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Cantata BWV 217
Gedenke, Herr, wie es uns gehet!

Discussions in the Week of November 29, 2009

Neil Halliday wrote (November 29, 2009):
Intro to BWV 217.: anonymous 1st Epiphany cantata

The composer of this 1st Epiphany cantata is not known, possibly Altnikol (according to the CD titles). There is only a passing reference to the gospel of the day, in the first line of the first recitative: "Ah, my jesus is lost"

We can access the score, text and music samples from this page:

[Note that the titles do not match the music; to hear samples of BWV 217, click on the samples listed as BWV 220. In fact, the music samples for disc 1 are found under disc 2 and vice versa].

The choruses of BWV 217 reveal rather sweet music (judging by the sample), with the choral writing reminiscent of Bach's motets.
The particular sweetness of the last two choruses of BWV 198 also come to mind. Similarly, the vocal writing in the last chorus of BWV 217 reminded me of Bach's motet BWV 229 "Komm Jesu komm" (in the 6/8 section). Also, the timbre of the flute doubling the violins in the alto aria occurs in Bach.

However, the score reveals a structural simplicity that is most unlike JSB's scores.


Some of the other pieces on this disc (BWV 218, BWV 219) are by Telemann, but most are by 'anonymous'. The first Telemann cantata has unusual scoring listed as two horns, two cornets, two oboes, timpani and strings.

Much of the music on the CD is rather pleasing, as far as can be judged by the samples.

William Hoffman wrote (December 3, 2009):
Cantata BWV 217: The history of a mystery

BWV 217

Cantata BWV 217/ Anh. II 23>, “Gedenke, Herr, wie es uns gehet” (Consider, Lord, how it is for us), composer anonymous, is currently listed in the Schmieder Catalog as BWV Anh. II 23, “works of doubtful authenticity.” Part of the so-called “Apocryphal Bach Cantatas, BWV 217-222,” its connection to Bach has always been tenuous, with inference and conjecture paramount at best. Yet it is also representative of tenuous works suggesting Bach was very engaged in vocal composition and presentation, cast a wide net among his contemporaries, and interacted intensely.

Pieces of collateral evidence have intrigued Bach followers since Cantata BWV 217 surfaced 11 years after Bach’s death. In its first catalog of works available for purchase during the annual fairs, the enterprising Leipzig publisher Immanuel Breitkopf listed various works of Bach in manuscript that could be acquired through copies made by Breitkopf’s copyists. None of the works, identified by incipits, were to be published. They included some 27 cantatas, two motets (BWV 225, BWV 226), Missae Brevis, BWV 234 and BWV 236; Sanctus, BWV 238, St. Luke Passion BWV 246, 150 four-part chorales (from Dietel), anonymous Passion, “Geh Jesu, geh zu deiner Pein” (?BWV 247), and seven works which were always classified as doubtful Anhang or Appendices pieces. Of the “Church Music” cantatas available, several are now considered spurious: BWV 53, BWV 141, BWV 189, BWV 217, BWV 218, and BWV 220. Others are partial scores (BWV 76II), early works not part of annual cycles (“Occasional Cantata,” BWV 106), or early versions (BWV 80a from Weimar). None of the chorale cantatas from the neighboring Thomas school were available for copying.

Bach Dokument III (1:169) suggests various Breitkopf’s manuscript sources. The main source was the publisher’s “business relationships” (Geschäftsverbindungen) with the two eldest sons, Wilhelm Friedemann and Carl Philipp Emanuel, in which Breitkopf paid them a fee for manuscript copies which Breitkopf sold. In addition, Breitkopf actually owned manuscripts of music attributed to J.S. Bach, which were probably not part of the estate division of 1750. These may have included extra sets of copyists’ parts for short works such as motets and parts of Masses, as well as Bach’s personal score copies of extraneous compositions.

Only one cantata, BWV 154, was known to be in the exclusive possession of C.P.E., that is the score and parts set. The works owned by Breitkopf were (BWV 54, BWV 225, BWV 246) or on loan were from the Bach-Archiv Leipzig (BWV 234, BWV 236). It is assumed that near the end of his Halle tenure in 1762, Friedemann began making his father’s works available through publishers. It is also assumed that both sons inherited and retained only authentic works of their father, found in his personal library, with the exception of the J.L. Bach 18 cantatas and the Alt Bachisches (Family) Arkiv, kept by C.P.E.

