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Discussions: Texts | Translations: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

Texts of Bach Cantatas
Discussions - Part 1

Bach texts, BWV 1-249, now online

Kyle K. Neff wrote (January 30, 2001):
This is just a short note to inform any interested parties that the texts for Bach's vocal works (BWV 1-249) are now available at my libretto site. These were generously supplied to me by regular contributor Pothèrn Imre <potimi@matavnet.hu>. There is no listing yet of the works in order with text incipits, but you can go to this URL: http://php.indiana.edu/~lneff/libretti.html

More specifically to the directory: http://php.indiana.edu/~lneff/bachlib/

Bach's poems

Boris Smilga wrote (January 30, 2001):
This is, strictly speaking, out of range of discussion of this group, but it looks like there's nothing more relevant. As it is known, old Bach also wrote poetry, though privately and in a secret journal. I'm curious to know what they look like. I generally prefer reading poetry in the language of the original (when I know it, of course, which is the case with German). I would much appreciate if somebody shared some information about where I can find Bach's poems - preferedly in German. If they're available at all, that is.

John Hartford wrote (January 30, 2001):
Boris Smilga wrote:
< As it is known, old Bach also wrote poetry, though privately and in a secret journal. >
A very secret journal, indeed!

Wouter Verhoog wrote (January 30, 2001):
(To Boris Smilga) Well, I've a piece of Bach which is named: "The Pipe Aria" . That's a little nice piece for klav. So, i think it's possible that Bach has written poetry. The text of the coffee-cantata is written by the great Bach himself, to tell the yougth how bad coffee is.

Sybrand Bakker wrote (January 30, 2001):
(To Wouter Verhoog) Do you have any proof for the assumption Bach wrote the text of the Kaffee Kantata? IMO, We should keep this group clean of fairy and old wives' tales.

Wouter Verhoog wrote (January 31, 2001):
(To Sybrand Bakker) I'm sorry Sybrand, but the reason i'm 'connected' with this group, is because I want to learn more about Bach. In Holland, there was a document about the Coffee Cantate, and THEY were it, who told that the text is from Bach. don't blaim me.

Sybrand Bakker wrote (January 31, 2001):
(To Wouter Verhoog)Hmmm, I must have seen the same docu, and IIRC it was Koopman and the ABO performing the cantata. I don't remember any such statement. Just to confirm, I verified the source of the text in Neumann Handbuch der Kantaten JS Bachs and Boyd, the volume on JSB in the Oxford Composer Companion series. Both state the text has been written by Picander and been published by him in 1732, while the cantata itself is supposed to have been composed in 1734. So evidently who said that (not Koopman, evidently) must have suffered from temporary amnesia.

Boris Smilga wrote (January 31, 2001):
OK. "As it is known" was probably too affirmative. To my own defense I only have to say that in my native speak the modalities are very different from the English ones, so the aforementioned phrase sounds more like an assumption to me.

So, is this society willing to say that the data on Bach having written poetry is more untrustworthy than probable? [Rethorical question]

Sorry for confusion.

 

Matching Bible Readings Lutheran Church year

Peter Bloemendaal wrote (February 17, 2001):
I'm having my own little cantata project, translating Bach's church cantatas from German into Dutch. Could anyone help me to a list of Bible readings for the Sundays in the Lutheran church year that match the cantatas.

Aryeh Oron wrote (February 17, 2001):
(To Peter Bloemendaal) You can find them listed in Simon Crouch's Listener Guide to the Cantatas in the following address: http://classical.efront.com/music/comp.lst/works/bachjs/cantatas.html

If you like, I shall be glad to host in the New Archive Site your translations of the cantatas' texts into Dutch.

I am working on a similar project of translating the cantatas' texts into Hebrew. I have still to find the right way to show them on the web in a way which will be readable internationally and not only by those who have brousers that support Hebrew.

Pieter Pannevis wrote (February 17, 2001)
(To Peter Bloemendaal & Aryeh Oron) Thank you Peter and Aryeh!

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (February 17, 2001):
(To Aryeh Oron) Two alluring points here:

(1) Some friends of mine have sites on Biblical studies where the Hebrew appears as Hebrew, but only on the MS Browser, not at all on the Netscape Browser. I used to be very against using the MS Browser (a family belief!), but I simpy had to give up.
(2) Maybe I don't know about it, but is it possible to put all the sites Aryeh gives into the bookmarks of the BachCantatas and the BachRecordings groups. Otherwise I tend to loose track of them. I mean only, of course, the main sites, not all the links which we can access by ourselves. We have similarly put bookmarks in the various Mahler lists and my opera list. If this already exists, then forgive my ignorance.

Johan van Veen wrote (February 19, 2001):
(To Peter Bloemendaal) The book on the cantatas by Alfred Dürr gives the Bible readings of every Sunday as well.

 

Bach Poetry? / Bach's own poetry?

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 10, 2001):
There was a query sometime ago about Bach's poetry. I have found not a secret, private book of Bach's own poetry, but rather a very public example, possibly of Bach's own poetry. It is on the dedication page that precedes his Partita I (BWV 825). The experts surmise that it was perhaps written in Leipzig after September 12, 1726. It exists in his own handwriting, nevertheless the experts are not thoroughly convinced that he, JSB, is without a doubt the author of this poetry. The poem and BWV 825 may have been presented along with the performance of the cantata, "Steigt freudig in die Luft" (BWV 36a). So, for what it is worth, here is the original text in the original orthography (a little like reading Ben Franklin's English), that makes reference to the fact, that Partita I is the first of Bach's works in this category to be published. Later it became the first part of the "Klavier-Übung". A comparison is made with the prince, who was a baby at the time.

