Cantata BWV 127Herr Jesu Christ, wahr' Mensch und Gott
Discussions - Part 1
Discussions in the Week of February 25, 2001
Aryeh Oron wrote (February 25, 2001):
This is the week of Cantata BWV 127 according to Andrew Oliver's suggestion. The event to which it was composed, Quinquagesima Sunday, ushers in the Passion weeks. In Bach's days in Leipzig it was followed by 40 days of 'silent period', which ended up at the Good Friday Vespers, when the Passion was played. In that sense, in its subject, its components (Evangelist-type recitative (No.2) and aria for Jesus (No.4)), as well as in the solemn atmosphere, this cantata may be seen as a prelude to the great Passions. And regarding the oeuvre of the cantatas, this one, although not as familiar as some of the others, should belong to the best crop. As a background I shall quote from W. Murray Young's book - 'The Cantatas of J.S. Bach - An Analytical Guide':
"This chorale cantata for Quinquagesima Sunday is based on Paul Eber's hymn entirely. Verses 1st and 8th are verbally retained for the opening chorus and for the final chorale; the other intervening stanzas are paraphrazed for the recitatives and the arias. The librettist is unknown; possibly Picander could have arranged the text that Bach used. The text has only one reference to the Gospel for that Sunday, Luke 18: 31-43, the opening chorus alluding to the 32nd verse. In this magnificent and outstanding work, Bach has achieved his aim of composing a perfect chorale cantata, which is the first of many more to come, though not all will be with this high calibre. The soli are STB, with four-part chorus. The orchestra has a trumpet, an oboe, two flutes, two violins, a viola and continuo."
During last week I have been listening to 5 complete recordings of BWV 127 of the 6 I am aware of existing and also to two recordings of individual movements from this cantata. See: Cantata BWV 127 - Recordings.
(1) Karl Richter (1958)
This is one of the few Bach cantata recordings that Karl Richter had done before he launched his long-term engagement with Archiv Produktion in the late 1950's.
(2) Wolfgang Gönnenwein (Mid 1960s?)
 Helmuth Rilling (1980)
(4) Gustav Leonhardt (1982)
(5) Hermann Max (1990)
As a mere coincidence I bought SMP, SJP and Mass in B minor about two weeks ago, all of them conducted by Hermann Max and recorded in during the first half of the 1990's for capriccio. After listening to all three recordings, I think that his are among the fastest among the recordings of each work, including the modern ones. Max prefers to adopt quick tempi, alert approach, toothed rhythms and clear textures. He has very good choir named 'Rheinische Kantorei', which does not have any problem to follow his lines even in the break-neck passages. It seems that Max has no interest in the gentle, tender and touching aspects of the works. This approach can work sometimes, because it is very refreshing being so different from the others, but most of the time I find it frustrating. AFAIK, BWV 127 is Max's only Bach cantata recording, and it had been done a short while before he started his recordings of Bach's Great Vocal Works. Why has Max choose especially this cantata I do not know. It is included in a 2-CD set, named 'Passions-Pasticcio', in which all the other works are not by Bach, but by his contemporaries, such as Telemann, Graun, Altnikol and Kuhnau. Anyhow, the recording of cantata BWV 127 bears the same characteristics of Max's other Bach's recordings. You can find a list of all Max's recordings of Bach's vocal works in the page: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Performers/Max.htm,
and a short biography of him in the page: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Bio/Max-Hermann.htm.
 Pieter Jan Leusink (2000)
I do not have this recording yet.
Recordings of Individual Movements
[M-4] Bach Aria Group with Benita Valente (soprano) (1979; aria for soprano (Mvt. 3) only)
[M-6] Kathy Geisler (computers) (1992; aria for soprano (Mvt. 3) only, arranged for computers)
Review of the recordings
Mvt. 1. Chorus
"This chorale fantasia presents a picture of Christ's humiliation before His crucifixion. A rhythm of solemnity in the accompanying strings and woodwinds dominates throughout the movement. A tone of profound respect for the Lord in His suffering remind the listener of similar passages in Bach's passions."
(1) Richter opens this movement with the expected dignity and grandeur. There is indeed 'profound respect' here but I could not hear the sadness. It is played very slow, maybe too slow, up to loosing its internal flow. An old-fashioned rendition, no doubt. Gönnenwein's recording is apparently also old-fashioned, but actually it is something completely different. His forces are somewhat smaller and the internal balance between all the components is beautifully kept. His has all the positive aspects of Richter's rendition, but he also conveys agony and pain, making this movement indeed magnificent.
(2) Gönnenwein opens the first chorus gently and the atmosphere he creates by the woodwinds is captivating. The entry of the choir seems to grow naturally out of the instrumental line. Everything is so tastily balanced and nothing is exaggerated. This rendition only apparently old-fashioned, because its approach is very modern (excluding the instruments, which are not HIP), and reminds me what Herreweghe could have done with this cantata.
