Recordings/Discussions
Background Information
Performer Bios

Poet/Composer Bios

Additional Information

Choir Form
Part 8

Continue from Part 7

Choral singing too loud

Casimir Vetter wrote (June 14, 2007):
http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3870/is_200607/ai_n16522878
Some article I found, complaining about the choir singing being bad at lots of places. It doesn't say about Bach but it was interesting. I thought it was cool they mentioned soloists can sing quieter, that's why they are soloists, but bad singers in choir just blast it out.

Maybe a composer could make his music harder on purpose, to MAKE SURE it gets practiced by good people who know how to do it right. If it seems too easy it would get done by musicians who don't listen, didn't work on it and just make a loud mess?

Jean Laaninen wrote (June 14, 2007):
[To Casimir Vetter] Casimir Vetter I am a singer so I can tell you a couple of things that might help.

Soloists are not necessarily so quiet, but they sing with a precision that means they cannot over-do with their voices or their good vocal qualities will be lost to wear and tear. That means that they must know how to use the air fast to produce big sounds, high sounds or quick sounds rather than shouting.

Choirs are sometimes considered bad because some careless directors do not care about protecting voices and want the loudest sound they can get. But the ones I have known have been mostly wise and wished for people to be able to understand the words and to have the emotional quality of the performances be refreshing. So they strive for variety of tone quality, and they teach singers safe ways to make the bigger sounds when they are needed.

In Bach, and in the Cantatas the main feature of the singing from a technical stance is elegance in my view. When trying to sing in an elegant manner graceful tactics are best employed by the entire choir. A good director works on vowel and consonant sounds, and helps the singers understand the story that their singing will convey. Many singers in Bach choirs are also very capable soloists. Many singers in good chorales have years and years of vocal training even if they did not become famous. Most singers do not become famous. Only about 3-4% of vocal performance graduates from universities become well-known or have major public careers according to the professional vocal coaches I know.

Some soloists have very deep and resonant voices, but they must learn to sing in a precise and light manner usually beginning with studying Italian in vocal training. Their diction must be flawless. Such good work is very hard to do and many good singers have to be brave to withstand criticism if they want a solo career. Which singer to like is many times a matter of personal taste.

I have been told that only 3% of the world's sopranos sing Bach Cantata solos because of the technique and focus and flexibility that is required. I work on Bach vocal pieces a long time before they are pretty good, and likewise when playing the piano or organ (in the past) publicly, and with the flute as a rule.

I hope this helps.

Ed Myskowski wrote (June 14, 2007):
[To Casimir Vetter] I dunno (ACE for 'I don't know', short for 'I do not know') the only Bach reference is 'it doesn't say about Bach'?

But the point is so sweet, it invites response. Difficult music, to be sure, cannot be sight read. Next time, I will pass along an anecdote about meeting Elliot Carter on a street corner in Boston, commenting on that point.

Soloists sing quieter, but bad singers just blast it out? Is this a translation confusion, or a matter of performance practice? I don't expect anyone on BCML has heard my occasional pub vocals (definitely bad singer). No choir, no foul.

Is this music too easy, or just a loud mess? Try OVPP.

 

OT - Handbells

Nessie Russell wrote (March 8, 2008):
Does anyone on the list have experience leading a hand-bell choir?

I took on a position this year as Music Director at a church. One of my duties is forming and directing a hand-bell choir. The church found someone to teach me how to do this. She is knowledgeable and when she shows up she is very good. I was left in the lurch again last week and have decided to work away on my own.

We have music for the bells. I can arrange music on my computer. What I am looking for is a good method book to buy. I am thinking of something like a piano series where you begin with very easy music and work your way up. Most of the people learning to play the bells are children aged 10 to 13. Please let me know if you can recommend a book.

William Rowland (Ludwig) wrote (March 11, 2008):
[To Nessie Russell] There are several you can buy. May I suggest that you engage your group in English change ringing excercises. THis was the original purpose of handbells and is much less dangerous than putting a beginner on a tower bell. This teaches timing and timing is everything in bell ringing. You do not need a book to do change ringing just an understanding of the mathematics behind it. Here is an incomplete change on 4 bells in which we will assign the number 1 to the highest pitched bell and 4 to the "bourdon" or heaviest bell.

1234
2143
2413
4231
4321
4312
3421
3241
2314
2134
there is an error here since the next sequence can not occur here as it is a duplicate of 2143 and the sequences are not complete since there should be 24 possibilities without repeating any sequence.
1234

a peal of 3 bells:
123
213
231
321
312
132
123

The above sequences are correct since there are 6 changes (mathemathically 3!) . We always begin with rounds and end with rounds such as in the above case 123.

Please not no sequence of bells can be run twice. THis can be mathmetically expressed as 4! or written out 1x2x3x4 =24 which is the total combinations possible in a 4 bell peal. The above shows how the bells are to be rung---note the X pattern.

Nessie Russell wrote (March 11, 2008):
[To Ludwig] Thanks Ludwig.

We have been doing something like this as a warm up. You are right - timing is everything in bell ringing.
I arranged a couple of easy pieces for Easter. I hope to have a method to begin with in April.

 

OT- Bells on Easter Sunday

Nessie (Anne) Russell wrote (March 24, 2008):
Thank you to all who responded on and off list to my query on bell music. I found a method book and will be using it for my bell choir. We read music here in Canada rather than numbers.

My bell choir made it's debut this morning. They were wonderful. I made up a piece and didn't exactly use proper bell techniques but nobody knew the difference. It sounded musical. The folks at the church were very happy.