Dem Durchlauchtigsten Fürsten und Herrn
Herrn Emanuel Ludewig,
Erb-Printzen zu Anhalt, Hertzogen zu Sachßen,
Engern und Westphalen, Grafen zu Ascanien,
Herrn zu Bernburg und Zerbst, etc. etc.
Widmete diese geringe Musicalische Erst-
linge aus unterthänigster Devotion
Johann Sebastian Bach.

Durchlauchtigst
Zarter Prinz
den zwar die Windeln decken
Doch Dein Fürsten Blick mehr als erwachsen zeigt,
Verzeihe, wenn ich Dich im Schlaffe sollte wecken
Indem mein spielend Blatt vor Dir sich nieder beugt.
Es ist die Erste Frucht, die meine Saiten bringen;
Du bist der erste Printz den Deine Fürstin Küst
Dir soll Sie auch zuerst zu Deinen Ehren singen,
Weil Du, wie dieses Blatt, der Welt ein Erstling bist,
Die Weisen dieser Zeit erschrecken uns und sagen:
Wir kämen auf die Welt, mit wünzeln und Geschrey
Gleichsam als wolten wir zum vorauß schon be Klagen,
Daß dieses Kurtze Ziel betrübt und Kläglich sey.
Doch dieses Kehr ich um, und sage, das Gethöne,
Das Deine Kindheit macht, ist lieblich, Klar und rein,
Drum wird Dein Lebens Lauff vergnügt, beglückt und schöne,
Und eine Harmonie von eitel Freude seyn.
So Hoffnungs-Voller Prinz will ich Dir ferner spielen
Wenn Dein Ergözungen noch mehr als tausendfach,
Nur fleh ich, allezeit, wie ietzt, den Trieb zu fühlen
Ich sey
Durchlauchter Prinz
Dein tieffster Diener
Bach.

Source: p.223, Bach-Dokumente Band I Bärenreiter 1963

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 10, 2001):
I 'humbly' submit to the Readers of the BCML the following rough translation without even attempting to put this into verse, as so many English translations of Bach cantatas were, when they first appeared. I hope this will help yget a better understanding of the contents of this poem.

I, Johann Sebastian Bach, (of course, his name appears last as a sign of humility, but for the purpose of a rough translation, this will have to do) dedicate most humbly as a devoted servant these insignificant (!) musical births (referring to his compositions) to his Highness the Sovereign and Lord Emanuel Ludwig, Heir to the Throne and Prince of Anhalt, Hertzogen in Saxony, Engern and Westphalia, the Count of Ascania, the Lord of (the cities) of Bernburg and Zerbst, etc. etc.

Excuse me, His Most Serene Highness (Bach is now speaking directly to the child/baby), o delicate (because of his tender age) Prince, as you lie there still covered, as it were, by your swaddling-clothes, with the expression in your eyes indicating how very much an adult you really are, excuse me then, if I should happen to awaken you from your sleep [remember that the "Goldberg Variations" were supposed to have just the opposite effect!] with this printed copy of my music which 'plays itself' (I know the 'sich' is missing, but this can happen in poetry. Perhaps Bach was trying to make it appear that his composition was like a toy that the prince could play with) as it bows deeply in your presence.

This is the first fruit of my labors (to be published) produced by my strings (of B's inner soul or of his harpsichord? - or is this simply a pars pro toto type of poetical conceit?);

You are the first prince to have been kissed by your regent mother (this may be stretching it a bit, but does Bach also allude to his muse (mother) kissing the child (Bach's ability to create this composition?)) and it is to you that she will sing this for the first time in your honor, because you, just like this printed composition, are also new to this world.

The wise experts of our time try to frighten us and say that we both came into this world whining and screaming, as if we both wanted to complain in advance that this goal of just being born a short while ago is simply lamentable and sad.

But let me turn this around entirely (Bach loved such devices in fugues - the crab canon) and say to you instead that this collection of repeated sounds which arise because of your extreme youth, is pleasant to listen to, is clear and pure (It's amusing here to consider Bach and his 20 children at the same time Partita I is being played!).

For this reason the future course of your life (and of this composition) will bring pleasure, be happy, beautiful, and simply provide a total harmony of pure joy.

And in this way I hope also to play for you in the future, o Prince, full of promise, when your amusements will be in the thousands, However, I do implore you, to feel this urge/desire, always, just as you are doing now [that the Prince should also feel as an adult, among his numerous amusements, the urge to listen to, and perhaps even, to play/compose at the court, and guess who would be the best teacher in the world to make this become a reality?]

I remain, o Revered Prince,
Your most humble servant
Bach.

Peter Bloemendaal wrote (March 12, 2001):
(To Tomas Braatz) Thank you, Tom Braatz, for the alleged Bach poem you ontributed to this site. It was new to me. You presented us with some annotations as well. As you will notice, I have translated the address almost literally. The usual grammatical order of words in this sentence has been reversed for obvious reasons, already mentioned by Mr Braatz. To show his high esteem for the royal baby and his own humble position, Bach begins his address with the prepositional object consisting of the name and titles of the new-born prince, followed by the verb and the direct object. Then comes the adjunct describing Bach’s submissiveness, and finally the subject of the sentence. Of the poem I have rendered a poetic translation, keeping to the alexandrine metre, the alternation of feminine and masculine endings of the lines and the embracing rhyme of the original as well as I could.

