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Systematic Discussions of Bach’s Other Vocal Works
Motet BWV 227
Jesu, meine Freude

Discussions in the Week of January 18, 2004

Neil Halliday wrote (January 25, 2004):
I found this motet to be more easily enjoyable than the first two, possibly because its texture is less dense - the maximum number of parts is five - and Rilling's performance (the one I have) is quite good, with reasonable clarity of the vocal lines.

It's the longest motet by a fair margin, and is made up of ten compact sections:

1. Choral (4 parts). 2. S1S2ATB chorus. 3. Choral (5 parts). 4. S1S2A chorus. 5. 5 part chorus with concluding fugue. 6. 4 part choral. 7. ATB chorus, marked 'andante'. 8. S1S2AT chorus "Gute Nacht, Wesen, die Welt". This is a particularly beautiful movement for choir. 9. 5 part chorus. 10. 5 part choral.

Notice the variety in the tessitura of the choir; #4 features the upper voices, #7 the lower. I would say this motet demonstrates superb writing for choir.

 

BWV 227 Jesus Meine Freude

Thomas Manhart wrote (April 10, 2004):
Can I ask two questions about Jesus Meine Freude?

In which tuning would it have been? a=415 Hz?
and one particalur thing: in the trio alto/tenore/bass "So aber Christus in euch ist", I have for bar 12 in the alto coloraturas in two editions two different versions. one giving the 11th tone of the bar as a, another as b flat. b flat sounds definitely smoother and more according to the movements of the other coloraturas, but we tried today in a rehearsal to make it a, and its also not so bad, and it reminds me a bit of similar movements in string accompanyments e.g. in the bass aria "mache dich meiner herze rein" in Matthäuspassion (BWV 244). but can anyone tell me, if either of them is definitely the correct version?

Thanks

Thomas Braatz wrote (April 10, 2004):
Thomas Manhart asked:
>>one particalur thing: in the trio alto/tenore/bass "So aber Christus in euch ist", i have for bar 12 in the alto coloraturas in two editions two different versions. one giving the 11th tone of the bar as a, another as b flat. b flat sounds definitely smoother and more according to the movements of the other coloraturas, but we tried today in a rehearsal to make it a, and its also not so bad, and it reminds me a bit of similar movements in string accompanyments e.g. in the bass aria "mache dich meiner herze rein" in Matthäuspassion (BWV 244). but can anyone tell me, if either of them is definitely the correct version?<<
The NBA shows a Bb on the 11th note of the alto in bar 12, agreeing with the Bb in the bass at the same point.

The provenance shows no autograph score or original parts, only various copies from the middle of the 18th century and thereafter. These copies show no variations deviating from what is given in the NBA, hence the editions you are using must be in error.

Another question:
>>in which tuning would it have been? a=415 Hz?<<
There has been a long-standing discussion regarding the manner in which the motets were performed:

1) voices alone

2) voices with bc

3) voices with colla parte instruments + organ/harpsichord

Most recent research ["Johann Sebastian Bach: Die Motetten" by Klaus Hofmann, Bärenreiter, 2003] indicates that it was probably not performed in a church, but possibly directly before and/or after an interment wherever that may have taken place (funeral chapel {?}, outside{?}). This precludes any use of the organs in the St. Thomas or Nicolas churches in Leipzig which Kuhnau earlier had specified in 1717 as being in 'Cornet-ton' a = 460-470. The use of a modest (mobile) ensemble of instruments for "Jesu, meine Freude' might have been possible, but then it may also have been simply performed without any instruments whatsoever. There is not conclusive proof either way except that the use of a church organ (or possibly harpsichord) seems rather unlikely. There is always the possibility of a 'Portativ' which would not be tied to the 'Cornet-ton' used by the church organs in Leipzig and could be tuned more easily to a different standard pitch.

And according to Bruce Haynes, who wrote the article on 'Pitch' in "Oxford Composer Companions: J. S. Bach" [Boyd, Oxford University Press, 1999), the one pitch which Bach did not ever use was a = 440. Until June 4, 1724, Bach, in Leipzig where this motet was composed, used 'tief-Cammerton' a = 390. After that he abandoned the 'tief-Cammerton' for 'Cammerton' a = 415. Since all current evidence and research dates this motet, 'Jesu, meine Freude' to after 1724 (to a point in time up to 10 years later is even possible--the earliest copy of this motet is now dated to c. 1735), your assumption about pitch (a = 415) would seem to be correct.

