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Bassoon in Bach’s Vocal Works
Part 2

Continue from Part 1

Basono grosso in Continuo?

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (October 10, 2004):
Could anybody help me out here?

I am wondering if Bach used the Basono grosso (a.k.a. Contrabassoon) in earlier works or is the 1749 version of the Johannespassion (BWV 245) the first time he used it? If he did use it earlier, when did he first start using it?

Thomas Braatz wrote (October 10, 2004):
[To David Glenn Lebut Jr.] Where did this strange spelling of 'Basono' come from?

From the article “Bassoon” by Ulrich Prinz in the “Oxford Composer Companions: J. S. Bach” [Boyd, Oxford University Press, 1999]

The specification 'Bassono grosso' appears only once in Bach's works, on a continuo part of the St John Passion with late autograph annotations, and it recalls a similar compound term, 'Violone grosso', used for some other 16'parts (for example in the First Brandenburg Concerto). The unusually large size that this term obviously denotes might be associated with the double bassoon made by Andreas Eichentopf (c. 1670-1721) in 1714. UP

K. Brandt, "'Fragen zur Fagottbesetzung in den Kirchenmusikalischen Werken Johann Sebastian Bachs'", BJb 54 ( 1968), 65-79; L. G. Langwill, The Bassoon and Contrabassoon ( London, 1965; 3rd edn., 1975); U. Prinz, 'Zur Bezeichnung "Bassono" und "Fagotto" bei J. S. Bach', BJb 67 ( 1981), 107-22; U. Prinz , ed., 300 Jahre Johann Sebastian Bach: sein Werk in Handschriften und Dokumenten; Musikinstrumente seiner Zeit; seine Zeitgenossen [exhibition catalogue] ( Tutzing, 1985), 317-22.

Alfred Dürr, in his “Johann Sebastian Bach: Die Johannes-Passion” [Bärenreiter, 1988, 3rd edition1999] p. 22 states that one of the already existing (prior to 1749 version) continuo parts has the designation newly written on it for the 1749 performance: ‘pro Bassono grosso’ [part B 21 in the NBA.] This continuo part (not figured) belongs to the oldest stage of the 4 existing paper types used. Arthur Mendel, who prepared the NBA edition of the SJP (BWV 245) has difficulty even identifying if this designation ‘pro Bassono grosso’ is in Bach’s hand or that of another individual possibly even later than 1749. Mendel does identify a number of Bach’s autograph corrections from 1749, but the group to which ‘pro Bassono grosso’ belongs is highly problematical, showing a darker ink than the other corrections made by Bach at that time. Also the ink lines are thicker than usual and the handwriting appears shaky or trembling. Dürr believes that another possible interpretation of this part is for a bassoon ‘in ripieno’ (not necessarily a special instrument, but rather the manner in which the bassoon is used.) As explanation for this practice, Dürr gives an example from one of Telemann’s concertos for recorder, viola da gamba and strings, where among the ripieno string parts the term “Violino großo”{not “Violone grosso” as listed above} is used. Dreyfus [“Bach’s Continuo Group” Harvard University Press, 1987, p. 115] lists very tentatively in brackets the ‘pro Bassono grosso’ continuo part for the SJP (BWV 245) (perhaps he also recognized that this term was not entirely reliably from Bach’s hand and could have been added later by someone else.

It would appear to me that very little faith can be placed in the Bach’s supposed use of this term. It would not necessarily mean a special type of instrument other than that of a regular bassoon although the instrument named the ‘double bassoon’ or ‘Kontra-fagott’ or ‘contra Basson’ is listed by Johann Gottfried Walther in his musical lexicon.

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (October 10, 2004):
[To Thomas Braatz] Thanks. As to the spelling, I got it off the Liner notes of both the Rilling (1997 Complete) recording and the Max recording.

Bradley Lehman wrote (October 10, 2004):
David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote:
< Could anybody help me out here?
I am wondering if Bach used the Basono grosso (a.k.a. Contrabassoon) in earlier works or is the 1749 version of the Johannespassion the first time he used it? If he did use it earlier, when did he first start using it? >
David, start with the chapter about it in Laurence Dreyfus' 1987 book Bach's Continuo Group: Players and Practices in his Vocal Works. Recommended!

