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Oster-Oratorium BWV 249
General Discussions - Part 1

Easter Oratorio

Ryan Michero wrote (July 6, 1999):
Ben Mullins wrote:
<< Could someone recommend a good recording? Any opinions of Herreweghe
[13] or Parrott? [11] >>
Ehud Shiloni wrote:
< Parrott on Virgin Veritas (5 45011 2)
[11], a very-Hip version, is excellent. On the same CD you get also a fabulous version of BWV 4 ("Christ lag in Todes Banden"), performed with very minimal forces. >
I second Ehud's recommendation of Parrott's Easter Oratorio.

I think Ton Koopman just released a version of this work [15]. Anyone heard this one?

As others have mentioned, the Easter Oratorio is more concerned with the joy of Jesus' resurrection as opposed to the sorrow of his death. This Christian duality is very crucial to appreciating the emotions in many of Bach's works (compare the "Crucifixus" and "Et resurrexit" from the B-Minor Mass). Bach's Passion music was written for the Good Friday services at Leipzig, which were very extensive, lasting almost all day long, and had a very regretful, penitential tone (i.e., break out the viola da gamba). Easter services, which were held on Sunday, were shorter and much more festive (i.e., bring out the trumpets and drums).

Wim Huisjes wrote (July 7, 1999):
Ehud Shiloni wrote:
<< Parrott on Virgin Veritas (5 45011 2), a very-Hip version, is excellent. On the same CD you get also a fabulous version of
BWV 4 ("Christ lag in Todes Banden"), performed with very minimal forces. >>
Ryan Michero wrote:
< I second Ehud's recommendation of Parrott's Easter Oratorio. >
His "forces" are a bit too minimal to me, but having said that: it does make his recording fascinating.

< I think Ton Koopman just released a version of this work [15]. Anyone heard this one? >
Yes, and it does live up to the standards of what Ehud called him a while back: "Mr. Excitement".

< As others have mentioned, the Easter Oratorio is more concerned with the joy of Jesus' resurrection as opposed to the sorrow of his death. This Christian duality > [SNIP]
Not really sure what you mean by "duality". The order in which works should be performed simply follows the story as being told by Matthew, Mark, etc. In case there's still confusion on what "passion music" is: it stops after the Crucifixion. Trumpets etc. have no place in passion music. Listen to i.g Passions as written by Schütz, Telemann and other Bach predecessors/contemporaries. The festive music starts on Easter Sunday, which is no passion music anymore. There were several rules in the North German tradition (i.g. no trumpets during Holy Week before Easter, Evangelist usually being a tenor and Jesus' part usually sung by a bass/baritone). But there are as many exceptions (as always) as there were rules: Telemann occasionally used a bass as Evangelist and the final chorale in Bach's SJP remains controversial (as Bach thought himself also). It has nothing to do with "form" or "ensemble", as mentioned before on the list. Passion music is defined by the subject it deals with.

 

BWV 66 - BWV 134 / Easter-oratorio

Dick Wursten wrote (March 19, 2002):
Why I don't comment on the cantatas of this week and of next week.

I am so fortunate that I live part of my life in church and that the cycles in my personal and professional life also are determined - partially – by the cycle of the church-year. This not only implies that Easter-time is a very intense period for me as a pastor (without this feast Christianity would not exist), but also that I am mentally not able to concentrate on Easter-music before I have - at least once - listened to the two great passions of Bach, which I am doing now. (I am re-listening the Harnoncourt
LP-s from 1970).

This by the way is no criticism whatsoever on the proposed list, but just a personal particularity.

I hope to be back at Easter to discuss the Easter-Oratorium of which I possess a unique fragment on videotape. The fascinating aria "Sanfte soll" of Herreweghe [13] with Marc Padmore. Our disappointment was enormous when we discovered that at the CD-recording he had been replaced by someone else, who indeed sings more secure and professional... but lacks the 'I don't know what' that makes the difference.

Sylvia Merknixle wrote (March 19, 2002):
As Dick Wursten, I own the Videotape of the Easter-Oratorio with Padmore, and it is my most beloved one. The aria "Sanfte soll..." is indeed unique.

For everybody who is able to see the German Pay-TV music-channel CLASSICA: This Easter-Oratorio will be broadcast again at Easter Sunday!!

Will see and hear Kuijken and La Petite Bande this evening with a Schütz- program and am very thankful for the detailed postings about the French Style lately. Will listen with completely new ears!

 

Discussions in the Week of March 31, 2002)

Dick Wursten wrote (March 28, 2002):
BWV 249 - Oster-Oratorium - Dutch Translation

As a small tribute to JSB I translated BWV 249 in Dutch...

I must confess it was also egoistic. I wanted to increase my own understanding of the vivid but sometimes little bit obscure dialogue between the women (the Mary's) and Peter & John. The introduction of the 'Schweisstuch' in the recitativo intrigued me and the following mystic aria 'Sanfte wird mein Todeskummer' is one of the most dear arias of the whole repertoire. So in offering the Dutch listeners a translation I also served myself (win-win I hope. Criticism is welcome, I am only an amateur translator... and must confess: This was not an easy one)

Aryeh was so kind to put my translation in the following page: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Texts/BWV249-Dut1.htm
There are links to this page from the following pages:
http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Vocal/BWV249.htm
http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Texts/IndexTexts6.htm

About the 'Schweisstuch' I promise a contribution one of the next days...

Aryeh Oron wrote (March 28, 2002):
Introduction

The subject of next week's discussion (March 31, 2002), as proposed to us by Riccardo Nughes, is not a cantata but an oratorio – Oster-Oratorium BWV 249 ‘Kommet, eilat und laufet’. Do we deviate from our usual procedure of discussing only cantatas in the course of the weekly cantata discussions? Well, not exactly. Bach oratorios (for Christmas, Easter and Ascension) resemble his own cantatas more than the oratorios of Händel, because their shorter form stresses emotional reactions rather than dramatic narrative. This does not mean, however, that Bach lacks a sense for drama in his oratorios. For him the action is internal, lying in the feelings expressed by the soloists and the choruses and not in the development of the story. Bach Christmas Oratorio consists of six separate cantatas, while the Easter and the Ascension works are single cantatas, even though Bach called them oratorios and named the Biblical characters beside each number in this one.

The music of two previously composed secular cantatas was imitated by Bach in this oratorio: the Shepherd Cantata BWV 249a from 1725 ‘Entflieht, verschwindet, entweichet, ihr Sorgen’ (Fly, vanish, flee, O worries), to celebrate the Birthday of Duke Christian von Sachsen-Weißenfels, and BWV 249b from 1726 ‘Verjaget, zersttreut, zerrüttet, ihr Sterne’ (Dispel, scatter, disarrange, Ye stars), to honour the Birthday of the commandant of Leipzig, Count Joachim Friedrich Flemming. The librettist for the earlier cantata text was Picander, whom Terry suggests as the writer of the oratorio text also, because of its similar free madrigal style. He follows the Gospel, Mark 16: 1-8, the Resurrection, very closely in his poetic paraphrasing. Oster-Oratorium is one of Bach’s masterpieces and must be one of his favoucompositions, since he repeated its performance even into the 1740’s. The music for both BWV 249a and BWV 249b was lost. However, Hermann Keller made a reconstruction of BWV 249a from the preserved Picander’s text, and the music composed by J.S. Bach for Oster-Oratorium BWV 249.

In order to allow the members of the BCML being prepared for the discussion, I compiled a list of the recordings of both Oster-Oratorium BWV 249 and the Shepherd Cantata BWV 249a, the details of which can be found in the following pages of the Bach Cantatas Website:

Oster-Oratorium BWV 249: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Vocal/BWV249.htm
Cantata BWV 249a: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV249a.htm

In the page of BWV 249 you can also find links to translations of the German text to other languages made by members of the BCML - to English (English-3) by Francis Browne, to Dutch by Dick Wursten, and to Hebrew by me. I hope that the English, Dutch and Hebrew readers of the BCML will find the translations useful. I repeat here my wish to see other members of the BCML contributing translations to their own languages (French, Italian, Spanish, etc.).

Oster-Oratorium has at least 15 complete recordings. This is more than most of Bach Cantatas, but less than most of Bach’s other vocal works. The recordings include something for almost everybody’s taste, from the earliest recording done by Prohaska in 1951 to McCreesh’s recording from 2000 [18]. Along the way we can find conductors, who are not usually identified with Bach, such as Ormandy [4] and Maazel, as well as well-known authorities in the field, both with traditional approach, such as Gönnenwein & Rilling, and HIP-ers (or PP), as Parrott [11], Leonhardt [12], Herreweghe [13], and Koopman [15]. Cantata BWV 249a has only one recording, by Rilling included in his early partial cycle of the secular cantatas.

