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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

Cantata BWV 49
Ich geh’ und suche mit Verlangen
Discussions - Part 1

Previous Messages

Philip Peters wrote (June 30, 2000):
(1) The other day I picked up an LP on Musical Heritage Society with cantatas BWV 84 & BWV 49. The conductor is William Ehmann [1] who is unknown to me. The orchestra is not specified other than "Instrumental Ensemble" but the hobo player is none other than Helmut Winschermann. The choir is the Westfalische Kantorei.

I put it on and was in for a very pleasant surprise indeed. BWV 84, a profoundly beautiful work IMO, is sung by Agnes Giebel. I always liked Giebel in Bach (though not in Schubert!) but here I had stumbled onto a rare gem. I found this interpretation so moving right from the first bars - with the beautiful hobo - that I actually got tears running from my eyes which is not something that happens every day when I hear a piece of good music.

I compared it with Nancy Argenta's recording with Monica Huggett's Ensemble Sonnerie, which I always thought a wonderful performance. Ehmann [1] takes it slower, as was to be expected, and it works for me. The combination of the tempo, the exceptionally moving singing by Giebel (which some may rightfully argue that from a purely vocalistic point of view is not technically flawless) and Winschermann's hobo has such a transcendental effect that is only sometimes reached by the very best performers IMO. Especially the interplay between Giebel and Winschermann is unbelievable. I have been playing BWV 84 over and over again now for two days and can't get enough of it. I even haven't come around to play BWV 49 (which has Giebel and Jakob Stämpfli, usually a fine Bach singer IMO).

I wonder if anybody here is familiar with this version (I hardly think it's reissued on CD) and could provide some more data about Ehmann [1], about which orchestra was used and about the recording date (which must be either in the late fifties or early sixties).

Aryeh Oron wrote (June 30, 2000):
I have 4 LP's with Wilhelm Ehmann performing Bach Cantatas:

1. BWV 4 + 182 - on Vanguard
2. BWV 36 +64 - on Vanguard
3. BWV 49 + 84 - on Nonesuch (issued also by Musical Heritage Society) [1]
4. BWV 37 +76 - on SDG

The German Cantate label originally recorded all these recordings. I have many other LP's of Bach Cantatas, which were manufactured by the German label Cantate in the 1950's and the 1960's. Some of them I have on the original label. Others were printed in the USA during the 1970's by labels like MHS, Vanguard and Nonesuch. Cantate label was re-launched couple of years ago together with Musicaphon and they even have a Web Site http://www.cantate.de/

So far they have reissued on CD only couple of the first Secular Cantatas cycle recorded by Rilling in the 1960's and issued in the US in the 1970's by Nonesuch. The Ramin's Cantatas (also originated from Cantate) were reissued on CD by Berlin Classics (only BWV 78, which I have on LP, is missing). AFAIK, none of the others was re-issued on CD so far. IMHO, they have historical importance to our understanding of the development of the interpretation of the Cantatas in the Modern Era.

Regarding their musical contents, some of them are Bach renderings of very high quality, although they are of course non-HIP. When I have the opportunity to review these recordings in the weekly cantata discussions, I do it gladly, because more than once I found those old recordings very satisfactory, even when compared to more recent recordings. Two of the Ehmann recordings were reviewed in the discussions about BWV 4 (look at: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV4.htm )
and BWV 182 (look at: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV182.htm )

Next week I shall have the opportunity to review the Lehman's recording of BWV 76. Sorry, but BWV 49 & BWV 84 are not planned to be discussed in our group in year 2000. But I hope that both will be discussed next year, because both are charming small jewels. BWV 84 is a solo cantata for soprano, where BWV 49 is also a solo cantata - this time a duet for soprano and bass. For a full list of cantatas according to 'Order of Discussion', please look at the following Web page: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Order.htm
(I hope that Simon Crouch has already updated this page).

I thought that the event of 250 years to Bach's death will encourage Cantate label to do a project of re-issuing on CD all the Bach Cantatas which have been originally recorded by them over the years. I could an even dream on a Box Set. I wrote to them couple of times, and their answer was:
"Thank you very much for your interest in CANTATE records. On my other label MUSICAPHON some of the mundane cantatas, performed by Helmuth Rilling, are re-released on CD in the meantime. Regarding the sacred cantatas there are no plans to re-issue in the next future as looking forward to the "Bach-Year 2000" there will be so many new releases on the market that it will make no much sense to come out with old recordings at that time…"

And about Wilhelm Ehmann, who proved to be a fine Bach conductor in all his cantatas recording, I know nothing. The linear notes to all of his recordings that I have do not say anything about him. The only piece of information I have is that he also recorded some vocal works by other composers, like Schütz.

Enjoy and of course, you are also invited to contribute to our weekly cantata discussions.

 

Discussions in the Week of October 28, 2001

Aryeh Oron wrote (October 31, 2001):
Background

Cantata BWV 49 is one of the cantatas in dialogue form, for soprano and bass. Some consider it to be the first in this genre. I love most of the cantatas in this form. BWV 32 and BWV 57, which were among the firsts to be discussed in the Bach Cantatas Mailing List, almost two years ago, are among my favourites. I have to admit that IMO, BWV 49 is not up to their level, although it surely has its own merits. But this is the week of BWV 49, according to Michael Grover’s proposed list of cantatas for discussion, and it means that we have to judge this cantata on its own terms, and not in comparison to others. We have to try and find out what are BWV 49’s special merits, how the three main participants (soprano singer, bass singer and conductor) interpret this cantata, how they bring out the aims of the composer and the librettist, and if they have anything special to contribute to our understanding of and enjoyment from this cantata.

As a background to the comparative listening to the 6 complete recordings of this cantata, I shall return this time to Alec Robertson:

“It has long been established that the ‘Song of songs, which is Solomon’s’ is not his at all, nor a continuous work, but an analogy of love poems compiled some tome after his death. These erotic poems have been interpreted by Christian exegetes since the third century as a description of God’s relation with the Church or the individual soul. St John of the Cross found in its language the only way of explaining the second of this relationships and the librettist of this cantata applies it in similar if more restrained – and common-place – imagery to the same purpose.

