Aryeh Oron wrote (November 26, 2000):
This is the week of BWV 163 according to Ryan Michero's suggestion. This early short cantata contains two charming arias - for Tenor Mvt. 1) and for Bass (Mvt. 3) and a magical duet for Soprano and alto (Mvt. 5). The choice between them is difficult, because each one of them has something to offer. Of course, during the listening to this cantata, I have not had to make any choice, because I have been listening to each one of the recordings of this cantata in its entirety. My finger simply refused to push on the pause button, or did my mind simply said to the willing finger, 'Stop pushing, don't you see that I am captivated, and I want to continue listening'?
Nevertheless, I decided to concentrate on the opening aria, because it contains internal contradiction, which caused small argument between some of Bach's scholars, as will be seen hereinafter, and because it proves again, that even the driest text could be used by Bach as a springboard for his boundless musical imagination.
Opening Aria for Tenor (Mvt. 1)
Original German text
Nur jedem das Seine!
Muß Obrigkeit haben
Zoll, Steuern und Gaben,
Man weigre sich nicht
Der schuldigen Pflicht!
Doch bleibet das Herze dem Höchsten alleine.
English translation (by Richard Stokes)
To each only his due!
If rulers must have
Toll, taxes and tributes,
Let one not refuse
The debt that is owed!
But the heart is bound to God alone.
Instrumentation - Oboe d'amore, Violin, Viola, Violoncello, Continuo
Alec Robertson wrote in his book 'The Church Cantatas of J.S. Bach' (1972):
"Franck's libretto makes excellent use, as we shall see, of both the Epistle and Gospel. The text of this aria paraphrases Christ's answer to the Parisees' cunningly devised question as to whether it was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not. 'Pay what thou owest to highest and lowest but render your heart only to God'.
The melody, begun by cello and continuo and taken up by the oboe d'amore, seems to represent a cheerful giver, so it is amusing to remember how annoyed Bach was to have duty levied by Customs and Excise on a present of wine during his residence at Leipzig. The text speaks of not refusing the obligation to pay tax, adding after the sentence a mark of exclamation, either by the Franck or, more likely, by Bach himself."
W. Murray Young wrote in his book 'The Cantatas of J.S. Bach - An Analytical Guide' (1989):
"Schweitzer is somewhat critical of this libretto by Franck, stating that it contains little to inspire poetic imagery: 'It contains neither poetic ideas not pictorial images. This, to be sure, is less the fault of the poet than of the Gospel of the day, (Matthew 22: 15-22), that deals with the subject of the tribute money. The religious valuation of tax-paying is not grateful theme for a cantata text.'
Yet there are poetic ideas and pictorial images in the words to stir Bach's musical genius, despite the text he had to set. (Snip)
1. Aria - Tenor
Bach's meticulous sense of order and duty would induce him to give special emphasis to the nouns of this aria following the opening line (Snip).
The joy-motif permeates all the aria with its swinging rhythm, even though the thought of paying taxes imposes a disagreeable duty, as reflected in the italicized nouns."
And if you are asking yourself, while reading this message, what inspiration can stem from an order to pay taxes, than all you have to do is put one of the recordings of this cantata in your CD player, and listen. In this case, all I can say is - forget about the words and listen to the music!
Review of Complete Recordings
All the recordings of this cantata, to which I listened, are from the 5 complete cantata cycles. I am not aware any other recording of this cantata, either in a complete form, or any individual movement from it. See: Cantata BWV 163 - Recordings.
(1) Helmuth Rilling with Adalbert Kraus (tenor) (1976+1977; Aria for tenor: 4:34)
Adalbert Kraus seems to enjoy very much singing this aria, that I am tempted to think that he has a slight sense of humour. The accompaniment is also clear, lively and colourful. On one hand you could think that it is a waste of good means on dry text. On the other hand, doesn't the music of Bach deserve always the best?
(2) Nikolaus Harnoncourt with Kurt Equiluz (tenor) (1986;Aria for tenor: 3:38)
Dry is the text and dry is the accompaniment. Harnoncourt also eliminates the oboe d'amore's participation from all the movements of this cantata, and this strengthens the dryness. Only Equiluz's singing has some life to it, and the exclamation marks can be clearly heard. The aria is also performed very fast, so that you cannot relax and enjoy the beauty of the melody. I have got the impression that Harnoncourt wanted to get rid of the unpleasant task (of telling somebody to pay his taxes) ASAP. I am not sure that anyone, who is not familiar with this cantata, will be encouraged to give it closer attention after listening to Harnoncourt's rendition.
