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Cantata BWV 3
Ach Gott, wie manches Herzeleid [I[
Discussions - Part 1

Discussions in the Week of January 19, 2003 (1st round)

Aryeh Oron wrote (January 21, 2003):
BWV 3 - Introduction

The subject of this week’s discussion (January 19, 2003) is the Chorale Cantata for the 2nd Sunday after Epiphany BWV 3 ‘Ach Gott, wie manches Herzeleid [I]. According to the Bach-Gesellschaft’s numbering, this BWV 3 number places this cantata ahead of BWV 58, the other cantata with the same title (planned to be discussed in the week of March 23, 2003). According to the latest research, BWV 3 was indeed composed earlier (1725) than BWV 58 (1726), but this is probably mere coincidence, because for many years, respected authorities as Terry and Neumann assumed the later was composed earlier.

This cantata is based on one long hymn by Martin Moller and arranged by an unknown librettist. Verse 1, 2 and 18 are quoted for the 1st, 2nd and 6th movements, while verses 4 to 6, 8 and 10 are paraphrased for the other three movements of this cantata. The first verse of the hymn was also used in BWV 44 as well as in BWV 58.

The Gospel for the day is John 2: 1-11 (Christ turns water into wine) and the Epistle is Romans 12: 6-16 (Love and other duties are required of us). Both do not have any bearing on the text of the cantata, whose theme is the change from earthly pain to heavenly joy, which results from Jesus’ help through faith to Him.

The details of the recordings of this cantata can be found at the following page of the Bach Cantatas Website:

After the abundance of 16 complete recordings of Cantata BWV 11, it is astonishing to find that BWV 3 has only 3, all of which come, of course, from the regular sources: Harnoncourt [2], Rilling [3] and Leusink [4]. Well, Koopman, Suzuki, and perhaps Gardiner are still ahead of us. But why have not other conductors tried their hands with this unique cantata? I wonder. Actually, before sending this message I discovered that there is a 4th recording of BWV 3 by Bach Aria Group from the early 1950’s. It was printed in CD form by VOX, but for a long time it is out of print. May one of the members of the BCML complete the details and send them to me?

You can listen to Harnoncourt’s recording [2] through David Zale Website:

Additional Information
In the page of recordings mentioned above you can also find links to:
Original German text: at Walter F. Bischof Website and J.S. Bach Home;
Two English translations: by Francis Browne (Bach Cantatas Website) and Z. Philip Ambrose;
Dutch translation: by Léon P. B. Habets (Walter F. Bischof Website);
French Translation: by Walter F. Bischof;
Portuguese translation: by Rodrigo Maffei Libonati (Bach Cantatas Website);
Spanish translation by José Mª Pajares Box (Bach Cantatas Website)
Hebrew translation by me will soon be added.
Score (Vocal & Piano version);
Commentary in English: by Simon Crouch (Listener’s Guide) and Brian Robins (AMG).

This cantata has few recordings perhaps, but the music is fine. Just listen to the lamentation of the opening chorus as presented by all voices and instruments in adagio rhythm and grieving tone painting by the master, and I am sure that you will be captivated. .

I hope to see many of you participating in the discussion.

Thomas Braatz wrote (January 24, 2003):
BWV 3 - Provenance:

See: Cantata BWV 3 - Provenance

Commentaries: [Schweitzer, Voigt, Smend, Dürr]

See: Cantata BWV 3 - Commentary

Thomas Braatz wrote (January 24, 2003):
BWV 3 Examples of 'Kreuz'='cross'='sharp'

One of the fascinating aspects of this cantata (I have not found any reference to this in any of my sources) is the punning use of 'Kreuz' in some of its mvts. I would like to direct anyone who might be interested in this subject to look up "The Esoteric Bach" on Aryeh's site and locate also in the numerous examples given, particularly those that refer specifically to this cantata (click on the examples from the score to see the actual images from the score.)

This relates more generally to the subject of punning in Bach's works. Here is an example from BWV 103 (search for 'pun' on this page):

Even Eric Chafe refers to this aspect of punning in a commentary I shared: His remarks simply confirmed what I had already determined on my own. Originally, however, this insight was conveyed to me by a comment in the MGG made by Friedrich Blume, a noted musicologist, but I do not know who was the first to discover and discuss this feature in relation to Bach's sacred compositions.

Bach, by having a vocalist sing the word “Kreuz” on notes that have sharps (or double sharps) calls attention to the pun available in German: sharp (the accidental sign in music) = cross. A German will envision Christ’s ‘cross’ and say “Kreuz”, the same word that is used to designate a ‘sharp’ in music. Interesting also is the fact that the ‘cross’ that Christ carried had to be raised, which is just what a ‘sharp’ does to the note in front of which it stands, it 'raises' it a semitone higher. Likewise, as listeners, we have to bear our own cross which is being raised with His help. Bach reminds us of this by 'lifting' the regularly expected note a semitone higher. Of course, all of this is only available visually to the performers, and very likely, not even all of them, so, as such, it becomes a pun limited to an inner circle of only a very few members. However, if you listen carefully to the places that I have pointed out above, I believe, that even a listener without a score will be able to perceive that something rather unusual is occurring in the music as Bach begins to lift the composition enharmonically into another dimension (there are more than just a few double sharps used in BWV 3.)

