Matthäus-Passion BWV 244
General Discussions - Part 5
Continue from Part 4
Two more question on SMP
Juozas Rimas wrote (March 1, 2002):
I have found a great website for anyone who wants to have both the German text of SMP and a step-by-step translation into English on the same page: http://music.mpr.org/features/0104_passion/index.shtml
However, is the translation literal or is the English text laid down the way it is sung in the English versions of the SMP? If it's not a literal translation, is there one available online?
The second question is about the tradition to use boys instead of women in Bach's vocal works. Is it a fact? I have found this line in the SMP text:
"<...> und es trat zu ihm eine Magd und sprach..." (there came to him a maid and said)
So, in your opinion, would they keep a woman/girl in the church just for the two soprano lines in this place of SMP, or would they see nothing wrong about a boy singing the part of the maid? :)
Marten Breuer wrote (March 1, 2002):
[To Juozas Rimas] I've only had a short glance at the translation but it seemed to be a literal one.
As for your second question: at the time when Bach lived, women were not allowed to sing in churches in Germany. Even Bach himself was reprehended by the Mühlhausen council (I think it was in 1717) of having permitted a young women to sing in a church. Furthermore, remember that the St. Thomas choir at Leipzig consisted only of boys who at that time mutated much later than nowadays (ca. at the age of 17). Therefore, it is for sure that both the passions and the cantatas were exclusively performed by male singers.
Michael Grover wrote (March 1, 2002):
< Juozas Rimas wrote: I have found a great website for anyone who wants to have both the German text of SMP and a step-by-step translation into English on the same page: http://music.mpr.org/features/0104_passion/index.shtml
However, is the translation literal or is the English text laid down the way it is sung in the English versions of the SMP? If it's not a literal translation, is there one available online? >
It is indeed a literal translation. Undoubtedly you noticed that Ambrose used archaic "King James" English. Since this translation was made by Ambrose, I doubt that it has ever been performed musically, but I could be wrong, as always.
What "boy-version" of SMP would you recommend?
Juozas Rimas wrote (March 3, 2002):
< I'm not a scholar or musicologist. I own four CDs in the old Teldec Cantata set Vol. 35 (Das Alte Werk). Harnoncourt was the first in so many areas to step into historically informed practices. He admitted himself in his book, 'The Musical Dialogue: Thoughts on Monteverdi, Bach and Mozart' that he was treading on uncertain ground, and bravely so. I'm personally pleased with what little I have of his cantata set, and I enjoy his incorporating boys' voices at that time. >
Is there any information about what the ratio of boy/women sopranos used in all available SMP recordings that Aryeh Oron mentioned is?
And what "boy-versions" of SMP are generally regarded to be the best?
I'm also looking for a boy version of the choir (coming right after the introductory sonata) from the cantata BWV 31 ("Der Himmel lacht, die Erde jubiliert"). I believe a boy's choir would work better there.
I will have to buy several other versions of SMP, besides the 1958 Richter, because I can't listen to many soprano and alto arias with a real pleasure. Maybe the singers comply with the technical standards but often the loud vibrating singing of the alto is on the verge of shouting to me. It's too intense. There probably is some truth in the joke that German singers don't know how to sing loud and Italian singers don't know how to sing quiet :)
I hope the boys' voices are a bit more mellow.
Harry J. Steinman wrote (March 3, 2002):
< Juozas Rimas writes: And what "boy-versions" of SMP are generally regarded to be the best? >
I don't know which are 'generally regarded to be the best' but my favorite is the 1958 Richter recording that was mentioned recently in this list (as I recall, it's on Archiv label).
Juozas Rimas wrote (March 3, 2002):
[To Harry J. Steinman] I concur but it's not a boy-version - there is a "Knabenchor" used, but arias and most choirs include women. I was particularly interested which versions of the SMP where boys are used instead of women is regarded to be the best.
Harry J. Steinman wrote (March 3, 2002):
[To Juozas Rimas] Guess I'm missing something.I listen, for example, to the opening chorus. Are those not boys that are singing a soprano role?
