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John Eliot Gardiner & Monteverdi Choir & English Baroque Soloists
Bach Cantatas & Other Vocal Works
General Discussions - Part 9

Continue from Part 8

Radio 3 Bach week and John Eliot Gardiner

John Pike wrote (November 21, 2005):
From 17-25 December, radio 3 will broadcast all Bach's known works. Each day, between 12 and 1.30, Sir John Eliot Gardiner will talk about the cantatas and introduce recordings of them. There is an interview with him in this month's BBC Music Magazine, which makes a very interesting read. He is writing a book about Bach, which he has been working on for several years. It will be partly autobiographical, based on the diary he kept of the Bach Cantata Pilgrimage, but it will also cover a lot of other ground. A lot of it will be speculative, which he admits will be very open to attack by musicologists. He has researched all the scores and original documents relating to Bach to try and form an image of what Bach was really like. I get the impression that it will offer a lot more than what is currently available in the New Bach Reader, the various biographies, Bach Dokumente etc. No doubt much will be speculative but I will be buying it as soon as it comes out.

Martin Bendler wrote (November 21, 2005):
John Pike wrote:
< No doubt much will be speculative but I will be buying it as soon as it comes out. >
That sounds very interesting! Do you have any idea when it will be available? Unfortunatly I´m not able to receive BBC 3 here from Germany.

Iman de Zwarte wrote (November 22, 2005):
Martin Bendler wrote:
"(....) Unfortunatly I´m not able to receive BBC 3 here from Germany."
Are you sure? http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio3/classical/bachindex.shtml
Mark the "radio player" in the right upper corner!

Eric Bergerud wrote (November 22, 2005):
[To Martin Bendler] BBC3 radio is available on the net. Get the details about the Bach Christmas at http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio3/classical/bachindex.shtml . Many notables, including Elvis Costello, will share their insight. (Wonder if Elton John is busy?)

 

Article about Bach in the Guardian

Kirk McElhearn wrote (December 12, 2005):
http://www.guardian.co.uk/arts/bach/story/0,16895,1665209,00.html

The RSS feed info says the following:

As Radio 3 prepares to broadcast Bach's complete works, John Butt examines his life.

No mention of this in the article, but all of you in the UK will have a feast!

Peter Bright wrote (December 12, 2005):
[To Kirk McElhearn] The UK Guardian is a real feast of Bach-related topics today. Thanks to Kirk for pointing out the John Butt link. The full array of links is at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/arts/

Of these, the interview with John Eliot Gardiner was particularly interesting to me, especially his take on interpretations of HIP practice. I have pasted a few sections below:
------------

Gardiner warms to his theme. He will tell you of his analysis of thumb prints on scores to establish whether (as the American academic and performer Joshua Rifkin would have it) there was more than one player to a part. And then there is the matter of ink-drying times.

"There was no blotting paper in those days and each page of ink took 12 to 15 minutes to dry. So he had to keep stopping, sometimes writing himself little mnemonics at the bottom of the page about how particular fugal exposition went on while he took a break. You can see this in the original part books.

"To keep that rhythm of output up for the length that he did was a simply prodigious feat. A lot of it was self-imposed. He could have performed the works of others. That's what most people did. He didn't have to compose pieces of such length and complexity. But it is wonderful music. The cantatas are the heart of him."

He has, he says, a constructive dialogue with two rival conductors who have also embarked on major cantata recording projects - Ton Koopman and Masaaki Suzuki. With Rifkin it's different. "It's difficult to talk to Rifkin because he takes a very entrenched position and there is no dialogue. Actually, it's impossible.

"There are many ways to skin a cat. I'm not rigid in that way at all. You have to make certain decisions, but we're all trying to take on board as much historical information as you can and you come to different conclusions."

He admits his tolerance has its limits. He has recently been listening to many different interpretations of Bach for the Radio 3 marathon and confesses he finds it very difficult to listen to large forces of modern instruments playing the music. "It pomposifies it, if that's the right word. I can't cope with it easily.

"My personal feeling is that it's only in the 21st century that Bach's going to come into a full recognition of this extraordinary - by any standards - breadth of musical creativity and inventiveness.

