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Recordings & Discussions of Cantatas: Cantatas BWV 1-50 | Cantatas BWV 51-100 | Cantatas BWV 101-150 | Cantatas BWV 151-200 | Cantatas BWV 201-224 | Cantatas BWV Anh | Order of Discussion

Cantata BWV 125
Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin
Discussions - Part 3

Continue from Part 2

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

Ed Myskowski wrote (March 4, 2007):
Julian Mincham wrote:
<< Is it being suggested that a statement of the performance schedule and the suggestion that this implies very little rehearsal time is being dogmatic?? >>
Chris Rowson wrote:
CR: < no, I consider the performance schedule informative and your suggestion reasonable
JM: << People often suggest that Bach wrote the cantatas ahead of time but never offer any evidence for this certainly not with reference to this cycle. To ask your own question Chris, what is the evidence? Furthermore as I pointed out although there were only 6 new cantatas performed within this 10 week period, two major works were also performed. If the cantatas required substantial rehearsal, these works would have required even more. BWV 249 had not previously been performed at Leigzig although 245 had been heard in the first cycle but in the earlier version. So I do not see that there would have been a lot of time for additional rehearsals of the coming bunch of works. This was not a performance-free period.
But again where's the evidence for the supposition expressed? >>
CR: < I don't claim to have evidence, I am not aware of any evidence for or against rehearsals of the JSB cantatas. I am suggesting a possibility for organising rehearsal ? not necessarily substantial, but at least some. >
This seems like a convenient point to insert an observation: rehearsal has been equated with preparation, perhaps unintentionally, because these discussions usually resume in response to another proposal of the 'Saturday night scramble'. In fact, with the parts available even a few days in advance, there would be ample time for Cara's single day of preparation, followed by minimal rehearsal.

Adequate preparation, followed by minimal rehearsal, is a long way from sight-reading, at least according to my memory of trying to do both at one time or another.

Whatever evidence there may or may not be for sight-reading as the normative German performance practice, it is clearly not Bach's preference, based on his own statements.

Incidentally, to an American, it is hugely ironic (!) to spectate on arguments that the French insisted on perfection while the Germans would slap off an ex-tempore performance, neither prepared nor repeated. I guess music is different from engineering.

JM: << yes I said in my first posting that all this evidence of sustained performance of new works did not prove a 'no rehearsal' supposition. I said that it is strong evidence for a 'minimum rehearsal' process---possibly somewhat less than many performers would look for today. >>
CR: < Yes, we can be sure the process was very different from that of modern concert performers and recording artists. My understanding of early 18th C practice is that it was in general considered necessary to have at least one full rehearsal. >
To summarize my response: minimum rehearsal is much different from no rehearsal, and neither in any way implies total lack of other preparation.

Ed Myskowski wrote (March 4, 2007):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
<< However, it is not inconsistent with the reference (awaiting recovery) I ran across, with an aging Tnomaner recalling that the performances were pretty much a shambles. My word, not his, but that was the gist of it. >>
Chris Kern wrote:
< Whittaker has a quotation from one of Bach's cousins (I think?) who was in Bach's choir; he was asked about how it was to perform the cantatas with Bach and his response was "Oh, he cuffed us a lot and they sounded terrible." I don't know how credible that is, though. >
Thanks, Chris, I believe this is the reference I was recalling. I had overlooked that I at one point had both volumes of Whittaker on library loan, but now only have one volume on my shelf.

Of course, it is only one bit of data, certainly not conclusive. On the other hand, better than alternative conclusions without even that single bit of support.

Case closed, as far as my obligation to recover the reference.

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 4, 2007):
Kim Patrick Clow wrote:
>>Another tip off to difficult performances and very short prep time are in the the very difficult horn and trumpet parts in the cantatas. I heard a baroque trumpet player offer a suggestion that given the nature of the music, it was more than likely that the trumpet player in the first performances could have cracked a few notes, and that was ok, because this trumpet player thought having a perfect trumpet part was unlikely in the first performances anyway.<<
This is the same type of erroneous argumentation as the one about rehearsals having been absolutely necessary under Bach's direction. One cannot judge Bach's preparation and performance practices based upon "this is what happens today" or "this is necessary for any singer or player today" according to the way we do things and perceive things through our own experiences. This trumpet player, and a few others, who still have not practiced sufficiently long enough on these older type instruments, find it easier to create this myth about Gottfried Reiche, Ulrich Heinrich Ruhe and others not being concerned about playing a part cleanly and accurately (or they were simply incapable musicians) and they even want to go so far as to imply that Bach intentionally wrote parts to take advantage of their problematic playing, parts which were too difficult to play because it was part of Bach's word-painting of a text which stated (BWV 77/5 "Ach, es bleibt in meiner Liebe lauter Unvollkommenheit" = "O, there is still so much imperfection in my [ability to] love").

