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Recordings & Discussions of Cantatas: Cantatas BWV 1-50 | Cantatas BWV 51-100 | Cantatas BWV 101-150 | Cantatas BWV 151-200 | Cantatas BWV 201-224 | Cantatas BWV Anh | Order of Discussion

Cantata BWV 1
Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern
Discussions - Part 3

Continue from Part 2

Discussions in the Week of March 25, 2007 [Continue]

Neil Halliday wrote (March 30, 2007):
Paul T. McCain wrote: (of the bass recitative)
<[A light of joy to me from God has arisen, for a perfect possession/good, the Saviour's body and blood"]. How beautifully text and music support each other.>
This recitative does have a particularly melodious vocal line. The accompaniment consists of a succession of noble chords, albeit relatively simple inversions of plain major, minor and dominant seventh chords. (Have a look at the BCW piano reduction score. The trick for the continuo musicians is to convey the nobility of these chords to the listener in a convincing fashion!).

Notice the four-note rising chromatic scale in the continuo from "Freudenschein" to "Leib und Blut". Apart from the obvious word-painting on "Freudenschein", Bach can't resist adding a little 1/32nd note figure to the vocal line at "Erquikkung". Notice he also separates "body" from "blood" with a 1/16th note rest.

--------

There are some specific points worth listening for, in the opening chorus.

As Julian pointed out, the initial (2nd concertante) violin motif occurs frequently in the ATB voices (as a matter of fact, this motif occurs in about half the total number of bars of the movement); and apart from its obvious recurrences on the concertante violins as well as horns and oboes in the ritornellos, there are a few important non `col' parte' instrumental occurrences of the motif in the vocal sections (as well as many `col' parte' occurrences, ie where instruments double one of the ATB lines).

For example, listen for the motif on the concertante violins that occurs just before the commencement of the cantus firmus in lines two and five (occuring above the alto quote (in diminution) of the upcoming c.f. phrase). Originally, I noticed this particular string entry only in line five (listening to Werner, who has a marvellous `forte' entry at this point)), and in fact it turns out that Bach has scored this entry an octave higher, compared to the line two entry, which therefore might not be so easily heard first time around (ie, in line two).

Another non `col' parte' entry of the motif occurs on the 1st horn, at the start of the long penultimate line (ie, the line after the beautiful homophonic chords on "lovely, friendly"); there are two successive entries, the second a tone lower than the first, matching the whole-tone downward step of the cantus firmus in these two bars. (Continuing, the motif immediately follows in the next bar, on the oboes, 2nd tutti violins and tenors in unison, an example of one of the many `col parte' occurrences in the score).

Robertson notes the "splendid series of sequences" in the vocal and instrumental basses in the last line; and the upward motion of the BTA voices leading up to the high F of the sopranos at the start of the cantus firmus in the last the last line, while - of course! - the above-mentioned motif is sounding in the instruments! - also creates a splendid effect.

These are just some of the treasures in this score.

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 31, 2007):
BWV 1 The Copy Session

BWV 1 Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern

Only the set of original parts have survived. They were presented to the Thomasschule by Anna Magdalena Bach after the death of her husband. An anonymous student at the Thomasschule wrote the following title on the cover enclosing the parts. Officially he has been designated Anonymous incertus (UTi I). The title reads:

Testo [sic, instead of Festo] Annunciationis | Mariae | Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern | â 4. Voc: | 2. Corn. | 2. Hautbois. | 2. Violini Concert. | 2. Violini Rip. | Viola. | e | Continuo | di Signor | J. S. Bach.

In the middle of the page there is a red cross (X)

The Original Parts:

Copyists involved in copying the parts were:

Johann Andreas Kuhnau [JAK]; Christian Gottlob Meißner [CGM]; Johann Heinrich Bach [JHB]; Wilhelm Friedemann Bach [WFB]; and Johann Sebastian Bach [JSB]

The original parts are as follows (with indications as to who copied what):

1. Soprano: JAK
2. Alto: JAK
3. Tenore: JAK
4. Basso: JAK
5. Corno 1: JAK
6. Corno 2: JAK
7. Hautbois. 1. da Caccia: JAK
8. Hautbois da Caccia (different notation, "Griffschrift", according to the way the notes are fingered): CGM writes out the 1st 3 mm, but the notes are smeared to become almost unreadable; WFB turns the page over and on the back side begins anew and finishes the part.
9. Hautbois. 2do da Caccia: JAK
10. Violino Concert 1: JAK
11. Violino Concert 2: JAK
12. Violino 1mo: JAK
13. Violino 2do: JAK
14. Viola: JAK
15. Continuo (Primary): JAK
--- missing, but very probable Secondary Continuo part (not transposed)
16. CONTINVO: CGM: Mvt. 1, mm1-63; JHB: Mvt. 1, mm 64-106, Mvt. 2; CGM: Mvts. 3-6; JSB: figured bass for Mvt. 1.

Scenario for the copy procedure:

Remarkably, JSB had completed composing the entire score before the copy procedure began. The composition of BWV 1 took place sometime during the tempus clausum of the Leipzig churches, thus, without having to prepare a new cantata for each Sunday and holiday, Bach had a stretch of weeks in which he was able to concentrate on composing and revising other projects such as BWV 249a being transformed, not without considerable difficulty, into BWV 249 to be performed on Easter Sunday, April 1, 1725.

The vast majority of parts for BWV 1 were copied by Johann Andreas Kuhnau straight through without having other copyists or even JSB himself copy the chorale into the parts afterwards. This is quite unusual, particularly during the 2nd cycle of chorale cantatas, but the tempus clausum could be the reason for this. As soon as JAK had finished copying the primary continuo part, JHB and CGM used this part to begin creating the transposed continuo part. Another continuo part is missing from this set. It may have had copyists other than JAK completing this task. JSB then revised all the parts, putting the name of the cantata at the top of each one. The second Oboe da Caccia part, completed by WFB may or may not have been copied during this session (it is not certain that it was done at the same time as the rest of the parts).

Neil Mason wrote (April 1, 2007):
[To Julian Mincham] Julian, thank you for your excellent introduction to this cantata.

It seems to me that a likely explanation for the key of F major in the first and last movements is simply the presence of the horns. I do not think that there is necessarily any reason more complicated.