John Pike wrote (December 13, 2005):
[To Kirk McElhearn] There was a 16 page special in the Guardian G2 section about Bach yesterday, including an interesting article by Prof. John Butt and an interview with Sir John Eliot Gardiner under the heading "Sir John's Passion" (BWV 245). Apparently, JEG's father owned the 1748 Hausmann portrait of Bach until the 1950s. It was sent to the UK by its silesian owner during the war. it is now owned by William H Scheide of Princeton university. There were many things in the interview that I didn't know before and I look forward with special interest to the release of Sir JEG's book on Bach. He says that he has discussed Bach a lot with Koopman and Suzuki in a very amicable way but that he has found it impossible to deal with Joshua Rifkin, since he (JR) has adopted such an entrenched position. Sir John's own research has apparently involved doing fingerprint analysis of parts, with the OVPP theory in mind.

The whole section was most interesting with many of the great and good in British public life trying to elucidate why for them Bach was the greatest of all composers.

Drew Point wrote (December 13, 2005):
Sir John and Bach

[To John Pike] I have always had a lot of respect and admiration for Gardiner's
championing of Baroque music and Bach, but since the Cantatas Pilgrimage my appreciation for his Bachian sensitivity and sensibility has grown exponentially.

There are three DVD sets that have helped in this:

1. Cantatas BWV 179, BWV 199, and BWV 113, all composed for the Eleventh Sunday after Trinity, featuring soprano Magdalena Kozena (brilliant) and tenor Mark Padmore. The performances are ideal, and the accompanying Pilgrimage documentary is great: Amazon.com

2. Christmas Oratorio (BWV 248) (inagurated the Pilgrimage, Dec. 1999, Weimar). As I mentioned in an earlier posting, the two documentaries are great, as is the performance: Amazon.com

3. Bach in Reheasal (Cantata BWV 63, "Christen aetzet diesen Tag"). This provides a lot of insight into Gardiner's approach to conducting and interpreting Bach. Rich, wonderful stuff. Not to mention the wonderful renderings of the first and final movements of BWV 63 -- other prime examples of Bach at his euphoric best): Amazon.com

If you like what you hear in the DVD, you will enjoy the CD recording of this and other Christmas cantatas: Amazon.com

I own these recordings individually, but if you don't have Gardiner's excellent recordings of: Mass in b (BWV 232), Christmas Oratorio (BWV 248), St. Matthew Passion (BWV 244), St. John Passion (BWV 245), they are available (box set) at Berkshire Record Outlet for $45 US: Berkshire Record Outlet

Santu de Silva wrote (December 13, 2005):
Ehre Sei Dir, Gott gesungen [was Re: Sir John and Bach]

I don't know how this happened, but somewhere in the last twenty years or so, choirs and conductors have discovered that it is a lot of fun to perform "Ehre sei dir, Gott, gesungen" from the Christmas Oratorio (BWV 248) not only ridiculously fast, but with a constant accelerando. Okay, I'm as willing as the next guy to have a little fun, but some outfits take this to absurd lengths. I declare this chorus is the very poster child of Things Sung Too Fast!

The first time I heard this chorus sung this way was in a sampler from Gardiner. While it is clear that the choir enjoys singing the number fast - - and I understand that this can be a large factor in how it is sung - - I just don't feel that it is convincing. This is where I feel frustrated at being unable to put my finger on the precise reason for my instinct about this. It is something to do with how I feel music ought to be performed in church; but the churches I grew up attending featured more dignified music than one finds in churches today. Of course, I never attended Bach's church in Bach's time - - none of us have - - and who is to say how fast they sang things there?

Harnoncourt, in constrast, takes the piece at a pace that is positively sedate, almost too slow. (Harnoncourt takes almost a minute and three-quarters longer than Gardiner - Gardiner 6:02, Harnoncourt 7:48. Actually, Gardiner's time includes almost 5 seconds of silence, so it's really 5:58 or so.)

Despite the slower pace of the Harnoncourt, there is absolutely no lack of joyousness in the singing, or the general feeling it conveys to the listener. Is this an example of even how historical performances must take into account the different clock speeds of each generation? Perhaps our descendants can someday appreciate this piece sung twice as fast . . .

Ralf Otto's forces (I'm listening to them now) almost stumble over themselves, trying to out-Gardiner Gardiner's choir, but fail by one second (Gardiner 6:02, Otto 6:03; game, set and match to Gardiner). Christophers clocks in at 6:20. Oh no; Christophers is speeding up . . . the fugal section, with it's infectiously exciting syncopation, seems to encourage speeding up generally.

