Cantata BWV 8Liebster Gott, wenn werd ich sterben?
Discussions - Part 2
Continue from Part 1
Discussions in the Week of September 3, 2006 (2nd round)
Peter Smaill wrote (September 2, 2006):
Introduction to BWV 8, "Liebster Gott, wann werd' ich sterben?"
Week of September 3, 2006
Cantata BWV 8, “Liebster Gott, wann werd’ ich sterben?””
1st performance: 24 September, 1724 – Leipzig
? 3rd performance (D major transposition) - 1746/7
Second Annual Cantata Cycle, 1723-24 (Jahrgang II)
Previous Discussion: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV8-D.htm
Main Cantata page: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV8.htm
The Cantata for the 16th Sunday after Trinity 1724 maintains, indeed surpasses, the high standard of the extended instrumental ritornelli set in BWV 33 and BWV 99. On this occasion, Bach produces one of his most arrestingly beautiful combinations of orchestral colour, a lyrical oboe d’amore phrase in sixths and thirds punctuated by repeated high notes on the flute, with an insistent, lullaby continuo together with instrumental pizzicato and the broadening of the flute part into arpeggios. Seldom does the contemplation of death receive such an original and poignant delineation.
What precisely does Bach mean by this scoring and layout? Tempting as it is to hear remains of Cöthen concertos, on this occasion the allusion to the passing of Time (a favourite theme in Bach) cannot be gainsaid. The music is thus tied to the Biblical exegesis, and was written very precisely for this service.
I am grateful to Thomas Braatz, for while I was unsuccessfully hunting for gematric “Bach”, he spotted something that is only part realised by Whittaker and Dürr. They note that the high flute (?) part repeats 24 times and say no more; but the word painting is therefore, according to Thomas, of ’Zeit”, the “Time” image in the second line :
“Meine Zeit läuft immer hin”
(“My time keeps running on”)
And so it does – the 24 hour clock at work; then petering out at eighteen pulses, symbolising mortality as the full day’s allotment of hours is at last avoided in death. The whole is therefore the musical realisation of a large clock, with the pulsing of the hours until the day is done being the allusion. Simultaneously, as was debated by the vocalists and instrumentalists with John Eliot Gardiner during the Cantata Pilgrimage , it is possible also to hear the flute as a funeral bell, which rings at a high pitch and more frequently in the minutes before obsequies begin. With 25 repetitions of the 24 note phrase plus 18 we reach 618 separate toots on the flute - a further opportunity for Bach's flautist (Wild?) to demonstrate his skills.
There are some wonderful recordings of this moving piece. It is one of the greatest of the Eliot Gardiner selection  (from Santiago da Compostella), but to hear the pulsing continuo, Herreweghe  is best; and, if you thought that Suzuki  could not be more ravishing in his rendering of the beautiful first movement - he can; by re-performing BWV 8/1 (Mvt. 1) himself. This he does by addition of the later D major version of the chorus as an encore to volume 24, but with the sensuous inflections of the violins substituted for the oboes, and this new setting is utterly persuasive as to the loveliness of the Creator, "Liebster Gott",even in the face of death.
Why were the oboes d’amore, with their appropriately plangent tones, dropped in the later version? The problem may be the absence by the 1730’s of oboists able to master the typically prolonged lines. Whittaker somewhere reflects in his two volume work on the Cantatas on the rueful comments of one oboist of his day who complained to the effect that “Bach doesn’t really write for the oboe-more like the bagpipes!” The reserves of lungpower demanded can be extreme but it would be interesting to know whether the construction of the baroque oboe is less demanding for breath than the modern equivalent.
There is also a complex problem relating to the transposition of the flute; an octave up or down, and was it a flauto piccolo or traversière? Suzuki’s programme notes  gives detail on this tangled web relating to the instrumentation of the unparalleled, high-pitched, repetitive flute line.
The Chorale is unusually modern, indicating that there was no prexisting rota of Chorales and suggesting that Bach and his librettist had a free hand in selecting the Chorales in Jahrgang II. Here, the sentiment is directly
relevant to the Gospel, wherein the transience of death is at the centre of the story of the raising of the youth at Nain. The melody by Daniel Vetter, organist of the Nikolaikirche (d.1721), was commissioned for the burial of a Cantor, Jakob Wilisius, and dates from as recently as 1695, being published in 1713.
The background to the clock image may be very specific, for in all the engravings I know, of contemporary Leipzig in Bach’s time, there is no clock on the Thomaskirche; but there is one on the Nikolaikirche. Thus that Church acted as the authoritative image of time to the Leipzigers, few of whom would have had timepieces. Even though Nuremberg and Augsburg not very far away were clockmaking centres, these items were scarce and highly expensive.
(Interestingly both Luther and his friend the theologian Phillipp Melancthon did own timepieces, the latter’s being the oldest portable “watch” in existence and inscribed with the German Gloria, “Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr”.)
The Chorale and thus the Cantata are imbued with Pietist spirituality and the whole moves via striking bells in the Tenor Aria to a dance-rhythm in the Bass; with the final consoling Chorale taken essentially from Vetter, just as Bach was to lay aside his harmonising skills and adopt, this time completely unaltered, the former Cantor Rösenmuller’s Chorale, “Welt ade! Ich bin deine müde”, which ended BWV 27 for the same Sunday in 1726.
Given the size of Leipzig, there would at this date have been members of the congregation who had known Vetter and Wilisius. This meditation, intimately associated with Christians who had gone before, must have been a deeply moving experience for them, as has been the case for all fortunate to have discovered this lovely work in modern times.
