Cantata BWV 69Lobe den Herrn, meine Seele [I]
Cantata BWV 69a
Lobe den Herrn, meine Seele
Discussions - Part 1
Discussions in the Week of August 18, 2002
Aryeh Oron wrote (August 18, 2002).
BWV 69 & BWV 69a - Introduction
The subject of this week’s discussion (August 18, 2002), according to Klaus Langrock’s suggested list, is the Cantata BWV 69 ‘Lobe den Herrn, meine Seele’ (Praise the Lord, my soul). This cantata has two versions, bearing the same title: the first (1723), BWV 69a, for the 12th Sunday after Trinity, and the second (1748?), BWV 69, for the Town Council Inauguration.
The librettist is unknown, but according to W. Murray Young, it may have been Christian Weiss, Sr. The Gospel for the original version was Mark 7: 31-37 – the healing of the deaf-mute – but reference to this, which occur in the two recitatives of BWV 69a, were omitted in the substitution Bach composed for them in the later version (BWV 69). The only biblical quotation appears in the opening chorus - Psalm 103: 2. The opening chorus (Mvt. 1) and the aria for bass (Mvt. 5) are identical in both versions, regarding both the text and the music. The voice part of the aria for tenor (Mvt. 3) in the former version is replaced by alto in the latter one. The original concluding chorale of BWV 69a by Samuel Rodrigast, was replaced in BWV 69 with a chorale by Martin Luther, and was, of course, newly composed by Bach.
The details of the recordings of this cantata can be found in the following page of the Bach Cantatas Website:
BWV 69: Cantata BWV 69 - Recordings
BWV 69a: Cantata BWV 69a - Recordings
Rilling [BWV 69-1] and Leusink chose to record only BWV 69. Harnoncourt [BWV69-2] [BWV69a-1] and Koopman [BWV 69-3] [BWV 69a-2] recorded both versions. To complete the picture, Suzuki [BWV69a-3] recorded only BWV 69a, but since he records the cantatas chronologically, it is most probable that when time comes, he will record also BWV 69. To summarise the figures: there are 7 complete recordings of the cantata (Leusink omits the opening chorus, without explanation), by 5 different conductors.
Texts & Translations
Original German text (at Walter F. Bischof Website):
BWV 69: http://www.cs.ualberta.ca/~wfb/cantatas/69.html
BWV 69a: http://www.cs.ualberta.ca/~wfb/cantatas/69a.html
English translation by Francis Browne:
BWV 69: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Texts/BWV69-Eng3.htm
BWV 69a: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Texts/BWV69a-Eng3.htm
Another English translation by Z. Philip Ambrose:
BWV 69: http://www.uvm.edu/~classics/faculty/bach/BWV69.html
BWV 69a: http://www.uvm.edu/~classics/faculty/bach/BWV69a.html
French translation by Walter F. Bischof (?):
BWV 69: http://www.cs.ualberta.ca/~wfb/fcantatas/69.html
BWV 69a: http://www.cs.ualberta.ca/~wfb/fcantatas/69a.html
Hebrew translation by Irit Schoenhorn: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Texts/BWV69-Heb1.htm
Vocal & Piano: http://www.bh2000.net/score/sacrbach/bwv069.pdf
Commentary in English by Simon Crouch:
Commentary in Spanish by Julio Sánchez Reyes: BWV 69:
I hope to see many of you participating in the discussion.
Thomas Braatz wrote (August 23, 2002):
BWV 69 and 69a - Versions
There are 3 versions of BWV 69:
1) BWV 69a “Lobe den Herrn, meine Seele” composed immediately preceding its 1st performance on the 12th Sunday after Trinity on August 15, 1723
2) BWV 69a “Lobe den Herrn, meine Seele” – the accepted date for this revision is c. 1727, but the NBA editors have provided evidence that Dürr’s assumption that the entire cantata was given another performance in 1727 and that this is why the aria, among other things, was transformed, is erroneous. What did seem to happen is that the original  tenor aria, “Meine Seele, auf, erzähle” in C major was transformed into an alto aria  in G major [with the original text? or a portion of the text changed as well?] In the process Bach dropped the recorder and oboe da caccia parts and replaced them with an oboe and a violin. This is the version that Bach included in the final version:
3) BWV 69 “Lobe den Herrn, meine Seele” with new recitatives replacing the original ones, further changes in the text and a substitution of a final chorale for the one originally used, Bach adapted the above cantata for the Leipzig Council Elections (or Installation of New Council Members) on August 26, 1748. The revisions that Bach undertook are very extensive and are fully documented in the KB of the NBA I/20 and I/32.2.
The NBA indicates that the 1727 aria change may have occurred for a reason other than that of a complete 2nd performance of BWV 69a: the G major alto aria may have been utilized for some other purpose such as a single performance of this aria in a setting that can not be documented, or perhaps as a substitution for another aria in a different cantata (also not documented.) There is no way to determine which text was used for the 1727 version – was it the 1723 text or the 1747 one?
For all practical purposes, there can only be two recordings of this work: the original BWV 69a (1723) version and the very late adaptation and revision for the City Council Elections in 1748.
See: Cantatas BWV 69 & BWV 69a – Provenance
Commentary: [Spitta, Dürr]
See: Cantatas BWV 69 & BWV 69a - Commentary
Alexander Vassiliadis wrote (August 24, 2002):
I really prefer the version I heard in a concert with John Eliot Gardiner. He interpreted it with so much rigour and drive that I cannot imagine one can like another recording. Hopefully they will bring it on sale with all the cantatas from the Pilgrimage in 2000.