There's no doubt that this piece brims with joy and delight; the oboes seem to chuckle with humor, egging the chorus on to greater efforts. I can almost imagine Bach suppressing a grin as he directs from the keyboard (is that what he did? Direct from the organ?)

(I'm not expounding a general thesis here, just expressing frustration.)

Archimedes, saying "No Eureka today."

Thomas Braatz wrote (December 14, 2005):
Santu de Silva wrote:
>>I don't know how this happened, but somewhere in the last twenty years or so, choirs and conductors have discovered that it is a lot of fun to perform "Ehre sei dir, Gott, gesungen" from the Christmas Oratorio (BWV 248) not only ridiculously fast, but with a constant accelerando. Okay, I'm as willing as the next guy to have a little fun, but some outfits take this to absurd lengths. I declare this chorus is the very poster child of Things Sung Too Fast! The first time I heard this chorus sung this way was in a sampler from Gardiner....I understand that this can be a large factor in how it is sung - - I just don't feel that it is convincing. This is where I feel frustrated at being unable to put my finger on the precise reason for my instinct about this. It is something to do with how I feel music ought to be performed in church; but the churches I grew up attending featured more dignified music than one finds in churches today.<<
You are not alone in making this observation:
Gardiner's performance is "ridiculously fast, absurd." We concur entirely that this type of performance is not the type that Bach would have allowed under his direction. For confirmation of this, conductors, performers, and supporters of this type of 'lite' entertainment for performances of Bach's sacred music, should read and reread carefully how Johann Mattheson, an all-around composer and performer, describes the differences in the composing and performing styles of church vs. courtly vs. opera music. This information was presented on the BCML only a few months ago and comes as close as we possibly can to understanding how Bach's sacred music was most likely performed under Bach's direction. The evidence concerning the steadily increasing (with a few exceptions here and there) tempi with which Bach's sacred works are being performed over the last 40 years has been under discussion on the BCML for almost a half decade. The increase in tempi cannot be denied, but certainly the reasons for following this course rest upon personal decisions by the conductors who may be following a trend which will soon reach, if it has not already, a point where serious listeners will begin to realize just how much of the music they are missing when such overly fast tempi are used.

Drew Point wrote (December 14, 2005):
[To Thomas Braatz] Brisk though Gardiner's interpretation may be, what seems most "absurd" to me is the attempt to be dogmatic about what Bach would or would not have allowed under his direction.

Juozas Rimas wrote (December 14, 2005):
John Pike wrote:
< There was a 16 page special in the Guardian G2 section about Bach yesterday, including an interesting article by Prof. John Butt >
I had great difficulty in trying to get what prof. Butt wanted to say by

"The Musical Offering and The Art of Fugue <...> It would be unfair to suggest that these pieces are really of no value in performance <...>".

It could be said about some very late and short cannons but about these two works?..

John Pike wrote (December 14, 2005):
[To Drew Point] I agree, Drew, and I beg to differ about the terms used to describe Gardiner's performance. I find his account of this one of the most thrilling in his account of the XO (BWV 248), and it doesn't seem in the least bit too fast to me.

On the DVD of the BWV 199, BWV 179, and BWV 113 concert in St Davids, which includes a 1 hour guide to the BCP, Gardiner talks about his style of performance and approach to Bach, and use of faster tempi. He talks about why and how he rebelled against the very serious approach of earlier people. As many on these lists will know, I have long found Gardiner's style thrilling and I can't see anything in the least bit inappropriate about playing some of the numbers like dances, when the music seems to suggest (to me at any rate) that that is the kind of music it is. When the music is clearly very serious, Gardiner's approach is as serious as anyone else, if not more so, and I have already shown recently how his performance of one particularly serious movement was slower than any of the "competition". All this talk of speeds, and lengths of performances is of very limited help in establishing the quality of performance or appeal. As Uri recently commented, he found HarChristophers/The 16 performance of "Jesu bleibet" sounded slower than Gardiner, even though it is actually faster, due to different phrasing etc.

Thomas Braatz wrote (December 14, 2005):
Drew Point wrote:
>>Brisk though Gardiner's interpretation may be, what seems most "absurd" to me is the attempt to be dogmatic about what Bach would or would not have allowed under his direction.<<
Bien au contraire, it appears to be evidence of a HIP dogmatism and extreme egocentrism on the part of the conductor, both of which will not allow important historical documents from Bach's time (in this case Mattheson) to be taken seriously at full value when they do have something important and specific to say about performance practices as they must have existed in Leipzig in the 1720s and 1730s.