 

BWV 227: Gute Nacht!

Bradley Lehman wrote (June 6, 2005):
>>My favourite movement with this theme is "Gute Nacht" in "Jesu Meine Freude" with that wonderful "walking" tenor line and no bass.<<
< The sinners have, in Bach's musical depiction, already left the dark night of the soul (ensnared by sin) which had been grounded in the bass line and are moving toward the light with only a 'Bassetgen' or 'Bassetchen' (in French a 'petit basse') to indicate the quality of floating upwards. >
It's arbitrary interpretation to locate the "ensnaring of sin" and "dark night of the soul" in the bass line, that specifically. (And the arbitrary point about floating upward into a light isn't strengthened by calling the tenor line several different things; all that does is give the foregone conclusion a veneer of pseudo-credibility....)

What if Bach was just creating a musical relief here, rather like having the pedals drop out of an organ piece for a while? "Jesu meine Freude" (motet BWV 227) is a chorale partita, i.e. a series of variations. That's what variation sets do: provide textural contrasts from one to the next. Dropping out the pedal, or changing registration, is a typical thing to do, deploying the available sounds differently for contrast; see, for example, the organ chorale partitas by Bach himself and by Walther (the dictionary guy) and Böhm.

If the "Gute Nacht" movement of 227 must be the arbitrary meaning of ensnared sin dropping out with the bass, then what's the arbitrary interpretation of the preceding movement "So aber Christus in euch ist" where the sopranos are dropped out? Should we assign "der Leib" theologically to the sopranos, being dead/silent at the moment, such that "der Geist" is located entirely in the lower three parts? But then, how dare the bass sing about "der Gerechtigkeit" if he must be the dark night of the soul immediately thereafter?!?!?

Maybe Bach was just giving his five vocal parts a bit of rest as the composition goes along? That's a pretty smart practical thing to do, not having everybody sing all the time, or needing to have all the parts present to rehearse some of the sections.

Whatever arbitrary theological interpretations are assigned to the omission of parts, I like the way Diego Fasolis's ensemble performs this in their December 2000 recording. Three singers with cello and organ in the "So aber Christus". Also it's soloists in the "Gute Nacht" (plus cello and organ playing seguente on the tenor part) on the three fast-moving parts, but somewhere between two and six singers--very quietly--in the alto cantus firmus. Nice chorusing effect. More singers then in the "So nun der Geist" and "Weicht" for a grand conclusion. In all cases, it's an intelligent conductor deploying his available forces to register each movement effectively and for contrast, with musical and dramatic sensitivity being paramount, like in an organ chorale partita. He (Fasolis) could have done the whole thing with the sufficient five singers or all 23. And he could do some radically different configuration of people on some other occasion, depending who's there and what satisfying musical effects they're able to produce. Again, like taking organ music to different organs and making it work intelligently in eacoustical and liturgical situation.

I played organ for a performance of BWV 227 a couple years ago, conducted by a fine musicological scholar with his choir of several per part. I don't remember which movements he gave to soloists. Some of the piece used everybody and some used less. My instructions were simply to improvise something along, mostly seguente and a few of the fugal entrances, only as much as sounded good and unobtrusive. Mostly just to keep the ensemble on pitch throughout, without ever calling any attention to the organ sound (entirely a single 8' flute). In the "Gute Nacht" I played maybe half of the tenor notes, in some of the phrases, and that's all it needed. In other quiet sections elsewhere I similarly dropped down to single note or less, and/or played the notes a lot shorter than the singers sang them, to get out of the way. Different in every rehearsal. Whatever sounds good in the dynamic shaping of the lines, as it goes along. This is all normal practice....

Doug Cowling wrote (June 6, 2005):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< What if Bach was just creating a musical relief here, rather like having the pedals drop out of an organ piece for a while? >
I've pondered the symbolism of the missing bass line in prgramme notes I;ve written over the years and have never been able to find a satisfactory musical emblem. You may be right, Brad, that it is as simple as Bach wanting some contrast in a very dense work. On the other hand, the texture is so arresting in a work full of symbolic textures that I have a gut feeling that there is a musical metaphor here. The only other movemen that is remotely comparable is the "Suscepit Israel" in the Magnificat (BWV 243), but there the high texture is symbolic of "puerum suam". I was suprised listening to the recent recording of arias from Matheson's "Cleopatra", that the death aria, "Gute Nacht" had the same sighing suspension over a walking bass. Perhaps it was a melodic convention in the 18th century.