To the most illustrious Prince and Sovereign,
Lord Emanuel Ludwig,
Hereditary Prince of Anhalt, Duke of Saxony, Engern and Westphalia,
Count of Ascania, Lord of Bernburg and Zerbst, etc. etc.,
dedicates these insignificant musical first-fruits,
in submissive devotion,
Johann Sebastian Bach.

Illustrious, tender Prince,
Though swaddled, still enwrapped,
But by your royal looks, precocious, e’en mature,
I do apologize I woke you if you slept,
By my sheet’s music playing, bowing down to you.
These are the first young fruits, my heart’s strings, Lord, will bring you;
Thou art the first young prince, by thy sweet queen now kissed,
As thou must be the first she will her praises sing to,
Since thou art, like this sheet, the world a first-born gift.
The wise men of our time, they startle us by saying:
We should come in this world, with whining and with tears,
As if we in advance already should be wailing,
Our short-lived goal on earth would mourning mean and grief .
But I will turn it round, and claim the sounds now ringing,
Created by your birth, are lovely, bright and pure.
Therefore your course of life will bliss and beauty bring thee,
And be a harmony of only joy, I’m sure.
Thus, promising young prince, I wished I still shall play thee,
When your amusements will be more than thousandfold;
Now I just beg henceforth, you will inspire me daily,
Ever
Illustrious Prince,
Thy humblest servant
Bach.

In the original, as it has come down to me from the internet, there is a syllable missing in line 2 (“Doch … zeigt”). Is it your omission, Tom, or did Bach skip a word when copying the poem, possibly by Picander?

Indeed, I do not really believe Bach himself wrote this poem, if ever he wrote one. Although the iambic metre is prevailing in Bach’s cantatas, and alexandrines are relatively easy to compose, and many a poet in Bach's day would resort to this easily boring metre, the poem must have been written by a rather experienced poet. It may lack originality, showing traditional ideas and poetic tricks, nevertheless the skilful use of the rhyme, alternatively masculine and feminine, and the various style figures indicate that it is not likely that Bach himself should be the author.

Besides, the poem certainly has some charm. Now, I do not know any poems by Bach, and I know we do not have many personal letters of his hand, but in most of them he shows that he is finding great difficulty in producing simple, straightforward sentences. His writing style is as complex and intricate as his music, but whereas the latter is lucid, transparent and melodiously and rhythmically appealing, the former is confusing, obscure, distorted and unattractive. Bach clearly was not much of a writer. Yet, it remains an appealing thought to secretly hope this little poem was written by the maestro himself.

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 13, 2001):
(To Peter Bloemendaal) In answer to your question:"In the original, as it has come down to me from the internet, there is a syllable missing in line 2 (“Doch … zeigt”). Is it your omission, Tom, or did Bach skip a word when copying the poem, possibly by Picander?"

The answer is that nothing is missing, but since there is no autograph copy of this document, the footnote in my book, indicates that the editors are at the mercy of a printed version of this document and the second page as well which describes the content (Partita I) as the originals in Bach's handwriting are lost. We can possibly assume that Bach carefully checked the printed version himself - that version was printed in Leipzig in 1726. But tiny mistakes can happen, and perhaps it would have been too costly to make a minor change.

I forgot to mention the birth and death dates of this precocious young lad, Emanuel Ludwig: Born September 12, 1726 and died August 17, 1728.
Where you state:
"Thou art the first young prince, by thy sweet queen now kissed, As thou must be the first she will her praises sing to,"
The 'Sie' may also refer to 'die Erste Frucht' = his composition I know it is hard to get both of these references into the poem at the same time.

Where you state:
"Our short-lived goal on earth would mourninmean and grief."
Were you aware of the short life of this royal prince?

Otherwise I am very impressed with your efforts to render this into poetry. I don't think I could do it as well, and it would take me much longer to accomplish!

Now you can give this to the future publishers of Bach's Partitas to be included along with the original!

You are right about Bach's style of writing. Because I had to get the book out to answer your question above, I read one of his letters written to a relative who had sent him a keg of 'Most'(in this case it is evident that it was more than simply juice) two years before his death. Bach bemoans that fact that 2/3 of the 'liqueur' was missing when the keg arrived. In this personal letter, he writes to his cousin in a style which, to us, seems much too formal.

 

Biblical texts used by Bach

Schutz 1960 wrote (December 13, 2004):
Does someone know if there is an index of biblical texts in the works of JS Bach ? Strangely absent from the Handbuch des Bach Kantaten, from Schmieder or Compendium...

Alan Kriegsman wrote (December 13, 2004):
[To Schutz 1960] I'm sure you'll get more detailed answers from others, but I can certainly tell you that there are at least two book-length texts providing such an index; one that I possess is the Handbook To Bach's Sacred Cantata Texts by Melvin P. Unger published by Scarecrow Press in 1996. Good wishes, AMK

Aryeh Oron wrote (December 13, 2004):
[To Schutz 1960 & Alan Kriegsman] I have the 2nd book:
"Biblical Quotation and Allusion the Cantata Libretti of Johann Sebatian Bach"
by Ulrich Meyer
The Scarecrow Press, Inc. Latham, Md., & London 1997

I found this book quite useful when I translated the cantata texts into Hebrew.

Schutz 1960 wrote (December 17, 2004):
[To Aryeh Oron & Alan Kriegsman] Merci beaucoup !

