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Cantatas in Church

Cantatas in Church

David McKay wrote (December 18, 2011):
A Sydney, Australia church is featuring a service with a Bach cantata about twice per year. So far, All Souls Anglican Church, Leichhardt has used BWV 140, Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, BWV 147 Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben and Part 2 of The Christmas Oratorio in morning services, which were widely advertised.

This is not a usual occurrence in Australian evangelical churches. Unfortunately, I have not yet been able to attend one of these services, living some 3 hours away. But here's hoping we will make it to a service next year.

The music is performed by professionals and has been very well received by the local community.

See http://www.allsouls.net.au/events/bach-cantatas

William Rowland (Ludwig) wrote (December 18, 2011):
[To David McKay] I am not sure what you mean by "evangelical churches". Here in the US that carries a primary meaning of a group of religious who go out hounding folks, telling them that they are going to hell unless they repent and are saved usually by full immersion et al, engage in so-called Praise services ----Organs are bad mouthed by them but guitars and rock n roll bands are beloved. They dance around,sometimes speak in tongues, hooping and hollering sometimes rolling in the floor (hence: Holy Rollers) and generally do not sing hymns as we know them in the Anglican (Episcopal in the US) and Scottish church (PCUSA). These folks are usually fundamentalists but are in general ignorant about what they espouse to and do not have a liturgical service as Lutheran, Anglican, Catholic and other liturgical churches do. These groups have long allowed women to conduct services and be 'preachers'.

The Second meaning in the US--often in name only is to the Evangelical Lutheran Church which has joined the Episcopal Church (ECUSA)---their Pastors can function as Priests in the Episcopal Church and likewise ECUSA Priests can function as Evangelical Lutheran Pastors. Women and Gay people are allowed to be Ministers,Bishops (although the Lutherans are having a rough time accepting this), and the equivalent of Archbishop, Deacons et al.

I have noticed that many of these mainline Churches talk about doing a cantata when they really just mean that what liturgical churches refer to as Eventide----just singing and no real cantata involved. I had tried to get a performance of Bach's Magnificat and Cantata #23 incorporated into an Anglican Service but was not allowed to do so but was given permission to do it as a concert piece within the church.

David McKay wrote (December 19, 2011):
[To Ludwig] Whew! Ludwig, I'm sorry i wrote that last post. I will think carefully about posting any more to this group.

Anne (Nessie) Russell wrote (December 19, 2011):
David McKay wrote:
< Whew! Ludwig, I'm sorry i wrote that last post. I will think carefully about posting any more to this group. >
I hope you change your mind David. I found your post very encouraging. It was refreshing to hear that there are church people who appreciate professionals singing a Bach Cantata.

David McKay wrote (December 19, 2011):
[To Nessie Russell] The word "evangelical" is part of the name of our church and is not intended to convey what Ludwig read into it.

Kim Patrick Clow wrote (December 19, 2011):
David McKay wrote:
< Whew! Ludwig, I'm sorry i wrote that last post. I will think carefully about posting any more to this group. >
Please rethink that decision. And ignore that pedantic boon-dongle from Ludwig.

Linda Gingrich wrote (December 19, 2011):
David McKay wrote:
< Whew! Ludwig, I'm sorry i wrote that last post. I will think carefully about posting any more to this group. >
There are plenty of American evangelicals who would disagree with the very narrow description provided by Ludwig.

George Bromley wrote (December 19, 2011):
[To Nessie Russell] Yes you are 100% correct.

George Bromley wrote (December 19, 2011):
[To Ludwig] Think this comment is a bit harsh! the choice of Church is a matter of "Horses for Courses".

William Hoffman wrote (December 19, 2011):
[To Linda Gingrich] IMHO, there are too many "Christians" in the United States who misuse the term "evangelical," in the first sense, which is in conflict with the second "practice." Then, there are so-called "Christians," particularly in the United States, who use the term as an adjective, for example, to describe their private entity or product, such as a "Christian Academy," a "Christian Bookstore," or "Christian Music," etc. IMHO, these are prescriptive, exclusive and exclusionary misuses of the language.

I am content to display the new bumper sticker, "WE ARE THE 99%."

Ed Myskowski wrote (December 20, 2011):
David McKay wrote:
< I will think carefully about posting any more to this group. >
Careful thought is never out of place, but please continue to post, and have confidence that the moderator will continue to be able to maintain order with minimal disruptions. So far, so good.

Henner Schwerk wrote (December 20, 2011):
[To Ed Myskowski] The reference heading said "Cantatas in church" - let me tell you, that in my congregation we perform every sunday a Bach Cantate during the Sunday service.

This project takes one (liturgical) year, we started on the first sunday in Advent four weeks ago. next week we will have of course BWV 248 I and 248 II on 25th and 26th december.

The website Bachcantatas.com helps me a lot - Thank you very much for it!

I wish a blessed christmas to all of you,

Anne (Nessie) Russell wrote (December 20, 2011):
Henner Schwerk said:
< the reference heading said "Cantatas in church" - let me tell you, that in my congregation we perform every sunday a Bach Cantate during the Sunday service. >
WOW! My choir will sing a Bach Chorale every once and awhile. That's all I can get out of them. Last year we did a Cantata, but it was written in this century.

I often play Bach for the Prelude or Postlude. I get these kind of comments:
"Wow, I love it when you play Bach."
"You play too much Bach."
Mostly I hear the sound of feet rushing to after church coffee hour.

Kim Patrick Clow wrote (December 20, 2011):
Nessie Russell wrote:
< I often play Bach for the Prelude or Postlude. I get these kind of comments:
"Wow, I love it when you play Bach."
"You play too much Bach."
Mostly I hear the sound of feet rushing to after church coffee hour. >
That's too bad. A parish priest mentioned several times that the Mass officially wasn't over until the end of the recessional; and asked people to stop leaving early unless it was an emergency of some sort. Sometimes, immediately after receiving communion, they just continue walking, right out the back door ;)

Douglas Cowling wrote (December 20, 2011):
Luther in Rome

Kim Patrick Clow wrote:
< Sometimes, immediately after receiving communion, they just continue walking, right out the back door ;) >
I was at mass in the Gesu in Rome and was amused to see that the Italians had it timed so they could walk into the church right up to the altar, receive communion, and then walk straight out. No wonder Luther got red in the face when he visited Rome.

Speaking of Luther and Rome ...

When the Raphael fresoces were recently cleaned, it was discovered that, during the Sack of Rome in 1527, German Protestant mercenaries of the Catholic Emperor Charles V defaced the "Disputa" by scratching the name "Luther" on the lower portion.
http://www.museumsecrets.tv/dossier.php?o=94
Click on "Grafitti Images" photo gallery.

Ed Myskowski wrote (December 21, 2011):
Nessie Russell wrote:
< I often play Bach for the Prelude or Postlude. I get these kind of comments:
"Wow, I love it when you play Bach."
"You play too much Bach."
Mostly I hear the sound of feet rushing to after church coffee hour. >
Thanks for playing music, Anne! Where there is music, there is God.

Ed Myskowski wrote (December 21, 2011):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< When the Raphael fresocwere recently cleaned, it was discovered that, during the Sack of Rome in 1527, German Protestant mercenaries of the Catholic Emperor Charles V defaced the "Disputa" by scratching the name "Luther" on the lower portion. >
Perhaps in protest that they were overworked and underpaid?

William Hoffman wrote (December 21, 2011):
At the end of Lutheran Sunday Service here, we of the choir (high in the back) stay seated until the end of the organ postlude and then heartily applaud the organist, Fredrick Frahm. It's a good tradition and now many congregants remain up front, standing, also to enjoy the music and applaud. Last Sunday, we took our show on the road in a joint appearance with another good Lutheran choir at another Lutheran church for Advent carols and choruses, and spread our tradition. I think it can help to have a talented organist and a fine instrument.