As for the number of flat keys throughout the cantata, it seems to be that modulating to the subdominant was more often done in those times than in more modern music, where the dominant has become, well, dominant. Of course this is even more the case with renaissance music, but might be yet another reason why JSB was considered to be writing in an old-fashioned way.

Julian Mincham wrote (April 1, 2007):
[To Neil Mason] Thanks for your kind words Neil.

Re the keys, yes I agree about the horns being the probable determining factor for the flat outer movements.

Re the other movements I see your point and have a couple of observations only

1 was it not pretty well established by Bach's time that one set out towards the dominant rather than the subdominant given the start of the movement to be in a major key?

2 However, the criteria for choice of keys internally (i.e. to carry the structure of the individual movement) might be quite different from that for the choices of keys for the other movements within a multi-movement work e.g. a suite (usually all the same) or a cantata (usually different). It occurred to me that the (almost) obsessional use of flat keys in this work might have had some meaning for Bach other than technical e.g. the oboe di caccia solo, whilst still quite joyous, seems to have a softer, more personal sound than (I think) it would hahad in D or A major.

But might I be imagining this?

Douglas Cowling wrote (April 1, 2007):
Intro BWV 1 - Subdominant

Julian Mincham wrote:
< 1 was it not pretty well established by Bach's time that one set out towards the dominant rather than the subdominant given the start of the movement to be in a major key? >
The subdominant had a much higher profile in 16th and 17th century sacred music and in fact had become a harmonic cliché by the IV-I association with "A-men". Some of that "churchiness" was still around in the 18th century. The final cadence of the Hallelujah Chorus in "Messiah" is perhaps the most famous example.

Ed Myskowski wrote (April 2, 2007):
BWV 1

I may try to return to this sparkling work for some detailed comments on recordings, particularly Gardiner, [7] which has not been covered. But it is time to move on, so just a few closing thoughts on vibrato, the boy S. with Harnoncourt [4], and Ruth Holton with Leusink [8]. To my untutored (but well experienced, not to say aging) ear, this is one of Ruth Holton's finest performances, although I always find her enjoyable. More significantly, I think there is a purity of tone with her which exceeds that of the boy. Where that leaves us with respect to 'authentic performance practice' (is that really more accurate than HIP?), I have no idea. Both are fine, BTW, I just have a slight preference for Holton.

Both seem to have a trace of vibrato, just enough so as not to peel the paint. For the theorists (OK, directed to Shawn), does this suggest that Holton is controlling, or worse yet, suppressing her natural vibrato, compared to the boy? Can we tell? Or does it come down to what sounds best to the individual. I have been around long enough so that is what really matters to me, but I do like to find a common vocabulary for discussion.

For the record, in case it was not clear previously, I have found the singing thread educational, especially for the reference I was driven to find. The level of civility was decent for this list, IMO. As scary as it may be, that means it was top notch by general on-line standards.

Oops, I see incoming. Have I spoken too soon?

Stephen Benson wrote (April 2, 2007):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
< But it is time to move on, so just a few closing thoughts on vibrato, the boy S. with Harnoncourt [4], and Ruth Holton with Leusink [8]. To my untutored (but well experienced, not to say aging) ear, this is one of Ruth Holton's finest performances, although I always find her enjoyable. >
I hate to be the bearer of bad tidings, but I do believe that this is one of Ruth Holton's finest performances because I believe it's Marjon Strijk rather than Ruth Holton. Not that I don't enjoy Ruth Holton. I do. Credit, however, should be given where credit is due.And, before leaving BWV 1, I'll share something I wrote to a list member OFF-list a few days ago:

"I experienced a revelation with BWV 1 this week. I've been listening to three recordings - Harnoncourt [4], Koopman [9], and Leusink [8]. Koopman disappeared from my CD player pretty quickly. I found the whole thing rather "spongy". For much of the week, Harnoncourt took pride of place. After all, he has Equiluz and von Egmond and wonderful horns in the opening chorus. I also enjoyed the boy soprano which is unusual for me. After settling on his as my preferred performance, however, I started my day this morning [Saturday] with a playthrough of the Leusink. I immediately felt buoyed and exhilarated and happy, and isn't that what this music is about? Everybody seemed to be having FUN! Sometimes, I feel that there is too much reverence for the music and not enough natural response to joy. When I went back to Harnoncourt, I felt an inappropriate elegiac quality to music that accompanies a text which begins, "How beautifully shines the morning star/full of grace and truth from the Lord." Even the continuo to Leusink's soprano aria has an infectious and captivating lilt and bounce, and when all is said and done, I DO prefer the female voice here. This one experience has itself made the purchase of the entire set worthwhile, as far as I'm concerned."

Ed Myskowski wrote (April 2, 2007):
Stephen Benson wrote:
< I hate to be the bearer of bad tidings, but I do believe that this is one of Ruth Holton's finest performances because I believe it's Marjon Strijk rather than Ruth Holton. Not that I don't enjoy Ruth Holton. I do. Credit, however, should be given where credit is due. >
Thanks for the correction. I should have spent more time with the details of the music (like checking the liner notes for performers), and less on the other discussions.

I agree with your overall comments re Leusink [8] and Harnoncourt [4], BTW. Listening to H&L is always special for me, as I have only the low-numbered volumes, on LP, including pocket scores. It has been a treat to enjoy BWV 3, BWV 1, and BWV 6 coming up. But in the case of BWV 1, I find Leusink is the better performance on all counts. I will try to return for Gardiner [7] this week, as well as staying up with the ongoing sequence.

Neil Mason wrote (April 3, 2007):
[To Julian Mincham] You are certainly right about point 1, but JSB was renowned for being old-fashioned. Perhaps I'm drawing a long bow!

Re point 2, I'm not really sure about the reasons, but it certainly does give the cantata a different flavour from the norm. You call it a softer sound. Without disagreeing I would call it warm.

The second horn part in the final chorale is certainly remarkable. He must have had two virtuosi, each of whom he wished to give a moment in the limelight.

Harry W. Crosby wrote (April 3, 2007):
Since I have had the opportunity in recent days to do one-after-another listenings to Gardiner [7], Leusink [8], and Suzuki on BWV 1 [13], I would like to put in a good word for Suzuki, my overall first choice (just ahead of Leusink) and both of them ahead of Gardiner.

