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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 95
Christus, der ist mein Leben
Discussions - Part 3

Continue from Part 2

Discussions in the Week of March 11, 2012

Ed Myskowski wrote (March 11, 2012)
Introduction to BWV 95 -- Christus, der ist mein Leben

Weekly reminder:

This week we continue Trinity season cantatas with BWV 95, the second of four works for the 16th Sunday after Trinity.

Details of text, commentary, recordings, and previous discussion are accessible via: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV95.htm

The link to commentary by Julian [Mincham], music examples included, is especially recommended as an introduction to listening.

The BWV 95 page has convenient access to notes from the Gardiner [9], Koopman (notes by Christoph Wolff) [6], Suzuki [7], and Leusink [8] (and more!) CD issues, via link beneath the cover photo.

The chorale text and melody are accessible via links at the BWV 95 page. Francis Browne has recently added new commentary on the cantata texts to his interlinear translations, linked via [English-3]. We can expect these to continue, not necessarily weekly. Douglas Cowling and William Hoffman are also posting relevant to chorales and other music for the Lutheran Church Year, accessible via LCY pages.

I do not always take the time to check all links before posting. Special thanks to the folks who provide timely corrections.

Douglas Cowling wrote (March 11, 2012)
BWV 95 -- Clockwork & Ranking Choruses

Ed Myskowski wrote:
< Introduction to BWV 95 -- Christus, der ist mein Leben >
* Clockwork Leipzig

Once again, the tenor aria presents us with a meditation on the striking of the hour of death with what appear to be the whirring gears and chime of a mantlepiece clock: pizzicato strings and dropping thirds in the winds. The
Romantic in me sees Bach sitting back in his study watching his clock strike the hour.

* Ranking Bach's Choruses

The formal complexity of this cantata made me why Bach wrote such an EE-ZEE chorus for his choir. The concluding chorale is more demanding than the opening chorus! It's hard to account for the extraordinary variance in difficulty in Bach's choral movements. Three possibilities suggest themselves:

A) The movements were written for different choirs. For instance, if Bach's four choirs were constituted by ability, this cantata could easily have been sung by Choir II, perhaps even Choir III.

B) The movements were written for times in the year when the choir did not have its best singers or on occasions when singers were depleted by illness. It's hard to see any statutory reason why particular Sundays required different competency levels. The practicalities of singer frailty make some sense, but only if the compositional process is so particularly influenced. Is there any evidence that Bach modified his compositions according to such unpredictable restrictions?

C) The movements were the result of a specific aesthetic decision: Bach wanted two simple chorales in the complex multi-sectional movement and left the elaborate lines to the instruments. I believe the "Vox Christi" solo cantatas of the Easter season are aesthetic decisions, not the result of the Exhausted Choir Hypothesis. The tremendous variance across the Mass in B Minor might support this possibility.

So with arbitrary high-handedness, I devised a ranking system for Bach's choral works which might help us detect any patterns as we go through the cantatas

** GRADE ONE ­ Extremely Difficult

Lengthy coloratura
Complex counterpoint
Shifts in style
Chromaticism
Extreme tessiatura
Complex rhythms

Cum Sancto Spiritu ­ Mass in B Minor (BWV 232)
Gott ist Unsrer Zuversicht, BWV 197
Ehre Sei Gott, Part 5, Christmas Oratorio (BWV 248)

** GRADE TWO ­ Moderately Difficult

Restrained coloratura
Straightforward rhythms
Moderate Counterpoint

Christ Lag in Todesbanden, BWV 106
Kommt Ihr Töchter, St. Matthew Passion (BWV 244)
Wachet Auf, BWV 140

** GRADE THREE ­ Moderately Easy

Stile antico motet counterpoint
Simple Chorale fantasias

Wir Danken Dir Gott BWV 29
Kyrie Eleison II, Mass in B Minor (BWV 232)
Sicut Locutus Est, Magnificat (BWV 243)

**GRADE FOUR - Very Easy

Simple Chorale harmonizations in a concerted movement

Christus Der ist Mein Leben, BWV 95
Was Gott Thut. BWV 98

Ed Myskowski wrote (March 12, 2012)
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< * Ranking Bach's Choruses
[...]
So with arbitrary high-handedness, I devised a ranking system for Bach's choral works which might help us detect any patterns as we go through the cantatas
[...]
** GRADE TWO - Moderately Difficult
Restrained coloratura
Straightforward rhythms
Moderate Counterpoint
Christ Lag in Todesbanden, BWV 106 >
A stimulating thought for discussion, especially with cited examples for reference and comparison. With that in mind, can we tidy up the above item: title is correct, but should be BWV 4?

Ed Myskowski wrote (March 12, 2012)
Ed Myskowski wrote:
< This week we continue Trinity season cantatas with BWV 95, the second of four works for the Sixtteenth Sunday after Trinity.
Details of text, commentary, recordings, and previous discussion are accessible via:
http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV95.htm >
For example, this detail relevant to our discussion beginning last week:

Roar Myrheim wrote (October 22, 2005):
I listened to all the four cantatas written for the Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity, i.e. BWV 161, BWV 27, BWV 8 and BWV 95, in Gardiner's recording [9]. What beautiful music! And what a great recording!

