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Bach Cantatas Mailing List (BCML)
Year 2004

Order of Discussion in the BCML for 2005

Aryeh Oron wrote (November 13, 2004):
It is about the time to think and take decision regarding the 'Order of Discussion' in the BCML for 2005.

In the first 4 years of the BCML's existence (1999-2003), we discussed the cantatas systematically, cantata per week for 210 consecutive weeks. 2004 was dedicated to discussions of Bach's other vocal works.

Last time we discussed the topic of 'Order of Discussion' (August 2003), some ideas were suggested for re-discussing the cantatas in 2005.
See: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Topics/BCML.htm
Based on those ideas and on some personal messages I have received from members of the BCML during the last couple of weeks, I have a suggestion for simple 'Order of Discussion' for 2005 onward, which will allow many of you to participate.

My idea is discussing albums by performers, rather than each cantata individually. We can start, for example, with Suzuki's albums from 1 to 25, album per week. Then we can move to albums by another conductor. The albums from Gardiner's BCP are planned to be issued from beginning of 2005, Rilling has become quite affordable for many members, Koopman is still going strong, Werner's reissue albums have just been released, the first album of the Canadian OVPP series is scheduled to be in the market very soon, and so on.

The advantages of using Suzuki series as a springboard are:
A. Suzuki (as Koopman) has recorded the cantatas chronologically.
B. Many members have these albums.
C. They set quite a high standard of performance.
D. They have good liner notes.

Of course, when we discuss a certain album, members can bring in comparison of the cantatas in the album to other renditions, etc.

To make this idea a successful reality, some co-operation and volunteers are needed:
A. Suggestions for future discussions: Couple of weeks before the Suzuki discussions are over, I shall send you a notice, asking for suggestions for continuation. When we finish the new group of discussions, I shall remind you again, and so on. We have used this mechanism every 10 weeks in the previous cycle of cantata discussion and it worked fine.
B. Person responsible for the discussions: At the beginning of each week, this person will send a short notice to the BCML, reminding the members of the album for discussion this week. If he wishes, he/she might add some background, personal opinion, etc. This is not a very difficult task and it will help putting the discussions into the right track. For this we need volunteers. We can share this responsibility among the members. Let's say that each person, who has agreed to take responsibility. will be in charge for a period of 5 to 10 weeks, as he/she wishes.
C. Active participation of the members in the discussions.

Are you ready? Please tell me what do you think.

Doug Cowling wrote (November 13, 2004):
[To Aryeh Oron] I would prefer to discuss the music and background of the cantatas themselves rather than making this an audiophile forum. Most of us are not serious collectors of recordings and do not have, for instance, access to the complete Suzuki series. Many come to this forum with the experience of their own performances and with their study of the scores. Please don't turn the forum into a collectors' group. A focus on the actual music and its historical context will avoid some of the subjective conflict which intrudes on discussions of recorded performances.

Ludwig wrote (November 14, 2004):
[To Doug Cowling] For me I find audiophile discussions very boring because people get into their preferences and are not objective which often leads to flame wars.

Bradley Lehman wrote (November 14, 2004):
[To Doug Cowling] I agree, it would be stimulating if we can focus on discussing the compositions: harmony, counterpoint, melody, rhythm, form, dramatic sense, that sort of thing, appreciating the craftsmanship and artistry of Bach's work.

An excellent blueprint of Bach's aesthetics is available: that 1738 JA Birnbaum essay explaining the essence of Bach's approach to the art. (That's readily available in both the New Bach Reader and the old one in English, and in Bach-Dokumente in German.)

Another strong resource is JJ Quantz' entire chapter about appropriate ways to be a music critic, fair to other people's work.

It would seem (to me, anyway) that these 18th century documents (and more) should be prerequisite to formulating respectful and appreciative responses to 18th century musicianship: the compositions, and the appropriate ways to perform them.

