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The “Shortening of the Supporting Notes” in the Bc of Bach’s ‘Secco’ Recitatives

By Thomas Braatz (April 2002)

Feedback to the Article

Michael Grover wrote (April 15, 2002):
[To Thomas Braatz] This is an excellent article. I commend you for your research and writing and found it very interesting indeed.

Your article focuses mostly on what Schering and Dreyfus said in their works. Bring us up to the present. Does Harnoncourt mention Schering specifically as one of his influences? Does Harnoncourt bring up this subject (the shortening of notes) himself, mentioning Schering as his reference for playing them in this manner?

Also, I know Harnoncourt and Leusink perform in this manner, but I am less sure of other conductors. Koopman, Gardiner, Herreweghe, Suzuki, et al -- do they all follow the same lead? Are there any conductors today who DO, in fact, hold the bc notes out to their full value? Is it your belief that ALL conductors who do this today are ALL blindly following Harnoncourt's lead? It would surprise me if that were the case. I know Koopman and Gardiner and many others have devoted many years of their lives to Bach research of their own and it would be remarkable if they all based their performance practice solely on the decision of one other conductor. I have a hard time accepting the image of these learned musicians as sheep, not working out their own
conclusions.

To put it bluntly, is this a HIP vs. non-HIP issue? The non-HIPers do it right and the HIPers do it wrong? I don't mean to ask this question in an inflammatory way at all. I'm not trying to act as advocate for any prosecution or defense. I simply find it interesting that the conductors who we think of as non-HIP (Richter, Rilling, etc.) do not do this (the shortening of the notes) and the ones who we generally categorize as HIP do. It may be that I am over-generalizing here.

Charles Francis wrote (April 16, 2002):
[To Thomas Braatz] I read your contribution with great interest. For myself, I first noticed the curious phenomena of Bach's disappearing notes while following a live performance of the Christmas Oratorio with a score.

By the way, did you ever reach a conclusion on Rifkin's thesis? You mentioned researching the topic some time ago.

Thomas Braatz wrote (April 16, 2002):
[To Michael Grover] Thanks for commenting positively on my article. It does help to get feedback, otherwise it appears to me that I am sending thoughts out into a vacuum.

You stated:
< Your article focuses mostly on what Schering and Dreyfus said in their works. Bring us up to the present. >
Dreyfus is as near to the present as I can get and still have a sense that an author has concentrated on all the various aspects that surround this phenomenon. There may be more recent, but isolated papers or articles on this subject, but they tend to be rather narrow in focus and do not attempt to ‘rehash’ and expand on everything ‘that is out there’ as Dreyfus did. There are some important books or articles on performance practices in Bach’s day ‘in the works.’ These may [the emphasis is on the word, ‘may’] shed more light on more current thinking during the past two or three years. My guess is that such new research, unless it examines the primary records in the NBA, may simply continue on along the lines the Dreyfus has taken. Based on how long it took for Schering’s idea ‘to bear fruit,’ it may take just as long to undo what many have come to expect from a HIP-style recording, since the musicologists will need to rethink the ‘tradition’ in secco-recitative playing that has been in vogue since Harnoncourt began performing recitatives this way in the sixties.

< Does Harnoncourt mention Schering specifically as one of his influences? Does Harnoncourt bring up this subject (the shortening of notes) himself, mentioning Schering as his reference for playing them in this manner? >
We will need to ask Brad or others on this list that have Harnoncourt’s books available to them. My German original versions of these books were dispatched by Amazon.de over 5 weeks ago and still have not arrived. [Is the ship transporting these books still dodging icebergs in the North Atlantic?] These books will give the answers which I assume will show that Harnoncourt also based his performance style of secco recitatives on the Schering book. I do know that someone on this list brought up Baumgartner’s name, a name that figures prominently in Schering’s book, but also in Harnoncourt's books.

