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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 152
Tritt auf die Glaubensbahn
Discussions - Part 3

Continue from Part 2

Discussions in the Week of June 21, 2009 (3rd round)

Evan Cortens wrote (June 21, 2009):
Personal Introduction

As I'll be leading the discussion for the next five weeks, I thought it would be a good idea for me to offer a few words about myself. First my thanks to Francis Browne for the past few weeks of introductions and the kind words. I am currently a doctoral student in musicology at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. In addition, I hold a Master of Music in Musicology from Boston University and a Bachelor of Music in Music History and Literature from the University of Calgary. My principal focus through these years of academic study has been German liturgical music, principally that of J.S. and C.P.E. Bach. One of my main areas of interest is source-critical studies, and I shall try to bring that to my introductions here. In addition to my work on the scholarly side, I'm an active singer and oboist.

I've been a member of the Bach Cantatas mailing list for almost two years now and I'm looking forward to becoming a more active member in writing some introductions. Over the next five weeks, we'll be discussing the three cantatas Bach wrote for the Sunday after Christmas, BWV 152, BWV 122 and BWV 28 as well as the chorales and sacred songs. I remember being particularly impressed with the organization of Doug Cowling's introductions earlier this year, and I've decided to model mine after his.

Evan Cortens wrote (June 21, 2009):
Week of June 21, 2009: BWV 152 "Tritt auf die Glaubensbahn"

Liturgical Designation:
Sunday after Christmas

Background and Discography: http://bach-cantatas.com/BWV152.htm

Past Discussions: http://bach-cantatas.com/BWV152-D.htm

Performance History:
First: December 30, 1714
Later performance possible? (See below)

Readings for the Sunday after Christmas:
Epistle: Galatians 4: 1-7 (Christ is sent to redeem those under the law)
Gospel: Luke 2: 33-40 (The words of Simeon and Anna to Mary)

Libretto:

The libretto for this cantata is by the Weimar court poet Salomo Franck (1659-1725), from his collection later published as Evangelisches Andachts-Opffer (Weimar, 1715). During his time in Weimar, Bach set at least fourteen of Franck's texts and in Leipzig, he set a further three. For me, Franck has always had a unique way with words, both in his ability to devise effective sound combinations as well as effective images. Certainly the opening phrase of this cantata, "walk on the path of faith," evidences the latter and the opening of BWV 147, "Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben" the former. Dürr divides the Weimar cantata texts into three groups: no recitatives; recitatives and arias without biblical words or chorale; recitatives and arias with biblical words and/or chorale. This cantata is of the second type, the variety found in Erdmann Neumeister's first and second cycles of cantata texts published just a few years earlier and a likely influence upon Franck.

Scoring:

This cantata has an atypically light scoring: two singers, recorder, oboe, viola d'amore, viola da gamba and continuo (with organ). Certainly the absence of any large string group is striking and perhaps even significant. The chamber scoring may well serve to emphasize the individuality of the believer walking on the "Glaubensbahn." Interestingly, this is the first work in which Bach uses the viola d'amore, and the only sacred cantata to make use of the same. Only three other works in his oeuvre make use of it: the birthday cantata BWV 36c, the dramma per musica BWV 205 and the St. John Passion BWV 245. The two voice types in this cantata engage in a dialogue, the bass representing Jesus and the soprano the soul. Both have solo movements before coming together in a closing duet. Atypically, there is no final chorale. Dürr speculates that the reduced score may well have resulted from necessity, the Christmas season kept the Weimar court musicians so busy that "a reduction of resources seem[ed] expedient."

Compositional Genesis:

The extant autograph score for this work, P 45 in the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, is written in Bach's Reinschrift, or fair copy script. This strongly suggests that it was prepared from a now lost composing score. Spitta originally dated the first performance of this cantata to 1715, presumably on the basis of the libretto's publication date, but on the basis of source evidence, Dürr re-dated the work to 1714. However, a question remains as to whether the work was reperformed or not. Several of Bach's Weimar cantatas--BWV 70, BWV 147 and BWV 21 come to mind here--were revised significantly for reperformance in Leipzig. In the case of BWV 70, for instance, no score survives and the existence of a Weimar version can be determined through analysis of the string parts. The choruses and arias are in the handwriting of a Weimar scribe and the recitatives have been inserted into the same physical part by a Leipzig scribe (Johann Andreas Kuhnau, nephew of Bach's predecessor). A similar thing may well have happened with BWV 152, but as the original parts do not survive, we cannot know.

The score however has been extensively revised, especially in the continuo part. Though these revisions cannot be accurately dated, one would perhaps think that since the score is a fair copy, Bach was satisfied with the work when he copied it. Possibly then it was that Bach came back to the work some years later and marked revisions into the score, as he often did. One further argument for the revisions being connected with a later performance is advanced by Robert Marshall. He highlights measure 35 in the continuo part in the second movement. In the original reading, Bach cancels the F-sharp in the key signature with a flat, as was his practice in Weimar. In the revised reading though he uses a natural instead, consistent with Bach's Leipzig practice and our modern expectations. Hardly conclusive evidence, but thought-provoking nonetheless.

Movements:

I list here all the movements for your convenience, but only offer comments on a select few of them.

