Cantata BWV 181Leichtgesinnte Flattergeister
Discussions - Part 2
Continue from Part 1
Discussions in the Week of March 12, 2006 (2nd round)
Douglas Cowling wrote (March 12, 2006):
Week of Mar 12 - Cantata 181
Week of March 12, 2006
Cantata 181: “Leichtgesinnte Flattergeister”
First Performed: February 13, 1724, Leipzig
2nd performance: 1743-1746, Leipzig
First Annual Cantata Cycle, 1723-24 (Jahrgang I)
Movements & Scoring:
Mvt. 1: Aria
Instruments: Flt, Ob, Vn, Va, Bc
Mvt. 2: Recitative
“O unglückselger Stand verkehrter Seelen”
Mvt. 3: Aria
“Der schädlichen Dornen unendliche Zahl”
Mvt. 4: Recitative
“Von diesen wird die Kraft erstickt”
Mvt. 5: Chorus
“Laß, Höchster, uns zu allen Zeiten”
Instruments: Tr, Flt, Ob, Vn, Va, Bc
Written for Sexagesima Sunday, the second to last Sunday before Lent when cantatas were not performed.
The orders for Mass and Vespers can be found in an appendix at the end of this posting. Extracted from Wolff.
Texts of Readings:
Epistle: 2 Corinthians 11: 19 - 12: 9; Gospel: Luke 8: 4-15
Introduction to Lutheran Church Year:
Piano Vocal Score: (free PDF download)
Music (free streaming download):
Performances of Bach Cantatas:
ORDER OF SUNDAY & HOLYDAY MASS (Amt) - 7:00 -10:00 am
1. Choir: Hymn in figural or polyphonic setting
2. Organ: Prelude introducing Introit
3. Choir: Introit Motet in figural or polyphomic setting
4. Organ: Prelude introducing Kyrie
5. Choir: Kyrie in figural setting
6. Choir: Gloria in figural setting (minister sings intonation from altar)
7. Minister & Altar Singers (lower form boys):
Salutation & Collect (Prayer of Day) sung from altar
8. Minister: Epistle sung from altar steps
9. Organ: Prelude introduing Hymn
10. Congregation: Hymn of Season (de tempore)
11. Minister & Altar Singers: Gospel with responses sung from altar steps
12. Organ: Prelude introducing cantata
13. Choir: First Cantata
14. Choir:: Credo sung in chorale setting, minister intones from altar steps
15. Organ: Prelude introducing Wir Glauben
16. Congregation: Wir Glauben All (German Credo)
17. Minister: Spoken annoucement of Sermon from altar
18. Organ: Prelude introducing hymn
19. Congregation: Hymn
20. Minister: Text of Sermon & Lord’s Prayer from pulpit
21. Minister: Sermon (8:00 a.m., 1 hour)
22. Minister: Prayers, Announcments & Benediction from pulpit
23. Organ: Prelude introducing hymn
24. Congregation Hymn
25. Mnister & Altar Singers: Preface in Latin from altar
26. Choir: Sanctus in figural setting (without Osanna or Benedictus)
27. Minister: spoken Communion admoniton, Words of Institution
28. Congregation: Distribution of Communion at altar steps
29. Organ: Prelude introducting Communion Cantata
30. Choir: Second Cantata
31. Organ: Prelude introducing hymn
32. Congregation: Hymn during Communion
33. Minister & Altar Singers: Collect with responses sung from altar
34. Minister: spoken Benediction
35. Organ: Prelude introducing Hymn
36. Congregation: Hymn
36. Choir: Hymn in figural setting (festal days)
ORDER OF AFTERNOON VESPERS 1:30 pm
1. Organ: Prelude introducing Hymn
2. Choir: Hymn in figural setting
3. Choir: Cantata (repeated from morning)
4. Organ: Prelude introducing Hymn
5. Congregation: Hymn
6. Minister & Altar Singers: Psalm
7. Minister: Lord’s Prayer from altar steps
8. Organ: Prelude introducing hymn
9. Congregation: Hymn
10. Minister: Annoucement of Sermon from pulpit
11. Congregation: Hymn
12. Minister: Sermon from pulpit
[13. Choir: Passion or narrativer oratorio, no cantata]
14. Minister: spoken Prayers, Collect & Benediction from pulpit
15. Organ: Prelude introducing Magnificat
16. Choir: LatinMagnificat in figural setting
17. Congregation: German Magnificat Hymn (Meine Seele)
18. Minister: spoken Responsary, Collect & Benediction from altar
19. Congregation: Hymn Nun Danket Alle Gott
Neil Halliday wrote (March 13, 2006):
Mvt. 1: bass aria.