In 1962, The American University Chorale performed Bach's Christmas Oratorio in the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. This gorgeous music was met with utter silence.

Today, I wonder if it's the same when organist Douglas Major plays Bach there -- or elsewhere -- with a brass ensemble.

Ed Myskowski wrote (December 21, 2011):
William Hoffman wrote:
< At the end of Lutheran Sunday Service here, we of the choir (high in the back) stay seated until the end of the organ postlude and then heartily applaud the organist, Fredrick Frahm. It's a good tradition and now many congregants remain up front, standing, also to enjoy the music and applaud. Last Sunday, we took our show on the road in a joint appearance with another good Lutheran choir at another Lutheran church for Advent carols and choruses, and spread our tradition. I think it can help to have a talented organist and a fine instrument.
In 1962, The American University Chorale performed Bach's Christmas Oratorio in the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. This gorgeous music was met with utter silence.
Today, I wonder if it's the same when organist Douglas Major plays Bach there -- or elsewhere -- with a brass ensemble. >

Michael Cox wrote (December 21, 2011):
Evangelisch and Evangelikal

I am not sure what you mean by "evangelical churches".

The Second meaning in the US--often in name only is to the Evangelical Lutheran Church which has joined the Episcopal Church (ECUSA)---their Pastors can function as Priests in the Episcopal Church and likewise ECUSA Priests can function as Evangelical Lutheran Pastors. Women and Gay people are allowed to be Ministers,Bishops (although the Lutherans are having a rough time accepting this), and the equivalent of Archbishop, Deacons et al.

A Sydney, Australia church is featuring a service with a Bach cantata about twice per year. So far, All Souls Anglican Church, Leichhardt has used BWV 140, Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, BWV 147 Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben and Part 2 of The Christmas Oratorio in morning services, which were widely advertised.

This is not a usual occurrence in Australian evangelical churches. Unfortunately, I have not yet been able to attend one of these services, living some 3 hours away. But here's hoping we will make it to a service next year.

Michael Cox wrote (December 21, 2011):
Apparently there are differing views among the Bach Cantatas group as to what “evangelical” means. It might help us in respect to Bach scholarship to realise that in German there are two separate words: evangelisch and evangelikal.

Evangelisch is Lutheran-Protestant in contrast to katolisch (Roman Catholic). Evangelikal is a word taken over from English to describe a transdenominational movement that has its roots in German Lutheran Pietism, English and American Puritanism and Methodism, and the 18th century Evangelical Revival. Evangelicalism in general places biblical authority above church tradition, emphasizes the Bible more than the sacraments, and its principal doctrine is justification by faith alone. So there are evangelicals in the Anglican, Methodist, Baptist etc. denominations, some of which are liturgical. Evangelical is almost but not quite a synonym of “low church”. In my experience Lutherans are more “high church” than Anglican or Methodist evangelicals.

In the Spanish-speaking countries “evangélico” means Protestant as opposed to “católico” which means Roman Catholic.

How does this affect Bach scholarship? I think it does in two main ways:

1. Bach was an “evangelischer Komponist” – an Evangelical Lutheran composer, but was he “evangelikal”?

2. How does Bach’s music fit into modern liturgical patterns and how should it be performed?

It is a commonly-held fallacy that “low church” inevitably means “lowbrow”. However, the leading Anglican evangelical church in London, All Souls Langham Place, maintains a fine symphony orchestra - I once heard a wonderful performance of Haydn’s Nelson Mass there. Within the evangelical movement there is a Calvinist strain which, to my mind, undervalues or even opposes the use of so-called “classical” music in church services. I once read a magazine article about a controversy in Australia when an Anglican evangelical archbishop spoke out against the performance of elaborate classical music in a church service because aesthetic appreciation of music was not equivalent to true religious or spiritual experience. I would agree to the extent that a non-Christian or atheist can appreciate Bach’s music aesthetically without having any spiritual or mystic experience that could be described as Christian. But it is sad if Christians are unable, or are not allowed by their churches, to appreciate the truly spiritual dimension of Bach’s church music, which can heighten but not replace Christian experience.

John Eliot Gardiner somewhere relates that when his Bach Cantata Pilgrimage in 2000 reached the Bach homeland in East Germany, he was met with a remark that Bach’s music was “evangelisch” and that Gardiner’s approach was therefore inappropriate. “Evangelische Musik” should be solemn and reverent. In practice this would mean that Bach should always be performed with due reverence i.e. slowly and ponderously. I can think of the opening chorus of the St. Matthew Passion (BWV 244) as conducted by Richter http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pf4UNJqv_-A

Compare Gardiner’s interpretation: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dl9lL_ou8c4


From Wikipedia:

Der Evangelikalismus (vom <http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Englische_Sprache> englischen evangelicalism) ist eine <http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theologie> theologische Richtung innerhalb des <http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Protestantismus> Protestantismus, die auf den deutschen <http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pietismus> Pietismus, den englischen <http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Methodistische_und_Wesleyanische_Kirchen> Methodismus und die <http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erweckungsbewegung> Erweckungsbewegung des 19. Jahrhunderts zurückgeht.

Evangelikale machen eine persönliche Beziehung zu <http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesus_Christus> Jesus Christus zur Grundlage ihres <http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christentum> Christentums. In dem Rahmen sind persönliche Willensentscheidungen für eine solche Beziehung wie auch individuelle Erweckungs- und <http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bekehrung_%28Christentum%29> Bekehrungserlebnisse von Bedeutung. Zentral ist ebenso die Berufung auf die (teilweise als irrtumsfrei angesehene) Autorität der Bibel.

Das zugehörige Adjektiv evangelikal von dem umfassenderen und häufig konfessionsbezogen verwendeten Adjektiv <http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evangelisch> evangelisch unterschieden. Evangelikale Christen können verschiedenen protestantischen <http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Konfession> Konfessionen angehören, sie können beispielsweise <http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reformierte_Kirche> reformiert, <http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evangelisch-lutherische_Kirchen> lutherisch, <http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baptisten> baptistisch, <http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Methodisten> methodistisch oder <http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anglikanische_Gemeinschaft> anglikanisch sein, sich aber auch konfessionsübergreifenden oder nicht-konfessionellen Gruppierungen zugehörig fühlen. Damit ist der Evangelikalismus keine trennscharfe, konfessionsspezifische Definition. <http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evangelikalismus#cite_note-0> [1] In Deutschland arbeiten die Evangelikalen in der Mehrzahl in den evangelischen Landeskirchen mit, <http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evangelikalismus#cite_note-1> [2] wo sie zum Teil eigene Gemeinschaften und Strukturen bilden.

Happy Christmas/ Fröhliche Weihnachten

Michael Cox wrote (December 21, 2011):
Sorry, I should have written ”katholisch” not “katolisch”.

In the Finnish Lutheran Church (Finland being the most Lutheran country in the world) Bach’s music is performed in one way or another in almost all church services, either on the organ or by the choir.

In Finnish “evankelis-luterilainen” means Evangelical Lutheran. ”Evankelinen” is a movement within the Lutheran church. “Evankelikaali” is an “evangelical” in the English sense of the word, but many Finnish Christians don’t like the word because it sounds like “Gospel Cabbage” (Evankeliumi = Gospel; kaali= cabbage)

Douglas Cowling wrote (December 21, 2011):
Michael Cox wrote:
< John Eliot Gardiner somewhere relates that when his Bach Cantata Pilgrimage in 2000 reached the Bach homeland in East Germany, he was met with a remark that Bach¹s music was ³evangelisch² and that Gardiner¹s approach was therefore inappropriate. ³Evangelische Musik² should be solemn and reverent. In practice this would mean that Bach should always be performed with due reverence i.e. slowly and ponderously >
It's interesting to know that the "Cantor" cabal which opposed the "Court" clique's promotion of Bach's candidacy in Leipzig is still alive and well. This an unbroken debate which goes back to the late middle ages: should the lines of demarcation between the sacred and the secular be strongly drawn? For Catholics it was a dependence on plainsong, for Lutherans it was chorales. Should the church have a musical language which differs from the concert hall and court salon?

