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Discussions - Part 1

Arrangements of Bach by other composers

Michael Grover wrote (June 3, 2001):
Another group of arrangements of Bach I heard once and really liked is Respighi's "Tre Corali." It's three chorales that Respighi (re-)orchestrated - the third is Wachet auf. I heard it on the radio once - maybe Karl Haas? - and have been meaning to buy it but haven't gotten to it yet. There is a well-reviewed disc on Chandos with Edward Downes conducting the BBC Philharmonic.

And speaking of Respighi - does anyone else out there love his neo-baroque stuff? I have a recording of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra playing his "Birds" suite and the Ancient Airs and Dances and I think they are wonderful. I wouldn't go so far as to call Respighi Vivaldi's successor, but if you don't like Italian opera (as I don't) you have to skip the entire nineteenth century and get to Respighi to find an Italian worth listening to. (At least that I know of...) Although I do like listening to the William Tell Overture now and then...

OK, now I'm way off topic. Sorry.

 

Alldirect.com / Schoenberg’s Brahms Orchestration

Jim Morrison wrote (March 27, 2002):
[snip] Goodies dropped off today include the recently mentioned on list Kuijken Haydn Syms 88-92 (for 8 bucks!) and Harnoncourt Beethoven 4 and 7 for 11.50. Can't wait to hear them. I'm sure they'll make a refreshing contrast for all the Schoenberg I've been listening to lately. Anyone else out there Schoenberg fans?

I recently heard his Bach transcriptions for the first time and I was surprised by the lushness and richness of them. They remind me very much of the other orchestral transcriptions that I've heard of Bach's music. I wonder what Glenn Gould thought of them.

Trevor Evans-Young wrote (March 27, 2002):
[To Jim Morrison] If you like the Schoenberg Bach then try his transcription of Brahms' Piano Quartet(Quintet?) anyway in g minor. Also, Salonen has a Bach transcription CD that includes a Webern transcription I believe of a Ricercare? Very interesting sonorities for Bach.

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 28, 2002):
[To Trevor Evans-Young] There's a delightful story about this piece in the Vox 3CD set "50 Years of Vox Recordings". 33-year-old George Mendelssohn (head of Vox) is in 1946 trying to get Otto Klemperer to sign up with his label, and he goes to see Klemperer. He walks in and finds that Arnold Schoenberg is also in the room! Klemperer sends Mendelssohn over to the piano and says, "Look at that music. Don't turn a page, just look at the ones that are exposed, and if you can identify the piece I'll agree to record for you." Mendelssohn glances at it and says, "Well, it's the Brahms G minor piano quartet--but someone has made a dreadful arrangement of it for orchestra." Klemperer laughs and pokes Schoenberg, who does not laugh.

-----

OK, I also have to copy this other story from the booklet.

"A chance encounter between Mendelssohn and Klemperer in those early years quickly became the stuff of legend. The story has been told many times, set variously in London, Paris, or the Liberty Music Shop in New York; according to Mendelssohn, the event actually took place in Los Angeles. When they ran into each other there, Klemperer asked Mendelssohn about the sales of his recording of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony; Mendelssohn assured him it was doing quite well, but Klemperer wanted to see for himself and insisted they go to a near-by record shop. There were no browser bins in those days; they approached a clerk, and Klemperer, without identifying himself, asked if he had the Beethoven Fifth conducted by Klemperer. The clerk said he didn't think so, but that he did have the Fifth conducted by Toscanini and Bruno Walter.

"'No, no,' Klemperer said, 'I really want it with Klemperer.'

"'Well, let's see; we have it also by Weingartner and Koussevitzky.'

"Klemperer persisted, and when the clerk ran out of alternatives he asked, 'When we have all these better recordings, why do you insist on Klemperer?'

"The conductor then drew himself up to his very imposing full height, scowled down at the clerk, and declared, 'I want Klemperer--because I am Klemperer!'

"'Of course,' the clerk said sarcastically, 'and I suppose that's Beethoven standing next to you.' 'Beethoven?' Klemperer said, his fierceness dissipated; 'No, that's not Beethoven; that's Mendelssohn.' Whereupon, as George smiled in amazed disbelief, the clerk, suddenly drained of his composure, turned to him and said, 'I've always loved your Wedding March.'"

Neil Halliday wrote (March 28, 2002):
[To Jim Morrison] For those of us who were listening to baroque music in the late 50's and 60's. in pre-HIP days, 'lush' and 'rich' transcriptions, or even straight renditions, of Bach's music, were commonplace. There were great LP recordings of the Art of Fugue and Musical Offering, for example, in orchestral arrangements.

