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Thomaskantors & Thomanerchor Leipzig & Gewandhausorchester Leipzig
Bach Cantatas & Other Vocal Works
General Discussions - Part 2

Continue from Part 1

Karl Straube, and Thomanerchor

Boyd Pehrson wrote (October 7, 2001):
I have uploaded a photo of Karl Straube preparing his St Thomas choir for a cantata performance in 1930.

This photograph was taken about the time of the recording that Andreas posted. I have used high resolution scanning so members may inspect the photo in every detail. Doubtless, many of the singers you see in the photo will have sung on Anreas' posted MP3 file, as the dates are merely one year apart! So, download the file and photo, and enjoy your own 1930's Bach music video!

Andreas Burghardt wrote (October 8, 2001):
[To Boyd Pehrson] Thank you very much for the Straube photo and the interesting 18th century engravings. Straube always took a particular interest in questions of performance forces. This approach was noticeable in his 1904 performance of the Brandenburg concertos with small forces (altogether 14 players). He also performed the St. Matthew passion and the cantatas exclusively with the Thomaner choir in a time when the great passion of J.S. Bach were usually performed by a mixed choir of more than 200 singers.

In the last year of his life he reminisced: "In teaching the choir boys of St. Thomas' I have learned immensely .... [They] made me realize with final certainty that even in his monumental choral works Bach did not have in mind an enormous choir and a large orchestra ..." ("Rückblick und Bekenntnis", 1949)

The recording of the cantata "Halt im Gedächtnis" was part of a project started in 1931 by the Middle German Broadcasting Corporation to broadcast the entire cycle of Bach cantatas. The broadcast were transmitted every Sunday at 11.00 am and always live. The magnetic recording tape had not yet been invented. The broadcasting stations had to assemble their programs almost exclusively from live contributions. So, the sound documents are not archival recordings as we understand them today. Recordings were very costly because the recording capacity of recording disks was only a few minutes. Each cantata had to be recorded - in overlapping segments - onto several disks.

Thank you very much again,

Boyd Pehrson wrote (October 9, 2001):
[To Andreas Burghardt] Andreas, thank you for your compelling insights.

Many people tend to believe that the "authentic performance movement" began in the 1960's. And I realize a large movement did surface then. But as your information demonstrates, those who worked with Bach's materials on a daily basis, have always had a sense of what the performance standard should be for Bach's choral works. I don't believe we really ever lost
that understanding in places (like St Thomas'), even though various popular performance practices have sprung up from the one extreme(1000 voice choirs) to the other (one voice per part).

 

Mauersberger

Francine Renee Hall wrote (October 15, 2001):
Dear Teri, Jim, Brad and everyone else! The Mauersberger 5-CD Leipzig Classics set has just arrived from Amazon in the UK! I'm in tears of joy! The cantatas and the St. Matthew Passion (BWV 244) have been lovingly remastered using 24-bit technology (these were recorded in 1966 in Leipzig, at the Thomaskirche). There is no better aria that Bach wrote than the aria from BWV Cantata BWV 80 with Agnes Giebel, soprano. And the boys from the Thomasschule (a tradition dating from the year 1254) really make an atheist wanting and believing that there IS a GOD! Mauersberger is a worthy successor to Bach. Cantata BWV 180 is sheer joy. Right now I'm listening to cantata BWV 55. Enchanting! So, Suzuki, stand at attention! This Bach is full of life. Bloodless and souless??!! Hardly! Will discuss the other cantatas and the St. Matthew Passion as part of this set later. Thanks again everyone!

Francine Renee Hall wrote (October 16, 2001):
and thanks Aryeh and Philippe-- When the boys of the Thomaskirche sing the chorale "Ein Feste Berg Ist Unser Gott" coupled in response to the busy instruments below, well who else but Bach. The aria from cantata BWV 80 "Komm in mein Herzenshaus" as sung by Agnes Geibel, soprano, is, one of the most beautiful arias Bach ever wrote. Mauersberger as Kantor is indeed a worthy successor of Bach. with joy,

 

Anniversary Series of Bach’s death, July 28, 2000

Francine Renee Hall wrote (October 16, 2001):
The 5-CD Leipzig Classics set includes Cantatas BWV 18: 'Gleichwie der Regen und Schnee von Himmel fallt'; BWV 62: 'Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland'; BWV 78: 'Jesu, der du meine Seele' (CD 1); On CD 2: BWV 80: 'Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott'; BWV 140: Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme'; and BWV 55: 'Ich armer Mensch, ich Suendenknecht'. The remaining 3 CDs include the St. Matthew Passion (BWV 244), the latter to be covered later. The set catalog number is: 001819 2BC). The liner notes are short but very informative for the casual listener and /or student. The Thomaserchor Leipzig date from 1254, growing over the centuries from 50 to more than 100 in number. The Gewandhausorchester was founded in 1781 and include conductors as Arthur Nikisch, Wilhelm Furtwaengler, Bruno Walter and Kurt Masur. The present recording has Erhard Mauersberger, who was born in 1903 and died in 1982. The recordings were made in the Thomaskirche, Leipzig, in the 1960's, but lovingly remastered using 24-bit processing. Cantata BWV 18 is from the Weimar era, and uses basically a recitative and choral response from the early Bach. Cantata BWV 62 uses arias; and oboe to represent pastoral feeling as well as a bass aria to depict 'martial' aura since Christ is the 'conquerors of enemies'. BWV 78 uses the Protestant chorale to frame the work. Again symbolism is used when the flute combines with the tenor aria, while the bass aria uses strings, the latter meaning the strong victory of faith. The singers on CD 1 are: Adele Stolte, soprano; Peter Schreier, tenor; Theo Adam, bass.

