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Cantata BWV 204
Ich bin in mir vergnügt
Discussions - Part 2

Continue from Part 1

Discussions in the Week of March 2, 2008

Jean Laaninen wrote (February 28, 2008):
Introduction to BWV 204 - Ich bin in mir vergnugt

BWV 204 Ich bin in mir vergnugt

BWV 204 page: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV204.htm

BWV 204 discussion page:
In the previous discussion period Aryeh wrote an excellent summary of the fundamental aspects of this work, and I recommend a visit to this page before continuing on: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV204-D.htm

Since so much has already been written on the background so clearly, I have decided in this introduction to focus on the elements of the poetry. I am using Alfred Dürr’s translation as a basis for my interpretation. I will also include some musicological details.

The main theme of this work is the concept of contentedness.

Recitative Mvt. 1: Von der Vgernügsamkeit (On contendedness)

Line one offers: “I am cheerful in myself.” This entire text in many respects is a process of idealism and moralization regarding a truly spiritual life. Here, the poet speaks of a person who mopes and who will not earn a living or take responsibility for his or her survival. I cannot help but comment to the effect that we know Bach was prolific in his own work, so this ethic of industry and attitude of cheer, I think would very likely have been something he related to from his own way of life. Having said that, right from the start he might have found great ideological appeal in setting this work even though various scholars have found some difficulty understanding why he chose this particular text.

Next the poet shares the idea that time has taught the soul contentment.

Continuing, the verse encourages the idea of humility, and although numerous historical writings point to the prolific ability of Bach and to his frustration at times with the faltering of his musicians, most scholars I have read in terms of Bach biographical material also suggest that he was no one to toot his own horn—he was a modest man. Again, we have an element that can account for the choice of this text.

A contrast between those who tend to taking care of their business is made with those who simply lie around accomplishing nothing.

Following on, a new verse focuses on humility—desires are subdued and vain things are not feared.

Reference to the Biblical Fall and Eden are supplemented by the idea that even in the current state of existence the soul can be blessed.

Aria Mvt. 2: Ruhig und in sich zufrieden (To be tranquil and contented within)

The aria fulfills the suppositions made in the first verse with a thesis: tranquility and contentment within provide earth’s greatest treasure so that one can fully enjoy life.

Mvt. 3. Recitative: Ihr Seelen, Die ihr ausser euch (You Souls estranged from yourself)

Addressing those who sell out to the darker side of life, the poet describes the inner estrangement that comes from not being able to find peace within—no matter what is found, nothing in the world will satisfy. Whatever may be found in the world will ultimately prove to be deceptive, and the end one must escape worldly offerings.

Moving ahead, the poet speaks of finding treasure in other people. Wealth makes an individual worry about bankruptcy and all that brings emptiness should virtuously be disregarded.


Aria Mvt. 4: Die Schätzbarkeit der weiten Erden (May the values of the wide world)

Leave my soul in peace...heaven is with the soul who can become rich in poverty.

Recitative Mvt. 5: Schwer ist es zwar, viel Eitles zu besitzen (It is hard indeed to possess many worthless things)

Now we have an appeal for a focus on spiritual matters. To commune within, and seek within, and turn one’s face toward God is the true land of delight.

Aria Mvt. 6: Meine Seele sei vergnügt (May my soul be contented)

Pearls within—a contrast to worldly treasure, are really a matter of spiritual contentment.

Recitative Mvt. 7: Ein edler Mensch ist Perlenmuscheln gleich (A noble man is like pearl-oysters)

Continuing the analogy of a pearl within an oyster to riches within, a person’s communication with God provides the fulfilled life. In the end all wealth remains in the world, and what is known perishes. To avoid anxiety vanity may not be served. All temporal things will cease.

Aria Mvt. 8: Himmlische Vergnügtsamkeit (Divine Contentment)

In the final verse the idea of contentment moves to heart-felt consecration.

The text is based on Christian Friedrich Hunold’s cantata libretto Von der Zufriendeheit, and according to Dürr, with striking alternations. (For further information see Dürr, p. 906).

