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Cantata BWV 203
Amore traditore
Discussions - Part 1

Bach’s Italian Cantatas

Juozas Rimas wrote (October 6, 2002):
While searching the archive of this mailing list, I haven't found the Bach's Italian cantatas mentioned. Those are BWV 203 (Amore traditore) and BWV 209 (Non sa che sia dolore).

I have listened to "Amore traditore" BWV 203, sung by J. Villisech and with Leonhardt at the harpsichord. I found the singer dull though. Are there any other versions you found interesting?

I know D.F. Dieskau has performed it, with a very interesting accompaniment:
Picht-Axenfeld, Edith (pianoforte), Poppen, Irmgard (cello), Nicolet, Aurèle (flute), Keller, Helmut (violin). It could be much more interesting than the Leonhardt's version. I have the following information about the recording: 1960-02 Berlin, EMI (LP), CD 5 68509 2. I have never listened to it, though.

"Amore traditore" is a secular cantata on the banal topic of adultery. How could JSB, the humble servant of God, bother about such things? I suspect this was one of the reasons to doubt the authenticity of the cantata :)

No recordings of BWV 209 are mentioned at too and I have access only to Leonhardt's version with Agnes Giebel as the soprano. It's a soprano-only cantata with an introductory sinfonia. Its occasion is "farewell to a scholar called to Ansbach", according to Z.P. Ambrose's website. The text is very peculiar, having naval elements: do you know any other Bach's cantata where the sea is mentioned? :) I don't understand its meaning, however, because according to Google Ansbach is a Bavarian town, so if Bach's friend was going to something as deep in the interior as Ansbach, why mention the sea?

Musically, BWV 203 could blossom with really good bass singing, especially the second aria which has a very pleasant jolly accompaniment (a bit reminiscent of Bach's clavier inventions). Harpsichord plays really quirky music in the first aria - is this style called "burlesca"?

BWV 209 starts with a beautiful sinfonia - the cute line of the flute creates a mood which is balancing between serenity and slight sadness. It made me remember the Menuett from the 2nd orchestral suite, however the sinfonia is over 7 minutes of length (in Leonhardt's reading) - much of a good thing! And it has even some pizzicato in places - could you remind me where else Bach used this technique?

Agnes Giebel sings the recitatives and arias surprisingly well. Although I'd prefer an even more delicate singing in this cantata, her voice has plenty of lushness and warmth for a soprano. Actually, I don't feel I need another version of the cantata currently, unless you have some really exquisite soprano to recommend.

Thanks for your opinions and recommendations.

Aryeh Oron wrote (October 6, 2002):
[To Juozas Rimas] Thanks for your review.

< While searching the archive of this mailing list, I haven't found the Bach's Italian cantatas mentioned. Those are BWV 203 (Amore traditore) and BWV 209 (Non sa che sia dolore). [snip] No recordings of BWV 209 are mentioned at too >
The only reason you could not find both cantatas either in the archive of the BCML or the Bach Cantatas Website, is that they have not yet been discussused in the BCML. By the end of 2003 we plan to complete the first round of weekly discussions of all the Bach Cantatas. So, do not worry! The time of these two cantatas will come during 2003.

Aryeh Oron wrote (October 9, 2002):
[To Juozas Rimas] Following your interest in the Italian Cantatas of J.S. Bach, I compiled lists of both cantatas.
Cantata BWV 203:
Cantata BWV 209:

If anybody is aware of a recording I have missed, please inform me.

Juozas Rimas wrote (October 9, 2002):
[To Aryeh Oron] Thanks, Aryeh!


Discussions in the Week of October 5, 2003 (1st round)

Aryeh Oron wrote (October 7, 2003):
BWV 203 - Introduction

The chosen work for this week’s discussion (October 5, 2003) is the solo Italian cantata for bass ‘Amore traditore’ (Treacherous love). Both the date and the place of performance of this work are known, and so is the name of its librettist. It seems likely that Bach composed the work as an experiment in the Italian-style cantata, which was in fashion in the early 18th century and produced by such composers as Händel and Alessandro Scarlatti. Bach’s cantata has no pastoral setting as in some of their works, but it is similar in emotions expressed and in the light instrumental accompaniment.

There are only three movements in this solo cantata, and the only instrument is harpsichord. The bass singer expresses his feelings on love, after suffering from unrequited love. This is the sole theme of the cantata. This is probably Bach’s first attempt at composing in the Italian manner. One would wonder why this and the other Italian cantata, BWV 209 (planned for discussion in the BCML during the week of November 2, 2003), were his only works in this genre, since he must have been heard others in the Saxon courts where he was employed. Perhaps he did not consider them as anything more than a diversion, like the tunes he heard at the Dresden Opera. Perhaps he composed more of this kind. Perhaps he is not the composer of this cantata. Shall we ever know?


