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Cantata BWV 41
Jesu, nun sei gepreiset
Discussions - Part 3

Continue from Part 2

Discussions in the Week of August 16, 2009

Henri N. Levinspuhl wrote (August 15, 2009):
A word of appreciation

Let me express a word of thanks to Neil, Ed, Julian, Russell and all those who write me privately. I remember how Plato depicted Socrates as dividing his most admirable apology in different parts according to each segment of his listeners - and would I were smart enough in English as to cheer my well-intentioned critics, who perhaps spoke also for part of those now more silent reviewers of my idiosyncratic - or, let me simplify, single - way of understanding Bach's sacred cantatas, all those who invited me to stay, with generosity, as Ed has observed so well. And I would draw a smile from eventual different viewers, AS well. After all, why bother? :-)

I will divide my introductory remarks on Cantata BWV 41 as follows:

* Sunday: In search for what both simplicity and art may involuntarily hide;

* Monday: An aphoristic revelation of what has not been regarded in the Pantheon of arts;

* Tuesday: And now, Jesus, be praised, as BWV 41 proclaims.

Henri N. Levinspuhl wrote (August 15, 2009):
Collaborations

My friend Julian most gently shared with me his intention to contribute simultaneously on specific musical aspects of cantatas 41 and BWV 16, something I do not oppose at all, but welcome in all sincerity. By the way, Mr. Douglas Cowling has already done the same, and he is also welcomed.

Thank you, Julian.

Douglas Cowling wrote (August 15, 2009):
Henri N. Levinspuhl wrote:
< My friend Julian most gently shared with me his intention to contribute simultaneously on specific musical aspects of cantatas 41 and BWV 16, something I do not oppose at all, but welcome in all sincerity. By the way, Mr. Douglas Cowling has already done the same, and he is also welcomed. >
I would suggest that you try to get closer to the music and the historical context. Whenever you make a broad philosophical or theological generalization, try to link it to specific musical or textual examples or collateral historical evidence. Keep the style of exposition simple and brief. And be pleased when your commentary generates discussion pro and con -- that means that people have been engaged in a debate.

Good luck,

Henri N. Levinspuhl wrote (August 16, 2009):
[To Douglas Cowling] I am glad you have written me, Douglas, and I receive your words cordially. Now, my style, or the closer I can get to it in the English language, is not an offense against readers, and never merely an infatuation with words - and, see! my English vocabulary comes from books, and now, for example, I do not sincerely know if "infatuation" is a large word! Laugh with me, or even at me, as if I were a Kaspar Hauser found in a square of the present culture. :-) Anyhow, from baroque to classical composers, there is a well-known difference that made Carl Friedrich Abel accommodate his style to the tastes of his audience. And I like Abel candid concertos for pianoforte, although his flute ones seem more rewarding, and precisely when audience was less regarded. Naturally, I cannot compare my writings with Bach's musical achievements, but those who advised me in the list, all of you politely, may understand me just thinking in Sebastian's musical style, which, though regarded old and complex, was his. And if, to a composer, his style is part of him, I feel the same way as a writer, even if not claiming to produce my exact style but in Portuguese. So, do not take as a disrespect if I try to please those few readers who like my writings the way they are; for I am not ungrateful with such a goodwill as you have just shown, and I will try at least to substitute some large words with simpler ones, even if, as composers love notes, I do like words in general.

As to my philosophic-theological way of getting close to the sacred cantatas, I expect to clarify it little by little. By now, I accept the luck so good you have just sent me, as you will certainly regard my sympathetic disposition towards you.

Ed Myskowski wrote (August 16, 2009):
Henri N. Levinspuhl wrote:
< those who invited me to stay, with generosity, as Ed has observed [...] >
I am happy that Henri has reconsidered his farewell. I will continue to express any differences of opinion in as friendly and respectful a manner as I am able to manage. I also look forward to supplementary introductory comments from Julian, always appreciated even if not acknowledged.

I want to point out that I appropriated the phrase generosity of spirit from Neil Mason, who first used it several years ago, to refer to what (in his opinion) was lacking at that time on BCML. I found it appropriate to apply Neils own phrase to his recent post to Henri, in the context of the much improved generosity of spirit on BCML (in my opinion).

My use of the word appropriate with two completely different meanings arose spontaneously. I decided to let it stand, to provide an example of how easily misunderstandings could arise with an international discussion group, even with the best of intentions.

I have included a cc to a BRML (only, I believe) correspondent who contacted me off-list, in the hope of pointing out that BCML is by far the more active group. The recent flurry of posts re the Minkowski Bm Mass is in fact in the wrong place. Those who care about how that inappropriately located thread began most likely realize already, no need to belabor the point.

