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A Capella Cantatas

A capella cantatas

Ryan A. Kasten, M.M. [Director of Music Ministries, St. Andrews - Covenant Presbyterian Church, Wilmington, NC, USA] wrote (April 21, 2004):
Can anyone tell me if Bach wrote any Cantatas that were completely a cappella?

Thanks

Matthew Neugebauer wrote (April 21, 2004):
[To Ryan A. Kasten] Well do the motets count? Jesu Meine Freude is about as long and varied as a cantata, just with a different medium of expression.

Ryan A. Kasten, M.M. wrote (April 21, 2004):
[To Matthew Neugebauer] Thanks Matt! I overlooked the motets.

Jef Lowell wrote (April 22, 2004):
[To Ryan A. Kasten] From what I know of the matter, the lack of specific parts for instruments in works like the Motets does not necessarily mean that Bach expected his choir to sing without some kind of instrumental support. It's a fairly safe bet that the usual practice was to double the vocal parts with strings and/or a keyboard. I doubt if there are many choirs that could negotiate a work as complex and lengthy as Jesu Meine Freude and not start to sag without the help of instruments.

What say you?

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 22, 2004):
[To Jef Lowell] A few choirs probably can, but I would guess that that's rare. It is indeed a difficult piece to keep on pitch through its 22-minute span. Parts exist (not by Bach) for full string orchestra to assist with this, for this particular piece. It also works well with basso continuo: organ and/or cello.

I performed it last year under a scholarly conductor who brought me in (as organist) to play only as minimally and unobtrusively as possible, mainly to help his choir stay on pitch. I used only 8-foot flute, and most of the time played only one or two parts at most (basically making up a basso seguente), sometimes getting out altogether: musical judgment on the spur of the moment, during performance.

Similarly, in one of the other Bach motets several years ago, with a different conductor and choir, they had planned to perform the piece a cappella but it just proved too difficult in the remaining rehearsal time they had before the public concert. So, less than a day before the gig, the conductor brought in a cellist and me (on harpsichord, in this case) just to keep it all together.

I can't help speculating that Bach may have done the same thing in some of his own performances. The music does lend itself to such flexibility, with accompaniment or not. Accompaniment certainly makes some things easier (pitch, and rhythmic continuity).

Furthermore, in any a cappella piece of any extended length, choirs must always watch out for overall changes of pitch; it can happen unnoticed. This is not only due to poor breath support (or any other technical flaws in the singing) but--even for the most polished choirs--for issues of temperament and tuning. Choirs do not sing in fixed temperaments. In a choir that is especially good at singing pure intervals, the singers are adjusting to one another moment by moment, tuning especially their major and minor thirds and their fifths. The pitch of the whole ensemble therefore moves up and down slightly as the piece goes along, and over a long time these cumulative adjustments can put the piece far from where it began. This is especially so in the complex mannerist works of Gesualdo, di Lasso, et al: where the stark harmonic shifts require very close listening and quick adjustment.

I read recently that a 19th century scholar analyzed Mozart's "Don Giovanni" and decided that, if it were unaccompanied, the pitch adjustments of an a cappella ensemble would put the piece five to six semitones below the pitch where it should end. His analysis was (allegedly) based on this same thing of trying to adjust pure intervals as the music goes along.

More reliably, in Easley Blackwood's book The Structure of Recognizable Diatonic Tunings (which is mostly a book of mathematical theorems and proofs), he demonstrates with several examples how this "just intonation" will change the overall pitch remarkably in even a few bars. He shows with superscripts on each note how they are adjusted by a comma at a time whenever a pitch is held over from a preceding harmony. Singers do it more intuitively than that, but his point is valid. [Incidentally, Blackwood is an outstanding pianist for 20th century music and Charles Ives; and a composer of microtonal music himself, along with quite a bit of more
conventional music.]

Gabriel Jackson wrote (April 22, 2004):
[To Jef Lowell] It's hard to disagree with this, though I think that perhaps you underestimate choirs' ability to handle a demanding a cappella piece without problems. There are an awful lot of top-flight choirs around, both in the United States and Canada, and particularly in Europe, who could give a fantastic performance, should they chhose to forego any imstrumental participation.

John Pike wrote (April 23, 2004):
[To Jef Lowell] I've often wondered how they would keep in perfect pitch, for one thing.