I am aware of 8 complete recordings of this cantata, all of which are listed at the following page of the Bach Cantatas Website (BCW): Cantata BWV 203 - Recordings
I intend to add some Music Examples later.

Additional Information

In the page of complete recordings mentioned above you can also find links to useful complementary information:
a. Original Italian text and various translations, three of which were contributed by members of the BCML: English (Francis Browne), French (Jean-Pierre Grivois) and Hebrew (Aryeh Oron).
b. Score from BGA Edition.
c. Commentaries: in English by Simon Crouch (Listener’s Guide) and James Leonard (AMG), and in Spanish by Julio Sánchez Reyes (CantatasDeBach).

I hope to see many of you participating in the discussion. BWV 203 would be the 201st cantata discussed in the BCML. Only 10 cantatas (1 sacred, 9 secular), including this one, remained to be discussed!

Aryeh Oron wrote (October 12, 2003):
BWV 203 - Background

The commentary below, quoted from the liner notes to Egmond/Mencoboni’s recording on Nuova Era [9], was written by Marco Mencoboni (English translation by Timothy Alan Shaw).

The cantata Amore Traditore, whose Bachian paternity has long been debated, is quite an anomalous composition. Its structure used two deeply different arias, separated by a short recitative. The style in the writing of the arias might lead us to think of two different composers. While the first aria has two basso parts (one for the soloist and one for the accompanist) practically equivalent and interchangeable, in the second we find the harpsichord dominating in concertante mode. The first aria in particular is a perfect example of composition realised according to the rules of the "Theatralischen Sachen", on which Johann David Heinichen lingers in his Der General-bass in der Composition, published in Dresden in 1728. In this kind of composition, quite different from that of sacred and chamber music, the execution of the musical parts, as well as the evolution of dissonances, were treated in quite an unconventional way, which involved a greater freedom for the basso part. In fact the part of basso continuo, hardly ever represents the real fundamental bass in this cantata, thus making the reading and the correct execution of thetext somehow problematic and sibylline. Although many other composers such as Alessandro Scarlatti and Händel worked according to this stylistic rules, the aria in question is so enigmatic to make one think it was composed (probably by Bach himself) for a musical competition between Bach and the French organist Marchand, that should have taken place in Dresden in 1717.

Recordings & Timings




Mvt. 1

Mvt. 2

Mvt. 3



Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau







Klaus Ocker







Jacques Villisech







Siegfried Lorenz







Max van Egmond







Klaus Mertens







Dietrich Henschel






Short Review of the Recordings

[4] The cellist and harpsichordist are in full compatibility with DFD in the earliest recording of this cantata I have heard (the first recording, by Bruno Müller, has never been issued in CD form). DFD manages to find poetry where some other singers have difficulties putting some interest into the apparently meagre possibilities. After hearing all the other recordings several times, my conclusion is that this recording has never been surpassed, not even equalled.

[6] Surprisingly, Claus Ocker’s approach is very similar to DFD, and he uses the same instrumentation for the continuo, with very good players. His rendition is somewhat less varied than DFD’s regarding the singer’s part, but he has the authority, expressiveness and taste to make his performance almost as compelling.

[5] Jacques Villisech is accompanied by harpsichord only. The player is Gustav Leonhardt, who does some interesting things but does not keep the flow and the momentum of his part. But the main cause for the unattractiveness of this performance is the singer with rigid voice, dull expression and lack of any sensitivity to the words. Many Bach cantata movements can please even with mediocre singer. This cantata does not belong to this group, and it stands or falls mainly on the capabilities and the actual performance of the singer. Sorry, but here it falls.

[8] With Siegfried Lorenz’ rendition, the accompanied of harpsichord and cello is strengthened by double-bass. I see it as a burden rather than an advantage. Because instead of adding another factor for variety, it makes the accompaniment too thick, heavy and dragged. The delicate balance that should be kept between the singer and the accompaniment is almost breaking up. This is a pity, because the singer is giving bravely his outmost in this problematic circumstances and shows that he is a very capable singer with good and pleasant voice, right amount of expressiveness and understanding of the Bach’s idiom. In some moments, when not disturbed by the accompaniment, he is almost as moving as DFD is.

