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Part 4

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Choirs

Continue of discussion from: Bach's Choral Ideal [by Joshua Rifkin] [Books]

Doug Cowling wrote (May 26, 2005):
Eric Bergerud wrote:
< This whole thing is a little bewildering to yours truly. In my heart of hearts I want the OVPP camp to be proved either wrong or the matter left clearly in the air. I am sure OVPP will doom the boy choirs in future Bach recording and in many performances if it became party line.
That said, only a sophist would argue that the large number of very exceptional conductors and ensembles shifting squarely into the OVPP camp means nothing. If this is truly a simple matter of morons versus common sense, how on earth does one explain deep interest in OVPP by folks like McCresh, Parrott, Junghanel, Kuijken and the American Bach soloists? >
I'd determined not to fall into this current bitchfest. Since no one wanted to discuss the questions I raised about the repertoire of Bach's four choirs, I'll pose another musical question.

Is there any evidence that Bach's music was performed, either by himself or his contemporaries ( I'm thinking principally here of CPE) with choirs of varying size?

Handel's situation is if course totally different from Bach's, but there is plenty of evidence that Handel performed his music in a variety of ways. The Roman Vespers music (e.g. Dixit Dominus, Nisi Dominus) and the Chandos Anthems (e.g. As Pants the Hart) were undoubtedly performed OVPP. Yet when Handel revived or revised the same music for the Chapel Royal, he clearly used a choir of 25-30 voices. And then he used the same music for the oratorios and state occasions for very large choirs and gigantic orchestras.

If the OVPP thesis is right, then Bach normally "heard" his music with those forces in mind. Does that mean that he would not have approved of CPE's performance of the "Credo" with a choir? Even if Bach never heard a "choral" performance of his music, is it "unauthentic" to perform it with ensembles of varying size?

Uri Golomb wrote (May 26, 2005):
< If the OVPP thesis is right, then Bach normally "heard" his music with those forces in mind. Does that mean that he would not have approved of CPE's performance of the "Credo" with a choir? Even if Bach never heard a "choral" performance of his music, is it "unauthentic" to perform it with ensembles of varying size? >
When Bach added ripienists to his choral music, he usually added them selectively. That is, in most cases, he didn't have the extra singers join in for the entire choral movement (though there are excpetions -- for example, Cantata BWV 29, SJP (BWV 245)); instead, he had them join in at specific passages. It is not unreasonable to assume that, if he were to use ripienists more frequently, that's how he would have used them -- selectively, for passages that would benefit from more opulent sonorities. There have been attempts, in fact, to follow this practice -- notable examples being Wilhelm Ehmann in the 50s and 60s (and Robert Shaw, who directly followed Ehmann's example), and more recently, Andrew Parrott (in the B minor Mass and in the motet Jesu meine Freude), and John Eliot Gardiner (in his B minor Mass and in several cantatas). These musicians try to emulate Bach by arranging choruses which he himself probably performed OVPP (though Ehmann and GArdiner wouldn't agree with this ssessment), applying the same principles as Bach himself employed when he used ripienists.

My hypothesis is that, while Bach might have objected to this or that particular arrangement, he wouldn't have objected to them in principle. He might have objected to the way a specific choir was used in performances of his music, but he wouldn't have objected to choirs tout court. If he avoided ripienists himself, that might be because the ripienists he had at his disposal weren't good enough -- not necessarily because he objected to ripienists in principle. He might have regarded the addition of ripienists as an "arrangement" -- but he had no objections whatsoever to arrangements.

However, all this is in the realm of speculation. The truth is, we don't know how Bach would have responded to later performances of his music, or indeed how what he himself would have done if he had (say) the Collegium Vocale or the Monteverdi Choir at his disposal. Perhaps he would have arranged his music to be performed by them chorally -- alteranting between solo and fully-scored passages. Perhaps he would have done what these choirs usually do -- simply assign whole choral movements to full choral sections. Perhaps he would have written new music for them -- for 4 parts, or indeed for 8 parts (he might have felt that it's a waste to have so many good singers around for 4-part music, when you could write double-choral music for them instead). Who knows? My guess is, he would have done all the things I just mentioned -- depending on what seemed the best solution for a particular work. But that's really only a guess.

I do know that, regardless of what Bach would have done, I'm all in favour of variety. I want more OVPP performances around -- but I also want to continue hearing excellent choirs in this music. Musicology can give us valuable insights into what Bach did, and to some extent even into that he wanted; and we gain many insights into his music by attempting to perform it as he himself might have done. That said, I believe that w'ere entirley within our rights to take our own wishes, not only Bach's, into account when deciding how to perform this music today.

Thomas Braatz wrote (May 26, 2005):
Uri Golomb wrote:
>>I do know that, regardless of what Bach would have done, I'm all in favour of variety. I want more OVPP performances around --<<
This is accurately described as a personal opinion.

>>Musicology can give us valuable insights into what Bach did, and to some extent even into that he wanted...<<
Why are Bach's wishes and desires regarding a minimum choir size for performing his cantatas, etc. being qualified here: "to some extent even?" Are musicologists unable and unwilling to accept Bach's statement in the "Entwurff" about the ideal minimum size of a choir at face value? Do we have to believe along with and according to Rifkin and his adherents that 'Bach did not mean what wrote there?' There is no qualification needed here except for the staunch believers in the OVPP theory who have a distinct motive for calling into question Bach's accurate description of his ideal choir size. They need to tell us that we must doubt what we read in the "Entwurff" so that the OVPP theory will not wilt under the frequent hard questions that are being asked.

We know what Bach wanted for his performances in Leipzig, we know the ideal minimum size choir that he had in mind. Now we should believe that Bach primarily performed his Leipzig cantatas OVPP because of further unproven hypetheses that await substantiation in the future? There is a vast difference between 12 to 16 vocalists and only 4 (OVPP) for the typical Leipzig cantata! This gap has
not yet been bridged by Rifkin or anyone else to my knowledge. Let those who have information to the contrary bring it to the BCML for further examination and discussion since it affects immensely how we hear performances of Bach's music now and in the future.

