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Cantata BWV 150
Nach dir, Herr, verlanget mich
Discussions - Part 3

Continue from Part 2

Discussions in the Week of January 2, 2005 [Continue]

Peter Smaill wrote (January 2, 2005):
Further thoughts on the potential connection between the material of Cantata BWV 150 and the fantasia -chorus which opens BWV 78. (Query by Douglas Cowling).

Could BWV 150 have been the inspiration for the first movement of BWV 78?

Dating the Cantatas is a notorious area but it appears that two other early cantatas reappeared at Leipzig in 1724, these being BWV 106 and BWV 4. The latter also demonstrates the archaic short sinfonia introduction apparent in BWV 150, in other words, in the manner of Buxtehude, Pachelbel and Kuhnau.

So it does appear that for some reason in the highly productive year 1724, Bach was reworking early cantatas from the Mühlhausen appointment, which seems to advance this possibility. In so doing, we become more confident that BWV 150 is the first Cantata chronologically.

But is there no earlier choral work?

Presumably no-one now takes the Whittaker suggestion seriously - that BWV 15 ("Denn du wirst meine Seele nicht in der Holle lassen), and the conjectural Magnificat for solo soprano, are authentic Arnstadt compositions. (Dürr dates BWV 15 to 1704). Whatever provenance BWV 15 really has, it appears to have been re-worked also at Leipzig.

Any information on what the latest attribution may be, and where a recording can be found, would be appreciated. It does'nt figure in "The Apocryphal Bach Cantatas " (BWV 217-222) (CPO Digital recording) from which can be recommended "Mein Odem ist Schwach" by J E Bach (1722-1777) as demonstrating the meditative qualities found in his uncle and teacher, Johann Sebastian.

While it is desirable in academic terms to establish the status of BWV 150 as the first Cantata, certainly the work's intense charm and compositional ingenuity merits it a place in the Bach discography. BWV 53, which we now know was by Melchior Hoffmann, has always appealed to Bach scholars irrespective of the actual composer. JEG included it his programme at Iona Abbey on the Todestag 28 July 2000 to great effect.

As for the putative Arnstadt solo Magnificat, which manuscript strangely disappeared from a Leningrad library in the Second World War and survived by photostat only......?

Paul T. McCain wrote (January 2, 2005):
[To Alan Klamkin] Your comments are well put! Yes, Jesus was an Orthodox Jew. That is why I, and may Christians, do in fact make our best effort to understand all we can about Orthodox Judaism, as it was at the time of Christ. Of course this is to be distinguished from Talmudic Judaism which is another thing as well.

Your argument supports mine. The closer we can get to the world-view and faith of Bach, the better able we are able to appreciate Bach's wonderful work.

I am not saying one can not appreciate Bach if one is not a Christian.

I do continue to assert that understanding Bach as he wanted to be understood, or understanding him to the fullest extent possible is possible the closer one gets to Bach's faith: which was Orthdoox Lutheranism--historic Christianity.

What animated, motivated and gave Bach his inspiration? Jesus Christ. The closer you get to Christ and closer you will be to Bach, and I believe that if you actually listen to the words of the cantatas you can not help but be brought face-to-face with Jesus Christ.

And that's a very, very good thing.

Doug Cowling wrote (January 2, 2005):
Cantata 150 and 78 and 4

Peter Smaill wrote:
< Dating the Cantatas is a notorious area but it appears that two other early cantatas reappeared at Leipzig in 1724, these being BWV 106 and BWV 4. The latter also demonstrates the archaic short sinfonia introduction apparent in BWV 150, in other words, in the manner of Buxtehude, Pachelbel and Kuhnau. >
I was actually going to say in my first posting that the Sinfonia to Cantata BWV 150 reminded me strongly of the opening of Christ Lag in Todesbanden, not so much thematically as in the general intensity of its affect and close part-writing (don't jump on me, but BWV 150 "feels" like Bach) It doesn't really matter if Cantata BWV 4 is a reworking of an earlier cantata or a studied "antique" set of partita variations in the same key, one can see this type of short sinfonia back though Buxtehude all the way back to Praetorius (e.g. Puer Natus in Bethlehem) and ultimately to the Venetian ritornellos of Cavalli and Monteverdi.

Paul T. McCain wrote (January 2, 2005):
[To David Glenn Lebut Jr.] I appreciate these remarks very much.

Thomas Braatz wrote (January 2, 2005):
Peter Smaill wrote:
>>As for the putative Arnstadt solo Magnificat, which manuscript strangely disappeared from a Leningrad library in the Second World War and survived by photostat only......?<<
Is this a reference which seeks to rehabilitate, as being authentically a work by J. S. Bach, the "Kleine Magnificat in a-moll" BWV Anh. 21 discussed recently at: ?