Jef Lowell wrote (April 23, 2004):
[To Bradley Lehman] I think it very likely that Bach used instrumental support in his performances. It's fairly well documented that he rarely had first class singers at his disposal, which, incidently deepens the mystery of why he went on writing such complex music with so little hope of ever hearing it performed properly except in his head. I can imagine him throwing his wig quite often.

Your elucidation of the pitch problem is quite interesting, Brad. But, I hope we have not opened a new can of worms.

Then again, why not?

Thomas Braatz wrote (April 23, 2004):
Jef Lowell wrote:>>From what I know of the matter, the lack of specific parts for instruments in works like the Motets does not necessarily mean that Bach expected his choir to sing without some kind of instrumental support. It's a fairly safe bet that the usual practice was to double the vocal parts with strings and/or a keyboard. I doubt if there are many choirs that could negotiate a work as complex and lengthy as Jesu Meine Freude and not start to sag without the help of instruments. What say you?<<
>>A few choirs probably can, but I would guess that that's rare. It is indeed a difficult piece to keep on pitch through its 22-minute span. Parts exist (not by Bach) for full string orchestra to assist with this, for this particular piece. It also works well with basso continuo: organ and/or cello.<<
Indeed, the parts for "Jesu meine Freude" are not by Bach. Moreover, recent research has determined:

1) the singing of Bach's motets a cappella is not a romantic-style innovation of a later period than Bach, but rather can be documented as the manner of performance of some of these motets (a carrying on of the tradition that was already established under Bach?) under the cantorship of Johann Friedrich Doles who conducted/performed these motets in this fashion at St. Thomas Church from 1756 to 1789.

2) new evidence that some of Bach's motets, such as this one, were very likely performed a cappella without colla parte instrumental accompaniment or bc

In Klaus Hofmann's new book, "Johann Sebastian Bach: Die Motetten" [Bärenreiter, 2003] pp. 55 ff., the following evidence is presented:

1. in 1761 and in 1764, the music catalogs of printed works available from the publisher Breitkopf in Leipzig offered copies of Bach's motets in the category "Motets - without instruments"

2. the music theoretician, Johann Adoph Scheibe (1708-1776) (his father, Johann Scheibe, an organ builder was very highly regarded by Bach) is the infamous critic of Bach's music in the Birnbaum-Scheibe controversy. To consider his attitude toward Bach to be entirely critical would be unfair since he was also one of the very first to praise in print Bach's 'Italian Concerto.' Scheibe was encouraged by Telemann to publish a periodical, "Der Critische Musicus" ("The critical Musician"). From a reprint of an issue of this periodical dating from 1737 [Hamburg - he had just recently moved from Leipzig (where he had had most of his schooling including some time at the University of Leipzig, until his father's organ building firm went bankrupt)] but reprinted in Leipzig in 1745(facsimile Hildesheim, Wiesbaden, 1970) pp. 181 ff., Scheibe comments on the actual motet performance practices he had experienced in Leipzig:
>>Der Generalbaß sollte zwar allezeit dabey sein; allein, man kann ihn selten gebrauchen, weil die meisten Motetten nur von einem Chore Sänger aufgeführet werden, es müßten denn andere Instrumente mehr dabey seyn, oder man müßte sie bey gewissen Gelegenheiten in der Kirche aufführen.<<

Klaus Hofmann interprets this passage to read: "In reality, a basso continuo ought to be part of this ensemble, but the general performance practice/tradition rarely makes use of this option, because most motets are performed only with voices. It is, however, an entirely different matter if more instruments (beyond the colla parte and bc accompaniment) are used, or when the motets are performed in the church on very special occasions." Klaus Hofmann also extrapolates from this passage the fact that a cappella performances must have been common practice under Bach's tenure in the 1730s.

3. there is no record of any original instrumental parts for "Jesu meine Freude" as ever having existed at any point during Bach's lifetime.

Johann Adolph Scheibe, who participated in the singing of motets under Bach's direction (1723), listened carefully and experienced the exhilarating joy of performing these works as a 15-yr. old student stated later in the reference given above (pp. 179 ff.): "Eine geistliche Moetette, wenn sie in ihrer völligen Stärke genommen wird, verursachet eine außerordentliche Fröhlichkeit des Herzens; sie machet uns munter und doch bedachtsam; sie erhebet das Gemüthe zur Betrachtung." ["A sacred motet, when performed at full strength in numbers (not OVPP but at least 3 or 4 per part), creates an extraordinary joyfulness in our hearts, it awakens us while, at the same time makes us move forward cautiously; it uplifts our spirits to become {more} contemplative."]