I hope to teach the choir the proper way of ringing now. I can't see us performing a Bach Cantata in the near future but a chorale is possible and would sound lovely played by hand bells.

Jean Laaninen wrote (March 24, 2008):
[To Nessie Russell] Congratulations, Ann. I'm glad it went well, and that you found a book that will work for your group.

 

Bach's choir and orchestra size in Weimer

Continue of discusssion from: Cantata BWV 62 - Discussions Part 4

Jean Laaninen wrote (January 13, 2009):
Bach's choir and orchestra size in Weimer--question

Does anyone have this information. I do not have it in any references I have at home, though I do for Leipzig.

Thanks.

Paul T. McCain wrote (January 13, 2009):
[To Jean Laaninen] I can't put my finger on it, but I thought I read somewhere that Bach's choir/orchestra in Weimar was fairly small. Sorry, that's not much help.

Ed Myskowski wrote (January 13, 2009):
Paul McCain wrote:
>I can't put my finger on it, but I thought I read somewhere that Bach's choir/orchestra in Weimar was fairly small. Sorry, that's not much help.<
For once, I agree 100%!

Marcel Gautreau wrote (January 14, 2009):
[To Jean Laaninen] This inventory from Wolff, tbl 6.2 p. 158 (paper):
Weimar Court Capelle, 1714-15
Core:
Capellmeister
Vice-capellmeister
Concertmaster
Discant (2)
Alto
Tenor
Tenor/court c
Bass, vice court cantor
Bass
Chamber musician & violinist (3)
Chamber musician & violinist (1 no-resident)
Bassoon

Field:
Trumpeter (6)
Timpanist (1)

Other:
Alto
Bass
Lackeys, town musicians, gymnasium choristers

"Cantatas...primarily involved the core group of the Weimar court capelle...From March 1714, the group consisted of three leaders, seven singers and five instrumentalists... Compared with the size of the capelle in 1700...the ensemble had grown from twelve to fifteen... Altogether, the resources for mounting sacred and secular musical performances at the Weimar court, by smaller and larger ensembles, were considerable and quite adaptable."
---p. 157

Jean Laaninen wrote (January 14, 2009):
[To Marcel Gaureau] Thank you Marcel, for the information on the Weimer Court Capelle.

This helps.

Ed Myskowski wrote (January 14, 2009):
Marcel wrote:
>This inventory from Wolff, tbl 6.2 p. 158 (paper):<
Leave it to a Quebecker ((?) wild guess!) to think to look in a book!

We can now await Aryeh' s post, directing us to the BCW page containing the info.

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (January 14, 2009):
Jean Laaninen wrote:
< Thanks, Paul. It may then, compare to Leipzig. >
Not really, since in each of the three main churches in Leipzig, there were 12 singers (that is, 12 per church), and since it was customary (at least for a "Well-Regulated Church Music") to use about 18 instrumentalists (20 if including Flutes).

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (January 14, 2009):
[To Marcel Gautreau] That tells us very little, however, about the ensemble sizes that Bach used whilst in Weimar. Remember, Bach in Leipzig noted that there were deficiencies in the Leipzig roster of instrumentalists, and therefore he had to go elsewhere to fill these vacancies. The same may have been true for Weimar.

Jean Laaninen wrote (January 14, 2009):
[To David Glenn Lebut Jr.] Thank you David. Maybe you can help me with a little more detail. What I am trying to understand is the number of singers and instrumentalists used in both Leipzig and Weimer in cantata services in the church.

There is also information about the castle chapel and how many of each persuasion were generally available.

What I am hoping to understand in general is the size of Bach's cantata groups given both the castle and church settings are referred to variously, and if the music for the church and the music for the castle chapel would have generally been performed by the same number of people in both cases. Perhaps some of the same people would have been used in both instances?

Some time ago we had many discussions on how many singers per part, given four parts, and the total seemed to be 12, with three to a part in many instances.

Taking this a little further I wonder if motets for double choir, or instances of double choir technique in the cantatas might have also used additional performers, or if the parts were divided differently and sometimes carried by a single singer.

I think I read recently that as a rule no more than twenty singers would have ever been used in Leipzig.

In some ways these questions that have come up in my mind are not so crucial, but as I am preparing to write introductions for next summer I am thinking in more depth of the context of performance in Bach's time than I have in the past.

I appreciate your help.

Douglas Cowling wrote (January 14, 2009):
David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote:
< That tells us very little, however, about the ensemble sizes that Bach used whilst in Weimar. Remember, Bach in Leipzig noted that there were deficiencies in the Leipzig roster of instrumentalists, and therefore he had to go elsewhere to fill these vacancies. The same may have been true for Weimar. >
Parrott and Rifkin both point out that a roster does not necessarily mean that all the singers performed on every occasion. They argue that OVPP was the norm.

Kim Patrick Clow wrote (January 14, 2009):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< Parrott and Rifkin both point out that a roster does not necessarily mean > that all the singers performed on every occasion. They argue that OVPP was the norm. >
Exactly, and this applies to instrumental parts-- especially the strings, in MOST instances, a single set of string parts survives for the players. This is also the case for cantatas by all of Bach's peers such as Telemann, Graupner, Fasch, and Stölzel, unless there was a lavish cantata for a specific feast day that required large forces.

Telemann constantly complained about the lack of musicians in Frankfurt and he had to pay out of pocket for the extra players and would often sing solos as well; this continued while he was director of music in Hamburg. In most circumstances, I believe the evidence shows a very small orchesta and choir participating.

