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Cantata BWV 212
Mer hahn en neue Oberkeet
Discussions - Part 1

Discussions in the Week of November 16, 2003

Aryeh Oron wrote (November 18, 2003):
BWV 212 Mehr hahn en neue Oberkeet [Bauern-Kantate] - Introduction

The chosen work for this week’s discussion (November 16, 2003) is the Secular Cantata ‘Mehr hahn en neue Oberkeet’ (We have a new governor), known also as ‘Bauern-Kantate’ (Peasant Cantata).

That Bach had a sense of dramatic comedy was shown in the Coffee Cantata BWV 211 (Discussed in the BCML more than two and a half years ago), in which he painted the manners and customs of the bourgeoisie. In BWV 212 he furthers the picture of contemporary society with this burlesque portrayal of the peasants in Saxony. Thanks to his contact with common people as well as with aristocrats, he could accurately mirror in his music their thoughts and emotions. Picander’s text gave him the opportunity to use folk-music and folk-dance tunes in the movements, just as Telemann had done in his works.

The occasion for the performance of this cantata was the acquisition of an estate, Klein-Zschocher, near Leipzig, by Carl Henrich von Dieskau. He was the inspector of land, liqueur and income taxes and Picander’s superior. Picander was a local receiver of land and liqueur taxes. This cantata was part of the homage celebrations whereby the villagers honoured their new Lord of the Manor. A holiday was declared, August 30, 1742, for this event, and it seems likely that Bach came from Leipzig with his Collegium Musicum to perform the cantata before the manor.

The plot is very simple: two peasants, Mieke (soprano) and her unnamed lover (bass), discuss their new master and his wife, tease each other, relate the gossip of the region, complain about taxes and finally go to the inn for free beer, courtesy of (landlord) Gutsherr Dieskau. There is no chorus, their dialogue occurs in the recitatives and arias.

Recordings

BWV 212 is one of the most recorded Bach Cantatas, either sacred or secular. I am aware of at least 21 complete recordings of this cantata, many of them are available in CD form. Most of them are naturally coupled with the Coffee Cantata BWV 211. The recordings are listed at the following pages of the Bach Cantatas Website (BCW):
Cantata BWV 212 - Complete Recordings
Cantata BWV 212 - Recordings of Individual Movements

Additional Information

In the page of complete recordings mentioned above you can also find links to useful complementary information:
a. Original German and various translations, two of which were contributed by members of the BCML: English (Francis Browne) and French (Jean-Pierre Grivois).
b. Score from BGA Edition.
c. Commentaries: in English by Simon Crouch (Listener’s Guide) and Brian Robins (AMG), and in Spanish by Julio Sánchez Reyes (CantatasDeBach).

Since probably most of you have at least one recording of BWV 212, I hope to see many of you participating in the discussion. Only 4 cantatas, all of them secular, remained to be discussed in the BCML!

Stevan Vasiljevic wrote (November 19, 2003):
Here's a piece of trivia in relation to Peasant Cantata. In Serbian schools when children lern about composers, they learn to play a short piece of music by some of the composers. It may be interesting to know that piece chosen as a representative for Bach's music is melody of Mvt. 4 - "Ach, es schmeckt doch gar zu gut" from Peasant Cantata. When I got this cantata, I forgot that, so when I heard canata for the first time, I was quite surprised to hear well known melody performed "properly", as compared with how ridiculously it sounded when we played it on our simple instruments at school.

Francis Browne wrote (November 22, 2003):
A cantata that is unexpected, which I have enjoyed hearing in the five recordings that I have somehow collected - but it is not one of the works of Bach to which I shall often return.

In all of Bach's vast output there is the little that can be compared with this 'peasant cantata'. The subject-matter of the text - two peasants discussing local matters as they walk to the local pub - is very different from the mythological figures and august personages of the other secular cantatas we have listened to recently. The music too is undoubtedly Bach but instead of the elaboration and and contrapuntal splendour to be found elsewhere here another aspect of his style becomes prominent: the influence of dance and popular tunes. Except for an aria for each of the soloists all of the numerous movements are brief. The rapid changes of direction in the opening sinfonia give a foretaste of what is to come. Even to my inexpert ears the use of popular tunes seems pervasive. Most CD notes and commentators just refer to this in general terms, but the Oxford Composer Companion gives more detail about Bach's borrowed material. I shall add this at the end of the posting , since I think it raises an interesting general point particularly clearly.

