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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 50
Nun ist das Heil und die Kraft
Discussions - Part 1

Previous Messages

Simon Bewer wrote:
Hello, I've been able to hear all the Bach cantatas except this one. The official JS Bach page said it wasn't spurious but was incomplete. Has there been a recording of it or is it too 'incomplete'.

Jxhg wrote (December 25, 1999):
No kidding! I've always wanted to hear the complete Cantata BWV 50 "Nun ist das Heil und die Kraft”, but according to what I once read somewhere, all but the first movement was lost. I honestly haven't been keeping up lately-- has the rest of it been found since then? Is there some way I could order or hear the complete BWV 50? Or is there still just that one movement?

Simon Bewer (wrote: December 25, 1999):
As far as I know there haven't been any new discoveries of cantatas whole or part recently. I knew the 50th from the Teldec performance - an excellent Chorus.

Johann Sebastian wrote (January 4, 2000):
BWV 50 is a single movement that is preserved only in a "primary source" copy not in JSB’s handwriting or the handwriting of anyone known to have been a member of his immediate circle.

It is a movement for double Chorus, and many have argued that it is an arrangement of a single chorus movement. (A reconstruction of that putative "original" version is included in Koopman's on-going cantata cycle on Erato [20].)

Whatever the movement is or was a part of remains uncertain. I might add that there are those who secretly are convinced (The powers that be in Bach scholarship would consider this heretical, you see), that the movement, fine though it is, is not the work of Sebastian Bach, in any form.

John Polifronio wrote (January 4, 2000):
[20] I'm delighted to hear that Koopman is engaged in recording all the Bach cantatas. I'm going to go and check to see if he's already recorded BWV 34.

Johann Sebastian wrote (January 4, 2000):
[20] You are most welcome. I believe that Koopman is up to Vol. 8. Since I do not share your enthusiasm for Koopman's approach to this music, I have not been keeping up with the on-going project and therefore I cannot tell you if he has gotten to BWV 34. I do happen to have Vol. 6, which happens to contain BWV 50. The reconstruction is by Jan Kleinbussink, who also is the organ continuo player in the recordings. Christoph Wolff's annotation hints at the elusive nature of this movement. Since the "primary" source is a posthumous copy, everything has to be, essentially, purely a speculative conclusion. According to the notes, the performance includes both the surviving text and Kleinbussink's reconstruction of the putative original.

John Polifronio wrote (January 6, 2000):
[20] My enthusiasm for Koopman varies quite a bit. But my love for the Bach Cantatas is at the highest level. My enthusiasm was more for the cantata BWV 34 than for Koopman; but I'm interested in any BWV 34 (or most other of the cantatas) that appears in a new recording. I'm not much of a fan of Harnoncourt either, but his BWV 34 on Teldec was quite good. Do you have a favorite BWV 4 I should know about? There are about 50 of the cantatas for which I have a special liking, and am constantly listening to whatever comes my way; but I can't hear all the available recordings of these unequaled masterpieces so any recommendations you might have would be appreciated.

 

Discussions in the Week of March 16, 2003

Aryeh Oron wrote (March 17, 2003):
BWV 50 - Introduction

The subject of this week’s discussion (March 16, 2003) is the remains of a Cantata for MichaelmasNun ist das Heil und die Kraft’ (Now is the salvation and the strength). This movement is a double chorus, the only eight-part chorus in any of Bach’s sacred cantatas. It is very difficult to imagine what the remainder of the cantata could have been like after this stupendous chorus. It’s text is quoted from the Epistle for St. Michael's Day, Revelations 12: 10.

Recordings
The details of the 13 recordings of this cantata movement can be found at the following page of the Bach Cantatas Website: Cantata BWV 50 - Recordings

The first recording of BWV 50 was done by Carl Schuricht, back in 1938 [2]. Along the way we can find five from the recorded cantata cycles (Harnoncourt [10], Rilling [15], Koopman [20], Suzuki [21] and Leusink [22]), as well as less regulars but well-respected authorities in the field of recorded Bach Cantatas, as the veterans Prohaska [6], Werner [8] and Rotzsch [14] and the Englishmen Gardiner [13], Parrott [16] and Christophers [17].