Jean Laaninen wrote (January 14, 2009):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< Parrott and Rifkin both point out that a roster does not necessarily mean > that all the singers performed on every occasion. They argue that OVPP was the norm. >
Thank you Doug. Now this is starting to make even more sense to me.

I appreciate your help.

William Rowland (Ludwig) wrote (January 14, 2009):
[To David Glenn Lebut Jr.] This is the composition of Bach's Choir under ideal conditions. ( I am not including those needed for the B minor Mass since it alledgely never was performed), Occaisionally the instrumental sectins shrank down to half the size listed and the vocal part to one singer.

4 Sopranos
4 Altos
4 Tenors
4 Basses.

Total 16 singers from which Solists were often drawn and the gender of the choir was usually all male. If you recall ---Bach got fired because he allowed one of his wives to sing in the choir which caused quiet a scandal as these folks believed that women had no right to participate in the church liturgy.

Instruments were:
4 First Violins
4 Second Violins
4 Viola
2 Gamba or Celli

To the above was occaisionally added Viola d'amour and a Violone and Harpsichord (the last was never used except when the Organ was out). However, Violone generally should be left off as it makes the music sound particularly lugubrious. Gambas are prefered over Celli because the Cello did not make its appearance until the later compositions of Bach. The Gamba has a better blend also than the Cello for these works.

Woodwinds:
2 Tenor and Alto Blockflutes
2-4 Oboe da caccia (Bach invented this instrument)
2 Oboe
Organ.
To the above was added occaisionally Bassoon, and Oboe d'amour, Soprano Blockflute.

Percussion:
Tympani --usually two drums
Zymbelstern (from Organ)
Church Tower Bells (suspect that these were required)

Brass:
1-4 Trumpets in D
To the above was occaisionally added
1-2 Horns
1-2 Trombones.

Thus Bach's full Ensemble usually ran, normally about 15 choir and roughly 20 orchestra expanding up to about 35 on rare occaisions. Smaller ensembles are better in playing his works.

A number of years back; I organized and formed an Orchestra to do the Cantatas. At first I had an over abundance of players. The music with about 50 players and singers did not go over so well. When I trimed down the Orchestra to the above size----the music perked up and was much more lively and transparent and much better. One could easily hear all the counterpoint and other parts of the music.

Ed Myskowski wrote (January 14, 2009):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< Parrott and Rifkin both point out that a roster does not necessarily mean > that all the singers performed on every occasion. They argue that OVPP was the norm. >
And as several of us have noted, Daniel Melamed, with concise, clear, logic and writing applies that to the SMP, BWV 244.

Melamed is not necessarily the last word, of course (the last word is Finis! I am blocking my ears), but it is ludicrous to discuss this topic without addressing Melamed's data and conclusions.

William Rowland (Ludwig) wrote (January 14, 2009):
[To Ed Myskowski] That is true. IF you have ever been a director of music as I have and your players were mostly volunteers---you never know who might show up and have to be prepared for last minute conditions. Bach generally had a set of captive players---they were obligatted to the Church to play and sing and most did most of the time.

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (January 14, 2009):
Jean Laaninen wrote:
< Thank you David. Maybe you can help me with a little more detail. What I am trying to understand is the number of singers and instrumentalists used in both Leipzig and Weimar in cantata services in the church.
There is also information about the castle chapel and how many of each persuasion were generally available. >
So am I (at least about the sizes of ensembles used in the following areas: Eisenach, Ohrdruf, Lüneburg, Arnstadt, Mühlhausen, Weimar (both the main court and the smaller court [where Bach was employed for a time in 1703], and Koethen). Unfortunately, I have not seen any records for these locales.

< What I am hoping to understand in general is the size of Bach's cantata groups given both the castle and church settings are referred to variously, and if the music for the church and the music for the castle chapel would have generally been performed by the same number of people in both cases. Perhaps some of the same people would have been used in both instances?
Some time ago we had many discussions on how many singers per part, given four parts, and the total seemed to be 12, with three to a part in many instances.
Taking this a little further I wonder if motets for double choir, or instances of double choir technique in the cantatas might have also used additional performers, or if the parts were divided differently and sometimes carried by a single singer.
I think I read recently that as a rule no more than twenty singers would have ever been used in
Leipzig. >
Actually, again, that is an error.

Bach himself states that in the three main churches in Leipzig (the Nikolaikirche, the Thomaskirche, and the Neukirche) there were three Sopranos, three Altos, three Tenors, and three Basses each, and in the Peterskirche (the University church) there were two per part (these eight singers, Bach states, were also used as ripienists in works that used solo voice).

In regards to Instrumentalists, Bach states there should be:

2 or 3 for the Violin I
2 or 3 for the Violin II
2 for the Viola I
2 for the Viola II
2 for the Violoncello
1 for the Violon
2, or, if the piece requires, 3 for the Oboe
1, or even 2, for the Bassoon
3 for the Trumpets
and
1 for the Timpani

for a total of 18 instrumentalists

He also states that there should be two Flutes (as it often happens that Church music is often written with Flutes), thus bringing the total instrumentalists to 20.

At the same time, he states that in Leipzig, he lacked:

2 for the Violin I
2 for the Violin II
2 for the Viola
2 for the Violoncello
1 for the Violon
2 for the Flutes

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (January 14, 2009):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< Parrott and Rifkin both point out that a roster does not necessarily mean > that all the singers performed on every occasion. They argue that OVPP was the norm. >
Which was and is not true in the case of Bach's Sacred works in Leipzig, where Bach himself states that the three main churches each had three per part as far as Choristers were concerned.