Neil Halliday wrote (March 28, 2002):
In fact, I can see the headlines in 10 or 20 years time: "NEWS FLASH:
BACH SOUNDS GREAT WHEN PLAYED ON MODERN INSTRUMENTS...."

Hehe.

François Haydon wrote (March 28, 2002):
[To Trevor Evans-Young] The six-part ricercare out of the Musical Offering. I agree it's an interesting take, and somewhat easier to follow than the original version on harpsichord. Mine is on the Sony Webern boxset, under Boulez that is.

François (exploring the chamber music set out of the Brilliant Classics complete set, and rather enjoying it indeed)

 

Lambarena

Bernard Nys wrote (June 12, 2002):
Forgive me if I present a CD that has already been presented to you: Lambarena "Bach to Africa", a very refreshing mix of Bach and Gabon rhythms that took 100 days in the recording studio. The most impressive tracks (2 & 4) come from the SJP, with tam-tam and percussion.

Bradley Lehman wrote (June 12, 2002):
[To Bernard Nys] Forgive me if I'm less enthusiastic about this one. Sony Classical 64542. ("Classical," yeah, right.) I've had a copy of it for a few years, but have no idea where or why I got it. Since the first listen it's been sitting in my "we don't need to keep this one" box until I dug it out this morning.

The concept is sort of interesting: it's supposed to celebrate the work of Albert Schweitzer, who founded a hospital at Lambarena in Gabon. The back of the box further proclaims that it's "a fascinating fabric of sound woven together from Gabonese chant voices and the classical melodies of Bach, and permeated throughout by the underlying rhythms of the African forest." Well, it's an uneasy fabric of elements that don't weave together very well.

They picked ten different musical ensembles from Gabon and imported them all the way into Paris for the recording studio. They also brought in Argentinian tango and jazz musicians, as well as a pickup classical ensemble. Everybody's listed in the booklet. The budget for producing this CD must have been astronomical: travel plus the 100 days of studio time. I understand that this must have been a great adventure for some of the people involved. Hey, trip to Paris! But, musically....

The result (in my opinion) is some interesting Gabonese traditional music with snippets of Bach superimposed over it. A hodgepodge. It doesn't add up to more than that, for me. The overdubs fade into and out of each other, and it just sounds like some recording engineer having fun with the board, fussing with the sliders more or less randomly.

I'd much, much, much rather hear an albof just the real Gabonese music. Bring them into a studio, or take a portable recorder out on location....

And the most straightforward Bach on this CD is a stiffly metric rendition of the "Agnus Dei" of the B Minor Mass: countertenor with electronic organ and a small string ensemble...and then over the ending they dub in a Gabonese women's group singing "a pygmy rhythm" (claims the booklet) for about ten seconds. Hello? Raison d'etre, s'il vous plait? Oh, later on the disc there's also a straightforward rendition of one of the three-part inventions, played on electronic organ. Yecch.

My wife's comment this morning was surprise that the Gabonese musicians went along with this project. It's so imperialistic. "Here, we'll give you a trip to Paris and record you doing your thing, and then we'll fade it into and out of some of the greatest works of our culture. We're just using you for the sounds you make, and so we can put out a multicultural pseudo-classical crossover album and make ourselves look good. Have a nice day." The classical musicians on there sound less than enthusiastic, too...just going through the notes, knowing their efforts will just be cut up and pasted together anyway...long line means nothing.

The way I figure it, if somebody at $ony Classical wanted to go to the time and expense of a tribute album to the Gabonese people (and/or Albert Schweitzer), the project could have shown a lot more respect for that culture, taking it on its own terms, as a real ethnomusicologist would do. What good does it do anybody to record their artistic expression, chop it into tiny bits, and mix it with something else, as if their own effort wasn't good enough to stand on its own? What would Schweitzer himself have said about such an exploitation of Gabonese culture?

According to the booklet, there are at least 42 different ethnic backgrounds among the million inhabitants of Gabon. It seems there could be albums exploring and celebrating this diversity, and that would be a lot more enriching than this disc of commercialized Bach-Schlock. Take that same budget and distribute the money to people in Gabon, or else make a series of Gabonese CDs that present pure Gabonese music....

Or if the idea is to honor Schweitzer, why didn't Sony Classical prepare a nice reissue of Schweitzer's own organ performances of Bach? Some of those Columbia LPs were pretty good.

