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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 146
Wir müssen durch viel Trübsal in das Reich Gottes eingehen
Discussions - Part 1

Discussions in the Week of May 6, 2001

Aryeh Oron wrote (May 8, 2001):
Background

This is the week of Cantata BWV 146 according to Pablo Fagoaga's suggestion. Before getting into the review itself, I would like to tell you small personal story with some connection to the cantata under discussion. This association came into my mind while I was listening in my car to a CD of movements for Trumpet and Organ from Bach Cantata collection, which includes also a movement from BWV 146 [M-2].

Personal Viewpoint

When I was about 17 years old, I got my first LP player. I was so excited and I wanted to enter into the world of classical music, about which I knew actually nothing. So I opened the radio station and listened to a programme about new classical recordings. The first notes that I heard were from the last movement of the concerto No. 23 in A major K.488 by Mozart. I also remember that the piano player was Rudolf Serkin and the conductor Alexander Schneider. I asked my parents to buy for me the LP in the city (Tel-Aviv). When they came back and brought me the dear treasure, I put the LP carefully on the LP player and the magical sounds spread into the air. I was impatient while I was listening to the first two movements, because I wanted to listen to the last movement only. But being very cautious about my new present, I did not want to scratch the LP. I even thought about the clever idea of making a special record, which will include only the last movements from Mozart’s concertos for piano and orchestra. But during this process learnt something more and this is that the other movements had also their own merits. And that hearing the complete work as a whole is much more satisfying than hearing each movement separately.

And what is the connection of this story to BWV 146? Well, IMO last week cantata – BWV 104 - is masterpiece of art, especially when you listen to it as whole. It should not be broken into individual movements, although every movement is a pearl. But they are connected like a string of pearls to form a charming beauty, greater than its individual parts. It should be listened as a whole in one sitting and then we learn to appreciate it more, like a Mozart’s concerto. This week's cantata – BWV 146 definitely does not belong to this group of cantatas. The opening movement, borrowed from concerto for harpsichord and orchestra BWV 1052, sounds patched and is not exactly belonging. I have read what the experts wrote and some of them believe that the patching work was done masterfully. Sorry, but I am not convinced. Furthermore, I have to admit that I try to avoid hearing this concerto as much as I can. Because I made the mistake of hearing it too many times.

So, I believe that despite what I wrote in the first paragraph above, in the case of BWV 146 it is justified to pick only one movement for listening and review. And we also know that in every cantata, you can surely find at least one attractive movement. In this cantata there is more than one and I picked for my review the aria for soprano (Mvt. 5). In this wonderful and multi-layered movement we have in a nutshell the major route of many of the cantatas – from sorrow into joy.

Aria for Soprano (Mvt. 5) - The Experts’ Viewpoint

Alec Robertson:
“A long aria that passes, as in verse 20 of the Gospel (John 16: 20), from tears to joy. The section which describes how ‘ heart-sorrow will turn into glory in the blessed harvest time in heaven’, draws some very attractive music from the composer, and there is much to admire of melodic inventiveness in the first section.”

W. Murray Young:
“Bach’s setting is remarkable in that he retains one melancholy theme throughout, even though the text indicate a change to joy at the end. The transverse flute and the two oboi d’amore accompany he song with tear-motifs to illustrate her lines. This is a very long da-capo aria, but Bach infuses it with artistry and feeling.”

Nicholas Anderson (Oxford Composer Companions - J.S. Bach):
“This introduces a soprano aria whose text refers to Psalm 1236: 6 (v.5 in the Bible version: ‘The that sow in tears…’). Despite its minor mode and potentially mournful text, the aria (scored for flutes and two oboes d’amore) has a gallant, almost Telemannesque cheerfulness.”

Complete Recordings

I am aware of 4 complete recordings of Cantata BWV 146, and during last week I have been listening to them all. See: Cantata BWV 146 – Recordings (1) to (4).

(1) Felix Prohaska with Anny Felbermayer (soprano) (1953)
[2] Helmuth Rilling with Helen Donath (soprano) (1973)
(3) Nikolaus Harnoncourt with Alan Bergius (boy soprano) (1980)
[4] Pieter Jan Leusink with Marjon Strijk (soprano) (2000)

Review of the recordings of the Aria for Soprano (Mvt. 5)

(1) Anny Felbermayer (with Prohaska) is an admirable soprano singer of the older generation. She puts into her rendition as much expression and feeling as she can, up to a level of exaggeration. He voice is too rich for modern ears with well-heard vibrato. But there is a kind of arresting sincerity in her singing. The accompaniment is somewhat fragmented, as if we can hear the places where the players stop to take a breath. But there is authority in this interoperation; it seems that Prohaska knew exactly what he wanted to achieve.

(2) Helen Donath (with Rilling) is on the middle of the road between the old school (represented here by Felbermayer) and the new one (represented here). And she manages to bring out the best of both worlds – the warmth and expression of the old school and the delicacy and simplicity of the new one. She has a kind of delicate vibrato, much less felt than that of Felbermayer, and she uses it economically and tastefully. There is a unique quality to her voice, which reminds me honey. This is a kind of voice you want to hear more and more. And with every hearing another layer is exposed, another nuance is revealed. I hear a slight sadness below the surface in her singing. Technically she is admirable, because she manages to hold the long lines without break. The accompaniment she gets from Rilling is masterful and fits her singing like a glove, both in the timbre and in the continuation of lines.

(3) The fragmented approach of Harnoncourt has been much discussed in this group lately. But the main problem in his rendition of this aria is the boy soprano. The only good thing I can say about him is that he has a nice voice in his very narrow middle register. His voice is not developed and he does not have the ability to lead both the melodic and expressive lines. This rendition does not flow and is simply uninteresting up to the level of being boring. It is also not very well balanced and sometimes the weak voice of the poor boy is covered by the accompaniment.

