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Cantata BWV 129
Gelobet sei der Herr, mein Gott
Discussions - Part 1

Discussions in the Week of May 18, 2003

Peter Bloemendaal wrote (May 20, 2003):
BWV 129, an unexpected surprise

Although May 18th 2003 is Sunday Cantata according to the Lutheran Church Year (thank you, Jane), we are not discussing BWV 108 – “Es ist euch gut dass ich hingehe” or BWV 166 – “Who gehest du hin”, for the simple reason they have been previously discussed. Is there nothing more to say about them? Cantata BWV 166 was discussed in 2000, before Thomas Braatz joined the list and four members participated in the discussions, Aryeh Oron (twice), Marie Jensen (twice), Ryan Michero (twice) and Matthew Westphal. BWV 108 was discussed in 2001 by two main contributors, Aryeh Oron and Thomas Braatz, with some additional feedback by Andrew Oliver. (Mary, Ryan, Matthew, Andrew, where are are you?) Anyway, according to the order of discussion, this week’s cantata will be BWV 129 – “Gelobet sei der Herr, mein Gott” for Trinity Sunday, which will actually be June 15th this year. A bit confusing, but don’t you worry, feast your ears and listen to another of Bach’s gems.

The word “trinity” always reminds me of our Irish holiday some years ago, when we followed the trail of St Patrick, the patron Saint of Ireland. Legend has it that one day he was preaching in the open air, in vain trying to explain the incomprehensible doctrine of the Holy Trinity - Three Gods in One - to the Celtic tribe he had just converted. Out of the blue he got a heaven-sent inspiration. He stooped, plucking a three-leaf-clover - then called seamroy, today shamrock - from the grass growing at his feet and showed it to his congregation. Holding up the shamrock, he gave them a symbol for the Holy Cross and an illustration for the Three–in-One. A gift from heaven, indeed, because all people present knew that the shamrock had been a sacred plant of the now banished Druids.

More than 12 centuries later, Johann Olearius in his hymn “Gelobet sei der Herr, mein Gott”, the words of which Bach integrally put to music, explained the mystery of the Trinity by referring to the characteristic aspects of each of the three. God the Father being “Mein Gott, mein Licht, mein Leben, mein Schöpfer” (stanza 1; opening chorus), Jesus “Mein Gott, mein Heil, mein Leben, des Vaters liebster Sohn” (stanza 2; bass aria), the Holy Spirit “Mein Gott, mein Trost, mein Leben, des Vaters werter Geist” (stanza 3; soprano aria). Stanza 4 wraps up the notion of the Holy Trinity in an alto aria, resulting in a song of praise (stanza 5) by an exultant choir surrounded by the orchestra playing independently, yet in perfect harmony with the choir.

The choral cantata BWV 129 is different from most others, not only in that Bach used the literal text of the underlying hymn, but also that he did not include any recitatives. The first movement immediately brings us in a festive mood with the playfully dancing strings and woodwinds, interrupted by the striking ta-ta-tams of the trumpets and timpani. They sound as strong exclamations of joy in answer to the preceding ritornello by the other instruments. It is as if Bach from the start wanted to say to his congregation: “Get to your feet, brothers and sisters, let us make this a swinging service; today‘s hymn calls for no smooth-faced piety. Rejoice, God is our Light, our Salvation and our Comfort! Never mind the overt or silent grumblers. Let us praise the Lord with all our might.” After the “concertante” opening the choir joins in, singing cheerfully and expressively the first stanza of the hymn; and when they have done their song of praise, the little concerto goes on to a resounding final chord. I could not sit still, listening to my Leusink recording [6].

Though the text of the aria for bass, dedicated to Jesus the Son, links up to the first movement, the atmosphere and subsequently the orchestration appear very much in contrast to the initial exuberance. The singer is just accompanied by the basso continuo, giving the cellist and the organist an opportunity to excel in their subtle accompaniment. It is strongly reminiscent of SMP (BWV 244), where Christ invariably has very sober and dignified instrumental support, totally in accordance with the gravity and loneliness of his suffering on the cross. Only in the Holy Supper aria, Christ is given the loving company of the strings. I agree with Dürr, who rates the bass melody as highly expressive. Bach applied meaningful coloraturas on essential words and long held notes on Christ’s precious “Blut”. I love the way it is performed by Bas Ramselaar, Frank Wakelkamp on cello and Rien Voskuilen on the organ. Together they manage to give an introverted, yet quite convincing testimony of faith, love and gratitude.

The soprano aria opens with a beautiful trio for basso continuo, flauto traverso and solo violin, developing into a quartet of restrained, elevated mirth. You feel some melancholy, sadness and loneliness, caused by Jesus’ ascension into heaven. But then there is comfort, the promise made by Jesus not to desert his children by sending his Holy Ghost. The Spirit of Christ will provide good counsel, new strength and comfort. The repeated motive of the sixteenth notes make it a light-footed, airy movement, well-sung by Marjon Strijk. Yet, I would have preferred Ruth Holton’s more transparent voice here.

In the aria for alto, Bach opens with a lively ritornello obbligato for the then modern oboe da caccia with its deeper, warm-sounding timbre. When the alto falls in with the melody, a lovely duet develops in which the oboe finally has the last word, taking up the ritornello against the basso continuo. Great playing by Peter Frankenberg! And Sytse Buwalda … apparently you must love him or hate him. I’m a lover.

The final chorale makes the circle round. All joy and exultation again. Magnificent music with the brass instruments taking the lead and never letting go, while the woodwinds add to the splendour of this movement in between the choral lines. Beautiful! And I daresay the choir is not that bad either!

Aryeh Oron wrote (May 20, 2003):
BWV 129 - Introduction

The chosen work for this week (May 18, 2003) is the Chorale Cantata BWV 129 'Gelobet sei der Herr, mein Gott' (Praised be the Lord, my God) for Trinity Sunday.


The background below is quoted from the liner notes to MHS LP of Diethard Hellmann, originally issued by the German label Cantate [1]. The other cantata on this LP is BWV 119, discussed in the BCML only two weeks ago. The notes were written by Dieter Neumann and translated into English by Herman Adler.

See: Cantata BWV 129 - Commentary


The details of the recordings of this cantata can be found at the following page of the Bach Cantatas Website: Cantata BWV 129 - Recordings

This cantata has 5 complete recordings: Hellmann (Mid 1960's) [1], Richter (1974-1975) [2], Rilling (1982) [3], Leonhardt (1983) [4], and Leusink (2000) [6].

Additional Information

In the page of recordings mentioned above you can also find links to the original German text and various translations, three of which were contributed by members of the BCML: English (Francis Browne), French (Jean-Pierre Grivois), and Hebrew (Aryeh Oron). There are also links to the Score (Vocal & Piano version) and to commentaries: in English by Simon Crouch, and in Spanish by Julio Sánchez Reyes (CantatasDeBach).

Music Examples

Through the page of the Music Examples from this cantata: Cantata BWV 129 - Music Examples you can listen to two completrecording: Leonhardt [4] (at David Zale Website) and Leusink [6] (at Leo Ditvoorst Website):

Like Cantata BWV 4, this one is a true choral cantata, each verse of the hymn is set for chorus or aria, without recitatives. But while the more famous sister has at least 22 complete recordings, this week's cantata has less than a quarter of this number. Therefore, it is even more surprising to find out how attractive Cantata BWV 129 is, and how it grows on you with every repeated listening. This cantata is another evidence that one should not jump into conclusions regarding the merits of a Bach Cantata based on its number of recordings.

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

Francine Renee Hall wrote (May 21, 2003):
[To Peter Bloemendaal] What an informative and enjoyable read! You make learning painless; what more can one ask for?! Thanks!

Thomas Braatz wrote (May 23, 2003):
BWV 129 - Provenance:

See: Cantata BWV 129 - Provenance

Dürr’s Commentary:

See: Cantata BWV 129 - Commentary

Neil Halliday wrote (May 23, 2003):
Robinson refers to this cantata as "a concise and beautiful work", a description with which I heartily agree.

At this stage I am limited to Leonhardt's recording [4].

The speed of the opening chorus sounds right for this festive music (4/4 time signature; speed is approx. crotchet = 80).

The violins seem to be playing the writing for semi-quavers in permanent staccato, which, combined with their scratchy sound, I have trouble ignoring; but the timpani and trumpets are exciting; and when the choir enters with Bach's usual brilliant choral writing, this chorus offers much enjoyment.