Confused in Boston,
Juozas Rimas wrote (March 3, 2002):
[To Harry J. Steinman] I'm confused too (haven't heard a HIP recording of the SMP, actually) :))
What about arias? The aria "Blute nur, du liebes Herz" or "Ich will dir mein Herzen schenken" is sung by a women in the Richter recording, definitely.
Are there at all versions of the SMP where the arias would be sung by boys?
March 11, 1829
Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (March 11, 2002):
On March 11, 1829 Felix Mendelssohn revived you know what.
Michael Grover wrote (March 11, 1829):
[To Yoël L. Arbeitman] Amazing. Mendelssohn was barely 20 years old at the time. Can you imagine any 20-year-old nowadays, no matter how precocious, trying to conduct the St. Matthew Passion? Let alone revive it before an audience who had never heard it before.
Peter Bright wrote (March 12, 2002):
[To Michael Grover] Yes, I've heard some quote about Mendelssohn, something to do with him being born a genius and and died simply a great talent (i.e., the awesome promise shown when young did not quite shape up in later life, relatively speaking of course)- can anyone fill in my partial recollection?
Thomas Braatz wrote (Maarch 12, 2002):
[To Peter Bright] I do not have the quote that you are looking for, but it is a feeling that I have harbored for a long time. (Compare his early string music with that of the later string quartets!) Most of us are used to thinking of an ever improving evolution on the part of great composers, based perhaps on such a model as Beethoven where some very evident changes can be easily determined by listening to the music from various periods in his life. This, we think, is normal or standard, but what about such a composer as Sibelius? For the last three decades of his life he composed nothing! It appears his 'genius' left him entirely. Isn't this remarkable? Then there are other composers that appear to remain on a plateau for most of their lives. Experts without recourse to the sophisticated scientific methods for determining the age of paper and the subtle changes in handwriting, ascribed wrong dates to the composition of certain Bach cantatas. These dates were off by decades until recent resea!
rch proved when they were composed. The point is that it is difficult with the mature Bach to see and hear much of any development that may have taken place. (Who knows? Perhaps he even deliberately maintained a certain style so that could fall back upon earlier compositions without anyone telling him, "Wasn't that a work from your early period?")
Michael Grover wrote (March 12, 2002):
[To Thomas Braatz] Speaking of Sibelius, I have read several biographies on him, and I found it very interesting that in one interview, he cited Bach and Mendelssohn as his two biggest influences. Bach for the counterpoint and base knowledge, and Mendelssohn for the orchestration.
And if you want to find out what might have happened to the 8th symphony and Sibelius' creativity after Tapiola, read the novel Winter Fire by William Trotter. (If you can find it at the library -- it's currently out of print.) Of course, the explanation involves Finnish forest nymphs, so you just never know...
Pablo Fagoaga wrote (March 16, 2002):
Thomas stated: "The pis that it is difficult with the mature Bach to see and hear much of any development that may have taken place. (Who knows? Perhaps he even deliberately maintained a certain style so that could fall back upon earlier compositions without anyone telling him, "Wasn't that a work from your early period?")"
Yes. Definitely, Bach's mature years were considered "old fashioned" by his days' standards. But in the end, on 2002 I think he trascended that kind of considerations. It is curious to see how perspective can change with time. The clear advantage Bach had over other composers is that he could stick to his early style, for whatever reasons, and be considered a genious. I mean, it's amazing to see he had a sort of "big bang" talent. On the other hand, even Mozart shows a developement process, in which early works often don't qualify as "genious".
SMP #20 a parody?!
Bradley Lehman wrote (March 27, 2002):
"Existing theme"?!?! Is there any evidence at all for this suggestion that any of the music in this aria ("Ich will bei meinem Jesu wachen") was pre-existing, and brought into the SMP as a parody?
