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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 155
Mein Gott, wie lang, ach lange?
Discussions - Part 1

Discussions in the Week of January 20, 2002

David E.G. Smith wrote (January 17, 2002):
I've been following some of the discussions of cantatas and I thought I'd try a contribution on BWV 155. I've been in love with the cantatas for a few years now. My area is more theology than music, and I am approaching the cantatas as a musical commentary on the Scripture readings for the Sunday they were written for. So far I have written a few simple commentaries on cantatas for Epiphany 2, Sexigesima, Quinquagesima, Trinity 3, and Trinity 13. They are posted on a web-site devoted to the traditional western lectionary that Bach wrote for. I would be very interested in any feedback on these, particularly from participants in this site, who are so knowledgeable. The site address is www.episcopalian.org/austin/lectionary/index.html
The commentaries don't pretend to be either very authoritative or very deep, but if they encourage anyone to listen thoughtfully to the cantatas, especially as expositions of Scripture, I'll consider them worthwhile. I hope to provide commentaries on the site for at least one cantata for every Sunday, by myself or others.

Here is what I wrote on BWV 155, my first effort. I was listening to Suzuki's version and have also listened to Harnoncourt's, but I am focusing more on the text than on any particular rendering.

Cantata - BWV 155 Mein Gott, wie lang, ach lange

BWV 155 is one of the cantatas for the 2nd Sunday after Epiphany. The words are based on the gospel reading, the miracle at the wedding at Cana. Perhaps following from the reading in which the wedding represents the marriage of Christ and the soul, the theme of the cantata is the transformation from the grief of feeling separated from God to the joy of restoration.

Mvt. 1. In the opening recitative the believer cries out "My God, how long?" (The believer is represented in this cantata by the soprano.) He sees no end to his grief. The "soothing face of Grace" is concealed in darkness and clouds. The wine of joy has failed, the cup of tears is full, and his confidence has fallen away.

Mvt. 2. In the duet that follows, the believer is exhorted to trust, hope, and rest assured in God. Jesus knows the proper hour for his restoration - "mine hour is not yet come (John 2:4)." God's heart will be open to him again when the time comes. The first step of transformation is trust. The tone of the music is humble yet hopeful. There are to be no grand resolutions but a steady, humble, step by step effort to trust in God and this is reflected in the subdued but purposeful rhythm of the duet. The music conveys a sense of aspiration for God in the midst of troubles

Mvt. 3. In the second recitative, the believer is exhorted not to trust in his feelings if God seems to be absent for a time. He is to think of the wine of joy that God will give in exchange for this sadness. God does not delight in his sadness but is only testing him so that God's joy will be more precious later. The last wine will be better than the first. The believer should accept, then, God's ruling will.

Mvt. 4. In the aria that follows the believer tells himself to cast himself on God's loving care. Having humbled himself to accept God's will and having given up his imagined right to feel God's presence all the time, he is in his humility able to turn his sorrow into consoling supplication. He is able to "lay down his burden" in an appeal to God.

Mvt. 5. The final chorale, a verse from a reformation hymn, universalizes the theme of the cantata. When God seems absent, do not be frightened. "Where he is at best with thee, His wont is not to show it." God is most present when he seems most absent (see the wall plaque Footprints"!). How do we know? We trust in his word. "His word take thou more certain still, And though thy heart say only "No," Yet let thyself not shudder."

Michael Grover wrote (January 17, 2002):
[To David E.G. Smith] Your site looks very interesting, with lots of good information about the church year. However, in my brief perusal, I could not find any link to your Bach reviews. I even clicked on the individual links for the Sundays you mentioned below. Can you direct me further? If you add more reviews, perhaps a separate link for them could be inserted in the left hand column (just an ever-so-humble suggestion.)

David E.G. Smith wrote (January 19, 2002):
[To Michael Grover] Thanks for your response. The cantata commentaries are there, way down the list of commentaries on the lectionary readings. I'll ask the fellow in charge about a separate link for the cantatas. All responses to the commentaries are welcome!

Kirk McElhearn wrote (January 22, 2002):
[To David E.G. Smith] It took me some time to get to listening to BWV 155, and reading your comments. Do chime in more often; as a "non-religious" person, my approach is more musical, but your comments gave me some very interesting insights into this cantata.

 

BWV 155 - a Harnoncourt Doctrine footnote

Thomas Braatz wrote (January 23, 2002):
For those who might wonder about my frequent references to the Harnoncourt Doctrine, there is an excellent opportunity in BWV 155 to understand and hear for yourself by comparison precisely what I am trying to say each time I mention this in regard to the performance of recitatives by the various groups that specialize in recording Bach cantatas.

You need only to concentrate on the orchestral bass line (bc) in the 1st 2 measures of mvt. 3, the bass recitative, in which the bc consists of the same note held for 8 beats (until the bass voice finishes singing "Augen.") On the score these two measures consist of two whole notes (on 'C') that are tied so that they should be sounding as a single note held for 8 beats. In Bach's time there frequently appeared numbers above the staff in which these notes were written or printed. These numbers/figures (hence the word figured bass/thoroughbass) indicate all or part of a particular chord configuration in the figured bass progression that the continuo player was told to play in representing either the implied, stated or required harmonies that occur above the bass line. Bach personally 'figured' his bass parts completely whenever he could. If a copier hat copied out the bass part from the score (which most often was not as yet 'figured'), Bach would personally write in the 'numbers' (the figured bass) on the continuo part himself. This is not something that he entrusted to his copiers (usually students and family members.) It should be noted that a certain amount of freedom (the momentary inspiration that occurs when a continuo player is 'recreating' the part) was allotted to the continuo player. Bach, in many instances, indicated the bare minimum required which would help the continuo player who had little time to familiarize himself with the part before playing it after perhaps only one rehearsal. A good continuo player would be able to add additional chords (or broken chords) as it would seem suitable and in good taste.

Now let's examine what the five Bach cantata conductor's did with the 1st 2 measure of mvt. 3 in the continuo part:

[1] Rilling has the continuo add two chords on the 4th and 5th beats of the long held note that can be heard sounding throughout all 8 beats. Of course, he also plays the chord indicated by a figure above the 8th and final beat of the note, before it changes to a different note in the next measure. So Rilling added some chords that were not indicated, which is fine, but had the final chord played, the one that Bach specifically indicated.

