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Hilliard Ensemble





Exerpts from BWV 136, BWV 278 (x5), BWV 277 (x2), BWV 188 (x2), BWV 245 (x2), BWV 270, BWV 358, BWV 5, BWV 389


Hilliard Ensemble

Soprano: Monika Mauch; Counter-tenor: David James; Tenor: John Potter; Baritone: Gordon Jones; Christoph Poppen (Baroque violin)


Sep 2000

CD / TT: 61:33

Recorded at Monastery of St. Gerold, Austria. Other work: Partita for Solo Violin BWV 1004.
Buy this album at: | |

"Morimur" -- Chorale melodies hidden in violin partitas theory

Armagan Ekici
wrote (August 22, 2001):
ECM is releasing a record where the violin partitas are performed together with the Chorale melodies claimed to be hidden in them:


Peter Bright
wrote (October 2, 2001):
Has anyone on the list heard this album yet (Morimur, ECM 4618952)? It's a performance of Bach's D minor partita for solo violin, interspersed with various chorales, which (according to a certain Professor Helga Thoene) are hidden within the famous Ciaccona which concludes the piece. I think the idea that Bach wrote it as an epitaph for his first wife is not entirely new, but the argument seems particularly well presented here.

The only reason I ask is that I just took the plunge and ordered it! All the newspaper reviews I found (plus the Gramophone reviewer) spoke glowingly about it. I was drawn to the concept of the album - I understand that the Ciaccona is presented in two versions - as the sublime solo work that we know and also in a version with the "hidden" chorales sung "on top" of it. The solo artist is Christoph Poppen and the chorales sung by the Hilliard Ensemble.

Kirk McElhearn wrote (October 2, 2001):
[To Peter Bright] Is this anything like the disc called De Occulta Philosophia, where Jose Miguel Moreno plays lute and Emma Kirkby sings over the chaconne? I guess you can say pretty much anything you want about that piece...

Marten Breuer wrote (October 2, 2001):
[To Peter Bright] Samples of 'morimur' can be found (and listened to) at:

Personally speaking, I found very promising what I heard.

James wrote (October 2, 2001):
Here's a review:

The Classical Score (column)

BPI Entertainment News Wire
(c) Copyright 2001 BPI Communications, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
NUMBERS GAME: Johann Sebastian Bach 's ability to create a tremendous body of work -- as elegant and finely wrought as it is massive -- is so extraordinary that it already seems to border on the mystical. "Morimur," a new project recently released on ECM, adds a new dimension to that overwhelming oeuvre, suggesting that Bach composed his works with even more than melody, harmony, and the art of fugue in mind. The disc, recorded by violinist/conductor Christoph Poppen with early-music vocal stars the Hilliard Ensemble, seeks to illustrate hidden layers of meaning in Bach's music, embedded in the notation and revealed through numerology. In the Baroque era, composers sometimes used the ancient methods of gematria, a type of numerology, to plant hidden messages in their works. They might, for example, assign number values to the names of the notes, i.e., A=1, B=2, and so on. Musicologists discovered that Bach had incorporated complex systems of liturgical references -- as well as his own name -- in the notes, durations, and rhythms of his sacred music.

In her own studies, Professor Helga Thoerne of the University of Dusseldorf asserts that Bach planted such deeper meanings in his instrumental works as well. In particular, she found numerous references to Bach's chorales hidden in the six Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin. Thoerne uncovered a wealth of references to the liturgy, as well as Lutheran chorales, in the virtuosic Chaconne that concludes the Partita in D minor. She interprets the work to be a musical epitaph for Bach's first wife, Maria Barbara, who had died unexpectedly in 1720, the year that Bach compiled the works.

Thoerne shared her findings with Poppen, a Dusseldorf faculty colleague. "One day I met up with her, and she said, `I've discovered something that I'd like to show you, because it's so frightening,' " he recalls. Poppen began to help Thoerne illustrate her findings at lectures, playing the Chaconne while a second violinist played the chorale tunes implied by her research.

Poppen soon made a recording of the Chaconne with a pair of vocalists from a local boys choir actually singing the chorale tunes. He shared this demo with Manfred Eicher, head of ECM, for whom he had recently made his label debut conducting the Munich Chamber Orchestra. When Eicher offered to record the work, Poppen suggested that the Hilliard Ensemble would be ideal collaborators. Eicher arranged for them to meet.

"Their first reaction," Poppen recalls, "was that it looked interesting, but that they couldn't do it. It required a soprano, and it didn't give them enough to sing." Not content to take no for an answer, Poppen drove across Germany to a Hilliard performance to ask the quartet to reconsider. "They said, `Well, since you came all the way here, let's just try a little bit of it.' We went back to their little hotel and played the entire thing through, and then they said, `We've got to do this.' "

ECM has just released the resulting disc, "Morimur" -- the title being a reference to the scriptural verse "In Christo Morimur" (In Christ we die). A typically lovely ECM package includes a remarkable 80-page booklet explaining the project's methodological impetus. The disc presents individual movements of the Partita in D minor in alternation with chorale movements, concluding with the Chaconne as played by Poppen while the Hilliards sing the related chorales. The effect is ghostly -- more than one commentator has likened it to being inside Bach's head as he conceived the work.

Poppen and the Hilliard Ensemble will undertake a brief U.S. tour in April 2002, performing in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Cincinnati, Chicago, Boston, and Washington, D.C. The project comes to New York City a year later. Although that might seem far off, Poppen does not expect to tire of "Morimur." "I listen to it again and again," he says, "and I hear completely new things each time. It's just amazing."

Peter Bright wrote (October 3, 2002):
[To James] Thanks for printing the review, James. I have now heard it once and must say the effect of the chaconne played together with the chorales sent shivers down my spine. One of the reviewer's comments certainly rang true:

"The effect is ghostly -- more than one commentator has likened it to being inside Bach's head as he conceived the work."

A compelling argument is made concerning these "hidden" chorales – whether it represents any kind of truth about Bach's composition is beyond me. Whatever the case, it is a wonderful recording - very highly recommended.

Two other reviews:

The Sunday Times (UK) concludes: "A stunning instance of thought-provoking scholarship allied to deeply moving music-making".

Gramophone concludes: "...the thougof those fleeting, ghostly chorale fragments being something he could have heard in his head is one that is hard to resist. And in the end, when the mind has cleared itself of musicology, this is above all one of those increasingly rare things – a moving and intelligently programmed disc that is effective from beginning to end."

Jim Morrison wrote (October 3, 2002):
I couldn't resist all that raving so I ordered a copy today. I'll let you know what I think when it gets here.

And speaking of the Violin Sonatas and Partitas a disc that I only recently got in and am listening to right now and can recommend as much more than a novelty disc is Gahler's Set on Arte Nova on which he uses a curved bow. Amazing the amount of flow in these works that is created by using such a body. It really needs to be heard, I think. I also think it needs to be ordered from oversea if you live in the USA.

Other recent purchases that I've been pleased with but am too lazy at the moment to write little reviews for are:

Alan Curtis's French and English Suites on Teldec, recorded in the early 80s on the Hamburg Zell. (Hard to find, I think, in the USA.)

Roberto Gini and Laura Alvini's Viola de Gamba Sonatas (with Italian Concerto as filler) on Tactus. Some of you may know Gini from his work on Savall's Art of Fugue, which I also only recently got my hands on, but give a warm recommendation for, along with his Brandenburg Concertos. Other's on the list seem to know Alvini from her fortepiano work, which I've never heard.

