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Cantata BWV 183
Sie werden euch in den Bann tun [II]
Discussions - Part 2

Continue from Part 1

Discussions in the Week of May 27, 2007

Julian Mincham wrote (May 27, 2007):
BWV 183 Introduction

CONTEXT

At first glance it may seem that all BWV 183 and BWV 175 have in common is the lack of an opening fantasia since they both begin, the only two of the cycle to so do, with a recitative.

But they may have more in common than a cursory examination reveals. Neither has a substantial chorus of any kind, the choir appearing only in the closing chorale (Mvt. 5). Both have a symmetrical structure in that grouped pairs of recitative and aria precede the chorale, three pairs in the case of Cantata BWV 183 and two for Cantata BWV 175. Both have texts written by Mariane von Ziegler and both use all four solo voices and employ experimental instrumental combinations. Whether or not the commencing with a recitative particularly focused Bach's attention on this form or not, it cannot be denied that there is an unusual degree of experimentation with the instrumental support of the recitatives in both cantatas. Finally, they form part of the final group of five cantatas of the second cycle, all performed, and presumably composed within a very short period in May 1725.

This work, like BWV 176 which closes the cycle, is one of the shorter cantatas, lasting under fifteen minutes in performance. A glance at the schedule of works Bach provided for the churches at this time (Wolff pp277/278) shows that no fewer than eight were performed in a month from late April to the last week of May (Cantatas BWV 108, BWV 87, BWV 128, BWV 183, BWV 74, BWV 68, BWV 175 and BWV 176). This prodigious output showed that, even though it has been suggested that Bach may have been losing some interest in the cantata repertoire, his quality and production line never flagged. However it is hardly surprising, given the circumstances, that a couple were on the brief side.

The cantata of the week BWV 183 Sie werden euch in den
They will banish you and cast you out
.
Recit (bass)--aria (tenor)--recit (alto)--aria (sop)--chorale (Mvt. 5).
The forty-ninth cantata of the cycle for Exaudi. Librettist:- Mariane von Ziegler.

Perhaps, as if to compensate for the shortness of this work, Bach set out to make a particular effort to reinforce and colour his recitatives. The opening one, for bass, is short but arresting both musically and textually---you will be cast out and it will come about that he who dispatches you will think that he is doing the work of the Lord! One wonders what Bach would have made of this text if he had chosen to set it as a tempestuous chorus, in the mould of that which begins Cantata BWV 176.

But the effect is still startling. Over a pedal bass A, held until the final cadence, the bass vocalist authoritatively delivers his warning, accompanied by chords held by four oboes. This produces a unique sepulchral sound which is quite haunting and one imagines the Leipzig congregation being forced to sit up and pay attention if for no other reason than that this was not the beginning it would have expected!

It lasts but half a minute and we are into the most substantial movement of the cantata. The tenor aria (Mvt. 2) lasts longer than the other four movements combined. In a sense we have here a rebuttal of the opening admonition---I do not fear Death, Jesus will protect me and I am happy to leave God to deal with those who might take his name in vain. The feeling one gets from the text is that it is confident and individualistic; the mood of the music, however, is not quite what we might expect.

Firstly we note that the available oboes are not drawn into service. The tenor is supported by continuo and a piccolo 'cello. The timbre is consequently dark and shady, bordering on the somber.

Secondly, the key is minor; further it is E minor, a key Bach often associates with the crucifixion. It is not specifically mentioned, but Death is, and there are further implications of Christ's powers of protection which, we know, emanated from his sacrifice on the cross. The mood is infinitely reflective and quietly resigned.

This may seem to be a more cheerless piece than the text suggests; but it is not. This is Bach at his most human and most profound. This is music to touch the soul with a personal and gently declaimed expression of trust and belief. There is, in the vocal line, a suggestion of the action of shuddering at pain. Even though the text clearly denies this event, Bach cannot resist the temptation to portray it. But the emphasis upon 'folge'---follow---is indicative of Bach's slant on this stanza. Whatever happens, I shall unswervingly follow Christ. It is this quiet certainty and serene adherence to faith and obedience that the music so beautifully conveys.

The oboes are called back into service for the alto recitative (Mvt. 3). Now the strings sustain the harmonies whilst the oboes flicker amongst them. The theme is one of preparedness--I am ready to give all to my Savior whose spirit shall support me. Might the little oboe flashes represent short gasps as the individual calls upon the reserves of his strength? Set against this, the string chords suggest the solidarity and steadfastness of the Savior.

The ending is quite surprising. Bach wrenches us suddenly from one key to another on the very last line of text as it states-----despite all, I may still have to undergo more than I can bear. This is a sudden twisting of the meaning, for until now we have been concerned only with our preparedness; there has been no suggestion that we may not cope. But this thought is dropped into the text without warning, and that is precisely what Bach expresses musically. Yes, he takes us to C major, the key of the final aria. But he does it with an unexpected jolt that surprises us and underlines the complete change of direction.

The last aria (Mvt. 4), again, produces a change of mood and expression. It asks the Holy Spirit to direct our pathway and to care for and protect us. The music bounces along, surging with Bachian optimism. The rhythm is that of the stately minuet, but this is a minuet of confidence and vigour; there is nothing diffident about this music.

Of particular note is the continuing surging of the extremely demanding oboe da caccia obligato. It swells and flows in and around the vocal line almost certainly suggestive of the Holy Spirit, encompassing all that it encounters. And thoughts of our own human frailty are not entirely absent from this ebullient movement. The middle section reminds us that that, however much we might try, our strength might still fail------ and that is when we have to place our trust in the Spirit.

