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Ascension

Ascension and Inspiration

Continue of discussion from: Cantata 43 - Discussions

Peter Bloemendaal wrote (May 30, 2003):
Yesterday we had our annual dew-grass tennis tournament, all participants gathering together for breakfast in the clubhouse at 7 a.m. Later that morning, one of my opponents in the mixed doubles tried to outlob me in spite of my 6 ft 5. Looking up to smash the ball back onto his court, I looked into the sun, got temporarily blinded and produced a marvellous miss-hit. Under hilarious laughter I could not help thinking about the lark ascending and the disciples on Mount Olive being just as blinded looking into the sun, long after a cloud had received Jesus out of their sight. Since you can not play a game of tennis staring into the clouds, I focused my eyes on the ball again and nevertheless lost the game. Back home I figured out it must have been my repeated listening to cantata BWV 43 the previous day that had projected this association on my mind. Recalling that the disciples returned to Jerusalem with great joy, I realized that in spite of Jesus’ departure from them they had had a very inspirational moment, quite the contrary from mine earlier that day. And then the magic of Pentecost was still to come.

And I wondered how Bach got his inspiration, when he was composing all these wonderful works that have been preserved and the other ones that have not come down to us. And I thought “beg, steal and borrow”. Borrowing from his own works, stealing hymns from the church hymnal, everything being perfectly accepted at the time. No accusations of plagiarism, but covered under the term “parody”, about which some very worthwhile contributions can be read on the Bach Cantatas Website under the heading General Topics [See: Parodies in Bach’s Vocal Works]. But he did an awful lot of original composing as well. And again questions crossed my mind. How would he have done this? How did he find inspiration? When composing, did he play things on his keyboard or was the entire process a piece of his mind? In an earlier contribution I said: “Imagine him working in his study, sitting at his desk, at times pacing up and down the tiny room. What would he look like without wearing a wig? Would he go rummaging in old manuscripts to find inspiration? Could he be looking for some piece in particular he wanted to adapt for a new cantata or would he just sit there, having it all inside his head, just waiting to come out?“ Is there some truth in this? Did he hear things in his mind or was it just a contrapuntal puzzle he had to solve? Did he know beforehand in what key he was going to compose this particular work? You often hear: composing is more perspiration than inspiration. It is a craft one has to learn. Where does this leave Bach? And us? Is this trivial or essential?

Is there any evidence or can we only guess?

Bradley Lehman wrote (May 30, 2003):
Peter Bloemendaal wrote:
< Did he know beforehand in what key he was going to compose this particular work? >
[Any particular work.] Yes, every key has a character. And the character of the music changes whenever the music is adapted to a different medium, whether the key also changes or not.

< What would he look like without wearing a wig? >
One artistic impression of that is in the cover photo of a painting by Pascal Moehlmann--and in the booklet notes--of this recording: http://shopping.yahoo.com/shop?d=product&id=1921581788

About the recording itself I'll say: I enjoy it.

Bradley Lehman wrote (May 30, 2003):
Peter Bloemendaal wrote:
< You often hear: composing is more perspiration than inspiration. >
By the way, that was Edison: "Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration."

Thomas Braatz wrote (June 1, 2003):
Peter Bloemendaal wrote:
>>Looking up to smash the ball back onto his court, I looked into the sun, got temporarily blinded and produced a marvelous miss-hit. Under hilarious laughter I could not help thinking about the lark ascending and the disciples on Mount Olive being just as blinded looking into the sun, long after a cloud had received Jesus out of their sight. Since you can not play a game of tennis staring into the clouds, I focused my eyes on the ball again and nevertheless lost the game. Back home I figured out it must have been my repeated listening to cantata BWV 43 the previous day that had projected this association on my mind. Recalling that the disciples returned to Jerusalem with great joy, I realized that in spite of Jesus’ departure from them they had had a very inspirational moment, quite the contrary from mine earlier that day. And then the magic of Pentecost was still to come.<<
I am not a theologian, nor have I spent time searching the Bible for this information. I simply looked as Acts 1, and found that I could not confirm your statement that “the disciples returned to Jerusalem with great joy”. As far as I can determine, this was not a moment of great joy because Christ had removed himself from their sight. It was a moment initiating a period of a yet unfulfilled promise (Pentecost and the sending of the Holy Spirit to the disciples was yet to come.) Now, right after the Ascension, they no longer could commune with Christ the way they had been doing since Easter. He was gone, ‘out of sight’ because they were temporarily (until the Holy Spirit could come to them on Pentecost) blinded by the sun(Son)light. Similar to when you lost the ability to see the tennis ball or like when a satellite loses all contact with the earth when it is in orbit behind another heavenly body, the disciples must have felt very concerned about this loss of contact with the source of their spiritual life. Perhaps with some very special glasses (for the disciples this would be the ability to see more distinctly all the levels of heaven – hierarchy of angels and all that,) you would have been able to see and hit the tennis ball properly, but you, just as the disciples, were not equipped for this as yet. All the disciples had left to them was hope that they might regain contact with Him at some future point. For some of the disciples this must have been the spiritual equivalent to the experience of losing sight of the physical body of Jesus after his crucifixion.