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (January 2, 2005):
[To Peter Smaill] It does not belong to that set of Kantaten, largely because its authorship has somewhat been established. Currently, it is believed that BWV 15 was written by his relation Johann Ludwig Bach. The authorship of BWV 216-224 has yet to be firmly established.

Francis Browne wrote (January 3, 2005):
BWV 150: ciacona; paraenesi

I was enchanted by this cantata when I first listened to Leusink's recording [12] two years ago. What delighted me was what John Butt ( in his exemplary notes for the Hyperion recording of Kuhnau) refers to as the 'wet ink immediacy' of Bach's early cantatas. There is not the complexity and elaborate development of later vocal works, but each movement succinctly and memorably expresses what lies at the heart of the text. In the opening two movements - it seems better to consider them together - the plangent sense of incompleteness and longing expressed by the music reminds me of Robert Browning's phrase:

Only I discern-
Infinite passion, and the pain
Of finite hearts that yearn.

There is much to enjoy in the other movements - I particularly like the cedars waving before the stylised storm in the terzetto - but it is the final movement, the ciacona, that seems to me to be the jewel of the cantata, the music that most imprints itself in the memory, and I shall concentrate on this.

I have now heard five other recordings: Couraud [1], Koopman [7], Suzuki [8], the BBC Singers with Stephen Cleobury [10] and - thanks to the generosity of David Zale- Leonhardt [4]. With customary lack of discrimination I have enjoyed all these recordings in various ways, but the performances of the ciacona that impressed me the most are two that might be considered opposites: Couraud and Suzuki

In listening closely to the ciacona for this week's discussions I found as often the detailed description given by Whittaker very helpful.Many members of this list of course will have no need of such a guide, but since there may be some others who may also find such a description useful I copy it here. At the least it serves as remindeof how much is going on in this short movement:

"The cantata is concluded by a dignified and elaborately worked Ciaccona. Simple blocks of vocal harmony come after the announcement of the ground, `Freuden' is lengthened by waving sixths for sopranos and altos, the basses modify and decorate the ostinato, which moves to the key of D. The next four vocal entries are in single lines, Dornenwegen' introduces falling semitones for the sopranos, Him­mels a swinging passage for the altos. In the interlude the violins express joy by curving crotchets in parallel motion. During this sec­tion the ground modulates to F sharp minor. After the tenor phrase, during which the ostinato modulates to A, the basses declare their determination by reiterating `achte ich nicht', and the violins move doggedly in quavers, mostly repeated notes, and the ground modu­lates to E. A ritornello works round to the tonic, first with splendidly sweeping arpeggi for violins and bassoon and then vigorous close arpeggi quavers for violin I, crotchet movement for violin II and leaps over a wide space for bassoon. This animation ceases as sopra­nos and altos sing `Christus, der uns steht zur Seiten' in sixths, as if the Saviour were walking hand-in-hand with the believer; the four voices enter in succession with 'hilft mir tàglich', followed by imita­tion in violins II and I. 'Streiten' brings struggling passages in the voices. In the final section the warring and conquering of the Chris­tian is expressed by rolling vocal lines and leaping runs for violins and bassoon against dogged, slow-moving vocal passages, and the strife ends in a triumphant, majestic close. (Whittaker, Vol. 1,p56-7).

[12] It was through Leusink's recording that I first came to know this and so many other cantatas. I remain grateful and anyone who makes the acquaintance of this music through the link on the website will gain a good appreciation of what the cantata is about. But in comparison with the other recordings it does not seem to have anything special to offer. The Netherlands Bach Collegium play as usually very competently, but the upper voices of the choir seem as often unduly prominent and not integrated with the others. The performance is enjoyable but no section - neither the joy at the beginning, trust in God in the central section, nor the conflict and resolution in the conclusion - seems compelling and the total effect, I now feel, falls short of all the music has to convey.

[10] More successful is the performance by the BBC Singers with the Orchestra of Saint James and Stephen Cleobury. This is a recording of a public concert given in 1996 and includes BWV 63 and BWV 182 as well as this cantata. The choir sounds much better disciplined and integrated and this, with the slow deliberate tempo chosen and good accompaniment by the orchestra, gives the closing pages a sense of conflict ending not quite in Whittaker's 'majestic,triumphant close' but in a quieter resolution that nonetheless conveys conviction. The soloists are I assume drawn from the choir and in general acquit themselves very well. As a whole the performance makes me wish that this group would record more cantatas.

