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Cantata BWV 10
Meine Seel erhebt den Herren
Discussions - Part 1

Discussions in the Week of June 30, 2002

Aryeh Oron wrote (June 30, 2002):

The subject of this week’s discussion (June 30, 2002), according to Francis Browne’s suggested list, is the Chorale Cantata BWV 10 ‘Meine Seel erhebt den Herren’, (My soul praises the Lord) for the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Bach set this cantata based directly on the Gospel, Luke 1: 46-55. Verses 46-48 and 54 are quoted and the other verses are paraphrased by the unknown librettist.

In 1723 Bach had composed the first version of his Magnificat BWV 243 in Latin for the evening service on Christmas Day in St. Thomas. This later form is completely in German, taking only the opening chorus and the duet from the Gospel, but giving the doxology for the concluding chorale in the vernacular, as it was in Latin in the last movement of the Magnificat.

The details of the recordings of this cantata can be found in the following page of the Bach Cantatas Website: Cantata BWV 10 - Recordings

There are at least 11 complete recordings of this cantata. Three of them come from complete cantata cycles (Rilling [7], Leonhardt [4], and Leusink), one from what is aimed to be a complete cycle, but its future is still cloudy (Koopman), and three from respected authorities of the past who have recorded a significant numbers of cantatas (Werner, Richter [5] and Rotzsch). The picture is completed by recordings from Paul Steinitz, who was pioneer in performing the complete Bach Cantatas in England (almost all of them unrecorded), Münchinger, Gielen and Büchner. Some of the recordings are hard to find, but there are enough available to choose from and to listen to. During the last couple of weeks we have learnt that even cantatas with a few recordings have a lot to offer. Does the big number of recordings of ‘The German Magnificat’ an evidence of its merits? From personal experience I can say that we have to listen carefully and repeatedly in order to find out. After the first listening I can say that the opening chorus is very impressive and the duet for Alto and Tenor (Mvt. 5) is very appealing. But there is much more to this cantata, much more.

I hope to see many of you participating in the discussion.

Uri Golomb wrote (June 30, 2002):
[To Aryeh Oron] Just a small discographic comment. Thought you'd like to know, if only for the discography's sake, that Münchinger's recording of this cantata is also available as a "make-weight" to the CD re-issue of his Johannes-Passion (BWV 245) (Double Decca, 460 223-2). This is the set in which I have this cantata. The recording is the same as the mentioned on the website.

Dick Wursten wrote (July 2, 2002):
Francis Browne's choice of cantata BWV 10, for Mariae Heimsuchung (Visitation of Mary, that is: Mary just pregnant of Jesus visits Elisabeth, a relative (cousin) of hers, mother of John, the baptist, who is supposed to be 6 month older than Jesus: Luke 1:26) inspired me to write something about the relation of the (Lutheran) reformation to Mary and esp. the cult of Mary. ... with no other intention as to fill in a little bit of background of the music Bach composed for a Marian feast.

Widely known is the fierce criticism of the cult of the virgin Mary by protestants (is almost has become a schibboleth), less known is the fact that esp in the Lutheran (and Anglican) reformation there always has been a feeling that criticism alone was not enough. Mary deserved more than only a negative approach. Luther himself wrote beautifully and very respectfully about her (esp in his commentary on the Magnificat 1523, see below). He accepted a form of veneration, as long as this veneration didnot lead tot preferring and trusting 'the mother above the son'. That he found blasphemous. [And looking at the enormous growth of the cult of Mary in the late Midde-Ages he had something to worry about.].

The problem is not as much that 'saints' (illustrous forefathers in faith) are venerated, because they are venerable if they really were saints. The problem lies in the fact whether their 'intercession' may be / can be / has to be invoked.

Theologically there is a fine distinction between adoration and veneration which stems from the first ecclesiastical discussion about images of saints and their worship (6th,7th century if I remember well), focussing on icons: iconoclasm was invented there. In Greek these are the terms (I don't know the corresponding latin/english terms, so I give them in the original): 'Proskynesis' = litt: kneeling (in worship), can take two forms: 'latreia'= adoration. Only allowed for the trinitarian God. Adoring another god is called 'idolatreia'.

'Douleia' = service, honoring (nb: in the byzantine society rituals were extremely important between the different layers (high-low) of society: Just read Umberto Eco's: Gaunilo). This is fit for any saint. Mary as the highest saint (she is the one 'who gave birth to the Lord') is unique, but she still is not God himself, so no 'latreia' but the highest possible form of 'service' and veneration is fit: 'hyperdouleia' they called it with a Greek neologism. These theological distinctions are still the official ones, but normal people in church hardly ever read theological tractates and rahter follow their heart and beliefs. So they joyfully mix it all.

The reformation with the three 'sola's': sola gratia, sola fide, sola scriptura (Only by grace, and only through faith man can be 'saved'. No other teaching is possible because only the Holy Scripture has authority in this matter) did reject the intercession of saints, because the intercession of Christ, the one and only Mediator, was considered to be complete and satisfactory for all man. Mary's virginity (semper virgo, both before and after as far as Luther concerns!) was maintained as a guarantee for both the reality of Jesus manhood and godliness. Mary as an exemplary image of faith was also propagated as the right attitude of man towards Gods word. Her answer to Gabriel at the annunciation was the right one: Behold, the handmaid of the Lord. Be it unto me according to thy word' (Luke 1: 38)

1523 Luther published a very extensive exegesis of the Magnificat, in which not only the text was translated in German and explained and applicated (as an instruction for a German prince about how he should behave and act both personal and political), but also Mary was honoured as much as possible. The way Luther refers to her shows that he himself was still very much embedded in an indebted to the affectionate side of the cult of Mary, which of course is the key of its succes. The 'Ave Maria' (but without the last line: ora pro nobis peccatoribus) he sang 'über 'm Tisch' [while sitting at the table] with his guests and students.

In his liturgical reform Luther thought it wise to maintain as much of the old as possible (the structure of the Mass, the music, the hymns etc..). This also goes for the feasts, which he - just as the rest - only wanted to restore in their original meaning (purify, 'christlich bessern' he called it). So some of the feast for Mary also were maintained and re-scripturized: 2 february: Mary Purification (Candelmass) became the presentation of the Lord in the temple. The Feast Mary's Visitation (2 juli) hardly needed any purification, because concentrating on the text of the Magnificat is enough to make this feast purify itself, as the text of cantata BWV10 shows.

