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Cantata BWV 23
Du wahrer Gott und Davids Sons
Discussions - Part 2

Continue from Part 1

Discussions in the Week of June 26, 2005

Bradley Lehman wrote (June 23, 2005):
BWV 23, which key?

Forgive this for being a little ahead of next week's discussion, but BWV 22 and BWV 23 were designed to be together anyway....

Which of the recordings are really of performances in B minor, as opposed to C minor, and having the cornetto and trombones? (Compare against BWV 22 to be sure, as to what they're using as C and G; for example, Leonhardt's is in C minor even though by modern pitch it sounds sort of like B minor. Their diapason there is A=415.)

Bach got to Leipzig for his test Sunday, in February of 1723. He had both these cantatas along with him, almost ready. And at the last minute he transposed #23 from C minor to B minor and added the cornetto and trombone parts, creating this temporary version for the audition. At that time he also tacked on the fourth movement, the German equivalent of the "Agnus Dei". BWV 22 and BWV 23 were performed in the same service, before and after the sermon. (He did BWV 23 again the next year, still in B minor. Then when Bach did BWV 22 and BWV 23 as reruns, in later years, he put BWV 23 back to C minor.)

Some possible reasons for the temporary transposition to B minor:

- Easier for the cornetto/trombones, and oboi d'amore, also being added as an afterthought. Perhaps he had not been informed far enough ahead of time that these players would be available for that weekend? The earlier scoring of #23 simply has the more conservative and conventional requirement of strings, oboes, and continuo. So does BWV 22.

- More contrast against BWV 22, showing a broader range of expression as a composer: impressive for an audition. More tone colors are available, going to this different set of keys. B minor and C minor have different character from one another.

- The organ perhaps wasn't set up yet to handle the C minor of BWV 23, even though it could sort of "make do" in the C minor second movement of BWV 22 if played quietly enough. Since the organ was a whole step higher than the orchestra, C minor is read by the organist in B-flat minor, one of the poor keys for most temperaments. Bach's required tuning, sent ahead (or brought with him) on the title page of the WTC as demonstration of his teaching materials, simply wasn't ready there yet on the instrument by the time of this audition Sunday in February 1723. With BWV 23 transposed into B minor, the organ is playing in A minor: an unproblematic key for other temperaments.

Neil Halliday wrote (June 23, 2005):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
<"Which of the recordings are really of performances in B minor, as opposed to C minor, and having the cornetto and trombones?
Of the following modern instrument recordings, Richter [3] and Werner [4] have the trombones in the 4th movement. Along with Rilling [6] (no trombones), they are all in G minor (modern pitch), with the first movement in C minor. The BGA score (G minor) simply has trombones playing col' parte with the voices in the 4th movement. Perhaps other members might have details for the period recordings.

BTW, does your statement about Bach transposing Mvt. 1 from C minor to B minor imply that the last movement, originally in G minor, was likewise transposed down a semitone, to F sharp minor? Would this be simpler for the trombones?

Bradley Lehman wrote (June 23, 2005):
< BTW, does your statement about Bach transposing the 1st movement from C minor to B minor imply that the last movement, originally in G minor, was likewise transposed down a semitone, to F sharp minor? Would this be simpler for the trombones? >
That 4th mvt didn't exist in his C minor version at all. He had brought that along as part of a (now lost) Passion setting from Weimar, and recycled that mvt into here. I don't know if transposition was involved or not, on that one. The C minor score says "Il Fine" at the end of the third mvt, and has a fermata (meaning the same thing, "The End") there in some of the parts.

Anyway, we've got this divergent set of versions where he wrote the thing first in C minor (but 3 mvts only) in Cöthen, did a quick B minor version adding the 4th and performing it in 1723 and 1724, then putting it all back to C minor and doing it at least once in later years. So his "last thoughts" and "first thoughts" are the C minor version, but the "middle thoughts" at audition time are also interesting, and it's worth hearing both.

For the B minor version it's just the wind and continuo parts that are written out in the new key (with A minor for continuo); apparently the string players all tuned down half a step and played from the C minor set of parts. (Tuned down their strings for BWV 23 when, immediately after the sermon whereas they had played cantata BWV 22 before it, at their normal pitch?) Then in the recycled version sometime 1728 or later, Bach took a B minor bassoon/harpsichord part and converted it to B-flat minor for the organ, writing in a bunch of flats, and writing in naturals to cancel the sharps.

References: the 1998 BWV, the Wolff bio, Parrott on both BWV 22/BWV 23, Young's analytical guide to the cantatas, Leaver's articles about BWV 22/BWV 23 in the Oxford Composer Companion, and parts list for BWV 23 in Dreyfus's appendix. And especially: chapter 10 of Wolff's Essays (1991) dealing with the circumstances and performance materials for both BWV 23 and BWV 22, at this Leipzig audition by Bach. That includes a facsimile of that converted B-flat minor continuo part.