The oboe's first eight notes in this aria are obviously (to me, anyway) emulation of _Hahnengeschrei_, perfect for this spot in the drama. JC has taken the disciples to the garden and asked them to stay awake; this one is valiantly struggling to stay coherent against the chorus' sleep music; everybody eventually falls asleep anyway. During the aria, what better "stay awake!" symbol is there than a rooster, either in the mind or maybe in the distance of this virtual scene? It's a brilliant piece of word-painting. And you're suggesting Bach borrowed this aria from elsewhere in constructing the SMP? Evidence, please.... :)
Your rationalization is of course correct if there's a snowball's chance it's a parody. But this is the SMP, after all, not the Christmas Oratorio or B Minor Mass or Psalm 51 (Bach's parody of Pergolesi's Stabat mater)....
[Heh, I never thought of this before: stay awake by counting roosters, as opposed to falling asleep by counting sheep!]
Then in the recitative 38C ("Da hub er an sich zu verfluchen...") Peter's final denial happens, and the rooster crows. When I played continuo for a performance of the SMP a few years ago, at that point I stuck in the oboe quote from that opening of aria 20: it fits the harmonic progression perfectly at that moment, and is half a step higher than it was in aria 20. (C-sharp minor here, one of the most remote keys used in the SMP.) Maybe that was just me being weird or melodramatic to stick that melodic quote into there at that moment, but I thought it was very effective. Bach had used a Hahnengeschrei gesture (a simpler one, a rising seventh-chord arpeggio) in the continuo part of the SJP at the similar dramatic moment...so I figured, why not? The evangelist is saying the rooster crows, so let's hear it!
p.s. Tom, when your copies of the Harnoncourt books arrive, so you can read about his performance choices directly from The Horse's...um, Mouth..., the passage you seek about shortening bass notes of recitatives is in the essay "The SMP: History and
Tradition". Incidentally, in another of his essays about the SMP he points out that this aria 20 and the final chorus of the SMP ("Wir setzen uns") are both in C minor because it's a key about sleep and rest...the key and the sung texts agree.
< Or what do you make of something like #20 in the SMP ("Ich will bei meinem Jesu wachen") where the oboe's notated articulation is very different from the tenor where he has the same line but with words? It seems to me Bach is relishing the difference. The oboe is (in part) simulating a rooster's crowing, and the tenor is singing that he's resolved *not* to betray Jesus, he's not going to fall into a trap of consistency even if others do. :) Meanwhile, the basso continuo is foreshadowing the articulations that the chorus and the rest of the orchestra are going to use in their interjections. Can't Bach be allowed to suggest (via articulation) several types of emotion, several types of expression, several ideas going on simultaneously or even changing during the course of a piece? >
< A very interesting example with an excellent insight into the various levels of interpretations that Bach definitely could be thinking of. In this instance, however, there is the possibility that Bach was forced to make do with the words in the text and to make them fit what may already have been an existing theme. The oboe enunciates the articulation of the theme very naturally. It is left to the voice to make do whatever is possible with the words (trying to force more words into a short melodic phrase) without making it sound too unnatural despite the different phrasing required by the
words. Thus differences do occur the same way that Bach frequently did his parodies where a new text was forced upon the already existing music.
Thomas Braatz wrote (March 28, 2002):
Brad commented and asked:
< "Existing theme"?!?! Is there any evidence at all for this suggestion that any of the music in this aria ("Ich will bei meinem Jesu wachen") was pre-existing, and brought into the SMP as a parody? >
< The oboe's first eight notes in this aria are obviously (to me, anyway) emulation of Hahnengeschrei, perfect for this spot in the drama. JC has taken the disciples to the garden and asked them to stay awake; this one is valiantly struggling to stay coherent against the chorus' sleep music; everybody eventually falls asleep anyway. During the aria, what better "stay awake!" symbol is there than a rooster, either in the mind or maybe in the distance of this virtual scene? It's a brilliant piece of word-painting. And you're suggesting Bach borrowed this aria from elsewhere in constructing the SMP? Evidence, please.... :) >
According to Eric Chafe, Bach may have derived or emulated a motiv found in Dietrich Buxtehude's cantata "Ich bin der Auferstehung." Chafe sees no "Hahnenschrei" in the opening oboe motif. He comments as follows:
"Both this chorale [the preceding one] and the dialogue "Ich will bei meinem Jesu wachen" meditate on Peter's and the disciples' statements of good intention, which are not carried out in the narrative. The affirmative opening words, "Ich will," are denied in both cases by the mollis [minor key] character that Bach has variously given to the chorale and the dialogue, a quality especially evident in the sleep music in the second chorus of the dialogue and the minor-key version of an otherwise triumphant head motive in the oboe. [in a footnote Chafe characterizes the theme type used by the oboe as that of a trumpet call, now turned into minor.]"