Aloha, Ed Myskowski (appropriately and appreciatively yours)

Henri N. Levinspuhl wrote (August 16, 2009):
1. In search for what both simplicity and art may involuntarily hide in BWV 41

We have no objection whatsoever to those who deny a literary level on the cantata texts, for, inasmuch as poetry, even as the exterior glory of an idea, will never attain the highest sublimity, such a majesty may justly hide itself in a humble aspect, something that has already confused intellectualism countless times, and inasmuch as it may swiftly conclude there is no unseen merit behind the Godly Servant. The outstanding glory, inspiring as no other, is therefore mysteriously safeguarded from human pride, which cannot see - no accusations meant - but reasons for indifference, if not even for derision. But since you pass through the doors of humbleness, you will find marvels more than the marvelous works inspired by such a truth under unpretentious clothes; for such a truth is deeper than a sophisticated lie. So, even if we confess a propensity to refinement, truth compels elegance to humbleness, for what is hidden in simplicity, elegance may hide, and since culture may go after refinement and no further; but, as soon as you go beyond, you find God's glory, being an amazement before it the proper affect Cantata 41 is devoted to guide. Yea, for simple as its text is, there is wisdom in discerning that such amazement is neither at the trumpet skillfully played, nor at the splendid unusual structure of introduction, for it is highly recommended that both through trumpet and structure we express the proper astonishment of praising Christ. Likewise, the text, without a belletristic tendency, is neither properly honored with the perspective of being used by a most estimate composer, nor rejoicing with the joyful orchestral motive, since along with melody and brilliance and timpani, music and text share the disposition to exalt the glory they themselves may involuntarily hide, the unpretentious poetry as if what it proclaimed, God's glory, was not glorious; and the remarkable music as if the same glory musically proclaimed was just a motif for a magnificent opening and exceptional choruses. For, God's glory regarded, neither plainness nor the most refined work accomplish what they are directed to, if we do not share the same aim. But if we do, well, Jesus be praised!

Douglas Cowling wrote (August 16, 2009):
Henri N. Levinspuhl wrote:
< We have no objection whatsoever to those who deny a literary level on the cantata texts,for, inasmuch as poetry, even as the exterior glory of an idea, will never attain the highest sublimity, such a majesty may justly hide itself in a humble aspect, something that has already confused intellectualism countless times, and inasmuch as it may swiftly conclude there is no unseen merit behind the Godly Servant. >
I'm disappointed again, Henri, that you haven't addressed the music or historical context of the cantata which you dismiss as "confused intellectualism" in contrast with your emotional response to the music which you equate with theological revelation. If that was the case, I would be free to interpret the final movement of Beethoven's Fifth as C major resurrection coming out of the tormented C minor of human mortality.

Here are some of the things that you might have examined in relationship to one aspect of the cantata, its scoring, which we all find thrilling:

* the presence of trumpets and timpani suggests that there is a "festival" scoring which marks a subset of cantatas for the principal feasts of the calendar: 1st Day of Christmas, New Year's, Ascension, Pentecost, St, Michael and Reformation Sunday. Are there other "classes" of cantatas distinguishable by their scoring: e.g. the solo cantatas of the post-Easter season?

* Is there a special significance to the addition of a third oboe in some of these big festival cantatas? Bach uses three trumpets, three oboes and three strings as antiphonal choirs. This 3 X 3 x 3 layout has an obvious Trinitarian symbolism in the Sanctus of the B Minor Mass. Is this an interpretation that can be applied in this cantata?

* Bach sometimes experiments with giving cantatas greater symmetrical unity. In this cantata, the trumpet themes of the opening chorus return as a flourish between the lines of the closing chorale. Bach does much the same in Part Two of the Christmas Oratorio (BWV 248) where the themes of the Pastoral Symphony are used in the closing chorale. Did Bach's listeners associate these interludes with the improvisatory flourishes which the composer added to congregational chorales every Sunday?

None of this is incompatible with your response to the music, but it allows us a method of investigation which seeks a more objective analysis and thus common ground for debate.

Henri N. Levinspuhl wrote (August 16, 2009):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< I'm disappointed again, Henri, that you haven't addressed the music or historical context of the cantata which you dismiss as "confused intellectualism" in contrast with your emotional response to the music which you equate with theological revelation.
....
Here are some of the things that you might have examined in relationship to one aspect of the cantata, its scoring, which we all find thrilling: >
I am trying to be friendly with you, Sir, and I am really sorry to say that I do not recognize you as a fine interpreter of my writings. Not so far. On the contrary, you have just acted AS a faultfinder. And, please, note that I am not saying you ARE one. But you seem annoyed with me, and at times ready to misled the real meanings of my posts in quarrels about peripheral misunderstood details. After all, by "intelectualism" I really did not mean a "historical context of the cantata", and have not frankly addressed you or your method of studying Bach's cantata in my post. Finally, I do not really need to examine what you think I might have to, although I certainly could, if I wanted. But I don't.

Ed Myskowski wrote (August 17, 2009):
Henri N. Levinspuhl wrote:
< inasmuch as poetry, even as the exterior glory of an idea, will never attain the highest sublimity, >
Once again, I feel the need to post a modest disagreement. The good news is, that means I have read the post. I suppose it depends on exactly what one means by poetry, but I think to most people, it is much more than rhetorical devices, such as rhyme. Indeed, the aim of poetry at its best is exactly to express the most sublime ideas of which we (all humans) are capable, those ideas which cannot be expressed directly through expository writing. To this writer, the highest sublimity is indeed achieved through poetry, and other artistic expression, including Bachs music, rather than through theologic promises and speculation, however well-intentioned.

