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Cantata BWV 47
Wer sich selbst erhöhet, der soll erniedriget werden
Discussions - Part 2

Continue from Part 1

Discussions in the Week of December 30, 2007

Uri Golomb wrote (December 30, 2007):
Cantata BWV 47 - Week of Dec 30, 2007

The cantata for this week is Wer sich selbst erhöhet, BWV 47, a cantata for the 17th Sunday after Trinity first performed on 13 October 1726. A list of recordings, and links to texts and translations, can be found on http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV47.htm; previous discussions, and links to some commentaries, can be found on http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV47-D.htm. It seems that this work has not been done very often; of the six recordings listed, only the first two are not part of complete cycles. Recordings by Suzuki, Gardiner and Milnes (how is his cycle doing?) have not yet been issued.

The cantata's text -- taken from a cycle by Johann Friedrich Helbig -- is one of the more severe, moralistic texts in the repertoire. Modesty is a fine virtue; but I'm probably not the only modern listener who finds bits like "Der Mensch ist Kot, Stank, Asch und Erde" ("Man is excrement, stench, ashes, and earth", to quote Richard Jones' translation) a bit too much; and there is also the suspicion that, at least for some people at Bach's time, "haughtiness" encompassed some things that we might want to encourage -- such as justifiable pride, aspiration, and questioning authority. Being modest is one thing -- humbling oneself is another.

Something of this severity can be sensed in the music, especially in the opening chorus (Mvt. 1). (BTW, Dürr mentions that Bach might have been familiar with Telemann's setting of the same text. Has this setting been recorded? Has anyone on this list heard it?) The words inspire a simple yet effective word-painting; of greater interest is the movement's complex symmetrical structure, outlined by Dürr in his commentary, with materials first presented separately (in the instrumental ritornello and the choir's fugal exposition) combined towards the end. HE also suggests that Bach may have intended the movement to begin with concertists only, with ripienists added in the second choral fugue. He doesn't say on what this is based (Thomas Braatz on: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Guide/BWV47-Guide.htm writes that Dürr's suggestion "might be based upon Bach's dynamics which are very carefully marked in the instrumental parts at the beginning of each fugal section: 'piano' for the first and 'forte' for the second"; also, Dürr might have made an analogy with other works by Bach, where such a differentiation between two choral fugal expositions is explicitly indicated). None of the recordings I've heard adopts this suggestion; I wouldn't be surprised, however, if GArdiner did it that way in the Pilgrimage (he's adopted this distinction in similar movements in other cantatas). It should be quite effective. (I think I've actually heard it done like that in a cantata workshop directed by Andrew Parrott, and -- IIRC -- I found the effect quite convincing).

Two more incidental points to notice: the soprano aria (Mvt. 2) was initially written with an organ obbligato (at least, that's the usual assumption), which was re-written for violin in a subsequent performance in the 1730s. Koopman's recording [7], as often, gives both versions: the organ within the sequence, the violin in an appendix. Though the obbligato playing is fine in both cases, I somehow enjoyed Sandrine Piau's singing more in the violin-accompanied version. In both cases, she (and her accompanists) bring out the subtle contrasts between the two sections of the aria (the outer sections praising humlity, the middle section attacking uaghtiness) more clearly than in the other versions I've heard.

The other point: there is, to my ears, a very clear thematic similarity between the bass aria (Mvt. 4) here and the second aria in the Kreuzstab cantata (BWV 56). The similarity is so striking that I was surprised that no-one commented on it. This not a case of parody and model -- the arias are quite distinct (the most striking difference: the Cantata 47 aria has two instrumental obbligato parts, the Cantata 56 aria only two, making a significant difference in textural complexity); and I'm not sure there is much to say about the similarity beyond simply pointing it out. But it's clearly there.

I've listened to three performances -- Rilling [4], Leusink [5] and Koopman [7]. Of these three, I definitely enjoyed Leusink the most. Rilling is, overall, quite heavy-handed; Koopman I found too genteel in the opening chorus (Mvt. 1), as if he's skirting over the textual message and severity and dramatic potential in Bach's music. Leusink was a bit too rough, but only slightly so; I would have preferred a more nuanced approach, but he seemed to capture the movement's atmosphere very effectively. In the two arias, I enjoyed both Leusink and Koopman. I already noted a slight preference for Koopman/Sandrine Piau in the soprano aria (Mvt. 2), but Lesuink/Holton were quite enjoyable too. In the bass aria (Mvt. 4), Koopman/Mertens opted for a sprightly, elegant reading, whereas Lesuink/Ramselaar were more lyrical and fluent. I found both approaches equally appealing and convincing.

