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Joshua Rifkin & The Bach Ensemble
Bach Cantatas & Other Vocal Works
General Discussions - Part 2

Continue from Part 1

Dangerously OT: Rifkin's logic

Bradley Lehman wrote (January 7, 2004):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< bash of Rifkin's arguments, presented here as straw men, deleted] [and defense of Braatz' own citations of Mephistopheles also deleted] [and Braatz' campaign against the value of logic itself, also deleted] (...) [which leaves us with the following question...]
Uri Golomb, can you explain what you mean by
<< but his [Koopman’s] actual response fails to address some pretty central points in Rifkin's arguments >>
I'm not Uri, of course, and he'll respond or not respond as he sees fit. But I'm wondering about a simple point of fact: Mr Braatz, which published articles and books by Joshua Rifkin, if any, have you read in their entirety? Full bibliographic reference, please. Real articles in journals, not reproductions in somebody's CD booklets or on web sites.

Whatever your list might be in that regard, I'm certain that Uri has read many more of them than you have, and understands them better than all of us here put together. And I don't think he should succumb to this trick of telling you what they say, which would excuse you from taking them seriously. If you want to engage in discussion about them, you have responsibility to read them yourself first, not rely on hearsay or excerpts...and not beg to have a real scholar just hand you stuff you're disinclined to go look up.

Plus, Uri has a dissertation to submit and defend, certainly plenty to do; what could he have to gain by summarizing Rifkin to a person who merely wants to discredit Rifkin? If he summarizes Rifkin well, you won't believe him anyway, and you'll argue against him and waste his time and energy and expertise. Or if he does it badly, you'll poke triumphantly at the credibility of Uri. Either way, he's totally screwed if he answers your question at all, and we all know that. I've seen before what happens with forthright responses to your "innocent" questions, if history teaches us anything. What do you have against Uri, personally, to offer him such a Hobson's choice?

Charles Francis wrote (January 7, 2004):
[To Bradley Lehman] It would actually be nice if someone took the trouble to scan in the debate between Rifkin and Koopman/Wolff. My understanding, is that Rifkin wins the argument, but it would nice to confirm this. A somewhat biased summary can be found at: www.people.fas.harvard.edu/~grossman/cemp/one-per-part.pdf (Harvard is Wolff territory, of course).

While I am sympathetic to Taruskin's perspective that early music performance practice is really modern performance practice, this ishardly an argument against Rifkin's thesis. Likewise, Rifkin's choice of female singers and 'modern' brass instruments for his performances has no bearing whatsoever on the size of Bach's choir.

Peter Bright wrote (January 7, 2004):
From the little I have read on the subject (and my own aesthetic biases), I am left with the (very) tentative conclusion that Bach would not have composed the majority of his work with an inherent expectation that it would be performed one voice per part (particularly with respect to the major vocal works outside of the weekly cantatas). I seem to remember an article by Christophf Wolff, from the late '90s, which was pretty dismissive of Rifkin's rather binary view of Bach's intentions. I am quite sensitive to Thomas's assertion that the earliest cantatas may have been written with very small vocal forces in mind - this isn't because I have any concrete evidence to back this up, but simply because, to me, the early offerings lend themselves to such modest treatment. I find it difficult to believe that Bach, in compiling the Mass in B Minor (BWV 232) for prosperity towards the end of his life applied these same principles (if, indeed, he ever did). We also, I think, need to remind ourselves of the distinction between practicalities and intentions. Bach may have been forced from time to time (and against his better nature) to use one voice per part because of the lack of talent and funding available (something which appears to have inflicted the entire Baroque era). If this was the case, surely to re-implement these conditions is taking HIP practice too far?

I'll sign off with a few lines from the New Grove, which mentions Bach's 'Entwurff' in which Bach made his complaints to the Leipzig town council (this is the document which Rifkin interprets in his own influential but controversial manner, to which, Wolff, in turn, offers a rebutt):

"Lack of affirmative patronage is ... reflected in the memorandum that Bach submitted in 1730 to the Leipzig town council. In his ‘Short but most necessary draft for a well-appointed church music, with certain modest reflections on the decline of the same’, he complained of the inferior quality of some of the singers assigned to him and enumerated the minimum number of singers required to serve the three Leipzig churches in which concerted music and motets were performed; this minimum number, according to him, was 36 – three choristers, one of whom also functioned as a soloist, for each of the four parts of three 12-voice choirs. However, notwithstanding the existence from time to time and place to place of larger and smaller choirs, the choir of 30–40 voices which had become common during the Renaissance continued to be regarded as a satisfactory norm throughout the Baroque era. S Marco, Venice, had a choir of 36 in the late 17th century; as has been stated above, the Cappella Sistina numbered 32 from 1625; the restored Chapel Royal of England consisted of 44 singers from 1660 to 1689, 34 from 1689 to 1715 and 38 thereafter; Buxtehude employed a choir of about 30 in his Abendmusik concerts at Lübeck during the last three decades of the 17th century; and even Bach, when major undertakings warranted the use of all his singers in a single performance, possessed a choir of 36.

Thus choirs did not generally grow in size during the Baroque period, primarily because they were expensive."

Uri Golomb wrote (January 7, 2004):
Brief Rifkin comments

As Brad rightly stated, I don't have time to go into this -- not so close to my thesis's submission. So I'll just make a few short comments on the subject, and will not discuss it further at the moment (I might, or might not, return to it at a later date).

First of all: the "Entwurff" is marginal to Rifkin's case. So are Schering's views -- for what Rifkin has to say about Schering, check his own summary on http://homepages.kdsi.net/~sherman/Scherings.htm (bear in mind, though, that this summary should be read as a letter to the editor, not as a proper scholarly article). Rifkin bases his case primarily on the structure of Bach's parts -- not just how many parts Bach wrote out, but also how they are structured. The whole thing is summarised reasonably well by Bernard Sherman on http://homepages.kdsi.net/~sherman/oneperpart.html. Naturally, neither Sherman nor Rifkin would like these particular articles of theirs to represent the full case for OVPP. Fortunately for the lazy, however, there is one book -- namely, Parrott's _Essential Bach Choir_ -- which brings togehter most of the relevant information. This also includes bibliographical reference for most other articles on the subject, both for and against Rifkin; so if you don't want to take Parrott at his word, you can use his book to trace his main opponents. The one important article it does not include is Rifkin's "Bach Choral Ideal" -- for the simple reason that it was published after Parrott's book. So here is the reference:

Joshua Rifkin. Bach's Choral Ideal. Dortmunder Bach-Forschungen (ed. Martin Geck), vol. 5. Dortmu: Klangfarben Musikverlag, 2002.

As for Thomas Braatz's specific question: you imply that you read, or at least have a copy of, Parrott's book. Well, towards the end of that book (p. 143), Parrott lists the claims which any arguments in favour of "the conventional image of Bach's choir" (i.e., that Bach always used at least 3-4 persons per vocal part) must address. Any serious challenger of the one-per-(vocal-)part hypothesis must either demonstrate these six points as true, or prove that the conventional theory can be supported even if they are not true. The lack of arguments regarding the first, second, fourth and last points is particularly disturbing: Rifkin's and Parrott's refutation of these points lies at the heart of their reasoning, yet most of their critics -- including Christoph Wolff and Ton Koopman -- have not taken the trouble to acknowledge the existence of these arguments, let alone bothered to offer counter-arguments. IF you want to check it out for yourself, Parrott's book also contains the bibliographical references for Koopman's article.

I'll add just one more point: to truly support or reject Rifkin's arguments, one needs to examine Bach's autographs directly -- so much of his case is based on them. And one needs to examine them against 18th-century conventions of scoring and notation. I don't claim to have done either of those things; so my preference for Rifkin's case relies predominantly on the fact that his most convincing arguments were simply ignored by his critics. One day, someone might come up with a genuine refutation, based on an examination of the source materials. So far, this hasn't hapenned.

The above is is not a full-fledged defence of Rifkin's case. I have no intention of producing one, not when Rifkin's and Parrott's own writings are available. They're the ones who thoroughly examined the primary sources. As I said, for once you can find almost everything you need in one book -- if you're really interested, read it carefully and patiently. And then see if you can produce counter-arguments to what they actually say, not to straw-men.

Uri Golomb wrote (January 7, 2004):
< A somewhat biased summary can be found at: www.people.fas.harvard.edu/~grossman/cemp/one-per-part.pdf
(Harvard is Wolff territory, of course). >
[To Charles Francis] Charles -- thanks for that link.

I only skimmed it, rather than reading it thoroughly (time constraints, again); but I saved it for future reference. It seems a not unreasonable summary of the debate -- though I feel it gives too much credence to Smithers' article, under-estimated Butt's contribution (mainly "for" Rifkin) and ignores Stauffer's contribution ("against" Rifkin). This is perhaps because Butt and Stauffer contributed to the debate in books and articles which did not deal primarily with the Bach choir debate. Also, because it pre-dates Parrott's book, it obviously does not address this very important contribution.

Uri Golomb wrote (January 7, 2004):
A correction to my previous message -- I charitably assumed that the paper in question ignored Parrott's book because it pre-dates it. I now see that it is dated January 2001. Parrott's book dates from 2000. I can still charitably assume that, by the time the book was available to the author, the paper was nearly finished and he had to submit it by a set deadline, which did not allow him to read the book (it's better not to read a new book so close to the deadline than to skim through it and mis-read it). However, if that is the case, he should not have posted it on the web without first consulting Parrott's book, IMHO.

 

Rifkin
Rifkin & Rock

Francine Renee Hall wrote (March 21, 2004):
[To Bradley Lehman] Yep, I sure have the 1967 Judy Collins CD that Rifkin produced. You haven't heard it??!! It's my favorite JC and stays with you forever and ever! His Scott Joplin is splendid too -- sensitive and slow, the way it's supposed to be; not the fast-tracking that audiences expect. That's why I put my faith in his OVPP B-minor Mass. Even though I love it, my stubborn intellect tells me that Rifkin is pushing a 'cool' trend a bit too far; he never deviates from it even in his cantatas. And I still can't understand why we're discussing OVPP for years and years now! Gardiner had the right idea.... Smooth as silk; no ragged shouting over the timpani!

Douglas Cowling wrote (March 21, 2004):
Francine Renee Hall wrote:
< Yep, I sure have the 1967 Judy Collins CD that Rifkin produced. You haven't heard it??!! It's my favorite JC and stays with you forever and ever! >
The "In mY Life" LP (!) is extremely "high-brow" with a Ballata by Landini and a Weill Song. Rifkin's arrangements are exceptional and actually match JC's rather limited voice. I would put the album on a par with George Martin's arrnagements for the Beatles and heads over Phil Spector's mush.