Trying to reconcile this with the festive atmosphere of Bach’s cantata, I think that the disciples (and the Christian congregation with them) were joyful over the elevation of Christ and that they could call upon the intermediaries at ‘lower’ levels of heaven (the ‘Thrones’ and the ‘Powers’) who were able to follow this ascent all the way. Jesus Christ had earlier indicated to the disciples that His elevation and disappearance from view would occur. In this sense, they could be ‘happy’ that these predictions were being fulfilled. But right after this, when reality set in, they must have sensed emotionally the impact of being left very much alone without His help (a very dismal and bleak period.) Now there was only the hope that Pentecost would happen as predicted.

Peter also raised some interesting questions:
>>How would he have done this? How did he find inspiration? When composing, did he play things on his keyboard or was the entire process a piece of his mind? In an earlier contribution I said: “Imagine him working in his study, sitting at his desk, at times pacing up and down the tiny room. What would he look like without wearing a wig? Would he go rummaging in old manuscripts to find inspiration? Could he be looking for some piece in particular he wanted to adapt for a new cantata or would he just sit there, having it all inside his head, just waiting to come out?“ Is there some truth in this? Did he hear things in his mind or was it just a contrapuntal puzzle he had to solve? Did he know beforehand in what key he was going to compose this particular work? You often hear: composing is more perspiration than inspiration. It is a craft one has to learn. Where does this leave Bach? And us? Is this trivial oessential? Is there any evidence or can we only guess?<<
This is not a trivial question. It certainly is one that everyone needs to approach with a sense of reverence and awe. I am certain that many individuals from his contemporaries all the way to those living today have come to this point in their thinking after hearing the profound effect that his music has had upon them.

This being said, I will risk offering some personal thoughts that can only serve to lead partially toward trying to answer these questions. I am not going to search for the specific references that I know exist, since I did not note them specifically so that I could refer back to them later. With each of these bits of information (circumstantial ‘evidence,’ as it were, since Bach did not tell us in his own words how he did it) there is only the possibility that a tiny portion of his genius might be understood.

Here are some thoughts and observations that might lead toward an understanding of these matters (I am certain that others reading this can offer still many others that can be helpful):

1) The ‘Pipeline to God’ theory
Assuming that angels ‘minister’ to us and that some individuals have a more direct line of communication with such spiritual entities than others, a genius such as Bach would be a likely candidate as a vessel or medium for this type of spiritual communication. While some might like to picture Bach communicating personally with such an entity (or entities), the reality of such communication might have been much more unconscious than conscious, and therefore perceived by others as a superhuman talent that seems to defy comprehension.

2) The ‘Dream-State’ theory
This is primarily an unconscious method used by some for the creation of works of art. This ranges all the way from ‘automatic writing’ such as used by Franz Kafka, who used a method that would allow him to spend sleepless nights in a ‘dream state’ sitting at his desk. In the morning he would wake up in this position with a short story already in a clear, almost print-like ‘handwriting’ with very few or no errors at all. His famous story, “The Metamorphosis,” was written in this fashion. His editor wanted to have the ending changed. Kafka tried to comply by writing 3 different endings in his waking (conscious) state, but none of these consciously contrived endings was truly satisfactory.

