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Cantata BWV 69
Lobe den Herrn, meine Seele [I]
Cantata BWV 69a
Lobe den Herrn, meine Seele
Discussions - Part 2

Continue from Part 1

Discussions of Cantata BWV 69a in the Week of September 11, 2005

Santu de Silva wrote (September 11, 2005).
BWV 69a: Lobe den Herrn, meine Seele - 12th Sunday afterTrinity

BWV 69a: Lobe den Herrn, meine Seele
(Bless the Lord, O my Soul, and forget not all his benefits)
Leipzig, 1723

Tr i, ii, iii; Timpani, Oboe, Oboe d'amore, Oboe da caccia, Bassoon, Vln i, ii, Vla, ontinuo.
[Our Cantatas website does not mention recorder for 69a; perhaps it is an alternative scoring. BWV 69 appears to not have a recorder part; apparently Bach had gone over into oboes by that time...]

This cantata was written, say the sources, for the inauguration of the Leipzig Town Council in 1723, and then used for the church services the Sunday immediately after. (The cantata was then revised around 1743 --or at any rate between 1743 and 1750, and used for the same two occasions. The recitatives were changed, and the chorale at the end, and the result was BWV 69.)

[Mvt. 1] Chorus (Lobe den Herrn)

The opening chorus to the words from Psalm 103 (in the more poetic translation: Bless the Lord, O my spirit, and forget not the goodness that he hath shown thee) is one of the grandest choruses in the cantatas: the three trumpets and the tympani make absolutely sure of that.

Alec Robertson writes:
Altos and tenors, then sopranos and basses, sing the first half of of the Psalm verse, and then all join in a climax of general acclamation. There follow two fugues, the first begun the sopranos, the second with a much less florid subject, by the tenors. This second fugue is combined with the first one. Just before the da capo there is an even more triumphant climax than the one mentioned above.

[I would subscribe to this analysis more enthusiastically if I could get to the point of discerning the fugue he mentions, let alone two of them! There is certainly a lot of contrapuntal writing, with long phrases sung to a single syllable (melisma). The overall effect is one of great grandeur, and the thickness of the texture helps to
create it.]

[2] Recitative -- Soprano, Continuo:
"Ach, dass ich tausend Zungen hätte!
(Oh if I had a thousand tongues!)
Ach, wäre doch mein Mund
(Oh, only were my mouth
Von eitlen Worten leer!
(innocent of pretentious words!
Ach, dass ich gar nichts redte,
(Oh that I would speak nothing
Als was zu Gottes Lob gerichtet wär!
(But what were intended in praise of God!
So machte ich des Höchsten Güte kund;
(Then would I proclaim the goodness of the most High
Denn er hat lebenslang so viel an mir getan,
(For He hath all my life done so much for me,
Dass ich in Ewigkeit ihm nicht verdanken kann."
(That I, in all eternity cannot give Him thanks enough."

This recitative takes the soprano into the highest levels of the stratosphere, and Koopman's soprano sings sweetly and accurately (Ruth Ziesak).

[3] Aria -- Tenor + recorder, Oboe d'amore?, Continuo:
"Meine Seele, auf! erzähle, was dir Gott erwiesen hat"
(My soul, arise! Tell what God hath rendered unto Thee)

A paraphrase of "forget not all His benefits," this joyful song in compound triple time features a duet between the recorder and a lower reed instrument, probably one of the alto oboes. Listen to the bass; it will make you dance.

{Question: does "erzähle" have meaning like "list His mercies," or "recount thy blessings?" I know that 'zahlen' has something to do with integers . . .}

[4] Recitative Alto+Continuo:
Gedenk ich nur zurück, was du, mein Gott, von zarter Jugend an bis diesen Augenblick an mir getan . . ."
(When I recall what Thou, my God hast, from my earliest youth, blessed me with . . .)

This recitative eloquently expresses one's utter dependence on the goodness of God, expanding on the thought of the soprano recitative

[5] Aria -- Bass+strings+oboe+continuo:
"Mein erlöser und Erhalter, nimm mich stets in Hut un Wacht! ..."
(My Redeemer and sustainer, watch Thou ever over me!)

This aria too, in compound triple time, has the sinuousity of Bach's compound-triple-time arias. There are some lovely moments, as the orchestra weaves through poignant harmonies under long held notes by the Bass.

[6] Chorale:
'Was gott tut, das is wohlgetan'
(What god has done is well done.)

