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Congregational Singing

Congregational Singalongs

Douglas Cowling wrote (December 21, 2010):
Peter Smaill wrote:
< Nevertheless, the absence of evidence of any formal church ordinance against singing along has to be noted as well. >
It would be interesting to categorize the chorales in the cantatas to determine which might be likely targets for congregational sing-along:

1) Chorale tunes in a harmonization in a high key with a new text by the librettists.

2) Chorale tunes in a harmonization in a high key with a familiar text. Examples: the concluding chorales of the St. John Passion (BWV 91) and "Wachet Auf" (BWV 140).

3) Chorale tunes with harmonizations in the key of the hymn book with new texts by the librettists.

4) Chorale tunes with harmonizations in the key of the hymn book with familiar texts. Examples: the concluding chorales of "Christ Lag in Todesbanden" (BWV 4) and "Gelobet seist du" (BWV 91)

Category 4 obviously presents the greatest danger/opportunity of congregations spontaneously singing along as they gradually recognized the tune and text. This could include the orchestral setting of "Vom Himmel Hoch" which closes Part One of the Christmas Oratorio. The same chorale at the end of Part Two would appear to be in Category 1.

Category 3 would seem to preclude participation, but the minority who had the printed libretto in front of them could easily have joined in. One hopes that the appearance of a familiar tune did not encourage congregational
hum-alongs.

Category 2 has the potential for real musical train wrecks as people finding the pitch too high, spontaneously dropped down an octave to sing along. We know that congregations singing chorales unaccompanied chose the most comfortable level over three octaves, including bass voices an octave lower.

Category 1 would be a true horror with hum-along in both lower octaves. It would sound like a giant Hoover starting up!

Ed Myskowski wrote (December 21, 2010):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< Category 1 would be a true horror with hum-along in both lower octaves. It would sound like a giant Hoover starting up! >
All the more justification for as much organ acompaniment as possible (for the organist). The 800 or so hum-alongs might be having a grand time for themselves, Hoover or not.

The mention of Hoover reminds of my all time favorite band name, a clarinet quartet: No Dogs Allowed.

Eric Basta wrote (December 21, 2010):
[To Ed Myskowski wrote] I am enjoying this discussion. On a tangential note, the concept of a congregational "sing along" would solve my personal inquiry of the seemingly out of place (in the practicality of musicians involved) inclusion of SATB chorales at the end of some of the solo cantatas (i.e. BWV 169). If the congregation was expected to sing the chorales doubled by the instruments - a chorus of musicians would be free for other duties during that time. I don't know the validity of this argument especially not knowing what other duties they may or may not perform.

Ed Myskowski wrote (December 22, 2010):
Eric Basta wrote:
< I am enjoying this discussion. On a tangential note, the concept of a congregational ?sing along? would solve my personal inquiry of the seemingly out of place (in the practicality of musicians involved) inclusion of SATB chorales at the end of some of the solo cantatas (i.e. BWV 169). >
There is a lot of discussion in the BCW archives, around the fact that many of the closing chorales have distinct script differences from the remainder of the score/parts. I believe fact is the correct word, with supporting analysis from NBA and KB. Alas, that data is not accessible to most of us, and the associated BCW discussion is opinionated, to use the kindest word I can summon at the moment.

Worth another look, with focus on the data.

Douglas Cowling wrote (December 22, 2010):
Eric Basta wrote:
< On a tangential note, the concept of a congregational „sing along‰ would solve my personal inquiry of the seemingly out of place (in the practicality of musicians involved) inclusion of SATB chorales at the end of some of the solo cantatas (i.e. BWV 169). If the congregation was expected to sing the chorales doubled by the instruments - a chorus of musicians would be free for other duties during that time. >
Bach's performing resources were:

1) the four choirs of boys and teenaged singers, each under the direction of an apprentice professional sub-conductor (the so-called "prefects"), and student instrumentalists from the Thomas School,

2) the civic waits who were paid instrumentalists,

3) the free-lance tenor and bass "extern" singers from the university who were paid by the gig.

Group 3 was probably contracted as needed.

Group 2 presumably had a roster of attendance dependent on Bach's requirements for concerted motets, masses and cantatas. They may have also have doubled in the congregational chorales (?)

Group 1 was obligated to attend every Sunday and most weekdays according to a weekly roster. Their presence was a feature of their religious education, and they were present even if they only sang as members of the congregation. It appears that there were benches around the periphery of the choir loft where the students sat. Those who were performing would come forward to the music desks where they stood to sing or play (only cellists and organists performed sitting down).

I was reminded of this when I attended Evensong in St. Paul's Cathedral, London, last year. The choir was singing an extremely demanding motet by Brahms, "Warum ist das Licht". Sitting in a special row of chairs was a group of very young boys who were clearly neophytes. They sang only the hymns, but each had all the music which the choir was singing and were expected to follow along and observe what the older boys were singing. Bach didn't have the benefits of modern cheap publishing, but a similar practice of observation was probably an important element of his pedagogy.

Julian Mincham wrote (December 22, 2010):
Eric Basta wrote:
< I am enjoying this discussion. On a tangential note, the concept of a congregational ?sing along? would solve my personal inquiry of the seemingly out of place (in the practicality of musicians involved) inclusion of SATB chorales at the end of some of the solo cantatas (i.e. BWV 169). >
I too have often wondered about this. I would guess that the soloist sings his part and the other three were drafted in from boys used for other parts of the service.. In solo soprano cantatas I guess that the soprano might have sung the chorale and it is possible that only instruments played the three lower lines. Or did they rely on the
congregations to join in on these occasions? I think, from memory that most of the harmonisations for these cantatas were simple and straight forward.