And finally, a big thumbs-up recommendation for what's to me a top-level performance of the Orchestral Suites in full octane HIP: Andrew Manze and the La Stravaganza Koln's double disc set on Denon (which are coupled, oddly I think, with some Camerata Bern Handel.) I don't have the Kuijken that Brad raves about, though I've heard a few performances on the radio, and I think the Manze set is at least it equal. You may also remember that the Manze set is unusual in that the drums and trumpets are omitted from the Third Suite.

PS: Feel free to ask for more info on these recordings if you like.

Jim Morrison wrote (October 14, 2001):
[To Peter Bright] I've had this disc on replay all during the evening. A marvoulous stiring, haunting album. I concur with all the statements below. If you think this might be your kind of thing in the least bit, but it immediately on your must have list.

Kirk McElhearn wrote (October 14, 2001):
[To Jim Morrison] What label?

Jodie Mistrial wrote (October 14, 2001):
< Jim Morrison wrote: A marvoulous stiring, haunting album. >
What was it again? You all whirl around too fast to remember all the info that spills out from the list! I feel like I'm the last runner in the marathon, heaving, running, trying ever-so-hard to keep up! "Wait for me!" a whisper of a voice comes from the end of the pack! "Wait, I'm I come......" Yikes!

Jim Morrison wrote (October 14, 2001):
[To Jodie Mistrial] Funny post, Jodie,

The disc is called Morimur, on ECM 1765.
Here's a link to the ECM webpage on the recording.

Kirk McElhearn wrote (October 14, 2001):
[To Jodie Mistrial] Don't worry, there are archives of the list. If you don't get it all on the first time around, it doesn't disappear!

Michael Grover wrote (October 14, 2001):
[To Jim Morrison] Where did you order this from? From ECM's site, I hadn't realized that it wasn't available in the U.S. until I tried to search for it today. Was it you who ordered some things from and had to wait an eternity for them to arrive?

Jodie Mistrial wrote (October 15, 2001):
[To Jim Morrison] Bless you my child! I'm going there now!!! :)

Jim Morrison wrote (October 15, 2001):
I picked up my copy of Morimur from Tower online, took only a few days, maybe a week, to get to me.

And yes it was me that had to wait so long to get an order from From the time I placed my order, to the time I got my discs was seven! weeks. Wow, that's a long time. But I did get a few choice items: the Alan Curtis French and English Suites, along with Bob van Asperen's Froberger, among others.

Morimur: A Skeptic's View

Thierry van Bastelaer wrote (October 16, 2001):
(My apologies if this message resurrects a thread which was left to die one or two weeks ago.)

Bless ECM for continuing to provide us with challenging recordings projects such as Morimur. How welcome to have such alternatives to another recording of Mozart's Requiem. Unfortunately, challenge and innovation, despite their intrinsic value, do not necessarily add up to success. And although this disk is fascinating in its purpose and realization, it failed to convince this listener.

To be sure, there is a lot of hidden meaning that remains to be unearthed in Bach's music. There is also a risk of overkill in this area. Anybody with a good ear, a bit of imagination and a lot of time can find almost anything hidden in any score, and I am afraid that ECM may have fallen victim to that with Morimur. I am not an expert like most of the eminent subscribers to this group, but here are my reasons for this impression.

Chorales are, by design, simple diatonic tunes, so they can be superimposed on many Baroque harmonic progressions. Moreover, the basic harmonic plan of the Ciaccona is relatively straightforward, making it a good candidate for numerous combinations of superimpositions.

The choice of chorale verses is critical to Dr. Thoene's argument. For example, she explain a A-Bb-B-C progression by a supposed superimposition of the words "gib uns Geduld in Leidenszeit" (page 55). These words are from the "Dein Will gescheh'" choral from the St John Passion (BWV 245). Isn't this hymn tune is known as "Vater unser", the hymn of which "Dein Will gescheh'" is only a subsequent verse? Since Bach and his contemporaries associated the hymn tune with its first verse ("Vater unser"), it appears that naming the chorale "Dein Will gescheh'" and using this verse's text is only a convenient choice that support Dr. Thoene's argument. Similarly, "Befiehl du deine Wege" (cited on page 54) is a verse of the "Herzlich tut mich Verlangen" hymn, which doesn't have the same meaning.

Except for the first four bars of the Kyrie of the B Minor Mass (BWV 232), I am not aware of any partial use of chorales in (visible or invisible) superimposition in Bach's music. When a chorale melody is cited, it's usually from the first to the last note, and in constant meter. Does any one know of any chorale superimposition where various bars from different chorales are used in alternance?

B-A-C-H: the search for Bach's signature in his works has long been a favorite pastime. The best known cases are of course the last subject of the four-subject fugue in the Art of the Fugue and a quote in the last line of the Vom Himmel hoch variations. Dr. Thoene suggests that Bach also inserted his signature in bars 128-130 (and in the example on the top of page 54 of the booklet) of the Ciaccona. In these two cases, the notes are in the C-H-B-A order, not exactly a signature. If we follow the logic of this argument, any chromatic progression from A to C (or vice-versa) in Bach's work is intended as his signature, a claim I am not sure Bach specialists are willing to make.

The "Der Tod, der Tod" motif is not strictly from a chorale but movement #3 of cantata BWV 4, as acknowledged on page 54.

So my strong impression from all of this is that if you take snippets of chorales here and there, and tweak their time values, you should be able to superimpose them on a multitude of works by a variety of composers to uncover almost any meaning you want (give the Ciaccona to Peter Schikele and he will probably find a way to superpose excerpts from "Tea for Two" and the "Guns of Navarone" soundtrack.)

Another small gripe: if the Hilliard are going to sing the "Christ lag" chorale four times, could they at least not choose four different harmonizations, rather than sing the same one four times?

I hope some of you will take thopportunity to shoot down my arguments and expose my ignorance; I really want to like this CD and to appreciate such an interesting and unusual initiative.

Jim Morrison wrote (October 17, 2002):
[To Thierry van Bastelaer] No apologies necessary. We were talking about this recording just a few days ago.

I can't make too many comments on your post, except by saying that it's well written and lucid, because I'm no music scholar, and haven't even bothered to read the 20 something pages of English liner notes for the disc.

I simply hit play on the CD player and enjoy the music without considering at all the theoretical underpinnings about what may or may not have been in Bach's mind when he was composing the Partita.

I can see how if you disagreed with the theory that you may be bothered by the music in a way that someone who doesn't care about such things isn't.

The pleasure of listening to the music is all the convincing I need and care about, which is just one way among a many of approaching the work.

So did you like the music on the disc? Any of the Hillard's singing? Poppen's violin playing? The way movements of the Partita were interspersed with vocal parts? How about the effect of hearing the vocies superimposed on the Ciaccona at the end of the disc? Not the logic behind the project, but the music of the combined Ciaccona and vocal works? Pretend you don't know a thing about the reasoning that put them together.

I find the music very moving and refreshing, but when pressed will confess that I think of the work as more of a strange kind of quodlibet written just a few years ago than the conclusion of--what seems to my uneducated glance--a very hard case to prove. I'd like to hear more discs like this one.

Once again, the argument that brought the music into being doesn't concern me. It's the final outcome, this lovely haunting unusual new Bachian kind of music, that impresses me.

