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Bach’s Pupils
Discussions - Part 1

Paolo Cavatini

Rob Potharst wrote (February 25, 2004):
Has anyone heard anything about Bach's pupil Paolo Cavatini? There is a dramatic story about him in Esther Meynell's Little Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach, but I don't know whether that story was made up by Meynell or not. He was supposed to be a genius, lived for a while in Bach's household, and died in Bach's arms. Bach's comment at his grave (according to Meynell): "I'm afraid we lost a Scarlatti with him".

Just curious whether there is some truth in this story. There is nothing about him in my Oxford Composer Companion of Bach. And he is not listed in the index to The New Bach Reader.

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (February 25, 2004):
[To Rob Potharst] I never heard of him. I never even heard of an Italian student of Sebastian Bach. Are you sure about it being Sebastian Bach that was his teacher and not Christian Bach (who had gone to Italy for some time in his career).

 

Bach's Actual and Potential "Supernumerarii" in Leipzig

Thomas Braatz wrote (September 11, 2006):
Aryeh Oron has kindly formatted for presentation on the BCW a list of names which I culled from the Bach-Dokumente. These individuals with whom Bach came into contract and upon whose musical capabilities he passed judgment during his Leipzig tenure include those pupils/students who are:

1. officially listed as being enrolled as Thomaner (either as "Interni" or "Externi")
2. officially enrolled at the University of Leipzig
3. Bach's private music students

The above categories are not mutually exclusive and there is still much to be learned about Bach's "supernumerarii" [the latter term was used by Bach's predecessor Johann Kuhnau to describe his 'free-floating' pool of singers and instrumentalists from which he could draw musical forces to complement his otherwise insufficiently staffed Thomanerchor which was often lacking in numbers to present figural music properly in the Leipzig churches].

Since the actual years of attendance at the Thomasschule and/or Leipzig University are indicated here, it will be possible to pinpoint more precisely just who was avaiable to Bach from outside of the Thomasschule at which point in time.

There is no evidence that these "supernumerarii" were in any way organized as a special group. When their talents were deemed sufficiently good in Bach's estimation, they seemed to welcome the opportunity to perform in the already existing musical groups [Thomanerchor, Collegium musicum] where the best music was being performed and where there was the hope or possibility that they might receive some remuneration for their efforts (perhaps even a good recommendation from Bach when they were applying for position as organist or cantor).

Any suggestions, corrections, or additions are welcome and should be sent to Aryeh Oron, webmaster of the BCW.

URL: http://bach-cantatas.com/Other/Thoman-List.htm

Douglas Cowling wrote (September 11, 2006):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< There is no evidence that these "supernumerarii" were in any way organized as a special group. When their talents were deemed sufficiently good in Bach's estimation, they seemed to welcome the opportunity to perform in the already existing musical groups [Thomanerchor, Collegium musicum] where the best music was being performed and where there was the hope or possibility that they might receive some remuneration for their efforts (perhaps even a good recommendation from Bach when they were applying for position as organist or cantor). >
Thanks for this resource, but I'm not convinced by your conclusions. I don't believe that good will, personal piety or even admiration for the music of Bach would have provided a volunteer body with adequate musical ability to perform such demanding works in such a demanding weekly schedule.

From the late middle ages onward, polyphonic and concerted music was performed either by paid preofessionals contracted for the work or by people (i.e. Clergy and schoolboys) who were obligated by their position to perform. There was no such thing as a volunteer choir

Even today, the best choirs are paid. The choir from Trinity Church, Wall Street, which sang so superbly yesterday at the Spet 11 memorial service, is a fully professional choir which sings on Sundays at the church and has its own concert season. Bach presided over a large musical bureaucracy which was minutely regulated by statute. It is impossible to believe that this important component reduced him to cajoling and recruiting volunteers. He simply didn't have the time.

It seems that in this case, we do not have adequate documentary evidence to make any conclusions. As a historical possibility, an undocumented adjuventen guild is attractive. A volunteer choir is an historical and musical impossibility.

Thomas Braatz wrote (September 11, 2006):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
>>There was no such thing as a volunteer choir<<
The situation in Leipzig may have been rather unique. Also, the Thomanerchor was by its nature and name not a volunteer choir. The problem with the "supernumerarii" is well-documented in Kuhnau's complaints about losing them to the opera (which still existed during Kuhnau's tenure), and to new musical groups being formed by the likes of Telemann and Heinichen. Just as Kuhnau attempted to plead with the city council for more reliable financial support for his "supernumerarii", Bach likewise documents this complaint in the Entwurff with his comment: "You can't expect these (non-Thomaner) musicians [not referring to the city pipers and violinist(s) already supported by the city] to work for nothing."

DC: >>Even today, the best choirs are paid."
It is a fallacy to think that because there is an established tradition that can be documented up to the present time that no exceptions have ever occurred due to a set of unique circumstances.

Personally, I believe that Bach did find ways to pay his supernumerarii from other funds/income which he had at his disposal or through private gifts from wealthy patrons who did not insist on having these gifts made public or accounted for on paper receipts which we might still be able to view today.

>>Bach presided over a large musical bureaucracy which was minutely regulated by statute. It is impossible to believe that this important component reduced him to cajoling and recruiting volunteers. He simply didn't have the time."
Nor did Kuhnau and yet we have documents directed to the Leipzig city council by both Kuhnau and Bach detailing how figural music in the churches of Leipzig was nearing a state of collapse or at least mediocrity, a state not befitting a city like Leipzig which attracted visitors from far and wide because of the Leipzig Fairs.