Aryeh Oron wrote (August 24, 2002):
BWV 69 & BWV 69a - The Aria for Bass - Background
This cantata, in both of its versions, has a magnificent opening chorus. Spitta wrote about it: “The solo movements of this cantata are of no conspicuous importance. But in the first chorus Bach has put forth all his powers: it is a double fugue worked out on broad proportions with an aria-like opening, and it is one of the most brilliant and powerful pieces of the kind that remain in his writing”. Although I tend to agree with him, I chose ttime to skip this movement (in the review, not in the listening!). Neither was I tempted by the opportunity to compare two versions of the same aria: for alto (BWV 69) or for tenor (BWV 69a). Few words that I read in Robertson’s book (see below) caught my attention (see below), and I decided to put a special attention to this aria. Before the review of the recordings here are some commentary. The English translation I used in all the paragraphs are by Francis Browne, a member of the BCML.
Mvt. 5 Aria for Bass
Oboe d'amore, Violino I/II, Viola, Fagotto, Continuo
Mein Erlöser und Erhalter
(My redeemer and support)
W. Gillies Whittaker: The Cantatas o Johann Sebastian Bach (1959)
The splendid bass aria, with oboe d’amore, strings, and fagotto doubling the continuo, is borrowed from the earlier version. The tender melody announced by violin I and oboe d’amore in unison is modified for the voice [music example] with an independent oboe d’amore melody above; the second clause begins in the upper instruments on the sustained note. After a repetition of (a) the words are repeated to a modification of the second clause, and the driving away of the evil things, referred to in the recitative, is shown vividly by three bars of [music example]. Sustained notes for ‘wacht’, the idea of ‘nimm mich’ is heard in the orchestra, pianissimo upper strings intone repeated chords, and the oboe d’amore plays short tender figures. One feature of the aria is the brevity of the introduction, eight bars, and the intermediate ritornelli, two, two and four bars, all founded on (a). ‘Steh mir bei in Kreuz und Leiden’ (Stand by me in cross and suffering) is treated in a remarkable way. There is a long and beautiful passage to ‘Leiden’, the bassi descend in semitones bar by bar, the upper instruments sustain; viola, violin II, violin I, viola and violin II in turn play (b) poco forte, each dropping to piano in the text bar… [not complete]
Alec Robertson: ‘The Church Cantatas of J.S. Bach’ (1972)
Solo bass singers should bless Bach for the many fine arias he has given them: this is one of the best. The prayer becomes deeply moving at the words ‘Steh mir bei in Kreuz und Leiden’ (Stand by me in cross and suffering) – phrases which Bach has carefully marked pianissimo for the oboe and continuo. The aria ends ‘Alsdenn singt mein Mund mit Freuden: / Gott hat alles wohlgemacht!’ (Then my mouth sings with joy: / God has made everything well!).
Ludwig Finscher: Liner notes to Harnoncourt’s recording on Teldec (1977)
The second recitative moves to the bass aria (B minor), which on the one hand quite strikingly highlights the textual contrasts (the cross and the suffering vs. joys), while on the other represents by the martial signal motifs the higher unity which the text signifies: the cantata has its theological, exegetical focal pint in this aria.
W. Murray Young: ‘The Cantatas of J.S. Bach – An Analytical Guide’ (1989)
His moving prayer, with woodwinds and strings doubling the continuo, is one of Bach’s superlative arias for bass. The emotional fervour of the prayer increases in intensity towards the end with dramatic effect. His prayer seems to become that of the listener as well as the singer.
David Humphreys: Oxford Composer Companion – J.S. Bach (1999)
The aria that follows is in ritornello form, scored for tenor (mistake!), with strings and solo oboe d’amore. Retained unaltered for BWV 69a, it again implores the Redeemer’s aid in times of suffering.
Spitta, Schweitzer and the liner notes to the recordings by Rilling, Koopman, Suzuki, and Leusink have nothing meaningful to say about the aria for bass.
To summarise the commentary: Whittaker uses many words but does not contribute much to our understanding of the aria. You can see his writing as a visual description of what you can read yourselves in the score. If are a musician, you do not need it; and if you are not, it will not mean much to you. Both Robertson and Young say much more in fewer words.
I would like to add something of my own. In many of Bach’s arias there is an important role for a solo instrument. Sometimes it plays a counter-melody to the one sung by the singer; in other cases it imitates the melody of the singer or vice-versa. In some cases it caries on the momentum of the aria, while the singer has a less melodious part to sing; in others it has a more supportive role. In the aria for bass of BWV 69/BWV69a the oboe d’amore expresses the inner feelings of the prayer. We feel as if we are looking at a man talking to himself, pondering, wavering, longing for, suffering, encouraging himself. Sometimes the instrument expresses the feeling before the singer actually does it. In one case, towards the end of the aria, the oboe d’amore plays the melody, and the singer complement the sentence; as if he was saying, I have heard it before, and I know exactly what you are talking about! Very sensitive bass singer and oboe d’amore player are needed here. Mutual listening between the two is no less important than the individual expression.
During last week I have been listening to 7 complete recordings of this cantata; 5 of which include the aria for bass. Harnoncourt in the recording of BWV 69, and Leusink, who followed his steps, omitted the opening chorus and the aria for bass. Harnoncourt did it because he also recorded BWV 69a in its completeness, and these two movements are identical in both versions. Leusink did it with no reason, and I would not like to imagine why.