(4) There is unusual tenderness in the instrumental introduction of Leusink to this aria. We have here the opportunity of hearing by Marjon Strijk instead of Ruth Holton. She also has a boyish voice, but with a darker colour than that of Holton. She does have enough breath to hold the long lines, and sometimes she is finishing her phrases uncleanly, somewhat forcefully without enough air. Regarding her expression, I can say that she does not get deed, and she leaves us with the feeling that there is much more to this aria than she manages to bring out.

In the last round of listening to this aria I had a visitor who heard this aria for the first time. I n his profession he is an architect and his association while hearing the four recordings one after the other were - ’wooden work’ (Prohaska) (1), ‘golden filigree’ (Rilling) (2), ‘Coffee with milk’ (Leusink) (4) and ‘unpolished aluminium’ (Harnoncourt) (3). Interesting. Isn’t it?

Conclusion

My choice for the best rensdition of the aria for soprano is without any doubt the team Donath/Rilling (2) - both the singer and the accompaniment.

And as always, I would like to hear other opinions, regarding the above mentioned performances, or other recordings.

Marie Jensen wrote (April 9, 2001):
"Wir müssen durch viel Trübsal"... I am sorry to say, but when it comes to the cantata of the week in Leusinks version, which is the only one I know, it is a good head line.....

After the first movement, an organ version of one of my favourite orchestral works, the harpsichord concerto in d BWV 1052, there are four movements I simply don't like.

BWV 1052 with its dramatic first and third movements and the sorrowful second movement is not like any other orchestral Bachwork. It has always reminded me of persecution, escaping perhaps on horseback in a cold minor landscape. (Especially the Paillard/ Robert Veyron-Lacroix version from the 1970’s or 1980’s, don't have the recording anymore.) Bach’s orchestral works are often used as sinfonias or arias in cantatas. It was the orchestral works I got acquianted with first, and when I later began my journey into the cantata world, it always stroke me, that Bach had told me the same story before without any words at all.

Now I experience this once more - listening to BWV 146 for the first time. But with my Leusink version (4) also the last..because: The second movement used for the opening chorus falls completely apart. In BWV 1052 it is so simple and beautiful. Here it is too complicated and insecure, not rehearsed enough.

Sytse Buwalda and Marion Strijk sing the next arias. They don't do well. The rest of the cantata , the duet (Mvt. 7) and final chorale (Mvt. 8) is OK. I really hope somebody can recommend a better version, because this cantata has great potentials.

PS: Talking about BWV 1052: Revising my old tape collection, I found a modern harpsichord concerto opus 40 by Henryk Gorecki. It is a live radio version where a certain Chapman is playing. I don't know where Gorecki in this case got his inspiration from, but it could very well be BWV 1052, because it has the same dramatic spirit, so if you by any chance have such a recording, listen to it ... I can highly recommend it.

Thomas Braatz wrote (April 9, 2001):
Again we have an anonymous poet who uses as his springboard this time the Gospel text for Jubilate: John 16: 16-23. After telling his disciples that he will 'disappear' for a short while only to reappear a short while later, Jesus finds it necessary to explain that their sadness will be short-lived, to be replaced quickly by joy. He uses the analogy of a woman in childbirth as being similar to the predicament that the disciples are in during this time between Ascension and Pentecost: The woman, at the moment of birth is sad, 'her hour has come,' but once the child is born, she forgets her fear and becomes joyful because a human being has been born. Jesus continues, "Und ihr habt nun Traurigkeit" ('You now have sadness') [the very words Brahms included in the extremely beautiful soprano segment of his Requiem, only that this section was added later, and did not exist at the time of the first performance.] Jesus promises to see his disciples again, "Eure Traurigkeit soll in Freude verkehret werden" ("Your sadness will be transformed into joy.") The Gospel text does not speak of dying and then experiencing great joy, yet the anonymous poet describes numerous situations where the individual, who has suffered in many ways, wishes to leave this earth in order to join God in heaven. The Epistle text for Jubilate, which also would have been heard read in Bach's church on that Sunday is 1 Peter 2: 11-20. I would like to quote verses 13 - 20 from the New Living Testament (a modern translation) and ask you to think of Bach's rapidly deteriorating situation with regard to his duties and the lack of understanding from those in whose charge he was: "For the Lord's sake, accept all authority – the king as head of state, and the officials he has appointed. For the king has sent them to punish all who do wrong and to honor those who do right. It is God's will that your good lives should silence those who make foolish accusations against you. You are not slaves; you are free. But your freedom is not an excuse to do evil. You are free to live as God's slaves. Show respect for everyone. Love your Christian brothers and sisters. Fear God. Show respect for the king. You who are slaves must accept the authority of your masters. Do whatever they tell you -- not only if they are kind and reasonable, but even if they are harsh. For God is pleased with you when, for the sake of your conscience, you patiently endure unfair treatment. Of course, you get no credit for being patient if you are beaten for doing wrong. But if you suffer for doing right and are patient beneath the blows, God is pleased with you."

Somehow I feel that Bach at this point in his life (1726? or 1728 are the possible dates for the 1st performance of this cantata - he had already completed the second Leipzig cantata cycle and was working on his third, but no longer with great enthusiasm) could identify completely with the poet's words which he set to music. Beginning with the quote from Acts 14:22 (NLT), which are not in either the Epistle or Gospel for this particular Sunday: [NLT] "They encouraged them to continue in the faith, reminding them that they must enter into the Kingdom of God through many tribulations." Or (King James Version - KJV) "exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God." Luther's choice of "Trübsal" allows for a meaning that includes grief and sadness, which the actual Greek original word, according to modern scholarship would not include in its meaning. Perhaps the poet saw in this word "Trübsal" the key link between the Epistle and Gospel, since this word emphasizes the depressed feelings of sadness that come about as the result of having faced many 'tribulations.'