Does the censorious text suit the charming music? This music has a lively rhythm and an expressive little figure of two notes, the 1st of which is trilled and the 2nd played short, reminding me of the instrumental sinfonia that opens the secular cantata BWV 209, whose subject is the sorrow associated with the departure of a friend.
Both pieces are in a minor key, but more importantly both feature the timbre of the (then new) transverse flute with string orchestra. (In BWV 181/1 the flute and oboe merely double the 1st violin, with each remaining silent at certain passages).
The Rilling booklet  mentions the possible addition of the flute and oboe parts at a later date by Bach in the 1740's. (Leusink  appears to have the oboe but not the flute - if I had heard this version first I would have been less likely to associate it with the above sinfonia).
Mvt. 2: recitative.
The canonical development in the arioso, in the 2nd half, adds some interest to this continuo movement.
Mvt. 3: tenor aria.
The missing obligato instrument is a major problem. Perhaps the creation of a substantial keyboard part, along the lines of the piano part shown in the BCW score, is the best way to go. (I was not convinced by either of the oboe or violin recreations of Koopman  or Suzuki ). The quasi-concertante harpsichord part in the Rilling recording  is interesting, but I have to agree this aria is not a highpoint of the cantata.
Mvt. 5: chorus.
This celebratory music with trumpet is instantly attractive. Whittaker's comprehensive analysis is listed in the previous discussions at the BCW. Rilling  allots the central S,A duet to solo voices, Suzuki  to the soprano and alto sections of the choir. (Kooman  has an OVPP performance of the movement that loses some of the celebratory impact of the larger-scale performances that would be associated with, for example, a public performance at a royal wedding, but his version nevertheless has its charms).
Ed Mys wrote (March 15, 2006):
Aryeh Oron wrote:
< We have more important things to discuss, Cantata BWV 181 among them. >
I will try to get the discussion started early, since I have only the recently acquired Suzuki . I expect to add a few brief comments in coming days. This version does have one outstanding feature worth noting early on, in case others may wish to discuss it: Suzuki has added a reconstructed violin obbligato to the tenor aria (Mvt. 3). In the booklet notes, Suzuki is very modest about the quality of the reconstruction, but it sounds like Bach to me. Hard to imagine the cantata without it, I would be interested in reading comparisons from those who have the opportunity. I was also happy to learn the correct (I hope!) spelling for obbligato, with double b.
Peter Smaill wrote (March 16, 2006):
As the first Church year at Leipzig draws towards Lent Bach includes an image in this Cantata BWV 181, "Leichtgesinntes Flattergeister", which seems to be special to him.
It is that of the thorns of temptation, which we first encounter in the early Cantata BWV150, in English translation:
"Christians on the thorny paths
Are led by heaven's power and blessing"
(There follows the B...A...C...H acrostic previously discussed).
Here in BWV 181 the text is :
"Der schaedlichen Dornen unendliche Zahl
Die Sorgen der Wollust, die Schaetze zu mehren
Die werden das Feuer der hoellische Qual
In ewigkeit naehren"
which is loosely translated as :
"The venomous brambles of pleasure and again,
Will furnish to Satan a fuel infernal
To feed the fire and redouble the pain
Of torment eternal"
Bach's own annotations to his copy of the Calov Bible, acquired around (some say before) 1733 include :
"What is the world but a large thorn growth that we must tear ourselves through?"
BWV 181 continues the development of the image by reference to the parable of the sower , merging the ideas from nature of the stony (heart), misspent seed, thorns and fowls, in contradistinction to the images of goodly ground, fertile land and abundant fruit.