That said, I still look forward to hearing the Suzuki and Gardiner versions -- and would be particularly interested to hearing someone applying the concertino/ripieno distinction suggested by Dürr (which I believe would be musically effective, whether or not Bach had it in mind for one or both performances).

Julian Mincham wrote (December 30, 2007):
Actually I find it inexplicable that this fine cantata seems to have been so neglected.. Few of the Bach lovers i know seem to have heard it.

It is tempting to compare the magnificent first movement with that of Cantata BWV 39 performed a little over three months previously. Both are massive choruses in Gm and of almost identical length, 218 and 228 bars. Both have complex opening instrumental statements containing all the essential musical ingredients stated at the beginning but not at the end. In each case it opens with a broken, partially fractured rhythmic idea, ultimately transforming itself into more flowing and continuous contours.

Finally, each of the massive vocal fugal sections is separated by moments of a somewhat more homophonic texture.

All of this may seem like coincidence although it does suggest that Bach was taking interest in a particular type of chorus structure at this time, as indeed he had done previously with the chorale/fantasia cantatas.

Furthermore, I would sugges that textual themes also link these movements together (perhaps explaining the musical similarities) if any one wishes to explore this theme.

Yöel L. Arbeitman wrote (December 30, 2007):
Julian Mincham wrote:
< Actually I find it inexplicable that this fine cantata seems to have been so neglected.. Few of the Bach lovers i know seem to have heard it. >
odd thing is that I have a very weird small collection of this cantata but with the BachFest no possibility or relistening to them. They are Harnoncourt's [3] where alto is divided between boy in section 1 and CT in Aria, Leonhardt's with rather inadequate boy soli (can't carry the line), and Júrgens's with a female and a great female here, Watts.

We all know that Hell awaits those who even listen to females in sacred music:-)).
I wanted to participate on this one cantata but with no time tlisten, I shall not.

Would, oh would, that the other Júrgens recordings were available and perhaps I shall seek them.

May Bach alone bless us all as it is HE alone whom we all have as our common savior although each may have his own belief system, irrelevant to any music group in my deeply held opinion,

Neil Halliday wrote (December 31, 2007):
<>

Julian Mincham wrote (December 31, 2007):
Cantata BWV 47

[To Neil Halliday] <>
Om another matter I note that some people are still having the problem i used to have with umlauts. I found a very simple solution which certainly works on my computer and i should think on everones' with the basic essential programmes. It works like this

press the numlock key on the right of the keyboard to switch the process on--a little light should come on at the top of the keyboard.

Now simply press down 'alt' and hold it while you press the numbers 129 (from those on the right of NOT above the keyboard) and hey presto ü appears when you release the alt key.

In fact there are hundreds os such symbols you can type in this way e.g. ô ò â ♂ ♀ ♪ ♫. You can get a complete list of them by googling 'ASC11 codes' or 'numpad codes'. Makes life a whole lot easier.

Peter Smaill wrote (December 31, 2007):
[To Uri Golomb Julian Mincham & Neil Halliday] The American Bach Society last year reviewed some new research on the Telemann/Bach relationship via the unique use in BWV 47 of a Helbig text by Bach ; it is set out in "Bach Notes " for Fall 2006. From this we have a strengthening of the mere possibility stated by Dürr, that not just the text but the Telemann music were known to Bach, from musical-stylistic grounds.

Norman Carrell's 1967 "Bach the Borrower" has eighteen entries for Telemann and so it is generally plausible that there could be musical as well as textual influences, although of course BWV 47 is definitely by Bach. Carrell states that BWV 141, "Das ist je gewisslich wahr" is by Telemann; both Whittaker and Dürr concur in varying degrees; likwise BWV 160, BWV 218 and BWV 219. All of these have been recorded by Wofgang Helbich. BWV 141 belongs to the Helbig cycle.

Since we have in BWV 47 a known but unusual librettist it may be interesting to look at any special literary or theological angles in the text. Poetically it is considered rather feeble by Dürr (thank you Julian for the umlaut tip), but there is some good alliteration in BWV 47/4 (Mvt. 4) - "Herze" "Hand" "Heil" and "Hoellenbrand".

