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Cantata BWV 42
Am Abend aber desselbigen Sabbatas
Discussions - Part 1

Cantata 42 (Rilling)

Marie Jensen wrote (April 7, 1999):
[5] I simply have to tell you about one of my favourite Bach arias, in case you might not know it. It is "Wo zwei und drei versammlet sind" from cantata BWV 42 "Am Abend aber desselbigen Sabbats" to 1st Sunday after Easter (next sunday, but I can't wait so long) [SNIP]

Many greetings from Marie Jensen, Denmark
New member of the club, but devoted Bach fan since 1968.

Wim Huisjes wrote (April 7, 1999):
(To Marie Jensen) Marie, Welcome to the list.

[5] The Rilling performance is available on Hänssler Verlag 98.882, together with BWV 158, BWV 67.

I hope it's the same one you have on tape: Rilling started the cantatas twice: in the early sixties for a small extinct German label (some of his secular cantata performances have been re-issued by Musicaphon, hope the church cantates from that period will follow), the second time around 1970 on ERATO. That undertaking (complete cantatas) made large detours long several labels and ended up at Hänssler. They are available singly right now at mid-price, but that may change in the current Hänssler "Complete Bach" project. To check whether the CD is the same as your tape recording: the Hänssler CD has as soloists: Augér, Hamari, Schreier, Huttenlocher (recorded 1980/1981).

[7] There's an attractive performance by Herreweghe (Harmonia Mundi France HMC 901328, coupled with BWV 21 (with the counter-tenor Gérard Lesne singing your favourite aria (indeed it is breathtaking!).

[4] TELDEC issued a 2-CD set, drawing from the complete cantatas by Leonhardt/Harnoncourt.

Personally I prefer the Rilling BWV 42, agreeing with your comments.


Hidden triple concertos

Olivier Raap wrote (December 4, 1999):
Cantata BWV 99 "Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan" opens with a Coro movement that seems to be an arrangement of a part (allegro?) of such a lost triple concerto: a concerto in G for flute, oboe d'amore, violin, strings and continuo. Maybe some major parts of the original work are not used in the cantata, and the solo violin part is relatively unimportant. Perhaps the work originated as a double concerto for only flute and oboe d'amore. If that would be the matter, a second part (slow tempo) of this concerto could be found in the opening Coro of cantata BWV 125 "Mit Fried' und Freud' ich fahr' dahin". Those cantatas are composed in 1724 and 1725, relatively short after the Köthen years. Maybe a Köthen concerto that is lost is borrowed for composing them. I didn't find any 3rd movement yet.

Another triple concerto, a concerto in D for 2 oboes, bassoon and continuo, can be assembled. For the 1st movement (allegro?) we can use the opening Sinfonia of cantata BWV 42 "Am Abend aber desselbigen Sabbats" For the 2nd slow movement the alto aria "Wo zwei und drei" can be used, but much reconstruction work has to be done. As a final fast movement the opening Sinfonia of the Easter Oratorio is a good choice. The trumpets and timpani, that probably are added later, have to be omitted.


Discussions in the Week of April 30, 2000 (1st round)

Aryeh Oron wrote (April 30, 2000):

This is the week of cantata BWV 42, according to Jane Newble's suggestion. After so many discussions in previous weeks about early cantatas, such as BWV 131, BWV 106, BWV 196, BWV 4, etc., we have now to discuss a cantata from the Leipzig period. After so many first courses, it is now the time to put our teeth in some meat. And what a wonderful main course was chosen to us by Jane. This is the glorious BWV 42, with its very special subject, a memorable Sinfonia and one of the most beautiful Arias ever composed for Alto. It is also a rare opportunity to listen to one of the great conductors doing a Bach cantata, and to compare his rendition to other performers, more identified with Bach cantatas.

Personal Viewpoint

Based on two LP’s, a single CD and a recorded TV program that I have, Herman Scherchen was a terrific Bach conductor and music maker. True, he was from the ‘Old School’ of conducting and he did not use HIP instruments, etc. (who knew about it in the early 1950’s, except perhaps the very small circle of Leonhardt and his close friends), but he had a very special way of approaching Bach’s music. On the one hand, he was a researcher and intellectual, and knew exactly what were the results he wanted to achieve. This can be seen very clearly from the fascinating TV program, where he is doing rehearsals and conducting a performance of ‘Art of Fugue’. On the other hand he was very emotional and alert, and his Bach’s recordings are among the most vital I know of. The rare combination of intellect and emotion, was Bach’s rare gift, and this special quality makes his music so satisfying for almost every human being. Scherchen was not a composer, but he had similar virtues, and that is why his Bach recordings are so unique and so satisfying from almost every aspect (except, maybe the HIP one). They are sincere, direct, warm, precise, unromantic, and vivid. Scherchen did not afraid to take risks, and was a pioneer in conducting and recording many musical works. He was also a great interpreter of many modern composers, such as Alban Berg. And among the great conductors of his era, he was the only one (except Klemperer) who specialised in Bach's music.

I believe that Scherchen was also among the first to perform Bach cantatas in the modern era, outside of the St. Thomas dynasty, whose Cantor Günther Ramin did parallel mission in Leipzig. According to a private research I have done, Scherchen recorded in the 1950’s and the first half of the 1960's, about dozen cantatas, plus Matthew Passion, B Minor Mass, Brandenburg Concertos and Art of Fugue. His record company was Westminster, which I believe is now defunct (are its legacy belonged now to Polygram?). Almost all Scherchen’s Bach recordings are not available today in any form. There is one record company – ‘Tahra’, specialising in Scherchen (and other veteran German conductors) recordings, but AFAIK they have not re-issued so far any Bach cantata under his conducting, and I do not know if they intend to do so in the near future. The unique combination of intellect, emotion, precision and vitality, which characterise Scherchen’s Bach recordings, make them for me a guideline, according to which other Bach recordings should be examined.

