Cantata BWV 194Höchsterwünschtes Freudenfest
Cantata BWV 194a
Discussions - Part 1
Discussions in the Week of May 26, 2002
Francis Browne wrote (May 29, 2002):
For members who are listening to BWV 194 it might be of interest to visit the following site which has details and photographs of the church and organ celebrated in the cantata: http://www.fortunecity.com/tinpan/cliff/411/hildebrandt/hildt07.htm
Dick Wursten wrote (May 29, 2002):
If the 'singing'-part of the Bach-cantates is not your favorite, this cantata is your golden opportunity. An almost complete instrumental suite of dances is provided here... and in some pieces the human voice is - IMHO - just another instrument.
A.Dürr gives this outline of the orchestral suite:
mvt 1 = French Ouverture
mvt 3 = pastorale
mvt 5 = gavotte
mvt 8 = gigue
mvt 10 = minuet
P.S.: It must have been a wonderful organ, to receive such celebration from the fellow-instruments.... and not 'turn pale' itself...
Aryeh Oron wrote (May 30, 2002):
The subject of this week’s discussion (May 26, 2002), according to Francis Browne’s suggested list, is Cantata BWV 194 Höchsterwünschtes Freudenfest, for Trinity Sunday & Dedication of the Church and the Organ at Störmthal.
The details of the recordings of this cantata can be found in the following page of the Bach Cantatas Website: Cantata BWV 194 - Recordings
All the five complete recordings of this cantata are coming from the 5 recorded cantata cycles (Rilling , Harnoncourt , Koopman , Leusink , and Suzuki ). The form of this work is broadly speaking that of an orchestral suite, and it is quite long – about 35 to 40 minutes in most of the recordings, with Rilling stretching it to more than 47 minutes!
I hope to see many of you participating in the discussion.
The background below is taken from Alfred Dürr’s book on the Bach Cantatas. Francis Browne was very kind to send me his translation to English.
See: Cantata BWV 194 - Commentary
Dick Wursten wrote (May 30, 2002):
In the booklet of the Leusink-edition Dingeman van Wijnen writes:
<Bach's wife Anna Magdalena is said to have been the soprano soloist>
I am curious: Does anyone know where this 'is said'..
If true: she must have had a tremendous voice, because indeed the soprano has to sing extremely high. Ruth Holton has to stand on the tip of her toes to reach the highest notes...
Aryeh Oron wrote (June 1, 2002):
Mvt. 5 Aria for Soprano
Hilf, Gott, daß es uns gelingt,
(Help us, God, that we may achieve this)
Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo
Bach is said to have brought his wife, Anna Magdalena, as solo soprano for this cantata. We know that at that time it was unusual for a woman to perform in the church. Therefore, I found it interesting to find out how our contemporary soprano singers followed her path. The aria for soprano is also the most attractive and memorable movement of this unique cantata.
Before the review of the recordings here is some commentary:
W. Murray Young (1989)
The rhythm of a gavotte, played by the instruments and sung by the soprano, makes this the outstanding solo number in both parts of the cantata. Here is to be found the only Biblical reference, taken from Isaiah 6: 6-7, of the seraphim cleansing the prophet of sin by placing a live coal in his mouth. Bach uses his imagery of divine fire throughout the aria as a sin-cleansing agent and a purifying force. The dance rhythm does not detract from the singer’s declamation of these verses; in fact, Bach has made the poetry conform to the measured tune he wished to set.
Dingeman van Wijnen (liner notes to Leusink’s recording, 2000)
The aria for soprano is dance-like and with nice runs on ‘dringt’; it refers to the story of the prophet Isaiah’s mouth being cleansed by a burning coal before he states his (fiery) prophecies.
Review of the Recordings
 Rilling with Judith Beckmann (soprano) (1976-1977; 6:52)
As can be easily seen and heard, Rilling is stretching this aria to its limits. I would say even over its limits. The strings are rich and full and sometimes over-dominating the scene. In terms of expression and richness of voice Judith Beckmann has a lot to offer. The main problem of her interpretation lies with the instability of her voice. There is a certain vibration in her voice along the whole range, which seems that she cannot control. It distracts from pure enjoyment from what could have been a much better performance in a somewhat faster tempo.