Joel Figen wrote (June 6, 2005):
[To Doug Cowling] If I may suggest a further comparison, another bassetto aria comes to mind in BWV 11.10: Jesu deine Gnadenblicke. Here the bass line is assigned to unison violins and viola. I can see a few points in the text that might (conceivably) be portrayed by the absence of a low bass line, such as the fact that the aria perhaps represents a prayer delivered on a mountain, but I suspect it was simply to give a musical relief in the midst of some very heavy textures.

Bradley Lehman wrote (June 6, 2005):
< On the other hand, the texture is so arresting in a work full of symbolic textures that I have a gut feeling that there is a musical metaphor here. The only other movemen that is remotely comparable is the "Suscepit Israel" in the Magnificat (BWV 243), but there the high texture is symbolic of "puerum suam". >
Or perhaps "Aus Liebe" in the SMP (BWV 244), a respite in the middle of an otherwise violent scene with an angry lynch mob.

Thomas Braatz wrote (June 6, 2005):
[To Joel Figen] Do a word search for "Bassettchen" on the following pages from Aryeh's BCW: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV135-D.htm

and: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV154-D.htm

From reading these comments from some rather important Bach researchers, it would appear to me more likely that Bach, in choosing a 'Bassettchen' texture for a particular mvt., had more in mind than simply looking for a change that would bring relief both to the players and listeners.

Thomas Braatz wrote (June 6, 2005):
Doug Cowling wrote:
>>I've pondered the symbolism of the missing bass line in prgramme notes I've written over the years and have never been able to find a satisfactory musical emblem....the texture is so arresting in a work full of symbolic textures that I have a gut feeling that there is a musical metaphor here. The only other movement that is remotely comparable is the "Suscepit Israel" in the Magnificat (BWV 243), but there the high texture is symbolic of "puerum suam".<<
In regard to Bach's Magnificat in the Eb version BWV 243a/10 "Suscepit Israel", the bass line is clearly a 'Bassettchen' with only violins and violas playing in unison as the lowest part entered in the score -- there is absolutely no continuo and there should not even be an organ 'noodling' along with an occasional note here or there using a soft 8' stop. The musical foundation in the form of a continuo is completely absent. Bach's intentions are quite clear in this instance. Later in BWV 243, he changed the scoring.

In regard to BWV 227 where I may have incorrectly referred to the specific mvt. as BWV 225/5 (it was the 5th verse of the chorale text, but the mvt. of the motet "Jesu, meine Freude" that begins with "Gute Nacht, o Wesen, / Das die Welt erlesen"), this particular mvt. (no matter how you want to count it...The NBA does not even assign mvt. numbers to the various sections) has been the subject of much research which has determined (Dürr) that it does not even belong with most of the other mvts. See OCC article on pp. 247-8 by Daniel R. Melamed, for some of the details, which have in part been updated by Klaus Hofmann's "Johann Sebastian Bach:Die Motetten" [Bärenreiter, 2003, pp. 113-138].

Although there is some likelihood that Bach may have personally compiled this arrangement of mvts. from various projects that he had completed and put aside, it is not at all certain, since we have no autograph score and parts for this motet, whether this arrangement/sequence of the sections (the fact that these are Bach's settings has never been doubted) is truly authentic. This would mean that to consider that Bach really wanted a change of texture to occur at this or that particular point in the motet is really quite beside the point; that is, it really does not matter very much which mvts. might be selected or dropped for any particular performance; hence, it would not even matter much if an organ continuo part were added for this special mvt. "Gute Nacht, o Wesen" or not. Whether this mvt. is considered a change of texture on Bach's part also does not really matter that much since he most likely performed parts of this motet without this mvt. for some performances. Here much is left to the conductor/performers: is it to be performed with/without instruments, should only concertists be used with/without ripieni, etc.?

From the standpoint of text alone, there is one researcher (Berhnard Friedrich Richter) standing alone in one corner believing that Bach created here a miracle of text fusion between Biblical quotations and chorale verse texts. Most other Bach scholars are skeptical about such a statement, since there is ample evidence that even this union of texts leaves much to be desired and because the form of the motet went through various transformations with different mvts. being used and others left out at various times during Bach's lifetime.