Bach clearly wanted it both ways. He frequently juxtaposed stile-antico motets and chorales with music drawn from secular cantatas and even the Brandenburg Concertos. We've had the debate before, but I find it impossible to believe that Bach performed the secular music differently when it had a sacred text. I think it a non-starter that "Tönet ihr Pauken" was sung at a slower tempo with less panache when it became "Jauchzet frolocket" in the Christmas Oratorio.

Note about terms: for our purposes, it is less confusing to use "Lutheran" than to try to approximate the German "evangelisch" with "evangelical." The American media have coopted the latter term for extreme right-wing fundamentalism. Better to use "Lutheran" to describe Bach's protestant orthodoxy.

Linda Gingrich wrote (December 21, 2011):
Michael Cox wrote:
< John Eliot Gardiner somewhere relates that when his Bach Cantata Pilgrimage in 2000 reached the Bach homeland in East Germany, he was met with a remark that Bach's music was "evangelisch" and that Gardiner's approach was therefore inappropriate. "Evangelische Musik" should be solemn and reverent. In practice this would mean that Bach should always be performed with due reverence i.e. slowly and ponderously. >
Thank you for your thoughtful response, Michael. And it's worth noting that the controversy over reverence equaling slow and ponderous as opposed to joyful and emotional (or whatever) is not a new one!

Ed Myskowski wrote (December 22, 2011):
William Hoffman wrote:
< In 1962, The American University Chorale performed Bach's Christmas Oratorio in the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. This gorgeous music was met with utter silence.
Today, I wonder if it's the same when organist Douglas Major plays Bach there -- or elsewhere -- with a brass ensemble. >
I have just noticed that my original reply was omitted, probably the result of hitting send rather than delete in the course of editing.

Douglas Major has been Music Director at St. Michaels in Marblehead MA, since leaving the National Cathedral ca. 2002. He frequently performs Bach at special events, greeted with appreciative applause, although I do not know what is the norm during services. The 1985 recording of Doug and the Empire Brass Quintet playng Bach, from the National Cathedral, still gets regular airplay, including this past Sunday on the Bach Hour with Brian McCreath, www.wgbh.org.

I recall being told (ca. 1962!) that applause is not appropriate in church. Perhaps the same word was prevalent in Washington?

An addition, today, Dec. 23. This comment from Gardiner is also relevant, from the notes to the Pilgrimage recording, Vol. 4:

<The last time we were here in Ansbach was in 1981, when we were invited to give five separate programmes of Bachs music. [...] Nineteen years on our opening number, the motet <Lobet den Herrn>, which ends with a rousing Hallelujah, was greeted in total silence. Suddenly I remembered being startled by the way a ripple of tentative applause was loudly shushed, both in 1981, and at the end of our first appearance here in 1979.> (end quote)

Kim Patrick Clow wrote (December 22, 2011):
Applause in churches [was originally: Cantatas in church]

Ed Myskowski wrote:
< I recall being told (ca. 1962!) that applause is not appropriate in church. Perhaps the same word was prevalent in Washington? >
Yeah, that's completely a "recent" thing. Applause was used in Catholic liturgies for hundreds of years, never mind the festive nature of Temple worship and shouts of joy in Judaism mentioned through the scriptures and especially Psalms. The "shouts of joy" were also in Christianity for some time as well. So what happened? Several things more than likely. Monasticism with its reverence for silence as being some how more holy (it's not). And cultural aspects crept in as well. Classical music performances were pretty wild events prior to Beethoven, with audiences applauding WITHIN a movement at specific themes or motiffs they enjoyed.

Douglas Cowling wrote (December 22, 2011):
Kim Patrick Clow wrote:
< Classical music performances were pretty wild events prior to Beethoven, with audiences applauding WITHIN a movement at specific themes or motiffs they enjoyed. >
It's my theory that the custom of standing for the Hallelujah Chorus has nothing to do with King George's piety (he was a Hanoverian, for god's sake!). Rather I think that people jumped to their feet and applauded when the trumpets, who had been silent for nearly an hour, made their electrifying entry. It's still the greatest coup de theatre in all music. And of course Messiah was banned from churches until the end of the 18th century and played in opera houses and concert halls, so applause would have bnatural.

In 18th century Rome and Venice, it was the custom to applaud in churches by silently waving white handkerchiefs. Soloists in the choir loft took a bow by sticking their music through the loft curtains and waving. However, the authorities did act to prohibit peoples habit of turning their chairs to face the choir loft and thus sitting with their backs to the altar.

Kim Patrick Clow wrote (December 22, 2011):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< In 18th century Rome and Venice, it was the custom to applaud in churches by silently waving white handkerchiefs. on - Get the Yahoo! Toolbar now. >
Yeah, that dates from Roman times, when people would "applaud" at dramatic performances at plays, etc. Paul of Samosata (200 to 275 AD) is documented as having encouraged this in churches. Pagan ceremonies were also not the quiet affairs you see represented in movies; depending on the cult, they were pretty boisterous also placed value on silence. Just like in any religion there wasn't any single "normative" way until someone became a little too big for their pants and wanted to make their way, the ONLY way ;)

Ed Myskowski wrote (December 22, 2011):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< It's my theory that the custom of standing for the Hallelujah Chorus has nothing to do with King George's piety (he was a Hanoverian, for god's sake!). Rather I think that people jumped to their feet and applauded when the trumpets, who had been silent for nearly an hour, made their electrifying entry. It's still the greatest coup de theatre in all music. >
Perhaps Handel was clever enough to anticipate/orchestrate the reaction? An attractive alternative to King Georges piety. Standing is still universally observed, in my experience.

DC:
< However, the authorities did act to prohibit peoples habit of turning their chairs to face the choir loft and thus sitting with their backs to the altar. >
EM:
Do you suppose the motivation was to maintain respect for the altar itself, or for the authorities comfortably ensconced there?

Ed Myskowski wrote (December 22, 2011):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
<< In 18th century Rome and Venice, it was the custom to applaud in churches by silently waving white handkerchiefs. >>
Kim Patrick Clow wrote:
< Yeah, that dates from Roman times, when people would "applaud" at dramatic performances at plays, etc. >
Apologies for another inadvertent send. Anyway, this is an interesting sidebar, worth pursuing.

Along with Gardiner, I recall that my original impression of the cult of silence was the result of being shushed.

Ed Myskowski wrote (December 22, 2011):
Michael Cox wrote:
< “Evankelikaali” is an “evangelical” in the English sense of the word, but many Finnish Christians don’t like the word because it sounds like “Gospel Cabbage” (Evankeliumi = Gospel; kaali= cabbage) >
What is the problem with Gospel Cabbage? Sounds like a sauerkraut pierogi to me.

Douglas Cowling wrote (December 23, 2011):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
< Do you suppose the motivation was to maintain respect for the altar itself, or for the authorities comfortably ensconced there? >
Undoubtedly a combination of both. Tanya Kervorkian's study of the reception of the cantata by Bach's congregation tells us that our modern notions of pious silence or even of concert silence are just that, modern notions.

When Arthur Miller directed "Death of A Salesman" in Bejing, he was warned that there was what he called an "oceanic" murmur in Chinese theatres. That seems to have been the norm in church, concert hall and opera house in the 18t century. It wasn't until the mid-19th century that Wagner insisted that audiences be in their seats and remain absolutely silent and motionless during his operas -- what George Bernhard Shaw called the "Bayreuth Hush"

Ironically this silence influenced the behaviour of congregations in churches and much of the comings and goings and oceanic murmuring was suppressed.

