Cantata BWV 73Herr, wie du willt, so schick's mit mir
Discussions - Part 2
Continue from Part 1
Discussions in the Week of January 12, 2006 (2nd round)
John Pike wrote (January 10, 2006):
BWV 73 "Herr, wie du willt, so schick's mit mir" : Introduction
As we proceed with our chronological survey of Bach's cantatas, in order of composition, the cantata for discussion this week (beginning 12th February 2006) is Cantata BWV 73 "Herr, wie du willt, so schick's mit mir" ("Lord, deal with me as you will"
Event in the Lutheran church calendar: Chorale Cantata for the 3rd Sunday after Epiphany
Readings: Epistle: Romans 12: 17-21; Gospel: Matthew 8: 1-13
Composed: Leipzig, 1723 (according to Robertson) or 1724 (according to Stokes) or 1725 (according to Young).
1st performance: January 23, 1724 - Leipzig;
2nd performance: January 21, 1724 or January 26, 1749 - Leipzig
Text: Kaspar Bienemann (Mvt. 1); Ludwig Helmbold (Mvt. 5); Anon (Mvts. 2-4)
Notes by Klaus Hofmann (2001) taken from liner notes to recording by Masaaki Suzuki .
Bach's music for the service on the 3rd Sunday after Epiphany in 1724 (23rd January) takes its theological theme from the Sunday Gospel reading, Matthew 8, 1-13, from the first few verses to be exact, with the story of the healing of a leper. The sick man's words provide a point of reference: "Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean". The theme of this "musical sermon" by Bach and the unknown poet is the trusting submission of the Christian to God's will. The introductory choral strophe of the cantata text takes up the decisive words of the leper from the Bible story, "Lord, if thou wilt"; the words of the hymn (Kaspar Bienemann, 1582) raises them up and generalises them, in the form of a prayer, making them into a life and death motto for the Christian; the text author also adds two topical, subjective voices: first a surprising, anguished addition between the chorale lines, "Ach! Aber Ach! wieviel laesst mich dein Wille leiden!" ("Alas! But Alas! How much will you let me suffer!"; in bach's setting this is a tenor recitative); and later, more confidently: "Du bist mein Helfer, Trost und Hort" ("You are my helper, comforter and refuge"; bass recitative). The text must have moved and inspired the composer. The opening chorus is a perfect work of art without precedent; Bach combines the tradition of chorale arrangements with the thematically tied concertante movement, integrating the two recitative sections into the thematic structures (here the instruments further develop the themes of the movement). The result is a sort of "Leitmotiv" technique that unites everything, even the most distant elements, as a "spiritual bond". This "Leitmotiv", presented by the horn, comprises just four notes, a motif of a third, initially B flat' - B flat' - G' - B flat' (later transposed). It is the beginning of the chorale melody, and the motif should be understood in conjunction with its text, "Herr, wie du willt" ("Lord, as you will"). To some extent these four notes encompass the entire teaching of Bach's musical sermon, and they must have resonated for a long time among those members of the Leipzig congregation who had ears to hear.
The following tenor aria and the subsequent bass recitative touch upon the difficulty of submitting to the will of God. The beautiful oboe aria asks that, despite all the "vacillation" (which is also depicted in the music), the "spirit of joy" might descend from heaven into the heart of the faithful; it portrays this descent with a gently falling melodic line. Both textually and musically, however, the bass aria is an embodiment of stoical religious understanding, and professes submission to the will of God, come what may. Here, it would appear, bach allows us a glimpse deep within his heart.
A simple concluding chorale (Ludwig Helmbold, 1563) tells ina concentrated yet doxological fashion of the will of God the creator, of the mercy that Christ won for us, and of words of praise.
Masaaki Suzuki adds, regarding the instrumentation of the first movement: "This work was first performed in 1724 and was performed again between 1732 and 1735, as is indicated by the organ part. The basis for this assumption is that, for some reason or other, a new part was created so that the horn part used at the first performance could be played by the organ on the occasion of the second performance. It seems possible that the work was performed again shortly before Bach's death, but htere is no definite proof of this."
The order of the cantata is: 1. Chorus and recitative (Soprano, Tenor, Bass); 2. Aria (Tenor; 3. Recitative (Bass); 4. Aria (Bass); 5. Chorale
Link to texts, translations, details of scoring, references, provenance, commentary, vocal score, music examples, and list of known recordings: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV73.htm
Link to previous discussions: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV73-D.htm
Chorales used in this cantata
Bach used two chorale melodies in this cantata:
1. Wo Gott der Herr nicht bei uns hält with the alternative text Herr, wie du willst, so schick's mit mir
2. Von Gott will ich nicht lassen
Streamed over the internet, it is possible to hear Leusink's recording of the complete cantata  and a MIDI file of mvt. 5 by M. Greentree: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Mus/BWV73-Mus.htm
Please note that the link to Leonhardt's recording  is not working.
You can listen to short examples from other recordings through the links to Amazon provided at the Recordings page.
I look forward to reading your comments about this cantata and about the available recordings.