[2] Harnoncourt allows the note to sound for only ONE of the 8 beats indicated. This means that any support that might have been given by the c, even with ad lib chords on the 4th and 5th beats, would be eliminated, but, most important of all, the chord indicated by Bach on the 8th beat is missing as well. This is one aspect of the Harnoncourt Doctrine. It flies in the face of everything we know about Bach, how he would meticulously enter dynamic and articulatory markings on his scores and parts, write out embellishments precisely if there was any question about how they should be performed, and how he would go back and check everything that he and his copiers had put on paper. Now we are supposed to believe that, because of a single renegade conductor, that which Bach committed to paper under time pressure caused by his numerous obligations was not really his intention at all and that Bach, just for fun, or some weird musical tradition, would put additional non-sounding notes in the score, knowing full well that they would not be played at all. There is something very wrong about the supposed knowledge of Bach's performance practices that Harnoncourt has been promulgating with impunity.

[3] Koopman tries to straddle the gap to create a compromise of sorts: he has the continuo sound the long note for only one beat, just as Harnoncourt does, but then without the foundation of the bass proceeds to have the continuo player lightly touch with the right hand the two additional chords that Rilling had in his version. However, when it comes to Bach's precise figured bass indication on the 8th beat, he leaves that chord out entirely!

[4] Suzuki is another compromiser who is afraid to take the final step back to sanity (playing it the way Bach wrote it.) Suzuki holds the long note for five whole beats. Hurrah! That's progress, or is it simply a step in the right direction back to the way Bach always wanted it to be in the first place? Suzuki also includes the two additional chords as Rilling and Koopman did, but, alas, he chooses to disregard Bach's chord indication on the 8th beat. So Suzuki does not quite make it (we still get cheated out of 3 of the 8 beats and the final chord, but he is our best hope at this time that sanity will prevail in the near future.

[5] Leusink simply copies Suzuki exactly! 'Nuff said.

Charles Francis wrote (January 24, 2002):
[To Thomas Braatz] You have captured the issue perfectly. The idea that Bach, under time pressure as he apparently was, bothered to notate non-sounding chords is plainly absurd. One wonders how such nonsense came to be perpetuated within academia!

Richard Grant wrote (January 24, 2002):
[2] Would someone be good enough to tell me exactly where Harnoncourt argues "..that which Bach committed to paper...was not really his intention at all..." My understanding is that Harnoncourt argues that in performance , both in Bach's time and soon after, the slavish devotion to the notes (rather than to the spirit of a piece) which the "purists" advocate, was the exception rather than the norm. I don't profess to have done the work necessary to be able to defend or oppose Harnoncourt's view with anything approaching intellectual integrity but, if anyone can recommend an opposing view to what Harnoncourt actually argues from someone with Harnoncourt's scholarship and experience in performing Bach I would be genuinely grateful. So far most of what I've heard here and elsewhere is an attack of what people say Harnoncourt says rather than anything that I've actually heard or seen him say. *(The reference work I request I would prefer in English, though I could with some difficulty translate from French or Italian.)

Richard Grant wrote (January 24, 2002):
[2] An addendum to my last message: The history of music is marked by a plethora of instances in which composers wrote notes which were not performed in performances over which the composer himself presided. Examples of this can be found in the performance histories of works by Mozart, Beethoven, Verdi, Wagner, Rossini and Richard Strauss, to name the ones that come to mind immediately. As I've said on this page before any artist realizes that when his or her work is "published", that is put before the performing or reviewing public, it will change, sometimes perhaps even for the better. Though I hasten to add that with Bach whose genius was so uniquely specific any radical changes would almost certainly change both the work and the spirit of the work. I personally don't believe Harnoncourt is guilty of the latter. (I had originally typed "Klatter" in place of "latter" in the last sentence which I'm sure would have caused some bemused satisfaction among many.)

Thomas Braatz wrote (January 24, 2002):
To Richard Grant who stated:
< Would someone be good enough to tell me exactly where Harnoncourt argues "..that which Bach committed to paper...was not really his intention at all..." >
Bach wrote: "Judge me not by what I say, but what I do." Apply this to Harnoncourt's HIP performances, not his books, since his main legacy is in the form of recordings. Do not take my word in regard to what I have found, but rather procure a copy of the bona fide NBA score of BWV 155, to which Harnoncourt also had access [2], and listen to the recordings, particularly of Rilling [1], who preserves what Bach had written, and Harnoncourt who eviscerates the bc of Bach's recitatives. Then make up your own mind on this matter! It's as simple as that, even for those not versed in musicology.

Riccardo Nughes wrote (January 24, 2002):
Richard Grant wrote:
[2] < So far most of what I've heard here and elsewhere is an attack of what people say Harnoncourt says rather than anything that I've actually heard or seen him say. >
I agree with you Richard, N. Harnoncourt has never said to be the only Holder of the Truth, he has never formulate any "Doctrine" and he doesn't have any "impunity". People using these terms are talkin' about a politician, a criminal or about a musician-conductor?

Unfortunately, brilliance and success makes someone envious. Please don't start any discussion about this. I think that most of the people out there has something better to do than waste time with frustrated musicians that now are unfair reviewers.

Richard Grant wrote (January 24, 2002):
[2] [To Thomas Braatz] Thanks, but I was particularly interested in the criticism of Harnoncourt that tars him as "anti-Bach" opposed not just to the letter but also to the spirit of what Bach wrote, and I have always found this pretty hard to prove. What you mention concerning who is more faithful to the autograph does not, for me at any rate, address the question of who better illuminates the art with all the spiritual instruction and "joy!" thereunto attending. After all, from what I have read of Bach's writings it doesn't seem to me that he was just - or even mostly - about the faithful repitition of the notes upon the page. On the other hand, I understand that for some the faithful rendering of the master's ideas in their least adulterated form is an essential part of the "instruction" and "Joy" I talk about. And that's fine with me. What I fear most are thought and taste police who say that any human product or endeaver may only be viewed as "correct:" if it is viewed through their lenses.

