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Bach Books

Bach's Choral Ideal

by Joshua Rifkin

Part 1

 

 

Book

1

Bach's Choral Ideal

-

Joshua Rifkin

Klangfarben-Musikverlag

2002

?

Rifkin's book

Bradley Lehman
wrote (December 25, 2004):
Rifkin's own book Bach's Choral Ideal is now reviewed here on the web, the newest of Tomita's reviews: http://www.music.qub.ac.uk/tomita/bachbib/review/bb-review_DortmundBf5.html

This is Rifkin's yet closer look at the Entwurff, since the material that was presented in Parrott's book.

Anybody here read it yet? I hadn't been aware that it was out yet, but this says it was published in Germany in 2002.

Uri Golomb wrote (December 25, 2004):
Brad Lehman asked if anyone has read Rifkin's book Bach's Choral Ideal. Well, I've read it, and strongly recommend it. It is quite a thin book -- really an extended article -- but it is a very fine example of Rifkin's methodology: a carefully-presented, tautly-construsted argument, keenly attentive to detail, and meticulously separating fact from speculation. At its heart is indeed a careful and highly-convincing analysis of the Entwurff, but also of other documents which might tell us what Bach's choral ideal might have been.

Rifkin not only tells us what we can learn from these documents, but also what we can't learn from them -- that is, de,onstrating that some phrases which, on superficial reading, seem to tell us how Bach wanted his choral music to be performed, are in fact irrelevant (for instance, because they refer to other repertoires -- not to Bach's own cantatas).

Tomita is disappointed, in the review Brad referred to, because "Rifkin was unable to find an appropriate answer to his ultimate question - Bach's choral ideal". Yet I think that's one of the article's strengths. Rifkin is showing us that we cannot force the surviving documents to tell us, unequivocally, what Bach's ideal was. Rifkin does have speculations of his own, and some evidence to support these speculations -- but he is careful enough to present these AS SPECULATIONS, not as proven facts. Ultimately, he is not even sure that Bach had an ideal -- that is, that there was fixed type of ensemble (be it 1VPP, 4VPP or anything else) which Bach always wanted to write for, throughout his life and in all institutional and acoustical circumstances. At least, there is no firm evidence that he had such a fixed, unalterable ideal.

Here is a quote from Rifkin's own conclusion: "In the sense in which people commonly use it, we shall probably never discover Bach's 'choral ideal'. Bach, it seems clear, took his performance practices more or less as he found them but tried always to realize their maximum potential. Obviously, the Entwurff represents a sign of his attempt to do so in the context of his job as Thomaskantor and Director musices at Leipzig -- to maintain the forces particular to this place at a level commensurate with his standards. But local usage, and not Bach himself, had established the make-up of those forces" (p. 39). But if these forces do not represent Bach's ideal (assuming he had a single fixed ideal -- something which, in itself, has not been proven), their reconstruction still tells us something about "what he composed for -- in other words, it reveals the sonority of the music as he heard it in his inner ear" (p. 40).

Rifkin's text is not very long, and it's written very clearly. So I recommend to anyone who seriously wants to understand these issues to read it.

Best wishes for Christmas and the New Year,

Eric Begerud wrote (December 26, 2004):
[To Uri Golomb] I have Parrott's book and read Rifkin's essay. I certainly agree with Uri that Rifkin's work is a model of innovative scholarship: careful, well documented, respectful to those who disagree and, to say the least, important in its sphere. As a historian I am very wary of "revisionism" having seen irresponsible rewriting of accepted narrative nearly destroy fields. I don't think Rifkin is in this category at all - he simply asked an important question that probably should have been asked long before. Hats off.

The argument is powerful and if someone threatened to run off with my wife unless I came down pro or con, I suppose I'd grant that I find Rifkin's evidence persuasive. That said, I WANT to believe he's wrong. The world of Bach cantatas (at least as they appear in recorded form) has been monopolized by HIP ensembles for some time. I can't complain there - I certainly prefer them. I bought a few Rilling CDs and to me they sound like Bach done by the Boston Pops. Better than no Bach cantatas, but I love those "reedy" strings and the nifty baroque trumpets and drums one hears in Harnoncourt or Suzkuki. What I do fear, however, is that Rifkin's thesis might become a new dogma. In the future OVPP may go from the exciting exception to the rule. Obviously regardless of what one believes concerning Rifkin's arguments, there is no reason in the world not to play cantatas with larger forces. Likewise, if someone unearths a documentary "smoking gun" proving Rifkin wrong there would be no reason not to employ OVPP. The question is whether the diversity that exists now will continue to do so. I'm not so sure. The Rifkinites a few years back were Anglo-American. As I understand it Konrad Jünghanel has joined ranks and has, in its field, a hit CD to thank for it. So has Kuijken. When you consider the obvious attraction Rifkin's approach would have for a smaller ensemble there is also a built-in economic and engineering reason to get on the band wagon. None of this will happen tomorrow if Gardiner's series really hits the shelves in its entirety. But these will be reissues. It would be sad to think that twenty years from now that artists like Koopman or Harnoncourt are looked upon as the same manner as Richter is today. OVPP will sink boys choirs in Bach cantatas I'm almost sure. And, by definition, we'll lose those lovely rich choruses that I like. So bring on Rifkin - I have his stuff along with Parrott's, McCreesh's and lesser disciples and like them all. Let's just hope the baby is not thrown out with the bath.