Gabriel Jackson wrote (May 26, 2005):
Uri Golomb wrote:
>>I do know that, regardless of what Bach would have done, I'm all in favour of variety. I want more OVPP performances around --<<
Thomas Braatz wrote:
"This is accurately described as a personal opinion."
Indeed, and it was stated as such, But why would anyone NOT want more OVPP performances (whether they like them or not)?

Bradley Lehman wrote (May 26, 2005):
< I'd determined not to fall into this current bitchfest. Since no one wanted to discuss the questions I raised about the repertoire of Bach's four choirs, I'll pose another musical questio. >
The repertoire of Bach's four choirs is addressed in chapter 3, "Repertoires", of Andrew Parrott's book...which see!

And see also chapter 8, "Redefining a Venerable Office: Cantor and Music Director in Leipzig: the 1720s" in Wolff's Bach: The Learned Musician.

Another apparently good resource on this is the series edited by Wolff: http://homepages.bw.edu/bachbib/script/bach2.pl?22=13727
and entries 201-203 at: http://homepages.bw.edu/bachbib/script/bach1.pl?0=wolff
Click through "WeltBachKantaten" on the latter, to see a list of the articles in them.

I've requested a copy of volume 3 by Interlibrary Loan but it hasn't arrived yet, else I'd be able to say more about the contents. I'm especially to see the Koopman article in the latter, looking at it directly rather than waiting for anybody's summary or interpretation of it: http://homepages.bw.edu/bachbib/script/bach2.pl?22=15757
Obviously, that one came out too late for any possible inclusion in Parrott's book (which also was written in 1999). That plus this article by Petzoldt in the same volume, addressing the liturgical situation under Bach's charge: http://homepages.bw.edu/bachbib/script/bach2.pl?22=15747

John Pike wrote (May 26, 2005):
[To Doug Cowling] I suspect that we will never know for certain what authentic Bach performance involves. However, we are left with a wonderful wealth of music and, so far as I am concerned, if it sounds beautiful, if it gives glory to God, and if it gives pleasure to the soul, then it is worthwhile. I suspect Bach would feel the same way.

Bradley Lehman wrote (May 26, 2005):
Choirs and "authentic"

< * Even if Bach never heard a "choral" performance of his music, is it "unauthentic" to perform it with ensembles of varying size? >
By the various notions of "authenticity" discussed in Peter Kivy's and John Butt's books, and in the earlier Contemplating Music: Challenges to Musicology (1985) by Joseph Kerman, the answer is no.

And Kerman pointed out (p192): "What Dart called 'stylish' everybody else at the time called 'authentic', a baleful term which has caused endless acrimony--understandably enough, for the word resonates with unearned good vibrations forced by moralists such as Benjamin and Sartre, as well as by those art connoisseurs who evoke it to confound forgery. 'Contextual' would have been a value-free substitute. But 'authentic' has now acquired the same cult value when applied to music as 'natural' or 'organic' when applied to food. Whatever we call it--historical, stylish, authentic, contextual--such playing can obviously be good, bad or indifferent: good or bad in at least two senses, technically and interpretatively. The criteria of authenticity and virtue were bound to become confused when conductors, players, and singers began to see that appeals to authenticity (rather than personal intuition, as in the old Romantic days) might be used to defend bad performances; and when musicologists claimed or at least implied that authenticity would guarantee good ones. For Dart was not the only musicologist in the 1950s to slight interpretation, though he may have done more than any other individual to confuse this whole issue."

This excerpt is not to be confused with a summary or a representation of the whole book, or an excuse not to read the book, or even an excuse to start ripping apart the above paragraph. Kerman's argument is wider-reaching than this.

Eric Bergerud wrote (May 27, 2005):
Uri Golomb wrote:
< I do know that, regardless of what Bach would have done, I'm all in favour of variety. I want more OVPP performances around -- but I also want to continue hearing excellent choirs in this music. Musicology can give us valuable insights into what Bach did, and to some extent even into that he wanted; and we gain many insights into his music by attempting to perform it as he himself might have done. That said, I believe that w'ere entirley within our rights to take our own wishes, not only Bach's, into account when deciding how to perform this music today. >
I should think Uri is obviously correct. If Bach had been in a different place in a different time maybe he would have been a computer programmer or an airplane pilot. It's pointless to speculate what he would have done if he had been able to employ, say, electric guitars or a chorus of three thousand. The question at hand - and it seems quite legitimately contested - is what Bach did with the resources that were available in a very specific time-place. I'd like to think that some HIP ensembles will consider it part of their task to try to capture the essense of a genuine Bach performance conceding the fact that replication is impossible. But I rather suspect that musicians will also want to play to the strength of their forces and will allow that factor to shape the performances. I still, however, worry about boys. Unless I've missed something,. no one single major OVPP group has employed one single boy in a recorded performance. Personally, that doesn't encourage me. Actually, I'd think at least one brave soul that was exploring OVPP would employ the number of boys Bach would have - assuming Rifkin is right. One would think it would be an interesting exercise.

Thomas Braatz wrote (May 27, 2005):
John Pike wrote:
>>I suspect that we will never know for certain what authentic Bach performance involves.<<
But we do know what Bach's ideal minimum-size choir was and this is a far better starting point than working with hypotheses that involve not believing what Bach had written in the "Entwurff." Uncertainty about this comes from Rifkin and his followers who rigidly believe that only one singer can sing from a single sheet of music and that Bach actually preferred OVPP despite what he had clearly written to the Leipzig City Council.

