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Cantata BWV 45
Es ist dir gesagt, Mensch, was gut ist
Discussions - Part 1

Cantata 45

Edwin Smith wrote (October 15, 2001):
I'm a sucker for this cantata (Es ist gesagt, Mensch, was gut ist) - even travelling as far as Lübeck from Hertfordshire to hear it sung as part of the John Eliot Gardiner/Monteverdi Choir's Bach Pilgrimage series. Unfortunately this concert was not one of the ones that was recorded which is a shame as it was something special. Lübeck was the first city chosen for mass destruction by the RAF's 'Bomber' Harris in 1942. The bells in the cathedral in which the concert was held fell 300 feet in the blaze, and were left embedded in the stone floor as a poignant memorial when the building was restored. Lübeck is understandably not a particularly pro-English city and the concert given by an English choir, in conjunction with Bach's wonderful music, felt as if it had a restorative component to it.

Does anyone have a recording of this cantata? I have the Leonhardt version [4] which is very disappointing, failing completely to capture the joy of the first movement and suffering from a periodic low point in the boy soloists. I also have a version which I taped from BBC Radio 3 of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment's Bach Cantata series in the Queen Elizabeth Hall about 12 years ago. This is much better but not a particularly good recording due to poor radio reception. This series of concerts opened my ears to the great wealth of music in the cantatas and I'd be interested in a better quality tape of all 6 concerts.

I (and my wife) would like opening chorus of BWV 45 (Mvt. 1) to be played at my funeral which hopefully is a long way off, but in the meantime I'd love the opportunity to sing it as bass or counter tenor. I sing with large choirs (London Symphony Chorus and Hertfordshire Chorus) at the moment but have a yearning to sing Bach with a smaller group.

Talking of Leonhardt and Gardiner, it was encouraging in Lübeck to hear the latter achieving the more relaxed, yet dance based, approach to Bach that the former demonstrated in the latter part of his career. Previously Gardiner was all excitement but less substance but showed, in Lübeck at least, that you can be just as brisk but poignant as well. To my mind, Leonhardt is the past master at this and his later recordings and concerts in London have given me great joy. The way his players respond to his minimal involvement on the rostrum was a lesson to us all. Does anyone know if he is still performing as he hasn't appeared in London for some time.

Marten Breuer wrote (October 15, 2001):
[To Edwin Smith] As concerns the Gardiner performance of BWV 45, I would advise you to contact radio 3: http://www.ndr.de/cgi/r3frame/hf/radio3/kontakt/index.html.

I'm almost sure they broadcast the concert, so they'll presumably have a recording and perhaps, they'll let you have it. Good luck!

Francis H. R. Franca wrote (October 15, 2001):
[To Edwin Smith] I also love the opening chorus of cantata BWV 45.

Although I usually do not purchase cantata albums that are not by Suzuki (the series that I am collecting), I had to open an exception for this cantata, and acquired the recording by Rilling [5], which I first heard in the library.

I have not heard other versions for comparison, but do like Rilling's recording [5] very much - the opening chorus is very joyful indeed. As known, he used modern instruments. The recording is available in the Hänssler Bach complete edition.

Aryeh Oron wrote (October 15, 2001):
I do also love Cantata BWV 45. Actually it was the first cantata I heard performed live (together with another splendid cantata BWV 39). It was in the mid 1970's and following that concert I was looking for a record with this cantata. After couple of months I found the LP with Rilling (his first recording) [3], and it was even better than the concert. This cantata has not been discussed yet in the Bach Cantatas Mailing List. Neverthless, I compiled for you a list of all the recordings of this cantata I am aware of exisiting. I put them in the following page in the Bach Cantatas Website: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV45.htm
Personally, the recordings of this cantata which I prefer are those of Richter [1] and Rilling (first) [3].

BTW, are you a member of the BCML. If not, I warmly recommend to you joining. The instructions how to join appear in the following page: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/How.htm

 

Discussions in the Week of July 21, 2002

Aryeh Oron wrote (July 21, 2002):
BWV 45 - Es ist dir gesagt, Mensch, was gut ist - Introduction

The subject of this week’s discussion (July 21, 2002), according to Francis Browne’s suggested list, is Cantata BWV 45 ‘Es ist dir gesagt, Mensch, was gut ist’ (You have been told, mankind, what is good) for the 8th Sunday after Trinity. The librettist of this cantata, as of many others, is unknown. It is of free madrigal type, which makes Schweitzer think that the libretto was written by Picander. Terry suggests Christian Weiss, Sr.; Neumann and Whittaker say that he was someone unknown. Even the dating is very vague. Dürr’s modern research places it back to 1726, and Young believes that it was written by Bach somewhere between 1732 and 1740.

The text bears directly on the Gospel Matthew 7: 13-25, a warning against false prophets and workers of iniquity, with verses 22-23 being quoted for the Bass Arioso of Part 2 (Mvt. 4). Although the main thought of all the movements is on the righteous conduct, Bach was able to alleviate their didactic texts with enchanting melodies. There is also strong feeling for the dramatic in the arias, especially in the Arioso. However, Bach cannot derive any imagery from this preaching libretto.

The details of the recordings of this cantata can be found in the following page of the Bach Cantatas Website: Cantata BWV 45 - Recordings
English translation by Francis Browne: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Texts/BWV45-Eng3.htm
Another English translation by Z. Philip Ambrose: http://www.uvm.edu/~classics/faculty/bach/BWV45.html
Hebrew translation by me: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Texts/BWV45-Heb1.htm
French Translation (by Walter F. Bischof?): http://www.cs.ualberta.ca/~wfb/fcantatas/45.html

Three complete recordings of this cantata come from the regular forces (Rilling [5], Leonhardt [4], and Leusink [7]). Another one is also conducted by Rilling, but was recorded before he started his complete cantata cycle. It belongs to the mini-cycle of Bach Cantatas recorded by various skilled conductors for the German label Cantate. Most of these recordings, including this one by Rilling, have never been transferred to CD form. I am aware of another LP recording from mid 1960’s, by Ernest Ansermet [2], but I do not have it.