If Bach did use this borrowed material (and perhaps other sources that remain undetected), the impact he intended his work to have on the original audience is irrecoverable since they would have an intimate knowledge of these popular tunes that today can be only partially recovered by painstaking scholarly research. What they must have heard with delighted and amused recognition has for us no previous associations. As I listen therefore I enjoy the music but have a feeling in places that I am somehow missing something that would have been obvious to the first audience. This situation is of course the same with all of Bach's music : the musical experience we bring to Bach's music differs greatly from his audiences in eighteenth century Saxony. But here the element of 'burlesque' referred to in the cantata's title makes me feel I am somehow missing the point.

(Similarly the general gist of the text is clear, but many details remain obscure. After struggling to make sense of it in translation, I was reassured to read Dürr's comment that in the soloists' dialogue allusions are made to events at which we can only guess. In places I have guessed.Any corrections and improvements to my translation from those who have a better knowledge of idiomatic German than I do would be most welcome. Four of the five recordings I have heard come without translations or texts, and yet this is a work where it seems essential to have some idea of what is being said.)

According to Whittaker the cantata 'reveals a side of Bach's nature which, though peeping out in the two quodlibets , is rarely shown to us .... Here he shows his capacity for writing music which would have made Singspiels immortal and which reminds one of old Dutch pictures of humble life. Dances and folk tunes abound, he pokes fun and his own elaborate style, he enters into the various situations with a real sense of comedy....Yet, although everything is delightful and carefree, the workmanship is as detailed and subtle as if it were a sacred work. In construction it is unique in his writings and is as worthy of close study as anything else ..'

But Dürr insists that we should not go to the extreme of including this cantata among Bach's master works. Simon Crouch also writes appreciatively about the cantata but concludes 'Beautifully crafted certainly, but up to Bach's highest levels of inspiration? I think not'. The number of recordings of the work presumably bears witness to its popularity, and I imagine that for many listeners it may seem more approachable than some of the other cantatas.Certainly I have enjoyed listening to the work. The recordings by Ewerhart [6] with the Württemberg Chamber Orchestra, Ursula Buckel and Klaus Ocker, Hans Martin-Linde [11] aPeter Schreier [8] all give -despite some shortcomings - a good idea of the work. I was more impressed than I expected by Ton Koopman's recording [23]. The brisk tempi that in some of the sacred cantatas seems to lead to a superficial approach here seems to give momentum and impulse to the work. But the recording to which I shall return with most pleasure is undoubtedly Fischer-Dieskau's 1960 recording with Forster and Lisa Otto [4]. As elsewhere this singer brings an illumination and insight into what he sings that I find incomparable, and he is ably supported by the conductor, orchestra and soprano.

Yet I do not think that I shall return often. So many other cantatas offer so much more.But anyone who cares to explore the vast extent and of Bach's genius will not want to neglect this cantata.

(Please note a health warning: repeated listening to the final movement can lead to going around muttering or even singing der tu-del-tu-del-tu-del-tu-del-tu-del-tu-del sack...This may lead to serious doubts and about your sanity.)

Extracts from Oxford Composer Companion
(Editor: Malcom Boyd; Consultant Editor: John Butt; Article Author: Tim Crawford; Published by Oxford University Press, 1999)

It has long been known that the Peasant Cantata is not only composed in a deliberately 'rustic' style but actually quotes a number of popular tunes of the time. A sufficient number of such quotations have come to light to suggest, perhaps, that Bach based his entire work on existing music, possibly at Dieskau's request.

Mvt. 1. The opening sinfonia (untitled in the autograph manuscript) is a potpourri of dance'tunes, anyone of which could be a true folk mel­ody. The tune immediately following the opening Presto is very similar to certain examples of the so-called 'Heyducken Tanz' popular in Germany and Poland, and the central Adagio section is an excellent example of a true polonaise. A number of other movements from the cantata are in Polish style, which may have had a strongly pastoral connotation for the composer.