Douglas Cowling wrote (January 10, 2006):
John Pike wrote:
< The opening chorus is a perfect work of art without precedent; Bach combines the tradition of chorale arrangements with the thematically tied concertante movement, integrating the two recitative sections into the thematic structures (here the instruments further develop the themes of the movement). >
I"m curious about the "recitative" markings in the opening chorus: are they in the original score? The movement is concerted and really has to be played a tempo througout. Do any of the the recordings relax the tempo and attempt freer recitative?
Thomas Braatz wrote (January 11, 2006):
[To Douglas Cowling] As you have pointed out a concerted mvt. really has to be played a throughout. Thus it really would not make much sense to attempt in the freer recitative performance style reserved for secco recitatives the recitative sections for this mvt. which are clearly marked as such in the NBA score since Bach has definitely integrated these recitatives seamlessly into this movement with the accompanying instruments literally forcing the solo voices not to deviate from an established tempo whether it be a little slower than the other sections or not. The usual rules for secco recitatives are dispensed with here as these recitative sections in BWV 73/1 are much more like an accompagnato recitative with other treble instruments weaving their parts around the voice. As you probably know, Bach has many recitatives which are part secco and part accompagnato and often the distinction between the two types is not clearly marked since the performers can sense which type it is from the way Bach composed the music (whether only the continuo group is playing or if additional treble instruments are used).
As far as the expressive delivery of these recitative sections is concerned, there are important distinctions and differences to be made between the texts delivered by the various soloists: the first tenor recitative section could be delivered in a rather tentative, hesitant manner in contrast to the following bass recitative which is quite strong and affirmative. The soprano recitative expresses further doubt and uncertainty, but then takes a turn to a strong resolve in regard to accepting one's fate. All
the while the wonderful motif distilled from the opening notes of the chorale but played staccato by the horn: "Herr, wie du willt" continues as an insistent reminder to one's conscience until it becomes a matter of exerting one's strong will in accepting what God has planned (the 3 instances of the motif presented in chordal fashion in the final part of the mvt.).
Indra Hughes wrote (January 11, 2006):
In one of those very odd coincidences, I have just put on Herreweghe's recording (on Virgin)  of this very Cantata, and I come to my email to discover that it is the subject this week! I'm ashamed to say that I have owned this disc for a long time without ever listening to it properly. I'm blown away by this cantata. In particular I love the bass aria ("one of Bach's most imposing", according to the liner notes by Mark Audus) - in the third verse there is a marvellous pizzicato passage depicting the tolling of funeral bells. I strongly recommend this recording - Herreweghe/Collegium Vocale, Virgin Veritas 0 777 7 59237 28 . it obviously comes from Herreweghe's pre-Harmonia Mundi days.
Peter Smaill wrote (January 11, 2006):
BWV 73, "Lord, as You will, so dispose things for me [in living and dying]", sets us a puzzle. What is the hermeneutic purpose of its original i.e. unique structure?
Is it simply a reflection on Christian abandonment to the will of God? The text relates indeed to the Gospel theme of Matthew 8: 1-13, two stories which run on in quick succession; that of the leper who asks that Jesus will make him clean; and at the words, "I will; be thou clean," the leprosy was healed.
In the superb dialogue between the soloist recitatives and chorale of BWV 73/1, the text achieves a duality - the singer speaks for himself, i.e. , the individual Christian; but also stands dramatically in the place of the Gospel figure; e.g.; -
"Und weil du mich erwaehlet,
So sprich ein Trost-und Freudenwort"
("And since you have chosen me
Say a word of comfort and joy")
In this passage, it is the Christian as leper; whereas the general impulse of the text refers to the final passage of the Gospel, the story of the centurion, the avatar (if one can use a Hindu term here!) of the man of faith, which most commentators on this libretto downplay:
(Matthew 8: 13) "Go thy way; and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto the."
Thus the Cantata is a reflection on the role of faith - "Only a Christain, mmersed in God's spirit, learns to immerse himself in God's will" is the linking exegesis. The Christian secures restoration to health/salvation through belief in Jesus and thus trust in God; or, more clearly, through the Holy Trinity, since the concluding chorale makes the interactivity of Father, Son and Holy Ghost explicit.
All agree on the importance of structure to BWV 73; but is it the Trinitarian impulse which causes the three-voices recitative passages of BWV 73/1 and the tripartite Bass aria, BWV 73/4?
One other unresolved speculation on the inspiration for BWV 73/4, "remarkable in that it is unusually outspoken emotionally for a bass aria" (Stephen Daw). The variety of mood and orchestral colour Bach introduces to a repetitive pietistic text is a marvel. As Daw observes, "one wonders if Bach realised that his telling opening vocal phrase was identical to that of Stoelzel's "Bist du bei mir" "(which Anna Magdalena entered into her second album). The original secular text of the love song translates as "When you are by me I flourish happily".
A final reflection triggered by BWV 73 is the fact that it is the first purely Leipzig Cantata for which there is a surviving libretto booklet, that covering the Cantatas from the second Sunday after Epiphany to Annunciation 1724. As Wolff observes, the production of twelve booklets annually implies a high degree if organisation, as he says "apparently printed at the Cantor's expense and then, with the help of the students or his own children, distributed to subscribers and other interested or more affluent citizens." It thus appears that the librettists, whoever they were, would be subject to Bach's influence; for example, Bach must have been able to insist on the preceding Cantata and its text, BWV 155, "Mien Got, we lang, ach Lang," originally a Weimar work, being included when the publication was made, presumably a few days before 9
Apart from the additional labour that Bach would have in achieving the typesetting process and checking of the texts, the question arises, were these booklets in use from the very first at Leipzig? This seems to me unlikely. How could Bach have arrived with his family at the Thomana on 22 May 1723 and produced BWV 75, "Die Elenden sollen Essen," with printed and circulated libretti for this long work, given on 30 May 1730, and also the texts for the following four or five Sundays, the usual contents of a booklet?