I note Dougs suggestions to Henri, re communicating more clearly with a larger audience. While I agree with Doug, I also note Henris response that his intent lies elsewhere. As one of those who specifically encouraged Henri to reconsider his farewell, I support his right to communicate what he wishes, within BCML guidelines and the moderators requests. The rest of us are free to approve, ignore him, disagree, and/or discuss whatever else we wish.

Henri N. Levinspuhl wrote (August 17, 2009):
2. An aphoristic revelation of what has not been regarded in the Pantheon of art

Simple as it is, the libretto was designed, not to be praised, but to praise Jesus; and splendid as a sacred cantata is, it was conceived for the same exemplary intent. Now, if they both have pervaded the artistic Pantheon, it was sacred art that involuntarily introduced simplicity there, for there simplicity is ignored, if not eventually disdained for not being refined enough. The artistic atrium is a place for aesthetic honor, the privilege of lasting through temporality. Now, what sacred art has involuntarily done for simplicity, introducing it into the artistic Pantheon - where eminence may care to pronounce it correctly without saying it sincerely -, praise purposely do both for art and for simplicity. In fact, the libretto was not invited to the Pantheon, but the perfect art, and, in like a manner, industrious art was not directly invited to the presence of God... but to serve praise. So, praise does for sacred art and for simplicity what they cannot do by themselves, and does it purposely. For different from what may be sensed in the Pantheon, sacred art was designed not to be invited to it, but to the spiritual atrium of God, in comparison with what, to be recognized by some aesthetic values turns to be a matter of indifference. So an enormous discrepancy is settled IF, in the artistic atrium, eminency does not care to praise God. Inversely, if a human being turns up before Jesus in humbleness, and craves to praise him worthily, this human being will be accepted with love, whether or not artistically accompanied by the music also cherished in the Pantheon.

Russell Telfer wrote (August 17, 2009):
BWV 41

Henri N. Levinspuhl wrote:
< We have no objection whatsoever to those who deny a literary level on the cantata texts, for, inasmuch as poetry, even as the exterior glory of an idea, will never attain the highest sublimity, such a majesty may justly hide itself in a humble aspect, something that has already confused intellectualism >countless times, and inasmuch as it may swiftly conclude there is no unseen merit behind the Godly Servant. >
I have read your post, Henri, and I agree with Ed that as a member of the group you are free to communicate your interpretation of the cantatas within the normal framework. Others may well agree with you, but I do not, in this discussion.

As Ed wrote in his reply:
< Indeed, the aim of poetry at its best is exactly to express the most sublime ideas of which we (all humans) are capable, those ideas which cannot be >expressed directly through expository writing...... >
Well put, indeed, I thought. Look at the (Z Philip Ambrose) translation of the full text for the 2nd verse:
Let us, O highest God, the year accomplish \\ That it be ended even as it was begun.

Beside us let thy hand abide, \\ That later, when the year hath closed,
We be midst blessing's rich excess, \\ As now, a hallelujah singing.

What could be simpler. I am not commenting on its poetic merit, but I suggest that these words could almost fit into a pantheistic or humanist ceremony or any "non-denominational" service such as is common in English schools. Again, that is an observation, not an opinion as such.

But back to the music: this was a cantata I sang in about a year ago, one of reasons for writing today. It is a gripping, enjoyable and challenging work to sing. The opening chorus is a high calibre expression of Bach's choral writing, and the closing chorus matches its intensity. The violoncello piccolo obbligato for the tenor aria reminds me very strongly of a similar performance in the SMP (BWV 244).

But the gem of this cantata IMO is the soprano aria: 'Lass uns, O Hochster Gott'. Whether you want to call it poetry in music or merely a perfectly conceived work of art, it is what it is, a timeless thing of beauty.

Julian Mincham wrote (August 17, 2009):
(I asked Henri if he would mind if, in seeking a sense of balance, I added something about the music and structure of this great cantata. These few thoughts are condensed from a much longer essay; but I thought that those approaching this work anew might find them helpful particularly if they have not had the time to read through what has been said about it in the archives of this website. The musical observations are pretty much factual although I have made some individual interpretations about some of the observations. JM)

BWV 41

This work has a particular position of interest because it is the first complete Leipzig New Year's Day cantata we have. It is a substantially larger and more ambitious piece than the work of the previous year (BWV 190) demonstrating Bach's aspiration to make the cantata an increasingly substantial and significant part of the Lutheran service

The contrast between the introspective BWV 122, heard just the day before, and this ebullient work could not be more marked. The first movement of BWV 41 is truly awesome in both size and content. It uses one of the largest ensembles that Bach was able to command; a four part choir with strings and continuo, three oboes, three trumpets and kettle drums with organ continuo. Bach clearly intended to herald the New Year with a sense not only of infectious joyousness, but also with an extrovert expression of pomp, splendour and majesty. These qualities are less apparent in BWV 190 which, although still a splendidly celebratory work, lacks both the magnificence and range of musical invention of BWV 41.

