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Choral Talk

Bach's easiest cantata?

Bonnie Woolley wrote (September 9, 2000): 16:34
I'm in the process of choosing a Bach cantata for a medium-low level choir. Can you tell me what you think is Bach's easiest cantata? This choir was able to pull off the Vivaldi Gloria with lots of sweat last year.

Grateful in advance for your input...

Mike Nicholls wrote (September 9, 2000): 20:47
(To Bonnie Woolley) Our choir sang Vivaldi's Gloria last year - unfortunately, I have no idea about a Bach Cantata, but you could try G F Händel's The Passion of Christ (1716) to the text by B H Brockes sometime - also a great opportunity for choir members to try their hand at being soloists.

Jim Edgar wrote (September 10, 2000): 1:34
(To Bonnie Woolley) BWV 4, "Christ Lay in Death's Dark Bonds" (Easter) and BWV 140 "Wachet auf..." (Advent 1) are both right in there. The first chorus of each piece is what takes most of the time to learn. Much of the remainder is solo, duet, and small group work for which you could find soloists.

BWV 4 has a soprano/alto duet that can be done with all the women, plus an intricate quartet that has the Cantus Firmus in the alto.

BWV 140 has that lovely tenor chorus set against the famous orchestral tune. The Alleluia fugue in the first chorus is sweet too. The soprano/bass duets can be a bit challenging for the singers though.

Alan Jones wrote (September 10, 2000): 15:54
(To Bonnie Woolley) Most of the cantatas have an opening chorus and a closing chorale, with a string of solo numbers as the "body" of the work. The difficulties are often most pronounced in these solo numbers, which can be long and harmonically very intricate, which makes them hard to sing in tune. Then there are the instrumental parts, again often of great difficulty and sometimes for obsolete instruments: yet it's a great pity to use just organ or piano when so much of the counterpoint lies in the "accompaniment" and is simply lost if a keyboard reduction is used. Did you use instruments when you sang the Vivaldi?

Chorally I think BWV 106 "Gottes Zeit" is as easy and effective as any, at least the opening and closing choruses, though you may have to re-jig one or two phrases in the bass part where it plunges very low. The central ATB section is very hard to get right for an amateur choir, but it could be done with soloists (which was perhaps how Bach envisaged the whole work). I agree that BWV 140 "Wachet auf" is also fairly easy, though the sopranos would perhaps find it boring. I've done BWV 161 "Komm, du süße Todesstunde" and BWV 6 "Bleib' bei uns" with a school choir and visiting soloists.

If someone can find another fairly easy one, with modest demands on the soloists and players, I'd be delighted to know of it! (Preferably a cheerful one: some of the easier ones seem to be funerary, presumably because rehearsal time would have been necessarily short.)

To be honest, though, I think Bach cantatas aren't a wise choice for a choir that needed "lots of sweat" to pull off the Vivaldi Gloria, which must be chorally the least demanding baroque cantata of that length. Even the least tricky of Bach's cantatas has awkward and often florid writing very different from Vivaldi's straightforward lines.

Dirk Garner wrote (September 11, 2000): 15:09
BWV 61

Bob Griffith wrote (September 12, 2000): 9:12
Cantata BWV 1

Kevin Sutton wrote (September 12, 2000): 18:51
Bob Griffith wrote:
< Cantata BWV 1 >
Of course that's the easiest one! It isn't Bach! This piece was very likely composed by Johann Kuhnau, who was Bach's predecessor at Leipzig. It was long attributed to Bach, but many scholars now believe otherwise.

Bonnie Woolley wrote (September 12, 2000): 21:15
Alan Jones wrote:
< To be honest, though, I think Bach cantatas aren't a wise choice for a choir that needed "lots of sweat" to pull off the Vivaldi Gloria >
Yes, you're probably right, but then again, the Vivaldi Gloria was also "impossible" for that group before we learned it, just as Bernstein's Chichester Psalms were a ludicrous choice for another group, which ended up doing a very credible job.

I think Bach is shooting just slightly above their heads; they'll be OK. Thanks to all for your suggestions - I'm planning to spend Thursday afternoon at the music store going through cantatas!

John Howell wrote (September 13, 2000): 18:34
(To Bonnie Woolley) Don't forget Buxtehude's cantatas. He was of the generation before Bach, but JS thought enough of his work to travel quite a ways to hear his music and overstayed his leave to boot. I can't think of a better "pre-Bach" project because there is much the same stylistically, but fewer of the harmonic twists that are so typical of mature JSB.