The Recordings

See: Complete Recordings.

Review and comparison of the Opening Sinfonia and the Aria for Alto

Last week I received a book by W. Murray Young - 'The Cantatas of J.S. Bach - An Analytical Guide'. In the introduction to this useful book, Murray wrote: "This tone painting, combined with the mystical-emotional effect on the listener, is usually not fully appreciated by a non-German speaking audience, because without textual comprehension, hearing and 'seeing' do not occur simultaneously. Therefore, a translation and analysis of the texts from which Bach worked is essential for any non-German speaking listener wishing to understand how Bach could mould the plastic word into an emotional or pictorial experience. This book attempts to provide that essential information".

Regarding BWV 42, I would use this time as a reference Murray W. Young’s book to compare the various performances of the opening Sinfonia (Mvt. 1) and the Aria for Alto (Mvt. 3), which for me are the picks of this glorious cantata.

Young wrote:
"For the first Sunday after Easter, Bach composed this masterpiece for solo voices. The libis unknown, but Terry suggests Christian Weiss, Sr., and Neumann suggests Bach. The Gospel is John 20: 19-31 - Jesus reappears to His disciples including doubting Thomas - from which the 19th verse is directly taken for the first recitative. All the other numbers are free lyrical interpretations derived from this beginning. The soli are SATB, with four-part Chorus. The instruments are 2 oboes, a bassoon, 2 violins, a viola organ and Continuo."

Mvt. 1 Sinfonia
"This is likely a movement from a previously composed instrumental concerto, which has been lost. The concert is made up of the woodwinds as the concertino and the unison strings as the ripieno. Its tripartite form is reminiscent of a da capo Aria. The soothing calm of the melody seems to paint the quiet in the countryside at twilight (cf. The Arioso in the St. Matthew Passion (BWV 244)): "Am abend, da kuhle ward" (In the beginning, when it became cool). This is one of Bach's most beautiful instrumental numbers."

One musical point I have noticed is that this Sinfonia is starting with one rich chord, before stating the theme. Other similar known examples in the musical literature are Beethoven's 3rd Symphony, which starts with 2 identical chords, or the overture to Verdi's 'La Forza Del Destino', which starts with 3 identical chords. I do not know what is the musical meaning of this fact, but I would like to know.

[3] Scherchen's recording (Sinfonia: 9:03) has all the virtues described above. This Sinfonia might be taken from a lost concerto, but it sounds so appropriate here. In Scherchen's rendering you can hear and see the evening falling down, the blowing of the breezes, the gathering of the disciples. Everything is painted with strong colours. I do not recall reading it anywhere, but one could think of the strings as representing the day and the woodwinds as representing the night. The dialog between these two groups represents the fight between day and night, until the night almost win (it is still twilight time and some light still remains).

[1] Ramin (Sinfonia: 7:34), who recorded this cantata 11 years before Scherchen, sounds heavy, less vivid and less pictorial. Everything seems to be immersed in thick soup. This is not one of the best moments of Ramin, whose work I usually appreciate, for his originality and pioneering spirit. There is no tension here, no drive, and no interest. I do not think that anyone who knows the Sinfonia of BWV 42 only through this recording will like it. The comparison to Scherchen put Ramin in even worse position. Comparison of the timings evokes a very strange feeling. This recording is shorter than Scherchen's, but it sounds slower.

[4] Harnoncourt's performance (Sinfonia: 6:18) is so fast, that it does not manage to say anything significant. The colours of the old instruments are beautiful, but in comparison to Scherchen, these are black and white colours.

[5] Rilling approach (Sinfonia: 6:11) is very similar to that of Scherchen, but less varied. I hear fewer nuances in the playing, and some of the details are not revealed. It is also too fast for me. The evening is getting down slower than is offered here.

[7] Herreweghe (Sinfonia: 6:44) is lighter and more transparent than Scherchen. It is no less colourful, but the colours are not so strong. It is very pleasant and soft, but the intensity and the drama are missing. This performance could have stand on its own, unless you hear it after or before Scherchen. Then you realise what you are missing.

[9] Jan Leusink's performance (Sinfonia: 7:03) is moving lightly and quickly ahead, without too much attention to special details or to emphasis the drama. The playing is not very clean, and there are places where the balance between the groups even sounds strange, to say the least. It has some similarities to Herreweghe's recording, less polished, yet brighter. This recording misses most of the potential of this Sinfonia.

Besides these performances, which are all taken from complete recordings of the cantata, there are at least 4 other recordings of the Sinfonia from BWV 42, without the other movements. They are - Amsterdam Combattimento Consort, (Olympia), Roy Goodman/Brandenburg Consort (Hyperion), Thomas Hengelbrock/Freiburg Baroque Orchestra (Deutsche Harmonia Mundi), and Trevor Pinnock/The English Concert. Unfortunately, I have not heard (yet?) any of them. See: Recordings of Individual Movement.

Mvt. 3 Aria for Alto
"Her text begins with Matthew 18: 20, which has nothing to do with the Gospel for the day, yet continues the idea of Jesus' return to His believers. This Aria is long and slow moving despite the full orchestral accompaniment: "Wo zwei und drei versammelt sind / In Jesu teurem Namen, / Da stellt sich Jesus mitten ein / Und spricht dazu das Amen. / Denn was aus Lieb' und Not geschieht, / Das bricht des Hochsten Ordnung nicht". (Where two and three are gathered / In Jesus' dear Name, / There Jesus puts Himself in their midst / And speaks thereto the Amen. / For what happens out of love and need, / That does not break the Highest's decree.)
These last two lines seem to be irrelevant to the first part of the Aria; they seem to belong to an Aria in another work. Did Bach not notice this inconsistency?"

