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Masaaki Suzuki & Bach Collegium Japan
Bach Cantatas & Other Vocal Works
General Discussions - Part 3

Continue from Part 2

Suzukiís cantata cycle

Matthew Westphal wrote (May 4, 2003):
Bob Henderson says:
>>> A friend pointed out, upon my complaining of the slow pace of [Suzuki's] cantata releases, that a slower pace might indeed be more associated with Eastern culture <<<
I'm not at all sure that's the issue. Yes, Suzuki has said in interviews that he wants to take time to get to know the cantatas rather than rushing through them. But decisions about the pace of releasing the BCJ cantata series are probably made by the BIS label as much as (if not more than) by Suzuki himself.

And the slowish pace they're maintaining might be a good business decision. After all, even on this relatively small list (which is full of people willing to spend their time sitting around discussing Bach recordings), the number of people willing to rush out and buy the latest Suzuki cantata release whenever it appears is small. Most CD buyers, even devoted ones, have a limited amount of money they can spend in a given period, and if you release the CDs in a series faster than most of your customers are willing to buy them, you run into trouble.

I think the Koopman series is an example of that. Granted, the way things ended up going at Warner Classics, Erato would eventually have discontinued the series anyway. But I do think that the pace of release -- and especially the decision to release the series in sets of 3 discs that cost $51 rather than single discs that cost $17 -- hampered sales and probably led Erato to abandon the series earlier than it might have done.

I'll be interested to see how fast Koopman's label releases the series -- and how the discs are packaged and priced.

Johan van Veen says: >>> But I believe there is something Japanese in Suzuki's performances. It is often said that Japanese musicians are technically perfect but lack emotion and passion. <<<
I wouldn't put it that way myself; I think Japanese artists (not just musicians) often bring a ferocious concentration and passion to their work. But I do have an anecdote that may bear on Johan's observation. Back in 1986 for the centennial of the Statue of Liberty, there was a terrific outdoor world music festival in Lower Manhattan. A friend of mine was working with the festival, escorting one of the performing groups, a terrific Cuban jazz band. We were all watching a troupe of Japanese daiko drummers give a knockout performance that was not only thundering, pounding and thrilling but astonishingly synchronized as well. The leader of the Latin band turned to my friend and said, "They got discipline that we just don't have. And we got swing that they don't have."

As for Suzuki's Bach, I myself usually find it more compelling in the jubilant works (e.g., BWV 31) than in the solemn ones (e.g., St. Matthew Passion (BWV 244)). But I'm inclined to attribute that to Suzuki's own idea of a reverent (in the religious sense), prayerful approach than to his nationality.

Bob Henderson wrote (May 4, 2003):
Dear Friends, Thank you Peter Bright for your comment re: national character and performance and thank you Matthew for your advice on the pace of Suzuki releases. I only wish to live long enough to complete the collection. It will take him another twelve years as I calculate. I am 62.

I believe that Suzuki is more influenced by his Lutheran childhood and his piety than by anything "Japanese". His solemn music as MW has pointed out is more meditative and prayerful. The drama is more restrained, more implicit and implied.

This is afterall liturigal music. And the audience knew the story well. The music had no reason to call undue attention to itself as it served a higher purpose within the structure worship. Not that he can't pull the stops out when desired.

As one who was raised Lutheran I can testify to the power of this music on certain children and its continuing revelation in their life..

A comment on the current discussion regarding the singing of languages not native to the singer. Is it not strange and in a way wonderful that we can turn to a Japanese choir for an object lesson in German diction. And no one fits text-to- mood better than Suzuki. The reliance on text is of course a very Protestant thing! I have read that his instrumentalists often memorize the German the more to elicit textual meaning in their performance.

Johan van Veen wrote (May 4, 2003):
Bob Henderson wrote:
>>>I believe that Suzuki is more influenced by his Lutheran childhood and his piety than by anything "Japanese". His solemn music as MW has pointed out is more meditative and prayerful. The drama is more restrained, more implicit and implied.<<<
I don't agree. Firstly, where do you get it from that he had a "Lutheran" childhood? He is a member of the Reformed Church of Japan, which isn't Lutheran but Calvinist in orientation. For outsiders that may not be very different, but it is (and so thought Bach!).

I don't think the religious factor is playing any role in the restrained character of Suzuki's performances of Bach's religious works. As far as I am concerned his recordings of instrumental works by Bach are pretty boring as well. I find the Brandenburg Concertos by the Bach Collegium Japan totally uninteresting. And I recently heard Suzuki's recording of the Clavierübung I (6 Partita's), which isn't very good either. His performances show a lack of understanding of the rhetorics which is so essential in baroque music, in particular German baroque music and even more so in Bach's music. In the Partita's there is hardly any difference between 'good' and 'bad' notes - notes of equal value are mostly treated equally and he plays too much legato. The fundamental principal of music as a form of speech ("Musik als Klangrede", the term Harnoncourt used as title of one of his collections of essays) is neglected by Suzuki - exactly as in performances by Ton Koopman, his teacher.

