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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 151
Süßer Trost, mein Jesus kömmt
Discussions - Part 2

Continue from Part 1

Discussions in the Week of August 19, 2007

Russell Telfer wrote (August 19, 2007):
Introduction to Cantata BWV 151

- Süßer Trost, mein Jesus kömmt - Comfort sweet, my Jesus comes
For the 3rd Day of Christmas

Discussion for the week beginning Sunday 19th August 2007

In giving an overview of the historical importance of this work, I cannot do better than refer you to the Provenance for this cantata which was provided by Thomas Braatz. The link below leads there: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Ref/BWV151-Ref.htm

The movements of BWV 151 are:

Mvt. 1 Soprano Aria Comfort sweet, my Jesus comes
- with flute, strings and continuo

This is a justly celebrated movement and one which has been picked out by music publishers for more popular uses , eg arrangements of popular works for flute and the like.

I have avoided being drawn into reviews of the many performances, but other list contributors have previously made good this deficit. More can be expected.

I would say that in this movement tempo is critical. I think it would be mistake for a conductor to take the usual view and imagine he is presenting just a soprano aria.

Over the whole piece the flautist has about 6 bars rest. The solo singer starts with 10 bars rest. She rarely issues more than than 24 notes a bar with a preponderance of quavers; the flute produces between 20 and 40 notes per bar on average, a majority being demisemiquavers.

What tempo will be optimal for the soprano and for the flute? There is great harmonic and melodic beauty in the flute line and a fast tempo could impair this. At the same time the soprano will not wish to be accused of sluggishness.

I shall air my own opinion in a subsequent post.

Mvt. 2 Bass Recitative with continuo Rejoice then, O my heart,

This is a short verse, 15 bars of music. The text starts with rejoicing, but quickly adopts a downcast mode: pain, oppression and the chains of slavery are the order of the day.

There are first 4 bars in D major, over a tonic pedal. To accompany the sense of the words, the music moves into the minor, exploring B minor and F# minor before ending in E minor.

Mvt. 3 Alto Aria

This is an alto aria with oboe d'amore obbligato, a mellifluous piece with good interplay between the two principals.

The theme is:

In Jesus' humility I can find consolation,
In his poverty I can find riches.

Mvt. 4 Tenor Recitative

Thou precious Son of God,
Thou hast for me now heaven opened wide

This shorter recit reverses the pattern of verse II above, opening in B minor and moving to G major.

Mvt. 5 Choral

Today he opens new the door
To that fair paradise;

All forces are engaged in this short but intense Choral, with flute and oboe d'amore colla parte with the sopranos

BWV 151, I believe, will always stand out. The music is outstandingly beautiful, and there is an added frisson: whatever tempo is chosen may displease some listeners.

Douglas Cowling wrote (August 19, 2007):
Russell Telfer wrote:
< Introduction to Cantata BWV 151
Süßer Trost, mein Jesus kömmt - Comfort sweet, my Jesus comes
For the
3rd Day of Christmas
Discussion for the week beginning Sunday 19th August 2007 >
Bach calls the cantata a "concerto" How often does he use this term in the sacred cantatas?

Julian Mincham wrote (August 19, 2007):
I mentioned this cantata a couple of weeks ago, a point over which Russell and I disagreed.

The first movement (Mvt. 1) of BWV 151 is, to my mind an excellent example of Bach differentiating between the 'inner' acceptance of Christ, (or faith, redemption, salvation etc etc) and the 'outer' celebration of it. The text says this about as explicitly as one might expect and the music says it even more so.

This view of Bach's subtlty of setting texts helps to explain the point which arose earlier i.e. the 'apparent' mismatch of words and music.

I contend that Bach is capable of stting the same text from a personal, introverted, private, individual viewpoint as well from a more public, extrovert, communal viewpoint. An understanding of this often explains apparent mismatches--Bach has taken the one view when we may assume the other.

The first aria (Mvt. 1) of BWV 151 encapsulates these two different viewpoints within the one aria. Often, though, we find them in different arias within the same work---an example of which came up a couple of weeks ago.