Another way in which the mind works creatively in the ‘dream state’ without being unconsciously used as a ‘vessel’ or medium can be illustrated by the experiences related by a famous chemist, August Kekulé, who was the first to describe the molecular structure of benzene/benzol. In one instance he was writing an instructional book on chemistry in a dark room that he had rented in Ghent and became tired, turned around to face the fireplace and fell into a “Halbschlaf” [‘half-sleep’] during which different groups of atoms, all of them in movement, presented themselves to his ‘mind’s eye.’ When, after a while, he observed how one of the rows (“Schlangen” = snakes) ‘bit its own tail’ he woke up with a start and spent the rest of the night working out the hypothesis which had presented itself in the ‘dream state.’ A similar thing happened to him under different circumstances in London when he was returning late at night on the top of a double-decker bus from one side of London where he had been discussing chemical theories with a friend. On this long bus trip, he fell asleep thinking and seeing images of how atoms might fit together. When the conductor called out his stop “Clapham Road,” he awoke suddenly from his ‘dream’ with the whole picture of the atomic structure in his mind. He spent half the night getting as much as possible of this moving “Traumgebilde” [“dream image”] on paper in sketch form. This was the basis for what would later become Kekulé’s structural theory.

There is a letter by Mozart in which he relates how, on one occasion, the entire opening mvt. of a symphony presented itself to his ‘mind’s eye’ in a flash. It was complete in every way; he needed only to write it down in order to preserve it. This brings up the difference between the two types of genius: Beethoven and Mozart: Beethoven worked laboriously from fragments which he collected in his sketch books which he took along with him on his walks. A Beethoven original composing score looks really quite messy as it is built up from these growing fragments, while a Mozart’s first efforts in putting a composition down on paper appear quite neat and clean and need little or no correction. It is remarkable with Bach as well to see how relatively few errors and scratch-outs there are in his cantata scores in comparison to some of Beethoven’s original composing scores. I am not talking about ‘clear’ copies here in any of these examples.

Goethe stated (or is it complained?) that often a poem would present itself to him in finished form while walking through the countryside. The great task, Goethe said, was to make sure that it would not be forgotten by the time he arrived at home, otherwise it would be lost forever. There is definitely something very ‘dream-like’ about this source of genius. How quickly do we forget dreams if we do not make a serious effort at trying to remember them!

There is a report by a student of Bach's that he would take a chorale and improvise on the spot the opening mvt. of a cantata to the amazement of the student. It is very likely that Bach may have been 'mulling' this chorale melody over in his mind over a period of time similar to that of a scientist who is trying to solve a problem. Suddenly it presents itself to him as he begins to play on the keyboard the possibilities that have seemingly worked themselves out in an almost final solution.

3) The ‘Deep-Concentration’ theory
Perhaps this is a self-induced state of thinking that resembles somewhat the 'dream-state' type of experience. As far back as Diogenes, who found himself in the middle of a battlefield but was able to shut out the noise of battle in order to concentrate fully on his thoughts, and including Mozart, of whom it is reported that he composed music while playing billiards/bowling or sitting in a loud pub/tavern, there have been examples of this type of intense concentration which would allow full attention to the creation of a work of art. With Mozart, you almost get the impression that the noisy background enhances the concentrative effort. Whether Bach used or had this type of concentration is not documented, but it could well be, if you consider the cramped quarters in his house with the many children who populated it. But then it also appears that, particularly in regard to musical sounds, he was extremely sensitive and could be distracted easily. He could immediately detect a single wrong note played by one individual in a larger ensemble, or slight imperfections in an organ. One anecdote has it that if he heard emanating from another room in the house a chord which was part of an unresolved cadence, it would almost ‘drive him crazy’ and not allow him to sleep peacefully until the cadence was resolved. Perhaps he may have had these moments of deep concentration only when he was actually working on a piece in his mind.

4) The ‘Reincarnation’ theory
The appearance of such a great genius seems more plausible to some people if you can point to a much longer period of development than simply a single life-time. The talents and abilities that Bach exhibited were prepared in previous lifetimes and accumulated over a long time span. The entity that we have come to know as Bach had a part in choosing the opportunities offered to it by selecting the specific, time, place and family that offered the best possibilities for the unfolding of the latent musical capabilities. Bach’s genius/talent was not gained in a single lifetime; it took numerous lifetimes to prepare for this particular incarnation.

