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Circulatio

Circolo / circulatio sources, typo, 'meaning'?

Tom Dent wrote (December 11, 2006):
< The 'circulatio', etc. is primarily text-based while a 'turn' is simply an ornament ('superficial' as opposed to being essential to expressing the text) which appears primarily in text-less keyboard music that is unrelated to any text (as a chorale melody with its associated text is in Bach's chorale preludes for organ).
Dietrich Bartel wrote: "As a symbol of perfection, the musical circle has a long tradition of expressing not only circular concepts but also the eternal, infinite, and complete, ultimately symbolizing God." >
I have looked at the German sources for 'circolo', 'circolo mezzo' 'circulatio' etc. at the BC website.

It is very clear that

1) they are talking about the same thing in different languages - Italian, German, Latin. Why choose 'circulatio' rather than 'circolo' or 'Circkel' etc? I don't think there can be any difference in meaning.

2) the meaning of the term is a particular pattern of notes. So far as the historical sources go, it is an entirely formal definition.

3) the pattern of notes is not the same as what we now call a 'turn'.

The Walther and Spiess excerpts make it clear (although someone has got it the wrong way round on the second page of the Walther excerpt: the labels 'groppo' and 'Circulo mezzo' should be switched).

Briefly: E-F-G-F or E-D-C-D is a 'circulo mezzo' i.e. half-circle. 4 notes going up and down or down and up.

E-F-G-F-E-D-C-D is a 'circulo' i.e. (full) circle. 8 notes going both up and down, and down and up.

In both these examples the second and fourth notes are the same.

Conversely, E-F-E-D or E-D-E-F would be 'groppo', or what we now think of as a turn starting on the main note. Here the first and third notes are the same.

Therefore, the SJP starts with a huge series of 'groppo's, not 'circolo's.

In BWV 91, Bar 12 contains no 'circulatio', whereas Bar 13 contains one 'circolo mezzo' (or two if you count the horn parts in thirds). In fact the excerpt contains no 'circulatio' at all, by the historical definition of a particular eight-note figure. The closest to a real 'circulo' is the vocal bass in b.14.

NONE of the old sources say anything about the figures being 'text-based'. Although they could well occur in singing, and indeed seem to originate from Italian vocal ornamentation - as does the 'groppo' and no doubt many other types of figure.

If someone wants to argue that a 'circolo' had a significantly different usage from the 'groppo' or the 'turn' (if indeed that ornament did occur in the old books), we should also get the definitions of those other figures. Perhaps it will then become clear that the 'circolo' was just another type of ornamental figure with, so far as those old writers were concerned, no esoteric meaning.

The one source, Kircher-Janovka (J. copied from K.) that does mention an extra-musical meaning, says simply that the musical 'circle' might represent a circular motion or action. (Not a circular 'idea' or 'content', which are Bartel's rather vague paraphrases.) This is naive tone-painting, which should be clear to every listener, and involves no esoteric meaning.

Now where does this leave Bartel's claim about musical circles and the 'eternal, infinite and complete'? It seems to be completely unsupported by his German Baroque evidence. He has to allow that

'Even Walther .. does not mention the text-interpretive nature of the figure'.

(Why 'even' Walther? Why write as if there was a 'text-interpretive nature', if so few sources mention it?)

'Vogt... includes it in his list of figurae simplices and not among his text-expressive figurae ideales'.

So much for the old textbooks.

Now, if we wanted to test the idea that Bach did use 'circulatio' for specific and well-defined texts, we would have to give an unambiguous and useful definition of which type of texts.

It so happens that the texts of all of Bach's sacred cantatas are about God ;-) who is assumed to be 'eternal, infinite and complete'. So that doesn't get us very far. Or rather, it gets us as far as realizing that Bach could use a 'circulatio' in each and every movement of each and every cantata, if he wanted to.

Whereas in order to test the idea, we need some indication of when the 'circulatio' would be less or more appropriate.

The floor is open for suggestions!

Alain Bruguières wrote (December 11, 2006):
[To Tom Dent] Thank you very much for providing us a synthesis of the souces at the BC site.

On Tim Smith's site: http://jan.ucc.nau.edu/~tas3/pubs/circ/circulatio.html we find the following assertion:
(referring to two examples from BWV 4 where a certain motif appears on the word 'kreuz)

The melodic contour of both examples involves an ascent to a higher pitch, descent to a pitch lower than the first, followed by a return to the first or one close to it. In 1650 this mannerism had been described by Athanasiys Kircher (/Musurgia Universalis/), as the aural equivalent of a circle, or /circulatio,/ representing either God, or the sun (which also rises, falls, and returns from whence it came). Johann Sebastian was no doubt familiar with the extra-musical connotations of this figure (after 1732 at least) as his cousin, Johann Gottfried Walther, had replicated Kircher's description of the /circulatio/ in his /Musicalisches Lexicon/ of that same year.