< Also, I know Harnoncourt and Leusink perform in this manner, but I am less sure of other conductors. Koopman, Gardiner, Herreweghe, Suzuki, et al -- do they all follow the same lead? Are there any conductors today who DO, in fact, hold the bc notes out to their full value? Is it your belief that ALL conductors who do this today are ALL blindly following Harnoncourt's lead? It would surprise me if that were the case >
For quite a few months now I have been commenting on which conductors tend to follow the “Harnoncourt Doctrine,” one rule of which is the ‘shortened accompaniment’ in the secco recitatives in the Bach cantatas. They all tend to use this performance style, but there are occasional exceptions: recently, on one of Suzuki’s renditions, I reported with delight that Suzuki performed one half of the recitatives one way, the other half in another way. This was the first time that I noted what seemed to be a break with the entrenched HIP tradition for performing them as Schering suggested. I can only surmise why Suzuki did this. It would be very interesting to hear his thoughts on why he vacillated between performance styles. Since Suzuki had some earlier cantatas that ascribed fully to the HIP tradition, it might reveal that he is having some personal doubts about the matter.

< I know Koopman and Gardiner and many others have devoted many years of their lives to Bach research of their own and it would be remarkable if they all based their performance practice solely on the decision of one other conductor. I have a hard time accepting the image of these learned musicians as sheep, not working out their own
conclusions. >
I agree. In regard to the OVPP issue Koopman is like a breath of fresh air resisting the extreme stance of Rifkin and Parrott. The OVPP performance type is a subject matter that I had wanted to write about last fall. It still remains in the fact-gathering stage. Perhaps at some point in the future, I will try to present my own version of this issue. Would you believe that this issue also can be traced all the way back to Schering?!

I am certain that respected conductors do delve into the research and try to come up with their own conclusions, but it may be difficult to withstand the ‘peer’ pressure that occurs when many new recordings are done in a certain way. The listening audience begins to expect certain things and if someone’s version sounds different, it will lead to all sorts of uncomfortable questions, particularly when most musicologist seem to be saying and repeating the same ideas and using the same evidence.

< To put it bluntly, is this a HIP vs. non-HIP issue? The non-HIPers do it right and the HIPers do it wrong? >
A very difficult question indeed! This is a question that might be answered by reading the individual reports on the cantata recordings. There are non-HIP recordings that are truly awful and very difficult to listen to, but there are others that are superior to anything that has been recorded since. There are recent HIP recordings that give the ultimate in listening pleasure, but there are also HIP recordings that can be just as agonizing to listen to as the bad non-HIP recordings that are available. The purpose of these sites is to reveal what comes closest to perfection in one listener’s ears, mind, and heart. When two or more listeners agree on a particular performance, then you can begin to assume that there may be something valuable that is transmitted by the recording artists that allows us enjoy a very direct connection to Bach's music, whether non-HIP or HIP.

The right or wrong of this single aspect (how secco recitatives are to be performed) out of all the variablthat are present in any given recording should not deter anyone from listening to the recording anyway.

Some might argue that this issue is simply a technical one that may hardly be noticeable to some listeners. The matter suddenly becomes more emotional and confrontational when one conductor maintains, “My performance style is more authentic than yours.” Now, suddenly, it does matter whether someone who is expounding these ideas and putting them into practice is right or wrong. This is what this discussion, as technical as it may be, is all about. When someone like Harnoncourt raises the level of the musical discussion to include not only one such practice, but numerous practices that have never been attempted before in this way, and establishes a performance tradition, then all the aspects of such a performance should be open to investigation to establish on which authority, on which evidence all of this is based. This is where the ‘secco recitative’ performance practice, as one among many such assumptions, needs to be carefully researched, so that the listening public can begin to feel comfortable with the new ideas on authentic performance practices.

