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Recordings & Discussions of Cantatas: Cantatas BWV 1-50 | Cantatas BWV 51-100 | Cantatas BWV 101-150 | Cantatas BWV 151-200 | Cantatas BWV 201-224 | Cantatas BWV Anh | Order of Discussion

Cantata BWV 13
Meinen Seufzer, meine Tränen
Discussions - Part 3

Continue from Part 2

Discussions in the Week of December 20, 2009

Neil Halliday wrote (December 20, 2009):
Cantata for discussion: BWV 13 Meine Seufzer, meine Tränen

This week's cantata (for the 2nd Sunday after Epiphany, 1726, Bach's third Leipzig cycle) features three attractive arias offering quite different instrumental timbres, set to a text which is unusually bleak (G.C. Lehms); the deep despair and depression of the singer, expressed in the first person in the first four movements, is only partially relieved by the exhortation (by an external observer, eg, the holy spirit) to trust in God for release from earthly misery, in the final two movements.

[Actually, this sudden change from the first person: " I am so miserable, God does not help me", etc. etc. occurs toward the end of the second recitative, with the sudden appearance of this "external observer": "yet, soul, take comfort in your pain" etc.]

In the opening tenor aria (Mvt. 1), the timbre of the oboe da caccia (tenor oboe, or English horn in Richter's recording [2]) is most appealing, almost consoling; this 'voice without words' is certainly as eloquent as the vocal line itself, and those recordings that bring this line to the forefront, especially Suzuki [8], for example, are most successful.

As the OCC points out, major keys are avoided, and the music modulates on the flat side (from the tonic D minor) as far as Bb minor (soon after the start of the central section).
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Happily the tenor oboe (and the recorders, according to the score) all double the alto chorale line in the third movement. Normally a chorale line can seem inadequate if carried by a single voice, but the combination of instruments and a strong voice is satisfying in Gardiner [6] and Suzuki [8], for example. Koopman [7] uses the choir altos, downplaying the instrumental timbre.

Why such a jaunty accompaniment to this despairing text? I think Bach, after the tears (Tränen) of the first movement, was simply unwillingly to afflict his audience with the full force of this text's sentiments, preferring to 'unconsciously' remind his listeners of the reality (for Bach) of God's healing grace.
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In the bass aria (Mvt. 5), the angular theme (A), first heard in the unison treble instruments in bars 1 and 2, is always followed (or preceded) by the descending chromatic figure (B), first heard in the continuo, in bars 3 and 4.

For example, the bass vocalist begins with (A) in bars 9 and 10, followed by (B) in the treble in bars 11 and 12, followed by (A) in the treble in bars 13 and 14, followed by (B) in the continuo in bars 15 and 16. This occurs throughout the movment, including in modulations into D minor and C minor (the tonic key of the aria is G minor). The next such episode occurs in bars 20 to 25 inclusive, with (B) in the treble (2 bars), followed by (A) in the treble (2 bars), followed by (B) in the continuo (2 bars). And so forth (see the score).

The contrasting demisemi figures heard in the 2nd half of the ritornello of course relate to the "looking to heaven" and "the light of joy" expressed in the central section of the text (this aria is in modified 'da capo' form).

The two descending 'devil's intervals' in the continuo, accompanying (A) in the opening two bars, stongly establish the desired Affect; on first hearing the music sounds almost atonal.

An effective and unusual device occurs in the central section (after the 2nd ritornello): namely, after the bass sings straight through the four lines of text of this section, he then repeats these lines with a four beat hiatus between the first and second, and then second and third lines, suggesting tentative movement toward "looking to heaven" and "appearance of the light of joy". (Jane Newble commented on this effect, previously).

I notice Leusink [5] and Gardiner [6] have very slow tempos for this movement (around 10 mins). It's difficult to judge from the short samples, but I suspect Gardiner's performance (10.38) is very effective/moving at this speed.

In fact it appears that Gardiner's recording of the entire cantata [6] has the longest elapsed time of any (a rarity, I would say). Nevertheless Suzuki's much faster version (6.42) [8] is also attractive, aided by the excellent instrumental timbre, continuo realisation, and superb singing.