Mvt. 3 Is 'Sodom' for Bach the city of Leipzig, after he discovered that it presented to him a much more difficult situation than he ever could have imagined: "ich und du sind geschieden, meines Bleibens ist nicht hier." ('You [City and Church authorities] and I are parted - I'm not staying here')? Bach had a number of 'irons in the fire' as he searched about for another possible location where his creative genius could unfold without all the hindrances and difficulties that he experienced from the authorities.

Mvt. 4: "Wie trüglich wird mir nachgestellt! Herr! Merke, schaue drauf, sie hassen mich, und ohne Schuld..So hat sie [the world having the power] ("They're all after me with their deceptive means. Lord, listen and see how they hate me, and that without any reason for doing so. In this way, the world takes great pleasure in seeing me suffer."

Mvt. 6 "Ich bin bereit mein Kreuz (meine Plagen) geduldig zu ertragen..Wer mit dem Feinde ringt und schlägt, dem wird die Krone beigelegt." (I am prepared to bear my cross patiently. Whoever battles the enemy will eventually have the crown placed on his head.")[Remember the crown on Bach's seal! These are thoughts, words, and beliefs that were very close to Bach's heart! Consider what he later wrote in 1730 and 1738: "...da [i] nun finde, daß [ich] mithin fast in stetem Verdruß, Neid und Verfolgung leben muß...." "...so muß [ich] mein Creütz in Gedult tragen..." {that I find that I am forced to live in a continual state of annoyance and to suffer envy and persecution constantly}{so I must bear my cross patiently}.

There is indeed something very strange about this entire cantata. It is as though the statement Bach is making here is expressed more through the words than the music, the music, with the exception of the soprano aria (Mvt. 5), and despite the ingenious inclusion of voices super-imposed upon an existing instrumental slow mvt.(Mvt. 2), simply does not 'hang together' very well, nor is it very rewarding, even if sufficient effort has been expended in making the music sound properly. What a strange imbalance between the 1st mvt. and the rest of the cantata, even if you consider that Mvt. 2 was part of the same instrumental concerto, that had been composed at a different time! The 1st mvt. is simply too expansive and monumental, hence it detracts from what is to follow. Add to that the fact that this was originally a violin concerto! There are certain musical figures that are idiomatic or 'at home' on a violin, and although they can be transported to another instrument, inevitably, even under Bach's expert hand, something is invariably lost. This happens here when two different types of keyboard, harpsichord and organ, have to break in the middle of a running pattern and switch to a lower octave to accommodate the phrase. Here, in the case of the cantata as a whole, Bach, in frustration, is 'scraping the bottom of the barrel' to come up with something that will serve as an answer to his critics as he 'vents his spleen' musically to a text that he may have even co-authored, or concerning which he may have made some strong suggestions to the poet. In Mvt. 3, alto aria, Bach does not even bother to indicate which solo instrument should play the part, a very atypical thing for him to do. Yes, there is the usual development of the strong antithesis between sadness and joy, but all of that is capsulized in one aria, Mvt. 5 for soprano. Even the connection of the final chorale (Mvt. 8) is left to happenstance. It is as if Bach, having tired of the continual production of cantatas which were required of him, now simply says nonchalantly, "Go ahead, you choose a verse for the conclusion of the cantata." Very unlike the usual Bach, who might even attempt to include some musical interpretation of the chorale text in his 4-part harmonization. As a result I heard at least three different verses sung on the recordings.

I find all of this very moving and frustrating at the same time. I empathize with Bach's situation and the choice of weapon he uses to speak to those who are persecuting him. He again uses double-entendre to put his point across (knowing that a few in his audience will be able to make the proper connections between the text and his personal situation), the only difference here is that the manner in which the music is composed and presented leaves much to be desired on the part of the listener and the performers as well.

Having stated the above, I nevertheless, feel an obligation to present a few reactions from the expert commentators, so that you will have more information on which to base your opinion of this music.

Mvt. 1 & Mvt. 2: Sinfonia & Chorus
Spitta comments that Mvt. 2 is remarkable, because Bach succeeded in 'building into' (superimposing) the existing instrumental piece the four voices of the choir without essentially modifying it. He calls it 'a virtuosic deed accomplished by a composer's adeptness and facility." Schweitzer points out that the first mvt. is enriched with 3 (in part) obbligato oboes, and that in the 2nd mvt. Bach superimposes the main chorus, "an achievement on the level of the D major overture into the opening chorus of the Christmas cantata, "Unser Mund ist voll Lachens", BWV 110." Schweitzer detects a 'grief' motif consisting of the rhythm of two tied notes, only that here there is periodic interruption of the natural motion by the use of wider intervals. He says that "the elegiac mood harmonizes with the words, "wir müssen durch viel Trübsal." Dürr calls the 1st mvt., as an introductory sinfonia, "überdimensional" ("inordinately large") and "gewaltig" ("enormous"). After pointing out, how the choral parts were composed 'into' the existing piece, Dürr comments on the difficulty of producing a satisfactory performance, which he maintains is only possibly with a choir consisting of no more than 12 voices. Anything larger would suppress the organ soli as well as the string tutti. David Schulenberg (Oxford Composer Companions:J.S.Bach {Boyd]) sees in the 1st mvt.'s length and difficulty a representation of wordly labor or even 'tribulation.' In Mvt. 2 he hears a suggestion of "Trübsal" [word explained above] through the sustained dissonances on that word.

Mvt. 3 (Alto aria)
Spitta senses here a deeply-felt masculine emotion. "The overstatement of the death wish (longing for death) seems to have been more internalized here." Schweitzer notes the excessive length of the arias, hoping that this would not prejudice the potential listener. Schulenberg points to the rising scale motif that underlines the words, "Ich will nach dem Himmel zu" ("I want to go in the direction of heaven.")

Mvt. 5 (Soprano aria)
Schweitzer is the first, to my knowledge, to point out the 'tear' motif in this aria: "the oboes let fall a tear in each bar." Dürr calls this mvt. "the musical highpoint" of the cantata.