-----

There's a marvelous comedic skewering of this type of multicultural project: the song "Fusion" by John Forster on his album "Entering Marion." Forster condenses most of Paul Simon's "Graceland" album into a few minutes.... http://www.icu.com/johnforster/FUSION.html

Ehud Shiloni wrote (June 13, 2002):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< Forgive me if I'm less enthusiastic about this one. Sony Classical 64542. ("Classical," yeah, right.) I've had a copy of it for a few years, but have no idea where or why I got it. Since the first listen it's been sitting in my "we don't need to keep this one" box until I dug it out this morning.
<snip> Well, it's an uneasy fabric of elements that don't weave together very well.
<snip> The result (in my opinion) is some interesting Gabonese traditional music with snippets of Bach superimposed over it. A hodgepodge. It doesn't add up to more than that, for me >
I agree with Brad here 100%, and I wish to add my un-learned opinion to his astute analisys: The Gabonese music-making is beautifully intriguing, and we all know what Bach's music brings into the stew, but the FUSION of both FAILS with two Capital F's in this poor effort. It is quite a shame, as I sense that there could be much better potential for a result with added value if the "cook" was a better one. My clear recommendation about this CD: Avoid.

Aryeh Oron wrote (June 13, 2002):
I concur with both Brad and Ehud. I listened to this CD only once in its completeness and a few more times to the Bach pieces which are included in the programme (excerpts from BWV 147, BWV 208, BWV 232). I see no reason to re-listen to it in the near future.

Fusion is almost always a problem. The whole is smaller than the sum of its parts. Fusion in Jazz (juxtaposion of Jazz and Rock), which used to be very popular during the 1970's, is my least favourite among all Jazz genres (from New-Orleans to Post-Modern). I listen to Jazz CD's of this kind only because Jazz musicians whom I am fond of, as Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter, Joe Henderson, etc., dedicated a signifacant part of their musical output to this style.

Pete Blue wrote (June 13, 2002):
[To Aryeh Oron] I agree with Aryeh that Fusion, the fusion of jazz and rock, has not produced the quality of other jazz genres. Even less successful, I think (am I alone in this opinion?), is the fusion of jazz and BACH. The superficial resemblance between jazz and early European music, like that between jazz and the Indian raga, is based presumably on the fact that both employ improvisation over a harmonic and/or rhythmic pattern. But that's the beginning and end of the resemblance. IMO jazz is jazz and Bach is Bach and never the twain should meet. The stylistic chasm is simply too vast. There is no historical or artistic basis for combining the two, and all the attempts I have heard to do so are mediocre at best and a mere novelty or gimmick at worst. If you have great jazz artists, they always produce something of quality (although not their best work), but my reaction invariably is to want to go back to the originals. It's like having friends you love who don't get along with each other; your efforts to reconcile them rarely work.

Peter Bright wrote (June 13, 2002):
[To Pete Blue] I'm coming into this interesting discussion relatively late, so forgive me if my comments have already been made by someone else. I wonder whether others on this list have heard "Birth of the Third Stream", recorded in 1957. I believe the title was coined by Gunther Schuller who wanted to describe a movement that took elements from the "first stream" (classical music) and married it with the "second stream" (jazz) to produce a new offspring. While the result featured some extraordinary musicians (inc. Charles Mingus, Jimmy Knepper, Bill Evans) and found favourable reviews, I never revisited it after listening for the first time. On the jazz side there was insufficient space to allow these supreme musicians to shine in their "natural habitat" while on the classical side I found the writing dull.

Really, I think when attempts are made to force jazz and classical music together it does become less than the sum of its parts. However, when it occurs more as a natural, less premeditated process (think Stravinsky, Martinu or many others), the results can be daring, and hugely involving. The marriage does seem to work best when approached from a "classical" rather than a jazz orientation.

I also agree that the fusion of jazz and rock is generally horrible - one of those ideas that seemed like a good one at the time but has aged terribly and should be left to fester along with the worst of "prog rock".

 

Max Reger

Bernard Nys wrote::
For a few days I don't receive any mail. No inspiration anymore or do I have a bouncing problem with Yahoo ? That's why I send this mail, to see if it comes back. By the way : babies like the Minuet (track 14) on the Graziano Mandozzi synthesizer Bach - Händel 300 CD as a lullaby. Can anyone recommend me similar synthesizer BACH experiences ?

Trevor Evans-Young wrote (June 22, 2002):
[To Bernard Nys] I recently heard some 'Bach dances from Suite in g minor'Arranged for orchestra by Reger. I don't think that is correct but they were dances from the English and French suites( I think). I kinda liked the orchestration but I don't think the performance or the sound was very good(over my car radio). Are there other recordings of this? What is the correct title?

Thomas Braatz wrote (June 23, 2):
Trevor Evans-Young asked:
< I recently heard some 'Bach dances from Suite in g minor' arranged for orchestra by Reger. I don't think that is correct but they were dances from the English and French suites( I think). I kinda liked the orchestration but I don't think the performance or the sound was very good (over my car radio). Are there other recordings of this? What is the correct title? >
There is a "Suite im alten Stil" (1916) published by Bote and Bock (Berlin) by Reger. This has no key indication, nor does it seem to be based directly on Bach's music.