This short Cantata is thus notable for its extended metaphor, carried through four of the five numbers and IMO the reason for the poetic conclusion being suited to a bespoke Chorus rather than adapting a Chorale which would have not permitted the closing stanza with its highly appropriate "fruchtbar gutes Land", the fruitful land prepared in Christian hearts.
Neil Halliday wrote (March 16, 2006):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
>>I see your comment on the Suzuki reconstruction (BWV 181/3) , I will listen again and say more later.<<
To expand a bit: with Suzuki  I like the violin's initial strong, lively motive (in semiquavers), but the violin seems to lose its way after arriving at the 1st longer note, as the ritornello progresses. Koopman's oboist has a shapelier line (IMO) over the length of the ritornello, but I dislike Koopman's dainty, clipped continuo. Of course, since most of this ritornello, including the missing obligato instrument and the keyboard part, has to be improvised, we are bound to have differing views over the effectiveness of the different realisations. [BTW, a google search shows that either `obligato' or `obbligato' are acceptable variants; they apparently derive from L. obligare, or It. obbligare.).
Bach certainly lets fly with uninhibited, joyful exuberance at times. The final chorus would have certainly lifted the spirits of St.Thomas' congregation, if it sounded anything like Rilling's recording .
My observations: The opening ritornello, reinforced by trumpet, progresses in a type of orchestral fanfare in continuos 1/16th notes, up to the arrival of the main motive given in the sopranos, when the orchestra falls silent Notice that this motive is heard twice in the choir (sopranos and then altos), while the non-continuo instruments remain silent. A short bridge passage leads to the trumpet, flute and 1st violin doubling the motive with the sopranos; after a variation of the short bridge passage, a modulation into the relative minor has the tenors carrying the motive, doubled by the oboe and 2nd violin (the tenors are a bit weak in the Rilling recording , but the instruments successfully carry the part); note the long trill on the trumpet. Another bridge variant back to D major, and the basses doubled by the continuo have the main motive; the final bridge variant (the 4th) leads to yet another trumpet and sopranos' statement of the main motive. The repeat of the opening ritornello leads to the central duet, before the da capo.
Ed Myskowski wrote (March 16, 2006):
Peter Smaill wrote:
< thorns of temptation >
My temptations have never been thorny. Indeed, just the opposite, seductive, for example. I mean this in a friendly, conversational spirit. Also truthful, precise. I once had a professional colleague who stated: "The only way to get rid of temptation is to give in to it." He is no longer alive. Perhaps he died from giving in to temptation? His professional co-author, a Jesuit, has outlived him by many years. I leave you to draw your own conclusions.
I enjoyed the discussion of wellen and felsen, my introduction to BCW. Two weeks (or so) ago I assured you that I am not felsen hearted. As of this week (BWV 181/3), better said, I am not felsenherzen. Many other defects, I am working on them.
I like to sign messages with a word that cannot be translated, but which good friends in Hawai'i (accent approximate) have encouraged me to spread around the world. From the thorny east coast of North America (definitely not Hawai'i),
Neil Halliday wrote (March 16, 2006):
BWV 181 (apology: 2 corrections)
Neil Halliday wrote:
1. "....in continuos 1/16th notes"; this should be "continuous" to avoid confusion with the continuo.
2. (In the final chorus) the main motive, when given to the basses doubled by the continuo, is in G major, not the tonic key of D major.
So the sopranos have the motive in D major (3 times over the course of the movement), the altos in A major (once only), the tenors in B minor (once only), and the basses in G major (once only). I think this is correct.
Ed Myskowski wrote (March 16, 2006):
[To Neil Halliday] In a hurried world, attention to detail is noticed and appreciated.
Dan Date wrote (March 16, 2006):
[To Peter Smaill] Now I remember, the opening trumpet sequence of the final chorus of this cantata comes from Torelli's op.8, I am reobtaining the CD's to point out which specific sonata. I knew I'd heard it before, Bach's use of it is rather ungenius than ingenius. The sound mass created from the copy/pasting came over his head, so instead of getting fired from the post...replay the opening trumpet sequence and make like these people were supposed to "get" how it led back to that. I am listening to Magnificat BWV 243 performed by Suzuki, the opening sequence touched my soul, but every song after that was boring as hell, how does this happen? Do oboe's sound like crap to me?