Kim Patrick Clow wrote (December 23, 2011):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< It wasn't until the mid-19th century that Wagner insisted that audiences be in their seats and remain absolutely silent and motionless during his operas -- what George Bernhard Shaw called the "Bayreuth Hush"
Ironically this silence influenced the behaviour of congregations in churches and much of the comings and goings and oceanic murmuring was suppressed. >
It varied from place to place and from period to period. Wagner is getting entirely too much credit here ;) During Vivaldi's concerts for the Ospedale della Pietà in Venice, applause was strictly forbidden. The audience would show it's approval by coughing and stomping their feet on the floor vigorously.

Michael Cox wrote (December 23, 2011):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
”What is the problem with Gospel Cabbage? Sounds like a sauerkraut pierogi to me.”
The Finnish word ”kaali” means ’cabbage’, but it is also a slang word for “head”, like ‘noddle’ in English.

In English, if a person is a “cabbage”, he or she is brain dead, a very tragic fate for those involved, certainly not a laughing matter.

Some non-Christians or liberal Christian theologians have accused evangelicals, fundamentalists or even Christians in general of being unintelligent, uncultured - “brain dead”, hopefully not entirely true! I wished to show that evangelicals too can and often do appreciate the music of Bach, Handel and other Baroque composers.

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, attended one of the early performances of Handel’s Messiah. In his journal he wrote that it was better than he had expected. John Newton, the author of “Amazing Grace”, wrote a series of sermons on the biblical texts used in “Messiah”. Handel set the music to one of Charles Wesley’s hymns, “Rejoice the Lord is King”. Charles Wesley’s son Sebastian Wesley (Sebastian after J. Sebastian Bach) introduced Bach’s instrumental music into England, and his son Samuel Sebastian Wesley was a contemporary of Mendelssohn and a worthy composer of English choral music. Bach himself stated: „Ich möchte Händel sein, wenn ich nicht Bach wäre“. “I would have liked to be Handel, if I weren’t Bach.”

I apologise for sending my post three times - the first time I inadvertently pressed the wrong button, and the second time I made a careless spelling error.

I would still like some response to the questions I raised.

Michael Cox wrote (December 23, 2011):
[To Douglas Cowling] Tkank you, Doug, for your response.

A few brief comments on your words below.

1. The fact that Bach could use the same music for both secular and sacred purposes is, I understand, very "Lutheran". Luther taught that all work was intrinsically sacred if and when done to the glory of God, so that a person does not need to be a monk, nun or priest to be a dedicated Christian with a "holy" calling. Therefore a composer's or musician's calling and vocation is (theologically if not always in practice) just as sacred as that of the pastor. So the distinction between sacred and secular becomes blurred. Whether or not Lutheranism lived up to the biblical doctrine of the "priesthood of all believers" and Luther's teaching once it became a state religion is another matter. It seems to me that it is Lutheran tradition that has "put the brakes" on Bach's musical intentions in terms of favouring slower tempi and exaggerated piety etc. , and that non-Lutherans and non-Germans like Gardiner (an agnostic), Koopman (Roman Catholic) and Suzuki (Reformed Protestant) and many others have introduced a breath of fresh air.

2. I tried to point out that in Europe "evangelical" does not have exactly the same connotations as in the US. A British or Australian "evangelical" would not necessarily consider himself or herself a fundamentalist, whereas Americans would. Your description of "extreme right-wing fundamentalism" is largely an American phenomenon. When we talk about Bach we are talking about a German-speaking European who not understand the distinctions made by the American media. Within German Lutheranism past and present there are different strands which need to be distinguished. How much does Bach represent "Lutheran orthodoxy" and how much was he influenced by German Pietism (Francke and Spener see e.g. http://www.holytrinitynewrochelle.org/yourti16836.html )? Was he a Philippist? How much was he influenced by the Calvinism of Cöthen (Köthen)? And how much did he know about the evangelical revival in Britain? Bach and Handel never actually met in spite of attempts to do so, but do we know or can we know how much news of musical and religious events in Handel's Britain reached Bach and his circle?

3. "Better to use "Lutheran" to describe Bach's protestant orthodoxy". I think that this fudges the issue, using a general term where useful distinctions can and should be made. Historians tend to speak of "cultural Protestantism" and "cultural Lutheranism" when describing musical, artistic, political and other non-theological aspects of European Protestantism, when a person, his family or his court are nominally Protestant but do not have or profess a personal faith, such as was emphasized by the Pietists and evangelicals. Felix Mendelssohn's father had his children baptized into this kind of "cultural Lutheranism" and later Felix refused the designation
"Pietist", see his letter http://books.google.fi/books?id=YKOrILZUJdoC
Google Books Search

How much was the Bach revival led by Mendelssohn with his Berlin performance of the St. Matthew Passion (BWV 244) a "Lutheran" phenomenon and how much a "cultural Protestant" one?

By the way, I looked up your website and found it very interesting and informative. Thank you.

Kim Patrick Clow wrote (December 23, 2011):
Michael Cox wrote:
< than to try to approximate the German "evangelisch" with "evangelical." The American media have coopted the latter term for extreme right-wing fundamentalism. Better to use "Lutheran" to describe Bach's protestant orthodoxy. >
It's hardly uniquely American (anymore). Some of the African Anglican Bishops aren't any better than Fred Phelps I'm afraid.

Douglas Cowling wrote (December 23, 2011):
Michael Cox wrote:
< The fact that Bach could use the same music for both secular and sacred purposes is, I understand, very ³Lutheran² ... It seems to me that it is Lutheran tradition that has ³put the brakes² on Bach¹s musical intentions interms of favouring slower tempi and exaggerated piety etc. , and that non-Lutherans and non-Germans ... have introduced a breath of fresh air. >
I still feel that "Lutheran", which of course is an invention of 16th century England and not a term used by Luther or his followers, has less baggage than "evangelical" for 21st English readers.

On the question of sacred and secular music, it's hard to argue that the transference of of styles is a peculiarly Lutheran innovation. The use of secular madrigals and chansons as the basis of mass settings goes back to the late middles -- even Palestrina wrote parody settings.

Parodies of secular models for mass settings declined in the 17th century, principally because composers wanted to write works in the orchestral concerted style, and when they do write stile antico movements (as in Kyrie II in the B Minor Mass (BWV 232)), they use original themes in fugal rather than imitative style. Adaptation and reuse of both sacred and secular works is part of the Baroque composer's tool kit: Handel reused some movements three or four times.

The Council which hired Bach appears to have been divided into two factions: the "cantor" faction which probably prefered the older motet style and chorale-based music, and the "court" faction which promoted the newer concerted style. The question of performance style is more an aesthetic than a theological question. Tempos could be lively in old-fashioned styles.

Here's a sample of a Schütz psalm (Track 3): Amazon.com

I doubt that Bach ever received criticism that "fast" music wasn't "devotional" enough. After Bach's death there was a significant shift in performance practice. As early as 1770, the English music historian, Charles Burney, complained that chorales were being sung at very slow tempos in Germany. This continued all through the 19th century. It is interesting to listen to the chorale which opens Act I of Wagner's "Meistersinger": the tempo is majestic and very slow. I suspect that Wagner's music is echoing what he heard in contemporary Lutheran churches. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4w-4Qf3pVnQ

These very slow tempos clearly affected the performance of Bach in the 19th century and continued up to the recording age: Klemperer is the classic example.

The HIP movement changed performance styles by restoring the more authentic tempos that would have been normative to Bach and his congregation. It's not that modern conductors are escaping the strictures of Lutheran tradition, but that they are recreating the historic sound of that tradition.

Ironically, the HIP movement has had an enormous influence on contemporary hymn-singing. Over the last 50 years, tempos have been getting faster and faster:

Here's "All People that on Earth do Dwell" ("Nun Lob Mein Seel") at the Coronation in 1953 (ignore Laurence Olivier's treacly commentary) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vbg8R-88nvM

And a recent performance: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Otqkls1XGNc

Michael Cox wrote (December 27, 2011):
[To Douglas Cowling] Your wrote: "I still feel that "Lutheran", which of course is an invention of 16th century England and not a term used by Luther or his followers, has less baggage than "evangelical" for 21st English readers."