Mvt. 1: Sinfonia

Virtually all commentators on this movement--notably Dürr, Spitta, Robertson and Young--note that this movement is "in the style of a French overture." It must be emphasized however that it is not fair to say that it is a French overture. The resemblance is in the bipartite division: slow prelude followed by fast(er) fugal section. The slow section however, as the commentators well note, is too short to really qualify as the A section of a French overture. Both Dürr and Young note a strong similarity between the fugue subject of this movement, beginning in measure 5 in the oboe, and the subject of the organ fugue in A major, BWV 536/2, which too dates from Bach's Weimar period.

Mvt. 2: Aria (B): "Tritt auf die Glaubensbahn"

Mvt. 3: Recitativo (B): "Der Heiland ist gesetzt"

Mvt. 4: Aria (S): "Stein, der über alle Schätze"

The "stone above all treasures" described in the text of this movement alludes both to the stone mentioned in the second movement and several biblical passages. The first to come to my mind was Psalm 118:22, "the stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone." Dürr mentions as well Luke 2: 34, which itself harkens back to Isaiah 8:14-15.

Mvt. 5: Recitativo (B): "Es ägre sich die kluge Welt"

Mvt. 6: Duetto (SB): "Wie soll ich dich, Liebster der Seelen, umfassen"

I chuckled when I read Spitta's comments on this movement: "The final duet, like the duet for soprano and bass in 'Ich hatte viel Bekümmerniss' [BWV 21], is too dramatic, and inconsistent with the church style. [...] As a piece of music it is sufficiently charming, as scarcely need be said." This lukewarm assessment seems on its face to contradict his earlier comment that this cantata is "altogether one of the most remarkable of Bach's productions." For this, I have no explanation.

Recordings:

I listened principally to the recordings of Koopman [10] and Suzuki [11]. Both were certainly very high quality though I must admit to feeling that I felt Suzuki's tempo in the fourth movement was perhaps a bit on the slow side. In both recordings I felt that a freer treatment of the opening slow section of the first movement would have worked better. The trills in the winds especially would have benefited, as in both recordings they came across as too metronomic for my taste.

I hope that the points I've raised here provide fodder for a productive discussion,

Aryeh Oron wrote (June 22, 2009):
Evan Cortens had stated in his introduction to BWV 152:
“Interestingly, this is the first work in which Bach uses the viola d'amore, and the only sacred cantata to make use of the same. Only three other works in his oeuvre make use of it: the birthday cantata BWV 36c, the dramma per musica BWV 205 and the St. John Passion BWV 245.”
To this Thomas Braatz added the following comment:
Ulrich Prinz (J. S. Bachs Instrumentarium, Stuttgart, 2005, p. 535-537) indicates the possibility of another cantata, BWV 157, the lost, earlier version of which was a Trauerkantate, which also possibly used a viola d’amore/viola d’amour. This earlier version was composed for its first performance on February 6, 1727 and probably used the viola d’amour for the tenor and bass duet (mvt. 1) and for the bass aria (mvt. 4). Another possible use of this instrument is an early version (Köthen?) of the harpsichord concerto # 4 in A major (BWV 1055), for which the viola d’amour as the solo instrument cannot be excluded (S. Rampe/D. Sackmann: Bachs Orchestermusik, Kassel, 2000, pp. 138-141).

William Hoffman wrote (June 22, 2009):
BWV 152 Viola d'amore

[To Aryeh Oron] William Hoffman replies: I heard a fine performance of Cantata BWV 157 yesterday by the Albuquerque Baroque Players. They used a viola da gamba, a cello for the basso continuo (with harpsichord), and a second violin for the second movement tenor recitative. I wonder if availability can become the step-mother of invention. I also recall hearing a performance of the St. John Passion aria "Es ist vollbracht" using viola da gamba instead of viola d'amore. Also, Franz Joseph Haydn wrote for the baryton, I believe, apparently a 12-string version of a type of gamba.

Ed Myskowski wrote (June 22, 2009):
A close friend was married to a lady, maiden name Damore (no apostophe, and first name, unfortunaltely, not Viola). Their daughter, now about thirteen, is named Amore. Petite, and pretty as a picture, like an incipient cello (or gamba).

William Hoffman wrote [Viola d'amore]:
>I wonder if availability can become the step-mother of invention. <
Always, pretty much without exception.

WH:
>Also, Franz Joseph Haydn wrote for the baryton, I believe, apparently a 12-string version of >a type of gamba. <
EM:
Haydn definitely wrote (a lot) for the baryton. Most of the surviving and recorded trios were played on a Haydn retrospective (Orgy(r)) radio program just last month, whrb.org. Some of them seem to be easily (?) transposed for cello, and turn up on concert programs from time to time. I believe that some (about one half?) of the baryton strings were resonant (sympathetic), and the other half were played. Relative of the sitar?

Fortuitously, I heard a performance yesterday by the Newberry Consort (early music), based in Chicago but kind enough to travel to Boston (Rockport) for a summer festival performance. David Douglass played both baroque violin and viola da gamba (incorrectly listed as viola in the program, by an overly zealous editor).