Doug Cowling wrote (June 6, 2005):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< From the standpoint of text alone, there is one researcher (Berhnard Friedrich Richter) standing alone in one corner believing that Bach created here a miracle of text fusion between Biblical quotations and chorale verse texts. Most other Bach scholars are skeptical about such a statement, since there is ample evidence that even this union of texts leaves much to be desired and because the form of the motet went through various transformations with different mvts. being used and others left out at various times during Bach's lifetime. >
I guess I'm one of people who think it one of Bach's finest unified works. The alternation of metrical chorale-text as choral-partita with scriptural prose dictum as free motet without chorale is a breathtaking literary structure. Then there is the question of the mirroimagery of the eleven movements of the motet spread out on either side of the central No. 6 "Ihr seid". Bach does the same in the "Credo" and the "Magnificat". If it was a compilation, then the final shape is a masterpiece. I would place "Jesu Meine Freude" in the Top Ten of all of Bach's works!

Thomas Braatz wrote (June 7, 2005):
[To Doug Cowling] And I remember living for many years under the understanding and appreciation of BWV 4 as a perfect cantata form with each movement being 'balanced out' on the other side of the central axis. It was not until I joined the BCML and began studying the cantatas more carefully that I realized that things were quite different from what I had imagined in most of the other cantatas.

Re: Bernhard Friedrich Richter who discovered perfection in Bach's masterly compilation of mvts. for BWV 227

His essay "Über die Motetten Seb. Bachs" appeared in the Bach-Jahrbuch of 1912. He discovered that the record books of St. Nicholas Church in Leipzig had recorded a funeral remembrance church service on July 18, 1723 which was held in place of vespers on the 8th Sunday after Trinity. Richter made all sorts of connections: name of the deceased, the Biblical text quotation on which the sermon was based, who gave the sermon, etc. and became ecstatic about the features you have described above. For about a half century, all of this was not questioned until a footnote to an article by Werner Neumann appeared in another article for the Bach-Jahrbuch in 1970 which pointed out that all of Richter's details about the church service on July 18, 1723 made no provision for a motet to be sung. (strike one!) In 1980, Martin Petzoldt, a theologian, revisited this entire scenario, found the original slip which contained the information about the special service on July 18, 1723. It was a printed announcement to inform the public about this service, and, lo and behold, on the back of this slip was a detailed listing of the entire service, including the special music that was performed: it was the very popular (at least for Leipzig churches at that time) "Turbabor sed non perturbabor" motet. There was no mention of Bach's 'Jesu, meine Freude.' (strike two!) Petzoldt also investigated the actual death and funeral arrangements of the individual and found records that stated that there was no special funeral music ordered for this particular individual (which is sometimes the case for important, wealthy people -- the funeral remembrance service, weeks later on July 18 is not what is being referred to here -- this does not preclude the possibility that Bach's motet might nevertheless have been sung in front of the house before the body was removed or at the actual burial.) In the 80's, Alfred Dürr began making discoveries that the complete motet had stylistic features which made it very unlikely that it was composed straight through, but rather that it evolved, went through serious transformations and various versions with mvts. not present and new ones added over a period of at least ten years if not longer. The "Gute Nacht, o Wesen" mvt. uses a different form of the chorale melody, a change so substantial that Hofmann claims that it "eklatant aus dem Rahmen fällt" ["is strikingly out of the ordinary/blatantly different."] (strike three!) The notion of Bach having a unified preconception of the ordering and nature of the mvts. to create a unified whole as he went about composing it from one mvt. to the next goes out the window.

There are many interesting details from Hofmann's book which I have not been able to relate here. Perhaps some other occasion or question will warrant going into these details as well. For now I think I have given a fair description of what Hofmann presents in his fairly recent book on Bach's motets.

Doug Cowling wrote (June 7, 2005):
[To Thomas Braatz] This is fascinating material although I still see a symmetrical unity both theologically and musically, even if the performance record shows that individual movements were separately extracted (I've done this myself!). How interesting that Bach might have shaped the work over a number of years. I suppose one could say the same about the 'third cantata" of the Mass in B Minor (BWV 232) and how the Sanctus to the Dona Nobis Pacem creates one sequential work.

I can't believe however that "Jesu Meine Freude" was ever sung outside. That was a time for unison chorales accompanied by dogs barking and carraiges creaking by.