Wolff in his postscript to that article, on p410, asserted: "The transposition to B minor can hardly have been necessitated by any other reason than the Chorton brass participation." But I personally believe that another very good reason--and perhaps the strongest one--would have been to have the organ (and therefore also the whole ensemble) sound better, playing in its notated A minor vs B-flat minor. The circumstance was such an important audition in Bach's career, forced to use whatever organ temperament was dealt to him before he got that job. [And then during Bach's tenure there he had more leisure to get it reset to his exacting standards, and able to play in B-flat minor. B-flat minor, the same notorious key with which his cousin Nikolaus had won an organ-tuning contest against young Neidhardt!]

Tom Dent wrote (June 23, 2005):
[To Bradley Lehman] I find this all rather confusing, but perhaps it was also confusing for Bach and the audience on the day, to have to rewrite something at the last minute or transpose it with scarcely any preparation, possibly for the sake of wind instruments... and then have the string band retune by a semitone in the middle of a church service.

The existence of 'tief Cammerton' as in some earlier cantatas might conceivably be a factor here, since an instrumental C minor then becomes an organ Am which is failsafe. If that was JSB's expectation then the situation at Leipzig would be a jolt, since instead of subtracting three flats one would have to add two. However, the supposition of Chorton+tief Cammerton would be disproved if there was a Coethen-date continuo part in Bbm or Cm. The expectation of tief Cammerton would explain why the later Bbm continuo part had to have been adapted, since the earlier part would always have been in Am.

Of course one would also have to check the dates of those cantataswhich were definitely written for Chorton+tief Cammerton, to see if it is plausible that Bach would have done so at Coethen.

If there were problems with organ tuning in Bb minor, we may suppose that Bach didn't have time to rewrite no. BWV 22, and decided to get the worst over with first. But that worst might have been pretty bad! The range of possible tonalities in Kuhnau's Thomaskirche would have to be determined by research of his church music, but I doubt it went as far as G flat major or E flat minor, which are reached very soon in the transposed alto aria of BWV 22.

In fact that alto aria 'Mein Jesu, ziehe mich ach dir' poses very considerable problems for any temperament which retains noticeable traces of meantone-ness, whether or not it is transposed, since its range of modulation on the flat side is really exceptional, and
essential to its musical effect.

Along with some internal cadences in E flat major (D flat transposed) the end of BWV 22 is in B flat major, which becomes A flat major on the organ. All in all, the transposed organ part for BWV 22 is really some sort of worst case scenario for many common organ tunings, although some Neidhardts might just about survive.

Bradley Lehman wrote (June 23, 2005):
BWV 23, which key? (& back to BWV 22)

< Along with some internal cadences in E flat major (D flat transposed) the end of BWV 22 is in B flat major, which becomes A flat major on the organ. All in all, the transposed organ part for no.22 is really some sort of worst case scenario for many common organ tunings, although some Neidhardts might just about survive. >
Indeed it's pretty lousy in anything ordinaire or stiffer, and hardly any better in Werckmeister III. In that "Mein Jesu" alto aria, movement 2, playing through it transposed to B-flat minor, it gets nasty as early as bars 4 and 8 especially. And then bars 26-30 are even worse, setting up the first long "Leiden". I played through it in the new Jobin ordinaire proposal: http://www.clavecin-en-france.org/BACH-et-le-Clavier-bien-Tempere
where these passages are hopeless.

Then taking the same score over to my main hpsi and playing it again, continuo in B-flat minor, bars 26-30ff are especially rich and sonorous. (As you can confirm also for yourself playing it there in my recommended temp.) Db, Gb, Ab, and back to Db majors; then suddenly the enharmonic A major sticking in there with its brightness; then cadencing back into Db again at the downbeat of 33. "Ich will von hier und nach Jerusalem, zu deinen Leiden geh'n." It makes Jerusalem seem like an exotic place full of surprises. Word-painting in tones, some of Bach's most colorful and impressive work...if the organ is tuned correctly. And dreadful if not.

What I'm wondering is, pace the discussion in Wolff's chapter 10 in Essays, maybe they just left out the organ altogether in BWV 22 that audition weekend and did BWV 22 with harpsichord. Wolff makes a case here in BWV 22 and BWV 23 for dual accompaniment with both hpsi and organ anyway, on that Sunday. Why not just leave out the organ in this particular movement in BWV 22, and any other nasty spots including the last movement as you've mentioned, where the harmony would have been
bad? The parts for BWV 22 aren't extant today, and we don't know what they entailed. Great opportunity, possibly, for JSB to walk in and tune the harpsichord his way to make the most beautiful impression possible as his audition. As Wolff points out over in the bio, this Bach audition in Leipzig made it into the newspapers but none of the other candidates' auditions did; possibly indicative that it went especially well?