< Your rationalization is of course correct if there's a snowball's chance it's a parody. But this is the SMP, after all, not the Christmas Oratorio or B Minor Mass or Psalm 51 (Bach's parody of Pergolesi's Stabat mater)....>
Don't forget about the Easter Oratorio (BWV 248)!!! Dick Wursten would be surprised at the original words for the "Schweißtuch" tenor aria with the undulating recorder accompaniment. This means that the passions should be an exception to a rule? In any case the possibility exists, even though I have no hard evidence for this. Somehow I feel that Bach conceived the oboe motif first before worrying about how the words would fit it. At the moment I am recovering from the shock of discovering that the most beautiful portions of the SJP #20 Tenor "Erwäge" aria, the melismas on the word "Regenbogen" (the most beautiful, meaningful rainbow that ever appeared to man (Noah) at the end of the Great Flood), are sung to the words, "Schrecken, Decken, Erwecken" ["to terrify, cover, awaken"] in an alternate version that Suzuki included in his first? recording of the SJP. I had never thought that these beautiful coloraturas could belong to anything else but "Regenbogen." Now I have to find out which version of this aria came first.
< Bach had used a _Hahnengeschrei_ gesture (a simpler one, a rising seventh-chord arpeggio) in the continuo part of the SJP at the similar dramatic moment...so I figured, why not? The evangelistis saying the rooster crows, so let's hear it! >
Good reasoning, but the crowing rooster in the SJP does sound quite different and is associated directly with the text by the evangelist.
Thomas Braatz wrote (March 28, 2002):
SMP #20 "Ich will bei meinem Jesum wachen"
The NBA KB II/5 indicates that, although generally Bach had marked the phrasing of the oboe part uniformly, there is a discrepancy between the marking of the "Kopfmotiv" [the opening, main motif] and the parallel instances in ms. 25, 31, and 59. There is no way to determine whether the distinction was intended or not. It is possible that the remaining instances were a short-hand way of marking the subsequent instances after the first one was clearly marked. There is no definitive answer on this one.
The NBA editors point to the possibility of an earlier "Urschrift" [original autograph score]: "Wir kennen Bachs Gewohnheit, früher Komponiertes in späteren Werken wiederzuverwenden; und insbesondere sind die Parodiebeziehungen einzelner Passionssätze zu Trauermusik BWV 244a "Klagt, Kinder, klagt es aller Welt" seit langem bekannt" ["We know of Bach's habit to reuse earlier compositions in his later works, and, in particular, it is known that parody relationships exist between BWV 244a and certain movements of this passion (SMP)."]
"Erwäge, wie sein blutgefärbter Rücken
In allen Stücken
Dem Himmel gleiche geht;
Daran, nachdem die Wasserwogen
Von unsrer Sündflut sich verzogen,
Der allerschönste Regenbogen
Als Gottes Gnadenzeichen steht!
was later revised by Bach (with very little change to the actual music) to the following text:
Mein Jesu, ach! dein schmerzhaft bitter Leiden
bringt tausend Freuden,
Es tilgt der Sünden Not.
Ich sehe zwar mit vielen Schrecken,
Den heilgen Leib mit Blute decken;
Doch muß mir dies auch Lust erwecken,
Es macht mich frei von Höll und Tod.
[An off-the-cuff translation: "Oh, my Jesus, your painful, bitter suffering brings a thousand joys as it erases the concern about my sins. Although I indeed see with great terror this sacred body being covered with blood, yet this awakens in me also joy and frees me from hell and death."]