I have to admit that I have always loved Cantata BWV 45. Actually it was the first cantata I have ever heard performed live (together with another splendid cantBWV 39). It was in mid 1970's. Following that concert I was looking for a record with this cantata. After couple of months I found the LP with Rilling (his first recording) [3], and it was even better than the concert. Following a small discussion of this cantata about 9 months ago, I listened again to BWV 45 and found that at that time my favourite recordings were those of Richter [1] and Rilling (first) [3]. I am looking forward to hear this cantata again during this week.

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

Thomas Braatz wrote (July 22, 2002):
BWV 45 Es ist dir gesagt, Mensch, was gut ist - Provenance:

See: Cantata BWV 45 - Provenance

Ludwig wrote (July 23, 2002):
[To Aryeh Oron] As you state the libretto author is unknown but some scholars seem to think that at least the Chorale might be attributed to Johann Heermann’s text of 1630.

Bach used so many of Picander's texts that it is reasonable to attribute this to Picander until can be proved differently. Could it be that Bach wrote the libretto himself??? BWV 45 is instrumentally simply scored for two flutes, two oboes and stings with the usual continuo and is in 7 parts which under other circumstances might have also included scoring for trumpets and timpani (at least on my first hearing I did).

The opening instrumental parts as well as the Alto Aria flute part sounds rather familiar as something borrowed from the B minor mass and again from one of the Passions. Can anyone confirm this??

Thomas Braatz wrote (July 23, 2002):
Ludwig asked:
< As you state the libretto author is unknown but some scholars seem to think that at least the Chorale might be attributed to Johann Heermans text of 1630. >
Unless it is a chorale cantata of the type where only verses from a chorale are used, the author of the chorale text, as in this cantata, is not considered to be main source of the text. For BWV 45, Christoph Wolff, in his recent Bach biography, claims that the text is "from a 1704 collection attributed to Duke Ernst Ludwig [another ludwig!] of Saxe-Meiningen."

< Bach used so many of Picander's texts that it is reasonable to attribute this to Picander until can be proved differently. Could it be that Bach wrote the libretto himself??? >
The older Bach scholarship of Spitta and Schweitzer are responsible for this "over" attribution of cantata texts to Picander. The NBA editors do not consider this text as originating with Bach, particularly since Bach became acquainted with these same texts (a set or collection as indicated above) through a relative in the Bach family who had already set them to music. Bach very likely performed some of these cantatas himself before deciding to use the same texts for his own cantatas. There are only very few libretti for the cantatas where the experts allow for the possibility that Bach may have written the text himself.

< BWV 45 is instrumentally simply scored for two flutes, two oboes and stings with the usual continuo and is in 7 parts which under other circumstances might have also included scoring for trumpets and timpani (at least on my first hearing I did). >
You have omitted the viola part among the strings which carries an independent line of music, so that would make 8 theoretical parts, but because of the doubling of parts in BWV 45, there are, in reality only 4 instrumental parts in Mvt. 1: Flute I, Oboe 1, and Violin I play the same notes; Flute II, Oboe II, Violin II have the same musical line in common; the viola and the bc have separate parts, hence it is only 4-pt. writing for the instruments + the 4 separate voices of the choir = 8 individual parts. The use of trumpets and tympani was mainly reserved for special holidays. It is true that occasionally, as in mvt. 1 of BWV 187, there is a place where the oboes enter with the fugal subject with all the other parts playing something else. It would have been glorious to hear this fugal entry arching above everything else that is going on musically. The two oboes playing in unison are like a weak echo of what it could sound like with a trumpet (even with the softer-sounding instruments of Bach's time.) In Mvt. 1 of this cantata, BWV 45, there are no entrances of the fugal subject that would lend themselves easily to this type of treatment by a trumpet because the structure of this mvt. is very different and bears little resemblance to the introductory mvt. of BWV 187.

< The opening instrumental parts as well as the Alto Aria flute part sounds rather familiar as somethng borrowed from the B minor mass and again from one of
the Passions. Can anyone confirm this?? >
There is no parody here. What you may hear in this aria are certain figures that exemplify the characteristic manner in which Bach writes for this instrument. You can expect to find similar figures elsewhere, where Bach composes specifically for this instrument (and probably for the performer as well.) This is one of the key achievements of the Baroque to be able to write very characteristically for a specific instrument. In the Renaissance there was more emphasis on attaining a unified, similar sound, 'broken' consorts notwithstanding. Musical parts in essentially the same range allowed for more flexibility in assigning a variety of instruments to them. Sometimes I wonder how Bach must have felt about changing the type of solo instrument in a cantata mvt. which he originally composed for, let's say, an oboe (and for a good oboist); and then, many years later, because a good oboist was not available for a Sunday performance, he has another treble instrument (violin, flute) play the same music. Was he sad about this, or simply practical (make do with what you've got; let the chips fall where they may)? In any case, a person with a reasonably good ear for music will be able to note the difference between the two and, given the choice, will select the original over the replacement because Bach had composed so characteristically for a specific instrument the first time around.

Ludwig wrote (July 23, 2002):
[To Thomas Braatz] Thank you very much. The figure of which you write is something I find very attractive and never tire of hearing--it seems to crop up in many of the Bach works I mentioned. Bach always seems to score it for Flute and gets much masterful service out of this particular figure. Sometimes it is used as counterpoint and at other times it is the main theme.

Bach seemes to have a genius for composing works from which other works could be built upon or developed from using the same thematic material (maybe Bach is the true inventor of the motif and not Wagner?) for instance the famous Ave Maria by Schubert which others in more recent times (especially someone whose name I can not recall at the moment who teaches at the Royal Academy of Music in London and is an accomplished composer in his own right) have also exploited to great advantage this same work with interesting counterpoint.