BWV 47/3 (Mvt. 3) - "Kot, Stank, Asch und Erde" is pretty grisly but is a late medieval image, for example an emphasis in English writing on the repulsiveness of the flesh notable just befor the Reformation )(cf. Eamonn Duffy, "The Stripping of the Altars".) Likewise, the "Hell-hound" of BWV 47/4 (Mvt. 4) is a medieval image.

The theological interest for me is the reference the Jesus as "The Creator of all things " ("Der Schoepfer alle dinge" ) in BWV 47/3 (Mvt. 3). We are IMO in the contemporary Church used to an emphasis on God as Creator and Jesus as Redeemer. However, to ascribe Jesus the role as Creator is perfectly orthodox, partly arising from "In principio erat verbum" , the opening of St John; and partly and explicitly from the Letter to the Colossians 1:16 (Unger cites Phillipians 2:5-9, not I think as strong a parallel as the Colossians quote).

This idea of Jesus as Creator also appears in the Christmas Cantata BWV 91/4, "Bei dir den Schoepfer zu empfangen","prepare to receive thy Creator", Unger here bringing out St John 1:1-3 , "all things were made through him...". So the emphasis is not especial to Helbig. In my view it is a swipe at Socinian doctrines at the time current in Saxony, which stated that Jesus had not existed before his incarnation, and a variant in Pietism which stated that Jesus had human characteristics from the beginning.

Helbig, emphasising Jesus' Kingdom, and the change occasioned by the incarnation, in becoming humble, is issuing an orthodox Lutheran counterblast against all these contemporary modalist, as it were, heresies.

Douglas Cowling wrote (December 31, 2007):
Peter Smaill wrote:
< This idea of Jesus as Creator also appears in the Christmas Cantata BWV 91/4, "Bei dir den Schoepfer zu empfangen","prepare to receive thy Creator", Unger here bringing out St John 1:1-3 , "all things were made through him...". So the emphasis is not especial to Helbig. In my view it is a swipe at Socinian doctrines at the time current in Saxony, which stated that Jesus had not existed before his incarnation, and a variant in Pietism which stated that Jesus had human characteristics from the beginning. >
We see the image of Christ as Creator throughout Northern art of the late medieval and renaissance periods. It is almost normative to find Jesus as God the Creator in depictions of the Garden of Eden. The most famous example is probably the Ghent Altarpiece where the figure of God has the features of Jesus rather than the Father. There were probably many churches in Bach's time which still displayed these visual images.

Jean Laaninen wrote (December 31, 2007):
Julian Mincham wrote:
< Om another matter I note that some people are still having the problem i used to have with umlauts. I found a very simple solution which certainly works on my computer and i should think on everones' with the basic essential programmes. It works like this
press the numlock key on the right of the keyboard to switch the process on--a little light should come on at the top of the keyboard...etc. >
The symbol suggestion which you made works on some, but not all computers even with the same programs. I have to use the character map if I am using my laptop alone as it will not respond to that type of command. But if I have the laptop on the stand that allows me to use a full keyboard the code works. So there can be difference depending on the size of the computer and its set programming even within Windows XP, which is what I use on my two HP computers. My Mac will respond to some commands, but they are different and that computer is generally offline, anyway. Just fyi. I will get to the new cantata later today, probably.

Jean Laaninen wrote (January 1, 2008):
Julian Mincham wrote:
< Actually I find it inexplicable that this fine cantata seems to have been so neglected.. Few of the Bach lovers i know seem to have heard it. >
While listening to this beautiful work I took time to read through the reference works I have accumulated here, and for a little added benefit to aural development paid particular attention to Bach's phrasing. Schweitzer has written a fair amount on the matter of Bach's phrasing related to Cantata BWV 47. I find it gracious and elegant here in this work, but also with a homey German feel to it that makes me think of folk dancing at times. This would be the case in particular with the bass aria (Mvt. 4). How much Bach's phrasing might have been influenced by the dances of the people in their simple native music might be something someone on the forum can speak to knowledgably. Or perhaps courtly music also had its influence.

Thomas Braatz in his past commentary from 2001 also makes observations on Bach's meticulous dynamic indicators, and there is some reference to Brad Lehman's interpretation on the matter. The idea of staccato markings indicating detachment is part of the instruction I had in my Baroque Music Theory class at ASU, and in my piano training with a teacher there and with one in California. When one listen's to such a work as Cantata 47 there is an awareness that Bach wouldn't be Bach without these fine details which a person can sometimes take for granted. Actually, it is probably fair to say that these indicators inhance the texts considerably.