[3] What a great Bach singer Maureen Forester is (with Scherchen; Aria: 10:39). She has a deep and sensitive voice and she is telling you a story through her singing. Part of this Aria sounds as a Recitative and that is why such capacities are so important. You find yourself fascinating by the way she is transferring her message, and there is not even a second when she loses your interest. You fill the fear and the strain, while the dark is covering the earth. The accompaniment is also very sensitive, supports the singer when needed and complements her when it is called for.

[1] I do not recall hearing Gerda Schriever (with Ramin; Aria: 14:09) before. Based on her performance here, I am not sure that I would like to hear more from her. That her singing is very far from contemporary tastes (a lot of vibrato) is understood and accepted and it is not necessarily a disadvantage. What is less forgivable is the total lack of feeling. She does not penetrate under the surface, she does not relate to the words, and she is (dare I say?) simply boring. This is by far the slowest rendering of this Aria, and I appreciate everyone who has the patience to listen along it all.

[4] Paul Esswood (with Harnoncourt; Aria: 10:43) is very expressive, but the two ladies (Forester and Hamari) overshadow him. The accompaniment here relates to what the singer is doing, but their playing is not interesting enough.

[5] Julia Hamari (with Rilling; Aria: 12:10) is very expressive, almost as expressive as Forester is. What I miss is some more fear. On the other hand sometimes she raises her voice, almost shouting, in order to achieve the same results, but for me it is less convincing. The feelings should be more introverted and less exposed, but it is a legitimate approach, of course. The accompaniment is also too prominent to my taste, and sometimes the singer has to fight with it.

[7] Gerard Lesne (with Herreweghe; Aria: 10:13) voice and interpretation are very much to my liking. In his gentle way he is very expressive and tasteful, and he is also helped by the responsive and sensitive, pleasant and delicious accompaniment. This performance is second only to Forester/Scherchen.

[9] I like the special timbre of Sytse Buwalda's voice (with Jan Leu; Aria: 11:01). What I do not like is the superficiality of his interpretation here. The accompaniments are playing on their own without too much relation to what the singer is trying to do.

Another factor I have noticed, was that although the total time of all the recordings of this cantata do not vary much (between 28 to 34 minutes), then the relationship between the timings of the opening Sinfonia and the Aria for Alto differ quite extremely. I believe that the relationship between these two movements in Scherchen's rendering is the optimal, but I am not objective (Who is?).


According to what I wrote in the Personal Viewpoint, the conclusion was expected. But I think that in comparison to Scherchen’s recording [3] of BWV 42, all the others pale. They should have learnt something from him.

And as always, I would like to hear other opinions, regarding the above mentioned performances, or other recordings.

Marie Jensen wrote (April 29, 2000):
Sorry. I write a little early again. But the next days will be very busy.

Now it is no longer "Am Abend da es kuhle war". It's "Am Abend aber desselbigen Sabbats" a week later. And though there is no direct connection between the two recitatives, listen how different those evenings are. Peaceful after a terrible Friday and now next Friday bubbling with restlessness and anxiety. What is going to happen?

But first comes an overture, cool, elegant and optimistic as the spring breeze itself. At the same time the semiquavers remind me of softly running feet, perhaps the disciples sneaking out in the evening afraid of the Jews after Jesu resurrection. If this is a first movement from a lost concerto, I would love to hear the rest, though it is probably never found. But as Simon writes on his Cantata Page, perhaps the great Alto Aria was its second movement. In my heart I will not believe, that the missing Bach works are gone forever. CPE, you couldn't have been that freezing? ...Some day I hope to read in the paper, that in a library in an old Schloss in former DDR somebody would open a chest never noticed before, and in it would be not STASI files but lots of missing Bach works!

We have reached my absolute favourite, when we talk Bach Arias: "Wo zwei und drei". I could write about this Aria for hours and still not find the right words. The resurrected Jesus comes to the room, where the frightened disciples are hiding. He steps into the middle to say his AMEN, and He does it on the very first note: a chrochet of the vibrating power from the deep strings followed by three bassoon notes. Jesus and three, Jesus and three, or AUM and three. Not to accuse Bach of being a Hindu, but I'm sure he was a person with a first hand religious experience, else he couldn't write such music. It is hard for me not hearing it this way. And on this simple but hypnotising fundament rests the wonderful Alto part, while the oboes circle in arabesques, in different two and three's together. A room is made like the one Jesus entered, of divine safety and best of it all: It lasts long and is repeated!

The intimate B-part is so great like a mountaintop high above the world, a calm place full of light. "Des Hochsten Ordnung" just the voice and a simple continuo. Time changes to three, probably not by chance, and of course there are three performers only. In spite of the contrast between the A pieces and the B piece, between complexity and simplicity, dusk and highlight it is such a whole... Sorry, I shall stop my raving now! Just one thing: when Bach uses a bassoon, what a depth it makes!

[5] Rilling version: (Augér, Hamari, Schreier, Huttenlocher, Gächinger Kantorei, Bach-Collegium Stuttgart).
I have never heard Rilling better than here: Peter Schreier as a mini evangelist building up the anxiety, which immediately is broken by the great Alto Aria sung so wonderful by Julia Hamari. In spite of the very complex music everything breathes in harmony, everybody listens to each other and the movement becomes a whole. I can hardly imagine anything more moving and perfect, so lyrical and breathing.