Gabriel Jackson wrote (April 23, 2004):
Thomas Braatz wrote: < Johann Adolph Scheibe, who participated in the singing of motets under Bach's direction (1723), listened carefully and experienced the exhilarating joy of performing these works as a 15-yr. old student stated later in the reference given above (pp. 179 ff.): "Eine geistliche Moetette, wenn sie in ihrer völligen Stärke genommen wird, verursachet eine außerordentliche Fröhlichkeit des Herzens; sie machet uns munter und doch bedachtsam; sie erhebet das Gemüthe zur Betrachtung." ["A sacred motet, when performed at full strength in numbers (not OVPP but at least 3 or 4 per part), creates an extraordinary joyfulness in our hearts, it awakens us while, at the same time makes us move forward cautiously; it uplifts our spirits to become {more} contemplative."] >
It is subtle, this, but it is insidious. Mr Braatz offers us a translation of Scheibe's text but he cannot resist adding a little gloss of his own - "not OVPP but at least 3 or 4 per part" - which Scheibe did not write (but he presents it in such a way that it might well be assumed that he [Scheibe] did). It is this conflation of his own opinions with the "authoritative" sources he purports to be quoting that is so iniquitous.

It is a shame, because otherwise this post was very interesting. But Mr Braatz cannot help himself.

John Pike wrote (April 23, 2004):
[To Thomas Braatz] Such a helpful contribution. If only all Mr Braatz's contributions were of this nature....

Dale Gedcke wrote (April 23, 2004):
[To Gabriel Jackson] RE: Gabriel's complaint of the "(not OVPP but at least 3 or 4 per part)," squeezed into the translation:

Curiously, I had no problem noticing that the comment in parentheses was interjected by Thomas as his own opinion. I suppose if you read it quickly you might miss the clue.

Typically, one uses square brackets, ie, [ .... ] to insert an editor's comment. The convention is to also start the comment with "Ed.:", signifying it is an editor's note. So that would have looked like [Ed.: not OVPP but at least 3 or 4 per part]. But, the translation already used the square brackets, [ ], so a relapse to ( ) was in order. The fact that the ( ) passage does not occur in the original German quotation is also a clue to the fact that it is the writer's own opinion.

Sometimes it is helpful to include brief phrases of explanation right in the middle of the text. Sometimes that makes the passage hard to digest, and one is better off adding an extra explicative sentence later. Conventionally, it's up to the writer to choose the style that communicates more clearly.

Lest anyone should feel that I am lecturing to the experts, let me quickly add, "The above comments are simply my opinion, (based on my years as a reader and a writer)."

Gabriel Jackson wrote (April 23, 2004):
Dale Gedcke wrorte: < RE: Gabriel's complaint of the "(not OVPP but at least 3 or 4 per part)," squeezed into the translation:
Curiously, I had no problem noticing that the comment in parentheses was interjected by Thomas as his own opinion. I suppose if you read it quickly you might miss the clue. >
Fair enough, but why include it all?!

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 23, 2004):
Dale Gedcke wrote: < Typically, one uses square brackets, ie, [ .... ] to insert an editor's comment. The convention is to also start the comment with "Ed.:", signifying it is an editor's note. So that would have looked like [Ed.: not OVPP but at least 3 or 4 per part]. But, the translation already used the square brackets, [ ], so a relapse to ( ) was in order. The fact that the ( ) passage does not occur in the original German quotation is also a clue to the fact that it is the writer's own opinion.
Sometimes it is helpful to include brief phrases of explanation right in the middle of the text. Sometimes that makes the passage hard to digest, and one is better off adding an extra explicative sentence later. Conventionally, it's up to the writer to choose the style that communicates more clearly.
Lest anyone should feel that I am lecturing to the experts, let me quickly add, "The above comments are simply my opinion, (based on my years as a reader and a writer)." >
Mr Braatz, as a professional German-to-English translator (of the work of Rudolf Steiner), well knows professionally that it's usually best to keep the translator's personal opinions out of things altogether, if possible; that's what the job is about.

But when the translator has a personal axe to grind, as here about OVPP, he obviously has no compunctions against slipping things in anyway.