The score copy of BWV 217 first appeared about 1800 in the Berlin Library of Princess Anna Amelia, who collected Bach manuscripts. Another copy was made by the Bach manuscript collector Franz Hauser and dated 1836. A comparison of the listings in the Breitkopf Catalog and the Amalien Library of the Joachimsthal Gymnasium suggests that the original source could have been the private library of Bach’s immediate successor, Johann Gottlob Harrer (1703-1755), says Bernard Friedrich Richter in his essay “The Destiny of the Cantatas of Johann Sebastian Bach belonging to the Thomas School in Leipzig” (Bach Jahrbuch 1906, pp. 44-73). “Harrer died prematurely, leaving in a condition of poverty a widow and three young children,” says Richter (p. 54). He shows that Breitkopf’s catalogs at that time also included cantatas of Harrer, sold by his widow, as well as works of other Leipzig and Dresden composers. In 1764, Breitkopf directly acquired the extensive musical estate of C. G. Gerlach, former Bach student, succeeding director of the Collegium musicum and copyist, since Gerlach was single and had no heirs.

Thus, it is assumed that as Bach’s successor, Harrer took possession of non-Bach church music manuscripts, as well as Bach’s motets, which also were kept at the Thomas School. Still, there is no evidence that Cantata BWV 217 was ever seen or presented by Bach.

Meanwhile, an examination of the BCW list of “Works of Other Composers performed by J.S. Bach,” shows that Bach performed Telemann cantatas, had parts copied, and may have had others presented during gaps in his cantata presentations in the mid-1720s in Leipzig. It is possible that Bach presented Cantata BWV 219 (by Telemann) on the Feast of St. Michael, Sept. , 1723, since no other Bach work was presented then.

As for a possible performance date for BWV 217, for the First Sunday after Epiphany, the only available opportunity would have been on Jan. 12, 1727, when Bach was no longer presenting cantatas for every church date. There is no record of cantata presentations for the three-day Feast of Christmas or the Feast of Epiphany and the succeeding three Sundays. Bach composed his last cantatas for his incomplete third cycle, BWV 82, for the Feast of Purification, and BWV 84 for Septuageisma Sunday, Feb. 9, 1727, to a Picander text. On April 11, Bach presented the first performance of the St. Matthew Passion (BWV 244).

To come (maybe): Sources of music by other composers presented by Bach and a source-critical look at BWV 217 in terms of its musical and textual character as related to the practices of Bach’s contemporaries.

William Hoffman wrote (December 5, 2009):
BWV 217 History Mystery 2

<Bach Perspectives, Vol. 2: J.S. Bach, the Breitkopfs, and Eighteenth Century Music Trade> Essays, 1996.

<Church Cantatas in the Breitkopf Catalogs> by Andreas Glöckner (p. 28). Gerlach died on 9 July 1761 and “it is logical to assume that Breitkopf obtained his entire musical estate,” including the manuscripts from his Leipzig Neukirche tenure as music director, 1729-61. Breitkopf's church listings included works by JSB, Fasch, both Grauns, Scheibe, Agricola, Homilius, Rolle, and Melchior Hoffmann.

<Bach,,s Vocal Works in the Non-Thematic Catalogs of 1761-1836. By Hans-Joachim Schulze> (p. 43f). The 33 JSB church cantatas listed in the “catalogs from 1761-1770, as far as they have survived and can be dated, stem entirely from the period of February 1723 (BWV 22) to January 1725 (BWV 92).” “The Telemann works (here mistakenly assigned to JSB [BWV 141, 145/2, 160, BWV 218, BWV 219, BWV Anh. 157])* can also be assigned to the same time frame or earlier, at least according to their origin.” “…they go back to materials that would have been divided up with the dis-[p.44]tribution of Bach’s estate in 1750.” Schulze suggests that the music was gathered at that period by Gottlob Harrer, Bach’s successor, who was a student at Leipzig from 1722 to April 1725, almost precisely the time in question (1723 to January 1725). It is not insignificant that Harrer’s collection came into Breitfkopf’s possession after 1755.”