Thomas Braatz wrote (January 24, 2003):
BWV 3 the double sharps

I just did a quick check on the number of ‘double crosses’ = ‘double sharps’ present in BWV 3. Here are the results:

Mvt. 1:
Ms. 21: The alto sings a double sharp on ‘mir’ which completes the phrase “O God, how much heartache will ‘I’ have to bear (literally: ‘will come to ‘me’)” This focuses the pain on the individual who has to suffer it. The double sharp intensifies this pain.

Mvt. 3:
Ms. 16: The bass soloist sings the double sharp between the words ‘Pein’ [‘pain’] and ‘Höllenangst’ [‘Hell’s anguish’]
Ms. 83: in the bass voice
Ms. 84: in the bc
Ms. 85: in the bc All of these last 3 examples are on the word, ‘Schmerzen’ [‘Pain’ – in the plural!]

Mvt. 5:
Ms. 62 and 63 in the bc, alto voice, obbligato oboes and strings on the word, ‘Kreuz’ =’cross’=’sharp’(#) which in this case receives special emphasis via the ‘double sharp.’

It seems quite significant that these occurrences appear with the words indicated. This cantata, as are many others, is based upon an antithetical notion that contrasts positive with negative aspects. None of these examples appears in the positive contexts that are also present.

Boyd Pehrson wrote (January 24, 2003):
[To Thomas Braatz] Professor Tim Smith has written along similalines in an interesting paper titled "Circulatioas Tonal Morpheme in the Liturgical Music of J. S. Bach".

Here is a link to the paper:

Professor Smith has other papers available at his site:

Thomas Braatz wrote (January 24, 2003):
[To Boyd Pehrson] Thanks Boyd!

There is an important discussion in the article that you mention that ties in the motif "BACH" as notes with Mvt. 5 of BWV 3:

This I heartily recommend to anyone pursuing this discussion. I do not see, however, where the connection with the accidental (#) is made. In any case, the reference that I am referring was made over 50 years ago, and may be much older than that. I simply have not come upon it anywhere else in my reading, although I have a suspicion that either Smend or Schering may have been the first to make this observation.

Matthew Neugebauer wrote (January 24, 2003):
[To Thomas Braatz] Gosh-only Bach could combine 4 symbols like that at the exact same time!

-the b-a-c-h signature
-the # (kreuz)
-the circulatio
-the text

Simply blows me away whenever I read about stuff like that.

Dick Wursten wrote (January 25, 2003):
Some notes on the hymn of Martin Moller.

As said already: the cantata is based on a long hymn by Martin Moller: Ach Gott, wie manches Herzeleid. Verse 1, 2 and 18 are quoted for the 1stt, 2nd and 6th; elements of the other verses are paraphrased for the other movements of this cantata.

The hymn itself is based on another hymn: Jesu dulcis memoria (Moller paraphrases this hymn from the 3rd verse in the modern edition, which has 10 verses): Jesu mein Herr und Gott allein, wie suess ist mir der Name dein. (Jesus, my Lord and God, how sweet is your name to me). BTW: I have the strong feeling that Newtons hymn: How sweet the name of Jesus sounds also pays tribute to this Latin hymn.

I once again want to pull attention to this:
Jesu dulcis memoria is one of those pious hymns around the 'remembrance' of Jesus name, which is so 'sweet' (i.e. gives joy and life to the soul of man). these hymns date back to the 11th century. Jesu dulcis memoria is a beautiful poem, in the tradition of the piety of (and therefore attributed to) Bernard of Clairvaux.

The beautiful motet of Heinrich Schütz: O bone Jesu is based on the same Latin hymn.

Editions and translations of these medieval pious hymns kept appearing in the beginning of the 'modern era' in roman catholic editions but also in protestant editions (and editing), until the 17th century.

The famous passion-hymn 'O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden' (Paul Gerhard) is also based on a medieval hymn (Salve mundi salutare) which meditates the wounds of Christ, also attributed to Bernardus and also popular with both roman-catholics and protestants [BTW Buxtehudes 'Membra Jesu nostri' is based on this hymn].
Conclusion: Piety creates a cross-over between institutional (church) borders.

Personal hope: Piety caught in music will break down the wall. Proof ? Bach.

Thomas Braatz wrote (January 26, 2003):
BWV 3 - The Recordings:

This week I listened to Harnoncourt (1971) [2]; Rilling (1980) [3]; Leusink (1999) [4]

(Due to a lack of time, I wish to discuss only the choir (chorale) portions in each of these recordings.)