Without such a background, the dismissive (and often libelous) guesswork about recordings and books, written by critics who lack such an appreciation of (or experience in) practical musicianship in Bach's styles, just degenerates to a bunch of pointless catfights. It's the music itself, and the musicians, who suffer most at the hands of such abusive nonsense. And, those libelous dismissals of expert work are archived for all time on the web, which upsets (at least) me: where unaware people might wander in and take those critical assessments of the work as somehow authoritative or well-informed. (A story I've shared before is: I myself delayed buying the Leusink recordings of cantatas for far too long, because I'd taken some of those criticisms on the web site too much at face value.... Those reviews archived out there look sort of like objective appraisals of the work, but some of them really are nothing more than disguised polemic against academically responsible understandings of the music.)

Speaking for myself, anyway, as to recordings in general: it suffices to see mentions that new resources exist, and then I go look up samples on the web or in shops to hear it for myself. Several members here are especially good at keeping us informed of such news, when new things come out. I can form my own opinions about what I'm willing to spend my money on, being aware of the options. On a limited budget I can't go buy all the Suzuki or Koopman or Werner or other releases, as tempting as some of them may be; and I don't think it's wise to assume that many other members have such a large collection of recordings either. Again, we can get through this most productively if the discussion is primarily about the music and not so much about things to go collect, if we all had unlimited resources and the time to listen to it all.

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (November 14, 2004):
[To Aryeh Oron] I would gladly lead any and all discussions on Bach's Passionswerke, Osterwerke, and Passionspasticcios. For me, this (as well as Christmastide) is the most important time of year, and I am in the process of collecting scores and recordings (as well as compiling some of my own) of all versions of Bach's Passionswerke and Osterwerke, as well as those of other musicians from ancient times to the 1940s and 1950s.

As to focus, I think that we should broaden the scope and looks at not just Bach's works, but also those of the period from Palestrina and Gregorian Chant to the turn of the 19th century. I would focus on the works Bach did on music by other composers (especially the 3 Passionspasticcios on the Markuspassion now thought to have been by Nikolaus Bruhns's brother and the Passionskantate "Wer ist der, so von Edom kommt"). I would also look at all versions of Bach's Passionsmusiken, from ca. 1712-1749. I would look at all the various versions of the Kantaten for the period between Sexagesima and Pfingstsonntag. Finally I would look at the contributions of others to the musical literature of this time period (from Gregorian Chant to the turn of the 19th century).

John Pike wrote (November 14, 2004):
[To Aryeh Oron] The problem with this approach is that members who do not have the Suzuki recordings will be forced either to; a) buy them or b) not contribute to discussions or c) comment about other recordings without comparing them to Suzuki. This would last for 6 months. If we then move to Gardiner, we have only 12 CDs released so far and an expectation that people will snap uthe releases next year as soon as they come out. Next year could be very expensive for me!! There are also many on this list who are not really qualified to review recordings (myself included). Moreover, contribution to the discussions so far has not been overwhelming. I feel the new system would cause a further decline. I am sorry to be so negative. I will give some thought to this in the next few days to see if I can come up with a better proposal. Maybe I will not. It may be better, like the Golden Gate Bridge to start all over again when we get to the end.

John Pike wrote (November 14, 2004):
[To Doug Cowling] Very good points.

Ehud Shiloni wrote (November 15, 2004):
[To Bradley Lehman and others] Please remember that this List is an offshoot of the "Bach Recordings Mailing List", meaning that it too is focused on RECORDINGS of Bach's music. Naturally, the discussions can and have branched off to all matters relating to the music, but the cornerstone was always the discussion of particular recordings of the cantatas. If discussions are confined to the analisys of the score only, then the unschooled will unsubscribe in droves, and the group of "mavens" will slug it out in front of empty bleachers. Not recommended.

