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Recordings & Discussions of Cantatas: 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

Cantata BWV 21
Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis
Discussions - Part 3

Continue from Part 2

Discussions in the Week of July 9, 2000 [Continue]

Marie Jensen wrote (July 11, 2000):
Ich, Ich, Ich it begins. A music critic contemporary with Bach ridiculed him saying, BWV 21 was a talentless mess, one couldn't start an entire work with repeating the same three words.

Of course the man is right, it seems clumsy to start this way, though the theme of the opening chorus is recycled from the fugue in G from BWV 541. So I listened a little to that. Both prelude and fugue are rather gay and the fugue and the three little ICH notes played much swifter and as an integrated part of the theme. In the cantata the rhythm is changed. The ICH notes are slower with more stress on each, placed in a separate part as introduction and not repeated again. It would be a too modern point of view and homespun psychology to say that "Ich" is repeated thrice to underline that selfishness and egocentricity leads to "Bekümmernis, Seufzer, Tränen, Kummer, Not, Ängstlichs Sehnen, Furcht und Tod", a kind of childish "begging for candy" egocentricity: "I want, I want, I want"! But a fact is that this cantata is a journey from the deepest depression to the highest joy, from "I", through "we" (the soul and Jesus) to the "all" mighty God. The epistle (Acts 9.1-18) and gospel (Luke 15.11-32) for 3rd Sunday after Trinity 1714 deal with the Prodigal son exemplified by Saulus' vision on his way to Damascus. Anyway for me the three "Ich"'s doesn't matter at all. This is one of my favorite cantatas. I remember clearly how moved and impressed I was the first time I heard it.

It is a cantata with an opening Sinfonia (Mvt. 1) as often in the Weimar works. The oboe sings us down into the right mood, but as I have written before, Bach's music is consolation itself, so I never fall in the same black hole as the author of the text. An actor placed on a stage crying out "Seufzer, Tränen, Kummer, Not", with gesticulations with absolutely no musical accompaniment, could shock me more.

And the happy ending is revealed already in the opening: "Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis in meinem Herzen; aber deine Tröstungen erquicken meine Seele."

Anyway we sink deeper and deeper in depression in the two first arias and the connecting recitativo; down in sorrow and hatred of all kinds are even left by God and look down into hell, but with Bach by the hand through a consolating chorus: "Was betrübst du dich, meine Seele" and into one of the strangest of his constructions "The Yes and No Duet".

Originally the cantata was interrupted after the chorus by the sermon.

"The Yes and No Duet" is as in for example BWV 49 a love duet between Jesus (bass) and the soul (soprano), tending to be a kind argue, a gentle quarrel between Jesus and the soul, where Jesus is a kind of doctor with the healing grapes, asking the nervous patient to calm down.

The text is so typical baroque with its constant contradictions Ja/Nein, Hasse/Liebe, Verloren /Erkoren. The recitativo is very moving. The soul cries out for Jesus, and He answers. Then the argument starts. The two voices mix over a constantly spinning continuo machine, the time changes to three and back again, and the soul is accepted.

In the big chorus Mvt. 9 "Sei nun wieder zufrieden" is repeated again and again until the chorale "Was helfen uns die schwere Sorgen" begins as a background of the soprano on the melody: "Wer nur den liebsten Gott laesst walten".

Then it goes upwards and upwards to the gates of Heaven! After a tenor aria filled with joy we end in the ultimate Halleluja, three trumpets, timpani and all "Lob und Ehre und Preis und Gewalt sei unser Gott von Ewigkeit zu Ewigkeit" (Revelation 5,12-13) and BTW the same words, which ends Händel's Messiah (Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever.). So in fact we here have a chance to compare the two great baroque composers making an ending chorus fugue to the same text. Judge for yourself!

Not a word about versions right now. Lack of time now and next weeks. Just this: Rilling [10] and Fasolis [17] are both great...

Roy Reed wrote (July 11, 2000):
Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis! What a catalogue of woes these first five movements are. And can I ever relate. My wife and I returned July 3 from 5 weeks in the UK. My luggage did not. Over week now and no bad. Doubtless a goner. Bitter woe. Large bag filled with the usual, plus 30 CD's collected from visits to 13 cathedrals. Music of their choirs and organs...Grief, affliction, sighs, tears, troubles, distress... I can relate! And with the CD's many other goodies ...from tea to frig magnets. Arghhhhh!

On the very happy side, we spent lovely day as guests of Jane and Alan Newble. Went to church together, enjoyed a delicious dinner Jane created, marveled at some of her textile creations, attended together a concert of Bach sonatas for violin and harpsichord by Trevor Pinnock and Rachel Podger. Followed by tea and strawberries with cream in the marquee afterward. An entirely delightful day. Many thanks to our gracious hosts.

Meanwhile, back at the land of the cantatas...BWV 21. Consider four performances: Rilling [10], Suzuki [20], Koopman [18], and Herreweghe [13]. Four very fine performances. I give the prize to Herreweghe, hands down. So many wonderful touches in his performance. Consider, for the moment, just one, Mvt. 10 "Erfreue dich Seele" Aria for soprano, or tenor, depending on whether you are following the 1714 version or the later arrangement at Leipzig (1723). Probably a matter of singers available or preferred at the time. On these CD's, sopranos for Suzuki and Koopman tenors for Rilling and Herreweghe. Why am I so fond of the Herreweghe presentation?

1. Tempo
He gets it just right for the character of this piece. It has to rejoice, but not too heavily. The fire that burns here is not a bonfire, but a candle, and one of love and consolation. Has to be lively, but not too quick a run. I put the Herreweghe reading a metronome marking, 60. Suzuki is the fastest at 65. Koopman slower at 56 and Rilling slowest at 52.

2. Style
(All of these interpretive matters are of a piece, but one has to have some way to look at the individual dimensions.) Rhythm in Bach is stylistically derived from dance and is based in large extent upon anacrusis, that is, the accents between the downbeats. This is very important in this little aria. You look at is and you mostly see running 16th notes, but there are those measures, 2 or 3 in a row, once 4, where the rhythm is a dotted 8th note followed by 3 16th notes. It is these measures, interrupting the running 16th's that give the piece its special character. Now the music of the aria is running forward. How one handles the measures with the dotted notes on the first beat is critical to the momentum, and hence the dance-like character of the piece. What does that really mean? It means that you don't land too hard on beat one, feel strongly that empty space that is beat 2 and let the remaining 3 notes of the measure dance their way to the next measure. The cellist with Herreweghe does this wonderfully and the piece--for me--is something of a model of how to do Bach. The tenor, Howard Crook gives the aria the joyful, yet loving and comforting "tone" that the text, and I would say, the music, calls for. For me, this crowd gets it exactly right, the other three are very good, but...

