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Cantata BWV 131
Aus der Tiefen rufe ich, Herr, zu dir
Discussions - Part 2

Continue from Part 1

Discussions in the Week of March 12, 2000 (1st round)

Aryeh Oron wrote (March 12, 2000):

This is the week of cantata BWV 131, according to Jane Newble's suggestion. This cantata is so famous and such a good introduction to the whole world of Bach cantatas, that I believe that everybody in the group knows already something about it. Therefore I would not like to quote this time from any source, and I shall put my impressions about the 8 recordings of this sublime cantata that I have. But I cannot avoid couple of words about BWV 131 before putting my opinions in writing. Firstly, I believe that this cantata is a complete unity and should not be broken into pieces. I mean that you have to hear it in one sitting. Secondly, It is very delicate and fragile piece of music. Once you know the cantata, you realize how complicated it is to make a through and perfect performance from all aspects. And sometimes, even one small aspect of the performance, which is not on a satisfactory level, might ruin the enjoyment from a performance, of which all other components are very good.

For those who need some background on BWV 131, there are some sources on the Web.

Original German text:
A good English translation by Z. Philip Ambrose:
Simon Crouch Cantata pages:
Jan Koster Cantatas Project:

Personal Viewpoint

And something personal:
The magic of the music of this cantata is indeed very strong. Last Sunday evening, on my way home from the office I realized that this is the week of BWV 131. I started to sing it to myself, and then I became aware that the music that was coming out from my CD player in the car is Jazz and not Bach. But somehow the rhythm of the piano player (Allen Farnham) suited the music of Bach. When I came home I put one of the recordings of BWV 131 in the CD player, and just when the singing of the first Chorus came out, my partner left everything and came down to the basement. We heard 4 recordings of BWV 131 in consequence (Rilling [8], Thomas, Herreweghe, and Ramin) and we stopped only because we wanted to leave something to the other days of the week. Then I suggested hearing some Schubert and my partner said that Bach is not so easily to be left yet. On Wednesday it was not a problem to tempt my partner listening to 4 more recordings of BWV 131 (Harnoncourt, Suzuki, Rifkin, and Koopman).

Review of the Recordings

Hereinafter I shall put my pros and cons about every one of those 8 recordings. See: Cantata BWV 131 – Recordings

[2] Günther Ramin (1952)
Pros: Although this performance is very unusual to contemporary taste, it is working splendidly. You get the feeling that it is very Protestant performance, as though the community is singing. Very enthusiastic and fresh singing of the Chorus and the angelic and naive voices of the boys can be heard very clearly. The Tenor has very unique and beautiful voice. The tempos, which sound at first very slow, becoming gradually convincing when you get used to them.
Cons: The Bass has very limited voice, mostly on the lower range and he does not convince that he understands what he sings. The playing of instrumental parts are very unsatisfactory, to say the least.

[11] Nikolaus Harnoncourt (1983)
Pros: An exciting interpretation from an unexpected source. Harnoncourt’s interpretation has more legato that could be expected, based on his interpretations of other cantatas. The Chorus parts are sung very cleanly. Every voice is heard, and in some way they remind Ramin’s Choir. In the second movement Harnoncourt uses a boy Soprano with an angelic voice, instead of Choir, and it contrasts beautifully with the very low voice of the Bass. Equiluz never fails to touch your heart, and here (the 4th movement) he outdoes himself.
Cons: Some of the interpretations to the individual movements sound strange, such as the opening of the last movement. I would also like to hear more warmth.

[12] Joshua Rifkin (1985)
Based some previous recommendations, I had high hopes from this recording, but instead I had major disappointment.
Pros: The singing of Brownless.
Cons: All other factors. This recording proves once again that the one voice per part is unsuitable for this cantata. In comparison to this, Thomas’ interpretation sounds to me much better. At least he seems to believe in what he does, where Rifkin gives to every movement a lightweight and danceable treatment. It sounds so improper and the meditative and sombre atmosphere of the whole cantata is getting lost.

[8] Helmuth Rilling (1974)
Pros: The atmosphere is right. The soft and round approach of Rilling suits very well this cantata. Kraus singing is so beautiful and expressive. He is not shy of expressing his feelings. The Choir is a little bit bigger than is needed, but they sing marvellously.
Cons: The conducting is a little bit heavy from time to time and some of the accompaniments are not sensitive enough. The last movement sounds too slow. Schöne singing is authoritative but lacks flexibility.