Authentic Bach performance also involves respecting his wishes by performing his music as much as possible as written. See Scheibe's criticism of Bach [Hamburg, May 14, 1737] where he writes: "Alle Manieren, alle kleine Auszierungen, und alles, was man unter der Methode zu spielen verstehet, druckt er [Bach] mit eigentlichen Noten aus....man bewundert...die beschwerlich Arbeit und eine ausnehmende Mühe, die doch vergebens angewendet ist, weil sie wider die Natur streitet" ["Bach expressly puts down in notes all those things normally left up to the musicians like stylistic mannerisms and even every tiny embellishment, in short, everything that a musician learns about how to express music by adding things to the music and changing it ....you can marvel at all of Bach's extra work and the great effort he has expended in doing this, all of which is really in vain because it contradicts the natural freedom that musicians have to change the notes as they see fit."]

Here is clear proof that Bach did not trust other musicians to perform his music in what he considered good taste. He did what he had to: he prescribed as precisely as he could what he wanted his music to sound like. Bach is saying to any musician: "There is a lot that you can do within the limitations that I have placed in the music. Be as musical as you can within these limitations (Bach's directives - articulation, dynamics, etc.) and you will give a performance that is in good taste; if you deviate from it, it will become a performance that I would not condone. I would not even want to have my name as a composer associated with this musical performance since it will not demonstrate what I am capable of as a composer."

Now we are also being asked to accept OVPP as a fairly standard method for performing Bach's cantatas as matter of course, contrary to Bach's expressed minimum size for a choir after having read such a report as that given by Scheibe which indicates quite clearly that Bach did havea very specific type of performance in mind and that Bach did not think in terms of "let them do it in any way that they see fit." Some might object that Bach changed his music every time he performed it. True. He did this to solve either compositional or performance problems or both as they presented themselves. But for a modern musician or conductor to make changes, particularly radical changes such as reducing a Bach choir from 12-16 down to only 4, involves going against Bach's wishes as expressed in his music and in the "Entwurff." The modern attitude of 'anything goes' does not comport with Bach's clearly expressed directives.

Bradley Lehman wrote (May 27, 2005):
Eric Bergerud wrote:
< Unless I've missed something,. no one single major OVPP group has employed one single boy in a recorded performance. Personally, that doesn't encourage me. Actually, I'd think at least one brave soul that was exploring OVPP would employ the number of boys Bach would have - assuming Rifkin is right. One would think it would be an interesting exercise. >
Parrott's recording of the B minor mass does, on the alto parts.

Santu de Silva wrote (May 27, 2005):
About one singer perline (Ovpp) I have tried to offer the following repeatedly, but apparently my logic is too obscure.

(1) What if a choir has one voice per part, except for the treble part? Could Bach have had two trebles, and once each of the lower parts, perhaps on one occasion, or perhaps as the rule?

Let's argue about this, then. Very often in boy's choirs, if a single steady treble is unavailable for something that was to be sung by a mere quartet of voices, an option is to field two trebles, and one each of the lower parts. Some consider this a terrible practice, but the question is: might Bach have done it this way?

(2) If the answer to the above question is yes, then the ovpp principle is destroyed. The only way to keep this very extreme principle alive is to deny that Bach could have done it any other way.

There are so many alternatives, as someone points out: two voices per part, or as many boy's choirs do, four trebles, and two each of the other parts. The one voice per part concept is repugnant to me on grounds of its sheer anti-genericity. I have nothing against ovpp, but i can't understand anyone subscribing to that philosophy as the default way to sing Bach.

Johan van Veen wrote (May 28, 2005):
Santu de Silva wrote:
< About one singer perline (Ovpp) I have tried to offer the following repeatedly, but apparently my logic is too obscure.
(1) What if a choir has one voice per part, except for the treble part? Could Bach have had two trebles, and once each of the lower parts, perhaps on one occasion, or perhaps as the rule? >
Why would he do that? I can't see the need. The doubling of the treble parts is mostly practised, I assume, when one treble isn't strong enough in comparison with the other voices. But if trebles are trained to sing solo - like the boys of the Tölzer Knabenchor today -, there is no need to double the treble.

Bradley Lehman wrote (May 28, 2005):
Santu de Silva wrote:
< About one singer perline (Ovpp) I have tried to offer the following repeatedly, but apparently my logic is too obscure.
(1) What if a choir has one voice per part, except for the treble part? Could Bach have had two trebles, and once each of the lower parts, perhaps on one occasion, or perhaps as the rule? >
That's the texture of Kyrie 2 of the B minor mass (BWV 232). Four real parts for this fugue, and the orchestra is colla parte most of the time, and then there are two trebles on the top vocal line instead of one.

Doug Cowling wrote (May 28, 2005):
[To Bradley Lehman] Do both the soprano parts have the top line when a chorus is SATB?

Bradley Lehman wrote (May 27, 2005):
[To Doug Cowling] (BWV 232) The "Gratias agimus" has doubled soprano there also, SSATB. But the "Qui tollis" is just SATB. Then the "Patrem omnipotentem" is again SSATB with the doubled soprano. The "Crucifixus" is SATB with only soprano 2. The "Osanna" is SATB in two groups. Then the "Dona nobis pacem" is scored again like the "Gratias".

So, in summary: Kyrie 2, Gratias/d.n.p, and Patrem have four-part SATB writing where the SS are two singers instead of one.

Doug Cowling wrote (May 28, 2005):
[To Bradley Lehman] (BWV 232) I'm sorry, I wasn't clear. In Kyrie I, there are two soprano parts. In Kyrie II, do both do the parts for S1 and S2 have the same music copied out?

Uri Golomb wrote (May 28, 2005):
[To Doug Cowling] (BWV 232) Yes. You can see for yourself -- the full set of parts for the Kyrie and Gloria (Dresden, 1733) is available as online digital facsimiles on: http://www.bachdigital.de/bd_uk/auto/232s/objekt.html.
The same site also has the autograph score, on: http://www.bachdigital.de/bd_uk/auto/232a/objekt.html.