Thomas Braatz wrote (July 24, 2002):
BWV 45 - Commentaries: [Whittaker, Schweitzer, Spitta, Voigt, Dürr, Eric Chafe, Nicholas Anderson, My commentary, Summary]

See: Cantata BWV 45 - Commentary

Robin Crag wrote (July 25, 2002):
As allways with Bach, very beautifull music!

Movement1: This is "Big" music, many voices (which im not allways able to pick out), and i think it sounds "extroverted" generally. It seems to joyfull to me, lots of rythmic invention. (syncopation, and those places where one voice holds a long note while all the other voices swirl around it ("pedal points"). I would call it dancy but I'm not sure if you could dance to it at all, so I wont. It has a feeling of movement anyway. When all the singing voices first come in (saying "Es ist dir gesagt"), it seems like you are listening to prenouncment. The music somehow says "So there, I really methis, you'd better listen" I think this is just because of how the shape they sing sounds, and the way they "pop out" one after another.Ive noticed that the text in the cantata is different to the same verse in the King James Bible. (for example, "liebe ueben/love thy neighbour/practice love" in the 1st, and "love mercy" in the 2nd.) Is there any particular reason for this, or is this just confusion from being translated to many times?

Thanks, Thomas (If you do not object to the lack of Sirname), for the intresting comments as allways. But what does "Choreinbau" mean? (Sorry for all my silly questions!)

About the recording I have (Leusink+co [7]): An "ok" performance genrally, I think.(not wonderfull, not bad either) But maybe there isnt enough clarity here. For example, the flutes are (almost) impossible to hear, and the continuo is to loud. (but what good does being fussy do?)

Mvt. 2: I don't have much to say about this, exept that its "quiet" in 2 ways. A rest for the brain and the ears, between Mvs 1+3.

Mvt. 3: This seems to me joyfull and extroverted, too, but not so much as Mvs. 1+3. But looking at the text, it is the believer talking to himself about what he must do (maybe he is just happy about doing it?).

Having said that its joyfull, its in a minor key. But the "rythmic invention" I mentioned in Mvt. 1 is here too, and 3/8 is not the time signature for a lamento. So I think it is in a minor key for variety within the cantata more than anything.

Mvt. 4.: I really love this movement. Maybe I will try to sing it someday, when I can sing :-). Joyfull again (am I using that word too much?), rythmic whatsits again (but mainly this time because of the throwing backwards and forwards between the viola and the bass line(with the bassline coming in off the beat) (if you see?). But the text! The God says, go away, i know you thought you did good deeds in my name,etc etc, but go and be damned as I don't recognise you. Bach is obviously quite happy about this... The music seems to cast away the evildoers with relish. But I cant help but sympathize with the poor creatures involved... (I'm an unbeliever you see, sorry for any offence caused) With the performance: Generally its good , they get into the spirit of the music. But Bas the bass sounds a little to much like he's trying to dance and sing at the same time. I think the keyboard part of the continuo is to loud, too.

Mvt. 5 Another "quiet" movement. (But I can appreciate this better than the recitatives..) I can feel here the faithfullness of the believer, carrying out Gods word dutifully.

Mvt. 6 gweler Mvt. 2

Mvt. 7 More voices again, but this is "quiet" to in its own way, a relitavely simple chorale setting (well compared to BWV 167 anyway..). Looking at the pianor eduction pdf thing, though, I realise that I have not appreciated the little complicatedness that is there..

A general thought:
Here we have 2 "outrageous" movements (Mvt. 1+Mvt. 4), which proclaim the god's words. The other movements (All the others, but it doesn't apply as much to Mvt. 3) I have called "quiet". They are more introverted and contemplative. So even though the outrageous ones are the ones I like the most, the cantata would be a little empty without the other bits (like a mug of water without the mug).

Now of course, I have probably started talking rubbish, so ignore it all...

Anthony J. Olszowy wrote (July 25, 2002):
I must break out of my status as lurker, just for a moment. The Ansermet version of Es ist dir gesagt [2] was the first cantata recording I ever purchased, back in the mid seventies on LP. The Canadians on the list will remember those times as the heyday of local Sam the Record Man stores, with their rather small, eclectic classical music sections. My small town had one back then, and that was the only cantata recording they had, oddly enough. As a teenager back then, I wasn't particularly mobile, and I had to be satisfied with that.

I fell in love with that performance of the cantata right then and there, particularly the opening choral fantasia and the basso extract from the Gospel for the day. Marvellous stuff, I thought. I then went to my Dover edition, second volume of Schweitzer, where he panned the cantata as ordinary, and full of pointless repetition of the opening line. He even called the opening text (from Joel, I think?) banal. (Eery coincidence: didn't Jimmy Carter choose that very text for reading at his Inaugural?!) Argh, I thought; I obviously don't understand the cantata genre--and ignored Bach's cantatas for almost a decade. What a fool I was!

I learned later not to trust Schweitzer's judgements so implicitly. I still give the Ansermet version high marks, large choir, inauthentic, booming b.c. and all. I was deeply disappointed with Decca when they reissued the Hickox Bach Lutheran masses (another favourite of mine from LP days) on budget priced CD, and included three or four of the Ansermet performances of the cantatas--and didn't include this one.

Francis Browne wrote (July 25, 2002):
BWV 45 Arioso Basso

Among other interesting points Robin Crag wrote of Mvt. 4;
"But the text! The God says, go away, I know you thought you did good deeds in my name, etc etc, but go and be damned as I don't recognise you. Bach is obviously quite happy about this... The music seems to cast away the evildoers with relish. But I can’t help but sympathize with the poor creatures involved... (I'm an unbeliever you see, sorry for any offence caused) With the performance: Generally its good, they get into the spirit of the music. But Bas the bass sounds a little too much like he's trying to dance and sing at the same time. I think the keyboard part of the continuo is to loud, too."