Uri Golomb wrote (December 26, 2004):
Choral Bach

As someone who enjoys both OVPP and choral performances of Bach's music, I agree with most of what Eric Berglund has written. However, I don't see much danger that choral performances will disappear -- especially these days, when (for example) the piano is regaining a primary position in performances of Bach's keyboard music (without displacing the harpsichord: they just co-exists).

Although I find the historical and musical arguments for OVPP thoroughly convincing, I am less convinced by the arguments against standard choral performances. For Parrott, performances of Bach's vocal music which employ ripienists throughout are akin to orchestral performances of string quartets (Essential Bach Choir, pp. 148-149), or to "a veritable hippogriff in which a plausibly Bachian orchestral body is grafted to an alien, perhaps Handelian, vocal group" (p. 142). However, Bach himself scored the Johannes-Passion with ripienists throughout, and the audible results (as heard on Parrott's recording) are virtually indistinguishable from the sounds produced by a chamber choir.

By using strong terms like "alien" and "hippogriff", Parrott treats scoring and sonority as essential, non-negotiable tenets. It is doubtful if this reflects the attitude of 18th-century composers; as I already noted, Rifkin himself concluded that Bach might not have had a fixed scoring-and-sonority ideal, but rather "took his performance practices more or less as he found them but tried always to realize their maximum potential" (Bach's Choral Ideal, p. 39; Martin Geck's recent Early Music article offers more insights and questions along similar lines). It is not unreasonable to speculate that Bach would have treated the chamber choir similarly. Perhaps he would have re-arranged his music before allowing choral forces to perform it; but then again, perhaps hewould simply have prepared ripieno parts for the extra singers, leaving the rest of the texture intact. We don't know, and I don't think all performers should always limit themselves to doing only what is sanctioned by the historical evidence.

There are two things which I do hope will happen:
1. I hope there'll be more OVPP performances -- not as a recplacement for new choral performances, but as an alternative.
2. I hope that, in choral performances, more directors will pay attention to the fact that, when Bach did use ripienists, he often did not use them ALL THE WAY THROUGH. In the SJP, ripienists double the concertists throughout; but in other works where Bach's use of ripienists is documented (e.g., the Leipzig version of BWV 21), the choral textures was divided between soloistic and choral passages.

In the 1960s, Wilhelm Ehmann recorded several cantatas using this distinction, and applying models like BWV 21 to other cantatas (he also wrote an article on how this might apply to the MBM (BWV 232), and some of his recommendations were taken up by Robert Shaw in his 1960 and 1990 recordings of the work). More recently, Gardiner has applied this model in several works -- and, indeed, so did Parrott (in his recordings of the B minor Mass (BWV 232) and the motet Jesu, meine Freude).

Rifkin himself is not entirely against such arrangements. He does not employ them in his own performances, but here is what he says on this issue:"if we truly follow the lead of [Bach's ripieno] parts, we enter the territory of second-guessing and speculation, not to say outright arrangement. Ironically, such arrangements in fact bring us closer to eighteenth-century practices than does the modern all-or-nothing use of the chorus. [In an endnote, he cites Parrott's MBM (BWV 232) as an example of a legitimate arrangement]. But scholars and performers alike have felt uneasy with this approach, precisely because of the liberties it seems to take with Bach's musical text. At the same time, however, these very scholars and performers seem not notice that hte more 'respectful' performance they take for granted itself constitutes an arrangement -- the division of the music, even by entire movements, between 'soloists' and 'chorus goes well beyond anything Bach indicated in the overwhelming majority of his vocal works" (Bach's Choral Ideal, p. 39).Rifkin, then, is ambivalent about these arrangements -- but he certainly doesn't rule them out. He does seem very adamant about distinguishin between "original" and "arrangement", adding in an endnote that "Readers should recall, too, that Bach's own addition of ripieno parts to works originally composed without them also count as 'arrangements'." -- that is, the Leipzig version of BWV 21 is an arrangement, by the composer himself, of a work originally written for a smaller ensemble (the Weimar BWV 21; Bach added vocal ripienists and several extra instruments for the Leipzig version).