With so many recordings, most of which are available in CD form, and such a beautiful work, it is unavoidable that most of you will have at least one recording of Oster-Oratorium. I hope to see many of you participating in the discussion.

Dick Wursten wrote (March 29, 2002):
While writing on Mvt 7... Sanfte soll mein Todeskummer, nur ein Schweisstuch etc... I stumbled over the English translation of Schweisstuch. In the gospel of St. John (King James Version) it is NAPKIN. In the translation of the cantata-text is also Napkin. This word makes me think immediately of babies spilling food; Isn't there another word in English for the cloth used to cover Jesus' face (or entire body) in English with less infantile and culinaire associations…?

Andrew Lewis wrote (March 29, 2002):
[To Dick Wursten] Perhaps "shroud"?

Dick Wursten wrote (March 30, 2002):
[To Andrew Lewis] Is that the same word as used for that mysterious piece of cloth they keep in Turin?

Riccardo Nughes wrote (March 30, 2002):
What you call " that mysterious piece of cloth they keep in Turin" (an unfortunate definition, IMO) is called, in English, Holy Shroud.

BTW, happy Easter to all list members!

Dick Wursten wrote (March 30, 2002):
[To Riccardo Nughes] Then shroud cannot be used to translate 'Schweisstuch', because in the account of the gospel according to St. John the disciples see the "linen clothes lie and the 'napkin' (schweisstuch) that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself". So ... perhaps 'veil' ... as I noticed Francis Browne used in his new translation of this cantata: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Texts/BWV249-Eng3.htm
Or does that create an association with "Veronica's veil"... (I think it should, but I will explain that later)

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 30, 2002):
Checking various English Bible translations, here is what I have found:

napkin, kerchief, handkerchief, cloth, face-cloth, burial cloth, head cloth, a cloth about his face, the cloth that had covered Jesus' head, his face wrapped with a cloth [the latter is the English Standard Version 2000-2009, the most recent translation that I could locate.]

No translation has dared to use 'veil.'

Ludwig wrote (March 30, 2002):
[To Thomas Braatz] I am surprised that No translation have dared to use 'veil.' considering such idiotic translations some English versions have done as in Psalms in which the translators in passages that state praise the Lord with Cymbals also included instruments that never existed in Biblical times such as electric guitars and saxophones (!!!).

Ludwig wrote (March 30, 2002):
[To Dick Wursten] I do not have my Vulgate in front of me but the words for veil in Latin are:

advelo -are [to veil].
circumvelo -are [to veil round , envelop].

flammeolum -i n. [a small bridal veil].

flammeus -a -um [fiery , flaming; flashing, fiery-red]; n. as subst. flammeum -i, [a (flame-coloured) bridal veil].

nubes -is f. [a cloud]; fig. [any dense mass; gloom; veil , concealment].

nubo nubere nupsi nuptum [to cover , veil]; of a bride, [to be married to, to marry] (with dat.); f. of partic. nupta, [married], or as subst., [a bride].

obductio -onis f. [covering , veiling].

obscuro -are [to cover , darken, obscure; to veil, conceal, suppress].

praetextatus -a -um [wearing the toga praetexta; veiled; licentious].

rica -ae f. [a veil].

ricinum -i n. [a small veil].

velamentum -i n. [a covering, veil]; in plur. [olive branches wrapped in wool, carried by suppliants].

velo -are [to cover , veil, hide].
advelo -are [to veil].
circumvelo -are [to veil round, envelop].

flammeolum -i n. [a small bridal veil].

flammeus -a -um [fiery , flaming; flashing, fiery-red]; n. as subst. flammeum -i, [a (flame-coloured) bridal veil].

nubes -is f. [a cloud]; fig. [any dense mass; gloom; veil, concealment].

nubo nubere nupsi nuptum [to cover , veil]; of a bride, [to be married to, to marry] (with dat.); f. of partic. nupta, [married], or as subst., [a bride].

obductio -onis f. [covering , veiling].

obscuro -are [to cover , darken, obscure; to veil, conceal, suppress].

praetextatus -a -um [wearing the toga praetexta; veiled; licentious].

rica -ae f. [a veil].

ricinum -i n. [a small veil].

velamentum -i n. [a covering , veil]; in plur. [olive branches wrapped in wool, carried by suppliants].

velo -are [to cover , veil, hide].

So if the vulgate contains any of these words or the Greek does then it might be appropriate to use "veil"

Ludwig wrote (March 30, 2002):
[To Thomas Braatz] In English, The King James version is closest to the Latin Vulgate but unfortunately for all the erudition of the King James it has some very serious flaws particularly in the Old Testament, Paul, Titus just to mention a few.

Francis Browne wrote (March 30, 2002):
The vulgate text is: et videt lineamenta posita, et SUDARIUM, quod fuerat super caput eius.

The Greek text of John has the same word TO SUDARION. Barrett's commentary on the Greek text of the raising of Lazarus, where the same word is used,
explains:
" a napkin" (literally a cloth for wiping off perspiration). It is not to be confused with the rabbinic sudar "scarf" "turban", of which it is not a transliteration. There is some reason to think that at the time of the gospels only the faces of the poor were covered in this way.

I translated 'veil' in my translation of the cantata text because the German dictionary I used referred to the sudarium, a traditional title given to Veronica's napkin. The music is most beautiful, but I confess I find the text puzzling and look forward to Dick's explanation.

Ludwig wrote (March 30, 2002):
[To Francis Browne] If one were thoroughly Roman--one did not cover one's face in such a manner unless imitating the Egyptians. Roman was to cremate those who had died.

I am not so sure about Jews of the period but Christians did not cremate which was one of the conflicts that Christians had with the Romans.

I am thinking that Jews did not cremate considering their history with Egypt. We must remember that Christians at this time were still Jews--a very small fringe element cult at that and did not separate from the Jewish faith for nearly 40 years after the Christian Church began. The Council of Jerusalem called by the Apostle James dealt the final blow to the unification of Christians with the Jews even though the Apostle Paul (the Jew's Jew) continued his Jewish ways. It was not until Constantine that Christianity made any significant growth.

The "napkin" was there to keep the Larazus mouth closed before and after rigor mortis. In John 11 verse 44--Jesus says" Loose him, and let him go" which to me seems to bare this out. (as a sidebar--I found verse 48 rather interesting--- this must be a translation error or some monk fell asleep when copying because the Romans had already made Jerusalem a Roman Provence and had installed Herod the Great and his descendants as ruler (=Viceroy) of it )

I have not yet found my vulgate (for full text) but the King James says and uses "Napkin":

Joh:11:43: And when he thus had spoken, he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth.
Joh:11:44: And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with grave-clothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go.
Joh:11:45: Then many of the Jews which came to Mary, and had seen the things which Jesus did, believed on him.
Joh:11:46: But some of them went their ways to the Pharisees, and told them what things Jesus had done.
Joh:11:47: Then gathered the chief priests and the Pharisees a council, and said, What do we? for this man doeth many miracles.
Joh:11:48: If we let him thus alone, all men will believe on him: and the Romans shall come and take away both our place and nation.
Joh:11:49: And one of them, named Caiaphas, being the high priest that same year, said unto them, Ye know nothing at all,

Dick Wursten wrote (March 30, 2002):
BWV 249 - Schweisstuch-aria and Veronica's veil

As promised my interpretation of the comforting veil. [second part of this mail] but first my personal impression of BWV 249.

I have to start with a confession: I am not particularly fond of BWV 249 as a whole. But there is one exception (and that 's a full compensation) aria Mvt. 7 always touches me... I heard several versions of it but am still an advocate of the first version I ever heard: Herreweghe with his beautiful sound [13]... How well do the violins and recorders blend... what a un-earthly atmosphere he creates... and then Mark Padmore (a little tense, you can see it on the video, you can hear it... but that's good, it gives the performance that little 'extra') begins to sing... What music can do!

The first time I hadn't the faintest idea what he was singing about. I heard the words but could not make a whole sentence of it, let alone make sense of it. But the message was clear (in musical language) and reached me: deeply felt joy, comfort in and against death and suffering. While the music continues streaming, this comfort is poured out over the listener... like the ointment over Jesus' feet. This is Bach at his best. [the fact that the original text was about 'sheep', a pastoral first shocked me, but later reminded me of psalm 23... So]

Later on I started to listen more carefully at the text (the videotape was not subtitled, so I had to reconstruct it by myself) and I remember that even when I was pretty sure that I had every word correctly on line, I still was not able to make much sense of it. The things I understood were: Jesus 'Schweisstuch' is crucial. It is mentioned in the account of St. John. The recitativo (nr. 6) ends with pointing to this 'schweisstuch'.

But how the 'Schweisstuch' could spread so much joy and comfort to Peter [but at that time I didn't know it was Peter, I thought it was 'the Christian believer in general' (which of course also is true)]. And how on earth -or better in heaven - did he get the idea of wiping off his tears with that 'schweisstuch'...