>>>This is afterall liturigal music. And the audience knew the story well. The music had no reason to call undue attention to itself as it served a higher purpose within the structure worship. Not that he can't pull the stops out when desired.<<<
I can't see why the fact that it is religious music would in itself be an argument for restrained performances. If one realises that Bach's cantatas were closely linked to the sermon - in fact a "sermon on music" - and if one realises how preachers used to speak to the worshippers - using quite drastic language, not afraid of speaking their mind - one would rather expect a more vivid and dramatic performance. We should also remember that people complained about Bach using the Italian operatic style in his cantatas, another sign that Bach's cantatas ask for a quite dramatic performance. And the texts Bach used are often quite drastic and dramatic as well.

In my view a restrained interpretation of Bach's religious works undermines the strength of the message as intended by the composer.

Bob Henderson wrote (May 4, 2003):
Dear Johan van Veen and others, Thanks for your helpful and informative comments. There is certainly much space in this very big room and in the end it comes down to an emotional response which is going to differ from person to person. My only point is that it is not always necessary to wear one's heart on one's sleeve and that deliberate restraint in performance can also convey the deepest meaning.

Matthew Westphal wrote (May 4, 2003):
Bob Henderosn says:
>>> I only wish to live long enough to complete the collection. <<<
:-D

I think I've seen a projected completion date somewhere, though I can't remember where. But I don't think it was as late as 2015.

>>> Is it not strange and in a way wonderful that we can turn to a Japanese choir
for an object lesson in German diction.<<<
The choir reportedly practices the German texts very, very hard.

Johan van Veen says: >>> I don't think the religious factor is playing any role in the restrained character of Suzuki's performances of Bac's religious works ... I can't see why the fact that it is religious music would in itself be an argument for restrained performances. <<<
I absolutely agree that religious music need not be restrained by definition, and I think Johan's reminder that Bach's cantatas were in effect sermons in music is apt.

I'm saying only that I think Suzuki's own ideas of religious reverence lead to a particularly subdued approach to some of Bach's works (e.g., the St. Matthew Passion). In other words, I think that (whether one likes the result or not) the restraint is a deliberate choice on Suzuki's part rather than a lack of effort or imagination.

And the choice sure works for some people. I was kinda bored by much of Suzuki's recent SMP at Carnegie Hall, and I have friends/colleagues on the West Coast who were really bored by it. (If anyone's interested, it might be worth going to the San Francisco Chronicle's Web site, www.sfchronicle.com, and doing a search for Joshua Kosman's review, which was pretty harsh.) But I'm told that some people at the performances in Berkeley, California and Grand Rapids, Michigan were literally moved to tears.

 

Bach for Peace at Carnegie

Shorty Blackwell wrote (April 10, 2003):
Japanese Musicians Perform Bach Passion

The Associated Press

Apr 9 2003 6:09PM

NEW YORK (AP) - The Bach Collegium Japan drew a roaring, standing ovation for its performance of Johann Sebastian Bach's ``St. Matthew Passion'' - one of the greatest works in Western culture.

Playing on Baroque ``period'' instruments that resemble those of Bach's time - rather than modern, more powerful ones - the Collegium performed Tuesday night at Carnegie Hall as a double orchestra and chorus, side by side on the stage.

That's the setup Bach wanted for the ``St. Matthew Passion,'' which in about three hours tells the story of the life and death of Christ.

The Collegium, one of the world's pre-eminent early music ensembles, offered a performance fit for a time of war (however, their concert was booked before the U.S.-Iraq war began). For the Carnegie performance, tenor Makoto Sakurada wore a rainbow-colored armband marked with a peace sign.

Technically, the Collegium, led by conductor and founder Masaaki Suzuki, is almost impeccable. Its violinists, violists and cellists draw a pure, precise tone from their strings. The woodwinds, especially the flutes, lifted the piece to ethereal beauty with their delicate lyricism.

The soloists - a mix of singers from Japan, Germany, Holland and England - carried their parts with both grandeur and intimacy, supported by an ensemble that exuded rhythmic verve.

As Bach's Evangelist, German tenor Gerd Turk outlined the story with a bright, focused timbre, while his countryman Jochen Kupfer filled the part of both Judas and Pontius Pilate with a ringing bass timbre. The Dutch-born bass Peter Kooij sang the part of Jesus, his rich, strong bass ending the part with the dying line, ``My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?''

It was an evening of musical catharsis so needed in a time of war.

04/09/03 18:04 EDT
http://my.aol.com/news/news_story.psp?type=4&cat=0806&id=03040918094144060

Jan Hanford [J.S. Bach Home Page] wrote (April 10, 2003):
[To Shorty Blackwell] I attended their performance in Berkeley, California on Sunday Apr 6 and it is one of the most memorable, exciting and emotional musical experiences of my life. A truly astonishing performance.

Charles Francis wrote (April 10, 2003):
An innocent pays the price for the sins of the many:
http://makeashorterlink.com/?H61015224
http://makeashorterlink.com/?D29F14824

Max wrote (April 11, 2003):
[To Charles Francis] That's absolutely wrenching. Part of the reason German music is so serious must have something to do with psychological repercussions from the 30-years war, in which Germany lost 1/3 of its population.

John Grant wrote (April 12, 2003):
[To Charles Francis] Nothing in my view can justify that kind of torture, inflicted more or less consciously and deliberately on innocents. Heard Kirkby with Tafelmusik here in Toronto this evening. That is why we were put here on this planet.