I also detect a sense of pleading suggested by the contours of the vocal lines. The Holy Spirit continues to surge about us and duly, we will return to the optimism that comes from the confidence of knowing that we are supported along the right path.

But we should remember that our inherent weaknesses have not been entirely overcome.

The chorale (Mvt. 5) is a good strong tune with a sense of Germanic sturdiness. Addressed again to the Holy Spirit, it exhorts it as the One who teaches us to pray; prayers, which will inevitably rise to heaven.

Cantata link: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV183.htm

Douglas Cowling wrote (May 28, 2007):
Julian Mincham wrote:
< A glance at the schedule of works Bach provided forthe churches at this time (Wolff pp277/278) shows that no fewer than eight were performed in a month from late April to the last week of May (Cantatas BWV 108, BWV 87, BWV 128, BWV 183, BWV 74, BWV 68, BWV 175 and BWV 176). This prodigious output showed that, even though it has been suggested that Bach may have been losing some interest in the cantata repertoire, his quality and production line never flagged. However it is hardly surprising, given the circumstances, that a couple were on the brief side. >
I think we have to be cautious about assuming that the absence of a chorus or brevity suggests that Bach was "losing interest" or his choir was exhausted.

Evidence to the contrary, Bach wrote "Jauchzet Gott in Allen Landen" and "Ich Habe Genug" because he wanted to write solo cantatas. The "Magnificat " (BWV 243) runs only about 23 minutes, and yet the work is an astonishing microcom of Bach's entire vocal oeuvre.

Bach was a consummate professional who showed no sign of not meeting the compositional demands of his position. Nor were his musicians like modern amateur church choirs: they knew what the work load was and they were ready to perfrom.

Jean Laaninen wrote (May 28, 2007):
Doug Cowling wrote:
< Bach was a consummate professional who showed no sign of not meeting the compositional demands of his position. Nor were his musicians like modern amateur church choirs: they knew what the work load was and they were ready to perform. >
For a number of years I sang in a large chorale here in Arizona. Some of the members were raised in Europe and grew up basically knowing the masterful choral works. The soprano who sat next to me was from the UK, and she had memorized everything in her youth. I maybe shouldn't tell this story, but she always brought a crossword puzzle with her to practice, and while the director could not see what she was doing, she somehow never missed a single note or proper inflection while working the puzzle, and completing it before practice ended. And this was after a full day on a demanding job. And she was nearing sixty. I never cease to be amazed at how this woman got through it all and looked refreshed at the end of practice, but I assume this was probably a result of a kind of intensive early training we don't really experience here. What we did was probably too easy for her.

The other thing that occurs to me in regard to variation in the length of the cantatas might have been related to scheduling within the service. Is it possible that there were Sunday's when something shorter would have been needed because of other rituals or readings or whatever?

I am also curious in regard to the cantatas generally regarding the use of two types of oboes (at least) and whether the oboes used in Bach's compositions are like the ones we have today.

Julian Mincham wrote (May 28, 2007):
Doug Cowling wrote:
< I think we have to be cautious about assuming that the absence of a chorus or brevity suggests that Bach was "losing interest" or his choir was exhausted. >
Just for the record I was not making either assumption in this introduction-----merely a suggestion that one or two of the cantatas might have been a little shorter than expected because so many were produced in such a short time.

Douglas Cowling wrote (May 28, 2007):
BWV 183 Bored Composer or Exhausted Choir?

Jean Laaninen wrote:
< The other thing that occurs to me in regard to variation in the length of the cantatas might have been related to scheduling within the service. Is it possible that there were Sunday's when something shorter would have been needed because of other rituals or readings or whatever? >
I have never seen any serious scholarship which addresses the resaons for the differences in length or degree of choral involvement in the cantatas. Why do we have such large cantatas as BWV 147, "Herz und Mind" which has 10 movements in two parts, and such compact works as BWV 183 which is just a pair of Recit & Aria and a chorale (Mvt. 5)?

None of Stiller, Leaver or Wolff posit any reason which can be drawn from the liturgical context (special rites, days or traditions). That leaves us with the "Bored Composer" or "Exhausted Choir" theories which get tossed out without much thought (Sorry Julian, I didn't mean to suggest that you held either opinion ... grin).

I do still lean to the possibility that Bach used these Easter gospel readings from John to create a series of solo cantatas which each time begins with a dictum sung by a bass "in persona Christi".

Thomas Braatz wrote (May 28, 2007):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
>>I have never seen any serious scholarship which addresses the resaons for the differences in length or degree of choral involvement in the cantatas. Why do we have such large cantatas as BWV 147, "Herz und Mind" which has 10 movements in two parts, and such compact works as BWV 183 which is just a pair of Recit & Aria and a chorale (Mvt. 5)?
None of Stiller, Leaver or
Wolff posit any reason which can be drawn from the liturgical context (special rites, days or traditions). That leaves us with the "Bored Composer" or "Exhausted Choir" theories which get tossed out without much thought...<<
The "Exhausted Choir" theory is not tossed about on the BCML without much thought! It has been sufficiently documented, although it is more difficult to pin down something specific for the month of May.