(Mvt. 1) evokes the sound of tolling bells, the fragrance of blossoms pervade it - the sentiment of a churchyard in springtime.
(Mvt. 1) These high, medium and low ‘tolling bells’ accompany the long breathed melody for the oboes d’amore. It expresses shade of gentle regret - for the world pictured here is beautiful- but not of mourning of the unchristian kind formerly denoted by black clerical vestments and dismal lay clothes.
(Mvt. 1) The movement is more akin to an extended chorale than a chorale fantasia, for there is no expansion of the melody, but it plays a relatively humble role in the scheme. The canto fermo is different from most of those employed by Bach; it is more florid, with more contrasts of length of notes. Bach uses it nowhere else. Only once does a line occupy more than three bars.
Since E major is the sharpest key of any closed movements in all Bach’s vocal music, whenever we are dealing with an E major Cantata, of necessity, the other movements will be flatter, a feature that encourages the idea of descent. Canta8, for example “descends” from E through C# minor to A major before returning to E.
Further small adjustments were made for a performance in the late 1730’s, and for another, in the mid to late 1740’s Bach transposed the music down a tone, to D major, in order to facilitate the flute part of the opening chorus and the bass aria (Mvt. 4). This last solution, though solving one problem, creates another in its distortion of the iridescent tonal palette of the original.
(Mvt. 1) The transcendently beautiful opening chorus of Liebster Gott must rank among Bach’s most poetic and alluring fantasias.
The four madrigalian middle movements (BWV 8/2-5) are divided according to textual content and musical affect into two contrasting aria-recitative pairs. The first pair expresses anxious concern over death; the second pair, comfort derived from the certainty of God’s faithfulness. The bass aria (Mvt. 4) strikes a quite different note. The fear of death is now overcome, and the ritornello, clearly articulated and in a joyful gigue-rhythm, unfolds its theme in a homophonic string texture together with a virtuoso concertante flute part.
This Cantata’s opening Chorus is indeed a remarkable achievement in terms of instrumental colour, pattern and thus imagery. But are we hearing clocks, or funeral bells - or both?
Did Bach especially treat this Sunday twice as a memorial service for departed fellow Cantors and Organists, leaving the final Chorale as a tribute to them?
Here we have one of the most evocative of all Bach’s opening Choruses, however it is analysed, and I wish everyone who listens to any of the versions (particularly the D major/Suzuki ) the special pleasure that is to be found in this most beautiful and consoling work.
Andreas Stübel (per Wolff, “Johann Sebastian Bach: The Learned Musician”, p.278)
Chorale: “Was Gott tut , das is wohlgetan”
Text: Caspar Neumann (before1679)
Melody: Daniel Vetter (1695)
Chorale Text: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Texts/Chorale112-Eng3.htm
Chorale Melody: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/CM/Liebster-Gott.htm
English Translation: http://www..uvm.edu/~classics/faculty/bach/BWV8.html
Other translations: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV8.htm
Structure and scoring:
Instruments: E major Fl piccolo (or fl trav), 2 Ob d’Am, str bc
D major Fl trav, 2 vln concertante, str bc
For the 16th Sunday after Trinity
Other Cantatas written for this Sunday:
BWV 161, “Komm, du süsse Todesstunde"
BWV 95, “Christus, der ist mein Leben”
BWV27, “Wer weiss, wie nah emir mein Ende”
Texts of Readings: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Read/Trinity16.htm
Piano Vocal Score: (free PDF download): http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV8.htm
Music (free streaming download): http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Mus/BWV8-Mus.htm
Performances of Bach Cantatas: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Concert-2006.htm
Order of Discussion (2006): http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Order-2006.htm
Douglas Cowling wrote (September 2, 2006):
Peter Smaill wrote:
< And so it does the 24 hour clock at work; then petering out at eighteen pulses, symbolising mortality as the full day¹s allotment of hours is at last avoided in death. The whole is therefore the musical realisation of a large clock, with the pulsing of the hours until the day is done being the allusion. Simultaneously, as was debated by the vocalists and instrumentalists with John Eliot Gardiner during the Cantata Pilgrimage, it is possible also to hear the flute as a funeral bell, which rings at a high pitch and more frequently in the minutes before obsequies begin. With 25 repetitions of the 24 note phrase plus 18 we reach 618 separate toots on the flute - a further opportunity for Bach's flautist (Wild?) to demonstrate his skills. >
The opening chorus is superb piece of word-painting but of what? I don't think the ringing of a funeral bell is intended -- what bell ever tolled that quickly? Rather I think that wonderful mechanical orchestral accompaniment with staccato flute and pizzicato strings is meant to depict the ticking of a clockwork.
The image of the ticking is picked up in the following tenor aria which has another pizzicato bass and staccato sospiri figures in the voice. In both movements, the texts ask WHEN will death come, when will the hour death ring? The bell never rings because we do not know the moment of death. We are left with the image of the mortal human watching the clock on the mantelpiece or with a pocket watch to his ear.
Any idea if the 12/8 rhythm has any symbolism? Bach uses a similar rhytm in the closing movement of the funeral motet, "Komm Jesu Komm".
Julian Mincham wrote (September 2, 2006):
BWV 8 chorale fantasia
[To Douglas Cowling] I have always had some reservations about the funeral bell theory too. But the idea goes back a long way, to Spitta in fact. Schweitzer (p 203 vol. 2 of my ancient edition) quotes Spitta as saying that the movement is 'woven out of the sounds of bells and the scent of flowers and is filled with the spirit of the graveyard in spring'. Schweitzer embroiders this idea even more romantically with references to the sun shining brightly in the fields, the flowers of the meadow --'chirping and humming is heard from near and far!'
