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Cantata BWV 49
Ich geh’ und suche mit Verlangen
Discussions - Part 2

Continue from Part 1

Discussions in the Week of January 20, 2008

Ed Myskowski wrote (January 18, 2008):
Introduction to BWV 49 - Ich geh und suche mit Verlangen

Discussion for the week of January 20, 2008

Cantata BWV 49 - Ich geh und suche mit Verlangen (I go and seek with longing)

Date of composition for first performance, November 3, 1726, 20th Sunday after Trinity. See discussion for reuse of earlier material .

Data on recordings, and links to text, readings for the day, commentary, and score (piano reduction), can be found at: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV49.htm

A link to the previous round of discussions is also available on that page, or directly at: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV49-D.htm

I find the previous discussion (and links to commentary) especially helpful, and thorough. An example of BCW at its best (with hints of the worst, for flavor). I direct you there for listening details, especially the extensive commentary based on Dürr at: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Guide/BWV49-Guide.htm

and the links to AMG and Emmanuel Music for commentary on the text, including the very concise:
<Bach has taken the parable of the wedding feast and made it the basis for a complex and textured dialogue between Jesus and the Soul. Both the fathers search for wedding guests and the husbands search for a wife become metaphors for the searching of the soul for Christ.>

Whittaker points out that BWV 49, for S/B duet without chorus, actually has its closest analogies with two cantatas for alto solo (both with final chorus, however). Both BWV 35 and BWV 169 (that one from just two weeks previous, both in performance and our discussion), as well as BWV 49, all make use of previously composed instrumental material. These three works also share a prominent role for obbligato organ.

An earlier concerto, which was later reworked again to become the harpsichord concerto, BWV 1053, provided two movements for BWV 169 (opening sinfonia, and aria, Mvt. 5), and its third movement for the opening sinfonia (Mvt. 1) of BWV 49. An earlier discussion, before my time on BCML but archived on BCW: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Topics/Religion.htm

proposed that once Bach used secular material for a sacred work, it never reverted to secular use. Perhaps not often (although it is difficult to be certain, given the probable amount of lost material), but the example of BWV 1053 seems to contradict never.

Repeating my previous (BWV 169 introduction) citation from Wolff, re Jahrgang III:
<With the new instrumental brilliance and lavishness that predominates in the third cycle, Bach broke new ground in his composition of cantatas.> Julian Mincham has reported that Wolff also attributes the abundance of solo cantatas in the third cycle to the same motive - innovation. However, that is not exactly the case with BWV 49, despite the lack of any chorus at all. It is in dialogue form, a traditional cantata construction, with the two vocal parts representing the Soul and Jesus. Dürr states: <This cantata is expressly designated Dialogus, and it turns out to be a later derivative of the sacred dialogue compositions of the seventeenth century.> The very blending itself, the new instrumental brilliance with the old vocal form, is innovative.

Dürr is eloquent with respect to the instrumental brilliance: <Cantatas thus expanded by large scale concerto movements have a decidedly virtuosic and decorative character which is of its very nature foreign to the cantata as sermon music. Perhaps Bach wanted to compensate in this way for the absence of a choir. In the present cantata, moreover, he creates the impression of wedding music, which helps to illustrate the following words of the bridegroom, My dinner is prepared and my wedding table ready. Not least, however, this concertante character bears witness to the freedom of Lutheranism, which sees in the exercise of the role ordained by God - here that of the skilled musician - a legitimate form of divine service.>

With all due respect, I do not think the absence of a choir is necessary to justify the instrumental brilliance, given other examples of the use of both in the same work. Do you suppose Bach could be toying with us just a bit here, using some rather sensual texts based on the Song of Songs, in contrast to very spiritual pure music.? In any event, I find a possible answer to the question implied in the earlier discussions - what is the function of the instrumental introductory movements? They can provide an example of the spiritual content of pure music, independent of text or specific theologic association.