In previous discussions I expressed reservations about the unusual timbre of unison solo violin and recorders; however, Suzuki [8] is pleasing in this regard. (Craig Smith likens this timbre to "a theramin, that odd early 20th-century instrument that is now inextricably associated with science fiction movies". Fortunately, Suzuki avoids this effect.
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The melody of the final chorale differs from that of the third movement: also, this final chorale melody is the second of the 4-part chorales in the SMP: "Ich bin's, ich sollte büssen" (noted in the OCC).

Re the newest recordings of this cantata (both released in 2008): Kuijken [9] maintains his usual high standard; however, I give Suzuki [8] a slight edge for instrumental timbre, while preferring Kuijken's recitatve accompaniment, as usual.

Note the impassioned arioso on "flehen" (implore) at the end of the first recitative, and the change to major-chord harmony at the end of the second recitative, on "changing wormwood gall into joy-wine",
the only allusion to the gospel of the day.

Here is the link to the BCW page: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV13.htm

Peter Smaill wrote (December 20, 2009):
[To Neil Halliday] This is indeed as Neil points out an exceptionally bleak libretto, as all observe relieved by Bach's beautiful (and unusual) scoring.

Duerr relates the whole to a passage ("The hour may indeed be far off") in BWV 13/2, comparing it to John 2.4, "My hour is not yet come", in the Gospel for the day.

However, a much more extensive textual parallel is here a Psalm, namely the famous Psalm 22, which prefigures the Passion:

"My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?....O my God, I cry in the daytime but Thou hearest me not, and in the night season, and am not silent..

But be not Thou far from me, O Lord: O my strength, haste Thee to help me"

This parallel tension between despair at the immediate divine response with faith in its ultimate appearance is evident in both Psalm and Cantata text. In addition Hirsch calculated that the vocal theme of BWV 13/1 has 22 notes, and BWV 13/5 has two main sections of 22 bars. The natural-order reading of the incipit of BWV 13 has a score of 256, exactly the number of notes in total that the tenor sings.

It has to be noted that Psalm 22 is only one of many textual sources detected in Melvin Unger's concordance since many penitential psalms have similar sentiments; nevertheless the dominant source in both the Hirsch and Unger analyses is the Psalter. Bach only once sets a Canata entirely to a Psalm, namely BWV 196 of 1707, using Psalm 115.

Douglas Cowling wrote (December 22, 2009):
Neil Halliday wrote:
< In previous discussions I expressed reservations about the unusual timbre of unison solo violin and recorders; however, Suzuki [8] is pleasing in this regard. (Craig Smith likens this timbre to "a theramin, that odd early 20th-century instrument that is now inextricably associated with science fiction movies". >
Handel creates a similar surreal sound in the soprano aria "Ferma l'ali" in horatorio, "La Resurrezione" with two violins doubling two recorders. The semi-canonic writing of the two parts over a 39-bar pedalpoint is just
plain weird.

Ed Myskowski wrote (December 23, 2009):
Neil Halliday wrote:
< In previous discussions I expressed reservations about the unusual timbre of unison solo violin and recorders; however, Suzuki [8] is pleasing in this regard. (Craig Smith likens this timbre to "a theramin, that odd early 20th-century instrument that is now inextricably associated with science fiction movies". Fortunately, Suzuki avoids this effect. >
My response is stimulated by Doug Cowlings post, although not directly related to his comment.

I think it worth pointing out that to some of us:

(1) The theramin is more associated with its use by Messiaen, than its association with <science fiction movies> (my reverence for Craig Smith notwithstanding).

(2) The distinctions among science, fiction, and theology grow dimmer by the year, for many including Messiaen. He visited Boston for his 80th birthday, it was a priveliege to hear his music in his presence. Perhaps Craig missed it.

NH:
< Re the newest recordings of this cantata (both released in 2008): Kuijken [9] maintains his usual high standard; however, I give Suzuki [8] a slight edge for instrumental timbre, while preferring Kuijken's recitatve accompaniment, as usual. >
EM:
I suppose I will have to add the Suzuki [8] ahead of my schedule, to check out agreement (or not). As we often note: each of the ongoing release series (Suzuki [8], Gardiner [6], Kuijken [9]) have unique characteristics. Along with utmost professional performance standards, and respect for the music, the recording venues alone provide a variety of listening options.