There are no recitatives.

The 1st aria for bass and continuo is spoilt, for me, by more or less continuous staccato from the cello, possibly an example of Brad's dictum that too much of anything is boring. The organ continuo also needs more sparkle; by the end of the 3rd aria I was heartily sick of the organ's meaningless, quiet 'tootle'. The bass, Egmond, is pleasing to my ears, with a refined vibrato.

The 2nd aria, for soprano, tranverse flute, violin and continuo, is one of those immediately attractive movements, with a gentle wistful character resulting from the E minor tonality. Hennig's voice here is more pleasing than many 'mature' female singers of the old school who employ heavy vibrato.

The 3rd aria, for alto, and oboe d'amore and continuo is tuneful, and lilting, with its 6/8 metre. This aria in particular seems to want a more pungent piano or harpsichord timbre to realize the figured base in a way which would complement the lovely oboe writing; the organ is worse than useless - and I don't think a different registration is the answer, although I may be wrong on this point.

Jacobs has a pleasant voice which seems to match the timbre of the oboe d'amore.

The concluding chorale is a rousing, fully written out chorus with timpani and trumpets, reminding me of Handel's music for brass and timpani in the Water Music (or is it the Royal Fireworks Suite?)

Leo Ditvoorst wrote (May 24, 2003):
Neil Halliday wrote:
< At this stage I am limited to Leonhardt's recording [4]. >
you can listen at Leusink’s recording [6] at:

Neil Halliday wrote (May 24, 2003):
[To Leo Ditvoorst] Thanks, Leo, for this link to Leusink's recording [6].

Noteworthy is the clarity, strength and expressiveness of the cello in the 3rd aria, which renders redundant my remarks about the need for a harpsichord or piano, to realize the figured bass, as an alternative to the organ. Here the organ is almost completely hidden, but does add a pleasing colour, while not distracting the listener with quiet, detached, quasi-single pitched, 'tootling'.

This recording also captured a nice 'reverberation' or acoustic, in the hall or church in which it was made.

A guaranteed treat for all who listen.

Henri N. Levinspuhl wrote (May 24, 2003):
Not a single benefit in the world seems to be thanked without proper acknowledgment of its generous fountain. Even the most exalted exuberance of beauty and polyphony, and the strings of art are unable to uplift a soul self-satisfied with receiving without paying any importance at all to the giver. According to such a lustful fashion of life, a young man could insult his parents with conceited insolence, complaining that his base feelings and nefarious conduct were restrained, that he wanted freedom, probably to act despicably - for what is the leading shame of our generation but loving egoistically its aberrations, angrily accusing the uplifting as repression? A boyish temperament can forget what his parents gave him, forget himself always indebted to them till the point of disrespecting and sadden his close benefactors. But no one has been offended as God, and nevertheless none of his accusers have lived without receiving countless goods from him. A musician who injured his benevolent and honored patron, thereafter acting as if he did not exist, would justly be regarded unworthy of him. But gratitude, differently, is admission of the generous fountain of life. What indifference would hardly remember, even if reminded daily, love never forgets; what duty inspires externally, with its circumspection, abides inwardly in love. Thus, when the wind instruments start dancing with the strings, love is already in the chamber of thanksgiving - what blessing in a love fully grateful while singing Gelobet sei der Herr!

Thomas Braatz wrote (May 25, 2003):
BWV 129 - Commentaries: [Schweitzer, Whittaker, Schuhmacher (from the Harnoncourt/Leonhardt series), Personal observation]

See: Cantata BWV 129 - Commentary

Bart O’Brien wrote (May 25, 2003):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< [I do not think that any commentaries that I have come across point out a feature in the final (alto) aria that I know Bach used elsewhere: in ms. 89 - 91 only, Bach merges the otherwise separate 3 lines (oboe d’Tamore, alto voice, bc) in a unison passage (the bc follows exactly an octave lower) which unites the Three Members/Persons of the Trinity and makes them into One. Bach represents the unity of the Trinity musically the best way that he knows how: unison/parallel movement of the parts.] >
I don't want to start any acrimonious controversy. I'm just curious. Is there any evidence that Bach intended this?

Neil Halliday wrote (May 25, 2003):
Bart O'Brien asks : "Is there any evidence that Bach intended this?"
The text, where that unison passage occurs, reads:

"dess Name heilig heisst, Gott Vater, Gott der Sohn, und Gott der heilige Geist."

I think we can credit Tom with a noteworthy observation, apparently missed by other commentators.

Bart O’Brien wrote (May 25, 2003):
[To Neil Halliday] Yes, but what I meant was evidence other than the fact that the text and the music seem to go together rather well. For example, a letter from Bach to somebody saying that he intended it, or a scribble on his manuscript saying 'this bit is rather clever'.

Isn't there a logical difficulty here?

Suppose you say:
1, Bach was a brilliant composer. For example, he made the words and music about the trinity in BWV 129 fit together so neatly
2, Many learned scholars after devoting enormous energy over the last couple of centuries failed to notice that the words and music about the trinity fit together so neatly

Isn't there a contradiction between 1 and 2? How can it be brilliant of a composer to make the words and music about the trinity fit together in such a way that even learned scholars, let alone presumably most other listeners, don't notice?

I don't want to take anything away from Tom or indeed Bach. It just seems to me an interesting point.

Thomas Braatz wrote (May 25, 2003):
Bart stated and asked:
>>…what I meant was evidence other than the fact that ttext and the music seem to go together rather well. For example, a letter from Bach to somebody saying that he intended it, or a scribble on his manuscript saying 'this bit is rather clever'.
Isn't there a logical difficulty here?
Suppose you say:
1, Bach was a brilliant composer. For example, he made the words and music about the trinity in BWV129 fit together so neatly and
2, Many learned scholars after devoting enormous energy over the last couple of centuries failed to notice that the words and music about the trinity fit together so neatly
Isn't there a contradiction between 1 and 2? How can it be brilliant of a composer to make the words and music about the trinity fit together in such a way that even learned scholars, let alone presumably most other listeners, don't notice?<<
Let me begin to answer this by quoting Aryeh Oron who stated on June 10, 2001: “This is an opportunity for me to welcome the new joiners to the Bach Cantatas Mailing List (BCML). All of you are invited to contribute to the weekly cantata discussions. Please do not shy away. The world of the Bach Cantatas is so rich and varied, and I have learnt to know that even an occasional and inexperienced listener can hear things that escaped the attention of the experts.”

This is a statement with which I concur. As far as I know, Aryeh is not a Bach expert with academic credentials in musicology nor has he accumulated a vast amount of experience in performing Bach’s works, but neither have I, nor many others on this list. In the eyes of some this places us in the category of amateurs whose opinions and tastes in music are worthless or at least not to be considered as generally valid by those who have been academically trained and have played Bach’s music publicly. Using an imperfect analogy, I would suggest that Aryeh, I, and most other members of the BCML are similar to fishermen/fisherwomen, who, through trial and error (listening to Bach’s cantatas and studying them as best we know how with the materials available to us) keep trying to reel in (gain an insight into the specific enjoyment of a cantata) the fish that we are seeking to catch (deep understanding and profound enjoyment of Bach’s music.)

The many learned Bach scholars, although working assiduously at coming to terms with Bach’s music, seemingly have only scratched the surface in trying to uncover Bach’s genius so that we might understand and enjoy it better. Some of the great Bach scholars of the past have committed egregious errors when viewed from the present; nevertheless, they have also given the initial insights that are useful to us in trying to understand exactly what Bach was doing. This implies that today’s scholars are very likely to be committing similar mistakes which will have to be corrected in the future.

Bach’s genius seemed to have functioned on many levels simultaneously. It may even be possible that he did some things unconsciously. Goethe refers to the incommensurateness of a work of art such as a poem. There are qualities, ideas, and associations which the poet, for instance, did not consider during the gestation of an idea, the actual writing it down, and any subsequent thoughts that the poet might have had after he had read a few times on different occasions. Along comes another ‘ordinary,’ normal human being and, after studying the poem and having learned to love it, is able to find ideas and associations that neither the poet or his critics have considered or uncovered. When this happened to Goethe, he would honestly respond “That’s very interesting and makes sense. I had not yet thought of that in relation to this specific poem.”

