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Cantata BWV 205
Zerreißet, zersprenget, zertrümmert die Gruft
Cantata BWV 205a
Blast Lärmen, ihr Feinde!
Discussions - Part 2

Continue on Part 1

Discussions in the Week of July 8, 2007 (2nd round)

Neil Halliday wrote (July 8, 2007):
Introduction to BWV 205

[I notice Russell has introduced, perhaps inadvertently, BWV 137 a week earlier than is indicated in the BCW's 'order of discussion' list. Since I have greatly enjoyed discovering BWV 205, and in order to maintain the chronological discussion of the cantatas, I am posting the thoughts and impressions of BWV 205 that I wrote down after some study of the music. Naturally this means the groundwork for the next two weeks will have been laid out].

(See the BCW for the details): http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV205.htm

"The Chorus of Winds" (Mvt. 1) (D major, 3/4 time):
A brilliant chorus with large orchestra. Notice the trick change, briefly, to duple time, with the TASB and the ASTB entries.

The accompanied recitative:
Three times Aeolus, god of strong winds, summons the winds: "I give you power" to accomplish destruction of various kinds; the instruments storm up and down in similar and contrary motion scalar passages. There is a brilliant little touch at the end, when flutes alone sound a forlorn little descending scale that imitates the dimming light of the stars.

The bass aria (A major, common time):
Aeolus relishes the prospect of unleashing the violent winds. A lively aria with a brilliant middle section where the 1st violins have astounding demisemiquaver passages, on the words "and when the roofs crack", with dotted rhythms in the vocal and second violin parts.

The tenor aria (B minor, 3/8 time):
Zephyrus, god of gentle breezes, entreats Aeolus not to release the furious winds so soon. This aria is a gentle, melancholy waltz, with the voice dropping an octave at the start to express despondency, and word painting on "schmerzlich" (via the Bb). There are most affecting forlorn pauses after the words "scheide" (depart) and "schweige" (silence), and a demisemiquaver melisma on "Freude".

The alto aria (F# minor, common time):
Pomona, goddess of fruit, asks Aeolus to observe the fruit-laden trees. This aria features a most beautiful musical representation, through a downward stepping figure, of autumn leaves falling gently to the ground. The voice first paints the image on the words "can you see how the leaves from the branches fall sadly to earth", after
which the oboe joins the voice (at affecting intervals) in an extended version of the gentle, downward stepping figures.

The soprano aria (E major, 12/8 time):
Pallas, goddess of wisdom, informs Aeolus of her desire for fine weather for the upcoming festivities in honour of August (professor Müller). Robertson writes of this aria (in his comments about BWV 171, in which this aria is parodied): "The enchanting rising and falling phrases of the solo violin obbligato depict the pleasant Zephyr". The vocal part has special treatment of words such as "Kühlen" and "Höhen".

Bass aria (D major, 3/8 time):
Aeolus is placated; he instructs the winds to remain calm a while longer. The brilliant orchestration with trumpets, horns and continuo is unusual; I am reminded of the third movement of the 1st Brandenburg near the end of the ritornello.

AT duet (Mvt. 13) (G major, 3/4 time):

Pomona (A) and Zephyrus (T) join in general rejoicing at the prospect of the upcoming festivities in honour of `August'. The flute part endows the music with a pastoral atmosphere.

Final chorus (Mvt. 15) (D major, 2/2 time):
This is a grand and brilliant chorus in praise of `August' (ie, professor Müller). The emphatic chords on "Vi-vat" are most invigorating. This music is much too impressive a vehicle for praising any mere mortal! Not surprisingly, the OCC comments: "If Bach had been able to transform `Zerreisset, Zersprenget' (BWV 205) into a whole church cantata or part of an oratorio, one of his most fascinating and rewarding scores would have undoubtably become better known than it is".
-----
Briefly, I have two recordings, both by Rilling [3] [10]. I notice in previous discussions I disliked the fast tempi of Rilling's newest recording of the work [10]. My present thoughts are that only the opening movement (Mvt. 1) is a bit fast, and in any case I must admit to presently being more tolerant of the quick tempo than I was for those discussions. Otherwise the newer recording is obviously better played and engineered. Both sets of vocal soloists are excellent; but I prefer the bass (who convey pitch with greater clarity in melisamas on `lachen' etc, in his first aria) and maybe also the soprano (who beautifully caresses the key words in her aria) in the older recording.