>>It seems that in this case, we do not have adequate documentary evidence to make any conclusions.<<
There is sufficient documentary evidence to make a reasonable assumption that the situation was just as Kuhnau and Bach described it.

>>As a historical possibility, an undocumented adjuventen guild is attractive.<<
How could such a guild have been kept a secret, when we even have numerous, contemporaneous records from small very towns and villages of such guilds, but not even a scrap of evidence or hint that such an organization ever existed in Leipzig?

>>A volunteer choir is an historical and musical impossibility.<<
Again, we are not speaking of an entire volunteer choi. The Thomanerchor setup supplied mainly the boys that sang treble and alto parts extremely well (sight-reading and musicality [proficiency, technique] were a requirement). Mainly tenors and almost certainly basses had to come "from the outside". The instrumentalists not covered by the city pipers and paid violinist(s) came as well from this 'free-floating', unorganized pool of students who were mainly from the university but some of whom were studying music privately with Bach. There are reasonable ways to imagine just how Bach was able to attract and hold on to these important musical assistants who figured prominently in his church music performances.

Tom Hens wrote (September 14, 2006):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
<snip>
< Personally, I believe that Bach did find ways to pay his supernumerarii from other funds/income which he had at his disposal or through private gifts from wealthy patrons who did not insist on having these gifts made public or accounted for on paper receipts which we might still be able to view today. >

Sorry, but to me that seems like a very long-winded way of saying: I can't offer a shred of evidence.

<snip>
< How could such a guild have been kept a secret, when we even have numerous, contemporaneous records from small very towns and villages of such guilds, but not even a scrap of evidence or hint that such an organization ever existed in
Leipzig? >
What if it existed, but its existence wasn't accounted for on paper documents which we might still be able to view today? (Yes, I'm being sarcastic.)

There is an odd dichotomy to your reasoning on this and many other historical issues.

On the one hand, you insist on proper documentary evidence for historical claims, you provide a great deal of it yourself, and you're extremely good at digging it up (for which we owe you many thanks). Actually, you're so in love with documents that you have a tendency to assume that just because an opinion was put in writing by someone (that someone very often being Matheson), it must reflect the opinions of everyone else at the time.

But on the other hand, when you can't find any evidence for a pet idea of yours, you switch to this "oh, it must have been like that, but all documents have been lost" approach -- which allows anyone to claim anything without the possibility of contradiction. It's of course completely impossible to disprove that Bach had access to secret funding from unknown wealthy patrons who didn't want their identity known for mysterious reasons. It also isn't up to anyone else to disprove it, it's up to you to prove it, or at least make it seem plausible.

Thomas Braatz wrote (September 14, 2006):
I had originally stated:
>>Personally, I believe that Bach did find ways to pay his supernumerarii from other funds/income which he had at his disposal or through private gifts from wealthy patrons who did not insist on having these gifts made public or accounted for on paper receipts which we might still be able to view today.<<
Tom Hens wrote:
>>Sorry, but to me that seems like a very long-winded way of saying: I can't offer a shred of evidence.<<
I thought my statement made it amply clear for most readers that I was only offering a personal opinion and that I was only attempting to suggest some other reasonable possibilities to consider in the absence of any hard evidence.

My original question was:
>>How could such a guild have been kept a secret, when we even have numerous, contemporaneous records from small very towns and villages of such guilds, but not even a scrap of evidence or hint that such an organization ever existed in Leipzig?<<
Tom Hens question was:
>>What if it existed, but its existence wasn't accounted for on paper documents which we might still be able to view today? (Yes, I'm being sarcastic.)
My response: I believe my question is a reasonable one to pose in this instance with respect to the "Adjuvantenchöre"-issue which was examined in detail not too long ago.

Tom Hens: >>Actually, you're so in love with documents that you have a tendency to assume that just because an opinion was put in writing by someone (that someone very often being Matheson), it must reflect the opinions of everyone else at the time.<<
There are some important things to remember about Mattheson:

Mattheson became, in a sense, the center of the maelstrom of discussions among composers and musicians regarding many aspects of music in Germany in the first half of the 18th century. His excellent background as a practicing musician (vocal and instrumental) and composer of some note together with his numerous contacts personal and by written communication with the greatest German composers of his day places him in a position to speak for the others from whom we have generally much less or very little that would shed light on their ideas and practices. The fact that Mattheson quotes at length from books written by other qualified musicians/composers who represent opposing ideas to the thought-provoking challenges which Mattheson offers allows the reader to experience both sides of the musical issues that were facing musicians at the beginning of the 18th century.

You speak as if there other writers of Mattheson's caliber who were active in Germany in the formative first quarter of the 18th century. Please name some of these that you have in mind and if possible give some examples of the opinions they have expressed as they relate to the performance of Bach's music or as they contradict what Mattheson had presented in his books.

