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Cantata BWV 205
Zerreißet, zersprenget, zertrümmert die Gruft
Cantata BWV 205a
Blast Lärmen, ihr Feinde!
Discussions - Part 1

Discussions in the Week of October 19, 2003 (1st round)

Aryeh Oron wrote (October 19, 2003):
BWV 205 - Introduction

The chosen work for this week’s discussion (October 19, 2003) is the Dramma per Musica ‘Zerreißet, zersprenget, zertrümmert die Gruft’ (Tear up, burst apart, smash to pieces the cave).

Although Bach desired European recognition as a composer, unlike Händel and Mozart he has never attracted to the opera as a mean of gaining international renown. He was content, as he said to have remarked to his son Wilhelm Friedman to go with the boys to visit Dresden opera “to hear the pretty little Dresden songs”. However, the Italian opera, which influenced the operatic production of Hasse in Dresden and Händel in Hamburg, must have impressed Bach. The format and the dramatic aspect of Bach’s cantatas show that this genre was derived from opera.

Beginning with this cantata, Bach calls all his major secular cantatas musical dramas, adding the sub-title for each ‘Dramma per Musica’ (Drama in Music) because he designates the actors-singers and has a large orchestration in opera style.

The first Dramma per Musica was composed for the Birthday on August 3, 1725, of August Friedrich Müller, a Professor at Leipzig University, on a libretto of Picander. Bach’s motive for setting the cantata was to impress the University Council, who had deprived him of what be considered to be his right - to have jurisdiction over the music in the University Church as well as in the other Leipzig churches.

The actors in this neo-classical Greek production (it resembles a stage play without customs) are Pallas, the goddess of Wisdom (soprano); Pomona, the goddess of Fruit (alto), Zephyrus, the god of Gentle Breeze (tenor); and Aeolos, the God of Winds (bass). A four-part chorus represents a Chorus of the Winds in the opening movement (Mvt. 1) and closes the cantata with a birthday wish for Professor Müller. The orchestra has one of the largest groups of instruments assembled by Bach for any of his cantatas, with plenty of brass, woodwind and string instruments. We may assume that this lavish production took place in the open Market Place with members of the student body as performers. I am sure they all enjoyed taking part in the Drama per Musica Herr Bach had prepared for them! So should we!


I am aware of 9 complete recordings of this cantata, only the last 6 of them are available in CD form. The recordings are listed at the following pages of the Bach Cantatas Website (BCW):
Cantata BWV 205 - Complete Recordings
Cantata BWV 205 - Recordings of Individual Movements

Additional Information

In the page of complete recordings mentioned above you can also find links to useful complementary information:
a. Original German text and various translations, two of which were contributed by members of the BCML: English (Francis Browne) and French (Jean-Pierre Grivois).
b. Score from BGA Edition (temporary not available).
c. Commentaries: in English by Simon Crouch (Listener’s Guide) and James Leonard (AMG), and in Spanish by Julio Sánchez Reyes (CantatasDeBach).

Last weekly discussions have become rather slim. Are we all becoming exhausted after more than 200 consecutive weeks of discussions? Do you simply not like the secular cantatas as much as you do the sacred ones? This is a common and familiar phenomenon among Bach’s lovers, considering the secular inferior to the sacred, and discarding them altogether as a group. I believe that this is a big mistake, meaning that you miss wonderful music, which can give you outmost satisfaction on its own right. The world of Bach Cantatas (both sacred and secular) is enormously rich with endless surprises and hidden gems. The whole idea of the BCML is exploring this world together and revealing hidden treasures. The secular cantatas should not be excluded from our joint traversal. The 1st aria from Cantata BWV 204, discussed last week, is a case in point, being one of the most attractive arias for soprano in the oeuvre of Bach Cantatas. What BWV 205 has to offer us? Please do listen, find out, and write your impressions to the BCML.

Only 8 cantatas (1 sacred, 7 secular), including this one, remained to be discussed in the BCML!

Neil Halliday wrote (October 20, 2003):
I'm disappointed by Rilling's most recent recording of this work [10].

The opening chorus (Mvt. 1) is definitely too fast; in a complex score such as this - trumpets, horns, timpani, flutes, oboes, strings, 4-part choir etc - with most of the parts, including continuo, playing (or singing) long passages consisting of semiquavers, the structure and audibility of the music becomes lost in a sea of rushing notes when performed at this speed. A look at the timings of the various recordings at:

says it all; Rilling's recent recording is equal fastest with the HIP recording of René Jacobs [8] - he (Rilling [10]) appears to be adopting the ridiculous speeds pioneered by Gardiner, Koopman,

The closing chorus (Mvt. 15) is more successful; here the semiquavers occur mainly in pairs or fours, and hence the music can stand a brisk tempo. It's an exciting movement, well-performed and recorded, by Rilling's ensemble.

