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Cantata BWV 175
Er rufet seinen Schafen mit Namen
Discussions - Part 1

Discussions in the Week of July 27, 2003

Peter Bloemendaal wrote (July 29, 2003):
BWV 175 - Er rufet seinen Schafen mit Namen

What an extraordinary statement to start your cantata with on that Pentecost Tuesday 22nd may 1725. In The Netherlands, we used to have a great number of cattle farmers. An average farmer had three or four dozens of dairy cows and a dozen of calves. He and his family not only used to call each individual animal by her name, but they knew them from each other and could tell you quite some interesting stories about their characters and their peculiarities. Here, Jesus is called the real good shepherd. Those who believe in him are his flock. Among all these millions he knows every one of them by name. What is more, he calls them, each of them, by their own names, for He has a relationship with every human being and wants it confirmed. How more personal can you go? The theme of the cantata is our reaction to this call.

Therefore the epistle reading is from Acts 8, where we are informed about the spreading of the Holy Ghost in Samaria, the second city after Jerusalem, and in many hamlets and villages of the “impure” Samaritans, of all people. Jesus calls even those who are not to believed “righteous”, neither by the establishment nor by the common man in the street. Yet, many of them answer to his call.

The gospel reading is from John 10, where Jesus calls himself the good shepherd with obvious reference to Psalm 42 “The Lord is my shepherd” and the parable of the lost sheep from St. Luke 15:1-7.

The background of this parable is told in the previous chapter. A man who was blind from his birth comes to Jesus. His disciples ask him: “Master, who has sinned, the man or his parents?” An obvious question at the time, because from Mosaic times it was believed that disabilities were a consequence of turning away from God, by yourself or even three or four generations before you. Jesus put an end to these ideas by answering: “Neither of them, but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.” He then spat on the ground, made clay of the spittle and anointed the eyes of the blind man and told him to cleanse his eyes at Siloam, the pond near the water-tower. It was on a Sabbath. A lot of people from the neighbourhood witnessed the event and took the man to the Pharisees, probably with mixed motives. Rules of purification were very strict and the clergy played a major part in it. Maybe some of the spectators were just as exited and enthusiastic as we can expect after witnessing a miraculous healing. Maybe some were indignant about Jesus’ breaking the laws of the Sabbath. At any rate, there arose a division between the Pharisees. Some condemned Jesus. Others gave him the credit for having performed a miracle. But none of them believed in him. They asked the healed man about Jesus. He called Jesus a prophet. They interrogated the man’s parents, who testified that their son had been blind from his birth, but then backed off out of fear to be expelled from the synagogue. Then the man who could see again was asked some nasty questions about Jesus again. He retorted by saying: “Wherefore would ye hear it again? Will ye also be his disciples?” Then they reviled him and cast him out. But the man who had received sight went up to Jesus and said: “Lord, I believe“, and he worshipped him.

Then Jesus called himself the Light of the world. He told them he had come to make it clear who were blind and who could see. So that those who were blind might see, and those who could see would turn out to be blind. Some of the Pharisees told Jesus they could see perfectly well, how could he say they were blind! At that point Jesus told them to listen very carefully and gave them the parable that is the subject of this week’s cantata.

The first part of the cantata, movements 1-4, deals with those who see Jesus as the one and only good shepherd. They want him to lead them. They want to know where he is hiding. Others can hardly wait for his return. They are looking forward to it and can already see the signs. The second part is a recitative about those who can and will not listen to Jesus. They are deaf and blind. The bass aria that follows is an appeal to them to open their ears for Jesus’ message of life and salvation. The final chorale links up with the Feast of Pentecost and is a strong affirmation of those who are determined to follow Jesus.

The cantata opens with the steady flow of the basso continuo and the fluent ripple of the shepherd’s flutes, suggesting the idyllic tranquillity of a pastoral scene, so different from the “valley of the shadow of death’ from Psalm 42. The image of a shepherd leading his sheep out onto fresh meadows, already popular then as a romantic genre in opera and the pictorial arts, is used by Bach in a strict Biblical sense here, but the loveliness and the idyllic musical picture suggest a little wink to let’s say Handel.

The alto aria is a natural continuation of the scene. They went a long way as to metaphors in those days, for here there is a sheep singing about the shepherd. Those who are not conversant with the phenomenon must be flabbergasted. Yet, most of us are so familiar with it, we hardly notice it at all. The three recorders with their continuing slow triplets in 12/8 rhythm symbolize the desire of the sheep, the steady movement of the flock, safely led onto green pastures, as promised in the first movement. But the shepherd has not arrived, yet, and the dream is interrupted by repetitive sighs of yearning for the good shepherd to come at last. Wonderful!