[4] By Leonhardt's performance I confess I am puzzled. He is himself a superb musician, he has excellent soloists in general (the boy soprano seems out of his depth) very competent instrumentalists and there are moments of great beauty and other moments where the interpretation is individual and compelling - yet as a whole the performance of this movement (and the cantata as a whole) does not seem to me to really come together. In the earlier discussion Aryeh suggested that a 'feeling of weariness and routine characterise this rendition'. This seems somewhat harsh since anyone who listens to this performance will I think be in no doubt that he is listening to something magnificent, yet I think the remaining recordings reveal that there is more in the music than is conveyed here.

[7] Koopman's performance, using soloists instead of a choir, has a revealing intimacy. At the beginning the transition from the continuing struggle established by the ostinato to the joyous music accompanying Freude and then following in the violins is entrancing. I find the latter part of the movement less convincing in conveying struggle and resolution, but overall it is an excellent performance. It is however surpassed in different ways by the two remaining recordings.

[8] Grave doubts about Suzuki's performance of the ciacona have been expressed by members of this list whose knowledge and understanding of Bach are far greater than mine. In the earlier discussion Aryeh commented that this movement, with the terzetto, was the least satisfactory movement in this recording. Thomas Braatz, while enthusiastic about the performance as a whole, argues that the treatment of the last movement is misconceived: "With him it begins to sound almost like a waltz - a strong accent on the 1st beat followed by 2 very light beats. This type of treatment simply does not relate to the seriousness of the text and even the monumental musical structure of this magnificent mvt." Neil has suggested that the terzetto is taken too fast by Suzuki, and I wonder whether he feels the same about this movement since Suzuki is by some margin the quickest performance. (2.46).

With some apprehension at my temerity I would argue for a different view. For it is to Suzuki's recording that I return with most pleasure and not least to this movement. Everything in this performance seems to me finely judged: the excellence of the orchestral playing, the precision of the choir, the contributions of the soloists (I particularly like the soprano in the third movement). The approach is restrained, not overtly emotional and I can understand why some people on this list find this cantata cycle somewhat cold and calculating. But I find that these performances of the cantatas from a part of the world with a culture very different from Bach's Germany often succeed wonderfully in conveying the emotional charge of the music: what is achieved can be summed up in the phrase Yeats once used of his aim in poetry, the utmost passion under the utmost control.

That perhaps is an overstatement for what is possibly the earliest of the cantatas. But each movement by itself is given a performance that does justice to music and text and they add together to make the cantata a convincing whole. The brisk tempi for the terzetto and the ciacona fit in with the theme of confidence in adversity that runs through the three movements (three, five and seven) where the librettist - could it have been Bach himself? - has added his own thoughts to the quotations from the psalm. In each of these movements the difficulties that a Christian faces in living his faith are expressed in a brief stylised way, in a context where victory over adversity is assured. In the soprano Aria the soloist sings indeed with some expression in passing of:

Kreuz, Sturm und andre Proben,,
Tod, Höll und was sich fügt..

But as in Suzuki's performance music moves rapidly to the assertion:

Recht ist und bleibet ewig Recht.

In a similar way I would argue the storm before which the cedars must bow presents no real danger and here as in the soprano Aria Suzuki's quick tempo presents a stylised storm that is a valid interpretation of music and text - not I hasten to add the only possible interpretation.

In this context the equally quick tempo for the ciacona provides a suitable conclusion to the cantata. In Suzuki's performance the ostinato figure that runs through the movement represents a struggle that is continuous but bound to end victoriously through Christ's help so that what can seem to be a frivolous shallow approach does seem to me to pick up something that is there in the music. The perspective suggested by what is clearly a stylised dance is not the anguished involvement in the struggle but rhow that struggle as viewed from above. The joy expressed by Freude, the courageous resolution given to the bass, the sense of struggle ending in resolution: the whole range of emotion encompassed in this brief movement is wonderfully conveyed in Suzuki's performance.

[1] But a different approach may succeed in a different way. Couraud's recording with the Stuttgart Bach choir and orchestra is the earliest of the recordings I have heard. Compared with Suzuki the opening of the movement can seem ponderous and in truth there is not much Freude in this beginning. But with repeated listening I have found that the slow tempo reveals details that are present in Suzuki's recording but passed over rapidly. The entrance of the bass voices with

Achte ich nicht..

sounds truly courageous and choir and instruments counterpoised in the last section create an intense sense of struggle that does indeed, in Whittaker's phrase, come to a magnificent triumphant close.

Couraud' s interpretation is therefore very different from that of Suzuki. Which is more valid? If I were a musician called upon to perform the work, I would have to make decisions. But perhaps as some slight compensation for not having the privilege and joy of playing Bach's music, it is possible as a mere listener to be receptive to different, even incompatible approaches to the same music.

