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Cantata BWV 174
Ich liebe den Höchsten von ganzem
Discussions - Part 2

Continue from Part 1

Discussions in the Week of July 6, 2008

Stephen Benson wrote (July 6, 2008):
Introduction to BWV 174 "Ich liebe den Höchsten von ganzem Gemüte"

The power of love. Specifically, the love of a God who sacrificed his son in atonement for the sins of man. And, specifically, the power of that love to cause even the doors of Hell to tremble (the closing lines of the recitative). This is the message of the text of Cantata BWV 174, "Ich liebe den Höchsten von ganzem Gemüte". Based on what is probably the single most instantly recognizable passage in the Bible, John 3: 16 (the complete cited text actually includes verses 16-21), Picander's adaptation emphasizes the reciprocity of the relationship -- not only God's love for man, but the need for man to love and honor God (as specified in verse 18). Fresh in the novelty of having the additional resources of the instrumentalists of the Collegium Musicum at his disposal, Bach fashioned a work that manages to be both expansive and compact -- expansive in the presentation of a lengthy orchestral introduction and two substantial arias (for alto and bass); compact in the number (5) and arrangement of the movements.

The familiarity of the introduction (Mvt. 1), an adaptation of the first movement of Brandenburg #3, is tempered by the reworking of the soundscape associated with it. This is one of those movements where the music seems to be the same, but in the reworking somehow becomes something entirely different. It is instructive to listen to the gently swinging string arrangement of the Brandenburg original before listening to the first movement of BWV 174 with its additional horns and woodwinds. The expanded tonal palette and the entirely new writing for the horns replace intimacy with declamatory animation. For anyone who doesn't want, or doesn't have the means, to go back and listen to the entire Brandenburg opening (and in Bach's time that would have been everybody!), Bach conveniently works a brief reminder of the original into BWV 174 -- his own homage to the spirit of the original, perhaps -- by dropping the additional winds for a few moments in mm. 78-86.

The following alto aria (Mvt. 2) (with a gorgeous oboe duet accompaniment) provides enough heft to offset and balance the weight of the instrumental opening. It also embodies the reciprocity I mentioned above of the love between God and man -- "I love the Almighty with all my heart/He also loves me exceedingly." The "I love him" appears 12 times (including the da capo repeats) while the "He loves me" appears 16 times -- not equal perhaps, but numerous enough on both sides to underline the two-way nature of the relationship. The liner notes to Gardiner's recording [4] include an intriguing reference to thematic compression in this aria that I have yet to pursue, but will, unless someone can explain it first -- "...at one point he compresses his material in a way one normally associates with Beethoven." Where and how does this occur?

It is in the ensuing recitative (Mvt. 3) -- relatively brief, but central -- number 3 of the 5 movements -- that we get the direct citation of the cantata's organizing principle -- "Also hat Gott die Welt geliebt!" (God so loved the world!) We also get the definition of its power with the aforementioned reference to the trembling doors of Hell.

The bass follows (Mvt. 4), appropriately enough, after this demonstration of power, with a call to action in stentorian tones in a duet with the unison strings: if you want Jesus to stand up for you, you must stand up for him. You must maintain your faith in him to the end. Dürr points out here the contrast between the instrumental-style obbligato and the vocal-style bass.

The concluding chorale (Mvt. 5) is another testament to man's love for Jesus: "I love thee with my heart, O Lord." The same melody which concludes the St. John Passion (BWV 245), it originated as the first stophe of Martin Schalling's 1569 "Herzlich lieb hab' ich dich", and the descending opening motif in the soprano mirrors that of the previous bass aria.There's a lot to talk about here. Please do! All five movements merit examination. The music is quite striking and recorded performances show a lot of differentiation in approaches to performance. In another arena entirely, Ulrich Siegle in an essay -- "Bach and the domestic politics of Electoral Saxony" -- in the Cambridge Companion to Bach raises the issue of Leipzig political discord and infighting influencing the performance date and venue for this cantata (Monday instead of Sunday; the Thomaskirche instead of the Nikolaikirche).