Tom Hens: >>But on the other hand, when you can't find any evidence for a pet idea of yours, you switch to this "oh, it must have been like that, but all documents have been lost" approach -- which allows anyone to claim anything without the possibility of contradiction. It's of course completely impossible to disprove that Bach had access to secret funding from unknown wealthy patrons who didn't want their identity known for mysterious reasons. It also isn't up to anyone else to disprove it, it's up to you to prove it, or at least make it seem plausible.<<
When the available evidence has been examined, then I see nothing wrong in offering reasonable speculations which might help to fill in the missing gaps. I believe any careful reader would be aware of just where the evidence stops and the speculation begins. It is not a question of asking anyone else to disprove speculative ideas, but simply to contemplate a reasonable possibilities, just as Doug Cowling has requested every reader to consider that the "Adjuvanten" guild/organization must have existed in Leipzig during Bach's tenure even though not a single shred of evidence can be offered to substantiate this notion. I, personally, consider the existence of such an independent choral organization, even operating clandestinely, as very improbable and unreasonable, while the other notion which I suggest involves Bach being resourceful enough to find numerous ways to entice independent singers/players (ages 21-30) to perform his figural music in church. Using my imagination, I only suggested very few, but I am certain there must have been other methods at Bach's disposal: the force of his personality, his fame, his larger-than-life musical abilities, his written recommendations and his promises to obtain public monies for his performers (even though he rarely succeeded in obtaining such funds directly as documented in the church accounting records).

Rick Canyon wrote (September 14, 2006):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< Aryeh Oron has kindly formatted for presentation on the BCW a list of names which I culled from the Bach-Dokumente. These individuals with whom Bach came into contract and upon whose musical capabilities he passed judgment during his Leipzig tenure include those pupils/students who are:
1. officiallisted as being enrolled as Thomaner (either as "Interni" or "Externi")
2. officially enrolled at the University of
Leipzig
3. Bach's private music students >
My thanks to Thomas for this information.

It appears that even today, the Thomanerchor remains somewhat unique in that the tenor and bass are sung by boys (I must say, however, that, unless I am in a derogatory mood, I would be reluctant to refer to 17/18/19 yearolds as boys). While there may well be other choirs doing something similar, this practice seems well outside the boychoir norm.

I note that the Vienna Boychoir has the Chorus Viennensis for bass/tenor support when necessary, which is probably along the lines of the adjuventen Doug Cowling writes about. But, the TC comes across as having traditionally used only Thomasschule students (I'm more than willing to stand corrected on this point). Which leads me to believe that Thomas may be right that there was no adjuventen in Leipzig.(btw, what is the proper translation of adjuventen? 'Juventen' seems to imply youth, but I'm unsure how the 'ad' modifies the word)

Where I have misgivings, it is with the notion that Bach had 30 yearold Thomaners to work with. Does this mean then, for example, that these 21-30 yearolds were living in the same small cubicles as the rest of the TC? None of these people were married? I continue to understand that one had to be an alumni of the school--meaning also 'living' at the school--in order to sing in the TC (externi seem to be allowed only as emergency replacements--and never for the First Choir).

Douglas Cowling wrote (September 14, 2006):
Canyon Rick wrote:
< It appears that even today, the Thomanerchor remains somewhat unique in that the tenor and bass are sung by boys (I must say, however, that, unless I am in a derogatory mood, I would be reluctant to refer to 17/18/19 yearolds as boys). While there may well be other choirs doing something similar, this practice seems well outside the boychoir norm.
I note that the Vienna Boychoir has the Chorus Viennensis for bass/tenor support when necessary, which is probably along the lines of the adjuventen Doug Cowling writes about. But, the TC comes across as having traditionally used only Thomasschule students (I'm more than willing to stand corrected on this point). Which leads me to believe that Thomas may be right that there was no adjuventen in
Leipzig.(btw, what is the proper translation of adjuventen? 'Juventen' seems to imply youth, but I'm unsure how the 'ad' modifies the word) >
The major point here is that there is no such thing as a volunteer choir singing concerted music in the 18th century. People sang because they were paid or because they were obliged by statute (i.e. Students or clergy). Bach did not spend his time trying to recruit volunteers to sing in an extremely demanding program -- no cantor or Kappellmeister did that. We may not have documentary evidence of how the adult singers were provided and regulated, but it is wrong to project the way in which modern volunteer church choirs or community musical groups operate back into Bach's time.

"Adjuvantem" comes from the Latin for "assistant".

Douglas Cowling wrote (September 14, 2006):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< The old over-romanticized notions of whipping things up on a Saturday, with a largish choir of volunteers and hangers-on (like some modern models), doesn't take the reality of 18th century music business into account. It was a milieu of administrative detail, careful planning, and business obligations. Such things can't be thrown together very well without sufficient support, financial and otherwise. >
I don't think we can underestimate the "business" side of church music. Elaborate church music has always been part of a larger propaganda program than mere faith or popular devotion. The great choral masterworks of the 16th - 18th century were in the service of the state. The Chapel Royal in England, the Court Chapel of Bavaria, St. Mark's, Venice and the Sistine Chapel were all part of programmes to demonstrate the magnificence and power of the state. Magnificence certainly excited devotion, but it also excited awe and respect.

The recent scholarship on the politics of Leipzig in the time of Bach shows that the city had made an ideological and economic commitment to a very high standard of music-making because of the importance of Leipzig in the Saxon state. Yes, the music was written to glorify God, but it was also intended as political statement: Leipzig is second only to Dresden.

Bach was a civil servant and he expected the city to support financially and socially the work of this propaganda program: just look at the magnificence of the cantatas written for the inauguration of the City Council. As a bureaucrat, Bach had to ensure that the machinery of music-making was adequately planned and funded. And it was a big operation with four venues, dozens of personnel and substantial budgets. This is no volunteer village choir -- this is a municipal Department of Music.

We rarely approach Bach's sacred music from this business, bureaucratic perspective because it offends our Romantic notions of the Great Composer. Take for example patterns of composition.