The basic layout of this work consists of a fourfold sequence of recitative/aria pairs, and diversification is provided musically by instrumental scoring and some variety of musical character (p. 906). In terms of motive movement the author also points out a similarity of pattern in the continuo in the second and last movements—nicely illustrated. Musically all four sections are well-related (p. 906-907).

Schweitzer (Vol. II, p. 409) recommends this cantata along with others as a good example to use for study of Bach’s vocal music.

I might mention here, too, that the imagery of pearls within used in this cantata was also found in BWV 207, and might have been a popular analogy in Bach's time.

Now, for a little examination of the score… (BGA full score)

Mvt. 1: The opening continuo note is suspended over four and a half measures, after which half and quarter notes fill out the remainder. The soprano carries her words in eighth and sixteenth notes, by comparison, but the only dotted note comes just before the cadence.

Mvt. 2: This is followed by a tempo change from 4/4 to 3/8 time--with oboe, continuo and soprano presenting the aria. The vocal motives are taken from the oboe part initially, and embellished. In some places the voice echoes the continuo or the motive is reversed and retrograde is used. In section B the soprano echoes the oboe, but motifs from part A can be seen in the continuo. A feature that really stands out for a singer is found in this section where the soprano holds an F for eight and a quarter measures. Following this a mixture of motives can be seen, some also in retrograde. There is a return to part A to complete this da capo aria.

Mvt. 3: Then following, a recitative combines elements in the manner of the first recitative, but with violins and viola. Eventually this smoother section breaks into a presto segment retaining some patterning from the first part in the instruments, but clearly increasing tension with the continuo line following a slow down in rhythmic activity to adagio after only a single measure. It would be interesting to know how different conductors have handled such intricate scoring.

Mvt. 4: Next, an aria featuring active sixteenth note patterns prevails in the violin as the solo part comes in with its own rhythmic motives. A little over half way through some variation on the initial rhythmic and melodic motives occurs, but sixteenth notes predominate throughout, giving a strong sense of forward movement.

Mvt. 5: This recitative commences with a fairly standard pattern using eights and sixteenths and an occasional dotted figure until the sentence near the end, “Die Muschein offnen sich, wenn Strahlen darauf schiessen” where the solo notes become 32nd notes for just a quarter of a measure, and then on the word aller for half a measure. This rapid figuration occurs again in a manner which a lyric or coloratura soprano would necessity handle with alacrity.

Mvt. 6: In this aria one of the most interesting features can be found in rhythmic patterns of sixteenth notes joined in units of six offered by the violin and then the soprano. Further augmenting excites musical rises, as an interesting interplay occurs between the soprano and the violin part. The listener will appreciate these delicate moves if they are well-performed.

Mvt. 7: Again we have another recitative that begins with slower elements in eighth notes for the most part, and before this is over an arioso offers a very nice texture contrast. In this movement the continuo collaborates with the soprano, and there is no other instrumentation, neither is there any figured bass given for an accompaniment.

Mvt. 8 follows with a mixture of prior rhythmic motives mixed with some new ones. Flutes, oboes, violins and viola complement the continuo. On the words “Gottliche Vergnugkeit,” a new rhythmic motive develops in the upper instruments while the continuo keeps the pace with one that corresponds, but has an additional note. The musician will easily assimilate these elements visually, but if the listener pays close attention these little elements will become familiar and his or her enrichment of the total work will increase.

I welcome all detailed comments from anyone who has an interest in these works.

William Hoffmann wrote (March 2, 2008):
[To Jean Laaninen] Thank you for including the original comments on BWV 204. My main reason for responding is to make the following point: In 1726, for whatever reasons, Bach was free to compose as he wished, to focus on Passion music and other vocal interests and to start drawing from his large vocal music tapestry for whatever purposes, including parody. By 1726, Bach had stopped composing cantatas weekly. I think one of the initial reasons was that he was spending much time composing the SMP (BWV 244); conseqently, he turned to use 18 cantatas of cousin Johann Ludwig in JSB's so-called third cantata cycle. The mourning period for Queen Christiane Eberhardine in 1727 also gave him the opportunity to write so-called "secular" works dear to his heart, like BWV 204. While we find cantata movements in 1726 that influence the SMP (BWV 244), we also have the Mourning Cantata BWV 198 for the Queen later recycled as the core lyrical music (2 choruses and three arias) in the St. Mark Passion (SMkP) (BWV 247), as well as, possibly the closing aria of Cantata BWV 204, "Himmlische Vergnügsamkeit."

