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Bach Books

B-0201

Title:

The Essential Bach Choir

Sub-Title:

-

Category:

Performance Practice / Analysis

J.S. Bach Works:

Author:

Andrew Parrott

Written;

Country:

UK

Published:

2000

Language:

English

Pages:

223 (240) pp

Format:

PB

Publisher:

The Boydell Press, Woodbridge

ISBN:

ISBN-10: 0851157866
ISBN-13: 978-0851157863

Description:

Comments:

See reviews & discussions below.

Buy book at:

Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk

New Book - The Essential Bach Choir

Kirk McElhearn wrote (Octobr 13, 2000):
While I generally frown on commercial messages, this fits in with the subject matter of the lists. The publisher has asked me to send this on. I will also be posting a review of the book in a couple of weeks.

The Essential Bach Choir

Published earlier in this important anniversary year, The Essential Bach Choir by Andrew Parrott has proved a great success with critics and readers alike. Seeking to understand the very medium of Bach's incomparable choral output, and using a wide range of sources, such as Bach's own writings and the scores he used in performances, contemporary accounts, and a variety of archival documents, Mr Parrott investigates
and discusses the original performance conventions of Bach's choral works. He shows that Bach used expert vocal quartets (or quintets) and a one-singer-per-part approach because single voices were the natural vehicle of elaborate concerted music. In this book Mr Parrott attempts to resolve the controversial line of thinking originally set out by Joshua Rifkin in his explosive 1981 lecture. This lecture is actually included as one of several appendices and has never been published before.

Andrew Parrott is a well-known and highly regarded scholar of early music. He has spent much of this year conducting his own Taverner Choir, Consort and Players as they perform the works of Bach to rapturous responses from audiences and critics around Europe.

For further details please visit the Boydell & Brewer website at www.boydell.co.uk

Bibliographic Information:
ISBN: 0851157866
Pages: 240pp
Illus: 28 b/w illustrations
Binding: Paperback
Price: £15.00

The following are only some of the excellent reviews earned by The Essential Bach Choir:

This utterly fascinating and ultimately convincing book can only do his cause good in the best of all possible years. INTERNATIONAL RECORD REVIEW

As restated here (...with additional material and with admirable clarity), the arguments are utterly convincing... The book is a pleasure to read, fluently written and clearly set out with many illustrations and musical examples. EARLY MUSIC REVIEW

A brilliant piece of research...a superb book - and it is going to lead us all to think more carefully about how we approach the performance of Bach. DAVID HILL, WINCHESTER CATHEDRAL

I was gripped by this book; it is compulsive reading. If you profess the faith of Bach you simply cannot afford to be without it. CLASSICAL MUSIC

Highly recommended for anyone interested in Bach's vocal works. MUSICAL TIMES [Yo Tomita]

Michael Stitt wrote (October 13, 2000):
(To Kirk McElhearn) I too have read this book, but only superficially, [a bit outside my Bach speciality area!]. I still have a wonderful recording of a Medieval Mass conducted by Parrot in the 1980's, exquisite stuff!

Readers of this book might also be interested in reading a paper on tempi and key signatures of Bach in one of the latest editions of `Early Music'.

 

The Essential Bach Choir by Andrew Parrott

Kirk McElhearn wrote (December 1, 2000):
The Essential Bach Choir
Andrew Parrott
The Boydell Press

The world of Bach musicology was shaken in 1981, when Joshua Rifkin made a radical suggestion, that would feed controversy for two decades, and finally gain a foothold among both musicians and listeners: his theory was that Bach's vocal works were not written for large choruses, but rather for small groups of singers, singing one voice per part (OVPP).

Initially greeted by disbelief and even derision, Rifkin's theory was based on an analysis of many different documents, and his conclusion was clear: Bach's vocal works were not indeed sung by the choruses that modern conductors had adopted.

Andrew Parrott, conductor of the Taverner Consort, has recently written a book on this subject. The Essential Bach Choir is his extended examination of this question, which he sees as one of the key issues concerning the performance of Bach's vocal works. Initially skeptical, when Rifkin first presented his ideas, Parrott "felt a responsibility to wrestle with the newly raised issues." Over time, he became convinced, that "this was no casual hypothesis, but rather the inescapable product of a radical and brilliant re-examination of the central source material."

Parrott has since become one of the torch-bearers of OVPP, as can be heard in his Bach recordings. Other conductors, including Rifkin himself, in the 1980s, and, more recently Paul McCreesh and Conrad Junghänel, have explored this type of performance with varying successes. Rifkin's recordings were groundbreaking, but his musicians were, perhaps, not of the caliber to carry out his ideas. More recent recordings, such as Cantus Cölln's Actus Tragicus or their recording of the Motets, bear witness to the textures that this sort of chorus can provide.

This book focuses on the various elements that help lead to the conclusion that OVPP was the norm. By examining such questions as the types of singers available, the number of copies made of scores, and Bach's own writings, as well as paintings and engravings of the time, we are led through the different arguments both for and against this idea. Indeed, Parrott is so convincing that one may wonder why musicologists were so hostile to this idea originally. Was it because it shook the bedrock of their basic assumptions about the music and its performance? Or was it simply because it showed an accepted truth to be wrong?

Parrott asks the question, "have we all been mesmerized by the idea that a 'choir' must always be larger than a 'mere quartet' of voices? And that a larger group of (less expert) singers is inherently more desirable than a skilled 'consort' in any movement labeled 'chorus'?" Such performances, he suggests, "can effortlessly bring to bear both the verbal subtlety and freedom of solo singing and the flexibility, clarity and expressivity of chamber music." It took some time for musicians to "come back" to the harpsichord, after the piano had dominated the performance of Bach's music, perhaps this is a similar situation?

While Parrott's book is a "musicological treatise", it is highly readable by informed listeners. Bach lovers will find this an interesting and convincing read. It also contains, in its appendix, the original article by Joshua Rifkin which was, oddly enough, never before published. (He had only presented it at musicological gathering.)

What better way to celebrate the 250th anof Bach's death than by giving a new life to what are, perhaps, his most profound works?

Buy this book from Amazon.com: Amazon.com
Buy this book from Amazon UK: Preview: Amazon.co.uk

----------------------------------------------------------------

Some recordings using one voice per part:

Mass in B Minor, Andrew Parrott: Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk


Mass in B Minor, Joshua Rifkin
(Note: This link is to the old Nonesuch recording. This has just been rereleased in Europe on Erato, at a budget price, but it is not yet at many sites. Look out for it soon.): Amazon.com

Actus Tragicus, Cantus Cöln: Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk

Epiphany Mass, Paul McCreesh: Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk

Michael Zapf wrote (December 3, 2000):
The jury is out there. I have said my spiel, and my opinion remains unaltered.

Kirk McElhearn wrote (December 3, 2000):
Michael Zapf wrote:
< This is a euphemistic circumscription of your getting a commission from the seller. The basic ethic of a reviewer asks that s-he be unbiased and that the interest which is pursued is that of the buyer. "Unbiased" does not mean objective, because every review is subjective, and the quality differential of reviews will be the professionality of that subjectivity. You have a bias fulstop, and if I were an editor of a classical review magazine for consumers, and I would find out you get a kickback from the seller, I would at this moment fire you. >
As I said, I only write reviews of books or CD's that I think are worthwhile. Is that bias? Perhaps, because I choose what I want to review, and no one asks me to do it.

< In my record shop in Frankfurt, the good salespeople will also tell me what NOT to buy. Has any of your getting-a-buck-from-Amazon reviews ever stated "Do NOT buy this book from Amazon."? >
I have posted bad reviews on Amazon, and on other mailing lists, about bad books. Look up the biography of Proust by Jean-Yves Tadie on Amazon.com... Or, have a look at the review of the Oboe concertos on my page: http://www.mcelhearn.com/bach.html

That is certainly not a glowing review...

I still don't understand your anger, Michael. As a Bach fan, all I'm trying to do is help the Bach community, and these reviews seem to be quite appreciated on the Bach mailing list I run. BTW, if you saw how much I actually do get from the click-throughs of these reviews, you would realize that this is a moot issue..

