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Cantata BWV 52
Falsche Welt, dir trau ich nicht!

Dingeman van Wijnen | Eric Chafe


Thomas Braatz wrote (November 20, 2001):
BWV 52 - Commentaries:

Just as there are so few recordings of this cantata available, so there is also a dearth of commentary, particularly among the older references that I have (Spitta, Schweitzer, Voigt, Smend). I could ask along with Aryeh: "Is this neglecting justified?" It is truly rather strange. At least Aryeh has the Robertson and Nicholas Anderson commentaries which you have read. I will quote some of Finscher's commentary which is included with the Harnoncourt/Leonhardt set: Each recitative and aria describes the false world and the goodness of God. The sequence of keys in the cantata: F major forms the framework. D minor and A minor are the false world, while Bb major is allotted to God's realm. There is a strong contrast between the magnificent concerto sound of mvt. 1 and the ascetic tone painting (2 violins & bc) of the 1st aria in which the pious Christian, with contemptuous declamatory motifs ("immerhin" ["nevertheless"]) rejects the false world.

The adamant rejection of the declamation in the 1st recitative is the antithesis of the soft, frequently repeated arioso motif "Gott ist getreu" ("God is true") in the 2nd recitative. The 2nd aria has both the illuminating scoring (3 oboes) and the almost polonaise-type dancing character that symbolize the bright world of God and the "dance of the soul" on the part of the devout Christian.

Dingeman van Wijnen, in the Leusink commentaries, calls attention to some examples of Bach's musical picture language in the final aria: the long note on "halt" ["to hold"] , the laughing figure on the word "Spott", and the final touch at the end of the aria - on the word, "alleine" ["alone"] only one oboe is left playing while the other two have been phased out. [Dingeman beat me out on this last one. I thought I was the only one to have made this discovery, but alas!]

Regarding the big question that has already been discussed extensively here: "What's the 1st mvt. of the famous Brandenburg Concertos doing here at the beginning of the cantata?" the following theories have been put forth:

1) Bach made a bad choice here because the mood and sentiment between the mvt. from the Brandenburg Concertos does not agree at all with what follows in the cantata. (Michael Grover)

2) Bach was a pragmatist. It was a matter of convenience and using what was at hand (Dick Wursten)

3) Bach wanted the 1st mvt. (Brandenburg) to represent "die falsche Welt" ["the world of deceit and trickery"]. The 1st recitative is intended to pointedly reveal what is truly behind the courtly atmosphere conjured up in the 1st mvt. This is ironic since Bach originally dedicated its use as courtly music. The use of horns sounding like hunting horns help the listener to picture this practice reserved for the highest class. (Marie Jensen)

4) Bach wanted the horns to symbolize holiness just as he had applied horns this way in other compositions of a sacred nature. (Marie Jensen)

5) Bach recycled his good compositions just as many other Baroque composers were prone to do. (Steven Guy)

6) Bach was simply showing off his most delightful music and his most interesting scorings. (Steven Guy)

7) Bach thought the cantata was too short and needed to fill in the time (cantatas had to fill out a certain prescribed amount of time during the church service.) (Aryeh Oron)

8) Bach could use the mvt. from the Brandenburg Concertos because the Leipzig audience would not have heard it before. (Aryeh Oron)

9) Bach was looking for a strong impact on his audience (the congregation in St. Thomas Church in Leipzig). Their eyebrows would definitely be raised at the beginning the 1st recitative which would immediately follow the
grandiose opening mvt. (Aryeh Oron)

10) Bach found an original and shocking way to present the message contained in the cantata text. He was trying to point out musically the difference between illusion and reality. The Brandenburg mvt. is the beautiful illusion, but in reality it represents "die falsche Welt." (Aryeh Oron)

Eric Chafe, in an extensive footnote, relates a connection that does give credence to one of Marie Jensen's ideas (4). In speaking about the 'emblematic character of the thematic material in BWV 21, Chafe contends that Bach used the, in this case, C major triad ascending stepwise up the chord to the octave and then downward again to represent 'a vision of God in His sphere by drawing on widespread associations of majesty. The use of this symmetrical ascent-descent figure on the word "Alleluja" is followed by a rising fifth. This brings about a further association that is often used by Bach in other works, "often in pronouncedly eschatological contexts."