I share Robin's reaction to the aria and to the text. When I first listened to this cantata a few months ago, my delight in the joyful orchestral introduction turned to astonishment as I listened to the text. Christ's words of judgement on those who are convinced of their own virtue seem intolerably cheerful and smug. But like Robin I have only heard the Leusink performance [7]. This leaves me wondering whether other performances are as unremittingly jolly. Is it possible that in the first section of the aria where Christ quotes the words of those who he condemns Bach is deliberately portraying their unfounded self-confidence - they make driving out devils etc sound like great fun - and that in the following section the tone of Christ's words of condemnation -weichet alle von mir, ihr uebeltaeter - should be sung very differently from Ramselaar's smugly cheerful enunciation of eternal damnation ?

This is clearly not the way Leusink interprets the aria with his rapid tempo and lighthearted tone throughout the aria. My puzzle is that if I did not know German or simply ignored the words I would undoubtedly enjoy the music more for the qualities that Robin has well characterised. But I wonder whether a different interpretation with closer attention to the detail of Bach's writing would produce a more complex but not necessarily less enjoyable aria. My suspicion is that as so very often Bach is doing something far more interesting than may appear at first hearing. But without hearing other performances or studying the score with more musicological knowledge than I possess I cannot confirm this suspicion.

Did Bach write a jolly but not very appropriate aria - or was he doing something else? Any help would be much appreciated.

Anthony J. Olszowy wrote (July 25, 2002):
[To Francis Browne] Forgive me, but I've always interpreted this arioso as the closest Bach comes to a rage aria in Baroque oper. The anger is directed at hypocrisy, as Christ's angry words usually are in the gospels. In the versions I have (Ansermet [2], Richter [1], Harnoncourt/Leonhardt [4]), that rage comes through rather clearly--most clearly (and beautifully--a terrible beauty, to be sure) in the first.

Thomas Braatz wrote (July 25, 2002):
Robin Crag asks:
< Movement1: This is "Big" music, many voices (which im not allways able to pick out), and i think it sounds "extroverted" generally. It seems joyfull to me, lots of rythmic invention. (syncopation, and those places where one voice holds a long note while all the other voicesn swirl around it ("pedal points"). I would call it dancy but I'm not sure if you could dance to it at all, so I wont. >
Edwin Smith commented on Leonhardt's [4] and Gardiner's performances of this mvt. (see the discussion of BWV 45 on Aryeh's site) as a characteristic of the HIP style of playing that can easily get out of hand: < Talking of Leonhardt and Gardiner, it was encouraging in Lübeck to hear the latter achieving the more relaxed, yet dance based, approach to Bach that the former demonstrated in the latter part of his career. >

There should be strong rhythm and movement in many Bach cantata mvts., but a casual light tippy-toe approach that HIP conductors often overdo, should, IMO, be avoided.

< It has a feeling of movement anyway. When all the singing voices first come in (saying "Es ist dir gesagt"), it seems like you are listening to prenouncment. The music somehow says "So there, I really mean this, you'd better listen" I think this is just because of how the shape they sing sounds, and the way they "pop out" one after another. >
These are the short, mini-fugal entries and the repetition is a rhetorical device to attract the attention of the listeners, as you have indicated.

< I’ve noticed that the text in the cantata is different to the same verse in the kingjamesbible. (for example, "liebe ueben/love thy neighbour/practice love" in the 1st, and "love mercy" in the 2nd.) Is there any particular reason for this, or is this just confusion from being translated to many times? >
Perhaps Aryeh can shed some light on the original Hebrew. Here are some other Bible translations that I have found: "to love goodness, kindness, loyalty"; the German also has "Güte [und Treue] zu lieben"; the Dutch has "liefde oefenen" and getrouwheid lief te hebben"; the Latin Vulgate has "diligere misericordiam" and the Greek uses "agape."

< Thanks, Thomas (If you do not object to the lack of Sirname), for the intresting comments as allways. But what does "Choreinbau" mean? (Sorry for all my silly questions!) >
BWV 45 is not the best example for recognizing "Choreinbau." If you can find and listen to a keyboard concerto by Bach (BWV 1052) and realize that Bach wrote this before using a mvt. from it later on in the Bach cantata BWV 146 as I and others describe this transformation [ http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV146-D.htm ] then it will be easy to hear how Bach 'built in" the choral parts, called the "Choreinbau" = "the choral inbuilding." Many have commented that Bach was not as successful here accomplishing this task - there is no really satisfactory performance of this cantata available because it is devilish to sing.

< About the recording I have (Leusink+co [7]): An "ok" performance genrally, I think.(not wonderfull, not bad either) But maybe there isnt enough clarity here. For example, the flutes are (almost) impossible to hear, and the continuo is to loud. (but what good does being fussy do?) >
More often than not, the double bass that Leusink [7] uses overpowers the rest of his instrumental ensemble. Perhaps Leusink is at fault here, or could it be that the sound engineers were remiss in calling this situation to his attention?

Thomas Braatz wrote (July 26, 2002):
BWV 45 Arioso for Bass Mvt. 4

Robin Crag asked about the 4th mvt. Arioso for bass voice:
< But the text! The God says, go away, i know you thought you did good deeds in my name,etc etc, but go and be damned as I don't recognise you. Bach is obviously quite happy about this... The music seems to cast away the evildoers with relish. But I cant help but sympathize with the poor creatures involved... >

Francis Browne also indicated his reaction:
< Christ's words of judgement on those who are convinced of their own virtue seem intolerably cheerful and smug. But like Robin I have only heard the Leusink
performance
[7]. This leaves me wondering whether other performances are as unremittingly jolly. Is it possible that in the first section of the aria where Christ quotes the words of those who he condemns Bach is deliberately portraying their unfounded self-confidence - they make driving out devils etc sound like great fun - and that in the following section the tone of Christ's words of condemnation -weichet alle von mir, ihr uebeltaeter - should be sung very differently from Ramselaar's smugly cheerful enunciation of eternal damnation ?