 

Bach Books

Galina Kolomietz wrote (March 21, 2001):
Matthew Westphal wrote:
< While you're getting Bach books from Amazon, don't forget Andrew Parrott's THE ESSENTIAL BACH CHOIR ! >
*** I'm reading it right now. It's fascinating. I'd ordered it a long time ago but it was misdelivered so I only got it two days ago. I haven't gotten to the point where Parrott discusses the famous letter from Bach to the town council, but I'm already impressed with this little bit of information: turns out, the school choir which Bach directed served not one but FOUR churches. It seems natural then that Bach would ask the council for enough singers to cover FOUR choirs rather than one. In this context, the number of people in each voice type Bach was asking for does not support the traditional choir argument at all! Add to that the fact that pupils were expected to cover not only vocal but also instrumental lines and the numbers Bach was asking for become entirely explanatory.

 

"The Essential Bach Choir" A review of Andrew Parrot's OVPP book

Boyd Pehrson wrote (November 9, 2001):
A review of Andrew Parrot's book "The Essential Bach Choir"
(Woodbridge, 2000, Boydell Press ISBN :0-85115-786-6 )

I haven't really been too interested in the One Voice Per Part argument, as it seemed rather confined to Early Music journal articles and CD promotion efforts. The world of historical music scholarship seems to have largely treated this idea with a sort of tolerant ambivalence for such ideas that is prevalent in our post-modern age. I do not see music scholars lining up behind the idea that has now been promoted by its chief exponent Joshua Rifkin for 20 years. One interesting turn of events is the entrance of Andrew Parrott into the debate, championing Rifkin's arguments in his book "The Essential Bach Choir."

The book is a collection of Rifkin's twenty years of notes, letters and articles on the OVPP idea in expanded form, presented in defence of Mr. Rifkin by Mr. Parrott. I had not formed any opinion about the OVPP idea, and was open to what findings the scholarship of Mr. Parrott may provide. If I had any leaning, it was that traditional choir forces were employed in Bach's time, namely several voices per part. Andrew Parrott's book promised to change my mind, so I took up the challenge and read it. After all, weren't we wrong all those years listening to Bach under the batons of great romantic conductors? Rifkin and Parrott are great friends of the historically informed performances, and they may just have something else for us to consider.

I think the best approach for my review is to work my way backward through the book, presenting the conclusions first in order to acquaint what is unfamiliar to the inquisitive person, and then present the reasons and premises along with their supporting materials. I must say, I was surprised at the dogmatic tone adopted by Mr. Parrott in this book, and somewhat disappointed in his tissue of supporting materials. Hopefully, I still can provide a fair assessment of Parrott's presentation of Rifkin's OVPP idea. I want to be concise, and straightforward with the material.

The One Voice Per Part idea as presented "in sum" by Joshua Rifkin in a paper never before published, is found in Appendix 6 of the book. Rifkin writes: "In sum: We have no solid evidence- documentary, theoretical, or notational- to support the assumption that Bach ever had more than one singer reading from each of his vocal parts, while every piece of evidence that we do have speaks strongly for one singer alone. Given the state of his performing materials, cautious scholarship hardly leaves us any option but to imagine the greater part of his vocal performances- in or out of church, in Leipzig or elsewhere- as involving nothing more than a quartet of singers." (page 207)

Well, how did he reach this conclusion? Andrew Parrott discusses the need to centre the idea on the manuscripts we have of Bach's vocal parts. The basis for Rifkin/Parrott's idea is founded on "the sharing of copies." Here is Parrott's foundational premise from pages 5 and 6:
"The presence or absence of ripienists- which is clearly central to determining not only the size of Bach's choir but its very nature- hinges on the question of copy sharing. To accept that three (or more) singers sang each vocal line in a work of Bach's, we are compelled to assume that each surviving copy was routinely shared by several singers, and/or that large numbers of extra copies have disappeared. Ch. 5 asks whether the available evidence supports either of these assumptions."

First I have to ask the question: "is it true that the presence or absence of ripienists hinges on the question of copy sharing and is this clearly central to determining not only the size of Bach's choir but its very nature?" Well, it is clear to Mr. Parrott but I am not obliged to limit my investigation of Bach's vocal forces to the one question of copy sharing, propped up by an either/or explanation. Parrott assumes that we are going to be satisfied here with two possible explanations of how copies were either shared or lost in Bach's time. If we don't meet either of these two "assumptions," then Parrott's idea of OVPP is vindicated somehow by default . Unfortunately Parrott bases his premise upon a classic fallacy of distraction: the false dilemma, where a limited number of options (usually two) is given, while in reality there are more options. What about direction to the singers from the prefect or Bach, or through memorization, or through notation made by the singers themselves on personal copies or by hand reading- a method used in church choirs for centuries where by the five fingers and their individual segments are used for memory aid? There are many different answers to Parrott's problem, not the least of which, memorization of simpler parts, is not adequately addressed by Mr. Parrott. Any competing scenarios are treated as mere attempts to escape the two "assumptions" presented by Parrott- the copies were either shared or lost, and that is all he will accept as answers as evidence to how Bach's singers knew what to sing.

Parrott appeals with "evidences" on behalf of his copy sharing ideas, which he says are supported by internal and external evidence in musical manuscripts of Bach, & "the structure of vocal choirs, the positioning of performers and iconographic evidence." (page 44) The internal and external evidences are lacking, since Bach's manuscripts no where state: "these copies are only to be used by one singer each," and likewise no other person that knew Bach or his performers ever wrote "there was only one singer per copy." The claim by Parrott that sometimes ripienists augmented the choir only strictly where Bach writes it down in his title pages, and then ripienists are only an option, are not established as fact by any existing evidences, and if they were this would not establish Rifkin's OVPP idea.

Parrott knows he has to look elsewhere, and he turns to "iconographic" or picture evidence. Here an interesting hypocrisy develops from Parrott's forcing his one voice per part idea into where ever it will fit, while blocking the reader from all legitimate objections and counter evidence. For instance Parrott dismisses as irrelevant a drawing by Ludwig Richter (1803-84) of several singing boys sharing copies, since it is 19th Century, and they are not singing in a church, but in the street. Parrott doesn't even bother to print it for the reader to inspect. Yet, elsewhere with a 1750 illustration from a court music concert, he highlights four boys gathered in a group and singing, while musicians play instruments in scattered groups- displaying, Parrott tells us, how concerted music was performed in Bach's day. Parrott uses any drawing he can to support his point, from a Hamburg Drill house banquet 1719, and a Nuremburg ale house 1775, to a couple of images of a Jena musician's hall c.1750. My question of course is do these show a church performance? Why doesn't Parrott hold himself to his own iconographic evidence standards that he places upon the Richter drawing?

The reason is that if he did, he wouldn't have any iconographic evidence at all to support his claim. One interesting picture displayed in Parrott's book is of a Church concert in Freiburg Cathedral, 1710. This one is used by Parrott because off to the left of the choir of seven singers (hello?) are seated four boys who Parrott identifies as ripienists by the fact that they are off to the side. The seven singers in the choir are obviously young boys because the Prefect directing them is much taller and larger. This means the seven couldn't be an SATB choir, if they are, they are two to a part, for the prefect is singing. Who knows what the four boys on the side are doing, but they are all the same size, and very small, so they cannot be an SATB ripieno choir, but at best any combination of S and A. Parrott really is defeating his own purpose here I think, and that picture of the four boys sitting in the choir loft, is used among others on the cover of the book. I think: "is this not a little misleading?"

I took a few hours scouring the library and easily came up with my own set of pictures that display the opposite of everything Mr. Parrott asserts as fact. Absent from among Parrott's "iconographic evidences" is an engraving by Bach's own librettist and former Thomaner- Picander (1732) showing a prefect leading a group of 13-14 boys in carols outdoors, the prefect is holding up ONE large music copy for all the boys to see, and he is singing with them, while 5 musicians provide accompaniment (See: Illustration 2). Another engraving (1730) showing a Lutheran Choir with their Cantor in a funeral procession in Leipzig somehow escaped Parrott's attention (See: Illustration 1). This one shows a choir of 22 boys and men (and one dog) doubling and tripling up on copies, and singing on their wafrom the church to the graveyard. Funerals are considered to be part of the regular Lutheran church services. One engraving that does appear in Parrott's book is the famous one by Krüger that shows the Thomaskirche and Thomasschule around 1723 (See: Illustration 3). Parrott failed to notice, or neglected to point out, that the engraving shows a choir of 16 boys walking from the Thomasschule to the Thomaskirche! (See: Illustration 4) All of my selected picture evidences are sufficient for me to doubt Parrott's claims and ideas with regard to one voice per part as the normal situation for Bach. My selections sufficiently show the St Thomas choir performing various normal functions. ALL are shown in Leipzig and ALL during Bach's time there in the city! (These pictures were put at the page The Essential Bach Choir by Andrew Parrott - Illustrations for your personal inspection! By the way, the picture of the funeral is 1730 based upon another book that identifies it as 1730 and by Bernard Picart. If it is 1730, Bach is the Cantor pictured leading the choir!)

