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Cantatas as Drama

Ed Myskowski wrote (December 14, 2010):
Ascension texts

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 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.

(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.

Douglas Cowling wrote (December 14, 2010):
Ascension texts

Ed Myskowski wrote:
< 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. >
The Gospel reading always contains the words of Jesus whether he is present in the narrative or not. The upcoming Pentecost Gospel of John 14:23-31 is a good example: Christ departs on Ascension Day but the reading two Sundays later is taken from the Final Discourse of the Last Supper when Christ talks about the action of the Holy Spirit. The church year is really a drama of theologies not narrative theatre.

We see this throughout the cantatas where the drama is a theatre of ideas not of narrative events. The achievement of the cantatas is that Bach never fails to find a musical expression to achieve dramatic effect. The opening of this cantata is a brilliant example. It feels like an operatic finale: the tenor and bass sing a duet which could be construed as a great lament followed by an angry chorus calling for revenge (insert your own scenario here). The theology of the work, however, is about the dramatic struggle of witness and persecution.

Bach's approach is extraordinarily nuanced and he never allows his musical solutions to become clichés, even in his own works. The other Easter cantatas used a bass solo singing the dictum for the "Vox Christi". Here it is a bass and tenor duet which expands to the chorus. It is high drama but not a drama of characters and events, but rather of ideas, images, and theologies.

Ed Myskowski wrote (December 14, 2010):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< Bach's approach is extraordinarily nuanced and he never allows his musical solutions to become clichés, even in his own works. The other Easter cantatas used a bass solo singing the dictum for the "Vox Christi". Here it is a bass and tenor duet which expands to the chorus. It is high drama but not a drama of characters and events, but rather of ideas, images, and theologies. >
Note the relevance to this weeks discussion topic, BWV 44. The TB opening duets in both BWV 44, for Exaudi (Easter 6, or Sunday after Ascension) and BWV 59 for Pentecost (Whitsun), the following week liturgically, make a nice point of comparison. I have not yet done so for myself. BWV 59 will be our weekly discussion focus a few weeks hence.

Ed Myskowski wrote (December 17, 2010):
Cantatas as drama (BWV 44)

Douglas Cowling wrote:
< We see this throughout the cantatas where the drama is a theatre of ideas not of narrative events. The achievement of the cantatas is that Bach never fails to find a musical expression to achieve dramatic effect. >
I have been loosely referring to the Ascension Oratorios of JS and CPEBach, based on the title of the DVD where they are coupled. In fact, the title of the CPE Bach work is <The Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus> (Wq 240), no mention of oratorio. JSBach himself did label BWV 11 <Ascension Oratorio>. As I understand it (correction invited), JSBach himself reserved the term cantata to refer to solo works.

In addition to thKuijken 2004 concert performance of Wq240 released on DVD, he also recorded this work in 2002, for a 2003 release on Hyperion CD. Long before that, Phillipe Herreweghe released the work on a 1992 Virgin Classics CD, with informative booklet notes by Nicholas Anderson. All this is new to me, in recent weeks.

Nicholas Anderson:
<Protestant sacred dramatic music had formed an important part of Hamburgs [CPEBach, 1768-88 location] musical life at least since the 1640s, and in 1678 a gifted composed and celebrated contrapuntist, Johann Theile, inaugurated the new opera house in the citys Gansemarkt (Goosemarket) with his Adam and Eva. The work was inspired by biblical narrative and reflects a love of the spiritual-dramatic shown by Germans at the time. Hamburg was also the most important centre for German oratorio during the first half of the eighteenth century. There were two principal types: the liturgical oratorio Passion with Biblical text and interpolated poetry which had emerged during the mid-seventeenth century, and the newer Passion oratorio with largely if not entirely poetic text. [Wq 240], though bearing affinity with this second type in its length and its setting of a lyric text with unnamed personages, was in fact considered by both [CPE] Bach and Ramler [librettist] as a dramatic cantata.
(<It is no oratorio>) readers were reminded in a notice in the Hamburgische unparteiische Correspondent (17 March 1778) advertising a performance the following day.> (end quote)

Before I saw the Anderson booklet notes today, I had intended to point out Ramlers text as a distinct contrast to Bachs cantata texts: he describes events from Resurrection to Ascension in lyric poetry without Biblical citation. Ramler places specific emphasis on the appearance of Jesus to Mary Magdalen, despite the fact that it is omitted from Biblical references for liturgical Gospel readings, although he does not include the fishing and breakfast beach scene from John 24. My opportunity for a libretto is still open?