There is one good point in this recording that I would like to mention. Harnoncourt put the difficult task of the recitative and duet for soprano and alto (No.4+No.5) in the hands of two boys from Tölzer Knabenchor. Surprisingly it works. Firstly, because both have good voices (for boys) and similar approach. Secondly, because when a boy is teamed in a duet with a grown up singer, you can hear a kind of dissonance. This combination has disturbed me many times in the past in H & L Cantata cycle. In this duet there is a perfect match between the two boy singers. And they sing their parts beautifully and innocently (what do little boys understand about taxes?)
(3) Ton Koopman with Paul Agnew (tenor) (1995; Aria for tenor: 4:47)
Koopman opens the aria in much slower tempo than Harnoncourt and even Rilling do. As a result you are so charmed by the instrumental introduction, that when the tenor enters you are in, undisturbed by the textual content. The soft timbre of Agnew voice and his tasteful singing contribute to the magnetism of this rendition. You are tempted to obey him. This magic continues into the ensuing movements, and the pick arrives in the duet for soprano and alto, in a fantastic blending of the two female voices.
(4) Masaaki Suzuki with Makoto Sakurada (tenor) (1996; Aria for tenor: 3:32)
One slow, one fast, one slow, one fast. With Suzuki, we are on the highway again. I did not like such brisk tempo with Harnoncourt, and I do not like it even in the hands of Suzuki. But I have to admit that Suzuki's approach is more melodic than Harnoncourt's is. Sakurada has kind of toughness in his voice, which suits very well the message of this aria. IMHO, this is the only rendering, in which you can guess from the interpretation of the singer what is the textual content of the aria. To conclude, I appreciate this recording, but I do not really like it.
(5) Pieter Jan Leusink with Nico van der Meel (tenor) (1999; Aria for tenor: 3:51)
Surprise! Leusink takes a similar approach to that of Suzuki, but he does it better. Nico van der Meel's voice is nicer and more expressive than that of Sakurada. Meel is trying to convince you to fill your obligation, and not only to command. This rendition combines the charm of Koopman with the boldness of Suzuki. It is less polished than both of them are, and therefore it falls a little bit short behind Koopman.
Order of personal preferences Koopman (3), Rilling (1), Leusink (5), Suzuki (4), and Harnoncourt (2).
And as always, I would like to hear other opinions, regarding the above mentioned performances, or other recordings.
Harry J. Steinman wrote (November 30, 2000):
This will be a bit brief because I'm totally slammed! But I really was impressed by this cantata - a couple things. A few reactions, starting with the Tenor aria. My personal preference in listening to vocal works has a simple formula: Keep the strings low and the voices high. I prefer sopranos to altos to tenors, etc. (Poor basses!) But there's something about the stings and voice in this aria that really caught my attention and made me listen and appreciate the aria! It's not that I don't enjoy arias with male voices, but I was taken at how I was taken by this aria.
A week-and-a-half ago, I wrote to the Lists and asked about favourite duets. Now we have the wonderful one in this aria (and female voices to boot!). I even enjoy the recitative with S and A...and I don't ordinarily listen to recitatives. Maybe because I don't speak the language I find them not easily approachable. I enjoyed this a lot.
I wish the final chorus was longer, but I guess JSB knew what he was doing.
Till next week,
PS. It was nice, after the cantata finished, to hear the next track on the Koopman CD (3) (only version I have) go right into BWV 165 - and recognize it! I wouldn't have been able to tell you what cantata it was, but be able to say, "I've heard that!"
Galina Kolomietz wrote (November 30, 2000):
Harry Steinman wrote:
< My personal preference in listening to vocal works has a simple formula: Keep the strings low and the voices high. I prefer sopranos to altos to tenors, etc. (Poor basses!) But there's something about the stings and voice in this aria that really caught my attention and made me listen and appreciate the aria
[sung by Paul Agnew]! >
*** Well, I keep trying to come out of lurkdom, but I just never have anything useful to say. I don't really have anything useful to say now either, but since Harry wrote and admitted that he prefers sopranos to tenors, I thought I would be okay for me to write and admit that I prefer tenors to sopranos.
The discussions on this list are very useful for me because they make me listen to the cantatas in their entirety and appreciate them better. Otherwise, I might just listen to Agnew and put the disc away. Which is practically what happened with this cantata.
I'm not a big fan of Koopman (3), but I like Agnew, so I bought the Koopman CD's on which Agnew sings, and copied all Agnew tracks onto a separate CD. I've been
listening to Agnew a lot, but the rest of the Koopman was just sitting on the shelf.