I'm not sure how much credence I want to put on all this either except that it could offer a clue as to the 12/8 rhythm and its association with pastorale moods and landscapes.
As to the second movement I have always thought that the repeated 5 note idea in the bass gives more of an impression of the funeral drum than of a bell.
A last point regards Bach's use of the major key for the chorale fantasia where, reading the text---when shall I die?-------one would consider a minor key to be a more obvious and appropriate choice.It is amazing the degree to which Bach can conjure moods of sadness, elegy and even tragedy from the major key. One of his techniques is principally harmonic and I have noticed that he does it time and again. The three notes (3rd, 6th and 7th) which differentiate minor from major scales are given more than usual significance in the harmony and melodic structures. For example, all three flattened notes are to be found in the ritornello of the opening movement--D instead of D sharp, C for C sharp and later G for G sharp. In this way he manages to imbue the major modes with saddening minor qualities. Magic!
Raymond Joly wrote (September 2, 2006):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
"The opening chorus is a superb piece of word-painting but of what? I don't think the ringing of a funeral bell is intended -- what bell ever tolled that quickly? "
A very imprudent statement! I am sure there were as many ways oringing the funeral bell in Germany as there were dialects.
By the way: I know such tinkling is supposed to be funebrial because I read it was. I never would have guessed that a death knell could be anything but a slow toll of the lowest-sounding bell available.
Raymond Joly wrote (September 2, 2006):
Peter Smaill wrote:
< Simultaneously, as was debated by the vocalists and nstrumentalists with John Eliot Gardiner during the Cantata Pilgrimage, it is possible also to hear the flute as a funeral bell, which rings at a high pitch and more frequently in the minutes before obsequies begin. >
Funeral bells: a PS.
I still believe they may have rung their bells at very different tempos in various parts of Germany. What I should have pointed out is that "funeral bell" can have many different meanings. Either tolling makes known that someone has died, or it summons to the funeral service, or it is heard during the ceremony. But the Germans also had the "Zügenglöcklein", i.e. the bell that rang to tell the community that someone was "in den Zügen" ("in den letzten Zügen" as we would say today), that he was drawing his last breaths. Some of the occurrences quoted in the so-called Grimms' dictionary (Deutsches Wörterbuch, DWB) make a clear distinction between it and the real death knell, "Totenglocke" or "Totengeläute". N.B. "Zügenglöcklein", LITTLE bell, is the usual form, instead of "-glocke".
DWB states that the word and/or the thing are mostly at home in Bavaria and Austria.
We need a doctoral dissertation (or do we have twenty already?) on funeral tintinnabulation in catholic, orthodox Lutheran and pietist parishes between the Reformation and the Industrial Revolution. With an appendix on rubato.
You can hear an agony bell from the right hand of the pianist in Schubert's "Das Zügenglöcklein", D 871, poem by Johann Gabriel Seidl.
Thomas Braatz wrote (September 2, 2006):
BWV 8/1,4 12/8 time [was Introuction to BWV 8....]
Douglas Cowling asked:
>>Any idea if the 12/8 rhythm has any symbolism?<<
Significance of the 12/8 time signature by Johann Mattheson in his “Das Neu-Eröffnete Orchestre” from his “Orchestre Schriften I”, Hamburg, 1713, chapter III, §11, pp. 80-85:
[a casual, free translation summary follows]
>>12/8 time should be divided into two parts just like 12/4 time, the latter time dividing the measure/bar
into two sections with 6 down beats (“in thesi” = “Niederschlag”) and 6 up beats (“in arsi” = “Aufschlag”). There is no difference between these two time signatures in quantity; however, in quality there are some important differences: 12/8 time is very suitable for movements that are “à la moderne”, since, although it has a similar value as 6/8 time, the tempo which it [12/8] requires due to twice the number of beats [compared to 6/8] combines a certain degree of seriousness with the otherwise hurried tempo normally associated with quavers/eighth notes. This makes it possible to use this time signature [12/8] where movements of the most tender and expressively moving nature are needed whether in theater productions or in church cantatas since the quavers in 6/8 time which too often lead toward a hopping and jumping about are tempered by the 12/8 time signature. It used to be that this time signature was used for nothing but movements requiring a very fast tempo. This still happens to a certain degree with Gigue movements or those movements similar to a gigue; however, today it is more customary to use 12/8 time for expressing sad and moving affects than cheerful/happy sentiments (“heutiges Tages aber dienet dieselbe [12/8] vielmehr traurige und ‘touchante Affecten’ denn lustige zu ‘exprimir’en”). In this connection I cannot help myself from revealing a personal observation that I have made beginning some years ago: for several years now the general sense of good taste in music has changed completely and has become quite well-established. Almost without exception a preference is given to slower and sad movements over those which are fast and happy/merry. One thing is certain: this general taste for serious compositions, when intelligently and modestly affirmed by composers and musicians will benefit music so that it will become more generally acceptable as a ‘science’ [knowledge of music in all of its aspects] and will serve its main purpose to move the feelings of its listeners much more than all the jumping about and dancing that one sometimes hears in performances. Several years ago it was customary to admire the dexterity and facile speed with which, particularly instrumentalists, would perform a sonata with an allegro as if this were the only purpose for which the piece had been composed, not to mention how careless or uneven the piece was played. This is the reason why some instrumentalists who may even have studied with a master who preferred this type of performance, where a fast tempo was more important than a comfortable listening experience with proper embellishments, would be unable to give a clean performance of an adagio without tearing out their hair. A beautiful singing manner [“eine schöne singende ‘Mannier’”] of playing is much to be preferred over a fast, “creating discord, blurring” [“Brouiller’ien”] performance of a composition. Simply causing astonishment and wonder over how fast someone can play is not the ultimate goal of music making. God has not given us music only to marvel at its performances and be charmed by it. God’s gift of music, given in his infinite wisdom to
man to lead towards devotion and permissible pleasure, can serve as a foretaste of eternal life [of good living] which is harmonious, fulfilled, peaceful, orderly and calm.<< Johann Mattheson, Hamburg,1713
Thomas Braatz wrote (September 3, 2006):
BWV 8 Funeral Flutes?