This is a straight setting of this chorale that is one of Bach's evident favorites. It must be a satisfying chorale to sing, with its asymmetrical meter, and interesting leaps of fifths in the melody (which requires an interesting bass line to avoid parallel fifths, etc) unfortunately not featured in any english-language hymn-book I'm familiar with.

General observations:

Interestingly enough, the four solo numbers are one per soloist: Soprano, Tenor, Alto and Bass. The cantata is nicely balanced, and very satisfying to listen to. I found myself listening to it repeatedly; it already has the kind of familiarity for me that BWV 140 and BWV 199 have. It's innocent praise doesn't awaken dark thoughts of gloom or hypocrisy or condemnation, which were present in other cantatas we've recently looked at.

P.S.

The words of the soprano recitative echo the thoughts in the great Charles Wesley hymn:

O for a thousand tongues to sing
my great redeemer's praise
the glories of my God and King,
the triumphs of His grace

My gracious Master and my God,
Assist me to proclaim,
To spread through all the earth abroad
The honors of Thy name.

The thought of "a thousand tongues to sing praise" seemed so apt that I suspected it had origins in a psalm. But evidently it does not; an on-line hymn resource quotes a line from Revelations [Revelation 5:11] suggesting that it might be the inspiration for Wesley's hymn.

Note about the chorale: this chorale "Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan" (in a version taken from BWV 99, I believe) forms the opening movement of Walton's ballet suite the Wise Virgins.

Neil Halliday wrote (September 11, 2005).
Santu de Silva wrote:
<<"Alec Robertson writes:
Altos and tenors, then sopranos and basses, sing the first half of the Psalm verse, and then all join in a climax of general acclamation. There follow two fugues, the first begun the sopranos, the second with a much less florid subject, by the tenors. This second fugue is combined with the first one. Just before the da capo there is an even more triumphant climax than the one mentioned above.
[I would subscribe to this analysis (of Robertson's) more enthusiastically if I could get to the point of discerning the fugue he mentions, let alone two of them! There is certainly a lot of contrapuntal writing, with long phrases sung to a single syllable (melisma). The overall effect is one of great grandeur, and the thickness of the texture helps to create it.]">>
Listen out for the return of the first trumpet (the other two trumpets and timpani are silent) near the end of the first choral exposition. This heralds the section that Robertson refers to as "a climax of general acclamation". The "first fugue" (as designated by Robertson) begins in the sopranos in 1/16th notes immediately as the
trumpet falls silent.

The beginning of the "second fugue" (to the words "and forget not...") is easier to notice - its subject is in 1/4 and 1/8 notes (tenors).

The eventual combination of these fugues is indeed typical of Bach's mastery of contrapuntal writing, ending in "an even more triumphant climax than the one mentioned above" (Robertson).

I suppose 'zaehlen' and 'erzahlen' are analogous to English 'count' and 'recount'(tell).

Thomas Braatz wrote (September 11, 2005).
Santu de Silva wrote:
>>{Question: does "erzähle" have meaning like "list His mercies," or "recount thy blessings?" I know that 'zahlen' has something to do with integers . . .}<<
And Neil Halliday wrote:
>>I suppose 'zaehlen' and 'erzahlen' are analogous to 'count' and 'recount'(tell).<<
Arch had quoted:
>>[3] Aria -- Tenor + recorder, Oboe d'amore?, Continuo: "Meine Seele, auf! erzähle, was dir Gott erwiesen hat" (My soul, arise! Tell what God hath rendered unto Thee)<<
Alfred Dürr in his book on the cantatas p. 559 perceives that the unknown librettist was deliberately placing a special emphasis on "erzählen" ["to tell, to recount (not necessarily recounting a things to see if the number was correct the first time), to narrate"] with a reference to the healing of the deaf-mute mentioned in the Gospel reading (Mark 7: 31-37.) Being able to speak, if possible, with a thousand tongues to praise God for all his mercies and wonderful deeds was made possible by Jesus' miraculous cure.

Actually, however, despite the fact that modern German (including that of Bach's time) keeps "erzählen" ("to tell {something}") apart from "zählen" {"to count"), the two verb forms are closely connected in much older forms of German (and English). Another part of this complex is found in the noun "Zahl" ["number"] and "zahlen" ["to pay, to count out money."] Going back before the major sound shift in German, we find forms with a 't' instead of a 'z.' There is a posited stem form (even before Gothic) which would look or sound like 'tala.' From this form later languages developed such forms as 'tal' = ("language"): Old English 'tael' gives us modern-day 'to tell' and also 'teller' (as a teller in a bank but also one who tells a story.) The English verb 'talk' has also been traced back to the same root. (The additional 'k' is a frequentative extension/addition to the basic stem.)