It's good to pick up a forgotten cantata and discover how good it really is. Although I still don't like Koopman's female soloists (which is the real reason why I stopped buying Koopman's Bach CD's). Also, the translations that come with Koopman's Bach series are pretty bad.
Harry J. Steinman wrote (November 30, 2000):
Galina wrote, eloquently:
(3) <snip> I still don't like Koopman's female soloists (which is the real reason why I stopped buying Koopman's Bach CD's). Also, the translations that come with Koopman's Bach series are pretty bad. >
I agree about the translations: Stinko. But you don't love Deborah York...even a little? Go figure!
Galina Kolomietz wrote (December 1, 2000):
Galina Kolomietz wrote:
(3) << I still don't like Koopman's female soloists (which
is the real reason why I stopped buying Koopman's Bach CD's). >>
Harry J. Steinman wrote:
< But you don't love Deborah York...even a little? >
*** When was York on the Koopman? She's isn't on any of mine (I don't have all the volumes). I think Debbie York is one of the most impressive sopranos out there. I loved her work on several Herreweghe CD's. I was also fortunate to hear her live and was equally impressed.
Andrew Oliver wrote (December 1, 2000):
The text of this cantata did not give Bach much scope for word-painting. However, there are several interesting things to listen to, despite that. I have a mental picture of an artist who has been given an uninteresting subject to draw, so he fills his sketch pad with doodles instead, but these doodles are sometimes disguised or hidden. I would encourage list members to listen to the whole of each cantata, not just the parts
that appeal to them most, and also to listen more than once. I find very frequently that there are interesting things to hear which I have missed at the first hearing. Things that interest me in this cantata are the unusual use of the two cellos in the bass aria, the duet arioso and the duet aria that follows it. And of course, the other numbers are all good as well.
These earlier Weimar cantatas seem to me to have a more intimate, chamber music type of sound to them than the Leipzig cantatas of a few years later possess. Do not imagine that I dislike the Leipzig ones. I like them very much. What I mean is that they sound 'different'.
Last week Jane referred to the Teldec translation of the text with the Koopman recordings. I can confirm that, although the Koopman recordings are produced by Erato, the translations of the libretti are the Teldec ones, and are therefore identical to the translations which accompany the Harnoncourt and Leonhardt recordings. And yes, I agree with Jane, Harry and Galina that these translations are often poor, especially the English ones, as they are sometimes quite unrelated to the German text. The French translations are more accurate.
Listen with both mind and ears open, and you will be rewarded.
Jane Newble wrote (December 1, 2000):
Galina Kolomietz wrote:
< *** Well, I keep trying to come our of lurkdom, but I just never have anything useful to say. >
That's how I usually feel, too, but anything we say is better than nothing, I suppose. I can see Aryeh nodding...
When I heard BWV 163 last week on the Koopman CD (3), it did not touch me very much. But this week I listened to the Leusink one (5), and it's wonderful! It's alive!
The tenor sings as if in private life he is a tax-collector, and is totally delighted Bach has written about his job, and tells people they should pay tax. You can almost see him smiling as he sings. The duet is lovely. Sometimes I feel sorry for Holton when she has to sing with Buwalda, but in this case their voices go very well together.
I really enjoy listening to this cantata... And I still don't like the Koopman very much, which is very unusual for me.
Galina Kolomietz wrote (December 2, 2000):
[Galina Kolomietz wrote]:
< *** Well, I keep trying to come out of lurkdom, but I just never have anything useful to say. >
[Jane Newble wrote]:
< That's how I usually feel, too, but anything we say is better than nothing I suppose. [snip] this week I listened to the Leusink one, and it's wonderful! It's alive! The tenor sings as if in private life he is a tax-collector, and is totally delighted Bach has written about his job, and tells people they should pay tax. >
*** <grin> In the interests of full disclosure: I'm a TAX lawyer. And you wondered why I came out of lurkdom on this particular cantata?
Matthew Westphal wrote (December 2, 2000):
(In response to Galina Kolomietz message) Galina and everyone else - did you hear?
BBC World service and National Public Radio (US) reported this morning that the Russian government has officially named Matthew the Evangelist (a tax collector, you may recall) as the patron saint of the Russian tax police.
Jane Newble wrote (December 2, 2000):
(To Matthew Westphal) I do hope they played BWV 163 to celebrate!
Jane Newble wrote (December 2, 2000):
(To Galina Kolomietz) Oh, lovely! Well, you are privileged, to have a Bach cantata
written for you!! I don't thinhe wrote one for homemakers!