[9] Leusink version: (Holton, Buwalda, Schoch, Ramselaar, Bach Collegium Holland).
This is a song about the highest order. But this version does not match that fact, though the AUM is clearly heard here too. The instruments do not make the same unit or flow. It's a little bit faster than Rilling's version. I tried to listen several times to Buwalda's voice. I know that it's unusual, but it doesn't have the same calm authority as Hamari, which is so important. But I'm also sure that if this were the only version I knew, I would be caught immediately, because this Aria is fantastic!

The rest of the cantata? A highlight like the Alto Aria is even for a Bach impossible to surpass, but OK even average Bach is great, but again Leusink [9] disappoints me, what a heavy duet (Mvt. 4)! And the "Verfolgung" Aria is not passionate and allegro enough! It is "Verfolgung" not jogging. Rilling [5] does fine again.

Patrik Enander wrote (May 1, 2000):
[7] (About the Aria for Alto) I have only heard Herreweghe's coupled with BWV 21 (I think it is part of their mid-price Bach edition). As you know, I love the singing of Gerard Lesne and this Aria completely blows me away. Marie you have to hear this version.

Roy Reed wrote (May 3, 2000):
What a giant and amazing leap it is to jump in one week from BWV 4 to BWV 42. Different worlds. You look at and see BWV 4 and you immediately know, "This was written by an organist, and not surprisingly, an organist who walked to Lübeck to spend 4 months with D. Buxtehude. And BWV 42, "Who is this?" Someone who is a master of the concerto. Someone who has gone south as well as north. Someone who has heard Vivaldi and who has gone ahead into new territory. Learning from the Italians is an old tradition with German music at this point. Think of Heinrich Schütz who brought north the insights and innovations of G. Gabrieli and Monteverdi. And the cantata itself owes its life to Italian motivations and models.

The opening Sinfonia of BWV 42 is a wonderful novelty. It is a conversation between two trios really. The 3 reeds talk to the three strings. Well, there are 4 string lines, but the violins are mostly in unison. Bach wanted his string part of the dialogue to stand up to the snarrly reeds. (Is that a word?) So the strings are also a trio - Violin, viola and continuo. The B section of this da capo form does touch several tonalities and then cadences in the mediant (f# minor). In the B section the oboes get to sing a bit more and get playful. Most everyone supposes that this is a first movement, or its modification, of some lost concerto. I would say that instinct and knowledge of how Bach operates favours this conclusion. If that is so, then the Alto Aria in G major is most probably the slow movement of this lost concerto...with vocal line and text, of course, added. The piece makes its own good sense...pretty much...without the Alto line. I wouldn't want that to be understood as some denigration of this vocal line and what Bach has apparently done here. It is masterful and wonderful. When I look at it as a piece to perform, it really puts a scare into me. Talk about a minefield of ways to mess up. Holding the whole thing together would be very tricky. It is functionally a trio (two oboes and voice) with a realised continuo accompaniment (bassoon, strings, continuo inst.)

The cantatas are expositions almost always of the Gospel lesson. In this case, John 20: 19-31. The opening recitative quotes almost all of Ch. 20: 19, omitting Jesus' words, "Peace be with you." But Bach will get back to that. This gospel lesson includes the famous "doubting" Thomas episode. Bach avoids this aspect of the text entirely. His entire focus is that first verse and imessage about the presence of Jesus in the church. He is not into doubt, but into affirmation and a strong sense of the reality of Christ's comforting and enabling presence. At the opening of the Alto Aria he underscores the contemporary meaning of Jn. 20: 19 by an allusion to Mt. 18:19-20..."where 2 of 3 are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them." In the Aria text Jesus pronounces "Amen." "Peace" would seem the right word, but...this must be a meaning the amen also carries, something of an "all is well" blessing. In fact that is the empress of the cantata text as a whole. I have to say that I do not really understand the words of the B section of the cantata. When something happens out of love and need, that doesn't break the Ordnung of the Most High. Duh?? Is the Ordnung of the Hochsten...the resurrection of Jesus itself? I suppose?????

Anyway, I think it is as least clear that the da capo nature of the Aria is dictated in part by the text, or more probably, one of the local clergy or Bach himself fashioned the test the fit an already da capo form.

The choral text of the Soprano/Tenor duet (Mvt. 4) brings us back to some of the demonic strife of good and evil we encountered in cantata BWV 4. The "little band" is yet under attack. Not to fear, Jesus is here, so reminds the bass in his recitative. He is all the protection needed. The recitative end in a brief and dramatic "animoso" on the words, "therefore let the foes rage." The bass sings a little humpback shaped motif appropriate for Quasimodo Sunday. And to think, Bach never even got to Paris.

The final Aria, for bass, underlines the theme of Jesus as shield and protection. It is a 2-part Aria. Modulates to the dominant and then flirts with f# minor before going home. It is really a little rondo, very creative, lively piece.

The final chorale brings us back to the concluding words of Jn. 20: 19..."Peace be with you." This is Luther's version of antiphon "Da pacem Domine in diebus nostris" and the melody is Luther's adaptation of the plainsong hymn "Veni redemptor gentium." Bach's harmonisation is absolutely heavenly. Bach at his inspired best.

F. Oreja wrote (May 4, 2000):
(To Roy Reed) Many thanks for your posting! It was a very interesting view.

(Alto Aria) I really don't think that the vocal line was simply added. It is much probably that the vocal line takes the part of a solo instrument of the (lost) instrumental concert it was taken from. The piece would sound sure good without vocal part, because with Bach the several instrumental lines are always melodically independent and self-sufficient: that is Bach's contrapuntistic 'Meisterschaft'. In spite of it you must see that the vocal line cannot be a simple addition, but an integrating part of the composition without them the key for the understanding of the musical exposition of the piece would be absent.

