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Bach as Conductor

Bach as Conductor

Douglas Cowling wrote (February 22, 2004):
David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote:
< Another thing to remember is the role of the conductor in Bach's day (which I think should apply when conducting his music, whether sacred or secular, whether vocal or instrumental). The sole purpose of the conductor was to beat the time. For more illumination into this, see my other posts on conductors and their roles. >
It's worth remembering that Bach normally "conducted" the concerted music as the principal first violin. In the St. Matthew Passion, I syspect that he was mirrored by the "concertmaster" of the Coro II orchestra, although he could easily have directed both. The two continuo organs were played by other players.

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (February 22, 2004):
[To Douglas Cowling] Not necessarily so.

There is evidence that Bach conducted from many different places. He conducted from the Organ, from the Harpsichord, from the Violin, or even standing up waving a rolled-up sheet of paper or pounding the floor with a stick (this, BTW, is what led to Lully's death).

Douglas Cowling wrote (February 22, 2004):
[To David Glenn Lebut Jr.] These are all possible Baroque positions but I'd be interested in knowing the specific evidence. I'll grant that organ obligato parts (e.g. Cantata BWV 12) were probably played by Bach, but CPE Bach's testimony to his father's performance practice is pretty solid.

Bradley Lehman wrote (February 23, 2004):
[To David Glenn Lebut Jr.] Lully injuring himself while conducting; not the victim of any conducting accident from Bach. Just to be clear. :)

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (February 24, 2004):
[To Douglas Cowling] Although I do champion KPE Bach's views on many things, I also would be somewhat cautious here. He, after all, had to make many corrections to the Obituary of 1754 in the 1770s and 1780s when he corresponded with Forkel about his father. Besides, He himself, although respecting his father's pedigogical methods and his accomplishments, rejected his father's compositional style and method of performance (that is, the way [especially Orchestral works] his father performed his works in public). He was one of the champions of the elimination of the Basso Continuo that occurred in the latter 18th century.

If I were looking for a more pertinent source, I would have looked at such people as Mattheson, Walther, Telemann, Rameau, etc. KPE Bach was writing for a different generation that had different goals and expectations.

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (February 24, 2004):
[To Douglas Cowling] I almost forgot Scheibe and the like (Music Critics) as well.

Farhad Saheli wrote (February 24, 2004):
David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote:
< Although I do champion KPE Bach's views on many things, ... >
Who is KPE Bach???

Donald Satz wrote (February 24, 2004):
[To Farhad Saheli] He's CPE Bach - you know, Carl. I'm confident Mr. Lebut will tell us why KPE is preferred; I don't have the slightest idea.

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (February 24, 2004):
[To Bradley Lehman] That was what I meant.

 

Composers dying from professional accidents

Bradley Lehman wrote (February 23, 2004):
<< There is evidence that Bach conducted from many different places. He conducted from the Organ, from the Harpsichord, from the Violin, or even standing up waving a rolled-up sheet of paper or pounding the floor with a stick (this, BTW, is what led to Lully's death). >>
< Lully injuring himself while conducting; not the victim of any conducting accident from Bach. Just to be clear. :) >
...And Lully's tragic conducting accident is second only to Charles Alkan's demise: he died from a research accident. He was reaching up to remove a book from his library shelves and brought the whole thing down on himself. Ugh. I think of that every time I go to my top shelves for anything: that the avalanche of scores, books, and CDs would really be a problem. One really should bolt the shelves to the wall.

Kirk McElhearn wrote (February 23, 2004):
[To Bradley Lehman] You mean you haven't done that? :-)

Matthew Neugebauer wrote (February 24, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote: < ...And Lully's tragic conducting accident is second only to Charles Alkan's demise: he died from a research accident. >
ooh I don't know...

Being squashed by a large bookcase doesn't seem as odd as being killed by a metre-long stick! (yes, I know, he died because the wound wasn't disinfected)

p.s. everybody look-I'm actually disagreeing with Brad! It feels out-of-place.