[2] Harnoncourt:
As this is one of Harnoncourt’s earliest recordings of Bach cantatas and as comments regarding these early recording on the BCML have generally been more favorable than those for much of the subsequent efforts in this series, I have tried to keep an open mind (and ear) for those positive qualities that other listeners have discussed. I have even listened to this recording almost a dozen times (mainly because the music is so great and the recordings of it so few.) At first, my impression was generally favorable, but this soon changed as I became more familiar with the music. The cause for this ‘slippage’ in my estimation of this recording comes down to this: the Harnoncourt effect. This can be described as a superficial, attention-grabbing display, which accentuates with great exaggeration the difference between HIP and non-HIP, but does stand up very well at all under closer scrutiny and over time. A myth, that continues to be perpetuated, has been created around these performances, a myth that wants the listener to believe that the ‘rough edges’ normally thought of as an indication of a lack of preparation and a disregard for clean, accurate playing and singing are to be interpreted here as a virtue and not a vice. This myth also wants the listener to believe that interpretative liberties can be taken with the specific intentions which Bach notated in his scores and parts, in other words, it is acceptable for Harnoncourt to disregard the composer’s intentions in the name of ‘creative interpretative genius.’ In reality, Harnoncourt, at the time when this recording was made, had little, or almost no experience conducting and understanding Bach’s cantatas. This would be all the more a reason for him to adhere more closely to the indications that Bach provided for performances of his music and to pay closer attention to performance details as clarity, balance, intonation, precise attacks and releases. The use of reconstructed period instruments should not have prevented the players from playing cleanly and evenly. Somehow the ‘crude’ sound of these early recordings began to ‘catch on’ much in the same way the popular recording groups create a sound that is unique and may then even be copied by other groups who wish to emulate the specific sound that happens to be new at the time. This may be considered a compliment by the original group that came up with the sound, but in this instance, with one of the 1st complete cantata series (definitely the 1st of the HIP variety) and given the time span involved (almost 20 years,) much more attention should have been paid to the necessary musical details that should form the basis of any monumental recording encompassing all of Bach’s cantatas, a recording which would provide the initial impression of these cantatas for many listeners who have never heard them before.

Specifically, in regard to BWV 3 Mvt. 1, the insecurely slithering oboi d’amore players not only use quite a bit of vibrato (players on modern instruments, Rilling’s recording, for example, do this as well, but sound more secure), but they give the impression that they are really not in complete control of their instruments and have trouble with intonation. While this may not bother some listeners, it does make me uncomfortable. The oboi d’amore players in more recent HIP recordings, for the most part, do not demonstrate this trait. They play cleanly with little or no vibrato, and this sounds great, as it should be. Unfortunately, Harnoncourt, for whatever reason (I do not even want to guess at his motivation for doing so) stayed with this type of oboe sound until the very end of this series and felt no need to remedy this situation.

In the strings and the vocal parts, the listener will hear an exceedingly great number of sforzandi (a fairly strong forte accent at the beginning of a note followed by a diminuendo that trails off into nothingness – take, for instance, on each of the 4 quarter notes in a 4-beat bar.) These sforzandi punctuate with a heavy accent the beginning of the note, but do little or nothing to uphold the structure of the phrase which includes a number of successive notes. The result is a general stomping or plodding effect that threatens to interrupthe flow of the music. You can sense this as a fractionalizing, segmentation, or an emphasis on the tiny elements (the individual trees instead of the entire forest) instead of a concentration upon the broader structures in the composition. An example of a broader structure would be a single line of a chorale (all the notes under “Ach Gott, wie manches Herzeleid.”) For Harnoncourt, the ideal (and more generally normal) playing and singing of this line not would involve, at most, a tiny break at the comma with legato phrasing for the rest, but rather a ‘deconstruction’ of the entire line with even the possibility of fragmenting a word into its separate syllables. If you listen to the choir in mvts. 2 and 6, you will hear Harnoncourt’s early treatment of a chorale where these incipient traits are already present. All of his characteristic, interpretative features are present. These become even more noticeable later when he changes to the Tölz Boys’ Choir. Because of Harnoncourt’s strong emphasis on each main beat of a chorale (actually, for me, this type of musical treatment sounds much more like a tyrannical, pedant choir master saying to his choir: “Listen as I stomp with one foot. Make sure that you sing loudly right on that beat to mark the beat correctly so that we can all stay together”), the chorale presentation loses the necessary sense of sustained conviction that a chorale demands. In a Bach chorale consisting mainly of quarter notes, there are occasional passing (8th) notes that are a typical feature of a Bach chorale. Harnoncourt takes these as appoggiaturas with a strong accent of the 1st of the two notes and a very soft second note that is abbreviated or cut short in its time value and is allowed to die out prematurely. This not only creates a ‘wimpy’ sound, it also causes these passing notes to go by unnoticed and unheard. It is very often, as if they never really existed in the first place as these now weakened notes are easily overwhelmed by the other voices and disappear entirely. With Harnoncourt's interpretation, I begin to wonder why Bach decided to include these passing notes at all, since they no longer serve any real purpose.