The differences in harmonization of the chorale used for both BWV 190 and BWV 41 are worth noting. That of BWV 190 is colourful but unsurprising. That of BWV 41 takes us from C major to the relatively unrelated key of Bb in the very first phrase! The potential for suggesting movement to and from various keys must have attracted Bach since this gave him greater scope for tonal variety (key contrasts) which the massive opening fantasia requires.

This movement is, in fact over two hundred bars long and my Urtext score shows over 100 notes in the first bar alone! Just imagine the speed at which Bach must have written to have composed a chorus of 20,000 notes or more PLUS an additional five movements in the course of a few days. (In my view the evidence is in favour of Bach having composed the 52 new cantatas (excluding BWV 4) of the second cycle within the timescale of the one year, an average of one cantata a week---this was argued on list a few years ago). It is, unusually for a fantasia, in clearly divided sections (but, if we look back to BWV 20, the first of the cycle, we find it isn't unique), four of them here, all of which are derived both from the text and the structure of the chorale. The first (just over one hundred bars) is a hymn of praise to Jesus. It sets eight phrases of the long chorale, each one enveloped in swathes of complexities from the lower voices. The vocal counterpoint is extraordinarily opulent and seldom repetitive, conveying both the ebullience of the praises offered up to Jesus and the richness of His blessings. There is just one instant at the end of the fourth phrase (bar 45) where the minor harmonies remind us of our 'troubles and fears'. But what a fleeting moment this is!

The second section is slower, in 3/4 section and comments upon the tranquillity of the departing year. The instrumental counterpoints convey a fitting touch of nostalgia and the choral writing is simple, unpretentious and chordal.

The third section (from bar 120) takes the last lines of text in which the good Christians declare devotion to the Lord for the coming year and forever afterwards. This is energetically fugal, its subject based on the first chorale phrase. Again, the lower voices encompass the sopranos as they, almost disregarding the swirling enthusiasm encapsulating them, declaim the final four chorale phrases. This completes the chorale melody and, for most composers, this would have been enough.

But not for Bach. He decides to emphasise the last two lines asking for the preservation of body and soul in the coming year. It seems that this is an appeal that requires repeating. The fourth and final section fulfils this function whilst returning us to the material of the opening ritornello and ensuring a satisfactory musical completion.

One might have expected a recitative to follow if only to give the oboists a breather. But clearly Bach wants to sustain the impetus so he moves us20straight into the first aria sung by the soprano and accompanied by the three oboes and the continuo. Bach's wind players must have had considerable powers of endurance!

The emphasis is again on prayer----may the Lord’s hand guide us so that the year ends as it now begins. The first six notes of the chorale form the initial motive which the oboes extend upwards into an attractive opening phrase. This idea forms the basis of the entire aria which, in structure, shows itself to be a familiar da capo/ritornello movement.

It is impossible to describe the lilting charm of this movement which establishes itself with a delightful, unexpected three-bar phrase. The 6/8 rhythm gives it a pastoral feel and, although Bach seems not to have given an indication of tempo, it appears to require a moderately fast speed more akin to a gigue than to a pastorale. The middle section is predominantly minor but the lighter accompaniment and semi-quaver flow of the melody both ensure that there is no diminution of the innocent allure which distinguishes the beginning.

Bach's immense variety and control of his phrase lengths is a phenomenon worth a complete study in itself. This aria’s opening three-bar phrase is encountered several times throughout the movement and is part of the reason for the captivating nature of the opening theme. It leaves us slightly breathless, the phrase ending just before we expect it

The two recitatives lie on either side of the tenor aria, the only one of the main movements in a minor key. Bach's decision to set the fourth movement as an aria and the fifth as a recitative is slightly puzzling. At first sight it might have seemed appropriate to reverse them. The text of the aria is rather bland, having little to offer in the way of stimulating imagery. On the other hand, the final bass recitative is full of strident imagery; enemies seeking to harm us by day and night, the destruction of the peace, the trampling of Satan under foot and the suffering on the cross. As was frequently his practice, Bach changes mood or direction in the final aria. Would not the text of the final recitative have offered him more scope? Perhaps for the sake of balance he didn't, on this occasion, wish the mood of the final aria to be too contrasting and the text of what became the tenor aria suited that purpose. This is, after all, a cantata of supreme celebration and one should not dwell too long on the more negative emotions.

Whatever the reason, it cannot be doubted that the tenor aria has a tender beauty which slightly moderates, but does not undermine, the prevailing mood.

The first recitative reaffirms God's control and watching eye and contains some rather naïve imagery of hand and eye that Bach was prowise to pass over. He could, when he chose, elevate the second rate. But his judgment was invariably sound when ignoring that which required, or deserved no emphasis. In dealing with long texts Bach was often in the habit of combining contrasting musical elements in order to maintain interest and momentum. But here there is no inclusion of choral or ritornello; this is pure secco recitative with not a little sense of the Italian opera!