This is clearly not the way Leusink interprets the aria with his rapid tempo and lighthearted tone throughout the aria. My puzzle is that if I did not know German or simply ignored the words I would undoubtedly enjoy the music more for the qualities that Robin has well characterised. But I wonder whether a different interpretation with closer attention to the detail of Bach's writing would produce a more complex but not necessarily less enjoyable aria. My suspicion is that as so very often Bach is doing something far more interesting than may appear at first hearing. But without hearing other performances or studying the score with more musicological knowledge than I possess I cannot confirm this suspicion.

Did Bach write a jolly but not very appropriate aria - or was he doing something else? Any help would be much appreciated. >

This is just a guess: Perhaps Bach was trying to emphasize the strength (but utter folly) of those who, in public view, were doing everything 'according to the book' even invoking Christ's name in their healings and prophecies, but in reality all of this was a matter of self-deception.

From Robertson's Word Pictures, here are is explanations of the text:

Mat 7:21 - Not--but (ou--all'). Sharp contrast between the mere talker and the doer of God's will.
Mat 7:22 - Did we not prophesy in thy name? (ou tôi sôi onomati eprophêteusamen;). The use of ou in the question expects the affirmative answer. They claim to have prophesied (preached) in Christ's name and to have done many miracles. But Jesus will tear off the sheepskin and lay bare the ravening wolf. "I never knew you" (oudepote egnôn hûmâs). "I was never acquainted with you" (experimental knowledge). Success, as the world counts it, is not a criterion of one's knowledge of Christ and relation to him. "I will profess unto them" (homologêsô autois), the very word used of profession of Christ before men (Mt 10:32). This word Jesus will use for public and open announcement of their doom.

Those who engaged in this type of behavior are the only ones that need to fear Christ's harsh words.
Ramselaar and Huttenlocher are two singers who occasionally go off the deep end in playacting arias. To my ears they frequently sound disingenuous as they try to 'ham up' an aria, overdoing the emotional aspect. In essence they become the very thing that Christ is criticizing: more showing off than really singing with genuine feeling.
I personally think the aria should be sung seriously (this is the vox Christi, and should be taken seriously) and let Bach's instrumental accompaniment portray the temporary confidence that these self-deceived individuals feel. This may seem a disparity between the voice and the instruments, but I think Bach 'enjoyed' working with such opposites. Consider the essence ofthe concerto mvts. where opposing musical ideas and instrumental timbres need to work together to make a fuller statement.

Thomas Braatz wrote (July 27, 2002):
BWV 45 - Review of the Recordings

This week I listened to the following recordings:

Richter (1959) [1]; Leonhardt (1975) [4]; Rilling (1982) [5]; Leusink (1999) [7]


This breaks down into two non-HIP and two HIP interpretations:

The timings again do not seem to fit the usual predictive pattern between these two groups:

The slowest:

[5] Rilling (non-HIP) 7:11

Huddled in the middle group at practically the exact same tempo:

[1] Richter 5:47 (non-HIP)
[4] Leonhardt 5:45 (HIP) (Both about 1 ½ minutes faster than Rilling)

The fastest:

[7] Leusink 5:24 (HIP) (almost two minutes faster than Rilling!)

I will however discuss the cantatas as a whole chronologically.

[1] Richter:
While a faster tempo will make for a lively presentation with the large orchestral and choral forces at his disposal, Richter, in the 1st mvt., uses too much staccato, particularly in the instrumental parts. Some of this staccato carries over into the vocal parts when they have to sing running-eighth-note, melismatic passages. This becomes the most distracting when the upper voices do this. Richter desires precision at this fast tempo, but here this technique sounds artificial and loses its musical quality. It does not help when he needs to play the vocal parts on the organ (seemingly his way of conducting so that the attacks remain precise and the pitch does not waver.) He manages to generate a lot of excitement and has a forceful presentation with precise pronunciation (a remarkable feat with these large forces!) There is balance between all the vocal parts and these voices sing with great enthusiasm not matched by the choirs on the other recordings. Haefliger has a clear delivery of the text with good expression. His experience as an evangelist in the passions shows through here. His aria is very good as well. Kieth Engen has a strong, full voice that helps to create the believability that this is a vox Christi. Töpper, on the other hand, has way too much vibrato. Her coloraturas in the aria are fine and she has depth in her low range, but the following recitative simply is too operatic which is evident in her singing of “Des Herren Wille muß geschehen.” The final chorale is excellent in every respect. Each quarter note is firm, strong, and steady. These notes are held out unwaveringly without crescendi and diminuendi for the full note values. The passing notes are clearly heard. There is no premature termination of notes or dying out on the so-called unaccented beats of a measure. There is nothing but firm conviction that carries over to the listener and there is no attempt to make the chorale into a dance mvt.

[4] Leonhardt:
Here the overuse of staccato as in the Richter recording is not present to such a degree that it becomes distracting. The bc sounds bumpy and crude because of the occasional overly strong accents that are applied. The long note values in the violins and flutes are treated this way: <> [a hesitantly soft attack to begin the sounding of the note is followed by a crescendo which quickly tapers off prematurely (before the end of the full note value is reached) thereby creating many hiatuses between the notes.] This creates the breathless, short-winded style of playing that usually typifies the HIP school of sound production. There is here, however, a good balance between all the voice parts. Much better than the combination with the Collegium Vocale of Ghent (Herreweghe) support that Leonhardt usually uses in the 2nd half of the Harnoncourt/Leonhardt cantata series. The secco recitatives in this cantata exemplify the misguided notion of allowing the bc to sound out only 1 of the 4 beats that Bach wrote out for this part. Equiluz' singing is excellent and there are few singers that reach this level of expression. In his aria, Leonhardt does not cut back in volume to have the orchestra provide a sensitive accompaniment by playing ‘piano’ as Bach had indicated. The bass, Kunz has a somewhat disturbing fast vibrato, even on the fast-moving 16th notes in his coloraturas. At least he has more of a full voice than Egmond does. Jacobs' aria and recitative present an instrumental-type voice that is frequently found in HIP recordings. In the higher range it borders on becoming too penetratingly intellectual as it lacks a warm quality. The range of expression is very limited. Here I can forget about the text and pretend that there is another instrument (rather than a voice) playing an important part in a trio sonata. But this is not the purpose of this mvt. in a sacred cantata. The final chorale is taken too fast. It has occasional strong accents and the passing notes are not as clear as they should be.