Speaking of the year 1730, what about Bach's famous memo of August 1730 to the Leipzig Town council?: A "Short But Most Necessary Draft for a Well-Appointed Church Music, with Certain Modest Reflections on the Decline of the Same." Doesn't Bach expressly state in it that there should be three and preferably four singers to a part? Well, yes, he does. But Parrott says "no, he does not" (page 94). Parrott complains that the English translation, though giving an accurate rendering, misleads us into thinking of "choir" as singers only and not "a body of performers" or "a pool" of singers as Bach "clearly" intended to draw only the best four. And Parrott tells us, due to illness and instrumental needs only one "singer" actually sang each part in each choir. For this Parrott adds the number of students listed in St Thomas', 55, then subtracts the number of absent instrumentalists' positions required to be filled, 11, and subtracts the amount of students labelled "not yet usable," 20, and those labelled "unproficient," 17, and comes up with the number 48 that Bach did not have singing Cantatas out of 55 Thomasschule pupils. That is an interesting way of looking at the 1730 memo where Bach said he had 3 singers per part in each of three choirs and two per part in the fourth choir for a total of 44 singers. Also, Bach did have an absence of 11 instrumentalists, which is perhaps where the remaining 11 pupils, of the original amount of 55 mentioned, come into play. The Thomasschule contained many more pupils than 55 as it had students who lived in the town of Leipzig or nearby. Those that lived in the school were boarders who did not already have someone to live with in the town. Also, Bach had various private students and town musicians at his disposal. Indeed musicians were coming from around Germany to learn under Bach.

Now, doesn't Bach state expressly in his memo that 3 sopranos, 3 altos, 3 tenors and as many basses make up choirs 1st, 2nd and 3rd? Yes, he does, but in the hands of Andrew Parrott, nothing is as it appears to be! How else does Andrew Parrott view the famous 1730 memo? Parrott writes: "Bach must have known that he would never be granted as many as 16 singers for each of these three 'musical' choirs. His was simply a time-honoured negotiating tactic: asking for 16 gave him a better chance of actually ensuring a workable pool of 12." (page 96) That, folks, is what I call a stretch, and that, a long one! Another factor Parrott fails to count into his equations is that the Church Services in Leipzig were staggered in such a way that Cantatas were not performed at the same time in any two Churches in Leipzig. Bach could have used any assortment of singers from any of his choirs for the Cantatas, sung in the morning at one church and the afternoon in another. In fact this may be a good argument that Bach did have the opportunity to use 4 voices or more per part .

Parrott writes another aspect of this memo supports Rifkin's OVPP idea. On page 101, he states: "Numbers were not the only issue. There was also the question of the boys' sheer musical ability:" here Parrott relates Bach's objection that so many "unproficient and musically quite untalented boys" were being admitted into the school. Of this Parrott makes much, and says they were frankly unusable for singing. But it was common in that day to overstate any bad qualities in a person. Bach said it of his son, and it is very common to read comments from Cathedral records through the centuries that virtually all their boys were unmusical and unusable! Scarlatti once said no wind instrument was ever in tune! Besides, the fact that Bach is complaining means he requires more good singers, not less. Interestingly, and frustratingly, Parrott never reproduces the memo in its entirety for the reader to inspect, one must view it has Parrott has pulled it apart and commented upon in his book.

I think I have covered enough of the problems I have with this book to let you see where the weaknesses are in Parrott's arguments on the OVPP idea. Parrott throughout the book pleads with the reader to suspend the prejudices of mind that cause one to think in traditional terms of Bach's choir. This I would be willing to do, if I was not asked to suspend reason, which is actually what I think Parrott wants me to do.

This book is a valuable documentation of the arguments from the One Voice Per Part movement. It is their Tour De Force and best effort in twenty years of their movement. It is an interesting hypothesis at this point, and in my mind nothing more than that. In fact, I think the book has re-inforced my traditional understanding of Bach's vocal forces: that of 3-4 voices per part, and perhaps more. If this book is truly the Tour De Force of the OVPP movement, then this book may actually read as its epitaph.

 

Parrott's book & OVPP defended against dream sequences (as if that were necessary)
Parrott's book etc. and BWV 119

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 24, 2004):
>> Granted, it would probably take someone with little or no training in the field somewhat longer to "study it critically" as the correspondent suggests. If "studying it critically" means "looking desperately for any holes in it, destroying or belittling evidence to try to knock it down", that indeed would take quite a bit longer..<<
< The strange thing is that these ‘holes’ can be found very quickly and then the entire ‘house of cards’ begins to tumble down. If these musicologist authors were truly ‘convincingly plausible’ in their books and articles, then this would not be the case. I have offered contrary evidence in the past (which is all part of the record in Aryehâ?Ts site) and will not indulge in further repetition of a discussion with others who have already made up their minds by reading the same sources without seriously entertaining the possibility that the ‘original evidence presented’ may not pertadirectly to the critical period and geographical region of Bach’s most important compositions and the possibility that some of the translations rendered from the original German may be misleading or even erroneous. >
Aha. I see now at: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Topics/OVPP7.htm
what is being referred to here. The "contrary evidence" presented there is an entertaining piece of fictional creative writing. It's about a dream Bach had, where Bach met Alfred Dürr and Andrew Parrott and Joshua Rifkin, time-travelers from the future; he recovered from his surprise and contradicted them. They even referred to themselves by nicknames, the better to seem like just a bunch of vernacular guys and not like serious thinkers.

The dream includes a pretty strange notion put into Dürr's mouth (probably against his will): that a recording of a Bach performance of a cantata would completely capture Bach's intentions, for all time, so that "no doubt would be left in any person's mind." Clearly, this does not come from anyone who has ever had much experience in leading church music, where flexibility is necessary. I suspect the real Alfred Duerr is not as rigid or uninformed as his caricature here suggests.

The dream piece says nothing substantial, except about the writer's own preferences and his willingness to misrepresent other people's serious investigative work: trying to trump scholarly research with his own intuitive imagination and wishful outcomes. Instead of presenting substantial research, he focuses on trying to reduce other people's credibility, and putting hopeful words into the mouth of a personal hero: all around, not a very effective strategy, except maybe for personal amusement. If the presentation is to be believed, the writer's imagination evidently tells him that he (but remarkably, nobody else who's researched the topic for years!) is in possession of evidence that topples a house of cards. Wow.

And, his imagination evidently tells him that this imaginative/wishful approach, coupled with repeated assertions (like the one quoted above, from several days ago), should be sufficient to convince anybody else.

Well, the only house of cards toppled is the one he's built in his own imagination on the opponents' property, as a representation of the real thing, so that it may be riddled with holes and thereby knocked down. In that sense, it works. Dreams can go anywhere. It's the old "straw man" fallacy, renamed "house of cards", but the same thing. Build your own voodoo doll, stick pins into it, yippee. Build him a house, knock that down too, watch the suffering. Oh, the humanity. Very convincing, when the whole thing is imaginary, and when it's not necessary to convince anyone other than oneself.

That plays into a second problem: even if the opponents' case would be a house of cards, and knocked down, that doesn't automatically prove an opposing position. One needs real evidence to demonstrate anything. To rebut Parrott's book, one would need to prepare a convincing counter-argument, with enough evidence. The dream sequence does not fill that bill. It's the fallacy of false dichotomy.

The follow-up discussion on that page is interesting, too, where there was an attempt to defend that dream fantasy against questions. Clearly, the other writers there were not taken in: unable or unwilling to be swept into that odd world.