Extra: I read somewhere that the next three titles of Mary give a nice summary of her role inside the Roman Catholic Tradition. The mother ofJesus first was promoted to the 'Queen of Heaven' (dogmatized only in 1950, but believed already in the Middle Ages), then she became the 'Image of the Church' and nowadays she is propagated as a 'Model of a christian'. (Since Vatican Council II, beginning of the 1960’s).

Jane Newble wrote (July 5, 2002):
Right from the first note this is a wonderful song of praise to a powerful, merciful and holy God.

The first two movements absolutely sparkle with life and joy, and convey an underlying solidity of trust.

In the tenor recitative I love the musical picture of 'the lukewarm in faith and love' being blown away like chaff in the wind.

The bass aria restates the love of God for the humble and needy, and his contempt for the proud and mighty, confirmed by repeated low cello notes.

The duet reminded me of the Latin Magnificat, and I found it interesting to listen to no. 4 of the Schübler Chorales (organ) after hearing the singing.

Then comes one of Bach's lovely recitatives, where the instruments almost compete with the voice for expression, without words, but saying just as much about the redemption of man from death and Satan, followed by a very beautiful and simple chorale.

I listened to Leusink [11] and Koopman [9], and as usual I prefer the choral singing in the Koopman version.

Thomas Braatz wrote (July 6, 2002):
BWV 10 Meine Seel erhebt den Herrn [Bach’s own spelling of the title] - Provenance:

See: Cantata BWV 10 - Provenance

Dick Wursten wrote (July 6, 2002):
I listened to the Leusink version [11]. This is what I have to say.

Mvt 1. The choir does its utmost to give the opening coro a festive character, but since the word 'subtleness' is not in their dicitonary, they again confuse festivity with loudness. IMHO The composition of Bach gives plenty of possibilities to try all kinds of different ways to express the festive atmosphere of this feast. the TEXT is the beginning of the 'Magnificat' (Luke 1:46-48)

Mvt 2. Didnot particularly appeal to me. From the beginning I had something of a 'deja entendu'. But possibly this statement tells more about the limitation of my musical appreciation than of the quality of bachs music. Ruth Holton is better in more intimate arias. The TEXT in this movement is based on Luke 1: 49 and also refers back to verse 48. The praise to God also reminds me of the firs verses of Psalm 8. [between brackets: Mary [Mariam] can also be accused of plagiarizing herself: compare her canticum with that of Channah, Samuels mother (another mysterious birth, though not virginal!): 1 Samuelis 2:1-10. The ultimate prototype being the beginning of Moses and Myriams 'magnificat' in Exodus 15]

Mvt 3. Nothing to say about the music and the performance. The Tonmalerei on 'wie Spreu zerstreun' has already been pointed out by Jane Newble. TEXT: Luke 1:50, 51 are paraphrased while at the same time to other biblewords are quoted: Lamentations 3:22-23 (Gods mercy being new every morning) and from the Apocalyps of St. John the characterization of the christian community in Laodicea, that they are cold nor hot (Apoc 3:15,16). That is why God will spit them out of his mouth, image replaced here with the image of the being blown away like chaff (image used by John the Baptist in his threatening sermons: matthew 3:12)
Mvt 4. Nothing to say, I agree with the characterization of Jane Newble. TEXT: Luke 1: 52-53 are quite paraphrased by filling in, extending, the imagery (and finding the rhymes?): Schwefelpfuhl rhymes with Stuhl (pool of sulphur), sterne am Himmel stehen (heavenly stars) rhymes with erhöhen. Gnadenmeer (sea of mercy) rhymes with 'Leer'..

Mvt 5. I liked this little duetto. The fact that both solo-voices (alto, tenore) are not 'great' didnot bother me in this case. Nice to hear the Schubler-chorale in its original version. I think I prefer the original. Listening to the Leusink version I had the impression that the cantus firmus was played on the organ, but I can be wrong, the loudspeakers I had to use were of inferior quality (standard multi-media). According to Durr it should have been oboe and trumpet alternatim. TEXT= Luke 1: 54

Mvt. 6. Just like Jane Newble I was pleasantly surprised by the recitativo of the tenor.. with the broad substructure under the promise to introduce and underline the birth of the Messiah. Completely according to the Lutheran tradition the Marian feast at this moment becomes a 'Herrenfest' (feast of the Lord Jesus). He is the one about whom Mary is singing, that means: He will accomplish all that magnificent things about which Mary so exultantly sings. TEXT is an eloquent elaboration on Luke 1: 55. Again the reference to other bibletexts is apparent and triggered of course by the text in Luke itself, which speaks about the fullfillment of promises made to the fathers in general, and Abraham in particular. 'Abrahams Hütte' (abrahams tent) refers to the beautiful story of how God vistis Abraham incognito (He appears as three men) and repeats his promise that a son will be born. The laughing of Sarah gives the name to the child: jitschaq (Genesis 18). The comparison of the abundacne of the seed to the sand of the sea and the stars in the sky is repeated several times in Genesis. The 'word became flesh' of course refers to the beginning of the gospel of John (ch 1:14). And the final phrase, that Gods word is 'voll Gnad und Wahrheit' refers to the most frequently used epitheta of God himself from the old Testament. They belong to the 'field of meaning' of the covenant between God and Abraham/Israel. To quote them once in Hebrew (why not): 'chesed w'emet'. This covenantal language being completely appropriate in this case, because that is what it is all about..

Mvt 7. Nice to hear the doxology. How familiar things become, even for a calvinist as I am:no responses, no sung masses, no prayer or reading in certain 'churchtones', no plain chant, only plain reading and singing of psalms/hymns by verses... but since 1938 (in Holland) with one exception: 'The little gloria' a small doxology, of course very similar to this one.

Gerald Gray wrote (July 6, 2002):
My name is Gerald Gray. I just joined this discussion group. I am actually one of the singers honored with a biography on the Bach-Cantatas Website and have been on a few of the recordings discussed. I am a tenor.

First of all, I want to say that I think this site is great!

Regarding BWV 10, I have sung it (as a tenor soloist) several times. From my standpoint I found the two contrasting recitatives for tenor musically quite interesting and involving. Recitatives are usually more difficult from an interpretive standpoint than arias and duets.