BWV 69: [BWV 69-1] Rilling (1973 + 1982) with Wolfgang Schöne (bass) & Günther Passin (oboe d’amore); Time: 4:10
Rilling gives us full-blooded rendition of the aria for bass. Although this is the slowest of all four, it has momentum. Schöne is the right man for the job. He has the richness of voice, variety of means and sensitivity to express the different feelings of the prayer. The aria is carried only by the power of his singing. There is no sense of dialogue between him and the oboe d’amore or the other instruments. We hear here a singer with accompaniment rather than a real dialogue. This rendition could have benefited also from more tenderness.
BWV 69 [BWV69-2] & BWV 69a [BWV69a-1] Harnoncourt (1977) with Ruud van der Meer (bass) & Jürg Schaeftlein (oboe d’amore); Time: 3:28
This rendition has better balance between the singer and the oboist than Rilling’s. The technique of the oboist in this recording is less secure than the three other oboists who recorded the aria for bass. Meer has more depth to his voice than the usual Egmond has. But his voice is also less flexible and varied. Sometimes he sounds stiff and one-dimensional. The result is the least enjoyable rendition of the aria for bass. Nevertheless, even this one is carried along by the beauty and the power of the music.
BWV 69 [BWV 69-3] & BWV 69a [BWV 69a-2] Koopman (1997) with Mertens (bass) & Marcel Ponseele (oboe d’amore); Time: 3:29 (both versions)
I could not find any significant difference between the two versions of the aria in this recording; they might be identical; therefore I shall refer to them as one. This is a relaxed and pleasant rendition. Everything is smooth and easy, maybe too smooth and airy. There is no tension in the air. There is really nothing to complain about Mertens’ singing or Ponseele’s playing. But I feel that the singing of the former is lacking on the dramatic side, and the playing of the latter sounds to me too detached. You can here the dialogue between the two, but with more vigour it could have been not only pleasant but also more interesting.
BWV 69 [BWV 69-4] Leusink (1999)
BWV 69a [BWV69a-3] Suzuki (1999) with Peter Kooy (bass) & Patrick Beaugiraud (oboe d’amore); Time: 3:05
Comparing Suzuki with Koopman, I find that there is more boldness and drama. Kooy’s singing here combines softness with inner-power and sincerity. His expression is more varied than Mertens, although he could also have benefited from more depth. The dialogue between him and the oboist is exemplary. It has anything one could have wished for, a lesson in sensitivity and mutual listening. This rendition could have also benefited from slower tempo.
Singer: Schöne/Rilling [BWV 69-1], Kooy/Suzuki [BWV69a-3], Mertens/Koopman [BWV 69-3] [BWV 69a-2], Meer/Harnoncourt [BWV69a-1]
Dialogue: Kooy/Suzuki [BWV69a-3], Mertens/Koopman [BWV 69-3] [BWV 69a-2], Meer/Harnoncourt [BWV69a-1], Schöne/Rilling [BWV 69-1]
All four bass singers are good, but none of them is exceptional. This cantata has not been recorded by the great bass-baritone singers of the 1950’s and 1960’s. We can only imagine what treatment singers, like Fischer-Dieskau, Adam, McDaniel, Engen, Moll, etc., could have given to the aria for bass.
As always, I would like to hear other opinions, regarding the above mentioned performances, or other recordings.
Thomas Braatz wrote (August 24, 2002):
BWV 69 and 69a - Recordings:
This week I listened to Rilling [only BWV 69] (1973,1982) [BWV 69-1]; Harnoncourt [both 69a and 69] [BWV69a-1] [BWV69a-1] (1977); Koopman [both] (1997) [BWV 69-3] [BWV 69a-2]; Suzuki [only BWV 69a] (1999) [BWV69a-3] and Leusink [????] (1999) [BWV 69-4]
[BWV 69-4] Leusink:
Beginning with the strangest version of this cantata ever recorded and paraded before the world as a genuine composition by J. S. Bach, the version by Leusink, I was truly flabbergasted by this presentation consisting only of 2 recitatives, only one aria, and the final chorale. Clemens Romijn, who wrote the notes for this recording, after explaining that this is a “Ratswechselkantate,” a parody of BWV 69a, for which Bach composed 2 new recitatives and a final chorale, continues by stating that “the work [which I assume refers to the entire cantata] opens with a recitative for soprano.” Then there is “a wonderfully expressive” alto aria [whatever happened to the bass aria? – no mention at all of that] after which the cantata closes with “a simple final chorale” [‘simple’? with the additional 3 trumpets and timpani?] which gives “an extra dimension by the accents of the trumpets and timpani and the dynamic development in the closing words of thanksgiving.” Which distant planet are Romijn and Leusink living on? How can they pretend that the glorious 1st mvt. to both BWV 69a and BWV 69 never existed? Are there really places in the Netherlands where such information about the ‘missing’ mvts. [mvts. that really were never missing since the original set of parts (now in the BB) containing the 1st mvt. always had the 1st mvt.] prevents people from becoming acquainted with the entire cantata [actually two cantatas] in a series of recordings that purport to be rather complete and up-to-date? In any case, all those listeners who purchased the Brilliant Bach Edition series are being seriously short-changed. But wait! Perhaps Leusink has done us all a great favor by not even attempting to record the glorious 1st mvt. Judging by the results heard on all the other existing recordings of this cantata, this mvt. would have been a real ‘killer’ for Leusink’s group.