Mvt. 7 (Duet for tenor and bass)
Schweitzer points out the 'joy' motif. Dürr senses that this mvt. Could possibly be a parody of a mvt. from a secular cantata with many running parallel thirds and sixths. The instruments provide a dance-like ritornello. Schulenberg sees a connection between section B of the alto aria and the opening motif here.

Comments on the recordings will follow.

Thomas Braatz wrote (May 10, 2001):
BWV 146 Comments on the recordings of which I have four: Prohaska (1), Rilling, Harnoncourt, Leusink.

Mvt. 1 Sinfonia
(1) Let's take the worst, first: Prohaska with Kurt Rapf on the organ. The audio technology used in recording and re-recording it to place it on a CD is of rather poor quality. My guess is that the original recording was to a tape recording with not the very best microphone available. Those of you still familiar with the antiquated sound recording equipment that existed in 1953, the date of the original recording, will remember how critical an evenly running tape was to the success of the recording. A flywheel attempted to provide the steady, even flow of the heads across the tape heads. More often than not, the result was less than acceptable to our ears nowadays. A flutter of varying degrees would show up immediately when trying to record an instrument with a stable tone, such as a harpsichord or piano. With voices, strings, and woodwinds the problem was not quite as apparent. Next problem was that the turntable upon which the recording, now transferred from tape to record, would be played, could also not turn evenly or perhaps the the record was slightly warped, all of these things simply compounding an already existing problem. Now imagine that all the highs and lows of a sound range were simply cut off. All the typical overtones that help to identify an instrument or voice are missing. Add to this a problem with acoustics so complex that it overwhelms this primitive equipment. What you will hear today is a caricature of a performance that alreahad serious flaws to begin with: the intonation between instruments is off, there is sloppy playing because they are not always together. In a few spots the music threatens to fall apart completely. The oboes in particular are way out-of-tune. Rapf plays in a heavy-handed manner a non-baroque,'theater'-type organ with most of the stops pulled. When the music 'really gets going' it sounds like an old steam engine train chugging along with occasional 'peeps' from the oboes. You will breathe a real sigh of relief when the conclusion is reached. There is only one thing worse that could happen, and it does, when the voices are added in Mvt. 2.

What a relief to hear the other recordings after this one. With Rilling (2), Martha Schuster provides a much better choice of organ stops. The result is (partially due to the better recording techniques available twenty years later) much more sparkle to the organ sound. The playing is precise, and yet quite serious as the nature of the music would indicate. Harnoncourt's version (3) with Herbert Tachezi (1984) combines the true Baroque instruments with an appropriate organ and organ-playing style. The effect is not quite as monumental as Rilling's, but nevertheless the fairly serious attitude of the music is retained. Leusink's version (2000) (4) is the opposite of all the rest. It is the only version at the lower pitch (C# instead of D). The chest organ (very likely the smallest of all the organs used in this group) is played by Rien Voskuilen. Everything is treated with a very light touch, perhaps to accommodate the small organ. At times, the organ is entirely obscured by the other instrumentalists who are really holding back. As a result, any sign of the monumentality of this music is lost. As a "Spielstück" it becomes very pleasant to listen to, but is this what Bach intended?

Mvt. 2 Slow mvt. with Chorus
(1) Prohaska's version sounds as if it had been recorded in the early twenties, and I have heard much better sounding recordings from that early period than this one. I tried to analyze, what it is that makes me begin to squirm as I sit listening to this version. For me the music I hear here is truly agonizing. Is this effect intended? Am I supposed to feel the 'tribulations' this way when listening to this mvt.? Let me try to explain my reaction this way: Imagine a small (I do not think this choir has that many singers, perhaps two or three to a part) operatic choir (these are frequently singers who have passed their prime in solo singing and still continue singing in the opera chorus even though their wide, uncontrolled vibratos are quite obvious). Imagine this choir singing from a distant balcony, their efforts squeezed through imperfectly operating sound recording equipment. The result is very strange and distant. I can look at the notes, let's say of the alto line, and think that I hear the alto voice singing, but in reality, I can not identify the pitch/tone of the note being sung because it is being cancelled out by the volume of some of the other voices. Just imagine yourself as the proud owner of this Bach Guild recording back in the fifties, thinking that it is truly marvelous to be able to hear this rarely performed music by Bach!

(2) Rilling's version with the Gächinger Cantorei is IMO a simply 'so-so' performance. The fact that he takes this mvt. at the slow tempo, does not mean that he should condone sloppy entrances of the voices. The organ, with its 'Vox Humana' stop also does not appeal to me directly either, but then, that may be due to the fact that I do not particularly enjoy this stop even though it was already present during the Baroque period. The general effect throughout is one of sadness as the words of the text would indicate.

(3) Leave it to Harnoncourt to break up the lugubrious monotony of this mvt. And zero in on the two-note phrases (this is, after all, his forte) und provide us with the first glimpse of the 'grief' motif that Schweitzer had indicated. But Harnoncourt has to go one step further by allowing the second note in the two-note phrase to 'die out' prematurely, thus making this mvt. sound even heavier than the others. Is Harnoncourt trying to depict the 'burdens' we are supposed to feel, or is this too much of a good thing? Harnoncourt comes up with a wonderful contrast at the words, "wir müssen" somewhere in the middle of the mvt. He expresses the resoluteness of these words in the chorus and orchestra.

(4) Leusink gives me more reality than I really want. The voices truly sound as if they come from hell or Sodom. When falsettist altos and particular sopranos attempt to reach a high G or Ab, they need to strain, increase the volume of their voices in order to reach these notes. The effect is truly unmusical because the continuity of the musical line is broken up by these sudden loud sounds. They draw too much attention to themselves. It reminds me of the sound made by male actors playing female roles in Hollywood films, actors who might be pinched in their behind by someone and then cry out suddenly in their fake falsetto voice.

