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Cantata BWV 62
Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland [II]
Discussions - Part 2

Continue from Part 1

Discussions in the Week of November 19, 2006

Alain Bruguières wrote (November 19, 2006):
Introduction to BWV 62 "Nun komm der Heiden Heliand [II]"

Week of November 19, 2006
---------------------------
Cantata BWV 62, Nun komm der Heiden Heiland [II]
Second Annual Cantata Cycle (Jahrgang II)
1st Sunday in Advent
1st performance: December 3, 1724 - Leipzig
---------------------------
Bach Cantatas resources
Previous Discussions: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV62-D.htm
Main Cantata page: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV62.htm

Text:
German http://www.cs.ualberta.ca/~wfb/cantatas/62.html
English http://www.uvm.edu/~classics/faculty/bach/BWV62.html
French http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Texts/BWV62-Fre4.htm
Score Vocal & Piano: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Scores/BWV062-V&P.pdf
Recordings: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV62.htm#RC
Listen to Leusink recording [7] (free streaming download):
http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Stream/BWV62-Leusink.ram
---------------------------
Librettist : unknown [possibly Picander]
Reading:
EPISTLE Romans 13: 11-14: 'The night is far spent; the day is at hand'.
GOSPEL Matthew 21: 1-9: Jesus's entry into Jerusalem

This is a chorale cantata, based upon the chorale of the same name.
Eight-verse hymn by Martin Luther (translation of Veni redemptor gentium).
For more details on this chorale melody see: http://bach-cantatas.com/CM/Nun-komm.htm
--------------------------------------------------------
Structure
1. Choral S + hn ATB ob I,II str bc
2. Aria T ob I,II str bc
3. Recit. B bc
4. Aria B bc + str 8va
5. Recit. Duetto SA str bc
6. Choral SATB bc (+ instrs)

--------------------------------------------------------

Comment (mostly based on Dürr).

In this Chorale cantata the unknown librettist uses the eight verses
of the hymn in the following way:
Mvt. 1 (Choral) = verse 1
Mvt. 2 (Aria T) = free paraphrase of verse 2, 3
Mvt. 3 (Recit. B) = free paraphrase of verse 4,5
Mvt. 4 (Aria B) = free paraphrase of verse 6
Mvt. 5 (Recit. SA) = free paraphrase of verses 7
Mvt. 6 (Choral) = verse 8.

The libretto, as the hymn, is centered on the saviour's birth from a virgin (Mvt. 1), expressing wonder at the mystery of this birth (Mvt. 2), celebrating the joyous course of the luminous Hero come to redeem us (Mvt. 3). By his fighting, he makes us stronger (Mvt. 4), so we honour his birth (Mvt. 5) and praise the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit (Mvt. 6).

Luther's chorale melody is very peculiar and presents a remarkable symmetry which has been pointed out by Dick Wursten on this list in 2002: of the four lines of the melody, the 1st and 4th are identical, and the 2nd and 3rd are very similar up to an inversion.

The first movement is a chorale fantasia in style concertante, with cantus firmus in the soprano, reinforced by horn. The instrumental ritornello is a very brillant and lively concertante movement, in contrast to the gravitas of Luther's chorale melody. However quotations of the chorale melody are included at various places in the ritornello.

The introductory ritornello contains a quotation of the 1st line of the chorale by the continuo (in the beginning) and a second quotation in a modified form by the oboes (in the end). We have abridged versions of the ritornello between the vocal blocks, without quotation between line 1 and 2, but again with quotations of the chorale melody between line 3 and 4. The ritornello is repeated in full form after line 4.

Ritornello motives in the instrumental parts accompany the vocal blocks, too. In each vocal block, the three lower vocal parts are treated in imitative style, but not all in the same manner: for the first line of the cantus firmus, the lower parts form an imitative texture based on the choral motive in shorter values; they start in advance of the cantus firmus. For the second line, the lower vocal imitative texture is based on the inversion of the choral motive, and for the third, on the ritornello motive. The fourth line's treatment is an expanded form of the first's.

The joyously animated aspect of this movement, made almost inseparable from its graver aspect by the inclusion of chorale quotations in the ritornello, may refer to the gospel's image of Jesus entering Jerusalem rather than to the hymn's words.

In the Tenor aria, the joyful aspect dominates, but in an intimate mood, with a merry siciliano for an instrumental ritornello, and a sweet soaring melody.

A short Basso recitative leads to the Basso aria, which contrasts sharply with the Tenor aria by its peremptory, martial mood, and its more austere accompaniment (the continuo being doubled by violins and violas in the octave).

The duetto recitative, in a sweet, delicate mood redolent of the Tenor aria's mood, leads to the concluding 4-part harmonized chorale.

-------------------------------------------------------
A more personal comment.