Here is what we already know to support the "Exhausted Choir" theory:

1. There are documents which prove that Bach had initiated payments to be made to certain descant Thomaner singers so that these boys would not sing during the extended Christmas/New Years Currende period which lasted until the end of the 3rd week of January. [This payment was compensation for all the money a boy could have earned by singing in the Currende.] From this, it is quite apparent that Bach normally would have had serious difficulties in performing figural festive choral music (mvts. involving a full chorus with trumpets + tympani other than the simple 4-pt. chorales) for this season and also any mvts. for solo soprano and possibly, but not necessarily, also for alto solo without resorting to these measures which were considered acceptable by church and city authorities. We now know that Bach could still depend upon non-Thomaner (university students, private music students) who were not involved in Currende-singing. The contribution of this latter group singers not officially enrolled as Thomaner students should not be underestimated. How else then was Bach capable of performing all the splendid music which he composed and performed for this extended season while faced with the dwindling vocal resources caused by Currende-singing?

2. Very exhausting Currende-singing also took place on St. Gregor's and St. Martin's Day.

3. Semester exams at the Thomasschule took place during the week following Quasimodogenetii and around Michaelmas. These weeks set aside for preparation and exams, including an oral exam before all the school authorities and the entire student body, were taken very seriously and were very taxing for all those involved. Just how these activities may also have affected Bach's choice of solo over choral cantatas or solo mvts. over choral mvts. is not as clear or as obvious as the Currende-singing situation outlined above is.

Julian Mincham wrote (May 28, 2007):
Douglas Cowling wrote
< None of Stiller, Leaver or Wolff posit any reason which can be drawn from the liturgical context (special rites, days or traditions). That leaves us with the "Bored Composer" or "Exhausted Choir" theories which get tossed out without much thought >
I agree basically with this. Umuch of my thinking about this last section of the cycle (or 'Part 2' as I like to think of it ---from BWV 4 to the end---) is the notion that far from being tired or lacking interest, Bach was here at his most inventive, dynamic and original. It was partly for this reason that I challenged the 'Stuebel theory' which has something of an implication of crisis and a lack of ability (through circumstance) to plan.

The incredible range and quality of the 14 cantatas following BWV 1 seems to me to challenge these somewhat tired and hackneyed ideas (numbers afficienados will note the significance the number 14 would have had for Bach).

The only explanation I can find for some short cantatas at the end of this group is that there were so many of them, coming at the rate of two a week!

I think there may be some correlation between workload/timing of the works and their length although I must confess I haven't looked at this in detail. What I am thinking of is the big works like BWV 75 and BWV 76 (in two parts, written to impress, at the beginning of the first cycle and clearly composed when Bach seems to have had more time in his previous position. Again we look at BWV 1, BWV 6, and BWV 105-----large works, or at least works with massive choruses which might well have been composed in the fallow period Jan-March 1725, before the Easter celebrations.

There is certainly more work to be done on seeking out such correlations.

Julian Mincham wrote (May 28, 2007):
Thomas's posting crossed with my last and suggests addition reasons which might have impacted upon cantatas' length and complexity.

What is certain in my mind is that there is no one glib and simple explanation (is there ever, when we come to seriously examine Bach's outpu?) but a variety of complex interlocking circumstances.

Jean Laaninen wrote (May 28, 2007):
[To Julian Mincham] Is there any academic evidence that Bach may have been assigned certain poetic texts for a given Sunday, and that in turn limits the length of a cantata? Or, conversely, did Bach have free choice on the length of texts and find his poets without others giving him directives?

Douglas Cowling wrote (May 28, 2007):
[To Jean Laaninen] The motets which Bach's choirs sang certainly had traditional places in the church year. For instance, the choir sang Handl's "Ecce quomodo moritur" every Good Friday at a later point in the service after the concerted Passion. Some cantatas such as "Christ Lag in Todesbanden" take a traditonal hymn text and set it without new poetry, but there is no suggestion that the libretto was mandated. We can't totally dismiss the possibility that someone in authority (ecclesiastical or secular) may have commissioned or requested a setting of that hymn and Bach obliged with a masterpiece.

I suspect that Bach's theological credentials were so superb that the authorities trusted him to produce creative new musical settings on the seasonal themes. For instance, the unexpected addition of the chorale melody of the German Magnificat in the "Suscepit Israel" in the Magnificat (BWV 243) would have delighted muscians and theologians alike. So too the addition of the German Agnus Dei in the opening chorus of the St. Matthew Passion (BWV 244).

So many of Bach's musical solutions are uniquely his that it is hard not to think that they were the result of extended conversations with his ecclesiastical colleagues and poets, Did they discuss the theological and poetic conventions? Did Bach then for the libretto to be shaped in particular way to accomadate a musical idea? For instance, these Easter cantatas which all begin with a bass singing the words of Christ have Intelligent Design written all over them.

Censorship is the probably the wrong word to use for Bach's relationship with the ecclesiatical authorities. The Superintendant of Leipzig had to scrutinize all the daily sermons delivered by his clergy and students -- that would have been hundreds of pages. He must have sat back with anticipation when he looked over Bach's libretti for his formal imprimatur.

Douglas Cowling wrote (May 28, 2007):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< 1. There are documents which prove that Bach had initiated payments to be made to certain descant Thomaner singers so that these boys would not sing during the extended Christmas/New Years Currende period which lasted until the end of the 3rd week of January. >
These arrangements show that Bach knew the demands of the various seasons of the year well ahead of time and was careful to ensure that his complement of singers was not overextended. Wolff itemizes the Christmas schedule for Christmas 1723-24. It's an extraordinary workload The last thing Bach wanted was his best singers running around the streets singing Christmas chorales for donations. His roster must have been very carefully planned so that physical fatigue and illness did not endanger the quality of performance. The boys who sang "Christen Ätzet" three times on Christmas Day, 1723, plus the Magnificat (BWV 243) in the afternoon were not "laudevere-ing" in the streets.