 

Suzuki Bach Cantata Series vol 21

Thomas Shepherd wrote (May 20, 2003):
Thought members of the BCML might like to see this exchange of emails and the info about the release of Susuki vol. 22.

Thomas Shepherd [Manchester, England] wrote (May 15, 2003):
To BIS Records] I wrote to you last year about vol 20 being available for Christmas I now thank you that two days before my birthday vol 21 was released in the UK. My son saw a copy in the local HMV store and gave it me as a surprise. Its fabulous.

Already there is a correspondence on the Bach Cantata web site
http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Performers/Suzuki-Vol21.htm

Thank you again for this superlative recording - long may the project flourish.

Eagerly waiting vol 22

Leif Hasselgren [BIS Records] wrote (May 19, 2003)
[To Thomas Shepherd] Thank you for your e-mail, and for your very kind comments about the Cantata project and Volume 21. I must admit that we didn't plan the release of it around your birthday - but I am very happy about the lucky coincidence! I can tell you in advance that we are hoping to release Vol 22 in August - which probably means a UK release in Sept/Oct. If you would like me to, I could include you on our e-mailing list, through which you would get regular info about our newest releases once a month - Cantatas and others. (Masaaki Suzuki's recording of the French Suites will have its Swedish release in June for instance.) Send me an e-mail if you are interested!

Bob Henderson wrote (May 20, 2003):
[To Thomas Shepherd] Thanks for your posting. Its good to know that #22 is in the pipline (although #21 only becomes available in the states this week.) I had seen somewhere that the B Minor Mass (BWV 232) was coming this year. Any news on that?

Mitsuo Fukida wrote (May 21, 2003):
[To Bob Henderson] I enjoyed your "SMP: Bach Collegium Japan" dated 15th April.

Thank you very much for your report.

As for the B Minor Mass, I asked Hidemi Suzuki, who is a brother of Masaaki Suzuki and my favorite cellist, weather it's CD would be coming this year. He gave me an answer that they have not made a recording of it yet and he does not know when.

Bob Henderson wrote (May 22, 2003):
[To Mitsuo Fukuda] Thankyou for your good wishes and your research regarding the B Minor Mass (BWV 232) many of us anticipate. I wonder: how is the Suzuki US tour now viewed in Japan? Is it seen as the success it appeared to be here?

Mitsuo Fukuda wrote (May 23, 2003):
[To Bob Henderson] Thank you for your response.

On 17th April, couple of days after BCJ came back Japan, they performed SJP (BWV 245) in Tokyo. And they performed SMP (BWV 244) next day, the other SMP on the day after the next day. Tickets for three performances were sold out. I went to the former SMP performance. They played intently and fascinated Japanese audience, although they were tired out by US tour.

A month later, Asahi Shinbun, Japanese leading news paper, interviewed Suzuki on the US tour of BCJ. In the interview Suzuki expressed his experience and the meaning of the tour. Excerpt:

" The tour gave one of catalyst, which made me ask myself why I perform music."
" Although music exists not for political idea, it can lead people hostile to one another to negotiation sitting around a table instead of war, I think deeply."
" Japanese performed German music in US and we shared the impression with audience. I realized that is the music in which people can find the meaning of present life apart from the time and the place where it were composed."

I wish I could wright Englismuch better.

Tom Brannigan wrote (May 23, 2003):
[To Mitsuo Fukuda] Wow......I missed him on tour, but I watched his DVD of the SJP (BWV 245) last night. I was beautiful. I absolutely love the unniversal appeal of JS Bach's music. A Japanese musician.....playing German music.....to an American audience. We live in interesting times. I just ordered vol. 11 of Susuki's Cantata series on BIS. I'll inform one and all as to whether I fall in love with it. Most likely, I will.

I might also mention that I'm a classical guitarist. I've been playing the Suite in E min. for unaccompanied Lute for several years now and will be starting another of the suites ........with the help of my tutor from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

Paul Farseth wrote (May 24, 2003):
[To Mitsuo Fukuda] Thanks for the comments, Mitsuo. Your English is very clear.

Bob Henderson wrote (May 25, 2003):
[To Mitsuo Fukuda] Thank you for your letter and appraisal of Maestro Suzuki upon his return from the states. I was afraid he would cancel the tour because of the international situation. The French group (Hesparion I think) did cancel an earlier tour. His use of the SMP as an expression of peace and God's love was very moving to me. I hope you will continue to inform us of BCJ activities. Your English is fine.

Mitsuo Fukuda wrote (June 5, 2003):
[To Bob Henderson] I am sorry I have not written in a while.

< I was afraid he would cancel the tour because of the international situation. >
Right after US attacked to Iraq, the members of BCJ discussed whether or not to go to US. One said that he did not want to perform in US because it was US to bring on the war. Another said that in time of war it was so challenging to perform SMP (BWV 244) in US. Finally, Suzuki insisted that we should face the reality of performance itself and concentrate our mind on it with artist spirit and that was our mission. All members gave their approval to him.

I know it was Hidemi Suzuki who was an opinion leader not to go to US. But he answered to his brother during US tour.

I never forgot an event to happen at the performance of SMP (BWV 244) in Tokyo. When it was finished, Masaaki went to Hidemi and shook him by the hand. That was unusual. Do you understand it is Japanese way to pretend not to take priority of his brother over others?