I, personally, have come to believe that Bach, in many instances, consciously operated on several levels, addressing at the same time regular members of the congregation, those who were learning and performing under him, and the higher intelligentsia from the Leipzig University. He spoke a special language to each group, but everything was incorporated into each separate piece of music as a unity.

Returning to the specific example regarding Bach’s rendering of the Trinity in BWV 129/4 “Gott Vater, Gott der Sohn und Gott der heilge Geist” where Bach unites the three separate musical parts that make up this alto aria in a short unison passage for only this single instance in the entire aria when these words appear together for the 1st time, this example, although not noted by experts as far as I know, is a valid instance of Bach’s composing techniques. What makes Bach interesting is that his fertile musical imagination allows him to render the same ideas with equally valid musical references using various compositional techniques:

In the bass aria of BWV 172/3 (Erschallet, ihr Lieder), Bach uses 3 trumpets on a descending triad to illustrate the Trinity (the opening words of the aria are “Heiligste Dreieinigkeit” [holiest Trinity] and in the alto aria BWV 176/5 (Es ist ein trotzig und verzagt Ding) there is an interesting ‘kernel’ idea presented in the 1st ms. of the bc: in 3/8 time the note Eb is repeated 3 times in each measure with a slur above each grouping of 3 and at the point where the words “Vater, Sohn und heilgen Geist” [Father, Son, and Holy Ghost/Spirit] is sung for the only time in the aria, this motif is once again in the bc while the voice descends downward in a scalewise fashion. What a marvelous way to render this idea musically! In one instance a descending triad and in the other a down-the-scale passage to indicate the intended direction of movement/motion that Bach had in mind.

Bach is the consummate artist with a vital imagination that allows differing methods for illustrating the same or a similar idea. This complexity is probably the reason why the Bach experts of the past and present have not yet exhausted the supply of fish that are still available to us. We may not need all that fancy fishing gear to come up with a catch of our own although there is very much that we can still learn from reading the analyses by the experts.

Roland Wörner wrote (May 25, 2003):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< Returning to the specific example regarding Bach¹s rendering of the Trinity in BWV 129/4 ‘Gott Vater, Gott der Sohn und Gott der heilge Geist’ where Bach unites the three separate musical parts that make up this alto aria in a short unison passage for only this single instance in the entire aria when these words appear together for the 1st time, this example, although not noted by experts as far as I know, is a valid instance of Bach’s composing techniques. What makes Bach interesting is that his fertile musical imagination allows him to render the same ideas with equally valid musical references using various compositional techniques: >
What Bach did here is nothing totally new. Remember the the concerto "Duo seraphim" in Monteverdi's Vespro della Beata Vergine with the text "Tres sunt qui testimonium dant in coelo: Pater, Verbum et Spiritus Sanctus. Et hi tres unum sunt". John Eliot Gardiner notes in the booklet of his first recording: "Unlike the other motets which all have Marian texts, this motet refers to the Trinity. Monteverdi achieves a total transformation of his current secular duet style, creating a strangely disembodied atmosphere in the antiphonal exchanges of the seraphim. ... The entry of the third voice initiates a passage of awesome solemnity in which the Three-in-one is represented by a triad dissolving realistically into a unison" (on the words "unum sunt", RW).

Philippe Bareille wrote (May 25, 2003):
This cantata of praise to God exudes a message of adoration, hope and glory. I find the three stanza very moving and like beautiful songs you can listen to them over and over again without losing your interest. However, I should say that with Bach you are usually at a much higher (and deeper) level than that with a song.

I have listened to Richter [2] and Leonhardt [4].

When you have been reared on period instruments it is difficult to fully enjoy the former wits slow tempi, rather robotic instrumental playing and massive chorus singing. It just sounds anachronistic and strange to my ears. However, there is still a lot to be admired with Richter. His verve, his exuberance, his commitment and most of his soloists are still impressive. You cannot dismiss lightly someone who dedicated his professional life to Bach. In this cantata DFD is as usual first rate in the mesmerising bass aria but I find hearing Edith Mathis a rather painful experience. She is endowed with a superb voice but she cannot control her line sounding indifferent to the tension or the nuances of this music. I think her voice is too "big" for this kind of aria.

Listening to Leonhardt [4] after Richter is a refreshing experience. He brings out the inner vitality of the score much more convincingly than Richter. His awareness of style and rhetoric shines through the whole cantata. The affecting Egmond is outstanding. He is even more moving than DF Dieskau, which is no mean achievement. The boy soprano Sebastian Henning delivers his aria with security and intelligence. His vocal quality and his technique made him one of the best soprano of the entire series.

My own taste is to have alto arias sung by boys or women. Jacobs is inspired and touching but I still prefer the wonderful Anna Reynolds (with Richter) whose moving intensity is at one with the text.

Another superb cantata. I personnaly strongly recommend Leonhardt [4].

Bradley Lehman wrote (May 25, 2003):
Sudden unison for the Trinty

[To Bart O’Brien & Neil Halliday] On this point about Bach using sudden unison (as a compositional device) to suggest unity in the Trinity: Tom is 100% correct.

Here is an equally obvious observation about somebody's method of delivering an effect: Burger King's french fries are extra crispy because they have sugar on them.

Or this one: silver maple trees have particularly destructive root systems (and that's why there are some restrictions against planting them), but not all authors of books about trees bother to say so.

Bart, I don't think the learned scholars who wrote those commentaries (quoted by Tom) had a goal of being comprehensive. If those particular people failed to mention some of the most obvious points about the music, in the essays that were cited here, so what?

Unison is startling. It's rather like this occasion right here, where I say that Tom is 100% correct about something.

On a related point: if ordinary listeners do not notice this sudden unison during a performance, the performers have not been gestural enough in their interpretation. These are not subtly grass-colored Easter eggs hidden away for the cognoscenti: they are brightly obvious points that EVERYONE is supposed to hear and understand during the performance (just from the sound of it), when not looking at a score or a libretto or the performers. The unison grabs the attention, and the words make its purpose immediately clear. If this hasn't happened, if it's remained hidden, the performers have made the music too smoothed-out, too subtle.

Kirk McElhearn wrote (May 25, 2003):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< Unison is startling. It's rather like this occasion right here, where I say that Tom is 100% correct about something. >
Took the words out of my mouth... :-)

Thomas Braatz wrote (May 25, 2003):
Roland Wörner stated:
>> What Bach did here is nothing totally new. Remember the the concerto "Duo seraphim" in Monteverdi's Vespro della Beata Vergine with the text "Tres sunt qui testimonium dant in coelo: Pater, Verbum et Spiritus Sanctus. Et hi tres unum sunt". John Eliot Gardiner notes in the booklet of his first recording: "Unlike the other motets which all have Marian texts, this motet refers to the Trinity. Monteverdi achieves a total transformation of his current secular duet style, creating a strangely disembodied atmosphere in the antiphonal exchanges of the seraphim. ... The entry of the third voice initiates a passage of awesome solemnity in which the Three-in-one is represented by a triad dissolving realistically into a unison" (on the words "unum sunt", RW).<<
Thanks for sharing this information! It would appear that Bach, who had a fairly wide acquaintance with music before his time, and either saw the music or heard from other musicians about this musical possibility for rendering the idea of the Trinity.

Then, again, it is even possible that he made this discovery on his own without such prior knowledge or that he recognized Monteverdi’s compositional device as an experiment which he (Bach) then expanded into other possibilities.

It really becomes more difficult to imagine, as Bart did, that musicologists have been unable to make the specific connection between the Monteverdi composition and Bach’s aria. All my important sources make no mention of this anywhere. Eric Chafe skips this cantata entirely in both of his texts on the Bach cantatas. The 3-volume “The World of the Bach Cantatas” [Wolff/Koopman] intended to accompany the Koopman Bach cantata series has only a short, one-paragraph description by Melamed of the entire cantata (all of it repetitive information already given elsewhere.) So where are these musicologists and Bach specialists who should have examined musical literature for ‘devices’ of this sort? If anyone has any further information on this subject, please share it with the group!

Thomas Braatz wrote (May 25, 2003):
Bradley Lehman stated:
>>The unison grabs the attention, and the words make its purpose immediately clear.<<
If Bach had wanted to have this unison brought out with special gestures in order to emphasize/exaggerate the words, he would have marked them accordingly. He did not, and that is very telling.