Henny van der Groep wrote (January 24, 2002):
[2] [To Richard Grant] It would be nice indeed to get some more light on this subject. I do think you probably read Harnoncourt's book about "Der musikalische Dialog" 1994. It seems to me Harnoncourt's flexibility and experience are very important and above all, he has an enormous feeling musically. Although I have many critical remarks on certain performances, I haven't found "perfect" performances with other conductors either. Everybody I assume, tries to make the best recordings. It was, I think for Harnoncourt a challenge to do all Cantatas as it is forT. Koopman now (I have lots of critics here too but I admire the way he does it). The word doctrine has a negative connontation and I hope it's not meant to be that way. Since he's not here to defend himself.

Armagan Ekici wrote (January 24, 2002):
Here is what Harnoncourt actually writes on the subject, for those who are interested:

(The Musical Dialogue, pp.81-82)
<Quote>
At the time of Bach, the accompaniment of recitatives was subject to rules which were familiar to every musician, but which are largely unknown today, so that present-day interpretations often deviate greatly from one another, a difference which goes far beyond "differences in interpretation." For example, the organ and the cello never sustained the bass tones in the recitativo secco. The notation in long note values was an orthographic convention; the harmonic relation between the singing voice and the bass (which sounded after the attack of the chord only in the imagination of the listener) is evident in the notational apparatus. As a result of this general practice of playing each new chord only briefly, the words could be easily understood. As late as 1774, Jean Baumgartner writes in his violoncello method: "There are two kinds of recitatives, recitativo accompagnato and the usual recitativo (secco)... It is against the rules to sustain the tone in this type of accompaniment. One must pause until the bass note changes."

This performance style, which is desribed in many other sources as well, clearly distinguished recitatives from arias. The former were supposed to be performed as natural and clearly understandable speech song, which was of primary concern to the composer. Even Heinrich Schütz declared: "The evangelist does not dwell longer on one syllable than one ordinarily does in slow, understandable everyday speech." The organ was not permitted to illustrate the message of the text of the recitatives by changes of register. Only a stopped diaposon was used to accompany the recitatives and the arias set for chamber ensemble.

The different ways in which the evangelist's recitatives are written in the score [of St Matthew Passion] and in the organ part are very striking. This difference often gave rise to confusing speculation. The score was written afer 1741, the voices evidently shortly thereafter. Now it is a principle of musicology to regard the latest source as the documentatoin of the composer's definitive intention. Here, the way in which the parts were written was regarded as a correction of the score. Since Bach had lived with this work for more than 15 years, it is unlikely that he wanted to introduce such a decisive change. It would also be hard to beleive that he suddenly wanted to introduce a new style of recitative accompaniment in the St. Matthew Passion, of all works. In all of his sacred an secular cantatas, and in the St. John Passion, he notated the recitatives just as in the score of the St. Matthew Passion:

<Music example where cello part has sustained bass notes vs. the continuo part with short note values>

Now, as we have said, in the recitatives each new harmony was played only briefly. In the continuo part of the St. Matthew Passion, therefore, Bach for once notated what was supposed to be played, not, as in the score, the usual orthographically-correct long bass notes. he probably wanted to ensure that the almost imperceptible differences in the cello part between the evangelist's recitatives, which was to be played with short notes, and the recitativo accompagnato of Christ's recitatives, which was to be sustained in full note values, did not lead to confusion. Thus, in the recitatives, there is no difference at all between the original scores of the St. Matthew an St. John Passion. This difference is found, confusingly enough, only in modern editions, because of the manner of notation in the parts is incorrectly regarded as a correction made by Bach.
</Quote>

In this discussion, Tom Braatz could very well be right and Harnoncourt wrong. However, obviously, both points of view have their reasons and we should be grateful that we can listen to recordings according to both sides of the argument. (Harnoncourt himself is modest about his assertions: In the preface of the book he writes "50.5% "yea" and 49.5% "nay" means yes in a democracy. Should a tiny shift of 1% be able to swing the vote? Similarly, each statement, each decision is composed of many conflicting elements, each of which will at some point emerge.")

What I found most disturbing is the language Tom Braatz uses for a man that has pioneered the area of HIP recordings, and put a huge amount of work, dedication an thought to Bach's music; people such as Harnoncourt deserve more respect even if we disagree with their ideas and their recordings. And, remember, in the overall scheme of things, they are basically "on your side" (to put things into some perspective, Harnoncourt does not produce 60-minute techno records with spending thirty minutes on the computer, copying the same riff 2^12 times, he records Bach!)

There is another point I hope to make with this quotation: Tom Braatz's insistence on judging Harnoncourt only speculating on his recordings and not refferring to his books is quite invalid (ironically, it is the same kind of error with omitting notes written explicitly by a composer, only on a much larger scale). Had Tom Braatz read what Harnoncourt wrote about the subject, which he is obviously passionately interested, he would see that Harnoncourt answered his arguments in writing almost 20 years ago.

Henny van der Groep wrote (January 24, 2002):
[To Armagan Ekici] Thanks Armangan for your prompt research, it puts a few things in the right direction.

Kirk McElhearn wrote (January 24, 2002):
[To Armagan Ekici] Also, it is interesting to note that both Leonhardt and Harnoncourt used female singers in their SMPs...

Charles Francis wrote (January 25, 2002):
[To Riccardo Nughes] From the Ha'aretz newspaper:

"Asked about the impact on him of two leading figures of the authentic school, Nikolaus Harnoncourt and Gustav Leonhardt, Rifkin says: "I never admired them." He says he came to the historical approach on his own and the first time he heard Bach's cantatas performed by Harnoncourt, it sounded horrible to him. He still doesn't like the sound."

Is Rifkin perhaps also envious of Harnoncourt's brilliance and success?

"Summarizing his approach to baroque performances, Rifkin says that initially the big mistake of the historical school was that its starting point was the harpsichord.

The starting point should have been singing. Except that when this school started out 40 years ago, there weren't any singers who could follow through with the required production and interpretation methods. Rifkin believes musicians have to strive to use their instruments, when playing baroque music, the same way a good singer uses his voice. Musical performance is like talking; a good musical delivery is like speaking your own language, he contends."

More envy of the brilliance and success of old-guard HIP musicians, perhaps?

"Asked which stars of the authentic school have influenced him, Rifkin answers: "Truthfully, no one."

