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On-line Book Review


TITLE Johann Sebastian Bach: The Complete Church and Secular Cantatas. Translated by Richard Stokes with an Introduction by Martin Neary
PUBL. DETAILS Ebrington: Long Barn Books (1999) xviii+378p; paper back. Price: £25.
ISBN 1-902-42106-X
TO ORDER Long Barn Books, Ebrington, Gloucestershire, GL55 6NW, UK. Email:
SHORT DESCRIPTION Listing of all cantata texts in both original German and English translation, clearly laid out side by side in the order of BWV.
WORKS COVERED BWV 1-215, 248a-249 (except 15, 53, 141-2, 160, 189)
READERSHIP Those who need quick access to a reliable translation of Bach's cantata text in straightforward English
RESEARCH CONTRIBUTION reflects Dürr's recent research; excellent translation; offers little in terms of original research; provides some historical / background information

This book is the latest addition to several books on Bach's cantata text in English already on my shelf, viz. Terry (1926), Whittaker (1959) and Ambrose (1984), which can also be accessed on-line at So what is new about this book?

The most notable feature of this book is the excellent quality of translation, i.e. the clarity of meaning in English. Unlike Ambrose, Richard Stokes ignores the rhythm of Bach's original text in order to attain the better clarity in meaning, as seen in the example below:
BWV 6 "Bleib bei uns, denn es will Abend werden": 4. Recitative
Bach's Original Ambrose (1984) Stokes (1999)
Es hat die Dunkelheit 
An vielen Orten überhand genommen. 
Woher ist aber dieses kommen? 
Bloß daher, weil sowohl die Kleinen als die Großen 
Nicht in Gerechtigkeit 
Vor dir, o Gott, gewandelt 
Und wider ihre Christenpficht gehandelt. 
Drum hast du auch den Leuchter umgestoßen.
Here hath the darkness now 
Attained the upper hand in many quarters. 
But wherefore is this come upon us? 
The cause is simply that the humble and the mighty 
Keep not in righteousness 
Before thee, God, their pathway 
And violate their duty now as Christians. 
Thus hast thou e'en the lamp stands overturned now.
Darkness has prevailed 
In many places. 
But wherefore has this come to pass? 
Simply because the lowly and the mighty 
Have not walked in righteousness 
Before Thee, O God, 
And have violated their Christian duty. 
Therefore hast Thou removed the candlestick out of his place.
So, although his translation would be unusable for the purpose of singing, it serves its purpose very well if used in programme notes and CD liner notes, etc.

Although limited, this book can also be used for reference purposes: in addition to the cantata texts, it comes with "Glossary" (pp.377-8) where all the characters in the secular cantatas are explained; a list of "Dedicatees of Bach's secular cantatas" (p.379); a list of "The Poets" with the year of their birth and death.

Overall, this book serves well for the specific purpose for which it was written. The publisher informs me that this is the official translation for the Bach Cantata Pilgrimage 200 with the Monteverdi Choir and Orchestra under John Eliot Gardiner. For Bach scholars, this book offers very little; but for Bach fans who need good English translation, this book will not disappoint you.

Published on-line on 23 January 2000

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