5) The ‘Best-Year-for-Wine’ theory
The ‘coincidence’ that a cluster of significant composers were all born around the same time, within a year or two of each other, seems to point to some sort of astrological influence for musical genius whhas yet to be properly delineated. In any case the list seems impressive:

Francesco Durante (March 31, 1684)
Francesco Onofrio Manfredini (June 22, 1684)
Vincent Lübeck (September 2, 1684)
Johann Gottfried Walther (Sept. 18, 1684) (direct connection to Bach)

Georg Friedrich Händel [George Frideric Handel] (Feb. 23, 1685)
Johann Georg Neidhardt (sometime during this year)
Charles VI Holy Roman Emperor (composer, patron, even directed performances from the harpsichord)
Johann Sebastian Bach (March 21, 1685)
John Gay (c. June 30, 1685) of “Beggar’s Opera” fame, playwright, poet
Jacques (Jacob) Loeillet (bap. July 7, 1685)
Gottfried Kirchhoff (Sept. 15, 1685) composer, organist, one of Zachow’s best students (the other was Händel)
Giuseppe Matteo Alberti (Sept. 20, 1685) composer, violinist
Giuseppe Gonelli (Oct. 24, 1685) composer, organist, teacher
Domenico Scarlatti (Oct. 26, 1685)

Benedetto Marcello (July {or June} 24, 1686
Nicola Porpora (August 17, 1686)
Wilhelm Hieronymus Pachelbel (Aug. 29, 1686) eldest son of the famous Johann Pachelbel
Silvius Leopold Weiss (Oct. 12?, 1686) great lutenist and composer.

6) The ‘It’s in the Genes’ theory
Perhaps no other artistic family is so well documented as that of Bach’s. Since truly a great number of them over many decades and even a few centuries were musicians and composers with a few very good ones at that, scientists might be able to detect a certain gene or set of genes which couple the acute hearing ability of Bach with playful, inventive imagination that allowed him create so many excellent musical compositions.

7) The ‘Serendipity’ theory
This implies a somewhat continuous stream of serendipitous circumstances (regarding fugal subjects, the invention of motifs pregnant with musical possibilities.) Bach had a great talent for ‘solving musical riddles/puzzles’ (and creating some tough nuts to crack for others who wished to try out their puzzle-solving abilities.) Just as some people have a knack for choosing the correct (easiest, fastest) method/solution out of a myriad possibilities that present themselves, Bach, it is reported, would hear a new theme for the first time and immediately work it out in his mind very quickly and then set about either putting it on paper quickly or playing directly what he had already formed in his mind.

8) The ‘Proper-Environment-is-Everything’ theory
Could a composer such as Bach have found a more musically-nurturing environment than in the Bach family at the end of the 17th century? Probably not. The family and the extended family had a remarkable number of practicing musicians and composers, some of which served as models for Bach: there was an uncle who could extemporize a 5-part fugue on the spot with ease, a truly remarkable accomplishment! Being surrounded by the playing and taking care of numerous instruments available in the Stadt-Pfeiffer family that he was part of as a boy, Bach was allowed to become intimately acquainted early on with musical instruments of various types. Certainly the extended family get-togethers where the singing of quodlibets that were improvised as a group by all those who were present added immensely to Bach’s ability to improvise in consort with others. What a learning experience! The scores that Bach copied secretly at night at his uncle’s home opened up to him a world of music much wider than that which was offered by his immediate environment.

9) The ‘Creativity-Induced-by-Physical-Means (aromas, stimulants, drugs)’ theory
While Bach certainly enjoyed his wine, coffee, and tobacco pipe, there is no real evidence that these were used to induce a state of mind conducive to musical creativity in the form of composition. There are reports that drugs may have been used to create poetry in the 17th century and later, Friedrich Schiller (famous for his ‘Ode to Joy’ Beethoven’s 9th text) is said to have kept some rotten apples in one of his desk drawers and when he needed creative stimulation, he would open the drawer to take a few whiffs, and E.T.A.Hoffmann, after working all day as a government official concerned only with legalisms would, in the evening, unwind with a couple of glasses of wine (he marked the number of glasses in secret code in his diary) before beginning to write and compose music. There is, however, no way to completely exclude this possibility with Bach either.

