Cantata BWV 34O ewiges Feuer, o Ursprung der Liebe [I]
Cantata BWV 34a
O ewiges Feuer, o Ursprung der Liebe [II]
Discussions - Part 1
Discussions in the Week of June 8, 2003
Aryeh Oron wrote (June 11, 2003):
BWV 34 & BWV 34a - O ewiges Feuer, o Ursprung der Liebe – Introduction
The chosen works for this week’s discussion (June 8, 2003) are the Sacred Cantata for Whit Sunday [1st Day of Pentecost] and the Secular Cantata for a Wedding BWV 34a, both titled ‘O ewiges Feuer, o Ursprung der Liebe’.
See: Cantatas BWV 34 & BWV 34a - Commentary
The details of the recordings of the two cantatas can be found at the following pages of the Bach Cantatas Website:
Complete recordings of BWV 34: Cantata BWV 34 - Complete Recordings
Individual Mvts. From BWV 34: Cantata BWV 34 - Recordings of Individual Movements
Complete recordings of BWV 34a: Cantata BWV 34a - Complete Recordings
Cantata BWV 34 has at least 13 complete recordings. Four of them - by Jonathan Sternberg (Early 1950’s), Fritz Werner (1961) , Diethard Hellmann (Mid 1960’s)  and Philip Ledger (Early 1980’s)  - have never been issued in CD form. The other 9 are more easily available: Helmuth Rilling (1972) , Karl Richter (1974-1975) , Nikolaus Harnoncourt (1974) , Harry Christophers (1990) , Gustav Leonhardt (1995) , John Eliot Gardiner (1999) , Pieter Jan Leusink (2000) , Karl-Friedrich Beringer (2000) , and Greg Funfgeld & Bach Choir of Bethlehem (2001) . Cantata BWV 34a has only one complete recording - by Helmuth Rilling (1999-2000, from his latest release of secular cantatas)
Through the page of the Music Examples from this cantata: Cantata BWV 34 - Music Examples
you can listen to two complete recording: Harnoncourt  (at David Zale Website) and Leusink  (at Leo Ditvoorst Website).
In the page of recordings mentioned above you can also find links to the original German text and various translations, four of which were contributed by members of the BCML: English (Francis Browne), French (Jean-Pierre Grivois), Hebrew (Aryeh Oron), and Portuguese (Rodrigo Maffei Libonati).
There are also links to the Score (Vocal & Piano version) and to plenty of commentaries in English: Simon Crouch (Listener’s Guide), Brian Robbins (AMG), Carol Traupman-Carr (Bethlehem), and Craig Smith (Emmanuel Music). There is also the usual commentary in Spanish by Julio Sánchez Reyes (CantatasDeBach).
I hope to see many of you participating in the discussion.
Alex Riedlmayer wrote (June 11, 2003):
Aryeh Oron wrote:
< Cantata BWV 34a has only one complete recording - by Helmuth Rilling (1999-2000, from his latest release of secular cantatas) >
The cantatas recorded on that volume (of sacred works, not secular) are not complete. I cannot verify its contents, but I think it omits the parodied movements.
The final duet (or chorus?) of BWV 34a has a rare plainchant setting of Numbers 6:24-26. The only other uses of plainchant in Bach's music that I can recall are the Nunc Dimittis lines in BWV 83 and "Credo in unum deum" and "Confiteor unum baptisma" from the Symbolicum Nicenum. (I'm not counting recognizable chorales like the Tonus Peregrinus = "Meine Seel erhebt den Herrn".)
Neil Halliday wrote (June 11, 2003):
This is a wonderful cantata, demonstrating why Bach is the greatest composer in the Western tradition, representing as he does, the synthesis of all that went before him, and the foundation of all that has happened since.
This music seems to exist beyond time and place, even in the period performances to which I have listened (Harnoncourt  and Leusink ).
The rythmn of the opening chorus soon gets under your skin (I see it as 4 sixteenth notes followed by four eighth notes in each bar, and variants); this is music to both listen and dance to. It is difficult to imagine a more articulate expression of joy. Both Leusink  and Harnoncourt  capture this spirit.
The aria "Wohl euch, ihr auserwahlten Seelen" (movement no. 3): Counter-tenor Esswood (Harnoncourt)  is effective in this alto (6 mins. 45 secs.) aria, which sounds, at the start, like another beautiful, long aria "Schlummert ein, ihr matten Augen" from BWV 82.
All Harnoncourt's solo singers  sound good in this cantata, including those in the short recitatives, with Esswood perhaps sounding the better of the "alto" vocalists, in the recordings of Harnoncourt  and Leusink .
The period instruments, in both these recordings of the last movement, seem to lack sufficient 'substantiality' to really make this short movement fly, (at least that's my impression), but they nevertheless give a rousing finish to the cantata.
Roland Wörner wrote (June 11, 2003):
[To Alex Riedlmayer] From BWV 34a Rilling recorded the mvts. 2, 3, 6 (total time 6' 33).
Mvt. 2: Recitativo (Basso): Wie, dass der Liebe hohe Kraft
Mvt. 3: Aria (Tenor) e Recitativo (Alto): Siehe, also wird gesegnet der Mann
Mvt. 6: Recitativo (Soprano): Das ist vor dich, o ehrenwürdger Mann
From BWV 34a only 7 parts (? german: Stimmen) survived (4 vocal, Violino I, Viola, one continuo part). So it's not known, whether BWV 34a already had the trumpets. Of the last mvt. in BWV 34a (Chorus Gib höchster Gott) are missing two thirds of the continuo part, a reconstruction is therefore nearly impossible.