Dan Date wrote (March 16, 2006):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
< Sorry Neil. I had overlooked your previous post when I sent mine earlier (in a rush to respond to Aryeh's hint) as if it were the first this week re BWV 181. I see your comment on the Suzuki reconstruction (BWV 181/3) , I will listen again and say more later. >
I checked out Suzuki's performance , the 1st movement wasn't very appealing, the recit's are crap as usual, the 2nd aria (tenor) (Mvt. 3) has an interesting soprano melody that completely drowns out whatever the tenor is shouting (not singing). Then comes the opening of the final chorus, the horns are absolutely beautiful, though I know Bach did not write these melodic lines. Through the 5 minute piece the interest quickly fades as any melodic comprehension becomes drowned out by amorphous sound mass, then comes the opening melody again. I KNOW I've heard this before...Charpentier or Delalande... or someone! But it is very beautiful.
Neil Halliday wrote (March 17, 2006):
Dan Date wrote:
>>"Then comes the opening of the final chorus, the horns are absolutely beautiful, though I know Bach did not write these melodic lines. Through the 5 minute piece the interest quickly fades as any melodic comprehension becomes drowned out by this amorphous sound mass, then comes the opening melody again"<<.
Do I detect the beginnings of some appreciation?
By 'horns', I presume you are referring to the sound of the trumpet, flute and oboe in combination.
Your impression that "the interest quickly fades as any melodic comprehension becomes drowned out by this amorphous sound mass" points to the importance, in listening to Bach, of discovering the music's 'skeleton' and then becoming aware of how the 'flesh' is attached; this is one of the joys of Bach, discovering order in complexity. That's the reason why analysis of the musical structure can be rewarding.
I noted (from a previous post) your dislike of the organ music; the "amorphous sound" issue is probably an aspect of this. (It's interesting that Beethoven wrote little, and Handel even less, solo organ music.) However, Bach's important contribution to this genre, considered by many to be the finest of any single composer in history, deserves at least grudging respect, and in any case is an important key to understanding the master. Bach is certainly not your 'natural medium', as is the case for many or most of the members of this list, but if you will put the effort into discovering the 'hidden patterns' in the music, you will be rewarded.
"The recitatives are crap, as usual". You have my sympathy; and current performance practices ensure they quickly become tedious for many music lovers.
Apart from those secco recitatives that occur at highly dramatic and emotionally charged places in the passion narratives (SMP (BWV 244), SJP (BWV 245)), where a talented, single unaccompanied singer (or accompanied by only brief, widely spaced, chords indicating the implied harmony of the vocal line) can successfully create a powerful musical impact, most seccos with their purely didactic purpose all have the same effect and quickly become tedious when presented in this manner.
But all is not lost. A few days ago I heard a Schumann song with a remarkably recitative-like vocal line, accompanied by the most powerful, expressive, long-held chords on a piano. The effect was mesmerising. The Bach Aria Group new this effect, before harpsichords and organs, with their unvarying expression, became 'de rigueur' in performance..
Ed Myskowski wrote (March 17, 2006):
Neil Halliday wrote (March 16, 2006):
BTW, a google search shows that either `obligato' or `obbligato' are acceptable variants; they apparently derive from L. obligare, or It. obbligare.).
Harvard Dictionary of Music (1972) lists only obbligato [It], which make sense; it is part of a family (tutti, for example) of musical terms standardized directly from the Italian. A small point, since either spelling would be understood, but a professional music writer (I am not, just a curious type who enjoys details) would probably like to have it correct.
A more general, and smaller point: the internet (and thus google searches) document a wide variety of alternate spellings, including people's names, which are understandable but not exactly correct. I almost wrote that, for this site (BCW), it hardly matters as long as it is understood, but that is not really true. As search functions take on increasing importance, standardized spelling will be increasingly welcome by scholars trying to do an exhaustive search on (or indeed, just find) a given subject.
Dan Date wrote (March 17, 2006):
[To Neil Halliday] Well put! I always liked the "Little Fugue in G minor" I think it is called, very catchy! It reminds me of the ending of Reincken's "Wasser Auf Babylon". Anyone who likes Bach must surely hear this. has anyone been downloading the "Harpsichord Music of the Young J.S. Bach" from the donkey network? I must say I have been having growing respect since I've been trying to listen without bias.