BTW, "brisk" is a politically correct code word that HIP strategists intentionally use in an attempt to enforce a semantic change which they hope will mislead unwary listenters into thinking and believing that certain HIP performances are not really 'too fast.'

Thomas Braatz wrote (December 14, 2005):
Juozas Rimas wrote:
>>I had great difficulty in trying to get what prof. Butt wanted to say by: "The Musical Offering and The Art of Fugue <...> It would be unfair to suggest that these pieces are really of no value in performance <...>".<<
It is not uncommon that this type of double negative is deemed acceptable in standard English and may be interpreted as follows:

>>It would be acceptable to suggest that these pieces do rather have some value in performance.<<
A pseudo double negative becomes a positive with a qualification usually meaning "it is rather/quite (but not entirely) the case that...."

John Butt, imho, is arguing in favor of publically performing these pieces which are normally considered rather academic by many musicians, listeners and critics. His statement qualifies his positive attitude toward these pieces by letting the reader know that he is also aware of their theoretical nature which he believes should not disqualify (here is another one!) them from being used in public performances.

Is there anyone else who has more to add on this matter or who wishes to correct my interpretation?

Drew Point wrote (December 14, 2005):
[To Thomas Braatz] Ah. You've done it - you've unveiled our conspiracy!

Yes. "Brisk" is our strategic code word and Gardiner and Alessandrini, our honourable leaders (long may they live!), are the heads of our world-wide organization called - you guessed it - "HIP" (Hypersonic Imperialist Posthaste), bent on the conquest of the musical sensibilities of unwary listeners.

We will have to think up another code word. Some possibilities: animate, buoyant, dynamic, ebullient, elated, energetic, enthusiastic, excited, fervent, passionate, peppy, snappy, spirited, sprightly, vibrant, vigorous, vital, vitalized, vivacious, vivid, zestful, zingy, or zippy.

BTW, how many bpm's does Mattheson indicate that church music was played at? Did he happen to take a metronome reading during the performance of any of Bach's cantatas?

Juozas Rimas wrote (December 14, 2005):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< John Butt, imho, is arguing in favor of publically performing these pieces which are normally considered rather academic by many musicians, listeners and critics. His statement qualifies his positive attitude toward these pieces by letting the reader know that he >
Thanks for the explanation! I had a wrong idea that he saw little value in the performances of AoF/MO which contrasted with his generally positive attitude toward Bach's music.

Juozas Rimas wrote (December 14, 2005):
Drew Point wrote:
< BTW, how many bpm's does Mattheson indicate that church music was played at? Did he happen to take a metronome reading during the performance of any of Bach's cantatas? >
Gardiner himself speaks in the article about the almost forensic research of fingerprints on the scores which is as interesting as any other insightful research of the past. I couldn't find Mattheson's arguments for the tempos by searching back a bit through this forum but it's by all means interesting.

Of course, any of the findings is not mandatory. We all know the old story about Rachmaninov stating that Horowitz knows how to play the 2nd concerto better than the composer. But historical findings give us more options: if there were no reasearch, we wouldn't have Gardiner and would have to content ourselves with big orchestras playing Bach Karajan-style.

As far as "Ehre Sei Dir" is concerned, Gardiner's choir is SO GOOD that he is capable of maintaining the speed. A mediocre choir would turn into a mess at that speed but Gardiner's choir is not mediocre. A skilled driver may take liberty to drive very fast on a road where others should keep it cool.

Bradley Lehman wrote (December 14, 2005):
MO and KdF in public

>>I had great difficulty in trying to get what prof. Butt wanted to say by: "The Musical Offering and The Art of Fugue <...> It would be unfair to suggest that these pieces are really of no value in performance
<...>".<<
<
John Butt, imho, is arguing in favor of publically performing these pieces which are normally considered rather academic by many musicians, listeners and critics. His statement qualifies his positive attitude toward these pieces by letting the reader know that he is also aware of their theoretical nature which he believes should not disqualify (here is another one!) them from being used in public performances. >
These pieces are marvelous in concert or chamber performance, even if some listeners/critics/performers would have preconceptions about being only theoretical or speculative pieces of music, or only for private study.