Very bothersome to me is Harnoncourt’s seeming inability to follow the instructions that Bach left in his parts. Take, for instance, the ‘sighing’ motif (Mvt. 1) which occurs only in the 1st violin (ms. 4-5, 10-11, 19-20, 28-29, 34-35, 44-45, 54-55, and 60-61) and is perhaps best understood as a written-out appoggiatura that consists of a 8th note on the main beat followed by an unaccented 8th note a tone or a semitone lower. David Humphreys, in his article on BWV 3 in Oxford Composer Companions: J. S. Bach [Boyd] incorrectly refers to ‘a constant stream of sighing appoggiaturas’ present throughout the entire 1st mvt. Harnoncourt not only leans much too heavily on the 1st note of each pair of ‘sighs,’ he decides to treat any figure that looks remotely similar to these written-out appoggiaturas (2-note groupings) the same way. The result is ‘a constant stream’ of pairs of notes that are all treated in the same exaggerated manner. Had Harnoncourt (and Humphreys also, for that matter) ‘done his homework properly,’ he would have determined before recording this mvt. the following: Bach, as a general rule of thumb, personally added articulation to the parts which were usually copied by others. These markings, such as phrasing marks, are his instructions on how he wanted his musicians to perform the notes on the handwritten pages that they played from. Does Bach sometimes only mark the phrasing in the opening bars and then expect the musicians to use this phrasing throughout a mvt.? Yes, this happens, but just as frequently he might carefully and very specifically mark his intentions from the beginning to the end of the mvt. as he does here. The fact that he does not mark the somewhat similar passages should serve as a red flag for the conductor who wishes to accede to Bach’s wishes and learn directly from the master. It is interesting that Bach occasionally fails to mark some of the 4-16th-note groupings in the oboi d’amore (the NBA editors indicate with a finely dotted line where they assume the comparable phrasing marks should have occurred but had been omitted.) Perhaps the omission occurred because Bach was working hurriedly, or it might also be that he assumed that the oboe d’amore player would realize what was intended because the other oboe d’amore had just played the similar passage a measure earlier. But in the case of the ‘sighing appoggiaturas,’ a definite pattern consisting of two-measure groupings is maintained throughout. Does this allow a conductor to generalize these groupings and apply exactly the same type of phrasing elsewhere where the intervals involved are a drop of a 3rd, 4th, or 5th? I don’t think so. (There is a very special double appoggiatura in the final cadence of the mvt. where Bach does put a phrasing mark over the drop of a 6th .) The point is that Bach had something very definite in mind when he repeatedly placed the phrasing marks over only these specific pairs of notes in the 1st violin. Perhaps Bach knew something that Harnoncourt, with all of his effort directed toward making his Bach performances sound different, did not: by using the special appoggiatura-like phrasing only sparingly, the ‘sighing’ will become more apparent because it is being set off against the more normal manner of playing these two-note phrases throughout the rest of the mvt. There is greater variety and attention being placed on interesting details in Bach’s indicated articulation than in Harnoncourt’s monotonous, always-the-same-overly-heavy-accent-on-the-main-beat HIP-performance strategy.

[3] Rilling:
After hearing the rough-edginess of the Harnoncourt version, the contrast here is extremely obvious: the sinuous, extremely legato playing of the orchestra emphasizes the flowing character of the music rather than stressing its fragmentary nature. The sound of the modern instruments is enticing although not ‘authentic.’ The slightly larger number of string instruments lends to them a shimmering quality,‘sheen’ as it were. This is somewhat similar to the difference that can be heard when comparing an OVPP recording with one that is not: the more voices you have singing, the more the possibility exists that the notes sung can be extended to their full value and phrases can be extended by having individuals on the same part breathe at different times. The question arises as to what is gained and lost in non-HIP performance. Instead of hearing the individual voices in OVPP or the characteristic instruments (strings) in a small ensemble (OIPP), there is a greater homogeneity of sound. This has the advantage of supplying a full body of unified sound as opposed to the individual characteristics of single instruments. One would think that clarity and balance might be easier to achieve in a HIP, but this is not necessarily so. Both non-HIP and HIP performers have to be very vigilant in this regard, for I can easily detect failure to achieve these minimal requirements in either group.

Rilling’s choir of trained, operatic type singers has a definite disadvantage: the achievement of a choral blend where individual voices merge to form a greater unity becomes more difficult the more apparent the vibratos become. These singers have found no way to ‘turn off’ their vibratos, and, for that reason, a solid sound with the harmonies formed between the voices becomes more difficult to perceive. Of course, Rilling’s choir does not (yet) sound like an opera chorus which I consider to be the extreme in this regard, but certainly the use of less vibrato in this recording could have made this recording much better than it is. Certainly, these voices are better trained to move through the contortions of the musical lines in the soprano, alto, and tenor parts, than perhaps a boys’ choir would be, but the greater clarity that some boys’ choirs with minimal vibrato can achieve, would have been welcome here. The choral sections in Mvt. 2 and the final chorale (Mvt. 6) are sung precisely with good diction, conviction, and an appropriate style for singing chorales, but what this choir lacks is the ability to sing an unwavering musical line that creates strong, solid harmonies with all the parts and achieves a unity that is greater than the sum of all the individual voices (with their individual vibratos of varying width and frequencies.)

[4] Leusink:
The oboe sound is much improved here and recognizable as a period-instrument sound. My usual complaint is that I have difficulty believing in the ‘dull’ quality of the instruments that Leusink uses. These oboes sound as if they are playing with a carpet installed around theme or at least some audio hocus-pocus is involved. The real shock here occurs when the motley assemblage of caterwauling voices attempts to create a true choir sound. With these voices, this is an insurmountable challenge. Even with their relatively small numbers in (Mvt. 1 and 6), they are unable to achieve much in the way of choral unity. All the unpleasant vocal characteristics have been pointed out in my previous commentaries (yodelers, worn-out raspy voices, Buwalda-type voices, etc.) so I will not elaborate on them here. The exception to all of this is the remarkable combination of the solo voices to form an OVPP ensemble for Mvt. 2. This makes me wonder if Leusink might have had better luck doing the entire series with these voices and 2 or 3 quartets of similar quality for the larger choral sections. The final chorale has its usual weaknesses: poor diction, and lopping off the final fermati, among other things.