The writer's reluctance to provide "further repetition of a discussion" now is a wise move, because the first one wasn't convincing (as the "contrary evidence" presented was intuitive fiction). Repetition therefore would accomplish nothing, except to replay the whole construction-and-toppling process in his own imagination...again convincing nobody but himself. Dream sequences are entertaining, but hardly the basis for serious rebuttal. Ignis fatuus. Let the volunteer firemen continue their game of Skat, undisturbed. A nice little cottage could be built from the otherwise unused 2s, 3s, 4s, 5s, and 6s.

That earlier discussion was all from summer 2002, before I was a member of the BachCantatas list, and this (today) is the first that I've seen any of that. Those other members provided more than adequate defense. I would have liked to have met that Andrew Lewis, especially. He projected a wise perspective. It's right there at: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Topics/OVPP7.htm

Then after a hiatus there was a more recent attempt to play the Wolff card, on: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Topics/OVPP8.htm
Again, it wasn't that convincing. The writer picks a new hero, Wolff, but at the same time chastises him for providing a statement that is "severely truncated and as such is quite misleading." It's rather presumptuous to sit in judgment above Christoph Wolff, correcting his work for New Grove (as if their editors didn't do their own jobs adequately), but there it is in black and white. Bringing in the Big Bad Wolff to blow down the House of Cards, but on a leash. What fantasy!

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 25, 2004):
On the question of the size of the choir ( the number of singers certainly being not simply OVPP even allowing for additional ripienists) based upon a good balance between the choir and a very large (probably the largest ever used by Bach) continuo group (a fact documented by Bach personally on the autograph score of BWV 119 and conveniently overlooked by Parrott & Dreyfus because it runs contrary to the theories they and others wish to uphold), see my comments from May 9, 2003: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV119-D.htm

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 25, 2004):
Parrott's book etc. and BWV 119

< On the question of the size of the choir ( the number of singers certainly being not simply OVPP even allowing for additional ripienists) based upon a good balance between the choir and a very large (probably the largest ever used by Bach) continuo group (a fact documented by Bach personally on the autograph score of BWV 119 and conveniently overlooked by Parrott & Dreyfus because it runs contrary to the theories they and others wish to uphold), see my comments from May 9, 2003: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV119-D.htm >

If anything is being "conveniently overlooked" in those remarks on that page, it is the acoustical fact that an ensemble of 3 singers per part is really not that much louder than an ensemble of 1 singer per part. The difference is mainly in the timbre, not the volume: the vocal lines blend differently. And especially if the singers are placed in front of the orchestra, instead of behind it, the projection of four good singers would be no problem here.

Of course, this point about volume is conveniently overlooked here because it runs contrary to the theory our cynic here regularly upholds, which is that real musicologists are ignorant, dishonest, "misleading", "deceptive", and self-serving. He it states regularly, by "correcting" their omissions and facts, and chiding them on his perception of their methods. But, that perception of their methods is really just a reflection of HIS OWN untrained methods of self-guided research, projected onto them. They're not allowed to know those methods better than he does, or use better methods. Hence, the cynic's extraordinary belief that he knows what's true but the professional musicians and musicologists do not.

He points out that 'Organo, Violoncelli, Bassoni è Violoni | all' unisono col' | Organo' is the continuo group for BWV 119, and continues:
>>Now imagine the powerhouse continuo group that Bach has assembled for BWV 119. How many upstrings will you need in order to create an appropriate balance? What will the size of the choir need to be? OVPP?<<

Again, the volume question. But the assumption that it's a "powerhouse" group is his own: again an assumption that more instruments is automatically equivalent to louder, not just more varied and flexible. And it leads him into the further extrapolations which he then takes as settled truth. We're supposed to "imagine" that something is true, and presto changio, it's suddenly true without any documentation!

And his assertion that the string bass is categorically too loud is based on his own stated dissatisfaction with the Leusink recordings: which were done with multiple miking and tell us nothing one way or another about the natural balances in a church balcony. Our critic clearly has no concept of the way a string bass (or more accurately, a violone) can play quietly in real life, if the musician playing it has any sensitivity whatsoever. Again the critic's own assumptions are elevated into truth that we're all supposed to accept, as he observed it.

He next puts his own words and thoughts into Bach's head, and the heads of
the church authorities:
>>Bach must have been thinking to himself: "Certainly they will realize that I can use even greater forces than these to glorify the higher powers, when they see and hear what kind of great music I am capable of producing with limited means and space." Unfortunately, they, in their miserly ways, not really recognizing Bach's greatness because he was not really the top-name musician that they originally had in mind, decided: "He has proven that he can do much more with much less space and with a limited number of musicians. What incentive do we have to spend more money to help him out, when he has done just fine with what he has available to him?"<<

Everybody there in that portrayal, including Bach, is self-serving. Everybody's trying to manipulate somebody.

cynic, n. A fault-finding captious critic, especially one who believes that human conduct is motivated wholly by self-interest. [Webster's 9th]

captious, adj. Marked by an often ill-natured inclination to stress faults and raise objections. Calculated to confuse, entrap, or entangle in argument. [ibid]

In a cynic's quest to explain his own preferences as the only possible true ones, he assumes that everyone else is similarly guided by self-interest...or just doesn't know any better...or both. No one else is allowed to come to reasoned understanding of things by other methods, or to have different preferences. As he tells us regularly:
- Musicians do things differently in new recordings to stand out and be different (a self-serving goal), not to serve the music by performing it as honestly and forthrightly as possible to their abilities.
- Musicians distort the score with false expression, to put their own aims ahead of the composer's (a self-serving goal).
- Scholars present only one side of the evidence to further their own theories (a self-serving goal).
- Bach and the authorities (here in this example) all "think" in self-serving goals, instead of considering the good of the schools or the city: it's all about what they can get out of it personally.

The pattern here is clear.

Q.E.D.

=====

I listened to the Harnoncourt and Leusink recordings of BWV 119 this morning, and really enjoyed them both. Such a lively, bright piece! And I noticed how careful Bach was to keep the trumpet and drum interjections out of the way most of the time when people were singing. And the words are repeated enough that the message is clear, anyway, even if (one might argue) they're briefly obscured now and then.

And, as practicing musicians know, bass line accompaniments can be loud or quiet without necessarily affecting the number of higher parts played and/or sung; and good players know how to adjust their volumes as they play, so it all works out. A paramount consideration for a continuo player is: what is a good volume and mood for any given moment in the music? On organ and harpsichord this is done by improvising more or fewer notes, and on the other instruments with tone color and dynamic shading. Listening while playing, instead of woodenly following instructions from a page. Duh.

Therefore all the cynic's objections and confusions and entanglements (on the cited web page) fall away as irrelevant.

It's clear that this cantata BWV 119 tells us nothing (one way or another) in sound alone about how many people "should be" singing or playing the upper parts. Therefore, the arguments from balcony space and written-out parts have more weight here than bean-counting balance fantasies do.

In the case of cantata BWV 119, the vocal and instrumental parts don't survive. That is also probably why Dreyfus and Parrott don't address this piece, having only the score--their research focus is on what we can learn specifically from extant parts. The cynic knows this from reading both books, but conveniently overlooked it in his argument (see the quote at the top of this posting), trying to show that Dreyfus and Parrott are dishonest and/or ignorant.

So, what more is there to go on beyond the balcony space? The venue of St Nicholas, smaller than St Thomas, had to be dealt with, so Bach did so. That part of the cynic's report is worth consideration. Indeed, it strengthens the thesis about having fewer singers (few or no ripienists), rather than destroying it. If the balcony is so full of instrumentalists, there simply isn't much room left for singers. How difficult is that to understand?

Benjamin Mullins wrote (March 25, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
<SNIP> I listened to the Harnoncourt and Leusink recordings of BWV 119 this morning, and really enjoyed them both. Such a lively, bright piece! And I noticed how careful Bach was to keep the trumpet and drum interjections out of the way most of the time when people were singing. And the words are repeated enough that the message is clear, anyway, even if (one might argue) they're briefly obscured now and then. <SNIP>
Last Sunday night I was privileged to be able to attend a lecture/recital by Crispian Steele-Perkins. I know his playing isn't to everyone's liking, but I doubt one could find a more dedicated and enthusiastic proponent of the Baroque Trumpet or, indeed, the trumpet in general!