It may thus be that the libretti were not circulated or printed till Bach had been in Leipzig for some considerable time and indeed the only firm evidence is that the texts begin to be printed at this point viz. January 1724.
Julian Mincham wrote (January 11, 2006):
Peter Smaill writes:
< One other unresolved speculation on the inspiration for BWV 73/4, "remarkable in that it is unusually outspoken emotionally for a bass aria" (Stephen Daw). The variety of mood and orchestral colour Bach introduces to a repetitive pietistic text is a marvel. As Daw observes, "one wonders if Bach realised that his telling opening vocal phrase was identical to that of Stoelzel's "Bist du bei mir" >
Not only is there this 'apparent' coincidence. Bach very often uses the same sort of motive to express similar thought/feelings and ideas and this is a case in point. The opening bass phrase of four notes has a clearly determined shape--it rises, a fourth, rises again by one note and then falls a third. The second note is dotted.
Not only do we find this motive in Bist du bei mir, but in several other cantata movements. For example, it is the opening, and subsequently dominant motive of both opening choruses of BWV 3 and BWV 109. In each case it repesents a dialogue with the Lord e.g. in BWV 73 , if you, , wills it ----in BWV 109 ,dear lord help me through my doubts in 3 , Lord, how often grief affects me.
Bach makes subtle changes to the motive (major in BWV 109, minor in the others, and with the first note an upbeat or weaker note in BWV 109 and BWV 109---on the beat in 73). But the integrity of the motive remains.
Which gives cause to supposition. Was this an unconscious conicidental process? Or was Bach clearly aware of this (and a number of other motives) which he associated with particular and reoccuring textural ideas and images? And was this then, one way in which, working against time as he certainly was, he stimulated his 'compositional juices' with the basic idea in order to get the new piece under way?
I strongly suspect it was the latter. But in any case is it not a marvel that he could reuse a simple idea time and time again to produce uniquely different movements and consequent musical experiences? All three of these cantata movements are masterpieces.
What this also demonstrates is how fascinating it is, not only to get to know each individual work in its chronolgical context but also to find the clearly existing connections across them. Fifteen months covers the period between the composition of BWV 109, BWV 73 and BWV 3.
Douglas Cowling wrote (January 11, 2006):
Peter Smaill wrote:
< It may thus be that the libretti were not circulated or printed till Bach had been in Leipzig for some considerable time and indeed the only firm evidence is that the texts begin to be printed at this point viz. January 1724. >
This is an interesting question. The production of the libretti was a major task which indicates that Bach was either exceptionally keen that the texts be understood (even though they were sung in the listeners' language) or that they were an irresistible source of income -- perhaps both. I'm assuming that the practice comes from the opera where word-books were published for Italian operas. When did that practice begin?
Thomas Braatz wrote (January 12, 2006):
BWV 73 "Herr, wie du willt, so schick's mit mir": Libretti
Douglas Cowling wrote:
>>The production of the libretti was a major task which indicates that Bach was either exceptionally keen that the texts be understood (even though they were sung in the listeners' language) or that they were an irresistible source of income -- perhaps both. I'm assuming that the practice comes from the opera where word-books were published for Italian operas. When did that practice begin?<<
Yes, it did come from practices surrounding Italian operas c. 1600. A quarter of a century later, the first German opera libretto was printed. Here is an extract from an article by Richard MacNutt (Grove Music Online, Oxford University Press, 2006, acc.2/11/06):
The first libretto for a German opera was for Schütz's "Dafne", to a text by Martin Opitz after Rinuccini, published in 1627. This quarto names both the composer and the librettist and contains a dedicatory poem and a list of characters. Among the earliest Italian operas to be performed in Germany was Antonio Bertali's "L'inganno d'amore" (Regensburg, 1653): Benedetto Ferrari's libretto, printed in Italian, includes a synopsis in German and is embellished with seven engraved scene designs by Giovanni Burnacini, the pioneer of Venetian theatrical machinery. Burnacini's earlier designs for La Gara, text by Alberto Vimina, had also been published in the same manner (Vienna, 1652). This was a libretto of the commemorative type, published after the performance; it included a description of each act and an account of the impression made by the spectacle. Burnacini's son, Ludovico, worked principally in Vienna, where nine librettos between 1661 and 1700 carried engravings of his scene designs, including Cesti's "Il pomo d'oro" and Draghi's "Il fuoco eterno". Viennese 17th-century librettos tended to follow the Italian models and usually named the librettist, composer and machinist but not the singers. German librettos did
not always name even the librettist, and rarely the composer. That for Händel's first opera, "Almira" (published in Hamburg, 1704), gives no names at all but lists in the preliminaries the dances and scenes. The arias are in German and Italian, a German
translation being provided for the latter. Later in the 18th century and early in the 19th the participants are sometimes named in both German and Viennese librettos, and translations into German often given for foreign-language texts."