Thomas Braatz wrote (October 10, 2004):
[To Bradley Lehman] Not really for this bit of information that David is looking for! On p. 206, Dreyfus indicates that Part 21 is a "Bc (pro Bassono grosso)" without a question mark or explanation about the true state of things regarding this part. On p. 113, Dreyfus clearly states that "Bach...added the specification 'pro Bassono grosso' to the older continuo part of the SJP. These are glaring errors even from the standpoint of Bach scholarship back in 1987 when the book appeared in print. Only on p. 115 is the reader informed that the part in question is 'only partially autograph' without determining which part is involved (let the otherwise uninformed reader guess which part is or is not autograph?) Had Dreyfus, as an expert, investigated more carefully what was really behind this, he would not have been as careless as he was in this book. Even his 'Doktorvater' Christoph Wolff, in his complete listing of Bach's oeuvre in the Grove Music Online Edition [Oxford University Press, 2004, accessed 10/10/04] indicates the part designation as having been written by Bach is quite questionable.

In my original analysis I gave Dreyfus the benefit of the doubt, but now that he is recommended by a certain list member who has not even bothered to research this issue himself, the truth of the matter must come out: Dreyfus is not reliable in this matter since he twice claims that the designation 'pro Bassono Grosso' is in Bach's handwriting and, hence, truly represents Bach's intentions in orchestrating the SJP. This observation on Dreyfus' part was and is simply not defensible in light of the actual evidence which was and still is available.

Bradley Lehman wrote (October 11, 2004):
[To Thomas Braatz] What, my personal recommendation of a book automatically makes it LESS worth looking at, and somehow suddenly LESS reliable than the book was before (see the last paragraph below)? Why?

And why this hasty slam of the book by Mr Braatz, discouraging readers from even taking a look at it? Some fear that readers might take the book at face value and learn something from it?

It's an excellent book. (It's an excellent book whether I personally say so or not!)

As Dreyfus describes clearly, the question of bassoon variants isn't merely an issue of nomenclature and it's not in a musical vacuum. There's a continuum of many possibilities of instrumentation in there, crucial to pitch and volume and timbre (and more). In the whole book he examines the continuo group as a team, considering issues of instrumentation and playing technique and the extant scores and parts...especially the parts where there are some important discrepancies from the scores. It's a comprehensive study.

My recommendation: read scholarly work, which Dreyfus' certainly is (see also his appendix listing all the extant parts), and find some Baroque bassoon specialists to ask for further information about the topic. Don't listen to dismissals by anti-scholarly cynics who claim to know what "glaring errors" and carelessness are, and who cobble together their own amateurish explanations (pseudo-research), as if it is more believable than the work of experts who studied the source material directly (as Dreyfus did: see his Acknowledgments pages).

If Mr Braatz believes he has a case for "carelessness" and indefensible errors in the work of Dr Laurence Dreyfus, let him take it up with Dr Dreyfus and Dr Wolff and with players of bassoons. Until he does, his allegations are so much hot air, and they say nothing of scholarly substance about the book, one way or another. They say only that a dilettante who doesn't perform Bach's music happened not to fancy and/or understand the book.Whom is Mr Braatz trying to impress, besides himself, by publicly belittling the work of top scholars in music?

Thomas Braatz wrote (October 11, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
>>Whom is Mr Braatz trying to impress, besides himself, by publicly belittling the work of top scholars in music?<<
No evidence contrary to the specific information that I presented on this thread has been offered by the respondent. This means simply that the research and expert opinions of top scholars in the field of Bach's music (Mendel, Dürr, and Wolff) are still valid and that Dreyfus, as usual, comes up short in this regard. We don't want to open once again the can of worms connected with the 'shortened accompaniment of Bach's secco recitatives,' do we? The 'Catalog of Original Performance Parts for Bach's Vocal Works' at the end of the book is generally error prone and needs numerous corrections. This is not my job, but that of those supporting Dreyfus to carry out, since they are supposedly better qualified to do so and have easy access to the key sources involved.

