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Cantata BWV 197
Gott ist unsre Zuversicht
Cantata BWV 197a
Ehre sei Gott in der Höhe
Discussions - Part 1

Discussions in the Week of February 24, 2002

Nick Kaufman wrote (February 25, 2002):
Bach's Contrast : "Schlafen - Wachen"

This week's wedding Cantata has a clear message. The key to a successful problem-free marriage is trust in the Almighty - a theme carried throughout the whole of the first part of BWV 197. Divine guidance in matrimonial affairs is symbolised by the hands mentioned in the text : "Wir vertrauen seinen Handen" and these hands reinforce the bonds of love. It should be noted that a similar idea was also apparent in last week's wedding cantata BWV 195: "So ruhmt des Hochsten Vaterhand / Er knupfte selbst euer Liebesband".

After the preliminary pomp and fugal festivity of the wedding ceremony itself, the Bass recitative ushers us into the matrimonial residence: "Er halt am besten Haus". We are then invited into the intimacy of the conjugal bed-chamber with the alto aria "Schlafert allen Sorgenkummer" (Mvt. 3). It is in this sublime aria, that the theme of divine trust and the consequent dismissal of worry is compared to the states of slumber and waking. Bach illustrates the comfort of divine security with the soporific warmth of a flattened major key. We are lulled into a state of tranquillity, enhanced by a long chromatic yawn on the word "Schlafert" and the syncopated nodding of the melodic line as we descend into slumber. We are then rudely awakened and reminded that "Gottes Auge, welche wachen". The tonality is abruptly changed to a harsh minor key and the tempo is quickened emphasizing the sense of alertness and divine vigilance.

I believe that a similar contrast is to be found, both conceptually and musically, in the nocturnal Gethsemane of the St. Matthew Passion (BWV 244).This time, however, the metaphors are inverted. Vigilance is now equated with trust and fidelity: "Ich will bei meinem Jesu wachen" and its reward is the remission of sin - here equated with sleep. Bach, once again, resorts to the same musical devices in order to give heighten the "schlafen - wachen" contrast. The tenor provides a similar melismatic decoration of the word "wachen" in a cold minor key whilst the juxtaposed chorus intercedes in chorale format, carressing and reassuring, in the warmth of E flat major: "So schlafen unsre Sunden ein".

Dick Wursten wrote (February 25, 2002):
< Nick Kaufman wrote about the: soporific warmth of a flattened major key >
I wondered: What kind of warmth is that ?

Aryeh Oron wrote (February 28, 2002):

For this week's discussion (February 24, 2002), we have another Wedding Cantata, BWV 197 'Gott ist unsre Zuversicht'. This is the last one in Vicente Vida's proposed list of cantatas for discussion. .

In order to allow the members of the BCML preparing themselves for the discussion, I compiled a list of the recordings of this cantata. I put the details of the recordings in the following page of the Bach Cantatas Website: Cantata BWV 197 - Recordings
In the same page there is also a link to an English translation of the German text of this cantata (English-3), made by Francis Browne, a member of the BCML.

As last week BWV 195, BWV 197 is also a rarely recorded cantata, and besides the recordings from the three complete Bach Cantata cycles (Rilling [3], Leonhardt [4], and Leusink [5]), there is one additional recording. This one is by Nikolaus Harnoncourt, made in 1969 [1], a year before he started his joint project with Gustav Leonhardt of recording the complete Bach Sacred Cantatas. It means that we have here the rare opportunity of hearing Harnoncourt and Leonhardt head to head in the same cantata. Together with this cantata Harnoncourt recorded also Cantatas BWV 50 & BWV 83. Both renditions found their way into the complete cantata cycle, although they had been recorded before the cycle began. Why did Teldec (Telefunken) chose to re-record BWV 197, this time with Leonhardt, instead of using Harnoncourt's recording, I do not have a clue. I found out that this recording is available in CD form, and ordered it couple of weeks ago. If I am lucky it will arrive next week. If not, and if a member of the BCML has both Leonhardt and Harnoncourt's recordings, I would like to hear a comparison of them.

I hope to see many of you participating in the discussion.

The Recordings

[1] Nikolaus Harnoncourt (1969)
I did not have this recording at my disposal when I was writing this review.

[3] Helmuth Rilling (1984)
[4] Gustav Leonhardt (1989)
[5] Pieter Jan Leusink (2000)


The background below is taken from W. Murray Young's book 'The Cantatas of J.S. Bach - An Analytical Guide'. The English translation of the text is also taken from the same source. Since this is a long cantata, I chose to review only the opening chorus and the three arias.