There's also a wealth of information on the website at http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV174-D.htm .

I hope everyone will feel free to respond.

Stephen Benson wrote (July 6, 2008):
Stephen Benson wrote:
> stophe <
How about "strophe", twit?
(I'm allowed to call myself names, aren't I!)

Douglas Cowling wrote (July 6, 2008):
Stephen Benson wrote:
< The expanded tonal palette and the entirely new writing for the horns replace intimacy with declamatory animation. >
Just a reminder that you can quickly access the full score at:
http://imslp.org/wiki/Cantatas%2C_BWV_171-180_%28Bach%2C_Johann_Sebastian%29

This is one of the oddest scorings I've encountered in the cantatas. The groups of three -- 3 oboes, 3 violins, 3 violas and 3 cellos -- may well be an allusion to the Trinity. The Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Trinity, is celebrated on the three days of Pentecost. Three strikes and you're in.

The second movement also has three lines, two oboes and continuo (the third oboe is tacet)

In the accompanied tenor recitative, you would expect Bach to go back to his normal four-fold division of string (V1, V2, Vla & Cont), but here he has another threefold layout: tutti violins, tutti violins and continuo (I assume all three cellos are playing). No Violin 2. So you have 3+3+3. It begins to look like the Sanctus of the B Minor Mass (BWV 232).

The most unusual string scoring is the bass aria Bach has two instrumental lines. The top line has all three violins and three violas in unison in a very low register. I suspect that there is some numerological allusion to the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son, the first two Persons of the Trinity, but I'll leave the puzzle to the more mathematical on the list.

A wonderful cantata well worth comparing the scores of the Brandenburg to the Sinfonia (Mvt. 1) -- the oboe parts are a delight.

Peter Smaill wrote (July 6, 2008):
[To Douglas Cowling] Why transcribe and enhance the Third Brandenburg Concerto opening movement as the Sinfonia (Mvt. 1) to BWV 174? "One cannot see why... "(Whittaker) "The scale of this opening movement disrupts the proportions of the cantata" (Dürr) "We can only guess what prompted Bach to preface this Cantata...." (Robertson).

Doug has given the instinctively attractive explanation that implies the Third Brandenburg always had in its unusual scoring an allusion to the Trinity, originally set for 3 violins 3 violas and 3 cellos plus continuo; and the underlying string band is still there in BWV 174. Most of the commentators say 2 corno di caccia plus 2 oboes and taille are added, but Hans-Joachim Schulze says 3oboes; Dürr says the string parts were augmented by two horns, two oboes and one corno di caccia. (There was also by all accounts a bassoon). So there appears to be a muddle, likely semantically, as to what exactly the instrumentation really is, complicating any hermeneutic of the new instrumentation (as distinct from the old). Perhaps someone has the NBG and can settle the point.

The absence of allusion to the Holy Spirit in a text for Whit Monday also suggests that Bach may be compensating by a celestial representation of the interplay of the Trinity, followed by the reciprocal adoration of the believing Christians. The isolated dactyl three note figure that repeats throughout also supports the Trinity theory. Note that although "erkoren", a word suggesting election in a Calvinist sense occurs, here it is universally available and with the customary Lutheran stress on belief.

The more prosaic interpretations for the Cantata's components are the brevity of the text; and Bach's pace of work; this is the line taken in Boyd's OCC: "Picander's text is quite short..." ; Whittaker says "the provision of three cantatas for successive days meant a congestion of work". But, as Whittaker also perceives, why if Bach is in a hurry, create the labour of new parts creating fifteen lines to each stave for 136 full bars?

So the debate as to the cause for this remarkable recreation of a fine Coethen work remains open to debate and hopefully more BCW adherents will join in this particular discussion!

Stephen Benson wrote (July 6, 2008):
Peter Smaill wrote:
< Why transcribe and enhance the Third Brandenburg Concerto opening movement as the Sinfonia (Mvt. 1) to BWV 174? >
In my notes preparatory to writing the introduction I had written "Sounds like he said, 'Why? Because I can!'"