---------
[The comforting veil]

The answer? Well, I don't know it for sure, but I have some ideas, which I want to propose to you. Curious of course whether you will agree or differ...

As I already hinted at, I think the possibility of association with the other 'Schweisstuch', namely of Veronica is important. Francis Browne said that in English Veronica' napkin is referred to as Veronica's veil, and that is why he choose to use the word veil. In German and Dutch there is no problem: Schweisstuch/zweetdoek is used both for the 'piece of cloth' lying apart of the other linen clothes in Jesus' grave AND for the 'piece of cloth' Veronica is said to have given to Jesus at the via dolorosa to wipe of his face.

[By the way: The Greek word used in John 20: 7 is ‘soudarion’, which is the Latin word: sudarium, which is the French word suaire. Veronica's veil in Latin also is called 'sudarium'. I think that the linguistic chaos now is complete, because AFAIK the French word 'suaire' is also used for the shroud of Turin... This linguistic chaos reflects the chaos around the pseudo-historical adventures of both Veronica's veil and Jesus' shroud. Art-historians, esp. the realm of painting, have a hard job here!]

Why is the association important?
Because by blending the 'veil' of the grave and the 'veil' of Veronica together to one 'veil' a whole history of healing and comforting power of a 'veil' becomes apparent.
In the legend of Veronica [6th station of the 'Way of the Cross'] and her 'veil' already two legends are blended into one story.
1. In the [apocryphal] Acta Pilati there is a anonymous woman who offers the suffering Jesus a cloth to wipe of his face... later she is named: Veronica. This is the 6th Station of the Road of the Cross.
2. In another legend King Abgar of Edessa is cured from an illness because he looked at Jesus' portrait, which was send to him - on request - by Jesus himself (painted by Abgar’s court painter 'to life' (with Jesus as a model) yes legends dare to tread where angels...)

The last story had many local variants... In the end every self-respecting Christian city had its own portrait of Jesus because of the illness of a king. In one version even Tiberius plays the part of the ill king. It is this version that ended up in the Legenda Aurea of Jac. de Voragine, the medieval source book for legends. In the middle-ages (specialists in blending stories!) both women were called Veronica the woman as the veil are called veronica... Perhaps because Veronica can be read as a misreading of vera-eikoon, the true image. In the 6th century the 'eikonoi acheiropoieta' (the images of Christ, not made by man) appear > the famous face of Jesus of the orthodox paintings. Jesus' face on a piece of cloth or a real portrait, sometimes with, sometimes without the marks of his suffering became a widespread object of veneration.

At the 6th Station of the Way of the Cross Veronica's gentleness was remembered. But more important for our subject: Veronica became the comforter of suffering people. She was called upon in pain and agony... DIE ZAHREN MEINER PEIN, TODESKUMMER.

Her 'veil' (sudarium) became one of the 'arma Christi', with which Christ healed and saved his people. It is often depicted together with the crown of thorns, the nails, the wips etc... They were considered powerful in itself, because they could be linked immediately to Christ in his suffering.

My suggestion (hypothesis) is that in the Lutheran tradition at Bach's times (at least in the mind of the scenarist of the Oster-Oratorium) there still was a living tradition which had on the one side banned out the 'superstitio' around the 'arma Christi' as objects, but at the same time had transferred the contents of that faith and devotion to the 'verbal' images of the same. [I hope my English is clear enough to make you understand my point].

The same proceducan be seen in the devotion of the cross. F.i. the famous song: O haupt voll Blut und Wunden is the Protestant transcription of the medieval devotion of the 'wounds of Jesus'. The 12th century Latin hymn and Gerhard's poem can be easily compared. In the RC tradition the devotion also materialised, in the Lutheran tradition it verbalised.

Conclusion: the comforting and healing power of Veronica's veil is transferred to a biblical parallel: the seeing of the veil in Jesus' grave.

Enjoy life at Easter!

Andrew Oliver wrote (March 30, 2002):
This is from a commentary on John 20:7 :

Ver. 7. And the napkin that was about his head, &c.] The word ~soudarion~, rendered "napkin", is thought to be originally Latin, and signifies an handkerchief, with which the sweat is wiped off the face, and so it is used in #Ac 19:12 but Nonnus says it is a common word with the Syrians, and the word ^ardwo^ is used in the Syriac version; and which he renders, ~kefalhv zwsthra~, "the girdle, or binding of the head", for with this the head and face of the dead person were bound; see #Joh 11:44..........

And this is from a different commentary on John 11:44:

{Was bound about} (periededeto). Past perfect passive of peridew, old verb to bind around, only here in N.T. {With a napkin} (soudariw). Instrumental case of soudarion (Latin word sudarium from sudor, sweat). In N.T. here, #20:7; Lu 19:20; Ac 19:12. Our handkerchief. .........

(This passage refers to the raising of Lazarus from the dead.)

It seems clear from these passages that the cloth, however it is translated, was not merely a veil or covering but was actually tied around the head and face. 'Head-cloth' seems an appropriate rendering to me.

John 11:48 is not a mistranslation; it simply means that the Jews feared they would lose that degree of autonomy which the Romans had allowed them to keep. Another commentary:

Ver. 48. If we let him thus alone, &c.] Going about from place to place, teaching the people, and doing such miracles:

all men will believe on him; the whole nation will receive him as the Messiah, and proclaim him their king, and yield a cheerful obedience to all his commands:

the Romans will come; against us, with their powerful armies; interpreting the setting him up as Messiah, to be an instance of rebellion against Caesar, and his government:

and take away both our place and nation; that is, will destroy the temple, their holy place, the place of their religion and worship; and their city, the place of their habitation, and lay waste their country; and take away from them that little share of power and government they had, and strip them both of their civil and religious privileges: the Persic version renders it, "they will take away our place, and make a decree against our religion".

I imagine that the idea behind the wording of the tenor aria is that, since the binding about the head of Jesus was a 'soudarion', which would be used by a living person to absorb sweat, it would be an appropriate article to absorb the tears of mourners.

Ludwig wrote (March 31, 2002):
[To Andrew Oliver] What you say in many ways re-enforces my interpetation form the KJV (King James Version for non Bible scholars).

However, I not only go by what we find in the Biblical texts I also use the writings from the Classical authors and other writings of the day including Heroditus, where he can be trusted. Israel after Herod the Great had very little self automonomy and whatever was done was done with direct approval from Rome.

The State of affairs in Jerusalem during the period of which Christ and the Apostles lived was what it is today--riots etc. Rome was having increasing difficulties in governing this Provence and kept, like a constricting snake, tightning it's hold on this Provence until the Jews rose in a rebellion that ended in Masada after which the diaspora took place and the ancestors of present day Arabs began to move in--which is why I question in the light of proven History the validity of this passage(v.48) which if not a mistranslation could be an insertion by a later copyist unaware of the history of the time.

Although Rome tolerated other religions; all had to bow to the Emperor as God and worship the old Roman and Greek Gods. This was very offensive to Jews even if they had to pretend to worship the Emperor or Jupiter. When Herod the Great was in power; he obtained some sort of exemption for Jews from Augustus when Augustus essentially made him Viceroy of the Roman middleast. Later sucessors began to clamp down on this priviledge but between 25 C.E. to 60 C.E. (=A.D.) revolution became rife and as it did Rome tolerated less and less other religions which were not aligned with the Religion of the Roman State.

Marie Jensen wrote (April 1, 2002):
The great passions overshadow the Easter Oratorio. So it is not performed very often. Resurrection is far more difficult to relate to than passion. In fact impossible. Trumpets in Major, drums and a choir shouting with joy will never be enough. In th b-minor mass where the slow Crucifixus movement is followed by "Et resurrexit" with all the elements mentioned above, there is a significant surprise effect. So it works better. But perhaps in Leipzig where no trumpet had sounded in church for a long time, the effect would be there. (We are surrounded by music every day, so much that it often looses its magic)

The Easter Oratorio is not bad music at all. If the passions were not there I'm sure we would hear it more often.

What I like best is the slow part of the opening. Surrounded by running feet in its first and third part, it lies there: a cool garden in the morning, a gentle dew. An angel could easily sit here and wait. The sorrow, wondering and joy of the women are here as a beautiful background.

I also like the big aria "Seele, deine Spezereien". It is like being back in the garden an hour later, fragrant with different smells.

But Rolf Schweizer’s version [17] does not flow enough to be relieved and triumphant. In a taped version (Rilling? [10]) I had once, a violin was used and not a flute. Usually Bach uses a violin , when God gives a message. But there are more versions of this work.

Seele, deine Spezereien sollen nicht mehr Myrrhen sein (BWV 249)

Dick Wursten wrote (April 5, 2002):
[To Thomas Braatz] If in doubt [what's in a name?] whether your contributions were appreciated: I at least miss your profound comments, extensive background information etc... So...

