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Thread: Help in tackling Bach's Cantatas

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    Default Help in tackling Bach's Cantatas

    I just got Gardiner's box set with the complete church cantatas and Susuki's set of the secular cantatas is on the way.

    I'm just curious how to best tackle this. I just picked discs 13-16 and ripped them to iTunes and put them on my phone. I liked the album art best on Disc 13. That's the only reason I chose to start there. I'm just looking for suggestions and definitely looking for people to let me know what their favorites are. It's going to take a long time to get through these and familiarize myself with them.

    So far...amazing! If they are all as good as BMV 4 or better, then I'm in for a real treat.

    I have to say I love the artwork on this Gardiner set. I love the idea that Bach's music can unite us whomever we are and whatever our faith.

    I read an article ages ago about the St. Mathew Passion and in it there was a muslim living in London who said the work was so devastating in it's power that even non-Christians can find meaning in it.
    Last edited by gellio; May-05-2020 at 02:27.
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    A while ago, I went through all the cantatas, one a night, for however long that took. They're all great in their own way. And no matter what problem each piece addresses, it always ends in hope, which is what we all need right now.

    I followed the commentary on the Bach Cantatas website. Here is the link.

    https://www.bach-cantatas.com/Guide/IndexGuide1.htm

    They also have ongoing discussions here:

    https://www.bach-cantatas.com/IndexBWV.htm

    Gardiner also wrote a book on Bach, Music in the Castle of Heaven, which includes the cantatas, if you're interested in his perspective. In a nutshell, he says of the cantatas "There's not a duffer in the bunch."
    Last edited by Manxfeeder; May-04-2020 at 21:25.

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    Thank you so much. The only cantata I have heard before today was 147. So far it's beautiful. Going to be a huge amount of work to get to know these intimately. I'll check out your resources. Thank you.
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    Ok, I listened to 6 of the discs so far. I LOVE it all. Dare I say I like the Cantatas better than the Passions and the Oratorios. How am I ever going to know these intimately?

    Would love to hear some of all of your favorite cantatas?
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    Even though I'm not religious, I've been listening through Gardiner's box of church cantatas each on the proper day in the liturgical calendar, just as they were performed. It's been interesting, and quite a wonderful experience. I started on Christmas Day 2019, as it was a Christmas present from my wife.

    ETA: I've also been keeping a journal, and noting whatever I found striking in each. Every single cantata has something uniquely remarkable about it. It's quite extraordinary.
    Last edited by Knorf; May-05-2020 at 22:45.

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    Senior Member Allegro Con Brio's Avatar
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    A quixotic/platonic goal for me this year is to hear all the cantatas at some point (definitely not in chronological order). I have not heard close to all of them yet and I feel like I’ll get a major badge in my portfolio as a Bach nut once I do Even though I truly do believe this is the greatest and most profound body of work in Western music history, I have some trouble remembering each one and sometimes it takes me a few minutes once I start one to realize I’ve heard it before. I should consider taking up Knorf’s idea of a journal - what a wonderful way to hear this music! Anyway, current personal favorites, besides the obvious big-hitters like “Ich habe genug”, “Actus tragicus," and “Wachet auf”:

    4 “Christ lag in Todes banden”: So rich, dark, and chromatic.
    21 “Ich hatte”: This may be my favorite of them all. A long, epic narrative that dazzles in diversity and emotional variety.
    31 “Aus der tiefe”: Ashamed to say but I can’t remember much about the musical content of this one, but I do remember loving it.
    51 “Jauchzet Gott”: Ecstatic, unfiltered joy; but it requires one heck of a soprano to handle the super difficult solo part. Sampson/Suzuki is by far the greatest I’ve heard.
    76 “Die Himmel”: Unabashedly danceworthy.
    147 “Herz und munde”: Everyone knows it from the “Jesu” tune, but there’s much more to it - so much extraordinary lyricism.
    198 “Lass, Furstin”: Took me a while to get into this one, but it’s a jewel of dark pathos and ravishing melody.
    201 “Geschwinde, geschwinde”: The secular cantatas can tend to get overlooked. Who woulda thunk the “dour old Lutheran” would have written a cantata based off Greek mythology? But this is downright brilliant.

