Recordings/Discussions
Background Information
Performer Bios

Poet/Composer Bios

Additional Information

Conductors of Vocal Works: A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z | Singers & Instrumentalists

Nikolaus Harnoncourt & Concentus Musicus Wien

Gustav Leonhardt & Leonhardt-Consort

Bach Cantatas & Other Vocal Works

General Discussions - Part 2

Continue from Part 1

Harnoncourt/Leonhardt Complete Cantatas at Berkshire

John Thomas wrote (April 24, 2001):
I haven't seen mention here that the Teldec recordings of the Complete Bach Cantatas, conducted by N. Harnoncourt and G. Leonhardt, are now on sale at Berkshire Record Outlet http://www.broinc.com/ for $299 + shipping. Berkshire's shipping cost would be very high for destinations outside the US. I'm not sure if these were the first complete set of recordings of the cantatas, but I do believe they were the first complete HIP set. I'm personally not very fond of these interpretations, but others hold them in high regard. For those on the North American continent who've always wanted the complete set, this is a price not likely to be bettered.

Michael Butera wrote (April 24, 2001):
(To John Thomas) Actually John, $299 is still too steep for me (a soon-to-graduate undergrad not exactly rolling in the dough). While $299 is certainly a good price, I got the Leusink set for $114US from Zweitausendeins (http://www.zweitausendeins.de/) in Germany. I know that many have leveled rather harsh criticism at this set, but these discs, along with a copy of Unger's interlinear translations from our music library, have allowed me to follow the weekly cantata discussions. For me, the Leusink performances range from not-so-great to excellent, much like I would imagine any set would run. I have also been purchasing the Suzuki discs on BIS as they have come out--13 volumes thus far. Anyway, I post this merely as a suggestion for those who have to watch their pennies but would also like a complete set of the cantatas.

Thanks for the original post John. The Berkshire site is fabulous and full of wonderful bargains.

Charles Framcis wrote (April 24, 2001):
(To Michael Butera) For those in Europe, Zweitausendeins also has the complete Harnoncourt/Leonhard cantatas for 600 DM, which is similar order to Berkshire. If only Teldec would match the Leusink price, I'm sure many collectors would snap them up, if only to have a third complete set.

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (April 25, 2001):
(To Charles Francis) What is the third complete set? How much of the Suzuki is on the 13 vols.? Or are you referring to something else? After c.12 years of coveting this set, at that price I could not resist any longer. If only in America Berkshire had had the complete Leusink which I enjoyed very much (the 1/2 of the set I got). Later on I will finally make arrangements for getting the rest from zweitausendeins. Right now the bank has really been broken.

I needed to extinguish my covetousness which is, after all, a sin.

Charles Francis wrote (April 25, 2001):
(To Yoël L. Arbeitman) The first to completely record the cantates was, I believe, Rilling,
followed by Harnoncourt, but since last year we also have Leusink.

As to covetousness, some ten years ago I decided to go for a complete cantata set and the choice was either Harnoncourt or Rilling. In those days the CD’s were top price, which at European prices meant about 20 USD per CD. Well I decided for Rilling and with 67 CDs in the old Rilling set, you can calculate the cost. Today, for the price you can probably buy the entire BACH 2000 edition including the Rilling Cantates (packed onto 60 CD’s) AND everything else Bach wrote!

Philip Peters wrote (April 26, 2001):
(To Yoël L. Arbeitman) LOL... the third complete series is Rilling´s on Hännsler.


The first Leonhardt/Harnoncourt HIP record

Bradly Lehman wrote (June 19, 2001):
Uniting several threads here, I'll recommend the very first record that Leonhardt and Harnoncourt ever did on period instruments and in HIP style. There are parts of it that are heartbreakingly beautiful. Alfred Deller sings the Bach cantatas BWV 170 and BWV 54 and the Agnus Dei of the B minor mass (BWV 232). Michel Piguet plays oboe. Leonhardt's on organ, and Harnoncourt is one of the six string players.

On LP it's Vanguard 550, recorded May 1954. On CD it's 8106, volume 7 of the Alfred Deller Edition.

It's one of my favorite Bach records ever, of anything.


Harnoncourt

Francine wrote (June 20, 2001):
I read that Harnoncourt considers himself to be a "romantic." He hates the word 'authenticity' and says that he does not plan to play 'museum' pieces. Interesting from a period performance icon. I have his VHS of the Brandenburgs, and it's lovely to watch. Both Alice and Nikolaus own VERY expensive originals, the former violin, the latter viola da gamba with an arresting carved head on top of Harnoncourt's instrument.

Bradley Lehman wrote (June 20, 2001):
[To Francine] You'd enjoy reading his books. There's one called Baroque Music Today: Music as Speech and another that focuses mostly on Monteverdi and Mozart.

Harnoncourt expresses himself in strong language sometimes! It's vivid and intense, like his conducting.

Here's an excerpt:

"Naive faith in progress remains very widespread, even among people who ought to have some understanding of the history of interpretation. This lack of comprehension probably has to do with their reluctance to recognize the full significance of the price that must be paid for each improvement. Viewed in historical terms, the defects to be eliminated were, after all, only apparent defects. The composer inevitably thinks in the sounds of his own age, not in terms of some future utopia. It is clear that the historical instrumentarium has a key position in interpretation. The advantages and disadvantages, special features with regard to sound, sound blend, dynamics and, last but not least, intonation must be studied. But before we opt for a completely "historical" kind of performance, we must ask whether our choice is based on characteristics other than the instrument's original advantages and defects: characteristics which it possesses only at a different time, namely the present: for example, it does not sound like what we are used to, but has a strange, rather "exotic" tone color. Since there is no unbroken tradition of playing, whe have no idea how the instrument was really played. It is rare that a musician today can completely identify with the sound of these instruments. Sometimes he can render the tonal and technical potential even better with his modern instrument than with an authentic old instrument with which he has not "bonded" musically. In this very complex matter, we must decide each case separately by asking whether the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.

"Take another example: the violin bow. The bow created by Tourte at the end of the 18th Century produced an equally strong tone along its entire length. Further an almost inaudible bow change can be executed almost completely masking the difference between upbow and downbow. In addition, the violinist can play extremely loudly with this bow, while the bouncing bow technique sounds hard and drum-like. These qualities, which make it ideal for rendering the "broad sound surfaces" of music after 1800, must be paid for by the loss of many other qualities. With such a bow it is very difficult to create an elastic, bell-shaped tone, to shorten a tone so that it does not sound chopped off, or to give a different sound quality to the up and the downbow, something required in early music and easy to execute with the Baroque bow. Of course a violinist may say that this is precisely what is wrong, that one should make up and downbows as similar as possible; that the modern (Tourte) bow is better than the old Baroque bow because it alone can produce an even sound. But when we proceed from the premise that music can be best performed when it is properly interpreted, we discover that all the apparent disadvantages of the Baroque bow are actually advantages. The tones that are usually paired sound different on the upand downbow; the individual tone has a bell-like dynamic, innumerable intermediate levels from legato to spiccato play themselves, as it were. We see that the Baroque bow is ideal for Baroque music--so there are good reasons for using it. This does not mean that it is the perfect bow bar none; we will not play Richard Strauss with it. But strangely enough, this is precisely what was done, only the other way around, with the Tourte bow.

"The modern bow, which was designed for the legato, for less articulated playing, can also be used for Baroque music, if no other bow is available. However, professional musicians today are forced to play music from many different periods using the same tools. As any orchestra member knows, he will play contemporary music today, for example, and a symphony by Mozart or a work by Bach or Gustav Mahler tomorrow. They cannot use different instruments every day. This means that they must know the various musical idioms so well that they can play in completely different ways on the same instrument. This is only rarely successful, however. Although we do play the music of five centuries, we usually use only one language, one performance style. If we were only to recognize the essential differences in styles and rid ourselves of the unfortunate concept of "music as a world language," which is identical in all nations, cultures and centuries, a list of priorities would easily emerge. We would view a work as the artistic expression of an age and of one human being, placing special demands on listener and performer. We would literally be forced to investigate and to fulfill these demands concerning articulation, tempo, tonal balance, etc. Finally, we would probably no longer be satisfied with our instruments and would select instruments of the period, but only if and when they are right for the work and best-suited for performance. It is in this way that a musician in search of the best interpretation should arrive at the use of "original" instruments, very naturally and based only on the requirements of the work.