 

Suzukiís Bach

Continue of discussion from: Members of the BCML 2004-3 [General Topics]

Gabriel Jackson wrote (July 27, 2004):
Charles Francis wrote:
"Wouldn't the typical Leipzig believer expect God to be treated reverentially?"
Maybe so, but Bach cantatas (which are, I suggested, treated over-reverentially by Suzuki) are not God!

Charles Francis wrote (July 27, 2004):
[To Gabriel Jackson] Then I misunderstood the point: your opinion is not that the subject matter is treated over-reverentially (ponderous tempi etc.), but rather that Bach's score is taken too seriously, i.e., your complaint is that Suzuki is performing Bach's notes as written without taking liberties.

Gabriel Jackson wrote (July 28, 2004):
Charles Francis wrote:
"Then I misunderstood the point: your opinion is not that the subject matter is treated over-reverentially (ponderous tempi etc.), but rather that Bach's score is taken too seriously, i.e., your complaint is that Suzuki is performing Bach's notes as written without taking liberties."
You have indeed misunderstood, but the above is not my opinion.

Charles Francis wrote (July 28, 2004):
[To Gabriel Jackson] That hardly clarifies the matter. I remain confused as to the nature of your complaint regarding Suzuki.

Gabriel Jackson wrote (July 28, 2004):
[To Charles Francis] You may well be confident, but you would be wrong.

John Pike wrote (July 28, 2004):
Charles Francis wrote:
< Then I misunderstood the point: your opinion is not that the subject matter is treated over-reverentially (ponderous tempi etc.), but rather that Bach's score is taken too seriously, i.e., your complaint is that Suzuki is performing Bach's notes as written without taking liberties. >
I haven't heard Suzuki (as I remarked in my original e mail), but I think I know of the sort of thing to which Gabriel and Johan refer. To take an example. Ironically, I originally said that I preferred Gardiner and Herreweghe to Harnoncourt/Leonhardt anyday, but I am in fact going to use an example where the opposite was true for me...the opening movement of BWV 133, a Christmas cantata. Gardiner just sounds too polished here for my liking, compared to the Teldec recording, where the edges are apparent and the music making so much more full of joy to my ears. Brad has spoken before of the inappropriateness of doing Bach in equal temperament. I don't think anyone is suggesting that these "edges" are due to inadequate rehearsal or ignoring markings in the music. On the contrary, it is about being obedient to every nuance in the score, bringing out the deliberate disharmonies, using an appropriate temperament....etc. It is all there in the music itself. Why try to "sanitise" what Bach has written?

Uri Golomb wrote (July 28, 2004):
AS someone who has heard Suzuki, I'd like to offer my own disagreement with Gabriel and Johan. I am all in favour of dramatic, edgy, gestural performances of Bach's music, but I think that in many cases, that's exactly what Suzuki supplies. If I understood them correctly, Johan and Gabriel find Suzuki's performance too genteel, over-polished, and not sufficiently dramatic. Well, that's not what I hear in Suzuki's recordings (except for the early volumes).

As a prelude to writing this message, I listened again to Volume 15 of Suzuki's cantata series (cantatas BWV 40, BWV 60, BWV 70 and BWV 90), and this renewed listening confirmed again the impression I had of this volume all along: the performances, especially of nos. BWV 60 and BWV 70, are among the sharpest and most dramatic I've heard (and I don't think I could enjoy these particular cantatas in truly over-manicured or over-calculated performances). Nor is this volume a-typical of Suzuki's series: I am also thinking of his dramatic reading of the St John Passion (BWV 245) -- see also Bernard Sherman's review on: http://www.bsherman.org/Suzuki.html -- and even of the opening movement of Cantata BWV 61, where, as I recall, he gives a nervous edge to a movement which is usually rendered as unproblematically solid and solemn. (Incidentally, the website I cited above also includes an interesting article on Suzuki, with further examples of his dramatic approach; the link is: http://www.bsherman.org/SuzukTimes.htm).

Jeremy Thomas wrote (July 28, 2004):
[To Uri Golomb] Perhaps as part of this discussion I could ask list members for their opinions of Suzuki's Magnificat (BWV 243)? I recently "discovered" this via the Kuhnau and Zelenka Magnificats on the same CD (recently reissued, Bis label).

Thanks.

Charles Francis wrote (July 29, 2004):
[To Uri Golomb] I am reminded of African missionaries working for Christian renewal in Europe.

 

Don's Review at MusicWeb [BeginnersBach:]

Sw Anandgyan wrote (February 3, 2005):
I just read Mr. Satz's review of the BCJ volume 25 on MusicWeb: http://tinyurl.com/3o8oq

and then right after I surfed to Klassik Heute and volume 26 got much less than a glorious rating: http://tinyurl.com/5cw4w

Very seldom have I read some harsh criticisms towards Masaaki Suzuki and one his recording, something about
a disappointing text articulation.

Sometimes I wonder if he's not going to concwith the B minor mass (BWV 232) ....