< I simply find it interesting that the conductors who we think of as non-HIP (Richter, Rilling, etc.) do not do this (the shortening of the notes) and the ones who we generally categorize as HIP do. It may be that I am over-generalizing here. >
Richter, Rilling and other non-HIP may have simply been ‘swimming’ unthinkingly with the existing tide, the same way that some of the current HIP conductors follow the Harnoncourt performance tradition. Or, perhaps Richter, Rilling, etc. sensed that there was something not quite right about Schering’s discoveries, just as Suzuki (unfortunately I can not read his mind on this matter) resists performing some of Bach’s secco recitatives according to Schering’s ideas, although most other HIP conductors follow through religiously agreeing with the Harnoncourt performance ideal in this matter.

Thomas Braatz wrote (April 18, 2002):
Today I received the German originals of some of Harnoncourt’s books. I soon found what I had been looking for and even more than I had bargained for: Harnoncourt seems to operate on two levels. If you take the high road with him, you will remain mired in abstract philosophical thought and generalities that have little to do with finding out the specifics behind his performance doctrine. He hides behind concepts such as the absolute freedom of the artist to interpret works of the past (such as Bach’s works), but in another context he will delve into the specifics of Bach’s manner of performing secco recitatives and attempt to give an explanation thereof. On the one hand, he warns music critics not to think that they are like lawyers defending Bach’s works against the freedoms that are the prerogative of current artists, but on the other hand, he will descend to the level of the listener who might question some of the performance practices that he uses, that he pioneered and broadcast through the recording industry. In one essay Harnoncourt states, “Es gibt also keine authentische Interpretation eines Werkes von Bach….” [„There is no such thing as an authentic interpretation of any Bach’s composition,”] but elsewhere he explains in detail without giving sources (he is an artist after all, and not a highbrow musicologist!). In a few cases, not using footnotes of course, he casually mentions a name as if he had discovered this reference himself. Although I enjoy a philosophical discourse as much as anyone else, the issue that I am pursuing would go nowhere if all that can be discussed centers on thesis and antithesis in a general sense and the absolute trust that a listener should have in a true artist because this artist has acquainted himself thoroughly with the composer’s works rather than the specific reasoning behind some of his distinctive performance practices.

Since some of the members of this list possess or have read Harnoncourt’s essential writings in English (some of which have been quoted on this site as well and are available elsewhere on the internet), I do not feel a strong obligation to give all the original German. Instead I will summarize what I can and only quote the German when I feel it is necessary. The book that I am quoting from is Nikolaus Harnoncourt’s “Der musikalische Dialog – Gedanken zu Monteverdi, Bach und Mozart” Bärenreiter 4th edition 1999; 1st edition 1984, Residenz Verlag, Salzburg und Wien. The critical material on the secco recitative is found on pages 111 to 113.

1. Harnoncourt seems not to have read and studied the NBA II/5 KB by Alfred Dürr which was published ten years earlier (1974) than Harnoncourt’s 1st edition of his book in 1984. There seems to be no excuse for a conductor of such stature to rely on outdated secondary sources and, under the pretense that he knows everything about performance practice issues, continue to put before the public incorrect information, information that needs to be updated to take into account the results of the most recent research which was available to him at the time when he wrote this book.

Harnoncourt states that Bach completed the second and final score for the St. Matthew Passion after 1741. Not true, according to Dürr’s research in the NBA. Harnoncourt uses as part of his argument for the secco recitative played with shortened accompaniment the fact that Bach waited 15 years before attempting a major revision. Not true.

2. Harnoncourt uses the same ‘arguments’ that Schering did in 1936. It could be that Harnoncourt did not even get this information from Schering’s book directly, but rather through another secondary source that summarizes Schering’s presentation. In any case, Harnoncourt mentions without reservations Jean Baumgartner’s 1774 treatise which Schering had reluctantly pointed out because it did not suit the proper timeframe, Bach’s life span.