Russell Telfer wrote (July 8, 2007):
Apologies one and all, especially Neil, for sending off the wrong intro. I had numbered them wrongly in my file base. No excuses.

Belatedly here is what I had compiled on Z-Z-Z - to give it an easily remembered nickname.

I have a little more to say later, but this is my first chance to correct my mistake.

Introduction to BWV 205

Zerreißet, zersprenget, zertrümmert die Gruft
Demolish! Destroy! Disorder the lair!

This secular cantata was composed for the birthday on August 3, 1725, of August Friedrich Müller, a Professor at Leipzig University -and distinguished guest on this occasion. He is also the fictional hero of the cantata! The libretto is by Picander. To further his career, Bach wanted to impress the University Council, who had deprived him of his autonomy as a musical director, and whose good opinion it was still necessary to seek.

Styled by Bach a Dramma Per Musica, it tells the story of the Wind God Aeolus who in his anger (general misanthropy?) intends to wreck the happy summer scene by sending down an early autumn storm.

In contention are Zephyr, God of warm breezes; Pomona, Goddess of the Harvest; Pallas and Athena.

The arias carry the narrative forward. The contenders plead their case to be left alone. Aeolus huffs and puffs but gradually calms down and acknowledges the effect of the charm offensive laid on by the other Gods. The orators for "Augustus Müller" win the day.

There are 15 movements. Choruses are found at the beginning and end. After the opening chorus (Mvt. 1) follows a recit then an aria and then on in the same pattern. Mvt. 13 is billed a Duetto(Pomona and Zephyrus) by which time the summer lovers have won their case.

There is much fine music and the Dramma is noteworthy for the (for Bach) huge orchestral resources. Consider for example the 'brassy' trumpets contrasted with the 'rustic' horns. Listen to this for a complete understanding of Bach in a context outside his church role.

For many years I listened to and looked out for all and any Bach cantatas. This was one of the few that eluded me - I was not able to hear it until I bought the Hänssler edition. It is fascinating to see what the greatest ever composer of church cantatas makes of it when at his most secular and most operatic.

I shall comment on some of the more memorable movements later in the week.

Neil Mason wrote (July 9, 2007):
Thanks to Russell for his introduction and to Neil Halliday for his insightful comments, which I found very interesting.

This cantata is special to me; I conducted the first Australian performance last month.

It is perhaps the nearest thing to an opera that Bach composed, even though the plot is completely trivial.

The music, however, is simply outstanding. It is also very difficult to perform (well).

The orchestration is remarkable. As well as usual strings, oboes, flutes, three trumpets and timpani (I guess this is fairly standard for a Bach festive work), we have horn, oboe d'amore, viola d'amore and viola da gamba; this is quite a challenge for any concert organiser! It gives Bach an unusually rich palette of colour, even for him.

(As an aside, I found the discussion on Handel's orchestration vis-a-vis Bach's a little while back interesting; Bach gets 10 out of 10, Handel perhaps 7 out of 10).

The opening chorus of winds (Mvt. 1) is very florid. There are similarities with the opening of the Magnificat in figuration and harmonic structure. In performance it can be very exciting if the tempo is fast enough. I guess I
like this chorus going "like the wind". The only recording I have heard that I find satisfactory in tempo is Herreweghe, who is for me the first choice in just about every Bach cantata when I have heard his recording
(but not quite all). Unfortunately I only have had access to the opening chorus (Mvt. 1) of this performance and would love to hear the rest. As Neil Halliday points out, there are some interesting metre changes akin to hemiolae.

The accompanied recitative is remarkable. Is there any other with such orchestration and instrumental colour?

The bass aria is indeed very quick for the 1st violins.

In the tenor aria we have our viola d'amore and viola da gamba. This time the tenor gets the demisemiquavers and the tessitura is cruel.

Alto aria: I agree with Neil H about the "falling leaves" figure - a lovely touch.

Soprano aria: Another aria with an exceedingly difficult violin part.

Bass aria: This (IMO) needs to be in one in a bar, but I have heard it far too slow (eg Schreier). A simply wonderful aria.

Duet (Mvt. 13): There is something really strange about the rhythm/metre of this, and I must confess that this movement doesn't really "work" for me.