Cara Emily Peterson wrote (December 19, 2004):
[To Schutz 1960] I know this is like two weeks after these were sent, and although these will likely be completely useless in the long run, there is one passage that was found in Bach's Three Volume Calov Bible after he died (there are more, but I just don't remember what they are right now and I don't feel like going upstairs to look):

I Chronicles 25:7 reads: "And the number of them, with their brothers who were instructed in singing to God, all of whom were skillful, was two hundered eighty-eight."

Bach had underlined this passage, and in the margin wrote: "This chapter is the true foundation of all church music pleasing to God."

So though that's not a Biblical text he used, it's certainly a referance he had. The entire chapter itself isn't THAT interesting - it's mostly about the sons of so-and-so, but somewhere in the middle, it has that passage, and 25:6 aso talks about how they all gathered their intstruments and were singing for the service of God. So that's interesting.

Part of me also wants to inform that Bach had underlined chapter 8 and then crossed it out, but I don't know why I think that and it's probably not true, so don't quote me on it.

Charles Francis wrote (December 19, 2004):
Cara Peterson wrote:
< I Chronicles 25:7 reads: "And the number of them, with their brothers who were instructed in singing to God, all of whom were skillful, was two hundered eighty-eight."
Bach had underlined this passage, and in the margin wrote: "This chapter is the true foundation of all church music pleasing to God." >
A typical example illustrating Bach's interest in numerology. But why did the number 288 lead Bach this conclusion?

Cara Emily Peterson wrote (December 19, 2004):
[To Charles Francis] I'm afraid I don't understand! Where did 288 come from? BWV? (Or could it be that it's past my bedtime? Whichever.)

Dale Gedcke wrote (December 20, 2004):
[To Cara Peterson] RE: Where did 288 come from?

Cara, it is right there in your original quotation of I Corinthians 25:7. But, it is spelled out in words.

Does Bach’s comment imply that he wished he could amass such large choirs?

I read the notes for the 2-CD version of Händel’s Messiah (Eugene Ormandy, Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Philadelphia Orchestra) this weekend. Händel was able to put together a very large orchestra and choir for his debut of the Messiah Oratorio in Ireland. This is in stark contrast to what his contemporary, J. S. Bach, was doing with much smaller orchestras and groups of vocalists.

Bradley Lehman wrote (December 21, 2004):
< there is one passage that was found in Bach's Three Volume Calov Bible after he died (there are more, but I just don't remember what they are right now and I don't feel like going upstairs to look):
I Chronicles 25:7 reads: "And the number of them, with their brothers who were instructed in singing to God, all of whom were skillful, was two hundered eighty-eight."
Bach had underlined this passage, and in the margin wrote: "This chapter is the true foundation of all church music pleasing to God." >
Not exactly, but close. The Calov commentary's facsimile (not a whole Bible but rather a theological commentary) is readily available, and I have it here. It has merely the phrase pointing into that verse 7: "Von den Sängern und Instrumentisten v. 7." That's what Bach has underlined, and then in the margin to the right is his remark as above. He then also underlined seven lines of Calov's commentary there, where Calov is remarking about verse 1.

The point of the whole thing is that King David took his music seriously enough to have regular appointed musicians in charge of it, as a standing group of specialists. The count of 288 musicians, chez David, was that there were 24 whole families of such specialists, each supplying 12 musicians to the work of the group (and chosen by lot within each family, not necessarily by personal ability, incidentally!). Bach's contention was that his own employers didn't give him a correspondingly adequate group of musicians to serve the musical functions necessary to the type of worship that was expected. It's not about sheer numbers of musicians, or specific instruments to be used, or musical style. It's about having the commitment to a music program being taken seriously enough at all, citing David's court as an administrative precedent. A good music program has a decent enough pool of musicians to get the job done well. An inferior one does not.

And it would be a tremendously arbitrary stretch of a self-serving imagination to assert that this has anything whatsoever to do with numerology in Bach's music.

Cara Emily Peterson wrote (December 21, 2004):
[To Bradley Lehman] Mr. Lehman! You're back! [Well...you've been back for a while, but I haven't really paid much attention to the lists until now, as I'm on Winter Break]

Thank you for that correction (as though I can speak and understand German, translating directly is a bit of a problem).

 

Librettos for sacred pieces

Tom Dent wrote (December 10, 2006):
It was said:
< the quality of the libretto have nothing to do with the "theological system" within which Bach lived. >
I have to disagree! Lutheranism seems to have been uncommon in allowing sacred pieces of music to include huge chunks of verse by contemporary poetasters.

If you were a Catholic, you got the Mass, the Stabat Mater, Magnificat, Te Deum, Ave Maria, and a few hundred other well-worn Latin texts to deal with.

If you were an Anglican, you got the Responses, Mag & Nunc, and a load of stuff from the Prayer Book and the Psalms, put together in the 'good old days'.

Bach's texts (like Mozart's libretti) really were remarkably contemporary.

Regardless of poetic quality per se - and I do find many of them cringe-inducing to read - they seem to have done the job of accommodating the quality of musical setting that Bach was accustomed to provide.

 

Bach librettos

Eric Bergerud wrote (December 10, 2006):
I spent last night attending a performance of the Mass in B (BWV 232) performed by a local ensemble Bella Musica and enjoyed myself greatly. Having a program I followed proceedings more or less. Not for the first time I was struck how much spectacular music Bach found in a libretto that could efit on one page. After the program the choir dispersed throughout the audience and everyone was encouraged to sing Catherine Winkworth's translation of Wachet Auf. ("Wake, Awake, for Night is Flying") This is the sort of "touchy feely" thing that I feared wouldn't work too well. (It was a Berkeley crowd. A full page of the program was a plea for "Bach not bombs.") But it was actually very charming. For the past few years I've thought of the work in Bach/Nicolai garb. Last night I was reminded how often I have had heard that hymn in standard Lutheran service. It's lovely either way.