While most of my musical experience was hearing cathedral choirs, (English church music is a great enthusiasm of mine) I did hear quite a bit a Bach and on concert does have a bearing on cantata recordings. As part of the Lufthansa Baroque Festival going on in London when I was there, I heard a wonderful concert at St. John's in Smith Square which featured cantata BWV 51 (a good Italian singer and an Italian baroque ensemble. The second half of the concert was a British baroque group. They did the JSB Magnificat (BWV 243). Emma Kirkby was the soprano soloist. (Yes it was a strange experience hearing a good soprano doing BWV 51 with E. Kirkby siting in the house.) Anyway...after the program I met Ms Kirkby, and by way of expressing my very great admiration for her singing, I told her that in preparing a Bach concert which I conducted last March, I telephoned a friend who is on the voice faculty of the school of music at Indiana Univ., and told him I wanted an Emma Kirkby...and could he send me one. He said he had a young English singer in his studio, who was just what I wanted. She did sing the concert...Joanna Elizabeth Morton...beautiful young woman who sang marvelously. She studies also at IU with Paul Hillier. I told Ms Kirby the when I first contacted this young singer she was daunted by the thought that I wanted an Emma Kirkby. "I indeed do" I told her, "but do not listen to her recording of this work right off." Ms Kirkby immediately interjected. "Yes, it's too fast." Right she is. TAKE THAT Mr. Gardiner! What a treat is was for me to meet this great singer.

Andrew Oliver wrote (July 12, 2000):
There is not much I want to say about this work, apart from how good it is. I like particularly the first, sixth and last movements.

I notice that in the old Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England, the first lesson for the third Sunday after Trinity includes Hannah's song of thanksgiving after the birth of Samuel. This cantata's theme would be quite appropriate for her story. I understand that attempts were made in the 17th century to link the Lutheran and Anglican Churches, so I wonder if there might possibly be any connection with this.

Marie remarked on Handel's Messiah. This cantata reminds me of that, but it reminds me more of the Brahms Requiem, with its aria Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit.

Harry Steinman wrote (July 12, 2000):
I have to agree with Marie: Fasolis rules! I have Herreweghe's [13] and Fasolis (Arts, 41974-2; the recording also includes the Magnificat (BWV 243) and the Motet, BWV 225-and a wonderful motet I might add!) [17]. I enjoy Fasolis more: The pace is generally a bit more up-tempo, with the Sinfonia (Mvt. 1) being one of the beneficiaries of Fasolis' pace.

I find Herreweghe's singers more precise and maybe more restrained; Fasolis' are more emotive, more earthy-passionate. I find the overall sound of the Fasolis recording to be richer and fuller and I can hear the bass strings more clearly, which is a personal preference.

One interesting thought...I notice the 'duet' between oboe and violin in the Sinfonia (Mvt. 1). I recall that in the liner notes to the Rene Jacobs recording of the Christmas Oratorio (BWV 248), some attention is given to the duet between violins and oboes in the Sinfonia of the second cantata. There the author hears the angels in the strings and the hesitant voices of the shepherds in the oboes. I got to wondering if the oboe/violin combination in this cantata could represent the soul/Savior theme as well. Just a thought...

Well, this is so many people's favorite cantata; it's one of my favorites too!

Kirk McElhearn wrote (July 12, 2000):
I'm going to try and throw in my two cents this week, for a change, since I have a bit of time...

I am glad to be listening more closely to this cantata, which, as Aryeh has said, is one of Bach's greatest. I have only the Herreweghe [13] and Leonhardt [9] recordings, so I cannot come anywhere near his (as usual) masterful presentation of the various versions. But the Herreweghe is, indeed, up to his usual standards.

The second movement (the first choral movement) reminds me a bit of cantata BWV 131's choral movement. Does anyone see what I mean?

I find something interesting in the aria movement 5 - this is the construction that Bach often uses for his most emotional arias, yet in most cases the melody line running along behind the voice (is this called obbligato?) is one instrument alone. Here, at least in the Herreweghe recording, this melody is played by several strings together, giving a much different tone to the aria. Any thoughts on this?

Pascal Bédaton wrote (July 12, 2000):
Because we are talking about Fasolis [17] let me ask you if you have ever heard his very good interpretation of the Mass in B minor (BWV 232)? Like his recording of the Magnificat (BWV 243)/Cantata BWV 21, this one his full of passion and emotion.

For the BWV 21, my second favorite one is of course Herreweghe [13] for his marvelous singers.

What a chance we have to be able to compare different recordings of one of the most important cantata. Read yours later…

Harry Steinman wrote (July 13, 2000):
(To Pascal Bédaton) Pascal: Do you have label/catalog info for the Fasolis B Minor Mass (BWV 232)? I would definitely like to hear/acquire it!

Pascal Bédaton wrote (July 13, 2000):
(To Harry Steinman) The reference for this CD is Arts Authentic 47525-2. It is a low price, which is also a good thing. Enjoy it!

Harry Steinman wrote (July 13, 2000):
(To Pascal Bédaton) Thanks Pascal...I decided to order it from HB Direct so I should have it in a week or so and I'm looking forward to it!

Enrico Bortolazzi wrote (July 13, 2000):
(To Aryeh Oron) Thanks Aryeh for your great post about this wonderful cantata. Let me add two cents.

[M-12] (Robert Sadin/Kathleen Battle) I have a CD entitled 'Baroque duets' received with the Italian magazine 'Amadeus' with Kathleen Battle singing the aria 'Seufzer, Tränen'. The label says 'Sony Classical' with the known logo but no catalog number is provided (there's only the reprint number that is AM 110-2 DP). This is the worst CD I have of baroque music, no one can be worst. Mrs. Battle is singing with a lot of vibrato but without feeling. To this we must add the oboe part that is played by.... Wynton Marsalis with his modern trumpet! No other comment :-)

Other details: Orchestra of St. Luke's - John Nelson, Recorded 1990, Time: 4:11.

In the same CD we have (by Bach): Jauchzet Gott 4:31, Sei Lob und Preise 5:55, from BWV 51.

I have Koopman [18], Herreweghe [13], and Richter [7]. By now the best to me is the Herreweghe version for the first choir. But after your post I want to concentrate on arias and also buy the Suzuki CD [20] [22].

Roy Reed wrote (July 13, 2000):

I would like to pose a couple of questions about the Sinfonia (Mvt. 1)...just for fun and to stimulate listening pleasure.

1. What performers best create the Sinfonia (Mvt. 1) as an oboe/violin duet? Actually it is a trio, considering the continuo line...but just put those slowly running 8th notes aside for a moment. Upstairs, the action is between the oboe and violin 1. Violin 2 and viola are lying low and filling in the harmony. Who best pulls off the duet character of this little piece? The oboe is a tough competitor, especially for baroque stringsand bow.

1.a. Or...or...is this just a phony question? The piece is really an oboe solo, with violin garnish. After all, the violin doesn't get around to saying anything until the 4th measure, and it doesn't assert itself like it could, getting up above the staff a lot where it can really shine. It is almost always playing alone underneath the oboe...at a disadvantage. Seven measures from the end the violin works herself into a little flourish up above the oboe, and then decides to behave herself, become subservient, get down in the harmony with the other strings and let the oboe conclude this beautiful and doleful bit of pre-Bekümmernis.