Assessment of Performances on the Recordings:
[3] Rilling – slightly above average
[2] Harnoncourt – just average
[4] Leusink – below average

Dick Wursten wrote (January 26, 2003):
Two impressions of my listening to the Leusink [4], both linked to Thomas' comment...

1. I differ (that is not the same as: I disagree) with Thomas Braatz in the appreciation of the oboe sound in the Leusink recordings. On the one hand Thomas admits that the sound is "much improved" and "recognizable as a period-instrument sound" (compared with arnoncourt). BTW I share Thomas'depreciation of the oboe-sound of Harnoncourt [2]. I noticed that even in todays TV performances his oboists seem to 'wrestle' with their instruments. But Thomas' complaint is that he has "difficulty believing in the ‘dull’ quality of the instruments that Leusink uses. These oboes sound as if they are playing with a carpet installed around theme or at least some audio hocus-pocus is involved". I don't understand this complaint, nor this accusation. In live performances with several & different oboists playing all kinds of oboes (including the famous Belgian oboe-player, you meet in many recordings: Ponseele) the sound sounded much like this. So IMO it is at least a natural unmanipulated oboe-sound and opposite to Thomas: I like it.

2. In this cantata I was much impressed and moved by mvt 2, the recitativo with quotes from the choral. The OVPP ensemble singing there was a pleasant surprise for me as well. Afterwards I immediately wondered, whehter this was a presecription of Bach for this mvt, but when I looked it up in the leaflet I discovered that it was an invention (improvisation) of the Leusink group. BTW: did you know that they didnot record the cantatas separately (one by one), but that they came together in different groupings and performed all kinds of pieces from different cantatas. The final cut in this series was the connecting cut: combining the right movements to form a cantata. Lack of time. So My guess for this mvt. is: they forgot that they needed a choir for this movement too and time was running out, so they decided to do it this way... How a curse can become a blessing.

Alex Riedlmayer wrote (January 26, 2003):
Dick Wursten wrote:
< 2. In this cantata I was much impressed and moved by mvt 2, the recitativo > with quotes from the choral. The OVPP ensemble singing there was a pleasant surprise for me as well. Afterwards I immediately wondered, whehter this was a presecription of Bach for this mvt, but when I looked it up in the leaflet I discovered that it was an invention (improvisation) of the Leusink group [4]. >
It seems that OVPP is an inaccurate term applied to many different performance practices, some reasonable, some ridiculous. I'll list some of the more dubious ideas:
* The term 'one voice per part', derived from Andrew Parrott's writings, is somewhat ambiguous. 'Voice' can refer to contrapuntal lines, instrumental or vocal, possibly doubled. 'Part' might even refer to the division of the work around the church service. I would prefer 'one vocalist per voice', but this probably won't catch.
* There has been much nonsense written about essential performing media (Parrott) and the choir of 12 being the last defense of the anti-OVPP crowd. It is time for society to dispense with the ridiculous modern ideal of a minimum ensemble, which has been long taken as a truism.
* The 'chorusless' way of performing Bach did not originate with Rifkin.
* The singers used on many OVPP recordings have weak and inexpressive voices, and are sometimes overpowered by the instruments, which are often reduced in power and expression to compensate. This is similar to the situation on Suzuki's recordings, where at least the singers aren't horribly out of tune half the time.
* Some people use OVPP strictly to describe performances where only four singers are used in any SATB movement, and others use the term wherever solo singers temporarily replace larger choruses.

< BTW: did you know that they didnot record the cantatas separately (one by one), but that they came together in different groupings and performed all kinds of pieces from different cantatas. The final cut in this series was the connecting cut: combining the right movements to form a cantata. >
This is the same way that most of Karl Richter's series was recorded.

Aryeh Oron wrote (January 28, 2003):
BWV 3 - Background & Review – The Opening Chorus

For me, the pick of the cantata is the opening chorus. The background for my short review is based on Robertson and Young and something of my own. The English translation of the original German text is by Francis Browne.

The texture of the chorale fantasia with its chromatic harmonies is extraordinary rich with resourceful sonorities. It is scored for two oboe d’amore, two violins, viola trombone and bass continuo. The adagio movement begins with expressive ritornello, which develops throughout in the orchestral part. The first two lines are begun by the altos, the second two by tenors. The sopranos climb up at the line ‘Der schmale Weg ist trübsalvoll’ (The narrow way is full of affliction), in a radiant phrase, to the goal which is Heaven. The chorale melody is begun exceptionally by the basses doubled by the trombone and continuo, and then joined by the altos, tenors and sopranos in that order. The adagio rhythm expresses a dragging grief-motif, continuing to the end of the movement. Bach’s tone-painting here presents a scene of complex group lamentation by all the voices and all instruments, which are masterly woven. But there is also an internal tension caused by the two contradictory movements. A good performance should keep all the lines clear, the fragile balance between all the components and the movement ahead, all at the same time. Most important, it has to convey the deep emotion hidden behind the complex outline. This is a fantastic movement with endless possibilities, which grows on you with every repeated hearing. Unfortunately, we have only three different recordings to listen to. These are:

[2] Nikolaus Harnoncourt (1971)
[3] Helmuth Rilling (1980)
[4] Pieter Jan Leusink (1999)

[2] Harnoncourt, was the first to record the cantata (4:55), proving that the earlier, the better. I mean that it seems as if in his earlier recordings he was more focused and less mannered. I remember having similar impressions when I made the comparative reviews of the recordings of cantatas BWV 1 and BWV 4. The lines have more legato and continuity and the choir is well prepared, singing with clarity and vigour and more spirit. The playing of the old instruments is assured, clean and beautiful. The inner balance is masterfully maintained along the whole movement, and it is so easy to follow the different lines. Although the expression in this rendition is subdued, you cannot avoid being captivated this sublime chorus.

[3] After Harnoncourt, Rilling’s opening ritornello sounds somewhat rough (5:30). The entry of the altos is a little bit disappointing, because they, as well as the following voices, use too much vibrato which spoils the clarity. The balance is not as good as Harnoncourt’s. But we are compensated by the extra ‘soul’ of this rendition. It seems as if Rilling dug into the depths of the movement to bring out a heart-rending performance. In some way we can see Harnoncourt’s and Rilling renditions of the opening chorus as complementary.

[4] Leusink’s opening chorus (5:39) is not on the same par with his two predecessors. The playing is a little bit sloppy, as we can clearly hear in the opening ritornello. The choir shows some enthusiasm, but the upper voices tend to be screaming, and the vocal lines are somewhat muddy. It is difficult to keep the balance where the components are relatively weak. The main problem of this rendition is the impression of superficiality it gives. The grieving atmosphere is not expressed as strongly as in Rilling’s, even not up to the level of Harnoncourt’s. Nevertheless, I have to admit that all these shortcomings are only relative. This movement does not fail to move, even with this recording.


None of the recordings is completely satisfactory, but Bach always is.

Thomas Braatz wrote (January 28, 2003):
BWV 3 Ach Gott, wie manches Herzeleid

Mvt. 1 Adagio

I have found this mvt. to be more than simply intriguing as well as moving. It has an unbelievable depth that reveals Bach’s absolute mastery of the chorale cantata and its opening mvt. whose purpose it is to set the tone for everything that follows in its wake. I will attempt to relate what I have discovered in such a way that a listener should be able to locate and hear the various aspects of the composition to which I am referring. I will try to begin with the basic structure and then fill in the additional details little by little. It should be possible for a listener to locate and hear all the things I wish to highlight by referring to the structural outline which is relatively simple. The measure numbers are included for those who have access to a score.

General statement:
This mvt. ought to be rated among the very best introductory chorale cantata mvts. that Bach wrote. There is an amazing density or concentration of material with a very effective economy of means. It is rich in word painting which is very cleverly applied, but it also shows evidence of Bach’s use of a ‘kernel’ idea [first described by Schweitzer], a distilling of the most important concepts couched in the form of an antithesis from which everything seems to emanate. It is very much like a seed from which everything organically unfolds and evolves. This kernel is so condensed that it embraces simultaneously the emotions of sadness and joy expressed by the text in the words, “Herzeleid” and “der schmale Weg ist trübsalvoll” on the one hand, and “den ich zum Himmel wandern soll” on the other. It is this simultaneity, this layering of seemingly disparate elements to create a harmonious and meaningful whole that is one of the unique characteristics of Bach’s compositions and certainly one of his greatest achievements. A listener who devotes time and energy to become more aware of the rich complexity available in the density that characterizes this composition will be amply rewarded. It is truly mind-boggling to consider that the congregation may only have heard this one time and the musicians only twice. Did Bach realize that he was composing this for a much wider audience? Did he build in all this complexity only for his own pleasure, just to see if it could be done as a private challenge posed by the nature of the chorale, and not really expect anyone around him to truly begin to understand what he was doing?

Overall Structure:
Many opening mvts. of chorale cantatas are based on the barform which has a Stollen that is repeated and a concluding Abgesang which is not (A, A’, B.) This chorale or hymn, contrary to the majority of them, is ‘durchkomponiert’ [‘through-composed’ with no repeated section,] a feature that allows Bach slightly more interpretative freedom since he does not have to contend with one of the repeated sections not really relating very directly to the words that are being sung. Here he can represent musically each line separately and individually. In many other similar cantatas, Bach often derives the material sung by other 3 accompanying parts (one voice always has to sing the cantus firmus which is usually presented in long note values) from the chorale melody itself by having the accompanying voices introduce the same chorale melody in a faster rhythm (shorter note values) and in a fughetta-like fashion. This is commonly called the Pachelbel-type since this resembles the style of composition that predominates in Pachelbel’s chorale preludes for organ. Here, in BWV 3, Bach dispenses with this approach and chooses instead a musical motif that is present in his ‘kernel’ idea: the chromatically descending scale that represents at the same time “trübsalvoll” and “der schmale Weg.” This ‘narrow way full of trials and tribulations’ is a rather complex ornamentation or variation on a simple, chromatically descending scale. It is used as a fugal subject introducing each of the 4 lines of the chorale. This motif is first introduced by the oboi d’amore at the very beginning and repeated numerous times throughout the mvt. Having the accompanying voices use this same theme/subject, helps to link more closely the orchestral and the choral forces, both of which are often in contention with each other as the word ‘concerto,’ a term frequently used by Bach in other similar circumstances, implies. Here, in BWV 3, the effect is more one of ‘spilling over’ when the ritornello ends and the choral sections begin. Everything is tightly unified by using this technique which is both ‘un’-concerto-like and ‘un-Pachelbel-choral-prelude-like’ in its nature.

