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Cantata BWV 124
Meinen Jesum laß ich nicht
Discussions - Part 3

Continue from Part 2

Discussions in the Week of February 4, 2007 [Continue]

Stephen Benson wrote (February 9, 2007):
[To Peter Bright] I would like to weigh in on the side of those who do find the post offensive. As charming and inoffensive as the scenario appears on the surface, the content seems to me to be nothing more than an attempt on the part of the author to push his own preconceived agenda re. the compositional process. This is not history; it is bad fantasy, and, as such, is destructive of history.

Peter focused on the word 'hypothetical'. Brad focused on the word 'likely'. The progression in the initial post itself is revealing, proceeding from the initial term 'possible' to 'hypothetically' to 'likely', a common rhetorical technique where the speaker begins an argument at an innocuously innocent level and then quietly tightens the screws through an increasingly specific and argumentative selection of modifiers. There is nothing charming or innocent about the technique or the message.

Julian Mincham wrote (February 9, 2007):
Steven Benson wrote:
< I would like to weigh in on the side of those who do find the post offensive. As charming and inoffensive as the scenario appears on the surface, the content seems to me to be nothing more than an attempt on the part of the author to push his own preconceived agenda re. the compositional process. This is not history; >
I intended to keep out of this but I cannot see how the original posting could be described as 'offensive. The first part was generally detailed and factual, the second part proffered as a 'possible scenario'---a clear separation. Seemed to me to be quite clear in this instance which was information and which was speculation.

Disagree of course--but be offended??
Come on!

Thomas Braatz wrote (February 9, 2007):
On the time line of BWV 124

[assume that the quotation marks (>> and <<) include Brad Lehman's questions & comments]

>>None of them?<< [in reference to all of the parts having been prepared quickly the night before the actual first performance]
The overall generalization regarding the impression that an observer can gain from examining the preparation of the score and the parts is that everything is rushed and completed at the last moment. It makes much less sense to consider the process as having taken place weeks or months in advance of the first rehearsal or first performance. In the latter instance you would expect a much better, less confusing copy procedure to have been adopted. One excellent copyist like JAK might have been able to complete the copy task alone without any assistance over the course of a day or two. But this is not what commonly happened. The evidence from a close scrutiny of the score and parts is loud and clear: JSB is composing a cantata or even two at times at the rate of at least one a week. This includes the necessary time devoted to copying out all the parts and checking and revising them as well.

>>According to what?<< [in reference to the fact that this copy procedure was fairly common during the composition of JSB's 2nd cantata cycle]
Just recently I presented a similar copy procedure for the two other cantatas which precede this one in the cantata cycle. This is not an anomaly in Bach's procedures. The historical evidence is there for anyone to inspect thanks to the detailed presentations given in the NBA KBs.

>>Evidence that any of this copying was ever done at night at all, let alone after a family meal with guests?<<
Consider: during the day, JSB would have had various commitments to attend to (music lessons, etc.). At night such interruptions were very much less likely to occur. With the flurry of activity involved and the decisions regarding who is doing which part now while finishing the score and correcting and adding to whatever has already been completed, JSB would have found it necessary to work in a concentrated and yet cooperative manner to accomplish the task he had set for himself.

>>Evidence that Bach is only getting to this important task of finishing the composition now, after dinner on Saturday night?<<
If JSB had allotted himself sufficient time, he could have easily completed the final chorale before turning it over to a single copyist. But this is not the case here as well as with quite a number of other cantatas. JSB reasonably would have been able to estimate how long it would take him to compose a 4-pt setting of a chorale. He knew in advance that he would be able to handle the situation where all parts still needed to be copied out in one evening with the help of others that he could depend upon.

>>So these guys [are these dudes and do they include AMB?] are working together that closely and knowing their efficient working strategy ahead of time, on a composition that isn't even finished yet? How?<<
They have had former practice and experience in this. Consider the two cantatas for which I presented similar detail at the beginning of January.

>>Any evidence at all that the parts were copied in this order?<<
I have given two possible scenarios. Another might be that JAK worked very fast indeed. Then JAK would initially copy out all the parts (those listed as being his) for mvt. 1 first, and while JAK continued with the subsequent mvts. (except 5 & 6), CGM, the slowpoke, would arduously copy the 4 vocal parts, but even these he could not finish alone. JAK had to help him out there as well.

>>Ah, the shifting of [JAK's] attention can now be cited as historical fact!<<
The sequence of events can be reasonably read from the manner in which the various copy procedures are followed in a specific sequence. This is evident from a careful analysis of the written record given by the autograph score and the original set of parts.

>>And JS Bach has nothing better to do at this point than to be still finishing the composition? Such as minding any of the other children, or lifting a finger to help Anna Magdalena, or working on the way he's going to conduct the music in the morning, i.e. approaching the composition like a performer who will have to give cues, etc?<<
Approaching this matter empirically with the megalomaniac notion that "If I have to do it this way, JSB would have had to do it likewise." Logic: all professional musicians are the same - Bach, the professional musician, is a man; Brad Lehman, the professional musician, is a man; hence both JSB and BL are professional musicians with the same capabilities and who solve the same problems in the same way. Isn't there a fallacy in this type of thinking?

>>Yo, Reiche, show up tomorrow morning and bring your horn, we'll have something for you to sight-read. Sorry it's not finished yet, old bloke!<<
If there was any brass player alive in Europe who could sight-read and play brilliantly any music set before him, it would be Gottfried Reiche. After all, what was JSB asking GR to do? Simply to play a chorale melody with which GR would already be familiar. GR played chorales and other ensemble brass music from the towers of various Leipzig churches at least 2 or 3 times daily. Should GR have any problem with playing the Corno part sight unseen? Just give GR the time and place shortly in advance and he would be there and give you an astounding performance.

>>The surprise [the addition of a new instrumental part which was not indicated or visible in any way in the score that JAK had been copying from] of JAK is documented where?<<
This could be surprising to anyone even today if they examine the existing autograph score. There is nothing anywhere to indicate that such an instrument would be used!