Peter Bloemendaal wrote (June 12, 2003):
The original cantata, BWV 34a, was written and performed in 1726 as a wedding cantata for an apparently important Leipzig clergyman. More than just a perk for the Thomascantor, if it gained him 50 Reichsthaler ($ 3,600), the usual honorarium for composing a congratulatory cantata in 1736, and another Thaler ($ 72), being the cantor's fee for weddings and funerals, according to the 1723 Regulation for St. Thomasschool, Leipzig. [Source: Chr. Wolff - Bach, the Learned Musician, p. 540, appendix 3] As already pointed out here, Bach parodied the original work into the cantata for Whitsunday some 20 years later. Although 34a was not a church cantata according to Bach's cantata cycles for the Lutheran church year, we know from the text, which has survived, that it was certainly a deeply religious work. Like many other so-called secular cantatas, it is full of references to Biblical texts. Human love is depicted as a reflection of divine love and marriage as an institution by God, needing his blessing so that it will be heaven on earth. I read that the only recording is by Rilling.
Unfortunately, I have never heard it and I wonder whether Rilling made a musical reconstruction based on the later church cantata. For a lot of the parts have not been preserved. So we do not know if the instrumental scores of the opening chorus "O ewiges Feuer, o Ursprung der Liebe", the alto aria "Wohl euch, ihr auserwählten Seelen" and the Tutti "Friede über Israel" - the three movements both versions have in common - were as rich and elaborate in the original as in the parody. If so, this Lutheran clergyman and his bride must hhad the most impressive wedding service ever, the most magnificent music on the most memorable day of their lives.
In addition to that what has been remarked about flames, fire and love, we should realize that Bach and his contemporaries were quite aware that there was an opposing aspect to the eternal fire. In Exodus chapters 3:2, 14:24 and 19:18, God reveals and hides himself in fire (the burning bush, the clouded pillar of fire, and the holy presentation of the ten commandments on smoking mount Sinai). The statement "Our God is (like) a consuming fire" is often heard in the Old Testament and repeated in the New Testament in Hebrews 12:29. In Matthew 18:8, Jesus warns his disciples for the eternal fire as a punishment for their sins, and in Matthew chapter 25 and Revelation chapters 19 and 21, the pit of fire is a fearful image of eternal damnation. So, when the bridal couple and all the wedding guests heard the crackling sparks and flames of the eternal fire through the semi quavers they knew that God was not only the origin of love, but also a consuming fire. When the tenor and alto sing of God's merciful blessings there is this serious undertone, a warning that God wishes our devotion in return. Therefore, already in the first movement, the choir sing out their pledge: "Wir wünschen, o Höchster, dein Tempel zu sein."
For me, this cantata is not only one of my favourites because of the music, which is so extremely magnificent that words are failing, but also because "Friede über Israel" was the very last movement we (Holland Boys Choir) recorded as the conclusion of our 16 months' Bach cantatas project. It was an emotional moment with mixed feelings of joy, pride and melancholy. Immediately after, when the machines stopped, we performed the cantata for only a handful of people in St Nicholas church, the venue where it had all happened, the smallest audience we've ever had, but a concert I will never forget.
Alex Riedlmayer wrote (June 13, 2003):
Peter Bloemendaal wrote:
< So we do not know if the instrumental scores of the opening chorus "O ewiges Feuer, o Ursprung der Liebe", the alto aria "Wohl euch, ihr auserwählten Seelen" and the Tutti "Friede über Israel" - the three movements both versions have in common - were as rich and elaborate in the original as in the parody. If so, this Lutheran clergyman and his bride must have had the most impressive wedding service ever, the most magnificent music on the most memorable day of their lives. >
I have little doubt that the original scoring was as elaborate as those for BWV 195, BWV 197, and BWV 120a.
Jane Newble wrote (June 13, 2003):
Sometimes I feel that no words could do justice to a cantata, and this is one of them.
I only have Leusink , and I love it. It is sung and performed with so much feeling, that its small imperfections make it only more real. It has at once shot up to the list of my favourite cantatas.
The opening chorus starts with excitement, anticipation. Something very wonderful is going to happen. The words soon make this clear, with the instruments underlining them. This is all about heavenly fire, powerful and purifying. Fire that makes one want to be a temple of God. The whole chorus is like a whirlwind, blowing away all the cobwebs of worry and sadness, and filling everything with joy and expectation.
The tenor comes in pure and quiet, devoted and holy - 'ruhig' in the sense of absolute wholeness and peace.
The alto aria brings tears to my eyes. The soft, caressing tones of the instruments, the intimacy of the alto voice. The opening notes remind me so much of 'Schlümmert ein', but they soon lead away from that to something incredibly beautiful in its own right. Is it true that Bach often uses the alto to express the Holy Spirit? This wonderful aria sings of highest blessings to those who have become a dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. 'Wohl euch' - 'Shalom', peace, wholeness, reminding me of the High Priestly blessing.
The quiet bass recitative prepares the way for the moving 'Friede über Israel', in an acknowledgment that peace for Israel is essential for the peace of the whole world.
In the closing chorus there is again the anticipation, joined by thankfulness, in both singing and instruments, with the timpani expressing a definite certainty that it will happen.
