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Cantata BWV 3
Ach Gott, wie manches Herzeleid [I]
Discussions - Part 4

Continue from Part 3

Discussions in the Week of December 13, 2009 (3rd round)

Neil Halliday wrote (December 13, 2009):
Intro to BWV 3 "Ach Gott, wie manches Herzeleid'


The second of Bach's cantatas for the 2nd Sunday after Epiphany (composed for 14th Jan. 1725) is part of the annual cycle of chorale cantatas started on 11th June 1724 (Jahrgang II).

It is one of two examples where the cantus firmus (in the opening fantasia) is allotted to the bass line reinforced by trombone; the other is BWV 135 composed about 6 months earlier. Bach also composed BWV 58, in 1727, a cantata with the same title as BWV 3 but with a very different setting of the chorale melody.

There appears to be no reference to the gospel reading (miricle of water into wine); but the epistle's theme of "rejoicing in hope, and patience in tribulation" is reflected in the cantata's title and throughout the text.

Copious discussions, scores , texts, and commentary from well-known sources, and amazon samples, can be accessed here:

To complement what has already been said about the exquisite opening movement I reiterate: note the particularly expressive vocal harmonies over the pedal points at the end of the first and third lines of text (easily played from the BCW piano-reduction score for those interested in exploring them).

Julian is correct in saying that the apparent major/minor key dichotomy of this chorus is based primarily in the major (A major); I may have mistakenly suggested the opposite at the time. The expressive chromaticism and excursions into minor keys are of course impressive.

Suzuki's [7] opening chorus (Mvt. 1) vividly captures the 'gossamer sheen' of the upper strings in the first three bars, etc, (this beautiful effect is similar to the string accompaniment - not the solo violin - at the start of "Erbarme dich" in the minor key); and the powerful timbre of the trombone reinfored notable. Harnoncourt [2] destroys the "gossamer sheen" effect with his 'pumping' articulation of the legato string chords. From the brief sample, Koopman has a lovely 'soft-edged', 'romantic' version of this chorus. The vibrato on Rilling's [3] oboes (d'amore) is a drawback.

The other easily appreciated movement, musically, is the lovely duet (Mvt. 5); among other things the striking modulation from F# minor to G# minor in the middle of the duet's central section, and the significance of the double sharps, have been previously noted. Also note the occasional crossing of the the S,A lines.

The second, third and fourth movements are more problematic, as musical enjoyment.

Whittaker apparently finds chorale-recitative combinations (like this 2nd movement) generally distasteful. I certainly dislike the (virtually solo) continuo cello sawing tediously through the oft repeated diminution of the chorale phrase and its variants, as well as the recitative sections.

In thinking about this, I noticed Voigt recommends using organ or string orchestra in this movement, which turns out to be similar to my idea of accompanying the chorale sections with the organ alone, and changing the secco sections into string-accompanied recitative using, for example, the harmony shown in the BCW piano-reduction score.
(Voldemar Voigt, 1850-1919, was an important German physicist and amateur musician who gained a reputation as a Bach expert; obviously he (like myself, and Whittaker) didn't always appreciate 18th century continuo-only aesthetics).

The bass aria (Mvt. 3) also has difficulty winning friends; Craig Smith notes its "bare as bones" nature. However, I enjoy the sharp contrast between the jarring, angular chromaticism of the "hellish angst and fear" and the tunefulness of the "steadfast in my heart... a joyful heaven be" sections.

It's fun playing the continuo and vocal line (the latter an octave higher) together on a keyboard; one will find the parts fit together snugly in a surprisingly effective quasi-canonic fashion. (An easily-remembered pattern, based on broken chords moving down a step at a time, will be discovered).

One of the factors in a successful realisation of this aria is the quality of the organ improvisation; the austere cello line definitely needs 'colouring-in' with artistic organ accompaniment, especially in the ritornellos.

Harnoncourt's [2] and Suzuki's [7] organists, while both being perhaps a bit timid, have effective organ realisations, with Suzuki's organist demonstrating a somewhat more original development of treble-clef material. Koopman's organist sounds dainty in the treble clef (when this is heard at all), and coarse in the bass clef, as is often the case in his continuo practice (if I can judge by the sample).

Phrasing of the cello line is obviously a factor; either too much legato (eg, Rilling [3]) or too much staccato runs the risk of alienating the listener. I notice from the sample that Gardiner (wisely?) has toned down the continuo and brought forward the singer, thereby escaping some of these problems, but probably losing some of the (continuo) line's shape. (This observation is based on the short BCW amazon sample only). Finally, it seems all the recordings adopt a slowish tempo - could a livelier rendition be desirable?

In the closing chorale (Mvt. 6), the harmonisation of the final phrase reminds me of the close of the SJP, due to the successive dominant 7th harmonies, I suppose.


Bach on radio - BWV 3 and BWV 111

Ed Myskowski wrote (January 18, 2010):
Tonights selection for Epiphany 2 was BWV 3, in the Gardiner pilgrimage concert performance. I had to tune in midway, via car radio. It is a real joy to hear how good the Gardiner concert recordings are, when one is focusing to try to identify the performance. The radio and webcasts remain available throughout the week, I believe, at

Next week will be BWV 111 (our work for current discussion, a neat coincidence) in the Suzuki performance. Aired on FM 99.5 at 8:00 PM EST (Sunday evening (0100 Monday, UT) for those of us who enjoy the illusion of communal experience. What the heck, it is just one planet, no?

The comparison/contrast of the use of hymn/chorale texts in BWV 3 and BWV 111 (from consecutive Sundays in Jahrgang II) is worthy of discussion, if it has not already been beaten to death. Eighteen (18) verses condense to 6 in BWV 3, 4 verses expand to 6 in BWV 111 (from memory, I hope it is not vice-verse). I intend to scan the BCW archives, and add some thoughts.

I also intend to get organized, resolution for 2010. A photographer friend (Elsa Dorfman, 20x24 (inch, not cm!) Polaroid portraits) sent out postcards urging:
<Stay out of the pen
In twenty-ten!>
including a portrait of herself and family behind a poster promoting the book:
Three Felonies a Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent by Harvey A. Silveerglate.

If I were innocent, I would be worried.

Ed Myskowski wrote (January 18, 2010):
BWV 3 texts

I did not get very far in the quest to compare BCW archives, re texts for BWV 3 and BWV 111, before I encountered:

<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.>

My recollection of the Stations of the Cross is that Jesudragged it, with a bit of help along the way. I think the guy who helped him got some special dispensations. I forget his name.

Morten Lambertsen wrote (January 18, 2010):
It was Simon of Cyrene, think he became the first black saint.


Continue on Part 5

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


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