Bradley Lehman wrote (October 11, 2004):
[To Thomas Braatz] Any idea how arrogant and self-serving that response is, below? It requires the premise that Mr Braatz is better placed to judge the accuracy of musicological work than anyone, yet has no responsibility whatsoever to any burden of proof, or to carry out any formal corrections.

The book is allegedly "error prone" and "needs numerous corrections" only to force it to align with Mr Braatz' own foregone conclusions, and to confirm Mr Braatz' own premise that he was smarter than everybody! But, real scholars are supposed to prove this for him? Mr Braatz allegedly knows better than someone (Dreyfus) who spent a year examining original sets of parts what's in them? Based on what? Merely a personal preference for somebody else's work?

The citation of Mendel is also amusing. Mr Braatz has refused, several times, to read the articles by Arthur Mendel and Peter Williams concerning basso continuo...yet he claims that Mendel automatically trumps Dreyfus who "comes up short" because Mendel was more of a "top scholar". (Meanwhile, Mr Braatz misses no opportunity to castigate Mendel on issues of German translation, in the Bach Reader, whenever Mendel's reading of a passage doesn't deliver the conclusions Braatz wants....... Scholarly action figures are useful only insofar as he can use them to his own purposes.....)

It's ad hominem argumentation (and therefore an invalid point) to cite the work of one scholar over another merely on the reputation of its author, as he's doing here with Mendel and Dürr over Dreyfus....not that Dreyfus has anything to worry about, being a top scholar himself in the estimation of people who know the material.

Mr Braatz' destructive efforts vis-a-vis Dreyfus are simply to try to create as much unreasonable doubt about him and his work as possible, such that his analyses need not be taken seriously: all of which is self-serving, as Mr Braatz wishes (and has stated frequently) that continuo players should hold the notes longer in recitative, it sounds better to him. Dreyfus is in Braatz' way, and must therefore be assassinated by Braatz. So are Leonhardt, Harnoncourt, and countless other fine musicians; all are in Braatz' way and all must be assassinated by Braatz, so the music can be allowed to sound as he wishes it to sound.

That's not scholarship. It's not even humane.

Those bibliographic references to Mendel and Williams are found at: http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bpl/recits.htm
So is my reasoned assessment from studying them closely, and more; coming to the practical conclusions and guidelines that I use personally as a player of this repertoire. The articles are readily available in libraries, or by Interlibrary Loan.

Thomas Braatz wrote (October 11, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
>>Any idea how arrogant and self-serving that response is, below? It requires the premise that Mr Braatz is better placed to judge the accuracy of musicological work than anyone, yet has no responsibility whatsoever to any burden of proof, or to carry out any formal corrections.<<
Obviously Dreyfus had no responsibility whatsoever to any burden of proof and why should he carry out any formal corrections when the respondent incorrectly speaking for the entire community of Bach musicologists, still has been unable to offer any solid counterevidence to support Dreyfus' main contention that the designation 'per bassono grosso' is definitely in Bach's handwriting. This is the specific issue here under discussion, but the respondent repeatedly avoids confronting this issue head-on. With defendents such as the respondent, Dreyfus will never be motivated to find out where his errors are.

All the remaining points about the Schering/Mendel/Leonhardt/Dreyfus theory regarding Bach's supposed method of notating long, held notes and then, according to some esoteric doctrine, shortening the bc notes in his 'secco' recitatives (all of this discussion can be found at length on Aryeh's Bach-Cantata site,) simply lead away once again from the specific subject which is being addressed here.

>>It's ad hominem argumentation (and therefore an invalid point) to cite the work of one scholar over another merely on the reputation of its author, as he's doing here with Mendel and Dürr over Dreyfus....not that Dreyfus has anything to worry about, being a top scholar himself in the estimation of people who know the material.<<
Dreyfus' should be concerned about sloppy scholarly research and his reputation simply can not even begin to approach that of Alfred Dürr who is in an entirely different class. It is apparent that Dreyfus has not personally examined the bc part with the 'pro bassono grosso' written on it and has relied on some less reliable secondary sources, otherwise he would not have arrived at the incorrect conclusion that he did.

