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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

Cantata BWV 79
Gott der Herr ist Sonn und Schild
Discussions - Part 1

Discussions in the Week of April 13, 2003

Aryeh Oron wrote (April 15, 2003):
BWV 79 - Introduction

The subject of this week’s discussion (April 13, 2003) is the Cantata BWV 79.

The commentary below, quoted from the liner notes to recording of this cantata by Hans-Joachim Rotzsch (on Leipzig Classics) [8], was written by Christiane Krautscheid.

See: Cantata BWV 79 - Commentary

Recordings

The details of the recordings of this cantata can be found at the following page of the Bach Cantatas Website: Cantata BWV 79 - Recordings

Unlike last week Cantata BWV 72, this cantata has at least 9 complete recordings. Alas, almost half of them have never been issued in CD form: Fritz Lehman (early 1950’s), Karl Richter (1955, before he started his recording enterprise for Archiv), Fritz Werner (1964) [5], Wolfgang Gönnenwein (1967) [6]. Of the 5 available recordings, three are from the complete cantata cycles [Leonhardt (1978) [7], Rilling (1981) [9], and Leusink (2000)] [11]. Both of the remaining two recordings are by Thomaskantors: Günther Ramin (1950) [1] and Hans-Joachim Rotzsch (1981-1982) [8]. To complete the picture, there are 10 recordings of individual movements from this cantata, most of them of the Chorale ‘Nun danket alle Gott’ (Mvt. 3). See: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV79-2.htm

Additional Information

In the page of recordings mentioned above you can also find links to the original German text and various translations, four of which are located at the BCW: English (Francis Browne), French (Jean-Pierre Grivois), Hebrew (Ada Brodski), and Portuguese (Rodrigo Maffei Libonati).
There are also links to the Score (Vocal & Piano version, located at the BCW) and to several commentaries: in English by Simon Crouch (Listener’s Guide), Brian Robins (AMG) and Craig Smith (Emmanuel Music); in Japanese by Nagamiya Tutomu (on her own Website); in Spanish by Julio Sánchez Reyes (CantatasDeBach).

Music Examples

Starting this week I shall try to include some Music Examples to listen to from the recordings of the cantata under discussion. The music examples have some limitations. Firstly, usually they should not exceed the limit of 60 seconds, to cope with the international copyright rules. Secondly, the level is usually inferior to the CD or LP recording. So they are not real substitutes for the actual recordings, but are better than nothing. If you do not have the recording, the Music Example can give you some idea what the reviewers of the cantata under discussion are talking about. If you like the Music Example, it is, of course, recommended purchasing the complete recording.

Music Examples from recordings of Cantata BWV 79 can be found at the page: Cantata BWV 79 - Music Examples

I hope to see many of you participating in the discussion.

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 15, 2003):
[To Aryeh Oron, regarding Music Examples]
A terrific idea, Aryeh. Thanks, and thanks for all the other resources you provide as well!

Thomas Braatz wrote (April 16, 2003):
BWV 79 - Provenance:

See: Cantata BWV 79 - Provenance

Commentary by Dürr:

See: Cantata BWV 79 - Commentary

Neil Halliday wrote (April 17, 2003):
Robertson's description of the first movement of this cantata whets the appetite:

".. the text..inspired Bach to compose music even more thrilling and magnificent than that of the opening chorus of BWV 80, and now....he makes the fullest use of his orchestra.... "the celebration of earthly victories in the cause of national religion" (here he quotes Whittaker) account(s) for this stupendous battle scene....the fanfare-like theme on the horns is accompanied by relentlessly beating drums, vigorous passages for oboes....and continuo, suggesting the tramp of the soldiers....there follows the massive and dramatic entry of the chorus... words are more than usually inadequate to describe the overwhelming effect of this marvellous chorus."

Harnoncort does a good job with his 18th century instruments. (If you have broadband, you can hear CD quality stereo at rhe Zale site - turn up the volume!).

The quality of the Amazon sample (of Rotzsch, 1st movement) [8] is too poor to make a judgement about the modern instruments (Amazon should wake up to themselves - I can't buy the CD on the strength of this sample). Rotzsch's tempo is slightly faster than Harnoncourt's, which is already quite vigorous - I wonder if a slower tempo, on modern instruments, results in an even more magnificent sound? (Harncourt's timing: 5m.02s.)

(This is one of those cantata recordings of Harnoncourt that, even though I am often irritated by some of HIP characteristics and timbres he employs, I can enjoy. The rest of the cantata is also satisfying).

I look forward to Aryeh's, and others' comments regarding those LP recordings not transferred to CD.

Jane Newble wrote (April 17, 2003):
A lot of Bach this week!

The SMP, BWV 79, and of course I had to listen to my beloved Lutheran Missae in G and A Major (BWV 236 and 234), to hear again the way Bach used some movements from the cantata. (Hans-Martin Linde's version of 236 can't be beaten as far as I am concerned).

I have listened to BWV 79 in three versions – Leusink [11], Rilling [9] and Ramin [1].

To put my impressions in a nutshell: Leusink [11] is enthusiastic, Rilling [9] is vigorous, and Ramin spontaneous. Ramin is my favourite [1]. I know it is ancient and all that, but I love the spontaneity and the heart-felt connection with the words.

The first movement I find completely addictive, both in the cantata and the Missa in G.
The third movement is wonderful, in the way Bach has interwoven this stodgy hymn (as a child I hated it) with echoes from the first chorus.
The fifth movement is so jubilant, even though it is a prayer. All through it there is a certainty of the answer: God will never leave those that are His!
The Amen at the end of the last chorale with the timpani banging all through it, is a confirmation of the whole up-beat character of this lovely cantata.

Hugo Saldias wrote (April 17, 2003):
[To Jane Newble] Thanks for these very positive reviews.

EVERYBODY SHOULD LEARN FROM THESE EXAMPLES.

Pieter Pannevis wrote (Aprl 17, 2003):
[To Jane Newble] Great to have you back!

The Mengelberg SMP (BWV 244) Will be on its way to you!

Thanks

And thank you for your nest wishes!