Reger's orchestral arrangements of Bach's music include: J.S. Bach's Suiten (Ouvertüren) Nos. 1-3 (1915-16); Brandenburg Concerto No. 5; Clavier Concerto in d minor, 2 Clavier Concerti C major and c minor (1915); Violin Concerti in a minor and E major (1911); Triple Concerto in a minor (1916); and "Suite in g minor" (consisting of instrumental mvts. taken from the Clavier Partitas and the English Suites) Leipzig, 1916, Peters Edition.

This information is from the MGG.

Now you have the title, "Suite in g minor." Perhaps someone else can help you locate the recordings of this music.

 

Es Ist Genug--& other bits of Bach quoted in later pieces

Bradley Lehman wrote (February 26, 2004):
< Bach's harmonization of "Es Ist Genug", which Berg used as the basis of his Violin Concerto, is somewhat different in that Bach is really flirting with non-diatonic harmonies that really can't be explained as "chromatic". >
Yes, that spot in the Berg concerto where the Bach chorale comes in is such a shattering moment...and the way the concerto's material has been based all the way through on those four rising notes. (I especially like the harrowingly intense performance by Louis Krasner, with Anton von Webern conducting the BBC orchestra, 1936.)

Then there's George Crumb's "Ancient Voices of Children" where at a quiet moment the toy piano plays "Bist du bei mir" (from the Magdalena book)...wow.
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B000005IY6

I found another such Bach quote in a CD that just arrived: Dimitri Yanov-Yanovsky's "Music of Dreams" for harpsichord, chang, and tape. [A chang is a hammered dulcimer from Asia; played here by the composer, who is from Uzbekistan.] A dreamy landscape has been set up by the first half of the piece, and then the harpsichordist plays some disconnected fragments from Bach's G minor fugue, WTC book 1. Quite a powerful effect. The CD is Elisabeth Chojnacka's "Energy"
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00004ZBL6

On that same CD is "Cabala del Caballo" by Mauricio Sotelo, for harpsichord and flamenco guitar. That one includes some broken-up bits from Scarlatti sonatas.

There's also a delightful piece called "Penetration of eS" by Enid Sutherland (not recorded, but I played the premiere of it about 10 years ago)...for a Baroque string ensemble and harpsichord. She took several Scarlatti sonatas and shuffled their themes into one another, along with quite a lot of free and barely-tonal material, to explore Scarlatti's extremely colorful world of sound. Entertaining and surreal at the same time. A very imaginative composer, with a terrific sense of humor and wry ironic twists everywhere...serious music built up from shatteringly funny bits. Then she went on apply this to a much bigger piece, "Daphne and Apollo Remade": which is about the unjust and oppressive treatment of women over the centuries.
http://www.orchestralist.org/registry/ol/Enid_Sutherland.html
http://www.umich.edu/~irwg/events/calendar/daphne_apollo.html
(I haven't seen the production, but I saw that it's a powerful piece even from merely looking at the score, and asking her to explain what she envisions there. I especially remember a scene where Elvis comes in and says some very rude and chauvinistic things to a female character...a dramatic gesture that would not work if the poetry and music had been written by men!...but the point of the piece is to expose that outrage, outrageously.)

Some more conservative (less cubistic) arrangements of Scarlatti and Bach: Avison's concerti grossi arranged from Scarlatti themes; or Tommasini's "Good Humored Ladies"; or William Walton's ballet "The Wise Virgins" arranged from parts of Bach cantatas. Or that Vanguard album of the orchestra "Il Novecento" playing Scarlatti sonatas, arranged by Groslot.
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B000005IY6

And then there's the Poulenc organ concerto: a take-off of Bach's G minor Fantasia BWV 542. Anybody here have a favorite recording of that? I've heard the old LPs with Preston and Duruflé, but am looking to get one on CD.

Gabriel Jackson wrote (February 26, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< And then there's the Poulenc organ concerto: a take-off of Bach's G minor Fantasia BWV 542. Anybody here have a favorite recording of that? I've heard the old LPs with Preston and Duruflé, but am looking to get one on CD. >
The Marie-Claire Alain recording with the Rotterdam Phil and James Conlon is rather good, to my mind, but the other concerto performances on the discs (its an Ultima twofer) are weirdly balanced (over-prominent piano(s)) which is a shame as the performances are equally good.

