Cantata BWV 181Leichtgesinnte Flattergeister
Discussions - Part 3
Continue from Part 2
Discussions in the Week of March 21, 2010
Peter Smaill wrote (March 21, 2010):
Introduction to BWV 181, "Leichtgesinnte Flattergeister"
Cantata BWV 181, “Leichgesinnte Flattergeister”
Written for Sexagesima
First performance February 13, 1724
Movements & Scoring:
Mvt. 1: Aria “Leichtgesinnte Flattergeister”
Soloist: Bass Instruments: Flt, Ob, Vn, Va, Bc
Mvt. 2: Recitative “O unglückselger Stand verkehrter Seelen”
Soloist: Alto Instruments: Bc
Mvt. 3: Aria “Der schädlichen Dornen unendliche Zahl”
Soloist: Tenor Instruments: Bc
Mvt. 4: Recitative “Von diesen wird die Kraft erstickt”
Soloist: Soprano Instruments: Bc
Mvt. 5: Chorus “Laß, Höchster, uns zu allen Zeiten”
Choir: SATB Instruments: Tr, Flt, Ob, Vn, Va, Bc
Texts of Readings:
Epistle: 2 Corinthians 11: 19 - 12: 9; Gospel: Luke 8: 4-15
Piano Vocal Score: (free PDF download)
Recordings and Discussion: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV181.htm
“We must assume that at least the closing Chorus and perhaps other movements too are parodies whose musical substance is derived from an earlier work-probably a secular cantata. So far it has not been possible to ascertain further details”.
Thus Dürr commences his review and all the surface factors concur. BWV 181 feels bitty, an assembly job. It is unusual in the Cantatas to have a Chorus at the end (though the Oratorios do); the solo part for BWV 181/3 (Mvt. 3) is missing, perhaps because it was borrowed from an older composition. A trumpet is added at the end, whereas the earlier movements in their first setting do not even have any woodwind. The operatic quality of the opening aria suggests the ire of a Zeus or thwarted Minerva. And yet, as declamation of pre-Lenten scorn for worldly things the extended metaphor, based on the parable of the Sower, is successfully pursued such that, if parody it be, the work succeeds too on a religious level.
Whereas the seeds in BWV 18 were expressed as a simile (“just as….”), in BWV 181 it is the device of metaphor at work. It is the heart that is sown, either in fruitful ground for those “fitted in spirit” who taste sweetness; or becoming the hard heart. Even there the reflection is that the power of Jesus’ word, which can cause rocks to shatter, can easily enter the human heart.
BWV 181 has a rich crop of emblematics .Although an illustration of “Leichgesinnte Flattergeister” (Richard Jones delightfully translates this as "Frivolous flutter-spirits") has eluded the search engines so far, the collections are replete with images of the heart, rocks, devils , the Word, sowing and cultivation. One source which revolves often around the theme of worldly disdain is the Himmlischer Leibes-Kuss of Heinrich Müller, “mit vielen schönen sinnbilden gezieret”, the many beautiful images therein mattering especially because this book was in Bach’s own library.
The whole collection can be viewed at:
The illustration with little devils inside a hollowed-out heart playing with orbs and gold, symbols of earthly vanity, is quite apposite, but not the only one resonating with this Cantata. I thoroughly recommend visiting the site and matching images to Cantata texts generally, as Renate Steiger has in part done in her work “Gnadengegnwart: Johann Sebastian Bach im Kontext””.. There is room for interpretation and perhaps no single exact match here, but taken together the correlation of emblematics and the Cantatas is not in dispute.
The idea the work is a parody does not, however, sit easily with the numerological analysis of Arthur Hirsch. He detected in 1985 that the tenor aria’s title computes, according to spelling of schädlichen/schedlichen, at 314/315; as against the 314 notes sung by the tenor. The chief parody suspect, the final Chorus BWV 181/5 (Mvt. 5), has a title with a numerical value of 711 using the natural order number alphabet. The soprano and alto sing 711 notes (ignoring the da capo).
