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Cantata BWV 135
Ach Herr, mich armen Sünder
Discussions - Part 2

Continue from Part 1

Discussions in the Week of June 18, 2006 (2nd round)

Eric Bergerud wrote (June 17, 2006):
June 18: BWV 135 Introduction

Introduction BWV 135: Ach Herr, mich armen Sünder

The mature Leipzig cantatas may not be Bachís most accessible works - I certainly would not recommend one to someone new to the idiom. I think it safe to say that even cantata enthusiasts are well advised to listen to these works seriously if they wish to come away with even a small portion of the beauty available. BWV 135 is certainly good example of a challenging work that offers returns commensurate with the attention given by the listener.

As someone who has done more than my share of book reviews in my time, I feel the impulse to be a bit curt with one of Bachís works from the second Jahrgang. No one is perfect after all and some works must be measurably better than others. Well, maybe Iíll get nasty next week because BWV 135 is terrific Bach.

The text is either a direct transcription (movements 1 & 6) of the lovely hymn ďAch Herr, mich armen SünderĒ by Cyriakus Schneega 1597 (http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Texts/Chorale069-Eng3.htm)
or a lose transcription (movements 2-5). With such a text it should come as no surprise that Bach produces some ďold time religion.Ē The terrified sinner prays for forgiveness and expresses joy that faith will provide it. Simply put, but not simply done. The long and complex introductory chorus is, in my opinion, a splendid example of mature Bach. It is complex but evokes powerfully a fearful sinner begging, and I mean begging, God for mercy so he/she might gain eternal life and be spared hellfire. The plaintive tenor aria (mvt 3) echoes the emotion in a plea to Jesus. The despair is lifted in an exultant bass aria. A gorgeous chorale finishes the work. Rarely does reverence to the Lutheran message come across so eloquently.

I have Leusink [6], Koopman [7] and Leonhardt [4]. The list members gave BWV 135 considerable attention in 2001 but did not, apparently, find a performance that really pleased. Indeed disappointment was the order of the day. I admit that I would never come down like a ton of bricks the head of a group composed of dedicated and skilled musicians. Perhaps I lack confidence in my taste or get distracted by the beautiful music. That said, I certainly think Leonhardt was firing on all cylinders and canít imagine the chorus or the chorale sounding better without boys. Richterís version [2] was praised but is presently only available as part of a five CD set. Suzukiís version [9] is out and it would be great to hear a list memberís view of his performance. (I would think this is the kind of work that Suzukiís forces would shine at.) Kuijken and Petite Band have an OVPP version [10] out but it is unavailable in the US. Itís a pity the OVPP crowd appears to favor the earlier works. I find the approach very interesting and would like to hear more of the complex cantatas done in this manner.

Do hope that others on the list will share their views on this work.

BWV 135 Details

BWV 135: Ach Herr, mich armen Sünder (Ah, Lord, me poor sinner)
Chorale Cantata for 3rd Sunday after Trinity
First Performance Leipzig June 25, 1724
Readings: Epistle: 1 Peter 5: 6-11; Gospel: Luke 15: 1-10
Text: Cyriakus Schneegaß (Mvt. 1& 6); Anon (Mvt.2-5)
German English text: http://www.emmanuelmusic.org/notes_trans/transl_cantata/bwv135.htm
Complete Leusink Performance [6]: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Mus/BWV135-Mus.htm
BWV 135 Discussion from 2001: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV135-D.htm

Excerpt from liner notes by Clemens Romijin accompanying Leusink performance [6]:

The chorale cantata 135 was written for the 3rd Sunday after Trinity, 25 June 1724. It comprises six movements and commences with an extensive chorus in strict style based on the eight line chorale melody. The succeeding secco recitative offers fine examples of text illustration: the 'schnelle Fluten von Tränení, for instance, are translated into rising and falling scale motifs. The work continues with arias for tenor and bass and a most expressive and chromatic recitative, while a simple chorale setting forms the conclusion.