"The other approach, often taken today, leads us astray, in my opinion. There are many musicians who believe that early music must be played on authentic instruments--but they do not have a precise notion of what these old instruments can and cannot do. They acquire an old instrument without understanding its meaning, only because they have been hired to play on old instruments and the "gig" pays well, or because they themselves find it interesting. The decisive element in their decision, the benchmark, as it were, is the old instrument, the "original" instrument--not what this old instrument can do. Such a musician, however, learned to play music on a completely different instrument so his notion of sound and his concept of music are based on a different instrument. Now he takes the Baroque instrument and tries instinctively to produce with it the sounds to which he is accustomed. Such a thing can be heard again and again, and the result is the pitiful sound of ensembles which perform, if one may call it that, on old instruments, for one can hear the outright longing of the musicians for the sounds to which they have been accustomed. But this simply does not work: it is impossible to play a beautiful sostenuto with a Baroque bow, although this does not prevent some musicians from trying; it is impossible to achieve a certain luxuriant sound, but it is nonetheless attempted. The result is pitiful, and of course the listener says: so this is the sound of the old instruments; the composers in those days were certainly limited, for they had nothing better to work with. And the musician who comes to an early instrument this way can never believe that what he is doing is meaningful, so at the first opportunity, will put it aside. In short, the musician must first _know_ why he chooses an early instrument, which should be for musical reasons alone. If these musical reasons are not perfectly clear to him, then he should desist and work with the instruments which sound authentic and natural to him.

"The question of priorities is of particular importance in the case of the instrumentarium, because serious mistakes have been made in this area. If historical instruments had been selected purely for musical reasons, and not just to appear "authentic" and "historical," or to seem interesting, then hundreds of thousands of so-called "early" instruments, which are not really musical instruments at all, would never have been sold. Entire shiploads of such recorders and harpsichords, crumhorns, cornetts and trombones have been sold--and we owe it solely to the admirable talent of a few musicians who manage to make these abominations sound tolerable. A David Oistrakh can make music even on a miserable student violin. Therefore I believe that musicians and particularly those of us who play a great deal of "early" music should never give the instrument, the tool, precedence over the music, although unfortunately this often happens."

(Baroque Music Today: Music as Speech by Nikolaus Harnoncourt, p94-96)

Francine wrote (June 20, 2001):
[To Bradley Lehman] Thanks for quoting my hero Harnoncourt. Yes, I have his book "The Musical Dialogue: Thoughts on Monteverdi, Mozart and Bach" published by the Amadeus Press. I hate to brag but I got to meet him and talk with him when I was in Amsterdam. He's very gracious! He's also a genuine aristocrat, both by birth and by heart! He is especially noted for his pioneering work in Monteverdi's operas.


Crossover?

Laurent Planchon
wrote (July 26, 2001):
< Thomas Braatz wrote: The second is a commentary (Grammophone) on Rilling's Bach Cantata Series:
"Rilling's interpretative outlook is far removed from that of his principal rivals, Harnoncourt and Leonhardt. [...] In short, Rilling's approach to Bach is an emotional one. >
This might well be (I am not familiar enough with Rilling's work to say), but the way it is written, it seems to imply that H/L's approaches (plural intended) are un-emotional ones, which is a stupid nonsense. Not hearing emotion (although one might not share it) in H or L's work would equate for me being simply deaf.

< Or if Harnoncourt/Leonhardt had not been misguided in their attempt to pursue stubbornly without much regard for musicality (there are always a few exceptions to point to) what they considered to be the ideal performance practices of the Baroque period, their Teldec series might have become a notable achievement that no collector of Bach recordings could do without. >
I believe that I am far from being the only one who thinks that Harnoncourt/Leonhardt Teldec series IS a most notable achievement that no serious collector of Bach recordings can ignore. And your claim that those gentlemen pursued stubbornly ideal performance practices without regard for musicality proves to me that you have completly misunderstood them. I would invite you to read some of H's books or even his liners notes in which he says the exact opposite of what you are associating him with.

Donald Satz
wrote (Jukly 26, 2001):
[To Laurent Planchon] I have no doubt that the Harnoncourt/Leonhardt series of Bach cantatas was a pioneering effort which paved the way for many other recordings of the Bach cantatas on period instruments employing an historically informed approach. The issue of 'musiciality' of this early series is not insignificant, but I think it pales next to the mere existence of the series. Any artists who take risks and display honesty and determination in their principles deserve my admiration; Harnoncourt and Leonhardt earned this a long time ago.

Thomas Braatz wrote (July 26, 2001):
In regard to the quote from Grammophone:
< In short, Rilling's approach to Bach is an emotional one. >

To which Laurent Planchon responded:
< the way it is written, it seems to imply that H/L's approaches (plural intended)are un-emotional ones, which is a stupid nonsense. Not hearing emotion (although one might not share it) in H or L's work would equate for me being simply deaf. >

I fully agree. In no way did I want to appear to support the statement in the quotation. The quotatwas primarily cited for the purpose of illustrating the 'crossover' phenomenon.

Then I stated:
< Or if Harnoncourt/Leonhardt had not had such difficulties in obtaining high quality players (some of them were excellent) who had truly mastered the instruments that they were playing, and if Harnoncourt/Leonhardt had not been misguided in their attempt to pursue stubbornly without much regard for musicality (there are always a few exceptions to point to) what they considered to be the ideal performance practices of the Baroque period, their Teldec series might have become a notable achievement that no collector of Bach recordings could do without. >

To which Laurent Planchon responded:
< I believe that I am far from being the only one who thinks that Harnoncourt/Leonhardt Teldec series *IS* a most notable achievement that no serious collector of Bach recordings can ignore. And your claim that those gentlemen pursued stubbornly ideal performance practices without regard for musicality proves to me that you have completly misunderstood them. I would invite you to read some of H's books or even his liners notes in which he says the exact opposite of what you are associating him with. >
O, the great divide between theory and practice. My final understanding of what these men accomplished comes from listening to the results, not in attempting to understand their 'theories', which are, after all, only theories. My guess is that even Bach, if he were told that he had to read Palestrina's theories on performance practices (if such books existed) before rendering his judgement on his music, would have said, "Hogwash! Give me the score so that I can hear it in my mind. If it is good enough, I will use it with my choir, because we can all learn directly from the music." In this case, had the theories existed, they would have originated with the composer, but with H/L there is no book of theory by Bach to refer to. Everything is indirect knowledge/evidence. You must also consider that both H/L had primarily an instrumental tradition that they had grown up with and had been influenced by, they had little or no training in choral singing. Now you wish to tell me that Bach's genuine choral tradition sprang full-blown from the head of Zeus (Harnoncourt)and that I should read these theories so that my appreciation of his achievement is enhanced! To that I offer you another challenge: Join in on the weekly discussions of the Bach cantatas on the BachCantatas site. There you could offer your insight into Harnoncourt's theories and how they have enhanced the musicality of his performances.

And Don Satz stated:
< I have no doubt that the Harnoncourt/Leonhardt series of Bach cantatas was a pioneering effort which paved the way for many other recordings of the Bach cantatas on period instruments employing an historically informed approach. The issue of 'musicality' of this early series is not insignificant, but I think it pales next to the mere existence of the series. Any artists who take risks and display honesty and determination in their principles deserve my admiration; Harnoncourt and Leonhardt earned this a long time ago. >

To which I state:

In no way did I wish to detract from the achievement of the H/L series, which, if I can risk saying this with only having heard a small portion of the Leusink series, deserves greater acclamation than the latter series. But musicality still remains a very important issue, if I am to derive great pleasure and deeper understanding from hearing a performance. As you stated: "musicality is not insignificant."

After all is said and done, it is the end result that matters. To quote Duke Ellington once again: "If it sounds good, it is good." This I will extend to mean: If you have a good musical ear and have given not only a cursory listening to the H/L set, you might be able to hear the imbalance that I am speaking about: Theory overriding musicality, or, to put it another way: form over content. Perhaps this is one reason that Bach did not attempt to write about music theory and practice and left that sort of thing to others
(Mattheson, his son, C.P.E.Bach etc.)