The BIS recording is excellent (I know; big surprise) and Suzuki's chorus and soloists [13] deliver what I find a very satisfying performance of this lovely work.

Alain Bruguières wrote (April 3, 2007):
[To Julian Mincham] I haven't had much time to react to your introduction to BWV 1... so I'm a bit late but still I must say that I'm not disappointed in the least. The fact is your introductions to BWV 1 and 6 give food for thought and it would take me quite some time to ponder your suggestions and react to them in a fitting way! I join Neil in thanking you.

I've been listening a lot to BWV 1 since you introduced it, mostly to Harnoncourt [4] and quite a little bit also to Leusink [8]. I like Leusink, but I prefer Harnoncourt by far. I read with interest Steve Benson's remarks

< For much of the week, Harnoncourt [4] took pride of place. After all, he has Equiluz and von Egmond and wonderful horns in the opening chorus. I also enjoyed the boy soprano which is unusual for me. After settling on his as my preferred performance, however, I started my day this morning [Saturday] with a playthrough of the Leusink [8]. I immediately felt buoyed and exhilarated and happy, and isn't that what this music is about? Everybody seemed to be having FUN! Sometimes, I feel that there is too much reverence for the music and not enough natural response to joy. When I went back to Harnoncourt, I felt an inappropriate elegiac quality to music that accompanies a text which begins, "How beautifully shines the morning star/full of grace and truth from the Lord." Even the continuo to Leusink'soprano aria has an infectious and captivating lilt and bounce, and when all is said and done, I DO prefer the female voice here. This one experience has itself made the purchase of the entire set worthwhile, as far as I'm concerned. >
I must say that I've been listening to Harnoncourt's version of BWV 1 [4] once in a while for many years, and it never fails to move me deeply. I agree that Leusink's BWV 1/1 [8], which I discovered last week, is exhilarating, but I'm not sure I'll be able to listen to it many times and still feel the same. There is in this chorale fantasia a deep sense of joy, but in my opinion, no sense of 'fun'. This is not telling me 'let's forget about all the difficulties and pains of life and have a good laugh for a while'. This is telling me, rather, 'OK, life can be difficult, even quite horrible sometimes. Still, there's some ground for hope; one can be aware of all that and still experience some joy at being alive and knowing that anything is possible'. I'm putting this very badly, but for me there is a sense of freedom emanating from that music, freedom from the constraints and trials that life enforce upon us. For me, this is conveyed pretty effectively by Harnoncourt [4], not by Leusink [8].

What I just said applies to my perception of much of Bach's music, but in the case of BWV 1, I think we should recall the circumstances of composition of this chorale, of which Bach and his parishoners were fully aware. Philipp Nicolai was trying to comfort his fellow citizens, who had been cruelly stricken by a plague epidemics. I very much doubt that he intended to give them some 'fun'.

There's also the question of the Stuebel theory. Julian, I admire your careful approach to this issue. I'll be somewhat more direct, I think. If the only evidence there is for this theory is Stuebel's date of demise, then I wonder how serious scholars can indulge in that kind of guesswork. I'd be grateful if anybody on the list could comfort me by indicating that there are or were other reasons to justify the publication of such a thesis.

Your hypothesis is very interesting. It looks like Bach. Experimenting on a certain format and deciding in advance the number of items produced, before it becomes a routine. Sounds plausible. As for the gematrics, there is some uncertainty on the number of items to take into account, so that the exercice is perillous. 41 = Bach, 43 = credo, 42 = the answer to the ultimate question... All numbers are remarkable. Indeed, if there were non-remarkable numbers, there would be a smallest non-remarkable number. And surely, the smallest non-remarkable number is most remarkable! Still, it seems that Bach played such games so why not. Are there other cycles of 41, 42 or 43? The Orgelbüchlein stopped short at 46, apparently because Bach's new post made the cycle pointless (which tells us something about Bach's sense of priorities). I enjoy the exchanges on gematrics all the same, and I'm open to all suggestions.

So I don't know when the cycle stops, but I like the idea that it stops at BWV 1, if only for the irony of it, but mostly because I find that BWV 1 subsumes what I find most endearing in Bach's music; I won't say his message, but the approach to life which I find in his music - perhaps simply because he put it there.

Ed Myskowski wrote (April 4, 2007):
Alain Bruguières wrote:
< There's also the question of the Stuebel theory. Julian, I admire your careful approach to this issue. I'll be somewhat more direct, I think. If the only evidence there is for this theory is Stuebel's date of demise, then I wonder how serious scholars can indulge in that kind of guesswork. >
Mon ami! And other interested parties. Where have you been? The reason 'serious' scholars indulge in that kind of guesswork is that very often the guy who makes the first correct guess gets his name on the result. Consider the Bernoulli principle and Reynolds number, from recent discussions. They are not called the 'principle of velocity/pressure relationship' or 'the quantification of laminar to turbulent flow transition number'. Think about it.

< I'd be grateful if anybody on the list could comfort me by indicating that there are or were other reasons to justify the publication of such a thesis. >
It appears to many scholars (who have tentatively convinced me) that the most logical explanation for the text consistencies through the first 40 or so cantatas of Jahrgang II is that there was a single librettist who worked closely with Bach, providing texts well in advance of composition, so that they could be published in booklet form (providing extra income for Bach, not incidentally).

Comforting? I don't know, but I find it reasonable, although certainly far from conclusive.

< As for the gematrics, there is some uncertainty on the number of items to take into account, so that the exercice is perillous. 41 = Bach, 43 = credo, 42 = the answer to the ultimate question...>
And if we include BWV 4 and 249?

< All numbers are remarkable. Indeed >
Indeed, I agree. I have just come from a lecture analyzing the science behind establishing the age of the Earth (and perhaps the entire Solar System, stay tuned for the follow up lectures in coming weeks) at 4.56 billion (thousand million) years (current Earth circuits). The first guy who tried it back in the 1950's came up with 4.55 billion. Unfortunately, he made a little error in his arithmetic, he should have got 4.49. But he also made a little error in his method.

Who says two wrongs don't make a wright?