Additional Information
In the page of recordings mentioned above you can also find links to the original German text and various translations, four of which have been contributed by members of the BCML: English (Francis Browne), French (Jean-Pierre Grivois), Hebrew (Aryeh Oron) and Portuguese (Rodrigo Maffei Libonati).
There are also links to the Score (Vocal & Piano version) and to commentary: in English by Simon Crouch (Listener’s Guide, short) and “Blue Gene” Tyranny (AMG, extensive), in French by Christophe Chazot (Personal Website), and in Spanish by Julio Sánchez Reyes (CantatasDeBach).

This movement is quite short (less than 4 minutes in most of the recordings) but thrilling. So it is not so difficult to listen carefully to it and write something about your impressions. I hope to see this week more members participating in the discussion than we have seen in the last couple of weeks. There was a short discussion of this work about 3 years ago, as you can see in the page: Cantata BWV 50 - Discussions

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 18, 2003):
BWV 50 - Provenance:

See: Cantata BWV 50 - Provenance

Neil Halliday wrote (March 18, 2003):
This is another brilliant chorus by Bach expressing praise, joy and strength.

[10] Harnoncourt captures these elemnts well, despite some flat notes on a trumpet (3/4 of the way through), and some indistinctness in the recording - I suppose a double-chorus with timpani, brass and strings is always going to challenge the available recording technology.

His timpani and trumpets remind me of those of Karl Richter in the B minor mass (BWV 232) - over the top, perhaps, but thrilling nonetheless. The two choirs sing with enthusiasm and gusto, with the lower voices generally being heard.

He sets up a powerful rhythmn, which is at the upper speed limit; I would not want to hear the 16th notes any faster than this. (movement time: 3mins 37secs.)

I will be keeping an eye out for other performances.

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 18, 2003):
BWV 50 - Commentaries: [Spitta, Voigt, Schweitzer, Whittaker, Dürr]

See: Cantata BWV 50 – Commentary

Alexander Vassiliadis wrote (March 19, 2003):
I could not answer for a long time but now I will take part in the discussion again.

Concerning Cantata BWV 50 I just remember Gardiner´s Concert with the 4 Cantatas for Michaelmas on his BCP in 2000 [23]. I heard them in the Mariendom in Neviges, which is a huge building and the church was really full of people. He ended the concert with number 50 and I I will never forget that. Compared with Gardiner´s old recording [13] this one was played just with fire. You couldn´t hardly sit on your chair! I´ve never heard that Cantata with so much rhythmical energy (it was much faster than in his recording and the choir sang it with such a fantastic diction, that really every detail could be heard).

What a great piece!!

After that the Singers and players got standing ovations and during the final applause Gardiner started again with that cantata as an extra piece. I got some extra Adrenalin when hearing it in the concert [23].

I hope that some of you also were there and could enjoy one of the best BCP Concerts.

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 23, 2003):
BWV 50 - The Recordings:

This week I listened to the following recordings:

Harnoncourt (1968) [10]; Rotzsch (1980-81) [14]; Rilling (1984) [15]; Parrott (1989) [16]; Koopman (1997) [20]; Suzuki (1999) [21]; Leusink (2000) [22]

Timings are very similar with Koopman (3:24) [20], the fastest, which is about ½ minute faster than the slowest by Rotzsch (3:53) [14].

With only 1 mvt. under discussion and a mvt. that, most likely has been expanded by someone else, I want to compare the above recordings based upon certain criteria of my choosing.

Part of the problem with this cantata mvt. is that it most likely is not in its original form.

The Koopman recording [20], with notes by Christoph Wolff, promises to record this probable original version: “The present recording proposes two versions of this mvt., first the traditional version for double chorus and, second, a reconstruction for single chorus by Jan Kleinbussink.” Does anyone know whether this is still being planned?