CD 2 contains the famous cantatas BWV 80: 'Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott'; BWV 140: 'Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme; and BWV 55: 'Ich armer Mensch, ich Sundenknecht. The singers are: Agnes Biebel, soprano; Hertha Töpper, alto; Peter Schreier, tenor; and Theo Adam, bass.

I find that Bach's later cantatas can almost be felt as 'operatic', in the sense that there are recitatives, arias, choral(es) and 'love' duets so very beautiful. Bach doesn't seem to mind whether the libretto is secular or religious-- he will use the same music when necessary. In the cantatas the duets are between the beloved and bridegroom, Christ and humankind. In find the recordings in both sound and execution absolutely wonderful. They are moving and delightful. The spirit of Bach is captured wonderfully. This may not be HIP but it's not Mendelssohn either! If you don't like vibrato, well this isn't for you, but I dare you to hear a more lovely aria than Agnes Geibel gives in 'Komm in mein Herzenshaus in lovely counterpoint to the violincello!! And it doesn't suprise me that Peter Schreier was my top choice for Mozart's Requiem on Philips where he is conductor. With all his vocal training in Bach, he sure knew how to pick vocalists later on, in the Mozart Requiem case, !
Margaret Price!

I own Gardiner, Harnoncourt, Leonhartd, Rilling, Joshua Rifkin, and now Mauersberger as conductors for Bach's cantatas. This is typical of me. I like to have several interpretations one work so that whenever the fancy moves me I can pick and choose from standard to HIP. (PS: I always enjoy reading that Bach used symbolism and riddles much in the Renaissance tradition of Josquin, as discussed by Philip Pickett, in his 'Vanitas' notes to the Brandenburg Concertos.)

Francine Renee Hall wrote (October 17, 2001):
Please excuse my typos to my previous post on Bach's cantatas. (I also forgot to mention Rene Jacobs as another director I have in my cantata collection.) Most importantly, does anyone know about the following ThomasKantors, also in the Leipzig Classics collection?-- Günther Ramin, Kurt Thomas, and Hans Joachim Rotzsch? Thanks

 

Language and HIP

Francine Renee Hall wrote (October 18, 2001):
I saw the documentary and read the book called 'The Story of English'. Standardized and modernized English didn't take place until the early 20th century in England. No one seems to have heard Chaucer and Shakespeare accurately pronunicated (I have, in school...). As a Dowland lover and of Elizabethan music in general, it is interesting that the loudest praises of HIP got towards those works that soften the English pronunication so much that anything hinting of sexuality and other matters is rarified and purified. This was the case of the Anthony Rooley L'Oeseau Lyre sets of Dowland's Books of Songs. They are beautiful, but they're not really HIP. The voices like Kirkby et al are also purified to become quite impersonal. The one true HIP recording that I own as regards Elizabethan songs is on Hyperion sung by Glenda Simpson who sings in constant quick vibrato and gutteral Elizabethan pronunciation. In fact the cover states "Sung in original Elizabethan pronunciation". Take my Leipzig Classics set, for example. Bach's cantatas are sung by the St Thomaschule boys choir as upheld by tradition for centuries, as well as directed in succession by the ThomasKantor. The pronunciations by the vocalists are definitely Germanic and gutteral, not soft and sweet as sung by English madrigalists. So a bit rough and tough applies to HIP, not always the blandness of the worst trends in HIP today. P.S. I'm a HIP lover, sure, but I don't worship it.

Thomas Braatz wrote (October 18, 2001):
Francine stated:
< Take my Leipzig Classics set, for example. Bach's cantatas are sung by the St Thomaschule boys choir as upheld by tradition for centuries, as well as directed in succession by the ThomasKantor. The pronunciations by the vocalists are definitely Germanic and gutteral, not soft and sweet as sung by English madrigalists. >
You have not heard what one ThomasKantor (1981-82) was able to do with (or is it 'to') the Thomaner Chor. In my discussion of BWV 137, I commented as follows on the feature that you refer to above:

Rotzsch BWV 137

< It is this uncanny 'attackless' sound (without the raising or lowering of pitch) that I hear in the Thomanerchor. Of course, the strong German consonants are also reduced from their normal vigor. They are emasculated and I wonder if they now teach American English (sloppy) vowels that slide effortlessly into sound without any barrier. Did you know that German vowels in the initial position of a word are correctly pronounced with a type of consonant, a glottal stop? [Test case: "Eine alte Eiche" ("an old oak tree") ] English slides gradually into the vowels, but German distinctly inserts the glottal stop before each word. It sounds almost as though the Thomaner have become Americanized in this regard. I will need to listen to more Rotzsch to see if this theory holds up and offers an explanation for the muffled, less precise musical articulation of words. >

Kirk McElhearn wrote (October 18, 2001):
Francine Renee Hall wrote:
< I saw the documentary and read the book called 'The Story of English'. Standardized and modernized English didn't take place until the early 20th century in England. No one seems to have heard Chaucer and Shakespeare accurately pronunicated (I have, in school...). >
Well, yes and no... I too have seen the series and read the book, as well as studied linguistics.

First, there were major changes in the 17 and 18th centuries, both in pronunciation and grammar. Lexis changed considerably as well, as a new wave of French words entered the language.

Regarding pronunciation, do you recall the bit in the series where they went and listened to some Appalachians speak? Many linguists believe that this accent (an American accent) is much closer to that of Shakespeare than any other currently spoken. In the same manner, Canadian French is very close to Moliere's French...

Jim Morrison wrote (October 18, 2001):
[To Francine Renee Hall] Is this Elizabethan disc on Hyperion the only one you know of by Simpson on which she uses period pronunciation? You see, I didn't find this disc online, but I did find a couple of others.