 

Joshua Rifkin Bach Cantatas

Peter Herwitz wrote (November 8, 2007):
I recently saw at Borders a two-fer of Joshua Rifkin doing famous Bach cantatas such as BWV 78, BWV 147, and BWV 80. I was tempted because I want these cantatas but balked because he is one voice to a part as I remember. This is not my cup of tea especially compared to the expressiveness of Herreweghe or Suzuki. What do people think of Rifkin and the one voice to a part approach? I believe Bach used several boys for each part so it seems historically false as well as a little whitebread. I will be very interested in the list's opinion of this issue. Thanks for your comments in advance.

Donald Satz wrote (November 9, 2007):
Peter Herwitz writes:
< What do people think of Rifkin and the one voice to a part approach? >
I don't have any problem with it, and I find Rifkin's Bach recordings on Decca among the best. I realize that one voice per part has the potential to sound rather anemic/inadequate. But it also has the potential to increase expressiveness and intimacy. The main thing is that Rifkin's a wonderful representative for Bach's music regardless of how many voices are in the mix.

Bert Bailey wrote (November 9, 2007):
I can say next to nothing about the Cantatas, in reply to Peter Herwitz, and about Rifkin only that my public library's got a copy of his version of the Mass in B minor (BWV 232) (Erato, 1982 rec.), and it rocks. His approach shows fine results indeed in this Bach work.

'Though a Bach junkie, the Mass in b is relatively new to me, so maybe I'm not much of a source for a persuasive case supporting Rifkin and in the debate about solo voices vs the choral approach. But I have listened
closely to about five of the biggest conductors doing the Mass, am pleased I managed to get Giulini's live version on BBC ...but still wish for a copy of Rifkin's!

Ron Chaplin wrote (November 12, 2007):
I haven't heard Rifkin's Bach recordings. I have heard Judy Collins' Wildflowers album that Rifkin produced in the late '60's and it's one of my favorite CD's, both pop and classical. Rifkin does a beautiful job creating a collection of beautiful art songs.

Peter Herwitz wrote (November 12, 2007):
Don Satz writes quite eloquently:
< I don't have any problem with it, and I find Rifkin's Bach recordings on Decca among the best. I realize that one voice per part has the potential to sound rather anemic/inadequate. But it also has the potential to increase expressiveness and intimacy. The main thing is that Rifkin's a wonderful representative for Bach's music regardless of how many voices are in the mix. >

I agree with you Don. Here I am with my tail between my legs. I got the six cantata set and I love it. Cantata BWV 140 seems a little inadequate to use your term and BWV 51 seems to need a richer soprano voice but BWV 147, BWV 80, BWV 8, and BWV 78 are all supreme IMO. This proves how prejudice can cut onoff from some great things or experiences. The truth is I've also heard other one voice to a part recordings that I've liked. I still prefer Herreweghe's Bach but whose counting?

 

Joshua Rifkin

David Jones wrote (April 20, 2013):
I'm generally not an OVPP person, but I've broken down and gotten a set of by cantatas by Joshua Rifkin on Decca: Actus Tragicus, BWV 106, BWV 131, BWV 99, BWV 56, BWV 82 and BWV 158. Any thoughts on Rifkin? I bought the set because I decided that I wanted a fresh perspective on two of my favorite cantatas, BWV 131 and the Actus. I'm anxious to hear from you.

Douglas Cowling wrote (April 20, 2013):
David Jones wrote:
< I bought the set because I decided that I wanted a fresh perspective on two of my favorite cantatas, BWV 131 and the Actus (BWV 106). I'm anxious to hear from you. >
The Actus (BWV 106) performance completely changed my attitude to OVPP. Overnight I changed my mind that Bach required hundreds of performers. Monumental took on a new meaning.

Uri Golomb wrote (April 20, 2013):
[To David Jones] Actually, of the two "double decca" albums containing Rifkin's cantata recordings, I prefer the other one - the which contains, among others, Cantatas BWV 140, BWV 147 and BWV 78. I have reviewed at the end of my interview with Rifkin, which you can read on: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Articles/Rifkin-Golomb.pdf

Rifkin's performance style is always understated and contained; he doesn't go for bold, grandiose gestures. This in itself is neither criticism nor praise - introverted performances can be good, bad, or indifferent. I always enjoy Rifkin's performances, but sometimes I find them a bit too understated, and this includes his BWV 131 and Actus tragicus (BWV 106). I find his performances of the other cantatas in that set - and of BWV 140, BWV 147 and BWV 78 - more lively and engaging.

Cantatas BWV 131 and BWV 106, by the way, received many one-per-part performances. In BWV 106, I especially like Cantus Colln's performance; in BWV 131, I love the first recording by the Ricercar Consort (I don't know their second recording, but I've heard many good things about it), and I also have a soft spot for the American Bach Soloists' rendition, especially in the final movement.

Generally speaking, I believe Rifkin was absolutely correct historically about OVPP: that is, that Bach indeed conceived most of his choral music for a one-per-part vocal ensemble, and might not even have wanted more singers (he wanted better singers, but that's a different issue). What this means for us, today, is a different question. Personally, I want to see all of Bach's cantatas performed and recorded one-per-part, though I also wanted want to part from my favourite choral performances, and I wouldn't want to see choirs give up this marvellous repertoire. Some cantatas, I feel, do work a lot better one-per-part - in fact, I find it hard to hear cantata BWV 106 with larger forces these days; others work very well both ways.

David Jones wrote (April 20, 2013):
[To Uri Golomb] I've gotten through the "Actus Tragicus" (BWV 106) and BWV 131 and I must say that these performances have much to commend them: the clarity of counterpoint, the jewel-like fineness of the instrumental playing, the dynamic delicacy. I can't say that they'll get me out of the temple of Gardiner however and I can't say that the performances convince me that OVPP was what Bach had in mind for ALL of his cantatas. For instance, I can't say that OVPP would have been able to convey the bellicose majesty and power of BWV 126; I hardly think OVPP would have been able to tell against the searing high clarion part, or the glorious thunder of the Ascension cantatas or that OVPP would have been able to convey the organ registration-like contrasts in BWV 21 or BWV 109, all this in addition to being able to being able to soar aloft the chorale cantus firmi in the chorale cantatas and other places. I think there's a difference between what a composer had to work with and what he wanted. I think after studying the relevant arguments and taking into account both sides, at the end of the day you have to use your ears. What makes the piece come off? My opinion is that OVPP fits some of Bach's cantatas like a glove; the two I mentioned for instance. There are many cantatas however, that I believe OVPP deprives of impact and power and unduly and inappropriately miniaturizes. I remember hearing Rifkin do BWV 80 once on a recording and I couldn't have been more disappointed or unfulfilled by the performance. It is at times like this that I appreciate more than ever the ways in which Gardiner transcends the argument by reducing his choir to OVPP textures where appropriate and using the "ripieno" power of a full choir in other places. Take BWV 131 for an example. In his later recording on Soli Deo Gloria, it opens ethereally and quietly, its first bars voiced in haunting OVPP texture. Later though, he "pulls out the stops", as Bach would do in an organ performance, drawing contrasts between the replies of a full choir and the quiet reflections of the soloisten. There are still some Bach pieces I'd like to hear done in OVPP style such as Himmelskonig sei Wilkommen, and BWV 18, but the tragic weight of say, BWV 21 or BWV 12, the luminous joys of BWV 180...it's back to Gardiner's small choir.

Julian Mincham wrote (April 20, 2013):
[To David Jones] My own attitude to OVPP was fully confirmed after hearing Paul McCreesh direct the St John Passion (BWV 245) in Weimar a few years ago. H e used 8 singers, 4 soloists (main parts) and 4 ripieno (minor roles and joining with the first quartet for the big chorus movements. The orchestra had 15 players the strings being--2 each of 1st and second violins and single viola, cello and bass. The balance was excellent and the vocal forces plenty even for the commandingly dramatic opening chorus.

Admittedly he used female sop and altos rather than boys but the overall effect has led me to believe that all the cantatas were done this way the big choruses using 8 rather than 4 voices. I do believe that the balance with small string bands and flutes and oboes of the period, the resulting balance is more ideal and satisfying than with other combinations.

It took me several decades to come to this view and leave behind the C20 traditions I grew up with but I do think now that it's the right and most effective way of performing even the bigger cantatas.

David Jones wrote (April 20, 2013):
[To Julian Mincham] I'm now listening to BWV 56, with Jan Opalach turning in an exquisite performance; the tiny orchestra is mercurial, depicting the personal, often choppy seas a Christian must sail through and the stern determination displayed by the man who says "I will gladly carry the cross beam". This is a solo cantata however, so arguments for or against OVPP are rather moot here.

Julian Mincham wrote (April 20, 2013):
David Jones :
< This is a solo cantata however, so arguments for or against OVPP are rather moot here. >
Excepting the closing chorale which most (though not all) of the solo cantatas still retain. However it would seems rather pointless in practical and stylistic terms as well as in good taste to have these 'chamber' chorales emblazoned with a large chorale rendition on the hymns melody. OVPP seems called for and appropriate in each case.

Douglas Cowling wrote (April 20, 2013):
David Jones wrote:
< I'm now listening to BWV 56 ... This is a solo cantata however, so arguments for or against OVPP are rather moot here. >
It's worth noting that our terminology of "solo" and "choral" cantatas is not Bach's. Even "cantata" is a misnomer. Bach's normal term seems to have been "concerto." Julian can tell us how often Bach used the term
"cantata."

Continue oif this pasrt of the discxussion, see: What is a Cantata? [General Topics]

Uri Golomb wrote (April 20, 2013):
Regarding BWV 21 - this is a piece which, according to Rifkin's research, Bach himself had re-written. It was originally conceived as a one-per-(vocal)-part composition. But when he revived it years later, in Leipzig, Bach added a group of ripieno singers (as well as extra instruments), creating a much more opulent sonority in selected passages. He only used two singers per part, rather than one. This doesn't really change the volume - but it does change the timbre significantly.

On the whole, Bach tended to use ripienists much less frequently than Kuhnau, his predecessor in Leipzig. We know this; but we don't know WHY. Maybe he generally preferred the sound of concertists-only; or maybe he felt that the ripienists he had in Leipzig weren't good enough. He did statLeipzige, openly, that his music is more complicated than others', and therefore fewer singers are up for it; and he implicitly refused to write simpler music -- even though, had he done so, he'd have been able to use more singers. (One of his contemporaries, Scheibel, wrote explicitly that a choir of 4 good singers is better than a larger choir of inferior singers; maybe Bach shared this view).