Ed Myskowski wrote (March 17, 2006):
To begin with, two small corrections which I appended to my post re BWV 144, and which also apply to BWV 181, Suzuki recording :
(1) The CD booklet clearly states that the recording venue is the Shoin Women's University Chapel.
(2) Specific performance notes are by Suzuki, but the generalized notes, including those relating to texts, are by Klaus Hoffman.
Regarding BWV 181, Hoffman writes "By February 1724, Bach must already have been hard at work on SJP (BWV 245) - sufficient reason for him not to show too much interest in his Sunday cantatas." If I read Woolf (Bach: Learned Composer, Table 8.7, p. 272) correctly, BWV 181 was the last new work performed before SJP (BWV 245), almost two months later (4/7/1724). But I wonder if Hoffman's point is not overstated?
Julian Mincham wrote (March 7, 2006):
BWV 144 and BWV 181
< Both are relatively short cantatas lasting around 13-15 minutes However it is when noticing the differences in structure that one becomes aware of the range of experimentation in cantata form that Bach explored in his epoch making first cycle, before settling on a more established pattern for the first 40 works of cycle two. >
Indeed, IMO a more general version of this comment applies to all of the five brief cantatas on the Suzuki  disc (approximately chronological, with a couple omissions) as well as others discussed in recent preceding weeks.
In the booklet notes to his CD, The Flight Into Egypt, John Harbison writes: "A few years ago a German presenter asked me for my artistic credo. [...] I furnished the following: to make each piece different from the others, to find clear, fresh, large designs, to reinvent traditions." With the possible exception of large, I think this comment illuminates what we find Bach doing in the weeks leading up to and including BWV 181, and which Julian has expressed so well: experimentation and exploration of the cantata form to find ways to make each a unique, self-contained work, no matter how long or short, or how tightly constrained, leading up to Jahrgang II, which was expected to be a complete annual cycle, in an established pattern. As we get to them in the near future, and then discuss Jahrgang II for the coming year or so, I expect we will find Bach striving for variety and uniqueness in each cantata.
IMO we find this in BWV 181 as well, many disdainful comments (including Hoffman's) notwithstanding. I have only the Suzuki , so no comparisons, but a few comments on structure and the specific performance.
The opening bass aria (Mvt. 1) and closing chorus (Mvt. 5) are equally powerful in different ways. They provide a balanced structure for the entire cantata. Bass Peter Kooij is certainly up to the challenge, but it is a pity that Fischer-Dieskau never recorded this with Richter. It would be wonderful to have the comparison.
Neil Halliday wrote (March 13, 2006):
< Mvt. 3: tenor aria. [...] but I have to agree this aria is not a highpoint of the cantata. >
I find your comments and analysis very helpful, Neil, so it pains me a bit (but only a bit, since this is friendly, after all) to disagree: the tenor aria (Mvt. 3) is a highpoint, simply not quite as high as the opening bass aria (Mvt. 1) and closing chorus (Mvt. 5). This is probably intentional, and effective, leading to an overall structure of inverted arch form. Since the arch (nave) is analogous to an inverted ship, perhaps we could call this form inverted inverted-ship, ship right-side-up, or just plain ship, for short. I have not had the disadvantage of hearing this aria without the obbligato reconstruction (in my case, only violin by Suzuki ) we have both noted previously. But in my mind's ear, I agree, it would definitely not be a highpoint without it. I appreciate your detailed description BTW. To my less discriminating ear, Suzuki's obbligato still sounds like Bach, or at least like it belongs. Just so others can fit in where they like in deciding whether the Suzuki CD  is something they want.
For those (or at least one, I have noted) who find the recitatives tedious (or worse), I would suggest giving them another try in this structural context. The arias are both male voices, set-off by alternating female (or high) voice recitatives, not at all intended to be self-standing great music, but to provide musical contrast and hammer home the theological content of the texts. The texts are not always (not often?) up to the quality of Bach's music, and the language is unfamiliar to many of us. But the structural form Bach was inventing as he wrote these works, and IMO, it has a corresponding freshness about it.