Neil Halliday wrote (April 18, 2003):
Jane Newble wrote (of BWV 72):
"...and Ramin spontaneous. Ramin is my favourite."
[1]
Does anyone know the timing of the 1st movement with Ramin [1]? (Harnoncourt's is 5m.02s.)

I would be interested in knowing the effect of a slower tempo than Harnoncourt's.

Aryeh Oron wrote (April 18, 2003):
In the page of Music Examples from Cantata BWV 79: Cantata BWV 79 - Music Examples I put files in mp3 format from recordings of the opening chorus (Mvt. 1) by Ramin [1], Gönnenwein [6], Rotzsch [8], Rilling [9], and Leusink [11]. In the same page you can also find direct link to the complete recording of the cantata by Leonhardt [7] at David Zale's site. It means that you have now at least 6 recordings of the opening chorus to listen to and to compare.

Having already my personal favourite, I would to read your opinions.

BTW, if a member has any of the other three recordings of this cantata listed in the page of recordings: Cantata BWV 79 - Recordings (or of any recording not listed there) and is willing to contributes Music Example of the magnificent opening Chorus (Mvt. 1), please send it to me (personal address) and I shall gladly add it.

Jane Newble wrote (April 18, 2003):
Neil Halliday asked:
< Does anyone know the timing of the 1st movement with Ramin [1]? (Harnoncourt's is 5m.02s.) >
5.34
It sounds slow after hearing Rilling [9], and I suppose would do so after Harnoncourt.

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 18, 2003):
[To Jane Newble] They ALL seem remarkably too slow to me!

That's according to the first-movement examples at: Cantata BWV 79 - Music Examples
...I couldn't get the Gönnenwein [6] (bad hyperlink), or the Leonhardt [7] (no broadband here). But I got the other four: Ramin [1], Rilling [9], Rotzsch [8], and Leusink [11].

But first, I decided to formulate my opinion the old-fashioned way, which is to analyze the piece myself (and conduct through it and play through it) BEFORE listening to anybody's recording. That is, deriving it from the text and the score, and from knowledge of 17th/18th century tempo schemes and clues.

I went from the usual clues: the meter signature (cut-C or alla breve), the harmonic rhythm (slow, usually changing at half bars), the motion of the choral parts (also basically alla breve), playability/singability of the fastest note values (16ths), intelligibility of the text, and the shapes of the musical gestures. The natural speaking pace of the words (apart from the music) is also a useful clue. All these factors argue for a clear feeling of this piece "in 2" rather than "in 4." And, assuming a moderately reverberant room, the basic tempo I came up with clocks in at just under 4 minutes, when I conducted through the movement.

Yes, ideally (for me) it's under 4'00"! (I could be persuaded to let it be a little slower than that, if in an especially resonant building or with players/singers who are being too concerned with notes instead of gestures, but still, pretty close to 4 minutes--the most important part being to keep it feeling "in 2" instead of "in 4".) It especially should keep flowing along for the choral parts: most of the time they are in minims and crotchets, while the orchestra scurries along in faster values underneath...it's crucial to keep those choral parts sounding like melodic lines themselves rather than like block chords accompanying the orchestra. So, again, a moderate 2 beats to the bar.

I believe it's valuable (personally, as a listener) to decide what I expect BEFORE I check out the available options; otherwise I'm merely at the mercy of other people's interpretive ideas, or at the mercy of availability. Why should an interpretive opinion be formed based on what the conductors A, B, C... did on a recording, and merely picking one that seems "best" by some nebulous "uh, I liked it" criterion?! Better to learn the piece first, if possible, and then listen to recordings.

=====

So, after that analysis, I listened to the four recordings noted above, and indeed they all seem really slow to me: lacking flow. The choral parts, especially, seem sluggish when the tempo is too slow. Not only from absolute tempo (and I see from Neil's note above that Leonhardt [7] also takes longer than 5 minutes), but from losing the sense of 2 easily flowing beats per bar.

Rotzsch [8] did the best at keeping it 2-ish. But I wish his organist would lift that right hand off the keys, and take at least the top half out of his registration--those unnecessary sustained chords in there get really annoying, as the slow harmonic rhythm is already clear from the whole texture, without being additionally sustained in the organ! Squeeeeel! Squeeeeeeel! Squeeeeeeeeeeeeeeel! That effect in there, to me, is like a ringing in the ears: tiring, headache-inducing. Who wants that? :)

Rilling [9] has his orchestra play all notes at approximately half their value, consistently. That's good for clarity but bad for Affekt. It's just a bunch of notes going along poke-poke-poke-poke-poke, with little direction, little sense of their melodic functions! And what's the point of that awfully polite tympani in there?! Bong-bong-bong-bong-bong, all short, all the same, annoying. With this approach, the music sounds generic and aimless. Despite the presence of a text, it doesn't seem to be about anything.

Leusink's performance [11] seems to need a shot of adrenaline...not so much to make it go faster, as to make the long-range direction clearer. I wish they'd let the music carry them away more. It's sort of like hearing Rilling [9], but on period instruments: the same thing is missing here. It's too polite and under-characterized. And those boy trebles in the choir guess at so many of their notes without quite finding them...<cringe>.

In all three of those performances, I got the impression that everybody was being too cautious with this movement (get all those little notes in place, carefully) instead of letting it speak with stronger gestures. Careful precision for the permanent record, instead of letting the music roll more naturally, emitting its own energy. (What's the point of permanently preserving an event that wasn't energetic enough to merit preservation? That's why an overly "note-cautious" approach to anything is wrong!)

Overall I thought Ramin [1] did the best with getting the Affekt right: big, crankin', glorious, blazing sunlight, overpowering. And he achieved this by being so slow that it turns into a powerful, clear 4 to the bar, and he articulated it with an exciting energy. (Right Affekt or character, wrong level of emphasis!) The Affekt is the most important part...even if nobody in these recordings got it at the right level (IMO), at least in Ramin's performance it's there strongly. If the Affekt is right, the music is thrilling...as it is here.

So, yes. In this case I'm most fond of the slowest performance...not because it's slow, but because has the strongest projection of character within the tempo that was chosen.