The secco recitatives are not music - words that are sung, accompanied only by a few meaningless stabs on a cello now and again, might as well just be spoken, IMO.

Bass Andreas Schmidt overdoes the vibrato on melismas at times, producing an ugly sound of indeterminate pitch, which becomes tiresome in his arias (Mvt. 3 and Mvt. 11).

Christoph Genz's expressive voice with moderate vibrato is a relief, in the wistful aria for tenor (Mvt. 5).

Alto Yvonne Naef's lovely voice sings in duet with the oboe in her pleasant aria (Mvt. 7); Sibylla Rubens is equally charming in the soprano aria (Mvt. 9), featuring solo violin.

In the first half of Mvt. 10, a recitative, Rilling ignores the notation, HIP style; but the last half is an attractive accompanied recitative for S,B and flutes etc.; I don't undertand why the continuo notation (whole notes) should be ignored, in the first half, just because the flute staves are empty in this first section.

In Mvt. 11, bass Schmidt gives us more of those ugly melismas, as noted above - a pity, because Rilling (and Bach) supplies a lively, glorious accompaniment featuring horns, trumpets and timpani, in this fine movement.

Mvt. 13 is a pleasant duet for alto and tenor, enlivened by a lovely part for unison flutes.

Mvt. 15: closing chorus, as noted above.

Conclusion: a comparison with Rilling's earlier recording [3], which is apparently five and a half minutes longer than this one, and which probably has fully played (as written) continuo realisations in the secco recitatives, would be very instructive. (BTW, having just acquired Richter's cantata recordings, I can say his are the most pleasing of all secco recitative realisations, featuring imaginative and tasteful organ improvisations, but admittedly these are sacred cantatas - continuo harpsichord is undoubtably more appropriate forsecular cantatas.)

Andrzej Kozlowski [Yokohama, Japan] wrote (October 20, 2003):
Aryeh Oron wrote:
< This is a common and familiar phenomenon among Bach's lovers, considering the secular inferior to the sacred, and discarding them altogether as a group. I believe that this is a big mistake, meaning that you miss wonderful music, which can give you outmost satisfaction on its own right. >
I suppose I must be one of a small minority of Bach' lovers who prefer his secular music to the sacred, not as a body, for there is so much less of the former, and not even in terms of any aesthetic judgment, but simply in terms of how often I listen to individual pieces belonging to each kind. This is probably more of a matter of temperament and personality than purely musical taste: most of the time I would rather listen to opera than to church music. The religious emotions may be perhaps more profound, particularly for those who experience them also outside music, but for me the variety of human experience and the feeling associated with it found in the greatest operas, including the heroic, the tragic, the comic and even the "cynical" (e.g. L'Incoronazione di Poppea") provides the greatest thrill in all art. I find it therefore almost tragic that Bach did not write any full scale operas but these secular cantatas are the closest he ever got to doing so and I think they are all gems. Although I have missed most of the discussions of the sacred cantatas by joining the list too late I am very much looking forward to the finale.

Aryeh Oron wrote (November 2, 2003):
BWV 205 - Background

The comprehensive and illuminating commentary below, quoted from the liner notes to the issue of Rilling’s first recording on the American label MHS [3] (originated from the German label Cantate), was written by Alfred Dürr.

Bach took pains to establish good relations with the University of Leipzig immediately upon his arrival in the city, many years before taking over the Student Collegium Musicum. Although his efforts to become a university music director misfired - Görner was favoured instead - be nevertheless composed and performed music for numerous extraordinary academic events, a sizeable percentage of which has unfortunately disappeared. For instance, we do not know much about the composition of the Latin Ode (BWV appendix 20) performed by Bach on August 9, 1723 during a university celebration on the occasion of the birthday of Duke Frederic II of Saxony-Gotha - not even the text has been preserved.

On August 3, 1725, the Leipzig students arranged an ovation for Or. August Friedrich Müller, their professor, on the occasion of his name-day; he was very popular with his students. Since he was born in 1684, he was almost exactly the same age as Bach. He received his M.A. in 1707, his J.D. in 1714, and became a professor in 1731, functioning as Rector magnificus of the Leipzig University in 1733 and 1743. Bach's cantata was probably performed in front of Müller's house as a sort of student serenade.

The work was arranged as a "Dramma per musica," libretto by Christian Friedrich Henrici (Picander), who published the text in the first volume of his "Earnest-comic and Satirical Poems." The plot is understandably simple: Pallas Athena celebrates a feast in honour of the erudite man on the Helicon with the muses, but she fears that Aeolus, god of the winds, will release his autumn storms, which of course occurs inopportunely. Zephyr, the god of mild summer breezes, and Pomona, the goddess of fruit orchards, vainly beg Aeolus to postpone the tempest; but Athena finally obtains the god’s approval for a reprieve after she makes him aware of how beloved the guest of honour is. Athena then invites all present to participate in the celebration in order to present a "long live" toast.