This entire matter was discussed recently on this list [from "J. S. Bachs Instrumentarium" by Ulrich Prinz] in reference to a symposium, "Blechbläser-Praxis zur Bach-Zeit," held in Stuttgart (August 28-30, 1998) where two renowned trumpeters, Friedemann Immer and Edward H. Tarr both concurred that all of Bach's parts are playable on the 'long' trumpets of Bach's time. Both trumpeters demonstrated by playing these parts flawlessly.

Here is Prinz, quoting the summary of the symposium, on p. 57:

"Wenn das auf den historischen Nachbauten nicht immer so befriedigend klingt, so ist die Schuld zum einen bei den heutigen Trompetern zu suchen, die die alte Clarinblaskunst erst mühsam wieder erlernen mussen, und zum anderen sind unsere Hörgewohnheiten am Ende des 20. Jahrhunderts 'verbildet' von den schlackenreinen CDs, am Bildschirm gemastert durch unendlich viele Schnitte - die Klangbalance völlig in der Hand des Tonmeisters."

"If this trumpet-playing on historical instrument reconstructions does not always sound satisfactory, then the fault lies in part with present-day trumpeters, who still have to (re)learn with great difficult the art of playing these high-range instruments, but also with our listening habits at the end of the 20th century, listening habits which have been spoiled by 'perfectly recorded' CDs, that have been modified an endless number of times using a computer screen - where the sound balance is entirely in the hands of the sound mixer."

All of this is confirmed by Gisela and Jozsef Csiba in their book, "Die Blechblasinstrumente in J. S. Bachs Werken", Merseburger, 1994, p. 23.

Shawn Charton wrote (March 4, 2007):
Shawn Charton wrote:
<< The finale to Oklahoma was completed 6 hours before opening night... for example... >>
Ed Myskowski wrote:
< The finale, yes (new to me), but while the show itself was in preparation and rehearsal! Or perhaps revision after the off-broadway tryout? >
as in the music was handed out 6 hours before opening the show... that's why it's just sorta a come out and sing a bit kinda number with a tag showstopper ending...

Kim Patrick Clow wrote (March 4, 2007):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< This is the same type of erroneous argumentation as the one about rehearsals having been absolutely necessary under Bach's direction. One cannot judge Bach's preparation and performance practices based upon "this is what happenstoday" or "this is necessary for any singer or player today" according to the way we do things and perceive things through our own experiences. >
Yet you're quote musicians from today (Edward Tarr for example) that are projecting their observations back into the 18th century, because they can play them well, as opposed to the trumpet player I quote who said that maybe cracked notes were a part of the regular performance habits of the time? So which trumpet player is correct?

The truth of the matter is, no one knows. We don't have a tape recording of any of the performances, so all of this is conjecture.

Julian Mincham wrote (March 4, 2007):
Kim Patrick Clow wrote:
< time? So which trumpet player is correct?
The truth of the matter is, no one knows. We don't have a tape recording of any of the performances, so all of this is conjecture. >
Kim is absolutely right.

But then there is conjecture based upon a detailed knowledge of the scores and available sources and conjecture which has no basis whatsoever.

On this list we need to make an effort to sort out the one from the other. Certainly opinion from present day professional singers and instrumentalists is an important part of the basis for reasonable conjecture---as, indeed, is historical source material.

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 4, 2007):
I notice that the subject line is not: "What Musicianship Reveals". As in, listening to the opinions of working musicians who rightly point out that certain tasks are impossible without rehearsal.

This morning in church we did a piece that had two teenaged boys singing solos, about a 3-minute piece, with piano. We rehearsed it for 15 minutes earlier in the morning, before the service. And that was after they had both worked with their voice teacher on it for at least a week or two (it was scheduled for last Sunday's service that got snowed out). This voice teacher -- their high-school choral conductor -- was there to coach them this morning as well, talking them through several necessary improvements after their first few runs through it. I was the only person sight-reading it, playing the piano, although I'd also tried it out once on clavichord last night upon hearing that this was on this morning's service.

