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Cantata BWV 63
Christen, ätzet diesen Tag
Discussions - Part 1

Discussions in the Week of December 20, 1999

Aryeh Oron wrote (December 20, 1999):
Background

Since I am not a Christian, the best way for me to celebrate Christmas season is listening to JSB’s cantatas composed for this time of the year.

Duet for Soprano and Bass

Mvt. 3. Duet
Gott, du hast es wohlgefuget, was uns jetzo widerfahrt
(“God, Thou hast it well ordained what now befalls us”)
Soprano, Bass, Oboe solo, Organ, Continuo

Regarding this Duet I would like to quote from Robertson, Crouch (member of this group) and Whittaker.

Robertson wrote:
"The constant repetition of the first line of the text in the first section of this Duet emphasizes deep gratitude for all it portends and this is underlined by the exuberant oboe obbligato. The middle section enjoins continual trust in God’s mercy bestowed on us. The oboe here is silent except for a very brief ritornello between the lines of the text."

Crouch wrote:
"A joyous cantata, as befits the season!… a delightful Duet between Soprano and Bass (a combination at which Bach excels) which is introduced by a gorgeously sinuous oboe line…"

Whittaker wrote:
"The text dwells upon the bounteousness of the Almighty. The oboe begins with a semiquaver phrase and then breaks into florid passages with many thrills… the overflowing benefactions of our Maker. (a) Is frequently used as a motif by the Bassi, the vocal lines is florid and canonical… is heard 9 times, sometimes against (a) in the Continuo. The oboe pours out its bountifully ornate melodies. After the Fine pause we are bidden to rely upon Him continually – “Drum last uns auf ihn stets trauen und seine Gnade bauen” (“Therefore let us on Him continually trust and on His mercy build “) – and voices and Continuo move in firm scales, the first four bars being a vocal canon. (a) Is repeated sequentially in the continuo, while the voices imitate to “denn er hat uns dies bescheert” (“for He has on us this bestowed”). A florid oboe passage brings us to “was uns ewig nun vergnüget” (“what us ever now contents”) in gracious canonical phrases for the voices, a placidity moving continuo, with (a) in the Bassi during repetitions of “vergnüget”."

Personal Viewpoint

And I would like to add something of my own. Schweizer wrote that everybody who claims that Bach could not write popular and pleasant music, will change his mind when listening to the Duet “Ruft und fleht den Himmel an”. But what he was referring to was the second Duet (for Alto and Tenor) of this cantata, which is very beautiful indeed, but for me not so arresting as the Duet for Soprano and Bass. After listening to this Duet for the first time, I could not take it from my head for many days. For me this Duet is the high peak of the cantata, which does not have any weak moment (even not the Recitatives). One interesting point of this cantata is that a very strong Chorus with beautiful instrumental parts replaces the usual Chorale at the end of it.

Review of the Recordings

At the moment I have only 2 performances of this cantata in my library - Rilling [5] and Harnoncourt [6]. I know that others, like Koopman [9], Suzuki [11] and Richter [4] have also recorded it, but I do not have those recordings (yet), neither have I heard them.

The performances I have listened to are:

[5] Helmut Rilling with Maria Friesenhausen & Wolfgang Schöne (bass) (1971+1981; Duet: 5:48)
This performance moves forward very smoothly. Maria has a slight vibrato in her voice, which does not feet into the musical contents, but her musicality covers up this small flaw. I have heard better Bass voices in the cantatas with more flexibility then Schöne, but his authoritative approach causes you to listen. All the participants, including the oboist and the continuo, contribute to the flow of the music. Even though the words are very important in the cantatas, one can enjoy the Duet in this performance even without any understanding of the meaning of the text. I could even dare thinking… (Never mind)

[6] Nikolaus Harnoncourt with Peter Jelosits (boy soprano) & Ruud van der Meer (bass) (1976; Duet: 6:24)
After completing the traversal of hearing the full cycle of the Church Cantatas with Rilling, I am now about one third of the way into Harnoncourt/Leonhardt world. After you get used to their approach, it can be very enjoyable, even when listening to couple of CD’s one after the other without break. But this series has some weak points (The Rilling cycle also has some of its own). One of them is tendency to cut the flow of the music, in places where the flow is the most important factor. In this Duet this tendency is almost a crime. The movement loses most of its charm. The oboe accents at what sound to me the wrong places, the boy sings as though he wants to get rid of the task, and the Bass is the only one who shows some taste, but he too is a little bit monotonous. This is not very integrated performance. But the music itself is so strong, that it shines even through this performance. I am sure there are better performances than this one, besides Rilling.