Thierry van Bastelaer wrote (October 17, 2002):
[To Jim Morrison] Ouch. Have I really become so immune to the simple enjoyment of music? Good question that will haunt many sleepless nights... But I hope not. As an academic, my instinctive reaction when I see a "scholarly" piece is to see if I agree with its basic hypothesis. And since the raison d'etre of this CD is Dr. Thoene's research, the temptation is to judge one by the other. But your questions about the music are, of course, central.

Focusing only on that, thus, I am forced to question whether the performance of the individual pieces represents an improvement over the competition. Are there "better" performances of the solo violin sonatas and partitas? Probably. I find Huggett and Kuijken, for example, to be more statisfactory.

If I want to listen to chorales on the Morimur CD, are there other sources to check out first? Here again, I believe so. Two of them come from St John, one from St Matthew and the others from various cantatas (not to mention volume 7 of Teldec's Bach 2000, which includes all the 4-part chorales, beautifully performed by the Rundfunkchor Berlin). Whether or not one agrees with the one-on-a-part approach to Bach's choral music, there are many performances of these chorales with finer tuning and clearer acoustics. As to your last question about the impact of the voices superimposed on the ciaccona, well yes, it sounds nice, in an Enya-like way. It would sound nice with almost anything superimposed on it, wouldn't it? Maybe what really prevents me from enjoying this is the impression of misguided scholarship and the superimposition of a randomly chosen music snippets on a masterly piece of music that is anything but random. Maybe also the ambition that disputable research can claim to understand what happened in Bach's mind?

I guess in a nutshell, the underlying scientific argument and the performance are not compelling enough, in my view, to make up for the convenience of having these wonderful violin pieces and chorales on one CD.

Now I'll go and listen to some music just for the fun of it.

Jim Morrison wrote (October 17, 2002):
[To Thierry van Bastelaer] Welcome aboard, Tierry. Good to have you here.

Sorry if I came across as ouch-inducing.

(Just came back from having my teeth cleaned, now that's ouchy, along with comparing this disc with Enya's music. Yowza! Next thing you know we'll be talking about Yanni. And I thought we were a civilized group. ;-)

No question about the 'scholary' background/thesis to this disc. It's not being marketed as a modern day rethinking/recomposition of Bach, which is how I like to consider it, but as a discovery of what Bach was thinking about when he composed the Partita, as a memorial for the death of his first wife, for those of you who may not know. I can understand why those with more knowledge than I of the issue would have problems with it, and how that could effect the listening experience.

When it's all said and done, I don't really see how the Enya comparison works very well. After all, it's a real Bach Partita combined with a real chorales. What makes the combination of the two not come across as a kind of hybrid baroque composition (a quodlibet, if you will) and instead as elevated elevator music like Enya? You could be right about the high number of chorales that would sound well with the Partita, or any of the solo works. I'd like to hear other discs like this to see if it's true.

Jim (who still says if you think this is the sort of album you'd like, then go for it. I enjoy it.)

PS: I may just have to track down the Teldec recording. You're not the only person to give it a high recommendation.

Thierry van Bastelaer wrote (October 17, 2002):
[To Jim Morrison] The reference to Enya was made in jest; I apologize for not including an appropriate ;^]. But the idea remains, in the sense that the whole thing sounds very "new agey" to me, in part because of the acoustics.

This being said, you're exactly right about the quodlibet comparison. When it comes down to it (and then I'll stop sharing my successive impressions of this work), from a purely--non scientific--point of view, I may resent the idea of adding anything to Bach's music. Even written for one melodic instrument, it's as perfect as it can be. More is less. Now, if the research were convincing, I would certainly appreciate listening to the exercise for that reason.

Sympathies for your teeth!

PS: The Teldec Vol. 7 (catalog number 3984 25712 2) is apparently hard to find; I've ordered it from Amazon months ago and they keep postponing the delivery. Seven CDs of chorales and songs... Probably not to be listened to in one sitting...

Thomas Braatz wrote (October 17, 2002):
Thierry van Bastelaer stated: < (not to mention volume 7 of Teldec's Bach 2000, which includes all the 4-part chorales, beautifully performed by the Rundfunkchor Berlin). >
Jim Morrison stated: < I may just have to track down the Teldec recording. You're not the only person to give it a high recommendation. >
Just recently I did a review on this site under the subject: BWV 253-438 which looks at vols. 82-85 of the Teldec Bach 2000 series. Before attaching words like "beautifully performed" or "high recommendation" to this particular set of recordings by this group, I would suggest waiting to hear from Kirk McElhearn who will soon tell us what the Brilliant Complete Bach series has to offer in this particular Bach Chorales category. Also read Riccardo's contribution (subject: BWV 253-438) regarding the Hänssler contribution in its complete Bach series. According to Riccardo, they will soon be coming out in a special box issue (probably at a better, lower price) and, if his assessment is correct and based on what I have heard in the Hänssler Sacred Cantata series, Rilling's recordings will be far superior to that of the Teldec Bach 2000 series.

Kirk McElhearn wrote (October 18, 2002):
< Thierry Van Bastelaer wrote: (not to mention volume 7 of Teldec's Bach 2000, which includes all the 4-part chorales, beautifully performed by the Rundfunkchor Berlin). >
Interesting - someone else gave a very negative opinion of this set last week... can you tell us why you think it is beautifully performe?

Kirk McElhearn wrote (October 18, 2002):
< Thierry Van Bastelaer wrote: PS: The Teldec Vol. 7 (catalog number 3984 25712 2) is apparently hard to find; I've ordered it from Amazon months ago and they keep postponing the delivery. Seven CDs of chorales and songs... Probably not to be listened to in one sitting... >
No, but quite attractive, although a bit repetitive.

Kirk McElhearn wrote (October 18, 2002):
< Thomas Braatz wrote: Just recently I did a review on this site under the subject: BWV 253-438 which looks at vols. 82-85 of the Teldec Bach 2000 series. Before attaching words like "beautifully performed" or "high recommendation" to this particular set of recordings by this group, I would suggest waiting to hear from Kirk McElhearn who will soon tell us what the Brilliant Complete Bach series has to offer in this particular Bach Chorales category. Also read Riccardo's contribution (subject: BWV 253-438) regarding the Hänssler contribution in its complete Bach series. According to Riccardo, they will soon be coming out in a special box issue (probably at a better, lower price) and, if his assessment is correct and based on what I have heard in the Hänssler Sacred Cantata series, Rilling's recordings will be far superior to that of the Teldec Bach 2000 series. >
My first impression of the BC chorales is mixed - there are some very well-performed and recorded pieces, and others which are less good. But this goes with the works - some of them, in fact, many of them, are very short.

The Hänssler set seems to be coming out in low priced boxes very soon. I know the cantatas are coming out starting in November; I'm not sure about the rest. I'll get in touch with Hanssler and find out.

Jim Morrison wrote (October 18, 2002):
I should have said this a while back, but the Morimur CD does remind me of a living composer's work, someone I happen to enjoy, someone that The Hilliard Ensemble and ECM work with: Arvo Part.

Pablo Fagoaga wrote (October 19, 2002):
[To Kirk McElhearn] Don't blame the the Chorales !!!!!

I think that, with some VERY rare exceptions (in my case one could be the Cello Suites), all "Complete" editions tend to be annoying.

