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Continuo in Bach’s Vocal Works
Discussions - Part 5

Continue from Part 4

Keyboard Instruments in Continuo Questions

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (November 30, 2004):
Here is a question for all you performers and musicologists out there:

When writing for Continuo and realizations of Continuo, does the Bass Clef on the Harpsichord have just the fundamental bass notes, or does it have chords as well?

Also, when including the organ in the Continuo group, what does the manual Bass Clef Play?

Doug Cowling wrote (November 30, 2004):
[To David Glenn Lebut Jr.] The ideal would have the keyboard player, on organ or harpsichord, play from a single bass line with figures, but few of us do it with sufficient regularity to be more than competent and most would certainly not attempt it with Bach. On the other end of the spectrum are the realizations which are so fully-worked out that all improvisation is impossible.

A good practical solution is to put the bass line alone in the lower staff and indicate the harmony in simple two voices in the treble clef. Then in performance you can fill out the harmonies and embellish ad lib. The keyboard doesn't have to double the bass line constantly.

Keep a realization for organ within the range of the treble clef and then the organist can add 4' and 2' stops for colour and dynamics. Too much upper passagework can create collisions with the winds. In choral works, many bass lines are cued with voice parts. Colla parte doubling is a matter of taste. The use of pedals needs to carefully considered. Most modern period performances use a portative.

In all situations, ask for time to go over the score in detail with the conductor. In these days of chronically under-rehearsed performances, the continuo player is a convenient scapegoat when there's mutiny on the high C's.

Bradley Lehman wrote (November 30, 2004):
David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote:
< Here is a question for all you performers and musicologists out there:
When writing for Continuo and realizations of Continuo, does the Bass Clef on the Harpsichord have just the fundamental bass notes, or does it have chords as well? >
The bass notes, plus figures. The performer might add the occasional chord for dynamic/rhythmic emphasis here and there (see CPE Bach's treatise on playing this stuff), as part of the expressive improvisation, but it's not notated by the composer or arranger. Let the keyboard player do his/her job.

< Also, when including the organ in the Continuo group, what does the manual Bass Clef Play? >
Usually the same bass line as everybody else, or a simplified version of it if it's packed with fast repeated notes. Looks the same as a harpsichord part, unless it's a transposing Chorton/Cammerton situation, in which case the organ part is notated in a different key. I hope you're not thinking of writing out a pedal part! (Presumably this is for one of your projects where you're trying to reconstruct or recompose the lost Passions?) Just give the organist a figured bass part same as for harpsichord or theorbo, and let the player work out what to do with it--as to registration, articulation, pedal (if any), or whatever. It's supposed to be an improvisation, and competent players know how to make it sound good.

For a good idea of playing style, check out Peter Williams' "Basso continuo on the organ" (two-part article from Music and Letters, 1969)...I have a reference to its full citation at: http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bpl/recits.htm

Also, for a good tastefully thin realization as an example, for either harpsichord or organ, see the recent Dover full score edition of Händel's Messiah. That's really all a player needs to see: the figured bass and optionally a couple light suggestions of chords here and there, and the rest is all tasteful improvisation. No fully written out part.

Hope that helps.

Or, should I have said "Peter Williams's"?

Brad Lehman
(hate to be given overly worked out parts, with too much thick junk in them...I just toss them out and play from the figured bass)

Neil Halliday wrote (November 30, 2004):
[To Bradley Lehman] If readers will excuse a little 'kite-flying' on my part, I will say, as a listener in the 21st century, I would like to to turn the whole tradition of continuo keyboard playing on its head, as it relates to performances of Bach's cantatas.

1. In movements with larger ensembles, dispense with continuo keyboard altogether. We have conductors these days, and ensembles that can stay in tune with the double basses/cellos, or whoever. (Nobody misses, nor would want to hear, a keyboard continuo in a Beethoven symphony, for example).

I have the utmost sympathy for Sir Thomas Beecham's famous remark - the sound of those "copulating skeletons" colouring Bach's (or Händel's) magnificent choruses, and more developed arias, is little better than irritating ('onya', Sir Thomas!).

In the case of the organ, fortunately, the mostly trivial harmonic fill from those toy "portative" organs cannot usually be heard over the ensemble proper (choir and orchestra).

2. In the case of continuo only movements, and movements with only one or two extra instruments that might sound 'bare' without a keyboard realisation; rather than a little two-part realisation on a single manual portative, or austere realisation/improvisation of figures, on a harpsichord, I suggest competent composers/arrangers write out a complete fully-developed part for harpsichord or piano, and or full size organ with pedals if appropriate.

Richter has given us some excellent examples of the possibilties with full-sized organs (except where he violated point 1. above), and McCreesh's use of a large continuo organ for the SMP (BWV 244) has been mentioned previously.

In other words - out with improvisation (who is genius enough to come up with something truly arresting 'on the spot'), and in with 'before-hand' preparation of the keybord continuo that will do justice to realising the full impact of the possibilities of the score.

Enough kite-flying for the day. Thank you.

Doug Cowling wrote (November 30, 2004):
Neil Halliday wrote:
< 1. In movements with larger ensembles, dispense with continuo keyboard altogether. We have conductors these days, and ensembles that can stay in tune with the double basses/cellos, or whoever. (Nobody misses, nor would want to hear, a keyboard continuo in a Beethoven symphony, for example). >
I disagree with just about everything in this posting, but there are a couple of interesting anomalies:

1) Bach arranged several movements from the cantatas as organ works, the most famous being "Wachet Auf". In that chorale-prelude writes just the three lines with none of the continuo realization that would have filled out the very same music in the cantata. Evidently the change of scoring and the presence of the sustained chorale melody permitted unrealized performance -- the most startling is "Meine Seele" which opens with the unadorned bass line.

2) Fortepiano was probably used by Haydn as a "continuo" -- although it was technically unnecessary to complete the harmony. In one of the late symphonies, the composer adds a delightful little piano cadenza before the recapitulation. Was it a joke about the old school of continuo-playing or a joke about turning the symphony into a concerto?

Stepping back to watch the spectacular flaming about to explode. I wonder which member will be the most personally offensive.

Bradley Lehman wrote (November 30, 2004):
<< (Nobody misses, nor would want to hear, a keyboard continuo in a Beethoven symphony, for example). >>
I would, and do. When it's not there, there's some rhythmic "bite" missing.

And, in the Mozart piano concertos, the solo part is supposed to emerge from continuo that has already been playing during the tutti, improvised by the soloist. It's an important part of the texture.

