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Cantata BWV 180
Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele
Discussions - Part 1

Discussions in the Week of November 5, 2000

Aryeh Oron wrote (November 5, 2000):
Background

This is the week of cantata BWV 180 according to Ryan Michero's suggestion. For some background I shall allow myself quoting from W. Murray's Young book's 'The Cantatas of J.S. Bach - An Analytical Guide':
"The chorale cantata for the 20th Sunday after Trinity is based on the hymn by Johan Frank, arranged by an unknown librettist. The hymn and his poem reflect the Gospel for this Sunday, Matthew 22: 1-14, the parable of the wedding of the king's son, but emphasize the sacrament of communion derived from the Scripture used for this particular libretto.

No fears, warnings or threats of pain and punishment occur; every number expresses the divine serenity of the Eucharist and its symbolic significance. Bach's setting contains all of the mystical joy that he feels when he associates his soul with Christ, the Bridegroom, at the heavenly banquet.

Stanzas one, four and nine of the hymn are retained unchanged for numbers one, three and seven; the others are paraphrazed.

The soli are SATB, with four-part chorus. The instruments are two recorders, two traverse flutes, an oboe, an oboe da caccia (English horn), a violoncello piccolo, two violins, a viola and continuo."

If anybody wants to read more, he (or she) can find the most detailed and erudite linear notes in the booklet attached to Coin's recording of this cantata [5].

Complete Recordings

I shall be very short this time. I wrote a few notes during listening to the five recordings below, but I could not convince myself to write more. Maybe I was over-exhausted from listening to 20 recordings of BWV 56 last week, I do not know. Surely, the blame is mine and should not deny you from listening to this charming and joyous cantata! See: Cantata BWV 180 – Recordings.

(1) Fritz Werner (1970)
I do not have this recording, which was reissued in CD form for a short period in mid 1990's.

(2) Karl Richter (1977+1978)
The strangest characteristic of Richter's rendering is the solemn, meditative and serious approach he adopts in this cantata. One has only to look at the total playing time to know in advance that this is not going to be a danceable performance. But what is even stranger, is that this approach works. I found myself returning to this recording over and over again. The weakest of the soloists is Schmidt, who is very heavy in her short recitative. But in all the other solo movements we have singers of first rate calibre. The soprano Mathis excels in her recitative and arioso, in which she is accompanied by usual violoncello rather than violoncello piccolo, and also in the aria, 'which is one of those arias with a little lift in the melody in orchestra and voice that rejoices the heart' (Robertson).

(3) Helmuth Rilling (1979)
This rendering sounds to my ears the most convincing regarding the playing time. Last week there was a very lively discussion in the Bach Recordings Mailing List about the right tempo to perform Bach's works. I usually tend to avoid participating in such discussions, where everybody is trying to convince the other participants that his opinion is the only valid one. I am more tolerate, maybe due to my background in Jazz music, where 'everything goes'. Sometimes I am finding myself amazed at the level of energy that the members of both lists are ready to put into those discussions (HIP, OVPP, etc.). I wish that some of that energy and level of participation would go to the weakly cantata discussions! For me the right tempo to perform a certain piece of music is simply the tempo that sounds right. Who will dare saying that the playing of Schubert last piano sonata (D.960) by Sviatoslav Richter is too slow, when it is so convincing and deeply moving? Even Glenn Gould, who usually hated Schubert's music, admitted to be captivated by Richter's rendering. Back to Rilling. The opening chorus has pastoral and springy and optimistic atmosphere. Along the whole performance Rilling adopts lightness and easiness, but also succeeds in drawing the best singing and playing from the forces to his disposal. The alto Watkinson is much better than her rival on Richter's recording is. And we can of course be delighted to hear both Kraus and Augér in their best. Both show that they can make wonders also in these types of movements, not only in the serious and sombre ones. In the recitative and arioso for soprano Rilling uses violoncello piccolo.

(4) Gustav Leonhardt (1988)
Leonhardt's rendering is the most danceable of them all. The cutting rhythm suits very well this cantata and sounds much in place. Regarding the old instruments in H/L cycle, I think that usually the playing of the wind instruments is better than either the brass instruments or the strings. In this cantata we have many wind instruments and the whole rendering gains from it. The poor boy soprano is not technically equipped to perform successfully the demanding aria for soprano. He is not saved in the recitative and arioso by the wonderful playing of Anner Bylsma in the violoncello piccolo. All the other soloists are competent, but I feel that they are not in their prime in this recording. Only Equiluz' voice is in good form but his singing lacks delight, which is needed to perform convincingly his aria for tenor.

