Brandenburg concertos, the suites and solo concertos, the great vocal works and the cantatas that gives me the courage to say: I do know Bach quite well.'
Even so, Rilling's artistic leadership of the Edition Bachakademie project is anything but autocratic. Although he does not work with original instruments himself, he has invited those who do to lecture and teach at his Bach Academy in Stuttgart since its inception, and they're amply represented in the recordings. Thus we get Robert Levin in charge of the keyboard works, Hille Perl recording the gamba sonatas, appearances by Trevor Pinnock and Robert Hill, Jean-Claude Gerard and Ingo Goritzki on flute and oboe respectively, Dmitri Sitkovetsy recorded the solo violin works, and so on. Why such eclecticism in an edition that is being presented as 'complete'?
'You could say that this is the philosophy of the Bach Academy,' explains Rilling. 'I personally don't think that there is one style, which is correct, and other styles, which are wrong. There are many possibilities in our times to do Bach. I'm absolutely against an idea where you say. "This is correct." For example this summer Ton Koopman - this is the contrast - will come to Stuttgart and perform for the first time his version of the St Mark Passion.'
Curiously, some of the greatest stylistic variations within the Bach Edition occur between different recordings made by Rilling himself. The greatest variable is the date of recording. Although more than half of the 160 CD's are new recordings made especially for this Edition, many are re-releases Rilling's earlier projects, taking us back to the 1970's and his first Cantata recordings. And that's a different world.
"I'm working in this field for quite some time,' agrees Rilling. 'I think every human being changes, and every musician has to change also. You start from a certain point and you also do your best, and then you change. Certainly what we do today is very different from what we did say 25 years ago. If you compare the St Matthew Passion, which we did 20 years ago for CBS and the new Hänssler Edition recording, which came out two years ago, perhaps you would not think it is the same group and the same conductor. But I find this absolutely natural. I hope that I will do the B Minor Mass differently next year from what I do here tonight. I think there is no way of saying this is correct, that this is the CD, this is the performance - it always has to change.
'Of course in some ways you look back and say, "Okay, now I would do it completely differently". With some of the old cantata recordings, the difference from the style I do today is quite strong. But among our soloists we had some of the leading singers of our time, and I think it's a sort of document - you can say, this was that time. And who would say these people were wrong? Or, say, Klemperer or Stokowski, were they wrong? This was a different philosophy, and I always doubt if one can judge times past in relation to art today.'
On one hand there is a certain generous tolerance - or is it pragmatism? - in Rilling's attitude to questions of style. On the other hand, the very nature of his International Bach Academy activities proves that he does have some firm ideas of what's right and wrong in Bach performances.
'What we try to teach, when we go with our Bach Academies to countries like Russia or Argentina or Venezuela, is style,' he says. 'We say, "There are many schools in regard to basic interpretation, but in music making there are certain rules - how articulation is handled, how ornamentation is handled - and of course questions about tempo - what is an Adagio in Bach's time, what is it in the 19th century?" These are things, which we teach. So they can perform Bach and feel not ashamed to do it.'
'How important is it that they do Bach cantatas in Venezuela with period instruments? They don't have the period instruments. Where would they get them? (So what's Rilling's excuse? This argument would sound more convincing coming from Koopman or Gardiner. Steven). Who would give them the money to buy them? They are already happy if they have a concert at all. No. Better if we teach them how to use our instruments stylistically well, so they can do it.'
'Once, in Venezuela, after a lecture about the Christmas Oratorio, there was a spontaneous performance of this piece. Quite against everything we had taught them about in relation to performance style, hundreds of kids from slums were allowed to sing the chorale tunes. And who would dare to put an action of such social bearing to the stylistic test?'
Rilling's Bach activities alone seem, viewed from a distance, like the full-time activities of at least three musicians. But he's also busy as a symphonic conductor, with Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, and other repertoire, particularly contemporary music. Next year, as part of the Bach year, he will commission four different composers from four different cultural backgrounds (Wolfgang Rheim, Sofia Gubaidulina, Tan Dun and the young Argentinean composer Osvaldo Golijov) to write four new Passions, for performance in Stuttgart in September.
What motivates him? What, in the end, is in it for Helmut Rilling?
'Is that important? What I get out of that?' he counters with unexpected passion. 'I admire it, I think it should be music speaking to many people. Certainly I will also explain what it means, I will not only just do it. I try to involve many people in this wonderful world of bach, which I think is so much enriching one's life.'