< 1) Bach arranged several movements from the cantatas organ works, the most famous being "Wachet Auf". In that chorale-prelude writes just the three lines with none of the continuo realization that would have filled out the very same music in the cantata. Evidently the change of scoring and the presence of the sustained chorale melody permitted unrealized performance -- the most startling is "Meine Seele" which opens with the unadorned bass line. >
Of course; good example.

That one also works nicely played on harpsichord for all three of the lower lines, with a singer or any melodic instrument on the two phrases of the melody. So does "Wachet auf". And "O Mensch, bewein" with violin....but we digress.

< 2) Fortepiano was probably used by Haydn as a "continuo" -- although it was technically unnecessary to complete the harmony. In one of the late symphonies, the composer adds a delightful little piano cadenza before the recapitulation. Was it a joke about the old school of continuo-playing or a joke about turning the symphony into a concerto? >
Symphony 98. Those accompanimental keyboard arpeggios right before the coda, with pizzicato lower strings, and melody in the violins.

Apropos of yesterday's remarks about improvised continuo:

< The ideal would have the keyboard player, on organ or harpsichord, play from a single bass line with figures, but few of us do it with sufficient regularity to be more than competent and most would certainly not attempt it with Bach. >
I agree, most don't attempt it with Bach; but some of us do. I've uploaded a sample to: http://members.vaix.net/~1786/bwv1030-golay-riggs-lehman.mp3
from an autumn 2001 concert. As I recall, we rehearsed it several different ways including some "straight" playing from the score, but decided as a group that it didn't sound graceful enough or inspire the soloist to be appropriately casual in rhythm (i.e. gently expressive in character of the music). The overall effect of the ensemble seemed too stiff and pedantic until we made things more fluid. To loosen that up I
eventually ignored most of the sketched-out part, wrote a few figures into the bass line, and we practiced having the cellist stay strictly in meter (as the time-keeper) while the solo part and the hpsi right hand could be more relaxed and straying from the printed page.

Within those parameters, the music as a whole became a lot easier to play: concentrating on the melodic quality of the bass line, and melodic freedom of the soloist, both moving forward in natural phrasing and dynamics. Anything else in there, the harpsichord right hand was merely reacting to other things that were going on, as dialogue with the other parts. Nothing intellectual, but going with the sound and the flow (switch the analytical mind "off" and just play). It was no longer a question of reading notated rhythms, but merely playing the music as we felt it sounded good and graceful, easy-going. Different every time in rehearsals after
that, and again in the performance, because the bass and melody were also being inflected differently each time.

As for the right hand improvisation, the speed of the notes is a reflection of crescendo/decrescendo, felt in the moment. To intensify it, play more notes between the beats, accelerating. To make it calmer, give it only a few notes and stay more strictly within the beat. Emphasize dissonance (as the other bass-line player is also doing), and relax on the consonant resolutions. It all reduces to the attempt to play beautifully with the naturally flowing motion of the lines. The hpsi right hand is only the third most important part in there, after the bass and the melody, so there's leeway to make it dynamic in reaction to those two, while still not drawing too much attention to itself. A lot depends on the volume/balance of the given instruments, as to how much can be put in there without becoming obtrusive....

Do a slow dance while listening to it. Seriously. This stuff either does nice things to the body, or it's not being played well enough.

< On the other end of the spectrum are the realizations which are so fully-worked out that all improvisation is impossible. >
A few more fun examples, showing how there are bits of everything going on in that spectrum between improvisation and fully-written-out:

- In the Bach concerto for three harpsichords in D minor, middle movement, he has all three parts fully written out (as to textures that might otherwise be improvised), including unison of all three harpsichords in both melody and accompaniment!

- More of the same in the four-hpsi concerto arranged from Vivaldi, but even busier interlocking textures.

- Yet (by contrast), in the C major concerto for three harpsichords he has all three players improvising simultaneously from the figured bass line, along with various other written-out textures of unisons and croisee.

- And then, over in the solo concerto 1055, there are figures for somebody else outside the harpsichord soloist; and places in the slow movement where both the soloist and the other guy are improvising from figures simultaneously.

- And in 1062 (2 hpsis, arranged from 2 violins), middle movement, there's no improvised continuo at all but the two players each have a single melodic line in the right hand...and between the two of them the bass line gets played mostly in octaves!

- Not to neglect the SMP (BWV 244), with the continuo dudes of both orchestras improvising together.

In all these examples it's either got an easy-going naturalness to it (with the improvised parts and the notated parts melding into one another), or it's not musical enough. Composing, improvising, and playing from notated music are all facets of the same art and they can't be separated completely, if the music is to go really well. Either it sounds good and beautiful, or it sounds rigid and pedantic. Who enjoys listening to the latter? I don't!

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (December 1, 2004):
Thank You (was Keyboard Instruments in Continuo Questions)

Thank you to all of you that answered my post. I have saved the responses onto my laptop, and will use the tips.

Whilst I know that when written, the only thing written down would be the bass line with the figures under it, I was asking the question because the music notation software I have (Finale 2004a) that I am using in both my composition projects and the other one I have repeatedly mentioned (compiling authoritative scores and texts of all versions of Bach's Passion, Eastertide to Pentecost, Lententide, Sexagesima, and Septuagesima compositions as well as the Trauerkantate BWV 244a) does not have any of the other instruments in the Continuo group sound unless I specifically write them in, and so I was wondering what to dc with the Bass Clef for the Keyboard instruments (since to only use the Pedal part of the Organ or the Bass Clef of the Harpsichord as the Continuo parts would not give an accurate sound or impression when played back of how the work would actually sound).

Gabriel Jackson wrote (December 1, 2004):
David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote:
"I was wondering what to dc with the Bass Clef for the Keyboard instruments (since to only use the Pedal part of the Organ or the Bass Clef of the Harpsichord as the Continuo parts would not give an accurate sound or impression when played back of how the work would actually sound)."
Forgive me if this is obvious, but no notation programme will give an accurate impression of how a work will sound. Rely on your ears, not the computer. Increasingly young composers are suprised at how their music sounds when played by actual people, rather than their computer. It's alarming and it's dangerous.

Bradley Lehman wrote (December 1, 2004):
[To David Glenn Lebut Jr.] How do you get the daggone program even to write figured bass symbols in there at all, especially as to sharps and flats and naturals, or any numerals that would be slashed? I have the 2001 version, and fought with its documentation and non-intuitive user interface for a good wasted week, before I gave up on it (for now) and decided to pen the sin as needed. That program was not designed for Baroque music! (Well, it doesn't seem to be designed at all, in the first place, but just a bunch of features tacked in wherever they sort of fit, haphazardly. A mess.)