[14] Philippe Herreweghe (1990)
Pros: When I heard the opening Chorus, I thought that this is going to be the ultimate performance, but when the 3 middle movements arrived I became very disappointed.
The internal rhythms in all movements sound very right.
Cons: The 3 middle movements are the weak part of this performance. Kooy voice in the second movement is not pleasant to my ears. He does not caress the words with the depth and sensitivity of Hotter or Fischer Dieskau (I do not know if either of them has recorded this cantata, but I can imagine how they could have performed it). The Tenor movement is marred by too prominent accompaniment of the lute, which detracts more it adds something. The singing of the Chorus in the 3rd movement is not sharp enough and the picture is muddy. We get compensated only in the last movement, which returns to the high level of the opening movement.

[16] Jeffrey Thomas & ABS (1994)
Pros: The singing of Julianne Baird and Drew Minter. The chamber quality of the performance, but….
Cons: One could think in advance that a performance of one-voice-per-part suits very well the nature of this cantata. However, this performance proves the opposite. All the internal balance is getting lost when we hear one voice where we expect an angelic Chorus as contrast to the solo voice (Bass in the 2nd movement and Tenor in the 4th). On the other hand, a big Chorus will also be out of place here. I believe that a small Chorus, of 2 or 3 voices per part would serve better this cantata.

[17] Ton Koopman (1995)
Pros: Everything. For me this is the ultimate interpretation. Koopman is very humble, sincere and unpretentious. He does not force a personal and strange interoperation on the music, like some of his colleagues are doing. As my partner said, Koopman sounds as a very close friends of old Johann Sebastian Bach. As though he knew him personally. The vocal soloists are also great here. Mertens is doing wonders in the 2nd movement. He has warm, sensitive, and rich voice, flexible like a Tenor. De Mey is not less good than Kraus (with Rilling) or Equiluz (with Harnoncourt) are.
Cons: Nothing.

[18] Masaaki Suzuki (1995)
Pros: Everything sounso right in this interpretation – The tempos, the size of the Choir, the voices of the singers. Every detail is getting the right attention.
Cons: It does not move me. Where is the soul? I know from his other recordings that Suzuki has the ability to put more soul into his interpretations. Sorry, but not here.

To summarize, for me (and for my partner), Koopman’s performance of this cantata [17] is number one. I know that there are some more recordings of BWV 131, like the one by Gardiner on Erato [10] (which I do not have yet). And as always, I would like to hear other opinions, regarding the above mentioned performances, or other recordings.

Kirk McElhearn wrote (March 13, 2000):
I must say that this, one of Bach's first cantatas, is indeed one of my favourites. In many ways, it sounds very different from his other cantatas.

From the Harnoncourt version notes [11]:
Aus der Tiefen rufe ich, Herr, zu dir (BWV 131) is Bach's earliest extant cantata. The reference at the very end to the commission: “Set to music at the request of Dr. Georg Christ. Eilmars by Joh. Seb. Bach, organist at Mühlhausen” also indicates some tension there: Eilmar was the parish priest at St Mary's, Bach was organist at St Blaise. Like ‘Actus Tragicus’ (BWV 106), this cantata was written in 1707, presumably for a penitential service after a fire.

I, too, find it immensely melodic, the kind of music I like to hum. The oboe melody in the middle Chorus almost makes me want to cry. It is, IMHO, one of Bach's most moving melodies.

The second Aria is a fine example of Bach's use of a simple melody in the Basso Continuo acting as a firm structure for the voices. The melody runs on like a stream, sometimes becoming more present when the singers are not singing, other times flowing on in the background.

The structure of this cantata is quite interesting. Here are some notes I scanned:

From Boyd (Oxford Composer's Companion).
The musical subdivision of the cantata is not easy to describe (and indeed the numbering of the movements differs from one edition or analysis to another). Bach established three or four large units, some of them subdivided into discrete movements with the direction attacca connecting them to the next. The first unit may be said to consist at least of the opening Chorus and the Bass Aria with chorale. But the division between Chorus and Aria is not the only one in this unit. Bach labelled the opening orchestral passage separately as a ‘Sinfonia’; it is only in the light of later developments in church music that this could be seen as a ritornello to the Chorus that follows. The Chorus itself is divided into a slow introduction and a fast continuation (‘Herr, höre meine Stimme’) with fugal elements. So these opening ‘two’ movements could easily be described also as a unit made up of four sections. Similarly, the Chorus ‘Ich harre des Herrn’ that follows the Bass Aria is divided into a slow introduction and a fugue (‘Meine Seele harret’). The third unit begins with the Tenor Aria ‘Meine Seele wartet’ which ends with a strong cadence and a caesura as if it were an independent movement, but the layout of the score suggests that Bach intended another attacca sequence of movements. Therefore, the final Chorus (with several changes of tempo) may be understood as part of the same unit as the preceding Aria. The Chorus ends with a large-scale fugue, ‘Und er wird Israel erlosen’.

