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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 85
Ich bin ein guter Hirt
Discussions - Part 1

Previous Messages

Jane Newble wrote (May 7, 2000):
Tonight was a historic event. Never before has Canterbury Cathedral seen Lutheran Vespers in it's more than 900 years' history. (This is what the Dean said in his welcome). This was to celebrate the life and work of Bach, and came at the end of a 'Bach Weekend'. The musicians were the Choir from St. Annes' Lutheran Church, London with the Lecosaldi Ensemble, and the Rev. Paul Schmiege (Pastor of St. Anne's) led the service. There were hymns, prayers, and a sermon in between the musical parts. Of course there were the chorale preludes on the organ before the hymns, and the appropriate Bible readings for today: Psalm 23, and 1 Peter 2:21-25.

The cantata (BWV 85) came just after the sermon, which dealt also with the theme of Christ giving his life for the sheep, and so being the good shepherd. Nearly at the end came the postlude, as a nostalgic looking back to last week: the Sinfonia from BWV 42, and I thought of what Roy Reed had said about the strings talking to the reeds. That was so clear, as it was not a recording, and you could hear everything. The cantata was wonderful. The singers had lovely 'baroque' voices, and the conductor took everything at a lively, cheerful speed. Sitting in that wonderful, enormous, old cathedral, I thought of Bach, and how bemused and pleased he would be. I also thought back in time... Fancy sitting in church at the time of Bach. He would be conducting the cantatas, but if there were a particularly heavenly aria or Sinfonia or recitative, you would have to wait for the possible repeat in about 5 years' time. No CD's to take home and listen to again, or compare with other performances. Just imagine. What sweet agony! And yet, it is so thrilling to even hear one cantata live, especially in the right setting of a church service. Some cantatas are totally gripping at first hearing, like last weeks BWV 42. What did those people think who heard it? Perhaps they thought that since Bach was with them, they would be able to hear it again sometime? Perhaps to them it was all much more normal? I have no idea, but I did think how rich we are, if we can hear them both recorded and live! Having heard this cantata live tonight, I am looking forward even more to Aryeh's and hopefully others' comments!


Discussions in the Week of May 7, 2000

Aryeh Oron wrote (May 7, 2000):

This is the week of cantata BWV 85, according to Jane Newble's suggestion. We continue to explore the Leipzig period. This is one of the least known cantatas, almost neglected, and as I have said earlier in previous discussion, a moment of pleasure, an opportunity to dig into an unfamiliar ground. It is also an opportunity to listen to 2 special recordings. The first is one of the few available Fritz Werner's Bach cantatas and the second is included in the mini series (3-CD's) of Bach cantatas with violoncello piccolo, played and directed by Christophe Coin [6]. We can listen closely to these two special recordings and compare them to the more familiar performers from the complete cantatas cycles.

About BWV 85 W. Murray Young wrote (in his book - The Cantatas of J.S. Bach - An Analytical Guide):
"This is Bach's second composition on the theme of the Good Shepherd (The first was BWV 104). Musically it has everything the listener expects, and it is a masterpiece. The librettist was Mariane von Ziegler, who based her text on the Gospel for this Misericordias Domini Sunday, i.e., the second Sunday after Easter, John 10: 12-16, and also employed in it two different chorales, freely paraphrasing the rest of this Gospel for the other numbers. Bach's cantata resembles a miniature pastoral symphony in 5 movements - much shorter than Beethoven's Symphony No. 6, yet also entrancing.
As the chorales occur in the middle and at the end, rather than in the beginning and at the end as is usually the case with chorales in Bach's cantatas, this work is considered to be a solo cantata for SATB, with four-part chorus.
In the orchestral score, the instruments indicated are 2 oboes, a violoncello piccolo, 2 violins, a viola and Continuo."

Personal Viewpoint

BWV 85 belongs probably to the group of cantatas, whose libretti were written by Mariane von Ziegler. I was very curious to know more about her. After all, the women were not supposed to take active roles in the community life at that time. Even the Soprano and the Tenor parts were sung by the boys from the choir and not by female soloists. The most detailed source where I could find some background about Mariane was the book included in the Teldec set of Sacred Cantatas (Harnoncourt/Leonhardt). I found that Christiane Mariane von Ziegler was a poetess from Leipzig, who lived between 1695 and 1760. Hamel wrote about her cantata works: "They are marked not only by richness of thought, domination of language, genuineness of feeling and warmth of expression, but just as much by a religious sound of deepest simplicity." The texts for the cantatas BWV 103, BWV 108, BWV 87, BWV 128, BWV 183, BWV 74, BWV 68, BWV 175, and BWV 176, appeared in a book she published in 1728. Although BWV 85 does not appear in that book, the spirit of its text (and also that of BWV 43) testifies that it is inevitable that somebody else wrote it.