Robert Sherman wrote (June 13, 2003):
[To Jane Newble] After a review like that, how can I resist? OK, I'll get it.
Uri Golomb wrote (June 13, 2003):
I have three recordings of this cantata (Richter , Christophers  and Gardiner ). Today, I re-acquainted myself with two of them -- the Richter and Gardiner. It's been a long while since I last listened to them, but my reactions did not change: I like both of them, but I definitely prefer Gardiner, especially in the opening and closing choruses.
Richter's choruses  convey, to me, majestic confidence: these are sonorous, bright, festive readings. Very enjoyable in their own right. Gardiner , on the other hand, conveys a sense of almost ecsatatic/electrifying drama. His range of dynamics and articulation is much wider; whereas Richter reaches his goal right at the start, Gardiner's performance surges forward, sweeping the listener along. (Christophers' reading , as far as I recall, has a similar character -- but Gardiner carries it even further). Given the cantata's text, Gardiner sounds, well, more "fiery". I also like the dance-like swing of his "Lass himmlische Flammen" (I'm not sure how this suits the words, but it fits the music very well).
I'm sure some listeners will find Gardiner  over-the-top: over-detailed, exaggeratedly dramatic. Anyone likely to feel that way would be better off with Richter . But, to my ears, Gardiner just seems more responsive: Ricther's approach treats the entire opening chorus as if it is all of the same character -- no contrasts, no development. Gardiner does not simply impose elements of drama and change -- he highlights features in the music. The opening chorus, in particular, is texturall very dense -- with various types of movement (semiquaver runs, sustained notes, definite rhythmic figures), all going at once -- and rhythmic figures exchanged in dialogue between different instruments and voices. Listening to Richter  with a score, you can easily pick them out; but with Gardiner, they start to mean something -- you can sense the heightening of tension as various types of movement "collide", the relative relaxation when teh texture becomes (relatively) uniform. (I'm sure it's a matter of harmonic tension and resolution, not "just" texture and rhythm, but I don't have the time to go into it deeply -- yet).
In short, I think Gardiner  is more exciting -- and gives a clearer sense, not jsut of the music's overall mood, but of its internal contrasts and momentum. I still enjoy Richter's recording  when I listen to it on its own; but Gardiner is an ear-opener.
In the alto aria, there are also clear differences -- Richter  is more evenly flowing, Gardiner  more detailed and shaded -- but I don't have a clear preference: I enjoy the details highlighted by Gardiner, but also Richter's flowing, comforting lyricism.
Bradley Lehman wrote (June 13, 2003):
Anybody have the Beringer recording of this ? http://www.jpc.de/jpcdb/artsearch/showjpcart.html?hnum=3218266&language=de
I'm curious what you think of the singing of alto/mezzo Rebecca Martin (heard in a few notes at the beginnof sample #3 there); she was a friend of mine in college, and was already a very good singer and pianist then. Then she went off to Germany and got famous. :)
Anybody know a place to order this recording in the US? Who imports the "Rondeau" label?
Jane Newble wrote (June 13, 2003):
Peter Bloemendaal wrote:
< "Friede über Israel" was the very last movement we (Holland Boys Choir) recorded as the conclusion of our 16 months' Bach cantatas project. It was an emotional moment with mixed feelings of joy, pride and melancholy. Immediately after, when the machines stopped, we performed the cantata for only a handful of people in St Nicholas church, the venue where it had all happened, the smallest audience we've ever had, but a concert I will never forget. >
Thank you for sharing that. It must have been a wonderful experience!
Thomas Braatz wrote (June 14, 2003):
BWV 34/34a - Provenance:
See: Cantatas BWV 34 & BWV 34a - Provenance
Neil Halliday wrote (June 14, 2003):
[To Bradley Lehman] Check out: http://www.rondeau.de
They have an online order facility, under 'CD Shop'.
That Beringer CD  is available. They also apparently have a facility to download an mp3 and burn your own CD!
More on the Beringer later.
Philippe Bareille wrote (June 14, 2003):
Like other members of this group, cantata BWV 34 is one of my favourite. It conveys joy, love and affection with trumpets and drums enhancing the festive atmosphere of the first movement. The flutes and muted strings communicate warm feelings in the alto aria.
I have listened to Harnoncourt , Leonhardt , Richter  as well as to Janet Baker and Magdalena Kozena in the beguiling alto aria.
In the opening chorus the Tölzer Knabenchor (Leonhardt)  steals the show once more with its fervent declamation and impeccable diction. This is the most satisfying performance to my ears. The orchestra is outstanding (the trumpets!).
I have difficulty choosing one performance of the alto aria
Michael Sapara (Leonhardt) , a boy alto, has a rich and appealing voice. He may not be always up to the demands of this music technically (his breath can be heard throughout) but all in all his contribution is quite moving.
Esswood delivers one of his finest performances. He is deeply expressive and for once his vibrato is not intrusive.
Janet Baker is perhaps my favourite but both Kozena and Anna Reynold give captivating renditions as well.
To summarise (personal choice): Leonhardt  in the opening chorus. No clear winner in the alto aria.