>>That's not scholarship.<<
Very true! It should be apparent to most of those who read this thread that no counterevidence has been offered by the respondent. As such the results of my research will stand as an important correction over the misinformation offered by Dreyfus in this matter.

Charles Francis wrote (October 11, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< It's ad hominem argumentation (and therefore an invalid point) to cite the work of one scholar over another merely on the reputation of its author, >
But why, then, cite expertise and/or credentials?

Bradley Lehman wrote (October 11, 2004):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< Dreyfus' should be concerned about sloppy scholarly research and his reputation simply can not even begin to approach that of Alfred Dürr who is in an entirely different class. >
Reputation is more important than demonstrable accuracy of the work? Why? And according to whom; you?

I don't dispute that Alfred Dürr is brilliant, but how are YOU in a position to determine that Laurence Dreyfus is any less brilliant? Other than your own distaste for Dreyfus' work, that is.

Here is Dr Dreyfus' curriculum vitae. I believe he has nothing to fear from you and your ad hominem attacks of him: http://www.kcl.ac.uk/kis/schools/hums/music/Dreyfus.html

< It is apparent that Dreyfus has not personally examined the bc part with the 'pro bassono grosso' written on it and has relied on some less reliable secondary sources, otherwise he would not have arrived at the incorrect conclusion that he did. >
According to what? A secondary source or a ternary one? Have YOU personally examined that bc part? When and where?

Seems to me you're merely asserting that the NBA wins all arguments, because you paid more for it, and that anything Alfred Dürr comes out with automatically trumps everything everybody else does. That's an ad hominem championing of Alfred Dürr, by you.

Why are you so triumphant whenever you believe you've found "incorrect" information or methods in Dreyfus' work? Do you somehow believe that removal of one tiny brick by you would make everythihe says collapse? Do you understand logic? You've never taken even a single university course in musicological methods, or published anything in a peer-reviewed journal in musicology or music. How, then, do you propose to stand in judgment above Dr Laurence Dreyfus in that regard?

>>That's not scholarship.<<
< Very true! It should be apparent to most of those who read this thread that no counterevidence has been offered by the respondent. As such the results of my research will stand as an important correction over the misinformation offered by Dreyfus in this matter. >
Uh huh. Riiiiiiiiiggggghhht. Go tell him so. (Hint: he's probably already read all the Dürr materials that you'd use as "proof" against him....)

I haven't examined the original sets of parts for BWV 245. Nor have you. What research is it that you believe you've done, exactly, except to read Alfred Dürr's book about BWV 245? I have nothing against Alfred Dürr, one way or another. But you have nothing to prove he's right, other than taking his word for it. You're a consumer who enjoys purchasing and reading his work. Good for you, and good for him. But, you don't bring to it the musicological and musical experience that allows you to check everything he says; you take it on faith. Alfred Dürr is brilliant, no argument from me. But you're in no position to assert (with any reasonable proof) that he's in some "entirely different class" from Dreyfus.

Meanwhile, I've read both of Dreyfus' books and several of his other articles, and I believe them because the reasoning in them makes sense, and his level of insight into musical analysis is extraordinary. I can appreciate that because I can follow his theoretical arguments and analyses into the detail he presents; see especially his second book where he postulates many important facets of Bach's working methods and goals, and supports it all with close argumentation of the topic. Brilliant work. The more a reader brings to it, the more there is to appreciate in his arguments and interconnections. His recordings as a player of viola da gamba are also among the best available, demonstrating his mastery in another area, that of musical practice (no mere theorizing from him!). Destructive nonsense from the self-important Thomas Braatz is not going to change that.

The rest of this discussion is Off-Topic.

