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Cantata BWV 112
Der Herr ist mein getreuer Hirt
Discussions - Part 2

Continue from Part 1

Discussions in the Week of August 3, 2008

Stephen Benson wrote (August 3, 2008):
Introduction to "Der Herr ist mein getreuer Hirt", BWV 112

The clarion horn call that precipitates the opening chorale/chorus/motet/fantasia* (Mvt. 1) of "Der Herr ist mein getreuer Hirt", BWV 112 immediately reminds the listener of the concertante possibilities provided by Bach's recently increased access to instrumentalists of the Collegium Musicum. He must have reveled in the opportunities to utilize those resources. In this cantata, the seed of that brass opening -- a variation of the first line of "Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr" by Nikolaus Decius -- blossoms immediately into a kaleidoscopic playground of brass, woodwinds, strings, and voices. Violins and oboes counter the initial horn entry with a spritely figure that generates a substrate of swirling energy. Cascading instrumental lines alternate with exultant leaps of fourths in the horns (frolicking sheep?), all this held together by the glue of the cantus firmus in the sopranos. The horns double the sopranos in the cantus firmus and then take off to gambol with the other instrumentalists in the intervening ritornellos. What a wild and woolly opening! I can only echo enthusiastically Aryeh's comments from the first round of discussions: "The fantasia is one of the most miraculously beautiful things Bach ever wrote."

Based on a 1530 paraphrase of the text of the 23rd Psalm by Wolfgang Messulin -- or is it Meussel? or Meuslin? -- sources differ -- BWV 112 was written for the second Sunday after Easter (Misericordias Domini) in 1731 and shares with BWV 85 and BWV 104, written in 1725 and 1724 respectively to accompany the Gospel text for that Sunday, John 10: 12-16, the image of Christ the shepherd. The five movements of BWV 112 spread out over the entire body of the text of the psalm, each movement focusing on a specific characteristic.

Contrasting sharply with the tumult of the opening movement (Mvt. 1) is the fluid alto aria (Mvt. 2) of the second movement, "Zum reinen Wasser er mich weist". With the oboe d'amore's semiquaver obbligato filigree providing a pastoral accompaniment -- Craig Smith aptly referred to the "spinning cantabile" of the oboe part -- the alto soloist conjures up the "pure water" imagery so natural to this rural scene. "Pastoral" is a term frequently associated with BWV 112 with its scoring for horns, oboes d'amore, strings, and continuo, and BWV 112's bucolic countenance is nowhere more in evidence than in this gently flowing alto/oboe pairing.

The brief Mvt. 3, "Und ob ich wandelt im finstern Tal" (And though I wander in the dark valley), a bass recitative (more arioso, perhaps?) utilizing string accompaniment betrays almost a split personality. The lugubrious first half, with basso continuo accompaniment only, reflects the wandering through the valley of the shadow of death; the second half morphs, with the appearance of the violins and viola at measure 12, to an "unexpected radiance" (another Craig Smith contribution) as the bass intones his faith in the Shepherd's ultimate protection.

Continuing with the sharp contrasts displayed as we move from movement to movement, the next, "Du bereitest für mir einen Tisch" (You prepare for me a table), embraces joy in the dance form of a bouree. Rather than the incipit, perhaps, a more appropriate image (suggested by Alfred Dürr) for this movement, a duet for soprano and tenor (Mvt. 4), might be the third line of text: "Machst mein Herze unverzagt und frisch" (Make my heart intrepid and fresh). The singers cavort and prance in an exuberant display of contrapuntal play. Invoking Craig Smith one more time: "The duet is one of the most viscerally exciting things in all of Bach….there is no doubt about the intensity and concentration of this remarkable duet."

"Gutes und die Barmherzigkeit" (Goodness and mercy), a "straightforward four-part harmonization with 'colla parte' instrumental support" [OCC] of Decius's "Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr", first heard in Mvt. 1, brings BWV 112 to a satisfying conclusion (Mvt. 5). An extensive discussion of the progressive transformation of that chorale melody can be found at: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/CM/Allein-Gott-in-der-Hoh.htm .

Links to recordings, texts, musical examples, commentary and a wealth of other material related to BWV 112 can be found at: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV112.htm .