What would Bach have done if he had, say, Gardiner's Monteverdi Choir at his disposal? We simply don't know. Maybe he'd have used it exactly as Gardiner does. Or maybe he would have written more 8-part music, splitting the choir into two groups with 1 or 2 per part in each group. Or maybe he would have refused to use it at all, and would have stuck to OVPP (with just the occasional addition of ripienists). Other options can also be imagined. We simply cannot know.

Personally, I find many of Gardiner's performances magnificent. But I'm not always convinced that Bach would have enjoyed them as much as I (and many others) do. Some of my favourite Gardiner performances include practices that Bach might never have imagined -- and which he might have objected to. That said, I don't think we should reject them on those grounds. It's important to have performances - like Rifkin's, Parrott's or Kuijken's - which try to come as close as possible to what Bach had in mind. But we need not bind ourselves to this criterion. Bach's music is so rich and complex that it can thrive on conflicting approaches, and it's richer even than its creator had envisioned and imagined.

Douglas Cowling wrote (April 20, 2013):
Uri Golomb wrote:
< He did state openly, that his music is more complicated than others', and therefore fewer singers are up for it; and he implicitly refused to write simpler music -- even though, had he done so, he'd have been able to use more singers. >
However, this is a hierarchy of difficulty of vocal parts in Bach's cantata which I have always thought must relate to circumstantial exigencies. A classic case is opening chorus of BWV 99, "Was Gott Thut". The orchestra parts are a full-blown concerto grosso which demand a high technical ability. The choral parts on the other hand are so easy that the first time I looked at the score I wondered if this was sung by the same choir that took on "Cum Sancto Spiritu" in the Missa, one of the most difficult choruses ever written.

Was the cantata an aesthetic decisions? Did Bach self-consciously write EEZEE choir parts so as to highlight the orchestral concerto? Or was it a pedagogical decision? Were the simple choral parts a way of introducing less experienced singers to the rigours of his compositional style? If we looked at, say, the first cantata year closely, would we see patterns of technical difficulty which would suggest that various sub-choirs were assigned to particular cantatas?

Which of course brings into play the Exhausted and Infected Choir Hypothesis as the reason for solo cantatas and perhaps less-demanding vocal parts. I've never had much sympathy for this notion because it merely retrofits people's experiences in small church choirs. Bach wasn't a small-town operator. Leipzig was the big time, and, like the Metropolitan Opera, I'm sure that Bach had covers and understudies waiting to step into any role.

The famous carol service by the Choir of King's College, Camdbridge, always begins with a solo choirboy singing the first verse of "Once in Royal David' City" unaccompanied. Not a difficult piece on the page, but the performance context is electrifyingly stressful. It is the tradition that all 16 choirboys prepare the solo with coaches, but it is only at the last moment when the choir lines up at the back of the church that the Choirmaster points to the boy who has to take a breath and sing.

I suspect that Bach inspired such discipline.

Claudio Di Veroli wrote (April 20, 2013):
Uri Golomb wrote:
< Personally, I find many of Gardiner's performances magnificent. But I'm not always convinced that Bach would have enjoyed them as much as I (and many others) do. Some of my favourite Gardiner performances include practices that Bach might never have imagined . . .... >
Couldn't agree more. I just bought the recent Christmas Oratorio DVD by Gardiner.Impressive, moving, stylish, I liked it a lot and, besides, nothing like this is available in movie format. HOWEVER, I see here and there a few thingsthat JSB would certainly not have found in his milieu and that, arguably, would not have approved of, like for example:

- Quite obviously, choirs with more than two singers per voice, forcing to have more violins that a Bach orchestra would have, and thus not having the same balance with the winds.

- The conductor making gestures trying to convey an unified, and even personal interpretation approach (as opposed to the individual-player's following their local style customs, getting from the conductor only the beat)

- Singers with frequent rubato, especially in notes that are NOT long and works that are NOT in French style (flattement).

- Natural horns fixing the tuning by using node holes: perfect intonation, but not authentic. At the time they would fix the notorious out-of-tune notes with the embouchure, which is only possible with a more flexible emission that requires playing slower and softer, and there would be some mistuned notes that the audience and musicians were accustomed to, actually they expected them.

[The same criticism can be said about trumpets, only we are not so sure, and lipping-up or down in a trumpet has less scope than on a narrow-bore natural horn: only ONE natural trumpeter today, Madeuf, is playing with no holes, and the results are quite shocking, much different from which we are used to hear].

Douglas Cowling wrote (April 20, 2013):
Claudio Di Veroli wrote:
< Only ONE natural trumpeter today, Madeuf, is playing with no holes, and the results are quite shocking, much different from which we are used to hear]. >
Here's a breath-taking performance of Campra's "Exaudiat Te Dominus": http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o74fxgfA1Lc

I love the 17th century French pronunciation of the Latin: "Domi-NYOOSE"

Continue oif this pasrt of the discxussion, see: Trumpets in Bach’s Vocal Works – Part 8 [General Topics]

Eric Basta wrote (April 20, 2013):
[To Claudio Di Veroli] I remember the first time I heard Rifkin BWV 131 & BWV 106 (which were originally released together). I was absolutely floored - it was so different, so clear, and just absolutely stunning. I don't think the CD left the player for about 2 years or more afterwards!

David Jones wrote (April 21, 2013):
[To Eric Basta] Bach's Short but most Necessary Draft I think says a lot about his requirements; his complaints to his employers often had to do with the inadequacy of the forces he had to work with. I'm not sure I agree with arguments that Gardiner has made some inauthentic gestures. We'll probably never know how Bach moved his hands conducting the choir from the keyboard. I listened to Gardiner's interpretation of BWV 131 shortly after hearing the Rifkin. I can't say that I'd be without either of them, but Gardiner's is the richer and more exquisite, aside from having a better feeling about tempo in the opening adagio. In Gardiner's rendering there is a deeply felt sense of collective mourning. I did read Uri's review and Rifkin seems (over) confident that time will settle the argument in his favor. Errrr.....as I said before, there are many cantatas that are unduly miniaturized by OVPP treatment. After the musicological arguments are over, it's all about what a piece does to the eardrums. Rifkin might have caused a scandal with his OVPP B Minor Mass but he'll never beat Gardiner's interpretation. And the St. Matthew Passion? I wouldn't be caught dead listening to an OVPP performance of that.

Linda Gingrich wrote (April 21, 2013):
[To David Jones] I have to weigh in as a modern conductor of all-volunteer, or amateur, choirs. The vast majority of 20th/21st-century conductors lead choruses of volunteer singers, most of whom don't have the training to sing one or two to a part. But I want my singers to have the joy of singing Bach's music, so we do it, and they love it. It trains their ears and their intellect, feeds their spirit, and they benefit greatly from the experience. It's only the privileged few who can sing OVPP, or even debate the point. The rest of us simply perform the music, make as informed choices as we can, and revel in it. And it is indeed a joy, whether one or ten to a part.

Thomas Savary wrote (April 21, 2013):
Joshua Rifkin - Boy singers

Thank you, Uri, for this very interesting interview with Joshua Rifkin.

That being said, I do not share all his views about boys singers. Once again, his anwer relays the myth of the late voice mutation (with caution, however, carefully avoiding to mention any age).

The topic has already been discussed here: Boyd Pehrson and Thomas Braatz provided enough examples and sources to invalidate this thesis of the voice mutation between sixteen and eighteen years, including a comment from Johann Friedrich Agricola’s German translation of Pier Francesco Tosi’s book, Opinioni of ’Cantor (1723), Anleitung zur Singkunst (Berlin, 1757, pp. 28-29.): this former Bach’s student in Leipzig wrote that the boy’s high voice turns into a deeper one at about the age of fourteen.

The common mistake is to believe that a sixteen or eighteen years old boy soprano is a boy whose voice hasn’t broken yet. This error is typical of people with no culture on boy voices (which seems to be the case with Mr. Rifkin) — simply because they do not like these voices and therefore are not interested in them, which is quite understandable and rightful, except for musicians who are supposed to deal with early christian music in a historically informed approach.

The voice of Max Emanuel Cencic has changed between the ages of thirteen and fourteen. He continued to sing as a sopranist as up to the age of twenty-one. Other examples from the Vienna Boys’ Choir: Alexander Nader and Terry Wey.

Cencic:
http://www.boysoloist.com/artist.asp?VID=296
Cencic’s voice had already changed in the Philips recording, as you can tell by comparing it to the Mahler recording, when he still had his child voice.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SCFuGG8MAWo (Mahler)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A3q1o8rCuVw (Strauss, at the age of thirteen or fourteen)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qYk-0pL-La4 (fifteen-sixteen years old)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PxYrR3BrQlA (above twenty)

Nader:
http://www.boysoloist.com/artist.asp?VID=2019
Nader’s voice in Schubert’s Masses directed by Bruno Weil had already changed, not preventing him from singing the soprano parts.
http://www.qobuz.com/album/orchestra-of-the-age-of-enlightenment-bruno-weil-
schubert-mass-in-f-major-d-105-mass-in-g-major-d-167/0074646824726 (track 2, for instance)
You can watch him and listen to him in this operette “Das Dorfbarbier”.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SSJIjwVUwkE
He can be heard singing, for example, from the 27th minute — it is interesting to compare his voice with Christoh List’s (the much younger boy playing the girl). Nader made his entrance at 22 min 33 s: you can hear his speaking voice (obviously a mutated one). By the way, the boy alto playing the barber is quite good (despite some registration problems), but I don’t know his name.

Wey:
http://www.boysoloist.com/artist.asp?VID=221
Wey was about twenty years old when he recorded the album entitled “Soprano, Alto, Tenore”. In this Schütz’s little sacred concerto, he was about eighteen, singing the soprano II part, with his younger brother Lorin, soprano I (thirteen):
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aiuw8M3q4_8

Did Bach use young sopranists like Cencic, Nader and Wey? Probably. By choice or because he had to, like Doles in 1784 (see Richard Petzoldt, Der Leipziger Thomanerchor, Leipzig, 1962)? Did he prefer mutated sopranos or boys with unchanged voices? We don’t know. But I see many reasons to favour unchanged voices (esthetical, technical and spiritual). Of course, I won’t pretend to know what Bach meant on this subject.