< , if there were non-remarkable numbers, there would be a smallest non-remarkable number. And surely, the smallest non-remarkable number is most remarkable! Still, it seems that Bach played such games so why not. Are there other cycles of 41, 42 or 43? The Orgelbüchlein stopped short at 46, apparently because >
The smallest non-remarkable number is one (1). Miraculously (or not), it is also the smallest remarkable number. Challenges welcome.

To be continued on the stoop.

Alain Bruguières wrote (April 9, 2007):
I've just found out that in my English paperback edition, Durr's text about BWV 1 begins on page 666.

Now the 'morning star' is just another name for Lucifer, the bearer of light... Bach's unknown librettist may have had his non-conformist side, still that's going a bit far, isn't it? Enough to justify an untimely demise, perhaps? Mysteriouser and mysteriouser.

Ed Myskowski wrote (April 9, 2007):
Alain Bruguières wrote:
< I've just found out that in my English paperback edition, Durr's text about BWV 1 begins on page 666. >
I noticed this, but thought it would not go down well being pointed out by a writer from Salem MA (officially, The Witch City). Glad you noted it out for all to enjoy.

< Now the 'morning star' is just another name for Lucifer, the bearer of light... Bach's unknown librettist may have had his non-conformist side, still that's going a bit far, isn't it? Enough to justify an untimely demise, perhaps? Mysteriouser and mysteriouser. >
Well, you have taken this much further than I thought of. I do note with some satisfaction that the number of librettists is down to one, assuming that you mean the harsh retribution was for the general non-conformist position throughout Part 1, not specifically for BWV 1?

Thomas Braatz wrote (April 10, 2007):
Alain Bruguières wrote:
>>I've just found out that in my English paperback edition, Durr's text about BWV 1 begins on page 666. Now the 'morning star' is just another name for Lucifer, the bearer of light... Bach's unknown librettist may have had his non-conformist side, still that's going a bit far, isn't it? Enough to justify an untimely demise, perhaps? Mysteriouser and mysteriouser.<<
Particularly since the original Dürr discussion of BWV 1 (pp. 737-741) does not even contain a single reference to Lucifer. I even read through Dürr's discussion twice to make sure that I did not miss this reference. We seem to have a translator at work here who may have gone beyond what was established as Luthedoctrine as it existed in Leipzig during Bach's tenure there. However, since I am not a theologian, I would prefer that others who understand these matters better than I might be able to explain how all of the following may, in some way or other, be connected and lead a translator to insert "Lucifer" into an explanation of a text used by Bach.

I am reminded of the text for the great cantata fragment: BWV 50:

(Revelations 12:10) Luther, 1545
Nun ist das Heil und die Kraft und das Reich und die Macht unsers Gottes seines Christus worden, weil der verworfen ist, der sie verklagete Tag und Nacht vor Gott.

The following are King James Version translations:

Revelation 12:10 Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night.

[In Goethe's Faust (Prologue in Heaven), it is Mephistopheles who, in a discussion with God, does the accusing (accusing both God and mankind). Is Mephistopheles Lucifer in disguise?]

cf.
Isaiah 14:12 12 How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations!

Lucifer = "light-bearer", the shining one, the morning star, Lucifer 1) of the king of Babylon and Satan 2) Hebrew: 'Helel' describing the king of Babylon

Revelation 2:28 28 And I will give him the morning star.

Revelation 22:16 I, Jesus, have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright and morning star.

Did Bach and those who followed the Lutheran doctrine in Leipzig during Bach's tenure think of the 'morning star' in BWV 1 as Satan/devil cast down by Michael or as Jesus?

Any elucidation on this matter would be welcome, particularly as it affects our understanding of the interpretation of a text which Bach set to music and to which, it appears, he had referred in at least two different cantatas.

Paul T. McCain wrote (April 10, 2007):
Morgenstern = Venus = Latin = Lucifer

The translator was assuming that "Morgenstern" is a reference to the literal morning star, which is Venus, which, in Latin is Lucifer. I can only assume the translator was a complete illiterate in the subject of Christian theology.

BWV 1 is clearly and obviously singing about the Morning Star...Jesus Christ. It is not an ode to Venus! See Revelations 22:16 for a reference to Christ as the morning start.

How a translator could so screw up the translation as to possibly even suggest it is a reference to Lucifer is simply proof positive of the old axiom, "Never trust a translator!" The translator was being, well, plainly stupid, to put it bluntly. Here is more detail to explain the source of the translator's dreadful confusion:

Cassell's Latin dictionary identifies this word as an adjective, meaning "light-bearing, light-bringing." When used as a substantive, it means `Lucifer, the morning star, the planet Venus;" when used in mythology, it is "the son of Aurora and father of Ceyx." In this latter regard, William Smith's Smaller Classical Dictionary notes that "Lucifer" (Latin) and "Phosphoros" (Greek) are both epithets given the planet Venus in antiquity, along with other designations such as "Hesperus" [cf. the LXX of Isaiah 14:12, heosphoros], "Vesperugo," "Vesper," "Noctifer," and "Nocturnus" when, appearing in the evening sky rather than the morning sky, it introduces the darkness of night, rather than the light of day (see more below on the celestial position of Venus). "Lucifer" was also used as a designation in mythology of several goddesses of light, including Artemis, Aurora, and Hecate, and others.

Paul T. McCain wrote (April 10, 2007):
Morgenstern Lucifer Venus BWV 1

BWV 1 is a cantata based on one of the greatest of all Lutheran chorale's "O Morning Star" a hymn to and about Jesus Christ.

The translator's error was in assuming Morgenstern was a reference to the planet Venus, which is the morning star. The Latin for Venus as the morning star is...Lucifer, which means "light bearer." As for any suggestion that there is here a reference to Satan...well, that is of course entirely false.

The translator betrays a rather shocking ignorance of the cantata's subject matter with this dreadful blunder in translation, assuming the German word "Morgenstern" to be a reference to the planet Venus, Lucifer, the morning star.