At the presetime I have started notating Cantata BWV 82 in Sebelius, and will hope to record it (as BWV 82a) in November (a best time of year). In particular I was quite surprised at the task I'd cut out for myself with the amazing work with the slurs Bach chose to use, carefully off-setting one part against another so that all melodic lines and contrasts can speak for themselves. It will take me a little longer because of these intricate markings to do the notation, than with some past projects.

I would be interested in the commentary of others on this forum about Bach phrasing in general, and if in the case of certain recordings the work seems exceptional.

Neil Halliday wrote (January 3, 2008):
The overall structure of this cantata is compact - chorus, aria recitative, aria, chorale. There are no seccos - always a bonus (for many of us, I suspect).

The OCC's editor considers the expansive opening chorus (Mvt. 1) to be one of Bach's finest. The long string of 1/16th notes heard especially at the start of the fugue subject is reminiscent of similar 1/16th note passages in BWV 187/1.

In the fugue, Bach uses rising and falling motives to express the opposing ideas of "exaltation" and "humbling" in the text:
(subject) "<Those who exalt themselves>< will be humbled (by God)>;
(countersubject) <but those who humble themselves>< will be exalted (by God);
this reverse twofold expression of these ideas in the text is set to rising and falling motives in the subject and countersubject, meaning that, for example, when the tenors begin with the downward moving first half of the countersubject, this part is moving in the opposite direction to the first half of the subect in the altos, and so forth. This makes for wonderful choral textures - and frequent crossing of parts, so learning the subject and countersubject certainly aids active listening. One will observe, inter alia, the chromatic nature of the 2nd half of the subject, and the wonderfully syncopated nature of the first half of thecountersubject.

The ritornello also displays rising and falling motifs at a micro level, eg, in bars five to eight, in the violins and oboes, also moving in opposing directions (contrary motion).

The ritornello is repeated in its entirety at the conclusion of the movement, with the addition of new and exhilarating vocal material.

Rilling [4] is a bit slow, but good for listening to the interaction of the vocal lines. [He is too fast in the next cantata BWV 48... oh, well].

I like the "organ concerto" approach to the soprano aria in Rilling's recording [4], with the registration's bright, upper octave timbres being quite attractive. The roulades of 1/32nd notes remind me of those in the 2nd movement of BWV 35, discussed recently. [We seem to have the opposite situation to BWV 27/2 discussed last week, where the harpsichord part was later replaced with an obbligato organ; here the obbligato organ organ was apparently later given to a solo violin].The first four bars of the vocal line are an effortless variant of the first four bars of the obbligato line.

The accompanied recitative is most expressive; Rilling/Huttenlocher [4] capture the contrasting emotions of the text.

Uri has noted the thematic similarity (or part thereof) of the bass aria to the 2nd movement of BWV 56. In BWV 47/4 (Mvt. 4), imitative writing can be heard successively at the start of the violin, oboe, and voice lines. This aria, with attractive coloraturas, has a lovely, calm expression.

Rilling [4] gives a solid performance of the closong chorale (Mvt. 5).

Neil Halliday wrote (January 3, 2008):
Neil Halliday wrote:
>and frequent crossing of parts<
especially in the 2nd fugal exposition (starting bar 104), where the order of entries of the subject is mostly reversed - SATB, cf TASB in the first fugal exposition.

Ed Myskowski wrote (January 7, 2008):
BWV 47 recordings

Thanks to Uri for the detailed introduction and to Neil for the following comments, which inspired me to do a bit more active listening. Nice phrase. In truth, I was looking ahead to my commitment to provide introductions for a few weeks, but I think it is worth reflecting just a bit more on BWV 47. Whittaker states <The chorus (Mvt. 1) is so monumental that it demands detailed analysis> which he then provides for several pages with musical examples.

The point, especially with regard to the subsequent solo cantatas, is that the motivation for the solo cantatas in Jahrgang III was not likely to have been lack of choral ability. Otherwise, why create something so monumental as BWV 47?

As Uri pointed out, there are few recordings of this cantata, and only one new since the first round of discussions, Koopman [7], which has the advantage of providing alternate versions of the S. aria, Mvt. 2, with either organ or violin obbligato. I agree with Uri's observation that the vocal line is stronger in the violin version, but I wonder if this was not an intentional performance choice, varying the relative emphasis on vocal and obbligato roles?

 

Performance of BWV 47, BWV 138 + motet Ich lasse dich nicht

Thérèse Hanquet wrote (September 27, 2010):
I have been regularly encouraged by Ed Myskowski to give accounts of performances of our ensemble, the Chapelle of the Minimes (Brussels): http://www.minimes.be/home.php?&new_l=en .