This experience got me thinking about recent remarks concerning Bach's librettos so I spent a few hours into the early AM going through a number of them. From a literary standpoint, they certainly varied in interest. But it may well be that none would stand on their own. More to the point, I think, is the question of whether the librettos serve the function intended. In that regard they begin to look a lot better. Whether they have meaning to a listener today is, by definition, the most subjective judgement possible and thus the most individual.

Today I've been trying to think of what librettos (or lyrics) could stand on their own. Please allow for my underdeveloped ear that has perhaps led me to miss a modern composer putting James Joyce or John Berryman to song. That caveat aside, I think the number is pretty small. La Ponte is regarded as one of the best at his craft, but would people read the libretto to Figaro for it's own sake? That glorious conclusion is basically the end of a marital spat. I'll grant that Barber is witty, but most Bel Canto opera is, in my view, best listened to without libretto in hand as the stories are nuts. "Ode to Joy" is probably the single most famous choral work in history, but Beethoven must have scoured Schiller's works to find the worst poem that generally great artist penned. And I bet Goethe never wanted another score by Beethoven for a play after Egmont. Even if the play had been any good, and it wasn't, Beethoven's music simply overwhelmed it. Schubert Lieder are not my cup of tea, but as I understand it, some of his most famous songs were set to very pedestrian poems. And is there anything flat out crazier in music than Violetta bursting into song as she's dying of consumption of all things? I also remember arguing years back with a friend over whether we should consider Bob Dylan a "poet." (I said no.) We got out a bunch of albums with the lyrics on the jackets. After examining a few dozen famous songs the argument was over fast with yours truly the victor.

In any case, I don't see that it takes us anywhere to employ literary standards to judge words set to music. The symbiosis works or doesn't. In Bach's case, I find myself very receptive to the bittersweet spirit of the message found in so many of his cantatas if not their details. Obviously others may find beauty in an entirely different chemistry.

Pal Domokos wrote (December 13, 2006):
[To Eric Bergerud] Here is the text of the wonderful tenor aria from BWV 12:

Sei getreu, alle Pein
Wird doch nur ein Kleines sein.
Nach dem Regen
Blüht der Segen,
Alles Wetter geht vorbei.
Sei getreu, sei getreu!


It probably doesn't qualify as poetry, but I find the text simple and concise.

An interesting question would be whether there's any correlation between the quality of the texts and the music Bach made out of them.

Rick Canyon wrote (December 14, 2006):
[To Pal Domokos] Dylan is an easy target, especially since he was billed as a "poet. Just another example of hype by a popular music industry that takes itself too seriously. This, however, does not make Dylan a poor songwriter. Vocal music, whatever its origin, rarely becomes great simply because it supports great words. It's the music, and then, the melding of the music with the words.

Note that Verdi in "Otello" did not set Shakespeare's words to music. Indeed, he cuts out the entire of Shakespeare's Act 1, if I'm not mistaken. There are those who say, however, that Verdi actually improved upon the play. (Vaughan Williams "Serenade to Music" is another example of Shakespeare set to music, this time with no alteration of the Bard's words. Whether this is actually great music is debateable)

This raises a couple of questions for me.

Several years ago, I read a comment from a native German, fluent also in English, who thanked the ENO for a performance of "Meistersinger" in English. He claimed that listening to it in German had become--I believe he used the word--"embarrassing". Wagner's alliteritive writing style apparently forces the libretto into something beyond archaic. Consequently, a good English translation sounded refreshing to a native ear.

Which, in turn, might then also be asked about Bach. Most of us read the English translations. (I know enough German to find my place in the texts and to question the translations of some words) However, how does it come across to fluent Germans? Is it "embarrassing"? Does it sound like King James Bible English? (I note that God/Jesus are referred to in the familair "du" form--"Herr, dein Mitleid, dein Erbarmen" which seems to force translators to use "Thy" and "Thine") Or, does it sound simply mundane and uninspired? (it seems to have inspired Bach well enough)

And even if a quality translation is presented, it is still probable that we might hear, for example (and not to reopen old wounds), a "saltus duriusculus" accompanying the text for a "passus duriusculus" and vice versa.

Then, last Sunday, I read in the AZ Republic about a baroque art exhibit coming to the Phoenix Art Museum. (tho none of his works are to be exhibited, the reviewer thought Caravaggio to be among the pinnicles of baroque painters) And, since I've always been told how forms mimic each other throughout the arts, it made me wonder whether Bach paid much attention to other artforms.

If I'm not mistaken trips to the Dresden Opera were not uncommon (something about hearing the pleasant "ditties") (as a curiosity, how long was the trip between Leipzig and Dresden? Not long enough to take him away from his Leipzig duties, certainly) Was not the Thomaskirche's tower considered a prime example of Baroque archetecture?

But, did he pay attention to other artforms? Did Bach even consider himself to be an artist? Yet, if he did, then why choose "poets" who seem to be largely disparaged as second rate? Was there any attempt on his part to select those who might not pose an artistic challenge to the supremacy of the music?

<< And is there anything flat out crazier in music than Violetta bursting into song as she's dying of consumption of all things? >>
I believe this prompted laughter at the premiere. Not so much because of breaking out into song, but rather because of such an "ample" soprano "dying" of consumption. As far as craziness in music, the sight of Jessye Norman and Gary Lakes portraying "Twins" in "Die Walküre" does give some pause also.