As already indicated, Suzuki includes this version [it is, after all, Bach's latest revision and as such his final intention regarding this piece. Unfortunately, all the wonderful connections between the words and music have been lost in the second version: the extended coloratura on "Regenbogen," the figure imitating waves on "Wasserwogen," and the sinking figure on "verzogen." In addition to all of this, the revised version is less singable. Consider, among other things, the wonderful 'o' melismas on '-wogen,' 'verzogen,' and '-bogen' of the original and the revised version with the terrible sound of short e, which needs to be extended, on "Schrecken," "decken," and "erwecken."
Did Bach suddenly lose his good ear for music, or is there a reason why he did this [or was required to do this?] The NBA editors suggest that this was due to city and church authorities 'leaning on him' by complaining about his original choice of text. Bach was originally inspired by the images and sounds presented in the text that he was later forced to relinquish. This was a great portion of the cross which Bach had to bear in Leipzig. For politico-religious reasons, those who attained power in Leipzig kept pestering Bach to relinquish his pietistically-flavored texts. Bach knew that he had given his best in the original compositions. After having received many complaints and having been reprimanded, he now reluctantly used a more acceptable text in later performances of the SJP.
It is not Bach's fault that such a degradation of his music took place in the face of overwhelming odds. No wonder that his compositional efforts for the church tapered off in the last 20 years of his active career in Leipzig! Imagine being told that his best efforts were not good enough, and that others knew better how he should present the ideas and beliefs to which he held so dearly. Not wanting to give up on the beautiful music he had already composed, he accepted a new text proposed by others, or one that he was forced to choose in order to show that he was amenable to their wishes. There is no way that Bach could have been happy with a situation of this type. This certainly was his cross to bear: he could still hear the original words in his mind as he performed the music, but at the same time his critics would be temporarily assuaged as they believed that they had 'won the day.' Today, in retrospect, we can look back at the narrow minds that attempted to control what the congregations in Leipzig were supposed to think and feel, while also appreciating the greatness of Bach's original inspiration, the current form of the SJP with later revisions removed.
The ultimate performanceThomas Boyce wrote (April 30, 2002):
(The perfect performance of this music, like the St. Matthew Passion, is the one playing in my head.)
Juozas Rimas wrote (April 30, 2002)
You mean you have not found the ultimate performance of the works yet?
Thomas Boyce wrote (April 30, 2002):
[To Juozas Rimas] No, I haven't. You know, I had a great LP of the Brandenburgs in college. Really on the money. But it's nowhere to be found.
I recently bought Herreweghe's St. Matthew Passion. I thought it would be so much better than Gardiner's, but it isn't. Some of the arias and choruses Gardiner really nails; some of the arias and choruses Herreweghe nails.
The perils of loving Bach. But a good peril.
Kirk McElhearn wrote (April 30, 2002):
< Thomas Boyce wrote: The perils of loving Bach. But a good peril. >
Indeed. I sometimes wonder if it would be worth making a "compilation" of some of the best arias of the SMP, to make an "ultimate" performance with different musicians.
Thomas Boyce wrote (April 30, 2002):
Sigh, well, that's what I do. I love Gardiner's "Buss und Reu." I don't love his overture to the SMP. The Herreweghe is better. I may choose my favorites and burn them onto a few CDs; I may not.We're talking many tracks of music here; I wish I had two
stereo systems, all with remote control!
Robert Sherman wrote (April 30, 2002):
[To Kirk McElhearn] Yes, please do it!
I am doing exactly that with my 30 Messiah recordings. I've finished my composite modern-instrument recording and will start on the allegedly-historical instrument one as soon as I can get the time. I want to do the Passions too, and if Kirk or other list members will do the SMP and post their results, that would give me a good starting point. Each of us will have different views of what's "ultimate", of course, but there will probably be a lot of commonality, or at least basis for discussion.
I will be happy to send my track list for the ultimate modern-instrument Messiah to anyone who contacts me directly. I would post it except it's in MSWord table form and the list doesn't take attachments.
Robert Sherman wrote (April 30, 2002):
[To Thomas Boyce] But that would only give you choice among two recordings and you'd be distracted by the need to switch. Instead, copy them as WAV files onto your hard drive, edit to mach the volume levels, and burn a CD with the best of the best. This will give you a seamless performance made up of the best of every recording you have.