Rilling stands, draws the interview smartly to a close. Enough talk. It's Easter, and there's a B Minor Mass to be performed.
I hope that this article was of interest to members of the List.
Wim Huisjes wrote (January 13, 2000):
Funny coincidence: apparently the Australian and the Dutch reporters were there at the same time: for all intents and purposes it's the same article. The Dutch magazine reports that the interview was done by Shirley Apthorp and Ronald Vermeulen.
Luis Villalba wrote (January 13, 2000):
Steven, This was a very generous thing to do. Thanks a lot.
John Graves wrote (January 14, 2000):
Steven, I learned the Bach Magnificat from a Rilling recording--a wonderful recording that still moves me. And I heard the choral music of Buxtehude for the first time on a Rilling recording, opening up the door to my learning about Bach's contemporaries. I'm really sorry that you feel that you must trash the man and impune his motives in order to disagree with his musical style.
Jan Hanford wrote (January 14, 2000):
In case anyone cares: just for the record, I adore Rilling's recordings. I don't care what his philosophy is or what instruments he uses. He makes music that I find profoundly beautiful.
Marie Jensen wrote (January 14, 2000):
(To Jan Hanford) I agree.
Steven Langley Guy wrote (January 14, 2000):
(To John Graves) You may notice that I spent about 4 hours (on and off) carefully typing in an interview with Rilling. I was trying to give a balanced viewpoint.
I think that his performances of Baroque music are old fashioned and do a disservice this music. I feel that Bach's music is great enough to rise above good and bad performances. But we should seriously question what is done with this music from time to time. Bach is not around to defend himself or his music and it is up to all of us to point out where his music is abused. The thing about Rilling that I dislike is his apparent (at least to me) attempt to divorce Bach from the Baroque and turn him into...well... some sort of Classical Music Icon - rather than the culmination of a tradition. The cavalier way Rilling treats Bach's orchestrations as an 'optional extra' also aggravates me. Rilling takes time in interviews to make it clear that he regards period instruments (which equal Bach's unique orchestrations) as a fad or merely an interesting sideline and influence from which modern instrument groups may plunder ideas. I think that when Rilling started his cantata recordings (in the 70s - when Leonhardt and Harnoncourt were well under way with their cantatas) the HIP/period instrument movement was well under way and it would have only been a willfully ignorant conductor to ignore the importance and inertia of this movement. Hell, I was just a 14 year old Australian kid and I could see the way this music was going! And I was certainly no-one special! I was (and am!) a nobody in a country far away from this activity! It seemed to me that using authentic or period instruments must be the new way forward! And that was in 1972 for heaven's sake! Where was Rilling?
I had quite a number of recordings of cantatas by Karl Richter and the Munich Bach Orchestra in the early seventies and they were interesting to me because Richter used recorders and the occasional viola da gamba. He used organ, harpsichords and chamber orchestras and (why don't I say it?) ARCHIV records were presented and packaged in such a seductive way that I could not resist!
Here I am at 40 years of age and I am amazed that this authentic versus modern instrument controversy still has any mileage! We only have to look at the starts to see where people are spending their money. Bach is a great Baroque composer who deserves a lot of respect for his human and artistic achievements and it should be clear that large amounts of his music cannot be successfully experienced on 20th Century modern instruments. Yes, violins are still violins and oboes are still oboes but let us not forget the 250 years separates us from this man. Conductors like Rilling do not seem to be willing to let go and reallylet Bach stand up on his own without 20th Century props.
Rilling may make moving Bach recordings but does he stop Bach from being a Baroque/18th century person with a Baroque/18th Century culture? I don't know.
Little things add up. Sure metal flutes can sound a bit like some wooden flutes, Baroque oboes superficially sound like modern oboes, natural trumpets are quieter than modern piccolo trumpets, 18th century strings still sound like strings but there are major differences. All these little things add up to a lot. The St Matthew Passion, the B Minor Mass and the Brandenburgs can be played pretty much by a modern orchestra. But what do we miss? But isn't it the subtlety that sets Bach apart from the rest? The subtlety of his counterpoint, melodies and orchestrations and the interplay of these things!
I know that we will always want to play Bach's music on whatever instrument we can lay our hands on but I for one cannot respect a view of Bach that does not respect Bach's intentions, style, orchestrations and sense of color.
This is why I feel that Rilling does not properly honor Bach's music.