Paraenesis ? A speech of encouragement. The term is used in literary criticism of Homer to describe the speeches given by heroes to their men to encourage them as they go into battle. I am no hero and I sincerely hope there will be no battles. But as we begin what should be four years of discussion of Bach's cantatas I would encourage every member of the list to make an effort to ensure these discussions are rich, various and enjoyable, courteous and hospitable to whoever who is interested enough to contribute, whatever their level of expertise. If everybody sits back I fear there will be a continuance of the diet of musicological oneupmanship, flame wars, red herrings and religious proselytising.etc With some effort, with contributions from some who perhaps have hesitated to write before, with observance of the guidelines that Aryeh has given, we could it be in for something much better. I very much hope so.

Bob Henderson wrote (January 4, 2005):
[To Francis Browne] I have neither your erudition nor your number copies of 150 but I support entirely your analysis of why the Suzuki version [8] means so much to me. Thank you.

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (January 4, 2005):
[To Francis Browne] There is another rendition of the Ciacona that hasn't been mentioned yet. That is brahms's conclusion of his Fourth Symphony, in which he borrows the theme (of the Ciacona[?]) and does his own Orchestral Ciacona on it.

Dr. David T Goh wrote (January 4, 2005):
I have enjoyed lurking on this list for the past year and a half, but have decided that I should accept the responsibility to contribute this time round, no matter how humble my opinions may seem compared to the learned comments of so many on the list. To introduce myself briefly, I am Senior Pastor of Bakersfield Community Church in California. I earned a PhD in New Testament Studies from the University of Durham, England and my performance instrument was classical organ when I pursued my BA in Fine Arts. I love the music of Bach, from both the perspective of a musician and a theologian.

I have enjoyed comparing the Koopman [7] and Suzuki [8] versions.

1. Sinfonia and 2. Coro
A contrast between Suzuki and Koopman's approach is established immediately by the much more frequent use of ornamentation by Koopman (trills and ornaments are almost exclusively confined to cadences by Suzuki). More significantly in terms of interpretation, Suzuki treats the descending quarter note figure as a single phrase and this seems to fit with the rather full string sound he achieves in the Sinfonia. In contrast, Koopman articulates the descending quarter notes in two note groups, not by completely stopping the sound as in a completed phrase, but by decreasing then increasing bow pressure. The two note grouping of the descending line is then emulated in the Coro, giving a slight pause after "Herr", adding a sense of true conversational address between the petitioner and God. Overall, I enjoyed the weight of choir and strings in the Suzuki version, but am biased towards Koopman's phrasing.

3. Aria
Kurisu sings with beautiful and refined tone throughout. I have my ongoing concerns, shared by many others, with the stridency of the soprano tone in Koopman's recordings (I don't know if this is due to the recording process or to Sclick herself, never having heard her in person. Perhaps if someone else has, a comment would be helpful).

4. Coro
I find Koopman's more clear accentuation of the rising line "Leidte mich" from bass through tenor and alto to soprano to match the imagery of the text very effectively as one is "led" upwards to the Truth (Wahrheit). I also appreciate the clarity of the violin line that "soars and dives" through the final section of Koopman's rendition - signaling the joyful release from fear indicated in the text that comes to those who "wait" on God. Is it possible that Bach drew a connection to the "eagles wings" promised in Isaiah 40:31 to those whose strength is renewed by "waiting on God?"

5. Tersetto:
Koopman seems to catch the tempo correctly. I agree with others that Suzuki is just too fast.

Suzuki handles the first half of this movement very successfully. "Stets zu dem Herrn" is stated with the increasingly firm resolve of one who is turning their eyes from focusing on the cross and storms of earthly life to God's authority over all things. I find the partnership of violin and bassoon particularly compelling at this point. Koopman vocal forces handle the opening well, but the instrumental sound is disjointed. However, I find Koopman's Allegro section so fast that it seems incoherent, particularly given the prominence of the violin running through the vocal lines. The tempo does undoubtedly add an air of excitement that matches the text (being freed from a trap) that is missing in Suzuki's version, but, in my opinion, at too great a cost.

Suzuki's quicker tempo ends the cantata with a confident attitude. It seems to me (I'm certainly not pretending to know if Koopman had this in mind) that the agitation and fission created by the violin at letter C in Koopman's version leaves no doubt that life in this world will continue to be "sieghaft streiten" (a "struggle to victory").

I look forward to reading the comments of others.

Bradley Lehman wrote (January 4, 2005):
Standard problems in church music

Gabriel Jackson wrote:
< Does their faith, or lack of it, matter? And if it does matter, is one's appreciation somehow flawed if one isn't aware of that? >
These are some of the standard and long-standing issues of discussion in academic understandings of church music. The role of sentimentality in religious experience (and in musical expectations), presumed spiritual sincerity of church employees (musicians, administrators, lay teachers), the location of "meaning" (is it only in the *words*, as to scriptural allusions and storytelling and whatnot? how about in music that is not recognizably familiar tunes?), kitsch (shortcut fake high-culture) and other factors in judging musical quality.