2. Back to the continuo line, since we have here a trio, with violin 2 and viola filler. What works best with this bottom line? What best fits the sense of the piece. Should the line be played legato? Should the individual 8th notes be separated? How much separation? There is quite a bit of difference in the performances we are hearing.

Just a few ponderables for ear fun.

No matter how long in the tooth I get as a Bach appreciator my mouth still drops open in astonishment at some of the wonderful invention in his creation. Take, for instance, the opening chorus (Mvt. 2). As the fugal entries come along, the music is periodically punctuated by oboe and strings. All the way up to the adagio, on the word "aber" (Anyone reminded in Bach's treatment here of a spot in the Brahms Requiem?), that is, 35 measures into the piece, these instrumental puntcuations are almost entirely independent of the vocal lines and continuo. Especially the oboe, which is really a descant here. This is just fabulous, and it does raise interpretation questions. One is tempted to say, "Wow, this is great stuff, lets not let it get buried behind the vocal lines." Then a voice from the other shoulder says, "Wait a minute, this is not solo stuff, it needs to fit in as part of the general texture." It is fun to listen to the various readings with these questions in mind.

[10] A couple of days back, Aryeh expressed his appreciation for the singing of Arleen Augér. Indeed! What a wonderful singer she was. She and H. Rilling added so much of sensitive beauty to our Bach experience. If anyone has also taste for the late romantic literature, you should hear her performance of the Strauss last songs...with Andre Previn. Great!

Roy Reed wrote (July 15, 2000):

Cantata BWV 21 is one of the cantatas for which ms. parts exist for ripieno singers, i.e., the chorus as distinct from soloists. As you know, there has been argument about who sang the cantatas, especially since Joshua Rifkin delivered his essay, "Bach's Chorus" to the American Musicological Society in 1981. The latest, and very weighty support for Rifkin's thesis is Andrew Parrott's recent book, "The Essential Bach Choir" (Boydell Press, 2000). The absence of ms. parts for the ripieno singers in the vast majority of cantatas is a strong element of the Rifkin/Parrott argument. At least no argument about BWV 21. The parts exist. Soloists begin Mvt. 6, "Was betruebst du dich, meine Seele." They have 4 bars to sing this text, and then the chorus takes over. At ms. 43 where the piece changes from triple to quadruple meter, the soloists return. Then at ms. 59 the chorus returns with bases followed by the other parts in fugal entries. And so to the end.

This alternation between solo and chorus appears again in section 9, "Sei nun wieder zufrieden..." but in a different pattern. Of the CD's I am comparing - Koopman [18], Suzuki [20] [22], Herreweghe [13], and Rilling [10] - only Suzuki ignores these alternations of soloists/chorus. That is, unless my old ears deceive me. Seems strange, but he does promise another reading later.

I do not have the competence myself to judge these issues, as a journeyman musiker and a retired one at that, but I must say that Parrott makes a very compelling case. I think that his book would be worth the time and effort of the people in this conversation. Incidentally, Parrott does provide an appendix which includes Rifkin's essay and the "Entwurf"...outline which Bach in 1730 presented to the Leipzig city fathers of what would be necessary for "a properly constituted church music establishment"...both in German and in Eng. translation. Reading Bach's "Entwurf" and Parrott's very detailed research into "what really happened," I conclude that the performer is faced with a choice in this matter of the Bach choir between what Bach wanted, i.e. between his conception and what he could actually manage. And what he could usually manage was performance of the cantatas by soloists. So "authenticity" is a choice between legitimate possibilities.

Parrott makes a lot of the argument that the chorus when it sings just sings along with the soloists, just unessential augmentation. This is a bit like saying to the organist... "You don't really need to pull out more stops here, the music is just like the stuff already played." Augmentation, strength, accentuation...this is not just incidental. Like most musicians Bach was frustrated in his musical ideals and visions by stubborn reality. What is the best "authenticity?" What he did, or what he wanted?

At any rate with BWV 21 Bach wanted these aural contrasts and, at least at the outset, had the resources to achieve them. We know this because we have the singers' parts to prove it.

Aryeh Oron wrote (July 15, 2000):
Two more points I would like to add to the discussion.

Additional Recordings
While doing the research for BWV 185 - the cantata to be discussed next week - I found information about two additional recordings of BWV 21. Both are very old and I do not have either of them.

[3] Fritz Lehmann/Berlin Motet Choir/Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, Soprano - Gunhild Weber, Tenor - Helmut Krebs, Bass - Hermann Schey
(Decca, recorded early 1950's)

[2] Jonathan Sternberg/Vienna Kammerchor/Vienna Symphony Orchestra, Soprano - Rösl Schweiger, Tenor - Hugues Cuenod, Bass - Aloin Pernerstorfer
(Bach Guild, recorded early 1950's)

Personal Viewpoint
In the final version of BWV 21, there is an interesting contradiction between the first and the second arias for tenor. In the first aria 'Bäche von gesalznen Zähren, /Fluten rauschen stets einher' (No.5), Bach uses every possible means to paint the images pertain to tears, water and sea. The weeping and the flowing nature of the strings are exploited to the maximum in order to express the various pictures. In the beginning, to describe the streams of salt, then to portray the storm at sea, wherein the tears become an ocean and then the description of the drowning man after the breakup of his ship. In the second aria for tenor 'Erfreue dich, Seele, erfreue dich, Herze' (No.10), there are no strings at all, only continuo. The depressed man from the first aria is trying to encourage himself, by saying to his soul and heart to rejoice, and by saying that his tears will be transformed into wine. According to the text, this should be a cheerful aria, but that is not the case. All the tears have dried up and therefore the accompaniment is minimal. And no energy has been left in the man, and therefore the melody is very economical, almost like in a recitative. Try to listen to these two arias successively in one of the good recordings (Rilling second [10], Suzuki second [22]) and you will see what I mean.

Ryan Michero wrote (July 16, 2000):
Kirk McElhearn wrote:
< I find something interesting in the aria movement 5 this is the construction that Bach often uses for his most emotional arias, yet in most cases the melody line running along behind the voice (is this called obbligato?) isone instrument alone. Here, at least in the Herreweghe recording, this melody is played by several strings together, giving a much different tone to the aria. Any thoughts on this? >
Well, Bach often used a full orchestra to accompany his singers in more emotional arias ("Mache dich" from the St. Matthew (BWV 244) and "Schlummert ein" from BWV 82 come to mind). Here the full orchestra seems to represent the turbulent sea suggested in the text-- "Bäche von gesalznen Zähren/Fluten rauschen stets einher" ("Brooks of salty tears/Rush in torrents here").

Ryan Michero wrote (July 16, 2000):
Roy Reed wrote:
< I would like to pose a couple of questions about the Sinfonia (Mvt. 1)...just for fun and to stimulate listening pleasure. >
Interesting questions, Roy. Good food for thought.