Joseph Herl wrote (September 13, 2000): 19:43
I haven't seen anyone vote yet for Cantata BWV 79, "Gott der Herr ist Sonn und Schild." It was written for the festival of the Reformation, so for Lutherans it would be appropriate for Reformation Day, October 31, and for others it would be good for Thanksgiving, inasmuch as the third movement is a choral setting of the hymn "Now thank we all our God."

You would probably want to have soloists sing the 2nd, 4th and 5th movements (an alto aria, a bass recitative and a soprano/bass duet). The first movement is a bit long but is not too difficult. The third movement is very easy, and the sixth is your typical Bach chorale.

That said, "Wachet auf" (which someone else suggested) is an absolutely wonderful cantata, a little more difficult perhaps, but perfect for Advent or the end of the church year.

Kevin Sutton wrote (September 14, 2000): 8:51
(Regarding cantata BWV 1) It seems that I am in error in my assertion that Cantata BWV 1 is spurious as I stated in a recent post. Somehow I got my wires crossed. Thanks to Dr. Richard Bloesch for setting me straight. I usually never post something like that before I go look it up. I will put that axiom back into practice immediately.

Mea culpa!

Bonnie Woolley wrote (September 14, 2000): 9:26
(Regarding Buxtehude's cantatas.) Any one in particular?

Alan Jones wrote (September 14, 2000): 13:07
(Regarding Buxtehude's cantatas.) Another pre-Bach suggestion: Nicolaus Bruhns (1665-97). Little of his music has survived, but there are several short cantatas (Peters and Carus editions): good music and no harder than Buxtehude. The style is like a combination of Purcell without his quirkiness and Bach without his complexity, but more characterful than this would imply!

The ones for SATB chorus are "Die Zeit meines Abschieds ist vorhanden", "Ich liege und schlafe", "Hemmt eure Traenenflut", "O werter heil'ger Geiste" (with SATB soloists - but not difficult), and "Muss nicht der Mensch auf dieser Erden". They all have string accompaniment (incl. 2 violas) plus, for some, a bassoon which could be replaced by 'cello; the last two also require two "clarini", which for a small choir could reasonably be replaced by oboes or even, if you're not too fussy historically, clarinets.

I do urge you to get scores and look at this attractive music.

My doubts about your choice of a Bach cantata are not so much about the writing for chorus, which is often capable of being sung by any choir with patience and good intonation, but the extent and difficulty of the solos which, as I said earlier, form the body of almost every cantata - in terms of time, perhaps three-quarters of the whole. They are not really choral works.

Bonnie Woolley wrote (September 14, 2000): 17:26
Alan Jones wrote:
< My doubts about your choice of a Bach cantata are not so much about the writing for chorus, which is often capable of being sung by any choir with patience agood intonation, but the extent and difficulty of the solos which, as I said earlier, form the body of almost every cantata - in terms of time, perhaps three-quarters of the whole. They are not really choral works. >
And there you'd be perfectly correct; I'm going to have to find some soloists. I'm less worried about that - I'm surrounded by great professional singers. The most important thing is for this choir to feel proud of being able to say they've done a Bach cantata, even if much of it is made up of solos!

John Howell wrote (September 14, 2000): 20:41
(Regarding Buxtehude's cantatas.) We only had two in our library, of which I did one with an ensemble that was ready to try something more substantial. It was SAB and had soprano, alto, and bass solos, all of whom I had. I wish I knew who publishes his work.

Richard C. Wall wrote (September 14, 2000): 23:36
(Regarding Buxtehude's cantatas.) "Jesu, meine freude" is especially nice.

Mr. E.D. wrote (September 15, 2000): 11:40
I don't know the easiest cantata, but I do know the shortest cantata. Cantata BWV 50; which is one chorus for two choirs. Check it out...Might be fun to put two choirs together and use it as a finale.

 

Training choirs to sing Bach

Barbara Wygal wrote (September 12, 2000):
Our volunteer group is singing Bach's Cantata BWV 140 in December. While I have sung many works by Bach and of the Baroque era under a number of very good conductors, this will be my first Bach prep other than chorales. I would appreciate hearing from those of you who conduct a lot of Bach about some vocalizes, instructions, stylistic considerations, and plain old tips that you use to prepare a choir that is fairly Bach illiterate but that learns and responds well to minimal conducting and to a variety of rehearsal techniques. I'm confident many of the lists members could benefit from the experience and expertise represented in this online group, but if you wish, you may write to me only.

Jane Hulting wrote (September 13, 2000):
(To Barbara Wygal) Would you post the responses? Thanks.

 

Suggestions for Bach

Julia Brundage wrote (November 13, 2000):
I am a student of Prof. John Howell at Virginia Tech. We were given an assignment to ask the listserv for advice on the best choice of works by the composer of out choice. My question to you is this: What would be the best choice of works by Johann Sebastian Bach for childrens' chorus? I thank you very much for your time and comments :)

David Bohn wrote (November 13, 2000):
(To Julia Brundage) None of them.