Doug Cowling wrote (November 15, 2004):
Ehud Shiloni wrote:
< If discussions are confined to the analisys of the score only, then the unschooled will unsubscribe in droves, and the group of "mavens" will slug it out in front of empty bleachers. Not recommended. >
[the message was deleted]

Francis Browne wrote (November 15, 2004):
Aryeh suggested that future discussions might focus on the Suzuki recordings of the cantatas, and then on recordings by other conductors. In response Doug Cowling said that he would prefer 'to discuss the music and background of the cantatas themselves rather than making this an audiophile forum'. Brad Lehman supported this suggestion and further argued:

'the dismissive (and often libelous) guesswork about recordings and books, written by critics who lack such an appreciation of (or experience in) practical musicianship in Bach's styles, just degenerates to a bunch of pointless catfights. It's the music itself, and the musicians, who suffer most at the hands of such abusive nonsense. And, those libelous dismissals of expert work are archived for all time on the web, which upsets (at least) me: where unaware people might wander in and take those critical assessments of the work as somehow authoritative or well-informed. (A story I've shared before is: I myself delayed buying the Leusink recordings of cantatas for far too long, because I'd taken some of those criticisms on the web site too much at face value.... Those reviews archived out there look sort of like objective appraisals of the work, but some of them really are nothing more than disguised polemic against academically responsible understandings of the music.)'

Doug includes in his mailings the information that he is director of music at a church in Toronto. Brad is of course -as he frequently insists - an active musician. Both, it seems to me, assume that everybody else is or should be the same and airily dismiss the many members of this (and the Bach Recording List) who do not have the good fortune to be active musicians and whose point of entry into the cantatas may well be through recordings. Surely if Aryeh's website receives more and more visits it is because recordings are increasingly available and arousing interest in the cantatas. Many people who discover the inexhaustible riches of this music through recordings use the website and list to take this interest further.

The discussions of recordings of cantatas that Aryeh heroically kept up year after year do provide material that illuminates not simply recordings but also the cantatas themselves. Contributions vary in quality of course but it is absurd to give the impression that the discussions Aryeh led were 'a bunch of pointless catfights' and 'abusive nonsense'. (These words unfortunately would better characterise some of the musicological discussions that have recently dominated the lists.) Aryeh is suggesting a way that would continue what this list and website have done successfully in the past and it is people like Doug and Brad who seem to want to redefine the list to suit their own interests.

I cannot see why a discussion that focuses initially on a recording should exclude discussion of the music. Each cantata is far greater than any particular recording and using the Suzuki (or any other recording) is only a way of initiating a discussion that should be open to any one who knows the music in any form - whether through performance or a recording. ( Please do not assume that I equate these different approaches : those who have the privilege of performing Bach's music have an insight into the music which I envy and from which I am always willing to learn).

'Audiophile' is a patronising term that implies a trivial interest in technical aspects of recording rather than a serious interest in the music. Brad's concerns about the music and musicians who 'suffer' and 'unaware people' are so exaggerated and comical in their pomposity and arrogance that there is no need to comment. People who have sufficient interest in Bach's cantatas to explore Aryeh's archives are surely intelligent enough to evaluate for themselves what they find.

But I am saddened by what seems a dictatorial attitude that would exclude comments and opinions -yes, I do mean opinions, not anything that purports to be eternal absolute irrefutable scientifically proven academically respectable indubitable irrefragable truths certainties facts - except from the chosen few who are regarded as worthy and sufficiently qualified. Something has gone wrong when members like John Pike feel obliged to write that they are not qualified to review recordings. Why ever not ? I cannot forget what some do not seem to remember : this is just an internet mailing list, not an academic journal, nor the supreme court etc. - despite our justifiable pride in Aryeh's achievement it is a very obscure little corner of the vast world of music and the even vaster world of all that is not music. It should be a forum where anyone discovering the cantatas can share their delight and deepen their understanding and enjoyment. Serious Bach scholarship takes place elsewhere -rightly so.

I hope that after what has been in some ways a year's interregnum the list will return to a close focus on particular cantatas in discussions that include both recordings and the cantatas themselves - and the valuable experience of those who perform the music. I hope such discussions will be courteous and hospitable to those who are encountering the music for the first time and those who have a deep knowledge and experience of Bach's music . I have no desire to exclude the discussions suggested by Brad and Doug -indeed positively welcome them when they transcend personal animosity and illuminate the music. But I suspect that those who have been contributing to the list most frequently in recent months do not - as they imply- speak for all the members.

My one hesitation about Aryeh's plan is that to discuss all the cantatas on one disc each week seems to me to be a breakneck pace: I often found the pace of one cantata each week difficult to manage. So many cantatas reveal depth after depth on closer acquaintance.