Did Bach perhaps know about this ancient custom of flutes necessarily being associated with funeral rites?
Johann Gottfried Walther's "Musicalisches Lexicon", Leipzig, 1732, a book with which Bach was certainly acquainted points to the origin of the flute stemming from King Midas, King of Phrygia, but no mention is made in the article about the connection with funerals. Were there some university professors with whom Bach might have had contact who might have told him about this ancient association of flutes with funerals?
From the MGG1 (Bärenreiter, 1986), article on early Christianity:
>>Die Musik bei solchen Festen kann man sich wohl vorstellen, ohne daß man etwas Bestimmtes sagen kann. Einen ähnlichen Kampf hatten die kirchlichen Autoritäten gegen die Begräbnisriten zu führen, die in der Antike sowohl bei der Aufbahrung, wie beim Leichenzug einen riesigen Aufwand erforderten. Untrennbar damit war, wie überhaupt im ganzen Orient (Assyrier, Babylonier, Ägypter, Juden) die Flötenmusik verbunden. Aus vielen Belegen wird ersichtlich, daß die Christen die oft in extremer Form sich gebende Klage um den Toten durch gefaßtere Haltung ersetzten. Schon die Wahl der Psalmen (22, 31, 114) zeigt durch deren Inhalt eine veränderte Einstellung dem Tode gegenüber, Gottvertrauen und Trost an Stelle einer allmählich schematisch gewordenen Totenklage mit Flötenspiel. Von Ephrem wird erzählt, daß er eigene Begräbnis-Hymnen für seinen Frauenchor schuf. Sogar Alleluja sang man, wie Hieronymus vom Tode der Fabiola berichtet, ein Brauch, den auch Spanier und Gallier kannten und der bekanntlich heute noch in der griechischen Kirche herrscht. Aber noch 589 (Synode von Toledo) sah man sich genötigt, gegen die »funebria carmina« und das wilde Tun einzuschreiten. Auch die Feier des Totengedächtnisses übernahm das Christentum samt dem Namen (anamnnsis = memoria) von der Antike, nicht ohne sie mit neuem Inhalt zu füllen: Eucharistie statt Totenopfer, Psalmen und Hymnen an Stelle von Musik und Tanz.<<
(„It is easy to imagine the music used for such feast days without being able to say anything for certain about them. The church authorities waged a similar battle against rituals, which in Antiquity demanded extravagant expense and luxury not only for the laying out of the corpse but also for the funeral procession. Connected inseparably with these funerals was the use of flute music just as this was generally the case throughout the Middle East (Assyrians, Babylonians, Egyptians, Jews). Many references give evidence that the Christians replaced this extreme form of mourning for the deceased with greater composure. This change of attitude toward death can already be seen in the choice of Psalms (22, 31, 114) where trust in God and comfort [gained from Him] replaced a form of mourning to the accompaniment of the flute that had become simply ritualistic. It is said of Ephrem that he composed his own funeral hymns for his female choir. They even sang an Allelujah, as reported by Hieronymus regarding the death of Fabiola, a custom with which the Spanish and Galls were acquainted and one which, as is well known, still predominates in the Greek Church. Nevertheless, in 589 (at the time of the Synod of Toledo), the church authorities felt is necessary to take action against the “funebria carmina” (“funeral songs”) and the wild activities associated with funeral ceremonies. Even the Remembrance of the Deceased ceremony was adopted by Christianity along with its name “anamnesis memoria” from the Ancient Greeks, but not without substituting the old with new content: the Eucharist replaced the Sacrifice to/of the Dead, and Psalms and hymns replaced music and dance.”)
Douglas Cowling wrote (September 3, 2006):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< This makes it possible to use this time signature [12/8] where movements of the most tender and expressively moving nature are needed whether in theater productions or in church cantatas since the quavers in 6/8 time which too often lead toward a hopping and jumping about are tempered by the 12/8 time signature >
Interesting commentary. It would certainly give us a context for the wonderful affect of the opening of the St. Matthew Passion (BWV 244).
Incidently, I have always believed that Bach's use of flutes in their low register, as in this chorus, was a "learned" classical allusion to lamenting pipes. Händel in fact has the oboe players put down their oboes and play flutes/recorders in the sad "How Soon" in "Joshua".
Ed Myskowski wrote (September 3, 2006):
Peter Smaill wrote:
< Week of September 3, 2006, Cantata BWV 8
Here we have one of the most evocative of all Bach's opening Choruses, however it is analysed, and I wish everyone who listens to any of the versions (particularly the D major/Suzuki ) the special pleasure that is to be found in this most beautiful and consoling work. >
I listened to the Suzuki  a couple times before reading Peter's intro.Plenty more to talk about, not least the mourning (or ticking) flute (or bell). Well.