I know, I know. It can't be that simple, can it?

Douglas Cowling wrote (July 6, 2008):
Peter Smaill wrote:
< The more prosaic interpretations for the Cantata's components are the brevity of the text; and Bach's pace of work; this is the line taken in Boyd's OCC: "Picander's text is quite short..." ; Whittaker says "the provision of three cantatas for successive days meant a congestion of work". But, as Whittaker also perceives, why if Bach is in a hurry, create the labour of new parts creating fifteen lines to each stave for 136 full bars? >
This is an old debate on this list, but I just don't believe that Bach was ever rushed or frantic. He knew years in advance what his workload was going to be, and this Monday morning cantata shows no sloppiness either in the composition or in the surviving parts.

His entire professional life was conditioned by the progress of the church year. The three days of Christmas, Easter and Pentecost were the three pillars of Bach's year and he wrote nothing less than superb music for those
Three-Day Festivals.

If this was a last-minute job, wouldn't we see more evidence of borrowing, cutting-and-pasting, and sloppy manuscripts? Reworking a movement of the Brandenburgs is hardly a shortcut. Bach's goal was a Well-Regulated Church Music. I believe it began with himself and his over-arching plans.

Stephen Benson wrote (July 6, 2008):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< This is an old debate on this list, but I just don't believe that Bach was ever rushed or frantic. >
Having followed this debate over the years, I agree in principle with Doug. I align myself firmly in the camp of those who believe that Bach maintained firm control over the discipline of composition and that he prepared his performances well in advance. However, in this instance, there does seem to be additional debate. Martin Geck, in his "Johann Sebastian Bach: Life and Work" writes: "[O]n 6 June, the second day of Whitsun, he performs at St. Thomas's the cantata 'Ich liebe den Hochsten von ganzem Gemute,' BWV 174, with a really large ensemble. Up to the day before the performance the copyists are busy writing out the parts for at least twenty-two voices, and Bach himself is working at the last moment to revise the introductory movement of his Third Brandenburg Concerto to serve as an initial sinfonia (Mvt. 1) for this cantata, that is, to provide it with a sort of 'harmony music.'"

The footnote citation at the end of that passage reads, "Siegele 1986, 47". The 1986 Siegele entry in Geck's bibliography reads, "Bachs Stellung in der Leipziger Kulturpolitick seiner Zeit (III), in : BJ 1986, S. 33-67", BJ being the Bach-Jahrbuch. The Siegele article in the Cambridge Companion to Bach is 'based' on three articles published in the Bach-Jahrbuch, but that Cambridge essay doesn't include anything that would support Geck's assertion. I have no way to assess Siegele's or Geck's observation any further nor do I have any idea whence it came. I don't even know whether the footnote refers to the entire sentence or only to the concluding phrase -- 'harmony music' -- in quotes. Since the issue has come up, and since this citation appears specifically with respect to this cantata, I thought, in all fairness that it should be mentioned. Either way, I don't think it can be used to generalize about Bach's working methods. Can it be that the haste, if there was any, with this work can be attributed to the recent availability of the Collegium Musicum resources? Any light that can be shed on the reliability of these sources would be welcome.

Ed Myskowski wrote (July 7, 2008):
BWV 174

From BCW archives, July 20, 2003, re: BWV 174,
>Christoph Wolff observed that, since the Leipzig audiences had been deprived of their own opera house, they had to resort to the Royal Opera at Dresden to satisfy their cultural needs. Bach also went there regularly with his eldest son and must have said more than once, “Friedemann, shan’t we go again to hear the lovely Dresden ditties?” Although spoken in jest, Bach had every right to say so.<
So you want to write an hysterical novel? Lessons abound in BCW archives.

(1) Cite a scholarlly source

(2) Phrases such as <clearly>, <must have>, etc. provide a convincing link.

(3) Conclude with a jest. Who can resist a clown?