The overall structural scheme is as follows:

1 – 11: Ritornello (Orchestra alone)

Section 1
12 – 18: “Ach Gott, wie manches Herzeleid” Choir + Orchestra
18 – 20: Ritornello (Orchestra alone) extremely abbreviated

Section 2
21 – 26: “Begegnet mir zu dieser Zeit” Choir + Orchestra
27 – 35: Ritornello (Orchestra alone)

Section 3
36 – 43: “Der schmale Weg ist trübsalvoll” Choir + Orchestra
43 – 45: Ritornello (Orchestra alone) extremely abbreviated

Section 4
46 – 52: “den ich zum Himmel wandern soll” Choir + Orchestra

51 – 62: Ritornello (Orchestra alone) [This is the same as the beginning except that the strings in the 1st 3 ms. are playing in a different style and the final ‘sighing’ motif in the 1st violin is new.]

Even more tightly unified by virtue of overlapping, are the entrances of the fugal subject by the oboi d’amore intended for the beginning of each ritornello, but occurring one or two measures before each choral section is completed. These serve not only to create a more integral link between the sections outline above, but also to extend the effect of the ‘piling up’ of fugal subject upon fugal subject. This is somewhat reminiscent of Bach’s use of 4 fugal entriesby the choir followed by a surprising 5th entry played by the tromba while all the other voices continue with their development of the fugue. However, it should be noted that the fugal subjects played by the oboi d’amore in this cantata when the choir is still singing are only approximations (an imperfect image of the fugal subject, but nevertheless very effective. Here is a tabulation of all of these fugal entries (Variant + # - these are variants of the main fugal subject – the basic fugal subject is the one that is generally sung by the voices, all the others are variants – the fugal subject is, as explained earlier, a variation on a descending chromatic scale that is linked to the phrase, “der schmale Weg ist trübsalvoll” ):

Ms. 1 – 2nd Oboe d’amore Variant 1
Ms. 2 – 1st Oboe d’amore (6 beats later) Variant 1
Ms. 6 – 2nd Oboe d’amore, then 2 beats later the 1st Oboe d’amore) Variant 2
Ms. 8 – 2nd Oboe d’amore (very slight variant of the basic subject)

Section 1
Ms. 12 – Altos
Ms. 13 – Sopranos 4 beats later, then Tenors 2 beats later
Ms. 15 – Sopranos & 1st Violins, then Tenors & Viola 1 beat later, but the latter entry is Variant 3 with Circulatio
Ms. 16 – 1st Oboe d’amore Variant 4 (Overlapping end of choral section)
Ms. 17 – 2nd Oboe d’amore (slight variant) - 4 beats later (Overlapping end of choral section)
Ms. 18 – 1st Oboe d’amore Variant 2 – 2 beats later 2nd Oboe d’amore Variant 5

Section 2
Ms. 21 – Altos
Ms. 22 – Sopranos 4 beats later
Ms. 23 – Tenors & Viola, then Altos & 2nd Violin 2 beats later
Ms. 24 – Sopranos & 1st Violins
Ms. 25 – 1st Oboe d’amore (Overlapping end of choral section)
Ms. 26 – 2nd Oboe d’amore 6 beats later.
Ms. 30 – 1st Oboe d’amore then 2nd Oboe d’amore 2 beats later Variant 2 for both
Ms. 32 – 1st Oboe d’amore (slight variant of basic form)

Section 3
Ms. 36 – Tenors
Ms. 37 – Altos
Ms. 38 – Sopranos
Ms. 42 – 1st Oboe d’amore Variant 4 (Overlapping end of choral section)
Ms. 43 – 2nd Oboe d’amore (very slight variant of basic form)

Section 4
Ms. 46 – Tenors
Ms. 47 – Altos (4 beats later) then Sopranos (two beats later)
Ms. 49 – Sopranos & 1st Violins slight variant, then Altos & 2nd Violins (1 beat later)
Ms. 50 – Tenors & Viola (2 beats later)
Ms. 51 – Altos & 2nd Oboe d’amore (Overlapping end of choral section) Variant 1
Ms. 52 – 1st Oboe d’amore (6 beats later) Variant 1
Ms. 56 – 2nd Oboe d’amore, then 1st Oboe d’amore (2 beats later) Variant 2
Ms. 58 – 2nd Oboe d’amore (very slight variant of basic form)

Summary of details:
Overlapping of the ritornello creates a seamless construction and a driving force that continues without letup until the very end.