That must be referred to the previous recitativo. There it is said that the disciples were assembled behind bolted doors, cause they had fear of their foes. When in the Aria Jesus says 'Amen', it doesn't mean 'peace', but something as 'it must be in that way'. "Denn was aus Not und Lieb geschicht" doesn't mean "When something happens out of love and need", but "For what happens caused by love and need"; it (that the feared disciples have to assemble behind bolted doors) doesn't break the law of God because that fact, the persecution, is even an expression of God's will.

Harry Steinman wrote (May 4, 2000):
[9] Like many choral works, I 'found' this wonderful cantata because I read about it here. Only version I have is the Brilliant Classics version, with Pieter Jan Leusink and the Netherlands Bach Collegium, the Holland Boys Choir and d Ruth Holton, Soprano; Sytse Buwalda, Alto; Knut Schoch, Tenor; and Bas Ramselaar, Bass. I love the cantata, but I don't like these singers much. The alto has what sounds to me like a 'tight' not relaxed voice...sounds 'shallow' not full. Not crazy about the others either. Guess who is going to be buying some music now!

Ryan Michero wrote (May 5, 2000):
Thanks to all for the many interesting posts this week. It's always nice to see a little actual "discussion" in here. I've especially enjoyed Roy Reed's recent postings--very nice personal responses to the music. We tend to focus on recordings (this list started from people in the Bach Recordings group, after all), so it's nice to hear more musical/religious analyses of the works. I hope you're enjoying our list so far!

Here's my take on the three versions I have:

[4] This is a fine recording, but I don't think it's completely successful. Harnoncourt starts out with a rollicking account of the opening Sinfonia, marked by strong accents and rather fierce instrumental attacks. Old Nik' almost turns this piece into a country-dance. The period winds are really piquant here, sounding almost like bagpipes or a regal organ (too bad they sound a bit out of tune). I like Harnoncourt's approach here, and in his hands I tend to think of this movement as a lost cousin of the Brandenburg Concerti. Equiluz's account of the next recitative is perfect, perhaps because he is such a natural Evangelist-type singer. I like the performance of the great aria here overall, but I think Esswood is guilty of ignoring the words a bit and just trying to make a beautiful sound. Also, Harnoncourt doesn't achieve great results from his orchestra (compare with Herreweghe here). The duet (Mvt. 4) sounds okay, even if I'm not too fond of the very young-sounding boy telling me comforting words of wisdom. In the bass aria, Ruud van der Meer does his best to be expressive. Unfortunately, the vibrato of his voice exactly matches with the tempo so that it sounds like he is constantly singing repeated notes. Hence, Bach's brilliant climactic final runs on the word "Verfolgung" ("persecution") are robbed of their power.

[7] This is certainly my favourite version. Herreweghe's account of the Sinfonia is lovely and well articulated, but the mushy acoustic brings back memories of Muzak-ized Brandenburg Concerto recordings. Where is the bite in the period instruments here? Luckily, things get much better in the alto aria, where Herreweghe secures playing of rapt intensity from his wind band--really ravishing. I'm sorry to say that Lesne's voice, lovely and dramatic as it is, puts a damper on the magic of this performance. I would like to hear more wonder and amazement in the voice. I mean, Jesus just appeared to you from out of nowhere! I can't help thinking Robin Blaze singing "Sehet Jesus hat die Hand" in Suzuki's St. Matthew recording, the surprise, wonder, and awakening joy in his voice. But I'm being cruel--this really is a wonderful performance of the aria. The duet (Mvt. 4) comes off well, with Schlick not sounding too shrill. I really love the performance of the final bass aria here, though. Herreweghe's violins are exhilaratingly devilish, and Kooy, with beautifully sustained notes throughout and breathtakingly virtuosic runs at the end, is an ideal singer for this piece. The final chorale is really beautiful here too, capping of a fine recording.

[9] Leusink is alternately satisfying and disappointing here. I like his version of the Sinfonia, his period-instrument band sounding beautiful. It sure sounds relaxed compared to Harnoncourt's, though. Knut Schoch sounds disinterested in his recitative. I'm not a fan of Sytse Buwalda's singing, but I must admit he doesn't ruin "Wo zwei und drei" (damning praise?). He is sincere and engaged with the text, and he even sounds beautiful in some parts. But he is also tonally insecure, and his strange vibrato, drastically modulating the volume of his voice, bothers me. I like the duet (Mvt. 4), especially the voice of Holton. The bass aria is really lacking in tension. If the violins are supposed to represent persecution besetting the Christians, Leusink must not think the believers have it so bad.

I await recordings by Suzuki [13] and Koopman [11] (and Gardiner [10]?), hoping to find my perfect version of BWV 42. In the meantime I'll listen to Herreweghe's lovely version [7].

Roy Reed wrote (May 5, 2000):
(To F. Oreja) Thank you, F. Oreja for the help with the aria text. It makes sense. As for the "original" voicing of the alto aria in BWV 42, I wonder. If the aria was constructed out of a middle concerto movement, and the alto line was originally a solo instrument, what instrument? Bassoon? I have some troubles with that. Does Bach introduce an instrument not involved in the opening movement? I guess I would stick with my original surmise, counting on Bach's genius and gift for the long, elegant and forwardly impulsed melodic line. Reading Bach is something like reading the Bible...all those pieces you wish you had but can't find...