It went fine.... But it was an easy piece where the vocal lines were straightforward melodies, not even 25% as difficult as any Bach aria (vocally or rhythmically or finding pitch, or in any other way); and our 15 minutes rehearsing it this morning were well spent. In its very small way, this barely approaches the task of putting together a 20 to 25-minute cantata, with a whole orchestra and a different instrumentation for every movement, and more singers than two. That would require more than 15 minutes of rehearsal, and more time for everybody to work on their parts ahead of performance.

I remember very well the one time I consented to play one piece in a church service, without ensemble rehearsal, a couple of years ago. This was simply for one singer with organ, less than three minutes long, and the singer was himself a professional conductor and a fine singer. I had practiced my organ part for several days leading up to this, and I was ready; but he was sure we could put this together at sight, since his part was only to sing a chorale cantus firmus against these other two melodic lines on the organ. "It should work." Well....my part went fine, but he thoroughly botched it, having underestimated its difficulty in fitting it into these other flowing parts, and counting the right numbers of rests between phrases. It was an embarrassing muddle. And it was an unnecessary muddle, because 10 minutes of rehearsal probably would have made the piece go well.

Julian Mincham wrote (March 4, 2007):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< It was an embarrassing muddle. And it was an unnecessary muddle, because 10 minutes of rehearsal probably would have made the piece go well. >
Which is the reason why I personally believe in the 'very minimal' but not 'absolutely none' theory of rehearsal.

nevertheless all the evidence today we have would indicate that it was almost certainly less than we might have supposed it to have been some years ago.

Douglas Cowling wrote (March 4, 2007):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< Yes, this is quite different from what one would expect based upon current practices. >
My principal objection in these debates is the presentation of historical possibilities as dogmatic certitudes. The simple fact remains that the direct documentary record is so spotty that we cannot recreate Bach's working method beyond the possible. The use of indirect collateral evidence is helpful but it cannot justify the assertion of absolutes.

I am constantly criticized for not appreciating the differences between 21st and 18th century performance practices. Leaving aside continuity of performance practice for the moment, let's look at a few aspects of Bach's musical establishment which make it very different from modern ensembles and which in fact argue for a different concept of rehearsal.

Bach's students performed publically every day of the year. The choir school was an extension of its monastic foundation and the academic day was built around the musical performance of the liturgy. We can't underestimate the advanced musical skills which this schedule gave his choir. Their constant performing together foussed and honed their ensemble in a way no modern choir or orcehstra can ever hope to achieve.

This daily schedule was also founded on an extensive repertoire of motets and chorales which gave the choir an enormous musical base. In a sense, this repertoire was never wholly new because it was always being "dusted off" and refreshed for performance. That is a very different kind of rehearsal schedule than a modern concert ensemble.

Although there are obvious differences, a closer analogy is the repertoire of a modern residential English cathedral choir school which sings daily services.

Go to the Westminster Abbey site and click on "Services and Music": http://www.westminster-abbey.org/

What you see is the extraordinarily large repertoire which this men and boys choir sings in one week. Note also that the Sunday load is particularly heavy. This schedule would challenge a modern chamber choir. I suggest that this daily schedule with its built-in rehearsal times resembles what Bach and his musicians undertook every week.

Note too that many of these works are rehearsed in sections by various ensembles and do not necessarily require the modern "dress rehearsal".

The daily exeperience of working with Bach, even the mundane singing of a simple chorale, gave them a continuity of musical leadership which was of enormous value in decreasing the necessary rehearsal time. Bach's musicians instinctively knew what he wanted because they worked with him every day.

This is the performance matrix in which the "new" music, the cantatas were performed. Although it may seem incredible to modern musicians that music of this calibre was performed weekly, the comprehensive environment of the school made it possible. I have never believed that Bach spent his entire life listening to mediocre performances of his music.

Bach gave his cantatas to experienced and highly-trained musicians who he knew could give accomplished performances. What we don't know, and will never know, is the precise timetable of how Bach planned, composed, copied and rehearsed his cantatas. The parts do not have dates on them and we do not have a daily journal of how the music was rehearsed.

It is a disservice to the historical method and ultimately to Bach to press for certitude when there is rarely even probability. Our discussions need to remain within the possible.