[9] With Max van Egmond’s rendition we meet a singer late in his singing career (If I am not mistaken this was among his last recording as a performing artist). But the age almost never shows up in his voice. He is using his subdued and tasteful approach, with which we have become well acquainted in the H&L Cantata series. His has the fine and imaginative harpsichordist Marco Mencoboni, as his only partner. Mencoboni makes the case for using only the harpsichord in the liner notes to this album: “In Bach and Händel cantatas’ arias we have conferred to the instrument and almost orchestral function, as if it were a little chamber orchestra. This, we deem, was a common practice in the realisation of the cantata da camera italiana.” This is the only similarity between this and Villisech/Leonhardt rendition [5]. I find that both the singer and the harpsichordist here are in better shape, and are much more interesting to listen to. The sound of the harpsichord in this rendition is delicate and rich with extra sonorities, the most beautiful of all seven renditions. The overt chemistry between singer and player contributes to the relative satisfactory results. Had the singer allowed himself to be more expressive, this could be a much better rendition.

[12] With Mertens/Koopman/Linden we have three equal partners of very high level. The only problem I have with this rendition is the expression, which is kept on a minimal level. This is a very well-balanced rendition indeed, but not very moving.

[13] Dietrich Henschel is one of the young bass-baritones singers to whom it is almost always a pleasure to listen. He is accompanied by the very capable Michael Behringer on harpsichord (without a cello). This is much more expressive rendition than the previous one, its only (but major) weakness is being played too fast. The tendency to use extra-speedy tempos characterises HIP renditions, and here, quite untypical to him, Rilling adopts this bad habit. The singer succeeds somehow to pass the cantata quite successfully in this tempo, but the listener is not, feeling almost breathless when the cantata comes to an end.


BWV 203 is not one of Bach’s memorable cantatas, but with DFD [4] (and Ocker [6]) it becomes a rewarding work, worth of repeated listening.

Nobody has contributed to the discussion of this cantata so far. I would like to hear other opinions, regarding the work and/or its recordings.

Neil Halliday wrote (October 13, 2003):
[To Aryeh Oron] I have the Henschel/Rilling 1998 recording of BWV 203 [13].

I can't seem to find much of interest in these two arias, possibly because they are performed, as Aryeh suggests, at too fast a tempo; the general impression is of fistfuls of notes of vague pitch on the harpsichord, and much trilling - vibrato - from the singer.

The DFD/Müller performance [4] of the 1st aria, at nearly half the speed of Rilling, no doubt provides music of more meaning and interest than the version I have.

Aryeh Oron wrote (October 13, 2003):
BWV 203 – Music Examples

I have uploaded into the Bach Cantatas Website Music Examples (mp3 format) of the Recitative (Mvt. 2) from 7 recordings of Cantata BWV 203. See: Cantata BWV 203 - Music Examples

While the recitative does not necessarily reflect the achievements of the singer and his accompaniment in the outer (and more important?) movements (the arias), it could still be a fascinating experience comparing approaches of 7 different teams to this short (Italian style) movement.
I would like to hear your opinions.

Neil Halliday wrote (October 14, 2003):
[To Aryeh Oron] These examples show how interesting secco recitatives can be, when they are accompanied by imaginative continuo realisations.

The dull ones are those lacking a 'pedal-point' from the cello, where this instrument is part of the ensemble; and of the three with harpsichord alone, the Max van Egmond [9] is the most interesting (with Henschel [13] a close second), for the elaborate improvisatory harpsichord realisation. All the singers sound capable, and expressive, to my ears.

Jason Marmaras wrote (November 5, 2003):
[About the Second Mvt. (Recitativo) of the Cantata]

Though unexpectedly so, the DFD recording is much more baroque than the Leonhardt [5]. I'm not too experienced in the baroque style, but of what I've heard, the knowledge of the musicians and musicologists about the era were scant in the '60.

The Leonhardt recording [5], expect for the purring german <r> (which I by the way find both very annoying and funny), is indeed so quick (or, rather, in such a hurry) that it loses any feeling of emotion and even rowing harmony. The continuo realization is quite 'poor' until the cadence..

The DFD [4] recording is very nice and emotional, but in my opinion too romantic (ie it could be a Mozart recitativo - or perhaps an even later composer). It generally is a very good aproach to the text, and I like the sudden change of mood in "e la gioja nel mio core[...]". Indeed I agree [Aryeh Oron]. Also I don't like the final cadence on the harpsichord (it's too empty, I think)

The Ocker [6]* recording is quite on the edge, far too expressive and on fire' (and not responding too much to the text perhaps).

The Lorenz [8]* recording, if anything, is romantic (styllically, I mean), and quite as much as doubly so than the DFD [4] one.