Not that MIDI playbacks of notated compositions have much to do with the sound, anyway, especially where improvisation is any part of the music. Computer programs--and the "designers" of Finale--don't think like trained Baroque musicians, as to the flexibility and conventions of 18th century score notation.......

Is the 2004a any better? Have they come up with a plug-in module that has anything to do with figured bass, or with the typical 18th century signed ornamentation? Even more fundamentally, have they decided to start allowing right-clicks yet? I'm waiting to upgrade until they can actually serve these real needs of musical functionality and reasonable user interface.....

Grumpily,

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (December 21, 2004):
[To Bradley Lehman] I got it to work by treating it as a text. I would (for example) for a chord with the fourth and third notes from the root (the bass note being the root) and with the fourth note sharped write it as #43, pushing the enter key after the #4 so that the 3 would be under it.

I should say that I was taught how to use Finale software on the Mac version of the 2001 version of the software. The 2004a is a lot better, but even with this I have had some issues crop up. The two biggest ones are as follows:

1.) In Bach's Choraele, in Measure 4 or 5 is a repeat (most often) in which the note in that measure is a dotted half (as the first measure was a pickup measure usually of a quarter duration) and in the succeeding measure is the same note value as the first. However, as these are in C time, one would have to make adjustments for the rests on either side of the repeat. This is not as it appears in the actual score.

2.) in the Matthäuspassion, the scene of the Institution of the Sacrament of the Altar has a similar situation. The measures preceding Jesus's words are in C time, but Jesus's words are in 6/8 time. Moreover, only half of the entire C or 6/8 time measures are shown in the immediate measure in which the time signature change occures. In other words, in the measure where the Evangelist says "sprach" (which is in C time) there is a quarter note and rest duration, which on the other side of the double bar (where Jesus says "Nehmet,", which is in 6/8 time), there is only three eighth note duration. This is absolutely impossible to change as far as I know. I had e-mailed the people that created the software, but (as usual) had no response from them.

Iman de Zwarte wrote (December 2, 2004):
David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote:
< I got it to work by treating it as a text. (.....) #43, pushing the enter key after the #4 so that the 3 would be under it. >
I'm using Capella 2004 ( www.capella.de ) and I'm more and more convinced that it is a more usefull (and much more cheaper!) program then Finale. Capella has the possibility to put in Generalbas-stuff in an easy way. Although the example you mentioned here wasn't in the file, but you can create it yourself, it takes only a little bitt more time.

< (......)
1.) In Bach's Choraele, in Measure 4 or 5 is a repeat (most often) in which the note in that measure is a dotted half (as the first measure was a pickup measure usually of a quarter duration) and in the succeeding measure is the same note value as the first. However, as these are in C time, one would have to make adjustments for the rests on either side of the repeat. This is not as it appears in the actual score. >
Absolutely no problem in Capella! You can put all kind of barlines everywhere in an very easy way.

< 2.) in the Matthaeuspassion, the scene of the Institution of the Sacrament of the Altar has a similar situation. The measures preceding Jesus's words are in C time, but Jesus's words are in 6/8 time. Moreover, only half of the entire C or 6/8 time measures are shown in the immediate measure in which the time signature change occures. In other words, in the measure where the Evangelist says "sprach" (which is in C time) there is a quarter note and rest duration, which on the other side of the double bar (where Jesus says "Nehmet,", which is in 6/8 time), there is only three eighth note duration. This is absolutely impossible to change as far as I know. I had e-mailed the people that created the software, but (as usual) had no response from them. >
This is also not a problem in Capella. I'll send you a pdf I made from this fragment, allthough my original (DVfM 3087) has a 6/4 in stead of your 6/8.

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (December 3, 2004):
[To Iman de Zwarte] Vielen dank (Many thanks). I have loaded it onto my laptop, and will try it out.

Charles Francis wrote (December 3, 2004):
[To Iman de Zwarte] Thanks! I just downloaded the demo version which allows 30 days to evaluate the program. The wonderful thing is that the entire scores of J.S. Bach are then available for free! Not only do they look good, but Capella provides an Urtext performance on demand. Music students, moreover, can adulterate the score as they choose.

Charles Francis wrote (December 3, 2004):
Correction: many scores are available, but by no means all.

Bradley Lehman wrote (December 3, 2004):
[To Charles Francis] As if such a thing as "Urtext performance" could ever exist anywhere, and would even be desirable at all, beyond allowing knights of the synthesizer to have their own little quickie with the music.

What would Bach say to hearing his notes (one after the next after the next after the next) rendered "Urtext" by a mechanical device, without a trained musician contributing any interpretation? Is Bach's artistry reducible to (and fairly represented by) merely a series of pitches and durations, all as much alike as possible, one after the next after the next after the next? Isn't that one of the more severe adulterations and mutilations that can be performed, itself?

Well, go enjoy yourself, in whatever post-post-modern aesthetic it is that you've made up for this. The important thing, after all, is those momentary rushes of tawdry delight you surely get in using and abusing other people's work, to your own satisfaction, on demand.

Charles Francis wrote (December 3, 2004):
[To Bradley Lehman] Given nature is constructed from quanta, wouldn't Bach emulate divine perfection?

Marcus Song wrote (December 3, 2004):
Charles Francis wrote:
< Given nature is constructed from quanta, wouldn't Bach emulate divine perfection? >
No - not by emulating quanta. Obviously Quantum Theory hadn't been developed yet in Bach's lifetime.

Besides, energy is quantized, not time.

I recall looking at a MIDI-capture of a short chorale prelude performed by a "live" person on an electronic keyboard that was converted back into musical score (treble/bass clef). With quantization at 128th note sampling, it was interesting to see how the performance-captured version of the score differed with the "urtext" to be almost unrecognizable with 1/64 rests and dotted 1/32 notes.

Did the performer fail to correctly perform the urtext, or is the urtext severely limited in its ability to tell the musician/reader how the music should sound? Most written music only have about 8 quantum levels for time. (1,1/2,1/4,1/8,1/16,1/32,1/3,1/6) And, as I've learned on this board, B-flat and A-sharp are not the same pitch, nor even a B-flat from another B-flat.

Accurately reproducing in music what is written on the page is a point of departure for musicians, not the end-goal. Else, then there is no need for musicians. Just feed in all the written music into a computer and you will have a 100% perfect/accurate performance every time. (...playing Bach's music like a sewing-machine - where have I heard that before?)