More details:

Cassell's Latin dictionary identifies this word as an adjective, meaning "light-bearing, light-bringing." When used as a substantive, it means `Lucifer, the morning star, the planet Venus;" when used in mythology, it is "the son of Aurora and father of Ceyx." In this latter regard, William Smith's Smaller Classical Dictionary notes that "Lucifer" (Latin) and "Phosphoros" (Greek) are both epithets given the planet Venus in antiquity, along with other designations such as "Hesperus" [cf. the LXX of Isaiah 14:12, heosphoros], "Vesperugo," "Vesper," "Noctifer," and "Nocturnus" when, appearing in the evening sky rather than the morning sky, it introduces the darkness of night, rather than the light of day (see more below on the celestial position of Venus). "Lucifer" was also used as a designation in mythology of several goddesses of light, including Artemis, Aurora, and Hecate, and others.

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 10, 2007):
< How a translator could so screw up the translation as to possibly even suggest it is a reference to Lucifer is simply proof positive of the old axiom, "Never trust a translator!" The translator was being, well, plainly stupid, to put it bluntly. >
Opinions vary widely on this point. Etymologically and historically, "Morgenstern = Venus = Latin = Lucifer" has a pretty solid track record.

Take the generally interesting case of Wikipedia, which is written by whatever volunteers want to put their two or fifty cents into it. The English, German, French, Spanish, and Italian entries (among others) all disagree with one another, on various historical and cultural points related to Lucifer. Have a look:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lucifer
http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luzifer
http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lucifer
http://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lucifer
http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lucifero

Note: I'm not suggesting that Wikipedia is a reliable source of information about anything. Just pointing out that it's an interesting cultural phenomenon.

Neil Halliday wrote (April 10, 2007):
I took Alain's suggestion to be tongue in cheek, not only because the purely coincidental page number of a modern book by Dürr (in English translation!) can have no relevance to Lutheran theology in Bach's day, but mainly because the text of the opening chorus of BWV 1 makes it clear that "The morning star" is Jesus, "Son of David and Jacobs stem, beautiful and glorious, great and honorable, etc, etc.

Thomas Braatz wrote (April 10, 2007):
Neil Halliday wrote:
>>I took Alain's suggestion to be tongue in cheek, not only because the purely coincidental page number of a
modern book by Dürr (in English translation!) can have no relevance to Lutheran theology in Bach's day,...<<

Thanks for explaining what I have obviously misread. However, now, after reading the Bible citations, I am
even more confused about Lucifer's role than before Alain made this humourous connection between p. 666
and "morning star".

Ed Myskowski wrote (April 10, 2007):
Paul T. McCain wrote:
< The translator was assuming that "Morgenstern" is a reference to the literal morning star, which is Venus, which, in Latin is Lucifer. I can only assume the translator was a complete illiterate in the subject of Christian theology. >
Venus, in Latin, is Lucifer? I am just getting myself unstuck from Stübel.

< BWV 1 is clearly and obviously singing about the Morning Star...Jesus Christ. It is not an ode to Venus! See Revela22:16 for a reference to Christ as the morning start. >
See Revelations 22:15 for the context: <Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and fornicators and murderers and idolaters, and every one who loves and practices falsehood. <end quote>

Outside of what? Congratulations. I was making attempts to find common language, but that appears impossible. I suppose it is gratifying to live in certainty?

More laughs out here in the back of the pub. Can you hear me, Harry? Turn up the volume on the hearing aid.

I am so old, I recall a WW I lyric, 'While you've a lucifer to light your fag, smile boys'. The lucifer was a match and the fag was a cigarette. Life was simpler then. The war to end all wars.

Nowadays, all my unattached female friends complain; 'Every guy I like turns out to be a fag!' Or 'My boyfriends are all gay'. Go figure.

Ed Myskowski wrote (April 10, 2007):
Neil Halliday wrote:
>>I took Alain's suggestion to be tongue in cheek, not only because the purely coincidental page number of a modern book by Dürr (in English translation!) can have no relevance to Lutheran theology in Bach's day,...<<
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< Thanks for explaining what I have obviously misread. However, now, after reading the Bible citations, I am even more confused about Lucifer's role than before Alain made this humourous connection between p. 666 and "morning star". >
Right here from the Witch City, long about the Witching Hour, comes the explanation.

Alain was making a joke about the coincidence of the page number in the English translation of Dürr's superb text, where BWV 1 begins on page 666.

Or perhaps it was not a joke, I should not be so presumptuous. In any event, it turns out that the text for BWV 1 was the very last one written by Stübel (or unknown author(s) of your choice).

Coincidentally (or not) Stübel (or the ...) died immediately after completing the text of BWV 1. Among the possible explanations;

(1) The Stübel theory is disproved.

(2) The Stübel theory is only an hypothesis, so no big deal.

(3) Stübel's unorthodox theology has condemned him to purgatory (or worse). Couldn't someone buy him a retroactive indulgence? Alas, those were made obsolete by Luther (not to be confused with Lucifer, no matter the similarity of sounds), a couple hundred years earlier.

(4) OK, I won't bore you with more wrong answers. Stübel died in late January of 1725, unexpectedly, of unknown causes. At age 40, Bach had had enough of having his life disrupted by death. The orthodox Lutheran theology that it is God's will, no personal responsibility, etc., did not satisfy him at this point. Enough is enough.

Finish up the work in process. Make a new plan, Stan. No need to be coy, Roy. Just get of the bus, Gus. And set yourself free. (Lyrics borrowed from Paul Simon, Fifty ways to leave your lover. Mostly too short for copyright, but I tread the straight and narrow, full disclosure).

Bach keeps writing great music for another 25 years, but never again with the same intensity that he had during the collaboration with Stübel. Sometimes God just pisses you off.

And sometimes I piss everyone off. Good night.

Thérèse Hanquet wrote (April 10, 2007):
Brad Lehman wrote
< Opinions vary widely on this point. Etymologically and historically, "Morgenstern = Venus = Latin = Lucifer" has a pretty solid track record. >
For the Catholics, the morning star may also be the Virgin Mary. "Morning star" is one of her names in the Litanies of the Virgin.

Paul T. McCain wrote (April 10, 2007):
[To Bradley Lehman] Brad, the translation of the word "Morgenstern" in BWV 1 as "Lucifer" is an error. See my post for the source of the error/confusion on the part of the translator.

I'll boil is down more simply:

Lucifer is the Latin word for "Light Bearer" the name given to the goddess Venus by the Romans.

Venus, the planet, is in fact the "morning star" the last "star" visible shortly after daybreak, etc.