Arch also notes:
>>Note about the chorale: this chorale "Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan" (in a version taken from BWV 99, I believe) forms the opening movement of Walton's ballet suite the Wise Virgins.<<
Thanks for pointing this out. This should be included on the CM page. Just in case I might miss the other references to chorales in Walton's modern orchestral adaptations, I will include here the passage from the OCC:Bach p. 528 to make certain that we do not overlook the use of various Bach chorale settings from Walton's work in the future.

>>"The Wise Virgins." Ballet, based on the parable of the ten virgins in St Matthew 25:1-13, with choreography by Frederick Ashton and music arranged by William Walton (1902-83) from the works of Bach. It was first produced at Sadler's Wells Theatre, London, on 24 April 1940. The score consisted of nine numbers, six of which Walton abstracted for an orchestral suite with the following titles:

1. 'What God hath done is rightly done': from the opening chorus of Cantata BWV 99 (or BWV 100), "Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan," used for nos. 3 and 8 in the ballet;

2. 'Lord, hear my longing': from the organ chorale "Herzlich tut mich verlangen," BWV 727, used for no. 4 in the ballet

3. 'See what his love can do': from the tenor aria "Seht, was die Liebe tut" in Cantata BWV 85, transposed to D major, used for no. 5 in the ballet;

4. 'Ah! how ephemeral': from the opening chorus of Cantata BWV 27, "Ach wie flüchtig, ach wie nichtig," used for no. 6 in the ballet;

5. 'Sheep may safely graze': from Pales's recitative ' "Soll dann der Pales Opfer hier das letzte sein" and aria "Schafe können sicher weiden" in Cantata BWV 208, "Was mir behagt...."

6. 'Praise be to God' from the final movement of Cantata BWV 129, "Gelobet sei der Herr, mein Gott," used for no. 9 in the ballet

In addition, the ballet itself included the final chorale from Cantata BWV 140, "Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme" (no. 1) and the bass aria "Dein Geburtstag ist erschienen" from the spurious Cantata BWV 142 "Uns ist ein Kind geboren" (no. 2).<<

1, 2, 4, 6, and "Wachet auf" are indeed chorale-based mvts. that should be included in our listing of chorale melodies in Bach's works used by other composers.

Santu de Silva wrote (September 12, 2005).
Thomas Braatz writes:
< Actually, however, despite the fact that modern German (including that of Bach's time) keeps "erzählen" ("to tell {something}") apart from "zählen" {"to count"), the two verb forms are closely connected in much older forms of German (and English). Another part of this complex is found in the noun "Zahl" ["number"] and "zahlen" ["to pay, to count out money."] Going back before the major sound shift in German, we find forms with a 't' instead of a 'z.' There is a posited stem form (even before Gothic) which would look or sound like 'tala.' From this form later languages developed such forms as 'tal' = ("language"): Old English 'tael' gives us modern-day 'to tell' and also 'teller' (as a teller in a bank but also one who tells a story.) The English verb 'talk' has also been traced back to the same root. (The additional 'k' is a frequentative extension/addition to the basic stem.)
Fascinating stuff, which led me very far afield, and several hours of absolute delight!

I only yesterday learned that, in contrast to the great number of English authorities such as Webster, Chambers, the Oxfore English Dictionary, Roget, and so on and so forth, there is essentially a monopoly in German, namely this dude called Duden! There is only The Duden, if you want to know etymology or meaning of words, equivalent words, questionable words, etymology of given names, etc etc etc, a massive work in - - at last count- - twelve (12) volumes! There are even "Dudens" for school children.

One of my closest friends, a gentleman who lived a significant portion of his life in Germany and had many friends there, (including his late wife) recounts (erzaehlen+proper tense) his adventures in trying to find a dictionary while in Germany. He described how it boggled his mind when everyone would say (when he said no, I don't want a Cassel's English-German dictionary, I want a REAL dictionary) "Oh, you want the Duden."

No choice? Only The Duden?

Leonardo Been wrote (September 12, 2005).
Thanks for word roots 'count tell zahl' etc.

[To Thomas Braatz] Thanks for interesting etymology (word/language roots).