It is on the same CD (Suzuki, Vol. 24 ) which I previously criticized for the overly quick tempo in BWV 33/1. I listened to a bit again today, still sounds quick. That should not deter you from the rest of the music, including BWV 8, if the recording is a temptation. A brief and early post to second Peter's endorsement.
Eric Bergerud wrote (September 3, 2006):
[To Peter Smaill] First, let me tell you how much I like your introductions. They are extremely informed and do point in the right direction for more rewarding listening.
Raymond Joly wrote (September 3, 2006):
[To Eric Bergerud] I am happy to report that I find Peter Smaill's introductions as wonderful as Eric Bergerud does, <>
Ed Myskowski wrote (September 3, 2006):
<> BTW, I share the modest frustration with Peter's excellent introductions <>
Ed Myskowski wrote (September 6, 2006):
Julian Mincham wrote:
< Any idea if the 12/8 rhythm has any symbolism?
I have always had some reservations about the funeral bell theory too. But the idea goes back a long way, to Spitta in fact. Schweitzer (p 203 vol2 of my ancient edition) quotes Spitta as saying that the movement is 'woven out of the sounds of bells and the scent of flowers and is filled with the spirit of the graveyard in spring'. Schweitzer embroiders this idea even more romantically with references to the sun shining brightly in the fields, the flowers of the meadow --'chirping and humming is heard from near and far!' >
Just because these ideas go back a long way, does not give them validity, unless there is a plausible connection to Bach. Perhaps worse, the age is just an ingrained bad habit. I know all about that.
There is a lot of territory between funeral bells and chirping and humming. A whole lifetime's worth. That could be the point, of course. On my first listen, I heard the chirping and humming (even though, in truth, I am probably nearer the bells).
After a bit of reading, I find that Whittaker suggest the bells are in the pizzicato strings, while others hear them in the flute. Have I misunderstood?
After you (general, not Julian) straighten me out on that point, perhaps you can suggest exactly where to hear the scent of flowers? I will leave the graveyard in spring alone, but it has a tone of German Romanticism (long after Bach) about it, to my mind.
I like Richter's  slow tempo, to hear the 12/8 clearly, with three distinct accent levels (plus the unaccented off-beats). I don't know about symbolism, but the musical effect is impressive, another JSB creative stroke in the evolving body of work which is Jahrgang II. Thanks to Julian for pointing this out (the body of work) from the beginning.
Once again, I have an armful of records and books, so more words intended. If the Umlauts don't weigh me down. I am just about to go looking for that 12/8 sound in Suzuki , both versions of BWV 8/1.
We are desperately in need of comments from a flautist. This is exciting stuff going by and getting away, week by week.
Ed Myskowski wrote (September 7, 2006):
The basic point, carefully stated, remains: no support for OVPP here. No refutation, but certainly no support.
For the record, I have no reason to take any position re OVPP. I have two recordings for BWV 8, which are associated with OVPP: Rifkin  and Thomas/American Bach Soloists . On a couple quick listens, both make an excellent impression. In this case, Thomas is not OVPP, in fact the photo included has exactly thirty (30) instrumentalists and singers. If you must get by with one tenor, you could do worse than Frank Kelley, with Rifkin.
Neil Halliday wrote (September 7, 2006):
BWV 8, with unique opening and closing choruses, two absolutely delightful arias, and a lovely accompanied (orchestrated) recitative, contains particularly enchanting music. The opening chorus has an unusual "light romanticism" that is special for the baroque, while the closing chorus is much more than a straightforward 4-part
chorale. The effect of the whole work suggests something other than church music, even if this music could happily grace the corridors of heaven.
The ritornellos of Werner's opening chorus  are charming (having the carefully articulated bass strings evident in the period performances I have heard), and capture the "light romanticism" mentioned; but the choir, with soprano line doubled by prominent horn, is too large and fails to display the lightness (delicacy) needed for this movement. However, these characteristics of the choir, with strong horn colour, become strengths in the final chorus, where the "block" structure allows for a "grander" interpretation, which is quite effective in this Werner performance.
It's possible most listeners will agree that Rilling  is too fast, sounding rushed, in the opening movement, while Richter  is too slow; but the first period rof the work, that of Leonhardt , hits the mark exactly with the right (moderate) tempo, and is a particularly charming performance of the movement. All of the subsequent period performances appear to have adopted this moderate tempo in the opening chorus, although I haven't heard Suzuki, and the elapsed time for the whole work suggests he might be pushing the tempo a bit.
The rest of the work with Werner  is sheer delight (except for the secco recitative - even though it's better than the musically useless short chords of present practice; I've come to the view that one-day performances of this cantata, too beautiful to be confined to a liturgical function, will either ditch the secco recitative altogether, or orchestrate it. There appear to be very few organists or harpsichordists capable of ensuring the spell cast from the very beginning is not broken by the arrival of the secco recitative).
Comments on other recordings of BWV 8?
Richard Mix wrote (September 9, 2006):
Bwv 8, "Liebster Gott wann werd ich sterben?"
Not to totally dismiss the chiming of little bells, but isnt the obvious harbinger of the last hour the owl? The first time I heard this chorus I thought immediatly of a Northern Saw-whet Owl on speed. I'm no expert on old-world species, but merely glancing at a checklist one cant help noticing the promisingly named Aegolius funereus (Raufusskauz): http://www.owlpages.com/sounds/Aegolius-funereus-1.mp3
Surnia ulula, or Sperbereule, has a HIPer tempo, but probably was much rarer even when there were more forests than now: http://www.owlpages.com/sounds/Surnia-ulula-1.mp3
That owls have a larger repertory that the guidebooks suggest was brought home to me by my first encounter with the aforementioned Saw-whet in the Berkeley hills. I was thrilled to get an answer to my whistle, then dissapointed when it stopped after approaching to within 20 yards. I redoubled my efforts to draw him in, creating a commotion in the nearby bushes; what I didnt yet know was that this species resorts to grunts and hissing for the final approach to grappel with challengers who dont respect the territorial call. Finally the enraged bird burst out toward my face and we each realized our mistake at the same time, fortunatly starting back in opposite directions: he was about 4' away.