During his presentation (which included demonstrations of the modern piccolo trumpet, keyed trumpet, coach horn, true natural trumpet, etc.) he spoke of how Baroque trumpeters cultivated the ability to play quietly. He said how the Baroque trumpet, with its great amount of overtones, accompanies voices, and other instruments, exceedingly well. Better, he thought, than the modern piccolo trumpet, due to its comparative lack of overtones.

This presentation was given in a classroom about 30 by 40 feet in size. I was sitting no more than 20 feet away from Crispian. While he was playing the Baroque trumpet there were times when one could have easily heard, say, a thumb tack hit the floor. In other words, he was playing very quietly. His playing had a pronounced vocal quality, it could be surprisingly delicate. This was true even in the higher range. To suggest that four competent singers would be unable to be heard over trumpets and drums playing as quietly as this is ridiculous! No, from my personal experience at least, the presence of trumpets and drums is not enough to necessitate extra singers. If the trumpets and drums are overpowering the singers, then it is better trumpeters that are needed, not more singers! That is, in my humble opinion, of course ;-)

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 25, 2004):
In a desperate attempt lead astute readers away from focusing on the key points under contention here, the extremist poster refuses to admit directly:

Dreyfus and Parrott have negligently omitted stating a pertinent fact about BWV 119:

Bach personally indicated on his autograph score (a score which both authors have conveniently overlooked) the use of the largest continuo group ever used by Bach for a performance of one of his works. The assemblage of such a large number of instrumentalists for a church performance by Bach is unprecedented, particularly in regard to size of the continuo group. That such a fact is overlooked by musician-scholars who wish to demonstrate the limited sound of Bach’s music by promoting the use of the smallest number of instrumentalists and singers with even a reduction in the full values of the notes which Bach prescribed in his scores is not at all remarkable. That extremist musicians should feel an obligation to uphold at all costs the tenets based upon such faulty, incomplete research should not amaze any reader or listener who may be aware of the head-strong attitudes promulgated by these fanatic adherents to main body of HI performance practices.

There is simply no reasonable excuse that can be provided to explain such a glaring omission: “I was only looking at the parts which were, for the most part not copied by Bach but by other copyists which he employed. Examining the autograph scores would not yield any useful information about the continuo group or the parts used.”

To attempt to explain how Bach would have reduced and silenced the large instrumental forces in order to preserve a seemingly insignificant OVPP vocal group that he assembled for this performance by having the instrumentalists play softly while making the singers create ugly, forced vocal sounds almost constantly at the top volume level of their voices (shouting, rather than singing – this can be heard in numerous OVPP recordings) is ridiculous. Bach calls for 4 trumpets (trombae), timpani, 2 transverse flutes, 3 oboes, a full group of strings (1st, 2nd violins + viola with at least a doubling of these parts if not more) and the colossal continuo group: organ, violoncelli (plural), bassoons, violoni (plural of the large violone) all playing in unison with the organ.

To assume that the rather cramped space in the St. Nikolai church was an obstacle that Bach could not overcome without restricting the vocal forces to an absolute minimum is to underestimate Bach’s inventiveness in such situations. Certainly the limited perspective of an extremist is revealed when compared with the abilities and accomplishments of Bach with whom this extremist and others of his ilk constantly wish to identify themselves (they think they know better as composer/performers {they themselves being quite inferior to Bach in just about every way} just how Bach wanted his music performed!) The cynic is the extremist who would ‘sell short’ Bach’s abilities to create the type of celebratory music he wanted for specific occasions. He undauntedly worked at great odds with the ‘powers that be’ to bring about glorious effect of the music he had envisioned. He did not listen to the ‘nay-sayers’ who constantly wished to remind him about the restrictions that had been placed upon him by the prevailing circumstances. In the large churches in Leipzig, he no longer had to ‘think small’ (some of the Weimar cantatas could very likely have been performed by the very best instrumentalists and singers OVPP/OPPP.) BWV 119 is a prime example of Bach attempting to accomplish what may seem impossible for us to imagine today. He did not have to resort to ‘reduced forces’ to accomplish this and to impress his very important listeners. To think otherwise is to be simultaneously cynical and extreme.

Uri Golomb wrote (March 25, 2004):
Benjamin Mullins wrote (about Crispian Steele-Perkins)
< His playing had a pronounced vocal quality, it could be surprisingly delicate. This was true even in the higher range. To suggest that four competent singers would be unable to be heard over trumpets and drums playing as quietly as this is ridiculous! >
A furhter point: Bach often pitted a single soloist against trumpets and drums (cases in point can be found in cantatas BWV 51, BWV 70 and BWV 147 -- among others). If a single singer can confront a single trumpet, or a complement of three trumpets and drums -- why not four singers?

No, from my personal experience
< at least, the presence of trumpets and drums is not enough to necessitate extra singers. If the trumpets and drums are overpowering the singers, then it is better trumpeters that are needed, not more singers! That is, in my humble opinion, of course ;-) >
A few years ago, I heard the B minor Mass (BWV 232) two days in a row in live concerts -- one employing an alteration of OVPP and 2VPP (that is, single "concertists" occasionally doubled by single "ripienists"), the other employing -- throughout all choruses -- a chamber choir of about 5VPP. In the former, the singers were placed in front, while the trumpets were placed more to the back of the stage (as Parrott recommends). The balance was better in in the OVPP/2VPP performance (even in passages where the ripeinists did not participate -- as Brad points out, ripienists affect the timbre much more than they affect the volume). The trumpets never drowned the singers, or vice versa. In the choral performance, the choir sometimes overwhelmed the trumpets... (though in other choral performances, with the same size choir and the same types of instruments and similar acoustics, there were no such problems).

This doesn't prove that OVPP is essentially better, only that such an ensemble is perfectly viable against trumpet and drums, in a live context, with no microphone tricks.

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 25, 2004):
< BWV 119 is a prime example of Bach attempting to accomplish what may seem impossible for us to imagine today. He did not have to resort to ‘reduced forces’ to accomplish this and to impress his very important listeners. >
Of course not; he just used the normal four singers plus some extra instrumentalists. No "reduced forces" there. I still don't see why this is difficult to understand.

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 25, 2004):
Uri Golomb stated:
>>A furhter point: Bach often pitted a single soloist against trumpets and drums (cases in point can be found in cantatas BWV 51, BWV 70 and BWV 147 -- among others). If a single singer can confront a single trumpet, or a complement of three trumpets and drums -- why not four singers?<<
If a full-voiced bass such as Nimsgern is used, this combination (orchestration by Bach) with/against trumpets and/or timpani works out well because the trumpets (trombae) do not feel that they need to hold back, but with many of the demi-voix bass voices that have been recorded with original instruments, the trombae are played so reticently (deliberately adjusting to the lower volume of these voices, or simply fortuitously unable to play these instruments at full volume) that the nobility of these instruments is lacking. They begin to sound like slightly louder oboi. The boldness of projection of such trombae is lacking. The differentiation in volume and characteristic timbre between these instruments become more and more negligible.

The trombae were also played outdoors. [Remember that Gottfried Reiche died after inhaling too much torch smoke while playing a Bach cantata (BWV 215) outdoors!] It would be hard to imagine the same subdued manner of trumpet playing being used under these circumstances. Why would these trombae, corni da caccia, etc. suddenly assume a different manner of playing in a large church simply to accommodate the voices unless these voices were inferior and could not produce a fully sustained volume throughout a movement as necessary as is frequently the case today? Bach, however, was known to have at his disposal a very good bass singer in Leipzig. Thewould be no need for the tromba players to engage in any 'pussy-footing' when accompanying such a commanding voice.

'Why not four singers' singing against 3 trumpets and timpani? Because in the full chorus sections (not arias) the full complement of instruments that I listed comes into play and they are not instructed to play with reduced volume, nor is the 'imagined' OVPP choir told to sing forte in order to be heard over the instruments. A proper balance would be more easily achieved if there were a better balance of instrumentalists vis à vis singers (that is, more singers - at least 2 or 3 per part).

Johan van Veen wrote (March 26, 2004):
[To Thomas Braatz] Ah, that's the middle-of-the-road approach again. Instruments have to play in one volume all the time - not too loud, not too soft - unless the composer explicitly says they should play 'forte' or 'piano'. Why cant't instruments play louder one time and softer next time without the composer explicitly saying so?

