Cantata BWV 107Was willst du dich betrüben
Discussions - Part 1
Discussions in the Week of July 29, 2001
Aryeh Oron wrote (July 31, 2001):
This is the week of Cantata BWV 107 according to Thomas Braatz’ suggestion, the 10th and the last one in his proposed list of cantatas for discussion. As a background to this cantata I shall overstep my usual procedure and instead of quoting an authority in the field of Bach Cantatas, and try to ‘sell’ this unique cantata to you. I have found at least five ‘selling points’ in favour of BWV 107, and here they are:
a. This is a chorale cantata in the ‘old style’. In the thread ‘My first Cantata’ many members admitted (me included) that their first exposure to the world of Bach Cantatas was with Cantata BWV 4. Some of them expressed their regret that other cantatas were not composed according to same format. With BWV 107 we a cantata whose structure might remind us that of BWV 4. All the numbers are composed to stanzas of the same hymn; in this case it is Johann Heermann’s hymn. The chorale theme is the basis for the opening and closing numbers, and is even hinted in some of the other movements. In this sense, BWV 107 might be considered as a ‘true’ choral cantata, as BWV 4 is.
b. Cantata BWV 107 belongs to the special group of ten cantatas from BWV 101 to BWV 110. I know that the BWV number, which was given to each cantata, was quite arbitrary, but I found out that all the cantatas in this group have some common denominators. They have 6 to 7 movements (except the special case of BWV 106); Most of the start with a marvellous chorus, have wonderful concluding chorale, catchy arias, memorable recitatives, colourful instrumentation, etc. All of them belong to the highest level of the whole oeuvre of the cantatas. Just to remind you BWV 106, and BWV 105, which was mentioned by one of the new members lately.
c. All the 7 movements of this cantata are melodious. It has four arias in a sequence, and as far as I know this is very rare phenomenon (I remember that a special attention was given to cantata BWV 182, which has 3 arias in a row). Furthermore, even the one recitative, which precedes the sequence of the arias, is developing eventually into an arioso. All the arias are different from each other, and each one of them has its own character, and thus the interest of the listener is held.
d. BWV 107 cantata has two catchy movements, which will stay with you long after the discussion about this cantata is finished. For me these are the opening chorus (Mvt. 1) and the aria for soprano (Mvt. 5). Some experts think that the second aria for tenor (Mvt. 6) is also an attractive one.
e. BWV 107 has two supreme recordings, very different from each other – one (Rilling ) belongs to the ‘old’ (non-HIP) school, and the other (Herreweghe ) to the ‘new’ (HIP) one. Therefore, everyone can be pleased, and those who are open to hear performances from both camps will probably double their enjoyment!
I am aware of 4 complete recordings of this cantata and last week I have been listening to them all. See: Cantata BWV 107 - Recordings (1) to (4).
(1) Helmuth Rilling (1979)
(2) Gustav Leonhardt (1980)
(3) Philippe Herreweghe (1989-1991)
(4) Pieter Jan Leusink (1999)
Mvt. 1 - Opening Chorus
This is a unique chorus amongst Bach’s opening choruses of the cantatas. It is not a chorale fantasia, but rather a chorale with an independent orchestral setting. The instrumental ritornellos and the chorale are not thematically connected, but follow each other like the different parts in a colourful tapestry. The voices in the choral parts sing about the sentiments of sadness and consolation, and these feelings are expressed beautifully in the ritornellos with an intimate, calm and touching effect. The chorale melody is given to the sopranos, and it is strengthened by the flute in a decorated form, with chordal writing, independent of the melody, in the lower voices. Splendid indeed, but the opening ritornello, before the first entry of the choir, is the part of this movement, which will stay with you for very long time.
From time to time I give a programme in one of the Israeli radio stations about music. Until now all the programmes were about subjects from the world of Jazz music. I am hoping that I shall be given the opportunity to give one about the Bach Cantatas. About two years ago I gave a programme, whose subject was ’composer and interpreter’. It was dedicated to the five most important Jazz composers (IMO). I mean artists whose major contribution to the Jazz music was in the area of composing. The five composers were Jelly Roll Morton, Duke Ellington, Thelonhious Monk, Charles Mingus, and Herbie Nichols. For each composer I chose one piece composed and performed by him, and it was followed by genuine and unique interpretation. Even for those of you who are familiar with the world of Jazz, the name of Herbie Nichols might be sound unfamiliar. But I consider him as one of the most important composers in Jazz, and in last few years he has started to get some recognition. He was a pianist, unjustly neglected even during his short life span (1919-1963). In the programme he played with his trio (piano, bass, and drums) a tune he composed, which is called ‘Hangover Triangle’. Immediately after that the ICP orchestra played the same tune in an orchestral arrangement by Misha Mengelberg. Following the two performances, I said that I heard in this arrangement musical lines and details, which I could barely hear in the original piano trio rendition. But When I heard the piano trio again, after the ICP Orchestra, I could hear those inner voices loud and clear. In other words, the original piano trio rendition and the orchestral arrangements were reflected in each other, illuminating and intensifying each other.