>>JAK's early departure that evening is documented where?<<
It was getting late. Why should JAK remain if his work has been completed? Also, he must have been tired since he copied and wrote out more notes in one session than anyone else did.

>>The size of Bach's household table is known? Where?<<
Less reasonable would be the assumption that only smaltables were used when feeding the children and rather frequent guests in the school apartment in which the family lived.

>>Wait, just revised when? Revising it before he's [JSB] finished the chorale yet?<<
Note, that at this point, JSB would have just finished composing the chorale. The first part to which he would add the final chorale is the Primary Continuo part so that WFB can continue from where the anonymous copyist left off.<<

>>JSB has time and energy to supervise copyists, by candlelight, in a household with several small children?<<
How can we assume with any sense of what is reasonable that the current situation that many parents with only one or two small children experience today would necessarily have to be the same in Leipzig in 1725? Can't you think of a few ways in which these situations would not be comparable?

>>Why? Is there somewhere else he [WFB] needs to be?<<
As a 15-year-old attending St. Thomas School, he [WFB] would also need to do homework (many of his school notebooks have survived) or perhaps he wanted or needed to play/practice the clavichord in another room before retiring.

>>More than one [soprano]?<<
Certainly! Bach documents on two separate occasions the need for 3 sopranos (preferably 4) in his Primary Choir which was responsible for performing his cantatas.

>>A mistake [JSB's error in the Corno part copied from CGM's Soprano part and not from the score] to be discovered only during tomorrow morning's sight-reading performance, too bad!<<
This information can be viewed as further substantiating the claim that these parts were sight-read without any rehearsals taking place beforehand. Once JSB's checking and adding to the parts is completed, no further changes are made to the parts which appear not to show any sign of use by others or the normal wear and tear associated with performance parts.

>>This wondering [AMB's wondering when her husband will call it a night] is documented where?<<
This is the same type of 'wondering' associated with the personal interpretation of the ornamental squiggles on top of the title page of the autograph WTC1, squiggles which reveal through the process of wondering the precise temperament which Bach claimed as his own!

>>Was she [AMB] disappointed or surprised by such news in any way, or was it just the normal way of life for people who leave impossible situations for themselves as last-minute work?<<
Perhaps we are privy here to an intimate view of a genius at work or just the foibles of a human being (or both).

>>As if nobody thought to finish them [violin doublets] before?<<
They could not be completed until the end which is after JSB had revisited these newly copied but yet incomplete parts (the final mvt. still had to be added by JSB and all of the corrections and additions (articulation, dynamics, tempo designations, embellishments, etc. needed to be made before the violin doublets could be copied.

>>And she has energy to do any of this at night, by candlelight, in the coldest part of winter, after feeding the whole family and putting the youngest ones to bed...how?<<
If this bothers you, then consider perhaps that AMB had a maid and a cook and perhaps even a butler. Then she would only have to kiss the children good-night and sit knitting off in one corner, waiting for her turn at copying, which would of necessity have to be at the very end of the copy procedure that JSB followed. With this scenario there is less desperation and even more of a homey, comfortable situation.

>>Other than anybody PRACTICING THE MUSIC...<<
In Bach's times, there were far fewer distractions that kept young vocalists and instrumentalists from practicing, playing, improvising alone and singing and playing in groups other music which was available. It is quite possible that the Thomaner maintained a tradition recommended by Bodenschatz of singing (and playing) the motets from the Florilegium Portense before and after their main meals. That singers primarily, but also instrumentalists had daily practice sessions (more often than not led by choir prefects and not JSB) during the school week would help to hone and maintain their sight-reading skills seems to be amply documented in the Schulordnung. JSB relied upon these skills to be at their very best when the primary choir and orchestra assembled on an early Sunday morning to present the 1st performance of a cantata.

>>As if nobody thought to finish them [the violin doublets] before?<<
Didn't you notice that JSB first had to correct and add articulation, dynamics, embellishments, etc. to the the violin parts that JAK had copied so that he would not have to do the same to the doublets? This was an extra chore which he avoided by having AMB copy directly from the newly copied and revised violin parts, an action which could only logically have been undertaken after all the preceding efforts (copy & revision) had been completed. The doublets logically would have to be the final copies that had been made and they were not made from the score and could not be completed until Bach had finished composing the final chorale, inserting it into the still-incomplete violin parts that JAK had prepared earlier.

>>The evidence of a Saturday-night composition of that chorale is...where?<<
Does it make more sense to you if Bach composed the final chorale weeks or even months in advance so that all concerned could have numerous rehearsals of the music before it was performed? Why would Bach, with weeks to spare, engage in such a copy session as the present one (BWV 124) where it is quite evident that he had not finished composing the final chorale (this is obvious from the fact that JSB had to add the chorale in every part personally with the exception of the doublet parts)? Would it not be more reasonable, with ample time available, to finish composing the entire cantata before commencing with the copy process and thus to obtain a more orderly copy process? In one of JSB's late cantatas from the 1730s, JSB finished the score entirely at first and then commenced to copy out all of the parts without any help from anyone. This I assume would be the ideal situation that occurred whenever Bach had allotted himself sufficient time for preparation and execution of the musical materials he needed for a performance.

Stephen Benson wrote (February 9, 2007):
Julian Mincham wrote:
< I cannot see how the original posting could be described as 'offensive. >
My use of the word "offensive" was a result of Peter's saying, "I fail to see what was so offensive about his post . . . I enjoyed it. What is wrong with you?" Although the question was directed at Doug, I, sharing Doug's sentiments, wondered what was wrong with me. (I'm sure there are those out there who will be more than willing to answer THAT question!) I might not have chosen the word "offensive" had I not been replying to a post where it had already appeared, but I do find myself offended by someone's assuming a guise of innocence to foist off his own agenda on others, and in the process, creating a fanciful scenario that can only be a naive distortion of historical reality.

Julian Mincham wrote (February 9, 2007):
Steven Benson wrote
< I might not have chosen the word "offensive" had I not been replying to a post where it had already appeared, but I do find myself offended by someone's assuming a guise of innocence to foist off his own agenda on others, and in the process, creating a fanciful scenario that can only be a naive distortion of historical reality. >
As indeed I find 'offensive' the scenario of bull baiting.