Aryeh Oron wrote (August 21, 2007):
Douglas Cowling asked:
"Bach calls the cantata a "concerto" How often does he use this term in the sacred cantatas?"
Thomas Braatz provided a complete list of use of the term "Concerto" as well as the terms "SDG" and "J.J." in Bach's sacred works. See: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Term/Terms-8.htm

Ed Myskowski wrote (August 21, 2007):
Julian Mincham wrote:
< I mentioned this cantata a couple of weeks ago, a point over which Russell and I disagreed. >
Not exactly. You agreed to disagree, as I recall. Never overlook progress.

< The first movement (Mvt. 1) of BWV 151 is, to my mind an excellent example of Bach differentiating between the 'inner' acceptance of Christ, (or faith, redemption, salvation etc etc) and the 'outer' celebration of it. The text says this about as explicitly as one might expect and the music says it even more so. >
I agree.

< The first aria (Mvt. 1) of BWV 151 encapsulates these two different viewpoints within the one aria. Often, though, we find them in different arias within the same work---an example of which came up a couple of weeks ago. >
I think the idea of contrast extends all the way back to the original question, re the liturgical year. The feasts (and their opposite laments) from Advent to Trinity are the extrovert expression of Christian theology, and the Sundays after Trinity, fully half a year, are the introvert absorbing of the doctrine.

Or, from Advent to Trinity is the individual expression of Faith, and after Trinity is the institutional impression of Faith? Whatever, it is clearly two sides of one coin. For the moment, I am unable to recover the reference for 'the vast expanse of the Sundays after Trinity'. It is a wonderful phrase, for which I would gladly take the credit, but I did not make it up.

In any event , we are past it for a bit, because either Bach did not write much or we have lost a lot for that time, in Jahrgang III. Which makes it hard for me to see it as Jahrgang III, at least in comparison to I and II.

Nevertheless, I find Doug's suggestion attractive (I hope I got it right) that there was a master plan for five cycles corresponding to cycles of the liturgical readings?

It's a good thing those old guys didn't have to cope with Global Warming and perpetual war.

What? They had perpetual war? Never mind.

Julian Mincham wrote (August 21, 2007):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
<< I mentioned this cantata a couple of weeks ago, a point over which Russell and I disagreed. >>
< Not exactly. You agreed to disagree, as I recall. >
It's still a disagreement---agreeing to do so just makes it appear to be more polite--politeness making a reletively recent (though none the less welcome) appearance on this list may easily be overlooked.

Where disagreement becomes positive is when it generates an exchange of views--again, always welcome.

Neil Halliday wrote (August 21, 2007):
The opening soprano aria has the same kind of `elevated beauty' as BWV 170/1 ("Contented Rest", also in 12/8)) and "Sleep, my dearest" in the Christmas Oratorio (BWV 248) (both these latter are alto arias).

In fact, even though "Sweet Comfort" (Mvt. 1) reminds me of music from the Christmas Oratorio (BWV 248), I was surprised to read in the Rilling booklet [6]: ".curiously, the opening movement of this cantata is also used in performances nowadays for practical reasons, because it lengthens performances of the first three sections of the Christmas Oratorio BWV 248 and helps to keep the solo soprano occupied, who would not otherwise be very much in evidence". Has anyone heard this done?

The Rilling recording (1971) [6] nicely articulates the widely spaced swinging octaves in the continuo (on beats 1,2 and 7,8 of the 12 quavers in 12/8 time) in bar one, three, etc; and this basic rhythm is contrasted with the slow rocking motion in the upper strings. Above this the flute `floats' in ecstasy.

I like Rilling's soprano [6], and his legato style works well in this piece. Britten [5] has too much of the heavy romanticism. I'm not sure I still rate Leusink's version [11] so highly (as in the first discussion) after hearing Rilling's recording. None of the sopranos are heard in the other samples, because of the long ritonello. Gardiner's ritornello [12] seems very chaste - where are the upper strings at the start? Koopman's strings [13] also seem very soft; hopefully the CD on a good sound system produces better results than the internet sample. Craig Smith [10] has a nice instrumental balance. (Re tempi, I find Rilling's works well, but so does Smith's).

The middle section, in 2/2 with vocal and instrumental triplets, presents such a contrast with the outer sections that we seemingly have two arias in one.
-----------
An interesting aspect of the alto aria (Mvt. 3) is that unison upper strings and oboe only appear together in the ritornellos, while oboe alone (plus continuo) accompanies the singer. Robertson has noticed that "Bach gives typical pictorial phrases to `weaves' (winden) ", at the end of the middle section.