Bradley Lehman wrote (November 15, 2004):
[To Ehud Shiloni] The front page of this group: http://launch.groups.yahoo.com/group/BachCantatas/
suggests that it's a place to have substantial discussions of the content of the music. "BCML is mostly dedicated to discussions of Bach Cantatas & Bach's other vocal works." At least, that's the general way in which I've always taken it: reactions to (and analysis of) the music and not merely recordings.

There are places such as epinions.com where disgruntled consumers can work out their entitlement issues against their purchases: where it's clear that it's merely a consumer forum of personal opinions, and with no pretenses of objectabout the music's inherent content.

Thomas Braatz wrote (November 15, 2004):
Francis Browne wrote:
>>My one hesitation about Aryeh's plan is that to discuss all the cantatas on one disc each week seems to me to be a breakneck pace : I often found the pace of one cantata each week difficult to manage. So many cantatas reveal depth after depth on closer acquaintance.<<
I concur with Francis Browne's observation. One normal-length cantata is more than sufficient for discussion. I often find that simply coming to terms with a single opening mvt. of a cantata will occupy all the spare time that I can find during the course of one week. It should be noted also that Aryeh, in the previous cantata discussions on this list, would choose only one or two mvts. for a special focus. This is as it should be. Perhaps during the 2nd sequence of cantata discussion he will want to concentrate on some of the other mvts. in the same cantata.

Personally, I would otherwise favor Aryeh's suggested approach using the Suzuki cantata series as the main basis for discussion. One cantata per week will be more than enough, the past record of discussions of the passions and WO notwithstanding.

Neil Mason wrote (November 15, 2004):
This is my first posting to this list.

I like the idea of discussing specific recordings as suggested by Aryeh, but I do not think that the Suzuki recordings are the best choice to discuss. The reason for this is that many of us have found that they can not afford to purchase them.

May I suggest that the latest Haenssler offer of Complete Bach CDs would make them a logical starting point, or perhaps the Brilliant Classics ones. Both of these sets are much more affordable and would surely result in many more postings.

I would also like to take this chance to introduce myself. I am a singing teacher, tenor soloist and choral conductor living in Brisbane, Australia. I am the Musical Director of the Bach Society of Queensland, a post I have held off and on since 1987. In 1987 I knew virtually nothing about Bach (believe it or not!) but over that time have conducted a number of his works, including last month the first Australian performance of BWV 214. So in some respects I am somewhat of a pioneer!

It has been a great boon in recent years to have vocal scores available on CD Sheet Music. Full scores and orchestral parts do not seem to be so readily available, but perhaps I am mistaken and would love to hear that I am wrong!

I must admit that I have been a "lurker" on this list for quite some time before posting, because of what I perceive to be an argumentativeness in some posters, or in other words a lack of generosity of spirit. So I would like to say to posters generally that the constitution or emotional make-up of some people is not as robust as others. Mine is not particularly delicate but I will not continue to post if I receive "ad hominem" attacks like several others do.

Cara Emily Thornton wrote (November 15, 2004):
Neil Mason wrote:
< This is my first posting to this list. >
Welcome!

< It has been a great boon in recent years to have vocal scores available on CD Sheet Music. Full scores and orchestral parts do not seem to be so readily available, but perhaps I am mistaken and would love to hear that I am wrong! >
When I first signed up for this list, there was a site that had the full scores of the BGA edition for all the cantatas available free of charge for downloading. However, subsequently there were some legal problems, some German guy came along claiming he had copyright in the *.pdf files (which he was selling in CD format on his web site) - which is absurd because the BGA is over 100 years old and is therefore public domain! But until the matter was straightened out, they had to remove the full scores from that other site. It seems the matter has been taken care of and almost all of the full scores are back on line. (And now that I have my nice new 80G hard drive, maybe I should simply download them all while I can, just in case???) However, I should observe that all parts are notated in the original clefs - so, sopranos be prepared to read soprano clef, altos be prepared to read alto clef, tenors be prepared to read tenor clef!!! Here is the link to that site:
http://www.mymp3sonline.net/bach_cantatas/mp3.asp

You can also get vocal scores and listen to decent HIP recordings of each cantata (in some cases there is even more than one to choose from) at this URL.