OVPP (or not) becomes almost a sidebar, or secondary consideration. Recorded history in the making (or in the case of Gardiner [6], already made), in the ongoing releases.

Technical question: is SACD retroactively additive, along the lines of <electronically rechanneled for stereo>? I note releases of older material, labeled SACD.

Can octo (a prefix) be far behind? To my ears, its either live, or its not. Ella Fitzgerald shattering champagne goblets with Memorex, notwithstanding. I suppose that dates me, if anyone is wondering. Happy New Year. Just throw the gobelt in the fireplcae, and let the butler sweep it out tomorrow.

Kim Patrick Clow wrote (December 23, 2009):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
< (1) The theramin is more associated with its use by Messiaen, than its association with <science fiction movies >
Not me. I hardly listen to Messiaen. I think of Sci-Fi movies, and the stand-up comic Robert Klein who included a bit about the theramin in his some of his material years ago.

< Technical question: is SACD retroactively additive, along the lines of <electronically rechanneled for stereo>? I note releases of older material, labeled SACD. >
Depends on the original recording. It could have been recorded in SACD format, but not released until a later date due to production issues or schedules. But yes, previous recordings can and have been remastered into SACD format.

Ed Myskowski wrote (December 23, 2009):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
<< (1) The theramin is more associated with its use by Messiaen, than its association with <science fiction movies >>
Kim Patrick Clow wrote:
< Not me. I hardly listen to Messiaen. >
I urge anyone tempted by this discussion to:

(1) See the Craig Smith notes to BWV 13 in their entirety (Emmanuel Music link at BCW home page, from which Neils reference to the theramin was extracted), for a poetic merger of science, fiction, theology, Bach, and BWV 13.

I once heard Craig say, although I doubt he ever wrote it down: <Anything you can hear in music, you can find in Bach>. Maybe he did write it? Prize for the finder.

(2) Give a listen to the Messiaen Turangalila Symphony, a recording of which is like a black and white photo of the color of a live performance, including theramin. Sometimes you just have to be there. OTOH, a photo is better than nothing.

(3) Take special note for scholarly references: the preferred spelling is theremin. Messiaen actually scored for Ondes Martinot. As I like to say, when it comes to engineering, the French do not copy anyone, and nobody copies the French.

Details of the distinction between theremin and ondes martinot invited, if we can continue to relate it to the orchestration of BWV 13.

Evan Cortens wrote (December 23, 2009):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
< Details of the distinction between theremin and ondes martinot invited, if we can continue to relate it to the orchestration of BWV 13. >
I'm not sure if I can related it to BWV 13; perhaps some Bach has been played on these instruments though!

Anyway, the difference is that a theremin does not involve any physical contact. The device somehow senses the proximity of the player's hands (don't ask me how!) and controls pitch and amplitude on that basis, with the left and right hand respectively.

The ondes martenot, on the other hand, is fundamentally a keyboard instrument, though it also has a slider-like device on the front, which allows the player to glissando freely, instead of being restricted to the fixed division of the octave required by the keys.

That said, both instruments sound very similar... I'm not sure if I could tell the difference myself. They were also both developed in the 1920s. It's worth noting that perhaps the most famous melody attributed to either/both instrument, namely that from the original Star Trek television theme, is actually a human voice.

Edward Lilley wrote (December 23, 2009):
Evan Cortens writes:
Ed Myskowski wrote:
>> Details of the distinction between *theremin* and *ondes martinot* invited, if we can continue to relate it to the orchestration of BWV 13. <<
< I'm not sure if I can related it to BWV 13; perhaps some Bach has been played on these instruments though! >

I expect Switched-On Bach has something like that (been meaning to get a copy for some time).

< Anyway, the difference is that a theremin does not involve any physical contact. The device somehow senses the proximity of the player's hands (don't ask me how!) and controls pitch and amplitude on that basis, with the left and right hand respectively. >
AFAICT, it's the same reason that radios (FM or otherwise) sound more or less fuzzy when you wave your hand near the antenna (the hand acts like an irregular, distorting, addition to the antenna).