David was available to chat both at intermission and after, but he also included a brief tutorial on the instruments, from the stage. A couple points of interst to me, especially relevant to some of the thoughtful liner notes Sigiswald Kuijken provides with his Bach cantata CDs:

(1) David plays the baroque violin either against his shoulder (for Purcell pieces, in this performance), or against (but not under) his chin (for Handel pieces), using a baroque instrument and bow. He is of the opinion that the change in technique evolved before any change in the physical shape of instrument or bow, in order to facilitate more rapid bow-arm articulation in the chin position.

(2) Viola da gamba, which is significantly older than the violin, means viol of the leg. He plays it held up off the floor, but vertical, wedged between his legs. Significantly different from Kuijken's idea of across the legs, rather like a large guitar. David did point out that the gamba (the instrument, not the leg) evolved from the earlier guitar. He also offered the opinion that early performance technique may have been a lot more flexible than 21st C. standards, i.e., there was not necessarily one correct way to hold an instrument.

My usual caveat applies, I am just passing along some observations, no claim to expertise.

William Rowland (Ludwig) wrote (June 23, 2009):
[To William Hoffman, regarding Viola d'amore] There is little excuse NOT to use a viola d'amore today in the performance and rescoring of this work. Technology has greatly advanced so that this instrument is more stable than in the past. In the past, for most of a work to work on this instrument ---the notes had to center around D and other open strings. However, with two instruments so that one is tuned to the normal tuning and one tuned either on note higher or lower; we can have the effect of the sympathetic vibrations throughout the scale. Tuning in past was a problem but that is no longer or should no longer be the case except for historical instruments and copies made along those lines.

Incidentally there is a Viola d'amore Society. Now that we also have the Oboe da caccia back and being made---there should be no excuse to performing works for this intrument on any other instrument. Bach is the alledged inventor of this work and that is why you see so many of his scores written with this instrument included. It has a rougher sound than the normal oboe and especially compared to the Oboe d'amore.

Kim Patrick Clow wrote (June 23, 2009):
Ludwig wrote [Viola d'amore]:
> Incidentally there is a Viola d'amore Society. Now that we also have the Oboe da caccia back and being made---there should be no excuse to performing works for this intrument on any other instrument. <
Yes, they're a great group, lots of performers, they're very keen on anything that includes it, so that's why I've edited so many Graupner ovuertures for viola d'amore and orchestra (over 15 survive!) plus cantata mo. I don't think anyone else wrote so much for it ;)

The Haydn Baryton Trios were beautifully recorded and released in a separate boxed set on the Brilliant Classics label. Highly recommended if you love the Baryton!

Douglas Cowling wrote (June 23, 2009):
Evan Cortens wrote:
< Atypically, there is no final chorale. Dürr speculates that the reduced score may well have resulted from necessity, the Christmas season kept the Weimar court musicians so busy that "a reduction of resources seem[ed] expedient. >
Does Dürr -- or any scholar for that matter -- ever present any hard evidence that solo cantatas are the result of the Exhausted Choir Hypothesis? If anything, it undermines his own thesis in the introduction to the Bach cantata study where he supports the view that all the cantatas are essentially solo, chamber works. And why in the year that the Christmas Oratorio was premiered were the singers able to manage six difficult canatas in 12 days?

Any why just exhausted singers? Why not exhausted instrumentalists? The wonderful sinfonia which opens this cantata is an extraordinary technical and ensemble workout.

Bach knew the work load of the church year and clearly was able to plan for it. That's well-regulated music!

Ed Myskowski wrote (June 22, 2009):
[Viola d'amore] >Technology has greatly advanced so that this instrument is more stable than in the past. In the past, for most of a work to work on this instrument >---the notes had to center around D and other open strings. <
Is not a technical advance on a period instrument an oxymoron?

William Hoffman wrote (June 22, 2009):
BWV 152: Fugitive Notes

SUNDAY AFTER CHRISTMAS (NBA KB I/3, Dürr et al, 2000)
Gospel, Luke 2: 33-40 (Simeon/Anna words); Epistle, Gal. 4: 1-7 (Law, Father & Son)
Date(Cy.) BWV Title Type
12/30/14 (?1) BWV 152 Tritt auf die Glaubensbahn SB solo
12/31/24(2) BWV 122 Das neugeborne Kindelein chorale
12/30/25(3) BWV 28 Gottlob! nun geht das Jahr zu Ende SATB solo
12/29/26 (??BWV 152) Tritt auf die Glaubensbahn ?repeat