A bit more from Dürr, to supplement the archived commentary:
<The following movements [after the sinfonia (Mvt. 1)] are also markedly virtuoso in character due to the abundant use of obbligato organ. [. . .] The soprano aria, Mvt. 4 with its choice scoring for oboe damore and violincello piccolo is a masterpiece of Bachs art of characterization.>

I infer that the traditional dialogue form does not use choir, but I cannot readily confirm that as fact. Perhaps someone can help? In any event, Bach concludes BWV 49 with a duet rather than chorus, whether by innovative choice or conformity with the Dialogus model. The duet is concisely described in the OCC: <The bass sings a da capo aria while the soprano intones the seventh strophe of Philipp Nicolai's chorale Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern [How lovely shines the Morning Star] as a cantus firmus. Both the bass principal melody and the ritornello theme (played by the organ in embellished form) derive from Nicolai's melody.>

Dürr again: <The concluding duet, Mvt. 6, is among the richest in artistry of all Bachs cantata movements. He was faced with the formal task of so weaving the chorale into the texture that the impression is formed of a finale, despite the lack of choir. At the same time, in the interests of a balanced overall form, the aria has to form a counterpart to the concertante virtuosity of the opening movement. Bach achieves both these aims with brilliant success. [. . .] The symbolic nature of the dialogue is made manifest: the bride as the individual soul also stands for the church founded by Christ. [. . .] This cantata is one of those works whose full content is not immediately revealed upon superficial acquaintance.>

Well, I have enjoyed making the acquaintance of BWV 49 in the course of preparing this introduction, but I cannot claim to have done more than that as yet. I appreciate the indulgence of those of you who know these works much better than I do, as I share my learning experience. I have tried to supplement the BCW archives to provide a minimal listening guide, and perhaps stimulate further reading. Dürr in particular has much more to say than we can reproduce here.

I will join you in further listening during the coming week. There are three new recordings since the first discussion round. I plan to comment on Koopman [9] in relation to some of the earlier issues, but the other two are more obscure or recent. Comments on Kussmaul [11] from 2007 would be especially welcome. I hope others agree that comments on the relative merits of recordings are among the most useful elements of the BCW archives.

Bradley Lehman wrote (January 18, 2008):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
< Data on recordings, and lito text, readings for the day, commentary, and score (piano reduction), can be found at: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV49.htm
A link to the previous round of discussions is also available on that page, or directly at: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV49-D.htm >
One thing I don't see mentioned there is: in the 1993 Kuijken recording [5] (Mertens and Argenta singing), Pierre Hantai was the excellent organ soloist. I guess that would make him about 28 or 29 at the time.

Julian Mincham wrote (January 18, 2008):
[To Ed Myskowski] Another stimulating intro, Ed.

There are 4 dialogue cantatas in the cycle of which this is perhaps the most complex and enigmatic. The others are BWV 57, BWV 32 and BWV 35; two end with chorales and two do not. I have often wondered what was decided upon first in this work, the opening sinfonia (Mvt. 1) or the closing (and most eloquantly constructed) duet. Both are linked by the common key of E major, a relatively unusual?one for the period.

E major presumably led bach to selct the even more unusual? (particularly in the cantatas) key of?C# minor for the imposing second movement.?What strikes one here is the contrast between the tortuous organ obligato line and the generally much more flowing and conjunct vocal line. Personally I think that there is a deep symbolic meaning conveyed by this contrast: but I'll leave others to seek their own solutions.

On another matter raised recently, the Boyd/Butt Oxford Companions JS Bach, a really excellent book particularly for students, is virtually unavailable worldwide except in the E-book format. I met John Butt (now at Glasgow UK and a busy practising musician as well as an academic) recently and asked him if he knew of any plans to republish or bring out a new edition. He said he didn't know of any but said he would take it up with the publishers---so we can but hope.??

Bradley Lehman wrote (January 18, 2008):
Julian Mincham wrote:
< E major presumably led bach to selct the even more unusual? (particularly in the cantatas) key of?C# minor for the imposing second movement.?What strikes one here is the contrast between the tortuous organ obligato line and the generally much more flowing and conjunct vocal line. Personally I think that there is a deep symbolic meaning conveyed by this contrast: but I'll leave others to?seek their own solutions. >
I don't think Bach necessarily planted a deep symbolic meaning into the use of C# minor there, but rather he probably picked it for the expressive way it sounds.

