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Oster-Oratorium BWV 249
General Discussions - Part 2

Continue from Part 1

Ormandy and the Easter Oratorio

Neil Halliday wrote (December 10, 2003):
I love the sweet melancholy, reminiscent of the Marcello Adagio in D minor, captured by Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra [4], in their performance of the Adagio from the Easter Oratorio, heard at this link supplied by Brad: Amazon.com

The singing qualities of the inner string parts are clearly heard, and combine beautifully with the gorgeous oboe melody.

There's a lovely duet, rapturous recitative, and sweet soprano aria - I might be very tempted to get this CD.

I don't know the Bernstein Magnificat, but his SMP has many wonderful moments.

 

Oster Oratorium

Paul Dirmeikis wrote (February 1, 2004):
I've been listening this morning to the two Oster Oratorium recordings that I have : Parrott [11] and McCreesh [18].

There is not a single weakness in this extraordinary work, and I am especially moved by the tenor aria "Sanfte soll mein Todeskummer". I can't think of any meditation on the mourning feeling more delicate et sensitive in all Bach's compositions. In McCreesh's version the organ continuo sounds like a beautiful, very low and earthly drone sound which makes you stomach vibrate. I prefer McCreesh for this aria : the tempo is much slower (7:39) than Parrott's (5:36) and Paul Agnew's tenor voice has a softness which perfectly fits the words. Charles Daniels, in Parrott's recording, has quite a nasal voice...

By the way, I noticed that McCreesh [18] uses an oboe in the n°2 Adagio while Parrott [11] uses a flute. Does someone have the score ? What is indicated ?

Adrian Horsewood wrote (February 1, 2004):
Paul Dirmeikis wrote:
< By the way, I noticed that McCreesh [18] uses an oboe in the n°2 Adagio while Parrott [11] uses a flute. Does someone have the score ? What is indicated ? >
BGA says oboe...

Paul Dirmeikis wrote (February 1, 2004):
[To Adrian Horsewood] Thanks.

Does anyone have an idea why Parrott [11] didn't respect the score's indication ?

Uri Golomb wrote (February 1, 2004):
Paul Dirmeikis wrote:
< Thanks. Does anyone have an idea why Parrott
[11] didn't respect the score's indication ? >
I don't have access to the full information at the moment (I'm on vacation), but I distinctly remember that Bach wrote several versions of the Oster-Oratorium, and one of the differences between them is the scoring of the obbligato in the Adagio. Personally, I prefer that obbligato with oboe (which I think -- but am not sure -- is the earlier version). However, both scorings are authentic; they simply belong to different periods in the work's history.

Thomas Braatz wrote (February 2, 2004):
I agree with Uri Golomb that the obbligato oboe in Mvt. 2 (Adagio) of BWV 249 is better than the flute version.

There are 4 or 5 possible performances of the music in its various incarnations as a secular birthday cantata or as the Easter Oratorio:

1) The now lost secular birthday cantata “Entfliehet, verschwindet, entweichet, ihr Sorgen” which was performed on February 23, 1725.

2) The parody of the former, now as an Easter cantata (‘vermutlich’ = ‘probable, presumable’) with its new sacred text by Picander (?) and new recitatives performed on April 1, 1725.

3) Another secular birthday (this time for a count) cantata “Die Feier des Genius” (now BWV 249b) performed August 25, 1726.

4) The Easter Cantata/Oratorio is performed on Easter Sunday 1735 [according to Heighes in Boyd’s “Oxford Composer Companions: J. S. Bach” (Oxford University Press, 1999)]

5) The Easter Oratorio in its final form performed on an Easter Sunday in the 1740s. (NBA determination)

The NBA’s designation for the oboe part in mvt. 2 is ‘Flauto traverso o Oboe 1.” This is a rather fictional conflation created from all the existing sources from the various dates and secular/sacred functions listed above. The NBA is forced, by its own editorial policy, to strive to represent the final intentions of the composer. Without taking recourse to inspecting the detailed evidence in the KBs, it is entirely misleading to read ‘Flauto traverse o Oboe 1” as indicating that the choice between both instruments is arbitrary or equal.

It is very important to consider the following statement from the NBA on this matter:

Der ursprüngliche Oboenpart des Satzes 2 wurde von Bach erst bei der jüngsten Umarbeitung in den 1740er Jahren an die Flöte vergeben.“ [“Bach only changed the original oboe part for mvt. 2 to one for transverse flute in the most recent revision which he undertook in the 1740s.”]

This means that for almost 20 years which included as many as 3 or 4 performances of this music on separate occasions including the revisions which Bach undertook for all those following the 1st performance, Bach did not choose to change the oboe part in mvt. 2 to any other instrument. Only in his last years of life, when the problems which he had outlined in his ‘Entwurff’ almost 15 years earlier must have overwhelmed him, did Bach succumb reluctantly to changing this part to a transverse flute. Never did he write: “Flauto traverse o Oboe 1” for mvt. 2. The NBA editors very subtly indicate ‘Flauto traverso’ in a lighter typeface and the ‘o’ between the instruments is italicized which means that it is reasonable fiction added by the editors in order to combine the 2 possibilities. Also, there is an asterisk leading to a footnote that directs the reader to the German introduction where a quick explanation for this 'option' is given. The more detailed explanations are left for the KB. Anyone with a good musical ear will be able to hear Bach’s mastery in writing specifically for an instrument, in this case, the oboe. The flute, although bringing in its own characteristic sound and playing the same notes as the oboe would, will somehow fail to bring out all the wonderful details and emotions that a good oboe player would be able to perform. These wind instruments are not entirely interchangeable, but forced to face a difficult performance situation (no good oboist being available, for instance,) Bach would have attempted to salvage a performance, such as his final performance of this work, by including the flute as the next best substitute under the circumstances that presented themselves.

Adrian Horsewood asks: >>Does anyone have an idea why Parrott [11] didn't respect the score's indication?<<
I personally believe that Parrott [11] made a bad musical choice here, unless, of course, his oboists were incapable of providing a solid performance of this moving music. He may have been more interested in ‘being different’ (providing other, less viably authentic options for performing Bach’s music: OVPP, etc.) rather than considering the best type of recorded performance that he can offer listeners. Perhaps he discovered ‘a market hole’ where no one had recorded this mvt. with a flute before. He may have considered this as providing a service to listeners who might want to hear this music another way.

Paul Dirmeikis stated: >>I am especially moved by the tenor aria "Sanfte soll mein Todeskummer".<<
So am I. It is extremely captivating. Read about the history of this aria on Aryeh’s site (search for the discussion on the Oster-Oratorium) and if you can, obtain a copy of the 1st recording that Aryeh lists there: Prohaska with a very young Kurt Equiluz beautifully creating just the rmood for this aria.

Gabriel wrote (February 2, 2004):
[To Thomas Braatz] I personally believe that Parrott [11] made a bad musical choice here, unless, of course, his oboists were incapable of providing a solid performance of this moving music. He may have been more interested in ‘being different’ (providing other, less viably authentic options for performing Bach’s music: OVPP, etc.) rather than considering the best type of recorded performance that he can offer listeners".

Thomas, you are of course quite entitled to prefer an oboe obbligato in this movement but to suggest that Andrew Parrott [11] couldn't find an oboist who is up to the job, or that he wasn't interested in producing "the best type of recorded performance that he can offer listeners" is both absurd and quite insulting. You really are quite unable to see that your own (quite legitimate) aesthetic preferences are just that, preferences, and instead seem to believe that you and you alone understand how this music should be peformed. This is quite appalling arrogance on your part, particularly as you have repeatedly demonstrated that your credentials for making these sweeping and high-handed judgements are severely deficient.

Donald Satz wrote (February 2, 2004):
[To Gabriel] I personally prefer the oboe to the transverse flute in this movement, but Parrott's [11] use of the flute is entirely valid in terms of historical perspective. Even if it wasn't, I think it best to consider the matter in terms of musicality.

Thomas suggests that Parrott [11] might not have had adequate oboists, therefore he used the flute. I sure hope that Thomas was just pulling our legs, because the premise on its own is ridiculous. He had fine oboists at his disposal and used the flute solely because he goes with a revised version by Bach that includes other changes beyond the small issue of using a flute instead of an oboe. By the way, on that Parrott recording, the oboists perform splendidly. Their names are Anthony Robson and Richard Earle, both fully up to the oboe parts. When Thomas presents his opinions in such a insulting and foolish manner, he relinquishes his claim to being a scholarly person. If not approached objectively, scholarly pursuits are mere justifications for subjective preferences.

The Parrott performance is found on Virgin Classics [11] - either a 2-CD set also having the Magnificat and other Bach vocal works or a boxset also having Bach's largest scaled sacred vocal works including the Mass in B minor.

However, I find the Herreweghe Easter Oratorio [13] easily the best on record with much better soloists than those Parrott [11] uses. Herreweghe is also preferable to McCreesh [18], even though McCreesh's tempos are fairly mainstream instead of his 'mad dash' tendencies in his other Bach recordings such as the Magnificat.

Charles Francis wrote (February 2, 2004):
Thomas Braatz wrote: << I personally believe that Parrott [11] made a bad musical choice here, unless, of course, his oboists were incapable of providing a solid performance of this moving music. He may have been more interested in ‘being different’ (providing other, less viably authentic options for performing Bach’s music: OVPP, etc.) rather than considering the best type of recorded performance that he can offer listeners". >>
Gabriel replied: < Thomas, you are of course quite entitled to prefer an oboe obbligato in this movement but to suggest that Andrew Parrott
[11] couldn't find an oboist who is up to the job, or that he wasn't interested in producing "the best type of recorded performance that he can offer listeners" is both absurd and quite insulting. You really are quite unable to see that your own (quite legitimate) aesthetic preferences are just that, preferences, and instead seem to believe that you and you alone understand how this music should be peformed. This is quite appalling arrogance on your part, particularly as you have repeatedly demonstrated that your credentials for making these sweeping and high-handed judgements are severely deficient. >
Isn't it "appalling arrogance" to censure another person for expressing their personal beliefs?

As the esteemed Teri Noel Towe put it:

"There is nothing bitter and sarcastic about lampooning bad music making, exposing hypocrisy and inconsistency for all to see, and fighting the puritanism and the fascism that has infected the HIP movement like Dutch Elm Disease." http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Topics/HIP-4.htm

Gabriel wrote (February 2, 2004):
Charles Francis wrtote: < Isn't it "appalling arrogance" to censure another person for expressing their personal beliefs? >
Yes, but since Thomas expresses his beliefs - yes, beliefs - as if they were fact, in an incredibly dismissive manner, that's not an issue.

"As the esteemed Teri Noel Towe put it:

"There is nothing bitter and sarcastic about lampooning bad music making, exposing hypocrisy and inconsistency for all to see, and fighting the puritanism and the fascism that has infected the HIP movement like Dutch Elm Disease."

And.......?

Johan van Veen wrote (February 2, 2004):
[To Charles Francis] If one wants an example of 'apalling arrogance' it is the suggestion that a respected conductor has oboists in his orchestra who can't play properly or that said conductor doesn't care about delivering the best performance he can deliver.

Gabriel wrote (February 2, 2004):
[To Johan van Veen] Exactly!

Donald Satz wrote (February 3, 2004):
[To Charles Francis] I consider all personal opinions valid for the person owning them, but Thomas presents himself as a scholar.

Maybe there has been some fascism and rigidity from the HIP movement, but the same applies to the non-hip as well. Co-existence is the only viable solution, so everyone needs to get off their soapboxes and accept/respect the fact that the world is big enough for both approaches.

Thomas Braatz wrote (February 3, 2004):
Hey, guys, let's cool it! I was only responding personally to Adrian Horsewood's query:
>>Thanks. Does anyone have an idea why Parrott [11] didn't respect the score's indication?<<

Certainly anyone on this list is entitled to respond to such a question with an opinion. I simply listed a few possibilities that came to mind. I am sure that there are others, but these may never be heard if the discussions always take a turn toward the direction of not tolerating the opinions of others. I am referring here to Lehman, Gabriel, Johan and co.

The question still remains: Why did Parrott [11], the great HIP experimenter, make the startling choice to follow the NBA's self-imposed editorial restriction to always give the latest changes that Bach made to a given work, while the choice based upon musicality (and with good oboists ready to perform brilliantly) is overlooked entirely by Parrott? Certainly he would owe his listening audiences some reasonable explanation other than that which appears to be: "I ploddingly and unthinkingly have accepted without further investigation on my part the surface conclusion which the editors of the NBA have come to in this matter."

Gabriel wrote (February 3, 2004):
Thomas Braatz writes:
< but these may never be heard if the discussions always take a turn toward the direction of not tolerating the opinions of others. >
Thomas, it is you who cannot tolerate the opinions of others, in this instance, Parrot's decision to record the version he did.

"Why did Parrott [11], the great HIP experimenter, make the startling choice to follow the NBA's self-imposed editorial restriction to always give the latest changes that Bach made to a given work..."
How do you know that is the reason for Parrott's c?

"...while the choice based upon musicality (and with good oboists ready to perform brilliantly) is overlooked entirely by Parrott?"
What on earth do you mean by this? Are you the sole arbiter of musicality? (I think we know the answer to that - in your own mind you are!)

"Certainly he would owe his listening audiences some reasonable explanation other than that which appears to be: "I ploddingly and unthinkingly have accepted without further investigation on my part the surface conclusion which the editors of the NBA have come to in this matter."
No it doesn't!! Andrew Parrott is a serious, respected and experienced musician and scholar - you, Thomas, are neither of these things.

Why don't you cool your arrogant, disrespectful and ill-informed pontificating?

Johan van Veen wrote (February 3, 2004):
[To Thomas Braatz] What you said was not presented as personal opinions, but as (possible) facts, without any evidence - as usual.

