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Part 17: Year 2015

Continue from Part 16: 2014

Introducing myself

Stephen Clarke wrote (February 10, 2015):
Greetings. I'm signing up here to see if there is any opening for a discussion of the function or affect of Bach's music as it relates to the life of a practicing believer. There is always a lot of discussion about whether one has to be a believer in order to appreciate JSB's music - "Of course not", is of course the correct answer. But Bach himself was a 'believer' who operated on a profound level far beyond that of naive superstition. In some essential fashion, Bach knew, and had belief that grew out of what he experienced - not only as a four-square Lutheran (oh to be a fly on the wall there or to have been a member of Bach's congregation in Liepzig!) but as . . . more than that, too. Well, that's my "thesis" at any rate.

I'm not interested in psychoanalyzing the man, but mystical experience has been mapped out in a variety of ways, many of which have a strong transpersonal and objectively invariant component that crosses circumstantial and ultimately arbitrary boundaries (this being, one one map, the boundary threshold of Yesod and Hod-Netzah). In my own case, as a kabbalist of some forty years (plus other things), I continue to find profound confirmation of Bach's music as having a strong an initiatory component. In this area also, Bach seems to have known what he was about. I would be interested in exploring some of the implications of any of this with members here.

I love the music, I love than man. We could have this discussion about Bob Dylan, too, but that is for another list . . . .

I am also interested in researching the contents of Bach's library of books, manuscripts, etc. in order to obtain any possible confirmation of my intuitions concerning Bach's own interest in the matter of spiritual practice. For instance, references to "Jewish" items in his holdings might involve associations with rabbinical commentary and related speculations . . . .

As for myself, I first became acquainted with JSB through the recordings made by the Swingle Singers back when they were being released back in the day. I quickly started in with the 2- & 3-Part Inventions by Glenn Gould, then all the other keyboard works on harpsichord as they were starting to come out in droves, then his instrumental works as on the old instruments - a rather progressive and plausible approach to becoming familiar with his oeuvre. I didn't like opera and voice very much, so the vocal works were late coming into focus, even the b-minor Mass and the Passions. With benefit of experience and hindsight, I can say, that for myself at least, Bach's cantatas lie at the heart and soul of what he was about. I now posses several complete cycles and a variety of miscellany and have quite a ways to go before I listen to them all. Exposure to Bach's music was my first experience with spiritual truth, and the sense of connection with and through it is still my touchstone for authenticity in that area. It is also a mighty consolation in a fallen world for one who is sympathetic to such perspectives. Old JSB is one of the very few really great men who I can point to who can justify his - or our - existence, and his influence remains potent. There is a lot more to find his music than meets the eye - or ear! And he was fortunate to work in a medium that is not prone to fanaticism, like other isms are. Music is so free . . . .

I would, of course, appreciate direction to prior discussion threads, herein or elsewhere on the subject!

Evan Cortens wrote (February 10, 2015):
[To Stephen Clarke] Welcome to the list! Indeed, there's been an enormous amount of discussion over the years on this topic. Aryeh Oron, our amazing moderator and site maintainer, has beautifully collected and organized all of the past discussions here: http://bach-cantatas.com/Topics/index.htm

If you scroll down, you'll see a section on "Religion, Politics, etc.", including "Bach and Religion", which is so large, it's divided into eight pages.

The contents of Bach's library have been explored in some detail in the literature. Here's the main reference work, by Robin Leaver: http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/11369935

Don't be put off by the German title if you don't read German--the key parts are all translated. Off the top of my head, I don't believe he had any books that were specifically on the topic of Judaism, but that doesn't mean it wasn't discussed in other books.

Again, welcome to the list! And all best,

Aryeh Oron wrote (February 10, 2015):
[To Stephen Clarke] Welcome aboard. I hope to see you participating in the Cantata Discussions.

Regarding Bach's Library you can find on the BCW in the section of Bach & Other Composers: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Other/
Discussion page: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Other/Library.htm
List of Works: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Other/Work-Library.htm

Stephen Clarke wrote (February 10, 2015):
[To Aryeh Oron] Thank you for the invite and the replies. It will take a while for me to scan thru the prior discussions, so I'll prob. be mum for a while until I get myself sorted out but I will do my best to reply to any comments coming to me from other list subscribers. In the meantime,
PAX

 

Introducing myself - and a question

Art Danks wrote (March 2, 2015):
Greetings all!