Tom Brann wrote (May 25, 2003):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
"....Brad stated: >>The unison grabs the attention, and the words make its purpose immediately clear.<<......"
Maybe for you kind sir, but I'm a novice when it comes to J.S. Bach and his relationship with the written word. I've been buried in his keyboard work for decades. These Cantatas, Motets, and Passions are all Greek to me..........or should I say German.

I anxiously await the time when I feel secure enough about the subject to "chime in" to the conversation. Until then, I'm reading Stinson, Chafe, Wolff, Scheitzer, & Spitta........and teaching myself German!!

Alex Riedmayer wrote (May 25, 2003):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< If Bach had wanted to have this unison brought out with special gestures in order to emphasize/exaggerate the words, he would have marked them accordingly. He did not, and that is very telling. >
Your taste is better than your reason.

Bradley Lehman wrote (May 25, 2003):
Completeness (not!) of Bach's markings

Brad stated:
>>The unison grabs the attention, and the words make its purpose immediately clear.<<
Braatz responded:
< If Bach had wanted to have this unison brought out with special gestures in order to emphasize/exaggerate the words, he would have marked them accordingly. He did not, and that is very telling. >
Exactly what diacritical markings and/or musical symbols and/or words "would" Bach have put into the score to have it "marked accordingly," so that even the most unbelievably clueless performer in the world (one who must be led around by a nose ring, doing only things which are Explicitly Marked By the Master) would not fail to bring it out appropriately?

Tell us, O Guru. Tell us exactly. Assume for the sake of argument that Bach did want those words and notes emphasized. What would it have to say, exactly, in the score and the parts to prove sufficiently TO YOU that Bach did want that portion to be brought out? Tell us, O Guru. Tell us exactly. We clamor. We performers are lost without our shepherd! Baa! Baaaaa!


The only thing that seems to be "telling" here is another of Braatz' untenable assumptions: that Bach took the trouble to mark everything.

Brad Lehman
(it's a pity how short a 100% approval rating lasts: only until the next time the candidate opens hismouth)

Continue of this part of the discussion, see: Bach’s Markings [General Topics]

Thomas Braatz wrote (May 26, 2003):
BWV 129 - The Recordings:

This past week I have listened to the following recordings:

Richter (1974-5) [2]; Rilling (1982) [3]; Leonhardt (1983) [4]; Leusink (2000) [6]

The Timings (from slowest to fastest):

TT: Richter (22:11); Leonhardt (20:04); Leusink (19:48); Rilling (18:36)

Mvt. 1: Richter (4:46); Leonhardt (4:40); Leusink (4:25); Rilling (3:58)
Mvt. 2: Richter (4:26); Leusink (4:01); Rilling (3:56); Leonhardt (3:55)
Mvt. 3: Richter (5:12); Leonhardt (4:45); Leusink (4:32); Rilling (4:12)
Mvt. 4: Richter (6:09); Leusink (5:02); Leonhardt (5:01); Rilling (4:43)
Mvt. 5: Leusink (1:48); Leonhardt (1:43); Richter (1:38); Rilling (1:38)

Mvt. 1 & Mvt. 5:

[2] Richter:
This is the recording that I return to again and again for a truly uplifting experience. One of the major factors that contribute to this feeling is the fact that the choir (to be sure the largest one in this group of recordings) has reasonably good balance between the voices, the cantus firmus is strong and ‘straight’ (no noticeable vibrato, even with the females singing the soprano part here), and the intensity of conviction with which the choir sings outshines all the others. The latter is clearly demonstrated in the manner in which the ‘overhanging’ lower A,T,B parts repeat the final phrase of the cantus firmus in ms. 53-54 [“mein Vater, der mich schützt”] and ms. 59-60 [“von Mutterleibe an.”] Here the text speaks of God, our protector, sustaining our body and soul from birth onwards. Somehow most of the conductors are so caught up in poking at the notes [the bc and the extremely short quips of the 3 trumpets playing the same 3 notes in succession] that they forget the significance of the text which emphasizes God’s continuing support from birth until this point in life. If there ever was a place in Bach’s music that really cried out for a strong legato sound, it is in these passages. The singers in Richter’s choir manage to convey the significance of these words by their strong, affirmative legato notes that remain at the same level of intensity throughout. The choir, by singing the notes this way, conveys through its attitude toward the words being sung, how important God’s sustenance over time really is. The listener can feel this by having the music interpreted in this way.

Although Richter’s version of the 1st mvt. is the slowest, it captures more of the driving force and joy that this mvt. requires than those at faster tempi. There is variation in dynamics and the detached notes in the bc as well as the violins, flutes, and oboes are played in a reasonable portato style, thus avoiding the extreme staccato of some of the other versions. The fanfare-like accents provided by the trumpets (modern in this case) serve to accentuate the joyful, festive atmosphere of this mvt. The organ, although audible when the choir sings (duplicating most of their parts) is not quite as intrusive as in some of Richter’s other cantata performances with choir. The vocal lines as well as the orchestral parts are reasonably clear.

[3] Rilling:
At the fastest tempo in this group of recordings (almost a minute faster than Richter’s), this recording ought to bring even more excitement and meaning to the words of joy expressed in these mvts. In a number of respects this may be true. The trumpets sound even better, the strings are played with a strength that is called for here, the bc provides the relentless, driving force, the transparency of the instruments is improved, there is dynamic variation, and the detached notes are not played in a short, staccato style, thus preserving the necessary power required by these choral mvts. The accompanying vocal parts (A,T,B) are sung with excellent clarity and verve. Particularly the faster-moving 16th notes are not heard anywhere more clearly and affirmatively than here. The main drawbacks are the usual soprano voices which are unable to maintain a solid, steady, clear sound and Rilling’s interpretation of the final repetitions mentioned above is completely contrary to the text: the words are sung accented/staccato with a ‘dying away effect’ [a diminuendo] thus implying that the words are not really that important [the Father protecting me] and the compound noun “Mutterleibe” is dissected into 4 separate syllables with a strong accent and a pause between each syllable. If Bach had wanted that, you can be certain that he would have placed staccatos above each note with rests between them.

Although Rilling has some noticeable improvements over Richter, nevertheless, he fails to deliver a truly solid sound where it is needed in the lower voices and he continues to struggle with the unrelenting vibrato of some of his female sopranos.

[4] Leonhardt:
For relief from the soprano problem that hounds Rilling, we turn to Leonhardt. Here the listener will finally hear a soprano sound much closer to that which Bach must have heard when he performed these works: This is the way a cantus firmus should sound as performed by boy sopranos. There is a quality of voice here that truly stands firmly in space and gives us the assurance that strength and beauty of voice can be combined in order to lend credence to the words being sung. The lower voices are reasonably clear as well, if not quite as precise as the trained voices in the Rilling performance.

The extreme staccato of the instruments, particularly the violins which sound quite scratchy with an unrelenting sameness that becomes distracting and enervating, removes the dignity and power that would otherwise be present in these mvts. The trumpets have problems managing their parts: blaring notes, intonation and control problems. Add to this a ‘poking’ style of singing (the actual notes to be sung are treated as staccato with a strong accent on each note and small spaces/rests between these notes,) and the powerful effect of the mvt. has become emasculated and reduced to a caricature of itself. The passages mentioned above are sung with accents and separations as Rilling did, only now this method of singing is extended as well to the final chorale which is chopped up all the way through, thus bringing this rendition to an unfitting, and anything but powerfully joyful conclusion.

[6] Leusink:
The characteristic sound of this instrumental ensemble is dull or muffled. I have no idea what causes this (audio equipment/engineering, bad acoustics, improper microphone placement, or a deliberate attempt to muffle the otherwise thin, scratchy sounds created by period instruments – what happened to all the overtones that ought to be present here?) The bc (organ, cello, and double bass) always sounds rather heavy and ‘thuddy.’ The timpani are too prominent. The trumpets, although generally played accurately with some blaring, have lost some of the sparkle that is usually associated with brass instruments. Everything sounds as if it is in a rather restricted, closed-in space. The staccato playing is not as intrusive as with Leonhardt, but the violins are producing even less actual sound by playing very lightly (not very conducive to the creation of a strong, affirmative feeling of joy.) There is a feeling of lightness, a lack of true substance.