So much for establishing the origin and tradition of libretti for operas, but what about sacred works in the German pre-Bach tradition? For some composers of cantatas and oratorios the texts survive, but the music does not. Take, for example, Philipp Heinrich Erlebach (1657-1714) who composed 6 yearly cantata cycles]. The article in the Grove Music Online by Bernd Baselt and Dorothea Schröder states: >>Erlebach soon began to specialize as a composer of cantatas. Most of them are lost, but their texts show a logical development from those closely adhering to Gospel passages, through those containing arias and concerto-like textures conceived on soloistic lines, to cantatas based on free texts with recitative and da capo arias, and to solo cantatas with an obbligato instrument. Besides several hundred separate pieces, he wrote, in accordance with Lutheran tradition, six cycles of cantatas for the church's year.<<
It makes sense to consider that only one score and a single set of parts can disappear completely despite every effort made to protect them from catastrophes, while a cantata libretto with a few hundred copies printed and distibuted to various individuals would have a greater prospect for surviving even if only a few copies still exist today.
While some of Erlebach's texts can be traced to specific authors such as Erdmann Neumeister who separately published the texts for cantata cycles in book form, others cannot be traced. These exist only in libretto format similar to the type Bach used.
The MGG1 has references such as the following: There is a collection of these cantata texts in a library in Hannover from the estate of one, Heiliger, in which there are over a hundred cantatas performed by Telemann, G. Benda, and both Grauns. (Many of Telemann's cantatas, for instance, are listed by name in the catalog of his works, but the music is lost. Even a few of Bach's cantatas likewise exist only in libretto format, while the music for them is not extant.)
In another article from the MGG1 (Bärenreiter, 1986), there seems to be a statement which implies that the tradition of preparing and producing printed libretti for the performances of sacred cantatas began (or became firm) toward the end of the 17th century. Such statements are by nature somewhat vague and do not mention the fact that some authors/poets (Neumeister, etc.) published in book form an entire yearly cycle, parts of which were subsequently set to music by various composers. However, there are still various unknown librettists who may have been pastors or deacons not fortunate enough to get some of their isolated (non-cyclical) cantata texts published. These texts, if the music is no longer extant and the author cannot be traced to a published book, will only be found in libretto form and give proof that circa 1700 in Germany such libretti were relatively common, if not even expected. Due to an ongoing tradition, particularly in large city churches in Germany, it may have been one of Bach's duties to provide printed libretti for his cantatas, rather than to consider
these as simply arising from a personal incentive on his part to 'make a little more money on the side' and to ensure that the congregation will be able to understand and contemplate the words as they are being performed.
Scott Sperling wrote (Jan13, 2006):
Text in Cantata 73
The Readings for the 3rd Sunday after Epiphany, for which Cantata BWV 73 was written, are Romans 12: 17-21 and Matthew 8: 1-13. The passage in Matthew recounts the miraculous healing of a leper, and then of a centurion's servant. A congregant, who had perused the Readings, might have expected a Cantata about the miraculous healing power of Jesus. The librettist, however, takes a different tack. The Cantata concerns itself with one phrase (not even an entire sentence or verse) from the Reading in Matthew; specifically, the phrase in Matthew 8: 2, "Herr, wie du willt..." ("Lord, as You will..."). These words were spoken by the leper, who was seeking to have His Lord heal Him. The textual theme of the Cantata is the suffering of the Christian (such as the suffering the leper endured), and the proper attitude that the Christian should have concerning his suffering (exemplified by the leper, namely, "Lord, as You will..."). Miraculous healing is a rare occurrence. Many more of us (might I say, all of us) can benefit from a lesson in the proper attitude for enduring suffering.
It is quite enlightening for the librettist to deal with this aspect of the Reading. We are naturally drawn to the spectacular; thus, in reading the passage in Matthew, we would naturally focus on the miraculous healings. The librettist convinces us that there is more to be drawn from the passage. Namely, we can learn a great deal from the attitude and behavior of the leper, before he was healed. The leper, in the midst of his disease, "worshiped" the Lord. After that, he said, "Lord, if Thou wilt, Thou canst make me clean" (Matthew 8: 2). He did not come to the Lord demanding to be healed; he did not come blaming the Lord for his condition; rather, he accepted his condition as part of the Lord's will, and he asked that his leprosy be taken away, but only if a healing would be in line with the Lord's will.
The 1st Mvt of the Cantata contains three Solos (Tenor, Bass and Soprano), punctuated by the Chorus singing "Herr, wie du willt!" ("Lord, as You will"). The text in each of the solos focuses on one aspect of suffering for the Christian. The Tenor solo focuses on the frequency of suffering: "Ach! aber ach! Wieviel Lasst mich dein Wille leiden!" ("Alas! but alas! How often does Your will let me suffer!"). The text in the Bass solo deals with God's presence during and sovereignty over our suffering: "Du bist mein Helfer, Trost und Hort" ("You are my helper, comforter, and refuge"); and (quoting from Isaiah 42:3), "Das schwache Rohr, nicht gar zerbricht" ("A bruised reed, You shall not break"). The text in the Soprano solo deals with our misunderstanding (as we are experiencing it) the extent and the purpose of our suffering: "Der Segen scheint uns oft ein Fluch; die Zuchtigung ergrimmte Strafe" ("The blessing often seems a curse; discipline seems as harsh punishment"). The Soprano solo also foreshadows the important 4th Mvt Bass aria, which will deal with death: "Die Ruhe, so du in dem Todesschlafe uns einst bestimmt, ein Eingang zu der Holle" ("The rest, which death's sleep is intended to be, seems an entrance into hell").