=====

Now, when is somebody going to record this movement in a better tempo? A faster-flowing 2 will seem slower than Ramin [1], but the half-bar motion will be so much clearer. And the winds and drums in there will be even more exciting, more forward-driving to the cadences instead of merely marking time. And the choral parts will move along naturally, closer to speech tempo, instead of seeming slow. And the whole performance will crackle with energy, because there won't be the opportunity to be so #*&%#* cautious with the fast notes; they have to be recognized as gestures, exciting sweeps, not articulated so carefully as individual notes.

Imagine a grand procession in a large palace or church, with bright morning sunlight streaming through the windows, a triumphant celebration of God's strength. The participants step along the path in a firm and buoyant 2, carrying banners. The singers and players give it all they've got, concentrating on the big glorious effect, the occasion. (I tried walwith Ramin's performance [1], but because he emphasizes the 4 beats per bar so strongly, its pulse at that level is too fast for such a grand procession--too much like a brisk march with little steps!)

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 18, 2003):
Addendum -- Gönnenwein [6] (the web site is now working for that sample):

It's sort of "in 2" but (IMO) too gentle and wishy-washy about it. Nice flow, anyway. Too much organ squealing, like Rotzsch's [8]. A more natural-sounding (varied) articulation than Rilling's [9], and a stronger choir than Leusink's [11]. Decent overall drive, in a slowly-building manner...that is, the performance gradually accumulates momentum, instead of making immediate and more forceful effects. I like that momentum, but want to hear the firmer (grander) strut of the bars and half-bars also. The sound is a bit congested (from LP rather than CD), but if this performance were to be issued on CD I'd consider picking it up: not bad, all around. (Despite being too slow! <grin>)

Somehow combine the spirit of Ramin's [1], the more natural flow of Gönnenwein's [6], speed up the tempo, give the whole thing more accentuation, lighten up the organist's registration, make the choral texture more lucid, and switch it to period instruments (including a lower pitch standard of approximately half a step)...that's what I would like to hear.

Bart Stolzel wrote (April 18, 2003):
Here goes with my first contribution.

The only recording I possess is that by Rilling [9]. I enjoy it and yet, when I read what Alec Robertson wrote about the opening chorus (Mvt. 1), I felt that probably there could be a better performance, and that it would be a bit slower.

Listening to the excerpts put up by Aryeh (brilliant service BTW, thank you very much), I found the Gönnenwein version [6] seemed exactly right in tempo (5:16 against Rilling 4:56) [9] timbre and everything to convey the majesty and joy of the music.(I've got his 32/39 LP. I wish they'd come out on CD.)

Ramin (5:34) [1] I found rather boring.
I enjoyed the Leonhardt (5:02) [7], which seemed a fine example of the virtues of HIP - though, in this piece, to my taste, more a refreshing occasional alternative to a performance like Gönnenwein's [6]; not a one and only choice.
Leusink's performance [11] sounds amateurish in comparison with Leonhardt's.

But Leonhardt's [7] third movement! It sounds like a choir of robots. Is this a characteristic of the Harnoncourt/Leonhardt series?

Thomas Braatz wrote (April 19, 2003):
BWV 79 - Commentaries: [Spitta, Voigt, Schweitzer, Smend, Gisela & Joszef Csiba]

See: Cantata BWV 79 - Commentary

Neil Halliday wrote (April 19, 2003):
[To Aryeh Oron] Thanks for these examples, Aryeh.

After listening to them all, I have concluded that the most successful performances (of the opening movement (Mvt. 1)) are those that emphasize the forceful, energetic nature of the score, and that my original question about whether a slower tempo results in a more magnificent sound (than Harnoncourt's) misses the point.

(This music is not magnificent in the sense of say, the Sanctus from the B minor Mass (BWV 232), or dramatic in the sense the opening chorus of the SJP (BWV 245); but rather the elements of force and vigour are uppermost, and need to be expressed here.)

This explains why my preferred choices include the slowest (Ramin [1]), the fastest (Rotzsch) [8], and the intermediate (Harnoncourt, surprisingly, for me) - these three performances have lots of energy, force and enthusiasm, especially the Ramin.

Some downsides to these recordings: Ramin's recording [1] is, of course, spoilt by the poor recording facilities he had available, while Rotzsch's performnce [8] is un-necessarily 'coloured' by an organ stop which can be heard throughout.

In the Harnoncourt, what I would normally regard as a negative - those strange sounding horns - seem to 'work' in this boisterous music.

(An aside on the organ in Rotzsch: [8], my view is that the 'king of instruments' is most successful as a solo instrument and in any case should not be used in music such as this. Notice that the Poulenc and Händel organ concertos mainly consist of alternating passages for the organ, and then the orchestra; the composers do not attempt to combine the two. Another consideration: some passable performances of the Messiah, where perhaps the local choir can't afford an orchestra, consist of only choir and organ.)

Regarding the other three recordings: Gönnenwein's [6] orchestra sounds distant, and he seems afraid to give the timpani rein. This is not music where quiet drums are required.

Both Rilling [9] and Leusink [11] seem too 'gentle' in their approach; notice the restrained 'tapping' of the drum in the former, and despite a promising beginning with the horns and timpani, Leusink displays in the next few bars that characteristic 'chaste' period violin sound (2nd violin, I think) with the < and > on each note, which I dislike, and which in this case makes the orchestra sound small. Things improve when the choir starts singing, but the overall impression I get is one of lack of sufficient numbers to project the necessary force. Rilling's choir [9] has that distinctive sound of individual voices with vibrato that can be heard, which I perceive as a negative, although in this boisterous music, this may not be of concern to some.

Something I noticed when listening to these recordings: as you become involved with one of them, the different tempo adopted in another can take time to adjust to - eg, Harnoncourt sounds slow after listening to Rotzsch [8], but that initial impression soon disappears after further listening.

Final judgement, Ramin [1]. Pity about the recording standard.

Neil Halliday wrote (April 19, 2003):
[To Bradley Lehman] Interesting, Brad.

I came in at Aryeh's message no.4603, (after being asleep on this side of the world!) and decided to reply, without reading the following messages, which had progressed, at that stage, up to 4613.)

I am surprised to see the basic congruence of our ideas, even down to what you called the congested sound (= "distant" orchestral sound?) in Gonnerwein. (You were not able to comment on Harnoncourt).