[BWV 69-1] Rilling:
It appears from the dates of Rilling’s recording of this cantata (it would be unusual not to try to record an entire cantata as a unit in March and April 1973 [the 1st date given] – we are only talking about 6 mvts – a ‘simple’ chorale, 2 recitatives – that leaves only 3 mvts. that make considerably greater demands: the two arias and the introductory choral mvt.) that Rilling must have been dissatisfied with the initial results emanating from the 1973 recording session. Almost 10 years later, Rilling makes a 2nd attempt to record mvts. 1 & 3 again in April, 1982. And what does he achieve? Although this can be considered a good recording, it does not approach the higher level of performance that he achieved in similar mvts. of this type.
My conclusion: this is a mvt. that can test the mettle of any ensemble devoted to the music of Bach. Here Bach is certainly pushing the limits of what is humanly possible. In the fugal section I count 32 entrances of the two distinctly different subjects that are presented individually at first, but then joined together in a double fugue section. The listener should be able to hear all these entrances, particularly when the instruments claim these fugal subjects for themselves. Too often such entrances ‘get lost in the shuffle’ as the conductor is desperately trying to achieve a balance just among the voices. But what a marvelous effect Bach achieves when the listener perceives that the instruments that have been playing other material or just following the voices colla parte suddenly ‘take off’ on their own and begin to claim individual entries for themselves. It is as though the enthusiasm of the fugal subjects in the choir begin to spill over to the instruments who/which enthusiastically take up the cause of ‘spreading the word.’ In a good performance the listener also begins to feel like joining in and becoming part of the grand statement of praise and joy that Bach initiated.
[BWV 69-1] More on Rilling:
The listener hears this ensemble ½ step higher than all the other recordings. This is after all, for the most part, a non-HIP recording with an expanded orchestra having extra fortification in the bc: bassoon and double-bass in addition to the harpsichord and cello. This makes the bass sound rather heavy. Rilling’s tempo is the 2nd slowest of those that I listened to. This allows the strings to play in a more legato style and the voices to use full volume or full voice in singing. The oboes have a ‘modern’ nasal, thin and reedy sound. The long coloratura passages in the voices are performed with each note “gestoßen” [an extra, slight push on each 16th note so that each note can be clearly heard] so that greater precision among the vocalists singing a single voice part can be achieved. All the instrumental fugal entries are clearly delineated, but somehow I feel that the trumpets, particularly the 1st trumpet could even be a bit more brilliant. The vocalists are fully trained voices that do not engage in sotto voce at any time, this latter characteristic belonging mainly to the HIP ensembles. Singing with a full voice generates a greater feeling of joy and praise than a sotto voce performance could ever generate. The obvious deficiency in Rilling’s recording is the lack of a straight, non-wavering, choral sound. How much stronger and even more convincing his performances could be if he could simply get the members of the choir to sharply curtail or control, perhaps even eliminate at times their vibratos which cause the notes that they are singing to become fuzzy and uncertain. For some reason I am particularly disturbed by the sopranos (or some of them) who muddy the musical line with their wavering intonation. How much more powerful would be some boy sopranos who could sing without a vibrato! Even Richter’s sopranos in many of his recordings have a clearer sound than Rilling’s. I really wish now that Richter had made a recording of this 1st mvt.
[BWV69-2] & [BWV69a-1] Harnoncourt:
The usual Harnoncourt sound for this entire series is present here as well: crudely blaring trumpets that are supposed to make you feel, “Oh, isn’t that marvelous! They are even able to produce sounds from these veold instruments!” and the oboes that never really let you feel that they know exactly what the correct intonation for each note is supposed to be. Over 20 years of recording, they do not seem to make any progress in this respect. Perhaps Harnoncourt wanted to preserve this sound as being very special and characteristic of HIP, just as he also seemed to enjoy the scratchy violin sound which he imagined Bach heard the same way. Harnoncourt’s tempo is almost the same as Rilling’s, even a bit slower which is remarkable considering the fact that this is a HIP recording which generally tend toward faster tempi. Now take such a slow tempo and try to make it more staccato. What do you get? It’s like looking at all the space between atoms. If you are enjoying a beautiful flower, do you really want to see microscopically all the elements down to such minute detail? Aren’t the major outlines more important, outlines such as the fugal subjects provided by Bach? Does Harnoncourt ensure the listener that these important elements will be heard all the time? No, he is much more concerned with the fact that this mvt. at any point might come crashing down all around him. There are moments when the fugue seems to be coming apart at the seams, but somehow Harnoncourt luckily saves it from becoming a complete disaster. What type of expression does this convey to the listener? “This is a real chore. Let’s get this over as soon as possible so as not to extend the agony that we are experiencing here. Why did Bach make this mvt. so difficult?” By using overly strong accents on certain parts of words, the other syllables or words that follow on the unaccented portions of a measure become virtually inaudible. The listener has the right to hear all the words, not just the accented portions!
[BWV 69-3] & [BWV 69a-2] Koopman:
Koopman is the only conductor to have recorded both versions of the 1st mvt.! If, however, you examine the timings of both mvts., you will notice that they are both exactly 5:14. What would you guess is behind this metronomic exactitude on Koopman’s part? Is he really a machine, a walking metronome? Who is able to perform this mvt. twice at exactly the same tempo? When Bach reused BWV 69a for BWV 69 much later in his life, he kept the music the same, but altered the text slightly: “getan” became “getan hat.” Would Koopman risk recording this mvt. again for the sake of accuracy and faithfulness to Bach’s intentions? Perhaps he tried to record both, but one version was not successful. Then he might think, “Would the listeners even care about a detail such as this? In any case, I will give a rather impressionistic performance with lots of echo and indistinct pronunciation.