 

Director Masaaki Suzuki & special status

Continue of discussion from: Members of the BCML 2005 [General Topics]

Boyd Pehrson wrote (February 24, 2005):
[To David Atkins] Welcome David,

I too hear a special ethereal quality in the Bach Collegium Japan performances. The use of old instruments, clear and clean choral tones (reminiscent of boys' voices), countertenors, and a perfection of unity among musicians creates an heavenly dimension in BCJ. One thing that Director Masaaki Suzuki has emphasized is the fact that singers add intangible depth to a performance when they believe what they are singing. The value of personal experience with these spiritual matters may truly enliven a performance. While one need not believe what one is singing to make a fine performance, it certainly can't hurt.

I was fortunate enough to attend the Bach Collegium Japan's J.S. Bach Passions concerts at Royce Hall in Los Angeles during Lenten season two years ago. They performed J.S. Bach's Passion according to St. John (BWV 245) the first night, and St. Matthew (BWV 244) the next night. They were perfect performances, captivating and exquisite. They were almost too perfect in a sense, and but for the soprano's sometimes overt sensual solo performance style (Yukari Nonoshita), and Gerd Türk's vibrantly anointed Evangelist, the choral performances were scrubbed clean of any pluck or relish. The orchestra was perfection in the Baroque, but again, those deep-wounded spirits of "Eilt, ihr angefochtnen Seelen" were portrayed in ungritty strokes, and alas, flew
like porcelain doves.

I personally met Masaaki Suzuki after the concert. He was gracious to a fault, attending to a long line of fans. The singers also were all very gracious. These BCJ are a very down-to-earth group who invited me backstage where tables overflowed with fresh sushi. Countertenor Robin Blaze and tenor Gerd Türk joined in the festivities- keeping distance from the sushi, but remained cordial as ever in the Masaaki Suzuki tradition. Truly, it could have been a church social.

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (February 24, 2005):
Boyd Pehrson wrote:
< The value of personal experience with these spiritual matters may truly enliven a performance. While one need not believe what one is singing to make a fine performance, it certainly can't hurt. >
This is the party line of one segment of the membership here. To enjoy the great music of e.g. Beethoven, Gluck, Berlioz, Brahms, etc. (fill in the blank), all persons are equal and MUSICIANS are judged only by their musical qualities with which they inform their music. However with Bach bc. he lived in a Christian world with Lutheran theology, some listeners who follow the same theology are better Bach-listeners and performers like the believing Masaaki are better performers. Sorry, one need not believe in the theology of Gluck's characters or those of Berlioz and one need know nothing about Beethoven's being a Christian or not or even about his
chamber pot in order to enjoy any of the above and to play and perform any of the above.

Same applies to Bach or I thought it did. Maybe non-Christians should leave Bach and leave him to the Holy Rollers and to others who divide the world between believers and non-believers.

I don't so divide human beings and am rather losing interest in Bach with all the church-hour that transpires here. I am sure that if Bach wrote a Passion about Bacchus for example, it would be the same as he wrote about the belief he followed, one of many human beliefs.

George wrote (February 24, 2005):
Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote:
< ...Same applies to Bach or I thought it did. Maybe non-Christians should leave Bach and leave him to the Holy Rollers and to others who divide the world between believers and non-believers. I don't so divide human beings and am rather losing interest in Bach with all the church-hour that transpires here. I am sure that if Bach wrote a Passion about Bacchus for example, it would be the same as he wrote about the belief he followed, one of many human beliefs. >
I am pleased that so many love Bach for other reasons than my own. Mine however include the spiritual and I am glad to hear that others feel as I do. I hardly imagine that most of the Holy Rollers Yoel disparages listen to Bach at all. In fact I lose interest in my own church because of all the new banal tasteless junk with banal doggerel lyrics that passes for religious music nowadays. There is an aspect to Bach's music, for me, that is wholly unique. I think to deny that it has anything at all to do with JSB's own religious convictions is specious nonsense. So much interesting extrapolative analysis goes on in the world of Bach music, that I am am only becoming aware of, and espoused voluminously herein. How can any attempt at HIP related to Bach NOT include his religious foundations. The great majority of these cantatas that are deconstructed by the experts in this forum are religious art. And not Bacchan religious art, nor Buddhist nor Muslim nor Hindu nor Zoroastrian nor any other religion - but Christian religious art.

But what do I know.

Eric Bergerud wrote (February 24, 2005):
[To George] I don't see that the yahoos are trying to drag anyone to the Jordan to be dunked and dragged to salvation on this list. As for Suzuki, why not refer your complaints to him. Ever read his liner notes or read interviews? He brings up spiritual matters regularly and has said in print that there's no reason that practicing Japanese Christians, such as himself, should be more distant from Bach's religious music than Westerners who may carry the cultural influence of the faith but do not actively practice it. (The message is most clearly put in the notes written by Suzuki to accompany his Messiah.) Gardiner has expressed his feelings of spirituality toward the Bach cantatas also, although in a more ecumenical way. I don't think either claimed that their music was better than that of other musicians, but both claimed that the spirituality of the music had influenced the music making itself. Don't think Jerry Falwell is writing speeches for either man, but I suppose you never know.