F. Oreja wrote (May 6, 2000):
[To Roy Reed] May be you are right with the 'additions-theory'. It seems evident that the opening movement of the cantata has its origin in a lost concert. But the supposition that the alto aria comes from a concerto too (it would be the middle slow movement) is no more so evident, although many, as Roy Reed, Alfred Dürr and F. Oreja think it is the case. But supposed it comes from a concerto, it would be still open to discussion if it comes from the same instrumental concerto as the opening piece and what degree of elaboration and transformation found Bach necessary to fit it in the cantata. For that reason, and assuming that the aria comes actually from a concerto too, it would be possible to find there an instrument - be it an oboe or a viola pomposa (no idea) - that cannot be found in similar important position in the opening movement.

There are also several possibilities to choose from and the matter is open to speculations. I feel still that without the vocal line something would lack in the musical exposition. And I count too of course on Bach's genius and gift for melodic lines.


BWV 42 (7): A prayer for peace

Johan de Wael [Aalst - Belgium] wrote (April 8, 2002):
Greetings to all of you, admirers of Bach's beautiful music,

Listening to BWV 42, one of the cantatas composed for this Sunday, Quasimodogeniti (April 8, 1725), the text of the last movement struck me, as it seemed to me very appropriate to the troublesome situation in Israel these days.

Verleih uns Frieden gnädiglich,
Herr Gott, zu unsern Zeiten;
Es ist doch ja kein andrer nicht,
Der für uns könnte streiten,
Denn du, unsr Gott, alleine.

Gib unsern Fürsten und all'r Obrigkeit
Fried und gut Regiment,
Daß wir unter ihnen
Ein geruhig und stilles Leben führen mögen
In aller Gottseligkeit und Ehrbarkeit.


Perhaps the magnificent soothing movements (1, 3, 4, 6) of the same cantata
can put our minds at ease for a brief moment. And for what it 's worth: I wish all inhabitants of Israel could live a quiet life free from fear and persecution.

Eitan Loew wrote (April 8, 2002):
[To Johan De Wael] Thank you, Johan


Symbolic instrumentation?

Bernard Nys wrote (April 27, 2003):
As you know, I'm writing a brief analysis of each cantata for the local church magazine. Listening to BWV 42, the magnificent 11' lasting alto-aria, "Where two and three assembled are for Jesus' precious name's sake, there cometh Jesus in their midst", I was wondering if the text "2 or 3 persons assembled in Jesus' holy name" is symbolized by the 2 oboes + 1 bassoon intro. I have the feeling that the alto (Holy Spirit voice) comes down on those 2 or 3 instruments = persons. Am I right or is this too much ?


Koopman's continuo organ in BWV 42 (duet) (Mvt. 4)

Neil Halliday wrote (October 29, 2004):
In looking for an alternative to Rilling's [5] rather fast S,T Duet from BWV 42 (Verzage nicht, o Hauflein klein), I have come across a pleasing, much slower version from Koopman [11] (courtesy of the Zale site), timing 3.03 c.f. Rilling's 2.04 [5].

York and Dürmüller (Koopman) [11] give an expressive, nicely matched performance that is more satisfying than the allegro performance - with much vibrato - from Auger and Kraus (Rilling) [5]. The highly articulate cello in the Koopman recording is also preferable to the somewhat comical-sounding continuo bassoon in Rilling's version.

Both versions are spoilt to some degree by irritating little portable organs - Rilling [5] less so because the organ is mostly 'hidden' by the bassoon. (I have borrowed this description of portable organs, as "irritating", from another internet-based listener, so I am certainly not alone in this consideration).

Once again it occurs to me how much better the Koopman version [11] would sound with quiet, solid chords from a piano, in this highly chromatic movement, compared with the quiet 'tootle' and annoying, clearly-audible noise of the tracker-action of the organ. (Neither do I consider the live 'buzz' of a harpsichord timbre to be desirable for this movement).

I have no doubt a continuo piano would produce better results, from a musical point of view; but will questions of historical exactitude forever preclude such a performance?

I have not heard the rest of Koopman's cantata [11], because downloading from the Zale site is rather time-consuming (where I am), and in any case the main alto aria, on the Rilling CD I have [5], is a splendid 12 minute affair featuring the magnificent voice of Julia Hamari.

Bradley Lehman wrote (October 29, 2004):
< Both versions are spoilt to some degree by irritating little portable organs - Rilling [5] less so because the organ is mostly 'hidden' by the bassoon. (I have borrowed this description of portable organs, as "irritating", from another internet-based listener, so I am certainly not alone in this consideration).
Once again it occurs to me how much better the Koopman version
[11] would sound with quiet, solid chords from a piano, in this highly chromatic movement, compared with the quiet 'tootle' and annoying, clearly-audible noise of the tracker-action of the organ. (Neither do I consider the live 'buzz' of a harpsichord timbre to be desirable for this movement).
I have no doubt a continuo piano would produce better results, from a musical point of view; but will questions of historical exactitude forever preclude such a performance? >
Ummmm........oh, never mind.

What's to stop you from getting a few folks together and playing one yourself, on whatever pianos and organs and what-not that you choose to use, more productively than complaining that professional musicians always choose poorly!? Seems to me it's just one long string of gripes after another, here, about the organs and other keyboard instruments used, and the tempos. Well, this music is not tremendously difficult; get some people together and perform it however you want to!

Neil Halliday wrote (October 30, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
"<Seems to me it's just one long string of gripes after another, here, about the organs and other keyboard instruments used, and the tempos.>"
Sorry if the criticism comes across as carping/negative. Rather, I would like my ideas to be taken as positive criticism in the service of Bach's wonderful music. This tendency to the use of smaller and smaller continuo organs in Bach ought to be questioned, IMO.

"<Well, this music is not tremendously difficult; get some people together and perform it however you want to!>".
Insuggestion, Brad, but I will have trouble finding vocalists of the calibre of York and Durmuller!