Keep that in mind if you like to whistle this piece while walking at night...
Peter Smaill wrote (September 9, 2006):
BWV 8, "Liebster Gott", and owls
The idea that the repetitive flute intonation in BWV 8/1 resembles certain owl calls, that bird being the harbinger of death, is an interesting one; it depends on the musical effect, for while there is reference to Time in the text, no attribute of the owl is there to be found. And yet...
Owls can symbolise other things, such as knowledge; and nocturnal dispositions, as is clear from this famous portrait of the rake and libertine, the young James Boswell, biographer of Dr Samel Johnson, dating from c.1765: http://www.nationalgalleries.org/collections/artist_search.php?objectId=1865
Alas there is no appearance of "Eule" in the Lucia Haselbock "Bach Textlexikon" so the owl theory seems to stand or fall purely on the potential similarity of sound. It will be interesting to note if any other composers at that date allude to the owl. In German Romanticism (back to the paintings of Caspar David Friedrich who moved in places known to Bach, in Saxony and North Germany) the owl is certainly a very frequent and specifically morbid image in his quasi-mystical paintings.
Douglas Cowling wrote (September 9, 2006):
Peter Smaill wrote:
< The idea that the repetitive flute intonation in BWV 8/1 resembles certain owl calls, that bird being the harbinger of death, is an interesting one; it depends on the musical effect, for while there is reference to Time in the text, no attribute of the owl is there to be found. And yet... >
Are there cantatas where Bach uses Baroque melodic cliches for specific birds, such as the familiar dropping third of the cuckoo? There were organs which had exotic bird stops. Händel's oratorios use these figures all the time: "Hark tis the Linnet and the Lark" in "Joshua" is full of chirpings from the solo flute and violin.
In the Passions, the cockcrow is depicted with a little rising arpeggio, in the cello in SJP (BWV 245) and in the voice in the SMP (BWV 244). Interestingly, in the SMP (BWV 244), the actual moment of cockcrow is not depicted in the voice, rather a few bars later in Peter's recollection of Christ's prediction.
Richard Mix wrote (September 9, 2006):
Thanks, Peter, for the interesting link below. Of course the libretto doesnt give us much to go on for bells either. There is to be sure the striking hour in the tenor aria, where the clockwork, though less obvious than in "Schlage doch" or the Trauerode, is undeniable. But are we meant to arive at the correct interpretation of the 1st movement by peeking ahead?
I do suppose it's established that the owl call is not as obvious to everyone else as it was to me...
< Owls can symbolise other things, such as knowledge; and nocturnal dispositions, >
Yes, one can hardly argue with the first, esp. as the artist has been very careful to depict the species Athene noctua (Original Description: Scopoli, Giovanni Antonio. 1769; our suspect Aegolius funereus was named by Linnaeus, 1758. Systema Naturae). The rest of the portrait is hard to make out, though. There seems to be another creature on the branch which looks as much like a cat as a second, eared (and long tailed?) owl (Otus scops?). Or is it just part of the tree?
< as is clear from this famous portrait of the rake and libertine, the young James Boswell, biographer of Dr
Samel Johnson, dating from c.1765:
William Rowland (Ludwig) wrote (September 10, 2006):
[To Richard Mix] I must have missed the earlier part of this. The only work that has been attribute to Bach with Bells in it is Cantata BWV 15, a very nice work that does not go on forever as the Roman Mass does. That is now thought to be the work of one of his cousins or grand-father.
We have documents concerning the Organs that Bach was associated with that say that the Organ was connected to Carillon type bells and in some cases this mean the cymbelstern.
Ralph Johansen wrote (September 10, 2006):
[To Richard Mix] The owl of Minerva spreads its wings only with the falling of the dusk.
[the obvious harbinger of the last hour]
__ GWF Hegel, Philosophy of Right
Ed Myskowski wrote (September 11, 2006):
Peter Smaill wrote:
< There are some wonderful recordings of this moving piece. It is one of the greatest of the Eliot Gardiner selection (from Santiago da Compostella) , but to hear the pulsing continuo, Herreweghe  is best; and, if you thought that Suzuki  could not be more ravishing in his rendering of the beautiful first movement - he can; by re-performing BWV 8/1 himself. This he does by addition of the later D major version of the chorus as an encore to volume 24, but with the sensuous inflections of the violins substituted for the oboes
The background to the clock image may be very specific, for in all the engravings I know, of contemporary Leipzig in Bach's time, there is no clock on the Thomaskirche; but there is one on the Nikolaikirche. Thus that Church acted as the authoritative image of time to the Leipzigers, few of whom would have had timepieces.
(Mvt. 1) evokes the soof tolling bells, the fragrance of blossoms pervade it - the sentiment of a churchyard in springtime.
The four madrigalian middle movements (BWV 8/2-5) are divided according to textual content and musical affect into two contrasting aria-recitative pairs. The first pair expresses anxious concern over death; the second pair, comfort derived from the certainty of God's faithfulness. The bass aria (Mvt. 4) strikes a quite different note. The fear of death is now overcome, and the ritornello, clearly articulated and in a joyful gigue-rhythm, unfolds its theme in a homophonic string texture together with a virtuoso concertante flute part.