The second, for bass, is more provocative and begins with a stern warning----Satan seeks to harm us by day and night. Then comes a direct quotation from Luther's Germany liturgy which the congregation would be expected to recognize----Let Satan be flattened beneath our feet. The choir declaims this in four-part harmony, a short but dramatic intervention using a strong crotchet rhythm over a bass line of trampling quavers. Such interventions of the choir in recitatives are rare although examples in this cycle may be found in BWV 178, BWV 3 and BWV 92.

Following the choral intrusion, the bass voice returns to offer reassurance that we remain God's children, aspiring to the magnificence of heaven.

The tenor aria sandwiched between the recitatives is supported by the continuo and a piccolo 'cello, an instrument Bach used often in this cycle. It is the longest movement of the cantata, even exceeding the length of the opening chorus. BWV 41 belongs, therefore, to that group of works in which one particular aria stands out in proportion and significance.

A further point of distinction is that, apart from the first recitative, it is the only movement set in a minor key and it conveys a reflective seriousness nowhere else to be found in this work. But the mood is never sad or gloomy. It is sombre and thoughtful, sober and formal; ideal for a moment of insightful reflection away from the more extrovert festivities. The vaulting leaps and little runs on the busy 'cello maintain a feeling of lightness; it is possible that flowing scales depict the images of the divine blessings which we both seek and hope will pour over and encapsulate us.

After the final warning of Satan's threats (bass recitative) the chorale combines the twin themes of honouring and celebrating the Saviour whilst praying that we be taught and treated according to His will. The melody itself is simply harmonized, the basses expressing a solidity of quaver movement in the final phrase. The quotations from the opening fantasia suggest a sense of the work having been ‘through composed’. The interjections of these motives of joy provide us with a celebratory gesture that is left ringing in our ears.

Henri N. Levinspuhl wrote (August 17, 2009):
Julian Mincham wrote:
< I asked Henri if he would mind if, in seeking a sense of balance, I added something about the music and structure of this great cantata. >
You really did not need to ask me nothing, Julian, but, in doing so, you showed a deference I deeply appreciate, in all sincerity. And not only, for I have just read your post with pleasure, and much welcomed your balance.

Cheers!

Ed Myskowski wrote (August 17, 2009):
BWV 41 recordings

John Eliot Gardiner, from the notes to Vol. 17 [9] of the Pilgrimage CDs:
<{BWV 41] is a mature second-year Leipzig cantata of the highest quality. It is the type of cantata which reminds us how, in our increasingly urban society, we have lost close contact with the rhythms and patterns of the liturgical year and perhaps even with perceptions of the basic round of life and death. Already one of the features that has begun to register with us [Pilgrimage team] as we set off through this year of cantatas is the idea of cyclic return, of a journey from a beginning to an ending, from Alpha to Omega.> (end quote)

What, you might wonder, are these introductory words doing on Vol. 17, especially when only yesterday we noted that BWV 190, on Vol. 16, was the very last work performed (the Omega)? A bit of explanation, as I figure it, and as concisely as I can manage.

(1) Gardiners recordings span the calendar year, Jan. 1 to Dec. 31 2000. This is slightly out of phase with the liturgical calendar which spans from the First Sunday in Advent (early Dec.) to the last Sunday after Trinity.

(2) The cantatas were performed on liturgically correct days, for the most part, with minor adjustments for concert length, and with a few omissions. One of the adjustments was placing the New Year's cantata BWV 190 at the very end, while the other New Year's cantatas, including BWV 41, appear at the beginning.

(3) The CD volumes are numbered in accordance with the liturgical calendar, except that the second half of the year comes first, as in Bachs two relatively complete Leipzig cycles. Thus Gardiner Vol. 1 contains cantatas for the first Sunday after Trinity, more or less in the middle of the calendar year of the Pilgrimage. The second half of the liturgical year, the Sundays after Trinity, is covered by Vols. 1 - 12, while the first half of the liturgical year, from the first Sunday in Advent, through Trinity, are Vol. 14 - 27.

(4) Because of the slight difference between liturgical and calendar year, the chronology of the Pilgrimage begins with Vol 17 (including BWV 41) and cycles around to Vol 16, which includes the out-of-place New Year's Cantata, BWV 190, along with cantatas for the Sunday after Christmas.

(4) The ongoing CD releases, to be complete in 2010 I believe, follow no particular pattern that I can discern, other than that the Christmas cantas so far have received special single CD packaging, for release to coincide with the Holiday shopping season.