From the Harnoncourt version notes [11]:
As far as the form is concerned, there are no independent Arias, recitatives or, except for the rather old-fashioned Sinfonia, extended instrumental movements. The structure and arrangement are conditioned by the work¹s origin in the motet and sacred concerto. It is fascinating to observe, with hindsight, that the particular musical quality of this (probably) first cantata is the result of a desire for symmetry and the conflict between the ‘no longer’ of the motet and sacred concerto on the one hand, and the ‘not yet’ of the later cantatas on the other.

I have only two versions of this, Harnoncourt [11] and Herreweghe [14]. I prefer the first, probably because the tempi give it more depth and feeling.

Matthew Westphal wrote (March 14, 2000):
[12] My reaction is the opposite. Brownless is my least favourite thing about that performance (followed by Rickards, who at that point in his career was vocally much better suited to Josquin than to Bach). What I really liked were Ann Monoyios and the oboe playing of Stephen Hammer (along with Jan Opalach in the Bass Aria with Chorale).

I think one-singer-per-part works particularly well in this cantata given the lack of movement breaks. (But then it's no secret that I like it generally.)
De gustibus non est disputandum.

[16] I agree about Julianne and Drew and about the chamber quality of the performance. As is so often the case, I find Thomas to be a very sensitive conductor -- I find this performance much more satisfying than Rifkin's.

I never found myself expecting an angelic choir on the Chorale melody in the Bass and Tenor Arias. (But then Rifkin's was the first performance of the cantata I heard, so I had no other associations with it.) However, any solo singer doing the cantata melody certainly needs a good legato and long breath.

[17] [18] Very interesting. On which volumes of the Koopman and Suzuki sets could I find BWV 131?

Thanks, Aryeh, for a marvellously thorough and articulate overview.

Aryeh Oron wrote (March 15, 2000):
(To Matthew Westphal)
[17] Koopman’s BWV 131 is on the second CD of his Vol.1.
[18] Suzuki’s BWV 131 is on his Vol.2

Thanks, Matthew, for your kind words. I recommend to you and to the other fans of modern and/or one-voice-per-part performances to open your ears also to more traditional recordings. They enlighten the cantatas from other and often unexpected angles.

Ehud Shiloni wrote (March 15, 2000):
[12] Rifkin's is my personal favourite for BWV 131. A particular magic moment occurs in the first Chorus when the tempo switches from slow [grave?] to quick with "Herr, höre meine stimme". Bach highlighted the transition from near total despair into the immense feeling of confidence in God's help, immediately upon the cry for this help. Rifkin's "quartet" breaks into the quick tempo with the near-ecstasy of "spiritual" singing in a Southern church...} Works for me! [though I can see why not for all others...] I also find Ann Monoyios singing to be outstanding. We must wait for Andrew Parrott to record BWV 131....

[18] I was fortunate enough to attend a live concert in Israel last year, where Suzuki/BCJ performed BWV 131, and I found the live performance more convincing than the one on the CD.

[15] I have another performance worth mentioning: Ricercar Consort with one-voice-per-part singers. The CD is called "Deutsche Barock Musik" and includes eight other baroque pieces by various composers. The performance is not bad, similar to Thomas/ABS [16].

Matthew Westphal wrote (March 15, 2000):
Parrott would definitely use only one singer per part (as in his BWV 4).

Alon Wasserman wrote (March 15, 2000):
[18] Hi Ehud, I also attended this wonderful performance. If I remember correctly (do I?), the Chorale accompaniment to the Arias was given by a group of singers, unlike what they do in the recording.