Ed Myskowski wrote (March 5, 2007):
Kim Patrick Clow wrote:
<< time? So which trumpet player is correct?
The truth of the matter is, no one knows. We don't have a tape recording of any of the performances, so all of this is conjecture. >>
Julian Mincham wrote:
< Kim is absolutely right.
But then there is conjecture based upon a detailed knowledge of the scores and available sources and conjewhich has no basis whatsoever.
On this list we need to make an effort to sort out the one from the other. Certainly opinion from present day professional singers and instrumentalists is an important part of the basis for reasonable conjecture---as, indeed, is historical source material. >
As painful as it might have seemed at the time, we made some actual progress on this issue a few months ago. Under Aryeh's guidance, we decided that speculation would be limited to cases of unsupported scenario development, and used sparingly to avoid delicate feelings. Conjecture would be the preferred word (proposed by me, and tacitly accepted) for most of the scenario development on BCML: a bit of data or support, spun out to whatever lengths.

In the present case, the sound of Bach's natural trumpeters, as suggested by the hearsay opinion of a modern natural trumpet player, is what I would continue to call speculation. In order to rise to the level of conjecture, some of the reasoning used by the modern trumpet player would need to be presented. Perhaps it was, I did not read the original posts in that much detail.

The point is, Kim is correct. The sound of Bach's trumpets is conjecture at best, and perhaps it does not even rise to that level, in the strict definitions used on BCML.

Incidentally, I think this was a worthwhile linguistic distinction to make. What is the sense of having two vague words (speculation and conjecture) used interchangeably, when with a little discussion and a decisive moderator, we can add a bit of clarity to the language.

Nobody ever said progress would be easy, least of all the God of Bach's cantata texts.

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 5, 2007):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
>>My principal objection in these debates is the presentation of historical possibilities as dogmatic certitudes.<<
How about your comment labeling my conclusions (as tentative as they are, they are my current conclusions) as "utter nonsense"? Does your statement not display a 'dogmatic' attitude based upon the arrogant notion that "the way we do things now must be very close to the way Bach did it back then"?

I am not labeling your opinions based on your experiences ("empirical evidence") as "utter nonsense", but I do believe it is necessary to step back at times to try to imagine what is suggested by historical evidence, as scanty as this may be, without expecting every detail to be spelled out so that there is little room for any doubt.

DC: >>The use of indirect collateral evidence is helpful but it cannot justify the assertion of absolutes.<<
How true! Just as momentarily reflecting on how we do things today might possibly reveal some clues as to how things were done in Bach's time as long as this method of reaching a conclusion does not stand in the way of historical evidence. BTW, the evidence I have presented from Bach's original parts is not simply "indirect collateral evidence", but reveals a process regarding which we can reach some reasonable conclusions, conclusions which preclude the notion that Bach prepared these cantatas far in advance of the actual performance date so that

1. the individual musicians could study and practice their parts alone

2. various types of rehearsals (sectionals, full ensemble, etc.) could take place over a span of a week or month or more

DC: >>I am constantly criticized for not appreciating the differences between 21st and 18th century performance practices. Leaving aside continuity of performance practice for the moment, let's look at a few aspects of Bach's musical establishment which make it very different from modern ensembles and which in fact argue for a different concept of rehearsal.<<
Or not rehearsal at all since all musicians involved were excellent sight-readers.

DC: >>Bach's students performed publicly every day of the year.<<
And Gottfried Reiche played his trumpet publicly 2 to 3 times a day from the church towers of Leipzig (probably more often when the Leipzig Fair was in progress). As a result these singers and musicians were always in the best form and ready to tackle any composition that Bach placed before them. Do you think for a moment, that Bach would compose music for his primary choir that the singers and instrumentalists would have difficulty performing? He knew precisely the capabilities of each one of them.

DC: >>Their constant performing together focused and honed their ensemble in a way no modern choir or orchestra can ever hope to achieve.<<
Exactly! The same way that Gottfried Reiche could pick up one of Bach's most difficult trumpet parts and play it brilliantly at sight. This constant ensemble singing or playing was the key that allowed Bach to dispense with specific rehearsals needed to prepare any particular cantata.

The historical evidence from the original parts for the cantatas now under discussion makes quite clear that the composition of a cantata and its translation into individual parts was a last-minute effort, most likely on the evening before the actual performance the next morning. The editors of the NBA who examined these parts extremely carefully noting every aspect of what is on them sometimes express surprise that these parts appear never to have been used. Also, no one has ever discovered a privately made copy of a part or a student notebook containing the vocal part from an aria needed for private study.