I find that Gardiner's words cited at the outset, above, provide a gentle contrast with Henris thrust that Bachs main (indeed, sole, if I do not misread Henri) objective is praise of God. Another point from Gardiners notes also seems relevant, directed to his team and their conception of the Pilgrimage, but universally applicable:
<there is a wonderful German proverb, one that Bach underlined in his copy of Calovs Bible commentary, and which caught my eye. It makes salutary reading: <With ones own thoughts, as with a tightly wound cloth, much slides off.> To this, Calov adds: <Thus stubborn or self-appointed projects seldom turn out well.>> (end quote)

Henri N. Levinspuhl wrote (August 18, 2009):
3. And now, Jesus, be praised, as BWV 41 proclaims

Jesus be praised for leading us with cords of kindness, the bands of love; for favoring our not forgotten prayers and for guiding us to repentance, through which, back to your kindness, we are safe like a healthy branch of the holy vine. You have provided us in need, but, without endorsing uneasiness, taught us contentment. You have rescued us in danger, but without forgetting to encourage us. You have educated us to surpass the law, not avoiding merely outwardly what should also be kept apart from our hearts, for you yourself has transcended the law, granting us, in our weaknesses, renewed chances to walk on your holy path. As a gift, and through the redemption in you, we received grace, in which we are justified, obtaining access into it by faith in you, and so that grace establishes its reign by righteousness leading to eternal life. We are yours, without being that advantageous to you, but to ourselves. We give ourselves to your protection, but you have already given your life to protect us eternally against the demands of law we broke in our sins. We ask you not to abandon us, as if you were not with us always to the end of the age, and as if, inversely, there weren't any risk that we leave you - but no, let us not only complete the year, but our whole life in your hand, through welfare and sufferings, in spite of temptations and trials, so that, patiently, such a bless, concerned with your glory, arrives in heaven, to be etransfigured in your accomplished work.

Douglas Cowling wrote (August 18, 2009):
[To Henri N. Levinspuhl] This isn't a commentary. It's a prayer.

Time for a moderator intervention.

Evan Cortens wrote (August 18, 2009):
[To Douglas Cowling] I'm with Doug on this one. I'm all for religious perspective, but the only thing this post had to do with Bach was "BWV 41" in the subject line; not a single word about the cantata itself in the message.

Call me an "abhorred censor" if you will, but messages of this kind have no place in a forum ostensibly about Bach.

Ed Myskowski wrote (August 18, 2009):
Douglas Cowling wrote, in response to Henri:
>Time for a moderator intervention. <
Evan Cortens agreed, adding:
< messages of this kind have no place in a forum ostensibly about Bach. >
In fairness to Henri, he offered to withdraw as discussion leader, and several of us convinced him to reconsider his farewell. The point, at least for me, was only that he should not feel constrained to withdraw because some people express disagreement with the nature of his posts, but only if the moderator decides that they are inappropriate.

I do agree with Evan, it is quite a stretch to use logic, of the form:
(1) I praise Jesus
(2) Bach praises Jesus
(3) Therefore, my praise is related to Bach

Evan Cortens wrote (August 18, 2009):
[To Ed Myskowski] I should clarify. I certainly mean no offense, or have any intention to be unfair to Henri. Furthermore, I mean not to offer criticism of him, but only of this post. Though we may disagree on methods, we can all agree at least that the topic of this forum is the music of Bach.

I would call myself a religious person, though I'm Catholic rather than Lutheran, and I have absolutely no objection to religion whatsoever, including its public display. If Henri had made even a small effort, he could certainly have made this post on topic, e.g. in this cantata, Bach praises Jesus in the following ways or, in this cantata, Bach exhorts the congregation (and maybe even us?) to praise Jesus. That's not what he did though; he offered, as Doug said, a prayer. That's fine as it goes, but not in a forum about Bach, a forum which should strive to be as welcoming as possible to people of any faith, or of no faith at all. Again, I wish to emphasize (as there has been some confusion), I'm not a "secularist", or "anti-religion"; nor do I feel that religion has no place in the study of Bach, quite the contrary. I only wish to say that not only are posts of this nature off-topic, but that I fear they may have the effect of alienating a (sizable?) portion of the list membership.

Henri, I do not wish for you to stop leading discussions; nor do I expect that you analyze the music, we all have our own approach. What I do expect is that you at least mention it.

Henri N. Levinspuhl wrote (August 18, 2009):
Evan Cortens wrote:
< I should clarify. I certainly mean no offense, or have any intention to be unfair to Henri. Furthermore, I mean not to offer criticism of him, but only of this post. Though we may disagree on methods, we can all agree at least that the topic of this forum is the music of Bach. >
The prayer is a reflection on the libretto of BWV 41, as the title of my post suggests, and as anyone who reads the libretto will have no difficulties to realize. Also, it reflects my view, not certainly Mr. Cowling's one, that the center of a sacred cantata is God, not Bach, and not even the cantata. If Aryeh wants to moderate me, let him speak, and I will obey. So far, he just asked me to stay, and did it personally.

Members annoyed may delete the prayer. I reaffirm it.

Neil Mason wrote (August 19, 2009):
[To Henri N. Levinspuhl] I am not offended, just disappointed that you continue to disregard the constructive suggestions of list members.

I for one have stopped reading your posts. I haven't done that for any contributor for some time.

David Haslett wrote (August 19, 2009):
I have to say that we are all being terribly polite with regard to Henri's postings. He is quite consistent - a lot about God and Christ and precious little about Bach. I would go so far to say that he is using this group as a method of propogating his own religious beliefs.