I will close for now, but there is a lot more to be said. Note in particular, with reference to the opening citation from Doug Cowling:

JSBach specifically called his 1736 cantatas (Christmas, Easter, and Ascension) oratorios.

CPEBach specifically called his 1778 oratorio a cantata.

Evan Cortens wrote (December 17, 2010):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
< I have been loosely referring to the Ascension Oratorios of JS and CPEBach, based on the title of the DVD where they are coupled. In fact, the title of the CPE Bach work is<The Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus> (Wq 240), no mention of oratorio. JSBach himself did label BWV 11<Ascension Oratorio>. As I understand it (correction invited), JSBach himself reserved the term cantata to refer to solo works. >
Two points:

1) You're exactly right that JSB called this an ascension oratorio.
Here's a facsimile of the source:
http://www.bach-digital.de/receive/BachDigitalSource_source_00000874 You can see on the title page it says "Oratorium | Festo Ascensionis Christi."

2) JSB reserved the word "cantata" only for secular Italian vocal works. The church pieces, when they're given a generic title at all, are often "Kirchenstück" (churchpiece) (or simply "Stück" [piece]), or "Konzert" (concerto). When the church pieces are first called cantatas I'm not sure... I'm looking at an auction catalogue from CPEB's estate from 1805, and the church pieces are called "Kirchenmusik", though it refers to a "Hochzeitskantaten" (Wedding Cantata). When it uses the word "Cantata", it's referring to secular cantatas.

Certainly they're called "Cantaten" by the time of the Bach Gesellschaft Ausgabe (c. 1850); vol. 1 is entitled "Joh. Seb. Bach's Kirchencantaten". When in between there the term becomes generally associated with sacred, and not secular music, I'm not sure.

Ed Myskowski wrote (December 17, 2010):
Evan Cortens wrote:
Ed Myskowski wrote:
>> I have been loosely referring to the Ascension Oratorios of JS and CPEBach, based on the title of the DVD where they are coupled. In fact, the title of the CPE Bach work is The Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus> (Wq 240), no mention of oratorio. <<
EC:
< I'm looking at an auction catalogue from CPEB's estate from 1805, and the church pieces are called "Kirchenmusik", though it refers to a "Hochzeitskantaten" (Wedding Cantata). When it uses the word "Cantata", it's referring to secular cantatas. >
EM:
I was careless to suggest that CPEBach used cantata to refer to Wq 240. In fact, it is the writer of the Herreweghe booklet notes, Nicholas Anderson, who writes that it <was in fact considered by both [CPE]Bach and Ramler as a dramatic cantata.> But the only contemporary evidence cited is the performance notice: <It is no oratorio>, no specific mention of cantata.

Thanks for the careful reading!

Evan Cortens wrote (December 17, 2010):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
< I was careless to suggest that CPEBach used cantata to refer to Wq 240. In fact, it is the writer of the Herreweghe booklet notes, Nicholas Anderson, who writes that it <was in fact considered by both [CPE]Bach and Ramler as a dramatic cantata.> But the only contemporary evidence cited is the performance notice: <It is no oratorio>, no specific mention of cantata. >
Actually, this is my carelessness. The CPEB auction catalogue entries I was referring to were in fact of JSB "cantatas", and not of Wq 240, which isn't listed in this particular catalogue. There is a much larger auction catalogue, the Nachlass Verzeichnis of 1790, which would have an entry; I'll check that today. CPEB's own day-to-day church cantatas are simply called "Musik", e.g. "Musik am ersten Weihnachtstage 1786".

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 cline 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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