I discovered a little detail: In cantata BWV 161, in the Alto Recitativo, Bach introduces the theme "schlage doch", that he uses in the later cantata BWV 95, in the beautiful tenor aria. Melodic, it is different, but he uses the same rhythmic pattern. In the accompaniment he uses a repetition of semiquavers on the same note, similar to the figure in the first movement of cantata BWV 8. The text in BWV 161 is: "So schlage doch, du letzter Stundenschlag!" In BWV 95 it is: "Ach, schlage doch bald, sel'ge Stunde, den allerletzten Glockenschlag!" (end quote)

Douglas Cowling wrote (March 12, 2012)
Ed Myskowski wrote:
< In cantata BWV 161, in the Alto Recitativo, Bach introduces the theme "schlage doch", that he uses in the later cantata BWV 95, in the beautiful tenor aria. Melodic, it is different, but he uses the same rhythmic pattern.
In the accompaniment he uses a repetition of semiquavers on the same note, similar to the figure in the first movement of cantata
BWV 8. The text in BWV 161 is: "So schlage doch, du letzter Stundenschlag!" In BWV 95 it is: "Ach, schlage doch bald, sel'ge Stunde, den allerletzten Glockenschlag!" (end quote) >
Add to that Hoffman's cantata attributed to Bach (BWV 53),and there is practically have genre of clockwork chimes of death:

Schlage doch, gewünschte Stunde,
Brich doch an, du schöner Tag!

Ich begehr' von Herzensgrunde
Nur den letzten Zeigerschlag!

William Hoffman wrote (March 12, 2012)
[To Douglas Cowling] Another fine death bell song is the arioso "Der glocken bebendes getoen" from Cantata 198 (Funeral Ode). Hear countertenor Michael Chance on the Gardiner recording, with the exquisite sounds of lutes: http://www.amazon.com/Bach-Cantatas-Johann-Sebastian/dp/B00004R9F8

Charles Francis wrote (March 12, 2012)
I'vebeen listening to various settings of "Christus, der ist mein Leben", one from Johann Pachelbel's "Musicalische Sterbens-Gedancken" that Bach likely knew, another by Bach himself from the Neumeister collection. Perhaps they help us find an appropriate Affekt for a text that deals simultaneously with death (Sterben) and happiness (Freud) or should it be peace (Fried)?
http://www.lutheran-hymnal.com/german/tlh597g.htm

The chorale dates from the early seventeenth century and Pachelbel apparently chose it because of unfortunate circumstances, namely the death of his wife and only child during the 1683 Erfurt epidemic. Notwithstanding this sad history, one finds jaunty performances.

Bach's use of this deathly chorale in BWV 95 might suggest a less exuberant performance than, say, the execution by Nikolaus Harnoncourt [5]. Conversely, the wistful existential loss captured by Helmuth Rilling [4], might, in the minds of the piously joyful, reflect a lack of religious certitude.

Links to the aforementioned are below, while an informative Wikepedia article on Johann Pachelbel's Musicalische Sterbens-Gedancken can be found here:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Musicalische_Sterbens-Gedancken

Johann Pachelbel - Christus, der ist mein Leben:
http://www.box.com/shared/fko0faqx55 (extract)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zxllNk3To3I (virtuoso)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zNFt0jPAd58 (jaunty)

BWV 1112 - Christus, der ist mein Leben:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8DyM1g4njiY

BWV 95 Harnoncour [5]t:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q6rWU2ynMVg
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_5-mmfof4H8 ("clock aria")

BWV 95 Rilling [4]:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zr9Lv3Fd4OQ

Note, if the ticking of a pendulum clock is somehow represented within the tenor aria, then its rate would be related to the second, which would help determine the intended Affekt.

Ed Myskowski wrote (March 13, 2012)
Charles Francis wrote:
< Links to the aforementioned are below, while an informative Wikepedia article on Johann Pachelbel's Musicalische Sterbens-Gedancken can be found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Musicalische_Sterbens-Gedancken >

Thanks for the information re BWV 95 chorale, this link in particular.

Douglas Cowling wrote (March 13, 2012)
BWV 95 - Oboes

The scoring of this cantata is fascinating. I just noticed that in the opening chorus (Mvt. 1), Bach writes for two oboes d'amore. Then during the recitative which interrupts, they quickly (three bars) lay aside their instruments and pick up oboes "ordinaria" (notated in concert key) and play the rest of the movement. They then take up the oboes d'amore and play the rest of the cantata.

What is the range of the oboe d'amore? They play up to a G in the first section and the regular oboes only reach a B flat in the final section, so I doubt register is the issue. I wonder if Bach wanted the two perspectives on death which Julian describes to be expressed with a different tone colour. Is the change symbolic.

Are there any other examples of this shift of wind instruments in the canatas? There are examples of shifts to violin and cello piccolo.