The first movement is admirable, combining harmoniously the joyous energy of the instrumental ensemble with the thoughtfulness of the choral melody and text; the result being both inebriating and awe-inspiring, so to speak. A bacchic Bach? - most unorthodox notion, I'll admit! In any case this chorale fantasia is a splendid ouverture for a new cycle of the liturgical year. The subsequent movements are also significant in this respect, I think. I percieve a more intimate climate: light is soon coming back, we know that ultimately it will shine brightly and bring life back, but in the beginning it will be a 'baby' light, which needs nursing in a warm and cosy place. This sense of intimacy is present in the Tenor aria, of course, and also in the recitatives, which are somehow sweeter than those of previous cantatas. Beside the purely theological aspect of things, I percieve a sense of the cycles of nature. After all, a continuity exists between older pagan (gentile!) traditions and christian traditions. This is all rather subjective (not to say far-fetched), but we're in the 'A more personal comment' section so please bear with me!

Neil Halliday wrote (November 19, 2006):
Introduction to BWV 62 "6/4 genre & choral trills

Alain Bruguières wrote:
< The first movement is admirable, combining harmoniously the joyous energy of the instrumental ensemble with the thoughtfulness of the choral melody and text; the result being both inebriating and awe-inspiring, so to speak. >
It's a measure of Bach's consummate genius that he could set the same text in totally different ways in this cantata and in Cantata 61. 61 welcomes the advent of Christ with a great courtly French overture. Here we have that 6/4 movement which we have encountered before with the same repeated note figures and arpeggiated passagework. I'm still curious to know if this 6/4 movement is a formal genre which has not been identif(it's not a loure)

I am also curious about how various conductors perform the trills which appear in this movement particularly in bar 56 where Bach writes both unprepared and elaborately prepared trils. Leusink [7] like most conductors simply ignores them all. There are many OVPP advocates who point to the extreme difficulty of choral trills as evidence that the choruses were sung by single voices. In modern performances, there are seem to be four schools of thought:

1) Ignore all trills (this is the majority position)

2) Each part sings the preparatory appogiatura and close but not the trill itself

3) Each part sings as in 2) but adds a mordent to suggest the trill. The orchestral accompaniment is often doubling and gives the listener the illusion of a choral trill

4) Each part sings the trill with preparation and close in ensemble but sings the trill individually without ensemble.

2) and 3) at least recognizes that Bach requires an ornament at these points. 4) is not as horrible as it sounds, especially in a fast tempo and with a small choir.

If Bach's choruses were sung by mutliple voices per part, then I suspect we have lost forever the ability to execute a choral trill. Cerainly the opening of the Christmas Oratorio (BWV 248) remains a daunting prospect with all those implied trills on "Lasset das Zagen".

Now we can debate how the first trill in bar 56 was prepared.

Neil Halliday wrote (November 19, 2006):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< I am also curious about how various conductors perform the trills >
Gardiner [5] handles the trills rather effectively. One can listen to the first 20 bars or so: Amazon.com

Notice the trill on the 2nd last note of the chorale theme in the continuo, not in the score, but obviously an intelligent choice, both for its effectiveness in enlivening that continuo statement at that point, and its analogy with the trill on the oboes in the corresponding spot in the CM, at the end of the ritornello.

His handling of the vocal trills in the alto and tenor lines (all we can hear in the sample) is also quite effective, with a mordent followed by vocal vibrato which gives the effect of a trill, given that the preceding notes are sung without vibrato.

Thomas Braatz wrote (November 19, 2006):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
>>I am also curious about how various conductors perform the trills which appear in this movement particularly in bar 56 where Bach writes both unprepared and elaborately prepared trills.<<
Bach may write both 'unprepared and elaborately prepared trills' whatever this may mean to you and others, but this would not affect the way that the vocal trills should be performed in BWV 62/1.

DC: >>There are many OVPP advocates who point to the extreme difficulty of choral trills as evidence that the choruses were sung by single voices.<<
This is a typical response which attempts to apply what we experience with singers today to what Bach must have experienced in a likewise fashion. The fallacy here is that such advocates are unaware of the capabilities that singers had during Bach's time. Similar attempts to argue issues in this manner are frequently made: "Bach deliberately composed the Tromba part for BWV 77/4 to be insanely difficult because he wanted express 'imperfection' which is hinted at in the phrase contained in the text of this aria: 'there is still a lot of imperfection in my ability to love'." This then allows trumpeters who have difficulty playing this part not to be concerned about making obvious mistakes because we are able to explain to the audience that Bach wanted it this way.

Those who attempt to find a basis for OVPP based upon what singers cannot do today are certainly mistaken about the abilities of singers that Bach had at his disposal. The argumentation that Bach's singers and players needed weeks of preparation for a cantata performance because that is what is required today for a good performance is similarly misleading and false. In 1706 Martin Heinrich Fuhrmann (1669-1745) published his "Musicalischer-Trichter". In the appendix to this book, Fuhrmann added his method for teaching students who know the rudiments of music to sight-sing in a series of private lessons that would take just three months. According to this 3-month plan, a cantor, giving private instruction with only the aid of a keyboard, could make an excellent musician out of any reasonably talented pupil. This type of private instruction Fuhrmann considered to be the most important and most promising task that a cantor could have.