I really had no idea what I was taking on when I volunteered to write introductions for this summer, but what a marvelous collection of cantatas this has turned out to be. I had been familiar with several of them -- which is primarily why I chose this group -- but many were completely new to me. Perhaps it is the fact that Bach had already established a solid working library by this time; perhaps it was his frustrations with the Leipzig government; perhaps it was the liberating influence of his new Collegium Musicum resources; perhaps it was simply his need to continually tinker and play and evolve. Whatever the reason, his inexhaustible genius and creativity and passion come shining through during this period. (I'm sure if I had immersed myself to a similar degree in similarly sized sections of his work from other periods, I would feel the same way about those periods!) Regardless, I do feel that the cantatas written around 1730 are a remarkable group. (Of course, the problem is that each work, the work of the moment, is more remarkable than the last!) If you haven't been following these works closely, do so -- not because I'm telling you to, but because Bach's music merits that kind of close attention. Listen, appreciate, think, and share your thoughts. That's what this List is all about.

*I encountered all four descriptive terms while researching this first movement.

Douglas Cowling wrote (August 3, 2008):
Stephen Benson wrote:
< In this cantata, the seed of that brass opening -- a variation of the first line of "Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr" by Nikolaus Decius -- blossoms immediately into a kaleidoscopic playground of brass, woodwinds, strings, and voices. Violins and oboes counter the initial horn entry with a spritely figure that generates a substrate of swirling energy. >
I was surprised at how 'easy' the opening chorus (Mvt. 1) is for the choir compared with the virtuoso lines for the orchestra. For once I could be be convinced that Bach was giving the choir a break after the rigours of Good Friday and Easter Day.

Any idea why the second oboe has an independent part in the closing chorale (Mvt. 5)? The other oboe and strings merely double the voices.

Stephen Benson wrote (August 3, 2008):
[To Douglas Cowling] I saw Doug's name in my mail box and immediately thought, "Whoops!"
I meant to include the link to the score at:
http://imslp.org/wiki/Cantatas%2C_BWV_111-120_%28Bach%2C_Johann_Sebastian%29

Before he has to remind me yet again, there it is!

William Hoffmann wrote (August 4, 2008):
Occasion: Misericordias Domini or the Second Sunday After Easter. It means the "Goodness (literally "tender mercies") of the Lord." It comes from the incipit of Psalm 89/88, "Your love, O Lord, for ever will I sing." This Sunday is also called "Good Shepherd Sunday." There are three extant Bach cantatas for this service: BWV 104 in 1724, a new composition for the First Cantata Cycle and not a revision of a Weimar cantata, text possibly by Christian Weiss, Sr.; Cantata BWV 85, composed in 1725 during the Second Cantata Cycle, text possibly by Weiss, but part of Bach's Third Cycle; and Cantata BWV 112, a chorale cantata using the five stanzas unaltered of the Meuslin chorale paraphrase of Psalm 23, "Der Herr ist mein getreuer Hirt" (The Lord is my true shepherd), and, belatedly part of his Chorale Cantata Cycle of 1724-25

In 1725, for the 12 services between Easter Monday and Pentecost Tuesday, Bach composed no chorale cantatas, thus leaving his chorale cantata cycle incomplete. First performed on Misericordias Domini, April 8, 1731, Cantata BWV 112 is the only extant chorale cantata Bach composed subsequent to 1725 for the 12-service gap in the cycle. Of the other 10 chorale cantatas Bach composed after 1725, six were composed to fill occasions he omitted or which did not take place in 1724-25, from Trinity Sunday to the Marian Feast of Annunciation. These are Cantatas BWV 129, BWV 177, BWV 9, BWV 137, BWV 140, and BWV 14, for (respectively): Trinity and the Fourth, Sixth, 12th and 27th Sundays after Trinity, and the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany. Four chorale cantatas without designated church year services are based on chorales also found in wedding cantatas: BWV 97, BWV 100, BWV 117, and BWV 192. It is possible, nominally at least, to place them in the following services, respectively: Exaudi (Sunday after Ascension), 15th Sunday after Trinity or Jubilate (Third Sunday after Easter), Rogate (Fifth Sunday after Easter) and Reformation Day. This designation is based on the particularly chorale usage during the church year. For example, the chorale "Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan" (Cantata BWV 100) could have been sung during Epiphany, Easter, or Trinity season.