3. Harnoncourt’s key ‘argument’ (the same as Schering’s but only with different words) is that, during Bach’s lifetime, there were definite rules governing how to play a recitative, and that these rules are “vielfach unbekannt” [“mainly unknown”] today. For this reason you will hear such a wide variation in the manner of performing these recitatives. This goes way beyond “Aufführungsunterschiede” [“differences in the manner of performance.”] In Bach’s day the organ and the cello never held out for their full duration the bass notes in secco recitatives. Why? Because the notatation of long notes was simply an orthographic custom and the sound of these long notes, after they had been played as short notes, were intended to resound for their full duration in the imagination of the listener. In any case, these long notes are visible on the page. This was a general custom or practice and made possible a better understanding of the words being sung or declaimed. “Diese Vortragsweise, die auch in zahlreichen anderen Quellen beschrieben wird, unterschied die Recitative sehr deutlich von den Arien” [This manner of singing and playing, WHICH IS ALSO DESCRIBED IN NUMEROUS OTHER SOURCES, made it possible to distinguish very clearly between a recitative and an aria.“] And I thought that any normal listener could do this without having the conductor resort to shortening the bass notes in the secco portion of the recitative! Of course, Harnoncourt hopes that you will take all of this on his authority and believe that he actually examined the numerous sources that he mentions without naming them.

4. Harnoncourt’s argument regarding the “Paradebeispiel” (the key example that is always quoted: the 1st recitative of the St. Matthew Passion) goes as follows:
Bach wrote out the score in 1741 [incorrect], and obviously the parts soon thereafter. There is an accepted principle upon which musicology operates: the latest source provides the documentation of the final intention of the composer. In this case the musicologists assume that the parts that were written out later serve as a correction to the score. Disregarding the fact that it would be rather unlikely if Bach, after he had been working withthe first score for more than 15 years [incorrect], would even consider including such an important change, it would also be unbelievable that he would want to suddenly introduce a completely new style of playing secco recitatives. It is a fact that in the St John Passion and in the final score of the St. Matthew Passion, the same long-note notation in the basso continuo. Probably he wanted to make sure that the continuo players would not get confused when shifting from the evangelist to Jesus’ part in the recitative. So there are really no differences to be noted either in the St. John Passion or the St. Matthew Passion and what is visible in the NBA is very confusing because the editors are incorrectly attempting show that Bach made a major correction here.

So there we have it. Harnoncourt is attempting to display his erudition with misinformation or information he wishes to bend in such a way that it suits his purpose. At least this is an original, but rather fantastic argument: Bach slipped up here in the parts for the St. Matthew Passion. He really wanted the long notes to be notated as long notes in the secco recitatives because that is what you see everywhere else in the Bach scores (at least we know that Harnoncourt studied the scores of the passions, cantatas, etc. and you can not fool him on this point. ) But stubbornly he persists in maintaining the same explanation about unwritten, never-explained-in-any-original-sources, esoteric tradition that Schering had originally presented in his book in 1936.

Are there any list members who have information that would corroborate Harnoncourt's opinions, or who can indicate how I have misread Harnoncourt's explanations?

Thomas Braatz wrote (April 23, 2002):
Along with the Harnoncourt books, I also was able to procure some important facsimile reprints of important books on matters concerning performance practices in Bach’s time. One such book gives the proof that I have been looking for all along. It is the following book on how to play the figured bass by none other than a Bach contemporary, J. D. Heinichen. Now we have a book that fits perfectly into the timeframe and regional performance practices with which Bach would also be very familiar. Not only that, but Heinichen also distinguishes between operatic and church secco recitative performance practices.

It appears that many prominent musicians of our time have swallowed the bait (Harnoncourt’s promulgation of Schering’s ‘wacky’ theory on the shortened accompaniment of secco recitatives in Bach’s works) hook, line, and sinker. For me, at least, this means that Harnoncourt is not to be trusted in matters concerning HIP. I expect that other aspects of his performance doctrines will also come crashing down as soon as others examine more closely what Harnoncourt has presented to the world as his view on how Bach should be performed. It is unfortunate, however, that many performers of Bach’s music have copied his ill-informed performance practices without investigating for themselves what is really out there.