There are reports from the 17th and 18th century in France (Dijon and Chartres) that choir boys were similarly trained: they attended church services with their music teacher, they were taught Latin, Catechism and Martyrology, and in the evening they practiced plain chant, sight-singing and counterpoint. In the evening they also rehearsed the motets and masses to be sung at special church services the next day. After a certain age they had to learn an instrument.

Worth mentioning in this regard is the case of Georg Heinrich Bümler (1669-1745) with whom Bach may well have been personally acquainted although there is no direct evidence to support this claim: Bümler was known far and wide primarily because of his abilities as a singer. Mattheson reported that he had often heard Bümler at the Hamburg Opera sing a trill on a single breath that lasted for more than 20 measures/bars so "daß den Leuten im Parterre bange geworden ist" ("that the people sitting on the ground floor were becoming anxious about him") (1722).

Re: the vocal trills beginning in mm 57ff in BWV 62/1:

The best guide for executing these trills properly is found in:

Johann Gottfried Walther "Musicalisches Lexicon.." Leipzig, 1732

>> ,Trillo, pl. trilli (ital.)' ist eine Sing- und Spiel-Manier, zu deren ,expression' (nach Beschaffenheit der Vorzeichnung) entweder die ,Sekunda major' oder ,minor' gebraucht, und diese mit der auf dem Papier gesetzten, und mit einem ,tr', oder ,t' bezeichneten Note, wechselsweise behände und scharff angeschlagen wird: jedoch dergestalt, daß man bey der höhern Note anhebet, und bey der tiefern, als gegenwärtigen, Note aufhöret.<<

("a trill, plural: trills (term derived from the Italian language) is a mannerism [embellishment] used in singing and playing [an instrument] for the expression of which {according to the nature of the tonality} [depending upon which key you happen to be in] either an interval of a major 2nd (a whole step or whole tone above) or a minor 2nd (a half step or semitone above) is used and which is sung/played by alternating swiftly and distinctly ['scharff' = with precision and clarity] with the note on the page having either a 'tr' or a 't' marked above it: this is, however, done in such a way that you begin with the higher note and end with the lower note {the one
indicated on the page}.")

An italicized 'tr' or 't' over a note indicates a specific type of embellishment.

It consists of the note on the page under the 'tr' or 't' and the note above it.

The note above the main note indicated may be either a semitone or whole tone higher than the main note. The size of the interval (a 2nd) depends on the key you happen to be in.

The proper method of singing or playing this embellishment involves alternating quite fast between the two notes and ensuring that each note is distinctly heard.

This type of embellishment always begins on the higher note and ends on the lower, main note that has the 'tr' or 't' indicated above it.

There is nothing here that states that the trill could or would begin before the beat or even have an appoggiatura leading into the trill. Walther clearly distinguishes between the trill and the mordant. A mordant for Walther, and for Bach, is the opposite of a trill and one should not be confused with the other.

My personal advice would be either to execute the trills properly or not do anything at all with the note. All other substitute measures simply move away from what Bach had intended (that is, if you are truly interested in authenticity as far as that can be achieved) and would sound like a Saxon dialect word or pronunciation suddenly appearing here and there. This would be rather distracting as the listener's attention is drawn away from the perfect blend of words and music and begins to focus on "what strange sounds do I hear?"

Douglas Cowling wrote (November 19, 2006):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< Bach may write both Ounprepared and elaborately prepared trills¹ whatever this may mean to you and others, but this would not affect the way that the vocal trills should be performed in BWV 62/1. >
I wrote this posting specifically to see how insulting you could be.

You never fail to meet our expectations.

Thomas Braatz wrote (November 19, 2006):
I had written:
>>Bach may write both 'unprepared and elaborately prepared trills¹ whatever this may mean to you and others, but this would not affect the way that the vocal trills should be performed in BWV 62/1.<<
Doug Cowling responded with:
>>I wrote this posting specifically to see how insulting you could be.<<
I had assumed that this question was more about ascertaining what Bach may have had in mind or intended with his trill markings in BWV 62/1. It appears from the response I have received that unwholesome ulterior motives are more important than a forthright participation in what could be an enlightening discussion for all.

For starters, what counterevidence can be presented in regard to Bach's performance practice concerning trills?

Thomas Braatz wrote (November 19, 2006):
Re: on the performance of choral trills in BWV 62/1:

"The modern practice of employing huge choirs, mostly of untrained voices, causes conductors to omit all choral trills and so an invaluable feature is lost. One finds also a notion that such embellishments are undevotional; yet Bach uses the device over and over again. Trills should always be observed; it needs only a little care and practice to secure the unanimity necessary to produce a satisfactory effect"

W. Gillies Whittaker "The Cantatas of Johann Sebastian Bach: Sacred & Secular", Oxford University Press, 1959, vol. 2, p. 373

Thomas Braatz wrote (November 19, 2006):
BWV 62 Score Samples

Aryeh Oron has kindly placed on the BCW some score samples of motifs from BWV 62 (mainly those from the 1st mvt.).