Why do people really care about the words anyway? Isn’t the music more important than the text? We’ll use the same text for BWV 69a and BWV 69 and no one will know the difference!”
In Koopman’s single version (you are seeing double, but there is only one version here,) the tempo is more than a minute faster than either Harnoncourt’s or Rilling’s. For Koopman, whose primary goal in mvts. of this sort is light [read ‘lite’-entertainment] and fast, the significant emotion (praise and joy) is emasculated and diminished to the point of becoming very fleeting and unsubstantial. The reduced HIP orchestra (reduced compared to non-HIP) plays lightly while the choir sings mainly sotto voce. Yes, the oboes sound sweeter than in any other version and the violins much less scratchy compared to Harnoncourt’s, but the lower voices, particularly the bass, are too weak and do not achieve a good balance with the upper voices.
Suzuki in his deliberately slow traversal of the Bach cantatas has still not reached the time when BWV 69 was performed late in Bach’s life, so all that we have from him is his rendition of BWV 69a. His version is a minute faster than Rilling’s and Harnoncourt’s, but somehow he manages not to allow the ensemble to engage in the tippy-toe style that Koopman seems to favor. There is more substance to be heard in Suzuki’s performance. The elements of joy and praise have been restored, despite the fact that the tempo is a bit on the fast side. Among all the HIP recordings, Suzuki attains the best balance between the parts and his delineation of the fugal lines is very good, but not as good as Rilling’s. In some aspects, Suzuki’s recording is better than Rilling’s, but in others not. I consider both as being almost equal, although they represent different schools of performance.
General comment on the HIP recordings of these cantatas:
Notice the extreme predominance of the timpani in all of the recordings. It is as if the conductors are trying to use the timpani to make up for all the other apparent deficiencies. They seem to want to hide behind the timpani and make the timpani responsible for the emotions of joy and praise, while these emotions should rather arise from excellent, energetic singing with particular attention being given to the correct pronunciation of the words. In some instances I even began to hear “Lobe” not as a long ‘o’ but rather as an ‘ah.’
Preferences of Mvt. 1:
Rilling [BWV 69-1] (not by default in the non-HIP category) but also not as good as I would like to hear this mvt.
Suzuki [BWV69a-3] (this is the best so far in the HIP category) but perhaps he will be able to top this when he records BWV 69 many years from now.
Koopman [BWV 69-3] [BWV 69a-2] (has given us both versions in one) but perhaps he will reconsider redoing this mvt. at some point in the future after he has abandoned his ‘lite’-entertainment style of performance)
Harnoncourt [BWV69a-1] (historically of interest) but not really worth going back to for repeated listening.
Leusink [BWV 69-4] (his absence from this list speaks louder than words)
Alexander Vassiliadis wrote (August 25, 2002):
I heard the Rilling [BWV 69-1] - recording and I was really annoyed by those terrible slow tempi and the Chorus thatalways sound like a German Church Choir. HORRIBLE! What he does, is to show, how NOT to play Bach.
When you take the drive and the dance quality of Koopman [BWV 69-3] [BWV 69a-2] and Gardiner, you feel that the sky really is open. What they do is to show pure joy. That is it, what especially the first movement needs.
Moreover they have brilliant Soloists.
Thomas Braatz wrote (August 25, 2002):
Alexander Vassiliadis stated:
>>I heard the Rilling [BWV 69-1] - recording and I was really annoyed by those terrible slow tempi and the Chorus that always sound like a German Church Choir. HORRIBLE! What he does, is to show, how NOT to play Bach.<<
It would really be helpful, if you would give more specific details about what you are referring to here. There are some HIP recordings with terribly slow tempi as well, and in most of those instances the HIP ensembles are unable to accomplish much in the way of significant interpretation (there are a number of reasons for this that I have already discussed elsewhere in these cantata discussions.) These discussions would profit more from your specific statements and reasons for coming to the conclusions that you have presented in very succinct form, particularly since the Rilling recordings are featured here on a weekly basis.
>>When you take the drive and the dance quality of Koopman [BWV 69-3] [BWV 69a-2] and Gardiner, you feel that the sky really is open. What they do is to show pure joy. That is it, what especially the first movement needs.<<
Since I have not been privileged to hear the Gardiner version of the 1st mvt., I can only estimate from other recordings what this must sound like. Of course, nothing will replace the experience of the actual performance which you were privileged to hear. My guess would be that Gardiner would have more drive than Koopman, but that the fast tempo and the usual precision singing of the Gardiner choir would be pushing the limits of what is musically possible. There is a tendency with Gardiner to accomplish a tour-de-force performance at the expense of other equally important musical aspects and thereby equate joy with fast tempi. I personally think that joy can be more profoundly expressed at tempi that are less extreme than Gardiner's and the numerous fast tempi of many conductors in the HIP category.
The dance quality that you speak of has, IMO, been applied much too broadly to most cantata mvts. Where Bach has most certainly built upon the dance mvts. that he had become acquainted with, he ennobles the rhythm and lifts it to a much higher level, a level that can be determined by examining the underlying text carefully. Too many HIP conductors have become 'dance crazy' in an obvious reaction to the earlier non-HIP which tended toward somber, lugubrious, dirge-like interpretations. If there is a 'truth' to be discovered here, it will probably be somewhere between these two extremes.