My name is Art, and I'm really glad to be a part of this group! Thank you.

I have been a lover of the music of JS Bach since a child (I am 59 now). My 3 older sisters all took organ lessons, and every day would practice the "8 Little Prelude and Fugues", and other Bach organ works. All four of us kids were also singers and in a number of choirs, where we of course sang much Bach.

In college, I majored in voice (was a baritone at the time, but afterwards switched to tenor, which I still am). Of course, since by then Bach was my absolute favorite composer (and still is), I wanted to include a full on Cantata in my Senior Recital. I sang "Ich Will Den Kreuzstab Gerne Tragen", Cantata # 56. I SOOO loved singing that!

As a tenor, I am still fortunate enough to be in a choral group that once a year alternates between 3 of his major choral works, the B-Minor Mass, the St. John Passion and the St. Matthew Passion. Doing this really fills a very real need in my life. Listening to, and even more importantly for me, singing the great choral works of Bach very definitely fill a very real need in my life, and keep me balanced.

So here is my questions. I am wanting to buy a set CDs of ALL the works of Bach. (Even though I primarily only listen to his choral music, I love his instrumental as well, and just want to have absolutely everything in one set.)

I currently own just the first set of what used to be called the "Bach 2000" series from Teldec, which originally was in 12 volumes, totaling 153 CD's. My 1st volume is 15 CD's and contains Cantatas 1 thru 49. Artists include Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Gustav Leonhardt, Concentus musicus Wien, etc. I LOVE this set,and see that now you can by the entire thing (all 153 CD's) on Amazon for $297.39, which isn't bad.

However, I also see another set recordings of all his works that I hadn't heard of before. It is the Brilliant Classics' Bach Complete Edition (BCE), with 142 CD's, and goes for $169.98. Of course, the price is more attractive to me, but only if the quality is comparable to the other one.

I am hoping to hear some opinions from people in regards to the quality of these two sets. I will also be posting this to the Bach recording Group I recently joined, but also wanted to post the question here, since my first love of his music are the cantatas.

Thank you all. Looking forward to hearing from you.

Claudio Di Veroli wrote (March 3, 2015):
[To Art Danks] Please go online to this gro's archives and search for "brilliant": there was here a discussion of the quality of the Brilliant sets for both Cantatas and the other works.

I can attest that the quality of the Cantatas recordings was, more often than not, excellent and similar in quality to other much more expensive recordings. It is surely better than most recordings by Harnoncourt-Leonhardt, pioneering but lacking sometimes (not always!) some more refined instrument technique and interpretation as well.

Have not heard the non-Cantatas recordings in the larger Brilliant set.

Julian Mincham wrote (March 3, 2015):
[To 'Claudio Di Veroli'] I'd go along with this. I bought the Brilliant set about 4 years ago for the amazing price on under 60 pounds sterling! For over 160 CD!!. The cantatas vary in quality, but then they vary as to personal taste in most sets. Some will find some of the soloists not to their tastes although the pure sounds of the soprano, Ruth Holton, are often appropriately very reminicient of a boy soprano. I have compared performances to those by Koopman (I have the complete set) Harnoncourt (I have most) and various other directors of whom I have select recordings. But you pays your money (not a lot in this case) and you makes your choice!.

Interestingly I read that Leusink (director) claimed that, as far as can be determined he probably spent about the same time rehearsing each cantata as Bach would have done. They were all prepared in a very short time.

I have heard little of the organ works of this set though a friend tells me that they are good. Rather particularly exciting are some of the concerti, especially the multiple ones.

|You can hardly fail with this set value-wise----but do shop around.

Aryeh Oron wrote (March 3, 2015):
[To Art Danks] There are 5 pages on the BCW with discussions of the Brilliant Classics set, starting at:
http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Performers/Leusink-Gen1.htm
Discussions of the various cantata sets and their relative merits can be found in about 20 pages, starting at:
http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Topics/Recordings-1996.htm

Neil Mason wrote (March 4, 2015):
[To Julian Mincham] I agree with Julian on this. For value-for-money the Brilliant set can't be beaten. In the cantatas the instrumental side of things is excellent, and three of the four soloists are normally good (the exception being the countertenor).