The opening chorus is indeed lively and quite complex. This is a cantata os a great deal of substance. Of the tenor soloists listed in the recordings I especially am fond of Peter Schreier [5] and Aldo Baldin [7]. Although I have not heard these particular recordings, I find Schreier’s interpretation of Bach to be intellegent and completely text centered. Baldin is a little over the top for my taste (usually) and a little too much squillo (forward ring) but dramatic and descriptive none the less.

Aryeh Oron wrote (July 6, 2002):

The background below is taken completely from Alec Robertson’s book ‘The Church Cantatas of J.S. Bach’ (1972). The English translation is by Francis Browne, a member of the BCML.

Mvt. 1 Chorus
Meine Seel erhebt den Herren
(My soul praises the Lord)
Tromba, Oboe I/II, Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo
The presence of the trumpet and the exuberance joy of the music, instrumental and vocal, indicate that Bach wished to concentrate on the last line of the text and not to draw attention to Mary’s humility as he does so beautifully in the third movement of the Latin Magnificat (BWV 243). The chant sung by the sopranos and in the middle section – beginning at ‘Siehe’ (see) - by the altos, and already hearon the trumpet in the introductory ritornello, is the German version of the plainsong psalm tone, the ‘Tonus Peregrinus’. At the repetition of ‘mich selig preisen alle Kindeskind’ (will praise me as blessed), as the plainsong ends, all voices join in a tumult of rejoicing.

Mvt. 2 Aria for Soprano
Herr, der du stark und mächtig bist
(Lord, you who are strong and mighty)
Oboe I/II all' unisono, Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo
The aria begins with the first violins, unaccompanied, swiftly ascending two octaves to the powerful main theme of the movement, but after the soprano’s three cries of ‘Herr’ (Lord) and the remainder of the line, the music quietens at ‘Gott, dessen Name heilig ist’ (God, whose name is holy).

Mvt. 4 Aria for Bass
Gewaltige stößt Gott vom Stuhl
(God thrusts the mighty from the seat)
A highly dramatic aria which makes ‘Deposuit potentes de sede’ in Bach’s Latin Magnificat pale by comparison. The thundering low C’s in the continuo bass part show that the mighty are being thrust down and truly into the brimstone pool, but the meek are exalted and the hungry filled.

Mvt. 5 Duetto (and Choral) for Alto and Tenor
Er denket der Barmherzigkeit
(He remembers his mercy)
Tromba e Oboe I/II all' unisono, Continuo
This movement is the gem of the cantata. The appealing figure on the continuo at the start is taken over by the soloists. As in the corresponding movement of Bach’s Latin Magnificat the oboes (here with the trumpet, at a much lower pitch) play the ‘Tonus Peregrinus’.

The Recordings

During last week I have been able to listen to 7 of the 11 complete recordings of this cantata. Thomas Shepherd, a member of the BCML, was very kind to send me the recording with Steinitz. I have the recording with Münchinger on LP only, and therefore I could not listen to it. I know that it is available in at least two CD editions. Based on my positive memories of Münchinger’s recording of Oster-Oratorium (BWV 249), which have been discussed in the BCML not a long while ago, I have great expectations from this recording. The roster of soloists – Ameling, Watts, Krenn, Rintzler, all in the height of their powers – is something to be jealous of. Here are my impressions from the recordings that were at my disposal when I wrote the review.

[1] Steinitz (Mid 1960’s)
The right spirit is there, in the opening chorus. Yet this recording sounds almost unprofessional. The singing is far from being polished, and the instrumental playing is somewhat ponderous. The playing continues to be disturbing along the whole cantata. I know nothing about the soprano Sally Le Sage. Maybe she was a member of the choir. Her voice is not especially pleasant and her singing is lacking in expression. Neil Howlett is not bad technically in the aria for bass. He also has some sense for drama, although his German pronunciation leaves something to be desired. The duet does not fail to move. The tenor, Nigel Rogers, is better than the alto, Shirley Minty. The whole rendition of the cantata gives the impression of being on a low profile.

[4] Leonhardt (1971)
I find Leonhardt’s opening chorus much more dramatic than Steinitz’. The forces he uses are also better, both the choir and the orchestra. One can feel the uplift of the spirit. This movement is less fragmented than what we have learnt to expect from the H&L cycle. On the contrary, it is flexible and jumpy. The anonymous boy soprano from the Regensburger Domspatzen has the usual deficiencies of a boy, as problems in the higher register and lacking of convincing expression. Egmond is singing nicely with inner conviction, yet with more drama his rendition would have been much better. In this recording the duet indeed becomes the real gem. The voices of Equiluz and Esswood blend nicely and together with the playing of the trumpet and the oboe there is a unique charm to this rendition of the duet, which makes it very memorable.

[5] Richter (1974-1975)
Immediately when I heard the Richter’s opening chorus I knew: This is it! This is a spirited and convincing rendition with strong and joyful singing, supported by first-rate instrumental playing. They carry you higher and higher up to heaven, and you forget all the troubles you have experienced. The introductory ritornello of the aria for soprano continues the high spirit, and Mathis is carried by them to a performance with more guts than she usually conveys. Mole is the best of the singers who sing the aria for bass. His voice has the extra depth, his expression has more drama, and he has more sensitivity to the words than the others have. It is hard to imagine a duet with more sensitivity of what Schreier and Reynolds give us. Yet I found myself longing to the duet in the Leonhardt’s recording.

[6] Rotzsch (1978)
After Richter Rotzsch might sound soft-centred and lacking in drama. Yet it has a beauty of its own, pleasant, warm and clean singing of the choir. Mitsuko Shirai is a real find. She has not recorded much Bach, and I hardly understand why. She has a beautiful penetrating voice, clean and smooth delivery, and her singing reflects intelligence and sensitivity. Through her exemplary rendition you can feel the confidence and the strength building up in the heart of the believer. Polster is not bad in the aria for bass, although emotionally he is not on the same par with Moll. Schreier returns to the duet, this time with Soffel, and makes the choice between his two renditions (Richter & Rotzsch) problematic.

[7] Rilling (1979)
The tendency for over-legato, which characterises Rilling’s choruses from time to time, is evident here in its fullness. All the dramatic power of the opening chorus is getting lost with this approach, and as a result makes it becomes unfocused and tiresome. Things are getting better in the aria for soprano, where we meet Arleen Augér singing in her usual superior standard. She almost never fails to move me. Similar things can be said about Wolfgang Schöne in the aria for bass. Margit Neubauer and Aldo Baldin are the weakest of the four vocal soloists in Rilling’s recording. Their approach is very different from each other – Baldin is the more extrovert and confident, Neubauer the more introvert and hesitant. The result is not very successful. The continuo is, as often the case with Rilling, too prominent along the whole cantata.