Going back to the breaking of the voice, it usually occurs a bit later among boy singers than among non-singers, currently between the age of thirteen and fourteen in countries like Germany and England, which is indeed a bit earlier than in Germany in the eighteenth century, but not that much. Moreover, boychoirs are nowadays much bigger than in Bach’s days (even a “small” choir like the Tölzer’s Chor I has about forty singers, boys and men).
It is not difficult to find in today’s boychoirs a few singers whose voices will break between the ages of fourteen and sixteen, which corresponds roughly to the pool of boy singers prior their mutation that Bach must have had at his diposal. Exceptionally, there are even boys whose voices break only between sixteen and seventeen years (Aled Jones, Alois Mühlbacher).Besides, age is not everything. I have heard thirteen years old boy sopranos better than fifteen years old ones. Example taken from the Tölzer Knabenchor: Andreas Möhrwald’s voice broke several months after his fifteenth birthday. He was a good soloist, but Stefan Pangratz (whose voice changed shortly after his fifteenth birthday) was already better than him before his thirteenth birthday. At fifteen, the same Stefan Pangratz was not dbetter than he was two years earlier. Time matters, but is not everything.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e4ucewfK85c (Stefan Pangratz, fourteen, unknown mezzo, Andreas Burkhart, fourteen — I heard the latter in Paris, when he was fifteen and still singing alto in “Jesu, meine Freude”)

Dennis Chmelensky (Staats- und Domchor Berlin) is another example of an excellent thirteen years old soprano, better than the “average” fifteen years old: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K4wigpSdQf8.

Mr. Rifkin wrote: “I do not think boy altos played a significant role in the performance of concerted music anyway.”

On what basis? It is very likely that if Bach had no boy altos at a sufficient technical level, he had to use falsettists. But we know that the composer had boy altos at his disposal as well. And a good boy alto offers real advantages over countertenors:
— a more powerful voice (not than Visse or Cencic have, but let us say Alex Potter, Magid El-Bushra or Bernhard Landauer, for instance, and no one have forbidden them to sing Bach’s music);
— much greater dynamic possibilities (see Iconomou in “Es ist vollbracht”:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K_QAoanXntw ; or Gabriel Hengl in the same aria [most impressive, although he exaggerates with his chest voice, what a pity!]: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rpZUQ8f511w ;
— a far much better differentiation of the vowels.

Have you ever noticed how most falsettists are difficult to understand? Except for a minority of singers like Gérard Lesne or Bernhard Landauer, whose vowels articulation is perfect (but quite soft voices), it is often difficult to distinguish between “a” and “o”, “o” and “u”, “i” and ”e” (as in “beten” [pray], for example).

This problem is rare among boy altos: when I listen to the young Peter Schreier in his first recordings, Stefan Rampf or Panito Iconomou in Bach cantatas with Nikolaus Harnoncourt, I do not need the booklet as I do with Paul Esswood, Robin Blaze or even Andreas Scholl (unless I already know the text by heart).

Given the importance of the text in Bach cantatas, I think that good boy altos are a better choice than falsettists. Sure, Bach had printed the texts of his cantatas and illiteracy had been widely eliminated among the lutheran population, but is it not more pleasant to listen to the music without having to read the text?

However, once again, I will not pretend to know what Bach preferred. And maybe he knew how to train his falsettists to have a better pronunciation than most today’s countertenors.

Mr. Rifkin wrote as well “For Bach, the difference between a boy soprano, a castrato, and a falsettist was probably about as significant as the difference between an oboe by Pörschmann, an oboe by Eichentopf, and an oboe by Denner”, which is in my opinion a very bad comparison. These vocal differences are indeed at least as important as between an ordinary oboe, an oboe da caccia or an oboe d’amore. And I think that these differences between oboes were highly significant for Bach. Besides, as a pure musician, Mr. Rifkin seems to forget an essential dimension of Bach’s music: its spiritual content, including that of soprano arias.

I have started writing chronicles (columns?) on the subject, which publication should (hopefully) start on the Web in September 2013, on a French site specializing in baroque culture. Written in French, since my English skills are far too limited. My point is to prove that young boys (or girls — but this was impossible at the time —, that is children) are the ideal performers to convey the spiritual message of most Bach soprano arias — because of the Christian vision of children, that was of high importance for Martin Luther, and which Bach’s sacred music reflects too, on many occasions.

I think that Joshua Rifkin is right on one point, though, concerning today’s boy singers: their different vocal training (supposedly he means by that a poor or even bad training). Indeed, boys vocal training has long been very bad, unprofessional and inadequate during decades in the twentieth century, not only in England (see Stephen Beet, http://www.thebetterland.org/bland019.html and http://www.thebetterland.org/bland052.html), but in Germany and Austria as well: the huge size of the Thomanerchor or the Dresdner Kreuzchor makes boys’ individual training problematic, not to speak of the spectacular decline of the Vienna Boys’ Choir; even the vocal training at the Tölzer Knabenchor has some questionable points. I admire Gerhard Schmidt-Gaden ’s work and accomplishment, but, as he himself admits it, he built his vocal training on very eclectic and disparate bases. He often got truly excellent results (Allan Bergius, Helmut Wittek, Christian Fliegner, Stefan Pangratz, Christian Immler, Panito Iconomou, Christian Günther…), but there were some very disappointing soloists as well.

Since Brownwen Mill’s appointment as a singing teacher, the Choir of New College Oxford has proven that with a far smaller catchment population (Oxford metropitan area: about 250,000; Munich area: about 2,500,000) and a smaller pool of boys (16 trebles), you can get at least as good results. Since 2005, the Choir of New College has, for each year, at least two trebles who can compete with the very best soprano soloists of the Tölzer Knabenchor from the last twenty-five years.

Jonty Ward (soprano), Hugh Cutting (boy alto), Nick Pritchard (tenor), Tom Edwards (baritone):
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QB6erDtqr2I
Another Bronwen Mills’ pupil, Laurence Kilsby, from the Tewkesbury Abbey Schola Cantorum of Dean Close Preparatory School:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=imH8kCL0OeU (believe it or not, he was only eleven at the time — he is fourteen now, and his voice has started to change, well, like Agricola wrote in 1757)

Holger Eichhorn is a OVPP performer of Bach’s music. Unlike Joshua Rifkin, Paul McCreesh, Konrad Junghänel or Sigiswald Kuijken, he uses boy sopranos. His recording “Stil’Antico-Motetten” was somewhat of a disappointment (and not only because of the boy’s limitations), but his recent recording of the first three cantatas of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio is among my favorites, although I am still quite sceptical about OVPP approach for most Leipzig works.

I think that the oboists are the best I have ever heard! Thomas Riede, although being already thirty-five in this recording, sounds very much like a young falsettist, sometimes, on certain notes and vowels, even almost like a non-mutated boy alto like Frederic Jost. I was a bit disappointed by the boy, Leopold Lampelsdorfer, at the first listening. Admittedly, he is very talented (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n4odkRAkwOQ) but not as good as his predecessor, Daniel Krähmer, whose voice had broken just a few months before this recording, when he was about fifteen years and six months old (that is older than Johann Sebastian Bach when his voice broke). In his recitatives or the duett with baritone Georg Lutz, he is far less expressive than on the video of “Zerfliesse, mein Herze”, but he is much more convincing in choruses, where the balance between voices and between voices and instruments is excellent, without this dominance of the soprano voice our ears got used to, as it is often the case in baroque music with female sopranos as well as in choirs, especially boychoirs. No rush in “Jauchzet, frohlocket”, but a great care for accentuation and articulation, so that the piece sounds like a joyful celebration in effect, rather than a Formula 1 race. An excellent recording!
http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Performers/Eichhorn.htm

Ed Myskowski wrote (April 21, 2013):
David Jones wrote:
<< This is a solo cantata however, so arguments for or against OVPP are rather moot here. >>
Julian Mincham wrote:
< Excepting the closing chorale which most (though not all) of the solo cantatas still retain. However it would seems rather pointless in practical and stylistic terms as well as in good taste to have these 'chamber' chorales emblazoned with a large chorale rendition on the hymns melody. >
As Doug Cowling has reminded us as often as necessary, the chorus had many functions in Bach's provision of sacred music for the Leipzig Lutheran services, beyond performance of his newly written (or repeated performance of original) music.

Therefor, there is no practical constraint on the use of chorus for the chorale in an otherwise solo cantata.

Julian Mincham wrote (April 22, 2013):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
< Therefor, there is no practical constraint on the use of chorus for the chorale in an otherwise solo cantata. >
True The singers would be there as part of the Sunday service and available for the singing of the chorale. My point was more about the inappropriateness or misbalance of the chorale being sung by a large chorale force in the context of a chamber cantata which otherwise might have required fewer than ten musicians to perform

Harry W. Crosby wrote (April 22, 2013):
My thanks to the participants in this discussion/analysis of Rifkin's work, OVPP in general, and personal preferences. As one who can scarcely carry a tune and has never played an instrument, and who also lives in an an area, San Diego, CA, where few admirable performances of Bach are to be heard, I have had little contact with his works beyond assiduously listening to most new recordings as they have appeared. That activity, by the way, began in 1957 during a long recovery from hepatitis, ironically contracted in Europe. As a result I have collected and then discarded many dozens of Bach 78 rpm, then 33 rpm disks, and now have accumulated nearly 150 Bach CDs and SACDs.

These disks represent my choices after making literally hundreds of comparisons and retaining only those offering performances that I enjoyed after repeated hearings. In the course of that, I have chosen a group of cantatas which I consider absolutely essential, works I cannot live without --- that A group incidentally numbers over sixty cantatas plus, needless to say, the oratorios, Magnificat, Mass in b, and the Passions of Matthew (BWV 244) and John (BWV 245).

The judgments re: the cantatas, have resulted in 44 cases where a single performance is my clear favorite, 14 cases where I found two performances so enjoyable that I wanted both available, 3 instances in which three performances qualified, and just one work where I found 4 recordings which I did not wish to live without.

Rifkin's recordings make up a very small part of my collection, but I consider them significant. And when I analyze the 5 that I chose for my A group, I learn that, for my own taste, it is the smaller works in which, for me, Rifkin tends to shine, solo cantatas in particular. For me, an amusing example of this is the Rifkin disk offering BWV 51 and BWV 140. I love Julianne Baird's presentation of the inspired solo soprano role in "Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen," whereas I find Rifkin and his forces sadly lacking in all that is needed to project the grand images/sentiments that make up "Wachet auf . . . ." Another Rifkin disk, that offering BWV 106 and BWV 131, has the much more comfortable pairing, two of my favorite Rifkin performances. The final two choices of Rifkin offerings are also found on a single disk, BWV 202 and BWV 209, both solo cantatas admirably sung by the aforementioned Julianne Baird. (I must add that, while I love listening to Baird singing BWV 202, my all time favorite remains Greta de Reyghere conducted by Pierlot.)