< 1. What performers best create the Sinfonia (Mvt. 1) as an oboe/violin duet? Actually it is a trio, considering the continuo line...but just put those slowly running 8th notes aside for a moment. Upstairs, the action is between the oboe and violin 1. Violin 2 and viola are lying low and filling in the harmony. Who best pulls off the duet character of this little piece? The oboe is a tough competitor, especially for baroque strings and bow. >
I think the best "duet-style" version of the opening movement is by Ryo Terakado and Patrick Beaugiraud on Suzuki's second recording (Vol.12). The violin doesn't just disappear into the accompaniment like on so many other recordings, and both instruments are very beautifully played.

< 1.a. Or...or...is this just a phony question? The piece is really an oboe solo, with violin garnish. After all, the violin doesn't get around to saying anything until the 4th measure, and it doesn't assert itself like it could, getting up above the staff a lot where it can really shine. It is almost always playing alone underneath the oboe...at a disadvantage. Seven measures from the end the violin works herself into a little flourish up above the oboe, and then decides to behave herself, become subservient, get down in the harmony with the other strings and let the oboe conclude this beautiful and doleful bit of pre-Bekümmernis. >
Yes, you have a point. And some performers play up this aspect of it, like Koopman and Herreweghe, who make this movement basically a showcase for the wonderful Marcel Ponseele. Personally I prefer the "duet-style" approach, but who can complain when you get to hear the wonderful Ponseele better?

< 2. Back to the continuo line, since we have here a trio, with violin 2 and viola filler. What works best with this bottom line? What best fits the sense of the piece? Should the line be played legato? Should the individual 8th notes be separated? How much separation? There is quite a bit of difference in the performances we are hearing. >
Again Suzuki 2 is my benchmark here. He separates the 8th notes pretty well without making them sound strangely staccato. There is also a bassoon on the continuo line in this recording, which sounds great. Played like this, the bass seems to represent the slow, steady tread of fate, which seems quite appropriate for this movement.

< Just a few ponderables for ear fun. >
My ears thank you...

Ryan Michero wrote (July 17, 2000):
Roy Reed wrote:
< Cantata BWV 21 is one of the cantatas for which ms. parts exist for ripieno singers, i.e., the chorus as distinct from soloists. As you know, there has been argument about who sang the cantatas, especially since Joshua Rifkin delivered his essay, "Bach's Chorus" to the American Musicological Society in 1981. At least there is no argument about BWV 21. The parts exist. >
Yes, and BWV 21 seems to me a very important piece of the puzzle when it comes to reconstructing Bach's performance practice.

< Soloists begin Mvt. 6, "Was betruebst du dich, meine Seele." They have 4 bars to sing this text, and then the chorus takes over. At ms. 43 where the piece changes from triple to quadruple meter, the soloists return. Then at ms. 59 the chorus returns with bases followed by the other parts in fugal entries. And so to the end. >
Isn't it interesting to see how much the concertists and ripienists sing together where we know Bach had extra singers available? But I know what Bach may have preferred and what Bach actually did most of the time are two different things...

< Of the CD's I am comparing: Koopman [18], Suzuki [20] [22], Herreweghe [13], and Rilling [10], only Suzuki ignores these alternations of soloists/chorus. >
Suzuki is not ignoring Bach's markings but is performing an early version of these cantatas where the markings do not exist. This version on Suzuki's Vol.6 [20] also has more arias given to the soprano and is played at a higher pitch. Suzuki performs the Leipzig version of BWV 21, with soli/tutti alternations intact, on Vol. 12 [22] in an altogether more satisfying performance. In this light, Koopman, who also purports to be performing an early version of BWV 21, is inaccurate in observing the soli/tutti alternations. Now one could accuse Suzuki of ignoring that the early version of BWV 21 was probably performed OVPP, but that's a different matter entirely.

< Reading Bach's "Entwurf" and Parrott's very detailed research into "what really happened," I conclude that the performer is faced with a choice in this matter of the Bach choir between what Bach wanted, i.e. between his conception and what he could actually manage. And what he could usually manage was performance of the cantatas by soloists. So "authenticity" is a choice between legitimate possibilities. >
This is just about how I feel on the matter too. I must read Parrott's book, though...

< Parrott makes a lot of the argument that the chorus when it sings just sings along with the soloists, just unessential augmentation. This is a bit like saying to the organist..."You don't really need to pull out more stops here, the music is just like the stuff already played." Augmentation, strength, accentuation...this is not just incidental. Like most musicians Bach was frustrated in his musical ideals and visions by stubborn reality. What is the best "authenticity?" What he did, or what he wanted? >
These are very compelling questions. I especially like your analogy with the organist. What kind of organist, when playing an organ with many stops, would not ever use them? However, if a composer actually wrote his music to be played on a very small organ, doesn't it make sense to hear it played on a similar instrument, at least some of the time?

Ryan Michero wrote (July 17, 2000):
I have followed with much interest all of the posts about my favorite cantata, BWV 21. Marie, Roy, and Aryeh have both increased my appreciation for the work with their fine postings.

I have been very busy with my work lately, so I have been unable to comment until today--sorry for the flood of BWV 21 messages from me today!

It was only a few weeks ago that I compared all of the versions of BWV 21 I have in the context of my review of Vol.12 of Suzuki's cantata series. I re-listened to the recordings again this past week to refresh my memory and found that my opinion of the recordings had not changed, so I include the BWV 21 related comments from that review below. I will probably amend my comments later as I get new recordings (Rilling [10], Fasolis [17], and Richter [7] are on my list).

Vol. 12 - Overview

This is something of a landmark volume in Suzuki's cantata series as it includes two established masterpieces of Bach's cantata output, BWV 147 and BWV 21. Both are long works, challenging the interpreter's ability to illuminate details while retaining a sense of the emotional progression of the whole. Both contain some fiendishly difficult passages that can push even the seasoned performer's abilities to their limits. And as these cantatas are both frequently recorded favorites, Suzuki faces some stiff competition. I'm happy to report that, in the face of these challenges, Suzuki has again risen to the occasion, producing wonderful readings that do full justice to the works and, for me, eclipse all other available versions. I think this is an essential disc not only for the Bach cantata enthusiast but also for all Bach lovers and music fans in general.