Douglas Cowling wrote (December 14, 2006):
Canyon Rick wrote:
< Dylan is an easy target, especially since he was billed as a "poet. Just another example of hype by a popular music industry that takes itself too seriously. This, however, does not make Dylan a poor songwriter. Vocal music, whatever its origin, rarely becomes great simply because it supports great words. It's the music, and then, the melding of the music with the words.
Note that Verdi in "Otello" did not set Shakespeare's words to music. Indeed, he cuts out the entire of Shakespeare's Act 1, if I'm not mistaken. There are those who say, however, that Verdi actually improved upon the play. (Vaughan Williams "Serenade to Music" is another example of Shakespeare set to music, this time with no alteration of the Bard's words. Whether this is actually great music is debateable) >
The convergence of great music with contemporaneous great poerty in sacred music is comparatively rare in all periods. For instance, although the EngliRenaissance was peopled with giants in literature and music, there was very little collaboration between artists. Tallis and Byrd never set the poetry of Spenser, Donne or Shakespeare.

Part of the answer is that most of the liturgical literary forms were fixed, either scriptural (e.g. Psalms, Passions) or ritual (e.g. Te Deum, Agnus Dei). The Lutheran tradition is one of the few where free poetry was a regular feature of worship, although we do not see the great poets of the German Renaissance writing hymn texts. Because of the force of his theological personality, Luther's texts gradually assumed the status of classic poetry (much the same thing happened with Thomas Cranmer's prose for the 1549 'Book of Common Prayer').

When arrive at Bach's time, we see a similar situation. The great poets of the age are not writing devotional poetry. The poetry of the cantatas is primarily the work of academic and clerical dilletantes which in no sense could be considered mainstream German poetry. That's not to say that their work is substandard, but merely that it is a very specific genre of devotional verse. A comparable case would be the 18th century English hymn-writer, Charles Wesley, who has always been admired for his fine poetry but would never be classed among his contemporaries such as Pope, Swift or Johnson.

Eric Bergerud wrote (December 14, 2006):
[To Rick Canyon] I suppose German speakers must answer that one. But I don't see that the English speaking world seems to find Handel archaic - they still flock to the Messiah ever Xmas. Maybe that's part of the charm. There are some Christians that continue to use the KJ Bible. As to Bach's other interests, I wish we knew. He did spend a lot of time with Leipzig University faculty and students. I bet they didn't always discuss music. It's a real pity Bach wasn't a letter writer.

Chris Rowson wrote (December 14, 2006):
When I first started writing songs, I sometimes used to write a poem first, wanting to have a high-quality text to set. But I soon found out that good poems usually don´t make good texts for setting to music.

What you need is actually something quite different, because its purpose is different. In most case a good text for setting to music needs to be fairly simplistic - clever writing is not going to come across when turned into a song.

And even in as far as it does, this is a bad idea, because it draws the attention away from the music, and the attention thus becomes divided, and confused. What you need is a good song lyric. Exactly what that is depends, but it is not at all the same thing as a good poem.

Writing a good song text/libretto is a specialised art.

Douglas Cowling wrote (December 14, 2006):
Chris Rowson wrote:
< When I first started writing songs, I sometimes used to write a poem first, wanting to have a high-quality text to set. But I soon found out that good poems usually don´t make good texts for setting to music.
What you need is actually something quite different, because its purpose is different. In most case a good text for setting to music needs to be fairly simplistic - clever writing is not going to come across when turned into a song. >
This of course is precisely the plot of Antonio Saleieri's buffo satire, 'Prima la musica, poi le parole' (First the music, then the words) in which a composer and a poet argue for the primacy of one art over the other, and a prima donna schemes to make money. First performed in a double bill with Mozart's "Impresario".

Julian Mincham wrote (December 14, 2006):
[To Chris Rowson] A lot of good sense here. I once had a professor who would tell his students---do not choose texts by such poets as Keats or Gerard Manley Hopkins--the music is already in their poetry and anything you add to it will simply clash--a perceptive comment I thought at the time---and still do.

I've generally found that the best poetry is not well suited to musical settings. As always there are exceptions---but look at Schumann's Woman's love and life' song cycle. It's a marvellous piece with deep insight's into a woman's emotions at key times in her life. But look at the text alone and it borders on maudlin crap. The music exhalts it to an entirely different level--as is the case (in my view) with many of the texts for Bach's cantatas.

However what is interesting in the second cycle is the several hybrid settings of longish slabs of text using alternate chorale/recit and sometimes arioso and ritornello structures. It does appear that the texts were structured with such an approach in mind---whether by the librettist (advised by the composer) or whether by Bach himself. Certainly he altered parts of the texts of Mariane von Ziegler (Wolff) to suit his purpose.

However I suspect that his changes to texts were mainly for structural rather than for poetic purposes.

Eric Bergerud wrote (December 14, 2006):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< This of course is precisely the plot of Antonio Saleieri's buffo satire, 'Prima la musica, poi le parole' (First the music, then the words) in which a composer and a poet argue for the primacy of one art over the other, and a prima donna schemes to make money. First performed in a double bill with Mozart's "Impresario". >
I think it was Bellini that said he could make an aria out of a shopping list. At least Bach never did that. (And why don't people do edited concert versions of Impresario? It has some nice tunes, just bogged down by dialog most of us would find pointless. I almost never listen to my copy.)