This is where the footnote, located at the end of the book "Analyzing Bach Cantatas," begins. Before reading this footnote, try to hear in your mind or simply play the very beginning of the 1st mvt. of the 1st Brandenburg Concerto. Listen carefully to the first horn figure. This is a major chord figure with the ascent-descent motif + the upward leap of a fifth. This is the very theme of holiness associated with horns that Marie Jensen pointed out. Eric Chafe places the emphasis on the motif which could be played by other instruments as well. Here is the footnote quoted exactly as it appears:

"Perhaps the best-known occurrence of this theme in Bach's work is as the horn call of the 1st movement of the 1st Brandenburg Concerto, where Bach assigns it a triplet rhythm that stands apart from the quadruple meter of the other parts and the mvt. as a whole. Bach used a version of the 1st mvt. of this concerto as introductory Sinfonia to the final cantata of the Trinity season in 1726, Cantata BWV 52, "Falsche Welt, dir trau ich nicht," for the 23rd Sunday after Trinity. In Cantata BWV 127 ("Herr Jesu Christ, wahr'r Mensch und Gott," for Quinquagesima, 1725) Bach introduces this theme at the beginning of the apocalyptic bass solo "Wenn einstens die Posaunen schallen," a representation of the Last Judgment; there its C major arpeggio juxtaposes to the C minor (with recorders and other "soft" devices, such as pizzicato bass) of the preceding mvt, "Die Seele ruht in Jesu Händen," a representation of the "sleep of death." Other prominent appearances of this theme occur in Cantata BWV 119 for the changing of the Leipzig town council in 1723 (in association with the majesty of Leipzig, interpreted allegorically as Jerusalem) and Cantata BWV 130, for St. Michael's Day, 1724 (as the principal theme of the aria "Der alte Drache brennt vor Neid"); closely related forms of this theme occur in Cantata BWV 147 for the Visitation of Mary, 1723 (as principal theme of the aria "Ich will von Jesu Wunden singen," whose Weimar original text for the 4th Sunday of Advent, 1716 "Laß mich der Rufer Stimme hören," has a character that is comparable to the 1st mvt. of "Wachet! Betet!"). All the latter mvts. are in C. Versions of this theme also appear in the other trumpet key, D, generally with associations of majesty and/or victory: Cantata BWV 172, the aria "Heiligster Dreieinigkeit"; Cantata BWV 214, on the words "Erschallet, Trompeten"; the SJP, in the middle section of the "Es ist vollbracht" on "Der Held aus Juda siegt mit Macht"; Cantata BWV 249, later the Easter Oratorio, at "Wir sind erfreut [daß unser Jesum wieder lebt)." The 1st appearance of this theme that is known to me is in the setting of Psalm 136 from Heinrich Schütz's Psalmen Davids of 1619, where it is associated with God's majesty. It appears also in the Intrada 1st mvt. of Heinrich Biber's string suite, titled "Trombet und musicalischer Tafeldienst" (around 1673-74), where it is played by solo violin in imitation of the trumpet (headed "Tromba ludin violino solo") above a sustained C major chord on the lower strings."

And from Eric Chafe's book "Tonal Allegory in the Vocal Music of J.S.Bach" [an extremely expensive book - I have no idea why this is so - that is fraught with many irregularities and can sometimes cause sheer frustration. I can only digest it in small portions. It is sometimes very difficult to read. It contains a number of references to his catabasis/anabasis (descent/ascent) theory.] :

"Bach's musical allegory confronts the difficulty of representing a negative proposition, a problem that was recognized at the time. Rejection of the world can only be represented (as opposed to being merely stated) if the world is depicted musically, and the depiction itself implies acceptance. Thus in Cantata BWV 52, "Falsche Welt, dir trau ich nicht," Bach utilizes the opening mvt. of the 1st Brandenburg Concerto as an instrumental introduction, then brings in the voice immediately with the words "Falsche Welt." Neither here nor in any of the many other similar instances in his work can Bach be considered to reject his own music as too worldly. Nor is it sufficient to say that Bach held (or rejected) the theological view that the world, while fallen, can nevertheless be enjoyed to the full as long as its finite, devalued nature is understood. This view simply separates the composer's religious beliefs from his art (without our knowing that it is correct), eliminates the possibility that the composer might have thought deeply about the questions himself, and adds nothing to our understanding of this allegorical procedure per se.