I like violin partitas, but listening to the usual couple CD sets that enclose the "Complete Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin" is something I usually can't stand. To my taste, the same goes for almost all "Complete" issues. Maybe 30 minutes of Harpsichord are sublime, but 78 minutes in a row (not to mention more than one CD) can make me nuts -Sorry Brad, It's sad, but it's a fact :o)-.

Of course, I am talking about the effect of LISTENING, not just HEARING the music, in that "elevator volume" that all of us music lovers hate so much.

On the other hand, to build a comprehensive collection, the advantage of "complete" sets is obvious, so I happen to own many, and I usually feel more attracted to buy complete sets than isolated recordings.

With time, I developed some discipline, and when I play some integral recording, I go directly to an specific work, I listen to it and that's it.

Morimur: The Esoteric Bach

Thomas Braatz wrote (October 21, 2002):
To Jim, who said: < I'd like to hear other discs like this to see if it's true. >
I concur. We need other recordings of this type for those listeners who wish to 'peer beneath the surface' and actually hear what others who have studied long and hard have discovered. Just reading a treatise will never be as fulfilling as the direct understanding that comes from hearing it on a recording.

I still have not received my copy of this CD, but today WFMT, the local classical radio station played a 15-minute segment from this recording. At this time I do not wish to comment of the quality of the recording and the artists, but rather concentrate on the basic concept behind this recording. Personally, I was moved by what I consider to be a true possibility about "how Bach's mind works." This is all based on my own experiences with Bach's music as well as on my own study of expert opinions regarding other works by Bach.

Thierry van Bastelaer stated: <Are there "better" performances of the solo violin sonatas and partitas? Probably. >
Yes, very likely,

< If I want to listen to chorales on the Morimur CD, are there other sources to check out first? Here again, I believe so. >

Yes, but not the source that you mentioned (Berlin Radio Choir – Robin Gritton).

< It would sound nice with almost anything superimposed on it, wouldn't it? >
Try it, and you will see that this won't be easy. The implication that, based on statistics and probability, if one tried to apply the limited number of notes in a diatonic scale in the limited way that the chorales employed them, it would be a simple matter to come up with other meaningful connections between chorale text, chorale melody, and the resulting solo work for violin, loses significance when there is sufficient evidence in Bach's vocal works that Bach's mind did move in this direction. Pointing to the basic chordal progressions of the Chaconne as simplifying the application of the chorale melodies, will not detract from the fact that Bach may still have been thinking (whether consciously or unconsciously in this instance, we will never know with certainty) of these chorales specifically.

< Maybe also the ambition that disputable research can claim to understand what happened in Bach's mind? >
There is always the possibility of some hubris in this type of research activity, just as there is on the part of those who claim scientific proof based on probability and statistics alone. That is why it is important to have many careful listeners who will come to their own 'tentative' conclusions about this effort in Bach scholarship and recording. To have a more valid conclusion regarding these matters, one really needs to study thoroughly Bach's scores while listening to the music, all this after studying what important Bach scholars have discovered in their own research.

< Except for the first four bars of the Kyrie of the B Minor Mass, I am not aware of any partial use of chorales in (visible or invisible) superimposition in Bach's music. When a chorale melody is cited, it's usually from the first to the last note, and in constant meter. >

Not true. There are too many examples in the Bach cantatas to cite, examples such as the one in BWV 106, the famous "Actus tragicus" which has as its main chorale "Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin" that appears only in the second half of the cantata, however, in at least a few separate instances, Alfred Dürr points out the use of only the first line (phrase) of another chorale ("Herzlich tut mich verlangen") that is never mentioned specifically by the text or indicated by Bach in the score: it appears as a snippet in the soprano, alto, and tenor voices. This is almost like a sacred quodlibet in that we have fragmentary quotes of the beginning of another chorale Another factor that must be considered is that Bach was the supreme master in embellishing a simple melody, such as a chorale melody. In one of the Bach cantata discussions (I do not want to take the time to relocate the specific cantata and mvt.) Dürr points out for the listener that the final phrase of an aria was actually the final phrase of the chorale melody, a fact that is difficult for a normal listener to discern (I did not hear it until I had read Dürr's comment, looked at the score, reexamined the chorale melody, and then put both together in my mind), but there it is. It would, of course, be very helpful if someone were to overlay the chorale melody at least with an instrument such as the oboe to make such a connection more apparent for the average listener.

My constant amazement is stimulated by Bach's ability to condense material and operate at several different levels simultaneously, each level having significance on its own. The density he achieves in certain sections of certain compositions is such that the first-time listener is unable to 'comprehend' the complicated puzzle that Bach has 'solved' with such apparent ease. In his sacred music, Bach automatically draws upon his 's understanding of chorale texts and bible passages. He need only intone a chorale snippet, usually the 1st line, to conjure up within the listener the thoughts and feelings usually associated with that quotation. More amazing yet are the hints and indications that Bach has in his musical score, things that only an astute musician or singer will notice, but things that nevertheless bear a direct reference to subject matter of the cantata text, although the congregation would have no way of realizing this level of thought and understanding. For the congregation, or normal listener, such an aspect of compositional technique is simply esoteric - beyond the normal capacity for comprehension. Does this then prevent the listener from enjoying the music without all these references to possible esoteric levels of understanding? No. This is the sign of greatness, that Bach's music can have wide appeal without these references being made explicit. Think of the large portion of Shakespeare's audience at the Globe Theatre. Would they have understood the psychological depth of the dramas as explained by the experts? Or think of Goethe's "Faust Part 1", or better yet his "Urfaust". Despite the profound thought contained in these dramas, could not the average audience enjoy and understand the content without penetrating to its profound depths? Personally, I am moved to even greater admiration for Bach's work, each time a new understanding of what he was possibly doing at this or that point in a composition is revealed to me, but I can also understand that others can do without such additional insights in that the music is sufficient onto itself, just as Shakespeare and Goethe knew that their dramas would have to stand on their own as a spectacle that could be understood directly by the main audience.

Charles Francis wrote (October 21, 2002):
< Thomas Braatz wrote: There is always the possibility of some hubris in this type of research activity, just as there is on the part of those who claim scientific proof based on probability and statistics alone. >
I'm aware of "mathematical proof", "logical proof" and indeed "legal proof". But science concerns itself with "theories" (Relativity, Evolution etc.) and their experimental verification. Such verification never proves a theory, it merely renders it more probable. So in the final analysis the whole of science is based on probability and statistics, and talk of "scientific proof" in musicology or any other discipline is erroneous.

Thomas Braatz wrote (October 22, 2002):
[To Charles Francis] Thanks for the clarification, Charles, I got caught up in my own 'hubris' here, assigning certainty where there is none. Unfortunately, as primarily understood by non-scientists, 'scientific proof' is assumed if the theory in question is very probable. I have to keep reminding myself that what you say is true (there is no scientific proof for anything in any discipline.)