SUN. AFTER CHRISTMAS: BWV 152, Tritt auf die Glaubensbahn [SB solo only]
12/30/14 (?Cycle 1); ?repeated in Leipzig; dialogue (S=Soul, B=Jesus)
Sources: (1) score (DS P.45, CPEB, Pölchau), (2) parts set (lost, ?WFB).
Literature: BG XXXII (Naumann 1886); critical new ed. (g minor), Breitkopf (Neumann 1949); NBA KB I/3 (Dürr et al, 2000); Whittaker I:93-100, Robertson 27 f, Daw 56 f, Young 19 f., Dürr 133-37
Text: #2-6. Franck (1715); no chorale; Gospel (#2, 3), Luke 2:33-40 (Simeon & Anna to Mary).
Forces: SB, rec, ob, va d'a, va d'g, bc (chamber piece).
Movements: sinfonia, 3 arias(B, S,SB), 2 recits. (B, B).
1. Sinfonia (tutti orch): inrtoduction (French overture) & fugue (cf Organ Fugue in A, BWV 536/2).
2. Aria (B, ob): Walk on the faith's way, God has thestone laid (Gospel, v.39).
3. Rec.-aso.(B): The Savior is ordained in Israel (Gospel, v.34).
4. Aria (S,rec., va): Stone, which (is) above all treasure (cf BWV 248II/10[19]).
5. Rec. (B): Let be angry the cunning world (1 Cor. 1:19, Mat. 15:14).
6. Aria (SB, tutti): How shall, Thee, beloved of souls, embrace.

Fugitive notes:

Christmas in Leipig: After such a great burst of energy in his first three years of producing Christmas music in Leipzig, Bach's output went fallow in 1726 and 1727. His production of weekly cantatas, which he curtailed, was virtually non-existant during this season, although Bach did present new works for Chrismas in succeeding years -- BWV 197a in 1728, the Christmas Oratorio in 1734, and BWV 191 in the early 1740s - as well as repeats of his first three festival cantatas.

At the end of the Trinity season of 1726, Bach ceased composing cantatas on a regular basis, except for the Sunday After New Years and late Epiphany Sundays in early 1727, filling some gaps in his still-incomplete third cantata cycle. He may have repeated his Sanctus in D, BWV 232III for Christmas Day 1726 or 1727, and the motet BWV 225, "Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied," on New Years Day 1726.

Fate let Bach off the hook for the 1727 Christmas season, a tempus clausum period for the mourning of Saxon Queen Christiane Eberhardine, from September 7, 1727, to January 6, 1728, according to C. Wolff, JSB 529. Wolff also notes that Bach was in Köthen for the New Years Festival, January 1-5, 1728. Unable anyways to present any music in Saxony, perhaps he revived one of his New Year's sacred cantatas or a secular cantata from his earlier Köthen tenure, 1718-23, when he presented secular serenades annually.

Still, there is an intriguing possibility that Bach dusted off his Cantata BWV 152, composed in Weimar for the Sunday after Christmas, and presented it on December 29, 1726. He had revived (and often revised and expanded) virtually all of his 20-something sacred cantatas originally created in Weimar. The lone authenticated acception was Cantata BWV 54, for Occuli Sunday in Lent (not allowed in Leipzig), the aria first movement of which he was able to salvage through parody in the Arrest Scene in the Garden of Gethsemane in the St. Mark Passion, BWV 247.

Bach had been unable to repeat Cantata BWV 152 during his Leipzig first cantata cycle, 1723-1724, since that Sunday After Chrstmas was not observed in 1723. That year, the three-day Christmas Festival, December 25-27, ran Saturday through Monday. The following Sunday After New Years fell on January 2, 1724. In the subsequent two years Bach composed Cantatas BWV 122 and BWV 58, respectively, for the chorale cantata second cycle, and the third cycle.

So what is the other possible bit of evidence that Bach indeed did revive BWV 152 on December 29, 1726? On February 6, 1727, Bach presented the first version of his solo cantata BWV 157, for the funeral of Saxon Minister Ponickau, possibly using a viola d'amore. The extant score of Cantata BWV 152 is scored for chamber ensemble including viola d'amore. Source: Ulrich Prinz, cited by Thomas Braatz and Aryeh Oron, BCW, 6/22/09.

One other possible bit of collateral evidence: The score of BWV 152 was inherited by C.P.E. Bach as part of the first cantata cycle estate division between him and older brother W.H., who probably got the now-lost parts set. Cantata BWV 152 was listed in the C.P.E. Bach estate catalog of 1790, based on its incipit for the Sunday after Christmas, as well as BWV 58 for the same Sunday. P.S. Neither Cantatas BWV 54 nor BWV 157 were inherited by Bach's sons in the division of the sacred service works. The former wound up in the Warsaw University Library and the latter at the Thomas School in Leipzig.

Douglas Cowling wrote (June 23, 2009):
William Hoffman wrote [Fugitive Notes]:
< After such a great burst of energy in his first three years of producing Christmas music in Leipzig, Bach's output went fallow in 1726 and 1727. >
Are we saying that Bach had some kind of creative block? Could it not be interpreted that he had completed the cantatas he wished to write and now, witthe works of other composers, he had a repertoire of modern works from which he could draw for the Sunday cantata? It was like writing under commission: Bach wrote for a regulated system and he completed what he needed.

Kim Patrick Clow wrote (June 23, 2009):
Douglas Cowling wrote [Fugitive Notes]:
< Are we saying that Bach had some kind of creative block? Could it not be interpreted that he had completed the cantatas he wished to write and now, with the works of other composers, he had a repertoire of modern works from which he could draw for the Sunday cantata? It was like writing under commission: Bach wrote for a regulated system and he completed what he needed. >
Would having a creative block be a bad thing? Every major composer seems to have spells of not being very productive for a variety of reasons.