Much is made of the fact that Mozart did not compose church music after he left Salzburg and this is because he had a crisis of faith or became an agnostic freemason. The answer is much less exciting. Mozart chose to make his career in the secular concert world and so all his commissions were for concert music. No one paid him to write church music so he didn't write any church music. Interestingly, in 1791, he decided to apply to be kappell meister in St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna. He asked his friends to send him copies of his Salzburg church music while at the same time writing what would have been a blockbuster return to the busness of church of music, the Requiem. It's much more dramatic to have the dying composer writing a Requiem, but it was clearly part of his program to reappear on the church music scene.

In the case of Bach, there has been much speculation over why he stopped writing cantatas. A crisis of faith? A protest to the municipal philistines? More likely, he arrived in Leipzig with a plan for elaborate concerted music and embarked on a five year program to write a corpus of works which would become the fiundation of the repertoire. Having completed this repertoire, he simply stopped writing cantatas because he now had sufficient "product" in his artistic warehouse.

And now for one last kick at the men singers question. There was no place for dependency on volunteer goodwill or popular devotion to provide singers for Bach -- that's a 19th century Romantic notion. Bach had a business to run and his singers must have been regulated and compensated for their work. How they were organized and where the funding came from may sadly be lost to us, but somewhere in Bach's office -- head office for the Leipzig Mininstry of Music -- there was a schedule and budget report for his singers.

Bradley Lehman wrote (September 14, 2006):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< The major point here is that there is no such thing as a volunteer choir singing concerted music in the 18th century. People sang because they were paid or because they were obliged by statute (i.e. Students or clergy). Bach did not spend his time trying to recruit volunteers to sing in an extremely demanding program -- no cantor or Kappellmeister did that. We may not have documentary evidence of how the adult singers were provided and regulated, but it is wrong to project the way in which modern volunteer church choirs or community musical groups operate back into Bach's time. >
I haven't been following this thread very closely, and I only see bits and pieces of it anyway (since by my choice--programming of my e-mail software--some list postings go straight to a separfolder that I don't look at).

I'll just say that I agree entirely with the above quoted paragraph, as to the historical perspective, to the best of my knowledge. Not a volunteer group, in the modern sense of begging parishioners and people outside the congregation to come help pitch in, all for free. The music was hard work, and it was remunerated either directly or through other services of exchange.

And, I believe that there is documentary evidence (though I don't have it organized at hand at the moment) that the secondary students and university students did their musical duties there at the Thomaskirche et al, because they were required to. Either (1) by their program of study or (2) their financial assistance (stipend) that allowed them to attend school at all, or both (1) and (2). Anybody not in the academic programs would have been compensated in some other way, obviously. This music was not free, except of course for people showing up to church to hear it. For the participants it was hard work, and compensated at salary or side fees or academic requirement or stipend.

Musical apprenticeship, journeymanship, and similar training were a serious business (and a trade/craft), not just some batch of volunteers showing up to sing and play things out of the goodness of their hearts. They may have had goodness of their hearts additionally, or done some of the music in part to nourish their own souls or whatnot; but that's beside the point, and can't be documented either! The decisions as to who's allowed to participate were by skill levels and obligations, not by who begs to love the music the most.

A corollary to all this, of course, is that the ensembles were small and highly skilled...and given sufficient time to prepare a presentable product. The old over-romanticized notions of whipping things up on a Saturday, with a largish choir of volunteers and hangers-on (like some modern models), doesn't take the reality of 18th century music business into account. It was a milieu of administrative detail, careful planning, and business obligations. Such things can't be thrown together very well without sufficient support, financial and otherwise. That's one thing that does remain true, through to today. The musicians have to be granted the preparation time, and remuneration, to do a properly dedicated job at it...especially the music is as difficult as Bach's regularly is.

Rick Canyon wrote (September 14, 2006):
Canyon Rick wrote:
<< But, the TC comes across as having traditionally used only Thomasschule students >>
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< The major point here is that there is no such thing as a volunteer choir singing concerted music in the 18th century. >
But, I come back to the point that TC singers--regardless of age, apparently--were alumni of the Thomasschule which meant tuition, board, meals were paid for...and First Choir members were also paid (probably well paid) NOT to participate in the Streetsinging, which seems to have been a lucrative activity.

Singing in the TC back then does not seem to be a voluntary choice. One sang in exchange for the above and perhaps even some other monetary tidbits. And since only Thomasschule alumni could sing--I believe this was one of Bach's 'givens'--there would be no place for volunteers or outside singing groups to participate. Not in the churches, anyway. Perhaps at Zimmermann's, however...

Where I give pause is the 21-30 yearold Thomaners. But, apparently, this was so. Which makes me think that the resourceful, administrative Bach found a way to get adult singers into the TC.

Bradley Lehman wrote (September 14, 2006):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< In the case of Bach, there has been much speculation over why he stopped writing cantatas. A crisis of faith? A protest to the municipal philistines? More likely, he arrived in Leipzig with a plan for elaborate concerted music and embarked on a five year program to write a corpus of works which would become the foundation of the repertoire. Having completed this repertoire, he simply stopped writing cantatas because he now had sufficient "product" in his artistic warehouse. >
Good points all: plus it's a mountain of work. Why overwork at making things perpetually new, when something tried-and-true can be reused with less work expended?

