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Choir Form
Part 5

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Choir Alignment

Rick Canyon wrote (January 19, 2007):
In Bach's "Brief, but necessary..." document regarding the needs for a proper choir, he says quite flatly that each choir needs at least 3-3-3-3 SATB (tho 4-4-4-4 would be even better).

When I watch male choirs today--at least, the main ones--it appears almost without fail that there are substantially more sopranos and altos than tenors and basses. Understandable, of course since we're talking immature vs mature voices and to achieve a balance... The Harnoncourt CO DVD is an example.

But, Bach didn't have this problem? His sopranos and altos could compete head-on with tenors and basses in choruses? He didn't, for example, have to resort to 4-4-2-2? From the ages given in Thomas Braatz's roster of Thomaners, it appears some were in their early to mid 20s--hardly immature, inexperienced voices to put up against sopranos and altos.

So, why would a larger contingent of S&A sound better today than in Bach's day?

(is it possible Bach might have used 3-3-3-3 here so as not to confuse his Leipzig council any further? Imagine him trying to explain why 4-4-2-2 is better to those people. Besides, would the council folk even know how Bach aligned his choirs in practice, anyway?)

Bradley Lehman wrote (January 19, 2007):
< In Bach's "Brief, but necessary..." document regarding the needs for a proper choir, he says quite flatly that each choir needs at least 3-3-3-3 SATB (tho 4-4-4-4 would be even better). >
Umm...it doesn't say that all of those people have to be (or even "should be") available or performing, all at the same time and in the same sections of the same piece of music. Just that such a group is necessary to staff the music that is to be done, somehow, with several singers who might be deployable in any given piece. The curriculum of music to be performed by the top-level ensemble requires that many people, and at that reasonable skill level, to keep up with the required work across a whole season with a presentation every week. Plus the other several ensembles of student musicians who aren't as good as that, for the other duties and for their repertoires.

Bach was complaining that he didn't have enough people to cover the vast workload under his responsibility, and that they weren't good enough in addition to being too few in number.

Hence the books by both Joshua Rifkin and Andrew Parrott--which see--where it is argued closely and from this same document by Bach: that these musicians were deployed more like the members of a sports team (that's just a modern analogy to explain the principle). One musician per position, rotating in as needed/assigned.

Rifkin's book includes an extremely close and careful look at that "Entwurff" by Bach. And Parrott's is invaluable too, not only for the argument, but also for the many appendices of supplementary materials (tables of extant performance materials, dates, etc) and a reprint of Rifkin's older essay, plus remarks about its reception history.

These two books:
http://www.music.qub.ac.uk/tomita/bachbib/review/bb-review_DortmundBf5.html
http://www.music.qub.ac.uk/tomita/bachbib/review/bb-review_Parrott-EBC.html
(Both of which are fair reviews by Yo Tomita, in my opinion as another who has read both these books several times.)

Also, please keep in mind that it's absolutely pointless to "discuss" Rifkin's book with people who haven't actually read it. The antidote to this, of course, is to read it!

Douglas Cowling wrote (January 19, 2007):
[To Canyon Rick] This is notoriously difficult question and I think we must admit we don't have the evidence to make a decision about the size of the choir Bach used for his cantatas. The controversory revolves whether a "choir" was made up of multiple singers per part or one "soloist" per part.

It appears that there were two traditions dating from the 16th century. Tomas Luis da Victoria, the greatest composer of the Spanish Reniassance, evidently preferred the "choral" sound and his choir numbered 6-3-3-3 (with a larger number of boys on the topline). Palestrina, his exact contemporary, wrote for the Sistine Choir which always sang one to a part with adult males on the top line (sopranists in the 16th century, castrati in the 17th - 19th century).

This diversity continues into the 17th and 18th century. Praetorius in North Germany clearly envisages performance which have mutliple ensembles of single voices ('favoriti') and multiple voices ('ripieni') -- what we would call "soloists" and "choir". However, Monteverdi, his contemporary in Venice, clearly has one voice to a part and "tutti" merely means that all the "solo" voices are singing together.

I suspect that these two traditions of "solo" choirs and "choral" choirs continued into Bach's time, and we would have to know what forces Bach assigned to the Reniassance and Early Baroque pieces which were the weekly staples of his choirs. What he expected in the cantatas of course is a seemingly insoluble problem. Parrott's book, "Bach's Choir", lays out the question which was first posed by Rifkin.

Our problem is that we are the inheritors of the choral society tradition which was a phenomenon which developed at the beginning of the 19th century. These were self-governing, secular middle class choirs made up talented but amateur singers. To accomdate both the growing interest in choral music and to offset the amateur quality of the voices, these choirs grew rapidly in size until they reached the 200-300 members which we see singing choral music today. It is at this time that greater number voices on the soprano and bass lines became fashionable, reflecting the sonority of Romantic music. Unlike the 17th and 18th centuries, the soloists were no longer members of the choir, but highly-trained professionals whose voice quality was dramatically different from their choral companions.

We still see this 19th century situation today when we go to a supposedly "authentic" concert: the soloists sit separately from the choir and never sing with them. In Bach cantatas this can lead to absurd situations where one soloist only has a single recitative to sing and sits there mutely. Even in the oratorios of Handel who used compartitively large choirs, the soloists always sang with the choir.

This dichotomy between "choir" and "soloists" was unknown to Bach. Whatever we think of Rifkin's OVPP theory, he shows quite clearly that the "soloists" sang with the "choir".

We will probably never know how many singers Bach used in his choir, but I suspect we should leave open the possibility that different works may have called for different size ensembles. "Gott ist Mein König" has big choir written all over it; "Gottes Zeit" is a perfect solo cantata.