I wonder how the Allemande of the D-maj keyboard Partita would sound by a computer accurately reproducing the written music?...yikes! Like playing jazz music as it is notated on the sheet. :-)

Dale Gedcke wrote (December 3, 2004):
[To David Glenn Lebut Jr.] I have been using the inexpensive GenieSoft "ScoreWriter" for composing, transcribing and transposing. All in all, it has proved to be pretty productive for me. Most of its aggravating shortcomings are due to an inadequate instruction manual that fails to tell the user how to do the more esoteric things. You have to discover and work them out by creative imagination. I only paid about 35 US$ for ScoreWriter, so I have been envious of those who plunked down circa 400 US$ for the much fancier "Finale". It is truly gratifying to hear that Finale has serious shortcomings, in spite of its factor of 10 higher price.

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (December 4, 2004):
[To Bradley Lehman] He probably would have been astounded by it and thoroughly enjoyed it. I remember a recording not too long ago called "Mr. Bach Comes to Call" (part of the "Classical Kids" series), in which Bach was presented as being thoroughly amazed and delighted in the modern Piano.....

Thomas Shepherd wrote (December 4, 2004):
Music DTP software

[To David Glenn Lebut Jr.] Has anyone tried Sibelius?
http://www.sibelius.com/cgi-bin/home/home.pl
We had a go with a copy of Finale a few years back on a slow Mac and found it very clever but not particularly "user-friendly". Then we purchased a copy of Sibelius and have maintained the upgrades till a year ago. Its far more intuitive and enjoyable to work with. And it works on a PC if you have the misfortune to own one!

 

Bach and Handel's Continuo
paltry use of harpsichord in cantatas
harpsichords in cantatas, part 2
Organ, harpsichord and performing forces

Continue of discussion from: Magnificat BWV 243 - conducted by Robert Shaw

Douglas Cowling wrote (September 28, 2005):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< This argument whether Bach's continuo group for sacred music should contain only the organ or primarily only harpsichord or some combination of both has been raging among Bach experts and performers for well over a century and a half >
It is so frustrating to compare the Bach continuo question with what we know about Handel. Handel loved having both harpsichord and organ for his oratorios so much that he had a special portable instrument designed and built which contained both harpsichord and organ. Through couplers, he was able to switch rapidly from one to another, or use both from the same keyboard. Later he had a carillon (!) installed which he used in "Acis and Galatea".

Bradley Lehman wrote (September 29, 2005):
paltry use of harpsichord in cantatas

Thomas Braatz wrote: <>
< From the Grove Music Online [Oxford University Press, 2005, acc. 9/29/05] here is an excerpt from the article by Peter Williams, David Ledbetter on this matter:
>>In north German church music the harpsichord was sometimes used with the organ as an additional part in tuttis (as continuo parts in the Düben collection imply), and even occasionally alone. More common as a second accompanying instrument was the lute or theorbo, usually with the organ rather than alone, and playing throughout, not just with the ripieno. The largest centres naturally had the most elaborate instrumentations. In the Dresden of Heinichen and Zelenka (c1710­30) the (Catholic) court chapel employed a continuo group of two or more cellos, bassoons, violoni and theorbos, though the theorbos fell out of use in the 1730s after the arrival of Hasse. The harpsichord was used only in works in the modern style in Holy Week (Lamentations, oratorios, passions) when the organ was silent. >
That latter point is, of course, disputed with strong evidential support in Dreyfus's book about Bach's continuo group. Give us a fair picture here! I re-read that Dreyfus chapter last night, along with chapter 1. Dreyfus's footnotes are especially thorough in this matter; and I've also checked back in the cited articles by Mendel (1950) and Williams ("Basso continuo on the organ") to see what their arguments are, and to see why Dreyfus has disagreed.

This is obviously a practical issue for me personally, as my professional specialty is playing both harpsichord and organ continuo, improvised from the figured bass. It's a rare occasion when we get to have two keyboards together, but it sure sounds wonderful, it supports/focuses all the other musicians in the ensemble, and Dreyfus's published arguments in support of this dual-keyboard practice are strong.

And it doesn't do, simply to cite one authoritative source (in this case, the New Grove article, as fine as it is) that happens to agree with one's own preconceptions about any particular aspect of performance practice. <> Rather, it's the evidence that is important, not merely picking and choosing whatever conclusions happen to be most palatable, or closest at hand. That evidence is the music, along with any accompanying documents about contemporary practices. Dreyfus pointed out correctly that all sorts of evidence gets swept under the rug, in the arguments against the harpsichord.

And I happen to know (and have published) how the Leipzig organs and any harpsichords were tuned together for simultaneous use in the Bach vocal music, with a specific temperament where all of this transposing stuff works fine. That, to me, gives even stronger support for Dreyfus's conclusions that both were used together in performance. All the practical so-called problems--used by other musicologists living and dead to argue against simultaneous keyboarding--melt out of the picture with this proper setup of the correct tuning.

So, please, the one-sided reportage against the harpsichord (simply by picking and choosing any authority with a convenient result, and launching barbs against Dreyfus on the side--as seen earlier this week from the same list member, proposing to say how Dreyfus's work should have been done better and more objectively! <> ..that one-sided authoritarianism, and the straw-misrepresentation of scholars and their books (so they can be then shot down summarily), isn't increasing knowledge of Bach's performance practices here.

Rather, it's shutting it down and encouraging people not to go read scholarship such as Dreyfus's. Such postings stand in front of Dreyfus, telling us he's wrong and untrustworthy: <> That's a one-sided teaching of music history; academic qualifications and credentials to teach music history, please? Dreyfus's books are not superficial and subjective and misguided and just plain wrong <> To find out: go read Dreyfus's books, and examine the reception history of those books among real scholars!

Most list members here are not particularly well placed--either academically or in regular church-music practices--to decide straight up whether Williams or Dreyfus or whomever are the strongest and most convincing scholars to be listened to. Such matters of evidence, and supported hypotheses, are for experts of musicology and musical practice to decide through serious work: NOT for consumers and self-guided enthusiasts to decide, and to go preach about in public telling us which scholars and musicians are allegedly off base. <>

Bradley Lehman wrote (September 29, 2005):
harpsichords in cantatas, part 2

Ludwig wrote:
< We have no record of anyone playing any other keyboard instrument during Bach's life time to justify Dreyfus's claims. Bach had limited resources and limited space in the Gallery so unless the Organ (which has always been the tradition in this matter) was down, being repaired---the Harpsichord was never used. >
Bologna! Have you actually READ Dreyfus's claims, including all the footnotes?