Thus here we go for the first concert of the season 2010-2011, which took place yesterday: http://www.minimes.be/images/concerts/2010-09-26_affiche_concert.pdf .
It was a beautiful selection of works, which our artistic director had most probably chosen on basis of their common choral ("Warum betrübst du dich, mein Herz").

Note that the tenor was ill and replaced by one of our regular conductors and excellent singer, Jan Caals. All soloists were convincing, a special mention for Christine Minet (soprano) for her aria in BWV 47 and Alessandro Cortese (basso) who had an aria in both cantatas.

During this month, I have looked on this site for information about motet "Ich lasse dich nicht", but not found much (for once!). On our score this motet is supposed to be by Johann Christoph Bach, but I have read elsewhere that there is evidence that it was composed by J.-S. Bach. In any case, it is very beautiful, and interesting with the contrast between the two parts. I especially like the second part where the 3 lower vocal lines make a light and crisp tapestry while the soprani hold "trumpet like" the cantus firmus.

BWV 47 is a challenge for the choir and the orchestra (for the soloists I guess also). The opening chorus (Mvt. 1) is quite difficult, all the more as the tempo is quick (in other words, there are many pages in the score but they go by very fast!); Mvt. 2 is also requiring for the organ, which was beautifully played by another one of our regular conductors, Benoît Jacquemin. For Mvt. 4 (basso aria), the first oboe moved between the violins, which helped to enhance the dialogue between them.Side comment: Mvt. 1 seems an interesting example of word painting with ascending and descending motives. The French version of this biblical text is close to the German version, both referring to the concrete idea of raising / lowering. This is (in my opinion) more abstract in the English version (exalt / humble).

BWV 138 is quite diin character, but particular for the dialogue (in #1 and 2) between the "troubled heart" of the soloists (A and S) and the choir which tries to confort them with words of hope.

We had never worked before with Piers Maxim (http://www.piersmaxim.com/ ) as conductor and it was an illuminating experience. He particularly emphasised the dance-like character (sometimes "jazzy") of some of the
choir parts. Afterwards, someone in the audience said to me that the choir obviously took pleasure to sing - and it was true! I hope we can work with him again someday.

Next concert on October 24th... with BWV 117 and BWV 192 + motet by Altnickol (BWV Anh. 164).

Anne (Nessie) Russell wrote (September 27, 2010):
[To Thérèse Hanquet] Thank you for this report. Those of us who are directors for amateur church choirs love to hear that somewhere in the world this kind of music is being sung.

Aryeh Oron wrote (September 29, 2010):
[To Thérèse Hanquet] Thanks for your contribution.

You wrote:
"During this month, I have looked on this site for information about motet "Ich lasse dich nicht", but not found much (for once!). On our score this motet is supposed to be by Johann Christoph Bach, but I have read elsewhere that there is evidence that it was composed by J.-S. Bach."
There is a page dedicated to this motet on the BCW.
See: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Vocal/BWVAnh159.htm
You can see that the work, once attributed to Johann Christoph Bach, is now considered as a genuine J.S. Bach's composition. Only the final chorale is doubtful.

Ed Myskowski wrote (October 1, 2010):
Thérèse Hanquet wrote:
< I have been regularly encouraged by Ed Myskowski to give accounts of performances of our ensemble, the Chapelle of the Minimes (Brussels) http://www.minimes.be/home.php?&new_l=en .>
Thanks, Therese, I trust my *encouragement* did not reach the level of nagging! I hope you enjoyed a Chimay Bleu afterward (any further beer chat will be off-list).

< Thus here we go for the first concert of the season 2010-2011, which took place yesterday: http://www.minimes.be/images/concerts/2010-09-26_affiche_concert.pdf .
It was a beautiful selection of works, which our artistic director had most probably chosen on basis of their common choral ("Warum betrübst du dich, mein Herz").>
Among the many virtues of concert reports is to have this kind of insight on the selection of works, and for those of who wish to do so, to recreate the concert grouping via recordings.

 

Continue on Part 3

Cantata BWV 47: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Recordings & Discussions of Cantatas: Cantatas BWV 1-50 | Cantatas BWV 51-100 | Cantatas BWV 101-150 | Cantatas BWV 151-200 | Cantatas BWV 201-224 | Cantatas BWV Anh | Order of Discussion

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