Thomas Braatz wrote (April 24, 2004):
About ‘singing in tune’ in Bach’s time and place (English translations follows below):

From “Anleitung zur Singkunst” Tosi/Agricola [Berlin, 1757] pp. 18 ff.:

Tosi (German translation by Johann Friedrich Agricola of Pier Francesco Tosi’s “Opinioni de’cantori antichi e moderni, o sieno Osservazioni sopra il canto figurato” [Bologna, 1723]):

>>Er [der Sänger] muß die halben Töne nach den wahren Regeln anstimmen lassen. Daß es größere und kleinere halbe Töne giebt, wissen nicht alle Leute: weil man diesen Unterschied auf der Orgel und Clavicimbal, wenn sie nicht gebrochene Tasten (*h) haben, nicht bemerken kann. Ein ganzer Ton, dessen beyde Ende um eine Klangstufe von einander entfernet sind, kann in neun gleichsam unmerkliche Abtheilung getheilet werden, welche im Griechischen, (wenn ich mir nicht irre) ‚Kommata’, das ist allerkleinste Theile, und im Wälschen ‚Come’ genennet werden. Fünf davon machen den größern, und ihrer vier den kleinern halben Ton aus. Einige meynen zwar, daß nicht mehr als sieben Kommata wären, deren größere Hälfte den ersten und die kleinere den andern ausmacheten. Meine schwache Einsicht findet diese Meynung nicht gegründet: weil das Gehör in diesem Falle keine Schwierigkeit haben würde, den siebenten Theil eines ganzen Tones zu unterscheiden; da es doch eine gar große Schwierigkeit findet, ein Neuntheil davon zu bemerken. Wenn man immer unter Begleitung der obgedachten beyden Instrumenten sänge: so würde diese Erkenntniß überflüßig seyn. Aber seit dem von den Componisten der Gebrauch eingeführet worden, in jeder Oper Menge Arien hören zu lassen, die nur mit Bogeninstrumenten begleitet werden (*i); so wird eine Einsicht hierinn sehr nothwendig. Wenn z. E ein Sopranist das zweygestrichene Dis eben so intonieret, wie das zweygestrichene Es; so höret ein jeder der Ohren hat, daß er unrein singt: denn das letztere sollte etwas höher seyn. Wem diese, was ich gesagt have, nicht genug ist, der lese unterschiedene Schriftsteller welche davon handeln (*k), oder er ziehe die berühmtesten Violinisten (*l) zu Rathe. In den mittlern Stimmen ist es nicht so leicht diesen Unterschied zu bemerken: ob ich gleich glaube, daß alles, was sich eintheilen läßt, auch bemerket werden könne. Von diesen beyden halben Tönen will ich, im Hauptstücke von den Vorschlägen, weitläuftiger handeln, und zeigen daß die einen nicht mit den anderen verwechselt werden dürfen.<<

Here are Agricola’s footnote explanations (he uses letters instead of numbers) for the above passage by Tosi:

*h: In einigen alten Orgeln und Clavicimbaln, waren etliche der in der obern Reihe des Griffbrets liegenden Tasten von einander geschnitten, davon der eine Theil etwas tiefere, der andere etwas höhere Pfeifen oder Saiten klingen machte; und diese nennete man ‚gebrochene Tasten.’ Gemeiniglich waren es deren in jeder Octave zween: der Tast zwischen G und A; und der zwischen D und E. Jeder soll Gis und As, und dieser Dis und Es von einander unterscheiden. Zu unsern Zeiten hat man diese gebrochene Tasten, wegen der Schwierigkeit in der Ausübung des Claviers, gänzlich abgeschaffet, und sich davor bemühet, die ‚Temperatur’ oder ‚schwebende Stimmung,’ in eine bessere Übereinstimmung zu setzen.

*i: Diese Mode ist heutiges Tages nicht so sehr mehr im Flor, als vor dreißig und mehr Jahren, zu Tosis Lebzeiten. Doch ist sie auch noch nicht ganz abgekommen.