Paul T. McCain wrote (April 10, 2007):
BWV's reference to the "Morgenstern" is to Jesus Christ, not Mary. The chorale that forms the basis for BWV 1 is a hymn to Jesus Christ. Nicolai's great, "How lovely shines the Morning Star." It is a hymn to, and about, Jesus Christ.
<>

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 10, 2007):
< Lucifer is the Latin word for "Light Bearer" the name given to the goddess Venus by the Romans.
Venus, the planet, is in fact the "morning star" the last "star" visible shortly after daybreak, etc. >
Yeahhhh...and put the two together. Somebody long ago gets up before dawn every day for a bunch of days in a row, sees the same bright object (like a star) sitting up there just above the horizon, and notices that it rises just ahead of the sun. It bears or brings the light for the day, pulling it up with a chariot or whatever. It's a special star or some weirdo non-star, both because it's so bright and because one can never see it at midnight -- only near dawn or dusk. There's something suspicious about it, therefore. Hey, maybe it's some form of "fallen" angel or whatnot, since we can't ever see it all the way higher up to the rest of the heaven(s). And legends and conflations get made up, accordingly.

Cara Emily Thornton wrote (April 10, 2007):
[To Bradley Lehman] I think we are getting seriously off topic here. The fact of the matter is that in 'Wie schoen leuchtet der Morgenstern', it is an allusion to Revelation 22:16, which in turn is an allusion to Numbers 24:17. I am sure even Bach would have considered any other meaning seriously OT (and that does NOT mean Old Testament, either ;;) )

Cara Emily Thornton wrote (April 10, 2007):
[To Paul T. McCain] Not all translators are idiots. Some of us even get in trouble for doing our job too well.

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 10, 2007):
[To Cara Emily Thornton] Excerpts from two hymnal handbooks that I have here, with regard to the text and tune Nicolai wrote:

"When Philipp Nicolai was pastor in Unna, Germany, an awful plague hit the town. His window overlooked the cemetery. There were sometimes as many as thirty burials in a single day. It seemed that every home in the town was mourning for a stricken family member. It was a difficult time to be a pastor. How did he get through it? 'There seemed to me nothing more sweet, delightful, and agreeable,' Nicolai wrote, 'than the contemplation of the noble, sublime doctrine of Eternal Life obtained through the Blood of Christ. This I allowed to dwell in my heart day and night.'"

"'The Queen of Chorales', a traditional title for this hymn, pairs it with the 'King of Chorales' ('Wake, awake'). Nicolai is author and composer of both, and both were published in the same collection (1599). 'Wie schoen leuchtet der Morgenstern' appeared first with the following title: 'A Spiritual bridal song of the believing soul, concerning her Heavenly Bridegroom, founded in the 45th Psalm of the prophet David'."

Alain Bruguières wrote (April 9, 2007):
Neil was right,
< I took Alain's suggestion to be tongue in cheek, not only because the purely coincidental page number of a modern book by Dürr (in English translation!) can have no relevance to Lutheran theology in Bach's day, but mainly because the text of the opening chorus of BWV 1 makes it clear that "The morning star" is Jesus, "Son of David and Jacobs stem, beautiful and glorious, great and honorable, etc, etc. >

as well as Ed, of course:
< Alain was making a joke about the coincidence of the page number in the English translation of Dürr's superb text, where BWV 1 begins on page 666. Or perhaps it was not a joke, I should not be so presumptuous. Well, perhaps I thought I was joking, but some superior - or inferior ? - forces were actually pulling the strings? >
I've been browsing a bit, and I found some amusing gematric speculations, notably 666= 9 x 74, SATAN=74, and ... JESUS = 74 as well. Perhaps if Ed has some time to spare he could drop in at the Miskatonic University (http://www.miskatonic.net/), I'm sure they have lots of stuff on that kind of things.

 

BWV 1 vid

David McKay wrote (October 6, 2011):
I'm enjoying the Bach Stiftung performance of BWV 1at http://www.tvo-online.ch/index.php?article_id=1594
Not understanding German, I was unable to appreciate the pre-concert talk, but loved the concert which begins at 46:47.

I understand it won't be available for long.

Evan Cortens wrote (October 6, 2011):
[To David McKay] Thanks to David for this link! Readers might light to know that the Bach Stiftung also has an excellent YouTube channel, at which they post excerpts from their (very expensive!) DVDs. I highly recommend subscribing, as they post new videos often, and the quality--both of the videos, and the performances--is extraordinarily high.

Here's the link: http://www.youtube.com/user/Bachstiftung

Aryeh Oron wrote (October 6, 2011):
[To David McKay & Evan Cortens]
J.S. Bach-Stiftung, St Gallen are already on the BCW. See:
The series: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Festival/Festival-St-Gallen-Bach-Stiftung.htm
Recordings: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Performers/Lutz-R.htm
and the relevant cantata pages
Concerts: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Concerts/Concert-2011-Switzerland.htm

Douglas Cowling wrote (October 9, 2011):
David McKay wrote:
< I'm enjoying the Bach Stiftung performance of BWV 1 at: http://www.tvo-online.ch/index.php?article_id=1594 >
The conductor quips that the horns and oboes da caccia are dark ... like chocolate.

David McKay wrote (October 8, 2011):
[To Douglas Cowling] I wish I understood German. If only I had a German friend who was sufficiently interested to watch and translate for me!
I know a couple of German speakers but don't think that would be their cup of tea.