Possible Genesis: Bach compositional process scholar Robert L. Marshall believes that the opening chorale fantasia (Mvt. 1) of Cantata BWV 112 may have been composed earlier, possible for the 1725 service, since it is a fair or clean copy. Gerhard Herz (Bach Sources, 28, 67) agrees. Marshall surmises (Process 27f) that Bach could have proceeded during Lent with its composition, since the opening movement (Mvt. 1) uses, unaltered, the first verse of the chorale, but laid it aside when the subsequent paraphrased verses were not forthcoming. Dürr disagrees, suggesting that it may date earlier only to 1729 (Chronology, 2d. ed., 167). In addition, there are other chorale cantata movements or fragments composed around 1725 which Bach originally may have planned to use in chorale cantatas during the Easter season gap: Cantata movements BWV 6/3, Easter Monday; BWV 85/3, Misericordias Domini; BWV 128/1, Ascension; BWV 68/1, Pentecost Monday; and fragments in Neumann Handbuch N32, Quasimodogeniti ("lost Emmaus cantata"), and N33, Exaudi.

First Performance: Beginning on Good Friday, March 23, 1731, with the parodied chorale Passion, St. Mark, BWV 247, Bach resumed presenting his church works weekly. This was the first time in four years, since the second half of 1726, when Bach composed cantatas for the entire Trinity season to complete his third cycle. Cantata BWV 112 was the only new work presented at this time in 1731. The remainder were reperformances from his previous cycles, primarily the first. This is documented through two surviving church libretto books for the period Easter Sunday to Misericordias Domini (BWV 112) and Pentecost to Trinity Sunday. The book for the five services from Jubilate to Exaudi is not extant. Thereafter, the record, without libretto books, is spotty.

Bach had hit a low point of cantata presentations in 1730 with only two new works, BWV 51 and BWV 192, and three repeats. I think Bach in 1731 was buoyed by having the Collegium musicum and the full support of Thomas School Director Gessner. Perhaps, also he was responding defiantly to the Town Council's complaint that he didn't do much work. Some Bach authorities believe that Bach may have presented his entire chorale cantata cycle between 1732 and 1735, on the basis of fragmentary documentation of reperformances and his continuing to compose chorale cantatas to fill the Trinity to Easter gap. Also, 41 chorale cantata parts sets from the cycle were given by Anna Magdalena to the Thomas School in 1750 and many were transcribed into performing scores by copyist Penzel in 1755-56.

Form: The concise five-movement Cantata BWV 112, like Bach's first church service cantata, BWV 4, is a chorale-based work, per omnes versus, in symmetrical form: Chorale chorus, aria, recitative, aria, chorale. It is a basic palindrome, also called "chiastic" or cross-like form, most prominent in sections of the St. John Passion (BWV 245). The music, possibly written in Mühlhausen, was repeated in 1724 or 1725 and is part of Bach's chorale cantata cycle.

Those wonderful horns. The Rilling 1985 recording [3] notes by Marianne Helms point out that that the style and method of composition and the use of high horns "fits well with the compositions of the year 1725," especially BWV 128 opening chorale chorus for Ascension Day, using the same melody. Cuckold symbols aside, there are three chorale cantatas composed during this time with pairs of horns: BWV 192 (Koopman realization), BWV 112, and BWV 100 as well as single horn in the three-stanza works BWV 14 and BWV 140. They are most effective in obbligato embellishment of the chorale melody. I also like the interplay of horns with oboes, the latter often doubling the violins, giving a soft trumpet effect.

While the chorale cantatas do not lend themselves to parody, dance is surprisingly prominent in 35 of some 50 chorale cantatas, primarily in the arias. In Cantata BWV 112, the first aria is in pastorale style and the second is a bouree. By the way, my all-time favorite pastorale-style vocal movement is the gorgeous bass aria "Was des Höchsten Glanz erfüllt" in Cantata BWV 194, whose four arias are derived from a Köthen dance suite.