Jean Laaninen wrote (May 28, 2007):
[To Douglas Cowling] Your answer is helpful. Today in many churches the effort at producing Sunday worship is done in a team context, and perhaps there were moments like that for Bach. I appreciate all the information given about the choirs as prior to this kind of detail my imaginings were to be found a bit more in Bach in my life experience and in the past decades. But it is clear from the scholarship given to date on this forum that our choirs and Bach's were not the same at all. Thanks so much.

William Rowland (Ludwig) wrote (May 28, 2007):
[To Jean Laaninen] Bach and his librettist worked together. Many of these works were already published so all Bach had to do was to take the words and set them to music.

Church was an all day affair in Bach's time so there were no time limits ( or should not have been) on the length of Bach's Cantatas. Church for some people took the place of all the entertainments that we have today since there was no television, radio or computers and while there was theatre and Opera ---the average man could not attend these---they were mostly Aristocratic outlets. So that left the Coffee House to meet with Friends and books (if one could afford them) and work.

Peter Smaill wrote (May 28, 2007):
Perhaps neither of the above!

The reason is rather theological, because Bach has chosen to make Exaudi, the Sunday after Ascension and before Whitsun, a short introduction to the to the following Sunday's celebration , i.e. Whitsun which marks the descent of the Holy Spirit. Unlike BWV 44 the year before, which has the same title but no other commonality, this Cantata builds from the Gospel - the fate of Christians under other believers- through offerring of the Christian for Jesus' sake, to the calling upon the Holy Spirit whereby prayer ascends to God.

The conception is thus of Man's place in the Trinity; the text tends against the view that theology is the preserve of the Chorale Cantatas whereas texts by Mariane von Ziegler are marked by their poetic quality alone.

Note that both Jesus' Spirit (Mvt. 3) and the Holy Spirit (Mvt. 4) are separately invoked; the final Chorale (Mvt. 5) by Gerhardt is distinctively oriented to the Holy Spirit as the following link makes clear: http://musicanet.org/robokopp/hymn/ohenterl.html

Also remarkable is the the distinctive chordal spread (tenth in the lower v) at "lehret" (teaches) and "erhoeret" ( heard ) , plus the climbing tenths at "steigt" (climbs) in the Chorale Mvt. 5, a further example of Bach's largely unnoticed artistry in word painting in Chorale settings. I wonder if Bach had large hands such that these, and other Chorale settings , could have stretch enough to sustain the lower parts when composing without recourse to the upper manual of a keyboard .

Jean Laaninen wrote (May 28, 2007):
[To Ludwig] Interesting about the teamwork aspect of Bach and his librettist... And of course already published works would have offered convenience. Beyond straight academic thinking the environment during the Cantata period must have been very satisfying in terms of being wonderfully creative. I'm showing my age and my family's conservative background in sharing this, but I have only vague memories of a radio at home until I was six or seven and I'm not sure the folks even had one in the house at the time I was born. Mother played the piano...she was our entertainment and trainer. I don't even know if most cars had radios in 1944. We did not get television until I was in the 5th grade when we as students were required to write reports on some programs. Only then did I learn about theater and opera as my parents were strict and did not even allow me to attend movies when they were included with birthday parties. I was allowed to attend the cake and ice cream part later...rather embarrassing as a child, but perhaps the reason music of the Classical and Romantic periods has such a strong hold on me today. But the first Martin Luther film broke the taboo on theater attendance. Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska didn't have coffee houses as were available and sometimes considered a public nuisance in Europe during Bach's day , but there were plenty of church coffees. So in some sense I can identify with the strong Lutheran tradition that prevailed in Bach's time. Thanks for your answer.

Thomas Braatz wrote (May 28, 2007):
Ludwig wrote:
>>Church was an all day affair in Bach's time so there were no time limits (or should not have been) on the length of Bach's Cantatas.<<
There was a definite time limit for the cantatas (1/2? hour, I do not have the specific reference before me here). In any case, there is a documented report (culled from the existing list of numerous church expenditures during Bach's tenure in Leipzig for which details have been recorded) that a large (over-sized) hour (or was is a half-hour?) glass, which stood on the railing of the choir balcony where the singers could easily see it, had to be repaired or replaced. This makes me wonder if the pastors, with their long-winded sermons, also had certain limits and had inside the pulpit visible only to the pastor perhaps an even larger "Sanduhr" which could hold two or three hours worth of sand.

Jean Laaninen wrote (May 28, 2007):
[To Thomas Braatz] The time limits are interesting. I remember someone setting an alarm clock under the pulpit at my Lutheran college years ago, and when the sermon for the day exceeded twenty minutes, the clock went off. I cannot imagine sitting through the sermons in Bach's day.