< The ondes martenot, on the other hand, is fundamentally a keyboard instrument, though it also has a slider-like device on the front, which allows the player to glissando freely, instead of being restricted to the fixed division of the octave required by the keys.
That said, both instruments sound very similar... I'm not sure if I could tell the difference myself. They were also both developed in the 1920s. It's worth noting that perhaps the most famous melody attributed to either/both instrument, namely that from the original Star Trek television theme, is actually a human voice. >

Ed Myskowski wrote (December 27, 2009):
Neil Halliday wrote:
< Re the newest recordings of this cantata (both released in 2008): Kuijken [9] maintains his usual high standard; however, I give Suzuki [8] a slight edge for instrumental timbre, while preferring Kuijken's recitatve accompaniment, as usual. >
Re Subject: Favorite (or not) acquisitions of 2009. Kuijken Vol. 8, including BWV 13 [9], is near the top of my list. Looking forward, I hope to inform you that Suzuki [8], for comparison, will be a 2010 favorite, from the vibrant Boston second-hand market.

NH:
< Note the impassioned arioso on "flehen" (implore) at the end of the first recitative, and the change to major-chord harmony at the end of the second recitat, on "changing wormwood gall >into joy-wine" >
EM:
If you happened to miss this detail the first time around, it is never too late to listen. Thanks Mate, Seasons Greetings, nice writing.

Neil Halliday wrote (December 27, 2009):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
>Favorite (or not) acquisitions of 2009. Kuijken Vol. 8, including BWV 13 [9], is near the top of my list. Looking forward, I hope to inform you that Suzuki [8], for comparison, will be a 2010 favorite, from the vibrant Boston second-hand market.<
If you have access to broadband, the first half of Suzuki's recordings can be sampled here: http://www.bis.se/index.php?op=people&pID=2396
(BWV 13 is on Vol. 42) [8].

In particular, I found the timbre and articulation of the tenor oboe in the opening movement to be most engaging (apart from the part itself; it's worth playing this important line by itself a couple times, to increase overall appreciation of the movement).

(How about playing it on the clarinet, Ed?)

>Thanks Mate, Seasons Greetings, nice writing.<
Thanks for the kind words.

Jean Laaninen wrote (December 28, 2009):
[To Neil Halliday] Thank you Neil for an excellent introduction that covers both the artistic and technical aspects of this work. I found your comments:
" Happily the tenor oboe (and the recorders, according to the score) all double the alto chorale line in the third movement. Normally a chorale line can seem inadequate if carried by a single voice, but the combination of instruments and a strong voice is satisfying in Gardiner [6] and Suzuki [8], for example." ...particularly interesting.

Happily I am now recovered from an illness earlier in the year, and have moved back to California and we are mostly settled, so I hope to be able to participate in discussions a bit more in 2010. Greetings of the season to all who celebrate as each chooses.

Paul Johnson wrote (December 28, 2009):
[To Jean Laaninen] I listened to BWV 13 this morning. Never was the final chorale, 'So sei nun, Seele', more needed in a cantata! It really interjects a spirit of hope after what must be one of the darkest laments Bach wrote - the aria preceding the final chorale is a ten minute drama of pleading despair.

My main feeling when listening to BWV 13 is that its 'emotional world' is a long way from the Advent/Christmas/New Year cantatas that I have been listening to. Even though the cantatas for after Christmas start anticipating the passion, they are essentially radiant works full of light.

BWV 13 is beautiful, though. I enjoyed the opening aria for tenor very much.

Douglas Cowling wrote (December 28, 2009):
Paul Johnson wrote:
< My main feeling when listening to BWV 13 is that its 'emotional world' is a long way from the Advent/Christmas/New Year cantatas that I have been listening to. Even though the cantatas for after Christmas start anticipating the passion, they are essentially radiant works full of light. >
It's simply not in our culture to view New Year's as a season of contrition for the failures of the past year and as a sign of human mortality.

This 18th century English hymn, although heavily Pietistic, captures some of those themes which we find so unsympathetic in Bach's librettos.

And now, my soul, another year
Of my short life is past:
I cannot long continue here
And this may be my last.

Much of my dubious life is done,
Nor will return again
And swift my passing moments run,
The few that yet remain.

Devoutly yield thyself to God,
And to his care commend:
And still pursue the heavenly road,
Nor doubt an happy end.

Break out the party hats and noisemakers!

 

Cantata BWV 13: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

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