„Neu erfundene und Gründliche Anweisung zu vollkommener Erlernung des General-Basses“ von Johann David Heinichen, Hamburg, 1711.

Von dem Acompagnement
§. 27.
p. 226

Die Manier und Weise aber / das Recitativ wohl zu tractiren / ist denen Instrumenten nach / worauf es tractiret wird / auch sehr unterschieden. In Kirchen=Recitativ; da man mit nachklingenden und summenden Pfeiff=Werck zu thun hat / braucht es eben keiner Weitläuffrigkeiten / denn man schläget die Noten meist nur platt nieder / und die Hände bleiben hierbey ohne weiteres Ceremoniel so lange liegen / biß ein anderer Accord folget / mit welchen es wiederum / wie zuvor / gehalten wird.

§. 28.

Hebet man aber ja die Hände so gleich wieder auf / nach Anschlagung eines neuen Accordes, und machet statt der Noten gleichsam eine Pause; so geschiehet solches nach Gelegeheit der Umstände / entweder den Sänger / oder die bißweilen zum Recitativ accompagnirende Instrumenta besser zu hören / und zu observiren. Oder man findet auch wohl andere Raison, die Hände Z. E. deswegen in etwas aufzuheben / weil etwan jezuweilen in Basse 3/4. Und mehr Tacte in einen Tone und Accord liegen bleiben / und folgbar das Gehöre durch das in einerley Tone stetig summende Pfeiff=Werck kann verdrießlich gemachet werden. Welches alles dem Judicio und Gefallen eines Accompagnisten heimgestellet bleibt.

„A completely new and thorough instruction to bring about a complete mastery of figured bass“ by Johann David Heinichen Hamburg, 1711.

On the subject of accompaniment

The manner of playing a recitative properly is dependent on the type of instruments upon which it is played It can be very different depending upon the circumstances. [Heinichen later describes the use of a harpsichord in this capacity and how the harpsichordist should not play continuous arpeggios which would be distracting and draw attention away from the singer.] Since you are concerned with the sustaining notes and the vibrating stops of a church organ when playing a church recitative [Heinichen means here the secco recitative in a church cantata as opposed to the harpsichord that was usually used for operas], there is no need for special effects [the arpeggiated chords otherwise needed in harpsichord playing because the notes die out very quickly] for you simply have to press down on the keys and the hands remain there without any further ceremony holding the chord until another chord follows it. This next chord is held out the same way as before.

Lifting up your hands immediately after playing a new chord and creating thereby a pause or rest between the chords is allowed under certain circumstances: this may be done to be able to hear the singer better, or at times to hear the other instruments in the continuo group better and to watch what they are doing. [I understand this to mean that if the organ can not be made to play any softer when the singer’s voice is weak, the organ may insert pauses or rests after the chord is struck, but the other members of the continuo group is still playing continuously] Or there may also be other reasons to lift your hands up prematurely from the chord you are playing: it could possibly be a 3 / 4 chord in the bass, or a single note with its figured bass chord is held for several measures whereby the steadily humming [this could also mean ‘vibrating’] pipes of the organ could become unpleasant to listen to. All of these things are left to the judgment and pleasure of the individual who is playing the figured bass.

My summary:

The bass notes of the basso continuo with the figured-bass chords that is played along with it on the organ are normally sustained for the full value of the note indicated in the score. There are, however, extenuating circumstances that might require the premature termination of the chord played on the organ. When this happens, the other instruments in the continuo group continuo to play, albeit not the complete elements of the chord, but at least the bass note is sustained for its full value. When the organ breaks off the chord prematurely, it could be because 1) the singer has a weak voice; 2) the organ has no softer stop and still is too loud for the singer; 3) the organ has some noisy pipes that draw attention to themselves; 4) the organist wants to hear what the other members of the continuo group are playing; 5) a very long held note in the bass (sometimes for two to three measures marked with ligatures) might begin to penetrate too much and become obtrusive rather than providing a simple accompaniment, in which case the other instruments such as viola da gamba or violoncello continue playing the note.