There have been numerous faults on all sides (in my view) and I am not taking sides but I am really pissed off with the continuing personal attacks, rudeness, blame culture and gang mentality that occurs so on this list.

Lets discuss the music and the issues not personalities.

But I have said all this before and irt doesn't make a ******* bit of difference.

Douglas Cowling wrote (February 9, 2007):
Peter Bright wrote:
< You appear to have no idea about what the term 'hypothetical' means (included at the beginning of Thomas's message). There is clearly an attempt to kick Thomas off the list by using collective bullying tactics - you would obviously welcome this, but I (and others who have contacted me off list) welcome his informative insights (even if they are routinely given as facts rather than opinions). I fail to see what was so offensive about his post - like Aryeh, I enjoyed it. What is wrong with you? >
I have never had any objection to speculation about the creation of Bach's works or his day-to-day creative life. I indulged in a particularly fantastic scenario a month ago which pondered whether Bach ever intended to decamp for the Catholic Chaprl Royal in Dresden My objection here is that this scenario was inserted after a long factual presentation (which I found valuable) and did not distinguish between documentry evidence and factors which are supposedly closed questions.

The following questions are frequently presented as factual:

1. Bach's weekly compositional process began on Monday and was still unfinished late on Saturday night

2. Bach did not rehearse his musicians except for a run-through during the Saturday afternoon service.

3. Bach's choral music was never performed by soloists because four singers read from the same part.

4. Bach's sacred and secular music were performed differently even when they are the same music (e.g. "Tönet Ihr Pauken" and "Jauchzet Frohlocket")

5. Bach's singers used a system of pronunciation which was not universal until after his death.

The list goes on ...

The problem here is that we have to accept that the lack of documentary evidence makes just about every question an open one. For example, we simply will never know for certain whether Bach used short-note recitative technique or not. We each may have an opinion about the evidence but we cannot close the question. I would raise a million dollars if I thought I could prove that Bach's choral music was always performed by at least 16 singers. But I'm afraid that the Rifkin/Parrott OVPP thesis will hang over Bach for ever.

We will never have the documentary evidence we have someone like Handel. There are numerous doucments which list numbers and names of Handel's performers. There are even first-hand accounts of how Handel conducted his rehearsals. We will never have that for Bach.

I am more than happy to engage in discussions about collateral evidence if we do not try to choke off conversation. Thomas and I recently discussed the other 16th and 17th century music which Bach directed. I think that is an essential point of discussion which acts as a countebalance to a prevalent notion that the cantatas can be understood apart from their musical and historical contexts. We also discussed how the school regulations might tell us in very general terms how Bach's musicians were organized and how the social meaning of wigs changed.

This list only erupts when it tries to be dogmatic.

Thomas Braatz wrote (February 10, 2007):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
[assume that all the statements in quotes are Doug Cowling's]
>>This list only erupts when it tries to be dogmatic.<<
/And there is a lot of dogmatism which has already been established by certain practitioners of the HIP that believe certain tenets quite firmly and will not allow a reasonable statement, well-founded in original documentation, to be accepted as a very reliable statement of Bach's practices: the recently, very insistently dogmatic notion that Bach lied about the number of sopranos in his Primary Choir when he twice stated in writing that he needed and had at least 3 sopranos, but would preferably have 4.

>>I'm afraid that the Rifkin/Parrott OVPP thesis will hang over Bach for ever.<<
This is not necessary since there is ongoing research which will in time uncover more and more ancillary sources for additional singers and instrumentalists, thus making the Rifkin/Parrott OVPP theory gradually become untenable, if it is not so already. What will remain is the realization that a limited number of cantatas (some of the Weimar cantatas with choral mvts. might have been performed that way by professional musicians) could have been performed in that manner, but the bulk of the cantatas with choral mvts. which Bach performed in Leipzig constitutes an entirely different matter.

>>We simply will never know for certain whether Bach used short-note recitative technique or not. We each may have an opinion about the evidence but we cannot close the question.<<
But such an opinion may be based upon a belief that the two primary sources for evidence can not be judged by the credibility of the author and the interpretation given to each passage by the translator. I have great difficulty understanding both of these notions as these crucial passages must be re-examined in light of the context in which they are found. There is also the growing feeling among musicians and listeners that something substantial has been omitted from the presentation of the many great recitatives which JSB composed.

>>Bach's singers used a system of pronunciation which was not universal until after his death.<<
Their approximation to modern stage/high German was reasonably close and did not involve distorting quite obviously vowels and consonants as they might sound in the local dialect of Leipzig as spoken by cart-drivers and fish-mongers.

>>Bach's sacred and secular music were performed differently even when they are the same music (e.g. "Tönet Ihr Pauken" and "Jauchzet Frohlocket")<<
We have here as the best witness Johann Mattheson who clearly delineates between performance practices in Church vs. Court vs. Opera. Mattheson, as an academic exercise, delights, for instance, in demonstrating how he could transform a chorale melody into various types of dances, but he never would think of seriously performing such compositions in church using the same tempi and expression that they might have as an actual court dance or as the basis of an operatic aria. The same music in each one of these venues would be performed differently, according to the venue in which the performance took place. A performance of the same cantata music (different text, of course) in Zimmermann's Coffee-House would beplayed differently there than in one of the large churches in Leipzig.

>>Bach's choral music was never performed by soloists because four singers read from the same part<<
The strategic placement of boys smaller and larger in stature would make even four singers reading from a single part feasible.

>>Bach did not rehearse his musicians except for a run-through during the Saturday afternoon service.<<
if indeed even this did happen. It is very likely, based upon the evidence of so many original sets of parts, that the musicians (singers and instrumentalists) had almost no physical contact with their parts (with the exception that one of them had to turn the page(s). This type of evidence points to the reliance upon sight-reading which Bach, in one of his letters of recommendation, makes a special effort to mention.