Neil Halliday wrote (November 15, 2004):
Neil Mason wrote:
<"I do not think that the Suzuki recordings are the best choice to discuss. The reason for this is that many of us have found that they can not afford to purchase them.>"
Not to worry, Neil.

Apparently the Suzuki volumes, and other more recent releases, are being released in chronological order (I believe Suzuki is about half way through the project), and the advantage of using this set as a basis for discussion is that those people who do own them will be able to comment on a Suzuki cantata each week, unlike during the first traversal of the cantatas, when fewer Suzuki volumes had been released. This will by no means prevent other list members from offering their thoughts on their own recordings of the same cantata.

I agree with other members that only one cantata should be discussed each week. For example, volume I of the Suzuki set (which I happen to own - I think I was chasing the trombones in BWV 4 which Rilling omits!) contains BWV's BWV 4, BWV 150, and BWV 196. So that gives the first three week's discussion, in that order, and so on.

Neil H. (BTW, Cheers from South Oz).

< I like the idea of discussing specific recordings as suggested by Aryeh, >

Russell Telfer wrote (November 15, 2004):
[To Cara Emily Thornton] An interesting point Cara, and welcome.

I've used the Kalmus scores these last few years but they have many of their singing clefs in Soprano, Tenor, etc.

I use them to sing but I still don't like them. I've tried Myriad's Omer (optical score recognition) but have never easily been able been to convert the lines into standard treble or bass.

I shall check out the website you mention.

Thanks

John Pike wrote (November 15, 2004):
[To Francis Browne] Thank you for the sympathetic response to my comment, Francis, but I genuinely do not feel qualified to write reviews. I say what I like and do not like and why, but to go further than that would be wrong of me. I have too often seen what happens when self-appointed critics jump in to criticise the work of others which they do not understand and which they would be completely unable to do better themselves. Too often, so called music critics have little or no experience themselves of playing an instrument. I say this with no particular group member in mind, but just general observation over the years of listening to the radio or reading magazines. there are very few people on this list who I would regard as being qualified to write formal reviews. They would include Brad, Uri and perhaps a few others.

Moreover, you wrote: "Doug includes in his mailings the information that he is director of music at a church in Toronto. Brad is of course -as he frequently insists - an active musician. Both, it seems to me, assume that everybody else is or should be the same and airily dismiss the many members of this (and the Bach Recording List) who do not have the good fortune to be active musicians".

I think this is unfair. I do not think either Brad or Doug make this assumption, but Brad is understandably irritated when amateurs lecture him on how his job should be done. I became acutely aware myself how irritating this can be when Thomas made some comments about his expectations of doctors (of whom I am one) over the weekend.

Personally, I feel very grateful that professionals and undoubted experts give up their valuable time to impart knowledge to a group of mainly amateur musicians who sometimes do not repay that gin the way they should.

There are limitations in various suggested approaches to the list discussions. For discussions of recordings, they include lack of expertise of reviewers, and no access to the relevant recordings. For musicological discussions, they most certainly include lack of expertise of most people on the list. The list would become a concentrated version of what we have had so far....expert imparts knowledge.....expert shot down by keen amateur who thinks that because he has read a few books on the subject, he knows it all.

I have still not come up with a view on how to continue discussions in a productive way. I suspect that a fluid and flexible approach is desirable, where a member triggers a discussion on a particular piece or recording and debate ensues. These have been some of the most fruitful discussions in the past. Contributions to the "cantata of the week" discussion have been less frequent, Neil and Aryeh being the only 2 regular contributors who come to mind.

Anthony Olszowy wrote (November 15, 2004):
[To Francis Browne] I concur with my learned friend's opinion.

Doug Cowling wrote (November 15, 2004):
[To Francis Browne & Anthony Olszowy] You have totally misrepresented my suggestion. If anything, I am asking that the discussion be broadened to include more than reviews of recordings. I would welcome anecdotal and impressionistic responses to the cantatas. The last thing I would want to see is a forum for only technical musical matters. And who declared "audiophile" a patronizing term? Certainly not me.