Kevin Sutton wrote (November 14, 2000):
(To David Bohn) I am sorry, but this is a ridiculous, flippant and completely inappropriate answer. Have you quite forgotten that Bach's cantatas were all sung by little boys? If they could do it in 18th century Leipzig, then children of our own age can learn them now. It is indeed true that you may have to use arrangements, but there is no reason whatsoever that Bach should not be studied and enjoyed by children. Start by teaching them some of the Chorale melodies that Bach harmonized. You can then proceed to arranging them into two or three part harmony. Teach them the chorale from the opening chorus of the St. Matthew. Teach them the chorale obbligato in Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring. Find tasteful arrangement of choruses from the cantatas, etc, but for heaven's sake, don't deny them the joy of Bach. You can even teach them the soprano and alto parts of cantata or oratorio choruses and ask for community volunteers to come and sing the bass and tenor parts. Finding appropriate works and/or arrangements will take some effort on your part, Julia, but put forth that effort. The effect of this great music on young singers will last them their entire lives.

David Bohn wrote (November 15, 2000):
Kevin Sutton wrote:
< I am sorry, but this is a ridiculous, flippant and completely inappropriate answer. Have you quite forgotten that Bach's cantatas were all sung by little boys? >
Actually, name a single complete CHORAL work written by Bach for treble voices. There are plenty of solo songs and vocal duets for treble voices, but (and I may be mistaken) nothing choral for strictly treble voices, as opposed to a mixed choir where boys are singing the upper voices. Any performance of an arrangement for children's choir is just that, an arrangement. She did NOT ask about what are the best arrangements of Bach, she asked for "the best choice of works by Johann Sebastian Bach". And based on that, I can't think of anything that fits the criteria. Arrangements, certainly, and adapting a piece for two solo voices by having a slew of singers on each part, certainly, but NO ORIGINAL WORKS.

Joe Corporon wrote (November 13, 2000):
I would program "Bist du bei mir" as published by Boosey & Hawkes for treble voices.

David Topping wrote (November 13, 2000):
(To Joe Corporon) ...except for the fact that it's not by Bach, but rather by a contemporary of his, Gottfried Heinrich Stoeltzel. Much of what appears in the famous "Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach" is not by J.S. Bach...not even that famous "Minuet in G" that's so popular.

I've placed information about this at: http://choralnet.org/misc/AMBNotebook.html

Jack Burnam wrote (November 14, 2000):
Julia Brundage writes:
< My question to you is this: What would be the best choice of works by Johann Sebastian Bach for childrens' chorus? >
All of the following have been performed with great success and enthusiasm by my Choir of Girls, ages 8-18, which rehearses once a week for 90 minutes.

Unison:

"When thou art near" (Bist du bei mir from Anna Magdalena Bach's
notebook--several editions available, but I use my own).

"Rejoice, O my spirit" (G. Schirmer)

"Come, let us all this day" (from the Schemelli Gesangbuch) and "Prepare thyself Zion" (from Christmas Oratorio, transposed up a step) are available together in a practical edition from the Royal School of Church Music (US agent is GIA).

"Jesu, joy of man's desiring" works just fine as a unison piece.

A little more challenging:

"Schafen koennen sicher weiden" (Sheep may safely graze)

"My heart ever faithful," the standard solo version; also available in Eb with a somewhat different organ accompaniment from RSCM.

"Aus Liebe will mein Heiland sterben" (St. Matthew Passion--with flute obbligato)

Two-part:

"The Lord bless you," originally for tenor and bass soloists, but works fine with trebles; a practical English edition is published by Concordia.

"Wake, my heart" is a contrafactum, an abbreviated duet from one of the cantatas provided with an English text from an entirely different source. It is published by the RSCM.

If not otherwise noted, I confected my own editions from public domain sources. This just scratches the surface, of course. My girls have always liked the longest and hardest pieces the best!

Joanne Collier wrote (November 14, 2000):
With regard to pieces by J.S. Bach that work well for children's chorus I would like to suggest the following:

"Come Let Us All This Day" - unison. I have this in a book titled "Twenty Sacred Songs" by J.S. Bach. It is also available in the Royal Conservatory Songbook Grade 4 from Gordon V. Thompson.

"Rejoice! O My Spirit" - Unison. This octavo is published by either B&H or Oxford (maybe Roberton?), I think.

"Ich jauchze, ich lache" - 2-part. Arr. D. Rao, B&H publishers.