How perfectly does the text from this Soprano solo get right to the truth of the matter! Have we all not met brothers and sisters who have endured great suffering, and yet, looking back, regret it not? When they experienced the suffering, indeed they cursed it; yet, when they are able to look back on it, they can see the benefits that resulted from the suffering.
The 2nd Mvt Tenor Aria is a prayer by the suffering Christian, that he be able to endure with joy: "Ach senke doch den Geist der Freuden dem Herzen ein!" ("Ah, plant then the spirit of joy within my heart!"). This movement is concerned with the proper attitude when one is living through suffering.
The 3rd and 4th Mvts go beyond this. They deal with the Christian being able to immerse himself in God's will, such that he remain steadfast, even to the death. The 3rd Mvt Bass Recitative begins by expressing the attitude of the natural man: "Ach, unser Wille bleibt verkehrt, bald trotzig, bald verzagt. Des sterbens will er nie gedenken" ("Alas, our will stays fickle, now defiant, now disheartened. Unwilling to consider death"). The Christian must rise above the attitude of the natural man, and strive for the attitude of the leper in Matthew 8. The Recitative continues: "Allein ein Christ, in Gottes Geist gelehrt, lernt sich in Gottes Willen senken, und sagt, 'Herr, so du willt'" ("Only a Christian, guided by God's Spirit, learns how to immerse himself in God's will, and say, 'Lord, as You will'").
This leads into the amazing 4th Mvt Bass Aria, which depicts the death of a Christian, enduring the suffering, because he knows that rest is on the other side: "So schlagt, ihr Leichenglocken, Ich folge unerschrocken, mein Jammer ist nunmehr gestillt" ("So sound, you funeral bells, I follow without fear; my misery is forever calmed").
The 5th Mvt Chorale summarizes: "Das ist des Vaters Wille, der uns erschaffen hat" ("This is the Father's will, who has created us").
Scott Sperling wrote (January 13, 2006):
Cantata 73 - Gardiner, 4th movement
Is not the Gardiner/Varcoe rendering of the Bass Aria  one of the most beautiful things you have ever heard?
Neil Halliday wrote (January 14, 2006):
The 4-note leitmotiv in the opening movement appears to be most effectively carried by the horn rather than the organ; hence my enjoyment of Rilling's recording . Near the end of the opening ritornello, this horn (after a short introductory phrase in 1/8 notes) also plays the melody of the final line of each of the first three chorale sections. It also doubles the soprano line of these chorale sections themselves.
I believe Rilling's ritardando , immediately before each of the recitative sections, is the most satisfying method artistically and textually, because some slight flexibility of the tempo within these accompanied recitatives, in comparison with the `a tempo' of the non-recitative sections, reflects the tension between the recitative texts and the chorale texts.
Note that the 4-note horn motive turns into simply four repeated notes at the end of the movement.
Rilling  had good reason not to record this movement again (in fact only the final chorale of this relatively early recording of BWV 73 (from 1971) was replaced with a 1982 recording). The engineering is excellent, and the soloists, especially soprano Schreiber and tenor Kraus sound young and fresh. Bass Schoene is pleasing as usual. The sound, including the colour of the horn, reminds me of Werner at his best - smooth, flowing and symphonic.
The tenor aria has a 4-note 'turn-shaped' figure that falls or rises in one-step intervals, shared between the voice and the oboe. It's easy to picture the Holy Spirit sinking into the believer's heart. The coloraturas are tuneful and elaborate; that on "zaghaft" is chromatic, and accompanied by the 4 note figure (in its descending form) on the oboe, and concludes with a pause, returning to the 'da capo'.
Rilling  features the colour of the bassoon in the continuo (with harpsichord, not organ), and Kraus's singing is bright and enthusiastic.
The bass recitative and aria form a unit, and the aria proper must be reckoned amongst Bach's most deeply felt arias.
The almost seamless join of the recitative and aria, separated by only a brief pause and initially continuing with the same musicians (ie, continuo and voice), is a magical moment in which the initial statement of "Lord, if you will" sounds as if it belongs to the recitative, with the aria proper beginning with an exquisite figure on the 2nd violins.
There are three important figures in the aria: (a) the four-note (again!) phrase first giby the singer; (b) a wave-like flowing figure that is first heard on the 2nd violins (noted above): and (c) a dotted figure that is a rhythmic diminution of (a), first heard on the 1st violins, at the time the continuo has its first exposition of (b) This 3rd figure (c) is mostly confined to the 1st and 2nd violins. Listening for the varied permutations and combinations of these figures in the voice and instrumental parts is a rewarding experience.
