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Georg Friedrich Händel & Bach
Part 3

Continue from Part 2

Foreign Akzents in Mr. Handel's Musick

Michael Cox wrote (November 20, 2010):
Foreign Akzents in Mr. Hendel's Musick

In the "olden days", long before the modern "authentic baroque" movement gained ground, English choirs sang Bach in English and German choirs sang Händel's music in German. And Swedish and Finnish choirs sang both Bach and Handel in their respective mother tongues.

It is well known from contemporary accounts that Handel never mastered English pronunciation but retained a strong German accent. It is, however, debatable whether he could actually hear the difference between various accents and so chose his soloists accordingly. For instance, he imported Italian singers for his Italian operas. I suppose that his English soloists pronounced Italian sufficiently well to satisfy Il caro Sassone.

In modern commercial recordings of Handel's English oratorios, it seems fashionable to use at least one soloist whose mother tongue is not English - be that soloist Swedish, German or French.

Anne Sofie von Otter, the famous Swedish mezzo-soprano, in Handel's Messiah (Augér, von Otter, Chance, Crook, Tomlinson, English Concert, Pinnock) demonstrates faultless English pronunciation. But when she speaks English rather than singing she has a very slight Swedish accent.
By contrast, in another recording a certain French soprano sings of "shepherds abeeding in the field". This is an example of not knowing how a word is to be pronounced rather than not being able to do so.
On the same recording an eminent German counter-tenor sings of the "Mun of sorrows".. who "gave his buck to the smiters". A singer from the north of England would in fact pronounce the words like this in speech, but would adopt southern English pronunciation when singing classical music. To an American it might sound like giving a bribe!
This unfortunate mispronunciation would seem to have arisen because in German the vowel "a" is pronounced differently from in English.
In (British) English speech, but not in French or German, unstressed vowels are shortened to "shwa" (a neutral middle vowel, as in the first and last syllables of "composer") or "i" (as in "dispised and rijected")
The vowel "e" might be pronounced as "i" even in stressed syllables, as in "Inglish".
When I was a choirboy in the 1960s we were taught that these shortened vowels should be "opened" when singing, especially in older music (e.g. Tudor, Elizabethan, Purcell and Handel anthems), paying greater attention to the spelling.

So, to take the example mentioned above, "dispised and rijected" should follow the spelling more closely: "des - pi - zed and ri/e - jec -ted".

However, I have never heard, either live or on recording, a foreign soloist observing this convention. Even native English-speakers do not always do so.

Another example is more commonly heard:

The word "nations" is to be sung as "nay - shons" not as "nay -shns".

If we want (do we?) something like an "authentic" pronunciation of Handelian English, we certainly don't need to adopt a German accent, but perhaps we should pay more attention to the spelling , especially of vowels.

I would assume that something similar applies to foreigners singing Bach in German. And that is why I prefer to hear, on recordings repeatedly listened to, a German-speaking choir rather than a French, English or Finnish one.

Finally, as we are approaching the Christmas season, and our choir is already practising Advent and Christmas music, an example of English pronunciation.

In the 1960s my church choir recorded an LP of Christmas music. In one of the carols one of the other choirboys sang the following line:

"There was mickle melody at that childès birth".

The way he sang it was:

""There was mickle melody at that child'(i)s bath".

I think that "childès" should have been pronounced like "chilled-ez". (Incidentally the word "children" is a double plural (child-childer-childeren).

I quote this not to make fun of the choirboy but to show that a recording can stick in one's mind for 50 years. So, if we are singers, especially of Bach and Handel, let us make every effort to "get it right" first time!

Ed Myskowski wrote (November 21, 2010):
Michael Cox wrote:
< On the same recording an eminent German counter-tenor sings of the "Mun of sorrows".. who "gave >his buck to the smiters". A singer from the north of England would in fact pronounce the words >like this in speech, but would adopt southern English pronunciation when singing classical >music. To an American it might sound like giving a bribe! >
I could be had.