And this from the man who is quoted as saying:

"I would say this: I'm the one who's the hard core of authenticity and I take very seriously historical evidence that can provide hints about how they played and sang during the Baroque period," he says."
Ha'aretz

Charles Francis wrote (January 25, 2002):
Richard Grant wrote:
< Would someone be good enough to tell me exactly where Harnoncourt argues "..that which Bach committed to paper...was not really his intention at all..." My understanding is that Harnoncourt argues that in performance , both in Bach's time and soon after, the slavish devotion to the notes (rather than to the spirit of a piece) which the "purists"advocate, was the exception rather than the norm. >
You are correct, but the documentary evidence suggests Bach was the exception rather thanthe norm. We have the comment of Scheibe (a former pupil of Bach) published in 1737:

"...every little grace, and everything that one thinks of as belonging to the method of playing, he expresses completely in notes...".

with a response published in 1738 by Birnbaum (Bach's friend at Leipzig university):

"But this does not dispose of the claim that Bach's pieces are impossible to play or sing. He [Scheibe] reproaches them further with the fact that the Hon. Court Composer [Bach] writes out "every ornament, every little grace, and everything that one thinks of as belonging to the method of playing, complete in notes." Either the author notes this as something characteristic of the Hon. Court Composer alone, or else he holds it to be a failure in general. If the former, he errs mightily. The Hon. Court Composer is neither the first nor the only man to write thus. From among a mass of composers whom I could cite in this respect, I will mention only Gringy and Du Mage, who in their Livres d'orgue have used this very method. If the latter, I can find no reason why it should deserve the name of fault. On the contrary, I consider it, for reasons that cannot be disregarded, as a necessary prudence on the part of the composer. To begin with, it is certain that what is called the "manner" of singing or playing is almost everywhere valued and considered desirable. It is also indisputable that this manner can please the ear only if it is applied in the right places but must on the contrary uncommonly offend the ear and spoil the principle melody if the performer employs it at the wrong spot. Now experience teaches further that usually its application is left to the whim of singers and instrumentalists. If all such men were sufficiently instructed in that which is truly beautiful in this manner; if they always knew how to employ it where it might serve as a true ornament and particular emphasis of the main melody; in that case it would be superfluous for the composer to write down in notes once more what they already knew. But only the fewest have sufficient knowledge, and the rest, by an inappropriate application of the manner, spoil the principle melody and indeed often introduce such passages as might be easily be attributed, by those who do not the true state of affairs, to an error of the composer. Therefore each composer, including the Hon. Court composer, is entitled to set the wanderers back on the right path by prescribing a correct method according to his intentions and thus watch over the preservation of his honour. As a result of this explanation, the opinion of the author that this procedure takes away from the Hon. Court Composer's pieces the beauty of the harmony and makes the principle melody unattractive falls on its own weight."

Thomas Braatz has noted time and time again, the care Bach takes to pin-down his exact intentions in the score. He has also noted how often Nikolaus Harnoncourt chooses to ignore Bach's explicit musical instructions in favour of his own musical predilections. Nothing wrong with this, of course, but it is unfortunate that many people still believe Harnoncourt's manner of interpretation is somehow "authentic" - a legacy of the Telefunken marketing.

Donald Satz wrote (January 25, 2002):
[To Charles Francis] Authenticity can't guarantee that the performance will be loved or even appreciated. I like what I hear or I don't; its historical accuracy or adherence to Bach instructions means little in the listening experience. I love Tureck's Bach as well as Leonhardt's, and knowing that Leonhardt is more faithful to the score does not impact one bit the pleasures each brings to Bach.

Richard Grant wrote (January 25, 2002):
[To Armagan Ekici] I also want to send my most sincere thanks to Armangan for what is so far the most useful and enlightened observations I've had from this group. (My own, of course, included.) I can't imagine that anyone who hasn't already read it - or who may have and doesn't recall it in detail - would not be interested in examining the "Harnoncourt doctrine" in his own words. I think it will be quite a revelation to some of his more open and fair-minded critics. Thank you again.

Richard Grant wrote (January 25, 2002):
[To Charles Francis] Thank you. I've learned much from what you wrote. My point is that "authenticity" like all things extant has only one constant: "change".

Richard Grant wrote (January 25, 2002):
[To Donald Satz] And Amen to that. First Landowska then Tureck were my first tutors in the Glories of Bach; then Scherchen, Ristenpart, Leonhardt, Rilling and Koopman. I have found much to love in them all. And while I find Stokowski and Bernstein et al something other than what I've come to know and love as Bach, I do not begrudge them at all the right to share the stage with those more to my liking. As someone close to me used often to say (without a trace of opprobrium implied): "For those who like that sort of thing, well...that's the sort of thing they like..." And it is no business of mine!

Thomas Braatz wrote (January 25, 2002):
Richard Grant stated:
< My point is that "authenticity" like all things extant has only one constant: "change". >
This is why Harnoncourt's method for treating the bc in Bach's recitatives is gradually becoming passé. Check the evidence that I have given by listening to all the major recordings of this cantata and reporting precisely on what I have heard. Have you done likewise? The evidence indicates that the major conductors of Bach cantatas are moving away from the Harnoncourt Doctrine (this word, Doctrine, simply means that which Harnoncourt has taught in his books and which he holds to in his performances). To me this indicates that 'one shoe has already fallen.' Now I am waiting for the other shoe to follow, when Harnoncourt himself begins relinquishing aspects of his own doctrine. Then your statement above will be self-fulfilling in regard to Harnoncourt and serve to preserve his dignity without any reference to the books that he had written in the past, since just about everything will be allowed and can be attributed to 'change.' In other words, he will be 'authentic' even if he changes his odd notions about Bach's performance practices.

I, for one, enthusiastically welcome the changes that I see and hear in the cantata interpretations in the current Suzuki cantata cycle, as compared to the versions that Harnoncourt has recorded. This does not mean that I embrace all of Suzuki's changes unthinkingly or without asking myself, "Does this sound right musically and give me the sublime pleasure that I can expect from Bach, or does this touch me in some magical way, or does this interpretation add a profound feeling of depth and understanding, which I have not heard elsewhere?" But after listening to at least one of Harnoncourt's cantata interpretations each week for the past 4 to 5 years, I personally feel that Harnoncourt, despite his pioneering efforts (some of which in the early 1970's were quite interesting and undeniably had a profound effect in legitimizing the use of original instruments in the performance of Bach's vocal works) has nevertheless rendered a disservice to the 'cause' of Bach cantata performances by applying interpretative techniques that lack a true sense of musicality and respect for the noble combination of the text and music, of voices and instruments. In these things Harnoncourt has set a bad example for others to emulate, and his legacy will unfortunately still be with us for some time. We can now find comfort in your statement that "authenticity," such as Harnoncourt's "authenticity," will definitely undergo its "one constant: 'change'."