Lol

 

Bach as conductor (was: Castrati and boy sopranos)

Continue of discussion from: Castrati in Bach's Vocal Works [General Topics]

Bradley Lehman wrote (September 7, 2006):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
< As is my wont, or custom, I accepted the challenge. And as might be expected, things get curiouser and curiouser. In the Bach Reader, 1966 edition, p. 231, Gesner's letter is accompanied by the footnote:
<Original in Latin; Burney made an incomplete translation, some details of which are used here.>
One of the details is the phrase <out of thirty or even forty musicians (symphoniaci)>. The implications of <symphoniaci> are beyond my scope, whether singers, instrumentalists, or both. If it matters I expect someone will help out.
The basic point, carefully stated, remains: no support for OVPP here. No refutation, but certainly no support. >

This anecdote from school administrator Gesner says nothing that could be construed reliably for or against OVPP practices in any of Bach's Sunday morning church music. It says very little, except that Bach was an outstandingly attentive and capable musician, in the opinion of the writer.

Let's look more closely. This text doesn't say anything about Bach conducting one of his own compositions; it could have been anything. Nor does it say anything one way or another about Sunday morning worship...or even if this was a performance at all, as opposed to a rehearsal. It could have been any classroom setting, teaching some other piece, for all we know.

It's just a guy using logorrhea, and in Latin!, to gush about how totally awesome Bach was as a director of music, and able to multi-task. The writer was the former rector of the school--Gesner--asserting that his colleague there had been amazing. (Gesner himself had left the position in 1734, and this writing was in 1738.) We can't even be sure that this Gesner was himself at all musical (maybe so, maybe not)...but he was merely asserting that, in his own estimation, Bach was way excellent.

Note also that Gesner's little piece of fluff is addressed to a dead guy, Marcus Fabius Quintilianus (Quintilian), who died in approximately 100 A.D. It's not a letter at all; it's a foreword to an edition of Institutio oratoria by Quintilian. It's an example of flowery rhetoric, as foreword to a book about rhetoric. Gesner (by then a professor of philology elsewhere) was asserting that the Leipzig school music was like totally wonderful, and way better than any old dead Greeks or Romans, because they have such an awesome expert in charge of it: a Bach who's equally fantastic at harpsichord, organ, and conducting. And in the way he said so, Gesner used sentences of more than 100 words, and a bunch of classical references (like citharas, tibias, Orpheus, and Arion).

The passage strikes me sort of in the same way as the song "Everything's up to date in Kansas City", in the musical "Oklahoma!" http://lyricsplayground.com/alpha/songs/e/everythingsuptodateinkansascity.shtml

Let's recall also: to non-organists, any sufficiently brilliant organ-playing is totally awesome to watch, seeming incomprehensibly difficult. Even more so if the guy doing the playing just shrugs and says nah, it's merely hitting all the right notes at the right times, and anybody who is willing to work as hard could do it just as well as this.

Professional basketball players have astounding skills, to me, but I'm terrible basketball and don't understand its fine points. If I had to write some piece about Shaquille, in Latin and for a book that's not about basketball, what would I say?

See also the way that Harold C Schonberg used that same Gesner anecdote, on page 39 of The Great Conductors (1967).

Raymond Joly wrote (September 7, 2006):
Bach as conductor; Latin in schools (was Castrati and boy sopranos)

Brad Lehman wrote, concerning Gesner's footnote in praise of Bach:
"It's just a guy using logorrhea, and in Latin!, to gush about how totally awesome Bach was as a director of music [...]. Gesner used [...] a bunch of classical references (like citharas, tibias, Orpheus, and Arion). [...] If I had to write some piece about Shaquille, in Latin [...], what would I say?"
Let us recall that writing Latin in Bach's time was no more an awesome performance for a man of learning than writing English today if you are in science or business administration. And classical culture meant as much to Bach, for instance, as Bach to a musician today.

Bradley Lehman wrote (September 7, 2006):
[To Raymond Joly] Point positif, et une perspective utile.

Herr O'Neal nimmt die Presse von Anderson, Fälschungen nach links, dann schlägt den Dreißigfuß, der für drei Punkte geschossen wird! Ein was für Kerl!