Of course it is possible that one or other of these relations is a coincidence, but both? The alternative is that the movements may have had a prior existence with these words; and, for example, we do find a closing chorus in the Weimar Cantata BWV 182, “Himmelskönig, sei Willkommen”. The numerology of the first line could be right as well as the work being a parody or a repeat.
Dürr manages to pen only three paragraphs on this short (14 minute) work and suggests it was coupled with BWV 18, before and after the service. In such a permutation the congregation would have had a chorale at least in one part. However, why would Bach employ four violas and a bassoon in one part, and then upper strings and trumpet in another? The further idea that the works were performed in two different churches is for these reasons more plausible.
We are left again with an unorthodox work leaving unanswered questions, and thus a warm invitation is on offer to BCW participants to comment on the causes and effect of this unusual work, which concludes - whatever the origin- with a finely-wrought chorus that must have briefly cheered the Leipzigers as they faced Lent in 1724.
Julian Mincham wrote (March 21, 2010):
Peter Smaill wrote:
< It is unusual in the Cantatas to have a Chorus at the end (though the Oratorios do); the solo part for BWV 181/3 (Mvt. 3) is missing, perhaps because it was borrowed from an older composition >
Hi Peter Unusual yes although I would guess there are about a dozen which have closing choruses, generally taken from the earliest and the later works. Apart from BWV 181 (and off the top of my head, I haven't checked them all ) examples are BWV 131 and BWV 150 from the Weimar period and BWV 30, BWV 34, BWV 117 and BWV 192 from much later. There is only one in the second cycle and that is the odd BWV 68 which begins in one key and ends (for symbolic reasons) in another.
My favourite movement of BWV 181 is the opening aria (Mvt. 1). If ever a theme fitted the description given in Bach’s Obituary that his melodies were ‘strange and like no other’s’ it is that of the ritornello announcing this movement. It is a series of short trenchant phrases with moments of complete rest in each of the first five bars. When the singer takes up the same idea, the moments of hiatus are filled with a flickering of upper, thence lower, strings. One can never quite predict the turns which this spiky, disjointed melody is likely to take. It is a perfect musical representation of the frivolous, fluttering beings of little substance or permanence who, we are told, by their very superficiality deprive themselves of the benefits to be gained from following the proclamations of God. Fluttering upper strings and descending continuo scales predominate about a vocal line which is powerful in its condemnation of such frivolities.
Re the missing part in the tenor ar, it is usually assumed to have been for violin obligato although Koopman  has done a very effective realisation for oboe.
Douglas Cowling wrote (March 21, 2010):
Peter Smaill wrote:
< Dürr manages to pen only three paragraphs on this short (14 minute) work and suggests it was coupled with BWV 18, before and after the service >
I think you mean "before and after the sermon", although it's probably more accurate to refer to the Communion cantata as it was not performed until much later in the service. Does Dürr provide any argument for the pairing with BWV 18? Stiller has a long lost of cantatas which he suggests could have been used as communion cantatas, but does not show any evidence.
I have to confess that I can never hear the title "Leichtgesinnte Flattergeister" without thinking of Anna Russell's immortal satire, "Die Flabbergast."
Peter Smaill wrote (March 21, 2010):
[To Douglas Cowlin] Thanks Doug, indeed it is the "sermon" which may have been -though I doubt it- after BWV 18 and before BWV 181 on 13th February 1724, if Dürr's suggestion is followed. But we do not have from him any rationale, except for the obvious fact that both works are quiteshort (21 and 14 minutes respectively).
H-J Schulze definitively states that the surviving copy of BWV 181 declares "For Sexagesima Sunday, In the Church of St. Nicholas". While concurring that the final chorus may have originated in a secular original (Cöthen), Schulze does not go along with the BWV 18/BWV 181 double act theory.