*k: Hierher gehören alle Schriftsteller von der Temperatur, und den Intervallensystemen, z. E. Teleman [sic], im 3ten Bande der Mitzlerischen musikalischen Bibliothek, Seite 713. u. s. Sorge, in der Rationalrechnung, und andere berühmte Männer mehr. Da nun zu unsern Zeiten noch mehrere Intervalle in Gebrauch kommen: so haben sich deswegen die Sänger desto ernstlicher zu bemühen, auch die kleinesten Unterschiede der Intervalle, so viel ihnen möglich ist, rein und sicher angeben zu können. Wie würden sie sonst, z. E. mit vielen Telemannischen Singstücken zurechte kommen?

*l: Auch Flötenisten. Z. E. Quanz [sic] im ‚Versuche einer Anweisung die Flöte traversiere’ zu spielen, Seite 35, 37, 243, und 244
.

Tosi: >>The singer must be able to sing half tones [these are single notes that differentiate between a D# and an Eb] according to rules which are accepted as true. Not all people are aware of the fact that there is a difference between the slightly higher in pitch and the slightly lower pitch for the same note: this is due to the fact that it is not possible to notice this difference on an organ or harpsichord if there are no split keys. A step/interval of a whole tone, that which is a whole tone apart as seen from each end [from the lower tone a whole step to the higher tone] can be divided almost unnoticeably into nine equal [stepwise] pitches, which (if I am not mistaken) are called ‘commas’ in Greek, ‘commas’ referring to these smallest differentiations of pitch – in Italian they are called ‘Come.’ Five of these ‘steps’ constitute the greater interval and four the lesser interval that make up a whole-tone step. Some people think that there are no more than seven such ‘commas’ in a whole step with the larger number belonging to the first type and the smaller to the other. In my modest opinion, I do not think they are right because, in this case, a person's hearing would have no difficulty in distinguishing the seventh part/pitch level of a whole-tone step since it finds it very difficult even to notice what the ninth part of the interval is. If a vocalist were to sing always accompanied by one of the above instruments (organ or harpsichord), then this ability to make these fine distinctions would be superfluous. But because it has become customary for composers to set to music many arias which are only accompanied by string instruments, it will become necessary to gain some insight into this matter. If, for example, a soprano sings a high D# the same way as a high Eb, then anyone who has ears will be able to tell that the singer is singing ‘off pitch’/out of tune because the latter note [Eb] should sound slightly higher than the other [D#]. For anyone who needs further clarification of what I have just stated here, let him/her read various authors who treat this matter or perhaps consult with the most famous violinists. With the ‘middle’ voices [unlike the soprano voice on the extreme end] this distinction is not as easily noticed; although I still believe that anything that can be separated into parts should also be recognizable by the ear. I will say more about the separation/splitting of a note into two halves in my main section on grace notes and will demonstrate that one [pitch] should not be confused with the other.<<


Here is Agricola’s commentary on the above in the form of footnotes as marked above:

*h: In some old organs and harpsichords, a few of the keys on the higher end of the keyboard were split into two parts, the lower part tuned somewhat lower and the higher part would make the organ pipes or harpsichord/clavichord strings sound somewhat higher. These were called ‘split’/’broken’ keys. Generally there were two in every octave: the key between G and A and the one between D and E. The former was tuned differently to distinguish between G# and Ab and the latter between D# and Eb. In our time such an arrangement has been completely abandoned because of the difficulty it causes in playing a keyboard instrument. To replace this an equal temperament [“schwebende Stimmung”] has been devised to create a better general agreement or conformity between all notes/pitches in any scale.

*i: This fashion is no longer current – it existed 30 or more years ago when Tosi still lived; however, now it is entirely passé.

*k: In this group of writers are those who wrote about ‘setting a temperament’ and the various systems of intervals; for example, Telemann, in the 3rd volume of Mitzler’s Musical Library, pp. 713 ff. Also Sorge in the matter of “Rationalrechnung” [a system/method of calculation] and other famous men as well. Since it is the case in our time that even more intervals have come into use; it becomes important for that reason that singers should learn how to produce even the finest differences in the intervals as far as it is humanly possible for them to do so. How would they otherwise manage to sing, for example, Telemann’s vocal works?

*l: Also flautists/flute players. For example, Quantz in his book on learning how to play the flute, pp. 35, 37, 243, and 244.

At this point Tosi/Agricola launch into a section about practicing intervals which the singer must ‘hit’ cleanly, securely and with the proper pitch.