The soprano recitative (Mvt. 2) shifts to arioso at the felsenherzen line. Perfect, simply perfect: do not allow your heart to be stony! In fact, I find the repeated heart imagery at least as central to the texts as are thorns. Also, I would suggest that rather than "thorns of temptation" (as Peter Smail wrote), the intention is "thorns AND temptations, on the path to salvation". I have not attempted to parse the text in detail, just a thought.
The group of cantatas preceding Lent in 1724, on this Suzuki CD , conclude with BWV 181. They are all brief. As I said with respect to BWV 144, this is akin to saying that Opus 95 is Beethoven's shortest string quartet. Indeed it is. Also the most dense. Was Bach's brevity expedient, in response to other demands, as Hoffman suggest? Perhaps. Is the music effective, in any case? Concise and effective, I would call it.
Ed Myskowski wrote (March 18, 2006):
BWV 181 (more)
I previously wrote:
(1) The arias are both male voices, set-off by alternating female (or high) voice recitatives
(2) The soprano recitative (Mvt. 2) shifts to arioso at the felsenherzen line.
The recitative BWV 181/2 (Mvt. 2) is of course alto, not soprano, and is sung by counter tenor (high voice, not female, at least I covered that) Robin Blaze . Sung without a trace of felsenherzen (heart of stone). I trust you will grant me the same.
Now that I have to write again, I also want to point out the clever analogy between felsenherzen, and the splitting or moving of the Grabes Stein (grave stone, also BWV 181/2).
Peter Smaill wrote (March 18, 2006):
[To Ed Myskowski] Two thoughts on this Cantata and the interesting tension pointed out in the imagery of 181/2, between the "the hearts of stone that one day will be ruined" "that rocks that split themselves in pieces" and "the angel's hand moves the Grave's stone."
Although the focus of this Cantata (coming at Sexagesima 1724) as Lent fast approaches, is the parable of the sower, this set of images is prefiguring the Easter Gospels.
The gap between this Cantata for 13 February and the first performance of the SJP on 7 April 1724 is but seven weeks. The thorns reappear in SJP, but this time as the "Dornenkroenen "; the 1725 version reflects the images of "Das Felsen selbst Zerspringen" (That rocks themselves split in pieces) with "Zechsmetterert mich, ihr Felsen und ihr Huegel" (Crush me, oh ye rocks and crags).
The theological point that the libretto of BWV 181/2 (Mvt. 2) is making is that hardening of the heart experienced by the wealth and pleasure seekers renders them the same material as the stone sealing the Grave, and will be split apart at Resurrection. By contrast, the loving Christian (like the fig tree in fertile ground in Luke 13:6) will flourish.
Thus this Cantata is also functioning as a preparation for Lent. Was it the only Cantata performed that day? As already observed, it is very short, c.14 minutes. Dürr states (I apologise for repeating a surmise by another and using the English translation version):
"This cantata was first performed on 13 February 1724, perhaps alongside the revival of cantata 18-one before the sermon and the other afterwards, or else in two different churches."
BWV 181, Feb 15, 2009, Sexagesima (Second Sunday before llent)
Ed Myskowski wrote (February 19, 2009):
The cantata selected by Brian McCreath for broadcast on WGBH-FM and www.wgbh.org, for Feb 15, 2009, was:
Bach: Cantata BWV 181 "Leichtgesinnte Flattergeister"
Lisa Larsson, soprano; Elisabeth von Magnus, alto; Gerd Türk, tenor; Klaus Mertens, bass; Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra/Ton Koopman (Erato) 
I did not listen in real time, and have not yet caught up in review. I pass along for info only.
Nicholas Johnson wrote (February 19, 2009):
[To Ed Myskowski] Just look at the wonderful stark opening of the aria for tenor (Mvt. 1).
BWV846-893 wrote (February 19, 2009):
[To Nicholas Johnson] For the bass, you mean (Mvt. 1)? The use of staccato (vivace) is also striking -- illustrates the scatterbrained / shallow people?
Continue on Part 3
Cantata BWV 181: Details & Complete Recordings
Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4