From the 1728+ version of the first movement of 23, facsimile on page 139 of Wolff Essays, play through that B-flat minor part.Some gorgeous harmonies in there, especially on the 7ths and 9ths and the spots where we work our way into A-flat major. Also notice that the first phrase cadences into a B-flat off the bottom of the organ keyboard, which Bach didn't bother to bring up an octave in reworking this bassoon part. Why tell the keyboardist something he already knows and doesn't need to have all spelled out?

This all makes me want to hear the two Graupner cantatas from his audition the previous month. He was the first choice ahead of Bach, and would have landed the job if he could have got a release from his employer. So then they brought in this second guy who blew everybody away with BWV 22 and BWV 23, and whatever other music was also in his luggage.

=====

[Say...with those parts of BWV 22 all missing...how do we know that Bach didn't transpose all of cantata BWV 22 down a half step also for that audition? The historical record on BWV 22 does not prove that he did not do so; we have only the score in its G/C minor. Do the whole thing in F#/B minor. There goes the problem of retuning the string band during the service. And the oboist, who already has his d'amore along to play BWV 23, doesn't need to bring his regular oboe to play BWV 22 but just uses the d'amore for both. The only thing Bach would have needed to do, already having his portfolio of string parts in hand, would be to write out a new oboe (d'amore) part down a half step, and the organ part...either writing it out or just playing it himself at sight from the score. There aren't any documented reruns, either. How do we know that Bach ever performed cantata BWV 22 in G/C minor?]

Thomas Braatz wrote (June 25, 2005):
BWV 22 & BWV 23 Details

This is important detailed information about BWV 22 and BWV 23 which may be more than some readers will want to know. Nevertheless this can be viewed as a fascinating investigation which probes rather deeply into the complications surrounding the performances of these cantatas during Bach's lifetime. If at times, the discussions seem repetitious, it is because they are presented in this fashion as various aspects and perspectives are explored.

See: BWV 22 & BWV 23 Details

Peter Bright wrote (June 27, 2005):
Introduction: BWV 23

The cantata for discussion this week (27 June to 3 July-) is:

Cantata BWV 23
Du wahrer Gott und Davids Sohn
(“You true God and son of David”)

Along with BWV 22 (discussed last week), BWV 23 was performed on 7th February 1723 as a test piece for Bach’s application to the post of Kantor at the Tomasschule. It was probably also performed in 1724, and again between 1728 and 1731

Link to texts, commentary, vocal score, music examples, and list of known recordings: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV23.htm

Link to previous discussions: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV23-D.htm

It is possible to hear two versions of the complete cantata on the internet (Leonhardt from 1973 [5], and Leusink, from 1999 [9]). See: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Mus/BWV23-Mus.htm

First of all, apologies for the lateness of this introduction – I have been unwell.

I find this cantata more interesting than its companion piece (BWV 22). It is a very solemn work – the first movement (Mvt. 1), in particular, conveys a great sadness in its description of the blind man of Jericho pleading for help and comfort. Following the recitatative (Mvt. 2), in which the melody from the concluding chorale weaves around the vocal part, there is a complex chorus (Mvt. 3) and a closing chorale (Mvt. 4). The latter is thought to have been taken from one of Bach’s own Passion settings. It comprises three verses, each with a very distinct harmonic structure – an Adagio in F sharp minor, an Andante where the chorale melody appears in canon, and a B minor conclusion.

This cantata has quite a complex story, and I leave it to Masaaki Suzuki to fill in some details (from the liner notes to his Bach cantata series, vol. 8) [8]. I hope that his comments may spark some further comments...

----
[...] the manuscripts for three movements all in C minor had already been prepared, and the concluding fourth movement was appended after Bach's arrival in Leipzig. At the same time, in order to have independent string and oboe obbligato in the chorale in Mvt. 4, he added cornet and trombone doubling to the chorus parts to strengthen the sound. Here, it is certain that questions of pitch presented themselves.

Because the cornet and trombone, like the organ play in Chorton, while the strings and oboe are pitched one tone lower, one expects to see the music for the former group of instruments written a tone lower. Since the final chorale (Mvt. 4) is in G minor, this means the comet and trombones must have played in F minor, but this is a truly disadvantageous key for these instruments.

The method used by Bach in this situation was first to set the strings down a semitone, making the opening of the chorale in B minor, so that the chorale sounds in F sharp minor. In this case, the comet and trombones could play in E minor, which is comparatively straightforward. But since the oboe, both in terms of pitch and of the key itself, cannot play in B minor (or F sharp minor), an oboe d'amore would have to be substituted. The oboe d'amore is pitched a minor third lower than a regular oboe. Thus B minor would become D minor, and the F sharp minor should appear as A minor; these keys too are comparatively straightforward. An organ part a tone low would also be necessary; in this way, the B minor manuscript for BWV 23 was performed on the occasion of the examination for the position of Kantor. This is proven by the above-mentioned cornet, trombone, and oboe d'amore parts, as well as the part for organ written in A minor by Johann Kuhnau [...].