BWV 21 "Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis"

Although BWV 147 is a fine work, BWV 21 is an absolute favorite of mine. The range of expression here is very wide, beginning with intense, sustained despair, progressing through uncertainty and consolation, and ending with a tremendous outburst of joy. Suzuki and the BCJ give a wonderful performance here that can stand among, even above, the best available. The orchestra of the BCJ grabs our attention from the beginning with a gorgeous performance of the opening Sinfonia (Mvt. 1). Patrick Beaugiraud, whom I have never encountered before, is the oboist here, and he is quite a find--very expressive, with a warm tone and a nicely flexible sense of rhythm. He compares well with Marcel Ponseele in Herreweghe's version, and that's saying something. Ryo Terakado on solo violin makes a great companion. Suzuki takes the Sinfonia (Mvt. 1) quite slowly, savoring the melodic interplay of the violin and oboe as well as the painful dissonances near the end of the movement. With the despairing mood set, the choir begins the second movement with three breathtaking chordal statements of the word "Ich"--the first somber, the second more forceful, the third quieter, sighing. Bach's stark textures in the first section of the chorus sound wonderful as sung by the BCJ. But the real treat is in the second half of the chorus, where the tempo picks up for the text "deine Tröstungen erquicken meine Seele". Suzuki makes the most of the quickening rhythms, and other conductors' interpretations sound stodgy in comparison. The moving soprano aria "Seufzer, Tränen, Kummer, Not" (Mvt. 3) comes next, and it is beautifully sung by [Yukari] Nonoshita, here sounding appropriately bleak and austere. After a fine recitative, Gerd Türk sings "Bäche von gesalznen Zähren", which expands on the somber mood of the cantata's first half. In Suzuki's version the phrasing and orchestral playing have a great, tragic sweep that I don't hear in any other version. Türk is lyrical and passionate throughout most of the aria yet virtuosic in the coloratura runs of the "storm" section. The chorus that ends the first part, an emotional turning point of the cantata, is given a wonderful performance. Bach specified that the first statement of the words "Was betrübst du dich, meine Seele" be sung by "soli" ensemble (one-voice-per-part, or OVPP), and the voices of the four soloists sound GORGEOUS together. The chorus also makes a strong impression in the following bars. With the magic words "Harre auf Gott" ("Put thy trust in God"), the mood switches from grim and uncertain to warm and hopeful, and the choir and orchestra simply glow, with Beaugiraud's oboe soaring into the heavens. The concluding fugal section is invigorating, and the first half ends on a spine-tingling major chord.

The second part of the cantata begins with a recitative and duetto that illustrate a dialogue between the soul (soprano) and Jesus (bass). [Peter] Kooy is great as the voice of Jesus, with a great sense of authority as well as lyrical warmth, and Nonoshita sounds delectably innocent and vulnerable. I was quite moved by these dialogue numbers. In the passage where the soprano despairingly exclaims "Nein, du hassest mich!" ("No, you hate me!") and Jesus replies "Ja, ich liebe dich" ("Yes, I love you!"), Kooy's softening voice brought tears to my eyes. The "stile antico" chorus that follows, on the text "Sei nun wieder zufrieden", is simply ravishing. Suzuki's wonderful "soli" ensemble begins the movement, with the choral tenors singing the stanzas of the chorale. When the full chorus enters, the BCJ is joined by three trombones and a cornett, played by members of Concerto Palatino, doubling the vocal lines. The sound is magnificent, and the final bar reliably sends chills up my spine. Türk returns to give a bright account of the joyous aria with continuo, "Erfreue dich, Seele". The final chorus, "Das Lamm das erwürget ist", where Bach introduces three trumpets and timpani to the ensemble, is overwhelmingly powerful. The Handelian fugue that closes the work makes me want to get up and dance. Alleluia indeed!

BWV 21--Harnoncourt, Herreweghe, Koopman, Suzuki

[9] Harnoncourt's recording sounds just plain weird to me. It's strange--he whips up the tempo in slow, contemplative movements but slams on the brakes in the usually quick fugal sections. In spite of Equiluz's dramatic singing, "Bäche von gesalznen Zähren" fails to makes its full impact because of Harnoncourt's choppy accents. Also, a woman soprano is really preferable to a boy in this cantata due to the mature emotions of the text and the erotic implications of the dialogue sections. However, I loved Jürg Schaeftlein's piquant oboe playing, and "Sei nun wieder zufrieden" sounds great.

[13] Herreweghe's version has been the leading HIP version of this cantata for years. Some will continue to cherish this one, but Suzuki's new recording overtakes it in my book. Herreweghe captures the tragic tone of the cantata's first section wonderfully, and Ponseele's playing of the oboe part is a bit more affecting than Beaugiraud's. Herreweghe's Collegium Vocale chorus is terrific, rich and amazingly clear. Barbara Schlick makes a strong impression in "Seufzer, Tränen", and her trembling voice is perfect for this aria. However, Schlick is not entirely comfortable with the high tessitura of the part, and her high notes sound strained. Howard Crook's singing of "Bäche von gesalznen Zähren" is expressive, but the aria doesn't have the tragic sweep of Suzuki's. When the "soli" ensemble sings in the choral movements, Barbara Schlick's unique voice unfortunately sticks out like a sore thumb, overpowering the other singers and focusing the listener's attention on her strained high notes--ouch. The dialogue sections are nice, with Peter Harvey sounding great, but Schlick begins to annoy. "Sei nun wieder Zufrieden" sounds fine, but Herreweghe omits Bach's cornet and trombone parts, which is too bad! The joyous "Erfreue dich" doesn't sound joyous enough to me, but Herreweghe redeems himself with a great reading of the final chorus.

I have two other recordings of BWV 21, but they are earlier versions of the cantata-- played in the key of d-minor instead of c-minor, without cornet and trombone parts, and with all tenor arias given to the soprano. There are extensive notes about the different versions of BWV 21 in Suzuki's Vol.12 and, especially, Vol.6. The final Leipzig version is probably the more satisfying version, and the recordings of the earlier versions really shouldn't compete with the others. However, these deserve a mention here:

[18] Koopman (on his Vol. 1) performs a version a bit different than Suzuki's, using the soprano arias and the higher key but observing the "soli"/"chorus" markings of the Leipzig version and providing versions of "Sei nun wieder Zufrieden" both with and without trombones. I'm not certain if Koopman will be providing us with a straight Leipzig-version recording. Koopman's interpretation is remarkably similar to Herreweghe's, with both even sharing the same soprano and oboe soloists! Koopman doesn't touch the heart quite as deeply as Herreweghe in the beginning, but the transition to joy is a little better. However, the same reservations about Barbara Schlick in Herreweghe's version apply here too, compounded by the facts that the earlier version is in a higher key and that the soprano has much more to sing! Thankfully, Koopman's recorded sound takes the edge off the voice, so Schlick doesn't sink the whole performance.

[20] Suzuki's Vol. 6 follows the early, Köthen version of the score to the letter. There are no trombones, and there is no soli/chorus distinction in the choruses. The interpretation is otherwise quite similar to the one in Vol.12. Marcel Ponseele plays the oboe part here, making this his third recording of the same cantata (too much of a good thing?). The extended, demanding soprano part is here sung by Monika Frimmer. Frimmer has a lovely, clear voice, and she sings with great feeling. However, she is strained by the high tessitura, and you can hear it. I marginally prefer her to Barbara Schlick, but neither is ideal. It's a good thing Suzuki took another shot at BWV 21, because his second recording has none of the drawbacks of the first. Suzuki sure is thorough--there are three alternate movements included with Vol. 6 (3, "Seufzer, Tränen", and 7 and 8, the dialogue pieces) where the soprano part is sung by a tenor so that, with Volumes 6 and 12, the listener can reconstruct the second Weimar version that Bach adapted when a suitable soprano was not available! Türk sounds great in these movements, but it sure is strange to hear a tenor and a bass sing a love duet!