Benjamin Mullins wrote (March 26, 2004):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< If a full-voiced bass such as Nimsgern is used, this combination (orchestration by Bach) with/against trumpets and/or timpani works out well because the trumpets (trombae) do not feel that they need to hold back, but with many of the demi-voix bass voices that have been recorded with original instruments, the trombae are played so reticently (deliberately adjusting to the lower volume of these voices, or simply fortuitously unable to play these instruments at full volume) that the nobility of these instruments is lacking. They begin to sound like slightly louder oboi. The boldness of projection of such trombae is lacking. The differentiation in volume and characteristic timbre between these instruments become more and more negligible. >
The use of solo trumpet in combination with an oboe ensemble was widespread in Europe at the turn of the 17th century, and nowhere is the floridity oftrumpet technique better demonstrated than in this fine concerto [Concerto for Trumpet, 3 Oboes, Bassoon, and Basso continuo in C major] by Tomaso Albinoni. No allowances are made in any of the movements for the limitations of the trumpet, whose tone was often described by contemporary commentators as resembling that of an oboe; the unison passages and imitative figures give us a clear indication of the more subdued dynamic level typical of performance in those days - a long way removed from the brash and coarse tone of the modern trumpet.

(c) 1993 Crispian Steele-Perkins

>From the booklet notes accompanying:
"Music for Trumpet & Orchestra"
Steele-Perkins, natural trumpet
Tafelmusik
Lamon, direction
SONY SSK 6245

Charles Francis wrote (March 26, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< Of course, this point about volume is conveniently overlooked here because it runs contrary to the theory our cynic here regularly upholds, which is that real musicologists are ignorant, dishonest, "misleading", "deceptive", and self-serving. He it states regularly, by "correcting" their omissions and facts, and chiding them on his perception of their methods. But, that perception of their methods is really just a reflection of HIS OWN untrained methods of self-guided research, projected onto them. >
Without wishing to take sides in this debate, one notes the purported "untrained methods of self-guided research" have led to results consistent with Stauffer, Wolff and various wanna-be musicologists like Koopman and Leonhardt.

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 26, 2004):
Charles Francis wrote:
< Without wishing to take sides in this debate, one notes the purported "untrained methods of self-guided research" have led to results consistent with Stauffer, Wolff and various wanna-be musicologists like Koopman and Leonhardt. >
Of course you don't wish to take sides in this debate, Sir Charles, because you're already on record at: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Topics/OVPP6.htm
as convinced to accept OVPP by Parrott's book. You'd have to side with me, instead of with your regular hero. Horrors.

Fortunately, it's not about taking sides, but about getting to the truth about Bach's practical expectations for his vocal works.

Uri Golomb wrote (March 26, 2004):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
<snip> such a fact is overlooked by musician-scholars who wish to demonstrate the limited sound of Bach's music by promoting the use of the smallest number of instrumentalists and singers >
It is a common mistake -- but a disappointing one from one who claims to have read all of Parrott's book -- to claim that Parrott and Rifkin advocate minimal forces at all costs, and attribute this to Bach. Anyone who has read them thoroughly would be aware of the two following points:

1) The thesis is one singer per written part -- not one player per written part. Rifkin has specifially argued against the historicity of employing single strings.
2) They do not claim that Bach never used ripienists, or even that he was unwilling to add ripienists to works initially conceived for soloists only (see, for instance, Rifkin's detailed examination of Bach's performances of his cantata BWV 21). In practice, Parrott was often willing to add ripienists when they are explicitly indicated (as in his St. John Passion) and even when they are not (as in his B minor Mass (BWV 232) and Jesu, meine Freude). Rifkin is more reticent in adding ripienists without explicit "permission", but he acknowledges the practice as legitimate: 17th- and 18th-century composers did this all the time, to their own music as well as to others'.

BWV 110 has an opening chorus which is very similar in character to that of BWV 119. Parrott has no problem whatsoever acknowledging that Bach added ripienists to this work, though he believes these parts were added c. 1728-1731 (that is, the work was first performed, in 1725, with concertists only, but Bach expanded its scoring for a later performance).

More generally, Parrott states that 11 of the 14 works for which Bach provided ripieno parts "employ an instrumental ensemble which includes one or more trumpet". So Bach was prone -- sometimes, not always! -- to associate trumpets with ripienists. Not, BTW, to create appropriate "balance" -- as previously noted, the addition of single ripienists does not alter the volume much -- but presumably to create a more opulent sound, and to achieve greater variety. The latter aim is reflected in his deployment of the expanded forces: in BWV 110, ripienists are used selectively; many passages are allocated to soloists. It's not unreasonable to speculate that, if Bach used ripienists in BWV 119, he'd have deployed them along similar lines.

< There is simply no reasonable excuse that can be provided to explain such a glaring omission: "I was only looking at the parts which were, for the most part not copied by Bach but by other copyists which he employed. Examining the autograph scores would not yield any useful information about the continuo group or the parts used." >
Two comments on this. First of all, even if Bach did not copy the parts out himself, he used them himself, and had his copyists -- who were working under his supervision -- include indications more detailed than those he included in his score.

More importantly -- Parrott does not ignore scores. In fact, he specifically lists a number of works where the parts are missing, but the score indicates the use of ripienists. It'all part of a chapter called "Bach's use of ripienists". If he doesn't mention BWV 119, that's probably because the score of that work doesn't tell us much, one way or another, about Bach's use of ripienists; and since Parrott never claimed that Bach always used small continuo groups, that score doesn't contradict anything he has said.

So, if the thesis is "Parrott dishonestly ignores any evidence that proves that Bach used more than one singer per vocal line", then that thesis is simply wrong, and amounts to libel.

PS: I haven't read Dreyfus's Continuo Group, so I won't comment on it. Just a general question: the score for BWV 119 tells us what continuo instruments were required overall. Does it include any indication on how these forces were used? Did all continuo players participate in each and every movement, without exception? IF not, how were they deployed? My guess -- but it is only a guess -- is that the score doesn't answer those questions.

Charles Francis wrote (March 26, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< Of course you don't wish to take sides in this debate, Sir Charles, because you're already on record at: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Topics/OVPP6.htm
as convinced to accept OVPP by Parrott's book. You'd have to side with me,instead of with your regular hero. Horrors. >
Having developed a taste for madrigals as a kid, it certainly was a revelation to encounter Rifkin's work. But do be careful not to confuse aesthetic preferences with facts relating to historical performance. While I have spent more than a "couple of hours", reading Parrott's book, I do accept that Wolff, Stauffer and others grasp of the relevant facts may go deeper than my own. So while I personally find Rifkin's performances and arguments compelling, that is not to imply I dogmatically side with your extremist position. Rather, I fully endorse caution in regard to accessing the evidence presented by Rifkin and others.

< Fortunately, it's not about taking sides, but about getting to the truth about Bach's practical expectations for his vocal works. >
That may be a worthy, if unachievable, intellectual goal. But what really matters to me is enjoyment of the music; as I once wrote "If Bach didn't use OVPP, he really missed out!"

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 26, 2004):
< So while I personally find Rifkin's performances and arguments compelling, that is not to imply I dogmatically side with your extremist position. Rather, I fully endorse caution in regard to accessing the evidence presented by Rifkin and others. >
Well, who's being "dogmatic" or "extremist"? Not I. All I've said is that the Rifkin/Parrott presentation is "convincingly plausible," along with stating clearly that it's more important to be flexible (use whatever forces are at hand, intelligently) in practice in church music, not dogmatic about anything. Parrott in the book isn't dogmatic, either. He's only made to appear so by one who would wish to knock him down; the old straw-man scheme.

Of course, the misrepresentation of my own position as "extremist", a word slung around freely by a polemicist, is not my responsibility. He has his fun, or whatever. "Extremism" in his usage appears to mean variously "anything that doesn't agree with his own intuitive preferences," and/or "anything a person who has university music degrees knows but he doesn't". Sort of a catch-all word for anything he doesn't understand or agree with.

I don't know what it means in your usage unless you're merely echoing him. Perhaps you should explain further. Is an "extremist" anyone who has gone through the intense work of graduate school, and therefore holds well-informed and strongly reasoned convictions about his field? If such convictions do or don't agree with the preferences of an ordinary record-collecting enthusiast, that's neither here nor there; the aim is to understand objectively the content of the music, and bring it out clearly with deep respect for it.