[5] Rilling:
At this slowest tempo of the group, Rilling is faced with the problem that the entire 1st mvt. might become completely legato in every aspect, and thus lose some of the necessary energy that should present to enhance and support the OT text which this mvt. uses. Rilling, nevertheless, accomplishes his goal by having the violins play the running eighth notes with a portato bowing technique that blends a staccato-like detachment with a legato treatment of the notes. As a result of this and the slower tempo, Rilling allows the musical lines to really begin to sing. A factor that I failed to detect to this degree in the other recordings. Strength and dignity are present throughout this mvt. The bc, as usual, is on the heavy side with cello, double-bass, and bassoon (remember that these are loud, modern instruments!) as a loud, heavy bc accompaniment. Baldin, the tenor, strains for the high notes when he sings with a full voice and he uses way too much vibrato. In his aria, the bc accompaniment is much too loud. The expression of this mvt. seems to be one of anger. Huttenlocher sounds almost silly at times as he attempts to add expression to his part at this energetic tempo. Here the incongruous accompaniment to the text is quite puzzling. This also makes me wonder just what Bach had in mind here: Is Bach asking the singer act out the reference that Christ makes to those who are making a great show of their faith, as if Christ were imitating the manner in which these individual would cry out, or should Christ’s statement be taken more as “matter-of-fact” type of statement, thus leaving it to Bach to describe their attitude only in the accompaniment? But then why would Bach have the very lively melismas in the vocal part? Sometimes I even think that Bach may have borrowed this from another cantata, although there is no clear evidence that he had done so. For Hamari – the alto – just sit and enjoy the warmth in this voice and listen to how she caresses the words and yet manages not to cause indistinctness in the pronunciation of the words. Her expression in the recitative is also simply wonderful. The final chorale is just a bit slower than the other versions. Everything is in complete balance with the passing notes clearly audible.

[7] Leusink:
The orchestral accompaniment is characterized by a muffled, thin sound, an effect that is partly created when everything is taken light and fast. There is no real substance here. Along with the usual balance problems, I tire of hearing the same ‘worn-out’ voices in the tenors and basses and the’warbling’ of the higher voices. The mini-fugal entrances on “Es ist dir gesagt” lack any sense of conviction that something important is being stated here. Despite the overdone bc, there is a lack of strength and conviction. The secco recitatives are performed according to the Harnoncourt doctrine: not following the notes that Bach put down in the score. Scho, with a decided ‘dead’ quality in his voice, fails to bring any life into his recitative and aria. Everything he sings is too much the same. He might just as well have been singing a single vowel all the way through. In the bass aria, the violins seem overly busy with their many notes. The bc with the chest organ is too loud. Ramselaar’s performance is the weakest of those that I listened to and Buwalda definitely has less of a voice than Jacobs has. In the final chorale, the organ and the bc are too loud again. Two fermata are cut short prematurely (a usual characteristic of Leusink’s chorale style.) Pronunciation (ending consonants) is a real problem. The first syllable of the word, “gebühret” is sung as ‘gah!’

My general preferences (with differences noted above) are in this order:

[5] Rilling
[1] Richter
[4] Leonhardt
[7] Leusink

Thomas Braatz wrote (July 27, 2002):
BWV 45 Arioso for Bass (background)

In trying to come to terms with the bass arioso in this cantata, I decided to consult the MGG and the New Grove music dictionaries. Some items are very interesting, but I still find it difficult to determine just what Bach had in mind with this bass arioso.

Alfred Dürr explains that the instrumental accompaniment 'provide a passionate emphasis on the threatening words' of the vox Christi. The structure of the cantata with its 4 different key changes creates the frame within which the voice's melodic figures are characterized by bold interval leaps and very rich coloratura passages."

Owen Jander in New Grove Dictionary of Music & Musicians refers to the following types of bass voice (parts/roles.)

basse chantante (or basso cantante), basse-noble, basso profondo, basso buffo

With Monteverdi’s operas a distinctive type role for the bass appeared:

1) as a god (Pluto and Neptune)

2) in a sepulchral role: (Charon)

3) in a tragic role (Seneca)

After Monteverdi the tragic role either disappeared or became transformed into a comic role (A. Scarlatti’s Alfeo in “Eraclea”) a lecherous old tutor.

The ‘rage’ aria:
At the beginning of the 18th century, the French Opera continued using all these types. Meanwhile and also somewhat earlier in time, the Italians, in their cantatas and serenatas, used basses to represent characters such as Belisarius, Nero, and Seneca, “usually in a mood of defiance or rage. These vehement emotions are expressed in extremely angular, wide-leaping lines that show the influence of instrumental styles in the developing concerto. A special genre for the bass voice was the ‘rage aria,’ cultivated even in the oratorio volgare where it was characteristically sung by such figures as Lucifer and Herod. These Italian examples became the model for the most famous rage aria of all, ‘Why do the nations so furiously rage together?’ in Handel’s Messiah….The rage aria was parodied in the 18th century by such bellicose characters as Polyphemus (‘O ruddier than the cherry’ in Handel’s Acis and Galatea.”

The basso buffo:
“The comic potential of the bass voice was best realized in the tradition of the basso buffo, whose spiritual ancestor was the commedia dell’arte character, Pantalone. Already in the late Renaissance madrigal comedies (Vecchi – 1597 and Banchieri – 1598) the blustering, the stammering and the bathetic self-pitying of this classic old fool were given eloquent musical depiction. “ Comic basses of this sort continued to appear in the 17th and 18th centuries, and even 19th centuries. This tradition included certain stock effects: exaggeratedly wide-spinning phrases ending with a very low note at the end, wide leaps, patter singing and long violent crescendi.