My Criteria Checklist:

Instrumental:

1. The quality and sound of the trumpets. Do they enhance the call to battle with the sense of impending victory? Or do they bashfully stay in the background while almost not being audible?

2. When the fugal subject is stated by the 1st trumpet (the 1st trumpet alone has these important entrances) beginning in ms. 28 and 111, is it clearly heard or does it simply become part of the background?

3. Is the inverted fugal subject played only by the 1st oboe beginning in ms. 36 or the regular fugal subject played only by the 1st violin beginning in ms. 50 clearly heard?

4. Is the bc, when duplicating the vocal bass part, louder than the voice part? In other words, is the balance between bc and the rest of the ensemble reasonably good?

Choral:

5. Is OVPP used? Is a concertisti (soloists) vs ripieni setup used [I use the designation ‘mod’ for this]? Does each part have more than 1 or 2 voices per part throughout [I use the word ‘full’ for this]?

6. Are the two choirs in balance with each other? Can all of the parts of each choir be adequately heard?

7. Is the fugal subject treated in a staccato or legato fashion [S or L will be used]?

8. With the 2-note, 3-note and 4-note phrases on the words “Tag und Nacht,” are the final notes of each phrase actually audible?

9. When both choirs are singing 8 separate parts beginning in ms. 43, can the fugal subject in the soprano voice be clearly heard?

10. When the fragment phrases, “weil der verworfen ist” and “der sie verklagete” are thrown back and forth between both choirs, can a distinction be made between both choirs and is the pronunciation of German sufficiently clean and clear?

11. When the inverted fugal subject occurs in the voices (ms. 29 & 111 in the soprano; ms. 83 in the alto; ms. 90 in the tenor; and ms. 97 in the bass, is it clearly represented each time?

Results of my investigation

Here are the results of my investigation from the best to the worst:

[I used the following letters: G = good; F = fair (mediocre); P = poor in order to make my assessments]

Rotzsch [14], Rilling [15], Parrott [16], Koopman [20], Harnoncourt [10], Suzuki [21], Leusink [22]

Using the 1st letter of the last name of the conductor (except for Ro=Rotzsch and Ri=Rilling), the details are as follows:

Instrumental Aspects:

Trumpet sound: G = Ro, Ri, K; F = H, P, S, L
1st trumpet ms. 28 ff.: G = Ro, Ri, K; F = H, P; P = S, L
1st trumpet ms. 111 ff.: G = Ro, Ri; F = P, K; P = H, S, L
1st oboe ms. 35 ff. (inverted): P = H, Ro, Ri, P, K, S, L
1st violin ms. 50 ff.: G = H, Ri, P, K; F = Ro; P = S, L
Bc balance: G = H, Ri, P, K, S; P = Ro, L

Choral Aspects:

Staccato vs. Legato S = H, P, K, S, L; L = Ro, Ri
OVPP/Mod/Full: Full = H, Ro, Ri, K; Mod = S, L; OVPP = P
Balance: G = Ro, Ri, P; F = H, K, S; P = L
Short Phrases: G = Ro, Ri, K; F = P; P = H, S, L
German: G = Ro, Ri; F = H, K, S; P = P, L
Soprano ms. 29 ff. (inverted): G = Ro; F = H, P, S; P = Ri, K, L
Soprano ms. 43 ff.: G = Ro, Ri; F = P; P = H, K, S, L
Soprano ms. 111 ff. (inverted): G = Ro, Ri; F = H; P = P, K, S, L
Alto ms. 83 ff. (inverted): G = H, Ro, P, K; P = Ri, S, L
Tenor ms. 90 ff. (inverted): G = P, S; F = H, Ro, K; P = Ri, L
Bass ms. 97 ff. (inverted): G = Ro; F = P; P = H, Ri, K, S, L

Aryeh Oron wrote (March 23, 2003):
BWV 50 - Background

The background below is based on some of the commentaries and something of my own.