 

Text booklets

Ed Myskowski wrote (March 10, 2007):
More than once in the past few months, Julian has asked for additional or updated information on our knowledge of the publication and survival of cantata texts. Since none has been forthcoming, it seems appropriate to summarize the published data, Wolff (B:LM):

p. 259. <Before composing the cantata, he [Bach] had to select its text and prepare it for publication in the form of booklets that the congregation could read before or during the performance. These booklets in conveniently small octavo format, contained the cantata texts for several Sundays in a row, usually six. [...] five such booklets have survived: (1) from the second Sunday after Epiphany to Annunciation, 1724; (2) from Easter Sunday to Misercordias Domini, 1724; (3) from the third to the sixth Sunday after Trinity, 1725 [(4) and (5) from 1731] <end quote>

However, Wolff shortly after ( p. 278) states: <<Stübels death on January 27, 1725, after only three days of illness and after he had received from the printer texts for the booklet of cantatas to be performed from Septuagesimae Sunday (January 28) to Annunciation (March 25) 1725, would explain the abrupt ending of the chorale cantata cycle [...]

Indeed it would, and some of us, myself included, have made much of the possible significance for Bach's composition procedures. However, there is no apparent constraint, from the surviving booklets, on the contents of booklets from Jan to Mar 1725, other than to have a booklet end on Annunciation in both years (1724 and 1725), or to have item (1) be both a typo and out of sequence, actually representing 1725 rather than the stated 1724. Neither option is conclusive, or even satisfactory.

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 10, 2007):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
>>...five such booklets have survived:
(1) from the second Sunday after Epiphany to Annunciation, 1724;
(2) from Easter Sunday to Misercordias Domini, 1724;
(3) from the third to the sixth Sunday after Trinity, 1725
{(4) and (5) from 1731]
However, there is no apparent constraint, from the surviving booklets, on the contents of booklets from Jan to Mar 1725, other than to have a booklet end on Annunciation in both years (1724 and 1725), or to have item (1) be both a typo and out of sequence, actually representing 1725 rather than the stated 1724.<<
(1) is definitely from 1724 and not 1725. This booklet served to confirm Alfred Dürr's conjecture about trepeat performance of BWV 155 having taken place in St. Thomas Church on January 16, 1724. It is simply a reasonable assumption (without any firm proof whatsoever) that the booklets in 1725 would cover exactly the same time spans as in 1724.

As stated previously, the Bach expert, Hans-Joachim Schulze, who first proposed the theoretical connection between Stübel's sudden death and the break in the flow of texts for Bach's chorale cantata cycle, a conjecture embraced by Wolff in 2000, has been rejected by the originator of this theory, Schulze, in his book on the Bach cantatas printed in 2006. It is time to look elsewhere and not repeat Wolff's out-of-date assertion which is no longer considered tenable.

Douglas Cowling wrote (March 10, 2007):
Text booklets - Calendar differences

Thomas Braatz wrote:
< However, there is no apparent constraint, from the surviving booklets, on the contents of booklets from Jan to Mar 1725, other than to have a booklet end on Annunciation in both years (1724 and 1725), or to have item (1) be both a typo and out of sequence, actually representing 1725 rather than the stated 1724.<<
There are significicant differences between the calendars for 1724 and 1725 which we can see quickly using Georg Fischer's terrific resource which shows all the years of Bach's life: http://gfis.dataway.ch/teherba.de/bach/index.html

In 1724, Easter fell on April 16 and there were 5 Sundays after Epiphany.

In 1725, Easter fell very early on April 1 and there were only 3 Sundays after Epiphany. Most significantly, 1725 was the unique year that the Anunciation (March 25) fell on Palm Sunday and Bach arranged "Himmelskönig sei Willkommen".

This is a good example of how, even though there was a consistent calendar of Sundays, the yearly occurrences of Christmas and Easter created a different sequence every year.

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 10, 2007):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
>>There are significicant differences between the calendars for 1724 and 1725 which we can see quickly using Georg Fischer's terrific resource which shows all the years of Bach's life:<<
Yes, you are absolutely correct about this (with the number of Sundays after Epiphany varying from year to year.) I had momentarily forgotten about this. Thankfully we still have these calculations for Easter based upon the position of the Sun and Moon to remind us of our heavenly connection and the fixed positions of certain feast days rather than a mundane calendar devised solely for money making and the pursuit of pleasure.

Ed Myskowski wrote (March 10, 2007):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< As stated previously, the Bach expert, Hans-Joachim Schulze, who first proposed the theoretical connection between Stübel's sudden death and the break in the flow of texts for Bach's chorale cantata cycle, a conjecture embraced by Wolff in 2000, has been rejected by the originator of this theory, Schulze, in his book on the Bach cantatas printed in 2006. It is time to look elsewhere and not repeat Wolff's out-of-date assertion which is no longer considered tenable. >
I don't see why Wolff's assertion is no longer tenable. It is not supported by any extant booklets, despite his subtle (dare I say bait and switch?) 'evidence'. Nevertheless it is not disproven because other 'experts' changed thier minds.

The fact is, something big probably happened to change Bach's approach to texts and music. Asteroid impact, requiring a shift in orthodox Lutheran theology? Doubtful. Sombody died? Better.

Bach learned to cope with death from his childhood to his grave. Bach is defined by death. His brilliance, optimism, etc, is all the more remarkable. That is his spiritual miracle, and it is not exactly the same as orthodox Lutheran Christianity (whatever that is). Could he cope with death? You betcha. Did he do so in early 1725 (that is the 18th century, for folks reading the fine print)? Maybe, maybe not.