Richard Grant wrote (January 29, 2002):
[To Thomas Braatz] No doubt there shall be a waxing and waning of one performance style over another and of several that co-exist as long as the mind of man is variable and unique. Some will move away from Harnoncourt and others will come to him. Some will move away from the current darlings of Bachophiliac musical correctness to persue other visions, perhaps even Stokowski's. And there will be in the a valid place for all and each. What is truly "correct" and/or "authentic" I still hold is a matter of perspective and too often of personal inclination and taste to be of any real analytical or probative value. As the man said, "De gustibus suis non est disputandum" (And no, I have not listened to and reported on all the major - or even minor - recordings of this cantata)

Aryeh Oron wrote (January 24, 2002):
Introduction

The subject of this week's discussion (January 20, 2002), according to Vicente Vida's proposed list of cantatas for discussion, is Cantata BWV 155, Mein Gott, wie lang, ach lange? - A Solo Cantata for the 2nd Sunday after Epiphany. In order to allow the members of the BCML preparing themselves for the discussion, I compiled a list of the recordings of this cantata. I put the details of the recordings in the following page of the Bach Cantatas Website: Cantata BWV 155 - Recordings

This is an early cantata from the Weimar period (1716), and therefore we have at least five complete recordings of it to listen to. All of them are from the 5 recorded Bach Cantata cycles (Rilling, Harnoncourt, Koopman, Suzuki and Leusink). There is also a recording of an individual movement from this cantata, realised to computers by Kathy Geisler. If anybody is aware of a recording of this cantata not listed in the page of recordings, please inform me and send the relevant details, so that I shall be able to
update the page.

I hope to see many of you participating in the discussion.

Background

The background below is based on several sources (Albert Schweitzer, W. Gilles Whittaker, Alec Robertson, W. Murray Young, Christoph Wolff, Hans Christoph Worbs, Nicholas Anderson, etc.) and something of my own. The English translations are taken from Richard Stokes' book.

See: Cantata BWV 155 - Commentary

Review of the Recordings

[1] Helmuth Rilling (1971)
Ingeborg Reichelt has a deep and warm soprano voice. It gives inner depth to her interpretation. In the opening recitative/arioso she gives the impression that she sings about her sorrow and the despair of her condition from the bottom of her heart. Although this is relatively early Rilling, she uses her vibrato economically, unlike many of the other singers in this series. The alto and the alto and the duet give the feeling that they react to each other. The alto asks and the tenor answers, until they unite together. The word 'glauben' is emphasized as if to give extra weight to its importance: You must BELIEVE, you must BELIEVE. Very convincing indeed. In the aria Reichelt is adding almost unheard vibrato to her voice, to emphasize her fear. She is putting more care to the expression than to the melody. The accompaniment supplied by Rilling is very colourful.

[2] Nikolaus Harnoncourt (1985)
The boy who sings the opening recitative is not bas technically. His breath is short, but it goes well with the conductor's fragmented approach. In terms of expression he has nothing to approach. This is one of the many cases, which proves that most of the boys are not equipped to sing emotionally demanding arias and recitatives. This recitative has no meaning without emotional depth. The duet is performed very slowly. At first I though that the singers succeed in holding the tension despite the slow tempo. I had the feeling that I am looking at the aria (duet) through a magnifying glass. But as the duet was progressing I lost interest. Such beautiful voices wasted on such non-dramatic approach is a pity. We no that both Equiluz and Esswood are capable of much better performance, but they are not given the opportunity to give the full themselves here. The bass Thomas Hampson at this early stage of his career had not enough experience to be put substantial expression into his singing. He sounds over-cautious. The aria for soprano is no less demanding than the opening recitative. And if the burden on the shoulders of the poor boy is not heavy enough, Harnoncourt makes it even harder with the heavy playing of the strings. No joy can be heard in this rendition of the aria. The concluding chorale calls for warmth and humanity. But all we get is only clean and lifeless singing of the choir.

[3] Ton Koopman (1995)
In the opening aria one can clearly hear the clock of time. This is only one example to the inner depth in which Koopman understands Bach. Caroline Stam singing is heart-rending, and the accompaniment is clear like a crystal. The duet is delicate and the colours of the accompaniment are tenderer than with Rilling. After Harnoncourt it sounds that a woman's voice is more appropriate for this duet. There is wonderful match between the timbre of the alto and tenor voice. It is as if they are two strings interwoven together in the same carpet. With the charming bassoon these are really three strings. Mertens is persuasive in the recitative for bass. His approach is more emphatic, more appeasing than the two previous basses. His timbre of voice here is light, close to a tenor. Stam holds a stable line in the aria for soprano. It gives the feeling that she is sure of her direction, ready to follow the redeemer. The small of the choir in the concluding chorale is rich and warm, as it should be according to the message of the text.

[4] Masaaki Suzuki (1997)
Midori Suzuki proves in the opening recitative that simple is beautiful. Her voice is clean and stable. Her expression is straightforward. Her voice is of the modern type, almost vibrato-less. But at the same time she is letting herself being expressive and emotional. I was deeply moved by her singing. The duet is perfection in every parameter - the right tempo, the clean singing, the playing of the fagot, and the match between all the components. This is the cleanest of all the recordings of this duet. Nevertheless I found myself less touched than by Koopman's. Is it too perfect? Kooy's rendition of the recitative for bass is on the same par with Mertens. Midori returns for the aria for soprano, and both she and her conductor takes similar approach to that of Koopman. The choir in the concluding is very precise, but less warm than Koopman's.