Ed Myskowski wrote (January 14, 2009):
>Bach generally had a set of captive players---they were obligatted to the Church to play and sing and most did most of the time.<
I wonder about:
(1) The precise meaning of captive
(2) The relation between obligatted and obbligato
(3) Did they play and sing simultaneously, ala Glenn Gould?

Aloha, ed. Myskowski (proponent of the bec, short for flute a bec, better than recorder or blockflute. But no one ever listens to me)

Jean Laaninen wrote (January 14, 2009):
[To Ed Myskowski] Also thanks again for the additional information.

Jean Laaninen wrote (January 14, 2009):
[To David Glenn Lebut Jr] Also to Doug, Kim and Ludwig
Thank you for all of this information. I have printed out these details and added them to the notes I am collecting. This has been a great help. It's interesting how pinning down certainly details helps to give a clearer picture.

Ed Myskowski wrote (January 14, 2009):
>Which was and is not true in the case of Bach's Sacred works in Leipzig, where Bach himself states that the three main churches each had three per part as far as Choristers were concerned.<
It would be appropriate to cite the cource of Bach's statement, at this point.

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (January 14, 2009):
See below:

Ludwig wrote:
< This is the composition of Bach's Choir under ideal conditions. (I am not including those needed for the B minor Mass since it alledgely never was performed), Occaisionally the instrumental sectins shrank down to half the size listed and the vocal part to one singer.
4 Sopranos
4 Altos
4 Tenors
4 Basses. >
Actually, Bach stated that (in Leipzig) ideal conditions were three per part for each of the three main churches (2 per part for the University church).

< Total 16 singers from which Solists were often drawn and the gender of the choir was usually all male. If you recall ---Bach got fired because he allowed one of his wives to sing in the choir which caused quiet a scandal as these folks believed that women had no right to participate in the church liturgy. >
Not necessarilly singing in the Choir, but certainly in the loft when he was practicing.

< Instruments were:
4 First Violins
4 Second Violins
4 Viola
2 Gamba or Celli >
2 or 3 for Violin I
2 or 3 for Violin II
2 for Viola I
2 for Viola II

Remember, in many of Bach's early cantatas, he wrote had a Viola I and a Viola II

< To the above was occaisionally added Viola d'amour and a Violone and Harpsichord (the last was never used except when the Organ was out). However, Violone generally should be left off as it makes the music sound particularly lugubrious. Gambas are prefered over Celli because the Cello did not make its appearance until the later compositions of Bach. The Gamba has a better blend also than the Cello for these works.
Woodwinds:
2 Tenor and Alto Blockflutes
2-4 Oboe da caccia (Bach invented this instrument)
2 Oboe
Organ.
To the above was added occaisionally Bassoon, and Oboe d'amour, Soprano Blockflute.>
2, or if the piece requires, 3 for the Oboe

Also, Bach did not invent the Oboe da caccia. Here is a blurb about the history of this instrument:

The instrument was likely invented by J.H. Eichentopf of Leipzig, Germany. [1] The first dated reference to the oboe da caccia is 1722, when composer Johann Friedrich Fasch ordered "Waldhautbois" from Leipzig for the court at Zerbst.[2] The first recorded use of the instrument is on 24 June 1723, when the Bach aria BWV 167/3, "Gottes Wort, das trüget nicht," from the cantata "Ihr Menschen, rühmet Gottes Liebe," was performed. As Bach had arrived in Leipzig just a month before, it seems hardly possiblethat he had been involved in developing the new instrument, even if one were to uestion the identity of the Waldhautbois a year earlier. But Bach was certainly the most prolific and most important composer for oboe da caccia, often using them in pairs. In 1723 alone, Bach wrote four cantatas using this instrument, the others being BWV 46 ("Schauet doch und sehet, ob irgend ein Schmerz sei," 1 August), BWV 179 ("Siehe zu, daß deine Gottesfurcht nicht Heuchelei sei," 8 August), and BWV 48 ("Ich elender Mensch, wer wird mich erlösen," 3 October).[3] Bach wrote extensively for the oboe da caccia in the years 1723-27 .[4] There are also significant parts for the oboe da caccia in his Christmas Oratorio (BWV 248, 1734), the Passions (Johannespassion, 1724, and Matthäuspassion, c. 1727), and the cantatas, especially in Cantata BWV 140, "Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme."

The other known compositions for the oboe da caccia are by Fasch [5] The oboe da caccia was used only in the late Baroque period, after which it fell out of use until interest in authentic performance in the 20th century caused it to be revived. During the period c. 1780-1820, roughly the Classical period, centering on Vienna, the soprano oboe underwent major changes first in bore and then in keywork. It is therefore understandable that the oboe da caccia, with its bizarre brass bell and difficult means of construction, was not selected for the same evolutionary "treatment." The prototypical English horn (corno inglese, cor anglais, cor anglé) was no doubt more suitable. Innovation was the watchword of the day, and antiquated instruments such as the oboe da caccia stood little chance of surviving (cf. the way in which the piano supplanted the harpsichord). A curious note: according to Cecil Forsyth in his famous book on orchestration, Beethoven was the last composer to write a part for the oboe da caccia until modern times. However, Forsyth wrote during a period when organology (the study of musical instruments) was in its infancy. Many of his statements, including the one about Beethoven, are questionable and in need of revision in light of modern research-in this case, Beethoven-in his Trios for two oboes and a deeper instrument in -clearly labeled this deeper part "corno inglese" (English horn).