Structure and Timings (from Leusink)

Mvt. 1: Chorus [S,A,T,B] (5'12)
Trombone, Oboe I/II, Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo

Mvt. 2: Recitativo [Tenor] (1'11)
Continuo

Mvt. 3: Aria [Tenor] (3'27)
Oboe I/II, Continuo Trste mir, Jesu, mein Gemte,

Mvt. 4: Recitativo [Alto] ('57)
Continuo

Mvt. 5: Aria [Bass] (3'13)
Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo

Mvt. 6: Chorale [S,A,T,B] (1'16)
Cornetto e Oboe I/II e Violino I col Soprano, Violino II coll'Alto, Viola col Tenore, Continuo

Peter Smaill wrote (June 17, 2006):
BWV 20,2,7 ,135 & Begin of 2nd Leipzig cycle

In BWV 135, "Ach Herr, mich armen Suender straf nicht in deisen Zorn," Robertson observes that, unusually, the chorale (to us the "Passion" Chorale) is given to the basses.

But there should be no surprise, because, as well as introducing the cycle with variegation of choral style, Bach is also (per Daw) establishing a well-regulated pattern for the placing of the cantus firmus/chorale in the first
four cantatas:

Cantata Opening Movement

BWV 20 French Overture (chorale in soprano)
BWV 2 Motet-like cantus firmus movement (chorale in alto)
BWV 7 Italianate Concertato style/"Violin Concerto" (chorale in tenor)
BWV 135 Chorale fantasia (chorale in bass)

Chris Kern wrote (June 18, 2006):
BWV 244 is my favorite Bach composition so I am very familiar with this chorale; I was kind of disappointed in the cantata on the first listen but I've grown to like it a bit better. I thought that all three recordings were quite good, and I wish I could hear the Suzuki (after hearing his excellent version of BWV 78). If I had to pick a single favorite it would be Leonhardt, but not by much.

Timings for the main movements:
Mvt. 1: Choro
Rilling [3] - 5:30
Leusink [6] - 5:10
Leonhardt [4] - 4:47

Leonhardt takes a different interpretation of the movement from Rilling and Leusink, but I think both are interesting. Leonhardt's stacatto, driving oboes make me think of the agitation and fear of the suppliants, whereas Rilling & Leusink emphasize the pleading nature of the lyrics with their more legato approach.

Mvt. 3: Aria (Tenor)
Leusink [6] - 3:27
Leonhardt [4] - 3:21
Rilling [3] - 2:46

There seems to be a pattern where a recitativo with "negative" lyrics is followed by a more positive aria. I also find it interesting that Rilling takes both arias at a faster tempo than either HiP conductor (in this case, 40 seconds faster than Leusink!)

There's a nice effectin this movement where the music stops after "stille" (silence).

I do not like the oboes that Rilling uses. Maybe I'm just too used to HiP oboes, but Rilling's sound almost like synthesized oboes or an organ stop.

Mvt. 5: Aria (Bass)
Leusink [6] - 3:13
Leonhardt [4] - 2:59
Rilling [3] - 2:44

This movement sounds a lot like the "golgotha" aria from the St. John Passion (BWV 245) (the bass aria with the answering choir). Leusink's interpretation of this is a bit too slow and "delicate" for my taste -- I don't think the scales in this aria sound good if they're not taken at a quicker tempo.

Mvt. 6: Chorale
Rilling [3] - 1:17
Leusink [6] - 1:13
Leonhardt [4] - 1:09

This is the typical chorale from all of them using the standard features of their chorale directing -- Rilling is my favorite here, although Leonhardt on the whole does chorales better than Harnoncourt (to my ears).