As for the choir, yes they do often sound underrehearsed. While the notes might be correct, forget about any thought of blend or illustrating the text.

Tempi are excellent IMO.

I also have Rilling (more stately performances in general, more traditional soloists), half of the Leonhart/Harnoncourt LPs (and nothing to play them on!) and the Gardiner 22CD box of selected cantatas.

The latter are my favourite (of the above). But I would not hesitate in buying the Brilliant set as an introduction.

Anthony Kozar wrote (March 4, 2015):
Brilliant Classics set (was: Introducing myself - and a question)

[To Art Danks] I would like to mention that there have been four or five different releases of the Brilliant Classics "Bach Complete Edition" (BCE), most with substantially different contents than the others. As far as I know, there was the original multi-box set with jewel cases (2000), and then all-in-one box sets released in 2001, 2006, 2008 (same as 2006 I think), 2010, and 2014.

I have the 2010 BCE, and I am still very pleased with it. From the research I've done, I would say that this set had significantly better recordings of a number of pieces than previous sets. You can read my very detailed review of the set on Amazon or on my own music blog: http://www.thornykoanz.net/2011/02/10/a-treasure-trove-of-bach/

There is also information about the complete contents and performers of the 2010 BCE on my site: http://www.thornykoanz.net/bach-complete-edition/
(There are a few minor errors in both the review and the content lists that I have not corrected online yet).

The 2014 set again replaces a number of recordings with different performances. If you download the booklet notes from the Brilliant Classics website, you can compare the contents with the 2010 set so that you will know which parts of my review no longer apply: http://www.brilliantclassics.com/articles/j/js-bach-complete-edition/

Here is a quick (and possibly incomplete) list though of the works that appear to be different recordings between the 2014 and 2010 sets:

B minor Mass
St. Matthew and St. John Passions
Christmas Oratorio
Magnificat
Motets
Orchestral Suites
Violin Concertos
Solo Violin Sonatas & Partitas
Lute Suites
Viola da Gamba Sonatas
Violin Sonatas BWV 1021 & 1023 (only)
French Suites (the 2014 has Belder's much superior recording)
complete organ works

Even though the 2014 BCE contains 15 fewer CDs than the 2010 BCE, I believe that there are not many pieces left out of the 2014 set that were in the 2010 set. They managed to save more than 10 CDs by reorganizing the sacred cantata discs, the chorales, etc. The biggest omission from the 2014 set (unless I overlooked it somehow) is the reconstruction of the St. Mark Passion. The 2014 BCE does appear to contain two additional violin concertos reconstructed from harpsichord concertos (BWV 1052 & 1056) that are not included in the 2010 BCE.

As far as the sacred cantata recordings go, I am a little more critical of them now than I was in my review. However, I agree with Neil Mason that the instrumental playing is excellent as are the two soprano and the bass soloists. There are actually five tenor soloists although two of them sing on only one cantata each. Out of the other three tenors, Marcel Beekman is just awesome but the other two, while passable, annoy me more now than they did initially. The countertenor is quite wretched and "spoils" nearly every cantata that he sings in. The choir is ok maybe 75% of the time but the soprano & alto intonation is quite bad in louder or more complex choruses.

Overall though, I am not disappointed because I cannot afford any of the more expensive cantata sets. BTW, the complete Gardiner set is now available in one box for a reasonable price and there is actually a third complete Bach set done on modern instruments -- the Hänssler "Bachakademie 10th Anniversary Special Collection" -- that includes the Helmuth Rilling cantatas: Amazon.com

I'd be happy to answer any other questions that you have about the Brilliant Classics set(s). Good luck with your decision!

Stephen Clarke wrote (March 4, 2015):
[To Anthony Kozar] Thank for this, Anthony! I've been puzzled and confounded by the different packaging/contents options for the Brilliant sets, but this clarifies. I think I'll take the plunge!