Julian Mincham wrote (March 21, 2010):
The mention of Anna Russell brings back memories. I recall enjoying her wonderful Wagner spoofs when I was a student. I tought she had died years ago but the BBC did an interview with her about 5 years ago when she was in her mid 90s and living with her daughter in Australa. She died at 96 I think--a pretty good innings.
Teri Noel Towe wrote (March 22, 2010):
[To Julian Mincham, regarding Anna Russell] Anna Russell's spoof of a Bach Cantata aria - "Wir gehen in den Automaten" - is absolutely hilarious and was inspired by a Bach Aria Group concert that she attended.
William Hoffman wrote (March 26, 2010):
I took the liberty of inserting the relevant section from the Lutheran Church year, 1724, BCW: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/LCY/1724.htm
1724-02-06 So Septuagesimae - Cantata BWV 144 Nimm, was dein ist, und gehe hin (1st performance, Leipzig
1724-02-13 So Sexagesimae - Cantata BWV 181 Leichtgesinnte Flattergeister (1st performance, Leipzig) + Cantata BWV 18 Gleichwie der Regen und Schnee vom Himmel fällt (2nd performance, Leipzig)
1724-02-20 So Estomihi - Cantata BWV 22 Jesus nahm zu sich die Zwölfe (2nd performance, Leipzig) + Cantata BWV 23 Du wahrer Gott und Davids Sohn (2nd performance, Leipzig)
1724-02-21 Mo Rosenmontag
1724-02-22 Di Fastnacht
1724-02-23 Mi Aschermittwoch
1724-02-27 So Invokavit
1724-03-05 So Reminiszere
1724-03-12 So Okuli
1724-03-19 So Laetare
1724-03-25 Sa Mariä Verkündigung - Cantata BWV 182 Himmelskönig, sei willkommen (4th performance, Leipzig) +Cantata BWV Anh 199 Siehe, eine Jungfrau ist schwanger (1st performance, Leipzig; Music lost) (?)
1724-03-26 So Judika
1724-04-02 So Palmsonntag
1724-04-06 Do Gründonnerstag
1724-04-07 Fr Karfreitag - Johannes-Passion BWV 245 (1st Version, 1st performance, Leipzig)
1724-04-08 Sa Karsamstag
1724-04-09 So Ostersonntag - Cantata BWV 31 Der Himmel lacht! Die Erde jubilieret (2nd performance, Leipzig) +Cantata BWV 4 Christ lag in Todesbanden (2nd performance, Leipzig)
1724-04-10 Mo Ostermontag - Cantata BWV 66 Erfreut euch, ihr Herzen (1st performance, Leipzig)
1724-04-11 Di Osterdienstag - Cantata BWV 134 Ein Herz, das seinen Jesum lebend weiß (1st performance, Leipzig)
1724-04-16 So Quasimodogeniti - Cantata BWV 67 Halt im Gedächtnis Jesum Christ (1st performance, Leipzig)
What is shows in part the ever-calculating Johann Sebastian Bach.
Between February 13 (Septuagiesma) and April 16, 1724 (First Sunday after Easter Sunday), Bach was virtually able to recycle previous compositions in order to focus on completion of the St. John Passion. The Cantatas BWV 66 and BWV 134 for Easter Monday and Tuesday are parodies from Köthen. As for BWV 181, it happens to fit into the monthly cycle of cantatas Bach was supposed to compose in 1716 in Weimar. Following the January 19, 1716, performance of Cantata BWV 155, four weeks later was February 13. Thus we have the da capo chorus surviving, "Lass, hoechster, uns zu allen Zeiten," BWV 181/5. Interestingly, in the previous year, 1715, Bach composed Cantata BWV 18 for the same Sunday! Now we find BWV 181 and BWV 18 on a doublebill in 1724! There were no cantata performances in 1715 between August 11 and November 3, due to the public mourning for Prince Johann Ernst (d. August 1). Bach resumed monthly composition on November 24 with Cantata BWV 163, followed by BWV 132 on December 22, 1715, and BWV 155, January 19, 1716 -- all texts by Salomo Franck (1715). Then, nothing extant until September 27, 1716, with BWV 161; only Franck texts are extant in the interim. What happened? It is documented that Bach presented a funeral cantata, BC B-19 (text by Franck), for the deceased prince's memorial service, on April 2, 1716. Could is be that his employer, the rival Duke Ernst August, got into a big clash with Bach? By the end of 1716, Bach, hoping to be the new Kapellmeiseter, drafted cantatas for all the Advent Sundays beginning the church year. Then, nothing, since he didn't get the appointment. We have only one Bach work composed in 1717, the Gotha-Weimar Passion, BC D-1, presented on Good Friday, April 12 in nearby Gotha. In the late fall of 1717, The Duke imprisoned Bach and finally let him go to Köthen. Bach got the last laugh and never returned to Weimar.