William Hoffman wrote (July 7, 2008):
Cantata BWV 174: Opportunity & Context

Bach's presentation of Cantata BWV 174 on Pentecost Monday, June 6, 1729, at the Nicholas Church, was a signal event. Not only was this his presumed debut as director of the Collegium musicum, it was the first major step Bach took in new directions and, at the same time, he was influenced by outside events. A week later, on Trinity Sunday, June 12, the Thomas School began its new term. Exactly six years before, Bach had officially assumed his position as Cantor at the school and Thomas Church, commencing his first annual cycle of church cantatas. With the beginning of the school term, Bach scheduled his classes, audition his choristers, and arranged
teaching special students.

Bach was virtually free of the rigors of composing and presenting weekly cantatas. The only other documented cantata performance, after the Good Friday presentation of the St. Matthew Passion (BWV 244), was Cantata BWV 145 on Easter Tuesday, April 19. The Picander published cantata cycle would end on July 4, the Fourth Sunday after Trinity. Throughout the remainder of 1729 there would be only two new church cantatas for special events, and no repeat presentations documented. The exceptions are Cantata BWV 129 for the Town Council Installation, August 29, and Cantata BWV 149 for St. Michael's Day during the fall fair, September 29. M, two secular works were offered: the academic homage, "Non sa che dolor," Cantata BWV 209, possibly August 4, and Cantata BWV 201, "The Contest Between Phoebus and Pan," by St. Michael's Day.

Further, recent research (Tiggemann, Bach Jahrbuch 1994) shows that Bach may have composed a string of occasional cantata commissions, based on published libretti found in the Leipzig municipal archives, with Bach connections to the librettists and the people being honored. They are:

July 5, "Dort wo der Pleissen Urn' und Fluss," secular wedding cantata, text by Artopae Haertel (NBA KB 1/32: 14);

July 21, "Des Zephyrs Atem rauscht und fliegt," a tribute to August Ludwig of Anhalt-Köthen, incipt only, text by C.B. Hulse;

July 26, Vergnuegende Flammen, verdoppelt die Macht," BWV Anh. 212, secular wedding cantata, text by Picander (with possible Bach wedding chorale insertions, BWV 250-252); see Dürr Cantatas p.745

September 12, "Erschallet mit doppelter Anmut und Schoene," name day for Prof. Gottlieb Kortte, incipt only.

Another date was July 16, the death of Dresden Kappellmeister Johann David Heinichen. He lived in Leipzig in 1709, presenting operas and directing the Collegium musicum. At Dresden his duties included the provision of serenatas (drama per musica) and cantatas for court festivities. Christoph Wolff (JSB:TLM, p.342) notes his death, Heinichen's strong Leipzig connection and Bach's "esteemed colleague," and the vacant post which Bach's "lack of background in Italian opera rendered him ineligible.." Yet, the position was not filled until four years later, December 1733, by Johann Adolph Hasse, another important Bach Dresden connection.

Douglas Cowling wrote (July 7, 2008):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
< "Friedemann, shan¹t we go again to hear the lovely Dresden ditties?" >
"Oh Papa, how can those men sing so high?"

"They're not Lutherans, my boy"

Douglas Cowling wrote (July 7, 2008):
William Hoffman wrote:
< July 26, Vergnuegende Flammen, verdoppelt die Macht," BWV Anh. 212, secular wedding cantata, text by Picander >
Must have been Leipzig's hottest couple!