Thomas Braatz wrote (June 15, 2003):
BWV 34/34a - Commentaries: [Spitta, Schweitzer, Voigt, Smend]
See: Cantatas BWV 34 & BWV 34a - Commentary
Thomas Braatz wrote (June 17, 2003):
BWV 34 - The Recordings:
This week I listened to the following recordings:
Rilling (1972) ; Richter (1974-5) ; Harnoncourt (1974) ; Gardiner (1999) ; Leusink (2000) 
The Total Timings from slowest to fastest:
Richter (19:09) ; Rilling (19:01) ; [the former are non-HIP, the following are HIP]:
Harnoncourt (18:20) ; [Leonhardt (1995) 17:51] ; Leusink (17:08) ; Gardiner (16:56) ; [Beringer 16:01] 
It is very evident from this summary of total timings how inexorably the tempi, over time, are becoming faster and faster with the HIP recordings. Certainly any intelligent listener will wonder about the reasons for this change and the effect that this factor has upon the way the audience will get to hear this music.
Here are some thoughts about this matter:
1) The lack of legato-playing in HIP ensembles (Harnoncourt claims that the baroque bow used by the string instruments forces the players to use only short phrases of 2 or 3 notes after which the sound must stop completely causing hiatuses between the notes before a new stroke of the bow can be undertaken.) The fewer players per part, the more noticeable these hiatuses become. Most HIP conductors assume only one instrument/player per part unless Bach actually supplied a doublet for the part. This means that the amount of ‘dead’ sound (the hiatuses caused by the player who subtracts from the value of the final note of a phrase and where Bach did not indicate a rest) creates a sound vacuum. It is this sound vacuum which the conductor then attempts to ‘fill up’ by increasing the tempo so that this artificially created vacuum will become less apparent to the listener. The faster the players play their parts, the less obvious these ‘dead’ spaces become. The HIP conductors first create this hiatus-monster based on a theory of their own making, then they proceed to ‘cover their tracks’ (eliminate the problem that they have created) by increasing the tempi noticeably above and beyond anything that has ever been performed or recorded in this fashion before.
2) In an effort to gain the attention of a listening public which the conductors tend to underestimate by considering the listeners to be quite unresponsive to hearing Bach performed at tempi which vary only slightly from each other, the HIP leaders feel it necessary to take extreme measures in establishing themselves by taking the fastest tempi possible regardless of the negative effects which such an approach will have upon the music: fast, almost always, means a light playing and singing style in which the notes can no longer achieve the fullness and volume that can truly uplift an audience. It is extremely difficult to sing or play very fast, and still convey a strong expression that comes fully from the heart. At most such a performance might become a tour-de-force, virtuosic marvel which might impress because of its sheer technical proficiency (like some pianist who plays a famous piece without a mistake faster than anyone else ever has), but the substantial core of the music has been eviscerated. Faster is not better in quality nor is it conducive to profundity! It is often nothing more than a ‘flash in the pan’ which easily loses its superficial sparkle leaving the listener with a desire for a more lasting interpretation which would beckon the listener to return to it again at a later time.
3) For some other HIP conductors, extremely fast tempi may simply reveal that the conductor/interpreter has not come to real terms with the composition and prefers instead to provide a ‘pleasant’ listening experience where the understanding of the cantata text becomes quite secondary to the idea of music as entertainment, possibly even as background music. Musically speaking, the less that these conductors have to say, the faster they have to play.
BWV 34 Mvt. 1 & Mvt. 5 (the great choral mvts.):
The best recording, in my estimation, is the one by Richter . There is a sustained dignity throughout. Here exuberant joy can be fully relished as a religious experience as there is no slackening in the intensity of the performance throughout the recording.
Gardiner  gives one of his many virtuosic performances driving the tempo almost to its virtual breaking point. He is unable to sustain the volume and intensity which appear in a few of the loud passages and opts instead for ‘playing around’ with the music in the middle sections by reducing the volume substantially. The instruplay with a light, feathery touch and the choir sings these extended passages sotto voce. One glance at the text will inform the listener that the conductor has given up on interpreting the cantata text seriously and prefers instead emphasize attention-grabbing musical techniques at the expense of the true union of text and music that Bach had envisioned in his sacred music.
Although Rilling  has the orchestral apparatus ‘to pull off’ a very good performance, the singing of his choir leaves much to be desired when compared to some of the better recordings that he has made. Usually, with Rilling, it is only the soprano section that suffers from the ‘wobblies’, but here the entire choir seems to be afflicted with this disease. As a result, the joyful dignity of the music is undermined. The choir sounds very studied, but not very enthusiastic about the music being sung. There is a distinct lack of crispness in their attacks. In contrast, the orchestra is quite excellent
Harnoncourt’s recording  suffers both from the poor quality of instrumental playing and the choir which, with the help of the Vienna Boys Choir, should have at least given the listener the impression of what Bach’s choir might have sounded like. Unfortunately, here the boys’ voices sound fuzzy and warbly without being able to sustain a straight tone clearly at one pitch. Harnoncourt’s usual interpretive devices serve only to undermine this performance all the more. He manages to sap all the strength and glory out of this music and leaves behind only a shadow of what Bach must have had in mind.
Leusink’s  instrumental sections place great emphasis upon the timpani and the loud bc. The trumpets play reasonably well (better than those in the Harnoncourt recordings .) However, the choir, with its malformed voices, and the generally light-and-fast treatment of these glorious mvts. make this a version not to be recommended unless this is the only version available.