Thomas Braatz wrote (June 7, 2005):
Doug Cowling wrote:
>>This is fascinating material although I still see a symmetrical unity both theologically and musically, even if the performance record shows that individual movements were separately extracted (I've done this myself!).<<
Now you can see that there would be nothing wrong with selecting certain mvts. and making them relate both theologically and musically. I assume that others have done this as well, but have perhaps felt slightly guilty for not presenting the entire work as they thought Bach had conceived and composed it -- as one flowing sequence of mvts. balanced theologically and musically. While there is still the possibility that Bach had done this (assembled the final sequence with all the mvts) between 1724 and 1735 with the greater likelihood being toward the end of the period given, it is also still possible that someone else may have done this with Bach's music after Bach's death. There is a silent consensus among Bach scholars that its final form was shaped by Bach although there is no real proof for this as yet.

The oldest handwritten copy of this motet goes back to 1735, but this copy contains only 4 mvts. which are more strictly considered 4-pt chorales: mvts. 1, (11 - the same as 1), 3, and 7.

Werner Breig, in 1988, did a comparative study of the chorales in BWV 227 and other chorales from cantatas of the key time period (for the funeral music performance outside of church on July 2, 1723) and came to the conclusion, based upon stylistic evidence, that the chorales mentioned in the preceding paragraph could not have been part of the original form of the motet (stylistically too sophisticated".) Add to this the complication, according to Dürr's analysis, that the mvt. "Gute Nacht, o Wesen" (not a chorale mvt. similar to those just mentioned) has to have a completely different origin (at first Dürr even considered the Weimar period, but then found reasons to discount this possibility.) In any case, Bach seems to have used the melody form from a different hymnal not in agreement with the melody form used in many of the other movements.

>>I can't believe however that "Jesu Meine Freude" was ever sung outside. That was a time for unison chorales accompanied by dogs barking and carraiges creaking by.<<
Perhaps the respect for the dead, particularly the events preceding, including, and following the funeral procession to the gravesite, received special attention from everyone? Perhaps only the 4-pt. chorale mvts. were sung? These were the very mvts. for which we can actually trace a bona fide copy back to the time of Bach (1735).

 

Discussions in the Week of December 26, 2010

Ed Myskowski wrote (December 26, 2010):
Introduction to BWV 227 -- Jesu, meine Freude

For this week and next weeks discussions, we will take a brief holiday interruption in the continuing series of cantatas spanning from Easter to Ascension, Pentecost, and Trinity. With BWV 227, we have Bachs longest, and arguably most intricate motet.

Details of text, commentary, recordings, and previous discussion are accessible via: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Vocal/BWV225-231.htm

For the moment, I am taking advantage of a fund-raising interruption (I have already responded) in the WKCR Bach Fest 2010 webcast to provide a timely reminder of the current BCML discussion topic. As always, thanks to all who participate in these discussions, or otherwise add to the BCW archives. addition to the current discussion, all material relevant to Bach is always on-topic.

I will post some brief excerpts from appropriate booklet notes re the motets, over the next two weeks. The Ascension cantatas are also an especially relevant ongoing topic.

For Christmas listening, I found great joy in BWV 91 from the second Leipzig series (Jahrgang II) in the CD (Vol. 14) from the Gardiner pilgrimage releases, now complete. SDG.

 

Motets BWV 225-231: Details
Recordings: Until 1950 | 1951-1960 | 1961-1970 | 1971-1980 | 1981-1990 | 1991-2000 | 2001-2010
General Discussions:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Systematic Discussions: BWV 225 | BWV 226 | BWV 227 | BWV 228 | BWV 229 | BWV 230 | BWV 231 | BWV 225-231 - Summary
Individual Recordings:
Motets - K. Junghänel & Cantus Cölln | Motets - E. Ericson | Motets - D. Fasolis | Motets - N. Harnoncourt | Motets - R. Kammler

Recordings & Discussions of Other Vocal Works: Main Page | Motets BWV 225-231 | Mass in B minor BWV 232 | Missae Breves & Sanctus BWV 233-242 | Magnificat BWV 243 | Matthäus-Passion BWV 244 | Johannes-Passion BWV 245 | Lukas-Passion BWV 246 | Markus-Passion BWV 247 | Weihnachts-Oratorium BWV 248 | Oster-Oratorium BWV 249 | Chorales BWV 250-438 | Geistliche Lieder BWV 439-507 | AMN BWV 508-523 | Quodlibet BWV 524 | Aria BWV 1127

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