[5] Pieter Jan Leusink (1999)
Along this whole rendition I had the impression freshness with tendency to take risks, up to a level of fragility. It makes you sitting on the edge, alert for what might happen. Holton with her boyish timbre gives meaning to every word and adds something of her own, like a small trill here and there. I like this improvisational approach, even though I am not deeply moved. The duet is not held well. The balance between the voices is not good, and sometimes the bassoon (beautiful playing of the ancient instrument) is too dominant. Ramselaar is good and reliable in the recitative for bass. The aria for soprano is the most cheerful of them all, and this approach is definitely acceptable. The fresh singing of the choir sounds somewhat sloppy after Koopman and Suzuki.

Conclusion

Personal priorities -
Mvt. 1 & Mvt. 4 Recitative and Aria for Soprano: Suzuki/Suzuki [4], Stam/Koopman [3],
Reichelt/Rilling [1], Holton/Leusink [5], Bergius/Harnoncourt [2]
Mvt. 2 Aria (Duet) for Alto and Tenor: Magnus/Agnew/Koopman [3],
Mera/Sakurada/Suzuki [4], Lerer/Meltzer/Rilling [1], Buwalda/Schoch/Leusink [5],
Esswood/Equiluz/Harnoncourt [2]
Mvt. 3 Recitative for Bass: Mertens/Koopman [3] = Kooy/Suzuki [4], Kunz/Rilling [1], Ramselaar/Leusink [5], Hampson/Harnoncourt [2]
Mvt. 5 Chorale: Koopman [3], Suzuki [4], Leusink [5], Rilling [1], Harnoncourt [2]

Overall performance: Koopman [3]
The most memorable movement: The Recitative for Soprano with Suzuki [4], and the
Duet with Koopman [3]
The most dissapointing rendition: The Duet with Harnoncourt [2]

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

Thomas Braatz wrote (January 24, 2002):
This week I listened to the following recordings of BWV 155: Rilling (1971) [1]; Harnoncourt (1985) [2]; Koopman (1995) [3]; Suzuki (1997) [4]; and Leusink (1999) [5]

[1] Rilling:
In the 1st soprano recitative, Ingeborg Reichelt, of whom I did not have any particularly fond memories of hearing her sing some other mvts. recorded in this series, surprised me with an excellent portrayal of the words with a beautiful voice filled with warmth and sincere expression. Only the final coloraturas revealed some insecurity on her part. Her aria (Mvt. 4) was, however a complete disappointment, after having had such a fine beginning in the recitative. Now her lack of vocal control becomes apparent as she attempts push her voice to the limit. Her trembling, warbling vibrato, which is very fast, is distracting, giving the impression that she is not entirely in control here. The alto/tenor duet (Mvt. 2) has two well-balanced voices, Norma Lerer and Friedrich Meltzer, that are not only well-matched, but also well-coordinated as they listen carefully to each other. In the parallel melismas, they exhibit an uncanny togetherness that is gratifying to listen to. A curiosity: Lerer has a lisp or serious difficulties in singing the ‘s’-sound in the word “mußt.” In his recitative (Mvt. 3), Kunz, with his fast-firing vibrato, gives a respectable, but not overly convincing rendition of this ‘vox Christi.’ At least he sings with a full voice that is more commanding than such half-voices as Hampson and Ramselaar. The final chorale is definitely above average. Even the sopranos are not as disturbing with their vibratos as they are in many other recordings in this series. Rilling’s orchestral treatment throughout is very much legato, removing any angularity that can be heard in the other recordings of this cantata.

[2] Harnoncourt:
As boy sopranos go, this one, Alan Bergius, has a relatively clean delivery of the required notes to be sung. His intonation is excellent with a clear bell-like sound that puts Ruth Holton’s half-voice productions to shame. Unfortunately he, too, has a weak lower range and elsewhere he manages to get all the notes, just as Holton does, but the emotive aspect of his voice is almost non-existent. Whereas the recitative (Mvt. 1) was a reasonable, better than average effort, the aria (Mvt. 4) left much more to be desired. Harnoncourt, in his usual manner, decides to interpret the Bach score by disregarding actual note values, adding extremely heavy accents (talk about angularity, here it is present in the extreme!) that create many gaps and separations not indicated by Bach. While this might be considered by some to be an admirable effort in interpreting the emotion contained in the text, there still remains a feeling that something is missing here, despite all the effort that is expended. It is beyond the capabilities of this boy soprano (and probably any other boy soprano under Harnoncourt’s direction) to increase the difficulty of the aria by requiring the boy to place a special emphasis on the 1st note he sings. Listen to this note and realize that here is an unbending conductor, who can not fully fathom the extra burden he places upon the boy. This boy soprano could rather easily sing this note beautifully, but not with the strange accent that Harnoncourt requires. The result is a failed, imperfect beginning that places undo stress on the boy. The Esswood/Equiluz duet (Mvt. 2) has a slow tempo that threatens to make this mvt. fall apart, which it nearly does. Although the expression in the voices is quite good, there is a very bothersome aspect caused by Esswood’s usual intonation problem: he tends to sing flat. This definitely spoils the entire mvt. Hampson, in Mvt. 3, is a great disappointment as a Bach singer. With his unpleasant, fast vibrato and the lack of much expression, it is obvious that he feels uncomfortable in his role as the ‘vox Christi.’ In the chorale (Mvt. 5), Harnoncourt puts a plodding accent on each separate note. This causes the flowing musical line to disintegrate. On the word “erschrecken,” Harnoncourt indulges in a bit of specialized interpretation which is not indicated in the score.

[3] Koopman:
In the initial recitative, Caroline Stam’s half-voice needs to contend with Koopman’s imitation of Harnoncourt’s special accents on each separate eighth note. Notice Stam’s first entrance in her aria (Mvt. 4). She begins sotto voce, which suddenly changes to a wide vibrato. There is insecurity in attacking the correct pitch of certain notes. Koopman’s imitiation of Harnoncourt continues in Mvt. 2, the duet with von Magnus and Agnew, in which the strong emphasis on “glauben” almost causes the second syllable to disappear. Agnew creates ingenuous-sounding notes that supposedly were sung this way to impart a ‘sobbing’ feeling to the music, as one might expect in an opera, but not in a Bach vocal composition. I simply can not identify with this type of expression, since it lacks sincerity and true conviction. Mertens, in Mvt. 3, as the ‘vox Christi’ is well-suited for this type of mvt. At times, he uses too much sotto voce, but at other times when he increases the volume his half-voice, he is very convincing and has very good expression (a pleasure to listen to.) Koopman takes the final chorale (Mvt. 5) a bit too fast and includes special accents and effects here and there. The tenor part is weak. There is a nice ritardando at the end.