[9] Koopman (1999)
Although it is masterly crafted with charming singing and playing, I find Koopman’s opening chorus lacking in drama and not as sweeping as, Richter for example, is. Perhaps it is too light and airy. Sibylla Rubens is a born Bach singer, and one of my favourites among the contemporary soprano singers. Nevertheless the previous generation of soprano singers, as Shirai and Augér (even Mathis in this case), gave more of themselves than she does. The tempo Koopman takes for this aria is too brisk to my taste. Mertens is satisfactory in the aria for bass, although I would like to hear more boldness in his singing. Markert and Prégardien are a charming couple in the duet, the best movement of this recording.

[11] Leusink (2000)
I do not have much to say about this recording, except that it is passable. The opening chorus has a little bit more enthusiasm but less polish in comparison to Koopman’s. Holton has less to offer than Rubens does, because her singing has fewer dimensions. Ramselaar is competent in the aria for bass. I should better not write anything about the duet...


Personal preferences:
Mvt. 1 Chorus: Richter [5], Leonhardt [4], Rotzsch [6], Leusink [11], Koopman [9], Steinitz [1], Rilling [7]
Mvt. 2 Aria for Soprano: Shirai/Rotzsch [6], Augér/Ri[7], Mathis/Richter [5], Rubens/Koopman [9], Holton/Leusink [11], Le Sage/Steinitz [1], Boy Soprano/Leonhardt [4]
Mvt. 4 Aria for Bass: Moll/Richter [5], Schöne/Rilling [7], Polster/Rotzsch [6], Egmond/Leonhardt [4], Mertens/Koopman [9], Ramselaar/Leusink [11], Howlett/Steinitz [1]
Mvt. 5 Duet for Alto & Tenor: Esswood & Equiluz/Leonhardt [4], Markert & Prégardien/Koopman [9], Reynolds & Schreier/Richter [5] = Soffel & Schreier/Rotzsch [6], Neubauer & Baldin/Rilling [7], Buwalda & Schoch/Leusink [11], Minty & Rogers/Steinitz [1]
Overall performance: Richter [5], Leonhardt [4], Rotzsch [6], Koopman [9], Rilling [7], Steinitz [1], Leusink [11]

And still, it may definetly be that the best of all is Münchinger’s (to which, as have been said earlier, I was not able to listen to).

As always, I would like to hear other opinions, regarding the above mentioned performances, or other recordings.

Thomas Braatz wrote (July 8, 2002):
BWV 10 Meine Seel erhebt den Herrn [Bach’s own spelling of the title]

It is amazing that many of my commentary sources on the Bach cantatas have so little to say about this splendid cantata. This begins with Spitta, who has only a short comment on the text and continues with Schweitzer’s analysis of a motif or two and continues with nothing significant in the Wolff/Koopman, “The World of the Bach Cantatas,” or in the Eric Chafe books. Dürr has his usual comments in his book that were also the basis for the commentary included in the Harnoncourt/Leonhardt series [4].

For this cantata I wish to submit as a historical perspective a summary of the discussion by Woldemar Voigt, a Bach scholar who was well-read at the beginning of the 20th century (I know that Schweitzer does refer to this work.) Voigt’s book is a practical primer directed at primarily church choir directors who might be considering a performance of a cantata. I am almost always surprised by the ‘cut and slash’ methods that Voigt recommends for the Bach cantatas, this at a time when audiences were listening to Bruckner and Mahler symphonies and went to the opera to experience Wagner!

See: Cantata BWV 10 - Commentary

Jane Newble wrote (July 8, 2002):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< My own theory, based on my observations, is that no commentator that I know of has gone beyond simply pointing out that the cantus firmus changes from the soprano to the alto in mvt. 1. Why does Bach do this? I think this is quite unique in the Bach cantatas. This leads me to suspect that there must be a special reason for this. >
Thank you for sharing that! I always learn a lot from your posts (once I have struggled past the weird keyboard-signs - I could not figure out â?oerhöhenâ?ť), and I just wanted to thank you for the time and energy you put into them. I shall now listen to the cantata again with this information in mind.

Thomas Shepherd wrote (July 9, 2002):
This cantata was one of the very first I heard back in the late 1960s. I cannot say that I have listened to it at all since then and yet there are bits that are very familiar. As others will say this is especially true of mvt. 5 which Bach re-arranged for organ. I still play the recording of BWV 648 played by Helmut Walcha on the Archiv label.

[1] The only recording I have of BWV10 is of the London Bach Choir under Steinitz and so I have nothing to compare it with. I'm sure there will be complaints that it is a recording of an old fashioned way of doing Bach. Certainly there is much that annoys. Yet of its time the forces employed were not vast it was fairly light and gentle with the music and the careful phrasing of the violins I think is particularly endearing.

It strikes me that the entire cantata is not really a public affirmation of the joy of the incarnation as one hears in the Magnificat, BVW 243. It is much darker and maintains a tension between being pleadingly desirous of a closer relation with God and quietly hopeful in the forethought of heaven. I kept being reminded of the Matthew & John Passions as I listened to this cantata over the past few weeks.

So here are some personal observations.

Mvt1. Steinitz keeps a gentle pace going crotchet=90. The choir sings fairly accurately with perhaps a little excessive tonal wobble in the upper parts.

The constraint of the modal plainsong of the Lutheran version of the tonus peregrinus means that major-minor are always in tension. Bach manages to make a joyful sound despite the whole being tonally fixed to minor keys. The Sopranos takes the Cantus Firmus from G min to Bflat maj and back again to G min in the first quotation of the plainsong and the Altos repeat the melody for the second half from C min to Eflat maj and back to C min. The whole movement ends on a chord of G maj which gives way immediately to the positive affirmation in B flat Major of Mvt2.

Mvt2. The urgent rising figure of the violin (two octaves in the first bar) give way to a simple declaimed melody from the soprano. The unadorned melody and rhythm of the first phrase is very reminiscent of the plainchant.

The John Passion mvt1 has the downward 'Herr, Herr, Herr,' built upon a C min. chord. Here it is upwards on a Bflat major traid.