Enrico Bortolazzi wrote (January 14, 2000):
John, I don't agree with you! Steven has done a great job sending us the Rilling point of view. Then he added his personal comment. These are two different things (and the subject of the mail is clear). Everyone has his opinion and it's respectable. But to me it's very important to know the point of view of each performer and what brought him to make a choice (like Rilling). So many thanks to Steven. And thanks to Mr. Rilling that explains us his ideas.
Regarding his opinion I don't want to re-start a HIP/non HIP war (too dangerous for our list) even if I like to read opinions different from mine (in the future I can change my mind, who knows?).
PS: In the first volume of "the world of bach cantatas" there are some interesting comments regarding HIP performances by Mr. Koopman. Don't miss.
Steven Langley Guy wrote (January 14, 2000):
I didn't mean to offend anyone and I did want to actually present the other side of the argument myself! I went a little too far with some of my comments but all I am really interested in is Bach's music and advocating its great qualities and depths to others if they are interested. In this we are all brothers and sisters - listeners and performers alike. Bach's music and inner thoughts survive debates, good and bad recordings and arrangements. I feel confident that people in the future will still want to play and hear this music even if there is little new to learn about it. Bach's music has a depth that is rare in any music.
Bach Sinfonias by Rilling
Piotr Jaworski wrote (February 16, 2000):
Dieter Wulfhorst wrote:
< Daedalus Music has a great CD sale of Bach recordings going on. (...) There are too many CD's to list that might be of interest to the Bach list members. A few examples: The Hänssler Bach cantata series with Rilling for $5.98 each; (snip) >
Among those unbelievably cheap Rilling CD's are two quite curious to me. Two volumes with JSB Sinfonias. Did anybody experience them somehow? I'd be grateful for any pros-&-cons comments.
Carl Burmeister wrote (February 16, 2000):
I bought these two CD's prior to buying the complete Rilling Cantatas so they are a little redundant in my collection.
I'm not sure if you are aware of what the contents are so I'll cover that first. They are a series of instrumental Sinfonias from the cantatas. Vol.1 has Sinfonias from BWV 4, 150, 196, 18, 12, 21, 152, 75, 76, 42, 249, 146, 35. Vol.2 has Sinfonias from BWV 35, 169, 49, 52, 188, 209, 156, 174, 29, 248, 106, 182, 31.
I enjoyed these CD's but honestly, the music loses a great deal out of context. As I've stated before, I like the Rilling work very much although there are a few exceptions where I find the performances uncharacteristically lifeless. This is less than 1/8 of what I've listened to so far. In particular, I've a recording of BWV 78 by Felix Prohaska, which I like better but that's another story.
Taken as a whole, where else can you get so much amazing music for so little money?
Advice on Rilling
Armagan Ekici wrote (February 29, 2000):
I plan to get some of the Rilling cantatas on Hänssler (to enrich my unashamedly HIP-dominated collection a bit). I would very much appreciate to learn which cantatas do you think represent Rilling's best recordings...
Carl Burmeister wrote (March 1, 2000):
While I have yet to discover the best, I can offer that the edition Bachakademie Volume 9 got me excited about what Rilling had done. Since then I bought the complete Rilling Cantata series and have gotten through about 1/3 of the collection. I've not had much progress lately as I've been busy and anyway I like to listen to 17th Century music as well.
I would also recommend Rilling's BWV 41.
Simon Crouch wrote (March 1, 2000):
To my ears, Rilling has been getting better as he gets older and some of his most recent recordings are absolutely first rate. His most recent cantata recordings are of the secular cantatas - and these are the ones that I'd recommend without hesitation.
Continue on Part 2
Helmuth Rilling: Short Biography | Gächinger Kantorei Stuttgart | Frankfurter Kantorei | Figuralchor der Gedächtniskirche Stuttgart | Bach-Collegium Stuttgart | Oregon Bach Festival
Recordings of Vocal Work: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 11 | Part 12 | Part 13
General Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5
Cantatas: Edition Bachakademie - Vols. 1-20 | Edition Bachakademie - Vol. 9 | Edition Bachakademie - Vol. 60 | Arleen Augér sings Bach - conducted by H. Rilling | Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau sings Bach - conducted by H. Rilling
Other Vocal Works: BWV 232 - H. Rilling | BWV 243 - H. Rilling | BWV 244 - H. Rilling | BWV 245 - H. Rilling | BWV 248 - H. Rilling | Chorales - H. Rilling
Cantate Label: Recordings of Vocal Works | General Discussions
Table of recordings by BWV Number