Neil Halliday wrote (June 17, 2003):
Thomas Braatz noted:
"The Total Timings from slowest to fastest:
Richter (19:09) ; Rilling (19:01) ; [the former are non-HIP, the following are HIP]:
Harnoncourt (18:20) ; [Leonhardt (1995) 17:51] ; Leusink (17:08) ; Gardiner (16:56) ; [Beringer 16:01] "
Notice the Beringer recording  time - the fastest of the lot. Can he "pull it off" at this speed?
The performers (from the Bach-Cantatas website) are: Winter, Martin, R.Schäfer, Bluth, Windsbacher Knabenchor, Deutsche Kammer-Virtuosen Berlin, Beringer.
I believe the instrumentalists use modern instruments, which sound quite strong, thrilling even, in the sample given in Brad's post #5377 (no.1), but this sample is too short and the quality too poor, for me to make an informed judgement.
(The text of this opening chorus would not necessarily be violated by a fast tempo).
On the general point of string sound in HIP recordings, note this comment by Philip Anson, at: http://www.scena.org/columns/anson/001203-PA-OAE.html
"...an important distinction these days, when authenticity often means crude, frenzied bowing and scratchy, eczematic string tone."
It would appear that Tom and myself are not the only ones who are irritated by this characteristic.
Bradley Lehman wrote (June 17, 2003):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
1) The lack of legato-playing in HIP ensembles (Harnoncourt claims that the baroque bow used by the string instruments forces the players to use only short phrases of 2 or 3 notes after which the sound must stop completely causing hiatuses between the notes before a new stroke of the bow can be undertaken.) The fewer players per part, the more noticeable these hiatuses become. Most HIP conductors assume only one instrument/player per part unless Bach actually supplied a doublet for the part. This means that the amount of ‘dead’ sound (the hiatuses caused by the player who subtracts from the value of the final note of a phrase and where Bach did not indicate a rest) creates a sound vacuum. It is this sound vacuum which the conductor then attempts to ‘fill up’ by increasing the tempo so that this artificially created vacuum will become less apparent to the listener. The faster the players play their parts, the less obvious these ‘dead’ spaces become. The HIP conductors first create this hiatus-monster based on a theory of their own making, then they proceed to ‘cover their tracks’ (eliminate the problem that they have created) by increasing the tempi noticeably above and beyond anything that has ever been performed or recorded in this fashion before. (...) >
Oh, come now. This (below) is silly.
Articulative silences within a line are part of the MUSIC and not tied to any particular hardware. It's 17th and 18th century style, the speech-like delivery, just as there are small bits of silence within any spoken sentence, between the words. Braatz likes to blame this on Harnoncourt  (so conveniently) because he hates Harnoncourt's musicianship.
Articulative silence also has quite a lot to do with the resonance (or lack of resonance) in a performance hall, whether it's a church or an auditorium or somewhere else. We performers use more or less silence between the notes according to the situation, to make the music come across clearly. It comes from listening and being musical. I've had rehearsals and performances every day this week in a notably "dry" acoustic space (a public theater that is used more for plays and films than concerts) and we've been adjusting our performances accordingly. This is basic musicianship, not 300-year-old theory. Furthermore, in practice, the MORE players one has, the better it works to play SHORTER...which is the opposite of what Braatz says below. (This is true whether it's modern instruments or period instruments or slide whistles. It's from knowledge of acoustics, and from listening from a seat in the hall. DUH.)
If the situation warrants it, a good musician can project a musical line that has silences of several SECONDS between the notes; it's still perceived as a line if the delivery is convincing. Again, this is like speech. It's the same thing an actor can do with silence to make a line more effective. THIS IS NOT A DIFFICULT CONCEPT.
The tripe below about vacuums and dead sound and covering tracks is just silly. There IS a "hiatus-monster" afoot, but that hiatus-monster is Braatzian lacunae of experience (evidently a lack of basic musicianship), and not about the music. It's just one more example of Braatz using sophistry to try to justify things he fancies, and to denigrate anything he does not. In this case, it is clear that Braatz is wary of any situation that does not have continuous legato. Perhaps silence frightens him, or something. That preference is understandable, but again, it has nothing to do with this music. If one wants wall-to-wall sound with no silence in it, why not go listen to "New Age" ambient music that has 20 minutes of sustained synthesizers?
Bradley Lehman wrote (June 17, 2003):
Neil Halliday wrote about Beringer's recording :
< I believe the instrumentalists use modern instruments, which sound quite strong, thrilling even, in the sample given in Brad's post #5377 (no.1), but this sample is too short and the quality too poor, for me to make an informed judgement. >
Presumably you're referring to the short sample at jpc.de.
A good quality sample (the entire first movement) is at: http://www.rondeau.de/webbusiness/query.php?cp_sid=2424102c48&cp_tpl=5504&cp_pid=15
(Thlink I got from you, Neil. <grin> Thanks!)
I liked it so much from those samples, I've ordered it.