Philip Peters wrote (April 5, 2002):
[To Dick Wursten] Gladly endorsed.

Paul Farseth wrote (April 5, 2002):
[To Thomas Braatz] Please come back to the group.

Tony Olszowy [Brantford, Canada] wrote (April 5, 2002):
What, no Tom Braatz? Have I missed something? Come back, Tom--this is a far less valuable resource without you!

Nick Kaufman wrote (April 5, 2002):
Well - I was interested to learn that Dick Wursten is a Pastor. I am not Christian but a Jewish resident of Jerusalem and furthermore, happen to know a bit about Jewish Burial customs. The customs are observed much as they were in Christ's time up until this day with burial in Jerusalem taking place (by law) on the very same day as death (due to the sanctity of the Holy City). Ritual purification (annointment) and the wrapping of the deceased in a number of white shrouds occurs before burial. For an interesting explanation of the ritual - the following site might be useful: http://www.jhom.com/topics/color/shrouds.htm

It would appear therefore that the "Schweisstuch" is more likely to be the separate white hood which is placed over the deceased's head prior to being buried.

I do not believe that one should necessarily make a connection between the Veronica's veil and the Scweisstuch - although I very much enjoyed reading Dick's wonderfully erudite resume of the matter.

Michael Grover wrote (April 5, 2002):
[To Nick Kaufman] Your comment that you are a resident of Jerusalem brought home to me the fact that we have many members of these Bach lists are Israelis and who are currently living in a war zone. Our thoughts are with you during this terrible time - just as your thoughts were with us Americans last September. I hope you're all OK.

Paul Farseth [Stillwater MN, USA] wrote (April 6, 2002):
[To Michael Grover] Amen! Yes!

Philippe Yared [Beirut, Lebanon] wrote (April 6, 2002):
[To Paul Farseth] Amen and let's include in our thoughts those who suffer and who are not members of our Bach lists perhaps because in the first place they have no access to Bach or to the internet.

Thomas Braatz wrote (April 6, 2002):
BWV 249 Oster-Oratorium - Origins, Connections, and Later Developments

The 3-mvt. ‘Brandenburg Concerto’ [1718-1721]
The 1st 3 mvts. of the Easter Oratorio are composed in the manner of the Brandenburg Concerti and probably originate from the same period in Bach’s life: sometime in the Cöthen Period (Dec. 2, 1717 until March 13, 1723.) The best estimate for the composition of the Brandenburg Concerti (BWV 1046-1051) lies between 1718 and 1720 or 1721. Bach received the commission for the Brandenburg Concerti in the Fall(?) of 1718 and the dedication was dated March 24, 1712. The slow mvt. (mvt. 2 of the Easter Oratorio), in particular, shows the Italian influence of such masters as Albinoni and Vivaldi. Notice how the slow mvt. ends poised and ready to move directly into the 3rd and final mvt. This is a typical feature of the Brandenburg Concerti. The solo oboe seems to be ideal for the solo part, but do not be surprised at Bach’s substitution of a flute for the oboe in this final revision of the Easter Oratorio. Arnold Schering and Friedrich Smend (1943) came to the conclusion (a theory) that mvt. 3 “auf einen reinen Instrumentalsatz zurückgeht, der ursprünglich mit den beiden vorhergehenden Stücken ein selbstständiges dreisätziges Werk im Stil der Brandenburgische Konzerte bildete [„is based upon a purely instrumental mvt. which originally served as the conclusion of an independently existing 3-mvt. composition that included both of the prior mvts.”]

The Holiness Motif
The opening bar of the bass recitative (mvt. 10) of the Easter Oratorio is a statement of the ‘holiness’ motif that Eric Chafe pointed out and I discussed on this site earlier [The discussion of BWV 52 and under the section “Parodies in the Bach Cantatas.”] Although mvt. 10 of BWV 249 was added after the 1st 3 mvts. were already in existence and were used subsequently in the “Schäferkantate” (BWV 249a) where the music for the recitatives was lost, it (mvt. 10) may underline the connection to the earliest origins of the Easter Oratorio: the Brandenburg Concerti. The 'holiness' motif, in addition to various references to other sacred cantatas, also connects the Easter Oratorio with the SJP (BWV 245)!

The “Schäferkantate” BWV 249a [February 23, 1725]
The next major expansion, or perhaps the base to which Bach added the already existing “Brandenburg Concerto” as introductory mvts. is in the form of a secular cantata which had its 1st performance on February 23, 1725 (the 44th birthday of Christian, Duke of Sachsen-Weißenfels.) Now we have a secular cantata that was expanded to encompass 3 new arias, 4 new recitatives, and a concluding choral mvt. for a total of 11 mvts. Mvt. 3, already existing as an instrumental mvt. is now expanded by adding two solo parts (a duet) to the score. The discovery of the existence of this secular cantata, BWV 249a came as the result of Friedrich Smend’s discovery (1942) of the parody relationship between Picander’s [Henrici’s] published work, “Tafel-Music” (1727) “Entfliehet, verschwindet, entweichet, ihr Sorgen.” (The text for this cantata is available on Aryeh’s site.) It became apparent that the Picander text easily fit all the major mvts. Only the music for the 4 recitatives is still missing.

The “Easter” Cantata BWV 249 [April 1, 1725]
Just slightly more than 5 weeks later Bach gave his first performance of the sacred parody of the “Schäferkantate.” At this point, it was not yet titled “Oratorio” although it included almost everything that we know today as the Easter Oratorio. There is at least one good reason to believe that Picander was not responsible for this sacred text version: there is a ‘bad’ rhyming pair of words based on local dialect forms – no other examples of this can be found in Picander’s texts. This enhances the possibility that Bach himself undertook the transformation of the text. Bach had to add a new set of recitatives to fit the new text now based upon Mark 16:1-8, but otherwise very few additional changes were made to accommodate the new sacred text. At the end of the middle section of mvt. 9 (alto aria) adds a few additional measures on the words, “ganz verwaiset und betrübt.” One theory proposes that the Easter cantata is an attempt to recreate an Easter Play (enactment of events) similar to the Christmas Play traditions that were also maintained in Bach's day.

The Birthday Cantata BWV 249b [August 25, 1726]
According to Simon Heighes who was responsible for the article on the Easter Oratorio in “The Oxford Composer Companions: J.S.Bach [Boyd]”, Bach used the same music as BWV 249a as a birthday cantata for Count Joachim Friedrich von Flemming. The title of this cantata is “Die Feier des Genius” with a text by Picander. The NBA does not reference this work, which may be an indication that it has been dropped from serious consideration as belonging to the Easter Oratorio complex of compositions with its various incarnations.

Das Oster-Oratorium BWV 249 [1732-1735]
Now, for the first time, Bach assigns the title, “Oster-Oratorium” to the Easter Cantata.

The “Sanctus” from the B-minor Mass BWV 232 [difficult to date precisely, but probably from the 1730’s]

Bach takes the final mvt. (11) from the Easter Oratorio, “Preis und Dank” where the seeds for the “Sanctus” can be found. These seeds germinate and are expanded into this great mvt. from the B-minor Mass (BWV 232). The origins in the Easter Oratorio are quite evident.

Missa F-Dur BWV 233 [1737-1748]
Mvt. 2 “Gloria in excelsis” has the same joyful figure of a leaping third or fourth with a return to the original note, a figure signifying victory that is also found in the last 15 measures of the last mvt. (11) of the Easter Oratorio, where the upper voices sing “der Löwe von Juda kömmt siegend.” A good recording to listen to in order to hear the comparison between these two passages is McCreesh’s Bach Epiphany Mass on Archiv.

Das Oster-Oratorium BWV 249 Final Revisions [1744-1749]
The 3rd mvts is revised by Bach who changes the duet to a ‘Choreinbau’ of 4 pt. chorus. A 3rd trumpet part is added (up until now only 2 trumpets had been used.) Now a transverse flute is substituted for the oboe as the solo instrument in mvt. 2, the slow mvt. Possibly an excellent flautist happened to be in Leipzig at the time.

The Dance Mvts. in the Easter Oratorio
Simon Crouch’s and Alberto Basso’s contention that the Easter Oratorio “is suffused with the spirit of the dance” is based on misconceptions of what constitutes a ‘dance’ mvt. in Bach’s music. Just looking at the time signature of a mvt. does not in itself allow for this type of determination. Little and Jenne in “Dance and the Music of Bach” allow only for mvts. 1 & 3 as examples of Giga II [of the 2nd type of Giga.] Anyone who calls the “Schweißtuch” tenor aria a ‘bourée’ must be out of his mind. This also holds true for the soprano aria as a “tempo di minuetto.’ No way!!! Some commentator (who?) must have written such an unresearched opinion, which others have simply copied mindlessly without listening carefully to the music.