Mvt. 1 Sinfonia
In Cantata BWV 169 Bach used the first and the second movements of his E major Clavier Concerto (BWV 1053) in the first and fifth numbers of that work and now starts off here with the third movement. It is no more relevant to what follows than in those other instances, unless it is taken to illustrate the general joy of a marriage feast.

Mvt. 2 Aria for Bass
The organ, always inof the continuo, announces a theme it maintains for most of the length of this aria. The soul, sought with longing, is described as ‘my dove, my fairest Bride’ in a charming duet of sequences between voice and organ.

Mvt. 3 Recitative for Soprano and Bass
There is no question here of reluctant guest. At Jesus’ words he heart is rejoiced. The solo bass quotes the first phrases of the preceding aria – a very effective touch – and the soprano replies, ‘ My Bridegroom, I fall at Thy feet’, in a phrase that precisely describes that action. The tempo changes to 3/8 for a delightful little duet, ‘Come most beautiful (one) come and let Thyself be kissed… Come, beloved Bride, and hasten the wedding garments to don’, and so forth.

Mvt. 4 Aria for Soprano
The middle section has the words, ‘His salvation’s justice is my ornament and honour garment therewith will I endure when I shall to Heaven go’, The last words are the clue to the continually aspiring nature of the lovely melody of the aria.

Mvt. 5 Recitative for Soprano and Bass
A duet, but this time in recitative. The Bridegroom replies, ‘So remains my heart to thee affectionate, so shall I with Thee in eternity be wedded and affianced’. He ends, ‘Be till death faithful, so place I on Thee the life-crown.’ Here the leading note falls on the tonic with the finality the words imply.

Mvt. 6 Duet for Soprano and Bass
In this long but entrancing duet the soprano sings verse vii of Philipp Nicolai’s hymn, Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern to words which begin, ‘How heartily glad I am that my treasure is the A and the O [Alpha and Omega]’. The words of the bass’ part come from Jeremiah 31: 3 and Revelations 3: 20.”

Review of the Complete Recordings

The details of the recordings can be found at: Cantata BWV 49 - Recordings
In my comparative review, I have not taken into account the opening Sinfonia, which I feel that does not really belong to the cantata.

[1] Wilhelm Ehmann (Mid 1960’s)
Who can compete with the challenge that Ehmann sets? This knowledgeable and authoritative conductor presents two of the finest Bach singers of the 1950’s and the 1960’s, and probably of all time, the soprano Agnes Giebel and the bass Jakob Stämpfli. The joy comes not only from listening to their pleasant, rich and full voices, impeccable pronunciation, and tasteful singing, but they do also impress us with the treatment they give to every phrase. One can feel the longing, the love, and the mutual empathy. The organ player contributes delicate and sensitive playing, which does not overshadow the singers, but complementing them in a perfect balance.

[2] Nikolaus Harnoncourt (1975)
Harnoncourt proposes us an excellent couple, comprises of the sublime Peter Jelosits, a model for treble singing at its highest order, and Ruud van der Meer, a bass with urgency and utterance, who causes you to listen carefully every time he opens his mouth. What characterise this rendition is above all is intelligence and taste. The boy and the man are attendant to each other and sensitive to the message each one of them conveys. The part of the Soul seems to be tailored to a boy soprano like Jelosits.

[3] Helmuth Rilling (1982)
The soprano Arleen Augér and the bass Wolfgang Schöne sang many cantatas together. This experience comes to full forth here. There is mutual understanding between them, which is the fruit of many occasions of singing together. I am somewhat disturbed by the relative inflexibility of Schöne’s interpretations. When he is heard after singers in the calibre of Jakob Stämpfli and Ruud van der Meer, one can hear that the potential of his parts is much greater than what he actually manage to bring out. The pick of this rendition is the aria for soprano (Mvt. 5) in the expressive and sensitive interpretation of Arleen Augér. The fine oboe player uplifts the atmosphere with his joyous playing. The playing of the organ in his various parts along the whole cantata is a little bit strong to my taste in this rendition.

[6] Christoph Coin (1993)
[5] Sigiswald Kuijken (1993)
There are many similarities between these two HIP renditions, which were recorded in the same year – 1993. The stars of both renditions are the accompanying ensembles - ‘Ensemble Baroque de Limoges’ and ‘La Petite Band’ respectively. Such clarity, airiness, delicacy and precision, combined with and vigour and alertness are rarely heard. The first tends to more transparency and the second to more boldness. In both renditions the organ is part of orchestral texture, rather than a separate participant, and a consequence both renditions have a sense of integration and comprehensiveness. The major difference between the two is the bass singer. Coin has Gotthold Schwarz, whose inflexibility reminds me of Schöne. Mertens (with Kuijken) does not sing with full voice as Stämpfli, van der Meer and even Schöne do, but he manages to put so much nuances and delicate expression into his interpretation, that you find yourself captivated by his singing. Both Barbara Schlick (with Coin) and Nancy Argenta (with Kuijken) are not my cup of tea among the soprano singers, certainly not in the league of singers like Agnes Giebel and Arleen Augér.

[7] Pieter Jan Leusink (2000)
Leusink steps in the same route that was laid 7 years earlier by Coin and Kuijken. His orchestral ensemble is also fine, and sometimes even livelier than the ensembles of his predecessors. Ramselaar is better than Schwarz, yet not as good as Mertens is. But Ruth Holton is a soprano singer, whom I almost always love to hear. She especially excels when she has to sing the Soul, where her angelic voice and tender expression suit the occasions so well.

Conclusion

Although Cantata BWV 49 is still not one of my favourites, it is blessed with 6 fine interpretations, each one of them is faithful to spirit and the message embodied in the text and the music of this cantata. As a Cantata, who happens to be the 100th of the weekly cantata discussions in the Bach Cantatas Mailing List, it deserves it.

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

Thomas Braatz wrote (November 1, 2001):
BWV 49 - Provenance:

See: Cantata BWV 49 - Provenance

Other comments: [Little and Jenne, Ludwig Finscher, Chafe, Dürr]

See: Cantata BWV 49 - Commentary

Recordings

This week I listened to Harnoncourt (1975) (2); Rilling (1982) (3); Coin (1993) [6]; and Leusink (2000) (6)
+ Güttler's performance of the reconstructed oboe concerto supposedly the precursor to Mvt. 1 of this cantata [M-5].