And why did I tell you this apparently irrelevant story? Because I recalled this small event when I heard the two recordings of the opening chorus of Cantata BWV 107 by Rilling  and Herreweghe . They are so different from each other, yet in a strange way they can be seen as complementary.
(1) Rilling paints everything with strong colours. Each component is distinct and sounds different. Some parts are hard and others are soft, some are played forte and others pianissimo, the feelings are expressed loudly and clearly. Everything is given to you close to your face. You cannot miss anything. And all the parts are placed one against the other, and not as complementary pieces. The drama is extrovert. Is this approach justified? My answer is definitely - Yes! Because when it is done with so high level of performance (your attention is not disturbed by sloppy playing, unrehearsed choir, or mismatching between the various parts), and with so definite internal conviction, it is simply irresistible.
(3) Herreweghe takes much more intimate approach. The tender playing in the opening bars is something you would like to hear again and again. All the parts are interwoven into the others like a delicate lace. This so delicate and so intimate, almost up to a level of fragility. Apparently the picture is less clear than that of Rilling. But if you hear Herreweghe and Rilling one after the other several times, you will realize that all the elements are present in Herreweghe‘s rendition too. Herreweghe manages to bring out the drama from within. He does not force his on the listener. He is rather let the listener finding it by himself (or herself).
(2) I doubt if any member in the BCML will be charmed by Leonhardt’s rendition. I have not been. It is so fragmented and so static. All the components are laid apart from each other, and there is no flow and no movement ahead. I was not impressed by the sopranos of Knabenchor Hannover either. They manage to sing in tune, but no feeling is expressed.
(4) Leusink does it better than Leonhardt. There is flow and continuity in his rendition. But if you hear it immediately after Herreweghe, whose approach it reminds, and all the faults come out. There is no internal tension and no drama, the choir is less polished, the various components are not held tightly together. Like some of other Leusink’s cantata recordings, this one could be benefited from more rehearsal time.
Mvt. 5 – Aria for Soprano
The two oboes d’amore play a duet accompaniment to emphasize God’s guiding of our lives. According to the text this is a pre-destination, which nobody can avoid. At the close of the aria Bach re-introduces a line of the chorale with a touching effect, while the soprano in her higher register, illustrates God’s lofty grandeur and summerizes in the last line ‘Was Gott will, das geschieht’ (What God ordains, that happens’, repeating the last two words. Who will dare refusing, especially when Bach’s uses here the unbeatable combination of soprano and oboe, actually two oboes d’amore. And, as the guitarists are always saying ’what is better than a guitar – two guitars!’
(1) A love to listen to Arleen Augér (with Rilling). Her singing is always cultured, human, warm and especially expressive. She always knows what is the right treatment that should be given to the number she is singing, and what feelings should be conveyed. She always pays attention to important and minor details, such as how to relate to the accompanying instruments. All these qualities are evident in her rendition of this aria. She has a full voice with slight vibrato, unlike the modern post-Kirkby soprano singers. But I find that she uses it in the service of the music, and that makes her singing irresistible. Following a remark by Thomas Braatz in one of the previous cantata discussions, I listened to Augér carefully in this aria. Indeed, she seems to lose some control in the higher register and her difficulties when she is stepping high can be heard if you pay close attention to it. But I am not disturbed, because that makes her singing even more human.
(3) Agnès Mellon (with Herreweghe) has a lighter voice than Augér has. Her singing is generally pleasant, but somewhat superficial. Her voice is less varied and she is less expressive than Augér is. I find that her slight accent adds a certain kind of charm to her rendition. The match between her voice and the delicate timbre of the oboes d’amore is magical. She has a less demanding challenge than Augér has, because Herreweghe takes a slower tempo in this aria (2:40 vs. 2:08). On the other hand in the slower tempo she hardly hold the listener attention along the whole aria, as Augér manages to do.