Uri Golomb wrote (January 19, 2007):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< In Bach's "Brief, but necessary..." document regarding the needs for a proper choir, he says quite flatly that each choir needs at least 3-3-3-3 SATB (tho 4-4-4-4 would be even better). >
Umm...it doesn't say that all of those people have to be (or even "should be") available or performing, all at the same time and in the same sections of the same piece of music.

***************

Here is the quote in question, using Rifkin's translation (in the book, he explains exactly why he translated it this way). As he explains earlier in the paper, the word "chorus" in this quote does not refer to a piece of music (say, the opening choral movement of a cantata), but to a group of people -- the total number of singers he has at his disposal for services in a particular church. So "Each musical chorus" in the quote below means each of the four choirs that Bach was in charge of -- only one of which sang his own cantatas.

"Each musical chorus requires at least three sopranos, three altos, three tenors, and as many basses, so that even if one should fall ill (as very often happens, partiat this time of year, as the prescriptions written by the school physician for the apothecary must show) at least a double-chorus motets may be sung. (NB: Though it would be still better if the student body were so constituted that one could have four subjects for each voice and thus set up each choir with sixteen persons.)" (translation from Rifkin, Bach's Choral Ideal, p. 22).

I think it's clear that Bach is talking here, EXPLICITLY, about the use of some singers as back-up singers, to be called upon to replace their ill colleagues. And he doesn't say anything here, one way or another, about performances of his own cantatas {only one choir sang those, and he speaks here about all four choirs}, or anyone else's -- only about motets (by which he means, not his own motets, but the motets from collections like Eberhard Bodenschatz's Florilegium Portense, which were performed by all four choirs). And what he had in mind, it seems, was ONE-PER-PART renditions of these motets. Just do the maths. He asks for three each of voice, so that if one falls ill, a double-choir motet coudl be sung. Each choir is in four parts, so the motet as a whole is in eight parts. Bach actually says he needs two singers in each vocal range -- making a total vocal complement of eight voices to form an eight-part motet. In other words, he was assuming the motets would be performed OVPP.

So it seems that it could be paraphrased thus: "I need a minimum of 8 singers per chorus -- 2 sopranos, 2 altos, 2 tenors, 2 basses -- to enable me to perform double-choir motets. But if you only give me 8 singers, then if just one person falls ill, I cannot do the motet at all. On the other hand, if you give me 12 for each choir, then I have one back-up singer for each vocal range. 16 would be better still -- then I can have TWO back-up singers per range, so that even if two sopranos (or altos etc.) fall ill at the same time, I'd still be able to replace both of them". [This doesn't necessarily mean that, if Bach had 12 singers, he only used four of them as back-ups; it does mean that this passage from the Entwurff says nothing, one way or another, about how he deployed, or wanted to deploy, the singers in his cantatas].

Caveat: this is largely a summary of a small part of Rifkin's argument. Rifkin is not to be held responsible for my paraphrase, nor is this a representation of his entire argument -- just of one part of it.

Bradley Lehman wrote (January 19, 2007):
Uri Golomb wrote:
< (...) [This doesn't necessarily mean that, if Bach had 12 singers, he only used four of them as back-ups; it does mean that this passage from the Entwurff says nothing, one way or another, about how he deployed, or wanted to deploy, the singers in his cantatas].
Caveat: this is largely a summary of a small part of Rifkin's argument. Rifkin is not to be held responsible for my paraphrase, nor is this a representation of his entire argument -- just of one part of it. >
Wise words as always.

One possibility that I wish could be explored further, but I don't recall seeing in either Rifkin's or Parrott's books or elsewhere in print, is the obvious (to me) one of deploying different singers at various movements in any given cantata. Joe, Charlie, Dan, and Bob, you've got the opening chorale fantasy. John, you're on aria 1 and its recit. Bill, Sam, you've got the next duet. usw.... And they could still be understudies for one another, too, in case any of those guys got indisposed or failed to learn his part(s) in time. Good reason to have a sizeable stable of singers who might be deployed on any given movement.

And this has nothing to do, one way or another, with any modern OVPP performance/recording of same music failing to hire five, six, seven soloists to be shuffled into a total of four voice parts. Different financial and cultural situation.

I do remember playing in a B Minor Mass (BWV 232) perf where the conductor assigned every vocal solo to somebody different. He still used big chorus of about 80 on the "chorus" movements, and none of us questioned his practice; but the soloist rotation seems a natural thing to do, given a sufficient group of solo-worthy singers all deserving a turn, or simply having different strengths in different style/tessitura.

Uri Golomb wrote (January 19, 2007):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< One possibility that I wish could be explored further, but I don't recall seeing in either Rifkin's or Parrott's books or elsewhere in print, is the obvious (to me) one of deploying different singers at various movements in any given cantata. >
Which would mean, of course, that the same physical parts (one containing all soprano lines -- choruses and solos; one containing all alto; etc.) would have been passed around between the singers. Certainly possible, if they were standing next to each other. AFAIK, the parts don't contain such indications -- but this in itself doesn't prove anything: they could have simply remembered (and/or relied on cues from the director) who sang which movement.

Lehman:
< I do remember playing in a B Minor Mass (BWV 232) perf where the conductor assigned every vocal solo to somebody different. >
Sounds a bit like Gardiner's recording (though his chorus is smaller). In the Cantus Cölln recording, there are ten singers there; but instead of having 5 concertists and 5 ripienists, each singer gets to be a concertist in some movements, and a ripienist in others. In addition, each of the ten singers gets to sing at least one aria or duet. This probably wasn't Bach's own practice -- he seems to have observed a stricter concertist/ripienist division -- but it works very well anyway.