 

BWV 1: Interpretations Review

Lucian Gabriel Popescu (aherne) wrote (March 13, 2012):
INTERPRETATIONS REVIEWED

1: Helmuth Rilling [5]
Orchestra: Bach-Collegium Stuttgart
Choir: Gachinger Kantorei Stuttgart
Soprano: Inga Nielsen
Tenor: Adalbert Kraus
Basso: Philippe Huttenlocher

2: John Eliot Gardiner [7]
Orchestra: English Baroque Soloists
Choir: Monteverdi Choir
Soprano: Malin Hartelius
Tenor: James Gilchrist
Basso: Peter Harvey

3: Karl Richter [3]
Orchestra: Munchener Bach-Orchester
Choir: Munchener Bach-Chor
Soprano: Edith Mathis
Tenor: Ernst Haefliger
Basso: Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau

4: Maasaki Suzuki [13]
Orchestra: Bach Collegium Japan
Choir: Bach Collegium Japan
Soprano: Carolyn Sampson
Tenor: Gerd Turk
Basso: Peter Kooy

5: Nikolaus Harnoncourt [4]
Orchestra: Concertus Musicus
Choir: Wiener Sangerknaben & Chorus Viennensis
Soprano: unknown
Tenor: Kurt Equiluz
Basso: Max Van Egmond

6: Ton Koopman [9]
Orchestra: Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra
Choir: Amsterdam Baroque Choir
Soprano: Deborah York
Alto: -
Tenor: Paul Agnew
Basso: Klaus Mertens

Mvt. 1: Coro

1: Rilling: 7:40 [5]
An outstanding instrumental as well as choral support does not save this performance from sounding artificial. Conductor pushes his choir too much to produce a crisp highly precise result so that it's perfectly transparent and what comes in the end is singing in a Harnoncourt-like dotted manner (where soloists bark their lines) that breaks the flow of music. Tempo is too fast and doesn't let music run its course properly. The whole performance sounds exaggerated (mood is too festive and playing too loud) and imbalanced.

2: Gardiner: 8:10 [7]
While Gardiner's devices are the same (outstanding orchestra and choir), his performance is much more inspired and fits the mood of the score perfectly. Tempo is also perfect, mood neither too festive nor too gentle. There are times in when choir is not transparent enough (it's certainly less transparent than Rilling's), so there is still ground for improvement. This is without doubt my favorite, though. What I enjoy above all is the unity between choir and orchestra expertly managed by Gardiner.

3: Richter: 7:58 [3]
Compared to the two above, orchestral playing is slightly inferior but also very good. Playing is, however, more inspired and singing devoid of any artificiality. Mood fits the piece as a glove. What I do not like is that his choir, despite an otherwise expert performance, cannot be perfectly transparent for the simple reason it's so huge. There are simply too many voices per part and music gets drowned in this orgy of sound.

4: Suzuki: 8:23 [13]
In same fashion as Rilling, but much more so, I find Suzuki's performance workmanlike and uninspired. There is no variation, nothing that would suggest any relationship to the music performed.

5: Harnoncourt: 9:36 [4]
I do not understand the praise Harnoncourt got for this performance. Certainly it's better managed than his later productions and singing more cohesive than usual, but I still dislike his orchestra's tentative playing and choir's lack of precision. Mood is perfect, singing sounds heartfelt, but tempo is way too slow and looks like inspecting the piece through a magnifying glass.

6: Koopman: 8:00 [9]
In terms of quality and precision of choral singing and dialogue between choir and orchestra Koopman has nothing to improve. Instrumental playing is also on a high level, although sounds as if singing in background. This, as well as a mood which I find too gentle for the score, spoils his performance enough to not be my favorite.
Ranking: Gardiner [7], Rilling [5], Richter [3], Koopman [9], Suzuki [13], Harnoncourt [4]

Mvt. 2: Recitativo (T)

1: Rilling: 1:08 [5]
First of all tempo is too slow. Second of all continuo is too loud. Adalbert Kraus is a bad recitative singer: extremely operatic, full of vibrato, singing in an always exaggerated "dramatic" manner.

2: Gardiner: 0:59 [7]
James Gilchrist has the typical "half-voice" recent conductors employ in their recordings. Worse still, like Kraus, it tries to sing expressively but his voice is so weak and uncontrolled (sounds permanently forced) that it makes performance sound like a parody. This is without doubt the worst performance I've heard of the piece.

3: Richter: 1:02 [3]
Hearing Haefliger after Gilchrist is like experiencing a rebirth. His commitment to score, the dark timbre of his voice and his strong as well as sensitive singing are truly exemplary. There are two things I do not like about this performance, though: first the romantic-style string continuo, second that his performance is a bit too romantic as well as too operatic.

4: Suzuki: 1:00 [13]
Turk's voice is of same type as Gilchrist, only better and more controled. The expressive capability of such voices is very limited.

5: Harnoncourt: 0:55 [4]
The extraordinary quality of Equiluz's singing hardly needs mention in this forum. What we have here is total commitment to score together with outstanding expressive capabilities. This is dramatic singing of highest order and obviously my favorite version.

6: Koopman: 1:02 [9]
Agnew's voice has a nice timbre and his singing is surprisingly good. What Agnew's lacks is capability of projection, due to his weaker voice, but one has to give him credit for offering the best he can.

: Harnoncourt [4], Richter [3], Koopman [9], Suzuki [13], Rilling [5], Gardiner [7]

Mvt. 3: Aria (S)

1: Rilling 4:40 [5]
There is nothing to improve about this performance (oboe playing, tempo, mood are all perfect) except, unfortunately, the soloist. Nielsen's voice does not have the "golden" dark timbre of good sopranos (like Cotrubas or Ameling). She sings in the higher register only and that is unpleasant to the ear. Her voice is strong and vibrato-free (very unusual for Rilling's soloists), more like those employed by HIP conductors, but doesn't relate to music in any way.

2: Gardiner 4:04 [7]
Oboe playing is technically faultless, but lacks personality. Hartelius has a typical HIP soprano voice: weak, limited in capabilities, singing in the higher range. Unlike Nielsen, however, at least she tries to be expressive and seems like doing the best she can. What ultimately kills this performance is Gardiner's very fast tempi, which makes soloist and oboe sound like they are in a race.

3: Richter 5:01 [3]
Almost a minute slower than Gardiner, Richter's version sounds just right as far as tempo is concerned. There is also outstanding dialogue between metal oboe and Mathis, whose voice has all the qualities of I look after, minus one aspect which has been recurrently mentioned about her singing: way too much vibrato.

4: Suzuki 4:17 [13]
Outstanding oboe playing raises expectations, but Sampson's voice is of same type as Hartelius'. Like the latter she is limited by a small but much better voice and tries to be expressive against a relatively fast tempo imposed by Suzuki. Overall it's a good performance.

5: Harnoncourt 5:09 [4]
Here the quality of oboe playing is far from outstanding. Instrument sounds as if it's overblown (in order to be loud), hence a blaring sound which rasps my ear. This is typical of Harnoncourt and already seems well established even in this earliest recording. Probably he actually expected instrumentalists to sing as loud as possible and compete with vocal soloists. What saves this performance is the boy soloist, technically superior to all female soprano listed here and so much more appropriate to sing this music. His voice is strong and intonation quite good. On the other hand, he generally sings in a workmanlike fashion and is breathless at times.