The Mertens [12] recording, on the other hand, radiates quite a baroque (AND Italian) aura, and so I think it's quite good (though a bit 'hasty'). Checking with the text, the ornaments are not baroque (as they do not go well with the its meaning - eg see the trill with costanza[=steadfastedness, stability] as trills are quite movable - and moving -, as opposed to the long note that symbolizes the word (steady, thus long); that's how to judge if it's baroque or not: symbolism and emotional support in not every
sentence, but in every single word).

The van Egmond [9] recording gave me a smile. Hear the (baroque) symbolism in the end of the Mvt.: he sais "You won't trick me with your sweetness" and the harpsichordist shows it with sevenths (a jazz feel that offended me in the beginning, but now I know that it's baroque). I think that this is the best recording. (now that I hear it again, the realization is a bit 'jazzy', set aside the symbolism in the end)

(*) I didn't like the addition of the Continuo instruments, since it was clear by the composer (Bach?) that the cantata was intended for solo bass and harspichord.

[Oof! Sorry for the vagueness of the comments, it's the first time I try to do this (didn't have many recordings... thanks Aryeh and !)]

Neil Halliday wrote (November 7, 2003):
[To Jason Marmaras] I agree with Jason's comments about the van Egmond version [9] of this recitative; the harpsichord part is quite exceptionally effective.

Leonhardt's (with Villisech) [5] continuo is disappointing in comparison.


BWV 203

Jason Marmaras wrote (April 21, 2004):
I am returning to BWV 203 (Amore traditore), in order to attempt playing with a friend of mine, Theodore Moraites (see for some compositions) myself playing the piano. I have so far found the continuo quite strange, difficult to improvise. I also saw the Mencoboni Recitativo-realization's quite obvious link to the following Aria (with all the 'analyzed' 7th chords). I'll try to have a recording uploaded as soon we can manage one =)...

I'm curious about people's thoughts and opinions on this cantata and its recordings (especially the samples at: ). I am most interested in comments on the Leonhardt/Villiesch rendition [5]. It seems quite strange that there were but two answers to Aryeh's plea for posting about this Cantata, especially after the generous amount of samples he made available.

Neil Halliday wrote (April 23, 2004):
[To Jason Marmaras] It seems this little cantata can't raise much interest on this list! (And on the basis of the recording I have - Rilling's - perhaps rightly so!).

Jason writes: "I have so far found the continuo quite strange, difficult to improvise."

Well, at least the 3rd movement won't give you any trouble, because this has a fully written out cembalo obligato on two staves (BGA score). [BTW, there is no mention of 'continuo' in the score, just 'basso' (vocalist) and 'cembalo', for all three movements].

This cembalo part (3rd movement, 3/4 time) shows very interesting, virtuoso writing, with almost continuos semiquaver lines, often in both hands, punctuated with thick-textured chords (lots of 7th chords) in the right and left hand, and in the 3rd to last bar, a succession of 8-note chords! (4 notes in each hand), certainly unusual in Bach (or anyone, I think).

These chords - E7, F maj7, D min6, A minor 2nd inversion (I think this is a reasonably accurate description) sound marvelously 'crunchy' and 'emotion-charged' when I play them on my piano, but are totally indecipherable - bass chords 'smudged' and pitchless - from listening to the harpsichord in Rilling's CD recording. The whole harpsichord part (on this recording) sounds like some infernal machine let loose, permanently playing indecipherable fast notes at random. Combined with the endless vibrato of the singer, the movement is a disaster, from this listener's point of view.

But (in the light of Brad's comments on this matter) do all harpsichords sound like this?

If we listen to the examples of the 2nd movement (recitative) at: we can hear a rather clearly recorded, and attractive-sounding harpsichord, in the van Egmond example [9]. [But even Rilling's harpsichord is reasonably clear here (decipherable as to pitch); I wonder what Egmond's sounds like in the thick-textured, fast 3rd movement].

But more important is Mencoboni's improvisation; in a direct comparison with, for example, Villisech's accompanist, he (Mencoboni)uses more complex chords and elaborate arpeggiation which adds tremendous musical interest to this short movement. (Note the very first chord: Mencoboni's elaborate major 7th chord, compared with Villisech's plain, boring (in this case) major chord. And Mencoboni really does set out to provide an accompaniment to the singer; the other harpsichordist supplies the bare minimum indicated in the score, thus according to the HIP doctrine on recitative accompaniment.

In the 1st movement, Rilling's harpsichordist's realisation [13] is actually quite good; it is based on the left hand part supplied in the score, and because the complete part (Bach's left hand score plus the harpsichordist's improvised right-hand part) is much less dense than in the 3rd movement, the harpsichord sound is reasonably decipherable. The problem here is Henschel, who, with his vibrato, fails to sufficiently delineate the pitch of the notes he is singing.


Continue on Part 2

Cantata BWV 203: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | 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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