They can be viewed at: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Scores/BWV62-Sco.htm
(remember to click on the image again to enlarge it if necessary)

Peter Smaill wrote (November 19, 2006):
Introduction to BWV 62 6/6 Chorale

BWV 62/6 is indeed a simple chorale; Aeolian, and with the melody of the first line identical to the last. What more is to be said ?

There are no flats in the accidentals; It has fourteen sharps, gematric Bach in other words. Likewise, BWV 599, the related chorale prelude from the Orgelbuchlein, commences with fourteen sharps until the sequence is broken by two flats, there being 33 sharps in all.

Whatever one thinks about the gematric possibilities, Bach is using the upward effect of the sharps - a technique observed by Chafe - to put across the message of Hope at the expected arrival of the Saviour.

Thomas Braatz wrote (November 19, 2006):
Peter Smaill wrote:
>>There are no flats in the accidentals; It has fourteen sharps, gematric Bach in other words. Likewise, BWV 599, the related chorale prelude from the Orgelbuchlein, commences with fourteen sharps until the sequence is broken by two flats, there being 33 sharps in all.
Whatever one thinks about the gematric possibilities, Bach is using the upward effect of the sharps - a technique observed by Chafe - to put across the message of Hope at the expected arrival of the Saviour.<<

Sharps ("Kreuze" in German can mean both 'sharps' as well as 'crosses') are frequently used symbolically by Bach to represent "Cross" (the cross born by Jesus Christ, but also the cross that we (and Bach in reference to his own life) have to bear during our lifetime.

Another interesting perspective on the possibility of Bach intentionally including his musical signature via gematria in this final mvt. of a series of chorale cantatas that have reached a conclusion of sorts (as a bottom line as it were to all of Bach's efforts during the preceding weeks of composing and experimenting with the chorale cantata form) is found in a comment by Konrad Küster in his "Bach Handbuch", Bärenreiter, 1999, p. 276, where he states about BWV 62:

"Die Kantate [BWV 62] bildet den Abschluss einer ersten großen Folge von Choralkantaten (vor der 'Pause' der Adventszeit); in der Gestaltungsvielfalt des Eingangschores, den anspruchsvollen Arien für Tenor and Bass und den kunstvollen Details der Rezitative erscheinen die Mittel, die sich Bach in den zurückliegenden Monaten erarbeitet hat, nochmals auf besondere Weise zusammengefasst. Beim Neustart an Weihnachten werden nur geringfügig andere Akzente gesetzt...."

("The cantata (BWV 62) constitutes the conclusion of a first great series of chorale cantatas (before the quiet time liturgically during Advent in the Leipzig churches). In the creative variety (diversity of forms) of the introductory choruses, in the demanding arias for tenor and bass and in the artistic details of the recitatives, you will find summarized in a very special way [all] the means that Bach had acquired [had worked hard to achieve] during the preceding months. After beginning anew during Christmas, Bach will only add a few more new directions [to that which he had already accomplished up to this point in regard to the chorale cantata form]...")

Alain Bruguières wrote (November 20, 2006):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< Sharps ("Kreuze" in German can mean both 'sharps' as well as 'crosses') are frequently used symbolically by Bach to represent "Cross" (the cross born by Jesus Christ, but also the cross that we (and Bach in > reference to his own life) have to bear during our lifetime. >
Could there possibly be a relation between the first line of the chorale melody 'Nun komm der Heiden Heiland' and the theme of the fourth fugue of the WTC?

Peter Smaill wrote (November 20, 2006):
Alain Bruguieres wrote:
< Could there possibly be a relation between the first line of the chorale melody 'Nun komm der Heiden Heiland' and the theme of the fourth fugue of the WTC? >
Apart from the semitone interval on the second note in WTC Book 1 Fugue 4, (full tone in the Chorale) the themes are indeed comparable, although perhaps the comparison is tentative in view of the short five-note incipit.

However, the circumstantial evidence comparing the sharp-laden BWV 62/6 (whether reading (as I did) the A minor version in Reimenschneider or examing the sharpened note progressions in the B minor original), and this wonderful fugue is quite compelling:

Firstly , it is in four sharps, the key at the heart of the SJP;

Secondly, following the late Dr. Hermann Keller on the equally sharp laden progressions in WTC 1-4:

" This fugue assumes an exceptional place among the clavier fugues of Bach if only through its display of five voices and three subjects........