I especially like the one where Bach wrote a letter of recommendation for one of his former students for a job, especially extolling the brilliant way the guy played harpsichord in the church music.

Thomas Braatz wrote (September 29, 2005):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
<> >>...launching barbs against Dreyfus on the side--as seen earlier this week from the same list member, proposing to say how Dreyfus's work should have been done better and more objectively!--<>)...that one-sided authorita, and the straw-misrepresentation of scholars and their books (so they can be then shot down summarily), isn't increasing knowledge of Bach's performance practices here.<<
There vague reference here is to the undisputed fact that Dreyfus committed a major error in scholarship by a glaring omission in his "Bach's Continuo Group": he did not find the largest continuo group that Bach used and documented in his own handwriting (BWV 119). To realize the size of his continuo group (not to mention the use of 4 trombae, etc. has a profound effect upon performance practices of Bach's music. Certainly the question of balance needs to be considered. Let's see if you can explain how Dreyfus managed to overlook such an important fact as this.

Bradley Lehman wrote (September 29, 2005):
[To Thomas Braatz] <> I've simply made note of the fact that you take your own self-guided investigations more seriously than those of a scholar who did 11 years of research (much of it full-time, on various grants, 1976-87; see his introduction) in producing his book. <>

=====

My posting this morning was primarily about the use of harpsichord in Bach's church music, as it says there. <> My interest here is simply to see Bach's music treated fairly and respectfully, and to see the work of excellent scholars treated fairly and respectfully, according to real evidence-- <>

Neil Halliday wrote (September 30, 2005):
Organ, harpsichord and performing forces

Thomas had shared with the group the following information:
<"From the Grove Music Online [Oxford University Press, 2005, acc. 9/29/05] here is an excerpt from the article by Peter Williams, David Ledbetter on this matter:
>>In north German church music the harpsichord was sometimes used with the organ as an additional part in tuttis (as continuo parts in the Düben collection imply), and even occasionally alone............The harpsichord was used only in works in the modern style in Holy Week (Lamentations, oratorios, passions) when the organ was silent<<.
[My reading of this leaves me in doubt as to whether Williams and Ledbetter believe harpsichord was or was not regularly used].

Brad leapt on this quote that seems to rule out the harpsichord in the cantatas, but I think Thomas was more interested in the intervening material in this paragraph:
<<"The largest centres naturally had the most elaborate instrumentations. In the Dresden of Heinichen and Zelenka (c1710-30) the (Catholic) court chapel employed a continuo group of two or more cellos, bassoons, violoni and theorbos, though the theorbos fell out of use in the 1730s after the arrival of Hasse">>.

Previously, Thomas had said, in relation to John Pikes' referral to Dreyfus' `Bach's Continuo Group':
<This argument whether Bach's continuo group for sacred music should contain only the organ or primarily only harpsichord or some combination of both has been raging among Bach experts and performers for well over a century>

and
<Max Seiffert, in an article for the Bach Jahrbuch 1914/1915 placed so much emphasis upon the harpsichord over the organ that a whole, subsequent generation of Bach performances began preferring harpsichord over organ accompaniment completely. Actually, what Seiffert had stated was: "Without both the organ and the harpsichord, no Bach cantata can be properly performed." Arnold Schering, in 1936, deplored the fact that in Germany at that time, no conscientious conductor would ever consider performing a Bach cantata without a harpsichord playing the continuo. Schering, after documenting thoroughly the presence and use of harpsichords in the main churches during Bach's tenure in Leipzig, came to the conclusion that there was no absolute requirement that there be a dual accompaniment and that there certainly were situations in which either instrument were not used (the church organs undergoing repair would restrict the keyboard bc accompaniment to a small portativ or the harpsichord. In the latter instances, the harpsichord would have played a vital role>.
Thomas has not disputed the use of harpsichord, but does go on to criticize what he considers to be Dreyfus' lack of examination of the forces used in the continuo of BWV 119, which is another topic.

[Dürr informs us that around 1732 Bach did mark the organ part of the inner movements of some cantatas "tacet" ie, silent].

On the subject of forces employed by Bach, notice the following points in Dürr's book (link supplied by Francis Browne):

1. Each of 4 cantorates consisted of 8 memers (pupils of Thomasschule).

2. Bach wanted the first three cantorates increased to 12 or "even tentatively raised to 16", in the 1730 petition to the Leipzig council).

3. Bach viewed the following instrumental body as necessary, in the same petition:

2-3 Violins I, 2-3 violins II, 2 violas, 2 cellos, 2 bassoons, 1 violone) for a standard chorus with strings and continuo, without woodwind or brass, total 16 with keyboard.

4. Gressner, rector of Thomasschule, comments on Bach's wonderful ability to notice a wrong note in performance from any one of "30 or even 40 musicians" Bach was directing.

Note that four vocalists plus the minimum instrumental group adds up to 20, well short of Gressner's total of 30-40.

The multiples of 4 (8,12,16) that Bach mentions in his petition surely refer to singers only; otherwise any number (9, 10, 11, 13, 14 etc) of reserve performers would do to account for sickness of individuals on the day of performance.

If the 8 Thomasschule pupils of cantorate I (which Bach wanted to increase to 12 or 16) were all singers (2VPP in a standard SATB chorus), we still only have 24 performers in a strings and continuo only chorus.

Even 16 singers (4VPP) still leaves room for 24 instrumentalists (for Gressner's observed total of 40 performers) in large choruses with brass and woodwind.

 

Albert Schweitzer and Figured Bass Realization

Jean Laaninen wrote (June 10, 2006):
The topic of figured bass has been on my mind for several months now, so I am glad that Aryeh invited me to join this group. I have an idea that some of you have some serious expertise on this topic.

Last night I pulled out my Volume II of Schweitzer, and in chapter 35 he has a lengthy discussion of the role of the continuo related to figured bass, in the past and at his time with contemporary practice related to it.

I know that I read this chapter when I was a student, and I've been experimenting with the recitatives in Cantatas BWV 51 and BWV 52 relative to possible realization of the figured bass. Schweitzer suggests that while the continuo alone may seem rather barren to modern ears (in performance, I assume without considerable realization) we should give modern listeners an opportunity to experience this authentic Bach (my rephrasing). This relates to something like a duet between the continuo part and the soloist.

I'd be interested in hearing some commentary from the scholars in this group related to figured bass in the recitatives in these two cantatas, as well as thoughts on the topic of figured bass in Bach general.