>>Moreover they have brilliant Soloists.<<
The "they" here referring to Gardiner and Koopman along with all the other HIP ensembles, can only mean that you enjoy listening to these voices with a primarily limited range and volume capacity, and hence a lack of genuine expressive quality. While they may have had specialized voice training guided by voice teachers/coaches who also engage in, or have once engaged in, singing with a primarily sotto voce style, these voices are unable to present a full gamut of expression and frequently fail to project their vocal parts sufficiently to an audience in a large church. This is not brilliance, but rather a lack of real substance needed to convey the message of a Bach text sufficiently to do it justice. There are, of course, some glaring exceptions to this general observation about HIP ensembles, but these are primarily exceptions to the rule.
Why not join these discussions the next time that you hear such a brilliant soloist on one of the recordings under discussion here? It would be interesting for all those who read these postings to discover through you a 'new' way to assess brilliance among the soloists that we listen to from week to week.
Alexander Vassiliadis wrote (August 25, 2002):
[To Thomas Braatz] I am very sorry that you were not able to hear the Gardiner Concert. If you are interested I can send you a copy of the recording that was made by the radio. It is really worth listening to it.
Philippe Bareille wrote (August 26, 2002):
I have listened to Harnoncourt [BWV69-2] [BWV69a-1] and Koopman [BWV 69-3] [BWV 69a-2].
Koopman gives an "elegant" but lacklustre performance. Harnoncourt is more energetic, aided and abetted by a tolzer knabenchor on top form (outstanding rendition of the opening chorus).
Dick Wursten wrote (August 26, 2002):
Thomas Braatz wrote already about the fact that Leusink did not record the 1st mvt. of BWV 69a (BWV 69), so it's useless to say that I was much disappointed when I started to listen to my only recording of 69*.... epsp after having read the enthusiastic comments of Aryeh, Thomas and Alexander: great expectations...
Alexander’s enthusiasm for John Elliot Gardiner I can understand.... As a kind of counterbalance against the non-existent 1st mvt of 69* in my [not-so-]complete cantatarecordings of Brilliant classics, I was 'zapping' sunday-afternoon on the Dutch TV and saw the documentary of the Bach-cantata-pilgrimage of John Elliot Gardiner.
Not pretending to be an expert at all I want to express my very personal appreciation of this approach of Gardiner. Though the pilgrimage itself is hubris, I liked very much, what I heard in music and comment. In this video - by the way - he also tells about his dancelike and quick (= light?? I don't agree) interpretations against the background of the Richtercult...
I don't want to open a new discussion on HIP, non-HIP etc, but only express my humble opinion, that is that one can say a lot of Gardiner (and also many negative things) but one can not say that he lacks 'musicality', vision and passion. He is 'someone'. I mean: he makes his singers really sing (the video is very illustrative in the rehearsal fragments), and his instrumentalist play with a sense of direction and of 'what they are playing/singing' and 'why'. I was struck [negatively] by his oldfashioned (= romantic ) view on Bach’s life [He should really read Wolff] and at the same time [positively] by his insight in the religious contents and symbolic and liturgical value of the texts.
I never heard a complete cantata performed by him, but at the end of the TV-emission the promotional power of it [for which the video of course is made] almost made me surf immediately to the bach-cantata-website to see which cantata-performances of Gardiner are yet available.
By the way: Hearing his choir sing some openingchoirs which I only knew from the Leusinks, I am almost sure (argumentum e contrasto), that Leusinks choir tried to record BWV 69*, 1st movement, but never was able to reach the end.
Arjen van Gijssel wrote (August 26, 2002):
[To Dick Wursten] I also saw the same documentary on Dutch TV on Gardiner's pilgrimage and I also very much admire his approach. It is "hubris" of course, although not very different from what Bach did back in his time. And Bach had to work with musicians much less professional (that is, in Leipzig) than the Monteverdi choir en the orchestra.
I haven't had the chance to listen to Gardiner's Cantata performances on disc, apart from the Weihnachtsoratorium. But like Dick, the fragments shown in the documentary greatly raised my appetite. In cantate BWV 4 (Christ lag in Todesbanden), the tenors (4 in total) sang "Es war ein wunderlicher Krieg". I did that piece myself some months ago, but if one hears those 4 guys singing it with that power and joy, I feel ashamed by our own performance (but it was nice to see that even they had to stop because of some mistakes at the rehearsal). The choir sang "Herr wenn die stolzen Feinde schnauben" from the Weihnachtoratorium (BWV 248) (6th Teil) with speed, power and brille. Not that many choirs are able to show the fugue theme in a transparant way. But here, I feel that the Dutch Combattimento Consort with Jan Willem de Vriend (choir: Consensus Vocalis) has the same approach. Unfortunately, the performance of CC is not yet available on disc.
One statement which I particularly liked from Gardiner, was his attention on the text. One should express the text, and the music through the text. Basically, that is why I not like Koopman.
I agree with Dick that Gardiner's knowledge on Bach's life does not appear very deep. There was a funny translation error when he told the story on Bach's quarrel with Geyersbach. The Dutch translator thought it was "Gaius Bach", apparently some distant family member of JSB. Maarten 't Hart, a famous Dutch writer and Bach admirer, has written a very short and funny booklet on the life of Bach (within the Kruidvat gamma), where he mocks the many biographers on their version of the Geyersbach affair. He points out that everybody (even Wolff) is enriching the story with personal fantasies. Actually, very little is known for sure, and that is a sad fact on Bach's entire life, as you all know. Like Gardiner, I cannot understand that so little physical evidence is left of Bach (especially if compared to Mozart). Apart from his music, to my knowledge, there are some unsure bones beneath a recent plate, a Klavier of the organ from the Neue Kirche, an unclear wine glass, a baptismal font, and some portraits. I am going to sing in Leipzig myself in October, and regard that as a personpilgrimage, but I am already disappointed in advance.