Such considerations also affect the ways in which church musicians pick tempo, accentuation, phrasing, etc, according to the expectations that some of the listeners might have as to theological interpretations and connections in the material.... Should church music be delivered primarily as excellent *music*, or how far should musicians go "out of the way" to emphasize extra-musical features (many of which may be merely arbitrary in interpretation, serving the sentimental religious expectations of different sorts of listeners)?

This all comes around to a bottom line that musicians of church music, especially, always going to be disappointing some of the listeners a large part of the time, because the expectations are absolutely impossible to serve all at once. It's even more a hazard, in my estimation, in church music than in concert music or chamber music where (at least) "meaning" is a more neutral thing. Critics of church music might do well to keep these broader problems in mind, if aware of them at all. (Of course, nobody is naturally inclined to see his/her own position of spiritual interpretation as an arbitrary one; religiosity itself thrives on feeling rather sure about things, and putting it across vehemently as to what's important and what's not, even against other people's different experience! So does evangelism.)

This isn't a forum to try to solve any of these standard problems; I'm merely mentioning them that none of this is new. If interested in further background reading within that field, at least from a Christian-traditions perspective, I recommend the books Church Music and the Christian Faith by Erik Routley, and Music Through the Eyes of Faith by Harold Best. At least, those are two of the books that are standard reading for university students and church organists/choirmasters going into this field of church music, to know what problems will be encountered in the job.

John Pike wrote (January 4, 2005):
[To David Glenn Lebut Jr.] BWV 15 has been recorded (released 2004) by Wolfgang Helbich, also on CPO, along with several other apocryphal Bach Cantatas.

Peter Petzling wrote (January 4, 2005):
[To John Pike] One quick amplification:

Here is the comment by Peter Wollny re: BWV 15 taken from the booklet in the CPO "Apocryphal Bach Cantatas II"

"BWV 15 was long regarded as an early work by Bach. A score written by Bach himself with the indication of authorship > di Bach < and a set of parts prepared under his supervision seemed to leave no doubt about the cantatas authenticity, even if its style did not seem to be easy to reconcile with his other compositions. It was not until 1959 that William Scheide was able to show that the piece belonged to a series of a total of 18 cantatas by the Meiningen music director Johann Ludwig Bach (1677- 1731 ) which were copied out and performed by his cousin Johann Sebastian Bach in Leipzig in 1726. The cantata, in all likelihood composed prior to 1710, still preserves many stylistic peculiarities of the 17th century in its musical design. These features include the by and large arioso design of the recitatives and songlike concisons of the arias. Johann Ludwig Bach produced a formal rounding-off of the colorfully woven fabric consisting of numerous short inserts through the resumption of the introductory sonata at the beginning of the multipart finale which culminates in a figured setting of the chorale stanza "Weil du vom Tod erstanden bist."

I highly recommend this CPO release. Helbich and the Alsfelder Vocal Ensemble have attained a purity of intonation that is most attractive.

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (January 5, 2005):
[To John Pike] However, John, as I said, it does not belong to the set of BWV 216-224, because of the certainty of authorship. BWV 216-224 has no certain authorship as yet.

Neil Halliday wrote (January 5, 2005):
BWV 150; 5 recordings

I have listened to Werner (1966, according to the booklet, although the BCW shows 1973) [3], Rilling (1970) [2], Leonhardt (1985) [4], Suzuki (1995) [8], and Leusink (1999) [12].

Werner [3] is best appreciated if one imagines hearing this performance in a large cathedral, thereby bringing into focus the ensemble's sound, which might, at first hearing, sound 'foggy'.

It's an enjoyable large ensemble performance, with a choir that eschews vibrato.

Rilling [2] features his bright, strong violins, especially effective in "(My eyes look always) on the Lord" (movement 6), where the repeated upward-leaping 4th-interval figures, alternating between violins 1 and 2, produce an ecstatic effect; and in the closing chaconne, in "victoriously strive", where further alternating figures on the violins emulate the exhiliration of the battle.

Rilling has an interesting presentation of the choral parts in the 6th movement: the four inner lines of text are given to the soloists (S, A, T, B, in succession) while the beginning and end are given to the full choir. Also, the terzetto is sung by the full choir (minus the sopranos).

Suzuki's performance [8] is very polished, as already noted; I heard contrapuntal detail in "for you are the Lord" (4th movement) not heard in the other recordings. OTOH, the Terzetto (5th movement) seems light and insubstantial, in comparison to what the other conductors have made of this movement; mere speed alone is not sufficient to illustrate a tempest. Otherwise tempi seem well-judged, even if faster than other recordings.