Francine Renee Hall wrote (October 19, 2001):
[To Jim Morrison] I own several CDs with Glenda Simpson (on Amon Ra: CD-SAR-50, "Now What Is Love? Aspects of Love in the 17th Century" includes works by Purcell, Dowland, Simpson, etc.; on Nonesuch: 9 9029-2, "O Dolce Vita Mia: Italian Music from the High Renaissance", The London Early Music Group", works by Villanesca, Saltrarello; Saga Classics EC3392-2, "Sixteenth Century Music: The Muses' Garden for Delights", The Camerata of London, (countries covered by songs-- Italy, England, Germany and Spain). BUT the only one I know of that uses authentic Elizabethan is Hyperion, CDA66003, "English Ayres and Duets: sung in authentic Elizabethan pronunciation", The Camerata of London, with Glenda Simpson, Paul Hillier, Barry Mason and Rosemary Thorndycraft. The spelling is accurate also. And remember how end rhymes are not actually rhymed in modern English? For example, the words 'love' and 'prove' actually rhyme when one correctly pronounces the word 'love' as "Louvre" (from the Museum). I hope the Hyperion is still in print! It's lovely!

Francine Renee Hall wrote (October 19, 2001):
[To Kirk McElhearn] Yes, when William the Conqueror won the Battle of Hastings in 1066, the English language grew enormously with a new influx of French words. Perhaps English is so popular because the vocabulary base from many different countries is constantly growing. Yes, I've heard about the Appalachian / English connection. The music too is closely related. Just think of all those Baltimore Consort CDs on Dorian which put out 'folk' based American, Canadian and regional music....

Bradley Lehman wrote (October 21, 2001):
Francine Renee Hall wrote:
< (...)The spelling is accurate also. And remember how end rhymes are not actually rhymed in modern English? For example, the words 'love' and 'prove' actually rhyme when one correctly pronounces the word 'love' as "Louvre" (from the Museum). >
So, this discussion of pronunciation leads to the obvious question: any of you have good recordings of the B Minor Mass (BWV 232) and Magnificat (BWV 243) that use Germanic pronunciation of the Latin and Greek? (For example, the Greek: "Kyrie eleison" with "eleison" as a three-syllable word eh-LYE-zohn rather than four? Or the Latin: "pleni sunt coeli" with "coeli" as TZOEli, and all the "qu" everywhere as "kv"?) It gives a very different sound from the more typical Italianate Latin that people seem to default to in music.

I enjoy the French Latin that Herreweghe's and Christie's groups use in the music of Marc-Antoine Charpentier.

------

In grad school I spent four or five years singing in Edward Parmentier's "Early Music Ensemble" chorus at the school. He was (is) meticulous with pronunciation, diction, articulation, dynamics, and the meaning of the words the chorus sings...we spent entire terms working on only a small group of pieces, and it was a good experience. His emphasis is on making every individual line as independently expressive as it can be, rather than sculpting large blocks of choral sound...so the lines are moving in and out of one another all the time, and every line is changing dynamics every few words accordinto the musical line and the meaning of the text.

It certainly gives an interesting sound. I like it. But I heard plenty of snide complaints about it from people in other departments: usually along the line, "With all that articulation he's trying to make his chorus sound like a harpsichord!," or "This just sounds like *%@#%!" I think what they were trying to say was that they were surprised and uncomfortable, and therefore couldn't take him seriously. If his way of choral singing in this repertoire is plausible, they fear that their own mainstream way is "wrong."

A more valid complaint was that we didn't attract many of the best singers from the other departments: they weren't willing to put in that much rehearsal time, or curb their vibratos, or try a style of music outside their comfort zone. Or maybe they were afraid that these "new ideas" would mess up their careers, or something. So, some of our sections were made up of singers long on enthusiasm and short on technical control or projection (I count myself among these)...still, we got some pretty good sounds despite that.

-----

Here's what Frescobaldi had to say in the preface of one of his books of keyboard music, 1637:

"This kind of playing [i.e. toccatas], just as in modern madrigal practice, should not stress the beat. Although these madrigals are difficult, they will be made easier by taking the beat sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly, or even pausing, depending on the expression of the sense of the words."

Yes. Just as in 17th-century Italian madrigal practice, i.e. ensemble music to be sung. Tempo fluctuations according to the sense of the words.

That preface is among the documents that every keyboard player of Bach should get to know, since Bach was a fan of Frescobaldi's music. It suggests some ideas that can be useful in playing Bach, as well:
http://listserv.albany.edu:8080/cgi-bin/wa?A2=ind0006&L=hpschd-l&P=R10001

-----

Also, have any of you seen this book and CD set:
_Singing early music : the pronunciation of European languages in the Late Middle Ages and Renaissance_ / edited by Timothy J. McGee with A.G. Rigg and David N. Klausner. Bloomington : Indiana University Press, c1996. 299 p. : ill. ; 26 cm. + 1 sound disc (digital ; 4 3/4 in.)

I saw it briefly as it came into the University of Michigan library new just before I left; but I didn't have time to read it then. Since then I haven't had access to a library that has it, but I think it would be worth a close look.

Thierry van Bastelaer wrote (October 22, 2001):
[To Bradley Lehman] The choir I sing with, the Washington Bach Consort (www.bachconsort.org) uses German latin. We have not yet recorded the B Minor (BWV 232) (yet?), but our CD of Magnificats by JSB (BWV 243) and CPEB (Newport Classic NCD 60155) uses that pronunciation (although the recording is quite distant).

Marten Breuer wrote (October 22, 2001):
Bradley Lehman asked:
< So, this discussion of pronunciation leads to the obvious question: any of you have good recordings of the B Minor Mass (
BWV 232) and Magnificat (BWV 243) that use Germanic pronunciation of the Latin and Greek? >
Suzuki uses the Germanic pronunciation on his Magnificat recording. Peter Schreier does so with the Missae breves BWV 233-236 (this recording also contains the Magnificat). Although this recording is not HIP, I like it very much as the singing of Barbara Bonney and the RIAS Kammerchor is very fine.