Francis Browne wrote (June 23, 2009):
BWV 152 : No da capo

In the Oxford Composer Companion entry for this cantata -the author is not indicated - it states :"A feature of this cantata is that it includes no movements in da capo form.There is no going back along the path of faith....."

Is this plausible ? Are there other instances where the structure of the movements is clearly intended to reinforce the meaning of the text ?

Ed Myskowski wrote (June 23, 2009):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< Does Dürr -- or any scholar for that matter -- ever present any hard evidence that solo cantatas are the result of the Exhausted Choir Hypothesis? >
Doug has been steadfast in raising this question whenever appropriate. I find his documentation of the demands on the choir within the service, well beyond the cantata performance, to be convincing on its own. The Exhausted Choir Hyopothesis remains exactly that, a hypothesis difficult to disprove definitively, but hardly supported by any evidence.

DC:
< Bach knew the work load of the church year and clearly was able to plan for it. That's well-regulated music! >
EM:
This perhaps jumps ahead from Weimar to Leipzig, but a simple and satisfying hypothesis, nonetherless. It is certainly as consistent with the evidence as any alternatives. Why not take Bach at face value, for starters?: Soli Deo Gloria

What is enough for God is enough for Bach, and Bach decides that point. Or perhaps God decides, and whispers in Bach's ear? Either way, the music is the evidence available to us.

David D. Jones wrote (June 24, 2009):
[To Douglas Cowling] As always, I am partial to Gardiner's recording of this cantata [13]. Bach's opening cantata sinfonias are special treats always, and Gardiner does this particular piece remarkable justice with his instincts about tempo. Magnificent! Let us walk the path of faith!

Evan Coretns wrote (June 24, 2009):
BWV 152: Creativity and Choirs

I'm going to respond to and offer my thoughts on a couple of points that have been raised in different emails here. I'll give my comments inline after quoting the original email(s).

Douglas Cowling wrote:
< Does Dürr -- or any scholar for that matter -- ever present any hard evidence that solo cantatas are the result of the Exhausted Choir Hypothesis? If anything, it undermines his own thesis in the introduction to the Bach cantata study where he supports the view that all the cantatas are essentially solo, chamber works. And why in the year that the Christmas Oratorio was premiered were the singers able to manage six difficult canatas in 12 days? >
Certainly I agree with you here Doug: no scholar has provided documentary evidence of the Exhausted Choir Hypothesis. For that matter, I doubt seriously that such evidence will ever be presented, barring the discovery of new sources which significantly expand our knowledge of who Bach's individual singers actually were, whether in Weimar or in Leipzig. That said, while your point is well taken, perhaps the Christmas Oratorio (BWV 248) is not the best counter-argument for BWV 152 at least, given that the former dates from 1733 and the latter from 1714. Different choir, different institutions, different conditions. (Again though, no evidence either.)

< Any why just exhausted singers? Why not exhausted instrumentalists? The wonderful sinfonia which opens this cantata is an extraordinary technical and ensemble workout. >
In fact if you're making the Exhausted Choir argument for BWV 152, you can well make the Exhausted Instrumentalist argument too! Agreed the opening sinfonia is wonderful, but it is, after all, only for four obbligato instruments plus continuo. (The NBA score gives this last as "Organo", but it may well have been doubled by a cello or two, or a bassoon, who knows. Since the performance parts do not survive, any doubling remains speculative.) Thus we have a cantata that requires a minimum of five instrumentalists and a maximum of, say, seven or eight. Certainly by Bach's own standards this is a small instrumental group. Again, I'm just playing devil's advocate here, there's no hard and fast evidence.

Where the Exhausted Choir Hypothesis is trotted out to its fullest is to explain the relative preponderance of "solo" cantatas in 1726/27, notably BWV 35, BWV 52, BWV 55, BWV 56, BWV 169, BWV 170 and BWV 82. (This list is hardly exhaustive.) Again though, there is no evidence to suggest the choir was exhausted. For that matter, in between performances of these solo cantatas are performances of cantatas with movements for all four voices. To explain this, rather than appeal to institutional circumstances, I side with you Doug: I believe that Bach was simply experimenting in the same way we see him experiment with genre and form.

While on this topic, and having mentioned in passing BWV 35, BWV 169 and BWV 170, the preponderance of organ obbligatos is also interesting in the years 1726/27. In fact, if not the exhausted instrumentalist hypothesis, certainly the absent instrumentalist hypothesis has been advanced to explain these. Gregory Butler notably has suggested that some of Bach's key soloists were absent at this time so obbligato movements he would have otherwise scored for another instrument were transfered to the organ. This is certainly convincing. However it also seems to be true that Bach was simply intent on exploring the possibilities of the solo organ in the church cantata!

William Hoffman wrote:
<< After such a great burst of energy in his first three years of producing Christmas music in Leipzig, Bach's output went fallow in 1726 and 1727. >>
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< Are we saying that Bach had some kind of creative block? Could it not be interpreted that he had completed the cantatas he wished to write and now, with the works of other composers, he had a repertoire of modern works from which he could draw for the Sunday cantata? It was like writing under commission: Bach wrote for a regulated system and he completed what he needed. >
Again, I agree with Doug here. Certainly Bach did not always feel compelled to produce a new work for a given occasion. This is clearly evident in the number of times that he reperformed his various church works. The trouble is that we often do not have very clear evidence of whether a given piece was reperformed or not. The only way to know for sure is if the work was _modified_. Perhaps BWV 82 is the clearest example of this: 1727 (bass), 1731 (soprano) and 1747/48 (alto?), plus two more performances. With BWV 152, as I said in my introduction, we have only the sketchiest of indications of reperformance, an added accidental in the continuo part!