I wish everyone who listens to any of the versions (particularly the D major/Suzuki ) the special pleasure that is to be found in this most beautiful and consoling work. >
Special thanks to Peter for the care he has clearly put into this introduction. I have tried to be as brief as possible, citing only comments for specific responses. Most important, I agree that the best descriptive word is consoling, rather than mournful, although I suppose they are not so far apart.
The selection from Dürr is concisely and accurately descriptive of both the architecture and thought of the heart of BWV 8. I was feeling a bit overcharged for a $90 hurt hardcover, in advance of the $70 paperback, perhaps it will grow on me.
Now I am going to tell you in as few words as possible what I think of my six recordings. For those whose preference is not discussion of Bach cantata recordings, I could provide a few choice words about MY preferences, for example, the interest (or lack thereof) in discussing the virtue and prestige (or lack thereof) of burial in Westminster Abbey. Is it full yet? <Full fathom five, thy father lies, of his bones are coral made. >
Only one of my recordings (Suzuki ) overlaps those Peter mentioned. Neil Halliday (nice to see you) commented on Werner  and Rilling , beyond my holdings. Someone out there could probably say a few words about Koopman , and we would be complete. I mention that, because I have a feeling that Herreweghe , or possibly Koopman, neither of which is in my large batch, could be first choice. The good news is that there are no recordings I would recommend to avoid. The bad news is, that is not much more helpful than reviews in which there are no recordings at all recommended to listen to.
The exceedingly slow tempo in the opening chorus (8:27) does not wear well, although I thoroughly enjoyed it on first hearing, for the clarity of the 12/8 accents. The recording is earlier (1959) than most of the Richter cycle, and his eventual front line soloists (especially t Schreier and b DFDieskau) are not used. Nevertheless, I think it is a fair statement that you will never be disappointed by Richter soloists or instrumentalists. That is certainly true here. The Richter package (26 CDs at $100 or so) is second only to Leusink for value.
My beloved brown box LPs, with pocket score, how many times can I say it? The opening chorus at 5:47 sounds more leisurely than Leusink at 5:55. I did not bother to follow my own advice and put a watch (or ticking clock) on it. One or the other is my first choice in the chorus, a dead heat (tie, draw) at the moment. There is nothing about this performance I dislike, neither is there any detail (other than tempo) that jumps out and says <this is best>. If this were readily available at reasonable price, no doubt, grab it. If pigs could fly.
I cannot make objective comments, because I would try to walk on water to hear Frank Kelley sing Bach. Hard to say exactly why. Aryeh called his voice light. I agree, in the good senses of the word (not as it relates to some USA beer). I might go for sweet, pure, but not not in the least boyish. Even more important, for me, is the long-time enjoyment of hearing his voice live, so the recording is more an activation of memory. This is part of a 2 CD set, seminal OVPP stuff, I gather. I bought it, along with the next listing, and a Brad Lehman recommendation of Ricecare, when I first joined BCW, for two reasons:
(1) To make sure I had some OVPP on hand for future reference (the future is now, as the saying goes).
(2) Cool, cheap, Berkshire package, maybe still available. If so, you won't regret it. As a bonus, you get to hear Jeff Thomas  (see next) instead of Kelley on some tracks.
It is painful for me to write this, but Jeff Thomas (Mvt. 3) would be my choice over Frank Kelley in this particular comparison. For a bit more resonance, depth, expression, but way short of operatic. Which is why comparisons are so difficult. On another day, you (me, we) might prefer Kelley. Which is why it is better to have both. Thanks, Brad.
This CD was my introduction to American Bach Soloists, and this is my first opportunity to comment. A superb performance in almost every way. I would recommend this hands down as the first choice among my recordings, except for the overly quick chorus (Mvt. 1), compared to Leonhardt  and Leusink . Whattaya gonna do? (English trans: What are you going to do?). Notice the politically correct sized Bach band: thirty (30). Who can complain? I expect I'll find out.
If you own this set, you are probably already familiar with its virtues and limitations. If you don't own this set, what are you waiting for? The price to come down a bit more? I was tempted to say this is the best performance I have, overall, because Mvt. 1 is so good. Until I cranked up the turntable again for the Leonhardt LP  (complete with original analog sound, straight from the vinyl, special when relatively undamaged), and next listened to Thomas  again for everything else, other than Mvt. 1 tempo.
Nevertheless, I think is is one of the outstanding Leusink performances that I have listened to so far. For the record, Buwalda is not my favorite counter-tenor. Others have expressed a similar opinion. He must have been someone's favorite something, or he wouldn't be on all the records. Cut the guy some slack, some of the duets are truly outstanding, solos often good, and nothing so bad as to spoil an overall performance.
If you want to hear an alto, seek out Hilde Rossl-Majdan (with or without e/Umlaut).
And if you want to hear a counter-tenor for contrast, seek out Robin Blaze. What can one say about Suzuki? The only possible complaint is the occasional quick tempo. Plenty of unique virtues to offset that. Not least of which is the alternate Mvt. 1, noted in Peter's introduction. Incidentally, this is the only clear opportunity I could find to try to hear the difference with the horn doubling sop. choir in Mvt. 1. According to Suzuki notes, no horn in the D alternate, but it is there in the original E version. Full disclosure: I have tried very hard over the course of the week to hear that corno, or not. Specifically included in some, specifically absent in others, unspecified in Rifkin , and probably absent in Leusink , since other instrumental specialists are mentioned. Any suggestions as to where to listen to actually hear what the horn adds? Or was Bach just creating a weekend gig (Am. Eng. vernacular: free lance music employment, short term, typically a day tno more than a week) for a needy pal (friend).