 

Photo Upload: Straube's First Radio Broadcast

Boyd Pehrson wrote (October 24, 2001):
I have located a photo of the Thomaners and Karl Straube's first radio broadcast. It has been uploaded into the photos section of Bach_Cantatas. Also, I have loaded some splendid photos from the DDR era of the Thomaners sharing Cantata copies. Enjoy!

 

Berlin Classics Cantatas

Kirk McElhearn wrote (January 20, 2002):
Berlin Classics has several boxes of cantatas recorded in the 50s and 60s. Does anyone know where I can get these in Europe (on-line dealer)? BC themselves don't seem to have a web site...

François Haidon wrote (January 20, 2002):
[To Kirk McElhearn] I think you can find most of them at www.jpc.de

François (Currently enjoying Brüggen's St John Passion)

Aryeh Oron wrote (January 20, 2002):
[To Kirk McElhearn] I bought all of them (Ramin, Kurt Thomas, Mauersberger, Rotzsch, Guttler, Schreier) in early 2000 from amazon.de. The prices at that time were about 10 DM per CD (+ shipment). The content of each box can be seen at the relevant Performers pages of the Bach Cantatas Website. The index to the performers pages: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Performers/index.htm

Kirk McElhearn wrote (January 20, 2002):
[To Aryeh Oron] Are they all worth having?

 

Berlin Classics info?

Kirk McElhearn wrote (March 4, 2002):
Berlin Classics does not seem to have a web site. I am trying to find some info on their set of cantatas - other than what is on the Bach Cantatas web site. Has anyone ever come across anything that resembles a catalogue?

Aryeh Oron wrote (March 5, 2002):
[To Kirk McElhearn] What information do you need to know about the Berlin Classics sets, which is not available on the Bach Cantatas Website? In the entries of Ramin, Kurt Thomas, Mauersberger, Rotzsch, and Guttler in the Performers' section you can find the data about each CD in each set. For the cantatas which have already been discussed in the BCML, you have links to the relevant pages of the the cantatas. In the cantata pages there is information about the recording date, the singers, and the TT. The only information missing is the catalogue number, which I avoid putting, because it changes with every re-issue. But this information can be easily find in the internet stores.

Kirk McElhearn wrote (March 6, 2002):
[To Aryeh Oron] I'm trying to find precise details for each of their box sets of Bach. I know there is some data on the web site, but not enough.

(Basically, I'm trying to find out what's on each set to ask for a few of them for review...)

Riccardo Nughes wrote (Maarch 6, 2002):
[To Aryeh Oron]
Bach Made In Germany
Vol.1
Cantatas BWV 12, 24, 36, 41, 42, 43, 51, 57, 65, 67, 72, 73, 79, 92, 95, 103, 106, 111, 117, 119, 128, 131, 137, 138, 144, 177, 179 + Johannes Passion + Organ Works BWV 540, 545, 565
Thomanerchor Leipzig-Gewandhaus Orchestra
Conductor Guther Ramin
Lepzig Classics 12 CD BC 1800
Recorded 1947-1956 (Mono)

Vol.2
Cantatas BWV 4, 11, 51, 54, 56, 59, 68, 71, 82, 111, 140 + Magnificat + Motets + Christmas Oratorio
Thomanerchor Leipzig - Gewandhaus Orchestra
Conductor Kurt Thomas
Leipzig Classics 8 CD BC 1812.2
Recorded 1958-1960

Vol.3
Cantatas BWV 18, 55, 62, 78, 80, 140 + Matthaus Passion Leipzig ThomanerChor, Gewandhaus Orchestra
Conductor Erhard Mauersberger
Leipzig Classics 5 CD BC 1819 2
Recorded 1966-1970

Vol.4
Cantatas BWV 1, 4, 14, 21, 26, 29, 31, 36, 40, 50, 61, 66, 68, 71, 79, 80, 106, 110, 119, 134, 137, 140, 172, 173, 173a, 192, BWV 198 + Magnificat
Thomanerchor Leipzig, Gewandhaus Orchestra, Neues Bachisches Collegium Musicum
Conductor : Hans-Joachim Rotzsch
Leipzig Classics 11 CD BC 1823 2
Recorded 1975-1983

And also :
Vol.9
Bach Sons
CPE Bach, Symphonies WQ 173, 174, 175, 178, 179, 180, 181, WQ 183 n°1-4 + others
JC Bach Symphonies Op.6 n°6, Op.9 n°2 & Op.18 n°2,4,6
JCFriedrich Bach, Symphonies HW I/6, I/10, I/20
WFBach Symphonies F.65, 67, 85, 88, 91, 92.
Various Orchestra- dir. Helmuth Koch
Burkard Glaetzner- dir.Hartmut Haenchen
Berlin Classics 6 CD BC 1869-2
Recorded 1969-1993.

As you've seen info about volumes 5 to 8 are missing : however, one of them should be a 15 CD box set dedicated to the complete organ works recordeby various artists

Hope this can be useful to you.

Kirk McElhearn wrote (March 6, 2002):
[To Riccardo Nughes] Very much, thanks.

 

Cantate reissues, Rifkin, Schickele

Nick Ford wrote (April 7, 2003):
[To Aryeh Oron] I have watched many of the postings recently to realise that here is a fund of knowledge on the subject, so wondered perhaps if you (or anyone) could help ?

Years ago as a student I used to peruse the music and record shops etc. to pick up whatever I could that was going cheap (being a student!). One album I picked up at the time was an EMI recording made in 1960 in the ThomasKirche by Kurt Thomas with the Gewandhaus Orchestra Leipzig and the choir of the Thomaskirche. The effect that cantata BWV 54 had on me at the time was, and still is stunning, and it has had the same effect on every musical friend I have ever inflicted it on. I'm sure it is not HIP (or whatever), but the intensity of the heartbeat strings in that extraordinary opening and Marga Höffgen's unbelievably earthy and solid performance is still for me one of the most profound of musical experiences.