If you suggest someone did make a decision because he didn't care, you contest someone's artistic integrity. If you don't have any firm evidence to support that suggestion, it isn't an opinion which you are entitled to, it is just slander.

It will be interesting to see how those subscribers react who were very keen to criticise some opponents of yours and so far let you off the hook.

This is not about tolerating opinions, this is about tolerating defamation.

Gabriel wrote (February 3, 2004):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< I am sure that there are others, but these may never be heard if the discussions always take a turn toward the direction of not tolerating the opinions of others. I am referring here to Lehman, Gabriel, Johan and co. >
On the contrary, there are many opinions posted here that I do not agree with, but they are opinions honestly and reasonably expressed so why should I not "tolerate" them? And indeed I do. The difference is that you seem to regard yourself as a scholar (and weirdly, so do one or two others here), yet all you can do is offer your opinions as if you alone possess the requisite knowledge to determine how this music should be performed and regularly make the most preposterous, insulting and ill-founded condemnations of the work of serious and respected musicians who know infinitely more about their profession than you do.

Donald Satz wrote (February 3, 2004):
[To Thomas Braatz] Thomas wants us to lighten up. Personally, I 'd rather light-up than lighten up, but that's another story. Treating subjects in a light and "cool" manner tends to depend on the subjects and how they are presented and argued.

Let's see if the Thomas general presentation would get a light response:

1. HIP conductors stink
2. HIP musicians stink
3. HIP singers stink
4. HIP research stinks

There is one amusing aspect of his postion as evidenced by the comment below about Parrott [11] and the NBA (or is it CBA or NFL or WWF, etc.?):

1. All must follow the NBA unless I decide otherwise.

Ruud de Vries wrote (February 3, 2004):
In general when people talk about the Oster Oratorium they are moved by the tenor aria "Sanfte soll mein Todeskummer" first and foremost. To me at least as appealing is the aria for soprano "Seele, deine Spezereien". Maybe I'm a little biased because my first Bach CD featured the Oster Oratorium with the great Elly Ameling as the soprano accompanied by a violino in stead of a flauto traverso (conducted by Karl Münchinger). Never have I heard a more beautiful version than this one and never have I heard another version with the violino in stead of the flauto traverso.

I wonder, is there another recorded version of "Seele, deine Spezereien" where a violin was used and not a flute? Does anyone know why Münchinger preferred a violin? And what does the score indicate?

I hope you won't tell me the violin is "wrong". Although it wouldn't matter much to me. To my ears Münchiner's version is "right".

Jack Botelho wrote (February 3, 2004):
[To Donald Satz] Thanks for this nicely informative post. I hope that others here find it as helpful as I have with regard to distinguishing between some well-known recordings and providing some insights.

Thomas Braatz wrote (February 3, 2004):
Ruud de Vries wondered:
>>…is there another recorded version of "Seele, deine Spezereien" where a violin was used and not a flute? Does anyone know why Münchinger preferred a violin? And what does the score indicate?
I hope you won't tell me the violin is "wrong". Although it wouldn't matter much to me. To my ears Münchiner's version is "right".<<
The NBA II/7 has BWV 249 Mvt. 5 Aria Adagio with an indication of the obbligato instrument being “Flauto traverse o Violino Solo.” Specifically, this designation is found only in the autograph score as follows: “Travers. o Violino Solo” Otherwise, the more recent (than many of the other original parts) flute part includes Mvt. 5. The ‘Violino 1mo’ part has ‘tacet’ for this mvt. Even the 1st version of the Easter Oratorio as an only partially extant birthday cantata BWV 249a has only the flute for Mvt. 5 as well.

It would appear from this that, although the transverse flute was used in the actual parts from which Bach actually performed this music, he had in his mind, when he made the clean copy of the score, to include the option of a violin instead of the flute. However, since it appears that his original conception of this mvt. was with a flute obbligato and he used it rather consistently in his performances, that choice (the flute) should be honored first.

Neil Halliday wrote (February 3, 2004):
Ruud de Vries wrote: "And what does the score indicate?"
The BGA indicates 'violino o flauto traverso'. (o = oder, or).

Thomas has discussed the issues surrounding the different instrumentation authorised by Bach, in situations such as this.

I would like to get Munchinger's Oster Oratorium, but it seems it is only available as part of a 10 CD set. (I have tried amazon in America and Europe.) I would get the Rilling, but I notice his recording is amongst the fastest group (about 40 mins); I usually prefer more spacious tempi in the larger scale works. (Munchinger about 47 mins).

Bradley Lehman wrote (February 3, 2004):
[To Thomas Braatz] Hey, I haven't said a single thing about the Oster-Oratorium yet, and (as I pointed out yesterday) I was off the discussion for a week. Leave me out of your accusations, Tom. If my presence here disturbs "your" playground where you bully musicians, too bad. I'm here to discuss Bach recordings, most of which I enjoy, with tolerant people who also like to collect good recordings. Perhaps you could also admit to really enjoying a recording, now and then?

Intolerance? Tom, you're the one here trying to make Parrott look dishonest, ignorant, lazy, unthinking, and/or unmusical. (Proof: read your own anti-HIP paragraphs below, the way you've arrogated to yourself "the choice based on musicality" overruling Parrott's experience and musical judgment!)

=====

Anybody who casts musical choices and convictions as 'disrespect' of the music is way off, in my opinion. Such cynical people should perhaps just go off and do something else they enjoy. Here's a nice little quote I found yesterday in the booklet of Jed Wentz' flute sonatas set: "The short-sighted, that is to say those narrow minds which are closed up in their own little sphere, cannot comprehend that universality of talent which one sometimes sees united in one person: where they see charm, they exclude solidity; where they find grace, agility, suppleness and dexterity, they no longer wish to admit greatness of soul, depth of thought, reflection or wisdom: in retelling the history of Socrates, they omit to mention that he danced." (La Bruyere's Les Caracteres)

=====

So, the Oster-Oratorium? Nice piece. I have the Herreweghe [13] and Parrott [11] recordings, and I enjoy both of them. I always enjoy hearing good musicians doing their jobs well, despite the trashing they receive here on these discussion lists. Frankl, I can't see why anybody would not want to pick up this Parrott set: 2 discs including the Magnificat, Ascension (BWV 11) and Easter oratorios, "Christ lag in Todesbanden" BWV 4, and the "Nun ist das Heil" fragment, all for about $11 USD in the Virgin Veritas reissue. Emma Kirkby, Evelyn Tubb, David Thomas, others all at the top of their game, what's not to like? And I personally think the flute in here sounds wonderful, really moving. Baroque flute, played well, always touches my soul. Isn't that what the music is supposed to be about, moving people? Amazon.com

Gabriel wrote (February 3, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< I have the Herreweghe
[13] and Parrott [11] recordings, and I enjoy both of them. >
Seconded, Brad. Both very fine performances in my view and both have much to tell us about this great piece.

Peter Bright wrote (February 3, 2004):
[To Bradley Lehman] Oh dear... and everything seemed to be going so well. How many times can someone leave the list and yet never leave it? Brad, I'm not saying I would prefer it if you left, but why say you're leaving if you're not - you've done this several times now and now here's the same old style of response! (It leaves the impression that you're looking for attention all the time (which, of course you get in spades).

For those subscribers who have recently started joining in our discussions, please, please don't stop contributing if some subscribers try to turn the list into ugly one-upmanship again. Just ignore them and we can drown out this pointless and childish antagonism.

For the record, I also enjoy the Herreweghe [13], but I find the Parrot quite uninteresting. Of Parrot's Bach, I think the Mass in B minor is wonderful but his performances of other Bach works don't really grab me like, say, Gardiner, Herreweghe, Hickox, Suzuki (among HIP approaches) and Richter among the modern style of interpretation.

Donald Satz wrote (February 3, 2004):
[To Peter Bright] Another trite phrase I like - The more things change, the more they remain the same. I hope the list doesn't end up being like it was before: Thomas and his followers vs. Brad and his entourage.

A duel to the death wouldn't be a bad idea. At most, only one would be left.

Charles Francis wrote (February 4, 2004):
[To Peter Bright] It was all predicted, Peter: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BachRecordings/message/11334

Given the recent experimental backing for John Hasson's theory, perhaps he is due an honoury doctorate?

Back to topic: I have all Parrot's Bach CD's as well as his book "The Essential Bach Choir". I have even recorded an interview with him from the radio. It beats me, therefore, why anyone should take exception to the well rounded remarks of Mr. Braatz, who laid out for us various hypotheses concerning Mr. Parrot's peculiar performance choice. Perhaps Mr. Braatz comes too close to the truth for the comfort of some?

Donald Satz wrote (February 4, 2004):
[To Charles Francis] THE TRUTH - Charles must be referring to the Braatz Dictionary where hypothesis is defined as "any wild notion that enters the mind".

Johan van Veen wrote (February 4, 2004):
[To Charles Francis] A hypothesis must be founded on assumptions which are reasonable and could be true.

A hypothesis which is based on casting doubt upon someone's integrity without a shred of evnidence which makes it reasonable to assume it could be true is still defamation.

The fact that this attitude seems to be acceptable to members of this list at large shows this list is morally bankrupt.

It is very simple: Mr Braatz should be given the choice either to apologize or to be kicked out.

Farhad Peydaye-Saheli wrote (February 4, 2004):
Johan van Veen wrote: < It is very simple: Mr Braatz should be given the choice either to apologize or to be kicked out. >
I don't think it is that simple. I've seen some truely offensive posts on this list in the last coupe of months, and I don't remember anyone being kicked out. (Although there are periods that some members voluntarily leave for a while and the list breathes a little!)

But as a rule, I think using this kind of language about a member of this group is much more offensive that anything anyone can say about an artist. Actually what Thomas said was not offensive at all; I think in a lot of cases the artists make choices just to show a different side of the work (or lets say just to be different!), although they might not be intellectually ready to fight for their choice to death (as some members here apparently are.)

But on the other hand insulting a member of a group because of their opinion about a famous artist is just plain wrong. For example, I shudder every single time Brad posts another 3 pages about how Gould spent the last decade of his life deliberately distorting Bach and deceiving people, but I've never thought of snapping back; I don't feel that "morally corrupt" about it either.

Johan van Veen wrote (February 4, 2004):
Farhad Saheli wrote:
< Actually what Thomas said was not offensive at all; I think in a lot of cases the artists make choices just to show a different side of the work (or lets say just to be different!), although they might not be intellectually ready to fight for their choice to death (as some members here apparently are.) >
If Mr Braatz said what you suggest he said you would be right. But he suggested Andrew Parrott [11] took the wrong decision because he didn't care. That is completely different from 'showing a different side of a work'. I therefore repeat: the suggestion that an artist makes a choice because he doesn't care for the result, without a shred of evidence, is slander and should not be tolerated on this list.

Uri Golomb wrote (February 4, 2004):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< The question still remains: Why did Parrott
[11], the great HIP experimenter, make the startling choice to follow the NBA's self-imposed editorial restriction to always give the latest changes that Bach made to a given work, while the choice based upon musicality (and with good oboists ready to perform brilliantly) is overlooked entirely by Parrott? Certainly he would owe his listening audiences some reasonable explanation other than that which appears to be: "I ploddingly and unthinkingly have accepted without further investigation on my part the surface conclusion which the editors of the NBA have come to in this matter." >
I don't know enough about Parrott's choices in the Oster-Oratorium [11], but from my general knowledge of Parrott's priorities and activities, I think the explanation Thomas ascribes to him is extremely unlikely. Of all HIP musicians, Parrott is just about the least likely to do anything by simply following an existing edition without
any further research. It is not just that he publicly railed against musicians' laziness and tendency to take received wisdom for granted; he also practices what he preaches, consulting new research and doing his own -- not just in Bach, but in all the repertoires he performs.

In this particular case, he probably did decide to take a particular performing version of Bach's and follow it in all details (rather than mix elements from several original versions). Perhaps someone who has an older edition of that performance can tell us (I have the Virgin Double edition, which has very poor liner notes -- but I suspect the original, single disc issue had more detailed notes).

In my view, you certainly don't have to apply that method -- composers re-wrote music for new performances all the time, to fit it to the musicians or acoustics they had at hand, or simply because they changed their mind; there is nothing illegitimate about mixing and matching from all the oriversions to produce your own favourite (as some conductors do in Händels' Messiah): the composer himself would have been likely to either do the same next time round, or produce yet another version, rather than stick to what he did before. And a Baroque composer woudl have treated his colleagues' music in the same manner, too.

Still, if you do follow one of the composer's own versions, you are at least on firm ground of definitely taking similar choices to his own. Then it's a question of which version to pick. As I said, I personally prefer the oboe in the adagio; but it's just my personal preference, nothing more. At some point, Bach himself opted for the flute. Thomas seems to suggest that he was forced into that choice (had an inadequate oboist, maybe?). That's a possibility, but it's a hypothesis -- no more. There are at least two others:

1) Bach changed his mind: he decided it sounds better on flute.

2) On that performance, Bach had a particularly good flute player at his disposal, and he wanted to let that player shine.

Is there any evidence to support one of these hypotheses, or yet another? Often, with Bach, the answer is "no" -- but I don't necessarily claim that this is the case here. However, if there is indeed no evidence to show why Bach did what he did, then all we know for sure is that the flute version is authentic, and therefore that to accuse anyone of being un-musical by employing it is to level the very same accusation at Bach himself.

Gabriel wrote (February 4, 2004):
Charles Francis wrote:
"It beats me, therefore, why anyone should take exception to the well rounded remarks of Mr. Braatz, who laid out for us various hypotheses concerning Mr. Parrot's peculiar performance choice. Perhaps Mr. Braatz comes too close to the truth for the comfort of some?"
Don't be so silly! There was nothing well-rounded about those remarks, which were purely speculative and defamatory. Why was his performance choice so peculiar? Because you don't agree with it? Does that make it peculiar? And it's Parrott with two Ts - as if you didn't know!