Mariane had miserable life. She married for the first time at the age of 16 and lost her husband a short while afterwards. Her second marriage was at the age of 20 and he died too. The same happened to her children from both marriages. Such phenomenon was common in those days, because we know that Bach himself suffered from the similar fate. However, from 1722 on, she devoted herself more intensely to the arts at her Leipzig parental home, playing the harpsichord, lute and traverse flute and writing poetry. Her literary inclinations increased when Gottsched was appointed to Leipzig in 1724. Her house became the meeting place for out-of-town and local artists. Gottsched, who counted her as one of his permanent circle, encouraged her to publish her works. The first volume, which contained 9 cantatas, was published in 1728. In the foreword to a second volume, which was published in 1729 and contained an entire cycle of cantatas for that year, she urged that her poetic writings be set to music. Bach indeed set all the 9 cantatas of the first volume to music (actually he did that long before they were printed), and we can only regret that he did not do the same with her second volume. At that time he wrote fewer cantatas, because he has already finished most of his duties to write complete 5 cycles. And when he wrote some, he already favoured other librettists, like Henrici.

I could not find a picture of von Ziegler, but it does not really matter. I am sure that she had a beautiful soul. She was still very young when she wrote the libretto to BWV 85, About 30 years old and 10 years younger than Bach. Bach himself was surely very much attached to her libretti, which are among the most poetic, which could be found among the whole Bach cantatas. The result of this libretto is one of the most intimate and tender of all the cantatas. I feel as it reveals the feminine side of Bach (or is it only my imagination?). It does not attract special attention to itself. In almost all the recordings of BWV 85 that I ha, it is located somewhere in the middle or near the end of the CD, and almost never (except one case) at the beginning of the CD. It is hidden there, shying away, as if it hints subtly to you, pay attention, I am here, waiting for you, come on, try me. And when you get to it, you find a small jewel, actually too small. This cantata is so short that once you are captivated by its charm, it is finished. It reminds me the famous statement said by the legendary multi-reed Jazz player Eric Dolphy couple of months before he died prematurely in 1964: "When you hear music, after it's over, it's gone in the air. You can never capture it again."

Review of the Recordings

[2] Fritz Werner (1959)
The only soloist I knew in this performance, before listening closely to it, was the Bass singer Stämpfli. From previous comparisons I knew that he could hold honourably in the company of the best of them. It is so good to meet him again in the opening Arioso. So expressive and pleasant voice is a joy to the ears. The female Alto Scherler was unfamiliar to me. Although she is from the old school of Bach singers, she is doing fine, with restrained singing that does not miss a maternal softness. The Soprano Graf sings the middle chorale. Her voice is not pleasant enough to my taste, it lacks the needed tenderness and she extravagates in her expressiveness. The Tenor Huber was also new to me. He arouses anticipation in his Recitative and fulfils every expectation in the following Aria. The accompaniment is very humble along the whole performance of this cantata. A good start for the comparison, on very high level from an unexpected source.

[4] Nikolaus Harnoncourt (1979)
Lyricism, warmth and fluency are not the usual qualities, which characterize Harnoncourt's cantatas recordings. But here he milked these qualities from his forces to the maximum in order to give this cantata the right treatment. I think it to be unfair that although a woman wrote the libretto of BWV 85, it had to be sung by all male soloists. But I am quite sure that Mariane was very much aware of the circumstances, and I am also quite sure that if she had heard what the boy Soprano Wiedel (in the middle Chorale) and the counter-tenor Esswood were doing with the material, she would have been pleased. Wiedel has warmth and stability in his voice, and richness of expression in his singing, which are uncommon with boy Sopranos. Equiluz and der Meer are reliable as ever. The playing of the old string instruments is not clean enough to my taste, but that is a very small fault in overall very satisfying performance.

[5] Helmuth Rilling (1980-1981)
After hearing Werner and Harnoncourt renderings, it sounds as if this performance is starting on the left leg. The accompaniment is too big and the singing of Heldwein is not flexible enough. Things become even worse when we hear Schreckenbach in the Aria for Alto. She is using too much vibrato and is overly expressive for this delicate music. As though she is insensitive to the meaning of the words and the nature of the music. But than enters the sublime Arleen Augér and uplifts this rendering to very high picks. Even the playing of the accompanying instruments in her Chorale becomes gentler. Kraus maintain the same high level in his Recitative and Aria. A possible explanation for some of the differences between the qualities of the performances of the various movements can be that Rilling recorded this cantata along 3 dates, about 4 months separating between them. I do not understand how they manage to do that, while I cannot stop listening to this Cantata in the middle.