I used to set myself the discipline of composing something every day, or every two days at worst, to get a large bunch of ideas out there and to work on my technique...and to have a sizeable body of music that I can reuse for the rest of my life. Worked fine and I still dip into it regularly when I need something "new". It tapered off because I already had a lot of it filed away, and because I've become lazy at that discipline, and because all manner of other work crowds it out. This week I needed a new piece for something, and I reached first for an oldie where we could simply change the words and be done. But my colleague on it wasn't happy with the concept of reuse for this particular occasion (reusing anything made it somehow not seem special enough), so I became convinced to whip up two new ones instead, and now we can choose whichever of those two will get the job done best. Straightforward practicality. I'll still reuse them again somewhere else, maybe sometime. What, they want it in a different key? I wrote the second one out again last night, and changed some of its details in the process, the piece always being improved. All of this seems natural to me. Value isn't inherent on how few or how many times a particular idea has been used before; it's inherent in how well the delivered work suits the requirements of the new task.

< And now for one last kick at the men singers question. There was no place for dependency on volunteer goodwill or popular devotion to provide singers for Bach -- that's a 19th century Romantic notion. Bach had a business to run and his singers must have been regulated and compensated for their work. >
Plain as day, to me.

< How they were organized and where the funding came from may sadly be lost to us, but somewhere in Bach's office -- head office for the Leipzig Ministry of Music -- there was a schedule and budget report for his singers. >
Hey, my own receipts for musical services rendered, both in and out of my pocket, hardly exist beyond a year or two (if they even survive that long). And as is obvious: the fact that a receipt no longer exists is neither proof that the payment didn't happen or that it did happen. Or, proof the that performance itself happened or didn't!

Simple three-valued logic on which straightforward reasoning may be based (but only so far as yes/no questions can be settled definitely...!), and people use such three-valued logic every day but not in that particular context. Drive along a winding road. Is there a car coming the other way, around the corner where there's no visibility? Can't say yes or no. Better not cross the double yellow line, just in case the unknown answer (unknowable till we get there) might be yes!

Douglas Cowling wrote (September 14, 2006):
Canyon Rick wrote:
< Singing in the TC back then does not seem to be a voluntary choice. One sang in exchange for the above and perhaps even some other monetary tidbits. And since only homasschule alumni could sing--I believe this was one of Bach's 'givens'--there would be no place for volunteers or outside singing groups to participate. Not in the churches, anyway. Perhaps at Zimmermann's, however...
Where I give pause is the 21-30 yearold Thomaners. But, apparently, this was so. Which makes me think that the resourceful, administrative Bach found a way to get adult singers into the TC. >
I would be surprised if Bachıs tenors or basses came from the Thomas students. Given that the boysı voices changed as late as 18, we can know that the resident boys provided the sopranos and altos. However, as youıve said, it doesnıt appear that students in their 20ııs were at the school: those men would have been at the university. If there wasnıt a self-governing ³adjuventum² guild of singers, my guess is that Bach had a budget to hia specific number of singers in order to mount his musical program. These positions were probably a well-known feature of the Leipzig musical bureaucracy. In a large urban university town, there would have been many talented musicians (many of them probably Thomaner graduates) who would apply to be auditioned by Bach. In fact, given Bachıs compelling genius, there may well have been students who came to Leipzig specifically to apply for one of these positions and work with Bach.

This is comparable to the system used today by Kingıs College Cambridge. The boys of the choir audition for a place in the choir school < many of them have been in other schools working their way up to this level. They then get a first rate general education and an opportunity to work with the finest musicians in the world. The tenors and basses of the choir are students in Cambridge Universoty who are enrolled in every sort of professional programme. They have all been choirboys and are first-rate musicians < the Kingıs Singers are all graduates. The college funds a certain number of choral scholarships and, when there is an opening, the competition is fierce to fill them. The choirmaster of Kingıs literally has the cream of Britainıs singers at his disposal.

Having a consistent, professional body of singers who are contracted to sing daily means that the Kingıs College Cambridge is capable of mounting a choral repertoire which is beyond the ability of most professional choirs let alone the whimsical, unpredictable world of modern volunteer choirs.

Bachıs system must have been comparable.

Bradley Lehman wrote (September 14, 2006):
Rick Canyon wrote:
< Singing in the TC back then does not seem to be a voluntary choice. One sang in exchange for the above and perhaps even some other monetary tidbits. >
We also have no proof that any particular cantata didn't involve five, eight, eleven different singers--all working as soloists--even though there are only four notated parts, and even though modern practice is to hire only four singers. Joe, Jack, Fred, and Barney, you sing movement 1 and you're the so-called "chorus". We'll rehearse that on the days the trumpet players can get here. Make sure you work out the spots especially where the word underlay is tricky. Ted, you take recitative 1 and aria 1, go work those out with Sam on keyboard. Pete can join you with his oboe on your Tuesday and Thursday rehearsals of it. Mike and Dave, you have the duet. Jack, don't forget, you've also got a recit and aria here. Then I've assigned Joe, Ted, Mike, and Barney to sing the final chorale. Dave, when you're not singing I need you to play Violin II. Sam will be busy with Ted and with the movement 1 folks, so we'll have Paul be the continuo guy for the second half of the cantata. Go talk to Emanuel over there to get the harpsichord retuned, because yesterday's humidity has ruined the top half. Then he'll check in on Sam's room to make sure that one doesn't need it too. I want to hear all of you bring your parts in for lessons, because we've only got three weeks left and there's going to be a special dignitary there that Sunday. Sam, I want you to bring your continuo parts in because there are a couple of tricky harmonies I need to show you from the full score. Barney, did your throat get better since Wednesday? I need to make sure you're up for this or I'll have to bring in Frank for at least the first movement. The two of you should both go work on the part, just in case: study it together. I want Frank to be ready as your understudy. But in that case, I would have to move Todd into Frank's violin part, and Todd is still having trouble with dotted rhythms. OK, you all have your assignments, go.