(5) Christophe Coin (1993)
This is the most charming rendering of this cantata. It is even more airy and light than Rilling's. The level of playing from all the HIP instruments is very high indeed. The clean playing contributes also to the transparency of the texture. The small choir is ringing like a delicate bell. Schlick is not on the same level of Mathis or Augér, but we are compensated by Prégardien, who is delightful in his aria. The centrepiece of this recording is the recitative and arioso for soprano. Coin playing of the violoncello piccolo is charming and assured. The sound of the violoncello piccolo is rich yet gentle and flowing, and it blends wonderfully with the soprano voice of Schlick. It could have been even better if he had a part to play with the splendid voice of Scholl, who is singing the recitative for alto. But for that combination we have to turn to another cantata (like BWV 85).

(6) Paul McCreesh (1997; included in Epiphany Mass)
This is indeed very fast. I do not know if McCreesh uses here OVPP or 2VPP (maybe Matthew Westphal will be able to help), but the opening Chorus becomes jumpy, jazzy and quicky. Some of the charm is lost, but we gain in the refreshing approach, which is quite the opposite of Richter's (on the same label). None of the vocal soloists impressed me in particular. Hearing Monoyios after Augér, Davidson after Scholl, Daniels after all his four predecessors, Harvey after Fischer-Dieskau - they do not have really a chance, do they? At the end of this recording I found myself breathless. I remember that the great late pianist Arthur Rubinstein said once in a master-class to a young fellow: 'Don't push, let the music breath. It is so beautiful'. I feel that McCreesh is pushing the music too much.

(7) Ton Koopman (1998)
This recording is included in the latest volume of Koopman's Bach Cantatas cycle (Vol. 10). I ordered it, but I do not have it yet, neither had I the opportunity to hear it.

Recordings of individual Movements

(M-1) Greg Funfgeld with David Gordon (tenor) (1994; aria for tenor (Mvt. 2) only)
This is a non-HIP recording. David Gordon has an impressive voice, which is of the kind suitable to singing Bach. But in tof interpretation and expression, his performance does not match Schreier (with Richter) or Kraus (with Rilling).

Conclusion

Every recording of cantata BWV 180 has something to its credit, and each one of them approaches this cantata from a different angle. Each one sounds to me valid and convincing. I would not like forgoing any of them. And as always, I would like to hear other opinions, regarding the above mentioned performances, or other recordings.

Marie Jensen wrote (November 5, 2000):
Schmücke dich o liebe Seele. ...Yes, but I didn't reach it, before the cantata overwhelmed me with intense joy and goose bumps! What a rediscovery!

It deals with the souls meeting with Jesus, in Eucharist, heart and Heaven.

A new cantata on my top ten? Putting words on seemed meaningless at first, but as I have decided to write to the list I got to do it. Bach's music can't be written about, can't be painted, explained, it has to be experienced. And if you have not experienced BWV 180, it is a must!

The openings slow dignified entrada softly decorated with gentle triplets, but no trills at all. Perhaps this is far out, but when the enormous baroque arsenal of different trills and ornamentations not is used in a text about ornaments, it could be that the jewellery of the text not is worldly gold and diamonds, but a spiritual decoration coming from the Trinity, perhaps faith, hope and charity. But Bach also made a 9 minutes long organ version BWV 654 ("Achtzehn Chorale") with lots of ornamentation, wonderful of course.

The tenor aria (Ermuntre dich, dein Heiland klopft) leaps with joy, when Jesus stands at the door, knocking, insisting, until you open your heart. Here the knockings can be heard in the bass. Another knocking at the door can be found in cantata BWV 61 "Nun Komm der Heiden Heiland" (recitativo: "Siehe, ich stehe vor der Tür")

The recitativos are very intense and there are lots of Bach energy in the "Lebens Sonne" aria Personally I find the cantata text very comforting, for example:

Du wirst meine Treue sehen
Und den Glauben nicht verschmähen,
Der noch schwach und furchtsam ist.

There is a hope for all of us!

I only have two taped versions. It was Coin's version (5) I heard on my little rediscovery tour. I like its beauty and engagement. Perhaps the deep strings are a little too engaged in the end of the "door knocking" aria, almost Fred Flintstone (Wilmaaaaa!!!! open the doooor!!!), but this is a minor complaint The other version I have is Rilling's (3), which is great too. The "Ermuntre dich" Aria is a bit slower, and that is OK, but my 15 year old tape is not. So Aryeh, let me see what you recommend. I got to have a CD version.

Ermuntre dich!