Later addition by Benedikt Haag (February 27, 2004):
There are also Online-Examples to listen to something of this CD:
Aryeh Oron wrote (June 17, 2003):
BWV 34 - Recordings
Last week I have been listening to 8 complete recordings of Cantata BWV 34:
 Helmuth Rilling (1972)
 Karl Richter (1974-1975)
 Nikolaus Harnoncourt (1974)
 Harry Christophers (1990)
 Gustav Leonhardt (1995)
 John Eliot Gardiner (1999)
 Pieter Jan Leusink (2000)
 Karl Friedrich Beringer (2000)
I listened also to 4 recordings of individual movements from Cantata BWV 34:
[M-1] Karl Richter (Early 1970): Opening Chorus (Mvt. 1) - not identical with his complete recording of the cantata on Archiv
[M-2] Neville Marriner with Janet Baker (mezzo-soprano) (1975) - Aria for Alto (Mvt. 3)
[M-3] Richard Kapp with Stephen Taylor (oboe d’amore) (1984) - Aria for Alto (Mvt. 3)
[M-4] Marek Štryncl with Magdalena Kožena (mezzo-soprano) - Aria for Alto (Mvt. 3)
The Opening & Closing Choruses & the Aria for Alto - Background and personal preferences
As last week cantata, BWV 34 is also a masterpiece, with splendid five movements, the pick of which being undoubtedly the central heart-rending aria for alto. The opening and closing choruses are memorable as well.
The short background preceding the list of my personal preferences for the recordings of these three movements, is quoted from the following books:
‘The Church Cantatas of J.S. Bach’ by Alec Robertson (1972), and
’The Cantatas of J.S. Bach – An Analytical Guide’ by W. Murray Young (1989).
Mvt. 1 Chorus
Robertson: The ‘fire’, as the text implies, is not that of the historic event by symbolic. Fire gives light and flames, and typical figures in all the instrumental parts are marked staccato to enhance the radiant effect. There is a fine homophonic passage at ‘inflame the hearts and consecrate them’, repeated - with the brass silent - at greater length and yet again with a thrilling re-entry of the brass.
Young: This is divided into two sections, the first beginning in a blaze of orchestral colour with a tutti joy-motif, and the second in a calmer, beseeching tone. This canon singing increases the symbolic mysticism of both sections, which signifies the descent of the Holy Ghost. This is a splendid example of Bach’s expertise in bringing his text to life through evocative music.
Mvt. 3 Aria for Alto
Robertson: The original words spoke of ‘chosen sheep loved by Jacob’ and the remaining lines are altered accordingly, but the music is the same as in Mvt. 5 of the wedding cantata (BWV 34a) except for the addition of the flutes – which could have been equally appreciate in the original.
This is arguably the most beautiful aria Bach ever composed. The syncopated melody begins with a lightly accented up-beat on the first note – a movement to repose on the succeeding beat. All the instrumental parts are marked pp when the voice enters At the third repeat of the melody flutes and strings play in thirds and sixths with exquisite, almost intoxicating effect.
Young: The ethereal tone of accompanying transverse flutes and strings presents a serene picture of heaven’s repose. Their pulsating melody suggests the quiet flutter of angelic wings to enhance her tender slumber-song. This has been considered to be one of Bach’s most beautiful arias.
Mvt. 5 Chorus
Robertson: The chorus at once sing the words ‘Friede über Israel’ (Peace over Israel), verse 6 of Psalm 122 to two massive choral bars. A lengthy ritornello (the signing of the register in the original work?) is followed by ‘Ja, sein Segen wirkt mit Macht, / Friede über Israel’ (Yes, his blessing works with might, / peace over Israel).
Young: All voices and instruments used in the opening chorus perform this equally magnificent conclusion. The text is based on Psalm 122: 6, which becomes a motto.
Satisfactory and above: Beringer , Richter 2, Rilling , Richter 1 , Christophers , Leusink , Gardiner .
Average and below: Harnoncourt , Leonhardt .
Richter’s 2nd rendition of the opening chorus is lighter has more flow and momentum. The first sounds ponderous in comparison. Rilling’s  multi-coloured rendition is closer to Richter’s second than to the firs t.
Harnoncourt  fragmented approach works for the opening chorus better than for choruses in other cantatas. But the final result is far from being not satisfactory. The image of the jumping flames is more perceptible when the background is rounder and softer. In Harnoncourt’s rendition it is hardly noticeable, because everything is given the same treatment and value. Leonhardt  is even worse. His rendition of the two choruses is heavy and lifeless. What a waste of good resources! Leusink  is to be preferred to both of them. He has more flow and spirit and the image is more realistic.
Of the two Englishmen, I prefer Christophers . His rendition might sound less energetic and more restrained than Gardiner’s , but has richer sound and multi-dimensional approach, where Gardiner is a little bit simplistic to get the full potential of these two splendid choruses.
Beringer  has it all: vividness, rich sound, clear leading of the instruments and voices. It is bubbling with joy and enthusiasm without losing control for a second.
Aria for Alto Preferences:
Female altos (old school): Reynolds/Richter , Baker/Marriner, Watts/Rilling .
Female altos (modern school): Martin/Beringer , Kožena/ Štryncl, Fink/Gardiner .
Male altos: Esswood/Harnoncourt , James/Christophers , Sapara (Boy)/Leonhardt , Buwalda/Leusink .
Anna Reynolds, with glorious voice and expression loaded with the right amount of emotion, touches the heart of the listener as no other singer does, being male or female, boy or adult. Richter  shows rare sensitivity to his singer, supplying her with exemplary accompaniment. Baker, with more restrained approach, is not far behind, and Marriner’s accompaniment is clean, precise, rich and caressing.
Of the more contemporary female singers, I prefer Rebecca Martin (with Beringer) . Her voice production sounds effortless, and her expression has more nuances and depth than Bernarda Fink’s (with Gardiner) . Kožena’s rendition is the most instrumental of all, where her vocal line interweavebeautifully into the charming instrumental lines of Musica Florea. I miss something in expression, but still find it interesting.