Mvt. 2:. The duet 'Mer hahn en neue Oberkeet' is based on a variant of a rustic bourree in a German keyboard manuscript from 1693-6 (St Petersburg, Academy of Sciences, the Michael Hansch MS, fo, 71) and also in a Polish tablature for an unspeci­fied plucked instrument from the early 18th cen­tury (Warsaw, Biblioteka Narodowa, MS 2088, fo, 1V). In an early 18th-century Dutch collection, Qude en nieuwe Hollantse Boerenlieijes en Cantre­dansen (Amsterdam, 1700-16 [facsimile, Amster­dam, 1972], Part 4, p. 16, no. 287), it is called 'De lustighe Boer' ('The jolly farmer').

Mvt. 3. In the recitative 'Nu, Miecke, gib dein Guschel immer her' the strings quote two popular dance tunes. The second of these was also cited by Bach in the final Quodlibet of the Goldberg Vari­ations, and is a version of the traditional 'Grossvater Tanz', which has survived with a variety of song texts. In Picander's libretto, responding to the Man's advances, Mieke sings: 'I know you, you saucy devil; later you'll only want to go further and further!' Bach may have expected his audi­ence to supply for themselves one of the best­known 'Grossvater- Tanz' texts at the end of their dialogue: 'You and me together to the feather bed, you and me together to the straw'.

Mvt. 4. 'Ach es schmeckt doch gar zu gut', is clearly another tune in polonaise style; a closely related lute piece (entitled simply 'Allegro') sur­vives in a copy of a lost 18th-century German lute manuscript transcribed in the 19th century (Ven­ice, Fondazione Cini, Chilesotti papers).

Mvt. 8. The strings announce the well-known tune 'Folies d'Espagne' at the beginning of 'Unser trefflicher lieber Kammerherr', and it recurs throughout the aria. However, this is not merely a set of variations; the vocal melody itself sounds like a different popular tune, yet to be identified.

Mvt. 12. The aria 'Funfzig Taler bares Geld' uses a polonaise tune in mazurka rhythm that appears in two tablature manuscripts from the mid-18th century (Nuremberg, Germanisches National­Museum, MS 274, fo. 8; Leipzig, Musikbibliothek der Stadt, MS III.12.18, no. 22) as well as in i col­lection of Polish dances for violin from 1742 (Mar­tin, Matica Slovenska, 'Uhrovec' MS, fo. 6v).

Mvt. 14. The opening phrases of the 'courtly' aria, 'Klein-Zschocher müsse', closely resemble. the beginning of a minuet from Gregorio Lam­branzi's Neue und curieuse theatralische Tantz­ Schul (Nuremberg, 1716), part 2, p. 51.

Mvt. 16. The 'aria col corne de chasse', 'Es nehme zehntausend Dukaten', uses a very well-known hunting song, originally French, popular all over Europe, and said to have been introduced to Ger­many by Count Franz Anton Sporck.

Mvt. 20. 'Dein Wachs turn sei feste' is a parody of Pan's aria 'Zu Tanze, zu Sprunge' in another of Bach's secular cantatas, Der Streit zwischen Phoebus und Pan (BWV 20l:7).

Mvt. 22. 'Und daß ihrs aIle wißt' was probably based on a student song (see Spitta, iii. 178, n. 331); a version of the piece without text, but called 'Aira' (recte 'Aria') can be found in the Polish tab­lature mentioned above (Warsaw, Biblioteka Nar­ odowa, MS 2088, fo. 29).

Aryeh Oron wrote (November 30, 2003):
BWV 212 Mehr hahn en neue Oberkeet [Bauern-Kantate]

Personal viewpoint

I have to admit that I had some reservations before launching the listening to the 17 recordings of this cantata listed below. This work has never been one of my favourites and I was afraid that I might get bored. To my great astonishment I started to like the cantata after hearing the first recordings, and it grew on me as the listening has progressed. Five associations came into my mind during the listening experience.

A. Hit parade:
Most of the melodies heard in this cantata under various presentations are based on popular tunes of the day. In other words, we can rate them according to our personal preference, and fill a poll. The results will give us some indication which is the most popular according to current taste (although not of Bach’s time).

B. Bach & folk music:
Although the melodies of many chorales originate from popular tunes, the use of folk and popular tunes in this cantata is brought to an extreme. One can claim that the use of so many non-original melodies by Bach might be an indication for some lost of inspiration. Then we have to remind ourselves that future composers from Haydn, through Beethoven, Brahms and Dvorak, up to Bartok and Shostakovich, used this method freely, extensively and unashamedly. All of them, Bach included, drew inspiration from songs and dances of occasional music to make a work of art.