Santu de Silva wrote (November 15, 2004):
John Pike wrote:
< The problem with this approach is that members who do not have the Suzuki recordings will be forced either to; a) buy them or b) not contribute to discussions or c) comment about other recordings without comparing them to Suzuki. >
I don't think will be a problem. Let anyone who wishes mention recording-specific (or performance-specific) characteristics of recordings; the rest of us can simply ignore them if necessary, or point them to the "other" list.

Let's establish at the outset that we're not interested in particular recordings. That way if we get swamped by details that have nothing to do with the works as such, we can always point to the disclaimer. Personally, I shall ignore the fact that it is the Suzuki traversal that is under discussion.

Anthony Olszowy wrote (November 15, 2004):
[To Doug Cowling] Doug, Doug, Doug! Friend, friend! I was just quoting Francis on the subject of levels of expertise shown in this list; I was not directing my "concurrence" at anyone in particular, but just showing some solidarity with another non-musician on this list. Too many of us forget that music is not made for musicians alone, but for the public as a whole. To dismiss categorically the opinions of what is by far the largest part of the audience is, with respect, losing sight of the forest for the trees. Or not....I always stand to be corrected.

Thomas Braatz wrote (November 15, 2004):
John Pike wrote:
>>I do not think either Brad or Doug make this assumption, but Brad is understandably irritated when amateurs lecture him on how his job should be done. I became acutely aware myself how irritating this can be when Thomas made some comments about his expectations of doctors (of whom I am one) over the weekend.<<
Doctors, like professionally trained musicians/composers with university degrees, must learn to be especially patient (not become irritated) with those who come to them for advice and explanations of the skills, procedures, techniques, etc. that will be used in treating them or in providing a pleasurable listening experience. The fact that you found irritating my statement about how doctor's services and performances can and are being assessed, makes it quite obvious that certain professions do not enjoy having outsiders to their profession 'looking into their cards.' The way to circumvent this feeling is to be as open and honest as you can be and not think that >>a patient is not in a position to "make a better-informed decision regarding his/her treatment" in clinical matters.<< A doctor might think that he/she may have an 'honorable' reason for using a certain procedure, but if other procedures are available to a patient, why should the patient not be able to choose a different doctor/surgeon who ascribes to a different, perhaps older, tried-and-true method? Likewise, if a listener understands what it is that goes into 'making a HIP' recording, and still chooses the 'older' over the 'newer' procedures for creating a certain sound, he/she should be able to make that decision and even attempt to explain in rather specific detail why this choice is being made. This type of informed choice goes well beyond simply saying: "I like this doctor over that one. I can feel it in my heart." or "I prefer this version (recording) over that one because I like it more."

Instead of being forthcoming and giving a precise answer to specific questions in his own words with a possible short quotes from pertinent texts, thus demonstrating his complete command of the material, a fact which in itself would command respect; and, even if the reader might disagree with what is presented, Brad too frequently relies upon simply invoking the title of a book which might contain a possible answer with only "have you read..? Highly recommended" along with a link to a mail-order purchase firm. While this may seem very helpful, it is really not very much so since most list members do not have the time or money to spend on all these books, let alone study them thoroughly to find a possible answer which might be very tenuous and speculative. Thus, the discussion has been short-circuited by the implication that by invoking the numinosum of the author's name and published titles, all members of this list and others reading such a recommendation must be obeisant and ask no further questions because everything regarding the matter under discussion or, more specifically, that which is being questioned has already been quite firmly established, and, as such, is unassailable by all ordinary, clear-thinking individuals who, without the necessary university education, have no hope of even understanding all that went into formulating these current theories. The latter resemble very much some of the methods of treatment or surgical techniques that have a way of coming into vogue and then going by the wayside with time.