Can anyone confirm or infirm this claim about Kircher and Walther? If true, it suggests a different meaning for 'circulatio'(which would be what I called tentatively an X-motif).
<>
One would have to be more precise and to say what pattern of notes would correspond to what concept. This is precisely why I suggested the term 'X-motif', which corresponds to a precise pattern; the 'constructive hypothesis' being that an 'X-motif' may represent the cross.

Whether an X-motif is a special case of a circulatio, or not, depends on your definition of a circulatio.

Ed Myskowski wrote (December 11, 2006):
Tom Dent wrote:
< 3) the pattern of notes is not the same as what we now call a 'turn'.
[...]
Briefly: E-F-G-F or E-D-C-D is a 'circulo mezzo' i.e. half-circle. 4 notes going up and down or down and up.
[...]
E-F-G-F-E-D-C-D is a 'circulo' i.e. (full) circle. 8 notes going both up and down, and down and up.
In both these examples the second and fourth notes are the same.
Conversely, E-F-E-D or E-D-E-F would be 'groppo', or what we now think of as a turn starting on the main note. Here the first and third notes are the same. >
My understanding of the dictionary definition of turn is that it is not necessarily precise. It is most commonly a four note figure starting above the main note (E-D-C-D in these examples), but also includes the alternates starting below the main note (E-F-G-F), as well as both alternates starting on the main note (E-F-E-D or E-D-E-F), and perhaps five note variants on all of these at some times in music history.

I fail to see how this definition of turn does not include circulo mezzo and groppo from the above examples.

Are you suggesting that circulo is equivalent to circulatio, and refers only to an eight note figure (made up of two turns)?

In any case, the real problem is that the term circulatio has been used in score samples BWV 91, Example 4, without definition, and the problem is further compounded by attributing unsupported spiritual significance to the term.

I do not understand the relation of X-motif to turn or circulatio, if there is any such relation.

We have expended an incredible amount of energy trying to avoid giving a few notes as examples of these figures, including X-motif. We have had circles and parallelograms (with inscribed crosses) proposed as the defining figures for various terms. The present post corrects that, but gives what appear to me to be examples that fit the definition of turn, while stating that they are not turns.

It would be helpful, I suppose, to give an example of turn and how it differs from circulatio, circolo, or whatever. But the real issue remains the poorly labeled score sample. I do not know what discipline this exercise falls under, musicology, Bach expertise, or other, but the failure to confront a relatively simple issue in a direct way gives both the field and BCML a bad name.

The clearest example has been the eels from Couperin. Perhaps we would do better to think about what Bach might be suggesting by using these snaky figures (repeated turns). To say that they mean either a snake, or Christ, depending on the context is to say that they have no useful or special significance at all.

Bradley Lehman wrote (December 11, 2006):
Ed myskowski wrote:
< It would be helpful, I suppose, to give an example of turn and how it differs from circulatio, circolo, or whatever. But the real issue remains the poorly labeled score samples. (...)
The clearest example has been the eels from Couperin. Perhaps we would do better to think about what Bach might be suggesting by using these snaky figures (repeated turns). >
For what it's worth, that Couperin eel example remains here: with its snaky figures being played in both hands at the same time, in two different speeds: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BachCantatas/files/anguille.gif

< To say that they mean either a snake, or Christ, depending on the context is to say that they have no useful or special significance at all. >
No inherent significance, anyway, as to necessarily meaning the same thing at all times and all places, automatically; but such figures do have a useful significance in the hands of composers skilled in word-painting or idea-painting within the medium of sound. (Presumably we agree that music is principally sound, the motion of air disturbed by instruments/voices, and not merely _Augenmusik_ speculation?) Take, for example, the figurations that Prokofiev gave respectively to the flute, oboe, and clarinet in "Peter and the Wolf" to conjure up sounds representing respectively a little bird, a duck, and a cat.

=====

Also for what it's worth, this weekend I listened to eight recordings of the aria "Sehet, Jesus hat die Hand" from the St Matthew Passion (BWV 244), to hear the extent (if any) of chick/birdiness (illustrating the word "Küchlein" in the sung text, for that scene in the drama). This is principally in the two oboe-da-caccia parts, as I mentioned earlier.