Perhaps the toughest question to answer is this: why is it that Bach basically stopped producing music for the church after 1735? Certainly it wasn't any creative , he continued to compose prolifically in other genres. Folks with a vested interest in preserving the image of Bach-as-church-composer tend to reject the notion that he became bored with sacred music. There's just no way of knowing! We do know certainly that Bach's job still required him to perform a cantata every Sunday plus the additional Christmas and Passion music, so to fill these slots, he either must have reperformed his own music, or performed the music of other composers.

Or, perhaps, is it that vast quantities of Bach's church cantatas have vanished, without a trace? Often quoted is the statement--initially from the obituary, repeated by Forkel--that Bach composed "five cycles" of cantatas. Do the math, and you end up with about 300 pieces of music. Since we have only around 200 extant cantatas, some conclude, we must therefore be missing a whopping 100 cantatas. Needless to say, I'm skeptical (as you can probably tell by my tone). While I don't doubt that some cantatas have gone missing, I find it difficult to believe that this many could simply have disappeared. First, the trustworthiness of the obituary and Forkel. In addition to saying Bach composed five cycles, both also say that he composed five passions. Certainly this number has a number of problems too. Of course the Matthew and John, plus the possible missing Mark passion; that makes three. What about the Luke passion? If this is in fact not by Bach as most folks say (and I'm inclined to agree), of all people, C.P.E. Bach, co-author of the obituary, would have known this. After all, all but the first page of the score is in his hand! What other options do we have? There's a lost passion, perhaps from 1717, though this was incorporated in part into the SJP. Would C. P. E. have listed it separately? There's also the so-called "Kaiser" passion (Daniel Melamed has raised serious doubts as to whether it's actually by Kaiser), but again... it's not by Bach! So we may well be able to count five passions, but certainly reaching such a count is difficult, unless we assume that C.P.E. Bach lost a lot of music. (This hypothesis is really untenable, given that all of the works by J. S. Bach listed in C. P. E.'s estate catalog [Nachlass-Verzeichnis] have come down to us.)

So, back to the cantatas then. The way in which Bach's estate was divided amongst his sons makes it difficult for music to have simply vanished. It would seem that most of the music was divided as follows: one son would receive the score and extra parts and the other son would receive the set of primary parts. In other words, even if Wilhelm Friedemann was as careless with his inheritance as we are led to believe, another son, likely Emanuel, would have received the other half of the cantata materials. As I said above, this does not mean that the loss of music was not possible. But, it does make it very difficult. Difficult enough, I argue, to preclude the possibility that fully one third of J. S. Bach's sacred cantatas vanished without any trace of their ever having existed.

Anyhow, I've rambled on for almost 1500 words now, time to wrap this up!

Kim Patrick Clow wrote (June 25, 2009):
Evan Cortens wrote:
< Or, perhaps, is it that vast quantities of Bach's church cantatas have vanished, without a trace? Often quoted is the statement--initially from the obituary, repeated by Forkel--that Bach composed "five cycles" of cantatas. Do the math, and you end up with about 300 pieces of music. Since we have only around 200 extant cantatas, some conclude, we must therefore be missing a whopping 100 cantatas. Needless to say, I'm skeptical (as you can probably tell by my tone). While I don't doubt that some cantatas have gone missing, I find it difficult to believe that this many could simply have disappeared. >
There are huge losses for the music of Bach's peers, with Stölzel being the most tragic (all but ten manuscripts survive at Gotha from a career that included a cantata every week as well as secular music for the court, any surviving cantatas are from other sources such as Sonderhausen, Hamburg, etc). Johann Fasch's manuscript collection vanished from Zerbst, it's unclear what happened, but apparently he wrote many cantata cycles (I believe ten?). Telemann mentioned in an autobiography that by 1718 he had written over 250 orchestral suites, but only 125 survive-- and we know he didn't stop writing them that year, there are many others from his Hamburg years. Telemann also was commissioned to write cantatas and orchestral music for the court at Bayreuth for many years: all of it vanished. Telemann's brother-in-law Michael Böhmfled the Darmstadt kapelle and had charges filed against by the Landgrave for "theft of musical materials," which included over 100 scores and parts. None of these materials survive, many had to be unique sources too.

So when you consider the historical context, a large collection of Bach cantatas vanishing doesn't seem unlikely. If anything its amazing we have what's survived. Despite your well reasoned skeptical approach to the obit and Forkel, primary evidence by people closest to the scene trumps everything else: if C.P.E. Bach said there were 5 cantata cycles: I'd believe it.

Christoph Wolff has done a study of paper purchase orders for Bach's tenure in Weimar-- and made a very reasonable argument for a guess on how many cantata scores/parts are missing, and its pretty significant.