(2) Leonhardt takes even a slower tempo (3:04) than Herreweghe does. This rendition is not only very slow; it is also very heavy. I found no justification to such approach in the text. And what about the poor boy? It is better for me not to say anything about which I might regret later.
(4) Ruth Holton (with Leusink) has a better voice than Mellon has and her expressive powers are also an improvement. The tempo Leusink takes here (2:34) is a little bit faster than that of Herreweghe and I find it indeed more suitable. In almost every parameter I prefer this rendition to that of Herreweghe with Mellon. The minimal means Bach is using here put the entire burden on the abilities of the singer and the instrumentalist and they can be proud about the results. If any rehearsal time was missing here, I could not observe it.
The recordings by Rilling (1) and Herreweghe (3) are both recommended listening to as complementary renditions.
The recordings by Leonhardt (2) and Leusink (4) are both recommended avoiding.
The recordings by Koopman  and Suzuki  are recommended waiting until they released (not too long I hope, because this cantata belongs to second yearly cycle).
And as always, I would like to hear other opinions, regarding the above mentioned performances, or other recordings.
Thomas Braatz wrote (August 1, 2001):
I have not finished my background report on BWV 107, but here are:
My Impressions of the Recordings:
I have listened to Rilling (1979) (1), Leonhardt (1980) (2), Herreweghe (1991) (3), and Leusink (1999) (4)
Mvt. 1 Chorale (Choir and Orchestra)
All of the recordings of this mvt. seem to have observed Bach's intended dynamics, probably because the bc is suddenly silent when the few parts that remain have a 'piano' indication. Here Bach has already provided 'built-in' dynamics that can never fail unless there is a great counter effort on the part of the conductor.
(1) Rilling provides the inner intensity and seriousness befitting the situation described in the words. Everything seems to move forward insistently. There is a driving force without the feeling that things are being pushed hastily toward a conclusion. The sopranos are somewhat shaky (vibratos) despite the help they receive from the corno da caccia, otherwise all the voices are in balance. There is an ineffable quality of belief and conviction that is transferred to the listener.
(2) Leonhardt, at a semitone lower in pitch, as are all the other remaining recordings, chooses a tempo that is too slow. Typically, Leonhardt, as is the custom in this Teldec series with the mastermind Harnoncourt in the background, disregards completely Bach's musical notation and makes up his own notation (this is way beyond what might be considered interpretive insight.) He takes, for instance, one of the many quarter notes in the bc, shortens it to an eighth note in value and then places a heavy accent on this remaining eighth note. Such liberty with the score is unforgivable, unless you want to call this a Harnoncourt/Leonhardt transcription of a Bach cantata. That would be closer to the truth. The violin playing is sloppy, and there are definite intonation problems, not only between the violins, but also between the violins and the oboi d' amore. The deconstructive singing style is truly abominable; it is absolutely non-choral in nature with everything being detached from everything else. Legato? They seem never to have heard of this word. There is a feeling of very heavy aimless plodding. Everything threatens to fall apart at any moment. In my mind I hear a voice from Goethe's Faust saying, "You've got all the parts in your hand, all that is missing is the spiritual connection between them." The tenors are the weakest here and almost disappear at times. There is no coherent faith here, only the despair felt because this mvt. has become so laborious under the heavy-handed treatment of the music.
(3) Herreweghe is also slow, but what a difference! What a relief! All the parts are in balance with each other. Listen how he, with the help of a legato and a very slight crescendo, allows the mvt to 'grow' out of the first, single note that is sounded. Even before the choir enters, I can sense the feeling of "betrüben" ("to become sad.") Cleanand clear singing characterizes the choir. Musically the sound of this choir is better than Rilling's, Listen to the wonderful phrasing that Herreweghe achieves in the choral parts. He truly understands choral singing much better than Harnoncourt and Leonhardt do. It is unfortunate that Herreweghe occasionally falls under their spell and disregards his own better musical instinct (see Mvt. 7 below.) This performance, however, is equal to Rilling's despite the fact that it is very different in its interpretation (more sensitive.)
(4) Leusink's version is also legato and slow in tempo, but the heavy bass that Leusink typically uses is sufficient for losing the sensitivity that Herreweghe had. Add to that some intonation problems in the violins, problems that are compounded when they are joined by the oboi d'amore. The yodelers destroy any sense of a balanced, unified sound in the choir when they need to reach for a high g (note on top line of staff.) With this any magic spell that Leusink wanted to achieve is broken and forever lost. A weak entrance of the sopranos on the second line of the chorale can only indicate insecurity as a result of a lack of preparation. The altos almost drop out of the picture completely in the last line of the chorale.