Julian has commented on the use of figure (a) in the opening choruses of BWV 3 and BWV 109; I note this figure here also has a similar musical effect - of world weariness, and acceptance - to the opening phrase of "Come, sweet death" in the Schemelli songbook. Figure (b) is as lovely as the exquisite oboe phrase that first occurs with "Meine Seele harret" in BWV 131/3. There is considerable variety of form in the aria, including the pizzicato section toward the end, that comes to a repose on a restful A flat major chord - whereupon the singer with an unaccompanied phrase returns us to the deeply moving music of the modified `da capo'.
To my ears, Rilling , with his modern strings playing in a 20th century style, captures the glorious, rich string writing in the finest manner possible, ably accompanied by bass Schoene; however, to judge from the admiration that other listeners have expressed for other recordings, we can certainly conclude that this is a beautiful aria when performed by competent ensembles. (Including Gardiner ; but I have the impression that the strings disappear during the second (third) statement of "Lord, if you will" at the start of Gardiner's recording . Fault of the amazon sample?).
Eric Bergerud wrote (January 14, 2006):
As so often happens the "weekly cantata" has paid off with some really interesting listening. I have four copies of BWV 73 so it's safe to say I've heard it. But, for some reason, I hadn't really noticed it. Great ear no doubt. Regardless, this work is interesting in text and includes exceptional Bach.
The libretto is a good example of the slow change taking place in the evangelical faith in the 18th Century. Life is suffering and only the Lord and his Son offer salvation: nobody can accuse Bach of straying from the message. But unlike BWV 60 and some other cantatas where the horror of death for the faithless is pounded through the good Leipziger's skull, BWV 73 has a very different stress. True both death and Hell get a mention. But the real emphasis is on the human condition (suffering). That suffering is something we brought upon ourselves is implicit in any Christian work. Yet it is salvation through the love of God that is gets the emphasis. To someone in the contemporary world this might not seem to be much. It was 300 years ago. The early Protestant faiths all literally stressed "fire and brimstone." (Some of writings by Luther or, even more so, Calvin and Knox are very scary.) The Devil hasn't left Bach's Leipzig but you can see the shift toward love and salvation and away from damnation.
I don't claim to fathom how Bach handled such matters musically. However, it strikes me that some of cantatas, like this one, are "bad news, good news." Certainly the first movement in BWV 73, no matter how lovely, is very somber. The lovely tenor and bass arias are much more affirmative.
I believe you can hear the difference in Leonhardt's wonderful version . (I don't know whether he was nicer or more stern, but he often does seem to get more out of his boys than Harnoncourt.) The trebles are in fine form and Leonhardt modulates the "wie du willt" refrain: toward the end of the first movement it's very restrained, almost like a whisper. All of the soloists I listened to were in good form for this work and Equilz and Egmond were both in fine form. A very impressive performance to my ears.
I'm a JEG fan, but I don't think his group hit quite the right note. Energy is usually Gardiner's strong point, but I think this work especially the first movement, really required a little more restraint. But he charges right through BWV 73 from start to finish . His soloists are fine, but Gardiner prides himself on highlighting young talent: this isn't necessarily good. I didn't anyone was exceptional.
In general I like Leusink's work. BWW 73 was not his finest hour . As sometimes happens Buwalda was too dominant in the chorus (something I never notice with Esswood). Ruth Holton was taking the day off and Marjon Strijk did fine. So did van der Meel and Ramselaar. I just doin't think anything stood out. Good musicians singing lovely music. Pleasing but there are better.
I've been listening to more Koopman lately. I have several of his CDs, but the extraordinary smoothness of his work has sometimes feeling that I was listening to lovely music but not very good Bach. It may be this is because he employs a mezzo instead of a counter tenor. Anway, I found his BWV 73  a mixed proposition. Koopman blitzed through the first movement: not to my liking. But the arias by Agnew and Mertens (particularly Agnew) were both terrific. No small matter in this work.
This is one work that I'd like to hear OVPP. I'd also like to hear Suzuki's rendering. Maybe Naxos will get my $20 yet.
Julian Mincham wrote (January 14, 2006):
Neil Halliday wrote:
< Julian has commented on the use of figure (a) in the opening choruses of BWV 3 and BWV 109; I note this figure here also has a similar musical effect – of world weariness, and acceptance - to the opening phrase of "Come, sweet death" in the Schemelli songbook. >
Thanks for this--I will look it up. I personally find it fascinating, from time to time, to listen to movements with such clearly interconnecting motives out of their contextand as a group. e.g.to hear the choruses of BWV 109, BWV 3 and the bass aria from BWV 73 in one sitting (thanks to modern technology) One seems to come back to each individual work with an increased insight.
< Figure (b) is as lovely as the exquisite oboe phrase that first occurs with "Meine Seele harret" in 131/3. >
Does anyone else feel that thereris usually something special in store when Bach uses one of the oboe family as an obligato instrument? And particularly special when the voice is a male alto?
A bit off the topic but for those who like their listening linked with humour, and have access to the BBC, radio 4 has been broadcasting a fascinating series tucked away on Tuesdays at 11.30 am --- 'all the right notes but not necessarily in the same order'. They have done programmes on Pete Schickele (PDQ Bach---a joy to explore) and Anna Russell (sending up Wagner) Today is the turn of the Comedy Harmonists and next week is the American Spike Jones. If missed they are worth looking out for on repeat--or should be available for a week after broadcast on the BBC website.