[4] Suzuki:
Midori Suzuki, the soprano, has a good high range where she sings with a full voice, but the melismas in the recitative (Mvt. 1) are sotto voce (perhaps because this is her low range.) On the word, “Freudenwein” there is a slight howling and constrictive sound on these loud, high notes. At first hearing, I thought that the bc was too loud until I determined that this was intentional as a means of expressing the text. In her aria (Mvt. 4), she again has problems with her low range and engages in sotto voce at times. This might work except that the instruments tend to overpower her singing. Nevertheless, her performances were excellent as they were cleanly sung and very expressive at the same time. The duet with the half-voices of Yoshikazu Mera and Makato Sakurada is of the highest quality. These are beautiful, well-matcvoices, and Suzuki takes care that the balance between the instruments and voices is maintained throughout. Kooy’s ‘vox Christi’ is superb. He does not cheat (no sotto voce like Mertens), but rather sings each note with a full, commanding voice. Suzuki’s chorale is OVPP and it’s simply wonderful, heavenly. I would like to have at least one set of all of Bach’s chorales sung in this manner. Such sensitivity, such a sense of blending the voices! They sing as one, not as four separate soloists.

[5] Leusink:
In Mvt. 1, the soprano recitative, Holton suffers from ‘Glottisanschlag’ (a sign of lack of control over the voice, usually reserved for aging female opera singers). Here there are some good high notes, but also weak notes in the low range and the use of sotto voce. In her aria (Mvt. 4) which Leusink takes too fast and has his usual heavy bc detracting from a delicate voice, Holton does not sing all the notes that were notated by Bach, but what does that matter, if you sing primarily sotto voce anyhow? On a few high notes, she begins to sound like a boy soprano. The Buwalda/Schoch combination in mvt.2 lacks expression, but what can you expect from these half-voices? However, the vocal balance between voices is quite good. Ramselaar’s ‘vox Christi’ is better than Kunz’s or Hampson’s. In Leusink’s chorale (Mvt. 5) there is the sound of voices almost breaking from one register to another, like a boy whose voice is changing. The tenor voice is weak and the final fermati are too short.

Summary:

Mvt. 1. Rilling/Reichelt [1], Suzuki/Suzuki [4], Koopman/Stam [3], Harnoncourt/Bergius [2], Leusink/Holton [5]

Mvt. 2. Suzuki/Mera-Sakurada [4], Rilling/Lerer-Meltzer [1], Leusink/Buwalda-Schoch [5], Koopman/von Magnus-Agnew [3], Harnoncourt/Esswood-Equiluz [2]

Mvt. 3 Suzuki/Kooy [4], Koopman/Mertens [3], Leusink/Ramselaar [5], Rilling/Kunz [1], Harnoncourt/Hampson [2]

Mvt. 4 Suzuki/Suzuki [4], Koopman/Stam [3], Rilling/Reichelt [1], Harnoncourt/Bergius [2], Leusink/Holton [5]

Mvt. 5 Suzuki [4], Rilling [1], Koopman [3], Harnoncourt [2], Leusink [5]

David E.G. Smith wrote (January 24, 2002):
Thank you for some very helpful and instructive comments about this cantata. I don't have access to all the books that Aryeh drew on for his background piece. It seems obvious once you read it that the duet in the second movement is an allegory representing Faith and Hope. I wonder what more can be said about the qualities of this movement, which to me is very beautiful but also very unusual. What do these allegorical voices, these comforters say to us? I don't really know how to articulate this but here's an attempt.

In both Suzuki [4] and Harnoncourt [2] the duet seems to have an unearthly element to it. The music is in a minor key (?) The idea of faith and hope are not realized, but only held out to the believer of the first movement. There is gentleness in the offer of comfort as one of the correspondents said. And yet all this to me is contrasted in a most unusual way with the bassoon obbligato (?) This is also beautiful, yet the bassoon seems to me to have a homey, comic character. I wonder if anyone knows whether this is a personal reaction, or whether there is some way of determining if this would be a baroque response as well. My immediate reaction to the bassoon part is that it would make good theme music for a television mystery series involving Hercule Poirot! Maybe there is one like that in some series. Anyway I find the combination of the unearthly quality of the voices and the earthy yet beautiful bassoon part unusual and compelling.

Could Bach be representing the fact that for him, the comfort of faith and hope is not only an abstract comfort, but these comforters could be your ordinary down to earth neighbours and friends. Often it seems that the basic dramatic tension in the cantatas is the sense of lostness that the believer feels, juxtaposed against the idea of a justifying faith that can be believed and held to even when it is completely external to the feelings of the believer. In some cantatas it is given in Scripture to the believer while he is yet in sorrow and then he gradually comes to feel what he at first abstractly believes. Here it is put in external comforting voices and my sense is that part of the beauty here is that any humble person could be the one to be a comforter. Faith in this Lutheran context is not a mysterious thing but very much a public possession, meant to be shared by the community - hence the chorales that end the cantatas are an expression of solidarity among the believing community.

Is there an element of comedy in this movement? If there is, I imagine it to lie in the fact that the neighbours who are comforting you with the voices of angels are still just your neighbours, wearing sturdy shoes and homespun garments. A kind of rustic pastoral scene of faith.

Can anyone help me out here? All comments appreciated, including "this is subjective fantasy that has no relation to what Bach would have thought."

Marie Jensen wrote (January 24, 2002):
BWV 155 is a small, very intimate cantata from the Weimar days. It deals with having patience. Some day water will turn into wine, not when we want, but when it is the right time for God.

Movement 1 deals with this terrible waiting. The rest of the movements bring various good advices, but first in movement 4 the mood changes, throwing all the heavy burdens on the shoulders of the Lord.

Perhaps the burden is the bassoon/fagotto played in movement 2, moving something heavy up and down, a theme brilliant for accompanying work on Mondays especially when the words "Du mußt glauben, du mußt hoffen, Du mußt gottgelassen sein!" are singing in the mind. In Leusink’s version I can hear a slight touch of resistance in the bassoon play, illustrating this burden; it could of course be the instrument..