The Close Connection between Words and Music in the “Schäferkantate” BWV 249a
It is truly enlightening to read the Picander text for BWV 249a in order to see how the original musical conception of the arias is very intimately to this original, secular text. Although Bach (or someone else) attempted to make the new sacred text fit the original music which was left as is, for the most part, the results are less than satisfactory. Here are some examples of the very close connections between words and music in the secular composition:

In the recitative preceding the soprano aria, mvt. 5, the shepherdesses, Sylvia and Doris, indicate to the two shepherds, Damoetas and Menalcas, who had just finished singing a very happy duet, that they should not think that they are the only ones in happy spirits on this festive day. In the aria, with a transverse flute as solo accompaniment, Doris expresses the feelings that she has: “Hunderttausend Schmeicheleien wallen jetzt in meiner Brust,” [“Hundred thousand sweet words now cascade forth in my soul.”] Noticeable in the introductory section played by the flute are the cascading triplet figures that appear. After a ritornello played by the flute, a repetition reverses the direction of the “wallen” [“the springing forth of water from a water source”] so that the musical figure now moves upwards. This fits the image of the soul as the spring from which the ‘sweet words’ can arise. At the point where the voice sings, “Die Lust kann die Zunge nicht verschweigen” [“The tongue can not hold back/keep silent the pleasure it feels,”] the voice has long coloraturas as if the music does not want to stop.

The 2nd (tenor) aria, a pastoral lullaby with muted violins and recorders providing the accompaniment, follows a recitative in which Sylvia asks, “Wer aber wird die Schafe pflegen?” [“Who is going to take care of the sheep?”] if the shepherdesses join the shepherds on the way to the palace where the celebration will take place. The answer sung by Menalcas is a mesmerizing song that is intended to put the sheep to sleep for a while until they return: “Wieget euch, ihr satten Schafe in dem Schlafe unterdessen selber ein” [“Rock yourselves meanwhile to sleep, you well-nourished sheep.” This gives rise to the rocking motion perceived in the instrumental accompaniment which also consists of recorders which enhance the bucolic nature of this aria. “Schlafe” [“Sleep”] receives a musical word-painting image: a long, sustained note in the low range of the voice. The middle section has the words, “Dort in jenen tiefen Gründen, wo schon junge Rasen sein, werden wir euch wieder finden” [„We’ll find you (the sheep) again over there in the low, grassy areas.“] On the words, “tiefen Gründen” [“low, deep, grassy areas”] Bach introduces an unusual, staggered staccato figure in the instruments. This figure is an extreme contrast to the legato figures that predominate in this mvt. otherwise. Also, these figures exhibit interval drops of a sixth or seventh. This is part of Bach’s musical language repertoire. It fits perfectly here, but not very well with the later Oratorio text.

The alto aria (mvt. 9) also demonstrates a close connection with the original secular text. Sylvia sings to Flora, that she should breath life upon the fields so that they will flower forth later on. A very appropriate wish for a celebration taking place in late February. On the word, “hauche” [“breathe”] Bach introduces a contrasting figure: two-note short- breath figures (often related to sighing in Bach’s music.) In the middle section, “Daß ein treuer Untertan” [“that a faithful subordinate”], Bach reverses the dominant role played by the oboe with that of the 1st violin that has only been playing subordinate figures until now. The subordinate voice now has a chance to stand up and be heard.

Dick Wursten wrote (April 6, 2002):
Thomas Braatz compared the original shepherd-text with the (parody-)text of the Easter-oratiorio and points to the the fact that some musical effects were lost in the parodytext. Of course I agree, but in general I was very impressed by the con-cordance or con-sonance ot the two texts... even in detail.

One of the examples Thomas gives is illuminating and illustrative. [of course: ] The musical language of the 'Schafe-Schlafe' (sheep-sleep) aria is remarkably and saved (rescued?... my languageproblem) in the 'Kummer-Schlummer' aria about the 'Schweisstuch'. Ik wil compare "The mesmerizing song that is intended to put the sheep to sleep" with the Schweisstuch-aria

FIRST PART:
Wieget euch, ihr satten Schafe
in dem Schlafe
unterdessen selber ein

Sanfte soll mein Todeskummer
nur ein Schlummer
Jesu, durch dein schweisstuch sein

The theme of 'sleep' is the central motive in both aria's. The mesmerizing effect trying to put the sleep to rest is very close to the comforting effect to put the soul to rest. The sheep may sleep and the dead may 'rest from their works'... "The long-sustained note in the low range of the voice" (TB) which is musical painting of the word 'Schlafe' (sleep) is completely saved in the Easteroratorio, because it now falls on 'Schlummer' (slumber)..

MIDDLE SECTION

Dort in jenen tiefen Gründen,
wo schon junge Rasen sein,
werden wir euch wieder finden.

Ja, das wird mich dort erfrischen
und die Zähren meiner Pein
von den Wangen tröstlich wischen.

Thomas suggests: The staccato and the large interval drops on the words “tiefen Gründen” [“low, deep, grassy areas”] fit perfectly in the shepherdtext, but not very well with the later Oratorio text. It is part of Bachs musical language. I don't understand this (lack of knowledge of Bach Musical language, I suppose): I just hear this as a joyful part, in which the staccato-contrast and the intervaljumps just lead forward to the final expression: We will find you, sheep, back in 'paradisic circumstances' [wieder finden] and: I will find myself back in paradisic circumstances... By the way: the association of the secular shepherd-text with the spiritual shepherdpsalm (psalms 23, compare gospel of John (ch. 10:11ff) about the 'good shepherd' ) is crucial and quite clear I think. The mix of both (bucolic pastorale and spiritual pastorale) is typical for christian culture since the very beginning of it.

Thomas Braatz wrote (April 6, 2002):
A date correction on my report: The dedication of the Brandenburg Concerti is March 24, 1721, (and not 1712!)

< Dick Wursten commented: Of course I agree, but in general I was very impressed by the con-cordance or con-sonance ot the two texts... even in detail.

One of the examples Thomas gives is illuminating and illustrative. [of course: ] The musical language of the 'Schafe-Schlafe' (sheep-sleep) aria is remarkably and saved (rescued?... my language problem) in the 'Kummer-Schlummer' aria about the 'Schweisstuch'. I will compare "The mesmerizing song that is intended to put the sheep to sleep" with the Schweisstuch-aria

FIRST PART:
Wieget euch, ihr satten Schafe
in dem Schlafe
unterdessen selber ein

Sanfte soll mein Todeskummer
nur ein Schlummer
Jesu, durch dein Schweisstuch sein

The theme of 'sleep' is the central motive in both aria's. The mesmerizing effect trying to put the sleep to rest is very close to the comforting effect to put the soul to rest. The sheep may sleep and the dead may 'rest from their works'... "The long-sustained note in the low range of the voice" (TB) which is musical painting of the word 'Schlafe' (sleep) is completely saved in the Easteroratorio, because it now falls on 'Schlummer' (slumber).. >
I agree that Bach (I personally think he is responsible for this text modification) must have felt quite happy with himself in finding an appropriate conceit that matches the original. “Sleep is the little brother of death” allows for a meaningful congruency on a higher level. The rhyme between Todeskummer and Schlummer is very successful indeed: the ‘humming’ sound of the ‘mm’s’ and the dark quality of the vocal are very appropriate for enducing sleep. Now all that Bach needed was a connection between Jesus and a Christian’s concern about existence in the time before death. It is the “Schweißtuch” which is the poetic symbol on which everything hinges. It also continues the emphasis on the ‘u’ vowel. Apart from the associations that go along with this word, there is also the major problem with its pronunciation:it is very unmusical. Perhaps Bach wanted the shock value attached to this word, a shock value that always succeeds to call attention to itself in this aria whenever I hear this aria sung because it is loaded with many consonants that are not easy to sing.

< MIDDLE SECTION

Dort in jenen tiefen Gründen,
wo schon junge Rasen sein,
werden wir euch wieder finden.

Ja, das wird mich dort erfrischen
und die Zähren meiner Pein
von den Wangen tröstlich wischen.

Thomas suggests: The staccato and the large interval drops on the words “tiefen Gründen” [“low, deep, grassy areas”] fit perfectly in the shepherdtext, but not very well with the later Oratorio text. It is part of Bachs musical language… I don't understand this (lack of knowledge of Bach Musical language, I suppose): I just hear this as a joyful part, in which the staccato-contrast and the intervaljumps just lead forward to the final expression: We will find you, sheep, back in 'paradisic circumstances' [wieder finden] and: I will find myself back in paradisic circumstances... By the way: the association of the secular shepherd-text with the spiritual shepherdpsalm (psalms 23, compare gospel of John (ch. 10:11ff) about the 'good shepherd' ) is crucial and quite clear I think. The mix of both (bucolic pastorale and spiritual pastorale) is typical for christian culture since the very beginning of it. >
In the middle section everything seems to fall apart, at least as far as the congruency between the words and the musical figures that accompany them. As close as Bach (if he is the originator of this sacred text) gets to the notion of ‘deep’ in “jenen tiefen Gründen” in his revised text, all he is able to state is “dort” [“over there”], while at the same time the music is pointing downwards. The only meaning connection left now is “Zähren” [“tears”] which occurs a number of measures distant from the spot where Bach introduces the interval drops of a sixth and a seventh (the same drops that he used to illustrate the “Fall of Mankind” in a chorale prelude for organ. Here the singer is now singing “erfrischen” [“refresh”] while the music is definitely pointing downwards. This is a clear example of incongruency.