Thomas Braatz wrote (May 28, 2007):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
>>Censorship is the probably the wrong word to use for Bach's relationship with the ecclesiatical authorities. The Superintendant of Leipzig had to scrutinize all the daily sermons delivered by his clergy and students -- that would have been hundreds of pages. He must have sat back with anticipation when he looked over Bach's libretti for his formal imprimatur.<<
Where is there a job description for the Superintendent of Leipzig which spells out the detail that cantata texts would have to be submitted to him prior to performances in the Leipzig churches? Without access to such specific information, we are thrown back to the myth created by one very unreliable source from circa 1850 and repeated by a number of Bach biographies. None of the modern experts on Bach's cantata texts, Martin Petzoldt and Hans-Joachim Schultze, for instance, mention anything at all about such an arrangement or requirement. The closest they come to this is in suggesting that Bach was capable of deciding by himself such theological matters as pertaining to the cantata texts, since he was well aware of what the authorities would not find acceptable. Of course, it cannot be discounted that Bach may have occasionally discussed such matters with theologians and pastors in order to remain current in making appropriate decisions regarding the texts and specific wordings he would use. However, this is not at all the same as receiving the Superintendent's official imprimatur on the next batch of cantata texts before they were submitted to the printer.

The "Schul-Ordnungen" (school rules/statutes) for the Thomasschule spell out in great detail all the duties of the school's faculty which includes Bach as cantor, the rector, conrector and other teachers of the various classes at the school. Certainly there must be a similar 'job description' for the Superintendent of Leipzig. Do any Bach experts refer to, or better yet, quote directly from such a document? What is the document called? When was it printed? Does it state specifically the requirement of prior submission for approval of all sermons and cantata texts that will be heard in the Leipzig churches?

Douglas Cowling wrote (May 29, 2007):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< Where is there a job description for the Superintendent of Leipzig which spells out the detail that cantata texts would have to be submitted to him prior to performances in the Leipzig churches?
Certainly there must be a similar 'job description' for the Superintendent of
Leipzig. Do any Bach experts refer to, or better yet, quote directly from such a document? What is the document called? When was it printed? Does it state specifically the requirement of prior submission for approval of all sermons and cantata texts that will be heard in the Leipzig churches? >
I'm not sure why you are so hysterically opposed to the kind of bureaucratic censorship which was normative in 18th century autocratic societies. The key question here revolves around the fact that the libretti were published and all religious publications were monitored carefully by the secular and ecclesiatical authorities. Herl's research on Lutheran administration shows that the secular rulers depended on the ecclesiastical authorities to regulate all religious publications -- heretical tracts were frequently considered treasonable and seditious.

No printer in Leipzig would have undertaken the printing of a religious text without the necessary permission. In Bach's case, such permission was undoubtedly pro forma -- as Cantor he was hardly suspected of treasonable heresy. When Bach's sons dropped off the manuscript copy of the cantatas to the printer every six weeks or so, the printer assumed that the document had the normal permission. No official letters survive. There may have been none. In other places, the subscription "imprimantur" with the official's name was sufficent for such routine documents.

This is admittedly conjectural but there is no reason to extraoplate from the absence of documents that Bach was not part of a typical 18th century bureaucracy. His genius is not compromised by such routine drudgery.

William Rowland (Ludwig) wrote (May 29, 2007):
[To Jean Laaninen] Today we are a very busy Society and Sundays are for some the only personal time that they have with friends and family.

I had once wanted to do a Bach Cantata as part of the Service---mind you this was one of the shorter ones. I was told NO because it would run the service over too much.

William Rowland (Ludwig) wrote (29, 2007):
[To Jean Laaninen] Yes Jean Automobiles did have radios in 1944---I was living then and remember one in my Uncle's Mercury Convertible. They were not standard then and did not become so until the 1950s when also electric windows and other such things came along in an American Motors car.

Jean Laaninen wrote (May 29, 2007):
[To Ludwig] Thanks for the details...

Ed Myskowski wrote (May 29, 2007):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< That leaves us with the "Bored Composer" or "Exhausted Choir" theories which get tossed out without much thought (Sorry Julian, I didn't mean to suggest that you held either opinion ... grin).
I do still lean to the possibility that Bach used these Easter gospel readings from John to create a series of solo cantatas which each time begins with a dictum sung by a bass "in persona Christi". >

Very noticeable, once we treat these works in chronologic order. Has it been pointed out earlier, or are we (Doug and Julian) negotiating for first credit? The cognate Sundays from Jahrgang I might be a useful comparison?

Does the "bored composer" speculation (I hesitate to name it hypothesis, let alone theory) really get tossed out there?

I see a dozen or more related posts, not yet read. I opened my mouth first. Back to reading.

Jean Laaninen wrote (May 29, 2007):
[To Ludwig] At the Presbyterian Church we attended in Apple Valley we had one choir member who actually had the gall to tell the pastor he'd like to see the sermon eliminated and have a strictly musical service. He had to be told no, but that makes more sense than the denial of your request. It seems to me that many of the Lutherans I have known will never know the meaning of cantata apart from some modern works that are casually in my view, often pieced together for Christmas or Easter. I'm not particularly fond of these modern works with spoken parts interspersed. In my view music alone tells the story best.

Ed Myskowski wrote (May 29, 2007):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
<< 1. There are documents which prove that Bach had initiated payments to be made to certain descant Thomaner singers so that these boys would not sing during the extended Christmas/New Years Currende period which lasted until the end of the 3rd week of January. >>
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< These arrangements show that Bach knew the demands of the various seasons of the year well ahead of time and was careful to ensure that his complement of singers was not overextended. Wolff itemizes the Christmas schedule for Christmas 1723-24. It's an extraordinary workload The last thing Bach wanted was his best singers running around the streets singing Christmas chorales for donations. His roster must have been very carefully planned so that physical fatigue and illness did not endanger the quality of performance. The boys who sang "Christen Ätzet" three times on Christmas Day, 1723, plus the Magnificat (BWV 243) in the afternoon were not "laudevere-ing" in the streets. >
Given the well documented additional requirements for singers, both within and beyond any particular service, the 'exhausted choir' speculation seems difficult to comprehend. Let alone support.