I enjoyed both Leonhardt [4] and Leusink [12] on the internet; even though the latter does appear to show some lack of 'blending' of separate parts, eg, the continuo seems to stand-out, separate from the rest of the ensemble.

(BTW, regarding the quality of Leusink's cycle, I listen to Leusink's BWV 115 opening chorus ahead of either Richter or Rilling, so the matter is by no means 'cut and dried').


2nd BTW, I recall a discussion betwwen Aryeh and Thomas B. concerning the placement of BWV 150 in Suzuki's cycle [8]; this cantata does in fact appear in volume 1. Did I miss the import of that discussion?

Lex Schelvis wrote (January 5, 2005):
Introducing myself and BWV 150

I will try to participate in the discussions about the cantatas but before I start: I wrote some contributions to this list before this one, but I never introduced myself. That is what I'm going to do now.

I am a teacher Dutch as a second language after a study mediaeval literature, no music education whatsoever, so I really don't know anything about the theory of music, I just listen at it, feel it or not and like it or not. So if I don't like it (that much) I always blame myself for it, I never blame the composer or the interpreter. I studied literature, so I can analyse a text, but I can't analyse music. I can say: I don't like this interpretation, but I will never say that let's say Rilling or Koopman don't know what they are doing.

I always have been listening to music, in my younger days pop music and especially simple music with piano, bass and acoustic guitar from singers who can't sing: Tom Waits has been and still is a favourite of mine. But then one night a friend of mine placed the Brandenburg concertos on the record player and it was big love from that very first moment. It was the joy and the fun that attracted me. I discovered that Bach was cheerful.

For some time I quit pop music totally and only listened to Bach: first only his instrumental pieces until I tried the Matthew Passion (BWV 244), the music that I always without having heard it considered to be too big, too heavy, too sombre, because everyone in my environment had told me so. I remember that first time I couldn't listen to it until the end, after the 'Erbarme dich' I had to stop, tears in my eyes, needing a break. I never knew that music could be so emotional. (Not true, 'Silent night' also touched me deeply, when I was a boy.) Afterwards I wanted to hear all the vocal music (oh, how much I hated vocal classical music before) of Bach and started with my journey through the cantatas.

The first one was BWV 9 and that one affirmed my prejudice that also Bach was only able to make a limited amount of mast. Only later I learned that was nonsense: not all the movements are like "Erbarme dich' but Bach in a bad day is better than for instance Händel in his best (I still can't listen to a complete Messiah, but again, that must be my fault) and (almost) every cantata has one or more very special movements. (In BWV 9 for me it is the aria: 'Wir waren schon zu tief gesunken', an aria good enough to be part of the SMP (BWV 244), for me a criterion for a really good aria.)

BWV 150

When I started to listen to Bach cantatas some twenty years ago, BWV 150 belonged to my favourite ones, I guess partly because of the simplicity I heard then and secondly because of the absence of recitatives. Later on I started to like the recitatives as moments of rest in between very emotional movements, just like you need some rests in exciting movies. I got more interested in the later cantatas and of the older ones only BWV 106 and BWV 4 remained in my list of favourites. But people change, and so do I, and the last few years I notice I return more often to BWV 150 and other oldies.

It's not the sinfonia that made me return. Normally I quite like them (BWV 4, BWV 106, BWV 131, BWV 12) as a piece of music to bring me in the right mood for the cantata, but I notice that I'm always waiting for the rest to come when I hear the sinfonia of BWV 150.

But the rest is so beautiful, that I can't imagine somebody else composed it. Of course that doesn't prove it really was written by Bach. And I really don't care, as a matter of fact. My favourites are mvt 2 and especially 5 and 6, but none could be part of the SMP (BWV 244). I think it is the cantata in its totality that attracts me, the unity of mood that I feel, a point that makes a lot of the older cantatas enjoyable (especially BWV 106, but also a later cantata like BWV 34).

Reading that very many members of this list have a crush on the chaconne (mvt 7) I listened to it at least ten times the last two days, but I don't think it will be one of those movements that get stuck in my head.

I listened to four interpretations: Leusink [12], Leonhardt [4], Koopman [7] and Suzuki [8], all HIP, but well, that's my preference. Only Leusink [12] I appreciated less, the boys don't sound good enough to me. Surprising for me was that I really liked the instrumentation of Leusink a lot, especially the basso continuo. The other three are almost equal in quality to me, with a little preference for the Suzuki one [8]. And it might even be the higher speed that makes it special to me. Best choir to me is Koopman's [7].