 Harnoncourt with either Hans Stricker or Stefan Giener (boy soprano) (1989; 6:04)
This part was definitely not written for a boy soprano. I understand that Harnoncourt adheres to authentic approach, but it does not always justify his choices. In most of the cases this cycle used boys for the soprano parts. The exception were the two solo cantatas – BWV 51 & BWV 199. With some more research I believe that Harnoncourt would have reached the conclusion that if Bach indeed wrote the soprano parts of this cantata for his wife, than it would be much more appropriate to use an adult woman soprano here. The boy who sings the aria proves the case. His voice in the middle register lacks richness and he is trying hard to prove that he has upper register, but as a result sounds screaming. In terms of expression he has nothing to offer.
 Koopman with Sibylla Rubens (soprano) ((1998; 5:38)
Rubens has it all: a beautiful and rich voice along the whole range, expressive powers, taste, and technical finesse. She is hard to bit in this aria. This rendition is performed faster than all the others are, but Rubens has no problem to sing in this tempo. On the contrary, this tempo sounds to my ears more suitable to this aria. The balance between the strings and the singer is also good. I mean that they play piano in the accompanying parts as they should, and do not cover the singer, as some of the other renditons do.
 Leusink with Ruth Holton (soprano) (2000; 6:02)
The aria opens with charming playing from the strings. Holton enters in smoothly. Her voice is definitely more ‘angelic’ than Rubens’. In the case of this aria I find it unsatisfactory and one-dimensional. It seems that there are corners in this aria to which she does not get at. Furthermore, as Dick has rightly noted, she has problems with the high notes.
 Suzuki with Yukari Nonoshita (soprano) (2000; 6:05)
Nonoshita is a fine singer, who seems to be in full control of what she is doing. The problem is that sometimes she sounds too calculated. This rendition would have gained from freer and warmer approach. Direct comparison between her and Rubens reveals that she is somewhat weaker also regarding the richness and fullness of voice and the confidence of delivery. The playing of the accompaniment is impeccable: lively, light, clean and supportive.
In the first three rounds I have been listening to the five recordings of this cantata in their completeness. In the final and concluding round I listened only to the Aria for Soprano. Here are my personal preferences:
Rubens/Koopman , Nonoshita/Suzuki , Holton/Leusink , Beckmann/Rilling , Boy Soprano/Harnoncourt 
As always, I would like to hear other opinions, regarding the above mentioned performances, or other recordings.
Francis Browne wrote (June 6, 2002):
See: Cantata BWV 194 - Provenance
I listened to Leusink  when I translated this cantata some weeks ago, and more recently Suzuki .
 From time to time the Leusink cycle seems regularly to be the subject of dissatisfaction on this list, and I have contributed my share to expressing its shortcomings. Perhaps it is worthwhile trying to keep some sort of balance by saying that for many cantatas -this one included - Leusink's performance conveys the excellence of Bach's music and gives much delight. Since this cycle is by far the cheapest and most easily available, Leusink and his singers and musicians must have done more than anybody else in recent years to spread knowledge and love of the cantatas. It would be interesting to know how many of the 260 members of the list are like me able to follow the discussions because of Leusink.
 Having said that I have to add that in almost every respect I found the Suzuki recording superior. The choir are much better disciplined, the orchestral playing is consistently excellent and well judged and the soloists are both technically more proficient and able to find more expression in the music. My general impression of the Suzuki cantatas I have heard is very favourable : these are performances of musicians of great integrity, who have prepared with care, are concerned to perform the music to the very best of their ability and are guided by a musician who shows profound understanding of Bach.
What a pity that the Suzuki cycle is so many years from completion and the cds cost almost six times the price of Leusink!
Dick Wursten wrote (June 6, 2002):
< Bach's wife Anna Magdalena IS SAID TO HAVE BEEN the soprano soloist >
(Dingeman van Wijnen, CD Leaflet, Brilliant Classics)
< Anna Magdalena WAS the soprano soloist. > (Francis Browne)
Apparently Francis Browne has access to a source, unavailable to Dingeman van Wijnen. Which source, i wonder, because this transition from supposition (assumption ?) to factual statement intrigues me [I asked the question before, 30-05.]
Even more after reading Brorimbachs essay on the authorship of the canatatatext of BWV194. Isn't there the same tendency to introduce Magdalena as the sopranosoloist as often as possible (= every performance outside a regular service f.i.) as to ascribe non-ascribed cantata-libretto's to Bach himself. The argumentum ex nihilo is forbidden in logic at least since Aristotle... Correct me if I'm wrong.