 

Arrangements

Douglas Cowling wrote (July 29, 2006):
Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote:
< Come on, guys, such items are not Mahler or Bruckner. They suited the group and time for which they were created. >
I've always held that an "arrangement" is a genre in itself which is more about the arranger than the source composer. Bach's organ arrangements of Vivaldi Concertos tell us more about Bach than Vivaldi -- some might even say that Bach misunderstood Vivaldi's music and destroyed its lightness and delicate textures.

I love the Mozart arrangements of "Alexander's Feast" and Mendelssohn's "Matthew Passion" with its piano and clarinets. Brahms' arrangement of the D Minor Chaconne for left hand alone is rivetting in performance. And Stowkowski's arrangement of the D Minor Toccata is a much better Introduction to the Orchestra than the Britten or the Prokofiev "Peter and the Wolf" because the latter two have so much talk, talk, talk.

And you get Mickey Mouse too!

Ed Myskowski wrote (July 29, 2006):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< the Britten or the Prokofiev "Peter and the Wolf" because the latter two have so much talk, talk, talk. >
Right, save the talk for BCML

< And you get Mickey Mouse too! >
On BCML, as well!

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (July 29, 2006):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< I've always held that an "arrangement" is a genre in itself which is more about the arranger than the source composer. Bach's organ arrangements of Vivaldi Concertos tell us more about Bach than Vivaldi -- some might even say that Bach misunderstood Vivaldi's music and destroyed its lightness and delicate textures. >
Obviously I have neither the desire nor the interest in banning any of the above or the below.

< I love the Mozart arrangements of "Alexander's Feast" >
I find it strange when WAM arrangement of Handel are done in English.

< and Mendelssohn's "Matthew Passion" with its piano and clarinets. >
Historically important but do we need concert performances of that?

< Brahms' arrangement of the D Minor Chaconne for left hand alone is rivetting in performance. And Stowkowski's arrangement of the D Minor Toccata is a better Introduction to the Orchestra than the Britten or the Prokofiev "Peter and the Wolf" because the latter two have so much talk, talk, talk.
And you get Mickey Mouse too! >

I adore Prokofiev but not Peter. Stokie's monstrosity doesn't ever enter my ears. I don't know who Mickey mouse is.

 

Arrangements

Julian Mincham wrote (November 22, 2006):
Rob writes:
< I response to " always interested in soloists playing Bach other than plinking pianos, warbling vocalists, and screeching violinists. Bach certainly deserves more....hence, I look forward to hearing your interpretations.
Ah, I am just doing the final preparations for my next CD release That will include an arrangement of Cantata
BWV 82 "Ich Habe Genug" & Motet "Siget dem herrn ein neues Lied" arranged for horn ensemble >
Well, I'm not sure I'd go along with the above description which seems a tiny bit biased to me. My feeling is that what Bach deserves in the first place is honest and engaging performances on the instruments for which he wrote!

It seems to be the case, however, that no composer's music is able to survive transcription and arrangement, however bizarre, better than Bach's---and perhaps no composer has been more widely arranged than he? (leaving aside ridiculous door bells and mobile phones--I am thinking of complete movements in which the essential structures remain intact---from the Swingles to the Moog)

Dick C. wrote (November 23, 2006):
[To Julian Mincham] Thanks Julian, I meant no malice; just refreshing to hear someone doing something different. After 200+ years we may starting to discover other 'voices'. Could be an exciting future, but at near 70, I'll just keep 'strummin' away like I am! Think I'll work up an arrangement of Chaconne for the Banjo, or maybe the Ukelele!!! LOL

Julian Mincham wrote (November 23, 2006):
[To Dick C.] Hi Dick--no offence taken at all---I'm not keen on warbling sopranos (with too much vibrato?) myself. Actually I agree with you that anyone who gets enjoyment a fufillment by playing Bach on any instrument is ahead of the game so go for it!

I once had a colleague who arranged part of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring for guitar, banjo and ukelele (he played the first instrument and the other two were his students). It lacked a bit of the impact of the original but the students certainly learnt a bit about Stravinsky's music and complex rhythms. I have arranged Bach for all combinations for students for similar reasons.

Richard Burdick wrote (November 24, 2006):
I too like to hear all the attempts at authentic practice. I am currently listening to the complete Cantatas in numeric order comparing what I have of the Teldec Harnoncourt set with the Brilliant classics set. I am only up to #25. Really enjoying them!

BUT isn't the biggest selling Bach recording ever made "Switched on Bach" with Wendy (Walter) Carlos?

If I am wrong I would really like to know what is the best selling recording of Bach!

Maybe E. Power Biggs?

Gerd Wund wrote (November 24, 2006):
[To Richard Burdick] What about bourre´ in e minor with yethro tull?