Ludwig wrote (October 30, 2004):
[To Bradley Lehman] First of all using a piano is truly annoying as the Piano is not a good accompaniment to anything as it is like tympani and Brass instruments---it wants to dominate.

A Harpsichord would be good as Harpsichord blends well with just about everything and does not seek to dominate.

I have not heard the particular portatif that you speak of but the Organist should not be using anything more than a quiet Gedackt 8' stop and if anything else added perhaps a quiet 2' or 1' to add sparkle. It sounds from what you are saying that perhaps some mixtures are being used, along with perhaps Nazard or Tierce. These last mutations are very useful but when out of balance with the rest of the ensemble dominate and create very unpleasant timbres.

Neil Halliday wrote (October 30, 2004):
Ludwig wrote:
< First of all using a piano is truly annoying as the Piano is not a good accompaniment to anything as it is like tympani and Brass instruments---it wants to dominate. >
Perhaps that should not be directed at Brad, since I (Neil) am the one who is barracking for the use of continuo modern piano in Bach.

Have you heard any of the old Bach Aria Group recordings? The piano by no means "dominates" the proceedings, but rather gives a pleasing timbre to the continuo (figured bass) chords that supplement the cello line. You can listen to this ensemble's version of the alto aria from BWV 116, with piano continuo, on Aryeh's site.

However, in relation to the duet (Mvt. 4) from BWV 42: after looking at the BGA (full) score (which I have on CD ROM), and the piano reduction/vocal score (available at Aryeh's site), I can modify my view, in as much as:

1. The problem with Koopman's otherwise satisfying version [11], is not so much the "small" portable organ, whose part is innocent/innocuous enough, but rather Koopman's treatment of the cello line as the continuo line, when a look at the score reveals that the cello is in fact an obligato instrument, in quavers (doubled by the bassoon, which Koopman ignores), and the continuo is a separate part, largely in crotchets, which is completely inaudible in Koopman's recording.

Hence it seems to me I was led to blame the organ for the lack of 'presence' of the continuo part, when in fact it is Koopman's [11] lack of attention to the continuo cello/double bass line that is the problem, resulting in a certain unsatisfying 'liteness' to the whole duet (Mvt. 4).

{This continuo line is audible in Rilling's recording [5] (though rather soft and inflexible), and here the main criticism I have relates to the fast tempo and, perhaps, the vocal vibrato}.

2. Getting back to the piano, have a look at the piano reduction/vocal score (mentioned above.) The piano realisation of the obligato cello and continuo line sounds very splendid indeed (I have printed a copy and played it on piano myself), with some wonderfully complex chords that highlight the chromatic nature of the composition. This realisation, perhaps minus the notes belonging to the obligato cello in the full score, would make a wonderful keyboard continuo part, if a piano was used in a full (with obligato cello, continuo and voices) performance of the piece.

I am convinced that certain movements, especially of a slowish, emotional, chromatic character, as we have here and in BWV 116, would respond marvellously with piano as keyboard continuo, due to the piano's ability to render complex chords in an intelligible, non-invasive (contrary to your assertion) manner.

(Naturally, I am not referring to movements for larger ensembles, where the audience don't necessarily need to hear, on recordings or in live performannce, a keyboard continuo instrument, as discussed some time ago).

Ludwig wrote (October 30, 2004):
[To Neil Halliday] Thank you Neil for taking responsibility and now I guess I owe Brad an apology.

Baroque Music is not Midaevil- Rennaisance Music in which any old instrument is ok.

What you are hearing with regard to Piano is not natural but an engineered effect that can not be duplicated in concert and furthermore is not what Bach intended and while there are a number of legal liberties that one can take with Bach's scores----using a clarinet for the Oboe d'amore (a G.Shirmer score does this) and the Piano is not one of them.

Contrary to what some romanticists (Glenn Gould school) would have you believe--J.S. Bach never used the Piano and never heard of this instrument until about year before he died when one of his sons introduced the father to the Piano in Potsdam. JS by then had just about given up composition because he was so blind that it was such a struggle just to get anything on paper because he had to use family members to write what he dictated.

The Bach sons did write for the Piano but they also wrote for the Organ and harpsichord.

My feeling is that if you will do this to Bach I shutter to think what you would do with my music as I go to great pains to explain what I want and no deviations from that.

William Rowland, composer, member ASCAP

Gabriel Jackson wrote (October 30, 2004):
Ludwig wrote:
"Baroque Music is not Midaevil- Rennaisance Music in which any old instrument is ok."
I don't think any old instrument is OK in Mediaeval or Renaissance music either.

John Reese wrote (October 30, 2004):
Ludwig wrote:
< What you are hearing with regard to Piano is not natural but an engineered effect >
...As opposed to all those other instruments that were found roaming free in the wild...?

Neil Halliday wrote (October 30, 2004):
Ludwig wrote:
<"Baroque Music is not Midaevil- Rennaisance Music in which any old instrument is ok.>"
Naturally, I don't regard the modern piano as "any old instrument".

It is the instrument that actually supplanted the harpsichord for a considerable period of time, after Bach's lifetime, when most other instruments that Bach had used, survived with at least their names intact.

However, rather than pursuing this matter on this list, I would like to return to the subject heading; and I repeat that, after perusing the score, I probablty would not have begun this thread had Koopman [11] given a half decent reading of the continuo line, which is simply inaudible (as opposed to the obligato cello line, which he presents quite vividly).