And than I listened to one minute of the Couraud version [1] and I couldn't believe it. I am sure I would never have come to an appreciation of Bach if this had been my introduction to the vocal music of Bach. The vocals, the violins, it was a complete shock: so this was the way they played Bach 50 years ago. I don't say it is wrong, I don't say it is badly done, I only say this is not the way I want to hear Bach. But it is very interesting to hear the differences and I really intend to listen more to non-HIP versions, but I can't imagine I will return to Couraud. Probably I'll try Werner [3], I heard a lot of positive things about him.

John Pike wrote (January 5, 2005):
[To Uri Golomb] I write as a committed Christian.

I am a very busy person and I only have time to listen to Bach on the CD player in the car. As a general rule, I do not have time to read the libretto afterwards or before. Having said that, I am aware of the general subject matter of the cantatas and am familiar with the libretto of the oratorios/passions/masses from repeated listening. Despite all these considerations, I feel I am able to appreciate Bach's choral music to a very great extent. The same must be said of non-believers as well. Researchers have suggested links between much of the instrumental music and overtly religious texts or themes, eg Helga Thoene has suggested that the melodies of hymns/chorales are hidden in the solo violin sonatas and that there are numerical references to Christian themes in the music. Other researchers have found deep religious themes in the organ music, besides the obvious ones. Nevertheless, it is surely possible for all of us, regardless of creed, to experience this extrordinary music at a very deep level. Perhaps it will also awaken the spiritual element that possibly all of us have within.

Ehud Shiloni wrote (January 6, 2005):
Lex Schelvis wrote:
<snip> Reading that very many members of this list have a crush on the chaconne (mvt 7) I listened to it at least ten times the last two days, but I don't think it will be one of those movements that get stuck in my head. <snip> a little preference for the Suzuki one. And it might even be the higher speed that makes it special to me. Best choir to me is Koopman's. <snip> Probably I'll try Werner, I heard a lot of positive things about him. >
You definitely want to try Werner [3]!

Compared to Suzuki [8] [2:45 mins.] and Koopman [7] [3:20], Werner [3] presents a much slower movement at over 4 mins. The measured pace, the large forces, the full choir, and a most prominent, almost "booming" organ sound underscoring everything, all combine to create a unique atmosphere, much different than the "lighter" versions of Suzuki and Koopman [although both are very beautiful in their own ways]. The Werner version projects a sense of stately progression and a strong feeling of inevitability, as an unstoppable climax is building up throughout the movement. I think it is a marvelous performance, and I bet this one WILL get "stuck in your head"!

Eric Bergerud wrote (January 6, 2005):
Fritz Werner

[To Ehud Shiloni] When the list's veterans talk about the glories of cantatas past, I admit to a degree of envy. The commercial state of classical music in the USA is not the greatest at this moment, and, I'm afraid, Bach cantatas have always been a niche commodity in most of the country. For instance, it's pretty unlikely I'll ever hear Fritz Werner do BWV 150 or any other cantata. Even the best public libraries here have, at best, one cantata cycle available for loan - and that's rare. Archiv doesn't list a single CD from Werner and Amazon invites you to try to find a used copy of the Teldec Secular Cantata set (10 CDs - one done by Werner). And when you factor in exchange rate woes and shipping costs, buying a CD from Europe is a real expense.

Maybe it doesn't matter. Over the years I have grown so accustomed to baroque performances on authentic instruments (I find the term Historically Informed Performance hideous jargon - it was coined, I believe because of carping from Berkeley professor Richard Taruskin about sins that people like Harnoncourt never really committed - leave it to an Americans to take a brief French academic trend and explode it into something insane - in this case post structuralism) that I find it difficult to enjoy "classic" performances of the great works. I'll grant a few exceptions like Malcom Sargent's Messiah, but, works like Klemperer's SMP (BWV 244) strike me as simply ponderous. Yet the style is part of musical history no doubt. It would be an interesting exercise in "HIP" (if not already done) to try to recreate Mendlessohn's performance of the SMP - of course you'd have to do it with some an ensemble like the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment under Macor someone of similar stature. It wouldn't sound like McCreesh, but it wouldn't sound like Klemperer either I'd bet.

Thankee for tips concerning the Lautenwerk. I just received a charming CD of Bach's sonatas (1027-29 & 1038) for Viola da gamba and Lautenwerk (Ekkehard Weber and Robert Hill). Ditto Tragicomedia's selection from Anna Magdalena's notebook from Teldec. Both are absolutely charming and would have remained in the void except for prompting from the list.