Ryan Michero wrote (March 15, 2000):
Here are some impressions of my own on this cantata:

[11] This is a successful performance overall, but I agree with Aryeh that some parts like the begiof the last movement, sound strange and mannered. Harnoncourt's treatment has an austere gravitas to it that I think works with this cantata, and his orchestra sounds lovely and rich as usual.

[14] [17] [18] These three recordings are very similar, I think. All of them are HIP, all use a chamber choir, and the conductors have a similar interpretative approach. Tempi and phrasing vary slightly, but there seem to be more similarities than differences. I mean, every single one has Marcel Ponseele on oboe, and both Herreweghe and Suzuki use Kooy for the Bass! What it boils down to, then, is a competition between small interpretative details, like which Tenor sounds better, which conductor has the most persuasive pacing, and even which continuo group I prefer. Everyone's preferences will probably be different here, but Suzuki wins out for me for his dramatic pacing, the emotional singing of the choir, and the grace and beauty of Gerd Türk, who copes with the high tessitura of his part better than Guy de Mey and Howard Crook. Koopman is not far behind Suzuki for me though: I rather like his use of one instrument on a part (why not one singer on a part, Koopman? Mertens sounds great, and Koopman adds some subtle and effective embellishment in the organ Continuo. Herreweghe's is also fine, with Ponseele perhaps sounding the best here and an exceptionally clear choir, though the lute in the continuo is too prominent (as Aryeh noted) and his pacing seems to falter in the last movement.

[12] I just bought Rifkin's version a couple of hours ago so I could compare it to the others. From the first bar I could tell that this one is very much "sui generis" in my collection of BWV 131 recordings, sounding completely different from everyone else's. I'm honestly a little shocked--is this really how this cantata should sound? I wouldn't want to give up my Suzuki recording, but I do like Rifkin as a radically different alternative. I think the one-to-a-part approach works here, bringing a more "early" sound to this most early of Bach cantatas. The sound of the Rifkin performance is really delectable, each instrument and voice crystal clear, every nuance easily audible. Like Matthew, I'm not too fond of Brownless, but I really like Opalach and Monoyios and the overall sound of the ensemble. Rifkin's tempi are generally faster and more dance-like than the other interpreters are, but I think this works well with the music. Overall, Rifkin's is a breath of fresh air and is quite thought provoking. I will definitely return to it.

[16] This is one the one American Bach Soloists disc I don't have! Too bad--I would love to compare it with Rifkin. And Matthew thinks it is more satisfying than Rifkin's? I will get it and keep you all posted, but I probably can't get it in enough time to be on topic--sorry!


Koopman on TV

Kirk McElhearn wrote (April 9, 2000):
[19] For the past two Sundays, the French satellite music channel has been playing Ton Koopman videos at 9 AM. Each film is one hour long, and presents some biographical info about Bach, and then Koopman and his band play a cantata. The first was BWV 106, and today was BWV 131. The films are not very interesting except for the cantata performances. The biographical stuff is pretty hokey, with characters in powdered wigs and horse-drawn carriages, and unfortunately Koopman does not talk much about the cantatas that he plays. In addition, the film is peppered with bits and pieces of Bach's music, all very short and out of context.

The cantata performances, however, make it worthwhile. They are interesting, and provide a nice way to learn more about the works, through watching performers play.

These films were made for Dutch TV in 1997, and apparently there are 4 of them. I don't know if they are available on video, and Cor Knops, Koopman's webmaster, had not ever heard of them when I queried him...

Sybrand Bakker wrote (April 9, 2000):
[19] Videos have been recently broadcasted by NCRV so it is a bit strange Mr. Knops doesn't know about them. AFAIK, there are 6 of them, with one very funny performance of the Kaffee Kantate, with Klaus Mertens as Herr Schlendrian and Anne Grimm as Liesgen. Perfect casting, performance in costumes, in an 18th century coffee-house. You may want to get in touch with the NCRV (, though I don't know whether they sell them.


My first Bach recording

Patrik Enander wrote (May 14, 2000):
(My first Bach recording) The Goldberg variations with Schiff and then cantata BWV 131 with Herreweghe [14] and I was hooked.


Tiefen or Tiefe

Ger Kaland wrote (August 26, 2000):
The title of this cantata is "Aus der Tiefen rufe ich, Herr, zu dir". In the first part the choir sings however "Aus der Tiefe…" so Tiefe without a 'n'. Can anyone (German people) explain this difference?

