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Cantata BWV 21
Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis
Discussions - Part 4

Continue from Part 3

BWV 21 (was Magnificat in D major.....)

Marie Jensen wrote (October 18, 2000):
Harry writes:
<< Fasolis [17] rates highly...especially the recording of BWV 21, "Ich Hatte Viel Bekummernis". >>
Bob Sherman wrote:
< Harry, how is the finale. On the Richter [7] and Rilling [10] recordings, the finale to BWV 21 is the most exhilirating thing imaginable. Is the Fasolis [17] in the same league or better? >
IMO Rillings [10] final is the best. He starts OVPP before he sends in the choir. When I hear it, I feel a still increasing power. Fasolis [17] sends in the choir from the start. On the other hand "The Yes and No Duet" is more intense in Fasolis version. Both versions are great: Rillings modern/ Fasolis' HIP. Good to know them both. Fasolis is "low price". Give him a try.

Other points of views can be found on the website of Aryeh Oron: most of them coming from

Some of us members there are so engaged in our project: reviewing a new cantata every week, that we tend to forget this "mother-list". Soon we will have walked a quarter of the way. New members are very welcome, educated or not... In November the list is one year old. We very often disagree, but we are the kindest list in cyberspace! In fact we have managed to follow an order of discussion all the time, and that is rather unusual for an e-group! Next week we discuss BWV 80. Come along, lots of you got that!

Zachary Uram wrote (October 18, 2000):
(To Marie Jensen) Thanks Marie, I will try get this, You should get the Hogwood! :)


BWV 21/ Bach Cantatas- boy provenience

Boyd Pehrson wrote (November 5, 2001):
Nice sound file Douglas! This boy soprano's inimitable clarity is of a vast value to Bach's composition. Douglas, your comments on the problems raised by the use of adult female sopranos with regard to these Cantata soprano texts is directly on target! Instead of piety and worship, it becomes a sort of tongue-in-cheek opera, which can be in great bad taste for a female adult to perform seriously. It is interesting to note that BWV 21 is one of the least recorded Cantatas, especially during the early century when sensitivities to such matters were given greater understanding. I agree that Bach
would be horrified to see this performed with an adult female soprano! The naiveté of the Bach soprano texts speaks to his original use of boys in these parts. Bach and his text writers had the boy soprano in mind when they wrote them. The soprano text naiveté is consistent throughout Bach's Cantatas. The prefaces to the Lutheran hymnals from Luther's time, through to Bach, appointed the litany portion of the church service, a sung prayer, to the boy soloists of the choir... four boys were to kneel at the altar and sing the litany in unison. This is echoed in Bach's soprano parts, which tend to be prayerful urges and utterings. The Cantatas are very much musical reflections of the historic Lutheran Church service in their style and structure. Central to the historic Lutheran service is the conversation between God and the ongregation, reflected in the ancient liturgy. Bach's Cantata texts were taken from the Hymns that the congregation sang on a regular basis, and doubtless they knew them well, and were able to anticipate the sung texts at many points. There is a vast charm and comfort in the use of boys in these parts. The male species is traditionally representative of "mankind," and more so in Bach's Lutheran thought, as Adam was the source of the Fall into sin of all on the Earth. Thus the congregation and the soul of humanity, is represented by a male, and a boy, as not a greater potential for sin arises than in a male member of society. Of particular comfort is the angelic innocence of a boy, who able to grow up becoming great darkness, or great heroism, sings the litany on behalf of the congregation. Perhaps a comparative example would be Orff's Carmina Burana, where Orff used boys' voices not for tonality alone, but to make a statement of youthful first love in "Tempus est jocundum." One should see boys performing these Bach Cantatas, whether live, on video tape, or in their mind during the CD listening process. Bach knew these Cantatas would be seen as well as heard, and this element should not be divorced from the performance when possible. I can't imagine an adult Female singing the soprano texts of especially BWV 21 without Bach's congregation's eyebrows going up, nervous smiles, and minds wandering off into the hedgerows.... . Another element to consider is the tone colour of boy voice being bright and cold. This inimitable quality is perfect for the expression of the ethereal soul, hauntingly familiar as a sound, once our own, or our peers', for we were all once boys or we knew boys, and now it is lost as we became adults. The psychological issues regarding this aspect of boychoir is enough to haunt the psyche.

Douglas, your point is well taken and a superb argument for the continued use and promotion of boys to sing that which the great Bach gave to them to sing and enjoy; as it is their inherited joy and rightful claim.