Ed Myskowski wrote (March 26, 2010):
William Hoffman wrote:
< We have only one Bach work composed in 1717, the Gotha-Weimar Passion, BC D-1, presented on Good Friday, April 12 in nearby Gotha. >
I am not familiar with the BC designations, is there a handy reference source, or explanation?
< In the late fall of 1717, The Duke imprisoned Bach and finally let him go to Köthen. Bach got the last laugh and never returned to Weimar. >
Bach the contented composer remains an open question, for me. Bach the composer always intent on having the last laugh I can live with. I expect he had a few choice words for his eye surgeon.
William Hoffman wrote (March 26, 20):
Ed Myskowski writes:
<< We have only one Bach work composed in 1717, the Gotha-Weimar Passion, BC D-1, presented on Good Friday, April 12 in nearby Gotha. >>
< I am not familiar with the BC designations, is there a handy reference source, or explanation? >
BC is Bach Compendium, a summary version of Schmieder with new cataloging, edited by Hans-Joachim Schulze and Christoph Wolff; first 6 volumes issued in 1985, A-G, Vocal Music: A-B, Sacred Cantatas, C Motets, D Passions-Oratorios, E Latin Music (not south of the border), F Chorales, G Secular Cantatas. I have not seen any volumes for instrumental music.
Ed Myskowski wrote (March 26, 2010):
William Hoffman wrote:
< BC is Bach Compendium, a summary version of Schmieder with new cataloging, edited by Hans-Joachim Schulze and Christoph Wolff [...] E Latin Music (not south of the border) >
Thanks for the info and humor.
Aryeh Oron wrote (March 26, 2010):
BC Lists [was: BWV181]
[To Ed Myskowski & William Hoffman] An explanation of the Bach Compendium (BC) and full lists of Groups A to H (Vocal Works) are presented on the BCW at the page: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Ref/IndexRef-BC.htm
Linked from: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Ref/index.htm
The main source for the lists are the 4 published volumes of the BC, which I found in a local library. I have not yet informed the BCML of this addition because I have yet to complete work titles and links to the work pages on the BCW.
Regarding the Instrumental works, AFAIK the relevant volumes have not yet been published. However, I know that many instrumental works have been given BC numbers. If anybody is aware of a reliable source for the BC numbers of the Instrumental Works (Groups J to W & Y), Copies of instrumental works by other composers (Group X) and Contemporary collections (Group Z), please inform me.
Evan Cortens wrote (March 26, 2010):
[To Aryeh Oron] The Bach Compendium (BC) is a significant improvement over the BWV for those works it has catalogued. Unfortunately, only the first four volumes have been issued, and even those are now almost thirty years old.
Grove Music Online provides a full listing of BC numbers up to Group L, but (oddly?) not beyond that.
As far as I know, this work is now being channeled into the (forthcoming?) Bach-Repertorium, which will include a full and detailed catalogue of everybody with the last name "Bach". Thus, I don't know if we can expect more BC volumes to ever be issued.
Cantata BWV 181: Recordings | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3