Paul Dirmeikis wrote (February 4, 2004):
Gee ! I would never have suspected I was going to stir up such a war last Sunday by simply listening to the Parrott 's [11] and McCreesh's [18] recordings of the extraordinary Oster Oratorium and sharing my impressions... I almost feel responsible today because of that post of mine where I've written that I noticed a flute instead of an oboe in Parrott's recording, and ingenuously asked what was indicated in the score...

It seems that there is an old, strong and contentious thing going on between some guys on the list, and that the slightest pretext is now seized to get on his high horse. The war between Mr Lehman and M. Braatz had scarcely been extinguished, when here came a new fight again. I agree that M. Braatz was a little scornful with Parrott. So what ? Who does it harm ? Someone said it to M. Braatz, OK, now, let's move on. Why all this is being taken so seriously ? This whole thing seems quite tiresome, and may I say puerile, doesn't it ?

BTW, I saw this morning in a CD store what seemed to be a quite new recording of the Cello Solo Suites (released last November), performed by a young guy, Marc Coppey. It has a "Choc du Monde de la Musique" sticker on it. I found some samples at: www.alapage.com/b_SuitespourvioloncelleseulDigipack_F_2_DAGOOGL_564627.html
Strange sawing sound... Not very attractive. Did someone purchase it, listen to it in its whole, and have comments to share ?

Donald Satz wrote (February 4, 2004):
[To Paul Dirmeikis] Character assassinations usually lead to heated arguments, particularly when they are dressed as research based conclusions. A simple solution is to assassinate only the interpretation, not the person delivering it.

Johan van Veen wrote (February 5, 2004):
Moral behaviour

[To Paul Dirmeikis] No reason to feel guilty at all. Only those crossing the mark of morally acceptable behaviour should feel guilty. But they seem not to. Who would be surprised?

If you think such groundless accusations are harmless, than when start things to be unacceptable to you?

Who does it harm, you asked. Mr Parrott does probably not know about this, nor would he care if he knew. And how many people will have read Mr Braatz' insult? Only members of this list, and perhaps only a (small?) portion of them, since it seems that many of them delete Mr Braatz' messages without reading them anyway. Good for them.

But that doesn't matter. The matter is what kind of behaviour is acceptable to this list. If it was an incident, one could perhaps correct the author and forgive and forget what happened. But this is a pattern in Mr Braatz' behaviour, and I believe the time has come to say: enough is enough. The choice is yours: either change you attitude or you will be unsubscribed.

I have the impression, though, that there is another pattern: that of double standards. Quod licet Iovi non licet bovi, it seems.

Charles Francis wrote (February 5, 2004):
[To Johan van Veen] There are certainly double standards at work here. It took me less than a minute to unearth the following:

"Personally I can't stand Johannette Zomer. Why her star is rising in the world of early music is beyond me. Her voice is like a block of concrete. I have heard many recordings, which she totally ruined with her heavy vibrato. As far as I remember - I got a review copy, but after doing my job I dumped it - she sings the Domine Deus with Prégardien - even he starts to shiver."
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BachRecordings/message/205

Now please explain why itemising a set of alternative explanations for Andrew Parot's instrumental choice in the Easter Oratorio is less morally acceptable than your assertion above. One might also ask why Mr. Lehman did not raise furious objections to your comments about a fellow musician.

Donald Satz wrote (February 5, 2004):
[To Charles Francis] "A voice like a block of concrete". That's a great phrase; it's so descriptive. What it's describing is a voice, not the personality or ethics of the owner of the voice.

Johan van Veen wrote (February 5, 2004):
It is my principle not to debate with you. So I was thinking just to ignore your message. But that would make it to easy for you.

Having read your message I wonder of your are just as dumb as you seem. I can't believe that. So I have to conclude that in your struggle to keep your and Mr Braatz' respectability every means is right.

I have said nothing negative in regard to Ms Zomer personally. I admire her for becoming a singer of international stature. I didn't like the way she sang baroque repertoire and I have given the reasons for that. I have never said that she can't sing properly. If I have, please prove it.

All my comments regarding her performances were supported by evidence from what I have heard. My main problem was her heavy vibrato. But I have never said that she was not able to sing without it - as someone else regularly suggests that some singers can only sing with half-voice. I always considered it a matter of choice on her part - the wrong choice, in my view.

I am happy to say that I much more enjoy her more recent performances and recordings, and that her singing of early music has greatly improved, and that my qualifications of her singing are not relevant anymore.

That is the result of gaining experience and the willingness to learn and be corrected - which is more than can be said of some members of this list.

Gabriel wrote (February 5, 2004):
Charles Francis writes:
< Now please explain why itemising a set of alternative explanations for Andrew Parot's instrumental choice in the Easter Oratorio is less morally acceptable than your assertion above. >
Because the explanations were a) that Parrott's oboist(s) [11] might not be up to the job (ludicrous and insulting to them, and to AndreParrott, and pure speculation) or b) Andrew Parrott didn't care about giving the best performance he could (ludicrous and insulting again, and also pure speculation) or c) for the sake of being "different" he wanted to produce a "less viably authentic" performance (again, ludicrous, insulting, speculative, and ill-informed as to the whole OVPP issue). If you cannot see the difference between that ragbag of prejudices and insults and a dislike of someone's voice then you need to get out more.

Charles Francis wrote (February 5, 2004):
[To Gabriel] As you confuse speculative pragmatics with semantics, let us analyse what Mr. Braatz actually said:

"I personally believe that Parrott made a bad musical choice here [11], unless, of course, his oboists were incapable of providing a solid performance of this moving music. He may have been more interested in being different(providing other, less viably authentic options for performing Bach's music: OVPP, etc.) rather than considering the best type of recorded performance that he can offer listeners. Perhaps he discovered a market hole? where no one had recorded this mvt. with a flute before. He may have considered this as providing a service to listeners who might want to hear this music another way."
http://launch.groups.yahoo.com/group/BachRecordings/message/12696

1) "I personally believe that Parrott made a bad musical choice here [11]"
Here Mr. Braatz indicates that of all the alternatives he is about to present, this is the one he personally believes in "Parrott made a bad musical choice".

2) "unless, of course, his oboists were incapable of providing a solid performance of this moving music"
Here Mr. Braatz indicates a possible alternative to the one he personally believes and indicates that he considers the music moving. He does not address the reason why Parrott's oboist [11] may have been incapable of providing a solid performance of this moving music. The reader, therefore, who is unable to accept Mr. Braatz's personal belief that "Parrott made a bad musical choice" is left to ponder others possible reasons (e.g. Parrott's oboist had resigned the day before for family reasons, his instrument was under repair, the oboist had a cold due to the inclement English weather, he was attending the funeral of his mother, or perhaps Mr. Parrott considers
that the historically-informed oboe is unable to deliver what was needed etc.)

3) He may have been more interested in being different
Here Mr. Braatz offers a second alternative for those unwilling to accept his personal belief that "Parrott made a bad musical choice".

4) "(providing other, less viably authentic options for performing Bach's music: OVPP, etc.)"
Here, Mr. Braatz references his analysis of the NBA version which he considers less than authentic due to the editorial constraints of NBA policy.

5) "rather than considering the best type of recorded performance that he can offer listeners"
Here Mr. Braatz credits Mr. Parrott with reaching the same conclusions as himself (i.e. that the NBA version is sub-optimal). He then goes on to give possible reasons why Mr. Parrott may have preferred to record a sub-optimal version:

6) "Perhaps he discovered a market hole where no one had recorded this mvt. with a flute before."
Here, for those unwilling to accept his personal belief that "Parrott made a bad musical choice", Mr. Braatz proposes yet another alternative. He addresses a possible altruistic motive for this in the next sentence.

7) "He may have considered this as providing a service to listeners who might want to hear this music another way."
Well what a kind man Mr. Parrott appears to be according to this scenario of Mr. Braatz; putting his listeners interests before academic considerations.

So allow me to conclude on a personal note: I, for one, have no doubt about what is "ludicrous and insulting" and no doubt about those responsible for a "ragbag of prejudices and insults".

Gabriel wrote (February 6, 2004):
[To Charles Francis] Of course you haven't. Because Thomas Braatz is a distinguished and eminent scholar, fearlessly pointing out the errors of their ways to musicians the world over, and fighting the good fight against the perversion that is HIP; he alone knows how Bach should be performed and you are happy to be his apostle and apologist.

 

Prohaska Easter Oratorio

Nagamiya Tutomu wrote (April 11, 2004):
Today is the Easter Sunday.
I Placed the MP3 files of Felix Prohaska's old recording of Easter Oratorio BWV 249 [1] in my site.
Please listen to them and celebrate Easter together.

 

Easter Oratorio

Thomas Shepherd wrote (March 27, 2005):
BWV 249 today, I think! http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Vocal/BWV249.htm

Happy Easter everyone!

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (March 27, 2005):
[To Thomas Shepherd] The Easter Oratorio is, yes, originally taken from music that Bach set for a secular work?

If that is accurate, I heard something very interesting on NPR this morning about the early 1950s in the USA when R&B began to make heavy inroads into the culture of White Teenagers in the USA.

Discussed was Ray Charles and his secular song "I've got a woman, way across town, who is so good to me". According to the program this song and much other Black American popular music of that time were adapted from sacred music. In this case a song of Charles' "I've got a God, way up in heaven, who is so good to me". Heard much the same thing years ago on a wonderful multi-multi-part program about Sam Cooke. Should this not apply to the Easter Oratorio, it applies to so much other Bach that it is still a wonderful comparandum.Happy Easter to those who celebrate it.

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 27, 2005):
[To Thomas Shepherd] The extended discussion of the Easter Oratorio (if you follow the link from the above to the discussions,) in particular the mvt. for tenor and recorders "Sanfte soll mein Todeskummer," in which the word 'Schweißtuch' was singled out for microscopic analysis, brings up two points which I believe were not discussed at that time or that bear some repetition in the form of confirmation that I have found recently: Lucia Haselböck's Bach Textlexikon [Bärenreiter, 2004.] Her entry on 'Schweißtuch' reads
as follows in translation:

>>In Israel it was customary to cover the face of the deceased with a linen cloth, a sudarium. The evangelist John in John 11:44 reports about the reawakening of Lazarus ("his face was hidden/concealed,covered by a sudarium [OED 'A napkin or cloth for wiping the face; a handkerchief."] and in John 20:6 ff. about the reawakening of Jesus: Simon Peter comes to the grave and "sees the linen cloths lying about, but the 'sudarium' which had been bound around Jesus' head was not lying among the linen cloths, but rather next to them wrapped/wound up and put in a special place." In the 'Easter Oratorio' this biblical scene is reproduced/replicated. Peter says at the grave: "Here I see with pleasure / lying there the sudarium which has been unwrapped/unwound/taken off. / Gentle/peaceful should my worries about death / be sensed only as a slumber/sleep / Jesus, by means of your sudarium."

It is possible that the author of this text was attempting to connect the story told by the disciples at the grave with the reawakening of Lazarus which had taken place earlier. (cf. Lothar and Renate Steiger ".angelicos testes, sudarium et vestes" Comments on Johann Sebastian Bach's Easter Oratorio in 'Musik und Kirche: Zeitschrift für evangelische Kirchenmusik' (1983) pp. 193-202.)

The other point has to do with the original conception of this mvt. as part of a 'Schäferkantate' for which Bach originally composed this music. It is certainly a known fact that Bach occasionally highlights certain words in an aria musically through a number of techniques, but when such a work/mvt. is parodied, it is not posto create new religious texts that will fit the original music perfectly. Bach does not usually want to modify the music to make things come out properly, but rather prefers to find (or have a librettist come up with) reasonable sacred text replacements. This is a hit-or-miss proposition with some words succeeding at times, but others which attract attention to themselves because they can appear as a forced-rhyme might appear in poetry. A case in point is the word 'Schweißtuch' as an uncomfortable replacement for the original word 'selber' = selves. The original has the shepherds wishing that the sheep will become fully satisfied from eating freshly-grown grass near the wet land of a valley. The hope is that as well-fed sheep they will sway themselves to sleep so that the shepherds (and shepherdesses) can escape elsewhere for some festivities. It is this wished-for swaying motion among the fresh grasses ["wieget euch" = "rock or sway yourselves {to sleep}"] which Bach captures so perfectly for this mvt. The mesmerizing effect of swaying contentedly should provide the shepherds & shepherdesses with some time ["unterdessen" = "meanwhile"] for pleasure without being responsible for the sheep. Mattheson continually reminds his contemporaries that an aria should have only one 'Affekt.' In this Bach succeeds admirably since the mvt. in the Easter Oratorio also emphasizes 'Schlummer' = 'slumber, sleep,' but the text for the Easter Oratorio mvt. becomes unwieldy just at the point where the key word/symbol "Schweißtuch" is sung. It sticks out like a sore thumb where it should not. In the original, the recorders stop playing and the text then proceeds at a faster pace than otherwise, tripping quickly over relatively unimportant words: "unterdessen selber" = "meanwhile themselves" and thereby de-emphasizing their importance musically. However, in the Easter Oratorio, Bach is forced to put two very important words in this musically unstressed bar of music: "Jesu, durch dein Schweißtuch" = "Jesus, by means of your sudarium." Not only are these words squeezed into an unstressed measure, they constitue quite a mouthful of German consonants to speak, let alone sing quickly on fast-moving notes whether you are a native speaker/singer of German or not. This combination "durch dein Schweißtuch sein" is about as unfelicitous a grouping of consonants as you can think of in the middle of an aria that proposes to assuage your fear of death and making death become a time of peaceful sleep. Another important image is that where this aria in the Easter Oratorio describes "my painful tears will be wiped away from my cheeks by this sudarium" which in the original has "We'll find the sheep again down there where the fresh grass is growing." For Bach, the painful aspect is unimportant here since Jesus' sudarium is already being used for "wiping away my tears" and more importantly "making my death (specifically my fear of death) become simply a slumbering." Who knows? Perhaps Bach or his librettist combined these images in their minds and did imagine death as that valley rich in vegetation where the sheep can be led and left behind peacefully without worrying about their welfare because they will simply fall asleep after they had eaten to their fill.