Although drawing logical conclusions on such a question from the works themselves is problematic, it is at least possible to confront the question at the exclusive level of musical allegory. From that standpoint it is clear that Bach uses the forms and styles of instrumental music, concerto and suite, to represent the world in many instances. In Cantata BWV 169 he begins with a concerto 1st-mvt-type, and later in the work parodies the 2nd mvt. of the same concerto as the aria "Stirb in mir, Welt." Cantata BWV 146 likewise begins with a concerto 1st mvt parody and sets the 2nd mvt to the text "Wir müssen durch viel Trübsal." Cantata BWV 35 opens similarly, with the slow mvt set to the text "Geist und Seele wird verwirret" (The expression of the inability of human nature to comprehend the deity). From such pieces we might conclude that Bach perceived a parallel dialectical relationship between concerto allegro and adagio types on the one and the two sides of the world (its splendor versus its tribulation) on the other. This analogy is not hard and fast either, but it allows us to come closer to the composer's intent in both vocal and instrumental works.

Within the 1st Brandenburg Concerto, for example, we might perceive such a relationship between, on the one hand, the unusually festive court orchestra whose horns and oboes add great luster to the opening mvt. and, on the other, the violino piccolo, a voice so weak by comparison that to hear it at all the concert listener must sort out a duality of dynamic levels. In the 1st mvt. the violino piccolo is almost totally absorbed into the hierarchical orchestral sonority, in which pairs of horns and oboes playing in parallel thirds and sixths project a stately, measured character. But in the slow mvt. suddenly the formal splendor and pomp give way to the more intimate and intense pathetic emotions of the three soloists, violino piccolo, oboe, and basso continuo. These three stand apart from the string orchestra not only in their roles of individual voices versus accompaniment but also by virtue of the tremendous dissonances that are heard when the orchestra, following the lead of the previous soloist, cadences in its key, only to clash with the entering soloist and its turn toward a new key. The tonal direction is unmistakably downward, phrase by phrase, from the initial A major sonority to D minor, G minor, and C minor, before the reinterpretation of an A flat as G sharp returns the tonality to D minor. Even the longer sections that make up the main part of the mvt. modulate downward: the 1st in D minor and the 2nd in G minor, leading to the chromatic Phrygian approach to the final A major sonority. In its juxtaposition of the sharpest and flattest tonal sonorities of the ambitus this mvt. can be considered an expansion of the tonal idea behind the Phrygian cadence. The drama of antithesis in the work as a whole, however, is told in terms of the shift from the formal, pompous, and external character of the opening mvt. to the inward and plaintive adagio, not in the 1st mvt, as is the norm in the classical concerto. And the work mirrors another world altogether from, say, the opening mvt. of Mozart's D minor Concerto, one that is far more hierarchical in nature. The 3rd mvt. provides the synthesis or reconciliation, in that both the full court orchestra and solo violino piccolo are heard for the 1st time. But it is a reconciliation that emphasizes the opposition between the two parties by assigning the lead to the violino piccolo both in moments of great structural weight and in the only place in the mvt where the pathetic character of the preceding mvt. is recalled (with an emphasis on flats). The 1st of these situations makes a great impact when, after the full orchestra presents a block of ritornello material, we are left suddenly with the relatively feeble sonority of violino piccolo and basso continuo alone to complete the ritornello. Any sense of an equality that transcends social barriers is out of the question: the formal hierarchy of the court as symbol of the world is ever-present. Yet intrinsic worth and character are preserved for the individual in the face of the striking disparity of resources. The group of symmetrically arranged dances that Bach adds to the concerto proper -- including a Polacca of rustic origins -- perhaps affirms the role of the court/world as meeting ground of varied, but always hierarchically ordered social sectors.

When, in "Falsche Welt, dir trau ich nicht," Bach follows the first mvt. of this concerto with an immediate turn to D minor in the first recitative, following this in quick succession with modulations to G minor ("unter falschen Schlangen wohnen"), E Flat ("Dein Angesicht, das noch so freundlich ist"), and B flat minor ("so muß ein frommer Armer sterben"), an indication of the structure and meaning of the cantata emerges. The relationship between the 1st and 2nd recitative/aria pairs is one of antithesis: the 1st pair (in D minor) voices the "Jämmerliche Stand" of a world in which only God can be trusted, and the 2nd (B flat) expresses that trust. The move down to the subdominant is associated with God's supportive presence: "Gott ist getreu! Er wird, er kann mich nicht verlassen, Will mich die Welt in ihrer Raserei in ihre Schlingen fassen, so steht mir seine Hilfe bei." The idea is similar to the presence of the Spirit in the subdominant aria that ended "Erschallet, ihr Lieder." In the aria "Ich halt' es mit dem lieben Gott," the world is represented by three oboes, moving entirely in homophonic style. This sonority, relating to the introductory concerto mvt, had been used by Bach two years earlier, in 1724, in the E minor bass aria "An irdische Schätze das Herze zu hängen ist eine Verführung der törichten Welt" from Cantata BWV 26 ("Ach wie flüchtig, ach wie nichtig ist der Menschen Leben"). "An irdische Schätze" is written in gavotte style, and its tone is very different from "Ich halt' es mit dem lieben Gott." It is, furthermore, the apex of an ascent/descent cantata, whose plan allegorizes, like several others of its type, the futility of earthly hopes. "Ich halt' es" on the other hand, is another work in which the idea of descent, like the instrumentation, is associated with the world, but a world of peace and comfort owing to faith in God. "Falsche Welt" is one of the simplest of the descent/ascencantatas, ending with a prayer for God to preserve faith in the individual (F major chorale)."