10) The “Ritter-des-Klaviers” [Knights of the Keyboard] theory
The picture evoked here is one of a composer slavishly bound to a keyboard, checking out each chord as it is being written down. This certainly would not be characteristic of Bach’s manner of composition, but it has been reported that after he had composed (written down on paper) his 1st draft of a keyboard partita, he would go to a keyboard late at night and play through the compositions in order to determine if they were truly playable (there were some possible fingering problems which he would resolve after he had composed it directly from what he had heard in his mind.) Some mechanical aspects of playability had to be resolved after he had produced his 1st draft (which was essentially complete, but needed to be tried out.) The source indicated that Bach actually ‘practiced’ such hard parts to make certain that they were truly playable.

11) The "Process-of-Composition" theory
Unlike Haydn, who would sit down at the keyboard and simply begin to fantasize according to the mood that he was in, Bach normally began by playing the work of another composer and then improved upon it with his own creative ideas. He would use the works of other composers as a springboard for extemporizing at the keyboard. He loved to invent additional voices to those already in an existing composition. While accompanying one of his own cantata arias on the keyboard, he would invent an additional melody/part on the spot during the performance to the amazement of those present. In his cantata mvts., Bach, as Schweitzer had already pointed out, began with an original kernel idea/motif from which everything seemed to unfold. In fugal choruses, Bach would begin sketching out the fugal entries first, then fill in the accompanying parts. For Bach, the invention of ideas was of a high priority in the compositional process. What sets Bach apart from other composers is the density and integration of his compositions and thoroughness of the seemingly unending process of composition which involved providing more and more detail in the parts (and the creation of a new score if many changes were involved) and adjustment to the existing performance circumstances. Bach continually strove for perfection. He was his own severest critic. He was proud of the usually neat and clear appearance of his scores (others might have considered this as evidence of pedantry.) The final notation, although a moving target that might be changed at the next performance of a cantata, was the best representation of his intentions as he indicated through his spokesman, Birnbaum in 1738: ‘You can not judge a composition first and foremost by the impression of its performance. But if such a judgment, which can be deceptive, is not to be taken into consideration, then I see no other way of forming an opinion about it except by looking at the work as it is set down in notation.’ The result of Bach's genius is best realized in the detailed notation which he has given us in his scores and the sets of parts that have come down to us.

12) The "Composing-by-the-Numbers" theory
One of Bach's students, Kirnberger, advocated a method of composing by the numbers. Polonaises and minuets could be 'cranked out' endlessly: "Anyone who is familiar only with dice and numbers and write down notes is capable of composing as many of the aforesaid little pieces as he desires." CPE Bach also tried his hand at this sort of thing. A publication by Piere Hoegi (London, c. 1770) is entitled: "A Tabular System whereby the Art of Composing Minuets is Made so Easy that any Person, without the Least Knowledge of Musick, may Compose Ten Thousand, all Different, and in the most Pleasing and Correct Manner." Such composing procedures must have been an anathema for Bach.

These theories may all point to various facets of the diamond that is Bach’s genius. Possibly a combination of these and others that can be suggested would begin to explain only partially the creative genius that Bach exhibited and which allowed him to leave behind for our continued study and enjoyment such profound musical compositions to which we can return again and again for recreation and spiritual refreshment.

Jane Newble wrote (June 2, 2003):
< Thomas Braatz wrote: I am not a theologian, nor have I spent time searching the Bible for this information. I simply looked as Acts 1, and found that I could not confirm your statement that “the disciples returned to Jerusalem with great joy”. As far as I can determine, this was not a moment of great joy because Christ had removed himself from their sight. It was a moment initiating a period of a yet unfulfilled promise (Pentecost and the sending of the Holy Spirit to the disciples was yet to come.) >
If you look at the end of Luke 24 (who also wrote Acts) you will find the statement in verse 52. Not only that, but in the next verse they were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God. I think it can only be because they wholeheartedly believed the promises made to them, and so the joy took over from the sadness of parting.

Dick Wursten wrote (June 2, 2003):
Inspiration

[To Thomas Braatz] Thomas, tnx for the expose of the inspiration-theories... I read them with much interest, joy and sometimes couldnot suppress a smile...

I vote for a combination of :

6) The ‘It’s in the Genes’ theory
7) The ‘Serendipity’ theory
8) The ‘Proper-Environment ...’ theory
11) The "Process-of-Composition" theory

And think that this is 'the medium' in which God keeps the pipeline open' (1.)