6: Koopman 4:07 [9]
Oboe playing (Ponseele) is very good, but does not reach Suzuki's level. Koopman's very fast tempo is further aggravated by York's expressionless singing. The latter's voice has all the minuses typical of HIP sopranos (weak voice, very limited range, singing in the higher register) and no redeeming quality.

Ranking: Suzuki [13], Harnoncourt [4], Richter [3], Rilling [5], Gardiner [7], Koopman [9]

Mvt. 4: Recitativo (B)

1: Rilling 0:58 [5]
I still do not understand why Huttenlocher was so extensively used in both Rilling and Harnoncourt cantata cycles, given that in terms of quality, accuracy and interpretative skills he is among the worst basso one could find. The only positive thing about him is that he had a strong voice.

2: Gardiner 0:49 [7]
Harvey has a typical "half-voice", so much weaker than Huttenlocher and with very limited expressive capabilities. He tries to sing expressively, but doesn't have the tool to achieve this properly.

3: Richter 1:19 [3]
What can one expect of Dieskau except singing of highest order? Like Equiluz, he truly understands what he's singing and has a marvelous tool to deliver. His voice is strong, but in the same time flexible, and the care he takes on each word is in itself admirable. This is by far my favorite version. The only thing I do not like is the very slow tempo.

4: Suzuki 0:57 [13]
Like Dieskau, Kooy is a baritone. Unlike Dieskau, his voice has far less vibrato, but is much weaker and more limited in expressive capabilities. Still, Kooy is among the very best Bach basso and Suzuki chooses him wisely because he does his job well and also brings a bit of expression in what he's singing.

5: Harnoncourt 0:57 [4]
Van Egmond's voice is of similar type as Kooy's but of inferior quality. Expression exists, but sound has a muffled fuzzy quality that other reviewers have also taken notice over and over.

6: Koopman 0:56 [9]
Mertens is the best Bach basso following the death/retirement of Old School ones. He is always Koopman's asset and here it's easy to see why. His singing is full of expression, his voice is a joy to hear, and his diction is immaculate. The only major problem with him is that he's not a real basso, but something closer to a tenor. This makes his singing lack depth and gravity, hence many movements where his approach fails because they require true basso singing. The timbre of his voice rather resembles that of Haefliger rather than that of any real Old School basso. Twenty years ago he would have operated as a very good "dark" tenor.

Ranking: Richter [3], Koopman [9], Suzuki [13], Harnoncourt [4], Gardiner [7], Rilling [5].

Mvt. 5: Aria: (T)

1: Rilling 6:56 [5]
Everything about this performance is done on highest level: strings, continuo, Kraus' singing have nothing to improve. Tempo is also perfect. The only thing that lacks is more gentleness and a bit more involvement into the music.

2: Gardiner 5:54 [7]
Almost a minute faster than Rilling, Gardiner's orchestra keeps the same high standard as Rilling's, but his soloist is a world under Kraus, not just technically, but also for the reason he has to cope with a breakneck tempo that makes him sing constantly sotto voce and without any real expression. This is my least favorite version.

3: Richter 6:10 [3]
Orchestral playing is very inspired and there is excellent dialogue between them and tenor Haefliger who survives outstandingly Richter's fast tempo. His singing is full of expression and care on words. His voice is strong (I've never heard a tenor with a stronger and more flexible voice) and there is boundless joy in his singing. If only slower, this would have been by far my favorite version.

4: Suzuki 6:24 [13]
Hearing Turk after Haefliger brings us back to Gardiner's world: soloist with very weak voice, singing sotto voce and inexpressively. While tempo is better, orchestral playing is more workmanlike and, like singer, has no joy or interest.

5: Harnoncourt 7:21 [4]
String orchestral playing is not clean and employs a plodding accented style typical of Harnoncourt. Worse still, also because of the absurdly slow tempo, it has no joy and sounds stagnant. However, their dialogue with Equiluz is good and latter's singing is nothing short of exemplary. Equiluz has a weaker voice than Haefliger (like any other tenor), but his voice has pristine clarity and superior diction plus same absolute care on the music being sung. In certain arias, where his voice is not pushed beyond its limits, he can be superior (if only slightly) to Haefliger.

6: Agnew 6:44 [9]
Agnew 't a bad singer at all. He also has care on words, but his manner of singing is exaggerated (like Kraus') and his voice is more constricted, hence sotto voce passages, swoops and leaps that sound bad to the ear. Outstanding orchestral playing keeps this performance well within acceptable level.

Ranking: Richter [3] = Harnoncourt [4], Rilling [5], Koopman [9], Suzuki [13], Gardiner [7]

Mvt. 6: Chorale

1: Rilling 1:36 [5]
Rilling's chorales are never short of very good. His choir has unity, clarity of diction, determination and excellent continuo support.

2: Gardiner 1:30 [7]
Gardiner's version has even more clarity and also brings great joy in equation. Orchestral support is also outstanding. This is my favorite version.

3: Richter 1:45 [3]
Rilling's version also has unity and clarity, essential requirements in a chorale. It is incredible how well he achieved this with such a gigantic choir. There is less joy and a bit less clarity than in Rilling/Gardiner version, due to the large choir employed.

4: Suzuki 1:36 [13]
Tempo, choir and orchestra are all technically excellent. What lacks is joy and any involvement into the music. My least favorite version.

5: Harnoncourt 1:40 [4]
This is one of the rare occasions when Harnoncourt's choir is of highest quality. Everything that should be present in a chorale (clarity, unity, joy) is present here fully. Unlike Gardiner's, nothing is exaggerated here. Orchestral playing has charm (outstanding horn playing). The only thing I object to is the accented singing, already present here even in this earliest recording.

6: Koopman 1:19 [9]
Koopman's choir has perhaps greatest clarity but this interpretation, with its typical Koopman mild singing, is ineffective here.

Ranking: Gardiner [7], Harnoncourt [4], Rilling [5], Richter [3], Koopman [9], Suzuki [13]

 

Continue from Part 4

Cantata BWV 1: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

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