Neil Halliday wrote (September 16, 2005).
Santu de Silva wrote (of the opening chorus):
<<"The overall effect is one of great grandeur, and the thickness of the texture helps to create it.
[2] Recitative -- Soprano, Continuo:
This recitative takes the soprano into the highest levels of the stratosphere, and Koopman's soprano
[BWV69a-2] sings sweetly and accurately (Ruth Ziesak).">>
Yes, Ziezak's voice [BWV69a-2] is very nice indeed (amazon sample); but what about the accompaniment, which sounds incredibly scrappy and disjointed, to my ears. (And as minimal as this accompaniment is, the organ part manages to sound incongruously dainty, and the cello unpleasantly coarse.) The effect is almost laughable, straight after the magnificent opening chorus.

BTW, re the opening chorus, I'm wondering if that long note on the first trumpet near the end of the opening ritornello should be trilled, for added brilliance - likewise the note near the end of the movement immediately before the da capo. Note that the corresponding note near the end of the first choral section (before the "first fugue") is in fact trilled (as in the BGA) to fine effect (although it could be a bit louder in the Rilling recording, IMO). The BGA does not have trills on the other two notes, but could this be an oversight on Bach's part?

Listening to Rilling [BWV 69-1] (slow), then Koopman (fast), I suspect the ideal tempo for this movement is about midway betweeen the two of them.

Rilling's strings are especially tender in the ritornello immediately before the beginning of the section which combines the two fugues (the brass and woodwind are silent in this ritornello).

Harnoncourt [BWV 69a-1] seems to loose his 'zing' soon after the beginning of the "first fugue", and the scratchy timbre of his ensemble does not help matters. His unnatural, emphatic swelling on successive notes, in the closing chorale and elsewhere, is a problem.

Harnoncourt's third movement (Equiluz, tenor aria) is my pick of his recording of this canata.

The manner in which the words fit the music, with syncopation; and long notes and melismas on "(er)zaeh(le)" are highly effective features of this tuneful movement.

The bass aria with lilting rhythm (B minor) is highly regarded by Robertson, and is most enjoyable. Note the chromatic passage on "Leiden" (first time around).

Rilling's BWV 69 [BWV 69-1] (I don't have 69a) of course has the different, more developed closing chorale, which the booklet notes is one of the last cantata movements that Bach wrote (in 1748, along with the recitatives). It's certainly a grand movement with trumpet fanfares, ending magnificently with a drum roll accompanying the closing chord, in the Rilling recording.

Dale Gedcke wrote (September 16, 2005).
Neil Halliday wrote:
"BTW, re the opening chorus, I'm wondering if that long note on the first trumpet near the end of the opening ritornello should be trilled, for added brilliance - likewise the note near the end of the movement immediately before the da capo. Note that the corresponding note near the end of the first choral section (before the "first fugue") is in fact trilled (as in the BGA) to fine effect (although it could be a bit louder in the Rilling recording, IMO). The BGA does not have trills on the other two notes, but could this be an oversight on Bach's part?"

MY COMMENTS:

All the literature I have read claims that most Baroque composers expected the trumpet player to add his own ornamentation. This was particularly true of the Italian composers. Consequently, ornamentation was expected but not explicitly written in the score. Bach musicologists point out that Bach was very explicit in what ornamentation he wanted. Consequently, most performers follow the exact ornamentation that Bach wrote. If he didn't write a trill on a note, the norm is "don't add a trill". Did Bach have a lapse of good taste in not adding the trills on those two notes in BWV 69a? We will never know the answer to that question.

I don't have the score in front of me. Are these two notes high enough in pitch (at or above a third-space C on the treble clef in the trumpet score) that they could be lip-trilled one diatonic step on a valveless trumpet?

Thomas Braatz wrote (September 16, 2005).
Neil Halliday wrote:
>>BTW, re the opening chorus, I'm wondering if that long note on the first trumpet near the end of the opening ritornello should be trilled, for added brilliance - likewise the note near the end of the movement immediately before the da capo. Note that the corresponding note near the end of the first choral section (before the "first fugue") is in fact trilled (as in the BGA) to fine effect (although it could be a bit louder in the Rilling recording,IMO). The BGA does not have trills on the other two notes, but could this be an oversight on Bach's part?<<
>>Rilling's BWV 69
[BWV 69-1] (I don't have 69a) of course has the different, more developed closing chorale, which the booklet notes is one of the last cantata movements that Bach wrote (in 1748, along with the recitatives). It's certainly a grand movement with trumpet fanfares, ending magnificently with a drum roll accompanying the closing chord, in the Rilling recording.<<
There were essentially 3 versions of this cantata: 1723, 1727, 1748. The autograph score is missing (but this is not always very helpful in determining articulation, embellishments, etc. which are generally included reviewed/added on the copied parts by Bach in his revision of all the parts shortly before the performance.)