So if parts were placed on the stands by Bach just prior to the performance and immediately collected again as soon as the performance was over and since no corrections or additions by any singing or playing musician have ever been noted, then there really is very little basis for assuming that these parts were used for rehearsals or even a single rehearsal.

DC: >>The daily experience of working with Bach, even the mundane singing of a simple chorale, gave them a continuity of musical leadership which was of enormous value in decreasing the necessary rehearsal time. Bach's musicians instinctively knew what he wanted because they worked with him every day.<<
Precisely! But he did not work with them by rehearsing any of the cantatas. Also, he had all those choir prefects, who were doing most of this important ground work for him.

DC: >>Bach gave his cantatas to experienced and highly-trained musicians who he knew could give accomplished performances. What we don't know, and will never know, is the precise timetable of how Bach planned, composed, copied and rehearsed his cantatas. The parts do not have dates on them and we do not have a daily journal of how the music was rehearsed.<<
We do not need a precise timetable of rehearsals because the parts 'speak for themselves'. What they tell us is that they were completed in relatively great haste in order for a performance to take place shortly thereafter. If a Friday was a Feast Day with a cantata expected, then, as we have seen, Thursday night there would be a copy session in Bach's apartment. For the next cantata on the following Sunday, the session would take place Saturday evening in time for the Sunday morning performances. This is what the historical evidence from the parts is trying to tell us, not that these cantatas were composed weeks earlier (despite the fact the texts were already available) and the parts copied out so that a number of rehearsals, stretching over a few weeks could be possible.

DC: >>It is a disservice to the historical method and ultimately to Bach to press for certitude when there is rarely even probability. Our discussions need to remain within the possible.<<
Nothing is absolutely certain about Bach when viewed from this perspective and when limiting or disproving reasonable theories is accomplished by stating that "there is rarely even probability". We do not even know precisely when (on what calendar date) Bach was born, but are we not all happy that he was!

Ed Myskowski wrote (March 5, 2007):

Douglas Cowling wrote:
>>My principal objection in these debates is the presentation of historical possibilities as dogmatcertitudes.<<
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< How about your comment labeling my conclusions (as tentative as they are, they are my current conclusions) >
'ttentative' and 'conclusiion' are completely inconsistent in this sentence. What the the writer (TB) apparently means is 'conjectures', not 'conclusions'.

< as "utter nonsense"? Does your statement not display a 'dogmatic' attitude based upon the arrogant notion that "the way we do things now must be very close to the way Bach did it back then"? >
How is this notion 'arrogant'? Where does the idea that DC claims [now is close to then] come from?

< I am not labeling your opinions based on your experiences ("empirical evidence") as "utter nonsense", but I do believe it is necessary to step back at times to try to imagine what is suggested by historical evidence, as scanty as this may be, without expecting every detail to be spelled out so that there is little room for any doubt. >
And not to step back at other times? A classic sentence, as an example of how not to write. How to not write? Not write right?

GMAFB! (Not an official BCML abbreviation or acronym, translation available off-list on request). You start a fight over the use of the word 'speculation', and then post this sort of contentious ... Well, I almost wrote nonsense, but I will bite my tongue, sit on my pen (ouch), or something... Vomit on my keyboard.

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 5, 2007):
This cantata, like the others that have been discussed over the past several months, shows yet again that rehearsal was essential. Why? Once again, it's tricky stuff in unfigured bass of arias, and tricky stuff to coordinate in blatantly exposed string parts.

The latter? Movement 3, where the violin and viola parts all have 32nd notes that have to be counted out accurately and played accurately (both in rhythm and pitch, with string-crossings and all), with varied bits of rest around them.

The former? Movement 2, where we have an alto singer, two obbligato wind lines, and an unfigured basso continuo. The two wind lines are filled with graceful appoggiaturas that spice up the harmony; and the bass line is a bunch of repeated notes, sometimes six the same all the way through a bar. And during these, the harmony changes in ways that there's no way the organist would know, except to learn during rehearsal. (Or, once again, we could force Bach to play the part...on no evidence.) Plus, the singer's appoggiaturas should probably line up at least somewhat with the way the wind players are doing them...again arguing for rehearsal.

And then the fourth movement is tricky, too, as a vocal duet plus two violins, at an obviously rapid tempo.