Again, thank all of you who contributed to this, for me, most interesting exchange of analyses and opinions.

Ed Myskowski wrote (April 22, 2013):
Harry W. Crosby wrote:
< As a result I have collected and then discarded many dozens of Bach 78 rpm, then 33 rpm disks >
Several Christmases back, a couple dozen of those LPs were discarded in my direction, in response to my offer to provide respectful handling of unwanted disks.

Thanks again, Mate! Nice to hear from you.

 

More reflections on Rifkin

David D. Jones wrote (May 5, 2013):
I went out shopping today and bought another collection of Rifkin performances. This time, it was "Favorite Cantatas" on the L'Oiseau Lyre division of Decca, a "Double Decca" release that includes BWV 8, BWV 80, BWV 147, BWV 51, BWV 140 and BWV 78. Once again, Rifkin's performances reveal the inner skeleton of Bach's luminous works and the finely wrought detail of his genius without convincing me that this is what Bach intended. One wishes Rifkin's HIP tendency to overly peppy tempos would have extended to Bach's brilliant coloratura showpiece, Jachzet Gott in Allen Landen. Instead, Bach's treacherous bravura is fed to us, line by immaculate line, in a dispiriting kind of slow motion. Compare this with Gardiner's fiery, gleamingly forceful performances with both Emma Kirkby on Phillips and Maarten Hertilius on Soli Deo Gloria and you will hear what Rifkin is missing. It is also a great pity that Rifkin's hard nosed, maniacal scholarship about the appropriate size of the vocal ensemble for Bach did not translate to a comparable instrumental understanding in the lovely, elegiac cantata Liebster Gott, wann werd ich Sterben. Rifkin didn't intuit that Bach wrote the chiming high "flute" part for a sixth flute---really a high recorder--- written in D but sounding in E? This small but significant detail, which causes Rifkin to use the second version of Bach's score, is one of the reasons Gardiner remains the dean of Bach interpreters IMO. To be fair, Rifkin may not have had the scholarly research that would have allowed him to come to such a conclusion in the late '80s, when these cantatas were recorded. Liebster Gott sounded delightfully intimate or woefully undernourished vocally and instrumentally phrase by phrase, and I stand by Gardiner's iridescent, prismatic, yet historically informed performance (s).

Ed Myskowski wrote (May 5, 2013):
David D. Jones wrote:
< Once again, Rifkin's performances reveal the inner skeleton of Bach's luminous works and the finely wrought detail of his genius without convincing me that this is what Bach intended. >
But how can one be convinced of what Bach intended?

Uri Golomb wrote (May 5, 2013):
I think it's important to seperate between the OVPP issue and Rifkin's performances. A performance is about so much more than the number of participants; and the differences between Rifkin and Gardiner, for instance, have to do with many other factors besides the fact that Gardiner uses a choir (in the modern sense of the word) and that his orchestra is larger than Rifkin's.

I agree that Rifkin's performances are introverted and contained; sometimes I'm convinced by his approach (for instance, in Cantata 78), sometimes less so (for instance, in cantatas BWV 51 and BWV 106). But whether you like it or not, this restraint is not a direct consequence of OVPP. Junghanel's recording of Actus Tragicus (BWV 106) is also OVPP, and to my mind it's the most dramatic Actus Tragicus (BWV 106) on record; Jeffrey Thomas uses OVPP to fascinatingly dramatic effect in Aus der Tiefe and in Cantata BWV 12.

Similarly for choral performances; yes, Gardiner is remarkably dramatic -- but other chamber-choral perforamnces come closer to Rifkin's in their lyrical restraint (I'm thinking of som-- not all -- of Herreweghe's performances, for instance).

So the issue of whether Rifkin's research on Bach's vocal forces is correct shoudl be considered separately from how convincing his performances are. It's perfectly consistent to accept Rifkin's musicological findings and
reject his performances -- or vice versa.

Stephen Benson wrote (May 5, 2013):
Uri Golomb wrote:
< Junghanel's recording of Actus Tragicus (BWV 106) is also OVPP, and to my mind it's the most dramatic Actus Tragicus (BWV 106) on record >
FWIW, I am in total agreement. His is a Desert Island recording.

David Jones wrote (May 5, 2013):
Ed Myskowski wrote to David Jones:
< But how can one be convinced of what Bach intended? >
Ed, Rifkin certainly is convinced that OVPP is what Bach intended soooo.....was that question rhetorical or what?

Stephen Benson wrote (May 5, 2013):
Stephen Benson wrote: to Uri Golomb:
< FWIW, I am in total agreement. His is a Desert Island recording. >
And I meant to add, so, on the same disc, is his festive wedding cantata, "Der Herr denket an uns", BWV 196.

David Jones wrote (May 5, 2013):
[To Uri Golomb] Uri that's an interesting way if looking at it! Accept the findings, disagree with the performances. I disagree on both counts but your approach gives the argument more nuance.

David Jones wrote (May 5, 2013):
[To Stephen Benson] I love Koopman's wedding cantata performances and I wish Gardiner would tackle the same rep.

Uri Golomb wrote (May 5, 2013):
David Jones wrote to Ed Myskowski:
< Ed, Rifkin certainly is convinced that OVPP is what Bach intended soooo.....was that question rhetorical or what? >
Finding what Bach intended in certain technical terms, such as how many singers he wrote for, is one thing. Finding out what his overall intention had been for all aspects of performance is quite another. Rifkin never claimed that his performances are a perfect reflection of Bach's intentions, even though he claims that he closely approximates specific aspects, including ensemble size.

Kim Patrick Clow wrote (May 5, 2013):
Uri Golomb wrote:
< Finding what Bach intended in certain technical terms, such as how many singers he wrote for, is one thing. Finding out what his overall intention had been for all aspects of performance is quite another. Rifkin never claimed that his performances are a perfect reflection of Bach's intentions, even though he claims that he closely approximates specific aspects, including ensemble size. >
Exactly Uri. Well said.

David Jones wrote (May 5, 2013):
Uri Golomb wrote:
< Finding what Bach intended in certain technical terms, such as how many singers he wrote for, is one thing. Finding out what his overall intention had been for all aspects of performance is quite another. Rifkin never claimed that his performances are a perfect reflection of Bach's intentions, even though he claims that he closely approximates specific aspects, including ensemble size. >
So it a forest or trees argument.....

Ed Myskowski wrote (May 5, 2013):
David Jones wrote to Ed Myskowski:
< Ed, Rifkin certainly is convinced that OVPP is what Bach intended soooo.....was that question rhetorical or what? >
Uri replied to this question before I got to it, concisely and nicely stated.

I do not quite grasp the forest/trees analogy in Davids subsequent post. A forest is the sum of the trees, no?

Rifkins arguments define the number of trees (minimal), hence the forest. But the forest is not equivalent to performance, as Uri succinctly points out. So it is difficult to see how subjective evaluation of any performance can support (or not) the defined forest.

David Jones wrote (May 5, 2013):
[To Ed Myskowski] Since you've decided to stretch this metaphor, how about I just say that two (or perhaps more properly, four) trees isn't a forest, no matter who says so, and I humbly disagree that the forest isn't the performance. Rifkin's arguments about OVPP are based on an underlying assertion that this is what Bach had in mind and this is a more accurate representation of his sound world than the work of say, Gardiner. The parts determine the effect of the whole in this case, IMO

Uri Golomb wrote (May 6, 2013):
True: four trees are not a forest. Four singers, however, ARE a choir, as defined in the 17th adn 18th centuries. The dictionaries and treatises of the time say as much. Just because WE define choir as a group with several singer per vocal part, doesn't mean BACH defined it that way. (In the Coffee Cantata, Bach called the final movement -- which calls for just THREE singers -- a CHORUS, simply because it employed all the singers who appear in that particular cantata).

"Rifkin's arguments about OVPP are based on an underlying assertion that this is what Bach had in mind".

again, false. "underlying assertion" suggests that rifkin treated OVPP as an axiom that requires no proof. Rifkin is far too good a scholar to do that. The idea that Bach had in mind a consort of four singers (concertists -- who acted as both soloists and choristers), sometimes augmented by an additional quartet (ripienists, who joined in for some phrases in some chorueses) is Rifkin's CONCLUSION, based on what we know (from historical docuemnts) about the conventions of Bach's period and the structure of Bach's own written parts. It's not an "underlying assertion", but an evidence-based theory (in the scientific sense of the word "theory").

David Jones wrote (May 6, 2013):
[To Uri Golomb] Apparently his scholarship allowed him to disregard Bach's "Necessary Draft" which casts shadows on his arguments, Uri. Rifkin is NOT that objective, period. Further interviews with him makes clear that he thinks that his theories represent Bach's sound world accurately. I think its disingenuous to assert his detached objectivity. Rifkin has said that he thinks that non-OVPP performances will go the way of the Richters of the world....he clearly thinks he's right, which is fine. I'm sure Gardiner thinks he's right too.

Uri Golomb wrote (May 6, 2013):
[To David Jones] Read Rifkin's "Bach's Choral Ideal" before stating that he ignored the ENTWURFF. Rifkin analyses the Entwurff very carefully there, and shows that it speaks about the overall number of singers Bach wanted available to him throughotu the year -- NOT teh number of singers he wanted to sing in each and every movement called a chorus. (If you can't find rifkin's essay, read the relevant chapter in Andrew Parrott's THE ESSENTIAL BACH CHOIR).

Read rifkin's published articles, not his interviews and liner notes, before you speak about the level of his scholarship.

David Jones wrote (May 6, 2013):
[To Uri Golomb] Uri. I've read what he has to say. I disagree with him, period. Let's agree to disagree and move on. He did not interpret Bach's draft correctly in my opinion.

David Jones wrote (May 6, 2013):
[Continue former message] There are OVPP performances that are lovely, and that make the piece come off. There are (many) cantatas that that treatment simply does not work for.

Kim Patrick Clow wrote (May 6, 2013):
David Jones wrote to Uri Golomb]:
< Uri. I've read what he has to say. I disagree with him, period. Let's agree to disagree and move on. He did not interpret Bach's draft correctly in my opinion. >
Oh, what Steven Colbert calls "truthiness" strikes yet again.