Masaaki Suzuki (1998)

Chris Kern wrote (June 28, 2005):
The opening ritornello with the oboes is lovely; one of the best melodies I've heard from Bach. I agree with one commentator who said that Bach would have gotten the job just based on the opening duet (Mvt. 1). ;-) I only listened to Leonhardt's version [5] this week, but I'd like to hear one which used female voices just for contrast at some point.

The text seems typical of Bach -- it uses the concrete story of the blind beggar calling to Jesus for mercy as a symbol of the spiritual blindness of mankind.

The recitative text sounded somewhat familiar. Especially the line "Auch in der Blindheit an" reminded me of the line "Vermacht er mir in meine Hande" from movement 12 of the Matthew Passion (BWV 244) (the recitative after the last supper).

According to one of the English translations linked from the main page, the recitative is supposed to be accompanied by an "instrumental chorale" but the Leonhardt version [5] does not contain this, I don't think.

Finally, I do wish that Leonhardt [5] had not substituted the choir for soloists in parts of the 3rd movement. I've encountered this same thing before in Bach; in the Enoch von Guttenberg Matthew Passion (BWV 244) (on DVD), he uses the entire bass group from both choirs for the High Priests singing about how they can't use Judas' money because it's blood money. Somehow it just doesn't seem as effective.

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (June 28, 2005):
[To Peter Bright] Yes, it is a solemn work, because the season of the Ecclesiastical year it was written in and for (Quinquagessimae oder Estomihi Sunday) was and is a solemn season. It is the first Sunday in Lent, ant the Gospel text for this day is the prediction of Christ's Passion and death. It, along with BWV 22 and BWV 159 deal with Christ's words in Matthew 20: 17-19, Mark 10: 32b-34, and Luke 18: 31-33, in which it is written (using Matthew's Gospel) "And Jesus going up to Jerusalem, took the twelve disciples apart in the way, and said unto them, Behold we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be betrayed unto the chief priests, and unto the scribes, and they shall condemn Him to death, and shall deliver Him to the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge,and to crucify Him: and the third day He shall rise again". In fact, the oddity of all the Estomihi Kantaten is BWV 127, which is completely a setting of "Herr Jesu Christ, wahr'r Mensch und Gott" and does not at all deal with the upcoming Passiontide.

Neil Halliday wrote (June 28, 2005):
This cantata is unusual in that it consists of only four movements, each one of which makes a strong impression. (The BCW's reviews contain much information). The following are some further observations.

In the first movement, Bach brings beautiful two-part vocal writing to the words "at a distance", with the soprano's long note (on 'Entfernung') soon being joined by that of the alto at a different pitch; this is reversed in the 'da capo'. [This idea of God observing the strife of the world 'from a distance' was nicely developed in Bette Midler's popular song].

The second movement is one of Bach's finest accompanied recitatives. The unique timbre of unison oboes and violins 1, low in the treble clef, colours the movement with a subdued solemnity. These unison instruments (separate from the rest of the orchestra) play the chorale tune which is heard in the soprano part of the final chorus (designated 'chorale' but it is far too splendid a movement for that name). (Chris, you can listen to the chorale tune you mentioned in movement 2, in the upper unison instruments). According to Robertson, this tune is 'a phrase of the plain-song 'Agnus dei' as it appears in the Litany of Loretto"(?).

The last two movements have the stature of major choruses in a passion setting.

The third movement displays the 'flowing quaver' motion of the SJP's (BWV 245) closing chorus as we now hear it. Unique is the fact that the choir repeatedly sings only two lines of the text, namely, psalm 145.15: "All eyes are on thee, Lord", while the bass and tenor, in the the manner of a duet, interpolate with the remaining sections of the text.

The fourth movement in fact actually ended the SJP (BWV 245) at one time; and this is indeed music that impresses with its solemn splendour; one can certainly surmise that Bach was out to impress his audience.

It's in two sections:'Adagio' and 'Andante', with the same text (Agnus dei) in both sections, repeated twice in the 'andante', with a final 'Amen'.

Considering this movement, Richter [3], in the 'Adagio', gives us some veritable 'day of judgement' music, with his spine-tingling trombones sounding a dire warning of the consequences of human folly. The sighing strings are heart-rending. Richter's conducting is probably a little inflexible in the second part, but for me this is the most impressive recording of this powerful movement.