Douglas Cowling wrote (September 14, 2006):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< OK, you all have your assignments, go. >
That's Choir 1. OK, Fritz, what's happening with the Lassus motet in Choir II?

Bradley Lehman wrote (September 14, 2006):
[To Douglas Cowling] Charlie was having trouble playing the parts in yesterday's rehearsal, because all that chromatic stuff in there is especially hard. Plus his harpsichord needs a look because of a sticking key and yesterday's humidity, please send Emanuel around to that one too. You might have to look at that sticking key yourself, as it seems worse than just a hanging plectrum. Oh, James was having trouble with his throat too, and Tommy and Lou didn't study their parts carefully. Do I have your permission to send Phil down to choir 3 or 4? He's a disruptive twerp. I'm getting afraid we might have to put off the Lassus to a different week, and maybe try a Lotti or something instead, but those are kind of hard too.

Fritz

Douglas Cowling wrote (September 15, 2006):
[To Bradley Lehman] Fritz, get the harpsichord maker in right away. If he can't fix it, you can move the school harpsichord to the loft. I dont have time to worry about these details. And Phil stays where he is: I've told you all there's no downward dumping of students. If there's a discipline problem, YOU'RE the prefect -- deal with it.

Georg, Choir III is coming along nicely. It's a good crop this September.

A reminder to you all that there are 5 openings this fall for three basses and two tenors. I want you all there for the Michelmas auditions. The letters of applicatiion are on my desk: make sure you've looked at them and made a list of the audtion pieces. Divide up the accompaniments among the four of you.

And I need to see your schedules for the three weeks I'm away at that organ inauguration.

JSB

Thomas Braatz wrote (September 15, 2006):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
>>The major point here is that there is no such thing as a volunteer choir singing concerted music in the 18th century.<<
The major point here is that the Thomanerchor was an established church/school organization consisting of the best boy singers and sometimes instrumentalists (selected personally by Bach) who were officially enrolled as Interni and that the Externi as well as University of Leipzig students, quite a few of whom had graduated from the Thomasschule, were not necessarily under the same obligation to participate in the primary choir designated to sing figural music in the main churches. The latter individuals were such excellently trained musicians that they were free to choose to participate or not when asked by Bach (or Kuhnau, his predecessor) to assist in the performances. These supernumerarii were not organized in any kind of group or guild in Leipzig and were capable of assessing their options which included, for instance with Kuhnau, singing or playing in the Leipzig opera where they could earn more money than performing under Kuhnau who complained to the city authorities that he was losing his best singers and players to outside organizations (the opera, which was shut down by the time Bach became Thomaskantor, independent groups like the Collegium musicum established by Telemann which consisted entirely of university students and to which many key musicians who had been performing Kuhnau's music went because they were inspired by the young Telemann and preferred performing under him instead of under the aging, sickly Kuhnau.) To make matters even worse, Kuhnau's pupil, J.F. Fasch established a second Collegium musicum (taken over by Melchior Hoffmann when Fasch left). These organizations were more attractive to these students perhaps based upon the music performed, the enthusiastic composers/conductors in, and most likely better compensation (along with free beverages (and food?) at the coffee house after each performance.

Both Kuhnau and Bach had difficulties contending with this type of competition as is reflected in their well-documented, forcefully argued pleas to the city council for more money to pay the supernumerarii, otherwise their best musical organization (Thomanerchor) would suffer a great loss and be reduced to mediocrity. Bach is recorded somewhere commenting (rather compassionately except for the fact that they wouldd now be singing operatic ditties instead of his own music) on the loss of two good singers (supernumerarii) who were considering moving to Dresden to become performers in the opera there. The attractions were much better pay and possible fame as opera singers. Bach's poignant plea in the famous Entwurff (1730) addressed to the city council should be reread carefully. Bach attempts to describe the dire circumstances facing the primary choral/instrumental organization on the verge of collapse, one which was being insufficiently funded and hence in great danger of losing some of its best, most experienced musicians to other musical organizations. These supernumerarii are not Adjuvantenchöre whose main purpose as a group abiding by the statutes upon which they had agreed was to assist the existing church boys' choirs in presenting figural music, mainly in the small towns and villages.

DC: >>We may not have documentary evidence of how the adult singers were provided and regulated<<
The evidence is recorded in the church accounting books. See, for instance, the entry on Altnickol which states precisely why he was being paid along with an accompanying note from the church authorities directing Bach to make certain that such requests for payment should be made well in advance of the actual payment. [It would appear from this that long-range planning involving his supernumerarii was extremely difficult because they had the freedom to choose where they wanted to perform and that their switching away from assisting the Thomanchor was always a circumstance that Bach was forced to contend with.

Thomas Braatz wrote (September 15, 2006):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
>>A reminder to you all that there are 5 openings this fall for three basses and two tenors. I want you all there for the Michelmas auditions. The letters of applicatiion are on my desk: make sure you've looked at them and made a list of the audtion pieces. Divide up the accompaniments among the four of you.<<
Letter of Recommendation by Bach, Leipzig, May 9, 1729:

"Johann Christoph Schmied, 19 years of age has a good tenor voice and sightreads everything perfectly"

An audition for Bach meant having the student sightread the music, not having him laboriously prepare a piece over many weeks. This is a clear indication that Bach placed great value on having singers who were prepared to sing Bach's figural music upon rather short notice with a one rehearsal Saturday afternoon at vespers before the actual two performances in both churches the next morning.