Mvt. 3 (Alto aria)
(1) Prohaska - Wien has an operatic voice that sounds very close to the microphone while the violin, off in the distance has some intonation problems. Yes, she has a vibrato more associated with opera performances, but in this regard her voice is still better than Rilling's Höffgen. Wien does some swooping to the notes she wants to land on. This recording was made at a time when conductors and performers went about changing words in the text when it did not suit them, or if they thought the audience might understand the words better if an improvement was included: Wien sings, "ich von dir geschieden" instead of "ich und du geschieden" in the original.

(2) Rilling also uses the violin with Hoeffgen, but she is way too operatic for this aria, and what is worse, is that she is past her prime, unable to control her voice/vibrato. Altos of this type kept me from truly enjoying the Bach cantatas for many years. Hoeffgen represents for me the stock image, unfortunately negative, of a typical female aria singer. There is some expression, but no change in expression occurs in the middle section.

(3) Harnoncourt's Esswood definitely has more expression than Höffgen or Wien, but I still do not like the voice quality, not that Esswood is always bad in my mind, he does have some outstanding performances in this series. His treatment of the middle section is very good here. Harnoncourt brings out the interplay between the basso continuo and the voice, but in the first section Esswood often sounds forced and for that reason unpleasant in my ears. An organ is used here instead of the violin (as you know, Bach did not designate which instrument to use.)

(4) Leusink also uses an organ as the solo instrument. Buwalda is rather expressionless and some notes that he sings are extremely thin (no roundness). This is not a very strong voice.

Mvts. 4 & 5 (Soprano Recitative and Aria)
(1) Amazingly bad sound reproduction could not spoil Anny Felbermayer's recitative and aria in the Prohaska version. She has good expression and very clean intonation. Yes, she did indulge in a few operatic habits such as swooping to the word 'Ernte', a decidedly glissando effect that does not belong here. Very unusual, because of the limited tonal range of the recording is the sound of the flute. When I first heard it, I thought it was a cornetto, or perhaps a soprano saxophone played without vibrato, because the usual overtones, 'chiff,' and breath sounds were all removed, leaving a trumpet-like sound which I liked very mu. In the later recordings that have a wooden transverse flute as called for by a HIP performance, the flute gets swallowed up frequently by the oboi d'amore leaving a gap in my ears where this beautiful part should be. The problem here with Prohaska is that often the oboes doing the 'tear' motif are almost missing, they are too soft. This must be a balance problem due to the
recording techniques, because the opposite is normally true: the oboes are too loud and can not play softly.

When I hear this aria, I think that it is truly worthy to be included as part of a Bach's passion. Perhaps it could add some high quality to the St. Mark's Passion?

(2) I was really looking forward to hearing Rilling's version with Donath, but was disappointed for two reasons: the 'tear' motif is not always clearly heard and Donath's lack of control when she begins to press harder for expression. When this happens, her vibrato becomes stronger to such a point that I can not tell whether the note being sung is a straight note with her vibrato added, or whether she is adding some fancy (additional) trills. This happens twice when she sings the word "gebären." In the middle section of the aria, her voice has a sharper quality, a shrillness not as apparent as in the first section.

(3) Harnoncourt's boy soprano, Alan Bergius, truly makes an admirable effort. His intonation is good, which is not always the case in this series, and he uses little vibrato. There is, however, some thinness in the voice. Harnoncourt's 'tears' are clumpy, not my ideal of beautiful sound, and the bass line is lifeless. Of course, the wooden flute can not hold its own against the oboi d'amore.

(4) Leusink's Marjon Strijk has a small, soft voice that is clean in intonation and finally what I had been waiting for: I could hear every tear drop clearly with the wooden transverse flute somewhat weak in the lower range.

Ideally, give me Leusink's instrument ensemble with a slightly stronger flute (Prohaska's 'cornetto'-flute was just marvellous for really bringing out the musical line of that part) and give me a singer with a stronger voice and expression than Strijk's, someone resembling Felbermayer without her operatic tendencies, then I think I will have found a truly satisfying performance of this aria. In the meantime, give me the imperfections inherent in each of these recordings, because the music is simply Bach at his best.

Mvt. 6 & Mvt. 7 (Tenor Recitative, Tenor and Bass Duet)
Prohaska's tenor, Welfing (1), has a definite Viennese accent with a thin, nasal sound in his voice. Sometimes, in the way he attacks certain notes by swooping to them, he reminds me a bit of Richard Tauber (but Tauber was better). The duet (Mvt. 7) was pleasant to listen to, but I do not think the voices blended very well, because of the unique quality of Welfing's voice. Rilling (2) with Equiluz singing here in 1973 and with Harnoncourt (3) in 1984 gives his best performance under Rilling. Somehow Equiluz does not feel the need to push as hard to get his message across. As a result, he is easier to listen to here. In the duet (Mvt. 7) with Kunz, there is much joy expressed without overdoing it. Both voices are not forced and blend well together. Harnoncourt has Equiluz coupled with Thomas Hampson, not a very good combination. The voices do not blend well together and with more force applied to their singing, their voices take on a very fast vibrato (shades of Matthias Goerne here) so that when the word "laben" is sung with a trill, it truly sounds like two sheep bleating. I do not think that this is what Bach intended. It can be done with musicality preserved as in Rilling's performance.

Leusink's (4) Marcel Beekman makes a good effort on the recitative and together with Ramselaar you get a clean performance of the duet (Mvt. 7) at a reasonable tempo. These are not large voices, but they do fit together well. Just listen to the cleanly performed parallel runs. I do not know how these voices will project their singing and expression in a large church.