The basso profundo and basse-noble with their heavy, deep voices are appropriate for representing a king, high priest, elderly father, etc. “Even when sung well these tend to have a somewhat ludicrous effect.

Kurt Gudewill in the MGG has two main categories of bass voice:

1) the serious bass

Here we have the roles of the ruler, patriarch, judge, or priest. The main characteristics are manliness, dignity, seriousness, and wisdom. This wisdom gives the ability to make decisions that are fair and just When this wisdom is degraded by cleverness, or cloaked by the role of the fool or court jester or sinks to an even lower level of using this cleverness, which they know that they possess, to gain an advantage over others, then the following designation may be more aptly applied:

2) the basso buffo

Comment:
It seems difficult to separate these categories even into serious and comic as there are subtle variations between these two extremes as well.

My question is: Why does a bass soloist who approaches this aria in Bach's cantata have to decide between singing it according to an already existing type of operatic role? Is there even the possibility of entertaining the thought that the vox Christi could be portrayed as a basso buffo role? Isn't this precluded by the text, or does the text actually call for acting out the feelings and emotions of those that Christ is condemning, these emotions of self-importance and self-deception that are portrayed by Bach as being ludicrous, hence like the basso buffo roles that Bach may have heard in contemporary operas?

Aryeh Oron wrote (July 27, 2002):
BWV 45 - Background

The background below is taken from the following books:
Alec Robertson: ‘The Church Cantatas of J.S. Bach’ (1972), and
W. Murray Young: ‘The Cantatas of J.S. Bach – An Analytical Guide’ (1989);
The English translation is by Francis Browne, a member of the BCML.

Mvt. 1. Chorus
Es ist dir gesagt, Mensch,
(You have been told, mankind,)
Flauto traverso I/II, Oboe I/II, Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo
Robertson: The declaration is driven home by constant repetition of the above words, in varied groupings of the voices, culminating in a long fugue. This done, the terms of the declaration are revealed. Then comes a modified recapitulation of the opening words.
Young: The orchestra plays the first melody before the voices enter; They sing in imitation according to their parts, with much repetition of the first words ‘Es ist dir gesagt’. The second part develops into a fugue for voices and instruments. The deep emotion that Bach has drawn out of this text is surprising.

Mvt. 2. Recitative for Tenor
Der Höchste läßt mich seinen Willen wissen
(The Highest lets me know his will)
Continuo
Robertson: None.
Young: Nothing significant.

Mvt. 3. Aria for Tenor
Weiß ich Gottes Rechte,
(If I know God's justice,)
Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo
Robertson: The text mentions punishment for transgression against obedience, the sharp reckoning demanded by God’s servants; but the agreeable music only reflects this in its second section where ‘drohet’ (threaten) has extended runs.
Young: As a soliloquy on his previous recitative, Bach brings this movement to dramatic life in an agreeable melody for strings as accompaniment.

Mvt. 4. Arioso for Bass
Es werden viele zu mir sagen an jenem Tage:
(Many will say to me on that day)
Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo
Robertson: This movement, in spite of its length, is marked arioso, a term Bach usually uses when Christ is speaking in person. The text is St Matthew 7: 22-23, conducting evil-doers who claim to have prophesised and worked miracles in His name. Christ’s indignation is expressed with vigour, and even has two extended runs, exceptional in other of His utterances Bach Set. The frequent swinging octaves in the continuo add to the strength of the denunciation.
Young: This is the most dramatic movement in this cantata. The bass assumes the role of Christ to declaim the two quotations from Matthew. It is more aria than arioso with its string accompaniment such as Bach used before the bass aria of BWV 187.

Mvt. 5. Aria for Alto
Wer Gott bekennt
(Who acknowledges God)
Flauto traverso I, Continuo
Robertson: UnMvt. 3, the music does really reflect this dire pronouncement, especially at ‘ewig brennen’ (ever burn).
Young: An obbligato transverse flute accompanies her with a joy-motif to denote the ethereal favour bestowed on believers. This aria is one of Bach’s masterly works of art, transforming the text into a mystical alto rhapsody.

Mvt. 6. Recitative for Alto
So wird denn Herz und Mund selbst von mir Richter sein,
(Therefore my heart and mouth themselves will be my judges,)
Continuo
Robertson: None.
Young: Nothing significant.

Mvt. 7. Chorale
Gib, daß ich tu mit Fleiß,
(Grant that I may do with diligence)
Flauto traverso I/II, Oboe I/II, Violino I col Soprano, Violino II coll'Alto, Viola col Tenore, Continuo
Robertson: Nothing significant.
Young: Nothing significant.

The Recordings

During last week I have been able to listen to 5 of the 6 complete recordings of this cantata. Although I like this cantata as a whole, from beginning to end, I have also other duties, which force me to limit myself to review only couple of movements.

[1] Richter (1959)
Richter’s choir in this relatively early recording seems to be smaller than the usual big size, which Richter’s preferred in his later recordings. The opening chorus has vigour, boldness and vitality, unrivalled by any other recording. The attack of each voice is razor-sharp, and as a consequence the lines of the fugue are very easy to follow. Haefliger shows how much meaning a supreme Evangelist can compress into a tenor recitative, making it much more interesting than it does apparently seems to be. Kieth Engen (mentioned in the interview with Barry McDaniel) has the kind of voice, which is most suitable for the role of Christ: deep, warm and rich, authoritative and expressive. Hertha Töpper does not only have a true contralto voice, rarely found in our time, which is dominated by counter-tenors and mezzo-sopranos. She also has irresistible restraint expressiveness. She uses these powers to make the best out of the aria and recitative for alto. Her helpmate in the aria is Aurèle Nocolet, who plays his flute splendidly and charmingly.