Some professionals wish to create an artificial air of awe-inspiring adulation for their creations and are quick to criticize those who do not believe or know things the same way that professionals have in achieving their educational goals. This does not give these professionals the right to simply dismiss critics as 'irritating' because some 'uncomfortable' questions have been raised by non-professionals who are considered 'insufficiently knowledgeable' 'ill-prepared' 'purely subjective' 'cynical' etc., etc. It is this attitude on the part of some professionals that prevents a meaningful discussion where 'we can agree to disagree' if we know in greater detail what all the pertinent facts regarding an issue are. Being willing to share these details openly will lead to a better solution for both sides (doctor/surgeon vs. patient; professional musician/composer vs. listener) rather than resorting to the attitude of "you can't possibly know what I know because I have received professional training" and "you must have complete trust in my professional abilities, any questions are considered irritating and an assault on my dignity, perhaps even to the point of attempting to assassinate my character" and "I do not need to explain myself or my actions, since what I do is based on instinct derived from my specialized training." It is easy to see how the flow of opinions and information offered on these lists is impeded by the entrenched attitude described above, an attitude that even resorts to applying unkind epithets in order to disqualify the opinions of those who do not agree with a professional's own notions of what is reasonably correct to assume about Bach'life and music.

Bradley Lehman wrote (November 15, 2004):
< Brad's concerns about the music and musicians who 'suffer' and 'unaware people' are so exaggerated and comical in their pomposity and arrogance that there is no need to comment. >
Uh huh. Well, I'm sorry that it comes across that way. Exaggerated? Comical? It's somehow "comical" when I point out the way that "Bach's intentions" are thrashed about, as a way of evaluating the work done by professional researchers and performers, as if the critic knows the only appropriate way that Bach's intentions and wishes might be served?

I've had discussions off-list with professional musicians, and members of their families, who told me of the dismay they've experienced reading the stuff that passes as musical criticism on the Bach Cantatas website. Those opinions out there, bashing singers and players and conductors, do have a damaging effect on the reputations of good musicians: where the critic has taken it upon himself to declare who among professionals should be hired (and whose work should be enjoyed!), and who doesn't deserve to be listened to. Accuracy to the music gets to be decided by consumers' rants about their entitlements as listeners, somehow? It's absurd, but those deeply biased consumer reviews against the work, and against those who do the work, do have some effect...mainly a destructive one.

Try this test yourself (anyone): pick three or four cantatas at random, and look up the reviews at www.bach-cantatas.com. I picked 112, 88, 139, and 47 just now, simply because I don't know those cantatas offhand by number and wasn't here during those discussions. Read through the discussions, and notice how it looks (at least superficially) like an expert survey of available recordings and the performance practices used in them, written by people who (at least superficially) appear to have studied the material seriously.
http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV47-D.htm
http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV112-D.htm
http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV88-D.htm
http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV139-D.htm

Now, ask yourself: do those reviews influence at all your personal attitudes toward taking "Historically Informed Performance" methods seriously, or have they served to erode your enthusiasm for musicianship that you'd otherwise probably enjoy listening to, having not read those reviews? Don't these reviews bias the casual reader to dismissing"HIP" as merely "light entertainment", and poor vocal technique, and "unmusical", and "yodeling", and incompetence, and insensitivity, and dishonesty from the musicians, and willfully self-serving details against Bach's wishes, and an inability to read music, and emotionless delivery, and lack of conviction, and worse? That's what I see in them, anyway: that tremendous and insidious bias against anything that has entered the field of Bach performance practice since c1965.

Those reviews are so often destructive polemic against scholarly and 18th-century-stylistic approaches to the music; but those reviews are DISGUISED as objective appraisal of the available work, with the authoritative tone in which they're written, and with the way they appear to be comprehensive. It's consumers, some more perceptive and fair-minded than others, presenting their personal OPINIONS about the material while deluding themselves (and the casual reader) that they've objectively studied and that they firmly understand the musical methods under review. It masquerades as responsible scholarship and serious aesthetic study, sitting out there on that website, but it's not. What are casual readers to think, stumbling upon it being new to Bach's vocal music or those particular cantatas, expecting to see a believable evaluation of the available resources?