I wonder, though: "count as arrangements" FOR WHOM? It seems to me that, for Bach himsef, there were no sharp dividing lines between "preparing a new erformance of the same piece", "preparing an arrangement of the piece" and "re-composing". He probably also didn't see a great deal of difference between his arrangements of his own pieces and his arrangements of other composers' works: in both cases, he simply took an existing score and made it appropriate for its new performance context. The need to distinguish clearly between "original" and "arrangement" reflects more modern concerns.

If we must call choral performances of Bach's vocal music "arrangements", I don't mind. Just as long as they don't stop. The rise of OVPP -- which I very much welcome -- should not, and need not, lead to the disappearance or demotion of choral performances.

Gabriel Jackson wrote (December 26, 2004):
Eric Bergerud writes: "Obviously regardless of what one believes concerning Rifkin's arguments, there is no reason in the world not to play cantatas with larger forces. Likewise, if someone unearths a documentary "smoking gun" proving Rifkin wrong there would be no reason not to employ OVPP. The question is whether the diversity that exists now will continue to do so. I'm not so sure."
I couldn't agree more, Eric. But I am optimistic diversity will prevail. An interesting parallel might be drawn with the Masses and Gradualia settings of Byrd, which were undoubtedly written for performance at the secret domestic Services of recusant Catholic families, making them, originally, consort, rather than choral pieces. Despite that knowledge (that they would have been first performed one, perhaps two, to a part, and with women rather than boys on the top line) choral performances of these works, both by cathedral and collegiate choirs, and by concert choirs as well, are still very much with us and show no signs of going away.

Doug Cowling wrote (December 26, 2004):
[To Gabriel Jackson] In the Renaissance there was certainly a wide variety of performance practice: single adult voices (no boys) for Palestrina in the Sistine Chapel, three voices to a part with eight boys on treble for Victoria in Madrid. Although I have absolutely no evidence whatsoever to prove it, it strikes me that Bach may have expected different choral forces at different times for both artitstic reasons and to keep the musical buraeucracy functioning. I don't believe that Bach wrote solo cantatas because he didn't have sufficient choristers. I think Bach wrote "Ich habe genug" because he wanted to write that cantata.

My personal tastes have certainly changed. I believe works like "Gottes Zeit" (BWV 106) and "Christ Lag" (BWV 4) cry out for OVPP "chamber" performance, and I am now impatient with choral performances. On the other hand, a spectacular like "Gott ist mein König" (BWV 71) will always suggest a big event with big choral forces to me. The debate always becomes most interesting when we come to the "Mass in B Minor" (BWV 232). Because it is a "closet" mass, assembled for personal satisfaction, the choral styles and disposition vary widely: anyone who has sung it always has the insticnctive feeling that we are hearing different choirs in the various "cantata" sections of the work.

And that doesn't necessarily just relate to the presence of brass. I love the ligthness of OVPP performance of "Et resurrexit". But 15 minutes later, I simply cannot bear the sound of a solo "Sanctus". I'm sure everyone has their own lists of OVPP and fully choral works. Alas, we will never know for sure what diversity of sound Bach had at his disposal.

John Pike wrote (December 29, 2004):
[To Uri Golomb] Does anyone know where I can get a copy. I could only find it on Amazon.de as a pre-order, so not guaranteed.

John Pike wrote (December 30, 2004):
[To Gabriel Jackson] There is an interesting review of recordings of "Lamentations" by Thomas Tallis in this month's (February 2005!) BBC Music Magazine. This piece was also likely sung by small secret gatherings of catholics in Elizabethan England. Top marks from the reviewer go to a small-forces recording by a group I hadn't previously heard of, "Madrigal".

Doug Cowling wrote (December 29, 2004):
John Pike wrote: < There is an interesting review of recordings of "Lamentations" by Thomas Tallis in this month's (February 2005!) BBC Music Magazine. This piece was also likely sung by small secret gatherings of catholics in Elizabethan England. Top marks from the reviewer go to a small-forces recording by a group I hadn't previously heard of, "Madrigal". >
There are scholars who posit the same evidence to suggest that the three great Byrd masses were all sung OVPP by adult mavoices.

John Pike wrote (December 29, 2004):
I actually meant a group called "Magnificat", directed by Cave. The album is called "Spem in Alium", obviously another of the works on the CD.

Gabriel Jackson wrote (December 30, 2004):
John Pike wrote: "There is an interesting review of recordings of "Lamentations" by Thomas Tallis in this month's (February 2005!) BBC Music Magazine. This piece was also likely sung by small secret gatherings of catholics in Elizabethan England. Top marks from the reviewer go to a small-forces recording by a group I hadn't previously heard of, "Madrigal". "
John, the group is 'Magnificat' and the disc is on Linn Records. Also contains a very good performance of 'Spem in Alium'.