Personally I believe that all of Bach's music is intended for performance, and reveals itself mainly through sound. Anything not in the resulting sound isn't the music. The paper score is only an intermediate step leading to the sound, showing the hands-on playing process. People may analyze these or other works as much as they want to, for their own amusement, but it all comes down to the sound and the emotional/spiritual effects the music has on performers and listeners, in that sound; and to human hands producing those sounds on the same acoustic instruments Bach knew and wrote for.

Any "theoretical nature" is interesting/useful (to me, anyway) only insofar as it helps performers to do their jobs in the best possible ways. And "academic" to me means "informed", "serious about the venture", and "better than merely competent" -- that is, taking the music with full dedication and the whole range of practice and study, bringing one's complete person to the work, and taking seriously the other people who have done the same as practitioners. It's the opposite of something like "desktop speculation" which is just an idle brain exercise and having nothing to do with actual practice.

That is, this is hands-on music, to be experienced most directly through the hands (and not merely the brain and ears and soul, which are also crucially important).

Along with the WTC, KdF and MO are some of the most difficult pieces in the harpsichord literature, due to Bach's complexities of counterpoint and fingering and tuning. Therefore they are also especially rewarding to play accurately, having worked through their challenges. It all makes perfect sense, if one has worked hard enough--exactly what Bach said was necessary to play and understand his music.

IMO this is one of the most direct and intimate ways to get to know Bach's art: by playing these compositions directly on harpsichord (and clavichord and organ and fortepiano), for an audience and for oneself. This was one of my personal life goals, and strongest reasons to go to graduate school in this (goals set many years ago):
specifically to learn how to play these compositions well, for my edification and enjoyment and to have them in my active repertoire. All of KdF, and the MO's two ricercars and a selection of its canons. Having doso, I continue to be overwhelmed by these wonderful compositions. There is always something new in them.

Another good exercise is to write out the MO's modulation canon entirely by hand, preparing a performing edition in the same way a Bach student would have had to do if attempting this piece: to see how the melodic parts move through the various keys and enharmonic switches, until getting back to the starting key (and an octave
higher) after six repetitions. This short composition uses all 12 minor scales, in doing so, and demonstrates the different sound of each.

One of my recordings to be released within this month has excerpts from both MO and KdF: the modulation canon of MO (played on both harpsichord and organ) and Contrapunctus 3 of KdF (on harpsichord). Details: http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bpl/larips/cd1003.html

Thomas Braatz wrote (December 14, 2005):
Juozas Rimas wrote:
>>As far as "Ehre Sei Dir" is concerned, Gardiner's choir is SO GOOD that he is capable of maintaining the speed. A mediocre choir would turn into a mess at that speed but Gardiner's choir is not mediocre. A skilled driver may take liberty to drive very fast on a road where others should keep it cool.<<
Just because a choir can sing very fast does not mean that it is appropriate musically to employ such a technique while disregarding what we do know about Bach's very probable manner of performing this composition. One thing that is completely forgotten in this discussion is that the music is wedded to this particular text. Without even having to refer to Mattheson's comments, a reasonable, sensible conductor who is honestly attempting to convey the true meaning of the words being sung would not even consider such an extremely fast tempo just to 'show off' the choir's abilities. The question now becomes "How do I (we-the choir) appropriately express the feelings of praise and gratitude to God for the concern he has shown mankind? How do I (we) express what great pleasure I have experienced in having received such a great blessing from God?" Certainly not by racing through this text in this fashion and only lightly (partial or full sotto voce) hitting all the notes precisely and missing thereby the true import of the text which is being glossed over here in favor of a single general emotion of a thrilling carnival ride!

Lex Schelvis wrote (December 15, 2005):
<>

Juan Carlos Herrera wrote (December 15, 2005):
[To Thomas Braatz] I can not be more in agreement with what Mr.Thomas Braatz has expressed.

Some people forget that the musical score is primarily an expression of the world of emotions and feelings of the composer. Musical comprehension consists in being able to catch this world. Once this is done, the speed, phrasing, dynmics, etc, of the music come by themself. Fortunalely you do not need to be a profesional musician to appreciate this art and what it expresses. You just need an adequate quote of sensibility and even (I would say at a certain risk), of common sense.