I think that what I was trying to say is that an overly strong emphasis in attempting to quantify what Bach possibly had in mind could lead to the statement that it seems more probable that the chorale quotations were accidental byproducts that could easily be replaced with other unrelated chorale quotations simply by choosing them and superimposing them on the existing composition. It is such an quantifying approach that I would reject in favor of one that looks for similar situations in Bach's oeuvre. Then allow analogies to provide the links that would make an assumption, such as the one in "Morimur," seem reasonable. Article: Gravest Bach Is Suddenly a Best Seller

Charles Francis
wrote (December 12, 2002):
This article from

I am grateful to Teri Noel Towe for drawing the following to my attention. Samples
can be found at:

The Hilliard ‘Morimur’ Recording

William Hong wrote (January 8, 2002):

J. S. Bach: Partita in D minor, BWV 1004 for Unaccompanied Violin, and various Chorales

Soloists from the Hilliard Ensemble (Monika Mauch, soprano; David James, countertenor; John Potter, tenor; Gordon Jones, baritone)
Christoph Poppen, Baroque violin
ECM New Series 1765

This recording has been one of the more controversial CDs of the past year.Whether one accepts the main point of its treatise may be a matter of faith, though not so much in a religion (as it was for Bach), as in the man himself.

For those who haven't heard of it, the basic idea behind this record comes from papers published by musicologist Helga Thoene at the University of Duesseldorf. Thoene ties the creation of the autograph manuscript for Bach's Partita for Unaccompanied Violin in D Minor (and to a lesser extent, the other solo violin Sonatas and Partitas) to the earth-shattering event in Bach's life in 1720, the death of his first wife, Maria Barbara Bach. The fact that her death was a total surprise and occurred while he was away for the summer with the court of Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Coethen (he had no word of the event until his return home) and its undoubtedly profound effect on Johann Sebastian, is the basis (so argues Thoene) that the Partita's monumental Chaconne exists as an elegy to his dead wife. Hence the CD title "Morimur", which comes from the Latin and roughly means "we die", though in the context of death as a passage to being reborn.

The notes for the CD go over these ideas in some detail, and are written both by Thoene and Herbert Glossner. They show as supporting evidence the use of hidden, or unheard, insertions of various chorale melodies within the harmonic and melodic structure of the Chaconne. Thus the meat of this recording is a performance of the Chaconne, with the chorales sung with the violin part to show how they fit over it. These chorales include "Christ lag in Todesbanden", "Jesu meine Freunde," "Auf meinen lieben Gott," and several others. "Christ lag..." is said to be buried, for example, in the opening passage of the Chaconne, which is of course repeated throughout the work and at the end. The hymm "Den Tod niemand zwingen kunnt" ("The Death no one could subdue") is used not only within the Chaconne, but is sung separately at several significant sequences throughout the CD, one supposes as a sort of marking motif.

Glossner buttresses the argument by pointing out the "coding" of various numbers significant to Christianity, via the commonly-used numerical mechanism known as gematria, among others. This technique assigns numbers to letters of the alphabet and is applied to the note pitches of the music (A=1, B=2, and in the German notation, H=8 etc.). Gematria has also been applied to pieces such as the canon which Bach holds in the Haussman portrait, where supposedly numerical allusions to 14 (BACH), 41 (JS BACH) and even 158 (Johann Sebastian Bach) can be discerned. Also significant are the places where Bach's own signature tagline (the pitches B flat, A, C, and B natural, or H in German notation) occur within the music, as can also be seen in the Art of the Fugue.

One of the main arguments that have been advanced against the idea behind "Morimur" regards the notion that Bach would write "by the numbers". The very idea seems to strike at the heart of "creativity" as we understand it now, implying a sort of composition-by-algorithm (if not by computer) method that enrages some of Thoene's detractors. Certainly one can take the analysis to extremes, and find "hidden" passages and numerical allusions in just about any work, if one tried hard enough. In this sense, I think it's possible to find codes and numericals in Bach's music where none exist, at least to a provable level of intent on his part. More information on this subject, and some examples of the opinions that this topic generates can be found in a disat Aryeh Oron's Bach Cantatas website, specifically:

Beyond this, my limited reading about music in the Baroque era is that the use of numerical allusions is rather common, though perhaps moreso earlier in the era rather than later. Philosophically-based allusions, cited in the sonatas of Biber and Schmelzer, has been a keen subject of study for example, with many of the "riddles" still unsolved to this day. And of course, the use of "canned" harmonic progressions was a given in those times (ostinatos anyone?), depending as they did upon the skill of the composer to come up with something creative over repeating continuo riffs. Similarly, there's skepticism that Bach would have written the Chaconne specifically to imbed hidden cantus firmus chorales within the complexities of the arpeggiation and multiple stopping--for what purpose? Certainly not as a guide to future performances. So I can agree with the skeptics' argument to an extent, simply because in the CD, the way in which the chorales are set with the playing of the solo violin sound to me somewhat contrived in a few spots. The singing is not continuous, so there are places in which no chorales are sung, and it's not clear to me in the liner notes why this would be.

But in the end, one of the reasons why I could find Thoene's thesis plausible has nothing to do with proofs or analyses of any kind. Rather, there's simply the towering figure of JSB himself. How possible is it for any musicologist, let alone regular music lovers, to discern the thought and creative processes that went on in the mind of the man who IS the greatest composer in Western musical art tradition? Can any one, from the perspective of 250 years, conclusively dismiss the idea that a musical mind of such overwhelming genius and capability was NOT able to write a work such as the Chaconne with numerical/musical "codes" in it, out of the hard-wired vision of his mind? Especially if the work was to be written as a "tombeau" to Maria Barbara? In the end, you can only listen and decide in your own gut whether it works or not, and whether your own vision of Bach as a composer fits into this hypothesis.

The "Hilliards" are in this case, just four singers. They sing in a kind of ethereal manner which may not be to everyone's taste; perhaps "angelic" might be an appropriate term? But they nonetheless provide a striking vocal impression as only the Hilliards can, and singers such as John Potter bring a special sensitivity to Bach. Similarly the recording acoustic (the monastery of St. Gerold in Austria) is rather reverberant, which means some of the acoustic details could thus be sharper. But this may have been done as much for balance reasons as anything, especially when the singers and the violin perform together.

As for Christoph Poppen's violin playing, I cannot fault it, though I'm not familiar with many other available recordings of the work to compare. The tracks of each movement of the Partita are separated by chorales, but you can program your CD player to give you an integrated performance of the Partita itself. And one hears the great Chaconne twice; first in its traditional, violin-only version, as well as the version with the interpolated voices. Poppen's Chaconne is taken at a slower pace than other HIP versions of which I'm aware; his performance at over 14 minutes compares to Sigiswald Kuijken's more brisk 1980s recording at just over 11 minutes. But Poppen's playing is definitely no less impressive for either virtuosity or expressiveness. For example, the "bass" notes that lead into the extended arpeggiation near the end of the opening D minor section (about 5 1/2 minutes into the track) are given a weight and an almost human voicing that provides a palpable feeling of mourning. So even Poppen's solo instrumental version of this work reflects the treatise behind "Morimur".

Perhaps the recording, which is rather short by CD standards, could have provided both a better value and a more convincing case for Thoene's ideas if it had included a second, interactive CD-ROM that discussed in even greater detail what's given in the album notes (not to mention larger, easier-to-read texts!). For example, a complete score of the Chaconne with the hidden chorale passages inserted (and just maybe, a tutorial on why the passages wouldn't have worked elsewhere in the score, thus supporting the interpolations made in the recording) would have been useful. More information would also have been enlightening on how the other movements of the Partita fit into Thoene's hypothesis, along with the hidden chorales and other numerological/theological ties to be found in the other solo violin Sonatas/Partitas.