I am sure that you are right. But, as of course you are aware, not all the members of this discussion group are English- or American-speakers, but some are German, French, Israeli etc., and they (we) do not follow the American media.

My question was what Bach, as an "evangelischer Komponist" would have understood by the word "evangelikal". Perhaps our German-speakers can help here. Does it mean more or less the same as "Pietist"?

At that period English evangelicals were called "Methodist", even if they were Anglicans like John Newton and not strictly followers of Wesley.

The early Methodists were strongly influenced by Luther and German Pietism (John Wesley translated some Pietist hymns into English.)

I would recommend "The Musical Wesleys" by Erik Routley (Studies in Church Music), London 1968.

"The fact that Bach could use the same music for both secular and sacred purposes is, I understand, very ³Lutheran²"

I did not at all mean exclusively Lutheran. I meant "in line with the teaching and example of Luther". German Lutherans (now united with the Reformed and no longer "purely Lutheran") have more "baggage" than non-Germans, in the sense that the "evangelisch" musical tradition has been passed on via Mendelssohn and the early Romantics and then Brahms etc. etc. into the 20th century, and each major "evangelical" composer and conduc(although Otto Klemperer, Bruno Walter and others were Jewish) made his own input to the interpretation of Bach's music in line with the musical tastes and ecclesiastical-musical policy of the day. If Lutherans had "saints" then their saints would be "Luther, Melanchthon and J.S. Bach", because they are in a sense German national heroes as well as ecclesiastical and cultural figures.

My professor of biblical studies once wrote a short essay on "regional holiness". By this he meant that what is regarded as "holy" in one Christian culture might be considered "unholy" in a different culture. One example was the difference between German and American Pentecostals. (This is, I believe, a true story) When a group of American Pentecostals visited a German Pentecostal church they were shocked that the German Christians drank beer, while the Americans were tee-total. But the Germans were shocked that the American Christians wore make-up (used cosmetics)!

One's geographical location exercises a great influence on one's assumptions as to what is acceptable and normative in church. Anglicans stand to sing hymns, Lutherans sit. Anglicans kneel to pray, Lutherans sit. Lutherans speak of the "Lutheran work ethic", but Weber's sociological study spoke rather of the "Protestant work ethic", mainly Calvinist and Puritan rather than Lutheran. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Protestant_work_ethic

Let the discussion continue!

Michael Cox wrote (December 27, 2011):
To Kim Patrick Clow] I may point out that it was not I who wrote the words quoted by Kim, but what Doug Cowling wrote in response to what I wrote.

Doug in fact misinterpreted what I was saying. I was not trying "to approximate the German "evangelisch" with "evangelical". Rather I was trying to make a distinction between German "evangelisch" and "evangelikal" (spelt the German way). "Evangelisch" might be approximated to "German Protestant" and "evangelikal" to "Pietist". What do our German-speakers think?

I'm sure that many of us non-Americans and non-English-speakers do not follow the American media so we may use the same words but mean something quite different.

And who is Fred Phelps?

David McKay wrote (December 27, 2011):
Speaking of "regional holiness" my American lecturer at Kenmore Christian College, Queensland was a great fan of canasta, which everybody played at his seminary. But it was a great sin there for Christians to smoke. But when he went to do his masters, he found the situation reversed. Many smoked, but card games were "of the devil."

Michael Cox wrote (December 27, 2011):
Douglas Cowlin wrote:
"I doubt that Bach ever received criticism that "fast" music wasn't "devotional" enough. After Bach's death there was a significant shift in performance practice. As early as 1770, the English music historian, Charles Burney, complained that chorales were being sung at very slow tempos in Germany. .. These very slow tempos clearly affected the performance of Bach in the 19th century and continued up to the recording age: Klemperer is the classic example."
KLEMPERER was Jewish, not Lutheran, but he was still part of the German musical tradition even after leaving Germany in the 1930s - and his recordings of Bach's B Minor Mass (BWV 232) and St. Matthew Passion (BWV 244) are still worth listening to, even with the majestic slow tempi.

In practice, professional or semi-professional choirs and organists like to take chorales at faster tempi, while congregational singing always tends to drag behind, as all organists know. And without accompaniment singing drags even further. A well-known Finnish conductor once suggested that the congregation should join in the singing of the chorales in Bach's Passions in the interests of authenticity, since many German chorales are familiar in Lutheran Finland, but he was dissuaded from this because the congregation would inevitably sing too slowly.

Listen to repatriated German POWs singing "Nun danket alle Gott" in 1955: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SOCJwvrDnUA

Both Bach and Mendelssohn (Lobgesang) made use of this chorale - at a faster tempo - without congregational participation.

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

Ed Myskowski wrote (December 28, 2011):
Michael Cox wrote:
< In practice, professional or semi-professional choirs and organists like to take chorales at faster tempi, while congregational singing always tends to drag behind, as all organists know. And without accompaniment singing drags even further. >
Perhaps that is why God created the drummer?

Ed Myskowski wrote (December 28, 2011):
Michael Cox wrote:
< (This is, I believe, a true story) When a group of American Pentecostals visited a German Pentecostal church they were shocked that the German Christians drank beer, while the Americans were tee-total. But the Germans were shocked that the American Christians wore make-up (used cosmetics)! >
Did they start a war? Or a dialogue? Or ask Jesus?

Kim Patrick Clow wrote (December 28, 2011):
Michael Cox wrote:
< KLEMPERER was Jewish, not Lutheran >
So what? Why does his being Jewish have ANYTHING to do with his conducting tempi? So why mention it? Would John Gardiner being an avowed agnostic/atheist have any bearing on his conducting too? Or were you saying Klemperer's conducting was from a non-church setting, so it was "uninformed?"

Warren Prestidge wrote (December 28, 2011):
[To Michael Cox] The discussion about tempi in the performance of Bach chorales prompts me to comment on tempi in Bach performance more generally. I abandoned many decades ago my very early prejudice that "fast" music is not properly "devotional". The real question, for me, is simply, what performance does most justice to all aspects of the music. On this account, I relish the energy and vitality of much contemporary Bach performance. However I do find very unsatisfying some performances where the policy appears to be to play the music as fast as possible. Some performers seem intent on conveying the impression that this great music is really no bother at all for such professionals as them. Recently I encountered the Diego Fasolis recording of the Christmas Oratorio. Now the performance of the opening Cantata, for example, is marvellous. But by the 6th Cantata, Fasolis seems to be in a great hurry to finish. To my mind, both arias here are performed too quickly to do justice to the beauty and expressiveness of the music.

I sometimes feel that Bach performers are swayed too much by what they believe to have been normal for performance in general in Bach's time. An approach that is appropriate for Baroque music in general may prove inadequate at times for Bach. His music is so much more profound and complex than, e.g. Vivaldi - or even (dare I say it) Handel. It may need special treatment to do it justice. After all, it's only because Bach is so much more than just another baroque composer, that I spend half my spare time listening to him and playing him!

I'm enjoying the input of contributors to this Group very much.

Ed Myskowski wrote (December 28, 2011):
Warren Prestidge wrote:
< However I do find very unsatisfying some performances where the policy appears to be to play >the music as fast as possible. >
EM:
I do appreciate the specific example (Fasolis, Xmas Oratoro) which follows. I do not have the recording at hand for immediate listening. I wonder if others agree?

WP:
< Some performers seem intent on conveying the impression that this great music is really no bother at all for such professionals as them. >
EM:
This is reading a lot into a performers choice of tempo, no?