"Wir eilen mit schwachen, doch emsigen Schritten" - Duet from Cantata BWV 78, published by E.C. Schirmer. This is more advanced but our hands-down favourite!

I apologize for not having complete information on this music but my library is currently in storage. I'm doing this off the top of my head. In any event these are all great pieces that young people deserve to learn. Enjoy!

Marie Grass Amenta wrote (November 14, 2000):
I like Doreen Rao's editions (Boosey and Hawkes--The Choral Music Experience)of duets (SA) from J.S. Bach cantatas BWV 9 and BWV 15. I have done them with 4th an5th grades choruses and will be programming BWV 15 with my community children's chorus in the Spring. She also has a few others in the series--they escape me now--but they all are quite doable.

Nina Gilbert wrote (November 14, 2000):
Joanne Collier, whose Medicine Hat Girls' choir (I think) I remember admiring at the Llangollen Eisteddfod, suggests:
< With regard to pieces by J.S. Bach that work well for children's chorus I would like to suggest the following: ... "Ich jauchze, ich lache" - 2-part. Arr. D. Rao, B&H publishers. >
Marie Grass Amenta also suggests:
< I like Doreen Rao's editions (Boosey and Hawkes--The Choral Music Experience)of duets (SA) from J.S. Bach cantatas
BWV 9 and BWV 15. >
BWV 15 actually includes two lovely, sweet duets with innocent, self-righteous texts about laughing in the face of evil monsters: in addition to "Ich jauchze, ich lache," there's also "Weichet, Furcht und Schrekken." Marie is right that they are Doreen Rao's editions, not arrangements. But that cantata is not by J. S. Bach! Apparently
it's by his cousin Johann Ludwig Bach (1677-1731).

Still worth performing. But not as transcendent as "Wir eilen," which Joanne and others have mentioned, from BWV 78.

Marylin Edewaard wrote (November 14, 2000):
(To Julia Brundage) I direct a Gr. 4-8 church choir. I love "Zion Hears the Watchmen's Voices" (unison, from Cantata BWV 140, edited by J. Rutter) with an orchestral accompaniment. The most demanding aspect is the range, but it is a great training piece. I also like "We hasten" - 2pt - can't put my finger on it right now.

Leigh Wigglesworth wrote (November 14, 2000):
[to Julia Brundage]
Bist du Bei Mir (BWV 508).
Flocks in Pastures Green abiding (sometimes called Sheep may safely graze).
My heart ever faithful.

And many of the Chorale melodies set in St Matthew Passion. "Beside Thy Cradle" is one.

Many treasures lie waiting to be found - what a wise Professor you do have! Good searching

 

Bach repertoire for college choir

Jessica Green wrote (December 11, 2000):
Moderator's note: I'm posting this on behalf of one of the Virginia Tech choral students, as if it is coming from her address. I think this is the last of these for this semester, and I've communicated with the instuctor about some changes to these assignments for our mutual benefit, to be applied in the future. For now, if you care to answer, please send it directly to Jessica's e-mail address.)

I am a student at Virginia Tech and as an assignment, I have been instructed to post on this listserve a request for the best pieces by J.S. Bach to perform with an average college choir. I'd appreciate any suggestions. Thanks so much.

 

Performance Practice

David Topping wrote (January 18, 2001):
< Is it our responsibility to cater to the audience or to be true to the composer. >
I'd say "both."

< Why do we make music? To entertain or enlighten an audience? >
Again, I'd say "both." :-) The two aren't mutually exclusive.

< Should we be authentic in performance or be a Burger King performer "Have it your way". >
I think there's a whole range of possibilities from the "purist" point of view that I questioned earlier, all the way to ignoring the composer and simply giving an audience what you think they might prefer. I don't think either extreme is a good place to be.

< It is true that we don't make music in a timeless vacuum, but what is our responsibility as leaders of choirs. What is our responsibility as musicians? >
Those are complicated questions to which there are no quick or necessarily definitive answers, but I was trying to make the point that I don't think we should work so hard for pure authenticity that we ignore the attributes of the "consumers" of our musical efforts. Let me bring in an actual real-world example:

Compare the differing performances of Bach's cantatas on the recordings (and live performances) of Helmuth Rilling on one hand, versus those of Nikolaus Harnoncourt. Harnoncourt seems to be more concerned with authenticity issues, while I know for certain that Rilling, although very well informed about these issues, chooses modern instruments, female sopranos and altos, and interpretive decisions based more on the contemporary audience.

As for enlightening the audience, I submit that Rilling has done more in that area than any other choral director I know of, in the form of his "lecture concerts" on the Bach cantatas and many other works. So you can have both...performance of music that's influenced by the musical taste of the audience and not simply recreations of what the music might have sounded like, and you can enlighten them.