David Jones wrote (May 6, 2013):
[To Kim Patrick Clow] Um, what?

David Jones wrote (May 6, 2013):
[Continue former message] One word: GARDINER. He's as much of a scholar as Rifkin. And he doesn't do OVPP performances. So, let's try not to be snide. I know it's hard.

Kim Patrick Clow wrote (May 6, 2013):
David Jones wroite:
< He's as much of a scholar as Rifkin. >
Two words Not really. Not in the way you've framed this. They're doing very different things.

Gardiner received a degree in history and went on to study music theory and performance (mainly conducting). And of course, that doesn't mean that JEG is a slouch, but Joshua Rikin is a musicologist and academic (and his research is not limited to baroque music, since Rifkin had a large part in revivinRagtime music in the United States with ground breaking albums of Scott Joplin's music).

But I got to say, seeing JEG and "don't be snide" in the same sentence made me laugh. The irony is JEG and how he expresses his opinions is pretty arrogant in a way that would be completely out of character for Joshua Rifkin. Gardiner mocks anyone that tries to be a Bach purist for authencity (voices, sizes of ensembles, etc), but on the other hand ridicules performances (mostly German) that lack drama, or have too many singers, or the performances are too slow.

Rifkin for his part doesn't even want to rehash this issue in interviews anymore. He's arrived at the point now the way evolutionary biologists view creationists: since you can't convince the "unconvincable," he's just moving on. Thirty years of follow-up scholarship and research into German baroque music and performance habits have typically bolstered Rifkin's theory, and conductors (e.g. John Butt, Paul McCreesh, Andrew Parrott, etc, etc, etc) and peer reviews of that research all tends to agree.

David Jones wrote (May 6, 2013):
[To Kim Patrick Clow] What Rifkin doesn't seem to realize is that performing Bach the way Gardiner, Suzuki and Koopman do isn't like, say, insisting Bach be performed in the manner of Richter or Glenn Gould. Of course, you knew Gardiner commissioned new editions of Bach scores by Keubik incorporating the latest source findings. But of course, such a thing is terribly un scholarly and unmusicological said no one ever. But I guess they're all dilettantes.

Uri Golomb wrote (May 6, 2013):
Adding to Kim's comment: Gardiner is not just a wonderful performer (in my view -- I know some on this list won't agree), but a brilliant writer. A lot of his analyses of Bach's expressive devices, for example, are spot-on -- and wonderfully evocative. However, he didn't study Bach's original parts (and comparalbe parts by contemporaneous and earlier compsoers) with anything like the thoroughness that Rifkin dedicated to their study. It's kind of inevitable, really; he's such a versatile and busy performer that he simply cannot find the time for the in-depth study required.

Also, rifkin is, for better or worse, a much more careful writer than Gardiner (again, I'm talking about Rifkin's academic papers, not his press interviews -- including my own interview with him; and I'm talking about his views on what hapenned at Bach's time, not about his views on what we should do today). He is very careful in separating facts from theories, things that he's certain are true (and can PROVE to be true) from things which are merely possible, or at most LIKELY to be true. That's why, in BACH'S CHORAL IDEAL, he simply refuses to make any firm declarations about what Bach wanted, what Bach's ideal was. He says the evidence can only tell us what Bach DID, not WHY he did it.

Gardiner's approach to musicology is much freer than Rifkin's. He studies the historical evidence, and uses those aspects of historical practice that match his own artistic vision. He uses historical knowledge as a source of inspiration, rather than a source for directives. To my mind, that's a perfectly legitimate practice. The problem is that he insists on claiming that what he does is historically accurate even when it's not. Other performers are more open about this, more willing to say "I'm doing this because it works for us, today, even though there's little or no historical evidence", and less willing than concede that, on some issues, teh evidence is simply incomplete and cannot decide the issue one way or another.

To my mind, the biggest problem with the OVPP debate is the refusal of otherwise fine musicians and scholars (including Gardiner, Koopman and Christoph Wolff) to engage with Rifkin's arguments (and the arguments of those who agree with him, such as Andrew Parrott, Daniel Melamed and John Butt). They keep attacking his conclusions, but they simply ignore a lot of the evidence that Rifkin and his colleagues cite.

Ed Myskowski wrote (May 6, 2013):
Uri Golomb wrote:
< Rifkin is, for better or worse, a much more careful writer than Gardiner >
Indeed. Gardiner is perhaps (for bettor worse!) the more entertaining writer, but that is in no way relevant to his accuracy (or lack thereof).

I find Uri's entire post a relevant summary of the discussion, so far. Thanks.

Ed Myskowski wrote (May 6, 2013):
David Jones wrote to Uri Golomb:
< Apparently his scholarship allowed him to disregard Bach's "Necessary Draft" which casts shadows on his arguments, Uri. >
As Uri points out in a subsequent post, this is simply inaccurate, re Rifkin.

Also relevant: there is substantial scholarship which indicates that Bach's Necessary Draft was prepared for political expedience, rather than to represent his musical ideals. This is a key distinction in the current discussion, as well as in all arguments that rely on the Draft to refute OVPP theory. Indeed, it is truly astounding (to me, a scientist, at least) what huge structures are built on the foundation of this single document.

William Hoffman wrote (May 7, 2013):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
< Indeed. Gardiner is perhaps (for bettor worse!) the more entertaining writer, but that is in no way relevant to his accuracy (or lack thereof).
I find Uri's entire post a relevant summary of the discussion, so far. Thanks. >
Will Hoffman writes: IMHO we are still discovering, learning, and reinventing. Check out the new book, <Reinventing Bach> by Paul Elie (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, New York, 2012). It examines the 20th century discovery and acceptance of Bach through commercial recordings, with vast amounts of biographical information (chronologically) about the pioneers: Schweitzer, Casals, Stokowski, and Glenn Gould, as well as later, important contributors, with many fascinating connections. Interspersed are several pages of insightful Bach biography in each of the six chapters, especially on the Magnificat, John Passion (BWV 245), and Collegium musicum years. As for the OVPP, see pages 330ff on Rifkin and Robert L Marshall (read Ya Tomita's <Bach Essays>), the early music movement and recordings as well as the Taruskin-lead counterreformation.

Ralf Steen wrote (May 10, 2013):
More reflections on Rifkin: Rifkin in Göttingen

While, lacking scholarship, I can't really participate in the ongoing discussion about Rifkin I might nevertheless give notice to whoever might be in the vicinity that Joshua Rifkin will be lecturing in Göttingen on May 24th:
http://adw-goe.de/veranstaltungen/

Since the title of his lecture will be "Bach's choir: between personal and paradigmatical history" one might perhaps expect something that could shed further light on our debate here.

Ed Myskowski wrote (May 10, 2013):
[To Ralf Steen] I hope we will receive a report on this event.

As you can infer from our discussions, most of us believe that Rifkin remains studiously and appropriately above the fray, thus a discussion of his personal versus *paradigm* views should be both rare and illuminating.

David Jones wrote (May 11, 2013):
[To Ralf Steen & Ed Myskowski] You ought not to be afraid to voice your opinion, Ralf. I'm quite sure our group isn't chock full of musicology or performance majors.

Kim Patrick Clow wrote (May 11, 2013):
[To David Jones] Haw haw @ "quite sure."

David Jones wrote (May 11, 2013):
[To Kim Patrick Clow] Not that I want to necessarily continue the OVPP vs MVPP conversation, as it seems to bring out the worst, snarkiest know it all in people, but I thought this article was interesting: http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2005/dec/12/jsbach.classicalmusicandopera

Ralf Steen wrote (May 11, 2013):
[To David Jones] Well, I'm certainly not afraid to give an opinion, as long as I actually have been able to form one at all.

The OVPP discussion, however, is a bit precarious, as it seems to be, well, shall we say "gridlocked"?

Personally, I wouldn't have interpreted Bach's ominous letter in the way Rifkin did, but I can accethat it MIGHT be interpreted that way. Therefore, I regard Rifkin's postition as one that is at least a possible one and am of the opinion that we simply don't have enough information on the matter to be definitely and doubtlessly sure.

That being said, I usually enjoy Rifkin's performances (some more, some less), as they seem to bring about a measure of clarity and crispness that other interpretations sometimes lack. What's more, I more often than not agree with his sense of tempo as opposed to especially in the Koopman and Harnoncourt cycles. Nevertheless, I usually regard them not as my "butter and bread" recordings (as in "the ones I listen to first when engaging a cantata that is new to me") - that distinction would go to Suzuki and Gardiner -, but as an alternative approach. I hope I'm making any sense here.

As for Rifkin's lecture, I will certainly give a report, provided I can make it to the event, which is slightly doubtful because of an important appointment on the same day. I will do my very best, however.

Julian Mincham wrote (May 11, 2013):
[To Ralf Steen] Therefore, I regard Rifkin's postition as one that is at least a possible one and am of the opinion that we simply don't have enough information on the matter to be definitely and doubtlessly sure.

I think that is a fair summation. There is so much we don't know of Bach's life and works that this is bound to be the case. Most good books on Bach are shot through with phrases like 'it is possible that----', 'it is likely that.....'some believe that'......'the assumption is that.....'.

But this does not make such observations valueless particularly when they are based upon a careful scrutiny of the available evidence (which is the case with Rifkin, in my view).

I have said this in these columns before but my own epithany came when I heard OVPP performances, on copies of the original instruments performed in the churches and castle rooms in which they were originally performed. It was quite mind blowing--so much so that I will be repeating the experience later this year. It also converted me from a 'small choir' enthusiast (which I had been all my life) to a one (or two with the ripieno voices added in the big choruses) voice per line.

Great as it is to have the 'manufactured' sounds of modern recordings in order to hear favourite works over and over again, they don't really tell us anything about the performance practices of the C18 and all the listener can really do is to say 'in the end, I prefer this to that'. It is worth remembering that in a lifetime many people at Leipzig might only have heard the cantatas three or four times in their lives---even fewer in some instances.

I don't know why some people tend to get hot under the collar over the issue.

Douglas Cowling wrote (May 11, 2013):
Bach's weekly schedule

David Jones wrote:
< I thought this article was interesting: http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2005/dec/12/jsbach.classicalmusicandopera >
Gardiner is quoted:

""He had a rigid deadline. They were sung twice on every Sunday. They rehearsed on a Saturday. He prepared the boys on a Thursday and a Friday. The chances are that the parts were completed by Wednesday evening or Thursday at the latest, though there may have been changes of mind – the sudden presence in town of a particularly good virtuoso who he wanted to draft in might change things. He wrote straight into score,so he probably started composing on a Monday and finished by Wednesday.That's my feeling but there's no way of proving it.'