Stephen Benson wrote (August 7, 2008):
It's Thursday, and, aside from two immediate responses on Sunday, we've had no discussion about this week's cantata. Two quotes included in the introduction indicate its undeniable high quality. The first, from Aryeh, asserts:
< "The fantasia is one of the most miraculously beautiful things Bach ever wro." >

The second, with respect to yet another dance movement, which would fit in nicely with the current dialogue re. the dance idiom in Bach's music, comes from Craig Smith's description of Mvt. 4 soprano/tenor duet:
< "The duet is one of the most viscerally exciting things in all of Bach...[T]here is no doubt about the intensity and concentration of this remarkable duet." >

Meredith Little and Natalie Jenne include that duet (Mvt. 4) in a category they describe as "Bouree-like" (the dance analogy enhanced, perhaps, by the pairing of soprano and tenor?). They assert: "Most eighteenth-century theorists describe the bouree tempo as fast in comparison with the other French Baroque dances..." They point out later, however: "Some performers play the bouree extremely fast, but too fast a tempo will render the articulations of beats and pulses imperceptible, depriving the dance of its unique rhythmic qualities." And with respect to this particular bouree, they add: "BWV 112,4 (Mvt. 4) is based on the Twenty-third Psalm and uses the half note as level of beat; the lines soon break into triplets, which pose interesting rhythmic alteration possibilities because the triples occur with duple figures." (If you don't have access to their book, a condensed introduction to their thoughts can be found by reading the dance entries [along with the entry for tempo!] which they prepared for the Bach volume in the Oxford Composer Companions series.)

Of course, none of this answers some of the other questions that have been raised, and, in fact, Little and Jenne suggest in that OCC entry on tempo: "For Bach's music it is probably unwise for performers to make tempo decisions solely on the basis of scholarly research. Rather, information from at least four areas may help to determine tempo in particular cases: the notation; instructions in the score; dance rhythms; and external considerations." As external considerations they include performance location, function of the piece, instruments used, and, in vocal music, the text. A final determination of tempo, then, I suppose, would necessitate a relative balancing of all these factors? (And wouldn't "scholarly research" include all those factors as a matter of course?) Although there doesn't seem to be much general controversy over bouree tempos, with respect to the duet (Mvt. 4) in BWV 112, a fairly significant difference exists among the the three recordings I have -- Gardiner's at 3:14 [5]; Koopman's at 3:30 [7]; and Leusink's at 3:57 [6] -- a small sample, to be sure, but certainly illustrative of some of the issues involved.

It would be a shame to let such a marvelous work as this slip through the cracks. Any comments, and I don't mean just on the dance issue?

Nicholas Johnson wrote (August 7, 2008):
When Steve mentions BWV 112 I have the greatest pleasure in reaching for vol 4 . I used to consult the Groves several times a week. With the Bach cantatas it's several times a day. Some people initially expressed worries
about the binding. It is excellent. Better than the Groves hardback. Don't worry. 600 euros or now 700 euros - an absolute bargain! 11,000 pages ! ( I am not employed by Bärenreiter )

Neil Halliday wrote (August 8, 2008):
Stephen Benson wrote:
>Although there doesn't seem to be much general controversy over bouree tempos, with respect to the duet (Mvt. 4) in BWV 112, a fairly significant difference exists among the the three recordings I have -- Gardiner's at 3:14 [5]; Koopman's at 3:30 [7]; and Leusink's at 3:57 [6] -- a small sample, to be sure, but certainly illustrative of some of
the issues involved.<
The duet (Mvt. 4) is perhaps the most immeadiately attractive of this cantata's movements. I have Rilling [3] with the timing of the duet (Mvt. 4) at 3.48, for a similar conception/effect to Leusink [6] and Koopman [7], judging by the BCW samples. Gardiner [5] is probably noticeably faster (no sample), but is he too fast? The music flows amiably enough with Leusink who has the slowest tempo.

Rilling's singers [3] are the most extrovert, however I would would probably choose Koopman [7]; all three are enjoyable.

The horns in Rilling's [3] opening movement (Mvt. 1) lack colour/accoustic impact, IMO, and Leusink's sound [6] crude at times. The music is sunny and forthright, with a tuneful CM, but I don't think it's "Bach's most miraculously beautiful creation" (Whittaker). I would probably choose Koopman's version [7].

All the scholarly research in the world won't help the arioso section of Mvt. 3; unaccompanied by meaningful treble material, the continuo bass strings meander monotonously, sounding crude and unmusical, in the samples I have heard. One solution would be to play something like the realisation shown in the BCW score, on an attractive organ stop, scholarly considerations aside.

Julian Mincham wrote (August 8, 2008):
Score bindings

[To Johnson Nicholas] I consult my scores regularly as well and gave my views of the edition when Nicholas Johnson oriiginally canvassed them (I got them early at a well discounted pre-publication ptice).