<< Fortunately, it's not about taking sides, but about getting to the truth about Bach's practical expectations for his vocal works. >>
< That may be a worthy, if unachievable, intellectual goal. But what really matters to me is enjoyment of the music; as I once wrote "If Bach didn't use OVPP, he really missed out!" >
I agree with that. The best we can do is come to a reasoned position according to the evidence, and then be musical with the results. The same as on any topic of musical interpretation. That's not difficult to understand, but it does take years of background work and a mind open to broad possibilities.

John Pike wrote (March 26, 2004):
[To Thomas Braatz] I am not at all knowledgeable about this subject but my guess is that it would be wrong to read too much into the scoring of a particular piece (in this case BWV 119) and assume that, if Bach used a large instrumental group for that cantata (and possibly a large choir as well) in that cantata, he always wanted a large choir. There was a time where he specified a double chorus (the St Matthew Passion) for artisitic and other reasons, and, quite possibly, there were many other times when he would have preferred a smaller choir (eg OVPP/2VPP) for artistic reasons. It would perhaps have depended on whether he was performing intimate or private music, or great music of praise and glory, as, for example, in Christmas music.

 

No time for panic

Eric Bergerud wrote (December 9, 2004):
<snip>
I've been doing some interesting reading lately. Andrew Parrott's The Essential Bach Choir gently suggests that most performances of Bach's choral works in the past two hundred years have been done upside down. The argument is well put, it was a fun read, and it looks like the argument will be with us for some time. Also Parrott was not compelled to make ugly remarks about Christoph Wolf's IQ scores or insult Ton Koopman's relatives. Presently I'm plowing through John Butt's dense but interesting Playing with History, a deep analysis of HIP itself. Butt certainly goes out of his way to give any and all credible opposition a place on the soap box. I'm not sure whether I buy all of his conclusions, but it is quite obvious that the field of baroque musicology is one of great flux and possesses few certainties. Furthermore, because many issues are subjective to the core no new research or archive finds are going to bring the flock into unison. So, if the greatest musicologists and performers in the world don't see their craft in the same way, I think we can cut each other some slack here too.

Ptolemy was the greatest mathematician in antiquity (actually he may well have been). He convinced the world's greatest minds for 1500 years that the universe revolved around the earth. Ultimately Copernicus, Kepler and Galileo did a hatchet job on him, and Ptoemy and his supporters in the Renaissance Catholic Church were made to appear as blue-ribbon morons. So before coming down on someone with a ton of bricks do remember Ptolemy. And if that doesn't work, remember that it's almost Christmas - a good time to be nice to others and listen to Bach (and maybe just a little Händel).

John Pike wrote (December 10, 2004):
[To Eric Bergerud] Maybe, but he makes clear at several places that Joshua Rifkin had faced an awful lot of criticism etc over his original theory. Much of the book is intended to coto Rifkin's defence, as well as to present further evidence for Rifkin's theory.

I found it an excellent read, very interesting, and I find it hard to understand the harshness of the criticism levelled at Rifkin for what is undoubtedly a very thoughtful and well-researched piece of scholarship. This is completely independent of whether he is right or not, and i suspect we will never know the answer to that one for certain.

I found it hard to make my mind up at the end as to whether Rifkin/Parrott et al are right. Much of the convincing evidence is to do with the very few cantatas where Bach specifies a ripieno choir, and the fact that, broadly speaking, only one part per voice remains for most works. I was far less convinced by the discussion on the Entwurff. Nevertheless, I have found the OVPP recordings that I have heard most enjoyable, and I suspect that OVPP was a reality for Bach much of the time, either by design, or because it was forced on him by lack of resources.

Bradley Lehman wrote (December 10, 2004):
Parrott/Rifkin/Geck

[To John Pike] There was an article about this by Martin Geck in the November 2003 issue of Early Music. Geck doesn't really take sides either with Rifkin or Rifkin's opponents, but contents himself with asking some other basic questions as a way to keep the reasonable dialogue open. This article: http://homepages.bw.edu/bachbib/script/bach2.pl?22=19549

That same issue: http://em.oupjournals.org/content/vol31/issue4/index.dtl
includes a follow-up article by Rifkin. If I recall correctly, that's based on some newly discovered parts to a cantata, and some debate between Christoph Wolff and Uwe Wolf as to editorial policies with it.

Back in the May 2003 issue, which I haven't gone to look up yet, there was a letter by Eric Altschuler in support of Rifkin, coming to the argument from a different angle. Altschuler recapped this argument of his in another half-page letter that is in the May 2004 issue, p350. This May '04 letter is a reply to a Taruskin letter in the August '03.... Altschuler's angle is that Bach was careful to keep his music performable at all, while not knowing for sure that there would be multiple singers available. Therefore, four singers would be sufficient, whether or not it would be ideal. That is, the music isn't ruined by having fewer than 12 (or whatever).

Personally, I find most of Andrew Parrott's book (and Rifkin's pieces in it) persuasive as to discerning and reporting what probably happened in Bach's churches as a norm. It makes plenty of sense, according to practical considerations and the historical evidence. At the same time, I like to hear the music both ways today, either with one voice per part, or more. There's more than one practical way to have the music be clear, beautiful, and engaging.

Rifkin and Parrott in their writings--and in their exemplary recordings using this OVPP approach--don't argue that their findings should be restrictive upon current or future practices. They're interested in showing what Bach most likely did in practice, and what Bach therefore expected as a norm, to help us to understand why the compositions are the way they are. The angle here is historical description, not
prescription.

As to whatever they and other excellent musicians do with those compositions in performance today, presenting them with conviction and thoughtful preparation for occasions different from Bach's, that's still a matter of practical musicianship...as it should always be. [I explicitly took that approach as a model for writing my tuning paper: showing what Bach did and expected as a norm, so the compositional techniques can be understood more clearly. Whatever musicians do with the information subsequently, as to making performance choices, is up to musicianship and a willingness to rethink previously unquestioned practical habits. Doing things according to Bach's norms--setting up the basic parameters of performance the same way he did--certainly makes things less problematic, overall; the performer's job becomes easier and more natural. Classic questions about phrasing, accent, intonation, transposition, and dramatic thrust resolve themselves, for the most part, leaving the performers free to play/sing instinctively and naturally.]

Historical reconstruction is not the only goal, or even necessarily the primary goal, of excellent musicians: clear communication of the music is (IMO). If some particular performance delivers that with OVPP, bravo. If some other particular performance delivers that with MoreVPP, bravo.

Off to practice for a ManyVPP performance of Messiah.... Like last year's, it will be an adventure. This conductor likes to use the version of the string and trumpet parts that Mozart elaborated, but he doesn't have a score of it himself, so he doesn't really cue the orchestra at all (or know what we're playing). The choir sings from the Schirmer edition, and I play from Alfred Mann's critical Urtext of the full score (Dover) trying to meld all this together, with the various alternate readings of the
pieces. That is, nobody on the stage has a clear picture of all that's happening, so the conductor just gives the beat for his choir and we all hope for the best. If things start to sound like they're about to fall apart, I play more notes to try to clarify rhythms and accents. (One crucial role of the continuo player: to save everybody else's bacon!) There's something authentic about that process of adventure during performance. If it all goes well, nobody in the audience notices the hard work and unrepeatable events that are going on, and God is praised well and truly through the music, and everybody present finds something moving in the experience.

Eric Bergerud wrote (December 10, 2004):
Parrott and OVPP

[To John Pike] Before the advent of computerized "fly by wire" there was a saying in military aviation design: "If it looks good, it flies good." And sure enough, many of the great combat aircraft were also machines of beauty if one can look past their harsh function. I too like my OVPP recordings a lot. Maybe Rifkin is wrong, but those following his lead are making lovely music. As I understand it, one of the Kuijkens gives Rifkin credence mainly because the results sound right.