Thomas Braatz wrote (September 7, 2006):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
>>It says very little, except that Bach was an outstandingly attentive and capable musician, in the opinion of the writer.<<
This comment seems to imply that everything can be distilled into a generality that was a rather commonplace judgment which can also be applied to many other musicians of Bach's time; and, also, that the writer's opinion (with a description of the more specific circumstances) is worth nothing more than what any normal individual (non-practicing musician) coming into the churches where Bach rehearsed and performed his music, might be able to say about what he heard and observed).

BL: >>Let's look more closely. This text doesn't say anything about Bach conducting one of his own compositions;<<
The likelihood of the music in this instance being Bach's own is certainly greater than if it were not his own music.

BL: >>Nor does it say anything one way or another about Sunday morning worship...or even if this was a performance at all, as opposed to a rehearsal. It could have been any classroom setting, teaching some other piece, for all we know.<<
This cannot be denied, but it is more likely that Gesner is describing the Saturday afternoon rehearsal during a service when few parishoners (mainly women) were in attendance and the composition was being performed with all of the instruments for the first time. It is more difficult to imagine that all the externi/university students would be present for a classroom rehearsal.

BL: >>It's just a guy using logorrhea, and in Latin!, to gush about how totally awesome Bach was as a director of music, and able to multi-task.<<
Thanks, Raymond Joly, for your comment regarding this criticism of Gesner's manner of expression.

BL: >>The writer was the former rector of the school--Gesner--asserting that his colleague there had been amazing. (Gesner himself had left the position in 1734, and this writing was in 1738.) We can't even be sure that this Gesner was himself at all musical (maybe so, maybe not)...but he was merely asserting that, in his own estimation, Bach was way excellent.<<
Johann Matthias Gesner, born on April 9, 1702 in Roth near Nürnberg, was Konrektor and Librarian in Weimar from March 1715 to 1729. In Weimar, Gesner would have heard Bach's performances of his cantatas and his organ playing from 1715 through 1717. After one year as rector of the Ansbach Gymnasium (July of 1729 to summer of 1730) Gesner accepted the position of rector at the St. Thomas School in Leipzig (1730 to the fall of 1734 when he became a professor at the University of Göttingen, a position he retained until his death on August 3, 1761.

Johann Philipp Kirnberger, in his "Die wahren Grundsätze zum Gebrauch der Harmonie..." Berlin/Königsberg, 1773, p. 54, footnote 3, shows high regard for Gesner's statement by writing that he affirms Gesner's justifiable listing of Bach's accomplishments as a musician.

BL: >>Note also that Gesner's little piece of fluff is addressed to a dead guy, Marcus Fabius Quintilianus (Quintilian), who died in approximately 100 A.D. It's not a letter at all; it's a foreword to an edition of Institutio oratoria by Quintilian. It's an example of flowery rhetoric, as foreword to a book about rhetoric.<<

This must be a long foreword indeed since it appears in a footnote at the bottom of p. 61, Chapter 12 of Book 1 of an edition of all of Quintilian's works prepared and published by Gesner.

BL: >>Professional basketball players have astounding skills, to me, but I'm terrible at basketball and don't understand its fine points. If I had to write some piece about Shaquille, in Latin and for a book that's not about basketball, what would I say?<<
Judging true musicianship cannot be equated simply with judging a professional basketball player who finds some skillful ways to get a ball through a hoop. Judging true musicianship is what this list is primarily about when recordings/performances are discussed. Recognizing that certain ways of performing Bach's music can be described and analyzed for better understanding and appreciation by studying the libretti, the scores, and the cultural tradition which gave rise to these uniquely inspiring compositions which Bach created, listeners become more than simply observers of a game being played out for their benefit or of one repeated ad infinitum on video or DVD. A listener might, for example, be a mathematician or physicist by profession, or even a housewife who has a non-professional association with music making or who simply listens to classical music, yet such individuals on their own may discover keen insights into the music as they probe deeper to obtain a better understanding of what they are experiencing when they listen to Bach's music. To be sure, there will be differences in perception and also different opinions based on many individual factors, but to ban listeners to the sidelines or even to the higher balconies where they can 'see' even less with the argument that only the professional basketball players (read, in this instance, professional musicians) really know how the game (piece) should be properly played, is to underestimate their innate intelligence and their ability to judge by gaining appreciation through their listening experiences. It might even appear to be an affront to these listeners that a professional musician should consider potential listeners as unqualified to render an any opinion (aside from "That was good or that was great"), such listeners as those who wish to engage more directly the source materials leading to the differences in modern performances of Bach's music.