Attempting to project today's circumstances upon Bach's own is a futile undertaking because it confuses two distinct cultural environments that existed centuries apart from each other. To determine more accurately what Bach might have experienced, it is much more important to immerse oneself in Bach's situation as far as that is possible by studying the evidence that has come down to us rather than basing such imagination of his circumstances upon organizational methods and other factors which influence musical decision-making today.

Raymond Joly wrote (September 15, 2006):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
"[...] we have documents directed to the Leipzig city council by both Kuhnau and Bach detailing how figural music in the churches of Leipzig was nearing a state of collapse or at least mediocrity, a state not befitting a city like Leipzig which attracted visitors from far and wide because of the Leipzig Fairs."
This we should keep in mind when we are tempted to indulge in wishful thinking and imagine a performance of a cantata by Bach under his own direction in the Thomaskirche must have been an occurrence of unblemished perfection. Paradise IS lost.

Douglas Cowling wrote (September 15, 2006):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< An audition for Bach meant having the student sightread the music, not having him laboriously prepare a piece over many weeks. This is a clear indication that Bach placed great value on having singers who were prepared to sing Bach's figural music upon rather short notice with a one rehearsal Saturday afternoon at vespers before the actual two performances in both churches the next morning. >
Nope --- it doesn;t mean that at all, nor does it shed any light on the actual auditon process. If anything, the commendation of the singer makes special mention of his sight-reading ability as something unsual and worthy of note. There are plenty of proficient sight-readers out there who are lousy musicians.

By the way, do you know what Vespers is? It's a church service not a rehearsal.

Thomas Braatz wrote (September 15, 2006):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
>>There are plenty of proficient sight-readers out there who are lousy musicians.<<
In German: "er singt vom Blatt" means proficient in singing all the notes correctly, but Bach added another important word "fertig" which implies that the singer not only reads the notes correctly or proficiently, but that he can also do this is such a manner that it sounds like the finished product which includes all the other aspects of musicality that the "lousy musicians" that you refer to are lacking.

>>By the way, do you know what Vespers is? It's a church service not a rehearsal.<<
Yes, as I have explained before, but which you seemed to have missed: The Saturday-afternoon Vespers was the most poorly attended church service of the entire week, the few church-goers consisting mainly of only a few women. It also included more time than usual for extended private prayers during which the rehearsal, which was more like a first read-through of the new cantata, would allow the performers to become familiar with the music. It should be amazing to anyone not familiar with Bach's score-to-copy-to-rehearsal-to-Sunday-morning-performances process that despite his usual, rather thorough scrutiny of the copied parts, there is no evidence that any corrections were made during rehearsal or after the rehearsal before the main performances of the cantata. This is a mystery that needs to be solved. The singers and players never ever made any corrections or additions whatsoever to the parts they used in performance, nor did Bach go back to the parts after a rehearsal or performance and correct some obvious mistakes (mistakes not in the score but in the parts). In a number of instances the editors of the NBA have pointed out this quite puzzling situation but have offered no speculation as to why this is so. Any ideas?

Julian Mincham wrote (September 15, 2006):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< Having completed this repertoire, he simply stopped writing cantatas because he now had sufficient "product" in his artistic warehouse. >
If he wrote five full cycles as stated in the Obituary he would certainly have had sufficient repertoire to perform each cantata only 4 times in the last 20 years of his life-1730-50.

However he didn't stop writing cantatas completely. He composed around 30 (that still exist) from 1730 onwards, including a dozen more chorale fantasia cantatas and others for various occasions. And these are the extant ones. If 100 have gone missing from the five cycles, how many of these later works may also have been lost?

Certainly his production dropped from one a week to maybe two a year in the last 20 years of his life--not a complete cessation though.

Bradley Lehman wrote (September 15, 2006):
sight-reading (was drifting "Supernumer" speculation)

Good sight-reading ability isn't fundamentally a performance skill. It's rather a learning skill: the ability to comprehend one's part efficiently and independently, during the preparation process before or between rehearsals. It's an ability not to waste an inordinate amount of group rehearsal or coaching time, to get the obvious elementary errors fixed.

The harder the music, the more confident and skilled the sight-reading needs to be, before or between rehearsals; not saying anything one way or another about sight-reading during actual performance. [With which I'm well familiar, too, being a strong sight-reader for more than 35 years, and occasionally having to do it totally cold during church services....]

None of this distinction of course makes a practical whit of difference, to those who cling to the romanticized fiction of brats somehow sight-reading Bach's concerted music better than modern professionals can do with days of serious preparation. That bizarre speculation always trumps reasonable practice, and knowledge of feasibility through actually doing this music. It makes no practical sense to me, but apparently it never goes away either. It looks to me like merely a made-up excuse to assassinate professional musicians and our
reputations, in public.

=====

There are some practical and musical drawbacks to being a strong sight-reader. Among them:

- Too much reliance on it, instead of learning better fingerings or phrasings through more careful and detailed study (some of which is best done away from the instrument!).

- With wind instruments or singing, it is rarely obvious on first pass where the optimal spots for breathing are. If a piece has been sight-read a few times, bad habits are quickly learned, and less easily unlearned when the piece is worked on more seriously later (for any technical issues).