The way Bach´s music is played by many present conductors and ensembles ( childish to say the least, with excuses for children), simply shows that they have not reached an adequate level of musical comprehension or maturity, even if they have impressive marks in curriculae, academia, contracts, pilgrimages, market, titles, etc,etc. As conductors seem to be the all powerfull factor in group music in the present world, dominated by economics, they became dictators: the market sky rocket them, and they, at their turn, feed back the market, and the spyral goes on and on . In the world of musical bussiness, nobody seems to have an opposite or at variance view from those of the conductor; or probably nobody is allowed to have it. The victims: the young, naive or untrained listener who believes that what he/she hears is "the music". To those people I would say :

""Oh freunde, ˇ Nicht diese Töne !", do not accept just like that those modern taumaturgs and their interpretation of Bach; if you are really keen and have a feeling for music, make a little bit of research, not academic, but practical; get other versions of the works, mainly those before 1970. Read the texts of soloists and choros and see if the music, as it is being played, accords with the spirit of the words. If you have some training in musical notation and solfeo, get the scores of your preferred works and see whether what is played match to what Bach wrote. And very important, if you do not agree with or find offensive the way such and such interpreter or conductor plays Bach, blow the whistle, make other people to know your wiews. In this way you will be hepfull in re-stablish the true values of inmortal Bach´s music, and take it off the hands of those who seems to act only in terms of their personal regard or profit."

J.S.Bach is one of the most precious treasures we have. His care and proper preservation is in direct relation to the well-being of man´s spirit.

Jack Botelho wrote (December 15, 2005):
[To Thomas Braatz] Time and time again, I must send a note of appreciation for discussions which merge historically informed performance with 'good taste'.

Zev Bechler wrote (December 15, 2005):
[To Bradley Lehman] Quite so. Which reminded me of the Brookshire grand project - is it still in statu nascendi ?

Drew Point wrote (December 15, 2005):
Juan Carlos Herrera wrote:
< The way Bach´s music is played by many present conductors and ensembles ( childish to say the least, with excuses for children), simply shows that they have not reached an adequate level of musical comprehension or maturity, even if they have impressive marks in curriculae, academia, contracts, pilgrimages, market, titles, etc,etc. >
< [G]et other versions of the works, mainly those before 1970. >
Those were the halcyon days, eh?!? Then the d*#n HIPpies came along - that whole counterpoint-culture thing (Bach is "sensual"?!? BLASPHEMY!!!) - and screwed things up!

One would figure that Gardiner, having grown up under the gaze of Haussmann portrait, would have more clairvoyance into the spirit of Bach!

P.S. Humour aside, I do agree that . . .
< J.S.Bach is one of the most precious treasures we have. His care and proper preservation is in direct relation to the well-being of man's spirit. >
It's just that we have different ideas about what "proper preservation" means. I say the HIPpies are right: Let Bach DANCE!

Neil Mason wrote (December 15, 2005):
[To Thomas Braatz] Ah, now I see; the text is paramount.

But how do you explain the same music written to both sacred and secular texts? This is especially relevant to the Christmas Oratorio (BWV 248), much of which was a reworking of previously composed secular cantatas.

Neil Mason wrote (December 15, 2005):
[To Thomas Braatz] I find the constant repetition of this really tiresome.

Sure, I understand that you don't like quick or dance-like tempos, but your rationalisations for your personal likes and dislikes fail to convince me.

I hereby state that I do like them, whether or not you or somebody else writing in the 18th century agrees.

Juozas Rimas wrote (December 15, 2005):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< abilities. The question now becomes "How do I (we-the choir) appropriately express the feelings of praise and gratitude to God for the concern he has shown mankind? How do I (we) express what great pleasure I have experienced in having received such a great blessing from God?" >
I've read the translation of the text which seems quite ordinary, in essence, "Glory to you, God". It doesn't mention any grave concepts such as crucifixion or sorrow, therefore I don't think that Gardiner's tempo contradicts with the very idea of the text. The composition resembles a bit the "Gloria in excelsis Deo" from the B Minor Mass that I have heard several times performed at a tempo comparable to Gardiner's in the chorus in question (I can't remember whether it was Solti's or Gardiner's recording now). May glorification not be fast-paced and explosive?

Your underlying point of missing the clear picture of music (hithe notes only lightly) is very acceptable to me. I'll re-listen the Gardiner's "Ehre Sei Dir" to check my current impression of it. I was happy with it during my first listens of the Gardiner's rendition of the oratorio (BWV 248) - I liked how he carried over the energy of the first chorus of the oratorio to certain other choruses who serve as introduction to the cantatas that the oratorio consists of. Those intro choruses seemed linked by their exhuberance as if being variations on one theme. So I'll check the Gardiner's "Ehre Sei Dir" once again to see if the skill of the choir was not enough to maintain the details.