Jean Laaninen wrote (July 7, 2008):
Stephen Benson wrote:
< There's a lot to talk about here. Please do! All five movements merit examination. The music is quite striking and recorded performances show a lot of differentiation in approaches to performance. >
Thanks for your well-organized introduction Steve. I have heard Brandenburg live, studied it in Baroque Music Theory and really enjoy the derivative works, such as the opening celebratory sinfonia (Mvt. 1). There are probably not enough adjectives in the English language to describe the joy this first movement gives. In Mvt. II the interplay between the oboes, parallel thirds in places and nice sustains capture my attention. I also like the occasional placement of sixteenth note patterns in the continuo in places. In the Rilling edition [2] (Mvt. 3) the harpsichord appears to be using arpeggios to work out the figured bass--if I am interpreting this correctly. I found this quite attractive. In Mvt. IV the four note eighth note pattern used on the downbeat seems very effective appearing in measure six and eight at the beginning in the strings. This pattern is an attention getter for the ear as it serves as punctuation ending phrases sans the first eighth note; it also serves as introductory material at the beginning of measure 75. In other places this rhythmic pattern is not heard so much due to the voice part. Sans the first eighth note, a set of three eighth notes on the same note also introduces runs that are quite charming. The first listen through that I made I concentrated more on the singing and texts, but during the second listen I picked up more on the rhythmic patterns. I love the music, and, I love the architectural forms Bach used to create it. Depending on how one divides the material there are even some three phrase patterns that can be recognized in the chorale: the first part repeating the three phrase element twice, and then continuing on into the remainder of the chorale where interpretation of such a division might or might not apply.

A little bit from Schweitzer--this time not about text painting, but about the matter of how many instruments to use is found on page 422 of Vol. II. He says: "In the halls in which we are accustomed to perform Bach, however, it is not advisable to employ too few instruments. For string accompaniments the following will be found best as a rule -- two desks for the first and second violins and violas, and one desk each for the cellos and double basses. In the accompaniment of a recitative in Ich liebe den Hochsten (sans the umlat here) (No. 174) Bach prescribes three string instruments to each part." Perhaps then, the choice of three instruments per part may or may not have been for textual interpretation. I found it very interesting that Schweitzer did not suggest the text painting concept for this work.

Aryeh Oron wrote (July 7, 2008):
BWV 174 - Provenance

Thomas Braatz has updated the Provenance page of Cantata BWV 174.
See: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Ref/BWV174-Ref.htm

Kim Patrick Clow wrote (July 7, 2008):
[To Aryeh Oron] Geez, what a mess the parts are in: spread all over creation! It must be a nightmare to create a urtext or performing edition based on all these? While having the score is a big help, having all the parts to sort out so many issues (e.g. articulations, dynamics, unclear notes in the score).

I wonder if the parts being split up in such a hary-kary manner originated with W.F. Bach?

Many thanks to Thomas Braatz for all the information!

Stephen Benson wrote (July 7, 2008):
Peter Smaill wrote:
< The isolated dactyl three note figure that repeats throughout also supports the Trinity theory. >
The opening movement (Mvt. 1) also displays a plethora of anapests that are frequently set off as isolated three-note figures. They start out immediately in the first measure with the woodwinds and move to the horns by the fifth measure. In fact, it is somewhat difficult to tell whether we're actually talking about dactyls or anapests. The isolated anapestic three-note figures in the winds overlap and reinforce the dactyls in the strings. What I find particularly striking is that these early anapests were part of the newly added music for the adaptation.

Douglas Cowling wrote (July 8, 2008):
Stephen Benson wrote:
< The opening movement also displays a plethora of anapests that are frequently set off as isolated three-note figures. >
In his elaborate neo-Wagnerian leitmotif system in Bach, Schweitzer held that the dactylic rhythm was a Joy Motive.

I like the phrase "A Plethora of Anapests" -- Sounds like the title of a P.D. James murder mystery ...

"Inspector Dalgleish leaned in closer to the body slumped over the organ bench then straightened up.

"What is it, Inspector?", the patrolman asked.

"Anapests," Dalgleish mused.

"Anapests killed the Kapellmeister."