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

Wim Huisjes wrote (December 21, 1999):
[To Aryeh Oron] Aryeh: bear with me: it's December and I've got Santa Claus (Dec. 5th over here), four birthdays, Christmas, New Year's eve and a job to take care of. I listened to the complete cantata (as performed by Rilling and Richter) in order to hear the Duet in its context.

A main difference between Rilling [5] and Richter [4] is the tempo at which the Duet is performed. It caused me to check the timing (see above).

[4] Despite the (faster) tempo, Richter does not make the music "flow". It almost sounds "military", mainly caused by Mathis' contribution. She can do better but in this case she sounds a bit shrill and uses relatively heavy vibrato. Usually this doesn't bother me (not all Bach Sopranos have to be Kirkby clones), but too much is too much. At a few points it seems as if she introduces some staccato-like effects, thereby interrupting the music. The oboe is recorded "up front" and gets obtrusive after a few minutes of listening. The Duet was recorded in 1972: at that time Fischer-Dieskau was still singing and not reading poems. He is authoritative, flexible. His singing befits the text excellently. Although in general I admire Richter, this performance is disappointing.

[5] Compared to Rilling: I can't say anything about Friesenhausen (she may have been on the LP's I once had), but Augér is her excellent usual self: nothing has to be covered up (as you mentioned about Friesenhausen). IMO, Schöne has a better voice than Dieskau (by now it must be clear that I'm not a particular Dieskau fan). There's nothing wrong with his flexibility and he does make you listen to the text. The combination Augér/Schöne works wonderful. Rilling manages the wonderful oboe melody very well in between the vocal lines: clearly present without being obtrusive. All in all: Rilling [5] makes it a very enjoyable experience to listen to.

I'll be back on some of the above mentioned performances & some interesting comments by Dürr, who a.o. mentions that this cantata is very untypical for Christmas.

Aryeh Oron wrote (December 21, 1999):
[5] [To Wim Huisjes] The name of Maria Friesenhausen is written as the Soprano in cantata BWV 63 in the small booklet inside the CD cover. The other cantata on this CD is BWV 36 and the Soprano on that cantata is indeed the splendid Arleen Augér. The voices of Maria and Arleen are a little bit different in timbre and Maria has definitely mvibrato.

Wim Huisjes wrote (December 21, 1999):
[5] [To Aryeh Oron] My CD lists Augér for both BWV 36 & BWV 63. Inside the booklet and repeated on the backside. The name Friesenhausen is nowhere to be found in the booklet and to my ears it sounds like Augér. The book with cantata texts and some other information that came with the complete LP-set (1985) also lists Augér for both cantatas, with Friesenhausen not to be found. So what did Hänssler do?

Aryeh Oron wrote (January 5, 2000):
[5] I wrote to Hänssler and their answer was: “Both is the truth! We have two recordings, but Arleen Augér is the better one, so we decided to take Arleen Augér for our Complete Bach Set!”