Our point of disagreement is over this idea of 2/2 versus 4/4.

I don't understand what you mean by having to take "little fast steps" with Ramin [1]. On the contrary, I find if I take long strides to the Ramin, in 4/4 time, (Bach's time signature) the effect is quite empowering. (We are talking 2 drum beats (of a quaver each) equals one step equals one crotchet of the 4 beats in the bar, are we not?)

It seems to me you have constructed an idea, based on the appearance of minims in the choral writing, that this piece should sound as if it is in 2/2 time (I don't follow you here - the piece, according to Bach, is in 4/4 time, and the semiquaver figures, in any of these recordings, are fast enough to create a vigorous effect in the music.) Rotzsch [8], who we both find impressive, already takes it at a brisk march; any faster,and one would surely be on the verge of those little fast steps you find yourself taking with Ramin [1]. You must be regarding a "pulse" as a quaver ,in the Ramin, (and all the others?) whereas I regard a pulse as a crotchet.

In conclusion, Ramin [1] most gives the effect of a powerful army striding out with long steps; the faster the tempo, the more brisk the march, and the shorter the stride (which I agree can also be effective , provided the energy and vigour of the music is maintained, and the army doesn't start to run!).

Philippe Bareille wrote (April 19, 2003):
Neil Halliday wrote:
< Something I noticed when listening to these recordings: as you become involved with one of them, the different tempo adopted in another can take time to adjust to - eg, Harnoncourt sounds slow after listening to Rotzsch [8], but that initial impression soon disappears after further listening >
It is not Harnoncourt who recorded the BWV 79 but Leonhardt [7]. Many in this group want to lump them together (usually to deride them) but, despite having a lot in common, their approach and personality are very different and are easily distinguishable.

Neil Halliday wrote (April 19, 2003):
[To Philippe Bareille] Thankyou for bringing to my attention the fact that Leonhardt [7] is not Harnoncourt!. (Sorry, I was forgetting that not all the examples on the Zale site are Harnoncourt's recordings, though most are.)

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 19, 2003):
Neil Halliday wrote:
< Our point of disagreement is over this idea of 2/2 versus 4/4.
I don't understand what you mean by having to take "little fast steps" with Ramin
[1]. On the contrary, I find if I take long strides to the Ramin, in 4/4 time, (Bach's time signature) the effect is quite empowering. (We are talking 2 drum beats (of a quaver each) equals one step equals one crotchet of the 4 beats in the bar, are we not?)
It seems to me you have constructed an idea, based on the appearance of minims in the choral writing, that this piece should sound as if it is in 2/2 time (I don't follow you here - the piece, according to Bach, is in 4/4 time, and the semiquaver figures, in any of these recordings, are fast enough to create a vigorous effect in the music.) >
As I said yesterday, it's in 2/2 according to BACH, not according to me.

The meter signature is cut-C (alla breve, or 2/2). That's confirmed, as I said, by the "harmonic rhythm" (the speed of harmonic changes, usually at the half bar here, not at quarter bars); and by the style of the choral writing. And see also the motion of the continuo line over the first 16 bars...very clearly he's setting up a half-bar pulse here in the first 12, and then see the syncopation in bar 15: it's not a syncopation at all if it's being conducted in 4/4!

You're free to take up this disagreement with Bach.... :)

Alex Riedlmayer wrote (April 19, 2003):
< As I said yesterday, it's in 2/2 according to BACH, not according to me. The meter signature is cut-C (alla breve, or 2/2). >
So are the opening movements of the concertos in D minor (BWV 1052 & BWV 1043) and E(D) major (BWV 1042 & BWV 1054). The unfinished final Fugue (of BWV 1080) is not in cut time, but, unlike the other works I mentioned, is according to BACH. ;-)

< That's confirmed, as I said, by the "harmonic rhythm" (the speed of harmonic changes, usually at the half bar here, not at quarter bars); >
You have said so (Matt. 26:25).

< And see also the motion of the continuo line over the first 16 bars...very clearly he's setting up a half-bar pulse here in the first 12, and then see the syncopation in bar 15: it's not a syncopation at all if it's being conducted in 4/4!

You're free to take up this disagreement with Bach.... :) >
"...all who claim to speak directly for the composer are in fact asserting their own authority..." (Richard Taruskin, "Tradition and Authority")

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 19, 2003):
<< As I said yesterday, it's in 2/2 according to BACH, not according to me.The meter signature is cut-C (alla breve, or 2/2). >>
< So are the opening movements of the concertos in D minor (BWV 1052 & 1043) and E(D) major (BWV 1042 & 1054). The unfinished final Fugue (of BWV 1080) is not in cut time, but, unlike the other works I mentioned, is according to BACH. ;-) >
Oh, good. Now you are talking about pieces I have performed, and therefore which I know more intimately than I know the cantata 79. Let me apply my feeble performer's brain in response:

In those concertos, the harmonic rhythm agrees with the meter signature of cut-C. (Just as it does here in cantata 79.) Your point is?

In the "unfinished" Cp of 1080, the meter indeed is cut-C in the autograph MS, and was then changed to C by someone in the (posthumous) print. In dealing with this, editorial practice in scholarly modern editions varies. Hermann Diener (Baerenreiter) keeps the C and shows us the incipit with the cut-C from the MS. Davitt Moroney (Henle) and Peter Williams (Eulenburg) both restore the cut-C into the main reading, and mention the C in their critical reports. I also checked Wolff's edition some years ago but don't have it handy at the moment; I don't remember what he does here. (But IIRC, he keeps the signature as in the print, because his edition (Peters) is two separate books: one for the MS, one for the print.) Personally, I side with Williams and Moroney in using the cut-C from the MS, since it's in Bach's own hand and (necessarily) originated within his own lifetime, for sure; it's not known who put the C into the print (maybe JSB, maybe CPE or somebody else).

That MS evidence plus (again) the harmonic rhythm....

Again, your point in bringing up these examples is what? Is it something about Bach perhaps not understanding the meter signatures in his scores? Please elaborate.