My question is were there any more of these recordings, and are they anywhere available.

thanks in anticipation,

Simon Crouch wrote (April 7, 2003):
[To Nick Ford] A huge pile of Kurt Thomas' Bach recordings were released a while ago on Berlin Classics 0018122BC (an eight CD set).

Most of Kurt Thomas' recordings as a Thomaskantor were reissued in CD form by Berlin/Leipzig Classics. In year 2000 Leipzig Classic issued a 8-CD box set under the title 'Bach Made in Germany - Vol. 2'. Cantata BWV 54 with Marga Hoffgen is included. This set is easily available from the Internet stores.

To refresh my memory, I am going to listen to it right now!

For details, see the page dedicated to Kurt Thomas' recordings of Bach's vocal works: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Performers/ThomasKurt.htm

Bob Henderson wrote (April 7, 2003):
Yes there are other Kurt Thomas/Thomanerchor/Gewandhaus/Leipzig recordings.There is a wonderful "Christmas Oratorio" (BWV 248) with Agnes Giebel, Marga Höffgen, Josef Traxel and a very young Fischer-Dieskau. Published in this country under Seraphim SIC-6040. LPs of course. Dated to about 1970 or earlier. I find that it holds up well today.

 

Bonanza

Bob Henderson wrote (February 15, 2004):
About three weeks ago a tractor-trailer pulled up outside the house. He unloaded sixety boxes of LPs, an entire collection which had made its way to Florida from LA, a distance of more than 2500 miles. The recordings belong to my youngest daughter's fiancee who has neither the space nor money to store them. They are left to him by his father who died three years ago. He was going to dispose; I offered to keep them until he has a house large enough (and strong enough) to house them.

These are 4000 in number, about 60 feet in length. Opera, 'classical', voice, jazz, They date from the mid 1950s to 1990, and thus span the entire stereo era of the LP. They are in excellent - to- new condition. About half are still sealed and never been played.

I am still unpacking and cataloguing. But here is one find: an early stereo (I think late 50s - early 60s. recording of BWV 4 Christ Lag in Todesbanden along with BWV 111, Kurt Thomas, Leipzig Thomanerchor and Gewandhaus Orchestra, with Giebel, Weimann, Siebach, Rotzsch and Adam. (Turnabout 34048S).

I know that Thomas made other Bach recordings and I have his Christmas Oratorio (BWV 248) on LP but I was unaware of other cantata recordings. This one is not in the current CD catalogue.

Early listening reveals good sound with the sopranos and altos well defined against the modern instrument orchestra. A rather stately interpretation which takes the long line and allows the music to speak. The church organ as part of the continuo, a real presence. A nice balance between forces. Impresses as far and above the usual large force - 'symphonic' interpretations typical of the recording age. And it fits nicely within the span of other favorites of this music: Richter, Gardiner, Suzuki.

Are list members aware of other Thomas cantata recordings?

Anne Smith wrote (February 15, 2004):
[To Bob Henderson] Wow!! A dream come true.

Jack Botelho wrote (February 16, 2004):
[To Bob Henderson] Please feel free to post further as you uncover more oldies but goldies as you work through that collection Bob!

Aryeh Oron wrote (February 18, 2004):
[To Bob Henderson] Kurt Thomas recordings of Bach's cantatas (including BWV 4, BWV 111 & XO) have been re-issued couple of times by Berlin Classics. See: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Performers/ThomasKurt.htm

KT recorded Bach's cantata & other vocal works also for L'Oiseau Lyre. AFAIK those ecordings have never been issued in CD form.

 

Thomanerchor

Continue of discussion from: Members of the BCML & BRML - Part 6: Year 2004-3 [General Topics]

Eric Bergerud wrote (December 31, 2004):
Unless I am bungling the search mechanism on both Archiv and Amazon, it's no easy matter to find recordings done by the Thomanerchor Leipzig. There are none listed on Archiv and only three on Amazon (all used). I stumbled on one at a local used CD shop with the Thomanerchor doing some cantatas with the Neues Bachisches Collegium Musicum. It's a nice performance - a good sized choir with, you bet, lots of boys singing. Rather odd that there aren't more. Perhaps European Bach fans are more fortunate.

Also a little odd that there aren't more portraits of Bach. I guess it's testimony to the very limited prestige held by musicians in that era. And things didn't get better for a while. We have, as I understand it, only a handful of Mozart or Haydn portraits. (Maybe Händel was better memorialized - he had royal patronage of a sort after all.) Beethoven was a different story. Beethoven apparently a very striking physical presence, something I've never heard noted about either Bach or Mozart. Also he was more famous in his lifetime than any musician had been previously. A generation the problem went away with the advent of photography. (A J.S. Bach beer mug?

Now that's an idea that I like. If there aren't reproductions being made, maybe I could interest the list into a little venture. How could one enjoy a cantata without sipping on a Miller Lite? Course in Bach's life he would have tippled some local Saxon brew. I don't think I've ever had any. In my Germany days I was - shock - stuck in Berlin, the only area, East or West, that had very poor beer. Seems that the old Junkers associated beer swilling with dissolute Bavarians so they stuck to their mind-bending corn schnapps. The rich ones like Bismarck had private booze merchants bringing in the best from far and wide. Bismarck was fond of a concoction called a "Black Velvet" made with champagne and Guinness Stout mixed half/half. Actually very good. Leipzig isn't that far from either Munich or Prague: bet Bach did pretty well.)