I hope I do not get the same "treatment" as Alexander got from Thomas Braatz when he wrote a short e-mail. I like the former's comments, and I am sure there are more who could join the discussion if only they did not feel overwhelmed by the rich and deep comments of Thomas, Aryeh and others.
Aryeh Oron wrote (August 27, 2002):
< Arjen van Gijssel wrote:
[snip] One statement which I particularly liked from Gardiner, was his attention on the text. One should express the text, and the music through the text. Basically, that is why I not like Koopman. >
Koopman is very much aware of the text. The evidence can be found in many of his Bach's recordings. If that is not enough, there was a six-part TV program, dedicated to the cantatas, which was broadcast couple of years ago. The performance of each cantata was preceded by a short discussion from Koopman, and one could be impressed by his deep understanding of the subject. Indeed, sometimes Koopman is too pleasant and not going very deep below the surface, but so is Gardiner. The world of Bach Cantatas is so rich, varied and huge, that no single conductor excels in every cantata. If you do not limit yourself to only one interpreter, your listening will be enriched by the different views each conductor (and singer) has on the same cantata.
< Actually, very little is known for sure, and that is a sad fact on Bach's > entire life, as you all know. Like Gardiner, I cannot understand that so > little physical evidence is left of Bach (especially if compared to Mozart). Apart from his music, to my knowledge, there are some unsure bones beneath a recent plate, a Klavier of the organ from the Neue Kirche, an unclear wine glass, a baptismal font, and some portraits. I am going to sing in Leipzig myself in October, and regard that as a personal pilgrimage, but I am already disappointed in advance. >
I made my Bach tour during the last week of September and the first week of October 1999. I started the tour in Potsdam and finished it in Dresden, visiting almost every place connected to Bach in Thuringia. At the beginning of the tour I was not even aware that next year is going to be THE Bach year. Only when I entered the tourist office in Mühlhausen, I saw in a pre-prepared brochure what the German people were preparing for year 2000. Indeed, not many physical evidences can be found along the way. Even in a city like Weimar, the only thing left from Bach is a small signpost on the wall. But Bach's spirit is there and the imagination can always work extra hours to compensate for the missing visual objects. I remember myself standing outside of the reconstructed church in Gera, where bach visited once to tune or check the organ. The church was closed and a couple of kids were playing on the steps to the church. And I was thinking to myself: Bach was here, exactly here. Is anybody in this city aware of this? I know, and that was enough for me. The spirit of Bach has never left me for a single day ever since. I actually abandoned almost all the other kinds of music I had used to listen to, Jazz included, and I do not feel that I miss anything. I became addicted!
< I hope I do not get the same "treatment" as Alexander got from Thomas Braatz when he wrote a short e-mail. I like the former's comments, and I am sure there are more who could join the discussion if only they did not feel overwhelmed by the rich and deep comments of Thomas, Aryeh and others. >
I do not expect from other members to lengthy reviews for the weekly cantata discussions as Tom and I do. My writing to the BCML is my way of sharing with others my continuous enthusiasm for the enormously rich world of the Bach Cantatas. I am learning a lot from the contribution of other members, even the short ones. I have tried many ways to encourage other members to contribute to the weekly cantata discussions. But the results so far are not very successful. In the last couple of months I write a short introduction to the cantata at the beginning of the the week and send my review of this cantata at the very last minute of the week. In that way other members can freely write about their impressions of the cantata without being 'overwhelmed' by my lengthy reviews. I also do not cover many aspects of the cantata under discussion, due to limitations of time and space, leaving it to others. Sometimes, as with BWV 69, I write only about one movement. What do I have to do to encourage other members to participate? Should I shorten my reviews? This idea has not yet crossed my mind, but I shall give it a thought.
Thomas Braatz wrote (August 27, 2002):
Aryeh Oron stated:
< In the last couple of months I write a short introduction to the cantata at the beginning of the the week and send my review of this cantata at the very last minute of the week. In that way other members can freely write about their impressions of the cantata without being 'overwhelmed' by my lengthy reviews. I also do not cover many aspects of the cantata under discussion, due to limitations of time and space, leaving it to others. Sometimes, as with BWV 69, I write only about one movement. What do I have to do to encourage other members to participate? Should I shorten my reviews? This idea has not yet crossed my mind, but I shall give it a thought. >
I find the preview/short introduction to each cantata very helpful in establishing the focus for the week. Once, before you began doing this, I substituted in my mind, by error, a cantata that was not even up for discussion. Of course, it is now very helpful to see on your site as well last week's, this week's, and next week's cantatas listed up front. Now I look forward to reading your general overview of the cantata and which cantata recordings are available (or not so easily available.)
Without even doing this on purpose, I seem not to complete my discussion until very late in the week. I understand how letting others submit their comments first should allow them to feel freer in writing about their observations, even if they have listened to only one recording. Perhaps, however, they may become reticent to the point of not submitting any comments at all, because they feel that their comments will be adversely compared to those who have listened to a greater number of recordings, some of which they may have heard a number of times even before the discussion takes place.