Douglas Neslund wrote (November 6, 2001):

[To Boyd Pehrson] Thank you for your enthusiastic response. I first heard this combination of soloists on the original LP issue in the 1970s, and could not stem the flow of tears, caused by that ineffable connection of soul and physical manifestation, which I believe is at the core of why we love the sound of a boy soprano (or alto, for that matter) so much.

While I imagine someone could put forward a female adult candidate as suitable "substitute" in the music sample to which you refer, the man/woman dynamic simply cannot be ignored, given the text.

Thanks for your kind remarks.

Johan van Veen wrote (November 7, 2001):
[To Boyd Pehrson] It seems I never got the mail you are referring to. So I reply to this message instead.

I tend to agree that soprano parts in Bach's music have a specific character which makes it difficult to imagine them being sung by an adult soprano. My favourite example is the soprano aria "Öffne dich, mein ganzes Herze" from Cantata BWV 61 (Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland). Some time ago I wrote on the "other" Bach Cantatas" list, regarding Harnoncourt's recording of this cantata [9], in which Seppi Kronwitter sings the aria:
"This is a very tender and personal, almost pietistic aria. It is a direct reaction to the preceding recitative, where the bass - here in the role of Vox Christi - says: "Look ye! I stand before the door and knock thereon. If any man shall harken to my voice and shall open it, then I will come in unto him and will bide there and sup there with him, and he with me." It is a very personal invitation to let Jesus enter your life. The pizzicati of the strings represents the knocking of Jesus on the door of the heart. It is a pity that knocking motif isn't realised in the playing of the basso continuo in the aria in this recording. Therefore in my view the aria is about receptivity: the "I" of the aria has to open his heart to receive Jesus. This reminds me of the story in the gospels, for example St Matthew 18, 2-4: "And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, and said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven." (King James Version) Receptivity is a characteristic of children. I have no idea how old Seppi Kronwitter was when he recorded the aria, but he sounds very young and "child" (in the neutral sense of the word) to me. Therefore I find this performance totally believable. Although I generally prefer boys in baroque sacred music, I can accept a (good) woman's voice as a compromise. But I find it almost impossible to accept it here. This is a rather "naive" aria (in the positive sense of the word) and an adult voice just lacks this kind of naivity."

It would be interesting to analyse all the soprano arias in Bach's sacred works, but I have the impression that quite often they are about things like trust and faith without reservation, dedication - things you would normally expect a child to have in the relationship with his father. I see these characteristics clearly in the St Matthew Passion, where the arias for the alto, tenor and bass have different characteristics, compared with the soprano arias.

There is another point here. In some of Bach's cantatas there is a dialogue between soprano (the soul) and bass (Jesus). Sometimes the text refers to the Song of Songs. Some people listening to these arias see a touch of secular love in them or believe them to have a touch of eroticism. As wrong as these views are, they are encouraged by a performance with an adult soprano. In my view that's another strong argument in favour of a performance by a treble.

Douglas Neslund wrote (November 7, 2001):
[To Johan van Veen] Good, Johan, well said indeed!

Now if only more people had the insight you and Boyd have enunciated so well ...

Do write more!

Andreas Burghardt wrote (November 8, 2001):
[To Johan van Veen] I fully agree that the aria "Öffne dich, mein ganzes Herze" must be performed by a boy soprano. However the text of the aria is not at all "childish" or "naive":

Öffne dich, mein ganzes Herze,
Jesus kömmt und ziehet ein.
Bin ich gleich nur Staub und Erde,
Will er mich doch nicht verschmähn,
Seine Lust an mir zu sehn,
Daß ich seine Wohnung werde.
O wie selig werd ich sein!

It is old German from the 18th century, a style no one would use today. Expressions like "Bin ich gleich nur Staub und Erde" (Though I soon be earth and ashes) or the metaphor "Daß ich seine Wohnung werde" (And that I become his dwelling) are very surprising and strange when said (or sung) by a boy.

I have uploaded a private recording of the end of cantata BWV 61 "Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland", starting with the bass recitative. Unfortunately the recording quality is poor and Maximilian Hinz's singing is not at all perfect. On the other hand cantata recordings with boy soloists are rare and I hope you will enjoy nevertheless. Panito Iconomou (bass), Maximilian Hinz (soprano), Tölzer Knabenchor, Concerto Köln, Gerhard Schmidt-Gaden (direction). Recorded during a concert in December 1998.

Boyd Pehrson wrote (November 9, 2001)
[To Andeas Burghardt] Hi Andreas! While I would classify soprano texts of Bach's Cantatas as naive I wouldn't say they are "childish." I think Johan was referring only to Master Kronwitter's personal affect.