Bradley Lehman wrote (January 19, 2007):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
<< One possibility that I wish could be explored further, but I don't recall seeing in either Rifkin's or Parrott's books or elsewhere in print, is the obvious (to me) one of deploying different singers at various movements in any given cantata. >>
Uri Golomb wrote:
< Which would mean, of course, that the same physical parts (one containing all soprano lines -- choruses and solos; one containing all alto; etc.) would have been passed around between the singers. Certainly possible, if they were standing next to each other. >
Or just pop out to singing position when it's his turn, and hold out his hand to receive the part. (Which he might have already memorized at least to some extent, during his preparation, but that's another issue....) And probably some up-and-down anyway when they had tacet movements; whoever's not performing at the moment gets out of the way. All of this happening in the balcony out of the congregation's sight.

< AFAIK, the parts don't contain such indications -- but this in itself doesn't prove anything: they could have simply remembered (and/or relied on cues from the director) who sang which movement. >
Or rehearsals! I don't see a compelling reason why the parts would need to say anything about handoffs, one way or the other. Whoever is to sing the part could hold it.

Ed Myskowski wrote (January 20, 2007):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
<<< One possibility that I wish could be explored further, but I don't recall seeing in either Rifkin's or Parrott's books or elsewhere in print, is the obvious (to me) one of deploying different singers at various movements in any given cantata. >>>
Uri Golomb wrote:
<< Which would mean, of course, that the same physical parts (one containing all soprano lines -- choruses and solos; one containing all alto; etc.) would have been passed around between the singers. Certainly possible, if they were standing next to each other. >>
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< Or just pop out to singing position when it's his turn, and hold out his hand to receive the part. (Which he might have already memorized at least to some extent, during his preparation, but that's another issue....) And probably some up-and-down anyway when they had tacet movements; whoever's not performing at the moment gets out of the way. All of this happening in the balcony out of the congregation's sight. >
This is 100% consistent with the now legendary (in my mind) unrecovered reference of the Thomaner alumnus, later in life, recalling the performances as chaotic. Is this triple hearsay, or hearsay cubed? I read something about somebody saying something, I can't recall where. But I am anxious to tell you about it. Feel free to pass it on, ascribed to me. I told you so.

< Or rehearsals! >
No special relevance, but why let a sleeping dog lie (lay?)

Eric Bergerud wrote (January 20, 2007):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< Also, please keep in mind that it's absolutely pointless to "discuss" Rifkin's book with people who haven't actually read it. The antidote to this, of course, is to read it! >
I've read Parrott's book twice (it includes Rifkin's original paper on OVPP) and every interview I can find of Rifkin's on the web. The argument is a serious one. The issue that I can't sort out, however, concerns the "ripienists." It strikes me that neither Rifkin nor Parrott have really given us a picture of how many reinforcements were employed or how often. Lacking this knowledge, it's still pretty hard for me to envision what type of choir one might have seen at Leipzig on any given Sunday. (Other than it would have been all male. I hate to nag on this issue, but I would like to hear an OVPP ensemble employ at least a treble and (ideally anyway) a boy alto along with tenor and bass. Unless they do, I'm not sure issues concerning what a small choir was capable of can be addressed fully. Of course I suppose one could take the coward's way out and claim Bach's boys were so much better than ours that the comparison is impossible.) And any way you look at it, the attack on the Entwurff is very legalistic. This factor doesn't make it wrong. However, historians get nervous whenever they have to argue that although a document seems to say one thing, it really means another. I would treat the issue with proper humility unless we stumble on some Rosetta stone that makes the situation very clear.

I'm not at all sure that in the real world the musical merits of Rifkin's arguments are the only part of the issue. It has got to be tempting for several reasons to keep the size of an ensemble down, not the least cost. (A member of the American Bach Soloists admitted as much to me.) As it stands the only ensembles recording cantatas now that Koopman is done are Suzuki's, Petite Band and the Montreal Baroque - the last two OVPP. I have several OVPP recordings and I like them: some very much. However, I hope the OVPP issue remains one of musicology and not economics. If it does, ensembles will remain free to record or perform with the choirs of choice, accompanied by instrumentalists playing music of choice. (It would be a little insane for an OVPP conductor wielding the baton over two adult males and two adult females to throw any eggs at a larger ensemble on historic grounds considering the fact that the one thing we do know about Bach's choirs is that you would not have seen adult females.) Personally, I'm glad Rifkin made the argument; think he may well be right but hope that OVPP becomes only a part of the choral scene not its center.

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (January 20, 2007):
Uri Golomb wrote:
< Sounds a bit like Gardiner's recording (though his chorus is smaller). In the Cantus Cölln recording, there are ten singers there; but instead of having 5 concertists and 5 ripienists, each singer gets to be a concertist in some movements, and a ripienist in others. In addition, each of the ten singers gets to sing at least one aria or duet. This probably wasn't Bach's own practice -- he seems to have observed a stricter concertist/ripienist division -- but it works very well anyway. >
Works very well in what sense?

Although there seems justifiably to be objections from a historical perspective to SUPER-STAR soloist singers, in performances in our own day when a singer not suited to be a soloist gets ahold of something big, we have disaster.

It was just such a performance of the Johannes-P I had the misery once to attend. Well there were two of each and they were the chorus and from them came the soloists. I am no longer sure about the other "roles" but it was ausgerechnet the wrong mezzo who was given "Es ist vollbracht". The other one who did another aria, I knew the second I heard her that she was the one fit to sing that aria. The result was total abomination.

Theory is very well and good but in performance we have realities unless everyone in the small group can be up to the level of Iconomou (hope I have recalled his name correctly), the theory is not that aesthetic in resulting
performance.

Of course it can be. And of course I prefer small groups for the chorus and of course we need the right hall and acoustic and so forth.

Books and scholarly articles do not have to take account of such matters and seem to not care very much about the listening result.