I remember my own reactions to that stuff, seeing it for the first time a couple of years ago. And I remember the ways in which it discouraged me for a while from buying recordings that I now enjoy. How is the music being well served if the reviews drive potential listeners AWAY from a fair understanding of the compositions and recordings? And, how are the careers of these musicians under review being advanced in any positive direction, when it's one bash after another about how (allegedly) incompetent they are, next to the clear pseudo-objectivity of their critics?

=====

If you're looking for pomposity and arrogance to blame here, why are you pointing it at the guy (me) who's playing DEFENSE of good scholarly work and musicianship, against those insidious reviews that trash the whole enterprise?

Pablo Fagoaga wrote (November 16, 2004):
[To Doug Cowling] I agree with you, and since I seriously doubt that any "maven" would remain on this list any longer without the "dopping" benefits brought by the blind admiration of a truly and absolutely uninformed audience, the list would be EMPTY by the end of march.

Pablo Fagoaga wrote (November 16, 2004):
[To Anthony Olszowy] That's what I call an "easy-to-love" statement.

To make a positive asertion, to offer some contructive alternative to Aryeh's proposal (I am perfectly sure that he didn't mean to toss a match to the sadly usual keyboard kick-boxing), I suggest an order of discussion based on some musical cirteria, such as discussion of the chorale cantatas, the solo soprano cantatas, solo bass cantatas, and any other grouping that informed members could help t determine.

In each "group" of works, I gues there would be a fertile soil for musical analisys, performance comparison, and comparison between different readings of a single work, or comparison between different works of a same "species". This approach to the material could arise new perspectives and issues. To add complexity, we could try to analyze each group of cantatas chronologically, to see if some musical evolution is noticeable. Just tossing ideas.

Doug Cowling wrote (November 16, 2004):
Pablo Fagoaga wrote:
< I suggest an order of discussion based on some musical cirteria, such as discussion of the chorale cantatas, the solo soprano cantatas, solo bass cantatas, and any other grouping that informed members could help t determine. >
Grouping cantatas by genre, scoring or place in the liturgical year (e.g.the Michelmas cantatas) has a lot to recommend it.

John Pike wrote (November 16, 2004):
[To Doug Cowling] Agreed. Best idea so far.

Ehud Shiloni wrote (November 17, 2004):
[To John Pike] Note that the previous "Order of discussions" was based on following the church year [to the degree possible], discussing each cantata on the week it was originally written for.

I just thought of an alternative which you may find workable, and I call it: "The Best Of" approach. How about focusing not on a cantata-per-week routine but rather on individual movements? Someone rightly mentioned that many of the discussions were in practice limited to one [prominent] movement anyway, due to the magnitude of the subject material. So why not start with discussing, for instance, favorite chorus movements? Members will suggest a list of favorites, and discussions will go on until the inventory of worthy choruses is depleted [by general agreement, of course] when we'll move on to, say, outstanding soprano arias, tenor etc. arias, duets, terzets, instrumental movents, special-treated chorals, recitative ariosos, and so on. Such a "Hit Parade" approach will be easier to digest for the "general public" on the List, while providing ample room for the "Pros" to dive deep into composition techniques, performance practices etc, etc. Of course anyone wishing to expand a particular discussion to the entire cantata will be always welcome, so no artificial restrictions will be imposed by the "Single Movement" system.

Please give it a thought. I think it may work, and if successful - may even "fly".

Doug Cowling wrote (November 18, 2004):
Ehud Shiloni wrote:
< I just thought of an alternwhich you may find workable, and I call it: "The Best Of" approach. How about focusing not on a cantata-per-week routine but rather on individual movements? Someone rightly mentioned that many of the discussions were in practice limited to one [prominent] movement anyway, due to the magnitude of the subject material. So why not start with discussing, for instance, favorite chorus movements? >
The most valuable moments of this forum (when people aren't flaming out) are the cross-references to various works of Bach which people point out. The notion of discussing, say, a group of chorus movements which share a common structure or scoring might be interesting. I for one am obsessed with Bach choral movements which use trumpets. Bach uses a whole spectrum of scoring from single virtusoso trumpet in "Es Erhub Sich Ein Streit" to the massed artillery with timpani in "Gott Ist Mein König",. Could be instructive to compare and contrast his technique.

 

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