The last time I checked the list concerns Bach cantatas. They are religious works. It's a bit of a stretch to segregate the religious content from music. It obviously is going to have a different impact on someone who believes the words reflect some part of a divine mystery than to someone who does not. I rather think if a list were dedicated to the religious works of Berlioz or Mozart that the issue would come up there also. And I rather suspect that you don't hear much about Luther on a generic Bach list that would probably concentrate on the instrumental output. If nothing else, it is not possible or desirable to separate art from culture. If we were on a list dedicated to classic jazz or blues would the subject of being black in America never come up? Wouldn't this mean something different to a black person than a to a white? But nobody would suggest white people shouldn't listen to Billie Holiday. Nor have I heard a single person on this list suggest that holding Christian views is any kind of requisite for loving Bach.

Frankly, I think your message is an obnoxious insult to many on the list. ("Holly Rollers?" Really, I'm sure you could do better than that.) If anyone is dividing the world into two types of people it's yourself. One one hand we have clarity and a love of art for art's sake (Yoel): on the other hand, we have troglodytes imprisoned by a pernicious and absurd fairy tale (the Holly Rollers). The spokesman for reason will allow the deluded to follow their foolish ways as long as they don't talk about it in public. If they do, take off the gloves and give them a wack - might even do them some good. A real step forward for civil discourse.

Frankly, if some deluded soul mentioning the "J Word" in reference to a Bach cantata lessens your interest in Bach, maybe your interest isn't great. Crusading atheists are so tedious.

E. Douglas Jensen wrote (February 24, 2005):
[To George] I am an atheist. I passionately love JSB's music. I do want to understand how his Christian beliefs influenced his compositions. It does not bother me in the least that so much of his music was inspired by his religious beliefs. More generally, I am interested in understanding how anything affected any composer's work. My personal position on any of those factors is not at all relevant to my understanding and enjoyment of the composers' works. The occasional posts here on peripherally related religious or church practices do not bother me either, most have been benign and in relatively good taste.

Stephen Benson wrote (February 24, 2005):
Eric Bergerud wrote:
< Crusading atheists are so tedious. >
. . . as are crusading Protestants, especially those who claim to possess a "special" relationship to, and therefore a better understanding of, the works of Bach. And, yes, there have been list members who have adopted that position. (See the archives on the website.) As I have said in response to some of those claims, "The greatest religious music possesses a humanity and spirituality that transcends any underlying doctrinal authority and can still be profoundly moving even to outright atheists such as I."

(Let me be clear that I am NOT, Eric, including you in that group of "crusading" Protestants. I look forward to your contributions to the List, which are noteworthy for their reasoned clarity, unaffected fluency, and authoritative content.)

Dale Gedcke wrote (February 24, 2005):
[To E. Douglas Jensen] Amen!

That is the reply I was tempted to post in response to the e-mail from Doug above. But, I guess I should avoid the temptation to make an ironic pun and say, instead: Well written! That's precisely my position on the issue, and I suspect it is the perspective of many others on this list.

Peter Smaill wrote (February 24, 2005):
This interesting discussion gives a chance to unite some themes which have been resonating for a while in our Group.

Is it significant to an understanding of the Cantatas to either be a Christian, or have an understanding of that religion, especially of 17th century Lutheranism?

It seems established that Luther did not think of himself as founding the "Lutheran" church - he was principally intent on restoring the Church to a more primitive form, stripping away the accretions of Rome. Bach as we know had no difficulty in assimilating plainsong from the medieval church and in studying and utilising the music of Catholic composers such as Vivaldi.

Was Bach himself committed in religious terms, or simply doing his job in a milieu where conformity was essential?

The position is well set out by the former head of music at Westminster Abbey, Martin Neary:

"Thanks principally to Alfred Dürr's research, we know that Bach virtually gave up composing church music by the 1730's. This led some scholars, such as Friedrich Bluhme, to question many preiously held assumptions about Bach's creative life and to claim that Bach " the supreme Cantor, the creative servant of the word of God, the staunch Lutheran, is a legend". This thesis, casting doubt on Bach's religious convictions, was avidly taken up by (among others) some of the former East German politicians, and I well remember hearing the Minister of Culture, when opening the 1968 Leipzig Bach Competition, proudly asserting that Bach had been a great worker, and therefore a communist !

....Further evidence of Bach's religious nature came to light in 1969 with the discovery of Bach's own copy of Abraham Calov's Bible commentary.Not only do the title pages of all three volumes have Bach's monogram on them, but there are also many comments in Bach's own hand which refute the idea that he was a token believer."

Some thoughts on this :

1) Neary says this discovery was made in 1969, whereas Malcolm Boyd states 1934; does anyone know the actual story and exact date behind the discovery?

2) Some sources say this is the only set of volumes to remain extant from Bach's library; an inventory is set out in an appendix to Spitta's 3 volume biography (no index in 1899 Novello edition - infuriating to work with !).Wolff strongly argues that the list is incomplete, and cites a Bohemian hymnal belonging to Bach outside the list which has survived (it is apparently in Glasgow University ? Whittaker connection ?)

3) One of the books, Jakob Spener's "Eifer wider das Pabstthum " (" Zeal against Popery") tends to suggest, in the wake of the Thirty Years' War ( which ended in 1648), that Bach was unlikely to have harboured ecumenical feelings towards Rome; see also the text of BWV 126, ("Erhalt uns, Herr").