(3) The trumpet (always a strong component in Rilling's cantata renditions) glows, the choir praises the glory of God, and the overall atmosphere is festive. I miss some sadness and participating in the sufferings, but nevertheless it is convincingly done. Much more persuasive than Richter is. I also find that the playing of the woodwinds is too prominent.
(4) The instrumental opening of Leonhardt's recording brings you immediately into the 'rhythm of solemnity in the accompanying strings and woodwinds' and this indeed 'dominates throughout the movement'. And the singing of the combined choir is splendid and fits in the atmosphere set by the orchestra. There is humility and dignity to this rendering, which stems from deep respect for the Lord.
(5) Lucidity and chamber-like atmosphere characterizes Max's rendering of this cantata. But there is no grandeur here, nor solemnity or sadness or agony. It is flowing lightly and quickly ahead.
Mvt. 3. Aria for Soprano
"The woodwinds and the strings, pizzicato illustrate the sadness of this death-scene with a tear-motif. The quiet serenity of he passing is marked by the plucked strings and by staccato quavers of the flutes and oboes, all in imitation of tolling bells. The text mentions that she is unafraid, although the melody seems to indicate the reverse. It is a superlative aria, nevertheless, for the realistic imagery and personal emotion."
(1) The singing of Antonia Fahberg (with Richter) is very dramatic, but her vibrato is too much felt, up to being disturbing. The playing of the accompaniment is not given the right weight (considerations of recording?) and therefore the whole performance is getting out of focus. Their concealed and insensitive playing of the instruments do not reflect what happens in the soul the singer.
(2) The charm of the accompaniment supplies perfect ground for the singing of Herrard Wehrung (with Gönnenwein). She holds easily the long lines and her sensitive singing, clear articulation, and innocent delivery, and even the slight vibrato in her voice makes this an exemplary and fascinating rendition. I believe that hearing this performance, every human heart will have a tear at the corner of his eye.
(3) Comparing with Gönnenwein, Rilling's accompaniment of this aria sounds somewhat sharp. But Augér is definitely in the same class with Wehrung, and I also see many similarities between the approaches of these two fine ladies. Augér is a little bit more expressive, but Wehrung touches my heart more deeply.
(4) It seems that Leonhardt had read the description above before he made his recording, or vice-versa, because they are reflected very well in each other. I find that Sebastian Hennig, the boy soprano, is not only well equipped technically, but also that he lacks nothing in his expressive abilities. Such touching singing from a boy is rare, and the slight hesitation in his voice in certain points suits very well the slight fear hinted in the description above.
(5) The light and bell-like voice of Martina Lins suits very well Max's approach. I heard the tolling bells, but not the mixed feelings in the singer's heart. Her charming voice interweaves perfectly with the accompaniment. I have the feeling that she has stronger expressive abilities, but that she was guided by the conductor to keep them hidden.
[M-4] In the Bach Aria Group recording of this aria the flutes are eliminated and the aria becomes a duet for oboe and soprano. This rendition has two other faults - the vibrato in the singing of the soprano is too much felt and there is no internal tension, needed in every bach performance, but especially here, where the singer has mixed feelings about the situation.
[M-6] Kathy Geisler's rendition is an oddity and I doubt if anybody will be attracted to this music through it. The treatment she gives to the music lacks any beauty or sensitivity. It is certainly no Walter/Wendy Carlos.
Mvt. 4. Recitative and aria for Bass
"Bach's past experiments with inserting the chorale tune into a recitative finally succeed perfectly in this amazing combination. There are seven different tempi in the music, all depicting the Judgement Day. The trumpet adds colourful peals throughout, adding to the awesome scene suggested by the quavering strings. Four lines are Biblical quotations, unrelated to the Gospel of the day, but pertaining to the Last Day.
The bass sings the recitative section first, then switching dramatically into the role of Christ for his aria part. The hymn-tune is apparent more in the recitative than in the aria section. The recitative vividly describes the scene when the world will be destroyed when the trumpets sound. He imagines himself standing before God's judgement seat with Jesus beside him as advocate. Then, without pause, he begins his dramatic monologue with himself in the role of Jesus".
(1) Kieth Engen (with Richter) has a deep, impressive and authoritative kind of voice. But it lacks flexibility and it seems that he has problems to cope with the many turns of this movement, from slow to fast, from tenderness to forcefulness.
(2) Jakob Stämpfli is perfect for the demanding task, both technically and emotionally. Gönnenwein also supplies him perfect accompaniment, soft and sensitive when needed, glowing and firm when needed, but never obtrusive.
(3) Schöne is definitely a dramatic singer, but his approach is somewhat stiff. He knows how to be bold when needed, but in the softer passages he has some difficulties.
(4) I do not recall such dramatic singing from Max van Egmond (with Leonhardt) previously. Here he excels, changing his colour of voice according to the many turns of the recitative and aria, changing his approach from the very soft to the utmost authoritative and bold. The tension between his singing and the outbursts of the trumpet (Tromba da caccia) is holding continuously our attention.
(5) The accompaniment rather than the bass singer dominate this movement in Max's rendition. His voice is pleasant but light and does not have the inner depth needed for good performance of this complicated movement. Both the voice and the instruments are beautiful, but do not convey any dramatic substance.