Thomas Boyce wrote (June 4, 2002):
I finally found my favorite performance of the overture to the St. Matthew Passion: Herreweghe I.
To me it beats Gardiner, Richter ('58)(?), and Herreweghe II.
I suppose I should compare every track and burn myself an ideal CD. But I'll say this, it's going to be hard to top Gardiner's "Buss und Reu."
Riccardo Nughes wrote (June 4, 2002):
< Thomas Boyce wrote : I finally found my favorite performance of the overture to the St. Matthew Passion >
Overture (or Ouverture, maybe)?? AFIK the St.Matthew Passion begins with a Chorus named "Kommt, ihr Tochter, helft mir klagen".
< I suppose I should compare every track and burn myself an ideal CD. >
What a great idea, it will really tell you what does it means to have a global vision of the MP.
SMP in English / SMP in English/Dutch
Matthew Neuge wrote (July 12, 2002):
[To Jane Newble] Which works did you hear in English?
I have the abridged Leonard Bernstein SMP with the New York Philharmonic and a bunch of choirs, and I have to say that it is a very dramatic, enjoyable interpretation. For me, the English translation (I also have the complete Schreier German one) adds a new dimension to the music, as I can follow a story that I personally believe is the first climax of humanity's existence. The translation allows me to better combine two aspects of my life and faith: Theology and music.
Jane Newble wrote (July 13, 2002):
[To Matthew Neugebauer] Yes, I know what you mean about a new dimension. During my first yearsin England I heard some local performances and I did not like them, partly because of the English, and because I was not used to a countertenor - in other words, it was all strange to me. The one SMP in English I have on LP's is the Reginald Jacques with the Jacques orchestra and Kathleen Ferrier. When I first heard that a few years ago, I found it very moving, and completely different from those earlier performances. I could suddenly see how much more relevant the whole thing would be to people who could not understand German. About three years ago I took part in a choir singing the SJP, and found it a very strange experience, although again, in some parts quite moving.
Nevertheless, I personally still prefer to hear it in German. On the other hand, I am native Dutch, and I would love to know how I would react to hearing one of Bach's works sung in Dutch. That is why I was quite interested in the Flemish one.
Dick Wursten wrote (July 13, 2002):
< Jane Newble wrote: On the other hand, I am native Dutch, and I would love to know how I would react to hearing one of Bach's works sung in Dutch. That is why I was quite interested in the Flemish one. >
My quest for a recording of a Dutch SMP or SJP is still not ended. The possibility that it exists is very small/little. Because the successor of Lod. de Vocht (Jan Valach) did not continue this tradition in Antwerp but returned to the original German. I don't know the exactly since when Valach took over, but i suppose it must have been late 1950's or early 1960's. Perhaps McDaniel participated in one of the last (De Vocht was born 1887).
Jane Newble wrote (July 13, 2002):
[To Dick Wursten] That makes me wonder if McDaniel knows if the one he participated in has been recorded....
Thank you anyway for trying to find it. I don't really expect there will be a recording of it, but one never knows!
Matthew Neugebauer wrote (July 14, 2002):
I don't mean to sound rude or assuming, but isn't German one of the principal languages in the Netherlands? I mean, I'm Canadian so if it were in French and I was listening carefully, then I might be able tgo make out the words.
Joost wrote (July 14, 2002):
[To Matthew Neugebauer] There are two principal languages in the Netherlands: Dutch, which is by far the most common, and Frisian, which is used only in one northern province. The German language is more or less closely related to both, as it is to the Danish and Norwegian languages. There are enough differences however to hamper making up the exact meaning of a text, especially when this text dates from a couple of centuries ago. (However, some words used in Bach's texts that are considered old fashioned in modern German, have Dutch equivalents that are still in use today...)
Jane Newble wrote (July 14, 2002):
[To Matthew Neugebauer] German is probably the easiest language to learn for anyone in Holland, because it is so closely related. However, there are a lot of differences in grammar, so it still has to be learnt, and when I was at school in Holland, it was, with English and French, compulsory.
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