Neil Halliday wrote (July 8, 2008):
Stephen Benson wrote:
>The liner notes to Gardiner's recording [4] include an intriguing reference to thematic compression in this (alto) aria that I have yet to pursue, but will, unless someone can explain it first -- "...at one point he compresses his material in a way one normally associates with Beethoven." Where and how does this occur?<
Is Gardiner [4] referring to bars 29, 30 (and 65, 66),where the words "I love the Highest with (my) whole spirit" are set over two bars instead of the usual 4 bars?
------
After the discussion by Peter and Stephen on dactyls and anapests, I am a bit uncertain whether the rhythm at the start of the Sinfonia (Mvt. 1) is dactylic or anapestic. I presume the start is dactylic - long, short, short, with the 'long' on the beat; the very first two 1/16th notes on the oboes and violins do not begin on the beat. The first examples I can find of anapest rhythm , or short,short, long, beginning on the beat, is in bars 51 to 53, on 2nd and 3rd violins, and 55 to 57, on 1st and 3rd violins.
------

I find the acoustic in Rilling's recording [2] of the Sinfonia (Mvt. 1) to be disappointingly 'dead'; Gardiner [4] and Koopman [6] are much richer (if I can judge by the samples), with the horns being quite a feature in the Koopman.

Gardiner's [4] bass aria (Mvt. 4), like Harnoncourt's [3], is unnecessarily fast; Koopman [6], Leusink [5] and Rilling [2] have lively and pleasing performances. In the years since the previous discussions, I have come to appreciate Brad's point about continuo articulation; and I agree that in the two arias, Rilling's continuo appears unphrased and lacking in variety of articulation. However, some weakness in period unison strings, for example in Gardiner's [4] recitative, remains evident.

From a quick run through of the samples, I'm inclined to select Koopman [6], for the most satisfying recording of BWV 174.

Continue of this part of the discussion, see: Cantatas & Arias for Wedding [General Topics\

Stephen Benson wrote (July 10, 2008):
Neil Halliday wrote:
< From a quick run through of the samples, I'm inclined to select Koopman [6], for the most satisfying recording of BWV 174. >
I prefer John Eliot Gardiner's version [4], but before I explain why, let me quote something Francis Browne wrote on the List back in 2003, a disclaimer that reflects with great incisiveness my own feelings relative to anything I have to say about Bach and his music. I couldn't say it any better, and it's an attitude I will hopefully be able to maintain, particularly as I write the introductions this summer:"[M]y wonderfully extensive ignorance is an advantage, since I have no desire to impress anyone with my erudition and insight, have no concern to advance one particular point of view and will not be disturbed in the least if my own opinions are torn to shreds."

That said, for me, Gardiner's version [4] of the Sinfonia (Mvt. 1) motors along at an energetic clip with a decided air of spontaneity and a relaxed rhythmic bounce that suggest that the players are enjoying themselves. Details are clearly projected, helped along by players who seem to be listening to each other as ideas are passed around amongst the different sections. Subtle dynamic shifts are applied discriminately and result in an immensely satisfying performance. This was a real team effort. Koopman's more homogenized recording [6], to my ears, has less transparency than the Gardiner, thus obscuring details and producing a smoother, but less interesting, mix. Leusink's horns [5] have a lot of fun, but the rest sounds somewhat labored and comes off as relatively prosaic.

I'm not completely satisfied with any of the three versions I have of the alto aria, probably because of my disappointment with the relatively quick tempo of the Koopman [6], whose alto, Bogna Bartosz, has the voice quality I find most attractive of the three soloists, the other two being Nathalie Stutzman for Gardiner [4] and Sytse Buwalda for Leusink [5]. Surprisingly, I find myself choosing to listen most frequently to Buwalda, a singer for whom I usually have little patience. Now, if I could pair Bartosz with either Gardiner or Leusink...

In the bass aria, I like the voice of Herbert Brauer [1] (included in the examples on the website), but, as a package, Klaus Mertens with Koopman [6] is more satisfying. Gardiner's [4] recitative with tenor Christoph Genz and his concluding chorus, with its superior clarity and dynamics, both get my vote. Overall, and primarily because I enjoy his Sinfonia so much, I will choose to listen to Gardiner's performance. I will, however, keep looking for a performance of the alto aria that, for me, matches the beauty of the music. (I have yet to hear the Hamari recording [2] so highly praised during the first round of discussions.).

 

Continue on Part 3

Cantata BWV 174: Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

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