Continue of this part of the discussion, see: Thomaskantors - General Discussions Part 2 [Performers]

John Pike wrote (December 31, 2004):
[To Eric Bergerud] Yes. It is probably difficult to get hold of good quality prints of Bach. The famous portrait of Bach by Haussmann is, I think, in Princeton University Library. Maybe they produce a print. I think the portrait belongs to William H Scheide, who is a member of the American Bach Society. There are about 6 or 7 portraits of Bach but it is highly likely that one of these is not of Bach at all. There is a useful website on the subject, "The face of Bach", by Teri Noel Towe, a member of this group: http://www.npj.com/thefaceofbach/

For the American Bach Society, visit: http://www.americanbachsociety.org/

John Pike wrote (December 31, 2004):
[To Eric Bergerud] For a print of Bach, you could also try the Leipzig Bach Archive, situated in the Bose House/Bach Museum, just across the road from St Thomas': http://www.bach-leipzig.de/

Aryeh Oron wrote (December 31, 2004):
Eric Bergerud wrote:
"Unless I am bungling the search mechanism on both Archiv and Amazon, it's no easy matter to find recordings done by the Thomanerchor Leipzig. There are none listed on Archiv and only three on Amazon (all used). I stumbled on one at a local used CD shop with the Thomanerchor doing some cantatas with the Neues Bachisches Collegium Musicum. It's a nice performance - a good sized choir with, you bet, lots of boys singing. Rather odd that there aren't more. Perhaps European Bach fans are more fortunate."
Recordings of Bach's vocal works with the Thomnarchor are not so difficult to find.
All the last six Thomaskantors have recorded with them. See:
K. Straube: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Performers/Thomaskantors.htm
G. Ramin: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Performers/Ramin.htm
K. Thomas: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Performers/ThomasKurt.htm
E. Mauersberger: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Performers/Mauersberger.htm
H.J. Rotzsch: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Performers/Rotzsch.htm
G.C. Biller: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Performers/Biller.htm

Happy New Year & Enjoy,

John Reese wrote (December 31, 2004):
Eric Bergerud wrote: < Unless I am bungling the search mechanism on both Archiv and Amazon, it's no easy matter to find recordings done by the Thomanerchor Leipzig. There are none listed on Archiv and only three on Amazon (all used). I stumbled on one at a local used CD shop with the Thomanerchor doing some cantatas with the Neues Bachisches Collegium Musicum. It's a nice performance - a good sized choir with, you bet, lots of boys singing. Rather odd that there aren't more. Perhaps European Bach fans are more fortunate. >
I have a recording of the Thomanerchor doing the Christmas Oratorio, dated back before the Berlin wall fell. The tone quality is about that of a high school choir, although they do hit the right notes. Maybe the quality has improved since then?

Aya Itoi wrote (December 31, 2004):
John Reese wrote: < I have a recording of the Thomanerchor doing the Christmas Oratorio, dated back before the Berlin wall fell. The tone quality is about that of a high school choir, although they do hit the right notes. Maybe the quality has improved since then? >
I heard all the four XO (BWV 248) concerts in Leipzig two weeks ago. (All four were completely sold out already in August, although the tickets cost as high as 70 Euro - VERY expensive for a European church concert.)

I think there were maybe 40 boys, the youngest being 8 or 9 years old. St Thomas Church is a difficult church to do music in, and the Gewandhaus Orchestra does not always play their best there. (Some of them are too old, too young, not too interested, etc.) But sometimes they play also very, very good. (Two years ago it was wonderful - you just never know!) Prof. Biller knows exactly what to do with the boys, and this year they sounded very inspired. The angel voice is sung by a young boy, who was wondefully musical. And the atmosphere is, of course, superb. So I think you conpensate the difficulties in this church with the very special reasons why you want to hear Bach's music there.

They have a ncew XO CD from 1998, which I think is quite nice, but this was recorded in the Nicholaikirche.

Aya Itoi
(a Japanese who lilves in Germany and loves Leipzig)

Douglas Cowling wrote (December 31, 2004):
Aya Itoi wrote: < Prof. Biller knows exactly what to do with the boys, and this year they sounded very inspired. The angel voice is sung by a young boy, who was wondefully musical. >
The interesting thing about German choirs is that they don't use the over-cultivated head tone which is so fashionable with English choirs. And of course the boy altos have a completely different sound from the adult countertenors which are so ubiquitous in Bach ensembles these days. I've always wondered if the modern German choral style, which is quite rough-and-ready, reflects a continuous vocal tradition or whether the heaviness is an influence of bel-canto. Certainly, Italian choirs such as the Sistine Chapel cannot not imagine any music except through a Puccini prism.

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (December 31, 2004):
[To Eric Bergerud] There are other pictures, but none that are authentic.

As to the Thomanerchor, they have recently been recording on Philips label. The easiest way on Amazon is either use Thomanerchor, St. Thomas Church Choir, or Leipzig. It is a lot easier on the German counterpart (Amazon.de). I have seen quite a few on the major vendors.

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (December 31, 2004):
[To John Reese] My copy was from before it was even erected (the 1950s), with Thomaskantor Kurt Thomas leading the Thomanerchor and Gewandhausorchester Leipzig and soloists including Peter Schreier as the Evangelist and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau as the Bass soloist.

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (December 31, 2004):
[To Aya Itoi] Have you ever heard their productions with the Neue Bach Collegium Musicum Leipzig? I have heard samples of their work under the directorship of Thomaskantor Hans-Joachim Rotzsch, and whilst I think he (Rotzsch) takes some liberties witn the tempi, all-around, I thought they were very nice recordings. I generally think that a boy's voice is much purer in the high ranges than a full-grown adult female's is, anyways (and I am not chauvinistic).

Doug Cowling wrote (December 31, 2004):
[To David Glenn Lebut Jr.] It's interesting that many early music choirs such as The Sixteen and the Tallis Scholars have developed a white, head-tone soprano sound that is very different from German boys choirs which sing with a good deal of chest tone and vibrato. Some of the boys who sang in the early Harnoncourt cantata recordings use a colourful vocal production which wouldn't be tolerated in this post-Emma Kirkby world.