We all acknowledge the links between Bach and Christianity - no question of that - but I know there are Jewish members of this group and who knows? - perhaps Muslims, or Buddhists, or Hindus, never mind atheists and agnostics - and I would suggest that the thing that unites us is the music not the 'message'.

I would imagine that there is a group for Bach's Cantatas which approaches them from the religious point of view; if not, perhaps Henri might start one.

But I suspect that, based on his numerous postings, Henri has a proselytizing aim here and it has precious little to do with music.

Ed Myskowski wrote (August 19, 2009):
David Haslett wrote:
< But I suspect that, based on his numerous postings, Henri has a proselytizing aim here and it has precious little to do with music. >
And I suspect that the success rate is minimal (perhaps negative). I continue to suggest that we leave it to the moderator. I do share the Davids distaste for the use of BCML for proselytizing, which I have expressed often, in the past.

On a more positive note, special thanks to Julian for the musical details, and to Russell for sharing performance experience, always warmly appreciated. Both have motivated me to do a bit of extra listening. I will try to find a few relevant words, beyond thank you.

Neil Halliday wrote (August 19, 2009):
BWV 41/5

The fifth movement recalls the structure of 190/2, with its combination of recitative and SATB chorale. In BWV 41/5 (Mvt. 5), the bass recitative is interrupted by a chorale-like SATB interjection on the words "that Satan under our feet is trodden". This is given a most dramatic expression in Suzuki's recording [11], with the choir basses suddenly taking over, forte, the solo bass's line and holding the word "Satan" while the upper choir voices powerfully intone the above sentence in repeated crotchet chords. The Rilling booklet [3] refers to this choral interjection as a highly unusual device.

Ed Myskowski wrote (August 19, 2009):
BWV 41

Julian Mincham wrote:
>On the other hand, the final bass recitative is full of strident imagery; enemies seeking to harm us by day and night, the destruction of the peace, the trampling of Satan under foot and the suffering on the cross. <
Douglas Cowling wrote (re Bachs historical context):
>[I am suggesting] that we recognize that the question of Bach's interior belief system is an enormously complex issue, especially in the absence of any comprehensive historical documents. <
First, I share Doug's enthusiasm for Kim's enlightening (and lightning-quick) response to my question re historical context.

I especially enjoy the detail Julian points out from BWV 41/5 (Mvt. 5), where the chorus interrupts the B rec to depict the trampling of Satan under foot, Satan is represented by the snake-like continuo line. That reminds me of an anecdote which I probably posted at some other time, but seems appropriate to repeat here. A few years ago John Harbison was providing an introductory lecture to one of his own pieces and a Bach cantata. (I will make it a point to identify the specific cantata, as time permits a bit of research. I do not want to get it wrong from memory.) The key issue is that the music goes snakey at one point, which John emphasized, along with the comment that it always happens in Bach [snake-like musical effects] whenever the text mentions Satan or the Pope.

I will take it as my personal mission to watch for this detail as discussions proceed over the coming years. I expect that Johns comment was accurate, as well as humorous, but I would like to confirm the accuracy as examples turn up. I will leave it to the individual reader to decide whether giving the Pope and Satan equal, and very clever, treatment in his music represents evidence for Bachs interior beliefs. It certainly is efor his wit, and sense of humor, IMO.

Stephen Benson wrote (August 25, 2009):
Julian Mincham wrote:
< I find it rather odd that there was no discussion of last week's cantata of the week BWV 41 but this week's lesser work, >
A comment I didn't get around to making last week. I can't listen to the final theatrical chorus of BWV 41 without wondering if it served as inspiration for Erich Wolfgang Korngold while he composed some of his cinematic finales. I can't listen to the exuberant fanfare flourishes of BWV 41 without seeing Errol Flynn strutting into the royal chambers with a fair damsel on his arm, followed by his ragtag crew, while courtiers parted to make way for the rakish hero in his procession across the room to receive the honorifics from the queen.

Ed Myskowski wrote (August 25, 2009):
BWV 41 [was: BWV 16]

Julian Mincham wrote:
< I find it rather odd that there was no discussion of last week's cantata of the week BWV 41 but this week's lesser work, BWV 16, attracts a lot of comment. For me it is a much less interesting >and commanding piece, with one exception, a technical point noted below. >
From an objective viewpoint, there was more discussion of BWV 41, but a large part of of it was provided by Julians introduction. I also particularly noticed Russells preference for the S over T aria, despite his having sung the latter. My own impression is that they are both powerful, strongly contrasted pillars in an architecturally balanced work. Some writers have preferred the T aria, I believe. I meant to expand on that impression but the week ran out.

Personally, I find no need to rank these works, although I do enjoy reading the preferences of others. One of the advantages of discussing them in the sequence of their liturgical relation is that is much easier to perceive Bach taking musically different, always fresh, approaches to the same theologic themes. I am aware of Julians special interest in the second, chorale, cycle of cantatas, and I share his admiration for that entire body of work, and for the intensity of effort Bach in over the course of a liturgical year. For that matter, he was not exactly a slouch in the previous year (Leipzig I).