<< That's confirmed, as I said, by the "harmonic rhythm" (the speed of harmonic changes, usually at the half bar here, not at quarter bars); >>
< You have said so (Matt. 26:25). >
I said so, but Neil seemed not to notice it, so I said it again. It was true the first time, and it's also true the second time. Your objection is...what?

<< And see also the motion of the continuo line over the first 16 bars...very clearly he's setting up a half-bar pulse here in the first 12, and then see the syncopation in bar 15: it's not a syncopation at all if it's being conducted in 4/4! You're free to take up this disagreement with Bach.... :) >>
< "...all who claim to speak directly for the composer are in fact asserting their own authority..." (Richard Taruskin, "Tradition and Authority") >
Oh good, now you're quoting from one of my own favorite books, and an essay that I (coincidentally) reread just a few days ago. I especially liked his example in there about the Prokofiev gavotte: where he listened to Prokofiev's own recording of it, and incorporated Prokofiev's unwritten nuances into his own playing. And then (incredibly) his piano teacher told him he was wrong to do so, and that Prokofiev (as pianist) was also wrong!

Aw, crap! Now I said "harmonic rhythm" too many times in the same posting, citing it as evidence, and now you're going to sic Taruskin's phrase "Cheating at Telephone" on me! Dang!

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 19, 2003):
<<< As I said yesterday, it's in 2/2 according to BACH, not according to me. The meter signature is cut-C (alla breve, or 2/2). >>>
<< So are the opening movements of the concertos in D minor (BWV 1052 & 1043) and E(D) major (BWV 1042 & 1054). The unfinished final Fugue (of BWV 1080) is not in cut time, but, unlike the other works I mentioned, is according to BACH. ;-) >>
< In those concertos, the harmonic rhythm agrees with the meter signature of cut-C. (Just as it does here in cantata 79.) Your point is? >
Incidentally, Alex, in case you're planning to use BWV 1043 further here: note that in the later version of this (C minor, for two harpsichords, BWV 1062) tmeter has been changed to C. C indeed agrees with the harmonic rhythm (changing at quarter-bars) better than cut-C did.

And that's as I was saying, which can be summarized:

- BWV 1052, cut-C, harmony changes at half bars
BWV 1043 (as clarified later in 1062), C, harmony changes at quarter bars
BWV 1042/1054, cut-C, harmony changes at half bars
BWV 1080-19, cut-C (in the MS), harmony changes at half bars....and the C in the posthumous print is not necessarily by Bach - 79, cut-C, harmony changes at half bars

In all five of these, it appears that Bach did know what he was doing in choosing a meter signature that agrees with harmonic motion.

=====

And here's a useful structure of nomenclature from the book Dance and the Music of J S Bach by Meredith Little and Natalie Jenne. They come to questions of meter from the field of dance:

- "beat" (normally the denominator of the meter signature)

- "pulse" (duple or triple subdivision within the beat, and "the lowest level that can be syncopated. This fact is useful in determining the level of the beat, since syncopations do not appear in the tap level. In addition, the pulse is the lowest level of metric significance in which units may be replaced by a dotted rhythm.")

- "tap" (a subdivision of pulse, and "the smallest unit that can make an essential contribution to the perceivable rhythmic hierarchy. Subdivisions of taps are not of rhythmic significance but are ornaments or melodic flourishes which are not 'counted' or 'measured' by the listener. The tap is the lowest level that can be consistently dotted, and it is the normal level for notes inegales in Baroque dance music. It is also the lowest level that can be articulated. The articulation patterns given in manuals which describe the bowing, tonguing, or fingering of Baroque instrumental music never use a level lower than the tap.")

Applying this to the opening movement (Mvt. 1) of BWV 79, let's see what we get:

Are there minims? Yes, as the main speed of the chorus' words. (And it's not at all surprising that the words move at the same speed as the beat!)

Are there crotchets? Yes, as a frequent subdivision in the chorus parts, and sometimes syncopated.

Are there dotted or syncopated quavers anywhere in the movement? Yes, but only at one exceptional place: bar 101 (in melismas in the bass and tenor), that middle section that contrasts with the rest of the movement (see below). Usually the quavers here flow in regular groups of four.

Are there any semiquavers? Yes, plenty, but they are flourishes: scales, passing tones, and other decoration moving almost always by step.

And that all agrees with the meter signature of cut-C. The minim is the beat, the crotchet is the pulse, the quaver is the tap, and the semiquavers are a subdivision of the tap.

Note that I've shown the same thing here (i.e., that Bach was correct in using cut-C) directly from the rhythmic aspects of the music, without arguing from the harmonic rhythm. :)

Something else interesting here: although the beginning and end of the piece are clearly in cut-C as shown here, the middle section from "Er wird kein Gutes mangeln..." forward is more ambiguous. ("The Lord does not withhold good things from the righteous.") The metric analysis and harmonic-motion analysis of this section both suggest that this part is in C meter, as contrast. Then when Bach reprises the opening text, "Gott, der Herr, ist Sonn' und Schild" he's back to the cut-C motion again.

Bach knew his business. Start the movement with a beat in 2, let it go to 4 for the brief contrasting middle section (and different text), and then back to 2 for the big finish.

=====

That "unfinished" Contrapunctus 19 of the KdF, BWV 1080, is a clearer example here of these same terms. With a meter of cut-C, the beat is the minim, the pulse is the crotchet, and the tap is the quaver; and (exactly as in the piece) the few semiquavers are merely ornamental. In contrast, pick a movement from the KdF that is in C meter: Contrapunctus 7. Sure enough, all those semiquavers are the tap, the often-dotted quavers are the pulse, and the crotchets (also sometimes dotted here) are the beat.

Alex Riedmayer wrote (April 20, 2003):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< Something else interesting here: although the beginning and end of the piece are clearly in cut-C as shown here, the middle section from "Er wird kein Gutes mangeln..." forward is more ambiguous. ("The Lord does not withhold good things from the righteous.") The metric analysis and harmonic-motion analysis of this section both suggest that this part is in C meter, as contrast. >
This metrical change, however, is not indicated in the score; how do you know that it was Bach's doing? It is not just "something else interesting": your rhythmic analysis only applied to part of the movement.