I have listened to Harnoncourt's slower version and it sounds fine at that tempo too! The choir is poorer and less solid, though. Could anyone recommend a slow version of the said work performed by a truly solid choir? Koopman's perhaps?

John Pike wrote (December 15, 2005):
[To Drew Point] Very well said, Drew!

Tom Dent wrote (December 15, 2005):
[To Juozas Rimas] De gustibus non est disputandum, I suppose. But there are some objective points which have not been fully explored.

First the tempo marking 'Vivace'. Does this mean 'fast' or 'faster than you would otherwise think'? Or 'more strongly accented' or 'more strongly articulated' as I have occasionally read?

Simultaneously we know the usual quotation about Bach's tempo 'which he usually took very brisk' (what is the German word here)? This may have some degree of 'fast'... but it is not a synonym. What can one bring to music to make it specifically 'brisk'? Apart from sheer pace: precisely the type and degree of accentuation and articulation.

[It may be interesting to note Beecham's explanation of why people thought he conducted faster. Not because his tempos were quicker, but because his phrasing and accentuation were different. This is difficult to put into words, but I can try as follows: identify the main accent in each musical idea and avoid other unnecessary emphases which would distract from the flow of energy towards or away from the main stress. If Harnoncourt is successful at slower tempo, this may be one reason.]

We also note the interesting variety of articulations written by Bach in the string parts (mostly in the later reaches of the chorus) - sometimes slurred two by two, sometimes longer slurs and staccatos; and the variety of accents and articulations implied by the word-setting, which is sometimes melismatic and sometimes note-for-note, and sometimes even written-out staccato (as in the basses). So I think one ought check whether the tempo is consistent with this variety of accent and articulation being audibly realized. [N.B. 'audible' does not mean 'obvious'!]

Both slow and fast tempos bring risks. In slow tempo there is the risk that the accentuation may become too heavy on the weak parts of the bar and impede the flow from one main accent to another. In fast tempo there are risks that the performers focus on presenting the notes within a given time and do not give the variety of accents and articulations its due. For example, in the passages of 16th-notes for the violins it is necessary that the first note of a bar should be played marginally longer and stronger than other notes, which is more difficult - but not impossible! - in faster tempo. Or, there are vocal phrases which end on the first 8th note of a bar ('...sei dir bereit'), so it is necessary to deliver an appropriate accent and pronounce the consonant and articulate the next phrase all within half a beat.

I don't think tempo by itself is so important, but it can have a major effect on whether the expression of the music is fully realized both in details and as a whole, and on what the performers have to do to achieve this.

P.S. if this chorus is identified as a 'dance' : what dance exactly? Surely nothing but a Polonaise - which is always to be played at a moderate tempo!

Donald Satz wrote (December 15, 2005):
[To Thomas Braatz] God is fast!

Thomas Braatz wrote (December 15, 2005):
Neil Mason wrote:
>>I hereby state that I do like them, whether or not you or somebody else writing in the 18th century agrees.<<
At least we all know where you clearly stand. These are personal preferences on your part which have little or nothing to do with the historical record which can shed light on these matters.

>>Ah, now I see; the text is paramount. But how do you explain the same music written to both sacred and secular texts? This is especially relevant to the Christmas Oratorio (BWV 248), much of which was a reworking of previously composed secular cantatas.<<
Text is certainly important in this instance! This particular movement under discussion was never considered a parody by any Bach scholar. It is an entirely original composition based upon a new text. The NBA KB II/6 p. 203 explains that based upon the fact that autograph of this composition has many more corrections than the other 'reworked' parodies in the Weihnachtsoratorium which have very few if any errors (clean copies). Also, no one has ever found any evidence of any earlier version where essentially the same music may have been used.

Juan Carlos Herrera wrote (December 15, 2005):
[To John Pike] "To dance or not to dance" seems to be the issue and I think it is the wrong one. When Bach ask us to dancet, we gladly obbey. And this, IMO is not necesarilly connected with faster tempos.

That Bach is sensual ? ˇˇˇof course he is !!! and I am not making any scandal about it. He is everything that a normal human being is capable of. All sentiments and moods have a place in his music.