MC:
< So, to take the example mentioned above, "dispised and rijected" should follow the spelling more closely: "des - pi - zed and ri/e - jec -ted". >
EM:
I will watch for this, some coming year when I next go out for another *live* Messiah. Everyone seems to get <acquainted with grief> spot on.

MC:
< I would assume that something similar applies to foreigners singing Bach in German. And that is why I prefer to hear, on recordings repeatedly listened to, a German-speaking choir rather than a French, English or Finnish one. >
EM:
I think I raised this point, as an aside, previously. Can you cite an example of a choir whose accent is so uniform, and wrong, that it is offensive? Is it not enough trouble just to get them to sing the same note?

MC:
< I think that "childès" should have been pronounced like "chilled-ez". (Incidentally the word "children" is a double plural (child-childer-childeren). >
EM:
No way to keep those childers from multiplying, no?

I happened to be listening to a CD of Max van Egmond singing Schubert and Schumann last evening. It was recorded just a couple years ago, toward the climax of a long and distinguished career. I believe he varies his German pronunciation slightly, from one point to another, to fit the music and the adjacent text. Or is that just a Dutch accent?

Michael Cox wrote (November 21, 2010):
[To Ed Myskowski] I'm sorry that I don't quite understand what you mean by "I could be had".

What I wrote was intentionally provocative. In Britain a "buck" is primarily a deer, rather than a dollar.

I have heard many "foreigners" singing Handel and Bach in 50 years of choir singing and regular concert attendance. One Irish tenor living in Finland actually deliberately put on an Irish accent in one scene in one of Handel's English oratorios (I forget which) for comic effect.

When I was a choirboy we choirboys deliberately mispronounced words for "fun" - "most highly flavoured lady" was one of the most common examples. The choirmaster was so accustomed to it that he let it pass, providing we didn't sing it like that in public!

I remember as a boy owning an Italian recording of excerpts from Messiah - 'Andel's 'Allelujah chorus was totally garbled. I couldn't listen to it.

Here's a French performance - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Fu8YIG8uyQ I can't hear any "aitches". The article "the" is indistinct and "King of Kings" sounds a little like "Keeng of Keengs". I find this French performance charming, but it's not how I would want my choir to pronounce the words.

Few of us have the luxury of a totally professional choir. In Finland there is only the National Opera Choir and the Finnish Radio Choir, although I think the latter has had to be partly amateurized for lack of funds.
The chamber choir in which I presently sing is an amateur one, but our soloists and orchestra are professionals. All are Finnish except for me and an Estonian lady. I find that I have to pay so much attention to pronouncing Finnish words correctly that I have little time to think what they mean.

If our premise is that liturgical and religious music is/was intended to enhance and illustrate the meaning of the words - "the Word" in the Lutheran sense - then it is vital that the words are pronounced distinctly. When we recorded an Estonian work we needed special linguistic coaching from an Estonian lady, but still you - I mean "one" - can hear that we're not an Estonian choir. And we hsung Bach in German in Germany together with a German choir. I don't remember that they criticised our German pronunciation, at least not openly, but in rehearsals I have tried to correct obvious mistakes. One lady commented about aspirated plosives "but it's so hard!"

You mention Max van Egmond and a Dutch accent. The first recording of the St. Matthew Passion that I ever owned was performed by a Dutch ensemble, so one could say that I learned Dutch pronunciation of German as normative from an early age (I still think that few if any evangelists have surpassed Willy van Hese)

J.S. Bach: Matthäus Passion
Matthäus-Passion BWV 244
Piet van Egmond
Amsterdam Oratorium Choir & Boys Choir of the Vredescholen / Rotterdam Chamber Orchestra
Soprano: Corry Bijster; Alto: Annie Delorie; Tenor: Willy van Hese; Bass: Carel Willink
MMS (Musical Masterpieces Society) / Concert Hall Society
1955
3-LP / TT: 191:56
Recorded at Oude kerk (Old Church), Amsterdam, Holland.
1st recording of Matthäus-Passion BWV 244 by P.v. Egmond.
<>

Glen Armstrong wrote (November 21, 2010):
[To Michael Cox] As one of the most uninformed people who read this site, I can assure you that your intimate knowledge and way of conveyance are only enhanced by any non-standard spellings -- in fact, I regard them as an additional bonus. If you are off-topic, I do hope Aryeh sees your charm and experiences as reason enough to make exceptions. Your enthusiasm is a delight -- not to mention your intimate knowledge garnered over many years. I can hardly wait for Ed to express his pleasure in your posts. Many thanks for enriching me.