Werner [4] ignores the 'Adagio' designation, and plays the whole movement at the same "Andante' tempo, thus missing out on some of the the 'sombre majesty' of the first s. Suzuki [8] sounds good (you can listen to a sample of this and all the other movements on the CD, by going to Amazon and typing in 'Suzuki Bach Cantatas 8'). Rilling [6] is excellent but omits the trombones. Leonhardt [5] is elegant and impressive. As has been noted, Leusink [9] omits this movement entirely.

Working backwards, in Mvt. 3, Rilling [6] and Suzuki [8] alone allot the bass and tenor lines to the soloists, which makes for the most contrast between the choir and B,T duet. Rilling is excellent; I find Suzuki to be rushed, with the live acoustic causing some 'fogginess' at the fast tempo. Werner [4] gives a 'large choir in a cavernous cathedral' effect, satisfactory if one already knows the music well. The others are mostly excellent.

Without being fussy, I enjoyed all of the recordings of the first two movements.

Peter Smaill wrote (June 30, 2005):
BWV 23 reveals Bach's musical response to a theological idea, namely, the dual nature of Christ as God and man (David's Son is the expression used; the same dual nature is addressed by the incipit of BWV 127 of 1725, "Herr Jesu Christ, wah'r Mensch und Gott".

For this reason, the work abounds with displays of canonic writing of the highest order, from the echoing Alto response to the Soprano's plea to Jesus, via the imitative passages of "Aller augen warten," and to the final rendering of the Agnus Dei, "Christe, du Lamm Gottes." Despite its late addition to the piece, the thread of the chorale and the peremptory end to BWV 23/3 make it disturbing that Leusink [9] omits the last movement.

The import of the threefold Agnus Dei is not I think minatory to sinners, no matter how much growl is put into the passacaglia-like bass line, but a progression from a funeral march to peace and salvation. Most important, it is the fragment of a lost Weimar Passion and poses one of the most difficult questions in Bach: how to end the St John Passion (BWV 245)? The original "Christe, du Lamm Gottes?" from BWV 23/Weimar Passion; or the exquisite later adopted chorale, "Ach Herr, lass dein leib' Engelein?, a stanza of "Herzlich lieb, hab Ich, O Herr."

Here is the matter according to Paul Steinitz:

"Christe, du Lamm Gottes is a rare and sublime masterpiece, with its opening Adagio funeral march for section 1 of the three-section text, and its lilting Andante, becoming increasingly hopeful and finally triumphant in mood over the last two sections. Certainly the closing Chorale (Mvt. 4) in the original version contrasts the body lying dead in the grave with its final resurrection in a telling and greatly comforting manner. But one could say that it is unliturgical to contemplate thoughts relating to Easter on Good Friday. Apart from following the long No.67 ("Rueht Wohl..."), perhaps this Agnus Dei setting is therefore the ideal ending, with its wonderful change to majpr tonality nine bars from the end on "peace" and "Grant us thy Peace", and the strong Tierce de Picardy in the final bar".

Bach's replacement of the "Lamm Gottes" with "Ach Herr, lass dein leib Engelein" is a radical change to the musical language, from elaborated plainsong, with canonic imitations, syncopation, augmentation, imitation abounding; to a superb but essentially simple Chorale (Mvt. 4). it is also a major change in theological emphasis.

Out went the conclusion linking the Passion to the text of the Mass, a Christ-centred adoration, thanksgiving for salvation from sin and collective prayer for peace; in comes the personal prayer of the sinner. "Ich" replaces "uns" - from "grant us peace" to "hear my Prayer".

Why did Bach make the change in 1730? An interesting coincidence is noted by Christoph Wolff. Bach remained on very friendly terms with Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen, remaining as courtly Capellmeister (non-resident) until the Prince's death in March 1729. One of the hymns set for the funeral was "Herzlich hab Ich, o Herr".

Could Bach have first used his beautiful chorale setting in his now-lost funeral music for the Prince ? And did he then decide to end the St John with the personal prayer of a Christian rather than the theological statement of the Church?

Thomas Braatz wrote (June 25, 2005):
BWV 23/4 (Mvt. 4)

This is an attempt to investigate both BWV 23/4 (Mvt. 4) and BWV 245/40ii = "Christe, du Lamm Gottes" or "Agnus Dei". Both are essentially the same music with minor changes, but significant enough so that some of the existing instrumental parts of one could not be performed together with vocal parts of the other.

Robin A. Leaver, in his article on BWV 23 in OCC:Bach volume [Ed. Boyd, 1999] explains how this 4th mvt. Of BWV 23, added to Bach's original conception of the cantata, ties in well with the former mvts. although it was missing from the original score and original parts (there are 'Fine' [not 'Il Fine' as Leaver has it] markings in the score and in some of the parts after Mvt. 3. Bach's autograph parts show his own additional directions at the end of Mvt. 3 as "Chorale sequitur sub signo #" or "Volti segue il Corale"

The question still remains as to Bach's reason for making this 'last-minute' change to the 2nd cantata performed at his Leipzig church audition.