Mvt. 8 (Chorale)
Rilling (2) is the only one who performs the chorale correctly. Both Harnoncourt (3) and Leusink (4) allow the unaccented syllables to die out prematurely and disregard the fermati entirely. Prohaska (1) has the choir sing very slowly with poor attacks of the notes probably caused by the sloppy singing techniques of his operatic singers. The worst ever performances of Bach's chorales are included on the same side of the CD with only a quartet of operatic performers (they should have remained nameless forever, but unfortunately their names are given.) Once you have heard these "Easter Chorales," and then listen to a chorale performed by another quartet, for whom German is a foreign language, Suzuki on BIS, you will have witnessed a half century progression from Bach sung as a Wagner opera in Vienna to that which most likely approximates what Bach had in mind for a chorale performance (a great success on an international level.)

Andrew Oliver wrote (May 13, 2001):
The two recordings which I have of this comparatively lengthy cantata are those of Harnoncourt (3) and Leusink (4). I also have Winschermann's rendering of the opening sinfonia (M-1), and I prefer this to either of the other two versions. Of those two, the Leusink appeals to me more than the Harnoncourt.

In the second movement, however, I much prefer Harnoncourt. Of course, if we are looking for trials, tribulations, troubles, Trübsal, then I would have to choose Leusink. Musically, however, I find the Harnoncourt version quite moving, and, to me, it appears to be well interpreted. This movement reminds me in its spirit, though not in the music itself, (nor the words), of the 'et incarnatus est' from the B minor mass.

I have no preference between the two versions of the alto solo. The aspect of this movement which I enjoy most is the solo organ.

Both versions of the soprano aria are very pleasing. I prefer the voice of Ruth Holton as soprano soloist in the Leusink series, but Marion Strijk (who sings here) is also very good. I am impressed by the competence of Alan Bergius, Harnoncourt's boy treble, but the recording is spoiled (for my ears) by the sound of the voice being frequently masked by that of the orchestra.

The duet between tenor and bass (Mvt. 7) is very pleasing. I agree with Tom Braatz that the voices of Leusink's duettist's, Marcel Beekman and Bas Ramselaar, make the better matching pair, but I prefer the approach which Harnoncourt takes. His attitude is that of positive, active rejoicing, whereas Leusink tends toward gentle, passive repose. And, while Thomas Hampson's voice is too strong to match that of Kurt Equiluz comfortably, their pairing is still quite acceptable.

I always like the closing chorales (Mvt. 8), mainly because of Bach's peerless harmonizations, and I like both of these versions, but prefer Harnoncourt's, despite his tendency to cut short the final note of each phrase. Generally speaking, I prefer the choral movements of Harnoncourt (or Leonhardt) to those of Leusink, the reason being, it seems to me, that the balance between the voice parts is not right on Leusink's recordings; the trebles and countertenors always being prominent and the tenors and basses sometimes being barely audible. If this imbalance could have been corrected, the whole recording would have been improved. Having said , I am not at all unhappy with my Brilliant Classics set, and surely noone could deny that these CDs are excellent value.

 

BWV 146 - A question about duet (Mvt. 7)

Marie Jensen wrote (April 9, 2001):
Wie will ich mich freuen, wie will ich mich laben,
Wenn alle vergängliche Trübsal vorbei!
Da glänz ich wie Sterne und leuchte wie Sonne,
Da störet die himmlische selige Wonne
Kein Trauern, Heulen und Geschrei.

I know very well, that this is no theology list. But reading the text to the duet (Mvt. 7), I simply have to ask: How can a soul in heaven rest blissfully, undisturbed by sorrow, howling and screaming from hell? If a friend or relative of yours is missing, you will find out. If another souls friend or relative is missing it will be the same, and heaven is not a heaven anymore... and even if ones enemy is missing , should he be condemned -the worst punishment for eternity?..

I am aware, that the sorrow, howling and screaming could be of this world, and that the unknown poet longs to leave it, but the question has to be asked anyway.

Marie (perhaps caught in miserable logic of this world!)"

Thomas Braatz wrote (May 10, 2001):
(To Marie Jensen) Marie, this is just a guess based on some of my non-theological reading and study. It is possible, if we assume an afterlife, that we may need to prepare ourselves for this 'heavenly' state by first purging ourselves of all things and persons that keep connecting us or pulling us back to a physical existence. Having done that, we may achieve a "Gelassenheit", an attitude of composure, but nonetheless love, toward earthly things, as we concentrate more fully on our development in the spiritual world. Perhaps then we will recognize our personal aura as the poet indicates: "Da glänz ich wie Sterne und leuchte wie Sonne" ("I will sparkle like the stars and shine like the sun"). And to 'explain' "Da störet die himmlische selige Wonne kein Trauern, Heulen und Geschrei," allow me to quote two poems set to music by Franz Schubert. [I know this is off subject, but the word 'Bach' does appear in each of them!]

1) Lied der Mignon aus "Wilhelm Meister" von Goethe [Schubert D 877 Nr. 3 Jan. 1826 or ? 1827) There are numerous translations of Goethe's work available, so let me simply quote and comment directly. (Mignon, by the way, is a young female figure that acts more like a young man at times. That is why she is concerned or interested in the notion that, in an afterlife, there will be no sexual distinction):

So laßt mich scheinen, bis ich werde
(a spiritual 'shining' as above in "da glänz ich...")
zieht mir das weiße Kleid nicht aus!
('white' indicates that 'pure' spiritual part of herself/himself)
Ich eile von der schönen Erde
hinab in jenes dunkle Haus.
(After death she/he leaves the earth for the purification process)
Dort ruh ich eine kleine Stille,
(An indication that this will not go on forever; reminiscent of Jesus' words to his disciples in the Gospel for Jubilate.)
dann öffnet sich der frische Blick;
(after purification, a new spiritual perspective has been achieved)
ich lasse dann die reine Hülle,
den Gürtel und den Kranz zurück.
(the spiritually purified 'remains'- elements of the spirit are left behind)
Und jene himmlischen Gestalten,
sie fragen nicht nach Mann und Weib,
(No questions about sex are asked by these heavenly figures she/he encounters)
und keine Kleider, keine Falten
umgeben den verklärten Leib.
(Now she/he has achieved the transfigured spiritual body)
Zwar lebt' ich ohne Sorg und Mühe,
doch fühlt' ich tiefen Schmerz genung.
Vor Kummer altert'ich zu frühe;
(Now she/he can no longer hear or sense the "Trauern, Heulen, Geschrei" that have prematurely aged her/him)

macht mich auf ewig wieder jung!