Jane Newble wrote (November 10, 2000):
This week's cantata is so beautiful, that it almost seems like sacrilege to write anything about it. The only recording I have of this is Christophe Coin (5). From the first notes of the chorus a peace descends in wonderful harmony. The words are an appeal to the soul to make sure the wedding garment is on. There is no place for sin and darkness, but only for the heavenly light. The one who rules the heavens wants to live in the believer. And all the time, the heartbeat of Gods love is heard in the continuo, underneath the singing and the instruments. Then the tenor aria starts, and gets the anticipation going, with the incredibly lovely flute. I absolutely love the knocking sounds with the invitation to open one's heart to Saviour. It reminds me of when I was a child in Holland, and we celebrated the feast of St. Nicholas on the 5th of December. There was always the knocking on the door before St. Nicholas and his black friends would come in and hand out presents and sweets (or not, as the case might be with naughty children). We sang things like: "Hear who knocks there, children" etc. All full of joyful fear and joy at the same time. Anticipation and excitement. That's what I feel when listening to the knocking in this tenor aria. How strong child's impressions can be! The recitative and arioso are lovely, and I don't even mind Barbara Schlick singing it. The music is tender and longing for the good things that come from God. In the alto recitative the mixture of fear and joy comes out when the soul contemplates Gods holiness and majesty, and then looks at His love. This opens the way for the joyful dancing aria 'Lebens Sonne'. Personally I find it a great pity that Barbara Schlick sing this. IMHO she is just not up to it. I'd love to hear other versions of this with really good sopranos who can tackle the high notes without effort. But it is still a beautiful aria. The bass recitative seems to be a preparation for the chorale which I love very much, and is beautifully sung on this CD.

After listening to the cantata any number of times, I also listened to BWV 654 on organ. I found that especially moving straight after the chorale.

What I noticed about this cantata is that there are 7 parts, the number of completion and perfection. The more I listen to Bach's cantatas, the more I am impressed with his deep Christian spirituality. He really meant what he wrote, and he must have loved writing this one, as from records it is evident that he liked to go to the 'Abendmahl', the Lord's Supper.

Harry J. Steinman wrote (November 10, 2000):
PS All that being said, I do not yet have a copy of BWV 180 to enjoy and comment upon!

Jane Newble wrote (November 10, 2000):
(To Harry J. Steinman) You will really have to get one! You'll love it. I can recommend the Christoph Coin (5), as it's the only one I have…

Harry J. Steinman wrote (November 11, 2000):
(To Marie Jensen) (5) OK...I ordered it. THIS is how my Bach collection has grown so fast so quickly! Thanks,

Andrew Oliver wrote (November 11, 2000):
'Schmücken' means to ornament or adorn, so that is precisely what JSB does with this cantata. He takes a relatively simple chorale melody (in the opening chorus) and decorates it all the way through. How can we resist it when we have the beauty of simplicity combined with the allure of adornment? One of the devices, which Bach frequently uses, never fails to appeal to me, and that is the chromatic change from a major third to a minor third. Very effective, as also are the flutes dancing in 6ths and 3rds with the oboes answering them. I note that the chorale melody was actually written by Crüger.

Although the tenor aria sounds complicated with its many quick-moving runs, the harmonic scheme of the piece is actually quite simple. The orchestral parts do not so much flow along melodic lines as repeat a series of broken chords. Thus the first phrase is entirely in C major, and this is necessary to the nature of the piece, so that Bach can include the 'knocking'. (Dein Heiland klopft.) I like the way the flutes knock in a genteel manner, at crotchet intervals, while the continuo thumps in consecutive quavers. The knocks are always in threes, and usually in groups of three threes.

The arioso of No.3 is, of course, simply the same chorale melody as before, but with enough ornamentation to seem 'different'. Two interesting recitatives follow, with an energetic aria sandwiched between, and the cantata then closes, as usual, with a little piece of heaven on earth. At least, that's how I think of Bach's chorale harmonizations.

Like many of Bach's cantatas, this one has something for everyone: polyphony, homophony, solos, chorus numbers, dancing, solemnity, Its sunny nature (Lebens Sonne) is reflected by the fact that, apart from short-lived modulations, it is set in major keys throughout (F, C, B flat). Although it is not one of my most favourite cantatas, it nevertheless has a charm, interest and appeal all of its own.

Just a word or two about Marie's comments. It is true that some readers of this list might like to see a complete musical analysis of each cantata, but it seems to me that the importance of music lies in the way in which it affects the l, and that is not always the same for every person. While I personally find the way in which a piece is technically constructed to be of interest, I also like to hear the reactions of other people, whether they find something enjoyable or not, and what sort of mental pictures the music conjures up. It is surprising what different effects music has on people. Part of the genius of Bach is that he could master any style of composition if he chose to, and can therefore appeal to a broad spectrum of listeners. So, to all of the silent majority out there, if there is something you particularly like, (or even dislike), tell us about it. It doesn't matter if your message is only a few words, at least we know you are there.