I am also interested in knowing if anyone knows the dates for the first publication of the early orchestral (B & H piano) reductions of these cantatas. I have been trying to find out if their use is in any way (or portions thereof) restricted for recording and audio streaming in the US. No one I have contacted in the publishing firms and/or their legal counsel has responded to my request for information on this topic. I find this peculiar because every other question I have asked of such people since taking a deeper interest in these works has been readily answered. I suppose these folks are either too busy to be bothered, or they don't know, or it is not of financial benefit to them to give me a response. Therefore, if anyone in the group knows anything related to this matter and wishes to share I will apprit. Copyright matters are excessively complex, and I have the Kalmus score so I can use it without concern. But if the scores (B & H) are 100% clear here,! I could make use of a little bit of the material. However, my interest is one of a retired and educated hobbyist and therefore of no possible great financial gain to these folks. My husband says that is why I am not getting a response on this topic.

I do not really know anything about the NBA scores. If someone would like to expound a bit on this topic, that would also be interesting to me. I am interersted in knowing if the figured bass is prominent in the NBA scores, as well as being enlightened on their compilation and any present-day use.

One more question--not fully related: I am wondering after looking at the motives for Cantata BWV 7 this morning related to dynamic markings if in general the markings Bach chose for his performance of this work differ greatly from choices made by modern conductors? This is a pretty broad question, but if there are some scholarly insights someone would like to share, good.

I think it is just great that these weekly discussions of the cantatas are available. This is a way for me to continue my music education without having to pack everything up, drive to school, park (often the worst part) and spend a lot of money and a lot of hours in the classroom. I appreciate it so much.

If anyone wishes to discuss these matters I will be listening.

Julian Mincham wrote (June 10, 2006):
Jean Laaninen wrote:
< I'd be interested in hearing some commentary from the scholars in this group related to figured bass in the recitatives in these two cantatas, as well as thoughts on the topic of figured bass in Bach general. >
I too would be interested in the views of keyboard continuo players who use the figured bass system.

Just to kick off my view has always been that figured bass, in a very similar way to jazz chord symbols, is a fairly imprecise though clearly useful system. It was, I suspect for Bach (and his contemporaries) principally an aide memoire for himself and his students. If used by AN-other it usually required experience and intelligent musical interpretation.

As an example I am looking at my score of Brandenburg 5 second movement. I leave aside the issue of whether what I have in my score is exactly what Bach wrote; there are other members on list who are better insformed than I am on the original source material and any serious research would need to begin by going down this road. But if, perhaps not entirely authentic, it is very typical and it shows up the inconsistencies of the system.

e.g. there are no figures under the first 3 bass quavers. There are two possible interpretations a) that each is a chord in root position or b) that some are passing notes. Which? Simple musical intelligence suggests that the descending bass notes would not each support a root position chord (think of the consecutives!) and a sensible interpretation would be that the harmonic rhythm is on each crotchet beat of the bar and the notes between are passing notes. However in bar 4 the figuration mandates a change of harmony every quaver not every crotchet and this is followed by several bars with no figures at all, it being assumed that the chords (mostly root positions and first inversions) are so obvious that they need no clarifying figuration.

And indeed they are: to a musician familiar to the style. And that is the point. Figured bass is often a general statement of the outline of the harmonic progression (particularly spelling out chord inversions and suspensions) but it is not a definitive conveying of detail. It requires both musical intelligence and experience to interpret correctly---let alone imaginattively!

Nicholas Johnson wrote (June 10, 2006):
[To Jean Laaninen] A relatively simple figured bass is one of the few opportunities toimprovise. After all it's not so critical in a recitative. A chromatic aria is different. I was advised to go for a three-note chord on the beat except when a dissonance falls on the beat when spreading an eight or nine notes is entirely acceptable.

Jean Laaninen wrote (June 10, 2006):
[To Nicholas Johnson] Thank you for your comments. I keep a notebook about these things and will place these remarkas in the notesbook. I appreciate your trouble.

Jean Laaninen wrote (June 10, 2006):
[To Julian Mincham] Thank you Julian,

I have studied the Brandenburg Concertos at ASU, but we didn't get into the figured bass in that part of the course. I have a score here. You are right that the figures show up inconsistently, and imaginative interpretation is something extra special. I will keep your thoughts in mind, and add your comments to the notebook I keep about these things. I also appreciate what you said about jazz chords. When I played my flute in the contemporary praise band the improvisational notes fairly flew into my mind and out my flute (maybe divine intervention), but even with eight years of piano study I find attaining maximal pleasing effects working with a score much more of a challenge.

Thomas Braatz wrote (June 11, 2006):
Jean Laaninen wrote:
>>I know that I read this chapter when I was a student, and I've been experimenting with the recitatives in Cantatas BWV 51 and BWV 52 relative to possible realization of the figured bass. Schweitzer suggests that while the continuo alone may seem rather barren to modern ears (in performance, I assume without considerable realization) we should give modern listeners an opportunity to experience this authentic Bach (my rephrasing). This relates to something like a duet between the continuo part and the soloist.<<
Bach usually added the figured bass to only one of the usual 3 continuo parts that comprise a full set of original parts. In the parts for BWV 51, Bach personally added the figured bass to the transposed continuo part copied by an anonymous copyist (Vc). With BWV 52, however, the usual transposed continuo part with Bach’s figured bass must have been misplaced or lost early on since a different copyist (not Johann Heinrich Bach or Christian Gottlob Meißner) copied another transposed continuo part (not from the original score) which is a doublet of the simple, still extant, untransposed continuo part that already existed in the hand of both copyists mentioned above. As a result of this, the NBA shows no figured bass for this cantata. It would need to be judiciously supplied by the keyboard continuo player based upon the score and according the rules suggested by a number of German theorists of Bach’s time (Mattheson, Heinichen, etc.). [A good summary overview of the various practices (including Mattheson and Heinichen) involving such accompaniment from a more European perspective is found in F. T. Arnold’s two-volume work currently available in a reprint form from Dover Publications (copyright 1965): “The Art of Accompaniment From a Thorough-Bass”.

>>I'd be interested in hearing some commentary from the scholars in this group related to figured bass in the recitatives in these two cantatas, as well as thoughts on the topic of figured bass in Bach general.<<
For the figured bass in the cantatas you referred to, I would suggest that you search for recitative performance practices on the BCW where this subject has been discussed at great length.