In 1926, English writer C.S. Terry in his "Bach, the Passions," was the first to suggest that the source of the SMkP (BWV 247) aria "Angenehmes Mordgeschrei" (BWV 247/126, NBA 247/42) could have been BWV 204/8 (Mvt. 8), citing "a close metrical resemblance." The aria also was parodied in the secular wedding Cantata BWV 216/3, which survives only with a few vocal and string parts, suggesting that the latter work was salvaged and in fact was realized in 1924 but never recorded. SMkP (BWV 247) adapters Theill, Heighes, and Gomme have accepted BWV 204/8 in their realizations (all recorded), while Koopman, as pointed out in the recent discussion of Cantata BWV 207 of 1726, uses Aria No. 7, "Ätzet dieses Angedenken" with surprising affect in his SMkP (BWV 247) recording.

In summation, examing Bach's motive, method and opportunity for recycling his music, I think, can help to explain some of the major shifts in his creative career and help to more fully appreciate his efforts.

Jean Laaninen wrote (March 2, 2008):
William Hoffman sent this directly to me as he lost the reply button...but this is the first response to the intro on BWV 204. In this case he has set the historical context interestingly, and I am sure everyone will enjoy reading these comments.

Neil Halliday wrote (March 7, 2008):
BWV 204

Before leaving this cantata, I would like to say I have appreciated its uncomplicated tunefuleness more this time around than on first hearing several years ago, especially the last movement which I suggested (in previous discussions) may have been too fast in Rilling's recent recording [6].

Not so now; the charming swinging octave bass and full instrumentation are delightful. Interestingly, the first movement also begins with a swinging octave figure in the continuo (in triple time cf. the 4/4 time of the last movement). Notice the first note is the upper note of the octave figure in the 1st movement (G on the top of the bass clef followed by two pulses of the G on the bottom of the bass clef), whereas the first note is the lower note of the octave figure in the last movement (Bb on the bottom of the bass clef followed by 3 pulses of the Bb on the top of the bass clef).

Rilling [6] has overcome some problems encountered in his earlier reoordings of the sacred cantatas, such as a too prominent bass line; in this performance he in fact uses the double bass in only two of the the movements - the accompanied recitative and the last movement - highlighting and enriching the fuller instrumentation of these two movements. I have already described his tasteful treatment of the seccos with cello and harpsichord (with reservations about the harpsichord's clarity); usually I reach for the 'skip' button with seccos, but not so in this recording.

Speaking of continuo, Rilling [6] uses bassoon and harsichord only in the 2nd (plus two oboes) and 6th (plus flute) movements. The movement with solo violin is accompanied by cello and harpsichord alone. All charming, with Rubens mostly excellent singing (slightly excessive vibrato in places).

Listening to such music is certainly a wonderful way to escape the news of the world.

Jean Laaninen wrote (March 7, 2008):
[To Neil Halliday] Thanks, Neil for the additional scoring and recording elements. Yes, I agree that music is a great way to escape the news of the world, or possibly to endure it--somehow I think Bach wrote a little in both veins.

Douglas Cowling wrote (March 7, 2008):
Neil Halliday wrote:
< Rilling [6] has overcome some problems encountered in his earlier reoordings of the sacred cantatas, such as a too prominent bass line; in this performance he in fact uses the double bass in only two of the the movements - the accompanied recitative and the last movement - highlighting and enriching the fuller instrumentation of these two movements. I have already described his tasteful treatment of the seccos with cello and harpsichord (with reservations about the harpsichord's clarity); usually I reach for the 'skip' button with seccos, but not so in this recording. >
Is there any historical documentation for playing around with which continuo instruments are used in Bach cantatas? For instance, it is almost standard practice to have bassoon alone with oboe in the the second duet "Mein Freund ist Mein" In "Wachet Auf". Some HIP practioners would argue that Bach intended the 16-foot tone of the bass viol to be used throughout, even in secco recitatives.