Possibly, as a result of the unknown recording problems, the boy sopranos also lack the distinctive brightness or brilliance that such soprano voices should have. They are also weak when they are forced to go into the lower part of their range. When this happens in the cantus firmus, as it occurs here, there is a serious in balance which the conductor must contend with. The accompanying voices still tend to poke their way through the words “mein Vater, der mich schützt” in much the same way that Rilling and Leonhardt did, but their rendition of “von Mutterleibe an” is somewhat more legato. Unfortunately, Leusink allows this phrase to die out (diminuendo), which makes absolutely no sense here where ‘von…an’ means ‘beginning with and continuing on.’

Mvt. 2 Bass Aria:

In order of preference:

[2] Fischer-Dieskau (Richter) in a class all by himself.

[4] van Egmond (Leonhardt) sings with a less muffled sound than usually heard in this series. His expression is reasonably good, but there can be heard throughout a strange, thin, grating sound in his voice.

[3] Huttenlocher (Rilling) strong voice but completely disingenuous in his delivery of the text.

[6] Ramselaar (Leusink) lacks real expression as he sings all the notes correctly. When he does attempt expression the German words have an affectation about them that is distracting.

Mvt. 3 Soprano Aria:

[3] Augér (Rilling) not one of her better performances in this series, but at least better than any of the others in this group.

[4] Hennig (Leonhardt) gives a reasonably good account of this music with only a slight problem with intonation here and there and with the text or note (ms. 82 “mein” practically inaudible.)

The following are substandard, below average:

[6] Strijk (Leusink) just the notes (some problems with intonation) without any expression.

[2] Mathis (Richter) this heavy-handed, insensitive singing by Mathis bears little relation to what Bach must have had in mind.

Mvt. 4 Alto Aria:

[2] Reynolds (Richter) a rich, warm, very expressive voice takes top honors here.

[3] Schreckenbach (Rilling) also sings quite well, but the tempo is too fast – a pastorale dance to illustrate the Trinity?

[4] Jacobs (Leonhardt) an almost uncanny blend between voice and oboe d’amore.

[6] Buwalda (Leusink) the quality of the voice is unnerving, otherwise the performance is a reasonably acceptable.

Bob Henderson wrote (May 26, 2003):
[To Thomas Braatz] Yes. I had the fortune to hear the Munichers twice during American tours. All 90 strong. What I remember is their utter conviction, discipline and precision. In those days Richter's performances were considered authentic. Had he lived......

Bradley Lehman wrote (May 26, 2003):
Forte/piano in a part (in BWV 129 this time)

Re the alto aria, with oboe d'amore:

< The NBA score indicates (in Bach’s own handwriting) no less than 17 dynamic markings for this aria alone! Bach used ‘p’s and ‘f’s (piano & forte) throughout. Of great interest to any conductor who might consider using Bach’s markings as his (Bach’s) intentions for the proper performance (without exaggerated gestures!), the section where the unison occurs is marked ‘piano’ for both the oboe d’amore and bc, and only one(!) measure after the unison passage is completed, Bach returns to ‘forte.’ >
All the way through this aria, the piano/forte alternations simply alert the oboist that he is solo (the singer is resting, so the oboe is "forte") or the singer is now entering the texture (so the oboe is "piano"). For his own practicing, looking only at his own part, he gets to know the function of his notes before it all comes together on Sunday. He gets to know when his part is the center of attention, and when it is not. Simple. Plain and simple. Similarly, in the bc, it tells the players when the singer is in and when he's out.

At the unison passage: Bach indeed returns to "forte" afterward, for the simple reason that the singer has finished his phrase and it's time for an instrumental interlude, the same way as it happens all the way through this piece. DUH.

As for precedent for this: see my earlier posting on this same topic.

< It appears that contemporary conductors ascribing to the exaggerated gesturing theory of performance would be doing Bach a great injustice by performing this otherwise. As I have stated before, there is nothing wrong with performing Bach in a different manner than he intended, but it would be more honest to acknowledge this fact by calling the performance ‘Bach-Stokowski’, ‘Bach-Leonhardt,’ ‘Bach-Harnoncourt,’ or ‘Bach-Lehman.’ >
Terraced dynamics (staying mindlessly at the same level of intensity all the way through a passage, until expressly instructed otherwise by The Master) are a feature of Bach-Braatz.

And now, I have better things to go do than explain totally obvious musical points (like the one above about this alto aria).

Aryeh Oron wrote (May 26, 2003):
BWV 129 - Moving to the back seat?

When the BCML was launched by Kirk McElhearn in October 1999, I was relatively new to the world of Bach Cantatas. Indeed, I had heard some of them in my previous Classical period, preceding the current one by about 15 years. By joining the BCML I was hoping to discover this enormously rich world by reading the various opinions of the scholars in the group, and listening to the recordings helped by their guidelines. The discussions in the BCML started and I was disappointed to find that various topics were discussed but the Cantatas themselves. So, I decided to throw a stone into the calm water and see how high the waves will be. I wrote about the soprano aria of the Dialogue Cantata BWV 57. This was actually the first Cantata Discussion. Within a short time an order of discussion was agreed between the members of the BCML and the weekly cantata discussions started the long race.

Very quickly I realised that if I do not write every week about my inexperienced view of the cantata under discussion, the whole project might fade out. So, I took a decision to dedicate my free time in the next four years to exploring the world of Bach cantatas, by reading every possible source, listening to every available recording, and sending every week my impressions to the list. The level of participation has almost never been too extensive until very lately. Members who participated in the discussions in the initial phase gradually stopped contributing, although I believe that most of them are still members of the BCML. There were even weeks, where mine was almost the sole contribution to the discussion. I have been trying various ways to encourage the members contributing to the discussions, but to no avail. During the first half of 2001 Thomas Braatz joined the group and his enormous contribution helped to keep the group alive.

In the last couple of weeks something amazing and wonderful has happened. The level of participation in the weekly cantata discussions has raised up to new level. This month, which is not yet over, is the most productive in the whole history of the BCML, with more than 460 message. The discussion of this week cantata BWV 129 has already 31 messages (excluding this one)! These messages examine the cantata from various angles and aspects. After more than three and half years my dream has come true. Indeed, there are sometimes personal clashes, but this is only natural. We are all human beings discussing a topic, which is very close to our hearts and souls and therefore also very emotional. But those clashes, red-hot as they might be, do not cover up the enormous amount of interesting material and views to be found in the weekly discussions (and afterwards in the Bach Cantatas Website).

And I wonder: After the chariot seems to be running on its own accord, without the carter having to hold the reins, isn’t it the time for me to take the seat and relax? I mean, enjoying reading the messages and listening to the weekly cantata, without being forced to send my own review?

On the other hand, as I said earlier, I committed myself to this project, and it does not seem the right point to pull out. Only 30 cantata, including this one, have remained to be discussed. You do not leave a Marathon race three kilometres before the end of the line.

The solution I found for myself is shortening my reviews and sending them to the BCML towards the end of the weekly discussion. Here is my short contribution to the discussion of Cantata BWV 129.

Recordings of BWV 129 – Personal Preferences

Last week I have been listening to 5 complete recordings of Cantata BWV 129:

[1] Diethard Hellmann (Mid 1960’s)
[2] Karl Richter (1974-1975)
[3] Helmuth Rilling (1982)
[4] Gustav Leonhardt (1983)
[6] Pieter Jan Leusink (2000)

Although there are many recordings of individual movements from this cantata, I avoided listening to them this time. This cantata is so neatly tailored, textually and especially musically, that it seems almost a crime to tore it apart and listening to each movement individually. I wrote the notes on which I based my personal preferences for each movement, while I was listening to each rendition in its completeness.

Mvt. 1 & Mvt. 5 Chorus & Chorale: Richter, Rilling, Leonhardt, Hellmann, Leusink
Mvt. 2 Aria [Bass]: DFD/Richter, Egmond/Leonhardt, Ramselaar/Leusink, Müller/Hellmann, Huttenlocher/Rilling
Mvt. 3 Aria [Soprano]:
Boy Soprano: Hennig/Leonhardt (not bad, some technical flaws in the upper register)
Female Sopranos: Buckel/Hellmann, Augér/Rilling, Strijk/Leusink, Mathis/Richter
Mvt. 4 Aria [Alto]:
Counter-tenors: Jacobs/Leonhardt, Buwalda/Leusink
Contraltos: Reynolds/Richter, Conrad/Hellmann, Schreckenbach/Rilling

The cantatas as a whole: Richter [2], Rilling [3], Leonhardt [4], Leusink [6], Hellmann [1].