....if one connects the first note [of the main subject] by a line with the fourth (C sharp to D sharp) and the second with the third (B sharp to E), the figure creates a diagonal, recumbent cross. To Bach himself and his predecessors, this was a well-known symbol; it is found in the Crucifixus of a Mass by Johann Kaspar Kerll, and Bach himself in the crucifixion choruses of the St John and St Matthew Passions. We find ourselves, therefore, in the most subjective, most sacred area of the art of Bach, without intending to class this fugue as a kind of textless church music."

Alain, I think you may thus have found the text which eluded Keller. Bach is introducing the season of Advent with cryptic allusions to the Passion just as the hermeneutics of this Fugue also suggest a religious motive. Try considering the Fugue with the three intertwining subjects representing the persons of the Trinity and the full force of this idea now comes across in the order Son, Holy Spirit and finally the Father.

Thomas Braatz wrote (November 19, 2006):
Peter Smaill wrote:
>>...following the late Dr. Hermann Keller on the equally sharp laden progressions in WTC 1-4: ....if one connects the first note [of the main subject] by a line with the fourth (C sharp to D sharp) and the second with the third (B sharp to E), the figure creates a diagonal, recumbent cross.<<
For those following this thread: the previous discussion of BWV 62 on the BCW includes my section called "Provenance" where you will find a description of Bach's personal use of "X" in place of "Christ" as part of the title at the top of the 1st page of the score. On the title pages for Parts 2 and 3 of the Christmas Oratorio, Bach also uses the same "X" [which appears as "Xsti"] instead of writing out "Christi" for which there would have been ample room. It was a conscious decision on Bach's part to write it this way [much like writing "Xmas" for "Christmas"].

BWV 846-893 wrote (November 20, 2006):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< I had assumed that this question was more about ascertaining what Bach may have had in mind or intended with his trill markings in BWV 62/1. It appears from the response I have received that unwholesome ulterior motives are more important than a forthright participation in what could be an enlightening discussion for all. >
"Discussion" connotes the open, egalitarian exchange of ideas, not the curmudgeonly rebuke of a self-tenured professor, followed by the usual "enlightening" lecture.

Ed Myskowski wrote (November 20, 2006):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< Another interesting perspective on the possibility of Bach intentionally including his musical signature via gematria in this final mvt. of a series of chorale cantatas that have reached a conclusion of sorts (as a bottom line as it were to all of Bach's efforts during the preceding weeks of composing and experimenting with the chorale cantata form) is found in a comment by Konrad Küster in his "Bach Handbuch", Bärenreiter, 1999, p. 276, where he states about BWV 62:
("The cantata (BWV 62) constitutes the conclusion of a first great series of chorale cantatas (before the quiet time liturgically during Advent in the
Leipzig churches). >
I agree that from a musical perspective, BWV 62 can be seen as a concluding work within the overall structure of Jahrgang II. However, even from a strictly musical analysis it represents a change in mood from the wistful yearning (thanks, Julian) of BWV 116 at the conclusion of the Trinity season, to a forward looking optimism, appropriate for Advent. Perhaps it is better thought of as a hinge or joining point, rather than a beginning or end?

It is important to maintain the liturgical perspective, that the First Sunday in Advent is the beginning of the year. This point is emphasized by Dürr, who begins his series of detailed analyses with BWV 61 and BWV 62, the two comparable pieces for Advent 1, 1723 and 1724. He comments, regarding BWV 61:
<Bach noted down the order of the Leipzig Advent service in the score of this cantata, which has sometimes led to the conjecture that the work was already composed [...] before 1723. [...] This is neither substantiated, however, nor very likely -- for the Advent cantata with the same opening lines, BWV 62 of 1724, contains a similar entry. In each case, then, Bach's note on the liturgy probably represents an overt emphasis on the start of a new church year. <end quote>

Do we have any knowledge of the position of the text for BWV 62 in relation to other cantatas in the printed booklets? Given the subsequent quiet (penitential) Advent time ending at Christmas, we could logically expect it to conclude a series, but it would be good to have confirmation of this.

Alain Bruguières wrote (November 21, 2006):
Introduction to BWV 62 - 4th fugue of the WTC

[To Peter Smaill] Thank you for your interest in my interrogative suggestion (or conjecture).

When I first asked the question, I was motivated by the '4 crosses' coincidence, and a general feeling of religiousness I always associate with this 4th fugue, rather close to the mood of BWV 659.

Now that I think of it, there may be more arguments in favour of this conjecture.

During a previous round of discussion, Dick Wursten made a very interesting contribution, explaining that Luther transformed the original ambrosian melody in the sense of greater simplicity and symmetry.

Thomas observed that Bach could not have failed to notice this symmetry.

Bach in turn experimented quite a lot with Luther's melody. In particular, the choral preludes for organ based on Nun komm der Heiden Heiland are famous. The most popular of them (BWV 659) is one of the most elaborately
oramented choral melody Bach ever produced, based (almost ironically) on Luther's drastic simplification of the original melody.