JM:
< Stangely enough, there was more correspondence last week lamenting Henri's not discussing the cantata than there was constructive comment upon the work itself. >
EM:
Yes, but at least there was correspondence, not always the case, especially in summer.

To be continued with reference to BWV 16 recordings.

Julian Mincham wrote (August 25, 2009):
[To Ed Myskowski] Thanks Ed? I agree there was a lot of interesting stuff, more than you might expect for this time of the year. But sod-all on the cantata of the week. I always find it a bit frustrating when a fine work is essentially ignored in the week of its introduction.

Ed Myskowski wrote (August 26, 2009):
Julian Mincham wrote::
< I always find it a bit frustrating when a fine work is essentially ignored in the week of its introduction >
I share that sentiment. Bad luck for 41 that it came smack in the middle of August, in our first year of liturgical orientation?

It is truly a pleasure to hear from you, Mate! I will make it a point to respond, even if no more than to say thank you (not repeating the entire post, in the process!).

A few points I have made from time to time in the past:

(1) I truly believe that posts to BCML (for potential archive on BCW) are better than a book.

(1.1) Interactive revisions, real time.
(1.2) Useful feedback (pos/neg, or just the odd nudge)
(1.3) Hanging out with friends (see 1.2)

(2) The fun of hanging out with friends, and enemies of friends (thimk about it)

(3) No stuffy publishers and editors (unless that category includes your friends)

(4) No tax obligation on royalties

(5) See Aryehs thoughts, re shopping his book of jazz memoirs, impressions, reviews, et cetera. He is now our moderator, manuscript in hand, at last report. Aloha, Mate!

I find the little exchange on BRML, re MJQ playing BWV 947 in 1966, way cool (if that is not too Old Dudish). Numerologically significant? Forgetaboutit.

Bass (Percy Heath) way up, either on the LP or my set. I will check, listen to the CD, and report further, on the proper forum, BRML.

Aloha (not to talk story), Ed Myskowski

Ed Myskowski wrote (August 26, 2009):
BWV 41 - Satan and snake-like riffs

Here are the previous references I promised, not so old as I thought. Good grief, tempus fugit. Note that John Harbison was introducing a Bach Motet, BWV 227, not a cantata as I recently wrote, quickly from memory.

I am confident that John would not mind me mentioning it as a moment of honor for him to have one of his pieces performed on the same program with Bach. For me, a moment of honor simply to be there, to enjoy the music, and meet one of the composers. Bach present in spirit only, just to remind what church music really is.

From BCW archives, BWV 212:
Ed Myskowski wrote (December 10, 2008):
Julian Mincham responded to my post:
EM
>I once heard John Harbison express his observation that Bach uses snakelike riffs to accompany mentions of the Pope, as well!<
JM
>I.m interested in this comment. As I recall bach's references to the pope are fairly guarded. Can anyone come up with any specific examples???<
Full disclosure: I am citing this from memory, from a couple years ago. Harbison was introducing a performance of the motet BWV 227, as part of a program also including his own composition <But Mary Stood>. With respect to the opening line of BWV 227/5, with satan as dragon, Harbison said, with a bit of humor (I paraphrase my recollection): <Here, the music becomes snakelike. Bach also uses this effect for the Pope.> Not in BWV 227, however, and Harbison did not provide any specific examples (it was an informal talk, as you can infer). I do recall finding an example later, at home, but it will take me a little effort to recover the reference.

Ed Myskowski wrote (December 11, 2008):
Bach and opera buffo (BWV 18, was BWV 212)

For a link between Satan and Pope in text and serpentine musical style, and contrast with God, see:

BWV 18/3 (extract from Pamela Dellal translation for Emmanuel Music, via BCW link, English 6):

That Satan be crushed under our feet.
Hear us, dear Lord God!
Ah! Many deny word and faith
and fall away like rotten fruit,
if they suffer persecution.
So they plunge into eternal suffering,
in order to avoid a temporary woe.
That we, from the Turks and the Pope’s
[That we, from the Enemy's and Satan's]*
horrid murder and blasphemy,
raging and fury, be fatherly protected.
Hear us, dear Lord God!

I suspect this may be the single example John Harbison had in mind, as he is closely connected with Emmanuel Music, and the reference to the Pope has been a sensitive subject there (note alternate text). Sorry that I overinterpreted his very offhand comment to be more generalized.

See also our BCW discussion from early 2007, re BWV 126, where <murderousness of Pope and Turk> is the text. Emmanuel Music also provides an alternate text in that instance. Curiously, both BWV 18 and BWV 126 are for the same Sunday, Sexagesima.

Note the similarity of Satan crushed under our feet, from BWV 18/3 and BWV 41/5 (B and choro rec).

Satans snake-like origin in the Garden of Eden is relatively innocuous, more like a messenger from God (see Elaine Pagels, The Origin of Satan). I blame it all on Eve.

 

Continue on Part 4

Cantata BWV 41: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

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