A side note about these two recordings of the early version of BWV 21: The lack of soli/chorus marks in this version mean different things to Koopman and Suzuki: Koopman assumes Bach would've performed it with the concertist/ripienist alternation anyway, and Suzuki just assigns all the music to full chorus. Did it cross their minds that this could mean the earlier version was sung OVPP? I would LOVE to hear the early version sung completely OVPP, but none of the major proponents of this method have tackled it. Why not? Junghänel, are you listening?

Matthew Westphal wrote (July 17, 2000):

(To Roy Reed) Thanks for your post, Roy!

Here are some further thoughts...

< The latest, and very weighty support for Rifkin's thesis is Andrew Parrott's recent book, "The Essential Bach Choir" (Boydell Press, 2000). >

An excellent book which I recommend to everyone. I'm finally finishing up my review of it for Amazon.com; last week I finished revising an article on OVPP Bach (including excerpts from interviews with Paul McCreesh, Konrad Junghänel, Drew Minter, Julianne Baird and Philippe Herreweghe); I'll let you all know when both are live on the site.

< The absence of ms. parts for the ripieno singers in the vast majority of cantatas is a strong element of the Rifkin/Parrott argument. At least no argument about BWV 21. The parts exist. Soloists begin Mvt. 6, "Was betrübst du dich, meine Seele." They have 4 bars to sing this text, and then the chorus takes over. At ms. 43 where the piece changes from triple to quadruple meter, the soloists return. >

Rather than saying "the chorus takes over" and "the soloists return", I think it's more accurate to say, "the ripienists join in" and "the ripienists drop out". I don't think that's just playing semantic games -- my wording reflects what the autographs parts indicate (the soloists sang everything, the ripienists joined in occasionally); I think that has some real implications for the whole OVPP argument as regards the cantatas (most of them) that have no indications for ripienists in the score or parts.

< I do not have the competence myself to judge these issues, >

Sure you do. You care about Bach's music; you can read; you can listen; you can think. That's competence enough. Your judgment may not be conclusive, but it's no less conclusive than that of anyone else -- and I mean anyone.

Incidentally, your judgment is less likely to be biased than that of some observers -- you don't have an entire career's work invested (as does, for example, Ton Koopman) in an unexamined assumption that is, according to this book, largely unfounded. (That assumption being that Bach's "choral" works were, naturally, composed for a "chorus" as the term was understood in the 19th and 20th centuries -- little different in that regard from the oratorios of Handel, Haydn and Mendelssohn.)

< Reading Bach's "Entwurf" and Parrott's very detailed research into "what really happened," I conclude that the performer is faced with a choice in this matter of the Bach choir between what Bach wanted, i.e. between his conception and what he could actually manage. And what he could usually manage was performance of the cantatas by soloists. So "authenticity" is a choice between legitimate possibilities. >

I disagree with you there, Roy. For one thing, the research of Parrott and others indicates (according to the book) that the resources Bach wanted (as outlined in the Entwurff) were fairly close to what he had most of the time. More importantly, Bach didn't compose his church music for a "conception". He composed it for specific services involving his own students and colleagues, whose abilities he knew. As Parrott points out, to suggest that Bach was writing for an ensemble he dreamed of rather than the ensemble he had is, in effect, to question his practical competence as a composer. Now that's not something we mean to do, is it?

Bach probably wanted better musicians than he had. (Who wouldn't?) Bach may well have wanted more musicians than he had. If he had them, might he have written somewhat differently for those greater forces than he did for single voices? Any answer to that question is speculation, but certainly the choral writing in "Wir danken dir" BWV 29 (one of the very few for which Bach's materials indicate that the ripienists sing throughout the choruses) is far less intricate than in, for example, the Magnificat (BWV 243) or the Easter Oratorio (BWV 249). In any case, if we know that what Bach had -- what he could manage -- was soloists most of the time, and we know that he wrote for what he had, isn't it better to avoid speculation about what he wanted?

By the way, this past spring I heard Parrott conduct the New York Collegium in the Leipzig version of BWV 21 (with one set of soloists and one quartet of ripienists singing the music as indicated in Bach's autograph parts) and the Easter Oratorio (with soloists only). It worked very, very well.

< Parrott makes a lot of the argument that the chorus when it sings just sings along with the soloists, just unessential augmentation. This is a bit like saying to the organist..."You don't really need to pull out more stops here, the music is just like the stuff already played." Augmentation, strength, accentuation...this is not just incidental. >

Roy, I think you've misread Parrott just a bit on this point.

The evidence Parrott presented about ripienists not being "essential" was not aimed at Bach's cantatas in particular (except for very specific cases such as "Gott ist mein König" BWV 71, where the autograph score and parts include indications and material for ripienists but the subsequently published score and parts had no indications for ripienists at all).

Parrott was arguing that, in the general musical culture of 17th-and-early-18th-century Germany, concertists (soloists) were the essential part of a choir and ripienists were extras to be used (and composed for) if they were available. His reason for arguing this is to point out that the nearly universal 19th-20th-century assumption that a choir necessarily meant several voices singing each part is, with respect to baroque-era Germany, unfounded. That being the case, if you see a few Bach cantatas that explicitly call for ripienists and a lot that don't indicate them at all, it makmore sense to infer that Bach didn't expect ripienists if he didn't write an indication for them than to infer that he expected them all the way through. (I hope that sentence made sense.)

Matthew Westphal wrote (July 17, 2000):

Ryan Michero wrote (among many excellent observations):
< Suzuki's Vol. 6 follows the early, Köthen version of the score to the letter. There are no trombones, and there is no soli/chorus distinction in the choruses... Suzuki sure is thorough--there are three alternate movements included with Vol.6 (3, "Seufzer, Tränen", and 7 and 8, the dialogue pieces) where the soprano part is sung by a tenor so that, with Volumes 6 and 12, the listener can reconstruct the second Weimar version that Bach adapted when a suitable soprano was not available! Türk sounds great in these movements, but it sure is strange to hear a tenor and a bass sing a love duet! >

Who says it's strange to hear a tenor and bass sing a love duet?

Ryan, you should get out of Dallas more!

Besides, it's a spiritual love they're singing about...

< A side note about these two recordings of the early version of BWV 21: The lack of soli/chorus marks in this version mean different things to Koopman and Suzuki: Koopman assumes Bach would've performed it with the concertist/ripienist alternation anyway, and Suzuki just assigns all the music to full chorus. Did it cross their minds that this could mean the earlier version was sung OVPP? I would LOVE to hear the early version sung completely OVPP, but none of the major proponents of this method have tackled it. Why not? Junghänel, are you listening? >

Junghänel will be performing BWV 21 (I'm not sure which version) at the Melbourne Festival this October (along with, among other works, the Mass in B Minor).

If you want him to record it -- or to record more Bach in general, I'm sure he'd love to do so. Don't lobby him, lobby Harmonia Mundi.