>>Bach's weekly compositional process began on Monday and was still unfinished late on Saturday night<<
All the evidence from the 'composing' score (a score with many corrections which has not been recopied to create a 'clean' copy) and the rather hectic manner in which the parts are copied (a mvt. here another mvt. there, additions by JSB later on) point to a composer who is working against the pressure of time. During the year, there is almost no time for JSB to come up for a breath of air (even Advent and Lent are filled with necessary, additional preparations for the Christmas/New Year's season and Easter.

>>There are even first-hand accounts of how Handel conductedhis rehearsals. We will never have that for Bach.<<
We have the first-hand account by Johann Matthias Gesner (1691-1761) who knew JSB in Weimar and who was the Rector (Bach's superior] of the Thomasschule from 1730-1734). [Bach-Dokumente II, item 432] [New Bach Reader, item 328, pp. 328-329 - incomplete translation]. He is a reliable witness.

Harry W. Crosby wrote (February 10, 2007):
Aryeh Oron wrote:
<< So, what is wrong with it? I found it quite entertaining as a possible scenario. >>
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< "What is wrong with it?" Really? Do you want a point-by-point survey of all the sentences and clauses in it that are implausible? All right then, although I'm not going to spend more than 20 minutes on this because the whole thing's absurd. (And I'll grant that it's "entertaining" and "sweet"; but as Doug has already pointed out, it's presented *as if* it has historical possibility, coming after a couple of pages of useful facts!)
What follows is a copy of the whole fantasy scenario, and I'll simply mark with [***] all the spots that look impossible to me (as a practicing composer/performer and a good sight-reader myself), or at least questionable by current serious research, or simply like unsupported/unsupportable speculation for whatever reason. >

Well, I gotta say that Brad's painstaking analysis of the Braatz script was, to me, painfully familiar. As one who is trying to write a useful social history of late 18th century California despite a maddening shortage of pertinent documents --- any sort of personal communication, for example --- I have, fromm the word go, been aware of the absolute necessity to stick to provable facts or surmises based on that which is known about the people involved and demonstrated, recorded outcomes. And always to recall that surmises need to be so identified and endnotes with the bases for such propositions.

Central to all of this is the clear divide between history and historical fiction. That divide is the deep and wide gulf between fact and imaginative interpretation. So, Brad's critique looked familiar to me from bad dreams about giving cause, in my work, for a reviewer to ask just such questions as are posed here. And such dreams keep me oh-so-aware of my responsibility.

On the other hand, though I scarcely have the credentials to be an advisor in such matters, I would ask Mr. Braatz if he has considered writing a historical novel about the certainly colorful and little known to the greater world Bach family. He does project himself into the times, the circumstances, the activities, the demands and on the basis of, clearly, a lot of study. I would suggest that he review the case of Susan Vreeland, fellow San Diegan, who has written highly successful historical novels based the lives of, for example, 17th c. painter Jan Vermeer. My sense of it is that Thomas Braatz has done more homework in more depth than has la Vreeland. This is not a spoof but an honest opinion. Please consider it.

Ed Myskowski wrote (February 10, 2007):
Harry W. Crosby wrote:
< On the other hand, though I scarcely have the credentials to be an advisor in such matters, I would ask Mr. Braatz if he has considered writing a historical novel about the certainly colorful and little known to the greater world Bach family. [...] This is not a spoof but an honest opinion. Please consider it. >
I consider this a wonderful idea: it would present the ideas in appropriate format (historical novel), while freeing up a great deal of BCML chat time.

For my part, I am following your advice, in a different direction: Salieri and Beethoven, strange bedfellows (!) in forgery (BWV 143). Since no one else has adopted my suggestion, I hereby withdraw it from the public domain, and claim it as my own, for further exploitation, er, exploration. Amadeus, here I come.

Thomas Braatz wrote (February 10, 2007):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
>>Rifkin's published thesis (the 2002 book) is based on the assumption that Bach in the "Entwurff" was telling the truth. That is: that Bach needed 3 or preferably 4 singers on each part, to staff the appointed workload of the primary choir's church music for an entire season. So was Rifkin's famous 1981 paper based on the assumption that Bach was telling the truth.<<
Rifkin's theory is based upon taking Bach's political statement at face value as literally as possible. Unfortunately Bach got himself involved with ambiguous argumentation when he began to admit that the deficiencies in staffing all singing and instrumental positions were being met by outsiders (Studiosi and Alumnis-the latter having graduated from St. Thomas School but still participating without being officially paid by the City Council). Rifkin would like everyone who believes in this theory to accept the notion that singers from Bach's Primary Choir were being 'drafted' to perform many of the instrumental parts not covered by the City Pipers. Rifkin artifically attempts to reduce the number of "Extraordinarii" to a bare minimum to make the shifting away and reduction of singers cause at most only 1 or 2 singers per part to remain. Add illnesses to this total and the number is reduced to only OVPP. While Bach was trying desperately to get the city council members to open their pocketbooks to provide for these necessary musicians from outside of the official Thomaner Primary Choir, Rifkin is more interested in creating this artificial construct: the OVPP choir, something that Bach never had in mind and which he did not regularly experience in Leipzig. If the city council members did not fall for Bach's ambiguous political statement, why can musicians and listeners today not be as equally circumspect in determining the difference between Bach's reality (non-OVPP) and whatever objectives he may have had in mind when he 'composed' the "Entwurff"? Why should we be forced to believe that only 1, at the most 2 performers can read from the same part?

Bach is only 'telling the truth' (about needing at least 3 singers per part but only having OVPP) according to Rifkin, if you disallow the possibility that Bach was able to manage attracting excellent musicians in sufficient numbers to 'populate' all the positions necessary for performing one of his cantatas and that the average number of singers per part (Primary Choir) was at least 3. With Rifkin, Bach is theoretically stating unfulfillable ideals (3-3-3-3 or 4-4-4-4) which have no basis in reality when you exclude most of the help that Bach obtained from outside of the school. The city council members knew better. They could see and hear what was happening. These were not OVPP performances that were emanating from the choir lofts at the St. Nicholas or St. Thomas Churches in Leipzig on a typical Sunday morning or early afternoon.