Happy Easter!

John Pike wrote (March 29, 2005):
Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote:
< The Easter Oratorio is, yes, originally taken from music that Bach set for a secular work? >
Yes, the original was the Pastoral cantata, the music of which is lost, but i think the text remains. i have a reconstructed recording at home. I think it is assumed that the music for the Easter oratorio is identical to the lost predecessor.

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (March 30, 2005):
[To John Pike] Whose recording is this reconstruction (creations I always find somewhat amazing)? Thanks for the information.

Aryeh Oron wrote (March 30, 2005):
[To Yoël L. Arbeitman] See: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV249a.htm

John Pike wrote (March 30, 2005):
[To Yoël L. Arbeitman] It is not easily accessible at present, but as soon as I get a chance, I will dig it out.

Aryeh Oron wrote (March 30, 2005):
[To Yoël L. Arbeitman & John Pike] The recording of BWV 249a appears in the catalogue of Cantate/Musicaphon Records together with other early cantata recordings by Helmuth Rilling. See: http://www.cantate.de/catalogu.htm

John Pike wrote (March 30, 2005):
[To Aryeh Oron] This is indeed the recording I have.

 

Bach's Easter Oratorio (was: Händel and Mattheson's doctrine of affections)

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (March 22, 2007):
Shawn Charton wrote:
< There is no cast of characters as there are in a Passion... (see Paul H. Lang on George Frederich Händel) >
Isn't this a similar matter in recensions (I assume that Bach himself did this) with Bach's Easter Oratorio. Some versions have dramatis personae and others have just the voices. Now I was brought up with the Rössl-Majdan recording (Prohaska) where HRM is Mary Magdalene. According to the notes this is the first version and later Bach revisions simply leave voices in place of persons. Once you have been baptized with the dramatis personae, thus they remain engraved on your hard matter.

Ed Myskowski wrote (March 23, 2007):
Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote:
< Now I was brought up with the Rössl-Majdan recording (Prohaska) where HRM is Mary Magdalene. According to the notes this is the first version and later Bach revisions simply leave voices in place of persons. Once you have been baptized with the dramatis personae, thus they remain engraved on your hard matter. >
Alors, mon ami, if it is your gray matter which is getting hard, that is not a good thing at all. Or perhaps that is not what you meant?

In any case, I remain your friend and colleague on the HRM board of enthusiasts.

 

Oster-Oratorium in Cottbus

Jeremy Vosburgh wrote (March 27, 2007):
I have had another delightful discovery on my latest promenade. I was wandering around Cottbus the other night after a long day training some nice gents at BTU and noticed there will be a performance of the Oster-Oratorium the weekend after next at St. Nikolai church. It is so nice to see that Bach choral music is not forgotten in this ofttimes subfusc world. A pity; I won't be here to see it. (The soprano and alto soloists will be local Cottbusians.)

 

BWV 249/7 the "Schweißtuch" aria [was:chart or catalog of music bach reused?]

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 30, 2007):
Phil wrote:
>>Right at this moment I'd like to know where I've heard movement 7 from BWV 249 (Easter Oratorio) before. I'm pretty sure it's in another sacred work but don't know which one.<<
Unless you own the recording of the "Pastoral Cantata" BWV 249a by Helmut Rilling, there is no other sacred work in which this music occurs. The music was originally composed as a Birthday Cantata for Duke Christian of Saxony-Weißenfels and first performed on February 23, 1725. It is the same aria for Tenor and 2 Recorders, but the text is quite different and more directly associated with Bach's musical expression of the ideas than the later text which treats Jesus' sudarium. This aria, with its text association in the Easter Oratorio, is therefore sometimes referred to as the "Schweißtuch" aria. The author of this text (BWV 249/7) is unknown, although it might have been Henrici who was the librettist for the two secular versions/cantatas in which the music of aria appears. Here is a little timetable for this exquisite aria:

February 23, 1725: 1st performance (this had the original text by Henrici which inspired Bach to compose this music.

April 1, 1725: Just prior to this date, a librettest (perhaps Henrici) writes a new sacred text to replace the original secular with a sacred text in such a way that almost all of the music could be reused/recycled by Bach without having tcompose any entirely new music with the exception of the recitatives (This is what is called a parody. The secular cantata had probably been performed outside of Leipzig so that no one would have recognized the sameness of the music which had been performed a little over a month earlier elsewhere.) Voila! Now on Easter Sunday, date given here, Bach has an entirely new Easter Cantata (a proto-form of the Easter Oratorio). This cantata is known as "Kommt, fliehet und eilet" (it is not listed among the other Bach cantatas since it is essentially the Easter Oratorium).

August 25, 1726: Now, about a year and a half later, Bach composes another birthday cantata for Count Joachim Friedrich von Flemming. Henrici writes an entirely new text, but the collaboration betweeen Henrici and Bach must have been exceedingly close since Bach was able to reuse 7 mvts. of the original music.

Easter Sunday circa 1738: Bach makes changes to the Easter Cantata which now begins to appear more in its later state/version as the Easter Oratorio.

Easter Sunday 1743/1746: Additional changes and revisions by Bach

Easter Sunday April 6, 1749: Additional changes and revisions (this is the final version on which most published forms of the Easter Oratorio are based).

Bach may have performed the Easter Oratorio on some other dates (Easter Sundays) as well, but thus far no corroborating evidence has been found to confirm this.

Douglas Cowling wrote (March 30, 2007):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< Easter Sunday circa 1738: Bach makes changes to the Easter Cantata which now begins to appear more in its later state/version as the Easter Oratorio. >
Do we know why Bach removed the character names in the final versions? Was there objection to the biblical characters singing poetry? It's interesting to compare Bach's oratorio to Händel's Italian "La Resurrezione: in which the same character appear (with the addition of the Angel and Satan) and similarly there is no appearance by Christ.

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 30, 2007):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
>>Do we know why Bach removed the character names in the final versions? Was there objection to the biblical characters singing poetry?<<
There is no clear answer on this and even the NBA KB refuses to speculate on why the names were removed.

Here is the evidence we have regarding the names:

BWV 249a "Entfliehet, verschwindet, entweichet, ihr Sorgen", the pastoral birthday cantata with shepherds (male - Menalcas and Damoetas and female - Doris and Sylvia) was first performed at a court outside of Leipzig on February 23, 1725.

BWV 249 "Kommt, fliehet und eilet" an Easter cantata was first performed in Leipzig on April 1, 1725. [*see below Dürr's objection to this scenario] It was a parody based in large part upon BWV 249a, which had been composed for the Duke of Sachsen-Weißenfels and performed and performed circa a month and a half earlier. For this parody a new score and a new set of parts had to be generated during the tempus clausum in Leipzig. According to Dürr, the transformation of the shepherds and shepherdesses into the apostles Peter and John as well as Maria Jacobi and Maria Magdalena was a relatively easy one, a transformation supported by an old German custom/tradition of presenting the Easter story as a play consisting of various scenes very much in the same manner that the Christmas story was presented. As a result, Menalcas became Petrus (tenor), Damoetas became Johannes, bass) Doris became Maria Jacobi (soprano), and Sylvia became Maria Magdalena (alto).

Just what happened on and before April 1, 1725 is not at all clear. Dürr thinks that Bach's planned cantata for this date, "Kommt, fliehet und eilet" may already have undergone significant revision before the performance date so that on April 1, 1725, the congregations in the two major churches of Leipzig would have heard this work more as it is known today as "Kommt, gehet und eilet". In any case, Bach may have first considered using an extremely marked up and changed original composing score of BWV 249a and then decided, on very short notice, to create a new score for BWV 249. This score is no longer extant. The 1st stage/version of original parts helps us to understand that the names of the biblical characters were used. We do not have any evidence that this cantata was referred to as an 'oratorio' at the 1st performance. The NBA KB comments that this is unusual for Bach, in the least, since there are no direct Bible quotations nor are any chorale texts used. Perhaps all of this is due to how closely Bach followed the model of BWV 249a.

Still another intervening score by Bach has been posited based upon how certain parts were copied. It was not until a newly revised version was performed circa 1735, that the existing autograph score with the designation "Oratorium" came into existence.

Although the autograph score does contain some designations for the voice parts (soprano, alto, etc., nowhere does Bach indicate any of the names associated with the parts (Petrus, Johannes, etc.).

The autograph score, however, does have the word "Oratorium" used twice, once on the cover page and once at the top of the title page: "J. J. Oratorium Festo Paschatos. a 4 Voci. 3 Trombe Tamburi, 2 Hautb. | 2 Violini, Viola, Bassono e Cont."

Regarding the existing original parts, a division into 3 main stages has been proposed:

1. Group of existing parts [1st stage of the Easter Oratorium as an Easter cantata)

a. 'earlier' parts, instrumental parts still available and probably coming from the original BWV 249a performance (February 23, 1725):

Trombae 1st and 2nd, Timpani, Flauto trav. Oboi 1 & 2, Violini 1 & 2, Viola

b. (April 1, 1725) 'later parts', later than the preceding parts:

Soprano (Maria Jacobi), Alto (Maria Magdalena), Tenore (Petrus), Basso (Johannes), Continuo (in C)

[BWV 249b "Verjaget, zerstreuet, zerrüttet, ihr Sterne", another birthday cantata using the same music (not the recitatives, of course) was performed on August 25, 1726.]

2. Group (1732-1735) [the existing autograph score is from this period]

Violini 1 & 2 (doublets), Fagotto

3. Group (1744-1749)

Tromba 3rd, Soprano, Alto, Tenore, Basso [These vocal parts were copied entirely by Bach personally with no help from any copyists. There is no evidence here of any names (Maria Jacobi, etc.) attached to these parts. This is the reason why the NBA, in its printed edition of the score, does not attach any names to the parts. They are simply listed as Soprano, Alto, Tenore, and Basso throughout the entire score. The NBA KB does not offer any theory why the names were dropped in the 3rd and final version of this oratorio.]

Flauto trav. (possibly belongs to this 3rd group as well)

Alfred Dürr, in his book on the cantatas, seems to claim that the work performed on April 1, 1725 was already an oratorio and not a cantata since Bach had discarded the idea of a cantata shortly before its first performance in Leipzig. The cantata would have lacked the usual final chorale, which has caused someone to publish a new edition of this work that includes a final chorale to make it more like a cantata. This addition, Dürr thinks, will never make the original BWV 249 into a cantata. On the contrary, it will only serve to make even clearer that this work does not fit into the usual pattern/style of a cantata.

Summary:

1. The information given by the BWV Verzeichnis that BWV 249 at its first performance on April 1, 1725 was a cantata is highly questionable. Although we have no direct evidence that Bach intended this work to be an 'oratorio' at this point in time, the parts used for this performance, parts which Bach inspected carefully and to which he made additions and corrections, distinctly indicate the role "Maria Jacobi" at the upper left and "Soprano" at the upper right side of the page of this part. The same is true for all the other parts.

2. The autograph score of BWV 249 with the designation "Oratorium" came into existence in the mid-1730s. It is possible that Bach might still have been using the vocal parts from 1725. These still had the biblical role names attached to them.

3. For the final performance(s) of BWV 249 in the mid to late 1740s, Bach personally copied all the vocal parts again (including the arias, not only the choral parts). This time the role designations are missing entirely. Thus far I have not found any conjectures in the NBA KB or elsewhere that attempt to account for this change.

[Did the Enlightenment have anything to do with dropping what might be considered 'silly old customs' (the Christmas and Easter plays) and making the music 'more abstract' and amenable to 'reasonable' listeners?]

Douglas Cowling wrote (March 31, 2007):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< 2. The autograph score of BWV 249 with the designation "Oratorium" came into existence in the mid-1730s. It is possible that Bach might still have been using the vocal parts from 1725. These still had the biblical role names attached to them.
3. For the final performance(s) of BWV 249 in the mid to late 1740s, Bach personally copied all the vocal parts again (including the arias, not only the choral parts). This time the role designations are missing entirely. Thus far I have not found any conjectures in the NBA KB or elsewhere that attempt to account for this change.
[Did the Enlightenment have anything to do with dropping what might be considered 'silly old customs' (the Christmas and Easter plays) and making the music 'more abstract' and amenable to 'reasonable' listeners?] >

Bach's use of the term "oratorium" is interesting and seems to indicate that scriptural narrative is going to be used. We see this in the Christmas (BWV 248) and Ascension (BWV 11) oratorios which have Luther's prose. Ironically, the use of "oratorium" historically meant a scriptural story rendered in poetic verse: Vivaldi's "Juditha Trumphans" and Händel's "La Resurrexione" are roughly contemporaneous.

The latter is particularly interesting for it has the same "plot" as the Easter Oratorio and the character of Christ does not appear even though he is a prominent figure in the scriptural accounts -- one could easily imagine a dramatic scene between Christ and Mary Magdalene. Bach has the same reticence, which is odd -- Christ speaks with extraordinary dramatic effect in the Passions. Why not here?