>>I am also interested in knowing if anyone knows the dates for the first publication of the early orchestral (B & H piano) reductions of these cantatas. I have been trying to find out if their use is in any way (or portions thereof) restricted for recording and audio streaming in the US.<<
I have various piano reductions of Bach cantatas printed by Breitkopf & Härtel and their main competitor Edition Peters. A few of these are definitely from the late 19th century, but there is no copyright date given. The earliest copyright dates that I can find are from the early 20th century, for instance, a piano reduction with text of BWV 88 printed by Breitkopf & Härtel for the Neue Bachgesellschaft. The copyright date is 1907. Another one in this series is from 1924. I assume that these were limited issues with no attempt at wide distribution (probably only for members of the Neue Bachgesellschaft.) One of the more regular printings in the Breitkopf & Härtel continuing series is a first edition piano reduction (copyright 1913) of BWV 199 with the warning that even the performance rights belong to the publishing firm which also published a full score and a complete set of parts. On others, there are copyright dates such as 1929/1957 (Wiesbaden) which seems to indicate that B & H kept renewing their copyrights as they reprinted the original piano reductions (the name of the individual responsible for creating the piano reduction is usually found on the first page). The appearance of the covers usually changed from one printing to the next. English texts were added to the German in the later editions (and even a New York copyright).

>>I do not really know anything about the NBA scores. If someone would like to expound a bit on this topic, that would also be interesting to me. I am interested in knowing if the figured bass is prominent in the NBA scores, as well as being enlightened on their compilation and any present-day use.<<
As noted above, if Bach did not supply the figured bass on the original continuo parts (or if he did not correct a figured bass on such a part and it appeared as though it may have been added later – even by one of his sons who may have used the part and amplified it with figures later on), the NBA official score does not add any figures to those mvts. or entire cantatas where such figures were originally not available. A very different situation prevails, I presume, if you use a set of parts made available by Bärenreiter (the same publisher of the NBA and also of a practical edition of performing parts for each cantata) where a different editor may add/include performance directions and provide the missing figured bass continuo part which would otherwise appear only as an unadorned bass line. I am aware of this through Alfred Dürr’s comments on the SJP [“Johann Sebastian Bach: Die Johannes-Passion”, Bärenreiter, 1999, p. 129 + footnote] where he points out his disagreement with the liberty of interpretation of the continuo as presented by the editor of the performance edition of the SJP as compared with the original NBA publication of the score. Dürr’s objection is to the recommendation that according to the “present-day” practice of what some scholars think that Bach’s continuo must have sounded like, the long, held notes in the ‘secco’ recitatives were played short instead. Again, see the BCW for more information about this.

>>One more question--not fully related: I am wondering after looking at the motives for Cantata BWV 7 this morning related to dynamic markings if in general the markings Bach chose for his performance of this work differ greatly from choices made by modern conductors?<<
This has been covered in part during the previous discussion cycle in which this cantata and others were examined. I had commented then that some conductors tend to overlook these markings, despite the fact that Bach personally inserted these into the original parts (they do not usually appear in his autograph score). Assertions have even been expressed on this list that these dynamic markings did not really mean the same thing to performers in Bach’s ensembles who simply viewed them, in arias for instance, as non-dynamic markers, the only function of which was to alert the player to the entrance of the solo voice. Of course, no solid evidence has been presented to back up such a wild speculation which runs counter to the commonsense notion that when a solo voice enters in an aria, the obbligato instrument, in order to change from a solo mode to a chamber-music mode, must adjust the volume of sound downward so as not to drown out the solo voice which also needs to transmit the text as well as the music to the listener. There has been a general tendency on the part of the “historically-informed performance” practitioners to discount the notion of ‘tiered dynamics’. One reason for this may have been as a reaction to this idea as an imagined stricture against using any kind of crescendo or decrescendo in performing instruments. Just as a truly live performance (not created mechanically, electronically by computer programs of various types) exhibits some subtle or sometimes not so subtle fluidity in keepingeach note rhythmically spaced properly, so, also, there are dynamic changes dictated by the nature of longer phrases which rise and fall but must also take into account the nature of the text which is being presented.

With BWV 7/1 we can see how Bach clearly wants to have ‘tiered-dynamics’ the same way that he would change manuals on an organ with two or three manuals or on a double-manual harpsichord. There are distinct patterns here: 2 measures/bars of a specific ‘forte’ motif followed by two or sometimes 4 measures/bars of ‘piano’ motif. Certainly Bach wants more than simply the contrast of the jagged 1st motif with the following softer motif where he even lets the bottom drop out (no continuo!). He has the two concertato violins continue to play ‘forte’ (there is no ‘piano’ indicated for them! they are the ‘leading parts’). He wants them to be heard even later on when the oboes, as subordinate parts, but nevertheless expressing a motif, are given a ‘piano’ and the voices are singing a line from the chorale as well. This points to a clear delineation of the various motifs which Bach wants the listener to perceive.

For more information on Bach’s use of dynamic markings and why some HIP practitioners prefer to view them as rather unimportant, empty formalities, see Robert L. Marshall’s chapter 15, pp. 258-262, of his “The Music of Johann Sebastian Bach: The Sources, the Style, the Significance”, Schirmer, 1989, where on p. 260, Marshall, in reference to Bach’s use of dynamic markings (‘forte’ and ‘piano’ in mvts. of a ritornello form (arias, choruses, concerto mvts.) makes the following statement which can be easily misunderstood: “It is important to recognize that the dynamic markings here (in the opening ritornellos where the ‘forte’ indication is missing, but where the ‘piano’ marking appears during the solo or choral sections) are obviously (‘offensichtlich’ – which approximates Arnold Schering’s equally dangerous type of argumentation “selbstverständlich” = it is ‘self-understood’, ‘it goes without saying’ in regard to the ‘shortened accompaniment of secco recitatives in Bach’s sacred cantatas) fulfilling a formal rather than an expressive function: a ‘forte’ in the accompanying parts in the later course of the movement [simply] signals the return of the ritornello or of an instrumental interlude for the ripieno ensemble, while ‘piano,’ conversely, [simply] signals the beginning of a solo episode.” [I have supplied the implied word ‘simply’ in two places to point out the direction which this type of argumentation has taken.]

Earlier, in the same paragraph, Marshall had indicated that it was “Bach’s normal practice…,as is well known, to have the tutti ensemble play ‘forte’ during the ritornellos and ‘piano’ during the solo sections.” Here Marshall still appears to say that the dynamic markings actually had the normal dynamic meanings that are adequately described in Johann Gottfried Walther’s “Musicalisches Lexicon….”, Leipzig, 1732. However, following Marshall’s ‘logical’ approach to this matter, because Bach did not mark as ‘forte’ the opening ritornello, the appearance of a ‘piano’ in the instrumental parts when the solo voice, instrument, or chorus enters, must, by the nature of its occurrence [without a ‘forte’ preceding it], have lost its significance as a dynamic marker and now, in Bach’s mind, simply becomes a formality “obviously fulfilling a formal rather than an expressive function” as Marshall had put it.