John Pike wrote (October 26, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< Here is Dr Dreyfus' curriculum vitae. I believe he has nothing to fear from you and your ad hominem attacks of him.
http://www.kcl.ac.uk/kis/schools/hums/music/Dreyfus.html >
It is, indeed, a most impressive CV. The rest of the music department at my old London college (Medicine) is also very impressive.

 

Preparing the music for bassoonist(s) or whatever

Bradley Lehman wrote (January 16, 2007):
< [My view: the tempi were most likely slower than those taken today and perhaps with two bassoon players on the same part, one could easily help the other out so that the music continued without interruption.] >
On BWV 202, Brandenburg 1, or both...where does this fantasy 2nd bassoon player (just-spot-me-so-I-can-breathe-during-hard-runs!!!) come from? Evidence? Or the conjecture about tempi being slower, for its part? Evidence?

For that matter: does a slower tempo necessarily make bassoon parts easier? Slower tempo makes the long unbroken passages last even longer....

But I suppose we should be hearing from people who actually play Baroque-style bassoons, or double-reed instruments of any sort, ahead of just guessing. (At least I remember from playing in crumhorn ensembles for several years that slow tempos were harder for us; part of the difficulty being to get rid of stale air that had just been used to play some long phrase preceding. It's not a matter of simply trying to grab a catch-breath of new air, here or there.)

======

[deletia]
>>Brad Lehman (spent some of the weekend practicing Bach's toughest harpsichord music, for concerts that are still "only" nine weeks away....)<<
> ...which only serves once again to prove the vast difference between musicians then and now. >

"Prove"?

Consider the three groups:

- A. Musicians "then" working with Bach directly, performing professionally

- B. Musicians "now" playing Bach's music professionally

- C. Non-musicians "now" making up speculation as to the way A and B do/did their jobs.

In terms of judging the work necessary to present a good performance, both in terms of sight-reading and in seriously working out details of compositions (i.e. to play well and not merely to avoid note-errors): I would wager that there's more similarity/accuracy of perception between A and B, than between either C and B, or C and A.

Thomas Braatz wrote (January 16, 2007):
Projecting today's prejudices on the past [was: preparing the music...]

Bradley Lehman wrote:
>>"Prove"?
Consider the three groups:
- A. Musicians "then" working with Bach directly,performing professionally
- B. Musicians "now" playing Bach's musicprofessionally
- C. Non-musicians "now" making up speculation as to the way A and B do/did their jobs.
In terms of judging the work necessary to present a good performance, both in terms of sight-reading and in seriously working out details of compositions (i.e. to play well and not merely to avoid note-errors): I would wager that there's more similarity/accuracy of perception between A and B, than between either C and B, or C and A.<<
What is needed here is a necessary addition to the long list of 'logical' fallacies which you frequently refer to and quote on this list.

Logical fallacy #xxx:

Forcing contemporary expectations and modi operandi on the performance practices of an earlier period and place such as that during Bach's most productive and active years. A historian and/or musicologist who claims that because certain things are done in a certain way today, these must then also necessarily have been done the same way 50 years ago, or even 250 years ago in Leipzig in the 1720s. This overvaluation of the empirical method in ascertaining Bach's performance practices while scoffing at or disregarding what information is revealed by a close study of Bach's composing and copy method is tantamount to viewing the past egocentrically without regard for differences that must exist between our generation and Bach's. This very subjective approach is quite different from a careful study and proper evaluation of all the available evidence that we still have from Bach's time.

Bradley Lehman wrote (January 16, 2007):
[To Thomas Braatz] So then, no evidence presented after all, on the direct questions about the following:

- The fantasy second-bassoon player existing at all, to cover the passagework in Bach's music while the first player pauses to breathe;

- Slower tempos in Bach's time as compared with now, as anything other than a modern listener's listening preference and wishes;

- These slower tempos being in any way easier for a Baroque bassoonist's breathing during long unbroken passagework, or for any double-reed woodwind player, for that matter.