< Percussion:
Tympani --usually two drums
Zymbelstern (from Organ)
Church Tower Bells (suspect that these were required)
Brass:
1-4 Trumpets in D
To the above was occaisionally added
1-2 Horns
1-2 Trombones. >
3 for the Trumpets

As to Trombones, many of the works that Bach wrote using Trombones either use 1 or 3.

Evan Cortens wrote (January 14, 2009):
Doug wrote:
>> Parrott and Rifkin both point out that a roster does not necessarily mean that all the singers performed on every occasion. They argue that OVPP was the norm. <<
David wrote:
> Which was and is not true in the case of Bach's Sacred works in > Leipzig, where Bach himself states that the three main churches each > had three per part as far as Choristers were concerned. <
I think it may prove helpful for this discussion (I'll refrain from calling it an argument, though that it will turn into one is likely a foregone conclusion; it always does) to cite some of our sources. David's numbers (three per part) come (principally) from the so-called "Entwurff", a document Bach wrote to the Leipzig town council bemoaning the state of his choral and instrumental forces. (While we're being honest, incidentally, Bach actually says three to four per part.) However, what he conspicuously does not say is: the concerted vocal music (i.e. the cantatas) were sung by three to four voices on a part. What he says (and you'll have to forgive me, I don't have my NBR or Parrott handy, so I'll paraphrase) is that the choir consists (ideally) of three to four voices per part. This difference is not insignificant, and Rifkin (and later Parrott) have argued that the number represents an ideal "roster" from which the singers were drawn. (Convincing, I think, given that in the same paragraph, Bach complains of rampant illness decimating his performing ranks. I think it's believable then to suggest that Bach might have "padded" the numbers, to give him a little buffer.)

However, regardless of the number of singers in the choir (whatever that means, as I've said above), we remain stuck with answering the question of what they actually sung from. Overwhelmingly, there is only one extant manuscript part per voice type (I should say part here, for we may be dealing with a piece with more than one of a given line, as in the SMP or the BMM) for the concerted vocal music. This leaves us with two options if we are to maintain that twelve to sixteen people sang from four sheets of paper: rampant loss of vocal material or part sharing. The former, in my opinion, is unlikely, given that this is a situation across all of Bach's concerted vocal music, regardless of provenance. It's simply to large a coincidence that extra vocal parts were thrown out across the board. The latter option is more troublesome. Parrott and Rifkin demonstrate that sharing of parts was unlikely, and I won't rehash their arguments here. I will simply say, however, that if Bach (or his copyist more likely) took the trouble to copy out additional violin parts (typically two firsts and two seconds) and additional continuo parts (typically one figured/transposed [organ] and two unfigured/untransposed), why not copy out additional vocal materials? I've sung in many choirs, as I'm sure many of us have, and I'll attest that two people singing from a part is managable, three difficult, and four (IMO) impossible. Add to this that the parts are often not as clean and clear as a modern day printed vocal score (nevermind that they don't contain a reduction of the orchestral part, or the other chorister's parts to aid your singing) and that the music was often no more than a week old (in the early Leipzig years). I would argue that the vocalist would need to focus on that part (for the choruses and solos, at least) rather intensely, being unable to look away for more than a moment.

Anyway, I hardly hope to convince anyone here, but let the argument continue (but with more citations, please!)

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (January 14, 2009):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
>Which was and is not true in the case of Bach's Sacred works in Leipzig, where Bach himself states that the three main churches each had three per part as far as Choristers were concerned.<
< It would be appropriate to cite the cource of Bachs statement, at this point. >
"A Note in Bach's Hand on the Minimum Requirements of the Choirs [1730?]"

In the Nikolai-Kirche
the 1st choir requires:

3 Sopranos
3 Altos
3 Tenors
3 Basses

At the Thomas-Kirche
the 2nd choir:

3 Sopranos
3 Altos
3 Tenors
3 Basses

At the New Church
the 3rd choir:

3 Sopranos
3 Altos
3 Tenors
3 Basses

The 4th choir:

2 Sopranos
2 Altos
2 Tenors
2 Basses

And this last choir must also take care of the Peters-Kirche (University church).

This note has been thought to have been an appendix to the "Short but most Necessary Draft for a Well-Appointed Church Music; with Certain Modest Reflections on the Decline of the Same". It can be found in
the Bach Reader.

Ed Myskowski wrote (January 14, 2009):
David responded to my request for source:
>This note has been thought to have been an appendix to the "Short but most Necessary Draft for a Well-Appointed Church Music; with Certain Modest Reflections on the Decline of the Same". It can be found in
the Bach Reader.<
For the most current thinking on the possible nature of this document, see <Bachs Changing World, originally recommended by Will (Fugitive Notes) Hoffman. I do not have the book in hand, but I can recover a more complete citation, if necessary.

The gist of the article is this document was written by Bach as ammunition for his side of the Pietist vs. Orthodox squabble on the Leipzig council. The reason it has survived intact is becasue it was never needed! It was filed away, unread and unused. Hence it comes down to us in such pristine condition.

Rather as if your boss were to ask you to write a memo for him, jusrifying your staff needs for the coming year, so your boss can make his case to the CEO. Certainly not the last word (that would be Finis!, remember?), but a very credible interpretation.

Once again, serious argument requires serious research, and it especially requires staying current. Nobody ever said scholarship was easy, or fun. Just another job. Listening to music is fun.