Harnoncourt versus the rest

Santu De Silva wrote (September 1, 2001):
It must be in the nature of music-lovers to take extreme opinions, or perhaps in the nature of people on Internet discussion-lists.

I tried a few years ago, unsuccessfully, to suggest that, while nobody could argue very
persuasively against using very small choirs for singing Bach - - ALMOST one to a part - - it is somewhat more difficult to argue for PRECISELY one-per-part. But the faithful keep hammering for that idea. (A letter written by a member of the town council to a widow whose son was kept from being the second treble for a funeral on the Saturday before the first Sunday of Pentecost of the year 1738, usw is proof that at least for Saturday funerals there were, at least, no more than one treble...)

The same goes for boy-trebles / women sopranos, boy altos / male altos / women contraltos tenors / trained kangaroos, etc.

I, for one, like them all. As I said before, I believe that Rilling's BWV 198 is my favorite. I don't believe it is possible to sing the alto aria better than Gabriele Schreckenbach does on my recording on Hanssler. And the choir sings beautifully, and the orchestra plays beautiully, too.

But I don't like their BWV 199, in spite of the singing of the much-praised Arleen Auger. She is out of breath, she sings sharp, and nothing works.

Again, I have heard nobody sing BWV 148 better than Harnoncourt and his boys. I'm waiting to hear Leusink's choir sing this piece. In spite of everything I have heard saying that Leusink's group does not sing well, or as well as other groups, I must say that I like their style.

And one of the most treasured recordings is Harnoncourt's SMP of the 70s with the boy's choirs. And I like his most recent (2001) release of the SMP with the Arnold Schoenberg choir, too.

It is impossible to assert the superiority of one kind of choir over another. The farethest I will go is to declare that my personal preference is for small choirs and original instruments in general, but, on the other hand, my favorite recording of the Orchestral Suites is by Menuhin and his Bath Festival Orchestra, playing modern instruments. Some may consider the style too romantic, but I urge everyone to give it a listen!

 


BWV 179 / Harnoncourt et al. / Nastiness on the net

Douglas Neslund wrote (September 1, 2001):
[To Thomas Braatz] As a new member of this forum, perhaps I do not have a very good handle on the opinions of the 199 other members, and I must take account of that fact before concluding that everyone here hates Nikolaus Harnoncourt, his Concentus Musicus, and the various soloists of the Tölzer Knabenchor, as well as the choir itself. It seems (again, at brief exposure) that only Kurt Equiluz is spared the disdain heaped upon this musical aggregation.

Therefore, it is with some trepidation that I am reacting to Thomas Braatz's reviews of the various BVW 179 recordings. My own personal tastes are such that I will not spend (or waste) hard-earned money on the likes of Richter and Rilling, since I am at home and satisfied in the company of Herr Harnoncourt et al. Therefore, may I dare to write on behalf of these beleaguered musicians?

I call them musicians, although the implication in this forum may be otherwise, based upon my reading of a few comparison-based reviews over the past week or more. Perhaps my words will fall on blind eyes because of my library's lack of equivalent performances by Rilling and Richter, etc., but here they are, for what it is worth.

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

Thomas wrote, regarding the Ramin example, "I could hear the clear delineation of all the fugal entries. I was also surprised by one boy soprano who had an evident vibrato (the last time "Gott" is sung) since I thought that good boys' choirs strove for a clear, unified sound that would be destroyed by wobbly sop." (emphasis added)

May I, as 16-year veteran boychoir director, clinician and student to this day, dare to answer this one? Is Thomas's definition of "good boys' choirs" those who strive for a clear, unified sound that would be destroyed by wobbly sopranos? If that is so, then we have a context into which to place his later comments regarding Master Wittek's solo aria! The answer is that some choirmasters prefer a completely "wobble-free" (I would say "vibrato-less") and therefore "clean" soprano line (and presumably such an alto line as well, although most who prefer this style would more likely than not use countertenors instead of unchanged boys on the alto line). There is a price to be paid for soprano boys who are forced, as they encounter adolescence, to sing a "straight" tone and to suppress their natural voice's increasing involvement in emotional content via the typically small vibrato (hardly a wobble!) of the 12-14 year old soprano boy singer. If such a singer were properly trained in breath support, a wobble would not appear, and I have never heard a wobble in aboy singer in my life that was not artificially induced (as demanded by their choirmaster or teacher), but that is not the issue here.

An aside on the following (writing of Arlene Augér): "But only a few measures later a similar phrase reaching for this 'G' occurs on the words which express her sincere and heartfelt request to Jesus to help her."

This is just one example of many throughout the cantata series where a woman's singing a text takes on an entirely different context and therefore possible meaning in the ears of the congregation, where if a boy soprano were to have sung the same text, as Bach wrote the aria, such emotionally-charged associations would not occur. Some of us are bothered by this added context. In writing this, I infer or imply nothing at all toward Ms. Augér, whose voice I happen to hold in high esteem.

"Richter treats all the quarter notes in the bass a la Harnoncourt, reducing their length slightly by detaching each note from the one before and after. Who knows? Perhaps this is where Harnoncourt with all his other 'Romantic' penchants that I have pointed out in the past first observed what would become one of the major linchpins of the Harnoncourt Doctrine."

Who knows indeed? But I have heard Richter recordings in which his very adult choir "he-he-he's" the text to death, and Harnoncourt does not do that, ever! Speaking from a vocal-choral point of view, there is a world of difference between the two approaches. To imply that Harnoncourt borrowed or learned such a discredited vocal-choral technique from Richter could not be more wrong.

It is important to keep in mind that Harnoncourt's priorites start with the text. German texts present a continuing set of challenges for any singer to surmount, in order to meet the requirement that the congregation should understand very well the text being sung, although in the context of a service, the text will thereafter be amplified by the preacher. In the actual Harnoncourt recording in question, I note that the mixdown (or possibly microphone placement) is occasionally faulty, with the orchestra being too loud, thus obscuring the best efforts of the choral forces, but the tenors are too loud throughout. The uncredited chorus trainer, Gerhard Schmidt-Gaden, would never have settled for allowing this imbalance to have been recorded, thus my conclusion as to why the imbalances.

"Well, what is it that Harnoncourt can come up with in a cantata recorded almost at the end of the long 20 year cycle? One would expect that these last recordings would demonstrate an improvement over the initial performances almost 20 years earlier."

This is Insult No. 1, to assume that at the outset of the project, Herr Harnoncourt didn't have a clue, and by the end of the 20 years, still didn't.

At this point I am reminded of a recent comment by Charles: "In this regard, I am reminded of Johnny Rotten's explanation for the unique sound of his infamous Punk Rock band, namely that none of them could play their instruments properly."

Insult No. 2. Thomas is defaming by inference some very impressive and highly credentialed musicians in so saying.

"It really appears to me that Harnoncourt may have recognized the 'unique primitive sound' of his first cantatas, and as a good businessman decided to capitalize on what the listener's were expecting the cantatas to sound like."

Insult No. 3. No comment necessary.

"The opening mvt. has all the earmarks of what the listener was expecting: The tempo is fast, there is a 'chop, chop' effect with pauses in the middle!! of words (imagine singing a two-syllable word, but the conductor instructs you let the tone/sound of your die out before singing an '-en' suffix!) Attempts at expression fail to move the listener because they are artificially contrived and forced. The expression does not come from the heart of the singers. All the quarter notes are detached in the bass, not to mention all the other note values foreshortened throughout. Intonation is poor."

Re: fast tempo: wrong. It is appropriately paced. Re: "chop, chop," - wrong. Textual considerations and bringing inner lines to the fore are at work here. Re: "attempts at expression" - wrong again. This is the height of expressionism. Re: "expression not coming from the heart of the singers" - how does Thomas know? Wrong - very, very wrong! Re: detached quarter notes, why is that a problem, when the tempo and contextual considerations imply same? Foreshortening note values? If one, contrary of contemporaneous description doesn't wish for Bach's music to dance, then carry on with legatissississimo (and hence, unintelligible) performance practice. Re: intonation being poor? Absolutely not! Thomas, please tell us exactly which note in which bar is out of tune!! You cannot!