Johan van Veen wrote (January 4, 2005):
Aya Itoi wrote:
<< Prof. Biller knows exactly what to do with the boys, and this year they sounded very inspired. The angel voice is sung by a young boy, who was wondefully musical. >>
Doug Cowling wrote: < The interesting thing about German choirs is that they don't use the over-cultivated head tone which is so fashionable with English choirs. And of course the boy altos have a completely different sound from the adult countertenors which are so ubiquitous in Bach ensembles these days. I've always wondered if the modern German choral style, which is quite rough-and-ready, reflects a continuous vocal tradition or whether the heaviness is an influence of bel-canto. Certainly, Italian choirs such as the Sistine Chapel cannot not imagine any music except through a Puccini prism. >
The phenomenon you describe is not a German specialty, although it is practiced more over there than anywhere else. I don't quite know where it comes from, but I assume it is indeed a matter of tradition. It could also have to do with the fact that German boys' choirs are traditionally singing more music of the 17th and 18th centuries, whereas that kind of choirs in Britain sing mainly repertoire from the renaissance as well as the 19th and 20th centuries. What this repertoire has in common is that it is mainly sung legato, whereas baroque music - in particular German music - requires a more non-legato approach and a sharper articulation. It also givmuch more emphasis to the text than the music of the pre- and post-romantic periods. I think that the head-tone approach is very helpful to create a really good articulation and text expression. The approach which dominates in German choral singing is - in 'boychoir circles' - sometimes labelled the 'continental' approach. It is something which is also practiced in some choirs elsewhere: the Choir of St John's College of Cambridge, the Choir of New College (Oxford) and the Choir of Westminster Cathedral (which, BTW, also contains boy altos, alongside the male altos, which is quite unusual in Britain). I have heard the Pacific Boychoir follows this approach as well, but I haven't heard that choir, so I don't know from experience.

Boyd Pehrson wrote (January 5, 2005):
[To Doug Cowling & Johan van Veen] Johan is correct in saying the "continental" singing style reflects the tradition of these choirs. Singing styles are described in old books of the 18th century, and these tend to affirm a "natural" voice approach or 'bel-canto' style. Some choirs blend more than others, compare the Windsbacher Knabenchor to the Tolzer Knabenchor for instance. The Windsbachers can make a choir of sixty sound as clear as a quartet. The Tolzers have a lush, variegated character to their performances, which gives the director the opportunity to highlight individual voices at interesting points in a composition. Both approaches can be very nice to hear, and these directors use great skill and competence in employment of those unique vocal instruments.

As for the English choirs, the Choir of New College has recorded Bach's Passion According to St John, using a boy for the soprano solos, and for alto solo a Countertenor. The recording is very fine, and all told I think it reflects what Bach's work would have sounded like had it been sung
in Oxford in the 18th Century. Many of the established Cathedral choirs such as New College, King's College and Westminster Abbey have maintained their original decreed amount of choristers for hundreds of years.

As for the Pacific Boychoir in California, they have a long way to go in developing their Bach performances. I attended their June 5th 2004 performance of Bach Cantata BWV 150. I declined reviewing it anywhere since Bach was a debut for them. They have a CD available of this performance available for purchase on their website.

John Pike wrote (January 5, 2005):
David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote:
< My copy was from before it was even erected (the 1950s), with Thomaskantor Kurt Thomas leading the Thomanerchor and Gewandhausorchester Leipzig and soloists including Peter Schreier as the Evangelist and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau as the Bass soloist. >
I was given that recording as a Xmas present a few years ago. I listened to it this weekend for the first time. I found most of it painfully slow, especially after listening to the glorious Gardiner recording for many years (and now Herreweghe as well). One highlight, however, was the Bass aria No. 8 "Grosser Herr, o starker König"......wonderful stuff.

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (January 6, 2005):
[To John Pike] While I respect your views as such, I would point out that maybe it is because the way nowadays is to take Bach's music and play it as if it were going through the rinse cycle. I think that in many cases, Bach's music is being played way too fast for the music itself. I think that, with the exception of the Sinfonia (which could have been played a tad faster), Thomas respects the music and takes it at the right speed.

The same goes for the Matthaeuspassion. I think that Mauersberger and Richter (especially in his 1979 recording) take the music at the right tempo, as opposed to Sir JEG, Herreweghe, Leonhardt, Rilling, and even Guenther Ramin. This, I find, is especially true in the first movement, which is most often performed as almost a Gigue, but in the Mauersberger and Richter recordings is performed at a mournful pace (which is in keeping with both the words and the music). This, too, can be overdone, as in the Klemperer recording, in which it is almost dragging, it is so slow.

Doug Cowling wrote (January 6, 2005):
Klemperer

[To David Glenn Lebut Jr.] Although Klemperer's interprtation was eccentric even by contemporary standards, I still love listening to it to hear the incredible discipline of the performers -- all those ritardandi and allargandi in the opening chorus must have taken weeks of rehearsal to prepare!

Continue of this discussion, see: Matthäus-Passion BWV 244 - conducted by Otto Klemperer [Other Vocal Works]

 

Sensationelle Thomaner

Andreas Bughardt wrote (April 30, 2005):
Published in the Leipziger Volkszeitung: http://www.lvz-online.de/lvz-heute/165266.html

Douglas Neslund wrote (April 30, 2005):
[To Andreas Bughardt] Thank you, Andreas, for giving us a chance to read this review from this year's Bach Fest in Leipzig.

Do you read in the review perhaps a little influence from Gerhard Schmidt-Gaden beginning to take place in the Thomaners? :-) Do youl remember Cantor Biller's remark to Gerhard following the wonderful Toelzer's performances at Bach-Fest 2001 that "We must now rethink the way we perform Bach's music!" It appears now that he meant it

Congratulations to Cantor Biller for impressing with such a leap forward. Excellent!