Some subtle and other not so subtle variations of the fugal subject (the variants) make it possible for Bach to use the ‘image’ of the fugal subject very intensively. This enhances the notion of density that the listener can perceive.

Bach balances the order/sequence of the major entries in the voices: In the 1st 2 sections the order is Altos, Sopranos, and Tenors, but in the last 2 sections this is changed to Tenors, Altos, and Sopranos.

There are 20 vocal entries of the fugal subject, 9 of which are colla parte with other instruments. There are a total of 40 separate entries in both the instruments and the voices (the colla parte instances are not counted separately, but rather as one entry.)

The Countersubjects
When a voice or part finishes its entry and another entry by another voice or part begins, the initial voice or part continues with contrapuntal material that is called the countersubject. The countersubjects carry great significance in this mvt. Bach uses them for ‘word painting’ the significant portion of each line of the chorale text. In section 1 Bach places a turn figure on the word, “Herzeleid” to delineate the poignant aspect of this word. In section 2, “begegnet” receives a similar treatment with an even longer turn. Things really pick up in the final sections: “der schmale Weg” in section 3 is represent by a repeated step figure that moves upwards stepwise on the major scale. In the score this figure really begins to look like a stairway. In the final section, the words, “zum Himmel wandern” has many 16th notes moving inexorably upwards toward heaven.

The Pedal Point
What is a pedal point doing at the very beginning of this work? If you check the overlapping sections (which are the real beginnings of the ritornello), you will notice that the bass voice is holding the last long note of a line of the chorale. It is this long note that Bach uses at the very beginning of the mvt.

Other Falling or Rising Figures
The unique falling figures in the oboi d’amore in ms. 36 – 39 occur only once in this mvt. Somehow they must be connected with the underlying words, “Der schmale Weg ist trübsalvoll.” Perhaps because the vocal parts are being introduced from the lowest to the highest voice and the countersubject progresses chromatically upwards, the falling figures provide the necessary contrast in direction, thus indicating that there will be relapses along the way.

Whenever the altos or the tenors begin a section, the bc is usually silent or has very little to play, but in section 4, Bach has the bc play a pedal point (the basses are not yet singing the chorale melody) and just before the basses enter with their final line, “den ich zum Himmel wandern soll,” he has the bc play a very fast (16th notes) upward sweep of notes that lead to the bass entry. This helps to reinforce, as word painting, the phrase, ‘wandering toward heaven.’

The Kernel
The opening two measures demonstrate a kernel that combines both the chromatically descending scale (in a highly elaborated version) representing the ‘narrow path full of tribulations’ in the 2nd oboe d’amore and the ascending major scale in the strings depicting the ‘joyous path leading to heaven.’ In these 2 measures, Bach anticipates all that will follow in this mvt. and throughout the cantata. The pedal point in the bc announces the range in which the cantus firmus will appear. Another ‘kernel’ of sorts is contained in the repeated 2-measure segments of the stalking, ostinato bass in the bc. They occur in ms. 4-5; 10-11; 19-20; 28-29; 34-35; 44-45; 54-55; and 60-61. Each of the bracketed 4-8th-note figures consists of 3 upward-moving notes followed by one in a downward motion. Each figure is repeated 4 times, but each time the figure moves lower scalewise; thus each 2-measure section consists of 4 figures, each one of which is striving upwards (3 out of 4 notes move in this direction), while the entire set of 4 figures, looked at as a whole, is falling downward.

The amazing complexity and integration of musical ideas contained in this composition are not apparent to the listener upon first hearing (even with the score,) however, upon closer scrutiny, layer upon layer of significance can be uncovered and are revealed. Bach’s level of creativity becomes almost unimaginable if you consider the time constraints under which he was working. Certainly, he must have been aware of these details as he was composing them. This manner of conceiving with apparent ease an idea and working it out with such depth and attention to detail is the mark of a great genius. It is related by one of his students (I could not find this source, but I remember reading about this), that Bach would play some of his own works on the harpsichord for this student. Sometimes, to the amazement of the student, Bach would take a chorale to play an then proceed to perform what seemed to be a chorale mvt. such as this with all the parts, vocal and instrumental. This would seem to indicate the same method of composing that has also been described elsewhere: working out certain things on the keyboard first, but then, when many of the key musical figures were in place, begin to set things down on paper without having to refer back to the keyboard. He did this type of thing with the keyboard partitas where he would stay up late to make certain that they were playable before committing himself to a final version. [Again, I do not have the source available on this, but I believe I read this in the Bach-.]


Gardiner BWV 3

Randy Lane wrote (January 29, 2006):
I was excited when volume 19 of the Gardiner cycle arrived last week [5]. I immediately listened to BWV 3 "Ach Gott, wie manches Herzeleid", one of my 10 favorites. I was impressed, though I think I still prefer Harnoncourt [2] and Suzuki [7]. The Bass aria "Empich Hollenangst und Pein" sung by Gerald Finley is typical of my one quibble with Gardiner's recordings. The quibble is that Finley (and many of the other solists), to my ears at least, sounds decidedly more Brittish than German. I've felt the same fro years about Hyperion's spectacular Schubert song edition. Do any of you others hear that too?


Continue on Part 2

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

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
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