Ed Myskowski wrote (November 22, 2010):
Michael Cox wrote:
< I'm sorry that I don't quite understand what you mean by "I could be had". >
An American colloquial expression, meaning <I could be swayed by a bribe.> Just a humorous response to your mention of a bribe.

Michael Cox wrote (November 22, 2010):
[To Glen Armstrong] Thank you so much for your kind words.

Having had to retire from my profedssional work as a translator, my doctor recommended that I write about something that I'm interested in and fairly knowledgabale (sorry!) about as a form of therapy to help restore brain cells and fight depression - and music itself can also be ane effective form of therapy. I'm only glad that other people are interested, even if geographically separated.

Incidentally, it would be nice to have a little more info about who is writing, and from what persective.

I've sent something today about W. F. Bach, and I'm working on something about the B Minor Mass (BWV 232).

Ed Myskowski wrote (November 23, 2010):
Michael Cox wrote:
< Incidentally, it would be nice to have a little more info about who is writing, and from what persective. >
Although it takes a bit of digging, there is plenty of info in the BCW archives.

 

Doubling

Douglas Cowling wrote (December 20, 2010):
Peter Smaill wrote:
< The only parallel from Bach's world I can think of is his very late Passion-Pasticcio based on St Mark's Gospel. Here he places Handel's aria "Wisch ab der Traenen scharfe Lauge" ("wipe away the tears' bitter brine") at the vital penultimate position in the work and in this case Handel sets the soloist in unison with instruments. >
Handel occasionally used solo with instrumental doubling for rather bravura effects. There's the famous aria in "Alcina" in which has an extended da capo aria with only a single line sung by the soprano and doubled by the violins -- no bass or continuo until the coda. If I recall there's also a doubled aria in "La Resurresione."

 

[HANDEL-L] GFH, da capo

Les Robarts wrote (January 19, 2011):
Well, well. So GFH gets it in the neck for all those da capo arias.

I reached for the nearest JSB score on the shelf nearest my computer and grasped hold of Cantatas 140, 141, and 142. A pseudo-random sample, of course, but in these brief works we find one dal segno chorus (Wachet auf), four da capo arias, one dal segno aria and two dal segno duets, and a chorale which includes repeats. Through-composed numbers are very few. [Is there some aural echo of Mercurio's "Sol prova contenti" from Atalanta (composed 1721) and "Mein Freund ist mein", a dal segno duet from Cantata 140 (Wachet auf)? Dean tells us that the Handel motif derives from Telemann. Now, as GFH and Telemann when young sparred with each other, improvising and playing around with each other's ideas, who is to say that anything GFH seems to have 'borrowed' from Telemann originates with Telemann? In literature this sort of reminiscence can be classed as intertextual, whereas in musicology it's a 'borrowing'...]

Should this pattern of da capo arias and duets persist in the rest of JSB's vocal oeuvre, I maintain that JSB too should be hurled from the composers' Olympus. Unless, that is, there is one rule for GFH and another for the rest.

Thank you, David, for the advanced information about your forthcoming book. Looks to be full of good things. I'm already negotiating a loan...

 

Staged Oratorios

Douglas Cowling wrote (November 4, 2011):
Listers with an interest in modern staged productions of Baroque oratorios will enjoy this strangely compelling reworking of Handel's "Messiah" by the Theater an der Wien:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=19ZISWVW60I&feature=related

 

Sacred turned to Profane

Douglas Cowling wrote (January 3, 2012):
I think I'm turning into an 18th century prig.