Comparisons of Mvt. 1:

[M-5] Güttler: This performance is at the higher, standard pitch, whereas Harnoncourt, Coin, and Leusink are a semi-tone lower. Güttler uses a heavy bass with heavy emphasis of the 1st beat in each measure. The middle section has been drastically cut leaving almost nothing in this section with the chromatic motifs. In the repeated section (it is almost as if one heard the entire piece played twice in short succession with the only difference being in the extra embellishments that the oboist uses the second time around.)

(2) Harnoncourt: also has a tendency to come down with a heavy accent on the first beat, but in contrast to Güttler, he does not methodically hit the 1st beat of every measure haand he even manages to coax a Viennese lilt (like a waltz) from the instrumentalists. All in all a very respectable performance with either Herbert Tachezi or Johann Sonnleitner at the organ. Which organ and which organist, we will never know, but my guess would tend to favor Tachezi as the organist here. He also includes additional embellishments in the repeated first section. Of the 7 oboe players listed in the booklet, somehow Harnoncourt always manages to choose the worst one. I would tentatively think that this is Jürg Schaeftlein, who is always listed first, but I have no way of knowing this for sure. All it takes is one bad oboe player to ruin a fine performance such as this one.

[3] Rilling: Martha Schuster on an positive organ provides the clear instrumental line that a solo instrument should have, but there is no extra exuberance here when the 1st section is repeated. It is played exactly the same (no additional embellishments) way, so that the sound engineers could have patched the repeat section from the recording of it the 1st time through.

[6] Coin: Willem Jansen on a G. Silbermann organ (1737) sounds less interesting despite the 'big name' organ that he is playing on. Little is done to make the phrasing become more interesting and there is less excitement all around. He also adds no additional embellishments in the repeated section.

[7] Leusink: Vaughan Schlepp is probably playing the chest organ (no information was given in the accompanying liner notes). This is an lifeless organ that lacks character and sparkle. It is far too soft compared to the loud orchestral sound. The oboe d'amore sounds good here.

Now the remaining mvts.

(2) Harnoncourt: It is truly unfortunate that Ruud van der Meer was chosen for this cantata, because there are many very good aspects to this recording. Van der Meer has a trembling vibrato that vacillates so quickly that the actual note that he is trying to sing is difficult to identify. This quality of his voice becomes unbearable when he attempts to sing with greater volume (this is a typical feature of half-voices that are overtaxed and become uncontrollable when something additional such as expression is demanded of them.) In the 2nd mvt. the organ at times can not be heard. It is supposed to have a solo part here. Mvt. 3 Jelosits has a clear, trumpet-like sound with absolutely no intonation problems unlike many other boy sopranos who appear in this series. Van der Meer tries too hard for expression and it does not work. Harnoncourt creates a waltz-like effect in the faster moving section of this recitative. Mvt. 4 Harnoncourt plays the violoncello piccolo. He plays extremely well here, but the oboe d'amore player should go back to his teachers and ask to have his tuition money refunded. Jelosits is excellent. Mvt. 5 There are held notes in the bc that are abruptly terminated. Mvt. 6 This is one of the better performances but it suffers because the organ lacks sparkle and angularity. The balance between the voices is good - even van der Meer is somewhat better here. I suspect that Harnoncourt is to blame for another unique (HIP?) feature in this mvt: Jelosits sings the long notes of the cantus firmus as if there were a long horizontal crescendo 'v' or wedge on top of each note. He attacks each note at the 'piano' level and increases it to 'forte' or 'fortissimo' by the end of the note before beginning this process over and over again for each note. I simply can not imagine that Hans Gillesberger would teach such vocal nonsense to a young, excellent singer. That leaves only one suspect who would be capable of such a 'crime.'

(3) Rilling: Mvt. 2: Just hearing the 1st phrase that Huttenlocher sings here reveals his impious attitude toward the text. It is obvious that he is 'hamming it up.' It is his supercilious attitude that is letting us know how ridiculous this text seems to him. Somehow I perceive his insincerity as he attempts too hard to be in a pious mood. It becomes an affectation. I have heard preachers speak with a trembling voice that moved others, but it did little to move me. Huttenlocher reminds me of such preachers. Mvt. 3 In this recitative both Augér and Huttenlocher try too hard for expression and it is not effective. Augér strains for the high notes. But when the faster section begins, everything seems to come together. This is the best part of this mvt. Mvt. 4 Now Augér is completely in control and there is good balance among all the instruments as well. Mvt. 5 Another recitative mvt. that does not suit either artist well. Why should the beautiful high note on "Himmel" have to sound strained? Mvt. 6: Here is the performance that has the most bounce and angularity so that a spirited joyfulness permeates every moment in this performance. This is a performance worth coming back to again and again and again. (Even Huttenlocher rises to the occasion!)

[6] Coin: The voices of Barbara Schlick and Gotthold Schwarz sound as if they are very far away. To compound this problem further, we have two half-voices whose quality of voice will degrade as soon as they are asked to produce more volume and expression. Schlick's voice has a very disturbing warbling, insecure vibrato along with an extra unpleasant quality in the voice that I can not easily identify. It is simply unique to her voice. Sometimes I feel that she does not know herself which note precisely she is supposed to be singing, so she aims in the general direction and hopes for the best. This whole process makes me very uncomfortable as a listener. Schwarz is also a half-voice that becomes so weak that it almost disappears at times. The balance between the violoncello piccolo and the oboe d'amore is lacking in that the violoncello piccolo is too weak in the low range. In the final aria the organ is better than a chest organ (see below.) In the chorale (Mvt. 6) cantus firmus the solo soprano is extremely weak in the low range.

[7] Leusink: In Mvt. 2 the dull sound of the chest organ continues with Rien Voskuilen taking the solo part. Ramselaar's half-voice is unable to compete against the heavy-handed bass accompaniment (bc) on the string bass. Mvt. 3: To prove that two half-voices are not better than one, you need only listen to Holton's disappearing act in the low part of her range. Mvt. 4 The same problem plagues Holton here as well. Simply 'tapping' the notes lightly with the voice, even when these notes are all correctly sung, does not bring about a musically satisfying performance. Mvt. 5 Ramselaar is not convincing as Christ, although he too sings all the notes correctly. Mvt. 6 The instrumental ensemble has a dull, muffled sound, and instead of rhythmic sparkle we get more of a 'thud, thud, thump, thump' effect that lacks any power to uplift the listener. Why Holton now insists on having a shaky voice and applying vibrato on the long notes of the cantus firmus, I do not know, but it sounds out of character for her. Again, when the chorale reaches into the low range, her voice becomes almost inaudible. This part, as simple as it may seem in a chorale (Mvt. 6), is beyond her vocal capabilities.