For Christmas Day 1728, Bach had composed cantata 'Ehre sei Gott in der Höhe' (Glory to God in the highest), BWV 197a, of which the music has been lost except for two of the arias in this present cantata which borrow from those original arias. Picander wrote that original libretto, which is still available.

This is a wedding cantata on a grand scale, celebrating the marriage of two unknown but very important people. Bach himself was probably the librettist of this long but brilliant work, which is divided into two parts: before the wedding service and after it ('Vor der Trauung' and 'Nach der Trauung').

1st Part - Before the Wedding
Mvt. 1 Chorus
Gott ist unsre Zuversicht
(God is our confidence)
Tromba I-III, Timpani, Oboe I/II, Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo

The fugal theme, played tutti by the orchestra, is an imposing prelude to this solemn ceremony and continues to accompany the choir in the first two lines. There is the suggestion of a step-motif in the repeated beats of the melody throughout the movement. The rest of the stanza is sung in canon by the sopranos and the altos. This is the most impressive number in the cantata. The listener feels drawn into this magnificent hymn of praise, as though he too was present in the church on the occasion.

Confidence in God's way and exuberant joy characterise Rilling's rendition [3]. The canon for sopranos and altos is getting full blossom here. Leonhardt [4] was better and more spirited in the first cantatas in his joint cantata cycle with Leonhardt. As the cycle progressed, his performances became more routine and less interesting. The good factor in his recording of the opening chorus is the clear separation between the voices of the choir, which makes it easier to follow. All the other factors – the over-accentuation of the beat, and especially the dry playing and singing and lack of ant real expression, make the impression of total mis-interpretation of the chorus. Leusink [5] follows Leonhardt's example by accentuating the beat in similar way. But he succeeds in putting more enthusiasm and liveliness into the opening chorus.

Priorities: Rilling [3], Leusink [5], Leonhardt [4]

Mvt. 3 Aria for Alto
Schläfert allen Sorgenkummer
(Put to sleep all worrisome cares)
Oboe d'amore I, Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo

Bach borrowed the melody for this aria from the identical tune in the alto aria of BWV 217 (BWV 249a), the secular cantata which he hcomposed in 1725. It is accompanied by oboes and strings and has three themes: the first is in the tempo of a lullaby, the second more animated, and the third reveals a tone of confidence which the words of the text indicated to Bach for his word-painting. This aria is a good example of the attention paid to the words in his text.

The calm yet lively singing of the Alto Mechthild Georg (with Rilling) [3] and the rich and, warm and clean playing of the oboist bring out all the colours and moods of this picture. The child can safely sleep. For my ears a woman alto is more appropriate here than a counter-tenor. René Jacobs sings pleasantly with Leonhardt [4], but with no sense of real involvement. Maybe it is the conductor's fault, because I know that Jacobs can do better, much better. Buwalda [5] is a wrong casting for the alto aria. Not only because he is a man, but mainly because you always afraid that something might be broken when he walks on thin layer of ice. Certainly you (the listener) do not gain confidence from such playing and singing.

Priorities: Georg/Rilling [3], Jacobs/Leonhardt [4], Buwalda/Leusink [5]

2nd Part - After the Wedding
Mvt. 6 Aria for Bass
O du angenehmes Paar!
(O thou pleasing couple!)
Oboe I, Violino I/II, Viola, Fagotto obbligato, Continuo

Oboes, strings and the bassoon play a rocking tune that Bach rearranged from the alto aria in BWV 197a. In this original version, it was a cradle-song for the infant Jesus, yet Bach's adaptation fits beautifully the text addressed to the newly wedding couple.

Philippe Huttenlocher (with Rilling) [3] has the right voice for this aria (authoritative, but not too heavy) to reflect both the happy he feels looking at the young couple and the blessing he gives them. The low level of expression in Leonhard's recording [4] continues into thr aria for bass. IMO, Harry van der Kamp's singing has never been very strong in expressive terms. I like this aria, but if that was the only recording I knew, I doubt if I would have enjoyed this aria so much. Since the emotional demands are not heavy, Ramselaar (with Leusink) [5] is doing fine.