The real issue is the recognition of all those moods and the capability of the performers to comunicate them.

Santu De Silva wrote (December 15, 2005):
Juozas Rimas writes:
<<< As far as "Ehre Sei Dir" is concerned, Gardiner's choir is SO GOOD that he is capable of maintaining the speed. A mediocre choir would turn into a mess at that speed but Gardiner's choir is not mediocre. A skilled driver may take liberty to drive very fast on a road where others should keep it cool.
>>>
I have to agree with the first sentence of this remarkable statement; yes, Gardiner's super-choir is indeed that good. I should probably add that I own a copy of their Weihnachtsoratorium recording, and do play it now and again. But there's something repugnant about the statement that the music should be sung one way by amateurs, and another way by the professionals, or however you want to put it!

Santu De Silva wrote (December 15, 2005):
Drew Point writes:
< It's just that we have different ideas about what "proper preservation" means. I say the HIPpies are right: Let Bach DANCE! >
I have absolutely no objection to letting Bach dance. None, whatever; it's just that all dances don't have to be tarantellas, do they? There is more to making music dance than speeding it up. Nor do I ask that music be played at a funereal, slow tempo. The proper word is moderation, and we must find a way of talking about moderation (and talking moderately) on this list, where it is easier to attract attention to one's post by espousing an extreme position, or advocating an extreme performance style! I'm not accusing those who happen to take extreme positions as doing so simply to invite responses; the moderate among us seem to get overlooked, that's all. (I did remark that Harnoncourt's performance of Ehre Sei was a little too slow, did I not? Still, it did dance. Listen to it yourself, and decide!)

John Pike wrote (December 15, 2005):
[To Juan Carlos Herrera] I'm not saying that everything bach wrote needs to be a dance, even less a jig, but I do think that there are times when the feel of the music is most certainly of a dance and I think JEG and some others are quite correct to respond with more of a dance-like feel to the performance.

Thomas Braatz wrote (December 15, 2005):
Tom Dent wrote:
>>First the tempo marking 'Vivace'. Does this mean 'fast' or 'faster> than you would otherwise think'? Or 'more strongly accented' or 'more strongly articulated' as I have occasionally read? Simultaneously we know theusual quotation about Bach's tempo 'which he usually took very brisk' (what is the German word here)? This may have some degree of 'fast'... but it is not a synonym.<<
The Weihnachts-Oratorium, BWV 248/43, has Bach's designation of 'Vivace' written out at the beginning of the mvt. Walther, in his musical dictionary, defines "Vivace"
in German as "lebhafft" ["lively"].
Bach's obituary (probably written mainly by CPE Bach) describes Bach's demeanor/temperament as being "ernsthaft" ["serious"] and the quotation about his style of conducting reads:
"Im Dirigiren war er sehr accurat, und im Zeitmaaße, welches er gemeiniglich sehr lebhaft nahm, überaus sicher." ["He was very precise in directing {a musical group} and in the measurement/regulation of time (referring to rhythmic beating, literally, the 'measurement of time'/'division of time' which is not specifically or only a question of how fast a piece should be played or sung} which he generally took at a very lively pace."]

'lebhaft' = old and modern meanings: lively, animated, bouyant, enthusiastic

The word 'lebhaft' seems to be used in contrast with or a qualification of the earlier statement about Bach's generally serious temperament. It would appear that when conducting/performing a special animation/liveliness was noticeable. I do not see how this can be construed as meaning that Bach 'generally performed his music at fast tempi, faster than anyone else.' The spiritual animation inherent in Bach's music can be brought out by present performers without indulging in faster and faster tempi which cannot do justice to the music as Bach conceived and performed it.

It is also ridiculous to define Gardiner's performance of this mvt. as 'brisk' = (lively, energetic) when, in reality, it is 'extremely fast'. Gardiner is not following Bach's indication of 'vivace' nor is he emulating Bach's style of performance 'lebhaft' = 'lively'.

Donald Satz wrote (December 15, 2005):
[To Juozas Rimas] Once again, Thomas is up to his old ways of complete rigidity, finding some avenue he can take to ridicule performance styles that he does not appreciate. For the record, I do not find the tempos he detests to be too fast, and there is not any good evidence to support Thomas' claims.

As is usual, the effectiveness of a fast or slow tempo depends on the performers.

 

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Last update: ýMay 31, 2010 ý01:13:28