Watts' vibrato, with Britten [5], is too heavy, IMO. Rilling's alto [6] is fine, but the continuo line lacks phrasing. OTOH, Gardiner [12] has too much staccato.

The cantata ends with a lovely short chorale (Mvt. 5).

Bradley Lehman wrote (August 21, 2007):
Missing Fine/SDG

< See: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Term/Terms-8.htm >
So, about 70 of them marked "Concerto". And only about a dozen marked "Cantata", notably for just one singer as the pattern. "Cantata" BWV 51, BWV 56, BWV 82, BWV 84, BWV 199, BWV 204, BWV 208, and BWV 210 are each for one singer (until SATB chorale at the end of several), which takes care of most of those "cantatas": 8 of the 13.

Handy tabulation, thanks.

The web page's point #5 and its allegedly "likely explanation" bears some questioning. Bach often neglected the tiny task of penning "Fine" or "SDG" just from being *so* pressed for time in handing off to the copyist? As if those three or four seconds would matter?

Perhaps the kids at home were so desperately hungry and eager for supper that some of the time they forgot to say "Amen" at the end of grace. Same argument. Same flaw. An absence of "Amen" wouldn't necessarily prove such hunger or haste.

I have to smile at "cantata" BWV 195, listed here as "Copulations Cantata", more normally given as "Trauungskantate", i.e. wedding. But, sure enough: in BWV 195, the fifth movement is a chorus with text "Wir kommen". Next, the sixth movement (chorale) is marked "Post Copulationem" (i.e. after another section of the ceremony ensues, and they're pronounced married), with text "Nun danket all und bringet Ehr". Bach giving us a Monty Python moment with a double entendre? Nice photo of grinning Leonhardt published in his recording. Only about two or three seconds of silence in there between the end of movement 5 and the beginning of 6, during which space the ceremonial coupling is supposed to happen. But hey, it doesn't take terribly long to write the word "Fine" or "SDG" or similarly short things on a piece of paper, either. One dip of the pen and then a few scratching strokes. Sort of like the flair of doing a Zorro Z.

Julian Mincham wrote (August 21, 2007):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< Only about two or three seconds of silence in there between the end of movement 5 and the beginning of 6, during which space the ceremonial coupling is supposed to happen >
Seems that the growth of technology over the last couple of centuries hasn't made everything go faster!!

Douglas Cowling wrote (August 22, 2007):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< Next, the sixth movement (chorale) is marked "Post Copulationem" (i.e. after another section of the ceremony ensues, and they're pronounced married), with text "Nun danket all und bringet Ehr". Bach giving us a Monty Python moment with a double entendre? >
Reminds me of a translation in Deutsch's collection of Mozart's Letters in which Wolfgang writes of going off to hear the music at the "Menstrual Mass" -- somehow the Latin for "monthly" didn't make it through the German to English.

The list of cantata=concertos is very helpful, but the absence of a concluding mark is not necesssarily a sign of haste.

Bradley Lehman wrote (August 22, 2007):
< The list of cantata=concertos is very helpful, but the absence of a concluding mark is not necesssarily a sign of haste. >
I concur.

If Bach had cared so much about making the whole oeuvre consistent, as to the SDG, he could have found a couple of hours anytime in the next 20 years to go pen them all in.

Thanks again to Thomas for the tabulation hours put into this.

Jean Laaninen wrote (August 22, 2007):
Cantata 151

Neil Halladay wrote:
< The opening soprano aria has the same kind of `elevated beauty' as BWV 170/1 ("Contented Rest", also in 12/8)) and "Sleep, my dearest" in the Christmas Oratorio (BWV 248) (both these latter are alto arias). >
The central fast contrasting section of the opening soprano da capo aria as a call to the faithful to respond is elevated and so elegant and regal. The interplay with the flute celebratory and I find the entire aria refreshing. Salvation history as explained by Chafe in the text I am now working through fits well with this aria and the whole cantata. This cantata seems to me like the history of God's purposes in a nutshell.

The purpose of Christ's humble birth and its intended purpose to bring all to an ultimate heavenly home is spelled out clearly while not avoiding the painful aspects of human suffering expressed by the bass and argumented textually and thoughtfully by the alto.