Bradley Lehman wrote (January 16, 2007):
< [My view: the tempi were most likely slower than those taken today and perhaps with two bassoon players on the same part, one could easily help the other out so that the music continued without interruption.] >
Again awaiting answers:

Where does this fantasy 2nd bassoon player (just-spot-me-so-I-can-breathe-during-hard-runs!!!) come from? Evidence?

Or the conjecture about tempi being slower, for any reason other than modern personal preference? Evidence?

For that matter: does a slower tempo necessarily make bassoon parts easier? Slower tempo makes the long unbroken passages last even longer....

By the way, to be as clear as possible about the request: the as-yet-unanswered question was specifically about Bach's secular music that has long-winded bassoon parts in it. Brandenburg 1, and some equally good or better examples are the orchestral suites 1 and 4. B1, in its Adagio, has 27 consecutive bars of notes in the bassoon part until the first notated rest comes up thereafter. Its fast movements also have some very long passages with no breaks; and similarly in the orchestral suites 1 and 4. And if it applies additionally to spurious bassoon parts for cantata 202, that's neither here nor there if it doesn't answer this main question.

Appeals to churchly devotion, or to Mattheson's polemic about church-music compositional styles (as opposed to any binding performance practice principles on Bach, then or now!), aren't going to help here.

Evidence, please. Evidence about playing long bassoon passagework, specifically to Bach. And evidence about throwing some second player onto the part to cover alleged holes where the first guy is breathing. And evidence about playing more slowly to make it easier "that the music continued without interruption", in these particular pieces of music.

Russell Telfer wrote (January 16, 2007):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< Again awaiting answers:
Where does this fantasy 2nd bassoon player (just-spot-me-so-I-can-breathe-during-hard-runs!!!) come from? Evidence?
Or the conjecture about tempi being slower, for any reason other than modern personal preference? Evidence?
For that matter: does a slower tempo necessarily make bassoon parts easier? Slower tempo makes the long unbroken passages last even longer.... >
A slower tempo will make it easier to play your bassoon part, or any instrumental or vocal part, whether in 2007 or 1727, assuming you can count.

I have one conjecture about tempo which is time-related. It is unproven, and I would like to make it very clear that although I believe this, there is already a mass of evidence, some of which points against my hypothesis. [This hypothesis only applies to some performers.] Namely, an ensemble which has performed a work to death - experiences a diminishing marginal return from performing it again because: A. the music is becoming less interesting on repeated performance and B: the group knows it so well that they can show off their expertise by rattling it off even faster than before.

(Sir) David Willcocks used to perform the SMP (BWV 244) twice every Easter. He used to take No 51 Gebt mir mein Jesum at allegro pace. That never sat well with me. On one occasion I got a chance to ask him about it. He gave me a LOOK. (That's the way things are, now and then.)

So here's the hypothesis restated: when you become acquainted with something new, you love it so much that you want to hear the subtlety of every passing note.

When you've heard it or performed it, 100 times, different priorities occur, like catching the last tube home, or getting some supper before everything closes. Speed up, wont'cha!

This isn't the reply I was planning to make, but it'll do for now because it answers a question.

Bradley Lehman wrote (January 17, 2007):
<< For that matter: does a slower tempo necessarily make bassoon parts easier? Slower tempo makes the long unbroken passages last even longer.... >>
< A slower tempo will make it easier to play your bassoon part, or any instrumental or vocal part, whether in 2007 or 1727, assuming you can count. >
Not so! The answer is just not that easy or clear-cut. If we're merely talking about dexterity of fingering some passage at a rapid tempo, vs a medium tempo, maybe. But, the problem being asked about here is one of breathing, and about sustaining long lines.

Furthermore: if tempos get too slow, differently difficult interpretive problems crop up...such as not making the music sound too laborious, or too over-articulated, or simply dull and directionless. Some performers (well, I'm thinking mostly of college-age and younger) especially have trouble, as well, with rushing the music if it's going either too slowly or too fast...either from getting impatient with it, or losing control! In general, it's quite a bit easier to play at moderate and easily-flowing tempos than to play very slowly.

Other opinions?