Summary:

Rilling's performance (3) of the final mvt. (Mvt. 6) is at the top of my list. Hearing Harnoncourt (2) on the violonpiccolo is like listening to Frans Brüggen on the transverse flute - simply remarkable performances (this includes Jelosits as well). Harnoncourt's [2] Mvt. 1. (minus the oboist - perhaps some future technology will allow us to delete a single part or modify it to sound better than it is?) is also a top runner. Augér's solo aria (mvt.4) is also worth hearing more than just once.

Marie Jensen wrote (November 1, 2001):
BWV 1053 is a concerto for oboe or organ / cembalo / violin and orchestra. For me first movement is simple pure happiness and faith in God. Second movement is very emotional, a prayer with an intense culmination , a peak where the soul seems to be united with Christ and its third movement with its neckbreaking solo runs could symbolize the Holy Spirit able to do anything.

So to me it is not surprising to see the movements reused in cantatas dealing with "Song of Solomon" love between man and God. The two first movements go to cantata 169 "Gott soll allein mein Herze haben" and the last one is used as ouverture in this weeks cantata nr 49 "Ich geh' und suche mit Verlangen".

The cantata is a dialogue between the soul (the soprano) and Christ (the bass) bride and bridegroom and wedding music indeed. It deals with the parable of the Marriage Feast, but here the soul is not a wedding guest but the bride herself.

The ouverture is a hall of light and joy ready for a big feast.

Then the bridegroom goes out looking for the bride, and from the moment he finds her everything is joy. She sings: Mein Bräutigam, ich falle dir zu Füßen, and music falls down too Both sing: Komm, {Schönste / Schönster,} komm und laß dich küssen. When Bach describes love between man and woman, he does it very intensely. No italian opera manners are needed. But of course : he knew very well :-)) ! It can be heard in the final duet (Mvt. 6) too, where the soprano sings the chorale and the bass answers: the way the soprano sing the Amens f. ex.

BTW this final wedding dance reminds me of one of the true wedding cantatas BWV 202 "Weichet nur Betrübte Schatten" ending with a similar dance movement.

And I simply love this cantata.

I have heard the Harnoncourt version (2) some years ago. I don't like a man and a boy singing love duets.

What about the Leusink version (6)?
The opening organ concerto needs a little more salt, but I have always liked this partiular piece of music better in the oboe version because the solo part sounds more impressing/ virtuoso than on organ. But an oboe would be a wrong instrument to use here.

Ramselaar does well. Holton drowns in the low register, but basicly I am satisfied. I am always glad when I have listened to this cantata.

Andrew Oliver wrote (November 3, 2001):
Usually I prefer the choruses and chorales of the cantatas, but, even without either of those, I think BWV 49 has to be included in the top rank of Bach's sacred cantatas. It is full of interest all the way through, and even the sections in minor keys seem to dance, if not quite with joy, in anticipation of it.

As with most cantatas, I have the Harnoncourt (2) and Leusink (6) versions. Although it is true that some passages are not the ideal vehicle for Ruth Holton's voice, being comparatively low pitched, she remains as one of my favourite soprano soloists in these cantatas. (The parts which suit her best are the ones with a high tessitura when her voice can hover like an angel above all else.) I think Ramselaar does well.

Although I like Leusink's version [7] well enough, I prefer Harnoncourt's (2), because it seems to have extra vitality and sparkle. Jelosits is, I think, the best boy soloist Harnoncourt and Leonhardt used in the Teldec series. He sings excellently, but I agree with Marie that love duets sung by a man and a boy sound incongruous, even though we all know that the cantata has a spiritual application.

I also have Winschermann's recording of the opening sinfonia (Mvt. 1) (M-1). It might not be HIP, but in this case I think it is all the better for it, as it has a richer, more sumptuous sound in keeping with the sensuous nature of the rest of the cantata. In Winschermann's version the music is not so much dancing as caressing and inviting participation.

Michael Grover wrote (November 4, 2001):
Well, since we are currently going through the cycle of cantatas I suggested, I suppose I really ought to step in and offer some thoughts, right?

First of all, I've always personally considered the Song of Songs and similar writings a little silly as religious allegory. I very much enjoy this cantata, but there are many times when I have to ignore the text and focus strictly on the music to like it.

The only recording I have is Rilling's (3) and it is very enjoyable. I love the obbligato organ in the BWV 1053 transcription. I think it's great when Bach borrows from himself like that -- for me it's always a treasure to come across a movement that is familiar yet new at the same time. Rather a bonus. For me it's what I call the Roger Waters Method for you Floyd fans out there. Take a good tune, maybe arrange it a bit differently, simply slap a different lyric (or instrument) on it, and voila! A new composition to use elsewhere! (Another Brick in the Wall, Parts 1, 2, and 3, anyone?) Anyway, Rilling's version of this Sinfonia (Mvt. 1) is wonderful -- full of life and full-blooded.

Huttenlocher gets a thumbs-down from me. I just don't enjoy his voice very much. Like I said, I can't compare him to other basses in this cantata specifically since this is the only recording I have of BWV 49, but in other works, I prefer the voices of Bas Ramselaar, Cornelius Hauptmann, Olaf Bär, and David van Asch from the Scholars Baroque Ensemble. Was Huttenlocher operatically trained? I think he tries to be too fancy for my taste.

Arleen Augér is very good in some places and so-so in others. She sings very well in the "Ich bin herrlich" aria, but again, I have to ignore the text to keep from snickering. "I am glorious, I am pretty"?? This would be the David Gilmour Method. A great tune with a lousy lyric that works anyway because of the great instrumentation (love the oboe d'amore and piccolo cello) and heartfelt singing. (A Momentary Lapse of Reason, anyone?) When she keeps it simple, she's very good. As Tom Braatz noted, she strains at the high notes in the recitatives and gets too operatic at those moments.