I did at that time express a reservation about the binding, a point that has cropped up a few times since on list.

My point was directed particualrly at the practical musician who wishes to play through the scores at the piano (as I do often) or to conduct from them. The bending of the pages of a 600 page paperback so as to prevent them turning back when on the music stands is something that these scores, no matter how admirable they are in other ways (and they are) will not stand up to over a period of time.

For the amatuer who can partially (and carefully) bend them back and hold them in position whilst following through to a CD they are fine. For the practical player/conductor they have limitations which will show up over a period of time.

Jane Newble wrote (August 8, 2008):
"Der Herr ist mein getreuer Hirt" BWV 112

Listening to this cantata it does not seem to matter much that I have only Leusink [6]. The music is lovely and makes me think that Bach wrote it on a pleasantly warm day in spring, when all was well with his world. It seems to have simply flown out of his pen, no problems, no complicatons.

The opening Chorale (Mvt. 1) is sung against a background embroidered with cheerful wild spring flowers in a meadow. Everything is plentiful and pleasant.

In the Aria for alto (Mvt. 2) the oboe sets the scene with its cool flowing tones giving the picture of a soft murmuring brook. It is fun to look at the music and actually see this in the notes.

The Recitatif for Bass (Mvt. 3) comes straight in with the darkness of the 'valley of the shadow of death'. Yet it is not an emotional darkness, but more situational, as the notes and the words sound quite cheerful, and the bass soon climbs out of it. The 'wandeln' is with cheerful and triumphant step, even though he contemplates for a moment the full horror of all the dark circumstances that can arise. However, the reflection on the comfort of God's shepherd's staff, His presence and His Word is enough to dispel any doubts, and makes way for the exuberance of the beautiful duet (Mvt. 4), followed by an assuring chorale which sabout security continuing into eternity.

Julian Mincham wrote (August 8, 2008):
I agree with Steve that it would be a pity to let this fine cantata 'slip through the cracks'

A few brief contextual points. A cantata with a direct relationship with BWV 112 is BWV 128 from late in the second cycle. This was one of only two chorale fantasias that Bach composed between BWV 1 and the end of the cycle, the other being Cantata BWV 68. The fantasias composed for both BWV 112 and BWV 128 are based upon the same chorale melody. This is a relatively unusual event and furthermore, it would also be difficult to find two more different movements in character and feeling arising from an identical genesis.

BWV 112 is one of the shortest and most concise of just over fifty surviving chorale/fantasia cantatas, lasting little more than ten minutes. Its opening chorus (Mvt. 1) seems to be a subtle combination of the festive and pastoral. The forces are intended to be impressive, two horns, two oboes d a'more, strings and continuo. The sounds of the four wind instruments predominate throughout, having been got off to a bold start with just the pair of horns announcing the first theme in the most extrovert manner. The first horn has a version of the first chorale phrase and the second supports it with a rising fanfare figure. The rest of the instruments join in the fun in the third bar.

One can only speculate as to whether Bach went back to the score of Cantata BWV 128 in order to remind himself of what he had done with the chorale some six years earlier. If so, he may have made conscious decisions to compose a movement of intentional contrast. On the other hand, after six years and with such a mass of compositions produced during that time, he may even have forgotten about the specific characteristics of the earlier work. But whatever the circumstances, it is obvious that his powers of invention were unflagging. His ability to be concise and economic with his material and thus produce the greatest possible focus upon each and every phrase, had, if anything, evolved over the intervening years.

This is particularly apparent in the writing for the lower voices. There are no swirls of semi-quaver patterns as had characterized 128; that sort of activity is left to the orchestra. The lower vocal lines are restrained and dignified, their melodic material extraordinarily economical. Every soprano entry of the cantus firmus is supported by the tenor, alto and bass imitating each other with an optimistically rising version of the first chorale phrase. The voices convey a restrained sense of decorum, the orchestra a surging festive energy. At no times do the lower voices repeat the words of the line at the end of each phrase as in many other fantasias. Each statement is simply made with total clarity: and that is that.

Thus does Bach convey a powerful and unambiguous image of the protecting Lord, our Shepherd, the foundation of our security. The music is as direct and uncomplicated as the text----the faithful Shepherd protects and feeds us from the best pastures

It is, however, worth noting the subtle change of mood as Bach leads the harmony through E minor for the penultimate phrase (bars 51-55), suggesting the sensuousness of the 'sweet grasses'. A minimally adapted version of the initial ritornello concludes the chorus and the last phrases of the dominating first horn melody remain in our memory well beyond the final cadence.