I listened to Wöldike (late 1950s), Cleobury, Klemperer (1961), Harnoncourt (1970), Brüggen, Herreweghe (1984), Goodwin, and McCreesh. Among those, the three smoothest and un-birdlike (IMO) were Klemperer, Woldike, and Harnoncourt(!). Interestingly, Woldike and Harnoncourt both had the same 1st oboe-da-caccia player. All of those other post-1970 recordings of this movement seemed more characteristically birdy, to me, in part due to the simple expedient of being faster and having less time to execute the quick trilling figure...and also by having strongly articulated leaps in the 2nd o-da-c part in bar 4 and its analogous spot later.

I especially wanted to hear what Furtwangler and Mengelberg had done, but both of those omit this movement. Nor was it in the reconstruction of Mendelssohn's version, recorded by Spering.

The first I'd heard of this chick/birdy word-painting in this movement, myself, was back in a grad-school course in 1990/91. We spent the whole semester analyzing the St Matthew Passion (BWV 244) as one of our textbooks, along with dozens of other Baroque performance-practice resources. I was surprised as anybody to hear of this possibility of chicks/chickens in this movement, as I'd been most familiar with the Wöldike and Klemperer performances (where it's scarcely there)...until we looked at it closely in class, at which point it became rather obvious as a possibility. I simply hadn't paid enough attention to it that closely before that.

And, one of the oboe players in our class confirmed (by playing it) that it's certainly plausible to take those parts as illustrating a birdlike theme. If Bach (hypothetically) had wanted something considerably smoother than a honky/quacky/pecky/birdy effect in this movement, executing those quick trills and staccatos, he could have assigned it to different instruments.... (For example, have two viola players read it straight off the same clefs...with remarkably different effect!) The effort to get an oboe double-reed to sound at all contributes to sharp/bold note-attacks and releases.

Also as I recall, although it's been a couple of years now since I heard it last (and I don't have it on CD), Leonhardt's recording has some of the most strongly characterized and most obvious birdiness here. Anybody who has the Leonhardt recording care to comment on this?

=====

An excerpt from Herreweghe's booklet, where he has written an essay "Bach and musical rhetoric":

"The musical texture of an aria or chorus is thus created entirely of musical figures which always correspond to a rhetorical figure. Some of them conceal the evidence of this fact, but if one is thoroughly familiar with them, it can considerably enrich the reading of the score and often even reveal its deeper meaning.

"Of course this will not in any way guarantee the musical result: it is possible to be an expert on rhetoric but a wretched musician; and a musician of genius can, without knowing it, be closer to the rhetorical spirit than the most erudite musicologist. Finally, as is proven by recordings, it is possible to give magnificent interpretations outside this aesthetic approach. Nevertheless we believe that restoring its rhetorical character to the St Matthew Passion (BWV 244) can render the reading of it and the listening to it much more significant and alive.

"Balinese dancing can enchant us with its infinite charm, but, at the same time, it is a language; the gestures are, in the first place, signs, and we would lose nothing by understanding what they meant. In the same way, to approach the St Matthew Passion (BWV 244) from a rhetorical perspective is to give it its true dimension which is, above all, the amplification of the word, the slightest inflection of which is exalted by the music.

"From beginning to end we have endeavoured to make the recording in this spirit; in every instance we started with the text and its rhetorical elaboration. We therefore eschewed a certain 'profundity', a certain static, speciously tragic grandiloquence in favour of the discourse, the drama and the kaleidoscope of human passions. In this sense the task was performed with the singers, to be sure, but also with the instrumental players, because they, too, are always playing a text, and they must sing and speak, too." [Herreweghe, 1984-5, for his 1984 recording of the St Matthew Passion (BWV 244)]

Ed Myskowski wrote (December 11, 2006):
Brad Lehman wrote:
<< To say that they mean either a snake, or Christ, depending on the context is to say that they have no useful or special significance at all. >>
< No inherent significance, anyway, as to necessarily meaning the same thing at all times and all places >
Yes, thank you for the clarification (and amplification!). That is what I meant.

 

Tim Smith's 'Circulatio' figure

Thomas Braatz wrote (December 11, 2006):
Aryeh Oron has kindly placed my critique of Tim Smith's definition and application of the 'circulatio' figure.

It is found in a PDF format at: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Topics/Circulatio-Source.htm
On the page: Circulatio - Source Materials
you will find the article at the bottom of the list:
Tim Smith's "Circulatio"

Alain Bruguières wrote (December 11, 2006):
[To Thomas Braatz] Thank you for providing this clarification.