Gabriel Jackson wrote (December 30, 2004):
Doug Cowling writes: "There are scholars who posit the same evidence to suggest that the three great Byrd masses were all sung OVPP by adult male voices."
Not necessarily male voices only though - it is quite likely that female members of the househoulds would also have sung. The 3-part Mass can work at a number of pitch levels; the 4-part Mass works much better as an ATBarB piece (down a fourth) whereas the published SATB editions take the tenors ridiculously high and the altos absuredly low. I can't see how the five part Mass would be performable by adult males only though.


Details of Gardiner's PCP Vol. 24

Continue of discussion from: OVPP - Part 18 [General Topics]

Thomas Braatz wrote (May 20, 2005):
John Pike wrote: >>In short, he [Rifkin] very carefully analyses the Entwurff and through careful translation reaches a conclusion about Bach's choral ideal.<<
This is what everyone not native to the German language and, once equipped with this ability in understanding German, then having studied "Musikwissenschaft", particularly the original documents from Bach's time, will have difficulty understanding. It would be unreasonable to assume that Rifkin alone was able to decipher and make sense of the "Entwurff" after many German Bach scholars have intensively studied this document (and still continue to do so) and have come to the conclusion that it is not entirely coherent logically. Now, suddenly, Rifkin has found the key that has made all of this logical, but those who read the 'little bible' have great difficulty putting into words and thoughts just how it was that Rifkin was able to deliver his proof. One German scholar, Konrad Küster, reflecting rather recently in his "Bach Handbuch" p. 182 on this matter states: "Die Frage, wie Bach mit dieser Differenz zwischen Wunsch und Realität umging, ist anhand des vorliegenden Quellenmaterials kaum zu entscheiden -- zumal Bach's Äußerungen in seinem "Entwuff einer wohlbestallten Kirchen Music" von 1730 keineswegs klar sind." ["The question as to how Bach handled this difference between wish ("ideal" as referred to above} and reality, can hardly be decided based upon the available original sources -- this is particularly so since Bach's statements in his "Entwurff" (1730) are anything but clear."]

It would behoove those who speak, read and understand English, but know little or no German, to be wary of Rifkin's interpretation of the "Entwurff" since the opinion expressed by Küster is not an isolated one among German Bach scholars.

Thomas Braatz wrote (May 20, 2005):
Bradley Lehman wrote: >>...the goal is to find out what Bach most likely did (whether anyone likes it or not) in practice: accuracy of historical reportage.<<
But this is just where the crux of the matter lies: is this accurate historical 'reportage?' There are flaws in the choice and interpretations of the historical records.

>>But, since the most likely historically accurate approach(es) also work so well in practice now, they're worth doing.<<
But some of these are not the most likely historically accurate approch(es)! These are tentative, present-day theories that are being confused with what is deemed dependable historical accuracy.

John Pike wrote (May 22, 2005):
[To Thomas Braatz] I agree that, for me at least, the section on iconagraphical evidence was one of the less compelling sections in Parrott's generally excellent book. (Another was the section on the Entwurff (I found Rifkin much more compelling here)) BUT:
1. This in no way negates the rest of the, often substantial, evidence
2. It would have been wrong not to describe the iconography and to discuss the possible significance of the images that we have. Although I found this evidence less compelling, the discussion is excellent. I remained unconvinced either way about the significance of the iconography. It was finally Rifkin's book (having previously read Parrott) that persuaded me of the case for OVPP.

John Pike wrote (May 22, 2005):
[To Thomas Braatz] I think Kuester's comments are fair.

As I read Rifkin's book, however, he makes the comment at least twice about translations from the past "Here, x gets everything wrong". My German is good enough to know that Rifkin was right. The original translator had translated what he wanted the passage to mean, not what Bach wrote. To be certain, I asked my German wife in each case whether a) the original translation was reasonable (it was not) and b) whether Rifkin's translation was reasonable (it was) so I remain unconvinced by your defence based on my (and others) not being native Germans.

Thomas Braatz wrote (May 22, 2005):
John Pike wrote: >>It was finally Rifkin's book (having previously read Parrott) that persuaded me of the case for OVPP.<<
I assume that many list members have read Parrott's book, but few have even seen Rifkin's book. It would help such readers to sort fact from fiction by explaining what is specifically new (different)and overwhelming in evidence or cogent reasoning and clear explanation in Rifkin's book which has not been already covered in Parrott's book. Specifically where in the 'Entwurff' did Rifkin uncover new evidence and make new connections that others have overlooked before?