Bradley Lehman wrote (May 27, 2005):
[To Doug Cowling] (BWV 232) I'm not sure about the contents of the parts; probably. I was reading the voice assignments directly off the NBA's vocal score (which presumably is faithful to the autograph score and parts....). For example, in that Kyrie II it assigns both soprano 1 and 2 to it, on the same music in that score.

 

Spatial separation of choirs

Douglas Cowling wrote (September 20, 2005):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< We have here a mvt. for two physically separated performing groups >
What is the scholarly state of the question of whether the two "Cori" with their singers and instrumentalists were widely separated? How much distance was possible in the Leipzig choir lofts? In the opening chorus of the SMP (BWV 244), the two orchestras do not divide into antiphonal ensembles until bar 14 which suggests that the two were in rather close proxmity. Recent research shows that even in the Renaissance polychoral music was not performed in the Venetian style with widely-separated choirs. Palestrina's double-choir "Stabat Mater" was sung by eight singers jammed into the tiny loggia of the Sistine Chapel.

John Reese wrote (September 21, 2005):
[To Douglas Cowling] The closer the choirs are, the better. The time lag inherent in the relatively slow speed of sound plays a greater role than you would think in large spaces.

Thomas Braatz wrote (September 21, 2005):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
>>What is the scholarly state of the question of whether the two "Cori" with their singers and instrumentalists were widely separated? How much distance was possible in the Leipzig choir lofts? In the opening chorus of the SMP (BWV 244), the two orchestras do not divide into antiphonal ensembles until bar 14 which suggests that the two were in rather close proxmity. Recent research shows that even in the Renaissance polychoral music was not performed in the Venetian style with widely-separated choirs. Palestrina's double-choir "Stabat Mater" was sung by eight singers jammed into the tiny loggia of the Sistine Chapel.<<
Johann Gottfried Walther, in his "Musicalisches Lexicon..." [Leipzig, 1732] reports that the Pope generally had in his employ 32 musicians and that in order to project the sound properly, they were placed on special, high platforms from which they sang.

Michael Praetorius, in his 'Syntagma musicum' Part III, [Wolffenbüttel, 1619) reports that he had his trumpeters and timpani players stand elsewhere (not with the singing choirs and other instrumentalists) because they would be too loud and drown out the voices. The 'conductor' (usually the Capellmeister, but not always) who had the continuo score before him would need to be seen by various groups of musicians. He talks about them being on different sides of the church: "...daß ihn der 'Chorus Musicorum' in der Kirchen auff der einen / vnd dieTrommeter auff der andern seiten...sich darnach richten können" p. 170 ["so that the main 'choral/instrumental group on the one side of the church and the trumpeters on the other side/end...could adjust their playing accordingly (play according to the proper beat.)"

Praetorius, on p. 172, speaks of selecting 4 good 'Knaben' [boy singers/choristers] and putting them in four different places in the church so that they are facing each other. The boy standing near the organ begins singing first, then each one after the other with the 'Chorus Vocalis & Instrumentalis' joining in at the end. These are the 'ripieni' or 'Concentus plenus' (Omnes or Tutti). Since only one of the boys will be standing next to the organ, the others will have instruments accompanying them in their various locations in the church. If there are no really strong solo voices among the boys, then the option is to place 2 boys and 2 tenors in each of the four locations, or 3 boys and one tenor in each.

Praetorius notes that the larger the church, the greater the spatial distance between vocalists/vocal choirs and instrumental groupings can become. In smaller settings the instruments might have to be dropped altogether. The instruments have to be placed strategically (off to one side) so that they can lend support to the voices as necessary (without overwhelming them.) "...die 'Choros Instrumentales' aber ein jeden bey seinem 'Choro Vocali' auff die seiten abwerts / an einen besondern Ort..." ["so that each instrumental group will be near (off to one side and not mixed together with the vocalists) the vocal group to which it is assigned."] This implies that there are one to four combinations of vocalists and instrumentalists who are distributed to opposite directions facing each other so that one 'Capellmeister' or the equivalent can conduct them.

Another arrangement which Praetorius suggests is "Creuzweis" ("crosswise") to have two 'Chori Vocali' standing opposite each other (obviously not on the same small balcony!)with the instrumental groups not separated too far from the vocal group to which they belong.

There seem to be almost endless possibilities that Praetorius has considered, but two matters concern him most:

1. the instruments must not be louder than the voices

2. the directions given to each group/singer(s) must be explicit "damit keine 'Confusion' daraus entstehen möge" ["so that no confusion may arise out of this {arrangement.}"]

Arjen van Gijssel wrote (September 21, 2005):
[To Thomas Braatz] This year I participated as tenor in choir I, in a 'crosswise' SMP performance in the Netherlands. I.e., choirs and instrumentalists stood face to face in the middle of the church. The public was sitting on both sides, with their faces towards the choirs and orchestras. We were standing somewhat higher than the public. The boys choir was standing on the organ balcony on the left side of the church. The place was the Bergkerk ('mountain' church) Deventer. Deventer is the birth place of Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck.

You can imagine that this setting was quite a challenge for the conductor Klaas Stok. He stood in the middle of the choirs. His gestures were somewhat bigger than normal, in order to have good visual contact with all performers. I can tell you that it was a very nice experience. When choir II was singing (for instance in Wo ist denn dein Freund), I felt like a listener. When both choir's were singing, you could watch each other in the eyes, feeling (and seeing!) the vibrant athmosphere. We received a good press on this performance. The journalist was especially impressed by the spatial separation of the choirs.

I do not recollect any arrangements concerning "instruments not playing louder than voices" though, as in Thomas' quote. Though the Bergkerk is not a small church, it isn't a big one either.