Yet there's a problem. Rifkin was inspired to seek what Parrott called the "Essential Bach Choir." And there are a fair number of OVPP performances of Bach's chorale works. (Obviously the approach has appeal for smaller ensembles.) Yet, to the best of my knowledge, none of these performances includes boy soloists. As Parrott (and he does give appropriate attention to his opponents) and others have noted there is a great deal we don't know about actual Bach performance practices. One thing we DO know is that boy soloists are part of the mix. Yet to the best of my knowledge no OVPP ensemble has employed boys. As Butt points out, if you can wade through the dense argumentation, there is no hard definition of HIP. That said I for one would like to hear a few cantatas done OVPP with boys. Boys don't sing as well technically as adults but the music they make is different and lovely nevertheless. Obviously such notions put me very much in the Harnoncourt camp regardlessof what sins he might or might be committing on loyalty to the text: he does use a male choir and he does employ boys. Bach did too. I'm with Christopher Hogwood on this one. He once said that there was no reason for every version of the Messiah to try to approximate Händel's, but he thought it was nice that at least one of them did and let consumers make their own judgement. Nobody has yet put OVPP and boys together yet that I know (although Parrott's own Mass in B (BWV 232) is obviously done with small forces and does have boys: I can't tell if it's OVPP). Someday maybe.

Bob Henderson wrote (December 10, 2004):
Listen to Hogwoods Messiah with Simon Preston's boychoir. How can anyone argue withthis point.

 

Parrott on Scheibe on OVPP

Thomas Braatz wrote (January 4, 2005):
On p. 132 of "The Essential Bach Choir" by Andrew Parrott [Boydell, 2000], the author attempts to extrapolate evidence for Rifkin's OVPP theory from a book, actually a collection of articles for a music periodical (1737-1740) by Johann Adolph Scheibe, ["Der critische Musikus" p. 713 of the 2nd {later book} edition, Leipzig, 1745] - a book by this now infamous critic who accused Bach of, among other things, "expressing completely in notes everything one thinks of as belonging to the method of playing." From the age of 15 to 17, Scheibe would/could have heard (or participated in? - Scheibe was a student at the Nikolaischule in Leipzig and began, but abruptly ended his studies at the Leipzig University in 1725) Bach's performances in the Leipzig churches, including the ones at the Nikolaikirche.

Parrott supports Rifkin's OVPP theory with some quotations by Scheibe. Since one quotation happens to be in context with Scheibe's statement regarding the balance of the vocal forces in regard to and the appropriate placement of trumpets and tympani (Scheibe wants them hidden behind all other instruments and singers because of all the 'noise' ['ihr prasselndes Geräusche'] that they make), Parrott forces the interpretation of this statement by Scheibe to read:

>>In music involving trumpets and kettledrums, Scheibe recommends both a string body based on four or five violins per part (as opposed to the 'Entwurff's' two or three) and - 'where possible' - more than one singer per part:

"The vocal parts should also, where possible, have more than one to a part, because the choruses otherwise make no impact."

"Die Singestimmen sollen auch, wo möglich, mehr, als einmal, bestellet seyn, weil sich die Chöre sonst gar nicht ausnehmen."<<

Parrott continues with this observation:

>>It follows from this that, for choruses 'without' trumpets and kettledrums, one singer per part represented a norm requiring no comment. We should also note that Scheibe advocates.merely 'more than one.'<<

However, on p.98, Parrott had quoted Scheibe from p. 156 of the same book as follows:

>>According to Scheibe (1737), a double quartet was a working minimum:

"A complete choir of singers, for use both in the theatre and in church and chamber, cannot consist of fewer than eight persons, These I break down in the following way: first a pair of sopranos, [then] a pair of altos, a pair of tenors, and a high bass or so-called baritone and finally a low bass. But these eight persons must all be skilled people. However, as the choruses could still be filled out, one would quite easily be able - at courts - to add the chapel boys, [or] - in towns - some schoolboys."

"Ein vollständiger Singechor, der so wohl zum Theater, als zur Kirche und zur Kammer zu gebrauchen ist, kann aus nicht weniger, als aus acht Personen bestehen. Diese theile ich folgendermaßen ein. Erstlich zweene Diskantisten, zweene Altisten, zweene Tenoristen, und ein hoher Baßist, oder so genannte Baritonist, und endlich ein tiefer Baßist. Diese acht Personen aber müßen alle geschickte Leute seyn. Da aber annoch die Chöre würden auszufüllen seyn, so könnte man an Höfen gar füglich die Capellknaben, in Städten aber einige Schulknaben darzu anführen."<<

It would appear from this general statement about choir size by Scheibe, that the latter meant quite clearly, as Parrott admits, that a 'complete' choir should consist of a minimum of 8 singers with 2 highly skilled singers ('Concertisten' would probably be a good name for them) for each vocal part, after which additional singers ('Ripienisten') would need to be found to 'fill out' the 'complete' choir. This would amount to a total of at least 12, better 16 singers for a choir that sings even without the additional 'noisy' instruments such as trumpets and tympani. Now Scheibe's other statement relating specifically to performances with 'noisy' instruments can be construed differently, allowing for the ambiguity inherent in the German word 'Stimme' [individual singers vs. separate vocal parts]: Scheibe may have been saying that, since he explained elsewhere that a minimum 'complete' choir already required 2 very well trained singers per part (total of 8), each one of these singers (not parts!) should be augmented with at least one other singer which would mean that at least 8 more singers at a minimum would be needed (now a total of at least 16 singers) for a performance involving the 'noisy' instruments.

With this in mind, Scheibe's specific statement about choir size and 'noisy' instruments: >>Die Singestimmen sollen auch, wo möglich, mehr, als einmal, bestellet seyn, weil sich die Chöre sonst gar nicht ausnehmen<< can now be interpreted in light of Scheibe's more comprehensive statement about choir size generally as follows: "All the voices that are normally singing in what is termed a 'complete' choir (a double-quartet of truly excellent singers), which includes church choirs as well as even chamber choirs, need to be supplemented, if at all possible, with at least as many additional singers (a minimum of at least 8 additional singers spread out equally over the vocal parts) as exist in the minimum 'complete' choir, otherwise this 'double-quartet' choir will not be properly heard over the 'noise' made by the trumpets and tympani."

 

Parrott's book

Eric Bergerud wrote (February 7, 2007):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< OK....but the evidence in favour hasn't (for the most part) been presented here on-line in these discussions; nor should it necessarily be. There's far too much to it, for the several books already mentioned plus a long string of articles, plus all the other books and articles they reference. And, to try to reduce it to a couple pages of summary would do it a terrible injustice, making even more misleading impressions than some people already have! I'm sorry to be dogmatic about this point, but: there's no substitute for reading Rifkin's and Parrott's actual published work on this, to see what THEY say in presenting their own case. In stating that material, they don't need assistance from Uri, or me, or Eric, or anybody else here who has read their books. >
Just to clarify I haven't read Rifkin's second book, but I have read Parrott's and had read Rifkin's article and several responses to it before that. Indeed, the Rifkin squabble was key in getting myself involved in Bach's cantatas in the first place. (All thanks to a nicely written review of Hereweghe's BWV 80 on Amazon. Gwatch the details while going from the cradle to the grave.) And, as noted, Rifkin's original article is reproduced in Parrott's book.

Obviously we all ignore things that might be interesting to do but are put on the shelf in favor of other interests. However, let me put in a plug for Parrott's book. The Essential Bach Choir has a lot going for it. Considering the subject, it is relatively jargon free.

I'm a musical dunce but had no trouble at all understanding at least the outlines of the arguments even if the more subtle points drifted by. This is no small thing for those of us not accomplished in the study or performing of music. I find I stumble in many articles over the technicalities. In some works, such as John Butt's Playing with History, I stumble in frustration and more than a little anger over the sentences themselves.

(Post-modernism don't you know: if the serfs can understand it, there's something wrong.) Parrott's work is lively, very well written and a kind of scholarly detective story. In other words, don't read the book because it's necessary to hear one side of the OVPP question. Read it because it's a neat book. And, if you exclude the appendices (which are all interesting in their way) the text is just over 150 pages. I think I read it in two or three days and had a fine time. Naturally you will probably fine things to quibble about, but that's part of the fun.

Ed Myskowski wrote (February 7, 2007):
Eric Bergerud wrote:
< I find I stumble in many articles over the technicalities. In some works, such as John Butt's Playing with History, I stumble in frustration and more than a little anger over the sentences themselves. (Post-modernism don't you know: if the serfs can understand it, there's something wrong.) >
Aha! Screw the bxxxxxds (no kisses intended)! Power to the people!

 

Choir Form: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7
One-Voice-Per-Part (OVPP):
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Bach’s Choir and Orchestra [T. Koopman] | Evidence for the Size of Bach’s Primary Choir [T. Braatz]
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