I remember back to March 2003 when I played harpsichord in a performance of BWV 49, with a period-instrument ensemble and a director who was playing the organ part himself. Some earlier on-list remarks about that performance:
http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV29-D.htm
http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Topics/Continuo-2.htm
http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Books/Book-Bach-Continuo-Group%5BDreyfus%5D.htm

The organist had tuned the organ in Vallotti, which is better than some other options, but not optimal for this piece. (And it was before we knew better, a bit more than a year later....) For the first movement, I remember we spent quite a lot of rehearsal time getting the string players to play decently in tune in the double-sharps sections, both by themselves and then with the organ playing along. It's treacherous music. When string players way up into the less-familiar territory of double sharps, and the uncommon notes of B# and E#, it's harder to stay in tune. The C# minor movement has some of that problem too, in the bass line, but no upper strings playing.

It would have sounded better, and easier to play, with at least two improvements in the organ:
- Temper it better....
- Have the organist play in the originally notated keys of D major and B minor, for the organ part, at Chorton while the rest of the ensemble is in E and C#m at Cammerton. Bach knew what he was doing.

If organists today need to play it in E and C#m, it's wise to transpose the temperament so it would sound as if they're getting the correct harmonic qualities from D major etc.: http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bpl/larips/vocal.html

Some earlier remarks about the Kuijken recording of BWV 49 [5]: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Performers/Kuijken-C2.htm

Julian Mincham wrote (January 18, 2008):
[To Bradley Lehman] Just a clarification following Brad's comments below.? I don't think that the choice of key is symbolic; rather the contrast in the manner of writing between the two melodic lines, organ and voice.??

Ed Myskowski wrote (January 18, 2008):
BWV 49 recordings

Reply to Brad Lehman:
< Data on recordings, and links to text, readings for the day, commentary, and score (piano reduction), can be found at: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV49.htm
One thing I don't see mentioned there is: in the 1993 Kuijken recording
[5] (Mertens and Argenta singing), Pierre Hantai was the excellent organ soloist. I guess that would make him about 28 or 29 at the time. >
Thanks to Brad for pointing out this excellent recording. I got a copy about a year ago at reasonable price, but it appears to have gone out of print in the interim. As best I can tell from a quick look, it is only available as costly second-hand copies at the moment. Perhaps someone can find a reasonable source?

There is a biography for Pierre Hantai on BCW, but he is not mentioned in connection with the recording of BWV 49, either under that heading or at the linked recording review site. Incidentally, that review site is worth visiting, if only to also learn that the oboe player is Marcel Ponseele, and that several people find the recording outstanding. Worth looking for.

Hantai is listed as born in 1964, so Brad got his age on the nose, by my calculation.

Apologies for my ongoing lack of reply function, hope the above is clear.

Jean Laaninen wrote (January 18, 2008):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
< Dürr is eloquent with respect to the instrumental brilliance: <Cantatas thus expanded by large scale concerto movements have a decidedly virtuosic and decorative character which is of its very nature foreign to the cantata as sermon music. Perhaps Bach wanted to compensate in this way for the absence of a choir. In the present cantata, moreover, he creates the impression of wedding music, which helps to illustrate the following words of the bridegroom, My dinner is prepared and my wedding table ready. Not least, however, this concertante character bears witness to the freedom of Lutheranism, which sees in the exercise of the role ordained by God - here that of the skilled musician - a legitimate form of divine service.> >
You are keeping us on our toes here, Ed, with all the detail you've provided. I also took time to read past discussions and agree with the range of opinions as to symbolism in this work...i.e. the potential modern personal interpretation as well as views to Christ and the church being the bride which has always clearly been presented in Lutheran preaching in my experience. But I also agree with Dürr that this is not what you could call sermon music. I found the opening and closing numbers and the internal duet simply charming. It must have been a good Sunday morning for the parishoners the day this was performed. And it has occured to me repeatedly that music that serves multiple purposes and interpretations was a key factor in Bach's composing, though it is hard to if he would have imagined his world-wide fan club as it exists today. Bach withstands the test of time in my view in part because of his skills in interpreting the moods of texts, and his ability to uplift the listener.