I was just about to give you all names and e-mail addresses with the admonition "Don't you DARE tell them who gave you their names!" But I realized that someone would probably bust me, and I do have to deal with these people every so often. So no names. HOWEVER, you can just go to www.harmoniamundi.com and find the "Contact Us" page. Seriously -- if you want more Bach from Junghänel and Cantus Cölln, send HM e-mails asking for it. They'll pay more attention to customers like all of you than they will to critics like me -- after all, you BUY your CD's!

Matthew Westphal wrote (July 17, 2000):

Ryan Michero wrote:
< But I know what Bach may have preferred and what Bach actually did most of the time are two different things... >

The problem is, of course, that we can't know what Bach may have preferred, as he isn't here to tell us. (And the Entwurff, as an administrative memorandum to the Town Council saying how he wants the music program at the Thomasschule and churches set up, can't safely be applied directly to individual works.) We have enough trouble establishing what he actually did...

Harry Steinman wrote (July 17, 2000):

Matthew Westphal wrote about contacting Harmonia Mundi to request more from

Cantus Cölln:
<snip> If you want him [Junghänel] to record it -- or to record more Bach in general, I'm sure he'd love to do so. Don't lobby him, lobby Harmonia Mundi. <Snip> just go to www.harmoniamundi.com and find the "Contact Us" page. Seriously -- if you want more Bach from Junghänel and Cantus Cölln, send HM e-mails asking for it. They'll pay more attention to customers like all of you than they will to critics like me -- after all, you BUY your CD's! >

Note that the "Contact Us" page is not immediately obvious: First click on their "Help" page and then from there to "Contact Information" And as a very great fan of Cantus Cölln's interpretations (a la "Actus Tragicus") I hope that loads of us contact them. I'd LOVE to hear BWV 21 by Junghänel...or really anything at all by him!

Johan van Veen wrote (July 18, 2000):

I didn't have the time to listen carefully to the cantatas reviewed here over the last couple of weeks. Now that I have a little more time, I have been listening to BWV 21, and I would like to add something to what has already been written.

[12] (Sigiswald Kuijken) I have this one, and I have started by listening to it, and then I have compared it with Harnoncourt [9] and Suzuki II [22]. On the whole the Kuijken performance is a good one, although slowish: 43'45".

The strength is the very good choir and orchestra. In particular the last chorus is very dramatic. On the negative side are the lack of blending between soloists and between soloists and choir, which is very important in this cantata.

The very moving aria "Seufzer, Tränen, Kummer, Not" is performed in a very slow tempo (5'00" - Suzuki 4'30", Harnoncourt 3'48"). Greta De Reyghere isn't one of my favorite sopranos, but she is very impressive here. Harnoncourt's treble - one of the most unconvincing in the Teldec series - is no match. I don't think this is a problem for a treble to sing, but he is just not good enough, and he hasn't a very pleasant voice to begin with. Suzuki's performance is impressive as well - I hadn't heard the soprano Yukari Nonoshita before, but she has a very beautiful voice, and is able to bring across the depth of the emotional content of this aria. The tenor aria 'Bäche von gesalznen Zähren' is sung very well by Christoph Prégardien, but the tempo is way too slow (7'15"). In this aria Bach uses the picture of water flowing continuously. That asks for a strong motion, but here you get the impression of still waters. Suzuki is faster (5'50"), but Harnoncourt has the right tempo (4'56"). In the chorus 'Was betrübst du dich' both Kuijken and Harnoncourt have problems with the relationship between the soloists and between soli and choir. This is one of the strengths of Suzuki: the blending is excellent - here the soloists sound as if they come forward from within the choir, as they should. The duet at the start of the second part (Mvt. 8) is done well by Nonoshita and Kooy, in the right tempo: they do full justice to the joyful character of this piece. In Kuijken's performance this duet is destroyed by the too heavy voice of Peter Lika, who uses too much vibrato, and I don't hear a lot of joy here. Walker Wyatt (Harnoncourt) is even worse: an ugly voice, too much vibrato again. There is a huge gap between treble and bass, and I had never the feeling they were involved in a dialogue. It was more "singing apart together". In the tenor aria "Erfreue dich, Seele" there are not many differences between all three performances. Harnoncourt has a tempo which I think is too slow. But both Equiluz and Prégardien give better interpretations than Gerd Türk does. In the end Prégardien wins because of his diction and articulation and the wonderful coloring of his voice. In the closing chorus Harnoncourt and Kuijken have the same problems as in the chorus at the end of part I. Harnoncourt fails to deliver the triumphant character of this chorus. The sound of his choir is a little too dark and subdued. The Netherlands Chamber Choir (Kuijken) is far better here. Kuijken gives the most dramatic and powerful performance of the second section (Lob und Ehre), but I like especially the way Suzuki ends this chorus. You won't hear a more jubilant "Amen, alleluja" than here.

It is difficult to make a choice between these three. Fortunately I don't have to. On the whole I think Suzuki's recording is most consistent in quality and concept.

Roy Reed wrote (July 22, 2000):

(To Matthew Westphal) I wrote that the performer of Bach's cantatas had a "choice between his conception and what he could manage." Matthew wrote: "Bach didn't compose his church music for a 'conception.' He composed it for specific services involving his own students and colleagues, whose abilities he knew." I appreciate the illumination you bring to the discussion, however, Bach did have a "conception," it was at variance with his reality. That is what the Entwurf is all about. He has a very clear conception of what he calls "einer wohlbestallten Kirchen Music." Obviously, he has no reason to put this forward except out his frustration with his reality. He is clear about the size of the choir: 3 singers per part. The reasons he puts forward do confuse the picture of what he intends - in relation to the issues scholars and performers now argue about - because he says such a number is necessary because some are apt to be sick when needed and some are needed to play instruments, as well as sing. I, personally, think that Bach adds these arguments to his statement of requirements because he knows that the city fathers are apt to be sympathetic to practical considerations and deaf to artistic and aesthetic ones. I think he meant what he said: He wanted 3 singers on a part. I have nothing but admiration for the scholarship that goes into the OVPP conclusion and for what conductors like Rifkin and Parrott have produced. Sounds wonderful. Three on a part sounds better! Value judgment of course, but that is what my ears tell me, and I think Bach thought so too. Still, the choice between his concept - the Entwurf of 1730 - and what he mostly had to do is a legitimate historical and artistic choice. By the way, there is no creation without conception, well, maybe once.

Matthew Westphal wrote (July 22, 2000):

Roy Reed wrote:
< I wrote that the performer of Bach's cantatas had a "choice between his conception and what he could manage." Matthew wrote: "Bach didn't compose his church music for a 'conception.' He composed it for specific services involving his own students and colleagues, whose abilities he knew." I appreciate the illumination you bring to the discussion, however, Bach did have a "conception," and it was at variance with his reality. That is what the Entwurf is all about. He has a very clear conception of what he calls "einer wohlbestallten Kirchen Music." Obviously, he has no reason to put this forward except out his frustration with his reality. He is clear about the size of the choir: 3 singers per part. >

Yes -- but what exactly was each choir (of three singers per part) supposed to sing?