In the meantime, I hope that those people who buy this CD out of word of mouth and curiosity, but who aren't otherwise familiar with the whole body of Bach's solo instrumental works will be drawn in to further explore this music. Suffice for me to say that, whether the ideas are valid or not, I probably will never again listen to this music in the same way.


C.A. Peck wrote:
What's happening to this NG now? I've never seen so few messages!

Has anybody an opnion on the Hilliard Ensemble's CD MORIMUR devoted to Bach?

I was rather disappointed. I find they handle Renaissance music (Lassus for instance) better than Bach.

Charles Francis wrote (January 22, 2002):
[To C.A. Peck] As it happens I was at a Hilliard Ensemble concert a few days ago. I also heard them live last year performing Guillaume de Machaut's "La Messe de Notre Dame" and a few years ago singing Lassus and Palestrina. They hardly ever sing Baroque music and in 'Morimur' they abandoned their usual style and copied the purported 'HIP' doctrines pioneered by Nikolaus Harnoncourt. Unfortunately, this manner of chorale performance is not supported by the historical evidence and leads to poor musical results.

Sybrand Bakker wrote (January 22, 2002):

Riccardo Nughes wrote (January 22, 2002):
[To Charles Francis] What's the relationship between Harnoncourt, the Hilliard Ensemble and the Morimur CD?

Tom Hens wrote (January 24, 2002):
[To Riccardo Nughes] The relationship between the Hilliard Ensemble and the Morimur CD is that they're the ones singing on it.

There is no relationship with Harnoncourt, that's just something Charles Francis made up.

Riccardo Nughes wrote (January 25, 2002):
[To Tom Hens] Obviously I know the Hilliard Ensemble and their "Morimur" CD. I'm still waiting that Mr.Charles explains the artistical connection between N.Harnoncourt and the Hilliard Ensemble.

Sybrand Bakker wrote (January 25, 2002):
[To Riccardo Nughes] Isn't that clear enough :
[quote] and in 'Morimur' they abandoned their usual style and copied the purported 'HIP' doctrines pioneered by Nikolaus Harnoncourt. [unquote]
So according to Charles Francis they are using the same 'HIP doctrines' which only exist in CharlesFrancis imagination. Evidently there is much more historical evidence for those so-called 'doctrines' than for the unfounded assumption the word 'Clavecymbel' can imply a fortepiano.

But obviously, Charles Francis think there is such thing as the historical evidence, which of course basically includes only the sources he has read and uses as dogma to determine what has to be called 'poor musical results' and what not. This is basically the same procedure followed by some totalitarian 20th century leaders: always proof your argument by discrediting your opponents, always play your opponents instead of the subject.

Charles Francis wrote (January 25, 2002):
[To Sybrand Bakker] There isn't an assumption that 'Clavecymbel' can imply fortepiano. There is, however, an assumption that "a new Clavicymbel, such as had not been heard here before" can imply a fortepiano. Wolff apparently accepts this possibilty, for he feels the need to refuteit using purely acoustical arguments. Moreover, Stauffer also accepts the possibility. But, Tom Hens and yourself have taken the dogmatic position that "a new Clavicymbel, such as had not been heard here before" cannot possibly under any circumstances be taken to indicate a fortepiano. As noted previously, the burden of proof always lies with the ones asserting a dogma.

With regard to Harnoncourt's chorale performance practice, I'm surprised you take issue with me regarding his lack of historical justification. For as you yourself wrote in this group "I don't believe any congregation, whether at that time, or nowadays has been singing or is singing these chorales in the same fashion."

Sybrand Bakker wrote (January 26, 2002):
[To Charles Francis] As usual you take one sentence out of context and take that as a pars-pro-toto.

Examples of this method abound in this newsgroup, I'm not going to try to hit you with previous posts, as you indulge in. Time to question who educated you, who learned you to filter out anything what doesn't suit you, and time to advise you to get deprogrammed. You have a sick mind and you know it.

Quoting from a recent post of Zachary Uram, and I fully agree with his words.

Discussing this with you is impossible since discussion assumes flexibility and at least intellectual honesty on both ends. Goodbye.

Final words: You've accomplished your goal. As you won't stop with your iditioc posts and your hostile comments, I will shortly unsubscribe from this newsgroup.

Michael Pan wrote (October 26, 2002):
< Sybrand Bakker wrote: [snip] Final words: You've accomplished your goal. As you won't stop with your iditioc posts and your hostile comments, I will shortly unsubscribe from this newsgroup >
Why is that, Sybrand? Is it better for you to unsubscribe than to merely ignore those comments that disturb you? For what it's worth, think it would certainly be better for the newsgroup if you decided to remain here.

Christophe Chazot wrote (Jaanuary 27, 2002):
[To Michael Pan] Indeed. It is.

Tom Hens wrote (January 28, 2002):
[To Sybrand Bakker] Why? Why do you want to give CharlesFrancis the power to decide who posts in this newsgroup? One of the defining characteristics of an unmoderated Usenet newsgroup is that any idiot can post whatever crap he likes. That is both the biggest weakness and the biggest strength of Usenet -- its total immunity to censorship. It doesn't mean one should let the idiots, or in this case one single idiot, rule the place. Unlike CharlesFrancis, you're actually a musicologist. Don't you think you have at least as much right to post here as he does? Nobody's forcing you to read what he posts, or to try and rebut the things he posts, if you don't want to. That's why killfiles exist.

Riccardo Nughes wrote (January 26, 2002):
I'm still waiting that Mr.Charles explains the artistical connection between N. Harnoncourt and the Hilliard Ensemble.

Charles Francis wrote (January 26, 2002):
[To Riccardo Nughes] Harnoncourt's artistic influence can be discerned at the end of the musical phrases where the final syllable is shortened to allow breathing to take place while maintaining a constant tempo. Only recently, has Harnoncourt abandoned this practice in favour of a rhetorical-driven approach.

Tom Hens wrote (January 28, 2002):
[To Charles Francis] In other words, you're saying Harnoncourt has recently abandoned Harnoncourt's artistic influence.

Tom (Charles Francis, I don't think you realise just how much amusement you're providing for the rest of the world)

Tesco wrote (January 22, 2002):
[To C. A. Peck] Morimur, you mean ? I find it marvellous but, of course, much on the Renaissance side, which is questionable in performing Bach's music.

Reactions to recommendations: Rave and Rant

Harry J. Steinman
wrote (April 18, 2002):
I recently picked up a couple new CDs based on some comments on this List, and find that I have equal and opposite reactions. I loved the Lara St. John release, "The Concerto Album" (AR 131); and was keenly disappointed in the "Morimur" release (ECM 1765).

I've never been a big fan of the violin concertos. This is surprsing (to me, anyway) because I love Bach's violin works in general, and the violin parts of other works catch my ear. I think what floored me with the St. John recording is the energy and passion with which she imbues the music. The articulation is very crisp and it feels like her tempi are a bit brisker than other performers. And frankly, I like my music crisp, clean and crackling with energy.

One example of her approach is the first three notes of the E Minor concerto (BWV 1042). They are stacatto and I think that about every other version I've heard, these three notes are lush and legato. I liked this version better because those three notes grabbed my attention.

The CD also includes her recording of the G Minor sonata for solo violin (BWV 1001) and I enjoyed it thoroughly. Previously, my standard for the S&Ps was Rachael Podger. I like what St. John has done here, especially the Fugue. I do think that Podger has a warmer tone and a gentler bowing technique, so I guess I'll keep 'em both.