Among the older generation Gönnenwein (2).
Among the modern (HIP) recordings - Leonhardt (4) (but I have not heard Leusink's  yet).
Richter (1) proves that a rendition of a Bach Cantata can be too slow and Max (5) proves that it can be too fast. The truth is lying somewhere in these two extremes.
And as always, I would like to hear other opinions, regarding the above mentioned performances, or other recordings.
Leo Ditvoorst wrote (February 26, 2001):
 The vocal soloists in Leusink's recording of BWV 127 are:
recitativo, tenor, Nico van der Meel.
aria, soprano, Ruth Holton
recitativo and aria, bas, Bas Ramselaar.
Ruth Holton sings "Die Seele ruht in Jesu Händen" with much emotion but without any pathos. She uses more vibrato then usual but never at the wrong moments. The orchestra plays excellent and this results in a moving, splendid masterpiece.
Somehow 'Das Schallen der Posaunen' (for me) is a too big contrast with the soprano aria, Bas Ramselaar sings it rather rough. That fits with the text and the orchestra but it comes more or less as a shock.
Aryeh Oron wrote (February 27, 2001):
 A day after I had sent my review of Cantata BWV 127 to the group, skipping its recording by Pieter Jan Leusink, I got the complementary volumes of Bach Edition from Brilliant Classics. For this I have to thank Pieter Pannevis (from Holland) from our group, who took the trouble buying for me the missing volumes in his homeland and sending them to Israel. Earlier today Peter Bloemendaal from our group had sent the interesting biography of Pieter Jan Leusink and I have already edited it, converted it to HTML and put it on the New Archive Site. You can find it in the following address: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Bio/Leusink-Pieter-Jan.htm. Now, when all the background is given, it is time to dedicate couple of words to the recording of this cantata by Leusink.
Mvt. 1. Chorus
The opening instrumental prelude is charming as usual, but it is too light and lacks grandeur. This impression is intensified when the choir is breaking in. The singing of the choir and the playing of the orchestra are not integrated here. I could hear neither the solemnity, nor a hint for agony or reverence. Yes it is flowing, but the overall approach does not suit the mood of the cantata. From someone like Leusink, who has performed the Passions so many times (I have not had yet the time to listen to his first recording of SMP, which I received together with The Brilliant Classics volumes), it is expected to give more unified performance and more depth to this movement.
Mvt. 3. Aria for Soprano
The angelic and bell-like voice of Ruth Holton sounds so compatible with the ringing of the flutes and oboes. She adds almost unheard trembling to her voice, which expresses her fear. This is the best of the modern renditions of this aria. A performance to which I can listen endless times.
Mvt. 4. Recitative and aria for Bass
Bas Ramselaar is definitely dramatic, but not as sensitive to details, or varied in his interpretation and colours of voice as Egmond (with Leonhardt) is. The playing of the trumpet is complementary rather than contrasting the singing and therefore some of the tension of this movement is lost.
Conclusion - I still find Leonhardt (4) as the best of the modern (HIP) recordings of this cantata.
Andrew Oliver wrote (February 28, 2001):
This is a lovely cantata. I did not know it before this week (apart from listening to the opening chorus only when I drew up the present list for discussion), but it has quickly joined my list of favourite cantatas. Perhaps it is not amongst my top-rated choices, but it is certainly in the 'second division', so to speak.
As with last week's, I have the Brilliant Classics edition (Leusink) , and the Teldec one, this time directed by Leonhardt (4). In comparing the two, I have mixed feelings, mainly due to the difference in interpretative approach.
To start with, I prefer Leondardt's more stately, more elegant orchestral opening, but I really do not like the disjointed, almost staccato sound which he asks his choir to produce. The early sections of the chorus are not too bad, but it gets worse as it proceeds. Certainly, polyphonic singing often calls for slight detachment between notes, particularly repeated notes, for the sake of clarity, but Leonhardt extends this to the homophonic sections as well. Not only does he detach the notes, but he also sometimes adds a stress to them as well, making them sound almost sforzando. Off course, sometimes this is desirable, or necessary, but I would prefer it to be not so frequent.
The tenor recitative is well sung in both recordings, but I particularly like the sensitive performance of Nico van der Meel.(Leusink) .
The soprano aria is the jewel in the crown for me. Bach excelled himself here. Actually, I think of it as not so much a solo as a duet between soprano and oboe. In addition, we have three layers of 'Sterbeglocken': the pizzicato basses throughout, reminding us that the earth is ever ready to receive our bodies; the (intentionally) staccato, almost chiming, sound of the recorders illustrates to me that, as far as those who have already been laid in the grave are concerned, the world, solar system, and
universe continues to run on like clockwork above their bodies; and then we have the pizzicato violin and viola in the middle section around the word 'Sterbeglocken', reminding us that death is not only universal, it also applies to us personally. Sebastian Hennig, Leonhardt's boy soprano, does an excellent job here. Nevertheless, I prefer Ruth Holton with Leusink .