Tom gave a high recommendation to the closing aria on Rilling's recording [3] and I second it. The organ concertante is wonderful again; bright, lively, full of vim and vigor, just the way I like it. Huttenlocher almost spoils it but not quite. Auger comes through to save the day on this one.

This was the very first Rilling [3] cantata I ever heard, and I was pleasantly surprised since I generally much prefer HIP to non-. On the same disc (Hänssler's new packaging) are BWV 50, BWV 51, and BWV 52, and it is an enjoyable disc indeed, with Auger on two solo soprano cantatas and an arranged version of the Brandenburg's movement #1 thrown in for good measure in BWV 52.

Richard Grant wrote (November 6, 2001):
[To Michael Grover] I was intrigued by your statement that you found the text of "Song of Songs" "silly" as religious allegory. Could you explain this for me in some detail? Do you think this is not religious allegory or just poor or silly religious allegory? If the latter, how should it be improved? Also, do you speak German? Or are you familiar with the text in either Hebrew, Koine Greek, or Latin? I ask this bea particular translation used can skew the character and even the meaning of a passage far from the intent of the original text. The instance you cite of "Ich bin herrlich" translated as "I am glorious" certainly seems to be an example of this. I am no scholar of the German langauge but I believe I am familiar enough with it to be able to say - and pray someone correct me if I err - that "glorious" is not only not the only possible translation of "herrlich" but given the circumstances of this particular text, not even the best. "Herrlich" can also mean: of noble birth; proud; haughty; superb; wonderful; lordly, etc... So with all these possible choices (and many many more I didn't mention) a translator has to work very carefully to approximate as near as possble both the sense and the sensibility of the original text and this requires a thorough knowledge, literary and colloquial, of both the original and translating languages. As the art of "literary translation" --my term-- dies, this kind of scholarship is rare and costly and not too many recording companies are going to be willing to persue it just for the text of work for whcih so many translations already exist. And this doen't begin to address the eccentricities of individual translators with their own personal artistic and literary agendas. Test this by comparing the originals and different translations in some langages that you know and you will see what I mean.

Finally, in German the word "Herr" is used to mean "Mr." or "Sir" or "Lord" and, in its capitalized form, is used to refer to Christ or the Deity just as "Lord" is in English. So to the German speaker, particularly one well-versed in the literature and syntax of the language, "herrlich" would have nuances and overtones virtually impossible to communicate in any intelligible fashion in an English-language translation. And understanding "Herrlich" to mean, in some fashion, "of or pertaining to the Lord" would cetainly facilitate understanding the religious-allegory aspect of at least this portion of the text. (Finding such an aspect "silly" is of course another matter altogether.)

Michael Grover wrote (November 7, 2001):
[To Richard Grant] Thanks for your thoughtful reply. Comments inserted below.

Richard Grant wrote:
< Michael, I was intrigued by your statement that you found the text of "Song of Songs" "silly" as religious allegory. Could you explain this for me in some detail? Do you think this is not religious allegory or just poor or silly religious allegory? If the latter, how should it be improved? >
In retrospect, "silly" was poor word choice. Obviously calling something from what many people consider scripture "silly" is asking for trouble and in poor taste. I'm certainly not going to have the audacity to claim that I could improve the religious allegory found in the Song of Songs. My personal opinion is simply that I could do without the erotic overtones when discussing religious truth. I understand and appreciate the spiritual meanings behind the passages found in BWV 49, I simply do not personally care for the words used to present them.

< Also, do you speak German? Or are you familiar with the text in either Hebrew, Koine Greek, or Latin? I ask this because a particular translation used can skew the character and even the meaning of a passage far from the intent of the original text. The instance you cite of "Ich bin herrlich" translated as "I am glorious" certainly seems to be an example of this. I am no scholar of the German langauge but I believe I am familiar enough with it to be able to say - and pray someone correct me if I err - that "glorious" is not only not the only possible translation of "herrlich" but given the circumstances of this particular text, not even the best. "Herrlich" can also mean: of noble birth; proud; haughty; superb; wonderful; lordly, etc... So with all these possible choices (and many many more I didn't mention) a translator has to work very carefully to approximate as near as possble both the sense and the sensibility of the original text and this requires a thorough knowledge, literary and colloquial, of both the original and translating languages. > <snip>
I speak German passably well, yes, having lived there for two years. I'm certainly no expert, and a poor translator. I often know exactly what the German word inherently means but am unable to find a good English equivalent. I confess I lifted "I am glorious" straight out of the Hanssler booklet libretto, so I plead slightly not-guilty regarding the quality of that translation. Regardless of which English word you would pick, in my mind, when I hear a woman singing, "Ich bin herrlich, ich bin schoen", the image that pops in my mind is that of a primping diva in front of a mirror, admiring herself narcissistically. I don't know WHAT I would have thought if I had heard Harnoncourt's [2] boy soprano singing this. :-) The light, airy music Bach composed for this passage tends to underscore that image in my mind. I'm not saying that's the way it SHOULD be interpreted, simply the way it presents itself to me. Hence, for me, this beautiful aria is best appreciated independently of the text.

< Finally, in German the word "Herr" is used to mean "Mr." or "Sir" or "Lord" and, in its capitalized form, is used to refer to Christ or the Deity just as "Lord" is in English. So to the German speaker, particularly one well-versed in the literature and syntax of the language, "herrlich" would have nuances and overtones virtually impossible to communicate in any intelligible fashion in an English-language translation. And understanding "Herrlich" to mean, in some fashion, "of or pertaining to the Lord" would cetainly facilitate understanding the religious-allegory aspect of at least this portion of the text. (Finding such an aspect "silly" is of course another matter altogether.) >
This is certainly true, and this meaning of "Herr" does bring a new significance to the aria.

I should add that I have no similar (personal) problems with the text of the closing aria/duet/chorale (Mvt. 6). This is the best movement of the cantata in my opinion, and as I said, Auger does an excellent job of it on my version by Rilling [3]. Huttenlocher is merely OK.

This last Sunday in church there was a discussion of Jesus's parable of the Ten Virgins which theme seems to go along with this cantata as well.