[What I read into the above is that Agricola reflects in his comments (in contrast to Tosi’s observations 30 years earlier in Italy) the major change on the part of singers or singing instructors in Germany away from trying to distinguish mainly between G# and Ab or between D# and Eb to a general ability to distinguish vocally all the subtleties of equal temperament which brings along with it an even greater demand for distinguishing ‘the finest differences in the intervals’ than the previous, older tuning systems did because now, in equal temperament, quite a few notes are deliberately tuned ‘out of tune’ to achieve this equalization of notes in a scale. Agricola also gives evidence of this shift to equal temperament during Bach’s lifetime. In light of this, it is interesting to consider what might have happened pitchwise with the a cappella performances of Bach’s motets. Were they able to maintain pitch without recourse to instruments? Were they as good or even better in accomplishing this (staying in tune) than any professional choirs nowadays? Of course, we’ll never know, but at least we can still wonder about this.]

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 24, 2004):
[To Thomas Braatz] All this is simply to say: the singers (and other musicians) in Bach's day DID understand the normal meantone differences between enharmonic note-pairs such as D# and Eb. They knew how to do their jobs. There is also mention of split keys on keyboards, here: again normal stuff. (Some keyboards did and do have split accidentals on D#/Eb and on G#/Ab.) Thanks for this further evidence, Tom.

Two corrective notes on the translation (corrections as to technical detail of the material, not language):

(1) "schwebende Stimmung" in Agricola's passage as quoted DOES NOT NECESSARILY MEAN "Equal Temperament": that is an interpolation by the translator, his pushing of a foregone conclusion into it! All temperaments that reconcile enharmonics introduce interval-beating into it; not necessarily EQUAL beating, though. Very few temperament schemes split that difference equally, in pairs such as D# and Eb. And Agricola as cited did not say "gleichschwebende".

(2) Five commas do not make up a "whole step" but a semitone (a "half step" in American English). A large one (i.e a diatonic semitone), such as B to C in meantone, as opposed to a small one (a chromatic one), such as C to C#. Therefore, "whole step" here is a translation error.

The concluding paragraph about equal temperament is, unfortunately, again the translator's insertion of his own premise into the material: his assumption that equal temperament was the goal of those people and not only of himself as a modern listener/reader. It's interesting speculation, but it's a leap that is not connected soundly to evidence. A valiant try, anyway.

Continue of this part of the discussion, see: Commas [General Topics]

Thomas Braatz wrote (April 24, 2004):
>>Therefore, "whole step" here is a translation error<<
Yes, thank you for pointing this out this obvious error on my part.

The original reads:
Tosi: >>Fünf davon machen den größern, und ihrer vier den kleinern halben Ton aus.<<

Where I translated: “Five of these ‘steps’ constitute the greater interval and four the lesser interval that make up a whole-tone step.” Should obviously read : ‘halben Ton’ = ‘half step’

It was suggested: >>(1) "schwebende Stimmung" in Agricola's passage as quoted DOES NOT NECESSARILY MEAN "Equal Temperament"<<

This is why I included once again prominently the phrase “schwebende Stimmung” in the original language in the middle of the translation so that any differences that people might have with this definition might become immediately apparent and that they would not have to hunt and search in the original for the location of this important phrase:
>>To replace this an equal temperament [“schwebende Stimmung”] has been devised to create a better general agreement or conformity between all notes/pitches in any scale.<<

My personal understanding of this phrase is that it comes rather close to what we now consider ‘equal temperament’ albeit with some extremely fine distinctions that most listeners would have difficulty identifying.

>>It's interesting speculation, [equal temperament was the goal of the people associated with Bach]but it's a leap that is not connected soundly to evidence.<<
It seems quite clear to me that Agricola, who is providing solid evidence of performing practices in his commentary has distanced himself from a dying, antiquated tradition and is much more concerned with the modern, progressive view on this matter. The next speculative step in thinking is that Bach was a pioneer in this regard and Agricola learned some of these things directly from his personal association with Bach under whom he also performed the master's works.

Matthew Neugebauer wrote (April 25, 2004):
a cappella motets, albeit with instrumental doubling

[To Jef Lowell] Well I never meant that they weren't doubled by instruments; in fact, that seems to be the historically correct and as you point out the most practical method of performance. All the parts however, are written idiomatically for voices (with the possible exception of a separate continuo part in one them), and scored without the idea of using differing tone qualities to produce differing aesthetics (i.e. without orchestration) excepting of course the 4 different vocal types. These make it at least possible without any instruments whatsoever.