Marie Jensen wrote (November 12, 2000):
Andrew Oliver wrote:
< Just a word or two about Marie's comments. (snip). While I personally find the way in which a piece is technically constructed to be of interest, I also like to hear the reactions of other people, whether they find something enjoyable or not, and what sort of mental pictures the music conjures up. >
Since you are one of the members who often write about technical details, I just want to tell you that I'm very glad that you do so, for example when you write:"One of the devices which Bach frequently uses never fails to appeal to me, and that is the chromatic change from a major third to a minor third". I have never thought of that before. Is it wrong to say that Bachs music with all his changing sharps and flats often not really major not really minor perhaps could be called harmonic dodecaphony? I don't have time to study scores, but reading one while listening could be interesting now and then. All I have is the recorder part of the alto aria of BWV 182 and a few flute sonatas .Is there a source on the net where cantata scores can be seen ? I am to mean to buy. I prefer using my money on CD's.

Roy Reed wrote (November 12, 2000):
Hello all, There have been illuminating comments on this cantata. It is one of my very favourites. For one thing it is based on an Eucharistic chorale which I have long loved. The text (Johann Franck) and tune appeared together in Johann Crüger's "Geistliche Kirchen-Melodien" in 1649, and has since been one of the most popular German hymns, and much beloved by many other nationalities. Hearing it brings to mind many liturgical and musical occasions.

I have 3 different readings: by Christophe Coin (5), Paul McCreesh...in the Bach Epiphany Mass (6)...and Ton Koopman in vol. 10 of the Erato series (7). I am very fond of the Coin performance, soprano Barbara Schlick being the weakest link here, and while I do not dislike her singing, the cantata so features the soprano that a weakness here is a considerable problem. McCreesh is in his usual hurry. A shame. He has wonderful forces to command. His hurried tempos pained me especially in the tenor aria, #2. Charles Daniels in a fine singer. McCreesh brought his Gabrieli Consort here last December and did their Praetorius Christmas Mass. A lovely evening. Koopman gets it right. A wonderful performance. I was thrilled to hear it. Especially for the beautiful and sensitive singing of soprano, Caroline Stam. Her singing of #3, the ornamented treatment of the chorale melody, is sheer magic. And I should hasten to credit the playing of the violoncello piccolo in this movement by Jonathan Manson. What a duet they are! The tasteful and expressive ornamentation added by each ... Sometimes a performance just overwhelms one!! Koopman takes what seem to me to be just the right tempos:
Metronome markings: #1: 66
#2: 98
#3: 62 the chorale
#5: 96

I am always intrigued in informed by the relationships between the liturgical texts for the day and what Bach does musically. The Gospel for Trinity 20 is Matthew 22: 1-14. The parable of the marriage feast. The first movement of BWV 180 is a lavish invitation. The word I want is elegant. This is a great feast. Candles, flowers, the finest silver, etc. A marvellous table. It's all there in the music. And musically a sublime combination of simplicity of tune, concerted arrangement, and brilliant and extravagant counterpoint. Yet another tour de force by the master. And there is even a sort of "call and response" pattern built into the orchestration...which "pictures" something of the one inviting and to one invited. A reach, perhaps, but seems me an appropriate image.

By the way, at least in this country most hymnals have the Catherine Winkworth translation. First line: "Deck thyself, my soul, with gladness." Of course, this just doesn't cut it as an expression of "Schmücke dich..." It just isn't possible to get in that allusion to jewellery and decoration...and parading it. Bach gets it in for us, even if we sing this movement in English.

In Mvt. 2, the tenor aria, the invitation is given again. This time as an urgent summons. And in the parable there is this two-fold invitation which has to be given.

Mvt. 3 appears to me as acceptance of the invitation. A mystical, lyrical acceptance. The recitatives in BWV 180 are contemplations...meditations on participation in the feast.

Mvt. 4 strikes me as a representation of the wedding garment referred to in verses 11-14. And it shines like the sun. A reach? No doubt, but seems to me an appropriate one. The invitation is paramount; so also, as the parable makes clear, is the response.

The concluding chorale: Yet another amazingly creative and expressive harmonization. How does he do this? Try it sometime. Easy? Yes, something basic. His harmonizations are sheer musical-spiritual genius.

Harry J. Steinman wrote (November 12, 2000):
(6) I know that we're a bit beyond BWV 180... but I just noticed that the cantata is included in the Paul McCreesh "Epiphany Mass" (how I missed that the first time I read Aryeh's initial post is beyond me. Sigh) and wanted to mention that I like this work. The opening chorus sound somehow familiar (maybe from hearing it when I first listened to the "Epiphany Mass" CD??? I certainly wasn't raised with hymns...) and I found it rather compelling. But what I got the biggest kick out of is the flute that opens the Tenor aria, "Rouse yourself, the Saviour knocks." The flute sounds to me like a songbird...maybe it's a morning bird rousing a sleeper...

Anyway, I'm on to BWV 109 per this week's discussion, but I wanted to throw in my two cent's worth, albeit belatedly.

 

Continue on Part 2

Cantata BWV 180: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

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

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