Douglas Cowling wrote (January 20, 2007):
Eric Bergerud wrote:
< I hate to nag on this issue, but I would like to hear an OVPP ensemble employ at least a treble and (ideally anyway) a boy alto along with tenor and bass. Unless they do, I'm not sure issues concerning what a small choir was capable of can be addressed fully. Of course I suppose one could take the coward's way out and claim Bach's boys were so much better than ours that the comparison is impossible.) And any way you look at it, the attack on the Entwurff is very legalistic. >
You may want to listen to some of the recordings by the great English boys choirs such as King's College and St. John's, Cambridge. Their Bach recordings are full choir, but it is worth hearing their recordings of the music of Henry Purcell. Admittedly, this is 17th century music and very different from Bach, but the solo boys sing with extraordinary power and musicianship. It should also be noted that the men's voices are young students in their 20's and not the large bel canto voices which so often appear in performances of Bach. I would submit that these voices are much closer to Bach's adult soloists than a modern 45 yr old concert artist who has been on the Bach circuit for 20 years.

Thomas Braatz wrote (January 20, 2007):
Uri Golomb wrote:
>>Which would mean, of course, that the same physical parts (one containing all soprano lines -- choruses and solos; one containing all alto; etc.) would have been passed around between the singers.<<
No 'passing around necessary' according to Arnold Schering on p. 30 of "Johann Sebastian Bachs Leipziger Kirchenmusik", Leipzig 1936:

"Auf diesem [Stimm} Blatt sind die Chor= und Solopartien für die betreffende Stimme fortlaufend eingetragen oder mit einem 'tacet' bezeichnet, z. B. Sopran: Choral [tutti]. -- Aria tacet. -- Rec. tacet. -- Aria tacet. -- Rec., Aria [solo]. -- Choral [tutti. Demnach muß die Aufstellung so gewesen sein, daß der mittelste Sänger jeder Dreiergruppe -- der 'Solist' oder 'Konzertist' -- das Notenblatt hielt, in das bei Chorsätzen je ein Nachbar zur Rechten und zur Linken als 'Ripienist' mit hineinschaute."

("On this vocal part [usually only one part survives for each vocal part] the music to be sung by a given part is indicated in sequence with notation or a 'tacet' marking, for instance:

Soprano: Choral [tutti] -- Aria tacet -- Rec. tacet -- Aria tacet -- Rec., Aria [solo] -- Choral [tutti]

Accordingly the positioning of the vocalists must have been as follows: the middle singer in each group of three, the 'soloist' or 'concertist', held the part in his hand while during the choral mvts. one 'neighbor', as 'ripienist' standing on the right and one on the left would read/sing from the same part.")

No changing or switching of parts is necessary.

At particularly critical times of the year, Christmas and New Years (the latter lasting 2 to 3 weeks), special money was paid to a soprano Thomaner 'concertist' not to sing with the Kurrende who went about singing for long hours in the cold for which they would receive things in return. If Bach, although he would always be concerned about his singer's voice, could easily switch the solo parts around from one singer to anothe(the 'we're all on the same team' notion), then he could easily reason that out of the 3 boys at least one will be able to sing the solo part in his next cantata. But no, Bach selected in advance which Thomaner boy would not be allowed to make the rounds singing in the open air even at night day after day for almost a month, thus insuring that he would have a 'concertist' who was not hoarse or all tired out.

Bradley Lehman wrote (January 20, 2007):
< You may want to listen to some of the recordings by the great English boys choirs such as King's College and St. John's, Cambridge. Their Bach recordings are full choir, but it is worth hearing their recordings of the music of Henry Purcell. >
And the classic recording of Allegri's "Miserere" where Roy Goodman sang the nosebleed-high part. Same guy who went on to become a violinist, harpsichordist, and conductor.

Douglas Cowling wrote (January 20, 2007):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< Accordingly the positioning of the vocalists must have been as follows: the middle singer in each group of three, the 'soloist' or 'concertist', held the part in his hand while during the choral mvts. one 'neighbor', as 'ripienist' standing on the right and one on the left would read/sing from the same part.")
No changing or switching of parts is necessary. >
Ah, the infallible Braatzian "MUST" has been uttered, and the question which has perplexed dozens of musicologists has been solved!

No need then to note that there is no documentary or iconographical evidence that three singers shared a part. Two most certainly, but three is a physical impossibilty. Try it sometime! But then I forget myself. Common
sense and practical experience are never to be adduced as evidence.

Chris Rowson wrote (January 20, 2007):
Uri Golomb wrote:
< Umm...it doesn't say that all of those people have to be (or even "should be") available or performing, all at the same time and in the same sections of the same piece of music.
Here is the quote in question, using Rifkin's translation (in the book, he explains exactly why he translated it this way). As he explains earlier in the paper, the word "chorus" in this quote does not refer to a piece of music (say, the opening choral movement of a cantata), but to a group of people -- the total number of singers he has at his disposal for services in a particular church. So "Each musical chorus" in the quote below means each of the four choirs that Bach was in charge of -- only one of which sang his own cantatas.
"Each musical chorus requires at least three sopranos, three altos, three tenors, and as many basses, so that even if one should fall ill (as very often happens, particularly at this time of year, as the prescriptions written by the school physician for the apothecary must show) at least a double-chorus motets may be sung. (NB: Though it would be still better if the student body were so constituted that one could have four subjects for each voice and thus set up each choir with sixteen persons.)" (translation from Rifkin, Bach's Choral Ideal, p. 22). >
Has there been any consideration of the possibility that Bach wanted singers A, B, C and D rehearsing one cantata while E, F, G and H rehearsed the next?

Douglas Cowling wrote (January 20, 2007):
Chris Rowson wrote:
< Has there been any consideration of the possibility that Bach wanted singers A, B, C and D rehearsing one cantata while E, F, G and H rehearsed the next? >
This would certainly make sense if a second cantata was peformed at the communion or for the other motets at the introit and communion.