Another point: even though the first movement of BWV 79 marks cut time, the third movement is in regular C, even though "Nun danket alle Gott" progresses only in half notes. The fifth movement also is C, though the harmonic changes appear to be at half-bar intervals at most frequent.

< Bach knew his business. >
On the contrary: you know Bach's business, but seek to give your view a spurious authority.

Neil Halliday wrote (April 20, 2003):
[To Bradley Lehman] What I have gathered from the discussion so far is that the tempo one chooses is related to the imagery one wishes to create in performance of the music.

Using the marching army imagery, I would go with the range of tempos in the examples given (from slowest to fastest - Ramin [1] to Rotzsch) [8], using the crotchet as the beat. This is the imagery I prefer.

But with your processional imagery, ie, of church dignitaries in their splendid robes pacing down the nave in a stately, steady fashion, these tempos are indeed all too SLOW (paradoxically, it seemed to me, until I understood the import of the 2/2 metre - anyone else confused?).

The question then becomes: would all those semiquavers in the orchestral score, at this fast tempo, carry sufficient argument? (that is, at a tempo which is fast enough to allow a 'steady' step - somewhat slower than a slow march - with the minim as the beat).

Thomas Braatz wrote (April 20, 2003):
BWV 79 - Review of the Recordings

This week I listened to the following recordings:

Ramin (1950) [1]; Gönnenwein (1967 - Mvt. 1 only) [6]; Leonhardt (1978) [7]; Rotzsch (1981-2) [8]; Rilling (1981) [9]; Leusink (2000) [11]

Mvt. 1:

Ramin [1]: Somewhat slower than most versions (and despite the horrid recording conditions, this recording has captured some of the enthusiastic spontaneity that befits a very festive occasion. The energy and intensity of commitment to the music is quite noticeable and unhampered by the poor audio quality.

Gönnenwein [6]: Also with a very deliberate pace, this performance features a mixed choir not overladen with vibratos as one would find in Rilling’s choir. Here the numerous voices on each part (this is probably the largest choir in all of the recordings that I listened to) merge into a steady (little vibrato), but somewhat less energetic sound which is characterized by its extreme legato. The basses and tenors are a little weak at times. The orchestra also has a greater number of players that of other recordings. Particularly the oboes stand out with their parts which are always evident throughout. In contrast the strings are so weak that the important motif (ms. 46-49, 64-67, and 130-131) is lost entirely. Although quite festive and performed with some intensity, this rendition still lacks the ambient sparkle that Ramin brings to this mvt.

Rotzsch [8]: Once again we hear the clear souof Thomanerchor here, and when compared to Ramin’s recording with the same group, it is only slightly less effective in creating the festive atmosphere required in this mvt. but the sound is still quite wonderful. The fugal entries are cleanly delineated in the ritornello, but when the choir enters, the major motif which runs simultaneously, at first in the upper strings and then in the oboes, disappears almost entirely. This is a balance problem that should have been corrected. Güttler and Stiefel on the ‘soprano’ horns use a noticeable vibrato in the French style, thus distracting from the ‘straight’ sound that is required here. Unforgivable is the registration of the organ playing the continuo part. This is just as bad as Richter’s organist (in the cantatas) who duplicates all the vocal parts with screeching 4’, 2’ and mixture stops. I wonder how this ‘awful’ tradition ever got started and why it appears to be associated with those who were members of the Thomanerchor tradition.

Rilling [9]: Here Rilling, somewhat uncharacteristically and in stark contrast to the meaning of the text, has the orchestra adopt a light staccato style which emasculates the powerful statement that should be made here. He pulls back the dynamics to piano at times. When the choir enters, the important repeated-note motifs in the strings and then oboes simply ‘go under.’ Rilling has lost complete control of balance between the parts (his usual forte) and his variations in dynamics (mainly cutting back) only serve to undermine any sense of conviction that should be conveyed. Listen to the awful sopranos with their uncontrolled vibratos! Rilling lived with the sounds made by these sopranos throughout almost the entire cantata series. This is almost like a choir director in a church who will have to put up with certain voices because they are volunteers and because there is no easy way to ‘fire’ them and replace them with better voices because none are available. Whatever happened to auditions as a method for gleaning out such objectionable voices? Does any one know why this situation with Rilling obtained for such a long time and could not be remedied?

Leonhardt [7]: The members of the Hannover Boys’ Choir and the Collegium Vocale, Gent are unable to muster sufficient strength to sustain a full-bodied choral sound. It does not help when Leonhardt has them adopt a method of singing where sustained notes are allowed to ‘die out’ prematurely. When this occurs, it creates a sense of expiring which is easily interpreted as a lack of energy, a lack of interest in the music being sung. It certainly removes any sense of confidence in one’s faith that this mvt. should be expressing. This is an entirely unnatural manner of singing which is foisted upon these voices in the name of ‘historical accuracy’ by well-meaning but misguided musicians who have forgotten the words of Mattheson (1739): "Was dem Gehör gefällt, ist gut."("Whatever is pleasing to the ear is automatically good in quality. = If it sounds good, it is good." The 'corni naturale,' played by Ab Koster, Jos Konings (Jörg Zwolling,) have only a few intonation problems in this mvt. and definitely add something to the necessary festive character of this piece. When the choir enters for the 1st time (compared to the Thomanerchor this combined choir is more of an understatement characterized by weakness in volume in certain parts), the squeaky violins are not audible on their repeated-note motif and the oboes, a few measures later, do not fare much better. What has happened to the highly-vaunted transparency of all the parts in a period performance? Perhaps this is proof that Bach did use more than a single player per part or am I supposed to believe that all ten string players listed as violinists and violists in the Leonhardt Consort were playing at the same time and could not be heard (ms. 46 ff.) playing a major motif? Certainly Bach would not have written these parts if they could not be heard by an audience. Is this motif to be considered simply an imaginary gesture or an attempt at an impressionistic effect, where it is deemed sufficient, if you get the feeling that the notes are probably being played, and that a diffuse romantic ‘brush-stroke’ is being applied by the conductor who believes this is the best way revitalize Bach’s music in this day and age?

Leusink [11]: With the timpani too loud, in contrast to the weak oboes and strings and lack conviction as the instruments play a light staccato throughout, there is no way that this rendition can inspire the necessary confidence referred to in the text. The motif in the strings ms. 46-49 is completely lost when the choir, with its ‘chirping,’ unsteady voices, enters and ‘steals the show.’