Tom Brannigan wrote (May 27, 2003):
[To Aryeh Oron] I just wanted to thank you for all your work. I've just discovered the BCML last week and haven't stopped searching through the archives for all sorts of things. The Richter [2] & Leonhardt [4] recordings are the most familiar to a vinyl hound such as myself, but I do have my fair share of shiny bier coasters..........Philippe Herreweghe is represented the most for Bach vocal works. I only wish Nicholas McGegan would start recording some of J S Bach's works. He's local to the Bay Area and is my favorite interpreter of Handel's Oritorios & Operas on the HM label. His recording of the Messiah finally convinced me to purchase a CD player !

Aryeh Oron wrote (May 27, 2003):
[To Tom Brannigan] Thanks for your kind words and welcome aboard!

AFAIK, Nicholas McGegan has done only one CD of Bach's Vocal works so far. This CD includes cantata BWV 56 & BWV 82 with the late baritone William Parker.

Thomas Braatz wrote (May 27, 2003):
Brad stated:
>>The point of all this is: "forte" and "piano" markings don't automatically mean anything in particular...the context must be examined to see the intended effect. And they don't mean (as a rule) "stay at this dynamic level until told otherwise, and then shift suddenly to the new one!" That would be wrong not because the dynamic level is inappropriate in itself, but because it's a failure to think, and because a long unmodulated stretch of _anything_ is boring. Dynamic markings in a score and parts are there to alert the players that something different is happening, and the musicians should find out what it is (from context), and play accordingly.
In my opinion, "terraced dynamics" are to music what "paint-by-numbers" kits are to painting.<<

>>A brief inspection of the music will show how wrong it is to have "a generally static level of volume" and a general principle where stepping up or down...should be evident."

Some interesting points to consider regarding dynamics as gleaned from various sources (if not specifically indicated, then paraphrase from “The New Grove Dictionary of Music & Musicians”, if German is given, then the MGG, other sources are given specifically):

Terrace dynamics/graduated dynamics are caused by registration or change of manuals on harpsichords and organs during the Baroque period. Some attempts were made to overcome the structured rigidity of these instruments: in 1676, Thomas Mace invented the swell box for the organ to overcome this restriction. This invention caught on and became widespread by the early 18th century. It was taken into account by Händel, but not by J. S. Bach.

Forte’ means normal dynamics and ‘piano’ (‘echo’) is used for dynamic contrast. In Corelli, ‘forte’ does not appear except when preceded by ‘piano.’

Giovanni Gabrieli’s use of ‘forte’ and ‘piano’ (1597) is an ‘echo’ effect, a type of terraced dynamics.

Cori spezzati – antiphonal polyphonic writing for 2 or more choirs (Praetorius, Schein, Schütz, and Bach’s SMP)

Concertato – (Concerto grosso) uses the instrumental echo effect: melodic sequences appear in terraced dynamics – large group vs. small group (tutti – solo; ripieni - concertisti); phrases echoed between solo instruments with contrasting registers/timbres. The contrasts between these groupings are, in essence, terraced dynamics.

Terraced dynamics probably originated before 1600 at a time when in the case of many instruments it was difficult to control the dynamic nuances.

The final ritornello of ‘Glory to God’ in Händel’s ‘Messiah,’ he has the effect of dying away occur by means of terraced dynamics: ‘f’ to ‘p’ to ‘pp.’ [Brad admits this a 'graded decrescendo' which means 'stepwise.']

Sometimes the graduated (stepwise) dynamic change occurred with the markings: ‘pp’, then ‘p’, and finally ‘f.’ Matthew Locke, in “The Tempest” (1675), used the phrase “lowder by degrees.” This, to me, does not indicate the very gradual increase in dynamics (‘glissando dynamics’) that we are accustomed to think of in such a context. The terms ‘crescendo’ and ‘decrescendo’ are documented for the 1st time in the latter half of the 18th century [OED – 1776] notwithstanding Burney’s (1789) unreliable assertion that Domenico Mazzocchi “first invented the characters of ‘crescendo’ and ‘decrescendo’”

Mazzocchi, in his “Madrigali” (1638) used the sign ‘C’ for ‘messe di voce’ which is the effect of increasing and then decreasing sound volume on long single notes which were sung. Important here is the fact that this occurred only ‘on long single notes’ which are ‘sung’ by the voice. Elsewhere he uses signs for ‘piano,’ ‘forte,’ and ‘echo’ which are sudden, stepwise (terraced) changes in volume.

Again, there is no reference here to what we have come to expect in our age as ‘glissando dynamics’ as a general performance practice. It refers specifically to the voice, and then only when there are long notes which permit this practice. In Fantini’s “Modo per imparare a sonare di tromba (1638), the author requires every long note to be performed on the tromba ‘modo cantabile’(in imitation of the singing style of the voice.) There is nothing stated here that would imply ‘glissando dynamics’ as a general practice for varying the dynamics of a series of notes.

And when Christoph Bernhard (1628-1692), a student of Schütz, states that there should not be a “sudden fall from ‘piano’ to ‘forte’ or vice versa” becthis would “become truly horrible to the ear,” he is referring to the voice and how ‘messa di voce’ should be applied to long, held notes. [Another translation of this statement which seems to date from the mid-17th century: ‘Care must be taken not to shift too abruptly from the piano to the forte, but rather to let the voice wax and wane gradually’] This was not general instruction for ‘glissando dynamics’ to be applied everywhere in musical performance practice, and yet, the some musicologists have jumped on this type of quotation to prove that terraced dynamics, as heard, for instance, in performances and recordings (of Bach’s music) of the mid 20th century, did not really exist in the Baroque period.

Howard Mayer Brown in his article on ‘Performing Practice’ [New Grove] uses the term 'terraced dynamics':

“Similarly, ‘terraced dynamics’, traditionally associated with Baroque music, probably originated before 1600, when in so many of the instruments in general use the possibilities of controlling dynamic nuances were relatively limited.”

Für die ganze Barockzeit gilt das Gesetz der Terrassendynamik, also scharfer Gegensatz von f und p, besonders beliebt als Echomanier. Aber auch jedes Anschwellen oder Abschwellen geschah stufenweise, nicht allmählich, wofür der letzte Chorsatz der Bachschen Matthäuspassion eine gute Anschauung vermittelt.
[For the entire Baroque period, the law of terraced dynamics was in effect, i.e., the sharp contrast/opposition between ‘f’ and ‘p’, which was particularly popular as the ‘echo’- style. Each ‘growing louder’/crescendo or ‘becoming softer’/decrescendo took place in steps, not gradually. An good example for consideration can be found in the final mvt. of the Bach’s SMP.]
[„Aufführungspraxis,“ by Hans Hoffmann]

Hinsichtlich der Dynamik sagte der Kapellmeister die Einrichtung von Echo- und Terrassendynamik beim Orchester nach Vorbild des Manualwechsels auf der Orgel an, ebenso den durch Forte = Tutti, p = nur Streicher, pp = »nur die ersten Pulte« nuancierten Stärkegrad, aus dem nach G. Muffats Zeugnis Lully zum Urahn des Concerto grosso-Concertinos vor Stradella und Corelli geworden ist.

[In regard to the dynamics, it was the conductor who indicated to the orchestra the terraced dynamics following the model given by a change of manuals on an organ; likewise, a change of strength of sound {dynamic nuances}{Tonstärke, Lautstärke, Klangstärke} by use of the dynamic indications as follows: ‘forte’ = ‘tutti’, ‘p’ = strings only, ‘pp’ = only the 1st chair players (solo) which according to G. Muffat’s testimony would make Lully the originator of the ‘Concerto grosso-Concertino’ even before Stradella and Corelli did this.] [Hans Joachim Moser]

Peter Schmidt in his article on Christian Friedrich Gottlieb Schwencke (1767-1822)

Der geistvolle Kritiker erweist sich nahezu als Verfechter der Terrassendynamik.“ [This brilliant {music} critic proved himself to be almost a champion of terraced dynamics.“]

Schwencke was 12 when he made his debut as pianist, sang discant and was an accompanist under C.P.E. Bach. He studied with Kirnberger and became renowned for his performances of J. S. Bach’s works on the organ and also improvised. He was a composer from his very early years on. He became the music director of all the main churches in Hamburg (he took over this position from C.P.E. Bach.) He composed and performed many cantatas. He helped edit and publish the 1st known printed edition of the WTK. [This is interesting because it demonstrates the possibility of the existence of a tradition of terraced dynamics in the midst of all the changes in the use of dynamics that were taking place at the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th centuries.]