Raymond Joly wrote (January 14, 2006):
[To Eric Bergerud] Anyone interested in «the slow change taking place in the evangelical faith in the 18th Century» (Bergerud, see below) should have a look at BWV 204. The poem extols the true Epicurean persuasion, which means giving up all ambitious and acquisitive pursuits, keeping one's lusts in check, and cultivating tranquillity of the soul. That guarantees happiness on earth and allows one to re-enter Eden after the Fall! Anything good derives from God, of course, and union with him is the supreme blessing, but considerations of sin, atonement, the Cross and so on are conspicuously absent. Dorian DOR-90207 has an excellent recording with Labadie's Violons du Roy and Dorothea Röschmann. If I may brag a little, it also boasts a faithful rendition of the text iFrench.
Julian Mincham wrote (January 14, 2006):
Raymond Joly wrote:
< Anyone interested in «the slow change taking place in the evangelical faith in the 18th Century» (Bergerud, see below) should have a look at BWV 204. The poem extols the true Epicurean persuasion, which means giving up all ambitious and acquisitive pursuits, keeping one's lusts in check, and cultivating tranquillity of the soul. That guarantees happiness on earth and allows one to re-enter Eden after the Fall! Anything good derives from God, of course, and union with him is the supreme blessing, but considerations of sin, atonement, the Cross and so on are conspicuously absent. >
I think that this is very interesting and would like to know more from people who are much more knowledgable about C18 Lutheran dogma and faiththan i am.
HOWEVER if I can sound a word of warning, we are not actually comparing like with like. BWV 73 is one of the first cycle church cantatas whilst BWV 204 (an unfairly neglected work in my opinion) is a 'secular' cantata written for some event after Bach had completed three or more of the Leipzig cycles. Bach would have had a different set of constraints for such a composition and I therefore question whether it reveals anything particularly of of either general views of evangelical faith OR Bach's particular attitude towards it. However, I wait to be enlightened.
What comes to me from this discussion is, again, a reminder of Bach's intensively optimistic view of his faith. Certainly he can do tragedy like no other (as joy, ritual and ceremony, nostalgia--you name it) but he never leaves us without hope. Is there any cantata, no matter how depressing the basic theme, that offers no sense of hope or salvation in at least one movement?
However this has been a good excuse to trot out BWV 204 and hear it again. Doesn't it remind one of the Italianate opera of the time? not only the arias (possibly excepting the first one) but also parts of the recits.
Raymond Joly wrote (January 14, 2006):
[To Julian Mincham] Julian Mincham is right, of course. «Ich bin vergnügt» may have been intended for private performance and does not obey the same constraints as one whose function is to drive home the teachings of the Scriptures and the preacher during divine service.
As to Bach's «optimism», well, maybe you might want to use that word to describe a Lutheran's faith. Utterly corrupt as he is and hopelessly unable to extricate himself from sin, God's grace will nevertheless justify him without his doing and bestow salvation upon him. What we read in BWV 204 is very different. Hunold believes in a harmonious universe, a benevolent God and the essential rightness of human nature. Be sensible, be a decent fellow, and you will be happy. Such views made great progress all over Europe in the 18th century, even in the Churches, leading to heated debates: how can you pretend you are a Christian if you have no need of a Redeemer?
Eric Bergerud wrote (January 15, 2006):
[To Julian Mincham] Bach's secular cantatas cover a lot of ground and defy generalization. That said, just because something was not composed for directly for church doesn't mean it lacks religious impulse. "Sheep may safely graze" - justly famous in my view - contains powerful religious symbolism and sums up beautifully the Lutheran ideal of the spiritual importance of a benign secular order. (Whether the prince in question deserved such kind words is another thing.)
I don't want to simplify a very complicated issue. However, the 18th Century was a time of great change in the Protestant faiths. The anti-clerical sentiment found in the late Enlightenment was confined to a very small number and it was usually more anti-Church, often identified with superstition and ignorance, than anti religion. The deism of the kind found so often among the American "Founding Fathers" was a lot more typical of the intellectual circles. But it coexisted with a major reshaping of Protestant thought. Luther's point of departure from Rome dealt with his view that human nature, born of original sin, was so wretched that no one deserved the slightest mercy from God on their own merit. (Hence the irrelevance of good works.) Mother Church kept the devil front and center in its practice, but those following Church doctrine could overcome evil by being a good "child" of the Church. Remove the Church from the equation and things look pretty bleak. Every human soul becomes a battleground where Satan and the Holy Spirit do combat. (The doctrine of predestination which was accepted in a very lukewarm fashion by Luther was always hard to square with the justification of faith. It was an early theological casualty even in the Calvinism and allowed the Calvinists and Lutherans to meld in many North American churches.) In any case, for Luther the devil was very real and so was hell. (And so were witches, demons and many of the beliefs held by the common people long before Christianity.)