I'm wondering if Bach was trying to fashion an oratorio in the Italian style (something encountered perhaps in Dresden?) and encountered opposition from the Leipzig church authorities to the notion of the biblical characters being given poetry. The absence of Christ from the narrative might indicate Bach's sensitivity to the thought of Christ speaking poetic paraphrases -- perhaps it was an Italian tradition. We know that in the Passions he chose to set scriptural prose rather than lyrical paraphrases.

Question: Were the words of Christ paraphrased in poetry in other Passion texts such as the Brockes Passion? Were these paraphrases criticized as impious?

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 31, 2007):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
>>Bach's use of the term "oratorium" is interesting and seems to indicate that scriptural narrative is going to be used. We see this in the Christmas (BWV 248) and Ascension (BWV 11) oratorios which have Luther's prose.<<
[Quotation from the article by Howard E Smither on "Oratorio" from the Grove Music Online Dictionary, Oxford University Press, 2007, acc. 3/30/07]:

"There are many German works from the first half of the 18th century designated as oratorios and distinguishable as examples of the genre, but the term 'Oratorium' seems to have been more frequently applied to borderline cases than in Italy, i.e. to works which combine elements of the related genres of oratorio, sacred cantata, sacred dialogue and/or historia. The three works for which Bach used the term 'Oratorium' (Weihnachts-Oratorium BWV 248, Oster-Oratorium BWV 249 and Oratorium auf Himmelfahrt BWV 11) illustrate this terminological freedom in Germany. All three show some relationship to the oratorio, but they are more like church cantatas (or, in the case of the Christmas Oratorio (BWV 248), a series of six cantatas) than oratorios in the normal 18th-century sense. Both the Christmas (BWV 248) and Ascension (BWV 11) works are also related to the historia; the texts of both are largely contemplative, but they include, like the historia, narrative quotations from the Bible sung by the 'Evangelist'. The Easter Oratorio is essentially a dialogue among four people; although its duration is more like that of a cantata than an oratorio (it is a parody of a secular cantata, BWV 249a), in its purely poetic text it is closer to the genre of oratorio than the other two works."

Christoph Wolff (from article on Bach, same source):

"The three works that Bach called 'oratorios' fall within a very short period: the Christmas Oratorio (BWV 248) of 1734-5, the Easter Oratorio and Ascension Oratorio (BWV 11) of 1735. The librettists are not known for certain. The place for Bach's oratorios in the Lutheran liturgy was the same as that for the cantata; the only difference between the oratorio and cantata texts is that the former have a self-contained 'plot' or take the form of narration with dialogue. This conforms with the history of the genre, although Bach held the tendency to formal expansiveness firmly in check, in comparison with standard Italian practice."

Douglas Cowling wrote (March 31, 2007):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< The Easter Oratorio is essentially a dialogue among four people; although its duration is more like that of a cantata than an oratorio (it is a parody of a secular cantata, BWV 249a), in its purely poetic text it is closer to the genre of oratorio than the other two works."
Christoph Wolff (from article on Bach, same source):
"The three works that Bach called Ooratorios¹ fall within a very short period: the Christmas Oratorio (
BWV 248) of 1734­5, the Easter Oratorio and Ascension Oratorio (BWV 11) of 1735. The librettists are not known for certain. The place for Bach¹s oratorios in the Lutheran liturgy was the same as that for the cantata; >
Do any commentators address the Missing Jesus question?

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 31, 2007):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
>>Do any commentators address the Missing Jesus question?<<
Perhaps we should try to link this with the medieval tradition of liturgical dramas. One note that I read in the MGG1 states that (church) schools still performed musical plays based on the events of Christmas and Easter. In these plays, going back to the Middle Ages in Germany as was France and Italy, was there ever portion/scene where the risen Christ speaks with Maria Magdalena? I have not ever seen the text/music for any of the Easter plays.

Douglas Cowling wrote (March 31, 2007):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< Perhaps we should try to link this with the medieval tradition of liturgical dramas. One note that I read in the MGG1 states that (church) schools still performed musical plays based on the events of Christmas and Easter. In these plays, going back to the Middle Ages in Germany as well as France and Italy, was there ever portion/scene where the risen Christ speaks with Maria Magdalena? I have not ever seen the text/music for any of the Easter plays. >
Luther pretty much abolished the popular religious plays because they had too many deviances from the scriptural texts. They survived in Catholic regions: the Oberammergau Passion Play which is still performed was being played in Bach's lifetime. Latin "closet dramas" were standard pedagogical exercises until late in the 18th century and it is not beyond the realm of possibility that the Thomas boys had to recite Latin plays as a pedagogical exercise. I've never seen any evidence that they did.

The Easter Oratorio is much more in the tradition of the Italian oratorio tradition where sacred dramas without action were a popular devotion. It was especiallly popular in Rome where secular opera was very closely monitored. Usually an academic hall was decorated with canvas paintings of the scriptural story and illuminated in theatrical style. The oratorio would then be presented as a devotional concert. There are several early 17th century Easter oratorios which have duets between Mary Magdalene and the Angel but I'm not sure about Christ.

There was certainly no tradition of oratorio performance outside the liturgy in Bach's Leipzig, but he could well have seen the Italian chapel royal in Dresden performing such "sacred concerts".

Ed Myskowski wrote (March 31, 2007):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< Christoph Wolff (from article on Bach, same source):
"The three works that Bach called 'oratorios' fall within a very short period: the Christmas Oratorio (
BWV 248) of 1734-5, the Easter Oratorio and Ascension Oratorio (BWV 11) of 1735. >
The other sources we have discussed recently (including Wolff) suggest 1725 for the Easter Oratorio (BWV 249) a rather significant disconnect of ten years with the 1734/5 time frame

Even more important, the extremely short interval between the secular occasion for BWV 249a (Feb. 23, 1725) and the Easter Oratorio (BWV 249, April 1, 1725) suggest to me (just a hunch) that Bach planned this dual use. However, just about any other speculative scenario is possible as well, given the paucity of actual evidence.

It is striking (to me, anyway) that the Easter Oratorio was subsequently recycled for secular use (BWV 249b), pretty much killing the idea that this never happened, whatever point was to be made by the thesis that once used for sacred occasions, Bach's music never reverted to secular use.

Ed Myskowski wrote (March 31, 2007):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< Do any commentators address the Missing Jesus question? >
I avoided this as potentially controversial, but since you have opened the door ...

Dürr provides a very concise and illuminating commentary on the text, leading to the observation that the two Marys are disturbed ('orphaned') by Jesus absence, but Peter and John immediately recognize the missing body as evidence of the predicted resurrection.

This may be a trifle sexist by 21st C. standards, but the point is that the Missing Jesus confirms the Resurrection, despite the absence of a living Jesus. Peter and John get it, right away, a matter of faith. Thomas is last, as I recall, so the two Marys do not look so bad in comparison to him.

I am looking forward to reviewing the stories of the days between Resurrection and Ascension in the cantatas for the coming weeks. I hope, I did not peek ahead.

Douglas Cowling wrote (March 31, 2007):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
< This may be a trifle sexist by 21st C. standards, but the point is that the Missing Jesus confirms the Resurrection, despite the absence of a living Jesus. Peter and John get it, right away, a matter of faith. Thomas is last, as I recall, so the two Marys do not look so bad in comparison to him. >
The encounter between Christ and Mary Magdalene or the women is the common scene shared by all the Gospels. Bach's avoidance is quite striking. It's like Händel's Messiah not having any words spoken by Christ.

Ed Myskowski wrote (March 31, 2007):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< The encounter between Christ and Mary Magdalene or the women is the common scene shared by all the Gospels. Bach's avoidance is quite striking. It's like Händel's Messiah not having any words spoken by Christ. >
Thanks for pointing out my oversight, I knew I should have taken the time to check this. I agree, Bach's omission is striking, perhaps significant of something?

Douglas Cowling wrote (March 31, 2007):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
< I agree, Bach's omission is striking, perhaps significant of something? >
The omission is intriguing for Bach is never reticent about using a bass to depict the voice of Christ. And not just in the Passions. The Christ/Bridegroom and Soul/Bride love duets in "Wachet Auf" show no issues of propriety.

The Easter Oratorio really feels like an Italian oratorio. What was Bach's model and why did he abandon it, recasting it as a Lutheran cantata? Was this a Dresden experiment? Was he trying to show that he could write a Catholic style oratorio in German? Its length and lavish orchestration would make it a perfect work for the court's Easter evening devotional concert.

I wonder if Stauffer, who set the Mass in B Minor in the extraordinary musical context of the Dresden court, has done any work on oratorio performances.

Ed Myskowski wrote (April 2, 2007):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< The omission is intriguing for Bach is never reticent about using a bass to depict the voice of Christ. And not just in the Passions. The Christ/Bridegroom and Soul/Bride love duets in "Wachet Auf" show no issues of propriety. >
A few more words on this topic. Although the Gospel for Easter Sunday is Mark 16: 1-8, the characters and events of the Easter Oratorio, BWV 249, are better related to John 20:1-13, with Peter, John, and the two Marys. Interestingly, John does not refer to himself by name, but as 'the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved' (20:2), and then (20:4) 'the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first'. BWV 249 opens with the line 'Come, hasten and run, you fugitive feet'; John 20:4 is the only Gospel reference to running at this event. This suggests to me that the recently prepared new text, to adapt BWV 249a, was intended to be in accord with the St. John Passion, performed also in 1725, on Good Friday, two days previous.

I am passing this along as observation only. I am aware that it does not address the original question of why Jesus is absent from BWV 249, as He does appear and address Mary Magdalene in John 20:14-18, also in all three of the other Gospels, as Doug previously pointed out. Although it is pure speculation, I wonder if the answer does not lie in the dual nature of BWV 249. Given the short time span (about five weeks) between the secular and sacred versions, it seems all but impossible to suggest that the adaptation was not in mind when the original was composed. Perhaps the complexity was simply overwhelming, to find a fifth character (and singer), analogous to Jesus, for the secular version? Hence, the sacred version ends at John 20:13, with the quartet accepting the reality of the Resurrection without the actual evidence of seeing the living Jesus. Could be accompanied by a sermon urging the congregation to exhibit the same faith?

This also brings into question the ideas which have been proposed regarding Bach's working methods on dual secular and sacred works. Even if we stretch logic to the breaking point, and deny the intent of a sacred performance at the time the secular BWV 249a was composed, Dürr also documents a subsequent secular performance, with new text, BWV 249b, on Aug. 25, 1726. Most likely, this work was prepared from the beginning for both sacred and secular use; at the very least it had a secular adaptation after sacred performance.

 

Parrott and anemia?

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (May 3, 2007):
I happened to force myself tonight to listen to Parrott's Oster-Oratorium. My blood supply was so low in essentials like oxygen and all kinds of red matter as a result that I HAD to listen to the Prohaska, which for many decades was my only recording of this work. We have a generation or two today (judging from reviews on Amazon that, when they wish to compare Parrott, have as their one comparandum Gardiner and thus tell us of the virtues of the one or the other).

Comparing Parrott and Prohaska's long recording of the OO, one can only give thanks that the latter uses in the first vocal number "duet, "duet", chorus" as opposed to Parrott's chorus and that he uses in his beautifully painful reading of the adagio the oboe rather than Parrott's flute. There are all kinds of ms. and revision discussions in each CD's notes. It doesn't matter. Most of us who listen to and respond to music are not musicologists and certainly not theologists. Is it effective and meaningful and does it leave one wanting to come back for more? Parrott's fair > poor soloists do not leave me wanting to come back for more nor does his conducting of the whole. Prohaska not only does an effective and dramatic Bach but he has a quartet of soloists who are simply magnificent.Peter Kooy is the one I really rate high in the Parrott. Charles Daniels I always find uninteresting. The soprano Van Evera is quite good. The alto escapes me, Ms. Trevor.

There are many of us who listen to Bach for the singers and not for all the primaeval, mediaeval, doctrinaire, outdated, meaningless beliefs whereby most of us are damned. I don't give a bloody damn. I want some pleasure whilst I am here and don't care what Master Luther believed.

I respond to Parrott's OO as I do to his Johannes-Passion, snooze.

So what did I do? I finally ordered his H-Moll-Messe bc. of Iconomou. The mass is a very different thing and it is there that OVPP should be judged.The final chorus in Parrott's OO was probably the best thing in it.

Julian Mincham wrote (May 3, 2007):
Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote:
< There are many of us who listen to Bach for the singers and not for all the primaeval, mediaeval, doctrinaire, outdated, meaningless beliefs whereby most of us are damned. I don't give a bloody damn. I want some pleasure whilst I am here and don't care what Master Luther believed. >
Nor do I-------for once we agree.

However, I do not listen to Bach for the singers. I listen because of the incomparable and incandsescent beauty of the music which even some of the worst singers cannot completely obliterate, much as some of them seem to try.

Jean Laaninen wrote (May 3, 2007):
[To Julian Mincham] It would seem that the assortment of reasons for belonging to the group covers a lot of different interests. I agree with Julian that the incomprehensible beauty is foremost. Some members are articulate history scholars in their own right and a little bit of context helps me to listen better. I listen to learn to sing and I listen to learn the works as a matter of inspiration for daily living. Having the opportunity to sometimes learn of a new recording that someone dearly loves isn't a bad thing even though I keep busy enough with the tasks I have set for myself so that listening to one cantata per week is about the right speed for me at this point, just once or twice. For some members the cantatas seem to be the life blood of their personal spirituality, but in regard to the matter perhaps these subjective matters are something people can discuss offline. Brad is something of an expert in Bach keyboard, and also the writer of creative hymns that find some of their origins in the tonalities of Bach, yet also encompass the sounds of today. In all likelihood I am the least advanced of all who are on the forum in terms of depth of knowledge, so I enjoy drawing from all that you know. Even textual criticism has some place in understanding and sometimes I read through those articles and at other times if what is written doesn't really apply to me I just try to appreciate the fact that someone can do something that intricate and tedious without becoming bored as I would most likely. So we each have our own specialties and reasons for being on the forum, and I think when Doug suggests that if something doesn't apply just delete it that will keep the richness of all of your specialties available for those of us who are so eager to keep on learning about Bach. This isn't a road everyone will travel, but the trip is interesting with everyone involved.