Did Bach want to demonstrate additional aspects of his skill as a composer?

Having possibly taken with him the score for the 'Weimar Passion,' and having failed in his request to perform this music a few weeks later on Good Friday, did he nevertheless want to provide an example of the type of Passion music which he was capable of composing?

Did Bach determine only after arriving in Leipzig for rehearsals that the 3-mvt. cantata BWV 23 would be too short in duration for presentation during communion in a very large church (he had only been familiar with smaller churches before this.)

Or did Bach, once in Leipzig, find out that he had more time available to him for the 'communion cantata' and decided very quickly to copy out a mvt. from the 'Weimar Passion' which he had just happened to have brought along with him for other reasons?

Now the attention is directed toward this original mvt. possibly from an earlier Passion which is later fully documented as the concluding chorale in the 2nd version of the SJP (now specifically referred to as BWV 245/40ii.)

Why did Bach decide to include it as a replacement for the original final chorale BWV 245/40 = "Ach Herr, laß dein lieb Engelein?"

According to the NBA II/4 KB:

The original composing score for the "Passio secundum Johannem" ["Passion according to St. John"] is missing (no longer extant).

In the existing, partially autograph score, at the end of BWV 245 (SJP) mvt. 39 [Chorus: "Ruht wohl"] after the instructions to repeat from the beginning mvt. 39 "Da Capo.ad Signum {fermate}," the text reads "Tandem Choral. | Ach Herr laß dein lieben Engelein."

The chorale appears on the next page without a title and text with the exception of the following under the alto staff: "Ach H. laß dein lieben {the latter word was abbreviated} Engelein etc."

The phrase 'Tandem Choral", if not in Bach's handwriting, was either dictated to the copyist by him or allowed to stand without his correction.

What does this "Tandem Chora" signify?

The original Latin meaning of 'tandem' is "after some time, at length, at last, (nevertheless, all the same.) In English, the OED informs us that this Latin word is 'used punningly' in English meaning 'one before/behind the other' or 'together, in partnership.'

Personally, I rather doubt that the English meaning of 'tandem' would make much sense in Bach's late score since only one final chorale is presented there. This brings up the question as to how the SJP (BWV 245) ended under Bach's direction in performance, based upon the 4 separate versions that we are aware of. In order to answer this question it is necessary to categorize the original parts according to their probable performance dates:

Original parts (various copyists involved, with many revisions, corrections and additional markings by Bach) indicate rather reliably when certain performances, including the first one, did take place under Bach's direction:

Set I = 1724
Set II = 1725
Set III = 1728-1731
Set IV = after 1742 (Dürr), circa 1748-1749 (Dadelsen)

The autograph score, pp. (more correctly folios) 1-10 = 1735-1742 and the remaining sections (pp. or folios 11-46) by Copyist H with corrections and revisions by Bach = same as Set IV above. Some references state that Bach copied 20 pages, but it would be clearer to state that he stopped abruptly in the middle of mvt. 10 in the middle of measure/bar 42 with still 30 mvts. to finish, in other words, Bach completed only 1/4 of the entire Passion, when he suddenly stopped being actively involved in this project.

After presenting many pages of detailed research and with pp. 112 to 116 of the NBA KB II/4 devoted solely to deciding when BWV 245/40ii was performed and when not, the editor, Arthur Mendel, gives the results on p. 116 as follows:

Version I ends with BWV 245/40 (Choral "Ach Herr, laß dein lieb Engelein")

Version II ends with BWV 245/40ii (or BWV 23/4) (Choral "Christe, du Lamm Gottes")

Version III ends with BWV 245/39 (Chorus "Ruht wohl.") [No chorale at the very end just as in the SMP (BWV 244)]

Version IV ends with BWV 245/40 (Choral "Ach Herr, laß dein lieb Engelein")

Based on the versions that are extant, we have come full circle from the earliest which ended with "Ach Herr, laß dein lieb Engelein." Perhaps this offers a clue to Bach's phrase, 'Tandem Choral." Is Bach implying "nevertheless" after all had been tried, this is the best version, or 'at last,' after all has been considered, this is the true ending? [Compare this with the history of versions of BWV 23! It is quite similar in that Bach returns eventually to his initial conception.] Is there a hint of exasperation behind this word 'tandem' or is Bach glad that he has determined that the first version was the best?

Why, after all, did Bach even consider making these changes in the first place? For this we can turn to the Bach experts who have offered speculations worth considering.

One question which bothered the experts is "Why did Bach begin his clean copy of the SJP (BWV 245) score and then abruptly turn it over to a copyist to finish copying out the score?"