Shelly wrote (November 24, 2006):
[To Gerd Wund] Found it played it -- !!!! ????
But, there is no bad Bach!
Thanks,

Pius Cheung wrote (November 24, 2006):
My name is Pius Cheung. I had posted a message on this group earlier about my new album of Goldberg Variations on solo marimba. I am so glad there are so many discussions on arrangements of Bach, and most of it is very positive. Gives me an encouragement on what I do on marimba, which is a lot of arrangements, mostly Bach. I have tried Chopin and Stravinsky on marimba too, but those didn't work as well as Bach.

Please allow me to share my thoughts about Bach arrangements. Please give me some feedbacks on what you think. Here is a little writeup about Bach on marimba which I put in my Goldberg CD booklet. Enjoy. Please let me know what you think.

-Pius
www.piuscheung.com

My Thoughts about Bach on the Marimba

Playing Bach is one of the most controversial subjects for performers today. There are constant arguments about what the 'correct' way to play Bach is. In recent years, many people seem to be very concerned with whether or not a Bach performance is 'baroque', and if it is not, it is bad. The issue of whether or not it is justifiable to perform Bach on modern instruments seems to be never resolved. On one hand, there are the music purists who believe it is an absolute sin to play Bach on anything but 'authentic' period instruments, and that it is crucial to play Bach in a 'baroque' way; but on the other hand, there are those who believe one could only do Bach's music justice by performing them on modern/more developed instruments, and takes more flexibility with the performance style. To me it is very hard to define what is 'baroque' and what is 'romantic'. These terms were created mainly for the purpose of keeping clarity for studying music history. Of course, it is crucial to research about the composer's era and its performing traditions, but I think it is also very important to keep in mind that for a performer, research is for the sake of performance. One should be careful not to cross the line when you are playing in a way just to be 'correct' or to make a point that you have done your homework.

Though I very much respect performances of the 'authentic' or 'baroque' Bach interpreters, I have to be honest that I am more moved emotionally by performances or recordings that are more flexible or less 'correct' in accordance to modern day scholarship. Interpretations of Bach by those such as Edward Aldwell, Pablo Casals, Glenn Gould, Mstislav Rostapovich, and András Schiff, all of whom I think has/had (some of the above mentioned has already passed away) very deep understanding of Bach performance traditions, but are/were willing to occasionally step over the line and risk being scholastically 'incorrect', has touched me the most.

Part of the reason why I think performing Bach is so controversial is that the music itself is very controversial. He belonged to a time when music was very diatonically contained, and yet at times, he was using composition techniques that are far more advanced/complex than anyone of his era, such as Vivaldi or Telemann. Take Variation 25 from the Goldberg Variations for instance. This variation is essentially in g minor, but by the second bar, Bach already modulated into f minor. Chromaticism and complexity in tonality like that did not exist until composers like Chopin or Wagner. In fact, during his time Bach's music was sometimes criticized for being too complicated, and that one cannot follow what key or meter the music is in; and also there are too many voices happening at the same time. I suspect that is why nowadays there are constant disputes about Bach interpretations. Inside the 17th/18th century shell of Bach's music, there are elements that belong more to the 19th century.

As far as arranging Bach's music for the marimba, I dare not say something like, "I believe if the marimba existed in Bach's time, he would have written music for it.", or "If Bach was arranging his own music for the marimba, this is what he would have done..."; but I do believe it is justifiable to play Bach on modern instruments.

If I were to break down music into five elements, they would be: Form, Rhythm, Counterpoint, Harmony, and Sound. Form, the general contour or structural blueprint of an entire piece. Rhythm, music in the horizontal sense time-wise. Counterpoint, music in the horizontal sense pitch-wise. Harmony, music in the vertical sense. Sound, meaning orchestration/instrumentation, dynamic, tempo, articulation, etc. Form is of utmost importance to all composers, but as for the other four elements, different compostress on them differently. To me, Bach stresses on rhythm, counterpoint, and harmony, more than on sound. His music is compositionally perfect in an architectural or mathematical sense. Though Bach definitely had thorough knowledge of orchestration/instrumentation techniques, if one were to compare his music with the works of composers such as Stravinsky or Debussy, the element of tone/instrument color is not as important in Bach's music. Also, although markings of dynamics, articulations, tempi, etc., are minimal mostly because it is the common compositional practice of his time, I cannot help but think that Bach in a way did that intentionally to give performers more flexibility. In music that is so perfect formally, rhythmically, contrapuntally, and harmonically, I feel it will always be able to shine in different tone colors, dynamics, tempi, articulations, and phrasings.