Richard Grant wrote (November 7, 2001):
[To Michael Grover] Thanks for the clarifications and comments. I guess as a Roman Catholic I am used to hearing the Church referred to as "the Bride of Christ" and hence the quasi-erotic imagery is so familiar I don't believe I ever even questioned its suitability. A number of Old Testament texts are remarkable for both their violence and eroticism since like most literature they reflect the tastes and cultures of their various authors. I suppose this is the reason for the ageless and infinite variety of settings for these texts,

Dick Wursten wrote (November 7, 2001):
This is my first contribution to this very impressive forum of Bachcantatelovers, I hope you will forgive me beginnersmistakes.

Reading the Song of Songs as religious allegory, which was discussed by some of the groupmembers, is a very old tradition. As a matter of fact: The Song of Songs would never have entered the list of 'biblebooks' (the canon) if this would not have been the case... By the way: already in those early days there was a lot of discussion between the rabbis about the status of this book. Only because the authority of some rabbis who gave an allegorical interpretation of the- even sexually - quite explicit love-poems, the Song of Songs made it..

(the image of 'marriage' for the relationship between God and Israel you can find in Hosea 1-3 and Isa 62:5 etc... Origen (christian theologian) christianized this kind of exegesis, which has been popular throughout churchhistory... because it stresses and expresses the emotional part of faith... That is - in my opinion - at the same time the reason of its declining popularity sinthe Age of Enlightenment has obscured these aspects because of the over-emphasizing of the rational..)

The choice for the love-theme by Bach finds its origin in the gospelreading of the 20th Sunday after Trinity: Matthew 22: 1-14, where a 'wedding-banquet' is the scene.

Santu de Silva wrote (November 7, 2001):
[To Richard Grant] The question about the "appropriateness" of erotic images in religious literature is a cultural artifact. I mean, the beliefs about what is suitable and what is not that are current today must not be assumed to have been current at the time the Bible was established. Remember that before that date, the Song of Solomon was just religious poetry. At least that's my understanding.

The Christian faith certainly influenced the course of Western civilization. But that mustn't be taken to mean that western civilization has the "true vision" of what Christianity is all about, or indeed Judaism, or whatever the faith was of those at the time of Solomon and the following two centuries. (Modern Judaism is probably different enough from the religion of Solomon that they are, philosophically, distinct. I don't want to raise a controversy here, just to draw a distinction between cultural values of the past and the present.)

Some of the prudish attitudes of modern society, even so-called religious society, might be alien to the First century Christian community, and certainly to those at the time of the writing of the Song of Solomon.

(Hindu writings use a lot of erotic analogies, and sex is not regarded as antipodal to religious belief. Well, let me just say that it was not so in the past. Now, because of the 'cultural pollution' of Indian values by Western influences, I believe there is a significant segment of the hindu population that would like to sanitize hindu philosophy. That's a difficult undertaking, and does not constitute progress IMHO.)

 

"Impressionistic effects" in SJP, etc

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 12, 2003):
[snip] For the full discussion, see: Johannes-Passion BWV 245 - General Discussions - Part 3
Monday evening I spent a few hours studying cantata 49, having reviewed the discussion on: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV49-D.htm
I went through it with a score (the one I'll be using in performance on March 29th), and two recordings: conducted by Wilhelm Ehmann [1] and Christophe Coin [6]. The contrast is remarkable.

Ehmann's group [1] plays this cantata as a sober (and I'd also say almost "somber") un-dramatic reading: very stiff in rhythmic profile, with a heavy undifferentiated basso continuo line, and a "one size fits all" approach to phrasing...hardly any dynamics, or sense of breathing, anywhere in the instruments. The singing is beautiful, just as sound and as carefully prepared notes, but I picked up almost no sense of this being a story (other than reading the words for myself, of course). No flexibility, no drive. And the sparkle in the organ part, throughout this cantata, is just about zero...where's the sense of joy and fun?

Coin's group [6] at least gives it some forward dramatic motion, and the continuo line shows signs of intelligent life. The singers declaim their parts with dramatic flexibility (but also good musical tone), delivering musical gestures rather than mere notes. The singers and players recognize that some of the notes are naturally strong while others are weak ("good" and "bad" notes, in 18th century terminology), and it all flows easily. (For example, in the "Ich bin herrlich" aria, the soprano recognizes all the pairs of notes under single syllables as strong-weak gestures, ornamental, instead of giving the same emphasis to both notes.) The whole performance still seems "cool" to me, I'd rather hear even more drama here: but at least it's doing decent things in the right directions....

Ehmann's performance [1] is only five minutes longer than Coin's [6], but it seems twice as long: half an hour of pretty notes, going almost nowhere. It's hard for me to believe that such a wooden delivery was the type of performance Bach would have had in mind. OK, maybe "wooden" is too strong a word there; let's say "under-imaginative" or "overly reverent to literal note-values"...delivering all the notes faithfully (as if that's good enough) rather than recognizing and bringing out the shapes they are built into, compositionally.

To play and sing gesturally is to allow Bach's music to sound fresh, organic, alive. Personally I'd much rather hear that gestural approach than any long slog of undifferentiated notes (even if this latter approach makes all the notes more audible)...a style that, frankly, makes Bach seem like a less inspired composer, merely competent at writing notes that go together well.

Again, this all doesn't have so much to do with tempo, as with asking oneself why he wrote the particular notes in the way he did...and then bringing out those musical/dramatic effects clearly, rather than hiding them. (Not only in Bach's vocal works, but all his works.)