Doug Cowling wrote (May 22, 2005):
Translation

John Pike wrote: < As I read Rifkin's book, however, he makes the comment at least twice about translations from the past "Here, x gets everything wrong". My German is good enough to know that Rifkin was right. The original translator had translated what he wanted the passage to mean, not what Bach wrote. To be certain, I asked my German wife in each case whether a) the original translation was reasonable (it was not) and b) whether Rifkin's translation was reasonable (it was) so I remain unconvinced by your defence based on my (and others) not being native Germans. >
I don't have the scholarship to enter this debate, but it is worth pointing out that in any language, technical musical terms can have simultaneous pluriform meanings, not to mention shifts in meaning over quite short periods of time. Admittedly, this is more of a problem in English in which meanings can change like quicksilver. Take for instance a term such as "song". Most of us would probably identify the term as a secular, monodic form with accompaniment. Yet in the 16th century, it could also mean a polyphonic sacred work, accompanied or unaccompanied. Contemporary usage is often misleading. Merely a caveat to say that in order to pinpoint Bach's meaning in the controverted documents, you would have to show both similarity and dissimilarity in contemporary musical and civic documents.

Thomas Braatz wrote (May 22, 2005):
John Pike wrote: >>I think Kuester's comments are fair. As I read Rifkin's book, however, he makes the comment at least twice about translations from the past "Here, x gets everything wrong". My German is good enough to know that Rifkin was right. The original translator had translated what he wanted the passage to mean, not what Bach wrote. To be certain, I asked my German wife in each case whether a) the original translation was reasonable (it was not) and b) whether Rifkin's translation was reasonable (it was) so I remain unconvinced by your defence based on my (and others) not being native Germans.<<
A necessary question to be raised here is whether your wife has studied 18th centuGerman sufficiently to be aware of some significant differences between modern German and the formal written language which Bach used. You can ask most Americans who claim English as their native language whether they can understand a passage or poem by Shakespeare or a similar writer of an earlier period. They will usually say that they can because it is possible to make some reasonable guesses about the meaning involved. A deeper probe, however, will reveal that there can be grave misunderstandings as well even though the same language is involved in both instances and the claim of being native to a language (usually their only language) usually moves these individuals to say that they 'do understand what is reasonable.'

If your wife has truly read and studied widely German literature and documents from the 17th and 18th century, then I do sincerely apologize for insinuating that she might not have understood the specific import of the 'Entwurff.'

In any case, a few choice examples of Rifkin's examples of poor/incorrect translation which you showed your wife would be enlightening to most list members who have to contend with Bach's original cantata libretti on an almost weekly basis.

John Pike wrote (May 23, 2005):
[To Thomas Braatz] As I mentioned in my previous e mail, people interested in this will just have to read the entire book. The discussion is just too complex and compelling throughout to give a quick summary in 2 or even 20 lines. That would be unafir to the original and would not represent true scholarship. Although the book is difficult to get hold of (I ordered it direct from the publishers in Germany, although it is mainly written in English), it is very short and can be read in less than a day.

John Pike wrote (May 23, 2005):
[To Doug Cowling] Doug's comments are obviously valid but anyone can read and understand this book, especially someone of Doug's expertise and intellectual calibre. I am in no way a musicologist but I found the whole book eminently readable and understandable.

Although Rifkin does discuss many of these issues, especially the use of crucial words based on "musicxxx" and "choirxxx", many of the old translations fall down on much more mundane matters, such as the translation of verbs like "bestellen".

John Pike wrote (May 23, 2005):
Thomas Braatz wrote: < In any case, a few choice examples of Rifkin's examples of poor/incorrect translation which you showed your wife would be enlightening to most list members who have to contend with Bach's original cantata libretti on an almost weekly basis. >
I do not not know the full extent of my wife's reading of old German texts and this is hardly the place to discuss that, but she does have some experience of them. I will try to find two particularly crucial passages in the book when I find time, but I must repeat what I said in my e mail to Doug about many of these critical errors of translation being in every day German verbs like "bestellen". I also strongly believe that there is no real substitute for reading Rifkin's very short book. Anything else would be to do him a great dis-service.