Mendel, in the NBA KB II/4 p. 75, attempts to solve the riddle as follows:

Sometime, between the preparation of parts for versions III and IV, Bach decided upon creating a new, clean copy of the score for the SJP (BWV 245). Perhaps the old one, a composing score, had become rather difficult to decipher in spots as he contemplated yet another performance of this work. However, after only 10 pages, for some unexplained reason, he lost interest in this project and left it uncompleted. The reason for this might be found in a fairly well-known incident from the year 1739 when a messenger sent from the Leipzig City Council reported on March 17th that he had approached Bach on the matter concerning the impending Good-Friday music performance for which the permission to perform it (it appears that Bach had to ask about when and where the performance of a Passion would take place) had not yet been sought by Bach. To this Bach answered: "It was always done this way and it really didn't matter to him (he really couldn't care less about this) and he really got nothing out of this because it only meant more work for him..if objections/reservations about the text are involved then this really makes no sense since, in its present format, it had already been performed this way a few times before." Mendel then points out that in 1739 the rotation of performances between the main churches meant that a Passion should be performed at St. Nicholas Church where the performance area was too limited in space for presenting the SMP (BWV 244) and hence, in all probability, a performance of the SJP (BWV 245) was being referred to here.

Thus it appears that Bach's disenchantment with the formal procedures to be followed (Bach having to request permission for performing a Passion in one of the churches under his jurisdiction) - there seems to be the possibility of a power-play behind all of this with Bach's power of determining which music he would present being called into question - may have led to Bach's brusque retort. It also appears that some members of the Leipzig City Council may have objected to the text of the Passion, this after it had already been presented a number of times with exactly the same text without any clear objections having been expressed to Bach about this matter. Bach may have perceived this entire matter as harassment on the part of the Leipzig City Council.

In the 1730s, the version of the SJP (BWV 245) which Bach presented during the Good Friday services was the one which omitted either one of the two final chorales so that no chorale was heard at the very end of the SJP (BWV 245) and the final mvt. was "Ruht wohl."

It is regarding this latter choice by Bach that Eric Chafe has formulated a theory that Bach was trying to make the SJP (BWV 245) become more like the more successful SMP (BWV 244). Eric Chafe "Tonal Allegory in the Vocal Music of J. S. Bach" [University of California Press, 1991] pp. 304, however, does not compare the final "Ruht wohl" chorus of the SJP (BWV 245) with the final chorus "Wir setzen uns mit Tränen nieder" of the SMP (BWV 244), but rather indicates that in the 1725 (Version II) of the SJP (BWV 245), Bach replaces the final chorale, "Ach, Herr, laß dein lieb Engelein," with the German Agnus Dei ("Christe, du Lamm Gottes"), "another enormously significant change that allied the work more closely to the elegiac character of the SMP (BWV 244)."

Much earlier, Alfred Dürr, in his article in the Bach-Jahrbuch 37 (1949-1950), p. 89, "Zu den verschollenen Passionen Bachs" ["In regard to the lost Passions by Bach"] had pointed out that there was a chorale symmetry in having "O Mensch, bewein" as the opening mvt. and "Christe, du Lamm Gottes" as the final mvt. in at least one of the versions of the SJP (BWV 245). Was achieving such symmetry a goal that Bach had in mind? Why did he abandon it? Chafe sees this particular version as best representing his theory that the SJP (BWV 245) is divided into two sections representing the sharp and flat key areas. [More precisely, on p. 327, Chafe points to "the fact that the large-scale motion from flats to sharps that takes place three times within the 'Passion.'] Chafe agrees with Christoph Wolff who first pointed out that it may be more than sheer coincidence for Bach to have a version so strongly emphasizing chorales in the prominent positions at the beginning and end of a Passion, such a version documented as having been performed at the conclusion of the cantata cycle known as the 'Chorale Cantata Cycle.' [See p. 137 of "Bach: Essays on his Life and Music" Harvard University Press, 1993.] Dürr, however, sees nothing significant in this theory, since the chorale cantata's function, at least in Leipzig during Sunday services, was "als Ergänzung der Liedpredigt" ["as a continuation and completion of the chorale sermon"] p. 19 of Alfred Dürr's "Johann Sebastian Bach: Die Johannes-Passion" [Bärenreiter, Kassel, 1988.] The situation in the Good-Friday Vespers was quite different according to Dürr. John Butt's theory about this, as quoted from his article in the OCC on p. 427, is: "The Passion, like the cantata which would normally come before the sermon, was clearly closely associated with the sermon, both as an elaborated reading of the Gospel and also as a poetic and theological interpretation of the story."

Dürr believes that Bach simply undertook all these changes because he did not want to perform the same work the same way one year right after another: "Aber auch ohne sie bildet der Wunsch, eine Passionsmusik, wenn schon zwei Jahre nacheinander, dann nicht völlig unverändert wiederaufzuführen, einen einleuchtenden Grund für Bachs Maßnahmen."

