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Thread: Cantatas of J.S. Bach

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    Senior Member Winterreisender's Avatar
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    Default Cantatas of J.S. Bach

    The Cantatas of Bach had long been a repertoire which I felt rather overwhelmed by; it was difficult to know where to begin with such a substantial body of work! So I recently acquired the complete Gardiner cantata box set (one of the best purchases I've ever made!) and am listening to the whole cycle, one disc a week according to the liturgical calendar, whilst reading the book The Cantatas of J.S. Bach by Alfred Dürr, which contains some very interesting explanations. I find this repertoire endlessly fascinating and I hope to become more and more familiar with it.

    So I suppose I wanted to ask you, What are your favourite cantatas by Bach? What do you like about them? How do you go about listening to them? Or if you dislike the cantatas, feel free to tell us why. (I can understand if the endless recitative and the repetitive chorales aren't to everyone’s taste!). Any comments, observations, comparisons would be much appreciated!

    I would make a poll of favourite cantatas but one is not allowed 200 options, and there aren't any “obvious” choices to pull out, I don’t think

    Thanks.

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    Senior Member Winterreisender's Avatar
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    There are so many to choose from but, from the ones I have heard recently, a few favourites are:

    BWV 81, Jesus Schläft, Was Soll Ich Hoffen? (“Jesus Sleeps, What Shall I Hope For?”): This is one of Bach’s more dramatic, almost operatic cantatas. It deals with the story of Jesus calming the storm, and therefore contains two great arias (“Die schäumenden Wellen von Belials Bächen“ and “Schweig, aufgetürmtes Meer!“) which are both suitably tumultuous! This is contrasted however with a calming Vox Christi arisoso section. The theological message is obvious, but musically the contrast makes for a very rounded and satisfying structure.

    BWV 92, Ich hab in Gottes Herz und Sinn (“I have in God‘s Heart and Mind“): This is favourite particularly on the strength of the aria “Meinem Hirten bleib ich treu“ which is a charming little piece with a stepping dance rhythm, accompanied by oboe and plucked strings, a combination which sounds wonderfully innocent and fragile.

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    Senior Member Gilberto's Avatar
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    I have had the box set of complete works of J.S. Bach (Rilling) for a number of years but stayed away from the vocal works until a couple months ago.

    My approach to listening to them has been by disc, which has been arranged numerically by BWV. I found a site http://www.bach-cantatas.com/ and I read up on the overview and discussion before hearing each piece.

    I can't comment on which are my favorites yet (I'm only up in the 20's so far) but my mind has bookmarked #8 already.
    My secret is, I always use fresh tomatoes, never canned. And to give it that extra zip, I mix a little Spam with the ground beef!

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    Senior Member Muse Wanderer's Avatar
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    Oh the cantatas by JS Bach are astonishing! Each and every one I have listened to are a work of upmost brilliance.

    I started my cantata adventure few months ago. The decision to start off with Suzuki's set was based on the excellent sound and consistently good instrumentation and singers. Suzuki uses period instrument and the cantatas are set chronoligically with the earliest compositions first. I then like to listen to the same cantatas by Gardiner, Rilling, Koopman and Richter.

    Gardiner's production is also excellent and a close second. To my ears Suzuki has brighter acoustics that fit very well with the cantatas. The pitch of the instruments is at A=465, a brighter sound which also favours female voices. Rilling set is fairly good but the modern intruments don't fit in as well and the singers tend to be too operatic at times. Koopman has some excellent singers but the music is not as upbeat as Suzuki or Gardiner. Richter was my introduction to Bach's best known vocal works and I respect whatever he touches, and his 75 cantata box is a great addition to my collection.

    I have so far listened intently to Suzuki's first four volumes and every single bar is my favourite. My experience is still limited and I am taking my time to enjoy every disc before moving on. Cantatas worth mention include:

    BWV 4 - 'Christ lag in Todesbanden' is one of his earliest and a good start to Suzuki's set

    BWV 12 - the 2nd movmenet 'Weinen Klagen Sorgen Sagen' was chilling to say the least.
    Bach adapted it to his B minor Mass Crucifixus so it sounded very familiar on first listen:


    BWV131 - 'Ich Harre Des Herrn' gets better with every listen


    BWV 106 - Actus tragicus , 'Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit'. The cantata is described as beautiful and fragile by many scholars. Well fitting for a funeral ode it was allegedly written for.

    BWV 162 'Ach, ich sehe, itzt, da ich aur Hochzeit gehe'
    BWV 182 'Himmelskonig, sei willkommen'
    Felt like being physically hit by the sound emanating from these two, lying in my bed at 2am. It was an astounding experience!