The bass recitative and aria (combined) seems unusual and remarkable to me. Leusink's recording is almost identical in length with Leonhardt's, but there the similarity ends. For this number, I much prefer Leonhardt's interpretation. This is not a criticism of Bas Ramselaar's singing; I like his voice, and he interprets the text well, as far as he is allowed to. The problem is that Leusink does not allow very much difference of approach between the recitative sections and the aria sections, whereas Leonhardt supports Max van Egmond by allowing him a dramatic contrast in tempo, making this recording exciting to listen to, whereas Leusink's is, in comparison, not uninteresting, but rather tame.
In the final chorale, Leonhardt returns to his 'staccato choir voices' method of interpretation. I don't like it, but I do like Leusink's.
Of course, this is only my own opinion. Others have every right to disagree. One thing is sure - any defects in the recordings are not the fault of the composer.
Marie Jensen wrote (February 28, 2001):
Yes this cantata is indeed a prelude to the passions. It also tells us, that after Jesus has suffered death, we don't have to be afraid of it, if we stick to Him. A big contrast is built up between the tenor recitativo, where physical death is described and the following soprano aria telling about deaths spiritual aspects.
I hear the aria as a contrast between eternity and time or/and between rest and suffering. But it is not a battle. Rest / eternity is the center. The aria is calm and wonderful as only a Bach death aria can be.
The eternity part is the oboe with its cantabile - unfolding beautiful arabesques as the hands of Jesus under the soul: the soprano voice. Its contrast: time - is heard as all the staccatos surrounding it: clock imitations, bells (pizzicato). Recorders often symbolising death are of course involved here.
So in this case a boy soprano singing so well as Hennig (the Leonhardt version) (4) is a not a bad idea: The soul as a fragile young bird resting in a safe hand. (Normally I am certainly not a boy soprano lover). Ruth Holton (Leusink)  does well too The accompagniment seems more as a whole in Leonhardts version. In Leusink's the staccato voices perhaps are too dominating. On the other hand- you are able to hear the contrasts .
It is a wonderful cantata (of course - it is Bach!).
All from me this time - Let others review the rest! And again, thank you for a warm welcome back to our list.
Harry J. Steinman wrote (March 1, 2001):
I have two versions of this cantata: Rilling's (3) and Leusink's . I prefer the opening chorus in the Rilling version, for slightly differet reasons to those expressed by Aryeh. I don't mind the lightness, lack of grandeur when taken in the context of the libretto because I don't understand German. But the recording sounds "shallow" or "insubstantive" to me. The voices sound thin. Could this have been a result of the placement of the microphones??
I prefer Leusink's tenor, Nico van der Meel and agree with Andrew Oliver about the tenor recitative. I prefer Ruth Holton's singing. A hint of vibrato, well-controlled, that adds drama in a way that is not overpowering, which is what I find with Augér in Rilling. I prefer Leusink's accompaniment in the soprano aria - up to a point. The initial lightness in Leusink's version works for me (in a way that it doesn't in the opening chorus), a sharpness to the basso continuo. But when the violins and viola join in, pizzacato, Rilling seems to sound better to me, fuller.
Rilling's bass, Phillipe Huttenlocher, has a crispness that I find attractive. Rilling's instrumentation is more dramatic, compelling.
For me, the chorus is a toss up. Maybe I give a nod to Leusink. A tiny bit faster, crisper, lighter.
Overall, I prefer the Leusink except for the opening chorus.
Well, 'see' ya all next week!
Johannes Rinke wrote (March 2, 2001):
Perhaps this cantata is the highlight of Bach's chorale-cantatas. In the first movement he does not only quote the chorale "Herr Jesu Christ, wahr Mensch und Gott" but also (in the instruments) "Christe, du Lamm Gottes" and "O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden" in the basso continuo. The first of these two can also be found in the Estomihi-cantata BWV 23/2,4, and the latter is quoted in BWV 159,2 (also for Estomihi).
A very good informed book concerning the theological background of all Estomihi-cantatas (BWV 22, BWV 23, BWV 127 and BWV 159) is the work of Lothar and Renate Steiger, "Sehet! Wir gehn hinauf gen Jerusalem", Göttingen 1992.
And last, but not least: Can somebody give me information if the recording of BWV 127 in the interpretation of Hermann Max (5) is still available? Thank you!