Douglas Cowling wrote (September 21, 2005):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< Johann Gottfried Walther, in his "Musicalisches Lexicon..." [Leipzig, 1732] reports that the Pope generally had in his employ 32 musicians and that in order to project the sound properly, they were placed on special, high platforms from which they sang.
Micael Praetorius, in his 'Syntagma musicum' Part III, [Wolffenbüttel, 1619) reports that he had his trumpeters and timpani players stand elsewhere (not with the singing choirs and other instrumentalists) because they would be too loud and drown out the voices. >
As we've discussed before, having 32 singers doesn't mean that they always sing at the same time. The principal locations for papal ceremonies were the Sistine and Julian chapels which had very small choir loggias. Several of Palestrina's manuscripts note the names of individula singers on the various parts -- OVP was normative. For ceremonies in St. Peter's proper, the choir stood in a tribune above the papal throne in the apse. Your ability to hear the choir depended on your rank and proximity of seating vis a vis the pope, It was only in the late 19th century that a large Romantic organ was built in St. Peter's and an attempt was made to fill that vast acoustical space. Ceremonies today have a an extensive PA system for the singers.

In Munich, Lassus wrote double-choir music but the singers made no effort at spatial separation. Illustrations show them standing in one group in the centre of the chapel. It appears that for Palestrina, Victoria and Lassus, antiphony was achieved primarily through contrasting music and voices for the two or more choirs. It is important to note that the two choirs never sing the same music when singing tutti.

Gabrieli in Venice of course is a separate issue. In San Marco, the choirs (sometimes 3 or 4) were placed in widely-spaced galleries, and on occasion, platforms were built on the floor for extra musicians (whether they played separately from the gallery musicians is not certain). However, a great deal of Gabrieli's music, including the 33-voice Magnificat in 7 choirs, was not written for San Marco but for the Scole di San Rocco, the chapel of a wealthy philanthropic confraternity. The chapel is a single room with a flat floor without galleries -- it in fact also doubled as a meeting hall. Descriptions have the various choirs of singers and instrumentalist sitting in separate groups but very close to each other.

Praetorius reflects the North German passion for spatial antiphonal music -- one modern wag called him the master of "polychoral perversity"! His provisions for multi-choir music assume dramatic spatial separation. My favourite suggestion is that massed timpani can be placed OUTSIDE the church if they are too loud! The interesting thing about Praetorius is that, realizing that long distance ensemble is always a problem, he keeps each choir quite independent and is careful that no two choirs are doubling the same line in tutti sections. I remember performing a polychoral motet with the three choirs of singers and instrumentalist widely separated. To our greast surprise there was no real ensemble problem.

We see the same provisions in the 56 voice mass for the consecration of
Salzburg Cathedral by Benevoli/Biber. The multiple choirs were placed both
in the dome and on the floor of the church. The composer (whoever he was)
very cleverly makes sure that each choir is quite independent.

Thus there are two styles of performance coming out of the late Renaissance and early Baroque periods: 1) widely spaced choirs as with Gabrieli and Praetorius, and 2) double choirs standing together where antiphony is created through the music and voice types.

My suspicion is that Bach's double-choir music comes out of the second tradition, and that he assumed that the two choirs stood in the same gallery rather close to, close enough that they could sing the same music as a 4 voice tutti without problems of ensemble. One sees the this layout in J.L. Bach's "Das Ist Meine Freude" where the two choirs are totally independent until the closing section when they sing a 4. Several of the double choir motets of Sebastian have the same closing reduction to four voices. Interestingly, for the one instance when Bach asked for spatial separation -- the opening of the SMP (BWV 244) -- the ripieno choir standing in the chancel arch gallery sings a slow-sustained chorale which is very different from the two choirs in the main gallery. That certainly helped to mitigate the distance problems.

Thomas Braatz wrote (September 21, 2005):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
>>Thus there are two styles of performance coming out of the late Renaissance and early Baroque periods: 1)widely spaced choirs as with Gabrieli and Praetorius, and 2) double choirs standing together where antiphony is created through the music and voice types.
My suspicion is that Bach's double-choir music comes out of the second tradition, and that he assumed that the two choirs stood in the same gallery rather close together, close enough that they could sing the same music as a 4 voice tutti without problems of ensemble. One sees the this layout in J.L. Bach's "Das Ist Meine Freude" where the two choirs are totally independent until the closing section when they sing a 4. Several of the double choir motets of Sebastian have the same closing reduction to four voices. Interestingly, for the one instance when Bach asked for spatial separation -- the opening of the SMP
(BWV 244) -- the ripieno choir standing in the chancel arch gallery sings a slow-sustained chorale which is very different from the two choirs in the main gallery. That certainly helped to mitigate the distance problems.<<
Based upon the following two references: Andreas Glöckner on p. 34 of the NBA KB II/5b (2004) and Arnold Schering's "Johann Sebastian Bachs Leipziger Kirchenmusik" [Leipzig, 1936] pp. 165ff., the following observations seem to pertain:

Both Glöckner and Schering (who was one of the first to advocate small choirs {12-16} for the performance of Bach's music) emphasize that Bach had at his disposal for the presentation of the SMP (BWV 244) a large number of musicians (solo vocalists, vocal choirs consisting of current and former Thomaner pupils, university students with exceptional musical skills in singing and playing instruments, the city pipers, free-lance violinists, and visiting musicians with outstanding talent.) Both Schering and Glöckner with 70 years between them see a good possibility that Bach could draw upon as many as circa 60 musicians for the performance of the SMP in St. Thomas Church. Beginning with March 1729, Bach had become the leader/conductor of one of the two independent musical organizations in Leipzig known as the 'Collegia musica,' thereby increasing yet again the 'pool' of musician from which he could draw. Good Friday also offered the possibility of including members of the 'Motet' choir as well as the 2nd choir since these choirs were not involved in performances in the other churches on Good Friday afternoon.

Despite the serious difficulties in determining just how Bach set up his performing forces, Schering presents the following as one reasonable possibility. All of this is based upon:

1) the scanty records regarding the actual interior space during Bach's tenure in Leipzig before a major reconstruction of St. Thomas Church was undertaken in the early 1740s.