The tenor recitative expresses the plaintive longing for the appearing of the good shepherd at the break of day, when the light of the sun (the Light of the Son) will cast away all darkness. It is the universal question of people in anxiety, sorrow and grief. When God asks: “Adam, where are you?”, where Jesus asks exactly the same question, we often ask in desperation: “Lord where are you?” And we are often so troubled or rebellious inside that it takes time to find rest and hear his voice again. Bach knew! And we hear it in this short but meaningful movement.

Then hope and expectation are coming true. The opening ritornello of the obbligato violoncello piccolo sets the tone of joy. Hear!, the long awaited shepherd is arriving! And he is recognized, for the sheep know his voice. And he is the only one to get access through the door. He is not like the burglars and the thieves who are trying to force their way in to lead you astray. The shepherd’s theme of the little cello plays through the entire aria. I wish that in my Leusink recording [6] the sound of this sparkling instrument had been amplified a bit more. Rare beauty! The movement ends in an indignant reaction against those who doubt that Jesus is the Saviour, thus preluding the second recitative.

This is a peculiar twofold movement. First a sober secco for alto, regretting that the Pharisees and all the others present did not understand what Jesus had done and told them. After this, for the first and last time in this cantata, Bach employs the entire string section. They underline with long-held strokes that we, men, are like the deaf, when our blinded reason prevents us from knowing Jesus and comprehending his words. The strings go on then, pushing the repeated words of the bass soloist, that when Jesus talks to you, it is for your own benefit. Of course, this movement is an attack on the upcoming atheism as a result of the Age of Enlightenment. Yet, it is done with subtlety and loveliness, and in this way Bach helps convincing me the choice for Jesus is the right one.

Then the wake up call of the trombas sound. Open both your ears, for Jesus has sworn us to defeat both death and the devils. Triumph and urgency alternate in this compelling aria.

I fully agree with Jane, that it is always a pleasure to hear the confirmation of what you believe in as the conclusion oa cantata. It wraps up the entire work. Bach emphasizes this by reinserting the three recorders (a pity they are hardly audible) from the first two movements. The themes of the Holy Ghost and the good shepherd united. Halleluja!

I only have the recording I mentioned earlier, so I cannot compare. But I love it all the same.

Bob Henderson wrote (July 30, 2003):
[To Peter Bloemendaal] Thanks for your continuing commentary on the texts. It serves as refreshment! Your recent story telling of the shepherd ,who knew the names of members of his flock reminded me of a favorite quotation from Rilke:

"Let my courage be like a rock,
let the daily task of the shepherd seem possible to me
as he moves about and, throwing the stone to measure it,
fixes the hem of his flock where it has grown ragged.
His solemn, unhurried steps, his contemplative body,
his majesty when he stands: even a god
could secretely enter this form and not be diminished.
he alternately lingers and moves, like the day itself,
and shadows of clouds
pass through him, like thoughts which space
is thinking slowly for him........"

Aryeh Oron wrote (July 30, 2003):
BWV 175 - Introduction

The chosen work for this week’s discussion (July 27, 2003) is the Solo Cantata BWV 175 for Whit Tuesday [3rd Day of Pentecost] ‘Er rufet seinen Schafen mit Namen’ (He called His sheep by name).

The short background below is quoted from the liner notes to the American LP issue by Vanguard of the original Cantate recording (conducted by Heinz Wunderlich). The author’s name is not mentioned.

Cantata BWV 175, Er rufet seinen Schafen mit Namen, is one of a series composed by Bach in the Spring of 1725 to texts by Christiane Mariane von Ziegler. She was a widow who wrote poetry and whose home was an intellectual and artistic center in Leipzig. Designed for Whit Tuesday, the cantata and its text follow the Gospel for this day (John 10: 1-11) with its parable of the "Good Shepherd and His sheep." As often in setting the "shepherd" symbol, Bach turns here to pastoral music, with a folk-like simplicity and loveliness. A captivating example of this is the very opening movement, a tender recitative accompanied by three recorders, and in the same folksy mood is the following alto aria, in 12/8 rhythm. Then the tenor recitative introduces a tenor aria, with obbligato by an instrument said to have been invented by Bach; a 'violoncello piccolo" or "viola pomposa", tuned like a 'cello but held on the arm like a viola. The recitative for alto and bass broadens into an arioso, as it castigates those who turn a deaf ear to Jesus, and the bass aria, which continues this admonition, is emphasized by the stirring sound of two trumpets. The seven-part chorale, with which again we hear the three recorders, was adapted from an earlier Whitsun cantata, BWV 59.