We've flamed over this question before but is there any documentary evidence a tall for this hypothetical weekly schedule?

If there isn't, it is just as likely that Bach was a consummate multi-tasker and was composing multiple works in multiple genres and overseeing multiple rehearsals all the time.

Continue this part of the discusssion, see: Bach Composing - Part 7 [General Topics]

David Jones wrote (May 11, 2013):
[To Julian Mincham] Eh, we're all a pack of nerds at the end of the day. That's what nerds do----debate over fine points and details. LOL. Some folks argue over what Kim Kardashian wears, some folks argue over a German composer named John Brook. I was particularly interested in what Gardiner said about the research he may have done to try to make an educated guess about the VPP issue---it's also telling that he's in musical communion with Suzuki and Koopman and speaks to them about findings. To be sure, I have two discs of Rifkin's performances now and there is MUCH to commend them----the clarity of texture, the finely wrought instrumental playing, the intimacy. Having said that, I just can't hear pieces like "Ein Feste Burg", "Erhalt Uns Herr" in OVPP format without thinking the pieces are miniaturized by such treatment. How can a "consort" of four voices tell against the blazing clarino in the opening chorus of BWV 126? Oh well. One man's trash.........

Julian Mincham wrote (May 11, 2013):
David Jones wrote:
< How can a "consort" of four voices tell against the blazing clarino in the opening chorus of BWV 126? Oh well. >
But the same arguments really applies to Brandenburg 2--how can the less commanding tones of recorder, oboe and violin stand out against a very high and aggressive trumpet part all four parts clearly being of equal musical importance? (A point addressed by Thurston Dart when he proposed that originally that part was conceived for horn an octave lower and he made such a recording around 50 years ago). In the case of BWV 126 there may have been two factors 1 the trumpet sound was less shrill and penetrating than we are used to today and 2 there may well have been 8 not 4 singers for such works (i.e. the inclusion of a ripieno group singing with the concertino singers off the same parts). This use of additional singers for the biggest choruses fits in well with the proposals Bach put forward in his letter to the council.

Nerds? Well some very fine musical minds have had to make decisions of this kind for their performances of the cantatas in recent years---very real practical outcomes arise from this sort of research and debate. And as I said before, recordings tend to obfuscate rather than illuminate the issues nowadays.

Claudio Di Veroli wrote (May 11, 2013):
David Jones wrote:
<< How can a "consort" of four voices tell against the blazing clarino in the opening chorus of BWV 126? Oh well. >>
Julian Mincham wrote
< But the same arguments really applies to Brandenburg 2--how can the less commanding tones of recorder, oboe and violin stand out against a very high and aggressive trumpet part all four parts clearly being of equal musical importance? (A point addressed by Thurston Dart when he proposed that originally that part was conceived for horn an octave lower and he made such a recording around 50 years ago). In the case of BWV 126 there may have been two factors 1 the trumpet sound was less shrill and penetrating than we are used to today ... >
Well put Julian thanks! We should remember that, out of the dozens of JSB scores featuring 2 or 3 trumpets, only the 1st trumpet has a difficult part: obviously he had only ONE virtuoso, the famous Reiche. His well-known portrait shows that (unlike most of his contemporaries) he played a coiled trumpet. It is not unlikely that Reiche achieved the enormous embouchure flexibility required to play minimally in tune JSB trumpet works, not only by using the coiled trumpet, but also by using a smaller-bore instrument. This would facilitate the upper clarino parts and, on the other side, would bring the loudness down to that of a baroque oboe, thus balancing the 2nd brandenburg and the cantatas parts.

Uri Golomb wrote (May 11, 2013):
David Jones wrote:
< How can a "consort" of four voices tell against the blazing clarino in the opening chorus of BWV 126? Oh well. >
I've heard two live performances of the B-minor Mass with OVPP forces (with different conductors and different halls – Philip Pickett at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London, Andrew Parrott at the Einav Centre in Tel Aviv). To be sure, the OVPP quintet was doubled just occasionally with an extra ripieno quintet; but 10 singers are not twice as loud as 5 – they're only marginally louder. Besides, they were not used throughout the choruses, but only in selected passages. In both performances, the balance was fine even in trumpet-dominated choruses like the Gloria, Resurrexit and Sanctus. This was partly achieved by having the singers at the front of the stage, and the trumpets at the back – a practice which, Parrott argues, was frequently adopted in the 18th century.

And these were LIVE performances – no mikes, no electronic tricks.

Thomas Savary wrote (May 11, 2013):
David Jones wrote:
<< How can a "consort" of four voices tell against the blazing clarino in the opening chorus of BWV 126? Oh well. >>
Julian Mincham wrote
< But the same arguments really applies to Brandenburg 2--how can the less commanding tones of recorder, oboe and violin stand out against a very high and aggressive trumpet part all four parts clearly being of equal musical importance? >
For the Brandenburg 2, see Harnoncourt’s interview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sr1jkr6hv8Y
He says that the baroque trumpet becomes quieter when it plays the high notes [while the recorder becomes louder, on the opposite — personal comment], so that the recorder and the trumpet can play on the same level with good balance.

David Jones wrote (May 11, 2013):
[To Julian Mincham] Yeah, that was sort of a rhetorical question. In any event, Gardiner's recording of Brandenburg 2 and BWV 126 demonstrates that the nature of those parts is quite different and it might be incongruous to compare the balance issues involved. I used the term nerds as one of endearment and one I wear with pride.....

Julian Mincham wrote (May 11, 2013):
Uri Golomb wrote:
< but 10 singers are not twice as loud as 5 – they're only marginally louder. >
I think this rather depends on the spaces used. When I heard Paul McCreesh do the St John (BWV 245) in a relatively modest space Weimar the entrances of the ripieno choir were dramatic and strong and made considerable difference to the overall volume.

HOWEVER he used mature women's voices not boys, and in the large spaces of St Thomas and St Nikolai I would image this effect to be much diminished.

Thomas Savary wrote (May 11, 2013):
[To Julian Mincham]:Not necessarily (if you refer to the contrast between sections with/withouth ripienists). But the OVPP advocates should keep in mind that Bach’s works were sung mostly by prepubescent boys, adolescents and young adults (students) and not professional singers. So, yes, they must have sung less loudly than McCreesh’s team. Even if some boys have quite powerful voices, they cannot match with a trained lyrical woman singer in terms of vocal power. Same situation with a rather inexperienced twenty years old baritone (a barely “three years old” adult singer, for those who think that voice mutation occured so much later in these days — which is most likely not true, by the way), compared to a professional baritone in his thirties.

So, yes, “how can a ‘consort’ of four [such] voices tell against the blazing clarino in the opening chorus of BWV 126?” With professional singers with loud voices. Which would mean that Bach probably did not the Thomaner for such works! I think this is an argument against OVPP, at least in such choruses.

Uri Golomb wrote (May 11, 2013):
Thomas Savary wrote:
< So, yes, “how can a ‘consort’ of four [such] voices tell against the blazing clarino in the opening chorus of BWV 126?” With professional singers with loud voices. Which would mean that Bach probably did not the Thomaner for such works! I think this is an argument against OVPP, at least in such choruses. >
Not necessarily. When Parrott recorded the B-minor mass, he used female sopranos and boys altos. The main balance problem he encountered, according to some sources, is that the boy altos (from the Tolzer Knabenchor) overpowered the sopranos! And when you hear the recording, you can believe that.

Admittedly, this is gossip on a recording… but I've heard boys singing alongside men (and women) in other repertoires, and my conclusion is that you cannot take for granted that boys have weaker voices than professional adult singers. Especially in an early music context, where singers are not exactly chosen for, or encouraged to employ, operatic-style projection.

Douglas Cowling wrote (May 11, 2013):
Boys vs. Women

Uri Golomb wrote:
< Admittedly, this is gossip on a recordingS but I've heard boys singing >alongside men (and women) in other repertoires, and my conclusion is that >you cannot take for granted that boys have weaker voices than >professional adult singers. >
Amen to that. My sons sang in a men-and-boys choir which had a 12 yr old boy with an extraordinarily large voice which could project like a laser beam through concrete. The choirmaster affectionately called him "Old Leather Lungs". I remember listening to him rehearse the "Laudate Dominum" from the Mozart "Vespers" with full choir and orchestra and the choirmaster begging him to hold back because he was obliterating everyone else!

We tend to forget that the Baroque was an age obsessed with fantastic voices: castrati, coloratura contraltos, girls singing tenor and bass in choirs. The cream rose to the top and Bach clearly enjoyed the richness.

Thomas Savary wrote (May 11, 2013):
[To Uri Golomb] Yes, you’re right, Uri. But McCreesh’s singers in his Matthäus-Passion for instance are not of the same kind as Parrot’s ones in his Messe in h-moll (one of my five favourite recordings of this mass, by the way). Emma Kirkby and Rogers Covey-Crump have much softer voices, for instance.

As a longtime fan of the Tölzer Knabenchor and its best soloists, I can attest, after several concerts, that many boys can sing louder than Emma Kirkby and Ann Monoyios, or falsettists like Alex Potter, Gérard Lesne, Pascal Bertin or Beat Duddeck. However, more and more baroque conductors choose singers with an operatic-style projection, nowadays. A few years ago, I attended to a concert directed by Bertrand Haller (Matthäus-Passion): the tenor from choir I (I forgot his name) was almost a wagnerian one! And Salome Haller sang in a very operatic way, which I hate in Bach, and I have never heard any boy soprano singing as loud as she or Katherine Watson do, for instance, without pushing his voice in a non-musical way; as for the boy altos, most of them sing softer than Philippe Jaroussky and some not much stronger than the previously named falsettists.

With these more and more operatic singers, you can have a OVPP distribution for any cantata or mass you want without the fear of hearing the orchestra overpower the choir. Maybe such voices were not necessary in Leipzig thanks to the churches’ acoustics, I could not tell. But in many other churches or concert halls, they really are for the OVPP approach, although Bach used far less trained and projected voices.