This again is a new cantata and the soprano part a new aria for me, but it seems to me because of the simplicity of the manner in which Bach combined the essential story this is one work that is therefore memorable even at a first hearing.

Andreas Sparschuh wrote (August 22, 2007):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
<> Only about two or three seconds of silence in there between the end of movement 5 and the beginning of 6, during which space the ceremonial coupling is supposed to happen >>
Julian Mincham wrote:
< Seems that the growth of technology over the last couple of centuries hasn't made everything go faster!! >
in deed:
http://www.fastwedding.com/
http://love.ivillage.com/lnm/lnmweddings/0,,2vp8,00.html
asks:
"How does a cplan a wedding in thirty days?"

Anyhow, the whole procedure shouldn't never last longer than to doodle down the messy scribble of 11 curly squiggles in order to be finish with that mere ornamental formality before somebody attempts to detune the instrument accordingly to that "daft" idea:

http://em.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/full/34/4/613
"The premise that a mathematically rigid tuning-scheme is hidden cryptically in a decorative scroll on the title-page of WTC I is daft..."

Jean Laaninen wrote (August 22, 2007):
[To Andreas Sparschuh]
It seems differences of opinion continue to prevail.

That is good. I often think each one just has to find the right answers for him or her. Even temperament is all that I can really work with at this point as a singer, and most of the Baroque performances no doubt continue with this practice even where some other points of view prevail and some performances vary. The main issue seems to be keeping the performance in tune, squiggles or sans squiggles. At least for me.

Your web connections for the quick wedding were entertaining to say the least. It has been so long since I looked at advertisements for wedding things that I really had to chuckle. America's Today Show via Martha Stewart our internally famous homemaker, is giving a wedding to a young couple from Arizona. They will be married on TV in the near future. The couple from Mesa (next door to my town) just won this morning, and now he has to write a song for the bride for the wedding via Martha's instructions. He plays guitar...even sings in tune. Very sweet. Not Bach...but delightful anyway. Weddings should be fun, I think. And music is so key to a happy wedding. We had Bach at our wedding...the music, that is.

Russell Telfer wrote (August 23, 2007):
Julian Mincham wrote: (in reference to our disagreement over the tone of cantata BWV 110)
< Where disagreement becomes positive is when it generates an exchange of views--again, always welcome. >
I agree, and I don't think Ed's playful challenge was a serious one. I believe we're all agreed that at present (at least) our forum is a place for constructive discussion.

Russell Telfer wrote (August 23, 2007):
Re the tempo of Süsser Trost, mein Jesus kömmt

I said I thought that there was a conflict between the tempo needs of the soloist and that required for a particularly artistic and subtle flute part.

The musical form is ABA (a da capo aria) with approximately equal sections. The conflict I perceive is mainly in the outer (A) sections. In the middle (B) section which is in alla breve there is closer imitation; the soprano and flute parts come rhythmically closer together.

I've had access to three modern recordings: that by Aaltje Noordewier-Reddingius [M-1] (which I'm afraid didn't impress) and the BCML's Leusink recording [11], both of which have a tempo of 96 in the outer sections. (I'm counting quavers because this is the pulse.) Then Rilling [6] who gives us a tempo of 88. I felt that Rilling's soloist Hildegard Laurich was happy with this speed, and it gave the flute more chance to be expressive.

What set me off though were two anonymous recordings (anonymous because they were recorded on audiotape with attribution lost) one of which went as low as 76, which I thought was delightful, and one that was probably around 108 (in the A section) which I thought was too fast and which IMO the flautist botched. [A note I made in 1979.]

I finish with points of fact: My score is labelled Molto Adagio. My metronome marks Adagio as the fourth slowest tempo at about 56 ppm.

Bradley Lehman wrote (August 23, 2007):
Russell Telfer wrote:
< I finish with points of fact: My score is labelled Molto Adagio. My metronome marks Adagio as the fourth slowest tempo at about 56 ppm. >
18th century "Adagio" tends to imply not only slowness, but a loose/casual "at ease" manner of rhythmic delivery, and additionally improvised ornamentation melodically. Molto adagio, more so. No fixed speed in particular.