Thomas Braatz wrote (November 20, 2001):
After making the discovery of the 'holiness' theme present in the 1st mvt. of the 1st BB courtesy of Eric Chafe last night, I happened to hear the 2nd Brandenburg on WFMT early this morning. Still half dozing off, I began to recognize the theme that Chafe was talking about in the 1st mvt. of the 1st BB. My first thought was "This is too easy. We're talking about 'walking up and down a major chord with a tag ending.' Certainly this is the most basic element in music and will be ever-present, particularly in Baroque music." My second thought was "Bach being the recognized master could have chosen any other type of motif to show off his skill, had he wanted to do this. Why this simple, basic motif? Could it also serve as a unifying element in all six of the BB's?"

The answer is yes.

What this could also mean is that Bach could and would have used all the 1st mvts. of the BB's in church. It is very possible then that he may have recycled all of them as introductory sinfonias in the cantatas. We simply do not have all the cantatas that he composed.

This is what I found:

1st BB BWV 1046
This has the motif in its purest form in the opening horn signal of the 1st mvt. Bach is announcing not only the theme of the 1st mvt. of the 1st BB, but also states what will become the unifying element for all 6 BB's! With Bach's skill and ability in embellishing a theme, he will not stick to a simple, repeated device that is always easily recognized. Consider how Bach is able to transform the melodic line of a chorale!

2nd BB BWV 1047
The motif first appears in the bc in mvt. 1 and is repeated there a number of times: ms. 6-7, 26-27, 37-38, 116-117 The trumpet gets the motif without the tag (a leap of a fifth at the end) in ms. 47, 81. You can hear a slightly modified version of the motif in ms. 1, 2.

3rd BB BWV 1048
The violas at the beginning of the 1st mvt. have the pattern but omit the upper octave note in ms. 1, 104. This pattern is repeated by other groupings of strings. This modified motif seems almost like a carry-over of the slightly modified trumpet fanfare in the 2nd BB.

When the 3 violins enter with the motif in ms. 21, Bach marks only these instruments with a 'forte,' thus drawing attention to it. Why would he have to do this, other than for the reason that he wants to mark the motif and not have it get lost in the overall orchestral sound. It appears again at ms. 34, 102.

The 1st violin in ms. 77,78 uses a further modification of the motif as a fugal subject.

The 3rd mvt. uses only the beginning 3-note fragment of the theme.

4th BB BWV 1049
The 2nd recorder immediately begins with the motif at the beginning of the 1st mvt., this time the arpeggiation begins on the 3rd rather than the base of the triad and the tag, instead of having a leap of a 5th, now is a 6th.

5th BB BWV 1050
In mvt. 1 the violins have a modified version of this motif in ms. 1, 19, 219 - 220. The cellos have it in ms. 35, 36. The harpsichord has it in the left hand in ms. 81, 83, 85, 87, 89 with the final interval dropping down rather than jumping up.

6th BB BWV 1051
In the 1st mvt. the violas da braccio I,II in ms. 1 after coming down the embellished chord give the most highly embellished version of the motif in ms. 2, 3, also ms. 47, 48 and 115-117.

The 3rd mvt. contains short fragments of the motif.

For continuation of the discussion about this topic, see: Parodies in Bach Cantatas [General Topics]


Cantata BWV 52: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

Commentaries: Main Page | Cantatas BWV 1-50 | Cantatas BWV 51-100 | Cantatas BWV 101-150 | Cantatas BWV 151-200 | Cantatas BWV 201-224 | Other Vocal Works BWV 225-524 | Sources


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