However not all the solo cantatas finish with a chorale (BWV 199, the chorale is intoned by the soprano as an earlier movement and a couple of the alto cantatas omit them entirely). Might this indicate that with the solo cantatas the four part chorale did create a problem and the easiest solution was to omit it?

Eric Basta wrote (December 23, 2010):
[To Julian Mincham] It is very difficult for me to visualize and understand the relationship between the musicians and the "audience" in the Baroque era in Leipzig. Was a cantata performance as lavish as a modern Bach concert with a backstage area for preparation and with celebrity like personalities, or was it much more interactive and low-key?

Is there no surviving documentation from newspapers, travel journals, meeting notes, etc. that may elucidate the common practice of congregational involvement in the church services? Unfortunately I don't have access to those type of historical documents, but surely someone in a related field (art, medical history, local religious stu.) may have come across something that may be helpful. I am listening to the St. Matthew Passion and wondering now if the congregation sang the choral melody in the opening chorus. Oh the joys of the mind!

 

Congregtional singing

Continue of discussion from: Cantatas in Church [General Topics]

Douglas Cowling wrote (December 27, 2011):
Michael Cox wrote:
< In practice, professional or semi-professional choirs and organists like to take chorales at faster tempi, while congregational singing always tends to drag behind, as all organists know. >
The Baroque tradition of the organist inserting an improvisatory flourish between phrases is probably a consequence of the universal tendency of large congregations to slow down at the end of each line. I've often wondered how Bach and his choirs kept the singing moving when the chorales were unaccompanied. Presumably a soloist sang the first line to establish tempo, but after a dozen verses, a congregation of a thousand would begin to wind down. Perhaps some of these hymns were sung 'alternatim' with the organ and choir taking the alternate verses to stabilize the tempo and pitch. Bach certainly would have learned all the tricks of the trade from his family. Alas, those tricks are beyond historical investigation.

David Jones wrote (December 27, 2011):
[To Douglas Cowling] But don't you think some of those tricks came down to the great improvisors on the organ, like Simon Preston?

Ed Myskowski wrote (December 28, 2011):
David Jones wrote [citing Doug Cowling?]
<< The Baroque tradition of the organist inserting an improvisatory flourish between phrases is probably a consequence of the universal tendency of large congregations to slow down at the end of each line. I've often wondered how Bach and his choirs kept the singing moving when the chorales were unaccompanied. >>
The choirs were likely OVPP. The chorales were accompanied by basso continuo, at a minimum. Emphasis on the *continuo*.

Kim Patrick Clow wrote (December 28, 2011):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
< The choirs were likely OVPP. The chorales were accompanied by basso continuo, at a minimum. Emphasis on the *continuo*. >
I'm always amazed at the number of continuo parts in German baroque cantatas, or in secular instrumental music for that matter too. My only theory is, the bass instruments were so soft during this period, they just couldn't carry enough volume, or everyone really wanted an "etched" bass line in performances. Sure some of it was due to chamber pitch organs versus regular pitch (so that's why there would be two or three keyboard continuo parts), but there are plenty of them marked "Violone" and "Basso" too.

Ed Myskowski wrote (December 28, 2011):
Kim Patrick Clow wrote:
< I'm always amazed at the number of continuo parts in German baroque cantatas, or in secular instrumental music for that matter too. >
Keep those singers (and fiddlers?) moving. Nothing sounds worse than a tune that starts to drag.

Kim Patrick Clow wrote (December 28, 2011):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
< Keep those singers (and fiddlers?) moving. Nothing sounds worse than a tune that starts to drag. >
Yes indeedy. The only musical drags I like are the ones composed by Scott Joplin and other ragtime writers ;)

Douglas Cowling wrote (December 28, 2011):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
< The choirs were likely OVPP. The chorales were accompanied by basso continuo, at a minimum. Emphasis on the *continuo*. >
Sorry, I was referring to the 5 or 6 congregational chorales during the Sunday morning mass, not the chorales in the cantata. The former were sung in three contrasting ways:

1) An organ prelude on the chorale followed by the congregation singing unaccompanied and in unison:
Track 24: http://tinyurl.com/6ospvk2

2) A prelude followed the chorale sung in unison with organ harmonies and improvised flourishes between the phrases:
Track 14: http://tinyurl.com/6ospvk2

2) A prelude followed the chorale sung in unison with organ and choir harmonies:
Track 3: http://tinyurl.com/6ospvk2

Although the cantata and its chorales may well have been OVPP, all the members of the First Choir were required by statute to be in the choir loft. They were probably expected to help join the congregational singing. I haven't seen any substantive scholarly discussion about whether the cantata orchestra also played in the congregational chorales. The cantatas' idiosyncratic scoring of the instruments doubling the voices at pitch could suggest that the players regularly opened their hymn books and played the appropriate soprano, alto, tenor or bass line.

Ed Myskowski wrote (December 28, 2011):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< Sorry, I was referring to the 5 or 6 congregational chorales during the Sunday morning mass, not the chorales in the cantata. >
Thanks for the clarification, as well as informative detail, as always.

 

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Last update: ýMarch 11, 2012 ý07:53:57