It’s Up for Interpretation – J.S. Bach’s Cantata 35

In this series we examine how one piece of music can be so differently re-interpreted from artist to artist, as new parameters in musical approach, orientation and instrumentation are introduced and imposed.

This month we look at J.S. Bach’s Cantata 35 and hear the piece being performed by two very different performers, one being the more conventional rendition by the J.S. Bach Association of Gallen under the baton of Rudolf Lutz.

The second version that we examine is played entirely by electronic, old school style patch synthesizers that take so much time and meticulous skill to program, it makes today’s tech savvy beat programmers look like spoiled brats pushing buttons.

Performed by Wendy Carlos of Switched on Bach and A Clockwork Orange fame, an extremely influential artist in both the classical and electronic music world, the piece sounds visionary and remains true to a T. Unmistakably Bach.

J.S. Bach Association of Gallen:

Wendy Carlos:

What’s initially surprising about the Gallen example is the tempo.

One could expect that a piece performed by actual humans with physical limitations would be no match for the synthesizer patch and it’s ability to electronically manipulate tempo ad nauseam.

In actuality the Gallen version is a lot clippier, fluctuating between 74-76 bpm vs the Carlos version that sits at 66 throughout.

This is definitely another point of comparison – The fact that the electronic piece has a programmed tempo that robotically and stoically maintains it’s tempo while the human version breathes as the tempo only slightly and subtly shifts.

The punch of the, “harpsichord” in the Carlos piece is noteworthy. It cuts through the music in such a way that cannot be achieved by human alone and certainly lives up to the tagline of the piece, “Geist und Seele wird verwirret” (Soul with spirit is bewildered)”

Sonically, the Carlos piece is interesting simply because of it’s novelty, but it has depth that goes far beyond the novel. It’s a statement unto itself, in a world of technology where large orchestras are rare and the bedroom musician is abundant. A premonition of the times from fifty years back that still sounds really cool.