In any case, the bass note is played by members of the continuo group for its full value, even if the organ prematurely stops playing the indicated, figured-bass chord.

Henny van der Groep wrote (April 23, 2002):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< Along with the Harnoncourt books, I also was able to procure some important facsimile reprints of important books on matters conceperformance practices in Bachâ?Ts time. One such book gives the proof that I have been looking for all along. It is the following book on how to play the figured bass by none other than a Bach contemporary, J. D. Heinichen. Now we have a book that fits perfectly into the timeframe and regional performance practices with which Bach would also be very familiar. Not only that, but Heinichen also distinguishes between operatic and church secco recitative performance practices. >

Bach and Heinichen could have had both a different approach.

< It appears that many prominent musicians of our time have swallowed the bait (Harnoncourtâ?Ts promulgation of Scheringâ?Ts â?~wackyâ?T theory on the shortened accompaniment of secco recitatives in Bachâ?Ts works) hook, line, and sinker. For me, at least, this means that Harnoncourt is not to be trusted in matters concerning HIP. I expect that other aspects of his performance doctrines will also come crashing down as soon as others examine more closely what Harnoncourt has presented to the world as his view on how Bach should be performed. It is unfortunate, however, that many performers of Bachâ?Ts music have copied his ill-informed performance practices without investigating for themselves what is really out there. >

You can't treat someone from a scientific point of view and in the same scientific way, when he isn't a scientist but an artist, and just describing his way of approaching music like others have done. Musicians with a full time job don't have much time to investigate and are taught by teachers, who often know very well what they are doing. You can't wipe out a whole School. Harnoncourt has an enormous experience and is a great example for many people. Although other points of view in performance will certainly find their way. Try to find out how Christoph Wolff thinks about it, he knew about Heinichen I should think and probably there are more musicologist.

Thomas Braatz wrote (April 23, 2002)
Henny van der Groep commented:
< Bach and Heinichen could have had both a different approach. >
Yes, this could always be true in comparing any two human individuals engaged in the same activity, but it also seems very likely that, if Bach deviated from this approach (remember how Bach carefully wrote out all the full note values for the bc in his secco recitatives, ) someone would have commented on this unusual deviation from the score. Of course, you can always bring up the notion that Bach (whose company, according to your view on this matter, has just been deprived of one of its important members, J.D. Heinichen, who obviously understood and described this performance practice as I have indicated) adhered to a mysterious, undocumented manner of performing such recitatives. This is almost like asking a clear thinking individual today with all the books available on this subject (see the lengthy bibliography that I listed), none of which has indicated even the existence of such a practice, to believe in the “Man in the Moon.”

< You can't treat someone from a scientific point of view and in the same scientific way, when he isn't a scientist but an artist, and just describing his way of approaching music like others have done. Musicians with a full time job don't have much time to investigate and are taught by teachers, who often know very well what they are doing. You can't wipe out a whole School. Harnoncourt has an enormous experience and is a great example for many people. Although other points of view in performance will certainly find their way. Try to find out how Christoph Wolff thinks about it, he knew about Heinichen I should think and probably there are more musicologists. >
I have not “wiped out a whole School.” I am simply calling into question the bases upon which some of the tenets of HIP are founded. Science for many may become a religion, but this does not stop scientific inquiry even when ideas seemly undermine the core of currently held theories. Usually scientists, who are also human beings and fall in love with theories that they have become accustomed to, may find it very difficult to change their thinking until they see clear evidence, and even then they may still reluctantly be clutching for straws of evidence to back up the theories that they currently hold to be true. This is what I think I see in the field of musicology where the Schering theory, once it had taken hold, particularly with the sanction of Harnoncourt’s numerous cantata recordings, takes on a momentum of its own as it has produced numerous epigones who do not wish to appear ‘outdated.’