Continue of discussion from: Symbolism [General Topics]
Thomas Braatz wrote (November 21, 2004):
To help in setting the record straight about Bach's 'primary focus' [Brad Lehman's overly exaggerated phrase for what he considers is really important in coming to terms with Bach's cantatas], I have, with Aryeh Oron's kind and generous help in setting this up on his site, placed the full score for an opening mvt. to a Bach cantata (BWV 127) that had already been discussed before I became a member of the list. In the back of my mind, I knew that this 1st mvt. Was outstanding, but not until recently, when the discussion here turned to BWV 127/1 (variant), a transposed copy of the same mvt. by Altnickol, was my attention turned more directly to this marvelous composition which had suffered because of the transposition (particularly the 'Oktav-Knickung' ["breaking upwards of the musical line to the higher octave," in this instance.]) I listened to this mvt. A number of times following with the score, which I had done on previous occasions a few years ago, but this time I realized that I was finding more aspects of interest than ever before. I read quickly through all the commentaries I could find, but also kept finding other esoteric, symbolic aspects and structural elements on my own. All of this has reaffirmed my belief that a harmonic analysis with its emphasis on keys, tonic and dominant, types of cadences used, and chordal progressions, behind which may lurk any number of different temperaments with a slight emphasis in this or that direction, all of the preceding linked to the text in some way, can only provide one layer of understanding out of many others that are equally valid or even more important such as the untexted use of chorales, Bach's variation technique, and, of course, the esoteric, iconic symbolism, some of it "Augen-Musik" ['eye'-music] contained in these cantata mvts.
I have not yet finished my treatment of this mvt. as I still wish to provide a description and summary of the elements. Just last night I discovered a possible solution/explanation for the opening 'wave' motif (m. 1) that is played first by the recorders: Imagine the recorders simply playing half-notes along with the upper strings, but Bach now decides to embellish these otherwise rather uninteresting, stationary notes by supplying the written-out embellishment/ornament rather than simply placing a trill above each half-note and leaving it to the recorders to find some suitable variation for a trill on a long note. The vacillation between the main note and the note above resembles very much the 'ribattuta' which can be used on a 'tenuta' long note. "Ribattuta" is a trill that begins slowly and accelerates toward the conclusion; however in Mattheson's example ["Der vollkommene Capellmeister" Hamburg, 1739, p. 118 paragraphs 47 and 48] this acceleration is not completely gradual - it changes (doubles) its speed on the beat, which is just what Bach does with it here.
I hope eventually to supply the additional commentaries (in a number of instances in translation from the German) from other sources that I have consulted.
Another aspect that I have not covered is the musical interpretation as found in the various recordings of this mvt. Since some recordings are available to be heard via the internet without buying them, some listeners, following the score, should be able to detect the various types of articulation chosen by the conductors. Naturally, I have my own opinions on which ones are the most efficacious in producing Bach's intended effect upon his audience (the congregation), but I do not want to share them at this time. For this reason I hope that a few listeners will take the time to examine the score, listen to the music, and then offer their own opinions on which recordings they like most and why.
For obvious reasons concerning copyright laws, the score is to be used for study purposes only.
Additional comments, other suggestions, corrections, or criticisms are welcome.
scroll down to BWV 127, read first about the chorale melody and text and the other untexted chorales; then, when my running commentary begins open any of the other windows with the complete score to see and understand better just what I am referring to at certain points in my discussion.
Hopefully it will be possible for some of the readers to follow the score while listening to the opening mvt. of what Arnold Schering called the greatest of all of Bach's cantatas.
Enjoy the density of compositional material and the profundity of Bach's glorious inspiration which can not be adequately fathomed by the 'scientific method' alone.
Bradley Lehman wrote (November 21, 2004):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< To help in setting the record straight about Bach's 'primary focus' [Brad Lehman's overly exaggerated phrase for what he considers is really important in coming to terms with Bach's cantatas], >
Well, your perception here is a straw-man exaggeration of my position; it doesn't even resemble what I have in mind, or what I've said.
To clarify: my point recently was merely that there are lots of musical reasons to put a sharp before a note (and especially in the bass line), having nothing to do one way or another with the word "Kreuz" falling anywhere near this. And a sub-part of my point was that the sound of sharps is more important than any games on the page are; Bach's primary medium of expression is sound, not esoteric little games for inventive treasure hunters to amuse themselves to no end, 250 years after his death. A sharp intruding into the music signals that a modulation is happening.
But, continue, because this gets more interesting....
< I have, with Aryeh Oron's kind and generous help in setting this up on his site, placed the full score for an opening mvt. to a Bach cantata (BWV 127) (...)
Link: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Scores/IndexScores3.htm >
< I read quickly through all the commentaries I could find, but also kept finding other esoteric, symbolic aspects and structural elements on my own. >
Good for you.
But the alleged "Vom Himmel hoch" connections here are, IMO, comically far off the mark. You can't just pick randomly spaced notes (especially the ones at the ends of weak beats!) out of a melodic line and claim that they're a shadow of some other melody, especially when the pattern of half and whole steps you've fashioned is not the same as the melody you're trying to force!
< All of this has reaffirmed my belief that a harmonic analysis with its emphasis on keys, tonic and dominant, types of cadences used, and chordal progressions, behind which may lurk any number of different temperaments >
Care to give us some examples of these temperaments that were in use in Leipzig in 1725? And, anything in the construction of wind and stringed instruments that might be relevant in that regard?
Furthermore, you have not provided any harmonic analysis; so, how are we to take your remark? How do we know that you can even do any level of harmonic analysis, and aren't merely waving your hand here to assert that it's not important in your understanding of the music?