If you think not, speculate on a better explanation.

Ed Myskowski wrote (March 10, 2007):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
>>There are significicant differences between the calendars for 1724 and 1725 which we can see quickly using Georg Fischer's terrific resource which shows all the years of Bach's life:<<
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< Yes, you are absolutely correct about this (with the number of Sundays after Epiphany varying from year to year.) >
The astute reader will notice that any Sundays lost after Epiphany are gained after Trinity. That is why they call Easter a moveable feast. I think that is where the phrase comes from. Although in my younger days, I liked to call wherever I happened to be a 'moveable feast'. Memoirs pending.

Georg Fischer wrote (March 14, 2007):
Text booklets - Calendar differences - Easter Sunday 1724 = April 9th! (for protestant, 16th for catholic churches)

I'am very, very sorry, but my calendar for 1724 is WRONG when related to Bach - it's a catholic calendar.

I'm also sorry that I read the BCML digest only from time to time, and that I'm rather late in replying to:

Douglas Cowling wrote:
< There are significicant differences between the calendars for 1724 and 1725 which we can see quickly using Georg Fischer's terrific resource which shows all the years of Bach's life: http://gfis.dataway.ch/teherba.de/bach/index.html
In 1724, Easter fell on April 16 and there were 5 Sundays after Epiphany. In 1725, Easter fell very early on April 1 and there were only 3 Sundays after Epiphany. Most significantly, 1725 was the unique year that the Anunciation (March 25) fell on Palm Sunday and Bach arranged "Himmelskönig sei Willkommen". >
Just two days ago I was rather astonished that more than 40 (!) cantata dates (from my current BWV issue) depending on Easter 1724 differed from my calendar program by one week. I googled for "Easter 1724" and "Ostern 1724" and I found two German entries, one for "Johann Leonhard Rost" in de.wikipedia.org, and the other reading:
-------
Im Jahre 1700 nahmen die Protestanten zwar die gregorianische Kalenderverbesserung, aber nicht die gregorianische Osterberechnung an, sondern bestimmten die Ostergrenze astronomisch mit Hilfe der von Kepler verfassten Rudolfinischen Mondtafeln. Infolgedessen feierten sie in den Jahren 1724 (Ostervollmond astronomisch am 8. April, Samstag, cyklisch am 9. April) und 1744 (Ostervollmond astronomisch am 28. Maerz, Samstag, cyklisch am 29. Maerz) acht Tage frueher als die Katholiken, jene am 9. April bzw. 29. Maerz, diese am 16. bzw. 5. April (s. oben S. 20). Abweichungen der cyklischen und astronomischen Berechnung weisen auch die Jahre 1825 und 1876 in der Weise auf, dass die verschiedenen Daten zwei Wochen angehören; ihre cyklischen Ostergrenzen sind der 2. April (Samstag) und der 9. April (Sonntag), die astronomischen der 3. April (Sonntag) und der 8. April (Samstag). Am interessantesten ist das Jahr 1905...
-------
This explains the fact that protestant churches accepted the Gregorian calendar (date) reform in 1700, but they did not yet accept the accompanied (catholic, "cyclic") way of Easter computation. They continued to use astronomical tables dating back to Kepler. This resulted in Easter differences for 1724 and 1744, and led to the "Osterstreit" (Easter debate) started by Johann Leonhard Rost. Forgive me if this issue was previously discussed on the BCML.

Obviously, the BWV authors knew of the difference, and the dates in the BWV are correct: evangelic churches celebrated Easter Sunday 1724 on April 9th.

I will correct my Bach calendar for 1724 and for 1744 (protestant Easter Sunday = March 29th; I have no cantata dates for 1744). The evangelic churches abandonned their astronomical Easter computation in 1775.

Please notify me of any additional calendar discrepancies which you findon the web page mentioned above by Douglas Cowling.

I'm not sure whether this Easter difference has any impact on the recent "Text booklets" discussion on the BCML.

Douglas Cowling wrote (March 14, 2007):
Georg Fischer wrote:
< This explains the fact that protestant churches accepted the Gregorian calendar (date) reform in 1700, but they did not yet accept the accompanied (catholic, "cyclic") way of Easter computation. They continued to use astronomical tables dating back to Kepler. This resulted in Easter differences for 1724 and 1744, and led to the "Osterstreit" (Easter debate) started by Johann Leonhard Rost. Forgive me if this issue was previously discussed on the BCML. >
I noticed the discrepancy but thought that you were using the Old Style dating which English-speaking countries didn't adopt until even later. Reminds me of dealing with medieval English years which without warning could begin on Jan 1, March 25 or the Accession Day of the reigning monarch.

Tempus fugit ...

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (March 15, 2007):
Easter Sunday Catholic and Orthodox

Douglas Cowling wrote:
< I noticed the discrepancy but thought that you were using the Old Style dating which English-speaking countries didn't adopt until even later. Reminds me of dealing with medieval English years which without warning could begin on Jan 1, March 25 or the Accession Day of the reigning monarch. >
there once was an Easter Sunday where I went to first Rome St. Peter's services and then the following Sunday to the Cathedral of Athens Services.

Twice the blessing or at least the experience.

Ed Myskowski wrote (March 15, 2007):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< I noticed the discrepancy but thought that you were using the Old Style dating which English-speaking countries didn't adopt until even later. Reminds me of dealing with medieval English years which without warning could begin on Jan 1, March 25 or the Accession Day of the reigning monarch.
Tempus fugit ... >
Ars longa, vita brevis. Don't quit now.

 

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