Jean Laaninen wrote (August 8, 2008):
Neil Halliday wrote:
Stephen Benson wrote:
< The horns in Rilling's [3] opening movement (Mvt. 1) lack colour/accoustic impact, IMO, and Leusink's sound [6] crude at times. The music is sunny and forthright, with a tuneful CM, but I don't think it's "Bach's most miraculously beautiful creation" (Whittaker). I would probably choose Koopman's version [7]. >
I finally got around to listening to this week's cantata. The best listen is one where the attention is focused, but I might mention again with MAC using the program called "Hear," the sound on a computer is amazingly improved. In my listen of the first movement, also Rilling [3], I was absolutely delighted by the exciting opening (Mvt. 1) and the elegant lofty brass sound. This is probably because I have this program that allows for the adjustment of the fidelity of the sound card, but in my case Mvt. 1 was an absolute delight thanks to the brass.

The underlying pulse of the movement combined with the brass and the voices really sounded great and kept things moving right along providing anticipation, I think, for what comes next.

I began to observe something different in Mvt. 2, as the combination of the continuo instruments took on a little darker quality than the opening movements, whilst the alto also brought a reflective quality to her work (Rilling [3]). I was a little bit surprised when she ornamented "willen" at the end of the first section.

Interesting to me in Mvt. 3 was the deeper darkening and larger darkening of the continuo and the bass voice to represent the darker elements of life, but Bach nicely resolved this heavier sound with the text in the elements of comfort and trust before the cadence. I was impressed with this section for the division of text Bach chose at this point.

In Mvt. 4 the tempo and instrumental combination immediately suggest the change of mood that goes with the text. In the first section the tenor opens the dialogue, and in the second section the soprano opens the dialogue. This textual shift supports an interesting pattern in the middle movements...alto and bass--darker, and tenor to soprano taking the lead at the end--the brighter elements of the work. This lighter texture at the opening of the second ending was quite special and uplifting in my view, and the pattern seems to me to support the text very well.

Finally, in Mvt. 5 the solid character of the final chorale works well to reflect the depth of gratitude found in the text.

Of course this is one of the most well known texts to any participant in Christian tradition. Here, I think Bach worked out the emotional dimensions superbly.

I'm glad I finally got back to the topic at hand, but additionally, I have enjoyed the many comments this past week and a half on the dance rhythms in Bach.

Ed Myskowski wrote (August 9, 2008):
BWV 112 recordings

Steve Benson wrote:
>with respect to yet another dance movement [BWV 112/4 (Mvt. 4)], which would fit in nicely with the current dialogue re. the dance idiom in Bach's music, comes from Craig Smith's description of Mvt. 4 soprano/tenor duet:
"The duet is one of the most viscerally exciting things in all of Bach...[T]here is no doubt about the intensity and concentration of this remarkable duet."
Meredith Little and Natalie Jenne include that duet (
Mvt. 4) in a category they describe as "Bouree-like" (the dance analogy enhanced, perhaps, by the pairing of soprano and tenor?).<
Ed Myskowski responds:
I make an effort to comment thoughtfully on recordings (that may not always be apparent), with the expectation that others may make decisions on spending scarce funds on the basis of what we say here. That goes, even if the comment is a simple <I like it (or not)>, in response to Aryeh's suggestion to widen participation in the weekly discussion topic. I certainly have found the BCML commentary and BCW archives helpful in making purchasing decisions, and I am grateful for all previous comments.

In an effort to catch up, here are a few quick (not necessarily thoughtfu) impressions of BWV 112, Leusink [6], Koopman [7], Gardiner [5], in response to Steves thoughtful effort to integrate the current chat (re dance) with the cantata of the week.

Neil Halliday wrote:
>The duet (Mvt. 4) is perhaps the most immediately attractive of this cantata's movements. I have Rilling [3] with the timing of the duet (Mvt. 4) at 3.48, for a similar conception/effect to Leusink [6] and Koopman [7], judging by the BCW samples. Gardiner [5] is probably noticeably faster (no sample), but is he too fast?<
Gardiner [5] is indeed faster at 3:14, but I was surprised to realize it, checking after listening. In fact, I found his performance a bit <muddy>, rather than fast, in comparison to the other two. I began to wonder about articulation, the <edges> of the notes, as well as tempo, and the effect of recording ambience and engineering, all influencing the recorded sound, and the overall effect of dance impetus.