I was scandalized to hear Handel's "Zadok the Priest" reused in the Met's production of its pseudo-Baroque pastiche, "The Enchanted Island" (close to the end of the clip)
http://video.nytimes.com/video/2012/01/01/arts/100000001256282/metropolitan-pastiche.html

I may send my troops to close the opera house. Or least banish Placido Domingo for impiety.

Kim Patrick Clow wrote (January 3, 2012):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< I think I'm turning into an 18th century prig.
I was scandalized to hear Handel's "Zadok the Priest" reused in the Met's production of its pseudo-Baroque pastiche, "The Enchanted Island" (close to the end of the clip)
http://video.nytimes.com/video/2012/01/01/arts/100000001256282/metropolitan-pastiche.html >
Was great though how they used it.

< I may send my troops to close the opera house. Or least banish Placido Domingo for impiety. >
Just make sure they have passports going through customs, eh? ;)

Ed Myskowski wrote (January 4, 2012):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< I think I'm turning into an 18th century prig. >
That would explain a lot!:)

 

OT: GFH, JSB -- SDG; (Handel, Bach -- Soli Deo Gloria)

Bruce Simonson wrote (March 3, 2012):
I'm lucky to be in the middle of preparing Handel's Messiah for a performance at the end of April. In my studies, I know I came across (somewhere) a version of a conducting score where SDG (Soli Deo Gloria) is placed on the final page.

And there's this: http://www.tutorgig.info/ed/Messiah_(Handel)
(look for the write-up on SDG in the middle of the web page).

I'll post the last page of the Handel's Messiah autograph, downloaded from IMSLP. I can't find SDG on this page of the autograph (maybe someone can point it out to me; I'm surely no expert at these holographs).

An interesting question, for me, is, did Handel really do this, i.e., put SDG and, for example, JJ, in his autographs? Clearly Bach did this, but did Handel?

Neil Mason wrote (March 4, 2012):
[To Bruce Simonson] I seem to recall there are four autograph scores of Messiah.

Kim Patrick Clow wrote (March 4, 2012):
Bruce Simonson wrote:
< (look for the write-up on SDG in the middle of the web page).
I'll post the last page of the Handel's Messiah autograph, downloaded from IMSLP. I can't find SDG on this page of the autograph (maybe someone can point it out to me; I'm surely no expert at these hologr).
An interesting question, for me, is, did Handel really do this, i.e., put SDG and, for example, JJ, in his autographs? Clearly Bach did this, but did Handel? >
More than likely, yes. A lot of baroque composers did that.

Andrew Shryock wrote (March 4, 2012):
[To Bruce Simonson] While I'm unaware of four autograph scores of *Messiah*, the autograph I am familiar with does contain the "S.D.G." inscription. If you're consulting the Chrysander facsimile, which you uploaded and is available through IMSLP, it will appear on p. 260; that is, the final measures of the "Amen" chorus at the conclusion of Part 3. (The facsimile continues to p. 350 with revisions and other material. This may be a cause for confusion.) More
specifically, Handel squeezed in "S.D.G." below the second through fourth bars of the basso continuo line and above the text "Fine dell'oratorio."

Meanwhile, "S.D.G." is a common feature in Handel's oratorio autographs. See, for example, *Jephtha* (1751). I mention *Jephtha* specifically because the Chrysander facsimile is also available on IMSLP. "S.D.G." may
be seen on p. 268.

For additional instances, I recommend consulting Donald Burrows and Martha J. Ronish, *A Catalogue of Handel's Musical Autographs* (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994), which I believe includes this information in the autograph reports.

Hope this helps,

Ed Myskowski wrote (March 4, 2012):
Neil Mason wrote:
< I seem to recall there are four autograph scores of Messiah. >
There is an excellent recording providing all(?) the variants, including clear documentation in the booklet notes:

Handel Messiah, Nicholas McGegan, Harmonia Mundi, 1991.