Aryeh Oron wrote (April 6, 2002):
Background

The background below is taken from W. Murray Young’s book. The English translation is by Francis Browne, a member of the BCML.

Mvts. 1&2 Sinfonia & Adagio
Mvt. 1: Tromba I-III, Timpani, Oboe I/II, Violino I/II, Viola, Fagotto e Continuo
Mvt. 2: Oboe I, Violino I/II, Viola, Fagotto e Continuo
This instrumental overture is divided into two parts: the first an allegro tutti featuring the trumpets and the drums, the second an adagio with woodwinds and strings. These two movements depict the joy at the Resurrection and its melancholy aftermath, respectively. If we consider the following allegro vocal movement as a part of these movements, we see that Bach composed a complete instrumental concerto – fast, slow, fast. Probably the Sinfonia originated in a lost concerto from Bach’s Cöthen period. It reminds the listener of the Sinfonia preceding his Easter Cantata BWV 31, but it is much longer.

Mvt. 3 Duet and Chorus for Tenor and Bass
Kommt, eilet und laufet, ihr flüchtigen Füße
(Come, hurry and run, you swift feet)
Tromba I-III, Timpani, Oboe I/II, Violino I/II, Viola, Fagotto e Continuo
Bach added a chorus to opening duet in the two earlier secular versions, probably because he felt that a chorus was necessary to open a religious drama. An exuberant joy-motif runs throughout this movement, in which the tempo depicts the hastening of John, Peter, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Jacob to the sepulchre where Jesus was buried. The animated step-motif of the opening rhythm leads to imagine the little group of the two disciples and the two women running there. The chorus sings the first two lines (repeated in da capo), accompanied by trumpets, drums, oboes and strings. Then the duet for tenor and bass follows with only the oboes and the strings. Bach has here painted a most brilliant picture in the two contrasting sections.

Mvt. 4 Recitative for Alto, Soprano, Tenor, Bass
O kalter Männer Sinn!
(O cold minds of men)
Fagotto e Continuo
This is a most unusual recitative. Each of the Biblical characters comments in turn, the movement ending with unison singing by both men, followed by both women. Even with only the continuo in support, it is very melodious.

Mvt. 5 Aria for Soprano
Seele, deine Spezereien
(My soul, your spices)
Flauto traverso o Violino solo, Fagotto e Continuo
The reference to the embalming of Jesus in the previous recitative no doubt caused by the librettist to include this throughout in the text of this aria. Here, however, it seems that she is referring more to her own soul than to Jesus. The airy melody played by transverse flute adds to the ethereal tone of the vocal, thus painting a beautiful picture of the bliss of heaven.
Mvt. 6 Recitative for Tenor
Hier ist die Gruft
(Here is the tomb)
Fagotto e Continuo
As in the previous recitative, the actors return in converse with each other, thus presenting another short drama based on the Gospel story. Note that the word ‘Schweißtuch’ also leads into the following aria – another descriptive detail of the scene of Christ’s burial.

Mvt. 7 Aria for Tenor
Sanfte soll mein Todeskummer,
(Gentle should be the sorrow of my death)
Flauto dolce I/II, Violino I/II, Fagotto e Continuo
As in the pastoral aria ‘Schafe können sicher weiden’ (Sheep may safely graze) of his secular cantata BWV 208, composed for Duke Christian von Sachsen-Weißenfels, Bach paints a picture of rustic peace with recorders and strings. There is a lulling dream-like quality in the tune of the first part, which presents us with a vista of the serene fields of heaven. The second half changes to a more confident tone, expressed with a joy-motif. This is an exceptional aria, despite adverse criticism of the word ‘Schweißtuch’, repeated so often as the key-word of the aria.

Mvt. 8 Recitative and Arioso for Soprano and Alto
Indessen seufzen wir
(Meanwhile we sigh)
Fagotto e Continuo
Both women sing, first in unison, then in canon, the four lines of this movement. It adds little to the dramatic action, except to show their reaction at finding the tomb empty.

Mvt. 9 Aria for Alto
Saget, saget mir geschwinde
(Tell me, tell me quickly)
Oboe d'amore, Violino I/II, Viola, Fagotto e Continuo
The oboe d’amore and strings accompany her as she interprets the sad words of yearning of her text. Bach has, however, set a lively joy-motif first, which only becomes a grief-motif in the second half. The da capo then restores the bouncy joviality of the beginning, which prepares for the joy in the last two movements. This aria resembles a personal monologue in a play.

Mvt. 10 Recitative for Bass
Wir sind erfreut
(We are delighted)
Fagotto e Continuo
It seems that Bach favoured John as a male protagonist in this drama, because he assigns this last commentary to him. Yet Bach had given Peter the only solo male aria in this work, probably because he wanted a high voice there.

Mvt. 11 Chorus
Preis und Dank
(Praise and thanks)
Tromba I-III, Timpani, Oboe I/II, Violino I/II, Viola, Fagotto e Continuo
This tutti final chorus resembles the first two movements of a French overture – slow, fast, slow. The four-part chorus plays this role in the concluding dramatic scene – probably to represent the reaction of modern witness to this divine mystery. The fast section in the last two lines is very brief and ends abruptly; probably it was Bach’s intention to emphasise Christ’s victory over death.

Personal Viewpoint

a. The first three movements
I could not find any explanation in the formal sources (books, liner notes, etc.), which indicates why did Bach choose to open the Oster-Oratorium with two instrumental movements. I do not recall such structure in any vocal work of J.S. Bach. But some hints could be found in Marie Jensen message to the BCML from couple of days ago. Marie wrote: “The great passions overshadow the Easter Oratorio… What I like beis the slow part of the opening. Surrounded by running feet in its first and third part, it lies there: a cool garden in the morning, a gentle dew. An angel could easily sit here and wait. The sorrow, wondering and joy of the women are here as a beautiful background.” The association I have while hearing the first three movements of the Oster-Oratorium is similar. I see them as three scenes in a movie.
The first Scene: After the horrible events of three days ago, the people woke op in the morning to a new day. The sun shines, a light breeze blows, and a sense of new optimism is in the air. We can immerse ourselves in sorrow. This is natural, and I believe that this is what most people will do after a big personal tragedy. But we can look around, see that the world goes on, and look forward with hope that something better will be born out of the tragedy that we have experienced.
The second scene: The pastoral surroundings of the cave. Everything is peaceful and calm, as in a graveyard. No one alive is around. The only sounds that can be heard are the rusting of the leaves, the growing of the grass. Sense of anticipation is in the air.
The third scene: A small group of people is gathering. They realise that it is time to end the grief. But no consolation can come only through thoughts. An action must be taken. Somebody raises the idea: ‘Come, hurry and run, you swift feet’, and he is answered: ‘get to the cave that covers Jesus!’. Everybody agrees. They laugh with enjoyment and the small group is going together.

b. Structure of the whole work
The liner notes to Rilling recording say that the Oster-Oratorium is an opera type work. The roles are clearly allocated: the soprano is Mary Magdalene, the alto is Mary, mother of James, the tenor is Peter and the bass represents John. There is no Evangelist figure; the work is acted, not narrated – a genuine ‘Dramma per Musica’, Bach’s only work of this kind with ritual purpose. To this I can add that this is very unified work. The events are rolling smoothly and naturally from movement to movement. With every repeated listening this impression is strengthened. Although this work has some splendid arias, there are better heard in the context of the complete work, rather than as isolated pieces of music. The craftsmanship of both Picander and Bach should be even more appreciated remembering that the Oster-Oratorium began its life as a secular cantata. This fact is important, but irrelevant when we listen to the oratorio. It should be better forgot, because it might blemish our enjoyment.

Review of the Recordings

Due to limitation of time and space, my review below will cover only the first three movements. During last week I have listened to 11 complete recordings of Oster-Oratorium and one of the Shepherd Cantata BWV 249a. Each recording lasts around 40 minutes. Considering that I listened to each rendition in its completeness at least three times and the limitations are quite clear. Do not get me wrong. It was a pleasure, not a duty.