Russell Telfer wrote (January 17, 2007):
Brad Lehman wrote:
< For that matter: does a slower tempo necessarily make bassoon parts easier? Slower tempo makes the long unbroken passages last even longer.... >
[>>>> A slower tempo will make it easier to play your bassoon part, or any instrumental or vocal part, whether in 2007 or 1727, assuming you can count.<<<<]
< Not so! The answer is just not that easy or clear-cut. If we're merely talking about dexterity of fingering some passage at a rapid tempo, vs a medium tempo, maybe. But, the problem being asked about here is one of breathing, and about sustaining long lines. Furthermore: if tempos get too slow, differently difficult interpretive problems crop up...such as not making the music sound too laborious, or too over-articulated, or simply dull and directionless. Some performers (well, I'm thinking mostly of college-age and younger) especially have trouble, as well, with rushing the music if it's going either too slowly or too fast...either from getting impatient with it, or losing control! In general, it's quite a bit easier to play at moderate and easily-flowing tempos than to play very slowly. >
Okay Brad

I agree with those points. You're bringing in the other end of the scale. You're right if you are talking about slowing down Adagio movements where for example the instrument or soloist has to sustain a single note for six
or eight bars. That requires stamina and technique: it will readily separate the amateurs from the pros. But there is this difference: you need abundant technique to perform 480 semiquavers to the minute, and if you can't do it, you can't do it. But the best drilled choirboys eg Kings College Choir, learn the drill: they get slow music right. In the same way, without any evidence to back it up, I'm sure Bach's choristers could as well.

Bradley Lehman wrote (January 17, 2007):
Russell Telfer wrote:
< I agree with those points. You're bringing in the other end of the scale.You're right if you are talking about slowing down Adagio movements where for example the instrument or soloist has to sustain a single note for six or eight bars. That requires stamina and technique: it will readily separate the amateurs from the pros. But there is this difference: you need abundant technique to perform 480 semiquavers to the minute, and if you can't do it, you can't do it. But the best drilled choirboys eg Kings College Choir, learn the drill: they get slow music right. In the same way, without any evidence to back it up, I'm sure Bach's choristers could as well. >
I'm reasonably confident that Bach's choristers got it right...but also that they weren't doing so on any absurd schedule of Sunday-morning sight-reading, or (for that matter) on less than three days of serious work on their parts. Nor do the King's College Choirboys sight-read their performances.

And remember: my question about bassoon in Brandenburg #1 (and some other pieces of Bach's) was not about merely sustaining one note for six or eight bars, but about playing 27 flowing bars in succession, without any sizeable places to let out old air or take a deep breath.

And the orchestral suite #1 offers similar problems but in faster music...and especially where the performance is being done without any other bass-line melody instruments except the single bassoon (e.g. the Parrott and Malloch recordings). There's just nowhere to hide or leave out any notes surreptitiously if the player needs to tank up.

A couple of years ago I performed the sonata BWV 1030a (g minor) with a professional oboist, and she ran into similar problems there: there is no place available to get rid of air or to rest the embouchure, amid all the extremely long phrases. On flute, playing this same piece as BWV 1030 (b minor), one can get by a little better with catch-breaths...but not on double reeds.

Julian Mincham wrote (January 17, 2007):
< Some performers (well, I'm thinking mostly of college-age and younger) especially have trouble, as well, with rushing the music if it's going either too slowly or too fast...either from getting impatient with it, olosing. >
A couple of anecdotespertaining to recent threads

1 rushing the music The English cellist James Whitehead used to tell his students that if they could collect all the micro-seconds they have cut from bars in the course of their careers and put them together, they could add an extra five years to their life spans.

2 On practice. Occasionally exceptional musicians do get catapaulted into performances for which they have not prepared. A famous example is John Ogden playing the Brahms 2nd ( a work he had not then studied)with the Scottish National orchestra at a few hours notice. BUT he used the music (not an option for opera singers) and he was a phenominal sight reader.Jazz musicians also practice/play for long periods. Note the surviving radio interview with Charlie Parker in which he claimed to practice 11/12 hours a day consistently. Oscar Peterson's biography claimed even longer periods!