Peter Smaill wrote (January 19, 2008):
BWV 49

An interesting observation is that the opening bass aria (Mvt. 2) is in C sharp minor. Commentators such as Eric Chafe often find obscure keys important to the hermeneutivs of the Cantatas, but in the case of BWV 49 his interest is in the "A et O" quote in the final Chorale (Mvt. 6). Rather weakly he suggests that many Cantatas with this allusion lie towards the end of Trinity; but we have 25 Sundays in Trinity in 1726 and this is only the twentieth.

Whittaker thinks the movement BWV 49/2 (Mvt. 2) is borrowed from a lost work.

More obviously, as with BWV 56, the text is heavily redolent of mystical imagery and only slightly related to the Gospel for the day.

The obscure key is IMO a suggestion of the distance and remoteness of the lost pilgrim: "where have you gone that my eye no longer sees you?". Of this key Hermann Keller wrote regarding the "48":

" Outside the "48" Bach used it only rarely, for example the slow middle movement of the E major Violin Concerto (BWV 1042) and the Violin Sonata (BWV 1016)."

As discussed earlier, Keller goes on to say that the layout of the four sharps can be seen to delineate the points of a recumbent Cross, and this is the key of the Crucifixion choruses of the SMP (BWV 244) and SJP (BWV 245). It is also the key of "Durch deine gefaegnis" which Chorale is the focus of the SJP (BWV 245).

For these reasons there is a case for the choice of key being symbolic.

Bradley Lehman wrote (January 20, 2008):
Peter Smaill wrote:
< An interesting observation is that the opening bass aria (Mvt. 2) is in C sharp minor.
(...)
The obscure key is IMO a suggestion of the distance and remoteness of the lost pilgrim: "where have you gone that my eye no longer sees you?". Of this key Hermann Keller wrote regarding the "48":
" Outside the "48" Bach used it only rarely, for example the slow middle movement of the E major Violin Concerto (BWV 1042) and the Violin Sonata (BWV 1016)."
As discussed earlier, Keller goes on to say that ?the layout of the four sharps can be seen to delineate the points of a recumbent Cross, and this is the key of the Crucifixion choruses of the SMP and SJP. >
I've read Hermann Keller's book. Such things as connecting the first and fourth notes, and the second and third notes, of such melodic figures (or the sharps themselves similarly, in a key signature of E major or C# minor) to make up "cross" motifs -- they don't convince me at all. I like some of the rest of the book, but that part of it seems weak.

C# minor is the relative minor of E major: here in cantata BWV 49, and in the 1042 concerto, and the 1016 sonata. It's a simple tonal relationship obeying normal rules of music of this period. Why does it have to be any symbolic cross thing, or anything other than a musical event?

There are some good sections about symbolic stuff toward the end of Martin Geck's biography of Bach, newly translated into English and issued last year. I am more in agreement with Geck than with Hermann Keller.

Neil Halliday wrote (January 20, 2008):
A correspondent in earlier discussions had problems with the text of the soprano aria (Mvt. 4): "I am glorious, I am beautiful, my Saviour to inflame", seeing a "prima donna preening herself in front of a mirror".

The answer to that problem is to consider that the soprano in fact represents the soul, which can be either male or female (or neither, raising the question: is God male or female?), and the soul no doubt can indeed actually be "glorious and beautiful". In other words, the soprano and bass roles should not be equated literally, through the poetic imagery, with 'bride' and 'bridegroom'.

At the beginning of the vocal section of the cantata (bass aria (Mvt. 2)), the bass (Jesus) sings "I go and seek with longing, you, my dove, most beautiful bride"; at the end of the cantata (vocal duet), the soprano (soul) in the final line of the chorale melody sings "I await you with longing"; thus the text confirms the longing of the soul and Christ for one-another.

-------

The sinfonia (Mvt. 1) itself (tonic key: E major) has interesting modulations to F# minor and G# minor; the bass aria (Mvt. 2) (tonic C# minor) also modulates to G# minor (hence all those F double sharps Brad mentioned) but there is no gloom or sadness, only at the most yearning or seriousness, in any of the movements.

------

Coin [6] dispenses with continuo in the bass aria (Mvt. 2), or rather employs the organ alone as both continuo and obbligato instrument. (Listen to sample): http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV49.htm

Apart from the fact that the singer seems too distant, at least at the beginning of the sample, this example is very attractive for the general clarity of the accompaniment. The harmonic shifts of the latter part of the ritornello are noteworthy.