Ed Myskowski wrote (May 29, 2007):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
>>Censorship is the probably the wrong word to use for Bach's relationship with the ecclesiatical authorities. <<
Indeed, it is the wrong word, as I believe you subsequently indicated. Prior approval is the more accurate, and more restrictive, term. If it is applicable.

Thomas Braatz wrote:
< Where is there a job description for the Superintendent of Leipzig which spells out the detail that cantata texts would have to be submitted to him prior to performances in the Leipzig churches? >
Only the circumstantial evidence:

(1) The cantata texts, at least for Bach's peak creative years in Leipzig, appear to have been prepared and published well in advance of performance, based on the scarce surviving examples.

(2) Common (or not so common) sense.

Ed Myskowski wrote (May 29, 2007):
Jean Laaninen wrote:
< The time limits are interesting. I remember someone setting an alarm clock under the pulpit at my Lutheran college years ago, and when the sermon for the day exceeded twenty minutes, the clock went off. I cannot imagine sitting through the sermons in Bach's day. >
I cannot imagine sitting through a twenty (20) minute sermon. So I don't Attendance is optional.

Thomas Braatz wrote (May 29, 2007):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
>>I'm not sure why you are so hysterically opposed to the kind of bureaucratic censorship which was normative in 18th century autocratic societies.... Herl's research on Lutheran administration shows that the secular rulers depended on the ecclesiastical authorities to regulate all religious publications --heretical tracts were frequently considered treasonable and seditious. No printer in Leipzig would have undertaken the printing of a religious text without the necessary permission. In Bach's case, such permission was undoubtedly pro forma -- as Cantor he was hardly suspected of treasonable heresy. When Bach's sons dropped off the manuscript copy of the cantatas to the printer every six weeks or so, the printer assumed that the document had the normal permission. No official letters survive. There may have been none. In other places, the subscription "imprimantur" with the official's name was sufficent for such routine documents. This is admittedly conjectural but there is no reason to extraoplate from the absence of documents that Bach was not part of a typical 18th century bureaucracy. His genius is not compromised by such routine drudgery.<<
I still fail to see why whatever Herl may have found documented in other cities or principalities of Germany from 1723-1750 would apply to the unique situation in Leipzig, seat of a reknowned university with religious-political divisions existing within the city council and even at the court in Dresden. If Herl is unable to document more specifically what the Leipzig superintendent's (Salomon Deyling, when Bach arrived in 1723) job description entailed, then it would appear that Petzoldt, Schultze, Dürr and others, who have seriously researched and published various articles where this issue would most naturally be discussed, have good reason to be judiciously careful about stating anything at all about a generalization applied, as it would appear, widely to any part of Lutheran Germany during the 17th and the 1st half of the 18th century.

Douglas Cowling wrote (May 29, 2007):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< I still fail to see why whatever Herl may have found documented in other cities or principalities of Germany from 1723-1750 would apply to the unique situation in Leipzig, seat of a reknowned university with religious-political divisions existing within the city council and even at the court in Dresden. >
Go read the book.

George Brooke wrote (May 29, 2007):
[To Jean Laaninen] Jean, I agree with your basic statement that most of the contemporary "cantatas" are just a bunch of songs strung together. There are, fortunately, a few exceptions (but you have to plow through a lot of junk to find them). In the well composed cantatas I would suggest that the spoken parts are comparable to the recitatives in 18th century cantatas. As has already been discussed, modern congregations/audiences aren't always prepared to handle some of the more "formal" aspects of the music so spoken parts are substituted. Just another view!

(P.S. - Jean, I'm just a short distance from you in New Hope.)

Bradley Lehman wrote (May 29, 2007):
183/5: alleged 10ths in the chorale...

< Also remarkable is the the distinctive chordal spread (tenth in the lower voices ) at "lehret" (teaches) and "erhoeret" ( heard ) , plus the climbing tenths at "steigt" (climbs) in the Chorale BWV 183/5, a further example of Bach's largely unnoticed artistry in word painting in Csettings. I wonder if Bach had large hands such that these, and other Chorale settings , could have stretch enough to sustain the lower parts when composing without recourse to the upper manual of a keyboard . >
I don't agree with (or maybe I just don't grant as sufficiently credible) such comments that would press Bach to have done deliberate little supposedly-theological things. This "largely unnoticed artistry" is (to me) just a bunch of evidence that Bach's musical mastery was excellent, and it doesn't necessarily have anything to do with word-painting here. This chorale BWV 183/5 is a good example of freedom/decoration of melodic parts, within a harmonic framework.

As is taught to first-year students of harmony and counterpoint: it works very well in four-part writing to keep the tenor generally high. Several reasons: (1) It gives plenty of space to have contrary motion between tenor and bass, without having the parts cross (which would invert the harmony). (2) It sounds good, putting a tenor singer into the normally strongest part of his range. (3) It sets up the tenor as an often equally-interesting partner with the soprano, melodically, rather than burying it down where it's harder to hear. (4) It's normal basso-continuo texture on keyboards: where the soprano and bass have contrary motion most of the time, the bass line is wide-ranging, and the alto and tenor parts filling in the middle both tend to get handled by the right hand.