And now, as usual, the non-musicians among us will sputter on about the way such musical evidence either didn't occur to them, or somehow isn't important, in deciding if this music ever had rehearsal before its first performance by Bach. Or its repeat performance, years later.

Go into this music in a church service, sight-reading it? Absurd. Even if one's performance standards would be absolute crap, it would still be absurd; there are all these "train wrecks" waiting to happen in it, on almost every page of these three movements in a row. Why would Bach or his employers or musicians put up with such a ludicrous situation, with musicians that unprepared and it being Bach's fault (week after week after week) for not having it ready in time? They couldn't. It's practically impossible. There would have to be at least several hours of run-through, well in advance of Sunday morning, for even a chance.

Besides, we also can't cite long-afterward reports that the performances often sucked, as if non-rehearsal would be the only feasible reason for them to suck. These cantatas are tricky even with rehearsal, and so many things can go wrong.

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 5, 2007):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
>>This cantata, like the others that have been discussed over the past several months, shows yet again that rehearsal was essential. Why? Once again, it's tricky stuff in unfigured bass of arias, and tricky stuff to coordinate in blatantly exposed string parts.<<
It appears to be common for some present-day musicians who find Bach difficult to perform without prior practice or rehearsals (or even with rehearsals) to blame Bach for their own inadequacies in being able to sight-read Bach at a level which could be considered reasonably good for a public performance. What is the first thing that some Bach trumpeters who still have not mastered the art of clarino playing say in their defense when their performance reveals some very obvious deficiencies?

1. Trumpeters in Bach's time could not possibly play Bach's trumpet parts cleanly because we find these parts terribly difficult to play (accuse Bach's trumpeters of poor, substandard execution on their instruments rather than pointing the finger directly at the ones making this accusation, those who simply have not yet reached the higher level of mastery required to manage playing these instruments at a high level of perfection).

2. Bach deliberately composed his difficult trumpet parts to trip up any trumpeter because it was part of Bach's musical language used in attempting to express the meaning of the underlying text or thought (blame Bach for intentionally making these parts overly difficult so that audiences will realize that the present-day trumpeters are not at fault when some strange sounds emanate from there instruments).

The 'tricky stuff' referred to above is of a similar nature: the lack of the same level of experience that Bach's performers presumably had should not be used as an argument that Bach's performers simply could not sight-read his cantatas when the freshly copied parts were placed before them just before they were expected to perform a new cantata during the first church service on a Sunday morning. The observations obtained from a close examination of Bach's autograph score and the original set of parts do not in any way suggest that present-day ensembles performing Bach's music should attempt to do likewise. On the contrary, the need for intensive study of the parts with numerous rehearsals is perhaps greater today than it ever was.

However, let us try to keep these two notions separate:

1. Bach's custom of having the performers sight-read the freshly composed music during performances;

2. Today's need for more individual practice of a part from a Bach cantata along with sufficient rehearsals to attain the best ensemble results possible under the present circumstances.

Douglas Cowling wrote (March 5, 2007):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< However, let us try to keep these two notions separate:
1. Bach's custom of having the performers sight-read the freshly composed music during performances;
2. Today's need for more individual practice of a part from a Bach cantata along with sufficient rehearsals to attain the best ensemble results possible under the present circumstances. >
I always keep the two notions separate because the first is delusional.

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 5, 2007):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
>>I always keep the two notions separate because the first is delusional.<<
...when viewed from the arrogant, empirical standpoint which allows no other possibilities to have existed at different times and in different cultures.

"Delusional" and "utter nonsense" appear to be rather dogmatic terms when applied to slowly growing body of historical evidence contrary to one's own expectations.

Ed Myskowski wrote (March 5, 2007):
Bradley Lehman wrote:.
< Besides, we also can't cite long-afterward reports that the performances often sucked, as if non-rehearsal would be the only feasible reason for them to suck. These cantatas are tricky even with rehearsal, and so many things can go wrong. >
Since I originally brought this up, I should state that I agree with Brad, non-rehearsal is not the only feasible reason for a terrible performance. I never intended to say that it was, only that the report of poor performance quality could be consistent with no rehearsal. I think I first brought it up some time ago, in the face of a comment that the typical perfwere sight-read and superb, more to challenge the 'superb' than to support the 'sight-read'.