Of particular interest to me also is the pleasing organ accompaniment (again without continuo strings) in the second (secco) recitative, sounding much more natural (IMO) as an accompanied recitative, compared with the mostly unaccompanied 'operatic' recitative that we hear in most current performances. As a bonus, you get to hear the rich harmonic dissonance, for example, on the first chord in the second bar, and so forth.

Ed Myskowski wrote (January 28, 2008):
BWV 49 recordings

The recordings prior to Koopman [9] were covered in the first round of discussions. Neil has added some helpful comments on Coin [6], based on the amazon.com samples (I believe), which can be accessed via the BCW recording pages. The Coin recording has a unique acoustic, which was earlier described as the singers sounding distant. That is not exactly incorrect, but it is probably better understood in Coins own description:
<The choice for the recording, of a charming little church [. . .] was justified chiefly by the presence of an organ by Silbermann. [. . .] we thought it would be interesting to use the great organ even for the continuo. It thus becomes the main axis around which instrumentalists and singers then gather. That is not without its problems (especially for the microphone) [. . .] The result may seem more dense, and sometimes more blurred than usual, but it conveys quite faithfully the atmosphere and sound a member of the congregation would have experienced sitting down below in that small nave.>
This results in a much different sound from that of Kuijken [5], from the same year. Coin has recorded all the cantatas using violincello piccolo, which appear to be in the process of reissue on three individual CDs.

Koopman [9] is one of his better performances, and a reasonable alternative to Kuijken [5] for first choice, if Kuijken is not maintained in print. The two performances both feature bass soloist Klaus Mehrtens, always excellent. Koopman is light and airy, with a brisk sinfonia (Mvt. 1) at 6:24, compared to others all near 6:45 - the difference is very noticeable, but not unpleasant. Koopmans characteristic abrupt continuo is only a minor shortcoming in Mvt. 5, or perhaps I am just coming to tolerate it better.

The HIP recordings in the sets by Harnoncourt [2] and Leusink [7] are also very good, as noted in the first discussions, despite the negative details mentioned there. Most of those complaints are probably accurate, but I do disagree with the impression given of soprano Ruth Holton with Leusink. I find her performance one of the highlights of listening to the recordings of BWV 49.

I have not had the opportunity to hear Rilling [3], which was very highly regarded previously. I do have the Cantate LP by Ehmann [1], with superb soloists and organ, and with quite good sound despite the age of the recording. The performance style is typical of its era, and not to everyones taste - slow and respectful might be a kind description. I find it enjoyable, but if forced to pick one, Kuijken [5] or one of the others (Koopman [9] or Coin) [6] in contemporary style would be my first choice. That said with the proviso that Gardiner and Suzuki are coming, and we have not yet heard about bass Thomas Quasthoff with Kussmaul [11].

Ed Myskowski wrote (February 2, 2008):
BWV 49 discussion [was: Introduction to BWV 55]

Alain Brugieres wrote:
>I felt like writing a long mail about BWV 49, especially the last mvt, since you said that you didn't really see what Dürr found so exceptional about that mvt. I hadn't read Dürr on that, but actually this duetto has become dearer and dearer to me as the years go by.<

Except for the bass solo cantata, BWV 56, the remainder of the group I introduced were unfamiliar to me, including BWV 49. From a brief acquaintance, I do find the duet a very effective conclusion, all the more so because it is innovative.

I did not mean to say that I disagree with Dürr about the quality of that mvt. What Dürr says is that the instrumental brilliance of the sinfonia (Mvt. 1) is meant to compensate for the absence of a concluding chorale, as if that absence were forced by the lack of a good choir.

My point was that the duet is an effective conclusion, as you suggest as well. There is no need to presume that Bach could not have provided a more conventional chorale conclusion, if he had wanted to. I think we do best to consider the work as it is, as the way Bach wanted it.

As if to add an exclamation point, Bach omits the closing chorale by chorus in the following week, BWV 98, even though he opens with a chorale based chorus mvt. The choir (of whatever size!) is there, good enough to sing Mvt. 1.

Write that long mail, and if you happen to uncover some French influence in the chorale underlying the BWV 49 duet, so much the better.

 

Continue on Part 3

Cantata BWV 49: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

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