BWV 201 Geschwinde, ihr wirbelnden Wind
(Der Streit Zwischen Phoebus und Pan)

Specific occasion unknown, probably for Zimmermann's Coffeehouse.

Christian Friedrich Henrici (Picander), Ernst-Schertzhaffte und Satyrische Gedichte, Teil III (Leipzig, 1732); Facs: Neumann T, p. 346.

1729, Leipzig; also 1749; Parody: 7 ---> BWV 212/20; 15 ---> VIII/9 (BWV Anh. 19) and cf. VII/7 (BWV Anh. 10).

BG 11, 2; NBA I/40.


The Contest between Phoebus and Pan(1)

A Drama in Music

Phoebus (B1), Pan (B2), Tmolus (T1), Midas (T2), Mercury (A), and Momus (S)

1. Chorus (S, A, T, B) Tutti

Now hasten
Ye winds of confusion,
At last, all together, the cavern inside!
That the to and fro of music
Even Echo might give pleasure
And the breezes bring delight!

2. Recit. (B1, B2, S) Phoebus, Pan, Momus

(Phoebus)
And thou art then so unashamed and bold
To look me in the face and say it,
That this thy song is lovelier than mine by far?

(Pan)
How canst thou then still ask the question?
The wood's expanse doth marvel at my sound.
The choir of nymphs,
Which hath the reed devised by me
Of seven seemly stationed levels
For dancing frequently requested,
To thee themselves will testify:
Pan sings more fair than all rest.

(Phoebus)
For nymphs thou art quite fit;
But still, the gods to offer pleasure,
Is this thy flute too poor indeed.

(Pan)
As soon my sound the air doth fill,
Forth leap all the mountains and dance all the woods,
Then are perforce the branches bowing,
Beneath thy starry heavens
Enchanted exultation springs:
The birds alight before my feet,
And wish from me to learn their singing.

(Momus)
Ha! I say, hear now Pan,
This mighty Meistersinger boast!

3. Aria (S) Momus

My lord, this is mere wind.

    That one boasts and has no wealth,
    That one that as truth doth hold
    Which the eyes alone behold,
    That the fools are keen of mind,
    That good fortune, too, is blind,
    My lord, this is mere wind.

4. Recit. (A, B1, B2) Mercury, Phoebus, Pan

(Mercury)
Why should ye need to wrangle?
Ye will ne'er twixt yourselves agree.
In my opinion, though so humble,
Each one of you should choose himself a man
Who twixt you should his judgment speak.
Let's see, who comes to mind?

(Phoebus)
It's Tmolus who my judge should be.

(Pan)
And Midas should now stand beside me.

(Mercury)
Then gather round, ye gentle people,
Hear all with diligence
And mark ye who can sing the best!

5. Aria (B1) Phoebus

Filled with longing,
Would I press thy cheeks so tender,
Charming, handsome Hyacinth.

    And thine eyes to kiss I'm yearning,
    For they are my stars of morning
    And my spirit's very sun.

6. Recit. (S, B2) Momus, Pan

(Momus)
Pan, move now this thy throat as well
In well-constructed patterns!

(Pan)
I will my best attempt
And yet more gloriously perform than Phoebus.

7. Aria (B2) Pan

For dancing, for prancing now quavers my heart.

    If the tune too labored ring,
    And the mouth in bondage sing,
    It will waken nought for sport.

8. Recit. (A, T1) Mercury, Tmolus

(Mercury)
Come now, ye judges, forth!

(Tmolus)
The verdict is not hard for me,
And Truth itself will now declare it,
That Phoebus here the contest's prize hath captured.
Pan singeth for the woods,
The nymphs can he quite well give pleasure;
Indeed, so fair doth Phoebus' voice resound,
That now his(2) flute cannot be treasured.

9. Aria (T1) Tmolus

Phoebus, of thy melody
Was sweet Charm herself the mother.
Who, though, art here comprehends
As thy tune with wonder wends,
Will by it be quite transported.

10. Recit. (B2, T2) Pan, Midas

(Pan)
Come, Midas, now thyself pronounce
How I have done.

(Midas)
Oh Pan! How thou hast giv'n me strength!
Thy song, to me, did sound so lovely,
That I at once did learn it on the spot.
I shall now go here up and down the woodlands
And teach the very trees to sing it.
Yon Phoebus' song is too ornate;
But this thine oh-so-lovely mouth
Unforced did sing and lightly.