"In the tenor aria (even the great Equiluz with all his abilities and experience is unable to 'save' this aria) you can hear the brutalization of Bach's magnificent music."

Insults again! Maybe Thomas's ear is too long in the sweet syrup of Rilling and his predecessors. The text, again, indicates another approach is necessary for textual clarity and understanding. Keep in mind, if you will, the audience for this cantata is the congregation, not syncophants listening over sound systems. In that regard, the magnificent Equiluz is up to the challenge.

"Not only is the aria played too fast with a 'bumpy' bass that adds little or nothing to the music, you can also hear Alice Harnoncourt 'scratching away' on her violin creating what can only be described as a 'pipsqueak' sound that listeners will turn to when they want to remember what a 'true' baroque violin should sound like. If this were a 1971-2 recording, we might be astounded at this pioneering effort because there was little to compare this with, but in the meantime, correct me if I am wrong about this, the recorded sound of these violins has improved. This is due not only to our more modern recording techniques, but also to the effort of many artists to produce more beautiful, musical sounds from these instruments."

Perhaps Thomas has the treble turned up too high. I hear the characteristic and desireable sound of Baroque bow being drawn over Baroque strings. And to insult Alice because one appears to yearn for Romantically played bowing and steel-wrapped strings, is way over the line. "Beautiful, musical sounds from these instruments" is exactly what I hear.

Oh yes, the "bumpy bass." The bass line in Bach, whenever it appears in other than recitatives, always propels the music forward, providing continuity of tempo that binds together the other orchestral and choral forces. The propulsion of the bass line is in the articulation, and in arias such as the one in question wherein forward momentum is established and maintained, the bass line must be articulated. Bumpy! Hmmm.

"Holl sometimes reminds me of Huttenlocher in that Holl's voice takes on an attitude of impiety. He even attempts to speak and not sing certain words."

Insulting comment, that! I hear a beautiful bass voice singing his lines withclarity, expression, clean German and fine phrasing. Impiety? Where? How does Thomas deduce such an attribute unless he were present at the recording and knew something about Herr Holl that we mere mortals do not.

"Note the castration of the bc by severely reducing the note values, a 'new' discovery by Harnoncourt, one of his hallmarks, by which you can recognize all the other weak-willed conductors that picked up this technique unquestioningly from Harnoncourt, the 'expert.' "

Well, by now, we know that Thomas despises Herr Harnoncourt, don't we? So the insults continue ...

"Wittek's soprano aria puts me on pins and needles all the way through. His voice, with too much vibrato particularly when forcing in order to reach higher notes, is unpleasant, at times awful to listen to."

Now Thomas steps into a realm in which I have actual, real-life experience, so one might theoretically turn the "authoritative" knob all the way up to "high." Helmut Wittek was a lucky little fellow, in that he happened to come along when several plums of arias in this series were available for recording. He happened to be the one whose time had come. Have the Tölzers produced better soprano soloists across time? Yes, certainly. But Wittek was "the man" when the time was rife. I have heard him in an early videotaping, never released, of the Johannespassion, with Nikolaus Harnoncourt conducting, in which his singing was truly off the mark, but then he appeared to be all of about 10 years of age at the time, and as he matured into that "golden age" of boy sopranos everywhere, in which his voice, his training, and incipient emotional self emerged concurrently, the precision of his singing improved remarkably. His voice did have more vibrato than some, but it is appropriate, despite Thomas's objections (based perhaps on the previously-mentioned supposition that all boy sopranos should sing a "straight tone"). Wittek does attack the high-note "Gott" a bit too strongly, perhaps due to any number of reasons, including the glottal hard-G initial "Klinger" (consonants having tone) with which plenty of adult singers would have trouble. To say that his singing is "at times awful to listen to" is so off the mark, nothing further need be said, other than it must be a matter of taste, because nothing else can be said of this boy's singing of this aria on this recording that could deserve such an insulting comment.

"Does Harnoncourt manage to make the oboi da caccia play 'piano' as they are supposed to according to the score? No. The intonation between all the performers wobbles and becomes insecure."

In the context of a soprano aria, it is typical of Bach to pair a boy soprano with oboi da caccia (or just one such oboe on occasion). Why? This specific instrument pairs beautifully with a boy's voice, much better in my opinion, than with a woman's voice, which is paired by a modern oboe to best advantage. The pairing of voice and instrument is a duet, and is not intended to be voice dominating solo instrument. How would Thomas know "piano" was not in fact played in this instance, when those twisting knobs and pushing sliders in the soundroom were the ones controlling balance, etc.? Again, there is no intonation wobbles or insecurity there. Perhaps Thomas is confusing Kammerton with lack of intonation, or simply cannot detect intonation at all.

"So what has Harnoncourt learned at the end of his career as cantata conductor and performer?"

Insulting even to ask! Why is it necessary for Herr Harnoncourt to learn anything at all? To ask the question is to infer that at the beginning of the cantata project, he knew less than he did at the end. To ask the maestro this question face to face would be an act of unbelievable ignorance, not unlike asking Artur Rubenstein to describe his journey through Chopin's etudes at two points twenty years apart and the lessons he learned in so doing.

"Has he learned what a 'simple' chorale should sound like musically? No! Listen to this chorale and you will hear as a voice moves from one note to the next an "Abheben" (a lifting up/a loss of touch with the musical line/a temporary cessation of sound) that is perceived as an accent by the listener because less or no sound follows it. There are also the thrusting sounds that represent accents that also serve to break up the musical line."

The chorale, as sung here, is articulate (keeping the text primary, as always!!) and eschewing a legato line when singing such would obscure the text. The "thrusting sounds" Thomas highlights are simply the arses of a phrase (no rude jokes, please). Breaking up the musical line assumes a legato performance approach that seeks to override textual considerations and the Germanic articulation necessary to make the text understood in a church like Thomanerkirche, which can contain a congregation of around 2,000.

"I can not help but think of Harnoncourt as a reincarnation of Krause, a First Prefect, who was assigned by Rector Ernesti to stand in for Bach. Bach had described Krause with the following choice words, "untüchtig, nicht geschickt, Ungeschicklichkeit, incapacitè" (summarize: "musically unproficient"). Unfortunately, Krause appeared twice in the choir loft, and each time Bach had to chase him away "with a lot of screaming and hollering." I can just imagine Bach using a few, well-chosen expletives, if he heard a Harnoncourt performance of a chorale such as this one."

OK, one final insult from Thomas, then. Just last May, I was present for a Saturday afternoon (cantata service) and Sunday morning service at Thomaskirche, held as a part of Bachfest 2001. This occasion marked the first time that Gerhard Schmidt-Gaden had conducted his own choir, the Tölzer Knabenchor, in Thomaskirche since he studied for several years under Kurt Thomas there in the 1950s. I was also privileged to observe (and videotape) rehearsals in München leading up to the performances (services). The very attributes in the Harnoncourt series that have gotten our Thomas into such a foul state of mind were apparent in glorious abundance in Leipzig! GSG employed exactly the same number of boys and men per part as JSB himself used when the cantatas and other works were sung in their original performances. So were the instruments and players, which were drawn from the Baroque band of the Gewandhaus Orchester. You cannot imagine how beautiful the Actus Tragicus can be, and how affecting, until you have heard this choir, these instrumentalists, and soloists in the lineage of Helmut Wittek combine their talents and training in a performance in Bach's own space! Following the Sunday service, the current Kapellmeister of the Thomanerchor, Herr Christoph Biller, approached GSG and said, "Congratulations, Maestro! After today, we (the Thomaner) will have to rethink how we present the music of Bach!" By the way, retired Kapellmeister Rotzsch was also in attendance at the Sunday service. His comments, if any, were not overheard.