2. the study of the score of the 1736 version of the SMP (BWV 244) for any possible indications that might indicate how the 2 Chori were related to each other musically and spacially.

Here is what I gathered from a quick rereading of Schering's account:

1. The chorale from a great distance in mvt. 1 was probably performed on a very distant balcony called the 'Schwalbennest' ("Swallows Nest"], a very shaky structure which could accommodate in addition to an organist possibly playing only the chorale melody to support the singing of a single strong soprano voice or, at the most, only 2 or 3 boys singing from the same part. This must have been a very special effect
indeed!

2. The balcony, normally used for performances of figural music was situated at the west end of the church and extended quite some distance from the center to both sides with the following qualification: The central area was the 'Schülerchor' (the choir loft with main church organ) with the vocal choir in the center facing into the nave. On either side of this main 'staging' area, there were additional balconies (generally on the same plane, of course, not a balcony lower than this highest balcony) which were originally financially supported but then also frequently used for performances by the members of the supporting musical groups such as the city pipers. Schering claims that it was possible to include another portion of the balcony where the teachers from St. Thomas School regularly sat. For special musical performances when even more space was needed, they would be asked to sit elsewhere. (I have trouble visualizing what Schering is talking about here, but he seems to think that such an extension of balcony space was possible.)

Schering calls these 'Doppelemporen' ["double balconies"] upon which the instrumentalists were seemingly raised high (at least a meter or more) above the level of the vocal choir(s). The picture which Schering paints is that, when viewed from the center of the nave looking at the balcony with the main church organ, the strings were situated on a fixed, raised platform on the right and the brass and timpani on the left, again raised to the same level as the strings.

The two 'choruses'/'choirs' then stood facing each other in the main staging area, ("der Schülerchor" = "choir loft") with distinct instrumental groupings on each end truly 'overlooking' the vocal performers. The distance between the vocal groups/choirs could not have been very great.

For Schering (he gives reasons for these conclusions), the performances of the SMP (BWV 244) never took place before the altar, whether singing toward the congregation or with 2 choirs facing each other. The separation of choirs by as much as 30 meters is an impossibility for Schering due to the manner in which Bach composed the SMP (BWV 244).

Douglas Cowling wrote (September 21, 2005):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< For Schering (he gives reasons for these conclusions), the performances of the SMP never took place before the altar, whether singing toward the congregation or with 2 choirs facing each other. The separation of choirs by as much as 30 meters is an impossibility for Schering due to the manner in which Bach composed the SMP. >
Thanks for this data. I don't know about you, but I find it soooooo frustrating not to be able to reconstruct the architectural setting of Bach's greatest works. I keep wishing that a floorplan would turn up like the one for the choir loft at Versailles which details the position of every musician. But then the authorities at the Thomasschule detroyed Bach's study during a renovation in the 1890's, long after Leipzig had become a musical pilgrimage spot!

Thomas Braatz wrote (September 22, 2005):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
>>Praetorius reflects the North German passion for spatial antiphonal music --one modern wag called him the master of "polychoral perversity"! His provisions for multi-choir music assume dramatic spatial separation. My favourite suggestion is that massed timpani can be placed OUTSIDE the church if they are too loud!<<
Is this comment from Praetorius' "Syntagma musicum" Part III? If so, do you have the original German or does your translation specify the chapter or heading under which this statement is made?

This is important since it may be based upon a mistranslation of the Praetorius original. Here is similar example from the above tome by Praetorius on p. 170:

"Es sind aber diese 'Concert'-Gesänge also vnd dergestalt anzuordnen / daß fünff / sechs oder sieben Trommeter neben oder ohne einem Heerpaucker / an einem sondern Ort / nahe bey der Kirchen gestellet werden : damit / wann sie in der Kirchen stehen / der starcke Schall vnd Hall der Trommeten / die gantze 'Music' nicht vberschreye vnd vbertäube / Sondern ein theil neben dem andern / vornehmblich vnd eigentlich gehört
werden könne
."

"However, for this reason, these 'concertized' chorales are to be arranged (physically) in such a manner that 5, 6 or 7 trumpeters whether standing next to the timpanist or not, are to be placed (are to take their positions) 'nearby'/'in the vicinity of' the
church so that when they are standing in the church, the loud sound and echo of the trumpets will not drown out or 'cancel out' with even louder sound the entire musical ensemble (singers, etc.), but that rather one (each) part (one choir or instrumental group) can be heard first and foremost as a distinct entity next to the others."

My translation attempts to get as close to the original as possible, but it fails to make sense because two words have not been properly translated: "Kirchen" and "wann." The way it stands now we seem to have an ensemble of trumpeters and timpani standing somewhere 'nearby' the church building -- in the church yard between the grave markers or on the square in front of the church with the church doors open and the windows as well (if they could even open them in those days) so that at least some of the music would waft into the church itself. However, Praetorius, in the same sentence, also states that "when they are standing in the church." There are at least two translation problems here:

1. "damit / wann" = so that, if and whenever they play.they don't overwhelm the other musicians with their playing.

2. 'Kirchen' does not mean the church building per se but, in this instance, according to older usage, it refers to the church nave: The DWB gives the correspondence of 'kirchen' = 'Kirchenschiff' with this sense of 'Kirchen' being distinguished from the "Chor" - the area before the altar where the lay people were not allowed. The OED explains the word 'nave' as follows: "The main part or body of a church, extending from the inner door to the choir or chancel [German: "Chor"] and usually separated from the aisle on each side by pillars." This means that Praetorius simply wanted the trumpeters and timpani not to stand in the nave proper, but off to either side peering out from behind the pillars.

I can not locate the precise phrase that I had read in Praetorius a few days ago, but I think it went as follows: "außen der Kirchen" also in reference to the trumpet and timpani ensemble and where they should be placed. Now "outside of the church" makes sense, because it simply means not directly positioned within the nave of the church where they could overwhelm the remaining 'ensemble(s)' which are simultaneously performing the 'concertized' music.