So now it becomes obvious that the X-motif (or X-trope, X-morpheme) is something completely different form the 'circulatio', andthat Tim Smith is talking about the X-thingumajig, not circulatio, as I suspected. Moreover both are a different from a 'turn'.

Since this all started fra discussion about 'Nun komm der Heiden Heiland', the 1st theme of the 4th fugue of the WTC, and the X-motif, I think that, at last, we can definitely eliminate 'circulatio' from that particular discussion!

We are making progress!

Tom Dent wrote (December 11, 2006):
circulatio laid to rest

Hmm, it seems that Tim Smith is even more confused and inaccurate about 'circulatio' than anyone posting here. Quite an achievement.

Here's the absolute easiest way to understand it:

'circulatio' or 'circolo' or 'Circkel' in the sources means a melody in CONJUNCT motion - all steps and no leaps - which goes down to a third below the starting note, then up again up to a third above, then back down to the start.

Or the other way up: a conjunct melody that goes up then down then up again.

Some sources specify that the figure should be made of 'little' notes, implying a relatively fast execution. The relevance to singing is that conjunct melodies can be sung more easily than disjunct, and therefore are more easily taken as ornamentation.

What Smith imagines 'circulatio' to be is extremely vague, but it seems to include a lot of DISJUNCT melodic motion: progression by leap. Thus H-C-A-B would qualify, despite having a leap from C-A. (In any case this cannot be a 'circolo' because it goes down only a second from the starting note, not a third; and becuase it does not return to the starting note).

The type of four-note figure Smith is talking about, with alternating upwards and downwards motion and a leap between the second and third notes, seems to be called 'chiasmus' by some. Or 'cross' or 'X' figure. Based on what happens if you draw lines between notes 1&4 and 2&3. Such a figure is very common, both in vocal and instrumental music, since it is bound to turn up whenever any melodic line alternates up- and down-leaping motion.

e.g. E-A-D-G ... an absurdly common bass line.

It also covers things like 'Der saure Weg' from Jesu meine Freude, or 'And with his stripes' from Messiah, etc. etc. ... which emphasizes its ubiquity and flexibility.

I haven't seen any historical source which connects this kind of leaping 4-note figure with the idea of the cross, but maybe that has already been discussed somewhere.

Confusingly, 'chiasmus' is also used for situations where one has a structure AB:BA. This is due to the arrangement

A B :
B A

where the 'cross' is clear to see. In this form it is a term of classical rhetoric. It seems that 'chiasmus' has further been abused to refer to forms in ternary form ABA, in which there is no 'cross' at all!
http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Topics/Chiasm.htm

Again it is not clear to me if Baroque sources recognised this as an expressive or meaningful technique, although some of Bach's vocal works seem to have overall structures which are symmetrical in some way. Such general forward-back symmetry could be more simply called 'arch form'.

Mr. Smith has a lot to answer for, it seems. As does anyone who introduces a historical term but gives it a non-historical meaning.

Douglas Cowling wrote (December 11, 2006):
Brad Lehman wrote:
< The first I'd heard of this chick/birdy word-painting in this movement, myself, was back in a grad-school course in 1990/91. We spent the whole semester analyzing the St Matthew Passion (BWV 244) as one of our textbooks, along with dozens of other Baroque performance-practice resources. I was surprised as anybody to hear of this possibility of chicks/chickens in this movement, as I'd been most familiar with the Woldike and Klemperer performances (where it's scarcely there)...until we looked at it closely in class, at which point it became rather obvious as a possibility. I simply hadn't paid enough attention to it that closely before that >
It's worth noting that figures with repeated non-cadential trills on the first note appear quite often as bird-songs. Handel uses the convention in "Hark 'Tis The Linnet" in "Joshua". And of course, it's all over the soprano's aria depicting birds in "The Creation", which is the last masterpiece of VERY Late Baroque word-painting.

Bradley Lehman wrote (December 11, 2006):
[To Douglas Cowling] Agreed. And that birdy stuff at the beginning of Vivaldi's "Gardellino" (goldfinch) concerto for recorder, Op 10 #3, rocks. There's even some trilly stuff for oboe during that same first movement, playing under the solo goldfinch/recorder.

I also like the jumping frogs as musically depicted in the aria about frogs, in Handel's "Israel in Egypt". I remember playing continuo for that once, with an alto soloist who couldn't count adequately or sing her melodic leaps confidently. The frogs were really raining that day, like in the movie "Magnolia".

 

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Last update: ęDecember 11, 2006 ę18:57:12