The work opens with a strong declaration in unharmonized octaves between the bass voices of Choir I and the lower strings. Creating a feeling of rising excitement, the important words are emphasized on strong beats, each one higher in pitch than the previous. We can easily imagine ourselves walking up the stairs until we reach a higher plane of calm and peace. A joy-motif is combined with a motif of strength in the rhythm, which represents the defeat of Satan. The sopranos and the basses of Choir I begin the fugal theme, imitated by the other voices. Choir II bursts in with a great force upon their fugue. In the second section, the fugue is altered by the two choirs tossing fragments of their declamation back and forth between their sections. The two choirs unite finally to bring the movement to an impressive climax.

This is masterpiece of Bach’s mature chorale writhing in motet style. There is a feeling of mystic power that makes it more than a hymn of triumph over the force of evil. It seems to be Bach’s personal faith in God’s supremacy. This is one of those pieces, which actually plays itself, reminding works like Ravel’s Boléro. All the components that convey power and triumph and keep its momentum are already embedded in the work, even before the first note is played. Therefore it carries easily the message in every performance, almost never fails to sweep the listeners and uplift their spirit.

The Recordings – Main Characteristics

Last week I have been listening to 11 recordings of Cantata BWV 50. Instead of detailed review, I shall try to summerize their main characteristics.

[2] Carl Schuricht (1938)
Slow and heavy; romantic rather than Bachian approach.

[6] Felix Prohaska (1957)
Energetic, vivid and sweeping; big-scale choir, but clear vocal lines.

[10] Nikolaus Harnoncourt (1975)
Less fragmented than usual, but still mechanical and lifeless; fine singing.

[13] John Eliot Gardiner (1980)
Uncharacteristically lacking some internal pulse and momentum; missing a real Gardinerian spirit and enthusiasm.

[14] Hans-Joachim Rotzsch (1980-1981)
Fine singing, but unfocused; problems in balance and some imprecisions.

[15] HelmuthRilling (1984)
Colourful and enthusiastic; excellent choir singing; tension is being built gradually in a very arresting way.

[16] Andrew Parrott (1989)
Transparent due to the small forces used; apparently lacking some power, but very captivating in its charm and tenderness.

[17] Harry Christophers (1990)
Somewhat dry and restrained; excellent singing and clear lines.

[20] Ton Koopman (1997, 1st track)
Gentle and first-rate singing and playing; lacking somewhat in power and sounds rushed.

[21] Masaaki Suzuki (1999)
Precise, bold, powerful, with strong internal pulse; first rate singing and playing with excellent balance and clarity; approach similar to Rilling’s.

[22] Pieter Jan Leusink (2000)
Lightweight and unbalanced; has some enthusiasm.

Conclusion

The most satisfying renditions: Prohaska [6], Rilling [15], Parrott [16], Suzuki [21].
A recording to take away: Suzuki [21].

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 24, 2003):
[To Thomas Braatz] An interesting approach! Sounds like we need an awards category for Most Closely Micro-managed Engineering. :)

That is, let's hear it for one small aspect of the production values (cheering on the mixing-board guy and the fanciest multi-miking techniques). We could call it the Ludwig Mies van der Rohe Award, after his famous "God is in the details" pronouncement.

To balance that, we could have the Ovid Award: y'know, "True art conceals the means by which it is achieved." There could be some value assigned to the overall musical effect of natural-sounding and spiritually-uplifting performance...did the music move us?

No, I didn't watch the Oscars. (Did Polanski win something for the way he brings out all the varied occurrences of the letters H and W in his scripts?) Instead, I spent the evening listening to CDs with a friend who doesn't read music, but who is nevertheless one of the most perceptive listeners and music enthusiasts I know.

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 24, 2003):
Aryeh Oron wrote:
< BWV 50 - Nun ist das Heil und die Kraft
(...)
Conclusion
The most satisfying renditions: Prohaska, Rilling
[15], Parrott, Suzuki [21].
A recording to take away: Suzuki. >
A perhaps amusing story, from a practical side of performing this piece about 20 years ago: because it is for double choir, and we were performing it in a church, we set up the two choirs on both sides of the organ in the balcony. I was the organist accompanying this. The conductor, to be able to direct both choirs at once, used the available bit of space (less than a meter) immediately behind me, standing on a chair; his feet were approximately at the same level as the top rail of the balcony, and there was NOTHING behind him. And he had his music stand between my organ bench and himself. We had a mirror set up on the organ so I could see him.