Boyd Pehrson wrote (April 30, 2005):
[To Douglas Neslund & Andreas Bughardt] Thank you Andreas for posting the link. It is nice to read a sparkling review of the Thomanerchor efforts. Doug, I wonder if your anecdote regarding Cantor Biller's comments about rethinking Bach performances would include the serious training of soloists from the ranks of the choir? One recent hopeful indication is three Thomanerchor soloists' participation in Magic Flute at the Opera Leipzig. Hopefully this idea will continue to blossom for Bach and other sacred performances.

Eric Bergerud wrote (April 30, 2005):
[To Douglas Neslund] As a collector of Rotzsch/Thomanerchor cantatas the article cited relays good news. (The Rotzsch performances are really nice, but everything else like liner notes and even the quality of CD cases is pretty lame. Might reflect the East German heritage of the originals. That said, I rather doubt that this series is ripe for reissue and the number of used copies is certainly finite. At least that's the excuse I use to buy every one I encounter.) Let's hope that some good new recordings come from Leipzig - it would be fitting, nicht wahr?

I must say that cantata mania has improved my German very much in the last couple of years - it's close to what it was in grad student days. However, for a kick, I tried Google's translation of the page and found out that Cantor Biller seems to have some relationship with "the academy for old person music from Berlin." I don't think they're implying that Herr Biller was a student of Bach or Mendelssohn, but things weren't too clear. Those close to computers know that for decades computerized translation has been something of a "Holy Grail" for programmers. (The NSA and other intelligence agencies were particularly interested in the project.) From the looks of things, the quest will have to continue a while longer.

 

The First Thomaskantors

Aryeh Oron wrote (January 8, 2006):
As informed last week, I am in a process of adding/expanding short biographies of all the Thomaskantors. You can see the current status at the page: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Performers/Thomaskantors.htm

I would like to ask for your help regarding two matters:

a. In the 1952 edition of Grove I found that the first Thomaskantor was Johan Urban, who was appointed in 1439.
The first Thomaskantor listed in the Leipzig Lexikon is Georg Rhau, who served between 1518-1520.
See: http://www.leipzig-lexikon.de/KULTBETR/thomkant.htm
This means that there is a big gap between Urban and Rhau.
Does anybody know who were the Thomaskantors between these two?

b. For some Kantors at the page:
http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Performers/Thomaskantors.htm
there is no link under their names. It means that I have not been able to find any biographical material about them.
I would appreciate any help completing the missing bios.

Douglas Cowling wrote (January 8, 2006):
[To Aryeh Oron] Thank you for a valuable resource. Does anyone know how these cantors' works were preserved? Was all their concerted music in their own private libraries (as Bach's was) or did St. Thomas' preserved manuscript copies. Bach obviously used his cantoral hymn book, but it would interesting to know if Bach ever used his concerted music. Instance, there is no Bach choral setting of the Te Deum, but both Schein and Buxtehude have large scale settings. What settings did Bach use when their was a miltary victory or accession to celebrate? The Schein double-choir setting with four "choirs" of instruments looks particularly juicy.

 

Thomasschule Ordnungen

Rick Canyon wrote (April 27, 2006):
I asked about this in the body of a previous post, so perhaps someone who might know may have missed my request.

Is it possible to obtain a copy of the Ordnungen for the Thomasschule? I note that Andrew Parrott lists in his bibliography a version edited by H-J Schulze (Leipzig 1987). But, I looked on both Amazon and Amazon.de and could not find it. The image on the cover seems well-known and often reproduced. An English translation would be nice, but that might be too much to hope for.

Thanks for any assistance.

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 28, 2006):
[To Rick Canyon]
Here's slightly more info about that entry: http://www.qub.ac.uk/music-cgi/bach2.pl?22=1001

Try the library searches available through here: http://www.rilm.org/subscribe.html
"free trial" and then OCLC.

http://www.oclc.org/worldcat/open/default.htm
"Try an Open WorldCat search"

Good luck!

Jean-Pierre Grivois wrote (April 28, 2006):
[To Bradley Lehman] I have a fac-simile of these Ordnungen und Gesetze.

In fact it is a rather complicated story, because these three Ordnungen und Gesetze are very different in style and purpose. The basic Ordnung is dated 1634.The two later (1723 and 1733) are very interestinng because they help us to understand in particular the history of the friendly relations between JSB and Gessner one part, and the raher bad relations between JSB and the second Ernesti on ther otherr part. The edition of this facsimile is "Zentralantiquariat, der deutschen demokratischen republik Leipzig 1985" If you have more questions, I can try yo answer them. If you speak French, it would be easier for me.

 

Continue on Part 3

Karl Straube: Short Biography | Recordings of Vocal Works
Günther Ramin: Short Biography | Recordings of Vocal Works: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Recordings of Instrumental Works
Individual Recordings:
BWV 244 - G. Ramin | Article: Günther Ramin 1898-1956 - Thomaskantor 1940-1956
Kurt Thomas: Short Biography | Frankfurter Kantorei | Recordings of Vocal Works: Part 1 | Part 2 | BWV 248 - K. Thomas
Erhard Mauersberger: Short Biography | Recordings of Vocal Works | BWV 244 - E. Mauersberger
Hans-Joachim Rotzsch: Short Biography | Neues Bachisches Collegium Musicum | Recordings of Vocal Works: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | BWV 244 - H.J. Rotzsch
Georg Christoph Biller: Short Biography | Recordings of Vocal Works | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4
Individual Recordings:
BWV 232 - G.C. Biller | BWV 244 - G.C. Biller
Thomaskantors: Thomanerchor Leipzig | Gewandhausorchester Leipzig | General Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Thomaskirche Leipzig: Church Services, Motets & Concerts
Table of Recordings by BWV Number

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