Douglas Cowling wrote (January 14, 2009):
[To Evan Cortens] You've admirably summarized the dilemma of the documents and the manuscripts. And offered it without a dogmatic tone. We simply don't have the documents to show how Bach peformed his cantatas.

Ed Myskowski wrote (January 14, 2009):
Evan Cortens wrote:
>The latter option is more troublesome. Parrott and Rifkin demonstrate that sharing of parts was unlikely, and I won't rehash their arguments here. I will simply say, however, that if Bach (or his copyist more likely) took the trouble to copy out additional violin parts (typically two firsts and two seconds) and additional continuo parts (typically one figured/transposed [organ] and two unfigured/untransposed), why not copy out additional vocal materials?<
There are many pages in the BCW archives, probably enough to more than one conventional book, suggesting without any evidence, that Bachs lads sight read his music, three to a part, in poor lighting.

If you find that credible, I have bridge I could sell you. That would be the Brooklyn Bridge, the one where Sonny Rollins used to practice, resuolting in the album (LP, actually. Albums were groups of 78 RPMs) <The Bridge>. Easy financing available.

I second Dougs comment, thanks for the reasoned post, but the turf has been covered so many times there is not even an ant alive, let alone a blade of grass. Perhaps a Middle East desert war zone would be a good analogy?

Jean Laaninen wrote (January 14, 2009):
[To Evan Cortens] I have made copies of your extensive comments, and added them to my notes.

There's a good point to be made for not knowing exactly how many singers were available, but so far I am at least persuaded that the choirs were small in contrast to some pretty large and elaborate performances as we have today. I appreciated the video posted by Kim and Aryeh and got to thinking about the smaller ensemble idea. The singing of Bach 's larger works in my experience is no doubt in very great contrast to things as they were in Bach's early charges.

David Jones wrote (January 14, 2009):
[To Marcel Gautreau] the "Himmelsburg" gallery was a great idea in terms of visuals and acoustics but I read that it was a rather tight space, and so cold in winter that Bach had to warm his hands over hot coals.

Julian Mincham wrote (January 14, 2009):
Bach's choir and orchestra size

I seem to recall that Brad made the point a year or two ago that a lot of hot air could be avoided if people actually read what Rifkin and Parrott actually wrote. Rifkin was the pioneer, first putting forward the argument of OVPP in 1981. Parrot's book was an excellent followup produced to coincide with Bach year 2000. If you only have the time to read the one (I suspect most libraries could get hold of a copy) I'd suggest the Parrott because 1 it's very readable 2 it's very well researched 3 it has the advantages of looking back over nearly two decades of practice and debate. It is the case, however that he bases his arguments on evidence more from the Leipzig works than from those composed in Weimer.

This in itself raises an interesting point. Bach reused a number of the Weimar cantatas particularly in the first Leipzig cycle. Whilst not all the sources exist, Dürr notes some cases where it is known that Bach changed keys and instruments for reuse. Maybe a comparative study of these different versions might illuminate differences of practice and resources from the two centres. I'm not aware of anyone having researched this properly--would make a good doctoral study for someone?

On the personal level I have heard live and recorded performances of Bach with all sorts of forces from OVPP upwards. My own conclusions are that the evidence (which i won't revamp here---see Parrott) suggests:

1 That Bach did not, in the usual cantata performances, employ
more than 3 voices per part

2 that the evidence for the use of 1, 2 or 3 voices is ambivalent and a case may be made for each

3 That all three combinations can work in performance given a balance with the instrumental forces.

The last point of which raises a practical issue. I have generally found that using pairs of string players often exacerbates intonation differences, particularly in student (non professional) performances. There is less of a problem with one or three players to a part. I wonder if this was something that Bach took into consideration? By all such accounts as there are, his acuity of ear must have been extremely good.

Uri Golomb wrote (January 14, 2009):
Julian Mincham wrote:
> The last point of which raises a practical issue. I have generally found that using pairs of string players often exacerbates intonation differences, particularly in student (non professional) performances. There is less of a problem with one or three players to a part. I wonder if this was something that Bach took into consideration? By all such accounts as there are, his acuity of ear must have been extremely good. <
I wonder if the physical placing of players and singers makes a difference in this context. One of the less-frequently-emphasised points of Rifkin and Parrott is that vocal ripienists usually stood separately from the concertists, not next to them -- unlike players. That is, if there were two first violinist, they sat (or stood) next to each other; but if there were two sopranos (one concertist, one ripienist), they stood well apart from each other, even if they sang the same music in the choruses. (thus, in the SJP, the "ripieno" choir stood apart from the "concertist" choir, even though they both sang the same music in choruses and chorales). This probably has an effect on issue of tuning and intonation -- though I can't say what effect. I'd best trust people like Parrott (and, IIRC, also McCreesh and Veldhoven), who have actually worked with this sort of physical arrangement, to explain how it differs from having the singers stand next to each other (all these people have also worked with choirs, where sections stand together). My one guess is that the two sopranos (and altos etc.) really couldn't tune with each other; rather, each of them had to match their intonation with the instruments nearer (or best-audible) to them.

Julian Mincham wrote (January 14, 2009):
[To Uri Golomb] Good point,

Julian Mincham wrote (January 14, 2009):
[To Uri Golomb] Moved to look up my edition of Parrott where he makes?a strong historical?case for the 'ripienists' (the additional and optional choir members whose purpose it was to reinforces the main choir or 'concertists') to stand apart (as Uri says) and therefore to 'require separate copies'. Parrott goes on to argue that because of the lack of numbers of surviving copies 'Bach used ripienists on only the very rarest of occasions' (p 39) His arguments in these respects are compelling--but i am not convinced from the evidence that Bach did not, on occasions use two concertists reading from the one copy.