The details of the recordings of the cantata can be found at the following pages of the Bach Cantatas Website: Cantata BWV 175 - Recordings

This cantata has 6 complete recordings. The usual three are: Helmuth Rilling (1981) [3], Gustav Leonhardt (1988) [4], and Pieter Jan Leusink (2000) [6]. The other three are promising and present different approaches: Heinz Wunderlich (1967, LP only) [1], Karl Richter (1974-1975) [2] and Christoph Coin (1994) [5].

Through the page of the Music Examples from this cantata: Cantata BWV 175 – Music Examples
you can listen to the complete recording by Leonhardt [4] (at David Zale Website).

Additional Information

In the page of recordings mentioned above you can also find links to useful complementary information:
The original German text and various translations, three of which were contributed by members of the BCML: English (Francis Browne), French (Jean-Pierre Grivois), and Hebrew (Aryeh Oron).
Links to the Score in Vocal & Piano version and BGA Edition.
Links to commentaries: in English by Simon Crouch (Listener’s Guide), Brian Robins (AMG), and in Spanish by Julio Sánchez Reyes (CantatasDeBach).

As every cantata written by Christiane Mariane von Ziegler, BWV 175 is also a charming cantata. I hope to see many of you participating in the discussion. Only 20 cantatas (9 of which are sacred), including this one, remained to be discussed in the BCML!

Marie Jensen wrote (July 30, 2003):
This cantata is great, instrumentally varied and has a wonderful message.

Three recorders makes a beautiful background for the opening recitativo, and underline the prayer of the alto aria.

As it deals with Jesus as the shepherd and the soul as His sheep, the recorders give the right pastoral associations.

I do not live in a shepherd area, so I don't know how a shepherd calls a missing sheep, but in a way the rather slow and simple way the recorders are playing in the opening recitativo reminds me of somebody gently calling a scared little dog or bird back, so why not a little lamb which foolishly ran off.

The soul longs for green pastures, who does not? I do .The recorders add so much intensity - bittersweet as they sound - to the prayer. Can any instrument symbolize a green meadow full of flowers better?

The tenor aria: Jesus is coming, a dancing violoncello! Changing things in a good way, active, accepting!

This cantata was first performed May the 22. 1725, Whit Tuesday, the day after BWV 68 "Also hat Gott die Welt geliebt”. In one of my favourite soprano arias "Mein gläubiges Herze" from BWV 68, there also is, at least in the beginning, a similar dancing violoncello theme, Jesus is near.

What a Whit in Leipzig 1725!

Öffnet euch, ihr beiden Ohren, - Open up both your ears. Two trumpets make sure we do, triumphing with joy, Jesus has defeated death and devil! - a wonderful bass aria!

Strange, but this time it does not matter very much to me whether it is Leusink [6] or Richter [2] and his star team: Reynolds, Schreier, Fischer - Dieskau. In Richter’s version the soloists come more to the front.

When recorders play - the distance between Leusink and Richter becomes smaller instrumentally, but there certainly is a difference between Buwalda and Reynolds. I am not a devoted Buwalda fan, but in this case, his fragile voice seems to make the longing in the alto aria deeper, and tells me how dependent we are on Christ... all our hope. On the other hand I love the Richter trumpets.

Öffnet euch, ihr beiden Ohren,
Jesus hat euch zugeschworen,
Daß er Teufel, Tod erlegt.
(BWV 175)

Roy Reed wrote (August 2, 2003):
I have two readings of BWV 175: Coin [5] and Leusink [6]. Coin's is clearly the superior performance, but the Leusink performance is quite good. Leusink does take a rather draggy tempo for the opening movement. One can understand this because of the flavor in the text on yearning, longing, groaning.....even so, the same sense seems better served by Coin's more "active" approach: the sort of "sighing" motifs repeated by the recorders. And aren't they wonderful. Just when you think you know what to expect from JSB, here come three delightful recorders. Lovely performance by Andreas Scholl with Coin.

Cello piccolo....the solo with continuo in Mvt. 4, the tenor aria. What a treat this little instrument is. Three recorders followed by this no. Such a great cantata! And can the treats keep coming? Of course they can....two trombae for the next aria. The Holy Spirit is doing a new....well, almost new....thing. One horn, three horns, but two? I don't think Bach does that very often.

The cello piccolo tenor aria flows along "thoughtfully" anticipating the loving, gentle voice of the shepherd and abruptly concludes enraged. Huh?? Before we blame Frau Ziegler or Bach we get to blame John's gospel. The imagery of the good shepherd in this passage (John 10: 1-11) shares its pastoral gentility with harsh warnings of Thieves, bandits and wolves. One supposes that Bach retrieved this piece from the freezer for its pastoral possibilities, which makes the final phrase rather jarring.