The Alto Aria (Mvt. 2):

The most successful version is that sung by Hamari (Rilling) [9] and incorporates the later obbligato flute part. It is sprightly and the joyful interpretation is captivating and provides a wonderful contrast to the powerful surrounding mvts. For a performance with the original oboe part included, the listener can choose from the remaining versions. The Ramin version [1] is rather ponderous although sung quite affirmatively by a boy alto. In the Rotzsch version [8] the oboe part flows more evenly and Wenkel, with a rather slow and wide vibrato, gives a satisfactory performance of this aria. Leonhardt’s [7] period instrument oboe obbligato part matches well with Esswood’s voice. Something strange in his voice happens on the jump in “Lästerhund” where he seems to be trying for expressive interpretation here which does not succeed very well and there are other textual changes here that Leonhardt could not have known about since the NBA for this cantata was published in 1987 years after this recording had been made. Buwalda’s (Leusink) [11] version is the weakest of all the interpretations. It lacks strength, character, and engagement on the part of the performers, which makes this sound more like this a ‘reading’ without much preparation. Preferences here: Hamari and for a HIP version: Esswood.

The Aria-Duet (Mvt. 5):

Leusink (Holton, Ramselaar) [11] gives us a very unconvincing rendition of this mvt. by having voices and strings alike lightly tap at all the notes. At least Leonhardt provides a little more bite to the obbligato strings, although they lack power because of the extreme staccato that they use throughout. Both Bratschke and van Egmond [7] give a clear but rather unenthusiastic performance which lacks energy and commitment. Ramin [1] has the soprano and bass sections sing the solo parts (an interesting experiment,) and the effect is certainly one of power but also of heaviness. Here the obbligato strings express the battle theme very well. Of the two versions including Augér, the combination with the bass, Adam (Rotzsch,) [8] is better than that with Huttenlocher (Rilling) [9] who almost always disappoints because of his disingenuous manner of singing. If only the strings were more energetic in their playing of the battle motif in the Rotzsch version [8]!

The Chorales (Mvt. 3 & Mvt. 6):

The singing of the chorales is meant to be an affirmation of faith. Although the members of the congregation did not sing along with the choir during the performance of a cantata, they participated vicariously whenever these cantata-chorales were presented as part of the church service. The listeners could do this because they either had a printed text of the chorale from the cantata before them, or they might have a hymnal in which the text and melody weregiven, or, most likely, they had committed all the important chorales to memory (with even as many verses as 15 or more.)

What type of chorale singing would congregational members expect to hear from Bach’s choir? Certainly not a version with a stop after almost every syllable of each word as performed by Leonhardt [7] with the horns hitting wrong notes and struggling to play in tune. Nor would it sound like Leusink’s version [11] with seemingly muted horns poking at the notes and calling undue attention to themselves as also the timpani do (at least the choir sings a more sustained legato, albeit with their usual unsteady voices in the upper parts (soprano, alto.) In the Rilling version [9], the chorale notes are more evenly sustained more like the Leusink version [11] and the horns play faultlessly (on modern instruments.) Curiously, these versions, even with their sustained sounds in the choir and more professional playing of the horns, still lack a truly festive spirit and strong feeling of conviction. This may be partially due to the vibratos used by the professional singers in Rilling’s choir. The use of vibratos has the effect of undermining the solid sound that a choir should have. With the Thomanerchor such a solid, festive sound is provided, but Ramin’s [1] slower tempi in both mvts. diminish the powerful effect that they should have. The Rotzsch version [8] (without the terrible organ realization) is the most fulfilling because of the energetic, clear and sustained legato sound produced by this all-male (boys and young men) choir. The effect is uplifting and infectious at the same time. The congregation finds confirmation of its faith in the words as well as in the manner in which these words are sung.

Hugo Saldias wrote (April 20, 2003):
[To Thomas Braatz] Leipzig tradition of the organ continuo:

Rotzsch [8] was a Thomaskantor a position of respect in Germany and overseas specially when Bach music is concerned. If this high professional musician did this don't you think there was a reason? Professor Karl Richter learned in Leipzig for Straube (Thomaskantor) and from Ramin [1] (also Thomaskantor). Don't you think there must be a reason for all this?

This reminds me of a remark (that I will later on quote to you form Herbert von Karajan) regarding his interpretation of the SF (sforzandi) in Beethoven...

I suggest two things:
Attend the music seminar given by the actual Thomaskantor Herr Christoph Biller in Leipzig this summer (I can pass you more information if requested).
Second when the position of Thomaskantor becomes vacant APPLY !!

With all your high information and musicology may be able to get the job.

Remember only high qualified musicians can be Thomaskantor.(One of the highest and most important musical positions in Germany today,regarded as a "model" of the Bach music interpretations.The Thomaskantor is so important that most Bach scholars try to side with him when there are arguments or disputes. Nobody, that has an important position, in Germany, will make such remarks about the Thomaskantor using a public media like internet or TV. The Thomaskantor when it is regarding Bach has an authority earned through the centuries. I do not know (if you know) of the stories I heard, but when he walks in a room everybody stands up as respect...). I keep that respect even I never met Herr Biller. May be in the future I will attend his conferences. I missed the inaguration of the new organ in the St Thomas church that costed million of DM.

Regards and Happy Easter

Aryeh Oron wrote (April 20, 2003):
BWV 79 - Instead Background

Are you aware that Cantata BWV 79 is the 176th in our weekly cantata discussions? Only 34 arrows have been left in the quiver. Being a member of the BCML from its very beginning, I have participated in almost all the weekly cantata discussions (but three, when I was abroad)). Sometimes I was one of too few contributors, in many cases one of two (the other is, of course, the knowledgeable Thomas Braatz, whose contribution to the BCML since he joined in April 2001, is beyond appreciation), sometimes the only one. I have noticed that in the last couple of weeks many members have joined the discussions. I have always dreamt of having many contributors with various points of view participating in the discussions. It enriches the discussions, and we have more options to choose from. For me, reading an opinion different from mine, is a challenge, which force me trying to understand what have I missed and finding new ways to listen and to comprehend the cantata. I find that my enjoyment from this enormously rich world is only widened and strengthened this way.