Charles Francis wrote (September 1, 2001):
[To Douglas Neslund] While the Thomas Braatz review cited by Mr. Neslund, addresses Harnoncourt, Rilling etc., much of the contribution from Douglas Neslund, himself, is "argumentum ad hominem" directed at an esteemed member of this group. May I suggest that Mr. Neslund's preferences for Harnocourt, reflect his comment "I will not spend (or waste) hard-earned money on the likes of Richter and Rilling". A most unfortunate attitude that prevents objective comparison of the recordings and leads to erroneous ignorant pronouncements. Conversely, those such as Thomas Braatz, Aryeh Oron and others, who have taken trouble to compare the different recordings of BWV 179, have arrived at the same inevitable conclusion. Would that the dogmatists who proclaim the Harnoncourt Gospel, open their minds just a little!

Douglas Neslund wrote (September 1, 2001):
[To Charles Francis] Truly, my post was not intended as ad hominem attack, but you provide me with the opportunity to clarify why I do not purchase sixteen versions of the same work. I have no funds for such, but do have the entire Harnoncourt series, beginningwith volumes 1-25 in the preferred LP format, wherein each album contained the score, as well as copious notes on each by the conductor. The CD format is certainly more convenient and space-saving, but the collector loses all that material once offered.

I am well aware of Richter and Rilling, having some individual items conducted by them, and know their respective styles. I also know Ton Koopman's work and admire it much. The others mentioned in the collective review I do not know, but inasmuch as they are performed by female soloists, would not likely be additions to my list of "must haves" due to budgetary limitations.

I hope that helps to place all in better context.

Boyd Pehrson wrote (September 2, 2001):
[To Charles Francis] First of all Charles, when you say that Douglas' remarks about Thomas' review of Harnoncourt's recording prevents "(an) objective comparison of the recordings and leads to erroneous ignorant pronouncements" you are building a case for ad hominem argumentum on your own part. The fact that Douglas takes issue with the reviewer's comments on a specific recording, does not mean that he has cast doubt on the reviewer's personal character! Nor does Douglas' aversion to certain (vague) performance standards necessarily prevent him from responding to a specific CD review. I thought he treated his own remarks and Thomas' with due respect, candour, and with appropriate qualifications. The use of vigorous discussion should not be necessarily characterized as "extreme." Unfortunate phrases such as "the Harnoncourt Gospel" invite such vigorous reply.

It is unfortunate that the Bach Cantatas Group has devolved into a negative version of Bach Recordings group. I like the Bach Recordings group, the sort of sister to this group, and I think comparison of recordings are more appropriate there. I say devolve, in respect to the direction of focus that has become myopic, as a few members "show off" their collections of CDs, and remark predictably from their file of personal proclivities.

I have read in this group too often and too long about Bach's notation or markings not being followed by Leonhardt, Harnoncourt, et al. and how therefore the performance is incorrect. But I read Rilling's book on performing Bach's St Matthew's Passion (BWV 244) and in a variety of places (almost arbitrarily) he advises, such as in his section on Phrase and section formation for one instance fermatas, that Bach's notations should not be used, for Rilling reasons somehow that today's audiences hear music differently. Although Rilling later states that "dynamic markings must be observed" he provides a caveat that his own ground rules for dynamics are not to be followed blindly. On tempo Rilling states: "Bach used tempo markings adagio, moderato, andante, allegro and vivance, and these only sparingly were, on first observation, other opinions about tempo would also be possible." He goes on to state some 'ground rules' on 'choosing' the correct tempo. (!) Both Harnoncourt and Leonhardt recognize that notation and dynamic markings are flexible as performance standards have undergone constant evolution. It would be naive to examine dynamic markings on a manuscript and follow them exactly, without taking into consideration which performance standard will be applied. Shall we interpret the supposed meaning or progression on Bach's, Haydn's, Mozart's, Beethoven's, Schubert's or Wagner's dynamic markings as meaning the very same thing in a post Modern world? That is Rilling's point, and it would be at odds with some reviews in Cantatas group, a standard beyond that of Rilling's own!

God forbid that someone take strong issue with the "esteemed" Thomas' strong remarks on the very character of Conductor Harnoncourt. Thomas' CD reviews on Harnoncourt's recordings are laced with barbs that imply Harnoncourt is a sycophantic moron of sorts. Talk about ad hominem Charles! I suppose if Alice Harnoncourt ever graced this forum with her presence she would have been highly embarrassed! (save for Douglas' defence of her). When I read such "scholarly" Cantata group offerings as: "the modern post-Kirkby soprano singers" I have to wince. Many reviews offered in Cantatas group remind me of Harnoncourt's warning about 'critics' where he writes: "Unfortunately, in our time, in which profound, genuine knowledge has been replaced, quite officially in many instances, by empty palaver, in which bluffing is carried out as a matter of course, it has become common to talk grandiloquently about things of which one has not the slightest knowledge. People do not try to inform themselves but take part in a conversation as if they understood the subject under discussion. Music is a subject that is insulted in this way with particular frequency. Almost everyone talks as if he knew something about it, whether in matters of purity of intonation ("What, you didn't hear how out of tune he played?"), or to keys ("In a mild E-flat major..."), and only fails to make a fool of himself because his conversation partner is equally uninformed. The subjects of intonation and tonalities have given rise- even in the technical literature- to the worst kind of bluffing." (Music as Speech, Harnoncourt, 1982, trans. 1988 Amadeus Press)

Charles, your assessment of Douglas' contribution as some sort of "ignorant" logical fallacy is most uncharitable! Douglas has offered insight into recording peculiarities, boy voice, and above all calls an insult an insult when it occurs. Now "esteemed" members of the Cantatas group are not to be challenged when found hurling sweeping and ignorant insults? Douglas as an "outsider" looking in should provide an interesting perspective to those who, already inside, are grown accustomed to the bad smells residing in their own house! As far as Douglas' aversion to the Rilling approach of what I call 'listener perspective interpretation,' I share his reluctance in investing time, money and interest in such a subjective approach, interesting as it may be.

Andrew Oliver wrote (September 2, 2001):
I agree with Boyd that, ideally, comparisons of different recordings of cantatas would more appropriately be confined to the Recordings list, and the Cantatas list should deal more specifically with the form of construction of the composition, its appropriateness to the text to which it is set, and similar matters. In practice, that may not always be possible nor desirable, since it is sometimes the case that one recording will bring to the fore some particular aspect of the composition which passes by almost unnoticed in another recording. In those circumstances, it must surely be proper to discuss what it is that makes the difference between the two. Inevitably, different contributors to the list will always have their personal preferences, and I am quite happy to read opposing views, provided they do not become acrimonious or personal.

For myself, I have several times said that there have been aspects of Harnoncourt's recordings which I have not liked. (The same comment applies in regard to Leusink's recordings.) However, there are also recordings by both of these conductors which I like very much. It is often the case that, if I happen to have more than one recording of a cantata, for some movements I will prefer one recording and for other movements I will prefer a different one. The main object, though, is to hear Bach's sublime settings of the chosen texts, and the way in which he interprets them. How conductors and performers may or may not add their own interpretative ideas is of rather lesser importance, though still interesting.

A further point which has occurred to me several times while listening is that certain movements I have heard but not liked may have been marred by a misjudgement of the sound engineer, and not have been the fault of the singer(s) or instrumentalists at all.

Charles Francis wrote (September 2, 2001):
< Boyd Pehrson wrote: Douglas has offered insight into recording peculiarities, boy voice, and above all calls an insult an insult when it occurs. >
Such use of the pejorative is unfortunate. The remarks ofJesus to the temple money changers would be "insults" for some, yet at another level they reflect the desecration of the holy. In the case of Harnoncourt, his influence has been profound, and as Thomas Braatz has been able to demonstrate, several performance doctrines appear arbitrary. I therefore see Thomas as providing a much needed reformation and critical re-analysis of cantata performance practice. If the scholarship he presents is erroneous, I would expect some other member of this group to correct it. That they do not substantively respond, except with the ad hominem, assures me he is on the right track.

Riccardo Nughes wrote (September 2, 2001):
[To Charles Francis] Every interpretation is arbitrary, otherwise we'll have mechanical reproduction of the music printed on the paper score. I don't really understand why some members here really hate Harnoncourt.