On p. 52, Dürr points out the symmetry in having both the 1st and last mvts. using the vocative "Herr" in mvt. 1: "Herr, unser Herrscher" and as the conclusion to the Passion, mvt. 40,: "Ach Herr, laß dein lieb Engelein."

To conclude this little investigation, here is a quotation from pp. 304-305 of Chafe's book:

>>Moreover, the modifications of the year 1725, while they were partly motivated by the desire to accommodate the "St. John Passion" to the chorale "Jahrgang," nevertheless brought out-above all in the substitution of "O Mensch, bewein" for "Herr, unser Herrscher"-the emphasis on acknowledgment of sin that would later dominate the "St. Matthew Passion" (BWV 244). Replacing the final chorale, "Ach, Herr, laß dein lieb Engelein," with its solid major key and associations of triumph, by the chromatic, modal, and minor-key setting of the German Agnus Dei ("Christe, du Lamm Gottes") was another enormously significant change that allied the work more closely to the elegiac character of the "St. Matthew Passion." (BWV 244) And, of course, in 1725 "Betrachte, meine Seel'" and "Erwäge" were taken out in favor of the aria "Ach, windet euch nicht so, geplagte Seelen," which, as we might expect, brings out the question of man's guilt: "So zählet auch die Menge eurer Sünden." In this case the original, 1724, version of the work is so much preferable that we must assume that Bach decided to revise the texts rather than keep the musical substitution. The dialogue with chorale, "Himmel reisse"/"Jesu deine Passion," was added in Part One, making an internal symmetry of sharp-key settings of verses of this chorale; it is grotesquely out of place, since it meditates largely on Golgotha. But here again, the motive was probably theological; "Himmel, reisse," is the only place in the "Passion" where the first stage of the dynamic of faith in Luther's Passion Sermon-becoming "comformable to Christ in His suffering" through acknowledgment of sin-is truly emphasized: "Sehet meine Qual und Angst, was ich, Jesu, mit dir leide! . . . weil ich in Zufriedenheit mich in deine Wunden senke." Both "Ach, mein Sinn" and its substitute for 1725, "Zerschmettert mich," urge penitence; but "Zerschmettert mich" does so in a more explicit, less poetic manner, and its musical representation of tears is connected to the foregoing recitative (whose text is not from John but was borrowed from Matthew). Bach's ultimate restoration of the original version of the "St. John Passion" may testify to his awareness of the intensity of the original vision that produced the work; his handing the score over to a copyist for completion after ten folios, attests, perhaps, to the impossibility of continued involvement in a project in which the artistic and functional aspects could not be reconciled.

As examination of the theological features of the "St. John Passion" indicates, the work does not have to take a back seat because of the intensity of its musicotheological character. Bach, in the "St. John Passion," shows uncanny penetration of the structure of John's Passion account and, even more important, of its highly symbolic presentation of the crux of faith in the recognition of the identity of the man Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah and the crucifixion as the primary means by which this identity is proclaimed to the world. In its own very different way from that of the "St. Matthew Passion," Bach's first Leipzig "Passion" is a virtuoso piece in the musical allegorizing of theological themes. That it could have been perceived as such at the time is more than doubtful. Nonetheless, the "St. John Passion" projects a theological intent that is surpassed by no other work, and on that account it makes an impressive claim to be considered theology as well as music. The primary basis of Bach's achievement in this work, more than in its successor, is the composer's direct interaction-unmediated so far as we know by extensive theological material-with the Gospel itself.<<

[Alfred Dürr, in a footnote to p. 118 of the text referred to above, states regarding Chafe's book and style of writing: "Man wird die kluge Studie auch dann mit Gewinn lesen, wenn man Chafes Ausführungen nicht in jedem Punkte zu folgen bereit ist." ["It will be rewarding nevertheless to read this clever study even if one is not prepared to follow Chafe's exposition/comments on each point."]

This mvt. is one of my all-time favorites among Bach's sacred vocal compositions. While there are certainly others, choral mvts. or arias, which rank high on my list, I find that there is a very special, indescribable moving quality, particularly in the first two repetitions. I find there a musical expression of utter beauty coupled with sadness, pain and anguish which eventually finds a release at the end. One way to describe my personal reaction to this music is: "es fesselt mich" which means more than simply captivating me or holding my attention. It would be closer to the German to indicate 'being enthralled' and so bound by listening to this music that it becomes difficult to break the bonds of deep, profound feeling that continue unabated from one measure to the next. This is a truly remarkable mvt. which I consider the strongest and most profound expression of Bach's genius in this cantata.

John Pike wrote (July 25, 2005):
[To Bradley Lehman] What fascinating stuff!

 

Continue on Part 3

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Last update: ýOctober 1, 2011 ý22:42:05