Continue of this part of the discussion, see: Recordings of Cantatas - General Discussions - Part 9: Year 2005 [General Topics]

John Pike wrote (January 6, 2005):
I have listened to Leonhardt [4] (which includes Herreweghe directing Collegium Vocale Ghent), Leusink [12] and Rilling [2]. All enjoyable performances. I can see why its authenticity has been called into question but it is still very beautiful music. The bass of the last movement (Chaconne) was used by Brahms (with modification) for the last movement of Symphony 4 (which is also a Chaconne).

Doug Cowling wrote (January 6, 2005):
[To John Pike] Brahms was very interested in Bach's use of passacaglia. He arranged the D minor solo violin Chaconne for left-hand piano.

John Pike wrote (January 6, 2005):
[To Doug Cowling] Indeed............ So he could play it for himself when Joseph Joachim wasn't around to play the original for him.

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (January 7, 2005):
[To Doug Cowling] Not just that, but also wrote cadences and excercises for both left hand and both hands for Bach Keyboard Concerti (especially BWV 1052).

Continue of this part of the discussion, see: Johannes Brahms & Bach [Bach & Other Composers]

Rianto Pardede wrote (January 7, 2005):
BWV 150 Nach dir, Herr, Verlanget mich (I long, O Lord, for Thee)

I am only able to listen to this cantata from the recording of Pieter Jan Leusink conducting his soloists, the Holland Boys Choir, and the Netherland Bach Collegium [12]. One more fact, this is the first time I hear BWV 150, so I can not say that I'm familiar with this particular cantata. Nevertheless, I like it, and there are some features in the recording that I noticed after some repeated listenings:

Mvt. 2 & Mvt. 4 - Choruses
These choruses remind me of the motets (BWV 229 Komm, Jesu, komm - comes to mind.) Don't know why. Perhaps because the music is alternatingly rather slow in one phrase, and faster in the next one, in accordance with the meaning of the text.

Mvt. 3 - Soprano Aria
This aria is one of my favourites, beautiful. Always like Ruth Holton singing. The theme of the text is: cheerfulness and steadfastness despite cross, storm, death, and hell. The text goes:

Doch bin und bleibe ich vergnügt,
Obgleich hier zeitlich toben
Kreuz, Sturm und andre Proben,
Tod, Höll und was sich fügt.
Ob Unfall schlägt den treuen Knecht,
Recht ist und bleibet ewig Recht.

I'm interested to notice that lines 3, 4, and 6, are repeated twice. Within these lines, the words 'Kreuz, Sturm/Tod, Höll/Recht ist und bleibet' are repeated twice, as well. Forcing more weight and attention to their meanings. Another particular: ending the phrase 'Kreuz, sturm', the accompaniment goes crescendo. Thus, describing the reality of the storm, I guess.

Mvt. 5 - Alto, Tenor & Bass Trio (Terzetto)
Another favourite. Well done by the trio. The theme of the text is: winds may twist cedars, but not him who trusts in God. I always like to think the kind-of-busy string/cello represents the winds itself, whirling around the relatively steady-pacing of the trio who trust in God.

Mvt. 6 - Chorus: Meine Augen sehen stets zu dem Herrn
Another favourite. For some unknown reason -- it may be because the way the music goes and modulates -- I can't help thinking that this chorus is felt very much like Gabrieli's or Schütz'. At the word 'dem Hernn', the melodies of the violin are going up and up, as if to lead the eyes looking to the Lord high above. In any case, another favourite.

(Not much, I know. But, hey, that's all I got!)

Neil Halliday wrote (January 7, 2005):
Rianto Pardede wrote:
<"Mvt. 5 - Alto, Tenor & Bass Trio (Terzetto)
Another favourite. Well done by the trio. The theme of the text is: winds may twist cedars, but not him who trusts in God. I always like to think the kind-of-busy string/cello represents the winds itself, whirling around the relatively steady-pacing of the trio who trust in God.">
Excellent description of this movement! Thank you.

Jim Groeneveld wrote (January 7, 2005):
I remember in the first choir I have been singing in a very long time ago, as the opposite of OVPP, we sang the 5th movement, the Terzetto for alto, tenor and bass trio, with the choir. A practical reason was that we at that time only needed a soprano soloist for movement 3 and no other soloists at all. And the three voice parts of it are relatively easy (IMHO). In that way it is an ideal cantata to sing for a choir as it can sing 4 of the 6 movements itself. At the same time it is a challenge, for example the (for quite some singers) difficult decreasing half-tone intervals in Mvt. 2.

But I am interested in your opinions on the justification of singing movement 5 with a choir instead of soloists.


Continue on Part 4

Cantata BWV 150: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

Recordings & Discussions of Cantatas: Main Page | 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
Discussions of General Topics: Cantatas & Other Vocal Works | Performance Practice | Radio, Concerts, Festivals, Recordings


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