Ken Bazzle wrote (May 3, 2007):
[To Julian Mincham] You're the person I've been hoping to hear from. All I am looking for is a way to identify and transfer to an Ipod Bach's Cantatas, with a strong emphasis on choral work which I find to be particularly enchanting. Any suggestions?

 

Query about Easter Oratorio

David Lewis wrote (April 21, 2009):
This is bugging me: Rolf Schweizer and the Motetten Chor Pforzheim have added an extra chorale to their recording of the Easter Oratorio, which is in the big Brilliant Bach Box -- it was initially released as Amati 9803.

The Chorale is tacked onto the very end -- "Es hat mit uns keine Not" -- and as far as I can tell, J.S. Bach never set a chorale with this incipit, nor can I find this Chorale, or any setting of it, listed anywhere in any context.

So what it is doing on the the Schweizer disc, and what relevance does it have to the Easter Oratorio?

 

Discussions in the Week of June 13, 2010

William Hoffman wrote (June 13, 2010):
Easter Oratorio, BWV 249: Introduction

Easter Oratorio

Overview page, BCW: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Vocal/BWV249.htm
Latest study: Julian Mincham, BCW http://www.jsbachcantatas.com/documents/chapter-49-bwv-249.htm

EASTER SUNDAY: BWV 249, "Kommt, eilet und laufet" [ORATORIUM, PARODY]
(1) April 1, 1725, ?before sermon, "Kommt gehet und eilet"; (2) c1738, (3) c1743, (4) April 6, 1749
*BWV 249 Sources: (1) orig. score & parts (lost, ?WFB); (2) score (SPK P.34) and parts (SPK. St.355), CPEB "Oratorium Festo Paschali," Berlin Singakadamie; set copy (11 parts [3 tp, ti, 2 ob, 2 vn, va, bn, bc], sinfonia only), CPEB/copyist Michel, Hamburg)
Literature: BGA XXI3 (Rust 1774); Smend 1942, 1950; Hänssler (Hellmann,1962, w/BWV 249/(12) chorale, sub. BWV 130/6); NBA KB II/7 (Brainard 1981); Terry Cantatas & Oratorios (London 1925); Daw 130f, Young 171f, Dürr (2005) 271-74.
Text: ? Picander (not published); BCW Francis Browne trans. http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Texts/BWV249-Eng3.htm
[chorale interpolation (12), "Herr Gott, dich loben alle wir" (Eber 1554)]
Forces: SATB, 4 vv, 3 tp, timp, (fl) 2 rec. 2 ob (ob d'a), str, bc; 1725 parts: S=Mary the Mother of James, A=Magdalene, T=Peter, B=John the Evangelist
Movements: sinfonia, TB duet w/chs., 4 recits. (SATB, TBA, SA,B), 3 arias (STA), chorus
1. Sinfonia (tutti orch.): A (Allegro) 3/8 gigue (D), 2. B adagio ¾ (b)
3. Duet dc w.chs. (T, B, tutti), 3/8 gigue (D): Come, hasten & hurry, ye fleet footsteps (=249a,b/3 orig. TB duet)
4. Rec. (SATB) (b-b): O colds human hearts, where is the love (Jn. 20:1)
5. Aria dc (S, fl), gigue ¾ (b): Soul, they spice, will no myrrh be (Mk. 15:23 & Jn. 19:39) (=249a,b/5)
6. Rec. (TBA) (D-b): Here is the grave, there the stone (Jn. 20:2-5)
7. Aria free dc 4/4 (T, rec. str) (G): My grief at Thy death shall be eased ("tears," Rev. 21:4) (=249a,b/7)
8. Rec. (SA) (b-A): Meanwhile, we sight with burning longing
9. Aria dc 4/4 (A, ob, str) (A): Tell me now where I might finds Jesus ("whom my soul loves," Song of Songs 3:1-4) (=249a,b/9)
10. Rec. (B) (FG-A): We rejoice that our Jesus lives once more
11. Chorus (tutti), French Overture 4/4 adagio; 3/8 gigue (D), allegro: Praise & thanks, Lord, be ever Thy hymn ("Gates of hell," Mat. 16:18; "redeemed," Isaiah 35:10, "Lion of Judah," Rev. 5:5) (=249a,b/11)
(12. Cle. tutti: Lord God, we all praise Thee (?orig.lost, sub. 130/6)

*Sources: Version 1 (1725) with 4 solo parts named, score lost, parts survive; Version 2 (c. 1738) "Oratorium" with a few extra measures of music and minor changes in scoring; Version 3 (c.1743-46) altered text (aria No. 5, B ending), changes in scoring (No. 2 Adagio oboe changed to flute, No 3 duet to SATB chorus) and smaller revisions.

A brief outline of the plot shows the basics of the Easter story and the reactions of the main participants.
The opening da capo chorus of people (No. 3) urges the Lutheran congregation to "Come, hasten and hurry" to the empty tomb and celebrate. These commands are similar to those of the opening SMP chorus (1727), "Come" "See ye." The principal characters, who are collectively grieving and preparing to anoint the body, are introduced (No. 4) in recitative. Mary the Mother of James in a da capo aria (No. 5) addresses the "Soul" of the one who receives the Easter proclamation, substituting a laurel wreath or myrrh spices. In the succeeding recitative (No. 6) Peter, John and Mary Magdalene see the tomb and great tombstone opening and Mary gives the Easter proclamation, "He is raised from the dead." Peter is pleased to see the sudarium "lying unwrapped." Peter sings a da capo pastoral slumber song (No. 7) and the two Marys in an arioso (No. 8) express their desire to see Jesus. Mary Magdalene, who is more then just a casual observer, in a da capo aria (No. 9) personally pleads to be with Jesus. The Evangelist John proclaims (No. 10) the Resurrection and everyone joins in a canticle of praise and thanksgiving, with various biblical references.

Text and Sinfonia

A deep understanding of the text is found in Michael Marissen's recent study: <Bach's Oratorios: The Parallel German-English Texts with Annotations> (OUP 2008), pp. 134-38). As he observes in his first footnote:
"To try to reconcile the logical and chronological difficulties of this libretto would be fruitless. The text was designed not as a chronicle for all listeners to track from left to right but as a theological proclamation for 18th century Lutherans to identify with liturgically and apply to their loves spiritually. That is to say, to criticize the libretto for being unsatisfying by the dictates of formal reason would be historically uninformed."

In addition to citing the biblical references found in the movement summary above, Marissen offers important insights. He shows that the various New Testament gospel texts covering the Easter Sunday story have differing perspectives. The overall story is complex and somewhat convoluted. These complexities include the significance and timely application of myrrh oil and the use of the burial sudarium (Schweißtuch, sweat-cloth), the identities of the women, the perspective of the two women in the story going to anoint Jesus' body, and the figure that speaks to Mary the Mother of James and Mary Magdalene at the empty tomb on Easter morning. In Bach's libretto, it is an angel, based on Matthew 28, while it is a young man in Mark 16, two men in Luke 24, and two angels in John 20.

While the <Easter Oratorio> text changes probably were devised by Bach, the identity of the libretto author is usually thought to be Picander, although the text never was published. Picander is the author of the text of the original <Shepherds' Cantata> BWV 249a, performed five weeks earlier, and is Bach's librettist for almost all the succeeding vocal music parodies. Still, the <Easter Oratorio> text has numerous scholarly biblical references and some local dialect. Perhaps the oratorio parody text was a collaboration of Bach, Picander, and a Lutheran Pastor, possibly Dr. Christian Weiss Senior at St. Thomas Church.

Picander's original arcadian inages in the pastoral serenade are turned into sometimes graphic, pietistic sentiments in the <Easter Oratorio>. The text change in the final two lines of the da capo B section, Alto Aria No. 5, "Seele, deine Spezereinen" (Soul, your spices), which is now found in the published editions, appears in the third version, dating between 1743 and 1746. Like Bach's changes in the 1749 version of the <St. John Passion> (No 9 aria and Nos. 19-20 and arioso-aria combination), these seem to reflect a more enlightened than pietistic language. Aria BWV 249/5 in the earlier wording:
"Sich mit Lorberkränzen schmücken/Schicket sich vor dein Erquicken"
(adorning yourself with laurel wreaths befits your being recalled to life);
In the extant, later wording:
"Mit dem Lorbeerkranze prangen, with the splendour of the laurel wreath
Stillt dein ängstliches Verlangen. will your anxious longing be satisfied."

Another unresolved issue is the origin of the opening two-part instrumental sinfonia and succeeding opening vocal movement. The three movements have long been assumed to be from a lost concerto, a concerto grosso (Smend) in the manner of the <Brandenburg Concertos>, or an instrumental collection. The view is questioned because "the internal structure of the three movements concerned is quite unlike that of other concertos," says Dürr <Bach Cantatas> 274, citing Joshua Rifkin and others.

As Julian Mincham notes in a recent BCW Sinfonia posting, Bach in most cases doesn't simply revive and tack-on a sinfonia to an already-composed cantata. Rather it is an initial invention, an impetus and an integral part of the whole work. Meanwhile, I think Bach often resorts to models or examples, as in his parodies which often are not simply duplications with new text underlay but are transformations within a new context. As Dürr also notes: "The bipartite structure of the notably brief closing chorus [No. 11] is modelled in that of the Sanctus, BWV 232III , composed shortly beforehand (Christmas 1724) and later in the <B minor Mass.>"

Bach Oratorios as Sacred Opera

Perhaps the most intriguing facet of Bach's <Easter Oratorio> is its overall form. Labeled an oratorio because its covers biblical incidents on Easter Sunday in a dramatic but non-liturgical fashion, it is now considered part of Bach's Trilogy of Sacred Operas, along with the <Christmas> and <Ascension Oratorios>, according to Bach scholar Christoph Wolff. This trilogy designation is found in his lecture, "Are Bach's Oratorios Sacred Operas?" at the Biennial Meeting, "Bach and the Oratorio Tradition," May 8-11, 2008, of the American Bach Society and the 101st Bethlehem Bach Festival at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania.

Wolff describes the common ingredients in all three Christian oratorios: the festive atmosphere of the trumpets and drums, the use of sacred chorales (except in the <Easter Oratorio>), the Gospel stories (not quoted in the first oratorio, for Easter), the exordium and applicato technique of all three oratorios, and the extensive use pre-existing occasional secular celebratory music with dramatic overtones. Above all, Wolff emphasizes the theatrical dialogue character and communal audience response as believers in all three oratorios: the duet roles in the original 1725 "theatrical cantata" Easter work, the Narrator-Angel-Herod dialogues in the <Christmas Oratorio>, BWV 248, and the narrative base leading to the canonic dialogue of two men in white robes at Christ's ascension into heaven, in the <Ascension Oratorio>, BWV 11

Wolff spent much of his lecture on the <Easter Oratorio> as the first work and its connections to the other two festival oratorios. He noted that Bach designed the original version to emphasize dramatic dialogue throughout, without biblical scripture or hymns. In the c. 1738 version that survives today, Bach turned to a devotional emphasis, expanding the opening aria a quarto into a non-theatrical introduction. Meanwhile, Bach retains the soprano-alto arioso duet No. 8, "Indessen, saufzen wir" (Meanwhile, we sigh) involving Mary the Mother of James and Mary Magdalene, as the heart of the work, in homophonic imitation, a Handelian technique found in the oratorio <Israel and Egypt>. Wolff also points out the Hasse/Steffani-like opening overture (sinfonia).

Wolff also suggests that Anna Magdalena Bach portrayed the soprano role (the shepherdess Doris, later Mary the Mother of James) in the original Weißenfels pastoral serenade, which he calls "tafelmusik" (table or banquet music). Wolff in particular thinks that the soprano trio aria with flute or violin, No. 5, "Hundertausend Schmeicheleien" (100,000 Flatteries - "spices" in the oratorio), running as long as 11 minutes (!), was tailored for Anna Magdalena.

Before closing his one-hour lecture with a brief discussion of the Passions SJP and SMP as sacred operas, Wolff cited Bach distant relative Johann Gottfried Walther's 1732 musical lexicon definition of "oratorium," also cited in Martin Geck's book, <JSB Life and Work> p. 422: "a religious <Opera>, or <musical> representation of a religious story.

Italian Style

Douglas Cowling (BCW 249 discussion 2) wrote (March 31, 2007):

[Bach's use of the term "oratorium" is interesting and seems to indicate that scriptural narrative is going to be used. We see this in the Christmas (BWV 248) and Ascension (BWV 11) oratorios which have Luther's prose. Ironically, the use of "oratorium" historically meant a scriptural story rendered in poetic verse: Vivaldi's "Juditha Trumphans" and Händel's "La Resurrezione" are roughly contemporaneous.

[The latter is particularly interesting for it has the same "plot" as the Easter Oratorio and the character of Christ does not appear even though he is a prominent figure in the scriptural accounts -- one could easily imagine a dramatic scene between Christ and Mary Magdalene. Bach has the same reticence, which is odd -- Christ speaks with extraordinary dramatic effect in the Passions. Why not here?

[I'm wondering if Bach was trying to fashion an oratorio in the Italian style (like those in Dresden?) and encountered opposition from the Leipzig church authorities opposed to the notion of biblical characters being given poetry. The absence of Christ from the narrative might indicate Bach's sensitivity to the thought of Christ speaking poetic paraphrases -- perhaps it was an Italian tradition. We know that in the Passions he chose to set scriptural prose rather than lyrical paraphrases.]