It is a lovely gentle and exuberant movement after the tensions of the previous chorus.

Mvt3. I am reminded of a John Passion recitative. The melisma on the word "zerstreu'n" is reminiscent of the Recit. no.18c. on the word 'geißelte' (Pilate now took Jesus and had him flogged).

Mvt4. The cello pumps out the melody in this lively aria. Others have pointed out how Bach illustrates the horrors of the depths of hell!

Mvt5. The urgency of the previous movement gives way to the sublime plaintive nature of what many will regard as the high point of the cantata. In the bass part that opens this movement, it is quite remarkable that by a sequence of chromatic diminished triads Bach is able in four bars to encompass every note, except for Aflat in the chromatic scale centred on D. It is a movement based around a single rendition of the plainchant in D min played quietly by a trumpet above the moving voices and instruments. With all sorts of imitative devices, Bach is still able to produce a miniature of quite exquisite character and seeming simplicity. (I've been humming and whistling the bass line all this week, which has especially annoyed my wife in the supermarket!). On the Steinitz recording Shirley Minty and Nigel Rogers sing meditatively and gently. Neither singer has a big voice. The trumpet is quietly played by Philip Jones of Philip Jones Brass Ensemble fame. This movement is the high point of this particular recording.

More could and should be said about how Bach makes use of the plainsong here and the parallel movement in the Magnificat BWV 243 (mvt.10 'suscepit Israel').

Mvt6. This recitative is split into two. Both parts remind me of movements of The Matthew Passion namely:

The melody of the recitative seems like that of no.38a Evangelist, 'Petrus aber saß draßen im PalastS'

The orchestration, rhythm andharmonic progressions of the second half seem vaguely like no. 51 Alto Recit. 'Ebarm es Gott! Heir steht der Heiland angebundeS' and like no.64 Bass Recit. 'Am Abend, da es kühle warS'

Mvt7. The whole cantata is based around this chorale more firmly than most and the metrical version of the plainsong is stated twice in the final doxology.

It is a most serious cantata and worthy of deep study and reflection. As a meditation on the Magnificat, Bach demonstrates many of the internal tensions and paradoxes of this particularly significant Christian liturgical text. I'm sure that when I hear a modern recording of the work other thoughts will spring to mind. I await that experience with eager anticipation but for now I make do with the worthy Steinitz and the London Bach Society and English Chamber Orchestra of the 1960's!

Thomas Braatz wrote (July 10, 2002):
BWV 10 – Review of the Recordings

This past week I have been listening to the following:

Leonhardt (1971) [4]; Richter (1974-75) [5]; Rotzsch (1978) [6]; Rilling (1979) [7]; Koopman (1999) [9]; and Leusink (2000) [11]

Putting these recordings into the non-HIP and HIP categories, we have in my group of recordings three in each category:


Richter [5], Rotzsch [6], Rilling [7]



Leonhardt [4], Koopman [9], Leusink [11]

Two characteristics (there are, of course, many more) stand out in separating these two groups: tempo and secco recitative accompaniment practices.

1) Tempo:

Compare the 1st mvt. tempi:

[5] Richter (3:45)
[6] Rotzsch (4:00)
[7] Rilling (4:54) Avg: 4:13

[9] Koopman (3:21)
[11] Leusink (3:46)
[4] Leonhardt (4:00) Avg: 3:42

The non-HIP versions generally have a slower tempo; the HIP versions are generally faster. [Note the disparity between the fastest and the slowest: Koopman (3:21) vs. Rilling (4:54) 1 and ľ minutes (almost 2 minutes difference!)

This is partially caused by the phenomenon that arises when the string instruments with shorter bows (baroque period) are played according to the Harnoncourt theory that short bows = non-legato short phrases with strong accents (on the main beat) that cause subsequent notes in the phrase to be played softly and lightly (even terminating the last of the notes in the phrase prematurely.) All the emotion or soul of the player (or singer – yes, even singers are considered to be more like baroque instruments in this regard) is expended in creating an initial hard/loud accent, so that everything that follows is very secondary, light and abbreviated. The sound of a HIP ensemble is, for this reason, rather unmistakable as the instruments and voices hurry along to make up for the gaps that they are creating in the music. The innumerable micro-gaps cause a fractured quality to become evident in the music and the heavy accents become rather tedious and boring. There is also a frequent stop-and-go quality that calls attention to itself and causes the listener to concentrate more upon the fractured pieces rather than the longer periods or arches that extend over many measures. Remember that legato playing, as a reaction against the late romantic performance style that favored this style of playing, is frowned upon by those who perform in the HIP style, even sometimes when Bach deliberately writes it that way. This faster, light type of playing and singing favors singers who do not have much of a voice to begin with. These are the half-voices that have very limited ranges (usually the low part of the range is very weak or non-existent and they have great difficulty attaining an expressive quality in the voice due to this lack of vocal substance.) As a result the conductor is required to cut back what little volume the baroque instruments are able to produce. With the faster tempi there arises a light, simply-tapping-the-notes quality of singing and playing. This, in my estimation, is fine for lite-background-type of music, but certainly is not what Bach had in mind for sacred music performed in a church. This ‘lite’ style of playing implies a lack of serious commitment toward the music and text.

Rilling is very much in the tradition of the non-HIP with his slow, primarily legato treatment of the 1st mvt. I am not really certain, what his interpretation is aiming at or how he arrived at this interpretation. Perhaps he had read Voigt’s comment about a “somber splendor.” Joy need not be expressed frivolously the way that Koopman does. I certainly would prefer Rilling’s version to Koopman’s any day, simply because Koopman’s version sounds grotesque if you consider the words being sung and if you realize how much of Bach’s music is slighted since very many notes really do not have any time to develop and create a firm sound in space. They get lost in Koopman’s extremely rushed version of this mvt. The Richter version has the largest choir and orchestral apparatus. This is gigantic and powerful in sound because the instruments are modern with a few extra players on each part. Sometimes this is very uplifting, but other times it seems too much. Add to this the intrusive modern organ with high, shrill sounding stops that Richter plays (often simply duplicating the vocal parts) and the effect is excessive. Rotzsch, in contrast, has a somewhat smaller orchestra (still with modern instruments) and choir, and yet, he too has the organ play too loud with the shrill, high stops just the way Richter does. Mattheson had pointed out that the organ, in a cantata, should never stand out and should use mainly softer 8 ft. stops, not 2’, 4’ or mixture stops. I think that he is probably correct about this.