[1] Prohaska (1951)
This recording was done half a century ago. Is it old-fashioned? Not necessarily. Prohaska gets the essence of Bach. His punctuation is Bachian, his performance is spirited, and the flow of the music is natural and unforced. The problem lies with the orchestra playing, which is far from being satisfactory. I remember Prohaska doing much better in most of his other recordings of Bach’s vocal works. Has Prohaska given his forces too few rehearsals for this recording? Most of the third movement is sung by the soloists with power, conviction, and enthusiasm, as it should be.

[4] Ormandy (1963)
Ormandy is alien to the Bach field. His approach is romantic and grand-scale. This is not necessarily bad, but when one gets the feeling that Ormandy sees his Bach through the same glasses with which he looks at Tchaikovsy, it sounds heavy-handed and becomes simply inappropriate. On the other hand, the orchestral playing is gorgeous, full and bright. The choir is too big for the demands of the third movement.

[6] Maazel (1966)
I do not understand what was Maazel looking for in his rendition. He is stranger in this field as much as Ormandy is. But with Ormandy there was at least some warmth and humanity. With Maazel we get coldness and the feeling that he does not really care or simply do not understand what is this work all about. I cannot deny that the orchestral playing is first-class (even finer than Ormandy’s) and that the singing of the chorus is polished. The vigour and the power are also there, but despite all these and the clear and detailed recording, it sounds to me superficial. This is the least enjoyable of all the recordings of the oratorio that I have heard.

[7] Münchinger (1968)
Münchinger combines the good ingredients of both Prohaska and Ormandy. The instrumental playing is first rate, smooth and clean; the orchestra is not too big, so every detail can be clearly heard, and he has full command of the Bach’s idiom. His approach to the oratorio is spacious and impressive. His soloists and choir are excellent. Any HIP-er should hear this recording to realise what he (or she) misses by disavowal the good traditional recordings from the past.

[10] Rilling (1980-1981)
The orchestral playing is bright, the trumpets glow, the woodwinds sing, the intonation is crisp and the tempi are alert. Is there anything to improve upon in this rendition. I am not sure, but with Münchinger’s sound still reverberating in my ears, I found myself preferring the former, with its stronger inner-pulse and more spirited playing and singing. Münchinger’s rendition has also a kind of intimacy and humbleness, which suit this oratorio better than Rilling’s more extrovert approach.

[11] Parrott (1993)
Transparent texture, sensitivity for details, and delicate playing characterise this rendition, which does not lack internal power and conviction. The vocal parts are all performed OVPP, and because this is going along with the plot, I found it irresistible. The playing of brass instruments in the opening Sinfonia and of the woodwinds in the ensuing adagio is impeccable and magical. The voices of all four singers blend nicely together in the third movement. Good as all these components are, the whole is greater than sum of its parts, because the impression is that Parrott is holding everything tightly together and indeed telling you a story.

[12] Leonhardt (1993)
The impression is that Leonhardt decided to show that he knew how to do things right. Indeed, the orchestral playing is precise, the tempo is right, the singing is fine. Nevertheless, something is missing. Could I say that the care for details comes on behalf of the spirit? This is a dry and static performance, lacking some charm and juice. Sandwiched between Parrott and Herreweghe, one has only to compare this recording to the other two to realise what is missing.

[13] Herreweghe (1994)
Herreweghe’s rendition is very close to Parrott. However, he does not opt for OVPP, prefers to use small choir instead. The performance is homogeneous and flowing pleasantly ahead. Parrott is somewhat sharper and has more tension, where Herreweghe is more dreamy and soft-centred. As a consequence the dramatic side of the oratorio is less focused under Herreweghe’s hands.

[15] Koopman (1998)
Koopman takes off where Herreweghe left, and in almost the same tempo manages to put more drama and tension into his rendition. The playing is superb, and Ponseele excels with his oboe in the adagio. The choir is fine, warm with clear separation of the voices.

[17] Schweizer (1999)
At his best Schweizer is ordinary. At his worst his rendition is almost intolerable. Sensitivity, tension, drama – are all far from him. Furthermore, the playing and the singing are neither smooth nor coherent, if he has problems to control his forces. Prohaska had similar problems, but he at least had the spirit. Schweizer’s approach sounds dogmatic and ponderous. His singers are mediocre to good. I remember that when we discussed Cantata BWV 118 (actually a motet), one of the members (was it Jane Newble?) liked his rendition. Do we meet here Dr. Jackill and Mr. Hide?

[18] McCreesh (2000)
I do not understand what does McCreesh want to prove in his performance. He adheres for OVPP, and as I have mentioned earlier, that is definitely acceptable in this work, although the blending of the voices of McCreesh’s singers is not up to the level of Parrott’s. With the Magnificat (BWV 243) he achieved a world-record for the shortest recorded performance. In the Oster-Oratorium he takes more conventional tempo (comparing with Parrott, Koopman and Herreweghe, and even Prohaska and Rilling), but sounds pressed and unrelaxed as well. I have the impression that he wants to force his approach on the work, instead of letting the work come to him (developing his interpretation from the work out). A real drama cannot be rightly developed under such conditions, and most of the (important) details are getting lost.

Conclusion

Münchinger [7] is my favourite among the traditional recordings, and Rilling [10] is close second. Parrott [11] and Koopman [15] are the renditions I prefer the most among the HIP ones, where Herreweghe [13] is not far behind.

And as always, I would like to hear other opinions, regarding the above mentioned performances, or other recordings.

Riccardo Nughes wrote (April 7, 2002):
I have only 2 recordings of the Oster-Oratorium, Parrott [11] and Herreweghe [13]. I'm not so enthusiastic as Aryeh is about Parrott recording. In the 1st and the 3rd mvt he mainly succeeds to communicate a festivity and joy sense, but I'm not satisfied of the singers in the first chorus. The voice quartet is not homogeneous, P. Kooy stands out while I don't really like C. Trevor's timbre. In the same movements Herreweghe seems to me less involving, but he can brag about a great performance from M. Ponseele in the Adagio. In the following sequence of recitativi and arias both conductors offer to us very fine performance from their singers, my favorites are B. Schlick in Seele, deine Spezereien and C. Daniels in Sanfte soll mein Todeskummer. In this last aria the flutes are unusually dark in the Parrott version, while they are oneiric in Herreweghe. The last chorus versions present, IMO, the same characteristics of the first. In conclusion I prefere Herreweghe, especially for his singers: however even the Parrott recording is a good one.

Aryeh, I think you should add to your list of Recordings of Individual Movements also the Concerto in D-major after (or from?) BWV 249 featured in the Bachiana CD from Musica Antiqua Köln. here it is what R. Goebel writes about it : "...When the work was composed in 1725 as the cantata for Easter Sunday, the third movement, rewritten as a chorus for later performances, was a duet, a "vocal minuet", which may have originated in a work with a secular text or an instrumental work that is itself lost. The greatest caution is recommended, as with all reconstructions, which have grown to daunting numbers: the tricks and dodges of a genius are not easy to discern. What is certain is that the two introductory sinfonia-movements are so individual in character, so clearly parts of an instrumental composition that makes sense in its own right without any direct reference to Eastertide, that certain weaknesses in the finale are acceptable in a reduced instrumental version."

Finally this is what Italian musicologist P.Buscaroli write about this "hidden" concerto : "....we find a real "7th Brandenburg Concert", an ad honorem one,...hidden in the first 3 movements of the Easter Oratorio, 2 instrumental plus the "Duetto e coro" for tenor and bass (he's referring to BWV 249a). This music, before being used for the Cantata BWV 249a (the 3 trumpets are typical of the Weissenfels' Court) and for the Easter Oratorium, was conceived in the same place where Brandenburg Concert n°2 is coming from, Cöthen.".

Dick Wursten wrote (April 7, 2002):
[quotations are from Thomas Braatz analysis]

IF
"Bach is responsible for the text modifications" (= 'feeling' of Thomas Braatz)
AND IF
"In the middle section everything seems to fall apart, at least as far as the congruency between the words and the musical figures that accompany them"
AND IF THEREFORE
On "the interval [that] drops of a sixth and a seventh (the same drops that he used to illustrate the “Fall of Mankind” in a chorale prelude for organ [...] the singer is now singing “erfrischen” [“refresh”] while the music is definitely pointing downwards [...] a clear example of incongruency"
THEN
I conclude: Bach was not obsessed with 'Tonmalerei' (painting of the contents of words by musical means) because he didnot bother this incongruency enough to re-write the text in a more fitting sense... which is not so difficult at all.

Robin Crag wrote (April 8, 2002):
I have enjoyed listening to this work - lots of very joyful music, but also some contemplative moments.

Thanks, Thomas & Aryeh, for your interesting comments. The comments on this list are much more interesting than the "commentaries" that come with recordings.

Had I not known that the Easter-oratorio was originally about shepherds, I would never have guessed! I would have thought that it was pure religious music. Maybe I am just easily taken in.