Now, what's this about "the distinctive chordal spread (tenth in the lower voices) at "lehret" (teaches) and "erhoeret" (heard)"? What tenths, distinctive or otherwise? There aren't any of these alleged spreads of 10ths between tenor and bass at the words "lehret" and "erhoeret" in this particular chorale! The tenor and bass are never more than a 7th apart during those words...and they're less than a 5th apart on all the strong beats there. I'm looking directly at the Bach-Gesellschaft page of this chorale. Another decently clean copy in open score (but without text) is at: http://www.jsbchorales.net/down/pdf/018305.pdf
The piano reduction at: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Scores/BWV183-V&P.pdf
doesn't give 10ths there, either. What wrong score gives any 10ths on those words?

As for the first phrase of "es steigt zum Himmel an", what would we have Bach do musically instead of his brief parallel 10ths on the word "zum", needing an E in that inverted A-minor chord and then an F in his passing weak part of that beat? Try taking those two tenor notes down an octave, and then the leap up to the notes of "Himmel" becomes pointlessly awkward: leap up by an augmented 4th and continue into another leap after it? Nope. [General melodic rule in part-writing: when leaping by a dissonant interval, the next thing in that melody is usually either a step, or a leap back in the opposite direction...not a continued leap in the same direction, being hard to sing.] And he can't have his tenor sit on either a C or an A (instead of going E-F quavers), because those would create parallel octaves or parallel 5ths with the bass (try it!). His actual line of C-C-B-E-F-B-E-E-A-E makes more sense, all being nicely confined within the range of a 6th around middle C. He could just have kept his tenor on a bunch of E's through that part of the bar, but that would be an odd break from the steady quaver motion he's already given the tenor all the way through the piece, up to this point.

If Bach was doing anything with text-painting, there at that phrase, why not just remark about the bass ascending by steps through that whole bar? But even that feature could be described as merely a simple rise from tonic to dominant, in contrary motion against the soprano; nothing necessarily theological here either.

The thing I think is nifty about that tenor line at "es steigt zum Himmel an..." is: the last syllable of "Himmel" makes a suspended 7th over the bass, and it really needs to resolve that poignant suspension down from E to D. But instead of doing it immediately, Bach leaps away from and then directly back to the E, keeping it going...until the third note of the next phrase, where he finally resolves it down to D...at which point the D itself makes a new dissonance against the bass's linear motion! Meanwhile, the D has also resolved in the expected spot (last quaver of the word "Himmel") harmonically, but it's happened in another voice (alto), and as a leap to a D of a different octave, going higher than the soprano! Clever stuff.

Another interesting point here, at least to me, is: through this entire chorale Bach doesn't give the tenor any notes outside the scale of A minor, until the C# and its anticipation at the end. This restriction to natural scale notes makes the tenor part, as a whole, more easily singable than either the alto or the bass.

And the part-writing in bar 14, at "geholfen", is exquisitely linear (not just a bunch of obvious chords) with accented passing tones (unprepared appoggiaturas) in the bass...anchored by the alto's repeated G....

I also don't understand the comment about the size of Bach's hands, as if this would be relevant to any use of the upper manual of a keyboard, supposedly to make chorales easier to play. It doesn't. Any use of a second manual just makes it farther to reach, when playing any four-part chorales on a keyboard. Play this one (BWV 183/5) directly from open score with all four voice parts, all on one manual: there aren't any difficult stretches, given the normal basso-continuo practice of playing all three upper voices in the right hand some of the time. The right thumb takes some of the tenor notes; so what? There's nothing extraordinarily awkward here in this piece, vis-a-vis playing other Bach chorales or his real keyboard music. It would be more difficult given the odd artifice of trying to use two manuals at once, or expecting the left hand to take both the tenor and bass parts all the way.

But this too is sort of moot, in the bigger picture; the point in a four-part chorale is not necessarily the easy playability by the organist (either with or without pedal!), but rather the singability and musical effect when it's given to singers, doubled by the orchestra.

I guess my overall point is: it's not necessary to make up little theological tidbit-points, whenever there are obvious and reasonable musical principles that already explain the musical motion well enough.... We know that Bach did musically-skilled things at every moment in his music, because he was a composer. Why not just let him be a composer practicing his craftsmanship?

Thomas Braatz wrote (May 29, 2007):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
>>Go read the book.<<
And what if, as I had already correctly suspected, Herl does not give as part of the job description of a Superintendent of a Luthern Church district censorship of sermons and cantata texts as the most likely tasks performed by a superintendent?

Find the book listed on Amazon.com, where it is possible to access the table of contents and the index and even search the book for specific words like "censor, censorship, superintendent" and it will become quite apparent that this book will offer little or no insight on whether Salomon Deyling, Bach's superintendent, might or might not have passed prior judgement on any cantata texts which Bach wished to set to music.

Herl defines a superintendent as follows: "The superintendent was a priest who oversaw the churches in a given region. Saxony had two kinds of superintendents, general and special, equivalent to bishops and rural deans." p. 41 from "Worship Wars in Early Lutheranism" by Joseph Herl (Oxford University Press, 2004). A major component of a superintendent's job description involved "ecclesiastical visitations" which were reactive and not proactive (like censorship would be).