Ed Myskowski wrote (February 10, 2007):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
Bradley Lehman wrote:
>>Rifkin's published thesis (the 2002 book) is based on the assumption that Bach in the "Entwurff" was telling the truth.
Anthony Olzowy wrote recently:
<And I think that the Entwurfe was, as are all inherently political documents, somewhat ambiguous.>
These two superficially contradictory statements, are on deeper reading, precisely in accordance. A political document which is not truthful is a matter of desperation, or of totalitarianism (and so by definition, not political). A political document which is not ambiguous is ineffectual. By definition (mine), a political document aims to couch the truth in terms favorable to one side of a partisan issue, although I think this may be what Anthony was getting at with the legalistic *inherently*..

TB: < Bach is only 'telling the truth' (about needing at least 3 singers per part but only having OVPP) according to Rifkin, if you disallow the possibility that Bach was able to manage attracting excellent musicians in sufficient numbers to 'populate' all the positions necessary for performing one of his cantatas and that the average number of singers per part (Primary Choir) was at least 3. >
Once again, I have read twice, but I am unable to extract thmeaning from this sentence. It gives new meaning to the concept of *ambiguous*. Inherently political? I have not a clue.

Ed Myskowski wrote (February 10, 2007):
Julian and I had some private communication re the content of his work in progress on Jahrgang II. In the course of the communication, the following came up, and I am taking the liberty of quoting it, as it has been stated on-list before:

<But I don't see how one gets around the fact that in his first 2 years at Leipzig Bach turned out around 100 new cantatas. That's around one a week and either he wrote them in great batches a dozen or more at a time (which seems impossible when one considers all of his other duties and engagements) or he spaced them out at around one per week---which seems more likely. Sure, he might have been working on two or even three at the same time---composers often do this----and the arrivals of the texts in batches permitted it.

But it seems to me that it still comes out as a consistent production line of more or less one a week and I really don't see how one gets around this one.>

I trust we all accept this, the single most important *fact * in the discussion. If I understand correctly, even this data is relatively recent (past 30 years or so), with the work of Dürr and others in establishing the proper chronology of cantata composition and performance.

Consider a couple of scenarios, among the many possible ones:

(1) For a typical week (not Xmas or Easter), rehearsals are for this week's cantata, while next week's is in the final stages of composition

(2) The scenario, described here (BCML) in detail, which I have abbreviated as 'Saturday night scramble'.

The primary method we have available to distinguish among these two and the many others possible is (inaptly named!) common sense, applied to clues from the surviving performance parts and scores. I know which I would choose, between the two I have listed.

Bradley Lehman wrote (February 11, 2007):
[To Thomas Braatz] How is it possible to know what "Rifkin is interested in" or what "Rifkin would like" his readers to believe, ...let alone to know what he actually wrote, while openly refusing to read any of his book?

Strike the word "know". Substitute "make wildly wrong guesses". This whole wort-of-the-brax thing is absurd: an unending straw-man argument against Rifkin's and other fine scholarship that Mr B refuses to read.

Harry W. Crosby wrote (February 11, 2007):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
< For my part, I am following your advice, in a different direction: Salieri and Beethoven, strange bedfellows (!) in forgery (BWV 143). Since no one else has adopted my suggestion, I hereby withdraw it from the public domain, and claim it as my own, for further exploitation, er, exploration. Amadeus, here I come. >
Ed, you really hit home with reference to "Amadeus."

I tell you, that is to me the most painful example of historical distortion. It flew in the face of countless documented facts, including dozens of personal letters, and achieved the marvelous goal of misinforming millions of audience members, the majority of whom have thoughtlessly accepted this sole-source-of-their-lives as gospel: Mozart, the randy buffoon.

But it was, of course, highly profitable, therefore a brilliant conception . . . .

Julian Mincham wrote (February 11, 2007):
Harry W. Crosby wrote:
< I tell you, that is to me the most painful example of historical distortion. It flew in the face of countless documented facts, including dozens of personal letters, and achieved the marvelous goal of misinforming millions of audience members, the majority of whom have thoughtlessly accepted this sole-source-have thouhave thougospel: Mozart, the randy buffoon. >
Too true--but still a great play about the nature of genius. I saw it on stage in London before the film was made. At least they had reasonable and consistent accents in the stage version.

Douglas Cowling wrote (February 11, 2007):
Harry W. Crosby wrote:
< I tell you, that is to me the most painful example of historical distortion. It flew in the face of countless documented facts, including dozens of personal letters, and achieved the marvelous goal of misinforming millions of audience members, the majority of whom have thoughtlessly accepted this sole-source-have thouhave thougospel: Mozart, the randy buffoon. >
Actually, I thought "Immortal Beloved" was a much more egregious distortion.At least "Amadeus" gave us nice swatches of music: "IB" dialled all of Beethoven's music down and covered it with sound effects.

Ed Myskowski wrote (February 11, 2007):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< At least "Amadeus" gave us nice swatches of music: >
I could not agree more! You will just have to patiently await my blend of Beethoven, Salieri, the forged BWV 143, and some genuine Bach for comparison. This is sounding less and less facetious to me.

Xavier R. wrote (February 11, 2007):

I am not sure I understand why some fellow list members got so promptly on their high horses after reading Thomas's post... Personally I found it well documented, entertaining and thought provoking. It is a reconstruction. Do you jump at Dürr or Harnoncourt's throat when they recompose from zero a missing part like in last week cantata? And why don't you give us your own scenario, it would be more fun to read than this endless list of objections (some of them quite petty I must say. the size of the family table? Come on...) to which, by the way, Thomas has precise, valuable or at least logical answers.

I have not the tenth of Thomas' historical knowledge, but on the process of working with well trained musicians of all age and putting a performance together I do have some experience. If you allow me, I will make a few observations, ask Thomas two questions and provide my own little scenario as a contribution.

- On the choir parts of BWV 123 and BWV 124: they are kept to a minimum level of difficulty, Bach obviously knew the choir wouldn't have much rehearsal time that week and composed both opening numbers accordingly.

- On the assumption that the final choral might have been composed at the last minute: this is absolutely plausible. Any trained professional vocal group is able to sight read a 4 parts choral.