Also, let us not forget Bach himself arranged his own music for different instruments frequently. For example, his keyboard concertos (BWV 1052-1057) were originally violin concertos. His violin sonata in a minor, BWV 1003, and Adagio from his violin sonata in C major, BWV 1005, were later arranged for the keyboard by Bach himself. His lute suite in g minor, BWV 995, is a transcription of his cello suite in c minor, BWV 1011. There is also the Art of Fugue which he did not even specify what instrument(s) it is intended for.

In a way, I think Bach's music does not belong on any real instruments. I feel it is so 'pure' that it goes beyond the reality and actuality of sound.

Thomas Braatz wrote (November 25, 2006):
Pius Cheung wrote:
>>Gives me an encouragement on what I do on marimba, which is a lot of arrangements, mostly Bach.<<
More power to you! The more arrangements we have of Bach's music, the better.

>>There are constant arguments about what the 'correct' way to play Bach is.<<
These have little or no bearing whatsoever on making arrangements of Bach's music for marimba or other similar instruments (or any modern instrument, or whistling or singing Bach).

>>The issue of whether or not it is justifiable to perform Bach on modern instruments seems to be never resolved.<<
As far as I know they live comfortably side by side with each side claiming certain advantages but also having disadvantages as well.

>>To me it is very hard to define what is 'baroque' and what is 'romantic'. These terms were created mainly for the purpose of keeping clarity for studying music history.<<
Suggestion: do not include what you do not understand.These definitions need not affect your arrangement or performance in any way.

>> I think it is also very important to keep in mind that for a performer, research is for the sake of performance. One should be careful not to cross the line when you are playing in a way just to be 'correct' or to make a point that you have done your homework.<<
Unless this arrangement/performance is for earning a grade or degree in a music school, it is really not necessary to worry about these things for the type of performance you will be giving. Why cause the audience or listener to be focused on those things which worry you needlessly?

>>[Aldwell, Casals, Gould, Rostapovich and Schiff] are/were willing to occasionally step over the line and risk being scholastically 'incorrect', has touched me the most.<<
There is no line that needs to be stepped over nor is there a risk of being scholastically 'incorrect' when playing an arrangement of Bach's music on a marimba.

>>Part of the reason why I think performing Bach is so controversial is that the music itself is very controversial.<<
Perhaps it has now become so, but during Bach's time the only complaints were that the keyboard music was a little harder to play than that by other composers. Some city officials were worried about too much influence of the operatic style on his concerted sacred music, but generally there were no complaints. There was even some strong approval of his performances. The only serious controversy was fomented by one of his own students who found that Bach's music was out of style (not simple enough).

>>In fact, during his time Bach's music was sometimes criticized for being too complicated, and that one cannot follow what key or meter the music is in; and also there are too many voices happening at the same time.<<
This is mainly the result of the controversy mentioned above. Bach's musicians, generally, had little or no difficulty in performing his music with little preparation to his satisfaction.

>>I suspect that is why nowadays there are constant disputes about Bach interpretations.<<
This reasoning/suspicion does not follow from the single controversy mentioned above.

>>As far as arranging Bach's music for the marimba, I dare not say something like, "I believe if the marimba existed in Bach's time, he would have written music for it.", or "If Bach was arranging his own music for the marimba, this is what he would have done..."; but I do believe it is justifiable to play Bach on modern instruments.<<
Bach experimented with all types of instruments which were either new or improved versions of the older instruments, but he was equally interested in finding out whether a musician could really make 'good music' on it. There is no reason to find justification for playing Bach on modern instruments. If it sounds good, it is good. This truism was also known in Bach's day.

>>To me, Bach stresses on rhythm, counterpoint, and harmony, more than on sound..the element of tone/instrument color is not as important in Bach's music.<<
I disagree with this statement. There are clearly many instances where Bach has the instrument color/sound in mind as he composes the music. Taking a movement where the oboe plays an important part as an obbligato instrument in an aria, for instance, it is possible to give the same part to a violin and it will still sound like Bach because the quality of the music is great, but something is lost in the process: the individual character of the oboe which is unique. Try to have a violin play a part originally intended for a recorder and the loss becomes apparent. Each instrument has unique characteristics that associate it with certain feelings and circumstances. Bach knew this and made use of this as he composed his music. These unique sound characteristics are lost when a different instrument is substituted for the original.

All of this need not deter anyone from playing Bach on a marimba as long as it sounds good. The sound of the marimba is quite unique and listeners who might remember the original orchestration of a Bach piece really do not expect a close approximation of the instrument for which the part was written.

>>Also, although markings of dynamics, articulations, tempi, etc., are minimal mostly because it is the common compositional practice of his time.<<
Bach did not follow 'the common compositional practice of his time'; that is the reason why the controversy about his music also focused on Bach's practice of notating quite precisely what he wanted much to the dismay of some performers who wanted only to use Bach's music as an outline so that they (the performers) could employ as much artistic freedom to Bach's music as they wanted. Bach, however, did not want them to take all these liberties because he knew that he possessed better taste in performance practices than they did.