For the whole performance I was terrified: if I had rocked backward too much on the bench, or done anything sudden with my elbows, I could have sent the conductor plummeting to his death. He was not afraid of heights, but I was! I wouldn't have stood in his position, even with both feet on the floor, for any amount of money...let alone standing there on a somewhat shaky chair. Some of the choir members were afraid for him, too, but he simply took a look down and then grinned back at them.

Jim Morrison wrote (March 24, 2003):
[To Bradley Lehman] So how did the performence come off? On edge? ;-)

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 24, 2003):
Bradley Lehman stated: >>An interesting approach! Sounds like we need an awards category for Most Closely Micro-managed Engineering. :)<<
As a primary candidate for such an award, you may have to consider Harnoncourt/Leonhardt :) The only problem there is that the emphasis is on 2-note, 3-note, and 4-note phrases with the final, unaccented notes barely audible or inaudible.

Brad, you forget that these are recordings and not a performance such as yours – a one-time-only, live performance. The moment Bach is recorded and generally available to the public, the criteria need to be expanded because the listeners, once they have found a good recording, will want to listen to it again and again, discovering more with each new listening.

>>There could be some value assigned to the overall musical effect of natural-sounding and spiritually-uplifting performance...did the music move us?<<
Again, upon the initial impression of a first (and perhaps only hearing in the case of a live performance), the listener will be swayed by an enthusiastic, generally natural-sounding performance. This is a good impression ‘to come away with;’ however, a truly good recording will stand up to close scrutiny and reveal with what care the conductor was able to bring out important details in the score. Or do you subscribe to the idea that a recording needs to fulfill only some of the details that Bach put into the score? Only those that the conductor chooses to make apparent? Shouldn’t the conductor attempt to render as much important detail as possible? Why, for instance, were all of the conductors in the recordings that I listened to unable to make audible the inversion of the fugal subject in the 1st oboe which is the only instrument or voice that has this musical element at this point in the mvt.? After hearing these recorded versions quite a number of times, also going back a few years as well, it would be a refreshingly glorious moment for a listener to realize that some conductor had paid some attention to this detail as well, a detail which reveals another level of depth that Bach had already accounted for and which was just waiting for someone (an astute conductor who is not only interested in ‘the overall musical effect,” but also is attuned to Bach’s complex musical mind) to discover and reveal to the listening audience.

We need to be careful not to overemphasize the emotional, impressionistic aspects of a performance to the detriment of details that are relatively important (not, of course, the micro-managing of Harnoncourt/Leonhardt) in a composition by Bach. A truly excellent recording will pay attention to both aspects: individualistic expression which tries to convey feeling + close attention to details in Bach’s scores which provide evidence of Bach’s complete mastery of musical form and language.

>>The conductor, to be able to direct both choirs at once, used the available bit of space (less than a meter) immediately behind me, standing on a chair; his feet were approximately at the same level as the top rail of the balcony, and there was NOTHING behind him. And he had his music stand between my organ bench and himself. We had a mirror set up on the organ so I could see him.
For the whole performance I was terrified: if I had rocked backward too much on the bench, or done anything sudden with my elbows, I could have sent the conductor plummeting to his death. He was not afraid of heights, but I was! I wouldn't have stood in his position, even with both feet on the floor, for any amount of money...let alone standing there on a somewhat shaky chair. Some of the choir members were afraid for him, too, but he simply took a look down and then grinned back at them.<<
This is a wonderful anecdote in which the falling motifs at the end of each section (and the text “weil der verworfen ist”) in the music being performed are paralleled in the actual situation that prevailed at the performance. A case of synchronicity?

Continue of this part of the discussion, see: Performance of Bach’s Vocal Works - General Discussions [General Topics]

 

Continue on Part 2

Cantata BWV 50: Details & Complete Recordings | 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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