- The same goes for the horn part. It's done every day. As long as the guy has the technique to reach the high notes, sight reading a simple line like in BWV 124 n.1 is a piece of cake. As far as I am concerned, JSB could have had this idea at the very last minute on Sunday morning.

- About the level of difficulty of the two arias: I would rate the tenor aria as vocally extremely difficult with lots of unusually big and "unnatural" intervals. It doesn't seem realistic to think the soloist would be given his part 2 hours before performance. It has to be at least one or two days before. The same goes for the duet. It's a fast and ticklish little piece, the cello part is far from easy and I can't possibly imagine two boys (even of the best trained kind) that could sing it in a satisfactory way at first sight. I cannot see Bach taking such a risk, otherwise he would have written something easier as we know he did for the opening chorus.

- The oboe part in the first chorus (the concerto like part) is extremely tricky and very exposed, in addition to being long and not repeating itself. For the same reason than before we can reasonably assume that it was given to the instrumentalist at least one day ahead.

Which brings me to my questions.

Thomas, why do you have to place the big copying night on Saturday, why not Friday or Thursday? And why assume that, on that night, the complete cantata was copied? Isn't it more realistic to think that some numbers were copied before, as soon as they were completed?

Taking all that into account, here is the scenario I suggest.

Monday January 1st: "Jesu, nun sei gepreiset" (BWV 41) is being performed. We will assume that "Liebster Immanuel" (BWV 123) is composed, copied and ready to be practiced and rehearsed from the next day on. starts working on "Meinen Jesum laß ich nicht" (BWV 124) studying the libretto, deciding on the instrumental and vocal casting of the arias, gathering thematic and formal ideas.

Tuesday: getting up early, he is able in a few hours to complete the soprano/alto duet and even copy the parts. He immediately gives them to the two boys and cellist and squeezes in a one hour reading session with them. In the next days, they will continue their studying under Kuhnau or some prefect. If there is time there will be another rehearsal with JSB on Wednesday or Thursday.

Wednesday: same idea. That morning JSB composes the tenor aria and gives it to Kuhnau who copies it right away and takes the parts to the singer (who looks at the first bars and makes a funny face.) and oboist. Later that day there is a reading session with JSB.

Thursday morning: now JSB is really running after time. Given his role and the difficulty of his part in the first movement, it is imperative that the oboist gets his music sheet as soon as possible. JS writes as quickly as he can, following the ideas as they come, with not much preconceived plan, one instrumental interlude after each choral period (that would explain the "durchkomposiert" character of this movement). Kuhnau has joined him and copies the oboe part as long as it is composed. When it's finished he rushes to give it to the oboist who will practice it for the rest of the day.

Thursday night: that's when I would place the big copying night described by Thomas in his post. In addition to supervising the copy and writing musical indications in the existing parts, JSB takes a moment to throw on paper the two recitatives and the final choral which are immediately copied.

Friday: big rehearsal day. In the morning the choir practices by separate voices under the prefects. JSB rehearses the arias with the continuo and soloists. In the afternoon, long orchestra rehearsal with choir, on both cantatas. They start with the opening numbers. After an hour or so JSB sets the choir free and continues with the orchestra for a while. The second half of the rehearsal is devoted to arias.

Saturday: everybody reconvenes an hour and a half before the service. JSB runs through the opening chorus of "Liebster Immanuel" and makes the last adjustments. Then he has the choir and orchestra read a couple of times the final choral. After that they run through the arias and JSB corrects what needs to be. Finally he stays with the continuo and concerned singers and they quickly put together the recitatives. Then the performance takes place during the service.

Sunday morning: in the same way than the day before, dress rehearsal then performance of "Meinen Jesum laß ich nicht".

It seems to me that it makes more sense in terms of practicability and it is more rational from the point of view of the composer/performer. Please understand that it is hypothetical, and tell me if there are some historical or factual impossibilities (but spare me the ones on the size of the table, please.).


POST SCRIPTUM

As a pure distraction and fantasy, and nothing more than that (how much precaution can you take.), I wrote a romanticized account of January 1st 1725, under the form of a short story. Since there is no JSB fan fiction thread on BCYG, and it has after all been triggered by Thomas' post and the long daydreaming that ensued on my part after reading it, I post it here. Some of you might find my attempt to render the early compositional process to be presumptuous, or blasphemous, or foolish, or even convincing, who knows? Anyway I had fun doing it and I hope some of you enjoy it.

Das alte Jahr vergangen ist

A (very) short story

Monday afternoon. After a short nap JS takes the text of next sunday's cantata "Meinen Jesum laß ich nicht" and start reading it. He has it since some time but he was so taken by last week's work and this morning's performance that there was no way he could have had a look at it. It has been hectic lately. In one week, between Christmas and today, first day of the year 1725, they have performed no less than five brand new cantatas. They had three weeks to prepare before, but still. And now it's already Monday afternoon and in five days they will play "Liebster Immanuel" on Saturday and that cantata to be on Sunday. Hopefully after that, they will go back to a more normal schedule. At least "Liebster Immanuel" is finished, copied and ready to be practiced from tomorrow on, so that's one less worry. And now he feels ready to immerge himself in a new world. As a matter of fact, he has no choice; there is not one minute to loose.

He takes a good half hour discovering the libretto and studying it. He can't help smiling while reading the first aria's colourful text. This really calls for something special and ideas start popping in his head. There is this young tenor who will be good for that. And there is also this oboe player who has so much improved recently on the oboe d'amore. JS has eavesdropped several times the young man explaining enthusiastically to his somewhat bored comrades how he goes near such and such pond around town collecting reeds, how he dries them for weeks in the attic, and the whole process of sinking them into some personal concoction then grating and scraping them (or maybe the other way around) to get the best sound, well, you know, oboe talk. Passionate kid, the kind JS loves to teach. Why not put him on the stand this week and have him play not only the tenor aria but also the opening number. He wants challenging parts? He is going to be served. For the 2nd aria JS sees a soprano/alto duet, something fast and light, he has just the boys that can do that aptly.