The closest that Herl gets to relating anything at all to your strong assertion that the Bach's cantata texts had to receive prior approval (the imprimatur of the superintendent) before being set to music and is an obscure reference to a certain Hector Mithobius, jr., a pastor of a church in Otterndorf (north of Bremen) whose father, Dr. Hector Methobius, a pastor (not even a superintendent!) in Böblingen in the early 17th century "would take care that any figural music sung there was appropriate for the service....And when he was at Ratzeburg, he would require a list from the cantors of all the music they desired to perform so that he might review it and request any changes that might better accommodate it to the ecclesiastical time and sermon." (p. 119)

It is evident from obtaining a short insight into Herl's otherwise very interesting and colorful presentation that covers about 2 1/2 centuries in all the various principalities, cities, towns and villages from the North and Baltic Seas to Saxony and cities like Nürnberg and Ulm in the south, that there is little or nothing here that can relate specifically to Bach's situation in Leipzig as far as possible censorship of the sacred texts he selected for composition is concerned.

BTW, the original title pages of the books containing cantata texts (some used by Bach, others not) by von Ziegler and Picander printed in Leipzig show no indication that they needed prior approval by Salomon Deyling before being published.

Douglas Cowling wrote (May 29, 2007):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< It is evident from obtaining a short insight into Herl's otherwise very interesting and colorful presentation that covers about 2 1/2 centuries in all the various principalities, cities, towns and villages from the North and Baltic Seas to Saxony and cities like Nürnberg and Ulm in the south, that there is little or nothing here that can relate specifically to Bach's situation in Leipzig as far as possible censorship of the sacred texts he selected for composition is concerned.
BTW, the original title pages of the books containing cantata texts (some used by Bach, others not) by
von Ziegler and Picander printed in Leipzig show no indication that they needed prior approval by Salomon Deyling before being published. >
It is interesting that you can present collateral evidence and dogmatically assert it as a fact. But if anyone else speculates they must be crushed summarily and offensively.

Herl's study is hardly a "colourful presentaton". It is the most significant original research on music and the Lutheran church since Stiller. You should show more respect for scholarship. Perhaps you should even read the book.

Neil Halliday wrote (May 30, 2007):
BWV 183..

Bradley Lehman wrote:
<"the part-writing in bar 14, at "geholfen", is exquisitely linear (not just a bunch of obvious chords) with accented passing tones (unprepared appoggiaturas) in the bass...anchored by the alto's repeated G....">
Thanks for commenting on this. Playing this section, along with the rest of this chorale (from the piano reduction score) on a sustaining keyboard, allows one to fully relish all of the exquisite dissonances and resolutions in this movement, considered within the context of the linearity of the 4-part writing.
-------
Speaking of resolutions, apart from the lovely resolution to A major at the end of the chorale, the resolution from diminished to major harmony at the end of the alto recitative (Mvt. 3) is striking, and also noteworthy are the resolutions from diminished to minor harmonies in the opening bass recitative (Mvt. 1), particularly striking on "tödtet", given the `archaic' sound (reminiscent of Monteverdi,I read somewhere) of the choir of oboes.

The OCC comments that this cantata is little known because of its unusual instrumentation and the demands on both vocal and instrumental soloists. Certainly the addition of midrange oboes (oboes da caccia) to the orchestral texture (except the tenor aria (Mvt. 2)) is most effective.

The first four of the five movements are given to the each of the soloists in ascending order: B, T, A, S - an unusual occurrence, I think.

In the tenor aria (Mvt. 2), the `cello piccolo obbligato has a lovely rising motif that is heard, ostinato-like, throughout much of the A section of the aria.

The bright, joyous C major tonality of the soprano aria (Mvt. 4) is in marked contrast with the darker, minor key tonalities of the other movements. Auger (with Rilling) is exquisite in this delightful aria. It seems a shame that music such as this should be "hidden" from the general music-loving public, given the cantata's lesser-known status.

Alain Bruguieres wrote (May 30, 2007):
< It is interesting that you can present collateral evidence and dogmatically assert it as a fact. But if anyone else speculates they must be crushed summarily and offensively.
Herl's study is hardly a "colourful presentaton". It is the most significant original research on music and the Lutheran church since Stiller. You should show more respect for scholarship. Perhaps you should even read the book. >
What's so disrespectful about 'colorful'? To me 'very interesting and colorful' doesn't sound that bad. What's wrong with me? Talking about being dogmatic, crushing or offensive, who's been recently throwing words like 'hysterical' at a fellow list member?

One thing you people don't seem to realize is that, when you think you're being offensive to just one person in particular, you offend all people who simply happen to enjoy a civilized conversation.

PS By the way I'm still wondering why the Rifkin quotation I submitted to the list has been completely hushed up... why make such a fuss about getting at the original stuff? Obviously interest in original stuff avoids carefully certain 'blind spots'.

Douglas Cowling wrote (May 30, 2007):
Alain Bruguières wrote:
< What's so disrespectful about 'colorful'? To me 'very interesting and colorful' doesn't sound that bad. What's wrong with me? Talking about being dogmatic, crushing or offensive, who's been recently throwing words like 'hysterical' at a fellow list member?
One thing you people don't seem to realize is that, when you think you're being offensive to just one person in particular, you offend all people who simply happen to enjoy a civilized conversation. >
But that's the problem, Alain, it's not a civilized conversation.

Instead of saying --- "That's an interesting speculation. Do we have any evidence of how censorship of publications was handled in Bach's time?" -- there are aggressive demands for specific proof. What I find particularly offensive is to dismiss Herl's pioneering scholarship as a "colourful presentation" as if it was a quaint travelogue. That's an insulting turn of phrase.

Unfortunately, it's a tone of response that appears too frequently. This forum deserves better.

 

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