Dr. James Kempster (Professor of Music, Pacific Union College, Angwin, CA) wrote (January 18, 2001):
David Topping wrote:
< Compare the differing performances of Bach's cantatas on the recordings (and live performances) of Helmuth Rilling on one hand, versus those of Nikolaus Harnoncourt. >
I agree with David. An even more subtle comparison is between Harnoncourt and Philippe Herreweghe-- Harnoncourt's protege. Both Rilling and Herreweghe are passionate about communicating the composer's intent but on the best of contemporary terms and with emotional insight. We owe a great debt to people like Harnoncourt for educating us in historical performance practice and providing an antidote to "romantic" excesses. But, nothing is more thrilling than a fresh insight into some of the old "war horses" by an artistic interpreter like Rilling or Herreweghe.

 

"Serious" two-part repertoire?

Joseph Hamm (Director, The Center Choirs, Center School District, Kansas City, MO) wrote (January 22, 2001):
The duet from Cantata BWV 4, "Christ Lag in Todesbanden" by Bach (Den Tod, Niemand zwingen kunnt' bei allen Menschkindern), is very nice and a challenging SA piece and can by done by children's choir. The duet from the Vivaldi 'Gloria', "Laudamus Te" is very nice, as is "Sound the Trumpet" by Henry Purcell. Also, try the children's choirs series from Boosey & Hawkes. It will provide a variety of challenging pieces in a variety of styles.

 

Easy choral piece by Bach

Aryeh Oron wrote (September 15, 2001):
What would you recommend as an easy choral piece (4-voices) by J.S. Bach for an amateur choir?

Philip [http://cpdl.snaptel.com] wrote (September 15, 2001):
[To Aryeh Oron] If your singers are even moderately proficient, I believe "Jesu, Joy of Our (Man's) Desiring" may do the trick. Scores are available at no cost from Choral Public Domain Library. I have listed the old URL below becuase there was a notice posted that the newer, upgraded website had crashed.

Douglas Neslund wrote (September 15, 2001):
[To Aryeh Oron] Why not the chorus "Sheep May Safely Graze" from Cantata BWV 208. It is also very beautiful, as you know.

Douglas Neslund wrote (September 15, 2001):
[To Aryeh Oron] Of course, to clarify my earlier suggestion, I meant SATB arrangements of the soprano aria "Schafe können sicher weiden." If arrangements are outside the realm of possibility, perhaps I can help research choruses written as such by Bach after I return from a short business trip.

Sebastian Göring wrote (September 16, 2001):
[To Aryeh Oron] Bärenreiter published a book with more than 300 original Chorales by Bach. With an amateur choir I successfully performed the first and last chorale from the Motet "Jesu meine Freude" as a Song with 2 verses.

Jim Kotora wrote (September 17, 2001):
[To Aryeh Oron] How about Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring?

James M. Baldwin wrote (September 17, 2001):
[To Aryeh Oron] There are many chorale cantatas out there that are fantastic musically, and also not too hard. Cantata BWV 142 (although not by Bach, I think it's been attributed to Gonaud) is one that I've done and have enjoyed a lot. These cantataalso give oppertunities to above-average singers in your choir, with solos that aren't usually too tricky, and are excellent for young singers to learn.

Karen Biscay wrote (September 17, 2001):
[To Aryeh Oron] "Break Forth, O Beautious Heavenly Light," from the Christmas Oratorio (BWV 248), I believe.

David Maxwell & Constance Gardiner wrote (October 10, 2001):
[To Aryeh Oron] Jesu Joy of Mans desiring.

 

Bach cantata

Forrest Daniel [emeritus professor of music] wrote (July 21, 2004):
While in my retirement years I have taken on a 25 voiced Lutheran church choir. The choir would like to sing a Bach cantata this season. What is an "easy" Bach cantata that we could perform?

Thank you,

(Prof.) J. Michael Thompson [Byzantine Catholic Seminary, Pittsburgh, PA] wrote (July 21, 2004):
Glory to Jesus Christ!

"The choir would like to sing a Bach cantata this season. What is an "easy" Bach cantata that we could perform?"

In general, the "easiest" cantatas would be those with the fewest choruses. For example, Cantata BWV 104, "Du Hirte Israel, höre," (O Shepherd of Israel, hear) is a cantata for Miserecordias Domini (i.e., the Second Sunday after Easter).