Uri Golomb wrote (May 23, 2005):
John Pike wrote: < As I mentioned in my previous e mail, people interested in this will just have to read the entire book. The discussion is just too complex and compelling throughout to give a quick summary in 2 or even 20 lines. That would be unafir to the original and would not represent true scholarship. Although the book is difficult to get hold of (I ordered it direct from the publishers in Germany, although it is mainly written in English), it is very short and can be read in less than a day. >
I agree -- though in fact the book is not that difficult to get hold of, and I believe that everyone who is seriously interested in the subject can and should get hold of it. Like John, I got it from the publishers, whom I contacted by e-mail (service@klangfarben-musikverlag.de). You can also order it through the website (http://www.klangfarben-musikverlag.de), which has an ordering facility. The only difficulty, as far as I can tell, is that you need some German to work through the website itself (including the ordering procedure). The book costs 22 Euros, though presumably this doesn't include shipping costs. (I ordered it from the publishers shortly after its publication, and don't recall how much I paid then). The 2-page introduction is in German, but the book itself is in English. It is based on a lecture Rifkin gave in several conferences; he prepared the published version in response to an invitation from the German Bach scholar Martin Geck, who is the editor of the series the book forms part of (Dortmunder Bach-Forschungen).

Incidentally, it seems that the series contains several other books that would interest members of this list (there's a volume on Bach's first cycle of Leipzig cantatas, and an anootated edition of BWV 106 -- the latter is still in preparation); but these are more expensive, and in German.

Thomas Braatz wrote (May 23, 2005):
John Pike wrote: >>I also strongly believe that there is no real substitute for reading Rifkin's very short book. Anything else would be to do him a great dis-service.<<
If you, as a non-musicologist, were able to read this book quickly, understand it and judge it to be eminently persuasive, then just imagine how many other list members, who read the BCML reports on various recordings in order to make wise choices (and not have to acquire every recording that is available), would likewise be able to make informed, reasonable choices about buying this book without having to rely on pure hype by those who have had their faith confirmed in the OVPP theory, but are unable to divulge anything without fearing that great damage will be done to the author and his book.

In the academic world such important books will have an abstract or listing of key points which stand out and set a book apart from anything else that has appeared on a given subject. So far it appears from what little has been divulged during this discussion that the verb 'bestellen' has led to misinterpretations on the part of some. Certainly it should be possible to present how this is a key point in Rifkin's new argumentation and logic. I am truly amazed that university-trained individuals, whether or not they are specialized in musicology, are unable to distill salient points from an admittedly very short book which is easily and quickly read and which leads some to be completely persuaded by its cogent reasoning without being able to convey precisely which points were utterly convincing to them.

Bradley Lehman wrote (May 23, 2005):
A three-sentence precis of the Rifkin book

This is a very thin summary (i.e. not to be confused with an excuse not to read the book at all):

Any business enterprise needs enough personnel available (i.e. a full roster) to man all the appointed stations for all responsibilities given to the team. Having obtained such a quorum, it is a logical error to assume that all these personnel are automatically to be assigned simultaneous and redundant duty (doubling or tripling up within a station unless explicitly directed).

Bach's Entwurff requests the necessary roster (and range of skills) for a whole season of musical duties, the team as a whole, rather than prescribing the normal number of men to be appointed into any particular occasion.

Uri Golomb wrote (May 23, 2005):
An amplification of Brad's summary below:

< Bach's Entwurff requests the necessary roster (and range of skills) for a whole season of musical duties, the team as a whole, rather than prescribing the normal number of men to be appointed into any particular occasion. >
That is: the Entwurff deals with the constitution of the musical forces at Bach's disposal in Leipzig -- the types and numbers of musicians he needed to have all year round. These musicians had many other duties besides the performances of Bach's own c; indeed, of the four choruses that Bach directed, only one performed his cantatas at all. Thus, the Entwurff tells us very little about how he wanted his own cantatas to be performed; its subject is the constitution of the musical establishment he directed, taking all its duties into account -- including the need for deputies (that is, for musicians who would fill in when their colleagues are ill or absent). The word "Chor" means, in this context, a roster of musicians that he should be able to call upon during the entire year -- not the line-up of people required to perform a particular piece of music (such as a choral movement in a cantata).

It should also be noted that, while the the analysis of the Entwurff is central to Rifkin's book, it is not the only point in that book. Rifkin also analyses other pertinent documents (suh as the Mulhausen resignation letter, and documents by other musicians which provide useful background on Bach's terminology), as well as available evidence on Bach's actual practice. As I said before (see: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Books/Bach-Choral-Ideal[Rifkin].htm), Rifkin does not reach a firm conclusion about Bach's choral ideal. He doesn't see anything in the Entwurff that says "this is how my cantatas should be performed in an ideal world" -- the Entwurff has little to say about the cantatas, and nothing at all to say about an ideal world. Its main message: "This is what I need to carry out my duties properly". Within this context, he treats many aspects as a "given". For example, the very existence of "ripienists" (singers who double the soloists in choral movements): Bach usually didn't have them in Weimar, but did have them in Leipzig. In both cases, this was because of the way these musical establishments were established prior ot Bach's arrival; so we cannot assume that either mode necessarily represents his ideal. (Rifkin does offer evidence that Bach often avoided the use of ripienists for his own music in Leipzig, preferring to use soloists only in his cantatas. He suggests that, when Bach did use ripienists in his own music, this was a concession to local practice, rather than a reflection of Bach's own preference; but he is very careful to present this is as a reasonable hypothesis, not as a fully-proven fact. We cannot be 100% sure why Bach avoided ripienists: assuming that this was indeed his choice, is it because he thought that his music necessarily sounds better without them, or is it because he wasn't satisifed with the particular ripienists he had at his disposal -- and would have acted differently if better ripienists were available? On the basis of available evidence, Rifkin contends, that question is unanswerable: the evidence is inconclusive as to what Bach wanted, let alone why he wanted it. The most we can offer is circumtantial evidence -- suggestive, but not conclusive).