The recitative Mvt. 5 is of my favorite sort. Begins secco and evolves into perfectly matching the sense of the text. Mvt. 6, the bass aria with the two trumpets takes up the conclusion of Mvt. 5, that our foolish reason is both blind and deaf. The plea is "Open both of your ears." Bach does a delightful musical literalism at the outset and opens both ears by giving them a bold yank (ms. 10-12). Actually he gives two firm yanks with one word, "Ohren," but the effect is to pull open two ears. "Ya gotta love it."

Philippe Bareille wrote (August 2, 2003):
I have listened to both Leonhardt [4] and Richter [2].

It is interesting to compare the soft natural trumpets of Leonhardt with those rather shrieking but glorious of Richter in the virtuosic bass aria (Mvt. 6). The natural trumpets are obviously more idiomatic and blend naturally with the period instruments and Max van Egmond affecting and persuasive delivery. On the other hand Richter trumpets display more projection but they would be out of place in a more historical and authentic approach. Fischer-Dieskau with Richter admirably conveys the intensity of the music, more vigorously and perhaps more effectively here than Egmond (the latter favoured a more tender approach and for the first time his voice showed signs of strain). Bach's genius transcends interpretation. In other words Bach music can accommodate a wide range of styles, can even be perverted and yet one still responds to it. On the contrary Vivaldi, Handel or Telemann require authentic renditions. I personally find unbearable listening to Rameau or Handel operas interpreted before the revival of baroque instruments.

The alto aria (Mvt. 2) contains music of great beauty and sadness. It is one of those sublime arias (like the alto aria from BWV 39 and BWV 176) that move deeply and require great sensitivity from the musicians. A countertenor voice is particularly suited here (unlike many other arias) so Esswood captures the mood very touchingly. He is a very sensitive singer with constant attention to the text. The intrumental playing is admirable.I still slightly prefer a woman alto (Anna Reynold with Richter is outstanding).

Aryeh Oron wrote (August 6, 2003):
The Event

Last Saturday we repeated the enjoyable experience we had two weeks ago, when we listened and discussed 11 recordings of cantatas BWV 173 & BWV 173a. This time the subject was cantata BWV 175, and our guests were two very dear couples. The second time was as enjoyable and as fruitful for all participants as the first one.

We started early in the evening, listened to three renditions, had a break for light supper, and for dessert we heard another three recordings. The guidelines we set for ourselves were similar to the previous meeting. I gave the small audience short background about the cantata and the poetess Christiane Mariane von Ziegler, read the Hebrew translation and we got to work. This time I avoided listening to the cantata before the meeting, because I wanted to listen to it on equal terms with the other five participants.

As before, I took notes while we were listening and discussing and hereinafter is a summary of the impressions, almost unedited. The names are not mentioned according to the request of participants.

The Recordings

The 6 complete recordings of Cantata BWV 175 we listened to were (in order of listening):

[1] Heinz Wunderlich (1967)
[2] Karl Richter (1974-1975)
[5] Christoph Coin (1994)
[3] Helmuth Rilling (1981)
[4] Gustav Leonhardt (1988)
[6] Pieter Jan Leusink (2000)

Summary of the impressions:

[1] Wunderlich: The tenor singer is simply gorgeous. The participant who said that was not surprised to hear that the tenor is Hans-Joachim Rotzsch, whom we heard in Cantata BWV 173 only two weeks ago. The alto’s voice was described as impressive and her singing as solid. There was some dispute regarding the bass, Hans-Olaf Hudermann. One participant though that he has deep and authoritative voice with the ability to convince his audience, and that his singing fit in with the playing of the trumpets. They push ahead to open the hearts and ears of the crowd and when they are ready he enters. Another participant said that the bass’ approach is old-fashioned and that he does not carry on and seems to lack the ability to connect sentences. The choir sounded to most of us as amateurish, more suitable to sing country German songs. Some of us were disturbed by the muffled sound of the recording due to the transfer from an old LP, others said that they could listen through it.

[2] Richter: The alto, Anna Reynolds raises the level of her aria. She is very good. Schreier is very convincing in the recitatives and aria for tenor. In the second part of the aria he upraises his voice to express his rage. DFD shows in the aria for bass the flexibility lacking from the singing of his predecessor. The recording is much more lucid than the previous one and put the soloists ahead. The whole recording is more professional than Wunderlich’s. Very very beautiful. It is amazing to see how Richter’s rendition stands in the test of time. Indeed, today we rarely hear such dramatic singing. It did it for most of us twenty years ago, it does it today, and most probably it will do it twenty years ahead (if we are still around to hear it).