Thank you, Doug. I think the evidence definitely -- especially in the <Easter Oratorio> -- points to Italian style. Bach's first venture into the feast day oratorio realm relates directly to Handel's "La Resurrezione" (1708 Rome), and also has connections to Schütze's summa <Resurrection History> (1623 Dresden), and Antonio Caldera's sacred oratorios <Maddalena ai piedi di Christo> (1697-98 Venice, 1713 Vienna) and <The Passion of Jesus Christ> (1716, Vienna)

Schütze's first venture into early historia or oratorio is a summa or harmony of the four Gospel accounts of the whole Easter Story, including Resurrection Sunday, Walk to Emmaus Monday, and Disciple Gathering Tuesday. It was performed annually until 1675, replacing Scandello's Easter History and eventually replaced by Strungk's, as the Dresden Catholic Chapel Easter tradition from 1573 to 1700. These Easter works, with instruments, choruses and multiple voices singing the roles of Jesus, Mary Magdalene and the Angel at the Tomb, had no model in Catholic tradition, being part of a post-Lutheran German vernacular historia genre specific to Dresden and best known throughout Germany as oratorio Passions.

The Italian sacred vulgate oratorio tradition flourished from 1660 to 1720, particularly in palaces in Rome where the Papacy had forbidden opera at any time of the year. It was a frank substitute for opera, with elaborate sets and costumes and numerous da capo arias, but no staging or choruses -- thus being a closet or static drama.

Handel, trained in the Hamburg Opera tradition of sacred operas and passion-oratorio, 1703-06, moved to Italy to learn opera. In Rome, he initially composed secular cantatas, vesper music and oratorios, primarily for the wealth Roman families usually headed by Cardinals. At Easter 1708, Handel on commission created "La Resurrezione" for Easter Sunday and Monday, paired with Alessandro Scarlatti's Passion Oratorio (perhaps St. John, 1680-85), on Wednesday of Holy Week, with a large orchestra conduced by Archangelo Corelli. Along with <Messiah> and the <Brockes Passion>, it was Handel's only biblical oratorio with a specifically Christian theme. Is it just a coincidence that Bach's first viable church piece, <Cantata BWV 4, "Christ lag in Todesbanden>," was performed at Easter 1707 or perhaps on the same Easter Sunday 1708 in Mühlhausen as Handel's Easter Oratorio in Rome?

Four elements are common to Bach's and Handel's Easter Oratorios: a festive instrumental introduction, the use of da capo arias (all four in Bach), music using various forms of the gigue and gavotte dance, and primary characters signing arias and ensemble dialogue using poetic rather than biblical text. In Handel's case there are two distinct settings: the underworld exchanges between an Angel (soprano) and Lucifer (bass) and the earthly biblical setting of the mortal characters Mary Magdalene (soprano), Mary Cleophas (mezzo), and St. John the Evangelist (tenor) - the same three biblical characters in Bach's <Easter Orartorio>, plus Peter. Handel's assigned libretto by Capece provides operatic emotions from weeping and lament to delight, joy and triumph, with Handel's unerring gift for characterization. Bach's libretto and treatment are grounded in the Schütz manner of intimacy and reflection.

Another common element is the soprano lead in both oratorios. Handel employed famed diva Margherita Durastanti as Mary Magdalene for the premiere but the Pope objected to a female singer; a castrato was substituted for the Easter Monday repeat performance. Bach, as Christoph Wolff points out, had Anna Magdalena sing the role of the shepherdess Doris in the initial pastoral serenade at the Weißenfels Court but it is assumed that a boy soprano in the Thomas Church choir sang the parodied role of Mary the Mother of James on Easter Sunday five weeks later in 1725.

Yet another common element is the composers' reuse of existing music. In the case of Handel, he was legion at recycling his vocal music, beginning with the instrumental sarabande in his first opera, <Almira> (Hamburg 1705), later used as an aria in his first oratorio, <The Triumph of Time and Truth> (Rome 1707), and finally the famed castrato aria, "Lascia ch'io pianga" in <Rinaldo> (London 1711).
In "La Resurrezione" near the end is John's tenor aria "Caro figlio" (Dear son), which also had its origins in Hamburg and later was used also in <Rinaldo> as the aria "Cara sposa" (Dear wife).

See Johan Van Veen's reviews of two recordings of "La Resurrezione" just posted on BCW http://www.musica-dei-donum.org


Cantata BWV 249a, "Entfliehet, verschwindet"; "February 23, 1725, birthday "Shepherds' Cantata" (pastoral serenade), Duke Christian, Weißenfels; text Picander I (1727) & Vierte Auflage (1748) (Doris, Sylvia, Menalcas, Damoetas); NBA KB I/35 (Dürr 1964); reconstructions: no recits, Brainard NBA II/7 (1977), Appx. B; Bärenreiter #1785 (1943, Smend w/recits. Hermann Keller).
BCW cover page: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV249a.htm
BCW Translation, Z. Philip Ambrose: http://www.uvm.edu/~classics/faculty/bach/BWV249a.html
Literature: Smend, Bach in Köthen 119, 195, 207; Dürr Cantatas 805-809
1. Sinfonia (tutti orch.): A (Allegro) 3/8 gigue (D), 2. B adagio ¾ (b)
3. Duet (T, B; SA) 3/8 gigue (D): Flee, disappear, escape you sorrows (=249)
4. Rec. (BTAS) (b-b): What hear I there (music lost)
5. Aria dc (S, fl), gigue ¾ (b): Hundred thousand flatteries swell in my breast (=2495)
6. Rec. (BSTA) (D-b): As again, lovely sheep, what have you (music lost)
7. Aria free dc 4/4 (T, rec. str) (G): Watch you, you fat sheep (=2497)
8. Rec. (BA) (b-A): All right, beloved sheep (music lost)
9. Aria dc 4/4 (A, ob, str) (A): Come yet, Flora . . . breathe with the west wind (=249/9)
10. Rec. (B) (FG-A): What care you plenty (music lost)
11. Chorus (tutti), French Overture 4/4 adagio; 3/8 gigue (D), allegro: Fortune & health, so will one's future.

Secular Origin and Usages

Alfred Dürr in The Cantatas of JSB 805-809, an expansion of his notes in the Rilling CD of BWV 249a (Smend-Keller version) suggests (808) that the secular origin of the Easter Oratorio as a shepherds' pastoral serenade makes it less suitable to its church purpose, without biblical words and chorale, in comparison with the Christmas Oratorio.

The shepherds' serenade was Bach' second commission for the Court of Duke Christian of Saxe-Weißenfels. Both were substantial, milestone secular serenades or tafelmusik. The first, the Hunting Cantata BWV 208 of 1713 was Bach's first cantata in the "new style" in 15 movements with da capo arias and recitatives, with a large orchestra and perhaps an opening sinfonia which was an early version of the opening movement of the Brandenburg Concerto No. 1. It was repeated several times as a birthday tribute for courts (with name changes) at Weimar, Weißenfels, Saxony, and possibly Köthen.

"Primitive as it is, the plot (of BWV 249a) offers the composer ample scope for characterful shaping of the various movements," says Dürr. Among them, the pastoral lullaby (No. 5), and above all, the full-textured finale in praise of the prince belong to the regular repertory of baroque opera and serenade music. Bach's setting is of imperishable worth and towers above the general level of such congratulatory music.

Bach composed a third commission for the Court at Saxe-Weißenfels: BWV 210a, "O angenehme Melodei" (O pleasing melody), soprano solo homage serenade (three versions); originally composed as a homage to the Duke of Saxe-Weißenfels, January 12, 1729; for the birthday of Count von Flemming, August 25, 1729-30; and repeats for him and unknown patrons (through text revisions) between 1735-1740; and finally, parodied as the extant secular wedding cantata, "O holder Tag, erwünschte Zeit" (O glorious day, longed-for time), 1738-41 (no librettist identified for any version).

The pastoral birthday serenade BWV 249a was repeated once in a parody 18 months later as a birthday tribute, BWV 249b, to the Saxon court adviser and leading Bach patron Count von Flemming. Bach also presented two other parody birthday serenades for von Flemming, BWV 210a in 1729-30 and BWV Anh. 10 in 1731.

Cantata BWV 249b, "Die Feier des Genius: Verjaget, zerstreuet"; August 25, 1726; birthday "Dramma per Musica," Leipzig Graf von Flemming; text Picander I (Genius, Mercurius, Melpomene, Minerva); NBA KB I/39 (Neumann 1977)


Sources and Techniques

What were Bach's sources for these <Easter Oratorio> models? In the cases of the Schütz and Caldara oratorios, the manuscripts were found in the royal Saxon library at Dresden, also the source of much of Bach's studies of sacred vocal stile antico and moderno techniques. The Handel source is allusive, since his work disappeared after its 1708 debut, although it was later salvaged. IMHO, the most likely source is Telemann in Hamburg, who had direct connections with Handel, Keiser, and Mattheson and, as municipal music director, was composing oratorios for the church feast days and Good Friday as well as secular occasions. We will explore the Telemann connection in the BCW Easter Sunday discussion, the week of June 27, 2010, <Cantata BWV 160, "Ich weiß, daß mein Erloser lebt>."

Caldara's <Maddalena ai piedi di Christo> is a crucial link in the chain of sacred oratorios. From 1710 to 1716, Caldara created numerous Lenten oratorios for Marchese Raspoli, Handel's most influential Roman patron, who underwrote the 1708 Scarlatti-Handel Passion-Easter oratorio pairing in 1708. In 1713, Caldara presented his <Maddalena ai piedi di Christo> as a test piece in Vienna. Finally, in 1716, Caldara became vice-Kapellmeister to Habsburg Emperor Charles VI in Vienna. There, Caldara composed 50 operas, numerous sacred works, including a 25 oratorios and a <Magnificat> (Suscipet Israel, BWV 1083), which Bach arranged, 1740-42, as well as the Passion Oratorio to a Metastasio text, Caldara's inaugural Viennese work on Tuesday of Holy Week, 1716.

Caldara's works have all the hallmarks of the Italian-style oratorio with opening sinfonias, numerous da capo arias alternating with ariosi and recitative, dramatic tension, conflict between good and evil, symbolic characters, detailed orchestral scoring with gavotte and gigue dance styles, musical reof the text, and striking "set-up" and "exit" arias. Many of these ingredients Bach adapted for use in his dramatic music, beginning with his Köthen serenades (1717-24) and the Passion of John; the 1725 almost-simultaneous creation of the <Easter Oratorio>, the beginnings of the <St. Matthew Passion>, and the first drammi per musica for the Dresden Court; and the completion of the SMP in 1729, followed by the <Missa in B Minor> in 1733 for the Dresden Court, and the <Christmas> and <Ascension Oratorios> of 1734-35.

Meanwhile, in contrast to Handel, Caldara, and other contemporary Italian opera composers, Bach wasn't content to refashion his works with new arias and texts or produce a "new" hybrid piece, as amalgamation, a pastiche or pastry confectionary. Employing the Renaissance sacred music technique of parody or new-text underlay, as well as the utilization of old melodies in new contexts, Bach began tentatively in the 1725 pastoral cantata and its sister <Easter Oratorio> to explore and integrate the musical world of static drama and personal reflection.

From the facts "on the ground," so to speak, it is possible to conjecture about Bach's reasoning and practice in the composition of these unique feast day oratorios. Essentially, he seems to embrace, explore and integrate both the musical worlds of the past and the present. A side-by-side (synoptic) examination reveals three remarkable, unique, different works. Much has been written about the ambitious <Christmas Oratorio> in six parts while the <Ascension Oratorio> shows both new directions and closure for Bach. Now, looking at the pioneering <Easter Oratorio> and its brethren, the serenades and first drammi per musica, it seems that Bach was able to utilize and sustain both profane and sacred elements in a compatible and effective duality, something not even his most talented colleagues achieved - or perhaps even desired.

IMHO both 1725 and 1735 were watershed periods in Bach's creative life. In the latter, he achieved full expression of his Christological cycle, using the wealth of recent secular cantatas to fashion new works. Regrettably, Bach expended most of this great, remarkable resource on the <Christmas Oratorio>. Still, it is intriguing to comprehend a full-blown, three-day <Easter Oratorio>, integrating the lyrical pastoral choruses and arias into a composite and extensive gospel account similar to Schütze's somewhat repetitive historia. At the same time, Bach would have had to use chorales and parodied da capo arias. - quite an undertaking. Alfred Dürr has even suggested that Bach also created a fourth, Pentecost Oratorio.

What we do know is that, subsequently, Bach ceased secular cantata composition, content to repeat or slightly parody annual works for the Dresden court. Meanwhile, there was a small burst of playful creativity with the <"Peasant"> and <"Coffee" Cantatas>, now seen as forerunners or intimations of popular light opera.

Two phrases come to mind re. Bach's <Easter Oratorio> as we know it: "Es ist vollbracht" and "Es ist genug," "It is finished" and "It is enough."

Neil Halliday wrote (June 13, 2010):
"Gently shall my death pangs only a slumber...be" (tenor aria).

On the face of it, it seems remarkable that Bach could set this text to music originally composed to illustrate the slumber of contented sheep in rich pastures, but it works beautifully, given the context of joy-through-death, on account of Christ's resurrection.

IMO, slower tempos capture a gentle, peaceful and consoling mood more expressively: compare Parrott with McCreesh.

Interestingly, recorders double the violins at the octave throughout, creating a lovely timbre, and the paired-slurring of the semiquaver notes throughout, is an expressive feature.

-------

Julian mentioned in his article that some listeners might wonder why Bach replaced the oboe with a flute in a later version of the second sinfonia; I certainly prefer the oboe in this lovely adagio, but it's hard to say why; eg, the flute works beautifully in the soprano aria (which itself apparently has the option of an obbligato violin!).