Next I read Gardiners notes [5] to the performance (always excellent):
<The marble floor and pebbledash walls [Basilique St. Willibrord, Echternach, rebuilt after WW II] make for a harsh acoustical response, but with a long reverberation [reduced to manageable proportions] when filled for our concert.>. An open question, for me, does the reverb (and accommodations to it) influence the recorded sound?

For the moment (subject to revision, ala Neil H.) my preferences are Koopman [7] (with alto Bogna Bartosz in Mvt. 2), Leusink [6], and Gardiner [5], listening to these three only, so far. All are good to excellent. IMO, you will not go wrong with any of them, and Gardiner, including Marcel Ponseele (oboe) is likely to move up in my estimation on repeated listening, for that detail alone.

I hope it is reassuring to some of you to hear an opinion that the ongoing or recently completed cantata series are all of high quality. It is highly unlikely that you will buy (or listen to) a recording you think is simply not good (BCW archival comments notwithstanding). OTOH, it is highly likely that you will listen to a recording, and wonder if someone else might be as good, or just a bit better. Go for it, and enjoy.

Ed Myskowski wrote (August 9, 2008):
Jean Laaninen wrote (re BWV 112):
>Of course this is one of the most well known texts to any participant in Christian tradition. Here, I think Bach worked out the emotional dimensions superbly.<
A fine (small), but important point: the Psalms, including 23 (for BWV 112) predate the Christian tradition. I agree that Bach worked out the dimensions superbly, and concisely, perhaps even with precise (pre-Christian) intent? Something to contemplate, for those who do not yet have all the answers.

Jean Laaninen wrote (August 9, 2008):
[To Ed Myskowski] Yes, the Psalms go back a long time, and Christianity cannot take credit for them. I was thinking of Bach in context, but during my years of study I got into Hebrew and Hebrew exegesis very minimally so I respect the origins, while thinking about Bach and his context of Lutheranism and his understanding of death and eternal life. I am aware that the advent of Christianity added to the meaning of many old scriptures--I don't want to sound defensive, I was just thinking about Bach's context.

Peter Smaill wrote (August 9, 2008):
[To Jean Laaninen] The rarity of the text application by Bach is twofold. BWV 112 is one of the ten "per omnes versus" Cantatas, which structure?was also the case with BWV 192 from this period, "Nun dancket alle Gott" (Rinkhart). So Bach appears to be completing gaps in the conception of the 1724/5 cycle, but possibly at this date has no regular collaborator as a librettist, and hence sets prearranged chorale texts.

Even more unusually, this is a Psalm (albeit paraphrased) in its entirety. The only time Bach sets a Psalm unaltered entirely is the very early BWV 196, the wedding Cantata "Der Herr denket an uns".

As Dürr points out relevant to the Christianising of the Psalm (23) by Wolfgang Meuslin in 1530:

"the reinterpretation of Psalm 23 to refer to Jesus is a commonplace of general Christian thought".

The subtle use of dance rythyms, vocal lines derived from the chorale, and the appropriate pastorale mood do indeed make it an immediately appealing work and further evidence of the skill with which Bach avoids monotony even in a set text with an underlying repetitive chorale theme.?I find the writing for horns a particular delight.

Douglas Cowling wrote (August 9, 2008):
Jean Laaninen wrote:
< Yes, the Psalms go back a long time, and Christianity cannot take credit for them. >
I'd like to see a historical example of any Christian commentator "taking credit" for the psalms. Both Jewish and Christian traditions have always asserted that the psalms were written by King David whose life is described in the Books of Kings. Modern biblical critics would suggest a more complex authorship than the popular attribution. For instance there are "new" psalms from the Qumran scrolls which are not part of the canonical
collection.

However, Bach was working in a centuries-old tradition which interpreted the psalms in a Christological context as antetypes to the Gospels. This tradtion can be found throughout the earliest strata of the New Testament (e.g. Paul's comparison of baptism to the passage through the Red Sea). Thus, Bach like all his contemporaries saw the "Lord" in the Psalm 23 as Christ the Good Shepherd (as recorded in the Gospel of John). Bach's cantatas are full of such standard orthodox typology.