Dick Wursten wrote (June 2, 2003):
Ascension

If not interested in theological background, don't read this:

[triggered by the remarks about BWV 43 of Peter Bloemendaal, Aryeh Oron, Thomas Braatz en Jane Newble)

The feast of Ascension is one I like, because it has many different aspects, some of them being almost eachothers opposite (this creates a tension, which gives it a psychological applicability, because IMHO life consists in keeping the opposites together. That's why music and in particular polyphonic music (like Bach) is so powerful).
1. Ascension = disappearance. The natural physical communication with Jesus has come to an end. This already was the case with GoodFriday/Easter, but the 'apparitions' suggested that it was possible to hope for a kind of prolonging this contact with Him in another way. Jesus ascension marks the end (definitive) of this option. He is gone now. Jesus ascension is his 'going away' and this suggest the mood of a farewell and of being 'left'... an orphan. [this mood esp. in Acts1, though criticized by th 'angel' immediately afterwards: the sunday between Ascensionday and Pentecost bears the name "orphans-sunday". This term comes from the gospel of John.
2. Ascension = enthronization (IMO a later reflection on what really has happened to Jesus after his resurrection and which is 'sealed' by his Glorious ascension). According to the christian faith Jesus is 'taken away' by God to sit at his 'right hand', i.e. next to the throne of the Almighty to govern togehter with Him. this mood calls for Jubilation, trumpets and 'Posaunen': a joyful celebration
3. Ascension = longing... for Christs return in power (>2) and for his return (he will come just as he has gone) to meet him again face tot face (>1) and...
4. Ascension = change because from this day on 'we will not know the Lord in a physical sense anymore' but only in 'spirit and truth'... The change of mind, the 'meta-noia' (= greek word for conversion) is to accept this change from physical contact to spiritual communion as an 'improvement' of the relation. (a metabasis eis allo genos: a kind of higher level. The spiritual being considered as higher than the physical). So you have 'to let go' (like Jesus said to Mary Magdalene after she embraced him in the garden of the Resurrection) in order to keep in touch with the risen Lord. Distance is needed to establish a proper relation.

Thomas Braatz wrote (June 2, 2003):
Thanks to both Jane Newble (for the reference to Luke 24:52) and to Dick Wursten (for his elaboration of 'disappearance,' 'enthronization,' 'longing' and 'change of mind' = 'meta-noia.') I can identify very closely with Dick's remarks on the 'meta-noia' required of the disciples in order to overcome the clouds or spiritual fog that temporarily hindered them from achieving the intended/promised communication (reconnection with Christ on a different/higher plane.)

Peter Bloemendaal wrote (June 3, 2003):
Thanks Thomas, Jane and Dick. I was amazed to read these 12 theories you put forward, Tom, and that without any references. So I take it you must have mulled over them for quite some time. Some sound sensible, some don't make sense at all. Yet, there is no proof. And that is what I was looking for. At several points you mentioned that it has been reported that... These are the things I am especially interested in. Are there any documented writings by Bach himself, his relatives or those who knew him closely, about his composing activities that can answer questions about where, when and how he did it. I can not imagine there has not ever been any systematic research into this matter. Who has read any books on the subject or can recommend one?
[Tom, can you get rid of these irritating diacritics in your postings? I think they represent apostrophes and inverted commas)

 

Ascension texts

Ed Myskowski wrote (December 14, 2010):
From BCW archives, re BWV 87
Ed Myskowski wrote (November 12, 2010):

<I am disappointed that Bach did not have the opportunity to make more of these forty days (and three (!) appearances) of Jesus, between Resurrection and Ascension. OTOH, perhaps a yet unexplored opportunity for a Christian musician and a clever librettist?> (end quote)

As it turns out, CPEBach was right on the task, some forty years after his father, and a couple hundred years ahead of me, with a fine oratorio to text by Karl Wilhelm Ramler: The Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus. I encountered the work because of its coupling with the JSBach Ascension Oratorio, BWV 11, on the Kuijken DVD recently noted and discussed. .

For the moment, I will to return to my original thought, the scriptural descriptions of the post-Resurrection events, and their relation to Bachs cantata texts and associated Gospel readings.