The other poem is "Elysium" by Friedrich von Schiller set to music by Franz Schubert D 584 (Sept. 1817)

Vorüber die stöhnende Klage!
Elysiums Freundengelage
ersäufen jegliches Ach!
(groaning and moaning are left behind)
Elysiums Leben -- ewige Wonne,
Elysiums Leben -- ewiges Schweben
durch lachende Fluren ein flötender Bach,
Vorüber die stöhnende Klage!

Jugendlich milde
beschwebt die Gefilde
Ewiger Mai;
die Stunden entflieh'n
in goldenen Träumen,
die Seele schwillt aus
in unendlichen Räumen.
(In the transfigured state, one's soul keeps on expanding)
Wahrheit reißt hier den Schleier entzwei
Jugendlich milde
beschwebt die Gefilde
Ewiger Mai;

Unendliche Freude durchwallet das Herz.
(a bit of Beethoven's Ninth here!)
Hier mangelt der Name dem trauernden Leide,
sanftes Entzücken nur heißet hier Schmerz.
(Sadness and suffering are transformed into a gentle feeling of joy)
Hier strecket der wallende Pilger die matten
brennenden Glieder im säuselnden Schatten,
leget die Bürde auf ewig dahin.
(you are released from all your burdens)
Seine Sichel entfällt dem Schnitter,
eingesungen von Harfengezitter,
träumt er geschnittene Halme zu seh'n.
(we no longer know Death)

Dessen Fahne Donnerstürme wallte,
dessen Ohren Mordgebrüll umhallte
Berge bebten unterdessen Donnergang.
schläft hier linde bei des Baches Rieseln,
der wie Silber spielet über Kieseln,
ihm verhallet wilder Speere Klang.
(Even the sound of war has dissipated)

Hier umarmen sich getreue Gatten,
küssen sich auf grünen, sammtnen Matten,
liebgekos't vom Balsam-West,
(Faithful couples will be reunited)
Ihre Krone findet hier die Liebe,
sicher vor des Todes strengem Hiebe,
feiert sie ein ewig Hochzeitfest.
(Love can now flourish unabated)

I hope this will help somewhat in understanding the 'afterlife' referred to here by 'poets' who had great insight into matters such as this. Rather than theological doctrine, the importance here is expressed in 'picture' images that we might more readily understand. Theological doctrine often becomes so abstract, so utterly lifeless, that the mind can not easily comprehend it. I think this is why Bach preferred to express such ideas in his musical picture language.

Marie Jensen wrote (May 10, 2001):
(To Thomas Braatz) Tom, first of all thank you for all the effort you put in your long interesting answer. We are discussing the matter "after life", and as no return tickets are sold, we can never know anything for certain. Some may have glimpsed a heavenly vision. I am rather sure that Bach has, Goethe and Schiller (I must admit that I don't know much about them) too. The unknown poet (the duet (Mvt. 7) of BWV 146) could easily be writing on a base of theology and doctrine, on second hand knowledge. Another poem dealing with eternity we find in "Trauer Ode" BWV 198:

Der Ewigkeit saphirnes Haus
Zieht, Fürstin, deine heitern Blicke
Von unsrer Niedrigkeit zurücke
Und tilgt der Erden Dreckbild aus.
Ein starker Glanz von hundert Sonnen,
Der unsern Tag zur Mitternacht
Und unsre Sonne finster macht,
Hat dein verklärtes Haupt umsponnen.

In this poem (which IMO is much better) by Johann Christoph Gottsched (1727) written to the funeral of princess Christiane Eberhardine I see no pietistic doctrines. Like in Goethes and Schillers poetry, there is an artist behind with his own imagination.

Goethe and Schiller lived in the romantic period (the beginning of the 19th cen), where church was losing its grip, where artists worked on their own not employed by kings, noblemen or church, where Art is spelled with a big A and composers (Beethoven for example) don't look upon themselves as craftsmen anymore. Their sources of inspiration are nature and non Christian mythology. (Schillers "Elysium"). Music is composed for its own sake. The ever burning hell (to threat people into Christianity) has no interest. The idea of a sleep , an educational purgatory or in some cases a vision of it comes in stead.(Not the Catholic one)

from Mignon:
>Ich eile von der schönen Erde
>hinab in jenes dunkle Haus.
>Dort ruh ich eine kleine Stille
>dann öffnet sich der frische Blick

Yet a Christian idea about the soul neither male nor female is here
>Und jene himmlischen Gestalten,
>sie fragen nicht nach Mann und Weib,

The poems you quoted talk about spiritual bodies, perhin state of mind where the old life on Earth is completely forgotten including other human beings, and screaming and howling can be heard no more. In more popular circles there is an idea of meeting our husband, father, mother etc. in Heaven and that is perhaps why I asked my question after all.

A Swedish writer and Nobel Prize winner, Selma Lagerloef, has written a short story for children: http://www.mainlesson.com/display.php3?author=lagerlof&book=christ&story=lord named "Our Lord and St. Peter". Peter does not want to be in Paradise anymore because his mother is in hell. An angel is sent down to fetch her. I shall not reveal, what happens, it is more exciting to read on your own, just the final conclusion:

The face of our Lord became o'ercast by the deepest sorrow. "What did I desire more than to prepare a Paradise for all, of nothing but light and happiness?" He said. "Do you not understand that it was because of this I went down among men and taught them to love their neighbors as themselves? For as long as they do this not, there will be no refuge in heaven or on earth where pain and sorrow cannot reach them."