Joachim von Hecker in his article on Bruckner in the MGG refers to:

Raumtiefengliederung seiner Musik“ and

Dieses Streben nach räumlicher Tiefenwirkung (das in seiner »Terrassendynamik« und registerartigen Klanggruppengliederung auf die Herkunft des Komponissten von der Orgel weist.)“

[Regarding Bruckner’s style of composition: „a spatial-depth form of structuring” This striving for spatial effect of depth (which in his terraced dynamics and structuring into distinctive sound groups like the registration on an organ, point to Bruckner’s origins as organist.]

[This demonstrates how a composer steeped in organ playing might reflect this in his compositions and in his performance practices.]

Johann Gottfried WaltherMusicalisches Lexicon oder Musicalische Bibliothec“ (Leipzig, 1732) :

Forte (ital.) fort, fortement, (gall.) starck, hefftig, jedoch auf eine natürlich Art, ohne die Stimme, oder das Instrument gar zu sehr zwingen

Piano…p. ist soviel als leise, daß man nehmlich die Stärcke der Stimme oder des Instruments dermaßen lieblich machen, oder mindern soll, daß es wie ein ‚Echo’ lasse.

Echo – [in addition to echo effects with voices or instruments] Das Wort ‚Ecco’ wird auch manchmahl an statt ‚piano’ gebraucht, um anzuzeigen, daß der Stimm- oder Instrumenten-Klang ‚moderirt’ und schwächlich gehen soll, gleich als wollte man ein ‚Echo’ machen.

[‚f’ signifies ‚strong,’ ‚intense,’ but in a natural manner without forcing the voice or instrument too much; ‚p’ means soft, which means specifically that you have to make the volume of the voice sound gentle/sweet, or let it become like an echo. ‘Echo’ is sometimes used in place of ‘p’ in order to indicate that the sound of the voice or instrument should become moderate and weak, as if you wanted to create an echo.]

Schweitzer Vol 2, p. 421 ff.:

„The understanding of the scores is of the greatest importance fort he orchestral parts. The ‘piano’ in the instrumental parts of the arias not only means that at the entry of the voice the orchestra is to play softly, but that the ‘ripieno’ also has to cease. Thus the instrumental ‘piano’ also is obtained by a diminution of the number of the players….It is a mere accident that these indications have come down to us; Bach has for once entered in the parts the instructions he was accustomed to give by word of mouth. In arias in which the oboes and violins play in unison, ‘piano’ probably often means that either the wind or the strings are to cease….The fact that the parts of the instruments that merely double others in the ‘tutti’ are written out in full is only an apparent contradiction of the views here advanced. The obbligato parts were copied out; the conductor would way to what extent the instrument in question was to play from them. It was only in rare cases that separate parts were made for the ‘ripieno’ instruments.”
[The effect of this would be terraced dynamics.]

Again, Schweitzer on p. 427:

“The indispensable prerequisite, however, is the recognition of the fundamental fact that a conductor must interpret a Bach score discreetly and moderately.” [Nothing here about extreme gesturing.]

Robert Donington “Baroque Music: Style and Performance: A Handbook” (New York, London, 1982)

Dynamic structure p. 32

The broader dynamic structure, on the other hand, repays some consideration prior to rehearsal, and should as a rule be notated editorially into the score and parts. Not only must it be well worked out; it must be performed with decision. There is no objection to planning it differently for different performances, but in any one performance it needs to be entirely purposeful. Marking up the parts is a sensible precaution and avoids any risk of being vague as a result of momentary hesitation. Most allegros will start loud from their probable nature, and may well continue so (unless contra-indicated by markings or otherwise) until a more contemplative middle section follows the first implied rallentando of any substance. A soft here is often appropriate, and this too may best continue without fussy alteration until the next important rallentando prepares the return of the opening material, which can then come back firm and loud, possibly continuing so to the end. That at least is a scheme which makes good sense with the musical struif it is simple.

If the musical structure is more complex, so will be the dynamic structure. The principle throughout is to bring in these decisive changes of loudness not merely in order to make a contrast for its own sake, but in order to bring out a contrast already latent in the music. It is not a question of repressing those lesser inflection of volume (and also of rhythm) which are the very life of a melody on all instruments capable of making them. It is a question of giving a stable basis to the flexible expression; and this is the valid reality behind the somewhat misleading suggestion that baroque dynamics are ‘terrace-dynamics’ held constant over entire passages. There are indeed very many long passages which make best sense on one basic level; but only on the organ or the harpsichord does it come natural not to inflect that level spontaneously as you go along. And even then, of course, inflexibility is somehow not at all the effect conveyed in a good performance. There are so many other factors making for flexibility.

also on p. 32:

Quantz in 1752 advised us that ‘light and shade must be continuously introduced’ – on the performer’s initiative – by ‘the incessant interchange of loud and soft’; but here he was presumably thinking of the latest ‘galant’ idioms, rather than of the typically baroque idioms, where much steadier though by no means rigid dynamic levels are ordinarily implied.

[Does Brad perform Baroque music in the 'galant' style, somewhat like mixing architectural styles in the same building, instead of applying terraced dynamics which he wishes to avoid?]

David D. Boyden “The History of Violin Playing from its Origins to 1761” (Oxford, 1990)

p. 291:

Most scores before 1700 are limited to terms that indicate a specific level of loud or soft: ‘forte’ (f), ‘fortissimo’ (ff), ‘mezzo piano’ (mp), ‘piano’ (p), ‘più piano’ (= the modern pp), and ‘pianissimo’ (= the modern ppp). These indications suggest terraces of sound (‘terraced dynamics’) such as the ‘echo’ effect in which a passage is literally repeated more softly as in an echo. The echo is one of the musical effects specifically indicated by ‘piano’ following a ‘forte.’

Etc. etc.

Bach's use of 'p' and 'f' in BWV 129/4 is more than simply a visual signal to a single player of an obbligato instrument that something is happening here (that the vocal soloist begins or stops singing.) There is a terraced dynamic level change that occurs at each of the 17 'p's and 'f's that Bach indicated in the parts. If more than one instrument is playing the 'solo' part, then the solo/ripieno exchange means that the dynamic level increases or drops suddenly. It only OPPP, then the sudden, terraced dynamic changes must be observed. Within these terraced sections, of course, some normal flexibility in volume is still allowed. An instrument playing 'piano' can still create a range of dynamics, albeit not as wide as if the entire range of volume were available. On a long note the obbligato instrument might also use a 'messe di voce.'

Bradley Lehman wrote (May 27, 2003):
[To Aryeh Oron] I always look forward to reading your reviews; and thank you again for the tremendous energy and hard work you put into this group.

Bradley Lehman wrote (May 27, 2003):
Donington and Quantz

Quoth Braatz:
< Robert Donington “Baroque Music: Style and Performance: A Handbook” (New York, London, 1982) (...) also on p. 32:

Quantz in 1752 advised us that ‘light and shade must be continuously introduced’ – on the performer’s initiative – by ‘the incessant interchange of loud and soft’; but here he was presumably thinking of the latest ‘galant’ idioms, rather than of the typically baroque idioms, where much steadier though by no means rigid dynamic levels are ordinarily implied. >
Donington's next paragraph on that p32, so conveniently omitted in Braatz' citation (perhaps because it blows Braatz' thesis out of the water), tells us why dynamics were not completely notated by the composers:

"Quantz actually wanted the volume of each individual chord increased or diminished to match its degree of dissonance or consonance, though he granted that 'good judgement and sensitiveness of soul must also play a part.' C. P. E. Bach replied in 1753 that 'it is impossible to describe the contexts suitable to the forte or the piano' while agreeing that 'it is broadly true that discords are performed loud and concords soft.' This principle in itself is valid, and of the widest relevance. Thus a preparation, being a concord, will ordinarily be softer than the clash of the ensuing discord itself (whether suspended or freshly struck), and the resolution, being also a concord, will ordinarily be yet softer, thus giving the natural rise and fall of the progression. But we are reaching here the finest nuances, which it is quite certainly undesirable to try to notate into the parts. If they will not come out right by nature, they will not come out right by artifice."