Boyd Pehrson wrote (September 2, 2001):
[To Charles Francis] I see, some members have now moved from "esteemed" status to that of Christ cleansing the Temple! Well, we can at least be assured Jesus was on the right track for the Gospel says he walked upon water and rose from the dead. It would be unfair to ask the reviewers here in the BC forum to do the same thing.

Charles Francis wrote (September 2, 2001):
[To Riccardo Nughes] I don't think anyone hates Harnoncourt, as such. As a teenager, I listened more or less exclusively to his cantata performances and I still love the opening chorus from BWV 3 recorded in 1970, for example. It is charming, well rehearsed, and there is a joy in the sound of the "new" instruments, even as the performers struggle to play them properly. But later such joy disappears, as new dogma is brought to bear. Even Harnoncourt's most devoted disciples acknowledge his cantata series went down hill!

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (September 2, 2001):
[To Boyd Pahrson] Having been webless for three weeks and catching up on my own groups since then, I look here and see that same amicability transpiring as when last I looked (;-). May I note that "BC forum" appears at first glance as "Before Christ forum". Some abbrevs. are already spoken for.My only Bach event since last here has been the Ian Bostridge CD in which his BWV 82(a?), written by Bach for bass/baritone and revised by him for alto and also for soprano, is made into a tenor solo cantata with no booklet explanation, merely to give Bostridge a 2nd solo cantata to sing in addition to the only one Bach left, BWV 55. Well, not a bad purpose. I find him rather fetching in Bach and Schubert.

Douglas Neslund wrote (September 3, 2001):
[To Charles Francis] One final comment: the "ad hominem" label should be attached where it truly belongs, i.e., to the person who in repeated commentary attempted to slay the Harnoncourt dragon, not the person who called him on it. When one hates someone (NH) this much, it would appear that propaganda is in the eye of the beholder.

That said, the entire matter can be reduced to taste, and no amount of false comparison can change that fact. (How is it possible to compare a female (adult) soprano's singing of an aria with that of a 12-year old boy? Either you hate choirboys' singing or you don't.) It is a matter of taste, and taste can be acquired through exposure. The sort of nuclear assault that initiated this exchange would tend to discourage the uninitiated from purchasing anything with the Harnoncourt name attached to it, and thus, those who have come to appreciate and to purchase his musical output need to speak up.

And thus, the last word from me.

Charles Francis wrote (September 3, 2001):
[To Douglas Neslund] Once again I see the "argumentum ad hominem":
http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/ad-hominem.html

Now you'll find detailed analysis of Harnoncourt's performance practice for many different cantatas in the archive. You'll also find much related scholarship based on analysis of original sources. You'll also see growing exasperation with one who is idolised as an icon of "Authenticity", and yet at the same time ignores Bach's explicit performance indications. To date, I am waiting for someone to challenge this analysis with something other than the ad hominem!

Pablo Fagoaga wrote (September 5, 2001):
Boyd Pehrson wrote: "It is unfortunate that the Bach Cantatas Group has devolved
into a negative version of Bach Recordings group. I like the Bach Recordings group, the sort of sister to this group, and I think comparison of recordings are more appropriate there. I say devolve, in respect to the direction of focus that has become myopic, as a few members "show off" their collections of CDs, and remark predictably from their file of personal proclivities."
Since Aryeh Oron himself DO engage into a recording comparison practice, methodically in his reports on the weekly Cantata, and given the fact that his comparisons and comments are well balanced and respectfull, I conclude that comparison of recordings are as "appropriate" here as in any other forum, as long as we all hold our horses.

In some degree, I agree with you when you state that this is a fertile soil for guys who come up with things like "Of the 564 Goldberg Varationen versions I have, the most exquisite is the one Glenn Gould recorded that glorious evening in my country house...never in print, of course..."

But let me tell you how I see this:
1) I sincerely believe that most of the fortunate members that own large quantities of CDs DO NOT intend to show off when they share their impressions.
2) Recalling my ficticious example, when I encounter this kind of attitude, I put myself in a "higher ground". I just acknowledge that an unreleased GV version by Gould exists, somewhere, and I take note of the many versions "widely" available, and the subjective impressions that they made on another listener.

As a proof of your higher level, you can always take from blusterers what YOU need, and leave the "show off" apart.

Pablo Fagoaga wrote (September 5, 2001):
[To Douglas Neslund] In the first place, I subscribed this group to try to catch some knowledge from other people, with a far superior understanding of some rather technical fields that "instinctive" music lovers just don't catch by themselves.

I can tell everyone in the group that it's been a rewarding experience. And I guess my satisfaction will continue in the future. As a matter of fact, this is one chance to learn.

Douglas: being so obviously well informed, maybe you can explain to me the reasons behind the notorious "change of style" of Harnoncourt that in recent years is noticeable even for those of us who are NOT pro-musicians. Just to mention a starting example, the last version of St. Mathew Passion (BWV 244), recently released (outstanding, by the way). I bother you with the question just because the reasons don't seem to come out from your posting. :o)

Boyd Pehrson wrote (September 5, 2001):
[To Pablo Fagoaga] Just as a side note, the vast majority of recordings mentioned in this forum are available through interlibrary loan service. One only needs the Library of Congress number, and fill out and submit the proper forms provided at their local library. Hopefully interested parties will take advantage of this service, who may not be able to afford a personal collection of these recordings.

As far as Aryeh Oron's comparative reviews, I have never mentioned him. He is one though who welcomes other views of the recordings from time to time as he so states on the end of his reviews. Why Charles, he and yourself have put him front and centre in this debate, only you may say!

My reply was in response to the treatment of Douglas as a new member who rightfully and respectfully replied. I suppose it is all right to call Douglas "incompetent" in this forum, as it is all right to call Harnoncourt and other serious conductors any number of things, but one is apparently not allowed to say that the "esteemed" of this Group are either wrong or insulting about something. There is somethwrong about that...and wrong headed! Also, it clearly stifles open communication and group interaction. And to equate a member's ranting with Christ in righteous fury!? Who are the dogmatists now? Wow!

I fear that I have cashed-in all my non topic blue chips, and don't want to belabour the point. (unless a consensus of members insists of course!) "Blusterers" are one thing, but persons who demonstrate absolute contempt for certain performers on a weekly basis should not be welcome in my opinion. This should not be a forum for personal ongoing attack of a particular performer. And yes, when I am told that someone is "certain that Bach would say..." I know who I am dealing with. That is not peer review, nor is it scholarly in the least, it is merely fantastic to be able to tell me what Bach would say! That sort of review is not even well thought through. Neither is the generalized phrase "with everything being detached from everything else" which is merely one isolated example among a sea of the same.

I have politely put up with the hacking in this forum, and I have simply stopped reading the reviews of CDs which are euphemistically called "comparisons of performances." But lately those reviews have become sarcastic and bitter! It is unbecoming of of our truly esteemed subject. One doesn't need to consult a Yahoo group for information about this topic. Too many good books by and about the performers, and about their standards are available free at the public library. Competent reviews are widely published by credible sources, and that is where I would direct any person who desires "knowledge from other people, with a far superior understanding of some rather technical fields that "instinctive" music lovers just don't catch by themselves." Accepted scholarship standards do wonders for information reliability. Those who tend to avoid submission to those standards are more often than not found unreliable and suspect.

As for Douglas, I believe Pablo that he has moved on. He has his own set of Yahoo groups to moderate, and some of them have membership that outnumber this group. I am now quite embarassed that I suggested he visit this one. Is it now possible that I cannot recommend this group?

I shall henceforth drop all non-topic commentary on bad commentaries, as it is always best to let the "Blusterers" and their diarrhoea of the keyboard continue to do their own discrediting. ;-)

Aryeh Oron wrote (September 5, 2001):
< Boyd Pehrson wrote: Just as a side note, the vast majority of recordings mentioned in this forum are available through interlibrary loan service. One only needs the Library of Congress number, and fill out and submit the proper forms provided at their local library. Hopefully interested parties will take advantage of this service, who may not be able to afford a personal collection of these recordings.