[6] Christophe Coin (1994)
Looking at the roster of vocal soloists that Coin has to his disposal, one can only envy. The weakest of them is Schwartz. He sings with authority but with very little flexibility. We can only imagine what Mertens could have done with the same material. Scholl emphasis the sorrow of his Aria better than any of his rivals in the previous recordings. I have to admit that in the middle Chorale Schlick outdoes even Augér (with Rilling [5]). She is transmitting innocence and calmness, where Augér sounds more mature and dramatic, and I find the first approach more convincing here. Prégardien is very sensitive and gentle in his singing. He uses his dramatic abilities very sparsely. The playing of the instruments along all the movements is first rate.

[7] Pieter Jan Leusink (1999)
One has to hear Ramselaar immediately after Schwartz, to realize what a good Bach singer the first one is. His voice has warmth, sensitivity and flexibility and his singing has all the compassion that Jesus must had, when he was saying 'Ich bin ein guter Hirt, ein guter Hirt läßt sein für die schafe'. I know that some of the members of this group dislike the voice of Buwalda. I do not understand why. Here he is doing the best in his role, quite different from Scholl, but also on a very high level. Everything I said about Schlick is even truer regarding Holton. The Tenor der Meel has smaller voice and less dramatic expression than Prégardien or Equiluz have, but he has kind of softness and modesty that suits his Recitative and Aria very much. The playing of the instruments is pleasant, clean, very well balanced, and with the right volume while they accompany the voices or playing a separate line against them. This is one of the best performances I have heard so far in the weekly cantatas comparisons from the Jan Leusink's team. Regarding their rendering here (and that of BWV 196), I come to (temporary) conclusion, that they are better in the simpler cantatas rather than in the more glorious ones.


Cantata BWV 85 does not contain memorable tunes, like some of its more famous sisters do. But it grows on you with every repeated hearing. It seems that all the performers of BWV 85 were captivated like me by its delicate charm. All of them treat it gently, like a valuable jewel. None of them compels a strong personal approach on this cantata. On the one hand, I am pleased that the result of this is similar interpretation from all the 5 groups of performers. On the other hand, I am a little bit disappointed, because I am always ready for original approach that will reveal unfamiliar aspects of the cantata under discussion. I recommend to everybody in the list listening carefully to BWV 85, with open ears and at least couple of times. Believe me, it will pay itself. Regarding the recommended recordings, my own preferences are hinted above. If you were not familiar with this cantata before reading this review, choose whatever recording you can put your hands on. None of them will disappoint you.

And as always, I would like to hear other opinions, regarding the above mentioned performances, or other recordings.

F. Oreja wrote (May 8, 2000):
With the cantatas BWV 6, BWV 42 and BWV 85 Bach breaks with the Choral cantatas in the Church year 1725, and return in the composition to a group of cantatas of the year 1724 (BWV 37, BWV 44, BWV 86 and BWV 166), whose form is always the same: Gospel word, aria, choral, recitative, aria, choral. The librettist of all those cantatas is unknown. Only after cantata BWV 44 Bach used the texts of Mariane von Ziegler, which he changed, corrected and shorted in many occasions. Ziegler composed only the text of 9 cantatas: BWV 74, BWV 68, BWV 87, BWV 103, BWV 108, BWV 128, BWV 183, BWV 175 and BWV 176. Exacthese cantata texts (and only these 9, as Aryeh points out) were published later in the first volume of her 'Versuch in Gebundener Schreib-Art' of 1728. 1729 appeared the second volume of this work with cantata texts for a complete year. But Bach did put in music only the mentioned 9 cantatas. The text of BWV 85 cannot be found there. Scholars mostly suppose that the unknown librettist of BWV 85 is the same as the anonymous one of the cantatas BWV 37, BWV 44, BWV 86 and BWV 166 (probably the theolog Christian Weiss). I wonder about what W. Murray Young writes.

Marie Jensen wrote (May 8, 2000):
(To Aryeh Oron) I agree with you Aryeh. This cantata has a delicate charm, though it has no great memorable tunes. Thank you for telling about Mariane von Ziegler, though the source tells me that the author is unknown.

