Monday, November 16, 2009

Cantata Cantata Cantata


Hänssler's Bach edition has been on my shelf for a few years now and I've listened to chunks of it, but not nearly enough of the cantatas. I hadn't heard about 90% of them. So in a flash of insanity inspired by the impending arrival of 4 BIS box sets of Masaaki Suzuki's Cantata cycle (more on that later) I decided I should listen to all of the cantatas before Christmas.

With a new mission chosen, the next thing to do was to figure out which order should be used to go through the works: order by their use in the church calendar or by BWV number. I went with BWV number since it's basically random anyway and some randomization makes this entire scheme seem a little less OCD. Plus, I already had a ton of work ahead of me since I had a lot of ripping to iTunes to do so figuring out which cantata goes where was work I didn't need.

So the process began of ripping the disc, fixing all the track listings, saving those track titles to a text file so I can re-use them when the Suzuki set arrives, getting good quality cover art, updating the ripped files' metadata and THEN listening to it. The listening has been going well and as of today, I'm exactly halfway through the set - disc 30 of 60.

I've been able to get through them at a decent pace since I'm not even following along with the texts. A younger version of me with more free time would have insisted on sitting quietly with headphones with the text and score in front of me. If I insisted on that now, I'd get nowhere. So instead, I just listen on the way to work, at lunch and on the way home. I can get through a couple of discs a day that way.

I've been keeping track of which ones are particularly striking to me on this first pass and I'll revisit those first. I'm struck by how different each of these works from each other are but I shouldn't be surprised. In many other instances, Bach is concerned with finding every possible way of solving a compositional problem (cf. The Well-Tempered Clavier, the Goldbergs, Art of Fugue, etc.) Even the most dimwitted of commentators couldn't get away with saying that Bach wrote the same cantata 200 times (or more like 3- or 400 times given the appalling number of works by Bach that haven't survived). Michael Tanner said that the Bach cantatas were the largest set of great music no one knows. While certain cantatas (4, 78, 140) are famous, certainly dozens more aren't and need to be.

So the marathon continues with Volumes 31 and 32 today. At this rate, I should be done in early December. Then when I'm done I'll wrap myself in one of those foil blankets and drink lots of Gatorade.

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