In the two measures/bars of BWV 7/1, Bach does not mark the usual ‘forte’ for all of the instruments playing. Is the appearance of the ‘piano’ in all of the parts in mm 3 (with the exception of the two concertato violins) simply an empty formality which conductors may disregard because it has no true validity as a mark of dynamic level? According to Marshall’s reasoning above, it is without dynamic meaning.

Jean Laaninen wrote (June 11, 2006):
[To Thomas Braatz] Thank you is hardly an adequate expression for all the detailed information you have provided. I have been part of this group for less than two weeks now, so I am reading everything closely and working on grasping all that is being said. Arizona summers are miserably hot, and the forums are helping so much to make them bearable.

Reading Schweitzer last night I did encounter the comments about using the different stops on the organ, and I shuddered a little thinking how much I have already struggled with Finale and the sound fonts to create something lovely for recording. So I know that when I actually record the selections I love--simply because I must sing them, I will not meet every criteria. I heard Cantata BWV 51 over a year ago for the first time, and it was done with an orchestra that was a little over-sized. The organ did not have as big a part to play in the performance as Schweitzer suggests it ordinarily should, and the soprano was not happy with her performance even though we had glorious moments. But it was absolutely unforgettable.

The young soloists who I will at some point feature on my future web site will have the benefit of a real orchestra, as they are full-time students, and I can predict that what they accomplish will be excellent and in keeping with the best of the traditions over-all. Having said that I will continue to work with what I have to do to actualize my dream of singing the greatest music ever written and so I can share it with friends, family and others who have helped me to get the focus and the spiritual determination to go beyond what I've done in the past. I cannot imagine competing with the world's best, but I can plan on giving what I do life, depth and spiritual energy. Coming from knowing Bach from infancy, as the carrier of the message, I will just hope to create something lovely...something people can respond to spiritually and something that will be uplifting.

But the information you have given me will put me in a better light, making better choices than before. And, I will get ahold of copies of the books you recommended and begin to work my way through them. I always believe that no amount of study should ever be wasted. As I have earned many of my music lessons in recent years editing DMA dissertations for students in exchange for lessons, everything I continue to learn finds a place in what I do as if there is a divine hand in it. I work mostly with international students and their struggle with English is sometimes monumental. I admire them greatly for their efforts.

I am truly honored that you took so much time to answer these questions. In a classroom setting it is unlikely that one would have the opportunity to ask so many questions of this nature, let alone get so many worthwhile answers. Now, on to study!

Bradley Lehman wrote (June 13, 2006):
<< I'd be interested in hearing some commentary from the scholars in this group related to figured bass in the recitatives in these two cantatas, as well as thoughts on the topic of figured bass in Bach general. >>
< I too would be interested in the views of keyboard continuo players who use the figured bass system. >
My page about that is still available at: http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bpl/recits.htm
Written several years ago, and updated during 2005.

That describes what I like to do in recitative; and I do rather more effusive stuff while accompanying arias, choruses, or instrumental solos. Some of it depends how confident the other musicians are with their own parts, and with performing within an improvisatory spirit.

"Views" on the system? It's a terrifically practical system and saves a huge amount of time and effort. The whole part doesn't have to be written out, and it also gives the flexibility to play the realization differently on every occasion, listening to the other musicians and reacting to the needs of the moment. Play more or fewer notes to make it louder or quieter; play non-harmonic linear stuff and little bits of countermelody to make the texture livelier; switch around to different registers (octaves on the keyboard) occasionally for relief. This system expects the player to be thinking and listening like a composer, and doing whatever is appropriate, which might be radically different from one performance to the next.

That is, the craftsmanship of playing and composing are part of the same skill (not separately practicing somebody's already fully-written-out score to render it with any dogmatic sameness), and one has to have a thorough understanding of harmony, counterpoint, melody, and drama.

I played a concert of improvised continuo last Wednesday, but we didn't have Bach's music on this occasion. We had singer, violin, and harpsichord. The highlight, as to basso continuo complexity and freest adventure, was Corelli's violin sonata Op 5 #1. In several other pieces from this program we were transposing things from an already-sketchy vocal score, moving the music to new keys that fit our singer's vocal range better. In preparation I didn't bother to write out anything more than the transposed bass line and a few suggestive figures (numerals) for my own use, because nothing more was necessary on paper to come up with an effective improvised part.

Listening and thinking are at least as important as the notation is, in such a situation. Our violinist improvised quite a bit of his part, too, adding things against the vocal melody or between the phrases. This adventurous type of concert is really fun. I believe audiences can sense when spontaneous events in the music are really happening, and when it's going well it can be very exciting and intense. The quiet/slow spots can develop an extraordinary stillness and focus, while the lively spots can be totally wild--the whole range of expression, and able to switch quickly. Extravagance=="Baroque"....

When I play from Bach's continuo parts, I sometimes don't have to make up so much of the texture as there's already more written there; but it's merely a matter of degree. (See the sonata BWV 1021 for example, where the extensive figuring sometimes amounts to a fully-notated part!...yet it still doesn't forbid additional ornamentation, or spreading the voice-leading instead of playing it like chunky chords, or occasionally thickening/thinning the texture, all to taste.) The music should never sound pedantic or stiff, which is the obvious danger if one isn't improvising enough, or if rendering the notated rhythms with a too-rigid exactness.

Another good expressive model is the sarabande of the E minor partita (#6) where Bach has written out a tasteful and gorgeous batch of ornamentation: replete with non-harmonic passing tones, thickened chords, arpeggiations in both directions, melodic connections, appoggiaturas, and other brilliant stuff in all kinds of free rhythms. It's an excellent exercise (pedagogically) to reduce that piece to a figured bass sketch and then build it back up, filling Bach's ideas back into it and recognizing where they derive from improvisatory practices--playing them to sound as if they really are being improvised. Likewise for the sarabande of the Bb partita (#1).

Jean Laaninen wrote (June 14, 2006):
[To Bradley Lehman] Thank you so much for this wealth of information. I am certainly glad Aryeh invited me to join this forum. I had no idea of what incredible help this would be.

 

Continue on Part 6

Articles: The “Shortening of the Supporting Notes” in the Bc of Bach’s ‘Secco’ Recitatives [Thomas Braatz] | Playing Plain Recitative in Bach's Vocal Works [Bradley Lehman]
Discussions of Recitatives:
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 | Continuo in Bach’s Vocal Works: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7

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