Originally you posted your review very early in the week. This has, or should have, the effect of encouraging others to follow your excellent example in being timely but also contributing a wealth of information regarding which individual listers could affirm or deny certain points that had already been made. This, theoretically, should make the burden somewhat lighter for those who follow such a detailed listing, because they may not have to repeat what has already been stated, or they may feel: "It seems like everything important has been said already and my minor contribution will appear to be insignificant."
Should you list your review at the beginning of the week or at the end? It appears to me that this is a matter of "you'll be damned if you do, and you'll be damned if you don't" There is no easy solution as you can see after having tried both ways.
Whatever you do, don't shorten your reviews! I learn very much from every one of them. I think we (this includes all others who wish to participate) should make use of the recordings we own or have access to, any accompanying notes, commentaries available in book form, to the best of our abilities as time permits. The participants will have different areas of expertise, some with greater knowledge of vocal production, or instrumental techniques (particularly period instruments, but not only), or theological background of the text as well as the translation of it into other languages. Others will have an insider view on the recordings themselves. All of this is very helin gaining a broader perspective on each Bach cantata as we discover these cantatas for ourselves in this 21st century.
Ivan Lalis wrote (August 27, 2002):
I did not decide yet which set of cantatas I want, so I cannot comment on topic of this week, but I'd like to make a few remarks about more general issues.
I am glad to see that we clearly separate facts (or generally accepted "truths") and opinions. I mean, we can argue forever whether to OVPP or not to OVPP, but we probably all agree that choir of 100 is too much for Bach. We will also probably accept that there are dance rhythms in Bach music and the question only is if they are to be emphasised or not so emphasised if not suppressed. Well, one could say that the whole baroque music is based on dances and I think we quite accept it in on-religious music. I am afraid that we'll never know the exact level of "dancing" in cantatas as it is another example of what Harnoncourt calls interrupted performing tradition or what I call "lazy ancestors". Simply put, that there was a set of such notorious rules how to perform a particular music that nobody took care to write them down for "future generations". Actually by admitting dance rhythms in Bach we acknowledge these rules and we say that come scritto is not the only valid way how to play his music.
So what about dance in religious music? I think (and it is only opinion) that the thing that makes us feel uneasy is our romantic tradition that kicks in. That church music must be dignified, serious, if not a bit boring in order not to distract the listener from G-d. I am not an (organised) believer, so I may go totally wrong with my opinion, but I find nothing wrong in celebrating G-d with joy and dance music. Somehow I feel it as more spontaneous and maybe more sincere. Thus for me "dance craziness" is a valid option, not an excess :-)
Ad excellent singers and what it means. From reading a few posts I got a feeling as if there's something wrong if the music is played with extreme accuracy and if the singers' aim is to achieve vocal perfection. For me, Bach's vocal music belongs to most demanding (and also rewarding) vocal music ever written. I consider it a kind of indicator of singers' qualities.
If, e.g., singer can sing "Et in Spiritum Sanctum" of H-moll Messe (BWV 232) properly, with easiness and elegance, then he's IMO very good. Somebody would probably say that "struggling" with score may be closer to idea of the work, but it does not work for me. I expect excellence in terms of vocal perfection, while any expression superimposed on it is to be achieved by vocal means and not by shortcomings. At the end of my posting I am going to write something really blasphemous. There are several recordings of BWV 82 Ich habe genug in my collection. Well, I still do not know what the fuss is about with Hotter and I am still waiting to hear it sung better than Mertens does.
PS: I am considering to buy Harnoncourt/Leonhardt set. I saw this one exists in several incarnations. Is there any reason why I should go for the new release from Bach 2000 collection? I mean new mastering, better sound quality, something. It's quite a lot of money and I was considering to buy step by step 10 volumes of 6 CDs. Bach 2000 collection offers 4 volumes of 15 CDs, which is more demanding on my wallet :-)
Robert Sherman wrote (August 27, 2002):
[To Ivan Lalis] I'm not religious but I do recall hearing Robert Shaw once reprove a choir that seemed to be losing its priorities:
"Never forget that God loves right notes."
Jill Gunsell wrote (August 27, 2002):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< Whatever you do, don't shorten your reviews! >
[To Aryeh Oron] Please don't. Some of us lurking out here have little or nothing to contribute but owe so much to those who share theirknowledge and experience of this wonderful music.
Thank you, Aryeh and Tom, and others, for what you do here.
Tom Johnson wrote (August 27, 2002):
[To Aryeh Oron] Amen... (What Jill said!)
Continued blest beneficiary of these lucid perspectives,
Arjen van Gijssel wrote (August 28, 2002):
Aryeh Oron stated:
< Koopman is very much aware of the text. >
You are right. I meant that Koopman is not very exact on pronunciation, such as on end notes (a "t" on the 4th 8th etc.). Furthermore, with Koopman it is more often less clear what the choir is singing, in my view. Koopman is certainly approaching the music through a thorough study of text, but my impression is that in the end his choice is the melodic line, if there is any choice between melody or words.
< What do I have to do to encourage other members to participate? Should I shorten my reviews? This idea has not yet crossed my mind, but I shall give it a thought. >
Do not get me wrong! I do not want you to shorten anything. I apoligize for this misunderstanding, which by the way produced a lot of adherence notes on your marvellous work. Your remark to come in, even when having a short remark on one recording, is helpful.
Continue on Part 2
Cantatas BWV 69 & BWV 69a: Details & Complete Recordings of BWV 69 | Details & Recordings of BWV 69a | Recordings of Individual Movemnts from BWV 69 | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3