In Paris, I have attended to many concerts of Bach cantatas in le temple du Foyer de l’âme: http://lescantates.org/index.php?page=nextcantate
They often have from two to four singers per part, but they sometimes sing OVPP. Among the OVPP concerts, some were good, some were a disaster (in the choruses, I mean, of course): you just could not understand a single word from what the singers sang, because the instruments overpowered the choir, made of four professional singers. And this church is much smaller than the Nikolaikirche or the Thomaskirche! It is true however that it has averacoustics. You may think that the singers were not very good. Well, this is sometimes the case, but some well-known singers (in France, at least) often took part to these cantatas: Salomé Haller, Damien Guillon, Dominique Visse, Bruno Boterf, Jean-Louis Serre, Stephan MacLeod… not to speak of many unknown but talented ones.

In December 2012, they sang BWV 70 (Wachet, betet, seid bereit alle Zeit), and I was very happy it was not OVPP. I think it would have been a flop! The soloist Pascal Bertin (and not Bastien Caillot, as the website says), who sang the alto aria, would have been inaudible in Wachet, betet! Among the four soloists, only the bass Ulrich Studer seemed to have a sufficiently strong voice to sing this chorus OVPP. In this specific (small) church, at least.

Alain Bruguieres wrote (May 12, 2013):
Julian Mincham wrote:
< I have said this in these columns before but my own epithany came when I heard OVPP performances, on copies of the original instruments performed in the churches and castle rooms in which they were originally performed. It was quite mind blowing--so much so that I will be repeating the experience later this year. It also converted me from a 'small choir' enthusiast (which I had been all my life) to a one (or two with the ripieno voices added in the big choruses) voice per line.
Great as it is to have the 'manufactured' sounds of modern recordings in order to hear favourite works over and over again, they don't really tell us anything about the performance practices of the C18 and all the listener can really do is to say 'in the end, I prefer this to that'. It is worth remembering that in a lifetime many people at
Leipzig might only have heard the cantatas three or four times in their lives---even fewer in some instances. >
I've been away for a long time, but I couldn't help reading your posts about OVPP. I'm glad that you keep the flame (the flames?) alive! Julian's mention of his 'epiphany' strikes a chord with me, because I've recently heard the OVPP recording of (the opening piece of) BWV 110 conducted by Pierlot, and I find it fantastic, much clearer and exhilarating than the other versions I've heard, which are not OVPP. This somehow convinced me that at least for some pieces, OVPP works much better for me. That being said, I still relish Gardiner's, Susuki's and most of all Herrewege's interpretations. By the way this recent rediscovery of BWV 110 prompted me to read Julian's text about it, which is great as usual and captures prefectly my sentiment about it (and also my opinion, that Bach didn't pick a former instrumental piece out of lack of time, but because he felt that it matched perfectly the occasion. Not only did it give him a chance to perfect his previous work, it also gave us a chance to realize that what appears to be perfect can still be improved upon).

PS Thank you Aryeh (or whoever did it) for renewing my subscription !

Alain Bruguieres wrote (May 12, 2013):
< but 10 singers are not twice as loud as 5 âEUR" they're only marginally louder.
I think this rather depends on the spaces used. When I heard Paul McCreesh do the St John (
BWV 245) in a relatively modest space Weimar the entrances of the ripieno choir were dramatic and strong and made considerable difference to the overall volume.
HOWEVER he used mature women's voices not boys, and in the large spaces of St Thomas and St Nikolai I would image this effect to be much diminished. >
I seem to remeber that if you multiply the number of sources by n, you multiply the intensity by the square root of n. May seem counter-intuitive, but the reason for this is that, the sources not being coherent (with laser beams it would be a different story), the waves sometimes add up, but as often as not cancel out.

Thus, by doubling the number of singers, you gain 41%, and by trebling it, 73%; not very 'cost-effective' : it takes 4 singers to sound twice as loud as one. But then of course when n is high the sound tends to become more 'fuzzy', since what you hear is a sort of average.

Julian Mincham wrote (May 12, 2013):
[To Alain Bruguieres] Alain nice to here from you after a long break. The list has had an extended period of hibernation but has revived recently maybe as a result of Linda's intros.

The issue of why Bach chose to reuse particular movements has always fascinated me particularly as the 'cut down on the workload' argument simply does not apply in many cases. The best place to look for possible answers is in the cantatas and other religious works. Where he took an instrumental movement and set it to words there is often one striking image which links text and music that appears to provide an explanation (as in BWV 110 and BWV 207 for example). Elsewhere he retains the movement as an instrumental piece and one has to look at the theme of the cantata for clues. Both instances apply when he reused the first (as a sinfonia) and second (with chorus parts added) movements of the D minor keyboard concerto.

Good game for nerds!

Douglas Cowling wrote (May 12, 2013):
Over-work Hypothesis

Julian Mincham wrote:
< The issue of why Bach chose to reuse particular movements has always fascinated me particularly as the 'cut down on the workload' argument simply does not apply in many cases ... Both instances apply when he reused the first (as a sinfonia) and second (with chorus parts added) movements of the D minor keyboard concerto. >
This cantata is an extraordinary example of the vast compositional hurdle which Bach faced in taking an already superb concerto movement and turning it into an equally superb cantata chorus without compromising its integrity and indeed fashioning a new integrity. It would have been so much easier to just write original music after for that chorus.

Sobering how little we still know about Bach's internal compositional process.

Uri Golomb wrote (May 12, 2013):
[To Thomas Savary] You are right about McCreesh (two of his SMP concertists, Kozena and Padmore, feature as soloists in Simon Rattle's performance with the Berlin Philharmonie, in a staged version by Peter Sellars…) much the same can be said about the singers in Mark Minkowski's recent B-minor Mass. However, the voices in the two live performances I mentioned were definitely closer to the Kirkby end of the scale than to the Magdalena Kozena end – and the same can be said of the voices in Sigiswald Kuijken's and John Butt's recent recordings of the Mass and the SMP.

Ed Myskowski wrote (May 12, 2013):
Over-work Hypothesis

Douglas Cowling wrote:
< Sobering how little we still know about Bach's internal compositional process. >
Sobering? Sends me for another pint.

Ed Myskowski wrote (May 12, 2013):
Alain Bruguieres wrote:
< But then of course when n is high the sound tends to become more 'fuzzy', since what you hear is a sort of average. >
How nice to hear from you, mon ami!

Somehow this reminds of the formula I once heard regarding the effectiveness (E) of meetings, inversely proportional to the square of the number of particpants times the length of the meeting, i.e.,

E = 1 / n^2 x t.

Fuzzy indeed.

Ed Myskowski wrote (May 12, 2013):
Boys vs. Women

Douglas Cowling wrote:
< We tend to forget that the Baroque was an age obsessed with fantastic voices: castrati, coloratura contraltos, girls singing tenor and bass in choirs. The cream rose to the top and Bach clearly enjoyed the richness. >
Key point, not to mention that there were not so many distractions (TV, cell phones, texting, etc.)

For a nearly contemporary example of vocal richness, see Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross. Wonderful on recordings, an incomparable experience in memory of performance.

Ed Myskowski wrote (May 12, 2013):
Bach's weekly schedule

William Zeiter [Glass Harmonica] wrote:
< I'm working up one of the Bach solo violin suites on the glass armonica. Not exactly historical (grin!) but it's pretty darn magical! >
The glass harhas near legendary status in the Boston are because of:
<Franklin's glass armonica was reworked yet again by master glassblower and musician, Gerhard B. Finkenbeiner (1930–1999) in 1984.> (Wikipedia)

Finkenbeiner's day-job was creating custom glassware for chem labs, so he was a legend for industrial as well as musical creations. He *died* when his supposedly solo plane flight was never heard from again.

Do you suppose ...?

George Bromley wrote (May 12, 2013):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
< Key point, not to mention that there were not so many distractions (TV, cell phones, texting, etc.)
For a nearly contemporary example of vocal richness, see Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross. Wonderful on recordings, an incomparable experience in memory of performance. >
Yes , I once sung with a lady bass in South Africa and what a rich bass voice it was too.

George Bromley wrote (May 12, 2013):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
< The glass harmonica has near legendary status in the Boston are because of:
<Franklin's glass armonica was reworked yet again by master glassblower and musician, Gerhard B. Finkenbeiner (1930–1999) in 1984.> (Wikipedia)
Finkenbeiner's day-job was creating custom glassware for chem labs, so he was a legend for industrial as well as musical creations. He *died* when his supposedly solo plane flight was never heard from again.
Do you suppose ...? >
Wow, now that's a must, let's hear on you tube please

Thomas Savary wrote (May 12, 2013):
< You are right about McCreesh (two of his SMP concertists, Kozena and Padmore, feature as soloists in Simon Rattle's performance with the Berlin Philharmonie, in a staged version by Peter Sellars…) much the same can be said about the singers in Mark Minkowski's recent B-minor Mass. However, the voices in the two live performances I mentioned were definitely closer to the Kirkby end of the scale than to the Magdalena Kozena end – and the same can be said of the voices in Sigiswald Kuijken's and John Butt's recent recordings of the Mass and the SMP. >
I guess the acoustics are of high importance. I have never attended to a concert of cantatas directed by Sigiswald Kuijken, but I have read several reviews where the critics were disappointed by the (according to them) major difference between the recordings and the concerts, with more or less the same singers. I was not there, but because of my own experience in le temple du Foyer de l’Âme in Paris, I am inclined to believe them. That being said, none of these places was the Nikolai- or Thomaskirche at Bach’s time.

I don’t remember if you mentioned where you were sitting during the two live performances where you attended to, and if it was in a concert hall or in a church.

Douglas Cowling wrote (May 12, 2013):
Thomas Savary wrote:
< I guess the acoustics are of high importance. I have never attended to a concert of cantatas directed by Sigiswald Kuijken, but I have read several reviews where the critics were disappointed by the (according to them) major difference between the recordings and the concerts, with more or less the same singers. >
The major problem with modern concerts in churches is that the performers are invariably positioned in the front of the church so the audience can see them. This is the worst possible position for the performance and has the worst acoustics. Historically, the music, be it Lutheran or Catholic, was never preformed from that position but rather in an elevated west or side gallery. Take those performers upstairs and the sound is transformed. The smallest ensemble fills a large cathedral.

Some groups have experimented by having large screens at the altar steps showing the performers in the rear gallery, but modern audiences like their modern arrangements. Never make a judgement about the aural presentation of Medieval, Renaissance or Baroque music until you hear them in the HIP - Historically Informed Placement.

Alan Bruguieres wrote (May 13, 2013):
[To Uri Golomb] I'd say that trees are a forest if they manage to hide the forest, or the absence thereof. If, on account of the trees, you can't figure out whether you're in a forest or not, you are in a forest.

By the same token, if you're not quite sure it's a choir, it is a choir. I guess for me, four singers qualify as a choir.

 

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