The abundance of messages regarding Cantata BWV 79 means that I can allow myself cutting my review. Not that I enjoy listening to this cantata less than to the previous 175. On the contrary, comparing this cantata to its more famous and popular Reformation Cantata BWV 80, I find myself preferring the less familiar one. The splendid and exciting opening chorus (Mvt. 1), to which I have been listening countless times the past week (either through the CD player, or through the computer, checking the quality of the Music Examples I put in the Bach Cantatas Website), is well engraved in my memory. The whole cantata is a sublime utterance of supreme joy and faith.

Unusually, I allowed myself reading the previous messages regarding this cantata. Many members wrote erudite and enlightening things. I shall add only my personal view.

You can we can analyse a cantata up to losing its main message. Music is a way of communication. The difference between music and other art forms is that music speaks directly to the heart and the soul. I always try to understand what was the spiritual and emotional message that Bach wanted to convey through his music. Reading commentaries is one tool; understanding the text through its translating process is another; having a look at the score complements the picture. But the most important mean though which I build in my mind the whole picture is listening to as many recordings as possible. The ideal performance is being built through this process. The recording that I would like to take away with me is the one that comes as close a possible to this ideal performance. This is the one to which I shall return whenever I want to listen to the cantata. The chosen one might change in time, as new recordings appear, the mood changes, the experience accumulates, and as human beings we are always in a change.

The Recordings – Short review of 3 movements

Last week I have been listening to 6 complete recordings of Cantata BWV 79 and one recordings of two movements from the cantata.

[1] Günther Ramin (1950)
[6] Wolfgang Gönnenwein (1967)
[7] Gustav Leonhardt (1978)
[8] Hans-Joachim Rotzsch (1981-1982)
[9] Helmuth Rilling (1981)
[11] Pieter Jan Leusink (2000)
[M-1] Bach Aria Group (1966 + 1952) - Aria for Alto (Mvt. 2) and Chorale (Mvt. 3)

Mvt. 1 Chorus

Apparently slower than all the other 5 recordings, Ramin’s rendition [1] holds up well after more than half a century. Regarding spirited playing and singing, few contemporary Bach conductors can hold a candle to Ramin. The singing of the Thomanerchor is strong and enthusiastic. The technical level of the players is problematic. Gönnenwein [6] simply sounds right to my ears. The sound of his big choir is more cohesive than of any other choir that recorded this cantata and the instrumental playing is first-rate, the tempo is perfect. I feel that the conductor knows exactly what he wants to convey and where he wants to lead, and he is in full control of his forces. After Gönnenwein, Leonhardt [7] combined choir sounds scattered, the fanfares too strong yet uninvolved, the conducting direction-less, and the whole performance unbalanced and uninteresting. Rotzsch choir [8] is excellent and his approach is festive and joyful yet soft-centred and lacking in power. Rilling’s rendition [9] reminds me of Rotzsch, although he is somewhat more powerful. His opening chorus (Mvt. 1) is more ‘jumpy’ but the over-legato is a real weakness in this movement. Leusink’s chorus [11] is lightweight, as if he does not understand the message he has to convey.

Mvt. 2 Aria for Alto

The anonymous boy alto, who sings with Ramin [1], has a strong voice (although not free from imperfections), but he does not presents much in terms of expression. The singing of Janet Baker (with Gönnenwein) [6] is not only civilised and not only technically perfect. With her cool detachment she manages to touch quietly the heart. The flutist matches her singing like a glove. Ortrun Wenkel’s voice (with Rotzsch) [8] is not very pleasant and lacks stability. Her interpretation does not attract any attention. Julia Hamari (with Rilling) [9] is in another league altogether. The timbre of her voice is very different from Baker’s. It has more warmth and sounds more ‘human’. Her rendition is very moving and as convincing as Baker’s is. The vivid playing of the flutist contributes to the success of this rendition.

Mvt. 5 Duet for Soprano & Bass

The duet in Ramin’s recording [1] is problematic. He gives the soprano and the bass parts to the relevant sections of the choir. It might sound interesting, but I find that the result is less than the sum of its parts. Take two first-rate Bach singers, as Ameling and Sotin (with Gönnenwein) [6] and put them together, and what you get? As one guitarist once said, “What sounds better than a guitar? Two guitars!” Elly Ameling, in the late 1960’s, was the first to present angelic soprano voice, long before Kirkby and all the others that followed her. Hans Sotin had a rich dark bass voice with depth, flexibility and good understanding of the Bach idiom. Together they make an unbeatable couple. Detlef Bratschke, who sings the duet with Max van Egmond in Leonhardt’s recording [7], is not the kind of boy soprano to whom I want to listen to very often. The duet in this rendition lacks some enthusiasm. Arleen Augér sings the duet with both Theo Adam (under Rotzsch) [8] and Huttenlocher (under Rilling) [9]. Her singing in both recordings (which were recorded in about the same year) is always a joy to hear. Regarding her partners, I prefer the former, because Adam, even at this stage of his long career, shows more sensitivity to his partner and his delivery is more expressive. The duet with Holton and Ramselaar (Leusink) [11] may certainly please, but there are at least three renditions that I prefer to this one.

Conclusion

A recording movement to take away: the Opening Chorus (Mvt. 1) with Gönnenwein [6].
Complete recording of the Cantata to take away: Gönnenwein [6] again!

Final remark: The beauty of the Gönnenwein’s recording [6] is its clarity. Each inner voice is distinct, the textures are well balanced, and it is easy to follow Bach’s involved musical thoughts. The recording was transferred from LP to CD and from CD to mp3, so that it could be placed in the Bach Cantatas Website. This process is far from ideal, but at least you get a remote picture of the original recording. I hope that EMI will release this recording in CD form through a good transfer, together with the other recordings of Bach Cantatas that Gönnenwein and Hans Thamm recorded for this label during the second half of the 1960’s (7 LP’s in total, if I am not mistaken).

 

Continue on Part 2

Cantata BWV 79: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

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Last update: ýApril 25, 2013 ý15:12:42