    And so many more...probably forgetting a big handful of favorites.

    More often than not I find myself going for the prayerful intimacy of Suzuki (and his excellent solo team) and Herreweghe, though I occasionally listen to Koopman with his larger choir and swifter tempi and the newer Harnoncourt (I think live?) recordings sans boys’ choirs. Gardiner always provides excitement but sometimes I hear it as a bit too detached. I’d rather listen to him all day, though, then the unbearably dull old Richter recordings. I actually like Klemperer, Jochum, and other old-timers in choral Bach but Richter’s conducting (not his lovely organ playing) usually leaves a bad taste in my mouth even though he was just there to support the star soloists.
    Last edited by Allegro Con Brio; May-06-2020 at 00:50.

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    One that blew me away, from just this past weekend actually, is Cantata 146, "Wir müssen durch viel Trübsal."

    I won't even try to describe it, except to note it has a sinfonia with a rare organ obligato, which is cool. Wikipedia says, it is "related to Bach's Harpsichord Concerto in D minor, BWV 1052, which was possibly derived from a lost violin concerto."

    Anyway, it's one of the best ones, in my book.
    Last edited by Knorf; May-06-2020 at 00:57.

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    ^Yup, that’s one of the ones I forgot in my list. Love, love, love that organ obbligato!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Allegro Con Brio View Post
    A quixotic/platonic goal for me this year is to hear all the cantatas at some point (definitely not in chronological order). I have not heard close to all of them yet and I feel like I’ll get a major badge in my portfolio as a Bach nut once I do Even though I truly do believe this is the greatest and most profound body of work in Western music history, I have some trouble remembering each one and sometimes it takes me a few minutes once I start one to realize I’ve heard it before. I should consider taking up Knorf’s idea of a journal - what a wonderful way to hear this music! Anyway, current personal favorites, besides the obvious big-hitters like “Ich habe genug”, “Actus tragicus," and “Wachet auf”:

    4 “Christ lag in Todes banden”: So rich, dark, and chromatic.
    21 “Ich hatte”: This may be my favorite of them all. A long, epic narrative that dazzles in diversity and emotional variety.
    31 “Aus der tiefe”: Ashamed to say but I can’t remember much about the musical content of this one, but I do remember loving it.
    51 “Jauchzet Gott”: Ecstatic, unfiltered joy; but it requires one heck of a soprano to handle the super difficult solo part. Sampson/Suzuki is by far the greatest I’ve heard.
    76 “Die Himmel”: Unabashedly danceworthy.
    147 “Herz und munde”: Everyone knows it from the “Jesu” tune, but there’s much more to it - so much extraordinary lyricism.
    198 “Lass, Furstin”: Took me a while to get into this one, but it’s a jewel of dark pathos and ravishing melody.
    201 “Geschwinde, geschwinde”: The secular cantatas can tend to get overlooked. Who woulda thunk the “dour old Lutheran” would have written a cantata based off Greek mythology? But this is downright brilliant.

    And so many more...probably forgetting a big handful of favorites.

    More often than not I find myself going for the prayerful intimacy of Suzuki (and his excellent solo team) and Herreweghe, though I occasionally listen to Koopman with his larger choir and swifter tempi and the newer Harnoncourt (I think live?) recordings sans boys’ choirs. Gardiner always provides excitement but sometimes I hear it as a bit too detached. I’d rather listen to him all day, though, then the unbearably dull old Richter recordings. I actually like Klemperer, Jochum, and other old-timers in choral Bach but Richter’s conducting (not his lovely organ playing) usually leaves a bad taste in my mouth even though he was just there to support the star soloists.
    BWV 198 is actually secular, too. (A bit confusing because of the way it's numbered in the BWV-catalogue, before 199 and 200.)
    It's an awesome cantata, I love it. Many parts of it were re-used for BWV 247, the (mostly) lost Markus-Passion of 1731.