Priorities: Huenlocher/Rilling [3], Ramselaar/Leusink [5], Kamp/Leonhardt [4]

Mvt. 8 Aria for Soprano
Vergnügen und Lust
(Delight and pleasure)
Violino solo, Oboe d'amore I/II, Continuo

This melody for oboes and strings is again borrowed from BWV 197a, wherein it is used as in a bass aria. Its joy-motif seems to resemble the gay rhythm of a German country-dance or Ländler to illustrate the happiness that she has mentioned in her recitative (previous movement). The light tone of the soprano voice adds to the joyful impression made by music and text.

The delicate expression and the sweet voice of Costanza Cuccaro (with Rilling) [3] suit the joyful and happy mood of this aria perfectly. The boy soprano in Leonhard's recording [4] is not equipped with enough expressive and technical powers to do the aria for soprano justice. Holton (with Leusink) [5] with her light and innocent voice, and Leusink’s exquisite accompaniment, do justice for this aria for soprano.

Priorities: Cuccaro/Rilling [3], Holton/Leusink [5], O'Farrell (boy sopran)/Leonhardt [4]


Personal Priotities for the complete cantata: Rilling [3], Leusink [5], Leonhatdt [4].

Don't let the high BWV number and title 'Wedding Cantata' mislead you. This is a magnificent cantata with fine arias. Highly recommended, especially in Rilling's rendition.

And as always, I would like to hear other opinions, regarding the above mentioned performances, or other recordings.

Harry J. Steinman wrote (March 2, 2002):
It took me several listenings before I 'got' this cantata. My first impression of the opening movement was, "Ho hum...trumpets, drums, etc..." But after several listenings, something 'clicked'. I found a weight in Leusink's recording [5] (my only version of this cantata) that is unusual, in my opinion, for his conducting style. It is that 'heft' in the choral singing that grabbed my attention.

Skipping ahead to the soprano aria (Mvt. 8) I found Bach's use of the oboes on the second beat of the 6/8 time to be a very subtle way of grabbing my attention. Interesting: Organ-oboe-oboe; Organ-oboe-oboe (1-2-3; 4-5-6) Listen to the aria about 1 minute into the movement and this is very clearly heard in the instrumental interlude.

I have the recording, "The Bach Album" (DG 173670) [M-2], which is a collection of arias for soprano and violin, with Kathleen Battle and the great Itzhak Perlman. I expected it to suffer from 'opereticism' if I can coin that term: Excessive drama and vibrato. I was very happily surprised at the wonderful treatment, in my opinion. This aria is a world of difference from the Leusink. Perlman is one of the greatest violinists of the century and one can hear a significant difference in the violin parts...and Battle is magnificent: Direct and powerful. Maybe there are technical flaws that my uneducated ears cannot hear, mispronounciations and the like. Happily, I remain ignorant of these things. If you have this recording, listen in particular about 1:45 into the movement as Battle and Perlman become more and more 'intense'...the volume and intensity of their performance increase and give way to a lovely few-measure interchange between violin and viola at about 1:58 that is heavenly.

Otherwise, in the cantata, I enjoy the bass aria (Mvt. 6) very much-in particular the bassoon in the background (continuo???) and really enjoy the soprano recitative (Mvt. 7) especially at about 0:40 where the recitative becomes more songlike-arioso I believe is the term. Yes?

I didn't care much for the choral movements. Nothing wrong with 'em, just didn't grab me. I wish I had another version with which to compare, but with wedding and all in the future, it's just not in the budget. I wonder if I should register at Amazon ;D

Well, till next week,

Nick Kaufman wrote (March 2, 2002):
[To Dick Wursten] Well - I was conscious of maybe being a little too verbose when I wrote that !! But although I have not got the score - the key of "Schlafert" certainly sounds like E flat to me - maybe you can correct me if I am wrong. As a pianist, I always find E flat to be a comforting, happy and in this case sleepy key. The flats I always associate more with warmth as opposed to the sharps which I associate with coldness. I do not think that I am the only one to make such associations. Scriabin, for example, would associate notes with colours ! Having said that - I suppose it is all very subjective.


Continue on Part 2

Cantatas BWV 197 & BWV 197a: Details & Complete Recordings of BWV 197 | Recordings of Individual Movements from BWV 197 | Details & Recordings of BWV 197a | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Recordings & Discussions of Cantatas: Main Page | Cantatas BWV 1-50 | Cantatas BWV 51-100 | Cantatas BWV 101-150 | Cantatas BWV 151-200 | Cantatas BWV 201-224 | Cantatas BWV Anh | Order of Discussion
Discussions of General Topics: Cantatas & Other Vocal Works | Performance Practice | Radio, Concerts, Festivals, Recordings


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