I think it would be a good distinction to make, since the soprano parts being described as naive speaks of the unsophisticated aspects of faith expressed in the texts, where as the tenor and bass parts of the Cantatas speak of the deeper theological aspects of faith. Bach's texts are full of deep meaning, but the "childlike" (as opposed to childish) sense of the soprano parts in Bach's Cantatas are overall quite appropriate for a child. It is eminently effective to have a boy sing "that I soon be earth and ashes" firstly because children died at a greater rate than adults in Bach's time (many of Bach's children and his young first wife died) and secondly because a child singing this is a picture of us as children before God, and all flesh is as grass, and that a child represents weakness, not strength. So, I agree that the text is surprising to us, now, but theologically it is quite effective as a symbol and a metaphor to have a boy sing it.

As far as women singing these parts, I think it is perfectly in order for any soprano to sing any parts they like. To me it is like playing Beethoven's 5th on the piano. It may
not be the composer's desire, but at least Beethoven is being played... (though I think Beethoven would have frowned on such a limited presentation). I would hope that all sopranos would try their voice at the Cantatas, but I think boys should be performing and recording these Cantatas much more. And for me boys are the best approach since that is the composer's preferred method. Bach could have gone to Italy or London and
composed for Women during his lifetime. Instead, he stayed in Leipzig and composed there (literally residing inside) at the Thomasschule for the last 27 years of his life.

BWV 21

Thomas Boyce wrote (November 26, 2001):
What's the difference between the two versions of BWV 21?

Thomas Braatz wrote (November 26, 2001):
[To Thomas Boyce] A very good reference book to answer most questions of this sort is the Oxford Composer Companions: J.S.Bach [Malcolm Boyd, editor]. The articles contained therein are generally reliable and usually contain a useful amount of information on the individual cantatas. Nicholas Anderson, who happened to write the article on BWV 21 is quite reliable and refers to the different versions.

The NBA has printed only one version with an addendum: the oboe part (1713) from Mvt. 1 which has a few changes that are not all too significant.

Hope this helps to answer your question.

Aryeh Oron wrote (November 27, 2001):
[To Thomas Boyce] Cantata BWV 21 has actually four versions:
1. Sometime before 1714 - The soloists are Soprano and Bass
2. 1714 Weimar - Tenor and Bass
3. 1720 Köthen/Hamburg - Soprano and Bass
4. 1723 Leipzig - Soprano, Tenor and Bass

The differences between the versions are more fully detailed in the booklet
attached to Suzuki - Volume 12 [22].

A list of the recordings of BWV 21 appears in the following page of the Bach Cantatas Website:

And discussions about this cantata in the following pages:

Thomas Braatz wrote (November 27, 2001):
[To Aryeh Oron] I find it rather interesting that the NBA had decided to print only one version (with the only addition being the oboe part Mvt. 1 with slight changes). Quite frequently they will print two versions, if they deem the changes between one version and another are sufficiently significant. Of course, all the variations between the existing versions of BWV 21 are noted specifically in the NBA KB, but no practical performing version was made available save the one that I mentioned.

Fablo Fagoaga wrote (November 28, 2001):
[To Thomas Boyce] According to the liner notes on Volume 1 of the Complete Cantatas by Koopman (which includes BWV 21 and an "appendix" version of the nineth number) [18], the changes were the result of a "modernisation" process that Bach made on some of his early works when played again in Leipzig. In the particular case of BWV 21, the appendix included in the set is the 1723 (Leipzig) revival of the Cantata. This later version adds three trombones and a cornet to the score.


BWV 21/21 (was: HP vs. non HIP)

Matthew Neugebauer wrote (January 10, 2002):
With OVPP one gets counterpoint right in the face
< (as sowrote), which can be an advantage when one wants to follow particular voices. This clarity was the thing that hooked me on OVPP. >
I have to say that yes, ovpp makes things much clearer, which is a huge bonus when dealing with the undisputed master of counterpoint, and in the German style at that, but it's always clarity with the price of power (i.e. the louder, "festive" Italian and British styles-I've posted about this before). What is one to do with something like the Gloria of BWV 232, or the final chorus of BWV 21, where distinction between soloists and choir is even more crucial? Thus, in my subjective view, ovpp is really limited to a specific style, hence limited in repertoire. non-ovpp isn't limited at all.

Robert Sherman wrote (January 10, 2001):
[To Matthew Neugebauer] Could you explain your reference to the final chorus of BWV 21? I've always regarded Rilling's performance [10] of this as about the most thrilling thing around, where he starts with soloists and then the choir joins in and for a while you continue to hear occasional glimpses of the soloists soaring above the choir. Since I haven't heard it done this way anywhere else, I've assumed it was just Rilling's inspiration as to how to make it sound best. But are you saying there is a historical basis for it? Do you know of other conductors who do it this way?