Julian Mincham wrote (June 18, 2006):
Two important points about the first movement

1 note the ambivalence of key---Bach clearly was intriqued by the tonal possibilities of this chorale. In the SMP (BWV 244) (no 23) he begins and ends it in the major key of Eb giving it an entirely different feel to its later use in the same work (no 72) when it begins on a minor chord (tonic of A minor) but ends on an E major chord---chord V of the key---a similar strategy (although a fundamentally different harmonisation yet again) to that used in part I of the Christmas Oratorio (BWV 248).

The harmonisation of the chorale in Cantata BWV 135 also begins on the chord of A minor--tonic of the key and ends on the dominant E major. The opening chorus, however, both begins and ends on a dominant chord which was most unusual and innovative for the time.

One only has to chart Bach's various uses of this one chorale to gain some understanding of his prodigious harmonic technique and inventiveness.

2 Although the first movement has the somewhat improvisatory character of a chorale fantasia, the organic development of ideas is extremely focussed and economic. The constantly reoccurring quaver figure hears in the opening bar is the first 5 notes of the chorale itself (harmonised by the same phrase in longer notes in the lower part) This idea is used to weave a complex tapestry of counterpoint around the bass articulation of the chorale---in both voices and instruments; an incredible compositional tour de force--and unlike any of the preceding opening movements of this cycle.

Douglas Cowling wrote (June 18, 2006):
Julian Mincham wrote:
< 1 note the ambivalence of key---Bach clearly was intriqued by the tonal possibilities of this chorale. In the SMP (BWV 244) (no 23) he begins and ends it in the major key of Eb giving it an entirely different feel to its later use in the same work (no 72) when it begins on a minor chord (tonic of A minor) but ends on an E major chord---chord V of the key---a similar strategy (although a fundamentally different harmonisation yet again) to that used in part I of the Christmas Oratorio (BWV 248). >
I don't forget the closing movement of the Christmas Oratorio (BWV 248) where it appears in a dazzling major key harmonization with trumpets and full orchestra.

Neil Halliday wrote (June 20, 2006):
Rilling's BWV 135 [3]

The A minor bass aria, in powerful cut C rhythm, has string accompaniment of marked vitality, vividly captured in Rilling's recording [3] (listen as well for the viola line). Combined with Huttenlocher's vigorous expression of contempt for `evil-doers', which are mentioned in the text, this adds up to my preferred recording of the aria. The vocal part, somewhat unusually, begins with a coloratura whose notes, once learnt, are easily remembered.

I can agree with Chris's remarks about Rilling's oboes in the tenor aria, except that after many hearings I have grown to like the happy vitality of this movement.

The strong colour of the trombone doubling the chorale line (vocal basses) in the first movement, and the trumpet doubling the sopranos in the last movement, are also features of this recording.

Neil Halliday wrote (June 21, 2006):
Suzuki's BWV 135/3 [9]

I wrote: "I can agree with Chris's remarks about Rilling's oboes in the tenor aria [3], except that after many hearings I have grown to like the happy vitality of this movement".

Suzuki [9] has less frenetic, more expressive oboes, a bit slower than Rilling, and pleasant singing by Gerd Tuerk. This is a pleasing performance of this tuneful tenor aria.

Ed Myskowski wrote (June 23, 2006):
BWV 135

There is already extensive information posted in both rounds of discussion for BWV 135. The two recordings I have are Gönnenwein [1] (Cantate LP), and Richter [2]. These were Aryeh's preferences, and he commented on them in depth in 2001. I share his appreciation for the perfectly balanced, unhurried performance of Gönnenwein, and the outstanding soloists with Richter.

I found the music examples and commentary posted by Thomas Braatz (in 2001) enjoyable, as always. I would encourage anyone with even the most minimal music reading skills (like mine) to give these a try. I especially enjoyed the small rest in the T rec (BWV 135/2) within the word Schrecken, which I find reminiscent of the faltering steps Neil Halliday (via Robertson) pointed out a few months ago in BWV 182 (not in discussion sequence). Robertson helpfully points out that lines of chorale melody recur in the A rec and B aria, BWV 135/4 &5. Fischer-Dieskau [2] is wonderful with 'my Jesus comforts me,' wonderful whether or not one is a believer.