Chris Rowson wrote (January 1, 2007):
[To Douglas Cowling] I was wondering about rehearsing three cantatas in parallel, so that we have three weeks for each (where they are one a week).

Thomas Braatz wrote (January 20, 2007):
Chris Rowson wrote:
>>Has there been any consideration of the possibility that Bach wanted singers A, B, C and D rehearsing one cantata while E, F, G and H rehearsed the next? <<
Douglas Cowling wrote:
<< This would certainly make sense if a second cantata was peformed at the communion or for the other motets at the introit and communion. >>
>>I was wondering about rehearsing three cantatas in parallel, so that we have three weeks for each (where they are one a week).<<

All of this wild speculation based upon "how we might do things today could be applied to how Bach actually might have done it in Leipzig in the 1720s" needs to be tempered by a realistic appraisal of Bach's composing and performance schedule during his 2nd cantata cycle.

For further information on this point, consider also Johann Friedrich Fasch (information already presented fairly recently but apparently soon forgotten at: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Topics/Composing-4.htm

Here is a short excerpt of that:

Johann Friedrich Fasch wrote:

»Hier hatte ich gleich in dem ersten Kirchenjahre von 1722 bis 23 einen doppelten Jahrgang auf den Vor- und Nachmittag des Gottesdienstes zu componiren, daher bey jedem kleinen Festtage, der mir einfiele, ich selbige Woche 4 Kirchenstücke componirte; hierzu kam noch eine starke Passion und 3 Serenaten zu den hohen
Geburtstagen
«

("I immediately had to compose during my first "Church year" {we know from Bach that his "Church year" began with Trinity and not with Advent as in the liturgical year; I assume here that Fasch's began with Michaelmas) 1722-1723 a 'double' cycle of church cantatas, one for the morning service and a different one for the afternoon service, and for this reason I composed 4 cantatas a week including those needed for every little Feast day that I could remember; in addition there was a well-orchestrated(?) ["stark' = 'strong'] Passion and 3 Serenatas for royal birthdays.")

How can anyone consider, or even suggest, invoking some crazy rehearsal schemes that attempt to juggle more than one cantata at a time while switching 'ripienists' interchangeably with the concertists all the time for good measure as a kind of 'team-sport' effort?

Douglas Cowling wrote (January 20, 2007):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< How can anyone consider, or even suggest, invoking some crazy rehearsal schemes that attempt to juggle more than one cantata at a time while switching 'ripienists' interchangeably with the concertists all the time for good measure as a kind of 'team-sport' effort? >
Call me crazy but I didn't realize that Bach and Fasch were the same person! That's why I was so presumptuous to even SUGGEST that the presentation of two cantatas might entail two separate ensembles. This list better stop discussing these open questions freely; we'e annoying the Braatzian Oracle terribly!

Ed Myskowski wrote (January 20, 2007):
Eric Bergerud wrote:
< I would treat the issue with proper humility >
Expecting humility on BCML is what Shaw (I believe it was) called the triumph of hope over experience. He was actually referring to second marriages, but the principle is analogous.

Ed Myskowski wrote (January 20, 2007):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< All of this wild speculation >
We have been appropriately requested by the moderator to avoid this sort of inflammatory use of the controversial word speculation. Accordingly, I stopped reading at this point.

Chris Rowson wrote (January 20, 2007):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
"Call me crazy . "
Yes, I think he did, but it´s just the usual rabid wurst, we don´t have to take it seriously.

Uri Golomb wrote (January 19, 2007):
Eric Bergerud wrote:
< I hate to nag on this issue, but I would like to hear an OVPP ensemble employ at least a treble and (ideally anyway) a boy alto along with tenor and bass. Unless they do, I'm not sure issues concerning what a small choir was capable of can be addressed fully. >
Parrott did use boy altos as concertists in his recording of the B-minor Mass (BWV 232) -- they appear both in choruses and in solo numbers. It seems tthis caused balanace problems -- at least one of the boy altos overpowered the other soloists! (see: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Articles/Panito-Interview-B.htm). Parrott also used boys as ripienist in his Johannes Passion (BWV 245).

< Of course I suppose one could take the coward's way out and claim Bach's boys were so much better than ours that the comparison is impossible. >
Well, they seem to have been significantly older, and that does make a difference. I usually find it disconcerting to listen to a duet between a boy singer and an adult musician -- be it a singer (tenor/bass) or an instrumentalist (say, an oboist doing the obbligato part). All too often (and I'm saying this having heard most of the Teldec cantatas cycles, and several other recordings), the boy's phrasing sounds wooden and rigid, which is bad enough in an aria but even more jarring when you hear the same phrase being rendered much more flexibly and musically, a few seconds earlier or later, by a more experienced musician. I find it difficult to believe that this is what Bach had in mind. If Bach's trebles were over 15, it's quite reasonable to assume that they were more musical than the under 13s who usually sing these solos today.

If voices indeed break much earlier now than they did in Bach's lifetime, then HIS trebles are just not available anymore. I don't call this "a coward's way out" -- just a recognition that, one way or another, you have to compromise. Using boys much younger than those that Bach would have used is also a compromise.

Julian Mincham wrote (January 16, 2007):
<< Which would mean, of course, that the same physical parts (one containing all soprano lines -- choruses and solos; one containing all alto; etc.) would have been passed around between the singers. Certainly possible, if they were standing next to each other. >>
< Or just pop out to singing position when it's his turn, and hold out his hand to receive the part. >
Actually this would be entirely consistent with what we assume of instrumental practice at the time--a violinist emerging for solos and then returning to and rejoining the band for the ritornello statements. Soloists would not be seen in the same light as a soloist in a Cantata BWV 19 concerto---the Romantic idea of the individual set against, and triumphing over the majority. The Cantata BWV 18 soloists would have been seen as much as a part of the group as soloists.