2) Secco recitative accompaniment:
The beginning of the 2nd mvt. (tenor recitative) is an excellent example of what happens or does not happen.

The bc which you will hear in various forms (organ or harpsichord with low strings [cello, double-bass]) has, beginning in ms. 1 a low G that Bach wrote out in tied whole notes so that this single note should be sounded for a total of 19 beats!!! On top of that Bach personally, in his own handwriting for the continuo part, added the figures indicating the chord changes that he wanted as the low G continued to be sounded. There are 11 such chord changes. Again, I would ask, why did Bach go through all the trouble of indicating the sounds that he wanted, if he knew that they would, in all likelihood not be played anyway? But this is exactly what the HIP interpreters would like to have you accept when they, for instance, sound the low G for only one beat out of the 19 that Bach wanted. This is what Leonhardt (who obviously has to agree with Harnoncourt on this matter which the latter documented in a book) did. If you destroy the foundation (the low G), what will you do about all the chord changes that Bach indicated? Just float them in the air? Have them plucked softly on a lute? Leonhardt decides to have 6 out of the 11 changes sounded very lightly for only a brief moment on a very soft portativ (almost as if they were not there.) Koopman also gives only 1 beat out of 19 and manages to have only 2 of the 11 chord changes played. (Do you see how much of Bach’s music Koopman is skipping here (not to mention the many notes in mvt. 1 that are barely audible or missing altogether?) How about Leusink, the last of the HIP interpreters in my group of recordings? Surprise! Leusink has the opening bars of this recitative played correctly, the way they were written!!! Does this mean that Leusink has come to his senses in regard to secco recitatives when plain HIP style? No! In the same cantata, mvt. 6 (another tenor recitative that begins in secco style), he follows the Harnoncourt doctrine. This time there is no light at the end of the HIP tunnel.

All the non-HIP versions play the secco recitatives correctly, the way they were written.

To be continued

Thomas Braatz wrote (July 10, 2002):
To continue my review of the recordings that I have (Non-HIP: Richter, Rotzsch, Rilling and HIP: Leonhardt, Koopman, Leusink), I will analyze some aspects by mvt. number.

Mvt. 1:


[5] Richter:
Richter has a powerful force driving the music forward without creating the feeling that he is pushing the tempo too fast. The overall effect makes me consider this performance as one of the best that I listened to. There are, however, imperfections that become apparent upon closer listening (an following the score): Some of the fast passagework (many 16th notes) in the bass voice can not be heard, this despite the fact that the bc often lends support to the same notes. There is an occasional lack of clarity in the non-cantus firmus vocal parts, but the choir seems to make up for this by singing with a singular enthusiasm hardly matched by any of the other renditions.

[6] Rotzsch:
Rotzsch also has a very energetic approach to this music that is very captivating. The clarity of lines in both the choir and orchestra is better than Richter’s. I like this version very much, but it has one serious drawback (this is true for almost every mvt. in this cantata): Rotzsch uses the Richter style of organ accompaniment with high, shrill stops that penetrate the ensemble sound and call too much attention to themselves. The general approach is very energetic and the cantus firmus is absolutely clear and stable the way it should be.

[7] Rilling:
I am moved by the dignity of this primarily legato performance, although I do not quite understand what Rilling has in mind here. What purpose does this serve? Here it is possible to hear ALL the vocal (and instrumental) parts clearly without individual voices popping in and out at various times. Everything is in balance. You can hear a unified sound while, at the same time, detect the individual parts that make up the whole. Rarely is there anything missing here (dropped notes, unclear singing.) There is a sense of genuine commitment that is often lacking in the HIP recordings.


[4] Leonhardt:
This is the ‘new’ sound that both Koopman and Leusink have emulated, however, here the strings sound scratchier and the oboes are more tentative in their playing. The basso continuo is not quite as intrusive (not overly loud) as in the Leusink recording. The choir leaves something to be desired, since the tenors and basses display qualities similar to Leusink’s choir: they have a raspy, thin quality that seems to come from straining the voice too much. Generally they are too weak in comparison to the top voices. The pronunciation of German is lax. Listen to ms. 35 and 36 on the words, “meines Heilands.” This is a bumpy performance with many jagged edges.

[9] Koopman:
As already noted before, this is the fastest recording available. Koopman has set a new record that probably will never be broken. This tempo for this mvt. of BWV 10 is simply ridiculous. Listen to ms. 32 and 33 to see if you can even detect the bass vocal line which in Bach’s score has a long series (like a coloratura) of 16th notes, most of which are barely audible or completely inaudible. Koopman is depriving us from hearing the complete Bach score much the same way that Impressionists or Expressionists were more interested in the general effect rather than the details that could be seen in a more realistic painting.

[11] Leusink:
The shaky entrance of the c.f. sets the stage for what follows. To list all the problems with the choir would be to repeat most of the things that I have already stated elsewhere.

Mvt. 7: The final chorale
Moving from the worst performances to the best, I would place them in the following order:

[4] Leonhardt: (HIP)
This is an example of a completely fractured chorale where all the effort is directed at breaking up the vocal lines so that the evil monster, LEGATO, dare not raise its head. Listen for the overly strong accents and the separation between individual notes. When the choir begins with “Lob und Preis’ ” or “wie es war,” the sound is more like “Lob’ und’ Preis’ sei’ [with the apostrophe indicating a early cut off of the note value or premature formation of the consonant sound]” and “wie’ es’ war” This 'thrusting,' uneven manner of singing a chorale is very unnatural and can be traced back to Harnoncourt.

[11] Leusink: (HIP)
Leusink adopts the same type of separation that Leonhardt had in “Lob’ und’ Preis’ sei’” but in “wie es war” Leusink does not do this. This type of inconsistency is very typical of Leusink. He tries so hard, but then he has relapses, or is it the other way around? Perhaps he is actually trying ‘to cover all the bases’ but then occasionally messes up along the way.

[9] Koopman: (HIP)
Koopman also has the separation of “Lob’ und’ “ as well as “wie’ es’ “ His version lacks the firm commitment to the words and music. There is too much of the attempt to simply “tap tap tap” the notes without conveying any sense of conviction. This may provide pleasant listening for some, but there is a lot missing from this type of rendition.