Final chorus (Mvt. 15): more exuberance, Bach at its best.

I really do wonder why this work is not better known. The only reason I can think of is a sort of prejudice against his secular works compared to his sacred ones. For me it is an outstanding example of Bach working at his absolute best in a secular context, with a fine sense of drama. What a pity he wrote no operas.

Neil Halliday wrote (July 10, 2007):
Neil Mason wrote:
<"In performance it can be very exciting if the tempo (of Mvt. 1) is fast enough. I guess I like this chorus going "like the wind". The only recording I have heard that I find satisfactory in tempo is Herreweghe">
I think you would get a real kick out of Rilling's 2nd recording [10]. I'm even beginning to appreciate the tempo myself, lately! Timing is 5.53; and the entire ensemble's accuracy is outstanding. (I would be surprised if Herreweghe is any faster than this - presto - performance!).

About midway between the 1st (6.50) [3] and 2nd (5.53) Rilling [10] recordings is Koopman [9] - my guess is c.6.25. (The 2nd Rilling and Koopman have samples at the BCW).

I quite like the Koopman [9], because the swirling vocal lines are not quite so 'frantic'; and while I miss the brilliance of the trumpets that Rilling [10] has at his disposal (modern trumpets), Koopman creates plenty of noise with the trills on the raucous horns, etc.
-------
Both Rilling [10] and Koopman [9] introduce a lute into the continuo of the tenor aria, highlighting that aria's special instrumentation.
-------
<Duet (Mvt. 13): There is something really strange about the rhythm/metre of this, and I must confess that this movement doesn't really "work" for me.>
As I see it, the rhythm is 'thrown off' right at the start because the flute part works in opposition to the continuo, ie, the flute has two semiquavers and a quaver, while the continuo has a quaver and two semiquavers. I find if I take the basic rhythm from the continuo (all the way through the aria) ie, one bar consisting of: quaver and two semiquavers; quaver-quaver; quaver-quaver (making a complete bar in strong 3/4 time), and let the vocal and flute parts 'dance around' this base rhythm, everything falls into place in a charming manner.

Russell Telfer wrote (July 11, 2007):
Neil Halliday wrote:
< I notice in previous discussions I disliked the fast tempi of Rilling's newest recording of the work [10]. My present thoughts are that only the opening movement (Mvt. 1) is a bit fast ... >
It certainly is. A recurring theme of mine is that whereas a fast tempo generates exuberance and general wellbeing, there can be a trade off if amateur performers (choirs not orchestras) are given music which is beyond
their capabilities to perform well. However, among others, the best German choirs (and a few English ones in my experience) seem to be able to deliver this to the best conductors. As a singer, this often amazes me.

Thanks, Neil, for the detail you've provided.

Russell Telfer wrote (July 11, 2007):
Neil Mason wrote:
< This cantata is special to me; I conducted the first Australian performance last month. >
Congratulations! I imagine you had great fun assembling your 'rich palette of colour'. I regularly sing in a group which practises and performs cantatas after ten or twenty hours' preparation and even with a band of about 30 players plus 60 singers there can be horrendous problems. Do tell us, if you will, where it took place. Was it a scheduled concert or a special event?

I'd be interested to know too whether the instruments you used were readily available or had to be imported from miles away.

< The music, however, is simply outstanding. It is also very difficult to perform (well). >

With you there. We're doing BWV 207a next year. It looks equally complex.

< Duet (Mvt. 13): There is something really strange about the rhythm/metre of this, and I must confess that this movement doesn't really "work" for me. >
I had a look to remind myself about the Duetto (Mvt. 13): In the 10 bar introduction before the singers enter: - in the flute part, bars 3 and 5 share the same rhythm, and so do bars 6, 7, 8 and 9 but otherwise there are 8 different rhythms in those 12 bars.

The continuo part is more unified, but in 12 bars you have 6 (slightly varied) different rhythm patterns.

Naturally singers' parts will by their nature be more florid, but there is substantial incongruity between the singing parts, let alone the instrumental parts. No wonder it 'doesn't really work.'

< I really do wonder why this work is not better known. The only reason I can think of is a sort of prejudice against his secular works compared to his sacred ones. >

I think you've answered this yourself Neil, when you said that the plot was trivial. It requires a gift to write church music that will last 300 years. The same music (as we see for ourselves) is equally powerful - as music - in a secular setting, but the drama may quickly be forgotten. The dramas, as dramas, I fear, are flawed.