None of the male altos pleases me. Michael Sapara, the boy alto who sings with Leonhardt , has a nice voice, but also problems to hold long lines, as well as limited expression. I would like to hear this aria with first rate counter-tenor, as Andreas Scholl, Matthew White or Bernhard Landauer.
Movements to take away: the opening chorus with Beringer , and the aria for alto with Reynolds/Richter .
Alex Riedlmayer wrote (June 17, 2003):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< Furthermore, in practice, the MORE players one has, the better it works to play SHORTER >
And I thought that a greater number of musicians could sustain a slower tempo better. Brad, could you explain this dilemma using the principles of acoustics?
< If the situation warrants it, a good musician can project a musical line that has silences of several SECONDS between the notes; it's still perceived as a line if the delivery is convincing. >
What if there is a discrepancy in the number of lines perceived by performer and listener?
Neil Halliday wrote (June 18, 2003):
[To Bradley Lehman] (Slightly embarrassed for not following up my own lead!).
The Beringer sample  indeed shows that this music - the 1st movement of BWV 34 - revels in the faster speed adopted here. I agree with Aryeh's remarks about the recording.
BTW, for those who are unaware, there is an mp3 example of music of similar rejoicing and impact, BWV 51 (Rejoice God in all lands), in the 'files' section at left, featuring the Drakensberg Boy's Choir and a boy soprano who is the equal of Emma Kirkby. These South African musicians are extraordinarily good, giving another example of a sparkling performance on modern instruments.
I do feel that Martin's voice is a little too prominent in Beringer's 3rd movement (BWV 34) recording , perhaps caused by an engineering balance problem.
2nd BTW, Beringer's  sweeter, more mellow example of BWV 93, opening chorus, makes a nice contrast with Rilling's  more vigorous approach. I notice, also, Beringer  uses the full (boy's) choir throughout the movement, in contrast to Rilling , who uses solo voices in the 'non-chorale' sections, reserving the full choir for the statements of the chorale theme - an interesting approach, which works because of the substantial instrumental support throughout, and which makes the statement of the chorale theme all the more exciting.
Both conductors allow this glorious music to speak for itself. I'll purchase the Beringer CD ; partly to determine whether recording techniques have improved since Rilling , by listening to both, with something better than the computer loudspeakers.
Thomas Braatz wrote (June 18, 2003):
Aryeh reported what Robertson observed in his 'The Church Cantatas of J.S. Bach' by Alec Robertson (1972) regarding Mvt. 1 Chorus:
”The 'fire', as the text implies, is not that of the historic event by symbolic. Fire gives light and flames, and typical figures in all the instrumental parts are marked staccato to enhance the radiant effect.”<<
This, according to the NBA score, should be more correctly stated as follows: In ms. 1-4, Bach has marked only some of the successive 8th notes in the Violin 2, Viola, Oboi 1 & 2, Trombae 1 & 2. The running 16th notes primarily in the Violin 1 part are not marked staccato, nor does the bc have any staccato marked anywhere in this mvt. In ms. 15, the 2nd violin has staccato 8th notes with 8th-note rests between them. The major point here is that the running 16th-note passages representing the ‘flame’-motif, do not have any staccato marks on them whatsoever. Yet, some HIP practitioners still proceed play all these 16th notes staccato in the Harnoncourt/Leonhardt style. Also, it is interesting that in all HIP versions that I listened to (Harnoncourt , Gardiner , Leusink) , the primary ‘flame’ motif in the 1st violins is barely audible.
Bradley Lehman wrote (June 18, 2003):
<< Furthermore, in practice, the MORE players one has, the better it works to play SHORTER >>
< And I thought that a greater number of musicians could sustain a slower tempo better. Brad, could you explain this dilemma using the principles of acoustics? >
When there are more players involved, there is (obviously) louder and fuller sound; and it's coming from more places on the stage (or balcony, whatever). Because of this, the room sustains the notes longer by itself. Therefore, to make things sound with a normal amount of connection (a gentle legato, in passages that have few accents), the players need to play a bit shorter in general. That is, less legato.
The goal is to make it sound good where the listeners are, which means things often sound a lot more disconnected on stage than they do out there. Or, if it's a recording, the musicians should articulate so it sounds best where the microphones are, of course!
The same principle holds when an organist pulls a fuller registration: the room gives more connection to the notes, and to compensate for this the organist needs to play shorter (more disconnection between the notes) so it doesn't turn into a muddy mess.
<< If the situation warrants it, a good musician can project a musical line that has silences of several SECONDS between the notes; it's still perceived as a line if the delivery is convincing. >>
< What if there is a discrepancy in the number of lines perceived by performer and listener? >
Then the performer wasn't clear enough with the hierarchy/differentiation of the notes (varying their length, loudness, and/or articulation). Lines are apparent, having some direction to the phrase, only if the notes in them sound somewhat different from one another.... Just like speaking in a non-monotone.
Arjen van Gijssel wrote (June 19, 2003):
Check out a music example of last week's Cantata, BWV 34. It was performed by the Laurenscantorij, Rotterdam, the Netherlands on May 19, 2002. It is with historical instruments, don't know whether this qualifies as HIP, and thus would be drawn in to a debate between "Tommies" and "Braddies". What I do hope, is that people enjoy it, and give us feedback!