< with a slight emphasis in this or that direction, all of the preceding linked to the text in some way, can only provide one layer of understanding out of many others that are equally valid or even more important such as the untexted use of chorales, Bach's variation technique, and, of course, the esoteric, iconic symbolism, some of it "Augen-Musik" ['eye'-music] contained in these cantata mvts.
I have not yet finished my treatment of this mvt. as I still wish to provide a description and summary of the elements. >
Oh, I'm sure you'll find more. You're quite creative and diligent. You can't prove, however, that Bach consciously and intentionally put all that intriguing #@%&@# there for you to find! All you're doing here is taking a sufficiently large mass of data, and extrapolating onto it any convenient patterns that you believe you see, from a position whyou don't clearly understand the normal melodic/harmonic behaviors of tonal music.
More than half the stuff you're pointing out here (in your intro and the marked-up pages of the score) is just basic compositional craftsmanship, anyway: the procedure by which Bach fashioned movements of music, and normal matters of orchestration (your remarks of colla parte, and whatnot). It goes back to procedures in chorale preludes by other people before Bach's birth, too: using tiny fragments of chorale melodies as Vorimitation, treated contrapuntally. So what? Study the organ and choral music of 17th century Germans and Austrians, especially in music based on chorales; you'll see these same techniques. Study the early 17th and late 16th century madrigalists, and back into Palestrina et al; once again you'll see similar contrapuntal and modulatory techniques. Not to take anything away from Bach's achievement here, but this is all pretty conventional and traditional stuff which you're lauding as "Augenmusik" to stroke your personal treasure-hunting instincts.
Things like your point, "The 3-in-One Trinity Motif, Note that the long note is held longer than the total of the shorter ones" (bar 30)....where's your proof that this is any sort of "Trinity" motif at all, and not just a composer knowing how to write the same note four times in succession? Isn't this the type of thing where Freud's remark, "sometimes a cigar is just a cigar", would hold?
A further example is your commentary:
>>"When the word 'Kreuz' ['cross'] is reached in the cantus firmus an interesting phenomenon takes place: the Bb is raised to B natural [this may or may not already have been part of Eber's notation of the chorale melody he used] which symbolizes the raising of the Christ's cross, but where is the actual cross ["Kreuz" may also mean the sharp sign in German]? Bach inserted it directly before this note as close as he could in order to alert the musicians (2nd violin and altos) with this instance of 'Augen-Musik' ['eye'-music = music which can only be appreciated by the players involved and the readers of the complete score.] In order to accomplish this, Bach had break away from the usual 'real' image of the main motif to a 'tonal' one by not having the fifth note of the motif drop down by a third as it does in the choral, but rather dropping down by only a full tone/step from which he then moves upward again."<<
That's a pretty elaborate rationalization by you, there. Where's your proof that your little game with the word "Kreuz" (compelling a sharp sign somewhere in the music) is really Bach's musical reason for choosing a tonal rather than a real answer there? Couldn't there be other more compelling musical possibilities than that? In bars 34-35, where you've made such a big mountain out of this particular molehill, I see it quite differently. He's proceeding from F major to C major by way of C major's dominant, G major. To create that momentary bit of G major he has to bring in F# somewhere, which is the note that C/F and G majors do not have in common, to signal the ear that a modulation is happening. (This is absolutely garden-variety practice here, as to the behavior of tonal music.) The chorale melody itself is modulating from F to C major in this phrase anyway, due to the B natural (again, a note outside the scale of F but in C....all very normal stuff, going back to the mutations of hexachords and other business in very old music theory). So, Bach is harmonizing this modulation from F to C major by having his accompaniment come into C major strongly from its own dominant, G.
To me, the much more interesting notes of this particular passage are the Db and Ab in bar 36ff, not the F# "Kreuz" which has so amused you in bar 34! They're both suggesting F minor, of which C major is the dominant.
All of which has not a frippin' thing to do with "Augenmusik", but with the normal behavior of modulations within tonal music!
So, the 2nd violin players are REALLY supposed to have their souls stroked at that fleeting moment by the realization that they're playing an F# and somebody is singing the word "Kreuz" a split-second later? That private little moment that only they and any readers of the full score would get, if indeed the point is there to be gotten? Really? In what universe, outside the brain of Mr Thomas Braatz who invented such a connection/interpretation?
< The vacillation between the main note and the note above resembles very much the 'ribattuta' which can be used on a 'tenuta' long note. "Ribattuta" is a trill that begins slowly and accelerates toward the conclusion; however in Mattheson's example ["Der vollkommene Capellmeister" Hamburg, 1739, p. 118 paragraphs 47 and 48] this acceleration is not completely gradual it changes (doubles) its speed on the beat, which is just what Bach does with it here. >
If you'd ever studied performance practice seriously, you'd know that the ribattuta (from approximately Monteverdi and Frescobaldi forward) is not supposed to have its speed doubled exactly at each beat, but the acceleration is supposed to be gradual. It's an old convention of notation, working with only a finite set of moveable-type blocks. What looks like discrete changes on the page is really supposed to be a smooth acceleration in the sound, in the overall shape of the thing.