As far as Aryeh Oron's comparative reviews, I have never mentioned him. He is one though who welcomes other views of the recordings from time to time as he so states on the end of his reviews. Why Charles, he and yourself have put him front and centre in this debate, only you may say! >
Altough the subject of this discussion is apparantly Cantata BWV 179, its real subject is far remote from it. Judging by your posts, I can certainly say that you guys know how to write. I wonder why are you ready to put so much energy into a discussion about a general subject which does not lead anywhere (and even annoys some members), instead of channeling your powers and love for the subject of Bach's vocal music into discussing the cantatas (and their recordings) themselves. I believe that the weekly cantata discussions would be greatly benefited from various opinions. The main idea, after all, is learning from each other and enriching the ways we hear this sublime and enormously rich music.

Harry J. Steinman wrote (September 5, 2001):
[To Boyd Pehrson] I've been a subscriber to the Recordings List and the Cantata List sinceJune of 1998. It used to be that the vitriol that's infected the Cantata List would break out periodically in the Recordings List. The sources of the contagion would be neutral topics, such as natural v. modern trumpets or that old warhorse, HIP v. modern performance style, but the flame wars would be anything but neutral.

It also used to be that the Cantata List was a safe haven for the discussion of the works of Bach, but that "virus"-intolerance and ill-temper-infected the Cantata List too. How sad. How much work Aryeh puts into the List, only to have his work fouled.

It was enough to make a lurker out of me...and out of many others who have expressed a similar lament over the fate of the List.

I wonder why it is that folks who respond to the majesty of Bach's work create, in some cases, a vicious counterpoint in the words of intolerance and odium! I often fantasize that old Bach walks beside me, and I get to show him the wonders of the modern recording age, and let him hear his works performed by today's magnificent ensembles and soloists. Funny, though, in my imagination, he never shows a preference for one style or another or one performer or another. And I'm too embarassed to show him the Lists for fear that the intolerance displayed herein will be too evocative of the intolerance he'd seen all too often in his own time.

How sad what's become of the Cantata List! Can those who's ire runs high not try to retrain themselves a bit and stick to the music? I'll bet that more of the 199 members would participate! I know that I am intimidated.

Johan van Veen wrote (September 5, 2001):
[To Harry J. Steinman] With all respect, I think you are exaggerating a little here. Yes, some members have been involved in a fierce debate. So what? I realise that some people are more sensitive than others and don't like that kind of discussions. But without any debate this list will be dead soon. I know the modern attitude is: everyone is entitled to his own opinion, and every opinion is as good and as valuable as any other, but I personallly don't share that attitude.

But even when people disagree totally, for instance about a style of performance, and exchange their views in a quite strong way, that doesn't imply they don't respect each others opinions.

As long as members don't start name-calling - and calling someone "incompetent: is an example of just that - I can't see any problem with a fierce debate.

Let's try to be a little less sensitive and accept that people have different - often strong - opinions, and want to express them.

Harry J. Steinman wrote (September 5, 2001):
[To Johan van Veen] I think we're very close in opinion. But what drives me nuts--and away from List participation--is the proliferation of name-calling and other personal attacks.

Fierce is fine; flaming isn't. But then, I'm free to "vote with my feet" which is what I've done. But I miss the chivalry that could exist in this forum.

Boyd Pehrson wrote (September 5, 2001):
[To Johan van Veen] I believe Harry's point is that the list has become dead already, due to debate being stifled. Would that there were vigorous debate! But that would necessitate valid points of view, not imaginary ones. I save my thoughts on Bach's Cantatas for our organized music society that will be meeting tomorrow night. We all have different points of view, and that group is fun, for we all have the highest respect for one another.

Donald Satz wrote (September 5, 2001):
[To Harry J. Steinman] I'm with Harry on this 'fierce debate' business. I have no interest in spending my leisure hours in any fierce environment - get enough of that in my professional world. I want to chill out and enjoy. Of course, I do find myself dragging down into some negative stuff on the list from time to time; that must be my Scorpio designation at work.

I suppose it all depends on the goals of the listmember. On the lists I frequent, I know a few whose prime motivation appears to be to sting hated fellow listmembers. Everyone likes to have a niche; when it's threatened, some respond in hostile though polite fashion.

Charles Francis wrote (September 5, 20):
Boyd Pehrson wrote:
< As far as Aryeh Oron's comparative reviews, I have never mentioned him. He is one though who welcomes other views of the recordings from time to time as he so states on the end of his reviews. Why Charles, he and yourself have put him front and centre in this debate, only you may say! >.

I wrote:
"Conversely, those such as Thomas Braatz, Aryeh Oron and others, who have taken trouble to compare the different recordings of BWV 179, have arrived at the same inevitable conclusion."

I hardly think this puts Aryeh at the forefront of the debate, but as he's somehow got there let's examine his ratings for BWV 179:

Mvt. 1 - Chorus
Rating:
Level 1 - Rilling, Suzuki
Level 2 - Richter, Koopman, Ramin, Gardiner
Level 3 - Harnoncourt, Leusink

Mvt. 3 - Aria for Tenor
Rating:
Level 1 - Equiluz (Rilling), Schreier, Sakurada
Level 2 - Hans-Joachim Rotzsch, Agnew
Level 3 - Equiluz (Harnoncourt), Schoch, Padmore

Mvt. 5 - Aria for Soprano
Rating:
Level 1 - Augér [Rilling], Persson, Kozená
Level 2 - Ziesak, Elisabeth Meinel-Asbahr, Holton
Level 3 - Mathis
No level - Boy Soprano [Harnoncourt]

I rather suspect Thomas Braatz would ask at this point "Do you see the pattern?". But let him describe in his own words, once again, how he perceives this Harnoncourt performance:

"Harnoncourt: Well, what is it that Harnoncourt can come up with in a cantata recorded almost at the end of the long 20 year cycle? One would expect that these last recordings would demonstrate an improvement over the initial performances almost 20 years earlier."

Well wouldn't everybody!

"At this point I am reminded of a recent comment by Charles ..."

He's not responsible for my comments however!

"It really appears to me that Harnoncourt may have recognized the 'unique primitive sound' of his first cantatas, and as a good businessman decided to capitalize on what the listener's were expecting the cantatas to sound like."

Do note the word "may". And who can dispute that Harnoncourt "may" be a good businessman?

"The opening mvt. has all the earmarks of what the listener was expecting: The tempo is fast, there is a 'chop, chop' effect with pauses in the middle!! of words (imagine singing a two-syllable word, but the conductor instructs you let the tone/sound of your die out before singing an '-en' suffix!)"

Some noteworthy aspects of a typical Harononcourt performance have been described.

"Attempts at expression fail to move the listener because they are artificially contrived and forced."

The 'listener' here might, for example, be Aryeh Oron or myself.

"The expression does not come from the heart of the singers."

Of course, this is just an opinion, without actually talking to the singers.

"All the quarter notes are detached in the bass, not to mention all the other note values foreshortened throughout. Intonation is poor."

Check this if you can read scores and have a good sense of pitch.

"In the tenor aria (even the great Equiluz with all his abilities and experience is unable to 'save' this aria) you can hear the brutalization of Bach's magnificent music."

Let's not forget, Aryeh Oron's "3" rating.

"Not only is the aria played too fast with a 'bumpy' bass that adds little or nothing to the music, you can also hear Alice Harnoncourt 'scratching away' on her violin creating what can only be described as a 'pipsqueak' sound"

If this is what he hears, why shouldn't he say so?

"that listeners will turn to when they want to remember what a 'true' baroque violin should sound like."

A profound remark indeed! For some people, the whole notion of "authenticity" has been programmed by the early attempts of the HIP movement.

"If this were a 1971-2 recording, we might be astounded at this pioneering effort because there was little to compare this with, but in the meantime, correct me if I am wrong about this, the recorded sound of these violins has improved."

Indeed they have! Twenty years on, and the period instruments should sound as good as the modern ones.

"This is due not only to our more modern recording techniques, but also to the effort of many artists to produce more beautiful, musical sounds from these instruments."

No doubt.

"Holl sometimes reminds me of Huttenlocher in that Holl's voice takes on an attitude of impiety. He even attempts to speak and not sing certain words. Note the castration of the bc by severely reducing the note values, a 'new' discovery by Harnoncourt, one of his hallmarks, by which you can recognize all the other weak-willed conductors that picked up this technique unquestioningly from Harnoncourt, the 'expert.' "

Indeed, I am waiting for someone to present some justification in terms of documents from Bach's time, for Harnoncourt's many departures from the score.