As Brad said, his summary is not meant as a substitute to actually reading the book; the same applies to my comments above. It would certainly be unfair to Rifkin to latch unto over-simplifications in our presentations and impute them to him. The book is neither very expensive nor very difficult to read; for anyone who is truly interested in the subject, there is really no excuse for relying on other people's summaries.

John Pike wrote (May 23, 2005):
[To Thomas Braatz] <>The reason I refused to give a summary of the book is that I anticipated just this sort of response from you. You asked me for examples of where poor translation had caused misinterpretation. It was late at night and I didn't have access to the book at the time. I therefore gave you a response from memory of how every day German words had been mistranslated, as well as misinterpretations of more complex musical terms such as "Chor", which Uri referred to in his excellent summary. From memory, I think the verb bestellen had been translated in one case as "perform" instead of "set up" (a roster of musicians), which seems much more reasonable to me (and my wife).

I also disagree to an extent with your comments about selecting recordings on the basis of what one reads on the BCML. Although useful at times (eg I have picked up some very useful recommendations from Brad and Uri amongst others), I have also found that some people's taste differs markedly from my own. For example, I find myself in disagreement with others about Werner's recordings. I bought the passions set and was so disappointed that I will not bother to buy the cantatas. Another example in the other way is Leusink. While maybe not the best recordings available, I found myself pleasantly surprised by how good some of them are. This was not something I could have guessed at, based on some reports I read on the BCML.

Thomas Braatz wrote (May 23, 2005):
Rifkin's translation

John Pike wrote: >>I therefore gave you a response from memory of how every day German words ['bestellen'] had been mistranslated, as well as misinterpretations of more complex musical terms such as "Chor", which Uri referred to in his excellent summary.<<
Certainly >>the verb bestellen had been translated in one case as "perform" instead of "set up" (a roster of musicians), which seems much more reasonable to me (and my wife)<< is a statement that needs no further elaboration of a very basic translation mistake. But once the individuals from Bach's 'pool' had been assigned to certain 'Chors', they would then be 'performing' primarily only for a certain 'Chor.'

Brad's interpretation of Rifkin's explication of the 'Entwurff' as a 'roster' being the equivalent to a 'pool' from which individuals can be drawn to fit into the various 'Chors' at anytime during the season, is very difficult for me to understand as representing what is actually contained in the 'Entwurff,' which many commentators have struggled with and have found no easy resolution.

Uri's qualification of Brad's statement: >>That is: the Entwurff deals with the constitution of the musical forces at Bach's disposal in Leipzig -- the types and numbers of musicians he needed to have all year round<< only causes confusion by indicating that a 'pool' is already 'constituted', i.e., it already has its structure which includes the division of the 'pool' into 4 different 'Chors.' While 'pool' (which is Brad's reading of Rifkin's key interpretation of the 'Entwurff') implies 'a group of persons, any one of whose abilities and/or services may be called upon at any time,' the reality of the situation that Bach describes in the 'Entwurff' differs from this considerably.

In what sense does Bach speak about a general 'pool' from which to draw his performers? When he mentions:

1) the rather fixed number of Thomaner pupils

2) the salaried members of the Leipzig Pipers' Union

3) the unpaid Leipzig university students

This 'pool' is not really a true 'pool', a pot from which to draw at will whoever is needed at any particular point in time 'during the season.' The second and third groups mentioned above are only associated with Bach's 1st 'Chor' and never sing or perform with the other 'Chors.' This leaves the Thomaner pupils as a special 'pool' which is very quickly divided up into 'Chors' of differing musical abilities even before the actual 'performing season' begins. Although Bach still maintains some degree of flexibility in shifting individual members (Thomaner pupils) around as needed, we have now quickly shifted from the notion of a general 'pool' to the required 'constitution' of 4 'Chors' with different obligations ranging from simply singing chorale melodies (and just barely being able to do that!) to the 1st and main 'Chor' under Bach's personal direction at the two main churches where figural music is performed. The 3rd choir is essentially the 'Motet Chor.' Although Bach was responsible for the functioning of the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th choirs, he had verylittle to do with them on a day-to-day basis, the latter being handled by his prefects (assistant conductors). Ideally Bach wanted to have section leaders (concertists - one for each voice) for each of the first three 'Chors' (these he called the 'musical Chors') and to sing along with them as needed the ripienists (3 to a part) which gives his ideal number for each 'musical' choir as 16 singers distributed over 4 vocal parts each. But Bach claims that only the 1st and 2nd 'Chors' can truly understand how to perform really first-class figural music. The total of these special singers as indicated by Bach is 36. This is Bach's ideal number or size of the choir for performing his own music properly, certainly not OVPP. Pulling out an alto concertist from the 2nd 'Chor' to fill in for a missing alto concertist in the 1st 'Chor' (illness or suddenly needed to play an instrumental part) is not part of any 'pool' concept, since the notion of 'pool' disappears even before the 'playing season' begins when Bach divided his pupils into talent categories. Although, theoretically, all of these Thomaner pupils can sing, the individual pupils that can be shifted about from one 'Chor' to another is extremely limited.

The problem with the instrumentalists, for which Bach would ideally require 20, is that there are not enough salaried instrumentalists to fill Bach's needs when performing his cantatas, etc. with the 1st 'Chor.' Ideally, Bach would not want to diminish the size of his 1st 'Chor' by asking some singers to play an instrument instead, so he indicates in the 'Entwurff' where he usually obtains them:

1. emeritus City Pipers
2. university students

Reading between the lines and relying upon reports and evidence from the cantatas, it is possible to reasonably assume that Bach would do whatever was necessary without depleting the ranks of his 1st 'Chor':

1. visiting musicans/singers who were highly qualified would be asked to perform (suddenly Bach would be writing extremely difficult parts - a soprano part (BWV 51) or transverse flute parts)

2. university students played a substantial role in covering most of the instrumental parts and Bach may have paid them out of his own pocket (often these were pupils who graduated from St. Thomas School and may have been excellent singers/instrumentalists.)

Of course, Bach did not want the city council members to think that he would continue paying these students and that all would be fine as it was. That is the main reason why Bach wrote the 'Entwurff.' Bach tries to apply pressure on the city council to loosen the purse-strings by

1. asking for remuneration for any university student who helps out and for singers who have graduated from St. Thomas School, singers who might otherwise wander off to Dresden where they could receive good pay for their services as singers at the Dresden Opera.

2. painting for the city council a dire picture of good, first-class singers (Thomaner pupils) being forced to perform instrumental parts, which although this would be good practice for them, they might not perform as well as a paid musician (salaried or a university student who gets paid for his efforts.)

From all that I have seen or read regarding the Entwurff (and I read it through once again in the original last night), I remain very skeptical about Rifkin's claims or the claims made by others who have read his 'little OVPP bible.'

Bradley Lehman wrote (May 23, 2005):
[To Thomas Braatz] The energy, time, guesswork, character-impugning, the repetition of ancillary material, and self-rationalizations expended here TO TRY TO JUSTIFY NOT READING A BOOK....it's just incredible. <>

How can one be "skeptical" of Rifkin's claims WITHOUT BOTHERING TO STUDY THOSE CLAIMS DIRECTLY first? <>

To get the book: go to a university library and request it through Interlibrary Loan. It should show up within a week or two. That's what Interlibrary Loan is there for. It's typically a service available to ANYONE, not only students and faculty of the university. Some public libraries also offer this.

More than enough said.

Gabriel Jackson wrote (May 23, 2005):
Thomas Bratz writes: "From all that I have seen or read regarding the Entwurff (and I read it through once again in the original last night), I remain very skeptical about Rifkin's claims or the claims made by others who have read his 'little OVPP bible.'"
But you don't know what his claims are, exactly, because you haven't read his book!!



Continue on Bach's Choral Ideal [by Joshua Rifkin] - Part 2


Choir Form: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4
One-Voice-Per-Part (OVPP):
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11 | Part 12 | Part 13 | Part 14 | Part 15 | Part 16 | Part 17 | Part 18 | Part 19
Books about OVPP:
The Essential Bach Choir [by Andrew Parrott] | Bach's Choral Ideal [by Joshua Rifkin]: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3


Joshua Rifkin: Short Biography | The Bach Ensemble | Recordings | General Discussions | Three Weimar Cantatas – Rifkin | BWV 232 - Rifkin | BWV 243 - Rifkin | Book: Bach's Choral Ideal [by Joshua Rifkin]

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Last update: ýMay 30, 2005 ý22:12:16