In this instance we have a single original Tromba I part (the part primarily using trills) which was copied by one of Bach's primary, very reliable copyists, Johann Andreas Kuhnau. The NBA editors find it very difficult to distinguish any additions or changes in ornamentation, etc. over the three main stages of composition. The obvious change to this part is that Bach personally crossed out the previous final chorale and personally wrote out all the parts for the new chorale setting including this Tromba 1 part which contains trills on a long high A (first line above the staff)in m 13 and another shorter trill on a high C above the latter in m 22 in the final cadence. This is evidence that Bach does not avoid trilling these notes because of unplayability or difficulty in playing them properly.

Concentrating on the Tromba I part in mvt. 1 which has the trills marked in various places, it is remarkable that the long A mm 20 ff. and 160 ff. is not marked with a trill, but the lower E mm 42 ff. is.

Having just personally added a long A trill to the chorale in 1748, Bach, it appears, did not bother to go back to check the trills on the same instrumental part before him to which he had just added a new mvt. at the end of the page!

Numerous conjectures simply do not make much sense here: 1) Bach had a trumpeter for the 1723 and 1727 performances who had difficulties trilling a high A (or Bach could rely upon a trumpeter of the calibre of Gottfried Reiche to supply the appropriate trills for the long notes- a practice very uncustomary for Bach) 2) Bach, in 1748, had a trumpeter who could play these trills so he marked them into the score for the new final chorale, but why didn't he go back to change the two places in mvt. 1 where the music seems to demand it? 3)Potential difficulties with eyesight were already making themselves known in 1748, thus preventing Bach from yet another careful revision of all the parts. And the list of speculations could continue....

Neil Halliday wrote (September 17, 2005).
Dale Gedcke wrote:
<<"Are these two notes high enough in pitch (at or above a third-space C on the treble clef in the trumpet score) that they could be lip-trilled one diatonic step on a valveless trumpet?">>
As Thomas Braatz has noted, these two notes (A's) are above the treble clef; but the strange thing is the existence of a trill on the lower long E in the score (top space in the treble clef, still above the pitch you mention as being the low end of playability), and not the A's.

John Pike wrote (September 23, 2005).
BWV 69a, 77 and 179

I have been catching up on cantatas after my holiday. I have listened to Leonhardt/Harnoncourt, Rilling and leusink of all these cantatas. I also listened to Gardiner's recording of 179. I greatly enjoyed all these cantatas....some really very beautiful music in all of them, and I enjoyed all the performances. I always tend to find the vibrato in Rilling's sopranos and altos a little obtrusive, but his instrumentalists make such a pleasant sound, that his recordings are always a joy to listen to. The boy soloists in the Harnoncourt/Leonhardt recordings were often very satisfying.

 

BWV 69a, Trinity 12 (Aug. 30, 2009)

Ed Myskowski wrote (August 30, 2009):
The performance chosen by Brian McCreath for broadcast (WGBH-FM, www.wgbh.org) this morning was the Gardiner concert version from the ongoing Pilgrimage series [5]. I believe there is a repeat (webcast only) at noon EDT (1600 UT). Note that the WGBH presentations follow the liturgical calendar, and emphasize content of the texts.

Dürr notes:
<In accordance with the laudatory character of the text, Bachs setting of the opening chorus, which might have been adapted from an earlier composition [note 27], calls for an instrumental ensemble thawas exceptionally festive for an ordinary Sunday.> (end quote)

The note refers to KB, NBA I/20, pp.125-6. This is beyond my research capability, perhaps someone can elaborate?

Santu daSilva (Arch) wrote (BCW archives)
< This cantata was written, say the sources, for the inauguration of the Leipzig Town Council in 1723, and then used for the church services the Sunday immediately after. >
Arch did not identify the sources. Again, elaboration invited, especially comparison with NBA.

In any case, I wonder just how exceptional the instrumentation is for an ordinary Sunday? We have seen similar just two weeks ago, for Trinity 10, although notably without timpani.

 

Continue on Part 3

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

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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