The psalm was popular with Lutherans both as a death-bed devotion (the "valley of death") and a eucharistic text ("you spread a table before me").

Jean Laaninen wrote (August 9, 2008):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< ... written by King David whose life is described in the Books of Kings. Modern biblical critics would suggest a more complex authorship than the popular attribution. For instance there are "new" psalms from the Qumran scrolls which are not part of the canonical collection.
However, Bach was working in a centuries-old tradition which interpreted the psalms in a Christological context as antetypes to the Gospels. >
Thanks for adding these clarifications. Well, as they say, of course I knew that but it has been quite a number of years since I've thought deeply about the details...retirement and a range of interests contribute so I am glad you could expand on the context and I appreciated Peter's remarks, too. I just wanted to briefly let Ed know that I recognized the origins without getting specific. But of course you are deeply into the context where you are working in your life and that optimizes getting some clarity here.

Peter Smaill wrote (August 10, 2008):
[To Jean Laaninen] Before leaving BWV 112 it is perhaps worth reflecting on scholarship from the 1960's which took an interest in the five so-called "Hirten-Kantataen" ("Shepherd Cantatas") of which this is one; and all of which incline to picture-building with pastoral music.

They are, taking generally inspiration from John 10: 12-26: (for Misericordia Domini, 2nd Sunday after Easter): BWV 104 ("Du Hirte, Israel, hoere"); BWV 112 ("Der Herr ist mein getreuer Hirte"); and BWV 85 ("Ich bin ein Guter Hirt").

Additionally there is BWV 184 and BWV 175, "Erwuenschtes Freudenlicht", for the 3rd day of Pentecost, which was repeated in 1731; and "Er rufet seinen Schaefe mit Namen" for the same day.

Curiously the 16th Sunday after Trinity, always comprising "sterben-kantate", have not only beautiful settings in anticipation of death, but also all contain allusions to Man as if sheep in the pastures of paradise.

All this is set out in a footnote to "Die Bedeutung der alttestamentlichen Historien in Johann Sebastian Bachs Kantaten" by Helene Werthemann, published in 1960 and influenced by Arnold Schering. It shows that this imagery was remarkably frequent and, as in the Christmas Oratorio (BWV 248), gave scope for pastorale rythymns and orchestral colour, which opportunities were exploited by Bach in some of his most affecting works. Unlike many other Sundays the securing of this theological image is remarkably consistent and leads to the possibility that Bach very much wanted the excuse to write with pastoral affect, influencing the choice of libretto and even (as I contend for BWV 112), choosing the words precisely from a precomposed chorale.

Jean Laaninen wrote (August 10, 2008):
Peter Smaill wrote:
< Unlike many other Sundays the securing of this theological image is remarkably consistent and leads to the possibility that Bach very much wanted the excuse to write with pastoral affect, influencing the choice of libretto and even (as I contend for BWV 112), choosing the words precisely from a precomposed chorale. >
This is an insightful observation Peter. Thank you for taking the time to present the idea.

William Hoffman wrote (August 10, 2008):
BWV 112: Pastoral

Thank you Peter for your insights into the Shepherd cantatas. I am currently working on a paper, "Bach's dramatic music," for the later discussion involving Cantatas BWV 213-215, which comprise a large portion of the lyric parodied music in the Christmas Oratorio.

I am amazed at the depth of expression that Bach put into the whole genre of dramatic (mostly secular) music, particularly the Koethen serenades (including BWV 184a) and the Leipzig Drammi per musica. We are only beginning to discover this long-neglected and rewarding topic. I am also amazed at how Bach blends so-called sacred and secular elements, including the parodies from secular to sacred and the use of dance styles. In particular, the shepherd theme, both in the allegorical and spiritual realms (and they do overlap) was a powerful creative force for Bach. There is a literary and musical lode to be mined. And it all started with that amazing birthday Hunting Cantata, BWV 208, in 1713, with its shepherd and pastorale influences, when Bach hit his stride, composing mature, new-style vocal music. It comes full circle in 1742 with a textual revision (BWV 208a) for the Nameday of August III. Bach, the calculating and well-ordered composer. And what an amazing world!

 

Continue on Part 3

Cantata BWV 112: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

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Last update: ýSeptember 27, 2011 ý08:11:04