Furthermore, CPE Bach (about 28 years after the composition of this cantata) gives an example of this ornament in his chapter on embellishment, and points out in the text that it is a gradual acceleration.
So, in standard practice, it's a smoothly accelerating ornament for more than a century before Bach, and it's still a smoothly accelerating ornament in the teaching by his son, after his death. Therefore, it's likely that that's what Bach's notation here means, too: the character of a ribattuta, the smooth acceleration not tied to any beats in particular. That is, Thomas Braatz' personal lack of background in performance practice is not sufficient reason to conclude that the passage should be played with absolutely literal rhythmic interpretation, as he sees it on the page!
< I hope eventually to supply the additional commentaries (in a number of instances in translation from the German) from other sources that I have consulted. >
Yes, that would help, to see where all this has been assembled from.
< Another aspect that I have not covered is the musical interpretation as found in the various recordings of this mvt. Since some recordings are available to be heard via the internet without buying them, some listeners, following the score, should be able to detect the various types of articulation chosen by the conductors. Naturally, I have my own opinions on which ones are the most efficacious in producing Bach's intended effect upon his audience (the congregation), >
That "intended effect" being completely known to you, somehow, of course.......
< but I do not want to share them at this time.
Additional comments, other suggestions, corrections, or criticisms are welcome. >
My suggestion is to go enroll in music school, studying 16th and 17th century music, to build for yourself a background as to what is normal compositional practice in this type of music. In that perspective, you'll come to appreciate a lot more composers, and you'll see where Bach was coming from. It might even change your mind somewhat about his "intentions", and your arrogant surety thereof!
< Enjoy the density of compositional material and the profundity of Bach's glorious inspiration which can not be adequately fathomed by the 'scientific method' alone. >
Given that you don't demonstrably understand what the "scientific method" is, as to musical analysis, this comment by you is superfluous. It would seem that a normal background in harmony, counterpoint, and composition would tell you a lot more about "the profundity of Bach's glorious inspiration" than a bunch of esoteric guesswork could do, where you've disdained these more normal methods of study!
You've come up with pages upon pages of stuff that might or might nobe significant of anything, other than your own creativity in forcing meaning upon things that are pretty normal (contrapuntal and harmonic techniques). Well, you've put a lot of treasure-hunting work into it; fine. But you've failed to prove that Bach had any of this deliberately in mind, or that it has anything to do one way or another with proper performance practices to perform this piece. Your creativity is not in question. Neither is Bach's brilliance in his handling of tonal music, and this piece in particular. But the connection between those two things is in question, as to the way you've esotericized things that are perfectly normal (for Bach), and are forcing interpretations (your beloved "Augenmusik") that really can't be proven one way or another. Bach could have been totally instinctive and intuitive about all this, putting together his phrases in ways that his talents and experience indicated to him would work well. It might have NOTHING TO DO WHATSOEVER with half the stuff you've pointed out in your analysis, where your broader point is obviously to laud your own creative esotericism above the value of academic study.
If you're interested to see a more scientific analysis of Bach's music, its inventiveness and structure, I recommend the excellent book Bach and the Patterns of Invention by Laurence Dreyfus.
Aryeh Oron wrote (November 21, 2004):
BWV 127 Opening Chorus - Music Examples
To complement Thomas Braatz' article and score analysis of the opening chorus from Cantata BWV 127, I have uploaded music examples from 6 recordings (Richter 1 , Rilling , Max , Leusink , Koopman , and Richter 2 [M-3]).
You can also listen to a complete recording of this cantata (Leonhardt ) through David Zale website.
You are also invited to write your impressions of the seven renditions of the opening chorus.
Thomas Braatz wrote (November 22, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
>>And a sub-part of my point was that the sound of sharps is more important than any games on the page are; Bach's primary medium of expression is sound, not esoteric little games for inventive treasure hunters to amuse themselves to no end, 250 years after his death.<<
Bach's 'primary medium of expression is sound' which he neglected to codify precisely in terms of temperament so that everyone then and now would know precisely what he had in mind. Something is rather incongruent or amiss about this notion of Bach's 'primary focus' in his music.
>>Good for you.<<
Somewhat patronizing, this comment seems to be, but unjustly so because you demonstrate in your comments some large gaps in knowledge which you have either forgotten or perhaps it wasn't taught properly in your studies:
>>But the alleged "Vom Himmel hoch" connections here are, IMO, comically far off the mark. You can't just pick randomly spaced notes (especially the ones at the ends of weak beats!) out of a melodic line and claim that they're a shadow of some other melody, especially when the pattern of half and whole steps you've fashioned is not the same as the melody you'retrying to force!<<
Look again carefully, the first instance in m. 1 was a 'false' start but still retains the shape of the musical line (this is like a 'tonal' instead of a 'real' image of the subject (as in Bach's fugues), but in m. 3 it is correct. As far as 'randomly spaced' notes and 'not on the beat,' you obviously have had little or no experience in observing Bach's variation practices when he varies a chorale melody line from mvt. to mvt. with a cantata. In German this is called "Umspielung," ['an elborate playing around a given theme or melody'] a term which you probably have never heard about. It is a form of 'decoration' [term used by Dreyfus] where a simple melody is undergoes a form of variation which is documented with numerous examples throughout the cantatas. It becomes the 'glue' which holds all the pieces (the various mvts.) together. Some of these variant, highly embellished "Umspielungen" have only been discovered over the past half century.