If this was the case he may well have had three singers per part on the occasions when the ripienists were called upon.

John Pike wrote (January 14, 2009):
[To Julian Mincham] I would also recommend Rifkin's excellent book "Bach's Choral ideal", published by a German company but written in English. It's a short book but a clear guide to the OVPP issue. It includes the idea of rosters of singers from whom the performers for a particular work were chosen. In the Entwurff (which I do not have to hand) I think Bach says it would be good to have 3 or even 4 voices of each voice, but it is important to view this statement in context. He says, I believe, that the boys are often ill (as prescriptions would confirm) and that if there were 3 or even 4 of each voice available, one could still perform an 8 part motet, even if some of the singers were ill. Hence, the idea of a roster. Bach is NOT saying that there should be 4 people singing each part all the time. He IS saying that there needs to be a roster of 3 or 4 singers of each voice from whom he can draw the singers he needs. He is covering himself in case some of the singers are ill.

Of course, this issue will never be fully resolved unless further documents come to light, and my views on this issue vary with time but my current view is that Rifkin is probably right.

Jean Laaninen wrote (January 14, 2009):
John Pike wrote:
< I would also recommend Rifkin's excellent book "Bach's Choral ideal", published by a German company but written in English >
Thanks for all the suggestions made. I have access to the ASU Music Library (just 11 miles from home) and will be able to set aside a day before too long to go and look for some of these books. I also have a card for the Tempe Library, and their staff is excellent at getting books from inter-library loan. The last book recommended by John seems like something I might enjoy owning. Even though I grasp it is impossible to pin down exact numbers from all these conversations I am getting a view of flexibility in performance related to numbers, and the acoustic considerations are always interesting to a person who sings.

Douglas Cowling wrote (January 14, 2009):
Julian Mincham wrote:
< 3 That all three combinations can work in performance given a balance with the instrumental forces. >
This is a tricky question as modern assumptions about "balance" are affected by Romantic proportions where, even with small ensembles, the singers outnumber the players by at least three to one, more in choirs of two or three hundred. 18th century sources (and we're not referring to Bach here) tell us that orchestras were generally larger than the choirs. Handel in particular used large orchestras. Even accounting for acoustic differences between period and modern instruments, that is a very different balance than what we normally expect.

Another factor which affects the balance situation is the acoustic phenomenon of performing in an elevated gallery. The intimate chamber sound which is ubiquitous in modern studio performances of Bach cantatas does not give us an idea of what a choir and orchestra sound like when the sound is amplified by the ceiling of a church and projected out above the listeners' heads. Nearly all of Bach's choral lines are doubled by instruments and this strengthens the sound, so much so that a small choir singing in a gallery will sound like a much larger body of performers.

Performances from the front of a church distort and muddy the sound, even when the building has a historic connection with the music. But modern audiences rarely tolerate invisible performers, unlike Bach's congregation for whom the choir and orchestra were always invisible.

Ed Myskowski wrote (January 14, 2009):
Jean wrote:
>Even though I grasp it is impossible to pin down exact numbers from all these conversations <
Before accepting that conclusion, review Uri*s response, and on-line link, to Daniel Melameds work, the most up-to-date on the subject, I believe, and thoroughly grounded in the preceding work of Rifkin and Parrott.

This is a convenient spot to repeat my previous note, re the <Entwurff Document>, which is the only real citation used to contradict Rifkin et al. The most recent scholarly opinion, from <Bachs Changing World>, is that the Document is in fact a politically convenient posture, which was never even introduced as evidence. It does not represent documentation of Bachs working methods, not even his necessarily his personal or professional preferences.

There is a tonne of excess verbiage in these pages on the topic. A gram of careful reading and thought is highly recommended, for anyone seriously interested. With Melamed available on-line, it is probably not even necessary to leave the house, perhaps not even the bed, depending on lap-top capabilities. One can then pursue his references and sources at leisure,to confirm his conclusions for oneself.

Julian Mincham wrote (January 14, 2009):
<< 3 That all three combinations can work in performance given a balance with the instrumental forces. >>
< This is a tricky question as modern assumptions about "balance" are affected by Romantic proportions where, even with small ensembles, the singers outnumber the players by at least three to one, more in choirs of two or three hundred. 18th century sources (and we're not referring to Bach here) >
Parrott does refer to Bach on this point and is uniquivocal in his view that Bach's instrumental groups were very much larger than the 'choirs' perhaps to a factor of 4 or 5 to 1. He argues that we have reversed the proportions--we are used to large choirs and smaller orchestras and the C18 baroque tradition was the reverse. Spacing, placement and the?less strident qualities of the C18 wind instruments are all factors of course?as, maybe, are assumptions about voices and voice training. Another Romantic heritage, along with notions of balance and choir/orchestra proportions may well be the development of the C19 'operatic' voice which , although powerful enough is often quite unsuitable for the lines of Bach's religious music or even (I suggest) much of the operatic music of the period. But the 'three tenor' sound probably, even uncounsciously, influences the way we think of voices no matter how much we try to get away from it.

There is a lot still bearing down upon us?rather burden-like from the Romantic heritage which even the full 100 years of the C20 has not been able to dispense with entirely. Like it or not, those C19 practices and composers have certainly had a lasting and permeating ?influence---some might even say pernicious.