What a disappointment the "Morimur" recording was! I listened to clips of it on Amazon before I purchased the disc. This is a concept album, the idea being that musical ideas from the cantata, "Christ lag in Todes Banden" (BWV 4) are embedded into the musical lines of the 2nd violin partita (BWV 1004) and the Hilliard Ensemble provide an a capela version of that cantata.

I listened to all of the clips on Amazon before I purchased the CD and I guess I can enjoy one minute of the Hilliard Ensemble's interpretations. They are wonderful singers, but to hear the cantata without any accompaniment got boring really quickly. And so, I found it difficult to sit through the CD.

Christoph Poppen is the violinist who performs the partita and he does a workman-like job but I wasn't impressed.

All in all, the CD isn't awful; I just had high hopes.

Well, I sure did like the St. John, however. And I recommend it wholeheartedly.

Goldberg (Morimur)

Juozas Rimas
wrote (May 1, 2002):
< guess that this route of assigning to Bach's music motivations and symbols which are pie-in-the-sky won't quit any time soon. We can likely expect more discs such as "Morimur" based on speculations of a dubious nature. >
An ironic article on this topic:

Michael Grover wrote (May 1, 2002):
[To Juozas Rimas] Interesting article, but I have one question: why in the world did the author title the article, "Is There Sex After Bach?"?? I can't find any connection in the text. More tabloidism, I suppose. Anything to grab your eye and your attention.

Juozas Rimas wrote (May 2, 2002):
[To Michael Grover] Yes, it's a tabloid heading but I presume I understood what the author of the article wanted to say with it. He probably meant that searching for dubious secrets in Bach's music and presenting them in a form of a scientific research is as pointless as asking questions like "is there sex after Bach?".

(pointless but lucrative as the author tries to emphasize)

I also think that it's sad that such albums are best-sellers. A simply great performance of Bach's music will not sell as well as a mysterious speculation. Scandals are vital in today's show business for popularity.


Bernard Nys wrote (July 17, 2002):
[To Juozas Rimas] Chaconne + Cantata mix in voodoo "Morimur" project. What's that ?!

Juozas Rimas wrote (July 23, 2002):
[To Bernard Nys] Sorry for not responding quicker but I was away for almost a week.

Morimur is a recording of the parts of the 2nd partita for the solo violin, alternating with some chorales and finally a really eerie mix of voices along with the violin in the Chaconne. Sound samples should be playable at

(paste the URL wholly)

I called it "voodoo" because its level of credibility, in my opinion, is about equal to that of the mysterious cult...

UK Premiere of Morimur by Hilliard Ensemble

The UK premiere performance of Morimur (Bach's Solo Violin Partita in D minor plus chorales which may have inspired its composition) by the Hilliard Ensemble and Christoph Poppen in May this year.

Here are the details of the concerts:

UK premiere - Morimur
J.S. Bach
Hilliard Ensemble & Christoph Poppen
King's College Chapel, Cambridge
Tuesday 13 May 2003 at 8 pm
Tickets 01223 503333 now on sale

Concert repeated on Wednesday 14 May at 7.30 pm at Temple Church, Fleet Street, London
Tickets 020 7222 1061

There have been some extensive discussions of the Morimur recording on ECM, which you can read at the following page of the Bach Cantatas Website:

Peter Bright wrote (March 25, 2003):
[To Aryeh Oron] Thanks for this, Aryeh - King's College Chapel is about 3 minutes walk from where I work so I will DEFINITELY be going. I will report back to the group after the concert.

Riccardo Nughes wrote (March 25, 2003):
BTW, it's coming out a new Hilliard Ensemble cd dedicated to Bach, featuring a new recording of BWV 4 Christ lag in Totensbanden

Bach:Kantate BWV 4 "Christ lag in Todesbanden"
+Webern/Poppen:Streichquartett (1905) arr.
für Kammerorchester
+Webern:5 Stücke op.5 für Streichorchester
Dirigent:Christoph Poppen

Another interesting new release is the SJP (BWV 245) on Naxos, featuring a treble as soprano (IIRC the only precedent is the Gillesberger/Harnoncourt(?) recording on Teldec.
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
St. John Passion
Joe Littlewood (treble)
James Bowman (countertenor)
James Gilchrist (tenor)
Matthew Beale (tenor)
John Bernays (bass)
Eamonn Dougan (bass)
Colin Baldy (bass)
Choir of New College, Oxford/ Edward Higginbottom
This month Naxos is proud to present a magnificent new recording of Bach's St. John Passion, performed with immense confidence and ability by the best-selling Cathedral/Collegiate choir in the world, New College Oxford, under the indefatigable leadership of Edward Higginbottom. A superb line-up of soloists and accompaniment by period instruments further underlines a production of such calibre that a re-assessment of best-available versions seems likely. Despite the likely historical authenticity of performing the work with trebles, cathedral choirs have rarely proved as technically assured as sopranos on the top line. With this performance, New College Oxford firmly bury that myth by producing a thrilling performance, in perfectly captured sound, which combines both historical authenticity and thrilling musicianship. The choir's contribution to musical life in the UK down the years is further underlined by the choice of soloists - James Gilchrist and James Bowman amongst them - who are all former members of the choir, with the exception of the soprano arias, performed by a current chorister. With the choir's ongoing high profile combined with the label's well-documented strengths in distribution, PR and marketing, the stage looks set fair for another massive and long-term Naxos success in core repertoire.
Naxos 2CDs 8557269-97
(source : )

Charles Francis wrote (March 26, 2003):
[To Riccardo.Nughes] I assume this is the recording made in connection with the concert at the Erlöser church in Munich, 6th January, 2001. David James told me they intended to record BWV 4 and BWV 118, while the Munich Chamber Orchestra would perform Webern (an incongruous concert program, IMO). I wonder what happened to their tape of BWV 118 - its late Bach and one of my favourites.


John Pike
wrote (November 21, 2004):
"Morimur", Hilliard Ensemble, Christoph Poppen Violin, ECM 1765

Many thanks to Brad for making me aware of this recording. I remember hearing Prof. Thoene talking on the radio once about her work but was driving at the time and missed the details so it was great to get hold of the recording and read her article. It is revelatory and has helped me to view these sonatas and partitas in a new light which I had only suspected before. As for the unparalleled Chaconne, the genius, mysteries and heartache that went into its composition will never cease to leave me speechless.

I strongly recommend this recording...beautiful singing and violin playing, very deeply moving, especially for the "combined" performance of the Chaconne with violin and 4 voices.


Continue of discussion from: Cantata BWV 12 - Discussions Part 2

Doug Cowling
wrote (March 3, 2005):
John Pike wrote: < We discussed earlier the possible attributions of BWV 106 ; of much interest has been the theory of Prof. Helga Thoene that the Chaconne of the solo Partita in d minor BWV 1004, is in fact an epitaph as it were to Maria Barbara.