So: who can enlighten me about the participation of Magdalena in Bach’s performance of BWV 194.
Francis Browne wrote (June 6, 2002):
[To Dick Wursten] You are quite right to threaten me withe ghost of Aristotle. I have no more authority for assuming that Anna Magdalena was at Stoermthal than a carelessly read sentence from Whittaker's book (p265, vol 1) :"The manuscript of the score associates this work with the service [on November 2nd 1723] and Anna Magdalena was soprano soloist." I assumed that the evidence was based on the manuscript but that is not what the sentence necessarily says and I have no other source of information.
Thomas Shepherd wrote (June 1, 2002):
As I have just received a copy of the Suzuki recording of this cantata, can I add my observations before BWV194 goes completely out of recent memory?
I was pleased to see the exchange about Anna Magdalena recently as I have been puzzling about how Bach managed to perform the new cantata at a local village church without the forces of a knowledgeable and flexible choir and soloists.
I was also very pleased to see a picture of the church and the basic description of the organ and its registration
http://www.fortunecity.com/tinpan/cliff/411/hildebrandt/hildt07.htm posted by Francis Browne.
Can one really expect that the local village church choir (if indeed there was one) was up to singing the first chorus? Did Bach bring his own choir and a few of his most reliable instrumentalists the 12km from Leipzig for this gig? And as there is no particular part written specifically for the new organ was it simply employed in the role of accompanying the congregation and as a continuo instrument? Certainly the settings of both chorales are simple and would lend themselves to a good congregational sing and set them up for a really good long sermon and a chance to exercise their vocal chords at the end of the service.
The chamberlain Hilmar von Fullen on whose estate the village of Störmthal was situated and who provided funds for the church and new organ would have understood the language of courtly music. The idiom was well chosen by Bach for this occasion - a series of modified dance movements.
But what I am really curious about are the recitatives. As has been so often said they don't amount to great music. Its almost as if they had been dashed off at very great speed. Yet the words express a clear theology. They describe Pauline/Augustinian/Lutheran theology of the two cities the earthly and the heavenly. In the first half, before the sermon they describe the earthly pilgrimage of Christians as the living temple of God, symbolically represented by the building about whose dedication the cantata was written. In true Pietistic devotional language the soul yearns for a deeper and greater relationship with God. The second half, though, talks of the heavenly city, the City of God. Here is described the nearer presence to God, the beatific vision and the promise of the delights of heaven. Certainly this could be used at any Sunday of Trinity, as it speaks of the vision of God as Trinity.
However I'm also curious on another level about whether there is any significance in the DATE for which this cantata was written November 2nd. I have to admit that I know little of the details of the Lutheran Kalendar. It is certainly true that nowadays many will celebrate the feast of All Saints throughout the world on 1st November. The Book of Common Prayer marks it as a major feast day of the Anglican Communion and the feast of All Souls (not mentioned in BCP) is remembered by many on November 2nd. Is it at all possible that the theme of the sermon on that day in Störmthal and Bach's text for the second half of the cantata is reflecting the theology of All Saints-tide? Certainly there are several points in the Tenor recitative (no. 7) where there is direct reference to the beatific vision of the blessed (saints) in glory of the City of God.
Ye holy ones, be joyful now,
Haste, hasten, this your God to honour:
Your hearts be now exalted
To God's own glorious realm,
From where he now o'er thee,
Thou holy dwelling, watcheth
And to himself the heart made pure
From this earth's vanity he draweth.
A rank which truly blest is named
Beholds here Father, Son, and Ghost.
Come forth, ye souls which God inspireth!
Ye will now choose the finest portion;
The world can give you no refreshment,
Ye can in God alone live blest and in contentment.
And other words in the second half point in the same direction as well. So I ask, could this be a cantata as much for the celebration of the rededication of the church and organ as for All Saints-tide? For my part, if invited to heaven, I would quite happily dance for eternity in the measured rhythms of 17th cent courtly dances!!
Meanwhile I will be quite happily threatened with the ghost of Aristotle!
Continue on Part 2
Cantatas BWV 194 & BWV 194a: Details & Complete Recordings of BWV 194 | Recordings of Individual Movements from BWV 194 | Details of BWV 194a | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3