>>I cannot help but think that Bach in a way did that intentionally to give performers more flexibility.<<
This is a popular misconception nowadays. Read all the details in the Scheibe-Birnbaum controversy referred to above.

>>Also, let us not forget Bach himself arranged his own music for different instruments frequently.<<
Let us also remember that Bach frequently found himself under great pressure to produce music quickly. Realizing that some earlier compositions might otherwise be lost to posterity and realizing that he had a new specific instin mind for a repeat performance years later, Bach decided to transcribe the solo parts while often retaining or reusing/recopying the already existing original accompanying parts. Thus he immediately fulfilled a two-fold purpose without making too many additional demands on his time. Some of Bach's music lends itself more easily to this kind of treatment than others without some loss of the original, intended sound.

>> In a way, I think Bach's music does not belong on any real instruments. I feel it is so 'pure' that it goes beyond the reality and actuality of sound.<<
In arrangements of Bach's music, anything is possible as long as it sounds good. Just remember to put your name next to the name of the composer: "Bach-Cheung" to alert the listener that this is an arrangement.

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (December 10, 2006):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< Some city officials were worried about too much influence of the operatic style on his concerted sacred music, but generally there were no complaints. >
One really wonders what took hold of Bach in his Johannes-Passion Versio II, 1725. That is so operatic that it simply is shocking. As on everything else no doubt much has been written on this.

 

On an Overgrown Path: Review of Bach's "Arabian Passion"

Kim Patrick Clow wrote (April 8, 2009):
I thought this would very interesting for the list ;)

"The Arabian Passion, which is based on material from Bach's St. Matthew (BWV 244) and St. John Passions (BWV 245), confronts current tensions in the Middle East. It is scored for string quartet, two jazz saxophones and Arab musicians, and has just been released on CD and as an MP3 download . Would Bach have turned in his grave? Read more, and listen to a sample to decide for yourself."
http://www.overgrownpath.com/2009/04/would-bach-have-turned-in-his-grave.html

 

Hatsune Miku does Bach

Chris Kern wrote (August 25, 2009):
I'm going to assume that most of you are not familiar with the Vocaloid software, so before I link these videos some explanation is in order, or simply a trip to Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vocaloid

Put briefly, it's a program by Yamaha that uses voice samples from actual singers to create synthesized voice "characters". Because the original voices are Japanese, the program is most suited for Japanese songs (mostly pop songs), and it requires a good amount of technical expertise to get the synthesized voice to sound more natural. However, people have been branching out into foreign songs as well, with mixed results. Someone has been doing Hatsune Miku (who is the original vocaloid 2, sampled from Fujita Saki) versions of a number of Bach vocal works.

As examples here is the Et In Unum Dominum from the BMM: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RsT4xDVrd98
And the opening of the Matthew Passion: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lXLHGZpDhFk
The duet/chorus after Jesus' arrest (in the SMP): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-PvURGMvQvo

If you've never heard any other vocaloid songs it's probably going to sound rather jarring. Of course they sound synthetic and robotic, but I think they're fairly impressive given the limitations and capabilities of the software. The person who did the MP above has been working through the whole thing -- the recitatives are definitely the weakest aspect since the pronunciation of German is difficult for the software to get right, and the lack of free expressiveness is glaring. I also wish they had used one of the male vocaloids for the bass line (since Miku's voice sometimes sounds odd at very low levels), but having watched a number of other vocaloid songs in Japanese I think this is a good effort. (As the creator mentions in the opening comments, the Latin turns out better than the German.)

Kim Patrick Clow wrote (August 25, 2009):
Chris Kern wrote:
< I'm going to assume that most of you are not familiar with the Vocaloid software, so before I link these videos some explanation is in order, or simply a trip to Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vocaloid >
Thanks for those links Chris. I wished I could get my synths of my Sibelius to sound this good ;)

Great stuff,

Glen Armstrong wrote (August 25, 2009):
[To Chris Kern] I can't wait for Henri's reaction.

Chris Kern wrote (August 26, 2009):
Another nice one is this arrangment of the 6 voice ricecar from the Musical Offering: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3iCSdZzsARg
The beginning of the fugue theme is sung as "hatsune miku" (whereas the rest of the notes are just "na" or "la") so that you can pick it out pretty easily.

 

Continue on Part 2

Parodies in Bach's Vocal Works: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4
Arrangements of Bach’s Vocal Works:
Part 1 | Part 2

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Last update: ıDecember 23, 2015 ı08:34:16