Bach's composition is a perfect example of splendidly cast open-air music: trumpets, kettle-drums, horns, flutes, oboes, strings and continuo, not to mention four singers.

A lively "Wind chorus" (Mvt. 1) introduces the work, based on the well-known literary description of Aeolus and his winds in the first book of Vergil's Aeneid. Bach's converging reciprocals, his rising and falling scales including the continuo, present an almost onomato-poetic picture of the impatient winds.

Aeolus' following recitativo picks up on this theme: full orchestration of song-scale recitativo. His aria 'How will I make merry" is based upon the same mood, presenting the god's laughter in numerous tonal repetitions; the central portion of the aria ("and when the roofs collapse") causes the accompanying instruments to increase their tempo to lively thirty-seconds.

Zephyr now enters, sings a short recitativo, then follows it with one of the beloved 'shadow arias," part of the stock repertoire of Italian operas of the baroque era due to their evocative description of nature. Zephyr's aria 'Fresh shadows, my joy" is, however, a special jewel within the genre and outdistances its models by far. The obbligato instruments viola d'amore and viola da gamba create an atmosphere of peace and serenity in contrast to Aeolus' previous thundering song.

How characteristic and informative to note that Bach, in the following Pomona and Athena arias (in which the two attempt to placate Aeolus), knew how to create considerable variety in spite of the same basic mood. The changing instrumentation plays a great part in this variety: Pomona's oboe d'amore and Athena's virtuoso violin follow Zephyr's viola d'amore and viola da gamba. The succession of keys - a fifth spiral starting with Zephyr's B-minor and proceeding upwards to Pomona's F-sharp-minor and Athena's E-major - also serves to underscore the plot's insistent goal-orientation and progressively urgent requests, culminating in a reversal when Pallas Athena appears in all her shining E-major glory.

The reversal implications of the recitativo "My Aeolus, oh trouble not this feast" become evident when we witness the appearance of two flutes; another difference is apparent in the change of key: a sudden return to D tonic (Aeolus' aria) and a nod to the hitherto neglected G subdominant. Aeolus' aria "Back, back, winged winds," however, is completely different to the three prior ones: only trumpets, kettle-drums and horns accompany the continuo and the blustering Aeolus - a singular aria casting for Bach! And how artfully the composer opposes the high timbre of the trumpets and the low horns: after the central section ("blow gently henceforth") only the two horns remain I after the programmatic fury of the brass.

A trio recitativo enables the petitioners to voice their joy over having their request fulfilled: soft tones make a comeback in Pomona's and Zephyr's duet accompanied by flutes (Mvt. 13). Pomona offers her fruit harvest as a gift, Zephyr the pleasant summer breeze.

The entire cast reunites toward the end for a heartening congratulatory chorus (Mvt. 15), whose boisterously effervescent, ever-recurring "Vivat" ("long-live") dominates both the instrumental and the vocal hemispheres. The instruments " even occasionally strike up the "Vivat' theme within other contexts, as in the middle section of the chorus


During last two weeks I have been listening to 7 complete recordings of Cantata BWV 205 (out of known 9)
[1] Helmut Koch (Early 1950’s):
[3] Helmuth Rilling (1st recording, mid 1960’s)
[5] Peter Schreier (1981)
[6] Nikolaus Harnoncourt (1983)
[8] René Jacobs (1994)
[9] Ton Koopman (1996)
[10] Helmuth Rilling (2nd recording, 1999)

Personal Viewpoint

If I had been thinking that I could skip the translation process of Cantata BWV 205, then came the firsround of listening and proved me wrong. Indeed, the cantata contains many gems, and brings lot of enjoyment even to occasional listener and by background listening. But I felt lost listening to a work of about 40 minutes long without understanding what is it all about. Can you enjoy an opera without understanding the words? I don’t; and in the case of this Dramma per Musica, Bach presented to us a mini-opera. OK, you can say that I can read the commentary. But you know that learning through action, as translating, is much more effective than through reading. Furthermore, commentaries, useful and illuminating as Dürr’s, for example, is, give you only the general plot. You cannot understand through them what is every character actually singing in every movement, every phrase, every word. So, I forced myself to translate this long cantata into Hebrew, and now, when it is finished I am glad that I did. This libretto was written by a poet, it has sense, and the connection between words and music is as strong as in many of Bach’s sacred cantatas.