Harnoncourt has arrogated for himself complete artistic freedom to do whatever he likes. He has asked us to judge all musicianship based on the idea that flows from this freedom: you will know when such a true musician has been ‘touched by the muses.’ I have already applied his suggestion in this regard and would be able to simply leave it at that, if he had not also attempted to establish in rather great detail the reasons behind his performance practices. It is these that I am now disputing because they seem to stand on very shaky ground musicologically. I know that Harnoncourt is trying to say, on the one hand, “Judge me by my genius and you will see that this is what has inspired me to bring back to life the works of Bach for the present age (based, of course, on the idea that he has found through inspiration the proper formula for doing this.)” On the other hand, however, he does not shrink from presenting his view of the musicological evidence. In doing so, he has opened up this ‘scientific’ area for scrutiny. It is this evidence that I am calling into question. As far as consulting other musicologists in this matter, I believe that I have found a very reputable source in Dreyfus, whom I have already discussed, and who states in his acknowledgments: “To Christoph Wolff in particular, who inspired me to undertake the research, [remember that this research is specifically on the matter before us here] who became a benevolent ‘Doktorvater’, who oversaw the early stages of this work, and who has encouraged me in countless ways ever since, words cannot repay my thanks nor adequately express my affection.”

Henny, can you suggest a better source than this?

Henny van der Groep wrote (April 23, 2002):
Thomas wrote (sorry for the snip):
< evidence. In doing so, he has opened up this â?~scientificâ?T area for scrutiny. It is this evidence that I am calling into question. As far as consulting other musicologists in this matter, I believe that I have found a very reputable source in Dreyfus, whom I have already discussed, and who states in his acknowledgments: â?oTo Christoph Wolff in particular, who inspired me to undertake the research, [remember that this research is specifically on the matter before us here] who became a benevolent â?~Doktorvaterâ?T, who oversaw the early stages of this work, and who has encouraged me in countless ways ever since, words cannot repay my thanks nor adequately express my affection.â?

Henny, can you suggest a better source than this? >
No, you're right I can't.

May be you discussed my next remark already, in that case I apologize for saying unnecessary things.

Could it be a practical problem? Like the acoustics or hall where you're performing. The kind of organ you play, a small one or a big one (or the state in which the organ is). It seems it has to do with the combination singers and accompany. Isn't it difficult for the singers. I don't know much about this part so forgive me my ignorance.

Dick Wursten wrote (April 23, 2002):
I mentioned the thesis of Thomas to my music partner: Willem Ceuleers, with whom I have the privilege to organize a few Bach-cantata-concerts per year. (member (bass-singer) of Huelgas ensemble, cantor-organist in a small village in Flanders and part-time cantor of St. Michielscathedral in Brussels).

He had a very simple reply:
"I know that Harnoncourt does that. But I can read the score myself and of course I play what is written there for two reasons: 1. It is written there, 2 It sounds very natural; so artistically, musically I see no reason to do somethielse than is written." The habit of playing the notes shorter, he associated with opera-recitatives.

I just provide the BCML with this opinion "as it is". I myself am not qualified to judge, so...

Bob Sherman wrote (April 24, 2002):
Off topic – science and music

Thomas Braatz wrote:
< Usually scientists, who are also human beings and fall in love with theories that they have become accustomed to, may find it very difficult to change their thinking until they see clear evidence, and even then they may still reluctantly be clutching for straws of evidence to back up the theories that they currently hold to be true. >
This does happen sometimes but it is very bad science and regarded with contempt by the large majority of eminent scientists. Science is not about shiny gadgets. It is about drawing conclusions, wherever they may lead, from demonstrable and hopefully repeatble evidence.

Can science be applied to music? To psychoacoustic phenomena, yes. To historical issues, I'm dubious.

Please excuse the digression but I had to comment on this.

Bob S.
(former director of Strategic Security Project, Federation of American Scientists)

Ludwig wrote (April 24, 2002):
[To Bob Sherman] Please forgive this on this list but one final comment on the list and the rest will be off the list.