By the 18th century the message was shifting from "get on your knees, worthless worm and God may save you from damnation" to "the loving God offers salvation to those who open their hearts to the Holy Spirit and receive his son." In short, God helps the believer transcend death as opposed to God keeps the believer out of eternal hellfire. This does not mean Satan and damnation are out of the picture or that Luther's basic picture of the sorry state of human nature was abolished. Instead, the message becomes more that hellfire is for the wicked - not the "default setting" for humanity. Suffering remains in life (no metaphor in the 18th century - especially to someone who saw ten of his own children put in the grave) but God offers solace here if one seeks it. The text of BWV 204 puts a Lutheran twist on an almost universal religious image: material pleasures are so transitory that they cannot offer those that seek them anything of value - indeed, seeking them might entail spiritual peril. Do note one thing about the BWV 204 libretto though. Earthly contentment comes from contemplation of God (a "satisfied mind" as an old folk song put it). Contemplation, however, does not require an empty stomach. Luther did reject strongly the cult of poverty. Riches remained irrelevant, but the sort of mortification that Luther inflicted on himself when a young monk is also pointless. If none of this seems perfectly consistent, my sympathies because it isn't. In my humble opinion the best place to examine the place of the Protestant faiths in the time of Bach is in the writings of Jonathan Edwards the most famous American before Franklin. One sermon will deliver withering hell fire. Another contemplates the immense and undeserved love that God holds toward man. There are even hints of St. Thomas if you look for it (Edwards was an exceptional naturalist in his spare time.) In any case, by the end of the 18th century, many, perhaps most, Protestants came to define one's relationship with God as related to the degree to which one lived a "Christian life." (This was especially true in America and allowed more or less non-sectarian believers to escape social censure in a society that was still strongly Christian. Someone like Washington was considered the noblest of men despite the fact that his formal Christian credentials were pretty shaky. True he was a church-goer, but in his copious correspondence there are only a handful of references to Christ. "Divine Providence" however appears in every other paragraph. Abraham Lincoln was very much in the same boat.) A noble idea maybe. I'm not sure what Luther would have thought of it though. (In a funny way, religious progress was marching backward. The Victorian emphasis on proper behavior - no bad words, no beer, no bad manners - wouhave struck Luther was foolish and perhaps even dangerous as they signaled the sin of pride. A equation between Christianity and a particular national flag would have been total blasphemy to Luther. You had societies where Christians could pursue salvation and societies where they couldn't. The first were good and second bad. But a Christian nation state in the modern sense would have been incomprehensible.) But that's the point I guess. Luther was the last great mind of Medieval Europe. Bach was composing two centuries later in a world that was on the verge of utter transformation. In his own way, Bach was a man of the Christian Enlightenment.
John Pike wrote (January 15, 2006):
Telemann Cantatas (Was BWV 73 "Herr, wie du willt, so schick's mit mir": Libretti)
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< The MGG1 has references such as the following: There is a collection of these cantata texts in a library in Hannover from the estate of one, Heiliger, in which there are over a hundred cantatas performed by Telemann, G. Benda, and both Grauns. (Many of Telemann's cantatas, for instance, are listed by name in the catalog of his works, but the music is lost. Even a few of Bach's cantatas likewise exist only in libretto format, while the music for them is not extant.) >
I'm wondering whether the music for some of these "lost" Telemann cantatas has now been found. When the Singakademie Archive was rediscovered in Kiev about 6 years ago, I think it included about 200 Telemann cantatas, again I think mostly previously unknown. I know he wrote an extraordinary amount, but 200 cantatas must amount to a fair proportion of his total canata output.
Continue of this part of the discussion, see: Georg Philipp Telemann & Bach [Bach & Other Composers]
John Pike wrote (January 15, 2006):
Julian Mincham wrote:
< Does anyone else feel that thereris usually something special in store when Bach uses one of the oboe family as an obligato instrument? >
Absolutely! And his use of the Oboe d'Amore and Oboe da Caccia in the St Matthew Passion (BWV 244) is particularly stunning.
John Pike wrote (January 15, 2006):
[To Scott Sperling] I just wanted to say how incredibly helpful I find your (and Peter Smaill's) comments on the religious side of Bach's music each week. Not everyone on this list will be interested in the scripture/theology behind the music but I for one am, so thank you.
Julian Mincham wrote (January 15, 2006):
[To John Pike] So am I ------
Craig wrote (January 16, 2006):
[To Julian Mincham] I would also like to add my thanks. I only speak English and Tagalog so your commentary helps me to understand so much more than reading the text in English and listening to the glorious music.
John Pike wrote (January 16, 2006):
I have more recordings of this than most other cantatas. It is a reflection of the great quality of the work, perhaps, that Gardiner  and Herreweghe  released early recordings. The opening chorus and recitative and both the tenor and bass arias are magnificent. I enjoyed Gardiner , Herreweghe , Leonhardt , Suzuki  and Leusink  very much. I agree with one of the correspondents (Julian I think) that Gardiner's account of the Bass aria is particularly fine. Unusually, I could not enjoy the first two movements in Rilling's recording . I found them too slow, sentimental, over-indulgent, "sanitised" and romantic, despite some pleasant string playing. However, the bass aria was very deeply felt, one of the best recordings of this movement, among a group of 6 other very good accounts of that fourth movement.
Scott Sperling wrote (January 18, 2006):
[To John Pike, Julian Mincham & Craig] Thanks for your kind words. I am glad you find my posts valuable. I will try to continue them, but forgive me if I miss a week here and there.
Continue on Part 3
Cantata BWV 73: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements
Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4