[This is not to say there aren't any problems with the continuo organs in the cantatas; in Rilling's set [5], about a dozen movements are spoilt by an unpleasant, rasping timbre from the chamber organ, along with some fairly trite figured bass realisations (how I wish Bach had written these continuo organ parts out; fortunately, Rilling often uses the less trouble-prone harpsichord in continuo) and in the HIP cantatas, plenty of secco recitatives that already sound incongruously 'dainty' (to my ears, at least) are not improved at all, by the small organs playing short chords].

Bradley Lehman wrote (October 30, 2004):
Neil Halliday wrote:
< [This is not to say there aren't any problems with the continuo organs in the cantatas; in Rilling's set [5], about a dozen movements are spoilt by an unpleasant, rasping timbre from the chamber organ, along with some fairly trite figured bass realisations (how I wish Bach had written these continuo organ parts out; fortunately, Rilling often uses the less trouble-prone harpsichord in continuo) (...) >
But, Neil, thoroughbass is fundamentally an IMPROVISED art, and if too much is written down it loses its spark! Furthermore, Bach himself authored two manuscripts of instructions about it, and he taught it to his students directly, and he left myriad written-out examples (in other pieces of his) of such improvisational ideas, not that it has to be fully written-out ALL ttime. Furthermore, one of his most talented sons wrote a full-length book covering thoroughbass principles of harmony and texture thoroughly, as part of the complete package of keyboard technique! What more would you have these fine musicians do for you than they have already done? Have you sat down and studied these materials, working through them with a good teacher, learning to improvise these parts yourself? That's what they're there for..... Thoroughbass is basic practical training in thinking like a composer and improvising like a composer.

It appears to me that you expect musical notation to give a performer everything that is necessary to know, such that it restricts the performer's movements to be an unchanging way to play. (And therefore it would perhaps prevent performers from doing things you don't fancy....) Well, such an expectation goes against fundamental principles, and the very spirit, of late 17th and early 18th century music. Thoroughbass is written down as only a sketch because the performers are expected to know how to do their jobs brilliantly, as co-creators of the piece each time it's played: fitting the improvisation to match the venue and the available instrumentation and the performance of the other players/singers in the ensemble. That dynamic process of music-making cannot be pinned down adequately in fully-written-out parts. Thoroughbass is the catalyst that holds the whole ensemble together and helps the music to sound fresh each time, organic, alive. As soon as the parts get written down, it ossifies.

You can keep going on and on as long as you want to, asserting that players have allegedly chosen poor continuo instruments and improper playing techniques (according to your expectations)...but that doesn't change the fact that it's an improvised and dynamic art which you happen not to have studied closely. (Or have you? Prove me wrong!) The better solution here, it seems to me, is to go out there and learn to play those instruments and techniques yourself and see what you come up with, actively, playing with as many different types of ensembles as you can pull together. There's some overlap with liturgical church-organist art, too; the craftsmanship of improvising in such a way that people find it easy to sing and play along, being inspired to do their own best. Thoroughbass is not a spectator sport, even though it gets reviewed that way.

Thomas Shepherd wrote (October 29, 2004):
[To Bradley Lehman] Brad, would you say that the process you describe about being an interesting continuo performer is very similar to a modern jazz standards player who has a page of very basic notation and can often produce some exciting results? As I have heard hours of Chick Korea, Waynne Marsalis, Herbie Hancock et al. in this house as my son get to grips with modern standards, I also know its an art and technique that has to be practiced and learnt!!

Neil Halliday wrote (October 30, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
<"that doesn't change the fact that it's (thoroughbass) an improvised and dynamic art which you happen not to have studied closely.">
Correct. [I never had sufficient keyboard talent to consider performing in public, and therefore saw no use for such study - and opted to spend my spare time more enjoyably through studying/playing/ listening to recordings of the WTC, for example. But this is a forum where lovers of the music, whether professional players or not, are able to offer critiques of specific recordings they have heard].

Your emphasis on the improvisational nature of thoroughbass does raise an obvious point: people can (and will) disagree on the results.(Presumably, if Bach had written the part out, there would be no argument on this aspect of the composition).

For example, consider the tenor continuo aria fron BWV 147. (It consists of two lines only - tenor and continuo).

I happen to much admire Richter's continuo organ "improvisation", but others have thought it too elaborate. Who's view is correct? (I put "improvisation" in quotes, because Richter would surely have composed this part before the recording session? And for that matter, I suppose Koopman's organist [11] in the BWV 42 duet (Mvt. 4) did likewise.)

OTOH, Gardiner (in BWV 147) gives us a much less ambitious part, completely changing the nature of the piece (nevertheless, in this instance, with satisfactory results).

In general, I find that Richter's improvisations, on a larger instrument, (in the arias) more often display some of the brilliance and level of development we associate with Bach's own organ music; whereas with the chamber organ brigade (Rilling [5] and HIP) I often feel I am listening to figured bass realisations in the style of, say, John Bull (c.1562-1628) - in other words, music of a much simpler and less developed technique, at least in relation to keyboard music.

Hence my dismissal of the the organ part, in the Koopman [11] BWV 42 duet (Mvt. 4), as "innocent/innocuous" - due to the small size of the instrument, and the simplicity of the improvisation. (But as I have said, Koopman might have saved the day, by attending to the continuo line itself).

BTW, in the score of that continuo line, Bach even shows a division of some the notes into two notes an octave apart, presumably representing a separation of the cello and double base/violone? Or bassoon? In any case, Bach obviously places some emphasis on this line, all of which is missed in the Koopman recording [11].

Meanwhile, thanks, Brad, for expounding on the state of affairs from the performer's/improviser's/composer's viewpoint.


Continue on Part 2

Cantata BWV 42: Am Abend aber desselbigen Sabbats Am Abend aber desselbigen Sabbats for Quasimodogeniti [1st Sunday after Easter] (1725)
Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements
Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

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