Matthew Neugebauer wrote (January 10, 2002):
[To Robert Sherman]
"Since I haven't heard it done this way anywhere else, I've assumed it was just Rilling's inspiration [10] as to how to make it sound best."
hmmm...that's odd

Both my Herreweghe recording [13], and even the vocal score from the NBA have this chorus exactly as you have described it, although I don't quite notice the soloists singing at the same time as the choir. I have a "hunch" (it is much more than a hunch) that this isn't a coincidence. From your message, Bob, can I assume that you have heard other recordings of the cantata (or just the mvmt) that does not follow this soloist-chorus idea? As well, I can't quite tell if Herreweghe is using soloists at the beginning of the first section (Das Lamm, das erwurget ist...), but I know for sure that Kooy alone is starting the fugal section with the instruments (Lob und Ehre...).This is the only recording of the cantata I have ever heard (I guess I'm spoiled for anything else then, eh?), so that's all I can give. Anyone care to comment?

Robert Sherman wrote (January 10, 2001):
[To Matthew Neugebauer] It's the fugal section (Lob und Ehre) I was referring to. Richter [7] does it with chorus all the way and it works well, but Rilling [10] is even better. Maybe you should get the Rilling and I should get the Herreweghe [13], and compare notes afterward.

Matthew Neugebauer wrote (January 10, 2002):
Robert Sherman wrote:
< Maybe you should get the Rilling [10] and I should get the Herreweghe [13], and compare notes afterward. >
I'll see if I can find, and hen if I can buy it! When I pay off my library fines (yeah I know) I'll have access to the Koopman from his cpte cantatas series, which has an appendix. Does anyone know if this appendix has the version of the last mvmt not used in the full recording?

Joost wrote (January 11, 2002):
[To Matthew Neugebauer] The appendix in the Koopman recordings is not 21/11 but 21/9. It is the augmented version with cornetto and trombones.


Bekümmernis recommendations?

Juozas Rimas wrote (March 17, 2004):
Which version of BWV 21 cantata you have listened to matches this criterium best in the opening sinfonia (Mvt. 1): good oboe playing and clearly audible orchestra/violin?

I have Herreweghe's version [13] and while the oboe is splendid, the background is somewhat subdued. There are several moments in the sinfonia (Mvt. 1) when the background, if loud and clear enough, creates simply wonderful harmony with the oboe. And I'd love that rhytmic bass-line to be stronger, louder.

Paul Farseth wrote (March 17, 2004):
[To Juozas Rimas] Juozas Rimas asks for recommendations for recordings of BWV 21, "Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis". One very good one is the performance by the Thomanerchor Leipzig under Hans-Joachim Rotzsch released by Berlin Classics [11] (BC 2175-2 in the U.S.) with soloists Arleen Augér, Ortrun Wenkel, Peter Schreier, Theo Adam, and Siegfried Lorenz. I have been lending it around to my friends. Also on the disk is BWV 137, "Lobe den Herren, den mächtigen König der Ehren", which is shorter but equally splendid.

Has anyone noticed similarities between "Bekümmernis" and Cantata BWV 106, "Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit"?

Juozas Rimas wrote (March 17, 2004):
Paul Farseth wrote:
< viel Bekümmernis". One very good one is the performance by the Thomanerchor Leipzig under Hans-Joachim Rotzsch released by Berlin Classics (BC [11] >
Thanks, I'll have this mind. One sure thing to me is that for the cantata in question, best tenor is Pregardien with Kuijken [12] and best oboist - Ponseele.

< Has anyone noticed similarities between "Bekümmernis" and Cantata BWV 106, "Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit"? >
never thought of that: the BWV 106 is hardly similar to any other cantata by Bach I've listened to.

However, the sinfonia (Mvt. 1) from BWV 21 is almost identical to another sinfonia from a cantata whose title and number escape me now - both sinfonias include oboe solo and the tune is extremely similar.

Gabriel Jackson wrote (March 17, 2004):
[To Juozas Rimas] I have the Herreweghe recording [13] and also one with the Netherlands Chamber Choir and La Petite Bande conducted by Sigiswald Kuijken (on Virgin Classics) [12]. In the Kuijken recording, the oboe playing (by Paul Dombrecht), while very fine, is not quite on the same level of artistry as Marcel Ponseele for Herreweghe. Kuijken has a slightly stronger and more defined bass-line than Herreweghe (though that may just be a product of the recording of course) and the supporting harmony is slightly more prominent. The downside of that, if there is one, is that the oboe is not quite so prominent. Both are very fine, and very similar in many ways (a typically Dutch/Flemish sound from the choir - though the Netherlands Chamber Choir, arguably the best choir in the world, are not always on their absolute best form here) though Herreweghe has slightly preferable soloists. (I'm not a fan of Rene Jacobs, who sings on the Kuijken recording.