Thanks for a fascinating thread ;)

Neil Halliday wrote (June 25, 2009):
Kim Patrick Clow wrote:
>There are huge losses for the music of Bach's peers, with Stölzel being the most tragic<
At least, if I understand correctly, we know what happened in Stölzel's case, ie, the scores were carelessly stored in a leaky attic and were irretrievably ruined by the time they were discovered fifty years later.

OTOH, the unexplained disappearance of large quantities of music by Bach and Telemann is a more disturbing mystery.

William Hoffman wrote (June 25, 2009):
Evan Cortens wrote:
< I'm going to respond to and offer my thoughts on a couple of points that have been raised in different emails here. I'll give my comments inline after quoting the original email(s). >
William Hoffman wrote:
<< After such a great burst of energy in his first three years of producing Christmas music in Leipzig, Bach's output went fallow in 1726 and 1727. >>
Since I'm the culprit causing the matter of the Exhausted Choir (Performers) issue to be raised, I want to make two points:

1. I should have added my belief that Bach was heading in new directions, that he had done enough, and Doug notes this too.

2. As to the general arguments on the issue of EC (Exhausted Choir), I think Bach's primary concerns when composing or adapting (recomposing) were the resources available and the performing conditions, as well as his creative psyche at any particular time. Thus, like the OVPP arguments, the limited resources question can be viewed from various, sometimes opposing, perspectives.

I personally can say that my understanding of Bach has been enriched by these
sometimes heated and polarizing discussions, especially OVPP. For example, in 1995, I did extensive research and wrote a graduate paper on the reason(s) for Bach not completing the chorale cantata cycle. I cited all the various arguments, which often can be more a reflection of the icommentator than the actual or assumed evidence. I also did a source-critical analysis of the sketches and the actual music for the Easter Season, as well as all Bach's subsequent composing of chorale cantatas. I found three different versions of the chorale cantata cycle: the one-year chronological cycle as composed; the succeeding, amended, still-incomplete cycle; and the cycle as manuscripts distributed to Anna Magdalena and Wilhelm Friedemann. I learned a lot about Bach's challenges as well as methods, motives and opportunities.

I concluded that Bach at Lent 1725 had intentionally decided for various reasons not to compose chorale cantatas for the Easter season -- and he never did, except for BWV 4, perhaps his earliest composed vocal work. Those reasons included no texts available, continuous "well-appointed" obstacles from Thomas School officials, and a sense that he had thoroughly explored the chorale cantata genre as no one else had. Thus Bach in the incomplete third cantata cycle went on to explore the intimate and virtuoso character of the cantata, meanwhile returning to instrumental composition and pursuing his Christological, ?fourth "cycle" of major vocal works. As for a fifth "cycle," I think it is found in his extensive, yet also incomplete organ chorale collections for the appointed church year as well as the free-standing some 185 four-part plain chorales, BWV 253-438, filling in gaps in the church year often with new chorales found in the hymn books of the 1730s.

Food for thought -- and debate!

Neil Halliday wrote (June 25, 2009):
Neil Halliday wrote:
>OTOH, the unexplained disappearance of large quantities of music by Bach and Telemann is a more disturbing mystery.<
Possible explanation:

In the case of Bach, the reports (from CPE and others) of five cantata cycles may relate to what Bach intended to do, rather than what he actually did - meaning we might in fact have most of the cantatas.

In the case of Telemann, there might be questions of variable quality among the works of such a prolific composer - how many of the reported 1000 or so cantatas are of sufficiently high standard to deserve preservation?

Kim Patrick Clow wrote (June 25, 2009):
Neil Halliday wrote:
< Possible explanation:
In the case of Bach, the reports (from CPE and others) of five cantata cycles may relate to what Bach intended to do, rather than what he actually did - meaning we might in fact have most of the cantatas. >
Then they would have said that, but they didn't. We have to take the record for what it states in my opinion. We also know there are quite a few missing secular cantatas, why this would be any different with the sacred cantatas (please no diatribes about the passing nature of the secular cantatas or they were somehow shallow, so they didn't warrant being saved). Then there's the issue of the missing Weimar cantatas, and Wolff goes to a bit of detail about them in particular, and the missing Bach manuscripts in general.

< In the case of Telemann, there might be questions of variable quality among the works of such a prolific composer - how many of the reported 1000 or so cantatas are of sufficiently high standard to deserve preservation? >
There's variable quality issues in Bach's cantatas too, so who would pick which pieces "deserve" preservation in those pieces, and what would such a procedure involve? This discounts of course something we are loathe to admit: an element of pure luck in the survival of music. Wolff suggests what survived was what was different (and of course bad luck: e.g. the burning of the Weimar music library in the 1780s etc).

BTW: There are over 1700 surviving Telemann cantatas, but I think you'd be hard pressed to find a really bad one.

Neil Halliday wrote (June 25, 2009):
Kim Patrick Clow wrote:
>BTW: There are over 1700 surviving Telemann cantatas<
Amazing. Do we have an idea of how many cantatas of Telemann did not survive?