If I read correctly, Handel put his hand (though not necessarily SDG and/or JJ) to all variants, nine distinct versions.

As Doug frequently reminds us, Handel (perhaps Bach as well?) was the consummate professional musician. What the client pays for, the client gets. JJ? No problem.

Ed Myskowski wrote (March 4, 2012):
Andrew Shryock wrote:
< For additional instances, I recommend consulting Donald Burrows and Martha J. Ronish, *A Catalogue of Handel's Musical Autographs* (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994), which I believe includes this information in the autograph reports. >
Apologies for referencing the 1991 McGegan CD before reading this post.

The recording remains highly recommended, although obviously not authoritative.

Bruce Simonson wrote (March 4, 2012):
Andrew Shryock wrote:
< While I'm unaware of four autograph scores of *Messiah*, the autograph I am familiar with does contain the "S.D.G." inscription. If you're consulting the Chrysander facsimile, which you uploaded and is available through IMSLP, it will appear on p. 260; that is, the final measures of the "Amen" chorus at the conclusion of Part 3. (The facsimile continues to p. 350 with revisions and other material. This may be a cause for confusion.) More specifically, Handel squeezed in "S.D.G." below the second through fourth bars of the basso continuo line and above the text "Fine dell'oratorio." >
Andrew, thank you, why yes, indeed, there it is. On the page I uploaded, I just missed it. It is rather spread out, over 3 measures, below the continuo part, but there it is. Thank you for pointing this out.

Douglas Cowling wrote (March 4, 2012):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
< If I read correctly, Handel put his hand (though not necessarily SDG and/or JJ) to all variants, nine distinct versions. >
If I recall, Handel also added the date as he finished each part of Messiah.Hogwood's biography isn't clear if this was his usual practice, but the chronology of his works is much more settled than Bach's who almost never dated his works.

Ed Myskowski wrote (March 4, 2012):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< If I recall, Handel also added the date as he finished each part of Messiah. Hogwood's biography isn't clear if this was his usual practice, but the chronology of his works is much more settled than Bach's who almost never dated his works. >
This is a fascinating comparison. Is Dougs statement accurate, that Bach almost never dated his works? Perhaps he considered them all works in process, subject to reworking, until prepared for publication?

Bach does seem to have taken special care with the works for publication, which were then dated(?)

If I grasp the performance history of Messiah correctly (from a bit of superficial reading), Handel was pleasantly surprised by the positive reception of the work, indeed, it revitalized his career. He was more than happy to accommodate performance requirements.

Thanks to that, we have the inclusion of the soprano version (by Lorraine Hunt, later Lieberson) of the alto aria <He Was Despised> on the comprehensive 1991 McGegan CD (new to me in 2011).

Bruce Simonson wrote (March 5, 2012):
Bruce Simonson wrote:
<< An interesting question, for me, is, did Handel really do this, i.e., put SDG and, for example, JJ, in his autographs? Clearly Bach did this, but did Handel? >>
Kim Patrick Clow wrote:
< More than likely, yes. A lot of baroque composers did that. >
This SDG question continues to have some traction for me. I am surprised to hear that the practice of putting SDG at the end of an autograph score was not just done by Bach. (Just goes to show there are many things I do not know. Just add this particular factoid to a painfully large (and endlessly expanding) list of my ignorances! :) )

Just curious, does anyone know if this practice with SDG has been researched and documented?

I'd love to get a list of composers who are known to have put SDG on their compositions, and, even better, a list of specific compositions that have this on the autograph score.

Kim Patrick Clow wrote (March 5, 2012):
[To Bruce Simonson] Well, pretty much in all of the circa 1300+ surviving Graupner cantatas have it; I have made a screen-grab of one for you:

From the autograph score of "Sorget nicht für den andern Morgen" GWV 1156/26 (15th Sunday after Trinity, 1726 for 2 flutes, bassoon, strings, SATB, and continuo).
http://i.imgur.com/H8C0l.jpg

 

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