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    Maybe I will come up with such a list, within the next, say, 12 years or so…

    Problem is, that when I hear a cantata I mostly think "wow, I forgot how good this one was!"

    But there is one 'secret' favourite that I always mention as a truly beloved one: BWV 84 "Ich bin vergnügt mit meinem Glücke". It always cheers me up so well. Even when I'm already happy, I become (much) more happy whilst listening to this piece.

    Agnes Giebel et al in 1961:



    And, a semi-tone (I guess ) lower… Nancy Argenta et al in 1993:


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    Thank you all for your great replies. I have certainly enjoyed listening to them while I work. It will be a big project to really focus on them. I have Suzuki's Secular Cantatas coming today. His Church Cantatas box set I can't seem to find any where and I am not sure I need more than one, at least not now. It's been a back and forth between the cantatas, The Creation and St. Matthew Passion. So hard to choose - those are the works I am obsessed with right now.
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    Quote Originally Posted by gellio View Post
    Thank you all for your great replies. I have certainly enjoyed listening to them while I work. It will be a big project to really focus on them. I have Suzuki's Secular Cantatas coming today. His Church Cantatas box set I can't seem to find any where and I am not sure I need more than one, at least not now. It's been a back and forth between the cantatas, The Creation and St. Matthew Passion. So hard to choose - those are the works I am obsessed with right now.
    IIRC, the Suzuki church cantatas were, as an integral boxset, presented in 2016, yet only in a limited edition.
    My guess is that this set is now officially OOP (out of print). Maybe some (2nd hand) issues are still to be found somewhere on the internet. Fingers crossed that BIS will re-release the set in the near future.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Marc View Post
    IIRC, the Suzuki church cantatas were, as an integral boxset, presented in 2016, yet only in a limited edition.
    My guess is that this set is now officially OOP (out of print). Maybe some (2nd hand) issues are still to be found somewhere on the internet. Fingers crossed that BIS will re-release the set in the near future.
    They actually released a complete cantatas box, secular and church cantatas, as a limited special release late last year. If you contact them directly, on the BIS website, there may be some left. Theoretically, BIS never deletes anything from their catalogue, some titles just go out of distribution. Anyway, I'd shoot them an email.

    Found it! Look here: https://bis.se/bach-collegium-japan-...christmas-2019
    Last edited by Knorf; May-07-2020 at 06:43.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Knorf View Post
    They actually released a complete cantatas box, secular and church cantatas, as a limited special release late last year. If you contact them directly, on the BIS website, there may be some left. Theoretically, BIS never deletes anything from their catalogue, some titles just go out of distribution. Anyway, I'd shoot them an email.

    Found it! Look here: https://bis.se/bach-collegium-japan-...christmas-2019
    Yep. Good searching!
    Pity that gelio already purchased the secular boxset separately then.
    Gardiner's set of church cantatas is fine, too, though.

    By the way, I wasn't suggesting that BIS was taking issues out of its catalogue. But some of their sample boxsets are only available in limited editions. Of course, Suzuki's discs will remain available as single issues.

    Personally, I already have both his church and secular cantatas. Purchases I will never regret.
    Last edited by Marc; May-07-2020 at 06:49.

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    Well, I think the Gardiner set is truly excellent, so no worries there, as is the Suzuki secular cantatas box which I also own. Supplement the Gardiner box with whichever individual cantatas that are favorites and that you might want different versions of, and you've enough cantatas to study for the rest of your life.

    BIS also has an amazing box set of the complete organ works, if you feel like you need more Bach. Yes, I own that, too. A friend of mine, perusing my collection: "you have a lot of Bach." Er, I suppose...

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