Written on paper from a mill near Carlsbad, where Bach fatefully travelled in 1720, Thoene claims that the violin picks out the outlines of chorales appropriate to the hope of resurrection, especially "Christ lag in todesbanden", but also "Den tod niemand zwingen kunnt", "wo soll ich fliehen hin" "Befiehl du deine wege" "Jesu meine Freude" "Auf meinen liebe gott" and "Gib uns geduld", rounding off with "Jesu deine passion will ich jetzt" "In meine Herzens Grunde" plus the doxology "Dem Hoechsten sei Lob, Ehr und Preis", eventually returning to "Christ lag in Todesbanden". >
Could someone who has access to Thoene's articles/books give us a summary of her theory and the evidence she presents. I have to admit that I am predisposed against this kind of "Hide the Tune" proposition. Where else in Bach's secular chamber music does he indulge in this kind of melodic allusion to sacred melodies? I'm not being facetious when I suggest that just about any tune could be found in the Chaconne.

And I'm not convinced that the Chaconne is even elegaic in style. Just because it's in a minor key and full of deeply expressive music doesn't make it a lament. By the same reasoning the great C Minor Passacaglia could be an elegy.

I frankly don't think that there is any "program" behind the Chaconne. The achievement of the Chaconne is the incredible tension between its monumental scale and the fact that it is a single instrument playing. Anyone who has heard it in performance knows what an astounding expereince that is. It is the ultimate in virtuosity, not because of its Paganini pyotechnics, but because of the breadth of vision required to sustain such a monumental work.

Paul Farseth wrote (March 4, 2005):
To test the plausibility of Helge Thoene's theory, listen to the CD sold in the U.S. as "Morimur" (ECM New Series 1765 / 289 461 895-2) in which Christoph Poppen performs the Chaconne and the entire Partita in D Minor (BWV 1004) with the proposed choral countermelodies performed by the Hiliard Ensemble. It's a startling performance. Maybe not proof, but the narrative booklet argues part of the case, and the music is persuasive.

John Pike wrote (March 4, 2005):
[To Doug Cowling] I performed the Chaconne once in a Good Friday church service. It was quite an experience. No amount of practice at home could prepare me for the experience of performance itself. At home, the technical problems need a lot of grappling with. In performance, the emotional demands of playing such music and sustaining concentration and shaping the music over the full 16 minutes, left me feeling totally mentally and physically exhausted for many hours afterwards. Some weeks later, however, I played it again in a recital at my violin teacher's house. In this more intimate setting, with friends and colleagues listening (albvery discerning ones) it was not so draining. I think my feelings after the church performance had a lot to do with 1. It being Good Friday, 2. The church setting. 3. It being the first time I had performed anything of that difficulty in public.

Incidentally, the Chaconne is not the hardest movement from the solo works, at least not technically. The C major fugue is harder, and some of the other fugues are quite demanding in trying to bring out the line with the melody.

I have the Morimur CD and Thoene's book (which I have not had a chance to read yet). My initial response to the CD was that I was quite persuaded by the inclusion of the chorale tunes but I am less persuaded by all the gematria stuff. As has been discussed on the list before, you could probably find references to the Trinity and Jesus in stuff from Black Sabbath if you tried hard enough.

Brendan (Dorian Gray) wrote (March 5, 2005):
[To Doug Cowling] Hearing is believing, and I am one of the few who will put his money where his mouth is. Contact me off-list and I will give you the Morimur CD. I have an extra one left, as I gave several for Christmas one year. It really is that good, and your doubts will be dispelled. Also, there is a good digest of the thesis in the CD notes.

John Pike wrote (March 7, 2005):
[To Brendan (Dorian Gray)] I heard Prof. Paul Robinson, former leader of a string quartet, talking about this piece, and about Prof. Helga Thoene's work on the radio yesterday morning (BBC R4 at about 8.45am). He has taken a keen interest in this work and in "Music and the Mind" in general. Alongside his professional violin playing, he was also Professor of neurosciences at Kingston on Thames university near London. He has now taken up a new job lecturing on similar areas in Copenhagen.

What I hadn't realised before is that there is a numeric reference to Maria Barbara in the first bar of the Chaconne, and there is a reference to JS Bach in the second bar. I think the chances of this being coincidence alone must be infintessimally small, so there may well be something in the gematria theory, in this piece at any rate.

Thomas Shepherd wrote (March 7, 2005):
[To John Pike] Should yo wish to listen to Prof. Paul Robertson in action on yesterday's program visit my web page of bits and pieces:
(Cabbala spelt wrong!)
I've saved the BBC interview on the "Sunday" programme - its about 5mins long and will leave it there for a couple of weeks.

The blurb from the BBC said

"Johann Sebastian Bach is widely loved for his sacred music - Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring (BWV 147), the Mass in B Minor (BWV 232), St Matthew Passion (BWV 244) - extraordinary pieces born of a profound spiritual conviction. But his solo violin works are of a different order. Bach wrote six complicated violin solos called the Partita in D Minor. They were seen as secular pieces - that is until recent research discovered they were actually religious narratives. Professor Paul Robertson says that their spiritual meaning is encoded in the music and reveal a Bach who was passionately interested in Jewish Cabbalistic

Two web sites associated with the interview of general interest are: and:

An even more extensive article about the theories can be found at:
There its possible to follow the link to a PDF file of an article (The Bach project-Learning to Connect)

Personally all this stuff leaves me bored and irritated. As an unbeliever in these esoteric arts, I'm left asking how many more "Mystical Codes" are there to crack? Now that the Bible (Old and New Testaments), Arthur legends, works of Shakespeare and Bach have been worked over, what will be next? "The Simpsons" perhaps?

Peter Smaill wrote (March 7, 2005):
The Morimur production/Helga Thoene and Prof Robinson work on the Chaconne led to speculation as to whether this was the only bereavement which had called out of Bach's repertoire a possible personal use of gematria, imagery or affekts relating to any other of the many personal tragedies which stalked his life.

As suggested, John Eliot Gardiner (and I think Ruth Tatlow) has taken an interest in the interaction between Bach's life and his music. In the notes to the SDG production of BWV 95, " Christus, der ist mein Leben", JEG reflects on the analysis debated amongst the musicians on his Pilgrimage:

"[We discussed] the mesmerising "Ach, schlage doch bald, " with its pizzicato "Leichenglocken". Some insisted that the high repeated quavers of the flute in BWV 161-4 and BWV 8-1 symbolised the high pitched funeral bells associated
with infant death.... cannot help wondering whether the vivid memory of a recent death in the family guided Bach while he was composing these pieces.. was it possibly an inner preparation for the likely death of a frail child that inspired in him this succession of compositions based on faith and trust, so child-like in their simplicity? His daughter Christiane Sophia (b.1723) was indeed weakly and was to die on 29 June 1726- just a few months before he sat down to compose BWV 27".

Doug Cowling wrote (March 7, 2005):
[To Peter Smaill] Any chance this performance could be posted on this site?

Chorales BWV 250-438
Recordings | General Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Chorales in Bach Cantatas | Hidden Chorale Melody Allusions | Passion Chorale
Individual Recordings:
Hilliard - Morimur | Chorales – Matt | Chorales – Rilling | Preludi ai Corali – Quartetto Italiani di Viola Da Gamba
Chorales BWV 250-300 | Chorales 301-350 | Chorales 351-400 | Chorales 401-438
Texts & English Translations of Chorales:
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MIDI files of the Chorales:
Cantatas BWV 1-197 | Other Vocal Works BWV 225-248 | Chorales BWV 250-438

Hilliard Ensemble: Short History | Recordings | General Discussions | Hilliard - Morimur

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Last update: Saturday, June 17, 2017 16:29