Douglas Cowling wrote (September 22, 2005):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
>> Praetorius reflects the North German passion for spatial antiphonal music --one modern wag called him the master of "polychoral perversity"! His provisions for multi-choir music assume dramatic spatial separation. My favourite suggestion is that massed timpani can be placed OUTSIDE the church if they are too loud!<<
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< Is this comment from Praetorius' "Syntagma musicum" Part III? If so, do you have the original German or does your translation specify the chapter or heading under which this statement is made? >
McCreesh mentions it in his notes for his recording of the Praetrious Kresmessse. I can't remember if he quotes the original or not.

Thomas Braatz wrote (September 22, 2005):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
>>McCreesh mentions it in his notes for his recording of the Praetrious Kresmessse. I can't remember if he quotes the original or not.<<
I vaguely remember something about that description in his notes.

Here are some interesting bits of information that I came upon while searching for some commentary on Praetorius in the Grove Music Online {Oxford University Press, 2005, acc. 9/22/05):

Praetorius in his 1619 setting of In dulci jubilo (Polyhymnia panegyrica et caduceatrix no.34) used a six-part trumpet ensemble in a choral setting.

In 1619 Praetorius advised that the trumpet group be separated from the other musicians when called on to play in church, so as not to drown them out. (Edward H. Tarr)

A century later, Praetorius (Syntagma musicum, II) called them [timpani] 'great rattletraps', probably on account of their indistinct tone. It was primarily by way of princely courts in German-speaking lands that kettledrums spread throughout Europe. Following Eastern custom, they were paired with trumpets - usually six trumpets to a pair of drums - and soon appropriated as a symbol of rank and power. The nobility made the possession of timpani an exclusive prerogative, restricted to emperors, kings, dukes, electors and others of high rank. (James Blades)

The term 'colossal' has been aptly applied to Roman polychoral performances, some of which involved as many as 12 choirs. André Maugars described one such spectacular performance which he attended in 1639 at S Maria sopra Minerva:

>>Two large organs are elevated on the two sides of the main altar, where two choirs of music were placed. Along the nave were eight more choirs, four on one side and four on the other, raised on platforms eight or nine feet high, separated from one another by the same distance and facing one another. With each choir there was a small organ.<<

The grand style of Roman polychoral performance was exported to other countries, notably to Austria. Indeed, the colossal Baroque style can be said to have reached a climax in the later 17th century with the 53-part polychoral mass formerly attributed to Orazio Benevoli but now thought to be by Biber or Andreas Hofer. Polychoral distribution of the voices, although never again so extensively employed as in the 17th century, remained a device occasionally used by composers of all later periods.

The aforementioned 53-part mass, for example, was written for two eight-part vocal choirs; two six-part choirs of string instruments; a six-part choir of flutes and oboes; a seven-part choir of trumpets, cornetts and trombones; two four-part choirs of trumpets, one with timpani; and three organs, two of them functioning as continuo instruments with the vocal choirs and the third playing a master basso seguente part. (James G Smith)

Mike Mannix (Mickey Drivel) wrote (September 25, 2005):
I believe 'Venetian style' is conjectural. A surviving drawing shows everything arranged in front of the altar, and the so called 'spaces' have been said to be those in the manuscripts, not distances between the balconies.

 

Spatial separation of choirs

Kevin Parent wrote (October 25, 2005):
Apart from the MBM (BWV 232) and Magnificat (BWV 243) , how often did Bach write for a five-part SSATB chorus? Is this pretty much it? (Apart from BWV 191.)

Aryeh Oron wrote (October 25, 2005):
[To Kevin Parent] The new facilty of Search Works/Movements is being built exactly for answering such questions.
The database is still in progess. So far I have inserted all movements from
Cantatas BWV 1-and few other vocal works (about 1,300 records/pages).
See: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/INS-Search.htm
Please type SSATB in the Search box and you will get some interesting results.

Kevin Parent wrote (October 25, 2005):
[To Aryeh Oron] Thanks, Aryeh. I forgot about motet BWV 227. Didn't know about BWV 31.

This will be a fine addition to the website. Already I learned that two (at least) cantatas call for four trumpets.

 

Posture for Playing?

Douglas Cowling wrote (June 3, 2006):
I've always assumed that court musicians stood when they played for their patrons (including cellos with their stools). I'm wondering what posture musicians took in Bach's choir loft. Did they all stand when they performed? The various engravings from the period are open to a variety of interpretations.

Rick Canyon wrote (June 3, 2006):
[To Douglas Cowling] I'm looking at the engraving, of which I imagine you're familiar, contained in Parrott's book, of the organ/choir loft in Freiburg. It appears that the musicians are standing. There is a detail elsewhere in the book which labels those who seem to be sitting as "singers"--and I can't see them with instruments (those who Parrott labels as "apparently ripienists" seem to be standing, however). I suppose the musicians could be sitting on a different and higher level, but I don't think so. It is hard to make out, but on the basis of this engraving, I'd say standing.

But, now, I'd ask, if this means the choir sat while performing?

Maybe this engraving isn't the best to go by.

Thomas Braatz wrote (June 3, 2006):
Rick Canyon wrote:
>>But, now, I'd ask, if this means the choir sat while performing? Maybe this engraving isn't the best to go by.<<
These engravings, unfortunately, are not very reliable at all since they were in no way meant to represent a photograph of what was actually there. The importance of people and objects is distorted and ascertaining the actual number of participants is practically impossible. The placement of people and objects is changed to suit the artist/engraver's needs and objectives while some are simply left out because they do not fit into the picture once certain subjects have been unnaturally magnified for the viewer and the convenience of the artist.