Historical issues---most definitely yes. I do not know your area of science but apparently you are not familiar with Archaeology which is a broad social scientific discipline that is applied with science to tell about what happened in the history of people and objects. It is through this discipline that we have some of the oldest music to survive and still playable today. Using these same techniques including these
days DNA analysis and radio carbon dating just to name a few we can determine if a manuscript is a copy, a fake, or an original--especially when we can compare this data to known true originals. We can do microchemical analysis and determine to a good fake Stradivarius Violin is real or fake and if a van Gogh is a fake or not with between 97-100% accuracy. Now I would admit that a 3% error is rather large error but such errors only occur because the faker went to great touble and expense to duplicate everything in the original as close as possible---but it is still possible to detect micro-deviations in materials--for example the ink in a Leonardo da Vinci drawing worth millions and the same ink in a fake might have a traces of arsenic that the da vinci does not have and therefore it is a fake and further born out by analysis of the paper.

Thomas Braatz wrote (April 24, 2002):
Henny van der Groep stated:
< Could it be a practical problem? Like the acoustics or hall where you're performing. The kind of organ you play, a small one or a big one (or the state in which the organ is). It seems it has to do with the combination singers and accompany. Isn't it difficult for the singers. I don't know much about this part so forgive me my ignorance. >
The purpose of the figured bass (basso continuo) accompaniment of the recitative is to lend support to the voice, but not to overshadow it or to detract from the singer's presentation. Yes, there are practical problems to be considered as well which could well have to do with acoustics as well as a number of other possibilities that I have mentioned. The chest organ that Leusink frequently uses is, for some reason that I do not understand, usually much too loud. It would not be appropriate to use this organ with sustained chords in a secco recitative unless the voice were strong enough (which Leusink's soloists are not.) Also, Leusink frequently uses a double bass that always seems to me to be too loud. All of this could be a sound engineering problem: placement of mikes, etc.

Dick Wursten commented:
< I mentioned the thesis of Thomas to my music partner: Willem Ceuleers, with whom I have the privilege to organize a few Bach-cantata-concerts per year. (member (bass-singer) of Huelgas ensemble, cantor-organist in a small village in Flanders and part-time cantor of St. Michielscathedral in Brussels).

He had a very simple reply:
"I know that Harnoncourt does that. But I can read the score myself and of course I play what is written there for two reasons: 1. It is written there, 2 It sounds very natural; so artistically, musically I see no reason to do something else than is written. " The habit of playing the notes shorter, he associated with
opera-recitatives.

I just provide the BCML with this opinion "as it is". I myself am not qualified to judge, so... >
I am very glad that you did share this information. Your music partner has a very reasonable approach. I like his reasons very much. Isn't it strange that the HIP recordings of Bach's cantatas almost always follow Harnoncourt's lead in this matter? One reason (this is not Harnoncourt's reason, but just a conjecture on my part) might be that the voices we encounter in HIP recordings are mainly of the relatively untrained type that is unable to produce sufficient volume and intensity through the entire range, hence there is frequently the danger that these voices might not be heard properly unless the continuo is cut back in volume or eliminated entirely except for a short chord every once in a while.

In Bach's cantatas the organ is used more often than not in the secco recitatives. For obvious reasons the harpsichord, and not the organ, is used with opera recitatives of that period. The harpsichord can not sustain the notes, as Heinichen explained. This is why it is necessary to arpeggiate the chords.

 

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Articles: The “Shortening of the Supporting Notes” in the Bc of Bach’s ‘Secco’ Recitatives [Thomas Braatz] | Playing Plain Recitative in Bach's Vocal Works [Bradley Lehman]
Discussions of Recitatives:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11 | Part 12 | Part 13 | Part 14 | Continuo in Bach’s Vocal Works: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8

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Last update: ýNovember 3, 2010 ý01:28:38