4) As Bach died owning a share in a gold mine (Ursula Erbstolln at Little Voigstberg - what became of it?) he is on that account quite possibly to be considered as potentially the opposite of a communist! But I agree we cannot assume possession of any book or thing allows absolute inferences to be drawn.

Since many of the cantata texts call for a strengthening of faith ("Hilf mein unglauben") there has never seemed to me to be the slightest problem in anyone of great faith, little faith or no faith enjoying them purely as religious art. They were intended to elaborate on the themes of Christianity, but are not confessional pieces in the sense that, for example, to sing the Creed in a church service implies assent to its propositions.Only in the sense that the final chorale does not usually have the same resonance for modern worshippers (we are rarely nowadays allowed to participate in them in performances of the cantatas) does the aesthetic experience of the eighteenth century believer differ markedly from a modern listener.

Trying to understand the theological didactic purposes of the Cantatas is for some a complementary approach but a purely musical appreciation of them is surely a perfectly valid outlook; the dominant theme of scholarship is bound to be the musical content. They were, after all, meant to be heard by every member of the congregation ; could the printed texts actually be read by everyone who attended the Thomaskirche ? How many sermons does anyone remember after a few days ?... but the musical effect of the Cantatas lives on and on!

Thomas Braatz wrote (February 24, 2005):
Peter Smaill wrote:
>> ....Further evidence of Bach's religious nature came to light in 1969 with the discovery of Bach's own copy of Abraham Calov's Bible commentary. Not only do the title pages of all three volumes have Bach's monogram on them, but there are also many comments in Bach's own hand which refute the idea that he was a token believer."
Some thoughts on this :
1) Neary says this discovery was made in 1969, whereas Malcolm Boyd states 1934; does anyone know the actual story and exact date behind the discovery?<<
Robin A Leaver, editor or "J. S. Bach and Scripture: Glosses from the Calov Bible Commentary" [Concordia, St. Louis, MO. 1985) reports on all the details concerning the rediscovery of these volumes hidden in a chest in an attic in Frankenmuth, Michigan in 1934. It's a long story.

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (February 26, 2005):
Eric Bergerud wrote:
< Frankly, if some deluded soul mentioning the "J Word" in reference to a Bach cantata lessens your interest in Bach, maybe your interest isn't that great. Crusading atheists are so tedious. >
You have no idea what my spiritual, moral, ethical or other beliefs are and frankly I see no reason to discuss them. I am certainly not a crusading atheist. "Atheist" itself like "pagan" are judgmental words and are only relevant to Christians. I do not define myself in terms of someone else's belief system. I have strong moral and ethical beliefs but they are not dependant on any system. As to my interest in Bach, that's not a matter for you to define.

I do wonder after several other posts whether Suzuki has a religious test for his singers and instrumentalists and IF that is so, then perhaps he should be boycotted. I raise this as a possibility bc. I am offended by ror racial tests for playing music.

Uri Golomb wrote (February 26, 2005):
Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote:
< "Atheist" itself like "pagan" are judgmental words and are only relevant to Christians. >
I think many atheists would disagree, as would many religious Muslims, Jews, and others who believe in God (or other deity/deities) just as fervently as religious Christians. I myself have no problem acknowledging that I'm an atheist, meaning that I do not believe in any personal god. (I remain agonstic with reference to the deists' ineffable, non-interventionist god). I know that the word "atheist" used to be pejorative, and still is in some circles; but with so many self-declared atheists around, I don't think it's universally pejorative anymore.

< I do wonder after several other posts whether Suzuki has a religious test for his singers and instrumentalists >
As far as I understand, no, he doesn't. As I recall, he spoke about in an interview, saying that because many of his musicians are not Christians, he takes special care to explain the works' liturgical context and religious significance as part of the rehearsal process. Unfortunately, I do not have the precise quote to have; but if memory serves me right, Suzuki doesn't insist on religious belief or backgroud on the part of his musicians; he just does his best to insure that they understand the music's religious context and meaning. Many non-believing musicians also insist on this: they might not share Bach's belief systems, but they still think that a proper appreciation and performance of his works depends on understanding the meaning he sought to convey. (It's the same with actors: they don't have to identify with the characters they present, or with the author's views and outlook; but they should understand both, if they are to perform the play adequately).

Peter Bloemendaal wrote (February 26, 2005):
[To Yoël L. Arbeitman] I am a Christian myself and agree with Yoël. After having sung about 120 St. Matthew Passions (BWV 244), some 20 SJP's (BWV 245), 3 Messiahs and having performed all the Bach cantatas besides numerous other (Christian) religious works with fellow choristers, soloists and instrumentalists, some of which I know to be Christians, I must say that religious conviction or the lack thereof did not influence their artistic performance in any way. I've heard some atheist "Christs" and ëvangelists" who sang their role with more conviction than some of their Christian colleagues. Being a good musician and being able to understand the composers and relate to his music are the only preconditions, both for the performer and for the listener. Suzuki is just a meticulous craftsman like Pierre Boulez who succeeded Bernstein as the conductor of the NYP in 1971. Suzuki's being a Christian does not make him a better Bach conductor than Gardiner, Koopman, Herreweghe or Rifkin. They also treat Bach with great respect, regardless their religious or philosophical background. Imagining that you can hear Suzuki's Christian stance through his cantatas is just a case of "hineininterpretieren".