1. Choir: Du Hirte Israel, höre
2. Recitative: Der höchste Hueter sorgt fuer mich (tenor)
3. Aria: Verbirgt mein Hirte sich zu lange (tenor)
4. Recitative: Ja, dieses Wort ist meiner Seelen Speise (bass)
5. Aria: Beglueckte Herde, Jesu Schafe (bass)
6. Choir: Der Herr ist mein getreuer Hirt

As you see, this means the choir learns the first and last movements. I love this cantata, themed on Jesus the Good Shepherd. Perhaps it will be useful for you!

Roberto DNA wrote (July 21, 2004):
Nun Komm der ... Heiland, Cantata # 4, I believe. Opening choral part, two chorales, 1 bass and 1 soprano solo as I remember it.

Jim Edgar [Milwaukee] wrote (July 22, 2004):
[To Forrest Daniel] Cantata BWV 112 is beautiful. If you do not have soloists that can sing the soprano/tenor duet (it goes up to high A) you might have to transpose or otherwise arrange it (Bach purists turn your heads). The mezzo solo with oboe is gorgeous. Too bad the score I have is for oboe d'amore which is NOT oboe. You have to transpose the score and knock off the lowest note for regular oboe.

All that having been written, why is it easy? The chorus parts are easy and the solos are (or can be made) approachable.

Other easier cantatas:
BWV 4
BWV 140 (fugue in the first chorus takes work). Mvt. 5 is famous and glorious. The orchestra is big too.
BWV 31 (takes SSATB in a big fugue in chorus #1 and you can reduce the orchestra by eliminating the woodwinds that double the strings. Also, transpose/combine trumpet 2 and 3 into a single part for the one oboe you keep. That makes BWV 31 work in the same performance as Vivaldi "Gloria" for example.)

The thing with the Bach cantatas seems to be good orchestra players and vocal soloists. We did BWV 140 with a choir of 15 which included a couple of ringers from a nearby university for section leading and solo work.

Good luck,

Stephen A. Stomps [Director of Choirs, Auburn High School Choirs, Auburn New York, USA] wrote (July 22, 2004):
Liebster Gott, wann werd' ich Sterben? (BWV 8)

Ginny Siggia [Administrative Assistant II, Dept. of Civil & Environmental Engineering, MIT, Cambridge, MA, USA] wrote (July 22, 2004):
We did the three "B Minor Mass" (BWV 232) cantatas in one concert: BWV 12, BWV 29, and BWV 191. The titles are "Weinen klagen sorgen zagen" based on Crucifixus (BWV 12), "Wir danken dir, Gott" based on Dona Nobis Pacem (BWV 29), and "Gloria in Excelsis Deo" (BWV 191). They included choruses, chorales, and solos. BWV 29 had a brief choral exclamation that came off badly because it was the only one, deep inside a long solo movement, and we simply weren't awake). This cantata was done first because it has the wonderful brilliant organ sinfonia. It was written, according to bach.org, for "the installation of new city officials in Leipzig." BWV 12 was sung by a chamber chorus (I don't know if this is critical to performance, but it was the conductor's choice), and BWV 191 concluded the concert. Sure, we had to work to make these sound effortless, but it was a good concert and I don't think any of these are really difficult. BWV 191 in particular has a wonderful S2 line -- Bach really knew how to make S2 sound like a magnificent part instead of stepsister to S1.

Robert M. Copeland [Professor of Music, Director of Choral Activities, Geneva College, Beaver Falls, PA, USA] wrote (July 22, 2004):
You'll find a good listing, including details and comments, in a book by William J. Bullock, Bach Cantatas Requiring Limited Resources: A Guide to Editions. Lanham: University Press of America, 1984. ISBN 0-8191-3863-0.

 

Easy cantata

Dean M. Stabrook [Director of Music, St. Andrew Presbyterian Church, Yuba City, CA, USA] wrote (July 22, 2004):
Two years ago I was also looking for an "easy" Bach cantata for my church choir. Although there were some possibilities, I happened across a Magnificat by J. C. Bach, which was most accessible for my choir. I orchestrated it for the forces I could afford to hire (strings, 2 oboes, 2 horns) and had a delightful performance. I would definitely recommend a look see.

John Howell [Virginia Tech Department of Music, Blacksburg, Virginia, USA] wrote (July 22, 2004):
[To Dean M. Estabrook] Also, when I was at the stage of wanting a sort of beginer's extended piece for my Early Music Ensemble a few years ago, I was advised to look at some Buxtehude cantatas. It was good advice, and we did quite well with it. Haven't attempted a full-scale Bach cantata with that ensemble, but a couple of years ago our Community Strings did 2 of the 6 cantatas in the Christmas Oratorio with a young choir from the university and added winds and drums from the Community Band, and it went rather well. (With oboe d'amore problems, of course!)