Mvt. 2, Mvt. 3 Recitative and Aria (Bass)
(1) Rilling's Bröcheler has a clear delivery using a full-throated voice that conveys conviction in singing the text. In the aria, however, Rilling's heavy bass line forces Bröcheler to sing constantly at the same high volume or otherwise risk not being heard over the instruments. As a result the expression of the words suffers. It does not help one bit that Rilling, who is normally more observant than the other conductors, decides not to follow Bach's own dynamic markings.
(2) Leonhardt's van Egmond, although he is more expressive than the other singers, has an unclear quality in his voice caused by his odd, fast vibrato which creates an insecure feeling about which tone/pitch he is actually singing. The voice then sounds fuzzy. Leonhardt adds very strong accents, but then does not observe Bach's dynamic changes, as a result some beautiful echo-like effects are lost. In this regard Leonhardt is not sensitive to creating an environment in which van Egmond might achieve even better expression. In Leonhardt's favor, the bc is less obtrusive here and in better balance than in Rilling's recording.
(3) Herreweghe's Kooy has a much more acceptable vibrato that does not call attention to itself or distract the listener from enjoying the performance. His expression is also very good, but has less substance, weight and meaning. Herreweghe uses the light treatment that Koopman also seems to prefer. The aria is faster than the others. One advantage of this light treatment of the bc is that it does not become too loud and this is wonderful here. Unfortunately the instrumental ensemble is unable to make a difference between piano and forte, because everything is so soft and light to begin with. Where a forte is indicated, there is no forte, thus this aria lacks the expressive power that Bach had built into this mvt.
(4) Leusink's Ramselaar displays a slight affectation while trying to put expression in the words of the recitative. Some sounds he creates are not pleasant to listen to, as for instance, on the word, "retten." Here we have another very fast treatment of the aria. Everything is so light, even Ramselaar's voice is so light that he almost whispers one entrance. This is not really singing! With Leusink's 'lite'-weight treatment throughout, there is absolutely no contrast between forte and piano.
Mvt. 4, Mvt. 6 Arias (Tenor)
(1) Rilling: Okay, so the 1st aria for tenor is about Satan and hell, but does this voice (Aldo Baldin) really have to sound like hell? The sound he creates is more terrible than it has to be, because his wide vibrato and the forced quality of sound that his voice makes is unbearable to listen to. Perhaps this was to be the intended effect. IMO Rilling went too far here in forcing this voice to produce these ugly sounds. In the 2nd aria Rilling provides an overly punchy bc that is too loud, however Baldin's voice is much better here.
(2) Leonhardt: This (1st aria) is typically the type of aria that Equiluz has problems with because he is asked to produce loud, thrusting sounds (you can't win them all.) But Equiluz still manages to make something of this aria by changing his expression to fit the words. Leonhardt's tempo is slower than the other recordings here. Equiluz, in the 2nd aria, returns to his usual excellence and benefits from Leonhardt's sensitive treatment of the instrumental ensemble. Equiluz is the only singer in this group to make a necessary pause at the word, 'still,' a special moment in this aria that the others simply gloss over.
(3) Herreweghe uses the light and fast treatment for both arias, perhaps in an attempt to cover up Crook's terrible vibrato which is less disturbing when you can hardly hear the voice, which happens frequently. Many notes are half-whispered and some notes cut out or missing. Everything is much too fast for this voice to produce much in the way of notes and expression. This half-voice treatment simply can not convery the message in the words. Pleasant background music? Perhaps, with Bach's usual emphasis on meaning and significance removed so that it becomes palatable for mass consumption. The 2nd aria is a further step in this downward progression. It's almost as though you are listening to a Boccherini minuet instead of Bach. When Crook sings, "Das glaub ich steif und feste" ("That I strongly believe, ") there is absolutely no feeling of conviction present. How could there be with this 'lite'-entertainment mode of musical production?
(4) Leusink's van der Meel shows little or no expression. He also creates some terrible vocal sounds, sometimes singing flat, and at other times allowing certain notes to stand out much more than others for no valid reason except lack of control. The 2nd aria is so fast that it feels rushed. The orchestral accompaniment begins to sound like a clock ticking in the background. The only good thing here is the lighter treatment of the bass (in which Bach lent a helping hand.) On one long note van der Meel sings flat. There is no expression in the voice, since he is more concerned with hitting the right notes.