Some day we know

Jane Newble wrote (May 10, 2001):
Marie Jensen wrote:
< We are discussing the matter "after life", and as no return tickets are sold, we can never know anything for certain. >
Bach would surely have replied: "One return ticket was sold, and that was Jesus Christ, the only reason for me writing all these things." Why bother otherwise? He might as well have written operas etc. But then Bach did believe the Bible. And I don't think he endorsed the words about heaven and hell in his music to 'threaten' people into Christianity. For that matter, neither was the Bible written for that purpose.

Daniel Hobbs wrote (May 10, 2001):
Yes, I agree with your comments below about Mignon, but let me elaborate that, at this point in the novel, Mignon is dressed up as an angel for a party among little children, and when she is asked why, she responds with the song (I believe she sings it, but I am relying on memory). So the sense of "scheinen" here is more that of "appear," rather than "shine." I would translate the first line as "Thus (as an angel) let me appear, until I become one." She doesn't want to remove the angel costume because she longs for the purity of the afterlife and believes she will discover there the absence of worldly concerns like gender and social appearance. Mignon is a fascinating character, really more of a porte-parole than an actual human sketch, but many very profound and beautiful ideas are expressed through her. I think that this idea of being freed from worldly concerns after death is what the texts in Bach's cantatas often express. Through science we know today quite a bit about why people die, and how to live longer, but in Bach's (and Goethe's) time, death was a very common occurence, and held much mystery, often seeming arbitrary and unavoidable. The long lives we have in the modern world (well, at least in the affluent world north of the Equator) would have been unthinkable at that time; having children live more than a few years was exceptional. The teachings of the church aimed to appease the cruelty of death (this is still, to some extent, true in modern religion) by explaining that all the poverty, disease, and suffering on earth would disappear in heaven, and I think this was the only comfort many people had. A digression, but related nonetheless: I recently read, in connection with the Vermeer exhibit here in NYC, that in Vermeer's time, half of the average person's salary went to bread. Can you imagine those conditions today? So, it is no wonder that the afterlife held so much allure for Europeans three hundred years ago.

Thomas Braatz wrote (May 10, 2001):
Daniel Hobbs wrote:
< "So the sense of "scheinen" here is more that of "appear," rather than "shine." I would translate the first line as "Thus (as an angel) let me appear, until I become one." She doesn't want to remove the angel costume because she longs for the purity of the afterlife." >
An interesting way to view this, but I also remember,(I don't have my reference materials on Goethe readily available to me) that Goethe's vocabulary, his creative use of German words, also allows my interpretation to exist. Just as Bach envisions living pictures in his musical expression, so also did Goethe work with 'living' words. An example of this in his threesomeness of "Schein," "Weisheit," and "Gewalt." Just as Goethe thought differently about "Ereignis" as "Eräugnis," where his intuitive 'etymology' puts an emphasis on the living process inherent in the word, 'what the eye catches hold of,' instead of the abstract 'occurrence, or event,' so also does he construe the word, "Schein" as "Schön"-heit, the beauty streaming forth from within the painting, person, etc. The other two words can be explained in a similar way, but that is beyond what I am trying to establish and would lead us too far afield'

< "but in Bach's (and Goethe's) time, death was a very common occurence," >
This may be the very reason why the people of that time understood death much better than we do today. In our sterile environment and with longevity increasing, we may have lost the close connection with death and fear it more today than those in the 18th century or earlier. We simply do not want
to admit it.

Daniel Hobbs wrote (May 11, 2001):
(To Thomas Braatz) You're absolutely right that there are many interpretations of Goethe's words, just as there are so many ways of interpreting all art, since it affects us each in an individual way. I read yesterday the most wonderful article by Mario Vargas Llosa about literature and how it is vital to humanity. I know that this is a Bach forum, but since JSB represents the apotheosis of expression of the whole range of human experience, I think the essay is worth presenting here: http://www.thenewrepublic.com/051401/llosa051401_print.html

<< Daniel Hobbs wrote:
"So the sense of "scheinen" here is more that of "appear," rather than > "shine." I would translate the first line as "Thus (as an angel) let me > appear, until I become one." She doesn't want to remove the angel costume > because she longs for the purity of the afterlife." >>
< Thomas Braatz wrote: An interesting way to view this, but I also remember,(I don't have my reference materials on Goethe readily available to me) that Goethe's vocabulary, his creative use of German words, also allows my interpretation to exist. >
In reading what I wrote below, the statement below seems rather silly, since death is still a pretty common occurrence:-)

<< "but in Bach's (and Goethe's) time, death was a very common occurence," >>
< This may be the very reason why the people of that time understood death much better than we do today. In our sterile environment and with longevity > increasing, we may have lost the close connection with death and fear it more today than those in the 18th century or earlier. We simply do not want to admit it.>
You're right; death today is so far removed from our daily lives. We put our elderly in nursing homes, where we don't have to witness their degradation; we eat tons of meat, and most of us never see animals face to face, never have to kill them ourselves; we think of starvation and genocide as sad but inevitable facts of other parts of the world, which only marginally touch us. Yes, people in Bach's time had a much more realistic view of death, but it is completely understandable why modern society seeks to distance itself from death. We have always feared it, but our dealing with it has changed over the years. Death has historically been seen as transfiguration, and was turned into a good thing (BWV 8 "Liebster Gott, wann will ich sterben?", and BWV 82 "Ich habe genug," to cite a few relevant examples), but today we tend to see death as the ultimate letdown.

 

No Subject

Rene Pannecoek wrote (June 7, 2003):
Has anyone noticed the similarity between the main melody of the magnificent duet (Mvt. 7) in BWV 146 ("Wie will ich mich freuen") and that of Händel's coronation anthem "My heart is enditing"? Is this similarity coincidental, or a case of one great composer being inspired by a colleague?

 

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