It seems entirely logical to predicate a similar practice for choral work.

Neil Halliday wrote (January 18, 2007):
Eric Bergerud wrote:
"I've read Parrott's book twice (it includes Rifkin's original paper on OVPP) and every interview I can find of Rifkin's on the web. The argument is a serious one. The issue that I can't sort out, however, concerns the "ripienists." It strikes me that neither Rifkin nor Parrott have really given us a picture of how many reinforcements were employed or how often."
It does seem odd to me that Bach, in the Entwurff, should have been arguing for enough resources, particularly for his first choir, to perform other peoples' music, for example, apparently regular performances of double choir motets requiring 2SATB choruses, plus allowances for sickness, when the vast majority of his own cantatas only require an SATB chorus. If the Entwurff says that, for each choir, 4 sopranos, 4 altos, etc is better than three, surely he did not envisage only usually requiring one soprano, one alto, etc, for performances of his own cantatas? Presumably there were times when no one was sick. Did he envisage up to three of the preferred four being unemployed when he performed his own cantatas?

For this reason I'm having trouble with Brad's "one musician per position, rotating in as required" concept. The stated preference for four full time SATB for each choir seems to fly against this.

Did Rifkin/Parrott agree that at least some of the cantatas explicitly call for ripienists (not that it necessarily means OVPP if ripienists are not indicated) ? BWV 110 has been mentioned before. The piano reduction score at the BCW accurately shows the BGA designation of `Tutti' and `senza ripieni' for the vocal parts, and one can see places where it is impossible for `Tutti' to mean simply all the soloists.

Bradley Lehman wrote (January 20, 2007):
<< Has there been any consideration of the possibility that Bach wanted singers A, B, C and D rehearsing one cantata while E, F, G and H rehearsed the next? >>
< This would certainly make sense if a second cantata was peformed at the communion or for the other motets at the introit and communion.
I was wondering about rehearsing three cantatas in parallel, so that we have three weeks for each (where they are one a week). >

Makes sense to me, especially if the music is difficult enough to need several weeks of work to prepare it well. Which it is.

Bradley Lehman wrote (January 20, 2007):
Neil Halliday wrote:
< Did Rifkin/Parrott agree that at least some of the cantatas explicitly call for ripienists (not that it necessarily means OVPP if ripienists are not indicated) ? >
I guess you'll have to read their books to find out. So will Mr Braatz, who allegedly read at least some of Parrott's, but who has refused multiple times even to look at Rifkin's.

Bradley Lehman wrote (January 20, 2007):
Neil Halliday wrote:
< Did he envisage up to three of the preferred four being unemployed when he performed his own cantatas?
For this reason I'm having trouble with Brad's "one musician per position, rotating in as required" concept. The stated preference for four full time SATB for each choir seems to fly against this. >
Well, they were performing all sorts of music, not all of it (or even most of it) by Bach.

And "unemployed" meaning what? My suggestion was that they were all hard at work on some music all the time (which is a usual thing to happen at music schools and even among part-time music students!); just not necessarily performing all of it at the same instant in every single church service, as a group of 12.

And especially in Bach's difficult cantatas (which were handled by only the one top ensemble anyway). In some of the easier music, maybe the guys in the other ensembles were singing more than one per part...which itself doesn't say anything one way or the other about the top ensemble for Bach's own compositions.

Uri Golomb wrote (January 20, 2007):
Neil Halliday asked:
< Did Rifkin/Parrott agree that at least some of the cantatas explicitly call for ripienists (not that it necessarily means OVPP if ripienists are not indicated) ? BWV 110 has been mentioned before. The piano reduction score at the BCW accurately shows the BGA designation of `Tutti' and `senza ripieni' for the vocal parts, and one can see places where it is impossible for `Tutti' to mean simply all the soloists. >
Parrott's book has an entire chapter entitled "Bach's use of ripienists", including a detailed listing of those works for which ripieno parts (or other indications for the presence of ripienists) survived. A similar list appears in Rifkin's Bach's Choral Ideal. In most cases, ripienists doubled only some passages in a chorus, and not the entire movement (notable exceptions: St John Passion (BWV 245), cantata BWV 29 -- where ripienists are used throughout choral movements). This makes the existence of separate ripieno parts more important -- ripienists cannot simply join in for an entire chorus, they need precise indications when to start singing and when to stop. Given this, plus indications that ripienists stood separately from concertists (and therefore needed independent parts anyway), the absence of ripieno parts and other indications for ripienists' presence in otherwise complete sets of parts does suggest that no ripienists were used (though, of course, we cannot be 100% certain in each and every case).

Rifkin argues that ripiwere used in Leipzig before Bach came there, and when he came to Leipzig he initially used them along similar lines to his predecessors. Then, not too long after he started working there, he stopped employing ripienists, reverting to the concertists-only texture he used in Weimar and Koethen -- though there were occasions where he used ripienists later. He doesn't claim to know WHY Bach stopped using ripienists on most occasions, though he does offer some hypotheses.

Douglas Cowling wrote (January 20, 2007):
Neil Halliday asked:
< If the Entwurff says that, for each choir, 4 sopranos, 4 altos, etc is better than three, surely he did not envisage only usually requiring one soprano, one alto, etc, for performances of his own cantatas? Presumably there were times when no one was sick. Did he envisage up to three of the preferred four being unemployed when he performed his own cantatas?
For this reason I'm having trouble with Brad's "one musician per position, rotating in as required" concept. The stated preference for four full time SATB for each choir seems to fly against this.
Did Rifkin/Parrott agree that at least some of the cantatas explicitly call for ripienists (not that it necessarily means OVPP if ripienists are not indicated) ?
BWV 110 has been mentioned before. The piano reduction score at the BCW accurately shows the BGA designation of `Tutti' and `senza ripieni' for the vocal parts, and one can see places where it is impossible for `Tutti' to mean simply all the soloists. >
Your confusion pretty much reflects the scholarly state of the question. There just doesn't seem to be enough evidence to show how Bach deployed his forces or whether the cantatas were performed with single or multiple voices. I have always suspected that both the solo/favoriti and choral/ripieno traditions which Bach inherited from the 17th century were still operating in Leipzig.