[7] Rilling: (non-HIP)
With all the legato in the 1st mvt. , you could easily expect Rilling to give us a legato version of the chorale, which he does very well. What bothers me most about the choral sound and the singing of the cantus firmus, is that in a chorale I rather expect the vocal lines to be solid and steady (no or very little vibrato allowed here), but this is not what we get with Rilling. Here, as usual, the soprano line, with the all important cantus firmus, is restless, wobbly, insecure with a shaky vibrato that destroys the necessary firmness that one has a right to expect from a cantus firmus.

[5] Richter: (non-HIP)
This is an extremely good version of the chorale and can serve as an example what a chorale should sound like. You will not hear any of the contrived expressive devices employed by the HIP interpreters. My only objection here is that Richter’s registration of the organ that he plays (not a very good one at that) includes very distracting organ stops of the 4’, 2’ and mixture types. This effect is rather distracting.

[6] Rotzsch (non-HIP)
This is my absolute favorite version of the chorale. This is chorale singing at its best. In German one would say, “Die Töne stehen wahrlich im Raum” [“The sounds of the notes truly stand firmly in a large space.” There is a sense of powerful architecture here, where all things work together to create a sense of wholeness on a higher level. It helps too when the choir really understands and identifies with the text and the tradition of singing Bach.

Dick Wursten wrote (July 10, 2002):
Richter’s organ

[5] Digging in a pile of old gramophone records, I encountered two ARCHIV produktion LP's with Bachcantatas and surprise: one of them included BWV 10. It's the one by Karl Richter.

For the first time I was able (after als digging up my old gramophone) to juxtapose Leusink and Richter in the same cantata. It's comparing the incomparable. The 'great machine' of Richter [5] and the 'small sound' of Leusink [11]. I have my preference.

About one movement I can't keep silent. Aryeh often says: he likes them all, but I wonder: Aryeh did you really like Richter’s mvt. 4: the bass-aria ? I was completely stupified, not to say almost petrified, at overthundering sound of the organ. This was IMHO not interpreting Bach anymore. This was performing Richter.

Thomas: what do you have to say about this movement and in particular about the way Richter performs it ?

By the way: the final choral of Richter was fine. And the rest of the cantate was - though strange (because never heard a cantata this style before) and familiar (because often heard the Passions this way) at the same time - enjoyable.

Thomas Braatz wrote (July 10, 2002):
Mvt. 2 Soprano Aria

From best to worst:

[7] Rilling (Augér) 6:42
[5] Richter (Mathis) 7:01
[6] Rotzsch (Shirai) 7:11
[9] Koopman (Rubens) 5:22
[11] Leusink (Holton) 6:29
[4] Leonhardt (Unnamed) 7:25

[7] Rilling:
Augér puts her whole heart and voice into this music. Nobody sings “wie wunderbar” [“how wonderful’] as well as she does. The joy that her singing and the instrumental ensemble exude is infectious. I found myself whistling along with this rendition of Bach’s catchy tune. Augèr was able to release this emotion in me, whereas all the other versions left me either cold or frustrated with the inability of the vocalist to be fully in control of the music.

[5] Richter:
Mathis uses too much vibrato. She has some high warbly tones that project very well (if you like this type of coloratura voice.) Occasional passages remind me of her past glory, but here she is already on her long descent downwards. [I have a recording (not Bach) of her singing in the 80’s where she spoils the entire recording because she did not know when to stop singing.] Just hitting a few notes well here and there does not mean that she has ‘conquered’ this aria, on the contrary, lacks the ability to really express the joy in this music the way Augér does.

[6] Rotzsch:
Shirai has a strong, full voice that approaches the vocal capabilities of Augér and Mathis, but her shaky vibrato (there is too much of this) detracts from her otherwise good performance. It would be better if she could ‘nail’ some of the high notes with a clean ‘head tone’ rather than flutter insecurely about the tone that she is attempting to hit. Rotzsch’s bc is overdone (too heavy.)

[9] Koopman:
Rubens definitely has less of a voice than Shirai. We are now moving in the direction of the half-voices so prevalent in the HIP category of performance. Because of Koopman’s extremely fast tempo (2 whole minutes faster than Leonhardt’s.) Rubens is given no chance to develop into a strong sound with a louder volume certain important notes that really need to stand out but in her version are sung with an uncontrolled vibrato. In ms. 76-82, at the end of the middle section, you have an example of a tour-de-force performance for a single cello player (the others have been left in the dust.) Both the voice and the instrument are scrambling about wildly as they attempt to salvage something out of this passage as Koopman smiles at them and does nothing at all to stop this madness.

[11] Leusink:
Holton finds herself stretched way beyond the capabilities of her small half-voice. It becomes all to evident here that this aria can not achieve anywhere near the potential that Bach had in mind for it. The bc sounds like a circus animal huffing and puffing (if only Leusink had considered removing that clumsy, loud (I doubt very much that this is an instrument or honest replica of such an instrument from Bach’s time) double bass. Yet, in the middle section, the violins are held back so much that they can not be heard. This very likely occurs in deference to Holton’s miniature voice which simply can not produce very much in the middle and low ranges. Despite all her problems (for instance, in ms. 25 a low C is inaudible), Holton (or is it Leusink himself?) insists on showing off with changes in the repeated section (in ms. 26-27 she sings “Deine Werke” an octave higher the 2nd time through.)

[4] Leonhardt:
The unnamed boy soprano (may he always remain anonymous!) does not know what to do with his uncontrolled vibrato which he even attempts to use on his running 16th notes. Not only is there a lack of expression (the boy is probably frightened out of his wits because he has been pushed into singing this aria), but we should be thankful that no major mishaps have occurred. So to replace that terrible option we now have to endure an agonizing, discomforting performance where this boy is almost constantly a little off in this or in another direction. Just listen to his attack on the word, “Herr” [“Lord!”] This says it all for me.

Mvt. 4 Bass Aria
Again from top to bottom according to my preferences:

[5] Richter (Moll) 2:56
[7] Rilling (Schöne) 2:54
[6] Rotzsch (Polster) 2:58
[9] Koopman (Mertens) 2:22
[4] Leonhardt (Egmond) 3:25
[11] Leusink (Ramselaar) 2:54

[5] Richter:
Moll is truly excellent in this aria. He has the type of dark bass that can truly bring out the depths of the “Schwefelpfuhl.” It is also worth listening to Richter’s organ accompaniment (the bc) where Richter ‘does his own thing’ inventing melodies and figures for the right hand. When this is done tastefully, as it is done here, it gives us an idea of what Bach might have done at the keyboard. There are first-hand descriptions of this ability that observers marveled at.