C. Bach and late age:
This work is the last datable cantata composed by Bach. Its humour, short movements and conversational manner might remind us of another masterpiece composed during the late years of another great composer: Falstaff by Verdi. Both of them found in humorous plot encouragement to re-evoke their compositional gift.

D. Bach and opera:
In this work, as well as in many of his other secular cantatas, Bach removes any doubt about his ability to compose an opera. Actually, this work deserves a place of honour in our modern light-opera repertoire. Furthermore, as many of the 19th century operas reflects the weakness of the society of their times, so is Bach’s work, making a mockery of unjust taxation, flattery for patronage, self-interest and gossip-talking.

E. Listening factors:
In this cantata the quality of voices is not as important as in most of other Bach Cantatas. Playing ability, sense of humour and spontaneity, lightness and expof delight and amusement are the main characteristics I would like to hear in a performance of this Brechtian work. I could easily imagine Lotte Lenya singing the part of Mieke. Maybe she did…

List and personal rating of the recordings

Soprano & Bass / Conductor

Regarding the reasoning of my preferences:
‘Highly Recommended’ = Recording to which I would to return most often
’Good’ = Still deserves repeated listening
’So and So’ = I would enjoy occasional listening to at least part of it
‘Disappointing’ = Self-explanatory

Highly recommended

[5] Ameling & Nimsgern / Collegium Aureum
[6] Buckel & Ocker / Ewerhart
[13] Kirkby & Thomas / Hogwood
[17] Claus & Biller / Eisenberg
[22] Schäfer & Quasthoff / Rilling
[23] Larsson & Mertens / Koopman

Good

[4] Otto & DFD / Forster
[11] Hoffmann & Reinhart / Linde
[20] Röschmann & McMillan / Labadie
[24] LeBlanc & Polegato / Lamon

So and so

[12] Dawson & Alder / Friends of Apollo
[15] Blasi & Hall / Harnoncourt
[16] Callataÿ & Snellings / Janssens
[18] Kertesi & Gáti / Antál

Disappointing

[8] Mathis & Adam / Schreier
[9] Varady & DFD / Marriner
[10] Koenig & Koenig / Ponchelet

I would like to hear other opinions.

 

Impromptus BWV 212: Exceeding Taxes

Henri N. Levinspuhl wrote (January 25, 2004):
"Your good heart
has prepared the soil
on wish you will surely flourish."

Although exploitation usually tempts, as injustice to anger and force, being us treated as Knauthain and Cospuden, let us talk about the custom-house's exceeding taxes as lightly as of the funny side of natural love's weaknesses, offering just an innuendo, as obvious as dalliance's teasing when caught in the turmoil of affection. For bribery cannot buy our tax-collectors' reputation, their wives dressed in virtue, driving home not covered with pride, but accessible to the peasants. And although 60% is hard to put up with, here you are, Caesar - and give us a part of that to us Brazilians more expensive, while we expect an easy street to the custom-house, that their employees might be prosperous with our faithful payment, being able to rear their children with the milk of profusion - for if there is no zorro to get us freedom from the exceeding taxes, in the tavern we'll be merry, listening to what is fully paid, our home the tavern where cheerful sounds are served.

 

BWV 212 - Question about English text

Aryeh Oron wrote (July 11, 2007):
I received the following message off-list from the Swedish journal Hallands Nyheter:

*************************************
I just found the Bach Cantatas Website, and thought that you maybe could give me some help. I am a Swedish journalist, collecting information about a well-known and -loved song about the joy of springtime. The music is from Bach's Peasant Cantata - the second Aria, that begins Mer hahn en neue Oberkeet.
The song has a most beautiful Swedish text, written in the 1940:s, by a woman born in England, and dead since 1990. In her correspondence, a translation of a "Bach cantata" is mentioned, but I have not been able to find the English text, that she might have used. That is why I kindly ask for your help.

There seems to be an English text with a theme, similar to the Swedish one (see below). Do you know anything about it? Would it be possible for you to ask the participants of your forum for help? I would be most grateful if somebody could send me the text.

BACH, Johann Sebastian
Of flowers the fairest (Peasant Cantata); arr. by J. Michael Diack
Arrangement S Solo,SA
Edition Paterson's.
Location Burnley Library
Index Sacred - Cantatas
*************************************

I would appreciate any help.

 

Continue on Part 2

Cantata BWV 212: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

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