[3] Rilling (1st Recording; Mid 1960’s?)
As I have already written in the Introduction, I have leant to love this cantata through this recording. Actually, this was also the recording through which I was introduced to Rilling’s work. Following that I went on to discover the world of Bach Cantatas and especially, Rilling’s interpretations. For many years I have been very fond of this recording, which was like an introductory card to this world. However, during last week something strange has happened. With every repeated hearing I liked the opening chorus in this recording less and less. This performance is characterised by over-legato. It is so smooth, up to being almost romantic. Most of the accentuations become vague, and one can hardly describes it as a Bach’s work. The rest of this recording is much better, due to the high level of the vocal soloists. Equiluz in his first recording of this cantata (the second was done about ten years later with Leonhardt) is assured and sensitive and touching, if somewhat restrained. Erich Wenk is not bad either, although regarding the beauty of his voice, it seems that he is a little bit behind his prime. Norma Procter is the star of the show. What a marvellous voice and what a moving performance! The accompaniment in all the movements is thick and syrupy. Rilling has done much better in his later recordings.

[2] Ansermet (Mid 1960’s?)
I do not have this recording. However, I found the following review in the first ‘Penguin Stereo Record Guide’ (1975):
“BWV 45 is not one of Bach’s most inspiring cantatas… The soloists respond with artistry and eloquence. Although this is not the most polished of performances, it has a great directness of feeling and a sense of nobility… The recording is eminently clean and well focused, and has admirable body and presence.”

[4] Leonhardt (1975)
Leonhardt clears the heavy atmosphere left by Rilling with his excellent performance. The opening chorus is accorded a radiant performance. At times, Leonhardt seems to sacrifice line to clarity of attack. The Hannover Knabenchor is an excellent ensemble, firm and forthright, clean in articulation. Equiluz has only improved since his previous recording of this cantata (with Rilling). His interpretation here is freer and more expressive. Hanns-Friedrich Kunz is competent, but not much more. René Jacobs is a wonderfully deft counter-tenor. He is a singer to cure anyone’s possible dislike of counter-tenors, with a voice of firm, virile, pleasing in timbre, perfectly secure. He has a good thrill, and is the only singer in this recording who ventures little embellishments of the vocal line. In the aria he has a marvellous duet with Frans Brüggen's flute.

[5] Rilling (2nd Recording; 1982)
Rilling repeats his approach to the opening chorus with legato playing, although this is still a major improvement. The clear diction of the choir allows the listener to follow the words and the clear separation allows him to follow the vocal and instrumental lines, especially in the fugue. Baldin has a beautiful voice but his approach is simply not suitable to singing Bach. You can tell it right away if you listen carefully to the bland rendition of the recitative for tenor. Just compare it with Haefliger or with either of the two Equiluz’ recordings. Huttenlocher is very good and convincing Christ, and Hamari is exemplary, as usual. Regarding the accompaniment, it seems to be somewhat too full and rich.

[7] Leusink (1999)
The opening chorus under Leusink’s hands is light and jumpy. Not much rehearsal time has been dedicated in preparing the recording of this movement, and the result is unbalanced and not very clean performance. Schoch and Buwalda are the least satisfactory soloists of the movements for tenor and for alto respectively. Both do not have much to offer in their recitatives and at times it seems that they are getting lost. Ramselaar in the arioso for bass, is the most impressive soloist with his young fresh voice and convincing expression as Christ. But otherwise this is a relatively weak rendition.

Conclusion

Personal preferences:
Opening Chorus (Mvt. 1): Richter [1], Leonhardt [4], Rilling 2 [5], Leusink [7], Rilling 1 [3]
Recitative & Aria for Tenor (Mvts. 2 & 3): Haefliger/Richter [1], Equiluz/Leonhardt [4], Equiluz/Rilling 1 [3], Baldin/Rilling 2 [5], Schoch/Leusink [7]
Arioso for Bass (Mvt. 4): Engen/Richter [1], Huttenlocher/Rilling 2 [5], Ramselaar/Leusink [7], Wenk/Rilling 1 [3], Kunz/Leonhardt [4]
Aria & Recitative for Alto (Mvt. 5 & Mvt. 6):
Contraltos: Töpper/Richter [1], Hamari/Rilling 2 [5], Procter/Rilling 1 [3]
Counter-tenors: Jacobs/Leonhardt [4], Buwalda/Leusink [7]
Overall performance: Richter [1], Leonhardt [4], Rilling 2 [5], Rilling 1 [3], Leusink [7]

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

Robin Crag wrote (July 28, 2002):
It was intresting to read Thomas+Anthony+Franciss' coments on the bass arioso. I haven't anything more to add myself about it really.

< Perhaps Aryeh can shed some light on the original Hebrew. Here are some other Bible translations that I have found: "to love goodness, kindness, loyalty"; the German also has "Güte [und Treue] zu lieben"; the Dutch has "liefde oefenen" and getrouwheid lief te hebben"; the Latin Vulgate has "diligere misericordiam" and the Greek uses "agape." >

The Welsh has something like the king james too. Actually "Gottes Wort Halten" is more strickingly different: kingjames says "to do justly" and the Welsh one says something like "make judgement" (?!). I dont think its important which one is right, I was just suprised by the differences between them.

< BWV 45 is not the best example for recognizing "Choreinbau." If you can find and listen to a keyboard concerto by Bach (BWV 1052) and realize that Bach wrote this before using a mvt. from it later on in the Bach cantata BWV 146 as I and others describe this transformation [ http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV146-D.htm ] then it will be easy to hear how Bach 'built in" the choral parts, called the "Choreinbau" = "the choral inbuilding." Many have commented that Bach was not as successful here accomplishing this task - there is no really satisfactory performance of this cantata available because it is devilish to sing. >

Alas I don’t have a recording of either...
But I think I see what you mean by Choreinbau now. (where the voice parts are added to an allready complete instrumental texture?)

Anyway, I'll leave you all to your next cantata...
(meanwhile I'll be having fun going on holiday, and listening to lots of other Bach-music :-)

 

Continue on Part 2

Cantata BWV 45: Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

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Last update: ýSeptember 11, 2011 ý07:59:52