Bach's first choir (which performed in the Thomaskirche and the Nikolaikirche on alternate weeks) performed for each service a "Kirchenstücke" (i.e., Bach cantata) and at least one motet. These motets were 17th century compositions such as those in the publication Florilegium Portense (a copy of which Bach and the Thomasschule purchased in 1729 for use in church), written by composers such as Handel, Lassus, Gabrieli and Viadana. Many of these motets were for double-choir (SATB/SATB). It's that repertory to which Bach referred when he wrote in the Entwurff:

"Each musical choir must have at least three sopranos, three altos, three tenors and as many basses, so that even if one person falls ill (as very often happens, and particularly at this time of year [late August], as the prescriptions written by the school doctor for the apothecary must show), at least a two-choir motet can be sung."

Elsewhere in the Entwurff, Bach discusses how often and how many of the pupils in these choirs must play instruments; in addition, Bach makes a very clear distinction between concertists (i.e., soloists, whose parts contained the music for solos and choruses) and ripienists (the remaining two singers on each part). In the few Bach vocal works that have either parts or score markings for ripienists, the ripienists have only music for portions of the chorus movements. "Only in the St. John Passion and at most two cantatas (BWV 29 and BWV 63) do the ripienists sing throughout all the choruses to produce anything resembling the un-variegated 'choral' texture we are now accustomed to." (from Andrew Parrott's new book, The Essential Bach Choir)

Rifkin and Parrott argue that, given the explicit presence of these ripienists' parts and/or "ripieno" or "Cappella" score markings in a few of Bach's sacred 'choral" works, it makes no sense to assume that Bach used ripienists (i.e., more singers than his four or five soloists) in the remainder of those works, which show no indication of their presence. We've been doing so, basically, out of habit.

< Roy: The reasons he [Bach] puts forward [in the Entwurff] do confuse the picture of what he intends - in relation to the issues scholars and performers now argue about - because he says such a number is necessary because some are apt to be sick when needed and some are needed to play instruments, as well as sing. >

Yes -- thus Parrott's book and all those articles over almost twenty years.

< Roy: I, personally, think that Bach adds these arguments to his statement of requirements because he knows that the city fathers are apt to be sympathetic to practical considerations and deaf to artistic and aesthetic ones. I think he meant what he said: He wanted 3 singers on a part. >

Don't those two sentences contradict each other?

In any case, we can only speculate as to what Bach meant (if it was different from what he wrote) and his reasons for saying or writing particular things. We have no way of knowing, as he's not around to tell us.

< Roy: Still, the choice between his concept - the Entwurf of 1730 - and what he mostly had to do is a legitimate historical and artistic choice. By the way, there is no creation without conception, well, maybe once. >

Good line!

But even taking your reading of Bach's conception in the Entwurff, it seems to me that conception would be a general idea of the forces Bach would like to have (to be followed by a conception of the music he might write for those forces). Bach was employed to produce music for specific occasions (church services) with specific musicians (the Thomasschule pupils and the university students and town musicians available to him). Wouldn't Bach's particular conception for a given work that he wrote for a given occasion have involved the musicians he had for that occasion?

Mind you, the extent to which we modern-day performers and listeners choose to stick to such a particular conception (that is, the forces Bach had available for a specific work) when we revive a particular Bach work is a different question...

< Roy: I have nothing but admiration for the scholarship that goes into the OVPP conclusion and for what conductors like Rifkin and Parrott have Produced. Sounds wonderful. Three on a part sounds better! Value judgment of course, but that is what my ears tell me... >

NOW YOU'RE TALKIN'!

Paul McCreesh: "You know, I have no objection to people performing Bach with a large orchestra and chorus or a small orchestra and chorus or quartet of saxophones. It doesn't worry me in the slightest.

Duke Ellington (quoted regularly by Peter Schickele on his radio program "Schickele Mix"): "If it sounds good, it IS good."

Creating and/or appreciating any art form is all about value judgments.

What works for you (or me or McCreesh or Koopman or Rilling or Karajan) is what works for you (etc.).

< Roy: ...Three on a part sounds better! Value judgment of course, but that is what my ears tell me, and I think Bach thought so too. >

In general, I think, one ought to be very, very careful about speculating or deciding what Bach thought. It's too easy to conclude that Bach's opinions and preferences coincide with one's own -- after all, Bach is not here on the list to tell us otherwise.

I personally think many of Herreweghe's and Suzuki's recordings are marvelous. (You should see how I rave over Herreweghe's second B-Minor Mass (BWV 232) and Suzuki's cantatas Vol. 6 at Amazon.com.) But I don't claim that Herreweghe's forces are necessarily close to those Bach used or would have preferred. Neither does Herreweghe.

Ton Koopman does claim the equivalent for his performances, however.

Andrew Parrott: "We learnt several decades ago that the pianoforte is not intrinsically superior to the harpsichord as a vehicle for Bach's keyboard music, merely different from it. But while those who play B's harpsichord music on the pianoforte may still sometimes claim that the composer would have preferred it thus, they know better than to say that he wrote it for the modern pianoforte. Is it too much to demand that equal frankness apply to the matter of Bach's chorus?"

Lucas As wrote (July 24, 2000):
Marie Jensen wrote:
< Ich, Ich, Ich
it begins. A music critic contemporary with Bach ridiculed him saying, BWV 21 was a talentless mess, one couldn't start an entire work with repeating the same three words.
Of course the man is right, it seems clumsy to start this way, though the theme of the opening chorus (
Mvt. 2) is recycled from the fugue in G from BWV 541. So I listened a little to that. Both prelude and fugue are rather gay and the fugue and the three little ICH notes played much swifter and as an integrated part of the theme. In the cantata the rhythm is changed. The ICH notes are slower with more stress on each, placed in a separate part as introduction and not repeated again. It would be a too modern point of view and homespun psychology to say that "Ich" is repeated thrice to underline that selfishness and egocentricity leads to "Bekümmernis, Seufzer, Tränen, Kummer, Not, Ängstlichs Sehnen, Furcht und Tod", a kind of childish "begging for candy "egocentricity: " I want, I want, I want"! But a fact is that this cantata is a journey from the deepest depression to the highest joy, from "I", through "we" (the soul and Jesus) to the "all" mighty God. The epistle (Acts 9.1-18) and gospel (Luke 15.11-32) for 3rd Sunday after Trinity 1714 deal with the Prodigal son exemplified by Saulus' vision on his way to Damascus. Anyway for me the three "Ich"'s doesn't matter at all. This is one of my favorite cantatas. I remember clearly how moved and impressed I was the first time I heard it. >
I think that the three "Ich"'s are a reference to the Trinity.

 

Continue on Part 4

Cantata BWV 21: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6

Recordings & Discussions of Cantatas: 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

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Last update: żOctober 1, 2011 ż21:50:33