Dean, could you send me ordering information for the Christian Bach Magnificat? Sounds like something I might want to try this year. Did you add winds to existing string parts, or did you have to start from scratch from a piano part? Hmm. I see that Luck's lists a Magnificat in C (1758), but it doesn't give the instrumentation. Also has the enigmatic note "SATB-I & II"--double choir?

 

Bach Cantata

Howard (Glacial Inferno) wrote (January 2, 2005):
I was wondering if anyone can point to me a Bach Cantata that really features the Choir. I'm trying to find a cantata for a choir to perform that doesn't have heavy solos in it.

Thanks,

Linda Fox wrote (January 2, 2005):
[To Howard] Do you want to use soloists at all? If not, then Cantata BWV 50 Nun Ist Das Heil is a great sing - it's all one movement and in 8 parts.

Virtually indestinguishable from the motets, actually: you could check out Komm Jesu Komm (BWV 229) if you can muster 8 parts, failing that, Jesu Meine Freude (BWV 227) which has a lot of short movements, some of which only use three parts and could suggest they're emant for soloists or a semichorus. Both of these are probably meant to be unaccompanied, but I've certainly heard Jesu Meine Freude with an organ.

John Howell [Virginia Tech Department of Music, Blacksburg, Virginia, USA] wrote (January 3, 2005):
[To Howard] Perhaps you could examine the motets, rather than the cantatas. I suspect that you can find what you are looking for in the cantatas, but I don't know the oevre well enough to point you to one.

Peter Bates [Liverpool: European Capital of Culture 2008] wrote (January 3, 2005):
[To Howard] You may find the various resources at www.bach-cantatas.com useful in your search. They have all the printed music (from an out-of-copyright and therefore slightly dated edition) on-line.

Bud Clark [San Diego, CA, USA] wrote (January 3, 2005):
The cantatas are all discussed online at: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/

The scores are at: http://www.bh2000.net/score/sacrbach/

James D. Janzen [MMus, Dip FA (Cond), Fine Arts Department Chairman, Prairie < [To Howard] Cantata BWV 4 works effectively for choir with all movements (including the ones that are sometimes indicated as solos) sung by the choir.

 

Bach Performance Practice

Terry Hicks [Los Angeles] wrote (September 9, 2006):
I have to take issue with a comment about Bach's "long phrases unbroken by breathing" when played by instruments. To my ears, the finest instrumental groups who play in an historically informed style do in fact "breath" in their phrases. Remember that instrumentalists started off accompany so called "a cappella" music, and it would make sense that they would match the singers in phrasing and "breathing". It's a Romantic concept that a long phrase has no breathing.

Jerome Hoberman [Music Director/Conductor - The Hong Kong Bach Choir & Orchestra] wrote (September 9, 2006):
[To Terry Hicks] Yes, but you must remember that musicians are trained, conditioned and habituated to play everything that's on the page. When they can't, they're frustrated. This is as true for Bach as it is for Philip Glass. Every first-class orchestral musician I know and work with finds Bach the most difficult music of all to play (as do singers), because it's next to impossible to reproduce the music as it reads in the imagination. For musicians of earlier generations (the "Romantic concept" to which you refer) this wasn't a problem, because they'd just adjust the phrasing and/or bowing at will without remorse, as violinists and cellists so often do with the sonatas/partitas and suites -- whether or not it's necessary -- to conform to a priori assumptions about the way music is phrased. It's precisely the "historically informed" musicians who suffer most from this phenomenon, because they take the text the most seriously.

Douglas Neslund wrote (September 9, 2006):
Jerome Hoberman wrote, in part:
< It's precisely the "historically informed" musicians who suffer most from this phenomenon, because they take the text the most seriously. >
When the musical item is a sacred cantata, motet or the great B-minor Mass (BWV 232), the text MUST be taken most seriously, and marks an important difference in performance practice and point of departure between musicians who consider the sacred text to be as important or even more important than the music, and those who present the same music in concert hall or other secular venue, with a focus on the music, the text being relegated to providing the singers with a series of unison vowel sounds to sing.

John Howell [Virginia Tech Department of Music] wrote (September 10, 2006):
[To Terry Hicks] I think Terry has it right. Every writer of the 18th century (including Quantz) emphasizes not long phrases but the hierarchy of strong and weak notes within the measure. Stringed instruments, in particular, used bows that favored clean articulations over the long line, and it was only the combination of the Tourte bow design (late 18th century) and the Leopold Auer bow change technique (late 19th century) that made vocalesque long lines even possible.

But of course music of ANY period has both macro and micro phrasings, and that is just as true of Bach as it is of Puccini. It is finding those phrasings and bringing them out that gives the music its shape, rather than just being one d**** note after another!