Thomas mentioned that movements 1+3 were type 2 gigues. What does this mean (sorry for my ignorance)? They sound to me like they are in 3/8 time, am I right?

Mvts. 1+3 are very joyful, so is the last movement. But they are joyful in very different ways (The beginning is full of anticipation, the end is full of celebration). I suppose that this is partly because the last movement has the choir singing most of the way through. That finishes everything off happily, as they have not sung a "normal" chorus until then.

I love the recitative + Arioso. The music seems full of desire. Especially the shape in the bass-line, when the women sing "Ach, Ach". Almost naughty!

The recording I have is on a record (what else?), conducted by Karl Münchinger [7]. On the whole I really enjoy their performing; it seems to be very wonderful music-making. But, maybe some parts would work better faster (but I don’t know, as I haven’t heard any other recording). Also sometimes they wobble too much, i.e. the alto in her aria.

Better stop now...

Thomas Braatz wrote (April 8, 2002):
< Robin Crag stated and asked:
< Thomas mentioned that movements 1+3 were type 2 gigues. What does this mean (sorry for my ignorance) ? They sound to me like they are in 3/8 time, am I right? >
Yes, you are right about the time signature for mvts. 1 & 3. There is no need to feel sorry for your ignorance on the point regarding the types of gigues (which, perhaps, I should not have mentioned because it is very technical in nature.) In any case, anyone not familiar with Little & Jenne’s “Dance and the Music of J.S.Bach” [Indiana University Press, 1991] would most likely not know what this refers to. Brad Lehman would be an exception since he acquired this book during the past year.

There are 3 types of ‘gigues’ but only two types of gigas: the French gigue, giga I, and giga II.

Let me quote from this book a few passages that may be helpful in clearing up some preconceptions that most people would have about the nature of dance forms in Bach’s day:

“In gigas [‘giga’ is the type name chosen by the authors to define the categories and to help in distinguishing this form from the other spellings of this such as the French ‘gigue,’ ‘gique,’ ‘jig,’ or ‘jigg.’ The authors define 3 categories of ‘gigue’: the French gigue, giga 1, and giga II.] the grouping of beats into measures is generally less important than it is in most other Baroque dance, since balance and the repetition of rhythms of a definite length and shape are seldom present. From this point of view it often does not matter whether the notation contains, one, two, or four beats per measure. This may explain why there are so many different meter signs in gigas: one finds them notated in 3, ¾, 6/4, 3/8, 6/8, 9/8, 12/8, 12/16, 24/16, and even ‘C’ in the works of composers other than Bach, who, alone also uses 9/16. These time signatures do not necessarily give information about metric structure; often they are a clue to tempo….they [gigas] do not appear to have any choreographic associations. The gigas in Baroque musical suites have not yet been associated by scholars with a particular dance.”
“Only six of Bach’s dances qualify as French gigues.”
“Bach wrote fifteen giga I pieces. All are soloistic excursions for virtuoso performers….”
“Twenty pieces of giga II type survive….”
“Bach’s most complex, exploratory, and challenging gigues are in the category we designate “giga II….It is difficult to find German examples of giga II outside of Bach’s works….The giga II comes most from French composers.”
“Giga I and giga II also have several characteristics not shared with French gigues. In general, gigas are longer and more complex pieces than French gigues….Most of the giga II pieces are more complex, with more careful detail, grander scope, and longer length than those which are giga I.”

Aryeh Oron wrote (April 7, 2002):
[To Nick Kaufman] Following your enlightening explanation, I realise now that the Hebew translation I made of Oster-Oratorium: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Texts/BWV249-Heb1.htm
needs some improvement. How would you translate 'Schweisstuch' to Hebrew: 'Kisuy Rosh', 'Mitpachat Rosh', 'Bardas', 'Shavis', 'Mitsnefet', or something else?

Nick Kaufman wrote (April 7, 2002):
[To Aryeh Oron] I have asked about and I do not think that there is anything specific for the head covering. Having said that I shall make some further enquiries (I am actually going to a funeral today - unfortunately - a parent of someone from the office). I think that if you were to change your translation in any way at all - you could use the general term for the funeral shrouds which is tachrich (with two undaggesh-ed kaf's). If you were to keep the word for "sweaty" the metre of the line would be maintained because tachrich has the same stress and syllabic content as your present word "beged".

Davis Smith wrote (April 10, 2002):
I wonder if anyone can help me sort out better the dramatic situation of the libretto of BWV 249 as we have it. I have been enjoying the work very much, listening to Herreweghe's version [13], but I'm still not quite sure of the dramatic situation of some of the movements. The different comments about the opening instrumental pieces were very helpful. Movement 3, the opening chorus, is obviously a joyful one, and yet it precedes the discovery of the empty tomb. It seems to me that it must be a general reflection involving the listener, who already knows how the story ends, while the disciples, who are doing the running, are still in sadness. In movement 4 the men are still in the depths of sorrow, yet Mary, the daughter of James, seems to know already that the "unction" both the women and the men have brought, is in vain. Later in movment 6 Mary Magdelene knows already that Jesus is risen. In the drama when does she realize this?

The most important question for me is what is the dramatic situation of the soprano aria, movement 5. Mary, the daughter of James, knows that myrrh is not appropriate any more - so she knows that Jesus is risen and laurel leaves (the crown of glory at her resurrection) will restore to her the risen Jesus. But the whole element of hope here seems very subtle and inward and mixed with mourning.

The overall movement of the text from an introductory statement of joy, through the stages of the develpment of hopefulness in the disciples - the empty tomb, the napkin (whatever we are going to call it!), to the alto aria in movement 9, to the joyful concluding chorus - seems clear. It doesn't seem so clear in movments 3-6 though.

Perhaps I'm trying to press the logic of the libretto too far in looking for answers to these questions but I guess the only way to find out is to try to press it. I would suppose that the soprano aria is meant to represent a very early dawning of hope in the soul of the disciple, which has not yet become a joy to be shared, as with the joy of the final chorus.

Dick Wursten wrote (April 11, 2002):
[To David Smith] Comment (my ideas, guesses) between the lines.

< Movement 3, the opening chorus, is obviously a joyful one, and yet it > precedes the discovery of the empty tomb. It seems to me that it must be a general reflection involving the listener, who already knows how the story ends, while the disciples, who are doing the running, are still in sadness. >
Seems quite logical to me

< In movement 4 the men are still in the depths of sorrow, yet Mary, the daughter of James, seems to know already that the "unction" both the women and the men have brought, is in vain. Later in movment 6 Mary Magdelene knows already that Jesus is risen. In the drama when does she realize this? >
According to the gospels 'women' are the privileged (first) witnesses of the resurrection. Mary Magdalene is always one of them. In BWV 249 the gospelstories are mixed.If one would only read St. Johns account, then Mary Magdalene only meets and recognizes Jesus after the 'running' of Peter and John (a story unique for the gospel of St. John. Mary then confuses Jesus with the gardener.) This now is harmonized with the other accounts in which immediately (early in the morning) the 'women' after the discovery of the empty tomb are informed by an angel (esp. Matthew 28 who mentions two Mary's one of them the Magdalen and Luke 24, who identifies the other Mary as the Mother of Jacobus). The running of Peter and John in the gospel of John has nothing to do with an ointment, nor with weeping.. but is the result of Mary's message: the tomb is empty... they have taken away the body..

< The most important question for me is what is the dramatic situation of the soprano aria, movement 5. Mary, the daughter of James, knows that myrrh is not appropriate any more - so she knows that Jesus is risen and laurel leaves (the crown of glory at her resurrection) will restore to her the risen Jesus. But the whole element of hope here seems very subtle and inward and mixed with mourning. >
Perhaps the overall atmosphere is subtle and inward just because the original music (shepherd-cantata.. love-aria) in this aria is not triumphant but speaks about "Zärtlichkeiten' ('Tenderness") and "Schmeicheien" (given sweet compliments)

< The overall movement of the text from an introductory statement of joy, through the stages of the develpment of hopefulness in the disciples - the empty tomb, the napkin (whatever we are going to call it!), to the alto aria in movement 9, to the joyful concluding chorus - seems clear. It doesn't seem so clear in movments 3-6 though. >
Again I suppose/propose the libretto of the shepherd-cantata follows a slightly different 'dramatic' route.

< Perhaps I'm trying to press the logic of the libretto too far in looking for answers to these questions but I guess the only way to find out is to try to press it. I would suppose that the soprano aria is meant to represent a very early dawning of hope in the soul of the disciple, which has not yet become a joy to be shared, as with the joy of the final chorus. >

 

Continue in Part 2

Oster-Oratorium BWV 249: Recordings of BWV 249 | Recordings of BWV 249a | Details of BWV 249b | Recordings of Individual Movements | General Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | BWV 249 - P. McCreesh
Article:
Easter Oratorio BWV 249 - An Examination of its Sources and Development [T. Braatz]

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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