That is: it's no use trying to mark every nuance into the parts: an ignoramus is still going to sound bad because he lacks understanding of the musical grammar, and a good performer will do the right things even if they're not marked. The clutter is not going to help. The performer must be trusted to know what he's doing, to put the music across with appropriate emphasis, despite what little an Urtext edition says. A person who lacks this performance understanding, reading an Urtext and going by only what he sees, will come to the wrong conclusions about the music.


Here's Quantz in comments about dilettantes and charlatans:

"(...) A musician must not occupy himself with too many other things. Almost every science requires the whole man. My meaning here, however, is by no means that it is impossible to excel in more than one science at the same time, but that this requires a quite extraordinary talent, of a kind that nature seldom produces. Many people make this mistake. Some want to learn everything, and, because of the changeability of their temperaments, turn from one matter to another, now to this or that instrument, now to composition, then to something other than music; and because of their inconstancy, they learn nothing thoroughly.

"Some who devote themselves to one of the higher sciences begin by treating music as an avocation for many years. They cannot devote to music the time that it requires, and have neither the opportunity nor the means to retain a good master, or to hear good things. Frequently they have learned no more than to read notes, and to humbug their listeners with some difficult things poorly executed and in poor taste; and if by chance they have the good fortune to become one-eyed kings in the land of the blind and to receive some applause, their lack of knowledge deludes them into thinking that, because of their other skills, they merit preference over other musicians who, though not trained at universities, really know more about music.

"Some practise music simply because they need a livelihood, without having the slightest pleasure in it. Others have learned music in their youth more through their own practice than through correct principles, and in later years are ashamed to receive instruction, or believe they have no further need of it. Disliking correction, they prefer to win praise disguised as 'amateurs'. They are forced to turn to music because fate has denied them success through their other skills; but just as they were formerly only half scholars, they now remain only half musicians, because of the time lost in applying themselves to other sciences. Their talent, which was insufficient for other fields of endeavour, is still less adequate for music, and their prejudice and conceit make them unwilling to endure any correction from others.

"He who does not possess sufficient natural gifts for academic study probably has even fewer gifts for music. Yet if someone who gives himself to academic studies has sufficient talent for music, and devotes just as much industry to it as to the former, he not only has an advantage over other musicians, but also can be of greater service to music in general thothers, as can be demonstrated with many examples. Whoever is aware of how much influence mathematics and the other related sciences, such as philosophy, poetry, and oratory, have upon music, will have to own not only that music has a greater compass than many imagine, but also that the evident lack of knowledge about the above-mentioned sciences among the majority of professional musicians is a great obstacle to their further advancement, and the reason why music has not yet been brought to a more perfect state. (...)

"In the beginning we usually please ourselves more than others. We are satisfied if perhaps we can merely double a part on occasion. Then we allow ourselves to be deluded by untimely and excessive praise, and come to take it for a merited recompense. We do not wish to tolerate any contradiction, any admonition or correction. Should somebody undertake something of this sort from necessity, or with good intent, the rash fellow is immediately considered an enemy. Some persons with very little knowledge frequently flatter themselves that they know a great deal, and seek to elevate themselves above those from whom they could still learn. Indeed, from jealousy, envy, and malice, they even go so far as to scorn the latter. But if this pretended knowledge is carefully investigated, in many cases it will be found to be nothing but quackery: these persons have memorized a few technical terms from theoretical writings, or they are able to talk about musical artifices a little, but do not know how to produce them. In this fashion, it is true, they may gain some authority among the ignorant, but they also run the risk of making themselves ridiculous among connoisseurs, since they resemble those artisans who know how to name their tools, but use them poorly. (...)"

- Reilly's translation, pp 24-26.

Brad Lehman
(a performer who was also fairly decent at academics; Curriculum Vitae available at: )

Thomas Braatz wrote (Maay 28, 2003):
The problem with Quantz

Once again, Brad Lehman, ‘a performer who was also fairly decent at academics,’ avoids staying specifically on topic and sets up ‘red herrings’ (long quotes from Quantz’ ‘Versuch’ on ideas of what amateurs are) as he leads his critics on a ‘wild goose chase.’

He does this when he has no reasonably valid answers to my questions, as, for instance, why it is that ‘terraced dynamics’ as applied to the Bach cantatas can not simply be dismissed as a device to let the instrumentalists in a Bach aria know when the vocalist begins or stops singing, as if this were not already evident to any instrumentalist that is listening while also playing. Terraced dynamics, as I have indicated, are part and parcel of the Baroque aesthetic.

Quantz’ “Versuch….” (1752), published a quarter century after Bach had composed the majority of his cantatas, is, according to Edward R. Reilly (the translator?) in his article for the New Grove, divided into 18 chapters (only 5 of which are directed toward professionals who play or want to play the flute, the remainder address general issues of interest to amateur instrumentalists. “His views cannot be considered absolute guides for the performance of late Baroque music.”

A true test of ‘where Quantz is coming from’ would be to examine his flute sonatas composed c. 20 years before the publication of his book. These are typically and most evidently examples of the ‘galant’ style emphasizing simple melodic writing and thematic variety, but renouncing contrapuntal complexities. Quantz represents a style of composition and performance practice which is rarely encountered in Bach’s cantatas.

Daniel Heartz (New Grove) describes Quantz as being ‘more preoccupied than any of his contemporaries with defining the new style [‘galant’] (both in his ‘Versuch….’ and his autobiography.) In the galant style “flexibility in dynamic nuance went with rhythmic flexibility, or tempo rubato, in the modern Italian style. [Yes, this definitely sounds like Brad's idea of performing Bach's music.] Schäfke showed that Quantz formulated the galant aesthetic of clarity, pleasingness and naturalness in music on the basis of several earlier theorists, including Mattheson, and that these ideals, typical of the Enlightenment in general, went back to the rationalist philosophy of Descartes (‘clare et distincte percipere’).”

It would appear that J.S. Bach, as a composer of sacred music, was primarily a defender of the ‘old’ contrapuntal virtues and only cautiously and rarely incorporated galant-style mannerisms or characteristics into his music and his performance style. Quantz, on the other hand, was writing for the present and the future (he also wanted to sell his books!) and felt no need to uphold the already historical performance practices that concerned Bach a quarter century earlier.
Reading between the lines of the Heartz article, it is possible to view the ‘galant’ style of musical performance and composition as feminine (effeminate) and as Herder characterized a book that tried to give instruction on how to write in the galant style: “It lacked virility.’ According to this perspicacious insight on Herder’s part, and by analogy, Bach’s music is ‘virile,‘ while the style that Quantz defended and used in composing and performing would be ‘effeminate.’
Only those who overlook the considerable differences in performance style that Quantz and Bach represent, will be able to quote verse and chapter from Quantz’ books and pretend that they have uncovered the true source of information on just how Bach wanted his church music to be performed.
Heartz again: “The galant idiom freed composers from the contrapuntal fetters of the church style, to some degree even in the context of church music.”
This does not sound like the Bach that I have come to know.

Continue of this part of the discussion, see: Dynamics [General Topics]

Matthew Neugebauer wrote (May 28, 2003):
Bach in the 21 cent-the 2 performance traditions

Neil Halliday wrote:
< The fact that baroque music (Bach's especially) sounds so good on modern instruments using the more straightforward articulation appropriate for such instruments, simply means we will have to accomodate two performance traditions for the forseeable future. >
I find it quite humourous (CDN, British spelling) that we've developed into studying the studying!

Anyway, to study these studies, I earnestly hope that the accomodation of the "two performance traditions" is not in a forseeable future, but a forseeable present. Unfortunately, those that accomodate both HIP and non-HIP seem to be somewhat rare, and those that are one-sided tend to be quite vocal (sound familiar? kinda like North American politics!). I guess it's a matter of where one's artistic inspiration is from, modern perceptions or those of history.

But I can only accomodate one kind of performance: an emotionally stimulating, attention grabbing and ultimately memorable one.

An old Vulcan proverb: "Only Nixon could go to China" (Spock, Star Trek VI-the greatest film there is, and like "fence-breakers" such as myself, it has only a cult following).

Continue of this part of the discussion, see: HIP - Part 10 [General Topics]


Continue on Part 2

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