Mvt. 5 Aria (Soprano)
(4) Leusink has some good oboi d'amore providing an excellent instrumental accompaniment. Although Holton sings the notes clearly, she lacks expression and the voice is not large. It seems to be perfectly suited for singing the long sustained notes that appear in the last line of this aria. She lacks some vocal training that would give her greater finesse in managing the more difficult parts of the aria. For instance, she has trouble coming down from a high note. She does not release the note but rather slides off of this note with a downward glissando, thus displaying a lack of vocal control unacceptable in a Bach cantata. Listen to how she fails to release the high 'a' at the end of the word "forttreiben." Her pronunciation of "soll's sein" also needs to be improved.
(3) Herreweghe's Mellon does not have much of a voice and it is frequently covered by the oboi d'amore. Her general style is sotto voce, just gently tapping the notes with her voice rather that singing out with a full voice which she probably does not have, or if she used it, it would sound unpleasant to the ear.
(2) Leonhardt has a very slow twhich would normally cause concern, since a boy soprano's lung capacity would be stretched to its limit, but in this aria it seems to work. The boy soprano, Marcus Klein, makes an admirable effort, even though he tends to be somewhat sharp at times (a typical characteristic of boy sopranos.) This IMO is one of the better versions of this aria.
(1) Rilling: Here we have a tour de force performance, very fast and snappy with a bassoon adding to the staccato effect in the bc. In this aria Augér performs some outstanding vocal feats as she shows off her technique that obviously results from serious vocal training. This type of performance is hard to beat. It is impressive because the difficulties of singing this mvt. at this fast tempo are not apparent to the normal listener. Only twice did I hear a slight forcing on two notes toward the end of the aria before the final chorale line is sung.
Mvt. 7 Final Chorale (Choir and Orchestra)
Although there are indications of a faster, more dance-like treatment for this mvt. (see the article, 'siciliana' in the Oxford Composer Companions: J.S.Bach [Boyd]), in my mind I had associated this mvt. with the more majestic, slower moving pastoral-type siciliana as in the Christmas Oratorio and other such slow, more legato type mvts. in other cantatas. All of the recorded versions here use a fast, strongly accented (the dotted rhythms exaggerated) version.
(2) Leonhardt's version is slower than the rest, but nevertheless heavily and strongly accented just as the others are. Every dotted quarter note that the choir sings is chopped off prematurely, given only half of its true value and then accented as well.
(3) Herreweghe's treatment is faster and lighter, but he copies Leonhardt's manner of treating the note values. No small wonder! Eleven years previously his vocal group sang in Leonhardt's recording. Here he learned the wrong thing from Leonhardt and was afraid to change in favor of a better style of choral singing.
(4) Leusink is simply too fast, too jumpy and too heavily accented. As a result nothing flows evenly. Suddenly one vocal part, then another stand out for a moment above all others. There is this lack of control in the voices that shows when they have to reach for a difficult note. At this point they become too loud, but then quickly recede into the background. All these 'edges' have not been ironed out before attempting to record this version.
(1) Rilling's version is also too heavily accented and similar to the other versions. There is a heavy bc and the soprano voice has a vibrato which is disconcerting. The other voices are forced to overproduce.
1st mvt. Rilling (1), Herreweghe (3)
2nd, 3rd mvts. Rilling (1), Herreweghe (3)
6th mvt. Leonhardt (2)
5th mvt. Leonhardt (2), Rilling (1)
4th, 7th mvts. No winners
Thomas Braatz wrote (August 1, 2001):
See: Cantata BWV 107 - Provenance
Specific details on the separate mvts. [Spitta, Schweitzer, Mark Audus (1993, notes to the Herreweghe recording ), Romijn (1999), Finscher (1980), Dürr, Simon Heighes (1999-Oxford Composer Companions: J.S.Bach [Boyd])]
See: Cantata BWV 107 - Commentatry
Marie Jensen wrote (August 2, 2001):
The continuo devil dance in mvt 4 is telling how the devil operates here, charming like an elegant Don Juan at a fancy dress ball , but you know his intentions! It reminds me of the last aria in BWV 54, where the devil also dances his fatal steps.
The construction: Had the recitativo not been there, this cantata would almost have been an orchestral suite, with a row of dances, even with a chorale-gigue in the end. This elegance is clearly heard in the Herreweghe version (3), but van der Meel (Leusink) (4) sings the word satan with a warning disgust, and that is not so bad....
Continue on Part 2
Cantata BWV 107: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3