"Wittek's soprano aria puts me on pins and needles all the way through. His voice, with too much vibrato particularly when forcing in order to reach higher notes, is unpleasant, at times awful to listen to."

Aryeh Oron rated this as off-scale!

"Does Harnoncourt manage to make the oboi da caccia play 'piano' as they are supposed to according to the score? No. The intonation between all the performers wobbles and becomes insecure."

You'll need the score to check this one!

"So what has Harnoncourt learned at the end of his career as cantata conductor and performer? Has he learned what a 'simple' chorale should sound like musically? No! Listen to this chorale and you will hear as a voice moves from one note to the next an "Abheben" (a lifting up/a loss of touch with the musical line/a temporary cessation of sound) that is perceived as an accent by the listener because less or no sound follows it. There are also the thrusting sounds that represent accents that also serve to break up the musical line."

Let's not forget Thomas has just read Mattheson's "Der vollkommene Capellmeister", so he now knows what was expected at Bach's time.

"I can not help but think of Harnoncourt as a reincarnation of Krause, a First Prefect, who was assigned by Rector Ernesti to stand in for Bach. Bach had described Krause with the following choice words, "untüchtig, nicht geschickt, Ungeschicklichkeit, incapacitè" (summarize: "musically unproficient"). Unfortunately, Krause appeared twice in the choir loft, and each time Bach had to chase him away "with a lot of screaming and hollering." I can just imagine Bach using a few, well-chosen expletives, if he heard a Harnoncourt performance of a chorale such as this one."

I must say I found the image of Harnoncourt as Kraus, highly amusing, and couldn't stop smiling for half an hour or so. Perhaps the impact was greater for me as I have recently been re-reading the whole sorry correspondence between Bach and his disaffected management. Any amusement to ameliorate this sorry tale is most welcome.

Peter Petzling wrote (September 5, 2001):
< I think we're very close in opinion. But what drives me nuts--and away from List participation--is the proliferation of name-calling and other personal attacks.

Fierce is fine; flaming isn't. But then, I'm free to "vote with my feet" which is what I've done. But I miss the chivalry that could exist in this forum. >

It might be helpful to remember that for J.S. Bach SIN was a tangible matter; and the "nastiness" which is adressed & decried by some in this list is, of course, a chapter in the annals of sin. Those "ANNALS OF SIN" are not small or merely rhapsodic but widely spread - even ubiquitously.

One of the compelling fruits of exposure to J.S. Bach's cantatas is the delivery of c o n s o l a t i o n -- "TROST" would be the German word. YES, Bach tröstet -- again and again. It is beyond all comprehension, but it is there and plentifully so.

If you allow yourself to dwell on these cantatas, and, yes, that includes the cantata texts, you will not be left in your "BEKÜMMERNIS" --

Vide: BWV 21 -- unless you style yourself into a deliberate obstacle to the consolation/ Tröstung that is so graciously provided.

Bach has left many consoled - "göstet" over a good many years already. Pls. note: This leads into the passive mode, that is -- it is being done to you.

Enough said -
Faith comes from hearing - EX AUDITU

Aryeh Oron wrote (September 5, 2001):
< Boyd Person wrote: [snip] I save my thoughts on Bach's Cantatas for our organized music society that will be meeting tomorrow night. We all have different points of view, and that group is fun, for we all have the highest respect for one another. >
Would you be please so kind to summerize for us some of the discussions about the cantatas in your group. If it is a fun for you, I believe that it will also be a fun for the members of the BCML. From time to time I let an outsider to the BCML participating in my listening to the weekly cantata. Afterwards I write to the group also about his (or her) impressions. I am hoping that it adds extra dimension to my reviews. It would be nice to see similar contribution from you and your group. I have been a member in the BCML since it was launched by Kirk in October 1999, and I believe that most of the members have the highest respect for one another, although from time to time the discussion might get out of focus. But it is only human, isn't it?

Jane Newble wrote (September 5, 2001):
[To Peter Petzling] Yes. I thought that tonight as I listened to BWV 137 several times. Praising God lifts one above anything which can depress us or make us feel downcast. Hoping to write a bit more on BWV 137 tomorrow.

Pablo Fagoaga wrote (September 6, 2001):
[To Boyd Pehrson] Knowing Aryeh's reaction to this sort of off-topic landslides in the past, I'm sure he doesn't like 'em, and as a sign of the deep respect I have for him and the gruop, I'll give up the topic right after this post.

But I have to say that I mentioned Aryeh just because he happens to be the listowner. So what he calls in as a proper practice, it shall be considered so. I don't mean he's right or wrong, but he happens to be our host here. If you say comparisons don't belong here, you ARE referring to Aryeh, even though you don't mention him.

BUT PLEASE, DON'T TAKE MY COMMENTS AS A DECLARATION OF WAR. I just put down my thoughts.

Regarding my seek of knowledge, don't worry... I know this is not a scholar forum, but certainly there are some guys who clearly have lot's of things to transmit. Just to have an exchange with some profesional musicians is helpful for me.

Unfortunately I don't know a forum made up with scholars, and I guess I wouldn't be allowed to get into it anyway, precisely to avoid "pollution". Here we have feedback (not possible when you read published reviews.

About members who "insist" on comments against some conductor, performer, or anything else, I don't think that their attitude is wrong. Moreover, I can describe it as coherence.

And they don't bother me because we are 200 members here, so we have room for Harnoncourt fans, enemies, and the ones who don't even know who he is. Rather than focusing on one or two members, I try to get the big pictures, listening to fans and detractors at the same time.

PS: I promise my next posts will be STRICTLY CANTATA-RELATED.

Rev. Robert A. Lawson wrote (September 6, 2001):
[To Johan van Veen] Thank you for your remarks! I couldn't agree more.

Marie Jensen wrote (September 7, 2001):
About the weekly cantata discussions:

Nearly 200 cantatas are going to be reviewed . Rilling, Harnoncourt and Leusink have done them all. So we are going to read about them and their various disadvantages week after week. The cantatas are often bought as "complete cycles", so it might be an awful waste of money if you don't like at least some of them.

So the list-concept makes the members write about Sytse Buwalda or the "Harnoncourt Doctrine" etc. again and again. The question is: Are we writing for the members, which in many cases allready have read lots of times about our preferences , or are we writing for Aryeh’s archives often read by non-members?

Personally I don't have Aryehs archive’s in mind when I occasionally write , but if the repetitions stopped , the archives would loose their value.

I don't want to attack anybody personally with this mail. Neither do I want the list concept changed. I just wanted you to look on the discussion from another angle.

And Harry, I miss your humour and chivalry very much.



Continue on Part 3


Nikolaus Harnoncourt: Short Biography | Concentus Musicus Wien | Harnoncourt – Glorious Bach! (DVD) | Motets - Harnoncourt | BWV 232 - Harnoncourt | BWV 244 - Harnoncourt | BWV 245 - Harnoncourt-Gillesberger
Gustav Leonhardt: Short Biography | BWV 232 – Leonhardt | BWV 244 - Leonhardt | Inventions & Sinfonias BWV 772-801 - Leonhardt | BWV 988 Goldberg Variations - Leonhardt
Harnoncourt & Leonhardt - Recordings:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4
Harnoncourt & Leonhardt - General Discussions:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7
Table of recordings by BWV Number

Conductors of Vocal Works: A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z | Singers & Instrumentalists

Introduction | Cantatas | Other Vocal | Instrumental | Performers | General Topics | Articles | Books | Movies | New
Biographies | Texts & Translations | Scores | References | Commentaries | Music | Concerts | Festivals | Tour | Art & Memorabilia
Chorale Texts | Chorale Melodies | Lutheran Church Year | Readings | Poets & Composers | Arrangements & Transcriptions
Search Website | Search Works/Movements | Terms & Abbreviations | Copyright | How to contribute | Sitemap | Links



 

Back to the Top


Last update: ýAugust 19, 2005 ý13:55:23