The descriptions and recommendations by musician observers, although not without their own distortions, are somewhat more reliable, but even here we need to consider a modern-day situation, one that I am personally acquainted with: "Bud" Herseth was for many years the lead or 1st trumpet player in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Whenever I heard him play with the CSO (except when he performed a solo concerto), he performed all the music he played sitting down. And yet, I have seen young trumpet players being trained who were taught standing up, not sitting down. Certainly the development and capacity of the diaphragm of an individual player (or singer) is affected to a certain degree by whether the individual is standing or sitting down. Then, for brass players, the following description applies:
>>When playing, the body should be erect and the head balanced on the spine in a comfortable and relaxed 'neutral' position. This allows the most efficient release of air through the wind passage, mouth cavity and aperture of the lips into the instrument. In proper playing posture the knees must not be locked, the hips must not thrust unnaturally forwards, the breastbone should be held upwards and outwards in order to allow the rib cage to expand fully, the shoulders must remain relaxed and slightly back, the elbows should be out and away from
the body, the head must remain naturally erect and vertical with the chin down and back, and the
instrument must 'meet' the embouchure without contortion.>>
Gerald B. Webster, Grove Music Online, Oxford University Press, 2006, acc. 6/3/06.

When Tosi/Agricola ("Anleitung zur Singkunst", Berlin, 1757) emphasize that 'a young singer must always learn to sing standing up in order to allow the voice to develop in complete freedom' and Agricola provides a footnote pointing to Mattheson's "Der vollkommene Capellmeister" Hamburg, 1739, p. 98, where the latter states, in essence: "Contributing to the advantages gained by a good singer who has a positive effect on his listeners are 1. proper posture of the entire body; 2. the way the face is turned/tilted; 3. The manner in which the head is carried on the body; 4. the way the hands move or are positioned when holding the music; all of these factors not being as successfully accomplished when a singer sits on a chair as when the singer is standing. When standing, the singer must not bend forward or backward, much less sway from side to side as many of them do. I do remember a little exception to this rule: If the singer sits upright on a chair (not sitting back too comfortably), the body moves about less than it does when standing and it is then possible to accumulate more 'spare' air/breath and sing a note longer without taking a breath than while standing, but it is necessary not to have the elbows resting on the arms of the chair, but only the hands in the same way that coachmen do this when they are driving."

Mattheson does not indicate, however, what body position/posture Georg Heinrich Bümler had when he personally heard the latter sing a trill for 20 measures without taking a single breath!

Indications recorded by Michael Praetorius in his "Syntagma musicum" III, Wolfenbüttel, 1619, are that he had his "pueri" ("boy singers) standing, and particularly when they performed solos. He was always mindful of the fact that the instruments might 'cover up' the sound/volume/pronunciation of the voices, even that of a choir of voices. He recommended always leaving a definite space between voices and instruments with the instruments either behind or off to one side. Since Praetorius often had his choirs of voices and instruments of various types and sonorites moving to various places throughout the church even during one church service, it is difficult to imagine the instrumentalists having chairs wherever they were asked to perform. When referring to where he puts his singers and/or players, Praetorius tends to use the verb 'stellen' and not 'setzen' which in German implies a result that is 'stehen' (standing) rather than 'sitzen' (sitting).

Arnold Schering can offer very little information on this subject in regard to the placement/posture of singers and instrumentalists during Bach's time, although he does discuss various placements. Schering thought that the Thomaner would have to stand in order to sing over the edge of the solid balcony. With all the renovation and lack of records that would provide definitive dimensions of the layout, who knows, for certain, how high this railing was? Schering imagined the Stadtpfeifer playing from a raised, adjoining balcony. Would they have been standing or sitting? Would Bach have been concerned that, if they were indeed standing, they might be too loud for the voices to be heard properly?

Douglas Cowling wrote (June 3, 2006):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< Arnold Schering can offer very little information on this subject in regard to the placement/posture of singers and instrumentalists during Bach's time, although he does discuss various placements. Schering thought that the Thomaner would have to stand in order to sing over the edge of the solid balcony. With all the renovation and lack of records that would provide definitive dimensions of the layout, who knows, for certain, how high this railing was? Schering imagined the Stadtpfeifer playing from a raised, adjoining balcony. Would they have been standing or sitting? Would Bach have been concerned that, if they were indeed standing, they might be too loud for the voices to be heard properly? >
I just did an illustrated lecture before the May concert by the Tallis Choir of Toronto which reconstructed, a la McCreesh, 18th century high mass with the music of Mozart.

The following slides show the choir loft at the Church of Maria Plain near Salzburg where Mozart's music was frequently performed.
http://www.mariaplain.at/index.php?id=164

Although it is a Catholic church and smaller than St. Thomas. Leipzig, I was struck by a number of features which relate to questions which have arisen here.

The first thing is that the gallery is extremely shallow which forces the performers to stand almost in a single line. I'm guessing that in the 18th century (even as late as Mozart's time), the continuo group was centrally located so that there was close communication between the organist who had his back to the other performers.

The first and second violins must have been on the left and the right facing towards the organ. I think it was CPE Bach who said that his father led performances as principal first violin rather than organist.

And the singers? Did they line up in a single row along the railing as soloists now do at modern concerts?

The most interesting feature is the two little balconies above the main gallery which have their own doors. This is apparently where the brass and winds were located. The Leipzig arrnagements are rather confused but this kind of separation of the winds and brass makes some sense in this church.

Above all, the performing space is small and intimate.

 

Continue on Part 5

Choir Form: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9
One-Voice-Per-Part (OVPP):
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11 | Part 12 | Part 13 | Part 14 | Part 15 | Part 16 | Part 17 | Part 18 | Part 19 | Part 20 | Part 21
Articles:
Bach’s Choir and Orchestra [T. Koopman] | Evidence for the Size of Bach’s Primary Choir [T. Braatz]
Books on OVPP:
The Essential Bach Choir [A. Parrott] | Bach's Choral Ideal [J. Rifkin]: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

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