Peter Smaill wrote (March 7, 2008):
[To Douglas Cowling] Doug asks, Did Bach vary the continuo group? which is an interesting practical as well as historical question.

The leading book here, which I don't possess alas, is Lawrence Dreyfus' "Bach's Continuo Group". As he is a noted viol da gambaist you may not find sympathy for the use of the bassoon in this famous duet from BWV 140, and Dürr does not state it as an instrument for the work.

Bach very particularly in BWV 140 specifies the instrumentation for the Cantata to includthe Watchman's insrument, the horn, and also the violino piccolo which lends the ecstatic and mystical quality to the duet BWV 140/3. Stapert points out, following Herz, that this instrument was used because Bach was "influenced by the instrument's association with night music", which Leopold Mozart noted in 1756. (The action of "Wachet Auf! takes place according to the parable at midnight).

Drifting rather off topoic, there is (to me) an astounding and novel hermeneutic in the text of BWV 140.

The text thus:

Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme
Der Wächter sehr hoch auf der Zinne,
Wach auf, du Stadt Jerusalem!
Mitternacht heisst diese Stunde
Sie rufen und mit hellem Munde:
Wo seid ihr klugen Jungfrauen?
Wohl auf, der Bräutgam kömmt;
Steht auf, die Lampen nehmt!
Alleluja!
Macht euch bereit
Zu der Hochzeit,
Ihr müsset ihm entgegen gehn!

Now this version I transmit has probably been scrambled somewhat by Microsoft/AOL, but if the text is edited for any unintended questionmarks, copied and pasted onto Word, and then the centre alignment function applied, it forms the shape of a chalice. This image, both of the heavenly feast and of the Eucharist, is known since the text of this Chorale was historically set out in this way for symbolic purposes pre-Bach in early chorale collections.

As we previously discussed Easter in 1731 fell between the 22 and 26 March, necessitating a Cantata for the 27th Sunday in Trinity which was thus correspondingly long; just like 2008 when Easter falls on 23 March. Hence by this fluke we have one of the greatest of all vocal works.

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 7, 2008):
BWV 140 (was BWV 204)

< Is there any historical documentation for playing around with which continuo instruments are used in Bach cantatas? For instance, it is almost standard practice to have bassoon alone with oboe in the the second duet "Mein Freund ist Mein" In "Wachet Auf". Some HIP practioners would argue that Bach intended the 16-foot tone of the bass viol to be used throughout, even in secco recitatives. >
In the excellent new recording by Publick Musick that I briefly reviewed on 2/25, with BWV 140 and three other cantatas: http://www.musicaomnia.org/bachchoral.asp

BWV 140/1 chorus, I believe everybody's in there playing, including the bassoon, but I'm not absolutely certain.

BWV 140/2 recit has organ and a remarkably quiet cello.

BWV 140/3 duet is again organ+cello, but the cellist plays more assertively here.

BWV 140/4 chorale (tenor solo) I hear the string bass added; listen to this marvelous movement for free at the link provided above. Organists will also know this from the "Schubler" chorales that Bach himself rearranged and had published.

BWV 140/5 recit has all the upper strings, cello, string bass, and organ.

BWV 140/6 duet "Mein Freund ist mein" has the bassoon and organ, no cello or bass.

BWV 140/7 chorale: as in mvt 1.

I should add that it all sounds terrific to me, instrumented conventionally as noted here. From the list of extant parts listed in Dreyfus's book, and from the entry in the BWV, I can't see which movements the "Bassono" was assigned to by Bach. The Bach-Gesellschaft score of BWV 140 is no help here either. Anybody have access to the NBA?

Continue of this part of the discussion, see: Cantata BWV 140 - Discussions Part 5

Ed Myskowski wrote (March 10, 2008):
Jean Laaninen wrote:
>I might mention here, too, that the imagery of pearls within used in this cantata [BWV 204] was also found in BWV 207, and might have been a popular analogy in Bach's time.<
Whittaker points out the importance of the pearl imagery in BWV 207, but not the similarity to BWV 204. Thanks to Jean for noticing this. A quick Google search (pearl oyster adage) turned up the following, from a site labeled:

files.meetup.com

>In Exodus 19:5, Deut 7:6, and Malachi 3:17 Israel is described as God's treasure. No other people are given this distinction, the history and destiny of Israel has always been tied to the world, and the Lord gave His life to redeem her. In the Millennium Israel is restored to her former glory and once again becomes the pre-eminent nation on earth, God's treasured possession.