    BWV 54 - Arie 'Widerstehe doch der Sunde'. Suzuki's take is faster paced than others but oh my how good it sounds with an excellent alto singer!
    Last edited by Muse Wanderer; Mar-01-2014 at 17:00.

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    Senior Member Art Rock's Avatar
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    My favourite.
    I treat my music like I treat my pets. It’s something to own, care about and curate with attention to detail. From a blog by hjr.

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    Senior Member Eschbeg's Avatar
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    BWV 61 has one of my favorite Bach arias: "Offne dich, mein ganzes Herz."


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    I loooooove Bach's cantatas. I think they are my favorite works of his now. In this past year I've been slowly exploring the Koopman set (nearing the last few discs now), which I highly recommend.

    I've also recently bought the Gardiner set after listening to his BBC Bach documentary. I was so enamored by the cantatas that I had absolutely no reservations about doubledipping into another large set.

    As to which I like most..... oh my, where to start...?

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    I seem to be in a minority here. The cantatas are not my favourite of Bach's works. In the religious works I prefer the Passions and Masses. I do love many sections of the cantatas, and I haven't heard any where near enough of them to be confident in my judgement. So I may change my mind in the future.

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    Senior Member tdc's Avatar
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    I want to spend more time on these masterful works, to get to know them better than I do, but there are so many of them! My favorites for some time now have been BWV 198 and BWV 82:

    BWV 198

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7sO5LPvUAxo

    BWV 82

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XopQG0Gjgmo

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    Senior Member ArtMusic's Avatar
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    Reality is they are all unique little gems. I was listening to BWV29 this morning and always get swept away by the organ concerto sinfonia.


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    Most of them are my favourites. Anyway I'll try to name some of the very best:
    BWV 9,34,51,54,61,63,66,68,74,76,82,90,104,105,119,120 ,123,127,140,146,147,159,161,167,171,172,175,182,1 95,197,199.

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    Senior Member Headphone Hermit's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Winterreisender View Post
    The Cantatas of Bach had long been a repertoire which I felt rather overwhelmed by; it was difficult to know where to begin with such a substantial body of work! ..... and am listening to the whole cycle, one disc a week according to the liturgical calendar

    So I suppose I wanted to ask you, What are your favourite cantatas by Bach? What do you like about them? How do you go about listening to them?
    A very good question, Sir

    I have the Teldec set and like you, I feel a little overawed by the 60 discs and was hoping to be enlightened by replies to the question Winterreisender posed ... but unfortunately ..... well ..... with the exception of a couple of comments above, I think I'll continue to dip in at random through this treasure trove (as I don't have the inclination to be disciplined enough to follow the liturgical year)
    "Time is a great teacher, but unfortunately it kills all its pupils." Berlioz, 1856

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    A suggestion for Headphone Hermit:
    Listen to the cantatas in chronological order.
    Mühlhausen cantatas (They sound very different from the rest. They follow the late 17th century German tradition)
    Weimar cantatas (Once Bach had encountered Vivaldi's concertos, his style (and musical forms) changed to "the Bach style")
    Köthen cantatas (Bach turned these secular cantatas into church cantatas in Leipzig)
    Leipzig cantatas (in chronological order again)
    Last edited by quercus robur; Mar-04-2014 at 07:02.

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    Senior Member Winterreisender's Avatar
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    Thanks for all the thoughtful replies so far. I like what I just heard of 131, 61, 54 and 29.

    Quote Originally Posted by Headphone Hermit View Post
    I have the Teldec set and like you, I feel a little overawed by the 60 discs and was hoping to be enlightened by replies to the question Winterreisender posed ... but unfortunately ..... well ..... with the exception of a couple of comments above, I think I'll continue to dip in at random through this treasure trove (as I don't have the inclination to be disciplined enough to follow the liturgical year)
    The advantage of following the liturgical year is that you can see how Bach goes about addressing the same bible verses on different occasions. For example cantatas 73 ("Lord, do with me as you will), 72 ("Everything follows God's will") and 111 ("What God wills, may it always happen") are all textually related and on each occasion Bach develops a sort of leitmotif out of the important phrase "wie du willst" ("as you wish") or something similar. The message is about surrounding to God's will. Given that the cantatas were originally written to serve an exegetical function, I personally need to know the biblical context to fully appreciate what Bach is saying, otherwise it can sound like endless meaningless recitative. I can understand if the religiosity of the cantatas might be off-putting for some. I personally am not religious, but listening to these cantatas tempts me to reconsider.

    By the way, the disadvantage of following the liturgical year is that Lent has just started, which means no cantatas for a few weeks! Will have to listen to the secular ones, instead

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    Senior Member GiulioCesare's Avatar
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    No (explicit) mention of BWV 140 yet? Sleepers, wake!


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