Marcel Gautreau wrote (January 14, 2009):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
> Leave it to a Quebecker ((?) wild guess!) to think to look in a book! <
Hardly - rather a complacent Ontarian of New Brunswick ancestry. The Québecois are Canada's newbie French (I'm told there was a Gautreau on the first boat here - probably got thrown out of France...). And I only thought to look in the book because I just finished reading it a couple weeks ago :)

The list may show what Bach ideally had at his disposal, but as with most organized government (oxymoron), that's not necessarily what he got to actually use? OTOH, would I be mistaken in assuming that performers in Weimar were a bit more skilled than (most of) those in Leipzig? Please correct me if I'm mistaken.

Joel Figen wrote (January 14, 2009):
Ludwig wrote:
< Woodwinds:
2 Tenor and Alto Blockflutes
2-4 Oboe da caccia (Bach invented this instrument)
2 Oboe
Organ.
To the above was added occaisionally Bassoon, and Oboe d'amour, Soprano Blockflute. >
What's a Blockflute. Why are there no parts for Blockflute in any Bach score I've ever seen?

Douglas Cowling wrote (January 15, 2009):
Julian Mincham wrote:
< Another Romantic heritage, along with notions of balance and choir/orchestra proportions may well be the development of the C19 'operatic' voice which, although powerful enough is often quite unsuitable for the lines of Bach's religious music or even (I suggest) much of the operatic music of the period. But the 'three tenor' sound probably, even uncounsciously, influences the way > we think of voices no matter how much we try to get away from it. >
I heard a live performance of "Christ Der Herr Zum Jordan Kam" last Sunday with an exceptional young university student who gave a first-rate performance of the cantata's brutally difficult tenor aria. I mused that I
was probably closer to the sound of Bach's young singers than I have been for a long tim.

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (January 15, 2009):
Jean Laaninen wrote to John Pike:
< Thanks for all the suggestions made. I have access to the ASU Music Library > (just 11 miles from home) and will be able to set aside a day before too long to go and look for some of these books. I also have a card for the Tempe Library, and their staff is excellent at getting books from inter-library loan. The last book recommended by John seems like something I might enjoy owning. Even though I grasp it is impossible to pin down exact numbers from all these conversations I am getting a view of flexibility in performance related to numbers, and the acoustic considerations are always interesting to a person who sings. >
Small world...I too live in Arizona!!!!!!!!! And in very east Mesa to boot!!!!!!!!!!!!.

You would probably not find the book in the Tempe Public Library (a facility I have visited on occasion).

I would recommend going to the ASU Music Library and comparing the book with the other sources they have there (such as the Bach-Jahrbuch, Bach Magazine, etc.). I personally favor the latter than the former.

Jean Laaninen wrote (January 15, 2009):
[To David Glenn Lebut Jr.]
It is a small world. I took Baroque Music Theory at ASU about five years ago, and have often used the library as a music resource, including digging in the stacks for information when good cross-referencing hasn't been available. The journals provide something extra, I have to agree.

I also use the library to help me select the books I buy--seeing them firsthand to know if they will be something I want to keep for a long time.

I also stop in at the ML off and on to read the flute publications, which I enjoy very much.

The Tempe Library doesn't have a lot on Bach, but their interlibrary loan efforts have turned out very well when I am looking for something specific. It's easiest to get specific loan items during the summer as they are less needed in the universities then.

I used to have an ASU Libraries community card, but when they went to a hundred dollars a year even for people who have worked (which I did) or attended there, I decided to let that go.

I told my husband that when we retired I wanted to live within 15 minutes of great culture, and I support the ASU Studio 303 vocal studio with photography and video a number of times a year, and also support the Lyric Opera Theater with time spent on costume sewing. These are my main senior volunteer efforts.

Anyway, most of my basic research for next summer is done so I know the contrasting elements, but the library will be very helpful in filling out the details of the individual cantatas and helping to make the discussion as interesting as possible. Thankfully, as there are many people who are scholars and well read on the list all of you will be able to augment the foundation I put down for a second season.

Neil Mason wrote (January 31, 2009):
Julian Mincham wrote:
< I have generally found that using pairs of string players often exacerbates intonation differences, particularly in student (non professional) performances. There is less of a problem with one or three players to a part. >
Yes, I have also found this.

Neil Mason (who is still alive, but still behind in his lurking)

Bruce Simonson wrote (February 3, 2009):
[To Neil Mason] I have also found that unless string players are very good, or unless they play with negligible vibrato and are carefully tuned, there will always be problems with intonation. With vibrato, one player could be on the high side of the pitch, and the other on the low side, and switch back and forth, as they do their individual vibrato. This can also lead to complicated tuning issues, if the vibratos are not executed together.

Even with no vibrato, a slight difference in pitch will be noticeable with two players, and much less so with three. The difference tones and overtone structures set up by three pairs of strings tend to cancel each other out, whereas with one pair of strings, the beats due to being out of tune will be far more apparent. It is no accident that many of the pitches on a piano have three strings, especially in the higher register.

Or so it seems to me.

 

Continue on Part 9

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

Introduction | Cantatas | Other Vocal | Instrumental | Performers | General Topics | Articles | Books | Movies | New
Biographies | Texts & Translations | Scores | References | Commentaries | Music | Concerts | Festivals | Tour | Art & Memorabilia
Chorale Texts | Chorale Melodies | Lutheran Church Year | Readings | Poets & Composers | Arrangements & Transcriptions
Search Website | Search Works/Movements | Terms & Abbreviations | Copyright | How to contribute | Sitemap | Links



 

Back to the Top


Last update: ęDecember 6, 2009 ę23:11:53