Kim Patrick Clow wrote (June 25, 2009):
Neil Halliday wrote:
< Amazing. Do we have an idea of how many cantatas of Telemann did not survive? >
Using the 30 percent rate that Wolff applies to Bach (and that's on the conservative side, the losses could be as high as 50 percent in some genres such as the trio sonatas), Telemann's losses would be easily 600 cantatas.

Telemann was writing cantatas at a very early stage, when his mother discovered his musical inclinations, she sent him away to boarding school stating her son wasn't going to be in the company of "jugglers, fire breathers and woodchuck trainers." When the rector of the boarding school discovered Telemann's musical abilities, he was commissioned to write music for the Sunday services. None of this material survives.

Ed Myskowski wrote (June 25, 2009):
Neil Halliday wrote:
< In the case of Bach, the reports (from CPE and others) of five cantata cycles may relate to what Bach intended to do, rather than what he actually did - meaning we might in fact have >most of the cantatas. >
Perhaps, but the neat analysis (by Christoph Wolff and/or grad students) of paper purchases versus surviving compositions suggests that roughly a third of the total is unaccounted for. There are reasonable arguments to suggest that the losses are more heavily weighted to instrumental compositions (trio sonatas, for example) versus the more carefully preserved sacred choral works.

Now that I think through the language and the math a little more carefully, if we have 2/3 (or somewhat more) of the cantatas, does that constitute most of them?

Neil Halliday wrote (June 25, 2009):
William Hoffman wrote:
>As for a fifth "cycle," I think it is found in his extensive, yet also incomplete organ chorale collections for the appointed church year<
Yes, I find this very plausible; notice also how the planned designs of the later large-scale projects - eg, the latter cantata cycles if they existed, the Orgelbuchlein and Art of Fugue - were never completed as planned.

Notice also C.P.E. Bach's cursory remarks on the last page of the Art of Fugue: that his father died with the appearance of the counter-subject BACH, when this subject is not a countersubject, and no mention of the possibility that this fugue was intended to be a grand concluding quadruple fugue, as reported by other members of Bach's family. How accurate/reliable are CPE's reports.

Evan Coretns wrote (June 25, 2009):
Kim Patrick Clow wrote:
< There are huge losses for the music of Bach's peers, with Stölzel being the most tragic (all but ten manuscripts survive at Gotha from a career that included a cantata every week as well as secular music for the court, any surviving cantatas are from other sources such as Sonderhausen, Hamburg, etc). Johann Fasch's manuscript collection vanished from Zerbst, it's unclear what happened, but apparently he wrote many cantata cycles (I believe ten?). Telemann mentioned in an autobiography that by 1718 he had written over 250 orchestral suites, but only 125 survive-- and we know he didn't stop writing them that year, there are many otfrom his Hamburg years. Telemann also was commissioned to write cantatas and orchestral music for the court at Bayreuth for many years: all of it vanished. Telemann's brother-in-law Michael Böhmfled the Darmstadt kapelle and had charges filed against by the Landgrave for "theft of musical materials," which included over 100 scores and parts. None of these materials survive, many had to be unique sources too.
So when you consider the historical context, a large collection of Bach cantatas vanishing doesn't seem unlikely. If anything its amazing we have what's survived. Despite your well reasoned skeptical approach to the obit and Forkel, primary evidence by people closest to the scene trumps everything else: if
C.P.E. Bach said there were 5 cantata cycles: I'd believe it. >
You've mentioned Telemann; perhaps an even surer indication of the losses of his music are his passions. We know for certain that he was required to compose a passion every year in Hamburg for performance in the principal churches, as Gerstenberg did before him and C.P.E. Bach did after him. Thus, we know with certainty the extent of our losses in this realm: fully 23 of a total of 45 passions are missing without a trace. Of those that survive, four are incomplete.

Nevertheless, if I may (continue to) play devil's advocate here, the fact that extensive losses are evident in the music of Bach's peers does show that it's possible, but not necessarily that it happened for J. S. Kim, you know well a good counter-argument: Christoph Graupner! Off the top of my head, his estate was purchased by Darmstadt and has been stored in libraries there ever since, explaining the near-perfect state of those sources. Granted, of course, such a clear transmission did not happen with J. S. Bach (if only it had!)

I realize I may well not be clearly articulating my position fully, since I'm writing these emails fairly quickly, and am still in the process of working on this issue in my own studies. What I am really arguing is that the varied state of the Bach sources suggest to me that complete loss of a particular piece would have been difficult (though not impossible). For instance, there is one continuo part, consisting of ten or so pages held by ten or separate libraries! As far as I remember, not a single page is missing. The way Bach's estate was divided, parceled out to his sons and widow, it made it more difficult to lose the music than Stölzel's all stored in an attic, or the loss of the Weimar library. Again, I am not saying that we have every single church cantata Bach ever wrote, I believe the state of the sources make it very difficult to believe we are missing as many as one hundred.

< Christoph Wolff has done a study of paper purchase orders for Bach's tenure in Weimar-- and made a very reasonable argument for a guess on how many cantata scores/parts are missing, and its pretty significant. >
I wonder if you might have a citation for Prof. Wolff's study? I must confess, I wasn't aware of it, and I'm looking forward to digging into it!

 

Continue on Part 4

Cantata BWV 152: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements
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