Now that we have the comment, as recovered by Chris Kern from Whittaker: 'He cuffed us a lot, and the performances were terrible,' it sounds much more like a description of combined rehearsal and performance practice, than strictly a church performance. Unless you like the image of Bach 'cuffing' the lads during a sight-read performance at services.

In any event, it is a tiny bit of hearsay evidence, long after the fact. Not much, of itself, to build any kind of case on.

Julian Mincham wrote:
< My own view remains the same and has not really been altered by the discussion--i.e. that in his first Leipzig two years Bach wrote and performed the cantatas at a phenomenal rate which allowed for a degree of individual practice and group rehearsal but probably little of each. >
My sentiments, as well.

Rick Canyon wrote (March 5, 2007):
< Now that we have the comment, as recovered by Chris Kern from Whittaker: 'He cuffed us a lot, and the performances were terrible,' it sounds much more like a description of combined rehearsal and performance practice, than strictly a church performance. Unless you like the image of Bach 'cuffing' the lads during a sight-read performance at services. >
Makes Bach sound a bit like Basil Fawlty.

I just want to be sure, but aren't we talking here about just two (roughly) of Bach's 27 years in Leipzig? Once this frenetic pace of composition abated, wouldn't the 'sightreading vs no rehearsal vs little rehearsal question' largely recede from being a performance factor?

Russell Telfer wrote (March 6, 2007):
This is a longer post than usual.

Thank heavens for Aryeh's placement of the Leusink performances of the cantatas [5] (and thanks to Leusink and his forces too). Which gives a chance to check the details at the last minute.

Brad Lehman wrote:.
<< Besides, we also can't cite long-afterward reports that the performances often sucked, as if non-rehearsal would be the only feasible reason for them to suck. These cantatas are tricky even with rehearsal, and so many things can go wrong. >>
Ed Myskowski replied -
< Since I originally brought this up, I should state that I agree with Brad, non-rehearsal is not the only feasible reason for a terrible performance. never intended to say that it was, only that the report of poor performance quality could be consistent with no rehearsal. I think I first brought it up some time ago, in the face of a comment that the typical performances were sight-read and superb, more to challenge the 'superb' than to support the 'sight-read'. >
I was listening to cantata BWV 125 Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin before this started and also writing some website text for an amateur choir trying to explain how the technical competence required for the performance of Bach cantatas varies from 'as easy as a hymn but with attitude' - up to the stratospheric level of the supermusician, a person able to get into John Eliot Gardiner's sanctum without a fuss - there are just a few around.

To the point: non-rehearsal or faulty rehearsal is a main contributor to a poor performance. Here are some others, drawn from real life:

- the lead singer is off colour, the conductor loses his composure and shouts to warn (!) her she's flat, making her even flatter.

The instruments are off colour. They either sound awful, are impossible to play, or are played badly. I'm not saying much about HIP, except to say that there must be some reason why Rachmaninov didn't write any concertos for clavichord. How many composers chose to retrogress to instruments which had been superseded a century before? (I love the clavichord.)

A majority of the tenors and basses and some of the orchestrat are tipsy. (Please note, this happens rarely, but may also have happened in Bach's day.)

The conductor has some daft ideas about tempo. Glenn Gould wasn't a conductor but qualifies otherwise.

The orchestra is in conflict with the conductor who, they think, has behaved unreasonably - he probably has - and they give a lousy performance appropriate to the moment.

There is conflict between the conductor and the choir's repetiteur (in the case I'm thinking of, the former disparaged the latter) and the choir take their revenge by screwing up. Not in a Bach cantata, I'm glad to say.

I shall stop short of citing instances where the catering prior to a concert was a major factor in causing further disasters, because the main point I wanted to make was from the singers' point of view:

In BWV 125, there are two movements for choir. The opening chorus is a beautiful movement in 12/8 time at allegretto tempo; it offers minimal difficulty for trainable average singers. There is only one bar with semiquavers and demisemiquavers (for tenors only) otherwise the metre is slowish and dependable. Easily learnable, I would guess.

The last movement is a typically energetic Lutheran hymn, and a well trained choir could probably get away with almost no rehearsal.

There are plenty of opportunities for a poor performance but not for the choir in this cantata.