11. Aria (T2) Midas

Pan's the master, let him reign!
Phoebus of this game's the loser,
For to each of my two ears Pan
Sang a song quite matchless fine.

12. Recit. (S, A, T1, B1, T2, B2) M

(Momus)
What, Midas, art thou mad?

(Mercury)
What hath from thee thy sense dislodged?

(Tmolus)
Just as I thought, thou art a clumsy boor.

(Phoebus)
Come, what shall I do with thee?
Transform thee to a raven?
Or should I flail or even flay thee?(3)

(Midas)
Ah! Torture me not so severely,
I merely gave
My judgment as I heard it.

(Phoebus)
Behold, thou shalt then ass's ears be given.

(Mercury)
This is the prize
For mad ambition's errant ways.

(Pan)
Ah, wherefore hast thou this great strife
Upon thy feeble shoulders taken?

(Midas)
In truth hath this commission brought
Me to disaster!

13. Aria (A) Mercury

Puffed-up, swollen fervor,
Having little fiber
Gets a jangling miter(4)
On its head at last.
He who sailing doth not know
And dares to the rudder go
Will drown with destruction and scandal at last.

14. Recit. (S) Momus

Good fellow Midas, get thee hence
And lay thyself to rest within thy forest,
But be consoled within thy mind,
That thou hast many more such brothers.
Both ignorance and lack of sense
Would now to wisdom neighbors be,
For judgments are passed ev'ry day,
And those who judge
Belong each one within thy guild.
Pick up, O Phoebus, now
Again thy lyre.
There is nought lovelier than what thou singest.
Renew, O Phoebus, now
Music and singing,
Though rage both Hortens and Orbil against thee!(5)

15. Chorus (S, A, T, B) Tutti

Soothe the heart, ye noble strings now,
Join, both art and charm, the sound.
Suffer censure, suffer insult,
But no less in your sweet music
Even gods have pleasure found.


1. This story is based upon Ovid, Metamorphoses 11. Momus, the Greek god of ridicule, is not found in Ovid's version. Midas is the King of Lydia who befriended Dionysus and became a patron of the music of the reeds. Tmolus is a mountain of Asia Minor. Phoebus Apollo is the patron of the lyre while Pan favors the aulos, the pipe. It is probably significant that Phoebus' contest aria is accompanied by strings, reeds (oboe d'amore), and flauto traverso while Pan's aria is accompanied by violins alone. Even though the final chorus hails the noble strings and in the final recitative Momus bids Apollo pick up again his lyre, the implication of the orchestration of Phoebus' contest aria may be that his musical powers are more universal than Pan's. Whether Picander and Bach were aware that in historical fact there was in antiquity no exclusive association of the lyre with Apollo or the aulos with Dionysus, we cannot say, but Ovid does make clear that Orpheus the lyre-player was associated with both Apollo and Dionysus.

2. Presumably, Pan's flute, but see note 1, above.

3. An allusion to the flaying of Marsyas, the satyr who challenged Phoebus to a contest between lyre and aulos, (cf. Ovid, Metamorphoses 6).

4. The Schellenmütze is a cap of bells or fool's cap. The translation is rhymed to emphasize the closely spaced and amusing rhyme of the original. Grütze 'grits' is a delightful colloquialism for 'brains' or 'wit.'

5. These three lines are variants in a Ms of the text and in the OP, and the last line is corrected again with Birolius und ein Hortens. Quintus Hortensius Hortalus (114-50 B.C.) was a prominent orator known for his use of the new florid (Asianic) style. He was defeated in his defense of Verres by Cicero in 70 B.C. "Orbil" is Lucius Orbilius Pupillus, a grammarian at Rome in the time of Cicero. Amongst his pupils was Horace (65-8 B.C), who immortalizes him as the "Flogger" (plagosus) in Epistles 2. 1. 69 ff. In an anecdote told in defense of modern poetry, Horace recalls that Orbilius thrashed his students for the slightest of errors in reciting from the old Latin poet Livius Andronicus (3rd c. B.C.). It may be of interest that Picander quotes from this same Epistle in the PT to BWV 193a. In the second variant in the OP "Birolius" appears to be a clever anagram for "Orbilius." The names Hortensius and Orbilius are associated with the kind of stylistic controversy which must lie behind the Picander-Bach satire.


© Copyright  Z. Philip Ambrose


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