WP:
< Recently I encountered the Diego Fasolis recording of the Christmas Oratorio.
[...]
I sometimes feel that Bach performers are swayed too much by what they believe to have been normal for perin general in Bach's time. >
EM:
I see your point, but do you think that many performers, Sigiswald Kuijken for example, may reflect a lifetime of performance experience of their own, with great respect for the music?
Whether you enjoy the result or not, it seems a bit unfair to discredit the approach as swayed by belief.

WP:
< I'm enjoying the input of contributors to this Group very much. >
EM:
Same here. Thank you for joining in!

Michael Cox wrote (December 30, 2011):
[To Kim Patrick Clow] I did not say that being Jewish affected Klemperer's conducting tempi – you are twisting my words!

What we (or at least I) were talking about was the influence of the Lutheran tradition on the use of Bach's music in church, as opposed to so-called "art music" mostly performed in concert halls.

Bach's "sacred" cantatas and passions were composed for use in church, albeit with large-scale borrowing from his "secular" music (I don't think Bach made the distinction -all his music was written to the glory of God).

It seems to me that at least from the time of Mendelssohn onwards church and the secular concert hall created two competing traditions, while also influencing each other.

Most of Mendelssohn's "sacred" music was intended for concert performance, in the same concerts as works by Beethoven, Weber etc.

What I said was that Klemperer, like Solti, Walter and so many great Jewish musicians, represent the German "art music" tradition, and not the church tradition. Their tradition includes Beethoven, Brahms, Mahler etc. who do not represent the Lutheran tradition (although Brahms was a nominal Lutheran, in practice he was an agnostic.)

I also said that those musicians who have interpreted Bach's music from outside the Lutheran tradition have brought a breath of fresh air into modern interpretations of Bach's music. We should be glad that there is both a German "classical" tradition, and a modern "return to the roots" of Lutheran Baroque music, often by non-Lutherans, non-Germans and non-Christians.

In Finland Bach's Passions and oratorios are always(?) performed in church and not in concert halls. So in that sense they have remained "Lutheran" music, at least in this part of the world.

Kim Patrick Clow wrote (December 30, 2011):
Michael Cox wrote:
< I did not say that being Jewish affected Klemperer’s conducting tempi – you are twisting my words!
What we (or at least I) were talking about was the influence of the Lutheran tradition on the use of Bach’s music in church, as opposed to so-called “art music” mostly performed in concert halls. >
Ok, thanks for the clarification.

Ed Myskowski wrote (December 31, 2011):
Michael Cox wrote:
< It seems to me that at least from the time of Mendelssohn onwards church and the secular concert hall created two competing traditions, while also influencing each other. >
This was already a consideration for Handel, contemporary with Bach. See the history of <Messiah> performancesd. Perhaps dating from even earlier in some tradtitions?

Kim Patrick Clow wrote (December 31, 2011):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
< This was already a consideration for Handel, contemporary with Bach. See the history of <Messiah> performancesd. Perhaps dating from even earlier in some tradtitions? >
We will never know I suppose. I have absolutely no proof for it, but I can't think Handel's music would have been performed differently in a concert hall versus a church, except maybe to make small allowances for the acoustics and the "staleness" and "reverb." Tempos slowed down for Mendelssohn, I'm guessing because the concert halls were much larger than what Handel was routinely performing in, and much much larger orchestras (tempos slow down invariably). But even in Mendelssohn, we don't really know how fast was fast. It's all guess work. The correct reading of double-dotted notes in the French Ouverture however, was a big step in the correct performance of baroque music in general (i.e. it speed up considerably). I recently heard a 1940s recording of the Boston Symphony doing a Bach suite, and it stretchered out forever. If all the repeats had been honored, the first movement would have been 20 minutes long I think ;)

Michael Cox wrote (January 1, 2012):
[To Ed Myskowski] I don’t know whether you’re being serious or facetious!

I was referring to an article that I read as a student nearly 40 years ago – the only clear memory I have retained was the phrase “regional holiness”. Since I was not present on the occasion referred to I do not know exactly when or where it took place – in the American zone in post-war Germany or later.

My point was that we should not make assumptions on the basis of our denominational or national background. E.g. Doug referred to the “American media” making it difficult to use the word “evangelical” with reference to the 18th century spiritual revival which affected Germany (the Pietists and indirectly Bach), Britain (incl. the Methodists and indirectly Handel) and then the USA. I think this may be a problem for Americans but not for the rest of us. I prefer the BBC!

Michael Cox wrote (January 1, 2012):
Kim Patrick Clo wrote:
"I can't think Handel's music would have been performed differently in a concert hall versus a church".
I would respond to this from my perspective:

In concert halls the performers tend to be professional, whereas in church the performers are more likely to be semi-professional or entirely amateur, who do not have the necessary skills to sing or play as fast as professionals. If Handel's "Messiah" or Bach's music is taken too fast by amateurs, the end result is a muddle. We amateurs may listen to professional recordings but simply not be able to emulate them.

My own experience as a performer of Bach and Handel has been what one would describe as semi-professional. I have performed Bach and Handel on the harpsichord, both solo and with others, and have conducted a semi-professional/amateur performance of Handel's "Judas Maccabaeus" with organ, but omitted sections where the soloists or choir would be unable to sustain a "professional" tempo. I also once produced a truncated version of Bach's St. John Passion (BWV 245) in German for amateur performance in Finland.

I have particularly enjoyed playing the continuo in Bach's 4th Brandenburg Concerto and Coffee Cantata with local forces, but have never mastered the pedals when playing the organ in church. I try to maintain "professional" tempi whenever possible but the congregation has a mind of its own. I'm sure many church organists would agree.

The only time I was actually paid was when I was an Anglican choirboy in the 1960s - weddings were by far the most profitable! Because I lack the necessary professional skills and training, I really admire musicians who can do what I can't.

Douglas Cowling wrote (January 1, 2012):
Church & Concert Hall, Amateur & Professional

Michael Cox wrote:
< In concert halls the performers tend to be professional, whereas in church the performers are more likely to be semi-professional or entirely amateur, who do not have the necessary skills to sing or play as fast as Professionals. >
I think we have to be very careful about projecting the performing standards in church and concert halls today back into Bach's time. The greatest number of modern performances of Bach are indeed by amateur church chand semi-professional organists. Even large urban centres with long-standing performing institutions can literally go for years without hearing the professional performance of a Bach cantata, while there will be dozens of performances of individual choral movements and organ works in the churches.

This was not the case in Bach's time. Bach's choir and instrumentalists were all professionals. The boys came from a residential college with rigorous audition processes and a first rate musical education, the adult singers were free-lance performers paid for piece-work, and instrumentalists were part of a resident municipal orchestra of professionals.

Coming back to the present, we can catch a glimpse of Bach's situation on an occasion like the recent Royal Wedding. The Choirs of Westminster Abbey and the Chapel Royal sang an extremely demanding repertoire that is far beyond the capabilities of 99.99% of church choirs. The boys are from residential schools that are almost identical to Bach's school. The men are long-term, free-lance singers, many of whom will go on to professional solo careers (the counter-tenor, James Bowman, was a clerk at the Abbey when his career took off). The orchestra was a hand-picked ensemble of the finest players in London. The cost must have been a quarter of a million dollars (the music at Charles & Di's blowout is rumoured to have cost a cool million.)

However, even on a weekday, the standard of performance in the Abbey is breath-taking. I remember attending a daily Evensong on a very ordinary day and hearing the choir sing "Lobet den Herrn" for 50 people on a rainy afternoon. It was quite simply the finest performance I had ever heard, live over recorded.

I firmly believe that that is the kind of standard which Bach could call upon daily in Leipzig. St. Thomas had the history, logistical support and budget to perform the finest church music in Germany. There is no comparison with the well-meaning amateur choirs who regularly "attempt" Bach.