[7] Rilling:
Schöne also has a powerful, dark voice well-suited for this aria and his expression is excellent as well. The continuo here, rather than using an organ as Richter did, consists of a harpsichord as well as a violoncello and a double-bass. The effect of the numerous chords in the harpsichord in a fast-moving piece such as this makes me think of the German derogatory description of this sound, “Geschirrkasten” [“a china cabinet – the clinking, tinkling sound made when you brush up against the cabinet or begin removing the china from it.] Musicologists have determined that the harpsichord was rather infrequently used in the cantatas (there are scores and parts that specifically call for this instrument). All too often Bach simply uses the term, “organo” which would seem to call for an organ rather than a harpsichord, however the final decision would have to be left up to the conductor who would have to consider the circumstances surrounding the performance.

[6] Rotzsch:
Polster also has a full, strong voice. His performance is also admirable, but it lacks some of the expressive qualities of the former. Rotzsch creates a thick bc texture by including the double bass.

[9] Koopman:
Once again Koopman is trying to set new records with his extremely fast tempo. This does not do justice to the seriousness of the text, nor does it allow Mertens to develop his tones properly. This might suit Mertens just fine since his voice is in the half-voice category. Without a strong voice that can modulate all notes from soft to loud, Mertens is unable to muster sufficient expressive power to delineate the text properly. What we have sounds like a lot of sotto voce singing also made necessary by the extreme tempo that is chosen here.

[4] Leonhardt:
Egmont has a trembling vibrato that sounds more like the bleating of a sheep. His half-voice definitely has a limiting quality that makes it difficult for him to express the words properly. Most of the half-voice singers in the HIP category are able to sing the notes (not very strongly) but when it comes to providing expression to the text they are singing, thereis a definite deficiency that can not be overcome. The organ accompaniment is appropriately modest (no shrill high stops.)

[11] Leusink:
Ramselaar has a clear, clean delivery without much in the way of emotion. The cello in the bc is much too scratchy and does not have much tone (I am not referring to volume here, I only want to really hear the notes) and in the low range much of the music assigned to the cello part is practically lost as far as the listener is concerned. In contrast, when the double-bass is used elsewhere in this cantata, where it is always too loud.

Mvt. 5 Duet for Alto and Tenor

In order of preference:
[6] Rotzsch: 2:29
[5] Richter: 2:10
[9] Koopman: 2:11
[7] Rilling: 2:00
[4] Leonhardt: 2:18
[11] Leusink: 1:45

[6] Rotzsch (Soffel, Schreier)
Of the two versions of this duet in which Schreier sings, I prefer this one because I find it more moving than the Richter version of this duet (with Reynolds). The Rotzsch version speaks more directly to my heart perhaps because the singers are given more freedom to modulate the volume as needed.

[5] Richter (Reynolds, Schreier)
This version of the duet is more relentless in demanding full vocal production throughout. Perhaps this is due to the demands that Richter makes to maintain this duet on a grand scale. Both singers are constantly pushing themselves as if they had a Wagnerian-like orchestra to sing ‘over’ thus any attempt at a subtler expression, as in the Rotzsch version, is avoided. I do not like the tremulant that Richter uses in the organ accompaniment.

[9] Koopman (Markert, Prégardien)
There is much less expression here, but this version has much to recommend it. Although it can not approach Schreier’s version, on the HIP level it is the best one of my group of recordings to listen to.

[7] Rilling (Neubauer, Baldin)
The combination of a bassoon and a portative organ + the trumpet as a replacement for the two oboes makes this an interesting version to listen to. Unfortunately Soffel’s vibrato is simply too much and Baldin attempts to outdo himself by straining for notes. Compared to the above versions, this rendition is less expressive.

[4] Leonhardt (Esswood, Equiluz)
The blend between Esswood and Equiluz is quite good, but I have difficulty listening to the excessive trembling of Esswood’s voice. I find it very distracting. Listen here also for the heavy, drooping accents in the bc as well as the unusual treatment (a failed experiment, I hope) of the cantus firmus where each note is played by the oboes with a strong sforzando that makes this chorale line sound like a death-knell. I think that Leonhardt/Harnoncourt confused this cantata with some others by Bach where such a funeral bell is called for.

[11] Leusink (Buwalda, Schoch)
These voices may blend well, but there is not much going on in the area of expression. It does not help that this is the fastest version that I have. Probably Leusink and his soloists did not have much to say musically about this mvt. A tromba is used instead of the two oboes.

Thomas Braatz wrote (July 11, 2002):
[5] Dick Wursten commented:
< About one movement I can't keep silent. Aryeh often says: he likes them all, but I wonder: Aryeh did you really like Richter’s [5] Mvt. 4 the bass-aria ? I was completely stupified, not to say almost petrified, at the overthundering sound of the organ. This was IMHO not interpreting Bach anymore. This was performing Richter.
Thomas: what do you have to say about this movement and in particular about the way Richter
[5] performs it? >
I wrote my review before seeing your question. Yes, there are many times that I find Richter's organ playing [5] overbearing, particularly when he duplicates the choral parts with squealing high stops that always penetrate through the massive sound of large orchestral and choral apparatus. This becomes particularly annoying when the choir is not in tune with the organ (perhaps the choir can not hear it as well as we do) which is not the problem in this recording. Richter persists in playing the organ this way even though there is evidently something radically wrong with the pitch comparison between voices and organ. This has led me to come up with the theory that he may be attempting to call the choir's attention to their problem, but somehow they are unable to adjust their pitch to this organ (bad acoustics in the hall?) Richter may also have been attempting to 'move' the large choir along rhythmically and according to the tempo which he wishes to maintain.

In his organ realization of the bc in the arias and recitatives, Richter [5] comes up with moments of genius (although this can easily be perceived as being ego-centric on his part.) I detest his use of the tremulant for the chords that he plays in the continuo part for Mvt. 5 (Duet) of BWV 10, but in some of the arias such as the bass aria that you refer to, he comes up with very interesting ideas perfectly suited to the music, a sign that distinguishes an average continuo player from one who is truly excellent.


Continue on Part 2

Cantata BWV 10: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

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