(1) The appearance of the resurrected Jesus to Mary Magdalene, on the morning of the third day (Easter Sunday), Mark 16: 9-11. One of the most consistent events in the four Gospel texts, described also in Matt. 28: 9-10, John 20: 14-18, and alluded to in Luke 24: 11-12.

This event appears (to me) to be specifically omitted from the Gospel texts associated with the liturgical calendar. The gospel reading for Easter Sunday is Mark 16: 1-8, the Gospel reading for Ascension Day is Mark 16: 14-20.

(2a) Later on the third day, two disciples encounter Jesus on the road to Emmaus, Mark 16: 12-13, and Luke 24: 13-32. The Luke citation (extending to verse 35) is the Gospel reading for Easter Monday.

(2b) The two disciples return to Jerusalem, where the eleven disciples (and others?) are gathered, Luke 24: 33-53. The Gospel reading for Easter Tuesday ends with Luke 24: 47, so as not to overlap with the moment of Resurrection. Mark 16: 14-20 seems to cover the same events as Luke 24: 33-53. I do not see any reference to Thomas not bepresent, in either.

John 20: 19-25 covers the same event in Jerusalem, on the evening of the third day, but with specific reference to Thomas not present.

(3) John 20: 26-29 is the event, eight days later, when Jesus appears to all the disciples, including Thomas. The Gospel reading for the First Sunday after Easter is John 20: 19-31, which compounds the two distinct meetings in Jerusalem, and appends two verses (30-31) with reference to <many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book>.

(4) John 21: 1-14 is an event not described elsewhere, fishing and breakfast, <this was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.>. It tis tempting to suggest that this is the meal directly preceding the Ascension, as in the Gospel reading for Ascension Day, Mark 16: 14-20. but the chronology is difficult to reconcile. John does not specifically mention the Ascension, and his scene on the beach is not a liturgical Gospel reading for the season.

(5) The Epistle for Ascension Day, Acts 1: 1-11, covers these events in very general terms (verse 3: <To them he presented himself alive after his passion by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days>), and provides the description for the classic illustrations of the Ascension (verse 9: <he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight>.

Doug Cowling has often (never tiresomely) emphasized the importance of considering Bachs cantatas in the context of the Lutheran service, which also included singing or chanting of the Epistle and Gospel for the day. I believe Kuijken makes a similar point in notes to his recording. I will try to recover exact citations. The idea is that anything more than a brief reference in the cantata text, to the Gospel for the day, would be redundant and unnecessary.

My initially expressed disappointment is incorrect for at least three reasons:

(1) There are not a lot of post-Resurrection events described in the Gospels, despite suggestions of more in both John and Acts.

(2) Even from that limited number, a couple key events from the Gospels did not make it into the liturgical Gospel readings selected for specific days.

(3) It is not the function of cantata texts to provide complete descriptions of events from those Gospel readings. The case of oratorios in the position of cantatas (Christmas, Easter, and Ascension) are the unusual items, at least with respect to the traditional function of cantatas.

In fact, I believe Bach and his librettists have made appropriate use of the material available. I intend to follow up with specific cantata references for the Gospel readings cited above.

Ed Myskowski wrote (December 20, 2010):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
< For the moment, I will to return to my original thought, the scriptural descriptions of the post-Resurrection events, and their relation to Bachs cantata texts and associated Gospel readings.
(1) The appearance of the resurrected Jesus to Mary Magdalene, on the morning of the third day (Easter Sunday), Mark 16: 9-11. One of the most consistent events in the four Gospel texts, described also in Matt. 28: 9-10, John 20: 14-18, and alluded to in Luke 24: 11-12. >
This event does not appear in the cantatas, nor in the Easter Oratorio (BWV 249), although Mary Magdalene does have a prominent role in the latter. The specific appearance of Jesus to Mary Magdalene is described in the Ramler text for the CPE Bach Ascension (oratorio?), Wq 240.

< (2a) Later on the third day, two disciples encounter Jesus on the road to Emmaus, Mark 16: 12-13, and Luke 24: 13-32. The Luke citation (extending to verse 35) is the Gospel reading for Easter Monday.
(2b) The two disciples return to Jerusalem, where the eleven disciples (and others?) are gathered, Luke 24: 33-53. The Gospel reading for Easter Tuesday ends with Luke 24: 47, so as not to overlap with the moment of Resurrection. Mark 16: 14-20 seems to cover the same events as Luke 24: 33-53. I do not see any reference to Thomas not being present, in either.
John 20: 19-25 covers the same event in Jerusalem, on the evening of the third day, but with specific reference to Thomas not present. >
The events described by Luke in the Gospel readings for Easter Monday and Tuesday are not mentioned in the cantata texts. However, the citation from John 20: 21. <Peace be with you>, is the opening and closing line of the chorus, BWV 158/1.