I recall as a student hearing a famous violinist say in an interview( I am not sure but I think it may have been Nathan Milstein) "I must practice every day. If I miss a day I notice it. If I miss two, the critics notice it. And is I miss three everybody notices!"

 

Contrabassoon in Bach Cantatas - Query

Aryeh Oron wrote (May 7, 2010):
I received the message below from David Trainer Off-List:

*******************************************
I'm a big fan of your website devoted to Bach's cantatas. Love them all like little jewels that glisten either brightly or darkly.

Do you know if Bach actually scored for the contrabassoon in these works, I read that he did somewhere and can't remember which one.

I think I read of this in Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians.

David, Sydney
*******************************************

Any answer regarding this query would be most appreciated.

Evan Cortnes wrote (May 7, 2010):
[To David Trainer & Aryeh Oron] Here is the relevant portion of Grove:

"In Germany the Quartfagott [i.e., a dulcian going down to G'] was more common than the true Kontrafagott pitched one octave below the normal bassoon. Bach used the former in the cantata "Der Himmel lacht! die Erde Jubilieret" BWV 31 (1715), and in his St John Passion (BWV 245) a ‘continuo pro Bassono grosso’ part is mentioned. Some works (e.g. the cantata "Nach dir, Herr, verlanget mich" BWV 150) which contain passages descending to written A′ were transposed so as to enable old Chorton instruments (bassoon, organ) to play with newer low-pitch woodwinds." [From William Waterhouse, "Bassoon," Grove Music Online]

The quintessential source for this information with respect to Bach is Ulrich Prinz's Johann Sebastian Bachs Instrumentarium. Though entirely in German, the tables listing the use of the various instruments are decipherable by all. I'd quote the relevant passage, but I don't have the book with me. I'll get the information from it when I next have a chance.

Ehud Shiloni wrote (May 7, 2010):
[To Evan Cortens] With respect to the St. John Passion (BWV 245), if I remember correctly, the Contrabassoon is specified in the 1745 [last] version.

I must add my own impression that its presence adds a lot of underlying gravitas to the music, when compared with performances of the other versions.

I wish there were more instances of contrabassoon parts in Bach's music.

 

Baroque German -- Zippel Fagottist

Ed Myskowski wrote (November 18, 2011):
I notice that JEGardiner on his DVD refers to the subject phrase (Zippel fagotttist) as bassoonist of small stature, whereas in his notes to BWV 67 (SDG Vol 23) he states <plausibly translated as a prick of a bassoonist>.

I have no scholarly opinion, but I secretly hope that the latter is more accurate.

Bradleyt Lehman wrote (November 20, 2011):
[To Ed Myskowski] See also this 2005 article that was in the American Bach Society's newsletter....
http://www.americanbachsociety.org/Newsletters/BachNotes04.pdf

Ed Myskowski wrote (November 21, 2011):
[To Bradley Lehman] Thanks for the link. The article by Sara Botwinick suggests that neither of the translations cited by Gardiner is likely the best, in the context of Bachs usage.

Ed Myskowski wrote (November 21, 2011):
Not to belabor this detail, but I would like to rethink my first comment on Ms. Botwinick’s scholarly article on the topic. Gardiner did not actually say small stature, he said puny, which I interpreted for diverse readers. Ms. Botwinick does indeed quote the source for prick, as a possible interpretation of zippel. She does not dismiss it, precisely, it simply goes by in a flash. She goes on to less bawdy interpretations, for example dumbell.

She also notes that the response from the bassoonist, Geyersbach, was to refer to Bach with a word which I will not quote, to avoid any possible indelicacy, but which she translates as female genitalia of a dog.

I think I get the picture. Gardiner was perhaps right on track. Bach was 20, Geyersbach 23 (but Bach’s junior in professional status). Boys will be boys, same as it ever was. That is the point, and this is a rare glimpse of that aspect of Bach.

 

Bassoon in Bach’s Vocal Works: Part 1 | Part 2

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Last update: ýNovember 27, 2011 ý09:01:06