I know this opinion will be brutally slapped down shortly but that will not change the fact that this is all an open question worthy of speculation.

Part of the problem is that we have all grown up in a concert environment where great choral music has to be monumental with large forces. Personally, I find it difficult to change my notions of how Bach should sound. I never liked large choral societies lumbering through the Passions but I'm not ready to like solo voices singing the "Sanctus" of the B Mnor Mass (BWV 232). And it's not just the presence of brass: Rifkin's OVPP performance of the "Et resurrexit" is marvellous. I love "Gottes Zeit" as a solo cantata but will never accept OVPP for the close of the "Christmas Oratorio" (BWV 248).

Rick Canyon wrote (January 20, 2007):
Eric Bergerud wrote:
< I've read Parrott's book twice (it includes Rifkin's original paper on OVPP) and every interview I can find of Rifkin's on the web. The argument is a serious one. The issue that I can't sort out, however, concerns the "ripienists." It strikes me that neither Rifkin nor Parrott have really given us a picture of how many reinforcements were employed or how often. Lacking this knowledge, it's still pretty hard for me to envision what type of choir one might have seen at Leipzig on any given Sunday. (Other than it would have been all male. I hate to nag on this issue, but I would like to hear an OVPP ensemble employ at least a treble and (ideally anyway) a boy alto along with tenor and bass. Unless they do, I'm not sure issues concerning what a small choir was capable of can be addressed fully. Of course I suppose one could take the coward's way out and claim Bach's boys were so much better than ours that the comparison is impossible.) And any way you look at it, the attack on the Entwurff is very legalistic. This factor doesn't make it wrong. However, historians get nervous whenever they have to argue that although a document seems to say one thing, it really means another. I would treat the issue with proper humility unless we stumble on some Rosetta stone that makes the situation very clear. >
I have Parrott's book also (read it, too!) along with his B-minor Mass (BWV 232) which I find myself rarely reaching for. His liner notes trumpet that "The present recording, which first appeared during the Bach tercentenary in 1985, employs the kind of forces that Bach not only used, but actually intended..." Then, of course, one hears a peformance featuring adult female sopranos.

But, my original question was whether Bach felt the need for a stronger presence among his youthful sopranos and altos to balance the more powerful voices of his tenors and basses. If one uses the Parrott recording as a guide, then we hear no extra support for the two sopranos, but for the alto...Panito I. is listed among the solists, but is listed again along with two other Tölzer "soloists" who I assume are actually the "ripienists" referred to in the notes as "occasionally augmented by extras: (ripienists)".

Thus, I wonder if there isn't some sort of semantical aspect here: everything is indeed done OVPP, but with "ripienists" supporting in what we would refer to as choruses. It's just that I'm not understsanding the difference between ripienists and 'choir members'. What is the difference between a 3-person alto section (call this the traditional view of a Bach choir) and an alto solist as OVPP. but supported by 2 ripienists in choruses? Is there any reason why Bach might not have then used tenor or bass ripienists, also? (tho perhaps fewer than for soprano/alto parts). I'm more than willing to accept the idea that the solists sang choruses as well as arias/duets. (The Harnoncourt CO DVD often has the solists singing with the choruses, tho still located in a separagte stage position)

The BWV232 I do reach for most often is the Robert King which uses Tölzer solists for all soprano/alto solos (which seems about as accurate as one can get). King, interestingly, makes the following point about OVPP, which he refers to as 'minimalist': "...the minimalist theory, whatever its scholarly basis, does seem to work better in the recording studio than in live performance."

Incidentally, the new Biller/Thomanerchor CD of BWV232 states quite flatly that the cantatas were "then performed by the twelve singers of the Choir of St. Thomas's Chorus Primus". It does appear that the 'Thomaskirche Seal of Approval', so to speak, is reserved for something other than OVPP.

Eric Bergerud wrote (January 21, 2007):
Boys and Choir Alignment

[To Uri Golomb] Couple of things:

1. There is no doubt at all that children today reach adolescence faster than those of even the late 19th century although it does appear that this trend has reached a biological end. This is not a "might" but a widely and long studied subject in the fields of demographics and physiology. (I ran into this subject while researching soldiers of the early and mid-19th century in comparison to those of WWII: it's a big field.) Today's children develop faster almost certainly because of superior diet and public health. In practice this means that a kid today is almost certainly has similar physical characteristics as one in Bach's era but reach the level quicker. Physically then, the voices today should be every bit as good potentially. Now that does mean, however, that Bach's boys would have had an extra 1-2 years of instruction before their voices broke. Would this have been a major factor? I don't know. I would really like to know what kind of musical background Bach's scholarship waifs had when they arrived at Leipzig and what kind of musical training they received later. I would strongly guess (but can hardly prove) that the "pool" of talent Bach had to chose from was not large. How it would stack up to that available to a top contemporary boy's choir is anyone's guess. Overall, I would say that there is precious little reason to think that Bac's musical raw materials were dramatically different from that employed by a modern cantor. When I say that using an all adult OVPP is the "coward's way out" I mean that arguing that Bach's boys are forever lost and thus there's no reason to try is also a good way of saying the musical world is a lot easier if one doesn't use boys. What we don't know and never will (as Gardiner has pointed out) is what the overall quality was of Bach's musical forces. Perhaps they were very poor by modern standards: perhaps superior: perhaps about the same: perhaps they varied greatly. Take your pick. (For speculation's sake, I'd guess Bach's musicians and today's could talk shop pretty well.)