< (3) John 20: 26-29 is the event, eight days later, when Jesus appears to all the disciples, including Thomas. The Gospel reading for the First Sunday after Easter is John 20: 19-31, which compounds the two distinct meetings in Jerusalem, and appends two verses (30-31) with reference to <many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book. >>
The <Peace be with you> theme from John is repeated in BWV 67/6. The first appearance of Jesus in Jerusalem (verses 19-25) is the major theme of BWV 42. Both cantatas are for the First Sunday after Easter.

The second appearance with Thomas present does not feature in the cantatas, but is important in the text for CPE Bach Wq 240.

< (4) John 21: 1-14 is an event not described elsewhere, fishing and breakfast, <this was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead. >>
This event is omitted from the cantata texts, as well as from CPE Bach Wq 240. An opportunity overlooked, if you can forgive me a bit of poaching from Craig Smith, re BWV 128.

< (5) The Epistle for Ascension Day, Acts 1: 1-11, covers these events in very general terms (verse 3: <To them he presented himself alive after his passion by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days>), and provides the description for the classic illustrations of the Ascension (verse 9: <he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight>>.
There are four Bach cantatas for Ascension Day.

BWV 37 refers to the Gospel reading for the day (Mark 16: 14-20), which includes the Ascension. However, mention of the event itself appears to be specifically avoided in the cantata text.

BWV 128 and BWV 43 both include references to the event of the Ascension, but both are also relatively special cases in the overall cantata works, the first with text by Mariane von Ziegler, and the second with relation to the works of cousin JL Bach, and text likely by his librettist.

BWV 11 includes the following (courtesy of compilation by Pamela Dellal, accompanying her translation, linked at BCW [English 6]
Mvt. 2: Luke 24:50-51
Mvt. 5: Acts 1:9 and Mark 16:19
Mvt. 7: Acts 1:10-11 (sic)
Mvt. 9: Luke 24:52a, Acts 1:12, and Luke 24:52b

These references are also reflected in the CPEBach Wq 240 text. I would like to add one minor detail: The reference to the Mount of Olives (Acts 1: 12), used by both Bachs, does not occur in the Epistle reading for the day, which ends at Acts 1: 11.

I note with personal interest Doug Cowlings comment re the drama of Bachs cantatas as a drama of contrasting theologic ideas rather than events. Compare Bachs label of BWV 11 as oratorio, along with BWV 249. The only works on this list which might be considered event-driven are these two 1736 oratorios.

Two related details, as concisely as I can manage:

The reference to Satan (BWV 43/6) is right in line with a buffo character, as proposed by Julian Mincham. At the mention of his name, in defeat, the music goes flat as a pancake, in contrast to the more usual snake-like writhing of the active devil.

Notes to the two versions of the CPE Bach Wq 240 have a conflict:

Benoit Jaquemin, from the Kuijken CD (2003):
<As well as countless works of secondary importance, often composed in haste or assembled from pieces from other composers, including his father [CPE] Bach left us three great oratorios. [including] Auferstehung und Himmelfahrt Jesu to a libretto by Karl Wilhelm Ramler which had already been set to music by Telemann, Graun, and others> (end quote)

Nicholas Anderson, from the Herreweghe CD (1992)
<The author of the text which [CPE] Bach set was Karl Wilhelm Ramler (1725-1798), a Berlin poet and academic several of whose works had already been set by Telemann, Carl Heinrich Graun, and others.> (end quote)

The notes by Anderson are in English originally, with French translation included. The notes by Jaquemin I cited are in fact an English translation of French original. I wonder if we have gone from English original to French translation in 1992, followed by French borrowing and English translation in 2003?

Any Telemann expertise on this detail by KP Clow or others would be greatly appreciated: did Telemann and Graun actually set the same text as CPE Bach?

 

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Last update: ýJanuary 22, 2011 ý08:28:54