He stands up, goes to the harpsichord and starts improvising. He starts with the tenor aria, the one that excites him the most. When he was reading the text on his bed he immediately heard those repeated chords in the left hand so he takes them as a starting point. He quickly settles on F sharp minor as the tonality, and establishes a 4 bars harmonic pattern. He has the first notes of the theme and starts groping to find the rest, humming and singing and referring to the first words to see if the tonic accents and the prosody will work (he has already decided that the singer entrance will be somehow on the same melody than the oboe introduction). At one point he tries switching from 4/4 to ¾ and that's a big step, everything falls in place and he soon has his first 8 bars phrase. He plays it a couple of times to secure it into his memory.

Then he goes to the familiar choral "Meinen Jesum laß' ich nicht" and starts playing it. He chooses E major, since the following aria will be in F sharp minor that seems to be right. At first he just plays it simply with vertical harmonies. Sometimes he repeats a period to try a modulation or a different bass line or have the inner voices do more melodic movements. In a couple of places it seems natural to go towards B major. On the last G sharp of Period 3 you can simply come back to E major, but harmonizing it by a 6th and diminished 5th chord (dominant of C sharp minor) is much more expressive! It's nice to go in C sharp minor also at the end of Period 5 (which has the same melody than the first), it brings a nice surprise. The one thing he does not do is looking for interesting contrapuntal combinations. That's his forte and he loves doing it but this week he can't afford it, the choir parts have to stay rather simple in the opening chorus (as it is in "Liebster Immanuel"), otherwise the guys wouldn't materially have the time to learn them. After a while, he leaves the choral and let his fingers run freely, still in E, waiting for ideas for the opening tutti and that "would be" oboe concerto. After a few minutes he is surprised to find himself back in ¾ time but why not? At one point he finds these engaging 4 bars with a trill and a silence at the end of bar 2 and 4. Nothing to write home about, but it could probably do. He decides to leave it at that. Those opening numbers are always the ones that require the most thinking and planning bhe actually makes his final choices.

Finally he grabs the text of the last aria (the duetto) and reads it once more. He doesn't think twice before choosing A major, a tonality which fits the boys voices and is perfect before coming back to E in the final choral. After a few minutes of thinking and concentrating he comes up with the soprano theme which he plays with his right hand, the left one doing the alto entrance. Of course it complements perfectly, he didn't need to play it to know that! It's just nice to hear it sound in the room. And yeah, he is in a ternary mood today, so what? He likes that simple little subject, it offers possibilities, so much that he decides to use it as the continuo ritornello theme. He works on that for a while. When he finds the little gimmick of having the bass line (after the first 4 bars) alternating 3 eighth notes and 6 sixteenth notes he is so pleased that he adds 4 bars to it. Not having three hands, he can't play the three parts together, so he calls Anna Magdalena. She was hearing him play from another room so she is already familiar with the material. He gives her the text, and sings for her with his bad voice her first phrase, to show her how the words fall in. She doesn't have JS memory so it takes a few tries before she can sing it without mistakes, but JS is in a good mood, the house is empty, there is some chuckling on his side, some giggling on her's and ultimately an excellent time is being had by both. "Well, he says while putting back his clothes, what do you think? --About what, dear? - About the duet, silly! - Oh that? It's lovely, dear". He shrugs "You always say that, Püpchen, it's no fun". Soon it's time for dinner. At 9, JS goes to bed. There is still music running in his head. Tomorrow morning, shortly after five, in the silent sleeping house, he will take his pen and start writing. He is ready.

At 9.30 he is sound asleep.

Ed Myskowski wrote (February 11, 2007):
Xavier R. wrote:
< I am not sure I understand why some fellow list members got so promptly on their high horses after reading Thomas's post... >
Maybe you will be lucky, and not find out. Many of us have experienced the vituperation (sorry, I could not think of a simpler, non-insulting word) that comes from disagreeing with him

< And why don't you give us your own scenario. >
I, for one, did provide a two sentence scenario. It was much more similar to your detailed scenario, below, than to the 'Saturday night scramble'.

< it would be more fun to read than this endless list of objections [...] to which, by the way, Thomas has precise, valuable or at least logical answers. >
Logical? You may catch some flack on that point. I elided the parenthesis to emphasize the sentence structure. Perhaps you intended 'logical' to apply only to the comments on table size? If so, perhaps OK.

< If you allow me, I will make a few observations, ask Thomas two questions and provide my own little scenario as a contribution. >
Very enjoyable.

< - On the choir parts of BWV 123 and BWV 124: they are kept to a minimum level of difficulty, Bach obviously knew the choir wouldn't have much rehearsal time that week and composed both opening numbers accordingly. >
There you go again! Rehearsal is for wimps.

Pince-sans-rire. Thanks for that phrase.

PS Perhaps you would enjoy a collaboration on the screenplay for "The Forging of BWV 143"? We could have scenes of Beethoven and Salieri (strange bedfellows?) arguing about the details, intercut with flashbacks to Bach's 'actual' working methods, as in your scenario. Perhaps even a 'Saturday night scramble' for good measure, but as an emergency procedure, not routine working method.

Xavier R. wrote (February 11, 2007):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
< We could have scenes of Beethoven and Salieri (strange bedfellows?) arguing about the details, >
Ok Ed, you write Salieri's lines, I take Beethoven's :

Saleri: ".................."
Beethoven : "What?"
Saleri: "..........................."
Beethoven : "What??"
Saleri: ".................................."
Beethoven : "WHAT???"

Julian Mincham wrote (February 11, 2007):
Xavier Rist wrote:
< Saleri: "...........Saleri:
Beethoven : "What?"
Saleri: "...........Saleri: Saleri:
Beethoven : "What??"
Saleri: "...........Saleri: Saleri: Saleri
Beethoven : "WHAT???" >
I Like it!!! You started this ED---fill in the gaps! Suggestion for first line "Hey Ludwig, what say we do an April Fool's day joke, a parody of some little known dead composer"?

And the last line might be "Never mind Ludwig---I'll do it myself!"