Which brings me back round to a few general topics before closing. Shouldn't one expect Rifkin , with the OVPP philosophy, to provide the maximum info regarding the band? Not a word, not a name. Is the 2 CD set a reissue? More info somewhere else?
Out of character with regular BCML practice, I will await a possible response before going into full rage about documentation and scholarship.
Plenty of material in BWV 8 for another MA thesis, or chapter in a book. Pointless to try to say everything on a Sunday night. But I can't go to bed without whistling past the graveyard (come on, I know what church yard means). Again, I tried but did not hear a bit of fragrance of blossoms. And as far as sentiment goes, for the yard, springtime or any season, the only sentiment I get is the reminder that
Whittaker provides a clear and concise description of the abrupt articulation at the end of Mvt. 1. The outstanding musicologic feature (if that is a phrase) for me in BWV 8. A quick hit of reality to balance the consolation. You don't need to be Lutheran to love it.
Ed Myskowski wrote (September 11, 2006):
A few minutes ago, I wrote:
< Incidentally, this is the only clear opportunity I could find to try to hear the difference with the horn doubling sop. choir in Mvt. 1. According to Suzuki notes , no horn in the D alternate, but it is there in the original E version. Full disclosure: I have tried very hard over the course of the week to hear that corno, or not. Specifically included in some, specifically absent in others, unspecified in Rifkin , and probably absent in Leusink , since other instrumental specialists are mentioned. Any suggestions as to where to listen to actually hear what the horn adds? >
By playing the two Suzuki versions , one after the other, a couple times, I think I may have answered my own question. You (or me) don't hear the horn specifically, but there is a difference in texture, or something. Certainly not fragrance.
Discrepancy in title of BWV 8
J. Buck wrote (December 30, 2010):
A great many hits on a Google-type search, including many involving Amazon-available CDs, say "wenn" instead of "wann." AFAIK this is simply incorrect (they are two distinct words with different uses in German), and I suspect that it is a propagation of an error that was wrongly treated at some point as authoritative. Is there anybody who is educated to the extent of verifying or contradicting with certainty my assertion that "wenn" is just wrong?
Ed Myskowski wrote (December 31, 2010):
[To J. Buck] OCC has wenn. Perhaps a simple typographic error (?), but certainly worth correcting.
Peter Smaill wrote (January 1, 2011):
[To J. Buck] Actually "wenn" is right in terms of German in Bach's time and place - it is a Saxon archaism; in modern high German one says "wann" for "when" in English; and "wenn" for "if". In the past "wenn" did mean "when" primarily.
"wenn" is the form in Dürr (tr. Richard Jones) and Stokes (for Eliot Gardiner), which are the leading translations. So does Cantagrel, translating into French. Unger whose concordance leads the field in contextualisation uses "Wann" for BWV 8 . But elsewhere (p xiv) he translates "wenn" as "when"...so it is not surprising that confusion reigns on this word.
"wenn" as when is noted as the first translation, albieit outdated, as a word for "when" in the Muret-Sanders (Langenscheidt) English-German dictionary as late as 1900 (16th edition)
Evan Cortens wrote (January 2, 2011):
[To J. Buck] It is worth noting that, in the title page for the original parts now in the Bach-Archiv Leipzig, it clearly says "wenn"(cf the "e" in Liebster, sterben, etc). However, not one page later, on a typewritten title page which follows, it is given as "wann".
Link to the facsimiles: http://tinyurl.com/2un5o9z
Peter Smaill and Thomas Braatz have, of course, provided excellent explanations for why this discrepancy has arisen.
Personally, I'm tempted to stick with "wenn", for though it may be old fashioned, it is still a viable option. This is different from other spelling modernizations, e.g. thut -> tut, etc, for the former is simply incorrect nowadays.
Ed Myskowski wrote (January 2, 2011):
Evan Cortens wrote:
< It is worth noting that, in the title page for the original parts now in the Bach-Archiv Leipzig, it clearly says "wenn"(cf the "e" in Liebster, sterben, etc). However, not one page later, on a typewritten title page which follows, it is given as "wann". >
Thanks for the source of wann, obviously not a BCW typographic error, as I implied, but perhaps a typo nonetheless?
Evan Cortens wrote (January 2, 2011):
[To Ed Myskowski] Ah, sorry to be unclear, I don't think the typewritten "wann" on this title page is the source for this spelling. Rather, it's the modernization mentioned by Peter Smaill and Thomas Braatz. This second title page (which also has a penciled in BWV number) probably dates from the time the source was moved from the Thomasschule to the Bach-Archiv, in the mid 1950s.
Ed Myskowski wrote (January 2, 2011):
[To Evan Cortens] Bach’s original is wenn (English when). At some point in the intervening years, German wenn shifts to mean English if, replaced by wann to mean when, if I understand correctly.
That is trouble enough, but how did the title in BCW archives become wann, rather than wenn? I see your point, the 1950s typewritten is not a typo, rather an intended improvement. Is the BCW title an independent improvement, a typo error, or a following of the Bach-Archiv improvement?
If Bach wrote wenn, should we not be faithful to it? Let the individual translator decide if Bach meant <when shall I die> or <if I shall die>? Personally, I find the if (that would be the wenn, in modern German) a bit iffy. Bach set wenn, and he meant when. No if in death.
I guess that is what the German(?) typist had in mind, by improving to wann?
Continue on Part 3
Cantata BWV 8: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements
Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4