On the other hand, in BWV 62, Bach outsimplifes Luther when he uses the 1st line (and later, a modified version of it) as a substitute and announcement for the whole melody, embedded in the introductory ritornello.

If my conjecture is correct, in the 4th fugue of the WTC he goes a step further: the 1st theme of that fugue, if indeed it is an avatar of the same melody, is probably the most concise form he could have devised without losing all perceptible relation to the original.

One more remark on that fugue: the third theme, rather surprising for a fugal theme, because of its conclusive character, is rythmically identical with the 1st line of the chorale, and sounds very much (to my ear) like an 'optimistic' variation on it.

Ed Myskowski wrote (November 21, 2006):
Peter Smaill wrote:
< ....if one connects the first note [of the main subject] by a line with the fourth (C sharp to D sharp) and the second with the third (B sharp to E), the figure creates a diagonal, recumbent cross. >
If one transposes this figure down by a tone and a half (minor third?), and fudges just a bit, doesn't one arrive at BACH? And couldn't the very same connections be made in his thematic motto?

By coincidence, I had dinner out this evening, a relatively uncommon event. I ordered the skewered shrimp. The portion was generous (we are, after all, in the USA). The two skewers came on a large plate, arranged in the form of a recumbent cross! There were a total of ten shrimp (five per skewer) Three times three, plus one!

Draw your own conclusions.

Thomas Braatz wrote (November 21, 2006):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
>>If one transposes this figure down by a tone and a half (minor third?), and fudges just a bit, doesn't one arrive at BACH? And couldn't the very same connections be made in his thematic motto?<<
Yes, this has already been pointed out by some Bach experts.

>>By coincidence, I had dinner out this evening, a relatively uncommon event. I ordered the skewered shrimp. The portion was generous (we are, after all, in the USA). The two skewers came on a large plate, arranged in the form of a recumbent cross! There were a total of ten shrimp (five per skewer) Three times three, plus one! Draw your own conclusions.<<
Of course, no reasonable, sensible person would reason this way from a decorative placement made by a chef or
waiter. While it is not a coincidence that the skewers were placed in the shape of a cross, we can still speculate reasonably about the motivation behind this placement and still not make a religious or musical connection to Christ's cross or Bach's name. It is a very different situation when one seriously confronts Bach's music and considers what we know about it and Bach's way of thinking. Then the reference to chiastic structures takes on anew and much deeper meaning as we begin to see how Bach employed them either unconsciously (because he was so steeped in this type of thinking) or consciously (because he deliberately thought and composed on several levels at one time).

On the one hand, we can chuckle, smile, or even laugh at the cleverly ironic comment that Glenn Gould once
made to an audience when referring to the use of gematria [B=2; A=1; C=3; H=8 = total 14] to arrive at one of Bach's 'magic' numbers: "Anyone can see that by doing the same with my name [Glenn = 52 and Gould =
59], the results will be 7 and 14. Such witty comments make light of the fact that Bach was aware of the gematric interpretation of his family name.

On the other hand, there is always a great danger of 'going overboard' in the search for all the possible hidden meanings, symbols, and numbers (gematrically derived) that might be present in Bach's works.

The best course seems to be to tread carefully along a 'middle road' between these extremes, always being aware of the pitfalls while not underestimating Bach's genius. If the BCML is to be somewhat like a 'think tank', then all seemingly reasonable ideas should be 'placed on the table' for all to examine and consider seriously.
<>

Peter Smaill wrote (November 21, 2006):
[To Ed Myskowski] Thank you for the introduction to gastro-hermeneutics! Always remember to check the fish-heads for coins just as JSB did while looking for those pesky mathematical formulae!

Seriously I have every sympathy for the sceptics as my first reaction was to dismiss Smend and gematria at University 30 years ago. Not only that, but a sharp was just a sharp and they are a barrier to playing much of the "48" with ease!

But there are simply too many devices generally in the Cantatas and elsewhere in Bach's oeuvre to justify that extreme. On the other hand, for example,Timothy Smith , whose "discovery" of the "circulatio" recurs in our
discussions, does not quite convince when he talks about the BACH motif transposed and inverted in the SMP. At that point , surely, the four notes have ceased to be the BACH motif since they must be at exactly the right pitch for the allusion to hold?

There is no denying some artifice in Bach. There are the chiastic structures in the SJP and several cantatas; BACH is definitely the musical inference in the unfinished K de F ( it is otherwise an inexplicable choice of
culminating theme as it is a very abstruse,scarcely singable, sequence acoustically); there is a cycle of keys in the SJP; the passus duriusculus does occur often (but not always) in relation to themes of suffering . There are acronyms is contemporary Chorales and in at least two Bach works, BWV 150 and BWV 1127, the former being of his family name. Try explaining the theme of "Dies sind die Heil'gen Zehn Gebot" without reference to number! (The seafood platter will come in handy here). As to the recumbent cross idea; out of context it seems wacky but Dr Keller does give rather more evidence for it than the quotation suggests.