Thomas Braatz wrote (February 11, 2007):
Xavier Rist wrote:
>>If you allow me, I will make a few observations, ask Thomas two questions and provide my own little scenario as a contribution.<<
Your input is very welcome on this list, particularly in this rather gray area of investigation and speculation. Your scenario gives us much material to consider. I will try to answer your two questions, but prefer to do so based on BWV 3 which is fresh in my mind and offers a slightly clearer, less confused picture of what I think may have been going on during the copy sessions along with when and where these sessions took place.

Allow me to digress for a bit to explain how my thinking on this subject matter has changed over the years. For most of my life I have assumed what has been casually presented in a number of less authorative books on Bach's life. The picture that is presented is one where Bach would use the hourlong-weekday class time during which he taught (also was required to teach) singing at St. Thomas School for rehearsing the figural music required in the church on Sundays and Feast Days. There was no doubt in my mind that Bach would have allowed sufficient practice time with the choir and orchestra to perform his cantatas to his own satisfaction. Then, while still a fairly new member on this list, I learned about the cantata text booklets which Bach had to have printed for distribution in the main churches. Since these booklets contained at least a month or two of Sundays and Feast Days, this would mean that Bach already knew relatively far in advance of the actual performance, which texts he would need to set to music. It would have been possible for Bach to compose a cantata at least a month or two before it was performed, but did Bach do this? Where is there any proof that he might have done so, other than applying our own current methods of planning ahead and forcing this onto Bach's work schedule. One could just as easily assume that the libretti functioned as a kind of syllabus for a course, providing a sense of direction in the form of an outline, but that, as most college/university students would do today, Bach would have waited until the time for real action was almost upon him. Call it realistic procrastination, if you will. Would students with a heavy and demanding course load say to themselves: "There's a book report due five weeks from now and although I am swamped with preparing and studying the subject matter which is currently being discussed in my seminar, I will turn my attention to the book report that is due 5 weeks from now rather than the one which is due this week."

Personally, I do not see Bach being that organized that he could compose on such a schedule. The evidence from the copy sessions keeps me from believing that Bach composed his scores and had his copies of the parts made well in advance so that there might be sufficient time to rehearse various cantatas simultaneously over the course of a number of weeks.

Then came my discovery of Arnold Schering's pronouncement. [Schering as an authorative figure in Bach scholarship reveals much about the inner workings of the Thomaner organization during Bach's tenure in Leipzig, but he does like to use words like "selbstverständlich" ("it goes without saying", literally: "the matter is self-understood" = it does not need any documentation or proof to substantiate its existence.)] Schering describes Bach's "dress rehearsal" for a cantata to be performed the next day to have always taken placduring the Saturday afternoon Vespers. Schering discovered this service in his list of all the church services that took place in the two main Leipzig churches. It seemed to him "selbstverständlich" that a connection could be made here since somehow it did not ring true to Schering that the dress rehearsals would have taken place during school classroom hours devoted to singing.

Doug Cowling's objection to having a rehearsal during a church service did cause me to reconsider Schering's scenario. ["Rehearsal" here being understood as a time when things could go seriously wrong: stopping and restarting in the middle of a mvt. or giving verbal explanations over the singing and playing that was going on.]

Then the clear indication of sight-reading music in one of Bach's letters of recommendation seemed to suggest that this was a talent/facility that a virtuoso musician, whether being paid professionally or not, must have. Such a talent, if required from all of Bach's top musicians, would allow Bach to perform at sight any music that he would set before them.

The deeper investigation into the nature of the copy process used by Bach when he was composing at least one cantata a week began to reveal to me all the expected characteristics of a composer, who in haste, is attempting to finish the composing process while already initiating the copy process, the former ending during the latter process.

Now for the two questions: (allow me here to use as my reference point the current cantata, BWV 3, because these details are still fresh in my mind and because there are similarities (as well as a few differences) between it and the two previously treated copy sessions):

>>Why do you have to place the big copying night on Saturday, why not Friday or Thursday?
1. The musicians Bach had selected to perform with the Primary Choir were eminently capable of sight-reading Bach's music.

2. There is no evidence for any rehearsals taking place on either Friday or Thursday.

>>And why assume that, on that night, the complete cantata was copied?<<
>>Isn't it more realistic to think that some numbers were copied before, as soon as they were completed?<<
The copying of the cantata had to be completed in one sitting/session for various reasons:

Although Bach's handwriting on the autograph score (the earlier mvts. before mvts. 5 and 6) shows irregular variations in the color and thickness of the line, these are haphazard and occur in the middle of mvts. In other words, Bach did not stop at the end of mvt. 1, give Kuhnau a chance to copy out some selected parts, then skip a recitative, begin the next aria, etc. etc. Bach worked his way in sequence through the entire score. With his space-saving methods, there is no easy way to imagine that Bach knew in advance how much space the recitatives would require. When Bach got to mvt. 5 (the duet), he may still not have finished composing it when the copy session began. Without the vocal parts for mvt. 5 having been copied out until during the copy session, how could the singers practice their parts? Certainly not from the score directly which Bach guarded closely and needed so that he could continue to compose.

If Kuhnau had copied out the oboe parts for mvt. 1 only on Monday and then another copyist or Bach personally copied out mvt. 5 (also difficult) at the remaining copy session, what sense would this make? Certainly, the oboists would need to see both mvts. 1 & 5 in advance.

Take the vocal parts for BWV 3. These were copied by Kuhnau much later in the session (Kuhnau was able to copy mvt. 5 completely, something which he was not able to do with the oboe parts that he had copied earlier.

There is no indication of a break of a few days in Kuhnau's copying of a single part: no apparent change in ink color or thickness of the line from one movement to another.

There has never been a single scrap of evidence found that any of Bach's performers had their own copy or had a copy made of a part for private study or rehearsals. This is a truly remarkable fact because certainly with the volume of Bach cantatas in existence at least one or two samples of this would have survived.

The copy process used by Bach appears to be quite seamless without breaks once it gets started. It does not appear that Bach, after one rehearsal sans final chorale would say to his musicians: "I'll have the final chorale ready for you tomorrow so that we can practice it then."

 

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