Poor Ruth Holton (Leusink) [5] has no time to breathe or pronounce the words properly in the soprano aria.She sings it in 2 minuts and 10 seconds, while Midori Suzuki [4] does it in 2min and 39 seconds .

Which version do I prefer?

Suzuki [4] is best, and his OVVP chorale suits the intimate mood of the cantata so well, but I also like the first half of Leusink’s version [5].

Du mußt glauben, du mußt hoffen,
Du mußt gottgelassen sein! BWV 155

Thomas Braatz wrote (January 25, 2002):
BWV 155 - Provenance:

See: Cantata BWV 155 - Provenance

Commentaries: [Spitta, Voigt, Schweitzer, Dürr, Chafe, Personal commentary]

See: Cantata BWV 155 - Commentary

Jane Newble wrote (January 26, 2002):
Weimar, Sunday morning 19 January 1716.

Frau Hieber walks to the Schloßkapelle with heavy steps. She is in deep trouble, and doubts if even going to church will help her this morning. Her husband has been out of work for too long now, and is ill in bed. Two of their children died last month, and she does not know how much longer she can get food and warmth for the other children this winter. There is nowhere to turn to for help.

Most of the service in church goes over her head. The gospel reading is about the marriage in Cana, which does not exactly help. That means the cantata will be about happiness and that is the last thing she wants to hear. She has never felt so deeply worried. Silence falls - it is time for the cantata to start.

After one long note, a soprano voice complains: "Mein Gott, wie lang, ach lange...?" It startles her. She listens. Every word that follows comes from her own heart. The violins underline the feelings of deep despair, and the continuo sobs with her. Her eyes fill with tears. This is real. Here is someone who understands, who has been where she is now. She knows that Herr Bach has had bereavements and other problems, but to be able to put it in music in this way... She tries hard to control her tears. Oh, the relief of knowing that someone else has also suffered and given voice to all her feelings...

A short pause, and then the bassoon starts up with a different tone, almost encouraging. Frau Hieber listens intently to hear what comes next. Then two voices sing : "Du mußt glauben, du mußt hoffen..." She feels as if she is dreaming. This is said directly to her! Again and again the voices repeat: "Du mußt glauben"... not in a harsh way, but tenderly, as if to tell her that there is a way out, that there is hope.

When they have finished, the bass continues to speak understanding and comforting words, explaining why she has to go through all these things. The continuo affirms and responds to the words. She feels as if she is completely alone in the church, drinking in the words and feeling the music with all her being. She is almost beginning to feel joyful. Then the next movement starts and seems like a dance, in which hope and faith have won, and she can look towards God again, instead of to all her problems. Her heart responds to the music and the words... "Wirf, mein Herze, wirf dich noch in des Höchsten Liebesarme..." The chorale underlines everything with beautiful singing.

She leaves the church, feeling completely different. Nothing has changed, but that cantata has changed her, and lifted her heavy burden. She walks home, with lighter steps, ready to face the week before her. In her mind the voices still sing: "Du mußt glauben, du mußt hoffen..."

She will forever be grateful to Herr Bach for writing this most wonderful music especially for her.

Robin Crag wrote (January 27, 2002):
[5] The recitative at the start, I find amazing. It is very expressive, you don't need to understand the words to know that it is about suffering. The way the bass line hammers away works well.

The rest of the cantata? It's beautifull music, yes. But it's not quite "grabbed" me, somehow. It makes more sense, having read about it here, and having read a translation of the words. But I don't normally need this to appreciate the music. The 2 other cantatas that I have started listening to recently (BWV 13 & BWV 92) I like much more.

The soprano aria sounds really dancy+lively, though. (Or Leusink makes it that way)

I have said enough now, anyway,

Marie Jensen wrote (January 27, 2002):
[To Jane Newble] Thank you Jane for your little story: A nice reminder of what the cantatas were and still can be used for!

Rather a good Bach cantata than a bad sermon!

Dick Wursten wrote (January 28, 2002):
[To Jane Newble] Thanks for your evocation of BWV 155. I think this 'telling of stories' around cantatas is one of the best ways of helping oneselve and others to appreciate Bachs cantatas on more than an esthetical level alone. When I have to introduce cantatas of Bach (in live-performances) I always try to create the conditions that this kind of listening (and being moved by Bach) can happen.

After this appraisal two historical questions (not important, but I am always curious)
1. The services in the Schlosskapelle of Weimar: Were they a familymatter (and associates etc..) of were the accesible for 'public' ? I just don't know. I only know it was quite a small and high church with very special acoustics.

2. I think (but this is not more than a professional intuition) that in those days sermons on the subject of the Wedding Banquet of Cana were not so much about happiness etc... (as you suggest) but more in the line of the contents of the Bach-cantata itself. Was not the text written by Salomon (studied Jura and theology) and was Oberkonsistorialsekretar (I don't know exactly what that is, but I just wanted to write down that beautiful German word...).

In short: When the preachter of that sunday in Weimar was a sensitive man, it is not unimaginable that the cantatatext and his sermon were 'in line' ..

Jane Newble wrote (January 28, 2002):
Dick Wursten wrote:
< After this appraisal two historical questions (not important, but I am always curious)
1. The services in the Schlosskapelle of
Weimar: Were they a familymatter (and associates etc..) of were the accesible for 'public' ? I just don't know. I only know it was quite a small and high church with very special acoustics. >
I had been wondering that myself, and don't know the answer. But I decided that I would imagine that they were accessible to the general public. I would be very happy to hear if someone knows this. (Also always curious).

< 2. I think (but this is not more than a professional intuition) that in those days sermons on the subject of the Wedding Banquet of Cana were not so much about happiness etc... (as you suggest) but more in the line of the contents of the Bach-cantata itself. Was not the text written by Salomon (studied Jura and theology) and was Oberkonsistorialsekretar (I don't know exactly what that is, but I just wanted to write down that beautiful German word...).
In short: When the preachter of that sunday in
Weimar was a sensitive man, it is not unimaginable that the cantatatext and his sermon were 'in line' .. >
That is probably true.

Although even if that was the case, it would also be possible not to hear a word of the preaching, but to be totally overcome by the music/words combination. It is a very powerful one, and I think Bach tried to make the most of it.

Thank you for your comments. It is always interesting, but also frustrating, to try and imagine what things were like. It is one of the times I wish for a time-machine.....:o)

 

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