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 12, 2003):
Brad, you stated:
>>I went through it with a score (the one I'll be using in performance on March 29th), and two recordings: conducted by Wilhelm Ehmann [1] and Christophe Coin [6]. The contrast is remarkable.<<
All this 'gesturing' with demi-voices such as Barbara Schlick and Gotthold Schwarz (Coin [6]) is of an inferior quality when compared with Rilling's recording [3] (Augér & Huttenlocher - although I usually don't like Huttenlocher) where the best of both worlds come together -- all the notes are audible and the music (in particular, the final mvt. Coin [6] - 4:43 vs. Rilling [3] - 4:28) truly 'swings.' Coin's performance does not reach anywhere near the level of Rilling's.
[snip]
>>Why would the musical genre be substantially different in the SJP as opposed to (say) Debussy's "Pelleas et Melisande"?
Although I may be repeating myself, allow me to state: It is possible to make all the notes in Bach's music audible, some to a greater, others to a lesser degree, and capture at the same time whatever makes this music truly come alive. This means great singing and great conducting (and for recordings great sound engineers.) Great singers strive to convey the entire text (not just the occasionally accented syllables) in a musically suitable manner that is agreeable to the ears of most listeners and with the appropriate emotion and genuineness called for in the music. Vocal mannerisms, unnatural vocal sounds, apparent 'play-acting' of the text, and the inability to produce a full volume through the extended range that Bach's music demands are indications of inferior performances that can not be improved by applying the many conventions of HIP strategies which actually stress the idea of extreme gestures and accents which cause notes in Bach's scores to become lost in the romantic, impressionistic goals of performance that are currently in vogue. While conductors may attempt to bring certain parts or notes out more than some others, these conductors are doing Bach's music a disservice by allowing parts to become indistinct or inaudible.

If I look at an impressionistic painting (or even a 'pointellistic' one), I am interested in the overall effect visually or emotionally that it evokes. I do not walk up to the painting to discover greater meaningful connections because all that I will see is dots and technical detail only of interest to a painter, or one seriously interested in painting technique. Bach's music is more like a 'classical' painting where each closer approach reveals more interesting details that acarry significance. Take Leonardo's 'Mona Lisa' and observe it from an appropriate distance. You will be concerned mainly with the portrait of the mysterious woman depicted there. However, if you come closer to the painting, all the background details draw your eyes into the landscape beyond. This background is significant as well and is not simply a revelation of impressionistic techniques as one would also find in Debussy's music where the emphasis primarily lies upon the effects and the images that they evoke. Delving deeper into this type of impressionistic music usually does not reveal an entirely new level, somewhat obscured by the overall effect. Taking Bach as the ultimate impressionist and stating that some notes in his score do not really have to be heard because the emotional interpretation of the moment dictates this, would be like removing the background painting in the 'Mona Lisa' and simply painting in a brown wall which then would emphasize only the foreground (only the impressionistic, foreground effects that HIP overstates and exaggerates) to the detriment of yet another level of significance which can only be revealed if the notes that Bach wrote are clearly audible. Brad, I hope that you will understand this to mean that there is range of audibility available in all these circumstances, a range that a good conductor would utilize in an effective manner. A living performance, yes, but not one that disrespects Bach's notational intentions by allowing notes, yes, even entire phrases and lines of music to disappear. This is what happens all too frequently in HIP where this type of practice has become fairly commonplace and where extremes of accent and tempi are responsible for the 'careless' reproduction of Bach's vocal works, a reproduction which 'short changes' the unknowing listener who may be hearing a work for the first time.

It is possible for the 'Affekt' to be achieved without losing notes in the process. Any 'gesturing' that makes the notes disappear from the audible range has unwittingly become a tool used to undermine Bach's intentions. Why is it so difficult to achieve moderation between the extremes that you have pointed out, Brad? Let's avoid 'deadly' performances where all the notes are played or sung in a stultifying manner, but let's also call to task the HIP extremists who, with all their emphasis on 'feeling' and 'live' performance, are beginning to neglect the basic elements in Bach's scores and ride roughshod over many of the details that Bach included for us all to hear.

Arjen van Gijssel wrote (March 13, 2003):
IMO, it is wrong to compare Bach with impressionism or with music from the romantic era (and I have some difficulty with comparing it with paintings of Michelangelo as well). I think that a caracteristic of baroque music is that every note in principle should be heard. There I absolutely agree with Thomas Braatz.

Singing all notes does not mean that as a choir singer, you should forget about the phrases you're singing, or the important words within that phrase. The art of baroque singing calls for expressing all notes, and yet being aware of the direction in which the text and the music is going. The moment we are accentuating an important word, by singing it louder or by giving little or no "weight" to surrounding less important words, we are being corrected by our conductor of the Laurenscantorij.

What I don´t understand about Thomas Braatz´s remarks in this respect, is that he takes Rilling [3] as an example of the correct approach. I often get the impression that Rilling has a romantic approach, i.e. with big choirs and a sound which sounds like a thick warm blanket.

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 13, 2003):
Arjen Gijssel pondered:
>>What I don´t understand about Thomas Braatz´s remarks in this respect, is that he takes Rilling [3] as an example of the correct approach. I often get the impression that Rilling has a romantic approach, i.e. with big choirs and a sound which sounds like a thick warm blanket.<<
I hope that you realize that the discussion was about BWV 49 which does not have big choirs, but now that you bring up my usually more favorably reports on Rilling's choir mvts., let me state that Rilling, more consistently than most cantata conductors and despite the trained voices singing with too much vibrato, nevertheless manages to retain a good balance between the voices and it is indeed rare that I am unable to look at any part of the score and discover that Rilling may have missed something (notes, phrases, articulation, dynamics). On top of all of this, his choir adds a driving force that reveals strong conviction as well as careful attention to expressive details. This can not be said of most HIP (Bach vocal) recordings where in the name of authentically representing Bach with a special emphasis on extreme interpretive devices (fast tempi, exaggerated accents, etc.) that claim to represent the performers' emotional commitment to making Bach's music come alive, too many things in Bach's scores are 'glossed over' or lost entirely in the 'passion' of the performance.

Charles Francis wrote (March 13, 2003):
Arjen van Gijssel wrote:
< IMO, it is wrong to compare Bach with impressionism or with music from the romantic era (and I have some difficulty with comparing it with paintings of Michelangelo as well). I think that a caracteristic of baroque music is that every note in principle should be heard. There I absolutely agree with Thomas Braatz. >
The essence of Bach's music is the emotional experience resulting from the total perception of the interaction of all components. It is difficult to find a parallel, but perhaps theists may liken it to God's omniscient knowledge of the Universe. With Bach the music is the Universe and a good performance facilitates a holistic experience of all horizontal and vertical aspects. Otherwise, one has compromised its
very Raison d'Etre.

Charles Francis wrote (March 13, 2003):
[To Thomas Braatz] I agree with everything you say above Thomas. I would add that Rilling's performances are typically heavily tempered by the text - take, for instance, his outstanding interpretation of the closing movement of the B-minor Mass (BWV 232).