Can you imagine a full performance of The Ring, 16 hours or so, but without the music? And why is that we do not regularly watch the plays of Gay and Sheridan, Moliere and Goethe? Bach's music does not date - that is one of the greatest blessings of my life - but theatrical tastes certainly do.

Neil Mason wrote (July 11, 2007):
Russell Telfer wrote:
< Congratulations! I imagine you had great fun assembling your 'rich palette of colour'. I regularly sing in a group which practises and performs cantatas after ten or twenty hours' preparation and even with a band of about 30 players plus 60 singers there can be horrendous problems. Do tell us, if you will, where it took place. Was it a scheduled concert or a special event? >

A scheduled concert, in St Andrew's Anglican Church, South Bris.

In October we do BWV2 + Michael Haydn's Requiem.

< I'd be interested to know too whether the instruments you used were readily available or had to be imported from miles away. >
The viola d'amore and viola da gamba locally sourced, the oboe d'amore from about 200km away.

Neil Mason wrote (July 11, 2007):
Neil Halliday wrote:
< I quite like the Koopman [9], because the swirling vocal lines are not quite so 'frantic'; and while I miss the brilliance of the trumpets that Rilling [10] has at his disposal (modern trumpets), Koopman creates plenty of noise with the trills on the raucous horns, etc. >
Yes the horns do add colour.

< Both Rilling [10] and Koopman [9] introduce a lute into the continuo of the tenor aria, highlighting that aria's special instrumentation. >
Yes I'm sure this would be effective.

Neil Mason wrote (July 11, 2007):
Russell Telfer wrote:
< I had a look to remind myself about the Duetto (Mvt. 13) : In the 10 bar introduction before the singers enter: - in the flute part, bars 3 and 5 share the same rhythm, and so do bars 6, 7, 8 and 9 but otherwise there are 8 different rhythms in those 12 bars.
The continuo part is more unified, but in 12 bars you have 6 (slightly varied) different rhythm patterns.
Naturally singers' parts will by their nature be more florid, but there is substantial incongruity between the singing parts, let alone the instrumental parts. No wonder it 'doesn't really work.' >
This makes sense to me.

Ed Myskowski wrote (July 12, 2007):
Neil Mason wrote:
< Thanks to Russell for his introduction and to Neil H for his insightful comments, which I found very interesting.
This cantata is special to me; I conducted the first Australian performance last month. >
I always enjoy posts re live performances. This one, and the following discussion, is especially appropriate, since it relates to the cantata of the week. Thanks.

Ed Myskowski wrote (July 15, 2007):
Neil Halliday wrote:
< Since I have greatly enjoyed discovering BWV 205, and in order to maintain the chronological discussion of the cantatas, I am posting the thoughts and impressions of BWV 205 that I wrote down after some study of the music. >
Neil's weekly comments are a sustaining feature of BCML, but this one deserves special thanks, both for rescuing the chronology and for preserving a bit of respect for the secular text of BWV 205.

Dürr dismisses the plot as <simplicity itself>. To a natural scientist, the ongoing struggle among the seasonal winds, and human activities, is hardly simple.

Simple is the struggle between God and Devil. No contest, if I understand the powers correctly.

In any event, Neil has given us a concise summary of the music in relation to the plot. Also note that in the first round of discussion, Aryeh pointed out that the plot is not so easily dismissed. The energy of Bach's music suggests that he finds the secular struggle as interesting as the sacred, as inspiration for his art.

This cantata was new to me this week, what a wonderful discovery. Regular readers will not be surprised that I take special delight that it was commissioned by the grad students in respect for a favorite teacher. Presumably, Bach donated the composition, despite his hectic (?) schedule.

Just when life starts to get you down, the good guys score a point!

The two recordings I have, Harnoncourt [6] and Schreier (Bach Edition) [5], were the bottom choices in round one. In the course of listening again and contemplating some specific comments on the excellent and little-known (?) altos in both, I noticed that the S/A arias and duet recit (Mvts. 7-9) form the core of BWV 205, a chiastic structure. No cross around that I can see, unless the intersection of 'wherever the four winds blow' counts as one.

Interesting contrasts in the recit continuos in these two versions, worth some additional thoughts at some point.

 

Continue on Part 3

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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