Julian Mincham wrote (June 18, 2006):
< This idea is used to weave a complex tapestry of counterpoint around the bass articulation of the chorale---in both voices and instruments; an incredible compositional tour de force--and unlike any of the preceding opening movements of this cycle. >

Peter Smaill wrote (June 17, 2006):
< BWV 20, 2, 7 ,135 & Begin of 2nd Leipzig cycle
Cantata Opening Movement
BWV 20 French Overture (chorale in soprano)
BWV 2 Motet-like cantus firmus movement (chorale in alto)
BWV 7 Italianate Concertato style/"Violin Concerto" (chorale in tenor)
BWV 135 Chorale fantasia (chorale in bass) >

The individuality of these opening movements is the strongest (but certainly not the only) impression I have taken from these four weeks of listening. The myriad details are a delight, always more to find. But ultimately it is the large scale architecture that is truly incredible for me. The conception of these works must have been going on simultaneously, and over a period of time, in the midst of the rest of Bach's output, not to mention the inevitable day to day stuff.

Also incredible, no one before seems to have put together the concise summary Peter provided. Wolff (Bach: Learned Musician) mentions the vocal scoring. The Oxford Composer Companion mentions the structure, and the similar vocal scoring for other places during Jahrgang II, but fails to point it out for these opening works. I was struggling toward the whole package, but didn't quite get there before Peter wrote. Thanks, good to realize I was struggling in the right direction.

In general, the OCC article on BWV 135 is outstanding, as Thomas Braatz noted in 2001. Although it is unsigned, there is a note on the contributors page that indicates the editor, Malcolm Boyd, is responsible for unsigned ar. Presumably this means he wrote them, although one can never be too careful with the fine print.

Julian Mincham wrote (June 23, 2006):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
< The individuality of these opening movements is the strongest (but certainly not the only) impression I have taken from these four weeks of listening. The myriad details are a delight, always more to find. But ultimately it is the large scale architecture that is truly incredible for me. The conception of these works must have been going on simultaneously, and over a period of time, in the midst of the rest of Bach's output, not to mention the inevitable day to day stuff. >
And the miracle is that Bach goes on inventing almost endless new ways in which to construct and present these first movements. The reason why I went into the first three cantatas of the cycle in soe detail was to hope to stimulate, particularly in those just getting to know or approaching these works for the first time, a way of examining these great movements which can be applied to, and throw further light upon those yet to come.

If we had (heaven forbid!) lost all but the first movements of the first 40 cantatas of this cycle we would still be left with an awsomely original canon of remarkable compositions.

 

BWV 135 (Trinity 3)

Ed Myskowski wrote (June 8, 2008):
The subject cantata, BWV 135, was the choice by Brian McCreath for today, the Third Sunday after Trinity, on the weekly WGBH cantata broadcast (89.7 FM; www.wgbh.org).

I am bemused by the simple fact that there is much more, and more accurate, commentary available regarding Bach's theology in relation to a specific cantata from Brian's few words each week (on an absolutely non-religious venue, PBS), than is available from all the self-righteous, partisan (not to say prejudiced), preaching and shouting on BCML. A few thoughtful words on specific cantata texts is far more informative. In their absence, one has to wonder about the ultimate motivation of many of the BCML posters.

The performance choice today was the Kuijken OVPP recording [10]. As many of us have written, the Kuijken series is not to be missed, for an appreciation of OVPP at its finest. Beginning with Trinity 1, the selected liturgically correct cantatas have been from the Chorale Series, Jahrgang II of 1724. This will continue after a fashion next week, with BWV 177, which was retroactively added to the series in 1732. I believe this will also be our weekly discussion topic soon.

 

Continue on Part 3

Cantata BWV 135: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements
Discussions:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

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

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Last update: żNovember 8, 2014 ż17:44:36