Boyd's take on Smend and gematria (Ruth Tatlow) IMO is about right:

"It is initially puzzling how an eminent musicologist with a great interest in primary sources could have presented such ideas and examples without adequate historical evidence. A close look at his family and educational background shows that he inherited a view of Bach weighted heavily in favour of Bach the church musician. Having studied theology, he knew from church history that the Church Fathers had written about the symbolic use of biblical numbers. Knowing also that Bach's society was steeped in the Lutheran faith and that
Bach himself had a large library of theological books, Smend was perhaps justified in looking for these symbols in Bach's music.......Smend did not develop his ideas on number symbolism until after 1950, and was saddened to to see the direction the subject took.

In spite of the paucity of historical evidence, number symbolism is still an attractive analytical tool today, as it promises a direct path from the musical scores into the heart and mind of the compoaser, by locating the correct
numbers,operating and translating them accurately,it is possible to create a beautiful interpretation of Bach's thought world. This has been done both successfully and absurdly.

For the subject to move forward it must reject much of its past. The priority is to establish the historical plausibility that Bach used numbers as a tool when he composed. Only then will it become clear which forms of
enumeration, operation, and translation he used, and only then will analysts deciphering his compositional process be able to make valid interpretations."

Easier said than done!

Ed Myskowski wrote (November 21, 2006):
Peter Smaill wrote:
< Boyd's take on Smend and gematria (Ruth Tatlow) IMO is about right: >
I agree, and thanks for taking my attempts at humor without offense.

< In spite of the paucity of historical evidence, number symbolism is still an attractive analytical tool today <snip> This has been done both successfully and absurdly. >
By intentionally being very absurd, I was pointing out how easily one can drift across this boundary. I believe you recognized this. I agree with your basic point, that successful and attractive analysis based on number symbolism is valid. Pushing it too far hurts the perception of that validity, so it is best to err on the conservative side. IMO, anyway.

Thanks for the theology thread, BTW, I meant to say that in my miscellaneous comments winding up BWV 116. I think the transition from the mystery of the Trinity in that work, moving toward the mystery of the coming Virgin birth in BWV 62, is especially well illuminated by the apparent heresy you pointed out; the heresy only as a result of logic (theo-logy?) applied to a mystery. The music says it better.

Alain Bruguières wrote (November 21, 2006):
I understand that one may and should be careful about seeing symbols everywhere in Bach's works.

It is true that the cross in the 1st theme is not proof that Bach had Christ in mind, and the resemblance to the 1st line of the chorale 'Nun komm der Heiden Heiland' is not obvious. The 1st theme would be a minimalist representation of the chorale.

However, the observation that the third theme also is very similar to the 1st line of 'Nun komm der Heiden Heiland' seems to be one coincindence too many (I find humming them in succession very convincing).

I now tend to think that indeed this whole fugue is - not a religious work in the strictest sense - but a keyboard piece based on thematic material deriving from this chorale and a mood appropriate to this origin.

The relation of the 2nd theme to the chorale is less clear. However if you start thinking about it, it may well exist. There is a sequence of cross-motives there. I'll investigate! But even if the 2nt theme is a merely instrumental theme, it's not a problem for me. Art isn't systematic!

The fact that the BACH theme is cross-shape is for us a coincidence; but Bach may have interpreted it as a sign... In any case Bach was attentive to the shapes of melodies, and their symmetries. The fact that BACH read backwards is the same as BACH inversed cannot have escaped him. Also, the fact that the 4th fugue is number 4 (4 being the number of branches of a cross), that the signature is 4 Kreutz, and that the theme he used may be viewed as a kreutz cannot have escaped him. After all for him the cross was not some arbitrary sign, it was the most important symbol of all! I cannot imagine that he was not aware of the possible interpretation of shape of the theme as a cross. Maybe he didn't mean it as a cross and, laughing softly in his beard, he thought about some idiotic amateur musicologist of a far future would believe that the theme is a cross. But he must have been aware of that possible interpretation.

Neil Halliday wrote (November 21, 2006):
BWV 62

A striking feature of the opening chorus is its rhythmic vitality, with the many structural elements (apart from the cantus firmus) ripwith joy and exhilaration.[Is Leusink too slow? The others (for which there are samples available at the BCW), from Harnoncourt [3] on, all set a lively pace].

Thanks to Thomas for the examples from the score: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Scores/BWV62-Sco.htm

I love Whittaker's characterisation of those marvellously animated, exhilarating violin figures as "flights of Angels", however fanciful that may be!

The first and fourth lines of the cantus firmus are introduced by the lower voices in the usual imitative fashion (the fourth line with a longer passage); whereas the cantus firmus leads the entry of the other voices in the second and third lines. The combined choral and instrumental sound is wonderfully exalted when the cantus firmus enters with the 1st and 4th lines of text.

Notice that the c.f. quoted on the oboes at the end of each relevant ritornello rises over the course of the movement (beginning on B, then E, then F#, then back to B).