William Rowland (Ludwig) wrote (March 4, 2015):
[To Aryeh Oron] One of the of the advantages of owning such a set is that one often gets rarities that are not performed or recorded anywhere else. Some other outstanding sets that have been around since the 1970s are: the Beethoven Complete works (who knew that Beethoven composed Organ Sonatas?), the Mozart complete works as well as the Haydn Symphonies (what would be nice in these additions is to have a DVD performance of Operas of Mozart and Haydn that are never performed these days) not to mention several editions of all of JS Bach's complete work. I own several of these sets by various composers and performers.

What is egregiously wrong about many of these editions is that some supposed expert musicologist may declare that Bach et al did not write such a work and leave it out of the s. One example of this is the Teldec set---it would be nice if ALL the BWV works were recorded here and the so-called expert musicologist state the work is of doubtful authorship by Bach or present proof as to why it is not a work of Bach---one such work left out of the Teldec set is BWV 15-- supposedly written by JS Bach's grandfather. This is a lovely work whether or not it was written by Bach or not and there is no statement as to why it is not regarded as a work of JS.

This is not to say that the so-called experts should be discredited but experts have been wrong in the past and will be in the future. Such a situation exists now in England with a supposed Michelangelo statue --that was previously thought to be by someone else and not of great artistic value--as things like that go.

Claudio Di Veroli wrote (March 4, 2015):
[To Ludwig] Dear lvb (I apologise: please remind me of your real name so I can call you by name, thanks!):

I have to strongly agree with your conclusions, though I also strongly disagree with your arguments.

Very famous works by JSBach declared spurious by modern musicology may be about a dozen, but in the case of non-famous works they are many, many more.

One of the leading JSB experts of our time (at least so extolled by Early Music magazine reviewers), Prof. Alberto Basso, in his monumental work on JSB (Frau Musika, Turin 1983, Vol. II), lists about 40 spurious or dubious vocal works. As for spurious instrumental works, they run from p. 885 to p. 892 at about 20 works per page, i.e. a total of about 160 works, all of them with their BWV number! These include masterworks that are "soooo JSBachian" that it is hard to believe that they are not his work, yet there is absolutely full agreement on this, for instance the marvellous sonata for violin or flute and cembalo concertato in g minor BWV1020 (composed by CPE Bach, surely under the influence of his father, yet the work is not by JSB).

It is also noteworthy that Basso's spurious list does NOT include a few masterpieces that highly respected musicians/musicologists have held spurious, exhibiting with very serious (and mostly agreed upon) evidence: these include the Triple Concerto BWV1044 (arrangement of Bach's works probably by Müthel) , the Organ Toccata and Fugue in d BWV565 (most likely composed by J.P.Kellner) and the Organ Fugue on the Magnificat BWV733 (composed by Krebs). .... "and possibly a few more". In these cases (unlike in the BWV1020 I mentioned above), scholars have also shown relatively obvious style and formal evidence that makes these works very difficult to attribute to JSB.

Finally, I am puzzled by your statement that "some supposed expert musicologists may declare that Bach ... did not write such a work ... experts have been wrong in the past and will be in the future", because I am not aware that any of these works they declared spurious has subsequently been found, with evidence, to be authentic. I guess this is just my ignorance, of course: I am sure there are a few, and I will be very grateful to know about these studies showing that they are authentic, and will gladly stand corrected.

NEVERTHELESS, since many of these dubious (and I have the impression that as time goes by evidence seems to be accumulating towards declaring most of them just SPURIOUS) works are marvellous works of art, written under Bach's influence and a "spark of genius" by one of his students, and we are familiar with these masterpieces and expect to hear them in recordings, I ALSO STRONGLY AGREE that most of these masterpieces should all be included in complete recordings. (This does NOT include the works that are not only spurious but also of dubious quality, nowadays forgotten, and about which there was hardly ever a doubt about their not being authentic, but are still in the BWV catalogue.)

William Hoffman wrote (March 4, 2015):
Bach's hand may be found in the music of his family, students, and colleagues. Just look at the Anna Magdalena Book. Peter Wollny is investigating the cantata work of Sebastian and Emmanuel in the early 1730s. The final chapter cannot be written.

Anthony Kozar wrote (March 4, 2015):
[To Claudio Di Veroli] The motet, "Ich lasse dich nicht" BWV Anh. 159 was for a long time attributed to Johann Christoph Bach, but some scholars now seem to agree that it is likely to be authentic.