John Sys-Ex wrote (March 13, 2012)
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< The scoring of this cantata is fascinating. I just noticed that in the opening chorus, Bach writes for two oboes d'amore. Then during the recitative which interrupts, they quickly (three bars) lay aside their instruments and pick up oboes "ordinaria" (notated in concert key) and play the rest of the movement. They then take up the oboes d'amore and play the rest of the cantata.
What is the range of the oboe d'amore? They play up to a G in the first section and the regular oboes only reach a B flat in the final section, so I doubt register is the issue. I wonder if Bach wanted the two perspectives on death which Julian describes to be expressed with a different tone colour. Is the change symbolic. >
The oboe d'amore (a transposing instrument) plays a minor third lower than an oboe, extending down to Ab and up to F almost 3 octaves above (the oboe extends to G). Its tonal quality is much softer due to its closed bell shape.

The oboe da caccia, occasionally called for by Bach, seems to have the same range as the cor anglais, and plays, I believe, a fifth lower than the oboe, but a very different, and usually a flared brass bell (not unlike a trumpet), giving it a very much brighter tonal quality.

Any help?

Linda Gingrich wrote (March 13, 2012)
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< I wonder if Bach wanted the two perspectives on death which Julian describes to be expressed with a different tone colour. Is the change symbolic. >
Eric Chafe gives examples of the symbolic use of oboes d'amore in his musical allegory books, for example to accompany expressions of love in the cantata texts. Such an unusual instrumental change could certainly be a signal of some sort of allegorical intention to underscore the text.

Claudi Di Veroli wrote (March 13, 2012)
Without being an oboist myself, but having heard many times the three baroque oboes in rehearsals and in concert, let me add some precisions:

- Baroque oboe: non-transposing, range c-f''' (i.e. 2.5 octaves above "middle c")

- Oboe d'amore is transposing in A. Range is a minor third below Baroque oboe.

It is noticeably more velvety and somehow softer, mainly due to the slightly less conical bore.

hat said, a few oboists prefer (and manage) to play the Baroque oboe less bright and the oboe d'amore brighter, so that they sound almost identical.

- Oboe da caccia is transposing in F. Range is a fifth below Baroque oboe, and similar (or very slightly lower) loudness.

The tone is distinctly different from the other two baroque oboes, somehow between a bassoon playing high notes and a modern alto saxophone.

The construction is peculiar: not bored out of solid wood, but made of two halfs, separately bored by carving, then glued together. The trumpet-like brass bell is mostly decorative: its main effect is to add some resonance to
the low F.

Even in recording and sorrounded by strings and voices their different tone qualities are very easy to identify (like flutes and recorders say). In the Leusink recordings [8] (which shamefully do not clarify on the record sleeves which oboes are used) one can understand which of the three variants above is used by just listening carefully.

Douglas Cowling wrote (March 13, 2012)
Claudio Di Veroli wrote:
< a few oboists prefer (and manage) to play the Baroque oboe less bright and the oboe d'amore brighter, so that they sound almost identical. >
Reminds of the time I attended a concert in Albert Hall of the Handel Fireworks Music which replicated numbers of the original wind band. The sound of 14 period oboes tuning was apocalyptic. Forget the Last Trumpet -- Judgment Day will be announced by the Last Oboe!

Claudi Di Veroli wrote (March 13, 2012)
[To Douglas Cowling] FIndeed, the same apocalyptic tuning is heard in the large-band in the recording conducted by Niquet.

Some reviewers of modern recordings on large Baroque ensembles have argued that their tuning is demonstrably better than their were in their time, where they mostly would not even bother tuning at the beginning, but would
adjust the tuning during the performance itself.

There is a flaw in the reasoning, however. Nowadays we have playing together oboists who, however good, have been trained by different teachers, playing different Baroque oboe models (not all of them were created equal . . .), and performing in different ensembles, trying to play in tune with instruments whose strings were tuned to different temperaments.

Maybe today we are asking from our oboists a different kind of flexibility that was asked in Baroque times. In Handel's band, most oboes would have learnt the trade by teachers of the same national school, they would all be playing virtually identical English-model Baroque oboes, accustomed to play in bands following similar tuning systems. Maybe (hard to prove) their tuning was better, not worse, than what we are achieve nowadays.

Ed Myskowski wrote (March 14, 2012)
Claudio Di Veroli wrote:
< Even in recording and sorrounded by strings and voices their different tone qualities are very easy to identify (like flutes and recorders say). In the Leusink recordings [8] (which shamefully do not clarify on the record sleeves which oboes are used) one can understand which of the three variants above is used by just listening carefully. >
An interesting detail for discussion, and for possible addition to the BCW discography. Although I am getting old and mellow, and mostly grateful for the positive aspects of liner notes (however perfunctory), I do agree that some omissions of detail are accurately described as shameful.

Ed Myskowski wrote (March 14, 2012)
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< Reminds of the time I attended a concert in Albert Hall of the Handel Fireworks Music which replicated numbers of the original wind band. The sound of 14 period oboes tuning was apocalyptic. Forget the Last Trumpet -- Judgment Day will be announced by the Last Oboe! >
The four(teen) oboists of the Apocalypse? World ends soon, indeed.

 

Cantata BWV 95: 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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Last update: ýMarch 31, 2012 ý12:29:18