[On the subject of choral trills, I like Rilling's treatment [4] of the vocal trills as explicit mordents, even if this does represent an easy solution to a difficult problem].

The tenor aria is melodious and happy (with a vocal descent of the entire G major scale, after the first note), and features some very long melismas on key words. Bach varies the orchestral timbre by omitting the oboes that double the violins from time to time, and the orchestration itself is rich and varied

The bass aria is a very operatic affair, with elaborate (and no doubt difficult to sing) melismas abounding. The stark unison orchestration symbolises the elemental victory of Christ the Hero.

Peter Smaill wrote (November 21, 2006):
[To Alain Bruguieres] Well there is nothing at all unusual at connecting at least one other fugue the WTC to a religious motive, the example of course being the great E major Fugue 9 of Book 2, also in the key signature of four sharps. (Only now does this seem potentially significant!)

"With the exception of two outlying bass-notes this whole fugue is singable by an unaccompanied four part chorus...and has , in fact, been so sung with exquisite effect" (Tovey)

"Of all Bach's fugues in vocal style, this one is nearest to the style of Palestrina" (Keller)

"Riemann has drawn attention to the vocal character of the fugue and has actually suggested a text -"Lob, Preis und Dank sei dem Herr, der uns erloest von dem Tod", which could be fitted to the notes. (Youens)

Stephen Benson wrote (November 21, 2006):
Neil Halliday wrote:
< Is Leusink too slow? >
In a word, and IMHO, "yes".

Since I started listening to the cantatas, BWV 62 has always been right at the top of my list of favorites, and much of the reason for that has been the opening chorus, which is, for me, the embodiment of sheer joy and exuberance. Leusink's turgid tempo, however, sucks the life right out of it. Until this week, I would have said that Herreweghe [6] provided the most satisfying account. Repeated listenings in the past few days, however, to his recording and to those of Gardiner [5], Koopman [8], and Leusink [7] have made me a convert to Gardiner's performance, which displays an incisive energy and an irresistible and infectious buoyancy. I can't get enough of it. I keep playing it over and over because it brings me great joy and makes me feel good, and isn't that what it's supposed to do?

Alain Bruguières wrote (November 21, 2006):
Neil Halliday wrote:
< A striking feature of the opening chorus is its rhythmic vitality, with the many structural elements (apart from the cantus firmus) rippling with joy and exhilaration. >
I agree with the rhythmic vitality and exhilaration, yet 'rippling with joy' is not the phrase which springs to my mind. To me this piece sounds at the same time exhilarating, dramatic and poignant.

< [Is Leusink too slow? The others (for which there are samples available at the BCW), from Harnoncourt [3] on, all set a lively pace]. >
I have Leusink and Harnoncourt [3]; I much prefer Harnoncourt, much more lively indeed, and paradoxically more poignant. The faster tempo enhances both the joyfulness and the 'gravitas' (maybe there is more than tempo to it). Perhaps it is the contrast between the liveliness and the gravitas which enhances both; so if you don't have enough of the one, the other is spoiled.

Ed Myskowski wrote (November 22, 2006):
Neil Halliday wrote: :
<< A striking feature of the opening chorus is its rhythmic vitality, with the many structural elements (apart from the cantus firmus) rippling with joy and exhilaration. >>
Alain Bruguières wrote:
< I agree with the rhythmic vitality and exhilaration, yet 'rippling with joy' is not the phrase which springs to my mind. To me this piece sounds at the same time exhilarating, dramatic and poignant. >
Agreement on the rhythmic vitality and exhilaration is a good beginning.Can we reconcile <rippling with joy> with <dramatic and poignant>?

In the spirit of Advent, looking forward, the joy seems appropriate. On the other hand, in the Leipzig spirit of Advent as a penitential season, without additional music, drama and poignancy are also appropriate. I apologize for putting it into plain language, but Advent One is a tease. Bach nails it, as usual.

And looking back to the text for BWV 116/1, the Prince of Peace was already, by Bach's era, not exactly an unqualified success. Progress in the subsequent years is in the eye of the beholder. Joy, with qualifications. Poignant sounds about right.

Ed Myskowski wrote (November 22, 2006):
Number symbolism [was Introduction to BWV 62 /6 Chorale]

Peter Smaill wrote:
< Try explaining the theme of "Dies sind die Heil'gen Zehn Gebot" without reference to number! (The seafood platter will come in handy here). >
You made me work just a bit (thin German skills), but I got it. I would submit that the number ten (10) has special significance for us, predating speech, let alone references, because of the digits on our hands.

Ten Commandments. Coincidence? I think not. Good place to start!

Ed Myskowski wrote (November 22, 2006):
Robertson, re BWV 62/5 (S,A recit, accompanied):

This simple little duet is exquisite. The first violins rise high above the voices as if illustrating the closing line <The darkness frightens us not, we see Thine undying light.>

 

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