William Rowland (Ludwig) wrote (September 8, 2006):
[To Bradley Lehman] Latin was the international language of Bach's day and one was not considered a literate person unless one had been through several years of classics studies.

While we are on this subject---if there are any Latin teachers out there seeking work and are licensed to teach in American Secular Public High Schools please contact me. School districts in my area are in bad need of your services. Hopefully that your methods include conversational Latin for the purpose of making Latin more easily acquired. Instead of the rote method of learning grammar and translations out of a book.

 

Bach as conductor

Continue of discussion from: Matthäus-Passion BWV 244 - Conducted by Karl Richter [Other Vocal Works]

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (January 3, 2009):
[To Brach Jennings] There is a lot of evidence that Bach himself conducted from the Harpsichord in leading performances of his Vokalwerke. It seems (at least to me) that Richter was just following this practice. Pthe fact that the 1742 performance had only 1 organ available (the performance was in the Nikolaikirche, the organ of which was under a constant state of repair [there is evidence that it was still being worked on in 1749, which may explain the extraordinary scoring of the version of the Johannespassion BWV 245 used on Good Friday that year]). Hence the use of the Harpsichord for Orchestra II in the 1742 Matthäuspassion BWV 244.

Douglas Cowling wrote (January 3, 2009):
David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote:
< There is a lot of evidence that Bach himself conducted from the Harpsichord in leading performances of his Vokalwerke. >
Bach's sons noted that their father always conducted from the first violins as concertmaster. Other musicians played the continuo.

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (January 4, 2009):
[To Douglas Cowling] I would point out the following items:

I. A report on the performance (of the Trauer-Ode BWV 198), in Christoph Ernst Sicul's Das thraenende Leipzig, 1727 (BD II, no. 232):

"17 October 1727

In solemn procession, while the bells were rung, the Town Officials and the Rector and Professors of the University entered St. Paul's, where many others were present,anemly, princely and other persons of title as well as not only Saxon but also foreign Ministers, Court and other Chevaliers, along with many ladies.

When, then, everyone had taken his place, there had beenan improvisation on the organ, and the Ode of Mourning written by Magister Johann Christoph Gottsched, memberof the Collegium Marianum, had been distributed among those present by the Beadles, there was shortly heard the Music of Mourning, which this time Kapellmeister Johann Sebastian Bach had composed in the Italian style, with Clave di Cembalo [harpsichord], which Mr. Bach himself played, organ, violas di gamba, lutes, violins, recorders, transverse flutes, &c., half being heard before and half after the oration of praise and mourning."

II. Excerpt from the Köthen court accounts (BD II, no. 259)

"To Kapellmeister Bach, his wife and son [presumably Wilhelm Friedemann] from Leipzig, called hither, also to the musicians from Halle, Merseburg, Zerbst, Dessau, and Guesten, who have helped attend to the funeral music for His Late Serene Highness, Prince Leopold, on the occasion of the internment, 23 March 1729, and the funeral sermon, 24 March 1729, as settlement including board money, [paid] 230 thlr." It was noted that here, too, Bach led from the Harpsichord.

When KPE Bach stated that he led from the Violin, he might have been referring to secular music performances. In this case, there is evidence, starting in Weimar on through to Leipzig, of Bach doing this (although not so much in Köthen, where the Prince himself would have played the principal Violin), and especially in the Collegium musicum performances (where there is strong evidence that the principal Cembalist was Johann Ludwig Krebs). But in Sacred music, since the post of organist was filled, Bach would have led from the Harpsichord.

 

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Last update: ýJanuary 7, 2009 ý17:13:36