I would, however, backdate Terry's history of instrumental/vocal music by a few centuries. He may be thinking of high Renaissance music in which, depending on the time and place, instruments could be used to double or even replace voices in music that looks, on the page, as if it were intended for a cappella vocal performance. But the earliest extant instrumental music appears in mss. from the 13th and 14th centuries, and shows both dance music and instrumental solo music, NOT music doubling vocal lines. And we know that the trobador and trouvére songs of the 11th-13th centuries COULD have had instrumental accompaniment and in some cases clearly DID have instrumental accompaniment, but we don't know exactly how the instruments did that accompanying any more than we know how the singers of Classical Greece used the lyra or kithara as accompaniment.

Craig Collins wrote (September 10, 2006):
When I was a grad student at SMU/Perkins back in the early 80s, I studied Baroque performance practice with renowned Baroque scholar/expert Robert Donnington for a semester, and he affirmed the idea that instruments must breathe and phrase as the voice. He also pooh-poohed the notion that the music of that era was square and/or lacking in passion. On our concert at the end of the semester renowned oboist Heinz Holliger came in and played with us and an early music ensemble there in the Dallas area. Donington worked with them and focused a lot on expression and phrasing. It was a revelation, and made the music come alive in a way that I often find lacking with period instrument recordings by some of the big name conductors. I often find their readings cold, sterile and boring. Not so with Donington.

John Howell [Virginia Tech Department of Music] wrote (September 10, 2006):
Douglas Neslund wrote:
< When the musical item is a sacred cantata, motet or the great B-minor Mass (BWV 232), the text MUST be taken most seriously, and marks an important difference in performance practice and point of departure between musicians who consider the sacred text to be as important or even more important than the music, and those who present the same music in concert hall or other secular venue, with a focus on the music, the text being relegated to providing the singers with a series of unison vowel sounds to sing. >
Why do you assume that it has to be one or the other? With a few notable 20th century exceptions (Poulenc and Stravinsky come to mind), every composer STARTS with the text and sets that text to music with the intent of enhancing it. That even holds true for Gregorian chant, often cited as the least emotional and most objective music in our cultural heritage. But anyone who thinks that has obviously never studied chant in depth or sung it with due care for the texts.

John Howell [Virginia Tech Department of Music] wrote (September 10, 2006):
Jerome Hoberman wrote:
< Yes, but you must remember that musicians are trained, conditioned and habituated to play everything that's on the page. When they can't, they're frustrated. This is as true for Bach as it is for Philip Glass. Every first-class orchestral musician I know and work with finds Bach the most difficult music of all to play (as do singers), because it's next to impossible to reproduce the music as it reads in the imagination. For musicians of earlier generations (the "Romantic concept" to which you refer) this wasn't a problem, because they'd just adjust the phrasing and/or bowing at will without remorse, as violinists and cellists so often do with the sonatas/partitas and suites -- whether or not it's necessary -- to conform to a priori assumptions about the way music is phrased. It's precisely the "historically informed" musicians who suffer most from this phenomenon, because they take the text the most seriously. >
The concept that appears to be missing in this paragraph is both simple and profound. NO notation can give every jot and tittle of phrasing. Modern conservatory-trained classical musicians--whom you describe above--learn to interpret "everything that's on the page" in onway. Modern jazz-trained musicians learn to interpret the notation in a different way, even though it's the same notation. (Which is why most jazz singers sound ridiculous trying to sing an operatic aria, and most operatic singers sound ridiculous trying to
sing a jazz standard!)

Those of us who (rightly or wrongly) think of ourselves as "historically informed" have made a real effort to try to learn how baroque, renaissance, or medieval musicians interpreted "everything that's on the page," and it shouldn't come as any surprise that the same notation was, indeed, interpreted differently 300, 500, or 800 years ago than it is today. As only one example among many possible ones, from Corelli on through Bach we find 3- and 4-note block chords written in string music. The 19th/20th century interpretation is to play those chords AS block chords, with the lower notes played before the beat, since "of course" the melody note is the most important and must come on the beat. The baroque approach, as taught by August Wensinger, is to play the bottom note on the beat (since the bass note was more important than the melody note) and to sweep the bow across the other strings instead of going Ska-RUNCH, ending on the melody note "that was already sounding as an overtone of the bass note." But then we learn from Tartini that notated block chords could also be a shorthand notation for arpeggiated chords realized with different bowing patterns--and we discover that extrapolating this back almost a century to Corelli makes very good musical sense.

So what, exactly, does playing "everything that's on the page" actually mean? It's really meaningless unless it is qualified by the particular style within which one is working.

 

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Last update: ýSeptember 11, 2006 ý12:04:59