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 17, 2004):
[To Juozas Rimas] I like the clarity in Harnoncourt's recording [9], for this BWV 21 sinfonia (Mvt. 1) (and in the movement 3 aria: oboe, soprano, bc). The bass line is especially lucid and prominent, with that bassoon in there. But then I'm less happy with the choral singing in this recording....

Also I have Herreweghe [13], Leusink [23], and Kuijken [12]. (All enjoyable!) I ordered the Fasolis recording [17] recently and am looking forward to hearing that soon.

Juozas: what features constitute "good oboe playing" in your opinion, in Bach's music? Something highly nuanced, or something more smoothed out to a long legato line? It's impossible to suggest a recording you might like, until knowing what your criteria are.

Personally, in Baroque music I like to hear as many nuances as possible, with a natural rise and fall in the p. I believe that such nuances give the melodic line more clarity as a line and more forward direction, than in an approach where there's only a one-dimensional long legato. It's like the varied importance of words in a spoken sentence. It makes the sentence as a whole more immediately intelligible, instead of having the words of the sentence all delivered in a monotone.

Neil Halliday wrote (March 18, 2004):
Juozas Rimas asks:
"Which version of BWV 21 cantata you have listened to matches this criterium best in the opening sinfonia: (Mvt. 1) good oboe playing and clearly audible orchestra/violin?"
Rilling [10] (modern instruments, with vibrato) and Richter [7] seem to match this description to a tee, with the former having more of a 'chamber-like' effect.

(You can read an extended discussion concerning the many recordings of this cantata at the BCW.):

I'm reminded of the opening Sinfonia of BWV 12, as well as the 2nd movement of the Easter Oratorio.

Jef Howell wrote (March 18, 2004):
[To Neil Halliday] Have you heard the Nikolaus Harnoncourt version [9]?

Neil Halliday wrote (March 18, 2004):
Jef Lowell wrote:
"Have you heard the Nikolaus Harnoncourt version?"
[9] No. The general consensus (from Brad's recent post, and others at the BCW) appears to be that the Sinfonia (Mvt. 1) has its charms, but the choral movements are problematic.

Juozas Rimas wrote (March 18, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< I like the clarity in Harnoncourt's recording [9], for this BWV 21 sinfonia (Mvt. 1) (and in the movement 3 aria: oboe, soprano, bc). The bass line is especially lucid and prominent, with that bassoon in there. But then I'm less happy with the choral singing in this recording.... >
Indeed, Harnoncourt's version [9] seems to have the most prominent and clear background of all versions I've heard. However, it approaches another extremity - the oboe dissolved in the background. I don't know whether Bach's intention was to make such sinfonias oboe solos with accompaniment or whether the violin etc and oboe should be equal participants but my heart leans toward the former. So choosing between the two extremities, I go for Herreweghe's accent on the oboe soloing [13].

Ditto for choral singing. BTW, I got used to expect much from Equiluz but I haven't listened to him for several months now and listened to Pregardiens singing the arias in the BWV 21 first. This was enough to move Equiluz to the second place in my "pantheon" of Bach non-evangelist tenors. Equiluz' seems always agitated, over-emotional, as if he was about to burst out crying - this could work for some music but it seems to be his main artistic tool, regardless of what text or music itself would be hinting.

Juozas: < what features constitute "good oboe playing" in your opinion, in Bach's music? Something highly nuanced, or something more smoothed out to a long legato line? >
What exactly do you mean by "nuanced"? Clear changes in dynamics? More staccato than legato? Perhaps it depends on the mood of music, eg another fine Bach oboe work is the Adagio from the Easter Oratory: Ponseele produces some nice solid longs sounds with little nuance there but it suits the music fine.

Anyway, I prefer oboe playing with perhaps lesser attention to virtuoso playing (the main point is not trills), more rubato, sensitive dynamic variations (more of quiet playing, occasional peaks). IMHO every oboe should try approaching the voice-like nature of such instruments as the Armenian duduk. I wonder how Bach would sound on the instrument :)

That's why I don't like slow movements played by someone as Heinz Holliger, although for faster music with steady tempo his style is perfect and his technique most welcome.


Continue on Part 5

Cantata BWV 21: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements
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