- A tendency to judge some pieces as easier (or less substantial) than they really are, if the first or second pass through sight-reading them reveals no obvious problems...leading to superficial or inconsequential interpretations.

- Conversely, a tendency to judge some other pieces as more difficult than they really are, merely because they're harder to sight-read.

- A tendency to under-rehearse, or to refuse to rehearse at all, again because the music seems little problematic.

- A tendency to learn music only by seeing a score, instead of by listening closely to details or picking it up by rote.

- A tendency toward inflexibility, not accepting or understanding ideas (or musical content!) that don't appear on the easily sight-readable page. Style gets disregarded, because it goes beyond the notes, and the notes seem too obvious and easy.

- It can too easily take the place of thinking, or even paying attention to the music as it's happening. When the hands or voice automatically do what the page says, and the mind wanders elsewhere meanwhile, the music suffers even though the notes are still being rendered "correctly".

- A tendency to fall into generic patterns, instead of noticing distinctions. Patterns are good, but only insofar as they lead to coherent groupings, and not merely automatic responses.

- A tendency not to improvise enough, or to perform enough by memory, because that sight-readable page offers security that can turn into a permanent crutch.

These are not arguments against the skill of sight-reading. It's still better to be able to sight-read well, than not to! I'm simply fleshing out my remark above that it's not necessarily a useful performance skill, but rather a learning skill.

Music is a language. Some of the process here is akin to reading a paragraph of words silently, in some language, in preparation to declaim it aloud on a stage. One might be able to grasp the sense of the paragraph, and some concept of every word, instantly if one's knowledge of the language is fluent enough; that's a sight-reading skill. But, that doesn't mean one can automatically also pronounce everything with the proper accent or sense, or an optimal hierarchy of emphasis, at first sight. That's a separate performance skill, and a separate requirement. And, if one's sense of each word goes automatically (thoughtlessly) to some default meaning, prima vista, some other usage or sense of the passage might well be missed because the sight-reading process was too easy/fluent. A slower study of the material can lead to firmer retention and better comprehension.

Continue of this part of the discussion, see: Sight-Reading [General Topics]

Bradley Lehman wrote (September 15, 2006):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< An audition for Bach meant having the student sightread the music, not having him laboriously prepare a piece over many weeks. This is a clear indication that Bach placed great value on having singers who were prepared to sing Bach's figural music upon rather short notice with a one rehearsal Saturday afternoon at vespers before the actual two performances in both churches the next morning. >
Well, that's a string of speculative fiction after speculative fiction. I'd take issue with the verifiable factual content of every clause of it (i.e. it's not verifiable factual content)! With some astounding but unprovable omniscience somehow informing it, that paragraph tells us:

- what Bach allegedly did and did not do ("proving" a negative...),

- what Bach allegedly did and did not require ("proving" a negative...),

- Bach's alleged motivations for such a program,

- Bach's alleged judgments of value,

- Bach's allegedly "short notice" schedule (unproven speculation),

- Bach's alleged (yet wildly impractical) disinclination to rehearse difficult new music thoroughly with his musicians in private.

All of which, at every clause, makes my critical reading skill pop up red flags of disbelief: how does the writer "know" any of this?! And:

- Why does it contradict feasible musical practice, at such a wildly skewed angle?

- Why does it build a picture of Bach's character that should get Bach fired for administrative incompetence, as to placing undue stress on his colleagues and students?

- Why would such a fictitious Bach allow his students to rehearse only in public, during church services, expecting them to learn new music during these performance situations instead of sensibly off-balcony?

- What if the music "crashed and burned" horribly during such a reading? How could it be salvaged, even with a brilliant director who happenedto have written it?

- Regularly disastrous performances would result from a practice of merely sight-performing material that is too difficult, instead of working on it seriously within the reasonable abilities of each participant. Why would Bach or his employers put up with such a situation for several years, let alone 28?

- Why would this Bach go to the trouble of pre-printing libretti for anything, if the music itself were merely going to be thrown together in one last-day public rehearsal?

- Why would this fictitious Bach character disallow students from "laboriously" preparing their work across a reasonable time period? It was his very job as their educator to teach them how to do so!

There are other problems with that quoted two-sentence thesis, as well.

Looking back only at the writing style, for the moment: the sentence starting with "This is a clear indication..." is just a long run-on, and the longer it runs on the less it proves its own coherence. It's a 44-word string in search of a firm and well-prepared conclusion. I can barely get through it in a single breath, attempting to read it aloud.

Looking at the thing from the viewpoint of elementary logic: the first sentence ("An audition for Bach...") is an unsupported axiom. The second sentence ("This is a clear indication...") then can only be an indication (clear or otherwise!) to serve readers who happen to agree with the assertions of the axiom. Are there any? What, if anything, has convinced them?

=====

Another response to it was as follows:
< Nope --- it doesn't mean that at all, nor does it shed any light on the actual audition process. If anything, the commenof the singer makes special mention of his sight-reading ability as something unusual and worthy of note. There are plenty of proficient sight-readers out there who are lousy musicians.
By the way, do you know what Vespers is? It's a church service not a rehearsal. >

Well said, sensibly and concisely.

 

Continue on Part 2

Bach's Pupils: List of Bach's Pupils | Actual and Potential Non-Thomaner Singers and Players who participated in Bach’s Figural Music in Leipzig
Discussions: Bach’s Pupils:
Part 1 | Part 2

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