Julian Mincham wrote (January 1, 2012):
[To Douglas Cowling] I firmly believe that that is the kind of standard which Bach could call upon daily in Leipzig. St. Thomas had the history, logistical support and budget to perform the finest church music in Germany. There is no comparison with the well-meaning amateur choirs who regularly "attempt" Bach.

Absolutely. The romantic conceptions of the 'poor man' who was unrecognised in his time and whose music was badly performed is a myth which is well put to bed---and not before time.

Michael Cox wrote (January 2, 2012):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
"I think we have to be very careful about projecting the performing standards in church and concert halls today back into Bach's time."
I don't think anyone was trying to do this. And I don't think that this was what I was saying. It brings us back to the purpose of our discussions: what do each of us want to learn?

Some are professional musicologists and academics, while others are active musicians (not to say that academics are not also practical as well).

We are all interested in learning what Bach and others intended to convey by his music (and by the texts he set to music, whether or not he totally approved of them). And here professionals can help us with their learning.

We know that in Germany there are musical institutions (in Leipzig, for instance) which have upheld musical standards for centuries, in Britain there are cathedral and college choir schools with their centuries-old traditions, and so on around the world. In Finland the Sibelius Academy has a department of church music where all Lutheran church and parish musicians are trained. They in turn train parish choirs.

What people like me are interested in is what we can learn from musicology that is both intellectually stimulating and also possible to put into practice in our own musical and ecclesiastical setting. If we want to perform Bach with limited resources, how should we proceed? If we left all church music to professionals, the churches and parishes would go bankrupt paying them. Without a strong amateur base there would be no professionals.

"I think we have to be very careful about projecting the performing standards in church and concert halls today back into Bach's time." - earlier I wrote about Mendelssohn's time, not Bach's time. And I gave as a 20th-century example of the German tradition of congregational chorale singing the "performance" by German POWS in 1955 of "Nun danket alle Gott" at an extremely slow tempo: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SOCJwvrDnUA
Presumably the German POWS had learnt the chorale in church, not in a concert hall. Mendelssohn's orchestration of this chorale in Lobgesang would be almost impossible to play at this slow tempo. Has German chorale singing slowed down so dramatically since Mendelssohn's time or did Mendelssohn expect a faster tempo to be the norm in concert performance?

Thank you all for your input.

Michael Cox wrote (January 2, 2012):
[To Julian Mincham] You sound very contemptuous of amateurs – amateurs are by definition those who “love” what they are doing. I have loved “attempting” Bach with a mixture of professionals and amateurs.

If you want us to go away, we will!

Julian Mincham wrote (January 2, 2012):
Michael Cox wrote:
< You sound very contemptuous of amateurs – amateurs are by definition those who “love” what they are doing. I have loved “attempting” Bach with a mixture of professionals and amateurs. >
Having worked with students and amateurs for many years I do not associate myself with this sentiment. In fact I believe that the changes in tempi of Bach performances have little to do with professional status and much more to do with the smaller choirs and thinner sounds of the original (now reconstituted) instruments.

I grew up with 78 records of interminable turgidity of the Malcolm Sargeant recordings of The Messiah with the Huddersfiled Choral society, Karl Hass's London Baroque ensemble records (was there ever a slower Brandenburg 3?) and those of the Berlin Phil playing Bach suites etc. I find many of them unlistenable today, partly because of the lack of continuo keyboards, large misbalanced orchestral forces, inappropriate phrasing etc but mainly because of the dragging tempi, Choirs of 4,8 or even the Sixteen, accompanied by the sorts of instrumental ensembles for which the works were conceived, bring out the essential dance qualities which underline so much baroque music--particularly that of Bach.

Michael Cox wrote (January 2, 2012):
[To Julian Mincham] I must apologise to you for over-reacting. You struck a “raw nerve”. What you wrote may not have been intended the way it sounded.

I have mixed memories of working with professional conductors who speak to the orchestra and almost ignore the choir - no names mentioned. And my experience with this discussion group has been that often my questions are either ignored or misinterpreted, sometimes in quite an antagonistic way.

As I have mentioned to you privately, I had to retire after suffering a brain haemorrhage, so that it is now a struggle for me to find words and formulate ideas. I still listen to Bach frequently, mostly his choral music, but can no longer listen to loud music because it hurts my ears.

My training as a choirboy was under the tutelage of prominent musicians. Barry Rose trained the choir before leaving for St. Paul’s Cathedral. Philip Cranmer was Professor of Music in Manchester. Sebastian Forbes wrote music for the London Proms and was later Professor of Music at Sussex University. Some of our choirboys sang in St. Paul’s Cathedral choir, notably Jeremy Jackson, who later sang counter-tenor in the King’s Singers. Our choir was considered good enough to be a visiting choir in St. Paul’s and Canterbury Cathedral in the 1960s – I really wish I could remember what we sang there! When the choir made a tour of Germany I was left behind because I was too young at the time. I was bitterly disappointed, as you can imagine.

I too remember Malcolm Sargent’s recordings, including Handel’s Messiah. I was given my first Bach recordings (St. Matthew Passion (BWV 244) and the Brandenburgs) when I was about 8 or 9. In the choir we sang Bach and Handel frequently as well as English composers (and at school we sang Mendelssohn and Gilbert and Sullivan etc.), but my first experience of hearing the St. John Passion (BWV 245) live in central London (I was taken to hear it by some of the older members of the choir) when I was 12 or 13 was overwhelming – I still have a mental picture of the cellist sitting in the middle. I also remember an occasion when some of the men of the choir invited me to sing madrigals with them because I was the best sight-reader among the choirboys at that time.

To go fast forward to the 21st century: when the leader of our Finnish choir retired, she expressed the desire to round off her career with a performance of the St. John Passion (BWV 245) – the cantors would be the soloists. (We are blessed with a wonderful tenor who is often a soloist in nationwide concerts – he now leads the choir). She asked me to work out a libretto suitable for the choir and a small instrumental ensemble. I used the German text as set out on the Bach cantatas website, and abbreviated it so as to leave out secondary plots (e.g. Peter’s denial), and some of the arias and the opening chorus, which was replaced with a Finnish chorale. The cantors only left out one aria that I had included.

I would like to send you a few recordings that I have been involved in, some dating back to the 1960s – this privately. I think that we chanted the Psalms very well with good clear diction. You can make out every word. There are obvious shortcomings, but I think that at times we brought our nuances that I have failed to find in professional recordings.

Incidentally, I have a certificate in choral conducting, so I like to think that I am semi-professional rather than a total amateur.

Julian Mincham wrote (January 2, 2012):
[To Michael Cox] Michael Thank you for the apology.But just to clarify the record, the only comment I made was

Absolutely. The romantic conceptions of the 'poor man' who was unrecognised in his time and whose music was badly performed is a myth which is well put to bed---and not before time. JM

which was more about a Romantic misconception of Bach interpretation than about performance status. I think it applied across the board to professionals and non professionals alike without distinction.

I also agree with you that one can often find nuances and certainly spirit and enthusiasm in performances by amateurs that are missing from those of some professionals. The late Christopher Small (Music, Society and Education and Musiking--two iconic books of their time) was a friend of mine; later in life he had given up going to professional performances---he said he best preferred the freshness and spontaneity of performances by children and jazz musicians.

Michael Cox wrote (January 2, 2012):
[To Julian Mincham] Who then was responsible for the comment about amateurs who “attempt” Bach? Not very complimentary!

I must confess that I am often bewildered as to who writes what and in response to whom. Unless one reads everything that comes in the e-mail (I don’t and can’t) we can “fire our guns” at the wrong target. I have tried to find out who people are by visiting their websites and Facebook but have never met or spoken to any personally.

Julian Mincham wrote (January 2, 2012):
[To Michael Cox] we can “fire our guns” at the wrong target

Don't worry--it's happened before on this list and will happen again.