Listening to the cantata I feel like resting in the green grass myself in the shadow of a tree near the brook (Bach). And this peaceful cantata uses the right pastoral means, the oboes, the Siciliana rhythm in the tenor aria. In the alto aria the accompaniment goes up and down in patterns, gentle like the shepherds stick pushing a little here and there to guide in the right direction, constantly taking care of everything.

[7] This is one of the better Leusink's. The lesser the big forces are involved, the bigger is the chance of success. Another thing: Buwalda is better here than in the cantatas discussed previously. Perhaps this movement is easier. He seems more relaxed. Since you ask Aryeh, why some of us do not like Buwalda's voice, well I can only speak for myself, and I have not heard all the Leusink's yet, but the "timbre" you talk about can easily be taken for insecurity and insufficiency. When I listen, I don't want to use my energy thinking, hey- was that pure and correct, did his voice have power enough to go up here, or was it the special timbre? I want to flow with the music not stopped by doubts. Buwalda is good enough in lower parts as BWV 182 recently discussed. However I find it difficult to express myself about this in English and find the right adjectives, so this is the closest I can get right now. But I'm sure it is also a matter of taste or perhaps something I shall get used to.

Right now I ponder a lot. Shall I buy the next Leusink's at all, when my "music pusher" sends out his new catalogue in the end of May? In Denmark they are not as cheap as in Holland, USA... Of course still a lot cheaper than BCJ and Koopman... it is a little like buying North Korean champagne, cheap but…

My budget does not allow many disappointments. Leusink recordings are fresh like sketches. Too much rehearsing a la BJC might also be like a painting correct in every detail but with no spontaneity. Oh it is hard some times. If this is not wrong, that is! FINE! Greetings from a pastoral green and blooming Denmark.

Ryan Michero wrote (May 9, 2000):
I was introduced to this cantata through Christophe Coin's [6] wonderful recording. Coin's Bach cantata set is a great series of recordings based on a really novel concept--to record all of the cantatas with an aria featuring a rare obbligato instrument, the violoncello piccolo. The cantatas (10 of them) are organized on three discs in varied and fascinating programs. Coin's violoncello piccolo playing is some of the best Bach aria obbligato playing I've heard, and the solo singing, especially by Andreas Scholl and Christoph Prégardien, is wonderful as well. Another unique thing about this series is that all of the cantatas were recorded in a small church on the borders of Saxony and Thuringia where there is a well-preserved and beautiful Silbermann organ. The full organ is used as both obbligato and continuo instrument, and the sound is stunning. The church's acoustic is warm and realistic, effectively placing the listener in the pews of the old church. These are special recordings, and I hope everyone on the list has a chance to hear them.

Below are my comparisons:

[4] (Harnoncourt) This is a fine account overall. The orchestra in the opening Arioso sounds great, but the voice of Ruud van der Meer gets lost in the mix. Luckily the following aria goes better: Esswood and the violoncello piccolo player (Harnoncourt himself!) are a great team, making "Jesus ist ein guter Hirt" is a highlight. The boy soprano is acceptable in the trio-like chorale setting, but Harnoncourt's doesn't let the music flow as naturally as his competitors. Equiluz is expressive as always in his recitative and aria even if he sounds a bit strained (in fairness, all of his competitors do too), but Harnoncourt's Siciliano rhythm in the aria sounds just right.

[6] Coin's is easily my favorite version. Unlike Aryeh, I think Schwarz is very fine here, sounding a bit like Max van Egmond. But the alto aria is the real treasure here--about as perfect a performance of a Bach aria as I can imagine. Scholl's singing is impeccable--stylish, secure, expressive, and ravishingly beautiful. Coin's violoncello piccolo obbligato playing is just as impressive--masterfully phrased and shaded. (Coin's playing here makes me long for him to record the Bach cello suites!) After the beauty of this aria, the soprano chorale setting is a bit of a letdown, with Barbara Schlick singing expressively but with tonal insecurity. I didn't like Coin's leisurely tempo for this movement at first (he takes it at 6'17 compared to Harnoncourt's 4'53 and Leusink's 5'00 [7]), but on repeated listenings I began to think that the extra time allows us to better savour the skilful, trio-like imitation between the winds. The next movement comes as a shock, though, with Prégardien jumping in with a dramatic, Evangelist-style recitative. The tenor aria is wonderfully done, with Coin lilting the rhythms nicely--too bad Prégardien sounds a touch strained. The closing chorale is nice if a bit undisciplined. The pictures of the Concerto Vocale of Leipzig show women in the choir, but if they are they sure sound like boys here!