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 13, 2003):
Now, for the record, so nobody gets the wrong idea here: I have no objection to hearing all the notes; in fact, I think it is important for performers to bring out the notes with as much clarity as possible, as far as is practical.

And that is VERY different from saying that all the notes should sound equally audible. Such a performance is merely one-dimensional. It's like hearing somebody read a script in a monotone voice, with no comprehension of which words are more important than others. It doesn't convey the music, but merely the notes.

Anyone who has heard me play harpsichord (and I am a professional player with a doctoral degree in that) knows that I give careful attention to detail. (Ditto when I play organ, clavichord, or fortepiano: each instrument offering a different range of expression, and different methods.) The details are very important to me, knowing why every note is where it is, so I can bring it out with an appropriate amount of attention; but, even more important is recognizing the hierarchy of the notes and phrases, and the way that those grammatical details are subsumed into meaning. Some notes really ARE much more important than other notes, and the less-important notes really should be downplayed. (Still audible, yes, but not in the foreground as much as the important notes are.) The notes must be organized into gestures and phrases the same way the composer composed them: recognizing and bringing out the shapes
and effects in the music, not merely the notes.

I've written some essays about that:

http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bpl/purc.htm (about the process of marking all the detail during the study of a piece, figuring out all the musical grammar, putting it into the hierarchy of ex, and then during performance playing a more important level of expression above all that detail)

http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bpl/performance-preparation.htm
(the type of research, practice, and thought that goes into every musical choice in a performance...it's far, far, far beyond merely going through all the notes in a score!)

I agree with Tom B that some performers overstate the foreground. But I think Tom goes too far here in his anti-"HIP" rhetoric. "HIP" (as a style) doesn't overstate or exaggerate anything; rather, it is some individual performers making unmusical choices who do so, not a whole class of people.

If Tom could somehow excise the harshly dismissive language of "HIP extremists" and "ride roughshod" and "undermine Bach's intentions" and "disrespects Bach's notational intentions" and "demi-voices" and "careless reproduction" from his manner of writing, I'd actually be pretty close to agreeing with his final paragraph here (below). A good performer balances things well, organizing the foreground and background appropriately, neither to the extreme of making all the notes the same, or to the other extreme of making notes completely inaudible. The music, when played and/or sung that well, indeed has many dimensions that are revealed at various levels of inspection, and to be enjoyed in repeated encounters.

In the example I mentioned earlier, the recordings of Cantata BWV 49 by Ehmann [1] and Coin [6], I can indeed hear all the notes in both performances. Coin's performance gives them a considerably clearer hierarchy, and therefore the composition is MUCH more lucid and holds the attention more readily; I'd also say it's much more expressive and musically convincing. The notes are all audible; they don't drop out (as might be suggested by reading Tom's message below). I haven't heard Rilling's [3] for comparison, so I can't say anything about that. And I did enjoy and learn some things from Ehmann's performance, even though I didn't agree with the methods of making all the notes so equal in importance. I could still parse the composition despite the way the features were downplayed.

Tom wrote:
< Great singers strive to convey the entire text (not just the occasionally accented syllables) in a musically suitable manner that is agreeable to the ears of most listeners and with the appropriate emotion and genuineness called for in the music. Vocal mannerisms, unnatural vocal sounds, apparent 'play-acting' of the text, and the inability to produce a full volume through the extended range that Bach's music demands are indications of inferior performances that can not be improved by applying the many conventions of HIP strategies which actually stress the idea of extreme gestures and accents which cause notes in Bach's scores to become lost in the romantic, impressionistic goals of performance that are currently in vogue. While conductors may attempt to bring certain parts or notes out more than some others, these conductors are doing Bach's music a disservice by allowing parts to become indistinct or inaudible. >
That just looks to me like an extreme overstatement itself, a perhaps angry overreaction, like an incendiary polemic against performance styles he would rather not hear. Tom obviously feels this very strongly, which is fine; I just wish he'd express it more kindly, with a better realization of how hurtfully some of those words come across, especially as they get archived on the web.

He then (later in the same posting below) tempers his remarks, calling for a greater moderation, with which I (generally) agree; his language itself also relaxes, which is welcome to this reader. I can grant Tom some leeway here, and trust he has good intentions. Also, he and I have had some good discussions off-list, and I can vouch
that he is thoughtful and considerate there. Overall, if I may venture a suggestion, I'd urge Tom to bring a greater respect for "HIP" performers (and a more careful use of language), a less incendiary tone, when discussing performances he doesn't fancy.

Those of us out here who really do specialize in "Historically Informed Performance"...even though I'd rather think of it as "Intelligent and Sensitive Musical Performance(!)"...deserve a fair hearing, and (if possible) un-prejudiced comments about our work...especially if those comments are to be archived forever on the web, for anybody to see outside the context of these group discussions. We take the music very seriously, and because we respect it we strive to bring it out as clearly and expressively as possible (as do some non-"HIP" performers, also, of course...with different methods). Yes, some performers overstate it, coming across as didactic rather than musically convincing...but that's no reason to lump all of "HIP" folks together as horrible. Many of us do bring thoughtful moderation to the way we sing and play, whether as amateurs or professionals. We've put in many years of hard work, and gone to great personal expense, just to get to participate in this music at all. (And, even as a professional player myself, it's almost impossible to earn enough at it to live on; I have a completely separate full-time job outside music that pays my family's bills.)

And I think it's worth remembering: even though we today might wish to hear all the notes, as much as possible...there was no way that Bach's congregations heard everything coming down from the loft. Bach, an intelligent and practical musician, knew this. He had to know that some things frankly would not be heard clearly. That's life. He still wrote his music brilliantly to bring out the messages that were to be conveyed, in the performance conditions he had to deal with. If we can hear different things in different performance conditions today, fine; that's life, too. But I think it's too extreme to insist that we must be able to hear everything. Everything should be there, sure, brought out as well as the performance circumstances allow. But, really, in the larger sweep of life, how many people's days are REALLY ruined if we didn't hear the third semiquaver in bar 47 of movement 5, or whatever? Life isn't perfect. Everybody has to prioritize some things as more important than other things. I'd like to believe that Bach understood that.

 

Continue on Part 2

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