And there is still some disagreement over some of those flute sonatas (BWV 1020, 1031, 1033) -- David Moroney thinks one or two may be authentic. (After all, CPE Bach himself attributed two of them to his father. It seems a little crazy to me that the scholars then go and attribute them to CPE).

I too would like to have had many of the dubious works included in the "complete edition" that I purchased. I spent a lot of time tracking down recordings of some of these works and many of them are quite enjoyable and informative about the musical influences on J.S. Bach even if they are not by him. (I still am holding out hope that BWV 142 is authentic and will some day be vindicated!

Julian Mincham wrote (March 3, 2015):
[To William Hoffman] There is always the theory around that Anna Magdalena composed the cello sonatas!

I have a sort of fantasy about Bach's working methods. Much of the keyboard music and probably the chamber music too, was composed for pedagogical purposes. I have often wondered if Bach gave an exercise to a pupil such as develop this theme until the cadence in the cominant key. Continue from the double bar-line to a cadence in the relative minor. Complete this movement by returning to the tonic key.

Indeed, many renaissance artists and sculptors worked thus, getting their students to do supervised parts of a work which the master then rejected, accepted, corrected or improved. I believe that Lully frequenlty had his students write the inner arts of various movements. if he did operate in this way (a very good teaching model, by the way and Bach was known to be an excellent teacher) he would only have been following a well established 'master and pupil' cottage industry model.

If he did this I imagine it would have been only in the secular teaching pieces, not the more significant religious music.

Art Danks wrote (March 2, 2015):
[To Anthony Kozar] Thanks for the great info, Anthony! I had no idea there were different releases. I was looking at one of the older ones, and thought it was the only one (the one in the light blue box). But I see that the 2010 edition is even better, and actually 10 bucks cheaper!

After reading all the reviews and comments, that's definitely the one I will be getting! I especially like the fact that it is period instruments and smaller ensembles.

Thank you ALL for your input! This group is awesome!

 

Introducing Myself

Bryan Kirkpatrick wrote (December 21, 2015):
Hello. I am new to this website, so if I offend or break rules, it is certainly not intentional.

My name is Bryan Kirkpatrick and I live in Chatham, NJ (USA) and take the train daily to NYC where I've had a day job for 33 years at a financial institution. But my real love is Renaissance & Baroque music, especially performed with period instruments and according to performance practices of those times. I started out as a boy soprano at age 9 in 1958 in the men and boys choir of Christ Episcopal Church in Reading PA (USA) and have not looked back since. I started learning the organ when my legs were long enough for my feet to reach the pedals, and that's where I first met Johann Sebastian Bach in a more intimate way. And I have never looked back since with that either. Over the years, my interests expanded with exposure to new (to me) musical experiences, including early chamber music which my teachers at Pomfret School introduced me to, and included building 2 harpsichords out of those early kits when I was in high school and at university.

Eventually, I was exposed to JSB's cantatas, and the more i listen to them, the more i admire the absolute genius and skill of Johann Sebastian. Each one is a marvelous gem in its own right. I had some great experiences as a graduate student in Paris, studying organ with Mr. André Isoir at St. Severand singing with the Orchestre de Chambre and Chorale of Paul Kuentz. I first sand the B minor Mass under his direction as well as the Christmas Oratorio on a tour, singing in a different cathedral every night.

Two years ago, I discovered the Saint John Passion when the semi-professional regional chorus I've been singing with performed it with period instruments. I was blown away....this was an opera, just without costumes and scenery; I had never heard anything like it and there were parts that brought me to tears, making it hard to sing sometimes.

I consider the best performance that I've heard of this to be Harnoncourt's performance with the Concentus Musicus Wien and the Tolzer Knabenchor. And in that performance, the rendition of "Es ist vollbracht" I consider the most emotionally moving aria I have ever heard not only in the Saint John Passion, but anywhere.

Here's my question to this group. The boy alto in an interview said that he considered his work in Cantata 187 to be his absolute best performance, which has induced me to buy the recording Mr. Harnoncourt and the CMW and the Tolzer chor. I'd like to hear any thoughts that you might have on this work and this particular performance.

Thank you,

 

Continue on Part 18: 2016

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