Bob Henderson wrote (February 26, 2005):
I do remember from an article read some time ago that Suzuki does require his instrumentalists to be literate with regard to the text. This so that they might properly emphasize syllable and note with proper inflection.

Mitsuo Fukuda wrote (February 27, 2005):
Last Thursday, Suzuki performed BWV 123, BWV 124, BWV 125 and BWV 111 here in Japan. I counted how many Japanese Christians were there. Only 6 of 28 and 4 non Japanese, whom I don't know whether they are Christian or not. 6/28 equals 21%. But please note Christians are only 1% in Japan.

< I do wonder after several other posts whether Suzuki has a religious test for his singers and instrumentalists >
Absolutely no. If Suzuki does so, BCJ (Bach Collegium Japan) could not exist.

Eric Bergerud wrote (February 27, 2005):
[To Peter Bloemendaal] I think this topic perhaps has gone farther than it should and to the extent that my posts have fed the fire, mea culpa. However, I can't recall anyone on the list suggesting that Christian faith can be equated in any way with superior music. Nor do I recall anyone on the list proselytizing or arguing that only the faithful can appreciate Bach. I have not scanned the archives on this subject and cannot answer for anything posted in prior years. (I must say that I have looked at a lot of the archive for musical information - a wonderful resource - and can't recall seeing any overly zealous evangelizing. But I don't claim to have read everything.) The impact of the spiritual message of the text on the overall music has come up often. I should think is not only proper, but may well necessary as Bach integrated the message into the music. Exactly how the integration took place is not always clear and good ground for examination.

It's also been brought up that two conductors, Gardiner and Suzuki, who presently produce cantatas have talked about the spiritual impact of the music although it different ways. Again, this is not the same as claiming superior music. I have no idea at all how one could conclude that a conductor demands some kind of religious uniformity from his players. It did not come from anything on this list that I know of.

Bach's cantatas are art, but also religious art. Some members on the list have reflected on the spiritual impact of Bach cantatas on listeners. I certainly can't see anything wrong with that. I think it mean spirited to equate any reference to living faith as a rebuke to those not sharing the faith. All references to faith that I recall reading have been modest in tone. To express offense on the list I find more than bad form: it could also have a chilling effect on members who wish to reflect on such matters. Perhaps municipal governments in the US serve some greater good by removing a creche from public property. Perhaps Congress should remove "In God We Trust" from the quarter. There is no reason to attempt anything similar here.

Anyway before people get their tempers roused over discussion concerning 250 year old music, please remember the immortal words of my son David: "If you cut me some slack we'll both be happier."

David Atkins wrote (February 27, 2005):
[To Eric Bergerud] I think I may have opened this particular can of worms when I innocently suggested that I agreed with the BBC Radio3 presenter (when comparing complete BC cycles by Gardiner, Koopman & Suzuki) in saying that the Suzuki version has a sort of rapt, spiritual quality about it and that this might be due to latter's religious faith. I in no way wished to impugn either the quality or spirituality of the other versions (since these qualities are very much in the eye (ear?) of the beholder anyaway! Nevertheless, I am now an enthusiast for the Suzuki set.....

Santu de Silva wrote (February 27, 2005):
[To Peter Bloemendaal] This is a wonderfully eloquent statement of what I basically feel. Unfortunately I don't have the conviction to be able to say that I'm a Christian, or I would say the same.

 

Continue to Part 4

Masaaki Suzuki: Short Biography | Bach Collegoim Japan
Recordings of Vocal Works:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Recordings of Instrumental Works
General Discussions:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5
Cantatas:
Suzuki - Vol. 2 | Suzuki - Vol. 5 | Suzuki - Vol. 8 | Suzuki - Vol. 9 | Suzuki - Vol. 10 | Suzuki - Vol. 11 | Suzuki - Vol. 12 | Suzuki - Vol. 13 | Suzuki - Vol. 14 | Suzuki - Vol. 15 | Suzuki - Vol. 16 | Suzuki - Vol. 17 | Suzuki - Vol. 18 | Suzuki - Vol. 19 | Suzuki - Vol. 20 | Suzuki - Vol. 21 | Suzuki - Vol. 22 | Suzuki - Vol. 23 | Suzuki - Vol. 24 | Suzuki - Vol. 25 | Suzuki - Vol. 26 | Suzuki - Vol.. 27 | Suzuki - Vol. 28 | Suzuki - Vol. 29 | Suzuki - Vol. 30 | Suzuki - Vol. 31 | Suzuki - Vol. 38 | Suzuki Secular - Vol. 1
Other Vocal Works:
BWV 232 - M. Suzuki | BWV 243 - M. Suzuki | BWV 244 - M. Suzuki | BWV 245 - M. Suzuki | BWV 248 - M. Suzuki
Reviews of Instrumental Recordings:
Bachís Clavier-Ubung III from Masaaki Suzuki | Bach Harpsichord Discs from Hill and Suzuki | Bachís French Suites from Suzuki | Review: Partitas by Suzuki [McElhearn] | Suzukiís Partitas [Henderson] | Suzukiís Goldberg Variations
Discussions of Instrumental Recordings:
Partitas BWV 825-830 - played by M. Suzuki
Table of recordings by BWV Number

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Last update: żJanuary 24, 2009 ż06:13:40