Ed Myskowski wrote (August 25, 2007):
Russell Telfer wrote:
< I agree, and I don't think Ed's playful challenge was a serious one. I believe we're all agreed that at present (at least) our forum is a place for constructive discussion. >
I was about to let this go by. Perhaps better to confirm that you are exactly right, my 'challenge' was playful.

It is now our challenge to add to the wealth of material in the BCW archives. Playful or not, to each his own way.

Thanks for the introductions, and subsequent comments, every detail adds something.

Ed Myskowski wrote (August 25, 2007):
Andreas Sparschuh wrote:
< http://em.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/full/34/4/613
"The premise that a mathematically rigid tuning-scheme is hidden cryptically in a decorative scroll on the title-page of WTC I is daft..." >
(1) That would explain your insistence on prior discovery.

(2) I don't believe Lehman claims 'mathematical rigidity'. Indeed, if my superficial reading is correct, he insists on proportional, analog, relations.

Russell Telfer wrote (August 25, 2007):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
< Perhaps better to confirm that you are exactly right, my 'challenge' was playful. >
It takes a while to learn one another's foibles, so I took your silence for some sort of acknowledgement.

In the same way, Brad Lehman added to my remark about Adagio with a more meaningful description of the usage of Molto Adagio in Bach's time. A useful point which I didn't thank him for at the time.

Thanks too to the other correspondents who have added depth to the discussion.

Ed Myskowski wrote (September 3, 2007):
BWV 151 recordings

A few belated words before moving on. There is the 'hometown' version of BWV 151, Craig Smith / Emmanuel Music [10], which I cannot be objective about. It is my favorite, hands down (ACE), but many of the performers are friends and acquaintances. That said, I will just quote a few words from Craig, and tell you why I like the recording..

<BWV 151 is a treasurable miniature. While it seems as long as the the other pieces on this disc [and other recent BCML discussions], it has no opening chorus and has a kind of intimacy that makes it the most personal of Bach's Christmas cantatas.>

This strikes close to some of Julian's comments.

In the first round of discussions, referencing the Soprano Aria (Mvt. 1) including Craig's notes, the evaluation is the least satisfactory performance. This may deter casual readers from looking further. Specific to the recording [10], and to Emmanuel Music philosophically, it has always been a group with a small chorus, and where various choir members have the opportunity to sing solo parts. To put it another way, from BCW notes, the soloists come from the choir.

Comparing this style of performance with Richter, for example, is likely to lead to a comment (hypothetical) such as 'the bass does not measure up to DFD'. True enough, as far as it goes. But it misses the point of what Emmanuel Music is about, and I expect, many other groups around the world: professional (or equal) musicians dedicated to performing Bach's music on a regular basis.

For that reason alone, I think many of the performing musicians on BCML would enjoy hearing the EM performance [10]. It is well balanced, not in the HIP camp, but with more modest forces than most of the traditional offerings.

In the case of EM, the few available recordings belie the long term dedication of these musicians. Many of them have of performed all of the Bach Cantatas, and the group has a continuous performance history of more than thirty years.

<The bass recitative begins rejoicing in the birth of Jesus but soon becomes a contemplation on the lowliness of Jesus' status. This theme permeates the rest of the cantata. The alto arithat follows, with solo violin and all the upper strings in unison, expands on this idea. The unusual texture begins with the strings and solo violin playing a complex chromatic melody over a marching bass line. When the singer enters, the solo violin breaks loose and becomes inextricably, even obsessively, intertwined with the voice part. There is a density and seriousness about the aria that surprises, even when looking at the text. The middle section of the aria lightens up somewhat, but the melancholy chromaticism of the opening keeps insinuating itself into the texture.> (Smith)

Neil Halliday wrote:
< Watts' vibrato, with Britten [4], is too heavy, IMO. Rilling's [6] alto is fine, but the continuo line lacks phrasing. OTOH, Gardiner has too much staccato. >
The alto aria, Mvt. 3 is worth special mention. Pamela Dellal [10] compares very favorably with the more well known soloists on other versions. In addition, you can witness her dedication to the music by accessing her original text translations via the BCW link to Emmanuel Music, or text translations, English-6. My guess is that her translations gain a subtle distinction as the result of her intimate involvement with performance.

 

Continue on Part 3

Cantata BWV 151: Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

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

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