6) The Pearl of Great Price

Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value he went away and sold everything he had and bought it (Matt 13:45).

Some see this as just a continuation of the previous parable; another way of saying the same thing. In a way that's true, but there is one huge difference. Pearls come from oysters, which are not "kosher." Oysters, having neither fins nor scales, were forbidden for Israel (Lev. 11:10-12) and so pearls were not prized by them like they were by Gentiles. Pearls are distinctly Gentile in nature and in many ways the formation and ultimate destiny of a pearl is remarkably similar to that of the Church.

A pearl is the only gem derived from a living organism, formed in response to an irritant. Somehow a grain of sand gets lodged inside an oyster shell irritating its flesh. Unable to remove the irritant, the oyster secretes a fluid that hardens around the sand forming a smooth round ball relieving the irritation. We call this hardened round ball a pearl. When the oyster is harvested the pearl is removed from its natural habitat to become an object of adornment. The Church is a living organism that has always experienced its most dramatic growth as a response to persecution. One day soon, the Lord will come and remove His Church from the world, her natural habitat, to make her His bride, the object of His affection.< (end quote)

I pass this along, with neither endorsement nor disagreement, in response to Jeans thought about pearl imagery in Bachs time. I do expect that the Biblical source, if not necessarily the associated interpretation, is probably significant. Incidentally, it is not possible to do a simple Google search which includes <baroque pearl >; this is a current jewelry designation, which overwhelms the results.

With characteristic wit, Whittaker says of the unknown librettist: <He was less prolific in ideas than in words, his recitatives drone to soporific length.> He then goes on to provide concise musical examples of the kernel motifs of each of the arias, as well as many examples of just how much Bach could make from specific words in the text. I find it fascinating that many of those examples might be called whimsical, in this secular cantata.

Whittaker suggests that the entire flute obbligato in the aria, Mvt. 6, is inspired by, and leading to the <pearls of contentment> which come in at the end. The pearl imagery was first introduced just before, in the recitative, Mvt. 5. Some of the other enjoyable details:

Mvt. 2 aria, the long-held note Jean mentions is on the word <behalt> (maintains).

Mvt. 3 recit, the <Presto> is on the text, <like dust fly away>.

Mvt. 4 aria, at one point <weiten> (wide) becomes a wide,, wriggling run.

Mvt. 5 recit, the rays which cause the oysters to open are accompanied by a brilliant flourish

Mvt. 6 aria, the flute obbligato brings <ropes of pearls before ones eyes>, as well as tossing like a troubled ocean where appropriate.

Mvt. 8, <The final aria is quite like a Mozart rondo in character.>

I listened to two complete versions, I find Koopman [5] preferable to Schreier [2] for hearing these details, as well as for balanceof voice and instruments, and vocal quality. Edith Mathis, with Schreier, is certainly a classic soprano voice, but the entire performance sounds like an accompanied solo, and is lacking in subtlety, or delicacy.

Rubens with Rilling [6] may be preferable in vocal quality (see earlier discussions), I compared via samples, and cannot disagree. I do find Koopman's [5] texture and balance remains preferable overall, but Rilling's tempo in the final aria, Mvt. 8, sounds ideal. For a single CD including BWV 207, Rilling is the only option, Koopman remains available as a 3-CD set. There is plenty of opportunity for a definitive recording of this delightful music, perhaps Suzuki has it on his agenda.

Jean Laaninen wrote (March 10, 2008):
[To Ed Myskowski] Thanks Ed, for fleshing out this concept of the value and source of the pearl treasure. I have to say that I do enjoy it when I find parallels, because it means I am catching on. I believe it takes many years to fully appreciate the depth of Bach studies, and you've definitely added some worth-while material below.

 

Cantata BWV 204: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2

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