 

More Messages

Steven Langley Guy wrote (May 16, 2000):
I have recently been trying out the demo version of the Sibelius music software…
It does come will quite a lot of sounds (even recorders and viols) and I have had some fun programming in some scores. Alas, one cannot save one's work on the demo version. With Sibelius it is possible to program in quite large scaled works. I tried the overture to Mozart's opera Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail which sounds rather nice with all the percussion and the Cosi fan tutte overture too. Both worked quite well. I then tried the Sonatina from Actus Tragicus BWV 106. It worked reasonably well with the recorder and viol sounds and still managed to sound "deep" even though it was programmed. I next tried two works I have in the Kalmus study scores - BWV 119 (the opening Chorus) and BWV 63 (again, the first movement). Both of these works have parts for four trumpets in C and timpani in C and G as well as woodwind and strings. The BWV 119 is particularly beautiful and I don't have a recording of this one (any suggestions?) and BWV 63 is a lovely work too. What amazed me was how good Bach sounded but the Mozart just didn't quite work! Even on my Pentium the four trumpets sound fantastic in both of these cantatas (even though the sound is only an "impression" of the real sounds). I used the "trumpet in C" sound, the "treble recorder" sounds (in BWV 119) and the normal oboe, bassoon and string sounds. I didn't bother to program an organ continuo sound. I also tried Brandenburg Concerto No.2, using the "trumpet in D" sound for the trumpet (in F) part. Again, it worked very well. Maybe I am brainwashed by Wendy Carlos but Bach does seem to work very well in a synthetic 'virtual' setting. Admittedly the Sonatina from BWV 106 wasn't very successful to my ears (it is one of my favorites Bach pieces) but the four trumpets and timpani sounded magnificent even on a humble PC!

Did Bach write many other works for four trumpets? I am very well aware of the music of his predecessors in Leipzig and I have quite a lot of scores by Knüpfer, Schelle, Kuhnau and Schein which have very bold brass parts and works like BWV 119 and BWV 63 certainly continue this tradition. The lowest trumpet usually follows the timpani fairly closely, the third trumpet either joins in with the timpani or provides the lowest part to the two upper "clarino" trumpets, whose parts are the highest and most florid. Formula writing? Yes, but Bach does some wonderful things within this tradition.

Even though I like all of Bach's music I have always felt seduced by the trumpet writing in Bach's cantatas and orchestral music. Brandenburg Concerto No.2 quite astonished me as a child - surely this was some of the most extroverted music ever written? I borrowed a natural trumpet from a friend in Melbourne a few years ago and I managed to get somewhere with it - perhaps all my years on the cornetto had given me strong enough lips and lungs? It is a very seductive instrument and in spite of its limitations (and mine!) I could tell that an expert player could bring out all the possibilities of this magical instrument. I think that BWV 51 is also a wonderful example of writing for a single clarino trumpet.

Frank Fogliati wrote (May 16, 2000):
I think we had a similar discussion earlier? Wasn't the conclusion that Bach works well on anything, including a trio for kazoo, banjo, and tromba marina?

(Sonatina from BWV 106) Yes, an absolutely sublime piece of music! Truly one of Bach's finest moments.

[14] I remember watching the documentary "In rehearsal with John Elliot Gardiner" (BWV 63) and noticing the sheer frustration and exasperation at times on the face of the first natural trumpeter. He kept looking across at JEG as if to say: "it can't be done!" It must be a difficult instrument to play.

Mark Mullins wrote (May 16, 2000):
[14] (To Frank Fogliati) Is it available on video? I'd love to see it.

Frank Fogliati wrote (May 21, 2000):
[14] (To Mark Mullins) Yes it's a great video, offering an interesting insight into the build-up to the final recording session of BWV 63. From memory it's a BBC video. You may be able to track it down at their Website.

Armagan Ekici wrote (May 24, 2000):
[14] I have just returned from seeing that video as part of "Classique & Images" series im Amsterdam Filmmuseum. It is indeed a great video, very enjoyable and my respect for JEG/Monteverdi Choir/EBS instantly doubled after I saw them in rehearsal! The only problem was the interviews were brutally translated into French with a voice-over. It is not a BBC video but a ZDF-ARTE production, I wonder whether it is commercially available. Also part of the show was a French TV program with Peter Ustinov doing an "impression" of a Bach cantata. I don't want to give away too much; it is hilarious, don't miss it if you happen to bump on it someday somehow.

 

Continue on Part 2

Cantata BWV 63: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

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

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