John Hartford wrote (August 26, 2000):
[To Ger Kaland] I am not fluent in German but I believe it is often the case, for poetic reasons, to drop certain letters. As an example, in cantata BWV 156 "Ich Steh mit einem Fuss im Grabe" the e is dropped from stehe. I am ready to stand corrected on this though.

Chris M. wrote (August 26, 2000):
[To Ger Kaland] The (modern German) grammatically correct from is "aus der tiefe", however, "aus der tiefen" sounds strange. Are you sure it is correct? It might be an old form of the word, today it would sound colloquial. As you might know we have many different forms for one single word in German. Translated it would mean something like "(up) from the depth (where I am) I pray to you or I call you (literally)". The word itself is "die tiefe". Bach's German, however, is quite different from our language as it is spoken today.


BWV 131

Ger Kaland wrote (February 3, 2001):
Part 4 (Meine Seele wartet) of cantata BWV 131 (Aus der Tiefen rufe ich, Herr, zu dir) is notated with two flats. So it should be written in B-flat-major or g-minor. But is notated in c-minor. So the first question is: Is that because of a relation with the dorian mode? My second question is: Where can i find that dorian melody in this aria?

Christophe Chazot wrote (February 3, 2001):
(To Ger Kaland) The melody comes from the chorale "Herr Jesu Christ, du höchstes Gut" composed by Bartholomäus Ringwaldt and published in 1588. I do not know if it is in Dorian mode and if you can find it in a book. Sorry.

Sybrand Bakker wrote (February 4, 2001):
As to the chorale "Herr Jesu Christ, du höchstes Gut"

This is hymn 167 in the EKG (the Lutheran Hymnal) The melody is an unequivocal 2nd mode (Hypodorian) on g, and it doesn't use the sixth (e) at all.

Please note at that time it was still very customary to write down minor with one flat less, as the sixth in the scale frequently was raised (so e instead of es, a instead of as) You could say there is still no definite difference between the dorian mode and minor, and whether minor is the modern equivalent of aeolian is even more questionable. Personally I believe minor is the successor of dorian.

Dashon Burton wrote (February 6, 2001):
[To Ger Kaland] After looking at it, I would imagine that it is a transposition of the dorian mode. This is done a lot with g minor and one flat.


Rilling’s BWV 131

Uri Golomb wrote (January 5, 2004):
[8] I am in the process of finishing a discography for my dissertation. I want to list the year in which Rilling recorded Cantata BWV 131. For the most part, such details are available on the CD; but not this time; and for once, Aryeh's usually comprehensive website makes no definite mention of a recording date. (He cites 1988 as a possible year, based on the publication year of the CD; however, as far as I know, Rilling completed his cycle in 1984, and 1988 is only the year of the CD is).

If anyone can tell me when this cantata was recorded -- just the year will do --- I'd be most grateful. To repeat: the information I need is on BWV 131, with Adalbert Kraus and Wolfgang Schöne. I suspect that the information is listed on the Edition Bachakademie 2000 issue (vol. 25); that edition usually lists all recording dates. Also, was cantata BWV 70 recorded entirely in 1970? Some details make me suspect that it was recorded in separate sessions -- possibly years apart (this happens sometimes in Rilling's recordings).

Neil Halliday wrote (January 5, 2004):
[8] [To Uri Golomb] Uri, you are correct: the booklet with the Hänssler edition lists Rilling's BWV 131 as being performed on January 1975.

(It's a beautiful performance; from memory the choir sounds a bit like Herreweghe.)

Parts of BWV 70 are listed, as you suspected, as being performed on separate occasions: 1970 (no month given); excluding movements 5 and 8 (February), movement 6 (October), and movement 4 (December), all in 1982. (Probably the 1970 recording of these particular movements were judged to be unsatisfactory for inclusion in the complete edition).

Uri Golomb wrote (January 5, 2004):
[8] [To Neil Halliday] Thanks so much for the information. I have ambivalent feelings about Rilling's cycle overall, but BWV 131 is one of his finest performances, quite flexible and very moving (in both senses).

I see that the 1982 movements in BWV 70 are all solo numbers -- recitatives and arias for soprano (Arleen Auger) and tenor (Lutz-Michael Harder). Presumably, Rilling and/or his producers were more satisfied with the efforts of choir, alto (Verena Gohl) and bass (Siegmund Nimsgern),so they kept their older contributions. I wonder who the original soprano and tenor were...


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Cantata BWV 131: Details
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