>>Care to give us some examples of these temperaments that were in use in Leipzig in 1725?<<
I feel very flattered that you should ask me this question, or are you still trying to establish your expertise in these matters for other readers in this forum?
>>Furthermore, you have not provided any harmonic analysis.<<
Didn't I already state that this is just one other level of commentary that might be helpful in providing an analysis of this mvt. and that it is not absolutely crucial to one's understanding of it?
>>Oh, I'm sure you'll find more.<<
This comment is really quite unnecessary.
>>You can't prove, however, that Bach consciously and intentionally put all that intriguing #@%&@# there for you to find!<<
I never contended this. You will find this type of criticism only in the narrow minds of those who can not recognize the limitations of 'scientific research.'
>>More than half the stuff you're pointing out here (in your intro and the marked-up pages of the score) is just basic compositional craftsmanship, anyway... Not to take anything away from Bach's achievement here, but this is all pretty conventional and traditional stuff which you're lauding as "Augenmusik" to stroke your personal treasure-hunting instincts.<<
When marking up the pages of the score, I was thinking more about helping those readers/listeners who are trying to come to an understanding of what possibly can be stated as interesting program notes for beginning listeners, but also to provide a way for them to begin 'seeing' things in the score which they would otherwise only hear, and that rather often, in an interpretation where some aspects of Bach's genius are lost.
>>Things like your point, "The 3-in-One Trinity Motif, Note that the long note is held longer than the total of the shorter ones" (bar 30)....where's your proof that this is any sort of "Trinity" motif at all, and not just a composer knowing how to write the same note four times in succession?<<
Again, as the 'scientist' that you purport to be, you will always seek some numerical or 'dead' logic to drive out any 'spiritual' or 'inspired' connection, and what you have left are only the pieces and the little numbers above the bc and the differences between 3 cents and 6 cents in temperaments. You neglect entirely the text and the context of the composition, too bad for you!
>>That's a pretty elaborate rationalization by you, there. Where's your proof that your little game with the word "Kreuz" (compelling a sharp sign somewhere in the music) is really Bach's musical reason for choosing a tonal rather than a real answer there?<<
I think this point was already covered above.
>>To me, the much more interesting notes of this particular passage are the Db and Ab in bar 36ff, not the F# "Kreuz" which has so amused you in bar 34! They're both suggesting F minor, of which C major is the dominant.<<
So? How does this relate to the text precisely?
>>All of which has not a frippin' thing to do with "Augenmusik", but with the normal behavior of modulations within tonal music!<<
I disagree, of course.
>>So, the 2nd violin players are REALLY supposed to have their souls stroked at that fleeting moment by the realization that they're playing an F# and somebody is singing the word "Kreuz" a split-second later? That private little moment that only they and any readers of the full score would get, if indeed the point is there to be gotten? Really?<<
There are so many instances of this in Bach's music that it can not be considered simply a fluke, except in the minds of very few who think that the scientific method and logic can disprove everything. I am not expecting you to believe it because I know how you are in this particular regard.
I think that only a simple 'knowing' glance from the performer to the composer/conductor would be all that we can expect from this. Likewise, Bach may have possibly thought: "Just as I have discovered some forms of 'eye-music' in studying other masters, I likewise will leave something of this sort behind for those conductors or composers who may study my score later on. I enjoy doing this because I love operating on several levels simultaneously."
>>If you'd ever studied performance practice seriously, you'd know that the ribattuta (from approximately Monteverdi and Frescobaldi forward) is not supposed to have its speed doubled exactly at each beat, but the acceleration is supposed to be gradual. It's an old convention of notation, working with only a finite set of moveable-type blocks. What looks like discrete changes on the page is really supposed to be a smooth acceleration in the sound, in the overall shape of the thing.<<
Yes,that may be, CPE's comment many years later notwithstanding, but Mattheson explains it as follows: the first few times the dotted rhythms are performed as printed, but then the acceleration increases evenly to the point of a fast trill. The dotted rhythms are exactly what we find in the 'wave' motif, but the final acceleration to a trill is not.
If I remember correctly, (I don't remember which recording or broadcast it was), I have heard a ribattuta performed in just the precise manner which Mattheson describes with the beginning beats of the long note being doubled in speed before going over into the final, gradual acceleration.
>>It would seem that a normal background in harmony, counterpoint, and composition would tell you a lot more about "the profundity of Bach's glorious inspiration"<<
Why not share another aspect/level of understanding this cantata mvt. and allow the list members and readers of this analysis to decide for themselves?
Continue on Part 2
Cantata BWV 127: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4