* Alfred Dürr, <Zur Echtheit einiger Bach zugeschriebener Kantaten>, <Bach Jahbuch 39:1951-52, pp. 30-46.

Epiphany 1: BWV 217/Anh.II 23>, “Gedenke, Herr, wie es uns gehet” [Chorus, unknown composer]
No performance date; composer unknown, shows influence of J.A. Hasse (1699-1783)
Sources: score copy c.1800; score Kalmus Cantatas v.64 (BWV217-220), 1968.
Literature: Spitta JSB II:695; BG XLI (Dörffel, 1894), xxix-xxxii;
Richter, BJ 1906; Schmieder 2nd ed. 1990:818; notes, Apocryphal Bach
Cantatas BWV 217-222, CPO 999139 (1991)
Text: author unknown; German trans.
English trans. (interlinear)
Forces: SATB, 4 vv (fl), str. bc
Movements: 2 choruses, 2 recits (S, BT), aria (A)
1. Chs. (tutti): Consider, Lord, how it is for us (Lam. 5:1,15)
2. Rec, (S, str): Ah, Jesus is lost (ref. Gospel, Lk. 2:41-52)
3. Aria (A, tutti): Tell me, you beloved fields
4. Rec. (BT, str): Be consoled, heart full of sorrow
5. Cle. Chs. (tutti): Change yourself, ye songs of lamentation
CPO notes summary. theme: only repentance and faith will lead the sinner back to Jesus. “With its homophonic design and concentration on melody, the (single) aria forms a typical da capa aria in the new style of post-1720.” “The concluding chorale remains peculiarly discordant: it is in hopeful, joyous triple time but persist in D minor.”

Dörffel (BG) in his introduction traces the source from the Amalienbibliothek (no date) to the Hauser copy of 1836, the Werner copy of 1839, and another copy without date or signature which in its incipit suggests that the alto aria was possibly written for Dresden opera singer Faustina (Bordoni Hasse). Dörffel cites scholar Theodor Mosewius,, 1845 essay on Bach’s church music which suggests the Italian influence on Bach’s aria.

The BG editor then cites at length a full description of Cantata BWV 217 in Carl von Winterfeld’s 1847 study of Bach’s Lutheran Church music. It outlines the text and music, noting pleasing melodies and full harmonies, similar to the Hasse Opera in Dresden (in the 1730s). No sources for the chorale melody or text are cited for the closing chorale, which has string instrument introduction, interludes and conclusion.

Finally, Dörffel takes up Spitta's view of Cantata BWV 217: “He had no good words for it.” Here is Spitta,,s view (JSB II:695): The cantata “in which Hasse's influence is said to be perceptible . . . , until more reliable evidence is forthcoming I am absolutely incredulous as to its genuineness. Breitkopf’s list. . . is insufficient warranty . . . and so too is the MS copy. . . . The first chorus of the cantata shows a few points of resemblance to the final chorus in Part 1 of the St. Matthew Passion (BWV 244); but these are mere similarity, the true spirit of Bach is not is this, still less either in other pieces. In the whole work there are scarcely any polyphonous passages, and not one striking combination. Single passages avail not; the whole effect to me is conclusive.” Spitta also found no stylistic influences from Hamburg (Telemann).

Douglas Cowling wrote (December 5, 2009):
William Hoffman wrote:
< Dörffel (BG) in his introduction traces the source from the Amalienbibliothek (no date) to the Hauser copy of 1836, the Werner copy of 1839, and another copy without date or signature which in its incipit suggests that the alto aria was possibly written for Dresden opera singer Faustina (Bordoni Hasse). >
The recent Watteau exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum had a wonderful painted porcelain figurine of Bordoni being accompanied on the harpsichord by a fox in 18th century dress. One wonders: Fuchs == Fux?


Cantata BWV 217: Recordings | Discussions | Discussions of Non-Bach Cantatas: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

Recordings & Discussions of Cantatas: Main Page | 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
Discussions of General Topics: Cantatas & Other Vocal Works | Performance Practice | Radio, Concerts, Festivals, Recordings


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