Ivan Lalis wrote (June 20, 2003):
[To Arjen van Gijssel] It's soooo beautiful. I cannot give you any scientific theory why I liked it, but I think it must be 1. historical instruments, I simply love their sound, even if they are more difficult to play. 2. I think the choir is very good. The small problem is with balance, but I guess it's just a matter of placing microphones and that it sounded differently live. BTW, where's the rest? :-)
Neil Halliday wrote (June 21, 2003):
[To Arjen van Gijssel] This is a wonderful example of the opening movement of BWV 34, the one I most enjoy out of the four I have heard – Harnoncourt , Leusink , Beringer  plus this one.
Unlike another correspondent, who puts this performance's success down to the use of period instruments, I nominate the relatively moderate tempo, and the clarity, audibility, and stylish presentation of most of the important musical elements of the score, as reasons for this success.
I would have been hard pressed to say of this, and the Beringer , which used modern or period instrume, and as one who is partial to non-HIP musicality, I would be more likely to say this movement succeeds in spite of the use of period instruments. Certainly one only has to compare this performance with the early HIP recording of Harnoncourt  to see how much progress has been made in performers' proficiency on period instruments.
Because of the slower tempo, I am able to listen to various different elements, over repeated listenings (tenor line, oboes, continuo, violins, alto, etc, etc,) as well as being able to enjoy the overall sound of the musical structure. This is another demonstration that slower tempos can reveal so much more to the listener, while at the same time capturing all the joy and spirit that the music engeders.
I especially like the clarity of the drum rolls (trills) with the crescendo toward the end of the trill; and I think the balance between the 'loud' trumpets and timpani on the one hand, and the rest of the orchestral and choral forces on the other, is thrilling , as well as being musically logical.
Philippe Bareille wrote (June 21, 2003):
[To Neil Halliday] I haven't heard this recording but even if I repeat myself the Leonhardt recording  (which is unfortunately not widely distributed) displays all those qualities you are alluding to, with a perfect balance between the choir and the orchestra. The choir captures marvellously the sense of occasion with a clarity that outshines Harnoncourt choir . The way the singers emphasise some syllables may not be of everybody taste but it helps convey the message and makes the text more intelligible.
Arjen van Gijssel wrote (June 21, 2003):
[To Philippe Bareille] The example alluded to is on the bach cantata site:
It would be great to get your and other opinions. When performing, you do not get that much feedback from the audience. Normally they seem too shy to go to the performers and give their "notes". They tend to walk by you, smiling, occasionnally with a wispered "beautiful" or "nice".
So, it is good to have some (critical) expert views.
Charles Francis wrote (June 22, 2003):
This cantata shows Bach at his most mystical - on the one hand, the union of two people through marriage - on the other, union with the divine. Bach's text seems to resonate with the mystical tradition of Jacob Boeme – his private library showing an awareness of this heretical line of thought. Moreover, Bach's purported Rosicrucian links are well documented. The key "Chemical Wedding", first published in 1616 with a commentary published in Luneburg in 1617, describes the transformation of the mundane into the divine (the alchemist's goal of transforming lead into gold through fire). Of interest, the entire hermetic allegory is characterised in terms of events at a wedding celebration. With this in mind, one can perhaps understand why Bach chose a wedding cantata for his Pentecost message.
Thomas Braatz wrote (June 22, 2003):
[To Charles Francis] Ruth Tatlow, in her recently re-released book, "Bach and the Riddle of the Number Alphabet" (Cambridge U Press, 1991, 2000), p. 51, refers to an interesting statement from the Encyclopedia Britannica article on 'Rosicrucian': Freemasonry (somehow indirectly linked with Rosicrucianism and the groups of which (the freemasons) were first organized in Britain in 1717, in France in 1725, and in Germany in 1735) was a response to 'fulfilling the needs of those who missed 'the mysticism long suppressed by church orthodoxy.'
I have long suspected that such an esoteric tradition was an important influence in Bach's choice of certain texts with images and musical figures that can not easily be explained only through traditional orthodoxy. It is as though this esoteric strand runs concurrently with the more orthodox strands very much in the same way that Bach balanced the diverse elements (such as the subjects of his double fugues) in his musical compositions. That Bach's mind operated on these many levels, some of which are not easily documented, is a situation that I have come to accept, but it is nonetheless amazing with what ease Bach was able to integrate all these elements and leave it up to the individual listener to try to come to terms with various aspects that Bach built into his compositions. Without keeping an open mind in this regard and wondering just how Bach is trying to speak to his audience on different levels, however, a listener may overlook certain aspects of Bach which will remain even more puzzling than they already are.
Thanks, Charles, for sharing your insight into this cantata.
Philippe Bareille wrote (June 30, 2003):
[To Arjen van Gijssel] I have tried on several occasions to no avail. Stupid question: Do you dowload these excerpts on a CD?
Arjen van Gijssel wrote (June 30, 2003):
[To Philippe Bareille] We make CD's of recordings for own use. I have downloaded the excerpt from these CD's. A pity that you can't download the piece.
Charles Francis wrote (July 1, 2003):
[To Arjen van Gijssel] I enjoyed your sample very much! Is there any way to hear the rest of the performance?
Continue on Part 2
Cantatas BWV 34 & BWV 34a: Details & Complete Recordings of BWV 34 | Recordings of Individual Movements from BWV 34 | Details & Recordings of BWV 34a | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5