[7] (Leusink) Sorry, Aryeh, but Buwalda is hard for me to take here. I agree with what Marie said in her post. When Buwalda sings, I worry whether or not he's going to hit his notes well enough and that distracts me from the music. With every technical challenge comes a sharp or flat note or an awkward slide up to the correct pitch. Additionally, Frank Wakelkamp's violoncello piccolo playing in the aria is strangely phrased and over-emphatic. No comparison to Scholl/Coin [6]. On the other hand, Holton's singing in the chorale is outstanding, and Leusink's tempo and the playing of his wind group are great. Nico van der Meel--a singer I usually love--does his best with the recitative and aria, but the orchestra plays so quietly that small flaws in his intonation are cruelly exposed. He also seems to be holding back and stumbling a bit because his singing is so loud compared to the playing--strange.

I'll finish by encouraging everyone again to hear some of Coin's cantata recordings [6], especially the arias where he plays the piccolo cello.

Marie Jensen wrote (June 11, 2000):
(1) In one of the CD-shops I visit now and then, I found a double Werner by chance (BWV 119, BWV 140, BWV 90, BWV 147, BWV 85, BWV 28) Erato 3984-28166-2. As I didn't know the old Non-HIPer, I bought it, expecting that a new release of the old material (1963,1970) would be something special,perhaps a little like Richter.

But I was so disappointed when I listened to the great choruses: so slow, uninspired, like a Walkman playing on the last of its batteries. I heard BWV 140, BWV 119, and couldn't take anymore. Next day I heard BWV 147, oh help! Though some of the arias were sung well.

But then surprise, surprise! BWV 85. I agree with Aryeh, when he writes: "The accompaniment is very humble along the whole performance of this cantata. A good start for the comparison, on very high level from an unexpected source." Yes indeed. When Werner leaves big orchestra and choir settings and goes into the more intimate chamber music, he does very well. Especially the tenor aria with Huber is so expressive and beautiful, though some of the rallentandos and pianos are not in the score, I'm sure.

It is indeed a shame, that the quality of the CD's is so variating. His BWV 90 is not so bad either.

Only the BWV numbers are mentioned on the cover. You have to read the small letters in the booklet to find the cantata titles, and the information printed on one of the CD's is wrong.


An aria from cantata 85

Santu de Silva wrote (April 7, 2003):
An aria I am very fond of is the tenor one from BWV 85: "Sehet, was die Liebe tut!"

I've often written about the ballet suite by William Walton, based on Bach's music: The Wise Virgins. This aria is the basis of movement 4, almost without modification. The orchestration (in the Walton) is simple:

The opening ritornello (A) (in 9/8 time) is on violas and cellos, just two parts, with just a hint of pizzicato bass. Then the flute joins in with the solo melody, a total of three voices. It is a miracle of elegance and simplicity, and the mood is pure joy and serenity.

The middle (B) section, more passionate and assertive, has the same string accompaniment, perhaps with violins instead of violas--they seem a little more insistent, which is of a piece with the original Bach orchestration of unison violins and violas-- with the more edgy (modern) oboe replacing the flute. It modulates into g minor (the mediant minor, nailed with a C# just before the end of the section).

The last part is an abbreviated version of the A section, again with the flute, but the treatment is more effective than if it had been lengthened! (It's exactly the same as the Bach original, note for note.)

I should use some other word instead of ritornello; the tune is woven into the texture of the aria more like a theme or a motif than simply a returning tune fragment. The final effect is a wonderful, feel-good piece that seems to end far too soon.


Seht was die Liebe tut

Susannah Fie wrote (March 10, 2004):
Could anyone please help identify an arrangement for two pianos of a Bach Chorale, "Sieht was die Liebe tut" (See what His love can do)?

Thank you,

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 10, 2004):
[To Susannah Fie] Are you asking where a particular 2-piano arrangement came from, or what the original Bach piece was (Cantata BWV 85, 5th movement, tenor aria)?

Susannah Fie wrote (March 10, 2004):
[To Bradley Lehman] Thank you, Brad, I think you have answered my question with Cantata BWV 85.

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (March 11, 2004):
[To Susannah Fie] Are you sure of the spelling? If that was the title, it would probably have been "Seht was die Liebe tut", which would translate to "See (or Behold) what (the) love does" or "See (or Behold) what the Beloved doth (does)"


Continue on Part 2

Cantata BWV 85: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Recordings & Discussions of Cantatas: Cantatas BWV 1-50 | Cantatas BWV 51-100 | Cantatas BWV 101-150 | Cantatas BWV 151-200 | Cantatas BWV 201-224 | Cantatas BWV Anh | Order of Discussion

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