Really Short Review of the Recordings

Rilling, in both of his recordings [3], about 30 years apart, presents the best renditions of this cantata. In both cases he had to his disposal a dreamy cast. The first is more relaxed and gives the singers more room to express themselves freely. The second is more energetic and bubbling, and benefits also from better playing of the instrumental ensemble. The enjoyment of all participants in both recordings can almost be seen visually. Jacobs [8] and Koopman [9] are not far behind. The first is very close in approach and spirit to Rilling’s second; the second is more lightweight. The other three - Koch [1], Schreier [5] and Harnoncourt [6] - are less successful. All three are too serious, as if they do not realise that this work has so much material to enjoy from.


As this cantata is so well-knitted, both textually and musically, it seems quite senseless to tear out individual movements from it. Regarding complete recordings, you know already what my personal favourites are. Please, do not let yourselves skipping this splendid work of art. Although I would prefer staying with this cantata a little bit longer, I have to force myself moving to the next one in the raw: BWV 206.


Radio broadcasting of BWV 205a

Riccardo Nughes wrote (November 18, 2003):
On November the 20th, at 12,00 CET Rai Radio 3 (Italian national radio) will broadcast a rare performance of Cantata BWV 205a.

Details of performers here:

For live internet radio streaming:

This is actually a reconstruction by T.Koopman (original music is lost):

BWV 205a
1.Coro->from BWV 205,1
2.Recitativo accompagnato->from BWV 205,2
3.Aria-> from BWV 205,3
5.Duetto->from BWV 213, 11
7.Aria->from BWV 205,9
9.Aria->from BWV 214,7
11.Aria->from BWV 205,11
12.Recitativo->from BWV 205,12
13.Aria->from BWV 203,13
14.Recitativo->from BWV 205,14
15.Coro->from BWV 205,15
(the missing recitatives were written by Koopman).


BWV 205

Julian Mincham wrote (June 2, 2007):
Members may be interested to know that one of our group, Neil Mason, is directing the first Australian performance (as far as is known) of BWV 205 tomorrow, June 3rd.

This is an amazing work with a most complex opening chorus and, following the most recent thread, some interesting instrumentation---- one of the most heavily fortified recits for the period and a bass aria accompanied by horns and trumpet.

Would be nice if any member is attending and could give us a reaction?

Neil Mason wrote (June 3, 2007):
Cantata 205 and orchestration

[To Julian Mincham] Well, Julian, you have been successful in your attempt to get me to contribute!

Yes, today I will conduct Cantata BWV 205. For those who do not know this work, may I thoroughly recommend it?!

The orchestration is of particular interest, particularly in the light of the recent discussion of a "default" orchestration in Handel.

Cantata 205 contains within it the only recitative I know of with three trumpets, timpani, two horns, two oboes, two flutes (transverse), strings and continuo, most of whom play in demisemiquavers!

Of course the above could be regarded as somewhat of a default orchestration for the most festive of Bach's cantatas, were it not also for the oboe d'amore, viola d'amore and viola da gamba obbligato parts.

A fascinating exercise in orchestration indeed, and what a glorious noise it is when they all get going. There is nothing finer in all music IMHO.

Neil Halliday wrote (June 3, 2007):
Neil Mason wrote:
>A fascinating exercise in orchestration indeed, and what a glorious noise it is when they all get going. There is nothing finer in all music IMHO.<
It's certainly a gloriously exuberant, and also very melodious work.

(I have two examples, from Rilling 1966 [3] and 1999 [10]; more on them at the appropriate time).

Imagine the opening chorus of the Magnificat (BWV 243) with the addition of two horns, for this is what we have in BWV 205/1!

Later on, in Mvt. 11 (Bass aria), the 'bright' trumpets are wonderfully contrasted with the 'rustic' horns, with both sets of instruments having equally lively parts; this is an example where horns in the lower octave make a fine contrast with trumpets in the higher octave. [We have trumpets and horns in D; the trumpets sound at a pitch that is one tone higher than written, and the horns a 7th lower than written].

Neil Mason wrote (June 3, 2007):
Neil Halliday wrote:
< Later on, in Mvt. 11 (Bass aria), the 'bright' trumpets are wonderfully contrasted with the 'rustic' horns, with both sets of instruments having equally lively parts; this is an example where horns in the lower octave make a fine contrast with trumpets in the higher octave. [We have trumpets and horns in D; the trumpets sound at a pitch that is one tone higher than written, and the horns a 7th lower than written]. >
Certainly, a wonderful antiphonal effect (if the orchestra is placed appropriately).

Russell Telfer wrote (June 3, 2007):
[To Neil Mason] Yes, it's Bach on full throttle.

You'll probably know that BWV 205 is coming up for review next month. You'll be able to tell us how your performance went.


Continue on Part 2

Cantatas BWV 205 & BWV 205a: Details & Complete Recordings of BWV 205 | Recordings of Individual Movements from BWV 205 | Details of BWV 205a | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

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