After two conservative renditions, the participants asked to change for a HIP recording. We listened to Coin, with whom most of the participants have not been familiar.

[5] Coin: The counter-tenor, Andreas Scholl, is charming with the naturalness of his singing. The profile of the tenor is somewhat lower than Rotzsch and Schreier and he is less expressive than both are. The expression of the bass is limited and his voice lacks variety and the needed authority. Nevertheless, the whole rendition is charming and light with bright playing of the orchestra. The trumpets are a little bit out of focus in the aria for bass. It seems that Coin knows exactly what he wants and he is very successful achieving his goal. Most of the participants preferred the rhythm and the tempo of this rendition. One of us said that with Richter she felt as if she was in a church, where with Coin she was out in the nature. She was surprised to hear that the latter was recorded in a church. All of us agreed that Bach’s music could be effective and satisfying with many interpretations, even those that seem to have contradictory approaches.

[3] Rilling: Schreier, who sings the tenor parts with Rilling, is one of a kind. The alto, Carolyn Watkinson, has clear voice with some depth, butit lacks stability. She has beautiful dialogue with the recorders. The accompaniment is rich, vivid and colourful. The whole rendition is less serious and honourable than Richter's is. In the aria for bass the trumpets glow and the singer, Huttenlocher, sings with authority and flexibility, but with less variety than DFD. One of the participants preferred Coin’s bass to Huttenlocher. The choir sings with warm and rich sound. One of us thought this rendition to be sweeping, if lacking in lyricism. Others thought it to be standard and lacking in inspiration, ‘They simply sing and play’. One of us admitted that he has never liked Rilling, and he does not see how he might change his mind. All of us agreed than Rilling’s rendition is on a lower level than Richter’s is.

[4] Leonhardt: The sound of the old instruments in the first aria (for alto) is marvellous, pastoral as it should be. But when the alto, Paul Esswood, entered, most of us got disappointed. One said that it is too slow and dragged and the singing is a little bit whining. The tenor’s singing is vague and uninteresting, and his voice not too attractive. In the aria for bass the trumpets are not tuned well. The bass, Max van Egmond, sings with taste but lacking some depth. The chorale simply does not sound as chorale. All of us agreed that after a promising start, this rendition went from bad to worse. A major disappointment.

[6] Leusink: The accompaniment in the aria for alto is charming; the singer, Buwalda, definitely not. One said that it seems that the singer does not know what he is singing; another asked to hurry up; the third liked it. Every recorder in this aria has a distinct sound. The tenor singing lacks any expression. One wanted the aria to end up as soon as possible. That was the most boring rendition of this aria. The playing of the trumpets in the aria for bass is the cleanest among the HIP recordings. The singer, Ramselaar, flows with the music. Most of the participants liked the singing of the choir and found it pastoral and precise. Most of us also found the whole rendition as flowing without interruption, very enjoyable to listen to in the background. The minority thought it to be dull.


The six participants had the following conclusions:
a. The most convincing renditions were those of Richter [2] and Coin [5].
b. The order of listening is important, especially when you listen to each rendition only once. We might have made injustice with Wunderlich, because his rendition was the first, before we warmed up and became more familiar with the cantata.
c. This cantata has a great potential for future recordings. It is intriguing to hear what conductors as Koopman [8], Suzuki, Herreweghe and Gardiner will do with it.

Alex Riedlmayer wrote (August 7, 2003):
Aryeh Oron wrote:
[4] < Leonhardt: The sound of the old instruments in the first aria (for alto) is marvellous, pastoral as it should be. But when the alto, Paul Esswood, entered, most of us got disappointed. One said that it is too slow and dragged and the singing is a little bit whining. >
Earlier I compared Gustav Leonhardt's recording [4] (via Zale's site) with Karl Richter's [2], focusing on the arias. I preferred Esswood/Leonhardt slightly to Reynolds/Richter, but Equiluz was no match for Schreier and neither van Egmond nor the trumpets could sustain the bass aria, although in Fischer-Dieskau's singing I heard the usual difficulty with the melismas. This was not the most inspiring of cantatas to listen to.

Philippe Bareille wrote (August 9, 2003):
[To Alex Riedlmayer] It is not Equiluz who sings this aria but Marius van Altena. Equiluz has a very distinctive voice very different from van Altena's.

Alex Riedlmayer wrote (August 9, 2003):
[To Philippe Bareille] Thanks for the correction.


Continue on Part 2

Cantata BWV 175: Er rufet seinen Schafen mit Namen for Whit Tuesday
Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements
Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

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