Uri Golomb wrote (March 6, 2007):
Russell Telfer wrote:
"I'm not saying much about HIP, except to say that there must be some reason why Rachmaninov didn't write any concertos for clavichord. How many composers chose to retrogress to instruments which had been superseded a century before? (I love the clavichord.)"
AFAIK, nobody ever wrote a concerto for clavichord - the instrument does not have the power to play with even a chamber ensemble. Bach wrote concerti for HARPSICHORD -- and that instrument illustrates that some compsoers DO "to retrogress to instruments which had been superseded a century before". Francis Poulenc wrote a concerto for harpsichord; Elliot Carter wrote a double concerto for harpsichord and piano. Admittedly, they wrote for Wanda Landowska and Ralph Kirkpatrick respectively -- and, if I'm not much mistaken, both these players played on "modern" instruments, which might have been more powerful (purely in a maximum-decibel-achievable level) than many historical instruments. But I wouldn't be surprised if later composers wrote concerti for historical harpsichords and chamber orchestras.

I know for a fact that MANY modern works were written for the instruments revived by HIP musicians -- harpsichords (solo music and chamber works), recorders, viols, etc. A couple of months ago I attended in London a world-premiere performance of a work written especially for the Academy of Ancient Music; and in a couple of months will attend another world-premiere, of a work written especially for the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra. And these two works are hardly the first of their kind. It seems that composers today find some attractions in writing for old instruments (and/or for the musicians who play them).

BTW, has anyone written works expressly for the cornetto? It's a beautiful instrument, and I would love to hear a concerto for it -- AFAIK, no such concerti were written in the Baroque era (though Brad Lehman did suggest once that the trumpet part in the Bradenburg 2nd could be played on the cornertto -- as I recall, he did't suggest that this is what Bach had in mind, merely that it would work).

Continue of this discussion, see: HIP - Part 18 [General Topics]

Neil Halliday wrote (March 6, 2007):
Opening chorus. Sometimes, depending on my mood, Rilling's performance [1] seems a bit slow (7.24, made in 1973); OTOH, Herreweghe [3], the other recording I have, sounds faster than ideal (5.26). Suzuki [8] also seems a little brisk to capture the expansive grace and beauty of the music (5.55), although his is an excellent performance that is more substantial than Koopman [7] at about the same speed. A performance time of around 6.20 would probably be ideal, IMO

Those with a score will notice the careful ornamentation that Bach brought to the flute and oboe parts, in the following alto aria. In the first bar, the flute part has an appoggiatura on the second note, while the oboe has a short trill (or mordent?) on its simultaneously played second note, which obviously adds a little sparkle to the dialogue between the flute and oboe at that point. I think only Harnoncourt [2] and Leusink [5] observe this detail. Mostly appoggiaturas apply to both parts. BTW, does anyone know the difference in execution (if any) between the two types of trill signs that are shown in bar ten of the BGA score? Rilling [1] has a vivid continuo part (with harpsichord) with insistent, repeated notes, and lovely woodwinds; but Höffgen's vibrato is too strong. Surprisingly Herreweghe's alto [3] also has more vibrato than desirable. Koopman's lute [7] doen't quite 'fit in' with the other continuo instruments, IMO.

Chorale and recitative. The striking string motif perhaps expresses mankind's wonderment at the promised banishment of fear and pain of death. Once again, Robertson considers the chorale sections to be "much more effective if sung by the choir's basses"; unfortunately, none of the recordings allows us to judge this for ourselves. Robertson continues, "The strings accompany, with solemn harmonies, the beautiful long phrase at `dying' " (at the end of the movement). I had completely missed these harmonies, because the strings are too soft in my recordings; admittedly, they are marked `piano', but recording engineers ought to be able to ensure that this marvellous writing for strings can be clearly heard.

[To hear these striking harmonies, go to the BCW piano reduction/vocal score and play the piano part (better on a sustaining keyboard), which is in fact an accurate representation of the string writing].

The duet is sheer animated joy. All parts adopt the opening 1/16th note motif, and the long coloraturas for the voices are most attractive in the solid 4/4 rhythm. Equiluz and Schöne (with Rilling [1]) are perfectly balanced and most expressive, accompanied by clearly articulated violins.

 

Continue on Part 4

Cantata BWV 125: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Recordings & Discussions of Cantatas: Cantatas BWV 1-50 | Cantatas BWV 51-100 | Cantatas BWV 101-150 | Cantatas BWV 151-200 | Cantatas BWV 201-224 | Cantatas BWV Anh | Order of Discussion

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Last update: ęDecember 29, 2012 ę23:50:36