Werner's recording (a fine example of his art) concludes most satisfyingly with the grand closing chorale of BWV 130 - with flourishes on trumpets and drums between each chorale phrase. I haven't yet sought the reason for Werner's use of this chorale as a conclusion to the work; did the lack of a da capo suggest to Werner the need for a concluding chorale? (I noticed William also mentioned this chorale in his informative introduction. Perhaps the answer can be found at the BCW; I'll do a search later when time permits.

Douglas Cowling wrote (June 14, 2010):
William Hoffman wrote:
< Labeled an oratorio because its covers biblical incidents on Easter Sunday in a dramatic but non-liturgical fashion, it is now considered part of Bach's Trilogy of Sacred Operas, along with the <Christmas> and <Ascension Oratorios>, according to Bach scholar Christoph Wolff. >
I have to admit that I see more differences than similarlties in Bach's three New Testament oratorios. The Easter Oratorio is really a unique work that stands apart from all of Bach's sacred music.

1. The Absence of Scriptural Narrative:
Unlike the two oratorios and the passions, Bach does not use the prose narratives of scripture. In fact, the entire work is a dramatic reaction to the Resurrection account and does not rewrite the biblical story in lyrical poetry. One could say that the work is a single tableau of the Empty Tomb. The absence of the figure of Christ is significant when considering the dramatic possibilities of the scriptural scenes between Jesus and the Maries or the Angel and the Maries.

2. The Absence of Chorales
This alone sets the work apart from the other oratorios. The fact that Bach added a concluding chorale in a later version and removed the characters' names might indicate that the work was criticized for its non-traditional
format.

3. The Operatic Libretto.
The libretto owes more in form and style to a dramatic cantata like "Phoebus and Pan" than to any of the scriptural passions or oratorios. Through the whole work we see the typical operatic structure of a brief interactive "Action" in the recitatives and reflective "Reaction" which illustrates a particular affect in the arias. The libretto has none of the allegorizing or moralizing themes which we see throughout the other cantata-oratorios or passions.

The Easter Oratorio is the most Catholic and Italian of Bach's vocal works. Such oratorios were popular in Italy in Easter Week when concerted music returned to the liturgy and in popular devotions such as "sacred concerts". We see dramatic Easter works in the early 17th century. A single sinfonia survives from Monteverdi's oratorio, "Magdalena" and there are several contemporary scenas which dramatize scenes from the scriptural narrative, including the encounter of Christ and Mary Magdalene. When Handel is commissioned in Rome, he is clearly writing a work which is in a popular genre. If we had to choose the two works of Handel and Bach which are the most similar, "La Resurrezione" and the "Easter Oratorio" would be the obvious choice.

The questions then arise why Bach would choose to write such a Catholic, Italian oratorio -- unlike anything he had written before -- and where did he find his models? The answer must lie in Dresden.

Ed Myskowski wrote (June 14, 2010):
William Hoffman wrote:
< The opening da capo chorus of people (No. 3) urges the Lutheran congregation to "Come, hasten and hurry" to the empty tomb and celebrate. These commands are similar to those of the opening SMP chorus (1727), "Come" "See ye." The principal character, who are collectively grieving and preparing to anoint the body, are introduced (No. 4) in recitative. >
EM:
As a lad (couple years, and more, ago) this was the central mystery of religion for me: what happened to the body? It still is, come to think of it, if now more simple question than profound mystery.

WH:
< A deep understanding of the text is found in Michael Marissen's recent study: <Bach's Oratorios: The Parallel German-English Texts with Annotations> (OUP 2008), pp. 134-38). As he observes in his first footnote:
"To try to reconcile the logical and chronological difficulties of this libretto would be fruitless. The text was designed not as a chronicle for all listeners to track from left to right but as a theological proclamation for 18th century Lutherans to identify with liturgically and apply to their loves spiritually. That is to say, to criticize the libretto for being unsatisfying by the dictates of formal reason would be historically uninformed." >
EM:
This thoughtful (dare I say lovely?) statement of the issues cuts to the core of the misunderstandings often expressed in BCML discussions, re Bachs relevance to 21st century theology and science. *Historically uninformed* (HUP?) is especially noteworthy. It is no small irony that the citation is from a footnote!

I also find Doug’s response to Will’s introduction enlightening in many details. Thanks, as always.

Neil Halliday wrote (June 18, 2010):
Excellent performances (on youtube):

1st movement: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RaVanbr6S9w&feature=related

Adagio: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EgQz899oW_8

Neil Halliday wrote (June 18, 2010):
Plus Herreweghe's heavenly "Sanfte soll", with a lovely arioso at the end.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X_hIDGRbdfM

and lots more; just type whatever you want (or so it seems) into the search window.

 

Article: Easter Oratorio BWV 249 - An Examination of its Sources and Development

Aryeh Oron wrote (September 2, 2010):
Thomas Braatz contributed another article to the BCW:
"Easter Oratorio BWV 249 - An Examination of its Sources and Development"
See: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Articles/BWV249Chron.pdf
Linked from: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Articles/index.htm
(links from other pages would be added later)

Thomas Braatz wrote:
The curious history of the Easter Oratorio continues to raise many questions in the minds of listeners, performers and musicologists alike. Some of these can be answered by examining carefully all available sources and others are open to various interpretations. This report will attempt to put some issues to rest or least offer some reasonable solutions that will need to be considered. One of the key questions that I will attempt to answer is: "What is the problem with this particular parody? Why is it considered as one of the weakest parodies that Bach ever produced?" Other questions that are important to solving the many riddles surrounding this work are: "What are the various stages of development of both the music and the texts? How do we know when the autograph score and the existing original parts were prepared? What about the final chorale which is sometimes performed with this work?" There are also some curious questions like: "How can a bassoon play pizzicato? and What about a 19th-century, 3-piano arrangement of mvt. 1?"

William Hoffman wrote (September 2, 2010):
[To Aryeh Oron] I trust that this article will be listed on BCW: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Vocal/BWV249.htm
as well as the latest discussion, beginning June 13, 2010.

Douglas Cowling wrote (September 5, 2010):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
"What is the problem with this particular parody? Why is it considered as one of the weakest parodies that Bach ever produced?"
It is terrific to have this factual information about the scores: I wish we had a Provenance page for every cantata!

The Easter Oratorio has two strikes against it:

1) It has never been forgiven the fact that it is a "parody" work in a way that the Christmas Oratorio and the Mass in B Minor have never been judged.

2) It is judged a failure against the model of the Passions.

I would suggest that the Easter Oratorio is unpopular because it is the only example in Bach's works of a specific genre: the Italian Easter oratorio. And that like much of Baroque opera, it does not resonate with modern sensibilities. I suspect many audiences (and it appears scholars as well) are disappointed that Bach did not use Luther's prose translation and depict the high drama of the scriptural story. Think of the possible scenes: the earthquake, the angelic descent and rolling away of the stone, the soldiers and Pilate, the mourning women, Mary Magdalene's encounter with Jesus. If Bach had taken the Passions as his model, the Easter Oratorio could have been spectacular drama. But he didn't, and it isn't.

Rather he used a libretto which removed all the drama of the story. The terse prose of scripture is replaced by elegant and somewhat remote poetry. The characters reflect on the Resurrection but do not participate in it. The whole work seems slack and passive. The four characters stand before an imaginary stage set of the Empty Tomb and meditate on it. Christ remains offstsge. This is precisely what happens in Handel's "La Resurrezione". The performance took place on a specially-built stage with the characters standing before a backdrop of the Resurrection and commenting in the same desultory fashion as in Bach's work.

I'm not saying that Handel's 1708 Easter oratorio was a model for or even known by Bach. However, it seems likely that they are representative works of a genre of Italian oratorio: the similarities are too striking to be coincidence. I wonder if there are other works out there which have comparable features. It seem that Dresden would be the likely place to look.

The music is magnificent. Why can't we love this work?

Ed Myskowski wrote (September 5, 2010):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< It is terrific to have this factual information about the scores: I wish we had a Provenance page for every cantata! >
I share that wish. For newcomers, the folks corresponding (above) are among the most important contributors to that goal.

DC:
< Rather he used a libretto which removed all the drama of the story. The terse prose of scripture is replaced by elegant and somewhat remote poetry. The characters reflect on the Resurrection but do not participate in it. The whole work seems slack and passive. The four characters stand before an imaginary stage set of the Empty Tomb and meditate on it. Christ remains offstsge. >
EM:
True enough, but the question always remains: To what extent did Bach have latitude in selection/preparation of librettos?

The passive (non-operatic!) approach is exactly in conformance with his charter (if not necessarily personal choice) in pursuing the Leipzig appointment.

Note that the psychologically passive perspective is precisely correct for the contemporary Christian believer, contemporary with either Bach or the 21st C. Perhaps that emphasis was intended?

Of course, exactly the opposite is true for the contemporaries of Jesus. I will be interested in texts for the coming weeks, the key period from Resurrection to Ascension of Jesus. This is the culmination of the *de tempore* half of the liturgical year, in the language recently presented by Will Hoffman. In the spirit of Dougs post, this period presents the maximum opportunity for an active (operatic) presentation of the miraculous and/or godly acts of the resurrected Jesus.

DC:
< The music is magnificent. Why can't we love this work? >
EM:
Some of us have done so for quite some time. This was my (and only) Phillipe Herreweghe cantata performance before joining BCML. It remains a favorite of mine, and I expect of Herreweghe as well.

Douglas Cowling wrote (September 5, 2010):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
< The passive (non-operatic!) approach is exactly in conformance with his charter (if not necessarily personal choice) in pursuing the Leipzig appointment. >
Actually I would say that the libretto of the Easter Oratorio is the only sacred cantata of Bach's which could justifiably be called operatic. I wouldn't be surprised if Bach dropped the names of the soloists because there were complaints that giving non-scriptural words to biblical characters was indecorous. If I was a conservative Leipzig burgher worried about the infiltration of avant-garde, pseudo-catholic, operatic ideas from Dresden, I would disapprove of this work's libretto.

Ed Myskowski wrote (September 6, 2010):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< Actually I would say that the libretto of the Easter Oratorio is the only sacred cantata of Bach's which could justifiably be called operatic. I wouldn't be surprised if Bach dropped the names of the soloists because there were complaints that giving non-scriptural words to biblical characters was indecorous. If I was a conservative Leipzig burgher worried about the infiltration of avant-garde, pseudo-catholic, operatic ideas from Dresden, I would disapprove of this work's libretto. >
I see (and agree with) Dougs additional point. I was responding to to the original statement that the Easter Oratorio is a missed opportunity for spectacular drama, but that does not necesssarily make it non-operatic. Incidentally, I find the discussion of Bachs constraints by Leipzig authorities among the more interesting, informative, and entertaining topics. Not so entertaining to Bach, I suspect.

Harry W. Crosby wrote (September 6, 2010):
Ladies and Gentlemen, for me, this discussion of the history of the Easter Oratorio, the related accounts of its critics, and the bases of their complaints, all add up to hearty endorsement of the classic epigrams, "When ignorance is bliss, 'tis folly to be wise," and, "What you don't know won't hurt you."

I got my first recording of the Easter Oratorio about 1960 when I was reaching out for any available recordings of Bach's vocal works. I loved it from the word go and have owned a progression of oft-played performances, my favorites today being those of Herreweghe and Gardiner. I kicked back last night and bathed in the former.

Of course I understand the fascination of some for the intricate history, the derivations, etc., of many Bach works; I am, after all, a historian myself, admittedly of more mundane people and events. That said, I am unable to relate to the basic idea that this lovely, invigorating work could be spoiled for some by their perceptions of its heritage as mongrel, a stew of leftovers.

But, then perhaps I am being too judgmental. As Archie* famously quipped, "Chacun a son ragout."

*For those too young to remember, Archie was the cockroach who spoke for author Don Marquis in his famous first person column, "Archie and Mehitabel," popular in the 1920s and 1930s.

Kim Patrick Clow wrote (September 6, 2010):
Harry W. Crosby wrote:
< Ladies and Gentlemen, for me, this discussion of the history of the Easter Oratorio, the related accounts of its critics, and the bases of their complaints, all add up to hearty endorsement of the classic epigrams, "When ignorance is bliss, 'tis folly to be wise," and, "What you don't know won't hurt you."
I got my first recording of the Easter Oratorio about 1960 when I was reaching out for any available recordings of Bach's vocal works. I loved it from the word go and have owned a progression of oft-played performances, my favorites today being those of Herreweghe and Gardiner. I kicked back last night and bathed in the former. >

I first heard the Easter oratorio via "DeKoven Presents!" in the 1970s (and what had to have been a recycled show from the 1960s). On this specific episode, DeKoven played the opening Sinfonia at least three times (it was the "repeat treat" concluding the show).

 

Easter & Ascension Oratorios - Matthew Halls, Retrospect Ensemble

Andrew White (Drew) wrote (March 8, 2011):
The samples for this recording sound very promising: http://www.linnrecords.com/recording-js-bach-easter-oratorio-ascension-oratorios.aspx

Two of my favorite vocal works by Bach, with my favorite Bachian tenor, James Gilchrist -- wonderful to hear him sing one of Bach's finest tenor arias, BWV 249:7 ("Sanfte soll mein Todeskummer").

Sampson and Harvey are great, as well. A strong line-up, to be sure.

Claudio Di Veroli wrote (March 8, 2011):
[To Andrew White] Thanks Andrew!

SOME modern flutists play so marvellously well the Baroque flute (like in Track 5-Aria-Seele ...) that we forget how devilishly difficult is to play in tune and with even sound that instrument.

A question for the "Cantatati": which Baroque evidence exists for the use of ostensible vibrato in all the long notes, whether by singers or instruments?

Thanks,

 

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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