Jef Lowell wrote (April 26, 2004):
[To Matthew Neugebauer] Of course you are right, and I hope you don't think I was insulting your intelligence by my remarks.

Still, what you say about idiomatic writing for voices in Bach's case leads me to wonder just how vocally he wrote. It seems to me that, perhaps more than any other composer, he tended to treat voices instrumentally. Certainly, he was taken to task for it in the infamous article by Johann Adolph Scheibe.

Comments?

Matthew Neugebauer wrote (April 26, 2004):
Jef Lowell wrote: < It seems to me that, perhaps more than any other composer, he tended to treat voices instrumentally. >
This is possible, and if objective examination proves this then I stand corrected. However, as the postmodern movement shows, there can be very difficult pieces that are still written idiomatically for a particular instrument, voice, or even individual.

Jef Lowell wrote (April 26, 2004):
[To Matthew Neugebauer] No argument on that.

Adrian Horsewood wrote (April 26, 2004):
[To Jef Lowell] Sorry - a bit late in on the thread here...

As someone who has sung most of the Bach motets (which was an early point in this discussion, if I remember correctly), I would heartily second the suggestion that Bach treated voices instrumentally. In 'Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied' (BWV 225), for example, the long, long semiquaver runs in the first section, and in the final few pages, while wonderful writing, are incredibly difficult for choirs!

Dale Gedcke wrote (April 26, 2004):
[To Thomas Braatz] Thanks Brad and Thomas for an enlightening exchange on split keys and the change to equal temperament. I had not known about the split keys. Were split keys used on the organs from the beginning, or did they appear shortly before the transition to equal temperament?

Now I feel better about my trumpets having natural resonances that are not quite equal temperament. I'll think about the split keys next time I am using alternate fingering, or bending the notes by adjusting lip tension, to bring them in tune with equal temperament.

Jason Marmaras wrote (April 26, 2004):
[To Jef Lowell] If you want to listen to some instrumentally treated voices, listen to Vivaldi's Gloria. It's the definition...

Regards,
(and no offense - I love Vivaldi, but as an instrumenta comoser; and I have yet to listen to his operas)

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 26, 2004):
Split keys

Dale Gedcke wrote: < Thanks Brad and Thomas for an enlightening exchange on split keys and the change to equal temperament. I had not known about the split keys. Were split keys used on the organs from the beginning, or did they appear shortly before the transition to equal temperament? >
That depends what you're taking as "the transition to equal temperament". :)

Split keys have been on keyboards (to accommodate alternate tuning of notes that we take today as enharmonic equivalents) since at least the middle of the 16th century: occasionally providing as many as 53 key-levers within an octave!

Gabriel Jackson wrote (April 26, 2004):
[To Adrian Horsewood] One thing I always tell younger/less experienced composers who want to write effectively for choirs is "don't write for voices as if they were instruments"; I think this is still a pretty good principle, and then I think of Bach! Particularly the motets....!

Arjen van Gijssel wrote (April 26, 2004):
[To Gabriel Jackson] It is demanding material to sing, the motets. Sometimes breathtaking. But shortage of breath can be solved by applying what we call "choir breath", i.e. people taking breath at different spots. If you are experienced with Bach's idiom then singing Bach isn't difficult. I am still amazed by the "natural lines" he was able to write down, even in the most difficult passages (such in the motet Singet). I believe that Bach was very much aware of the voices for which he wrote. He almost never is making "mistakes" with the wrong melodical line for particular words or phrases. Instead, he seems like adapting the melody line to the text, even for the individual voices in a polyphonic passage. The only time I noticed that he didn't seem to care about the principle "melody follows text", and seemed to have taken a melody directly from the organ is with some of the Lutheran masses, which we are discussing this week. But here we are talking about parodies...

Gabriel Jackson wrote (April 27, 2004):
Arjen van Gijssel wrote: < If you are experienced with Bach's idiom then singing Bach isn't difficult. >
I think you are being modest here! It is very difficult music, but you clearly have much experience and expertise singing Bach, so that the difficulties are not so great for you.

John Pike wrote (June 4, 2004):
[To Arjen van Gijssel] One of Bach's purposes in writing the motets was to prepare singers for the demands of singing the cantatas, something that only the very best singers (choir 1 of 4) would do in Leipzig.

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Last update: ýJanuary 31, 2006 ý08:50:47