2. I don't like the saxophone, hip-hop or Frank Sinatra. All have their fans. I do really like boys in choral music, but understand that others don't. I think of a boy's voice as an instrument: there are things they can't do very well but things that only they can do. Personally I think a duet between a boy and an adult can be something like magic. A boy soprano or alto that can hit the notes gives an aria a character unobtainable in any other way - I think it an easy trade off to listen to a few clunkers along the way to hear that almost astounding clarity that only a boy's voice can deliver. I find it very easy to imagine Bach having a similar attitude. Even a perfectionist has to make compromises in the real world if one wishes to stay sane.

Eric Bergerud wrote (January 21, 2007):
Neil Halliday asked:
< Did Rifkin/Parrott agree that at least some of the cantatas explicitly call for ripienists (not that it necessarily means OVPP if ripienists are not indicated) ? BWV 110 has been mentioned before. The piano reduction score at the BCW accurately shows the BGA designation of `Tutti' and `senza ripieni' for the vocal parts, and one can see places where it is impossible for `Tutti' to mean simply all the soloists. >
Yes they do. What is not clear to me (perhaps wiser heads have read more closely) is, in the Rifkin/Parrott model, how many of the cantatas called for ripientists, how many they called for and how different their role was from the soloists in the choruses. The only real way to approach this matter is to read Parrott's book, because the argument rests on a large number of small things that may or may not mean add up to something very important. It's a little like something from Agatha Christie.

Douglas Cowling wrote (January 21, 2007):
Eric Bergerud wrote:
< Now that does mean, however, that Bach's boys would have had an extra 1-2 years of instruction before their voices broke. Would this have been a major factor? I don't know. I would really like to know what kind of musical background Bach's scholarship waifs had when they arrived at Leipzig and what kind of musical training they received later. I would strongly guess (but can hardly prove) that the "pool" of talent Bach had to chose from was not large. How it would stack up to that available to a top contemporary boy's choir is anyone's guess. >
It depends on how prestigious the Thomas School was in 18th century Saxony and whether middle-class families competed for positions for their boys. If I recall from previous postings, there were auditions for scholarship positions and there must have been musically talented and educated boys entering each year. I would assume that Bach would review each new boy and assign him, based on his abilities, to one of the four choirs.

An exceptional child could well have been placed immediately in Choir 1 with the expectation that his background enabled him to sing cantatas immediately. Other children who had no musical aptitude but who could well have been good academically may have spent their entire time in Choir IV singing chorales. What is clear is that all the students sang in one choir or another.

To look at a modern situatiion, the great English choirs still have annual auditions for places in their choir schools and the competition is fierce for the top echelon: King;s College, Cambridge; Westminster Abbey, St. Paul's Cathedral, and Christ Church, Oxford. Not infrequently, talented boys will move up from a second tier choir to one of the top schools.

Given that Saxony was filled with musicians with talented children (the Bachs are the exemplar), the Thomas School could well have been a mecca for boys who expected to go into the family business. I think that it's a myth that Leipizig was a backwater and its institutions fusty and niggardly. The more I read about the city tells me that the Thomas School was a top school in one of the premier cultural centres of Germany.

On the other hand, even orphans can produce extraordinary musicians, and we should remember that most of Vivaldi's virtuosic musician was wriiten for schoolgirls at the foundling hospital of the Pieta.

Alain Bruguières wrote (January 21, 2007):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< It depends on how prestigious the Thomas School was in 18th century Saxony and whether middle-class families competed for positions for their boys. If I recall from previous postings, there were auditions for scholarship positions and there must have been musically talented and educated boys entering each year. I would assume that Bach would review each new boy and assign him, based on his abilities, to one of the four choirs.
.../...
On the other hand, even orphans can produce extraordinary musicians, and we should remember that most of Vivaldi's virtuosic musician was wriiten for schoolgirls at the foundling hospital of the Pieta. >
I'm not sure I understand the point you're making here. Do you mean that there is a correlation between the children's social environment and their singing abilities? Or just that educated children in 18th century Saxony were likely to have a very good musical training before going to the Thomas School? In what way is it so surprizing that an orphan or a female foundling should turn out to be an extraordinary musician?

Rick Canyon wrote (January 21, 2007):
Eric Bergerud wrote:
< 1. There is no doubt at all that children today reach adolescence faster than those of even the late 19th century although it does appear that this trend has reached a biological end. This is not a "might" but a widely and long studied subject in the fields of demographics and physiology. (I ran into this subject while researching soldiers of the early and mid-19th century in comparison to those of WWII: it's a big field.) Today's children develop faster almost certainly because of superior diet and public health. In practice this means that a kid today is almost certainly has similar physical characteristics as one in Bach's era but reach the level quicker. Physically then, the voices today should be every bit as good potentially. >
During some research, I found a site not related at all to music. It was a food site which claimed that many European countries such as France and Italy thought Germans to be "Brutes" because they were so much bigger than other Europeans. This site further suggested that the reason for this was because German children received more protein through eating meat than did, for example, Italy where pasta dishes were common.

Thus, one might conclude further that the physical stature of SOME 16-17 yearolds who still had their soprano/alto voices were more physically developed than today's boy sopranos.

Additionally, as near as I can tell, during most of Bach's first decade in Leipzig, the conditions at the Thomas School were quite harsh. One could wonder if parents of any means would send their child into such an environment. On the other hand, poor families would see the Thomas School as a Godsend offering a free education.

This, however, undermines to some extent the earlier claim that Germans were bigger because they ate more meat. One would not think poor families to have as much meat on their tables. Still, in Bach's case--especially if one accepts OVPP as gospel--he only needed to find one soprano and alto who could sing.

 

Continue on Part 6

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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