Douglas Cowling wrote (January 2, 2012):
Michael Cox wrote:
< Who then was responsible for the comment about amateurs who ³attempt² Bach?
Not very complimentary! >
Hang on, folks. Let's get my original comment straight. My criticism was about the modern tendency to project the standards of 21st century church performance back into the 18th century. The vast majority of Bach cantata performances in churches today are mounted (I'll avoid the term "attempted") by well-intentioned, enthusiastic amateurs -- myself among the singers. There are few greater joys for amateurs than to assay the music of Bach.

However, the standards of amateur singing and playing simply do not reach the level which we hear in the great professional ensembles led by Suzuki, Gardiner, Koopman and the like. It is wrong historically to project today's church standards back and lament that Bach never heard his music the way he imagined it. Nothing could be further from the facts: Bach enjoyed the highest level of professional performance.

I suggested that a royal occasion better approximated Bach's situation than a suburban amateur church choir. Here's a better example.

Trinity Church, Wall Street, is the original Anglican church in Manhattan. Even in the 17th century, it was the richest church in North America. It still owns tracts of real estate in Manhattan and has endowments and investments in the millions. It has a first-rate music program: a fully-paid professional choir and professional baroque orchestra-in-residence. The calibre of performance is so high that, in addition to services, the choir has a concert series and has recorded many times. There is no repertoire which they attempt which is not first-rate.

That is an institutional structure not unlike Bach's: professional performing ensembles able to offer the most demanding music on a weekly basis. I attended one of their weekly Bach cantata concerts last spring: it was one of the finest Bach performances I have ever heard. They could have recorded it later and released it as a professional CD (They recently did record the complete Bach motets.)

Trinity Church, Wall Street is in a league far beyond 99.99% of other Anglican churches in New York City, and indeed in all of the U.S. I would suggest that St. Thomas, Leipzig, stood in much the same position to the other churches in the city and indeed in all of Saxony and beyond. I love and work with amateur singers and instrumentalists in performances of Bach all the time, but I am under no illusions that Bach had such restrictions.

If you're in NYC, make an effort to attend the "Bach at One" cantata series. The concerts are free!
http://www.trinitywallstreet.org/music/bach

Douglas Cowling wrote (January 2, 2012):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< Trinity Church, Wall Street is in a league far beyond 99.99% of other Anglican churches in New York City, and indeed in all of the U.S. >
Before devotees of the male-choir tradition pounce, I should hasten to add that St. Thomas, Fifth Avenue, has a residential choir school and sings a demanding repertoire:
http://www.saintthomaschurch.org/

Wall Street? Fifth Avenue?

I think we can see the common thread in good music in any century.

Ed Myskowski wrote (January 2, 2012):
Michael Cox wrote to Ed Myskowski:
< I don’t know whether you’re being serious or facetious! >
I first chose to ignore this comment, but in the light of subsequent posts, a brief response is in order.

I wonder if my post was confused with someone elses? I mentioned the performance history of Handel’s oratorio, <The Messiah>, as a work contemporary with Bach, which was originally conceived for church presentation but subsequently (to the present day) has been a concert hall standard. Significantly predating Mendelssohns presentations of Bach’s passions.

This was a casual comment, not exactly of depth to be called serious, but certainly not f. I will have the courtesy not to consider Michael’s response antagonistic.

Ed Myskowski wrote (January 2, 2012):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< Trinity Church, Wall Street is in a league far beyond 99.99% of other Anglican churches in New York City, and indeed in all of the U.S.
[...]
If you're in NYC, make an effort to attend the "Bach at One" cantata series. The concerts are free! >
A similar opportunity exists in Boston, at Emmanuel Church, with weekly Sunday AM (you will have to rise a bit earlier than in NYC!) cantata performance, with the service. No concert fee, but church donations are always encouraged and can be directed to support of the music.

Ed Myskowski wrote (January 3, 2012):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
<< The concerts are free! >>
EM:
< No concert fee, but church donations are always encouraged and can be directed to support of the music. >
In the spirit of the New year, much like the previous ones, I should point out that Emmanuel Church has donation slots designated to support the music. I have no information as to the quality of their accounting.

A favorite quote from Doug: <Never a dull moment in churchland!>

Michael Cox wrote (January 3, 2012):
[To Douglas Cowling] I must have read your comment out of context - I didn't see or read your original comment. My experience as an Anglican choirboy in a north London suburban church "attempting" to sing Bach, Handel and others in the 1960s was that we tried under professional choirmasters (sometimes professors of music and sometimes from the BBC) was that we tried to emulate the singing of the choir of St. Paul's Cathedral, with which we had connections – we occasionally sang in the cathedral. And we used the "St. Paul's Psalter" for chanting the Psalms - but we knew our limitations.

I would expect that parish choirs around Leipzig in Bach's time would try to emulate the higher standards in the musical centre but I don't know how much is known about the standards of music in suburban parishes, if they left records.

You say, "My criticism was about the modern tendency to project the standards of 21st century church performance back into the 18th century."

I have never met with such a tendency - who in particular are you referring to? Do you mean critics, choir directors? In my experience professional choir directors who know what they´re doing try to avoid "project(ing) the standards of 21st century church performance back into the 18th century".

If you allow me to give one example of how I have met with apparent contempt for amateurs:

For some years my wife and I sang in the Helsinki Cathedral Choir - we sang many major choral works, including the B Minor Mass (BWV 232), in Helsinki and Porvoo cathedrals, with soloists from the Finnish National Opera, but also on a smaller scale in the organ loft when the President attended the Independence Day service. The choir was semi-professional - a mixed bag. In the choir we met a young lady who lived in the same small town where we live just north of Helsinki. The local opera society decided to put on a performance of Purcell's "Dido and Aeneas" in Finnish. The orchestra was composed of both professional and good amateur players. The soloists were very good. I played the harpsichord. The performances were a great success. I got a special mention in the local paper for bringing life to the performances (I'm not sure whether it was my playing or the sound of the harpsichord that impressed the critics!!). However, the young lady in question was invited to be one of the soloists and she refused on the grounds that our performance would be "too amateur". She doesn't know what she missed!

So I am a bit sensitive in such matters. Sorry for any misunderstanding

Michael Cox wrote (January 3, 2012):
[To Ed Myskowski] I think there must be crossed wires. My comment had nothing whatever to do with Handel’s Messiah or Mendelssohn.

It is very possible that because one person quotes another without indicating exactly whom he or she is quoting that misunderstandings occur. This has happened to me, when something Doug wrote was attributed to me.

To clarify: I mentioned an incident where American Christians were scandalized that German Christians drank beer, while the Germans were scandalized that the Americans used cosmetics. My point was that our own tradition can lead us to make assumptions – so for instance, we could possibly assume that if modern Lutherans or other church people do things in a particular way that it has always been so, that Lutherans in other countries do the same. And as far as Bach is concerned, one might assume that German Lutheranism is the same as Scandinavian or American Lutheranism, which it isn’t. I have never met any English Lutherans.

The comment that I reacted to was: did the American and German Christians start a war or pray to Jesus? Whoever said it, it seemed to me to be making light of a serious point.

So I apologise sincerely to Ed if you were not responsible, but still I took offence at such flippant comments, whoever made them.

Douglas Cowling wrote (January 3, 2012):
Michael Cox wrote:
< You say, ³My criticism was about the modern tendency to project the standards of 21st century church performance back into the 18th century.² >
Michael, please more careful. You've rewritten what I said. I was talking about a generalized modern attitude. It was not directed at you.

Ed Myskowski wrote (January 3, 2012):
Michael Cox wrote:
< So I apologise sincerely to Ed if you were not responsible >
Thank you for the courtesy, the subject remark was not from me.

An apology of my own, for incorecctly referring to Handel’s oatorio <The Messiah>. The first note to the wikipedia article on the oratorio:

<Since its earliest performances the work has often been referred to, incorrectly, as "The Messiah". The article is absent from the proper title.>

 

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Last update: ýMarch 11, 2012 ý09:15:31